Sunday, 31 December 2017

Some Films What I Have Watched In 2017

It’s the end of the year and the list-based articles have already hatched and begun to swarm en masse. Given that a) I like a good list; and b) I’m happy to embrace any hackneyed old cliche in the name of filling up blog space, let’s get some list action going in here too. I’ve left it pretty late (really, as late as you possibly can) so let’s just go with films, shall we? There were plenty of other things I enjoyed in 2018 (good TV, some good books and a surprising amount of fancy dress themed events) but let’s go with the big stuff.

A note - There are films I’ve not enjoyed but, in an attempt to be a bit more positive, I’m just not going to mention those (there are also films I’ve enjoyed but am not going to mention in the interest of space).  A further note - I’m mainly (but not exclusively) focussing on maybe some of the lesser watched films this year. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the blockbusters - Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Logan, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, Thor Ragnarok and LEGO Batman are all high on my list - but there are enough people writing about those ones.

So then, here are the things what I have watched this year and either thoroughly enjoyed or found intriguing enough to warrant a mention.

In A Nutshell:- Man with multiple personality disorder holds teenage girls captive.
Why It’s Good:- It’s an M Night Shyamalan film and, to be honest, I’ve not really enjoyed any of his films since Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. This was a real return to form with a strong performance from James McAvoy in the lead role(s). Definitely worth a watch.

The Belko Experiment
In A Nutshell:- Group of office workers are trapped in an office block and ordered to choose who to kill off otherwise they’ll all be killed.
Why It’s Good:- It’s written by James Gunn of Guardians Of The Galaxy fame but shares more in common with his earlier efforts like Slither and Super, particularly in terms of over the top violence. An enjoyable B-movie style low budget indie flick.

In A Nutshell:- Young woman discovers she’s linked to Godzilla-style monster trashing South Korea
Why It’s Good:- I’m a big fan of director Nacho Vigalondo’s previous films, Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial (check those out if you haven’t already) and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s funny but also surprisingly dark and goes in a direction I wasn’t expecting. Great performances from Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as well.

Brigsby Bear
In A Nutshell:- Hard to describe without giving too much away
Why It’s Good:- One of those films that it’s worth going into without knowing too much about, it’s an enjoyable and heart-warming indie flick with a nicely odd premise and Mark Hamill playing against type (and also getting to do a bit of voice over work).

In A Nutshell:- Clowns are bad.
Why It’s Good:- I loved Tim Curry as Pennywise in the 1990 TV movie version but, given TV budgets at the time, it’s a bit cheap and cheerful. This feels like the big budget treatment it always needed and Bill Skarsgard is suitably horrifying as Pennywise.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
In A Nutshell:- More of the same and none the worse for it
Why It’s Good:- I really enjoyed the first film’s mixture of Tarantino-style hyper violence with a James Bond/The Avengers* feel and this second film keeps up the levels of ludicrousness. It maybe suffers a little from familiarity this time around but any film that’s climactic battle sequence features an arse-kicking Elton John (actually him) is going to be worth a watch.

Blade Runner 2049
In A Nutshell:- The sequel you didn’t realise you needed
Why It’s Good:- Aside from looking and sounding great, it feels like a genuine follow up to the first which manages to continue the story from the first film without ruining any of the original’s ambiguity. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed a sequel that I really didn’t feel was necessary.

The Death Of Stalin
In A Nutshell:- The Thick Of It in 1950s Russia
Why It’s Good:- While it doesn’t shy away from the more horrific elements of Stalin’s regime, in much the same way as he did with The Thick Of It, Armando Iannucci highlights the absurdity and, at times, bumbling idiocy that is often at work at the highest levels of power. Plus Jason Isaac seems to be having the time of his life as the bluntly Northern head of the Red Army.

Dave Made A Maze
In A Nutshell:- A slasher film made out of cardboard and tissue.
Why It’s Good:- This is very much the sort of indie oddity that I like to see. A man makes a cardboard labyrinth in his apartment and gets lost in it, forcing his friends to come in after him. The only problem is the booby traps… While not necessarily 100% successful, there’s a level of inventiveness to the largely practical effects which carries it through.

So there you have it - a whistlestop tour through some of the highlights in film for me in 2017. If I hadn’t spent the Christmas break relaxing and largely watching films and TV in between eating and drinking, I might have written about some of the other stuff. Ah well, such is life, as the French say.

So what will 2018 bring? Let’s find out tomorrow, shall we?

* 1960s UK TV series The Avengers, that is - you know, Steed and Mrs Peel and all that. Not Captain America and Iron Man.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

M'Rao, Scourge of the Lands Exterior

M’Rao, Scourge of the Lands Exterior, felt the pull of wakefulness upon him. It was not yet light but the day was already demanding his attention. The night, much like the day before it, had been one of debauchery and excess. In fact, thinking about, every day and every night was a feast for the senses. His wants and needs drove him ever onwards and he made no secret about it.

As his eyes pulled their way languidly open while his body stretched to its full length, M’Rao cast his mind back over the events of the previous night. The night had begun in the traditional fashion by feasting at the appointed hour until his belly was sated. M’Rao had then ventured forth into the Lands Exterior to begin the night time hunt. Amongst M’Rao’s kin, the time of darkness was considered to be a fitting time to hunt one’s prey as the challenge was greater and the victory more satisfying. Anyone could hunt in the bright light of day but a true predator tested his mettle in the inky jet blackness that allowed for no mistakes.

The pickings were slim within his own territory so M’Rao chose to take the risk of encroaching upon the domain of another. This was always a risky gambit as, were he to be caught, the result would likely be open warfare. M’Rao was fully aware of this but cared little for the consequences. Ferocity and boldness stirred in his heart, not the cringing timidity of a lesser being. The hunt would bring success; failure was not an option.

He did not have long to wait. A flutter, a glimpse of movement nearby. M’Rao stilled his movements, hugging the ground with his body as closely as was possible. His prey wove into view. A Flying Beast and it was on the ground! The unselfconscious nature of its movements told M’Rao that it was not aware of his presence. Almost imperceptibly, M’Rao inched slightly forward. He could see that as he got closer that it was a Lesser Flying Beast but he was not deterred by the size of the creature; the hunt was still hunt no matter the the prize and it would still make a splendid offering for the Sacred One.

M’Rao slowly, ever so slowly, edged his way into position. Fortune favoured M’Rao for he had managed to position himself downwind and the prey remained oblivious to him. Slowly, slowly closer. M’Rao needed no weaponry; as far as M’Rao was concerned, his body was a finely honed killing machine, the deadliest weapon he needed.

Closer, closer. The moment had to be judged just right. Not a second too soon, not a second too- A leap! A screech. Blood. Feathers. A flurry of frantic movement and then… Stillness.

The Beast was defeated. The need for the hunt had been satisfied. His kill proudly displayed and fiercely guarded from any would-be thieves, M’Rao made his way back to his own territory. The offering for the Sacred One had to be left in one of the four designated Places of Power in order for it to be recognised as a fitting tribute. Only once it had been arranged and displayed (tradition demanded that the innards be fully visible to clearly show the ferocity of the hunt), the time for celebration could begin. M’Rao left his kill and ventured forth once more into the Lands Exterior, this time with a different sort of hunting on his mind. Stealth was no longer an option.

When it came to attracting the ladies, M’Rao had one real advantage on his side -  his voice. The sweet, dulcet tones of his song could soften even the hardest of hearts. Intoxicated with the success achieved against his nighttime foe, M’Rao let his voice ring out loud and clear into the night. As was usually the case, it didn’t take long for an answering voice to complement his own, turning his solo into a duet.

Before long, the owner of this answering call came into view, picking her way through the long grasses of the Lands Exterior. A fine looking filly with jet black hair. M’Rao felt his pulse quicken. As she slinked towards him, he could see that his song was working its usual magic upon her. She moved further in, ever nearer. Soon they were nearly touching and then they were touching, pressed together in the frantic heat of the moment. M’Rao was engaged in his second tussle of the night, just as enjoyable but in an oh so different way. As quickly as it had started, it was over. Lusts satisfied, they went their separate ways, neither one sparing so much as a glance in the other’s direction. 

With his various carnal desires satisfied for the night, M’Rao returned to the heart of the Interior for some rest before the day began. He checked that his offering was still suitably displayed and, satisfied in a night well spent, retired to his preferred bedchamber (there were many places that he liked to sleep but this was his favourite).

Morning had arrived now and M’Rao, still filled with satisfaction over a night well spent, hauled himself up to greet the day. As he made his way past the Place of Power, he noted with a sense of pleasure that his offering was no longer there. M’Rao felt blessed that the favour of the Sacred One would continue to be bestowed upon him.

A sudden shadow blotted out the morning light. M’Rao looked up. A vast creature, many, many times larger than he was, was making its way towards him. The Sacred One! Come to shower him with the glory which was rightly his! M’Rao made his approach, stopping to adopt the traditional signs of fealty accompanied with the formal hum of devotion.


Susie watched as the small tabby cat sidled his way over to her and rubbed back and forth between her legs, purring contentedly as he did so.

Yeah, you might well suck up to me, Mr Binky, thought Susie. That’s the third time this week I’ve woken up and stepped in a dead bird.

The creature, referred to by Susie as Mr Binky but known in his heart of hearts as M’Rao, ceased his rubbing and ambled his way over to the cat flap, pausing only for a brief wash of his genitals on the way. Today was a new day and the Lands Exterior were calling once again.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

This Is Not A Post

Well, alright, smartypants, technically yes, this is a post as clearly I've written something here and you're reading it*. That's not what I was trying to get at. What I meant by the flippant yet slightly click-baity title** is that this post isn't really about anything. My, you are pedantic today, aren't you, imaginary reader that I'm holding an imaginary conversation with in my head? Yes, obviously, it's about something but it's not themed like they usually are.

So what am I writing about today? Well, I'm glad you asked me that.*** I thought today I'd talk a little bit about what this blog is about. I know, it's a Tuesday, it's nearly Christmas and that's a little on the existential side but if you're not up for it, just stop reading.****

It's about whatever I want it to be.

Worth the build-up there, wasn't it? Alright, alright, what I mean by that is that it'll vary from day to day as to what it'll be. Some days it might be a review or overview of some piece of pop culture (TV, film, book, comic, game); some days it may an anecdote, either about something recent or from way back in the mists of time (alright, not much further past the 80s, I'm not that old); some days it might be a piece of random fiction like yesterday's throwaway silliness; and some days it might be a piece about how I don't really have a piece (ah yes, I've brought it back round at the end there).

All of which is to say that this isn't really much of a post but some days, it'll just be like that, you know?*****

Come back tomorrow for hopefully not more of the same. Maybe something different. Or maybe not. (Note to self:- Work on sales pitch.)

* Yes you are, don't try and pretend you're not.

** Clickbait - there's a term that wasn't in popular use when I last regularly posted here. And now I sound a bit like your grandad using the word "iPhone" like someone's just popped something weird and new in his mouth. Not like that, don't be dirty. Filthbag.

*** Look, I know you didn't ask me that but the twee faux-conversational style is just the way it works around here so go with it.

**** Don't stop reading.

***** Look, you try traveling from Oop North (practically Winterfell) back to Dahn Sarf and be fascinating yet scintillating.

Monday, 18 December 2017

A Funny Thing Happened...

Two guys walk into a bar. Seated at the bar are a duck, a bear and a nun. The two guys walk up to the bar and choose a couple of bar stools next to the duck. The barman comes over, pours them a couple of pints and plays no further part in the story. The first guy takes a sip of beer, turns to the duck and says, “Hey, Gordon, how was your day?”

The duck sighs. “Oh, you know, busy, Davey, busy as always. I got told a lot today and you know how it goes. Most of the time they just end up getting you wrong. Punchline mostly but not always just that. Sometimes I’m a goose. A couple of times I was a mouse. I mean, come on, people.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” says the first guy. “It’s not so much the whole ‘getting it wrong’ thing for me. It’s the repetition, you know?”

“Ah, too right,” says the second guy. “Every day, it’s the same. Always walking into a bloody bar. Just once it’d be nice to go somewhere different. A restaurant perhaps. Or maybe even a bedroom.”

“Eeeh, you dirty bugger,” says the duck.

“No, not like that,’ says the second guy. “It would be just be good for once to have a bit of lie down in a comfy bed.”

“God, yeah, that’d be lovely,” says the first guy.

The bear turns slowly to face them. “You guys think you’ve got it…… bad. At least you haven’t got the world’s most annoying speech……..impediment. No one ever wants to have a…... chat.” They nod sympathetically but choose not to engage.

“I tell you, if I have to hear one more fucking word about chuffing soap, I’ll ram a sodding bar right up the arsehole’s.... arsehole,” says the nun with a snarl, brandishing her creme de menthe in a threatening manner. The others nod but make sure to avoid eye contact.

A horse walks into the bar. Everyone has the decency not to mention his face.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Backwards Congas And Chinese 5 Spice

I’m really not sure what made me think it would be fine. I’ve been to plenty of live comedy shows and I’ve always resisted sitting at the front. That’s the firing line, the place of getting picked on. However, as The Brother had bought “posh” tickets (first two rows) and the second row was already filling up, I suggested sitting in the front. 

“This is Alex Horne (of Taskmaster fame) and The Horne Section’s Christmas show. He seems like a nice guy, he’s not the sort of comedian to pick on people in the audience, “ said I. It turns out that I was very shortly to be made aware that I had made a rather key mistake in that sentence (not the nice guy part, by the way).

It was about five minutes in when Alex turned to myself and the gentleman sat one seat over to say that it was very distracting to have two people sat in front of him basically wearing the same face (he was also an baldy fella with beard-style facial adornments) and that we should stand up and show the audience. We duly do so, a good laugh and we sit back down.

“Ah,’ thinks I, “that’s that over with then.” Me being wrong was definitely the theme of the evening.

After one of their trademark comedy songs (all of which were definitely my cup of tea), Alex Horne holds up a hand and says that, while very sweet, it was very distracting that I had kept saying, “I’m finding this very funny but I really want to do a backwards conga.” The sinking feeling becomes strong. I’m not off the hook. In fact, I about to be fully hooked up.

I am brought up on stage (along with my equally bald neighbour). Another four baldy beardies are selected from the audience. We then perform a backwards conga which starts and ends with me saying, “Agnoc!” three times into the microphone, and also ends with me conga-ing backwards on my own on stage, everyone else having been lead off-stage backwards one by one. I am thanked and returned to my seat. (The payoff for this bit comes at the end of the show when they play of video of this bit reversed so that we’re conga-ing forwards and I’m saying “Conga!” in a Twin Peaks, red room, dancing dwarf kind of a way.)

“Phew,” I think during the interval, “I was up there for ages, they must be done with me now.” I really should stop thinking to myself.

In the second half, my bald companion and I are offered a prize for the fun they’ve been having with us but there’s only one prize. The solution? A live Taskmaster task on stage to determine the prize-winner. We’re each given a rucksack to wear and a pop-up tent, still in its case. We have to put up the tent, get in, open the rucksack, put on the costume found within and exit the tent - first to do so wins. It with no small amount of pride that I have to say that I won (I was wearing an egg costume, my competitor an chicken one - “well, I guess that answers that question.”)

It’s not over yet, though. I win a jar of Chinese 5 Spice but I'm not quite done - I get to stay on stage during the song and join in the dance moves. When the dance moves run out, I’m told to just freestyle it in the background. After that, my time in the limelight is done (having probably spent about ten minutes in stage in total!)

Two of my favourite programmes of the year have been Twin Peaks (as discussed the other day) and Taskmaster. To get to perform live recreations of scenes from both shows was definitely a highlight. I normally find audience participation a bit cringey (as in if I’m the one doing it) but there was such a sense of fun about it and there was no real sense that we were being mocked, that it was impossible not to get swept up with it.

In conclusion, if you do get a chance to go and see Alex Horne and The Horne Section, do so. It’s a good fun night out and you might even get to take part….

Thursday, 14 December 2017

There's Nothing For You Here

It feels very much like this year has been one of returns in the pop culture world (or at least in the sphere of pop culture that I’m into at any rate). I talked about Twin Peaks making a triumphant return yesterday; today, it’s the turn of another series combining humour, horror and the surreal which I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak of this week - yes, it’s time to return once more to Royston Vasey (not that we ever left, of course) as, after a fifteen year absence*, the League of Gentlemen are back…

Tuesday night saw a BFI special preview of the first episode of the new three part special airing next week followed by a Q&A with the League themselves. First surprise of the night - it wasn’t just the first episode, it was actually the first two! An extremely welcome additional treat.

As for the episodes, I’ll refrain from going into any actual details, given that the three of them are airing next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, there are returning characters (I won't tell you which ones) and even a couple of new ones. If you’re expecting the usual mix of humour, horror and even some pathos then you certainly won't be disappointed. There were a few good belly laughs in there as well as some moments of genuine emotion. I’m not going to go into any specifics as I certainly don’t want to spoil anything ahead of time - all I will say is that, after the format change of the third series and the fourth wall breaking of the film, this is very much a return to classic League Of Gentlemen with the traditional mix of interlinking serialised sketches. One thing that definitely feles a bit stronger this time around (and was pointed out in the follow up Q&A) is that the storytelling feels more structured - a benefit of them all having worked on many different shows in the intervening years. I’m not sure if you’lll get as much from this as a casual viewer - the bigger delights are in seeing where these characters you already know have ended up after all this time.

After the screening, the four Gentlemen were in attendance - Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson - and on fine form answering questions from both the moderators and the audience. The biggest reveal? The Gents are going on tour next year. Might have to see if I can get tickets for that one (although not if they turn out to be Flight Of the Conchords expensive - tried to get tickets for them and could only find ones at the back fo the O2 for about £90; I love the Conchords but not for £90…).

I’m definitely going to have to keep an eye out for more of these BFI screenings - there was something particularly enjoyable about seeing them up on the big screen with an appreciative audience, especially nowadays as the lines between TV and film are blurring more and more (something the League have always done anyway, given that their influences are as much film and documentary as TV comedy) and the quality of current TV is sufficient to withstand the big screen treatment.

(It sort of petered out a bit in that last paragraph, didn’t it? I’m going to let it stand, though - this is what you get from reading just some blog off of that there internet, I suppose.)

* As a group that is - individually, they’ve all been very busy in the meantime.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

It Is Happening Again

In recent years, I’ve become much more inclined to binge watch when it comes to TV. Not a surprising statement, I know, given that we live in the age of the boxset, but it is indicative of something else that I’ve noticed recently:- there are fewer TV shows that I would categorise as “must see”, being happy to let them stack up and go through a big pile of episodes in a heap. There are a couple of notable exceptions when it comes to watching week by week but my watching them is prompted more by a desire to avoid spoilers than actually being compelled to watch the next episode. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good programmes but I’m just not obsessed with them to the point where I absolutely must watch the next one and that, I guess, is the point. There isn’t really much at the moment where I feel compelled to watch the following episode and am frustrated when it skips a week and I have to wait.

All that changed earlier this year with the return of an old favourite - an old favourite that, had my 15-16 year old self known there would eventually be a new series made, his excitement would have known no bounds. I’m talking about the recently aired and twenty-six-year-delayed third season of Twin Peaks.

I’m going to caveat it here:- is this something I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone to start watching? No. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it (although sometimes I didn’t - more on that in a bit); it’s just not something that’s easy to recommend. And that’s kind of the point. There is nothing like this at all on television. I’d even go so far as to say that there has been nothing quite like this on television before and that also includes the first two seasons of Twin Peaks. In structural terms, it doesn’t follow any of the established patterns or formats of conventional TV but it is nothing like a film either. What it is, is pure undiluted David Lynch* - much more Eraserhead than Twin Peaks Season 1 / 2.

Why would I not recommend it to everybody? It’s a really acquired taste - I’m hesitating to use the extremely overused “Marmite” here but I can't think of a better term. In fact, it’s not just a case of “love it or hate it”. For Twin Peaks; The Return, it’s also possible to love it and hate it at the same time. It certainly tries the patience - long, lingering shots of a man sweeping up a bar go on way past any potential interest has been sapped - and at times, it feels like Lynch is almost deliberately testing the patience of the audience to see what he can get away with. There were moments where my patience was close to snapping and I was tempted to fast forward but I stuck with it and was always rewarded by something that would draw me back in after having my endurance tested.

In the end, though, it is this unique mix of the mundane and the surreal, the boring and the violent, the funny and the dark that makes Twin Peaks worth the ride. The may have been some bumps along the way and the destination may have ended in uncertainty once again but, unlike the end of the second season, this felt like a planned lack of resolution and the only truly fitting way to end a television experience completely unlike anything else.

* Sure, I realise that series co-creator Mark Frost has co-written the whole thing with Lynch but, as director as well as co-writer for the whole 18 episodes, it very much feels like Lynch’s thing.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Six Years Later...

Once upon a time, this was an occasionally semi-regular blog with words being put on it (usually one after the other in the traditional fashion, lined up to comprise sentences to begin with, before herding themselves into paragraphs). Then it all stopped. No big dramatic reason. As is the way, these things just sort of fall by the wayside. You stop doing it one day and then you stop doing it the next day and then you seem to have stopped doing it all the days. Every now and then, an idle “I should really get back to doing that again” would flit across the old grey matter but then it would equally flit away again as I got back to work / socialising / doing stuff round the house / playing board games / lying in bed watching boxset after boxset / falling down an unexpected hole in the internet / playing a pointless smartphone based game / insert other modern drain upon one’s time here.

There comes a day, however, when the fingers stray once more to the keyboard. When it seems like there is a word to go here after all followed by another word to go there. And maybe, and possibly, this thing in a small corner of the deep recesses of the web becomes a thing again.

Hello. I’m fully aware of the strong likelihood that no one is reading this. Six years away would deplete even the most hardcore of audiences for most things and, given the readership here numbered in the tens on a good day, I don’t expect much of a response. That’s OK. This was always just a way for the stuff in the head to run off on to the page and it was a nice little bonus if the words were looked at by people’s eyes. (Everyone with pretensions of writing has an imaginary audience in their head anyway - they always give all the right responses so there’s really no need for you*).

Will it last? Well, that’s always the question, isn’t it? It’ll last as long as it lasts and then it’ll stop but then maybe it’ll start again. I think that’s the sort of guarantee I can definitely stick to. What sort of thing can you expect from it? To be perfectly honest, more of the sort of stuff that was on here before really - a relatively inane combination of half-formed anecdote and ill-informed opinion with strong delusions of humour. You’d think that over half a decade away would sharpen the mind, wouldn't you? Nope, afraid not. I’m galloping headlong towards the desolate plains of middle-age now so I’m a small step away from not caring if I go outside in my pajamas as it’s more comfortable**.

So, imaginary head audience, sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy between two and five blog posts before I realise that it’s Christmas and it was a very silly idea to try doing this again at this time of year.

* Obviously I don’t mean you. You get this. I mean all the other ones who don’t get it. Yeah, them.+

** I probably shouldn’t, though. I’m a boxers and T-shirt kind of a guy so that’s maybe not the  look I should take outside the house. Borderline indecent exposure, really.

+ Oh, and if you’re new to this, I like a footnote. My mind is tangential at the best of times so the footnote will definitely be employed.