Thursday, 1 August 2013

Midnight Story

Mike woke up and clutched his stomach.  It hurt, his insides felt as if they'd been twisted around each other in a painful knot.  He didn't know what it was, but he assumed it was just cramp or indigestion, so he took a Rennie's and tried to go back to sleep. If it happened again he'd see the doctor.

Mike had almost been right, it was the creature inside him that had indigestion.  It slithered about beneath his skin, growing, almost ready to be born and there was nothing any doctor could do about it.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The World's End

I watched The World's End last night.  I'm not gonna write too much about the film itself, partly because it's late, I'm tired and lazy but also because it's the sort of film you want to see with as few preconceptions as possible, it's not an M. Night Shyamalan style twist film, but Wright, Pegg and co. have done a great job of keeping the majority of the film out of the trailers and it'd be a shame to miss out on that.

So what did I think of the film?  We'll I liked it, at the moment it's my favourite film of the year (so far).  Having said that it's not been a great year for films (and I've not seen Pacific Rim yet).  The World's End is a good film.  Edgar Wright brings the same top notch craft and visual flair he's brought to all his other films, there are some fantastic sight gags and I look forward to re-watching the film again and again to spot them all.  Frost and Pegg both turn in fantastic performances, I'd gone off them a bit recently, but their work here stands up with anything from the Cornetto Trilogy and the supporting cast match them ably.  Having said all that when I left the cinema I wasn't as excited about the movie as I had been about Shaun or Fuzz.

I think a big reason for this is the movie's plot.  I have no problem with the movie's writing generally, as I said above it's a very well crafted film.  However, I think it's definitely the hardest of the Cornetto Trilogy for me to relate to.  A good part of the film's plot, and pretty much all of the main characters' emotional journeys, revolve around returning to your hometown as an adult, and that's a tougher theme for me to emphasise with than the slacker's coming of age story in Shaun or Hot Fuzz's parochial paranoia.

I currently live in the town I grew up in, it's not where I want to spend the rest of my life but I don't see it as a pit I need to escape.  I've not left and laid down roots somewhere else or refused to move on and obsess over past glories.  I'm still in the process of finding my own place in the world, while all the characters in the film have either achieved or rejected this.  A lot of Shaun and Fuzz were about growing up, The World's End is about being, (or not being) an adult and that's not something that I really worry about. 

This obstacle prevented me form enjoying the film on a purely vicarious level as I could with Fuzz or Shaun.  However, it absolutely is an obstacle that will disappear with time.  I for the moment I can enjoy the film for it's jokes, it's craft and it's plot and I'm sure as I age the character's struggles will resonate with me more strongly.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

I am a grumpy old man.

I've just got back from the pub quiz.  After very nearly winning I left the pub through a throng of eighteen to twenty year olds who gathered around the door, I heard one of them say "let's get a taxi" and I despaired.  They were only going to the top of the hill! How lazy does someone have to be to take a taxi a mile and a half up a moderate incline?

When I was their age I walked home every night.  There wasn't a night out that didn't end with me strolling up the hill, by myself, in the dark.  Every Thursday I'd stumble home, crying and covered in sick, half naked.  I'd walk dazed and confused without any thought for where I was going, my homing instinct drawing me home like I was some overgrown pigeon.  I'd shuffle shoeless over the pebbles and brambles, weeping uncontrollably at my teenage state with most of a pizza smeared across my face and cheesy chips in my hair.  My shirt hung open, exposing my bald adolescent chest to the unforgiving night in all it's magnificent pearlescence.  I'd scream obscene challenges at owls both real and imagined as I plodded onwards.  I'm rambling, the point I'm trying to make is that that was the best, everyone should be like that, I'm the best, goodnight.

Monday, 24 June 2013

He is Legend

Richard Matheson died today. I've only read one of his books but it was phenomenal. I read I Am Legend after seeing the Will Smith film of the same name, I remember enjoying the film but being blown away by the book. The film was a serviceable post-trauma zombie movie, the book is a classic piece of horror literature. Dark, claustrophobic and intelligent I am Legend has maybe the most interesting takes on the vampire story I've ever encountered. It's a short, powerful book with no words wasted and something very interesting to say.

At the start of I am Legend Robert Neville is the last surviving human in a world of vampires. He spends his days hunting them and his nights locked up in his house hoping the creatures outside don't find their way in. At first the book does a fantastic job of portraying Neville as a practical, capable man struggling to maintain his sanity in the face of complete loneliness. However, as the story progresses it heads into darker and darker territory towards an ending that's as bleak as it is perfect. I struggle to thing of a work of fiction with an ending as effective as I am Legend's. The storytelling is tight, focused and fearless. Neville remains an interesting and sympathetic character despite the impossible situations he finds himself in, I found myself desperately rooting for him despite the hopelessness of his situation.

I am Legend is rightfully considered to be a classic of Science Fiction Horror and has gone on to massively influence the genre. The zombie story is particularly indebted to Matheson, his story serving as a sort of pre-cursor to the genre in a way similar to George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Despite the sometimes off-putting genre pedigree I would recommend I am Legend to anyone in a way that I wouldn't with other influential writers. Don't bother with any of the adaptations just read the book. I'm going to check out some of his other works.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Eagle Problems

Have you heard of the Lord of the Rings?  It's pretty obscure, fifty thousand pages of rambling and made up languages.  Of course you've heard of the Lord of the Rings!  Everyone and their mum's heard of the Lord of the Rings.  Everybody who has ever lived has seen the extended editions of the films read the books and had a crack at the Silmarillion for a couple of pages before giving up with a headache and going to read literally anything else.  Okay I'm exaggerating, I'm sure they are some tiny children in outer Mongolia who have never seen the Lord of the Rings but the fact remains that it's one of the cultural touch stones of Epic Fantasy.  I have spent (some might say wasted) hours of my life discussing the Lord of the Rings with friends, acquaintances and colleagues and you know what always comes up, especially when we're talking about the movies, those fucking eagles.
Not these guys
You know the ones, the giant birds of prey that turn up to rescue Gandalf from Orthanc and the Hobbits from Mount Doom.  The massive feathery killing machines that emerge from the sky when the plot demands it before vanishing without a trace.  Everyone's always going on about the eagles, "Why didn't they just ride the eagles to Mordor in the first place?" asks 6 of the first 10 results returned when you Google eagles lord of the rings in as shrill and whinny voice.  Thousands of pieces of lazy nerd humour and joyless pedantry have addressed the issue and I want a piece of that action.

I didn't have a problem with the eagles in Lord of the Rings, eagles are cool, giant eagles are cooler and I was mostly just excited to see them on screen.  Huge winged predators turning up to rescue friendly wizards and fight not-quite-dragons are exactly what you want to see in a movie when you're a teenage nerd (or an adult nerd).  Even after realising the plot hole they presented I didn't care a great deal.  The rescue of Gandalf served to establish the wizard as a powerful character with all sorts of unexpected allies and after forty thousand hours of needing a wee and watching the Return of the King I was delighted not to dwell on Sam and Frodo's escape from Mount Doom (although it was a shame to miss out on the Scouring of the Shire).  LOTR's plot isn't watertight, but none of the holes are big enough to sink it.  The problems I have with the eagles are in the Hobbit.

The eagles' appearances in LOTR both serve valuable plot functions and, aside from the "why didn't they use them in the first place?" plot hole, don't raise a great deal of questions.  They're a powerful magical race, they're goodies, here's how they help, done and dusted.  The problem arises with how they're used in the Hobbit.  In that movie Gandalf summons the Eagles again and they save the heroes, again, before dropping them off on a rock and disappearing again, the dwarves stand on the rock without saying a word before watching a bird fly to the lonely mountain.  This is the moment where the eagles become problematic.  

Why do none of the dwarves discuss the eagles?  Why doesn't Fili of Kili or whoever ask them to take them the rest of the way?  These aren't just plot problems like in the use of the eagles in LOTR, these are character problems.  The fact that the dwarves silently watch the eagles go before discussing how much further they have to travel breaks investment in the characters.  The dwarves are ignoring this incredible thing that's just happened to them to avoid raising a plot hole, so they feel like actors rather than genuine characters and the audience finds it hard to care.

This is all so frustrating because the same events happen in the books and it never feels like a problem.  The difference comes because in the books the eagles talk, they have names and dialogue.  They are characters rather than plot devices.  Tolkien presents Gwahir and pals as a group of individuals and as such it becomes easier to accept their actions.  They presumably have their own thought and interests so it's less difficult to accept that they don't save the day every time Gandalf needs them to.  By using the eagles repeatedly  without developing their character the films reduce the Eagles to a feathery Deus Ex Machina and gives the viewer no reason not to ask "Why didn't they just ride the eagles to Mordor in the first place?" in as shrill and whinny voice.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Watership Down

I had an adventure.  A body like this doesn't just happen, it takes the perfect combination of shameless neglect and a few coincidentally healthy hobbies.  One of these is walking home from work.  I walk about 3-4 miles a day from the office to my house along the canal bank.  I really enjoy walking home from work; it gives me time to think, to listen to podcasts and see the wildlife.  The canal's been good for wildlife recently, the hot weather's brought out hundreds of fish, ducklings and herons.  Tonight I walked through a massive hatch of what I think were mayfly, thousands of tiny insects that chased each other and fucked in the air.  It was a little weird to be surrounded by so much sex, like being in the first year of university again.  Today there was a rabbit.
It was swimming down the middle of the canal, bobbing its head above the water, all least it was at first.  As I drew closer I saw that the thing was struggling, each time its head slipped under the water it took longer and longer to return to the surface until I saw it start to sink through the cloudy brown murk  Before I really knew what I was doing I was kicking off my shoes, and preparing to rescue the thing.
I unbuttoned my trousers and jumped into the water not realising my smart office wear was still entangled with my ankles and my phone was in the pocket.  I barley noticed, the rabbit had been underwater for an long time now, I thrashed around under the surface, trying to find it but it was no use, the rabbit was gone, lost in the brown murk.
That was when I noticed my trousers floating behind me.  I hurriedly threw them out out the canal, mercifully everything I'd had in my pockets had stayed that way.  That was when the old woman walked past.  I was standing in the canal not knowing what to do next and she quite reasonably asked what I was doing.  I mumbled something about trying to save a rabbit.  She scolded me for not looking after myself and carried on walking, not realising that I have my silver cross open water life saving badge and as such I was obviously in no, danger the well meaning fool.
Finally I got out of the canal.  I stood on the towpath in my waterlogged socks, boxers and shirt holding a soaked through pair of black work trousers.  It was a 2.5 mile walk home.  Fortunately today was maybe the nicest day of the year so I dried off pretty quickly and temperature wasn't an issue.  Embarrassment was.  I hobbled my way home past a bemused collection of joggers, cyclists and narrow boat captains looking like Walter White at the start of Breaking Bad. 
So I showered, put my clothes in the wash and slathered myself in antiseptic.  My phone's in a bowl of rice on the windowsill, hopefully the rice will soak up any of the filthy water that got into the machine and I can turn it on successfully in the next few days.  I can't find my glasses so I'm using a spare pair.
I told my dad about all this and he said I was an idiot.  He's more practical than I am, he was raised on a farm and has a much more straight forward attitude to the food animals.  Not that I'm a great animal rights campaigner; I eat meat unapologetically and like to think that I would kill my own food should the need arise, though I never have. 
I am a massive hypocrite, I tried to save the rabbit today when the weather was brilliant and I wasn't in a hurry.  I'd probably have left the bunny if trying to rescue it would have required more effort.  I feel genuinely upset that I failed the rabbit but I know I'll eat cheap meat again without any guilt.  I guess I feel bad for the rabbit because its death seemed so pointless, I can't overlook it's unpleasant final moments for some tasty sausages.  I was being an idiot, I lost a pair of glasses and I've probably written off my phone for a rabbit I didn't save, but at the time, I didn't think about that, all I thought was that I didn't want to watch a rabbit die, and I'm proud of that.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

I'm a complicated man


So here's what I did this evening

and here's something I said this afternoon.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

What the Duck?!

My friend Andy sent me this link (don't click on the link or any of the others if you don't want to see an un-bloodied, apparently pain free duck impaled with a crossbow bolt) today about a duck being shot with a crossbow in Barnsley.  The duck was, if not fine, well enough to avoid being caught by the RSPCA.  Apparently this mallard is Rambo.  Anyway when I finished reading the article I noticed the related stories box at the bottom of the page.


So two more ducks have been shot with crossbows, in Lincolnshire and Derby.  I read these articles and found a similar story reported in Cornwall.  In total the BBC has reported six incidents of crossbow attacks on ducks, in Herefordshire and Leamington Spa in addition to those listed above.  The RSPCA reports an additional duck being crossbowed in Cheshire, I have no idea why the beeb failed to cover this story.  Eight ducks were shot and two were killed.  Ducks really are crossbow proof.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this, I guess mostly out of surprise at the number of duck crossbowings I've just discovered.  Who knew that all across the UK people are united by there shared love of using medieval weapons to spectacularly inconvenience mallards?  At least I hope that's the case, what if it's all one person?  What if it's one shadowy individual biding his time, spreading his crimes over years and hundreds of miles to hide his guilt, perhaps conducting some satanic ritual?  Why do I feel like I've only uncovered one dark corner of a massive web of water foul murder?

It's because I've watched too many serial killer movies, that's why.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Play the game, play the game, everybody play the gaaaammmmeee!

I like video games.  I wouldn't really call myself a gamer and I haven't bought one since 2011, because I'm a proper grown up with grown up things to do like sitting in my pants and watching repeats of Stargate SG1 on Pick TV. But as I say I like video games, I watch Zero Punctuation every week, subscribe to Rock Paper Shotgun's RSS feed and lose embarrassingly to my more gamery friends at Halo.  It's not beyond the realms of possibility that I could be convinced to part with money for a shiny entertainment fun disk.  Then I see something like this, or this and I think fuck the video games industry.

Do they really think so little of their customers to believe that this sort of stuff is what they want to buy?  (Obviously the answer to that question is no, as evidenced by Valve's frequently wonderful ad campaigns but it's much less fun being nuanced).  What sort of mindset thinks that people will want to pay extra for a statue that suggests they are a dangerous pervert?  Ed Gein should think that bust looked a bit tasteless.  I don't want anything to do with anyone who thinks associating their brand with horribly violent sexual imagery is the way to get my cash.  I can't believe that this needs saying but don't advertise your product with a serial killer's wank fantasy.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Deadbeats

Deadbeats is a graphic novel by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey with art by INJ Culbard. I was familiar with the writers form their work on the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast, an insightful and amusing examination of the great horror writers work that combines literary criticism, interesting triva and dumb jokes. I first encountered Culbard's artwork on the Brass Sun strip that ran in 2000ad last year and was impressed by his beautifully clean, European style cartooning.  Aside from his work for Tharg Culbard has adapted a series of Lovecraft stories into graphic novels published through British publisher Self Made Hero. Given this shared interest in the Lovecraftian it comes as no surprise that Deadbeats is a weird tale with a twenties setting.  However, the comic is more than a pastiche, the creative team have taken some of the core ideas of Lovecraft's work and created a story around them that could only have come from these three people.

Lovecraft's work focused on mood, atmosphere and concepts rather than plot or character and he told his stories through dense, beautifully purple prose, Deadbeats is a story centred around a strong core of characters who are constantly on the run with little time to pause for breath.  Long drawn out descriptive paragraphs are replaced with pact chase scenes and moments of slapstick. The story focuses on three jazz musicians on the run from the mob who run straight into Lovecraft country. The central characters are all well defined and most of the time likeable. They have distinct voices and feel like believable prohibition era people.

The comic contains perhaps the best use of music I have seen in the medium.  As comics are a silent medium the use of music can often feel awkward and take the reader out of the story.  Alan Moore in particular seems unable two resist derailing a masterpiece by having the characters burst into song. However the authors of Deadbeats succeed not by recreating a song lyrically but by using the medium of comics to represent the feeling of different pieces of music in a immediately recognisable way. 

Deadbeats' greatest success is in recreating the most enjoyable aspect of the author's podcast, its sense of humour.  The book never quite becomes a farce or a parody as the various supernatural threats are presented seriously and remain scary but the authors allow plenty of moments of humour.  This is aided by the art which manages to combine some exaggerated facial expressions and almost farcical schemes with the moody terror of the entities menacing our heroes.  The story feels like it could easily exist within the Lovecraft cannon, you believe the Dunwich Horror could be happening a few valleys over from our heroes' adventure. In the same way that Scrubs, House and Bodies are all successful hospital stories.

Deadbeats is an action packed, funny and scary romp right through Lovecraft country and its well worth reading. The comic is available world wide from the book depository or from retail sites such as OK Comics and Travelling Man in the UK (I'm certain you can find it in other places as well).