Friday 30 December 2011

My 2011 awards are definitely legally binding

The end of 2011 is upon us. I've crested the peaks! I've plumbed the depths! I've generally speaking managed to look miserable whichever one I was doing at the time! I've only cut my hair once (and that was because some teenage girls were pointing and laughing at me at Shoreham station. I am 31 years old). I have done an unprecedented 219 blog posts (although 30 of those were written by other people). I have tweeted approximately enough words to have written a novel. I have not written a novel.

All of these things give me an increased sense of self-importance so I'm going to talk about some of the stuff I have most enjoyed this year, in this, the seasons of awards and the BBC telling us it's been the hottest/driest/wettest/coldest year on record as if I'm supposed to be able to do anything about that.

My favourite blog post of the year that I wrote is definitely this one, about the Doncaster Warehouse rave. Whenever anyone says anything nice about my blog then I immediately think back to this post and assume that it's about that. I have not heard anything from any of the key players in that spirited drama, which is a shame. Although they're probably all far too busy being responsible middle-aged people these days.

My favourite blogs of this year have been Skulls and Ponies, Panda and Crumpet and I See A Beautiful Future. During the year I have met all of the people responsible for these blogs and was delighted to discover they are all as lovely as I'd hoped they were, whilst they discovered I'm a lot worse than they had feared I'd be. All three of these blogs are so bursting with ideas and style the internet can barely contain their goodness. They are also shot through with a level of honesty and thoughtfulness to which I can only aspire.

My favourite blog post of 2011 is either this one by Betsy about STRESS or this one by 5olly, which defies all rational description but reminds me that the world would be better if 5olly blogged more often. 5olly also wrote the funniest post on this site of the entire year, a fact simply bound to make me feel bitter.

My favourite thing that I drew this year is my illustration for Panda and Crumpet's first anniversary blog post of Johnny Cash. I've had a very average drawing year in 2011. Nothing too special, nothing too lousy. Ideas have been hard to come by too often. However, this is just about perfect. When I see things like this and remember I did them it makes me think that there's a chance that I don't completely stink the place out.

My favourite thing on television this year was Burnistoun, the best sketch show that's been on British television in over a decade and inexplicably squirrelled away by the BBC so that it's only available to English viewers with access to iPlayer or enough amphetamines to stay up to the witching hour. It deserves a much bigger audience. They should put it on instead of the 10 o'clock news. The most disappointing thing I saw on television this year was the latest series of Doctor Who, the plotlines of which too often required a doctorate in theoretical physics to understand.

My favourite music of this year was all from 1991.

My favourite film of the year was Senna. It is also the only new film I saw in 2011, which is not to detract from how good it is.

All in all, I'm awarding 2011 seven out of ten.

Thursday 29 December 2011

New Year's resolutions

I don't normally make New Year's resolutions, least not formally write them down. However, this year I have. I think some sort of public accountability might make me actually pull my bleeding finger out and get some stuff done. I am pretty sure that one day this piece of paper will come back to haunt me, like Charles Foster Kane's Declaration of Principles. This is one reason that I shall not be giving it to Jed Leland, that troublemaking swine.

Monday 26 December 2011


Hello. That's what they say. When you are walking, that is. I'm not sure what happens to British people as soon as they get off public highways and onto promenades and footpaths but they seem hell-bent on saying "HELLO!" to people as they pass. Whatever it is I am clearly immune to it. In many ways I would quite like to try it, but never on a footpath on the Downs or along the seafront or in the woods. I'd prefer to try it in central London at 8.15 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.

I digress slightly. Today I went for a walk to Shoreham Old Fort. This is in Shoreham. Shoreham Beach, to be precise. West Sussex. Although by that point you're getting quite close to being in East Sussex, so close that you can smell the refinement. Or you would be able to if it weren't for the diesel fumes of heavy industry.

Anyway, I took pictures of it, so if you are a fucking lazy bastard or something, you can vicariously live my thrilling life. But rest assured that I hate you. Unless I don't. So, that's that cleared up. (Click them to make them bigger)

This beach hut looks like Adolf Hitler.

This bin comes with instructions about what to put in it.

Lonely egret is lonely.

Shoreham in the distance, houseboats in the middle & loads of green stuff in front of that.

Shoreham fort. Designed to keep the Egyptians at bay. It's working.

R.I.P. Harry Ayre, whoever you are. I imagine he drowned.

Shoreham power station busily making power which does not interest seagull.

There's an entire army division in this shed (re: Egyptians)

Shoreham lighthouse and lifeboat station. To prevent deaths (sadly not that of Harry Ayre).

I don't know what this is.

Cormorant. Maximum speed 6 knots.

Here are some boats going to B&Q.

Here is Shoreham lighthouse again BUT! from a different angle.

These boats are a bit knackered. Sort your boats out, people.

BEACH. Looking back towards Worthing. Wherever the hell that is.

There are some hardy souls fishing here. They have caught some birds.

There is Shoreham High Street, where everyone is high. HIGH ON LIFE. And some drugs.

I should also point out that I could have walked past the Shoreham houseboats but chose not to. This is because my photography skills are largely limited to taking wonky pictures of seagulls and falling over. Luckily for you, though, in November I walked along there with my friend Lolly and she is super-blazing-OMG-awesome at photography so you should have a look at her pictures instead. Go on!

Sunday 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Hello blog. Blog is a bit like a diary really. I tell it all sorts of things and sometimes forget that other people can - and indeed are encouraged to - read it. Never completely though. There's always that thing in the back of your mind urging caution.

I'm an old stager of social networking. I've never really been an early adopter of anything before but this time I have been. Kind of accidentally, and a lot of the people I know are far more seasoned campaigners than me. But I've pretty much seen it all now, as I've mentioned here several times before. One of the consequences of this is that I'm possessed of a fairly firm set of principles and guidelines about what I will and will not post.

I am now particularly drunk thanks to whomsoever it was who invented the red grape. But my principles are so unshakeable so I'm not going to start whiffling on about my specific personal business now. Interestingly I have no such foibles about discussing (in some depth) the parlous state of my mental health. Maybe I know that, really, that's all just make-believe and hooey. I imagine that most people who will read this will know me and will maybe know what I'm talking about anyway.

This Christmas Day could well prove to be a highly significant one for a number of reasons. I've been very determined to enjoy the whole holiday season - to the point where, in fact, I've even worried about not doing so, dissecting the whole experience bit-by-bit in my head to try and decide if I'm doing it RIGHT. But after lunch today, full of meat and brassicas and wine and Christmas, I sat (lay, heaving) down on the sofa and just thought about stuff. I felt such great waves of gratitude at my good fortune to have such wonderful people around me in my life that I almost wept. I felt truly happy.

I hope you have all felt truly happy this Christmas.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas song digest

Hello. Regular readers of this shit will no doubt be aware that I am pretty much completely dead inside, devoid of any of the normal human emotions or sentiment. However, even this doesn't mean I'm completely past enjoying Christmas songs. That's right. Think on that one.

Here are some Christmas songs which, if you don't like them, you can rest assured that you're even more twisted, shrunken and dried up inside than me. In which case I sincerely advise that some sort of therapy could be useful in the new year.

Be warned. There are very few trendy or left-field suggestions here. I'm not even being meta. Or meta-meta. Christmas is fundamentally a time for chintzy, shiny rubbish to make up for the general lack of daylight. I make no apologies. Well, some apologies.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas.

Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

This is my favourite track from the Phil Spector Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You. My overall enthusiasm for this album is very much under control. I dislike Phil Spector's production, his Wall of Sound - whilst pioneering - was so much more aggressive and unpleasant than Brian Wilson's that I believe Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys is a more festive-sounding record, even though it has nothing to do with the season. Phil Spector having been continually proven to be more aggressive and unpleasant a human being than Brian Wilson this isn't a particularly big surprise.

I love this record, though. The smack-you-round-the head-until-it-bleeds stridency of the production, the content of the song and the vocal performance all come together beautifully.

Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

There's no doubting that we all disagree with the title of this song. However, it's increasingly as traditional as roast turkey and profound emotional pain to the whole affair. And yes, it's annoying and twee and shit, but that's Christmas all over.

Slade - Merry Christmas Everybody

This song is brilliant. You know it. I know it. There's no point in hiding from it any more. Just bloody accept it so we can all move on with our lives. I don't want Christmas songs to be dark, or different, or have a message or a story to tell. This song is absolutely the best example of its kind. Fact.

Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone

Herein lies the all-time greatest cultural achievement of the Welsh nation. Probably the last great Christmas pop record ever made. No wonder the world's gone to the dogs, it was 26 years ago.

Friday 23 December 2011

Die Hard: A warning from history

As we all know, the inspirational boffins at CERN have been colliding hadrons with the best of them over the last three years and inventing physics and discovering bosons and all sorts. But one of the best-known effects of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is that in 2060, it opened a portal in time and space allowing time travel. Today's post comes courtesy of the 80-year old me, who popped round this morning with his considered historical retrospective of all of the Die Hard film series.

For almost 100 years, Die Hard films have been entertaining the masses with their slick blend of violence, wit, thrills and vests. They have variously taught us never to trust the Germans and also that the best form of defence is to blindly attack without any fear or indeed knowledge of the likely consequences. A practice which Bruce Willis took into his unfortunate four-year US Presidential term with some disastrous results, most of them for Suriname.

I love Die Hard films. They make me feel alive. Or rather, they make me feel like whatever explodes near me, I will not die. Alas, the series itself, as all things must, came to an end in 2042. Still, it allows me to provide a considered retrospective of the whole set. Some people believe that it remains the high watermark of what human civilisation has produced. Others, don't.

Die Hard (1988)

The original and, some think, still the best. McClane arrives at the Nakatomi building in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and family, only to have his plans interrupted by a German terrorist syndicate led by Hans Grüber. This film establishes the pattern for all of the future installments: our hero is, by a combination of accident and misfortune, left to battle all the forces of crime and evil single-handedly. Often in spite of the bumbling of uniformed paper pushers. The enemy are sharp, multinational and prepared for every eventuality. ALL BAR ONE.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

As we all know, Die Hard 2 is the best Die Hard film. McClane has to thwart a cartel of ex-military men hell bent on rescuing a deposed South American military dictator, with a perky weather eye on his massive stash of cocaine. Their method: taking over Washington DC's Dulles Airport on Christmas Eve, without a care in the world for all the people in the skies above. Including, of course, McClane's wife, Mrs. McClane. This one is non-stop pulsating action, with some top Sherlock Holmes-style sleuthing from the nevertheless always-in-a-vest John McClane. On the way, he escapes certain death by using an ejector seat and explodes a jumbo jet with a trail of leaking fuel. The latter represents the action film equivalent of Scooby Doo floating down a corridor after the whiff of a sandwich.

Die Hard 3: Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)

The Grüber dynasty returns, with Hans' younger brother Simon engaging John McClane in a preposterous game of Simon Says across New York City to find a bomb planted in a school, all as a blind so that his terrorist cartel (many of whom are masters of disguise and ninjas) can rob all the gold out of the Central Reserve. Together with a shopkeeper from Harlem who hates whitey, McClane must foil Grüber before his accent slips and reveals that, like all Germans in Hollywood cinema, he's actually RADA-trained. Die Hard 3 has perhaps the most thrilling first half of any film in the series, but the pace slackens somewhat towards the end, which is a shame.

Die Hard 4.0: Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)

Cyber-terrorism brings the entire eastern seaboard of the United States to a complete standstill. McClane, once again in the wrong place at the wrong time, must protect a seasoned 12-year old computer hacker so that he can save the world whilst combining being a major Luddite and saving his, now teenaged and inevitably estranged, daughter Lucy. Some of the set pieces in this film are so preposterous as to be almost cartoonish - McClane's spell hanging off the wing of a fighter jet is a particular highlight. Die Hard 4.0 divides opinion as a result, but I think there's really no need - every Die Hard film is complete, wonderful  lunacy and requires the suspension of disbelief and good faith on the part of the viewer.

Die Hard 5: Die Hard Left, Right, Then Left Again (2014)

John McClane - oddly still not a huge world celebrity and global hero - is sent on secondment to Ludlow, Shropshire to teach schoolchildren the Green Cross Code. Again in exactly the worst place on earth at the exact wrong time, a group of embittered biological scientists release a superplague in Bristol Zoo. Owing to Britain's stringent handgun laws, McClane must thwart their nefarious scheme with a purloined pea shooter until he meets an embittered but beautiful sheep farmer on the Welsh border who teaches him to love again and more importantly has a shed full of shotguns.

Die Hard 6: I'm Dying Hard (2020)

John McClane achieved some measure of fame as a result of saving the world in Die Hard 5 - doing so five times apparently gets you on the cover of Time Magazine. However, during an appearance on Rikki Lake discussing his ongoing treatment for lung cancer, the youngest of the Grüber brothers, Gus Grüber (Daniel Radcliffe) rears his ugly head. Holding the entire studio audience to ransom with a bomb made of pork that Rikki Lake had unwittingly eaten, the televised farrago distracts from his gang's overarching aim - stealing everything in the entire world.

Die Hard 7: King Tut or Die Hard Trying (2037)

A militant group of Egyptologists plan to change all of culture back to 3000 BC levels, including replacing modern alphabets with hieroglyphs and chucking the Rosetta Stone in the sea. Their paymasters, a major multinational phone company, are about to launch the only smartphone that can send texts in Runes and are looking to corner the market. McClane - who survived cancer by shooting it - is typically on a sightseeing cruise of the Nile when everything kicks off. A controversial film, finished digitally after the 81-year old Bruce Willis died of scorpions during the production.

Die Hard 8: Died Hard (2042)

The most controversial film yet, as a puppet John McClane discusses his life story in a retirement home in the Yukon Valley. Cobbled together with a selection of clips, outtakes and deleted scenes from the previous 7 films, Died Hard was criticised for lacking a solid narrative drive, although many critics raved over the content of some individual scenes which they believed to be among the strongest in the franchise. The scene where McClane rides an atomic brontosaurus through Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia posthumously won Willis an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Rocky 2, The Rockening

I admit that I've already written about the film Rocky, but I just can't stop thinking about it. The reason for this is simple: every review I read of it is glowing and it bored the pants off of me. This leads me to believe that I'm missing something. But the more I analyse it, the more I come to the inescapable conclusion that Film World is in the grip of a mass delusion and that I am right, a lone voice in the wilderness. I suppose this makes me Film Karl Marx.
"Expertly paced, benefiting from well-drawn characters and an evocative, often funny script, ROCKY simply pushes all the right buttons"
The Eighth Virgin Film Guide (1999)
This quote comes from their four-out-of-five star review, meaning that they consider Rocky "excellent". But it isn't! It is daft.

Rocky Balboa, as you may recall him from yesterday's post

Who is Rocky supposed to be? He's a socially-conscious man who is down with the poor and the disenfranchised yoof, but his job is to break people's knees for a debt collector. And he's not very good at that, social consciousness gets in the way. And although he's poor and never made much of himself, he doesn't seem down about it. He's happy in his own little pond, with his turtles.  If this is meant to be a great tale of redemption, it's happening to somebody who doesn't need or want it.

Maybe Rocky is on a messianic quest to die for all our sins by getting his face beaten to a pulp? This was a key element to Raging Bull, Jake La Motta seeking punishment and justification from his in-ring beatings. And he certainly does get a beating. So does Apollo Creed. Their title bout is almost certainly the most brutal boxing encounter I have ever seen. Every single punch gets through, as if The Penguin out of Batman had malevolently suggested that blocking was for big blouse-wearing poofters. The punishment meted out to both fighters in the first 30 seconds of the first round alone would normally be sufficient to see the ambulances being called.

But Rocky Balboa accepts his lot, be it beating up Hobo Joe Ratboy in a Church mission centre or fighting for the Heavyweight Championship of the World (this would never happen, but still, we must remember that it's a film and in films anything can happen). He tries his best, whether his opponent enters the ring on a horse or whether they bring their own Thermos. He's happy to make a crust from boxing. He doesn't care if he could have been a contender, could have been somebody. He's just happy to get some money for cigarettes.

Even the introduction of a love-interest doesn't seem to be the motivating factor. He's happy to do this for himself and then go home for a little wuggle. Although I have to say, Rocky's success in bringing the autistically-shy Adrian (that's a man's name) out of her shell is far better than any 300 lb man who punches beef for a living had a right to expect. I think Rocky Balboa's real calling was social work. A missed opportunity. In between punches, he could have waylaid Apollo Creed by asking him about his mother.

Maybe I'm over-thinking this (I am). But really, why would anyone really worship a film that falls apart under even the most basic scrutiny possible, i.e. by me, an idiot? My expectations of a film are not that high. I love shit films. I have already written about my love of the oeuvre of Mr. Renny Harlin and Snakes on a Plane. I don't ask for much. But then, I also love good films, films that change the pace of the world, alter your perceptions and make you think. I wonder if perhaps the reason Rocky has disappointed me so much is that it resolutely falls in between these two camps. I can cope with stupidity and I can cope with genius. Mediocrity makes me nervous.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Rocky (or: are all films about sport rubbish?)

I'd never seen the film Rocky before yesterday. Generally speaking I've tended to avoid any film where Sylvester Stallone punches a cow and for preference I'd have wanted the cow to be alive. However, this Christmas I have decided to watch at least one film every day and Rocky was conveniently located on the television. So began the relentless pounding on a bovine and montages with steps in (not the pop group).

I knew an oddly large amount about Rocky considering I'd never seen it. I knew it was Sylvester Stallone's breakthrough film, the lead role in a self-penned script, written in the absence of any decent acting roles presenting themselves to him. It was very well-received, too, winning the Academy Award for best picture and Stallone nominations for both his performance and his original screenplay.

This is all very remarkable considering that it's a really dull film. And I mean dull. Duller than any film where Sly beats the crap out of a beef more than once has a right to be. Formulaic. Poundingly so. I began to emphathise with the meat. But it's not Rocky's fault. It is a film about sport, and films about sport are largely unsalvageable, even in cases where The Penguin from Batman makes a concerted effort to not be like The Penguin in Batman (which, in this instance, he does not).

Rocky Balboa, whomping ass on some beef yesterday
I like films and I like sport, so the absence of any good dramatised films about sport should irk me. But it really doesn't. What irks me is that people plough on trying to make them regardless.

I think that the problem is that sport is intrinsically more dramatic than narrative fiction. Everything that can be written and imagined has occurred in sport, but even less likely things have happened too. And sport is not always fair and friendly to narrative. Bad things happen and at unfortunate times, unpopular people win, popular people endure a career without. Films are fair. Life is not.

Of course, this is the reprieve for the sports documentary film. Without the responsibility of having to come up with its own story, the very best of both worlds can come out to play. Indeed, sports documentaries can often be among the most engaging and moving films one can ever see. In the last year I've been enthralled and captivated by both Senna and When We Were Kings. No-one could invent Ayrton Senna or Muhammad Ali, and if they did no-one would believe them.

All of this makes Raging Bull all the more remarkable for me. Of course, it is based on biography, which helps make the story ring true. But it is also impossibly dramatic and moving without ever sacrificing the power and impact of any of the in-ring action sequences. (Unlike Rocky, Raging Bull's fight sequences do stay entirely within the ring at all times, an inspired decision). Maybe therein lies the secret formula for all sports films: to combine biographical detail with good acting and memorable scenes.

It's a formula that Ron Howard is currently trying to replicate in his forthcoming film Rush, about the friendship and sporting rivalry of racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Hunt and Lauda, both men of huge character and talent, shared a unique camaraderie for top line sporting rivals and a titanic 1976 season full of excitement, controversy and mortal peril. It's a story that would have been a great film. And now it will be.

But I'm not holding my breath. It'll be a film about sport, after all. And they're always rubbish.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The Big Bus

Today's film blog is a guest post by Dave, the author of the spirited blog of lists, Chop's Top Fives. It contains everything anyone could ever want from a blog post: an atomic-powered bus and a top 5 list to finish. 

Thanks to Dave!

I don’t get to watch enough films. Certainly not enough films that I really want to see. This is, at least partly, to do with having children. My boys are 8 and 11 and generally rule the television remote from early morning until early evening. Once we have got them off to bed, a process that seems to take longer every night and generally involves some level of shouting, heated discussion or basic bribery, we’re left with a slot of about an hour to eat tea and watch something Mrs Top 5 likes. I then have the television all to myself from around 10 o’clock until I fall asleep on the sofa. Recently this has been roughly ten minutes past 10.

We go to the Cinema quite regularly but nearly always with the boys (this is a good thing I realise, I’m not complaining) and therefore only to see the latest family blockbuster. That means it will probably be animated, definitely be in 3D and almost certainly star Ben Stiller.

All this pre-ramble just goes some way to explaining the reasons for the huge number of well known films I haven’t seen (Top Gun, Casablanca and Saving Private Ryan to name just three) and my general poor taste in movies.

Should you spend any time in a pub with me, and if we are to spend time together I highly recommend a pub as the best location (it’s where I’m at my most entertaining), and the conversation turns to film then the chances are I will, at some point, extol the virtues of the 1976 disaster movie spoof The Big Bus.

I love The Big Bus, I think it’s hilarious and can reel of lines of dialogue with little encouragement. However I’m acutely aware that I’m in a small minority with this opinion. I’ve recommended this film to a lot of my friends. This has not always worked out particularly well. In fact I only know one other person in the world who likes The Big Bus as much as me and we saw it for the first time the same weekend and have traded jokes from it at regular intervals ever since. Everyone else thinks it’s shit.

I watched it recently with my two boys. I thought this might broaden their film tastes and provide us with more opportunity to watch something other than an episode of “The Amazing World of Gumball” or “Johnny Test” for the 37th time. We lasted 25 minutes before they made me turn it off.

To be fair, it does start quite slowly. If you’re prepared to give it a chance (or are just happy to skip the first half-an-hour) I think you’ll find it’s worth your time. You might also want to consider having copious amounts of alcohol on hand to help you through the dull bits. With this in mind, and because I struggle to write competently in any other form, here’s a top five of my favourite moments.

1. “Quick, raise the flags of all nations” – The main star of the film is the Bus of the title. A nuclear powered bus, called Cyclops, which is equipped with all the conveniences you’d expect from modern travel; A bowling alley, a swimming pool, a formal dining room, a piano bar, and the flags of all nations. The climax of the film sees a bomb go off (I’m not spoiling anything by telling you this) and the drivers fighting to regain control as Cyclops weaves it’s way through mountain roads. The flags of many nations are their last ditch attempt to slow the bus down.

2. “Why do they call you shoulders?” – The Bus is driving non-stop from New York to Denver so needs two drivers on board. Co-driver "Shoulders" O'Brien has huge shoulders but that’s not where he got his nickname from.

3. "Eat one lousy foot and they call you a cannibal" – Lead driver Dan Torrance had been accused of saving his own life by eating all of his passengers when a previous Bus he drove crashed at the top of Mount Diablo. He spends most of the film claiming he survived by eating the seats and it was his co-driver who ate the passengers, but finally breaks down at a formal meal to celebrate the Bi-Centenary.

4. “Look out he’s got a broken milk carton” – Before being recruited to join the crew Torrance is down on his luck and shunned by his fellow bus drivers. A fight breaks out in a bar and the weapons of choice are a cardboard milk carton and a broken candle stick.

5. “Welcome to the oriental bar” – The piano bar sits on the top deck of the bus with panoramic views of the surrounding country. The bar sees various passengers drowning their sorrows whilst the pianist sings inappropriate tunes.

I’m not sure I’ve done a great job of selling the film. Reading back what I’ve written doesn’t make it sound very funny, yet I’ve been chuckling to myself throughout.

If you do watch this movie, please don’t hate me afterwards.

Monday 19 December 2011

2011: accentuate the positive

All year I've been complaining about the shitty year I've had. This is my right as an Englishman. It's also been a complete waste of my time. Trouble is, I've started to believe my own propaganda. Last week I got some bad news. Personal stuff, you'd not be interested. But the point is, it stopped me from blundering blindly along, bemoaning my misfortune over the last 12 months. It's been alright. It's actually been better than alright, it's taught me about being a human being.

What I will take from 2011 is that you don't need unendingly positive things to happen to you for them to be positive experiences. In fact, much of what has happened to me has ultimately led to stress, worry and sadness. I've lost a grandparent who was a significant part of my upbringing. I've lost my cat who had been part of my life for over half of it. Friends have moved away, moved on, moved up. And there's nothing but the prospect of more to come. But that's OK because 2011 has taught me I'm equal to it.

In fact, 2011 has taught me that I can be better than it. I've never made more new friends in a year as an adult as I have in the last 12 months. And that's not through things falling into my lap. It's been because I've put myself out there to do it. I risked rejection to do it but ultimately didn't encounter any. It's been a learning experience, and like any learning experience I'm not there yet. I have been slow to adjust to all the new things. This will get better and I will be better in 2012. I've been a good friend, a new friend, an old friend and I'm afraid to say, a bad friend in 2011. Not bad for any other reason than blindspots, laziness and not realising all the things I could and should have done.

There are a couple of people who I feel I've treated particularly shabbily and I'll be trying to redress that balance and keep it redressed next year.

But like everything else that has come out of 2011, although I don't feel good about having done that, I'm not feeling good about it for good reasons, positive reasons. I'm not beating myself to a pulp in a corner over some perceived internal failing. I let myself slip, I recognised it and learnt from it.

2011 has been really tough going, but I've got through it and I'm a better person because of it. And it's not just me thinking that, independent adjudicators have confirmed it. Which is particularly pleasing to me. 2012 promises to be the hardest year of my life. But I'll get through that as well.

Friday 16 December 2011

I hate Westerns, they are shit

I'll give almost any genre of film a go. For one thing, strict generic classification of stuff is a rather reductive thing to do. For another, the more stuff you deny yourself on principle then more fool you, I increasingly find. However, I don't watch Westerns. I hate Westerns. They are shit.

It may be that they were so beloved of my grandfather, of whom I was always terrified. Maybe I associate them with that. But then, he also liked to watch sport on TV, and I can report no significant negative associations there. No, I'm pretty sure the problem lies within the Western itself, and how shit it is.

I'm not even sure why they're popular. They were pretty well ubiquitous in the early days of Hollywood, mainly I suspect due to the geographical location making endlessly dull retellings of the great American frontiersman's travails particularly easy to shoot without the need for any additional backdrops or scenery. Plus, you know, it's a nice story. Wholesome. Who wouldn't want to be reminded about the merciless cultural imperialism and rapacious greed of the European settlers at the expense of the native people? Fun times.

And yet, people still make Westerns. They've been making them pretty much non-stop since the dawn of cinema. This probably explains why in any average week on British television, you'll probably find a Western every couple of days or so in the schedules. It's enough to make me want to amputate my head. Fortunately, I discovered that not watching them was easier.

I thought that, as I'm currently engaged in a series of posts about films, it may be nice to redress this bias. Educate myself in the ways of the Westerns. Perhaps even live blog the experience of watching some of the classic Westerns that will no doubt be on over the Christmas holidays.

Last Saturday I watched a porno whilst drinking Carlsberg Special Brew for the benefit of the advancement of human knowledge. HOWEVER. When it comes to Westerns, I just simply can't bring myself to do it. Even in the name of science.

I hate Westerns. They are shit.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Let's make a film

I've been writing a lot about films recently. Well, it has been my film series. However, I thought it might be a good idea to lay my cards on the table and reveal some of my own ideas for films. Long-time readers of my blog will know that this is not the first time I have done this. They will also know that I'm an idiot and what is about to follow is not the sort of thing anyone should waste any time reading.

Nevertheless, for the rest of you, I'm a man of many ideas and almost all of them have not been thought through in the slightest. However, if anyone makes a film based on any of the following outlines, you owe all the money to me.

Jim Smitt and the Megalodon

Jim Smitt's run-of-the-mill suburban life is interrupted when a megalodon moves in next door and teaches him the true value of partying down.

President Bear

The United States Presidential Inauguration ceremony goes badly wrong after a passing grizzly bear is erroneously made the 45th President of the United States. The law makers face a race against time to rewrite the constitution and remove the bear from office before he bombs Mexico.

Atomic Titanic

Evil nuclear scientists make a cruise liner that not only can never be sunk but also never be stopped, and force the cast of 42nd Street to perform on it round the clock. Can rogue iceberg scientist Dr. Melly Gound be lured out of retirement to end this madness?

Son of Dog

A man whose Patterdale terrier has been officially declared as the second coming of Christ by the Vatican has to trek across Europe before he's crucified by the Romans.

Bag of Skunks

A terrorist group hold a nursery school for genius children of scientists and mathematicians hostage with a big bag of skunks...

Wednesday 14 December 2011

This was written down in the United States

"Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto
They're ridin' down the line
Fixin’ everybody’s troubles
Everybody’s ’cept mine
Somebody musta told ’em
That I was doin’ fine"

Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan's Blues
Everybody likes to be nice and helpful. It's a good feeling to help someone out, or even feel that you've done your best to try. Of course, even if the problems are very similar to your own, solving them - even helping to solve them - is a very different proposition. This week I've been doing a bit of troubleshootin' and shoulderwork myself. I feel good about that. But it's made me realise I'm a hypocrite if I then don't also try and address the same things in myself.

I've been thinking a lot about counselling recently, mainly due to my friend Nina's brilliant new blog on the subject which I have mentioned here before, but also because a number of my friends have told me about their positive experiences of it in the past year or so. Not only have I heard about their positive experiences, I have also seen and felt its beneficial effects in them.

I've had experiences of counselling in the past, but they've all been negative and unhelpful. I'm sure as much of the failures were my fault as they were the fault of the people involved. Nevertheless, failures they were. The most recent of these was in 2002, which as mathematics professors everywhere will be able to tell you is nearly 10 years ago. A person can change a lot in ten years, especially if 10 years ago you were 22 years old and as such thought you knew everything. These days I'm far less dismissive of anything, knowing full well that things have a way of coming back round in circles and if you're too cocky, of biting you on the arse.

My concern is that it will be too difficult to find the right person. I know that the right counsellor or right approach is out there for me somewhere, or rather, that is what I now choose to believe. It's not a friend you want. I want someone outside of that, someone who can ask and be told things that I'd not necessarily be comfortable sharing with people I know. However, I also want them to be someone who I feel I can trust, whom I respect and someone who actually cares.

Like a friend.

I hope this guardian angel exists out there somewhere, because I think I owe it to myself to try and find them in 2012. Even if only to address my impossibly high expectations of people and of things.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

On the cult of the director and Renny Harlin

Being a man of the people (hello, people) I'm a little bit suspicious of the whole world of the cinematic auteur. Should films be covered in the fingerprints of the person (it's usually a man, let's be honest. Only men have got enough spare time to piss away making films) who made them? Should they reflect their own personal and/or artistic vision? Do they?

It's certainly the case that many directors films will be stylistically similar. They'll all have a style and a theme of their own. Many stick to one genre or one formula, especially if it proves to be successful or lucrative. That's fine by me. I understand that. However, people doing it consciously gives me the limpies. That just smacks of being fake. Trying to fake being yourself. Now there's one to test even the very best counsellors.

If I'm honest, I have sought out particular films simply because they were made by a certain director in my time. However, this was simply born out of the fact that I have enjoyed their other work. Alfred Hitchcock is a very good example. Hitchcock made some of my very favourite films and his ideas about what cinema should be are compelling (I got a book about it, you see). But I've never given in to the personality cult of the director. I don't want to go into a film thinking, "I WONDER WHAT THIS PERSON HAS TO SAY". I just want to see a good story, told in an interesting and engaging way.

However, all my best efforts to be an intellectually bankrupt simpleton are at risk of being derailed thanks to one man (I think he is a man): Renny Harlin.

I am fascinated by Renny Harlin. He has a good name, for a start. Renny. But then there's also the films that he makes. You can't go wrong with The Long Kiss Goodnight or Deep Blue Sea. You really can't. For one thing they've both got Samuel L. Jackson in them. Pow. Renny Harlin also made the best Die Hard film of the lot, Die Hard 2: Die Harder. And Cliffhanger, the film tht definitively proves that heights are bad and John Lithgow is not fundamentally cut out to play criminals. These are four films of a key group which I plan to come back to at a later date: Films that I will watch every time they're on television.

The trouble is, I end up thinking "who is this man Renny Harlin,who makes my heart pound so with his exciting action films? I wonder what he has to say?"

Damn it!

He's too enigmatic, that's the problem. With his terrific name (Renny) and his films and the fact that I don't even know what he looks like. I decided to try and demystify him so I could stop being such a film ponce. Yesterday afternoon I watched How To Murder Your Wife (director: Renny Harlin) and as I did it drew what I thought Renny Harlin might look like in my book. Here are the results.

I think it helped. He certainly seemed less elusive and fascinating now that he had a face. But of course, I couldn't leave it there. I had to find out what he actually looked like, so that I might finally achieve closure. And here he is:

Tintin's dad. Apparently he's from Finland. Who knew? So there you are. I'm finally free! Stick it up your arse, François Truffaut!

Monday 12 December 2011

My first porno

Not all men are porn-obsessed smutmonsters. Honestly, we're not. On Saturday evening I watched my first ever porn film along with my friend 5olly. It was his first porn film too, and at 40 years of age he is nine years older than me. That's a combined 71 years of dispelling all sorts of popular notions about the male of the species. We should be very proud.

Sadly, we then watched Sexboat and blotted our copybook to some extent.

It's hard to know exactly what to make of Sexboat. It being our first and only pornographic film experience, our plane of reference is seriously lacking in calibration. Are you supposed to compare it to other films you have seen? In which case, I can tell you now that Sexboat is not as good as Citizen Kane or The Apartment. Or anything, actually. It is in fact the second-worst film I've ever seen.

Yes, the unlikely saga of two male stowaways - in drag which is less believable even than Bernard Bresslaw in Carry on Matron, mind you - aboard an entirely female cruise ship and featuring rapist pirates, gratuitous sex scenes and next to no plot is still better than Sliding Doors.

However, I rather suspect that the pornographic film is something of a genre apart. Not least because its rating on IMDb is a surprisingly generous 7.2 out of 10. That's from over 100 ratings. Could it be that I missed something? It's described as an "adult comedy". Were there all kinds of knowing pornographic in-jokes and people playing with generic conventions to confound the viewer's expectations? It's possible there were and that I'd have to watch it again to spot them all.

I really don't want to watch it again.

It was horrible. Before we started watching the film, as well as drinking really quite heavily, 5olly and I were planning to make a podcast of our experience. I'd suggested we had a bell or a hooter we could sound whenever we became aroused, from the point of view of full disclosure. It was a nice conceit. However, in the end we recorded it as a video podcast so it was not a necessary device. That, and the fact it was the least arousing thing I'd ever seen.

You could probably find more titillation in a film of an abattoir. Bits of meat shot from certain artistic angles could offer some sort of figurative aspect that may excite the imagination. Imagination is not the key consumer of Sexboat. The people who watch Sexboat are not going in to use their brains. You needn't have to conjure up any mental images, unless the mental images you're after are something other than: cock, fanny, spunk or tits.

Ideally, to be a real student of cinema, I will need to watch more pornographic titles so as to better understand the language and conventions of the genre. Maybe then I could explain why anything that happens in a porn film happens. But then I'd be the sort of person who could explain the mise-en-scene of Donkey Scud Tit Shooters 3 and I'm not entirely sure I'm comfortable with that.

Friday 9 December 2011

A History of Middle-Aged Englishmen in Movies/My Heart

Today's guest post is by my friend Jessica. She's an American but as we're always being told, Britain is overflowing with immigrants so she lives in the UK. It's handy that she does, mind you, as that's where the majority of her favourite film stars are from, as this piece now reveals. Thanks to Jessica!

As a teenager in Chicago in the 1990s, I had a very impressive series of movie magazine cuttings on my bedroom wall. Most impressive is that they were not of Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio. They were of old English guys. I am an American.

I am going to list some of these middle aged Englishmen and the movies of theirs I watched over and over when filled with adolescence’s surging, hormonal longing. I will not, however, make some kind of creepy Freudian analysis of this or connect it in any way to how I ended up marrying an Englishman eight years my senior. I will not even mention that at all.

Tim Roth

Tim Roth is the yappy terrier of middle-aged English actors. He is scrappy and rough and he thinks he’s in a Scorcese movie but isn’t it adorable because you could pick him up pinched between two fingers and he’s much too short for any adult human female. All of his jumpers were oversized. I don’t know what else you need to know.

I used to watch three Tim Roth movies over and over in the 90s. One of them was Reservoir Dogs, in which he does a pretty good job of a pretty terrible American accent. He gets shot in the stomach and goes all pale and covered in blood, which is a really good look. This movie also proves that if you stand next to Harvey Keitel for a while, you will look like a beautiful angel with the skin of a sainted toddler, which is also apparently a very good look.

Captives is a tiny movie in which Tim Roth plays a violent criminal who is for some reason allowed to leave prison for treats like attending college classes and buying some bits from the Sainsbury’s and fucking the sexy prison dentist in a men’s room stall. At fifteen, I thought that yes, it would probably be an excellent idea to fuck a prisoner in a bathroom stall if he was, you know, nice to me and stuff.

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead was my third obsessive Tim Roth movie. The one I could talk about in my English class without using the phrase ‘fucked the prison dentist in a men’s room stall’. The one that made me read Tom Stoppard plays and think, like, really intensely about Shakespeare and stuff because it was dark and went really well with early Cure records. This movie got a lot of play because it also featured my next big 90s crush.

Gary Oldman

I remember reading an interview in which Winona Ryder claimed she was too terrified to talk to Gary Oldman when they were making Dracula. Well, good, Winona. That means you were paying attention. You are Molly Ringwald and he is Judd Nelson but he is never, ever going to give you his earring, do you hear me?

Gary Oldman was terrifying as Dracula, he was intimidating as Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, but the best…the best…was as the crooked cop in Leon (known as The Professional in America because we don’t ‘get’ French names, apparently, and might go into Blockbuster and shout ‘LOO? LOUIE? LONE? LONER? LUNCH? LOOGIE? OH DAMN IT I HATE FOREIGNS SO MUCH JUST GIVE ME TITANIC!!’). If Tim Roth was the perfect guy to do puppy eyes whilst slowly bleeding to death, Gary Oldman was the perfect guy to make some guy slowly bleed to death. He did this thing in Leon where he popped a pill of the illegal variety and craned his neck up and back, like a convulsion.

If you don’t know why that’s attractive, I can’t help you.

Rik Mayall
Shut up. Seriously, just shut up. He was FUNNY and he had INTERESTING SHOES and REALLY LOVED PHOEBE CATES and just SHUT UP.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

French films, part 2

Today's guest post in Guest Post Week is the second part of Betsy's guide to some of her favourite films. The first part may be found here. Thanks again to Betsy!

I am by no means a movie connoisseur, but I do love a French film. I have quite a collection of French films on DVD, and although I’ve given up trying to persuade my other half to watch them with me (because he is deaf and relies on lipreading a lot, so trying to lipread a language he doesn’t speak is understandable problematic) I do go through phases of watching them myself. The thing I love about French films is the same thing as I love about French music. It’s just fundamentally different, they’re made from a perspective different from mine (British) and different from the one I’m used to from most of the films I’ve seen in my lifetime (American), but they have a sense of humour and an attitude that I really, really enjoy.

So here are a few reviews of a few French films that I particularly enjoy, that star some of my favourite actors, and that remind me of a particular time or a particular place.

Nikita (1990)

Nikita, another Luc Besson classic, was one of the first French films I saw outside of the ones I had to watch at school. My brother bought it for me on DVD (for my 17th birthday, I think) as he already loved it, and although he’s not a linguist himself he speaks excellent ‘ridiculous French’.
The plot of Nikita is a famous one by now… the drug addled criminal girl whose execution is faked so that she can be taken to an underground government facility for retraining as an assassin, with the threat of execution hanging over her head should she misbehave or fail any part of that training, it already being a done deal in the eyes of the law. Fully trained and now a sophisticated young woman, Nikita is sent into the world to set up home and wait for further orders. When they come, those orders require more of Nikita than she has to give, which surprises her as much as the rest of us given that in the opening scene she had, in cold blood and with no reaction whatsoever, shot a policeman in the head during a robbery.

My enduring memories of this film are of lines that seem ridiculous, but that I can still feel. “Je l’ai zappée” – I zapped it. A member of the gang that did the robbery, Zap, spoke this line slowly and somewhat dim-wittedly. What did you just do, Zap?! I zapped it. Then Zap got zapped and that was that.

“C’était murée!” “Bien sûr que c’était murée”. It was bricked up! Of course it was bricked up. During her first mission, her maiden voyage, her first solo assassination, Nikita was brought to a fancy restaurant, on her birthday, and told to kill a man and escape via a window that, as it turned out, was bricked up. She made it home (to the secret underground training facility) anyway, and on expressing the betrayal she felt at being sent on a mission with no exit strategy, or, even worse, an exit strategy built on a lie, it was made clear to her that unless she could find her own way home, even from what could’ve been a suicide mission, she was of no use to anyone. Having thought she’d built up a relationship with her handler, this was the point at which she realised that, to the organisation at least, she was nothing but a means to an end.

When, later, everything goes wrong on a mission and she has to call in Le Nettoyeur (The Cleaner), played by Jean Reno, another one of my favourites, she finds herself pleading with him to stop killing people, even though killing people is the best way to clear up her mess, it all becomes too much.

Although this film was remade by Hollywood with Bridget Fonda in the title role, and more recently has been made into a TV series, this is another example of the French take on a story having a different hue to it, somehow. Besson’s Nikita is not a girl down on her luck who ends up in a bad situation, she is a bad girl who is found and used by even worse people. She is a girl who has been capable of evil but has had it trained out of her, supposedly replaced with a complete lack of conscience but in fact replaced with self-awareness and regret.

That said, in the remake Gabriel Byrne played her handler, and who doesn’t like a bit of Gabriel Byrne?

Le Placard (The Closet) (2001)

In Le Placard, Daniel Auteuil, another one of my favourite actors, is a downtrodden accountant in a rubber factory who, through one lie told to save his job, achieves stardom, sex appeal and the respect of both his son and his ex-wife. On hearing that he is to be fired, François (Auteuil) spreads a rumour that he is gay, on the advice of his new neighbour, a retired psychologist. As one of the main products of the factory he works in is condoms, and fearing a backlash from the gay community which could seriously damage their business, his bosses don’t fire him after all. As everyone around him begin to imagine the secret life that their quiet, unassuming accountant had managed to keep from them, they start to view him in a different light, viewing him not as someone sad and pathetic but rather someone living an exotic double life that overshadows their own.

Gerard Depardieu does a wonderful turn as a bully of a colleague who, warned that he is now coming across as homophobic and losing any respect he had previously been granted, tries to redeem his own image by making friends with François instead, trying far too hard and finally being accused by his wife of having an affair.

My favourite scene in this film is the gay pride parade into which the factory enters a float, with François as the main attraction, wearing a hat shaped like a condom. This image, shown on TV, is seen by his son, who starts to relate to François as a person rather than just his dad, and his domineering ex-wife, who demands an explanation but does not expect the response she receives from the new, confident François.

The Frenchness of this film is in the handling of the subject matter. At no point does Auteuil ‘camp it up’, and this is the genius of the whole thing. This isn’t about a man ‘doing gay’, this is about a man whose whole life changes when he gains confidence in himself, purely because of being treated with respect for a change. I cannot imagine a Hollywood remake of this film without cringing, because I can’t imagine Hollywood making this ‘commercial’ without having Jim Carrey or Steve Carell ‘getting their gay on’ for laughs. Just look atI Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry.

Les Rivières Pourpres (Crimson Rivers) (2000)

I saw this film in the cinema in Paris, and I now own it on DVD. Having watched the DVD about eight times, I am now starting to get a grip on what the hell is going on, so this review is going to be less about the plot than the people.

This film stars Jean Reno, again, alongside Vincent Cassel, yet another one of my favourite French actors. Reno is investigating a whole bunch of weird shit that’s gone down at a private school in the middle of nowhere that appears to be trying some form of eugenics, by attracting the brightest and best, the most academically successful, the most athletic, the most physically perfect children in all of France, and putting them together to study and eventually breed.
The story also involves medical experimentation, torture, nazi vandalism, identical twins, a blind nun, an avalanche and some drug dealers, not necessarily in that order. Vincent Cassel gets to smoke a bit of weed in a police car and then do a bit of martial arts on some nasty drug dealers.

You know how I like a bit of martial arts.

What I like about this film being French is that I doubt I’d be able to follow the storyline if it was in English, but I still find myself drawn into trying every time, and it being in French just adds another layer to the puzzle.

Like trying to do a jigsaw when you don’t have a flat surface to balance on.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Why I'm a friend of Dorothy

Today's post in this, Guest Film Post Week, is written by my friend Dave, who is very nearly old enough to know better (it's his 34th birthday on Thursday, the scientifically-established age at which one should know better). He also writes blogs for The Huffington Post, so getting him to write one for me was quite a coup and living testament to the power of those photographs of him I have.

Dave's post - full title: Why I'm a Friend of Dorothy by David Whittam (aged 33 years and 362 days) - deals with his love of a film which is not necessarily the first choice of adult males in the UK. But after this, who knows? Maybe. Thanks to Dave!

I seriously think that The Wizard of Oz may be the greatest film ever made. I’m not normally one to be effusive with praise about anything, sarcasm and suspicion being my two default settings but this one film melts all my cynicism away within about five minutes.

When I was about five, my Mum and Dad divorced and every weekend I went to stay with my Dad until I was about 14. Mainly to give my poor old Mum a bit of peace I think.

Going to my Dad’s was quite exciting as, well, he had a video player. This was fairly new-fangled technology at the time – you could record stuff off the telly and watch it later and everything.

Nearly every week, I would sit and watch a film or two. On heavy rotation were: Labyrinth, Santa Claus and The Worst Witch. I think this explains a lot about me.

The film I probably watched most in my childhood though is The Wizard of Oz. I know every single line and can sing along (badly) to every single song. I even know all the smooth dance moves the Scarecrow does.

It’s a film that doesn’t age for me, I can still being thrilled the first time I saw the black and white gloominess of Kansas burst in the technicolor gloriousness of Oz. Kansas was just as alien as Oz was to me, I had no idea where it was as a child, and I’m still not entirely convinced it exists.

It’s all such a burst of craziness. Munchkins! Talking Scarecrows and Lions! Wicked Witches! Rubbish Wizards!

It even took me years to realise that the people working on the farm were playing the characters in Oz, I just thought Dorothy was delusional when she said “And you and you and you...and you were there.”

The songs are joyous, memorable and instantly make me feel 10 years old again.

A 16-year-old Judy Garland commands the screen and I have to say, from the first moment I saw her, I loved her. Never mind the fact she was already dead, I didn’t know that. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen — apart from maybe Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth.

The Wizard of Oz is a simple tale really, about how the things you think you are missing are usually already there but its good heart, strong visual style, perfectly cast actors and musical score mean it’s a film I can watch again and again on DVD.

Plus, you know, flying monkeys and shit.


You have reached the bottom of the internet