Thursday, 31 January 2013

New for 2013

Hello again. Today I'd like to talk to you all about the world of art. And the world of finance. Specifically, the art that I have done which is for sale. At the end of last year I started an Etsy store to flog Christmas cards. This was a good idea. I also promised that in the new year, there'd be lots of new stuff available. A rash promise, I'm sure you will all agree. For starters, it meant I had to do some bloody work.

The horror of that prospect notwithstanding, here it all is. This is the first phase of the 2013 range of stuff that you can use to festoon your house. Camouflage your valuable walls to look like a child has had a go at them with a packet of bath crayons.

PRINTS

The first prints available are the following two. They are from an experimental print run of ten so that we can test the waters.

SLOTHBUSTERS - A3 digital print on 170 gsm glossy paper, £10 (+ p&p)
OVER-FAMILIAR TIGER - A3 digital print on 170 gsm glossy paper, £10 (+ p&p)

Obviously, the plan (or at least the hope) is that these will be successful and I'll be able to re-order a second print run. Come that lovely sunny day, I will also be adding the following designs to the range:


If everything by this point is going as planned, I also have a number of A4-size print designs that I can add to the store. Here are a selection of those:

from top: COW, DOG, ANGLER FISH, ELEPHANT

CARDS

I have also made a series of 145 x 145mm square greetings cards for almost every conceivable life eventuality. Well, four of them. The test prints of these cards, on recycled 350 gsm cardstock, look absolutely brilliant and should be available to buy via the store late next week.


ORIGINALS

There are already a selection of original artworks for sale on the store but I will also be adding others. Firstly, I will be making the original pictures for all the prints that you have seen available. I also have a number of bespoke pictures and paintings in the pipeline, including a giraffe canvas which is pretty sharp.

BOOKS

I'm also going to try and work out a way to produce my Animal Alphabet as a colouring book, as I have been promising for the past twelve years. If you have any suggestions as to the best way to do this, or are Ian Doring or Ian Kindersley from Doring Kindersley, please do let me know.

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Here endeth the commercial break. If you are interested in any of the above, please visit my Etsy store here: Sad Clown Illustration. You can also get in touch with me via the comments on this post or by emailing me using the link in the sidebar of this blog if you have any comments, questions, suggestions or requests. The most common request so far has been "sod off". You can also BUY any of these things by clicking on that email and dealing directly with me, in case you don't have an Etsy account and don't bally well want to get one.

By the way, if you want to stay updated with what's going on in Sad Clown world, you could do a lot worse than liking our very own Facebook page: Sad Clown Illustration.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: The Cassandra Crossing

The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

Oh Jesus wept it's The Cassandra Crossing. I've seen some dreary crap in my time but this one almost took the biscuit. The titular crossing in question refers to a shonky, rusty and inadequately maintained railway bridge over a deep gorge in Poland. But no-one would never have had to go across it at all had it not been for some bewildered thieves trying to break in to the World Health Organisation building in Geneva. As is typical of such a mission, they both become exposed to a pretty scabby strain of weapons-grade pneumonic plague which the US military keeps there on the hush-hush.

When the surviving crimmo tries to make an escape on a trans-continental train to Copenhagen, the US military is forced to take control of the situation in order to keep a lid on the situation. And so armed men in Hazmat suits -  one part scientists, two parts terrorist heavies - board the train to ensure that it instead heads off to an old World War II hospital facility (or, more accurately, "hospital facility") in Poland. But with it becoming clear that the sickness is not as serious as was first feared, as well as local intelligence regarding the perilousness of the Cassandra Crossing bridge, the train passengers organise themselves into a guerilla troop to try and retake control of the train.

There are two disasters for the price of one in The Cassandra Crossing, the first being the potentially lethal escape of a bacteriological warfare agent and the second (predictable spoiler alert) a train crash. So there's really no excuse for how wretchedly boring this film is. Considering that this is film pregnant with potential tragedy, it takes the largely inexplicable decision to slow play every single element that could provide any grain of excitement or interest. Instead of pus, coughing fits and vertiginous plummets into the European scenery, we get the interminable development of a variety of strands of storyline that no-one in their right mind cares about. Will Burt Lancaster successfully manage to keep the nefarious deeds of the United States government from the general public (he almost invariably will)? Will esteemed doctor Richard Harris rekindle his romance with his twice-wife author Sophia Loren (no-one cares)? Can holocaust survivor Lee Strasberg face spending any more time at a secret facility in Poland (it's unlikely, let's be honest)? Will Ava Gardner get a shag (it's not looking good, Ava)? And will OJ Simpson successfully complete his undercover mission for the FBI and bring arms dealer Martin Sheen to book (nope)?

OJ Simpson in The Cassandra Crossing: not really a vicar, what else could this man possibly by lying about?

When the disasters finally do occur, they are all much more minor than they might have been with far too few of the desperately dreary dramatis personae perishing in them for my tastes. Which was a double kick in the teeth, if I'm being frank with you. There's so much potential here, you see - all of which that The Cassandra Crossing desperately fails to live up to with flying colours. Even looking past the all-star cast that is on display, there are two explosive and exciting key plot points that are underplayed to such a degree that the end result is barely a disaster movie at all - rather, it's more like a torpid romantic thriller which bores everybody to tears. As such, I can't recommend watching this film to anyone, on any level. It fails as a disaster movie, it fails as a thriller and it failed to engage with me as a drama. It's the longest 129 minutes you could ever wish to spend. Perhaps that's its intended audience - wrongly accused people spending their final day on death row.

I give The Cassandra Crossing a dismal THREE out of ten disaster points.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Atomic Train

Atomic Train (1999)

If there's one thing that watching lots of disaster movies has taught me, it's that there's nothing like a nuclear explosion to bring a family together. Provided that none of the family's hair is on fire and their hand has grafted onto the side of a passing milk float in the heat. None of this happens in Atomic Train, however, and so the family unit comes out stronger than ever before, up until their teeth fall out or the sudden, unexpected nosebleeds. Previously want-away teenage daughters stop trying to frisbee their vagina at any passing male to own any form of vehicular conveyance, whilst their sprout-faced younger brothers get a new-found respect for their old man as well as a timely reminder of the things in life that are really important.

The marital bond, too, is strengthened immeasurably. At the beginning of the film, its key protagonist is estranged from his wife, who now prefers the attentions (i.e. cock) of a swarthy police officer. But there's nothing like a bit of trauma to make people re-evaluate their priorities. Plus there is now the undeniable bonus that the massive doses of radiation to which each has been exposed means its very likely that both parties will be rendered completely sterile, eliminating the danger of any unwanted progeny from the dirty, filthy, radioactive monkeysex that will almost certainly ensue.

Atomic Train is a parable for our times. It warns that in the post-Cold War age, there is as much danger from The Bomb falling foul of one of humanity's baser urges than there is any organised or concerted government military action. In this case, the all-too-human failing that brings about the crisis is GREED. It's one of the seven deadly sins, although when they were originally being written by wise Hebrew elders, it's unlikely that they would have envisioned of the chain of events essayed in Atomic Train.

A hazardous waste disposal company has somehow been given an ex-Soviet nuclear bomb to get rid of. Whilst there's no doubting that a nuclear bomb counts as hazardous, one has to seriously question whether or not its erstwhile owners has really found the right company to dispose of it. Maybe they were at the front of the Yellow Pages? Either way, the company agree to do it on the cheap and on the quiet. The amount of paperwork you need to complete to legally decommission a nuclear device is prohibitive, and this is why so many old Soviet nukes festoon council tips, in spite of the careful signposting to discourage it. And besides, what's the worst that could happen?

Atomic Train is a film that answers this question. The worst that could happen, in fact, is that the train transporting its cargo of toxic industrial waste (plus one sneaky ex-Soviet nuclear bomb, an old fridge, two rusty pram shells and a badly soiled mattress) could suffer brake failure and become an unstoppable projectile on collision course with a major urban conurbation, in this instance the city of Denver, Colorado. Efforts to stop the train prove continually in vain, despite the best efforts of National Transportation Safety Board officer Rob Lowe, who (almost literally) parachutes himself into the situation in that brave and admirable (i.e. foolhardy) way that no-one actually ever actually does unless they're on the clock.

Atomic Train: Rob Lowe's attempts to save the world and is relentlessly unsuccessful, it's just like real life

The decision is eventually taken to derail the train, whereupon the nuclear device is discovered in amongst a large cargo of unstable sodium. Once a well-meaning firefighting helicopter come by and waterbomb the area, it immediately becomes clear that the bomb disposal teams' wives are going to be claiming on their life insurance policies. The bomb explodes, leaving Denver in tatters but family groups everywhere reminded of the power of love, which conquers all. Or almost all. Tell it to the people who've had their head melted, or their dog buried under the rubble of their house. Greed actually conquered all. There's little positivity to be had.

A lot of reviews of Atomic Train choose to focus on its many, varied plot flaws and inconsistencies. I don't see any reason to do this. Taken at face value, there's already sufficient material to make the whole experience wretched and dreadful. The whole thing is so long drawn out that you start to wonder if there's ever going to be a disaster at all in this disaster movie. By the time there is one, it seems so rushed as to have been almost tacked on. And for all the emphasis on the familial storyline, there's little attention given to any greater, wider, emotional issues. Atomic Train is diverting, but only just. I may be old fashioned, but you shouldn't be actively seeking a nuclear explosion to happen in a film just to pep things up a bit. I give Atomic Train a feeble THREE out of ten disaster points.

Friday, 25 January 2013

How clenched was my anus?

I don't get many comments on my blog. This is my blog, that you are reading now. A very respectable number of people read it every day, mind you. Especially, you know, considering. But I don't get many comments. I can only assume this is because you all agree with me. Which is reasonable, I suppose.

But yesterday I got a comment which was a brilliant comment because it made me think. Me! Imagine that. It was with regard to my ongoing series of disaster film reviews which, as regular readers will know, are chipping away at my already parlous state of mental well-being. It was from Jessica and I think it bears quotation in full:
I know this isn't what you intended with this project, and it might not be lulz-y, but I want to hear more about the anxiety being ratcheted up by watching disaster movies.

You watch horror movies. I know this because I've watched at least one with you. Can you put your finger on why the disaster movies are freaking you out in a way horror doesn't? Is it just because the threat feels more 'real'? And if that's it, then do crime movies bother you? Because street violence is more of a real threat than zombies or nuclear holocaust.

I love horror but have very specific things that I won't watch, because they pull me out of a cathartic, pretend, safe terror and into a real-life terror. Disaster movies seem to be pulling you into a real-life terror. Just wondering if you've thought of why.
This is some pretty thought-provoking stuff. I'd not considered it at all. But it is true: horror films don't make me freak--the--hell--out at all. In fact, I'm wracking my brains trying to think of a horror film that does. I can only really point to one: An American Werewolf In London. But therein lies a story: in the early days of home video recorders, my grandparents got American Werewolf In London to watch and popped it on when I was in the room. I was probably four or five years old, and in a hazy childhood evening fug of doze. But sufficient amounts of it obviously seeped in to do some really very significant damage to the wiring of my brain. To this day, when I see this film it does me very serious damage. The only thing that comes close, and for similar reasons, is The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town from The Two Ronnies.

So there we go. Nearly thirty-three years and only two traumatic horror film experiences. And in both cases, there are extenuating circumstances: one from deep-seated childhood psychological trauma caused by dimwit grandparents (it would have been their 59th wedding anniversary today, incidentally), the other caused by being a complete bloody idiot.

What's going on, then? I've had to wrack my (brilliant, brilliant) brain to try and figure it out. Because it's not just monsters and zombies and aliens that populate the horror canon: the most devastating horror films of all are the ones that deal with real life situations. Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, for example, are both easily within the realms of possibility. Indeed, they are both based on the same real-life case. Here the enemy is the dark parts of the human psyche, and the extent to which they reside within us or within the people that we meet every day. That is surely a more terrifying thought than asteroid strikes or nuclear wars - which tend to be, by their very nature, once-in-a-lifetime (although no-times-in-a-lifetime remains my preferred frequency) events?

And yet, the pursing of my ringpiece says otherwise. I'd drop everything right now to watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre again. But I'd need to be dragged, Ludovico Technique-style, to watch Threads. (On a related tangent, I also find A Clockwork Orange a far more disturbing film to watch than any horror movie.) So, what gives?

Me, watching When The Wind Blows, yesterday

My explanation is as follows: horror films are about death. Our innate, primal, fear of death. But disaster movies are not. They are about life, or rather, survival. And dying is easy. It is living that is hard. Which is to say, hard enough as it is. It's why I have tried (and failed, incidentally) to eliminate any film where literally everybody on Earth dies at the end from my list of disaster movies. There's a resolution to them. They're not the ones that stay with you.

The films that have, to be perfectly blunt, really fucked me up so far have been Threads, Special Bulletin, and When The Wind Blows, as well as The Day After, which I have watched but not yet reviewed. These films are terrifying because people survive. But they live on in such stark, reduced circumstances. And we leave them at such an early part in their new story. That's when it weedles its way inside your imagination. That's when you start to try and imagine how you'd cope and what you would do. There's the killer. A film that gets inside your mind will be the one that chips away at your sense of self and burrow under your onion layers. It's why you can happily watch Die Hard and then go to work the next day in a high-rise building, but if you instead watch Targets you'll only dare to poke your head outside your hidey hole if you've put a saucepan on it.

When The Wind Blows was the worst. Along with Special Bulletin it had novelty on its side, as I'd not seen either before. But there was more to it than that. It seemed so local to me (it was), so relevant and realistic. It threw me into a day of depression. I was really very affected and upset by the whole thing, much more so than an 80-minute film should have any right to make me. But it's not the those eighty minutes that are the problem. It's the hours and days after. I've not yet found a horror film that continues to scare me, make me think or make me jump, after it has played out. And there's the difference.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The best five inventions

I like inventions. I admire the inventiveness of inventions. If it hadn't been for all the inventors who have gone before me inventing so many inventions, I would have liked to have invented some inventions myself. However, some inventions are better than others. Reggae Reggae sauce and a whiteboard that comes in a roll like aluminium foil have both served their inventors very well, but we'd probably have muddled by without them. Even though our lives may have been a bit devoid of reggae flavour.

Not so with the following five inventions. Without these five inventions, I'm pretty sure that life today wouldn't be nearly so sweet. And in countries where life is already shitty, their absence would surely make existence seem like it wasn't even worth the struggle. So a timely salute, then, to the five best inventions ever invented. By inventors.

1. The wheel

A wheel, yesterday

It's a bit clichéd perhaps, but without the wheel and fire, humanity would probably have not advanced to the point that you could be sat in a centrally-heated building reading this shit and pretending to work. But whereas fire is a naturally occurring element, wheels needed that little bit of extra grey matter to bring them into being. Wheels help people move stuff about.

2. The pencil

A pencil, yesterday. This one is called B. Noris.

The pencil was first invented when a warty old Cumbrian farmer stumbled upon one of the locally abundant seams of naturally occurring graphite in the Lake District. He then wrapped it up in a bit of leather and started writing all kinds of shit. Pencils are brilliant. They don't leak, they work when they're wet and you can rub out your mistakes. Pencils.

3. Nail clippers

Some nail clippers, yesterday

Can you imagine the exquisite misery life must have been before someone invented these bad boys? Nails are a pain in the arse, let's face it. Or rather, their tendency toward relentless growth is. I'm not even sure what people would have done before nail clippers. Presumably they'd have used blades of some sort (imagine the snaggly edges though! catching on the inside of your socks!) or if they were particularly intelligent they could have ground them down on an abrasive surface such as a rock or the skin underneath a Maltese pensioner's tit. Nail clippers are the basis of human civilisation. Control over our keratin is what separates us from the animals. (What separates the animals from us is that they're clever enough to not watch The X-Factor.)

4. Vaseline

Some Vaseline, yesterday. Your mother is a flabby whore.

The man who invented Vaseline viewed it as something of a panacea. He ate a teaspoon of it every night, for example, believing it to be beneficial for good digestion. It would certainly keep things moving. But let's not get side-tracked. Vaseline is the very essence of life. Without Vaseline, things would be miserable. It's good for dry skin, protecting from cuts and grazes and also a useful standby if any sailors are about. Whenever you are packing to go anywhere, you're not finished until you've got a pot of Vaseline and that's a fact.

5. The clit piercing gun

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: The Day The Sky Exploded & The Night The World Exploded

The Day The Sky Exploded (1958)
The Night The World Exploded (1957)

There's nothing that 1950s science-fiction films did better than moralising. Today's two disaster movies both teach us about the evils of technological progress and conclude that if we carry on the way we are, we're all doomed.

The Day The Sky Exploded is an Italian film, dubbed into English. Unless you watch it in Italian, of course. It is a parable concerning the birth of the space age, Sputnik having gone up into orbit the year before. The film deals with the first manned mission to space, as American pilot John McLaren (for the dubbed version, his voice is provided by Shane "Scott Tracy from Thunderbird 1" Rimmer, a bonus) sits atop his giant atomic rocket to see what's what up there. However, when he loses control of the rocket in orbit, he ejects (which is only sensible, let's face it) and his pod returns to earth. However, faulty radio communications mean he doesn't hear the messages from base as to what to do with the atomic-powered boosters, which plough on into the beyond and cause an explosion with a giant asteroid belt, sending all its very best rocks in Earth's direction. Only some carefully targeted nuclear missiles can save us now. That's right, the same technology that caused all of humanity's problems is now its only salvation. This is irony for the atomic age.

The Day The Sky Exploded: This is why we should be more bloody careful

It's fairly standard stuff for the time. Nuclear weapons are bad (they are), the dawning atomic age is strange, frightening and dangerous (it was) and sending loads of shit into space is a great unknown (it still is). If 1950s science-fiction films have ultimately achieved anything, it's to make any number of serious points and objections seem like trite cliches. So, thanks for that, the 1950s. I can't recommend The Day The Sky Exploded with any real gusto as a result. The best actor in it was a dog, who was presumably an Italian dog. I give The Day The Sky Exploded a dreary THREE out of 10 disaster points.

It wasn't just in the day that things exploded in the 1950s, though, nor was it confined to the sky. In 1957 the whole bally world exploded, at night. There was barely a time of the day left that humanity was safe. The Night The World Exploded sees a dedicated seismologist called Dr. Conway build the most sophisticated device for predicting earthquakes ever seen and immediately it predicts that there's about to be a significant seismic event. There is, thus proving that his device must be well skill. But it doesn't stop there: there is an outbreak of savage earthquakes, all across the world. The earth's axis shifts as a result, meaning that cups and saucers all slide off tables. Scientists from around the globe descend on America, which is of course the best country, and during their experimental prodding around Carlsbad Caverns they discover an element previously unknown to science.

The Night The World Exploded: point it out the window and see if you can squeeze out a few drops, love

This element has a number of alarming properties, the chief amongst these being that, upon exposure to nitrogen, it expands and then explodes with enormous force. Scientists quickly realise that this Element 112 festoons the Earth in quantities which make you suspicious of why no-one has ever discovered it before. Volcanic activity is forcing it up towards the surface all over the world, causing it to dry out and then react with the nitrogen in the air. This is to blame for all the earthquake activity. Bleak news, especially after a supercomputer calculates that the final, cataclysmic quake that will destroy the planet is due in just 28 days. The scientists have just four weeks to cover Element 112 with water, stop the reactions and save the Earth. This they just manage to do, although not until Dr. Conway hatches the bright scheme to use Element 112's explosive force to blow a dam. That's right, the thing causing the problem proves to be our only salvation.

Presumably now safe, with government pamphlets distributed worldwide telling householders to just piss on any 112 that crops up, Dr. Conway is free to get balls deep in his glamorous assistant, Laura Hutchinson. No doubt to the chagrin of her fiancé. But what was to blame for this frightening state of affairs? I'll tell you: mining and oil drilling. Extraction of fossil fuels had raped Mother Earth into producing this violent counter-reaction. Quite how jetting hundreds of geologists around the globe to discuss this further will ultimately prove of any constructive use is one for the sequel.

The Night The World Exploded is another predictable, preachy 1950s sci-fi by the books. I give it FOUR out of ten disaster points.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I am the coolest man on earth for the next twenty minutes

The other day I had a Twitter discussion with a friend of mine who accidentally lives in China. They were bemoaning the fact that they felt a bit culturally isolated, especially in terms of music. It's hard to know what all the kids are listening to when you wake up every day in a country where the kids are listening to Gangnam Style and then six hours of enriching lectures by Deng Xiao-Ping.

By way of demonstrating that it is quite possible to live in the very crucible of cutting edge music and yet still not have a clue what is going on, I said that, in all truth I'd just been listening to old 1950s rockabilly records all morning. Imagine my jaw-dropping amazement when I subsequently discovered that, in a lot of the very coolest places, old 1950s rockabilly records are what the kids are listening to.

I'm quite excited. Not least because if you are as relentlessly uncool and blinkered you're bound to eventually intersect with what is trendy now and again, and this is now my moment to shine. Weeks of explaining that I'm not a hipster, I'm just that uncool, is worth it for my month in the sunlight of acceptance. Just like how paedos are enjoying basking in the reflected glow of Jimmy Saville. But I'm mainly excited because it shows that there may yet be hope for civilisation yet.

Me, yesterday.

Because modern music is shit. A homogenised trough of beige slurry. Every single note, be it produced by a vocal cord or by an instrument, has been artificially auto-tuned into the soulless oblivion of perfection. It's an abortion. I can completely understand why the Youth are rediscovering 1950s rockabilly records. Usually recorded in one take by a bloke with a $10 guitar and a $5 hat, backed up by a rabble just out of prison that morning on a tea-chest bass and a drum that first saw use during the Civil War, the recordings are ramshackle affairs of bum notes, dropped notes and missed beats. They are vital, flawed and completely human. You can hear the sweat, feel the hunger and smell the B.O., where the majority of modern releases sound like they've been made in a hermetically-sealed laboratory. The result is that sixty-year old songs now sound fresher than something Louis Walsh farted out just twenty minutes ago.

I commend the Youth. There is hope for us all. I hope they will all join us in pulling up a plate of roadkill and a glass of moonshine to enjoy my current favourite 10 rockabilly songs. And then fuck their own sister and shoot a raccoon in the face.

BABY LET'S PLAY HOUSE - Elvis Presley

Another thing which sets rockabilly records apart from their contemporary distant cousins is that they deal with subjects that Jessie J or One Direction steer clear of. Would One Direction ever say that they'd rather see you dead than see you with another man? Probably not, even if they're thinking it. If there's anything to be said for modern popular music it's that it makes an effort to couch its fundamental sexual aggression behind more benign language. But it comes up desperately short in every other area, as demonstrated here.

BRAND NEW CADILLAC - Vince Taylor

Cadillacs are pretty much the official car of rockabilly. Vince Taylor's was brand new, and this made it particularly awesome. It still is, although I imagine the car itself is now a shagged-out rusty heap. Unforgettably covered by Joe Strummer on London Calling by The Clash.

CAST IRON ARM - Peanuts Wilson

Don't mess with Peanuts Wilson. He's got a cast iron arm. It's probably just for the best not to mess with anyone whose name is a legume, regardless of whether or not they have a cast iron arm.

DANGEROUS REDHEAD - Jerry Raines

The titular redhead of the song is dangerous because she is beautiful but unavailable, having already got another man. It's perhaps worth pointing out at this point that seeing a woman who is attractive is by no means a rapist's charter. However, after Jerry Raines got duffed up for putting some moves on this redhead, he reaches the conclusion that you should never chat up redheads. This is reasoning is specious in the extreme, but the song has an irresistible shuffle to it so I'll let it slide.

GET RHYTHM - Johnny Cash

It's perhaps not the most cutting edge and socially-relevant of Johnny Cash's lyrics - it basically concerns learning how a shoeshine boy gets through the day without sticking someone in their stupid eye - but it's as good an example of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three's unique driving rhythmical sound and there's some killer guitar licks from Luther Perkins. The more I think about the history of American music, the more I feel like Johnny Cash was, is and ever shall be, it.

HONEY DON'T - Carl Perkins

The founding father of the whole rockabilly movement, Carl Perkins is currently the coolest of the cool cats. He always was anyway, of course. Lest we forget that he wrote Blue Suede Shoes. But this is my favourite Carl Perkins song. There's a bloody wonderful cover version of it, too, on Beatles For Sale.

I GOT A LOT OF RHYTHM IN MY SOUL - Patsy Cline

True.

LEROY - Jack Scott

Leroy is a bad man. He's always being sent to jail. It's not quite clear what it is that Leroy is doing, but I'm of a mind to trust the law enforcers over his friends, who seem to think there's some sort of conspiracy against him. The problem is that this conspiratorial thinking has got far superior rhythm.

MAYBELLENE - Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry is probably the most underrated pioneer ever to walk the earth. This could possibly relate to his unfortunate habit of putting CCTV cameras in ladies toilets. Because otherwise I'm completely stumped as to why his name seems to slip people's minds when they are compiling lists of the greatest artists in the history of popular music.

THAT'S ALL RIGHT - Elvis Presley

When the history of popular music comes to be written, possibly by aliens who have superceded it by listening to recordings of autotuned dog barks, That's All Right by Elvis Presley will be its Big Bang. Simple.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: When The Wind Blows

When The Wind Blows (1986)

I'm not kidding when I say I'm probably going to need therapy after I've finished this project. I'm ten films in and I'm already starting to twitch when a car backfires. I did beforehand, of course, but now I also shit my pants.

Nevertheless, even by the rarified new heights of the kind of paranoia I've found myself entering into, When The Wind Blows was like a punch in the stomach. No film - of any kind - that I have seen in my life has affected me in such a strong way since I first saw Threads. But in many ways, When The Wind Blows is even more powerful: Threads is set in Sheffield, where nuclear wars are common and people would be eating dead rats through choice or trading their daughter's virginity for a loaf of bread. When The Wind Blows is set in Sussex, lovely Sussex. Indeed, as the author of the graphic novel on which the film is based, Raymond Briggs, lives in Westmeston and the lead character is seen getting off the Lewes bus in the opening scenes, it's safe to assume that it's in that kind of area that the film is set. That's just six miles from where I grew up. We frown on nuclear war down here in Sussex. It would never be approved by the Parish council.

James Bloggs: I bet you wished you'd joined CND

Retired couple James and Hilda Bloggs live in a cottage on the Sussex Downs. When The Wind Blows  is the story of their preparations for war, using the laughably inadequate governmental guidelines of the time. They discuss the last war and try and adapt to the realities that a third world conflict would bring. After the bomb drops, we watch them struggle with their reduced circumstances as they both succumb to radiation sickness.

It's a monumental achievement in filmmaking, managing to maintain a levity, charm and humour whilst never diminishing its raging assault on the futility of war and the nuclear arms race. It is by turns sad, chilling, funny and realistic. By some measure it is the most eloquent argument against the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction ever committed to film. I give When The Wind Blows a giant TEN out of ten disaster points. And then I had a nervous collapse.

Friday, 18 January 2013

I review all the latest albums

When I went crazy the other day, it wasn't just limited to reading and writing lists all day. I also decided it was time to fill some gaps in my ears and buy some of the albums that always populate the greatest ever made lists. I bought seven in all, five on CD and two as MP3 downloads, all from amazon.co.uk. The day after, HMV went into administration, so now you all know who to blame for that. I hadn't bought a CD for about five years before that. It reminded me of the 1990s. Which was horrible.

Here is what I thought of them with my brain. (And before you start typing any "YOU'VE NEVER HEARD THAT??!!" comments, I would make sure you've also heard all the albums that I have as well or else you will get served in kind. Plus, as an additional retribution I will tell your mother how much you drink. I have this power.)

A Love Supreme - John Coltrane

I have owned and enjoyed a number of Miles Davis records for years. Some of them have John Coltrane playing on them. So what was the reason for me avoiding this album, which is widely praised as being one of the very best jazz records ever made? Well, mainly it is because the majority of writers talk about it as being a moving spiritual quest. I don't get that: how can a tooty parpy horn record be redolent with spiritual yearning? Well, the fact is, it can't. It's a prime example to me that the majority of music reviewers spend half their life with ballbags resting on their chin and the other half reading Pseud's Corner in Private Eye and thinking, "well, that shouldn't be in there". Like a lot of jazz albums, I didn't find A Love Supreme immediately accessible but there was definitely enough in it for me to persevere and give it some more listens. I have a feeling that this is one of those records that would benefit hugely from me sitting down and concentrating on it, rather than having it as background noise.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER JOHN COLTRANE RECORD? Probably not, but who knows.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 4

Blue - Joni Mitchell

There's absolutely no good reason that I shouldn't have heard this record before. I have countless albums of a very similar theme and style and many of them are albums that I would always list in my favourites. I can only assume that the fear of a new artist, a new voice, is what put me off. Also, Joni Mitchell is too thin. I figure that people who are that thin can not possibly have any soul. I am happy to be able to report that I was wrong about the latter. Blue is a superb record, superb enough indeed to be able to start one of its songs "Born with the moon in Cancer..." and not have me hurl it out the window in disgust.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER JONI MITCHELL RECORD? Almost certainly.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 5

Graceland - Paul Simon

Oh boy. I've avoided this record for nearly thirty years. Firstly because everyone raves about it and I always assume that the more people think something, the more likely they are to all be wrong and idiots. Secondly because it was fêted upon its release as being mature and grown-up music. I hate that. Being a grown-up sucks anus. The only possible way you can do anything enjoyable as a grown up is to cut loose and be a reckless, irresponsible child again. This applies in all areas of human endeavour but none more so than in music. No good can come from music for grown-ups. If you still need proof of the fact, listen to everything Fergal Sharkey ever recorded in chronological order. Listening to "Grown-Up Music" leaves you one step away from being sat at a fucking dinner party with fucking Rodney and Cassandra Trotter, your jacket sleeves rolled up, drinking fucking chardonnay and listening to the new fucking Paul Simon in thoughtful fucking silence. Perhaps with your eyes closed, absent-mindedly clicking your fingers in that dreadful way white people do when they're trying to feel anything, anything at all. And once you're there, you're but a step away from Walking In fucking, shitting, cunting Memphis by Marc Cohn. Third and finally, two words: world music.

Well, I was completely wrong. On all three points. Graceland is joyful, brilliant and divine. I can't remember the last time an album had such an immediate emotional reaction on me. It was almost like a spiritual awakening. I still assume that everyone else is wrong and an idiot but now I am going to leave ±5% wiggle room.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER PAUL SIMON RECORD? Definitely.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 5.

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back - Public Enemy

Hip-hop and rap passed me by a little bit because I was too young to properly enjoy its golden age in the late 1980s. Quite why it has taken me so long to get into it is anyone's guess. I wrote my university dissertation on the subject of punk, and yet I haven't listened to a Public Enemy record until I'm almost 33? It doesn't make an awful lot of sense. The thing about being 8 in 1988 (It Takes A Nation Of Millions... was in fact released on my eighth birthday) is that you absorbed a lot of the music from that year - hip-hop, house and rave - without ever really understanding its significance. Now when I hear it, it is a seriously potent force: familiar enough to be immediately engaging plus with all kinds of extra depth I missed when I was in short trousers. I'll leave you with that mental image for a while. I really enjoyed this album. It is dense with both musical and lyrical content and it rocks harder than 99 percent of the guitar-bass-drums acts of its era ever did. The only reservation I have comes from some reading I did afterwards: Chuck D aimed to make this album as much of an update on the situation on the ground as What's Going On by Marvin Gaye was in the 1970s. In some ways it succeeds. But rap and solipsism are seemingly indivisible, so this lofty aim could only have been truly achieved if Marvin Gaye had spent half of Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) namechecking the members of his band and then calling The Temptations whack.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY RECORD? Yes.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 5

Nevermind - Nirvana

Another example of right record, wrong time. This was Nirvana's breakthrough record, released in late 1991. I was eleven years old and frankly, a lot of the angst of Nirvana's singles passed me by. Which is not to say that was the case for everyone my age. The majority of my year at my new secondary school went Nirvana daffy. Existential crises abounded and my innate fear of what everyone likes kicked in. By the time Kurt Cobain shot himself up the head in 1994, my suspiciousness was set firmly in stone: there's no greater move for a rock 'n' rocker, artistically or commercially, than to die. And so all the veneration heaped on Cobain and Nirvana was filed under B for Bumpf. However, Nevermind is actually a really very enjoyable album. Looking past all the historical background and just listening to it as a load of songs one after the other, it is very difficult to deny that Nirvana knew what they were up to in terms of their understanding of what makes an enduring rock song.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER NIRVANA RECORD? Maybe.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 4

Thriller - Michael Jackson

OK, so it's the biggest selling record of all time. And admittedly, because of the Michael Jackson effect I had already heard almost half of its nine tracks.  But I'd not sat down and listened to a whole Michael Jackson album since Bad in the late 1980s or early 1990s. And since then, listening to a Michael Jackson record may have been seen as tacit consent to the acceptability of... certain practices. So I put it off. Until now. But I should stress that I am still not supportive of any such... certain practices. OK?

Thriller was the last album that Michael Jackson made before he became the biggest music star since Elvis and became the craziest, most unhinged music star since Elvis. Indeed, it was the disposable income that the monumental sales of this record gave him that really helped him push on to enjoy a number of eccentricities and... practices which became the mainstay of the rest of his life. And you can hear it, hear the unaffected innocence. Where some of his later work was wrought with accusations of being overblown and out of touch, Thriller seems remarkably fresh and light. Few albums, too, can boast three songs of the quality of Thriller, Beat It and Billie Jean, let alone to have them run consecutively. But it's not without its shortcomings. The fundamental problem as I see it is the orchestration. The synthesiser reigns supreme, to the point that it starts to become overwhelming. If someone anywhere along the line had suggested that Thriller would sound better if recorded with a live band, I really feel the end product would be completely beyond reproach. As things stand, though, it feels a bit like you're listening to a good karaoke rendition of the best album in the world.

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER MICHAEL JACKSON RECORD? Yes, but I think I'd want to go earlier rather than later.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 4 (but for the lack of any real instruments, it would be a comfortable 5)

Who's Next - The Who

Of all the acts whose BRAND NEW RELEASES I've been listening to this week, The Who are the one I have the most previous experience of. I own both Tommy and Quadrophenia and have done for nearly half of my life. And I enjoy both of those albums, particularly Tommy, which I think is excellent. But they also always made me feel a bit thick, because I knew they were concept albums and therefore were dense with plot and wider points about the human condition, but I just wanted to enjoy them because they had good songs that I liked on. So I thought Who's Next would come as something of a relief and fill a void in my life. A Who-shaped void. But I was disappointed, frankly. The first and last tracks on Who's Next are, of course, monumental rock classics and completely beyond reproach. But the seven songs in between are just so much fluff to my ears. Unsubstantial, where the album tracks on Tommy and Quadrophenia are compelling and exciting. Maybe The Who benefit from having a conceptual framework to write around?

WOULD I LISTEN TO ANOTHER WHO RECORD? Not one I haven't already heard.
OBLIGATORY RECORD REVIEW SCORE OUT OF FIVE: 3

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Special Bulletin

Special Bulletin (1983)

I don't know how much longer I can carry on doing this. I am starting to seriously think that it's doing me lasting psychological damage. It's fairly easy when the films you are watching are such crystalline turds that only the most bewildered sort of maniac - the kind of person who votes for the UKIP, say - could give any credence to. But in the cases where the films are quite good, or ring true, I'm starting to walk around the house afterwards in a daze, convinced the human race is beyond salvation. It is, of course, but I see no reason why I should deliberately seek reminders of this fact on a regular basis.

Special Bulletin wasn't on this list originally. The idiot who made it (Hello) left it out. Instead, its place was taken by a 1994 film called Without Warning. In Without Warning, a series of sudden and unexpected asteroid strikes decimate Earth, the story being told in the style of a real-time special news bulletin. But Without Warning failed on two of the fundamental criteria that the idiot who made the list (Hello) had laid down as being essential to any disaster movie. Firstly, aliens: the asteroids in Without Warning were all sent by extra-terrestrials in a sophisticated, if misguided, attempt at communication with the human race. Secondly, (spoiler alert) everyone dies at the end. Everyone. No-one is spared at all. Not even Malcolm's mum from Malcolm In The Middle, who I'd always considered pretty well bulletproof.

Having watched this 24-carat nugget of shit, however, I discovered another disaster movie that used the news bulletin format. This was Special Bulletin, in which disenchanted atomic weapon engineers turned disarmament campaigners hold a TV reporter hostage on a tugboat moored in Charleston harbour. Their demand: that the US government deliver all the triggers for all the nuclear weapons in the Charleston area so that their group might destroy them. Failure to do so would see them detonate a, yes you've guessed it, nuclear bomb that they'd built from half-inched plutonium. We can only hope that, in this age where global terrorism is such a concern, that no up-and-coming terrorists have such an underdeveloped sense of the concept of irony.

We interrupt this programme to bring you a special announcement: your mum's a whore.

Why Special Bulletin  is so very effective is that in its subject matter and also in its tone it is very much a film ahead of its time. The two key issues discussed, nuclear terrorism and the role the news media play in actively shaping events rather than just passively reporting on them, mean that this is a film that could easily have been made last week. It's a pretty chastening experience as a result. There are a lot of subtle digs at the way TV news makes entertainment and ratings grabs from the bleakest situations, and the denouement is chillingly imaginable. Special Bulletin gets a anus-clenching NINE out of ten disaster points.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Def-Con 4

Def-Con 4 (1985)

Imagine how much it must suck to be in space when an apocalyptic thermonuclear war breaks out on Earth. You'd surely much rather be there with everybody else, down on the ground mucking in with your melted eyes  running down your cheeks and your hair on fire. Nevertheless, this was the situation that the crew of the USS Anal Polyp found themselves in in Def-Con 4.

To be fair, they were not entirely blameless: they were manning a top-secret NORAD defensive shield satellite, so when it all kicks off they're pretty much in the mix. And kick off it does, as a rogue terrorist group hijack a shipment of US Navy Tomahawk missiles and provoke an all-out war. The crew in orbit find this to be particularly trying, especially when one of their wives manages to send out a ham radio message into space with a bleak update of conditions on Earth. In a spellbindingly misguided move, the husband decides to return the craft to Earth to try and get his family to safety.

Unfortunately, a computer malfunction sees them crash land and trigger a countdown to the detonation of their cargo of nuclear warheads in just sixty hours. But the world that they have returned to is quite different to the one which they left 400 days previously: tribal warfare, martial law, food rioting, trading the sexual virtue of ladies, mob justice, summary executions, kangaroo courts and cannibalism are the order of the day; like a Saturday night out in Sheffield.

Def-Con 4. Or Doncaster. I forget which.

The crew's captain having been eaten by pensioners, the second in command finds himself captured by the leader of the main faction, an amoral, sprout-faced military school dropout who has set up a society of sorts in a junkyard where he is attempting to gather the necessary equipment and know-how to lead an escape party by boat to Latin America. But supplies are limited and so any mutiny is quickly crushed in a brutal battle for survival. It's a very reduced rag-tag bunch of survivors who face the new world adrift in the middle of the sea on a fishing vessel as the countdown of the satellite's malfunctioning payload reaches zero and it starts to rain roast albatross.

Def-Con 4 isn't a particularly good film. I found a lot of the finer plot points passing me by, not because it is in any way complex but rather because I didn't really particular care either way who lived or who died. It's very much of its time in terms of its visuals and its content, although it remains admirably restrained for a 1980s sci-fi B movie in terms of using grotesque special effects. It passes the time, but that's about it. Don't be put off watching because you're worried you haven't seen films 1-3. Be put off instead by the fact that there are a lot more engaging and thought-provoking ways to spend however the hell long it takes for this hoop to play out. Def-Con 4 gets a meek, Earth-inheriting FOUR out of ten disaster points.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

What, no Urban Hymns by The Verve?

I have scientifically determined the 57 greatest albums of all time. There's no need to thank me. I love "all-time top" lists, not least because they feature lists of things which is all I really care about. But when they are about things I enjoy anyway it's an even bigger thrill.

However, all-time top 100 album lists are fraught with problems. If they are voted for by critics, they can often be populated with a high proportion of things that are generally considered "worthy": in other words, albums that we OUGHT to be listening to. Conversely, lists voted for by the general public are likely to be swayed by outright popularity, fads and fashions: these lists can sometimes just be alternatively titled charts of the all-time best sellers. The time and place that a list is made is also a significant factor. A list made by an American audience is likely to feature a lot of releases by acts that no-one in Europe has or ever will have heard of and vice versa. Also, any popular new releases will - due to novelty alone -be propelled to an artificially high position and will often bring a number of albums from an act's back catalogue along with it.


I tried to get around these problems and I'm happy with the list that has resulted. Of course, there are still always going to be difficulties. Births, marriages and, particularly, deaths will always be a significant factor in the popularity of albums but these are a lot harder to eliminate from the equation. Who knows how many voters may have been swayed against including a Michael Jackson LP in their ballot on one day - citing some of his alleged "practices" and "lifestyle choices", only to have tearfully and gratefully put five in on the day after he died. Also, performers who were active before the album as a widely-accepted self-contained artform came into being are pretty unfairly discriminated against. Rest assured that any one of the albums in the eventual list could never have existed without the work of artists like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters or Buddy Holly.

Anyway, here's how it works. I took a critic-voted list from an American perspective, the 2005 Rolling Stone magazine 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and a public-voted list from a European perspective, the Virgin 1000 Greatest Albums of All Time list from 2000. I picked these two because they went beyond a top one hundred. This was important, because then I wanted to make some exclusions. Firstly, I ruthlessly expunged all greatest hits collections from each list's top 100: Rolling Stone was worse for this than Virgin, although the latter was maddeningly inconsistent in which greatest hits compilations it would and would not allow in its chart. Rolling Stone's list, however, lost far fewer titles once I applied the second exclusion criteria: records that were released within five years of that list's publication.

Once I had my two top 100 lists, I then eliminated all the titles that appeared on one but not the other, until I reached an accord between the two. The resulting list contains 57 albums which, science itself would suggest are very good indeed and should probably be residing somewhere within your crevices. OK? Right, here they are then. Prick up yer ears.

(In alphabetical order)

A LOVE SUPREME John Coltrane
ABBEY ROAD The Beatles
ACHTUNG BABY U2
AFTER THE GOLDRUSH Neil Young
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED The Jimi Hendrix Experience
ASTRAL WEEKS Van Morrison
BACK IN BLACK AC/DC
BLONDE ON BLONDE Bob Dylan
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS Bob Dylan
BLUE Joni Mitchell
BORN TO RUN Bruce Springsteen
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER Simon and Garfunkel
COURT AND SPARK Joni Mitchell
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Pink Floyd
ELECTRIC LADYLAND The Jimi Hendrix Experience
EXILE ON MAIN STREET The Rolling Stones
FOREVER CHANGES Love
GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD Elton John
GRACELAND Paul Simon
HARVEST Neil Young
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED Bob Dylan
HOTEL CALIFORNIA The Eagles
HUNKY DORY David Bowie
IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS TO HOLD US BACK Public Enemy
KIND OF BLUE Miles Davis
LED ZEPPELIN II Led Zeppelin
LED ZEPPELIN IV Led Zeppelin
LED ZEPPELIN Led Zeppelin
LET IT BLEED The Rolling Stones
LONDON CALLING The Clash
MOONDANCE Van Morrison
NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS HERE'S THE SEX PISTOLS The Sex Pistols
NEVERMIND Nirvana
OTIS BLUE Otis Redding
PET SOUNDS The Beach Boys
PHYSICAL GRAFFITI Led Zeppelin
PURPLE RAIN Prince and The Revolution
REVOLVER The Beatles
RUBBER SOUL The Beatles
RUMOURS Fleetwood Mac
SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND The Beatles
SIGN O THE TIMES Prince
SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE Stevie Wonder
STICKY FINGERS The Rolling Stones
TAPESTRY Carole King
THE BAND The Band
THE BEATLES The Beatles
THE DOORS The Doors
THE JOSHUA TREE U2
THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS David Bowie
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO The Velvet Underground and Nico
THE WALL Pink Floyd
THRILLER Michael Jackson
TOMMY The Who
TROUT MASK REPLICA Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band
WHAT'S GOING ON Marvin Gaye
WHO'S NEXT The Who

And here's 43 more to make it up to a round hundred, why not? I chose these, so all complaints to the usual address. Any complaints about the first 57 should probably be sent to the Royal Society, however.

ARETHA NOW Aretha Franklin
AT FOLSOM PRISON Johnny Cash
AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE R.E.M.
BEGGAR'S BANQUET The Rolling Stones
BITCHES BREW Miles Davis
BLUE LINES Massive Attack
BLUR Blur
BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 4: LIVE 1966, THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL CONCERT Bob Dylan
CLOSER Joy Division
DON'T STAND ME DOWN Dexys Midnight Runners
DUMMY Portishead
DUSTY IN MEMPHIS Dusty Springfield
ELVIS PRESLEY Elvis Presley
HARD DAY'S NIGHT The Beatles
HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON Serge Gainsbourg
HOT BUTTERED SOUL Isaac Hayes
HOT RATS Frank Zappa
KING OF THE DELTA BLUES Robert Johnson
LOADED The Velvet Underground
LOW David Bowie
MOON SAFARI Air
MUSIC FROM BIG PINK The Band
NEW BOOTS AND PANTIES Ian Dury and The Blockheads
OK COMPUTER Radiohead
PARKLIFE Blur
PINK MOON Nick Drake
RAW POWER Iggy and The Stooges
ROXY MUSIC Roxy Music
SAFE AS MILK Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band
SCREAMADELICA Primal Scream
SEARCHING FOR THE YOUNG SOUL REBELS Dexys Midnight Runners
THE BASEMENT TAPES Bob Dylan and The Band
THE BENDS Radiohead
THE CLASH The Clash
THE MODERN LOVERS The Modern Lovers
THE QUEEN IS DEAD The Smiths
THE SMITHS The Smiths
THIS YEAR'S MODEL Elvis Costello and The Attractions
TIME OUT OF MIND Bob Dylan
TOO-RYE-AY Dexys Midnight Runners
TRANS-EUROPE EXPRESS Kraftwerk
UNKNOWN PLEASURES Joy Division
WITH THE BEATLES The Beatles

There's no need to thank me, there really isn't. This is a free service.

By the way, this post and absurd project were both inspired by my friend Bloop's new project, listening to the NME's list of the 100 best albums of all time from 1993. It's a lot more in-depth, intelligent and considered than this old toot, and you should definitely give it a read.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: The Swarm

The Swarm (1978)

Bees. The problem with bees is that they have no respect for the sanctity of human life, as if they were just a common ant. It's hard to understand quite why the ant has never made the transition to the silver screen, really: like bees they are an organised, social creature who will defend themselves to the death. Like bees they are capable of stinging you. And like bees they have mastered flight, albeit for only one day a year. The only difference is that ants do not have an Africanised killer variant and that bees do.

The population of Texas in The Swarm are very aware of this, as a vast cloud of fuzzy black and yellow vengeance descend on the southern United States. First they take out a military base, then they completely shag a family picnic. Before long they are beginning to threaten larger population centres, leaving nothing but a trail of corpses and traumatised, pustule-strewn, lumpy survivors hallucinating giant bees. The only response the human race seems able to muster: Michael Caine shouting at everyone and half a town's male occupants trying to pork schoolmistress Olivia De Havilland.

The Swarm: international bright young six-foot hallucinatory bee

The Swarm is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made. It isn't, of course, but its reputation was earned by the gulf between its budget and its fairing at the box office. None of these things have any real bearing on the quality of a film. There's also no reason that a film with an all-star cast like The Swarm shouldn't ultimately produce a wretched film, as there are so many other variables at play. Where they don't have too much of an excuse, however, is for wretched acting. Michael Caine, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Olivia De Havilland, Slim Pickens and Fred MacMurray are all on display and yet the most believable performers are the bees.

The bees are the only star turn that matter in The Swarm, although Michael Caine's hysterical turn as an entomologist wins me over every time. The sheer tenacity and resilience of the African killer bee is something to behold. If The Swarm is an accurate depiction of their lust for life then everyone in the world should be grinding their teeth with panic. As well as a spectacular series of attacks which cripples an underground military base, makes an orphan of a spotty teen and seriously disrupts a nascent love triangle of people old enough to do better, the bees also survive being driven into Houston and bombed by the National Guard. It's only when the bees are lured into the sea and set on fire - either of which is usually sufficient to kill a regular, ready salted, bee - that the threat is finally neutralised.

The Swarm is one of the most preposterous, shrill, manic and bewildering films of all time. Everybody should see it. I give it FIVE out of ten disaster points. Because although it is brilliant, it is also shite - a winning combination.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Panic In Year Zero

Panic In Year Zero (1962)

Isn't it just always the way? You manage to rouse your wife and two teenage children so that they are awake and ready to leave for a camping holiday in the hills at 4.30 a.m. but, after just a few hours driving, you see a nuclear explosion decimating your city in the rear-view mirror. Typical. Before you know it you've held up a hardware store, been ripped off at a petrol station, held at gunpoint by YOUTHS and are living in a cave.

There's more than just an air of unreality about this film. Even leaving aside the unlikelihood of the scenario, in which the people in the hills a few hours drive outside Los Angeles survive a nuclear attack completely unaffected in any material, physical or emotional way, Panic In Year Zero never once rings true with the horror of the situation at hand. I have written before about how some disaster movies neglect to have any survivors and how I think that this is a grave mistake, but Panic In Year Zero neglects to have any victims. The full extent of the destruction that we see on the ground is a distant flash and a mushroom cloud. Almost every other dead body comes about as a result of the actions of the protagonists. It's the most curiously sterile and anodyne film about thermonuclear war that I can imagine there ever being. Considering that it was released a just few months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's a wonder that anyone in America (or elsewhere) got so worked up about the whole thing. All you need to do is go and live in a cave for a few weeks until the jazz stations are back on the radio and then you can go home and sweep up a bit.

Ultimately, the panic of the title never really materialises, nor does any hint of a "year zero" due to the film's complete lack of any sense of a breakdown of any of the normal structures of government or society. What this is a film about, then,  is a family going away from home for a few weeks to live in a cave, shit in a bucket, get ripped off by ornery small town shopkeepers and trying to prevent their womenfolk from being raped by youths. Half of my childhood holidays were spent in worse conditions than this, and never once was an atomic bomb involved.

Ray Milland, doing his best not to panic

My favourite part of this film, indeed perhaps its only saving grace, is the character of the father, played by the film's director Ray Milland. Whatever the situation presenting itself on the ground, his reaction - or rather, his over-reaction - will be a good two notches over and above what was required. When he needs to cross a busy highway filled with cars of refugees, he sets fire to it. And although his family are already towing a caravan fully stocked and ready for their holiday, he quickly makes them move into a cave and then buries all their food in the ground for safe-keeping.

Early in the film, he encounters some other suspiciously not-particularly-dazed and confused survivors in a roadside diner. One man who he talks to was woken up by the explosion - as though he'd been awoken by the barking of a neighbour's troublesome dog - and then decides it might be for the best to head up into the hills for a while. Shortly afterward, the father is charged $1 over menu price for a grilled cheese sandwich and immediately makes a starkly bleak speech to his (no doubt long-suffering) wife about how civilisation has now broken down and how it is up to him to ensure they're all still alive once law and order can be re-established. It's as if he's acting in another -  better, more realistic - film about survival following a nuclear apocalypse but has declined to tell any of his co-stars. His hysterical response to even the mildest setback, in fact, makes me wonder if perhaps he'd already decided to buy a shotgun and move his family into a cave with the fact that an atomic bomb was dropped on Los Angeles proving a convenient cover for the fact that he has completely lost his mind.

I've seen some horseshit in my time but I think that Panic In Year Zero may take the cake, the horseshit cake. Its sole saving grace may be that it isn't - indeed that it couldn't possibly be - worse than Sliding Doors. I give Panic In Year Zero a dismal TWO out of ten.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Dinosaur wallchart

I am currently beavering away trying to produce some stuff for a new and exciting SPRING 2013 range of pictures and prints that will be available via my Etsy store, Sad Clown. This is one of them. If you click on it, it should become larger.


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Twister

Twister (1996)

Love is in the air. As well as barns, vans, cows and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yes, it's Twister, a film which proves that extreme weather can build bridges as well as knocking them down. A tornado chaser, raised by wolves after the loss of her father to a devastating storm during her childhood, finds herself thrown back together with her estranged meteorologist husband. While she and her team of committed geeks and virgins are in hot pursuit of twisters in tornado alley, husband dearest is in hot pursuit of her, seeking her signature on the divorce papers which will mean that he can tie the knot with his sex therapist.

But like the majority of sex therapists, Doctor Melissa Reeves goes to pieces in the face of extreme weather. Good at sex, bad at tornadoes; just as the old Native American saying puts it. As a series of tornadoes, each more fierce and destructive than the last, breaks out and decimates half of Oklahoma, the husband and wife are thrust back together. By the end of the film, with barns everywhere levelled and cows wedged in the trunks of trees mooing forlornly, our meteorologist friend realises that their shared passion for studying the climate is more of a basis for a meaningful, fulfilling and lasting relationship than someone who is able to work out why you always cry at the point of orgasm.

If in doubt during a tornado, seek shelter inside one of Helen Hunt's nostrils

Twister is a perfectly diverting and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. The special effects are impressive and a lot of fun, although if you are a cow you'd probably view the film as belonging to the horror genre. The romantic sub-plot is grindingly, achingly predictable of course, but it passes the time in between the good bits where the cattle are flying. I give Twister SIX out of ten disaster points.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Top 100 disaster films: Threads

Threads (1984)

Threads is the single most devastating film I have ever seen. It's impossible to imagine anyone not being affected by it. By rights it should make everyone who views it be sick. I imagine that, in countless cases, it did. But years of watching cartoon violence has desensitised me to such horrors. But I certainly couldn't get an erection during this film. A powerful statement indeed.

Threads is the story of thermonuclear war, specifically the story of surviving the experience. There is a certain amount of preamble, of course, shot in the style of a good old fashioned kitchen sink British drama. However, being set in Sheffield, many of the pre-bomb depictions of day-to-day life are as bleak as the after segment. Nevertheless, it's difficult to see how you could come out of the experience of watching Threads without the very firm idea that the former is preferable to the latter.

The early part of the film is something of a gritty morality tale. It's the story of Jimmy and Ruth. Ruth has been knocked up by Jimmy doing a sex up her and now they are planning to marry. As their families adjust to this news, we hear vague leakages of a building Cold War confrontation, much of which is ignored by the people who are tied up with their own problems and daily lives. In many ways, the atomic bomb was the salvation of this film, which would have been achingly tedious without it.

Ruth: chin up, love

When it does drop, however, it does not prove to be the salvation for most of its characters, many of whom catch fire or succumb to grotesque radiation sickness. Somehow surviving the blasts, Ruth now has to live in rather reduced circumstances - even for Yorkshire - as food riots, martial law and nuclear winter become the order of the day. It is by far and away the most stark and terrifying vision of the world I've ever seen committed to celluloid, a hundred times worse than even your most awful dreams. It also makes me wonder how many other bloody awful dreary films might be improved by a sudden and cataclysmic outbreak of hostilities. Sliding Doors would be at the very top of this list, of course, with the proviso that all the main characters died in the blast and we watched this happen, with lingering close-ups of their confusion and pain.

This is probably a vast, sweeping generalisation but in my own personal experience, American people are more emotionally straightforward and open than the British. The 1983 American film on the effects and aftermath of a thermonuclear conflict, The Day After, was viewed by 100 million people including the then-US President Ronald Reagan. He wrote in his diary that it left him feeling "greatly depressed". As it would. Four years later, after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union - a document which completely eliminated all intermediate-range nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles of the two Cold War superpowers - Reagan sent The Day After's director Nicholas Meyers a telegram saying that his film had played a part in it.

There are no such records as to whether or not Margaret Thatcher ever saw Threads, nor if she had have done that it played any part in shaping national defence policy. I like to imagine that she watched it, shat in her fucking pants and then, still chuckling at the images of the proletariat burning, phoned Ronnie up and asked him to send a few dozen more Cruise missiles over to be kept at our airfields.

Pisswoman: not mentioning her at all

Threads is a film that everybody should see once. Seeing it more than that is likely to do long-lasting psychological damage. I'm not even joking. It is brutal, unrelenting, chilling and brilliant. I'm giving it TEN out of ten. That's right. And I managed to write this whole thing without even mentioning the bit where the woman pisses herself.

You can watch the whole thing here.

Monday, 7 January 2013

I lose it

Blogging is a noble activity in many ways, unless your blog is about fucking kids. Mine isn't. One thing that it is about is watching and writing about the top 100 disaster movies list that my friend and blogging colleague 5ollyington Meatburger have made. I did the first post of this series yesterday. You may have already read it. You may have already read it and killed yourself. This means I only have 99 more to do, which is pretty good news for me because doing the first one revealed a number of worrying signs that this project is going to cause me to have a complete and massive nervous breakdown.

Yesterday, I was writing up my post during the film. This is because I didn't want to forget any of my more insightful and ribald thoughts, but also because film is quite boring. I gave it 5 out of 10, or 10th May in numerological language. As I wrote this pithy and hilarious denouement, on the screen there was all sort of bad stuff happening. Solar stuff. Mooses on fire, the whole works. Suddenly all the tiny, fragmented pieces of information that pass for my intellect crystallised in a sudden terrifying moment of realisation. A solar maximum is expected in 2013. Could it be that the events I was seeing depicted on the screen could happen on May 10th and I'd just predicted it with my review of Knowing?

The Sun: sitting up there, waiting to kill us all, the big hydrogen and helium bastard

I did a Google search, just in case any such event was expected on the 10th of May this year. My thought was, if they were I would change my score to a 6 out of 10. Not only does this demonstrate a mind completely unprepared for the kind of emotional assault watching a disaster movie every 3.65 days is likely to impart, but also that I am a flaky and unreliable reviewer, prepared to change his carefully thought-out ratings at the merest prophetic or eschatological concern. You don't get this problem with Barry Norman.

I fear that I am beyond saving. However, this is no reason why I shouldn't continue in my project. And I'm doing Threads next, what could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Knowing


Imagine knowing stuff. It would be a complete disaster, let's face it. I know nothing and that's enough of a dilemma. However, some people do know things, terrible things. This is why Barack Obama has aged 20 years in the last 4, for starters. Knowing is a 2009 film about a man who comes to know things and demonstrates, once and for all, that complete and utter ignorance is the closest humanity can come to finding inner peace.

In 1959, a deeply disturbed little girl (who was probably being sexually abused by her parents, lets face it) wrote down the string of numbers that was continually coursing through her head and stuck them in her school's time capsule. By a freakish twist of fate, upon their re-emergence in 2009 they came into the sweaty hands of the only pupil at the school whose father is a professor of astrophysics. Luckier still, the dirty little tea leaf pockets it, meaning that the good prof gets a full evening studying it. His maths skills are obviously tight, as despite all that whisky he's drinking, he immediately spots a string of numbers predicting the September 11th terrorist attacks as well as the number of its victims. But wait! This girl who's had more cocks up her than a minibus filled with British princesses had actually predicted every major catastrophe to happen in the last 50 years! Oh, and some that were just about to happen, obviously.

It was a curious - and, from the point of view of narrative tension, serendipitous - turn of events. Most parents, presented with this situation, would have given their child a good beating for nicking things from school, send them to bed early and then, upon examination of the document, chucked the nonsensical barcode of woe in the bin. It would have been the right thing to do, too. It turns out that there's nothing that anybody can do to stop any of this from happening, so foreknowledge of it is always going to prove to be an intolerable burden. And so it proves, as the first event on the list - a plane crash - comes to pass.

Nicholas Cage in Knowing: he thinks he's got problems

By the time that it becomes apparent that the final event predicted by the document is a solar flare that will cause the extinction of all life on earth, our hero the prof is really starting to show signs of the strain. Or he would have been, if Nicholas Cage could act. Luckily for the human race, aliens have been lurking about the woods like paedophiles and they take the professor's son and the granddaughter of the deeply disturbed little girl (who, by some miracle, had successfully managed to breed a well-adjusted family before topping herself, memories of her rude uncle's glans still no doubt fresh in her mind (and her ear)) onto their spaceship and off into the space. This will invariably make any sequels to the Knowing franchise very different films. Or at the very least, films of a different genre. As the visitors also take two rabbits with them, my proposed title for this film is Knowing 2: Sexy Noah's Ark. I'm writing it now.

Knowing is a film that poses more questions than answers. Which is ironic, considering. The most significant line of questioning relates to numerology. Had that list fallen into the hands of a British-born professor of astrophysics, for example, there would have been no film at all as the date order wouldn't have rung true and the document would have been thrust into the shitter with flying colours. It reminds me, too, of the brief pre-millennial infatuation with The Bible Code, a book that successfully predicted little but demonstrated that anything could - if interpreted in the right way - be viewed as a portent of doom. Which means that, presumably, any committed numerologist reading this can probably extrapolate from it the date of my own death. Having now seen Knowing, in many ways I wish it had been yesterday. It is a piece of watchable and diverting hocum, but what I really want from a disaster movie is watchable and entertaining hocum. Or bees.

I give Knowing FIVE out of ten. For the numerologists amongst you, this is 5/10. Which, Nicholas Cage would tell you, is 10th May. Eep.

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