Thursday, September 30, 2004

Irish blogger develops crazed theory shocker

Okay, so a couple of days ago I received two box sets in the post from - the new STAR WARS set, natch, and the new collected edition of SPACED series one and two (though they might as well call it the complete SPACED, as whatever their intentions, it'll prove ever harder to get that now-stellar cast and crew back together again to make the long-promised series three, as they all go off to bigger and better things post- SHAUN OF THE DEAD - the documentary feature that makes up disc three of the set as good as admits this).

I haven't even gotten STAR WARS out of its cellophane yet, so I can't comment on that (or specifically, the fourth disc of extras - I really should, as I hear the documentaries are very good), but I've spent the last couple of nights binging on large portions of SPACED.

I'm developing a theory - I can never actually be sure how good SHAUN OF THE DEAD really was, because my judgement will have been influenced by the residual deep affection for Simon Pegg's and Nick Frost's characters Tim and Mike from SPACED. If I had came to SHAUN cold, would I have believed in that friendship as readily? Dunno, but they have that well-worn "hetero life partner" chemistry that Kevin Smith and Jason Meyes bring to their JAY AND SILENT BOB projects.

I know that for the same reason (my residual love of SPACED), while watching SHAUN, my favourite bits were every time Jessica Stevenson turned up in her recurring cameo role. Its similarly charming whenever Lucy Davis and Martin Freeman's characters have their chance (and totally unremarked) brief shared screentime - in fact, as their cute courtship was most people's favourite thing about THE OFFICE, its a wonder this wasn't telegraphed (or publicised at the time) a bit more obviously. As the two analoguous groups of survivors file past each other, its a shame Davis and Freeman's characters didn't share a furtive glance or knowing comment.

Speaking of THE OFFICE, I had completely forgotten about Ricky Gervais' brief but pivotal cameo in SPACED as a leery estate agent until seeing it again a couple of nights ago. Watching it now, it seems a dry run for David Brent.

In short, if you haven't seen SPACED or SHAUN OF THE DEAD, do. They're great, and you won't regret it.

Plus - see that by-line? Still got it, suckas!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Fear of a blank planet

Just as a blank piece of paper used to scare the crap out of me sometimes in the good old days, I've been staring at the "create post" page of my Blogger Dashboard for a couple of minutes now, trying to think of something to write. I went and tinkered with my Profile for a little while, considering about making it less jokey and more factual (didn't bother, added another few favorite movies, books and bands).

Then I started clicking on a few links on the profile page, to see who was of a like mind out there. What I learned: most people in Northern Ireland with a blog are students getting ready for the new term. Did it make me nostalgic? Did it bollocks. Even when I was a student, I hated students. Or, to be precise, "bloody stew-dents". I remember frequently sitting in the Union bar with me old mucker Glenn, making plenty of derisive cracks at the idiots who made up the student body at the college we occasionally frequented. So here's some of my tips for the kids out there heading off to university for the first time in the coming weeks.

1. Never refer to university as "uni", especially in a city centre bar. You'll sound like a cunt.
2. Drugs are great, but talking about drugs is really fucking boring. Wearing "humorous" drug-related clothing or jewelry will make you look like a cunt.
3. That band on the cover of the NME may be your new favoritist band ever, but I assure you they're shit and will be forgotten by the time you get your degree. Don't bother buying that t-shirt.
4. Yes, we have all seen Betty Blue. It's over-rated. As is back-packing, the collected works of Tolkien, Bo Selecta and Donnie fucking Darko.
5. Don't wear a hat indoors. It's uncouth and will make you look like a cunt.
6. Freshers week is fun, girls, but don't get so drunk that you'll sleep with the first pretentious idiot who makes a pass at you. You could get a dodgy reputation, or worse: you might sober up ten years later and realise you're married to a cunt.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The reason for the bags under my eyes is...

This morning I'm feeling kinda tired because I stayed up late to watch the repeat of the first episode of DEADWOOD, on Sky Mix. I missed it on Tuesday because of a long standing appointment with gluttony at the Indian Food Festival.

First impressions? Well, it certainly established a mood (impending doom) quickly. Not sure it lives up to the surrounding hype, though - but then, what could? Plus, it's proving hard to take Ian McShane seriously after years of playing that leathery lothario LOVEJOY. In fact, it may prove hard to watch this show purely because every character in it is so damn unlikeable. "How the west was scum" indeed.

I'll put it this way: I'll keep watching to see how things "pan out" - heh, see what I did there? No? "Pan out"? Oh for fuck's sake. Its a gold prospecting reference, dumbass.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Brian Clough R.I.P.

When I was a kid of four or five, my father and my sister sat me down to make a momentous, life-changing decision. I was now big enough to choose a football team to support. A colourful A5 booklet was thrust into my tiny hands: the Littlewoods Pools guide to the coming season. Each double page spread gave the prospects of every team in the old first division for the next year, a team photograph and a picture of their badge.

Would I support the team my father supported, Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team settling into a long mediocrity, but stilled buoyed somewhat by their past greatness? Or like my sister, support Liverpool; then the greatest team in Europe, full of household names? Nope. I fell in love with that ultra-stylized team badge of Nottingham Forest, an image that magically alluded abstractly to the Robin Hood mythology I so loved at the time. Even the name"Nottingham Forest" suggested Sherwood Forest, men in Lincoln Green swinging gaily from tree to tree, rather than dour Midlands industrialisation. Kids, eh?

My family scoffed. This was a team who'd just won promotion back to the top flight after years, decades, of under achieving. Yet this team, from nowhere, then proceeded to win the championship that season, and win the European Cup for the next two in a row. Not only that, but they were the team of Martin O'Neill, the Northern Ireland captain who led the 1982 World Cup side to such unexpected glory. But most especially, they were the team of Brian Clough, who managed to be the funniest, most charming, most contrary personality football has seen during my lifetime. Maybe not a tactical genius (that was what Peter Taylor was for, surely?), just the best man-manager the sport had ever seen, the most charismatic motivator of athletes possible.

Exasperating, flawed, controversial, sure. But lovable. And that's why I was fighting back tears on Monday for the death of a man I've never met.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Steve Earle: An Apology

A couple of days ago I may have gave the impression that I disliked Steve Earle's fine recording JERUSALEM. This is, however, not the case. I spent my day off this week re-alphabetising my CD collection (hey, you can take the boy out of the library, but you can't take the library out of the boy) while listening to THE REVOLUTION STARTS NOW. After it finished, I put on JERUSALEM for a A/B contrast, and discovered that it was a stronger record than my (increasingly) faulty memory had given credit for. I had remembered it as largely constructed of distorted guitar drones over drum loops, but on rediscovery found it to be full of light and shade. The two albums sit well as companion pieces, JERUSALEM being about Earle's disgust at the current government in his homeland, but THE REVOLUTION STARTS NOW showing him as having worked through the negativity, coming through it to fight positively for regime change. The Michael Moore of rock? You betcha.

Monday, September 20, 2004

My little Big Sister

Happy birthday Lesley. Take it easy, I'll be round later for some cake.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Gringo's Tale

Got STEVE EARLE's new CD, THE REVOLUTION STARTS NOW the other day. As Vernon God Little would say, It fucken rocks. I thought his last, JERUSALEM, suffered from a lack of great tunes, compared to the rest of his post-prison output. Sure, it had a lot of important stuff to say, but the controversy just seemed to take precedence over the songcraft. Here, however, he's back to the sort of powerpop form exhibited on I FEEL ALRIGHT (the RUBBER SOUL of alt-country) or TRANSCENDENTAL BLUES. In another, more potty-mouthed, dimension F THE CC would be a huge radio hit. And, I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW is one of those achingly forlorn love songs that makes perfect sense when you're hungover on a Sunday morning. Bravo, maestro.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Really, how hard would it have been to do it right, George?

Well, I've just watched all twenty episodes of the cartoon STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS back to back on Toonami. Tiny bite sized pieces of Jedi goodness stitched together to make something surprisingly substantial. And, damn, they were good, everything you remember STAR WARS to be - thrilling, funny, scary - rocking the whole rollercoaster gamut of the action movie spectrum (there's one for the DVD cover), hopefully revealing Genndy Tartovsky to a wider audience to be a true auteur (fans of his work on DEXTER'S LABORATORY, POWERPUFF GIRLS and SAMURAI JACK already knew this, of course).

Unfortunately, it's also brought back what a disappointment the prequels George Lucas made were. I'm enough of a STAR WARS nut to still hope against hope that REVENGE OF THE SITH will live up to the (fading) expectations of the fanbase. I remember seeing the trailer for THE PHANTOM MENACE when it came out, and the excited buzz it caused amongst my nerdy brethren. Seeing Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson battling it out with the impossibly cool looking Darth Maul, I hoped that this was going to be everything I wanted it to be - basically a film that established the jedi order as kickass space samurai. The overall arc the new trilogy had to take seemed obvious. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, an order of ("ahem") kickass space samurai police a generally peaceful cosmos full of guys in latex suits, assorted muppets and CGI aliens. Obi Wan Kenobi initiates a young, impetuous Anakin Skywalker into the Jedi. Over the course of three movies, we see the Republic subverted into becoming the Empire, Skywalker fathering Luke and Leia then subverted into becoming Darth Vader, and the Jedi scattered and wiped out. And along the way, we should get to see plenty of jaw-dropping lightsaber battles. Obi Wan kicks Anakin into a volcano. Pyrrhic victory, Kenobi and Yoda go into hiding. Bada-bing, mission accomplished. Three movies: first, an already teenaged and angry Anakin joins the Jedi; second, Anakin is established as a hero fighting alongside the Jedi: third, Anakin betrays the Jedi. Simple enough, right? This is the story of Darth Vader and his genesis, right, so it has to start dark and get even darker, surely?

The hype builds. News escapes of the plot. Liam Neeson's character seems to be doing pretty much all the mentoring in the movie, with Obi Wan himself not yet a full jedi. Anakin seems far too young for the job of establishing himself as both heroic and troubled, or as the "great pilot" Ben tells Luke of, or to be the romantic lead who romances Padme, and fathers "the new hope". Darth Maul seems great though, genuinely menacing, just like the first time you saw Darth Vader, man, remember that - the wheezing respirator, the black cape, the skeletal visage of his helmet? Hope there's plenty of this new pants-wetting Sith Lord in the new movie, I thought to myself.

I manage to obtain an illicit VHS copy of the movie weeks before the movie opens. I assemble my peers, STAR WARS cultists to a man, all from the class of '76-'77. The first generation of true believers, brought together for a communal dose of the old time religion. And what do we get? Sheer boredom, with the occasional enervating blast of the old magic. We reassure each other - it must have been a rough cut, what we'll see at the cinema will be superior. It isn't. What we wanted: all out Jedi versus Sith madness. What we got: cloying sentiment and impenetrable waffle. Poor pacing. Unconvincing relationships between the leads. Jar Jar fucking Binks.

Anyway, I'm going out tomorrow and buying the original trilogy on DVD. As soon as THE CLONE WARS gets a DVD release, I'll buy that too. And for old times sake, I'm sure I'll go and see REVENGE OF THE SITH at the cinema. If George Lucas ever decides to keep the STAR WARS franchise going after that, I hope he won't surround himself with yes-men, and brings in collaborators of the standard of Lawrence Kasdan, Irvin Kershner and the late, great Leigh Brackett again. The contributions of Genndy Tartovsky remind us that the galaxy far, far away remains a tremendously fruitful destination for storytellers. Hell, we know that STAR WARS is yours to do what you want with it, George - all we're asking is that you tread softly, because you tread on our dreams.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Lovin' your work

Just wanted to add that I love my little profile picture. My eyes really do look like that, it ain't photoshopped - I can fire omega beams outta them, too!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Did you ever notice how many blogs seem to feature people complaining about never having time to update their blogs through pressure of work, stressful home lives, or apocalyptic weather conditions? Not me. I've been out drinking by the pool. Fuck the blog.

Monday, September 06, 2004

"Welcome to my world, won't you come on in..."

Imagine that, my first ever tentative footsteps on the blogosphere involved quoting Jim Reeves! Hardly typical of me, and I promise you that this will not be a Jim Reeves related blog, though thinking about it I've now got the sudden urge to go Google "Jim Reeves blog" and see what turns up. Dammit, I was trying not to get bogged down in this Jim Reeves tangent, and now I'm totally stuck as to how to get out.

Anyway, as someone who jealously holds on to his Newspaper Society press card despite it having long expired, its hard to get one's head round the concept of writing for free. I'm going to write and not get paid? What the hell's the point of that?! So here's the concept kids - I'm going to ramble and rant about anything that grabs my fancy. Chances are, it'll be about my total immersion in Pop Culture. Books, TV, film, comics - anything I'm enjoying, I'll share my thoughts with you. The one thing I miss about journalism is reviewing, so I'll concentrate on that. I'll start tomorrow with a little glimpse into my sensibilities by talking about some of my current favourites.

And as I always preached to the poor buggers I was editing, writing is a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger and more flexible it gets. Any writing will make you a better writer further down the line. So, I'm going to practice what I preach and just write for the hell of it, in the interest of building my withered, neglected writing muscles back up to full strength. Arrgh! Enough of this corny metaphor! I'm going to bed - I'm knackered and hungover, and have to get up early tomorrow for my real job - more on that later - so I'll be back tomorrow during my lunchbreak to knock out more autobiographical anecdotes masquerading as profound wisdom. Every damn year I start a diary, thinking pretty much the same thing - get back into the habit of writing, Mark! It all counts, just churning out any old crap will help get the chops back up! These diarys usually stop late February/early March. But, hey! What little writing I've managed in those couple of months is usually top notch! Hopefully this being posted on the internet will shame me into not falling back into my worst failing - sloth.

* a short note on the proliferation of exclamation marks in my writing: some years ago, I realised that Marvel Comics supremo Stan Lee was easily the most influential writer on my childhood development. I was pretty fond of Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain, too, but it was Stan's love of hyperbole and alliteration that stuck with me. Don't worry, I'm quite comfortable with it. How I came to this realisation, and how it affected the project I was working on at the time, is a story for another time. Come to think of it, my habit of trailing off on wacky tangents probably came from Mark Twain. But maybe Ronnie Corbett. Or Billy Connelly.