Monday, March 19, 2018

Pop Culture is Dead To Me 3: This Time It's Personal

A surprisingly thin-on-the-ground selection for this quarter; but this is probably down to having rediscovered 'a social life' and not dependent on a TV for entertainment...

Anyhow, you know when you really look forward to something and it turns out to be considerably less exciting than you could ever wish for? Well, the last time I actually looked forward to a film and enjoyed it was Arrival - the CE3K for the 21st Century, so I had vast expectations of Annihilation based purely on its premise (and its apparent similarity to an idea I had over five years ago).

Annihilation is based on the Jeff Van der Meer book of the same name - the first part of a trilogy about an area of the USA that becomes 'some other place' and it stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Issac (both with Star Wars connections) and is directed by Alex Garland, he of Ex Machina fame, so there's oodles of pedigree and potential. Yet, despite getting a limited cinematic release in the last country it should have been shown, the rest of the world got it on Netflix, based it seems on the idea that the studio behind it got cold feet about the ... subject matter and esoteric story line. I'm thinking they maybe realised it was just a heap of barely intelligible boredom. I don't need to be a half-wit Yank to dislike this film on a number of levels - it isn't weird enough; it isn't psychedelic enough and it's as exciting as watching your nan doing the ironing, while listening to repeats of The Archers... Yes, it's that good!

The other problem with Annihilation is its disjointedness - presumably deliberately done to attempt to convey the weirdness of Area X (where most of the film is set), there seems to be lots of time spent drawing allegory from the worlds the expedition team have left behind. I'm not overly convinced these allegories worked, regardless of the obvious or subtle execution; but this might be down to the bleak and humourless journey the viewer has to take.

Frankly, I think it's a mess that apparently takes so many liberties with the source material that someone else could adapt the book and this film would come out considerably differently.

I feel a little like the Americans who hated the end of the Shadow War in Babylon 5 because it wasn't exciting enough; but where I could see the necessity of that, this film needed something to actually happen in it, because aside from the mutated empathy bear and a few flowers, it felt decidedly like a dull road movie.

I also feel that when You Tube is flooded with seven minute films of nerds explaining to other nerds what the film or the ending meant then it maybe shouldn't have been released in the first place. This is intellectual snobbery, by the way, this is someone who fancies themselves as a pretty good writer conveying my belief that this was incoherently done and any subliminal message was lost; probably down the weirdly vaginal hole in the Lighthouse...

Regular readers will know I've grown utterly tired of the Marvel films, purely because they either don't live up to my expectations or I'm simply growing too old to appreciate a film genre that is now firmly directed at people younger than me. I was hoping that Thor: Ragnarok would buck a trend, especially as I've really enjoyed the other two Thor films.

The problem with it is it's simply too long, it's also too comedic and presumably Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) couldn't be in it because her film-star alter-ego was farting about in some vaguely psychedelic/delirious film purporting to be 'intelligent SF'. That aside, it was the most enjoyably daft Marvel film I've seen in a while, even if, like Annihilation I found it hollow and a little lifeless.

Would I be right in suggesting that 'solo' superhero films are no longer that? Take Spider-Man: Homecoming - it has Iron Man in it. The new Thor has the Hulk, Valkyrie and, at the end, the Guardians. I haven't seen Black Panther and I'm in no hurry to, but I wonder how many 'guest stars' are in it? Avengers: Infinity War (Part One) will have about 100 superheroes in it; I expect each of them will get less than 10 seconds air time; someone will die at the end and all will seem lost until Adam Warlock turns up at the end... Yawn...

I'm sure I've seen some other films since Christmas, but the failure of any of them to stick in my memory could simply be an indication that movies are in need of something new, especially when TV and streaming services seem to be cleaning up; or I simply might be suffering from dementia. In fact, I think part of the reason my viewing habits have declined has been down to too much choice. Not all that choice is going to be award-winning fodder either.

In terms of networked TV (you know the drill, I rarely talk about UK TV because most of it is bad and I don't really care if you really think [insert name here] was the best British [insert genre type here], I'm unlikely to watch it) I'm convinced I've missed out or forgotten half of what I've watched. The thing is I might not remember them because they're even less worth talking about than the following load of horse testicles...

Lucifer is a TV show in need of a show runner who understands how these kind of shows work, because it is fast becoming the genuine 21st century version of Columbo. One of the original charms of the series was the dull procedural shit you had to get through, almost as tiresomely as Lucifer, so we could have those juicy five to ten minutes of PLOT. The problem is that PLOT got so far and then ground to a halt and was replaced by a series of slightly irrelevant subplots that seem to go out of their way to portray Lucifer like some sheltered slightly twattish kid with a growing dose of Tourette's, who also, despite millennia of observing human behaviour still has absolutely no clue how to behave. It was fun for two series, but now it needs to move on.

Lucifer is also fast becoming the graveyard for washed up ex-fantasy show actors. Trish Helfer didn't do a bad job last series, but, honestly, does she need to be around now? And why is she more like the goddess who possessed her than the homely wife and family lawyer she was originally, but has been carelessly forgotten about?

The other problem is Tom Welling. He was head and shoulders the worst thing in Smallville (and he played Clark Kent) and now he's Kane, the first murderer, where he gets to flex all of his absolutely non-existent acting skill, while being allowed to sing very badly. No wonder some of the cast are beginning to look confused (or is that bemused?), all the time.

Meanwhile, torture and misery porn has advanced to new and even more controversial levels with (say it in a gruff US accent) Ay Em Cee's The Walking Dead... I thought making the Season eight story - All Out War - stretch out across the entire 16 episodes in what appeared, at first, to be continuous real time action seemed like a good idea, but after the opening four episodes (which appeared to cover the same time frame from several different perspectives) we appear to have settled back into another weirdly chronological mishmash of confusion.

If the show runner thought killing off Carl was a way of getting the series back on track and thoroughly confusing the comic readers, then the jury is out. Yes, the kid who played Carl in the series was as wooden as a yew tree, but in the comic he's become almost as important as his father, in the grand scheme of things. So they either look for a new 'Carl' one who can act and is interesting, or they go in a different direction to the comic - completely.

The problem with TWD now is it has become a shouty mess with no clear direction any more. The zombies are almost a distraction from the latest psychos and their crazy followers and once Negan and co are out of the way - by the end of this current series you can be sure - we've got the Whisperers waiting in the wings. Another bunch of randomly chaotic psychos intent on killing the living.

I don't know if this is true and frankly I don't like searching the internet for vague things, but the next series of sister show Fear Madison and her Family or whatever it's called is being fast forwarded FIVE years and Morgan from TWD is joining the cast, presumably in the hope that viewers will give a shit.

I addressed this before - if you had a series about living in a mountain retreat with solar and wind power and a mountain stream, it would get a little boring when each episode was about crop yields or fortifying the outer perimeter...

The new addition to our viewing pleasure was The Good Place. We watched Season One more on the recommendation of seeing others asking if people had seen it. It's essentially a 22 minute weekly comedy series about people who have died and gone to 'The Good Place'. It sounds like something that guy from Little House on the Prairie should be in with guest appearances from Aled (I never touched her, guv) Jones, but it is actually as odd as anything you will ever see on US TV. We have the entire season two to watch after binge watching the first series. The wife is undecided, I'm just hoping it doesn't turn into some weirdly bloated Groundhog Day.

The shock for me has been how surprisingly irreverent and enjoyable most of this, presumably final, season of The X-Files has been. With just a few more to go before Gillian Anderson quits the show for good, I'd hope it ties up as neatly as it can without trying to shag a bloated corpse any longer than necessary. This season has been blessed with some excellent stand alone episodes that have been head and shoulders above the now tired and balding main plot. Let's hope they manage to finally put it out of its misery on a high note.

Agents of SHIELD was going to join most of the other Marvel series - whether Fox, Netflix or ABC - on the scrap heap. After a season that was far too long stuck in a virtual world, this new (also possibly last) series went a little weird by setting pretty much the first half of it in the future where the Kree rule over the remaining rubble of the planet Earth. We're now back in their own time with the sword of Damacles hanging over their heads by virtue of knowing if they make the wrong decision they will forever be trapped in a paradoxical time loop.

It has gone from almost certain death to being back up there as one of the must watch things of the week; largely down to some cracking dialogue and a kind of Buffy-esque ability to be both deadly serious and slightly tongue-in-cheek. You just know it's going to get canned in May.

That brings us to what should have been something remarkable yet somehow empty and devoid of pleasure... Happy came in like a breath of fresh air and went out like a stale sequel waiting to happen. Based on an idea/comic Grant Morrison probably had while pished on Buckthorn and deep-fried Mars bars, it's about a former cop turned hit man who (for want of a better description) adopts his (unknown) daughter's imaginary friend. It's choc-a-bloc full of Three Stooges styled violence; pithy dialogue and thoroughly icky and creepy characters, yet despite only being eight episodes long, it felt like it was at least five too many.

In the end it was a slightly sordid and soiled example of why not every idea should be made into a TV series and this might have worked as a slightly low budget feature film. I won't be catching up with season two when it finally appears, because by the end of the first series I was waiting for it to conclude. it was also a SyFy series and, frankly, inserting molten needles in your urethra is better than watching anything from those 'lo quality charlatans'.

Star Trek: Discovery finished its inaugural run with an ultimately disappointing cop out conclusion to a slightly disjointed narrative. It was still a brilliant reboot with many things on its side. You just wonder if they can continue with the intensity and adult themes and if they can they're not frightened to advance it even further; I hope so, but... You know?

I do watch some British TV and I'd like to give you a quick comparison between The Grand Tour and BBC's Top Gear. GT is TG with more money, presented by three oafish bores who are also extremely good at what they do. TG is now a fairly dull car show with two genuinely likeable presenters fronting a largely dreary programme. I can't stand Clarkson as a human being, but I know he did appeal to a large group of people and it is arguable he was used as an initial scapegoat to test the waters of how offended people can be and once it was confirmed that a small percentage of social media users could influence the way the rest of the world thinks, we all got slightly shafted.

Still to watch: All of Fargo, Shameless US season 8, The Punisher, season two of Jessica Jones, season 3 of Mr Robot and The Twin Peaks reboot and have to find time to watch Altered Carbon, Feud, and Mr Mercedes. I also have about six things from the last couple of columns I still haven't watched and the longer it goes on the less likely I am to watch. 

I have a Star Wars film to get around to: a few cult films (Ingrid Goes West, Colossal, It Comes at Night and - still - the Mexican film The Untamed) to get through and that's before other films come out that I'm hoping I'll want to see. The weird thing is I look at someone like my mate Andy's film review site and realise that he'll watch 100 new films in a year, with ease, and I'm getting to the stage where I'm lucky if I can watch 10 that I'm remotely interested in - and when I do I'm as disappointed as a kid wanting a bike and getting a carrot at Christmas; it's no surprise my enthusiasm is waning, is it?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Music Review 2017

Compared to my esteemed colleague and friend Mr R. Trenberg of Surbiton, Surrey, my listening variety is piss poor. Said Mr Tremble reviews for things, you see, and he gets sent more shit than you can wave your gran at. Looking at Mr Tredegar's list of 742 albums of 2017 made me feel small and inadequate. His man-size listening habits are crushing for my modest little oeuvre, but undeterred I opted for the Small-but-Sweet package, paid my £342.99 and settled back for an evening of unrestrained filth to my ears.

The following, based on Mr Trezeguet's extremely complicated 'Hamster's Tersticles' Theorum*, will explain how I determined what albums I would listen to and get aroused by and which albums would make me want to shit myself and cry.

The albums which featured in the latter included a number of artists I simply wouldn't be seen dead admitting to listening to and a few which I went into expecting more of.

Then there was the small list of stuff that either didn't make the 25 short list because I wasn't terribly impressed/didn't grab me by the nads/weren't played enough to stimulate my musical OCDs. I could simply have listed a top 50 albums of the year and hope that no one notices there's only 49.

The albums that didn't quite make it were offerings from Ulva (was a tad disappointed as I like some of their earlier stuff), The Horrors (nothing new to see here), London Grammar (bland in comparison to their debut), Lorde (not risque enough to warrant my calling her the 21st century Kate Bush), The Flaming Lips (a real improvement on recent years, but no longer have any pulling power). I also haven't got some albums, including the most recent Amplifier album, so I can't really rate the album until I've got it and played it to death (or not).

I had a bit of an experiment this year and several stuck, others weren't so lucky - these included: Susanne Sundfor, Ex Eye, Royal Blood, Blanck Mass and an album which covers Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, but re-imagined as a heavy metal album - it was surprisingly better than it sounds.

Plus some old favourites missed out for various reasons. Ulrich Schnauss's collaboration with fellow (nu) Tangerine Dreamer Thorsten Quaeschning didn't make the cut because it was a bit dull. Hammock's film soundtrack to Columbus didn't make it because I haven't yet got a copy of it and from what I've heard I'm not really missing out.

Most importantly, there is probably 1000 different albums out there I never discovered and we all know the word 'discover' has a disco in it.

Now the tough part and because ranking records is a pisser at the best of times, I'm listing 25-6 in alphabetic order - these are the albums I liked this year, but not as much as the top 5.

All Them Witches - thanks to Mr Tremulous for this worthy addition to my year. Top 10.
Bent Knee - marvellous wailing and screeching with fine musicianship, man.
Eat Lights, Become Lights - Krautrock infused electronica.
Foo Fighters - surprisingly entertaining psyche-rock from the most well known on my list.
Hammock - the band finally do an album about death rather than just alluding to it constantly.
Michael Head - it's not Shack but it's still a damned good sound.
Mark Lanegan - my first real exposure to him since his band work; great album for a drive.
Mew - big contender for album of the year, in January. A real return to form for the Danes.
Mogwai - I tend to avoid well known 'post rock' bands, I didn't with this and was glad.
Nordic Giants - big chance to make a bold statement and blew it with more of the same.
Orange Clocks - madness from Northants. Nothing quite like this anywhere else in 2017.
Radiohead - yes, it was a reissue, but the 2nd album was all new to me.
Shaman Elephant - stumbled onto these after discovering someone else; groovy.
Space Above - New Zealand ambient pop - picked up from Radio6.
Stellardrone - the 'new' album features 5 tracks, 3 of which have been out for two years.
Stone From the Sky - bitching heavy grooves from Franceland.
Tangerine Dream - in name only. One track might pass off as a TD track, just. OK though.
Temples - Like psychedelia forced through Mercury Rev's socks.
War on Drugs - probably shouldn't even be played by me but surprisingly listenable.
Steven Wilson - his latest album was so commercial he appeared on BBC Breakfast. Sell-out.

This brings us to the Top Five albums of the year...

If I was to tell you that there were up to seven albums this year vying for the top spot and it has changed in the last week, that would be what the year in music has been like for me. None of the bands or artists I regard as my current favourites did anything much this year, so it was always going to be a case of whatever's been floating my sneakers in the drain of life. Or in other words, there be no real IT album because many have their merits and all did the job that was needed when it was neededed.

So, not really in a definitive order, as it might change as often as a very hygienic person's underwear.

At 5... Jonas Munk & Ulrich Schnauss - Passage

I like Manual (Munk's project) and I've enjoyed Schnauss's collaborations more than his solo stuff for a few years now. This is electronic Krautrock with added Dane that has an ambience about it that borders on post rock. There are some cracking bits of music on it too.

At 4... Elder - Reflections of a Floating World

One of those 'WTF' moments when a heavy rock band flicks all the right switches and reminds you of classic heavy riffs mixed with modern production values. These guys are so heavy they sound like a heavy rock orchestra. It's been there or thereabouts since I discovered it.

At 3... Motorpsycho - The Tower

This was at #1 until last week. I played all my favourites over the last 3 weeks and while this is a cracking album by a Norwegian band that never fails to deliver something to put on repeat play, this album is marred by a couple of, what can only be described as, 'weak' tracks, the rest are borderline classics; Ship of Fools becoming their latest epic monster.

At 2... Ride - The Weather Diaries

And #1 on and off since its release. This is one of those 'triumphant return' albums, 25+ years after their last, presumed final, poor disintegration on vinyl. The time off has done them a lot of good and this is jam-packed with excellent pop psychedelia with a shoegaze feel and a 21st century sensibility. Favourite bands of the 90s on comebacks rarely live up to expectations, this exceeded mine (and many critics too).

And at 1. Carbon Based Lifeforms - Derelicts

What a truly gorgeous piece of work this is and I stumbled across it, after repeated prompting, on You Tube, while listening to Stellardrone's latest. One day in October, I finally listened to it and then again. I couldn't work out if it was electronica or post rock; it seemed to merge the two at times and steer clear in others. Gradually, various tracks began to burrow their way into my head until it became the most played album of the last three months. As a largely instrumental work of sometimes minimalist qualities it is akin to modern classical music while remaining strangely ethereal and quite odd. Several tracks are classics. It's Swedish, and completes a Scandinavian trio with Denmark and Norway. I can now call myself musical hygge. You can call me Al.

Any thoughts, Mr Trenstein?

*Actual spelling

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Self-Indulgent Year End Bollocks

Homes Under the Hammer is so successful in other dimensions and timelines it exists in slightly different guises... Looking through my interdimensional mobile device, this is what you get:

Kelly Holmes Under the Hammer
Homes Under the MC Hammer
Sherlock Holmes Under the Hammer
Homes Under the Hamner
Crush Skulls Under the Hammer
Wombats Under the Hammer
Homes Under the Hummer
Remmah eht rednu Semoh
Ollie Eggboo and Vorgaltron

It is also an as-yet-well-known fact that at some point in the future someone will travel back in time and convince two young chaps called Arthur and Paul that Ollie Eggboo & Vorgaltron is the name they should use as a stage name because it will catapult them into a sun of success. At that point, everyone on the planet will believe Simon & Garfunkle is a firm of New York lawyers for the Yiddish community...

If you died in 2017 then you probably weren't as famous as you could have been. Obviously people who died in 2016 were like the top of the Christmas tree; by 2050 celebrities will be dying and no one will give a flying fuck. You can see the headlines in your mind because I can't be arsed to imagine them for you.

Brexit threatens to make the UK the laughing stock of the world.
What even more than we already are? Just to name a few things that we often get ridiculed about for this year alone:
Believing 6 inches of snow is actually an apocalypse.
The England football team.
The Ashes.
The current government.
52 as a solid and absolutely massive percentage.
Minister for Porn.
Wayne Rooney going bald for a second time.
The X-Factor.
Obsessing over the wife of a dead magician.
Eurovision success.
The Daily Mail.
The real purpose of David Davis.
Our tolerance and understanding of the poor and disabled...

Musically, I'm struggling to come up with a definitive Best Album of the Year. It is as difficult as learning the balalaika at 55 (I'm not).
Best film of the year? Probably the one that settled on a pool of sea water near Monreith in August.
Twat of the year? I'd be hard pressed to look no further than the mirror. I mean, just how reckless is selling up, moving to the arse end of nowhere and leaving all of your friends 330 plus miles away? But, mentally I've had about four bad days in the last five months, as opposed to four good days in the previous five months. You win some and you win some. Gonads to the losers.

I picked up a jellyfish. She was really boring and didn't put out.

Someone I know is a complete fraud. A pure fantasist with attachment issues. If this description applies to you then you need to get rid of all the baggage, chill the fuck out and start becoming a nice person again.

I think I murdered some limpets in the autumn - purely out of interest.

What do I miss?
Oakham beer.
Tony, Phil, Roger, Luan and the Lamplighter (in no specific order)
Oddly enough... Not having Bradlaugh Fields for the dogs. It's weird, we have big hills, forests, beaches, wide open spaces, but lots of livestock and four 'Towny' dogs. Plus, in a short space of time Doug has been in more wars (because of deer) than he had in the previous 2 years. However, if it was a choice between 'The Seaside' or 'Bradlaugh' - there would be no competition.
Nene Valley Brewery.
Newby Wyke - I am literally scraping the bottom of the barrel already. Can you believe that? I mean, I miss Newby Wyke, but I could easily live the rest of my life without it (and probably will); the same with all the beer I miss, so you can probably knock three things off that list straight away.
The Luvvie - I need a new place that inspires me as much as the old cut through between Bective and Moulton Park did. Or alternatively, I could do something with all the neat ideas I've had walking through it for five years.

Ollie Eggboo & Vorgaltron.

Fat people - how do you put up with all that touching flesh?

Miriam Margolyes.

Advice for 2018:
It's just a TV programme
It's just fantasy
Double check first so as not to make yourself look like an utter cunt
Educate yourself, especially if people are abusing you for or accusing you of being a [insert pejorative here]
Culture, especially someone else's, should be very very low on your personal agenda especially if it bothers you. Stop it and worry about your kids/mortgage/football team/wife/mistress or dog
If you find waking up in the morning is an event that makes you want to commit murder or scream continuously at something then you need to change your life or you will die/go to prison
Don't breed your pet you fucking cockwomble
Don't drop litter and respect your environment and kick someone hard in the shins if you see them doing the opposite (you'll be fine, their shins will hurt so much they won't be able to run after you)
This is the final year you will be able to use the name Ollie Eggboo & Vorgaltron, cos, you know, 2019 and the invention of time travel, monster stars; clackers; New York; Fanny; jumpers for goalposts, Rolf Harris before he was a paedo - all this and more to look forward to.

More soon (or not. Depends.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pop Culture is Dead To Me 2: The Flying Killer

So here's the irony. You start a blog by pointing out how this kind of blog is the least viewed kind of blog I do and two weeks later it's the 3rd single most viewed blog I've ever written on Farky Nell (this blog). I don't know if the timing was good or if the TV I talked about just happened to be topical enough to be largely patronised, but I decided to do it again, to prove to myself the last one was a fluke.

In this month's thrilling instalment I'll be wittering on about The Walking Dead, Lucifer, The Gifted (and a quick return to the Inhumans), Mr Robot, Star Trek: Discovery among others and having a bit of speculation involving things I haven't seen yet or have yet to be released. This is a spoiler warning. There will be talk about things you might not have seen yet (but in most cases you're probably ahead of me).


Four weeks into the new season of The Walking Dead and I'm quite pleased to see they've revisited a 'style' that worked for me. Back at the start of season five or six (I lose track), the producers spent about six episodes played out in real time about how they funnelled an army of walkers away from their settlement. It was tense, dangerous and illustrated how scary the dead could still be. I have no idea of knowing, but I get the impression that this new season might be played out entirely as one real time 'war' between Rick's gang of altruists and Negan and his Negans. And honestly, how good would that be if the entire 16 episode season was centred around one or two days and the consequences of it?

I expect what we'll get is eight episodes of this, ending in some kind of massive defeat for Rick's team - my guess would be the death of Judith and the majority of the Alexandrians - it seems to be the least defended in case of a retaliation and some of the characters there don't exist in the comics. I also think Enid will off Hilltop's self-appointed ruler and that Gabriel will be the one who does Negan more damage than we could ever imagine. But this is all speculation and the fact there's speculation again suggests to me that TWD might be rediscovering its mojo by keeping it simple.

Possibly the biggest shock on TV in 2017 will be the one 'shit' and two 'fucking's in Star Trek: Discovery. I know I've been about the only person who has been surprised by it and while it felt unnatural and forced, it also felt right... Last time out I was less than complimentary of ST:D and because I was wrong I got two packets of Galaxy Cake Bars as a present!

At the end of the two-part pilot, I felt a little underwhelmed; slightly peeved and the ST fan boy inside me I never knew existed was seething about how everything was far too... advanced. I said to the wife that we'd give it a couple more goes and if it was rubbish it would go the way of every ST series since the Next Generation, it would be ignored. By the end of episode three I was absolutely blown away. It's like some dark and slightly sinister half-sister to ST:NG and half the characters are greyer than a school kid's trousers. There are some moments worthy of the best ST cringeworthy scenes, but there are also Machiavellian plots, psychotic captains, and Klingon tits. It's not Star Trek for your kids, that's for sure. It might turn out to be just style over substance, but it's quickly moved up my list of must view stuff.

The TV series that has vied for top spot for the last couple of years has been Lucifer (always challenging Shameless but never quite beating it) and the last time we did this the new series hadn't started and I was expressing concerns about Tom Welling being added to the cast. For those of you not familiar with Welling, he was the last TV Clark Kent/Superman and Animal from the Muppets is a better, more emotive, actor.

The last series saw the final four episodes dropped and added to this one; whatever the reason it hasn't made this series feel any less Scooby Doo like. There was a point when I seriously considered Lucifer to be the best fun 'fantasy' TV show out there because it was so rubbish. Every week you would tune in for 'lame crime of the week' but you'd really be there to see how the real story progressed; even if the real story only got two out of the 42 minutes. Most people work out the killer before he or she speaks (it's usually the first person Lucifer and Chloe talk to) and that usually takes a back seat while Tom Ellis pontificates around the set like some extremely camp music hall thespian and us clued in viewers wait for whatever new revelation is going to be uncovered. Those four held-back episodes have been distributed among the opening seven (notable by the absence of Tom Wooden, I mean, Welling).

Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a great series, but something needs to happen to advance the story a little. It is not popular because of its crap procedural dramas, equally it might not be because of the actual Lucifer/angel/God business, it might be purely down to the way Ellis chews the set up every time he's there; but I can see it losing its way if it doesn't find one.

Speaking of something needing to happen... I'm just about at the end of my patience with the majority of Marvel's TV output. I'm looking forward to the new series of SHIELD because I think Phil Coulson is a great character, but there have been times when I've felt the series needed something more than just an association to the Marvel Universe. Agents of SHIELD is like a John Le Carre novel compared to The Inhumans' small press comic strip. It is not that often when something you want to like gets dropped after just one episode, but the pilot of The Inhumans was so bad you would have struggled to believe it wasn't produced by some cosplayers with a $500 budget.

Agents of SHIELD introduced the Inhumans as a 'new' conceptual menace, because Marvel doesn't own the film rights to the X-Men and nothing has worked quite as well for Marvel than mutants versus humans, so instead of trying to sort something out with the mercenary 20th Century Fox, Marvel tried to create a new 'mutant' menace by bigging up the characters that were first introduced back in the mid 1960s (who were, originally, of Kree origin, which should tie in with the Marvel films but doesn't). The entire story arc involving the Inhumans in SHIELD was pretty awful and what was originally being touted as a major feature film, soon became a major TV series, which eventually became an eight-part mini-series, which eventually got cancelled before it was launched because, as a friend of mine in Hollywood told me, 'It had already become the laughing stock of Hollywood'.

We gave up on the Inhumans after the pilot because, quite frankly, I've seen more interesting things growing on old dog shit.

We didn't give up on The Gifted quite so fast. We gave it seven episodes before finally deciding that despite having an interesting cast and being a Mutant Underground X-Men tie-in it was actually a load of dull, boring and thoroughly uninspiring shite. It's probably me, but how do some of the scriptwriters on these shows get work? The Gifted's problem is nothing happens, everyone in it suffers from melodrama, the two main actors are essentially redundant and it just feels half-arsed. Perhaps this is the way superhero TV is going, if it is then it belongs to another me.

The fact there's 13 episodes in the new Punisher series fills me with dread... I might give it a miss.

We finally caught up on all of Mr Robot season two just as season three was starting. I dunno if it was suffering from second album syndrome but ... WTF? The first series had a madness; a crazy feel to it; season two was very much after the parade; a bit like Moonlighting after Willis & Shepherd finally copped off with each other. I got through the entire season thinking 'something is going to happen' and nothing did and then it ended on a cliffhanger that could easily have taken place ten seconds after the cliffhanger at the end of season one...

I still haven't gotten around to watching the new Twin Peaks.

Stranger Things 2 was considerably better than season 1 or was it? It certainly had more money thrown at it and it moved along at a pace unlike the first series; but ultimately did it achieve anything; did it further the story; was it any good?

On hindsight it kind of reminded me of a lukewarm bland wank, which, to my knowledge, is something I've never knowingly experienced, but imagine being simply perfunctory and could have been so much better with a bit of passion, vinegar strokes and some obligatory 1980s unnecessary nudity. I expect I will enjoy series 3 when it's on and then retrospectively tear it to pieces like I've done with the first two.

I'm saving the current series of Shameless for when the rest of TV has a winter break; looking at William H Macy's naked arse once a year is all I need to confirm it's the best thing on TV.

Yet again I'm struggling to think of a film we've watched since the last one of these that I'd recommend to anyone I like. I'm sure there has been, but for the last few Saturdays we've been doing something a bit retro and watching old classics. A few weeks back we watched The Thing, followed the next week by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and then Harryhausen's Mysterious Island (which was so much worse than I remembered) and we have Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Old Dark House, Network, Trafic (The Tati classic), a bunch of other Carpenter films from the 80s and 90s and if I can persuade the wife to watch a Mexican film about a tentacled alien sex monster living in someone's house, then The Untamed is on my list. Obviously I'm looking forward to Thor 3 with almost zero expectation, now that I'm losing the will to live with comics films/TV. Oh and we watched The Limehouse Golem the other day and that's two fucking hours I'm never going to get back (even if Bill Nighy was excellent).

Meanwhile in the UK... I thoroughly love Only Connect. From the Barda-esque (Jack Kirby joke there for my comics friends) VC-M to wanting the twats who say 'Hor-Ned' to die from horrible itching diseases. The problem with Only Connect is it's a quiz show...

Most people I know who have discerning taste in TV have constantly recommended Peaky Blinders and I'm sure it's the best thing since multiple orgasms but I know a lot of people from Birmingham and I struggle to take any of them seriously and a cowing nutritious pot noodle.

Big fan of Simon Reeve. We play the "How many times will he say 'Bloody Hell' in a series?" all the time and I won with 6 for his three-part journey across Russia.

Sue Perkins's trip down the Ganges wasn't a patch on her Dan-Dare-tastic trip to see the Mekon.

Struggling to think of anything else we watch that is good or bad enough to mention; so it's probably time to end this nonsense.

Next Time: It'll soon be Christmas and that means falling asleep during Dr Who, wondering why the BBC even bothers now and probably NOT me taking the time to discuss ITV's new format. you know the one... based on the USA's idea of having FIVE advert breaks in an hour instead of four, the last one being just before the last fucking 30 seconds and credits. Honestly, TV executives are just complete cunts.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Block

For the benefit of those not privy to my social network face thing, here's a recap:

I spent over a year (not continuously) writing a novel essentially aimed at the 14 to 21 age range. It's called The Imagination Station and was something I must like because I've spent an inordinate amount of time on it; far more than I usually do with fanciful creative writing projects.

I reached a point about a year ago where I wasn't prepared to do anything else to it until I'd had an appraisal from someone I trusted. I opted to ask my wife to edit it. A bold move considering she had never done anything like that before; she was close to the author and she might have been inclined to pull her punches. I, personally, opted for her to write it because I trusted her to tell me quite candidly if she hated it. I am confident my wife will never give me a snow job or blow smoke up my arse.

It was almost a year to the day from printing it out to her sitting down with a pencil, rubber and constructive critique's hat on and that was the day the block arrived...

It wasn't there, then it was. Like some insane barrier appearing out of nowhere, I crashed. Along with my usual syntax errors, I discovered my input keys were fried. Except, they weren't. Metaphorically, if I looked in a specific direction and I could not see the barrier I could write. From the point when I finally decided I could write no more on the novel, I outlined Station's sequel, wrote a short story that fits into an idea I was working on before Station popped into my head and nothing else. In the same amount of time, I have written 43 blogs, an article for a comics fanzine and more shite on social media than you can shake a dirty stick at...

Whatever the block is, it's transparent to certain things.

The wife really liked Station. She's appalled at some of my syntax; she thinks it needs some intensive polishing in places, but she didn't see things coming; she had no idea I was going to do certain things and she was bitterly disappointed that parts of it weren't expanded on - "You have to make the HG Wells thing a stand alone chapter!" was something she actually got quite enthused about (I tease you with enigmatically). It's a good job really; at 55 I was seriously considering calling it a day at creative writing and just farting about with blogs. I don't really expect to become a famous writer now; that ship has sailed and even if I got a break my health would probably limit my longevity. I've spent far too much time not spending enough time on the things I write.

As someone with a vivid imagination, I often used to think if I'd lived in Hollywood I would have pitched hundreds of ideas for different kinds of TV shows or films; as I got older I've treated my own creative writing as nothing more than my own little worlds where if I'm the only person who knows about them then that's fine by me. One of the beautiful things about Station for me was knowing how it ended, but not knowing quite how it was going to get there. I mean, I knew all along but as my conscious mind uncovered the subconscious story it was a bit like reading a good book or watching a good film, for the first time. That's a joy and one money (or filmmakers) can't match.

Since we've lived in Scotland my imagination has kind of dried up. There are still ideas, but apart from one isolated thing, I've not started any new ideas since three weeks prior to leaving Northampton. Don't get me wrong; my brain is attuned okay. It's working overtime until I sit down in front of the computer. Actually, that's a lie; I don't open Word or do anything remotely like I'm going to do something constructive and usually end up doing something trivial or pointless - a card game or blowing something up on Facebook games. The need for either a job or a constructive hobby is probably essential for my health. I have put on weight, which is a bad thing for me and the catch-22 is I don't get the exercise I used to despite it being wonderful here.

The change in our lives has changed me.

I have a manuscript to edit and I should be approaching it with gusto; after all, my wife has given me a little bit of optimism and ambition back and I've been itching to get back to the story since I finished it. But... you know... It's like both of us have switched off from the rest of the world and we simply can't get back on the wagon.

We do the new pub quiz over in Newton Stewart every Thursday, with our team of fellow English people. I expect now that we've completely destroyed the opposition, having won by insulting margins for 4 consecutive weeks we'll start to be treated like deep-fried dog shit by the regulars and ... do you know, despite really enjoying the company of our new friends, I miss winning money and drinking something that resembles beer when I do pub quizzes. I'd be lying if I said living in Scotland has been all brilliant; but the material things I miss I can live without quite easily. The way I look at it, if and when I get to have the things I don't get very often I'll enjoy them more.

I don't know if the slight ennui I have about the quiz is also what is bothering my creative writing process. Honestly, grammatical laziness aside, writing this stuff is clown's shoes and really easy; writing something you care what others think about is fooking hard. So when one is in a kind of existential fugue state like I seem to be at the moment, getting my shiny groove on is pretty much the same as being depressed but without the black shadow of despondency hanging over you. And like depression, it isn't a case of just pulling yourself together or working through it, it's about being in a mental position to do yourself and what you work on justice. Having a block isn't like not wanting to do something, ending up doing it and having a better than expected time. It's literally about not being able to do what I'm doing here.

My fantastic ability is to be able to write like cows shit, and on demand. I was trained for years to regurgitate press releases and hash out a news story from some sticks and bits of gravel, but if I had to write a fictional story in this current state... I have more chance of using my own farts to propel me to the moon. Actually, while I have written a fair bit since 'finishing' Station, in comparison to previous times, even my 'factual' output has dropped off this year - not surprising given the traumatic year of upheaval we've just experienced, but at the moment it concerns me that my surroundings have rather enchanted me the way a vampire transfixes its victim. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pop Culture Is Dead to Me

It's time for a lot of words that will mean very little to most people who stumble onto this...

It's not through boredom, neither is it through a sense of a need to share; it's more about other things such as prevention and/or time saving exercises. At least that's how I condone it. Plus, sometimes I need to do this kind of shit to keep myself fully insane.

TV and Film.

Let's start with film. I've kind of given up on films. Blockbusters are slowly failing to do it for me, probably due to being all style and no substance. I pretty much approached the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel with zero expectations and was still disappointed by it and I'm sitting here struggling to think of a film I can remember watching that I've enjoyed...  actually, with the exception of Wonder Woman, I'm struggling to think of anything I've seen in the last couple of months that I can remember watching (I had to go check in case I missed anything glaring).

Even critically-acclaimed films are leaving me feeling as though the genre needs to go on hiatus for a while.

As for TV... Well, I'm watching less than I did and I'm struggling to love much of what I have.

[Spoiler Alerts]

The Marvel TV stuff, principally Iron Fist and Defenders were largely meh. I didn't think Iron Fist was as bad as a lot of people, but the guy playing Danny Rand acts as well as I can run to the moon (the star of that was the character Ward Meachum, who essentially went from being an arsehole to a man you just had the utmost sympathy for) and it essentially didn't do anything but set up the next show - which has been the complaint of all of the series since the first Daredevil; nothing concludes, ever. Unlike the comics, this is something casual viewers of TV sometimes want - resolution.

The Defenders was quite lame and the Hand has become as convoluted and dull as the Inhumans did in the SHIELD series. Marvel's TV wing is in dire need of something positive to happen because it's not going anywhere slowly. Seemingly proven by the imminent cancellation of the as-yet-unseen Inhumans.

The Walking Dead had me floundering in 2016. At the end of Season 6, I knew, like many of the readers of the comic knew, how Season 7 would start and I'd grown quite fond of some of the characters, specifically Glenn's almost comedic ability to 'almost' die every series. I wanted the showrunners to do what they'd done occasionally in the past and throw the 'Series Rulebook' out of the window and deceive 'us in the know' - but they didn't, so it took me 10 months to get around to watching the season opener and meeting Negan and his baseball bat and then I fast forwarded through the intensely gross moments and concluded it was just torture porn.

The rest of the series was essentially the antithesis of that first episode. There are actual LOL moments - a real rarity - and unfortunately there was also a shark riding a unicycle about to be jumped by a tiger, hiding in the background. I presume they've all seen Mad Max, because it seems like TWD has turned into a kind of Undead Max World. Illiterate rubbish tip dwellers; isolated communities, mad psychos with polystyrene filler in between to enable all of the bonkers things to have some meaning or validity.

It was quite enjoyable in a slightly surreal kind of way, but with the 'walkers' now decaying very fast and the survivors dealing with most deaths before they reanimate, the main threat is now less dangerous than living in Australia and one of the worst things about the dead now is akin to putting your fingers into a rotting potato by accident. Surely, as we may discover, if there was an apocalypse, some normal people would survive and not just all the psychopathic rednecks?

Which brings us nicely to the current run of TWD's sister show Fear TWD, or as I like to call it - Fear The Moronic Living. Whereas TWD has that dystopian post-apocalyptic nightmare misery deeply ingrained in it, FTWD is like a comedy parody played earnestly without the cast being in on the joke. It is everything TWD isn't`. It is populated with utterly dislikable characters who appear to be immune to death and they must be saving a fortune on make up because the dead only appear when they need to fill the void between one ludicrous scene and the next. The main character is Madison Clark and there has never been a lead character in a series that you will want killed off more than her. However, she seems capable of walking into places with warlords who make Negan seem like Frasier Crane and walk away with the impossible. Perhaps she just puts out a lot off camera?

I remember last year, my mate Kelvin was slightly surprised to discover The Strain was still going. It finally ended with a 10-part series, last week. What a load of old wank it was too. I really don't know why I persevered with such a dreadfully self-indulgent original-V-standard series, but I did and it ended in a totally meh way. Corey Stoll, the main star was loathsome; his son in the series possibly the most horrid young person since the last one and most of the other characters were just there to help the plot plod along. It was hammy, seemed to borrow loads from others despite having a fairly unique premise for a vampire series and should never have made it past series 1. Don't be tempted if you see a box set or it's shown on some obscure cable channel.

Preacher's first series was fun. I could pick many holes in it, but it was great comic book nonsense with some funny lines, ultra violent scenes and lots of Europeans pretending to be from Texas. The second series was as dull as beige. It was too long, didn't do enough with Starr as it should and missed all of the characters so skillfully introduced in the first series. It's following the comic to a certain degree but it seems to be following all the bits in the comic that didn't make it brilliant. The second series was so meh I'm struggling to remember what the cliffhanger at the end was...

As Odin Quincannon in Preacher, Jackie Earle Haley was a serious nemesis for Jesse Custer, but he presumably died when Preacher's town was wiped off the planet. Haley reappears as The Terror in possibly the most enjoyable load of nonsense you'll see this year. The Tick is pretty bloody excellent; a surrealist comedy with swearing, violence and a serious undertone. the brilliant Peter Serafinowicz is The Tick, who may or may not be a physical manifestation of his sidekick Arthur's mental health issues.  The first 6 episodes are well worth watching and there is a brilliant bit of continuity dismissal in episode 2 (obviously filmed much later than the pilot) the Tick's costume has noticeably changed since said pilot, but only minutes between the Tick and Arthur's scenes. This was dealt with the following exchange:
Arthur: Has your costume changed?
The Tick: Yes!
And they just carried on.

Game of Thrones dropped the nudity for more dragons, zombies, backstabbing and a faster pace. We're heading for the final season - eventually - and if you've stuck with it this far, however it ends will probably be some form of anticlimax. Plus, it was obviously too dangerous the film in the arctic, but in the books when winter finally came everywhere had 50 foot snowdrifts; in TV's Westeros, winter coming is a hard frost and some shallow lying snow. Plus, let's not discuss how the Wights got their massive chains or how small GoT world really is when you're flying a dragon or you're Gondry.

I haven't watched Twin Peaks yet. I'm just not sure about it any more.

Other stuff? There must be other stuff. I mean, what else do I do with my time? A lot of the things I have watched (like S7 of TWD) have grown hairs and gone bald. I watched Better Call Saul when I moved up here and that felt like it had been sitting on my hard drive for months. The wife has the last two seasons of Supernatural to watch and the new one starts in about three weeks (unless it's been cancelled and I missed the news, I mean, I've never watched it).

The Expanse is the closest thing I've seen on telly to Babylon 5 in years; passable SF and SFX married with bad acting and dodgy accents; it just needs a Vorlon (and there might be one just round the corner...). There hasn't been a Shameless US since I last did this to rave about and Lucifer starts again in October - with the four standalone episodes that were supposed to have concluded the last series. Can't say I was too happy about Superman joining the cast, but the show often deceives you that way with weird casting that works.
The last series (maybe final, please) of Sleepy Hollow ended up being quite shit, but frankly it had been shit since season 2. Agents of SHIELD lost the plot and improved its ratings enough to be renewed and I don't watch the DC shows.

Meanwhile in space... Star Trek: Discovery debuted this week. I have loads of continuity problems with it, mainly to do with Klingons; and I feel that maybe they should have simply rebooted it rather than try and retell the past in a different more expensive way. Not sure about the former TWD alumni in the #2 chair or the Harry Potter one in the #1 chair, but that story hasn't started yet and I worry I'm going to be looking out for episodes that DON'T have Klingons in them.

On the flipside is... The Orville, which is not a show about a space-faring green and yellow bird operated by a wanker called Keith, but is a ST parody by the Family Guy people, best known for their Simpsons parody. It's poor. Very, very poor. It will last 6 episodes. It should have been good and Adrianne Palicki (or however she spells her name) is wasted on it, so no one wins. It spends too much time trying to be Brian the dog meets ST:NG; which I really don't think would be as bad as this.

Yes, everything here is from the USA and a few of them are veering into stories involving a totalitarian state run by a twat, so even some of the bad stuff has had moments. British TV of the serial variety..? I might need reminding that there is any worth mentioning, especially as I really couldn't give a seriously runny shit about Doctor effing Foster, the life of a dead monarch who appears to have been reinvented as pretty or any of the other things that appeal to me about as much as having a case of the seriously runny shits. So there.

Saturday, July 08, 2017


I've not really written anything for weeks.

It's not even through a lack of inspiration; I'm bristling with ideas.

Actually... I've written a lot in recent weeks. I just haven't written anything like a blog or a story. I've been channelling my blogs, my creativity, plus my anxiety and my unhinged madness via social media - the medium I love and loathe in equal measure. I've written more on Facebook in the last three months than the previous nine years.

It's because while I steadfastly refuse to get remotely excited about the last great adventure (until we're in Scotland), I can feel the mixture of elation, fear and trepidation rising inside me and it's completely out of my control. I am a big bag of sentimentality.

I expect things will change once we've gone. I will have much to tell people about escaping the rat race while not being wealthy... at least that's the plan.

Life, at the moment, is a wee bit like a delirious fever dream without the fever and a lot more anger.