Sunday, 30 September 2012

"1990 Is The Past. This Already Happened."

So says time-travelling James Cole in Twelve Monkeys.

1990 was the year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison, McDonald's opened its first restaurant in Moscow, the poll tax took effect across England and Wales, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of diseases and 'Sue', the best preserved specimen of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found, is discovered in South Dakota.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1990:

Film
Alice
Woody Allen's satire on New York's bored upper class housewives and possibly substance abuse is a lot of fun. Mia Farrow is great as Alice, and Keye Luke shines as Mr Yang, her mystical herbalist. Each of Yang's potions sends Alice off in a surprising direction. Here's the trailer.

Back To The Future, Part III
Adding Western to an already impressive list of genres, the third Back To The Future has a much simpler story than its predecessors. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenbergen are all great. Part III is a lot of fun. Here's the trailer.

Awakenings
Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Ruth Nelson and Anne Drummond are excellent in this medical drama based on a true story that is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. Here's the trailer.

Goodfellas
Unfairly remembered solely for Joe Pesci's delivery in the "Funny how? How am I funny?" scene. Goodfellas is a brilliant reinvention of the mobster movie in the vein of French New Wave. The actors are great across the board, but Lorraine Bracco's contribution never receives the respect it deserves. The editing and the scope of the story raise it above the competition. This is what The Godfather, Part III should have been aiming for. Here's the trailer.

TV
Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Defector; Déjà Q; A Matter Of Perspective; Yesterday's Enterprise; The Offspring; Sins Of The Father; Allegiance; Captain's Holiday; Tin Man; Hollow Pursuits; The Most Toys; Sarek; Ménage à Troi; The Best Of Both Worlds; Family; Brothers; Remember Me; Reunion; Future Imperfect; Final Mission
The third season continues with another Romulan Cold War allegory and James Sloyan is fantastic as The Defector. Q returns as a mortal in Déjà Q and John de Lancie, Brent Spiner and Whoopi Goldberg are wonderful. A Matter Of Perspective is an innovative use of the holodeck to tell a murder mystery. Justly deserving of its reputation Yesterday's Enterprise is fantastic, the darker alternate universe is brilliantly realised, Goldberg gives an excellent performance and Denise Crosby gets an impressive exit. Data procreates in The Offspring and Spiner and Hallie Todd are both wonderful as father and daughter. Michael Dorn, Tony Todd and Patrick Stewart are fantastic in Sins Of The Father, the episode uses the themes of classical literature and would come to define the Klingon Empire as rife with hypocritical politicking and Worf as the most honourable of men. Stewart is fantastic in Allegiance as Picard is duplicated as part of an experiment and must endure imprisonment, while the scenes with his replica aboard the Enterprise are a lot of fun. The Captain's Holiday doesn t go according to plan, but successfully shows another side of Picard. Harry Groener is wonderful in Tin Man, an episode with great visuals. Hollow Pursuits introduces the phenomenal Dwight Schultz as Barclay and his holodeck fantasies are hilarious. Spiner and Saul Rubinek are great in The Most Toys. Mark Lenard returns as Sarek and gives an outstanding performance of a man robbed of his emotional control. Ménage à Troi is a nice little comedy episode and Picard’s love poetry scene is very funny indeed. The season ends with the first half of the epic two-parter The Best Of Both Worlds which dehumanises Picard and shows Riker struggling with a dilemma like never before, but features great performances across the board, a fantastic musical score and ends with a great cliffhanger.
The second part begins the fourth season in style and Stewart, Sirtis, Spiner and Meaney are excellent as the Enterprise crew work to bring Picard back from the brink. As Picard recuperates at his childhood home, Worf's adoptive parents visit the Enterprise and Wesley gets a message from his late father, Family is a change of pace and an overt expression of the theme of the season ahead. Spiner pulls treble duty as Brothers Data and Lore are reunited with their father Dr. Soong and he is fantastic in all three roles. Remember Me is a great concept episode for Gates McFadden with unexpectedly funny scenes. Reunion develops both the storylines of the Klingon political scene and Worf's personal life brilliantly while Dorn, Suzie Plakson and Robert O'Reilly give great performances. Riker's Future Imperfect hallucinations are fascinating, the episode double bluffs the audience expertly and Jonathan Frakes is wonderful. Wesley's Final Mission is a great send off for Wil Wheaton.

Northern Exposure: Pilot; Brains, Know-How And Native Intelligence; Soapy Sanderson; Dreams, Schemes And Putting Greens; The Russian Flu; Sex, Lies And Ed's Tapes; A Kodiak Moment; The Aurora Borealis
The first season of this off-beat American comedy drama is great straight from its pilot episode: the numbered patients, Joel's tantrum in his truck and great debuts for Rob Morrow, Barry Corbin, Janine Turner, John Cullum, Darren E. Burrows, Peg Philips and Elaine Miles. John Corbett is fantastic as DJ Chris in Brains, Know-How And Native Intelligence, Joel and Ed's "which witch?" conversation is hilarious and Maurice's stint as replacement DJ is great. Soapy Sanderson's last will and testament, Ed's time working as documentary crew and Cynthia Geary's vox pop interview are great. Dreams, Schemes and Putting Greens is worth watching for Maurice's song alone. Joel's girlfriend descends on Cicely at the same time as The Russian Flu and the dream sequences are fantastic. Ed's daydreams inspired by Indiana Jones, Midnight Cowboy and Westerns are brilliantly shot in Sex, Lies and Ed's Tapes. All three storylines in A Kodiak Moment are great. The Aurora Borealis lights up the sky as Chris' 'twin' Bernard arrives in town and all their scenes together are fantastic.

Books
Diggers by Terry Pratchett
The nomes left the store for the quarry and Diggers sees them adapting to life outside. Grimma is a fantastic lead character and her observations on life will be a joy to children with a sense of humour, but I read this as an adult and loved it.

Wings by Terry Pratchett
Running parallel with Diggers, the third and final Nomes book follows Masklin, Gurder and Angalo across the Atlantic to Floridia, but the ensuing culture clash is greater than ever and perhaps sees them travel even further…

Red Dwarf: Better Than Life by Grant Naylor
The second Red Dwarf novel picks up after the cliffhanger ending to the first, with the crew stuck in the total immersion video game Better Than Life. As with the other Red Dwarf novels this is much more than a novelisation, but it does contain elements from the TV episodes Marooned, Polymorph, Backwards and a negative preview version of White Hole before it appeared on screen. This book is very, very funny, but also very, very dark.

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
The tenth Discworld novel takes on Hollywood as Moving Pictures become the latest craze to hit Ankh-Morpork. The movie references to the likes of Predator, The Bride Of Frankenstein, Casablanca, Laddie, Gone With The Wind, King Kong and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes come thick and fast. Indeed, most of the humour comes from film parodies, but lovingly so.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
"Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt it in your home." Pratchett and Gaiman's treatise on living with witchcraft, the devil and the eight Bikers of the Apocalpse in the modern day is very funny and crammed full of references to Queen, The Omen and Infamous Bibles.

Last Chance To See by Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine
Adams and Cawardine travelled across four continents searching for a glimpse of several endangered species for a radio show. The book of their exploits delves deeply into their experiences searching for animals like the Aye-aye, Komodo Dragon, Kakapo, Mountain Gorilla, White Rhinoceros and Yangtze River Dolphin.

Comics
Doctor Who: Fellow Travellers; Darkness, Falling; Distractions
As the television series takes a break, the comics take up the slack and Andrew Cartmel's script for Fellow Travellers, great artwork from Arthur Ransom and some of the best likenesses of the Doctor and Ace combine to make a very atmospheric strip. Darkness Falling and Distractions both lay the foundations for The Mark Of Mandragora very well.


Games
The Secret Of Monkey Island
This point-and-click adventure game is quite simply my favourite computer game. Ever. Join Guybrush Threepwood as he undergoes three trials to become a pirate, attempts to find Monkey Island and rescue Elaine Marley. Along the way, it's funny and thought-provoking, playful and piratical. I absolutely love The Secret Of Monkey Island.

Recommendations welcome.

On the 15th of this month: The Nineties Blogfest
Next Month: 1989

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Letter To Lemuel Gulliver

I wrote this for Letters With Character, a now dormant blog on which real people could write letters to fictional ones.

I decided to write to Lemuel Gulliver, the central character in Jonathan Swift's 1726 work Gulliver’s Travels:

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My dear Lemuel,

I hope this epistle finds you in the best of health and humour for I have unfortunate news. I have striven to the best of my abilities, but try as I might I have been unable to convince my employer to publish your Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World in its current form. My superiors believed it not to be an instructional guide as you intended, but instead a flight of fancy.

A series of researches was ordered to seek references from similar works in the hope that they might be able to corroborate your assertions. There are naturally scores of mentions of Japan available to us, and we were successful in finding a single obscure allusion to a flying island which may or may not be the Laputa which you mention.

Despite our best efforts we can find no proof of the existence of the countries of Lilliput, Blefuscu, Brobdingnag, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib or that of the Houyhnhnms.

I am sorry to be required to inform you, that without some form of evidence of these nations, we will be forced to publish this text as a work of fiction instead. I look forward to hearing from you.

Please pass on my best wishes to Mary, the children and your Cousin Sympson.

Yours Sincerely

David Black


Friday, 21 September 2012

Bus Stop!

Simon Guerrier devised a comic strip writing exercise for the V&A Museum Of Childhood which allowed children of all ages to create their own comic, drawn by Lee Sullivan.

Guerrier has posted the images on his blog and so I decided to have a go.


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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Please Release Me DVD: Avenge Me!

The Avengers has been released in the UK this week under its slighly pointless title of Marvel Avengers Assemble, but there is absolutely no way I am parting with any money for the moribund Region 2 DVD release.


I loved The Avengers at the cinema, which is testament to the quality of the film. I still managed to enjoy it, despite a ridiculously expensive experience of watching it in a room filled with idiots, their phones, their very small children and the sound of loud banging doors.

Apparently the Joss Whedon commentary that graces the US release could not be included because it was recorded too late for the Region 2 disc's release date. A release date that is only a week earlier than that of the American release.

We could have waited a week.

Joss is one of us. He's a geek. He will have understood what geeks wanted to see released. This is possibly the geekiest mainstream film ever made. It brings together Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America among others, not to mention that The Avengers is a comic book title in its own right.

The Region 1 release also has a host of DVD extras, which have apparently been distributed around several 'exclusive' UK releases, effectively making them all different and yet equally lacklustre.

This is exactly the sort of film that should have deleted scenes, making ofs, 'Marvel One-Shots', trailers, etc., but should you judge a DVD by its extras alone? No, of course not, but add to this the complicated claims of censorship, bizarrely incorrectly recorded classification and then finally an admission that the incorrect version of the film was released. This is getting very silly indeed.


I could import the Region 1 release at potentially great expense, but I don't have a DVD player that can play Region 1 discs and more importantly, I shouldn't have to get one. The film has been released in the territory in which I live and I should be able to expect a more than half-arsed job.

I don't download films illegally. I don't want to and frankly I wouldn't know how. I believe that piracy harms an industry that I work in and hope to keep working in, but I genuinely believe that ridiculous business decisions like these do greater harm and it's no wonder that people resort to piracy when they can't get what they have every right to expect via legal means.

Is this a cynical marketing plan to double dip and get us to put our hands in our pockets twice? Or have Disney spectacularly underestimated the audience for this movie in the UK?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Genre Favourites Blogfest

I almost missed this, but Alex J. Cavanaugh is asking us to list our favorite genres of Movies, Music, Books and a guilty pleasure genre from any of the three categories in his Genre Favourites Blogfest:


Movies
I'm a big Science-Fiction fan. The speculative "what if?" is always exciting, but in SF you can make your own rules and characters can exist somehow in a purer state as we are forced to interpret them by their own rules. I also love how malleable a genre it is. It can be combined with practically any other: Serenity is an SF Western, Star Wars is SF Fantasy, Alien is SF Horror, Aliens is SF Action, etc.

Music
I love Britpop. It's not a term that simply means pop from Britain, because that would be horrific. Instead it was a term coined the refer to the musical output of bands like Pulp, Blur, Supergrass, Cornershop, The Seahorses and Ultrasound between about 1994 and 1998. Some people call it Indie which is shorts for independent, but since it was quite mainstream at the time that doesn't really qualify either. I've largely stayed with the same bands as I've grown older.

Books
I read a lot of comic fantasy and Discworld in particular. Although I've been reading a lot of comic books lately and they've been more SF than Fantasy.

Guilty Pleasure
I don't really know about guilty pleasures, if something pleases you, then you should be honest about it, but I suppose I like the Where's Wally? books more than a thirty year old probably should.

Shameless Plug
If you enjoy blogfests, on the 15th of October I'll be holding The Nineties Blogfest here.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Nineties Blogfest

Last year, I ran The Noughties Blogfest. I had written Review-Of-The-Year type posts of my favourite Films/TV/Music/Books/Comics etc from the years 2009 to 2000 and invited people to suggest a favourite thing from each year. Now I've almost finished writing about the Nineties as well.

So I am announcing today that on the 15th of October I will be holding The Nineties Blogfest.


On the 15th of October I invite you to tell me about your favourite things from the Nineties. Choose one thing from each year from 1990 to 1999, be it a film, a TV show, a radio show, a particular episode of a TV or radio show, a piece of theatre, a book, a comic, a song, an album, a gig, a piece of artwork, something online or something else entirely, and then tell us what you love about it.

If it helps, my posts on 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1991 and 1990, may jog your memory...

Here are the details on how to take part:

• Leave your name and link on the linky below.

• Feel free to publicise the blogfest on your blog, facebook, twitter, etc and post the above image on your blog if you wish.

• On the 15th of October post a favourite something for each year 1990-1999, and tell us what you love about each of them.

• Visit as many other participating bloggers as you can. Compare, contrast and comment on their choices.



Join Us....

Sunday, 9 September 2012

On A Knife Edge

I've had a very odd couple of days.

On Thursday, I was at home in the afternoon when I heard some screaming and raised voices. This is nothing unusual as we have very noisy neighbours below us. It continued and I realised it was coming from my much quieter nextdoor neighbour's flat. I went to our front door and opened it. Initially, I couldn't tell whether what I was hearing was sinister or not. I heard my neighbour whimpering and say "Get off me!" so I rang the doorbell. She said "There's someone at the door" and then shouted "Help!".

My neighbour opened the door and came out into our communal hallway. She was very flustered. She said "He's attacked me!" and she was rubbing her neck. A man followed her out. He very calmly said that he'd done nothing wrong and then, appallingly, he apologised to me. He left. My neighbour told me that he was her ex and that he had beaten her in the past. Suddenly she realised the time and said that she had to rush off to pick her daughter up from school. I offered to go with her, thinking that her ex couldn't have gone very far, but she declined. I needed to run a couple of errands, but I waited until after I heard her go in case he came back.

I came back about an hour later and did the washing up. Sarah came home from work and I told her what had happened. Soon after there was a very loud banging coming from the communal hallway. I got up and looked through the peep hole in our door. He was back. I opened our door to see him pounding on our neighbour's front door. He saw me and stopped immediately. Again, he was very calm, he apologised to me and without any irony said "it's just a domestic", and added "she won't let me see my child". I replied that I didn't think that now was a good time and once again he left. Our neighbour was very upset and took a bit of convincing to open the door. She called the police and when they arrived I told them what had happened.

Another hour or so later, we heard an incredibly loud bang and I rushed back to the front door. Our neighbour's door was ajar and she rushed out saying he was back and had kicked her door in. She called the police from our flat, while I stayed in the communal hallway. She didn't have her keys and I was concerned he could lock her out of her own flat. He came out of the flat and they argued. As the door opened and closed I could see the little face of their daughter looking out at me. She's about three or four and was sat in the bath with the door open. He returned to the front door and the argument continued. He said he'd nothing wrong. I could smell alcohol on his breath. He, our neighbour, Sarah and I were all stood in the very small confines of the communal hallway with both our front doors ajar. The conversation between the exes was brief, but must have lasted about a minute. She told him that the police were on their way. He very calmly said that he'd done nothing wrong and then he tried to stab her with a kitchen knife. He must have been holding it down by his side in his left hand for the entirety of the conversation, but we were stood at such close quarters that none of us noticed it.

I was stood behind him as he brought the knife up and towards my neighbour. I put my arms into the crooks of his elbows and pinned them behind him, which lessened his reach considerably. My neighbour attempted to get the knife out his hand, while Sarah pulled on his collar and grabbed his empty hand. He said he was going to kill her at least five times and said "I'm gonna stick this in ya" once. I managed to keep a hold of him, but he was very strong. It was all I could do to keep my balance. I tried to keep my eye on the knife, but his head kept getting in the way. I saw blood on the wall and that was the first I realised that somebody had been cut. I redoubled my efforts to keep his arms from moving. I saw that he had stabbed my neighbour in the skin between her thumb and forefinger. It was a deep cut, but she was still determinedly trying to get the knife off him. She was begging him to stop. She and Sarah both shouted for help, but no one came.

His strength was extraordinary, the three of us could barely hold him. Somehow, we turned ninety degrees, but our relative positions stayed the same. Now I was facing the corner between our two front doors. There was a tiny face peeking through our neighbour's door. It was her daughter. Sarah and our neighbour told her to go inside several times, but she just stared at us. Our neighbour begged him to stop again and said "I can't believe you'd do this in front of your own daughter". His demeanor remained exactly the same and he was still trying to stab her. I was really struggling to keep a hold on him. I told Sarah to go and knock on some doors, but she said daren't let go of him.

It seemed to go on forever. I'm sure it didn't. The police burst in and managed to get his knife hand cuffed and they disarmed him. The knife fell to the floor in front of our door. I lessened my grip. They got his other wrist cuffed and I could let go completely. The police hauled him out onto the landing and practically had to sit on him. I went out to see if I could help, but they had him under control.

I returned to the hallway and there was blood everywhere. On the walls, on the carpet, on my clothes, on Sarah's clothes, on my feet and, to my horror, Sarah's hands. I thought she had been cut, but she swore she was fine. Our neighbour's hands were a bloody mess. Her daughter was still stood at the doorway, naked with a towel at her feet. She was ushered into our flat, which meant walking by her bloodied and crying mother, through a bloodstained hallway and worst of all she had to shuffle her way passed the knife. Sarah covered her up and took her indoors.

The police back up had arrived and we had dozens of police officers in and out of our flat. The knife was enormous and, as it turned out, too big for the largest of the evidence tubes the police use to put such knives in. At some point the ex was taken away and an ambulance came to see to our neighbour's hands and she was taken to hospital in case she needed surgery.

I walked into our flat and our neighbour's daughter was sat watching television, but Sarah couldn't find anything suitable. I could see Sarah was rattled, but was putting on a brave face for the young girl. I looked through our DVDs to see if there was something that we could watch. Together, we settled on Ratatouille which proves that I am an idiot, because it is absolutely crammed full of perilous situations involving kitchen knives. The young girl watched it intently. At one point, she mimed choking herself and said that her Daddy was very cross.

The police were brilliant, they found her some clothes, a relative to look after her and whipped her away through the crime scene with her eyes closed like it was all a game. I was knackered, maybe the adrenalin was wearing off. The police photographer recorded all the blood spatters in the hallway. I told the police what had happened and they decided that they wanted to take a formal statement.

I arrived at the station at about nine thirty and I didn't begin making my statement until gone 10PM. The two CID officers interviewed me on tape and made notes as I spoke. They record onto two tapes simultaneously: one red, one yellow. It was a laborious process which entailed stating a lot of the obvious, describing the geography of the crime scene in more detail than you could ever expect to need and descriptions of all the individuals involved. The officers notes amounted to pages and pages, but when assembled into a printed format the statement was six pages long. I cannot fault the officers who interviewed me, because should this come to trial and should I be called as a witness, I'm sure I will be glad it is so thorough. The interview lasted the duration of three tapes and the reading of the eventual statement another took up another, which gives an eventual total of eight tapes. By the time it was finished it was half four in the morning. I was informed that our neighbour had been discharged from the hospital, which I took to mean that she hadn't needed surgery.

The police arranged a lift home for me. Sarah had waited up, unable to sleep. I was very tired and very hungry. Sarah told me she had heard the door to our communal hallway open and close several times, each followed by a phrase like "Oh my God, is that blood?"

On Friday, an inexplicably jolly pair of police photographers came and re-recorded the various blood splashes in the hallway this time with little markers (to give a context for size, I suppose) and had access to our neighbour's flat as well. Sarah made her statement in the afternoon and our neighbour returned home briefly to pick up some clothes and toothbrushes. Both her hands were bandaged.

Today, my arms and shoulders ache. We have been informed that the man is still in custody. I don't understand the process well enough to know what happens next.

I'm aware the tone of this is very factual and that normally when I write something I usually try to have a bit of fun with it, be playful with the language I use and possibly pair it with a silly picture. This doesn't seem the time or the place. I haven't used the names of my neighbour or her daughter because nobody reading this needs to know them, but I am ashamed to say that I didn't even know what their names were until this incident occurred.

Every police officer I have met or spoken to in connection with this has wanted to shake my hand, use words like bravery and thank me for what happened. I don't know what to say. I'm finding it all quite embarrassing, because I didn't plan any of it. It's also unfortunate that Sarah's part in it all seems to be diminished by everyone complimenting me. I doubt that I could have held onto him if she hadn't been there. I couldn't bear the thought that anything could have happened to her.

It puts plays I've been in, Top Ten lists and These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things from 1989 into perspective, doesn't it?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

By George, I Think He's Got It Coming

George, this is what happens when you cut public spending on disability and generally show contempt for the disabled. You can't expect to bask in the sporting glory of the Olympic and Paralympic Games whilst you attempt to sell off school sports grounds and then have the arrogance to present a medal to a disabled athlete:



To borrow some familiar rhetoric, they are all in this together. If you didn't realise that, George, then you are obviously an even bigger idiot than I thought you were.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Carruthers Camera #27

Another five photos that I took for the Carruthers blog:

The Eighteenth Hole was the front door of a posh flat in Dalston and is indicative of just how much area has changed over the last few years.

The establishment pictured in The Harsh Light Of Day is opposite Farringdon tube station. I have never seen it open.

I took And The Children Shall Lead on south coast of Dorset.

This Weet Paint sign was outside an expensive Islington house. Initially, I mocked the signmaker and as it turns out I did so entirely unfairly because 'weet' is a Chaucerian English word meaning wet and I'm certain that the painter knew that.

The postbox in Post Poultry is in Grove, in the south of Oxfordshire. Despite my derision of the spelling, I hope that dogwalkers heeded the message of the sign, because nobody deserves to have their workplace/packages/correspondence showered with urine.