Saturday, 24 November 2007
At last, there's a solution in sight, but my online troubles probably won't be over until I can get the BT phone line moved around the house so the main socket is in the back room instead of the front hallway.
Sunday, 4 November 2007
Of course, the old saying predates the Internet and the 'global village'. It even predates modern cinema with colour and sound. The idea that 'travel broadens the mind' has been nixed by the advent of gadget culture, with technologies like cell phones, digital photography, home video, satellite communications, and television. Since wartime, generations have grown up with the whole wide world on their doorstep, in their living rooms, at their fingertips and in their pockets. Today's children are leaving school having already seen and heard - via look and learn education and online experience - more about the Earth's wonders and treasures than all their great-grandparents and most of their ancestors put together.
As Dr Johnson said about Giant's Causeway: "worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see."
The tourist industry and package holidays are simply a way of taking money from uneducated working class folks with middle-class aspirations, and middle-class families with little or no common sense. So, the living planet has become simply another consumer product. Obviously, 'travel broadens the mind' predates space flight (such online gadgetry as 'Google Earth' demonstrate how orbital perspectives are shaping the un-blinkered outlook of 21st century societies) and, most importantly, the Apollo missions that landed astronauts on the Moon. Now that's travelling!
"A wise man can see more from the bottom of a well than a fool can from a mountaintop."
Thoughtless tourists often claim they are exploring foreign lands, but they often look quite silly doing it while using a guidebook or cheap map. When it comes to all those frequently aimless sightseers carelessly burning up our precious natural resources for plainly frivolous adventures, it's really not a big step from asking 'is your journey really necessary?' to the more pointed question, 'is your life really necessary?'
Friday, 5 October 2007
The first issue of horror magazine Black Static: Transmissions From Beyond (Sept. 2007) is out now. Technically, this isn't a brand new publication, it's a re-titling of TTA Press' genre quarterly The 3rd Alternative, which stopped appearing a couple of years ago. The design work is not unlike that of its sister mag Interzone, but the unusual cover artwork (readers can no doubt amuse themselves wondering if the giant-size fly actually means anything!) fronts a strictly black & white interior.
Black Static includes my new column 'Blood Spectrum', which has DVD reviews of The Return, Dark Corners, Karla, The Thirst, Dead And Deader, Dark Water, 28 Weeks Later, and The Butcher.
Elsewhere, in the online world, I started playing chess on the FaceBook site.
Thursday, 27 September 2007
Suggested a Facebook event listing to the con's publicity contact, but ended up creating that myself, here (you will need to login).
Friday, 21 September 2007
Issue #212 (Sept - Oct 2007) of Interzone has my second column of DVD reviews for the magazine, and covers The Last Winter, Hercules, Kraken, Kaw, Ergo Proxy, Space 1999, Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, and Star Trek Voyager.
The striking cover artwork (by Osvaldo Gonzalez, pixelium-art.com), and the recently re-designed masthead, looks much better than the front covers of previous issues (which suffered from the clutter of blocky texts of big-name contributors, obscuring high quality images), this properly displays suitably impressive artwork with an unobtrusive column of credits, and marks a significant improvement in the magazine's design. Less is more!
Still waiting for the appearance of T3A's new horror magazine, Black Static, which has been delayed this month by print errors.
Meanwhile, dithering online, I'm playing 9 games of scrabble on FaceBook!
Sunday, 2 September 2007
With this summer's re-release of Eisenstein classics on DVD box sets (see Jim Steel's reviews for VideoVista), I'm reminded of how difficult it can be sometimes to review silent films, when everything that can be said about them has already been repeated more often than necessary.
While trying to avoid simplistic regurgitation of wholly familiar comments, it seems to me that the only sensible option that online critics have left is re-viewing the meagre range of silent classics available on disc from our media-addled 21st century perspectives, and figuring out exactly what these important historic/ cultural touchstones mean to us, personally, nowadays. Other reviewers have told me that it's almost impossible to be even slightly objective when reviewing silent films... we have all grown up with sound and colour at the cinema, so these films, whether they're foreign or not, just seem so... 'alien' to our expectations, despite their all-too-human messages.
Recently, I watched Matthew Sweet's documentary Silent Britain on rented DVD, but have to admit that my special interest wasn't actually for its cultural aspects, I merely wanted to catch a glimpse of the clips from Maurice Elvey's High Treason (which remains, tragically, unavailable from anywhere!), partly because it's early SF, partly because I'd read it features helicopters flying over London, and I hoped to get screen-shots for my Rotary Action website.
Still, I really enjoyed the programme's informed commentary, and have to agree with Sweet's view that, even if only half of this material is safely archived, then UK silents are being neglected. So, why can't BFI honchos get more of this stuff put onto DVD? It makes no sense that Eisenstein is re-released every few years - while other interesting and home-grown pictures are unfairly ignored.
Sunday, 19 August 2007
Wednesday, 8 August 2007
Spent last weekend in tiny Welsh resort of Portmeirion, for my brother's wedding at Castle Dendraeth. It was a great Saturday, in spite of the rain. I found time for a walk along the woodland paths before breakfast, and really enjoyed the quite surreal experience of wandering in circles about the 'village fantastique' (where Patrick McGoohan's TV show The Prisoner was filmed), finding surprises around every corner.
Monday, 23 July 2007
Wonder how long the latest website presence will stay clear of rubbishy adverts, idiotic comments, and nonsense postings from so-called 'friends' that I've never heard of before?
Friday, 20 July 2007
A quick plug for Interzone #211 (July-Aug issue), which includes my first column of DVD reviews (covering Neverwhere, Headspace, Charmed, A Woman In Winter, The Lost Room, White Noise: The Light, Gamebox 1.0 and Forbidden Planet) for the magazine. If you can't find IZ in the shops, go subscribe, and order direct from the publisher T3A Press.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
Newcomers always welcome, SF knowledge is not essential, but a good sense of humour would certainly help.
Just received a batch of interesting books from UK publishers Duckworth, including novel Harm (which, gazelle-like, jumped to the top of my must-read stacks) by Brian Aldiss.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
The venue was a shooting range, on farmland off East Lane, near Horringford. The weapon I used was a 20-year-old Winchester ‘Diamond Grade’ over/under 12-gauge shotgun. When I (very nearly!) got used to the heft and recoil, I did like the way it ejected spent cartridges with the ‘breaking’ action. That bit was… um; cool, especially when I got both shells to jump straight into the nearby bin, instead of hitting anyone standing behind me.
Judging from how experienced gunmen (of Island Practical Shooting Club) helpfully explained the required techniques for proper stance and aiming, it seemed to me this sporting activity attempts to re-train our basic stone-throwing skills into a different tool-user’s reflex. Although the old hands made it look easy, it’s rather more difficult to hit moving targets than I’d imagined. Overall, it really was great fun (I can still smell the gun smoke), for an afternoon in the woods with shotguns. Thanks to John, Dave, and my brother Stephen, for their patience.
Friday, 13 July 2007
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
No if only I could figure out how to feed my posts here into Facebook!
Monday, 9 July 2007
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Hungarian-born film-maker, Tibor Takacs, has made a consistent living out of mining offbeat genre themes in quality B-movies, starting in 1978 with the rarely-seen Metal Messiah. Like many fans, I first came across his work in the late 1980s, with the video release of supernatural horror The Gate (1987), followed by stylish fantasy-chiller Hardcover (aka: I, Madman, 1989). He made a sequel to The Gate in 1992, and directed five episodes for the mid-1990s revival of The Outer Limits, tackled TV erotica in episodes for The Red Shoe Diaries series, and turned to modern noir with Deadly Past (1995), before teaming up with action star Mark Dacascos for a batch of routine thrillers, the best of which was sci-fi adventure Armageddon (aka: Redline, 1997), co-starring Rutger Hauer.
In 1998, Takacs went on to launch the Gene Roddenberry-created sci-fi TV series Earth: Final Conflict, and has also contributed episodes to TV series like The Crow, and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch. The director's more recent films include such varied projects as Nostradamus (2000), Rats (aka: Killer Rats, 2003), and Black Hole (2006). The last of these is a sci-fi apocalypse in which subatomic research using a particle accelerator threatens St Louis when a micro black hole is accidentally created on Earth, unleashing an energy draining 'electrical entity' upon the city. Judd Nelson and Kristy Swanson play the scientists fighting against military paranoia and gross stupidity (the US army general wants to nuke the black hole!), and figure out how to use sound waves (a borrowing from Day Of The Triffids, perhaps?) to lure the electric monster back towards the 'gate' that allowed it entry into our world.
If the film's basic plot sounds a bit familiar to SF readers, it does hark back to 1950s' pulps and Twilight Zone stuff, but also has echoes of more recent formidably hard-SF novels like Cosm by Greg Bear, and Artifact by Gregory Benford, but that's not to say Takacs' Black Hole movie offers anything resembling a proper take on hard-SF themes, as it's simply a topically quantum-theory inspired action adventure with a disgruntled yet heroic scientist, who almost single-handedly saves the planet from destruction. Still, despite its typically stereotyped characters and humdrum wannabe blockbuster plotting (with CGI visuals depicting the televised collapse of St Louis landmarks into a swirling vortex of debris surrounding the growing black hole's event horizon), this is worthwhile viewing if you enjoyed similarly themed disaster pictures like The Core.
Sunday, 17 June 2007
Monday, 11 June 2007
Bought an external 500 GB hard drive, made by Western Digital Elements (£78 from Amazon UK), to back-up all my desktop files and provide extra storage for photos, music, and movies. So easy to install, with fast USB 2.0 connection to back of the computer, and it works perfectly straight from the box. Very pleased with this purchase.
Wednesday, 6 June 2007
Sunday, 3 June 2007
With a blurb claiming it's an "essential new annual resource," Writer's Market UK 2008 edited by Michael Cady is a hefty paperback from David & Charles. The cover price of £12.99 includes a free 30-day trial subscription to www.writersmarket.co.uk but that might be worth looking into even if you don't buy the book.
The content starts with a series of articles for beginners and novice writers, covering many of the basics about contacting publishers, agents, selling your work and negotiating contracts, with key points, notable case studies, and helpful introductory advice highlighted as block quotes or panel inserts on nearly every page, which improves the impact and appearance of the book's standard two-column text layout. Everything from novels, journalism and poetry is briefly addressed by this comprehensive section, before the main directory listings of UK and Irish book publishers, European and international publishers, music, magazines, national and local newspapers, websites, pod-casters and (of course!) bloggers.
This directory section continues with broadcasting (BBC TV and radio and commercial channels), theatre, literary agencies and editorial services, plus various groups, clubs, and info about various reference or research organisations. You also get up-to-date details on grants, courses, lit prizes, festivals and conferences. All these entries have the required contact data, where appropriate, and there's plenty of useful insider remarks to provide a welcome guide to the aims or profile of publishers and editors, whether corporate professionals or independent/ small press amateurs.
If you can find something of your personal attachment to writing (as vocation, craft, profession, obsession, dream, prison, curse...) reflected in Peter Ackroyd's inspiring foreword, this book is definitely for you.
Thursday, 24 May 2007
Monday, 21 May 2007
Hard to believe they're still only talking about sending robots to Mars. Where are the big ambitious plans for space missions?
What we've been looking for is a concept that will maximise the scientific return
- Bruno Gardini, ExoMars project team
I had to laugh at that quote. When are these projects going to be rejected in favour of a manned expedition? What are these scientists, explorers, and space industry managers waiting for now..?
Thursday, 17 May 2007
Can't help thinking such hi-tech systems overlook the inestimable value of local knowledge...
Van drivers who deliver my supermarket grocery orders have got lost in my village because their sat-nav displays no street record of the cul-de-sac where I live.
Instead of spending four billion euros to launch yet more space junk, wouldn't a map reading training-course for couriers and haulage contractors work out a bit cheaper?
Thursday, 10 May 2007
Tuesday, 8 May 2007
This isn’t a proper critical review of TV mini-series Hogfather (2006), as I haven’t actually seen the whole show. Vadim Jean’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel is tagged as the first ever live-action production based on any Discworld book. If this is considered by fans to be an acceptable visualisation of the Ankh Morpork environs and its multitude of characters, then gawd help us... because I found it so tiredly predictable, lacking in originality, and ultimately boring, that I could only stomach about a third of this 184-minute piece of rubbish before nearly lapsing into a coma.
Although I’m not very familiar with the absurdly fantastical Discworld milieu, I didn’t find the pandemonium of guest stars, with veteran TV luvvies (Joss Ackland, David Jason) and former alternative comedians (Nigel Planer, Tony Robinson) rubbing shoulders in a decidedly feelgood skiffy panto, and the parade of Dickensian and/ or Dahlesque characters, each with quirky but cringe-worthy affectations, problematic. However, I admit that my instant dislike of this crudely over-ambitious, seasonal comedy-drama probably has something to do with my atheism, or intolerance for anything Christmassy.
From the babbling tooth fairy and under-bed monsters, to Death personified (voiced by Sir Ian Richardson, who promptly died after completing this Xmas tripe) and a polite assassin named Teatime (Marc Warren), this congruent reality policed by dreary ‘Auditors of the Universe’ while threatened by a wicked plot against its fashionably childish belief system is, allegedly, an evening’s treat for anyone who’s been naughty or nice, but I found its application of theatrical fantasy farce to yuletide lore unbearably dull, and tainted by a mawkish sentimentality even in its central protagonist, Death’s daughter Susan (Michelle Dockery).
Now released (or thrown out?) on DVD by Fox, in an overblown double-disc limited edition, Hogfather isn’t even pure hogwash, it’s been ghosted into pointless frivolity by ghastly commercialism.
Sunday, 6 May 2007
Now available uncut (1st time on DVD in UK), Stuart Gordon’s directorial début Re-Animator is that rare beastie, a comedy horror flick that remains entertaining over two decades after it first panicked viewers into helpless laughter. Jeffrey Combs’ career defining performance as Herbert West, the obsessive scientist of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, is part Frankenstein, part heroic zombie slayer.
The film is charmingly preposterous, defies all rationality with absurdly theatrical tragedy and unsettling moral quandaries, and overflows with mortuary gore. However, it’s still dramatically compelling and provocative, especially in its uncompromising tangle of sex and violence. Although the sequels (Bride Of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator) merely imitate the inspired lunacy exhibited here, both narratives have moments of gleeful madness. Green-juice fans can look forward to Gordon’s House Of Re-Animator (due 2008), which reunites the original cast and finds crazy Dr West in the White House, presumably to revive a brain-dead president!
Wednesday, 25 April 2007
It's over 20 light-years away, but only 1.5 times size of Earth, and orbits close to its dim-bulb star (Gliese 581), inside the system's region where liquid water is a possibility, and life (as we know it) might exist. Certainly, this is one of the most fascinating astronomical discoveries yet!
Monday, 16 April 2007
If multi-millionaires (billionaires should be outlawed!) fail to offer public-spirited support to charitable causes and ignore encouragement for any significant acts of philanthropy, then – if only for the sake of preventing future social injustice alone - some kind of (discretionary?) ‘super-tax’ on the financial resources of the UK’s top 100 ‘fat cats’ would seem in order to begin the essential process of redistributing the wealth in this country.
Friday, 6 April 2007
On Wednesday 4 April, my computer packed up. It just went off, suddenly (no warning blue-screen of death), then wouldn't start. Thankfully, staff in local shop weren't too busy yesterday to fix it (turned out to a simple job, something to do with power supply and a faulty cooling-fan), and it's still under warranty, so that was a great relief.
Friday, 30 March 2007
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
The following took place between 16 March and 19 March...
Had a DVD blitz with season 5 boxset of TV series 24. Much less action and more drama than previous seasons. As ex-federal agent Jack Bauer, Keifer Sutherland still does his renegade action-man routine, but now the focus has changed noticeably, to examine the various professional motivations, personal struggles, and behind-the-scenes scheming of corrupt politicos, seemingly crazy 'patriots', ambitious or paranoid security guys, and the moral dilemmas faced by conscience-stricken heroes in the Counter-Terrorist Unit (so conveniently situated in Los Angeles, as is the US president's retreat).
It's often been said that 24 works exactly like a comic-book series, and that description applies perfectly to this season's fast-moving plots to release deadly nerve gas in crowded public areas (including a mall and a hospital). Having faked his own death last time around, Jack doesn't care much about breaking rules or laws, nowadays. On this fifth 'worst day' of his life, he even hijacks a plane. Of course, one of the signature facets of 24 is its keen satire of action-thriller cliches, and here there's a violent scene enacted in the seemingly-vulnerable presence of the president himself, and yet it's Jack who turns nasty when he threatens to torture and maim a suspected conspirator from the unidentified league of bad guys (ULoBaG).
This is the key to 24's comicbook narrative style. Criminal masterminds never make their presence known or felt until their sudden appearance or influence on the ongoing investigative storyline brings with it the delicious frisson of peeling away yet another layer of the onion. As a TV serial concept, the impact of ULoBaG on mystery-thriller plots works superbly every time in 24. There's always vital info withheld from viewers, and from our blindsided heroes, of course. We can rarely guess what will happen next, though we might suspect there's more going on, typically concealed in the background details, than is clear at first.
In the sinister drool of season 5, there's a lot of poisonous red herrings, barbed-narrative trapdoors, and auteur misdirection. And what's more, 24 is totally addictive television. How could fans of this show possibly tolerate any weeklong delays between episodes? I felt compelled to put another disc into the DVD player even after watching four episodes in a row. The utterly engrossing plotline, and its array of fascinating characters (even the patently absurd ones!), makes 24 one of the most compulsive viewing experiences yet.
Friday, 9 March 2007
Friday, 2 March 2007
Friday, 9 February 2007
Watched a double-bill of DVD films directed by Clint Eastwood, last night.
Caught up with crime drama/ murder mystery Mystic River, which benefits from quietly understated performances by Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins, but is derailed by Sean Penn going slightly OTT. I liked the nifty cameo from Eli Wallach (as shopkeeper of 'Loonie liquors') during which he delivers the great line: "Scary as a glass of milk!"
Followed that with the WWII epic Flags Of Our Fathers, about Iwo Jima and its aftermath. This proved to be very watchable, and thankfully not half as grossly-sentimentalised as Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but Eastwood's latest effort was rather uninvolving due to some wooden acting from its young stars (Ryan Phillippe, weak as ever... has he made any 'good' films? Adam Beach was much better in Windtalkers). FOOF is great as pure spectacle, though, and is a solid piece of storytelling about how one image can (be used/ abused? to) inspire many.
Neither of these films are as good as Eastwood's tragic drama about a female boxer, Million Dollar Baby... After recent offerings, I wonder now if Eastwood has considered making another western without starring in it?
Sunday, 4 February 2007
Okay, the little girl (Jodelle Ferland, Silent Hill) is absolutely brilliant in the film... and hopefully, there'll be a clutch of special 'child actor' film awards with her name on them! One or two of the surreal fantasy bits - especially the submerged house effects (curiously, its obvious CGI fakery only adds to the general underwater weirdness) are quite fascinating but, after my first DVD viewing of Tideland, it seems to have been very overrated by the critics.
I agree that it's a great film, and never boring for a second, but this isn't the masterpiece that some have claimed. The pace is often tired (like Jeff Bridges' character, did Gilliam fall 'asleep' ... and let his usually hyperactive imagination 'die' from an overdose of wishfulfilment?), and its combo of genre references (basically Psycho meete Alice In Wonderland) is hardly original... Jan Svankmajer did all this stuff years ago!
Although some might be (oh-my-gosh) shocked by the parents' junkie scenes, and the contentious "silly kisser" scenes with adult Dickens and little Jeliz-Rose, too much of what's on screen seems twee and trite compared to more powerful and genuinely unsettling Asian fantasy-chillers available today.
Director Terry Gilliam might say that he's found his inner child, but this just feels like an old man's film.
My score for Tideland: 7/10.
At least it's much better than the horribly clunky Brothers Grimm!
Friday, 2 February 2007
Thursday, 25 January 2007
If you thought Patrick Lussier's Dracula 2000 (aka: Dracula 2001), and its sequels Dracula II and shite makes the above trilogy seem quite brilliant and inventive!
Synopsis: Oh, wouldn't it be a lark if they found Count Orlock undead on a spaceship?
Although director Darrell Roodt made the so-so mystery-thriller Second Skin (with la Henstridge) a few years back, he's obviously learned nothing since, and I can't figure out how he's still in work... Are they just throwing money away on such German and South African co-productions as this, now?
Dracula 3000 (D3K) shuffles around plot-points from Event Horizon and Supernova (but without big-budget effects, or any star-name players in its cast), and somehow manages to make cheesy fun like Jason X look like truly great cinema in comparison!
In D3K, Casper Van Dien plays the cardboard Van Helsing, onetime BayWatch babe Erika Eleniak looks every year of her mid-thirties now, Coolio (who, judging from his characterisation of a 3rd millennial spacer, might've seen Dark Star but not Star Trek) is so terrible and useless an actor I'm surprised they didn't offer the role to his shadow, and Tiny Lister simply overacts even more than usual. No wonder Udo Kier phoned in his video-log appearance.
Don't be fooled by the Giger-esque poster artwork. The Dracula of this movie (that's 'movie' pronounced "tiresome rubbish" and which feels like a thorn in your eye) is no cyber-goth creation, but a sorry panto version of the prince of darkness. Honestly, D3K makes its 80 minutes runtime feel like an all-nighter. Make no mistake; sitting through this film - without resorting to regular use of your remote-control's fast-forward button - is not entertainment, it's an ordeal (I will probably be in therapy until spring-time!).
If you pride youself on having the stamina to watch anything (no matter how bad) and haven't seen the awful Dracula 3000, yet, I suggest you prepare for something that feels like a jaw-load of nagging toothache (is that really how you want to spend an evening at home?) before you go and rent it... The only sane reason for seeing D3K is to discover the 21st century's new benchmark for utter boredom that's available on DVD.
Thursday, 18 January 2007
The UK edition of Steve Aylett's Lint isn't due until March 2007, but readers who are already familiar with Aylett's investigative biography of cult figure Jeff Lint can wallow in And Your Point Is?, a collection of wry and livewire criticism of "scorn and meaning in Lint's fiction". Another generous helping of Aylett is served up by Fain The Sorcerer, a short novel introduced by Alan Moore, delivering an accurate summary of the attributes and literary appeal of Aylett's work. He's an author who's not afraid of interviewing himself. Find out more about the staggeringly talented young Mr Aylett by visiting www.steveaylett.com.
A second genre writer with two books out now is notable SF author Rudy Rucker. He's another personal favourite... Mathematicians In Love (Tor) throws together romance and science with surprising results, while Mad Professor (Thunder's Mouth) is another fabulously rich collection of Rucker's short fiction. There's more info at www.rudyrucker.com.
Finally, there's John Gribbin's The Universe: A Biography (Penguin/ Allen Lane), a pop science book tackling its subject in a highly intriguing manner.