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Monday, September 21, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 21/09/09

Ring a ding ding! Yesterday I:

- Wandered down to Angel with Alex for a coffee before she headed off out to Essex to meet friends for lunch. We sat outside Starbucks, watching the dregs of the Goth club night they hold in Angel on Saturdays slowly dispersing. This is 10am, mind, so there were a few messy folk about. Alex then went on her merry way, and I headed for home, picking up some shower gel and bath foam on the way. Fascinating. I also picked up the Boots generic multivitamin A-Z, which I figure I’ll give a go to try and boot myself out of the energy doldrums I now find myself in. I’ve not been walking into work lately, and I think that has really affected me. I find it difficult to get any enthusiasm for things, find any energy to get off my ass and get things done. So, we’ll give this a go.

- Headed home and did some cleaning, then watched The Red Shoes. It’s an amazing film, rightly renowned for the cinematography. The actual ballet of the Red Shoes as presented within the film is quite something to behold, a strange expressionist diversion in the midst of filmic formality. Oh, sure, it’s an over the top melodrama, but then that’s part of the joy of a film like this. Brilliant stuff.

- Mr Zitron has lent me a copy of Batman Arkham Asylum for the 360, so I gave that a go, sitting down to it at around 3.30 or so. And that was pretty much that until 9-ish. What a fantastic game. I’m very impatient when it comes to games. Unless something draws me in straight away, I can’t be bothered with it. Unfortunately, when something does draw me in, the game suddenly comes to dominate my waking thoughts. How might I solve this or that problem? What should I have done there? When can I play it again? Now I’m a happily married man, this is a little more problematic than it was when, say, I was single and living alone, playing Civilisation 2 until the sun came up. So I‘m trying very hard not to let myself get too tied up with it. Though sitting here in the pub at around 1.30pm, writing this, I find myself suddenly thinking of how much time I have left today until Alex comes home. And what I might do with that time...

- Hit the sack and watched a couple of things, including some Big Train and the first episode of the new season of Peep Show. I love Peep Show with a passion. I think it’s a great piece of television that I hope will be hailed as a classic down the line. Okay, so there’s the risk that they are playing it beyond the point where they should have stopped, and some would argue that is the case already. But I’m not one of them. It’s still a wonderfully biting, cringeworthy series. Really must get off my ass and buy the first five seasons.

- Alex arrived home and collapsed into bed and I read Jeff Lemire’s Invisible Man riff, The Nobody. It was...okay. I must say, I couldn’t get terribly excited by it. It just felt a little pointless, to be honest, and the execution wasn’t enough to carry it through. Still a fan of Essex County, and I enjoyed the first issue of Sweet Tooth, but I think this one might slip through the cracks, and not undeservedly so.

Carry on reading...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 17/09/09

You know, I'm writing these bloody things every morning and just forgetting to post them up. Thanks to some free Wetherspoons wireless (leeched while sitting in Starbucks) you're getting this sucker live! I'm in a comfy chair, which is nice but makes writing a drag. So yesterday I:

- Got into town nice and early and did some writin'.

- Worked. Delivery day, and it was a pretty sizeable week this week. It wasn't helped by starting on the unpacking late thanks to a meeting about upcoming books.

- Went to the pub with wifey for one, breaking our September off the booze rule, but she really wanted to go for one and was willing to pay the extra pass price (a no-drinking week in October). So we had a pint and some very nice mezes at the Lord Clyde.

- Had some dinner then read some comics, which I did mini-reviews of over on Twitter. I keep toying with the idea of doing them as a blog instead, plus it means I can do some other comic-related posts as well, but then I think "Where the fuck am I gonna find the time?"

Carry on reading...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 15/09/09

Gotta get my ass out the door! But yesterday I:

- Slept in a bit, but managed to get into town with an hour or so spare for writing. Did my Things I Did Yesterday summary which I never got around to posting. Typically. Must do better.

- Worked, cracking on with this month's library standing orders. Finished with gridded, Excel eyes.

- Went for a coffee with Nat, Tom & Barney (well, they had booze, I'm largely off it for the month). Had a nice chat about the state of things.

- Got home, had dinner then watched the final Band of Brothers, which was entirely satisfying. All in all a great series which didn't grip me to start with but from the second episode on really fired on all cylinders. I look forward to the upcoming series about the Pacific campaign.

- Watched the third episode of True Blood, which convinced us to watch another, but this is hanging by a thread. Honestly, something about it just work for me. It so desperately wants to be sexy and adult that it just comes across as juvenile. Give it one more.

Carry on reading...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 10/09/09

I'm sat n a cafe in a very comfortable chair that makes writing an impossibly awkward task. this will be short. Yesterday I:

- Worked. Delivery day, so I was unpacking comics and bagging most of the day. Not a great week, but I'll do some Twitter reviews later on today about what cam in over @grizzleddog. Not sure about the twitter reviews, though there seem to be a few people who enjoy them. But I keep thinking maybe I could do them on the blog instead, just limiting myself to the same kind of size restrictions. Not sure of the worth of a 140 character "review", but they're nice and quick to do, and I do enjoy it, which in these days of the Information Superhighway (isn't it funny how some terms wind up with no use other than knowing nods) is reason enough I guess.

- Went out after work for Josh's birthday, which was very nice. Sat out in the courtyard of Truckles Wine Bar (not the greatest named bar in the world) drinking rioja with current and ex Gosh people. To be fair, given the expense of the stuff, I'm surprised I feel quite as bad as I do now.

- Went on for a couple more at the Princess Louise down by Holborn with Tom, Nat, Will & wifey. It's a Samuel Smiths pub, so it'll not win any awards for quality beers, but it is the cheapest option in town, with about the only sub-£2 pints in central London. But one thing the Sam Smiths pubs do have is atmosphere. They do a great line in old-styled pub decor, and the Princess Louise has been re-fit with the warren-like booths of old. It's a lovely pub inside and well worth seeing. There's another Sam Smiths down near Chancery Lane that's also quite a sight to behold, with a huge, vaulting ceiling, massive old stove and private booths. Nothing like a proper old-styled pub.

- Got how, somehow. Funnily enough, we're not drinking in September, but we've got three passe each, of which we've both now used up two. We can buy extra passes, but it costs us a week of next month each time with no passes. What fun!

Carry on reading...

Things I Did Yesterday 09/09/09

Well, here we are again. Again. Let’s get to it. Yesterday I:

- Got into town and did some writing, which was fine though my thoughts took an unexpected turn for the maudlin. Not sure why, and it didn’t last long, but what funny creatures we are, eh?

- Worked. Not a bad day in all. I caught up on my emails, got some library stuff done and put together this week’s How Late.

- Alex came down to meet me and we went to see District 9. I had been looking forward to this film and, as is unfortunately not too often the case, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a wonderful mix of action, drama and comedy, all put together in a seamless blend of faux documentary, CCTV footage and standard narrative. The real compliment to this last bit of storytelling is that after a short while you barely notice the shifts. The effects are nothing short of astounding, and given the budget I’m guessing these were done through Weta at some serious mates rates. Honestly, the work is damn near flawless, from the huge, imposing mothership, through mechanised power suits and alien weaponry, to the aliens themselves. They really are quite incredible, probably one of the best full CGI realisations my inexpert eyes have ever seen. The inhuman design of them no doubt helps, their unfamiliarity easing the pattern recognition triggers that make CGI humans (or human-like aliens) look unconvincing. Compare this to what we’ve seen from Avatar (though in fairness we haven’t seen a lot yet). In short, it’s a great film. Entertaining, thoughtful (if not exactly subtle) and moving. Also, lots of people explode real good.

- Schlepped home and had miso soup with toast for dinner (this was about 10-ish). I watched an episode of Band of Brothers (war is even more like hell, but still kind of exciting) then hit the sack.

Carry on reading...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 08/09/09

Oh Christ, this morning I had The Mortality Thought. It begins with thinking about how old I might live until and ends with me imagining myself on my death bed: what my last words might be; who might be there; will it be painful? Not a pleasant line of thought to start my day. The other thing I obsess about is knowing that when I’m there, I’ll be thinking “Bloody hell, that went quickly. What happened to the last 30 years?”

Anyway, on with more positive things, yesterday I:

- Got up fairly early and made myself a little plan which I didn’t really follow in the end, but it was nice to have a plan.

- Was sort of amazed by the vitriol I’m getting for my negative review of The Shadow over on my Fright Fest post. Makes me laugh.

- Got an email from Matt Z informing me that Spotify Mobile had been released! Very exciting stuff. So I signed up to the premium service, which I had been looking for an excuse to do anyway, and downloaded the app to my Android phone. So far it’s been a little frustrating. I have a particularly annoying crash problem which locks up my phone, forcing me to pop the battery out to restart. It appears to be download related, as it happened mainly when I was streaming music, or when I was trying to sync playlists for offline play. I’ve raised a support question about it and I’m not the only one having this issue, so hopefully there will be a bug fix soon. Playback of said offline playlists seemed fine. That aside, I’m still excited about it. Okay, so it’s over a 3G connection and therefore missing the P2P quick play experience (each track needs about a 20 second pause to buffer even in good 3G reception) that makes Spotify stand out from the crowd on a desktop, but the interface is all very nice and the offline mode is really what makes it so attractive to me. Spotify has actually become my default music player at home, so being able to build playlists within it to download to my phone (a doddle to do, by the way) is great. Hopefully they’ll sort out the kinks soon.

- Went into town and did some writing, then decided that I would go check out a movie. Timing was good to catch The Hurt Locker, which I was really wanting to see. Excellent film about a bomb squad operating in Iraq. Although it’s been described as deliberately apolitical, I don’t think that’s strictly true. It’s just that the politics aren’t worn on its sleeve and the real message is more along the lines of: War is hell, but war is addictive. It’s a sentiment brought home by one character’s return home at the end of his tour, only to realise that he needs the thrill that war gives him. It’s the only thing he truly loves any more. Anyway, Kathryn Bigelow has always been a director with an eye to suspense and she has never been better. The feeling of imminent danger – from bombs, from snipers and even from friendlies – is brought across in a series of nail-biting set pieces. Highly recommended.

- Came home and did some domestic stuff before having a quick run on Grand Theft Auto 4, which I haven’t played in bloody ages. In fact, after finishing Fallout 3, I had started playing Mass Effect, but realised I had better make GTA my next game to work through, as Alex bought it for me last Christmas and I’d hardly touched it. Well, not like it’s a hardship, eh? One funny thing: I got laid in the game, which was represented by a dawn cityscape with a soundtrack of sexual ecstasy and a vibrating controller. Quite. Then stole a taxi and helped a West Indian gangster kill a bunch of rival drug dealers. And enjoyed it.

- Watched an episode of Band of Brothers (the excellent “Bastogne”) before settling down with Alex to watch the second True Blood. Still undecided on this, plus I keep getting this creeping question: would I read this? Given my general distaste for “paranormal romance” novels, I suspect not. This inevitably leads to the question: why am I watching this? Oh well, we’ll see.

Carry on reading...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 06/09/09

Quickly! Quickly, Andrew! Yesterday you:

- Got up and did the dishes, as you knew you were going to be out last night and working today. You didn't want to risk wifey's wrath, as you'd left them about all you could get away with already.

- Worked, mainly stuck up on the till, though you managed to get a few things done. You sure have a lot of work to get through, Andrew. Better pull finger! Still, there were only three of you yesterday, so it's hardly surprising.

- Met up with a bunch of good folks for the lovely Ellen's birthday. Wandered up to Lamb's Conduit Street for a drink before heading to the Brunswick Centre for dinner at Giraffe (though wifey missed it, as she wasn't feeling too well). You had a chicken blt burger, and it was very nice indeed. A last drink at the Doric Arms in Euston (a curious den of iniquity with an appealing Euston-themed d├ęcor) then you walked out the door, straight into a 476 and all the way home.

- Had a bloody awful night's sleep. You may have snored a bit, my friend. That would explain the ragged throat this morning.

Carry on reading...

Fright Fest, Baby!

So I completely forgot that I wrote a few notes about Fright Fest the other morning! I had a great time over the weekend, my fears of a numb ass and just general burnout coming to nothing. I must admit, working on the Saturday was probably not a bad thing just to break it up, but I'd still like to get a weekend pass one of these years. But anyhow, I saw me some movies!

The Horseman – A gritty revenge thriller from Australia. Apparently made on a shoestring by way of local financing, it’s an impressive feature with an excellent performance from lead Peter Marshall. As the father of a girl found dead from a drug overdose after starring in a seedy porn film, he grounds what could have been a schlocky exploitation flick. The grainy, digital cinematography – now pretty much a standard look for any low-budget horror – is well handled, adding to the atmosphere rather than distracting. It also has the distinction of being unflinching, but only when it really wants to hit home. It often cuts away from the extreme violence, be it genital mutilation or just bashing someone’s head in, saving the explicit shots for moments when they have real impact. But it’s the performances that really make this work. They lift it above the material, bringing real drama to proceedings as the father’s trail of revenge harvests bitter fruit. A great little film and probably my favourite of the fest.

Beware The Moon – A fan-made American Werewolf in London documentary, looking back at its production and release in an exhaustive series of interviews with the key participants. It’s almost a scene-by-scene breakdown of the film which will be great as a DVD extra, but ran a little too long for a theatrical showing. It was quite obviously intended to be carved into 10-minute segments and would be great to dip in and out of, but as interesting as it was I just found my attention wavering after 140-odd minutes of talking heads with a few brief behind the scenes clips. Still, a nice labour of love which really added to the experience of watching the actual film.

An American Werewolf In London – This was a newly remastered version, projected from blueray, and the clean-up job on it is certainly impressive. Landis introduced the film and did a Q&A afterward, which was entertaining if not terribly informative. The film is of course still great. As much as people might tell you the transformation sequence is still as impressive as ever, it has dated somewhat now, but that’s really not what makes this film. The blend of humour, horror and drama has still never been topped to my mind, best encapsulated in the film’s opening sequence. One of my favourite films and a real joy to see on the big screen. Also, John Landis, while coming across as a bit of an arrogant bully, is very funny and not at all shy about speaking his mind. He was also very good about making sure that anyone present who was involved in the production came up onto the stage.

The Shadow – Well, this was certainly the lowlight of the festival for me. Luckily it was the only real duff film I saw all weekend. Touted by festival organisers as being the discovery of the weekend and the renaissance of Italian horror, Shadow is the brainchild of Federico Zampaglione, an Italian pop-rock megastar (apparently) making his directorial debut. It would seem that this has probably been knocking around Mr Zampaglione's head for some time, like since he was about 14, because that’s about the level of it. Basically (SPOILERS AHEAD) (not that you should care), a soldier comes back from the Iraq war for a cycling holiday in a remote Italian mountain range. He meets a girl and is terrorized by a (ridiculously accented) Brit and American pair who are on a hunting trip. Why? Because the girl makes the Brit miss a deer, so of course they have to die. Anyway, all four stumble into a weird region of the mountains and are captured by a chalky-white figure who takes them back to his Hostel-like torture chamber. There are hints this guy has some kind of Nazi background, but he also has souvenirs of other mass-murders throughout history. Hijinks ensue, torture happens, Brit and Yank die, girl disappears, main guy nearly escapes but pale guy appears at the last second and everything goes black. Main guy wakes in what appears to be the torture chamber but is actually (gasp!) an Iraqi field hospital! Turns out girl is a nurse and Brit & Yank were two soldiers (dead on the tables next to him) who were responsible for some kind of massacre while he was on duty with them. Leaving the scene of said massacre, they hit a landmine. So, wow, that means that, like, the pale figure was actually DEATH! And by fighting on and escaping, he escaped DEATH! Except he didn’t, actually. He got caught before waking up, remember? Oh well, nevermind! Anyway, it thinks it’s terribly clever but isn’t and looks for all the world like a Tool video. Also: it’s a pile of shit. We scurried out as soon as the credits came on to avoid what would no doubt be an embarrassing Q&A with the director.

La Horde – Funny one, this. What starts out as a serious crime drama quickly becomes an OTT, played for laughs, zombie siege flick. Basically, a group of corrupt cops track a gang down to a near-abandoned housing block to exact revenge for the death of one of their own. It all goes tits-up when the gang clocks them before they can attack, kills a couple of them and captures the rest. But before the cops are executed, the dead start returning to life and the tower is suddenly under siege by a ravening zombie mob. So it’s team-up or die time, with double-crosses and inter-group breakdowns along the way. It offers pretty much all you would expect from a film of this type: gore galore, character pick-offs and a downbeat ending. It’s not perfect, but there’s some great action and lots of genuinely good laughs along the way. Recommended, but probably better over a few beers. It may be a while before it surfaces, though. The films only gets a release in France next February, so god only knows when we'll see it again. Oh, they had a review embargo, too.

Trick’R’Treat – This seasonal, twist-in-the-tale anthology horror is a proper 80’s throwback, and a pleasure to watch for it. Witheld from release by Warner since 2007 for reasons no one will explain (but I suspect might have to do with the number of kids involved in the gruesome goings on), it’s about to come out on DVD. The director was present, as mystified as we were as to it’s lack of release. It’s quite mainstream, really, produced by Bryan Singer, featuring the likes of Dylan Baker, Brian Cox & Anna Paquin, and feels like it would be a solid hit for Halloween release. Okay, it makes a conscious step away from pretty young thing horror, but it’s hardly a grungy underground movie. Anyway, a lot of fun and probably a solid hit on DVD. Landis was in attendance. His response during the director Q&A to the Warner decision not to release: “Fuck them!”

Salvage – Made as a part of the Liverpool Year of Culture or somesuch, this is a great low budget horror. The key, as with The Horseman, are the performances. The main cast in this are fantastic and it feels more like some gritty UK drama than a monster movie. A teenage girl, estranged from her career-obsessed mother, is forced to spend Christmas with her, only to walk in on her shagging some random bloke. She runs off to the neighbours and before you know it the military have swooped into the quiet cul-de sac and quarantined people to their homes. Something is loose in the neighbourhood, something which has escaped from a washed up container on the nearby beach. Needless to say, things start going wrong and people start to die. The film definitely tries to say something, mainly about how the government uses fear to make us jump into line, but it has fun along the way. It’s a shame that there are just a couple of people behaving stupidly moments and lapses in logic that almost threaten to break it, but in the end it still impresses through style and performance.

Pontypool – An intriguing concept is the hook for this film: a virulent disease turning people into ravening zombies spreads through the English language. But again, it’s the central performances that really carry it. One performance in particular: Stephen McHattie as washed up DJ Grant Mazzy. McHattie is magnetic, from his initial incredulous reactions to what’s happening in the small Canadian town through to the acceptance of his own role in the spreading – and perhaps curing – of the disease. Performaces are particularly important here, as this is essentially a single-set piece, based around the radio studio Mazzy broadcasts from with a core cast of three (later expanding a little). The horror is mainly just from the callers, describing what’s happening outside in the blizzard conditions. I’ve since found out that it was concurrently produced as a radio play, and that’s not surprising. Like most films of this type it occasionally falls down, here mainly regarding logical inconsistencies with how the concept is treated, but it’s a bold, experimental horror film and is worth seeing for that reason alone. Landis was there. In fact, he seemed to be pretty much everywhere I turned during the festival, and was clearly enjoying himself.

I Sell The Dead – A silly, mish-mash of (mostly) comedy and horror that I absolutely loved from start to finish. I cannot understand how the grossly overrated Dead Snow was seen by many to be the highlight of the festival (a horror/comedy written by someone who just isn’t very funny) when this little gem was forced to languish in the tiny “Discovery” screen. Actually, I could make the same case for any of the films I saw in the small screen. This is a funny, warm-hearted film about a grave-robber who specialises in the undead. It has a strange feel, paying homage to Sam Raimi and the films of Hammer and Amicus. The story, such as it is, is slight, but the characters are a lot of fun as they drunkenly fall from one situation to the next. It has a nice, quirky look, exploiting its low budget to develop a style of its own. Highly recommended.

Black – Curious one this. A modern blaxploitation flick starring a French rapper. It’s actually a very entertaining crime flick with a slight supernatural angle towards the end, but a real mystery as to why it was in the Fright Fest. In fact, the supernatural aspects - all about totem animals possessing the bodies of characters - were the weakest part of the film. It’s on much better ground with the set-up, When our titular anti-hero heads to Senegal after a robbery goes wrong. His cousin has tipped him off to an "easy" diamond heist that doesn’t go as smoothly as he might have hoped. Lead actor MC Jean Gab'1 is a charismatic figure and carries the film well, along with his misfit backup men. It’s exciting and it’s funny, but it’s never, ever horrifying. Worth a look though. Also, Landis did a presentation of Thriller and the making of Thriller beforehand. All well and good, but the bloody film didn’t get started until 12.40am!

Carry on reading...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Things I Did Yesterday 02/09/09

Quickly, before dinner is served! Yesterday I:

- Woke up feeling bloody awful. Just tired, tired, tired. Wrote my usual stream of consciousness drivel, then tried to write something creative and got about two paragraphs in before my brain just kind of shut down. The thing I’m fiddling with at the moment is writing character introductions, just random things for characters I’m making up on the spot for all kinds of genres. Yesterday was a boy and girl in a young adults post-apocalyptic setting. But I’ll be buggered if I could actually do it. Every time I set myself to it, a murky fog seemed to roll across my mind. Oh well, maybe today...

- Worked, though I wasn’t able to get straight into the main thing I wanted to do. A bit of tidying and looking at publicity for upcoming signings to start with. Then after lunch I was able to get packing on some library deliveries. Though I ran out of packing material. All told, not a great day.

- Alex came down and met me after work and we wandered an interesting route towards home, which was nice. Thanks to Fright Fest, we spent hardly any time together on the weekend, so it was nice to just hang out. We stopped at Angel and went to a new Turkish place there. The food was delicious.

- Came home and intended to watch something, but just dithered about on the net until it was time to get to bed.

Carry on reading...