Wednesday, 19 May 2010

It's been a while...

My blog has lain dormant for six months now, so it's high time I updated. In that time I've completed my second novel, Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, that I'm hoping to find a small press publisher for. I'm enormously pleased with how it turned out, so hopefully it'll find a home soon.
I recently heard from Sharon Ring who reviewed an old story of mine that was published in Joel Lane's Beneath The Ground anthology about seven years ago. It's one of my favourite stories so it was lovely to hear someone enjoyed it after all this time. Here's the review. Hope Sharon doesn't mind me reprinting it here...

SSM Guest Review: Lost and Found by Simon Avery from Sharon Ring
May 6th, 2010
by gav.
Title: Lost and Found Author: Simon Avery Collection: Beneath The Ground Editor: Joel Lane Publisher: Alchemy PressRelease Date: 2002, although I’ve also heard that a “problem with printers” meant the release date was actually 2003.

The blurb on the back of Beneath The Ground promises “tales that explore the transition between our world and the tunnels and mines beneath”. As with any anthology, some of the tales are more successful at fulfilling this promise than others and, as we all know, “getting” a story is a very subjective thing. Two stories in this collection really stood out for me; Where Once I Did My Love Beguile by John Howard and Lost and Found by Simon Avery. It was difficult to pick just one for review but in the end I opted for Simon’s story as it fed into an old phobia of mine, the London Underground system.
Lost and Found is, at its most basic, the tale of an obscure folk singer’s descent into madness and his eventual disappearance told through his friend (who remains nameless). It is set in both the seventies, when Danny’s life falls apart, and in the early 2000’s, when his friend and Danny’s sister renew an old relationship. Simon bridges the two decades beautifully with a series of letters sent from Danny to the friend who then shares them with Danny’s sister, Sarah.
Throughout his mental breakdown Danny becomes increasingly obsessed with the London Underground system, finding himself there frequently when he wakes, and ultimately becoming convinced of its otherworldly nature to which he is invariably drawn. As his sister points out, “it was London. Somehow, once it got hold of him, it was corrosive”.
Each detail of the story crafted by Simon feeds a quietly oppressive feel to the narration. This is just another London disappearance which goes unnoticed apart from by Danny’s close friends; there are no national headlines, no public outcry, just another person lost to the city. As for Danny’s version of events, told through his letters, this is just as simply told. That otherworldly existence he glimpses then pursues just is, without any need to over-describe or fill with visceral images.
Lost and Found is a beautiful and haunting read, one which won’t easily be forgotten.

Sharon Ring’s blog is Dark Fiction Review

Monday, 9 November 2009

Paranormal Activity

Against all the odds, Paranormal Actvity absolutely works. It's a genuinely scary horror movie. I'll let that sink in for a moment; when was the last time you saw a horror movie that did what it said on the tin?

Of course, horror movies (and books) should do more than scare; I at least expect a decent story as a foundation (the Saw movies can leave the room for a start), characters that I care about (Blair Witch, off you go too), and something with a degree of artistry about it (other genres can expect it, so why can't horror?)
Yes, there have been some great and good horror movies in recent years, but they are few and far between: The Orphanage, REC, Let The Right One In, The Descent... I'm sure there might be a couple more, but on the whole, the discerning horror fan has slim pickings to be honest.

So, yes against the odds, Paranormal Activity works. I hated Blair Witch Project with a passion; while I liked the concept, the execution was poor and underwhelming. It simply wasn't scary and I found the characters deeply annoying. I really didn't need or expect to find anything remotely interesting about another low-fi, mock non-fiction horror movie.

The story concerns a suburban couple, Katie and Micah, who, having recently moved in together, find themselves besieged by increasingly intrusive nighttime visits from an unseen and possibly demonic presence. As night-time eeriness is captured by a night-vision camera set up by Micah, further conversations reveal that Katie has been experiencing such hauntings for nearly two decades, since before her house burned down as a child. Katie can't escape; whatever it is is haunting her, not the house. A medium comes and goes, Micah borrows a ouija board that causes friction between the couple; then he unearths a similar story about a woman haunted and then possessed by a demon that plays on our generations' memories of seeing The Exorcist.

It's a slow and deep focused dread that first-time writer-director Oren Peli wrings from the set-up. Much of the tension is wrung from the night-time camera set-ups, focusing on the couple, their bed and the corridor beyond. Early on, you find yourself peering into the corridor, as the timecode rolls by on the camera, waiting for the jump, for the scare. The build-up is effective, almost ponderous at times, which makes the first real event all the more disturbing: As the clock spins like mad to show the passing of hours between phenomena there is the image of Katie rising from the bed and standing motionless, as if still asleep, for two hours straight, simply staring at Micah.
Soon you're dreading bed-time for the beseiged couple. Scene by scene, the claustrophobia and anxiety grows more and more palpable, and our bond with Katie and Micah stronger.
And it is genuinely unnerving. Later, the scares escalate as Katie and Micah begin to realise the inevitable: there's simply no escape.
And that's one of the great templates of horror, surely. That sense of control being lost, of events escalating beyond one's control, of despair replacing the status quo.
What really marks this out too is the believable performances of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston (their names in reality too). They're wholly sympathetic and their set-up as a young couple is convincing enough so that a good percentage of the population can feel they could be these people. It's a classic horror set-up, and the reason Stephen King is one of the most popular writers in the world: these people could be you; this is how you might react. It's simple camp-fire horror story-telling, but its a desperately fine art to get it right.

By the time we get to the BIG scare in Paranormal Activity (and for me, it raised all the hairs on the back of my neck and left me reticent to climb into bed that night), it becomes clear that a young man with a couple of cameras and a bit of cash, filming in his own house has produced something that most horror movies from big studios cannot: a ghost train of a film that plays right into our homes and basic fears and leaves us a little bit afraid of the dark. It's just a shame that as time goes on, the exectations of the film from all these glowing reviews will doubtless diminish the impact of this brilliant little film.
So check your expectations at the door and try and see this movie soon.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Gorgeous Vintage and Deco Poster Art For UP

...just beautiful - I hope Pixar make them commercially available as I really want the last one.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Rather belatedly this year I caught up with Audrey Niffenegger's fabulous The Time Traveler's Wife. It had been languishing in my 'To Read' pile (actually it's more like a 'To Read Cupboard' but that's by the by) for some time, but, as the movie adaption was imminent, I thought I'd finally give it a go, then go see the movie. Well, I never got to see the movie (and it seems to have divided critics and lovers of the book alike, so I shall wait for the DVD I guess) but I devoured and adored the book. For lovers of Steven Moffat's The Silence in the Library episode of Doctor Who, there's a huge chunk of time travel mind-fudging at the start of the book that must have influenced some of that Who episode, but after a hundred pages or so of slight confusion as to just how the time travelling works, the book simply takes off and deposits you breathless and, I admit, a little teary-eyed at its end 300 pages later. It's a beautiful, elgiac bit of writing that I believe lost a huge chunk of male readership due to its Richard and Judy Bookclub tag that kind of gave it a chick-novel kind of vibe. And yes, it does play to the ladies, and yes, the movie does make it look like a shmalzt-fest, but for me it was one of the best, most fulfilling novels I'd read all year, beside the incredible The Shadow of the Wind.

I was expecting to be a little disappointed then, by Niffenegger's new book, Her Fearful Symmetry. How do you follow a book that sold by the bucket-load and has such a classic status place in a lot of people's hearts?
Well, of course, you don't. If you're writer worth your salt, you write a book that is an absolute left turn, the absolute opposite of that first book. Although what Niffenegger's new book does share with The Time Traveler's Wife is the question 'What If?' TTTW asked 'What would it be like if we could really travel in time, up and down the years of our life?' And in Her Fearful Symmetry, the question is 'What if we could come back from the dead?' They're both questions that hundreds of writers have asked down the years, but most of them are considered horror or SF writers, but Niffenegger has managed the audacious feat of being a writer who gets away with curious speculative fiction in the populist mainstream.
Admittedly, the strange, supernatural moments in Her Fearful Symmetry are couched in a novel that is at heart a leisurely paced charcter piece. The ghostly element is weaved in early on, but it takes half of the book for the reader to see where Niffenegger is heading. And it's a strange, credibility defying turn that seems to have divided the critics.
But taking into account that I loved The Time Traveler's Wife, and that although elements of Her Fearful Symmetry don't always work, I enjoyed this new book equally, if not more. I'm not entirely sure why yet (I only finished it last night), but this was one of those books that I simply couldn't put down and actively looked forward to picking up again. It was even one of those books that I started to slow down with, so as to make it last that little bit longer. That doesn't happen too often!
Here a quick blurb:
Julia and Valentina Poole, two American identical mirror-image twins in their early twenties, are bequeathed an apartment in London overlooking Highgate Cemetery by their aunt, Elspeth, who was herself the identical twin of their mother, Edie. Elspeth and Edie have not had contact for more than two decades, and as a result, the twins have never met their mysterious benefactor.
Naturally delighted, and yearning for adventure, they readily accept the bequest, even though it comes with a couple of strange conditions, the main being that their mother and father are not to set foot in the apartment. They arrive, and soon spend their time becoming accustomed to their new home, and indeed their new country and surroundings.
The apartment is on the first floor. Underneath them lives Robert, a thirtysomething writer, and guide at the cemetery who was the lover of Elspeth, and who has not yet come to terms with her death. Above them lives Martin, an obsessive compulsive crossword compiler, whose Dutch wife, Marijke, has recently returned to her home country, unable to continue living with her husband’s ever deteriorating condition. And creeping into their home comes The Little Kitten Of Death, a snow-white feline visitor from nowhere who is soon adopted by the twins as a pet albeit without it’s consent.
And into this strange brew, another companion enters. Elspeth herself, who finds herself quietly haunting the twins’ apartment, observing them for the first time as they make their new lives, and unobtrusively occupying the locked desk drawer of the desk in her old office.

What makes Her Fearful Symmetry really sing is not the speculative supernatural stuff (although that's handled with the same kind of reducing something down to its nuts-and-bolts-aplomb that Niffenegger displayed with time travel), but the quite beautifully drawn characters that inhabit the house that sits next to Highgate Cemetery.
Robert, torn between his devotion to Elspeth's memory and his attraction to Valentina, who's almost half his age; Martin, the obsessive-compulsive who can no longer leave his flat, and whose wife leaves for Amsterdam after twenty-odd years of marriage when she finds she can no longer deal with his sickness; the twins themselves, Valentina, who decides she wants to free herself of the domineering shadow of Julia; Elspeth, who discovers that although she is dead, she can exert control over all of them; and Highgate Cemetary itself - so much so that I think next time I'm in London, I shall try to visit. Niffenegger draws it with such a rich palette that it sounds irresistable.

It's a fantastic, Autumnal kind of book, brimming with atmosphere and a sense of place, and populated with flawed characters that you genuinely hope make the right decisions. Martin, in partiular with his physical rituals and emotional tics and his flat filled with boxes is an acutely observed study of OCD, and his relationship with his wife and one of the twins is worth the price of the book alone. And indeed, if the direction the book takes in its last third seems a little too audacious for some, I didn't mind too much because I was already too invested in the characters.
It's a sublime bit of writing.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Although we went to see Breakfast at Tiffany's a week ago now, I simply haven't had the time to write a few words about until now, as I've been concentrating on finishing up my new novel (only twenty pages or so to go!)
So, after motoring down to London last Wednesday morning and catching the Tube in, we had a mooch around the usual haunts in the city, passing the Theatre store, where John Barrowman was in the middle of a signing session for his new book (which is excellent, by the way), then passing the celeb haunt, The Ivy (on the way to the Cinema Store) and passing Andrew Lloyd Webber, then onto FP and the fabulous Fopp (where I picked up season 6 and 7 of The Shield for £8 each - we're midway through season 6 and loving it - full thoughts on the whole thing soon).

While waiting for the show to start, we saw Anna Friel arriving late for the show and then settled into our seats (dead centre and about five rows from the front). The Haymarket Theatre (which recently ran Waiting For Godot) is a beautiful old place, reeking of history and grandeur. Alec Guiness performed here, as did JOhn Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman. Amazing history.
This version of Breakfast at Tiffany's is an adaption of Truman Capote's novella rather than taking its cues from the Audrey Hepburn movie, but it retains much of that movie's charm for those who haven't read the book.
Of course any adaption of Breakfast... stands and falls on the actress filling Holly Golightly's (doubtless expensive) shoes, and Anna Friel (whom I've long shamelessly lusted after) is more than capable. She's luminous and simmering with just the right amount of eroticism and charm to instantly illustrate why all the men in her world are falling over themselves to have her. Joseph Cross (who was in Milk, Flags of our Father's and Running With Scissors) is excellent too. He's very young and manages just the right balance of naievete and bitterness.
Of course, much of the publicity for the show has been focused on the fact that both Friel and Cross have scenes of nudity, and while I can take or leave the male nudity, it all feels fairly functional to the story. I admit, I may have pulled something in my eyes for the Friel nude scene as I was staring so hard, but Amanda was just glad I stayed in my seat and didn't start whooping.
Clearly it wasn't what some of the audience were expecting - a few people never came back after the interval. Perhaps they were expecting the light frothy romantic comedy of the film and not the rather darker, profanity littered story of the book.
But we loved it. It was well worth the trip down to London again to see such a high quality production. I just wish I lived a little closer; I think I could quite happily become a theatre buff if I did. We're back in November again for the (I'm guessing star-studded) closing night of La Cage Aux Folles and the Collectormania on the day after at Earls Court.


It's easy to take the genius of Pixar for granted. Every year or so, another movie comes out of their studios, and it's visually sumptuous, technically ground breaking and furnished with a script that is filled to the brim with wit and wonder and - most importantly - a very honest, human voice, untainted by the usual studio money-men and their regurgitated ideas. Pixar are all about craftmanship and creative courage. All the studios may be following in their footsteps, but really, Monsters vs Aliens, Cloudy, With A Chance of Meatballs and Ice Age 3 are nothing more than the warm up act for Pixar's newest, UP.

And while Pixar pretty much established the form of making movies for children which came smuggling all kinds of nods and winks and sly wit for the adults in the audience, with Up, they've broken their own rules and gone in a much more subversive direction. It still plays to the younger members of the audience of course, but from the first ten minutes of this beautiful film, it's clear that Pixar want to do more, reach further.

While Wall-E similarly played with the tropes of what a childrens' animated movie could do (and Wall-E for its first half was a majesterial, Kubrickian revelation, only slightly let down by its chase-filled second half), Up goes for the grown-ups throats from the off.

Putting aside the fact that Up has at its heart a bizarre Miyazaki-like character-driven story about Carl, an old man who uses a bundle of balloons to fly his house to the jungles of South America to accomplish the dream his late wife never had the chance to, this is an immensely moving piece of cinema about marriage and dreaming for someplace else.

The first five minutes which chronicle the lifetime of Carl and Ellie in a silent movie montage is hands-down one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking pieces of cinema you will see all year. It manages more emotion than most directors manage in their whole careers. The kids meet, grow into a teenage couple, they marry, buy the house they met in, work day jobs and dream of adventure in far-flung places, deal with the joys and tragedies of everyday life, then we watch them grow old, ending with Ellie's 'My Adventures' scrapbook still unfilled, dying and leaving Carl alone.
You could leave the cinema there and then and feel you'd got your money's worth.

Carl becomes a disgruntled old man, desperately clinging to his home in the face of property developers. When he's forced to give up the house and move to a retirement home, he decides to do what he and Ellie never got to do, and ties thousands of balloons to his house and sets sail for South America. And while what follows is naturally filled with the crowd pleasing Pixar fare such as a little boy-scout who happens to be on the front porch when Carl goes UP, talking dogs, mythical birds and an evil nemesis in the wilds of the South American jungle, the movie never loses sight of the huge heart of the story, and continues to wring every last drop of emotion of the journey Carl makes in memory of his wife. Seriously, certain scenes left pin-drop silence in the cinema we were in. Luckily we could all hide behind those 3D glasses.

And what 3D. Pixar have made the leap to that tech without pandering to all the usual in-your-face visuals that most of the current crop of 3D movies resort to. Instead UP is simply dripping with depth and colour and makes the absolute most of what 3D is capable of, and indeed simply becomes a tool to enhance the richness of the story. The moment that Carl's house lifts up into the sky and floats above the city is quite simply one of the most visually stunning things I've ever seen at the cinema.

Despite all this twenty-first century technical wizardry, Up is filled with a warm nostalgic glow that harkens back to the golden age of animation. But kids never had it this good; even the greatest Disney movies couldn't manage this level of laugh-out-loud wit, emotional honesty and sense of wonder. Absolutely perfect.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Death of Bunny Munro

Finished Nick Cave's second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro today. I zipped through it in a few days as its a pretty fast-paced read. Although it's full of Cave's trademark hellfire and brimstone, it's at heart the relatively small-scale odyssey of a door to door salesman who happens to also be a sex maniac. There's a rich seam of utterly absurd comedy as Bunny takes to the road with his ten year old son after his wife commits suicide. Bunny is a monster, of course; slowly going mad with visions of his dead wife and depraved fantasies involving Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne (whom Cave apologisesprofusely to in the acknowledgements), as well as having sex with every bored housewife he can lay his hands on. But Bunny is on the run from his life too, from the council flat his wife died in, from his dying dad and the responsibility of being a proper father to Bunny Jr.
As absurd and depraved as it gets (and it gets very depraved at times), it's also a deeply heartfelt and poignant book; utterly unsentimental but also quite moving. In many ways it's like one of Cave's better albums, able to se-saw through comedy, horror and sadness in the space of a few lines. It's one of those books that sticks around too; like a skewed version of the world that clings to you after the book is finished. Absolutely recommended.
And here below is an excerpt from YouTube of a Q&A he did in Montreal. This bit concerns his experience writing a script for Gladiator 2 (which he titled Christ-Killer). Absoutely hilarious. Would have been a whole lot better than the original film...

Friday, 16 October 2009

An update and some classic Waits

So, finally back from four weeks in the non-internet wilderness following my move next door. Without the internet I've managed to finally catch up with the first season of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, some Pushing Daisies and the third season of Dexter (which while the weakest season so far, does improve as it goes along. And season 4 is shaping up much more impressively with John Lithgow as the serial killer).
I've also been working my way through a splendid unauthorised biography of Tom Waits by rock journo Barney Hoskyns. It's spurred me onto filling the gaps in my Waits collection - Small Change, Foreign Affairs, One From The Heart - and it's also inspired my next bit of fiction, which'll be a full on noir tale with all the cliches included, and populated with some strange Waitsian characters.
So with that in mind, here's a very funny interview on Letterman, along with a blistering Make It Rain from Real Gone...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Cornwall Holiday Pictures Part Two and Three: St Ives, Lands End, Doctor Who Exhibition, Padstow and Tintagel Castle

After the Eden Project and various other little towns on day one, the sun really came out on day two and we headed down to St Ives, which is a beautiful little fishing village that Cornwall does really rather well. The beach was pretty crowded and we ventured out onto the sand so Amanda could paddle and I could take some photos of the boats, a few of which are reproduced here...
After that we drove down to Lands End via some seriously circutous small lanes, and before heading down to the coastal path, we had to take advantage of the Doctor Who exhibition there. We've done the Cardiff and Earls Court one, and this one held up pretty well in comparison. Some excellent exhibits there, including some Cyberman stuff from the last Christmas special, series four and crazy old Dalek Caan in an excellent Dalek room at the end. Here's some pics...

...and to Lands End. Despite the blue skies, it's seriously windy out there!
On day three we headed down to Padstow, home of chef, Rick Stein (whom I have no real knowledge of, but Amanda assured me he was a chef of note). Pretty little place, but not hugely exciting...

And then onto Tintagel, the village and castle being associated with the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. It's a beautiful little village, filled with tourists from all over the world, and although the trek down to (and back up from) the ruins of the castle is back breaking work, the view is dizzying; it's all sheer clifftops and wild landscape and roaring sea far, far below. Very windy, very knackering, but well worth the trip down the lost little lanes of Cornwall. I also got a cool dragons head for mounting on the wall (it'll make sense to those of you who visit the new Avery Towers in the near future).

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Cornwall Holiday Pictures Part One: The Eden Project

We had an excellent week away down in Cornwall last week, and I naturally took a shedload of pictures while we were down there so here's the first batch that cover what we did and where we went. The first day was the only overcast day. The rest of the week was all blue skies and ridiculously hot weather, so we were pretty lucky considering the usual state of the British weather! It being overcast we decided to head to The Eden Project as it's all pretty much undercover and, as one of the biodomes is of a tropical/rainforest kind of heat, the cooler it was outside, the more bearable it'd be inside! That said, it was still pretty heavy going, heat-wise, but was well worth the visit. The setting, even in the dense kind of fog that surrounded the area that day, was visually stunning. The domes themselves are strangely beautiful, alien things, and you really feel like you're stepping into some science fiction landscape. Here's some pics from the day. It was difficult to get clear pictures as the lens would mist over if you left it open for too long!
I liked this pic of 'The Seed', a structure in the central area, purely because it put me in mind of something from a Kubrick movie. It's about 20-30ft high, and again, feels deeply alien. Whoever comissions the art and sculptures at the Eden Project is someone after my own slightly twisted heart and mind. There's some splendidly weird stuff as a bonus to the spectacle of the biodomes.

And this was very cool. Constructed out of 'found items' such as washing machines, vaccum cleaners and PCs, it was a huge, huge structure that put me in mind of something from the heady days of 2000AD...
In the Mediterranean dome, my eye was caught by these stunning, almost Barker-esque sculptures by Tim Shaw of Bacchanal Dionysus rites - scenes of divine madness, possession, sacrifice and orgy. It didn't seem to find favour with the older folk in the dome, but I absolutely loved them, and gave me some ideas for my next novel which I'll be researching soon.
Next post will be St Ives and Land's End, which may contain scenes of a Doctor Who nature, as there was an exhibition that, being the geeks we are, we had to visit...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Ukraine Has Got More Talent...

This is really quite astonishingly good and puts to shame the standard of our variation on this show. Kseniya Simonova, the winner of Ukraine's Got Talent doesn't do dog tricks or karaoke versions of Mariah Carey songs. Instead, set to music, Simonova depicts - by drawing in sand - the invasion of Ukraine by Germany in World War II. And if that doesn't sound all that impressive, you'll change your mind pretty quickly. It's eight mesmerising minutes, ending with the message "you are always near." Watch it and despair at what Britain parades as 'talent' in these kind of shows...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

How I Met Your Mother Comes To E4

Mark it in your diaries: September 4th. The best US sitcom since Frasier is finally coming to the UK (albeit four seasons behind). After repeating Friends until I can just about quote every line of all ten seasons, E4 have finally bought How I Met Your Mother. BBC bought the first season a few years ago and killed it stone dead by showing it at 3 in the morning, and I only in the past year or so rediscovered it.
At first it seems like little more than a Friends clone, but by the end of season one, you will - I personally guarantee this - be utterly addicted and invested in the characters. It's frequently hilarious, always has a least one perfect quotable for the rest of the week moment, and, as it goes on becomes as perfectly poignant as Frasier used to be.
There are far too many highlights to name: The Slap Bet, The Bro Code, Marshall and Lily's wedding, Robin Sparkles...
And nothing can prepare you for Barney Stinson. He's Legen- wait for it - dary.
Here's a clip from one of my favourite episodes...


"Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she'd say: 'In this world, Elwood,' she always used to call me Elwood. 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you can quote me."
A story about an alcoholic dreamer with a giant invisible white rabbit as a friend. Sell that these days and think about all the ways that Hollywood could (and would) spoil it.
Luckily we'll always have Harvey, possibly James Stewart's finest hour (and considering his incredible career, that's really saying something), and one of the most gentle, magical, moving and downright luminous films ever made.
I don't need to say anything more about this film. I loved it as a child and, seeing it again tonight, I loved it even more. One of the most wonderful and beguiling movies ever made.
And Stewart's speech about sitting in a bar and meeting strangers is a sublime reminder for the creatively bankrupt movie makers of Hollywood about the power of words...

"Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, "We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella." Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us. "

Friday, 7 August 2009

John Hughes

I always thought John Hughes might have a classic comeback movie in him one day, but alas it's not to be. Despite some diminishing returns late in his career, he was nonetheless responsible for some classic comedy: The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Uncle Buck and National Lampoon's Vacation (both sublime comedy films in my estimation), She's Having A Baby (an often overlooked gem of a film) and Planes, Trains and Automobiles (which is one of those films that I could watch again and again.)
I can't think of a better tribute than a clip from my favourite Hughes movie.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To...

It's true. They really don't make them like they used to. After seeing some pretty lame fare (and to be honest, I can't even recall what it was that set me off) I decided that it was high time to go back and either rediscover some old classic movies that I'd seen as a young man (and probably didn't fully appreciate), or have my mind blown by one that I'd never managed to see.

I've devoted a shelf of late to these classics, as they've begun to monopolise my movie watching interests. Why sit down to something pedestrian and disappointing (as, lets be honest, is pretty much 90% of formulaic A to B to C modern movie making these days) when you can put on a movie starring Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn, and be pretty much 100% assured of a thumping good hour and a half?

I'm not going to review them in any great detail, as movies like these have pages and pages devoted to their charms in film theory books and websites already. So a list of the delights we've savoured over the past few weeks...
North By Northwest
There's a rapidly expanding place for Hitchcock movies on my shelf. I've already got the classic Hollywood era films - Rear Window, The Birds, the utterly sublime (and my personal favourite) Vertigo, Notorious (which is in the to-watch pile for the next week) and Psycho (which I just got hold of, and I simply could watch every day). But North by Northwest is one of Hitch's films that I never could get on with for some reason.
But having obtained it for a couple of quid this week off Amazon, and re-watching it, I realised two things: One: It's bloody awesome. Two: Cary Grant - they just don't make movie stars as luminous as him these days do they? and Three: I realised that whenver I'd seen it previously, I'd missed the first part of the movie and was always subsequently confused as to what the hell was going on. With this realisation out of the way, I sat back, enjoyed it and discovered it was easily up there with Hitch's greatest movies. It just glows with genius and Hollywood magic.
Doctor Zhivago
A confession: until last week I'd never seen a David Lean movie all the way through. I'd seen bits and pieces of Bridge On The River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Zhivago as a child, but never really had the patience for them. I was young and to be fair, they are all at least three days long. The Director's Cut of Lawrence of Arabia that I picked up last week will take you a fortnight to get through, and I'm only just joking. They're long.
But I set three hours aside last week and sat back with Doctor Zhivago, which of course, is sumptuous, sprawling and self indulgent. But those three hours simply fly by. Lean was a master craftsman. Even with a rather diluted view of Russian history in service to an epic love story, it's a quite staggering piece of cinema for its detail and period set-pieces. Julie Christie, Omar Shariff, Rod Steiger, Alec Guiness and Tom Courtney: five perfect reasons to watch this movie alone. Amazing. I felt richer for having seen it. And I bet you don't get that with Transformers: Rise of the Fallen...
Funny Face
Put an Audrey Hepburn film on and I'll be entertained for 90 minutes. I've had this one knocking around for a while, but hadn't quite had the enthusiasm for it as I'd had for Breakfast at Tiffany's or Roman Holiday (probably my favourite film of all time at this present moment) or Sabrina.
It's a musical for one thing. I'm not a huge fan of musicals but I'm warming to them slowly. And I'd never seen Fred Astaire in the proper sense. I'd seen bit and pieces of him with Ginger Rogers as a child, but never really seen his work.
But after seeing Funny Face, I'm getting closer to liking musicals. This is filled with exquisite Gershwin songs and quite simly stunning choreography. I knew Astaire could dance, but my god, I didn't realise just how good he was. Literally jaw-droppingly good. He makes Strictly Come Dancing pro's look like me dancing. Although he knocking on for 60, while Hepburn was in her 20's, they still manage to make this majestic musical comedy romance work, and work beautifully. An absolute feast for the senses.
The Third Man
Another movie that I knew all about but had never seen. I watched this last night, and the imagery is still swarming around my head. The greatest British movie ever made? Quite possibly. There are few films quite so noir as this one. Orson Welles has less than half of the movie in screentime, but his prescence fills the movie. His entrance is sublime movie magic. He's charm and reptile all rolled into one. The cinematography casts post-war Vienna in a nightmarishly angled light (or darkness) and the soundtrack of Anton Karas's zither is one of the absolute great soundtracks. Filled with tension and some sublime set pieces, this is absolutely the classic everyone says it is. Shame about the 90 minute documentary on the second disc though. It drags with a pretentious and ponderous weight. Everything that was said could have been said in 30 minutes.
Sunset Boulevard
Any student of cinema, amateur or otherwise, should point to Billy Wilder as one of the greatest (and subtly subversive) movie directors of all time.
Sunset Boulevard is generally regarded as the best film ever made about Hollywood. This story of a faded movie star and a struggling screenwriter is, like most of Wilder's work, absolutely timeless. He was a writer and director who was years ahead of his time. Consider a career that covers Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Sabrina, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard (to name but a few). This man was a genius. Everything I've seen of his stuns me, and he's beginning to woo me away from Hitchcock as the auteur to collect. Gloria Swanson ("I'm ready for my close-up") is a washed up actress, playing a washed up actress. Her servant is a washed up director playing a washed up director. And William Holden is a washed up actor, playing a washed up screenwriter (after being spurned by Audrey Hepburn, he turned to drink and barely recovered, save for this career defining performance). This Special Edition has some excellent docs and features on it too. Well worth a couple of quid off Amazon.
I haven't been keeping up with the blog of late as I'm still ploughing through the short novel I'm writing (150 pages and counting so far!), but I'll try to cover the next batch of movies I have waiting in the wings: Paris When It Sizzles, Notorious, Lawrence of Arabia, Eyes Without A Face, Brief Encounter, Charade and The Barefoot Contessa.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Death of Bunny Munro

This sounds fantastic. Nick Cave's new novel, The Death of Bunny Munro is to be released in September, and the man himself is doing a series of events comprising music and readings to promote it.

The Audiobook looks very interesting too, as it features a specially composed soundtrack by Cave and Warren Ellis, using a '3D Spatial mix'. The excerpts on the website sound cool. Very twisted black humour. Definitely one not to miss...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Definitely Maybe

I like the occasional romantic comedy every now and then, especially when they're as good as Definitely Maybe. Coming from the Working Title stable (Love Actually, Notting Hill etc) Definitely Maybe manages to side-step all those usual A-Z cliches of Rom-Coms, while still being sweet and funny and managing to tick all the boxes any casual film-goer would expect.
I've always been a fan of Ryan Reynolds, from way back in his sit-com days when he starred in a show called Two Guys and A Girl, which never really got a decent airing over here in the UK, and still hasn't ever seen a release on DVD anywhere. It started out as a Friends clone, but evolved into a very funny ensemble show, and also introduced the world to the charms of Mr Nathan Fillion. But Reynolds always stood out, and I expected him to have a huge movie career. But he's been saddled with some pretty shoddy vehicles over the years.
Definitely Maybe kind of slipped under the radar upon release, possibly due to its slightly-smarter-than-the-average-bear credentials. But it's an excellent film.
The story is mainly told in flashback, as Reynolds' daughter in the film (played by the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine's Abigal Breslin) quizzes him as to how he met his mother, who he’s in the process of getting a divorce from. Reynolds' tale follows three failed romances - with college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks), free spirit April (Isla Fisher), and ambitious intellectual Summer (Rachel Weisz) - and the film holds back on revealing the answer to its mysteries until pretty much the final reel.
It's not laugh out loud funny, but it carries a little more weight than your standard rom-com and by the end leaves you feeling that you've seen something with a little more substance than usual. The cast are excellent, particularly Isla Fisher, (who pretty much labours under the weight of being Sasha Baron Cohen's other half these days), and Reynolds repartee with Breslin is beautifully played. Kevin Kline (who plays an alcolholic writer also has a splendid part to play in the proceedings. It's unconventional, bittersweet and much, much better than you'd expect from the writer of Wimbledon and Bridget Jones 2. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Well, it might have taken three seasons (even if the last half of season two was rather good) but Torchwood has finally stepped out of the shadow of Doctor Who and become the show it always just needed some fine tuning to be.
Two episodes in and it's fast paced, witty and finally feels like a show that gives US TV a run for its money. It was a clever ploy by the Beeb to air the show on its flagship channel with the week long event that it deserves, and return the ubiquitous Mr Barrowman to what he does best: being killed multiple times and getting his arse out...
High points so far: the Torchwood-mobile being stolen by Chavs, the creepy Wyndham-esque WE ARE COMING, and the very funny WE WANT A PONY riff on it tonight, the scene between Jack and a daughter who looks older than he does, the regeneration of Jack in episode two, and the curious allure of Eve Myles running around with two guns...
A slightly Scooby-Doo escape in episode two did nothing to diminsh the fun of it all. It's hokum but it's utterly wonderful hokum.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

One Time Directors

A quick question for anyone who's out there. There's part of my current novella that involves a director who only made one film due to box office failure and critical indifference, and I was trying to compile a list of similar directors for inclusion in the story. Most cinephiles know about Charles Laughton and Night of the Hunter which failed mightily upon release, but is now generally regarded (rightfully) as a classic, but are there any others?
Any help would be gratefully received!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Lenka - The Show

Very much enjoying this lady's new album. In the vein of Regina Spektor (but with a dash of some world music influences), Aussie TV actress Lenka's The Show is a fabulously catchy summer record. The title song had featured on numerous adverts, and the video is suitably kooky. It's a crowded market these days (and I must admit there are too many crazy singer songwriter girls around these days), but this is fab.