2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

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2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

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Heart…

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The 5 Greatest (and Most Underappreciated) Christmas Movies of All-Time…

Merry Christmas movie house!

It’s almost Christmas and Christmas means cramming in as many Christmassy films as possible before Boxing Day. (As if you had time… but you can make time and you have to make time because it’s Christmas, y’know?) Ho ho, yes! ‘Tis the season to screen festive flicks and laugh (and cry) all over them for the 542nd time.

Christmas looks a bit like this. It's being consumed by film...

Christmas looks a bit like this. It’s being consumed by film…

Swept up in the spirit of the season and the timely moment, people and media outlets have been sharing their own personal ‘Best Christmas Films Ever’ lists. As you’d expect, the usual suspects – The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf, Home Alone, Die Hard, that one where Jimmy Stewart is suicidal – are all there decking the Halls of Fame and ringing jingle bells. I really like those films, but I’ve found that I have a couple of problems as I browse through these lists.

Firstly, can we count Edward Scissorhands as a Christmas movie? (Yes, we can and yes I will and I’m going to cry either way.) Secondly, why do people always bring the same movies to the conversation and, indeed, to the DVD player every single year? It’s true that the aforementioned seasonal staples are classics but I feel that there are other ‘Tinselflick’ works out there worthy of mention. Thinking beyond the mainstream, there are a few long-forgotten festive treasures that are widely unseen, underappreciated and unloved.

This then is my alternative ‘Top 5 Christmas Movies’ list. It’s good for hipster-types, for arthouse afficionados, for serious film buffs or for anybody who wants to try something a bit different with their family this Christmas.  Without any further ado, here are the cult crackers I’m putting forward for your consideration…

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Thoughts about Time: a Hot Mess and a Fluid Thing That May Not Be an Actual Thing…

I’m going to write about ‘Time’. (I am writing about ‘Time’. I have written about ‘Time’.) Time is a hot mess. It is, it always has been and it always will be.

Time perturbs me. It’s always all over the place, running around with knives and scissors screaming “I happened! I am happening! I am going to happen!” Really though? I’m not convinced. Time doesn’t know what is in itself and – for all the havoc it’s causing and attention that it’s trying grab – it may not even actually be a real thing.

I’ve been thinking about Time a lot lately, just as I think a lot about things that possibly aren’t real. Last night the clocks went back and we slipped into Greenwich Mean Time (and oh it is so mean, bringing Winter back again and why they Hell would I want Winter? What am I meant to do with Winter?). I was asleep so didn’t consciously experience the timeslip while my senses were engaged. How do I truly know that it happened then? How can I be completely sure that Europe dialled back an hour while I was in bed?

The clocks tell us that it’s a particular point in Time, but clocks can’t tell the Time themselves. Clocks are mechanical devices that lack sentience, except the clocks that are connected to advanced hyperintelligent supercomputers and that clock over there that has been possessed (the exorcism is scheduled for Wednesday). What if I approached a clock and re-adjusted it so that instead of, say, 08:34 it read 19:22? How about 11:11, 12:51 or 21:12?

I can have some fun playing with clocks (generally un-fun) and change the Time so that it’s a reference to a rock song but the changed Time wouldn’t be the accurate, genuine Time. Then again, what makes the Time right now the accurate, genuine Time? It was decided that last night Time would go back one hour and I still, in my ignorance, don’t have a solid grasp of who decided that or why. (To give people an extra in bed? So cow-farmers can see the udders they are pulling when they wake in the morning? So we have more excuses to jump into a spontaneous rendition of the Time Warp?)

Of course, Greenwich Mean Time is a human-made type of time tied into what is only one of a number of possible artificial calendars (others aside from the Western/Gregorian – like the Chinese, North Korean JucheMayan and Babylonian – are available and probably not fit for your imminent needs). All these calendars and notions of timezones and systems were created by people (or ancient gods). They are artificial installations, and that once again leads me to question the whole dubious notion of Time, however we conceive it or record it.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. So on, so on with all these human-made units designed to mark out the immense thing (non-thing?) that is (is not?) Time. Are these units just there to provide structure and systematic shape to something that is intangible and possibly unreal? Is this just another expression of our collective neurotic need to categorise and label everything? Are we clinging so hard to this possibly-fake notion because we can’t comprehend and stand the mindblowing prospect of complete chaos and absolute freedom from regulated order? Is this just an elaborate means of trying to enforce meaning onto a Universe that may in fact be meaningless?

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All About the Red Planet: Getting My Ass to Mars…

Mars! Yeah, MARS. The Red Planet rocks and is having a bit of a moment right now so let’s all be slightly awestruck and look to its immense ochre majesty

They’ve discovered that there’s water on Mars! They’ve released a movie about Matt Damon getting stuck on Mars! They’re getting nostalgic and remembering classic Martian literature! Me? I’m wearing my ‘Get Your Ass to Mars’ t-shirt , singing the Martian Song in twilight car parks and trying to get my ass to Mars. In reality, this mission isn’t making much progress but in my mind I’m bare-naked and bouncing about the canyons of Barsoom like John Carter. I just leaped over a minor Martian mountain and beat up sixteen Tharks bare-handed so, yeah, take that reality…

Anyway, I’m all about Mars right now. With the release of The Martian on my mind I wrote a fresh article on space movies and loneliness for the Den of Geek website. It talks about isolation and how sci-fi films are really good vessels for exploring the theme and feelings of solitude and if that sounds interesting to you, the link is there.

Otherwise, still contemplating space and Mars, I ended up creating the following epic miniature doodle. When I get into these things I kind of get carried away and start meditatively inking and then next thing I’m scribbling out the entire cosmos…

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Mars…

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I’m now going to go back to my fantasies of being a naked superhuman warrior on Mars. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with more stories and stuff (and probably some bruises on my ass).

 

Returning Home So I Can Return to Italy…

Allora, ragazzi! I’m back home. You may remember that I left home to go back to Italy for a month. That month has now passed so, yeah, ecco! I’m here to drink proper tea, watch Jurassic World (dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs! Yay!) and get my regular, essential Captain America-style supersoldier serum shot. (Last time I got said shot I was in Italy and it was delivered by J.K. Simmons’ Italian doppelgänger in a twilight mystery district of Milano and it was an unnerving and absurdist affair conducted without any word of English and I had the disturbing sense that I’d stumbled into a mildly-harrowing Coen Brothers movie. When we’re talking about sticking needles in my arse I think, yes, this time I’d rather go and see my local GP.)

Anyhow, home is nice, home comforts are nice and these things are all good but, hey, I miss Italy. As ever I had a blast and highlights include *clears throat*: visiting and catching up with old friends; making new friends; rocking another all-singing-all-dancing English-language summer camp in Torino and drawing for children and acquiring a fan club at that camp; going to Verona for the first time on a bro-trip with my, erm, bro; enjoying the treasures of Torino all over again; seeing the Shroud of Turin (so, in effect, seeing Jesus); pizza; and so much more in the brilliant heat alongside brilliant people.

It was beautiful, and because I’m missing it all already I’m going to head back next week and enjoy summer in Italy some more. I feel that this trip was cut too short and I’m missing too many things and have left too many things behind (for one, my favourite t-shirt, left behind in Torino) so I’ve got to go back. Then when I return I’m going to get on with working up some creative action and I’m amped to do that. I have some ideas…

I’ll be thinking over those ideas in Italy, but before I bugger off again I’ll put up a blogpost chronicling my daily lunchtime diary doodles from summer camp in the coming days. Also, while I was away this article I wrote on Mad Max: Fury Road – a gushing lovefest exploring the masterpiece’s inspiring philosophy and empowering nature – went live on Den of Geek. It may be of interest. More things that may be of interest will be written up and doodled up in the near future.

For now, though, bear with me because Italy is calling and my soul is yearning and I’ve got to return to the place from whence I recently came. Once more, here’s to Italian summer adventures and la dolce vita. Again then, andiamo

Hooked on a Feeling: Marvel Movies and My Emotions…

Feelings. Feelings, friends. Aaawww. I have so many feelings and they all fight each other in a forest of confusion fogged by the mists of memory, grappling with artificial intruders and elusive subtle intelligences and secret agendas that I may not consciously be aware of. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s going on or who’s winning. Still, the soundtrack is stirring, the images are moving and it feels quite dramatic in here. Hey! I’m having fun!

It’s just like the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, really. Speaking of which, I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron the other day and had an absolute blast. It was a great experience both because of the film itself and because I was actually going to the cinema. I’ve been enjoying this strange old-familiar phenomenon of being able to trip off to the flicks whenever I please after not having that luxury while living in Milan.

In further film-related news, it’s also been good to get back to Den of Geek writing and, with Age of Ultron coming around and my mind occupied by Marvel heroes, I wrote a piece on the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recommend you read it if you’re interested in these movies or want to see me crying about how much I love fictional characters.

Awww, feelings. Empathy. Emotional content. Here’s to great art that touches our minds, bodies and souls. Thus, I leave you with a timely bonus sketch of Shakespeare and the Hulk. Onward and upward, true believers, and onward and upward with a whole lot of heart. Excelsior…

Kill, Kill, Natural Born Killer! A new chooseable path adventure…

Slash! Bang! Crack! Other assorted action noises, followed by signs of damage, destruction and grim bloody death! I’m doing some horrible things and will be doing some horrible things and here are fresh details…

I’ve launched a new blog and this here is the blog: ‘So, who do you want Nina Desai to kill next?‘ It’s a choose-your-own-adventure-style story about a natural born killer named Nina Desai and I intend to add something to it on a daily (or quasi-daily) to stimulate my writing and imaginative muscles and have some creative fun.

I like this kind of storytelling and always have a blast when I mess around with it (like when I’ve employed it in teaching English to Italian kids or when I’ve collaborated on The Working Barbarian saga). This particular character and kick is also inspired by my love for movies about lonely assassins and sociopathic avenging angels (both the sublime and the ridiculous and both at the same time, from Lady Snowblood and Branded to Kill to Lèon and The American to Kill Bill, Hanna and The Equalizer and so on, so on as the bodies stack up). I saw John Wick the other night and it reminded me of that fondness and fascination, so I decided “Yeah, I want to playfully pay tribute to the genre and write my own silly sprawl about someone who just kills and kills and kills and kills!” That someone is Nina Desai, and you can get her introduction by reading this first instalment.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s the charm and challenge of a creative project like this. I also figure it’s a good idea to dabble in different, more ‘mature’ material after focusing solely on child-friendly fare for several months. Please, don’t hesitate to pitch in – either by commenting on the posts, hitting me up on Twitter or sending me an email – so I can keep it going and hopefully write some absurd action scenes and glorious fictional deaths. Because I’m a despotic control freak who likes to maintain a veneer of democracy, the most popular choice (or the only response) will be the one I follow. I urge you to abuse your power and I hope you enjoy this fresh chooseable path adventure/distraction/writing exercise. As for me, I’m writing ridiculous ultraviolence, so I’m definitely enjoying it…

Saying Goodbye to the Cinema for Some Time…

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Cinemagoer smiles…

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Movies! I love ’em and I write about them. Some writing about movies would be this week’s Den of Geek column: an exploration of the Taken movie series in which I discuss the films’ thematic concerns with wish-fulfilment and how they expound the ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ maxim. There’s also some stuff about vigilante cinema and a few photos of Liam Neeson looking moody as a bonus.

And that’s that. There’ll be no more Den of Geek articles for a while. That makes me a bit sad because I like writing Den of Geek articles full of personal gushing, offbeat references and spurious film theory. “Why no more?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you why: in a shade under a fortnight I’m flying off to lands afar and that means that I probably won’t be able to turn in a weekly piece. Even if I could find the time and space to knock out columns, they probably wouldn’t be very relevant because I’m going to be out of the moviescene loop and not watching a lot of new films.

If I find good Italian cinemas that put on VO (versione originale) screenings in Milano (that’s where I’m going) then I will be catching a few fresh blockbusters. In spite of that, I know I’m not going to be getting to the pictures as much and I’ve absorbed the idea that it could be an age before I sit in a cinema again. I take on that kind of view every time I go away to Italy for an extended period and it’s totally cool. I’m not hurt or damaged in any way and, if anything. “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.* Even so, the basic notion of ‘you ain’t going to the cinema, man’ is a bit of an odd one to my mind – a mind conditioned by habit and that’s heavily shaped by years of cinematic obsession.

Right now – less than a fortnight from departure – I’m in a weird place where everything feels extra significant and where I’m really savouring everything I’m about to leave for a while (stuff that just isn’t in Italy). That includes and is not limited to my family (available on Skype), British accents and dialect and curry. Movies are also a really important, ritualised thing to me so I’m currently cramming in as many visits to the cinema as possible before I go for months without frequenting any moviehouses.

Altogether, I could be missing very many awesome films set to come out soon so I’ve inured myself to the hype, excitement and intensive interest. I’m now only really psyched about the films I’m going to see before I travel, plus Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I hope to catch) and Star Wars VII at Christmas (which I will catch ’cause nothing is going to keep me away from Star Wars and I will move planets to catch it on the first day). It’s not so bad, because I’ve already seen the film of the year (Birdman) and because I’ve got great real-life adventures to occupy my imagination (an imagination that relies on very-regular cinema trips for stimulation). If it comes down to a crude choice of ‘La Dolce Vita in Italia for Real’ and ‘Escapism and Fictional Friends For a Couple Of Hours in a Dark Theatre’ I’ll take the former, ta muchly. Still, I’m going to miss getting my movie fix (and my family and the sound of British speech and curry).

So yeah: that’s a cinema aficionado, film studies student and obsessed movie geek saying “Goodbye, darling!” to one of his favourite things for a while. These things aren’t hardship or epic tragedies or anything like that. If anything, it just re-enforces that you should appreciate what you have and live in the moment. I’ll now wrap this up and appreciate the moments I have left in the UK. Some of those moments will be in the cinema…

* Get me when I’m feeling really maudlin and I’ll tell you about the time I was stuck in hospital and couldn’t get out to the cinema then finally got out to the flicks and cried all the way through Real Steel because it was just the most beautiful experience…

2014: Cue the Upbeat, Uptempo Montage Moving Through My Year Gone Past…

It’s the end of the year! So there! Yeah! 2014, then -. thanks, ta-ra. Aww, but I feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing to just skip on into the shiny/shitty future without noting its passing and pondering a (short, very short) moment on the past twelve months. I don’t really want to dwell on things and get caught up in zeitgeist ectoplasm and retrospective navel-gazing so I’m going to fly through it in an upbeat, uptempo montage. Cue the montage…

*OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA. OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA…*

(… and I’ve filmed everything in Dutch angles so we’re all anxious and on edge, ’cause this is the age of being-on-edge and anxiety…)

Hey! I am James Clayton and I am moving through space-and-time-and-emotions-and-ideas. Pleasure, pain, ups, downs, upside-downs, down-upsides, maybe-sideways. Uncertainty, near-certainty, false-certainty. Something of nothings and nothings that might actually be something. Ambiguity and ambivalence. No, I don’t know. Really, I’m very lost and reckon (hope?) that time and, in fact, the entirety of existence is an illusion. Even so, conventional time-comprehension and the calendar says that we’ve been going through 2014. What happened? The following things happened, in no particular order. (A lot of current affairs and huge real-world socio-politico-economic things occurred, flamed and roared over. They’re all rounded up, reacted to and wrestled with elsewhere. A lot of those things make us sad and angry, so I’m going to stay in my ludicrous world of 2014 for this, pausing only to say that’s its not as ludicrous as Kim Jong-un’s. Hey Little Kim! You ludicrous, man!)

Personal shenanigans: I wrote some things, doodled some bits ‘n’ bobs, ran a few month-long projects here and there and daydreamed a lot. Things I wrote and doodled went up on the internet and in zines but the best stuff is still in my head. Alternate reality incarnations also unleashed groundbreaking epics and art masterpieces but I’m playing catch-up to those guys (Yeah, they see me comin’). Lots of stuff on the internet, and then I flip between my things and the fog of information, disinformation, Wikipedia entries and basketball highlights reels. The pixels burn me out a bit, cyberspace seethes, the Twitter stream turns into a steaming torrent and portals on Facebook show me prettier pictures of places that seem more appealing. Andiamo! Adventure! Go travel…

I discover Dublin this year, find solace in a Shropshire countryside writing retreat and dig London again during the annual videogame convention bro-trip. The most epic adventure, however spans the summer and takes me further afield. I jump on a plane and then I jump on another plane to go back to and, again, go back to Italia. Lo adoro – è il luogo dove il mio cuore è. Italian friends old and new. Refamiliarised with familiar places and enjoying an array of new cities and experiences. I realise that I have a spread network of extended families for life and I feel alive, connected and soul-fulfilled. And then there are all the old and new friends from all over the world and we’re all brought together and share the sacred summer camp tutor bond. (It is sacred. We have rituals, shared hallucinations and an unshakable faith and sense of vocation.) It’s all-singing, all-dancing, educational entertainment English-teaching action. It’s fun and games and frustration and trauma and battle scars and war with demonic bambini. It’s physical and mental exhaustion but it’s also triumph and exhilaration and it’s the greatest time of my life. This summer was the best summer, so grazie.

Away from the best place with the best people, best food and best quality of life (yeah I’m in love), the other most-excellent stuff is culture. A vast celluloid sea of supreme movies inspired many smiles, many tears, many emotional and cerebral moments in the dark space of the cinema. Oh my Godzilla: Inside Llewyn Davis; Her; erm, Godzilla; Guardians of the Galaxy; Boyhood; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Nightcrawler; The Babadook; Pride; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; FuryThe Raid 2; Black Sea; The Double; Calvary; Only Lovers Left Alive; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Lego Movie; 12 Years a Slave; and so many more to make this movie-maniac go wild over and over. There are too many genuinely awesome films, so I have less time and inclination to watch much TV. The most terrific telly is Cosmos and BBC documentaries in my 2014.

There are also lots of books and comics, but they’re mostly old books that weren’t published in 2014. Fresh music moving me most would be Monster Magnet Milking the Stars and Weezer telling me that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. “EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIIIIIIIIGHT… IN THE EHHH- EEEEEEHNNNND!” Now I’m dancing and all the freak misfits of the galaxy are having an empathetic moment where we realise that we’ve been losers and been through some noxious crap but that, hey, we’re okay. We’ve grown and we’ve learned some things. We’re better for the experience. We’re moving forward together into the future, ’cause we’re slightly crazy, cosmic quirky heroes hooked on a feeling and high on believing…

I think that’s what I’m taking from 2014. Am I forgetting a lot of things? (most definitely yes) What did it all mean? I’m not really sure and I don’t really care anymore, to be honest. I’m already in 2015. See you there, in the future. TO THE FUTURE!

*blows a kiss to 2014. Love you and remember you always, sugar…*

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Saying "Bye!" and jumping off 2014…

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A Whole Hock of Halloween Horror…

Hail hail! Happy Halloween! I hope you’re enjoying your All Hallow’s Eve however you’re choosing to mark it and that this finds you in good spirits (possibly with good spirits. Or maybe by now you are a good spirit. Or the spirits could be bad and, if that’s the case, I can come of over tomorrow morning to perform the necessary exorcisms. I can do that for you. Yes, I can…)

Anyhow, here are a few timely tricks and treats to commemorate the occasion. I’ve now finished my month-long sketch kick which was Schlocktober Horror and the whole rogue’s gallery of grim entities and monstrous beings can be found on my sketch blog or on my Instagram feed. They may raise a few chuckles or chills down your spine. Feel free to steal my ideas and turn them into successful trash horror film franchises (I’m really looking forward to seeing ‘The Mixtape That Should Have Been Left Behind: The Movie’.)

Elsewhere, I figured that my Friday Den of Geek column this week would be a Halloween special and I thought about the pop cultural things that unnerve me the most. Ultimately I worked out that that was H.P. Lovecraft so I spent the best part of the past fortnight re-reading a whole load of Lovecraft ’cause I love, love, love Lovecraft and I’m a guy who loves to freak himself out. As a result I have been extra-disturbed lately (damn you Howard Philips!) but the outcome is an article on one of my favourite authors for Den of Geek with ideas about how some of his best stories could be adapted as feature-length movies…

And that’s not all fiends, erm, friends. Tonight I’m going to dress up (read: attack myself with hairwax and eyeliner) and head out into the night to Blackburn (’tis a very scary place) for rock ‘n’ roll radio action. Instead of doing what I normally do on Halloween (confusing kids who’ve never encountered anyone in drag or anyone who wants to talk to them about H.P. Lovecraft instead of giving them sweets) I’m going to be making one of my occasional ‘guest‘ appearances on BBC Radio Lancashire‘s FNAT show. Tune in from 10pm until 1am (or later on on the iPlayer) if you want to listen to an eclectic rock music mix and irreverent rambling. I intend to force a lot of seasonally-suitable metal on proceedings…

*waves hands, secret signs* As you were. Enjoy and have a very Happy Halloween… *sound of membranous flapping wings*

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Schlocktober Horror no. 31: Halloweenzilla… #Schlocktober

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Travelling Back Through Time to the Temple of Doom…

“Okey dokey, Dr. Jones! Hold on to your potatoes!” And your hat. Oh, and your heart as well. You wouldn’t like it if someone else got a hold of it…

Let’s roll, ideally in a runaway mine cart. 30 years ago this week, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom hit movie theatres. To commemorate this milestone anniversary, Paul Bullock – the man behind the brilliant From Director Steven Spielberg archive website – is hosting Temple of Doom week. He put out a call for thoughts on the movie and, because I love it and got caught up in sweet nostalgia just recalling the second Indy film, I duly responded with an enthusiastic email.

Paul has, very kindly, taken those transcribed thoughts and uploaded them on to the blog as part of the celebration. You can read my reflections by heading over to the site and I hope people enjoy them or, perhaps, are moved to re-appraise Temple of Doom. I’m very happy to have been able to make a small contribution to an excellent blog that I recommend to all cinema aficionados. Paul’s devotion is amazing and I’m in awe of the hard-work he continues to put into building and curating his free online archive of all-things Spielberg-related.

Roll on, and here’s to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Oh, and here’s also to Dr Jones holding on to his potato…

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"Okey dokey Dr. Jones! Hold on to your potatoes!"

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Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Black Bella Donna’…

Time marches on and March is almost over so it’s high time I got the monthly Pictonaut short story challenge out of my system. It is now out of my system but first, the fundamentals. At the beginning of every month, the most rawksome Steeley John throws down the following challenge: “See this picture? Write a short story about it. You’ve got around 30 days. Do it.” I do do it, and I’ve duly done it this month. For March 2014’s challenge, Mr Steele selected the following photograph taken by an enigma named An Nguyen or Pournoirr

An evocative black-and-white photograph by An Nguyen…

Looking at this picture I got vibes and a drive to tell a certain type of story. This photo whispered to me and it whispered “Giallo“. The decor suggested Italy, the clothing suggested fashion and that also suggested Italy. There’s also something cinematic about this monochrome scenario and I felt stirrings of vintage art film in here. Hey, that also makes me think of Italy! Altogether, thoughts blended together and I came to the conclusion: “I want to dabble with something a bit sinister and tell a short tale that channels Giallo“. So that’s what I attempted to do, even though I’m in no way a great expert on Giallo – an Italian film and literature genre that revolves around crime, mystery and sometimes the supernatural. With films like Dario Argento‘s Profondo Rosso and Mario Bava‘s Blood and Black Lace on my mind, I set to work.

In the end, the various ideas I started typing up got rejected in favour of a different story and then they were subsequently also switched aside. Finally I stuck with a particular premise – partly influenced by the ethereal kitchen sink sci-fi art movie Under the Skin – and turned that into a rough ‘first draft blast’ short script. It’s the opening sequence of an imaginary film titled Black Bella Donna and, though it’s formatting ain’t quite proper, ideally it gives you a feel for what I’m picturing in my head and sets up some beguiling mystery. I hope you enjoy it or find it in some way interesting and perhaps, after reading, are intrigued to watch the rest of a vintage, arty chiller that doesn’t exist but if it did it would have been made on the cheap in Italy in 1974. You can read Black Bella Donna‘s opening here

Adele Dazeem and Flash Fiction Inspired by the Oscars…

The 86th Academy Awards ceremony happened the other night. As ever, the event was an odd affair that leaves me ambivalent. I like the celebration of cinema, the lauding of great movies and the heartfelt and inspiring speeches of humbled performers who deserve accolades. I don’t like the fact that – unlike the BAFTAs – the Oscars feel drawn out and, bizarrely enough, badly co-ordinated and stage-managed. There’s very little in the way of zip and energy. It’s a long trawl through awkward tumbleweed moments and a whole lot of self-awareness. All the hype and A-list glamour just adds to the peculiarity of the whole shebang. Of course, it gets even weirder when really odd stuff happens…

Ellen DeGeneres ordered some pizzas and took some selfies and I guess ‘Oscar host turns into a stereotypical 15-year-old’ is a bit unusual but, really, I’m not impressed. Matthew McConaughey’s full-on Southern preacher acceptance speech was way further out there but the stand-out weird moment of this year was undoubtedly John Travolta’s introduction of Idina Menzel ahead of her performance of “Let It Go” from Frozen. Travolta’s baffling mispronunciation spawned an online meme frenzy. Worse news: it inspired me to blast out some flash fiction in honour of Adele Dazeem. Here is that very short piece of writing for your consideration…

Academy Award Disappointment for Adele Dazeem

Her cell phone rings. She looks at the screen and sees Max’s fizzog. She doesn’t want to answer.

She really doesn’t want to answer.

She answers. Fuck it.

Yeah?

Adele! Honey! Hey, how ya doin’?

That sigh says it all, “honey”. Urgh.

Awwww, c’mon, hon… aaaaah, did you, ahhh, tune in?

She gulps. Yeah…

She said she wasn’t going to tune in.

She tuned in anyway.

So? he inquires, cautiously.

So… the sigh is heavier and soaked in sadness.

She’s hurting.

She’s hurting so bad.

She was good, huh? I mean, sure she’s Idina Menzel and she put on a good show but nowhere near what you’d-a brought to the party. I suppose folks are happy, what with her singin’ it in the movie an’ all but, hey, the whole shebang was a real drag, anyhow…

There is sorrow in the silence and, sensing it, he stops. Max figures himself as an empathetic guy. It’s why his clients like him, he tells himself.

Listen, Adele. Hon, sugar, it’s… it’s okay…

It’s not frickin’ okay, Max, she says choking back bitter tears, her tender eye stinging as she does so.

Well, what I mean, is ahhh, at least he still said your name! That’s somethin’ right? John Travolta said your name, honey!

It was my night, Max. It was my moment and that moment is gone. Forever.

Awwwww, there’ll be other times! You bet your last nickel there will! I can guarantee it!

No, Max. I’m not sure there will be and I don’t care anyway. I wanted my time to be last night and it was taken away from me.

Awww, sugar, these things happen. How is the eye, anyhow?

She’s too choked up to answer. Truth is it’s real bad. It’s swelled up terribly and the discharge is just gross. It’s hurting, but not as much as her pride.

Awww hell Adele! Damn that pink eye! I tell ya, it’s just the worst luck! The worst, worst luck, honey!

You’re tellin’ me, Max…

But, you know, it ain’t the end of the world, hon. You’re sick now but… you’ll get over it soon enough…

Okay, she’s heard enough.

Shit Max, don’t start with any of your ‘better luck next time’ crap ’cause I can’t take it now. I am sick, I am devastated and I’ve had the greatest moment of my life ruined by frickin’ conjunctivitis.

Hey hey, hon! Easy! I know it feels bad right now but, y’know, don’t get upset! Calm! Calm! Let it go…

Adele Dazeem hangs up and the tears stream and stream. The weeping will go on and on and the inflamed eyelid will carry on stinging like a bitch and the hurt will throb on forever.

Forever until she can let it go…

Valentine’s Day, Lonely Hearts and Timely Tragic-Romantic Links…

The Little Lonely Heart on Valentine’s Day…

Hot damn! (or “damn hot, yes you are!”) It’s Valentine’s DayTo celebrate this I produced a few things related to V-Day, love and romance and put ’em up on the internet. With love, I gave them to thee whoever ye be. They all went live this morning but I’m going to bring ’em all together in a harmonious promo blogpost. I may get a little more love by doing this and really, as a lonely man on Valentine’s Day, I think I need some more love

*Sad face and silent, pathetic weeping…*

But, hey! Valentine’s Day! In an alternate reality, the censorious Cuban government has removed the erotic romance works of bisexual poet Jorge Ignacio Bello from the banned literature list so that’s nice. I also spent a lot of time doodling squigglies for the above sketch of the Little Lonely Heart while cranking the mushy mixtape of the most melancholy, most achey-breaky heart music I could find. I, of course, sang along. It was like beautiful meditative creative karaoke

The final, most vital thing though is this week’s Friday Den of Geek film column. In it I discuss Valentine’s Day, look ahead to seeing the Spike Jonze film Her on Valentine’s Day and then explore romance and love in the dehumanised 21st century. It gets very bleak but the really good news is that I did go and see Her today and found it to be a moving, transcendental experience. It’s beautiful in so many sublime ways and I urge people to see it if they get the opportunity.

That is all. I will now sign off with a bad Valentine’s Day poem and go and find something (nec)romantic to do. The spirits of a lot of passionate, beautiful-but-long-dead people are in the aether just waiting to be channelled, y’know…

I hope it’s not true,

That romance ain’t dead,

Violets are blue,

Roses are red.

I don’t think I understand conventional romance. Ah well. Happy Valentine’s Day… *mwah mwah mwahs…*

Frankenkittie and Film Columns on Frankenstein and Cats…

Oh meow, it’s alive, it’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!

This is Frankenkittie. He’s like Frankenweenie but he’s a dog and he’s not as amiable and affectionate and fronted his own movie yet. Cold-hearted composite cat corpse brought back to life by diabolical electric eel bath science magick? Hmmm. There might not be a multibillion dollar multimedia franchise in this critter after all…

Regardless, what Frankenkittie can do is act as a coherent tie-in to a couple of columns I’ve written for Den of Geek recently. They may be of interest to people who like cats and Frankenstein so I’ll plug them again here.

Last week’s article explored the undying popularity of the Frankenstein story and studied the psychological reasons for its resonance with audiences and repeated adaptation across various media forms. Comments section reviews: “Great article, thank you” and “I like these articles you do dog.

The week before’s article was all about cats and searched out great movie moggies while wondering if the star feline of Inside Llewyn Davis could shift my indifference to the species. Comments section review: “This article was so mind-numbingly trivial I actually physically felt my mind softly disconnect from my eyes about halfway through.”

Meow. Or woof, ’cause a commenter called me “dog” and I write for DoG and the comments section is more enthusiastic when I’m not writing about cats. Something like that. Anyway, they’re there to read and a fresh new column goes live every Friday. I will now finish this promo post and go back to drawing up plans for my next pretty-unoriginal, wholly-unnatural creation that may subsequently spawn a massive franchise of movies, comic books and fast-food chains. Fear the name, ‘Franken-Centaur’!