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

Italy has my heart and soul in a spaghetti tangle grip and is pulling me back…

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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…

Saying Goodbye to the Cinema for Some Time…

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…

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*

Schlocktober Horror no. 31: Halloweenzilla… #Schlocktober

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Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Blissful Existence Beneath the Meru Mountain Complex, Brought to You By Moksha-Co. International’…

Say, I think it’s time I shared some science fiction visions. Yes, I shall, because I have sci-fi visions but I’ll come to those in a second. First, let me break down some details and set up the framework on which I will stick some ideas and sticky creative writing bits…

Here’s what happens: every month, the most excellent Generalissimo John Steele sets a short story writing challenge. This is the Pictonaut challenge and the gist is “See this image? Write something inspired by it, around a thousand words in length, okay?” It is okay and I do this every month because I like a challenge and it’s a nice creative exercise that sometimes yields interesting results. April’s Pictonaut image was particular interesting and really stimulated my mind. The chosen inspiral picture was a piece titled Relay by the artist Steve Renn

A high-priest of hi-tech by Steve Renn…

I like this picture and it speaks to me (and it speaks in an eerie hushed whisper). It has science fiction and it has a figure meditating and thus it combines technology with spirituality and grooves with a lot of topics I’m fascinated by and that I debate with myself. Occasionally, I try and write about these topics to articulate all those inner philosophical dialogues – like in last week’s Den of Geek column on Transcendence and the notional uploading of human consciousness into the non-organic state of an artificial intelligence.

Coming back to the challenge at hand, though, this month’s Pictonaut challenge gave me a chance to ruminate on these things that concern me and attempt to distill ’em into a blast of flash fiction. I have difficult dilemmas. Conundrums like: ‘Can technology improve our wellbeing and elevate us to a more enlightened, advanced state, mind, body and soul?‘; ‘Can I harmoniously follow Zen Buddhist philosophies and function in the modern materialist world?‘; ‘Do technological self-help and wellbeing solutions commodify the human soul?‘; ‘Will there ever come a time when transcending mundane existence and the suffering of this world and the past and so on becomes more imminently achievable for regular folk?‘ There are more but I’ll spare you and save ’em up for face to face convserations because spending all this time staring at a computer screen and asking the indifferent artificial face of the internet all these techsistential questions is turning into a dehumanising downer…

So then, sci-fi and some thoughts around technology and spirituality. In the end, my Pictonaut effort for April 2014 is more of an exploration of an idea – a speculative utopian/dystopian vision – than an actual story. Feel free to read it and see what you think. I hope it stimulates you in some way and I’ll leave it to you to appreciate as you see fit – here is the short creation that I’ve titled Blissful Existence Beneath the Meru Mountain Complex, Brought to You By Moksha-Co. International

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’!

Facing Up to Bleak Films and Historical Atrocities on Screen…

The Den of Geek website took a more-than-well-deserved Christmas holiday and that meant I didn’t offer up a weekly film column for a few weeks. That holiday has passed, however, and the Geek Den is now fully-operational. Thus, I’m back with my first article of 2014: a look ahead to some of the depressing films due in UK cinemas in January and February. We’re in ‘Serious & Sombre Season’ which coincides with Awards Season and that means that a lot of heavy duty, heartbreakingly bleak and weighty movies are appearing on screens. You can read the column for extra thoughts and a look forward to some interesting-albeit-unhappy-looking pictures if you like…

As an extra note, I did get to see 12 Years a Slave (one of the films on the bleak-list) the other night. I’d urge others to seek it out at the cinema if possible because I think it’s important and stands as an artwork that needs to be experienced. That experience is a very unpleasant and distressing one (though there are, erm, some beautiful shots and nice period production design details). I spent a lot of the film squirming and silently pleading “Cut! Cut! Please, no more!” but I’d argue that we need to go through these ‘ordeals’ (relatively speaking, watching upsetting films is not an ordeal) and confront brutality so we not only come to terms with actual reality but also historical fact.

I’ll restrain myself from a grandstanding soapbox moment (I am not a Master of Soap Boxing and, to be honest, I’m more interested in being a teetotal Master of Drunken Boxing). I’ll leave it at this: I’m happy (for want of a better word) that slavery as an incomprehensible historical taboo is being tackled more on film. We’ve got to face the atrocities of the past and cinema is an ideal medium by virtue of its viscerality and multi-sensory nature. Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave is even more affecting than any other movie about institutionalised inhumanity I’ve sat through because of his meditative style. What the audience is presented with is an unflinching and brutally realistic picture made up of long, passive sequences where we have no choice but to just watch and absorb the ugliness before us. We’re forced to feel the pain and endure the torment of the characters (even calling them “characters” feels glib and inappropriate). We need to experience works like this so we remember and so we can learn and develop as human beings.

I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious or soap-boxy. As I say, I recommend it and, in general, I recommend tremendously disturbing, bleak films. They’re good for your soul…

The Total 2013 Backtrack Trip Before We Bring the Axe Down Ahead of New Year Revolutions…

I’m bringing down the axe on 2013…

It’s New Year’s Eve, so following on from the end-of-year musical retrospective of the other day and doing what it seems right to do at the calendar climax, here’s another look-back blog post. I will keep it brief and will try not to be boring and self-indulgent. In truth, the coming of a New Year is always an auspicious opportunity to eyeball boringness and self-indulgence and say “A pox on all your pernicious devices! Begone!” And then we explode boringness, self-indulgence and their dyspeptic brethren with our Positive Mental Attitude in a multiple-Boss Fight and level up. Erm, yeah. Basically I’m just going to write my personal sheepdip blogpost equivalent of Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe though I guarantee that it won’t be as funny or as depressing as that. If you want a more worldly or insightful view on all that’s happened this year, all the newspapers and websites in the Solar System have got you more than covered. You can navel-gaze and dwell in premature-nostalgia as much as you want – it’s all out there…

Anyway, armed with the extra experience (accumulated in the multiple-Boss Fight) and resolve to get on with it, here’s the rest of the round-up of my 2013. All in all, it was a pretty good year and I’ve done some cool things and had some awemazing experiences. The highlight of the highlights was definitely spending the entirety of June in Italy, going back out there to work as a English-language summer camp tutor in Italy. I got to see old friends, make new friends and have an absolute blast with the bambini in a country and culture I love. I cherish all the memories of Milano, Torino, Borgo val di Taro and all the things I saw, did, soaked up and appreciated on the way. Good times…

Trip-wise, a birthday weekend excursion to London to see Shakespeare on stage (Macbeth at The Globe, no less) was special. Also special was watching the Charlie Chaplin silent masterpiece Modern Times with a live orchestra accompaniment at the Royal Northern College of Music. I also got to see some heroes this year and had starstruck moments in front of Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction. Sticking with comics, Exhibiting at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds was a really good time. Oh and while my mind’s in Yorkshire I remember that I actually drove over the Pennines and automobiled over Britain’s highest stretch of motorway for my Pass Plus lesson. I passed my driving test in February! Achievement! An achievement completely forgotten because I don’t have access to a car but, hey, I passed!

Achievements otherwise generally revolve around creative output and I’ve churned out a lot of mess over the past 12 months (though never as much as I’d like). Den of Geek columns most weeks; Alternate Reality News and the Alternate Reality News Timequake Expanded Edition reboot; several Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes; a number of Working Barbarian instalments; monthly Pictonaut short story experiments; several doodly projects like #DrawAugust and the Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar; and a whole lot of stuff that no one will ever see or that people will hopefully see once I’ve done the necessary reprocessing, perfecting or completing. I’ve got a lot of things in pipelines, in notebooks, in neglected files, in locked-up parts of my brain and in other places out of sight but I can smell them and they’re scaring me and i’m going to have to face them at some point before they become even more fearsome. 2014 is ‘get your hands dirty and wrassle with demons’, time…

Before then, though, I’ll tie up 2013 with a few cultural highlights. My favourite comics of the year have been Battling Boy by Paul Pope and Hawkeye (or Hawkguy) by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. I’ve also been getting jazzed about Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals in recent months and am ultra, ultra excited about catching up on with all the Mike Mignola-related comics (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy) that came to stay at Christmas. Televisually, everything is ultimately overshadowed by the end of Spartacus and I was in mourning for a week when it finished.

Really, I don’t watch a massive amount of TV because most of my square-eye time takes place at the cinema. I used and abused my Cineworld Unlimited card to maximum this year and saw over 100 films. That’s an unhealthy amount of time sitting alone in the dark crying about people who aren’t real but, hey, I got to see some great movies and I enjoyed and got something out of most of them. Trying to nail it down to an exclusive few (I like pretty much everything so it’s hard) my favourite films released in 2013 were Only God Forgives, Gravity, Stoker, Pacific Rim, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Way, Way Back. My sweetest movie memory would be getting so high on Pacific Rim that after watching it I ran all the way home punching imaginary kaiju monsters. Yes, that happened…

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix...

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix…

I also experimented with growing a beard for a bit, participated in an all-day meditation retreat for the first time (it was cold and uncomfortable battling with my mind in silence) and dressed up as a pretty witch for Halloween. I’m sure that there’s loads more but I’m going to bring the axe down on this self-indulgent bore ramble and put the year to bed (graveyard bed ’cause ding dong the year is dead. I’ve put an axe through its chest and it breathes no more). 2013 is beasted and I’ve levelled up to bounce my way through 2014 which is an even more exciting stage with fresh challenges. I have more powers, I have more experience and I’m game on to have some fun in the future and get better on the way.

On with the New Year Revolutions (I have so many) and ‘thanks ta-ra’ to 2013, then. Thanks and appreciative cyber-hugs are also sent out to everyone who’s been nice to me this year and taken a moment to give me or my shenanigans some consideration. And with that I’m off into the future. Happy New Year and see you in 2014…

‘Twas the Blogpost Before Christmas…

The final window on my Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar – the Star of Wonder…

Hark! ‘Tis Christmas Eve, and that means it’s time to tune out and kind of get into the ‘Christmas Holiday Shutdown’ mindset. ‘Tis time to say “Ah, fuhgeddaboutit” to everything and just focus all energies on celebrating the celebration. Everything else can rest – now I’m mainly interested in spending a few days enjoying the weird limbo period where time and space disintegrate and you just kind of ‘Be Christmassy’. And I have been very Christmassy these past few weeks so this is the point where I reach the zenith of my ‘Be Christmassyness’.

So, yes, Hark! I’m off to spend quality time in the semi-quiet with my blood brethren, some sprouts, some books and a stack of movies. I’m also going to do some wistful reflection and meditate on what it all means, what life’s all about and contemplate my New Year Revolutions.

‘Tis the season to do those things and not the season to be ultra-wired up to the web so, yes, I’m off. Several daily Alternate Reality News bulletins will be published because news never stops but aside from that, for the most part I’m going to be avoiding the internet and lots of (anti)social media engagement. I will therefore now depart these cyber-realms and leave you (whoever you are) with a  link to my Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar (the final piece being the Star of Wonder, up above guiding shepherds, magi and other assorted characters towards a Christmas miracle) and my Christmas Den of Geek column.

Family and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are calling for me and the Christmas tree is pining for company (it wants to start a sing-a-long) so, yeah, I’m off to enjoy my holly jolly holiday. To all of you passing by these parts, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and I hope that it’s a great one no matter where you are wherever you are, whoever you’re with and whatever you’re doing, it’s a great one.

And this is the point where Tiny Tim says “God bless us! Every one!” and where angels get their wings. Awww, Christmas!

Yay Christmas!

Return of the Exile…

Hey ragazzi! What’s the action?

Yeah, I’m back from Italian exile and wired up to t’interwebs again and oh my Delirium I am all kinds of crazy excited. Maybe it’s static electricity and telekinetic energies surging out of my laptop keyboard (oh, my Precious I’ve missed your touch). Maybe my mind has been scorched by high temperatures and solar rays. Maybe it’s all this tea I’ve been mainlining since returning to bleak Britain at midnight last night. Whatever. I’m back, I had a blast and I’m psyched to rock ‘n’ roll after a revitalising working/culture vulturing break away.

There will be rock ‘n’ roll forthcoming but for the moment while I get back into the groove here’s a round-up catch-up post pointing anyone interested in the direction of stuff that I wrote that appeared on the internet while I was absent from it.

Fancy a couple of Den of Geek columns? Here’s a laundry list of things you can do to prepare for the bodybuilder crime flick Pain & Gain and a piece in praise of Joss Whedon and Shakespeare, noting a few great screen adaptations of the Bard’s plays.

Want pop-cultural violence? I scripted up a pair of Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes for your vicarious sadistic kicks and I hope you enjoy Tribbles vs Troll Dolls and Greedo vs Satipo.

Aside from that, I know that while I’ve been out of the loop the god-like geniuses of cyberspace have been continuing to work wondrous magicks on the web. I’ve got to get up-to-date on but I do know that other Fight! Fight! Fight! fights have been brawling in brilliant fashion and that the crowdsourced collaborative saga of The Working Barbarian has been getting really interesting. Sir John of Steele has also been drumming up fresh Pictonaut activity and no doubt a whole lot of other high-calibre creative stuff has been coming out of cool people I respect and admire that I am not yet aware of.

I’ve got to catch up on all this stuff, catch up on movies, possibly catch up on some sleep, catch up with people and sort through photos and suchlike. I’m doing this all in a state of Delirium, high on actually decent tea, the sunshine I’ve absorbed and the exhilaration at getting back to creative action now I’m home again and hooked up to my techno-techno powers.

Bear with me a bit while I sync it all up. For now, here’s a silly photo of me in stocks at a medieval festa in the town of Porto Venere…

Stock Photo

Stock Photo

Sci-Fi Cinema Stimulation, Deep in Oblivion…

Following up from last week’s excitement about The Hieroglyph Project and awe-inspiring possibilities of implementing science fiction ideas in actual reality, I want to write briefly about sci-fi film. I’ll keep it concise, ’cause your attention span probably can’t take it and I should save my longer, lyrical waxings about movies for proper film columns that haven’t been dashed off like spontaneous blog posts.

This weekend I went and saw Oblivion and I really liked it and got a lot out of it. Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek also really liked it and got a lot out of it, consequently exploring some of it in this spoiler-packed investigatory piece. It’s a compelling picture that touches upon a lot of resonant themes and, holding back so I don’t spoil it for people (it’s best off seen as cold as possible), it got me grappling with questions about existential purpose, memory, humanity and its relationship to both itself and technology. Big themes, my brethren. It appealed to me because I find this stuff stimulating and enjoy it when my pop culture stirs my soulstuff and massages my grey matter.

Sci-fi is my cup of tea and I dig the genre’s aesthetic trappings anyway. Oblivion reminded me of so many classic science fiction features and a few other things like the Portal videogames so it appealed to me. It didn’t just feel like a flagrant rip-off, however, and I recommend it as an intelligent and subtle big-budget film. Marketing and potential audience misconceptions may have it saddled as a brainless Tom Cruise action blockbuster but that’s not what it actually is at all. Another Den of Geek link here: this interview with director Joseph Kosinski discusses the original drive and vision behind the project and highlights the problems of pitching a film like this to both studios and marketplaces.

It’s been pretty disappointing to come away from Oblivion to read reviews that, for the most part, have been very dismissive of the movie. Aside from the outright unimpressed reviews (2 stars and total disdain) there are a great many that damn Oblivion with faint praise and admire its visuals and special effects but critique it as lacking intelligence or human interest.

Once again, I’m reluctant to delve deep into it for fear of spoiling what’s potential a very rewarding surprise cinema experience for someone. Still, I will say “Fuck you, Sally!” and state that, in my humble opinion, there’s a lot of intellectual depth and humanity embedded in the story and eking from between the frames. I’m a human being with some intelligence and I got it and I’d encourage others to watch it to see if they share my experience and not those who found it lacking on various levels.

Of course, experience of film or any artwork is subjective and maybe I’m very sensitive to the sci-fi genre in particular. I’ve found in recent years that the most resonant and affecting movies – on both an emotional and intellectual level – have been what you might categorise as sci-fi. Mind-expansion, extraordinary interest and masses of ideas are always in these stories if you care to engage with them. Even if they’re impressing themselves as a straight-forward action flicks, there’s always depth beneath the surface as this philosophical analysis of Dredd shows.

I’m not convinced when works of the genre are dismissed as ‘all style and no substance and/or no soul’ and honestly believe that, in terms of cinema, we’re currently experiencing something of a Platinum Age of Sci-Fi. There are so many excellent films being made and exciting proposals being greenlit that it’s glorious to be a genre fan. These are ambitious pictures of great intelligence – both emotional and cerebral intelligence – and they’re all accessible as both entertainment, brainfood or android-chickensoup for the soul. A few sci-fi films – films that have made me think and feel – from the past few years that I personally recommend and feel back up my conviction: Moon; The Adjustment Bureau; Source Code; Rise of the Planet of the ApesIn Time; District 9; Safety Not Guaranteed; Never Let Me Go.

There are more but most of all I’ve got to celebrate Rian Johnson’s Looper as the perfect illustration of how an original sci-fi story can touch your heart and mind. Such is my emotional connection to that film that I can’t articulate it eloquently and tend to just burst into tears as I meditate on its bittersweet beauty.

Ultimately, just watch and appreciate the rich and resonant sci-fi cinema that’s out there and happening right now. Oblivion is added to the list and in years to come we’ll look back and say “Hey, they were making pretty potent and profound films back then. What’s more, they’re awesome movies!” I’ve seen the future and know that this will come to pass…

Good Friday, Ghost Film Column…

It’s Good Friday. Have a Bloody Mary. (Or don’t. Feel free to drink whatever you want.)

Usually on Fridays a film column I’ve written goes up on the Den of Geek website. Today that is not the case because it’s a holiday and the DoG crew are taking a well-earned break (they more than deserve it and have James Woods’ approval). It’s also true that the day devoted to marking the crucifixion of Jesus calls for a more sombre mood. Trawling out my silly pop culture ramblings would probably be a bit tasteless and inappropriate… maybe.

Anyway, that’s why there’s no column on the Den of Geek website today. Still, in case there’s some regular reader (there’s a slim possibility you might exist!) out there at a complete loss today and in desperate need of an article, I’ve got something for you. Below is a substitute stand-in – ‘The James Clayton Column’ that isn’t a Den of Geek column but an empty filler to keep you going over the Easter break.

It’s basically a shortened shell of the sort of thing I usually write. I took a quick sweep across some old columns and deconstructed them a bit to see just how they work. What follows is a sort of template – a blueprint for a column that lacks actual content – built on the patterns I perceived.

I promise that next week’s will be better. In fact I promise that all future columns will be better. Anyway, here’s a standard James Clayton column/self-crucifixion exercise for you to enjoy. Enjoy and, erm, happy Easter break…

A new film is coming out. I’m excited. It looks promising. Reference that goes over people’s heads.

I’m excited because it reminds me of something else. Remember that film? I recommend that film. Allusion to obscure film. Lots of alliteration to emphasise just how awesome said film is. Some verbose gushing. Star Wars reference.

Back to new film. Mention of director and lead actor. Fanboy gushy moment praising lead actor. Says everything but “damn I wish I was that actor ’cause they’re so damn cool!” Tries to eloquently sum up their mystique. Fails and quickly moves on to a Star Wars reference.

Tenuous linking of new film to a vast important theme which is what I really want to talk about. It’s my opinion that it’s interesting and crucial. Hypothesis and question about nature of the film industry and reality with hedging words like “maybe”, “possibly” and “perhaps” to prick potential of coming across as arrogant or absolutely correct in my conviction.

It relates to other recent film. (Something in brackets as an aside. Most likely praise for film I’ve actually seen and not the new film which I’ve not.) Attempt to draw out the theme and discuss it in wider context. Pulls out a few more examples from other films – some that everyone’s seen and at least one that no one’s seen. Makes body horror gag. Hint that I like violence. Puts self down by raising possibility that I’m disturbed. Possibly disturbed by watching films. If in doubt, Star Wars reference.

Starts to get deep. Pseudo-intellectual waffle. Touches on some deep philosophy or mysticism. Retreats with “but this is not the time or place to discuss that”. Back to main gist if there was a main gist.

Comes back to pose some questions but, once again, uses hedge words so as not to come across as over-opinionated and egotistical. Really drags out the questioning. Makes a jab at the capitalist system, the industry and the unthinking idiocy of mainstream audiences. It makes me sad.

Puts forward a radical plan. Wishful moment of wanting to do something crazy with own life or the film industry. Star Wars reference. Gag that goes over everyone’s head. Some more fanboy gushing full of alliteration.

Inarticulate ramble about the magic of movies and how great everything is. Mini-manifesto moment. Possibly a Star Wars reference. Raises film I’d intended to talk about in the beginning and possibly a literary reference to look extra-smart. (Something in brackets as an inconsequential aside that only amuses self.)

Back to new film that has just been released and has inspired the column but has nothing to do with the main thrust of the column. I’m excited. There are big themes out there being tackled in movies and it’s interesting. I hope you agree or that I’ve made you think. Star Wars reference. I love movies. Sappy sign off.