Hail to the Home Comforts: Things I Miss When I’m Not in Britain…

I'm packing my (tote) bag and heading off, but I'm keeping home close to my heart...

I’m packing my (tote) bag and heading off, but I’m keeping home close to my heart…

Picture E.T., its glowy finger held high to the skies, croaking out “phone home“. Now imagine E.T. walking into a small supermarket in a backstreet in Milan and emerging with a rare packet of Weetabix. E.T. then returns indoors and tries to fulfill the “phone home” objective, except the phone home is a Skype call on a laptop. If no one answers, E.T. opens up YouTube and starts watching vintage Britcoms. That’s what life looks like for me when I have those odd moments of feeling like a homesick alien in Italy. That was also an overlong and awkward intro to what’s meant to be a brief blogpost and it put me inside the saggy skin of E.T. Right, I’m now taking this skin off and getting to the point with pointed glowy-finger precision, right heeeeeeeere

Very soon I’m going to do that thing where I trip off to Italy for a couple of months. This is excellent news because I love Italy and I’m up for a fresh adventure. Still, even though being in Italy is a great – if not, the best – thing there’s stuff I’ll miss about Britain (and it’s stuff that I always miss). Here is a brief list of things that just aren’t there or just aren’t the same in bella Italia, noted down for posterity so that I and any other British people can savour them and appreciate them while they are so close…

Family

Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. My brethren aren’t physically near me when I’m overseas and that’s a bit sad. (And the same is also true for other distant friends. Guys! I miss you! Oh, I’m so lonely!) My bloodclan are crackers and drive me up the wall but, hey, I love ’em and miss those clan gatherings where we just share the same room and talk all over each other for ten hours non-stop. Those Skype calls home? They go on for a long, long, long time…

When in Italy: I’m fortunate in that I’ve got a great collection of Italian friends and Italian family units who welcome me with unbelievable generosity and warmth. I then end up making more friends each time I return and the children I teach come to hail me as a hero, so I’m not bereft of affection. As for my real family: long, long, long Skype calls…

Tea

Italians survive on teeny-tiny cups of coffee (real coffee and not ‘overpriced big mug o’hot milk carelessly prepped for you by an underpaid barista’). I don’t like coffee – I’m English so, naturally, I drink tea. Tea is a a bit of a mystery to most Italians and here we find a complete cultural disconnect. Far from being considered essential (the most important household item), kettles aren’t common in Italy. The rituals and regular brews that keep British people surviving and thriving – the habitual hot drink that helps us cope, comforts us and inspires our creative and constructive output – are entirely absent. No, I just don’t know either. I just shake my head – a head now experiencing a slight headache because I’ve not had a cup of tea – and sigh…

When in Italy: With a stash of teabags I can survive. With water boiled on a hob or in a microwave (yes, I know), something resembling regular tea can be made to happen. Needs must…

Curry

Italy may be a diverse country and Milan may be a cosmopolitan city but multiculturalism isn’t as potent as in the UK. What’s more, Italy – quite rightly – has a firm sense of tradition and identity that prevails and cuisine is one area that you can really see (erm, taste) that. Italy has the best food in the world and I eat a lot of Italian food at home (partly because I don’t like what might be considered ‘traditional British food’). That said, when I’m in Italy I do sometimes feel like I’m missing out on the international flavours that are in abundance back in Blighty. You can find ‘ethnic foods’ but, in the land of pasta and pizza, it feels a bit odd to be eating them. Even so, I miss curry and Indian cuisine is scarce and much misunderstood in Italy. When I tell people that the most popular dish in the United Kingdom is chicken tikka masala and that going out for a curry is a social institution I get disbelieving, quizzical glances. “You see, the best curries are in Britain!” I cry, adopting the tones of a batty aristocrat. “You shall come over to see me, chum, and I will make you eat, understand and come to love this hot stuff that we stole from the subcontinent, back in the days of the Raj, what what?!” And then it turns into a outrageously bullshit alternate history lesson in which I whitewash the past and claim that Queen Victoria travelled to Bombay with bicycles and cricket and traded them for tea and curry so that the Empire could become truly great. At the end of this the Italians are still looking at me as if I’m crazy and I’m still hungry for a curry.

When in Italy: Eat pasta and pizza and be happy.

Films

In the UK I can just take myself off to the pictures anytime I please and watch a movie. Most of those movies are American movies starring British actors and everyone speaks English. I can’t do this in Italy where films are, obviously, screened with Italian dubbing. My Italian is nowhere near good enough to follow the dialogue so I don’t get the full experience. Furthermore, I find dubbing disconcerting because I see the face of, say, Sir Ian McKellen but hear a voice that sounds dissimilar to Sir Ian McKellen’s. Altogether, in spite of Italy’s proud cinematic heritage, I feel a bit at odds with regard to this particular personal passion when I’m miles and miles and kilometres and kilometres away from my local multiplex.

When in Italy: There are ways to see original-language Hollywood flicks in Milano and, if I get chance and miss the cinema too much, I may try that. Otherwise I could also just go and watch new movies in Italian for kicks (staggered international release schedules may mean that I’ve already seen the film in English). Alternatively, I could take a Friday night trip out to the legendary Cinema Mexico to catch one of their audience-participation screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hot-patootie, it’s pretty groovy…

Accents and Dialects

The anglophone world is vast and diverse. The ways people use (and abuse, misuse and confuse) English fascinates and delights me. Being in a country where English isn’t the first language, though, I find that I start to miss the sound of English in its infinite varieties. I inevitably encounter English speakers from all over the world but the ‘anglophone presence’ obviously isn’t the same. Simultaneously my own English speaking becomes slower, clearer and shorn of quirky colloquialisms in work and day-to-day speaking (when I’m not mangling Italian). Altogether, there’s a deficit of idiomatic language, slang and dialect and my ears start yearning for accents. I’m not just talking about the accents of North West England – I’m talking all parts of the UK, Ireland, North America, the antipodes and Africa.

When in Italy: I end up procrastinating on YouTube, watching videos of people spitting out all sorts of slang and dialect and speaking in an array of accents, lilts and brogues. I subsequently come to find awful sketch shows and sitcoms funny, even though they aren’t funny and trade in ropey-ass regional stereotypes and duff gags. (Hey! There’s amusement in novelty!) I also find myself occasionally slipping into silly voices and bad impersonations of thick anglophone accents when I feel bereft. I sometimes do this for effect when I want to scare children (it’s easy to scare Italian children with a Scouse accent). Allow me this indulgence, guys. I’m a foreign land and 60% of what’s happening is incomprehensible to me. Just give me a moment where I can blast out something like “Eeeeeeyaaah, by ‘eck luv, s’like pea-soup out th’urrgh t’day, like. Summat’s up wit’ t’environment, like. S’at clim’ut ch’haaange int’it? Int’it just, reet?

There are lots of other little things that I miss when I’m in exile: the BBC; British politics; famous British folk that have no celebrity presence or elsewhere (I weirdly end up missing newsreaders, celebrity chefs and BBC documentary presenters); porridge; the moors; Manchester; complaining about crap public transport; and so on. Allora, as alluded to a little earlier, Italy is possibly the best place to be and I’ll be there. In the meantime, this evening I’m going to go out to the cinema to watch Star Wars with my family and then we’re going to go and get a curry. Home comforts, y’know?

Home comforts...

Home comforts…

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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…

(more…)

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…

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).

 

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…

It's Shakespeare's Birthday and Avengers Day. It's a great day… 😀 #Avengers #Shakespeare

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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…

Pictonaut Screenplay Challenge: ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War’…

Another day, another Pictonaut story. Seeing as I’m still trying to catch up and apparently on a roll, I decided to roll with it and write up a fresh piece for John Steele‘s monthly fiction-spawning exercise. Same as ever, the aim is to write a story inspired by a selected image. I’m now up to November, and the November 2014 picture was this one by the ace Swedish artist and sci-fi visionary, Simon Stålenhag

‘Gaussfraktarna’ by Simon Stålenhag. Isn’t it just a brilliant piece of artwork?

I dig this image, ’cause it looks like some kind of mash-up of Drive and District 9, though I contemplated these two dudes and thought that they looked like a Kurt Russell antihero from a John Carpenter movie (or maybe Roddy Piper. I don’t know but I ended up with Carpenter on my brain). With that in mind and ideas sloshing around I realised I could only crack this as a script for screen. I typed it up, and what follows is a rough ‘n’ ready first draft of the opening scene of a sci-fi action B-movie that I’d call ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘. In this reality the studios (a studio wanted this?) would then change the obscure title into something bland and probably make the film into a run-of-the-mill nonentity with no sense of fun or cosmic quirk-mojo at all. I’m not happy about that and because, hey, this is my fantasy I’m making sure that ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘ retains its name, retains its Kurt Russell, and its Roddy Piper, and its anti-capitalist messages, and its gratuitous alien gore,and its surrealistic musical number when a Fen-Gnooii Quadrant-Archon eats a whole bushel of narcotic weed and hallucinates that she’s the birth of a sixteen-limbed solar goddess on the outer rings of Neo-Pluto.

I haven’t written that scene yet, or the scene where one of our main characters gets in an electro-mace duel with an alien drug baron, or the hilarious sequence where another protagonist tries (and fails) to commit himself to rehab in another galaxy. I will probably never write those scenes in this (far blander) reality so I guess I’ll just leave you with this scene that has been drafted. I hope you like the opening snippet from Pink Slip, Marigold War

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…

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…*

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*

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…

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

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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’!

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…