Thursday, December 11, 2008

Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die

Has it really already been nearly four years? Almost four years since Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, in one last defiant act of self-mythologising, picked up one of his many handguns and ate a round? Damn...

Director Alex Gibney celebrates the man and his words in the new documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, an anecdotal stroll through the life of the irascible doctor from the breakthrough publication of Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966 right up through to the moment where it all became too much on that day in 2005.

The main focus, though, is HST's political writings, particularly his coverage of the 1972 US Presidential Election between George McGovern and Thompson's archnemesis Richard Nixon. The film goes some way to redressing the balance of Hunter's reputation, moving away from the traditional depiction of HST as the crazed chainsmoker Raoul Duke roaring across the cultural wasteland of Las Vegas in a Cadillac dubbed the White Whale, to the unconventional and incisive commentator on the state of the political landscape, as a fundamentally decent yet flawed senator fights the incumbent monster and loses.

And let's not forget the artist in repose. Writers don't write by getting swacked on booze and passing out. Writers write by sitting and hammering the words out one at a time. And Gonzo reminds us of the peaceful Thompson taking refuge from the insanity of his country, holed up in Owl Farm, listening to music and weaving words out of nothing.

Personally, I've always felt that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is by far Thompson's most overrated work, a book that is lauded far more for its style than its substance, and lacking the lethal precision of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 or the reckless embedded journalism of Hell's Angels or the playfully vitriolic jabs at America found in the pieces collected in The Great Shark Hunt (in particular the glorious The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved - an article cited here as the birth of Gonzo with the arrival of Ralph Steadman's bile-flecked inks).

But Gibney overplays his hand a little and ends up overstating HST's political clout. Did Thompson really play such an integral part in the momentary rise of McGovern in '72 and the arrival of Jimmy Carter in '76? I don't think so. Without taking anything away from Hunter's blistering writings from that time, the readers of Rolling Stone magazine were such a tiny subset of the potential electorate that any changes wrought by his words would have been negligible.

Gibney deliberately draws subtle parallels between the McGovern-Nixon knockdown dragout and the devastating results of the 2004 US election. McGovern was the John Kerry of his age, and it's telling that Thompson took his life shortly after. Maybe he couldn't take that kind of crushing disappointment twice in one lifetime.

There is a jarring leap from the late '70s to his suicide in 2005, making the uncomfortable implication that HST was largely irrelevant for the last 30 years of his life, although Gibney does make the plausible argument that Thompson's increasing fame was instrumental in preventing him from doing what he did best - throwing himself into the action whilst casting himself as both major player and amused and horrified onlooker. When everybody knows who you are, it's not so easy to take on the role of overlooked observer.

Some theories postulated in Gonzo just don't ring true. It's disingenuous of Thompson's first wife Sandy to suggest that if HST were still alive he would have a lot to say whilst raging against the state of the world in the New American Century. Looking at HST's published writings over the last three decades, there is nothing to suggest that this would be the case. Granted, Thompson dipped his toe in and out of the Reagan, Clinton and the double Bush eras, aiming the odd barbed dispatch at the political establishment, but it was rare, and lacked the dead-on venom spat out in his anti-Nixon screeds.

Additionally, there are massive gaps in the narrative of Thompson's life, as the film excludes events such as the tragic disappearance (and probable murder) of Oscar Acosta in 1974, or the horrendous clashes between Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner and Thompson in the latter stages of his career. But those are forgivable omissions, and in a life as eventful and wreathed in myth as Thompson's, something has to give or you'd end up with a mini-series instead of a two-hour movie.

The passing years and the Wild Turkey and the drugs all took their toll on Hunter. The fire in his belly had been dimmed by disillusionment and tranquilised by chemicals. It's devastating to look at the juxtaposition of Ralph Steadman exuberantly jumping up and down in his studio and then look at Hunter towards the end of his life slumped and slurring back at Woody Creek, the years of excess having ravaged his mind and body.

But it's not all memories of a life in self-destructive decline. The film is full of tales of Thompson the prankster and provocateur. Fun with ballistic weaponry and the mojo wire and deadlines that came and went to the frustration of his editors. Mischievously accusing Democratic candidate Ed Muskie of an Ibogaine addiction in 1972 and watching the fallout with glee. And there are the all-too-infrequent glimpses of the Young Hunter with the soulful eyes and the square jaw and the clipped Southern pronunciation leaking out of the side of a cigarette holder.

Then there's the glorious moment captured in a snippet of second wife Anita's home-movie footage from recent years of Hunter clacking away on a typewriter, swigging from a long glass, Elton John's Candle in the Wind interminably playing on a loop in the background as his eyes light up, there's a crooked grin and a clap of his hands. He's in the zone. When all the disparate strands swirling around in his head come together ready to be fired onto the page. The moment every writer always reaches out for.

Gonzo reminded me that the world was a far, far better place for having him in it, kicking against the pricks with the sunlight glinting off his reflective shades and a demonic sneer on his lips. We will not see his like again.

(With thanks to Little White Lies for the screening)

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."
(The last published words of HST, sent in a letter to Anita four days before his death and published in Rolling Stone magazine as Football Season Is Over)

Thursday, November 27, 2008


There is no escape from me now...

Thanks to the fine folks at Mippin, Sucker Punch is now easy to read on the move.

All you have to do is enter the following url into your phone's browser: and, boom, there it is.

First, I took control of your monitors. Now, I own your mobile phones! My secret plans for global domination continue apace...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

W. Ex. Why? See

Exciting times, aren't they? But that doesn't stop the apprehensive cynic in me from thinking that there's still time for things to go wrong. Can we manage two more months of buttock-clenching and grinding teeth? Yes, we can:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Trouble in Paradise - Rodrigo Plá's La Zona

La Zona. Not a nice place to visit, and you wouldn't want to live there.

A butterfly gently floats over swathes of white picket fences, immaculate lawns and contented suburbanites. A perfect domestic idyll.

And then the delicate little butterfly has to go and incinerate itself on an electrified barbed wire security fence keeping a crowded, polluted, run-down and corrupt Mexico City at bay.

Stupid butterfly.

But in the first few silent minutes, Plá has quickly and efficiently set out his stall, making it apparent that he's taken a few notes from the David Lynch playbook - a spotless utopia only exists as an anodyne mask to hide something dark and rotten just nestled beneath the surface.

During a thunder storm, a falling billboard causes a brief power outage, giving four opportunistic thieves the chance to breach the heavily-fortified gated community of La Zona. But a botched robbery is only the beginning of the shitstorm that's unleashed, as the fragile veneer of the civilised middle-class residents starts to disintegrate to reveal the true extent of their own dysfunctional, destructive, self-serving and poisonous natures. It's Lord of the Flies time in La Zona. Cue screaming, running, shooting, bleeding...

If George A. Romero's Land of the Dead taught us anything, it's that a residential oasis locking out monsters doesn't work, because it doesn't solve the problem of protecting you from the monsters on the inside of the perimeter.

Capturing the corrosive and ultimately selfish paranoia of the middle-class in a way that would make this a great double-bill with Michael Haneke's Hidden, Plá's movie never backs down or pussies out. Everyone is culpable and everyone is guilty. You can wait as long as you want to breath a cathartic sigh of relief, but there is no heroism or redemptive moment to send you out of the cinema back into a world where all is safe and well. Hard, bleak and unforgiving, La Zona is a terrifically-tense thriller that says more than you might like about the world that we all live in. Go see it.

Plá's second film, The Desert Within, is showing at the London film festival later this month.

La Zona is released by Soda Pictures on 17 October.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Isaac Hayes 1942 - 2008

Now this is going to be pretty hard for me to write about. Isaac Hayes died on Sunday at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 65.

For decades now, a week hasn't passed in my life without me listening to the music of Isaac Hayes. To some people, he is the Oscar-winning composer of the score from Shaft. To others, he will always be South Park's Chef.

To me, he is a giant. One of my very few personal heroes. I've written such a vast amount about my life-long love affair with Shaft - the movies, the books, the music - that you can just mess about in the blog archive here and find reams of stuff about John Shaft and Isaac Hayes. It's one of my enduring obsessions, and today that obsession is tinged with just a little bit more sadness than before.

I've listened to the Theme from Shaft more often than any other piece of music by a massive margin. I never, ever tire of it. And I never, ever cease to get a little tingle of excitement when Isaac Hayes opens his mouth for the first time and the words start rumbling out.

Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?

There will never be another Isaac Hayes. The list of his achievements is dizzying in its breadth and scope. Here's just a teeny, tiny sampling:

He was the Duke in John Carpenter's Escape from New York.

He was Truck Turner.

He was the co-composer (along with David Porter) of Sam & Dave's Soul Man.

He created the Isaac Hayes Foundation to promote literacy and music education around the world.

I've been trying to write about Isaac Hayes for hours, and the words I grab hold of are never the right ones. So I'll let the music speak for me. Here's the moment that I fell in love with Isaac Hayes for the first time. John Shaft strides out of a Times Square subway opening as the guitar kicks in, and I'm losing my heart to a piece of music forever...

Bernie Mac 1957 - 2008

"You don't understand - I ain't scared of you motherfuckers."

If I was a betting man, and someone was running a deadpool on the charming conmen of Ocean's Eleven, I would have picked Carl Reiner as the most likely to kick off first. Maybe Elliott Gould on the outside. But I never, ever would have gone for Bernie Mac as the first to take the Big Dirtnap.

Bernard Jeffery McCullough died from complications due to pneumonia on Saturday morning at the age of 50. I'm gutted.

The first time I discovered Bernie Mac was listening to Prince's Pope and the playful growl sampled here and there in between the percussive funk kicks and the Minneapolian's rudimentary raps. Years passed before I learnt who the owner of that voice was. And what a voice it was.

Propelled to wide fame by Spike Lee's stand-up movie The Original Kings of Comedy, Bernie Mac followed in the footsteps of Richard Pryor, in the sense that both were wickedly funny comics and naturally gifted actors who largely made crappy movies. In Pryor's case, for every Stir Crazy, there was a Bustin' Loose or a Critical Condition.

For the sharp-dressing, goggle-eyed Bernie Mac, the successful roles were buried amongst the junk. As croupier Frank Catton in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy, Mac had moments to shine with his ten co-stars in Ocean's Eleven, but was largely hidden in the two sequels as the series progressively turned into the smug George, Brad & Matt Show. And moments of brilliance were eclipsed by the relentless powerhouse performance of Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa.

It would be kinder not to dwell on things like the teeth-grinding Guess Who or the embarrasment of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, although Bernie was one of the few things to enjoy in his cameo as used car dealer Bobby Bolivia in the visual headache of Michael Bay's Transformers.

The closest Bernie Mac came to a signature role was the fictionalisation of himself in the sitcom The Bernie Mac Show. Unwillingly raising his drug-addict sister's three kids, "Uncle Bernie" just wanted to sit around the house smoking cigars, hanging with his boys and playing poker. But this wasn't a sacharine contemporary spin on The Cosby Show full of domestic harmony and sentimental life lessons. The show had teeth and balls and jokes. After all, Cliff Huxtable never threatened to bust Theo in the head until the white meat showed...

I usually read fiction with the little casting director in my head slotting actors into roles. I always imagined that Bernie Mac would be ideal casting for the role of Fearless Jones in the period-set Walter Mosley crime series about the bookish, smart and nervous Paris Minton (who I always see as Don Cheadle) and his best friend, the kind-hearted, loyal, womanising, simple soul Fearless Jones, with his beaming smile and devastating fists. But that bit of fantasy casting will remain just a random reflection in my head now.

Farewell, Bernie Mac, and thanks for all the laughs:

"I came from a place where there wasn't a lot of joy. I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn't a lot of things to laugh about."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Seduction of the Innocent Part 2 - Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon's CASANOVA

James Coburn in Our Man Flint. Jim Steranko-era Nick Fury comics. Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik! Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius. This is only a tiny sampling of the special ingredients thrown into the blender of Matt Fraction's mind with the dial set to "frappé", whisked around until it spews out the nutritious creamy goodness that is Casanova.

I should try and give you a brief synopsis of the series. Not sure that I can. I damn sure can't pigeon-hole it by genre. Here's the best I can do: Spies, psychedelia and sex. Robots and doppelgängers and parallel worlds. Guns and pop music, redemption and identity, family and loyalty. And just good ol' fashioned Blowing Shit Up.

People talk about the writer's "voice". The distinctive individual style that is unique to the writer. Matt Fraction got that shit in spades. His is one of the strongest voices I've heard in a long, long time. Because Casanova is completely and utterly about Matt Fraction and his life, interests and preoccupations. And at the same time you don't need to know a damn thing about any of that to immerse yourself in the delirious, dizzying. wonderful pop-culture stew of Casanova.

Aided and abetted by the brothers Bá and Moon (who alternate storylines and cover art), their two-tone linework is simultaneously concise, expressive, detailed and sparse, telling you everything you need to know in the way that you need to know it.

Like all writers worth a damn, Fraction needs you to keep up with him. He's not spoon-feeding you the story or ladling on the exposition. He credits you as being smarter than that. So let's not disappoint. Casanova certainly doesn't. Fraction can confidently bounce from shit-eating goofiness to cold-stare seriousness and back again in the space of a few short-panels. Did I mention that it's funny too?

Volume 1 Luxuria is currently available, with volume 2 Gula coming soon. Fraction has intimated in interviews that Volume 3 is still about a year off, so wrap your eyes around this good stuff in preparation.


Supplementary Ephemera

Matt Fraction has a blog here and he twitters away here.

And Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá have their own blog full of eye goodies right about here.

Oh yeah, there's a movie on the way too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Outlook Cloudy

Oh, now I like this. Just been playing with Wordle, which is the perfect little webtoy for someone like me who measures my life a word at a time.

For example, here's a big ol' beautiful word cloud made from my tags:
I suppose the inside of my head looks something like that - a tangled orgy of all my preoccupations rubbing up against each other until the juices pump uncontrollably. I think I might need to lie down for a bit...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Seduction of the Innocent Part 1 - Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips' CRIMINAL

Welcome, True Believers, to the first in a short series on the comics that are rocking my world in 2008. It occured to me that it might be a good idea to talk up some of the rough diamonds on the racks and maybe, if I'm lucky, push some readers in their direction. Couldn't hurt, right?

First up is Criminal written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips - for the reader that likes their broads to be stacked, their femmes to be fatale, their men square-jawed, their cigarettes unfiltered, their guns smoking, their money laundered and their morality murky.

The interweaving lives and crimes of a cast of conmen, crooks and cops down the years, there is an undercurrent of melancholy and the ever-present prospect of random violence and tragedy in every story. This isn't a book about good guys and bad guys - it's a book about damaged people fighting to get through their lives, played against a nicotine-stained, neon-lit backdrop of revenge, double-crosses, sex, murder and betrayal. I'm tempted to say more, but one of the joys of Criminal is unravelling the twists and turns of every story. A single chapter has more detail creeping out at the panel-borders than most entire books do.

Brubaker clearly has an abiding love of hard-boiled crime fiction, classic film noir and the nihilistic crime movies of the 70s, and yet despite the obvious influences of the material, he still manages to blend it all up and then pare it back down into something fresh and exhilarating, whilst luxuriating in genre conventions. There isn't a single panel or hard-bitten slug of dialogue that feels like fanboy homage or a pale imitation of past works. With the fantastic linework of Sean Phillips making the death and decay hit home even harder, this is the real shit. As devastating as a left-hook from a washed-up prize fighter, as heartbreaking as the smile from a hooker on a street corner at sunrise and as tough as the barrel of a .44 poking into the small of your back, Criminal is one of the best books on the shelves. Read 'em and weep.

So far, there are two Criminal collections available: Coward and Lawless, available from all fine purveyors of pictorial storytelling.

Please remember this, though - books like Criminal can live or die by monthly sales, and the Criminal mob reward the early-adopting monthly-readers by adding supplementary material that is not available in the trade collections. The text pieces by guest writers at the back of every issue are definitely worth a read.

Want a free taste? Click here to download a PDF teaser.
The first hit comes for free and then you're hooked.

Supplementary Ephemera

Ed Brubaker's website can be found here, and the page about Criminal is here.

Sean Phillips wields his mighty pencil here

And here is the Criminal blog.

If you're looking at the subject line for this post and thinking "What the hell does Seducton of the Innocent mean?" then click here and learn something. I shower my wisdom upon you like a benevolent drunk pissing on the doorstep of your mind.

If you like your pulp fiction without the purty pictures, the novels published by Hard Case Crime come with my highest possible recommendation.

Now get out of here, kid, ya bother me.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Because Warren asked so kindly and because it's excellent, free, weekly and there is absolutely no good reason why you aren't already reading this:

Freakangels is a free, weekly, ongoing comic written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Paul Duffield. Every Friday, there's a new installment online. Stop reading this and go read that.

Go. Read. Enjoy. That is all.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

London Calling

Warning: Everything written here is done under the influence of significant amounts of alcohol. Make of that what you will. The sentiments still stand and remain valid, even if they are fuelled by an unrestrained wave of righteous indignation. Let’s do this. Also? I love you, spellcheck.

Hello, London. Today is the 1st of May 2008. The date of the London mayoral elections. (Is there an uglier word in the English language than “mayoral”? There must be, even if I can’t think of one right now.)

I’m utterly fascinated by politics. Have been ever since my impressionable young mind was recast in the wake of reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 many years ago. My nascent interest in political chicanery lay dormant for a long time until Aaron Sorkin’s glorious The West Wing flared it up again, followed soon after by the horrific and compelling car crash of the Bush-Gore stand-off back in 1998. Ah, the memories! Now I’m probably hooked for life. The corruption, the back-stabbing, the mud-slinging – all the drama of life is here.

And I really wasn’t going to write about the London elections. Really. But I was out earlier and I made the mistake of casting my eyes over the front page of a discarded London freesheet and it made me furious. I ripped off the page so I could excerpt it here. This is the fourth paragraph from the lead story of thelondonpaper (irritating lack of capitalisation and shabby neglect of the spacebar is theirs, not mine):

thelondonpaper is not taking sides in this election; unlike other newspapers, we are not going to endorse any candidate. We launched with a premise of party political neutrality, as an antidote to the corrosive and destructive bias elsewhere in the media and in politics. We know Londoners can’t stand being patronised. So much so, that the last two mayoral elections have seen the electorate ignoring the media, the polls, and even the Labour party, by electing Livingstone.”

Got that? Now read it again, paying special attention to that last sentence. It’s OK – I’ll wait.

Now, is that the most fucking outrageous and disgustingly odious example of doublethink you’ve read lately or what?

So – I’m going to pin my colours to the mast and indulge in a rant. Join me, won’t you?

First up, I’ve been listening to a lot of bullshit this week. This is a real conversation I had yesterday. My colleague was laughing at Boris Johnson and so I said “He’s a prick.” The response? “I know! He’s a fucking idiot. That’s why I’m voting for him!”

And that’s not an isolated example – it’s just representative of the crap I’ve been exposed to.

Mistaking Boris Johnson for a floppy-haired buffoon is on a par with the mistake that Middle America made when thinking of Bush as a down-home, clumsy hick. These really aren’t stupid men. You don’t attain this level of success by being a moron. Playing a character, even if it is a lovable clown or an amiable doofus, is just another tactic to endear themselves to us. Anything that garners a vote is OK by them.

I was going to go on a tear about the filthy smear campaign that Andrew Gilligan and the Evening Standard has waged on Ken Livingstone for months now, but I figure that if you’re dumb enough to buy into the hate and fear peddled by the Standard on a daily basis, then you kind of get the mayor that you deserve. So let’s skip that.

Do I think Ken is the dream ticket? Of course not. But I do genuinely believe that he loves London and that he wants this to be the world-leading capital city that it has always been, as well as having a genuine interest in environmental issues. And I also believe that Boris would be a really bad thing for this beautiful, unruly, maddening, intoxicating, insane, glorious bitch of a city.

But that’s just me. Don’t take my word for it. Make up your own damn mind.

(Plus - None of these guys are going to fix the mess that is the London Underground. That’s pretty much irrevocably screwed.)

I’m fed up of listening to otherwise apparently intelligent people basing their decision on the next London mayor on personalities or their local bus route or a shallow witticism fired off at a photo-op. Vote for whoever the hell you want. If you truly believe Boris is the best candidate, then go for it. Do your thing. One man, one vote, right? But don’t be swayed by trivia and distractions and irrelevant headlines. Voter idiocy is just as toxic as voter apathy.

X marks the spot. Let’s see what happens next.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cracking Up

A couple of weeks ago, my employers took a bunch of us lowly wage slaves over to Tate Modern for lunch. The reasons for the lunch and the lunch itself are irrelevant, so let’s just skate on past that.

As we left, passing the Turbine Hall and the current installation, Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (better known to almost everyone as “the crack in the floor”), we all paused to have a good long look. Very impressive, but its impact was diminished by the fact that sections of the crack were covered up with duct tape and plastic sheeting.

Everyone else came out with the bog-standard pedestrian responses of “But it’s just a crack!” and “Why have they done that?” or “I don’t get it.” But then they didn’t try. They just saw a crack in the floor and nothing else.

I tried to argue that the reason that I liked it is that is was, simultaneously, an actual crack and the illusion of a crack.

This just got me a lot of blank stares. So I tried to explain it to them like this:

In an old Road Runner cartoon, Wile E. Coyote got a tub of black paint and with it painted a fake road and then a fake tunnel smack dab in the middle of a large boulder, with the intention that the Road Runner would slam straight into the side of that boulder.

Seconds later, the Road Runner comes beep beeping along, roaring past the coyote and goes straight through the “tunnel” effortlessly, as if it were actually there. Puzzled, the coyote tries it himself and, sure enough, he slams straight into the boulder because, of course, the tunnel isn’t really there.

I was quite pleased with this explanation, but now there was a smattering of confused laughter accompanying the vacant faces. Oh well – I try to open their eyes and yet they are still blind.

And I know that the artist’s intentions may be vastly different from what I get out of it, but that’s the thing about art. Once you hurl it out into the world, it belongs to everybody who experiences it in any way that they see fit.

There have been various attempts to discover just how they put this crack in the floor of the Turbine Hall. Builders and architects have a number of theories, whilst many of them admit that they don’t quite know. Any one of those theories may be correct. Or none of them. But I think to explain it would take something away from it, like debunking a brilliant magic trick, or pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz is just a befuddled old huckster from Kansas. Not knowing is part of the whole thing.

But only a part of it. The other part is this: some days you’re the coyote and some days you’re the road runner. You can be both. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Beep beep!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Life Online

So, despite the fact that Sucker Punch occasionally goes a bit quiet now and then, that doesn't mean I'm not a chatty bastard elsewhere on the web. I can prove it too. AND I can tell you about my new blog. Oh yes. Keep reading...

Here is where I can be found online in 2008:

Sucker Punch - Where it all began, and what you are looking at right now. The hub of all my online activities, my first Internet baby, and it's going to be four years old in about a week. And in Internet years, that is freaking ancient. This is the place for thinking out loud, chatting shit, random snapshots of my life, my preoccupations, and the inside of my messy head. Reassuringly inconsistent, just like me. - The sounds that fill my earholes are catalogued right here. Music is integral to my life, and especially important when I need to block-out any bullshit that may invade my headspace at any given time. This happens more often than you would think.

Flickr - I'm including this purely for completist's sake. My Flickr page is pretty pathetic. I keep promising myself that I'll upload more interesting photos, but it's largely just shots snapped from my camera phone. I need to buy a new camera, and then I need to remember to carry it around with me, and then I need to remember to upload the photos. I'll get there in the end.

Twitter - I'm hooked on Twitter. It is utterly addictive, and a running commentary on what I'm doing most of the time. Also, there is a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol in my bloodstream and the frequency of tweets. I talk crap when I'm sober, so you can imagine the sort of ridiculous bollocks I spout under the influence. Read my tweets and laugh both with me and at me.

Tumblr - At last, we get to the real reason for this post. I get to unveil my latest web presence. Behold SHRAPNEL! "Jagged shards of popular culture eviscerating the flabby guts of the Internet". I've been concerned for a while that Sucker Punch is getting a bit too choked up with YouTube videos and stuff that amuses me, just chucked on here with little commentary. I always prefer it here when it's largely text-based pieces. If I want a tumblelog, I should go and make one. So I did. And here it is. Took me a while to get a good handle on this, but I think I'm there now. There's a link to it in the sidebar, and it also has an RSS feed. Want to know what amuses me? This is the place. - My social bookmarking page. Indispensable to capture urls on the fly, or to search for bookmarks in a more targetted way than a traditional search engine. Especially handy to keep a grip on urls that I need for research purposes for anything I'm writing. I suppose it's an insight into the things that interest me too. My last 10 bookmarked urls pop up in the right-hand sidebar here too.

Facebook - The only place online that bears my real name, so I'm not providing a url for it here. And anyway, I think Facebook has maybe 12 months of usefulness left to it. Even that prediction may be a bit ambitious. It's getting weighed down by too many third-party applications that don't add to the experience - it just detracts from it. I find Twitter more useful as a social network than Facebook anyway. Facebook is soooooo 2007. I still check up on it every day, and I use it now largely just to stay in touch with friends. And I do have a soft spot for Facebook, because without it I wouldn't have landed a lucrative writing gig just before Christmas. Never throw anything away, because you never know when you might need it.

I know that there are applications like Profilactic for aggregating all these disparate webstrands into one central place, but I haven't found one that I like. Or maybe I just don't like them at all. As far as I'm concerned, Sucker Punch is my social media aggregator - don't think I need another one.

How to contact me online: I used to have an email address in the sidebar so that I could be contacted directly by readers of the blog. Mostly, all I got was spam. Until the day that I received some hate-mail from an author whose novel I ripped to pieces. I must get around to posting that email here at some point. The best way to get hold of me is to Direct Message me via Twitter. And, yes, this is a shameless ploy to get you all signed up to Twitter.



Been thinking about stories and writing and stuff a lot recently. Some of that thinking goes a little bit like this...

I'm fascinated by the way that children, even very young children, have an instinctive understanding of stories and storytelling. They understand what they mean, not just on the surface, narrative level, but they manage to take away more than just that from the experience. And they also understand concepts that us adults often mistakenly construe as confusing. I'll show you what I mean:

I was sitting down to watch the season opener of Doctor Who last week, Partners In Crime, and I wanted Buttercup to sit and watch it with me. Terrified of the Daleks and the robotic Host that appeared in Voyage Of The Damned, she was reluctant to be scared senseless in the name of entertainment. I assured her that there would be nothing too scary, and that there was nothing to worry about. (I don't know why I said that - I had no evidence to back up this promise. It may have been a pants-soiling 50 minutes of shadowy corridors and rampaging monsters for all I knew. But Doctor Who has a long and storied history of children watching from behind the sofa or between their fingers, so why not pass on the Joy of Fear to the younger generation, eh?).

So my little 3-year old girl huddled in my lap, tense on the off-chance that some dripping alien monstrosity would appear so that she could bolt from the room. Once the Adipose finally appeared, she relaxed. Blobby CGI moppets are reassuringly benign.

Anyway, I'm digressing. There is a point to all this. Here's the thing. There are aspects to the storytelling that she instinctively understands without needing explanations or following 45 years of continuity. She understands that Tom Baker with his boggling eyes and dragging scarf is exactly the same man as David Tennant in a crumpled suit and flyaway hair. She doesn't know what "regeneration" or "Time Lords" or any of that stuff is. She just understands. And she realises that he is "The Doctor" and that "Doctor Who" is just the name of the show, not the character. She accepts without question the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than on the outside. She understands that it's a spaceship and a time machine and, for all intents and purposes, the Doctor's home. I don't know how she understands all this, she just does.

So the supposedly complex baggage of the show and the character turns out to be the easy bit. It's when assumptions about stories and storytelling creep in that the puzzlement sets in. Buttercup understands the idea of heroes and villains, goodies and baddies. But trying to apply her preconceptions about those roles brought on a flurry of questions. After watching the Doctor and Donna run around corridors for ten minutes, the questions began:

Buttercup: Is the Doctor going to beat the baddies?
AKA: Yes. Good always wins over bad.
Buttercup: Is he going to punch them?
AKA: No.
Buttercup: (on seeing the sonic screwdriver for the first time) Is he going to zap them?
AKA: No.
Buttercup: Is it like a gun?
AKA: No! The Doctor hates guns!
Buttercup: Like Batman?
AKA: Yes! Exactly like Batman! They both hate guns.
(pause to watch more frantic running)
Buttercup: But how is he going to beat them? He just runs away all the time!

This stumped me for a couple of seconds. She was absolutely right. The story didn't mesh with her ideas about how heroes vanquish the villains, because there was no tangible conflict or confrontation. The Doctor at this point was actively avoiding confrontation in the name of self-preservation, and Buttercup understands heroism as sacrifice and struggle and facing villainy head-on. Not running away from it. But I had an answer:

AKA: He is going to beat them with his brain!

I think it took her a while to process that answer, but it was the truth. The Doctor is a scientist. An adventurer. He doesn't see things as binary as goodies and baddies. And the Doctor "winning" doesn't necessarily correlate to someone else "losing". He can Save The Day without physical confrontation. Once Buttercup had wrapped her mind around that, she could settle back and see where the story was going to take her. And she laughed at the little Adipose skidding and grinning and waving on the screen. She didn't see them as "baddies" - they were just different and alien.

So, yeah. Stories. Themes. Narrative. Lot of that in my head at the moment. As you can see from the infrequency of posts 'round these parts recently, I've been otherwise engaged. The vast majority of my writing this year has been offline, and I've been more prolific than I have been for a long time. One of the things I've been doing is keeping a journal, which interests me for a lot of reasons. Mostly because it's all about weaving my own experiences and thoughts into some kind of narrative. There it is again, you see. Stories. Inadvertently putting the random events of my life into some sort of narrative framework to make it easily digestible and understandable, rather than a succession of isolated unrelated fragments (which is probably closer to the reality of most people's lives).

OK. Rambling a bit now. Let's hope the narrative thread of this post is strong enough that my points make sense. After all, I'm just telling you a story in the form of an anecdote - and it's not just about a father and his daughter watching TV together.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Empire Swings Back

Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson...

There are only two reasons that I've popped up here:

1. I haven't been here for a month, and I thought it might be a good idea to show my virtual face just to assure you that I'm still alive; and

2. I've just killed a bottle of red wine and I'm trying to find reasons to avoid passing out.

But to make your journey to my dank little corner of the internet vaguely worthwhile, I'll slap some YouTubey goodness up here for you. It's been all over the web, but I love it and I need somewhere to store it, so here's as good as anywhere. The opening titles to Star Wars done in the style of Saul Bass. I hope you enjoy it, because typing all this shit out with my inebriated fingers hasn't been easy. Nanoo Nanoo!:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steve Gerber 1947-2008

Now this is a damn shame. On a day when it looks like the Writer's Strike is over, a man who spent much of his career fighting for the rights of writers whilst redefining what comics could be has lost his battle with pneumonia. I'm indescribably gutted.

"I wouldn't describe myself as fearless, but I think you have to accept the possibility of failure if you want to achieve anything, in any field." - Steve Gerber, 1985

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just Say No

After 30 years, the BBC has finally decided to put Grange Hill out of its misery and has cancelled it, snapping it off like so much useless necrotic flesh. Many column inches have been filled with paeans to the golden years of this once-great British institution to mourn its passing. Lucy Mangan has a decent article up at The Guardian which reminded me of episodes lost to my memory years ago.

I don’t want to add to or compete with the glut of “Wasn’t Grange Hill great?” articles. (Largely written, I suspect, by people who haven’t watched it in 20 years. I reckon it hasn’t been worth watching for about that long anyway…)

No, I’m more interested in reminiscing about the day when I was in an episode of Grange Hill. Around 1985, I think. My school was approached by the makers of the show, and my entire school year was drafted in as extras with the odd line of dialogue. Cheap labour, I suppose. After all, we all had school uniforms. All we had to do was put on a Grange Hill school tie and, bam, we’re in costume.

My memories of that day are cloudy at best. But I do remember my class and the cast of the show interacting. They came across as a shower of drama-school shitheads, over-excited, cocky and interested only in showing off, flexing their pre-pubescent muscles, picking fights with us and driving the director insane by fucking about whenever the camera was rolling.

In the actual episode itself, I can be seen in the corner of the frame every now and then. I caught a rerun a couple of years ago. It was like a school photo with moving pictures. I wish I had a copy of it on VHS.

Oh well. Bye bye, weird little Danny Kendall and scary Mr. Bronson. Bye, Zammo, Tucker, Gonch and RowLand. And, as part of my Ongoing Lament that Opening Titles Used To Be Better, here is how I really remember Grange Hill. Badap bow bowwwww:

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sucker MCs should call them Sire

Wow. I saw this photo for the first time yesterday, and I love it:

Taken in 2005 by Jonas Karlsson, it's the Reverend Joseph "Run" Simmons and Darryl 'DMC' McDaniel, the Kings of Rock that we know and love as Run DMC, floating in a car.

The photo is currently appearing as part of the Vanity Fair Portraits - Photographs 1913-2008 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I'm gonna have to head over and see this bad boy full-size and hanging from a wall.

And there was a nice article about the making and taking of the photo in yesterday's Guardian which you can read online here.

Roll to the rock, rock to the roll
DMC stands for devastating mic control...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sure Plays A Mean Pinball

I still manage to uncover fragments of my youth from the mystical picture box that we call YouTube. Up in the mornin' and out to school, the teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule.

You want entertainment? Education? A clip as enjoyable for my three-year old daughter as it is for me? Psychedelic animation? The Funk? Flutes? The number twelve? Oh yes. This one has it all. From the golden days of Sesame Street:

Monday, February 04, 2008


Excitement runs high in my home, my head and my pants at the moment because Lost is back!

I always approach a new season of Lost with trepidation. What if it is rubbish? What if it no longer works? I needn't have worried. I'm as hooked as I ever was.

People who know me will attest to the fact that I will become an obsessive lunatic fanboy for the next couple of months. I might need to get the words "Not Pennys Boat" on a t-shirt...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Man In The Mirror

"So, what did you get up to last night, dawg?"
"Don't call me 'dawg", motherfucker! Who the hell talks like that?"
"Apparently you do. You're talking to yourself. You see, this is a flimsy expository device to make your observations about the movie you saw last night more interesting by reframing your pedestrian opinions in the form of a dialogue with yourself."
"Aha! OK. Let's start again."
"Cool. So, what did you get up to last night?"
"Well, I went to a screening of Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely."
"Another screening? Certainly racking up the free movies this month, aren't you?"
"Not just free movies. Paid cash money to take Buttercup to see Alvin and the Chipmunks on Saturday afternoon. Ah, singing rodents. Good times."
"Aren't we straying off the subject? I freaking loved Gummo, so I must have been looking forward to Mister Lonely. What's it all about?"
"Yes, sorry. Mister Lonely - difficult to articulate in a tasty soundbite, but I'll give it a go. It's a film about celebrity impersonators and impossible dreams and skydiving nuns."
"Sounds great!"
"It is great - some of the time. It's not one of those movies governed by a strong narrative throughline, but so what? Narrative is overrated. It's wildly uneven but when it's good? Man, it is awesome!"
"For real!"
"The film bounces back and forth from Paris to Panama to the Scottish Highlands, tracing the lives of a group of celebrity impersonators including Michael Jackson (Diego Luna), Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) and Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant). Oh, and James Fox is the Pope."
"Innit! Stunning performances all, but Werner Herzog practically steals the entire movie away from the lot of them. Glorious."
"And skydiving nuns! Now seems like a good time to mention that Mister Lonely will be out in the UK on 14 March 2008 and the US on 30 April 2008. This talking-to-myself-in-the-third-person is getting really irritating now. Can we stop this foolishness?"
"Shut up!"
"You shut up!"

Sunday, January 27, 2008

You Used To Think That It Was So Easy

“Windin' your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well another crazy day
You'll drink the night away
And forget about everything”
Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street

Excitement and anticipation were my overriding feelings on Wednesday night as I headed towards Leicester Square for a screening of The Bank Job. And here’s why:

1. The invitation to the screening was printed on an old, discontinued one pound note. How unutterably cool is that?

2. The director of the movie is Roger Donaldson, a filmmaker I am exceptionally fond of. Not because he is such a gifted storyteller, or because I absolutely love No Way Out and Thirteen Days, but because seven years ago he was gracious and accommodating to an inexperienced film journalist conducting his first interview and he made me feel comfortable and relaxed as he answered my questions. A true gentleman.

3. It’s a heist movie! I love heist movies!

4. The pitch worked on me straight away: “In September 1971, thieves tunnelled into the vault of a bank in London’s Baker Street and looted safe deposit boxes of cash and jewellery worth millions and millions of pounds. None of it was recovered. Nobody was ever arrested. The robbery made headlines for a few days and then disappeared - the result of a UK Government ‘D’ Notice, gagging the press. This film reveals what was hidden in those boxes. The story involves murder, corruption and a sex scandal with links to the Royal Family - a story in which the thieves were the most innocent people involved.”

5. It’s a movie about London and history and corruption and secrets and lies. And it all takes place on Baker Street, a road that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve worked on Baker Street. I set foot on Baker Street nearly every working day of my life. And the attention to period detail is just glorious. Sure, the odd anachronism sometimes pokes its way into the corner of the frame now and again, but this is an irrelevance when the film manages to get everything else so right.

6. Peter Bowles is in it!

When I walked out into the chill night air of Leicester Square after the movie had ended, I was not disappointed. My excitement and anticipation had been justified. Ten minutes after the curtain had dropped and the last of the credits had rolled, I was standing outside 185 Baker Street. It is still the site of Lloyds Bank 37 years on. And all these years, as I’ve been walking past, I never knew that it was a location dripping in intrigue and mystery. Not only as the location of the “Walkie-Talkie Bank Job”, but the hidden crypt running under the street containing the remains of many who died in the Great Plague of London in 1666.

With The Bank Job, a whole bunch of my preoccupations come together in one satisfying package. It’s still only January and I might have already seen the best film of the year. AKA says check it out.

The official website for the movie complete with the trailer can be found here, and for some more background on the true events that inspired the film click here.

The Bank Job is released in the UK on 28 February 2008 and in the US on 7 March 2008.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Shoulda Taken That Left Toin At Albukoikee

I wish I could run through a solid brick wall and leave nothing but a perfect AKA-shaped hole in my wake.

I wish I could run off a cliff and keep going, running through the air before the awareness that solid ground has disappeared hits me. I'd be suspended in thin air for a scant few seconds before plummeting into a canyon as I vanish into a cloud of dust.

I wish explosives could go off in my face and leave nothing more than blackened scorch marks and burnt hair which would magically disappear before the next scene.

I wish the soundtrack to my life was the sound of tightly-coiled springs twanging and cymbals clashing.

I wish life was like a Looney Tunes cartoon. I’d let the worst happen, dust myself off, and let Porky Pig wave the audience goodbye.

You do realise, this means war.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Trapped In A World He Never Made

January – the poorest month of the year. The longest interval between pay cheques and the financial hangover from Christmas hungrily gnaws at the hollow pockets of my wallet. What’s a guy to do for entertainment?

I suspect that 2008 will be the Year of the Press Screening for me. Plonking down cold hard cash to watch movies might be one luxury I can’t afford in the coming months. Fortunately for me, there are always stray e-mails penetrating my inbox inviting me to screenings. So this week, I went to see my first movie of the year. And no-one believes me when I tell them what I went to watch. Even if they do believe me, I can detect in their eyes a look that screams “Why, man? Why would you do such a thing??”

Ready? I went to see THIS!

Yes, to commemorate the DVD release of Howard The Duck, I squeezed myself into one of Soho’s miniscule screening rooms to let the insane magic of one of cinema’s most derided creations wash over me. And I’ll tell you a little secret. I was one of the only people who went to see it 20 years ago when it was released in the UK with the bland, almost-apologetic title Howard: A New Breed Of Hero. I loved it then too – for entirely different reasons though.

How can you not love a film that is so inept, misconceived and borderline offensive, riven with bad acting and dialogue that makes your ears weep, yet at the same time is genuinely funny, thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable from curtain up to curtain down? I am in awe of the fact that something as gloriously lunatic as Howard The Duck exists in the annals of cinema. And there really is a lot to recommend it.

The one thing that the film gets right is the character of Howard himself. The flip-side is that it totally fumbles the purpose of Howard. In Steve Gerber’s wonderful 70s comic, Howard was us. He wasn’t the freak. Everyone else was. He was Gerber’s mouthpiece – a vehicle for his frustration and amused irritation at the state of America in the 70s. In the movie, Howard just ends up as another reluctant action hero.

The duck effects in the movie actually stand up reasonably well in 2007. And there is more fun to be had here than in the stodgy lifeless effects spectacles foisted on us every summer.

But it says something when the best performance is the one given by the guy in the duck suit. Lea Thompson hit an all-time high with Back To The Future, only to thud right back down to earth with Howard The Duck. And the less said about the inter-species sex hinted at in a family film the better. Jeffrey “Ed Rooney” Jones is both teeth-grindingly dreadful and so far over-the-top that you cannot help but fall madly in love with his crazed appearance. And as for Tim Robbins – there’s no sugarcoating it. He is just crap in this.

It made me want to crack open my Essential Howard The Duck collection, just so that I could enjoy once again how it all began. And I’d definitely sit through the movie again. I might wait another 20 years until I do though…

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Damn Right

I love this:

(Found via Ectomo “a wonder closet of fringe art, culture and ephemera”. You should be reading it. Trust me.)