Monday, January 21, 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ranking the George Pal films


Because I can't just nostalgically rewatch a couple of fondly remembered films from childhood without getting self-harmingly OCD about it, here are The Top 14 George Pal Films, most of which are really other people's films.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best of 2018, Not from 2018


Tasty morsels I've digested in 2018, most not made in 2018, most not literally food.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Ranking the Mike Myers films


I enjoyed Wayne's World superficially as a child, but seeing it again as a teenager newly baptised in rock was a revelation, and it usurped Holy Grail for a while there as my favourite film.

It's slipped down a bit since, but it still stands up. That's what she said. (Tidies hair behind ears under cap and beams to comrades in satisfaction, mouthing further celebratory remarks inaudibly and fidgeting about). I know it does, because the entire thing's permanently branded on my memory. But do Mike Myers' other films stand the test of time and my own, highly debatable maturity? Will Austin Powers be funnier now that I get it?

Here are my The Top 9 Mike Myers Movies. This only includes those he wrote, directed/produced or otherwise had the major role in, but not voice-over work so I don't have to watch Shrek. Unfortunately, it doesn't get me out of The Love Guru.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ranking the James Bond films


I've never sat through a whole Bond film before. I've read one of the Fleming books, but it wasn't my sort of thing. I thought the films would be a bit Top Gear, and passionate endorsement from Alan Partridge didn't do them any favours.

Still, I've always been superficially interested in the Doctor Who-esque line of succession, and I'd enjoy the sense of contrarian superiority if it turned out I liked one of the underrated ones the best. It just means putting in the hard work of watching a load of entertaining films to get there. Let's crack on.

Here are my The Top 026 007 Films.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Alrightreads: Finales

Last words.


Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

1997 / Audiobook / 219 pages / USA

***

Burning through an author's most popular books first means the remainder of your relationship is probably going to be a drawn-out disappointment. So it goes, ting-a-ling.

This isn't a bad book, but it is a self-confessed failed novel that compensates by semi-fictionally deconstructing the abandoned earlier version of the novel while giving a weary old man the opportunity to muse and vent about things worth listening to.


Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale – The Final Chapter (Book Two)

2010 / Ebook / 354 pages / UK

****

I'd figured this was the sequel to the entertaining archive of email and text correspondence between the former-minus-one Doctor Who showrunner and some other guy that I read a few years ago. Turns out it's a generous second edition of that same book, bulked out to double the length with another year of chat. So I didn't read the first half again, even if doing so would be more entertaining than rewatching most of the episodes it excites over in glorious anatomical detail. Revealing and insightful, I eagerly await Steven Moffat's tell-all.


Iain Banks, The Quarry

2013 / Audiobook / 336 pages / UK

***

I didn't read all of the remaining intervening mainstream novels like I meant to this year, so I don't know if this one's uneventful minimalism is unusual. Banks says he wrote it before knowing that life was imitating art, but context is everything in this peaceful epilogue.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Alrightreads: Debuts

First words.


Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

1952 / Audiobook / 296 pages / USA

***

Vonnegut's early short stories didn't stand out to me, and since I've never come across any impromptu praise for his isolated debut novel, it's stayed on the virtual shelf for a decade or so.

It's not completely featureless, but it's more Philip K. Dick than the fully-formed Vonnegut of The Sirens of Titan. Its requiem for honest labour in the face of automation remains current; the sexual politics and retro technology less so.


Dan Simmons, Song of Kali

1985 / Audiobook / 311 pages / USA

***

Dan Simmons' longer novels have alternately fascinated or bored me, but this is your bogstandard horror debut, controversially warping real Hindu deities into Lovecraftian nightmares.

What makes it stand out is the exotic setting of Calcutta, described in such detail and with such seething resentment for the culture and customs that I can only assume he had a bad experience. Daydreaming a nuclear solution out loud on the opening page of his literary career probably wasn't the wisest decision in hindsight. Should have vented in a blog.


James Acaster, James Acaster's Classic Scrapes

2017 / Audiobook / 320 pages / UK

****

Enough literature, it's been too long since I've read a stand-up comedian's attempt to convert their live material into prose. This doesn't seem to be the case here, which is more a thematically-skewed autobiography. You haven't heard all of them on WILTY.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Alrightreads: lol

There are plenty of fascinating and exciting books out there, but it's not so easy to find a genuinely funny novel that makes you laugh out loud. If you're me anyway, with my clearly superior sense of humour.

Here are 1,000 pages' worth of books that are supposed to be good for a wheeze.


Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

1940 (pub.1967) / Ebook / 212 pages / Ireland

****

This isn't the most poignant eschatological voyage in literature, but it is notable for devoting a substantial chunk of its page count to surreal comedy sketches. It's a shame no publisher would touch it in the author's lifetime, or we could have got more.


David Nobbs, The Death of Reginald Perrin (a.k.a. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin)

1975 / Ebook / 287 pages / UK

***

I haven't seen the TV adaptation that followed the novel, but picked up the idea that the frustrated bloke abandoning his obligations and walking naked into the sea was regarded as something of a nonconformist hero. A middle-aged Neo for the 1970s.

Reading the actual story and Reggie's selfish and thoughtless thought process, he comes off less favourably and it's a bit like being stuck with the unpleasant narrators of Lolita or American Psycho again. But funnier.


Robert Sheckley, Options

1975 / Ebook / 158 pages / USA

***

There comes a time in an experimental artist's career when they have to decide whether to stop messing around and be sensible now or to keep pushing boundaries and audiences away.

Robert Sheckley's first novel after an extended leave admirably takes the latter option, though it's not clear whether all the jarring false starts leading to frustrating dead ends are trolling tomfoolery or a genuine breakdown and failure hidden in a postmodern cloak. I like to think it's both.


Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse, The Complete Bojeffries Saga

1983-91 (collected 1992) / Ecomics / 79 pages / UK

***

Moore's miscellany will keep me going for a few decades yet. This is one of the odder odds and sods, his take on an Addams/Munsters macabre sitcom that starts out brilliantly but runs out of ideas after the introductory tale. The remainder is mostly stock gags and a weird musical, padded out with mock activity pages to justify releasing the paperback.

It's a shame Alan's enthusiasm fizzled out, but it's not like he wasn't busy revolutionising the medium and churning out loads of classics at the time, so it's forgiven.




Viz, The Viz Bumper Book of Shite for Older Boys and Girls

1993 / Ebook / 81 pages / UK

**

Viz has probably made me laugh more than anything else in print, but I always optimistically forget how low the hit rate is. It's worse than ever in this Ripping Yarns-style special, which lacks the curated quality and quantity of the regular comic annuals by presenting bespoke weird content.

Most of the stories are longer, duller and more outlandish than the norm, sending characters to space or flashing back to their teens, and the mock educational articles in-between are a complete waste of time. The sole story that tickled me was Jack Black and His Dog Silver foiling a wallpaper counterfeiting ring, that earned a star.


Steve Aylett, Bigot Hall: A Gothic Childhood

1995 / Ebook / 160 pages / UK

***

Lint is one of the funniest books I've ever read, but like Sheckley and many other writers, starting out with Aylett's most popular one was a foolish decision that was only going to cause downhill disappointment.

Another kooky, ooky sitcom, this is pretty funny in a satisfyingly sick and twisted way, coining idiosyncratic phrases all over the shop and never committing the sin of being realistic. It's begging for ghoulish doodles to accompany every thousand-word sketch in the family album, but white space is provided if you want to scrawl your own.

Fave: The one where the mad scientist wires his nervous system to the greenhouse so he can feel what's going on, inadvertently ensnaring the creature that haunts their nightmares.


Friday, November 30, 2018

Ranking the Orson Welles films


A non-film student's philistine opinions on some of the Greatest Films of All Time® after a single watch-through (in most cases), based on fickle whims rather than years of research and contemplation.

Here are my The Top 13 Orson Welles Films. Does not include co-directions, unfinished films, trailers, narrations to camera or amateur home movies of student plays, I'm not obsessed.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Alrightreads: Space Bars

Sub-genres get quite specific sometimes.


Spider Robinson, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

1973-77 (collected 1977) / Audiobook / 170 pages / USA

***

Callahan's can (allegedly) be found on Long Island, not Alpha Centauri, but it still attracts the occasional introspective extraterrestrial among the reluctant psychics and real-time time travellers. I'd listened to some of these tales before, and while they hadn't stayed with me, the congenial atmosphere had. These character-driven narratives must have been a bit jarring for Analog readers between the space battles and robots, especially as they don't always feel obliged to include sci-fi staples to stay on brand.

Faves: 'The Time-Traveler,' 'The Law of Conservation of Pain,' 'A Voice is Heard in Ramah...'

Worsties: 'The Centipede's Dilemma,' 'Just Dessert,' 'The Wonderful Conspiracy.'


Steven Brust, Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

1990 / Ebook / 223 pages / USA

**

Rather than tall tales, this is a comedy sci-fi romance novel about a folk band's adventures across time and space in a TARDIS-like bar that keeps being mysteriously targeted for arson. These barely curious Sliders would rather drink, jam and be merry than bother investigating what's going on, and this lack of interest was sadly infectious.


Jerry Oltion, Star Trek: The Captain's Table – Where Sea Meets Sky

1998 / Ebook / 263 pages / USA

****

Pocket Books' Star Trek paperback crossover event for 1998 involved sending each series' captain to the pub to relate a space shanty. I only read the Picard trezer-hunting one at the time, which was one of the few Trek novels on my bookshelf that I actually made it all the way through. This one appealed to me too, since I've always been fascinated by what might have been if the series' (great) original pilot had been better received and we'd got more of the dour and introspective Captain Pike.

It's probably the best Trek lit I've ever read, not that the bar's set particularly high there. This grim tale of cyborg space whale carnage would be out of place in any of the proper series (pre-Discovery, anyway), but it fits in nicely with this hypothetically darker lost era. Pike > Kirk


Larry Niven, The Draco Tavern

1977-2006 (collected 2006) / Audiobook / 316 pages / USA

**

Larry's been doing these as long as Spider, but his tales from the watering hole tend to be more abrupt, less congenial and more straight-up SF: all presumably reasons why they didn't build the same following or inspire real-life imitations and a graphic adventure game. 

Most of these are just a few pages long and can't help feeling like filler as the bartender and his exotic patrons briefly discuss some aspect of alien culture. The better ones are when then go outside.

Faves: 'Smut Talk,' 'The Slow Ones,' 'Playhouse.'

Worsties: 'Grammar Lesson,' 'One Night at the Draco Tavern,' 'The Missing Mass.'