Friday, June 15, 2018

Ranking the Charlie Kaufman films


I generally go through life untroubled by thoughts of Charlie Kaufman. If you were to interrogate me in the street, I might struggle to recall who he is.

But when you notice that a couple of long-term inmates on your to-watch list are by the same person responsible for several other films you've found enjoyable, original and memorable over the years, it's worth paying attention. Even if just to take that arrogant 100% hit rate down a notch (or better still, maintain it).

Here are my The Top 7 Charlie Kaufman Films. Not many, but maybe he couldn't be bothered to pad it out with mediocre ones?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ranking the Star Trek films


Oh good, something grown-up at last.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ranking the David Lynch things


I first (knowingly) watched some David Lynch films as a teenager seeking out weird shit. Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead convinced me he was a genius, then Lost Highway cooled me off. A couple of years later, I finally checked out the Twin Peaks thing I kept reading about and the cycle started again. It's come and gone a couple of times since.

This was originally going to cover all 100 or so short films, advertisements, music videos, cooking demonstrations and other Lynch-directed paraphernalia, but it turned out I wasn't sufficiently obsessed. So here's a lukewarm Lynch fan's The Top 14 David Lynch Films and TV Shows.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ranking the Stanley Kubrick films


2001 is one of my favourite films (best of luck, everyone), and I'd enjoyed a couple of the others too, but it was watching Jon Ronson's Stanley Kubrick's Boxes that made me want to know more about this passionate obsessive. It's a shame there's so little.

Here are my personal The Top 16 Kubrick Films. Three of them aren't films.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ranking the Alfred Hitchcock films


I've always felt directors get too much credit in the film business. Not to the overblown extent of actors, obviously, but it's your screenwriters – writing their own stories rather than adapting tried-and-tested best-sellers they've bought the rights to – and your sleep-deprived, script-editing showrunners I've got the greatest respect for.

So I never gave much of a toss about Alfred Hitchcock. He just seemed to be a fat, limey knock-off of Rod Serling, who didn't even write the stories he was presenting. But when I watched a couple of films, liked them a lot, then watched a couple more, I started to get it. So then I did my customary thing and scoffed the lot over a couple of months, including all the deservedly overlooked ones no one ever talks about because they're not really worth mentioning. Still, maybe I can pluck out a couple of obscure gems for you.

Here are a non-filmmaker's philistine first-timer reactions (I'd only seen Rear Window previously) to The Top 52 Hitchcock Films. Shorts, collaborations, foreign language remakes, TV things and ones I couldn't find not included.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Alrightreads: Dead Stuff

Dead good?


John Metcalfe, The Feasting Dead

1954 / Ebook / 123 pages / USA

***

Exhumed from the Arkham House archive, this vampiric ghost story is billed as a criminally overlooked horror classic. That's going a bit far.

If it was bundled with other novellas and short stories in an anthology of obscurities, there's a good chance it'd be one of the stand-outs. If it had been adapted for a murky seventies TV anthology, it'd be fondly remembered. But as a stand-alone volume, it doesn't do much to justify a place on your classics shelf.


Roger Zelazny, Isle of the Dead

1969 / Audiobook / 190 pages / USA

***

Zelazny's anachronistic future has some unique touches that make it stand apart from your standard Silver Age sci-fi setting. So it's a shame he cheapens it by making it the story of an unenlightened 20th century businessman who made his way to the future the long way round and ends up doing preposterously well for himself in this brave new world. What's the male equivalent of a Mary Sue?

It might just be that I've watched a lot of Red Dwarf recently, but from prolonged suspended animation to psychic terraforming, I have a feeling this slim volume had a place on Grant Naylor's collective bookshelf.


Iain Banks, Dead Air

2002 / Audiobook / 408 pages / UK

**

Like Complicity, this is the story of an amoral local media figure who serves as a mouthpiece for the way Iain Banks sees things, and who gets caught up in an implausible cinematic thriller to keep things from getting too realistic.

There are some differences though. The author stand-in's monologues are now more tedious (even if he's basically right, I found myself siding with the interfering squares questioning the point of it all), his irresistibility to women comes off like wish fulfillment, the jeopardy's entirely his own fault, so he deserves what's coming to him, and Complicity wasn't turned around with ambitious haste to provocatively position itself as a landmark of Post-9/11 Literature.

It's not my least favourite Banks book, but that's only because he wrote Canal Dreams.


Various, Dead Funny Encore: More Horror Stories by Comedians

2016 / Ebook / 256 pages / UK/Australia

****

This feels like a more consistent collection than the first one, mainly because all the contributors understood what it was this time, and again it's mostly entertaining. The comedians don't all feel pressured to be funny, but it's better when they do.

Faves: Stewart Lee's 'Test Pressing,' Rufus Hound's 'Date Night,' Alan Moore's 'Cold Reading.'

Worsties: Alice Lowe's 'Carnival,' James Acaster's 'To Do,' Natalie Haynes' 'The Basement Conversion.'


Sunday, April 8, 2018

The 10,000-word Star Trek dissertation I somehow got away with writing for my 'English Literature' degree


Other people's opinions cobbled together to fit a prescribed word count and passed off as original. Of no intrinsic value, but useful experience for my subsequent career. And I got to watch loads of Star Trek under the guise of research rather than having to read hard books.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Alrightreads: Reekies

Is Edinburgh the greatest city in the world? It's my favourite anyway, and has been since I first went to the Fringe at 18 for a formative couple of days. I've seen enough cities since then and the verdict holds up, though those have mainly, admittedly, been at the developing end of the scale. Here are some Edinburgh-based books, because I like to torture myself or something.


Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes

1879 / Ebook / 61 pages / UK

***

I would have liked to have gone to school in Edinburgh. There wasn't much to learn about the South Cheshire village I grew up in, beyond the one 16th-century pub, whose Dick Turpin connection is optimistic at best, so it was nice to learn some of the history of my favourite city beyond the ghoulish side I already knew. Though Stevenson inevitably digs that stuff up too, it's Edinburgh after all.

This brief but intimate tour is dated in a very satisfying way, capturing a time when the New Town was actually new, Dean Village was still a village and Calton Hill was already a national embarrassment.


Ian Rankin, Knots & Crosses

1987 / Audiobook / 168 pages / UK

***

If the postgraduate Rankin had a premonition of how long his John Rebus series was going to last, he probably wouldn't have mined seemingly the whole backstory of the brooding inspector in his first outing. Those subsequent ones are also presumably less directly linked to the detective solving them, or he'd become a liability. And Edinburgh presumably calms down from its sensational spell as Europe's murder capital so readers don't feel increasingly alienated by the alternate reality setting.

I'm not the biggest fan of mudder mysteries, but it was alright. Though totally unsolvable until Rankin decides you can have the essential missing pieces now in that Agatha Christie way.


Iain Banks, Complicity

1993 / Physical book / 313 pages / UK

****

This was the reason behind my Edinburgh-themed reading, really. I picked this up in a used bookshop almost three years ago, and since then it's only served as an occasional mouse mat, eagerly awaiting the next time I'd take a couple of long solo flights and finally have a reason to read printed paper rather than a screen.

It's got the usual violence, rape, bondage and murder that hasn't been shocking for a good few books now, but it's more engaging than most of those were, and maybe my favourite '90s (i.e. second-tier) Banks. It's got to be the author's most indulgent stand-in work too, from the Edinburgh specifics to his appreciation of retro strategy games, whisky and other substances.


Jonathan Aycliffe, The Matrix

1994 / Ebook / 237 pages / UK

****

Don't let the '90s setting, sceptical debunking and drug references fool you; this Edinburgh-set occult horror is a complete throwback, and I appreciated the sincere pastiche. Let others take up the burden of innovation.

The author's done his research to make his doomed scholars and forbidden tomes more plausible than Lovecraft's (or he's just better at making up convincing-sounding names), even if the narrator's obliviousness and abrupt descent from rational sociologist to gibbering acolyte are similarly laughable. That can all be excused by the foreboding creepiness that hangs over much of it, which I've rarely felt outside of childhood horror books.


James Robertson, To Be Continued or, Conversations with a Toad

2016 / Ebook / 336 pages / UK

***

James Robertson has written some acclaimed and very serious-sounding novels about Scotland.  He also wrote this stream-of-consciousness ramble about a man's low-stakes midlife crisis odyssey across Scotland with a talking toad, which naturally struck me as more appealing. Having doggedly stuck with it through to its conclusion, I can certainly say it is one of the books I have read.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Mental essays: Rear Window and the Perinatal Unconscious, or A Womb with a View


"A homo-erotic reading of Rear Window is reluctantly invited by the word ‘rear’ in the title ... the window’s position at the rear of the house may even imply a masculinised cervix" – my actual university essay

We've been working through the Hitchcock films recently, and when it got to that bit in Rear Window where Jeffries falls out of the window, I suddenly remembered that I once wrote a ridiculous essay at university making the case that – beyond the obvious analogies of voyeurism and impotence – the film was also clearly influenced by Hitchcock's repressed, traumatic memories of birth (whether he realised it or not).

I found it.

In fairness to my student self, this was a combination of psychoanalytical piss-taking and being too lazy to research a new theory from scratch. I'd come across Stanislav Grof's LSD research in the library some time before, when researching something different that I can't even remember now, and had been desperate to squeeze any work of fiction into its malleable framework as soon as it came up.

I may not have taken the ENGL307 Literature and Film unit very seriously, especially when they kept letting me get away with this stuff. The sketch show Big Train is cited as a reference, that's the level of academic professionalism we're dealing with.