Posts from 29th September 2004

29
Sep 04

ADVENTURES IN LENTILS 2

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 328 views

ADVENTURES IN LENTILS 2

I was just going to have a frozen pizza. It was late after all. But then the “frozen pizza wretchedness” overcame me so I went for the store cupboard instead. Hmm, I though. Lentils and butter? I put the lentils on and head for the butter, knowing that in ten minutes I would have something comforting.

Then I saw the carrot. It got chopped and sprinkled in. And half a sorry looking red pepper. Spark up another ring and get that flaming. Suddenly it all seemed a bit more complex. A bit of onion, garlic and a couple of well chopped mushrooms might also help. The onions, mushies and garlic got lightly sauteed in butter till golden and mushy, this got dumped in the lentils which was stirred until it all became a moist, sloppy mess.

Flatmate’s dying basil got one last hurrah. Ripped leaves sprinkled in the mush, a big hunka hunka melting butter and in the bowl. A few mouthfuls confirmed that it was indeed nice, but was more of a pate than anything else. So I toasted some bread and got down to the business of watching Love And Death. Ten minutes, and better than any frozen pizza.

I really, really have no leftovers now though.

FT TOP 100 FILMS 23: GREMLINS 2

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FT TOP 100 FILMS
23: GREMLINS 2

Of the sequels in this list, this one perhaps might raise the biggest eyebrow. Its predecessor is by no means a great movie, it might have its fans but was too kiddie to be scary, and too scary for the kids. Oh and its central plot device (feed ’em after midnight and they turn into monsters) was destroyed by any vaguely pedantic twelve year old who understood the concept of time-zones. So every kid in America then.

So why Gremlins 2? Unlike nearly all the other sequels, nearly all sequels indeed, Gremlins 2 is a completely different genre to the first in its sequence. Gremlins 2 is an out and out comedy. Taking the piss out of itself, the world and in particular the movie biz that even thought that a Gremlins 2 was necessary. A film that embraces the stupidity at the core of the concept, a film that realises that the kids in the first film were actuallya bit insipid, and that Gizmo was pretty much a cheap toy rather than any kind of character. This is a sketch comedy of a film, a parodic slapstick whirlwind of colour and toytown macabre. It plays fast and loose with the audience in much the way Mars Attacks! would do later, but with a few key exceptions. Joe Dante has a much better sense of humour than Tim Burton, and funny was not necessarily on teh cards when you went in.

I am not sure even why I went to see it. But I do remember thinking I was going to get a cheap rehash of the original, just set in the city. Maybe it was raining (plot hole number two if you reproduce by getting WET!) Anyway I remember slowly, and then quite quickly, realising that this film was going to be silly. I think it was the time Grandpa from The Munsters turned up. Yes the film relies far too much on Joe Dante’s obsessions with cheap horror films, but for the sight gags (Gizmo as Rambo is both adorable and extremely daft), the destruction and slapstick – there had not been a better film of this sort since Laurel and Hardy hung up their boots.

Of course it would have been better if the insipid couple from the first film dies, but you can’t have everything…

I Was A Goblin: Made To be Broken

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clericDungeons and Dragons’ sell was simple and appealing. You were the hero in a fantastic world – you could star in an epic saga of your very own. Set against this was the fact that Dungeons and Dragons was a game, and moreover had been put together by hardened wargamers. This meant rules, and lots of them. What’s striking to me now is how TSR (the publishers) hit quite by accident on marketing gold – an endless series of rulebooks and expansions, each minutely detailing a different area of gameplay. I don’t remotely think this is because Gary Gygax planned a gotta-catch-em-all strategy; I think it is because he kept thinking of new rules and wanted somewhere to put them.

Adding to the lunacy was the game’s split into D&D and Advanced Dungeons And Dragons. The former was hardly simple – the latter yet more complicated, and apallingly structured. Even so by the standards of the emerging RPG genre AD&D was only averagely hard to grasp – some games carried more fearsome reputations. The character generation process in Chivalry And Sorcery, a medeival stickler, was reputed to take six or more hours.

Players of D&D split into two groups – those who cared about the rules, and those who didn’t. A referee from the former camp mixing with players from the latter was a recipe for a short, and possibly tearful game. But even a referee who believed in the ‘spirit, not the letter’ – like me, for instance – would find themselves in difficulty when a player turned out to be a ‘rules lawyer’. It’s hard to keep a game flowing when every decision requires endless cross-referencing and justification. To make matters worse, Gary Gygax himself had a firm and oft-stated position on the use of rules: they mattered. All of them. ALL. OF. THEM. If you were ignoring – or worse, modifying – a rule, what you were playing was not D&D.

The result of this forest of rules was that the AD&D gameworld evolved a logic of its own which took it well away from any book or saga any of its players might have encountered. Heroic fantasy rests on its sense of mystery, magic, the inexplicable. Wargaming rests on its internal consistency and statistical simulation of likely events. The two don’t naturally mix. As we’ll see in the next post, D&D’s attempts to quantify the fantastic resulted in a game of often bizarre implications.

Mis-placed loyalty

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 375 views

Mis-placed loyalty

The All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group held their Labour Conference bash yesterday. There was a free bar, with very nice nibbles and canapes.

The Group’s chair noted that whilst there were issues like ‘Binge drinking and stuff like that’, he wanted to draw out attention to the fact that at UK diplomatic functions and receptions, Her Majesty’s Government don’t serve beer – let alone British beer – unlike the French and German governments.

It was high time, he cried, that the state got behind British beer. And high time too, that the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group did the same, who held this do in a Walkabout.

Scenes from my First Actual Real Proper Holiday Abroad for 20 Years: day four

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Everything on Friday begins with C!!!

Les Calanques: are the mini-mountain ribs on either side of Marseille(s), where no one is allowed walk in August for fear of becoming lovely unrescued barbecue flavoured w.wild rosemary when they catch fire.
Cigales (aka cicadas): They are everywhere, chirring. Dr Vick tried to record them for her Animal Accents Project (= compare and contrast w.the cigales in the Paris Metro eg) but everything else (inc.me) made too much noise mostly.
Cassis can fuck off kinda. It is one east of Marseille(s) and v.wealthy and posh, and we were shouted at by a horrible millionaire in a merc w.a face like a hateful grey prune after we convinced ourselves that the one-way sign on his private road refers to some other (invisible) road, and not his.
Le Ciotat pt.1 is two east from Marseille(s), and an ordainry French seaside town with buckets and spades on sale, and (in August) heaving beaches. The teenage beachbums keep their motorcycle helmets on for maximum cool. We found a hotel called ‘Rose The’ – bizarre semantix 4 English-speakers – where the lady has an English boyf so wz plzd to find out abt the Normans (tho i forget exactly why they came up as we booked our room).
Coffee: she cheerfully denounced English coffee as ‘sockjuice’, which wz a bit cheeky considering (as noted), I didn’t have one drinkable cup in all the time I wz that side of the channel.
Citric Acid: In which Dr Vick finishes her Plate O’Shrimp, and tips the lemon juice left over her head to keep her hair nice and bleached and spiky.
Carrefours: is a giant French hypermarket of no great interest except i had left my plug Converter at Les Tuileries.
Le Ciotat pt.2 It’s the 60th anniversary of the American Liberation of Mediterranean France, and there’s a PARADE – mainly of ageing frenchfoax dressed as GIs or resistance guerillas – and also a fair!!
Chinese meal: We look for a fish restaurant Vick remembered from long ago (in a Cave = French for Cellar), but it?s full, so we have Vietnamese-Chinese instead, on a quiet streetcorner: enormous bowls of noodle soup which taste like the sea.
Counter-MonoculturalismMeanwhile a Japanese death-metal band seems to be setting on the opposite corner. Dressed as Sioux Warriors. And they play Peruvian panpipes, to backing tapes. Doing Cinemato-Celtic covers of Abba and Simon & Garfunkel! And sell millions of CDs, as Authentic Red Indian New Age Karaoke Instrumentals are v.the thing in coastal Provence this summer, it turns out. Nearby stands an elderly blonde woman: either their over-anxious manager-agent or their scariest stalker-fan. In the fair they have a stall, where a Native American-looking woman also sells teatowels featuring Che, Elvis, Geronimo, Bob Marley, the Zapatistas, cowboys AND indians (sometimes all at once). They are wearing war-paint (= why we can’t tell what continent they-re from); the show has surely been a coded call for an Uprising against the (Global) Man – only we leave before this starts.

More London business

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More London business: this coming weekend may be a good weekend for sniffing around the cutting edge of East London’s art world. It’s F-EST so they’ll be looking out for you. This may make it a bad time to go and visit, depending on your point of view, but I’ll be there. I’ll be keeping my nose away from any cutting edges, mind.

Americans!

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Americans! Is this true?

Answers in the comments box please! Or return to your blogs and give me links. Or whatever, you know.

The szchphthiel on the back of Richard Morgan’s Market Forces

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The szchphthiel on the back of Richard Morgan’s Market Forces suggests that “what he did for science fiction, he now does for the thriller”. Well, if what he did for sf was introduce large trade paperbacks with shiny glossy covers he certainly does this here. You might think this was a continuation of the story started in Altered Carbon, which was a fun sf detective novel which had a few good ideas vis a vis consciousness storage and space travel. The second book of the Takeshi Kovacs series, Broken Angels was weaker but did have one brilliant piece of invention, weapons which evolve to work out the weakness of its enemy. All in all rather fun gung-ho action space operas.

Published by Gollancz SF, Market Forces is a nice entry in near-future dystopianism. The rule in inventing a dystopia is generally to take one aspect of current society and extrapolate to a ridiculous degree. Here we have companies who are into conflict management, people who buy and sell arms and gamble on the outcome of small conflicts. The irony that this is what The Company (ie the CIA) has been doing for the last fifty years is not lost. Though is somewhat obfuscated by Morgan’s parallel desire to write a white collar version Mad Max, where overpowered executives kill people in Saab’s of destruction.

This is, quite clearly, science fiction. There is no science in it, of course not, but dystopias and social extrapolations (no matter how silly) belong in the speculative fiction genre. As a thriller this is rather moribund, it is fundamentally the story of one man deciding whether to sell out or not. Certainly Morgan’s setting and methods makes this potentially more exciting, but road raging on the M11 is still not something that works best on the page. Morgan likes to think his world is as plausible as anyone else’s (he has a nice gobalisation and rampant capitalism bibliography at the end which all seems like yesterdays darlings) but he is too in love with the cars and chrome. Which is probably where its shiny cover comes back in.

THE SQUARE TABLE 18 / Alcazar – “This Is The World We Live In”

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POP FACTOR: 857 CONTROVERSY RATING: 174

My second favourite record of the year – ten out of ten! Ten squared! Can I justify that? Maybe. There are a lot of things I can use music for – catharsis, communication, comfort, profundity, scratching a technophile itch, a hundred others. In my life music has done some of these things well, some poorly. But what are the things that only music can do to me? One is make me dance – not that I do enough of that, these days. The other is to give me what this gives me, a joyful moment of self-erasing, transporting intensity. Almost nothing else – and certainly no other artform – can provide that wide-eyed feeling, which comes without effort, cost or consequence.

The feeling isn’t always ‘happy’ but it’s always linked with excitement, like something’s heating up my spirit. The feeling isn’t often transferable and you can’t talk someone into it: I might get it from a stitch-up of Diana Ross and Genesis, you might be repelled. It can come and go, which is why I don’t often stand by lists. I can enjoy and admire and discuss music that doesn’t give me the feeling, in fact for the sake of conversation I prefer to leave it implied (pretend you never read this post). Sometimes everything on the radio can give me it a little; sometimes nothing can, and the songs which sent me to heaven yesterday can leave me vaguely satisfied tomorrow. But that clean hit on the pleasure centres is the irreplacable and highest truth of music for me: almost everything else is justification. 10 Joker (Tom)

I’m not entirely sure that my puny words can do this monster of a track Justice. The warped imagination of the someone who thought “i know what Upside Down needs, THE CHORUS TO LAND OF CONFUSION!” is *exactly* the sort of person we Need in the world we call pop. “And then i shall get four beautiful android kids to front it and TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!” The verses are delicious euro-nonsense, but hey, it doesn’t matter who you are, when you’re moving up with Alcazar. 10 Joker (Carsmile Steve)

I love songs which are song with lyrics which are sung in a deeply meaningful, heartfelt way – where said songs also have completely ridiculous words. I am not talking about the “Cos we’re moving up with Alcazar” bits, rather the Genesis original ones. Pompous, over-blown and a perfect fit to this pumping pop Porsche of a song.

Yes it is the soundtrack to ridiculous drinking at Glastonbury and as such cannot even be touched objectively, but if dancing round and through fire whilst off ones nut on calamacho makes me unable to judge this beauty properly then so be it. 10 Joker (Pete)

Disco double-handclaps! 10 Joker (cis)

The exact polar opposite of Gary Jules and yet more proof that production and arrangement are more important than the songs themselves. This takes the chorus from a frankly rubbish Phil Collins record and makes it brilliant purely by whacking on a hook nicked from Diana Ross’s ‘Upside Down’, a big chunky disco beat and the sort of unselfconscious sugar rush that British pop has largely abandoned since the sad demise of the original S Club. I first heard this at 1am at Glastonbury, dancing drunkenly round a tape recorder and grinning from ear to ear at the end of what is up there as one of the most out-and-out FUN days of my life. And every single time I’ve heard it since, that same ear-to-ear grin has been impossible to suppress. 10 (Matt D’Cruz)

In the beginning was the word, and the word was POP! Alcazar turn the book of Genesis upside down, and welcome you to the world God forgot to create. This is discotopia: entry free, dress smart casual (no indie-scruff here, please), soundtrack Abba, Janet Jackson, George Michael and Metallica (Tess’s favourite band). Impeccable pop classicists Alcazar have filled the Steps-shaped hole in my heart, and they can do the same for you, you and all of you. 10 (alext)

First heard this blaring out of Ricky T’s portable stereo at about 1am at Glastonbury. Instant Svensk-pop thrills from that magical land with such a terrific knack for this stuff. It feels like a BIG tune even before you reach the Genesis-pilfering chorus – that being the extra fruity segments atop this scintillating cheesecake. Problem with cheesecake is too much of it makes you feel sick very quickly, but with Alcazar the judgement and measures seem as balanced as can be, a strained but earnest degree of soul in the vocals and the slickness of production suggesting they genuinely love and believe in what they do. That’ll be having colossal amounts of fun then. I’m unsure of its durability but when they’re this focused on ‘right here, right now’ maybe I should be as well. And the thought of a hundred or so outrageous campers exploding with glee as this song is played at ‘that sort’ of club just makes me smile. 9 (Steve M)

They pillage, they plunder, they triumph. It really doesn’t matter who Alcazar’s latest sampling casualties are as long as they keep making bouncy and chirpy Europop as enjoyably brain-dead as this. Phil Collins come back, you never sounded so good. The lyrics may seem to be a sequel to Jacko’s “Heal The World,” but perhaps there are deeper things at hand.

To me, the way that Genesis and Diana Ross are rudely appropriated for Alcazar’s personal gain is akin to the way an average person brazenly manipulates another for their own advancement. When Alcazar sing “This is the world we live in / Let’s make it a place worth living,” the implicit context is all skillful exploitation of Genesis’ melody, while the explicit context is all about people bonding together for the well-being of the world. Contradiction city! Both contexts are pitted against each other as the song plays, and in the end, I have to say goodbye to the betterment of the world – because I’d rather be moving on up with Alcazar! 8.5 (Michael F Gill)

Alcazar haven’t done anything for ages – perhaps biding their time, waiting to pick the finest blend of pop tunes in the time honoured manner of the Man From Del Monte. Upside Down and Land Of Confusion are both fantastic tunes, and work together wonderfully- the tough Diana Ross boogie tune mind-expanded by an 80s concept pop lyric. And if you miss the Diana Ross vocal, that compact, sassy shuffle, well the melody is quoted by the guitars anyway. This is easily the sum of its quality ingredients, and more besides. 8 (Derek Walmsley)

Oh. Oh my. Well. Yes. Of course. 8 (Forksclovetofu)

Both of the voices and most of the upbeat and rather vacuous lyrics (fires Keeping circles turning?) remind me of happy hardcore, but the rest is much more europop, with a big slice of Francophile filter-disco – it made better sense after Listening to Daft Punk on my walkman during a fag break from the office. I think the only thing I don’t like is the strained ‘uh-ohh-oh’ backing vocal. I know nothing of these people (I think I may be the most out of touch person doing these Square Table reviews), but I like this – a strong tune, and lively music. 8 (Martin Skidmore)

Aha. The force is strong with disco retro revivalists. They always work precisely because the original hook still sounds as great as ever. But I suppose the true test is if they stand up on their own. Alcazar bump through this as if they are the only survivors of the disco era and take great delight in trying to get everyone else “moving up with Alcazar”, like some sort of dance troupe, handclapping all over the place, skiffling and sliding, or something.

I can’t fault this. It should be ripping up the clubs up and down the country but I suspect it won’t, ever. My jiving will probably have to happen with me still firmly planted to my chair. 8 (MW_Jimmy)

I must’ve dreamed a thousand dreams. But one slipped into reality. Alcazar is a sound devoid of blemishes – every sound is hyperfiltered, all fuzziness erased– so you’re left with… nothing tangible. But that’s what (Swedish) Pop is: a parallel world full of peroxide bouffant hairdos, ultra-pink handbags and winking lads. It’s a one way ticket, baby, your fake nail stuck between the stereo buttons. “This Is The World We Live In” doesn’t give a tiny Jordan’s bum about problems, it’s about Prozac induced madness. You’re stuck with a screaming grin but, strangely, there’s no way you can dance to it. Hmm. It could be merely the Diana Ross sample, it could be the cheeky way they sampled Land Of Confusion or it could merely be the Swedes re-enlisting Army of Lovers for world control. Whatever. Let’s Pop. 8 (Stevie Nixed)

I thought I might hate this, but I don’t. It’s cheesy and meta, and that’s Okay with me. I guess it’s ‘social’ music – for dancing about to, and that’s pretty alien to me, but when the video comes on, I don’t turn over to one of the shopping channels. It could do with being a bit more Eurovision, i.e the vocals ain’t so great. 6.5 (Jel)

More filter disco, this time Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” (the groove of which pretty much works in any context, though I’d be staggeringly impressed had they chosen the Jesus & Mary Chain song). But “Land Of Confusion” by Genesis is not welcome in ANY context. Not even the wonderful world of Irony would welcome this duffer. The end result is a mental Battle Royale of imagery. Hey! I’m on the dance floor! Wha?! Genesis puppets?! The dance floor! Puppets! Buzzkill, Genesis is thy name. 6 (Henry Scollard)

As much as I should love this, the band seems committed to making it a difficult relationship. Winning me over would seem easy; people accuse me of delighting in plastic, “manufactured” pop music, and I take that characterization . But as much as I love the transcendant sample, the band fails to do it justice. Naivety and insincerity swamp the chorus, and the last minute or so are unbearable. But a great first thirty seconds or so mean a 5. (Atnevon)

Hey! A Swedish pop group where the guys are cuter than the girls! Now that’s what I call music! If they could sample “Land of Confusion”, slap on the “Upside Down” chorus, and make THAT bounce in their disco castle, then I’d really be impressed. On the other (good? bad?) hand, I think I sense a bit of anti-war dissidence in the lyrics (yeah, you BET someone’s filled with hate over here in Terror Inc.), but that’s because I have “Toy Soldiers” on the brain when I should be chewing on “Super Troop-oop-er”. But, yeah, Alcazar + Miss Ross + Philbo Baggins = a move up not so much; more like a push sideways. 5 (David Raposa)

More nights out.

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More nights out. My friend Ant was always a pretty good DJ, but has never really put his head down and gone for it as an more than a diversionary sideline and/or excuse to buy lots of records (hmm, heard that one before). Anyway, post his metal days he got into plenty of interesting dance music, which i always tried to tag along on but always flailed a bit. Well now he’s back and is DJ-ing on Friday night just south of Blackfriars Bridge in a pub called Paper Moon (on Blackfriars Road). The evening is called Sismian Heights and I’ll be going.

Don’t blame Ant for the website though. Is that kind of thing still what dance websites have to look like?