Dec 04

Who is Jonathan Creek

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” Arthur C Clarke

A 15-year long conspiracy is fighting for its life. The conspiracy, committed by desperate Dr Who fans, permeates the corridors of British television. One of the more noticeable symptoms of the conspiracy is the TV series Jonathan Creek. Many people have noted the similarities between these two shows (an example from, but the reality is more, much more, disturbing.

Of course, like any respectable conspiracy, it is vigorously denied. An interviewer pushes the point in this interview with the producer of Jonathan Creek. The producer dismisses the similarity, claiming that the writer Andrew Marshall is no fan of Doctor Who. But who is this producer? Why it’s Verity Lambert – the very first producer of Doctor Who back in 1963. And if we grant that Marshall may not be a Who fan, this leaves the massive overlap of characters and plot to be explained. For the coincidences of casting however we can look elsewhere: for the BBC staff (casting included) is riddled with “sleeper” Who fans.

Roots of a conspiracy

Fans of Doctor Who have several scores to settle. Not least of which was the cancellation of the show by the then DG Michael Grade in 1989. Grade publicly stated that he loathed the show, so when DW was first “put on hold” in the mid 80s there was a media flurry driven by fans and doting/bored newspaper columnists that culminated in the fantastic “Doctor in Distress” charity record. But some years later when the show was finally cancelled where was the charity record? All very suspicious. Those same fans had grown up a little, and plotted a much more subtle revenge. They found themselves out of school or college, looking for work, and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us. The “other interests” sections of CVs sent to the BBC were quietly revised overnight.

It had to happen. Dr Who was recommissioned early in 2004, and is currently in production to start transmission some time in 2005.

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Nov 04

Everything They Say About Soul Is Wrong

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Emotion vs Technique in Soul Music and its Criticism

Does soul music have soul, and does it matter?

Hear or read most people praising soul music, and they’ll be hyping certain qualities, while some others won’t get a mention. ‘Soul’ is an awkward word anyway: not just a genre, but a quality, something to aspire to, an inherent good, a damning criticism when you say something lacks it – more so if the target of the complaint is black! There’s circularity to some praise: soul records are good because they have soul; and we’ll define soul music as records with soulfulness…

But we know what is meant, really, even if it’s not that simple to pin it down or measure it. We aren’t just dealing with arrangements and modes, we are talking about heartfelt emotions, raw passion, a sincerity of feeling, expressed from the heart in natural ways. I am very doubtful, though, that this has anything to do with soul music and what makes it so wonderful. Vintage soul is my favourite kind of music, especially the Southern stuff in the ’60s and early ’70s – Stax and Hi and all that – but I am deeply suspicious of the way its fans talk about it. This has seeped into the wider discourse too – the emotional angle is by no means restricted to the devotees, experts and critics. You only have to be aware of the existence of live shows to know that we aren’t hearing the real emotions of the performers – no one has three minutes of hardbreak, then three of anger at betrayal, then three of having a party, then three of being deeply in love…

I can’t help thinking about the way football commentators talk about African players – it used to be black players in general in my younger days, but now it seems to have been cut back that far. Lots of natural skill, but do they have the discipline, can they overcome their naivety – about an inch from suggesting that these blackies ain’t too bright, this – can they understand how to play as a team? It doesn’t take a vast amount of insight to spot the racism in all of this. You might not get too many people talking openly like Ron Noades nowadays, with grotesque generalisations dismissing the strength and intelligence of black players, but the ideas are still there, and they smack you in the face every time you watch an African team play. If the players are Europeans, the commentators will frequently admire the technique and tactics and cleverness; if they are African, it’s all defensive naivety and innate exuberance, and you keep half-expecting the commentators to start talking about natural rhythm. I keep feeling as if the pundits are watching a different game from me, one in which the shambolic Germans I can see are replaced by the disciplined, technically superb team being talked about, and the hard-working, technically excellent, well-organised African side have been swapped for this bunch of naive – but naturally talented! – athletes.

Now think of soul music. I think much of its criticism (formal and
informal) does very similar things: the talk is of passion and raw emotion, an innate access to feeling, and not of intelligence and musical technique. I think there are plenty of examples to show how hopelessly distant these ideas are from what is actually happening on the tracks. I’ve picked Al Green’s cover of the Bee Gees’ ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?’ because it’s one of my favourite records, but I also think it may be the best example from the accepted soul canon of a record that has nothing whatsoever to do with this common discourse.

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

Firstly, it’s a cover version: plainly not the sincere and heartfelt expression of Al Green’s pain and anguish, but someone else’s song. And not another raw soul singer’s song, not even a black artiste at all, but one by the Bee Gees, just about as white a band as you could name, a boy-band pop group of brothers from Australia. Obviously the critical framework that’s accreted to soul in the three decades since was virtually non-existent then, so I don’t suppose Green and co. agonised for one second over whether it was right or acceptable or credible to cover a Bee Gees song. It’s a fairly simple little song, very nice melody, it’s about a broken heart, plemty of scope to do things with it – that’ll do. I used to be in a painfully serious Yahoo southern soul group, and I particularly remember their reactions to a new published interview with Sam Moore of Sam & Dave. He expressed a liking for various people, by no means all soul types or ‘credible’ artists. Elton John was the name that agitated them most – they were trying to make excuses, looking for a hidden agenda, wondering if there was talk of Elton writing a song for him or working with him. They couldn’t believe that a soul giant could really like Elton’s music, which is surely the obvious and completely plausible explanation. That’s one of the reasons why a cover of a Bee Gees song appealed to me as an example here.

Listen to the way it’s all put together: this isn’t any kind of raw outpouring of anything, this is a measured, restrained, carefully constructed record with some of the most subtle, intelligent playing and production you’ll find anywhere, in any form of music. And the reason Al Green is the perfect singer to address these points is in its clearest form here: yes, he had a great voice, but this isn’t the natural outpouring of romantic pain; it’s not even method acting, where he deliberately feels it and so expresses it; this is the work of a powerful musical intelligence, who has carefully thought about every moment of the song, every word, every sound, and has calculated how to make it work with maximum effect. The feeling comes across, irresistibly and heartbreakingly, but we are doing everyone involved (and musical criticism in general!) a disservice if we stop with that thought. I’m not necessarily claiming the intelligence is all Al Green’s – there is no way of knowing how much it is his thinking and how much it is the producer’s. Some of both, I expect, but I don’t think speculation on this is terribly interesting.

Willie Mitchell produced all the great records on the Hi label. He’d been in music since the ’50s, mostly as a horn player. He understood passion and excitement, but he also had a deep understanding of musicianship, and of a variety of production approaches. I think he was more in tune with the lusher style that rock ‘n’ roll had forced into the background than with the rawness of the great Memphis soul that had dominated, via Stax in particular, for the several years before Hi’s early ’70s glory days. No one made lovelier use in soul music of strings – well, maybe Norman Whitfield, but that’s another argument.

Mitchell not only knew what a good singer sounded like, and had therefore lured Al Green to Memphis (and signed up O.V. Wright, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and many other terrific vocalists), but he’d built up great contacts in the local music scene. Peter Guralnik refers to his having brought up the Hodges brothers almost like a parent, and the three of them provide guitar, bass and organ here. Even more importantly, I believe he had worked in the ’50s with a drummer named Al Jackson, and also his son Al Junior, whose regular gig was with the house band at Stax, Booker T & the MGs.

Al Jackson is one of my musical heroes, on more records that I adore than anyone else, and I think he is vastly important here. Hi most regularly used Howard Grimes as a drummer. He was a disciple of Jackson, and Guralnik’s Sweet Soul Music describes him as his ‘rhythmic twin’, but there is an audible difference: maybe not much at all in the beats they generate, but in their touch (I think Jackson’s grip was softer, but that’s a layman’s view). Howard Grimes was a great drummer, but Al Jackson has a delicacy, a subtlety, even a beauty that not only Grimes couldn’t match, but that no one else ever could. You don’t often find drumming lovely, but this is, especially the flawless use of the cymbals. That restraint and control and gentle, almost laid-back touch is vital to this song.

Leroy Hodges was an exceptional bassist, and brother Teenie a great guitarist, but they are mostly backgrounded here. Teenie could draw you into a tune as well as anyone (listen to the peerlessly constructed intro to Al Green’s Love And Happiness), but they aren’t at the front on this one – Teenie plays extremely lightly and simply. Nor is their other brother, Charles, at the front, but his unique use of the organ is maybe at its finest on this. He doesn’t play like everyone else, he rarely plays anything like a tune at all: his organ makes a background sound, much like a colour tone, a wash. One note holds, and switches seamlessly to another with no moment between, no space. When he occasionally does something different, even as simple as a quick run, the contrast is spectacular and thrilling – there’s a moment just over five minutes in where he suddenly plays one unexpected note, to stunning effect.

But there is much more on this record. I’ve always liked bravura moments in pop production (it’s why I love Shadow Morton so – no one threw more in than he did), and Willie Mitchell came up with a few dazzling uses of strings – the pizzicato violin raindrops in Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ are the most famous example, but ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?’ has my favourite such single moment, the extraordinary shimmer of violins representing the breeze just referenced in the lyric, something that always sends a chill down my spine.

Having said all this, we have to note that the singing is at the centre of most pop music, and (its terrific instrumentals notwithstanding) this is arguably more true of soul music than any other form. I wouldn’t wish to neglect my favourite singer, and also the singer is at the centre of what I’m claiming is the big misguided way in which I hear people talk about soul.

I want you to listen to the thought that has gone into every instant of Al Green’s performance, every shift of tone and volume and pace, every intonation, every wordless sound. Dave Marsh has described Al as pop’s greatest solipsist, and that is one way of looking at it – but I think it makes Green’s intensity and the seriousness of his examination of how the particular lyric must feel, and how to express that, into something that sounds like a character flaw. And also, again, I think he doesn’t go far enough: this is full of carefully calculated technical devices. We can call it trickery if you like – I have zero interest in trying to claim that it is genuine, authentic feeling, that Al Green felt anything at all that he expresses here. It makes solipsism a false term: I don’t believe that all he is doing is expressing how he feels, if he is doing that at all; he is finding ways to express what this lyric and song feels like, he is putting those emotions into the song, irrespective of how he might have personally felt at the time it was recorded.

This isn’t an outpouring, it’s a very restrained and subtle performance, especially the very gentle start – it’s a sad and thoughtful mood, dominated by Al’s lovely and light falsetto tones, though he builds to the lower, hoarser tones in places. He almost speaks the first line, quickly and in a near whisper, setting a thoughtful tone from the start. He stays mostly behind the music and even the backing vocals for some while, his voice drifting alongside and behind the tune, carefully synchronising here and there and then going its own way again, a man thinking his way through an impossible problem. The way he breaks up the last word in “How can you mend this broken maa-aa-an?” is perfectly judged, a gentle little example of form and meaning meshing, then the first strain in his voice appears in the next line, “How can a loser ever win?” The hesitancy before the last word in “misty memories of days gone by” is another masterfully modulated touch. By the end he’s bringing it all to bear, the changes of tone, the hesitancies and ad libs, the sweet high voice, the gruffer tones, nearly crying in places, even a strangled scream at 5.26. It’s finally a determined song that looks to a positive future, and he injects real strength and straightforward force into his final “I want to live” as it fades.

other genres

I should note that I am not claiming this gap, between the way experienced and expert musicians put a record together as against how its fans and critics talk about it, as unique to soul music – the raw feelings being valorised are constructed in a slightly different balance in rock, for instance (and no one has ever failed to notice all the technical skills on show there), but the distance and unreality is often much the same. Records are made by professionals in a studio, not by people with powerful feelings instantly picking up their instruments and making some spontaneous sounds from the heart. I just think the gap between the way people talk about music and the way it’s actually made is greater in soul music than any other, and I think the musical skill and intelligence on show in its many great recordings are therefore persistently undervalued, or even not noted at all.

Oct 04

The Ultimate Future Shock!!!!!!

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Oct 04

Whose Cuisine Reigns Supreme?

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William Crump dines with the Iron Chef

In late 2001 I had just moved back to Mississippi after three and a half years in northern California, where I’d cultivated my gourmandism mostly on the cheap – during trips to the Bay Area, I discovered lamb shawarmas in the Noe Valley, Korean barbecue on Telegraph Avenue, pho in the Tenderloin, and the house-cured gravlax at the Dipsea Cafe in Mill Valley. I spent hours at a time communing with nature, if by “communing with nature” you mean “face-first in a pile of Dungeness crabs and a cooler full of Sierra Nevada.”

This was also the time when the Japanese cooking show Iron Chef hit big in the States, thanks to the Food Network’s repackaging of the Fuji TV series Ryori no Tetsujin. Iron Chef was a Friday night staple for several years – along with Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but that’s another story. By the time I moved back to the South, my tastes had gone global and my appetite was around the bend. I was also moving back within shouting distance of my good friend George Takaeda, part-time sushi chef and two-fisted gourmand. George and I have logged a lot of miles and eaten a lot of merely okay meals in search of transcendent cuisine.

When we heard that “Iron Chef Japanese” Masaharu Morimoto had left Nobu in NYC to start his own restaurant in Philadelphia, we hatched the plan to find cheap airfares and fly up Philly long enough to eat at the table of the Tetsujin. George’s brother Terry worked in Philadelphia at the time, so we would crash at his place; all it would cost would be meals and airfare. A little research, and done: we had e-tickets and a reservation for four — Terry and a coworker of his were up for the trip to Morimoto as well.

They met us at the airport on an unseasonably warm Saturday in March, and we trained for the big event with a cheesesteak at Pat’s (now they tell me: Geno’s, across the street, is apparently much better), a lot of walking around downtown, an hour in Sound of Market Records, and a couple of Yuenglings at the first bar we found. Finally, we went to the restaurant and sat upstairs at the bar, nursing a last drink, checking out the liquid flowing lines of the walls in the dining room, and noting that the lucite table dividers, lit from within, cycled through the visible spectrum roughly every half-hour.

We were seated about 20 minutes later in the packed dining room and immediately descended upon by an army of service staff. Even though it was our first time there, George and I knew we wanted the full balls-out “Chef’s Omakase Dinner,” nine courses of Morimoto’s divising, varying according to one’s spending preference – $80, $100 or $120. Terry went with the Omakase as well, and the co-worker ordered some oysters and a few items from the sushi bar, including a softshell crab roll. The staff also interrogated us about any food allergies, foods we particularly hated, and what we had for lunch that day. We were told that there would be a few courses from the raw bar, a sorbet to reset the palate, a couple of courses from the kitchen, a sushi course, then dessert. There was a nice sense of the dramatic: “Relax…lean back… here it comes…!”

We relaxed and leant back…and there it came.

From the raw bar:

1) Toro (fatty tuna) tartare, textured with tempura-batter bits, surrounded by dashi broth, topped with osetra caviar. Fresh grated wasabi on the side. This was an early declaration of fresh preparation, since the tempura bits were very crunchy – doing them ahead of time would have given them time to go soggy.

2) Steamed hamachi (yellowtail) and steamed Japanese turnip in miso-enriched broth; on the side were three tiny marinated squid with a tangerine-miso sauce. At this point, we remembered that we’d brought a camera with us. To hell with caring that we’d look like tourists – we wanted a visual record of the dishes.

3) A steamed Pacific oyster – huge! – with sea urchin, peppery greens and a generous amount of shaved black truffles in a “foie gras jus.”

4) Seared kampachi (kin to hamachi) with grilled turnip, another kind of greens and bonito shavings. I didn’t catch the description of the sauce, but it helped pull it together.

The palate cleanser:

5) Wasabi sorbet. Each spoonful arrived in three stages: flavor of wasabi, flavor of lime, then flood of heat.

From the kitchen:

6) One-half of a grilled lobster, split side sealed with an eight-spice mixture. Served with citrus creme fraiche and grilled asparagus, broccoli and carrot.

7) Grilled Kobe beef steak topped with a slice of seared foie gras, served with Japanese yam potatoes. Another amazing sauce.

From the sushi bar:

8) The sushi course. From left to right, giant clam, shad, kampachi, hamachi, toro. Only criticism of the meal: painfully large amounts of wasabi under most of the pieces. I would have liked to taste the fish, but I was gulping water.

The dessert course:

9) Actually, three desserts. Japanese mountain-plum sorbet. Rice cake, very similar in texture to cheesecake. A cake I missed the description of (because Morimoto had just come to the table to ask how the meal was and shake hands all around), but which seemed like a pumpkin-spice cake, served with a vanilla custard topped with a sprinkle of something powdered and blisteringly hot.

I’ve eaten some amazing meals in my life, but this made the most haute of the haute cuisine I’ve had seem like a trip to the Burger King drive-through window in comparison. Worth every penny. The final damage for dinner for four, the pre-meal bar tab, beer and sake during the meal, and tip: $600.

(To top the weekend off, the next morning Terry took us to his favorite cafe for breakfast and I had scrapple for the first time – no more or less exotic than the caviar, baby squid, foie gras, fresh (not powdered) wasabi and Japanese mountain-plum sorbet.)

Oct 04

I’LL BE BLOWN (UP) – Ten Reasons Why Terminator 3 Is So Much Better Than Terminator 2

FT19 comments • 3,576 views

I’ll be the first person to say that the world was not clamouring for Terminator 3. My reason oddly appears to be different to most, since I always thought that Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a bit – well – shit. Superfluous to the streamlined simplicity of the original it seemed to exist merely to promote the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. So imagine my joy when the uncalled for T3 turned up sporting a new cast, new director and a new found sense of purpose. The claims of Cameron being a auteur can be banished to the bin – and he can go on tinkering with his I-MAX bobbins that no-one has to go and see. Instead I’ll stick with Jonathon Mostow’s vision, especially if it includes Arnold’s head being smashed through a toilet.

T-101: Terminator 2 is subtitled Judgement Day. And yet one thing that defiantly does not happen in T2 is Judgement Day. They prevent it from happening. So much so that the expensive special effect of a nuclear holocaust gets relegated to the somewhat superfluous state of dream sequence – where its verisimilitude is wasted. It is a dream – it could happily have elephants playing trombones in it. The subtitle is a bit of a swizz. The Advertising Standards Authority, rather than being dazzled by that nice shiny morphing technology, should have clamped down on James Cameron hard. Whereas Terminator 3 has the post-colonic of Rise Of The Machines, which anyone who has seen it will tell you is exactly what happens. I got what I paid for.

T-102: Terminator 2 is a pallid rerun of the original which exists almost purely for the vanity of James Cameron. Consider that it starred his wife, showcased a special effect that he had devised in the “yawning” Abyss and added little beyond a decent Guns’n’Roses song to the Terminator story. Terminator 3 exists merely to make money (and perhaps revive Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career). Which I think we’ll all agree is a much better reason than buffing up the ego of the self styled “King Of The World”.

T-103: In Terminator 2, Arnold is the lead character. Not only is his murderous killing machine reprised as a heroic version, but he gets to do surrogate parenthood to Eddie Furlong’s unlikely floppy haired saviour of the future. Terminator 3 may on paper have Arnold’s name above the credits, but he is at best playing the Jar Jar Binks of the piece. And we never got to see Jar Jar Binks have his face smashed through a porcelain toilet.

T-104: Terminator 3 makes sense. Without delving too deeply into the massively tedious arguments that arise whenever time travel is invoked as a movie plot, the resolution of T3 allows the other two films to happen. Which is rather magnanimous of director Jonathon Mostow considering that James Cameron had written him off as a journeyman hack. It is almost as if rather than looking at the first two films as source material, Mostow and his scriptwriters instead rented out the only time travel films which ever made sense (the Bill and Ted ones) and used it as a crib sheet. Terminator 2 on the other hand, in its attempt to provide a victory which was just bolt on plot, flatly contradicted itself.

T-105: Nick Stahl, playing John Connor in Terminator 3 actually looks a bit like Michael Biehn – whose son he is supposed to be. This of course will not stand him in awfully good stead when he goes for other acting jobs, Biehn never quite making it on the matinee idol stakes. Indeed the only person who ever employed Biehn was James Cameron – who probably won’t want to employ Stahl due to him being in the better Terminator film. That said, Stahl’s resemblance has to be judged against Edward Furlong who looked neither like Biehn or Linda Hamilton – and more like the dog Sprocket out of Fraggle Rock.

T-106 : Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comedies. They were predicated on one of two factors.
a) Arnold looks funny near Danny DeVito
b) Arnold – right – The Terminator – right – is nice to kids/ has kids himself / is funnier than Emma Thompson with a stick up her arse.
Since even Danny DeVito’s career has not dipped so low that he would do another comedy with Arnie, this leaves point b) – which only really actually works if he is playing the Terminator. James Cameron was far to worried about the iconography and hardness of the character to really play it for laughs. But from the moment Arnold walks into a ladies night to pick up his fetishware, he is a figure of fun to be constantly laughed at.

T-107: In The Terminator, Linda Hamilton, our female lead screams a lot. She runs around and squeals and only in the very final reel, when she realises that this unstoppable killing machine is actually just run on below par Harryhausen stop motion, does she take action. Score one for feminism there. Cameron, in then buffing Hamilton up and making her carry guns just pretty much turned her into Lady Stallone. Sure she was a strong action heroine, by completely neutering anything that was previously feminine in the character (as feminine in this world – weak right?). As an alternative in T3 we get the superior model clothed as female Terminator (admittedly this may lead to Terminator 4 being subtitled I’ll Be Black in a desperate spin for originality). More importantly we get Clare Danes as neither uber-competent or helpless. Her character is – note Mr Cameron – not wholly defined by her role.

T-108: Nowhere in Terminator 3, with its lower production values and direct view of action do we ever get a moment as bad as the Thumbs Up. You remember the Thumbs Up. Look, there goes the Terminator, John Connor’s surrogate dad of two days self sacrificing himself to save the world (hooray – this turns out to be a pointless gesture). Down into the molten metal, burning him and destroying him. But wait what is that. His hand. Doing a thumbs up. The whole point of a robot is it has no feelings. Otherwise why would the rise of the machines be a bad thing? T3 is quite happy just to crush the robots with really heavy duty blast doors. No thumbs up.

T-109: What was really cool about The Terminator. Those opening really expensive bits in the future. You know when the machines have risen and seem intent on ruling the earth by dint of mincing over an apocalyptic landscape. It was almost a pity to go back in time for an almost run of the mill chase movie. So it seems almost a pity to use this plot three times. At least Terminator 3 puts paid to that. If Terminator 4 ever happens then we can rest assured that none of that now tedious naked time travelling in a golf ball will never happen.

T-110: Arnold gets his face smashed through a toilet. What more reason do you want.

Oct 04


FTPost a comment • 315 views
A List Of Films from 2003
How to write about what I thought were the best forty films of last year. No, scratch that, why am I writing about the forty best films of last year? The simplest answer of course would be that I did it last year and am a completist. But of course this merely delays the question. Why did I do it last year?

A best of list is personal, self-indulgent and almost completely useless to the outside world (the fact that I am on the whole against owning DVD’s makes it even pointless as a wishlist). All of these things are clear to any of us living in the postmodern ‘no experts’ world. And even if I were to stomp around saying that the fact that I saw over 150 new films last year gives me some sort of authority (which this sentence is trying to do) I know in my heart (actually brain) that I do not believe it. So instead, mea culpa, I do this to show off, to make people agree, disagree, and generally talk to me. And rather than prcis exactly what the films are about and why you should like them, I’ll just say one or two things that still stick in my head about them. You’ll know most of them anyway.

Anyway, before I start, a short list of films that I did NOT see which could have made it into this list, which I missed due to bad timing, bad mood or general disinterest: Blind Shaft (Other Cinema poor scheduling), Crimson Gold (Iranian ennui), Dumb & Dumberer (call it a hunch), Wreckmaster Harmonies (life is too short),

So here is a list which if I wrote it tomorrow would only change a bit:

1: City Of God
No apologies for obviousness. First film I saw in 2003, which in scale, scope and….
….Sorry. A moment? The end. The news footage shown under the credits of the actual Knockout Ned reprising the new sequence in the film. You have not been told that this is a true story, though the presentation suggests that it contains more than a number of generalised truths. Suddenly in a moment of resemblance, the already impressive totality of the film is thrown at the viewers face. This actually happened, whatcha gonna do about it. walking away, reasoning that this is merely a dramatised version of some loose true stories does not work. It should not be even vaguely true.

2: Take Care of My Cat
The second film I saw in 2003. This trend does not continue. (The third film I saw was Sweet Home Alabama which will not be making this list). A growing up is shit film, which has a beautiful ending. Two of the friends think of escaping, and do. It is complete wish fulfilment, the other girls are still trapped in their situation, but this Korean coming of age drama understands (like City Of God) how important hope is.

3: Heartlands
Finally, a British Road movie that works. A film that articulates the idea that in a country without huge expanses it is the small that might just be beautiful. And the conclusion that the road is a sometimes a destination, not just a means to get there. And Eric Bristow.

4: Cypher
For someone finally outdicking all the Dick adaptations. Cypher is a no holds barred confusing sci-fi movie relying nearly wholly on decent acting to convince. But manly for not having a Macguffin, for having a central conceit that the film convinces us is really worth all the plot twists to get at the end.

5: All The Real Girls
Perhaps this is too neat a story. A lothario finally falls in love, and unfortunately gets a taste of his own medicine. But what makes it so well mae is that this simple, classical plot is completely obscured by the film-making. The sweetness of the characters give the audience a taste of the love, and the phonecall where Zooey Deschanel lets him down hurts everyone.

6: Kill Bill (vol 1)
A film which really questions if the job of fight choreography should always be qualified with the word fight. As complex and beautiful as Singin’ In The Rain, and as much about the movies as that film too.

7: Raising Victor Vargas
As much as I liked the lead story, I particularly remember Judy’s best friend Melonie (played by Melonie Diaz).Diaz was about the only good thing in the otherwise ropey Double Whammy, and sparkles in support here.

8: Adaptation
Clever should never be an insult. Having dug itself into a hole with its own self-reflexivity, Charlie Kaufmann’s script has its cake and eats it. Very funny, intelligent and oddly even genuinely exciting when it flips gears. I like it for most of the things people I went with disliked. A film that says there is nothing wrong with action movies. And that the film Identity had pretty much the plot of The Three was a delicious irony.

9: Intolerable Cruelty
Were people who said Catheine Zeta Jones and George Clooney had no chemistry watching the same film as me? Light as a feather, nasty as candy earwax. I laughed nearly all the way through it, though the asthma inhaler gag is a piece of sublime slapstick.

10: thirteen
Advance publicity suggested a worthy, but almost excruciatingly unwatchable message film. What publicity did not say is how funny a lot of it would be. Dark humour, mixed with real sympathy for its characters. John Cusack in Operation Kandahar is just one of the sly digs in the film.

11: Tadpole
The Graduate with a fourteen year old. The dinner scene is farce at its best, but the best part of this comedy is Bebe Neuwirth eating up the scenery and spitting it out as this films Mrs Robinson. And what she’s doing is illegal. Camera-work is terrible, but a nice zingy script.

12: Spellbound
Possibly a dangerous road for documentary to go down, almost aping the ridiculousness of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. Yet this cross section of American kids are a decent antidote to all the US bashing we have been getting in the media. Weird, funny but driven, showing the power of ambition when it is channelled properly. Admittedly for a pretty pointless reason.

13: Elf
I loved the narwhale. With that moment you knew that this was a film with its heart in the right place. Zooey Deschanel’s singing too, suggesting she should be in a musical. Mainly though for proving that you can go to the well of lost plots and redeem the irredeemable. Who knew you could do so well ripping off Ghostbusters 2.

14: X-Men 2
Settling into the trustworthy franchise role, a serial picture which has learnt pretty much all of the rules of Buffy (which is only fair considering where Buffy got it from). Happily ticking the boxes for fans, happily not being geeky for non-fans. All you need is one blockbuster action sequence (the opening one) and plenty of imagination – and this fires on all cylinders. Magneto’s ball-bearings!

15: Solaris
The sheer intelligence of the reaction of Natasha McIllhone when she realises that she is just a phantom dreamt up by Clooney and the planet. A film full of big ideas and tiny moments.

16: Le Fils
The simplest kind of suspense is the mystery of the human mind. A woodwork teacher strikes up a relationship with the boy who killed his son. Is he planning some terrible revenge, is how looking for an apology, is he looking for a surrogate son? That it is not clear if even he knows is compelling.

17: About Schmidt
Because there are not enough films about being normal, dull and old. The year’s saddest film.

18: In This World
Oh no, asylum seeker, economic migrant, child, oh no! Right on woolly liberal pity the poor furriner or Christ, if I lived like that I might put myself through that just for a chance to be pilloried in the streets in Britain. Yet another Michael Winterbottom triumph, pity the lead actor has already done a bunk.

19: Far From Heaven
I don’t like Julianne Moore. Never have. Not liked anything Todd Haynes has done before either (you can tell I really hated Safe right?) But I liked her in this, and I liked this a lot. Affectionate pastiche is a bit of an insult for what is a properly rounded, emotional film. If it happens to look dazzling in the process, who would argue with it.

20: To Kill A King
The civil war. Brother against brother, nation torn asunder. The usual. Roundhead versus Cavelier. Perhaps Tim Roth’s Oliver Cromwell is too much the villain in this, but a fascinating period piece, which really comes alive when Rupert Everett’s King Charles is on screen. Particularly notable is the dignity with which he gets his head chopped off, particularly scary is his total belief in his divine right to govern.

21: Undercover Brother
Stupid, quotable, silly but oddly a film with a pretty decent message too. If Austin Powers was not just content with recycling the same jokes they could be this good. Two words: Flare parachutes.

22: Rain
Another female coming of age drama. It has tremendous ending, driving away from the scene of the tragedy the whole film has inexorably been building towards. As the car drives off we stare at the motionless heroine, who feels responsible, who is responsible. And we stay with her for two minutes. Nothing happens. We reflect, she reflects.

23: Touching The Void
999 The Movie, luckily sans Michael Buerk. Is it a documentary docu-drama or peyote fuelled pile of bollocks that leave you scared shitless of Boney M. Brown Girl In The Ring has never been this scary.

24: The Trilogy
If I had seen two or three first, I probably would not have gone back. Beyond the formalist exercise (and the rather nonsensical romantic comedy) is a set of characters who in the main are compelling. One in particular is a genuinely compelling thriller, but perhaps the best part was going back like serial fiction to fill in the blanks. Trilogies saved from fantasy and science fiction.

25: Chicago
It may not have any real show stopping tunes, but it brought back the idea of spectacle to cinema. We can do anything with special effects now, they aren’t special anymore. Let’s get back to a bit of human endeavour, song and dance.

26: Roger Dodger
Desperation personified in Campbell Scott’s ultimate bullshit merchant. The bottle of champagne with the two girls in the park where Roger’s boorishness is contrasted with his nephews sweetness may not ring true, but the death knell of the old man is tolling. As Roger knows. Does he deserve redemption? I think so.

27: Sympathy For Mr Vengance

Quite possibly the daftest translated title, certainly one of the most gruesome and nastiest films I saw last year. And yet the most disturbing part of the film is not one of the blood splattered parts. Rather it is the point when our green haired, deaf-mute hero cannot hear that his kidnapped charge that he has no desire to hurt is drowning in the background. Sticks in the mind due to its meaningful unpleasantness.

28: Dark Blue
A Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for the nineties LA riots. Kurt Russell spits out dialogue that possibly too well tailored, but manages to look truely shocked when his life falls apart. The drive through the riots pokes fictions nose against fact and just about convinces with conviction.

29: Secretary
Perhaps not as groundbreaking and rude as it thinks it is, but ten times sweeter. Like many romantic comedies, the films best bits are before everything goes wrong and just when they are falling in love. Here, with that section involving saddles, whips and yelps of joy it is very, very funny.

30: Lilya-4-Ever
Your appreciation of this film depends completely on how you take the capering around with stick on cotton wool angel wings at the end. Maybe Ken Loach would not have done that, but as an almost jet black joke it worked for me. And the Rammstein opening is about the subtlest thing in this film, but sometimes film has to be angry.

31: Lord Of The Ring: The Return of The King
Worst of the three, wholly down to the source material. In the end Sauron, our arch-villain, is naught but a Looney Tune eye, boggling at the last minute at Frodo pulling one over on him. Too long, with an over-sentimental and simplified ending, it was still a real event.

32: Belleville Rendez-vous
‘S a cartoon. Yay! Warped, visually very clever, with an offbeat story that makes plenty of internal sense, this is a twitching triumph. Very few subtitles, measured and with great music, the opening number is just tremendous.

33: Time Of The Wolf
A film that revives our fear of the dark. The first half hour is relentlessly unpleasant, but the sequences in the dark, real proper darkness when the little boy goes missing are as confusing to us as the characters. The rest may be a poor mans Survivors, but the brutality of the first minute, and then the fear.

34: Goodbye Lenin
A simple farce with pretensions, the film is best when going for the laughs. The extended Coca-Cola gag stretches the truth like all good farces should, leaving the end to grasp at sentiment.

35: Broken Wings
The fourth film in the list which could be described as a teenage girl coming of age drama (the hit genre of the year), this slight Israeli film is cut from rather simplistic stock. Teen rock chick dealing with the death of her father and the rest of her families inability to deal with the same. Required quirks include brother who dresses up in a mouse costume. Covers similar ground to Rain (with a very similar plot twist), you have to cover your eyes when the younger brother repeatedly flings himself into the empty swimming pool.

36: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
I need not add too much to my appreciation of this film. It sidelines Arnie in favour of a plot which past changing films are always afraid of. But it knows how to use Arnie properly. Smash his head through a toilet.

37: XX/XY
Mark Ruffalo getting caught out there. Clueless arseholes all over the world should see this film as an instruction manual in how to fuck up not one, but two relationships and be left miserable. Most clueless arseholes though don’t quite have Ruffalo’s charisma.

38: Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Just for Johnny Depp. A performance of camp, grandeur and a surprising amount of pathos, surviving around the Bruckheimer Disney theme park nonsense. Was telling everybody the Keith Richards stuff merely running interference because he thought everyone would take the piss? Jack Sparrow is a masterful comic creation which is just as well cos the film is too long, and too stupid apart from that. Best entrance of a film in years.

39: Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
A handy comparison to the pirate nonsense, this was seafaring nonsense of a higher degree. It spent far too much time trying to be authentic, when it was just the boysiest owniest yarn you could imagine. Thoroughly pointless, effortlessly exciting. Russell Crowe is no natural blonde though.

40: Whale Rider
Painfully predictable, it still works because of the strong lead. Big sticks, lovely facepainting and a great big stinking whale prosthetic allows it to be thoroughly predictable, so while you are concentrating on the plot you are looking at the details round the edges.

Sep 04

ILC Comics Poll Nominees

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Official Nominees List (as of 21/10)

100 Bullets (Azzarello/Risso)
1963 (Moore/Veitch/Bissette)
2001 Nights (Hoshino)
A1 (anthology)
ABC Warriors – First Series (Mills/McMahon)
Action (anthology)
Akira (Otomo)
Alec (Campbell)
Amazing Spider-Man 1-50 (Lee/Ditko/Romita)
Asterix (Goscinny/Uderzo)
Barefoot Gen (Nakazawa)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Miller)
Batman: Year One (Miller/Mazzuchelli)
Beatniks A Go Go (Ewing)
Beryl The Peril – Law Run (David Law)
Billy The Fish (uncredited)
Blankets (Thompson)
Bone (Smith)
Breakfast After Noon (Watson)
Bunty (anthology)
Calvin And Hobbes (Watterson)
Captain Britain (Moore/Davis)
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story (Sim/Gerhardt)
Charley’s War (Mills/Colquohoun)
Corto Maltese (Pratt)
Crisis On Infinite Earths (Wolfman/Perez)
Dan Dare: Rogue Planet (Bellamy)
DC: The New Frontier (Cooke)
Destructovore (Ewing/Traquino)
Detective Comics – Englehart Run (Englehart/Rogers)
Dirty Plotte (Doucet)
Doctor Strange – Ditko Run (Lee/Ditko)
Doom Patrol – Morrison Run (Morrison/Case)
Dragons Claws (Furman/Senior)
Dykes To Watch Out For (Bechtel)
Eightball #22: “Ice Haven” (Clowes)
Elektra: Assassin (Miller/Sienkiewicz)
Enigma (Milligan/Fegredo)
Fables (Willingham/various)
Fantastic Four – Lee/Kirby Run (Lee/Kirby)
Fantastic Four 232-260 (Byrne)
Flex Mentallo (Morrison/Quitely)
Frank (Woodring)
Fritz The Cat (Crumb)
From Hell (Moore/Cambpell)
Get Your War On (Rees)
Ghost World (Clowes)
Goodbye, Chunky Rice (Thompson)
Gotham Central (Brubaker/Lark)
Groo (Aragones)
Hard Boiled (Miller/Darrow)
Hate (Bagge)
Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits (Ennis/Dillon)
Hellboy: The Chained Coffin And Others (Mignola)
Horrible Histories (Terry Deary)
Howard The Duck (Gerber/various)
If? (Bell)
Jimmy Corrigan (Ware)
JL – Giffen/DeMatteis Run (Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire et al)
JLA – Morrison Run (Morrison/Porter)
Judge Dredd – Prog 600-700 Run (Wagner/various)
Judge Dredd – The Day The Law Died (Wagner/Bolland et al.)
Judge Dredd – Wagner/Smith Run (Wagner/Smith)
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer (Katchor)
Krazy Kat (Herriman)
La Mouche (Trondheim)
League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol 1 (Moore/O’Neill)
Little Nemo In Slumberland (McKay)
Louis Riel (Brown)
Love And Rockets (Los Bros Hernandez)
MAD (Kurtzman et al.)
Master Race (Krigstein/Feldstein)
Maus (Spiegelman)
Miracleman Book III (Moore/Totleben)
Naughty Bits (Gregory)
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (Miyazaki)
Nemesis The Warlock – Books I to IV (Mills/O’Neil/Redondo/Talbot)
New X-Men – Morrison Run (Morrison/Quitely et al.)
Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Steranko Run (Steranko)
Nikopol Trilogy (Bilal)
Peanuts – 1960s (Schulz)
Planetary (Ellis/Cassaday)
Plastic Man (Cole)
Pogo (Kelly)
Powers (Bendis/Oeming)
Promethea (Moore/Williams et al)
Queen And Country (Rucka/various)
Safe Area Goradze (Sacco)
Sandman: Endless Nights (Gaiman/various)
Sandman: The Doll’s House (Gaiman/various)
Schizo (Brunetti)
Seaguy (Morrison/Cassidy)
Shuck Unmasked (Smith/Menesse)
Sin City (Miller)
Sketchbook Diaries (Kochalka)
Sleeper (Brubaker)
Spirou And Fantasio (Franquin)
Spy Vs Spy (???)
Stuck Rubber Baby (Cruze)
Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? (Moore/Swan/Perez/Schaffenberger)
Swamp Thing – Moore Run (Moore/Bissette)
Tales Of The Beanworld (Marder)
Tank Girl (Hewlett/Martin)
Terry And The Pirates (Canniff)
The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Moore/Gibson)
The Man Who Could Not Die (Unknown)
The Poor Bastard (Matt)
The Shadow (Helfer/Baker)
The Spirit (Eisner)
the story of the vivian girls, in what is known as the realms of the unreal, of the glandeco-angelinian war storm caused by the child slave rebellion (Darger)
Thimble Theatre 1930-1938 (Segar)
Tintin (Herge)
Tintin In The Congo (Herge)
Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls (Herge)
Top 10 (Moore/Ha)
Transformers UK (Furman/various)
Trigan Empire (Lawrence)
Uncle Scrooge (Barks)
Urusei Yatsura – Perfect Collection (Takahashi)
Uzumaki (Ito)
Viz (anthology)
Watchmen (Moore/Gibbons)
Whizzer And Chips (anthology)
Willy The Kid (Baxendale)
Y: The Last Man (Vaughan/Guerra)
Yummy Fur (Brown)
Zenith (Morrison/Yeowell)
The methodology is very similar to that of the ILM 1990s poll, run by the mighty Stevem.

You nominate up to 4 comics. I compile a list of all the nominations. You then vote on the nominations. The number of votes you get, the scoring system, and the number of comics in the final poll will depend entirely on the number of nominations we get.

What do you mean by ‘comics’?

Whatever you want me to mean. A single story – a collection – a storyline or run on an ongoing series – a newspaper strip – an anthology title or story in one – a series in its entirety – you decide, Effendi!

Don’t nominate the exact same thing someone else has nominated – an issue or story within an already-nominated run is fine though. You will be allowed a short grace period for nomination changes after the original nominations close but don’t clog up the thread with them in case I don’t notice.

The only other thing I would ask is that if you’re nominating a storyline or run on a serially published comic you specify issue numbers if possible, and that you tell me the writer and artist(s) if you know them/her/him/it.

Deadline for this is October 31st 2004 (or more realistically, when I get up on November 1st).


Jul 04

THE SQUARE TABLE – What Is The Square Table?

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It’s a rotating panel of Interweb pop pundits – they get sent an MP3 by me (that is, Tom) about once every three days and they comment on each one, giving it a mark out of ten. The collated comments and overall mark then appear on NYLPM.

Does The Membership Change?
After 12 MP3s have been voted on a ’round’ of the Square Table is over and there’s a reshuffle – some people from the waiting list come onto the panel, some people from the panel go back on the waiting list. The four most popular files each ’round’ go through to the Square Table Live Showdown at Club Freaky Trigger, which happens once every three rounds (i.e. about three times a year).

How Do I Join?
You email us at freakytrigger at gmail dot com. The only requirements are i) not minding seeing your comments up on the site and ii) having an email account that can cope with regular 5MB file sends.

FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s the one that’s playing now
[*]I LIKE POP TO…perve, pretend, pout, pose, preen, ponce, posture, pastiche, parody, problematise, perform, profess and play.
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… pander, prescribe, predict or prefer.

Anthony Easton
my favourite song of the 00s is hit me baby one more time
[*]i like pop to astonish me, make me hard, make me want to fall in love, make me want to fall out of love, make me shake my money maker, make me roll down the windows and sing along in the middle of summer.
[*]i dont like pop to bore me or to really make me think.

FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s: ask me in 2010
[*]I LIKE POP TO…scare the goth kids away every time it’s played in[*]Claire’s Accessories.
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO…wear green nail varnish.

FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s: ‘nsync, ‘gone’
[*]I LIKE POP TO… bounce, blast, make you dance and sing under your[*]breath in embarrassing public.[*]
I DON’T LIKE POP TO… take itself too seriously, whinge, think it’s indie.

Daniel Reifferscheid
I Like Pop To: Grab every piece of hook and mentalism that it can gets its hands on, without feeling bloated. Also if it’s sung by aging philosophers then that’s a plus too.
I Don’t Like Pop To: sound like “Frankenstein” by The Edgar Winter Group. Guys, I know it’s tempting, but NO.

David Raposa
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s: “Bootylicious” – Destiny’s Child OR “Back To School” – Deftones
[*]I LIKE POP TO…make me breakfast
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO…burn my toast

Derek Walmsley
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s- Sean Paul- Get Busy
[*]I LIKE POP TO- seduce with the promise of alternative, parallel lives
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO- be uncritically British.

Diego Valladolid
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s “Libertine (Radio Edit)” by Kate Ryan
[*]I LIKE POP TO… introduce gross amounts of distortion to the speaker,[*]eventually destroying it.
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… be reproduced as accurately to the source as possible.

Fave Pops song of 00’s: B.O.B.? Toxic? Gossip People? Country[*]Grammar? I’m torn.
[*]ILIKEPOPTO: surprise me, popularize unlikely dark corners, blow up[*]th’ joint, shake up the status quo, remix/chop/screw, move my ass,[*]embarrass the hipsters and ruffle the squares, explore new niches.
[*]IDON”TLIKEPOPTO: make everybody go “not that song AGAIN”, get TOO[*]clever, recycle beat/concept/cliche X for the nth time, involve[*]Puffy, inspire drunken beatings, be sung offkey loudly on the subway[*]by people other than me and a select group of hangers[*]on/roustabouts/hallucinations.

George Kelly
Favorite pop song of ’00s: Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger”
[*]I like pop to: forget to remember to forget, and to fail interestingly[*]at its experiments.
[*]I don’t like pop to: forget how to pander to the Big, the Dumb, the Obvious.

Martin Skidmore
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s um, probably Crazy In Love
[*]I LIKE POP TO… bounce
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… whine

FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s: * Avril Lavigne – Complicated * Christina Milian – Dip It Low * Evanescence – Bring Me To Life * Busted – Crashed the Wedding * Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground * Kelly Osborne – Shut Up * Sum 41 – Fat Lip
[*]I LIKE POP TO… Be hummable
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… be anything other than pop

Michael Daddino
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s: Does Archigram’s “Carnaval” count? If not, then “A Stroke of Genius.”
[*]I LIKE POP TO…: Involve matching suits, implicit consumerist critique, and songs about crippling anxiety.
[*][*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO…: Hey, I like Godard just as much as anybody, but I don’t like it when pop draws too much attention to the artifice involved. This isn’t a demand for realism so much as a demand the illusion that pop offers to be relatively seamless. When it’s not seamless – when I have to think about the overdone application of autotune or the star’s fucked-up “real life” – it’s a distraction that makes the pleasures of engaged listening impossible.

FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s Bring Me To Life – Evenessence
[*]I LIKE POP TO…Shake my arse
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… Wipe my arse

Sarah C
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00S: Bladdy hell this is hard. I cant think of anything. It’s Monday. I’ll get back to you.
[*]I LIKE POP TO…: snap and crackle
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO…: go soggy and or possibly encompass SNOW PATROL. SNOW PATROL! Did you see them on BBC3 last night? I mean, it’s not peonic TV and I only saw it cos I was round a posh mates house, and he made us watch it, I dunno, but he said Snow Patrol were better than the Strokes and I was like: here’s me: WA?! and then he said yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah they’re RUBBISH, aren’t they?

Steve M
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s: Freelance Hellraiser ‘A Stroke Of Genie-us’
[*]I LIKE POP TO…: grab my hand and say ‘come with me’ (‘Digital Love’) or ‘look at it this way’ (‘Overload’) or ‘let me tell you a story’ (‘Don’t You Want Me’) and leave no doubt it was the right choice
I DON’T LIKE POP TO…: lack ambition or belief, or indeed a good hook.

Stevie Nixed
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s Ushah’s “Yeah” I have supah dupah short memory[*]span
[*]I LIKE POP TO… Kidnap my hips
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… Unhook the left frontal lobes

William B Swygart
FAVOURITE POP SONG OF THE 00s The Delgados – Witness
[*]I LIKE POP TO… move me like it means it.
[*]I DON’T LIKE POP TO… ‘push the buttons’. Also, sneering.

Dec 03

I Am Curious Orange

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 The EasyCinema Experience

In the exploded cross section of a US business district that is Milton Keynes, it stands out. Merely by virtue of painting its utilitarian structure a thoroughly unsuitable colour. Everything else in the new town is utilitarian after all; the mile long shopping centre, the Xscape leisure mall over the road. But for them the typical glass-and-steel grey fulfils the remit. The EasyCinema is a big, orange shed – in-your-face and provocative, much like its creator Stelios sees himself, a man on a mission to upset the cinema industry. On this visit though, all he is going to upset is the customer.

Oct 03

I Hate(d) Music

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This is a highly personal story. I’m writing it because I wanted to write something. Because it gives me a way to give myself a purpose outside from merely working again. Because it makes me understand myself better. Because I love music, and probably always will.

End ridiculously emotional tone and get on with it.