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Archive for the 'catch-ups' Category

Christmas Catch-up: Films

Posted: December 26th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

At once a beautiful (mostly) CGI-free homage to the thoughtful sci-fi of the Sixties and Seventies and a series of curveballs intended to keep aficionados of the same on their toes.  Duncan Jones has proven himself to be a talent to watch, and Sam Rockwell’s performance as a lonely lunar miner about to come to the end of his contract is a career best. (Alex McChesney)

I really enjoyed Duncan Jones’ Moon, a film less about science fiction than about loneliness and what it means to be a human being. (Chris Summerlin)

Judging by current Cinema, the two most popular movie monsters these days are vampires and zombies.  My distaste for vampires is well-known, but I’ve always had a certain deep-seated affection for the cannibalistic consumer of brains and flesh known as the zombie.  Perhaps it’s because I, stumbling aimlessly through life, often feel like a zombie.  Regardless, I’ve eagerly lapped up the cinema exploits of zombies for years, from George Romero’s classic ‘… Dead’ trilogy, to their reinvention in the hands of recently deceased director Dan O’Bannon’s ‘Return of the Living Dead’, to more modern interpretations such as the stupendous horror/farce ‘Shaun of the Dead’. In recent years, however, even I’ve gotten a little tired of zombies.  We all know the routine – some military experiment goes awry or some strange disease spreads across the land and pretty soon the dead are clawing their way out of the grave to rip open people’s bellies and chew on their entrails.  Because of this, I almost didn’t even bother to see ‘Zombieland’.  This would have been a great personal loss.  While I won’t go as far as a friend of mine who claimed it to be the greatest of all zombie movies, ‘Zombieland’ is pretty damn good.  Part of its success is the fact that it presumes its audience is familiar with the zombie mythos – it doesn’t even bother with setting up the zombie apocalypse; out of the gate we land right in the middle of the human/zombie battle sure to soon be raging on our streets.  From there the movie mixes together a clever combination of intriguing characters (Jesse Eisenberg’s ‘Columbus’ is like a young Woody Allen caught in a zombie Holocaust), snappy dialogue and plenty of blood and gore.  On top of all that, the female lead is my most recent cinema crush, Emma Stone.  Such enticing ingredients combined with a great cameo appearance by Bill Murray, are enough to make you forget all about those ‘Twilight’ vamps. (Wil Forbis)

The Hangover
Nothing stands out. The Hangover was good, childish fun though. (Simon Minter)

Shanghai Kiss
I rent DVDs from LoveFilm and they have always been awesome at sending me stuff from the top of my list but for some reason they’ve gone a bit mental lately and have sent me random things from way down. I was initially a bit unhappy about this but it turned out good as this is now one of my new favourite films. It’s basically a Lost in Translation for China but with half an American high school movie thrown in and Miles from LOST. I love teenage high school movies, I love China and I love Ken Leung so hurrah. It’s actually adorable – you should see it. (Marceline Smith)

The Dirty Three
I also heartily recommend the DVD documentary on the Dirty Three even though it came out some time ago. It’s a little heavily weighted towards recent footage (understandably because no one gave a shit enough to film them at the start) but it’s a wonderful tale. (Chris Summerlin)

Paranormal Activity
Among the constant flow of Hostel sequels and shitty Michael Bay remakes, a proper, old-school  – and excellent – horror. Hurrah for that. Paranormal Activity is basically the movie equivalent of a rollercoaster ride, and I’ve never seen a cinema audience so nervy watching a film. It’s expertly, artfully crafted, observing the conventions of the genre when it needs to, and subverting them when it feels like it. The pace is excellent, the characters wholly believable and it understands that the best horror always takes place off the screen. (Stuart Fowkes)

In The Loop
This has been an amazing year for movies but the one I have watched over and over has been In The Loop which also gives me the opportunity to crowbar some gushing about The Thick Of It into this entry. Basically I wish I was Malcolm Tucker, fearless and seemingly without conscience, a man so focused on his aims he appears to suffer no remorse at the hands of fools. If only I could be so single-minded. Even better though his language and swearing is a pure symphony of poetic bile. This was a movie and TV show that required much concentration to which the rewards felt almost infinite as an edutainment tool. Now just don’t get Toby and Olly mixed up. (JGRAM)

World’s Greatest Dad
You’ve seen Death To Smoochy, right? The last truly good Robin Williams movie? Well, I have good news. There’s a new black comedy starring Robin Williams and it’s a bazillion times better than Death To Smoochy. Crazy, I know. And even crazier is that it’s written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. It’s about Williams who plays a single father attempting to be a published author with a teenage son (played by Daryl Sabara, the curly haired redhead from those Spy Kids movies) who is into any and every kind of crazy ass fetish porn, and the two of them have some, to put it lightly, relationship issues. Actually, the problem is that they’re both huge ass holes. Watching Williams being such a prick is so entertaining. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so long and hard (yup) when watching a movie. I literally had to rewind it a least a dozen times to catch new jokes that I missed while laughing at the old ones. There are some pretty serious parts, though. At times, it’s just fucking tragic. But I applaud the movie that makes me laugh my ass off at the most horribly depressing things. Which might be the reason World’s Greatest Dad slipped by relatively unnoticed. It is truly unique in it’s comedy darkness. My guess is not everyone can handle that sort of humor. But I’m sure most of you can. Especially since there weren’t too many truly fantastic movies this year (only Star Trek and Crank 2 immediately come to mind). And for one of them to have such a strong performance from an increasingly shitty actor makes me so happy. I can’t think of a single reason not to see this movie. (Justin Snow)

Christmas Catch-up: Records

Posted: December 24th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
A world in which Animal Collective get played on the radio and in trendy clothing stores may seem to be a bizarre, topsy-turvy one, but they’ve always had great tunes. It’s just now they’ve learned how to calibrate them to be heard by human ears. (Alex McChesney)

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Predictable. But yeah, this’ll basically be the top of everyone’s album of the year charts, right? Since it’s obviously the best thing released this year and quite probably one of the best records of the decade. If you’ve not heard it, it’s bloody astonishingly brilliant. (Stuart Fowkes)

Sonic Youth – The Eternal
Oh I don’t know, it’s so difficult to remember, especially as my listening habits seem to ping between brand new releases and old records with no degree of logic, and my stringent listen-twice-then-file-for-now policy on records forces a certain lack of ongoing appreciation. I might suggest Sonic Youth’s The Eternal but only because it’s the first thing that springs to mind. I did enjoy the fact that it came on vinyl with another live album included for free, though. And the fact that it’s very good. (Simon Minter)

Boban Markovi? Orkestar – Boban & Marko: Balkan Brass Fest
Serbia’s finest gypsy brass ensemble with 14 arse-kicking tracks, stuffed with rich brass and silly melodies. Have a listen, go on… I know it’s very cool right now to like the Balkan stuff but this trend is justified! Just like Nu Rave. (Pascal Ansell)

The Jesus Lizard – reunion shows
If I’m honest the recordings that have given me most joy this year have been the Chunklet live recordings of The Jesus Lizard reunion shows. To date I believe there have been four including the first set at All Tomorrows Parties. This band’s return surpassed all expectations and absolutely nobody anywhere leads a band quite the way that David Yow does. He is the one remaining badass in rock music. Worship him while you still can (JGRAM)

The Organ – Thieves
The discovery that there was a whole extra EP by The Organ that I didn’t own was certainly an exciting day for me. I fell instantly in love with The Organ when my band supported them several aeons ago and was hugely disappointed by their break-up. This EP is somehow even better than their album, capturing everything good about their sound (and indeed, the entirety of late 80s indie) in six songs. From Katie’s soaring, melancholy vocals to the post-Smiths jangly guitars and warm retro keyboards, it would be a total delight, if it wasn’t so heart-wrenchingly sad. (Marceline Smith)

Dan Deacon – Bromst
I fell in love with Spiderman Of The Rings when it came out. I’m sure I’m not alone on that one. And I had a hard time believing Dan Deacon could make anything better. But holy shit Bromst is absolute euphoria. It came out in March and I still listen to it more than almost any other record that came out this year. Every time I listen to it, I almost expect to be slightly let down by it. I’ve put it so high up on a pedestal that when I actually take a minute and think about it, I’m like “There’s no way the Bromst in my head is anyway near as good as the real Bromst.” But it is. It fucking is. (Justin Snow)

Mos Def –  The Ecstatic
Get a tin, label it ‘The Ecstatic’ and you’ve got precisely that. An unbeatable album from Mos Def that ticks aaaaaall the boxes: ever lyric, beat and sample is top-notch. Mos Def chants those ‘sit-up and listen’ lines, very often so too real it evades instant gratification: “I speak it so clearly sometimes you don’t hear me“. Auditorium’ (featuring Slick Rick) remains the anthem to my insomnia, you can find it here. (Pascal Ansell)

Obits – I Blame You
Seeing Obits play to a room of 70 people this year threw up some interesting debates about the bizarre reformation-craze that is strangling the culture of a generation stone dead. If Rick Froberg had come through town with a reformed Drive Like Jehu there would have been 700 people there I am sure. That’s crazy: you’re making music that is relevant to you now and is honest to you now like you always did and people want you to go back 10, 20 years and play music from a different time and to deliver it with the honesty and integrity that you made it with and made those people like it in the first place. It’s almost like people are having some kind of collective panic attack as they hit the next decade of their lives and are seeking solace in the cultural reference points of a time pre-internet or when they lived with their parents and life was easier. I Blame You sounds fresh and exciting to my ears. It’s a blast of garagey rock and roll and trashy aesthetics and importantly it’s got some killer tunes on it. It taps into a rediscovered liking for simpler and more direct music to such a degree that, coming from someone who is in part responsible for many shitty math rock bands, it’s almost a political statement. If you like old long-gone bands and you like and trust the people involved then dig into what they do now, don’t sit at home wanting to recreate a time gone by because you’ll only want a reunion of what they do now in 10 years time because you missed it this time round. (Chris Summerlin)

Summer catch-up 2009: Websites

Posted: July 30th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

I just discovered Goodreads, aka “Last.fm for books” and I’ve joined up for the same reasons – in a few years time I can expect to look back and wonder when I got into Author X or be able to map my period of Y with a liking for Z. Or I might drop it after a month. [Stan Tontas]

Root Blog / Big States
Two places to download a stunning series of mixtapes released in editions of 100 at $3 a pop by the inimitable Mississippi Records. Their vinyl re-releases of old African music has occasionally seen them skirt rolayties/authorised release-related controversy, so their tack for 2009 has been just to stick all their favourite tunes from incalculably obscure records (and some not) ona  series of tapes and let customers buy them direct in the store for virtually nothing. If you don’t live in Portland, I suggest you log on to either of these websites and download the MP3s, because these tapes are KILLER. There’s so much music spread across 30-odd tapes to date that you’ll be kept in hog heaven for some time to come. Who gives a shit about crackly-vinyl-to-worn-tape-to-shitty-MP3-to-CDR sound quality when you can hear such a broad sweep of fantastic sounds from around the world and across the last century? [Dave Stockwell]

I’ve recently bought a digital SLR, which has taken over a lot of my spare time in a very enjoyable way, breaking into abandoned buildings to take generic art student bullshit photos in grainy black and white. Keeps me off the streets though, innit. But as such I’ve been using Flickr more and more, and discovering all the awesome bits like using the groups to their fullest, geotagging, the excellent cameras section and so on. Even the blog is great – it really feels like they’re as obsessed as their most hardcore user with photography, but are also bending over backwards to make it easy for totally casual users to join in. And their pro accounts are a snip. Heather Champ, I claim my £50 for this word of mouth recommendation. Thankyouverymuch. [Stuart Fowkes]

Daily Rodent
Unpretentious and irreverent videogames blog.  In a world where most games journalism is either depressingly infantile or up its own arse, Rodent has consistently maintained the balance. [Alex McChesney]

I’m not gonna lie. I’m a pirate. Times are rough and when I can, I spend every spare dollar on records. But I download more than my fair share of music and probably only listen to half of it once or twice. One of the problems I have is when I find a good blog that has a pretty much 100% awesome rate. basic_sounds is one of those blogs. Totally amazing obscure music, most of which I’ve never heard of. But the reason basic_sounds has me coming back repeatedly is that instead of dull descriptions of the music, she posts a few pieces from different artists. Every time you’re treated to contemporary, innovative, interesting, and beautiful art of all kinds with your regular dose of music downloads. I’ve yet to see another blog that combines two of my favorite things so well. [Justin Snow]

That’d have to be my own website, which I recently redesigned and repopulated with content, alongside a couple of other things that I write and work on. Hell, if I can’t promote it here then something’s very wrong with the world. Send your design work offers my way… [Simon Minter]

Super Cute Kawaii! / Vinyl Destination
Last year I was bigging up Twitter so I’m obviously way ahead of the curve and can rest on my laurels this year. Personally, Super Cute Kawaii has taken up much of my time, the internet’s hunger for awesomely cute stuff being nowhere near sated quite yet. I spend some of my days writing about cute things in the guise of a bunny rabbit and slightly less time practicing my fake French accent as Monsieur Le Bun. Don’t go freelance – it might happen to you. I also love Minter’s new blog Vinyl Destination where he is cataloguing his extensive record collection in his usual personable way.[Marceline Smith]

Answer Me This / Tank Riot
I have been meaning to write a quick/short article about my favourite podcasts for a long time now but as ever I haven’t been able to find the time. To some degree podcasts save my life as I endure often up to four hours a day travelling to and from work and listening to these shows often keep me sane in the light of horrific circumstances on the trains. I could not decide between my two favourites so cheating I am mentioning them both. First is Answer Me This, a half hour comedy podcast from South London built on the basic premise of asking the hosts Helen and Olly questions based on all kinds of conceits ranging from curiosity to soughting advice (as I myself have done). The answers in reply are always sharp, funny and generally the best response you are likely to get from anywhere or anyone. Its much more fun that looking things up on Google or Wikipedia. They are somewhat representative and part of a lo-fi/DIY comedy scene that has been bubbling under the surface for the past four plus years which is now excitingly breaking through into mainstream media in a most sincere and non-commercial fashion.

Tank Riot is podcast from Madison, Wisconsin which takes an interesting subject and devotes an entire episode (usually tipping over the hour mark) to running through the history and background of it. I found originally discovered the show doing a search for Hunter S Thompson on iTunes and they have subsequently also done episodes on subjects ranging from Devo, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Rod Sterling (Twilight Zone creator), Stanley Kubrick and alternative/new religions. Sometimes the episodes feel like they are reading the Wikipedia entry but their enthusiasm and humour towards the subjects with personal comments. Also off the back of my latest heartbreak I restarted JGRAM WORLD in March. [JGRAM}

Summer catch-up 2009: Places

Posted: July 29th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Bruges is beautiful, welcoming and small enough to completely explore within a couple of days. I really enjoyed it, and this was brought home to me soon afterwards by a quick stop in noisy, dirty, hassle-packed Brussels. [Simon Minter]

Once residents of Glasgow, we moved to Texas at the end of February.  By necessity we’ve wound up near Dallas, largely to be near to family.  The suburb in which we live is deathly dull, and Dallas itself ain’t what it used to be, with it’s “Deep Ellum” district – once a thriving mass of clubs, bars, venues and galleries – now a virtual ghost town.  But it was vibrant, liberal Austin we always intended to move to, and still do.  Next year, once our lease is up, we are heading south. [Alex McChesney]

This weekend I discovered that there’s more to Berwick-upon-Tweed than a grotty bladder break on the way to Newcastle. It has a mile of complete Elizabethan city walls to keep Scots out then and kids with plastic swords happy now. There’s also a beach, the tidiest allotments, a great bar (Barrels) that has a venue, real ale and cheap Leffe. Best of all, the streets have comically plain names: Bridge End, Railway Street. [Stan Tontas]

Hyde Park, Leeds
Specifically the skate park. In the evenings, walking about after a skate with a malt beer from the Abu Bakar supermarket and a nice windscreen of sweat on your forehead. Phew! [Pascal Ansell]

Mono, Glasgow
Obviously, Mono has been brilliant from the day it opened and we all realised here was somewhere you could buy records while drinking beer (this never gets tired). I’ve bought a lot of records in Mono, seen some great bands, played there myself twice and imbibed a large amount of their homemade lemonade. However, this year myself and the Glasgow Craft Mafia have taken up a residency there on the last Sunday of every month and they’ve been some of the most enjoyable afternoons of the year – sitting sewing or sketching by the bright sunny windows listening to good music while watching people wander in for records or lunch, their kids happily entertained by our activity sheets, and then even making a handful of cash to take home with me. I’m almost going to miss it this month. But I’ll be in Oban so maybe not. Yeah, you heard me, I’m in Oban RIGHT NOW. [Marceline Smith]

After my Baker Street nightmare I now find myself working in St Johns Wood and loving it. Working on a street parallel to Abbey Road and only a stone’s throw away from Lord’s I really love being in a place that is truly on the map and that changes almost daily. My knowledge of town is no longer confined to Soho as the places to explore are endless and exciting. [JGRAM]

Water Eaton grain silo
A big abandoned grain silo outside Oxford you can see from the A34, and as such I must have driven past it 200 times wondering what it was like and how awesome it would be for a stupid great party. It’s brilliant in there – check it out. [Stuart Fowkes]

Summer catch-up 2009: Zines

Posted: July 28th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Vice Magazine
I don’t know, in many ways this magazine is truly despicable but with it no less entertaining. I have pretty much absolutely nothing in common with anybody or anything featured in this publication but with it being something of a tastemaker amongst the funny haircuts of East London wearing their big stupid glasses at the 32 (almost 33) I feel by reading and owning this magazine I am still cool and cutting edge. I am, aren’t I? [JGRAM]

I’m still enjoying Shindig as a bi-monthly injection of 1960s psychedelia/garage punk/R&B knowledge into my wearied brain. Each new issue brings with it a new set of additions to my list of must-buy records… [Simon Minter]

Please Be Brave
Whenever I have some spare cash, I have a zine splurge. I’m still waiting for this cute Japanese zine to arrive but I’ve been happily occupied with Deth P Sun‘s latest zine. There’s virtually no text but I can look at his drawings for hours. He has a Ghibli-esque style – lots of spooky but cute things – and this zine has a page of ideas for an illustrated Dracula with cats. Most of all, his work is always a nice reminder that sketchbooks are for fun and it’s okay to draw the same things over and over and to make mistakes (and fix them!). I need to make some new zines, pronto. [Marceline Smith]

I’ve been really enjoying Time recently – some really good international coverage, and really high quality journalism. And their website’s come on leaps and bounds. [Stuart Fowkes]

Summer catch-up 2009: Television

Posted: July 27th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

As a LOST nerd, obviously I was interested to see this,  JJ Abrams’ new show about “fringe science”, but have had to use nefarious means since no good US TV seems to ever get shown on normal UK telly any more. To begin with, it’s almost hilarious how many of JJ Abrams’ stock trademarks pop up, particularly the floating 3D place names and all the lens flare, but it turned out to be a pretty fun stupid sci-fi show, owing a lot to the X-Files.  The Pacey/Denethor match-up is definitely the highlight for me, though it’s all pretty great if you turn about half your brain off. I mean, it has teleportation, flesh-melting disasters and a man who turns into a giant hedgehog. Must get hold of the last bunch of episodes. [Marceline Smith]

The Thick Of It
I don’t think I’ve watched anything at all on telly since March, so I’ll have to say The Thick Of It by default. Cos it’s great and I did it backwards by watching In The Loop first. Anything with such a consistently high level of inventive swearing deserves plaudits. [Stuart Fowkes]

The Street
Unusually for me, I’m excited that a TV programme is coming back. No polis, no doctors, no lawyers, no explosions, no superpowers, no demands for a whole day of my life to follow story-arcs. The Street focuses on the folk in a single row of houses, one per episode but not (in the ones I’ve seen) in a kitchen sink all-working-class-lives-is-misery way. So hopefully the new series won’t suck. [Stan Tontas]

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
How do I go about explaining this black-hearted gem of a comedy series? Basically, there are 4 key characters, who run a bar in Philadelphia. That the bar is barely frequented by customers, let alone its publicans, is neither here nor there. Each protagonist is convinced that they’re a loveable character in a mildly amusing sitcom series, when in fact they’re all completely self-centred assholes with some major issues. Danny DeVito turns up in Series 2 as the father figure and manages to somehow upstage all of them in his complete and utter cuntery. It’s all incredibly hilarious and surprisingly close-to-the-bone stuff for an American sitcom – “like a more twisted Seinfeld”, I’m told. Unfortunately it’s been fairly well buried on UK networks, but I strongly encourage you to seek it out. [Dave Stockwell]

Yo Gabba Gabba
With parenthood comes the depressing realisation that I am now a member of a demographic worth pursuing by evil marketing types.  “Yo Gabba Gabba” is this kids show aimed a preschoolers, right?  Except it isn’t.  A three year old will watch any old rubbish with bright colours and loud music, and will beg mum and dad for the corresponding merchandise when told to.  TV execs know this, and know that it’s the parents they have to convince.  “Yo Gabba Gabba” is a show targeted with expert precision at hipsters with young children.  The lessons are the same ones we learned from Sesame Street et al – be nice to your friends, share your toys, blah blah blah – but these are accompanied by music from act such as The Shins and Low, and surreal appearances by the likes of Biz Markie and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.  In today’s episode, Jack Black flew in on a tiny talking motorcycle and danced with the main characters while wearing a skin-tight orange tracksuit and furry hat.  I am not making this up.  This is the show that, in twenty to thirty years time, our children will drunkenly reminisce about, while maintaining that “those guys must have taken soooo many drugs”, just as our generation continues to do with The Magic Roundabout and its contemporaries.  Our son is too young to be that into it, but he’ll glance at it if it’s on.  His mum and dad, however, have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. [Alex McChesney]

Entourage is the best TV programme I’ve seen in years. It seems to have been carefully constructed to appeal to me exactly and after watching it I’m convinced that the life for me is that of an international film star, living in Hollywood, being driven around in a Hummer yet still retaining the personality of a decent, nice guy. [Simon Minter]

30 Rock/Saturday Night Live
30 Rock has been the show to make me laugh out loud most since Arrested Development.  Starring Tiny Fey and Alec Baldwin along with the amazing Tracy Morgan it is a half fictionalised account of the behind the scenes happenings of a weekly live comedy show much like Saturday Night Live.  Indeed much like how Eastenders cast members usually end up popping up in The Bill here many of the cast members, past and present, from Saturday Night Live appear as the events off screen are revealed as more surreal as the ones on screen.  There are some truly snappy and amazing lines coming from these characters in addition to great guest spots from Rip Torn (Larry Sanders), Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Edie Falco (The Sopranos) and Fred Armisen who as a suspected terrorist neighbour puts in a great paranoid performance.  At the same time this past season (number 34) of Saturday Night Live has been the funniest I have seen in years.  Again thankfully making me laugh out loud more than anything else Armisen’s Obama is great, Fey’s Sarah Palin was legendary on the internet and in Seth Meyers on the Weekend Update desk they have a writer, satirist and social commentator to compete with Jon Stewart.  Elsewhere Kristen Wiig is one of the finest female performers ever to appear on the show with her endless line of creepy and hilarious characters and  Michaela Watkins “Angie Tempura” blogger character and her “Bitchpleeze.com” website is a definite personal favourite in addition to Kenan Thompson (from Kenan And Kel back in the day) making a surprise and flying transition into adult comedy (especially on “Scared Straight” and as Charles Barkley).  The season finale hosted by Will Ferrell saw the return of his Celebrity Jeopardy sketch and his renowned verbal sparring with Sean Connery.  The UK has never known how to treat/broadcast this amazing show so thank god for torrents.  Additionally I have loved Californication, In Treatment and anything Charlie Brooker touches. [JGRAM]

Summer catch-up 2009: Bands

Posted: July 24th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Shonen Knife
Much like movies this year, gigs are great too and last month (June) I finally had the opportunity to see the legendary Shonen Knife when they played their first UK show in fifteen years. When Kurt Cobain commented that they were able to render him to the state of a screaming girl at a Beatles concert he was not exaggerating as the latest line-up tore through one of the most enjoyable sets of music I have heard in many years. Not one element of the set was dislikeable as it was impossible to feel the least bit of cynicism when faced with such a happy band complete with fantastic new bass player in Ritsuko Taneda. They opened with “Konnichiwa” and ended with “Riding On The Rocket” – perfection. One day all gigs will be this fun. [JGRAM]

Oxford has been thin on the ground for interesting music recently, but Bitches are my current band du jour, if for no other reason than their complete lack of complexity and cleverness. A friend of mine dubbed their music ‘thug rock’ and that fits perfectly. Good honest insane noisy pseudo-punk rock music. [Simon Minter]

The Paperchase
Last.FM tells me I have been addicted to The Paperchase recently, like some kind of diseased bag of mint humbugs. The new record’s not as consistent as some of their previous efforts, but I reckon there are three or four absolute killers on there. Also Dan Deacon and Marnie Stern have been making me cross-eyed with joy. Ooh, and Drive Like Jehu and Th’Faith Healers, if we’re talking 90s throwbacks. [Stuart Fowkes]

Pet Shop Boys
The first proper band I went to see live (in Glasgow, no less), I later gave all my records away to my sister. And now I have a lot of them back as she’s selling off lots of her vinyl. There aren’t many pop bands still together after 25 years and it’s even more surprising that they’re still making fantastic albums, their latest written with Girls Aloud gurus Xenomania. If nothing else, I’ll always love them for knowing that pop music doesn’t need to be for idiots – their attention to detail in packaging, performances and publicity still inspires me hugely. Would be nice if they’d play some proper shows in Scotland though – I haven’t seen them since 1992. [Marceline Smith]

Summer catch-up 2009: Video Games

Posted: July 23rd, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Guitar Hero: Metallica
After the horrible disappointment that was Guitar Hero World Tour with its inclusion of far too many wet pop and indie songs, despite the inclusion of “Kick Out The Jams” and one of the greatest Guitar Hero tracks ever, in comparison this is the real deal. I’ve recently read a bunch of worried articles about a generation of kids now buying up “classic” rock and metal and getting into such basic and Neanderthal songs but who wants to be Sigur Ros anyway, I want to fly the V. That said though I have just seen they have released Subbuteo on the DS! [JGRAM]

Resident Evil 5
Because the Resident Evil games have always been an ace idea, but this one REALLY nails it. The graphics are up a notch, the zombie action is relentless, and it constantly finds new ways to surprise/scare the crap out of you. [Stuart Fowkes]

Pandemic 2
There was one I played recently online, Pandemic 2, like Risk for microorganisms. Choose your type (parasite or microbe?) and tactics (high infectivity or low visibility), try to conquer the world (even Madagascar) then wipe out its population. Like Risk, I played it twice then got bored with it. [Stan Tontas]

I haven’t played many games over the last few years – platformers are generally too fiddly and the adventure games of the sort that Lucasarts used to churn out really died a death with the advent of 3D. So it was a pleasure to be recommended and discover this beauty of an independently-made platformer that isn’t all about shooting everything in sight or making that jump by just the right millimetre. Instead you’re immersed in a gorgeous 2D environment that feels a lot like Mario, but plays like a puzzle game: every world changes the physics and your manipulation of time to negotiate the environment. Baddies are very much an afterthought: you can literally rewind any mistakes you might make and shift around between levels if you get stuck. But it’s not so easy: the puzzles you have to negotiate to make progress will make you scratch your head so hard that it bleeds, and then when you’ve found the solution you won’t believe how simple it is. There’s a free demo to download for the PC from the website, or you can get it from Xbox 360’s Live Arcade thingy. In either case, the full game is only a tenner and well worth dishing out the cashola. [Dave Stockwell]

Space Giraffe
I just got myself one of them XBox 360 thingies.  One of the advantages of coming to a games console relatively late in its lifespan is that you can pick up titles from a couple of years ago second hand at rock-bottom prices, so Crackdown and Dead Rising have both been keeping me entertained.  But if I have one recommendation, it’s Jeff “Llamasoft” Minter’s much-maligned downloadable title “Space Giraffe”, which takes apart the classic “Tempest” and rebuilds it as something else entirely.  The visual style takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s very much worth persevering with and learning to see through what appears at first to be an eye-melting psychedelic mess.  Photosensitive epileptics need not apply. [Alex McChesney]

Ancient Quest Of Saqqarah
Much of my time is currently spent slowly completing Ancient Quest Of Saqqarah, a simple puzzle game that’s hugely enhanced by outstanding graphics, touches of humour and a gradually-rising difficulty level. [Simon Minter]

Diner Dash
When I was in Thailand last summer my friend Claire was always playing this but it sounded pretty lame to me. I got a bunch of entirely legal games loaded on to my DS and Diner Dash was included. Having exhausted all the other games by this year, I gave it a go and promptly went a bit mental, in the ‘just one more go and then I’ll make dinner/go to sleep/do some work’ fashion. I eventually hit a barrier at Level 8 of the Retro restaurant where no matter how quickly I served up pizza and what looks like Vienetta to harassed office workers and fuming professors, I couldn’t earn enough tips to move on. Sadly Claire chose this moment to go on holiday for 2 weeks so I gave up, after the 17 billionth try. If I was ever to hear the theme music while standing in a restaurant I imagine I would immediately kill everyone.  [Marceline Smith]

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
I like that I have subconcious bizarre-o karmic timing; every time I’m asked to write something, it happens to coincide with a momentous occasion in my life, something worth writing about. Things like going to festivals, new editions of classic RPGs, sitting in the back of  a police car, and the re-release and makeover of one of my favourite games EVER.

Monkey Island was the first Lucasarts (then Lucasfilm Games, if I remember correctly) Graphic Adventure I ever played.  My GA roots lay with Sierra adventures, which were, in hindsight, illogical, cruel, unforgiving and ultimately unrewarding.  Despite this, I spent hour after hour battling the puzzles and interface to progress to the next poorly executed and ill-conceived challenge.

When MI came along, I was bowled over by the fact that its point & click interface was logical & intuitive, its graphics colourful and cartoony, its music and the much lauded ‘imuse’ system was atmospheric and memorable, and the characters and writing were not only well-developed, but the protagonist, Guybrush, was also lovable and easy to relate to.  It was everything that the Sierra games were not, and gave me hour after hour of enjoyable, rewarding gameplay and laughs;  this game was LOL funny, probably a first in my experience.  Some games had tried and failed to provide laughs (the awful Leisure Suit Larry springs to mind), but Ron Gilbert’s script was packed with laughs, from throwaway lines to running gags, self-referential jokes and set-pieces, every scene provided a smirk or smile.  It was also emotionally charged, with a love interest, Elaine Marley, and a despicable and unforgettable ghost-pirate villain, LeChuck, I was completely immersed by these characters and their stories, to the extent of the final scene of Monkey Island 2 actually reducing me to tears.

Hearing of the remake, I was as apprehensive as I was surprised and excited.  We’ve all seen our favourite movies given a modern make-over, most often followed by ripping out of one’s own hair, or our favourite books become a careless Hollywood pile of crap, and the last thing I wanted was some kind of full 3D pixel-shader 5.0 THX surround sound Quad-Core wank-fantasy total rewrite.  Reading the press-release, it appears to be nothing of the sort:  it’s a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake, with full voice-over (at last – this was something I hoped for but was denied when the CD edition came out) and every character and background lovingly and painstakingly hand-drawn and displayed in glorious hi-res, and as if that wasn’t enough, the ability to flip back and forth between the remake and the original game at any point, with a single click – it’s that similar.

The release is on 15th July 2009 via Steam, and rather than dreading this day as I thought I would, I’m thoroughly excited and anticipating a nostalgia trip, a flood of emotions and lolz, and kicking myself numerous times for forgetting how to solve a bunch of the puzzles.  I recommend everybody gives this game a try, from old-skoolers to first-timers.  You will fall in love with it. [Greg Kitten]

Summer catch-up 2009: Films

Posted: July 22nd, 2009, by Marceline Smith

I’m still hoping that my friend’s feature film 1-2-3-4 gets picked up for proper UK distribution, as it sorely deserves it. Plus, I’m in it – bit part though it is – and its success could be the launchpad for my forthcoming Hollywood lifestyle. [Simon Minter]

Star Trek
I haven’t been to the cinema much lately, but the other week my brother’s-in-law and I went to see Star Trek.  No, the story makes absolutely no sense, and Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is a swaggering prick with none of the charm of William Shatner (now there’s a sentence I never imagined myself writing), but it’s a solid lasers-and-spaceships blockbuster that’s getting bums on seats, and precisely the shot in the arm that the franchise needs. [Alex McChesney]

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Wow! Well I’m more into the soundtrack by Burt Bacharach (it’s on Spotify) but the film is one of the classics for a reason. Good banter and tidy shoot-outs. Very nice. [Pascal Ansell]

Honey and Clover
This is a sweet but rather depressing tale of a bunch of Japanese art school students and their unrequited love hexagon. At least half the series is either characters gazing wistfully at each other or making lengthy monologues about how they need to stop moping and get a grip. the other half is them all eating amazing looking meals together and OTT manga style slapstick. There’s some totally awesome parts, mostly involving the boy-next-door hero who goes on a crazy cycling trip round Japan to find himself and then uses his experiences to help one of the girls recover from her terrible glass related hospitalisation that threatens to ruin her artistic genius. It’s all rather touching and (kind of a spoiler) no-one ends up with the one they love. Downer. The actual ending though involves one character eating a honey and four leaf clover sandwich on a bus while blubbing. Amazing. I loved this actually, particularly the architecture boy’s collection of jumpers, but I’d probably advise you get the film instead as this has terrible subtitles. I was also delighted that a minor plot point involved the raffle system that Tom Nook used to do in the original Animal Crossing. Seems that Nintendo really got that perfect right down to the last detail. [Marceline Smith]

Zombies! In a tower block! In Spain! And then a creepy skinny alien zombie thing with an AXE. Yes please. [Stuart Fowkes]

The Day The Clown Cried
2009 has been an absolutely amazing year so far for movies, every movie I have seen at the cinema has been great including The Damned United, In The Loop, Looking For Eric and Synecdoche New York.  Then obviously there has been The Wrestler, the truly heart-warming Anvil story and Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist was a lot of fun too.  Currently though I find myself obsessed with a movie that quite possibly the world will never see again.  In 1972 Jerry Lewis made a movie set during the second world war about a failed clown who finds a talent in entertaining kids in a concentration camp who ends up using this ability to lead them into the gas chamber.  Harry Shearer is one of the few people to have ever seen this movie which apparently is so off the taste Richter scale Shearer described it as a “perfect object.  This movie is so drastically wrong, pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.”  Apparently the only place that there is a copy is in a safe in Jerry Lewis’ office.  What on earth does it say about the mindset of person who came so close to committing career suicide, perhaps his character in The King Of Comedy wasn’t such a stretch after all.  Talk about making the mind boggle, Jerry just release it.  I have also slowly been ploughing my way through watching all the Mumblecore movies so that you don’t have to. [JGRAM]

Observe and Report
I was curious about this — from the previews it looked like a pretty standard Judd Apatow type flick but the reviews implied that it had a dark, “Taxi Driver”-ish edge. I’m not sure either description really nails it. It’s a rather confusing film — it won me over the first 60 minutes or so, then lost me for a while, then won me back, albeit with serious misgivings, towards the end.

The main problem I have with this movie is the main problem I had with “Pineapple Express” which also starred Seth Rogan. On one hand, there’s aspects of these films that feel very real — the characters and dialogue have that “Pulp Fiction” dedication to the most granular aspects of pop culture. On the other hand, much of what happens in both movies is quite absurd, with routine violations of the laws of physics, the laws of society and just plain common sense. In the real universe, Seth Rogan’s “Ronnie” character in “Observe and Report” would have been carted off to a maximum-security prison within the first 30 minutes. So you have to just kind of suspend disbelief and go along for the ride.

Anna Faris is of course perfect as always. She’s really taken the dumb blonde stereotype and put her own stamp on it. And while she’s funny and beautiful, she’s beautiful in a funny kind of way. I could spend hours licking all parts of her body.

One thing struck me today: I’ve seen a few reviewers compare Ronnie to Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver.” But when I consider Ronnie’s dedication to enforcing a moral code on the world while being aware of the amoral nature of the universe, I see a more apt, more modern comparison. Ronnie is a chubbier version of the vigilante Rorschach, from the “Watchmen” movie and graphic novel. [Wil Forbis]

Summer catch-up 2009: Books

Posted: July 21st, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Bad Vibes by Luke Haines
I never fully got into The Auteurs but I knew people who did and with this book it has become obvious why they were. Perhaps taking a few liberties with the truth, in a way he appears to be claiming a larger grasp on his influence on Britpop but with such hyperbole and self depreciation you are happy to give him the benefit of the doubt when his undermining of bloated bands and inflated egos of that scene/movement are so scathing and spot on. Reminding me somewhat of Kill Yr Friends by Jon Niven last year this is a really accurate description of how agonising and difficult it is to deal with the machinations of the music industry and ultimately how fake and backstabbing it is. More power to him for attempting to be himself and do things his own way even if it did involve often purposely acting like an arse. In the process of puncturing egos during the course of the book it does feel as if he is acting on the side of good and representing any reader that has ever giving any aspect of music a go. When it comes to the descriptions of recording with Steve Albini at Abbey Road he pretty confirms everything you had always hoped about the man and experience and as the book ends with Haines still the butt of the joke you can’t help but feel like applauding his existence in it all. Meanwhile I continue to bang my head against the wall painfully trying to complete my second book “Gestures And Expressions.” [JGRAM]

12 Cities by John Gunther
Since quitting my job last year for a life of freelance fun, I get through an horrific amount of books. Thank god for Bookmooch. My current obsession is for out of print travel books, where some dusty academic or Oxford-educated goon wanders off on some random epic journey in the 1950s. 12 Cities was a joy to discover and I’m still dipping into it. Featuring essays on, well, 12 cities in the world, it includes such chapters as “Matters of government and such in London’, ‘Entertainment in Hamburg and Vienna’, Moscow – a few prime sights’ and ‘A sheaf of Israeli personalities’. I certainly now know a hell of a lot more about London council history than I ever expected to. [Marceline Smith]

She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir
Because it evokes 1920s Paris amazingly, and is also a fabulously bitter tale of relationships gone wrong, not even thinly veiled as aimed at Jean-Paul Sartre. [Stuart Fowkes]

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
I haven’t finished it yet but The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth is great stuff. A novel in verse, Eugene Onegin style. All about love lives in San Francisco. Not too difficult to read either. Oh and the last Harry Potter book! I’m currently OD’ing on the films and am taking refuge in my early adolescence. Fine if you want to be all cool and “I’m too sexy for the wonderful adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione” but then again I really hope you go and flush your own head down a public toilet. Are you being Sirius!? (chuckle…) The Deathly Hallows rocked! The third film ruled! And Rupert Grint (Ron) has bought his own ice cream van! Can’t argue with that – big slap on the back Rowling. Thanks for geeking up my teens so I didn’t have to. [Pascal Ansell]

The Spirit Level
Mostly non-fiction stuff. The Spirit Level brings together years of research into health inequalities to argue that abolishing inequality is a health necessity, not a moral choice. Essential (if a bit dry) reading. [Stan Tontas]

E.H. Gombrich – “A Little History of the World”
The scope of this book is incredible. Written by a German scientist back in 1935, he tried to create a book that covered the entire history of humankind in as succinct but engaging a manner as possible so that it could be read to or by children wanting to learn more about the world. I’ve never come across a book that so satisfyingly achieves its aims and is as informative (and witty) at the same time. It answers questions you never even thought to ponder or others that you were afraid of asking; all the time creating a calm and detached viewpoint on the incredible achievements (and brutality) of men and women since such a thing evolved. Even better is the fascinating worldview of a humanist German just before National  Socialism swept across his country and Hitler banned it for being too pacifistic. Everyone should read this, if only for some perspective of their place in history. [Dave Stockwell]

“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro
I dare say I’m the last person in the English-speaking world to have read this by now, such is the praise that has been heaped on it.  I’ve only read two other books by Ishiguro.  “The Remains of the Day” was a delight.  “The Unconsoled” was a horrible chore that I’m prepared to admit I just didn’t get.  “Never Let Me Go” is very much closer to the former book, and like it the narrative voice is so strong as to disguise the author almost completely. [Alex McChesney]

Marc Masters – No Wave
Working through Marc Masters’ No Wave book and enjoying it greatly, for filling in the blanks with a ‘scene’ that didn’t really exist for more than ten minutes. It’s full of excellent photographs too, and evokes late-70s/early-80s New York with piercing clarity. [Simon Minter]

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Like most people, I don’t read as much as I’d like to. So it’s a sad day when I finish a book and am anything less than enthusiastic about it. Such was the case with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The first half was great. Very strange story with all sorts of surreal events and personalities that reminded me a lot of the movie Wristcutters (which I love). But the second half/last quarter ended up diverging too much from the main story, going into things that I mostly wasn’t interested in (the exception being the one about Boris The Manskinner, that was awesome. A horrifyingly disgusting telling of somebody watching their fellow soldier being skinned alive.). I would still give it a generally positive review and would recommend it to friends, but I guess I just wish I hadn’t spent so much time with it. [Justin Snow]