Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Gene Wilder, And Other Things

We don't cover obituaries here at the Quirky Muffin. Many relevant luminaries pass on without a comment, Leonard Nimoy for example, but there was some particularly wrenching about the idea of Gene Wilder being gone. He was a special man, a unique blend of artist, comedic showman and sensitive actor that will never be matched. He was the crazed everyman that everyone might want to be, and now he's gone. It's true that he hadn't actively worked for a long time, but he'll be missed still. That tour-de-force performance in 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' really did sear him into most children's memories...

Oh well, people do move on to whatever might await in the next dimension. It might be nothing or a whole new world. We'll never know. The unanswerable questions are always the most interesting ones. What happens when we die? Is there a God or not? What about ghosts and psychic phenomena? If any of these things are found to exist, then are they real or just science so advanced as to appear mystical? Is it all down to aliens?

No, it's too difficult. Philosophical questions will have to wait for another day. This one is about pointing out the ridiculous accomplishments of that great and wild-haired genius. Gene Wilder, the man behind Leo Bloom ('The Producers'), The Waco Kid ('Blazing Saddles'), Frederik Frankenstein ('Young Frankenstein'), Quackser Fortune and Willy Wonka has moved to the great asylum in the sky for creative geniuses. Very few actors get more than one career defining performance, but this one managed at least three, and debateably four! Maybe it would be five or six if I had seen 'Rhinoceros'. No-one else could bring the the edge of intelligence and madness that Wilder had. He was a one-off.

Goodbye, Gene Wilder. Well done. You made everyone's lives just a little happier. Even the 1980s movies were cheering in some ways. Adieu.

O. 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Bank Holiday

The bank holiday weekend is continuing, and continuing, and will continue some more. Yes, bank holidays may be attractive for the travel lovers or wage slaves, but they drag endlessly on for lots of other people. Or they could drag on endlessly, if you didn't have a mess of things to read, watch and play. It's been an interesting few days for entertainment, actually, as the collected script book for the long-lost Marx Brothers radio show, 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel' arrived and has been excellent, as has the movie 'The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming'. In addition to all that, the linux-wrapped versions of the terribly old computer games 'Silent Service II' and 'Colonization' dropped in nicely to the routine. Those old games may not live up to modern graphical standards, but there's something remarkably clean about their gameplay that isn't all that common now. I love that era of games which didn't revolve around first-person shooting of things...

What on Earth do other people do with bank holiday Mondays anyway? What is the magic ingredient? Are they doomed to be just like any other holiday or day trip and cursed with high levels of expectation and no actual enjoyment? Or can they be used nicely? To do all the relaxing home things you can't normally do? To break out some classical music, a book or a film? Or take time for exploring the local environment? Is a bank holiday best used in having picnic on the patio?

This time the reality of the bank holiday will be much exploring of the Flywheel script book, pre-preparation of a whole week's lessons, note-taking on 'Young Frankenstein' and maybe even a picnic. It's amazing how much more relaxed we can all be when canine convalescence continues remarkably. The dog is in ridiculous health for a past stroke victim. Indeed, it could be so relaxed that cookie production could recommence. Oh, those addictive cookies, those nutrition bombs that never stop giving... It has only been two days since the last batch ran out and the palpitations have begun. Next will be the hallucinations, and finally the rush to mix together all the ingredients in a veritable orgy of baking. Maybe a bank holiday is best used for baking? It's a thought!

O.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Film: 'The Producers' (1968)

It's madness. Utter madness. A time capsule of lunacy from times long gone. How could 'The Producers' ever have been made, and why didn't Mel Brooks ever make anything quite so good again? Was this first drawing upon his well of directorial insanity such a depleting factor, or was 'The Producers' the regular first movie 'baby' that gestated for years and years, being perfected all the time. It's probably a little of both.

What's it about? Naive accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is sent to assist madman theatrical producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) with his accounts, where said producer is in the midst of fund raising campaign via giving old ladies romantic thrills in one of the strangest sequences ever put on film. The whole movie is riddled with sequences you would never find anywhere else, and benefits enormously from sheer novelty. Indeed, it's still utterly unique, despite having it's own musical remake. Getting past that first sequence, bloom inspires Bialystock into putting on a guaranteed flop so that they can make off with the money they have made by oversubscribing the movie to its backers. What play do they choose from everything ever written and submitted to Bialystock? 'Springtime For Hitler'. Enough said.

Is it funny? Do you need to ask the that question of a movie that was Mel Brooks' first directorial effort, that has Gene Wilder's first starring role, and effectively resurrected Zero Mostel after years of blacklisting torment? Well, I assume it resurrected his career, not having any idea when he started working again. The answer to the question of 'Is it funny?' really depends on whether you can accept 'Springtime in Hitler' as a ludicrously funny epic stage musical that succeeds despite itself, or if the cumulative Nazi Germany jokes tip you over the edge into some kind of revulsion. It is gloriously funny, in the strangest way. Also, there is some 60s sexism on display, but you really have to take the context into account. It was the 1960s.

It's a great comedy, one of the very few outright comedies lingering in my collection, grouped in with 'Airplane', 'Young Frankenstein', 'Monkey Business', 'Horse Feathers' and a few others. Comedies work so very seldomly that finding even one excellent one is like striking gold in the middle of a desert. I'll have to rewatch 'The Lonely Guy' to see if it makes this exalted list too. Yes, 'The Producers' works. It might be uncomfortable at times, but it works. It's the best Mel Brooks movie, and perhaps the only other other to come close is 'Young Frankenstein'. I smile when other people guffaw, so a titter or two is an indicator of something special.

O.

Note: There's a fairly hard and fast rule that the good Mel Brooks films are the ones in which he he doesn't appear and/or in which Gene Wilder does appear, and it's one rule that defiantly works. The only possible contradiction to the rule is 'Blazing Saddles', but since 'Young Frankenstein' works so much better, let's call it a debateable win for the Brooks Rule.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Taradiddle?

The last few weeks of the Summer holidays bring a rash of cancellations for a private tutor, as the parents suddenly realise how little time is left to get out and about, especially if the weather suddenly takes a turn for the better. (This means anything less than persistent rain in 2016). As a result, tutor gets nothing but time to play with. In a few weeks, it would be time pushed into a part-time degree, but now it is mainly spent on breaking stories or trying to invent new super-cheap and lightweight railway locomotives. This is not a joke. I almost had an idea, a wonderful idea...

Another thing that can be done on days of unexpected freedom is to explore the classics of computer games, which in this case means 'Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis', from the golden age of adventure games. Yes, that wondrous time when LucasArts was pumping out such awesome 'point and click' efforts as 'Day Of The Tentacle' and 'The Secret Of Monkey Island', so long ago and yet still as fresh as ever. Indeed, the LucasArts games have endured very, very well, mainly because a whole suite of applications has been developed (ScummVM and ResidualVM) to make them playable on modern operating systems of all types. Ah, Sophia Hapgood, I missed you.

What else happens on slow tutoring days? The Marx Brothers have been making appearances recently, and English lessons get ground out with great deliberation and diligence. English lessons must be planned and written that way, due to the great importance of language, and the great difficulty in teaching any of it. Language, like mathematics, is mostly only learned and not taught. Is that a defeatist attitude for a teacher? No, not at all! The goal is to teach what can be taught, and otherwise lead the student around to learning the rest by themself. It's just a question of setting up the trail correctly. On this occasion, it's a trail that involves... A lot of confusion. Oh no, a lack of plan! What to do? Panic! Panic!

<madness, panic and bedlam, then chairlam, and finally cushionlam>

A plan is formed, and so secretly that it may not even be divulged in the sacred pages of the Quirky Muffin, the blog that time forgot. This blog must be preserved for the perpetuation of taradiddle in perpetuity. Hold on... 'taradiddle'? TARADIDDLE? This Wednesday has gone on too long. What on Earth does 'taradiddle' mean?

taradiddle: pretentious or silly talk or writing

Oh, it makes perfect sense in context. Let's give up. Au revoir, Wednesday, you did your job well.

O.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part IV

(Part III , Part V)

Mystery and Cloud raced back to the Zone of Impenetrable Jargon, and watched the Invader beat futilely on the prison. Yes, that destructive visitor had earnt the name of 'Invader' now, in a way that their gentler visitor Sorpresa never would have.

"¡Boo!"

Cloud shuddered in mid-flight, and Mystery himself almost lost his twiddle at the surprise.

"¡Hola! ¡He vuelto!" It was Sorpresa, and as always his timing was awful.

Mystery pointed at the giant foreign word pounding on the Dome, and tried to convey a sense of occasion upon their visitor.

"¿Que se pasa? ¡Es un desastre!" Sorpresa slumped down up on Cloud's amorphous surface, and looked as bleak as he had ever looked. "Un desastre..."

"Cloud, what can we do to distract that thing over there?"

The usually terse Cloud muttered "Hold on." and suddenly picked up speed. Sorpresa was taken by surprise and rolled a couple of full word-lengths before grabbing hold of some of Cloud's syllabic structure and closing his eyes. Mystery tried to keep his own eyes open, as they began to dive, and examined the interloper. It truly was massive, a gargantuan titan that would have crushed their old town underfoot. Steely great eyes were bent on the attempted destruction. Why attack the Dome so? Was it perhaps after any words that could be hiding inside?

The invaders, this Armageddon, loomed ever closer and Mystery was surprised when he felt a reassuring touch. It was Sorpresa. "Apocalipsis..." He didn't look happy.

"Apocalipsis?"

Cloud interrupted. "Now would be a good time to brace yourselves." They did as she asked, and held on as steamed on directly at the Invader's roots.

"There is hope." Who had said that?

To be continued...

Saturday, 20 August 2016

No Blank Page Left Unfilled

The challenge is met once again, and the battle commences. The blank page is pitted against the hideously dim mind of the seasoned writer of silliness, where only one can win. Yes, there may be a pyrrhic draw, where the results are unsatisfactory to both sides, but that's not what we aim for.

There is a time for planning and a time for improvised nonsense. This is clearly going to be one of the latter, even as a 'Literary Reflections' continues in development. It will need more than two completed books to be satisfying, though! Yes, we must improvise, improvise! It's not too difficult as long as you don't stop for anything. You must type, type and type some more and keep up the rhythm.

I could write about the second season opener of 'Alias', currently playing to the left, but the talk about that show will be for another day. Oh, a pause. A dreadful pause. There can be no pauses. Let's write about something else, not the weather. Never the weather. No-one in the future is ever going to need to know that gales were running and drizzle was falling in Pontyates on the evening of the twentieth of August in 2016.

Oh yes, the reunion, the ten year mini-reunion of the Aberystwyth University mathematics class of 2006! It went surprisingly well, and with only six classmates and hangers-on it was a surprisingly compact picnic and dinner. There was even a possible convert to the card game 'Fluxx', that magnificent time waster. (Note: Version 4 of 'Fluxx' is the best. Creepers for the win!) We can only hope... Also, in recent news, Tess the venerable Old English sheepdog continues to recuperate speedily after her stroke. She can now get up the steps to the garden unaided once again. I suspect her of being an alien imposter, but only the Clomp knows for sure.

That's enough for now. Enough words spun out of nothing, woven in thoughts barely distinct from the random neuronal firings of normal existence. More will follow another day, and it will be a story...

O.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Television: 'Press Gang: Something Terrible' (1990) (Episodes 2x07 and 2x08)

This could easily have been called 'The Redemption of Colin Matthews' or 'A Very Special Episode', but the former wouldn't have been fitting and the latter could just as easily been used for the first season two-parter 'How To Make A Killing' or the finale of that same season, 'Shouldn't I Be Taller?'. For all that, though it is a very special story, and it does redeem the arch-hustler Colin, this is one of most important story of the whole series.

On the surface, the idea of a young girl (called Cyndi) befriending a confused Colin after learning about his past antics would seem run of the mill, but when it becomes apparent that she has a child abuse problem and that Colin is the one she has tried to connect to for refuge, the whole concept of the conscience-less and capitalistic hustler is turned on its head, and his humanity rises to the surface. The comedy sluices away, and is shunted to Lynda and Spike's attempts to keep their new romance secret. Meanwhile, Colin struggles with the dual problems of his own legacy making him completely uncredible when seeking assistance, and the weight of the soul-destroying knowledge that he has deduced and had tacitly confirmed. How on Earth would a born salesman and con artist convince anyone that the 'something terrible' was happening?

Fortunately, and in unlikely fashion, the tyrannical editor that is his boss Lynda spots that he is troubled when no-one else would and takes him under wing and the two people who are hardest to know dole out the biggest dose of heart via the titular team's junior newspaper. It's all very well done, and of course uncomfortable at times. However, it's never too uncomfortable. It's a good story, and one that is still not out of date. In the last few weeks alone, it has become clear that child abuse is a tragically common occurrence in the United Kingdom. Where are the kids show to make provoking stories for the young people of 2016? Who is going to help the reported one in fourteen young people suffering abuse in this country? Where are the Colins to make these points?

It was a brave show to make in 1990, as was 'How To Make A Killing' in 1989, and very well done. Every mention to Colin's pink rabbit suit interlude in 'A Night In' is welcome, even if made by the suffering Cyndi. Yes, Colin is a hustler, but when motivated he uses his salesman powers for undefeatable good instead of self-interested greed. Points are made, outside of the political sphere of hyperbole and blather. Come on, Britain, we can do better than this. It has been twenty six years since 'Something Terrible' and the redemption of Colin Matthews, after all.

O.


Note: This post produced in place of the umpteenth article on 'Joe Versus The Volcano'. Lovely, lovely film.

Note: Cover post, pre-written to cover for a ten year university reunion of doom. Please send a helicopter with assistance.