Friday, 27 February 2015

Acceptable Vagueness

Gibber gibber. What's going on? Where are we? Where is Superman when you need him? Once again, the block has struck, and this could be a very tortured read. It is a truth that spending too long in isolation does tend to degrade your social skills, the mental muscle wasting away from lack of practice.

So, what can you do to keep up communication skills? What are the options available? Is this going to be serious or a merry pile of waffle? Only I might know, if it's not being locked up behind the barrier of my unconscious. My favourite technique is randomly talking to myself in the hopes of being put somewhere full of people, hazardous though that might be. You could also get a language pal, which is great for practicing extra languages, but not for casual conversation.

<pause for thought>

No, it's impossible to write a lighthearted Quirky Muffin today, as the legendary Leonard Nimoy's death was announced in the last few hours. As someone whose development was tied to 'Star Trek' in several of its incarnations this news is much like one of the pillars of the world vanishing in an instant, and leaving nothing in its place. It truly is the end of a legend, a man who embodied an archetype in the character of Spock so completely and thoroughly that any successor is rendered utterly redundant.

Those guys from the first few decades of television are truly irreplaceable. They just aren't making people like that any more, forged as they were in war-times galore, the McCarthy era, the death of JFK and so many other things including long apprenticeships on the stage and screen before getting their breaks. The apprenticeships alone gave them stature that modern performers just don't acquire. You can't replace Nimoy, Shatner, Robert Vaughn of 'The Man From UNCLE', or John Astin and the glorious Carolyn Jones from 'The Addams Family', or so many other. They were one-offs.

It's a sad day.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Story: The Glove, XII [Obsoleted]

(Part I , XI , XIII )

It was comfortable in the dark, apart from the occasional thudding at the temples, and Steffan was tempted to lie there forever. The light returned despite that temptation, and with it a headache of ridiculous proportions. Steffan blinked open for a moment and winced. What a mistake. He resolved to never do it again.

"You'll have to open your eyes sooner or later, you know." Said the voice of Charlotte.

"No, I plan to stay like this forever. It's relaxing. Also, why break an awkward moment?" Replied Steffan.

"Does it hurt? I didn't want to hurt you, but you did flop onto the ground like a drunken salmon."

"Yes, you could say it hurts. How many horses trampled over me?"

"None. You're just being a baby."

Steffan opened his eyes again, and managed to keep them open. Charlotte was sitting on a bar stool sedately, modestly. "After weeks or exploring this city, the trouble comes to me. Hi." His quip fell on stony ground.

"You shouldn't make jokes, really. There are people here, waiting to talk to you, and work out if you're with the authorities or not." A worried look surfaced in her eyes. "I'm personally hoping you're not."

"So, there are problems in Edin, and it wasn't all made up out of whole cloth by Octavius, when they tried to recruit me." Quickly, he hurried on, still wincing a little. "They didn't succeed."

"Don't tell me. The bosses will just get you to tell it all over again. Banksy especially." A long pause. "Why would they want you? Are you someone special?"

"Could have been, could have been. Now I think I'll follow your advice and not tell you yet." Steffan stifled a smug sensation and reminded himself he was probably in some serious peril.

"They'll be here in an hour." Charlotte offered. "Just who do you think you've been taken by?"

Steffan hesitated, and then realised he had made several assumptions too many. "I was trying to find out just what had been behind the mission Octavius tried to recruit me for. That was about people apparently trying to drive a wedge between Edin and Burgh."

"Ah. Sounds like you maybe you are part of the authorities."

"No. What about you?"

"That would be telling." Charlotte stood up, and walked calmly out of the room. The door locked shut behind her. Steffan lay still, and thought.

To be continued...

Monday, 23 February 2015


If you waggle your eyebrows, do you feel better? Try it now and see. Ah... It's all part of the Groucho Marx effect, never formalised, but always effective. Good old Groucho, he of the ludicrous moustache, glasses and wig. Recently I worked my way through 'Animal Crackers', 'Monkey Business', 'Horse Feathers' and 'Duck Soup' and was astounded by how much of the sheer brilliance of the Marx Brothers I had forgotten, and it wasn't all eyebrow waggling!

Ah, the waggle, a universal symbol of levity that would surely infuriate whole brigades of the 'too serious' army that you find everywhere. Yes, the waggle of levity, the waggle of disrespect, the waggle of innuendo, all of them usually misinterpreted. I'm even waggling right now, throwing some of the disappointments of recent days to the wind in a bid to stay optimistic. Take that, waggle loathers of the world.

The last few days could best be described as being uneventful spells in the doldrums, recovery from an exceptionally stressful trip. Maybe the fallout just from being unsuccessful illustrates just why it may not have been a good idea to begin with, or does it simply mean that it was a terribly bad experience after months and months of social isolation? Can anyone go from zero to interview ready in a couple of hours? Have the last few months been overly waggle deficient? They're all good questions, but they shrink into insignificance compared to the cinematic behemoth due to enter the arena this year: Bananaman!

As previously reported, there will be a Bananaman movie in 2015, and it is now being jokingly reported as the beginning of the first phase of the Beano Cinematic Universe. How amazingly weird would that be if it weren't a joke? Is the Bananaman movie a joke itself? It's been kept under such tight wraps for a whole year that it could well be a prank. For sheer potential oddity power it is the most tensely personally awaited film of the year. Be a good film, Bananaman, be a great film. If it weren't a joke, what would the Beano Cinematic Universe look like? We'll find out when we discover if Bananaman is live action, computer animated or traditionally animated. Nothing is known, nothing! Even now, to laboriously carry on the theme, the producers are waggling their eyebrows in potential mirth at the mystery.


Coming soon: A delighted review of 'Ball Of Fire', the Howard Hawks film of 1941, which was utterly lovely. Thank you, world, for the gawky charm of Gary Cooper.

Viewing notes: Several noteworthy episodes zapped by on the screen in the last twenty four hours. There were 'The Addams Family: The Winning Of Morticia Addams', 'Star Trek: Metamorphosis', 'Star Trek TNG: The Measure Of A Man' and 'Mork And Mindy: Mork Learns To See'. They were all stone cold classics, and with every day the past power of television becomes clear: Unification. One of them gets added to the 'Shows so good you cry' list, but to say which would be telling!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Book: 'The Complete Prose' by Woody Allen (1998)

Whatever you might think of Woody Allen as a filmmaker, or as a person, there can be no denying that the prose he wrote for 'The New Yorker' is amongst the funniest ever put on paper. Even now, after a time lapse of months since last reading, 'If The Impressionists Had Been Dentists' is one of the funniest short pieces ever written. It's ludicrous!

Ludicrousness was Allen's gift for a long, long time. His writing was a perfect blend of intelligence and idiocy, often focused on one of existential angst, utterly superficial madness, or both in a bizarre fusion. His gift was to be gifted, and no monument represents that gift better than 'The Complete Prose', which is the ultimately limitless expression of someone insanely funny or funnily insane. It's no coincidence that he became steadily less funny over the course of thirty seven years of psychotherapy, now seeming barely insane or funny at all.

The list of fascinating little gems goes on and on. What do you mean, you've never read 'The Metterling Lists'? Really? A critical appreciation of the laundry lists of noted fictitious writer Metterling and you haven't read them? Good grief! You haven't lived! What about 'Fabrizio's: Criticism and Response'? No? I'm aghast. You will never know how aghast. If I were weaker, this blog would close down this very instant.

Oh, Woody Allen, you saved many lives with your words. We will always remember Needleman, laugh at the Gossage-Vardebedian chess game, and return to your look at organised crime with mouths agape. Thank you kindly. How did one man write all these things, especially without the aid of a yo-yo on a rubber band? No, that's an assumption; Maybe he did have a yo-yo on a rubber band. That could explain it all, especially the movie 'Bananas'.

'The Complete Prose' is a great, great collection. Recommended with no reservations whatsoever, as it's performed admirably for years. Now it's time to check out the semi-mythical S.J. Perelman's writing and see how it stacks up to Allen and Groucho Marx.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Blip, Interrupted

Well, that was a long thirty six hours. I've been away to Exeter and back again since last I wrote, explaining the slight posting irregularity, and also why everything is now being written in a Devon accent. What? You can't tell? What a waste. One interview down and potentially two to go, and still undecided at heart. The problem with being indecisive is that you can never quite choose what decision to not make. Or whether it's worth the dithering.

As always, 'it was an odd trip', a sentence that might be inscribed on all my equipment. Never does a trip go by where sleep occurs easily, where food doesn't become a horrific ordeal, and where the object of the journey goes straightforwardly. It is the nature of travelling, to always be in a state of flux and never settled in your own mind, as if the world were a giant ball of jelly and all of us merely wobbly bystanders. The prose is running quickly here, especially in the wake of the instantaneously revelation that my trip was unsuccessful. At least that's one less decision to make, then!

Now for a seeming 'non sequitir', secretly concealing an actual 'non sequitir'...

Oh, the curse of the 'woofits', that archaic word that means an unwell feeling or depression. If only I had known the word 'woofits' I would have used it extensively for years on end. "Golly, insert name here, you look as if you've got a dose of the woofits!" "Oh, don't bother me now, for the woofits have got me." Of course, we can't use it any more due to the negative connotations of connecting women even indirectly to the unflattering label of 'dog', meaning someone unappealing in physical appearance. It's a cruel language, and a nasty expression, hence 'woofits' has gone by the wayside along with 'fabulist' and all the other words I pull out during these esoteric blogs.

One consequence of chime-induced insomnia, a failed interview, and two hours on a bicycle is that at least sleep will surely ensue tonight. The insomnia shall not win, there will be no woofits, and the world will still be there tomorrow. Should the world not be there tomorrow, you will all have to provide written alibis for where you were when it disappeared. No excuses will be tolerated, and everyone had best start taking notes now. At least there's the lovely recent memory of 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' and the current reading of 'Uncle Fred In The Spring Time' to take the sting out of a possible missing world.


PS Go go, gadget Wodehouse!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Movie: 'The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty' (2013)

Dangerous though it is to write in the heat of the moment, and while aware of the film-centric bias this blog has taken in recent months, there is no recent movie more worthy of a post than 'The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty'. It wasn't received well at the time, which is mystifying, but then when have critics ever been perfect or anything other than just as fallible as anyone else with a pair of eyes and some fingers to write with? It annoys me that they follow critical trends like lemmings over a cliff, but what can you do about it?

The redemptive streak of the Quirky Muffin continues. Apparently there is a burning desire to compensate for horrid injustices heaped on thoroughly undeserving films. 'Mitty' is a movie that is thoroughly well made, artfully directed by its star, Ben Stiller, and lacking in any major flaws. Why didn't it do better? It's a curious question, with not many answers to be found. Maybe people were expecting an outright comedy instead of a fairly light mood piece? Perhaps a movie with almost no violence and no gunplay doesn't have an audience any more? I write that last one in the wake of watching 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Captain America: The Winder Soldier', both of which left piles of bodies in their narrative wakes and bullet casings by the mountain load. It was sickening to see so many bullets shot in 'Winter Soldier', but that's a sidetrack best left untrammelled. We shall return to 'Mitty', which had one extended fantasy chase/fight sequence but nothing else particularly violent although there was plenty of 'action'. It's actually a pretty sweet film, and a throwback on many levels. Could that be it? Did the curse of the 'throwback movie' strike? I love throwbacks, and not just because of nostalgia! Stylisation and plot accounts for a lot of it, especially here.

The story of 'The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty' is that of a man, a manager of photographic negatives at a soon to close magazine, and his quest to track down the maverick photographer whose magical last cover photo negative is missing from the reel he sent in. Mitty the character is a buttoned down, risk-averse, nerd who is infatuated with a woman who has just started at work, and day dreams spontaneously and with great focus and imagination in place of actually living his life. It's only when he loses his job over the missing negative and goes on the quest that... Well, that would be telling. Curiously I had a chance to see this film on a ferry crossing once and refused thinking it would be a stupid comedy. It's an easy mistake to make when you consider some of Stiller's other films, but he also always has an air of dangerous intelligence that forbids you from writing him off. Plus, he's Jerry Stiller's son and therefore has unpredictability in his blood.

Points of interest in 'Mitty' include a great choice of modern and classic pop standards for the soundtrack, some gorgeous photography of Greenland, Iceland and wherever the Afghanistan sequences were filmed, a great ensemble cast featuring Stiller, the extremely beautiful Kristen Wiig, a slightly misused Adam Scott and Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt and the mighty Sean Penn, and finally an excellent integration of Mitty's fantasy sequences into the film. Those fantasy sequences are the only links to the original short story from many decades ago, and in this case are actually very inventive and put some action into the film where it might be needed and contrast with the real life action effectively. Putting all that aside, though it is definitely Ben Stiller's film and he pulls it off wonderfully. There's one dreamy sequence on a road in Iceland, about which more details will be withheld, for teasing's sake. It's not very often that you tumble across a good natured mood tale of a film, and I'm glad this one came through. It's certainly the most cohesive and self-consistent new film I've seen since 'Premium Rush', built to entertain, enthral and stun with scenery, and the romance even works. It's hard to NOT be romantic once you've seen Iceland, in all probability!

Perhaps outside the heat of the moment this film will be re-evaluated but it has about it the defining marks of something to be rewatched many times, and to repeatedly feel good about. (Please pardon the dangling preposition!) Plus, it has sharks and skateboards, so how can it be bad? Really? Oh, the world makes no sense!


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Mental Safeguards

A continuation of 'Questions of Reality'?

It's difficult to learn new things. The brain is designed to be conservative, and not to throw itself into making new grooves at a moment's notice. As a result, we have to overcome some degree of mental elasticity in order to learn anything without it reverting almost immediately. At the moment that can be personally applied to learning Spanish and Greek, progressing in swimming, and preparing for dreaded interview days. Oh, the horror of interviews, if only they could be conducted in parks surrounded by green things and statues of Inuit fish salesmen. I wonder if the Inuit have fish salesmen? They must do, surely?

For those who haven't talked to a counsellor, or studied the brain, or even haven't ever seen a picture, the brain is a big nobbly mess that only completely forms at about the age of 23 with the knowledge of mortality. It can be thought of as consisting as many many grooves, like those on an old-fashioned record, which represent behaviour patterns. In order to change a behaviour, you symbolically have to etch a new groove onto your old set and use it in preference to the old one, which takes a lot of ongoing effort even at 23, and is why the brain is designed to be essentially conservative and not do that kind of work. As thinking creatures, it's our job to break that urge and do the new thing, even if it's hard. Anyway, let's get back to the gibberish.

There is a way around the catch-22 of learning new things against your own brain's wishes. There is one fundamental behaviour born into every human being that helps them learn new things in an entirely non-threatening way. What are we talking about? Well, the power of play, of course! Games have been the uncertain and hidden testing ground for new skills for decades! Do I have evidence? No, of course, this is all unsubstantiated conjecture, but it does make sense. We can do all kinds of things we wouldn't normally do in play: Invent new codes and languages, be creative in the most free of forms, deploy strategies and tactics previously never used, deduce meanings from assembled clues, and be brave beyond all imagining. The grooves can be shifted just a little, and often just enough.

Being open to new things isn't a one time step, but an ongoing drive into new experience. If you can persist in that drive, then the whole world is your oyster. If not, then perhaps you'll end up writing more than four hundred and fifty blog posts on the ephemera of life. In fact I just watched the beginning of Ben Stiller's 'The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty', which was so good that it will be saved for a fully wakeful viewing on the morrow. The morrow that will see the inflexible grooves of life tested as preparations for something entirely new either come to fruition or crumble into the custard of failure.

The key to changing the grooves is remembering that they're there at all.


Friday, 13 February 2015

Movie: 'The Spider Woman' aka 'Sherlock Holmes And The Spider Woman' (1944)

Short though it may be, this movie is one of the best Sherlock Holmes stories to ever be committed to film, and not just because it's one of the Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce series that ran superbly for fourteen films without flagging. It also boasts some of the strongest elements from the Conan Doyle canon and a valiantly evil performance from Gale Sondergaard as the eponymous Spider Woman. Now do not be deceived by this age of superhero movie making, for she was but a mastermind collecting on insurance policies by killing people via deadly spiders and not a mutant of some kind.

The strengths of the series, and specifically 'The Spider Woman' are in the superbly balanced tone (Nigel Bruce's Dr Watson may be a buffoon, but he's an extremely entertaining one), the accumulated cast that carried over from film to film, the bizarrely high production values afforded by a massive studio complex to a B-movie series, and some exceedingly bare and film noir story telling that adds to a whole that is far more than the sum of its parts. In this case, the fifth of the Universal series and seventh overall, the production is in full swing, the early days of overt wartime propaganda have been put to bed, and the production team is playing all the strengths of an updated Sherlock Holmes for every benefit they can receive.

'The Spider Woman' is the film where Sherlock dies at the beginning claiming brain problems, before coming back to reveal an undercover investigation into the mysterious 'Pyjama Suicides', facing off against his villainous female counterpart on at least three occasions, and surviving death attempts by all of a giant poisonous spider released by a pygmy, poisoned smoke from burning toxic candy paper and being strapped to the back of a Hitler target at a sideshow shooting range. When you put all of that in a movie less than sixty minutes long, in addition to a touching sequence where Lestrade lovingly takes one of Holmes's pipes as a memento to the supposedly dead detective, you are surely making something dense and delicious if it works.

If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes and not averse to liberties being taken with the source material, than this series represents the best of adaptations to the screen. The spirit of the character is held perfectly in focus (thank you, Basil Rathbone) even while the surroundings move on fifty years from his literary heyday. In this film, the three encounters between Holmes and Adrea Spelling, the Spider Woman, are all scintillating, and the chain of events never slows to a complete stop. It's a miniature marvel, and so 'The Spider Woman' is recommended. Is it, however, the best of the series? Only time will tell.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

In The Bath

Some new crisis is stirring at Blandings Castle, and of course it's going to become more complicated than it should ever reasonably be... PG Wodehouse is a great bathtime companion on those long soaks enforced by whatever reasons plague you. In many ways, Wodehouse is the ideal author for any kind of relaxation, and even revives the most jaded of readers from that which ails them.

Oh, if only whole lives could be spent in the bath, soaking away from the rigours of worrying about PGCE interviews, thesis proofreading, and the nagging worries about how exactly one would try to mathematically model a growing orange. Oh, to have a grandly sized tub and a copy of 'Uncle Fred In Springtime' at hand, much like a decadent emperor from times long gone by. Perhaps not an emperor, for they were rarely nice men, but a minor functionary instead. Someone quite trivial in the scheme of things. How he would have possession of 'Uncle Fred In The Springtime' is an entirely different matter, best left for another day. Lawks, at least that's not a writeable story, or is it?! The impact of PG Wodehouse on Imperial Rome could be catastrophic!

There's reason to relax in the suds: A trip is brewing, a visit to somewhere new. The shadowy mass of the city of Exeter awaits with challenges galore, and for some reason it isn't quite scary yet. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, even if also half-witted and ever so slightly sleep-deprived. The next few days will have to be focussed on background reading of as yet unknown nature, but which will probably relate to the general pedagogy of teaching young children. The great advantage of working in a primary school is that you get to teach everything, everything! It's a great thing when you can focus on words and numbers, adding in touches of history and geography and science in general. As people bandy about the term 'mathematics specialist', it seems to become more and more of a trap, a new set of limits where limits were about to be discarded. It's strange, certainly strange.

No, let's not worry about it now, but instead sleep and prepare. Let 'Sherlock Holmes Faces Death' play, and 'Uncle Fred' wait to follow. The things we do to relax are pleasant indeed, and they don't all take place in the tub! Pour on more suds!


Monday, 9 February 2015

Case Study

Imagine for a moment, that everything is fascinating. For some of you it won't be so hard. All around you is a world of wonders, everything having an origin and a secret we may never totally understand. As an example, consider the humble orange. It's a delicious fruit, sweet and refreshing, but how exactly did it ever come to be? A toughened waterproof epidermis covering a segmented core full of pulp and juice? How could it ever have grown? Isn't it amazing and beautiful that it has?

In the absence of any background research whatsoever, and only a few moments of reflection, how can a fruit with such a homogenous structure with those segments ever come to pass? Especially with pips totally unconnected and simply floating in the pulp? The pips at least seem to be easy. Hypothetically they could grow early in the process and detach to float in the segments as the fruit grows. There might even be the beginnings of pips and segment separation films in each pip, ready to form the foundation of a new fruit? Isn't biology fascinating in many ways? If the GCSE had been more about how these things work, it might have turned out better...

How would you even begin to model the growth of an orange? What makes it grow? The cells multiply, yes, and the hydrostatic pressure causes some growth by stretching, but is that all? How does the proliferation of pulp affect it all? Here's the six million dollar naive question, though: Why does it stop? Is there a genetic switch, primed to go off at the appropriate time of year? Does the plant stop providing water and energy? Does the ever thickening peel of the orange finally stop its expansion from sheer resistance? Is it all of the above? Obviously there will have to be some purchases of textbooks in the future.

With every question you can ask about the things around us, any answer will only provide more questions, especially in the natural world. How does this plant work? Oh, that seems simple! Why did it develop that way? Hmmm. Logical, logical. Do we know how this family of plants began? No? Why, why, why, and how? Questions are always more interesting than answers! Here ends the case study, as all case studies must end, in questions.


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Tests And Nostalgia

It's a Saturday night, and the sun has long since set. The movie 'Silver Streak' is running in another window to the right, and all is very sedate. It's nice to be sedate on occasion, after all, even if it is enforced by extreme quietude. Oh, such enforced silence! It was wonderful.

It's going to be a very busy few weeks ahead, as PGCE interviews, a wedding and even literacy and numeracy tests creep into the near future. It's actually funny that a PhD with a thesis and a submitted article to his name, as well as more than four hundred and fifty incoherent blog posts, has to take literacy tests, but taken they shall be. It has been so long since my last test that I'm not even sure if I remember how to do them. Maybe the stress will sweep down and everything will go blurry? Maybe an asteroid will hit the test centre? Maybe I'm really illiterate and this has all been a sham? You readers probably guessed that already, all two of you. Well, one of you, maybe.

You won't find many people who will wax nostalgic about exams, but here in this author there is at least one. Exams were always wonderful, with one horrible exception, and it is weirdly nice to be able to sit a couple more. Of course, that's an attitude you would expect from someone who has never failed an exam in his life, and is now seemingly boasting about it on a blog. How's that for an ego? How ironic it all is, considering an interview record so appalling that no-one would ever believe it! Ah well, this is all just autobiographical nonsense. These interviews will be different, surely.

As Richard Pryor makes his debut in the movie, and all inspiration flies into the dark silent night after a day of letter writing and general mental exertion, it's time to stop and eject from the world of correspondence once again. This 'Silver Streak' is actually a pretty good film, better than I remembered. Go, Gene Wilder, go.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Movie: 'Big Hero 6' (2014)

Yes, yes, there may be spoilers. There may also not be. Go in warned. Yadda yadda yadda.

Unbelievable though it may be, we're only just getting 'Big Hero 6' here in the United Kingdom, and yes it's a fascinating movie. It was definitely better than the infinitely over-hyped 'Lego Movie', and even manages to overcome the horrid fast cuts that currently plague movies. Ah, one day they'll go away, or I'll go mad. For goodness sake, let the jokes land! And all the other emotional beats too! To be fair, 'Big Hero 6' does land the beats, but they could breathe better.

'Big Hero 6' is loosely adapted from the Marvel comic book and turned into one of the classiest Disney animations in recent years. Yes, it's simple, but it does land all the emotional beats pretty well and succeeds in being one of the most beautiful films in recent memory. Not just beautiful in stylisation but also in sheer visual splendour. Not since the glory days of 'The incredibles' has a movie been so gloriously beautiful to watch. 'Big Hero 6' isn't as smartly funny as 'The Incredibles' though, as so few things are, and that is its principle failing. It's not a terrible failing but it does sink it further towards a children movie than a broad spectrum family one.

At some point in the last few years a law must have been passed, dictating massive fight sequences in every film that can possibly carry them. Deplorable though that is, it is somewhat subverted by this film, perhaps under the happy Disney protocols that we so often mock but do provide a happy island of 'something different' in the ever shrinking pile of watchable movies that make it to our theatres. In this case, the great example is that the movie is climaxed by a rescue and not the prerequisite boring super-brawl you might find in a live-action superhero film. In fact, it's fascinating how quickly it snaps into a 'Fantastic Four' mode in places, the other false superhero franchise that has been under-served by the world of cinema. You see, the Fantastic Four aren't superheroes but really adventurers. There's a major difference. Don't tell anyone I leaked the secret.

The fascinating thing about this movie, reverting to the point of the blog laboriously, is not only the sheer bravery in building a film around a pacifistic robotic nurse and his 'patient', the young and brilliant Hiro. That's an entirely new dynamic, to my knowledge, and one that brings back the ancient 'protector' mode once so accepted in our hero role models. On the other hand, there is an awful lot of fighting so it is hard to depict this is a peace-loving film. Maybe that will ramp up in a sequel? There is a huge 'Fantastic Four' futuristic adventure shaped hole in the cinematic comic book based universe, and maybe this could fill it? There are also shades of 'Real Steel' haunting part of this film, especially in the robot-fighting prelude, and some wonderfully gleeful flight sequences reminiscent of how we would Superman to be depicted. Yes, Superman is also haunting this film, as is Iron Man.

Overall, 'Big Hero 5' is a good and well-made family animated feature film, and one with a heart of gold. There's quite a lot of action, and terrible fast cuts, but also some invention in the narrative dynamics used amidst some fairly common tropes. It is beautiful and heartfelt, but not as funny as it thinks it is. If that sounds like underselling, it's because the movie is a real grower during its runtime. You will love it by the end, and it will be because of an inflateable robot nurse in the wonderfully stylised San Fransokyo. Welcome to 'Big Hero 6', and lets hope there's more to come. I don't often hope that, by the way.


Subsequent note: One more incredibly obvious influence is 'The Iron Giant', making a double Brad Bird legacy. There's not a better person to inspire anything.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XV

(Part O , XIV , XVI)

For every organised effort such as Dreamline Alpha, there would have to be another such as Dreamline Omega; A team designed to examine the revival of that mysterious current of communication, should they ever move past the obstacle in time hindering all their efforts. Even as Alpha was wound down to a somnolent state, researchers were selecting from their students their successors, who might in turn choose their own. Positivity and optimism prevailed, even in the normally cynical world of academia.

In the interregnum, the somnolent period, Dr Kibbel and his other now redundant comrades, returned to far more normal work. While he chose to return to active practice, others moved on to different topics of research, and still others moved out into the world of real work, but they all kept a little black of phone numbers just in case.

At the other end of Kibbel's phone call, a Professor was speaking. "Alastair, is that you? Don't you know it's rather late here? For goodness sake, did you forget I live in Thessaloniki now?!"

"Professor, we've had an Omega. Two subjects apparently working in tandem. They have, to put it mildly, met the obstruction in person." Helen could feel the tension of excitement coming off Kibbel even as he tried to control it for their sakes.

"Don't be daft! Blasted British with mythical senses of humour!" The Professor was indignant, obviously. He was an extremely loud blusterer, and Helen winced on Alastair Kibbel's behalf as she heard the bellowing.

"Now you listen to me, Professor Goosing, the two are here with me now. They have seen each other in their dreams, and even communicated symbolically. Not only that, but they've seen the Tweedy Woman. I might be deactivated but I know when I've stumbled on something. Also, the man received a blackboard message from Omega." Kibbel was doing the calm and sedate manner of bullying very well.

"It couldn't be possible, surely? We were anticipating a much longer time before any contact might be made with the other side." Goosing, quiet enough now to not be overheard, was calculating the potentials even while making his half-hearted objections.

"It seems that the plurality has caused an exception. During the last incident, the woman was confronted by the obstruction, drawing attention away from the man, who got the message. We almost lost her."

The professor harrumphed loudly enough that even the normally unflappable Stanley jumped. "'Lose her'? We'll lose her over my dead body! I'm buying plane tickets right now. Get someone to air out my old flat." The professor hung up precipitately.

"Well, that went better than I expected." Kibbel said to the air, and then he turned to his office guests. "You're in for it now. There's no better expert on dreams, dream communication, and generally bizarre psychic phenomena than Professor Edouard Goosing."

"And...?" Prompted Helen.

"He's also the most crusty, obstreperous and loud academic tyrant you could ever hope to meet."

"Oh. He'll help us though, right?"

"Yes, oh yes, he'll help you or die trying." Kibbel looked in a cupboard. "We're going to need more paracetamols though." Returning to his two patients, who were sitting rather stiffly and uncomfortably on his couches, the tone became serious. "Ultimately, though, however well we prepare you, you're going to have to solve this problem together. You two go places where no-one else can reach, apart from that Obstructer. You'll be on your own, except perhaps for Omega."

To be continued...

Monday, 2 February 2015

Optimism, Idealism, Pancakes

It's nice to dabble, to potter around and pick up whatever information and learning takes your fancy, before moving on. You can acquire a myriad of useful skills or a panoply of useless novelties, if you only dabble. If PhDs were more like dabbling, then mine might have been a pleasure beyond all measure.

Literator: 'A Dabbler In Learning'

The life of a literator is one of constant surprises, including the surprise that it's a lifestyle that has been pretty much abandoned as impractical in the modern era. The pressure of staying alive, fed and housed leaves very little option for dabbling unless you're supremely free of responsibility. For all intents and purposes, the life of a literator is an unattainable one as it implies a lack of drive and therefore a lack of employability. Is that true though?

In the Western culture, we are generally told to be the same as each other, with the goals of a good job, your own family, an owned house, and overheads that would make even an elephant shudder in sympathy with the weight bearing down upon us. It is very much a 'work now, enjoy after you're dead' attitude and it is on many levels a lie. We don't all HAVE to be the same, and in fact we are duty bound to ourselves to be truer to ourselves than to the template peer pressure is pushing in upon us. Hence, the life of the word 'literator' in popular usage was brief, eventually referring to 'petty schoolmasters' and 'those who dabble in trifles' before vanishing completely. Now I only refer to it having done the usual stumbling about in the Phrontistery, looking for interesting terms, and then tumbling down the hill of comprehension to where we are now. We don't have to live the life society has tried to imprint upon us. We don't have to believe that potential lie, or the big lies provided by many other parts of the world as we know it.

This is going pretty well for a day without a topic. Sometimes such an endeavour works out, and sometimes it doesn't. In recent events, the Film Bin recording drought continued, interview day preparations continued, a cold wave struck and a steady diet of 'Star Trek', 'The Six Million Dollar Man', 'The Addams Family', 'Mork And Mindy' and 'The Adventures of Superman' is beginning to produce wonderful results. Yes, world, you tried to bring cynicism down upon us all but we have the tools to build back up to the stars. There is something magical about the idealism of vintage television. It's a wonderful thing, and one so few people now seem to appreciate. Yes, I might be writing through the rose-tinted keyboard of nostalgia, but the world is going to have to get a lot less cynical if we're going to enjoy living on it. Come on, people, we can do it, if only for the other 'Star Trek' fans: Optimism, idealism, pancakes! Oh, pancakes? Really? Who on Earth likes pancakes? Bleuch. Still, some people must, so again: Optimism, idealism, pancakes!