Monday, 23 July 2012

Post Script - Top Tens Live Forever!


Thanks to everybody who left a comment about the final sunset over Sunset Over Slawit. As mentioned in that last post, I wanted to find some way of keeping my Top Tens going because I still really enjoy putting those together and they always make me dig back into my record collection and listen to a bunch of songs I haven't heard in a long while.

And so, if you're at all interested, you might want to add the following link to your blog roll...

My Top Tens

There won't be a whole lot of waffle, just ten great songs on a given subject every week (more or less, depending on how the mood takes me). It'd be great to see you there...


Monday, 9 July 2012

The Last Post


"This is the last song I will ever sing..."

I started this blog on Sunday December 3rd, 2006. At the time, I wasn't sure what I was doing, or why. I'd been dismissive of blogs up till that point, but a few of my online friends seemed to be enjoying it so I thought I'd give it a go. Over the next few years, this blog became one of the most important things in my life. I devoted hours to writing posts on the films I watched, the music I listened to, the books I read, the stories I wrote, the places I went... the things that annoyed me about other people and everyday life. The blog became an escape from the dead end job I was working in, and many of those posts were written in the office to stem the tide of ennui that otherwise might have swept me away. I became a little obsessed with the nonsense of hits, comments, links, Top Tens... but I also "met" and valued the online friendship of many other bloggers, like-minded souls similarly lost in the internet flood.

That all changed one year ago when I was made redundant and had to start carving out a new career path since the old one was dead to me. During that time I've searched for new work, retrained as a teacher, left behind many aspects of my old life and discovered many new horizons. Yet I've kept on blogging, increasingly out of habit more than anything else... and it's slowly become a chore. My attitude to this blog has changed. It's become something I have to find time to do, not something I do because I have the time.

I used to think this blog might one day be a useful tool in promoting my writing, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The people who read my comics don't generally follow the blog, and the people who follow the blog aren't (for the most part) interested in my comics. Which is fine, but writing the comics (and other stories) is what gives me most pleasure... and lately, every time I sit down to write a post here, I end up thinking, "You know what? You could be using this time to write something else... Something better."

The craziest thing I've discovered since losing my job is that I now have less time for writing: so I have to make the most of what's left. And as much as I value the three or four (or eight or nine - or however many you actually are) people who regularly read this rubbish, I'm putting a lot of effort in for very little return. I mean, I spent two hours writing that Amazing Spider-Man review last week... and really, who gives a monkey's? (Well, apart from the website I recently discovered that's shamelessly stealing posts from Sunset Over Slawit and passing them off, word for word, as its own. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then what exactly is plagiarism?) Meanwhile, I do still enjoy compiling the Top Ten music posts, but I know that's just my old mixtape obsession, and I can probably continue to do that as a hobby, without inflicting it on the internet.

And so, I'm calling it a day. For now at least, and probably forever. I won't say never, because maybe there'll come a time when I once again need the outlet this blog has given me over the last five and a half years. But right now, I need to go do other things. Many of them not on the internet.

For those of you who worry I'm disappearing completely, you can still get updates about my writing (including Too Much Sex & Violence and the forthcoming Department of the Peculiar) at rolhirst.co.uk.

You can follow my occasional tweets on twitter (or find me on Facebook if we're not already friended).

You can check out what I'm listening to over at This Is My Jam.

And if anyone knows of a site where I can continue to unleash my Top Tens, mixtapes and playlists on the world, then please point me in the right direction (but don't say spotify - I find it really hard to navigate).

In closing, for old time's sake...

My Top Ten Goodbye Songs

10. Julian Lennon - Too Late For Goodbyes

9. Piney Gir - Greetings, Salutations, Goodbye

8. Bon Jovi - Never Say Goodbye

7. Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye

6. The Dixie Chicks - Goodbye Earl

(Oh my god - that's Dennis Franz in the video!)

5. Billy Joel - Say Goodbye To Hollywood

4. Prefab Sprout - Goodbye Lucille #1

3. Morrissey - One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell

2. Bruce Springsteen - Johnny Bye Bye

1. Del Amitri - Kiss This Thing Goodbye



"Goodnight, and thank you."


Friday, 6 July 2012

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man



I feel incredibly tense whenever a new Spider-Man film comes out. The character means so much to me, I'm always terrified they'll mess it up. Like they did (to a degree) with the overstuffed turkey of Spider-Man 3. After that, a reboot seemed the wisest choice... but Sam Raimi got so much right with his first two films (particularly Spider-Man 2, still the greatest superhero movie ever made) that all kinds of worries surfaced about a new team taking over the webs. Would they change things that didn't need changing? Would they get wrong some of the things Sam & Tobey got right? Would they make Spidey's world too dark? Was the Lizard really a great choice for villain? (Along with Raimi, I'm still smarting over the rejected Spidey vs. Vulture plan for the 4th Maguire movie.) And... HOW COULD THEY MAKE A SPIDER-MAN MOVIE WITHOUT J. JONAH JAMESON? Or J.K. Simmons, for that matter?

Not to worry... overall, Amazing was a success. They improved some of the things Raimi got wrong (there were no people-evaporating pumpkin bombs) and left out some of the things Raimi did best (JJJ). Here there be SPOILERS...


1) The difference between Sam Raimi Spidey and (new director) Marc Webb Spidey is comparable to the difference between Tim Burton Batman and Chris Nolan Dark Knight. Webb has attempted something a little more real world and a little less cartoon, which both works and doesn't. As comic book experience shows, when Spidey goes too dark he loses his cheeky charm. That said, tragedy is an intrinsic part of the legend and Webb balances the fun with the fraught pretty well. While I missed the knockabout, Stan Lee comedy of Jonah and the Bruce Campbell wrestling match, there's nothing as corny here as the wobbly, robo-masked Goblin.

2) That said, Raimi nailed certain moments with greater emotional depth than Webb manages. Perhaps most surprising, Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben can't live up to Cliff Robertson's heartfelt performance. I didn't cry when Sheen died, I sobbed when Robertson snuffed it. And while still a nerd, Andrew Garfield is little too cool to snottily blub as unashamedly as Tobey Maguire once did.

3) Other than that, Garfield walks away with it. There were times when Tobey geeked Peter up to Ditko-esque proportions, which was fine for Raimi's classic interpretation, but Garfield plays a more contemporary and believable loser-loner. He treads a thin line between teenage power fantasy and arrogant show-off once the powers do kick in, but that's a necessary element of the character prior to learning that all-important lesson on responsibility.

4) One element Raimi never made quite enough of was the wise-cracking. Pre-publicity trumpeted Garfield as a more smart-mouthed Spidey, yet with the exception of the car-jacker scene which has already been heavily trailered, I still felt they could have made more of the quips, particularly during the fights with the Lizard. A few "urghhh - slimy!" or "you've got a face like a handbag" moments would have humanised the CGI action.

5) Speaking of the Lizard, while Rhys Ifans was excellent as Curt Connors, alternately sympathetic and ego-maniacal, the big CGI dinosaur was something of a disappointment, both in visuals (his face was too flat) and vocals. The deep, booming, Darth Vader voice was all wrong for this character... not oncccccee did he hissssss like he sssssshould have. Still, the character's arc was well realised, and I was pleased they resisted the urge to kill Connors off. And he was far better than Venom.

6) Which bring us to Captain Stacy. Denis Leary made the most of an underwritten role and won me over in his final scenes, even if Spidey 3's James Cromwell looked far more like the George Stacy I knew (but was he too old to be the father of a teenage daughter?). Stacy's development felt rushed though - making me wish Amazing was the feature length opening episode of an ongoing TV show rather than a 2 hour movie. There was so much more story to tell and numerous characters received short shrift (Sally Field's Aunt May barely got a look in). Most frustratingly, they could at least have tied up the search for Uncle Ben's killer. I didn't like seeing that left open. Still, Captain Stacy's inevitable fate left things open for a) Jonah to show up next time (as George's best friend with a plausible vendetta?) and b) Stacy's replacement... Jean DeWolff?

7) And then there's Gwen. Emma Stone's twinkly, self-assured performance trumped both Bryce Dallas Howard's lost opportunity in Spidey 3 and, surprisingly, Kirsten Dunst's (occasionally) whiny Mary Jane. And the woolly stockings were a nice tribute to Romita-era Gwen that more than made up for the lack of upside down kisses in the rain. It made a nice change to see Peter reveal his identity so soon too. Plus, I really liked what they did with Flash Thompson, from the opening confrontation ("Eugene!") to the closing "Number One Fan" moment.

8) That sweetly believable Peter-Gwen romance, played to perfection by off-screen couple Stone & Garfield, helped me forgive this movie's occasional sentimental misfire. When Spidey has to race across Manhattan, aided by grateful New York crane drivers(!), Webb tries too hard to recreate something Raimi nailed in Spidey 2's runaway train sequence. Far better is the scene where Pete unmasks to save the kid from the burning car, the closest I got to a lump in my throat this time round.

9) The origin is as implausible as it's ever been. You're telling me it's that easy to wander into a private lab where a multi-million-dollar experiment is being conducted, in the headquarters of a company like Oscorp? What - no CCTV? Still, the traditionalist in me cheered for the mechanical web-shooters. I don't think there was any need to muck about with the costume design though and its development was a lot more fun under Raimi. However, the Stan Lee cameo was just about my favourite yet. Only Fantastic Four 2 was better - but Stan was by far the best thing in that.

10) Plotwise, Amazing sets up all kinds of intriguing possibilities, notably the shadow of an unseen, dying Norman Osborn. The trilogy plan would suggest a tragic Goblin-Gwen finale in the third movie, although it'll be interesting to see how they deal with that given how many of that story's classic moments Raimi has already plundered. Hopefully the mystery of Peter's parents will be developed more next time, and greater screen time will be given to Aunt May, Flash, and - of course - Jonah.

If the Raimi movies never existed, and we had absolutely nothing to compare Amazing Spider-Man to, this would be a hugely satisfying franchise opener. It still is, though it's impossible not to find yourself matching one against the other throughout. Like Batman Begins, there's the sense that much of Amazing is set-up (although it doesn't drag on quite as much as Nolan's first outing) and a blistering second act is promised. Of course, the second act was where Raimi and Maguire triumphed too, so everything's still to play for.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Top Ten Satellite Songs


One thing that's amazed me since I set off on my five year mission to explore space-songs is just how many satellites there are floating around up here. And no, this list will not contain any Tasmin Archer...



10. Tomahawks For Targets - Sputnik

A new band from Newcastle I only recently discovered, with a song about the first ever artificial satellite to achieve orbit round the earth. Be glad I found them, otherwise this list would have opened with another Sputnik... of the Sigue Sigue variety.

Find out more about Tomahawks For Targets band here.

9. Doves - Satellites

Do all Doves songs sound basically the same? Or is that just me? Still, they all sound pretty good. You just can't have too many at once.

8. Thunder - Like A Satellite

The Satellite of RAAWWWWWK!

7. Steve Earle - Satellite Radio

This one also made my Top Radio Songs list. But there were 40 of those, so it had a pretty good chance.

6. Aimee Mann - Satellite

It's clear
From here
You're losing your atmosphere

Aimee Mann: dreamy sigh.

5. Elvis Costello - Satellite

Man, Elvis Costello could write a damn fine story-song in his day. This one begins thus...

She looked like she learned to dance from a series of still pictures
She's madly excited now, she throws her hands up like a tulip
She looks like an illustration of a cocktail party
Where cartoon bubbles burst in the air, champagne rolls off her tongue
Like a second language
And it should have been her biggest night
The satellite looks down on her as she begins to cry

And ends about here:

In the hot unloving spotlight, with secrets it arouses
Now they both know what it's like inside a pornographer's trousers

Lyric or prose, that is bloody good writing.

4. The Georgia Satellites - Keep Your Hands To Yourself

I recently bought a Best of the Georgia Satellites album for a couple of quid because I realised I no longer had their classic 80s hit Battleship Chains in my record collection. And then I rediscovered this, a bluesy, boogie-woogie belter I hadn't heard in years. Fantastic. But the lead singer really needs to get that gap in his teeth fixed.

3. The Hooters - Satellite

From a similar era to the Georgia Satellites, The Hooters first broke the UK with this track in 1987. They must have been pretty big in the States before that though - they were the opening act on the Philadelphia stage of Live Aid. I'm not sure whether they gain or lose points for naming their band after a euphemism for boobies.

2. Lou Reed - Satellite Of Love

Undeniably one of miserable Lou's greatest singles: it's the "bong bong bongs" that do it for me. Oh, and the fact that he's heard his girlfriend has "been bold" on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with Harry, Mark and John. Busy lass.

1. The Tornados - Telstar

The first single from a British band to top the American charts, this was the work of troubled genius Joe Meek - the UK's answer to Phil Spector. Like Spector, Meek created his very own wall of sound (in his back bedroom) before an unhealthy fascination with guns led to tragedy. Recorded to celebrate the launch of the AT&T communications satellite of the same name; 50 years later, Telstar still sounds like nothing else ever recorded.



Those were my favourite satellite songs - but which one sends you into orbit?


Monday, 2 July 2012

Book Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran



No, I'm not thinking of having a sex change. But I've always thought Caitlin Moran talked a lot of sense (with occasional forays into utter nonsense), so when Louise bought this, Moran's contemporary rewrite of The Female Eunuch (with a little more frivolity than Germaine Greer ever managed), I was interested in reading it.

Mostly, I'd say this was essential reading for men and women alike. In fact, blokes might get more from it than their partners. After all, Moran's preaching to the converted with her female audience. But blokes who're not too embarrassed to be seen reading it on the train will learn a lot... most notably that women aren't actually as different as we sometimes like to believe. There's no big divide, Moran argues here, we're all just "the guys".

The book is part memoir, part treatise, always hilarious. Male readers will no doubt be far more interested in the chapters dealing with Moran's attitudes to sex, relationships, love, porn and growing up with boobs than they will when she starts talking about teaching herself to buy shoes and handbags ('to be a woman'), but I guarantee you'll learn something if you stick with it. And have a bloody good laugh too - particularly in the chapter about Moran's dilemma over what to call lady parts once she becomes the mother of a baby girl.
Blue-eyed, kissy-mouthed and soft as a velvet mouse, she had just done a dump so enormous, it had filled every crevice of her lower body.

My husband approached her nethers, tentatively, with a wet-wipe, and then slumped back, looking defeated. "Not only have I got to clean all … this out," he said, looking on the verge of mania, "but I don't even know what I'm cleaning. What are we going to call it? We can't call it 'c---'".

"Her NAME is Lizzie!" I said, shocked.

"You know what I mean," my husband sighed.

In its own way, this makes a perfect bookshelf companion to Richard Herring's How Not To Grow Up. Men - go read it.


Saturday, 30 June 2012

Movie Review: Chernobyl Diaries



I've decided that the bit I enjoy most in your average horror movie is the bit before anything actually happens. That's why I enjoyed the original Paranormal Activity so much - virtually the entire movie (up until the last five minutes) is tense, apprehensive build up. I'm not alone in this: it's long been accepted that the monster is always scarier before you see it. That's why CGI monster movies are seldom scary. Once you've set eyes on it, it's far easier to tell yourself the monster isn't real.

All that said then, I found the first hour of Chernobyl Diaries excellent. Writer Oren Peli (the man behind the original PA) knows how to ratchet up the tension by giving away very little and letting our imaginations do the heavy lifting. He also understands that we need to care about the characters we're following into the monster's lair. Added to that, the high concept of Chernobyl Diaries had me hooked from the start. An "extreme tourism" trip into the deserted city of Pripyat, former home to the workers of Chernobyl before the 1986 disaster made the area uninhabitable, I could have watched this as documentary travelogue without any horror at all.

Still, horror it was, and the opening section does a great job of turning the screws and building an eerie, tense atmosphere with a few genuine jumps and creepy surprises thrown in to keep us on our toes. And then the running and screaming starts and it becomes just another dark, blurry, "what's going on?" shocker. By the final, hugely predictable, twist, I'd pretty much given up caring. As is so often the case. Still, I'm glad I watched it. For the first hour at least...


Thursday, 28 June 2012

Top Ten Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune & Pluto Songs


OK, following Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury, I struggled to make a decent Top Ten with any of the other planets in our solar system. So here's the best of the rest, with two caveats...

i) There are no decent Uranus songs. For obvious reasons. And yes, I do include 'Rocket To Uranus' by The Vengaboys when I make that statement.

ii) I know Pluto isn't considered a planet anymore by those who know far better than me. But it's still better than Uranus.



10. Grandchildren - Saturn Returns

More interesting than the R.E.M. song of (almost) the same title. I know very little about this band other than they're from Philadelphia and don't appear to be any relation to Grandaddy.

9. Stevie Wonder - Saturn

Stevie's had enough of all the bad stuff - y'know, wars, murders, people nicking your trolley when you pop to the toilet in Tesco - so he's packing his bags and moving to Saturn, the planet where people live to be 205.

8. Tori Amos - Hey Jupiter

I'm not even going to attempt to tell you what this song is about. It's far too deep for a dumb-head like me.

7. The B-52s - Hallucinating Pluto

Because I have an extremely juvenile sense of humour, I love the fact that the only things written on the youtube page for this song are...

All rights and ownership go to The B-52's.

...and...

penises

6. Train - Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)

Come on, you'd almost written Train off as a one-hit wonder, hadn't you? I quite liked their new MONSTER HIT, Drive-By, until Louise asked me, "What are you listening to - is that the Jonas Brothers?"

5. The Futureheads - Jupiter
When your life fills you with despair,
You have to believe that there’s good out there
No enemies anywhere
Then you are free

If you're quick, lads, you can share a rocket with Stevie Wonder. He's going in vaguely the same direction.

4. Super Furry Animals - (Drawing) Rings Around The World

A little bit of a cheat, but worth it. A Saturn song in all but name.

3. The Divine Comedy - Neptune's Daughter

When the last course has been consumed
They withdraw to the drawing room
Where the Schubert she plays with style
Keeps her friends happy for the while
But the memories are a burden,
So she draws back both the curtains
Stepping out into the night...

Neil Hannon: the Noel Coward of indie-pop.

2. Donovan - Jennifer Jupiter

What's that, you say? "Juniper"? Don't be daft...

1. The Inspiral Carpets - Saturn 5

Dig that funky Clint Boon organ!

An Eagle lands, and a planet full of people raises its hands
All hail the men who will walk up in heaven today



So, that's the rest of my musical solar system... which would you land on? (Uranus, anybody?)


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