Sunday, 14 June 2015

Holy Crap, I'm a Writer with April o'Neil

I've been writing for as long as I can remember; my first "book" entitled "The Boy Who Wanted to be an Under the Sea Animal" was a crayon-written tale illustrated with photographs I had taken with my Fisher Price camera when I was about five years old, and earned me five stars on the classroom star-chart. Indeed, one might say it's my only award-winning piece to date.

Since then, prior to actually studying the art of storytelling at university, my tweenage self dabbled in crafting crudely-told Goosebumps rip-offs on my mum's old typewriter, and doodling an anthology comic book called "Monsters and Mysteries", which is probably yellowing somewhere in my mother's lift.

After leaving uni, I had my hopes of becoming a television writer somewhat dashed by the BBC when my supernatural comedy drama "Hole", about a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf living in a flat in South Wales, was rejected by the Writers' Room, only for a hauntingly similar series by the name of "Being Human" coming to our screens approximately a year later. Coincidence? Plagiarism more like dear Beeb!

Over the last few years, I've spent much of my time juggling various different blogs; Silver Screen Lining was essentially my online journal of my time in Japan, littered with the occasional review, whilst The Forest of Nostalgia was a brief foray into childhood memories.

And then came this tirade.

The Inner Monoblog began as something of a Facebook joke. I went through a stage of randomly quoting different characters or actors in my statuses, and then continuing to use their voice as that day's inner monologue. After a while, the statuses became longer, maintaining by the topic of the particular voice, and eventually I decided to launch the blog. Three years on, and although I don't get round to a daily blog anymore, it's still going strong. So thanks for continual readership and whatnot!

About a week ago, however, something amazing finally happened in my perpetual pursuit of becoming a professional writer - I got a professional writing gig!

Years of mindless waffling have finally paid off, and now I am officially on the writing team for Vulture Hound Magazine (! Sure, the pay is... Well... Let's say "minimal" for sake of argument, but it's a much-welcomed step in the right direction.

So, to let you know, dear reader, The Inner Monoblog will, of course, be continuing, but don't expect quite so many updates from this end, as my evenings are now spent watching a plethora of both wonderful and terrible films (rarely any in between!) and then scribbling my thoughts down for my editor Mr Dickinson.

Wish me luck, and go check out Vulture Hound!!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

A Load of Poop with Bree Olson

Cinema is a strange and wonderful thing. An artistic medium allowing directors from all walks of life to share their stories with the world, to induce feelings of love, of happiness, or to provoke outrage or even disgust.

Unfortunately this is an outrage and disgust post.

Though, not necessarily on my behalf. 

Now, I don't know quite what it says about me, and I'm sure there will be many out there judging me for this, but i have something of a warped interest in the rather cult genre of horror films known as "gorno". This usually surprises people (indeed, when I think about it,  it rather surprises me actually...), especially considering my much more open adoration for the works of a Mr Walt Disney, along with pretty much anything Nickleodeon has to offer, but I think somehow it roots back to my childhood obsession with cheesy horror flicks. This in turn, being a Noughties teen, turned into meta-slasher, before finally evolving into a morbid interest in just how far the boundaries of shock can be pushed.

This has led me to watch a plethora of delights over the last few years, from Asian extreme flicks such as the censors' favourites Grotesque and the Guinea Pig series (not as cute as it sounds) to the oh so very happy-go-lucky A Serbian Film.

As such, I had been rather curiously looking forward to Tom Six's third and final instalment in his Human Centipede trilogy, which has crawled sneakily onto the Internet at some point in the last week or so. Having sat through and, shall we say "appreciated" the first two films, I was intrigued to see how Mr Six could possibly trump the schlock and shock of the genuinely unsettling second film.

Turns out, he simply couldn't. 

There's some genuinely smart stuff on display here, most notably the film-within-a-film-within-a-film concept, which is sadly undermined by having characters from the "within" films playing completely different characters in the film itself (that said, if you were going for a meta mind-f*ck Mr Six, that's possibly the most confusing sentence I've ever tried writing). Indeed, as Dieter Laser, who so wonderfully played the doctor in the first film, prances around in his role as the prison warden, screaming every line in his over-annunciated German accent, you have to wonder if Six recast him simply for the meta value. In fact, his performance is so utterly grating, it will have any audience member wanting to sew his annoying mouth into the centipede themselves by the halfway point of the film.

There's a certain level of disbelief in this final instalment (not helped at all by Laser's campy performance) in that to a certain degree, the first two films seemed rooted in realism; we could somehow believe that somewhere in the woods an insane man could be cooking up this plan, or that a social outcast might try and copy what he had seen in a horror film, but to suggest that a group of medical professionals would go along with the idea of a prison accountant simply because he had watched a couple of DVDs is utterly absurd. Plus by this point, we all know that the "100% medically accurate" line is utter grubbiness, so why try and fob this one off as the most realistic when in fact it is the most utterly far-fetched.

Then we have the "gore", and it's at this point I genuinely start to worry that I have become desensitised to on-screen violence. The film was, quite simply, dull as dishwater. There was nothing that we had not seen before, and the "500 man centipede" that Six has been so boastful about, is no more than the very same CGI image seen in the trailer. The prison setting means that we do not empathise as much with the "segments" of the centipede; indeed, in Six's rather misguided attempt at political satire, he does make us momentarily think that this might indeed be the solution to the prison system, though the punishment for those on death row is certainly rather squeam-inducing.

Overall, I'm not quite sure what Six was aiming for here; it's not scary enough to be a horror movie, it's not schlocky enough to satisfy the gore-hounds, and it's not quite political enough to be he allegory he seems to be going for. In the end, we're left with a pretty mediocre B-movie featuring an over the top German and a retired porn star.

Well, actually, Miss Olson kind of made it all worthwhile...

Monday, 1 June 2015

Secret Gaming with Lara Croft

I've always loved video games. Some of my earliest memories are of going round friends' houses to play on Cool Spot (a wonderful interactive ad for 7up for those who don't remember) before getting the long awaited Megadrive for my sixth birthday, allowing me to take part in the ever-heated debate over who was better; Sonic or Mario. 

Sonic, obviously.

My Megadrive saw me through my childhood (along with the first gen GameBoy in all its gargantuan glory which was my stalwart companion on many a long car journey), before finally giving up the ghost during a Mortal Kombat II marathon sometime before my eleventh birthday. It was with a heavy heart that the classic black controllers were retired to the loft, where I believe they still reside, and quite surreptitiously replaced with the console which would go on to shape my gaming life for the next two decades.

The Sony Playstation was, upon its release, a breakthrough in gaming technology. Looking back, it seems basic, almost primitive, and when we consider the triangular graphics of the first Tomb Raider game, it's amazing to think how far we've come in the last twenty years, now producing games that are often so realistic that vertigo can be induced simply by swinging the camera view over a cliff top.

Indeed, it's Miss Croft's buxom adventures that have played the main role in my gaming career. Having played through each and every game in the franchise from beginning to end, with the recent "reboot" in all its beautifully rendered glory very much helping to keep my mind away from the harshness of reality during my first few months back from Japan, the Tomb Raider series has probably clocked up far too many hours of my adolescence that should perhaps have been spent on more worthwhile pursuits such as going out and having real adventures rather than playing God to a digital avatar.

Its epic mix of puzzle and adventure (and of course a certain perky protagonist) has led the Tomb Raider series to earn a very special place in my heart, and although some games have not held up as strongly against others (Chronicles and Underworld are no match for the likes of TR3 and the reboot... And I still maintain the Angel of Darkness is, despite the general hatred, one of the most enjoyable entries in the franchise), every one has added something new and memorable to the mythology. And cost me many, many hours of my life.

I'd like to say that such wastefulness of time is the reason I've yet to buy a PS4, but the sad truth is (aside from my decrepit bank balance) that I'm waiting until the next Croftian adventure comes out until I part ways with however many hundreds of pounds the darn console costs. Any other games I happen to buy will be nothing more than a bonus, and on the positive side, the PS4 will probably be a heck of a lot cheaper in a year of so's time. The other problem is that my better half (ironically hailing from the land of Sony and NamCo), hates home gaming, and gets in enough of a twist about my iPad gaming time without bringing a console into the mix. That said, I've already informed her quite firmly that when Rise of the Tomb Raider hits the shelves, she will be playing second fiddle and ensuring I have a constant supply of Cheetos for a good couple of weeks.

Until then, however, I guess that Relic Run, Lara's blatant Temple Run ripoff will have to keep me occupied. Either that or I go and buy the Angelina Jolie box set...

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Giant Bath with Tony Montana

I've been rather offline of late; indeed the last few weeks I have found myself in something of a late-twenties crisis (possibly mid-life... At this point, who knows?). As the turning point of thirty looms ever-closer, I feel the need to sort my life out a'proper. 

If I had asked my teenage self where I thought I would be as I approach the end of my third decade on this earth, I would have, without doubt, seen myself in a comfortable job (with a pretty high level of employment security), owning a small but cosy house somewhere in the 'burbs, with a dog and a nice little run-around car. Once upon a generation, these things were not beyond the reach of a young professional.

Instead, however, I find myself in a job, which although I love dearly, offers as much security as a chocolate fireman in the ever-tempestuous market of the EFL industry. I am living at the bottom of my overdraft in a job which, if my P60 is anything to believe, offers a net salary somewhere below the national minimum wage, supplemented by all-weather busking and private lessons with all-too-often sporadic students.

As such, I have had my head down of late, battling against the rising tide of depression with a trident of determination set on sorting my ruddy life out once and for all.

The dreamer in me has finally summoned the courage to do what I have been promising myself for years, and has auditioned for both The Voice and The X-Factor in the unlikely and yet seemingly possible fast-pass to a smidgeon of success, and although I have no pretence of getting anywhere, I have already made it through a couple of rounds of the former, so perhaps I stand a half chance of at least a few wedding gigs out of it if I can get some TV exposure.

The realist, meanwhile, is fighting valiantly against the ever-baying wolves of bills at the door, and is beginning to wonder whether it's time to pack in this teaching malarkey. Sure, I love my students, but it's time now to look to the future, and perhaps a job in copywriting would be a little more financially viable. Sure, I wouldn't enjoy it quite as much, but at least perhaps I could take a bit of a breather once in a while when it comes to the battle between monthly bills and the decision to eat.

So apologies, dear reader, for a somewhat more bleak than usual post, but this is where I have been of late. With continued oomph, perhaps soon I'll get out of this slump, both financial and psychological, and get some more positive posts coming your way. 

The day I can afford a bath I can actually lay down in and take a load off; that'll be the day I can relax.

On the plus side, only eleven days 'till Jurassic World! Suppose it's not all doom and gloom!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Trip to the Vet with Nami and Robin

Owning a pet is great. Having been a constant animal owner since before I was even born, I can honestly say that an animal in the house is a source of perpetual amusement and companionship. Over the course of my life, I've had two very different dogs, one a bizarre mongrel (who we think may have been the unfortunate partenering of a King Charles Spaniel and a Rottweiler) and one an utterly insane Labrador who generally believes herself to be an oversized housecat. I've also had the pleasure of owning an overly affectionate (if somewhat destructive) house rabbit who although cost us nothing to adopt, did end up losing us £600 in deposit money after eating his way through an leather sofa. 

My favourite pets, however, have been my guinea pigs, the first pair of which I was bought during my third year at university by my well-meaning friends as a way to combat my crushing bachelorhood. The boys, Oz and Warren (named after characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer of course) were a cantankerous pair who lived to the ripe old guinea pig age of eight, Oz, rather amazingly, playing the role of Odysseus' dog Argos in faithfully waiting until I finally returned from my adventures in the Far East before shuffling off this mortal coil.

A few months ago, having gone somewhat petless for the last year (the neurotic Labrador still living with my mother in the North East) I decided to look into getting a new pair of guinea pigs to bring a bit of joy to the home (and also to further delay any more conversations about potential tiny feet...). Having looked around the local pet shops without finding the right piglets for us, we when somewhat taken aback to discover a pair of female Peruvian Long-hairs up for adoption.

Now, if, like most (and myself to be frank; I'd always thought a guinea pig was a guinea pig), you are unversed in the plethora of cavy breeds, the Peruvian can best be described as the love child of Cousin It and Mick Jagger; a quivering ball of fur with a very self-important strut. Not realising yet what a handful they would turn out to be, we took in the pretty pair, naming them Nami and Robin (the two main female characters in Oda Sensei's One Piece) and settled them into their new home.

Of course, what the pet shops don't tell you is that having pets that look like they could be in a L'oreal advert comes at the rather time-consuming cost of having to groom the little blighted on a daily basis. For Robin, it's not too much of an issue. Nami meanwhile will squeal and scream at the top of her lungs as soon as you go anywhere near her with a comb, let alone a pair of scissors. Unfortunately, this utterly abstinence from the clippers means the girls have to go to the vet once a month for a makeover.

And this is where the negative side of pet ownership comes into play; vets' bills. For a five minute nail clip and bottom trim, each pig costs the ridiculous sum of £18. That's £36 for the pair. Had I known this prior to their arrival, I would've got a pair of bog-standard piglets and let them get on with their lives. But no; I had to get the ruddy Kardashians of the rodent world.

So a word of warning to all; pets are great, but be careful what you choose, 'cause a pet is for life, and so are your credit card bills.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Days Off with BMO

When you're a teacher trying to make his merry way in this world, a day to yourself when you have absolutely nothing to worry about; no marking, no problematic students, and, heaven forbid, no bureaucratic nonsense, comes about as often as finding a fresh fifty pound note laying in your path in the street.

So, on a peaceful Sunday morning (and by morning, I mean afternoon - you know it's a proper day off when you can still be in your pjs at 1pm with no guilt) I find myself thinking of the perfect ways to spend a day off. For your reading pleasure, here's my top five...

As any long-term readers of this blog know, I spend a vast amount of my precious free time indulging my nostalgia by watching the cavalcade of cartoony goodness from my youth. Whether it's a classic Disney series, or a piece of modern gold such as Adventure Time, there's nothing more enjoyable than some good quality kids' TV. In fact, one of the few reasons I have for actually having kids in the near future is to allow myself to continue watching cartoons under the pretence of it being for their enjoyment. "You want to watch Octonauts? Shuttup, Darkwing Duck's on!"

I don't bake as much as I'd like. Indeed, until about three years ago, I hated baking and was adamant that I was a cook and not a baker. Times change, and having somewhat been forced into the craft at a restaurant I was briefly working at, I have finally come to see the joys of throwing a bunch of stuff in a cake tin and hoping for the best!

Comic Sorting
I've always had a passion for alphabetising, coupled with a lifelong affinity for superheroes. Thus there are few greater joys in my life than hours spent lovingly putting comics into plastic envelopes and sorting them into chronological order. Dear god I lead a sad existence...

I never thought I'd be the gardening type. Indeed, as a kid I absolutely hated the hours spent in the shed with my father on some cockamamie DIY project. It's rather odd then that when we moved to our current flat, I found a strange affinity with our shed. As soon as the sun comes out, I find myself outside, Bon Jovi blaring, potting and repotting the various fruits and veggies that we've currently growing on the veranda. Eventually, I might even get this kiwi tree to grow. The avocado's certainly looking healthy!

Street performing has becoming something of a zen-like experience to me now. No matter how bad my day at work, a couple of hours with my guitar, making a few extra pennies, has become the highlight of my week. Music is the universal medicine, and actually being appreciated for it quite frankly is awesome.

Unfortunately, having spent the day geeking out, I've now for a pile of ironing to work through. At least I've got Finn and Jake to keep me company though. Guess what time it is?

It's Ironing Time!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A New Age with Elizabeth Olsen

I must admit, as I get older, I feel that I should perhaps begin to grow up a little; as a man on the verge of turning thirty, I feel that some of my more childish pursuits; evenings spent watching Adventure Time marathons, my lego collecting, and my weekly trip to the comic shop, should perhaps take something of a back-burning.

As such, I felt a little ashamed the other night to be partaking in one of the geekiest exploits of my life to date; a midnight viewing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's latest offering, Age of Ultron.

After being one of the few people to be utterly underwhelmed by the first Avengers outing, and subsequently being disappointed by the terribleness of Iron Man 3 and Thor 2, I have had reservations for a while now. Upon learning that a grand total of twelve beloved Marvel heroes would be taking to the screen, I had a horrible feeling that I was in for another dip into the "too many heroes, too much action, too much story and not enough of any of the above" territory previously claimed by X-Men The Last Stand. 

Fortunately, within the first five minutes of Age of Ultron, I knew I was to be proven wrong.

Opening with a fantastic raid sequence on the lair of Hydra honcho Baron Von Strucker, we are reintroduced to our core Avengers, with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk leading the way, and Black Widow and Hawkeye once again in stalwart support. Indeed, I groaned aloud when once again poor, oft seemingly useless Hawkeye was knocked out and laid up once again within the very first fight. Give the guy a break! And, much to my surprise, a break was very much given. Of the original team, Barton very much managed to steal the show this time round, and in a great speech towards the end of the movie, actually proved that perhaps he is more vital to the team than even the screen-hogging Tony Stark.

The much-moaned about online relationship between Romanov and Banner actually added humanity to this sequel, something very much missing in the first film, and Mark Ruffalo has this time round really got to grips with the many emotions haunting the troubled doctor. 

Humanity is what really solidified this film in the MCU oeuvre; in a world of super powers and CGI, with a cybernetic villain (played with aplomb by James Spader), it's sometimes difficult to keep things grounded, but Joss Whedon really made an effort this time to show us the personal sides of these fantastic characters. In Age of Ultron, we see the friendships these heroes have built over the years, and that humanity is what can finally stand against a technical foe.

One thing that worried me before entering the Odeon was how our new players were going to be introduced; Marvel legends Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and the Vision have all been very much teased over the last few months, and I was very impressed with the portrayals of these "enhanced" beings, and am in fact now somewhat besotted with Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff. Quicksilver is a totally different side of Pietro Maximoff to his Days of Future Past counterpart, and equally as delightful to watch, and Paul Bettany's promotion from VoiceOver to superhero in the Vision works well within the context of the story. Indeed, as the all new Avengers finally Assembled, a tingle ran down my spine in apt anticipation of what is to come.

My only grumble is a small one; although eleven of our twelve Avengers got ample screen time (perhaps a little more War Machine would have been nice, but what we got was good), I do begrudge the absence of Falcon from the final battle. Having stolen the show somewhat in The Winter Soldier, I was very excited to finally welcome Sam Wilson to the main roster, and thus was disappointed that in a high flying sky battle (because it wouldn't be a Marvel movie without one!), Falcon didn't swoop in to join the other sky-based heroes. Maybe he got cut from the original four hour version... Ho hum...

Overall, however, Age of Ultron is a fantastic conclusion to Marvel's second phase, building upon the MCU's great points, and improving very much so on their mistakes of the past. Colour me excited for the next few years to come.

And more Elizabeth Olsen please. Much more.