Friday, December 31, 2004

Performance Appraisal

Well, I’ve done everything else, and seeing as it’s the last day of the year, I suppose that its time to look back at my personal 2004.

Helluva year for me. I finally crawled out from under the soul-crushing rock of my previous job to claw back a sliver of dignity with a new job. Hugely tedious, but at least the stench of self-loathing no longer sticks to me.

I passed my driving test, after almost fifteen years of intermittent, half-arsed attempts to get round to it.

I gained a phenomenal little girl. (Surely THE highlight of my year).

This blog started. (Surely THE highlight of your year).

After a 2003 where not a single word of mine was published out there in the world, 2004 gave me a handful of magazine articles, a new role as the Film Editor for a widely read music website, and, my professional highlight to date, a really very excellent book was published with lots of wise and whirling words straight from my keyboard. Particularly proud of that one. Kudos to me.

On top of that, my healthily-polluted ideaspace kept spitting out ideas for comic books and movie scripts that I have diligently scrawled out with an eye on completion in 2005. The long-mooted Film Deal may well come off next year.

Personally, 2004 has been happy and successful.

Professionally, after a remarkably fallow 2003 when I lost all the momentum I had built up in the preceding years, 2004 reignited my writing career. Now I just need to keep building on that for 2005. I need more paid writing commissions for next year, I need to consolidate the contacts I’ve made this year, and I just have to keep on becoming a better writer. And I need to write a proper treatment for the Big Movie to get the wheels greased on that project at last. Amongst many, many other things that I can’t think of right now.

Ze clock, she is ticking.

Monday, December 27, 2004

AKA Year in Review: The Books

And so another Christmas comes and goes. I won’t go into any great detail about it here, seeing as, barring the odd superficial difference, Christmases are the same all over. I ate far too much. I probably drank too much. I’m positive I didn’t deserve the quantity and quality of presents I got. I will say, though, that it was a treat to have my first Christmas with little Buttercup. Even at the tender age of 3 months, she got a real kick out of it.

Anyway, enough of my yakking. Nothing can stop the AKA Year in Review, and the time has come to shoot a dirty look at my heaving bookshelves and eulogise the words of wisdom causing the wood to creak. Onwards!

Percival Everett – Erasure – A well-respected black author, who writes worthy but virtually unread academic tracts, is incensed at the soaring popularity of ghetto fiction. With a desire to put a gun to the genre’s head, he assumes the nom de guerre Stagg R. Leigh and pens My Pafology (later retitled Fuck), and then looks on in horror as the book becomes a massive success, as his life unravels out of his control. A great book where the storytelling is more important than the story told. Outstanding.

Newton Thornburg – Dreamland – Another well-deserved re-release from the long-forgotten crime writer behind the undisputed genre classic Cutter and Bone. First published in 1983, Dreamland is another tragic, elegiac knife in the guts of modern America, as money, drugs, porn, booze and corruption cause seeping lesions on the overfed white meat of Los Angeles, destroying lives indiscriminately. Strangely beautiful and sadly still relevant.

Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita – The fabulist masterpiece about the appearance of the Devil and his minions in Moscow, as they turn the city into a heaving lunatic asylum. I read this under duress, thinking I would hate it. I was wrong. One of the finest books I’ve ever read.

Susannah Breslin – You’re a Bad Man, Aren’t You? – Breslin’s reports from behind the open sets and sticky lenses of Porn Valley were astonishing, so I was really looking forward to this first collection of short stories. I wasn’t disappointed. Harsh, terse, sharp little stabs of fiction to disturb and unsettle, peeling back the flesh on the modern American psyche. Go grab an insight into her first novel here, and see what one of the freshest voices in fiction sounds like.

Hunter S. Thompson – Kingdom of Fear (Loathsome Secrets of A Star-Crossed Child In the Final Days of the American Century) – Conclusive proof (not that we needed it) that those who believe that the Good Doctor is past his prime are wrong, wrong, wrong. His power to take unerring aim with well-chosen words is undimished, as he slices away at the short-sighted evil fucks dismantling the world piece by piece. Still the Daddy.

George P. Pelecanos – Hard Revolution – The Greatest Living American Crime Writer. Fact. Another piece of history clicks into place as Pelecanos looks back to Washington D.C. in the days surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King. Pelecanos has yet to write a book that wasn’t stone brilliant, and this is no exception.

Don Siegel – A Siegel Film – I forgot I even had this book until I dug it out of a box that had been sitting in the corner of my office for the last year and a half. The man behind Invasions of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry writes his memoirs in a disarmingly honest, funny and entertaining way, slapping down all the fools he was forced to tolerate over the length of his impressive career.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Rapping

Hello-ho-ho. Saint Nick here.

Some of you will know me as Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle. You know, the portly fellow with the large sack that he unloads on you with a hearty laugh. Like Ron Jeremy.

AKA has kindly invited me to contribute to his blog for the day. I was unfamiliar with this Sucker Punch before now. What a potty mouth he has on him! I might have to put him on the “naughty” list this year.

Anyway, I was just chilling in my crib, listening to some Kurtis Blow, and AKA wanted me to say a few brief words on the eve of Christmas.

Firstly, those fraudulent impostors who pretend to be me in those built-up Shopping Areas of Rampant Commerce in cities all over the world. They are rubbish! They are besmirching my good name in order to sell you more tawdry cheap baubles! Let me clarify something for you:

I don’t smell of wee and Special Brew like those scallywags. I can smell those rancid stinkers from the North Pole!

Also, I fail to understand this excessive consumerism. You should be spending Christmas loving your families and laughing with your friends, not working yourselves into a sweaty, destitute frenzy by suckling on Mammon’s teat with your unnecessary spending!

Anyway, I must go. Rudolph has messed on the rug. And reindeer poop stains, don’t you know.

Don’t get broke, don’t get sick, and don’t get angry. To all the readers of Sucker Punch, have yourselves a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

AKA Year in Review: The Music

This wasn’t easy. My tastes run towards the old skool, so for those expecting an exhaustive list of the good and great of 2004 are doomed to disappointment.

Yes, there were fine, fine albums this year from the Beastie Boys, De La Soul, Jill Scott and Prince. But they all have back catalogues full of fine albums, so no surprises there.

The closest we’re going to get to a musical retrospective is going to come from a glance at the stack getting the most play currently on the AKA Wheels of Steel. To wit:

Masters at Work Mastercuts – Kenny Dope – Disco Heat (2004) – OK, granted, this came out this year, but this is all predominantly late 70s stuff. Discs 2 and 3 are unexpurgated full tracks, but the real treat here is Disc 1, a DJ mix tape. Taking all the chunkiest slabs of funk and cutting the shit out of them, MAW man Dope strips the disco cheese out and only leaves the full phat.

Tom Waits – Foreign Affairs (1977) – Towards the tail end of his lounge lizard lothario era, and just before he embarked on the found sound alchemy of hitting dustbin lids, screaming down tubes and creating sonic marvels, this is Waits at his bruised and beautiful best, with that inimitable voice that sounds like bourbon and barbecue, gravel and gasoline, heartattack and vine.

David Holmes – Ocean’s Twelve OST (2004) – The Rat Pack stylings of the first film are tweaked for a more Eurocentric groove on another flawless package of retro concoctions from Holmes.

Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell – Beautiful (2003) – The Neptunes sterile soundscape twinned with the loping drawl of the Doggfather gives him his best single since those days with Dre.

Maxwell – Now (2001) – One for the Where Are They Now? file. Maxwell’s third album came out almost four years ago, and not a semi-quaver from him since. One of the artists at the vanguard of the Nu Soul movement of the mid-90s, Maxwell’s mixture of 60s vocals, lush 70s arrangements, and a splash of 80s rawness created a sound that sounded reassuringly familiar and sparklingly new at the same time.

Bobby Womack – Lookin For a Love (The Best of 1968–1976) – What can I tell you? It’s Bobby Womack. It’s great. He certainly doesn’t need me bigging him up. The music speaks for itself. Classic.

SINGLE OF 2004 - Twista – Slow Jamz – This would win purely for rhyming “Vandross” with “pants off”, but this valentine to the quiet storm soulsters of the 80s combined with furious wordplay from the ubiquitous Kanye West has been played regularly in the AKA crib for the whole year. We have a winner!

Other than that, I’ve been leaning on old standbys for most of the year, with lots of Joni Mitchell (Blue and The Hissing of Summer Lawns) Stevie Wonder (mostly Fulfillingness' First Finale) and Curtis Mayfield (mostly the Right Combination album he did with Linda Clifford).

A caution on a worrying trend I spied at the end of 2003, which has been maintaining a dangerous pace this year – The evils of Fogey Jazz. Yes, I do mean this hideous Jamie Cullum, Katie Melua, Michael Buble stuff we keep getting. Jazz, like hip-hop 20 years ago, always used to signify innovation and flexibility. Now, its just tired rehashes, and white folks doing black music without any of the flair or creativity. Just a bunch of unnecessary covers foisted on us with depressing regularity. If I hear Rod Fucking Stewart massacring another standard, I will break his beak, shave his spiky head, flay his fake-tan hide and feed him to a leopard. Where’s Courtney Pine when you need him?

Oh, and I loathe the Scissor Sisters. Stop lauding them. 'Tis shit.

Friday, December 17, 2004

AKA Year in Review: The Movies

Right, I was going for a Top Ten but, being an ornery critter, I couldn’t whittle the list down that much. So I’m going with a Top Twelve. For the sake of fairness, I have deliberately rejected any films I saw in a professional capacity. If I reviewed it elsewhere, it was immediately disqualified for inclusion.

For those with memories longer than that of your household goldfish, you will know I’ve already unveiled four of the twelve. (That would be Kill Bill Volume 2, Man on Fire, Oldboy and The Punisher).

Time to stop you from waiting any longer. Here, in absolutely no order whatsoever, are the rest of the AKA 2004 Top Twelve Movies. Have at thee!

The Cooler – I’ve discussed this film on the blog before, so I won’t repeat it all here. Nevertheless, one of the all-time great Vegas movies.

The School of Rock – I wish I had been eight-years-old when I saw this, so it could have changed my life. All family movies should be as brilliant as this. (Having said that, I wish all Jack Black and Richard Linklater movies were even half as brilliant as this.) Rockin’ good fun.

Lost in Translation – In retrospect, maybe it is a little po-faced and pretentious. But the two central performances are fantastic, and it was funny, touching and beautifully shot. People who complained that there was no story should be locked in a Karaoke Bar with their ear lobes stapled back for all eternity.

Spider-Man 2 – I’ll come clean. I was one of the only people on the planet who thought the first Spider-Man movie was a bit, well, average. Having suitably lowered my expectations for the sequel, I was absolutely thrilled with this. Stan Lee’s most famous son faces off against Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus in THE Marvel Comics movie of 2004. (Which more than compensates for the truly dreadful Blade Trinity, which managed to unleash a heavy stream of piss all over the first two movies and Wesley Snipes, whilst producing a fantastic performance by Ryan Reynolds at the same time.)

Hellboy – Ron Perlman and Guillermo Del Toro weave wonders with Mike Mignola’s creation about a demon raised by the Allies to fight-the-forces-of-evil in the wake of the Second World War. Apart from the abrupt ending, this was sweet perfection.

American Splendor – A different kind of comic-book hero. The inspiring life of loveable curmudgeon Harvey Pekar and his stubborn refusal to change his ways for anyone, whilst all the while he plugs away at his life’s work, the underground comix of the title. Paul Giamatti should have won the Best Actor Oscar for this.

Infernal Affairs – Makes Michael Mann’s Heat look like a straight-to-video cheapie knock-off. A Hong Kong crime epic that will be neutered by its forthcoming Hollywood remake. The most rich and complex crime movie since L.A. Confidential.

Dawn of the Dead – This should have been awful. A Hollywood remake of one of the most beloved cult zombie classics ever. Somehow, it worked. Replace Romero’s shambling Undead with 28 Days Later’s souped-up Infected, stick some cannon fodder in a mall, and let rip. Resplendent in all its awful beauty, and genuinely scary.

WORST FILM OF 2004: Elephant – When Gus Van Sant was being reviled for his unnecessary shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, I just shrugged. So what? It was just an art-house conceit welded onto a Hollywood classic. Superfluous? Sure. But maybe that was the point. Well, Gus, I’m not going to fight your corner anymore. This film SUCKED! A meandering, directionless meditation on Columbine, this broke the cardinal rule of cinema: it was boring. Elephant dung.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Incredibles, Northfork, Jersey Girl.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

As the 342nd day of the year begins, and magazines and websites fill themselves with those extraneous “Best of” and “Worst of” the year lists, I find myself co-opting this most unoriginal of ideas and embracing the arbitrary breakpoint of one calendar year to have a look back, as I cast my jaded and bloodshot critical eyes over 2004’s movies, music, comics, books, television, current events…all manner of pop culture detritus that has floated through my thoughts in the last (almost) 12 months.

Critics always try to make connections where, often, none exist. They try to find trends where only coincidence resides. After all, they have copy to file and only a finite number of interesting things to say about any given piece of work.

Frequently, trends exist solely due to imitative behaviour. “Well, if that worked, then we should do it again and again and again, until we hammer it into the ground and suck every last penny out of it!” That’s why there are so many sequels.

2004 has seen the resurgence of the zombie film; the continuing success of the superhero movie; and the nascent birth of Hollywood’s move to remake all manner of Asia Extreme oddities (by sucking out whatever made them unique in the first place, and blanderising them in the name of Money, Money, Money).

Next year, I predict less zombie movies, more superhero movies, and a heaving warehouse full of American studio movies based on Korean and Japanese mini-classics.

But I digress. For me, THE movie genre of the year has been the full-blooded return of the Revenge Movie. And I do love to have me a good revenge movie.

The Bride’s mission finally ended in Kill Bill Vol. 2, Thomas Jane strapped on an armoury that would make the toughest mobster’s bladder void itself in The Punisher, Denzel Washington showed us a neat trick with exploding suppositories in Man on Fire, and Min-sik Choi topped that with an even neater trick with a live octopus in Oldboy.

Now, a lesser writer would try and find some tenuous connection between this surge of bloody retribution splashing in crimson arcs across cinema screens the world over. Shit like: it’s a sign of the increasing shift to the right in America. Or: it satisfies a need for catharsis stemming from the events of 9/11 and the War in Iraq.

But that’s all a bunch of crap. Tarantino has had a love affair with the revenge movie most of his life, the Marvel Comics character The Punisher dates back to the early ‘70s, the script for Man on Fire has been bouncing around Hollywood for a couple of decades, and Oldboy is the middle chapter in Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy that has been gestating for a while now. The fact that they all turned up at the same time is a simple matter of coincidence.

So, to that Wild Bunch of anti-heroes, to Beatrix Kiddo and Frank Castle, John Creasy and Oh Dae-Su, I salute you all and your endlessly inventive ways of dispatching evildoers. Even though not a single one of you could be excused of your own evildoings, you doomed death-dealers.

And every one of these four movies sits comfortably in my Top Ten Flicks of the year. AKA says check ‘em out.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Acronyms Kick Ass

I use “AKA” as my online moniker, because, conveniently enough, those three letters are my undeniably cool initials.

Coincidently, of course, those three letters denote “alias” in and of themselves. As in “Also Knows As” or “Another Known Alias”.

Lesser known (and, consequently, far less useful) acronyms include: “Asociace Komunikaèních Agentur” (the European Association of Communications Agencies) and “Attack Cargo Ship” (Auxiliary, Cargo, Attack). Avast, me hearties! I can definitely groove on some of that pirate patter.

Incredibly useless acronyms for a slew of clubs that I would never be a member of: “American Kennel Association”; “American Killifish Association”; and “American Kitefliers Association”.

No, I don’t know what a “killifish” is either. But further research tells me that it is “Any of numerous small fishes of the family Cyprinodontidae, including the guppy and mosquito fish, inhabiting chiefly fresh and brackish waters in warm regions.”

So, now we all now. Knowledge is power.

In Japanese, depending on where you put the accent, “AKA” can either mean “red” or “demon”. That’s right, laydeez, I’m a veritable Hellboy.

I’ve left my favourite until last. It’s something that I’m sure I should be dishing out more often. “Above Knee Amputation”.

Clearly, I have far too much time on my hands today.