Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, 1997 - ★★

I first heard of Mike Myers in 1985 or so, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Someone was giving out flyers for a comedy show (I know, at the Fringe, right?) If I remember correctly it was the opening night that evening, at St John’s on Prince’s Street.

A comedy duo called Mullarkey and Myers. We had probably heard of Neil Mullarkey, and there was an added incentive: a free bottle of Moosehead beer (owing to the Canadian nature of one of the performers) if you turned up with the flyer.

I don't remember anything about the show, but the name and its existence stuck. Years later came Shrek, in which the same Mike Myers did a Scottish accent for no very obvious reason. I assumed he had learned it that year in Edinburgh.

Somewhere along the way he made this, too. It's fine, but I already watched Our Man Flint this year, so…

In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the ringtone from Powers’s communication device is lifted from the presidential phone in Flint.

Films, Books, Blogging, and Giving Up

I’m realising I need to get back into the habit of putting things on the blog. More than film notes from Letterboxd and book notes. There won’t be another book note for a while because I’m reading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. It’s 800 pages and I’m around the 200 mark.

I started reading something else after Eastercon — did I mention I went to Eastercon this year? Oh, yes, I did, but only briefly. it was in Birmingham, but not in the heart of the city with its many curry restaurants. It was at the Hilton Metropole, out near the airport and NEC.

Anyway, one of the guests of honour was Adrian Tchaikovsky, who I’ve been aware of but never read for lo! this several years. He seemed personable and interesting, and my friend Simon recommended his Children of Time. Turned out I already had that on my Kindle from some offer, so I started it.

And I stopped after about a third. I just wasn’t really enjoying it. The spider characters were kind of interesting, and the human ones much less so, and I just didn’t care that much about the plot.

Then I discovered that it’s the start of a series (or at least that it has sequels, which is not necessarily the same thing). That just put me off more, because if I’m not that interested in 400 pages or whatever, how much less interested am I going to be in three times that?

I’m not in the business of reading things because I “should”, either because they’re in some way classic, or just because I’ve started them. Sorry Adrian, sorry Simon.

The Matrix Resurrections, 2021 - ★★★½

Forgot to log this when I watched it a month or so ago. I know I expressed high enthusiasm for this when it was announced in 2021 (that long ago?), but when it came out… actually, who knows?

Anyway, I finally watched it, and it's OK. It's fine, it was good to see some of the old gang back together. The references to the original and the expansion of the story were coherent (at least as coherent as the originals).

But it didn't wow me, which I suppose is kind of inevitable. The first film is one of my all-time favourites.

Far from essential.

Blue Jean, 2022 - ★★½

In the 1980s, under the fear of the Tory government's Clause 28, a teacher has to keep her sexuality hidden if she wants to keep her job. The arrival of a new student throws things up in the air.

It's pretty good, gives a real sense of how much fear the terrible legislation caused, while also showing how women can support each other — and sometimes fail to do so.

The Green Ray, 1986 - ★★★

Watched on Thursday May 4, 2023.

After Love, 2020 - ★★½

Watched on Sunday April 30, 2023.

Pain and Glory, 2019 - ★★★

Or Dolor y gloria, to give it its Spanish title.

Pedro Almodóvar's latest, and filled with his colourful imagery. Especially red. Man, that guy loves a bright red. And why not?

As I was watching, I remember thinking, 'This is the most pro-heroin film I've seen since Pulp Fiction.' Which is not to say that's what it's about, at all.

Antonio Banderas plays a successful film director who has mostly retired, largely due to his health problems. He has pain from back problems, and various other things.

In flashbacks (or are they?) we're told of his young life. In the current time, he meets an old colleague who introduces him to heroin, which doesn't seem to help much with his pain, and then an old lover, who had been an addict himself.

Not the most consequential of stories, maybe, but worth a watch.

The Guardian is reporting that people who didn’t get the alert are mostly on the Three network. As I am.

Hey, what happened to my government warning? It’s twenty past three and I haven’t received it yet!

Punk Publishing: A DIY Guide, by Andy Conway & David Wake (Books 2023, 8) 📚

I bought this on my recent visit to Eastercon, from one of the authors, David Wake.

I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of self-publishing before this, but Wake was on a panel about what to watch out for when you first get a publishing contract (his point: nothing, if you self-publish). He made some good points about the advantages of doing it yourself versus the traditional publishing route. For example, you don’t send your sample chapters and synopsis in then wait two years for someone to decide. And even if they say yes, it could be another two years before your book is published.

I don’t know which way I’ll go with my recently-finished draft, but I thought it was worth spending a fiver on this to check out the possibilities. And it seems a decent guide to how you can approach publishing both ebooks and paperbacks, for minimal outlay.

It doesn’t go into things like cover design and marketing, which, of course, are some of the things that traditional publishers handle.

I might give it a spin, though, with a novella that I’ve got sitting around. We shall see.

Anyway, take a look at this if you’re interested in the possibilities. Their website is here.

Everything Everywhere All at Once, 2022 - ★★★★½

Saw this in Paris on a recent trip. In English, with French subtitles.

The only problem: it's not all in English. So there were a number of scenes where I was relying purely on the visuals and a very hazy understanding of a very few French words.

But I think I got the gist of most of those parts, and I'd have wanted to watch it again anyway.

It is, of course, totally brilliant.

Beyond the Reach of Earth by Ken McLeod (Books 2023, 7) 📚

The sequel to Beyond the Hallowed Sky, which I read at the start of last year.

It’s an excellent followup, with a very good summary of the previous novel at the start, which is useful. Top quality SF with politics. Scotland, and the Union (the EU++), are expanding into interstellar space, joining the other two power blocs.

Like the last, and perhaps even more so, this ends in a place that is quite satisfying. No cliffhangers, and if there were no more books, it wouldn’t matter.

Though at the same time it’ll be great to see what happens in book 3.

Conventions conventionally drink the real-ale bar dry too early.

Here at Eastercon, apparently we’ve drunk the bar dry…

… of low-alcohol beers.

On my way to Birmingham for Eastercon. Been a few years since I’ve been to a con. It’ll be good to see folk.

Just after midnight last night I finished my novel, Casino Soul. The first draft, anyway, or maybe only the zeroth draft. There’s a lot to do to make it anywhere close to good.

But that can wait for later. For now I’m feeling a combination of elation and deflation.

92,000 words and two years elapsed. Writing takes time.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Books 2023, 6) 📚

Atkinson’s Life After Life was the wonderful story of Ursula Todd, who kept repeating her life, dying in different ways each time. One interpretation or explanation for this strange experience is that she was trying to create (or find, or reach) a version of her life in which her beloved brother Teddy survives the Second World War and lives to grow old.

A God in Ruins is the story of that timeline.

Or maybe a couple of timelines. While this is in most ways a more straightforward tale than its predecessor, we do see two or three possible different endings for Teddy. It’s also about his descendants: his daughter the infuriating Viola, and her two children. It’s kind of a redemption tale for some characters.

I enjoyed the bits about Teddy’s wartime expreiences as a bomber pilot most. Overall it’s not as good as Life After Life, but not bad.

Extremely rare software update this morning: Scrivener for Mac updated to version 3.3. A huge number of changes from 3.2.3, and I can’t help but wonder if they’d be better off doing more frequent, smaller updates, just so we know they’re still there.

The best writing app.

Interzone 294 Edited by Gareth Jelley (Books 2023, 5) 📚

I posted a photo of this when it arrived, to show its new paperback-book format. It’s an issue of Interzone: it’s fine, but nothing in it was particularly outstanding. Several decent stories, an interview with Christopher Priest, the usual book and film reviews and ‘Ansible Link’, the cut-down version of Dave Langford’s Ansible newsletter(the mailing list of which, I realise as I type, I seem to have fallen off; I haven’t seen it in a few months).

Interzone is worth getting to keep up to date with the scene, if nothing else.

That all sounds bad. People worked hard on these stories. I think I just don’t really get on very well with short stories, something I’ve mentioned here before.

The first band I ever saw live, back in (fuck!) 1980, was Stiff Little Fingers.

I’ve seen them a few times over the years. Tonight I’m at The Roundhouse to see them once again.

Sister Act, 1992 - ★★★

A daft but fun enough romp, in which Whoopi Goldberg is a nightclub singer who has to hide out from the Mob after witnessing a murder. Obviously the safest place to hide her is in a convent where Maggie Smith is the Mother Superior.

Obviously the convent has a terrible choir, so she can whip them into shape. With completely predictable results. But as I say, it's fun. Spawned not one but two sequels, I see.

On the Basis of Sex, 2018 - ★★★

Decent film about the early legal career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a film it's pretty decent. As a biopic, it left me wanting more. I'd have liked to see about a bit more of her career than just the big breakthrough case that first brought her to public attention.

That case, though, is interesting. It was a sex-discrimination one1 where the discriminated-against party was a man. He was a carer for his elderly mother, and the fact that he had never been married meant he wasn’t entitled to a tax credit, where a woman would have been.

Ginsburg was able to convince the judges to declare the law unconstitutional, as it discriminated arbitrarily, on the titular basis. And with the ACLU, she was then able to tackle the many laws that discriminated similarly against women. Clever.

  1. Or gender-discrimination, as they renamed it, because ‘sex is all over the brief’, and it would distract the judges — male, of course; at least, according to the film. And I wonder if we can draw a line of causality from that decision to the position of gender in the culture today. ↩︎

Look at the new Interzone: it’s a paperback book! I like it.

I’ve written here before about Nick Cave’s newsletter, The Red Hand files, and lately I’ve taken — slightly hyperbolically, perhaps — to saying that I think it might be his greatest creation. Today’s issue knocks it right out of the park.

He writes about worrying about singing flat, because he’s going to duet with Johnny Cash. Even Nick Cave worries about not coming up to the mark. And then — well, just read it.

And in the last paragraph, after the signoff, he introduces another hero of mine, just in passing.


The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald, Translated by Michael Hulse (Books 2023, 4) 📚

The Rings of Saturn is a very unusual book. My copy has this classification on the back: ‘Fiction/Memoir/Travel’.

Well make up your mind, I might say!

And yet, it is all those things, and the combination makes a compelling, readable whole.Sebald (or, the narrator) goes on walks around Norfolk and Suffolk. Along the way his thoughts carry him on paths that both parallel his physical ones and diverge far from them in both time and space. He muses on history, architecture, biography, geology, ecology, and much more.

This Guardian ‘Where to Start With…’ article saves it for last, as ‘the one you’ll want your friends to read’. Which is fair enough.

I still don’t understand why he gave it that title, though.

Suzanne on the Stage

To Cambridge, on Thursday just past, and to the Corn Exchange, to see Suzanne Vega. My one-word review: spellbinding.

I had never been to the Corn Exchange before (to be honest I’ve rarely been to a gig — especially an indoor gig — outside London these last thirty-six or so years). But it’s one of those places that feels slightly legendary to me, because I’d see it listed among the tour dates in Sounds or NME back in my youthhood.

Turns out it’s a lovely, clean, modern venue, with Old Speckled Hen on tap. We were seated in the balcony (on the balcony?), which was fine.

And as to Ms Vega: I’m not steeped in her work, so the fact that she essentially played a ‘Greatest Hits’ set was ideal for me. She even explicitly said, ‘I’m gonna play some of the well-known ones early, so people don’t worry that they won’t get them.’

This after she’d opened with ‘Marlene on the Wall’, followed by ‘Small Blue Thing’.

She had one accompanying musician, a guitarist called Gerry Leonard, who has worked with Bowie, among others. He was great, making heavy use of those sampling/looping pedals, making him sometimes sound like three or four players at once.

So, like I say, the whole thing was spellbinding. Suzanne Vega on Stage