Thursday, May 28, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 6)


FALLING OUT OF CARS - JEFF NOON

Part 6 of my little series of blog posts about books that had an impact on me, and we come to the book that has been on the top of my favourites list for quite a while now. Jeff Noon's Falling Out of Cars.

There is just something about this book that I absolutely adore. It's a surreal road trip as a group travel the country on a bizarre mission. Henderson, Peacock and Marlene are on a mission to recover fragments of a mirror that may be at the heart of a strange affliction that is hitting the population of Britain - images, information, and signs all start to become unintelligible. People get lost staring at mirrors, and the world is covered with fabric or paint to try to mask every reflective surface. In order to keep sane, the team take regular doses of a drug called Lucidity, but even that cannot hold back the weird effects of these mirror fragments.

There's an amazing sequence of them going into a building where a fragment is, but the text repeats as they are trapped in a loop of events, seeing themselves on CCTV repeating the actions. It's brilliant and mindbending.

I bought it back when I was working in Ottakar's, and since then I've bought many, many copies when I've found them at a good price so I can give them to people I think would enjoy it. I even bought the ebook of it so I can carry it around with me on my phone in case I'm stuck waiting for a train, or in a waiting room somewhere. It doesn't matter if I can't remember where I was on the reread, the fluid nature of the narrative means you can jump in at any point and it's still brilliant.

Recently I've been reading Jeff Noon's more recent work, a cool series of detective novels set in a weird 1950's. A Man of Shadows details the PI John Nyquist as he tries to track down a missing girl between two parallel cities - Dayzone and Nocturna. One where it is kept permanently day, the other permanent night. Really cool stuff, and I'm about half way through the second book The Body Library, where Nyquist is caught up in a city where narrative and stories are key, and writing can shape reality.

There was talk about Falling Out of Cars being made into a TV series, and I hope one day it happens. I always get the feeling of a darker version of 28 Days Later for the look (without the zombies) of them travelling motorways in a weird road movie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 5)


HOUSE OF LEAVES - MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI

Another book that has seriously influenced my writing style is Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. I was working in Ottakar's, looking after the SF/Fantasy/Horror section, and there was this awkward book that was just huge. Not just a thick book, but in all dimensions. There was the usual debate over whether it should be shelved in Horror or in General Fiction, but as there was supposedly an element of weirdness it usually ended up in my department on the Horror shelves.

I remember flicking through it and thinking "WHAT?"

It's in the inside of House of Leaves that really makes it stand out as being something different. The book itself is a book-within-a-book. It tells of Johnny Truant, who is reading the manuscript of an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record that he found in the apartment of a recently deceased elderly man.

The Navidson Record is a film about a family living in a house whose interior dimensions do not match the exterior. The dimensions change, and then a door appears in a wall that leads into an impossible hallway... which leads to a labyrinth, and a hall, and an impossibly deep chamber down a spiral staircase, and...

Well. It's a bit crazy. As you read Johnny reading the Navidson Record, it's kinda like watching The Blair Witch Project. As close to a found footage movie as you can get in a book. Especially as you can't entirely trust Truant's account.

But it's the layout that makes it special.

Each character's section is written in a different typeface so you can tell which section is which. As the family investigates further into the anomalous room, the more bizarre the layout of the book.

There are weird sidebars of nouns, spiralling passages, footnotes, and pages with single words spinning in the void.

Out of curiosity I ended up buying it, and read it about about a week. It was actually seriously unsettling and left me looking at the walls of our house with a new level of uncertainty.

Seriously cool.

I did some internet research and discovered that there was a different edition of the book - the American edition of it was in colour! Nothing major, but to add to the weird typography, every instance of the word "house" was in blue, and there were another couple of words like that in there too...

In addition to that, Mark Z. Danielewski's sister, who records under the name Poe, recorded an album called Haunted, inspired by House of Leaves. The album has tracks that directly relate to the book, including 5 1/2 minute Hallway, something they call the mysterious new hall that appears in the Navidson Record. Never heard any Poe before, and I took a chance. What a brilliant album! Well worth checking out, and cleverly incorporates found recordings of Poe's (and Mark's) father, who notoriously wasn't very supportive of his creative efforts. Hence the book's dedication - "This is Not for You".

Again, though, I have to confess I didn't feel the same connection, intrigue and excitement with the follow-up book Only Revolutions. Two parallel narratives telling the same story from two points of view - only they're usually in the same place. And you read one narrative one way, then flip the book and read the other upside down. It's recommended you flip every ten pages...

Unfortunately, it kinda read like a shopping list.

Not the last of the experimental books I dipped into - I checked out the rather good Raw Shark Tests by Steven Hall (say the title quick and you'll get it), and this kinda peaked with "S." by Doug Dorst and J J Abrams, where you read a book but also read the storyline of two people checking the book out from a library and communicating by writing in the margins - and tucking in postcards and newspaper clippings that are presented as removable props.

It's the sort of thing I really want to do with an RPG...


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 4)


FIGHT CLUB - CHUCK PALAHNIUK

Next on my series of Books that Hooked Me, books that really had an impact on me is one that really changed my writing style massively. I was working in the cinema while Debs was working in graphic design and magazine layout, and (I've mentioned on this blog in the movies that made me series) there was a movie that I really wasn't interested in. One that was so badly marketed that I remember saying "Why would I want to see a movie about bareknuckle fighting?"

I was an usher for that first showing in the cinema, and hung around to make sure the very few people who had come in for that midweek lunchtime performance were settled and sat... and those first ten-twenty minutes of the movie Fight Club just had me absolutely hooked. I was stunned - a combination of the visuals, the flashback, the narration. Mindblowing.

I remember going back to work thinking "I need to watch the rest of it", and it wasn't long before Debs and I checked out the wonders that was David Fincher's Fight Club. I loved it, and saw it multiple times when it was screening.

It was only a few days after seeing the movie that I decided I needed to check out the book it was based upon. The book of Fight Club is surprisingly close to the movie except for a couple of small elements - there are whole chunks of the movie, especially Jack's narration, that are word-for-word from the book. There was an energy to the style, the way it addressed the reader, that was completely new to me. It was incredibly eye-opening.

Of course, that lead on to Survivor (which was brilliant), and Invisible Monsters (which has one of the greatest opening couple of pages I've read)... I was hooked.


On to Choke, a tale of someone who lives off of donations from people who "saved" him from choking in restaurants, and then onto my favourite of Palahniuk's books - Haunted. I've never been much of a short story reader, but Haunted addresses the short story in a new way. A tale of seventeen writers who go to a writers retreat where they have three months to write their magnum opus. They have food and drink, but cannot leave until it is complete.

The chapters are each of the characters' stories, and bridged with a linking narrative of these writers gradually sabotaging the food, and descend into a mass of self destruction. I guess you could say it's allegorical for how writers sabotage themselves...

On came Rant, which was really clever in the way it told its tale by second hand accounts of witnesses, but it was with his next book, Snuff, that I kinda gave up. Sorry Chuck... Couldn't finish that one.

At the peak of my reading Chuck Palahniuk, when I did try to write fiction it was really like I was channelling my inner Palahniuk. There were flashbacks, asides, weird narration. C'mon, Dave. Have your own voice...

Anyway, Fight Club was a real eye opener for me, and changed my reading and writing habits tremendously.

Monday, May 25, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 3)


THE ILLUMINATUS! TRILOGY - ROBERT SHEA & ROBERT ANTON WILSON

I owe the owner of the local comic shop a lot when it comes to recommendations of great comics. He was the reason I started reading The Crow, Bone, Hellboy, and so many more. However, he's always been great at recommending other media too. Without his recommendations I would never have watched the TV series Misfits. So when he recommends something, I listen.

One of his earlier recommendations, when I confessed I loved things like The X-Files and David Lynch, was that I should read The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. He said it would open my mind.

I know this sounds like some weird literary version of drug deal, and I guess it kinda was. From his recommendation I got it out of the library, and started...

Before I go on, I have to say, I've only read it once - and it was so, very, weird. I remember starting to rereading a few years ago, but there are so many books and so little time to read them in.

Anyway - The Illuminatus! Trilogy is a bit like The DaVinci Code, but many, many years before it. And if Dan Brown was experiencing dimensions not usually seen in our reality. Following a couple of detectives - jeez, how did I forget that one of the characters is called Saul Goodman? - looking into a conspiracy behind the bombing of a magazine, you discover the theories of the Illuminatus and are introduced to Hagbard Celine, head of the Discordians, who are trying to stop the Illuminati - the secret organisation that controls the world. Hagbard, a modern Captain Nemo, aboard his golden submarine, is hoping to stop the Leviathan, hibernating Nazis, Yog-Sothoth... and it all switches from third- to first- person and changes viewpoints of characters mid-paragraph and...

Well, it's all a bit weird.

But I really enjoyed it. It was a bit of a gateway-drug though, and I followed it up with the Masks of the Illuminti, and the excellent Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy. But the next in the recommendations was Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum - a similar tale of uncovering conspiracies throughout history, which I particularly enjoyed as well. Though, being by Umberto Eco, I felt like a lot of it was about a bazillion times smarter than I could actually comprehend.

It did lead down a bit of a rabbit hole though...

Yes, I read the DaVinci Code - well, I did it as an audio book while I was travelling a lot on the train. The audio book was good though, mostly as the guy doing the reading did some excellent accents for the characters - slipping almost into Monty Python at times.

But it did lead to some non-fiction as well, including Everything in Under Control (which was great when I was writing Conspiracy X), and a totally mind-blowing screenplay called Reality is What You can get away with.

It is a great exploration into changing your reality tunnel. Almost like a self-help book, if you don't like the world around you, or your situation, you can change the way you perceive the world by changing your reality tunnel.

Hell, maybe I should give that one another read now...

Sunday, May 24, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books that Hooked Me (Part 2)


DUNE - FRANK HERBERT

Onto the second of the books that have had a bit of an impact on my life. DUNE. Another one of those books that I came to too early. I'd seen the movie, the awesome David Lynch adaptation of Dune that I still absolutely love to this day. I watched it with the old D&D group, "the Eight", and I felt like I was in a minority that I hadn't read the book. Heck, if I remember correctly, when I joined the D&D group one of the characters was called Muad'dib. We watched the movie, and the others kinda chimed in to say "that's not like the book", or "that's wrong". So, I felt like I had to check it out.

This was back when I wasn't really reading a lot - roleplaying, movies, and videogames were the primary forms of entertainment to me at that time. I bought the novel, gave it a go, and I probably did the same thing I usually did which was give up after about a hundred pages as the payoff wasn't fast enough.

So stupid.

But I loved the movie, and the setting was fascinating. And I ended up buying this cool book on a whim - the Dune Encyclopedia. It was a mammoth reference work about the Dune books, and I found that even more intriguing. It was great. I devoured that book, possibly more than I should have done, and watched the movie multiple times.

Skip forward many years, and I discovered reading for pleasure - thanks to Stephen King (see yesterday's blogpost). It must have been after I left University, after I'd read Lord of the Rings and loved it, I thought to myself - 'You know, you really should read Dune.'

So I did. I blasted through the first four books, loving every moment. We relocated across the country, and without a job I needed to read to keep my head busy, and Dune was where I went. I remember going into the Waterstones in our temporarily adoptive new hometown and asking for the final book - Chapterhouse Dune - and they didn't have it but would order it. All the rest were on the shelves, except that one. A few days later, book six arrived and it had the old cover before the reprints - with the old logo that matched my beaten old copies of the rest of the series. I was ecstatic.

Illustration of Paul Atreides from the
Dune Encyclopedia 


We located again, and I started working in Ottakar's, and the prequel trilogy just started to come out. I picked up the paperback of House Atreides, the start of the Prelude to Dune series. I have this weird memory of starting to read the first volume and finding a typo early on - and stopping reading right there. I mean, a typo. I remember it being something obvious like Atreides. I honestly don't know if it was actually there, or me misreading it. I've just had a look through my copy and can't find anything - though I'm not very awake...

After I got over myself - and working in a bookstore those covers kept tempting me - I finally gave House Atreides another go and devoured the Prelude to Dune series, loving those as well.

I'm sorry to say that it was the Legends of Dune series that stopped me. I tried. I started reading The Butlerian Jihad, the legendary story of why sentient machines were outlawed in the Imperium that I was eager to read. I just couldn't get into it. I still have the paperback, and I even have the hardback of the next volume - The Machine Crusade - but never got any further.

Maybe one day I'll go back to it, but the lure of rereading the original six again is always on my mind.

Especially with the new adaptation coming later this year. Can't wait!!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books that Hooked Me (Part 1)

Over the last couple of months I've been keeping my brain occupied, and distracting myself of the horrific state of the world, by writing regular (if not daily) blogposts of nonsense. Looking at the comics, the movies, the TV series, and the RPGs that have all had a massive impact on my life.

Those days of daily blogposts may soon be coming to an end as I can see the need to return to my dayjob is looming ever closer. Unless something horrible happens with the R-number, despite it not actually going down at the moment, I'll be back at the day job in just over a week. I must admit, on one hand it'll be great to see the rest of the staff as I've missed them, but I'm really not looking forward to being out there - exposed to the world and its current potential dangers. How all those who have been doing it for the last ten weeks or more have been coping, both physically and mentally, astounds me, and I can only thank them for their efforts of ensuring we can still eat, get the necessary items to live, and to look after those in need. Thank you.

Anyway, with the return to work looming, there really is only one subject I haven't covered in these daily blogposts of media that has had an impact on me - Books.

I'm going to try to do them in chronological order of me reading them. Some are classics, some a little more left field, but each one of them has had an impact on me, and shaped my reading choices - and in many cases, my writing style.

So let's start at the very beginning. It's very good place to start...


IT - STEPHEN KING

I have a confession. My youth was not filled with reading books. Sure I read comics, but my very early years were mostly spent watching movies, TV, and playing with Lego and Star Wars figures. I distinctly remember reading The Secret Seven, and strangely I have a memory of reading the Action Man novel, The Taking of Monte Carrillo. Why I can remember that, I don't know...

Otherwise, I bought a lot of paperbacks - all of them movie adaptations. I have boxes of them still. It started with the novel of Star Wars, and it just kept going. Through the foil covers of the Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the weird, fake romance novel covers of Romancing the Stone and the Jewel of the Nile. I bought them all. If they had a colour photo bit in the middle, even better. It was like being able to see the movie again before VHS existed. I would read some of them them, others I'd just read the exciting bits I remembered from the movie, or skim for the extra bits that weren't in there - like some in the Ferris Bueller novelisation.

I mean, I tried other books. When I started playing D&D and Middle Earth Roleplaying I tried to read The Lord of the Rings, but really couldn't get into it. It wasn't until I went back to it over a decade later when Babylon 5 was on that I actually read it and loved it.

Anyway, I used to buy these novelisations of movies, even after VHS started being a thing. It was just the collector in me - if I liked a movie, I'd get the book of it.

In my little home town there was a little store near the biggest junction in the town. It was tiny. I mean, the whole store was about the size of a small terraced house's kitchen. You could get two customers in there at most, with a tiny counter at one end. However, they sold books, and records. I bought a lot of music in my teens, listening to vinyl with my enormous headphones on while playing games on my ZX Spectrum.

The owner of the shop was a middle aged Chinese lady who was lovely. We used to chat, and she used to order the weird records I wanted as special orders for me. And some of those weird movie novelisations too, looking up what was available from her supplier's monthly printed catalogue that looked more like a supplement to the phonebook than anything glamorous. I think outside of my family she was the only person I used to talk to for weeks on end. She probably dreaded me coming in. I'm sorry if you're reading this now...

When I went in there, there was this book on her spinner rack of novels that just kept staring at me. Literally. Because it had freakin' eyes on the cover...

IT.

This must have been 1987, as it was the paperback and it wasn't a brand new release, but I was out of school, out of work, and in a limbo - trying to write on my ancient electric typewriter.

I'd been in a few times to get various records over a number of weeks, but that cover was still there - staring at me. So bloomin' unsettling.

Eventually, I caved, and bought it. It really wasn't the sort of thing I read - it didn't tie into anything (at least not yet) but I'd seen the movies - Carrie, The Shining, Christine, The Dead Zone, Silver Bullet... And on top of that, it was HUGE. I wasn't a big reader, and I hadn't managed to get through The Lord of the Rings, and here I was buying a book that was longer. Over a thousand pages of it...

Anyway, I bought it. And blasted through it. Not the fast speed of most dedicated readers, I'm never a fast reader, but I did get through it pretty swiftly for me. I was hooked. Mostly because it had the weird nostalgia element, and playing upon your childhood fears. I loved it.

So much so, that when I finished it, I started reading the rest of Stephen King's work. I moved on to Christine - which I also loved. I knew the film really well, so the extra stuff in the book that wasn't in the movie was brilliant. It was like a massive director's cut of the movie. And then I moved onto The Stand, Carrie, The Shining... and kept going.

Stephen King is the reason I read.

Simple as that. I owe it all to him.

I've kept reading his work too. I'm a bit behind - I think I got sidetracked about Duma Key era, but I loved the Dark Tower series, and especially loved Insomnia and Rose Madder.

I've mentioned on this blog before the surreal moment when I finally got to meet Stephen King. My reading had got to the pitch that I was working in Ottakar's bookstore, looking after the SF/Fantasy section and becoming an advisor to the chain of 140+ stores to recommend titles to the genre ranges. I was even editor of their chain-wide SF/Fantasy/Horror newsletter.

Thanks to this, the sales reps from various publishers knew me, and the awesome rep from Hodder - Stephen King's publisher in the UK - invited me and my wife (who also worked for Ottakar's at that time) to go to the big book launch for Stephen King's new book, Lisey's Story. It was more like a weekend, as we had tickets to the talk one evening, and the following evening there was a launch party in a weird building off the Strand in London. It looked like a masonic temple, but within its walls Alabama 3 were playing.

The evening went on, the publishers and booksellers were mingling, and eventually - tired from a hammering six hour book signing in a supermarket - Stephen King came in, got up on stage, and sang along with Alabama 3 (see the blurry photo to the right)...

Our sales rep from Hodder spotted me and Debs, and said - "Have you met him yet?" - Hell no, not yet! "He'll head this way when he gets off stage, wait there..."

So we did. And Stephen King was introduced to us by our lovely Hodder rep. We shook his hand, Debs gave him a bar of chocolate (as the UK chocolate is far superior - you don't know what you're missing, honestly), Debs thanked him for his books really changing our lives, and I kinda just stood there going... "errrrr"...  And off he went, chocolate in hand.

Anyway, that's about it really. All I can say again is thank you, Stephen King. Without you, I doubt I would have been as big a book reader as I've become. I doubt I would have ended up working in book retail for eight years. Thank you.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 24)


AVENGERS ASSEMBLE / THE AVENGERS (2012)

Doing this chronologically has meant that the final movie in the 24 movies that have had the biggest impact on my life is tinged with a bit of a down-side. Marvel's big movie, The Avengers (or as we in the UK got it Avengers Assemble, because we didn't want to get confused with John Steed and Emma Peel) was a bit of a landmark, and coincided with some major and not great changes in my life...

Okay, let's set the scene. I grew up reading Marvel comics. I loved Iron Man, Thor, Dr Strange, and especially Spider-man. I was one of the first in that darn queue to go and see Iron Man when it came out and absolutely loved it. Blown away by how cool it was, and by how true to the comics it felt. I loved Thor: The Mighty Avenger, and I especially loved Captain America: The First Avenger. These were all brilliant movies in my eyes and I was loving what Marvel were doing with their films.

Let's just get this straight here - my opinion has not changed in the slightest. I love the MCU movies, and don't think there is a bad one in there. My favourites, just for the record, are Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Doctor Strange.

At this time, I was blogging for the SyFy Channel, and doing some writing for a couple of other websites including Forces of Geek. Thanks to this, I'd managed to get on the press lists for some of the big movies coming up, and managed to go and see some movies in advance so that I could review them for websites.

However, the biggest one was to come when I was invited to the press screening of The Avengers, and an invite to attend the UK press conference the following day.

So, I headed down to London. Press invite printed out, name on the list, I went to the Odeon Leicester Square along with loads of other press people, and eagerly awaited the biggest movie of the decade. It was raining when I got there, but it didn't matter. I was going to see The Avengers. They took my name, saw my ID, watched me turn my phone off, and in I went...

The movie was brilliant. Absolutely loved it. I was a massive Joss Whedon fan, and as always he managed to weave a story with an ensemble cast that made sure everyone got screen time, everyone had a storyline, and it all made sense. Fantastic!

I remember staggering out of the movie amazed and happy.

I took the tube to my inlaws where I was going to sleep that night, ready for the following day's press conference, and tried to turn my phone back on. Nothing. It had gotten completely soaked in my jacket pocket and was dead - it really wasn't going to come back on. Nuts.

Eventually, a couple of tube rides later I arrived at my mother-in-law's to discover that people had been trying to get in touch with me all evening. My phone was off, and wouldn't come back on, so it was all news to me... but while I was in that screening watching some of my favourite childhood heroes leap about on screen, my mother had been taken into hospital and it wasn't looking great. I couldn't get home, the trains were no longer running that far up the country, and there was nothing I could do. I spoke to my family to see how she was and how things were, and once in hospital she was doing okay. She was going to be in there a while.

In the end, reassured that there was nothing I could do and that she would be alright, I was convinced by everyone that I should stay where I was, and go to the press conference. It was a big deal, and my mum would have wanted me to go and experience something as amazing as this.

So, reluctantly, I did.

The following morning, I phoned around again to check everything was okay and that I was doing the right thing, and then I headed back into the city to go to the press conference. My phone was still dead, but I had my camera - but I wasn't allowed to take photos during the conference as that honour went to some of the professional reporters and photographers, and the video camera crews from places that had more clout than me.

I took a photo before it started - a swanky hotel ballroom had been transformed into this massive conference hall, with chairs and cameras set up facing the wall of heroes and chairs for the actors...


I managed to get a seat about seven rows back so I wasn't too far from the actors as they came out.

Selfie at the conference before it started
When they did, it was amazing. I've reported about this before on the blog back in 2012, but actually being in the same room as the whole cast of The Avengers was electric. You can tell why these people are in movies, because up close they are all so darn attractive. They're all gorgeous people.

And there was me, like a bald potato sitting in the audience. Star-struck, stunned, and my head spinning in circles confused by what had happened the previous night and whether my mother was going to be okay.

The press conference itself was about thirty minutes. Robert Downey Jr stole the show being the living embodiment of Tony Stark. Being in the same room as Scarlett Johansson is a little disconcerting. These were the biggest actors on the planet, just about - and certainly would eventually be the biggest actors in the biggest movie franchise, and in the biggest movie. And there I was, fifteen feet from them. That expression in the awful selfie above? Yeah, that was pretty much my expression for the whole thing.

Not my photo, I wasn't allowed...

And then it was over. They bid their farewells, and wandered off to the one on ones in various hotel rooms with the press that would be used on every entertainment programme from around the world.

I grabbed my bag, and headed home - made the two hour trip back home, showered, changed, repacked a new bag, then started the six hour trip back to my hometown so I could visit my mother.

She was okay, but it was the start of things going bad. She was in hospital for weeks after that as they tried to work out what was wrong and to assess the situation. Eventually, she was released into a care facility in my hometown, but never returned to the family home. The Avengers night in question was April, and she died in August. During those last few months I spent a couple of days every week when I had time off from work up there visiting, but I've always felt guilty that I couldn't be reached that night.

On those visits my mum said that I did the right thing, that she was okay, and she listened to me relating the story of the press conference and being in the same room as the stars.

It wasn't the last press conference I went to, and I managed to go to the Thor: The Dark World one (the video of which is on my Youtube channel - my most watched video as it has Tom Hiddleston in it), the Guardians of the Galaxy one (which just reinforced my infatuation with Karen Gillan - I managed to bring Debs along for that one, but unfortunately Vin Diesel was a no show), and the first Ant-Man one.

In time, the invites stopped coming. I couldn't afford to keep going to London to see movies for press screenings, and the last one I attended was to see part of The World's End, where I met Edgar Wright. Pair this with the websites I was writing for shutting down, and my time as a movie journalist had come to an end.

It was fun while it lasted.

--

And that's it. My twenty-four movies that have had the biggest impact on my life. It was hard to narrow it down to just twenty-four, movies have been such a major part.

Hope it wasn't too boring!

I'm thinking of doing one more of these things - possibly books? - but not as many. The time to go back to the day-job is looming ever closer.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone. Look after yourselves and those around you.




Tuesday, May 19, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 23)


INCEPTION (2010)

Very nearly at the end of the list - I thought I'd stop at twenty-four. So we're getting a lot more recent.

In the build up to Inception's release, no one knew what it was about. There was a cryptic trailer with lots of strange scenes (including the weird corridor fight scene) and the tagline "Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime" before it was eventually changed to the tagline "The Dream is Real". But I loved Christopher Nolan's previous movies, and that corridor fight scene from the trailer looked like it was a bit Matrix-y so I had to go and see it...


I remember staggering home in a state of shock, and my mind immediately went to "why haven't they made an RPG of this?" I went to see the movie again a week or so later to really take it in, and immediately put it at the top of my "favourite movies of all time" list. I was just mesmerised by how cool it was, the way it played with time speeds depending upon the level of dreaming, how the technology had evolved, and I wanted to know more.


I did become a little obsessed with it. I immediately bought the bluray when it came out, and I think that Christmas I bought family copies of it on DVD (which I don't think they appreciated). I scoured Ebay and managed to get a copy of the promotional booklet that was a heavily redacted instruction manual for the PASIV device and its original uses.

When our local Odeon upgraded one of the screens to IMAX, they brought back some of the big IMAX movies for screenings that could really show off the capabilities of the big screen and big sound. Of course, Inception was one of these, and we had to experience the cool new screen. So big... and so loud. The Hans Zimmer soundtrack made your chest vibrate, and you could see the fabric of your own clothes move with the sound. It was awesome.

Still I wanted more. The bluray included a prequel (The Cobol Job) - a 15min motion-comic that sets up the beginning of Inception, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to know more about the world in which Inception was set. Who built the devices? Why? What else could they be used for?

And so I started writing WILD. An RPG of dreamshare technology that I've been chipping away at for nearly ten years. I've spent so many years on it, developing the background, changing the rules over and over again, and I think finally a smaller starter version of it may actually come out in the near future (once I get my writing commitments out of the way).


It's just an awesome film in my books. There are very few deaths, so it became a comfort movie when I was feeling down due to the real world kicking me in the nuts. I may have over analysed it as now I can't unsee the way that "the kicks" work is wrong at the end of the movie, but it's going to be a tough thing to sell any other way.

My excitement about Christopher Nolan's new movie TENET is very high, but I really want him to delay the release until it is safe to go and see it. It just looks to be the ultimate follow-up to Inception - it could even be in the same world - but if it means I have to wait for it for my own health and others, I'm willing to wait.

If you've never seen Inception, you really should remedy that. It's amazing, and will leave you questioning your reality.


*For those paying attention, my current top 3 movies are:
1) The Matrix
2) Inception
3) Fight Club

Monday, May 18, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 22)


HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)

Harry Potter. You knew Harry Potter would have to be in the list somewhere. Movies that shaped my life? Oh boy...

The road to Harry Potter was a weird one for me. We were living in that little flat the other side of the country when the press had started getting wind of how popular Harry Potter was, just as the third book was coming out. Debs was intrigued by some press clippings she'd been sent, and we bought the first couple of books which she read in about a day, and then bought Prisoner of Azkaban the day it was released.

I was a bit stupid, and discounted it all completely. I wasn't really interested in a kids book, and didn't really have time to read much as I was working stupid hours at the cinema, so I didn't really give it much thought.

Debs, however, loved them and reread them a few times.

We moved back across the country and I got a job working in Ottakars, the bookstore (which I've mentioned before). By the time Order of the Phoenix came out in 2003, the interest in Harry Potter was huge, and there was no escape from the impact it was having - it was getting kids back into reading, and the midnight launch for that book was one of the most exciting and tiring book launches ever. Hundreds of kids dressed up, midnight opening, closed the store again at 3am, only to reopen that morning at 6am for more eager fans desperate to read the next instalment. We had owls in the shop, and it was brilliant.

However, I still hadn't read them.

When the first movie came out in 2001, Debs was really excited and we went opening day for it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and Debs told me all the bits I was missing from the books. The next film was even better, made my Kenneth Branagh's hilarious performance is Gilderoy Lockhart. I was definitely getting into it, but in the back of my mind I was convinced the story was just Star Wars. (Orphaned kid, raised by aunt/uncle, has special powers, trained by a wizard, dark lord and his bad guys... all it needed was Voldemort to reveal he was Harry's father, and Hermione to be his sister, and my theory was complete).


With each movie, the tension was getting... well, tenser... and the themes were getting darker. But by Prisoner of Azkaban, the look of the movies changed. Gone were the pointy hats, in came the uniforms we now associate with Harry Potter. Every character had a wand that suited their personality, Hogwarts looked better, and you really could tell things were getting better, darker, and more epic.



We went to see Prisoner of Azkaban opening day again, and I was engrossed. I still hadn't read the books, so the plot was all a surprise to me. The twists came and threw me completely, and then...


Time Travel...

Heck yes. This was brilliant. Weird things that had happened in the movie came full circle as the characters went back in time and interacted with their own timelines. Freakin' awesome.

And that was the moment I was sold. I caved and started reading the books, and really enjoyed them - though I remember I got distracted half way through Prisoner of Azkaban and returned to them about a year later. I really must give them another read - I remember particularly loving Half-Blood Prince as it had so much backstory for Tom Riddle and Voldemort that wasn't in the movies...

Anyway, this is about the movies. Prisoner of Azkaban was the movie that really turned me from being a casual liker of Harry Potter to a full on fan. Debs was even more obsessive than me, and since then we've been to midnight screenings of them, seen them with full orchestra accompaniment at the Royal Albert Hall, and been to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter so many times I've lost count. (Must be about 8 or 9 times now, I can't remember).


Our house looks a lot like the Gryffindor common room, and when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced we were there in the front row for the "fan event" with the cast and J K Rowling in the very same room as us.

Harry Potter and the Wizarding World has since become a bit of an obsession for me, and I'm still convinced that a tabletop RPG set in the Wizarding World would be the greatest thing ever... one day...

One day...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 21)


THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)

I have had a strange relationship with The Lord of the Rings. I remember being at school and getting very into Dungeons & Dragons, and other cool fantasy tabletop RPGs, and everyone in the group seemed to have this almost encyclopaedic knowledge of Tolkien. Me? Not a bit...

Must have been around 1983, I thought I should remedy that especially as we'd started playing Middle Earth Roleplaying (or MERP as everyone called it). So I saved up, and bought myself a copy of The Lord of The Rings (the all-in one edition). And I didn't get very far at all. I think I got as far as Frodo and Sam leaving Hobbiton and the encounter with Tom Bombadil, and that was about it. It was too much for me, I wasn't a reader at that age, and I gave up.

I saw the Ralph Bakshi movie of the first half, and that was all I knew...

And then, many, many years later... Along came Babylon 5. I watched it avidly, but around season 3 there was the introduction of a particularly cool character (Marcus) who was a Ranger. And suddenly things were starting to make sense in my head - Babylon 5 was The Lord of the Rings in space!!

Rangers, the coming of Shadows, and then when Sheridan falls when he goes to Z'ha'dum, and comes back wearing white... Oh god, Sheridan is Gandalf!! Anyway, I loved Babylon 5, and I wanted to see how it compared - so I dug out that old copy of The Lord of the Rings that I bought ten years earlier and tried again.

Older, and wiser, I blasted through the whole thing and loved it. Absolutely loved it.

So when one of my favourite film makers announced he was tackling The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy of movies I was very excited. I followed Peter Jackson's movie making right from Bad Taste, through to the awesome and underrated The Frighteners. If anyone was going to bring Middle Earth to life it was going to be him... Jackson had this knack of producing things on a lower budget that didn't look like they were low budget, and approached movies with a practicality that was being dismissed in favour of green-screens.


I think Debs and I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night, and absolutely loved it. The casting was brilliant, the whole production amazing, and it looked like Middle Earth. It was what I imagined reading it.

Astounding.

As for how The Lord of The Rings has shaped my life? Well... When Debs and I got married, we didn't have a big wedding. Hell, the whole thing cost a fraction of what most weddings are these days. Let's just say that it was half the cost of most engagement rings or wedding dresses. Debs made her dress, and our wedding rings have elvish on them like the One Ring (just not as dark in its message). The ceremony itself was at a little registry office, and the music we chose at the wedding was a track from the Return of the King soundtrack where Aragorn sings when he is crowned. Gotta love Aragorn...



And then, when we were house hunting for our first ever house to buy rather than rent, we looked at so many houses. So many of them. We spent months looking, viewing house after house and none of them were right. We were just about to give up, when this one popped up on Rightmove and the price had come down a bit as it wasn't selling - dropping it just into our price range. We looked at the photos on the site and in the middle of the living room in the estate agent photos was a lifesized cardboard standee of Aragorn.

We had to give it a look. Debs thought if nothing else we could try to get the standee off of them...

As if fate determined it, the house was perfect and we put in an offer that week. (The standee had already moved to a new house by the time we viewed). And we're still here now.

Final bit of Lord of the Rings trivia for me, and how it's impacted my life. I was working at Ottakar's bookstore for many years, looking after the SF/Fantasy section. I loved working there, a really awesome company to work for. Anyway, I was on my lunch break and popped to the nearby Boots to grab some food, and I bumped into an old friend from University, from my Animation Degree, that I hadn't seen in years. This must have been 2003-ish, so I hadn't seen Annabel in nearly eight years. She had popped back to the city to see friends, and was about to jet off to the States. She asked what I was doing, and I said I worked in a bookshop... retail. Nothing glamorous. I asked what she'd been doing, and she said she'd been in New Zealand for a bit, but didn't say anything more... Was fantastic to see her, and off she went. Didn't give it another thought...

A few weeks later I picked up the Extended edition of The Two Towers. We watched the extended movie, then worked our way through the two disks of documentaries... and there, in the little section on the award-winning animation for Gollum, was Annabel. Pulling faces, and animating Gollum...

So that's what she was up to in New Zealand! And there was I working in retail. God, I felt like such a failure.

Anyway, Annabel, if you read this - awesome work, and proud of you.

Me? I really should have done better...

Saturday, May 16, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 20)


FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Like The Matrix, out the same year, I have a very distinct memory of seeing Fight Club for the first time. I was working at the Odeon, recruited to help with the rush for Star Wars: Episode I, and out of the many, many new recruits on a temporary contract I was one of the handful kept on. It wasn't an easy job - we had aggressive teens who broke into the cinema on many occasion and I have a distinct memory of having to grab a particularly violent teen who punched my assistant manager.

Anyway, while the job had its downside, and it paid minimum wage (which was about £3.80 back then), there were many, many elements of the job I loved. Working with movies, wandering the cinema freely, the cool trousers with a special pocket for the torch down the outside of one leg... The cinema itself was an old theatre, broken up into six screens. Above it was a spooky abandoned flat that just was filled with movie posters and cardboard standees, despite it looking like something at the end of The Blair Witch Project. And waaaaay down a long corridor at the side of screen 6 was where we stored the ice cream and popcorn, in storerooms near the old theatre dressing rooms. It was old, creepy, and cool. Doing the last checks at the end of the night to ensure the screens and building was empty, at 3am after The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre had cleared out, was a slightly thrilling spookfest.


One of the great things about working in the cinema was getting to see the movies. I saw EVERYTHING that came out for about eight months. EVERYTHING. I think I saw Disney's Tarzan about eight times, and despite the disappointment of The Phantom Menace, I saw it nine or ten times and grew to love it - my favourite of the prequels. It's where I fell in love with Notting Hill, possibly my favourite romcom.

But there was a film I really wasn't interested in. Fight Club. I knew nothing about it, hadn't seen any trailers except for the cryptic PSAs that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt did, and the poster made it look like people just punching each other. I didn't get it - where was the appeal?

Fight Club opened, and first screening I was ushering. I had my little torch (usually in that cool side pocket), walkie-talkie, and I took the tickets off people and ripped off the stub as they went into the screen. Those latecomers who needed help finding a seat, I used my torch and guided them in. It was typical policy when you were working a screen you hung around for the first fifteen minutes to make sure everyone was sat, latecomers were seated, everyone was happy, and so on.

It was really quiet, as you'd expect on a weekday opening, first showing at about 11:30am. About ten customers in a screen that could hold 300 or more. The certificate thing came up, I was stood at the door, and the Dust Brothers soundtrack crackled into life...

I stood staring at the graphics... no other customers came in, pretty quiet. The titles finish and it zooms back down Edward Norton's face and down the barrel of a gun.

"People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden..."

There's the cool zip around the buildings showing the massive amount of explosives set up in the basements, and then we start on the clever narrative flashbacks - to "Remaining Men Together" and earlier...

I was completely mesmerised. Those opening sequences, I was sold. Twenty minutes in, and I knew I had to get back to work, so I pulled myself out of the screen and went back to it, but my mind was filled with the amazing direction, the cool images, and that narration. I needed to see this movie as soon as possible.


I finally did - I don't know if it was that night, or the next couple of days. The wonders of having two free tickets every week through working there. And I was amazed. It was just brilliant. Thanks to working at the cinema, I think I saw it eight or nine times before it was removed in favour of the next big release.

I went out the day after seeing it to buy the book, and then absorbed the others by Chuck Palahniuk. Those first five or six books had such an impact on my writing style, when I tried to write fiction it just sounded like I was channeling my inner Chuck Palahniuk.

Long after we moved away and back across the country, I bought the DVD with its mass of extras, and later the bluray with its subversive trick making you think you were about to start watching the Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed, before the Project Mayhem logo flashes on screen.

I won't go into the meaning of Fight Club, or what it's about - if you haven't seen it, please do. It is a brilliant piece of film making and storytelling that has influenced movies and TV shows for years afterwards.



As for me, when we bought our house - our first ever home - and we adopted a cat from the rescue, we adopted this gorgeous black cat (originally called Gothic by the RSPCA rescue centre). She had a tooth missing at the front, one of the canines, and she looked like she'd been in a fight (she was rescued after being hit by a car). It was only a day or two of her coming home with us that she rolled off the bed and fell onto the floor, just like Helena Bonham Carter's character from Fight Club did. Pair this with the line from the movie describing her as a "predator posing as a house cat", and we knew what to rename our cat... Marla. (Full name, Marla Singer Chapman).

It's been just over four months since we lost her.

God I miss my cat.

Okay, until tomorrow's - stay safe.

Friday, May 15, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 19)


THE MATRIX (1999)

I have a very distinct memory of seeing The Matrix for the first time. We'd relocated across the country as Debs had taken a new job in graphic design, working in magazine design and layout. It was a cool job, one she couldn't pass up, but it involved uprooting from our home of eight years and setting down in a place that was twice the price to live in. We moved from renting a three bedroom terraced house to paying more for a one bedroom flat. It was so small you could sit in the bath and watch TV through the open door. And the bath and the TV were in opposite corners of the whole floorspace we had...

Anyway, Debs went off to her work, and I'd just shut down my comic publishing business and was looking for work. One afternoon, with nothing to do, I headed to the local Odeon and purchased a ticket for The Matrix. I knew nothing about it except for that cryptic commercial that appeared on TV. Going in without knowing the twist was the thing...


I'm not going to be as precious about spoilers for this one as I was with Dark City yesterday. After all, everyone's seen The Matrix, right?

If you haven't, stop reading now and just go watch it. Please.

I sat intrigued as Thomas Anderson was dragged into a weird plot involving a mythical hacker and his team, and strange federal agents hunting him down. There were some weird bits... I mean, Trinity and these agents could jump a long way, and there was some cool "bullet-time" effects as she escaped. But when Anderson was being interrogated by Agent Smith and his mouth disappeared... It was a bit of a shock - but that's fine, it was just a weird dream sequence, right? That perfect cut made it look like it was just a dream.

But then Anderson, (oh, let's just go by his hacker name - Neo) finally meets this mythical hacker Morpheus and the whole movie - as well as Neo - descends down the rabbit hole.


I kinda wish I could have filmed my face as I watched the information being revealed for the first time. As Morpheus explained what was going on, what The Matrix was, and the lie we'd all been witnessing... My jaw was on the floor. I was amazed.

Another 90mins of gun-fights and kung fu that reminded me of those amazing Hong Kong action movies I had gorged myself on after watching Hard Boiled for the first time, paired with the philosophical questions from those bizarre books I'd been reading. It just pushed all the buttons that I wanted from a film.

I staggered out and went to meet Debs after she finished work. Late as always, as she always seemed to be trapped doing unpaid overtime to ensure the magazine came out on schedule. As we walked home I gushed about how amazing the movie was, and how I was going to take her to see it at the first opportunity. And no, I made sure she didn't find out what The Matrix was until she saw it for herself.


I loved it the second time around too. And shortly after that, I got a job to help pay for the extortionate rent - working in that very cinema, as they needed extra staff to help when Star Wars: Episode I opened the following month.

We didn't stay in that city long. About 9-10 months. It was too expensive, and the Debs' job required far too much overtime. And the city itself was being advertised as the UK's answer to Ibiza, which is about as far from our idea of fun as you can get. I remember getting the minibus home after the midnight screenings of The Exorcist - the cinema provided them as the staff didn't get home until about 3am - and watching dozens of drunk revellers trying to tip a police van over outside a strip club (I remember the strip club because of the name - For Your Eyes Only). I think it was about that time we decided it was too much.


We relocated again, back across the country to somewhere a lot cheaper, where we could rent a house again. And The Matrix came out on DVD...

The Matrix was the first DVD we ever bought, even before we had a DVD player - watching it on Debs' Apple Mac so we could see the extra features, and follow the white rabbit in the menu options. (Closely followed by The Blair Witch Project).

Years later, I still love The Matrix. I love all of them. And the Animatrix. While I'm writing I'll often put the Matrix Jukebox on (originally a hidden feature on the documentary disc, now easily found on the bluray) for hours of Matrix inspired instrumental music - perfect background mood music.

I can't wait to see The Matrix 4, though I admit I'm apprehensive about what they'll do with the franchise.

The Matrix is one of the top 3 movies on my list, and currently holds the top slot (recently dethroning a couple of movies that are coming up later on this list)...

Please, Lana... Let The Matrix 4 be as awesome as I hope...

Thursday, May 14, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 18)


DARK CITY (1998)

Already a massive fan of Alex Proyas' The Crow, when the weird cryptic trailers came on for Dark City I was intrigued. When we finally saw it at the cinema, I was stunned. Dark City is one of those completely nuts, totally weird, scifi noir, style-fests that I love.

The big problem is, the cinema release of it (and the first DVD release) spoiled a massive element of the plot in the titles. IN THE TITLES... It's not quite as bad as say, revealing the twist of The Sixth Sense in the opening scene, but almost. Don't worry, if you haven't seen it, I'm not going to spoil it here, and if you pick up the Director's Cut you won't have that spoiler.


Dark City is fantastic. It's SF but done with cool 1940's style. In a weird city where the sun never shines, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes in a bathtub, unsure how he got there, or who he is. In a weird Lost Highway style reveal, he discovers a murdered woman in the bedroom, and strange men closing in on his location. Convinced they're after him, he runs...

He discovers he has a wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly) and that a police detective, Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) is convinced Murdock is the killer. While being chased by these strange men with weird names (Mr. Hand, Mr. Wall, Mr. Book, etc.) Murdock discovers he has some form of psychokinesis, And then it gets really weird.

Add into the mix a totally awesome performance by Kiefer Sutherland as crazy scientist Dr. Schreber, and a totally amazing last half hour that rivals the ending of Akira, and you have something amazing.

Those iconic rooftop sequences with the Strangers chasing Murdock? The sets they constructed were sold on to the production for my favourite movie - The Matrix.

Oh man, just saying at the beginning of this that I'm not going to spoil the movie has left me a little stumped for what to say about it. Without giving away the twist upon twist of this awesome movie, I can't really say anything further.

The only thing I will say, if you've not seen it, or are planning on watching it again - just pay attention to the number of edits in the first half hour. When most movies have an edit to a new shot every 10 or so seconds, there is an insane amount of cuts. Every couple of seconds.

But it doesn't suffer for it. There seems to be a crazy amount of information it's trying to get across quickly at the beginning.

Anyway, absolutely love it. It gets overshadowed by The Matrix which came out the following year, but it is fantastic in its own right.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Movies That Made Me (Part 17)


LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

It's no secret that I'm a massive David Lynch fan. I have been since my teens and I first witnessed the wonders of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, the latter sending me on an obsessive journey of fandom and decoding for decades to come. I could have picked Blue Velvet, or Mulholland Drive, to add to my list - both of which I love, especially Mulholland Drive. However I thought I'd go a bit left-field and go with my favourite of all the Lynch movies - Lost Highway.


For those of you who haven't seen it (seriously, why not?) it's a tale of a saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) who starts getting weird VHS tapes left on his front door. As the days progress, the VHS recordings continue, each showing camcorder footage of his own house, getting closer, until finally entering the house. The last tape shows him murdering his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette). Fred has no memory of committing the crime, but the evidence is there and he's sentenced to death for her murder.

In the prison cell, he transforms into a completely different person - Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), an auto mechanic who does repair work for mobster Mr Eddy, whose mistress, Alice (also played by Patricia Arquette) looks an awful lot like Fred's wife.



Throw into the mix the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) in one of the most unsettling scenes from any movie... Seriously. He goes up to Fred at a party and asks him to call his own house, because he's in it right now. Fred does, while the Mystery Man looks on, smiling. And the Mystery Man answers the phone...

Messed up.


The whole movie loops back on itself, with a final scene that will confuse and intrigue in equal portions. And that's possibly why I love it so much. It's simply mindbending. You can find dozens and dozens of articles and features on Lost Highway, and what it all means. I like to think it's in the same universe as Twin Peaks, with the Mystery Man being another entity from the Black Lodge.

Add to this a score by Angelo Badalamenti, and a soundtrack collaborated with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and you can see why I love it so much.

I didn't get to see Lost Highway when it came out at the cinema in the UK, I don't think it was on screens for very long, but I remember renting the VHS and loving it, while being equally confused. Like a lot of David Lynch projects, the whole film feels like a dream - a confusing and unsettling dream. Lynch will refuse to explain it, rather letting the audience get what they want from the film. Interpreting it in their own way to mean different things to different people.

What do you think it means?