Saturday, 20 February 2010

I Confess: I Still Use Myspace



I still use Myspace. There- I said it. Granted, I don't use it much, but I do still go there and check messages and friend requests. The once dominant social site has seen something of an interest shift in its purpose of late. As more and more people turn their back on it in favour of Twitter and Facebook, its social capabilities have become something of a relic of an earlier internet. However, its use as a resource for bands, films and even books has seen an increase.

While it's seen as anathema to still be using your Myspace account for anything social, it's very much the done thing to visit a band's page to hear the new material and check out tour dates. Heck, many musicians have eschewed a real site altogether and direct their domain names directly to a Myspace page. it's a great resource for artists, but the whole social side to it has all but vanished.

Sure, they have tried to make it a bit like Facebook and a bit like Twitter and a bit like everything else, but that's just how the internet goes- if something proves it works, then everyone else will try and incorporate that into their own thing. Why do I still use this dinosaur of a bygone era of the net? Because as a writer and as someone with an interest in keeping myself active on all fronts, it is very useful indeed.

There are a still a few people I swap messages with on there, but 95% of my social stuff online is done through Facebook, Livejournal and Twitter. Myspace has become something altogether different from when it started out now- it's more like a magazine than a place to socialize now. The Myspace servers are littered with endless abandoned accounts, inactive photobucket account images as their backgrounds, blogs that haven't been updated in eons and 'last login' dates that are growing ever older.

It's a weird place to be now, but I have fond memories of what it once was. I wonder what it will become... if anything. Perhaps it will become a relic like Geocities did, or maybe it will find its feet again as something altogether new? Online, pretty much anything can happen. Then again, I doubt much will happen until Tom finally gets a new user picture...

Monday, 15 February 2010

RED20: THE RETURN (For one day only)

After four years out of the fold, I will be rejoining my former band, RED20, for one day later this month to head into the studio to record something cool to mark the fifth anniversary of our second CD together (the third for the act, but my second as part of it) THE RED ALBUM. Things have changed so much in the time we've been apart, and it is going to be a thrill to be back in the studio and making music again, if only for a day.

It's been quite a journey since we split in 2006. I joined another band after that, which saw me rocking out for 5 months before things ended. After that there was my short-lived HYBRID ICON project, which was never completed as I moved from making music to writing about it in 2007. Al moved away to become the production genius that he is today, and I became a journalist for a national rock mag.

However, no matter how long we spend apart, we always seem able to pick up where we left off, y'know? That's a pretty damn special thing. We saw each other occasionally in the times between then and now, and it was always business as usual. We were older, a little bit wiser, and a little bit more in control of the stuff we wanted to do, but it's the same old us.

I kept playing those old songs whenever I'd pick a guitar up (which has been a rare occurence of late, so now I'm getting my chops back up to head into the studio ready to go), and there were a few of them that have become snapshots of my life to me. Not just listening to them and playing them, but remembering the person I was and the life I had when we recorded them. Revisiting the good parts is going to be fun.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

ACCESS NO AREAS AVAILABLE NOW

ACCESS NO AREAS, my non-fiction collection, is now available in UK and US paperback editions and download format. Check out the preview:

Sunday, 7 February 2010

John Hughes: The Brat Pack films that defined an era - Part Seven: Some Kind Of Wonderful

The series of teen movies that John Hughes was involved in during the 80s came to something of an odd climax after the chaos of Ferris Bueller's Day Off with the somewhat subdued Some Kind Of Wonderful. Now, I recognize it as one of the weaker entries in his output, but the film is still quite dear to me, thanks to its characters.

Essentially, Some Kind Of Wonderful is an alternate version of Pretty In Pink, just with the genders switched. In this flick we have the working class teenaged art fanatic Keith (Eric Stoltz) and his best friend, tomboy Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) in the Pretty In Pink roles of Andie and Duckie, and popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson) in place of Blane from the earlier film.

It's a very similar story- working class character wants to be with the rich character while their oddball friend is ignored. Thankfully, this one has a much more satisfying ending, as, well, the right people end up with the right people. The role of bad guy (James Spader in Pretty in Pink) is here played by an incredibly unlikeable Craig Scheffer. He really did capture the essence of an utter wanker in his performance. A sign of a good actor, really.

Where this film differs from Pretty in pink is that it is played much more as a straight drama than a comedy, and thus it is a more well rounded film. That's not to say it doesn't have its laughs, and these are supplied very nicely by a suitably imposing Elias Koteas as the punky head of the rough crowd of the school. His burgeoning friendship with the Keith character is entertaining and helps the film stay the right side of overindulgent.

The star of the whole thing though is Mary Stuart Masterson, whose performance as Watts is raw and honest. She makes the character hugely likeable, and by the end of it you're craving a best friend like her. She's rough and foul mouthed, plays the drums and dresses like a bloke, but she has a heart of gold and comes across as very frank and a lot of fun. The direction of Howard Deutch is once again very strong, but it is clear to see that the formula of these films was wearing a little thin by the time Some Kind of Wonderful came around.

That said, it remains eminently watchable and I love it just as much as most of the others. I certainly find more to enjoy in this film than Sixteen Candles, for example. It seems that Hughes had honed his craft so well over those few years that he had honed himself into a corner and ended up repeating an earlier success. It does feel a little like an apology for the ending of Pretty in pink, and it is hugely satisfying to see the geek and his odd friend get together instead of the best friend getting shoved by the wayside like before.

The final few minutes of the film a spot on, with loose ends tied up, characters getting either their comeuppance or their rewards, and a perfect final scene which is possibly the best few lines Hughes wrote alongside the speech at the end of The Breakfast Club. That he would stop making teen comedy dramas with this film is quite fitting. It has the air of things being put right, and rather than a climax, it feels more like an epilogue.

Hughes had said everything he needed to with Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Some Kind Of Wonderful, and perhaps seeing Keith and Watts walk off into the distance as the credits rolls is the moment he had been building up to all along.

What came after these films would see his name elevated to even greater heights thanks to the hits that were Uncle Buck and the Home Alone films, but to many fans, it feels like his greatest work was within these brat pack films. Did they define a generation? Maybe. Did these films give millions of people some solace during a most turbulent period of their lives? Definitely. Now that's a legacy. May he rest in peace.



John Hughes: The Brat Pack films that defined an era - Part Six: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is probably the most well-remembered film in John Hughes' cycle of brat pack movies, and with good reason. It is by far the most anarchic and the most fun, and while it doesn't have the emotional impact of The Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink, but it does have a ton more laughs than both, and in the three leads it has an unbeatable trio. Matthew Broderick played the titular character, while Mia Sara played Sloane Peterson and Alan Ruck as Cameron Fry (It still amuses me that he ended up playing a starship captain in Star Trek: Generations- I love the idea that following him crashing a car backwards through a window, Cameron ended up flying the Enterprise...heh).

The film is pretty much summed up by the title- Ferris Bueller takes a day off from school, and the movie follows his adventures on that infamous day. Along the way he picks up his girlfriend Sloane and drags his sick friend Cameron out of his bed to join in with his ruse. It's fun, brash and delightfully mischievous, and John Hughes' direction is as sharp as his script this time out.

There are memorable set pieces galore, along with countless lines that are very quotable ("Bueller..... Bueller... Bueller..." for example), yet it doesn't feel like a series of sketches, which the format could have ended up being. Ferris is quite happy to break the fourth wall and chat to the audience, which instead of taking you out of the action, actually drags you further into it and make you feel part of proceedings while you're watching it.

It's that pleasing nod-and-wink attitude that made Ferris such an icon to so many people, and something that keeps the film feeling fresh to this day. It may actually be that tendency for him to talk to camera that keeps the film in one piece, but it could also just be the fact that the whole thing was put together with such obvious delight and glee that you can't help but enjoy it. There are some moments that really hit home, such as the repeated line of "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it," which rings true to this day.

The film, for all of its chaos and humour, does have the atmosphere of a coming of age story, and it does capture some of the uncertainty of the latter teenage years and trying to figure out what the hell you;re supposed to do when you get out of education. Some of us still don't know, really. It's that feeling of an uncertain future and trying to hang on to one's youth that really keeps you on the side of Ferris, Sloane and Cameron, despite their disregard for any form of rules. They're very likeable characters indeed, which helps you stay with them through the whole thing.

There are some true laugh-out-load moments throughout the film's duration, a personal favourite being the hilarious phone conversation between Cameron (posing as Sloane's dad) and school principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). Ed Rooney is a delightfully hateful character, who provides a huge amount of comic relief whenever he's onscreen. His eventual comeuppance is a marvel to behold, helping to perfectly round off a film that is awash with brilliant moments.

I mean, come on, it's hard not to love any film that has an enormous musical number in the middle of it where the hero of the film takes over a parade float and has thousands of people dancing and singing to 'Twist and Shout' by the Beatles. That scene alone is one of the greatest, most life-affirming moments in film from the whole of the 80s, which does kind of sum up Ferris Burller's Day Off itself. Save Ferris indeed.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

John Hughes: The Brat Pack films that defined an era - Part Five: Pretty In Pink

Like The Breakfast Club before it, Pretty In Pink is one of the defining moments in teen cinema of the 80s, and is still fondly remembered to this day by millions of people all over the world who found themselves relating to Duckie or Andie a little more than they would care to admit to. Once again we are given a film in which the characters created by John Hughes work their way into our hearts quickly and with great poignancy.

This film was directed by Howard Deutch, but its script is 100% John Hughes, and it shows that the maturity he demonstrated with The Breakfast Club was no fluke. The cast is brilliant, not to mention every bit the 80s classic standard- Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy and James Spader all put in excellent performances, as do the supporting characters played by Harry Dean Stanton and Annie Potts.

The story is a fairly simple affair, following a poor girl (Ringwald) falling for a rich boy (McCarthy) while her besotted friend (Cryer) watches on in horror and a lecherous rich guy (Spader) lords it over the social scene. It's an interesting look at how each half lives and socializes, and the poorer, working class characters are depicted as the most human, while the rich characters tend to come across as superficial and out of touch with reality (much like real life, really).

The scenes in the record shop where Andie works, and the club in which she socializes, are perfect examples of 80s pop culture captured on film, and should be savoured by anyone with a passion for the era. The film is funny and bitter-sweet, and one of the finest examples of the Hughes teen era alongside The Breakfast Club. The humour and the drama are well balanced, making for a very satisfying film, well, right up until the ending.

If you haven't seen the film, shame on you, as I'm going to spoil the ending now. After social and emotional difficulties and some great scenes of soul searching, Andie does finally get together with the rich Blane (McCarthy), which is an ending that has never really sat all that easily with a great many fans of the film. Many of us wanted Duckie to be the winner and have Andie finally realize just how awesome he is.

The Duckie character is quite tragic, and despite all of his funny lines and moments of brilliance, he ends up as the loser. It's a sad moment that has never sat well with me, even though there's a shot where Duckie does finally find someone. That aside, the film is great. The soundtrack is a thing of beauty, with some excellent songs filling things out very nicely around the glorious 'Pretty in Pink' by the Psychedelic Furs.

Pretty in Pink is the best of the romantic comedies of the Brat Pack era that John Hughes brought us, and while it does have its faults, it also has a very honest streak running through it. The film might not have the ending that it needed, but it did have every bit of teen angst and social horror that everyone's teenage years fling at them at one point or another. A film to cherish and enjoy for what it is.

To Game Or Not To Game

I don't game. People that know me are fully aware of the disdain I have for video games and the constant BIGGER-HARDER-MORE-VIOLENT cacophony that is spat at me from the media at large regarding the latest releases. This was not always the case. I was once an avid gamer, during the golden age of the Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis to my American readers). I had previously been a devotee of endless arcade machines (From Moon Cresta and Donkey Kong up to Mortal Kombat 3 I believe), consoles (Atari 2600, Sega Master System, NES and Sega Mega Drive).

I never owned a SNES but did play on friends' machines), and games on computers (Spectrum 48k, Commodore 64, Amiga 1200). After those halcyon days, something changed. I think it was the ever increasing introduction of new consoles and so on, coupled with a shift away from games I'd loved for years that lead to me leaving games behind altogether. I couldn't keep up, and by the time I was 16, games consoles were locked away in cupboards, in favour of guitars, rock clubs and films.

Now, at 31, I find myself craving those classic games again, but not the new ones, despite their incredible visuals and their multi-faceted gameplay. And yes, I know games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were hugely violent, but they were cartoonish and silly, rather than the drugs-and-hookers realism of Grand Theft Auto and suchlike. I guess I may well be looking at the wrong titles for me as a consumer, but right now I'm not convinced there's anything in the gaming world out there to suit me.

I can't face pointless 'crime' games, I can't bring myself to be even remotely interested in RPGs, shooters, or pretty much anything else that is currently dominating the games scene. I just don't have the patience, the money or the inclination.

That said, I've noticed that I am buying tons of games from the iTunes app store to play on my iPod Touch while travelling (puzzles, platformers and a few arcade style things), and a craving to dig out my old Mega Drive and NES, but I can't work out whether this is due to an urge to play some games or a wave of nostalgia for 16 bit and 8 bit graphics and games that were just a bit of fun, rather than a way of life.

I miss ridiculous games like the old Sonic titles, Zero Wing, Shinobi, Earthworm Jim, Afterburner, Alien Storm, Golden Axe, Toejam and Earl, Streets of Rage, X-men and their ilk (or if we head further back to the Atari 2600, BERSERK and Pitfall). I think the closest I got to an intelligent game was Flashback! So my question is; Am I too far gone to find a games console I'd like? I'm not too fussed about which one- I have no allegiances left! I'm thinking maybe the PSP or the DS would quench the games thirst I feel on occasion nicely, at a considerably lower cost to my bank balance and my social life than a full console may cause.

Then again, maybe I am indeed too far gone, and the relics of my gaming days should just remain little more than fading memories of countless days during the early 1990s yelling at Sonic to DO WHAT HE IS SUPPOSED TO. Bloody controllers. Plus, if I started gaming again, I wouldn't get nearly as much actual writing done, not to mention other stuff like showers, seeing friends and eating things other than pizza. Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to find a Frogger emulator.

Monday, 1 February 2010

W.A.S.P. - 'Babylon's Burning'

Some musicians don't know when to quit, and in the case of Blackie Lawless, this is a very good thing indeed. I've recently checked out the video to 'Babylon's Burning' from the new W.A.S.P. album 'Babylon' and must wholeheartedly recommend the video, the song and the album to anyone with a love for catchy hard rock/metal.

If you've not checked any W.A.S.P. out in a while, do pick up the new album. It's not so much a return to form as a continuation of a musical journey that has had little in the way of mis-steps.

Once I've absorbed the album properly I'll review it for you here. Check out this excellent tune: