Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stella Artois have a new poster campaign for their 4% lager and they've hired classic Sixties illustrator Robert McGinnis to do some new images for them. I've only seen two of them but they are the best-looking posters I've seen in years. So here are two I snapped this week (one at a bus stop at New Oxford Street and the other on the Tube at Old Street). As my book project on Robert McGinnis may be getting closer to a reality, this could be a positive omen…

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

State of Play was a fantastic BBC drama broadcast back in 2003 starring John Simm as a newspaper reporter, Cal McCaffrey, and David Morrissey as his politician friend Stephen Collins. Fast-forward six years and Hollywood has acquired the story, moved the action to America and replaced Simm with Russell Crowe and Morrissey with Ben Affleck. I caught a screening of the film State of Play last Monday and I have to say that director Kevin MacDonald, of Last King of Scotland fame, has done a solid job with the transition. Reporters make for interesting protagonists on screen and one of my favourite films is the peerless All The President's Men, which features Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein bringing down the corrupt Nixon administration. State of Play isn't quite up there with All The President's Men but this story of reporter McCaffrey (played with shambling charisma by Russell Crowe) and his friendship with flawed but basically good politician Collins (a clean-cut Affleck) moves well on screen. It seems that Collins has been carrying on with one of his political researchers and when she is found dead, McCaffrey opens up a can of worms that seems to lead to a huge political conspiracy involving smarmy PR man Dominic Foy (Jason Bateman) and evil-looking arms company PointCorp. Crowe is very good value: from the first moment, when you see him driving in his cluttered, manky old car to a crime scene, you know that this is a role he can inhabit comfortably. Affleck's performance is also surprisingly able here. After being eclipsed by his former acting partner Matt Damon, his performance here shows that he does have range, versatility and empathy as an actor. Support is strong here too: Jeff Daniels, as shady Senator George Fergus, and Helen Mirren as shouty English newspaper editor Cameron Lynne both lend some extra weight to proceedings. The payoff is nicely handled too and you are left thinking about the difficulty that a friendship between a reporter and a major political figure could encounter. It also makes some valid points about print versus digital journalism with hot brunette blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) coming to blows with trad print journo McCaffrey. The chemistry between the pair is credible on screen and at no point does she fall into bed with him. MacDonald is Emeric Pressburger's grandson, so it's obvious that cinema does flow in his veins, and State of Play is a superior heavyweight thriller with a great cast. So if you're in the mood to catch a film that makes you think and holds your attention for the two hours it's on screen, you would find this film very satisfying…

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Friday, April 24, 2009

For three days this week, I've been at the London Book Fair. I have had three great meetings with book publishers and as a result, it looks likely that I'll have two more books out at some point in the future. One of those meetings also means that we have lined up a long term guide to European Comics that will be running in TRIPWIRE, which is exciting. I did take photos but, to be honest, when you've seen one poorly lit conference centre, you've seen them all. But on Tuesday afternoon and then again on Wednesday for about an hour, fed up with being indoors when the weather has been like Summer (in the Seventies), I took a wander from Earl's Court to Brompton Cemetary. A classic Victorian cemetary, Brompton is fantastic. Dating from 1836, notable figures buried here include suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, actor Brian Glover, ship owner Samuel Cunard and Sioux Indian Chief Long Wolf, over here with Wild Bill in late Victorian England. The long avenues lead to this grand circular area, based on St Peter's in Rome. There is a Dissenters Chapel and a huge domed building in its grounds too. I have walked through Kensal Green and I've been to Highgate a number of times but Brompton is amazing. It even has a Brigade of Guards Monument with soldiers from the First World War buried here. So here's a selection of shots I took there. Spring is always my favourite time of year…

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

I went to see Star Trek last Thursday at the Empire, Leicester Square. Star Trek Nemesis, released in 2002, was the last big-screen outing for the characters from the Federation Universe and it wasn’t exactly an unmitigated success whilst on TV, the series Enterprise sputtered to a halt in 2005. So it looked like the Trek franchise wasn’t just dead but buried complete with a wake and there was a realisation that perhaps there was no room for Star Trek in a world with Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica in it. Fast forward to 2009, Battlestar Galactica has come to a close and we are greeted with a new Star Trek film. Directed by Abrams, whose deft hand for genre has steered handheld monster movie Cloverfield, while on TV has been responsible for guiding Lost, Alias and the current genre hit Fringe. So when it was announced that Abrams would be the one responsible, with his writing partners Orci and Kurtzman, Paramount must have wept with joy. This Star Trek goes back to the beginning to show us a young Kirk, a youthful but not inexperienced Spock and gives us the story of how the crew came together. We see how Kirk first meets Uhuru (played by the gorgeous Zoe Saldana) while still a farmboy in Iowa, how he gets into a punchup with her fellow Starfleet cadets and we even find out what motivates Spock to join Starfleet rather than the Vulcan Science Academy. The film plays up his mixed lineage (half-human, half-Vulcan). We also get to see a young Kirk take the Kobayashi Maru test, its outcome bringing him into conflict with Spock. It opens with a killer punch to the face with a recurring mcguffin about time travel. In fact, what happens in the opening sequence has echoes through time, effectively creating the situation that forces James Kirk to join Starfleet. The cast are very good indeed especially Pine, who channels Shatner but not in a parodic way, and Quinto has the depth needed to portray a young Spock while bringing enough of his own acting abilities to bear that the chemistry between young Kirk and young Spock is electrifying at times. Karl Urban as Bones sounds like the departed Deforest Kelly but that comes across as charming rather than grating. It’s hard to believe this was the same actor who played the ponytailed Eomer in Lord of The Rings. Abrams has also created a decent adversary in the shape of maniacal future Romulan Nero, played by Eric Bana. Nero is the man who is at the heart of the time travel shenanigans here. By this point, the Romulans have ditched the duvets and they are dressed in leather with wicked-looking facial tattoos that give them an almost Maori feel to the way they look on screen. Of course, we have to address the Nimoy cameo. The cameo is used smartly and old Spock reveals facts that explain that this Star Trek reboot doesn’t negate the previous adventures, something that allows fans of the old show and the previous movies the opportunity to continue to regard what has gone before as still part of Trek’s canon. The interplay between craggy Spock and young hothead Pine works very well too. Star Trek is not note-perfect by any means: Pegg as Scotty can be a little annoying and sometimes it feels like he’s a fan who’s won a competition to appear in Star Trek and sometimes the plot holes are a little bit noticeable. But minor quibbles (or should that be tribbles☺) aside, Star Trek is an exciting, likeable and entertaining Summer popcorn blockbuster that deserves to sweep aside the opposition at the box office. Abrams has revived the franchise in style and it will be exciting to see what he does with the next instalment…

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Friday, April 17, 2009

With freelance work very quiet at the minute, especially subbing, I've been going through my old cuttings and contacts list in an attempt to generate some more work. The weird thing is that sometimes, when you've been writing for quite a while, you almost forget who you've written for. So from my cuttings archives, here is a piece I wrote for Variety about Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the King Kong feature I did for The Times back in 2005 and a piece I wrote last September for Time Magazine about Openhouse London…

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Monday, April 13, 2009

The weather's been pretty awful over Easter down in London but I did manage to get out to Camden to walk from Camden Town to Regents Park, taking shots of the Regents Canal for a book proposal. Canals are interesting things: walking along them makes you feel that you aren't in London or the London you know. I did Little Venice last Sunday and the canal path from Camden to Maida Hill is fantastic. There are little communities of people who live on their boats, apart from the rest of the city. I've never walked this route before and I'm really enjoying the research for this book. I'm just hoping that I'll be able to make it happen as a book because I spend so much time wandering around London that it would be great if someone paid me something for the privilege. The whole recession thing has been so depressing that it's been nice to do something that doesn't rely on a booming economy. So here are a few shots taken along the Regents Canal between Camden Town and the back of Edgware Road…

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

I've been spending quite a lot of time over the last couple of weeks working up a number of different book proposals. What people may not realise is that it's almost as much work to put a proposal together as it is to do the finished thing. You have to settle on what it is you want to do with the book, take photos (if necessary and it is in two of the books I'm working up) and then sit down and put it all together, making a convincing case to the publisher(s) you're sending it to. With work on the TRIPWIRE Adventure Special and hustling for freelance work, I'm absolutely knackered. But hopefully it will pay off…

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

The weather has been getting nice thanks to the Spring and I took some photos along Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road. Up by the Crossrail project, a lot of shops have closed and the building of the Piano shopping centre at St Giles's High Street is proceeding. It will change St Giles's but maybe for the good as Piano is a talented architect and the building it replaced was fairly hideous. The sign at the venerable Foyles bookshop looked fantastic in the Spring light. It's fabulous weather for photos…

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Friday, April 03, 2009

If you pick up the latest Previews (issue #247, or Vol XIX, No.4) and turn to page 310, you'll see the solicitation for the TRIPWIRE Adventure Special 2009. Under a Solomon Kane painted cover, we've got some great stuff again: We look at Dark Horse's Robert E Howard line including Solomon Kane and Conan with its editors Philip Simon and Dave Land and SK writer Scott Allie; celebrate Tintin's 80th birthday with us as we look at the history of the character, plus preview the opening of the Herge Museum near Brussels and look at Herge's influence on artists like Jason Lutes (Jar of Fools) and Garen Ewing. We also plan to have Michael Moorcock discuss his Mars novels and editing Tarzan Adventures. On a related note, Tarzan illustrators like Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel and Allen St John are also examined, plus loads of other stuff. Preparations have been going really well and hopefully it may even top the Superhero Special. So here's the cover…

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