In which we learn about boring cats, bonkers bats, lifeless horses, and one very, very special pony...

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August 2019

Even better than the real thing

Are you a realist? Are you a fantasist? A pragmatist? An idealist? I think artists need to be able to be all of these things, and at the same time. And they needn’t be contradictory. And I think artists need to be particularly concerned with fantasising about what the ideal in any given situation might be. Whether they show that ideal or not. Alfred Hitchcock once famously said, “Movies have lost a lot by this new trend towards documentary realism at the sacrifice of fantasy. After all, drama is life with the dull bits cut out.“

And that’s kind of the theme for this month.

Which I’ll be touching on when I’ll be winging some recommendations your way about the usual daft superhero stuff, with new and improved hilarity about the new Cats! movie.

There is also my visceral phobia of bad interior design. And, more seriously, there’s the 1619 Project, which has already earned the fury of white supremacists across the United States.

And once again, I have some projects of my own that I very nearly made this month. Involving some master criminals, some blindingly good beer and some thieving in reverse.

Trust me, it’ll all make sense.

Projects Which I Would Do If Only There Were 25 Hours In A Day…


Here’s my idea for a novel. Steampunk adventuress Irene Adler is employed by her rival and former lover, Professor James Moriarty, to uncover a plot so dastardly that even the Napoleon of Crime himself would never have dared entertain it: to take over an entire continent, and bleed it dry of every ounce of its wealth.

This plot is engineered by one man, recognised by the few who even know of his existence as the most brilliant mind of his generation. This is a man of such power — of status, connections and intellect — that another criminal mastermind like Moriarty must fear for his own safety.

Moriarty’s nemesis sits at the centre of a spider’s web, under the guise of helping the British Empire to spread civilisation throughout the world. In truth, he is helping European companies to establish African colonies from Cairo to Cape Town, all the while playing them against each other, and funnelling the proceeds through the country that bears his name: a country of lawlessness, brutality and diamond mines, where a thousand lives are barely worth the price of a single sparkling stone.

This man’s name?

Mycroft Holmes.

The Great British Homebrew

TV pitch. Each summer, twelve contestants meet in a big tent and, week by week, compete to see whether they can brew a homebrew beer that doesn’t make either of the judges go blind in one eye*.

Challenges include thinking of a rude name, and coming up with a beer-tap picture that looks like the cover of a Terry Pratchett novel.

(* I have genuinely drunk someone’s homebrew that made me go blind in one eye for about an hour and a half — that is not hyperbole.)

Honourable Mentions:

Spider-Man: The Fourth Wall

Now that Sony and Marvel have parted ways over this most lucrative of franchises, my screenplay for the 14th reboot of Spider-Man will take it in the only direction left. It will feature the web-slinger as a YouTube video essayist with a Deadpool-esque potty mouth, trash-talking all of the previous Spider-Man movies and trolling Andrew Garfield on Twitter.

Grand Gift Auto

Idea for a computer game set in the 1970s, in which you drive around a fictional US city, break into people’s houses… and assess their vinyl and book collections, plugging any crucial gaps yourself. The most skilful players will be able to break in, supply the entire Nina Simone back-catalogue without making a sound, and then break out again in under 8 minutes.


A horror novel or film in the Jaws mould. A lot of people get their arms broken.


1619: the birth of America as we know it?

As Wikipedia puts it:

The 1619 Project is a program organized by The New York Times with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival in America of the first enslaved people from West Africa […] almost exclusively contributed to by Black academics, journalists and writers [in which] all the contributions were deeply researched, and arguments verified by a team of fact-checkers in consultation with a panel of historians.

This is a big deal, for the United States but also for any country grappling with a history intertwined with the Atlantic slave trade.

The project is available in full for free download here.



This photo is from a Twitter thread that I stumbled on recently… that actually made me physically ill.

Why am I recommending it then? Because it’s fascinating.

And because it demonstrates to me, in an extremely visceral way, how the interior of a living space can have a huge impact on our psychological well-being.

Fans of an even deeper dive might want to try: Toilets With Threatening Auras (Facebook).


Seriously though, what the f--- is a Jellicle Cat?

The first recommendation, inspired by this month’s theme of ‘which is better, the cartoon or the live action remake?’

I think Patrick H Willems is one of the most reliably entertaining YouTubers out there — certainly for anyone who is a bit of a film geek.

And in this video he asks the big question that Twitter has been asking for weeks:

“Why does the trailer look so... wrong?!”



Yes, Batman is a ninja now.

Okay. More superhero stuff.

Anyone who’s read a couple of these newsletters would be forgiven for thinking that I’m something of a superhero obsessive. Actually, not so. But I’m interested in them as a Thing. (H makes fun of me because I am quite happy to watch hours of YouTube critical analysis on Game of Thrones, but can’t be arsed to watch an actual episode.)

I like Batman. Well, kind of. I agree with John Green that “Batman’s just a rich guy with an affinity for bats who’s playing out his insane fantasy — how is that heroic?” But for that very reason, I find Batman intrinsically funny, and therefore likeable somehow.

But when I heard that there was a Japanese animated Batman movie on Netflix called Batman Ninja, I was fairly confident that it was exactly the kind of thing I was not interested in.

Then I found myself watching it (in Japanese, without subtitles) and I got hooked. I had no idea what was going on, but I think it actually made the whole thing make more sense.

This is what animation does so so well, and I’ll be writing a bit more about this in a minute. It just looks amazing. It looks gorgeous. Every frame is, quite literally, a painting.

And it’s bonkers. But it knows it’s bonkers, and it handles it really well.

Here’s the plot:

Batman and all of the assorted side-characters are battling in Arkham insane asylum, when one of the villains sets off a time-machine-bomb that transports them all to medieval Japan. Yeah, that old chestnut.

But they don't really care about making that seem plausible, so neither should you. It's Batman, in medieval Japan, as a ninja.

And, if nothing else, just look at the way they handle the Joker. Being criminally insane has never looked so much fun.

A brief pause...

A brief pause to explain my search for YouTube videos about music. There are some good channels (e.g. Nahre Sol). But I’m going to come out and say it: there’s two YouTubers who make videos on music, who are very much Old School: Rick Beato, and Adam Neely. And they represent, so much, the music business that I have such a problem with. They can be brutal snobs (particularly Neely). They’re kind of shouty. They dictate how things should be done, and if you don’t agree then you’re an idiot.

And here’s another classic part of the problem: I… kinda like them.

They’re not terrible human beings, they make good points, and they seem to really care about music.  I could happily have a drink with either of them. But they come from a beta-male misogyny culture, and it kind of infuses everything they do. And I feel that they're actually more about this culture, the culture of the Musician™, than about the sheer f---ing joy of music. Where can I find that on YouTube?

But then I happened to stumble on the YouTube channel of a funk covers band called Scary Pockets, helmed by the founder of the website Jack Conte.

And what do I find?

A cover version of Mmm-Bop, a song that I’ve always loved, that is… well, even better than the real thing.

God I love this so much. I have listened to it a billion times.

And who is that on bass? Why, it’s one Adam Neely.

And he’s fantastic.



Quick. In an mmm-bop it's gone.

So, here’s the first Scary Pockets recommendation, but there’s more...



Original? Check. The only one? Check...

This one was actually the first that I came across. Another blast from the past. I mean… to be fair, this band probably is aimed squarely at my generation. But I remember this single coming out, and it being a fun pop track. Now it’s a fun funk track.

But again, I think this just captures the joy of people playing music in a room together, and loving every second of it. It all kind of reminds me of the Bastard Session, actually.



Till they can't ride no more...

This is not Scary Pockets - this is Jack Conte’s other band, with his partner Nataly Dawn. And it’s a mashup of the insanely popular Old Town Road (which I recommended last week), along with the infamously naughty song that is Channing Tatum’s signature dance tune in the film Magic Mike (incidentally, if you want to see one of the great dance performances in cinema, check this out).

So I mentioned earlier about wanting to find YouTube videos about music. Not music criticism, or musician culture, but the joy of music. This video does that for me, and I’ve maybe even watched it more than Mmm-Bop.

Just past 2 minutes in, they splice the two songs over each other, and it builds to terrifyingly awesome heights. Seriously, if you’re a fan of what the Romantic poets called ‘the sublime’, this is definitely for you.

Upcoming Events

Friday 13th September

Every second Friday of the month. Until one day a bat-clad ninja from the future appears.
And sings Bat Out Of Hell.

Dear Diary...

So… I’ve been watching Spirited Away again. And I know I’ve already written at length about how much I love that film. I think, no matter what my favourite film of the moment might be, this one is always in my top 3. And, much like Batman Ninja, I’m aware it’s aimed at a much younger audience, but it’s not so much the story that draws me… as much as the look. I would say, the ‘cinematography’. Perhaps that is the right word, actually - even though it’s usually associated with photography. Director Hayao Miyazaki makes kids cartoons with the realism of an arthouse movie.

But it’s got me thinking about Animation. Philosophically.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about Animation for a while. There’s been this debate going on, which started with the ‘live’ movie remake of The Lion King, and then continued on with the debate about the trailer for the new Cats! film.

The thing people have been saying about The Lion King is that computer-generated photo-realistic lions have the facial limitations of lions. They don’t smile. They don’t frown. They don’t show their emotions in their faces, or in their body language, to anywhere near the same extent that the cartoons did in the original version.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I love about animation, and makes me wish I had the skills to make it. It’s not real life. It’s real life exaggerated. And if you have a particular message that you want to communicate it, the way you handle these exaggerations allows you to communicate it really clearly.

Another example I remember hearing film fans talking about was the difference between the stage play of War Horse and the Steven Spielberg film of it. In fact… it might not have been film fans, come to think of it. I think it might have actually been Michael Morpurgo, author of the original book.

He said that there was something so magical about the puppeteers in the stage show, who were able to really make you feel like you were watching a living breathing creature. But in the film… I mean, it’s a horse. It’s just an ordinary horse. A real (seeming) animal doesn’t communicate the exaggerated emotional behaviour that a puppet does.

It occurs to me that this aspect of animation is sort of a metaphor for all forms of art. It might seem like it’s all about reproducing reality, but it’s actually all about exaggerating reality. Or, perhaps that’s too strong. Perhaps it’s really about drawing your focus to particular aspects of reality. Perhaps it’s not so much about real life with the contrast turned up. Perhaps it’s more about focusing on a single thing, and turning the contrast down on everything else. Or hey, perhaps it’s both!

But I feel like no one does that like Hayao Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli films. They are so wildly imaginative.

And they’re also so interested in emotion, I think. Like Batman Ninja, the plots are often completely bonkers. (Okay, no, sorry — they’re bonkers, but probably not like Batman Ninja.) But the weird things that happen always help us to see what a character is feeling. The emotion is always clear. Even if the logic of the story isn’t.

So What Have We Learnt?

I really hope that I’m not going to keep doing ‘projects that I would do if there were 25 hours in the day’ forever. I hope that fairly soon I am actually going to be able to do some new projects in this newsletter. (In case I haven’t said a million times, I’m now working freelance in a line of work that takes a very long time to be financially sustainable, even when it’s going well.)

But I’m also a glass-half-full kinda guy.

And one of the curious perks of not being able to work on the projects you want to work on… is that you get to really daydream about them, without the grounded logistical part of your brain constantly pouring cold water on your insane ideas because they would be so hard to pull off.

And in that state of mind, I would love to make some kind of animation. Something like Studio Ghibli. Probably not a feature film. Probably something directly related to music.

I don’t know. Something exaggerated. Something in sharp focus, with the rest of the world turned down.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the gigs. About life. About the universe. About whether it is actually possible to go blind in one eye from drinking home-brewed beer. Although I can tell you right now, it really is.

  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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