Friday, 28 November 2014

code name verity - elizabeth wein

so i've been working on a review of a book i read recently for this blog but it was hard because while i liked it there was a lot wrong with it and i was trying to explain that with as few spoilers as possible, which is sort of tricky when that was one of the things wrong with the book.  and in the meantime i've been reading code name verity which is sooooo gooooooooood i have to rave about it right now. 

synopsis from only in wartime could a stalwart lass from manchester rub shoulders with a scottish aristocrat. but then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over france. she is captured by the gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. the story begins in "verity"'s own words, as she writes her account for her captors. truth or lies? honour or betrayal? everything they've ever believed in is put to the test...a gripping thriller, code name verity blends a work of fiction into 20th century history with spine-tingling results. this is a book for young adults like no other.

just wow.  this is also going to be hard to write without spoilers, but i am determined not to spoil because everyone should read it.  where to start?  'verity' is such a fabulous narrator, you get so swept up in her story you forget everything she tells you about her skills as a spy and manipulator.  you utterly sympathise with her even though you know she is collaborating with the nazis, because you are sure she is going to get the better of them in the end.  and by contrast, her friend maddie, is also so utterly convincing and three-dimensional, an extraordinarily brave pilot who is scared of pretty much everything else.  i loved both of them and felt they were my friends too.  probably because of this i found it really easy to put myself in their shoes, and experience wartime britain and occupied france the way they must have done.  i've read other novels about the soe but i think this brought it to life brilliantly.  and basically, what i really loved, is that by the end of the book, both maddie and verity make katniss everdene look like a wimp.  this is a proper 'women doing stuff' novel, real stuff, stuff that matters.  and it isn't in some extremely violent fictional dystopia, this is based on actual events and actual things real people did.  it blew me away.

but the 'book for young adults like no other' did make me think about what exactly makes it a young adult book.  is there really a distinction these days?  rather than the content being amended for a young audience (code name verity can be hard hitting and brutal), it seems to really mean 'about young people' or maybe more cynically 'marketed at young people'.  because this is a fantastic book that ought to be on every bookshelf.  really, read it.  read it now.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

x: the man with x ray eyes - live score by pere ubu

when i was a kid, probably too young to be watching horror films, my dad showed me x: the man with xray eyes.

it terrified me, but it stuck with me as well, especially the ending. i won't spoil it but if you haven't seen it you need to check out this film. anyway, when i heard it was being shown at duke of york's in brighton with a live score from pere ubu, i had to go. it also just happened to tie in with a visit from my old man so i took him along as well.

i'm not going to go into huge detail here, you need to see the film, but you do need a bit of background to understand where this ends up.

first of all, the man with x ray eyes isn't as schlocky as the title makes it sound. yes, it's a typical science gone wrong film, yes, it was made by roger corman, yes, it should by awful. but it's not. i don't know whether that's because of ray milland's performance in the title role, or the story that is more similar to something like nightmare alley (one of my all time favourites) than any sci-fi b-movie. it's a film about ideas, and ultimately for me it's a film about misfortune and tragedy. milland's character pushes the boundaries of science with a recklessness that will get him into trouble time and time again in the story, and yet he presses on. he strives to see something no man has ever seen, but once you've seen the heart of the universe you can't unsee it. milland's character gets all he ever wanted in the first ten minutes, but from then on there is only horror and disappointment.

secondly, you need to know a bit about pere ubu. they were an experimental rock band that started in the 70s in the states and have been around in one form or another ever since. frontman david thomas is the only constant ad he pretty much is pere ubu. my dad was more familiar with them as a band, while i only knew of them from their live score to carnival of souls, which i'd seen a few years earlier. that screening ran a whole lot smoother.

so here's what happened. david thomas comes out with the band and introduces the film with some facts and jokes about how drinking will help make sense of it all. then he describes how everyone knows the ending is missing the line 'i can still see' (makes sense when you see it). in the first few scenes thomas made fun of a couple of the lines in the film, setting a light-hearted tone. but then things got serious.

from where i was sitting it seemed like someone in the band wasn't doing what they were supposed to. thomas gestured furiously at the musicians in front of him and a couple of times he shouted at them. if you were just listening to the music it didn't seem like anything was wrong. the score added a layer of depth to the film that was always there but didn't quite shine through before. onstage, however, it seemed like thomas might stand up and walk out at any moment. i found myself completely distracted and in a state of high tension because it looked like this was a man on the edge of a breakdown.

he didn't walk out. he made it to the end. then he said 'goodnight' stood up and staggered off the stage shouting 'turn the fucking stage lights on!' confirming to me that all had not gone to plan. but then i started to wonder. was this part of the performance?

whether intentional or not, the parallels seemed clear to me. there's a moment at the end of the film when milland's character is staggering around in the desert having just crashed his car. he's just lost everything, an yet he still has this power to see the secrets of the universe. it's worthless to him now. the score at the this moment was particularly moving.

as i watched david thomas shouting and cursing his way off the stage i couldn't help seeing a living version of the character from the film. here was someone who had seen too much. someone who had an idea of what perfection was, and who was striving for that thing, but in the end all he was left with was disappointment and sadness.

it was one of the most profoundly moving performances i have ever seen.

Friday, 21 November 2014

paz vs youtube - part one - morgan gleave

i mentioned a couple of posts back i wanted to start an interview series with youtubers. i tweeted the same thing earlier this week and the first response came from morgan gleave, a musician and animator with an interest in thrash ukulele and paranormal investigating cats. 

morgan's channel perfectly sums up what i find so exciting about youtube. there's an intimacy in his performance videos that you would never find in traditional media, and at the same time there's this unfettered creativity in the animation and music videos that's really inspiring. it's the kind of channel where you're never quite sure what's coming next, in the best possible way. here's what morgan had to say about it - 

what made you decide to start your own youtube channel?

I did video, animation and set design on my Graphic Design degree in the 90s.  I've been filming and animating ever since.  YouTube seemed like a logical progression, and a great way to share my work.

how would you describe your videos? 

Ummm... A bit of a mix really. I make stuff as the mood takes me.  I started off with straight performance videos, then moved onto making more elaborate videos and simple animation.  I'm really enjoying pushing what I can do with basic software and cameras!

what type of camera do you use and what do you edit on?

I'm lucky that I used to be a media technician at a local college, and as I still study there, I can borrow really nice solid state cameras.  I prefer Canon video and SLR cameras.  I've also got an old Fuji I sometimes use, and a mini Muvi camera.  I like to mix it up!  I tend to edit with Movie Maker on PC or iMovie on Macintosh.  I love working with Adobe Premiere Pro when I can!

how long have you been playing the ukulele, and was it always your instrument of choice? 

I bought a cheap ukulele 5 years ago, not being able to play a note!  A year later, I bought a lovely Ovation ukulele, and started making the kind of music I really like... Heavy! I like the idea of corrupting what is seen as a light instrument and make heavy music with it.  I started out as a harmonica player, which I'm focusing on now, making 'Harp Hop'… Harmonica hip hop.  I just love music of all kinds, and love making it too!

on one of your bandcamp pages you describe the album 'triad of despair' as 'songs about depression recorded in the woods on a dictaphone with the wind in trees'. how did this idea come about? 

Mental health and psychology are pet subjects of mine.  I'm training to be a Counsellor at college, and plan on working with children when I qualify.  Writing about depression and the feelings and thoughts associated with it was great therapy when I was in a dark place with mental health.  The woods where I filmed the video are a peaceful place, even being next to a small country lane.  I went there when I was in a bad way and just recorded the songs.  Even though I'd done clean recordings at home, I love the sound of the wind and cars going past in the background.  It just worked,  I spent half an hour recording there.  The songs just flowed out and I was so calm afterwards... Music therapy.  Filming the video there was just natural.

i liked the idea of occult feline investigator patches mcginley. can you talk about this character, and is there more to come?

Patches McGinley is one of my comic characters, named in honour of my lovely Irish Grandad who died last year.  It's a homage to Mignola, Hellboy and BPRD, which are some of my favourite comics.  There are three comics with Patches in so far, and at least four more plotted.  He's a great character, and I keep going back to him.  I have some plans for his development in the new year.  I like the idea of illustrated videos, so there may be more with Patches in...

the video for gravedigger has a very experimental quality to it. how did you go about filming this? was it all planned out or did it develop organically as you were filming?

I'm really proud of that video. I took time storyboarding, making the mask, filming, making graphics and editing.  It's probably the most complete video I've done so far.  As I mentioned, the songs were recorded in the woods there, so using them as a location was logical.  I love horror movies, so I knew I wanted a creepy feel to the video, which I think I got.

your performance videos are a real contrast to most videos I've seen on youtube in that you don't look directly at or address the camera, which makes the viewer concentrate on the music. was this the intention from the beginning or was it something you developed? 

Mostly stage fright!  I'm gaining confidence as a performer, but I tend to concentrate on what I'm playing... I think the music is more important.  Stage presence is really important live, but video is different, it's an opportunity to tell a story.

do you have any advice for you-tubers just starting out? 

Have fun!  Make lots of different kinds of videos and watch lots of different kinds too.  Don't get stuck in a rut!

can you recommend an unsung piece of art (book, film, video game - whatever) you love that people may not have heard of? 

She Makes War, Matt Stevens and The Fierce and the Dead.  Two fantastic UK bands that make stunning music, and are so inspirational.  They've been supportive of me whilst I've been finding my voice, and I love what they do.

what can we expect from your channel in 2015?

Lots more!  I'm working on some hand-drawn animations for my next EP, and I like the idea of making a short film too.  I love being creative.

can you nominate a fellow you tuber for my next interview? 

Fonzi of Bout Dat TV.  He's an amazing dude from Birmingham who is a one man powerhouse of music, video and words.  He has so much positive energy, and a great brain to go with it!  He's a forward thinking man!

subscribe to morgan's channel, check out his music on bandcamp and visit his website


thanks to morgan gleave for being my first interviewee!

if you have your own youtube channel and would like to be interviewed you can e-mail me at pazvsstuff[at] or find me on twitter @pazvsstuff

Thursday, 20 November 2014

lit at the haunt, brighton

just a quick one. last night i saw lit at the haunt in brighton. you may remember them from years ago when they had a hit my own worst enemy. this was just before the uk had a brief affair with pop-punk and nu-metal and mtv started to show some decent music. i was a kid at the time and they were one of the first bands i really liked. it's been 15 years since a place in the sun was released and lit had decided to tour to celebrate this.

what a night. it was loud, bright and sweaty fun. they blitzed straight through the album, start to finish, and I was happily surprised that they also managed to squeeze in a few other songs closing with over my head as used in the unappreciated sci-fi cartoon titan ae (fun fact - when released, this cartoon bankrupted fox animation).

back to lit. 15 years on their songs definitely hold up, and even played live, sound perfect as though straight off the album. the guys look a little older, wiser maybe, but not to the point of it all being a bit embarrassing. I think they've definitely got a couple more album left in them.

a great night.

what i've learnt from 3 months of blogging

can you believe it's been three months? probably you can. i can't. it's gone really quickly and i thought i'd have time to write loads more than i have.

here's what i've learnt -

- i like writing about films, particularly horror. i like having a reason to watch more horror films.

- i like writing about short films too, and i like interacting with filmmakers.

- i'm shit at writing about music. i love music, i listen to a lot of music, i go to gigs, but i don't have the vocabulary to write about it. i get stuck and just want to say stuff is awesome over and over again. i'll continue to post music reviews if i think it's music that demands attention (like the laura moody album - see my last post and check out her album if you haven't already) but i might not review so many random albums anymore.

- i don't have time to play videogames so even though i'd love to review more it's unlikely to happen all that often. i started arkham origins on monday night and i'm not sure i've even clocked up an hour yet, so it doesn't seem fair posting my thoughts at this point.

- i watch a lot of youtube. i'm starting to think i'd rather be vlogging than blogging. it is something i want to do someday, i'm just not sure i can yet for reasons too boring to list here. mostly i don't know how to do it. what camera to use, what to edit on, what to make videos's a bit of a mystery to me. so i had an idea. i thought i'd ask.

i'm going to start interviewing youtibers. i'm sure this isn't a new thing, but i certainly feel like i need to know a lot more and i think this could be a really interesting project. i have a couple of interviews lined up already and i'm hoping each interviewee will be able to recommend another channel, so it evolves in an organic way rather than being directed by me. having said that, if you have your own youtube channel or know someone who does feel free to get in touch.

you can e-mail me at pazvsstuff[at] or find me on twitter @pazvstuff

first interview to follow soon...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

laura moody - acrobats

acrobats is the debut album from one-woman singer/cellist laura moody. i'll say this up front - this is the best fucking album i've heard all year and certainly the most original. check this out -

i think memento is probably one of my favourite tracks. it's really sad and beautiful at the same time. i listen to a lot of music on the way to work or when i'm writing blogs and stuff, so i'm not always paying all that much attention, like sometimes it's just background noise. but every time that song comes on i find myself stopping and listening to the whole thing. it's amazing.

the whole album is amazing and beautiful and sad. if you've read any of my previous music reviews you know i'm not that great at talking about music. i know what i like, i just never really know how to put it into words. i listened to the track we are waiting on a loop when i first got the album and on the third play i was in tears. i don't know what that's about. i don't know how to explain what this music does to me. i just know it's good.

i can give you facts. all the songs are performed by laura moody and a cello. she has an amazing voice and sometimes she makes crazy noises with it. that's the thing, i know what a cello sounds like and i know what someone singing sounds like but laura's sound is so unlike anything i've ever heard before. the closest artist is probably zoe keating, if zoe keating also sung on her albums. but that doesn't do it justice.

what i'm saying is you should go and buy this album. it's on spotify, but really you should go buy it from the official website. then you should tell everyone you know about it, because this is an artist worth supporting and talking about.

oh, and check out this awesome video -

Monday, 10 November 2014


blackfish is a documentary about killer whales (or orcas) in captivity, centring around one orca in particular called tilikum. we follow tilikum from his capture as a two-year-old in wild to his current home at seaworld orlando. the film uses archive footage and interviews with the various trainers who worked with tilikum to tell what is ultimately a modern-day horror story. except the out-of-control killer whale isn't the scariest part.

i don't want to give away too much in case you haven't seen it, but this is a fairly shocking depiction of what happens to wild animals in captivity, particularly those like orcas that seem to have some level of emotional intelligence. we hear about how tilikum was tortured so he would perform tricks, we hear about how his life in captivity contrasts with what his life would have been like in the ocean, and then we see the consequences of his imprisonment. i'm not that clued up on animal rights issues, but when you see this huge animal being tortured and locked away for it's whole life it seems pretty obvious something terrible will happen. the orcas in this film show so much behaviour that's similar to human behaviour it's hard not to imagine what would happen to a person's mind in that environment.

what tilikum does is pretty shocking, but what's more horrific is that the corporation that owns tilikum is in complete denial about how dangerous he is. after every single incident there's a hasty cover-up or reworking of the facts, even going so far as to blame one of the trainers that died for her own death. that's ultimately what this film is about; that to a faceless corporation (who refused to be interviewed for the documentary) money really is more important than lives, whether those lives are human or animal.

the filmakers do a great job with the story in blackfish, starting with the most horrific event and then working back to show us the events leading up to it. we also see other incidents and learn about how tilikum has been used to breed more orcas in captivity. it reminded me a lot of project nim, another film with similar themes. mostly what i've learnt from these films is that we shouldn't really be keeping animals locked up. it ends badly more often than we're told.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

the small hand

i like horror theatre, but mostly i come away wishing it had gone further. i saw ghost stories, which was cool, but i really expected there to be more audience interaction. i went to see a punchdrunk production of faust that was in this spooky archive building and used all these horror tropes, like there was this one moment where one of the characters was killed, and i stuck around to watch what happened because the performance runs on a loop so i figured the actor isn't just going to lie there for the next hour. and he doesn't, he sat bolt upright just like michael myers from halloween and then the staggered towards me like a zombie and tried to touch my face. that shit was cool! but i needed more of it.

the closest i ever got to really being scared by a show, outside of a horror maze, was the woman in black. i know it's been around forever and it's a movie now so it's old news, but the staging of that play is fucking amazing. it's like watching a live haunting, and it's fucking terrifying! so when i found out that there was a stage adaptation of another susan hill story (susan hill wrote the book what the woman in black was based on) i was really excited.

the small hand is about this art dealer named adam snow who goes to this creepy old house by mistake and is then haunted by the ghost of a 5 year old boy. as the haunting becomes more and more intense he begins to unravel the boy's story and to understand why he is the target.

the play is really fucking intense. andrew lancel's performance as adam snow starts frantic and becomes more crazed with each scene. by the end he's throwing himself on the floor and pulling out his hair with what feels like a genuine display of a man insane. he's sympathetic too, and he needs to be because like the best ghost stories he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. there's an m r james quality to the story; this idea that once the ghost sees you, you're fucked. there's no digging up the bones and giving them a christian burial or some shit, you're just fucked. japanese horror films use this idea as well. here, the sense of impending doom is presented really well from the start.

the supporting cast are great too and the story moves along at a quick pace, using a simple set to great effect with some really seamless scene transitions. the non-linear narrative is a bit confusing at first but makes sense by the end. overall, it was a great story well told.

my only niggle? i wasn't scared. sure, it was creepy and there were some good uses of big bangs and screams. there was one really creepy moment, reminiscent of woman in black, when snow is outside the house and you can see the silhouette of a woman in the shadows behind him. but there is a rule in horror, particularly ghost stories, that you absolutely must follow if you want to scare your audience. don't let them see too much of the monster. woman in black gets this right, jaws gets it right, alien gets it, it's a problem. that ghost kid is fucking everywhere! and yeah, he's a creepy little bastard but he appears so often he just stops being scary. if they had held off having him appear until the final scene of the play i swear i would've lost my shit. if for the whole play you thought it was in snow's head and at the last moment you see what he sees...that would have been amazing. instead, the kid punctuates every scene and it's never truly scary as a result.

that said, the story is cool and there are some great moments. there are a few more performances in brighton and i think there are still tickets so you can still catch it if you have chance. otherwise i think there are still a few stops left on the tour so look out for it.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


horns. its a bit like harry potter woke up one day and decided "fuck it. let someone else deal with ralph fienes, I'm going to join slitherin and be a badass". so the film follows ig who has been accused of killing his girlfriend. a year after her death he wakes up with horns that give him the power to hear what people really think, and look into their darkest secrets. after a few random encounters ig decides to use his new power to find out who really killed his girlfriend.

overall its cool seeing the boy wizard in a darker role. he plays the anti hero well, with a pretty convincing american accent. the horn effects were cool and although a bit on the grim side, i was happy to follow the story along on his crazy, twisting and turning mission, to reach its goal. it's quite a depressing tale though, told through a fluid timeline as ig learns the truth through human contact.

directed by alexandre aja, director of the fucked up switchblade romance (high tension to the rest of the world), he does a good job of bringing quite a twisted narrative to life. at no point did i lose interest, a definite highlight being a trippy sequence in the second half.

although not quite a complex thriller, nor psychological horror, it is different. i can recommend it to anyone wanting something slightly different than the usual slashy affair.

plus horns make harry potter look awesome