Mental Health Track 049

Up early on a Saturday? Ghastly. It is for a fine cause though: that of the Rebel Alliance. Today we’re driving down to Bath for the Bath Fringe, where we shall once more don the apparel of improvised Star Warses. It’s going to be very fun, even if it does involve quite a bit of time in a car.

I am somewhat knackered. The sleeping poorly thing has sucked this week – I am just not getting tired enough to sleep until the early hours of the morning and that’s not enough snoozing time. I need my beauty sleep (it’s for everyone else’s benefit of course). I missed yesterday’s scribblings because we were at UK Games Expo, which necessitated trying (and failing) to be at the Aconyte Books stand comfortably before 9am when the public were unleashed on the halls. There’s a chain of dependencies running backwards from there including important things like sleeping well and not cruising through an alarm, or the three that I set. In theory this should all have been fine – we finished set up in good time on Thursday, chilled out for a bit in my hotel room. I needed to sleep so badly by this point that I’d already given myself a severe burn on my wrist off the steam from the kettle in my hotel room. It took me a few seconds to realise why my wrist hurt, which is not a great indicator of wakefulness. I fled the room, bumbled around some shops to stay awake for a little longer, had some nice food and was back in my room by eight for winding down. I was so desperate to get a decent night’s sleep I even took my last couple of amitriptylines. I’d picked up a bath bomb, face and foot masks so I could laze in the bath. Dozed off a few times in there, read a few chapters of my book, dozed a bit more and yet did not properly get to sleep till after midnight and then woke up at five, having hallucinated my alarm. And then further half crash out, half semi-awake brain murmuring. Obviously that left me running late and hastily showering, acquiring breakfast and having a bag full of books explode on me. Not the best preparation for selling books and chatting with random folks for the whole day. It was good though, and we sold a heap of books to interested and nice people. I did a lot less wandering around the convention than usual, but I did score a few games in the bring and buy sale.

A lift home spared me from the horror of the Megabus (thank fuck) and it was lovely to be home at a sane hour, ready to wind down again. I caved once more and took some more amitriptyline, which appears to have knocked me out pretty well. Not for quite long enough because we’re being collected at 9.30 for the drive down. I’m feeling that familiar bodily lag from taking the sleeping tablets, but I appear to have a vocabulary and don’t feel too wretched. I’m not sure where I go from here with sleep habits and pills. I’m very conscious that the notion of failing to give up sleeping tablets is entirely a construct of my own, even if that doesn’t diminish its force. Requires more thought. But for now, I need to get in a car with some mates and drive to the Empire.

Film Reviews: Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse, Fast X, Sisu, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

It’s been a good few weeks for BIG movies at the flicks. There are many huge explosions, stunts, fights and action galore. Occasionally there are characters too.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

The most utterly lush and gorgeous thing I’ve seen at the cinema since, oh – probably the first one. It is astonishing that a film can have such texture, both in the mashup of animation styles but also in the richness of its storytelling and character development. It’s a powerful statement of what superhero films can be. While I imagine having a decent knowledge of the many different Spider-Men (Spider-Mans…?) would be beneficial, it’s not a huge leap to grasp that they’re often quite different in their own dimensions, and they are delightful, wacky (cowboy and his steed, also wearing a Spider-Man mask), sometimes scary and all feel unique. This time we’re introduced to the world by Spider-Gwen, which is a lovely change of direction. We later revert to the equally brilliant Miles Morales as he encounters his next villain of the week, Spot. That’s also (possibly) the very best and most imaginative fight sequence from any film ever – he’s covered in spots which are little portals so if you punch him, you may punch yourself, but it goes waaay beyond that. Such cleverness simply never ends as we enter the very best version of the multiverse so far seen on-screen (yes, even more so than Everything Everywhere All at Once), so much more so than the MCU’s version which saddens me further every time it comes up. In the Spider-Verse, what happens in the other universes actually does matter, and the introduction of “canon” – core events which make Spider-Persons who they’re supposed to be become hugely important, driving the plot and the whole of the next film forward.

I can’t think of many films which are so welcoming and directly invite you into their story, using all the best of comic structures to label characters, offer backstories and directly talk to the viewer/reader. This is undoubtedly the best film I’ve seen this year. If you don’t already know – this is the first half of a two-part film (Beyond the Spider-Verse is out next year), and if you’re the sort of person who is driven to fury and sulking by a film ending halfway through, be prepared. The teenagers behind us were not ready for this and were hilariously outraged by paying to see half a film. Honestly, their absurd reaction was almost as good as the film. I’m kinda with them though, I felt the same at the end of Infinity War. Genuinely unmissable, but rewatch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse first.


This is the perfect WWII spaghetti western set in Finland. Honestly, it’s brilliant. One old man, sick of war, goes off to mine gold high up in Lapland. He’s successful, but on his way back to civilisation to cash in his nuggets he’s fucked over by a bunch of Nazis who are busy razing Finland to the ground. They steal his gold, kill his horse, and he goes wild. This is a pure action movie, following the utterly relentless ex-soldier (who turns out to be a legend, having already massacred the Soviets, to the extent that Nazi command advise their officer to leave him the hell alone and count themselves lucky), who is drowned, blown up, hanged and more but just will not die until he’s reacquired his gold and taken his vengeance. He barely says a word, but Jorma Tommila’s face shows you every shade of pain and suffering. It’s extraordinary and highly cathartic to watch. There is not a lot of story to talk about since it’s just one man against the enemy, grinding them down even harder than they grind him. We’re given great action scenes, mixing horrific violence with comedy and great timing and it’s all just so damn good. The whole film is immensely satisfying, and if you don’t want to watch it immediately after seeing the trailer then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Fast X

Ten times faster and ten times furiouser than The Fast and the Furious, the seemingly endless and pointlessly growing faaaaamily saga is slowly drawing to a close in yet more bloated and oddly boring action movies. We keep going to see these for a couple of reasons. The first film was fun, a snappy Point Break-ish cop going undercover in a street car racing gang to nab some muscle-vest wearing idiots who nick DVD players from moving trucks. Fun, fast, cool. Nine films later, Vin Diesel’s family of former enemies have lovely meals in his back garden while they’re resting from their missions for the super-clandestine Agency (the laziest and dumbest carbon copy of SHIELD I’ve seen onscreen for a while). That’s right, the car-racers are now secret agents. Also, they’re absolute morons – without exception. Is there a story here? Yes, but the film’s universe has been so poorly explored despite running to dozens of hours that they’ve had to retcon the events of a movie halfway through the franchise to create Dom’s ultimate nemesis: Aquaman. Well, not Aquaman proper, this is heavily queer-coded Jason Momoa, who is plainly having a lot of fun. To get a proper villain who could never simply be adopted into Dom’s family they’ve had to make the baddie as camp and murderous as possible. No way could he be one of his friends! Nope, Dom’ll take CIA, assassins, cops with a grudge, hackers, morons, other people who try to kill him, but not this guy. Anyway, Aquaman’s gonna destroy Dom’s perfect life because they retconned him into the film where his dad (who didn’t used to be his dad, because there wasn’t a son in it) died, and five films later he’s back (for the first time).

Like the last few films and the Michael Bay The Transformers movies, it’s impossible to figure out what’s happening or why because it’s all shot exactly the same way: super intense, super-exciting. No idea what matters, and the film ending came as a slight surprise because there had been no sense that it was wrapping up or building to anything. So what’s good about it? There are some fun car chases, albeit half-CGI and those bits look kinda ropy. Not enough of the moron characters (all of Dom’s faaaaamily) get punched in the face, though some do slap each other in a shitty London internet café. Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez) gets a good fight, earned solely through her own stupidity: told by Charlize Theron’s character (why are these people in this?) that they’ve got three minutes to escape, Lettie instead has a huge fight with her, tries to escape, fails and returns to the waiting Charlize and they escape together. One of the best things is Momoa (even if he does exactly the same thing in every scene), who people say is channelling Heath Ledger’s Joker but that’s way over-stating things. He’s mincing a bit, biting his lip and doing horrible things to people, for example the pair of Agency Agent corpses he’s putting nail varnish on. This is always true – the best characters in this franchise are the new ones, because they haven’t yet been brainwashed into the family and turned into morons. Also, John Cena – who I totally forgot was supposed to be Dom’s brother – who is not in any way playing his character and is just having a lovely silly time looking after Dom’s kid (oh yeah, that’s in the plot too). Shame he dies pointlessly. Sorry – spoiler. Oh, and the massive man playing Reacher on Amazon Prime shows up with a shit haircut, and he’s quite fun. I honestly never thought I’d miss Paul Walker so much – he was not a good actor, but he seemed like a really nice guy and he was the only character in the series that Dom’s character had any real fraternal chemistry with. Maybe the whole show has been Dom searching for a new and better brother but finding only absolute cretins and men who are twice his size.

There’s at least one more of these fucking things, and I desperately hope they all die in a fireball during it.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3

This is a found family which I love returning to. In contrast to Fast X they’re all supposed to be morons, and they are, except they’re all super-competent in different ways and idiots about how they relate to each other. Here we finally resolve an awful lot of the relationships, hopes and dreams of these characters. They’ve been through a lot, both in the first two volumes of their trilogy, Infinity War / Endgame and odd, sort of pointless Christmas Special. I say pointless, but as it turns out, spending an additional forty minutes with some of these guys, Drax and Mantis in particular has genuinely fleshed out their characters further. At last the story turns to Rocket, injured by Adam Warlock (splendid force-grown golden dude with the brain of a child) and we finally get his much-hinted at backstory. He is indeed a raccoon. In a lot of ways this is a big ad for PETA, because animal vivisection does not come off well here – for parts of it I’d rather watch Watership Down again. The High Evolutionary’s attempts to develop intelligence and accelerate evolution is horrifying, and the story around his fellow animals, Lyla the otter, Teefs the walrus and the rabbit Floor, is absolutely devastating. Most of the film is the rest of the Guardians doing typical Guardian shtick while chasing down the MacGuffin which will let them fix Rocket. Along the way they really do become the heroes they’ve sought to be, despite their Ravager tendencies, rescuing all the High Evolutionary’s test subjects. The film is packed with gorgeous space environments, exciting action scenes, cool new Groot, and more, yet all I truly remember are the perfect character notes and conclusions for each of them. The thing I was most pleased and impressed by was their treatment of Gamora – Quill’s former love interest who died in Endgame, replaced by an earlier version of herself who never met or fell in love with Quill. It’s a wild concept anyway, and you can see why Quill struggles to handle being around someone he loved but has no interest whatsoever in him. And they don’t make her fall in love with him again. That alone is a goddamn victory for Marvel, whose habits in killing off female characters (including Gamora) and not acknowledging their deaths while having a full-cast funeral for Tony Stark has been atrocious. This is a wonderful finale for these characters and I can hardly wait to watch it again.

Mental Health Track 054

So, a full week back on the old sleeping tablets and frankly, it’s great. I’ve had a couple of nights where I haven’t fallen asleep immediately (or at least within my half hour ideal), but that’s mostly been a result of the aggravation of Britain’s brief heat wave. I have dug out my enormous-dog-sized cooling mat which I leave in the fridge all day then lay it on the bed and pillow for ten minutes before I subject myself to the bodily shock of lying on top of the icy layer. I reckon that cold shock itself does something good for dozing off. I am slowly getting used to the weird amitriptyline hangover – that peculiar lethargy and fuzziness first thing in the morning which makes it oh so easy to fall back to sleep. Easy enough that I’ve had to set a second alarm forty-five minutes later to catch me. That’s as disruptive as not sleeping for getting up and getting along with stuff first thing in the morning, but I believe I’m getting there. I did manage to scribble a short story on Monday morning, but I haven’t felt any need to maintain this mental health track. Dude, I’m sleeping again and that feels very good indeed. And with sleep restored that’s reduced any other mental quibblings to ignorable background noise (absolutely the recommended approach for internal feelings…)

Despite my absolute loathing of being too warm, I’ve been enjoying this week’s sunshine. I mean, I’ve had the window open all day for weeks anyway, but now I definitely need to apply sunblock just to sit at my desk. I’m rather looking forward to being in the coldest room of an old Victorian house this weekend for my dad’s 70th. Even though my old bedroom has been redecorated multiple times and lost all the trappings of myself at least a decade ago (alright, so the last hundred or so books only came out earlier this year!), it has continued to feel like a peaceful haven. It is of course the old servant quarters, and is alarmingly and unexpectedly two steps down from the rest of the first floor. It’s only one of the odd things I’ve always liked about it. When I was much younger there was a fire escape immediately outside the window, which led to what was once the separate flat on the second floor. With a big sash window it was the easiest thing in the world to hop out of it in the early hours of the morning. That’s how I spent many of my teenage insomniac nights, just going out for a smoke and wandering the streets at three in the morning. The fire escape was ironically an utter death trap, but I rather miss it. That, and the endless (sometimes poorly) fitted cupboards, wardrobe and sink. Love a bedroom with a sink in it. My bedroom felt like a self-contained unit, having its own exit and source of water, filled with hidey-holes and eventually an awesome amount of junk – much of it on the walls. For a few happy years I even had a beautiful little cat who lived in there with me, lovely Holly. The fire escape was good for her too, with a cat flap cut into the glass so she could hop in and out. I have so few continuous memories from those years, but I still miss her terribly.

I remember a lot of essay writing, lounging on a big Garfield cushion (possibly acquired from Castle Donington car boot sale), painting miniatures (badly) and reading. Lots of reading. It’s not a space that really has other people in it, not in my memories at least. Strange that. Well, some more from sixth form I guess, but it feels patchy before that. Peaceful loneliness for a big chunk of my teenage years, perhaps. Though now that I’m paying attention and focusing on it, I reckon I can detect or recreate sleepovers with a knackered fold-up bed. Dammit – yeah. Trying to go to sleep after watching An American Werewolf in London, terrified that my sleeping over mate would turn into a werewolf as I slept. Such a good transformation sequence! We definitely watched that one too young, but if I recall correctly the VHS tape came along with a bunch of Michael Moorcock books from a mail-order service. Even younger, I remember curling up with my brother and sister in a tight little nest as we tried to process what our parents getting divorced meant for us. And my brother hiding in the airing cupboard one Christmas Eve so he could catch Santa/dad in the act of filling a stocking. He fell asleep; I totally forgot he was there, and it took a panicky hour or so to find him on Christmas Day.

I have clearer memories of Blu-tacking various posters, scraps from newspapers, postcards and photographs to the walls; the excised pages from Dr Faustus after we gutted the play to perform at sixth form – actually we performed it at The Brewhouse, a proper theatre and everything. It all feels very jumbled. I wonder what else will pop back into mind later. OH YEAH – and the room had a goddamned attic too. Perfection.

So I guess this is where I am today, bumbling around in my half-forgotten past.