Thursday, 11 June 2015

RIP Christopher Lee

While there's never a good time for a person to die, I think it's safe to say that Christopher Lee led a considerably longer, fuller and more varied life than most. As such, rather than be too sad at his passing, I'm more than happy to celebrate his legacy. I feel a rewatch of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT coming on. I've had the Blu-ray on my shelf for months now unviewed, and now seems like the ideal time to crack open the cellophane.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Film review: Munich

I'm one of a minority of ardent champions of Steven Spielberg's 2005 dramatisation of Israel's response to the massacre of eleven of its athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it's probably my favourite of his "serious" films (i.e. those with a more "worthy" bent, as opposed to more crowd-pleasing blockbuster fare like the Indiana Jones movies. Ironically, the main reason I like it so much is arguably because it seems so unSpielbergian, with a cold, calculated sense of brutality and a distinct lack of the sentimentality for which the director has become known.

While the source material, the novel Vengeance by George Jonas, is unabashedly partisan — a fact willingly acknowledged by its staunchly pro-Israel author — it seems to me that Spielberg and his two writers, Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, have succeeded in identifying and teasing out the moral quandaries that Jonas was unwilling (or unable) to acknowledge. That's not to suggest for a moment that there's any ambiguity as to whether the murder of the athletes was wrong; indeed, I'm not even certain that the film seeks to portray the Israeli government's response as wrong. It does, however, raise significant questions both about the cyclical nature of violence and the futility of revenge, and about what enacting state-sponsored executions and acts of terrorism ultimately do to a person's psyche. Vengeance is replete with passages in which it is asserted (rather too often and adamantly to be entirely convincing) that "Avner", the Mossad agent played by Eric Bana in the film, experienced no qualms about the murders he carried out, but Spielberg and his writers take the opposite approach, depicting the complete mental breakdown of a man who begins his mission with a sense of utter certainty both about the justness of his mission and his own identity. The entirely fabricated encounter between Avner and a Palestinian operative, Ali (Omar Metwally), provides not only the film's midpoint but also its emotional core, articulating in the strongest terms that violence can only lead to more violence, and that both sides — in spite of their irreconcilable differences — are ultimately in pursuit of the same goal. As Ali puts it:
You don't know what it is not to have a home. That's why you European reds don't get it. You say it's nothing, but you have a home to come back to. ETA, ANC, IRA, — we all pretend we care about your international revolution, but we don't care. We want to be nations. Home is everything.
Beyond that, though, it's a tense Cold War thriller it's a first rate piece of cinema, with its mature, reasoned approach to the Middle Eastern conflict merely serving as the icing on the cake. The whole thing looks incredible thanks to Janusz Kaminski's steely (and very authentically 70s) photography, and the unusually minimalist score by John Williams knows when to retreat and when to come in for the maximum impact. I've seen Eric Bana's performance described as overwrought, and it's certainly true that it's anything but subtle, but as a portrait of a man gradually undergoing a crisis of belief and identity, I find it hard to criticise. The rest of the Euro-pudding cast are on fine form too, with Mathieu Kassovitz particularly impressing as the mild-mannered toymaker recruited to build bombs, and Mathieu Amalric fabulously ambiguous (in more ways than one) as Avner's contact, "Louis".

Many of my favourite films are ones towards which I was initially lukewarm and came round to on repeat viewings, and this is definitely one of them. When I first saw MUNICH, I thought it was decent but overlong and overwrought. Now, I wouldn't lose a second of it... even the much-criticised "sex and death" scene towards the end. While most people point to SCHINDLER'S LIST or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN as Spielberg's great "serious" work, for me MUNICH will always be by far the more mature and more satisfying film.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bookshelf: So Deadly, So Perverse - 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films, Volume 1

The first of two tomes charting the giallo film from its inception to the present day, Volume 1 of Troy Howarth's SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE: 50 YEARS OF ITALIAN GIALLO FILMS is the sort of book fans of the giallo have been crying out for. Its spiritual predecessor is arguably Adrian Luther Smith's excellent (if now surpassed) BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and indeed structurally it owes a clear debt to that earlier book, but Howarth goes considerably further and into far more detail than that pioneering work.

Covering the first 20 years of the giallo film's lifespan, 1963 to 1973, Volume 1 begins with the expected introductions (provided by veteran giallo screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi) and attempts to define that most ambiguous of genres, before launching into an examination of early prototypical gialli, films with giallo elements but which don't quite make the grade as "true" gialli, and the literary gialli from which the filmic movement derives its name but to which it bears only a passing resemblance. This latter chapter, written by film historian Roberto Curti, is particularly insightful and breaks genuinely new ground. It provides the book with a unique selling point, charting an aspect of the giallo's development that hasn't been adequately explored elsewhere, since English-speaking authors lack the context necessary to unpick it.

The "meat and potatoes" of the book, however, is the 190 pages' worth of film reviews, cataloguing and appraising every known giallo to have been produced between 1963 and 1973. This section is truly exhaustive, digging up a number of titles I'd personally never even heard of, and even one or two that are now believed to be lost to the ages. For each review, the structure is the same: Howarth provides the main cast and crew credits, a brief (spoiler-free) synopsis and a more detailed review, concluding with a discussion of the careers of some of the more significant players on both sides of the camera. The reviews are insightful, in-depth and well-observed. Howarth isn't afraid to make it clear when a particular film isn't up to scratch (and says one or two scathing things about some of the, shall we say, less outstanding actors and directors associated with the movement), but he's also fair, pointing out the individual moments of pleasure that can be found in even the schlockiest and most ineptly made of giallo (and, let's be honest, there are quite a few which fit that category). The films of "big beasts" like Argento, Fulci, Bava and Martino understandably get the lion's share of the praise, but little-known gems also get their moment in the spotlight, including the likes of Fernando Di Leo's NAKED VIOLENCE and Damiano Damiani's A RATHER COMPLICATED GIRL.

It's worth pointing out that Howarth omits certain titles that some readers might expect to be included since he doesn't consider them to be part of the movement. This is unavoidable, since "giallo" is a vague term and much disagreement exists as to its precise parameters. Personally, I would have included Aldo Lado's SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS (omitted here) and left out the likes of the western/giallo hybrid RINGO, IT'S MASSACRE TIME, but such is the beauty of a movement that, like film noir, is easier to recognise than to define (the "I know it when I see it" principle).

Any flaws are minor and don't impact substantially on the overwhelmingly positive qualities of the book; however, I feel that they should be acknowledged for completeness' sake. These are largely structural, stemming from the decision to separate the films by year of release and order them alphabetically within each year. This results in some slightly odd moments in that individual reviews often "refer forward" to another film that was actually released before the one currently being discussed -- for instance, we read about Sergio Martino's second giallo, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL, before his first, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (both 1971), which is slightly confusing given the extent to which the latter set the template for Martino's subsequent gialli. That's perhaps the downside of attempting to read a reference tome like this from cover to cover. However, the lack of any page references in the index of titles at the end, and the fact that production dates aren't provided in the reviews themselves (the year is listed only once, at the start of each "section"), makes it difficult to dip in and out.

But these are minor organisational quibbles. In his foreword, Howarth acknowledges that he didn't set out to write the be-all-and-end-all book about the giallo, and while it doesn't replace the likes of Mikel Koven's excellent LA DOLCE MORTE (which addresses a different audience and serves a different purpose), SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE feels entirely at home among such lofty company. Experienced giallo aficionados and those new to the genre alike will want to pick this up without delay, and get their pre-orders in for Volume 2, which promises to explore the rather more sporadic output of the last 40 years.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A tale of two elections

"My God, what have we just done?"

I'll be upfront about it: that was my immediate, instinctive reaction when the exit poll was published at 10 PM on Thursday night. At that point, I wasn't looking at the Tories and Labour's share of seats. They barely even registered on my radar, so convinced was I by the media narrative that there would only be a handful of seats between them either way. All that mattered to me at that point was to see how well the SNP were set to do, and when I saw that number -- a projected 58 out of 59 seats -- a shiver went up my spine as it hit me how seismic this event was. To put it bluntly, the swing was so extreme that it scarcely seemed possible and the challenge to the accepted orthodoxy so brazen that I half-expected divine retribution (or whatever the atheistic equivalent is) to be imminent.

I'll turn to the not so little issue of the UK-wide results and their implications later. For the time being, to hammer home just how truly remarkable the death of Scottish Labour and rise of the SNP is, take a look at this graph showing the share of Scottish seats in every general election since 1955:

In the space of a single night, Scotland has done to Labour what it took 40 years to do to the Tories. We've routed the bastards almost completely, reducing each of the three main unionist parties to a single MP each (meaning that the exit poll WAS slightly out, if only by two seats). We now inhabit a reality in which the heartland of Labour in Scotland is Morningside. BLOODY MORNINGSIDE.

This election was always going to be fought in the shadow of the 2014 independence referendum, hence why, in a previous post, I emphasised how disastrous Labour's decision to campaign alongside the Tories was. Not everyone who voted for the SNP on Thursday was an independence supporter, and vice versa, but the referendum has essentially hardened political thought in Scotland along pro- and anti-independence lines. Between 30 and 40% of Labour's voters voted Yes last year, and from where I was standing, it almost seemed as if Labour actively went out of its way to insult, belittle and alienate these people. (It's telling, I think, that the bulk of Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy's "high command" is made up of former Better Together staffers, among them odious unreconstructed Blairites like Blair McDougall and John McTernan.) As the results came in thick and fast, with seat after seat falling to the SNP on swings of up to 40%, my jaw was on the floor. In many ways, it felt like long-overdue payback for the night of 18th September 2014, and like many of my fellow Yes voters, I adopted an attitude of "enjoy the schadenfreude tonight, worry about the bigger picture in the morning." MP after MP fell by the wayside in both the Labour and Liberal Democrat camps: chinless wonder Danny Alexander, Labour's sanctimonious campaign director Douglas Alexander (toppled by the brilliant 20-year-old Mhairi Black), thug in a suit Ian "bayonet the wounded" Davidson... and perhaps the sweetest and most unexpected victory of all: the decapitation of the snake himself, Jim Murphy.

And of course, south of the border there was the unexpected spectacle of Ed Balls -- the man who stood shoulder to shoulder with George Osborne and Danny Alexander this time last year to tell the Scots they weren't entitled to use their own currency -- losing his seat to his Tory challenger. This is a crucial point. It wasn't just that the anti-independence parties were saying "Here are the bad things that will happen to you if you vote Yes." They were saying "Here are the bad things WE WILL DO TO YOU if you vote Yes," and then months later expecting those they threatened, bullied, lied to and cajoled to neatly fall back into line and vote them into power again. By mid-morning, when the results for the Balls constituency were declared, the overall picture was looking so bad that I was desperately hoping for as many English Labour MPs as possible, but I was prepared to make an exception for the odious Mr. Balls.

"The Scottish lion has roared," declared Alex Salmond after winning the Gordon seat, and though he's often given to grandiose, poetic turns of phrase, in this particular case it doesn't seem like too much of an exaggeration. The nation perhaps didn't "speak with one voice" (just under half the electorate voted for a unionist party of one hue or another), but those looking for a better, fairer future did succeed in (mostly) uniting behind one banner and kicking the liggers, troughers and assorted criminals of the political class so hard in the ghoulies that they'll be singing falsetto for years, if not decades, to come. I used to think the SNP's victory in the 2011 Holyrood elections, where they achieved a majority in a parliament built on proportional representation, would be the high point of the party's electoral fortunes. On Thursday night they smashed that record. The joke used to be that Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs. Already I've seen memes on Twitter and Facebook presenting a new variant on the joke in which Edinburgh Zoo's two pandas are "Scotland's second largest political party."

The political landscape has been transformed utterly. Deadwood politicians who for years and decades coasted on the belief that they had a job for life are out on their ear, and Scotland now has 56 MPs who will speak up for it, who won't simply sit on their hands as a hostile government enacts destructive policies designed to punish the most vulnerable in society...

Which brings us to the thorny issue of England, and why I titled this post "A tale of two elections." For as elating as the results in Scotland were, the results in England were truly catastrophic. While in Scotland a progressive, centre-left party standing on an anti-austerity, anti-Trident, anti-House of Lords ticket was sweeping the board, south of the border the Tories romped home in such increased numbers that they confounded (almost) all expectations and secured a majority, albeit a very narrow one. I think the dichotomy is brutally but perfectly encapsulated in John Harris's comments in his video for the Guardian, reporting from Glasgow: "I've got to go back to England now, and we haven't got any source of hope there."

Make no mistake, what happened on Thursday night can't be blamed on Scotland for voting SNP, despite the predictable shrieking of those in the Labour ranks. (And the Lib Dems too -- unless I'm completely misunderstanding what he said, Vince Cable appeared to even blame the SNP for the loss of his Twickenham seat.) Even if the whole of Scotland had voted Labour, the party would still have ended up woefully behind the Tories (once again reinforcing the old complaint that Scotland is powerless to determine the outcome of UK general elections). Indeed, had Labour done better in England, a clean sweep of SNP MPs in Scotland would actually have been more useful to them than a simple re-run of 2010's results, since the SNP not only decapitated Labour but also the Tory-friendly Lib Dems. No, the only people to blame for the Tories' success are the people who voted for them.

And why did they vote for them? I think it's important that we try to understand this. It's too simplistic to simply say that these people are cruel, heartless sociopaths (though many undoubtedly are). There's a good piece at Bella Caledonia by Dougald Hine (which, incidentally, is well worth being read by progressives in England, since it offers some useful suggestions for the way forward) which I suspect hits the nail on the head:
We need to understand the amount of fear in the equation. Miliband used to talk about the “squeezed middle”, but it turns out the Tories can still count on the worried middle. As I’ve said before, there aren’t enough people doing well in Britain to deliver a Tory majority, but there are enough people who are worried, who hope the brittle prosperity of the housing bubble will sustain their way of living a little longer, who hope that what happened to the poor, the young and the disabled over the last five years won’t happen to them. The puzzlement I see in the despairing posts of friends on Facebook over the past twelve hours comes, I think, from the difficulty we have in understanding this. Somehow, we need a space for conversations where people can speak honestly about their fears, their disillusionment, their lack of belief in the possibility of change for the better – without trying too hard, too quickly to convince them they are wrong. Presenting big ideas or retail policies is no substitute for this.
(Emphasis in original article.)

Why were the electoral fortunes of these two countries so diametrically opposed? In part, because there simply isn't a party of the left in England with sufficient power to challenge the might of the Tory machine and its ability to set the agenda. The Labour Party is without direction, purpose or principle, and I fear that the left won't be able to make any real headway until it stops attempting to use that party as a vehicle for progressive change. The Greens are there, along with initiatives like the National Left Action Party and Left Unity, but I fear it'll take years, decades or more for them to build up the sort of power base required to achieve meaningful results, particularly when faced with an awful, archaic voting system designed to squeeze out smaller parties. Remember that it took a century for the SNP to reach their current dizzying heights. They spent most of that century as a tiny fringe party dismissed by their opponents as single issue crackpots. Now they run the country's devolved parliament, have achieved a near wipe-out in a general election, and are led by a woman described by the Daily Mail as "the most dangerous woman in Britain" (a badge I imagine she wears with considerable pride).

The point I'm trying to make is that change is possible, but it takes time, and combating voter apathy and despair are going to be the biggest hurdles. The good news is that we have weapons at our disposal that the SNP didn't have when they were still languishing on the margins of Scottish politics, the most powerful of which is undoubtedly the internet. It's given ordinary people a voice and allows them to organise, strategise and share information in a way that was unthinkable even a decade ago. So to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish left I would say: do not despair. Tighten your belts, get organised and get ready to continue the fight, and those of us north of the border who want the same things as you -- equality, justice, peace, prosperity -- will do everything we can to help. For now, you can start with something as simple as signing some of the petitions highlighted by Mark, my friend from St. Helens.

Apologies if the above comes across as muddled, pretentious or overly grandiose, but I wanted to set down my thoughts on the highs and lows of the last few days while they were still reasonably fresh in my mind. I'll leave you with a look at the new political map of the UK:

A united kingdom? Less so now than ever, in my opinion.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Hope over fear

The dust is still settling on what has been a bloody disastrous election for England but an absolutely amazing one for Scotland. I'm so filled with mixed emotions at the moment that now is probably not a good time to try to set down my thoughts in writing. For the time being, therefore, I'll leave you with this image, probably my favourite from the entire campaign. If nothing else, it sums up the new type of politics that has been born north of the border -- one based on (to evoke the slogan of Tommy Sheridan's campaign group) hope rather than fear.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The sound of the beat(en)

Tomorrow, the UK goes to the polls, and the union has arguably never been more divided. In the last five years, the poor have got poorer, the rich have got richer, the press have gleefully turned the "deserving" against the "undeserving", all three major Westminster parties (in hoc to the UKIP-set agenda) have stoked the flames of xenophobia with their anti-immigration rhetoric, and a little matter known as the 2014 Scottish independence referendum has dragged into the spotlight many of the long-festering tensions that exist both within and between the union's various constituent nations. The old adage goes that how Scotland votes has no impact on the outcome of UK-wide elections. Well, this time round, a perfect storm of factors have come together to make this one the exception to the rule. And surprise surprise, the establishment doesn't like the thought of the tail wagging the dog.

When the main unionist parties -- the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems -- united under a single banner to deny Scotland its independence -- a small number of commentators made the prescient observation that Labour had put itself in a lose-lose situation. By aligning itself with the Tories, it left much of its core vote appalled and disgusted, and found itself having to effectively defend Tory policy, selling the current settlement -- with its NHS privatisation, food banks, nuclear weapons, illegal wars and austerity -- as preferable to going it alone. After being widely photographed dancing and cheering with the Tories as they celebrated their pyrrhic victory, Labour was thrust straight into a general election campaign in which it found itself having to do battle with the very party with whom it had happily stood shoulder to shoulder just weeks earlier. The incompatibility of these positions was laid bare for all to see. During the referendum campaign, for instance, Labour poo-pooed the idea that privatisation of the English NHS could have any impact on Scotland's health service and claimed that the NHS was "safe with a no vote". Mere weeks later, they were singing an entirely different tune as they desperately tried to convince Scottish voters to back them once again:



For years, Scottish voters accepted as gospel the mantra of "vote SNP, get Tories". Throughout the campaign, Labour has stuck doggedly to the line that only they can prevent another Tory government, conveniently ignoring the fact that, in every general election since 1955, Scotland DID vote Labour and ended up with the Tories anyway a full 7 out of 14 times (including 2010, when Labour's vote share in Scotland actually went UP even as it plummeted elsewhere). This time round, all the polls point to the electorate having stopped listening. The unionist parties believed that defeat in the independence referendum would hobble the SNP irrevocably, and yet the exact opposite seems to have happened. To put the SNP surge into perspective, in 2010 they won 6 seats to Labour's 41. In 2015, the question is not whether the SNP will increase their share of the vote but whether they will wipe Labour out completely or merely cut their share of seats to single figures.

The wildest estimates suggest the SNP taking the whole lot, i.e. 59 out of 59 seats. Personally I don't think that's likely, and bitter experience has taught me not to set myself up for disappointment by having unrealistic expectations, but I do think 50+ is within the realms of possibility (and would be the highest share of the vote ever achieved by any party in Scotland). Of course, anything over 11 is record-beating, anything over 12 is the SNP doubling their current number, and anything over 30 is an absolute majority.

I'm in the strange situation of utterly despairing at the state of the union and its politics and yet looking forward to tomorrow night with a sense of unbridled glee. That the SNP could perform a clean sweep on between 45% and 55% of the vote shows how utterly broken, inadequate and undemocratic the awful First Past the Post system is, but that's the system Miliband, Brown, Cameron et al pleaded with us not to reject last September, and if it was good enough for them when things were going their way, then it should be good enough for them now. (The irony, of course, is that many of the voices who will be shrieking the loudest about the iniquity of it all should the SNP wipe the board will be the same ones who so vociferously defended it in 2011 during the AV referendum.)

I really don't care whether Labour or the Tories win the most seats across the UK, for the simple reason that it doesn't really matter all that much. That's not because I think the two parties are almost completely interchangeable (though that much is certainly true) but rather because, unless every single pollster is wildly out, the arithmetic is such that no party will be left with a majority, and regardless of all the demented "the largest party gets to form the government" posturing from Labour, the Tories and their media chums, the reality is that being able to win a vote of confidence in the Commons is what matters. The simple fact is that, with the SNP -- this year's kingmakers -- refusing the support the Tories under any circumstances, the only person who can prevent Labour forming the next government is Ed Miliband himself, and something tells me that, regardless of his current posturing, there is no way he's going to risk the ire that would come his way should he hand the keys to David Cameron for another five years rather than work with the centre-left, socially progressive SNP. I expect the horse-trading over the next couple of weeks to be brutal and messy, but it's ultimately what matters, rather than whether the Tories end up with fractionally more seats than Labour, or vice versa.

I'm going to stay up until I can't keep my eyes open any longer, keeping track of the results as they come in, probably listening to NewsShaft's coverage rather than going with the BBC, ITV or any of the other usual suspects. There are many "big hitters" whose defeats I will relish immensely should they come to pass: Anas Sarwar, Margaret Curran, Ian Davidson, Douglas Alexander, and my own crook of a Lib Dem MP, Jo "photo op" Swinson. I have the following queued up, ready to be played loud out often throughout the night:

Monday, 30 March 2015

Finding fame... or infamy

"It's arrived, it's arrived! In the name of God, it's arrived!"

This is the brand new Blu-ray release of Mario Bava's seminal giallo BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, for which I provided a 38-minute visual essay, essentially a condensed version of the first half of my PhD thesis on gender in the giallo. Much credit must go to Michael Brooke, who succeeded in giving my ramblings some semblance of structure with his excellent editing and choice of clips.

This has been a totally new but incredibly rewarding experience for me, and I can't deny that seeing my name in lights, as it were, is an incredibly gratifying experience... and more than makes up for my embarrassment at having to listen to my own voice being played back to me.

And my goodness, does the film look incredible.

PS. I appreciate that I've allowed this blog to fester over the past several weeks. While I realise I have a readership of about 2, that doesn't stop me feeling guilty about the fact. Once I'm a bit less busy, I plan on getting back to a semi-regular update schedule.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Expanding my web of influence

I recently took on some paid work designing a web site for a client. The site, The Buzzin Bee -- made for a writer friend of my mum's -- is now feature-complete and has been handed over. The process involved designing the look of the site from scratch in Photoshop, hand-coding it using HTML and CSS, and setting up a Movable Type database to drive the entire site under the hood. I also have another paid design gig in the pipeline, which I hope to be able to tell you more about soon.

In the meantime, I've taken some steps towards establishing a profile for myself on the web as a designer and general jack-of-all-trades. I registered the domain a couple of years ago, but it has lain dormant since then, simply redirecting to my other site, Land of Whimsy. I've now put up a holding page of sorts, with a view to it ultimately becoming my professional presence online (whereas Land of Whimsy is more of a personal blog, albeit with an emphasis on reviewing Blu-ray releases). In addition to web design projects, that would also include the likes of my PhD thesis, my work for Arrow on the upcoming BLOOD AND BLACK LACE release, and samples of my reviews and screenplays.

Obviously, it goes without saying that, if you're in the market for having a web site built, or know someone who is, don't hesitate to get in touch! My rates are very reasonable and I've been told I'm a delight to work with. (Honest!)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

It's Asterix, Jim, but not as we know it

The year is 50 BC. The haill o Gaul is occupied by the Romans... The haill o Gaul? Nae wey! Yin wee clachan o undingable Gauls aye hauds oot agin the invaders. And life is nae pairty for the Roman legionaries that gairrison the fortified camps at Benedettium, Capaldium, Vettesium and Paolozzium...

Asterix is a man of many tongues. He's been translated into over 100 languages and dialects, according to Wikipedia. There are, of course, the ones you'd expect -- English, German, Italian and so on. And then there are what I'd call the "novelty" translations -- i.e. translations into languages that only a small number of people speak natively, such as Breton, Frisian and Limburgish. Dead languages, too, are represented: you can buy Asterix in Latin and ancient Greek, as well as Esperanto (or at least once upon a time you could). He's been available in Gaelic for a number of years, and there are also Welsh and Irish translations of a select number of books. It wasn't until 2013, however, that he arrived in Scots, courtesy of author and translator Matthew Fitt and publishing house Itchy Coo.

Appropriately enough, the first book to be translated was the most recent adventure, ASTERIX AND THE PECHTS, appearing on the same day as its English counterpart, ASTERIX AND THE PICTS. I picked the Scots version up more out of curiosity than anything. I was somewhat disappointed by the English version, which I thought lacked the nuanced wordplay of earlier adventures, and was pleased to discover that the Scots version improved on it in a number of instances... and, probably in no small part due to Fitt's pro-independence leanings, included a handful of references to the then impending referendum, thereby giving it a bit of political bite sorely lacking in the English text. In one scene, a Pict standing for the position of new clan chief, blurts out a stream of slogans related to Scottish independence: "Vote aye! Vote naw! Better thegither! Pechtland free by 43 (BC). It's Pechtland's peat!" ("Scotland free by '93" and "It's Scotland's oil" being old SNP slogans from the 80s and 70s respectively.) The English version simply has "And you know me too, friends! I don't just talk off the top of my head. With me as your leader, we'll have a head start!" (The next panel has him being walloped on the head with a caber.)

ASTERIX AND THE PECHTS has now been followed up with translations of the first two books in the series, ASTERIX THE GALLUS (Asterix the Gaul) and ASTERIX AND THE GOWDEN HEUK (Asterix and the Golden Sickle). I saw them going cheap on Amazon and decided to pick both up -- in part because I was curious to see whether the Scots translation would match up to (or even exceed) the excellent English translation by Anthea Bell and the late Derek Hockridge. In general, I'd say the Scots versions are equally good as opposed to actually superior. Rather than using the English translation as a basis, Fitt has gone back to the original French, and as a result his solutions to wordplay that wouldn't work in translation (such as Goscinny's dreaded puns) are different to those of Bell and Hockridge.

The Scots vernacular lends itself rather brilliantly to punning and other forms of wordplay, perhaps even more so than English. The various puns about hair on pages 41 and 42 of ASTERIX THE GALLUS are hysterical, even outdoing those of Bell and Hockridge's original translation. ("Ah havenae got a baldie whit ye're on aboot" and "he doesnae hae the hairt tae tell ye" being my favourites.) Even the title itself, ASTERIX THE GALLUS, is a pun that's only possible in Scots ("Gallus" as in the Latin for "Gaul", "gallus" as in Scots for "bold", "daring"). It takes a little getting used to Gauls and Romans alike all speaking in broad Scots... which perhaps says something about cultural perceptions of the language, given that we don't bat an eyelid when we see these ancient French and Italians speaking the Queen's English. After a few pages, however, it ceases to be an issue. As an added touch, Fitt has the Gauls speak in broad Glaswegian while the Romans use Dundonian vernacular -- a distinction I'm not sure I'd have picked up on if it hadn't been pointed out in this interview in the Daily Rancid, but it adds another dimension to the text that's absent in its English (and original French) counterparts. Even better, the Goths who briefly appear in the first two volumes speak Scots with a German accent: "Gut! Ve shoot ze craw!" "But we're no ava tae bleiben ava!"

Where I think Fitt's text can be a bit shakier is with regard to the names. "Caius Bawheid" may be a hilarious name for the centurion in ASTERIX THE GALLUS, but it contravenes the golden rule, adhered to in every single Asterix book, that all Roman names end in "-us", and lacks the elegance of the English version's "Crismus Bonus". Whereas the English translators aimed to base their character names on complete words and phrases ending in "-ous" or "-ic", in many instances here, Fitt simply takes a word or collection of words and sticks "-us" or "-ix" at the end of them. On the other hand, "Sleekitrix" (sleekit tricks) in ASTERIX AND THE GOWDEN HEUK is very good, and, like the best Asterix names, also reflects the character's personality. (In the English version, he's "Navishtrix" -- knavish tricks.)

On the whole, these translations serve more interesting curios than an essential addition to your Asterix collection... though I suppose it might be different for someone who has a strong desire to experience their literature in bona fide Scots. While I can, for the most part, understand it, I'm not used to seeing Scots in a written form, so I do have to mentally process it in a way that doesn't apply to the English versions. Generally speaking, I would say that most Scottish people (at least the ones I know) speak English with a varying amount of Scots words and grammar sprinkled in as opposed to the "pure" Scots represented here, so I would be inclined to suspect that this is not going to be a "natural" way to read these stories for the majority of people. It remains to be seen whether Itchy Coo will publish the entire series of books or merely a selection (unlike their English and French counterparts, the spines aren't numbered, which suggests they might be hedging their bets), but I've enjoyed experiencing this slightly different take on the adventures of the indomitable Gaul, and certainly wouldn't be averse to reading more.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

The darker side of a hero

Yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the burial of Winston Churchill, a man who really needs no introduction. The media unsurprisingly devoted a great deal of time to this momentous occasion, much of it hagiographic in the extreme, including a repeat on the BBC of the network's 1965 coverage of his funeral.

There can be little doubt that Churchill is a hugely important figure in the history of both the UK and the world at large, and no-one should forget his vital role in both the safeguarding of these islands during the Second World War and the defeat of Nazism. There aren't many Conservative politicians, past or present, that I hold in high regard, but he would certainly be one exception.

However, I think it's also important that we remember that, like most people, Churchill was a man riven by contradictions, and there remain aspects of both his personality and his conduct in office that are rather less rosy than "official" accounts, and sufficient ink has been spilled documenting his more laudable achievements that I'm sure his memory will survive paying heed to the darker side of this war hero. Among other less favourable qualities, he was also an imperialist, a virulent racist and a supporter of eugenics, and strongly opposed votes for women.

In addition, today is the anniversary of another event closely connected to Churchill: the so-called "Battle of George Square". On 31 January 1919, workers in Glasgow occupied George Square to campaign for more favourable working conditions. When the police failed to disperse the protesters, the UK government sent in the army. Tanks and soldiers armed with machine guns invaded and occupied Glasgow, effectively imposing martial law until the threat of "revolution" had been contained and the leaders of the protest jailed. Local regiments were confined to their barracks in Maryhill out of fears that they would side with the protesters, with the soldiers instead being bussed in from further afield.

Who gave the order to send in the troops? One Winston Churchill, then the Home Secretary.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Common sense prevails

Earlier this month I posted about a petition asking for the charges to be dropped against two teenage girls, Sarah and Sophie, who stood their ground against Neo-Nazi thugs in George Square during the post-referendum rioting that took place in Glasgow on 19th September. Today, I was pleased to discover that common sense had prevailed and the charges had indeed been dropped.

As CommonSpace reports:
TWO young women caught up in the loyalist riot following the independence referendum will face no criminal proceedings.
Sisters Sarah and Sophie Johnson, ages 20 and 16, were in George Square on the night of the 19 September 2014 when British nationalists caused widespread disorder resulting in 20 arrests.
The Johnsons were threatened by the crowd forcing the police to intervene. They chose to stay in the square only for the police to arrest them on the grounds of ‘obstruction’.
In a statement to CommonSpace regarding the case, the Procurator Fiscal said: "After full and careful consideration of the specific circumstances of the case and the available evidence, the Procurator Fiscal instructed that there should be no criminal proceedings."
Sophie Johnson, as part of a full interview with CommonSpace, said: “They could have taken us home. It was out of line to arrest us for not moving as part of a protest, since no one else was being made to move. The people spitting at us or throwing things didn’t get the same treatment.” 
The fiscal’s conclusion will please the 10,000 people who signed a public petition in their support.
On the night of 19 September images and video footage of the Johnsons was widely shared as a symbol of peaceful protest in contrast to the uglier scenes of conflict in George Square. 
You can read the full interview with Sarah and Sophie Johnson ‘here’.
Of course, it's unclear whether or not the petition had any direct impact on the Procurator Fiscal's decision, and I note that the public apology called for in the petition has yet to materialise. Still, I'd like to think that people power does work, and either way I'm glad these two women can now carry on with their lives without the threat of criminal proceedings weighing over them.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The generation game

Further to yesterday's post on the Ipsos Mori poll that gave the SNP a whopping 52% of the vote in the upcoming general election, a breakdown of voting intention by age group has appeared over at SCOT goes POP! It makes for fascinating reading:

41% SNP
31% Lab
18% Con
7% Lib

58% SNP
21% Lab
10% Con
7% Green
4% Lib

18-24 yrs
77% SNP
11% Lab
7% Scottish Socialist
4% Green

Put it this way: if all these voters were to retain these allegiances (unlikely, I know, but let's run with it for the time being), the Conservative Party would literally be extinct within a couple of generations. If that's not a reason to have hope for the future, I don't know what is!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Terrible, terrible damage

As the 2015 general election approaches, we've been getting voting intention polls on an almost daily basis. All seem to agree that the two "main" UK parties, Labour and the Tories, are hovering somewhere around the dismally low 30% mark. In Scotland, as I've blogged about previously, the picture is quite different, with the SNP, perceived as the "losers" following the defeat of the independence referendum, steamrollering ahead into first place. Virtually every single poll released has placed them ahead of Labour in terms of Westminster voting intentions -- a shocking turnaround, given that Scottish voters, however they might vote at Holyrood and local elections, tend to coalesce around Labour when it comes to Westminster elections. Still, there's now so much polling evidence that it seems impossible to avoid the fact that a shift has occurred in Scottish politics and that voters are now looking more and more to the SNP to stand up for their interests in London.

Today's poll, commissioned by STV and carried out by Ipsos Mori, puts the SNP on 52% of the vote -- i.e. more than that of every other party combined. For a party that polled just 19.9% of the vote in the 2010 election (albeit with a very different picture in the Holyrood election the following year), such a result would be nothing short of remarkable, and it must be stressed that this poll is at the extreme end when it comes to favouring support for the party. Indeed, I'm slightly suspicious of this succession of stories all predicting a near wipeout for Slab. I can't help but thinking that they're preparing the ground for being able to spin anything less than total annihilation as a victory for Labour's northern branch office.

Nonetheless, if these numbers were to prove accurate on polling day, this is what the Scottish electoral map would look like:

Source: STV News

As someone who desperately wants to see Labour and the Lib Dems punished for the myriad of offences they have committed in recent years -- not least (in Labour's case) the unlawful invasion of Iraq and the heinous actions both parties and the Tories committed during the independence referendum in order to secure a No vote that was, in my opinion, unfairly won -- such a prospect fills me with absolute glee. Quite apart from the schadenfreude angle, however, a large contingent of SNP MPs in Westminster would be good not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK. They are by far the most progressive and left-wing of the large parties (the Greens are further to the left, but, much as I admire their ideals, the level of support they currently command just isn't going to translate into more than a seat or two UK-wide, more's the pity), and today the party's leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, signalled that they were prepared to abandon their long-held convention of not voting on matters devolved to the Scottish parliament. This, she said, means that if a bill was put to the house that would restore the English NHS to public hands, then the SNP would vote for it.

It's a curious state of affairs that the party whose raison d'etre has, since its inception, been to dissolve the Union could end up coming to the aid of the rest of the UK. Because let's be honest, they'll do more good than a similar number of Labour troughers ever will. So take heart, progressives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: help could be on the way. As I've said before, we live in interesting times.

Is that a Trident in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?*

Every year, the block of SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green MPs get one day to set the agenda for the Westminster Parliament. Today was that day, and they chose to table the motion calling for the non-renewal of Trident -- a position I wholeheartedly support. Quite apart from its very existence being an obscenity, it is utterly ludicrous to contemplate pouring upwards of £100 billion into replacing a weapons system that, by its very nature, can never be used, when public services are being cut left, right and centre, a new food bank is popping up seemingly every time you blink, and public spending has been reduced to pre-war levels. To add insult to injury, these weapons are housed mere miles from Scotland's most populous city. My city. Oh well, at least if something were to go wrong, I'd probably be killed instantly.

The picture above shows how many MPs could be arsed to show up to the debate.

Labour's official line was that it was abstaining from what it called a "meaningless" debate. In reality, this was simply an act to save face, allowing them to avoid having their party's pro-Trident policy subjected to scrutiny, thereby dodging the issue in typical Red Tory fashion. Of course, that didn't stop them and the original Tories -- the blue ones -- from showing up in large numbers for the actual vote, ensuring that it was resoundingly defeated by 364 to 35.

A handful of Labour MPs, on both sides of the argument, did bother to turn up to the debate. In addition to the ever-reliable Dennis Skinner (the only MP who appears to treat his job as an actual job and turns up to work every day), Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford, gave a particularly impressive speech (viewable in two parts here and here). All in all, though, it was an utterly dismal showing, committing the UK to spending a fortune on a new generation of weapons of mass slaughter (and that is exactly what they are, designed to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible -- any "destruction" that occurs is merely a by-product) when families are struggling to put food on the table.

If you can stomach it, you can read the full transcript of the debate here, along with the Hall of Fame (those who voted for the motion) and Hall of Shame (those who voted against). In the interests of brevity, I'll simply record the names and constituencies of all Scottish MPs who bothered to turn up:

Katy Clark (Lab) - North Ayrshire and Arran
Michael Connarty (Lab) - Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Mike Crockart (Lib Dem) - Edinburgh West
Ian Davidson (Lab) - Glasgow South West
Stewart Hosie (SNP) - Dundee East
Mark Lazarowicz (Lab) - Edinburgh North and Leith
Angus MacNeil (SNP) - Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Fiona O'Donnell (Lab) - East Lothian
Sandra Osborne (Lab) - Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
Angus Robertson (SNP) - Moray
Mike Weir (SNP) - Angus
Eilidh Whiteford (SNP) - Banff and Buchan
Pete Wishart (SNP) - Perth and North Perthshire

Willie Bain (Lab) - Glasgow North East
Russell Brown (Lab) - Dumfries and Galloway
Margaret Curran (Lab) - Glasgow East
Thomas Docherty (Lab) - Dunfermline and West Fife
Brian Donohoe (Lab) - Central Ayrshire
Gemma Doyle (Lab) - West Dunbartonshire
Michael McCann (Lab) - East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
Gregg McClymont (Lab) - Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
Anne McGuire (Lab) - Stirling
Iain McKenzie (Lab) - Inverclyde
David Mundell (Con) - Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
Pamela Nash (Lab) - Airdrie and Shotts
Alan Reid (Lib Dem) - Argyll and Bute
Jim Sheridan (Lab) - Paisley and Renfrewshire North

I hope the electorate remember how their elected representatives voted when 7th May comes around.

* Because ultimately, it really is nothing more than a penile extension, right?

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Je suis Charlie

It's at times like this that I find this quote from Stephen Fry more pertinent than ever:
It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that." As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. "I find that offensive." It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. "I am offended by that." Well, so fucking what?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Petition mission: Public Apology to Sarah and Sophie

The night of September 19th featured some of the ugliest scenes I've ever seen in Glasgow, as far-right British nationalists, fuelled by alcohol and triumphalism over the No victory in the independence referendum, took to George Square, for the past week a hub of Yes activity, and proceeded to perform Nazi salutes and verbally and physically attack anyone they perceived as being a Yes supporter, gay or "foreign".

One of the most powerful images to emerge from that night was that of two teenage girls bravely holding a saltire while surrounded by a baying mob of Britain First/EDL types. There's some particularly upsetting footage doing the rounds on Facebook of one of the girls being knocked to the ground by an overweight skinhead, who proceeds to rip the flag out of her hands, dragging her along the concrete in the process.

The girls' reward for staging that stand-off was to be carted off by the police to spend a night in the cells. They're now facing charges for "obstructing the police".

The actions of these girls were perhaps foolhardy, but I fail to see how they can possibly justify such a response. A petition has been set up demanding a public apology for the way they've been treated and calling on the Procurator Fiscal to drop all charges against them. Whatever your stance on the issue of Scottish independence, I think most would agree that the way they've been treated by the authorities is totally out of order, and I would urge people to sign:

Bullshit season begins

It’s election year in the UK, and the usual suspects (pictured above) are setting out their stalls, each founded on a pack of lies and cynically designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

It’s not an election I find it easy to get very excited about, due in no small part to the fact that I had hoped it would be an election that wouldn’t affect me. And, in many ways, it does feel like an election taking place in some parallel universe in which I have no part, what with the media’s blanket coverage of UKIP (a party with nothing more than a fringe following where I live) as a major force, the incessant demonisation of migrants and increasing anti-EU rhetoric (again, issues that don’t exactly figure large north of the border, at least as far as I can tell). These people speak a language that is utterly alien to me, and I find myself wishing I could just wash my hands of the whole affair and take nothing to do with any of it.

Still, affect me it does, and I can’t deny that this particular election is at least somewhat interesting due to how uncertain the outcome appears to be, with several wild cards coming into play with the potential to upset the apple cart. The two “main” parties, Labour and the Tories, are both polling at around a miserable 30%, with the remaining 40% spread among parties that were previously considered fringe groups. In Scotland, long considered a bastion of Labour support, the party’s vote share has -- seemingly in defiance of all logic -- plummeted like a rock in the aftermath of the independence referendum, with the supposed losers, the SNP, riding high in poll after poll. Psephologist John Curtice recently opined that, in the face of mounting evidence, there is nothing for it but to accept that every single Labour seat in Scotland is at risk of falling to the SNP in May, with the swing most pronounced in the constituencies that once recorded the highest support for Labour -- places like Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire, all of which voted Yes in the referendum.

Let’s examine the various possibilities. Assuming that the pundits are correct and that a majority for any party is extremely unlikely, I’m going to ignore the prospect of an outright Tory or Labour win and consider the various alternative permutations. I’ve also omitted the possibility of agreements between the Tories & SNP/PC/Greens and Labour & UKIP purely because of how implausible they are. The SNP, for instance, actually passed a conference resolution several years ago stating that they would never go into coalition with the Tories. That leaves us with:

Minority Tory government
Minority Tory government with supply and confidence deal with UKIP
Minority Tory government with supply and confidence deal with Lib Dems
Tory/UKIP coalition
Tory/Lib Dem coalition
Minority Labour government
Minority Labour government with supply and confidence deal with Lib Dems
Minority Labour government with supply and confidence deal with SNP/PC/Greens
Labour/Lib Dem coalition
Labour/SNP/PC/Green coalition

When you look at that list, it becomes... well, “exciting” is the wrong word, so instead I’ll say “unpredictable”. Looked at through the prism of what is best for the UK as a whole, I’d be inclined to say that a minority Labour government kept in check by and dependent on the votes of of the so-called “progressive alliance” of the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru would probably be the option that would do the least harm -- not least because their conditions for support would include an immediate end to the austerity programme that both Labour and the Tories have so gleefully embraced. And then of course there’s the fact that Alex Salmond will almost certainly be heading back to Westminster (unless the unthinkable happens and he loses in his bid to win the Gordon constituency). I should probably begin stockpiling the popcorn...

That said, it should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my primary goal remains an independent Scotland as soon as is humanly possible. I’ve given no small amount of consideration to how that would most readily be achieved, and have come to the conclusion that the most plausible scenario would be some sort of Tory or Tory/UKIP government holding a referendum on EU membership, with England voting to leave and Scotland voting to stay (for the purposes of simplicity, I’m not including Wales and Northern Ireland in the equation). Faced with Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will, the Scottish Government would have the clearest possible mandate to hold a second independence referendum, with the likely result being a Yes victory -- partly because the majority of Scots are, according to the polls, pro-EU, and partly because a second Tory victory, coupled with the already clear failure of Westminster to deliver on the “near federalism” and “Devo Max” promises made in the days leading up to 18th September, would help focus minds. As infuriating as it may be, September’s No vote was quite clearly “No, but...” We know the majority of Scots want Devo Max. We know the majority of Scots want to remain in the EU. We also know, again according to polling carried out in the aftermath of the referendum, that the majority of Scots want another independence referendum within the next decade. If the south of England elects another Tory government and proceeds to drag an unwilling Scotland out of the EU, that could come a lot sooner than ten years from now.

There’s another possibility not listed above, and one that has, in the last couple of weeks, been seriously mooted by a surprising number of media pundits: a “national unity” coalition between the Tories and Labour, designed to freeze out what one journalist hilariously referred to as “the insurgents” -- meaning the SNP in Scotland and UKIP in England. Personally, I can’t see it happening. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect the Tories and Labour would work incredibly well together -- they did during the referendum, after all, and you can barely fit a fag packet between their respective policies -- but it would be electoral suicide for both of them. Both parties have retained their privileged positions by perpetuating, for more than half a century, the Great Lie that an election is a binary choice between the two of them. According to the Great Lie, the two parties are mortal enemies, Labour representing the left and the Tories representing the right. The sight of them working hand in glove in government would bring that illusion to an end in the wider UK... in much the same way that the sight of them working hand in glove during the referendum appears to have brought it to an end in Scotland. Again, such a scenario would almost certainly hasten rather than stall the break-up of the UK, and for that reason I can’t imagine the Tories or even Labour being so stupid as to actually do it. (Mind you, Labour thought they would suffer no ill effects from campaigning with the Tories for a No vote...)

So... here we go again. The scripts practically write themselves. Once in a generation opportunity... Only this party can deliver X, Y and Z... This time we really mean it... A vote for the SNP is a vote for David Cameron... No, a vote for the SNP is a vote for Labour... Pooling and sharing... Nick Clegg making another pledge... I can feel my eyes beginning to glaze over already.

Friday, 2 January 2015

That was the year that was

Well, another one's been and gone. For a variety of reasons, I can't say it's one that will go down in the history books as one of the all-time greats for me, though it contained a number of individual moments of sheer joy. Most of these involved the referendum we had in Scotland on the 18th September on the matter of independence -- or rather, the run-up to it. The result, a narrowish No vote, ranks as one of the most crushingly disappointing moments of my life, and it casts a shadow over the entire year. However, the campaign itself, and in particular the fortnight or so before it, when a bizarre and quite intoxicating euphoria seemed to grip Glasgow, are memories I wouldn't trade for anything. And if the immediate aftermath of the referendum has taught us anything, it's that September 18th was merely the beginning rather than the end of Scotland's journey towards independence. Much as the unionists wish it wasn't the case, the debate is going to continue to run and run. In any event, 2014 was a year of political firsts for me. I attended my first protest rally, joined a political party and voted on the constitutional make-up of the country I live in. The latter, I hope, is something I'll have the opportunity to repeat before too many more years have passed, hopefully with a more agreeable outcome.

I mention all this not simply to indulge in a bit of political tub-thumping but because of the impact it had on my film viewing. I hate to say it, but for a while the act of watching movies started to feel like a rather trivial pursuit and I found myself getting far more satisfaction out of spending a couple of hours reading the latest opinion pieces on the various independence web sites rather than sitting in front of the projection screen. As a result, my viewing figures -- 138 films seen, of which 108 were first watches -- are way down on last year's, and significantly short of my original target of 175 new films.

Still, heres's the full chronological list. (An asterisk designates a rewatch.)


1. The Croods (2013) - 1/1/14 - 5/10
2. Upstream Color (2013) - 2/1/14 - 3/10
3. Mud (2013) - 3/1/14 - 5/10
4. The Kings of Summer (2013) - 5/1/14 - 8/10
5. Trap for Cinderella (2013) - 7/1/14 - 6/10
6. Frances Ha (2012) - 9/1/14 - 8/10
7. Something in the Air (2012) - 10/1/14 - 7/10
8. Me and You (2012) - 11/1/14 - 6/10
9. American Hustle (2013) - 13/1/14 - 7/10
10. The World's End (2013) - 15/1/14 - 8/10
11. Cloud Atlas (2012) - 16/1/14 - 7/10
12. *Stoker (2013) - 17/1/14 - 4/10
13. In a World... (2013) - 17/1/14 - 6/10
14. Before Midnight (2013) - 18/1/14 - 8/10
15. Demons 2 (1986) - 20/1/14 - 5/10
16. *Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - 21/1/14 - 9/10
17. *Broken (2012) - 26/1/14 - 4/10
18. 12 Years a Slave (2013) - 28/1/14 - 10/10
19. *Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - 31/1/14 - 9/10


20. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - 6/2/14 - 8/10
21. The Long Goodbye (1973) - 7/2/14 - 8/10
22. Babylon (TV) (2014) - 9/2/14 - 6/10
23. Heat (1995) - 18/2/14 - 7/10
24. The Lego Movie (2014) - 20/2/14 - 7/10
25. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013) - 28/2/14 - 5/10


26. Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - 7/3/14 - 8/10
27. Page Eight (2011) - 16/3/14 - 8/10
28. Veronica Mars (2014) - 18/3/14 - 7/10
29. Under the Skin (2013) - 20/3/14 - 7/10
30. Turks & Caicos (2014) - 21/3/14 - 8/10
31. Salting the Battlefield (2014) - 29/3/14 - 8/10


32. Frozen (2013) - 1/4/14 - 7/10
33. The Book Thief (2013) - 3/4/14 - 5/10
34. *Gravity (2013) - 4/4/14 - 8/10
35. *The Counselor (2013) - 7/4/14 (with audio commentary)
36. The Interpreter (2005) - 10/4/14 - 7/10
37. Bug (2007) - 14/4/14 - 6/10
38. To Live and Die in LA (1985) - 19/4/14 - 7/10
39. Magnum Force (1973) - 20/4/14 - 8/10
40. The Enforcer (1976) - 21/4/14 - 5/10


41. Tracks (2013) - 1/5/14 - 8/10
42. In Our Name (2010) - 5/5/14 - 7/10
43. *Operation Crossbow (1965) - 12/5/14 - 7/10
44. The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears (2013) - 19/5/14 - 8/10
45. Sudden Impact (1983) - 26/5/14 - 8/10


46. Diamonds are Forever (1971) - 1/6/14 - 4/10
47. *Live and Let Die (1973) - 2/6/14 - 6/10
48. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) - 2/6/14 - 3/10
49. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) - 4/6/14 - 7/10
50. Moonraker (1979) - 8/6/14 - 2/10
51. *For Your Eyes Only (1981) - 9/6/14 - 7/10
52. Octopussy (1983) - 11/6/14 - 5/10
53. A View to a Kill (1985) - 14/6/14 - 3/10
54. *The Living Daylights (1987) - 15/6/14 - 9/10
55. *Licence to Kill (1989) - 18/6/14 - 8/10
56. Goldeneye (1995) - 21/6/14 - 7/10
57. Gangster Squad (2013) - 22/6/14 - 3/10
58. Lucie Aubrac (1997) - 23/6/14 - 6/10
59. *Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - 24/6/14 - 5/10
60. *The World is Not Enough (1999) - 29/6/14 - 6/10


61. Taking Liberties (2007) - 3/7/14 - 7/10
62. *Frozen (2013) - 3/7/14 - 7/10
63. *Hercules (1997) - 4/7/14 - 6/10
64. Non-Stop (2014) - 5/7/14 - 6/10
65. Out of the Furnace (2013) - 6/7/14 - 5/10
66. *Tangled (2010) - 8/7/14 - 7/10
67. Hunger (2008) - 13/7/14 - 8/10
68. Video Nasties: Draconian Days (2014) - 15/7/14 - 7/10
69. *Halloween (1978) - 17/7/14 - 8/10
70. In Fear (2013) - 18/7/14 - 6/10
71. *The Special Relationship (2010) - 20/7/14 - 7/10
72. Jeune & jolie (2013) - 21/7/14 - 7/10
73. Welcome to the Punch (2013) - 31/7/14 - 4/10


74. Shell (2012) - 3/8/14 - 4/10
75. Pusher (2012) - 6/8/14 - 5/10
76. The Seasoning House (2012) - 9/8/14 - 6/10
77. Insomnia (1997) - 10/8/14 - 7/10
78. *Opera (1987) - 11/8/14 - 9/10
79. The Congress (2013) - 15/8/14 - 5/10
80. Good Will Hunting (1997) - 15/8/14 - 10/10
81. Pioneer (2013) - 20/8/14 - 8/10
82. Scotland Yet (2014) - 24/8/14 - 7/10
83. Lucy (2014) - 25/8/14 - 8/10


84. Brick (2005) - 2/9/14 - 4/10
85. Before I Go to Sleep (2014) - 9/9/14 - 5/10
86. The Quiet Ones (2014) - 21/9/14 - 6/10
87. A Most Wanted Man (2014) - 22/9/14 - 9/10
88. The Guardian (1990) - 26/9/14 - 5/10
89. Halloween II (1981) - 28/9/14 - 6/10
90. A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) - 29/9/14 - 7/10
91. *Excision (2012) - 30/9/14 - 7/10


92. *The Loved Ones (2009) - 3/10/14 - 7/10
93. *The Haunting (1963) - 3/10/14 - 9/10
94. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) - 6/10/14 - 7/10
95. Gone Girl (2014) - 7/10/14 - 8/10
96. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) - 13/10/14 - 6/10
97. Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - 14/10/14 - 8/10
98. *Halloween (1978) - 16/10/14 (with audio commentary)
99. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) - 17/10/14 - 2/10
100. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) - 18/10/14 - 4/10
101. *Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998) - 19/10/14 - 6/10
102. '71 (2014) - 21/10/14 - 7/10
103. *Halloween (2007) - 21/10/14 - 3/10
104. Halloween II (2009) - 22/10/14 - 4/10
105. Halloween: Resurrection (2002) - 29/10/14 - 1/10
106. The Babadook (2014) - 31/10/14 - 7/10


107. Nightcrawler (2014) - 4/11/14 - 10/10
108. *A Most Wanted Man (2014) - 9/11/14 - 9/10
109. *Suspiria (1977) - 12/11/14 - 10/10
110. The Hypnotist (2012) - 16/11/14 - 6/10
111. Oculus (2012) - 17/11/14 - 6/10
112. Interstellar (2014) - 19/11/14 - 7/10
113. Her (2013) - 22/11/14 - 4/10
114. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) - 24/11/14 - 8/10
115. The Imitation Game (2014) - 28/11/14 - 8/10


116. Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s (2012) - 1/12/14 - 8/10
117. Grizzly Man (2005) - 3/12/14 - 7/10
118. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) - 5/12/14 - 8/10
119. Locke (2013) - 7/12/14 - 4/10
120. Haunter (2013) - 7/12/14 - 5/10
121. Grand Central (2013) - 8/12/14 - 7/10
122. The Two Faces of January (2014) - 9/12/14 - 7/10
123. The Double (2013) - 11/12/14 - 8/10
124. Calvary (2014) - 12/12/14 - 5/10
125. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) - 14/12/14 - 7/10
126. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) - 15/12/14 - 4/10
127. The Fault in Our Stars (2014) - 16/12/14 - 5/10
128. Venus in Fur (2013) - 19/12/14 - 6/10
129. Withnail & I (1987) - 22/12/14 - 7/10
130. How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) - 24/12/14 - 6/10
131. *Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - 25/12/14 - 8/10
132. *Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) - 27/12/14 - 7/10
133. Two Days, One Night (2014) - 27/12/14 - 6/10
134. *Good Will Hunting (1997) - 28/12/14 - 10/10
135. Welcome to New York (2014) - 29/12/14 - 7/10
136. Enemy (2013) - 30/12/14 - 7/10
137. Paddington (2014) - 31/12/14 - 7/10
138. Saving Mr. Banks (2013) - 31/12/14 - 8/10

Best film I saw? Tied between 12 YEARS A SLAVE, GOOD WILL HUNTING and NIGHTCRAWLER. Worst film? Without a doubt HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. Yeesh.

I also found time to read a handful of books, albeit a far lesser quantity compared to the number of films I consumed:

The Devil's Staircase - Helen FitzGerald
Dying Light - Stuart MacBride
Nordic Noir - Barry Forshaw
Driftnet - Lin Anderson
Rachel Cord PI and the "Bad Bitch Blues" - R.E. Conary
*The Devil Rides Out - Dennis Wheatley
I am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes
Dario Argento - L. Andrew Cooper
Broken Skin - Stuart MacBride
The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris
*Hannibal - Thomas Harris
The Negotiator - Frederick Forsythe
My Last Confession - Helen FitzGerald
*Garnethill - Denise Mina
The Girl Who Played with Fire - Denise Mina
The Argento Syndrome - Derek Botelho
This is Where I Am - Karen Campbell
The Night Hunter - Caro Ramsay
Stieg & Me - Eva Gabrielsson
The Secret Place - Tana French
*The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien
Red Fox - Gerald Seymour
The Annotated Hobbit - Douglas A. Anderson/J.R.R. Tolkien
Red Dragon - Thomas Harris

We'll see what 2015 brings. With any luck, rather more books read and movies watched, and a whole lot more political unrest. A better-paying job with more contracted hours would also be nice, not to mention making some headway on the writing front. Anyway, here's to the next twelve months. May they bring you good health and prosperity!