07/03/10 – 10/03/10

Loudly then, let’s hear it for the consonants. Consonants are ace. They are the last thing to go when words get shortened for txt mssgs. Also they vastly outnumber vowels so they are bound to win the upcoming war between them.

The best thing about consonants is the way you can chain them together. Not like vowels. Yoke vowels together and you get an ugly old diphthong or, very rarely, a triphthong. Consonants however can keep on coming.

My favourite bunch of consonants, seeing as you ask, was on a road sign in Yorkshire for a place called Hampsthwaite. Six consecutive consonants!

If you saw “mpsthw” just written down in isolation (as in fact you just have) you wouldn’t think it was pronounceable. Stick it in the middle of Hampsthwaite and you don’t even notice.

And for these reasons consonants are better than vowels.

I may have had slightly too much coffee today.


Strata is one of those words (like media) which is a plural already. Stratum and medium. These are the singular forms. I know that you already know this, but a lot of people don’t. Mostly people in different strata of the media ironically.

Stratas and medias are words I don’t like to hear in news bulletins, but I may just have to get used to it.

My Dad once got called pedantic at university for referring to “pendula” rather than “pendulums”. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree eh?

You’re on your own if you’ve got more than one octopus though. Not even God knows the true plural of that word. I don’t think anyone really thinks it’s octopi. I once heard octopodes, but I suspect most right-thinking people just stick with octopuses.

I have been thinking about strata recently.

When I was growing up I definitely considered myself a science fiction fan. I loved reading SF, and by that I mean proper SF with science in it and that. None of your Orcspell Dragonrune Darklord nounfusion for me. And that was the covenant.

SF readers could look down on fantasy readers who in turn could look down on the sci-fi movie geeks. Movie fans could lord it over the TV fans and God help the poor comics readers in this vast, self-justifying, stratified pyramid of self-hatred.

Anyway, what we could all agree on was that the only reason Battlestar Galactica existed at all was to give the Star Trek fans someone to feel morally and intellectually superior to.

Even by the slipshod standards of episodic 70s American TV the original Battlestar Galactica was a bit of a shocker. An almost offensively blatant rip-off of Star Wars it lacked charm, invention and purpose. The sequel series Galactica 80 set on what was then present-day Earth was such an atrocity that decent-minded people all across the world still refuse to discuss it.

I vaguely remember that the heroes had invisible flying motorcycles, which must have been so much easier for the effects crew than visible flying motorcycles.

There was, however, something very slight at the centre of Battlestar Galactica that was somehow attractive and exciting. The idea of the remnants of twelve separate human civilisations on a rag-tag fleet of surviving ships fleeing an implacable mechanical enemy was a strong and intriguing one.

When it was “re-imagined” in 2003 as a big budget TV series I was quite excited. The creators really seemed to be on to something too. In a frenzy of inspiration they made the Cylons (who had been simple mechanical bad-bots in the seventies) an evolved form of life originally made by the humans.

Also the Cylons were given a monotheistic religious creed versus the polytheism practised by the humans in the series. There were loads of ways of reading this.

A threat of our own making? Well that’s radical Islam surely. Except the Cylons seemed to represent Christianity in their proselytising zeal and desire to obliterate anything other.

I like things which are open to interpretation, but the longer I pursued Battlestar Galactica the more I became convinced that the writers hadn’t really thought this through at all.

There were plenty of other reasons to enjoy the programme, great retro-design, strong characterisation and so on, but it all seemed to peter out a bit. And after a series or so I got tired of people in vests growling at other people in vests.

I totally fell out of love with it and I was immoderate in my criticisms. It’s a funny thing, but I always seem to get venomous about things which have slightly disappointed me. It’s like I can cope with the deplorable, the execrable and the just plain bad, but if something is almost brilliant and then turns out to be mediocre I overreact like a tartrazine-deprived toddler.

In the last few weeks I have finally caught up with the final series of Battlestar Galactica on DVD and I would like to retract all my former opinions and criticisms if that’s OK.

It didn’t really seem possible but in those final fourteen episodes the creators managed an ending that was not only dignified but also dramatically and emotionally satisfying. It’s a master class in how to finish a thing. I am now looking forward to re-watching it all and to catching the prequel/sequel thing Caprica.


I enjoyed seeing the success of The Hurt Locker, Precious and Up at the Oscars on Sunday. I was also impressed by James Cameron’s magnanimity in the face of defeat, though he was presumably consoled by the fact that he could fly home in a diamond encrusted helicopter made of platinum whereas his critics (well at least one of them) has to drive round in a Nissan Micra which currently looks like it’s been rally driving through a sanctuary for incontinent wildfowl.

It’s as well that Avatar didn’t win any big awards. It is going to look a bit on the piddly side in a few short years whereas Precious, Up and Hurt Locker will likely remain vital, watchable films that encapsulate an era.

It’s always a little bit of a shame when the Oscar voters plump for something obviously wrong. I was delighted to see Jeff Bridges get his best actor award but I was convinced he’d already won one for his role in Starman in 1984. I was wrong though. He was nominated for that but he lost out to… F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus.

Bloody hell.

Still it must have been nice for the makers of such later masterpieces as Star Trek Insurrection, Th13een Ghosts and Shark Swarm to claim that they had Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham gracing their efforts.


And a couple of films in between the work and the BSG episodes.

Bubba Ho-Tep is basically uncriticisable.

Elvis Presley, having traded places with an Elvis impersonator some years previously, is lying impotent and presumably close to death in a nursing home when the appearance of an undead Egyptian mummy rekindles a bit of life in him. With some unlikely sidekicks the King prepares for battle.

You either buy into it or you don’t. I did. Elvis is played magnificently by Bruce Campbell, the big-chinned fellow from the Evil Dead movies whose line in self-deprecation is outdone only by his line in everybody-else-deprecation.  The director Don Coscarelli is a favourite of mine after his sound work on the four Phantasm movies and the towering Beastmaster. The Phantasm films are miracles of long-term low-budget filmmaking. Beastmaster is two minutes of Tanya Roberts cavorting with her top off and a bunch of other stuff that has slipped my mind. I think Don Coscarelli might be a bona fide genius.

I’m not sure Bubba Ho-Tep would make the grade as the focus of a big night out, but it’s a damn fine Sunday afternoon in with some mates and a big plate of curry.

Cheers Lawrence, by the way.

Clearing stuff off my Sky hard disk I came across Dust Devil, Richard Stanley’s not much loved 1993 movie.

Stanley came to prominence with an ace SF movie called Hardware, a brutish but effective post apocalyptic thriller which (and this will determine whether or not you are the sort of person who would like this) featured a cameo appearance by Lemmy. I love Hardware and was delighted by its re-appearance on DVD and Blu-ray last year.

Dust Devil I had never seen before, but it has a reputation for not being awfully good, a reputation it definitely doesn’t deserve. It’s a lovely piece of work about a shape-shifting creature which preys on the despairing.

Filmed entirely on location in Namibia the film has a unique patina to it and often seems to have been conjured rather than directed. Stanley splashes the light around like paint and gives the film a look far beyond what is suggested by the meagreness of his budget.

The script is deliberately oblique and often impossible to penetrate, but it’s absolutely captivating nevertheless.  And it’s got some old school cinematic integrity to it as well. It’s from the days when if you wanted to film a house on fire you didn’t use computers. You used a house and some petrol.


11 comments on “07/03/10 – 10/03/10

  1. Re plurals, my heart swelled with pride the other day when I heard the phrase ‘procurators fiscal’ on a radio news bulletin.

    I have also learned to grit my teeth when I hear ‘one in X number are’ rather than ‘one in X number is’.

  2. Good shout on Dust Devil.
    Nice to see a horro movie set in a desert that’s not Utah and Stanley, who I think was a local lad, makes great use of the sweeping landscapes.
    Also liked the cop figure, an unresourced everyman pitting himself, unknowingly, against a full on demon. Bound to end in tears, more’s the pity.
    Tonight’s contribution to world cinema’s fightbck against the Hollywood domination of genre film is me going to see Gallic gangster flick A Prophet.
    (That Gallic gangsters, not Gaelic ones, though I could see the start of a whole new Highland genre -Get Teuchter and, of course, The Mod-father)

  3. Octopodes. Stephen Fry said so.

    I avoided BSG like the plague as I really liked the original series. And that one episode they made a while after with Starbuck and the Cylon on a planet, Enemy Mine style. Not sure what this Galactica 80 thing your talking about is though.

    I finally did watch the reimagining and it’s bloody brilliant. Dips a bit in the middle of the last two seasons though. The atmosphere drop was amazing. I think we’re in a bit of a minority in being satisfied with the series finale though.

    I’ve seen the Caprica pilot (watch a DVD version, it’s got tits in it) and the first few episodes and it’s pretty good from what I’ve seen. the pilot was very good actually.

    As was Bubba-Ho Tep

  4. RE. Octopudies

    The OED, surely the final word on any word, prefers Octopuses but also lists Octopi as a (rare form). Mr Fry (as MacGuyver correctly points out) goes for octopuses as the word is of Greek derivision unlike Cactus which is Latin and therefore does become Cacti in the plural (or maybe its the other way around with the Greek and Latin, I forget).


    As however we’re speaking neither Latin nor Greek (or Greek nor Latin) then I think either can be right; just Octopuses is more right.

    That sounds very Orwellian if you ask me though. 🙂

  5. James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.

    Not really contected with John’s blog but I love this sentence and like to share it. 🙂

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