Friday, June 27, 2008

... I'm happy again...

... just singin' and dancin' in the rain!

A comment specifically designed to naff off all the people who are bewildered by my choice of 'Singin' in the Rain' in my top 10.

Let's consider lists for a moment. What good are they? Do we ever learn anything useful from lists? There are, for example, two types of people in the World, those who divide people into two types of people, and those who don't. A list is just a list (a sigh is just a sigh). The fundamental things of life apply in funny ways. A list might be interesting, even if it means nothing. So, I stand by my list, and I repeat it, for those who missed it: My top ten films of all time are as follows:
1) Singin' in the Rain
2) Casablanca
3) Some Like it Hot
4) This is Spinal Tap
5) A Matter of Life and Death
6) The Empire Strikes Back
7) A Canterbury Tale
8) One Million Years BC
9) Ferris Bueller's Day Off
10) The Magnificent Seven

Now let's see what you made of that.

Oh, and, Zing, by the way.

(Just getting some business out of the way)

Hrothgar - I may well write an Alpha Legion novel set in 40K. Sounds like a good idea. 'The Lightning Tower' and Graham's counter-piece are now available as an audiobook. The next Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus will be out very soon.

Big - (back on topic). Yes, I do tend to take the first three Star Wars films as one gulp, although 'Empire' is still the best. 'The Magnificent Seven' may well be a poor remake of 'The Seven Samurai' (which is a fantastic movie), but 'The Magnificent Seven' is an epic all of its own. Just the relationship between Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner is worth the ticket price, alone. Brynner's iconic role as the man in black was so cool and memorable that it lasted through to movies like 'West World'. Besides that, you've got James Coburn being totally Mkvenner with his knife, Charles Bronson defending the little kids, and Robert Vaughn sliding his lip down the stucco wall as he dies. The film is, in so many ways, a total win. And the answer to the secret question is Brad Dexter. You're right, 'The Magnificent Seven' takes me back to the time I first saw it, pre-'The Seven Samurai'. But it rocks, and it has one of the best soundtracks of any movie, ever. I defy anyone to remain unstirrred when they hear it. This film makes it into the top ten by dint of soundtrack alone, but if it wasn't the soundtrack, there'd be another equally valid reason, probably Steve McQueen saying, "So far, so good."

I think that covers one of my choices.

Rob - Thank you for stepping in. 'Singin' in the Rain' is absolutely the best 'bad day' movie of all time. I agree that there might have been more Kurasawa on my list, but that would be very blinkered. I think you would all agree that my top ten is rounded, if nothing else. Oh, yes I might have two Powell and Pressburger films on there, but it's POWELL and PRESSBURGER for crying out loud.

Jackwraith - You can Scooby Doo all you like, but my list stands. 'Blade Runner' is a fabulous film, and, like 'Pulp Fiction', it would definitely make my Top TWENTY, alongside 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'Conan the Barbarian', 'Adam's Rib', 'Born Yesterday', 'Glengarry Glenross', 'Twelve Angry Men' and 'Raise the Titanic' (just kidding about the last one).

Hurrah for the Hussar - If we're on TV series, then 'Band of Brothers' is an absolute winner. I watch it regularly to get in the mood, and I still think that Damien Lewis would make a great Gaunt.

Tom - Thank you for your staunch defence, and your appreciation of the odds I'm up against. 'Singin' in the Rain' stays on my list despite all the nay-sayers.

Someone e-mailed me privately to remind me of the wonderfulness of 'The Godfather'. It would make my 100, because it's properly good, but pay attention to the films in the Top 10.

Big - Thanks for your multi-genre top 10. 'Braveheart'? Despite the historical inaccuracies, 'Braveheart'? 'It's a Wonderful Life' makes my top 20, but I would list 'Them!' and 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' before I'd get to 'Invaders from Mars'. 'Zulu' and 'Wild Geese' are cracking films, but I don't think they'd be up there in my top 20, maybe my top 30. What about 'Deliverence'? Or 'Duel'?

Or 'Jaws'?

Nik just suggested 'Purple Rain'. You've got to give her full marks for nostalgia and Apollonia.

Okay, let's get down to this properly.

First of all, because I didn't give it, my genre specific top ten list:
1) When Harry Met Sally
2) Steel Magnolias
3) Pretty Woman
4) Singin' in the Rain

... oh, not romcom genre specific, then. Okay, sci-fi (ish):
1) Empire Strikes Back
2) Alien
3) Aliens
4) Terminator
5) Beneath the Planet of the Apes
6) Blade Runner
7) Close Encounters...
8) Mad Max II
9) The Innocents
10) Moon Zero Two

Let's get down to the ten on the list. Number 1: 'Singin' in the Rain'.

Any film in which Donald O'Connor runs up a wall is tops with me. This film stands out as a benchmark between the times when people could do this shit and when CGI learned to do this shit. It's packed with fabulous tunes and the most amusing story. Cyd Charisse is but a walk-on, with her million dollar legs. People don't have these skills any more, and we won't see a film like this ever again. The 'Make Em Laugh' routine is one of the most extraordinary things ever put on film. And yes, the film is a rainy day pleasure. Nik and I watch it with the girls every Christmas eve, it's part of our routine. If you haven't seen 'Singin' in the Rain', see it. If you've got kids, watch it with them. And really watch it. Look at what they're doing. Nobody can do that any more. I repeat NO BODY can do that any more.

Number 2: 'Casablanca'.

The perfect film. In filmic terms, it's like 'Hamlet', so many lines have been quoted from it that you forget what the original was like. For example, "the usual suspects". The script of Casablance is so tight and so well-delivered that the film hangs together in the most amazing way. On top of that, you've got Bogie, Ingrid Bergman (the most beautiful woman in the world), Claude Raines, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (in a bit part). It's like all the wonderfulness of Hollywood collided in one place at the same time. I defy anybody to sneer at this film.

Number 3: 'Some Like it Hot'.

A film in which Tony Curtis manages to be more beautiful than Marilyn Monroe. We've got a black and white film in a colour era about cross-dressing with Tony and Jack playing the most wonderful dames. It's a pantomime. Marilyn was never sexier than in this film. She got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Tony doing Carey Grant on the beach is priceless, and the line, "I'll say, I've had three ponies drown under me" is legendary. Billy Wilder never made a better film, and he made some damn good films. George Raft flicks the coin in the most sinister way, playing upon his movie stereotype. I've been to the hotel in Coranado where it was filmed, and it looks just the same today as it did when they pretended it was Florida. This film has to be on everybody's top ten.

Number 4: 'This is Spinal Tap'.

"In here, there's a little man, but in here, there's nothing. What I want is big bread." If that wasn't enough, 'This is Spinal Tap' has so much clever written all over it that my dad, bless him, thought it was a documentary. This is the most quotable movie of all time, beating out, even, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', which lurks, affectionately, up in my mid-twenties. We may have the knights who say 'ni', but we do have "Fire and ice", and "Don't even look at that". I dare you to diss this film.

Number 5: 'A Matter of Life and Death'.

Powell and Pressburger. David Niven. Life and Death. Beautifully shot and wonderfully staged, this film has all sorts of goodies waiting for the viewer. The splits between heaven and Earth are wonderful enough, but the moment when the table tennis match freezes in time is one of the greatest moments in cinema. Second only to that, is the moment when David Niven wakes up on the beach, meets the boy playing panpipes, thinks he's gone to heaven, and then looks up as the Mosquito (was it a Mosquito?) thunders overhead: a moment of pure brilliance.

Number 6: 'The Empire Strikes Back'.

Despite the arse about face structure of 'The Empire Strikes Back', it's by far and away the best of the Star Wars films. Who cares if the baddies win in the end? We've had walkers and Hoth and Bespin, and Bobba Fett, and the best asteroid chase in the history of asteroid chases. 'Star Wars' was fantastic and 'Return of the Jedi' was great, but 'The Empire Strikes Back' was the masterpiece in the middle of the trilogy. The Hoth sequence alone is the dog's.

Number 7: 'A Canterbury Tale'.

Yes, another Powell and Pressburger film. I apologise, ( 'The life and death of Colonel Blimp' is right up there too). Powell and Pressburger could do things with cinema that other people could only dream about. A propoganda movie made in black and white, and centred around Canterbury, a recognisable Canterbury, this film is absolutely fantastic. Cameron Diaz was not the first girl to get sticky stuff in her hair. For the first 45 minutes of this movie, you'll wonder why you bothered, and what's going on. Stay with it. It is the most uplifting and celebratory film you've ever seen. If it doesn't bring a tear to your eyes, then you've been watching something else. And where else would you see a boy on the top of a hay cart out of a first floor window, or Bren carriers churning around the landscape?

Number 8: 'One Million Years BC'.

I don't have to defend this. It should be on everybody's list. Ray Harryhausen's dinosaurs win it for me, but then you have to include the wonderful, weird soundtrack that haunts the non-vocal exploits of the Cromagnon and Neanderthal protagonists. Oh, plus, it has Raquel Welch in a suede bikini. Good times.

Number 9: 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'.

This is just a good film that makes you feel happy. "Bueller? Bueller?" I defy you not to laugh at that. Or at "Something D-O-O economics." The sequence in the art gallery just makes you smile. The street dancing is just wonderful. The flip up shades. And there's Alan Ruck.

Number 10: 'The Magnificent Seven'.

I think we've covered this earlier.

Sleep tight.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Special Purple Drinking Fountain

Zing! New post!

Apologies that today's Zing! is a little late, but I've been busy, and travelling, so forgive me for missing a blog-week (which is like a dog year). I went to Baltimore, like you do, to attend Games Day, and a jolly good event it was too: endless signings, a very convivial seminar run by me, Mike Lee and Vince Rospond, and an interview on Warhammer 40K Radio ("Goin' awl the way back! Hit after hit!").

Baltimore was, as ever, very lovely and sunny, and I can particularly recommend their aquarium and their Barnes and Noble. I stayed at Fells Point, the Georgetown-esque, old part of the city, which is extravagantly picturesque, and capable of delivering the finest crab cakes known to human beings. I stayed at the 'Admiral Fell Inn'. That's a joke all by itself.

I feel a large number of thanks are required at this point: to Jervis and the Games Workshop crew from Nottingham for being cheerful companions in the limbo that is Heathrow; to Vince and his family (hello all!) for running the show and being wonderful company during the entire trip; to Mike Lee, my partner in crime on Darkblade and a seriously fine novelist, for being great company both at the stand and at the bar, even though I may have made him cry like a pretty little girl; to the queues of people, who make the job worthwhile; to Venus, my taxi driver, for getting so hopelessly lost on the way to Glen Burnie; to customs official Jessica Jester for stamping my passport and having the best name of the trip; to Bert Smith of GW USA for duty above and beyond the call, chauffeuring me around and surviving nearly three hours of heavy traffic on the way back to Baltimore (as we were following the traffic, generally lost, through Anacostia, Bert remarked, "So how did you get Dan Abnett shot?" "Well, it's a funny story..."). Thanks Bert, I really owe you, and I appreciate you taking the time. The biggest thanks of all have to go to Jeff Barlow, an officer of the close protection service of the Pentagon Police. He was the reason I had Bert drive me out of Baltimore and down the 495. Jeff is a fan of my work, and e-mailed me when he heard that I was going to be in Maryland for Games Day. As a member of the Pentagon Police (the Pentagon is like the Vatican, it is sovereign soil and requires its own dedicated police force. The FBI aren't allowed in, so the Pentagon Police force has to run the place in terms of security and also those annoying little matters like prostitution, drug-trafficking and murder. With a population in excess of 30,000 the Pentagon is a small city, complete with its own shops and restaurants), Jeff wondered if I'd like a tour.

I considered his offer for about... ooh... a micro-second, and said, 'yes'. Jeff, an ex-paratrooper and marine, six foot four in his cop-style uniform, packing a Glock and a night-stick, met me and Bert in one of the gigantic parking lots and gave us a fascinating three hour tour of the building. If I was to recount all the cool stuff and stories that Jeff told me, this blog would run and run, and you wouldn't believe half of it. To sum up, we had a great time. I got to visit Ground Zero Cafe, stand in the doorway of the Secretary of Defence's office, behold the entrance to the National Military Command Centre (Jeff told me that even if I had both keys, the cipher key, and the correct palm and retina print, I still wouldn't be allowed inside because I'm not an American citizen. He said that, at the end of the hallway, there were a couple of guys sitting behind a desk, and if a visitor hadn't identified himself by the time he reached the desk, they had two buttons to push. One was the alarm, and he wasn't allowed to tell me what the other one did). Soberingly, I got to stand at the exact point where the airliner hit on 9/11. Jeff explained that, for a number of reasons, it could have been so much worse, more awful than any of us can imagine.

He told us lots of cool stories, some of which, I'm sure, will blend into Gaunt in the next few years. The one I'll share with you (I have a sneaking suspicion that in other stories he told us rather more than he should have done... how many floors below ground does the Pentagon have?) is the story of the special purple drinking fountain. When the Pentagon was built in 1942, it was equipped with several hundred drinking fountains, all of them of the classic, 1940s ceramic style. They were all blue. Except, that is, for the one in the Air Force Command Centre. This particular drinking fountain was purple. No one knows why... a bad batch? a mis-order? someone's idea of a joke? The truth will never be known, but the point is that it began to acquire a certain mythical status. The preeminent Air Force officers of the day swore by the purple drinking fountain, and claimed it had almost mystical properties. After a while, all the branches of the armed forces trekked through the labyrinths of the Pentagon to drink at the fountain. It was like a holy grail. When the Air Force area was refurbished some time ago, they couldn't bring themselves to rip out the purple fountain. It now resides in a glass display case at the entrance to the Air Force area, a testament to the interface between military logic and personal superstition.

Oh, and official tour guides in the Pentagon walk backwards without looking where they're going. I've no idea how they do this. Training, I suppose. I saw several of them at work and marvelled at their skills. I also enjoyed it every time Jeff opened a door, stood back, and said, "Excuse me, General," to someone walking past.

Now that's how you spend a Friday in anyone's money. Jeff, thank you, and please send your address to me soon so I can mail you a bunch of stuff.

Since we're on a 'thank you' riff, I'd like to say thank you to Geoff Johns for the various lovely remarks he made on internet sites about me and Andy. I'd also like to thank Chris Roberson, author of "The Dragon's Nine Sons", which I feel should be on everybody's reading shelf. Not only has Chris said the most vindicating things about my work on the Games Workshop franchise, he also took the time to praise "Guardians of the Galaxy", the Marvel title that Andy and I are writing. I would urge you to track down and read his blog.

And now, the Q and A:

Al - Titanicus is a Sabbat Worlds story set at the same time as the Ghost books.

Blue Raven - The next cycle of Ghosts books will be entitled, "The Victory". Make of that what you will. Titanicus is a stand alone, unless people like it so much that they demand a sequel (see Double Eagle).

Bert - "Thorn Wishes Talon" will be available in the forthcoming Ravenor omnibus.

OK, let's be clear about this. The top ten films of all time are as follows:
1) Singing in the Rain
2) Casablanca
3) Some Like it Hot
4) This is Spinal Tap
5) A Matter of Life and Death
6) The Empire Strikes Back
7) A Canterbury Tale
8) One Million Years BC
9) Ferris Bueller's Day Off
10) The Magnificent Seven

This list is definitive. It absolutely is. There is no way on Earth that any of these films can be wrested from the pantheon of the top ten films. Or is there? I invite comment... but ONLY from people who have actually watched all of these films (twice). If you haven't, shut the f**k up.

Matthew Churchill - Chaos never sleeps. It really doesn't, but, sometimes, it naps.

Goodnight all.

PS And if anyone's really interested, I'll use my next blog to defend and critique my ten choices. But, you know I'm right.