Tron: Legacy (2010) and Daft Punk.


Tron (1982) was some kind of game-changer, a belter that pronounced there were existential possibilities within the personal computer to explore, shambolic micro worlds which parallel our own with power structures at their core (fascism in a motherboard).


For a mass-entertainment movie it is one deep experience, and even the Reagan-era state-of-the-art special effects weirdly haven’t dated. It was, with War Games (1983) and The Terminator (1984), one of the first movies to confront what is now a pre-eminent disaster scenario – a virus in the works.

Tron: Legacy (2010) has nothing on the original, though it does at a Disney-level ponder the impossibility of perfection and the dangers of so-called ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Visually, however, it is the peak of sleek, images that would make the 1984 Macintosh weep like George Orwell at the Night of the Long Knives.

The score is CR7 with a football –  a technological cutting-edge marvel of electronics and orchestra. The images mirror a Sergio Leone shoot-out in their synchronicity with the music. And if the mise en scène were set to a James Horner sesh I’d turn the spectacle off.

FYI: I could listen to this score whilst taking a Harry Dunne dump and it would be cinematic. Incredible sounds.



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Henry Worsley – the modern-day Shackleton.


I didn’t know a thing about this bloke and his quite bonkers accomplishments until I stumbled upon a ‘long-read’ New Yorker article, ‘The White Darkness‘. By the end of the piece I was flabbergasted, drained (from the warm confines of my living room), and in awe of the feats accomplished.

Worsley’s travails on Antarctica mirrored those of Ernest Shackleton a century ago. In 2008 he led an expedition through the Transantarctic Mountains, 100 years after Shackleton’s Nimrod misadventure. And in 2011 he redid Roald Amundsen’s 1912 journey to the South Pole.

Worsley’s final mission was to complete his journey unaided (and without a kite to help drag his supply sled) across Antarctica in 80 days. He somehow managed 913 miles in 69 days, but had to radio for assistance with only 30 miles to completing Shackleton’s unfinished Endurance trek. Airlifted to Chile, he died on 24 January, 2016.


Be it scaling Everest or circumnavigating the globe on a yacht, feats of human endurance – failures or not – have something of the Homeric in them. It’s an Icarus kind of deal.

Further reading:

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Downsizing (2017) and utopia.


In this decidedly odd (by common reckoning) picture, the disenfranchised, the dissatisfied, and the financially … fucked get themselves miniaturised – or ‘downsized’ – in order that they’ll be free to discover the sweet life they were previously denied by their limitations. It’s presented as a sine qua non; the only way for them to discover all the worldly pleasures (the American Dream?) is in an artificial community for modern-day Lilliputians.

There’s a lot to be said for a movie with both the materialist and the ecological at its forefront. We surely can’t expand forever, and with overpopulation and the ‘drain on resources’ we just might have to regress, the irony here being that the characters shrink yet conversely (in an almost alternate world) discover more than they would have before.

The utopia here is one inhabited by mostly entirely self-aware characters, but as this is a familiar tale, every new world becomes a microcosm of the former; people will be people. As the thug-philosopher Tony Soprano would maintain, there’s no geographical solution to an emotional problem.

The movie loses its way towards the end, with such a promising premise wasted on narrative detours and too many subplots. It is, however, quite the change from explosions and talking robots who morph into cars.

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The Boeing 314 Clipper.


Look at this madness. A bygone age, passengers on Boeing’s 314 Clipper were graced with sleeping compartments, lounges, changing rooms, and a bridal suite (De Lux Compartment) for trans-Atlantic travel. Some of the images of the time (1930s and ’40s) appear ‘pre-history’, as if this is how all air travel should be; we were denied it by economics and the rather vexing religious cuckoo.

The Emirates A380 business class experience is the closest parallel to that luxury flying boat; think Patrick Bateman from Dubai to Sydney with all the mod cons. What’s missing, however, is … well, look at that photo of the Clipper interior – it’s pure shameless decadence at 13,000 feet, but without the sandals and hoodies. Every Master of the Universe is suited and booted.


When I make my millions from pulling off the most daring robbery (don’t tell anyone) since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, I’ll be flying from airport to airport on one of these Emirates bad boys, a bottle of £20,000 champagne and the Mighty Ducks movies to accompany my victory laps. I won’t be visiting places; the airports will suffice.

Further reading/viewing:

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Edinburgh roundabouts ….


This park is usually frequented by mutilated junkies off their tits or those wee post-Noughties hipster kids taking selfies on the swings (the Decline of Western Civilisation). You are, however, blessed once in a blue moon (Definition: informal, very rarely) by these kind of vignettes. Silence. No one in sight. Lovely.

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The Great War – YouTube channel.


YouTube is littered with pointless garbage (cat videos, webcam rants, ‘best fails’) that perplexingly garner millions of views; this, however, is one of the gem finds. A week-by-week account of the First World War told in ten-minute (or thereabouts) episodes, what impresses is the sheer volume of research and breadth of detail. As far as I know, the programme makers are not professional historians in the traditional sense or have emerged from the academic field, but everything is painstakingly researched and just as accessible as your weekly Gangnam Style and all that.

Perhaps this is the New History, online sources our breadcrumbs trail to books.


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Nil By Mouth (1997)


51RCE5V6KFLWith Gary Oldman tipped for his first Oscar after rave reviews for his impenetrable Churchill craic in Darkest Hour (2017), I watched a few of his most lauded performances, coming away from The Firm (1989) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) especially impressed. It was Nil By Mouth (1997), however, this his directorial debut in which he doesn’t star, which most remained.

I first saw it in 2002 at the recommendation of a classmate who broke 9/11 to me. It was because of such profound importance I attached to his statements that I rented (R.I.P. Blockbuster) this grim, thoroughly … grim movie. I’d seen Scum (1979), another Alan Clarke bit of Ray Winstone savagery, and Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993), but this was something else.

Despairing portraits of working-class life back in their Saturday Night and Sunday Morning heydey were always suggestive rather than explicit. Stuck-in-a-rut characters had their transient pleasures and, dare I say it, trivial pursuits. The Nil By Mouth (1997) equivalent to Albert Finney’s beer binges appears to be calamitous drug use, domestic terror, and injecting heroin in the back of a dirty van. This is a movie with no regard for aesthetic polish or even entertainment – it reminded me of one of those socially conscious photographs (Dorothea Lange) of the Great Depression or the slum tenements of New York in the 1890s.

I would skip the popcorn when watching Nil By Mouth (1997).

Further reading:

Full movie:

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Medieval globetrotters.

Concerning us riff raff in the Middle Ages, I pictured some plonker of my age birthed in a ditch and travelling in a lifetime no further than 30 miles from that manky hole in the ground. That was my preconception of life as a shackled-up member of the peasantry.

The thing is they *did* travel – it was an arduous, unforgiving task fraught with more dangers than a Saw movie, but there were, as recent research has illustrated, plenty of people who embraced the unknown and left their ‘shitholes’ simply for the pleasures of the destination, the exhilaration of seeing new things. The Canterbury Tales were ‘real life’.


I’ve yet to see a film forensically shed light upon the dangers and pitfalls of travelling in the Middle Ages – how it was done, the ordeal of the whole escapade. Imagine plodding hundreds, even thousands, of miles in heavily armed groups to reduce the dangers, the only knowledge of your destination that of hearsay, not a single image preparing you for the place.

Cinema needs a cracker about a penniless tradesman slogging it solo across all manner of mayhem, ‘Edmund’ from a Lancashire hovel on his epic mission to Florence. Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) is the only flick in recent memory that with verisimilitude depicts some snippet of the gruelling nature of travel back in the dark days, this the late 12th century of the crusade and the crucifix.


I have this image of your stock member of the rabble doing anything to escape his lot (‘Nastybrutish and short‘), the grasping of even the most remote of opportunities, a former serf, now peasant, off exploring sans the protection of his noble.

I’ve met so many folk in Edinburgh who simply have no interest in seeing the world. It’s not their oyster; it’s an irrelevance. The sense of haughtiness applies even at the micro level – “Why would I want to sample Aldi when I have a Lidl on my doorstep?” Today’s by-choice non-travellers are a carbon copy of our image of the medieval peasantry. Either through poverty – a simple economic inability to explore – or through a self-cocooning belief that other places don’t belong to them, a large swathe of our populace travel proportionally less than their medieval counterparts. I don’t get it. Perhaps staying put it just easier and that’s the only explanation for it.

The dangers of travel are immeasurably less than in, say, 1418, yet the fears of tragic happenstance metastasise in the mind – pervasive news media can really pump the fear. It could be you on that AWOL Malaysia Airlines flight.

In a digital world which comes to you, there is less need to seek out the exotic. Video games and virtual reality are the modern-day pilgrimage, Amazon and eBay the trip into town.

Further reading:


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Gorgie/Dalry – then and now.


Some eerie, bittersweet photos in The Scotsman newspaper today of shopfronts in 1981 Gorgie and Dalry, all snaps taken by then-art student Catherine Stevenson.

Link to article:


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Frosty Boxing Day in Edinburgh’s suburbs.

IMG_20171226_091804350~3On most mornings I look around my Slateford surroundings and utter “What a shithole” under my breath. A combination of festive ice and a dearth of commuters gave me thankful chills this Boxing Day. And I didn’t slip on my arse. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

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