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Friday, 27 November 2015

Worst.Vampire. Hunters. Ever.

 “The Strain”, it would appear, was a puzzling labour of love for director/writer Guillermo del Toro. In 2006 he put the idea for a vampire TV series to producers, but it wasn’t picked up. Not to be deterred, del Toro recruited Chuck Hogan, an author with a strong orientation towards screenplay writing, to write a trilogy of novels. I confess to not having read the novels or much into the background of The Strain prior to watching the TV series. I am currently watching the second season, neatly based on the second novel. The third season is out next year, which might only take in half the final part. Del Toro believes that two seasons would do the third novel the most justice, but he is also open to divergences for the benefit of a successful adaptation. One cannot help but read that as his hope to keep the franchise going as long as possible.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Continuiry Bond - A Review of "Spectre"

With this, Eon Films’ fourth instalment of their James Bond reboot starring Daniel Craig, there was clearly a strong intention to both pay homage to the previous franchise and to reward those who have stayed with the current one. Clearly the geek-factor that nearly all Hollywood franchises take seriously is at the very heart of “Spectre”, which is currently the most expensive movie in the history of Bond. How this geek-factor is dealt with in the made-by-committee blockbusters of today can determine the quality of the art being produced.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Striking from the Shadows of '50s Pulp Fiction - Review of Robert Bloch's "Psycho"

 Just off a junction on a busy highway there still exists Bates Motel. This struggling business is run by Norman Bates who endures an oppressive relationship from his unhinged mother who seems hell-bent in keeping her son single and away from the outside world. Then, one night, Mary Crane arrives at the Motel. She is on the run with $40,000 she has stolen from of a client of her real estate company. Soon a private detective and her sister will be after her, but none of them expect the horrors that will ensue the night Mary accidentally turns off the highway and meets the Bates…

We have Peggy Robertson to thank for the franchise that this 1959 pulp fiction thriller spawned and keeps on giving to this day. Apparently Robertson had read a good review by Anthony Boucher of Robert Bloch’s seminal thriller, “Psycho”, despite Paramount Pictures already rejecting the story’s premise. Hitchcock, never one to back to down to anyone in movie world except maybe his wife, thought differently and fought a hard battle against virtually everyone to get the film greenlit. My copy of Bloch’s novel is a paperback published not long after the film was made, but looks fairly plain. In fact, the thin little novel was so indistinct amongst my book collection that I had a job to find it earlier this year.

Monday, 2 November 2015

A Fresh Cut - A Review of "Byzantium"

Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton), are vampires. They have been this way for over 200 years. The pair regularly flees from the pursuit of The Brethren, an all-male secret society of vampires who seek to destroy the two females for violating their code. Eleanor, an eternal teenager, writes accounts of her life and throws the pages into the breeze. Arriving in a coastal town, Clara befriends Noel (Daniel Mays) who has inherited a dilapidated hotel called Byzantium. Clara, who was forced into prostitution when she was mortal, sees an opportunity to run a brothel at the hotel. Meanwhile Eleanor befriends a terminally ill waiter, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), who reads her life story…

“Byzantium” is an extremely rare example of original, creative and beautiful filmmaking. The film firmly establishes Neil Jordan as one of my all-time favourite directors. He never seems to fail to deliver with his work, carefully weaving artistry with entertainment without falling into pretentiousness at one end or selling out at the other. However, before I discuss how much I feel this film has been criminally overlooked I feel we need some perspective. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

“Gums 2” or “Why a Jaws Remake will Probably Suck!”

Jaws (franchise)
Jaws (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following on from my article regarding reboots, my attention was recently drawn to the threat that a remake of “Jaws” was in the works. Forgive me for being out of the loop on this one, as it’s been in the public forum since at least April this year. Even more horrifying than this prospect is the fact that it appears to be more than a slight ripple in the rumour tank. The auteur director of the original classic, Steven Spielberg, officially announced this proposal to the executives at Universal.  According to INSC Magazine, Spielberg has been “vehemently” campaigning for super-geek Kevin Smith to direct the picture due to Smith’s clear love of the original. This all seems like more of the cynical geek-chum we have come to expect from remade/rebooted/readapted blockbusters I mentioned in my article about reboots. 

When asked about making a sequel to his original film, Spielberg said that "making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick". However, he did consider taking on “Jaw 2”. This was before he would direct sequels to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Jurassic Park” and would even make an original sequel to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in the form of “Hook”. Now, Spielberg believes the time is right to remake “Jaws” taking advantage of the CGI effects available to us. The director was known for his frustrations with the temperamental mechanical sharks used in the original, which were all called “Bruce”. The same INSC Magazine also mentions Spielberg’s interest in such ideas as having an internal monologue for the shark being provided by Ben Affleck, showing that the fish had larger motivations than pure instinct. It gets worse! 

Here are few reasons why a “Jaws” remake, going on the wealth of evidence provided by the film’s legacy might be beyond redemption. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Art and Artist?

I read the below article, "Our Woody Allen Problem" a few days ago in "Psychology Today". It is interesting that others have pondered the cognitive dissonance we seem to face when we don't agree with the morality of the artist, but we are a fan of their work. I think a huge amount of latitude needs to be applied. If I was to go through all the films, novels, plays, songs, installations, sculptures, paintings, poems etc. etc. and make an assessment of the key artists involved against my own morals, ethics or even personal philosophy, there would be no one left.

This has been a problem for me since childhood. Growing up in a culture that it has often been fashionable to persecute, traditional circus, it became all-too-common to discover that some icon or other opposed what my family did for a living. Not only did I have to make a decision to either separate the individual from what they produced, but I was often at war with my tastes when a certain prejudicial or gross insult to my people suddenly appeared in a favourite programme, book or other work. 
Looking at the example presented in the Woody Allen  article - and I appreciate this isn't the entire thrust of the psychological argument -  the problem here is that the morality of the artist's life casts a troublesome shadow over the themes of his work. Indeed, this was the same issue I encountered when a gross distortion was made about my people. It ended up leading me to question the validity of a certain individual's work. Even in the realm of fantasy and fiction were they a farce?

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Saving the Soul of a Movie Franchise

The Batsuit of The Dark Knight, worn by Christ...
The Batsuit of The Dark Knight, worn by Christian Bale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forgive my pedantry here, but there are feature film Remakes, feature film Re-Adaptations of non-feature film material and – the subject of this article - Reboots. When I read lists of good or bad remakes I often see a mishmash of these three and yet each is quite different. Remakes are films that make a clear attempt to produce a new version of a single film. A re-adaptation, in the context of this article, describes a second or subsequent adaptation of a novel, a play, video game or some other non-feature film source material. A movie reboot occurs when an established franchise of films starts anew. The overwhelming majority of reboots will start with a remake or a re-adaption, but the motive of the producers is to refresh an established franchise anew, disregarding previous continuities. A good reboot meets the torturous task of doing justice to the core “spirit” of the original work with obvious respect whilst laying believable foundations for the rest of the series. A bad reboot does the complete opposite. Therefore, the purpose of this frivolous and unashamedly geeky article is to put forward my favourite and least favourite attempts to refresh a movie franchise. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Of Ravens and Wolves - Tribute to Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (film)
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today I was reminded by a very nice doodle on Google that is the 91st birthday of the great children's novelist, Joan Aiken. Aiken was one of the staple children's authors who's work coloured a lot of my childhood upbringing in the Cotswolds. I heard her stories of Mortimer the raven on BBC's Jackanory and then again in my sixth primary school, where it seemed the majority of our reading material was illustrated by Quentin Blake! Later on, I became aware of her other work. Her Wolves Chronicles, particularly the first installment, "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase", were particularly inspirational in later ideas I would have as an adult.

When I moved back to the Cotswolds with my baby daughter, my thoughts often returned to Aiken's work, even if my eyes didn't. I found myself thinking on the worlds she created as I pushed a pram up a steep hill as winter drew near. That tinge of Gothic that touched upon most of Aiken's work put her years ahead of the trend that has shaped a lot of children's fiction, in film and literature, over the last two decades. Ahead of Phillip Pullman's steam punk and other children's alternative history authors, Aiken presented futures that touched strongly on reality. She held her hand with discipline when it came to applying fantasy elements and wove them believeable into the text. This is what makes the Wolves Chronicles so appealing.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Bride of Frankenstein - "to gods and monsters!"

With Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
With Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In honour of the 80th anniversay of "The Bride of Frankenstein" I have unearthed this short review I submitted a fair few years back.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I present to you a fine example that not only puts forward the argument that sequels can be great, but also that there were good sequels before Godfather Part II. The Bride of Frankenstein actually surpasses the original film and is perhaps one of the greatest horror movies made.

I say all this in spite of its glaring flaws as a sequel. It commits all the cardinal sins that a sequel should never do. It changes the tone of the original by introducing comedy, it retcons the ending of the original (if you have read or seen "Misery" this is an absolute no-no with die-hard fans) and unforgivably it brings in a new actress to play a leading role. If that weren't bad enough the titular character barely makes a cameo appearance. So what makes it so good?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Arrive, Park and Hand in Your Keys

“You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means… then again” - (Paraphrased from) “The Princess Bride

The term “meet and greet”, when associated with airports, is widely accepted to mean a type of valet service for passengers who don’t want to waste time parking. Those who book this service expect to be able to drive close to the departures door and be met by a valet. The passenger then hands the keys over without a second thought in order to make his or her hasty way to the frustrating/reassuring (delete where applicable) onslaught of increasing bureaucracies and inconsistent security rituals, happy in the knowledge that their faithful mechanical steed in going into safe stabling. Upon their return, the tired passengers can then stumble through the arrivals door and be greeted by the smiling chauffer with their car. Unless the memorable scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has made you paranoid about car parking attendants or you enjoy losing valuable time from your life searching huge car parks for spaces whilst worrying about missing your flight, I cannot imagine you would disagree with the virtues of such a service. It was the service we happily expected at Standstead Airport when we saw the title “Meet and Greet Parking” on the package deal we booked with “On the Beach”. However, the reality was somewhat different.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Mary Shelley's Counter-Enlightenment

For those who are unaware of one of the most famous stories in Gothic literature, I would like to introduce you to “the story of Frankenstein… I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you.” You won’t find any of these lines in the original 1818 novel, although the author once famously remarked that she had wanted to write a story that “…would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror -- one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart”. The image of Whale’s “Frankenstein” is just one example of several horror icons that have become more readily identified with their filmic representation than their source material. Colin Clive’s hysterical portrayal of Frankenstein set the “mad scientist” stereotype, which was far removed from Shelley’s original tragic Faustian version, and Boris Karloff’s simple-minded, grunting, lumbering portrayal of The Monster was even further away from the intelligent, blighted and scorned figure of Milton-esque vengeance in the novel. However, the novel has bitten back over the years since Universal did such a great job of immortalizing its own icons.  The 1980s proved to be something of a watershed in this respect and this is where we find the first publication of Maurice Hindle’s edited text. It is this influential edition of the novel, which has subsequently been reprinted in the same format several times now; I am reviewing rather than the original story.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Stumbling through the Tulips

The modern horror movie is in a pretty sorry state if this is what the kids are raving on about today. I didn’t read much into the hype. All I knew was that it wasn’t yet another “found film” or a “torture porn”, and Tiny Tim’s 1967 cover of the 1929 “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” was being a creepy interpretation. It sounded interesting enough, although I haven’t held out much for hope horror since around 2000. Barely a dozen of horror films have impressed me since then and all are rivalled by shows like “Masters of Horror” and “American Horror Story”.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Plausible Sequel or Too Far Out to Sea - Broadchurch 2

Detective Inspector Alex Hardy (David Tennant) and his former partner ex-Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Oliva Coleman), now a uniformed Police Constable working traffic, are brought together again over the resulting trial of their previous investigation. Hardy is still troubled by his health and also finds himself drawn back into the murder case he failed to solve before his work in Broadchurch. Miller is wracked by personal guilt and the impact the case had on her family. Meanwhile the Lattimer family struggle to rebuild their family and will be put through new tortures as the court case proceeds…

I feel the urge of the completest to write this review above all else. I suppose that is quite apt given the way the strength of this series’ continuation is based on its audience demanding that certain loose threads be tied. Many critics and good number of viewers reflected that it might have been better if these threads had been left dangling. Given the focus on the mystery of the first season being so masterfully executed, it was inevitable that Season 2 was being lined up for a fall. The first episode, directed by the main director of Season 1, boded well with both the public and most of the media giving it a positive response. However, by the third episode in I heard the collective groans and read the annoyed social media statuses, with viewers expressing their disappointment. Looking at the sporadic ratings and the to and fro reviews over the eight episodes, it did look like the season was fighting a battle with viewers. After the season finale, which received its biggest rating after the premiere, one newspaper declared it to be another example of how good ideas get milked dry. I could see the journalist’s point, but I did not agree.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A CGI Rant

English: I made this image with computer-gener...
English: I made this image with computer-generated imagery. 2 views of a man with an M2A1-7 United States Army flamethrower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is definitely a lot to be said about the way Computer Generated Imagery now dominates many fantasy and science fiction movies. It is as if my generations dreams were made a reality and swiftly became nightmares. I will explore the Era of the Geek at another point. Suffice to say that the below short article caught my attention, explaining that is not just a case of nostalgia why we are less impressed with today's blockbusters than those of yesteryear. My views on the matter?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Pro Rational Tour De Force

Four hundred years ago the world made a major step forward in its attitude towards information, learning and thinking. We call this period The Enlightenment. It would see the emergence of the Scientific Revolution. The United States of America would be founded on these principles and up until the mid-20th century that same country would reflect The Enlightenment’s values. Then something started to happen. Amidst the solid infrastructure in western society that was built by the forces of reason, lurked an unchecked virus. Irrational thinking was back and it had found its way into a whole range of areas in our society. Francis Wheen believes it first properly blossomed with the ascension of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan’s politics in the west alongside the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran. This is where his 2004 book, “How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World” begins. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Middle Class Marketing and Bubbles of Archiac Amusement

There are few terms that scream middleclass marketing in the 21st century like “Organic” and “Fairtrade”. The marketing technique is simple. Target people who can afford to pay more for a product and reward them with either the caring or smug knowledge that they are doing something “good”. In this respect it might be argued that they are close cousins in the world of retail, but the two subjects have some distinct differences. 

Before we discuss these two topics, let’s get one thing straight from the start. When you buy Organic or Fairtrade you are, more than likely, buying from the same corporations who produce and sell their lower priced equivalents. So, before you stand legs akimbo with your weekend Che Guevara tee-shirt and declare that these two brands will be the fuel for your anti-austerity/anti-capitalism march, don’t fall into the delusion. You are not “sticking it to the man” in this particular shopping decision.
The Organic Food Movement has its origins with the 19th century Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, like Harvey Kellogg, was just one of many food faddists that exerted their cult-like influence over Victorian society. Steiner believed in supernatural essentialism and promoted the concept of a literal spiritual connection with earth. Much of the appeal of Organic food comes from these pseudoscientific ideas and the appeal to nature logical fallacy. We think of toxic chemicals poisoning nature and by extension not doing us much good either. The term “chemical” gets ignorantly banded about as if it were another name for poison. When tested against an exact non-organic equivalent, a piece of Organic food has proven to have no more nutritional value. There are various studies producing conflicting results, but what seems to be the case is that freshness is more the determining factor in an item of food than whether or not is produced in line with USDA Organic guidelines.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Widening the View - Children and Entertainment Today

I cast my mind back to 2010 and my then three year old daughter has woken me up. It’s too early and I need my sleep. In desperation to grab a bit more dozing time she is given a mobile phone with various educational games. This will keep her happy for a while. Her eyes dark around the small screen as her fingertips tap and swipe. She performs various tasks that will stimulate her mind and build neural pathways. I was as dubious then as I am now by the benefits of early education, but these games cannot hurt. My daughter is actively engaging in something. She is being proactive whereas I will soon turn on the radio or the television and passively receive whatever information happens to be available. 

I was a child that grew up at the dawn of the fourth terrestrial channel. It was also the era of the video cassette, personal home computer and arcade games. With the romance of hindsight and that intoxicating drug we call self-righteousness, it is very easy for me to say that we had the perfect balance over today’s hedonistic, spoilt, overweight and unhealthy wretched brood. We were the last and most representative of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X and just followed the tail end of Andrew Collins’ “Where did it all go Right” brigade. Our generation were the last to experience good rebellious music as teenagers and the ones responsible for allowing our children to be baptized in Don Tapscott’s digital ocean. We were also the first to embrace large scale toy merchandizing alongside our traditional fairy tales. Many of us cried when a giant robot was killed in a motion picture in order to make way for a Christmas toy line. When we got to our adolescence we were filled with a combination of righteous indignation whilst being simultaneously softened by political correctness, which seemed set to ruin the childhood we remembered, sanitizing it for those not yet into double figures. We were cynics and sceptics, and we were also superficially sentimental. The science fiction and fantasy of our youth now dominates the cinemas, which is barely enough to distract us from the fact that we have been lapped by the Millennial Generation.  

Monday, 15 June 2015

After Magna Carta "Sealed not Signed"

So, my busy schedule puts me at a loss once again to produce anything particularly meaningful on yet another very important historic day. 800 years ago this week, on 19th June, King John and 25 rebellious barons shared a charter drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury that was intended to restore peace between the crown and the aforementioned angered noblemen. John would give the charter his royal seal, but contrary to many dramatic depictions, including the one I describe later, he could not be forced into signing it. In essence, Magna Carta would protect the barons from being subject to limitless taxations by the king and also from unjustifiable imprisonment. The charter was radical document for its time and neither side stood by their commitments, leading to the First Barons' War. It would be called upon in response to the actions of another rebel, Simon DeMontford. DeMontford would covene a "parley" at Kenilworth Castle in 1264, consisting of demoncractically elected knights. This would be the first Parliament. He would eventually usurp the crown for a year, becoming a prototypical Oliver Cromwell before he was overthrown and killed by Henry III's forces. Henry would re-issue and re-edited version of the Magna Carta.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Review of "Marvellous"

“Marvellous” is based on the true story of Neil Baldwin. Baldwin was diagnosed with “learning difficulties” at school, but didn’t allow the label to discourage him from achieving as much in life as his heart desired. We meet Neil working as Nello the clown in the circus. He goes on to get a regular role at Keele University, advising and helping students, and is employed by his beloved football team, Stoke City. Along the way, his mother worries profusely whether he will be able to look after himself after she dies. 

Before I begin, I guess I better put in a mild caveat. A TV film like “Marvellous” is probably not going to get the most unbiased of reviews from me. It focuses on the life of someone who I never met, but nevertheless I know plenty of people who do know him. This includes the great Norman Barrett, a dear friend of my family, who features in a brief cameo at the film’s conclusion and is also mentioned a few times, including his MBE status. These are all anachronistic, but that takes nothing away from the nature of the film. Norman’s budgies are also a plot point. For the most part, the film shows circus in a good light, which is a refreshing change. Only the ringmaster of the first circus is presented as something of a villain. This is becoming a bit of a cliché now along with the assumption that the ringmaster is traditionally the owner of the show. Nevertheless, many of my circus friends and family were smiling when the film won the Best Single Drama category of the 2015 BAFTAs.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Many a Prophetic Word Spoken in Jest

Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) is a dethatched man. Divorced but the father of a daughter he doesn't see enough of, he reflects upon his past. At 15 years old (David Kross) he was struck down by scarlet fever, but rescued by a 36 year old tram conductor called Hanna (Kate Winslet). After a lengthy recovery period he tracks down his rescuer and they begin a secret affair. Hanna is a very mysterious woman who, seeing that Michael is studying classic literature, asks that he read to her before they have sex. Despite Hanna's cold manner and Michael's childlike inexperience, the relationship begins to further develop. Then one day, upon hearing she is to be promoted, Hanna abruptly leaves her apartment without saying a word to Michael. Years later as an undergraduate and whilst attending a trial as part of a special seminar held by a concentration camp survivor, Michael attends a trial for Auschwitz guards who presided over several atrocities at the camp. One particular atrocity involved the deaths of 300 prisoners who were locked into a burning church by the guards. One guard is singled out as the ringleader of this particular crime. Michael is shocked to see that this guard is none other than his mysterious Hanna...

Friday, 15 May 2015

"Always the Sun" - For the Summer of 1993

A large open field that needed cutting, regular cups of sweet tea, a scythe, a pair of shears, an old radio cassette player and the best company in the world provided the backdrop for my favourite song. I was born in July during Britain’s hottest summer since records began and, for that reason, I was brought up feeling a sense of belonging to the days when the sun shone brightest. I find it easy to see why the sun has constantly evoked a sense of spiritual awe in our species. Hundreds of thousands of years on and science, if anything, has humbled humans even more to the sun. We discovered that, contrary to what we had thought for so long, our planet revolves around the sun, making it the centre of a solar system where we live on one of several planets. Furthermore, it is the most significant source of our world’s energy, making it an all-powerful life-giver contained in a single sphere of omnipotence. Within our own intuitive sense of being the sun seems to symbolize a reliable constant. There is sureness in the sun rise and the sun set, and this is part of the idea taken by one of my all-time favourite songs, “Always the Sun” by The Stranglers.

Friday, 8 May 2015

King Arthur II - Edward I Re-Examined

Edward I does not enjoy a good reputation in the minds of many historians and most of those who enjoyed the movie, “Braveheart”. It would appear that, unlike many other English kings, he doesn’t enjoy the benefit of a contextual view of his life and times. This might be encouraged by the patriotic and hugely selective view that has made William Wallace become a virtual saint in Scotland. Without putting too blunt an end on the matter, Edward was a winner in imperialistic times and those he beat were his next door neighbours, the Scots, the Welsh and the French. His victory meant oppression and subjection of his neighbours delivered in a way that befitted a conquering king of his time. That does not rest well with the sympathies of a modern English culture that champions temperance, freedom and peaceful negotiation. However, for his time, Edward was considered a great king by his English subjects and yet it was a reputation hard-earned.  

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Vlad the Impregnable

A Review of "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces"

Vlad III, Prince of Walachia, competes with many other historical monarchs in his position as an icon. However, his fame has more to do with a late Victorian supernatural monster that was given his patronym some 421 years after his death than anything he did during his lifetime. That isn't to say the life of Vlad the Impaler had not achieved notoriety prior to Stoker selecting his title, "Dracula", meaning Son of the Dragon, but it is a fair statement to say interest in this figure has increases every time a high profile adaptation of the 1897 novel is released.

I doubt the writers of "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces", Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, would have been surprised to see that interest in Vlad would only increase after the publication of their fourth book on the subject in 1989. Their previous works included two on the historical Dracula and one on the fictional Bram Stoker creation. This book, although mainly focused on the life and times of Vlad III, bookends the biography comparing the two Draculas. Therefore, one might assume that the justification for the book is to comprehensively unite their studies and to provide a broad overview of the historical figure of Dracula. In this sense, it delivers what is says in the title and a quarter of a century on from this publication there doesn't seem to be anything in popular historical studies to touch this in terms of content.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Joke Pirates and Bond

Whenever a new James Bond film is announced or advertised I tend to fall back on old jokes. The jokes are often aged by me because I repeat them a lot. It's a sign of approaching old age annoyance on my behalf. I make no excuse for the deliberate piece of self-indulgence any more than David Lynch did for making "Firewalk with Me". I have some sympathy for Edmund Blackadder of "Blackadder the Third" when he outlined his desires for life:

“I want to be young and wild, and then I want to be middle-aged and rich, and then I want to be old and annoy people by pretending that I'm deaf. ''

I know how to ruin a joke as good as anyone, but there are definite limits to my evil. I recall once being told by a member of the Millennial Generation that it was important for me to write "lol" or put in smiling or winking face formed out of punctuation marks when I make a controversial statement in case I upset the reader unless I meant to cause offense. When I looked puzzled as to why someone might get the wrong impression from a flippant, facetious or playful remark, the annoyed member of the Millenial Generation told me, as if my social education had stopped in the sand-pit, that "people cannot read sarcasm!" Maybe this is the reason why there are wars. If only our great writers, playwrights, orators and cartoonists had known to place a "lol" or a smiley at the end of one their humourous sentences we could have avoided a lot of bloodshed.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Digging This One Up in Time

Please excuse the terrible punning in the title, but it was all that sprung to mind. The "re-discovery" of Josephine Tey's book in recent times has been met with mixed feelings on my behalf. I say mixed because although the work is very original and interesting, it seemed to disappear for a while. Now, with the huge resurgence of interest in Richard III due to the exhumation of his body under a Leicester carpark and his reburial at Leicester Cathedral with all the pomp he wasn't granted 500 years ago, Tey's book is now popular once again. It's a case of geeky "So now you want to read the book" from me. It defies the conventional and cynical belief that historical retrospective detective novels need to be balanced with physical adventure, best exemplified by the truly awful "Da Vinci Code". However, at the risk of spoiling the novel's conclusion I am not in favour of its conclusion and firmly in the corner of historian, Alison Weir (not to mention Winston Churchill and my old English teacher!) I recommend Weir's excellent primary source examination of the case of the murder of the children, Edward V and Richard Duke of York, which I bought as "The Princes in the Tower" and has since been republished as "Richard III and the Princes in the Tower". Nevertheless, it still stands as a great work of fiction and an exercise in historical research albeit with a faulty premise and foregone conclusion derived from the hero's first impressions taken from a portrait.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Beowulf and Bollocks

Beowulf is the best known example of Old English literature. We are told that, much like the works of Shakespeare, the piece stood out against other works of the same era because the creativity in its language. Linguistics and language in general are not my strong points, so I won’t attempt a pretentious analysis, but an excellent edition of the Radio 4 programme “In Our Time” explained that there were numerous phrases and words that were unique to the poem. Suffice to say that I will take the learned expert’s word for this fact for the time being. It made me think about the power of words. (listen to the radio show/podcast here)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Broadening Attitudes?

Whilst season 2 of “Broadchurch” is still up for the people’s jury to decide upon its critical merit, I thought I would cast a thought back to the original show. It began as a story where the body of a young boy was found on the beach of the fictional Dorset coastal town, Broadchurch. DS Ellie Miller (Oliver Coleman) returns from holiday to discover that her application for a promotion to the rank of Detective Investigator has been blocked by the employment of DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant). The young boy is the best friend of Miller’s son, creating an even great strain on the whole investigation. As frustration mounts to discover the identity of the child’s killer, the secret backgrounds of various characters are revealed.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Fond Farewell to the Freaks

I came into the "American Horror Story" series late with season 4. For those who do not know, the series was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Each season is a self-contained mini-series of 13 episodes. Just when I had written off the horror genre with only a handful or so films made since 2000 that could be considered classics, this type of work shines through. However, I wonder if this has little to do with horror and more to do with the fact that television is finally surpassing the feature film experience in terms of overall quality. "Freak Show" is an unashamed love letter to Tod Browning's "Freaks" and Herk Harvey's "Carnival of Souls." However, there is more to it than a simple homage. From the wonderfully eerie stop motion opening credits that fuse a twisted view of a child's clockwork world with inspiration drawn from physical anomalies through to its surprisingly heart-warming finale, "Freak Show" gives the impression that it will make no compromises. This is probably a very naive thing for me to say, but I see a production that indulges with genuine affection for its audience. It seems not to fear being surreal, humorous at the same time as being soap operatic with its plot. Sometimes the story stays within the boundaries of realistic horror and at other times, we get supernatural curses and conjoined twins using telepathy. Likewise, the gory special effects shift between painfully realistic depictions of violence to Kill Bill splatterphunk. The horror is post-torture porn in that it steers away from leering extended depictions of horror, only to shock you later. This same technique is used for the deaths of certain cast members, which it does well to generate sympathy for, narrowly have them escape a grisly fate only to do later anyway without losing the shock value.

Monday, 16 February 2015

You Could Say the Same About Me

“You could say the same about me… And you probably do”. That cutting end to a sentence uttered by the Sir Thomas Cromwell of the BBC2 adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” was delivered with such poise and timing by Mark Rylance that it felt like I had listened to an ancient proverb. The scene, which saw Cromwell standing away from the Royal Court and being treated like the town gossip by Jane Boleyn, encapsulates the nature of all politics. It is a good lesson: the person whose nature it is to collude with you demonstrates that the traits of a person who is likely to conspire against you.   

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Blooded Lens Filter Part 2

The Blooded Lens Filter
Distorting Horror Fiction through Cinema (Part 2)

Back to a bit of self-indulgence and my list of fictional horror icons and archetypes that have been changed so much by celluloid that the popular perception of them little resembles their pre-film state.  As always, spoilers ahead for the respective works being referenced. If you haven't read/seen "Psycho" and are unaware of the famous twist I urge that you do before reading my piece on Norman Bates.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review of Episode 1 "Wolf Hall"

Last night saw the first episode of “Wolf Hall”. This historical drama made authenticity part of its marketing and a lot of historians were involved in the process to bring Hilary Mantel’s two novels, “Wolf Hall” and “Bringing up the Bodies” to the small screen. When it comes to period fiction, the Tudors have received the lions share, especially during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. However, Hilary Mantel’s work definitely qualifies as an original take on the era in many respects. She chooses to view her tale through the eyes of an individual who is nearly always depicted as a Machiavellian villain: Sir Thomas Cromwell. However, don’t expect a sneering Francis Urquhart type politician who wins his audience over by revelling in his cunning and cleverness. Mantel’s  Cromwell is a truly sympathetic character. By taking this highly unconventional tactic, we are provided with a genuinely different perspective on the Tudor court, its various characters and the politics of Henry VIII. The term “game-changer” has become a buzzword in the promotion of this current golden age of drama, often attributed to US series like “True Detectives”, however, with this interpretation of Tudor life I believe it could be applied with confidence.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo Attacks: Perspective and Portrayal

I plead a strong degree ignorance in writing this piece. My knowledge of French satire or even French journalism is paltry, to say the least. My knowledge of French cartoons is probably largely made up of "Asterix" books and my French satire is all out of date. So, I can only write in my vague and unofficial capactity as a supporter of freedom of speech, an observer or irrational thinking, a lover of humanity, a fan of satire and especially cartoons, a humanist, a secularist and an enemy of injustice. Nevertheless, all of these roles demand that I say something. The events of 7th January 2015 that saw 12 individuals (the editor of the newspaper, eight other employees, including two cartoonists, and two police officers) shot dead plus an additional 11 wounded at the offices of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, by Islamic extremists in response to the newspaper's regular publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad prompted me to think about a lot things.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Joan of Arc for young adults

Scan of plate in book on Joan of Arc, describe...
Scan of plate in book on Joan of Arc, described as "Joan's Vision" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Icons are not as easy to fathom as we might like. Too many of them have become enshrined in a country's sense of identity and then crossed over as s pure symbol for a philosophy or political ideal. Finally, they make their way into a universal representation of something that dares defiance. Joan of Arc is a prime example. I struggle to find something that properly grounds the person and separates the myth. The below book wasn't the answer.

I came to this book purely by chance. It wasn’t reviewed or recommended to me. I have a rather omnivorous taste in most things and history is no exception. However, if there is an area that attracts my attention more than most it is the dissection and deconstruction of historical icons. I love myths and legends, and part of the process of appreciating a fictionalized story is distilling the actual facts. It seems like a bizarre motivation and against the normal persuasions of a romanticist, but I have never claimed to be a straightforward personality. When one considers that I have a keen interest in endorsing critical thinking, it all makes a bit more sense. Nevertheless, “Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc” has never made any sceptical reading list I have seen. I chose it because I wanted to read a compact and comprehensive description of Joan’s life and the title perked the interests I have already mentioned.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Sweeney Todd as we don't know him

The penny dreadful, “Sweeney Todd”, original name “The String of Pearls: A Romance”, is one of those stories that everything thinks they know and very often mistaken. My edition of the complete collected parts was sold off the back of Tim Burton’s feature film adaptation of the musical, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and bears a cover design taken directly from the promotional pictures of the 2007 film. If readers were expecting a blood-soaked story, starring a vengeful anti-hero then they will be somewhat disappointed. The original story never once describes a throat being cut, although it is implied and threatened a lot. Even Todd’s murderous mechanical chair is only twice described in action. This is a text that is representative of its time and I urge interested readers to view it within that context.