Episode 34: The IT Crowd or, Hope this doesn’t embarrass you, Jen

Source: Episode 34: The IT Crowd or, Hope this doesn’t embarrass you, Jen

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New Old Writing Regime

Hi,

My usual regime is to wake up at five, drink a strong as hell coffee, and then write. Before Christmas this meant write THE BOOK. Then over Christmas/January I stopped waking up so early.

Now I’m getting back into the early starts its become writing Audiences Everywhere articles, notes for things, blog posts, and THE BOOK has fell into the background.

New regime: 5 am writing is THE BOOK writing. All other writing is for articles and notes and the such. So really the new regime is just the old regime but if it works it works.

I want to get this book done, I want it published, I want it done and I want to start the next one.

And this is how I’ll do it.

One 5 am wake up at a time.

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What I Know about Burgers

cheeseburger

I recently realised that my favourite food is a cheeseburger.

It is the food I crave the most, enjoy the most, and also a food I find fascinating. It is simplicity itself but also wide open to interpretation. Some people and places make a very simple burger, others decide to get wacky with it e.g. adding diced apple to the meat before forming it into burgers.

It is hard to make a shitty burger unless you’re really trying to do it (i.e. the apple thing above).

Now that I know it’s my favourite food I want to be able to make it, and make it well.

I know the basics. I know the order in which the burger should be stacked:

Bun-sauce-lettuce-patty-cheese-tomato-gherkin/pickle-sauce-bun. Though this is still up for debate as a lot of chefs, websites, and food scientists have their own take on it so some experimentation is needed.

I know that to make a great patty you need to go to the butcher and get good quality minced beef. The strands of mince must all be kept intact and in the same direction. You then wrap this mince in cling film and make it into a tight sausage shape, which is then refrigerated overnight. When cooking time is upon you, take the burger roll from the fridge and slice it into burgers.

I know how to make Shake Shack sauce because my brother-in-law found out for me. He’s also the one who told me the stack order that we’re currently using until we perfect it or realise it was already perfect.

I know not to get wild with it and start fucking around with bacon and eggs etc. Bacon and egg on a burger is nice but can make the burger smell like a football boot or create more mess than is necessary. People assume that to make a signature burger you need to add something when actually you simply want your signature burger to be simple and tasty.

I know that the cheese needs to be added to the burger once it have been flipped once (and only once) and that, while the burger rests, the brioche buns need to be toasted slightly in the residual burger juice in the pan.

I know that the burger doesn’t need to be squashed with a spatula while it cooks, flipped more than once, or cut to check its readiness. Once blood forms on the surface flip it and then serve it when you believe it’s ready i.e. trust your instincts.

I know that the best burger I have had so far in Melbourne came from the Grand Trailer Park Taverna on Bourke St, but I also know that I need to give 8Bit another chance as I was tipsy and ordered the ridiculous double dragon burger on my first trip there.

And I know that the best burger I ever had was at Shake Shack in Istanbul.

My plan for 2016 is to by the end of the year have a great burger recipe and method under my belt. For research I will eat burgers, talk about burgers, and read about burgers.

And now, as lunch approaches, I’m off to Mr. Burger in Fitzroy to get researching.

Fiction: Synaesthesia

First posted SEP 2012

‘You have one of the most extreme cases of synaesthesia I’ve ever seen,’ said the doctor, brightly coloured flowers growing out of his mouth with every word.

‘Synaesthesia?’ I said, the word slithering between my teeth as a long centipede the colour of confusion (orange with grey polka dots).

‘Yes, in layman’s terms, your senses are a little confused,’ the doctor tapped his finger on the table and I smelled burnt bacon. ‘People who have synaesthesia confuse their stimuli so that they might ascribe days of the week with personalities or see different letters as having colours.’

I looked at his name tag, which glowed like a rainbow, ‘I see.’

‘It is an interesting ailment since a lot of people do not know that they have it. They think that seeing numbers as colours or being able to smell letters is simply how the world works.’ The doctor leant forward and I got a whiff of his breath which smelled like my sister poking me in the eye when I was twelve.

‘Is there a cure?’ I said, the words tasting like the sound it makes when a window breaks, which for me was always a colourful sound as each strand of the spider web that the smash caused would branch off into a different ray of dazzlingly coloured light.

The doctor frowned and shook his head and the feeling of disappointment that ran through me felt like eating two scoops of strawberry ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate chips.

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My entry into The Lascaux Review flash competition.

Movies of 2016 #04: The Big Short

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I didn’t know what to expect with this movie. Adam McKay is known for his broad comedies and the subject matter in The Big Short seemed like something that wouldn’t produce many laughs. However, even though the movie is heavily about the fraud of bankers in the US and the lives they ruined, the chaos they created and the fact that they were shameless, unpunished, unrepentant fucking assholes, it is also a very funny film.

Split across three narratives the movie tries to present the causes of the GFC and the people who realised there was money to be made from it. It is an interesting tightrope the movie walks as the ‘heroes’ of the story all put themselves in a position where the collapse of the market is the best alternative for them as they bet against the stability of the mortgage market, a market which has never fallen, is constantly referred to as being rock solid and then, inevitably, fails massively, taking down the world economy with it.

The movie does its best to explain some of the more complicated elements of the financial world and does it in a very entertaining way by cutting to different celebrities who explain the ideas in easy to understand terms. Or easy to understand while at the cinema, as I thought I completely understood the movie until I was explaining the plot to my wife later and couldn’t quite articulate the ideas on display, until in the end I told her that she would need to watch the movie.

Overall, the one thing I definitely wasn’t expecting was to be in tears by the end of the movie. Tears of sadness and anger for the people whose lives these shameless pricks ruined and the fact that they were allowed to walk away scot free. A powerful, fantastic movie that leaves you exhausted, angry, and a little confused.

Books of 2016 – January: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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I have a rule when reading a book. If I get to 100 pages and I am not gripped I will stop reading the book. This has saved me from a lot of pointless reading and let me read good books instead of trash.

With Ready Player One I did not have that option. I read it for a book club and because my boss recommended it and because I had told you guys I would. That meant I had to read the whole damn thing from exposition heavy beginning to tensionless ending.

This book is one of the worst books I have ever read that wasn’t self-published (and it wasn’t because I kept checking) or in the early phases of drafting. It is boring, smug, badly written, lacking conflict, lacking drama, lacking tension and pointless.

It’s protagonist, Wade, is a smug know it all who is never stumped by anything, can do everything, and is well-loved for no reason other than that he is the main character in this book. He is the kind of person who thinks that being able to recite the year an old video game was released counts as an achievement worthy of universal praise. He is the kind of person who describes himself to a woman as a being a ‘nice guy’. He is the kind of person who talks at length about not caring what a girl looks like and then spends a page talking about how muscly he is.

The writer, Ernest Cline, has obviously never heard of the rule show don’t tell as he proceeds to, at every opportunity, tell rather than show. The book is nine tenths boring description. The first part of the book is all laboriously described set up and unnecessary world-building before anything even remotely exciting happens, and even then once that event occurs it’s quickly undercut with more description and telling, endless telling.

For example, there is a large part of the book dedicated to a mind-numbing description of Wade’s apartment and his sweet game system. Each single piece of the system is described with minute detail. Rather than putting Wade in the vast video game land and have him do something interesting (i.e. a quest, fighting zombies, dragon hunting, etc.) where he can show you the awesome features of the system, Cline simply goes from part to part describing it’s form and function. After this catalogue style chapter Wade goes on a quest but first he needs to describe his spaceship and tell a brief story about acquiring it. Then he arrives at a planet that may or may not be under control by the bad guys. I know what you’re thinking, this is the bit where a space battle occurs or Wade has to use cunning and stealth to evade a blockade and get to the surface. Well you would be wrong. What happens is Wade describes a Ring of Teleportation that he won in an auction due to his vast wealth before teleporting to the planet. He then has to traverse a dungeon full of monsters which he does in record time because he’s amazing. So, for those of you keeping score, that’s ten pages of description of an apartment and then a page and a half of summary of a daring monster-laded dungeon quest. This outlines another problem with Wade’s character. He is never lost or stuck or seemingly in danger. Because he’s an expert in everything, everything is easy. There was never a point in this book where I feared that the character was in any kind of peril. It also outlines the main problem with the book which is that there is no tension at all. Everything just happens and anything exciting that happens is described to us rather than us seeing the character experience it.

If you don’t believe me that this book is awful look at the below image:

IMAG0719_1 (1)Let’s break it down. First, who talks like this? Can you imagine going somewhere and saying to your friend, “Hey, that castle looks like Hogwarts.” And your friend saying “Yeah, like Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies.” You would just look at them, “Yeah, I know what Hogwarts is. I was the one who made the comparison. Whose benefit was that for? It’s just us here.”

This is constant feature of the book, a reference to something that is then quickly explained. The fun of reading reference heavy books like Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula or Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the integration of the references so that the reader is rewarded for knowing the reference rather than it being spelled out. In Dracula Cha Cha Cha there is a scene in which an olive oil magnate called Vito Corleone is introduced. The text doesn’t then say, “Y’know, from the Godfather” because that would render the whole thing silly. The game is to know the references. And also chances are if you’re reading this book you at least know what Rivendell is, even if some of the more obscure stuff passes you by.

Also if someone has taken the words out of your mouth you can’t then just say them. They have, after all, just been taken out of your mouth.

Could this book be improved? Yes. Cline needs to get out of his own way and let the story breath. Reading this book is like watching The Matrix with someone standing in front of you describing the movie sets. There is a good idea here but Cline can’t seem to articulate the good bits. He spends a ton of time setting up a world and then describing it without taking the time to make Wade likable or to inject the plot with any fun or tension. It is a series of events that happens and then the book ends.

Another irksome part of the book is that love story between Wade and Art3mis. It is a classic nerdy idea of romance as they share all the same interests so must be soulmates. He is also pushy as fuck with her and constantly talks about not caring about what she looks like, which is handy as the big reveal isn’t that she is hideous or a guy, but that she has a birthmark on her face, which obviously doesn’t deter our hero as he is above such things as looks. There is a great opportunity to make some kind of point by having Art3mis, the super geek who he loves because of her mind and interest, turn out to be a guy and really have Wade have to take that on board and deal with it. Instead she is exactly the way she looks in the game (“Rubenesque”…for fuck’s sake) but with a birthmark, so the whole thing is essentially meaningless and only serves to feed into the idea that Wade is perfect.

Finally, the book quickly defines morals as being black or white. You are a good guy or a bad guy and that’s it. SPOILERS – Ogden Morrow, the eccentric billionaire who handily Deus Ex Machina’s them to safety should have been the villain. Rather than the bad guy being the faceless corporation, have Halliday’s partner be the villain. Have the reason they fell out be something to do with Morrow’s greed or have Morrow hold some grudge against Halliday for Kira’s death. Paint Halliday in shades other that pure benevolent white. END SPOILERS.

Overall, a godawful book. It’s boring, weirdly neck-beardy, smug, full of unlikable characters, full of unrealistic dialogue, tensionless, conflict-less and pointless. I have no idea why this book is so popular because it would never have passed the 100 page test. It would have gone straight off the balcony the second I hit page one-hundred and one.

And why does I-r0k (sic?) get such a dramatic introduction just to vanish from the plot altogether. Was it just to show that Wade is an insufferable asshole about his video game knowledge? If so, mission accomplished.

Post Fail

So my posting a post every day plan has fallen by the wayside. This weekend I was away and distracted by seeing all my nieces, including a brand new one, and I didn’t have time to post anything.

Do not fear though as over the next few days I have some stuff to write. I’ve seen two more movies in 2016, both fantastic and I’m going to go deep into the vault and find some more fiction. I also want to share some Audiences Everywhere work and write some stream of consciousness about how hard it is to get my novel’s most recent draft finally, finally finished.

So I’m still here. I haven’t failed my New Year’s resolution this early.

David Bowie 1947-2016

This article first appeared on Audiences Everywhere

After-a-decade-David-Bowie-returns

How do you memorialise David Bowie? It’s like trying to write an obituary for the sun. Seriously, how do you memorialise an actual star?

The world is less cool, less weird, and less…Bowie today, and will continue to be forever as now Bowie has left this strange planet. But what did Bowie leave us? Is there anything us lesser beings can learn from his time here?

Mainly, Bowie taught us a very simple, very big, very complicated, very easy thing: It’s okay to be weird. Actually, it’s not just okay, its better. Why be human when you can be superhuman? Why settle for being David Jones, a man from Brixton when you could be David Bowie, genderless, timeless, ageless, filled with raw talent and boundless imagination? He taught us to embrace the weirdness, to turn and face the strange, to do whatever you feel like doing until you get bored with being that person. Then go be someone else.

Cinematically, Bowie’s greatest gift to us was Jareth, the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. I will happily wait while you think of another actor or singer who could play the role of the Goblin King in trousers that tight surrounded by puppets and muppets and still look cool as hell. In fact, I won’t wait, because if I had to wait then I would be waiting until the heat death of the universe consumes us all in black holes and fire. Because you won’t think of anyone. The character is a huge pantomime villain but Bowie imbues him with danger and intense sexuality, so much so that on more than one occasion I’ve watched that movie with someone (men and women) who have said they would happily sacrifice the kidnapped child and stay with Jareth.

He also gave us the greatest cameo in movie history with his appearance in Zoolander. A crucial scene of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson about to have a walk off to settle who is the better model is heightened when, while looking for someone to judge the contest, a lone figure emerges from the crowd, removes his sunglasses and says, “Perhaps I can be of assistance.” Unlike the other famous people featured in the movie Bowie gets a name tag that zooms onto the screen to the strains of Let’sDance.  When I first saw Zoolander in the cinema that was the scene that lingered with me and the one I used to persuade some friends they needed to come see it with me when I went to see it again. David Bowie was a celestial event to which no one could refuse a second chance to witness.

Finally, but by no means an afterthought, David Bowie gave us music. In terms of film, Bowie songs appear in a ton of movies but there are two I’ll focus on here. The first is Inglorious Basterds. Up until the third act the music has all been score and time period appropriate and then, as characters prepare for the finale, Bowie’s “Cat People” begins to play. It is a testament to Quentin Tarantino’s genius to know that this song at this moment would be completely perfect no matter what the historical setting of the movie. The music fits perfectly and compliments the scene while heightening the drama of it.

The other movie is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Bowie is littered all over the place in this film as Seu Jorge is constantly singing acoustic covers of his hits in Portuguese, but also features in two crucial scenes. Upon learning he has a son, Zissou needs a minute to himself and walks the length of the ship as “Life on Mars?” surges around him. The other, better moment is the ending as all the characters return to the ship while “Queen Bitch” plays over them.

In the end, Bowie is forever a musician but in terms of film he’s worked with Nicholas Roeg, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Jim Henson, and Tony Scott. A million musicians, writers, artists and movie makers cite him as an influence and a muse. He will never be forgotten by those who loved him and his influence will survive that universal heat death I mentioned earlier.

We’re told at any early age that all of the stars that we see in the sky are made of light from stars that actually died millions of years ago. He’s out there now, out among the stars, back to the mothership, back to wherever so wonderful a creature must have come from. He will forever be there, reminding us to be weird, be ourselves, be whatever we want.

So how do you memorialise a star? You look up.

When when you find yourself at a crossroads in your life, faced with hard decisions, faced with confusion, faced with boredom, faced with adversity, look up. Ask yourself what Bowie would do in this circumstance. And then just do that.

David Bowie
1947 – 2016

David Bowie 1947 - 2016

Movies of 2016 #02 – The Revenant (2015)

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New Regency Pictures

People were heavily divided by Iñárittu’s last movie, Birdman, with some saying it was a masterpiece and others that it was overrated. When I saw it I didn’t have a strong opinion about it either way. It was quite funny and Edward Norton was great in it, but it was also pretentious and too long.

The Revenant seems to face the same thing from my peers who have spent the time since its release either telling me it’s a masterpiece or that its garbage. Unlike Birdman with this movie I do have a strong opinion and it is that this one is a masterpiece.

Based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a trapper mauled by a bear, left for dead, and forced to hike through the wilderness to get to safety/get revenge, The Revenant contains at least three sequences that are mind-boggingly good. The first ambush, bear attack and final fight are expertly staged, seamlessly shot, and highly visceral. Iñárittu keeps the cuts to a minimum giving you the feeling of being on the ground, in the action, and not a hundred percent safe.

The big talk around this movie is that it could be Leo’s Oscar movie and, though it is great, I don’t want him winning an Oscar just because he ate bison liver. Performance-wise he is his usual outstanding and his haunted, determined Glass is an incredible character, and if the run up to the Oscars focused on that instead of the hardships he endured making the movie I would be more excited by the prospect of him winning.

Overall, a tremendous movie that is full of gorgeous quiet moments and intense bloody violence.

A poem I like

Let me Die A Youngman’s Death

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death 

Roger McGough

 

Fiction: Write a story without repeating any words

First published August 2012

Déjà Vu

Our car skidded out from under me as it made a harsh turn around the corner on Firth Street. We flipped over, landing upside down beside several homeless men crowding about their fires.

Flames shone into my confused eyes before –

Tom’s Honda’s wheels screeched beneath his feet. He took some breaths and saw buildings ahead turning clockwise followed by smashing noises, crunching, dizziness.

‘This has happened already –‘

One vehicle spun through foggy air, fighting with gravity, losing, alighting loudly roadside. Driver spews out words, confusion.

‘Again.’

Automobile helter-skelters, finishes like turtle, back-laying, gives birth to operator who looks Munch-esque, wide-mouthed, passengers ignored.

‘Repeat.’

Ride spirals round, stops, emits shocked person.

‘Reiterate.’

Mechanical whirlwind, collision, muddled human.

‘Once more.’

Whoosh, smash, furrowed brow.

‘Final echo.’                

Crash, ‘Why?’

 

 

2016 Reading Plan

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I don’t know why but my reading has really fallen off in the past few years. Actually, that’s a lie. I know why my reading has fallen off in the past few years. It’s fallen off because rather than reading before bed I usually find myself on my iPad or phone checking Twitter or reading IMDB trivia. I could blame it on my “busy” lifestyle but in the year I got married and moved from Turkey to England and then to Australia I read 100 books so it’s not an issue of being too busy to read. It’s just laziness and being easily distracted.

I have a great book collection that keeps getting bigger without me reading any of them. It’s counter-productive for a lot of reasons, especially as I find that when I’m reading I write more. I take inspiration from the books I’m reading in terms of style but also the fact that this book, the book I’m reading, got published so why can’t I?

In order to get back into it I’m setting myself a soft challenge for 2016. I have to read at least one book per month. It’s a pittance compared to previous years and my reading numbers but it will provide the structure needed to get me back into it.

Each book will be read and reviewed and reading two books in a single month does not count towards the next month. Also each book has to be a new book and longer than 200 pages.

January’s book is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

What I learned today: Sorbian exists

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I work at a foreign language bookshop. It is a crazy good job. My co-workers are great, my boss is great, my co-workers’ partners are great, my boss’s dad is great – It’s a whole thing.

I’ve only worked there for just over a month and so far I’ve learned about the existence of about five new languages I had never heard. We sell books for teaching and learning English as well as a plethora of fiction and language guides for  variety of foreign languages.

Today a customer put a guide to Russian, a Chinese dictionary, and a book about Persian verbs on the counter.

‘All for you?’ I said.

‘Yep,’ said the old man. ‘I’m going on the Trans-Siberian Express. My ticket’s free provided I can translate for my friends. We had the same arrangement in South America last year but I think learning Spanish and Portuguese is gonna be easier than this lot.’

One of my top five dreams is a trip on the Trans-Siberian. Days and days of train from China to Europe or vice versa.

‘That’s amazing,’ I said.

‘It is,’ said the man. ‘Oh, and I found this in the wrong place.’

He handed me a small green book: an English-Sorbian/Sorbian-English dictionary.

I looked at him, ‘I don’t-‘

‘It’s a Slavic language, there’s Upper and Lower Sorbian, it’s also called Wendian or Lusation. Upper’s more German and Lower’s more Polish. It was with your German section but you’d be better putting it with your other Slavic languages.’

‘…Okay.’

‘Okay. Have a nice day.’

‘You too.’

And that’s how I learned about Sorbian.

 

2016, the year I get back blogging

Hello and happy new year!

For 2016 I’m going to get back into using this wonderful blog. I’m not setting any structure, but I will try to post everyday whether it be some fiction, some pictures, some of my Audienceseverywhere.net stuff or some old stuff from when I first started out.

I’m looking forward to getting started!

Selfie at the top of The Shard

Writing Historical Fiction

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here but I felt like I needed to complain about writing historical fiction and this is where I usually do that.

Why can’t history just fall into a nice three act structure? Why does it insist on happening in a completely real and organic way that is hard to chart on a graph and rising and falling action?

Okay, just needed to get that out of my system.

Anyway, how have you guys been?

The Road to El Dorado

***This article first appeared on the greatest website in the land – www.audienceseverywhere.net – Go there!***

The Road to El Dorado
Family
DreamWorks SKG
Directors: David Silverman, Don Paul, Bibo Bergeron, Will Finn, Jeffrey Katzenberg

An adult film mistakenly aimed at kids, El Dorado features curse words, human sacrifice (or at least the threat of it), a sex scene (or at least the overt implication of it), a truly villainous depiction of Cortes, two heroes who are charlatans and cheats, a cold-blooded murder, and a giant, scary-ass jaguar monster.

There is a lot for the kids as well, with bright, vibrant colours, an anthropomorphic horse, Elton John songs, and an armadillo (kids like armadillos, right?).

The movie, which failed upon release, has gained a cult following based upon gifs, causing internet dwellers to embrace it as a classic. You’ve probably seen a scene from the movie without realising while scrolling through Tumblr, Twitter, or Buzzfeed. That was what drew me back to this movie after dismissing it for so long. It originally came out in 2000 after Antz and The Prince of Egypt, two other Dreamworks Animation movies that fell flat for me. I had seen many, many references to it in memes and gifs and then, one night, while scrolling through Netflix I saw it and thought I would give it a try.

As much as I would love to write here that I wasted fifteen years of my life not watching this movie, I can’t. It is good, sometimes very good, but it is not the classic I sometimes see it called on the internet. The problem lies in what I discussed in my opening. A lot of modern animation manages to dance on that line between adult and kid audiences. When done right the movie will have enough spectacle and prat falls to keep the kids laughing and enough subtle humour and grand themes to keep the adults happy. The problem with El Dorado is that when it veers too far into adult it course corrects too strongly back towards kids and vice versa. For every threat of sacrifice, there is an Elton John song that sounds like an outtake from the Lion King. For every bemused horse expression, there is Cortes menacing our heroes with the following line of dialogue:

My crew was chosen as carefully as the Disciples of Christ, and I will not tolerate stowaways. You will be flogged. And when we put in to Cuba to resupply, God willing, you will be flogged some more. And then enslaved on the sugar plantations for the rest of your miserable lives.

This tonal imbalance is bound to continuously catch viewers off guard and makes for a jarring watching experience.

However, at its best, this film is a joy to watch. Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline as the two leads are having a ball, and their performances make me wish that this movie had been live-action instead of animated as, even though the animators capture them very well, to see the lines being spoken mixed with Branagh and Kline’s body language would be a real treat.

Tonal weirdness aside, I would still advise watching this movie. The two leads are charming characters voiced by charming actors and there are enough cool set-pieces and jokes to make it a fun watch. And if the worst I can say about a movie is that it is not the classic that the internet promised me it would be, then that’s actually not so bad.

History’s Hairdresser – Dorian Gray

Alright, Mr Gray, how’s it going? You been getting up to mischief? Good, lad.

What you been up to? What’s that? You’ve just been lying around on sofas smoking and dispensing witticisms that cut right to the core of another human being while seemingly in jest but actually hiding your true feelings towards the other person, whether those feelings be jealously or rage at the fortune of others when you yourself are steeped in apathy so dense you fear that it will drown you like a lost sailor adrift in an indifferent churning sea?

I see. Me and the missus just got back from a holiday to Blackpool. Not really the same.

Just the usual with the hair? Do you never fancy another style, my lad? I feel like you’ve had the same haircut for a hundred years. Yeah, I guess change is overrated. Anyway, there you go. Pretty as a picture.

2014: The Year of the Pratt

This article first appeared on Audienceseverywhere.net. Go there for more great stuff.

Chris Pratt

From Left: Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures;  Lego Movie ,Warner Bros.; Headshot, Twitter user: @PrattPrattPratt

I hated Chris Pratt when I first saw him. He was Andy Dwyer, Anne Perkins’ lazy ass boyfriend in the first season of Parks and Recreation. The first few episodes of that show (which would transcend a pretty poor first season to become something wonderful) had Andy positioned as the show’s villain – a slovenly idiot who was milking his broken leg to turn his girlfriend into his slave. He was in a crap band and didn’t care about anyone but himself. Somehow, though, this character managed to grow on me (and the rest of the world). Now, five seasons later, he’s one of the best characters on a show filled with great characters. (He’s even brilliant in the bloopers.)

The story goes that Andy Dwyer was only supposed to last one season, but Chris Pratt managed to inject enough likeability and charm into an unlikable and charmless character that the show’s creators decided to keep him around to see what would happen.

What happened was that Chris Pratt managed to become a superstar. His star rose and rose, and if 2014 belonged to anyone, it was most definitely the Year of the Pratt.

Two of my favourite movies of the year had Pratt in the leading role. Both roles required an actor who can be silly without being annoying and bring big emotions without seeming false. In both movies Pratt killed it.

First was The Lego Movie, a film that could have been a very long toy commercial but instead turned out to be a fantastic action comedy about the nature of free will and creativity. It also produced the best version of Batman we’re likely to see on the big screen any time soon. Pratt infuses Emmet Brickowski with puppy dog charm and endearing foolishness, while also hitting the right notes with some of the more emotional moments, meaning that this writer can now say that a talking Lego man has made him get a lump in his throat.

Next was Guardians of the Galaxy. As a big comic book reader I didn’t know what to think when this movie was announced. I loved the Guardians but they always struck me as characters that worked well on a page but not on the screen. I could not have been any more wrong. It would be incredibly easy for Pratt to fall by the wayside in this movie, overshadowed by the buddy cop pairing of Groot and Rocket or David Bautista’s scene stealing performance or Zoe Saldana’s intense repenting sociopath. Instead he shines. He manages to take a role that could be thankless and makes it his own.

Pratt comes across as one of the most likable guys in Hollywood. He does fantastic charity work with his promotion of the Fear Isn’t Real campaign and attending charity screenings of his movies (and taking selfies with every member of the crowd). He regularly posts pictures on Twitter of his gorgeous family (his wife is the awesome Anna Faris), he was voted #2 in this year’s People’s sexiest men poll, and also did one of the better ASL ice bucket challenge videos.

All in all, 2014 was Pratt’s year, and what does the future hold? Oh, yeah in 2015 he’ll be starring in Jurassic World, in which early footage seems to show him riding a motorcycle while commanding a team of trained raptors. Any other actor and that would seem stupid. When I saw Pratt doing it, I thought, yeah, this makes sense. This movie’ll kick ass.

 

History’s Hairdresser – Dracula

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Ah, Count, you’ve haven’t been here for an age. Will it be the usual? Exactly! Why tamper with a classic? The trick is to wait around cos everything comes back into fashion don’t it? One minute they’re saying flares are out, the next every bugger’s wearing them. You mark my words, stick it out for another decade or two and the widow’s peak will be all the rage.

How are you keeping anyway? Must get lonely up there in that castle all by yourself. What do you mean brides? Three of them? Well I never. Must be expensive to take care of three women. I struggle to keep our Marge and she’s only the size of three women. Ha!

Seen any good films recently? Yeah, that Twilight one was shite wasn’t it? My eldest thought it was great. Went out and got the book the next day. Never seen her read anything that wasn’t on a screen and there she is, can’t wrestle that book away from her. A book about you? Never heard of it. What’s it called? Oh. Who’s it by? Oh. Never heard of him. Wait, is the one that wrote The Shoulder of Shasta? He is! Oh, I loved that one. Well, if I get around to it, I’ll get the one about you.

Hey, Count, you’ve got a few grays at the back here. You want me to shoe polish them? No worries, mate, our little secret.

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On the next History’s Hairdresser – A certain Dr Jekyll comes in for a trim.

Around the World in 12 Horror Movies – Part Two

***Originally appeared at www.audienceseverywhere.net. Go there for more features, reviews and general awesomeness***

I consider myself to be quite well-traveled and one thing I always try to do in a foreign country is visit the cinema.

In Thailand I discovered that you have to stand for the national anthem before each movie. In Korea you can eat squid dipped in peanut butter. Turkey has the most ads before a film and every movie has an interval. America has the biggest seats/snacks, which may or may not be a coincidence. And in Cape Town there’s a cinema that serves alcohol and looks like it might collapse at any minute (it’s called The Labia Theatre and is amazing).

The one constant are the viewers. There will always be the talkers, the phone checkers, the loud chewers, and the wrapper crinklers. At the same time there will always be the gaspers, the laughing so hard they chokers, the breath holders, and the guy who shouted out a bad word during a particularly shocking moment in a Thai cinema (spoiler, it was me.) 

PART TWO

CubeCube (Canada 1997)

Cube was two firsts for me. It was the first time I watched an independent  movie that wasn’t some crap about people  finding themselves, and it was the first time I saw a man chopped into tiny cubes by a booby trap (but not the last…that’s another story).

Cube is a very simple concept executed well. A group of strangers wake up inside a giant cube linked to a seemingly infinite chain of similar cubes and must escape. Some of the rooms are booby trapped, some are not, they need to move from cube to cube without being killed by traps or each other. Cube uses it’s sparse resources well (the cube set is reused again and again and simply relit to appear as a new cube) and creates a Hitchcockian tension of strangers trapped together and forced to rely on each other for their own survival. The fun of this movie is the inventiveness of the traps and the video game style progression through the ‘levels’ of the movie. Cube shares an advantage of a lot of low budget horror films in the fact that cast is made up of unknowns, meaning that no one’s survival is guaranteed and everyone could end up as a pile of bloody meat cubes.

 

the-cabin-in-the-woods-52254966d4ec2The Cabin in the Woods (America 2012)

The Exorcist is the best American horror movie/best horror movie. However, I have already spilled quite enough ink talking about that film so I chose another American horror.

The Cabin in the Woods should be the last ever horror film. Should you ever decide that you are finished with the genre then you should watch Cabin and no other horrors after it (same with Unforgiven and Westerns). Cabin is an immensely clever movie in the way that it tears apart horror clichés while at the same time using them in a subversive way to make a perfectly competent horror movie. Compare it with Scream, another postmodern, knowing wink of a movie, and you can see the vast difference in skill on display. Without it’s ‘Oh we all know we’re in a movie’ smugness Scream is simply a slasher film, while Cabin in the Woods manages to be a very funny, creepy movie, and the added meta-ness of it is simply a bonus.

Cabin is one of those movies that deserves more lauding and should have vastly transformed the horror landscape. Or at least completely destroyed it.

 

RecREC (Spain 2007)

Found footage is a genre that faces a very big weakness that a lot of movies in the genre fail to overcome. The weakness is simply the question, “Why are you filming this?” Some movies with interesting concepts have been ruined by a reliance on the found footage ploy, as though the creators didn’t have enough confidence in their idea and thought they had to rely on a gimmick to keep people interested (I’m looking at you Cloverfield and Chronicle). In both of those films there were far too many scenes where I couldn’t believe that the characters would be filming their situation, and this dragged me kicking and screaming out of the movie. REC bypasses this by having the main characters be a news reporter and her cameraman as they make a show about workers on night shifts. I was willing to suspend belief when it came to the constant filming because there was enough of a set-up to show that these characters believed the situation they were in would be their big break, so they needed to chronicle everything. REC is a tightly made film. It has a lean running time and keeps things rolling at a sprinting pace. The plot (people trapped in a quarantined apartment building full of infected people) is simple and horrific, and the night vision finale is masterful. Found footage is an overdone genre these days but when it’s done well, as it is here, it can still be very effective.

 

Devils BackboneThe Devil’s Backbone / El Espinazo Del Diablo (Mexico 2001)

I actually toyed with putting both Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone as the Mexico entry (both set in Spain but Guillermo Del Toro’s awesomeness/Mexican-ness gets him on the list) as they are very close companion pieces. Both are set during the Spanish Civil War and focus upon children (in Labyrinth it’s a girl, in Backbone a boy) who find themselves embroiled in supernatural stories.

I chose Backbone for this list because, while Labyrinth has it’s scary moments (The Pale Man is the scariest thing that has ever happened), it is presented as a fairy story while this is a straight-up ghost story.

Carlos is young boy dumped into an orphanage plagued by a ghost (the-one-who-sighs), the threat of war, a shifty custodian, and a unexploded bomb that rests in the courtyard. Something that Del Toro does very well is to merge two plots while giving equal attention to each. In both this and Labyrinth he manages to craft a compelling story line in the real world and a compelling fantasy/horror story line as well. Remove the ghost from this film and you would still have the story of a group of young, forgotten boys struggling to survive the machinations of the adult world. Remove the war plot and you would still have a solid ghost story about murder, deceit, and revenge. Another satisfying trait of Del Toro’s is that he likes to present his ghosts and monsters up front. He designs his monsters so well and makes them so captivating to look at, that it would be a waste to hide them. The ghost in Backbone is no exception.

I would suggest double-billing these two movies as they stand together like a pair of twins (though one is a ghost and the other a faun.)

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100 Word Movie Review: Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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My favourite thing about this movie was that the villain, Leatherface, whose thing seems to be wearing other people’s faces, along with his fake face and blood-splattered apron, always wore a tie. I don’t know why but that really stuck out to me. This massive dude bonking people on the head with a mallet always made sure he had some formal item of clothing on. It was actually quite endearing. Other than that, this was a very chilling, atmospheric movie that got a little bit boring towards the end once it became just the ‘last girl’ screaming and being abused.

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My ebook, available at Amazon. 

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Raiders of the Lost Ark

===Orginally appeared on AudiencesEverywhere.net. Go there after you’ve been here and not a second before===

Overview: Archaeologist Indiana Jones races Nazis to discover the Ark of the Covenant. 1981; Lucasfilm/Paramount; Rated PG/PG-13; 115 Minutes

Is There Such a Thing as A Perfect Movie? The short answer is no. The slightly less short answer is yes, and that movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders has been a staple in the Fallon household for as long as I can remember. In terms of building cinematic obsession, for me, it’s up there with the Star Wars Trilogy (the first movie I saw on the cinema was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which my parents took me to for my fourth birthday. Other kids in the cinema ran around like lunatics and I stared at the screen in abject adulation.)

Obtainer of Rare Antiquities: The thing that still appeals to me about Indiana Jones is that he acts like a real person. He gets dirty and sweaty, he has cuts and bruises. He gets his ass handed to him many times throughout the film but keeps fighting. And when he does fight, he often fights dirty. Look at the fight with the massive mechanic. He distracts his opponent then kicks him in the nuts, biting, scratching, throwing sand in the mechanic’s face. It is a world away from James Bond beating up a thug with choreographed precision before straightening his tie and dishing out a quip. It is only out of dumb luck (and a whirring propeller) that he survives that fight and escapes from the air field.

Indiana Jones comes across as a lived-in character. There is no need for an origin story. Everything required to understand him is offered in the epic opening scene. This man is an archaeologist/adventurer. He is capable, he is smart, he’s good with a whip, and he can outrun a boulder. And when the film cuts sharply to him teaching a class of enamoured students, the circle is complete. Teacher by day, adventurer by night. What more do you need to know?

The supporting characters are the same. We are offered some background on Marian but no concrete reason for her to be running a bar in Nepal. Sallah is introduced as the best digger in Egypt, and his friendship with Indy actually strengthens our knowledge of our hero by showing that he has friends all over the world, who we can only assume he’s met on adventures we haven’t seen.

And it continues with the villains. We learn nothing about Belloq and need nothing more than the vile sleaziness (and occasional flashes of likability) that Paul Freeman gives him with his outstanding performance. The Nazis are… Nazis. They’re unrepentant baddies so they’re going to get what’s coming to them.

Raiders of the Lost Ark 1

It’s Not the Years Honey, It’s the Mileage: This sense of a lived-in world extends to the romance between Marion and Indy. The relationship has happened years before and the chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen speaks volumes more than a clumsy meet-cute or a protracted courtship. They act like people who have been friends before lovers, and even though the love has cooled there is still genuine affection between the pair. However, this romance pales in intensity to that of Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant. Indy’s character is established as a treasure hunter so it makes sense that his first love would be the prize and not the girl. In fact, there are two scenes in which Indy chooses the Ark over Marion (leaving her tied up in the enemy camp and refusing to blow up the Ark in the canyon) and as the film progresses, it quickly becomes apparent that we are actually watching a tragic love triangle between Indy, Belloq, and the Ark.

Raiders of the Lost Ark 2

Snakes, Why Did It Have to be Snakes? Three people make Raiders what it is. Lawrence Kasdan’s script is as good as it gets. It’s fast, funny, scary, self-deprecating, intense. There is probably an action beat every ten pages and the story drags you along frantically from scene to scene. It’s exhausting trying to keep up. As I discussed earlier, Kasdan gives us everything we need in the first couple of scenes. No time is wasted on anything superfluous. We get a character, a villain, a quest and we’re off to the races.

John Williams’ score is one of his best. The chilling piece that keeps threatening to start every time the Ark appears but only gets going at the very end of the movie is a great example of character/music synergy (another example being the high-pitched discordant sound that plays whenever the Joker is around in The Dark Knight). And, obviously, The Raider’s March is one of the best scores in cinema and instantly recognisable.

But the most important technical contributor to this movie’s success is sound designer, Ben Burtt. His sounds in the opening jungle scenes could lead audiences to think the action was happening in another world. The chirps and animal calls that fill the unseen jungle create an aural space in which danger and adventure lurk around every corner. I can also directly trace my intense fear of snakes to this movie, and it’s not just the sight of them that freaks me out, it is the noise. The snakes hiss and slither and writhe together and the noise (which I later found out was Burtt plunging his hand into a cheese casserole, which I am now also afraid of) is a nauseating mix of wet and alive that permeates the scene and that I half expect to start dripping out of my speakers.

Is Raiders really the perfect movie? No, not really. Its failure of the Bechdel Test is pretty intense and some of the special effects haven’t aged well, and, if we wanted to be Cinema Sins, (i.e. joyless dicks) we could nit-pick all manner of errors but where would the fun in that be? In the end, there probably is no perfect movie but, for me, Raiders is pretty damn close.

Grade: A+

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My ebook, available at Amazon. 

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Writing Advice Desk

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I visited a writing advice desk this week at Liverpool’s gorgeous Central Library. I took along my children’s book and received some excellent feedback.

While I was waiting for my turn to speak to the adviser, I hung around the plays section of the library (and read some Willy Russell) and I looked at the other people who were in front of my in the queue.

I was definitely the youngest person there and though I have the childish features of a man half my age I am still 30 years old. The men in front of me, and they were all men, were in their upper fifties/sixties. They were presenting the advisers with plays, poems, and short fiction that they had written for appraisal. They weren’t men coming from the university either, these men looked like working men who had just finished up work and come across.

They listened to the advisers with rapt attention and made notes and comments on their advice. When their time was done they were full of thanks and they had a look that I know all too well. Whatever they were writing, maybe they’ve hit a snag or a knot and they just needed a push to get them through, and these advisers had provided the push.

It made me proud to see these men, without shame or embarrassment, present their works to complete strangers to be scrutinised and picked apart.

Good on you lads.

*Here’s a few pics of the gorgeous library.

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My ebook, available at Amazon. 

Marrying the Animal

 

Marrying the Animal: On sale now

The Equiatic Bind

Marrying the Animal

The wait is over!

Marrying the Animal: One hundred 100 word stories is on sale now here for Australians and here for Americans and here for Brits or at your local Amazon site if you’re not from these three countries. Some of these stories have featured on this blog (usually from prompts supplied by two very awesome, very talented ladies) but there are a whole lotta others that have I’ve kept to myself until now. 

Buy it, tell your friends to buy it, tell your enemies to buy it, tell their friends to buy it and most of all enjoy it!

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