The Momentum Blog
Posted December 4, 2013 by Mark
Craig’s recent post about The Hobbit got me thinking. It seems like everyone I’ve spoken to (apart from Craig, obviously) was disappointed or at least a little underwhelmed by the first Hobbit movie. Now I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (I have a statue of Gandalf on my bookshelf at home – don’t tell anyone), but The Hobbit was unnecessarily padded and overlong.
But anyway, this post isn’t about the things that were wrong with that film. Because despite the problems we all had with it, despite the fact that nobody really enjoyed it as much as any of the Lord of the Rings movies, we’re still all going to see the second instalment when it comes out in a few weeks.
With a lack of enthusiasm we’ll all wander over to the cinema, head down and shoulders hunched, preparing to fork out our hard-earned money for a film we feel obliged to see. And this experience will be familiar.
Movies we were obliged to see:
Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
Ugh. Episode 1 disappointed but could have just been George Lucas being rusty as a filmmaker. We happily gave Episode 2 a chance, but it just confirmed that the magic was gone. But still, we dragged ourselves to the cinema to complete the journey, and finally see how Anakin became Darth Vader. And while it was an improvement over the first two episodes, it still didn’t deserve a worldwide box office haul of $850,000,000.
Hey, James Cameron is back after a huge hiatus. Hey, he’s making a visionary sci-fi film with realistic digital characters. Hey, here’s the trailer. Oh. It’s like Ferngully? Oh. But we went to see it because of all the hype about the visuals. And everyone else was doing it! But that $2.7 billion final total still seems like a clerical error to me.
The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix is a tight, fast-paced sci-fi thriller that is visually unique and stylish. The Matrix Reloaded is bloated, slow and looks like a lame knock-off of the original film. But maybe, as with The Phantom Menace, it was a stumble, and The Matrix Revolutions would bring it back. Still, it didn’t look promising. We reluctantly went, and it made $427,000,000 worldwide.
The Amazing Spider-Man
The first two Spider-Man movies are classics of the superhero genre, with part 2 being a strong contender for greatest superhero movie of all time. But then there was part 3, and then Sam Raimi walked away and then the studio pressed the reset button. Everyone wanted another Spider-Man. There was so much potential. But nobody wanted to see another take on the origin story a mere handful of years after the third instalment in what was a pretty decent take on the character. The desire to see Spider-Man continue won out, and we all went. A $752,000,000 global total has ensured that not one, not two, but three sequels are now in various stages of production.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The first film made a billion dollars but is easily the least liked of the middle-earth films. The 48fps presentation left audiences cold and the fact that it took over three hours to tell ninety pages of the source novel smacked of a studio and filmmaker stretching their story out just so they could make another trilogy. So here comes the sequel. And we will go see it, because we were entertained by the first one, and this one has a dragon. But we won’t be particularly enthusiastic about it. I would be surprised if this winds up earning anything near what the first one did but it’s guaranteed to be a sizeable hit.
Are there any films you felt obliged to see? Let me know in the comments.Tagged: films, list, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, star wars, the hobbit
Posted November 29, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It’s that time of year again, all the big holiday releases are descending on us, and we all have to make the incredibly difficult choice of deciding on a film to go see on Boxing Day, as we let the remnants of Christmas lunch and Christmas dinner work their way through our digestive system.
Or, decide on a film to go see on Boxing Day because the cinema is air conditioned and it’s as hot as hot can be outside.
Or, decide on a film to go see on Boxing Day because, well, why not?
So, for your consideration, this is why you should choose to go see the next installment in The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug.
1. It’s the sequel to a film that made over a billion dollars
If you thought the reception to the first film was somewhat middling, you were right. Critics liked it, but certainly didn’t love it. There was the usual spread of misinformation designed to derail its launch (trouble on set, change of directors, bla bla bla), but in the end it still took an insane amount of money from cinema-goers, for a fantasy film based on a children’s book with a cast headed by an actor who is more famous for his TV roles rather than leading a cinema franchise, it did spectacularly.
And it’s doing what prequels should do: work on their own and enrich the viewing of the original films.
If we cast our minds back to when The Fellowship of the Ring was released, it was rather similar. Fans flocked to it, critics held back. It wasn’t really until the awards bandwagon rolled on for The Return of the King that the critics decided to acknowledge there might be some merit in these films.
2. Martin Freeman
Nailed it, as far as Bilbo goes. Affable, reluctant, short – he certainly got the performance of the main character perfect, in portraying someone who backs their way into adventure and danger. And god the riddles in the dark scene was brilliant.
And, in The Desolation of Smaug, he actually gets to show us why he’s there. Why the character was brought along by the company of dwarves.
Dwarves! No longer just relying on John Rhys-Davies to be the sole representative of Tolkien’s dwarves, we actually get thirteen of them, with a variety of accents, wardrobes, weapons and facial hair. It’s all about the facial hair.
And while we only got to properly meet a few of them in the first film, rest assured we’ll get more of the rest.
4. Richard Armitage
On that note, more of Richard Armitage! While he may have come across as a bit one-note in the first half of An Unexpected Journey - gruff, naysaying, hating on Bilbo – when we were let into his backstory in the Battle of Azunulbizar, and his ongoing search for vengeance against Azog (the best sequence in the first film by far), Armitage filled out the role perfectly. Given that his character now has to lead the company of dwarves back to retrieve their lost heritage, it’s only going to get better.
5. More Azog the Pale Orc
Oh yeah. The other best thing about the first film is back for the second, as far as the trailers suggest. Taking a leaf from Lurtz in The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson personified the chasing bad guys perfectly in this hook-handed orc. Every minute the character was onscreen was glorious, not only for the terror the character causes among the dwarves, but also for how perfectly realised this hybrid actor-CGI-prosthetic character was. We all got caught up in the latest Gollum Update 4.0, everyone forgot to acknowledge just how great this character was on screen.
The dragon, in fact. Barely glimpsed in the first film, and rightly so, Smaug arrives in this film, and given Jackson’s penchant for movie monsters, I’d hazard a guess this will be one of the best cinematic dragons we’ve ever seen. More than just a monster, Smaug’s an evil mind, a hoarder, and one of the richest fictional characters according to Forbes.
7. Bendlewind Cumbersnatch.
Bumbernick Catcherbun? Benedicteggs Corianderpatch?
Anyway. Benedict Cumberbatch is portraying Smaug. So, expect lots of villainous, megalomaniacal treachery and autisim-spectrum acumen in his voice performance. And at some point Bilbo will cry out ‘SMAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGG!’
Yeah, yeah, elves are back. Orlando Bloom’s Captain Obvious is returning, and bringing along Lost’s Evangeline Lily as she portrays Tauriel, giving the series a much-needed female character. Yeah I’m looking at you, all you people who complain when Peter Jackson invents things. Tauriel is a necessary addition, so get over it.
Back along for the ride is Lee Pace, who showed up briefly in flashback in the first film as Thranduil, Captain Obvious’s dad. Lots of supercilious, couldn’t-give-a-shit in his performance. Perfect for an elven king.
Yep, not saying much, because if you haven’t read the books it’ll be great fun to see for the first time. And if you have, you know what to expect. But again with Jackson and movie monsters, Beorn should be fantastic on screen.
Especially when the dwarves go down to the woods one day.
10. Sylvester McCoy as Radagast
The most fun thing about the first film is back. Thankfully. The bunny-sled driving, hedgehog talking, bird-poop headed wizard is back, smoking it up with Gandalf as they explore the source of evil in the east. Great to see McKellen and McCoy acting together on screen, given their history of acting together on stage, and their plot line is excellent invention by Jackson, given that he’s mined Tolkien’s appendices for this, which is the strongest connection between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Expect more of this in film 3.Tagged: adaptation, Books, fantasy, films, list, movies, peter jackson, the hobbit
Posted November 1, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
If only someone could bottle the experience of watching a great twist at the end of a film. It’s something you can never repeat, except by tracking down some unknowing friend, forcing them to watch it as you sit there watching them, clutching your knees and hoping to god they find it as mind blowing as you did.
What follows is my list of the greatest twist endings in cinema. My criteria was simple: the film must conform to The Three Laws of Twists.
The twist has to occur in the final act of the film.
The twist must force the viewer to re-evaluate everything they’ve seen.
The twist must not undermine everything the viewer has seen.
Needless to say, GREAT BIG SUPER SPOILER TWIST SPOILER WARNING SPOILER SPOILER.
10. The Others
A twist so maddeningly simple it’s a joy to rewatch. Brilliantly devoted to the haunted house genre, Alejandro’s Amenabar’s film ratchets up the atmosphere by not only draping everything in ridiculous fog, it also ties us to an unreliable narrator, who is revealed to actually be the one doing the haunting. Bonus points for getting Nicole Kidman in a good film.
I had to see this again after many years recently just to remember how deft the sleight-of-hand is. Like all good twists, it gives you the answer directly – remember Sammy Jankis? - and you have no idea it’s happening. Again with the unreliable narrator (there’s a few of them in this list), Guy Pearce’s Leonard not only let his wife overdose on insulin, he’s also on a never-ending revenge murder spree. The best thing about this twist and about the film is the structure. By giving us a character who has amnesia, it places the twist at the beginning, but then through its reverse narrative places that beginning at the ending.
The twist that isn’t a twist. Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling San Fernando Valley mosaic begins with the brilliant Rick Jay’s voiceover recounting three urban legends. What the characters in the film are unaware of, and the audience too, is that the apocalyptic rain of frogs that brings about the denouement reveals them all to be participants in their own (sub)urban legend. The frogs are a release for the characters, and bring a sudden clarity and resolution to their fractured, messy lives. Additionally, Ricky Jay is one of the world’s expert magicians.
Can’t really leave it off the list. Still shocks and chills new-time viewers fifty-odd years after release, Hitchcock had life-size cutouts of himself placed in cinemas around the US bearing a message of request to viewers not to reveal the ending to incoming queues. Great publicity, in that there was a priming for the shocking twist, but no suggestion that there were actually two: the brutal murder of the hero halfway through the film, and the final reveal of Norman and his mother/son split personality.
6. Shutter Island
A real punch in the face of an ending. It also has ongoing ripples of reveal: Leonardo DiCaprio’s detective investigating a missing person case from a mental asylum on the titular island discovers firstly that there is no missing person. Then that he is actually an inmate of the asylum. Then that he murdered his wife. Then that he has had this series of facts revealed to him several times already, but he constantly regresses back into fantasy. And then, shockingly, the final scene where he either regresses yet again, or voluntarily chooses to have a lobotomy so as to forget forever.
5. The Prestige
Another one from Christopher Nolan, and again one where he tells you the answer bluntly and directly. In fact, he challenges you in the opening frames to believe him when he gives you the answer: are you watching closely? The story of two duelling magicians is actually a story about story, about how we believe the make believe, and don’t want to accept the reality. The ending’s two reveals – one magician is a twin, the other is making duplicates of himself – is so built into the narrative we can’t help but feel we knew this all along, we just really didn’t want to believe it was anything but magic.
4. The Usual Suspects
The original film for me where you force someone to watch it just to enjoy the thrill of the reveal all over again. Bryan Singer revels in his glorious final twist – that the arch-villain Keyser Sose is actually the man talking to us – it’s a joy to watch and rewatch the cross cutting of revelation on Chazz Palminteri’s disbelieving face and the once crooked steps of Kevin Spacey’s limp straighten out and stride away. Even better, the twist rewards future viewing, in that it unravels every possible strand and makes you wonder where the truth of the story ends and the lies begin.
More than Shutter Island, this ending just ruins you. Brad Pitt reportedly had the ending written into his contract – that his character completes the cycle of seven murders by shooting the serial killer – as so many executives were disturbed by the moral culpability of it they couldn’t believe anyone would actually film such a disturbing ending to what was already a pretty damn disturbing film. The terror of Morgan Freeman, as he realises that his and Pitt’s detectives have no control over the situation, is perfect. And for lasting impact, we all still believe we saw Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in that box, even though it’s never shown. Great filmmaking, great twist.
The greatest ending, the only one that could oust Seven for greatest twist in cinema. Like that film, it doesn’t rely on an unreliable narrator, on fooling the viewer with a clever narrative trick, Chinatown just delivers a cruelly lush and patient exploration of mystery, murder and missing water, as Jack Nicholson’s P.I. investigates the death of a chief water engineer, believing it to be a political crime. Only, the more he investigates, the more he realises he has no idea what’s going on, and the biggest crime here is far more personal and immoral. It’s such a great twist I can’t even spoil it here.
And in the final twist for me, rather than the Number 1 twist, I’m going to give you the Worst Twist Ending Ever.
1. The Sixth Sense
Appalling. Awful parlour trick masquerading as elegant cinema. It breaks the third rule above, in that it undermines everything that came before in the film. So, wow, Bruce Willis was actually dead and was one of the ghosts the boy saw all the time. Big deal. The point of the film up until that moment, the reason of the narrative until that ridiculous ending, was to discover why the boy saw dead people. But rather than answer that big question, hit the audience with a surprise, cue the credits, and run away before anyone realises that it’s a terribly crap film. Ta-da.Tagged: endings, horror, list, movies, thriller, twist ending
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Posted October 31, 2013 by Laurie Ormond
We all know that people love books. But there’s loving books, and then there’s spending hour upon hour with a delicate vibrating knife carving characters and sigils from your favourite book into a vegetable famous for an extremely tough rind and messy pulpy orange centre.
My hat goes off to the book-lovers behind these creations: Halloween Jack O’Lanterns featuring literary characters, illustrations, authors, and book covers!
My favourite is this reproduction of a famous red-figure illustration of Odysseus and a Sphinx.
But a shout-out also to this Jane Austen fan’s cameo-style pumpkin.
Other classic works of literature enpumpkined:
Ooh and with children’s book illustrations there are so many impressive and charming pumpkins out there … some of them rather failing to be scary. I like the Gruffalo:
But I am also a fan of dancing lit-up Wild Things:
Horror and SF, perhaps naturally, seem to be the genres that have the most pumpkins carved in their honour. Who is the scariest out of these?
Many pumpkin artists (pumkartists?) have also made good use of popular fiction’s ability to create recognisable sigils and signs:
Posted October 25, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
With October flying by and the end of the year looming, I thought it worth taking a look – even though this southern hemisphere has got the seasons all wrong – at some Halloween books.
Not necessarily books about or featuring Halloween, in one form or another, but also books that I think would just be darn good reads for everything that the evening seems to conjure, as it is a strange celebration, one that is carried in collective consciousnesses, in rituals and habits of unclear origins, but one that is certainly about everybody bracing the dark that lives at the edges. For the northerners, it is the dark about to come. For us in the south – perhaps – the dark that we have just safely come from.
Either way, these reads all fit the bill for me.
1. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
The easiest choice for this, and the best. Has to be number one and it’s actually set around Halloween. Two young boys – the brilliantly named William Halloway and Jim Nightshade – encounter dark forces in their small town, brought by the travelling carnival, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. Ostensibly a journey into adulthood, the story embodies everything Halloween, and the showdown is some of Bradbury’s most glorious writing.
2. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
The opening half of this book is truly terrifying. I found the second a bit uneven, but it’s hard to match the terror of some of the opening stories. It’s a perfect setup: four old guys gather every year and scare each other witless telling ghost stories. The problem is, there used to be five in their group. Straub ramps the fear up to eleven, as the surviving members of the group try to discover what scared their old friend to death, and who – or what – is set on haunting them. Ghost stories at Halloween: definitely.
3. The Facts in the Case of M.Valdemar – Edgar Allen Poe
Could really have thrown a dart at any Poe story as a necessary addition, but this is the one I like the best. I don’t really want to go into the details of the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, but if we’re considering the notion of Halloween being a journey out into the dark, this story takes the reader to dark, and beyond. And there’s no pesky repetitive ravens.
First printed in a magazine in 1845, it’s now available in any Poe collection.
4. The Circular Ruins – Jorge Luis Borges
Probably the one that stands separate to the rest in the list, in that it’s not overtly Halloween, and yet Borges listed Poe and H.P. Lovecraft as two of his favourite authors, so the thematic connection is there. It’s a short story about making dreams reality, the treachery of idealism, and the final reveal is wonderful written magic.
Bonus points for Through the Looking Glass quote to preface the story. Published as part of Borges’ Fictions collection.
5. Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett
Essentially a Halloween story, or at least the Discworld version of it, which is Soul Cake Tuesday. Pratchett understands the convoluted and contradictory origins of Halloween, and all the various competing claims as to what it really is all about and he bundles as much in to his version, including a masked Samedi Nuit Mort ball (there’s a good joke in there), which conflates voodooism, pagan ritual, carnivals and gothic melodrama into a tale of witches battling evil fairy godmothers. Really.
6. IT – Stephen King
I had to pick one. For a long time it was going to be ‘Salem’s Lot, but then I might as well have just included Dracula instead. Rather, this is it. Taking almost all of the ideas and themes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked, and turning it into a decades-long horror epic of childhood friends returning to their hometown in later life to destroy the evil that haunts them all, and all of us, still.
Forget Tim Curry, forget the childhood nightmares. If you’ve never read this, you’re missing out on what is an insanely huge, flawlessly structured, absolute terror of a novel. It’s King at his best, horror at it’s best, and perfect for the final entry in this list.
Bonus story: The Lottery – Shirley Jackson.
Oh my god. Read it, if you haven’t before. But it wasn’t me who told you to.
Any other suggestions?Tagged: Books, halloween, horror, list, reading, stephen king, thriller
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Posted October 24, 2013 by Laurie Ormond
With Halloween approaching, my thoughts and reading tastes have turned to witches.
Popular fantasy offers all sorts of witches to consort with, from wicked sisters to nature-loving followers of Wicca.
Like bad luck, good things, and slapstick gags, witches come in threes. Witches bring trouble, usually to other people, which makes them both excellent antagonists and protagonists who are generally much more interesting than even the boldest heroines.
Here are some of my favourite feminine trios:
The Discworld: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat, Queen of Lancre.
Although she would sniff and mutter that she couldn’t be having with this list; I will out of due respect list Granny Weatherwax first, with Nanny Ogg and Magrat in tow. This trio are the stars of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, fighting against narrative itself as it’s used against them and against their kingdom of Lancre.*
While technically Magrat has retired from her position as Maiden-in-waiting on the two older witches, she remains one of my favourite witches-in-action ever. In Lords and Ladies, it is the solid-as-rock core of sappy Magrat’s personality that saves the king and the kingdom from faerie perils. In Carpe Jugulum, when her kingdom is under threat, she straps her newly-born daughter to her chest and runs off into the night with Nanny Ogg, changing nappies and plotting the downfall of ancient vampires in the same breath. More impressively, Magrat actually survived an apprenticeship with Granny & won her respect.
I love Terry Pratchett’s witches. While they deal with some pretty awesome magical incursions, they also operate in a realm of realism that not many other wise women can match. Yes, they are midwives and herbalists and keepers of lore, and this often involves bloody, messy work. They are arbitrators of the bargains between human and inhuman kingdoms; and also of family squabbles that have just as much power to topple the tiny societies that people actually live in.
To make a fourth to this trio, special mention has to go to Tiffany Aching, witchy heroine of Pratchett’s Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. Tiffany can count as a trio in herself, since there is Tiffany, and then her Second and Third Thoughts.
Tiffany is a different kind of witch from the witches in Lancre. She’s less hemmed in by stereotypes than by tiny, barbaric, insane and insanely loyal blue men. Tiffany refuses the archetypes of Maiden, Mother or Crone, and insists on personhood as Tiffany as well as the witch-hood that she earns.
*Lancre, the name of the kingdom that Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are from, is the name of a famous 17th Century witch-hunter, Pierre de Rosteguy de Lancre.
The Black Jewels Trilogy: Jaenelle, Surreal, and Karla.
These are my three favourite witches from Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy, although she has a host of extremely likeable characters, spiced with a good pinch of wonderfully destestable ones. Bishop’s trilogy is set in a world which is ruled over by magical races known as the Blood. The society of the Blood is matriarchal, with Queens ruling as the heart of a society that is stratified by the depth of magical power that an individual can reach. Witches in these books weave tangled dream-webs to create fantastical illusions or peer into the future, and they wield brightly-coloured Jewels as receptacles of world-altering magic.
Jaenelle Angelline is a fabled Queen of almost limitless power, a scratchy temper, and a tender heart; Surreal is a dangerous assassin, and a very successful courtesan; Karla is a prickly and razor-tongued Queen fighting against a cancer of misogyny and patriarchal control in her formerly matriarchal territory.
I love the way that this fantasy series turns a lot of symbolism of the feminine and the occult on its head, re-identifying darkness and depth and complexity as positive and celebratory.
In this series, witches have the claws and tempers of dragons, and the subtlety of spiders, but their most fundamental role is as caretakers and protectors of people and of the environment.
A recommendation for these books should probably come with something of a trigger warning, as they deal with some pretty grim sexual violence, although they do so in a very smart, powerful way.
The Witches of Eileanan: Isabeau, Iseult, and Meghan.
Both men and women train to be witches in Kate Forsyth’s world of Eileanan. The practice of witchcraft in these books mixes in ancient Celtic druidism and modern Wiccan practices, to create a very satisfying secondary-world religion that worships and draws power from nature and the elements. Eileanan is in fact an alien world that a group of witches fled to from a world very much like our own, where they were facing persecution from 17th-century style puritancial witch-hunters. Finding a world inhabited by strange, magical creatures, humans dubbed these new races faeries and spread out to live among them, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. The Eileanan books are set during a time where the young Queen of the land has stirred up a campaign of persecution against witches. It makes for a rich background for the twin heroines Isabeau and Iseult to adventure across as they seek to reunite the kingdom.
Isabeu’s guardian, Meghan of the Beasts, is one of those wonderful fairytale characters who has the kind of affinity for animals that lets her draw all the creatures of the forest around her. She has just the right mixture of kindliness and dour abruptness that I expect in a magical mentor. Isabeu has grown up wild and solitary in the forest, learning the ways of nature, but even she is not as wild as her long-long twin Iseult who has grown up a warrior on harsh icy Steppes. There’s an enchanted prince and a sorceress under duress… in fact these books have a surfeit of charming and dangerous witches to meet and adventure with, if you’re in the mood for a nice long fantasy series.
The Shakespeare Sisters: Gwendolyn, Rowena and Calypso Shakespeare.
All witches do not have to live in lush medievalist fantasy landscapes: some of them operate out of modern-day New York. If you’re looking for some new wickedly lovely witches to read about, I recommend the Shakespeare sisters, descended from William Shakespeare’s great aunt, a midwife and herbalist. Gwendolyn is the grandmother of Rowena and Calypso, who have both inherited the family’s line of psychic gifts. Together with the girl’s mother Lilian, Rowena and Gwendolyn run an occult bookshop that’s a hub for psychic healing and metaphysical study and inquiry. Jane Tara’s Forecast and the sequel Trouble Brewing grant my reading wishes for a witchy heroine and a great romance, so I know what I will be reading as I curl up next to the cauldron this spooky season.Tagged: Books, discworld, fantasy, jane tara, list, series, witches
Posted October 23, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It’s no secret that we’re in a golden age of television. At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.
It seems a week can’t go by without some actor or director making a transition from film to television, in search of the golden ticket: an ongoing drama series, critical acclaim, overjoyed audiences and, hopefully, big time awards.
It’s no secret why they’re doing it. For the hardworking character-actor, it’s gainful employment in an ongoing role. For a director or producer, it’s the chance to have the freedom to explore a story, rather than cut it down to the fickle specifications of a test-audience.
But most importantly, it’s where the audience is.
So, why are we there?
1. Films just aren’t cutting it anymore
There are two reasons for this theory. Firstly, accessibility is now the norm, the demanded norm, and we want our stories sooner rather than later. We want them across a range of formats, through a variety of vessels. We’re not prepared to wait inordinate amounts of time for a cinematic release to make its way slowly around the world anymore (a lesson free-to-air TV has taken too long to learn in Australia). Additionally, the experience of watching at home is increasingly trumping the experience of going to a cinema. From the outset, a film needs to be offering a hugely rare story experience for audiences to migrate away from their couches to the multiplex. Otherwise, the audience will just wait, it’s not nearly as long anymore until we can purchase it, download it, for half the price.
Secondly, the stories in films are becoming lazy. And standardised. After the innovative peaks of the 1970s, where story challenged and confronted and broke as many rules as it possibly could (following on from similar trends around the world), it lulled into spectacle and trash through the 1980s and 90s. Aside from a brief period of new wave digital innovation in the early 2000s, it’s now lulled again into a redundant era of franchises and spectacle that is giving audiences short shrift on quality stories.
(I do realise I’m giving a highly overblown and generalised view of the last few decades in cinema, but bear with me.)
I’m sick of the villain that gives himself up intentionally in the second act because it’s all part of his devious plan. I’m sick of psychologically flawed heroes that overcome them just enough to survive into the next sequel. I’m sick of stories that promise a lot but either don’t bother with the details, or cut them out. I’m sick of enjoying a three and a half hour cut of a film on DVD more than the two hour release, because they actually put in all the well-written scenes, rather than just the bits we need to dazzle our eyes but not our brains.
So we go to TV. And the 12 hour seasons. And the 60 hour box sets.
2. TV gives us more
So clearly we get more story on TV. Much much more. More twists, more turns, more characters that take us there. Stories get to evolve organically, rather than fit a commercial model.
I don’t think this is just greediness on our part. Mostly, we all accept when a show has to finish. When they finish well, it’s understood. When they don’t, we think perhaps they needed to do it earlier. There’s nothing more excruciating than a TV show that stays too long. So clearly, we like long form stories on TV, but it’s because the medium offers us something we can’t get elsewhere.
Additionally, as a medium it’s now starting to realise what it can do. It’s still rather shallow, the pool of entries in the Golden Age of TV, because the medium is still so new. It has taken a while for us to realise how good we could have it with the long form, but now we know. From the trickle of shows in the 90s (Twin Peaks, Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz) to the groundbreaking early 2000s (Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, The Shield), and the onslaught of now (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Homeland and so on and so forth), it’s still slim pickings for the long form TV canon.
What’s interesting now, though, is that it’s starting to break its own rules. With the advent of instantly available, downloadable shows – breaking the trend of having to wait for each episode – so the form itself is changing. Witness any episode of House of Cards (the new one) to see how it’s not bound to ad breaks, not bound to forced closure to scenes, fade outs that punctuate unnecessarily. The story is dictating the form, not the other way around.
3. We’ve always wanted long form
This much is clear. It’s just we find different ways of getting it. If there’s something curiously familiar about our obsession with long form TV shows, it’s that they feel like cinematic novels. It’s as close as you can get to watching a book, rather than reading it. The fundamental difference is that you get to share this so much more with TV. One only needed to witness the systematic and simulatneous implosion of feelings across the internet when The Rains of Castamere episode happened on the last season of Game of Thrones.
(Perhaps if book reading could somehow find a way of enabling its readership in a similar way?)
But the similarity of long form TV shows to books is only the first step. Books themselves – or novels, rather – haven’t been around for that long either. But long form stories have for centuries before the novel ever existed. Through songs and poems and epics, we’ve always told these stories, always wanted to capture an audience for a long sitting, to let them not just get the bursts of a narrative drive, but several. Not just experience one arc of a character’s life, but the ups and downs of many arcs through many characters.
It’s really just an organic step on the evolution of storytelling. We find a way to tell our stories, and eventually the stories find the best way to be told.
Tagged: list, long form, movies, novels, series, storytelling, tv, tv shows, writing
Posted October 22, 2013 by Mark
The following G.M Hague horror titles are down from $4.99 each to only $0.99 each for a limited time! Grab them and enjoy getting your pants scared off! Click the covers below to read more about each book.
One of the modules is the Cryogenic Module, where the bodies of wealthy and famous people lie deeply frozen, preserved until the medical science of the future can revive and heal them. The Cryogenics Module has been a successful, secret source of funding for NASA. In space and shadowed from the sun, the extremely cold temperatures make low Earth orbit the perfect place to keep corpses in hibernation. Now it’s time to try and revive the first patient, a man possessed by an evil that doesn’t expect to be awakened in the cold depths of space.
In the middle of outback Australia on an isolated cattle property, the ghost of a couple’s dead child begins to appear in the house. Young Ellen was an angel when she was alive. As a spirit returning from the dead she is a terrifying demon with a dreadful connection to the horror in the sky two hundred miles above them.
There are odd, frightening lights hovering above the river and crop circles in the fields. The strange sightings aren’t just limited to the night sky, however. Glimpses of ghostly apparitions are seen through the windows of shuttered houses – the tortured spirits of people only recently buried. The situation gets rapidly worse as the eerie lights are more brazen, the dead are seen walking the streets late at night and in the local cemetery the soil over the graves is starting to stir …
There is no escape for Michael Garrett and Kerry Wentworth, two newcomers to Hickory. The outside world is cut off and anyone attempting to enter or leave the town never finish the journey. Hickory has become a bad place to be – a place to fear.
A deranged World War I veteran is locked in a padded cell. Two beautiful young women meet their grisly deaths. In an old, metal tin sits an ancient charm, and the demon that lives within it is being released into our world again.
When journalist Brendan Craft discovers the mysterious Egyptian charm, a series of terrifying events is unleashed – events similar to those suffered by a young soldier as he fought for his life in the trenches of Gallipoli in 1915. Confronted with an evil beyond his imagining, Brendan becomes locked in a battle for his sanity. Where does the dream end and the reality begin? Death may be the only escape from the voices of evil.
Air force F-111 pilot Russell Cross gets a near-fatal shock when his dead Gulf War friend reappears in the cockpit. A haunted German submarine in 1915 seems destined to plunge into oblivion, if the ghosts aboard will have their way. A computer expert meets a bizarre and terrible death.
A witness to all these seemingly random events is the ghostly spectre of Matthew, a young boy who in another lifetime opened the door to an unspeakable horror. Now Matthew is preparing to wreak havoc on a luxury super-liner that seems bound for the bottom of the sea. And Matthew’s going to take Russell Cross with him.
Anything can happen when you start counting with the devil’s numbers.
As Detective John Maiden confronts the mounting horror of the killings, he knows more lives are at stake, and not just those of the killer’s next targets. The kidnapping of a young girl has raised the stakes even higher as her captor wants to get himself noticed – and the front pages of the newspapers are giving him nasty ideas.
An international bestseller, Missing Pieces is a chilling story of murder, revenge and vicious abduction.
In the Sanctuary, a cult religion’s inner-city haven from the outside world, members of the group are meeting bizarre deaths. One by one they are killed in a gruesome method that suggests a Biblical revenge.
Detective John Maiden returns to solve the case, but in the Sanctuary everyone loves everybody else. They share the same rooms, the same church, the same swimming pool and gymnasium – even the same bed, when no one’s looking – and everybody has something to hide. In the close-knit, secretive environment of the Sanctuary, modern police methods and forensics are useless. Every crime scene is saturated with evidence from all the clan members. Each murder is as good as a clean kill and Maiden has to rely to all of his wits and experience to find the killer.Tagged: a clean kill, a place to fear, g.m. hague, ghost beyond earth, horror, list, missing pieces, sale, series, the devil's numbers, thriller, voices of evil
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Posted October 14, 2013 by Mark
I was trying to eat a bowl of cereal in bed while reading a paperback on the weekend (I live life in the fastlane) and it got me thinking about eating and reading. There are certain foods that go so well with books, and certain foods that can ruin your reading experience, your book, and your life (ok maybe not but you get the idea).
If you’re uncoordinated like me, then soup is one of the worst foods you can eat. It’s easy to splash, splatter and spill, which is a huge hazard to any paper products that may be nearby.
Similar to soup. Plus when you pick your bowl up to scrape the last of the cereal you need two hands and this means losing your place (unless you’re using an ereader but good luck refunding your Kindle after dunking it in milk).
“I can eat spaghetti without making a mess! I’m a grown-up, after all.”
Nice! Easy! The joy of a delicious pasta dish without the whiplash that can send ragu splatter all over the place.
Nothing is more civilised than sitting down with a good book and a cup of coffee. NOTHING.
Harder cheeses are better than softer ones when it comes to preserving the state of your ereader or paperback, and it’s always a good idea to cut the cheese first. Wait.
Chocolate: NO (controversial)
Chocolatey fingers, while delightful, can put suspicious brown stains on your pages. Also that’s how you get ants.
Burgers: ARE YOU CRAZY?
Just no. No. You need two hands to eat one, your fingers get messy, and stuff is always falling out.
Are you using your fingers or a knife and fork? One is ok and the other is not.
Not only can little bits of tomato slide off your fork and splat your device or paperback, but dressing is a constant hazard.
So, what do you think? Any foods you would definitely avoid/consume while reading? Or am I just a messy eater?
Tagged: Books, ebooks, food, list, paperbacks, reading
Posted September 27, 2013 by Mark
Here are the five most popular posts from our blog this week:Books, dinosaurs, list, reading, science, stephen king, writing
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Posted September 26, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
If there’s one fallback excuse every aspiring writer has to explain why their long-awaited manuscript from last decade still hasn’t been completed, it’s the fabled I just don’t have enough time to write.
I am as guilty of this as the next person. Maybe more so.
We all wish we had more time to write, but therein lies the problem. There’s always something to do before you write. More work to do, more people to see, more times you need to rearrange your desk and the height of your chair and find the right pen to use. And you need to decide if you should finally give up Word and use Scrivener instead, but then you need to read through the instructions and try out the templates and oh hell you still haven’t written anything and now it’s sunny and you should be outdoors building a human pyramid or something.
It’s easy to find things to do instead of writing. It’s hard to put writing ahead of other things.
For those writing at home, there are some options to create some airspace for writing. From what I’ve gathered, quite a few people have success with Freedom, which effectively locks off all internet connection from your computer for a set time. The goal here is to focus you on staying on task, and eradicate the ability to check Facebook, check Twitter, or watch clips of kittens riding baby sloths in the snow. Freedom doesn’t allow you to restore your connection without actually restarting the computer, at which point it figures you either gain control of your actions or hang your head in shame.
The other option is Write or Die, which is a slightly more malicious take on Freedom that works on incremental punishments. Basically, the more you fall behind in your writing, the more the punishments escalate – from pop up reminders, to irritating noises, to the program itself deleting the words you’ve already typed.
However, these really only seem to treat the symptom, and not the cause. It still doesn’t answer the question of how do I find more time in my day to write?
Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 in the evenings after working a full day. Stephen King wrote Carrie in between teaching gigs and working in an industrial laundry. These stories and others have been told endlessly, usually just to punish people like me even further. Ultimately, there isn’t more time, it’s just a question of making different choices with the time that we have.
In an ideal world, if you want to be a writer then you treat writing like a job. You give yourself set hours and work to them. Time missed then becomes time that must be made up elsewhere. But for most of us, our world already has us working a job. The writing comes afterwards.
Write in the morning
This year I had a plan to wake up at 6:00 every morning and write for an hour before leaving for work. It’s now September and that hasn’t happened once. A lot of people, though, like to write in the morning before anything else has begun – it’s often quieter, less distractions, no phones ringing, no emails coming through, and often the morning provides a clear-headedness that is extraordinarily productive for getting words on the page.
Write in the evening
Then there are those who prefer to write at night. Due to the exhaustion from whatever happened during the day, it’s often a time when the brain is preparing itself for sleep and really fascinating ideas present themselves for good creative writing. Since my morning plan didn’t work this year, I’ve found myself writing late at night more and more; the drawback is if the writing isn’t yet done, the sleep doesn’t happen, and the days get longer and longer.
Write while you work
Difficult, but possible, and it really depends on your work. The first draft of a short story I wrote last year came from the odd minutes I could grab here and there between classes. It took a couple more drafts to remove the piecemeal nature of the writing, but the accumulation of stolen minutes had delivered a workable story in a short amount of time. If you commute to work, write on the bus or the train or the tram. Write when you’re waiting for a meeting to start. Write during the meeting if it’s a useless meeting. Often the best ideas come from writing while trying to focus on something else.
It’s a question of priorities. Every day has obligations that you can’t be rid of. Every single day. But if the writing becomes an obligation – a particularly important obligation – then that becomes a goal for the day. You have to go to work, fine, otherwise they sack you. But you better sit down and write some words, or your story will sack you as well. Treat it as important, treat it as a job, treat it as a goal that you need to achieve in a day, and the day isn’t over until that happens. Whether it’s in the morning, or at night, or in short bursts whenever you can find some clear air, it still has to happen.
There is no right time or wrong time to write, there’s just time. So if you want to write, be honest and ask yourself do I have time to write?
If you still need reasons to find time to write, go read a magnificent post on the matter here.
Tagged: creative writing, list, novelist, novels, writers, writing
Posted September 24, 2013 by Stephen Jones
You can’t see the Great Wall of China from space, carrots don’t improve your eyesight and you can still drink alcohol while on antibiotics. Well here are some more and, obviously, spoiler alert.
We all knew and loved the Brontosaurus. They were huge, had long necks, and lived in swamps. This was fact people. Science fact seen here in this actual photo.
But then they no longer lived in swamps. We dealt with that like grown-ups. Then they had the wrong heads and we took that in our stride. But then…they just turned out to be grown up Apatosaurus’ and we lost our collective shit. How could we be lied to all these years. By science no less. I mean, c’mon science!
Here is the kicker. Just when you thought it was safe to watch The Land Before Time and enjoy Littlefoot as an Apatosaurus we are here to tell you the disturbing news that in the group of plucky kids there is another dinosaur that no longer exists. I’m not talking about Petrie, who as a Pterosaur never counted as a dinosaur (sorry), I’m looking squarely at Cera, the Triceratops.
Yes, it turns out that the Triceratops is just the juvenile version of Torosaurus and everything we ever knew was a lie.
Continuing research also suggests that Torosaurus was partially omnivorous and would eat the remains of other dinosaurs. So now the plot of Land Before Time is Cera, the Torosaurus, wakes up the T-Rex so he can hunt down and kill the other children so she can eat their remains.
There are no canals on Mars. This is now accepted after we spent most of the 20th century not even thinking about it. There is no lost race on Mars that built an elaborate irrigation system to water their crops of martian…corn? I’m going with corn.
In your face Giovanni Schiaparelli, noted Italian astronomer who first postulated Mars having canals.
You can suck it Percival Lowell, author of Mars and Its Canals (1903).
There are no canals on Mars.
But Pluto? You can take away Mars’ canals but to bump Pluto from Planet to Object in Kepler Belt is just mean spirited. At the XXVIth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, which was held from August 14 to August 25, 2006 in Prague, Czech Republic the jerks had a chance to bump up our solar system to twelve and instead took us down to eight. Because they are jerks.
What a bunch of jerks.
Is astronomy like golf? The less you have the better? Is that how astronomy works International Astronomical Union? Is that even how golf works? Who can we trust anymore?
Fun Fact: Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff Arizona. Lowell Observatory sound familiar? It was built by Percival Lowell, author of Mars and Its Canals, and apparently stocked to the brim with lying scientists. I say we burn it to the ground.
It’s for the best.Tagged: dinosaurs, list, science, space
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Posted September 20, 2013 by Mark
The five most popular posts from our blog this week:Books, food, list, movies, Posts With Momentum, science fiction, television, writing, x-files
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Posted September 17, 2013 by Mark
After yesterday’s intense episode of Breaking Bad, I thought I’d look at the most intense episodes of television this millennium. Note: because I haven’t watched The Sopranos or Mad Men, neither of those shows is featured, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!
And obviously, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Not kidding. Huge spoilers.
I’d feel really guilty if you read on and I ruined something for you.
So, you know. Consider yourself warned. Spoilery spoiley spoil spoils ahead.
Game of Thrones – Blackwater
The penultimate episode of the second season is all about a battle that has been building for two years. Even if you know the outcome, this episode is tense, taught, and full of dreadful anticipation. When the battle finally commences, it’s handled in a brutal and spectacular manner.
Six Feet Under – That’s My Dog
Everyone loves the emotional finale of Six Feet Under, but that’s not the episode I’m going with here. In this one, David picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a drug addict/psychopath who kidnaps and attempts to kill him. It’s an amazing episode that shows just how fucked up a normal day can become. David’s predicament gets worse and worse, until the final scenes with David begging for his life while his assailant douses him in petrol.
Game of Thrones – The Rains of Castamere
The Red Wedding. Everyone who read the books knew this was coming, and we did a pretty good job of not spoiling it for lesser beings. The awful and surprising deaths of major characters is something this series does extremely well – and extremely often! In fact, it’s more surprising when characters don’t die horribly.
The Walking Dead – Pilot
This is one of the best pieces of media about zombies ever. Rick Grimes wakes up in hospital, a month after being shot. He’s alone, and has no idea that in the time he’s been in a coma the world has succumbed to a zombie plague. His discovery of the new world is frightening and disturbing, and the pilot ends on an amazing cliffhanger.
Doctor Who – Blink
The enemy in this episode are the creepy Weeping Angels. They are the best assassins in the universe, when they are being observed, they are turned to stone. But as soon as you stop watching them – even to blink – they can move. And they move FAST…
Dexter – The Getaway
The fourth season of Dexter is the best one by far. Dexter’s nemesis is the Trinity killer, played to chilling effect by the excellent John Lithgow. All through the season, Dexter has had opportunities to kill Trinity, but he’s fascinated by the way Trinity seems to kill and have a happy family life. Dexter wants to get closer, learn his secrets. However, he gets too close and discovers that the happy family life Trinity has is just an illusion – his family is terrified of him. And, of course, there’s the awful final scene in which Dexter finally learns how much his actions have cost him and his own family.
The Wire – Middle Ground
It’s quite difficult to select a single episode of The Wire since it’s so interconnected. But this episode was the end of one of the driving relationships of the show, that of drug kingpins Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale. They’d achieved a level of success they’d only ever dreamed about, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the outcome. And it all happened just as McNulty had finally built up enough of a case to successfully prosecute Stringer…
Breaking Bad gets a few spots here because it’s just that good.
Breaking Bad – Full Measure
In the final moments of this episode, Walt is about to be killed but manages to get a desperate message to Jesse. If the relatively innocent Jesse can bring himself to kill the relatively innocent Gale, Walt and Jesse’s lives will be saved. This means that Jesse, who is a good person at heart, must shoot a man in cold blood. The final scene in which Jesse finally makes his choice is amazing.
Breaking Bad – Dead Freight
To get the methylamine they need to cook meth, Walt and co. undertake an ambitious train robbery. The plan is risky and the anticipation is huge, and it is thrilling to finally watch everything unfold. A major hitch ratchets up the tension, but the final twist does what Breaking Bad does so well – raises the stakes while punching you in the gut.
Breaking Bad – Ozymandias
The most recent episode of Breaking Bad sees the show come full circle, with the death of a major character, the torture of another, the collapse of Walt’s empire and family, and even a kidnapped baby thrown in for good measure. And there’s still two more episodes to go…
Feel free to nominate your favourites below!
Tagged: breaking bad, doctor who, Game of Thrones, list, television
Posted by Mark
As usual I started my day sitting at my desk, thinking about food. But instead of going across the street to get some sort of delicious pastry, I used my hunger for good. Here are some of the best made-up foods in the universe:
Ok, starting off with a beverage. Butterbeer is from the world of Harry Potter. It’s a sweet drink that can be served warm or cold, and is meant to taste like a less-sweet version of butterscotch. There is a bit of a debate as to the alcoholic content of butterbeer, as the underage wizards all drink it, but it can get a house elf drunk.
The most famous Klingon dish, Gagh is a dish made from serpent worms that can be served fresh (alive) or cooked. Traditionalists will always eat their gagh fresh, as part of the appeal of the dish is the sensation of the live worms in your mouth.
In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda prepares a stew that he serves to Luke Skywalker. Due to the lack of shops anywhere on Dagobah, it’s safe to assume that the stew is made from local ingredients sourced from the swamp Yoda lives in.
This popular food from the universe of Babylon 5 is also made of worms. Except this time, they’re delicious worms. Several species seem to have a traditional version of spoo, with the Narn and the Centauri at odds over the best way to prepare it (fresh or aged).
The Klingon equivalent of coffee, this is an extremely potent beverage that can really kick-start your day, or keep you awake on the night shift. It can be served bitter or sweet, hot or iced, but from all accounts, Quark’s decaffeinated version was truly disgusting.
A high energy food that’s good for you and much better than soylent red or soylent yellow. One slight drawback (spoiler alert): it’s people.
From Willy Wonka comes this indestructible lolly that has long-lasting flavour and never gets smaller. Good for putting your rivals out of business, as kids will never need to buy another lolly again.
A cake/bread made by the Elves of Middle-Earth that stays fresh for ages, with one bite ‘enough to fill the stomach of a grown man’. Good for those on diets, or those on long and perilous journeys. I imagine it would be good dipped in Nutella…
Produced by the giant sandworms of the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune), Melange is a spice that can be used for lots of things. Too much can be fatal, but regular exposure at the right dosage can give the user long life, and the ability to see the future. Also, what is it with science fiction writers and worm-based foods?
Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes this as the best drink in the universe. It’s an alcoholic beverage invented by Zaphod Beeblebrox that’s like ‘having your brain smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick’. Never drink more than two in a row.
Blue alcoholic drink that was illegal in the Federation for many years (even though everyone always seemed to be able to procure a bottle when needed). It doesn’t taste nice, but it gets the job done.
And let’s finish with two of Liz Lemon’s favourite foods…
Hotdog stuffed with cheese, folded in a pizza. This would actually be great to accompany a couple of pan galactic gargle blasters.
Sabor de Soledad
Translates to “flavour of loneliness”, this is Liz Lemon’s favourite snack. A cheesy chip from Mexico, it’s actually manufactured from bull semen and excessive consumption can result in a positive pregnancy test.
Tagged: Books, fantasy, fictional food, list, science fiction, series, tv
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Posted September 16, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
Last week marked twenty years since the first X-Files episode was aired. Totalling nine seasons and over two hundreds episodes – as well as the two feature films – the series was largely the only TV show I watched with any regularity in the ‘90s. The X-Files showed me what long-running TV series could do, with the over-arching story lines, standalone episodes that while wholly accessible on their own, contributed to viewers’ understanding of the characters and the ongoing themes of the show.
In the end, what made the X-Files so good was that it was one of the most consistently well-written shows at the time. You could tune in to any episode and witness a tightly-scripted, tense exploration of a single idea, marrying paranoid science-fiction with horror, mystery and, at times, brilliant comedy. It familiarised us with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the Lone Gunmen, alien bounty hunters and covert government operations. It made us fear the dark, the unknown, the strange, the bodily horrific, and value the importance of long-life batteries in government-issue flashlights.
Here are my ten favourite X-Files episodes, chosen mainly for what my lasting memories of the show were, what moments I found referencing more than others, what stories I thought captured what the show meant to me across its decade-long run. These aren’t in order of preference, but rather in the order of season.
I really wanted to put Squeeze in here, as it’s such a classic monster-of-the-week X-Files episode, and one of the first truly scary monsters to emerge in the first season, but I went with this episode of Mulder and Scully investigating a series of murders that lead them to a remote Amish community. This episode really showcases the Vancouver-setting that permeated the first five seasons; the dense, dewy greenness, and the dark, wet horrors that often emerged from the forest.
Key scene: Scully is almost seduced by the magic touch of the pheremonally-enhanced Amish Brother Andrew, and all the ‘90s fears about sex, gender and loss of inhibitions are laid bare.
Beyond the Sea
Another season 1 entry, most notable for Brad Dourif’s presence as the serial killer Luther Lee Boggs, and Don Davis as Scully’s recently deceased father. This is classic X-Files, where the duo are nominally investigating a series of mysterious crimes, but on the other hand are busy dealing with an ongoing personal crisis. And like all good writing and television, the two become entwined and Scully finds unlikely revelation about her father’s death through Dourif’s Boggs, who is revealed as not the villain of the piece, but the pathway towards closure for Scully.
Key scene: Any of the scenes with Scully and Boggs. Dourif is in truly chilling Hannibal Lecter mode, and yet manages to deliver a sympathetic performance, in line with the series’ notion that the more closely you look at something, the less your initial impressions hold up.
Introducing many people to Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black, the two appear as typical ‘90s slacker kids in this season 2 episode, with Ribisi’s character having the ability to conduct lightning and manipulate electronic signals. The audience is never in doubt as to who committed the crimes here – all electricity related – its rather the growing realisation of why Ribisi’s character heads down his violent path that is worth watching. Perfectly capturing the disenfranchised youth of small-town America in the ‘90s, Ribisi is perfectly cast, ready to explode – literally and emotionally – at any stage. The plot is one of those X-Files classics that never strays too far into the realm of scientific implausibility, finding medical grounds for most of the outrageous scenes the viewer witnesses.
Key scene: the opening. A perfect cold open, it sets up Ribisi and Black’s characters with expert dread and efficiency, and is a brilliant blending of the violence, the supernatural and humourous.
Probably one of the most terrifying X-Files episodes. This earned a viewer discretion warning for the first time for the show, despite this being a season 4 episode, when all manner of ghastly frights in the night had already been explored. It gives you some idea.
Essentially a corrupted version of the American Dream, this does the house-of-horrors narrative better in forty minutes than many recent Hollywood horror films. The final twist in the story makes this a classic of the genre, and one of the X-Files episodes that can be truly classified as great television.
Key scene: The Peacock brothers – under investigation by Mulder and Scully for connections to a violent crime – launch a late-night attack on the local sheriff, complete with Johnny Mathis soundtrack. Truly macabre.
The Post-Modern Prometheus
There are many humourous entries in other lists of top X-Files episodes, but it’s this one that I like the most. Filmed in glorious black and white, it’s a small-town American take on the Frankenstein story, with the duo following up on a Jerry Springer lead. Referencing not only the Shelley text, but also James Whale’s 1930s film, it taps into their themes of corrupted science, lost fathers and lost sons, and a call for acceptance in a world bred to intolerance.
Superb fun, and probably the only applicable setting for a Cher-inspired soundtrack.
Key scene: the first arrival of the monster, complete with termite tent, stove-top anaesthetic and Cher.
This episode marked a dramatic shift in the series, and one that was needed. The show was growing too fond of its comedic asides, and in danger of redundancy. For a variety of reasons, production shifted to L.A., and with it the series became simultaneously brighter and drier in tapestry, but more psychological and aggressive in tone. This episode has retrospectively gained attention due to the fact that it stars Bryan Cranston and was written by Vince Gilligan pre-Breaking Bad, it’s a monster-of-the-week episode without a monster. Cranston’s everyman is suffering from headaches that increase in potency unless he continues to move west, and enlists Mulder’s help in an increasingly fraught road-trip.
Key scene: the opening, where we witness via news helicopter the dangers of the headaches affecting Cranston, and in this scene, his soon to be late-wife.
X-Files does gated communities, with Mulder and Scully going undercover as a married couple, looking into supposed crimes behind white picket fences and neighbourhood policies gone crazy. An excellent look at the seedy underbelly to domestic middle-class bliss, with fake-married hijinks aplenty between the FBI agents.
Key scene: any of the marriage play-acting scenes. Mulder demanding a sandwich, Scully and her night-time rituals, or the above scene.
Many cite Bad Blood as one of the best of the series, with its unreliable narrative and multiple points of view. But I prefer this from season 6, which does ostensibly the same thing but in a much more terrifying way. Can’t really go into too much detail, other than that it involves Mulder searching for a missing couple at Brown Mountain, home to all manner of natural mysteries and conspiracy theories.
Key scene: Mulder brings a real-life alien back to his apartment to show Scully. Despite appearances, this is not a spoiler.
A double episode in the seventh season with Sein und Zeit, this finally puts to rest the speculation and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mulder’s sister. Initially a driving emotional force for the show, it became a ridiculous burden, as Chris Carter failed to give an answer, preferring to endlessly spin out possibilities.
Here, finally, we get concrete closure, and it’s undeniably terrestrial, while affirming the series’ shift towards a more introspective spiritual zone, rather than one demanding definitive scientific proof of the unprovable.
Key scene: Mulder lets go and so, essentially, does the audience to a lot of the baggage the series had been carrying for a bit too long.
The third-last episode ever, of the ninth season, and my favourite of the John Doggett-era X-Files. Similar in a sense to Closure, this gave Doggett a chance to bring to an end his search for answers about his son’s murder. A markedly different protagonist to Mulder, he thankfully gave some credibility to a show that wasn’t able to sustain the ongoing mythology threads it had instigated, and with Doggett it at least had a character who wasn’t so concerned with the mystery, than with what he had to do to solve the crime.
Key scene: again, the ending, which was filmed with Robert Patrick’s real-life wife playing his onscreen wife.Tagged: horror, list, mystery, science fiction, series, top 10, tv, x-files
Posted by Mark
Here are a few book series that outlived their authors.
Frank Herbert wrote six novels and was working on detailed notes for a seventh when he died. His son Brian and sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson took those notes and wrote an additional two novels in the Dune chronology in addition to countless prequels and spin-offs. Brian and Kevin have now written more pages set in this universe than Frank ever did.
The Wheel of Time
Robert Jordan passed away before completing the final manuscript in this series, which was turned into a trilogy of novels by fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson. While at first it seemed like a blatant cash-grab, the three novels were well-received by fans and seemed to do Jordan’s legacy proud.
Since J.R.R. Tolkein’s death, his son, Christopher, has worked as an editor and writer to help bring his father’s unfinished notes and manuscripts to publication. Christopher is a Middle-Earth purist, who loathes the film series. Not surprising since he’s dedicated his life to broadening his father’s vision of Middle-Earth.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams left us with five Hitchhiker’s Guide novels, but a few years ago Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer wrote And Another Thing… a direct sequel to Mostly Harmless. While it’s virtually impossible to capture Adams’ unique voice, Colfer did a decent job of it, and his attempt was a fun read.
Countless authors have tried their hand at James Bond novels since the death of Ian Fleming, including some quite high-profile people like Sebastian Faulks. Much like the film series, some have failed and some have managed to capture the spirit of the original Bond.
Tagged: authors, Books, fantasy, list, Sci-Fi, writing
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Posted September 12, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
There’s a theory about stories that claims there are only seven plots in existence. Every story ever created either conforms to one of these archetypes, or is a combination of two or more of them.
I don’t hold much for grand sweeping statements about anything, certainly about anything as amorphous and wholly inventive as storytelling, but there’s merit in the idea behind these seven plot types. And even if it just a case of presenting a theory that is general enough for anything to fit it, it’s still applicable, especially to anyone wanting a broad introduction to plot.
More than anything, it can help writers identify perhaps what type their plot might fit into, and then lend a bit of direction or amplification of certain elements, or provide an established trend that a writer can play with and manipulate.
So, firstly, The quest.
This speaks for itself. This and the next type spring directly out of Ancient Greek mythology and the myths that underpin a lot of Western storytelling. Originally with the quest, the plot was all about the call to a particular magical item that could solve problems back at home. And, through a series of obstacles, the hero would heroically retrieve said item, return home with the goods and save the day. Easy. These days, it’s not necessarily a magical item, but the basic philosophy of this story exists in almost everything, given it’s essentially a desire-and-fulfillment structure.
Then we have the next most common, the voyage and return.
Taking its origins as well from Greek mythology – particularly the Odyssey – as the Greeks were obsessed with this idea of returning home a changed person. Some major event would occur, and with that the realisation that you can never go back. Not truly. You might return to your starting point, but it’s all different now, and nothing can ever make it how it used to be.
The best thing about this one is how it reflects the journey into adulthood, and the gradual understanding that time moving ever on is the only certainty in life.
Quite an easy one to understand. Not as easy to write. Essentially, everyone dies. Except the boring character, who has to live on and tell everyone else who doesn’t get a speaking role just how tragic everything is.
The general plot is that the good intentions to fix a huge problem don’t pan out, and it all goes wrong. Often swiftly and suddenly. Starts off happy, goes sad. And everyone dies.
The difficulty in the writing is how do you not upset the reader so much that they think it was all pointless. If the goal is just to make them cry, then tragedies are easy. Rather the reader needs to believe that even when everything is going wrong a happy ending is still possible, and they need to believe this right up to the final moment. Then make them cry. That’s tragedy.
This is closely linked to comedy, though you may not think it.
Originally they were very similar stories, only in comedy, they all live. And get married. Hooray. It wasn’t necessarily funny, that part of comedy came later. But a traditional comedy, which has since merged into romance, is generally that we all live happily ever after, once the bad stuff has been negotiated.
As an example, Romeo and Juliet was performed as a comedy for many years after its original production, as the trend was towards happier stories. It was only in the late 19th century and into the 20th century that the play was restored to its tragic origins, so that everyone could start bawling again. Still, it illustrates the close connection between the two styles of plot.
Now, rags to riches.
A touch out of vogue these days, was quite common with Dickens and the like, but then became less popular as a plot during the 20th century when storytellers tended to favour the thwarted dreams rather than the achieving of immeasurable wealth.
What makes this plot work is the protagonist, who needs to be so gosh darn lovely that we want them to have everything, they deserve everything, and even when they get it, they’re just so lovely and humble about it that we’re happy for their success.
It’s an interesting notion though, that we’re more resistant these days to stories that end with someone getting lots of money.
My favourite: defeating the monster.
Clearly borne out of Greek mythology as well, these days this plot usually is bound up in the middle of others – Harry Potter is clearly a voyage and return with a quest thrown in, but building up to a defeat of the monster – and the more interesting plots of this type these days tend towards the symbolic rather than the literal monster.
My favourite of the recent reworkings of defeating the monster is The Hunger Games, where the monster is at turns the game itself, the establishment, society, and – so good for a YA novel – adults.
This can take many forms, and like the previous plot, is often wrapped up with others. Essentially, the protagonist needs to change entirely. They need to lose who they were, either through misfortune or their own misdeeds, and then start again. From nothing, they must build themselves up to a better version of who they were. So the plot is essentially character-driven, where they chart a bad-to-good journey.
And that’s it, for the seven plots. Big, broad, applicable archetypes. At times they can overlap or intersect, one can transform into another, but to understand them is to hopefully understand your own stories.
This is not to say stories must follow the plot, but to know the plot is to understand the plot, and from there you can make it serve your own purpose, and tell your own story.Tagged: list, plot, reading, stories, storytelling, writing
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Posted September 11, 2013 by Mark
Every now and then (all the time) I like to take to the blog and talk about movies. With the blockbuster season for 2013 drawing to a close, I thought I’d take a look at some of the big films we’ll be talking about this time next year.
Captain America 2
What? Follow-up to the decent Captain America movie, and direct sequel to The Avengers (much as Iron Man 3 was). Captain America teams up with Black Widow to fight…I dunno, some guy, I guess?
The good: Scarlett Johansson is in it, the first movie was fun, and the broader Marvel universe has been pretty good value for money so far.
The bad: Are we getting anywhere near franchise fatigue with Marvel?
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
What? Sequel to the ok-but-unnecessary The Amazing Spider-Man. Not much known about the plot, except that it’s packed with villains.
The good: It seems like director Marc Webb has a multi-film plan and was receptive to criticisms of the first film. Great cast, and could be insanely fun since it’s wall-to-wall villains.
The bad: Could be too overcrowded and wind up in Batman and Robin territory.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
What? Sequel to the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this film follows Caesar leading the apes while human society falls apart due to a deadly virus.
The good: James Franco is out but Gary Oldman is in. The first film was tense and spectacular, and had quite a low body count by current Hollywood standards. The climax wasn’t a shootout, car chase, or city being levelled, it was apes trying to cross a bridge in the fog – hopefully we get more of this.
The bad: The original director dropped out citing unrealistic scheduling expectations from the studio – could be a rush job.
Transformers 4: Age of Extinction
What? Title says it all.
The good: *file not found*
The bad: The title says it all. This is the fourth fucking Transformers movie. Stop buying tickets to this shit. Please.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
What? Sequel to X-Men: First Class, the great X-Men prequel that took a real historical event (the Cuban Missile Crisis) and used it as a backdrop for a superhero story. In this one, X-Men from the future come back in time to the 1970s to warn their younger selves about a horrific future.
The good: Based on one of the best X-Men stories, this is like the Avengers of the X-Men universe, where both movie casts unite. Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones plays the villain, and the excellent cast from the first film are all back. X-Men veteran Bryan Singer is back, directing his first X-Men film since X-Men 2.
The bad: Like The Amazing Spider-Man this movie could be too crowded. With such a huge cast of high-profile actors (Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Ann Paquin and Peter Dinklage all have leading roles), some great characters are going to be forced into the background.
Guardians of the Galaxy
What? A new movie in the Marvel universe, this one is about a group of aliens who form an interstellar superhero squad.
The good: An ambitious project that could be the Star Wars of the Marvel universe. One prominent character is a tree, another is a racoon.
The bad: Could be the Star Wars: Episode 1 of the Marvel universe, it will be heavily reliant on CGI, and director James Gunn may not have the chops to handle a project of this size.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
What? Third of four films in the Hunger Games trilogy.
The good: It’s the Hunger Games! The first film delivered in spades, and the second also looks great.
The bad: Unnecessarily split into two parts. The book it’s based on isn’t even 450 pages long. Which brings us to…
The Hobbit: There and Back Again
What? Final instalment of The Hobbit trilogy. Who knows what they’re actually going to do in this one, since the story it’s based on presumably ends three minutes into the second film.
The good: It’s always a joy to journey to Middle-Earth with Peter Jackson and co.
The bad: The first film felt padded and over-long, so this movie may contain a lot of filler (and potentially a 45 minute sequence of characters saying goodbye to each other like Lord of the Rings).
What? A new remake of the classic Japanese monster movie that the studio hopes will spawn some sequels.
The good: The director is Gareth Edwards, who has worked in this territory before with his excellent independent film Monsters. The scale of the monster seems to be much bigger than we’re used to seeing, and it’s been promised that it will be a more traditional interpretation compared to the 1997 version.
The bad: It’s a Godzilla movie, so there’s only so many ways you can tell that story. Pacific Rim also proved that the appetite for this sort of film isn’t necessarily as large as expected, so the studio may get nervous and try to interfere.
What? A Michael Bay-produced update of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where he hopes to do for this series what he did for Transformers.
The good: Again, *file not found*
The bad: Where to begin? It’s a Michael Bay-produced version of a cartoon from your childhood that you loved, from the director of Battle: LA. An early version of the script leaked and seemed to indicate that the Turtles would be aliens rather than mutants, but apparently the internet found a way to shut that whole thing down.
What? Remake/re-imagining of the classic 80s action movie.
The good: Hmmm. The trailer was released last week and seemed to satisfy people. The director got his start making documentaries about police in Brazil.
The bad: Do we really need a Robocop remake? Really? And in my opinion the new suit looks a bit too much like the Christian Bale bat-suit.
The Good Dinosaur
What? The new Pixar movie set in a world where dinosaurs never became extinct and evolved alongside human beings.
The good: Great concept, and Pixar has a proven track record for taking settings like this and making them live and breathe.
The bad: While Pixar is a strong brand, the quality of their films has undeniably been going down lately while they churn out sequels. Plus the original director was recently fired.
Edge of Tomorrow
What? Tom Cruise stars as a soldier in a futuristic war against aliens, who finds himself living the same 24 hour period over and over again. Based on a bestselling Japanese novel.
The good: From the director of The Bourne Identity, this could be an awesome Groundhog Day meets Aliens type of thing. Plus Tom Cruise is always good when he’s in his action movie wheelhouse.
The bad: The original title, All You Need is Kill, was changed, perhaps reflecting that the movie is being watered down. And there was a sci-fi Groundhog Day recently, the underrated Source Code.
What? The new movie from the Wachowski siblings (creators of The Matrix), this is a space epic featuring Mila Kunis on the run from an intergalactic dynasty that wants her dead.
The good: I’ve always wanted to see the Wachowskis take their visionary and highly-technical brand of filmmaking into space, they seem suited to it.
The bad: The Wachowskis have a reputation for indulging their worst excesses, and the quality of their films hasn’t really bounced back since the Matrix sequels (although Cloud Atlas was a big step in the right direction).
What? Movie based on the ideas of physicist Kip Thorne, explores space travel and time travel via wormholes.
The good: Shades of 2001 in the origin of the movie, another space epic (2014 seems to be the year for it), and Christopher Nolan at the helm. There’s an amazing cast involved (including John Lithgow and Jessica Chastain).
The bad: Nolan isn’t exactly know for being subtle, so it will be interesting to see just how much of Kip Thorne’s work actually makes it to the final cut.Tagged: films, interstellar, list, marvel, movies, science fiction
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Posted by Mark
I recently took a look at some great opening lines from science fiction novels. Today I’m going to share some great opening lines from fantasy novels. As usual, leave your suggestions in the comments!
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” - The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
“The storm had broken.” - Magician by Raymond E. Feist
“‘We should start back,’ Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. ‘The wildlings are dead.’” - A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
“‘Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” - Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
“A history of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.” - Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
“It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.” - The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
“Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.” - The Magicians by Lev Grossman
“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.” - Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Tagged: Books, fantasy, list, novels, opening lines, reading, series
Posted September 10, 2013 by Mark
I recently realised that my science fiction reading had gone up another level. It happened when I picked up a work of literary fiction, and found myself itching for the characters to leave the planet. Here are ten signs that you’re reading too much SF:
1. The thought of reading a book that’s not set in space is just weird
2. You make references and people stare at you blankly
3. You make references and people roll their eyes
4. Your biggest regret is that you don’t live in the future
5. You’ve given serious consideration to how you would survive an apocalypse
6. You want machine enhancements to your body NOW
7. You have, at some point in your life, designed a functional spaceship
8. You have opinions, strong opinions, on the best way to undertake an interstellar journey
9. You applied to go to Mars
10. Actually, all these things sound pretty normal. Keep reading SF
Tagged: Books, list, reading, Sci-Fi, science fiction
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Posted September 9, 2013 by Mark
We all know the Stephen King classics. Books like The Shining, It and The Stand will be read for years to come, and be looked back on as some of the finest novels to come out of 20th century American fiction. But King has written so much more than this, and many of his books are either regarded quite poorly, or forgotten. So here are a few King books that don’t have the ‘classic’ status of his better-known works, but are well worth a read.
A story about a wife escaping her abusive husband, who is literally turning into a monster. The scenes of domestic violence are confronting and brutal, and the book contains one of King’s nastier characters. But the protagonist is sympathetic, believable, and her journey is utterly compelling.
Bag of Bones
A ghost story about a bestselling writer trying to cope with the death of his wife, this novel contains some of the most personal storytelling King ever put to paper. It’s a more subtle horror story than usual, and the setting is creepy.
A construction worker is horrifically injured on a building site, and moves to a small island in Florida to recuperate. He takes up painting, and discovers that he’s quite good at it. But then he realises that his paintings aren’t his, he has somehow tapped into a horrific force that is focussed on the island, and looking for a way to rise from the depths. The artist learning to create after an accident is obviously a way for King to describe what he went through when he suffered writer’s block after his own horrific accident.
Another story about coping with the death of a spouse, this novel is about a woman whose bestselling-novelist husband dies, and how the fantasy world he lived in comes crashing into her own life. It’s an emotional love story, with flares of beauty and horror.
The Dark Half
Yet again, a bestselling writer is the protagonist of this book. Thad Beaumont has written violent crime novels under the pseudonym George Stark. When he decides to retire Stark, he ‘kills’ him as part of a publicity stunt. But Stark rises from the grave and comes looking f0r revenge. King wrote this when he had revealed that he also wrote as Richard Bachman, and it’s a dark and violent novel, in the style of his 80s and early 90s work.
Let me know your suggestions in the comments!Tagged: Books, horror, list, novels, reading, stephen king
Posted September 4, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
There’s a moment in the film Wonder Boys where Michael Douglas’s creative writing lecturer character talks with his editor about a prized writing student of his who will soon be expelled:
‘It doesn’t matter. Nobody teaches a writer anything. You tell them what you know, you tell them to find their voice and stay with it, you tell the ones that have it to keep at it, and you tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it because that’s the only way they’ll get to where they’re going.’
And I think this is true to a point. Can anyone teach a writer? Can anyone teach writing? It’s not like there is a body of knowledge out there that any one person can bestow on another in order to make them a writer. There isn’t a prescribed syllabus, or an instruction manual, or even an answer.
But still, knowing that doesn’t stop thousands of words being written in books for aspiring writers, it doesn’t stop them from spending hundreds of hours in lectures and tutorials, conversing with mentors and editors and helpful readers.
So we’re in one of those situations where there is no key, there is no secret to the writing vault, no answer that can unlock a book, and yet we’re forever searching for one. And often, hoping that those who have gone before us can lead the way.
There are some books on writing I’ve found enormously beneficial over the years. Some others I’ve avoided, and others still that I’ve taken a lot from only to find they were steering me down a path that I’d rather not go with my writing. But I don’t want to stray too far into personal dogma or sanctimonious spouting of advice, because ultimately it’s all about individual preference. And individual choice.
What follows is merely a list of the books that I find helpful and instructive, for a variety of reasons. These are the ones that work for me, that identify and examine features of writing that I value, or that I’ve had to learn to value in order to improve. But one writer’s treasure is another’s trash, and for every golden piece of advice in these books there is something in them that others will disagree with, or rail against fervently. But that’s the nature of any advice: easily taken, easily discarded.
The most important thing is with these books – and plenty others – they don’t provide me with any conscious instruction, but more put me in a position to be happy and confident to write – where I can let the words flow.
On Writing - Stephen King
Hardly a surprising choice. But for a book on writing from a writer viewed by most as a horror writer, it’s unbelievably practical and enabling. Look elsewhere for tips on horror writing – Danse Macabre is probably better suited – this lean book comes complete with a toolbox on good vocabulary, good sentences, good editing, and well-natured warnings against adverbs and adjectives. It also boils down – for me – what writing and reading is: telepathy, from the author to the reader. King challenges writers to be honest to the vision of a story in their heads, and ensure that’s what ends up on the page for the readers.
Screenplay – Syd Field
Most will recommend Robert McKee’s Story for a book on structuring plots and developing narratives that function and entertain – especially after being mythologised in Adaptation - but Syd Field came first in laying down the perfect three-act structure; the paradigm that would inform generations of screenwriters, and a billion derivative books on screenwriting. This is short, sharp and abundantly clear.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell
The monomyth has become so overdone of late that one can hardly move for all the thresholds and call to arms and supernatural aids that litter our screens and our books and TVs. But Campbell’s original study of different mythologies and cultural traditions in storytelling is far more than a derivative model for every story ever told. The best thing about this is its comprehensiveness, and the infinite varieties that Campbell presents – some in detail, others in passing reference – which generate an endless list of starting ideas when the words run dry.
The Art Spirit - Robert Henri
Not really a book about writing, but David Lynch cites this as the biggest source of inspiration and influence on his career since he was a struggling art student in Philadelphia. It’s an odd, haphazard collection of anecdotes, lessons, letters and offhand pieces of advice from Henri to his art students, but they work just as well for any writer, especially in the development of a visual language. Furthermore, Henri promotes the individual’s own language and vision as the key, rather than conforming to preconceived expectations.
And then there are the other pieces of advice along the way. The style manuals, such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style - ‘omit needless words’ – are brilliant in times of need, and there are endless lists of helpful (and not so helpful) do’s and don’ts from every famous author since Cervantes. My favourites: Cormac McCarthy on punctuation – ‘no reason to blot up the page with weird little marks’ – and Elmore Leonard on writing popular fiction – ‘leave out the parts readers tend to skip.’
Ultimately, there’s help and advice for every writer, from every writer. But it doesn’t have to be listened to all the time, nor followed with no regard for alternatives. Indeed, if we followed every single rule ever set down about writing, I doubt whether any writing would actually get done. So use and abuse and appropriate and adapt and ultimately follow what feels right. The words will come.Tagged: authors, Books, list, reading, writer, writing
Posted August 28, 2013 by Alex Christie
You may have thought your personal library was the one of the only parts of your life that has escaped the Internet, but you were wrong. Thanks to social media, not only do you have to say you’ve read Hemmingway/Orwell/Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy, you actually have to prove that you own them, and display them in a Tumblr-worthy fashion. Here are a few ways people on the internet are proving they read:
Photos Of Weird Book Arrangements
Ignoring the conventional methods of arranging ones novels (e.g. alphabetical), get some library respect by arranging your books in bizarre ways, for example, through colour-coordination. Other options may include, stacking one’s books instead of lining them up side-by-side, arranging books so they form an image or simply buying a strange, gravity-defying bookshelf. Even better, is arranging your books ‘autobiographically’ (i.e. by the years you bought them or by things they remind you of), or positioning them with the spines facing inwards? While completely irrational, these original arrangements are aesthetically pleasing and will make a nice banner for your Facebook profile.
Photos Of People Reading
Much loved blog, Underground New York Public Library, has taken your ‘public transport quiet reading time’ and put it up for the world to see. It’s now imperative to be seen reading the likes of F. Scott. Fitzgerald, Nabakov or J.M. Coetzee in case you are photographed by a blogger. If you’re reading ‘Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships’, people are going to find out about it PHOTO. Any secret indulgence in the self-help genre or the trashy paperback is now completely impossible.
Photos of Celebrities’ Libraries
Paris Hilton’s attempt at gaining some literary credibility by publishing a picture of her personal library was amusing to say the least. However, the elaborate wealth that often comes with fame has allowed for some incredible book collections, which one can lust over. Karl Lagerfeld and Nigella Lawson are just two enviable examples of how many books you can feasibly surround yourself with given the monetary capital.
Illustrating Your Bookshelves
Ideal Bookshelf is an online project whereby one may have the spines of their favourite books illustrated. The site “paint[s] portraits of people through the spines of their favourite books: the ones that changed your life, that defined who you are, that you read again and again.” Alternatively you can just purchase a print of someone else’s favourite books from their shop.
Cataloguing and Programming Websites
Perhaps slightly less superficial are sites such as Library Thing, Goodreads and Delicious Library 3, which allow readers to organize and share their personal libraries at the same time as connecting with other users with similar taste. These applications allow the more anal among us to engage in all manner of sorting, tagging, ordering and rating, not to mention the opportunity to view statistics about your collection, including graphs!Tagged: Books, bookshelf, goodreads, list, reading
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Posted August 23, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
I like to think that love stories exist on a spectrum. A kaleidoscopic spectrum. From the unfulfilled unrequited yearnings of immature obsession, to the all-consuming explosive tragedies of love that exceeded its capabilities. And then dotted in between are all the happy (and not so happy) stories of desire, adoration and weird attraction.
Traditionally, this is the most recognisable form of a love story. It carries with it the loss of reason and logic in the face of overwhelming emotion, and at its heart contains the idea that romantic love is all about desire: a desire of a person’s whole being to be united to something or someone. Romantic love desires completion, but the romance is in the yearning and searching for it, rarely in the attaining. Most unrequited love stories and tragic love stories fall into this end of the spectrum, as Anne recently described.
Love and Loss
Another way of measuring the worth of love in a story is by the melancholic haze of a character experiencing the loss of their greatest love. The loss of love in a story generates a loss of the character’s interest in their world, a loss of inhibitions, a loss of self respect, and generally an enormous increase in alcohol, cigarettes, more alcohol, and walking in the rain. The story here isn’t in the love, it’s in the ability to return to a state where one can love.
For some reason, adultery is a rather common thing in love stories. It must be because of the breaking-the-rules aspect stories about adultery contain. If the value of love stories is in the strength of the love depicted, then a love that smashes doors down and breaks vows is seen as a magnificent specimen of the genre. The problem is, adulterous love smashes everything, and leaves nothing but the love at the end.
The key here is also to not merely think of adultery as ‘adultery’. But rather, as any form of love that needs to break barriers in order to exist, be it legal, cultural, racial, and so on.
An odd but important shade on the love spectrum. Stories of narcissistic love often masquerade as traditional romantic love stories, but then disintegrate into something strange and weird. The object of desire is changed, or manipulated, or often removed from the equation entirely, as the lover realises that what they want most, in fact, is themselves. Usually a new and improved version, though.
(It’s quite interesting to read Fight Club in this vein, as a side note.)
Stranger and weirder. Not exactly as it sounds, but more in the psychosexual Freudian version of bestial love, these stories generate interesting explorations of the lover’s own psyche, in the roots of attraction and the mechanisms of nature and society that either enhance or diminish our bestial natures. The love can be platonic, and often as a path to finding romantic love elsewhere (think King Kong), though often bestial love stories are presented more as a conflict between rivals for the lover’s affection (man versus nature, instinct versus reason). Francis Ford Coppola’s film version of Dracula is peak bestial love story.
Think metaphorically with this one, okay?
Not as Cultural Theory 101 as it might sound, this is more about the idea that a love story can be a love story even if love is not the eventual goal of the plot. Very good romantic comedies move into this territory, where it’s really about the central lover realising that their current love may just be a step towards something else. It carries the idea that love is merely love – it’s not world-ending, or defining, or anything really, other than just love. A love.
The love that never ends. For all its struggles against convention, circumstance, gender expectations, and frankly any old conflict that seeks to get in the way, its the love that aims to rise beyond the means and expectations of its own story and exist perpetually. Usually in oblivion, but still, forever. Generally these are the love stories that would be utterly conventional and dull if it weren’t for the conflict that stands between the two lovers and living happily ever after, and that conflict forces them to find an alternate path to a life together.
Look, they usually die in the end okay? But, you know, romantically.Tagged: Books, films, list, love stories, reading, romance