The Momentum Blog
Posted February 27, 2014 by Mark
The long-awaited fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise is about to start filming. If you’re anything like me, this fills you with a joy so profound you can’t really describe it. Here are a few reasons you should be getting excited.
1. It’s been a really long time since there was a good dinosaur movie
21 years to be exact…
2. Chris Pratt is the lead actor
I’d love to see him do the role as Andy from Parks and Recreation.
3. It will form part of the 2015 orgy of nostalgia
Between this and Star Wars Episode 7, we’re all going to feel like 12 year olds with no friends again!
4. The director is Colin Trevorrow
Who made the charming time travel film Safety Not Guaranteed, with another Parks & Rec star, Aubrey Plaza.
5. It’s not the ‘mutated dinosaurs being trained for the military’ storyline that was talked about a few years back
While the exact details of the story aren’t known, it’s definitely not that.
6. It promises to show the park as a successful, functioning theme park
You were always curious as to what the park could have been had it succeeded and now you’ll know!
7. It’s a sequel, not a reboot
Although the suits at Universal would have been tempted to go for a complete do-over, this way there’s still a chance that Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill could turn up.
8. The screenplay is based on a script by the writing duo behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Now there was a reboot that offered a fresh, inventive take on an established franchise.
In the mood for more dinosaurs? Greig Beck’s The First Bird is Jurassic Park meets The Walking Dead and has just been nominated for an Aurealis Award for best horror novel!
Tagged: dinosaurs, Greig Beck, horror, jurassic park, list, movies, Sci-Fi, the first bird, thriller
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Posted February 10, 2014 by Mark
We’ve done science fiction, fantasy and horror novels. Now, we turn our attention to some great opening lines from thrillers. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
“I was arrested at Eno’s diner.” – Killing Floor by Lee Child
“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim never would have come to Thursgood’s at all.” – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John LeCarre
“Her stomach clutched at the sight of the water tower hovering above the still, bare trees, a spaceship come to earth.” – What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
“Behavioural science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth.” – The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I ever saw her, it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel, or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.” – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” – Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
“Johnny Merton was playing with me, and we both knew it. It was a fun game for him. He was doing endless years for crimes ranging from murder and extortion to excessive litigation. He had a lot of time on his hands.” – Hardball by Sara Paretsky
“She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a bed with a steel frame.” – The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
“Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.” – Child 44 Tom Rob Smith
Tagged: gillian flynn, lee child, list, opening lines, reading, silence of the lambs, stieg larsson, thrillers
Posted by Mark
It’s Monday morning and I’m nerding out. Here are some brilliant space moments from cinema. Let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments!
2001: A Space Odyssey
This sequence, ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite’, really delves into the awe and mystery of space in a way no other film ever has. Breathtaking visuals represent a true journey into the unknown.
The opening sequence is best watched in 3D at Imax and is pretty much guaranteed to leave your jaw on the floor. From the beautiful shot of the shuttle from a distance, to the terror of the first encounter with the debris cloud, this is space cinema at its best.
In this scene from Danny Boyle’s underrated sci-fi movie, the crew gather to watch as Mercury crosses the sun. A nice moment out of the action to remind viewers about the natural wonder of the universe we live in.
Star Trek: First Contact
Ok, can I have this? Let me have this. This is just a beautifully composed shot of the Enterprise E emerging from a nebula. Doesn’t it just send chills down your spine? It doesn’t? Oh.
There’s a lot to choose from in this film, but I’d suggest the dark side of the moon sequence as the best.
The Nostromo is a massive, slow ship, that is absolutely dwarfed by the space it’s presented in. The opening titles sequence, which is just a very slow pan across the planet, conveys majesty and mystery.
Tagged: cinema, list, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, space
Posted February 6, 2014 by Mark
Vehicles have proven fertile ground for several writers of horror and speculative fiction. Here are a few of the creepiest and most threatening vehicles from books and films. Add your suggestions in the comments!
The worst novel Stephen King wrote in the 80s is about a possessed car that will totally run you over if you piss it off. Christine doesn’t talk, just kills.
The Event Horizon
A haunted spaceship that is full of nasty things that can kill you, and is also the best mode of transportation to the hell dimension.
The truck from Duel
Like Christine, except it’s driven by a madman. Or possible the devil.
Blaine the Mono
Another from Stephen King, Blaine features in his Dark Tower series. Blaine is a malevolent monorail train that likes to play riddles, and is completely insane.
These creepy vehicles contain terrifying, blood-drinking martians, and roll all over the landscape, hooting and laying waste to everything before them.
Tagged: horror, list, science fiction, stephen king, war of the worlds
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Posted January 28, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It’s ten years this year since Lost first aired on NBC, crashing millions of viewers onto an island for six seasons of mysteries, smoke monsters, Others, hatches, flashbacks, flash forwards and flash sideways, numbers, time travel, Jack’s tattoos, polar bears, Dharma beer, Frogurt, and frozen donkey wheels. It’s fair to say that it was a unique show that defied categorising, and it’s unlikely we’ll see anything quite like this again.
Regardless of how you may feel about the show – particularly how it finished – there were episodes within the 121 that aired which were simply great television. At its heart, Lost was a character show, using the mystery of the island as a mechanism to explore the conscious and unconscious lives of the characters who ended up there.
Lost took a scattering of individuals and allowed them to explore their own lives. Some successfully, others not so. Some changed and grew, others regressed. But in the end it was a show that infuriated and frustrated some of the characters because it refused to explain itself fully, constantly denied them answers to their questions. And yet it was a show that also captivated other characters, compelled them forwards in their stories and their destinies, based on nothing but their preparedness to find meaning in their own lives.
So, to commemorate the ten years while also preparing myself for whatever may come in the comments, here are the best episodes in Lost, in order of airing.
1. Pilot – season 1
Fairly difficult to not include this, as a hugely explosive, highly inventive opening to a TV series. In what has now become the norm with many pilots, Lost set the bar in establishing strong characters who had room to grow, in an environment ripe for exploration.
Rewatching the pilot now, it’s fascinating to see just how much of the finale season’s dynamic was established – from the surviving characters, to the Locke-Jack conflict, and that eternal question posed by Charlie in the final seconds of the episode: ‘Where are we?’
2. Deus Ex Machina – season 1
Many cite Locke’s first flashback episode as his best (Walkabout), due to the reveal that Locke was in a wheelchair prior to landing on the island. And while that’s great shock TV, we don’t get much more than that – and much of what made Season 1 instantly compelling yet not so rewarding on repeat viewings, is that it relied on shock twists.
The reason why this episode is so good is it does have the twists on top, but at its core is a highly emotional exploration of Locke’s past betrayal by his father, contrasted with his manic reliance on the island to deliver him from misery. Just watch the sequence that cuts from Locke’s confrontation with his kidney-stealing father to him beating down the still-shut hatch door. Great TV.
It’s also the beginning of Locke’s turn toward self-reliance rather than living together with the other survivors, as he sacrifices Boone for his desire to open the hatch. And then the light from the hatch comes on…
3. Exodus – season 1
In what set a trend for the series in having cracking season finales, Exodus set up so much of the direction Lost was to head for the duration of its run. Multi-character flashbacks, multiple on-island plots, all misdirecting the audience to thinking Claire’s baby was still in danger. And when Michael, Walt, Jin and Sawyer do the logical thing and build a raft to sail away from the island, nobody thought it was them the Others would come after. But it was, and they took the boy.
The reason why the Season 2 opening had record-viewers had a lot to do with how this finale concluded.
4. Man of Science, Man of Faith – season 2
And then we came to the first episode of Season 2, and we finally got to see what was in the hatch, and Lost continued to defy expectations and change the texture and tapestry of the show once again. Having spent the good part of Season 1 wanting to get in the hatch, Season 2 opened with a whole sequence devoted to the inside of the hatch without anyone realising.
And to cap it all off there’s Jack’s flashback, where he battles his science and his faith, and meets Desmond, who just happens to be the person in the hatch. And Desmond’s line ‘See you in another life’ suddenly opens up a whole new level of interpretation for the show, and where they were going to take it.
5. Two for the Road – season 2
Season 2 brought us a little bit closer to The Others, who had remained in the dark and behind fake bears and wigs until then, only emerging to steal a few children here and there. But we met Benjamin Linus, initially masquerading as a lost parachutist, until he graduated into one of the most manipulative, conflicted and compromising antagonists in TV.
Phenomenal performance by Michael Emerson, his scheming Linus gets himself out of imprisonment, ruins Michael entirely when he leverages returning Walt for his freedom, and Michael subsequently kills off Ana Lucia and Libby. Brutal, and shocking, and audiences never trusted Linus again.
6. The Man from Tallahassee – season 3
Another Locke episode, and one where we find out why he was in a wheelchair. That in itself is horrible to witness, further entrenching Locke as a man abandoned by good fortune, but it’s his road to recovery that renders the episode its emotional pull.
This is contrasted with his continual ‘communion’ with the island, as he sabotages yet another plan to escape to freedom by blowing the submarine up (hello foreshadowing). The episode also introduces Richard Alpert, jettisons Locke further from the other survivors, and in full pay-off ends with Locke facing his father on the island – his conscious and his unconscious coming together in one moment.
7. Through the Looking Glass – season 3
Season 3 was the worst in the series, due to ongoing negotiations with the network as to how long they would spin the narrative out. Once it was resolved, Lost hurtled towards its conclusion with frightening rapidity, none more so than in the finale, continually rated in the top episodes for the series’ run.
Epic, action-packed, as the survivors push for yet another opportunity to get off the island and find rescue, it all came to a crashing halt with Charlie’s exiting swan dive into an underwater station to stop a signal jam to the island, only to realise that the boat coming to save them is not friendly, in a parting message to Desmond before Charlie drowns.
And in the biggest change-up, Jack’s flashback was revealed to be a flashforward, and audiences suddenly readjusted their sets, knowing that at some point Jack gets off the island but now wants to go back.
8. The Constant – season 4
A shortened season due to the writer’s strike led to some awfully face-paced storytelling. But they still had time for this episode, arguably the best of the series.
Latecomer Desmond quickly became an audience favourite, and this journey through time to connect with his one true love, Penny, is a masterpiece in time-bending story. In theory, Desmond’s mind is literally flashing back and forward through time, and he needs to find one thing in the present to connect to the past – his constant – in order to maintain sanity. And that comes in the form of a phone call to Penny to let her know he’s still alive and that she’s still looking for him. If you watch Lost for one episode, make it this one.
9. The Shape of Things To Come – season 4
A Benjamin Linus episode, one that reveals to us that he leaves the island as well, and is hell-bent on a course-correcting plan to destroy Charles Widmore – who covered up the survivors’ disappearance, banished Desmond to the island and happens to also be Penny’s father, and a former leader of The Others.
On island, Widmore’s mercenaries attack the survivors, and all of a sudden our sympathies are challenged as we see the devotion Linus has not just to the island, but to his daughter as well.
10. The Incident – season 5
We had been hearing about the ‘incident’ since Season 2, and had speculated what on earth had happened on the island to wipe out the Dharma Initiative, and confine any survivors to hazmat suits underground.
Now, we found out. After a complex season of time travel, where we discovered who made it off the island and who stayed, and who was transported back to 1977, the Lost universe expanded once again to cover and even larger timeframe than it had before. The journey of the survivors to reunite once again was enormous, culminating in the decision to detonate a nuclear warhead in order to reset the times and put everything back together again.
Oh, and we got to meet Jacob. And the smoke monster guy.
11. Ab Aeterno – season 6
Ranks alongside The Constant for genre-defying TV, this is essentially an origin story for Richard Alpert – the ageless consiglieri to Benjamin Linus and to Jacob.
Told mostly in Spanish, and building to a moment where Alpert is finally able to reunite with his wife, whom he left over a hundred years before. It’s wonderful, deft storytelling, and a late entry in a series that had really made its name telling perfectly realised character stories.
The episode also ends with possibly the closest thing you’ll get to an explanation about the whole series. Just so you know.
12. What They Died For – season 6
I could put The End on this list, just to annoy some people, but I won’t. Instead, this episode really says a lot about what made the series great when it was great.
While we do get further developments in what became known as the flash-sideways story lines, with Desmond on his mission to reunite the survivors, the episode is better for the on-island plot, where the final few survivors get to spend time with Jacob. Coming shortly after the death of Sayid, Jin and Sun, in the brutal The Candidate, we finally get to hear Jacob explain why they’re all there, and why he wanted them all there. And in a moment that shows how much the series was about finding meaning in everyday life, Jacob makes Jack drink from a cup of water and announces that Jack is now like him, a protector of the island. Simple as that.
Almost. Until The End.
Honourable mentions and ones I dearly wanted to include are: White Rabbit, House of the Rising Sun, 23rd Psalm, Live Together Die Alone, He’s Our You, Jughead, LaFleur, The Substitute, The Candidate, The End.
Tagged: JJ Abrams, list, lost, science fiction, series, television, tv
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Posted January 24, 2014 by Mark
Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:Books, comics, ebooks, list, movies, Posts With Momentum, publishing, reading
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Posted January 17, 2014 by Mark
Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:
Tagged: Books, ebooks, Game of Thrones, list, movies, Posts With Momentum, reading, star wars
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Posted January 10, 2014 by Mark
Don’t go out, stay in! You’ll save effort, money, the planet, and have a MUCH better time.
1. There’s more wine and cheese in your mouth, less beer spilled down your shirt by a random stranger in some awful bar you only went to because your friends made you.
2. Books have riveting dialogue, real life just has awkward conversations.
Book person: ”What are you reading at the moment?”
Regular person: “I LIKE SPORTS”
3. Your home has a comfy chair. You don’t want to gamble with the comfort of your buttocks. Social butterflies are referred to as ‘butterflies’ because their sore butts prevent them for sitting for long periods, giving the illusion of flight. #fact
4. Books can provide you a night of riveting entertainment and enjoyment for not much money. The price of one drink in the city on a Friday night is $37.50. #fact
5. You can wear whatever you want. WHATEVER YOU WANT. Try getting into a bar wearing underpants, an old shirt and ugg boots. Wait, scratch that because I just described modern fashion.
6. When you’ve finished reading your book, home is all around you. When you finish at the bar, you still have a journey home to worry about. And what happens if you fall asleep on the train? WHAT HAPPENS?
7. Speaking of finishing, you can stop reading whenever you want, whereas people will force you to stay out longer than you planned for “one more drink”.
8. You spend your entire time doing the thing you love, instead of 75% of your time trying to get the attention of bartenders and waiters.
9. Social butterflies create a lot of pollution with all the transport and power they use. So book loving shut-ins are essentially saving the world.
Tagged: Books, ereader, list, novels, reading
Posted January 9, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
Initially this was going to be a look back at the best films of 2013. But to be honest, last year was a rather middling one for the big releases. So, for something different, I thought I’d look back at some of the big films that came out in the last twelve months and see what went wrong with them, and what we can learn for the future.
It did okay, received decent enough reviews and made enough money to warrant its production. But if we have to endure another year of horror film remakes that are merely amplified, exaggerated versions of what we’ve already seen, then I might just give up on them all together. The horror films of old had their own conventions and tropes, and if directors and studios keep flogging ancient dead horses the whole genre is running the risk of becoming obsolete.
It’s fascinating that in the last decade of remakes, reimaginings and reboots, two of the more interesting and original horror films (The Mist and Bug) have come from two veterans of cinema and horror – William Friedkin and Frank Darabont.
Again, didn’t fare too badly critically and financially, but it’s an unfortunate formula when we’re left with the feeling that it’s another year, and another time Tom Cruise saves the world. Looking back over his career, it’s dotted with endless Jacks, Bills, and Davids; Cruise is intent of being the everyman who saves us all. The problem is, he is too unrelatable a persona for audiences to invest in anymore. On the occasion where he’s reinvented himself – Vincent in Collateral, and Lestat in Interview with the Vampire – he’s shown us how good an actor he can be.
Let’s just hope that The Edge of Tomorrow – ignoring its nonsensical title – is as good as the preview suggests, and not another so-so attempt from Cruise to ingratiate himself with audiences.
Iron Man 3 & Thor: The Dark World
Okay, Marvel wants to take over the world (if it hasn’t already). But come on. At some point this needs to just stop. Iron Man 3 felt like an ego trip born out of the fact that they could let Iron Man 2 be the lasting impression of the character. Ludicrous, pompous, replete with token child in need of saving – let’s all applaud Downey Jr. for getting his life back on track, but surely he’s just treading water with the glib motor-mouth Tony Stark?
And Thor, well. Second film. Has the word ‘dark’ in the title. Marvel are starting to feel like the annoying kid who just wants everyone to talk about them constantly, no matter what crap they’re doing.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Second film, ‘dark’ in the title. Fun on first looks, but five minutes after walking out of this we’re starting to feel hollow. Lens flare obsessions aside, if this is a reimagined Star Trek, then why bother with the homages to old stories? If the earlier Star Trek went to crazy lengths to establish that all previous incarnations of the franchise still happened, and the new one was happening on a different but parallel timeline, then why bother remaking and rebooting old plots and characters?
And come on. Enough with the dark stuff for the middle chapter. We get it. The Empire Strikes Back happened. Get over it.
See also Man of Steel for needless po-faced ‘darkening’ of a franchise.
The Great Gatsby
Big lesson to be learned from this: don’t let Baz Luhrmann make films anymore. Please. For all that is good and decent in the world. Stop this madness. Stop this man.
Never before has 140 pages of profound depth and imagery in a novel be turned into 140 minutes of the most vapid, shallow, cartoonish, glitter-stained vomit ever put on a screen. Ugh.
The lesson to be learned here is: this film was great and deserved watching. And a sequel.
Another lesson to be learned here is: studios need to learn how to advertise far better when their film doesn’t contain male leads or females under the age of 30. The worst evidence of this was in the photoshopping disaster that occurred in the UK to make lead Melissa McCarthy more ‘appealing’ to viewers. Jesus.
Making films with female leads who are aged over forty isn’t going to bring about the apocalypse.
This was a surprisingly decent film. After the mess of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, audience were actually treated to a decent portrayal of a comic book character that didn’t try to outdo everything that has come before. Also eschewing the trend of blockbuster films that globe-trot to the point of turning into an ad for TripAdvisor, Wolverine pared it right back to basically one major setting, with one set of characters to interact with.
Additionally, it abandoned the highly insecure trend of tagging all franchised films with superfluous umbrella titles and punctuation. Simplicity is good, people. It works.
More of this, please.
This should have been released for Halloween, but instead was held back two weeks into November. Effectively a small, independent horror film that was catering to old fans and unaware teenagers, it needed to maximise its 90-minute runtime beyond the actual screening with the right mix of advertising. Instead it went for elaborate stunts and trailers that told the whole story, alienating all and missing out on actually getting better recognition.
Not a success, but a horror film that also works as a superhero origin story, with multiple female leads. Surely this is a good thing, and worth investing in?
Enough. If our only vision for the apocalypse in 2013 was half a dozen guys either improvising toilet humour (This is the End) or running from pub to pub (The World’s End), and where apparently there’s room for only one token female in either apocalypse (Emma Watson and Rosamund Pike, respectively), then the male gaze has won and we should shut it all down.
Endless cash-grab book adaptations
Finally, the last thing to be learned is this: just because a book is well-loved, just because it has an established readership, just because it has sequels and prequels and gazequals doesn’t mean it will make a good film.
Additionally, throwing a bunch of known actors at it and a director who is happy with the epithet ‘good with SFX’ doesn’t mean this adaptation is going to hold water.
Questions studios should ask themselves: does this story need adapting to another medium? Does this story actually work in a visual medium? Are we actually damaging the impression of the original book by adapting this in a half-arsed fashion? Do we have enough money to swim in already?
This is why Catching Fire worked. The story translates well to screen. And it was cast well. And directed well. Learn, guys.
Tagged: 2013, films, horror, list, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, star trek, stephen king
Posted January 8, 2014 by Mark
Did you make any new year’s resolutions related to reading? I always plan to read twice as many books as I did the previous year (not that I’m an obsessive weirdo who keeps count of how many books he reads). I know lots of people who make this, or similar resolutions and it’s always a set-up for failure. Between the explosion of good television and addictive social media, reading time is becoming more and more squeezed. Oh, and I guess if you have friends and do stuff like going out then that uses up time, too.
BUT THERE ARE WAYS TO CHEAT THE SYSTEM.
Here is my guide to how to read more books this year, without giving up TV. The following are tips you can use to supplement your normal reading habits.
1. Graphic Novels
Fast reads that you can fit around the novels you’re reading. And they count, they totally count. They cost as much as a novel, just as much work went into their construction, the stories and characters can be just as compelling, and they can make you think and feel in just the same way a novel can.
2. Toilet reads
We all use the toilet (some more than others), and you’d be surprised at how much reading you can get through if you keep something to read in the bathroom.
3. Find your brand of pure, unadulterated trash
Everyone needs to relax, and sometimes there’s nothing better than reading some comforting trash. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that ‘trash’ is bad, I mean to imply that it’s easy. It’s something you can read quickly without having to think about it too much. For some people it will be spin-off novels from existing media, for others a particular sub-genre. But we all have something we like to turn to when we need to switch off.
4. Listen to a book
Get an audiobook into your ears, yo. You can listen to it on the bus, train, in the car, while you’re doing household chores, basically in any situation where it would be unacceptable to have the physical object in front of your eyes.
5. Follow up a long book with much shorter books
Sometimes it takes a few weeks to get through a book, and that’s ok. But chase those longer reads with a few shorter ones. It’s a great way to re-energise your reading juices.
Don’t think about re-reading that book you love, actually do it. It’s always faster the second time, and you can focus your re-reading on shorter works.
7. Dip in and out of longer works or collections
That 1,500 page biography you’ve been putting off? You don’t have to do it all in one go. Read a little bit here, a few chapters there. Short story collections are also good for this.
8. Don’t set a specific goal
“I’m going to read 120 books this year” means that at the end of December you’ll be a failing failure about to fail. “I want to read a lot of books this year, more than I read last year” is a recipe for success.
9. Don’t be afraid to fail
You have a limited amount of books you’ll get to read in your lifetime. It’s only ever going to be a tiny slice of the many published works that are available to you. But it should be a pleasure trying to get through as many as you can. So have fun, read what you can, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get through everything on your wish list.
Suggestions? Comments? Leave them below.
Tagged: Books, graphic novels, list, novels, reading
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Posted December 20, 2013 by Mark
Here are our most popular posts from this year:
This post, one of the first delivered from our new blogger Craig Hildebrand-Burke, is about the assumption that boys don’t like to read, why that idea is wrong, and what we can do about it.
This was just me showing off that I finally finished reading the books.
An unforgettable poem from Koraly Dimitriadis, author of Love and Fuck Poems.
Guest blogger Glen Fuller compiled a list of handy texts you should see before watching Pacific Rim.
Craig celebrated 20 years since the airing of the first X-Files episode with this list.
Because 2001 is the best and my favourite movie of all time (in case you didn’t already know that).
“Nobody will want to read that” – my boss, to me when I first told him I was putting this post together.
Chris Allen, author of Hunter and Defender, put together a list of the thriller writers he most admires.
The first in a series of posts we did about opening lines.
This was our biggest post of the year by far. People love space.Tagged: 2013, Books, film, list, movies, popular, posts, reading, science fiction, space, television, tv
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Posted December 10, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
Having discussed the merits of creating prequels the other day, it’s now time to look at sequels.
These days there’s barely enough room to swing a cat for all the sequels littered about the place. Effectively, we’ve reached a state where once a film reaches a particularly significant profit margin a sequel is put into production. Nothing to do with critical reception – or, in fact, whether the narrative actually merits or needs an extension – it is purely about the grosses.
On the odd occasion where a sequel is greenlit before the release of the original, there’s often the opportunity to craft a story that works not only from the first instalment, but also weaves the sequel into a larger, grander narrative that provides something more than the sum of its parts. But these are rare.
So, for me, there’s basically three types of sequels.
1. The Repetitive Sequel
This is the most common. This is also the sequel that invariably is made to cash in on the merits of the first. More and more, these are occurring closer and closer to the release of the original, as executives assume our attention span is so short they hope we don’t realise the first film is over and just remain in situ until the second is released.
The biggest crime with the repetitive sequel is that they offer nothing more to the story. The worst example is where it’s merely a thinly-veiled copy of the first, but with different locations/props/hairstyles/minority support cast (Saw sequels, Hostel sequels, The Hangover sequels and pretty much see every B-grade horror film sequel.)
The variation of the repetitive sequel is when it’s combined with the amplification effect. Even though this does sometimes result in half-decent films, the sequel is essentially the same as the original, only more so (The Matrix Reloaded, 28 Weeks Later, Jurassic Park II, Hannibal). More people, more explosions, more dinosaurs - more whatever it was that made the first story interesting, until that’s all that remains in the sequel.
The problem here is the sequel is demonstrating the same issue that fails prequels: the refusal of the creator and audience to move on from the original.
2. The Improvement Sequel
This is much better. As a sequel, this is when the sequel actually improves on the original and offers a much more satisfying experience through the story and through the world of the characters inhabit.
This often arises in examples where the first story was imperfect, for any one of a number of reasons. It could be that the first was rushed to release, or didn’t have enough money or attention to detail and cut too many corners (Dawn of the Dead, The Bourne Supremacy). It could be that the first was an unknown quantity, and the creators were unsure how it would be received or too busy world-building, generating a more conservative approach to the story (X2, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban). Or it could be that the success of the original on a limited budget and with limited attention allowed the sequel the freedom of time and money to make a much better second story (Hellboy II: The Golden Army).
There is a drawback though, where the above scenario gives more freedom to the creators and they turn out something worse (the Wachowskis again, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Alien: Resurrection, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End).
3. The Redefining Sequel
This is the category of sequel where The Godfather Part II comes in. Essentially, it takes the original story and extends it, as a sequel does, but completely changes and challenges how the story’s told. It results in a redefining experience for the viewer, where their expectations and understanding of the original story is pushed into areas they didn’t anticipate, where the story suddenly seems much larger and more complex, and the narrative form itself adapts to create a wholly different experience.
Clearly, this isn’t easy to do, given the fact that The Godfather Part II dominates any discussion over worthy sequels. However, there are other examples, usually where the creator of the sequel acknowledges the excellence of the original story, and doesn’t bother to recreate it. Instead, they focus on offering something different, while still being related to the original film.
Strangely - given that he’s now busying himself with churning out repetitive sequels for Avatar – James Cameron has form in this category. With Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, he certainly showed how you can take a perfectly good – if not great – original and pair it with a sequel that carves out its own space and story in a way that never undermines the original and is able to work in its own way, according to its own rules.
See also The Dark Knight, The Two Towers, The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future Parts II & III, The Good The Bad & The Ugly.
So, a sequel needs to do something different. Needs to tell a different story, while enhancing the original. It can’t ignore it, but it can’t copy it. Like the prequel, there needs to be a reason why the audience is going to experience this story, beyond just the token exploration of more of the story.
Tagged: cinema, films, genre. science fiction, list, movies, prequel, sequel, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix
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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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