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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Godzilla: The Return Of The King

                                    GODZILLA [2014]


It’s great to see the King Of The Monsters back on the big-screen, and it was a no-brainer that I was gonna go and see it. I’ve had a couple of weeks since seeing it now, a couple of weeks to think it over, think it through and get over my initial slight disappointment and grumpiness at all the plot holes. On coming out of the cinema, I was a bit unhappy; why wasn’t it perfect, dammit! However, after a couple of weeks to calm down, let’s have a more balanced little look. Apologies for the lack of flow.

First of all, the good stuff. At least he looks like Godzilla! It sounds D’oh! But the Emmerich 1998 version got it wrong. There veteran creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos [also Broderick’s surname in the film] was given instruction to ‘redesign, update’ Godzilla for a modern audience. Well, Tatopoulos did create a pretty cool reptilian monster but it just so plainly wasn’t Godzilla. The Big G is stompy, not speedy!  That 1998 film is kind of derided nowadays but I’m fond of it, it’s a good monster movie, just with the wrong title. Anyway, the 2014 version of Godzilla is spot-on. This part of the film couldn’t be better; Godzilla  is a force of nature, a huge and awesome behemoth of angry scales and grumpy stompy feet. His design, with bleeding-edge special effects, is fantastic; proper old school King Of The Monsters. Also, in his manner and expression I got the idea of him being an old monster, hundreds or thousands of years old, the last of his race, proud and honourable; director Edwards has described him as being like an old samauri warrior, and I think that comes across, especially towards the end. Godzilla is not undefeatable, he is fallible, he needs a breather and a lie down now and then. The tantalising glimpses of him swimming about underwater or whatever were, for me, a highlight of the first hour, leading up to the big reveal.

More good stuff; the other monsters, the MUTO’s [Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms] are pretty good, again, as you’d expect, with excellent CGI. While I would perhaps have preferred something a bit more old school and kaiju, these creatures nevertheless are welcome to the film. To my mind, the things [which are slightly different, male and female] are a bit like Bagorah the bat-monster, with a head like Gyaos’, and in some ways are similar to the Cloverfield creature. It’s all good stuff, bring on the monsters, and they cause plenty of carnage and causing buses to be late. The climactic battle is great, very well done, I didn’t want to blink to miss any action [whereas I ran off to the toilet in the first half [shouldn’t have had my pre-cinema pints]] This was perhaps my favourite part of the movie, along with the nostalgic scenes of Godzilla’s huge feet smashing through the streets, and seeing his spine spikes whiten as he prepares his heat ray. My wife didn’t know about his heat-ray, and my mother must have forgotten, but all three of us gave suitably appreciative “Oooohhh”s at this point. Basically, Godzilla is awesome!

This brings me to my bad points, and I’m gonna really try not to go on for ages. Mainly, THERE SIMPLY WASN’T ENOUGH OF GODZILLA!! It takes around an hour [half the film] for him to be properly revealed, and I reckon he’s only on screen altogether for about 25 minutes. It’s an awesome 20 minutes, with some proper bridge-smashing, train-eating monster-in-the-city carnage going on, but more please!  I could have done with less of the army boys running around in confusing fashion, trying to deliver a bomb, a plot point which ultimately goes nowhere. And while the basic story is good [check anywhere else online for a detailed plot] the film sometimes disappoints and is slightly confusing; sometimes certain scenes don’t follow on properly and don’t seem to make sense, and the details of the plot are often left unexplained leaving the viewer to just go along with the plot as a whole. I got the feeling that sometimes the film gave the illusion it was making sense, but actually wasn’t in some parts. I was often left a bit unsure of exactly what the intricacies of all the military action was all about; the viewer kind of gets the idea of it all, but sometimes the film skips a bit of explanation. I also thought that it was curiously cut, with things or concepts built up to and then just left in favour of something else. These two points are demonstrated in the climactic scenes with the nuclear bomb; much is made of the bomb, many minutes are spent moving it about and setting up plans for it, yet ultimately, at the end of the film not much comes of the bomb at all, and now that Godzilla has dealt with the threat, the bomb is surplus to requirements and forgotten about..
Basically there was too much screentime [often confusing] with the military. The first hour was good set-up, and Bryan Cranston a sympathetic and engaging character, but as he moves off-screen in the second half, the plot and characterisation fall a bit flat. It’s a good job there’s giant monsters to boost up the interest.

A few last quick words; the opening credits are fun and clever, Bryan Cranston plays about the best character in the film, the final scene is really cool, comic-booky, but a bit twee, and the film suffered only a tiny bit from not having a giant mechanical monkey in it.
It was an okay, a good film, but it was excellent to see Godzilla at the cinema again [I’ve only actually seen the 1998 version at the cinema, and that wasn’t really him], and to have his image in the media again and on the sides of buses and stuff. I’m pleased me and the family went to see it, to support it, and I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out in December [or asking for it as a Christmas pressie! – Does my wife read this blog?] to likewise support it. I believe a sequel has been announced already, which is great. My thoughts for the sequel;  let’s have a bit more work on the consistency of the story, a couple of decent human characters to get behind, an enemy monster from the vast kaiju stable [Guiron or Speiga, but your best bet is Ghidorah theThree-Headed!], and most importantly, a bit more of the title monster please.And possibly a giant mechanical monkey!

                               SPECIAL NOTE TO MY WIFE: That Godzilla T-Shirt's pretty cool, innit?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A Swan Can Break A Man's Arm, You Know: A Short Appreciation of Sue Townsend



Wednesday April 2nd

I am thirty-five today.I am officially middle-aged. It is all downhill from now. A pathetic slide towards gum disease, wheelchair ramps and death.


Sunday May 5th

Trinity Sunday

Bowels – blocked.

Penis – unresponsive to stimuli.


Saturday November 16th

I am still without ntl. The engineer refused to get out of his van because Gielgud and the other swans were walking around the car park, looking as though they owned the place. Before he drove away he said, “A swan can break a man’s arm, you know.”


Sue Townsend, after a decade and more of ill health, died on April 2014, aged just 68. She was among my very favourite writers, perhaps at the very top of the list. THE SECRET DIArY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGE 13 ¾ was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and I myself was around that age, or just a tad younger. I loved the book, having picked it up in a charity shop, and I remember saving my money and rushing to W H Smith’s to buy the sequel, THE GROWING PAINS OF ADRIAN MOLE. I’ve read them half a dozen times or more. At 12 or 13 I loved reading about Adrian and his chaotic family, their mishaps, and really funny incidents like the school trip to London which Adrian doggedly documents. Much of it went over my head; I was too young. I didn’t know who Dostoevsky was, or what The Female Eunuch was all about. At each subsequent reading, a little older each time, new things sprang out at me; new insights into character, new jokes, new humour. I have followed Adrian Mole through eight volumes into his 40’s, up to the cliff-hanger in THE PROSTRATE YEARS [none of Mole’s friends or family can pronounce ‘prostate’ properly] where his fate remains unclear after a battle with prostate cancer. Sue Townsend was working on another volume, Pandora’s Box, when she died. So while it is clear that Adrian Mole has survived his brush with death, it is unclear whether this book was anywhere near publishable, so Townsend’s thousands of fans may never get to read it.


Sunday July 18th

My father announced at breakfast that he is going to have a vasectomy. I pushed my sausages away untouched.


Sue Townsend was born into working-class poverty, a lifelong character in most of her books. She was a single parent for years, and wrote in secret, until her first Adrian Mole book became a huge success, being one of the most bestselling books of the 1980’s. Over four decades she has become widely recognised as Britain’s best-loved comedy writer, but there is far more to her work than just humour. Underpinning almost everything is a sense of the working-class, the normal man in the street, and hardship, poverty and the difficulties of life. Pervading through all this is perhaps one key message, one thing that makes the world a better place, no matter if you’re the Queen or an unemployed storage-heater salesman; simple kindness. Her writing is laugh-out-loud funny, but also humane, tragic and bittersweet. She has a brilliant sense of timing, an eye for off-beat but completely believable characters, and a quiet fondness for quiet and clever comedy. Her books mirror society; Thatcher and unemployment in ther 80’s, Facebook and celebrities in the ‘00’s.
Sue wasn’t all just about Adrian Mole. She wrote six other books, and six plays, winning great accolade and awards. My favourite of these is The Queen And I, a fantastically funny and moving novel, about the Queen and her family stripped of their royalty and estates and treated like anyone else, sent to live on a rough housing estate in the Midlands. Here, Prince Charles has an affair with a woman down the road, Prince Phillip goes a bit mental, and Harris, the Queen’s corgi, becomes the leader of a tough street-pack of homeless dogs. The Queen meanwhile is portrayed as a kind but sad character; she often has to borrow money to put in the gas meter, or go to the benefits office for a crisis loan, but when called upon to help her neighbours she repeatedly stands up to the plate, helping to deliver a baby in a poverty-stricken house, and cleaning up the messes left by her family. The point here is that no-matter who you are, rich or poor, everyone is the same, we all have our failings, we all have a heart.

Sue Townsend was, and will continue to be, onme of my favourite writers. I am sad that no new books will dance out of her pen. But I will continue to re-read her excellent books; she left us with some proper crackers.

Monday December 13th

Queenie’s Funeral

My mother and father sat together in the chapel, briefly united. Me and Pandora sat either side of Bert. He said he wanted to have ‘young ‘uns’ around him.

Then, while the organ played sad music, the coffin started sliding towards purple curtains around the altar. When the coffin reached the curtains Pandora whispered, “God, how perfectly barbaric.”

I watched with horror as the coffin disappeared. Bert said, “Tara old girl” and then Queenie was burnt in the oven.

I was so shocked, I could hardly walk up the aisle. Pandora and I both looked up when we got outside. Smoke was pouring out of the chimney, and was carried away by the wind. Queenie always said she wanted to fly.

R.I.P Sue Townsend. 1946 - 2014

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Shining = Revisting The Overlook Hotel

Stephen King

I first read THE SHINING 17 years ago, when I was nineteen, and
it was among the first of King’s works that I read. Recently, and with its belated sequel DOCTOR SLEEP sitting by my bed, I picked it up for a revisit, to check back into The Overlook Hotel.

THE SHINING is among King’s most famous and iconic works; if you’re reading this, you’ll know what its about. Everything shines; six-year-old Danny shines, he is psychic, and gets visions from his imaginary friend, he can get hints of the future, or of possible futures, he can see dead things, things from long ago that linger. His parents, Jack and Wendy, like many characters in the book, also shine, but to a much lesser extent. King postulates that THE SHINING is a clairvoyance, a psychic sixth-sense that is latent in everyone, but not active; many people shine to a greater or lesser extent; some people have just a touch – intuition – but a few really shine on, doc, much like Danny Torrance here, and the Hotel’s cook, Halloran, who also has it big.  

The Overlook is a huge luxury hotel, high in the Colorado mountains, with a long, dark, history: it too shines, like a beacon, it shines it’s past to sensitive folk, the hotel is alive, it is The Overlook, it watches. When it gets a hint of the raw shining power in young Danny, it wants him, it lures him, casts its trap, and uses the old ghosts within Jack, ghosts of failure, and alcoholism, of despair and guilt, to make its catch. Jack, and Wendy, are haunted themselves, long before they get to the hotel, and once the Overlook has got its claws in, and the snows have closed around them, in their freezing isolation, the hotel strikes; through Jack’s ambition to succeed, it uses him, plays him like a marionette, to get what it wants. Had the hotel been successful, only King’s imagination knows how terrible the Overlook could have become.

So, then, THE SHINING, King’s 3rd novel, is a ghost-story with as many floors as the Overlook itself. It is largely about character, and about Jack’s journey from a problematic but loving husband and father, to a psychotic puppet of evil. Jack’s descent into madness is described at length; for me, some of it worked, and some didn’t quite, but I believed totally in Jack’s alcoholism, and family background, his character. Character is King’s best attribute; had he been writing successfully for 40 years in a genre other than horror, he would long ago have been widely recognised for his skills with character.

The story is a classic one, a gem of a story, iconic; the isolation, the background, the hedge animals, the shining, all great stuff, skilfully put together. I thought generally the writing was good here, although not as time-polished as some other novels, and occasionally I lost the pace in a few places. Conversely, though, in some places the writing shines. I loved the moment when Jack, locked in a bolted pantry by his wife, has been pounding on the metal door for hours; it is definitely locked, he is secure. Then Jack begins to talk to the hotel, to an ex-caretaker on the other side of the door, a ghost that slides along the bolt...   Prose-wise, and particularly, I loved this bit, some fine evocative writing:

Danny was still awake long after his parents’ false sleep had become the real thing. He rolled in his bed, twisting the sheets, grappling with a problem years too big for him, awake in the night like a single sentinel on picket. And sometime after midnight, he slept too and then only the wind was awake, prying at the hotel and hooting in its gables under the bright gimlet gaze of the stars.

The novel has pace, increasingly so, and I waited until I had a spare two hours to read the final quarter or so in one sitting. If you have only ever seen the film [ok but different] or the miniseries [more faithful], and you like that sort of thing, then you certainly should read, or re-read, THE SHINING. It is a fabulous idea, fabulous story, well-written, but for me personally doesn’t quite top some later works like THE DEAD ZONE, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, THE GREEN MILE, or DIFFERENT SEASONS. 8/10

This book cover above [right] makes the book look like a Barbara Cartland type family saga. There is more blog to follow, my waffling about the film and the miniseries versions, and later DOCTOR SLEEP. But for now, I leave you with Toy Shining below. What a long shadow the Overlook has left...

Monday, 5 August 2013

Review: The Blue World by Jack Vance

By Jack Vance

THE BLUE WORLD is an engrossing, exciting and intelligent science-fantasy novel, set on an ocean planet with no landmass. Twelve generations ago, we are told, the Firsts came to the planet as a refuge, and set up home on a series of floating islands, made from reef, coral and other natural substances. Over the years the people have multiplied, and developed their society. Great hoodwink towers on each Float are used to communicate across stretches of sea, and to warn of the proximity of terrible sea-beasts called the Kragen. Over the years the People of the Floats have created religious Intercessors among their number, who have effectively deified one such large beast, King Kragen, and now live in a static society where King Kragen is kept fed and happy, in return for not destroying their floats, and keeping other lesser sea-monsters at bay. The novel tells the story of one man, Sklar Hast, who has tired of feeding King Kragen and is doubting the talents of the Intercessors; he makes an attempt on King Kragen’s life and this results in huge waves of discontent running through the entire society. What follows is a compelling, well-told story of rebellion within a closed society; ostensibly an adventure story about giant sea creatures, the book deals heavily with religion and the veracity thereof, and many of the long meetings of the townspeople are told with zeal and with flawless logic.
This is a great little book, with a colourful and exciting world, well-established [if perhaps two-dimensional] characters, great monsters and action, and an intelligent theme throughout. The character names, at first alien, are truly creative to behold; Sklar Hast, Semm Voidervegg, Barquan Blasdel, Emacho Feroxibus, and their slightly archaic style of speech and logical thinking is contagious. The book conjures up some great visual images, and Vance’s writing shines out without being pretentious; the action rolls along, and my only slight criticism is the ending is handled a bit quickly, and leaves a couple of ends dangling. I could have read a whole series set in this world; indeed, I wish I had read this when I was much younger, for it is the sort of story that lights up your imagination.
Jack Vance died recently [May 2013], but has left behind a huge shelf-load of imaginative books. If they are all as good as this one, I will be reviewing more soon.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Jack Vance: A Flash Non-Fiction [With Lots Of Pics]




Jack Vance, a lifelong writer of science-fiction and fantasy, died on May 26 2013. He was little-known outside the genre, but highly popular, prolific and respected.
He has won a mantelpiece of awards, the Hugo three times, the Nebula, the Jupiter Award, World Fantasy Award [and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award], an Edgar for his mystery novel THE MAN IN THE CAGE, and is a SFWA Grand Master. Four years before his death, TheNew York Times Magazine described Vance as "one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices."
Vance was born in 1916, and spent his childhood in California, after which he had a string of badly-paid jobs. He worked as an electrician in the naval shipyards at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, and left only a month before the Japanese attacked it. His eyes were weak from childhood and this prevented a further career in the military, until he memorised an eye-chart to get in the Merchant Marines.A lifelong love of water and boats showed through in his future career.
He was a man of many talents; a minor jazz musician, a house-builder, a fine boatman, and an accomplished traveller, as well as his prolific writing. He married in 1946, and remained married until his wuife’s death in 2008,.
Vance wrote many science fiction short stories in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, which were published in magazines. He has said he got inspiration from a heavy childhood reading, and was taken with authors including Jeffery Farnol, a writer of adventure books, whose style of 'high' language he mentions, P.G. Wodehouse, L. Frank Baum, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Rice Burroughs,   Robert W. Chambers, Jules Verne and Lord Dunsany.  He was yet another great genre writer to be heavily influenced and encouraged by the magazines, Wierd Tales and Amazing Stories. These cheap ‘pulp’ magazines have left an outstanding and long-lived legacy; Robert E Howard, Robert Bloch, H.P.Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith, etc
One of his first writing jobs was as a screenwriter for the TV series Captain Video. His first published story appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1945, and since then has produced over sixty books. THE DYING EARTH was an early series of short fantasy stories, set in a far distant future in which the sun is slowly going out, and magic and technology coexist. Theis became a long-running and popular sequence and has given its name to that particular brand of far-future science-fantasy, the Dying Earth genre. This seqwuence continued with titles like THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD, CUGELS SAGA, RHIALTO THE MARVELLOUS, and THE LIGHTNING MAGICIAN. I think you can get a sense of the alien wonder simply be reading the title’s of many of Vance’s works; MAZIRIAN THE MAGICIAN, THE BLUE WORLD, THE DEMON PRINCES, THE HOUSES OF ISZM, THE DIRDIR, THE PNUME, the unfortunately titled SERVANTS OF THE WANKH, CITY OF THE CHASCH, THE DRAGON MASTERS, NIGHT LAMP, SLAVES OF THE KLAU, THE DARK OCEAN, THE MAGNIFICENT SHOWBOATS, LYONESSE, THE DEADLY ISLES and many many more. Colourful covers contain colourful characters and although usually set in a science-fiction background and setting, but featuring societies that have often evolved back to a mediaval-style fantasy type. His influence can be seen in a vast amount of writers but most especially Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe,and Phillip Jose Farmer. The sci-fi authors Poul Anderson and Frank Herbert were close personal friends of Vance.
His poor eyesight continued to fail throughout his life, and in the 1980s he was declared blind, but still managed to write using specially-written computer software.
He died on May 26 2013. I had read a handful of his short stories in the past, and had a couple of yet-unread novels on my shelves. But, in that strange way of sychronicity, I read of his recent death in a magazine and within days I discovered his 1966 novel THE BLUE WORLD in a charity-shop in my home-town. More coincidence abounds, as a quick glance at the book tells me of a similar setting to my recently published [on Smashwords] story BLUE. Well, I’ve now read THE BLUE WORLD [review to follow] and I’m pleased we went in different directions with the setting. However, I had – and still have – plans for follow-up stories to BLUE, and I will work into them my own little tribute to Jack Vance.
For any fantasy or science-fiction readers who have not yet encountered his clear but magical words, I give a whole-hearted recommendation.
RIP Jack Vance 1916 - 2013

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Lair Of The White Worm

The Lair Of The White Worm

Ken Russell’s film of this novel popped up on Sky, so I recorded it, as I hadn’t seen it in years, but I thought I would read the short novel first, and it had been sitting on my shelf unread for a long time. I’ve only read one of Stoker’s novels, the classic DRACULA, which I enjoyed, apart from healthy grown men fainting in horror all the time like a bunch of wussies. I’ve read a number of Stoker’s short stories too, varying from very good [“The Judge’s House”, “The Burial Of The Rats”] to poor [about half the stories in “Dracula’s Guest”].

I read THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, impressively, on three different mediums; on my kindle, on my android phone [it is a free download from Amazon or Project Guttenberg] and I even read some of it from my book, with pages in made from that paper stuff. Unfortunately, whichever medium you might choose, it won’t improve this confusing, boring, unbelievable, chaotic and slightly strange story.
Adam Salton has come from Australia to the Welsh border-country where he befriends his uncle, whose near neighbours are an odd lot; Sir Caswall is hated by the local farmers but fawned over by would-be-wives, hungry for his money, including another neighbour Lady Arabella March who is involved in some strange collusion with a primeval monster, the White Worm of the title. This beast nestles on rock outcrops and props itself up on its tail, surveying its territory with piercing luminous eyes. Every so often it eats someone. Two other characters, Lilla and Mima Watford, are local girls, whom Ada#m Salton takes a shine to, and despite being fairly important characters, are given no dialogue at all.  
The novel is confusing because the plot seems to have little structure; important events are afterwards almost forgotten by the characters, and any decisions to be made must be mulled over and discussed for a chapter or two. It’s disjointed; the book has too many wrists and ankles, and not enough brain. Events seem to be related, told to someone else, rather than actually happen, and there’s little mood or atmosphere.  There are psychic battles between people, which seem to consist of just looking at each other all afternoon. Mongooses [mongeese?] are torn apart with bare hands; a scary black African servant appears menacingly then falls in a hole and that’s him done; there’s a mildly interesting bit about vast flocks of birds and a giant scarecrow kite; this is quite interesting, but what is the point: if there ever was one, I’ve forgotten it. The characters do and say ridiculous things, that often are faintly stupid and in complete contrast to the natural evolution of the plot. It’s akin to a character being in a burning house and suddenly saying, “Oooh, I fancy a banana.” And Lady Arabella March, great name, interesting character, but was she the worms-keeper or did she actually transform herself into a vast were-worm; Stoker doesn’t really tell us; you sort of get the feeling he thinks he has, but actually, he’s just minced his words and forgotten.

 In fact, that seems to be a theme running through the book; Stoker seems to be in a muddle. Sometimes it seems that he’s forgotten to include a chapter, like he’s written it in his head but not in reality, or that he’s had a stray idea in his head – largely unconnected with his story – and decided to write it down and stick it in somewhere. It’s a messy, poorly-written, terribly executed, muddled story. It should have been great, it had some great ideas to be great, but it hasn’t worked.  WORM was Stoker’s final novel, and it was written in his final years when his health was failing, and, possibly, he was addicted to laudanum. Those circumstances would certainly help to explain this difficult-to-read book. In a later edition, the publishers actually removed several chapters, which would only seem to confuse the plot even further. Lovecraft, in his “Supernatural Horror In Literature” says that Stoker has “poor technique”, and, of WORM, he writes; “Stoker...utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile”. Stephen King, in DANSE MACABRE, notes that it is was not as successful as DRACULA, while Glen St John Barclay, in his strange book ANATOMY OF HORROR says, among other insulting things, “ could not possibly have been less competently written.” I wouldn’t quite go that far [it could have been written less competently by a blind dyslexic paraplegiac bat-monkey creature] but I agree strongly with Lovecraft here; It is a poor swan-song for Bram Stoker, and a novel which, were it not by the celebrated author of DRACULA, arguably the most famous and successful horror novel in literature, WORM  would almost certainly never have been published, and had it been, it would be deservedly forgotten today. Read DRACULA instead, or his short stories “The Judges House” or “The Squaw”.