Those of you who are regulars on this blog will know that from time to time I get invited to do horror movie reviews for Doom Generation, which is my go to site for “reviews for the sublimely weird.” If there’s a movie they haven’t got on there, I am allowed to view and review freely and without censorship, which is quite the boon in my book! This week I had the pleasure of contributing to them once again and as always I really enjoyed the experience. It is something I will strive to do more of in future, time permitting.
The film I chose was a 2009 Aussie production, though from what I gathered it was only released in the States in 2012, hence the discrepancy in dates.
Before watching I did some cursory research starting with IMDB, though I always seek their advice with a measure of reservation. In this case my concerns were justified because IMDB left me stumped. The same site that gave After.Life a 5.9 rating gave The Loved Ones a 6.7, which for a decimal system is close-ish but competely subjective. If you asked me, I would equate the difference between these two movies as the distance between the earth and the moon; not much if you’re looking at it from where we’re standing but a whole other kettle of fish if you’re trying to walk it.
The Loved Ones is an Australian movie which was released in 2012 and from what I understand it’s a bit of a hidden gem in the world of teen horror films. The star, Brent (Xavier Samuel), is a typical 17 year old having his first taste of adulthood via the mediums of sex, drugs and punk rock but like all good protagonists he is a little tormented by his past. Though I do say protagonist, it’s fair to point out that as far as acting goes Brent is more like the supporting male to Lola’s (Robin McLeavy’s) Hamlet, ‘cause she’s the movie’s chassis, frame and engine, everything else is the fluffy dice hanging from the mirror.
A couple of posts ago I got to talking about Jake Gyllenhaal and relatabilty in a fictional character, which then led me to thinking about heroes and inspirational personalities. Ok, it was both that and the bottle of Mozart liqueur I found in my fridge today from visiting Vienna a couple of years ago. That train of thought led me to realizing how important Mozart was and still is to Vienna, besides the financial benefits he brings.
I then ruminated on other important personalities and their adopted or native towns. For example Florence has the Medici and a host of renaissance artists, Lisbon has Pessoa, London has Shakespeare, Dickens and multiple monarchs, Rome has the Romans, Da Vinci and the Pope (whatevs, not casting any aspersions this time, each to their own.) My point is that we all like having someone to aspire to. One glimpse at a comic con and it is made obvious how people’s ultimate aspirations and fantasies are literally worn on the sleeves of the different guises they choose to adopt, except in the case of Vampirella of course, who has no sleeves.
For many, the ultimate ideals come in the form of historical figures, for others it’s fictional figures-heck I bet even Hitler had a hero, and by his strategic boo-boos something tells me Napoleon was a poor choice. For the unimaginative or emotional amongst us it’s our parents but whatever the case, the fact remains that we all aim towards something greater, something bigger than us, an archetype that gives us a greater purpose, a nobility, a worth.
I don’t know to what extent the touristy propaganda works on residents of the towns of the greats but I imagine there is some awe inspired in the Viennese by the fact that Mozart lived and worked in their city, in the same way that the scores of tourists get when they visit the sanitized remains of the house he once occupied. As if walking the halls will make you absorb the lingering molecules of his genius that are suspended in the ether (hoping that the guy in front of you didn’t get the last one) or that looking at copies of the scores he wrote will somehow make you understand what made the man great.
I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, it feels as if I’m flogging a moot horse. We know what heroes are all about, it’s an old trope: Homer, Virgil, Dante (definitely do not go to see his house in Florence incidentally), Shakespeare and a few others besides have made us ponder the issue of what makes a hero and from old poet to new a few gold standards remain: bravery, integrity, intelligence, sacrifice, love, fearlessness etc; what interests me however is the motive behind all that. Not the motive behind the writer or the hero, but the motive behind the reader, the thoughts that the hero invokes in them, the memories it triggers, the emotions it sparks.
Even if the thoughts are not conscious, the desire is still there. For someone it might be H.G Wells for the politics or D.H. Lawrence for his grit, it might be Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, the inventor of the locomotive or the dude who sang Gangnam style. Whatever it might be, we all appreciate people who are good at something, who are better than us, who have something to teach us whether they intended it or not. People who might reach into us and compel us to do something new and brave or something we might never have done in different circumstances like take up arms and fight in a war just because our ideals have been galvanized…
What does that say about the human condition? What does it teach us about greatness and aspiration, inspiration and respect and what does it say about divinity? If we all aspire to some form of greatness, what is the bigger message other than the fact that I need to clean my fridge out of old liqueurs more often?
I wrote them today, I wrote those two awesome little words that every author covets with every fibre of their being and I did it! I did it! I did it! After a 3500 word marathon yesterday and 4500 word marathon today, I managed to get to that lovely place where I could joyfully say “THE END” and mean it, Truly, Madly Deeply! Yes, yes, yes, the deed is done, book three is officially over!
Ok, maybe it’s full of typos, anachronisms and inaccuracies but let’s not stray away from the point here folks; it’s time to stick a fork in it cos it’s done, done, doned! (yes I said doned, that’s how much I want to stress that this f&cker is in the past!
Don’t get me wrong now, I loved every minute of it, and I will go in (at a date that is not today) and clean up that shit like it’s grime under the rim of the toilet bowl, but I will stop here to emphasize just how very done it is! Beginning, middle and end, done! In the famous words of the venerable Ali G, booyakasha! Kati can chill for a few days before I find new ways to ruin her life!
Anyhoo, I shall now proceed to curb my enthusiasm by doing something else and get back to work in the morrow for my eyes have bled copiously today. I even wondered whether I should’ve taken more screen time to write this post, but it had to be done! Now I’m going to grope around in the dark for the shower and not look at a screen for maybe… twenty minutes!
In the last few weeks I’ve been very focused on why stories are so important to us. It’s not news, granted, but the fact remains that humans really like stories, be that real stories, fake stories, real mixed with fake, regular, political, fantastical, you name it and there’ll be an audience for it.
This was very much on my mind when I went to the movies to watch Southpaw. As a story lover, sports themes are beyond last on my spectrum of interest. I have no time for the struggle, the strife or the pain that goes into becoming a first class athlete. We all know that reaching the top at a physical profession is hard, there’s no story there as far as I’m concerned. All the same I sat down to watch it, knowing very little about it besides the fact that it was a movie about a boxer. Ok, I’m not going to lie, Jake Gyllenhaal was the clincher in that I, ahem… “admire” his acting abilities, *cough cough.* Ok, so the dude’s hot!
To the point though: Southpaw starts at the top of the main character’s athletic career. Billy Hope has got it all; he’s beautiful, talented, rich, famous, rose from nothing to the pinnacle of his profession and all without losing a single fight. The viewer is thrown into this perfect life and finds himself rooting for this guy, because he’s tough but gentle and loving too and who through hard work and talent has managed to build himself a great career, a beautiful home and a family. His wife is his childhood sweetheart and together they have a little girl who adores them and who is adored in return. Pretty idyllic right?
Identifiability is at the core of any story. It’s seeing that character, or part of them, in yourself, or the opposite, putting yourself in their shoes and wondering what would I do in that situation? Southpaw gives sight at a lifestyle that most of us would sell our right kidney to achieve, so we know the stakes involved. However, just as all good stories should, it takes a turn; by way of selfish miscalculation and obedience to his ego, rather than the reasonable voice of his wife, he is embroiled in an altercation and the wife is killed, leaving him with two sets of immeasurable grief, his own and his kid’s. The snow globe has ruptured and it is losing pressure fast.
It is at this point that Southpaw’s life unravels and he slips into self-destruct mode from where he loses his money, his house and is on the verge of losing his daughter both by her being taken into the welfare system and, worse of all, by the force of her blame over the loss of her mother. Now Southpaw is forced to find the strength to start from scratch, retrain, gain focus, control his spiralling emotions and put the pieces of his life back together, senza wife and kid.
Though I don’t wish to spoil it entirely for those of you that have yet to see it, the end is pretty predictable; of course he gets his shit together and wins both his family and his career back by way of some rigorous body and mind training and all’s well and all that jazz.
The skill in this story wasn’t in the plot-we’ve seen all that before. The power was in the telling. The narration of the story showed his humanity, his vulnerability and his weakness in the face of this disaster, for which he was essentially to blame, which made you identify with Southpaw and his struggle. I’ll take a guess at saying that most of the viewers will not be boxers but we all know the stakes involved in one form or another. There’s the rigorous training, the pain, the focus, even the hint at the deep psychological warpage that makes someone choose a profession where they agree to get the shit kicked out of them for money. If that’s not Freudian I don’t know what is.
The beauty about this movie was how well it was orchestrated. It was a story wonderfully told from every angle, be that acting, scriptwriting or direction, each aspect was carefully worked, so much so that I was left wondering if it was based on a true story. From what I can tell it was not, but it had enough realistic elements to make you think so. And by realistic I don’t mean “real world,” I mean that it stayed true to its narrative much like GOT can be realistic provided it stays true to its narrative. In this case the anguish was convincing, and the connection with the character was there because you could feel the conflict between his immense pain vs the urgent need to put it aside and pull his pants up.
The beauty hid in the fact that this strong talented boxer was physically fierce but lacked the emotional means to keep his life together in the absence of his wife. Modern and poetic. By the end not only did he get his life and his kid back but also the emotional maturity to see where he had gone wrong the first time. Whoop Whoop Billy Hope says I!
The trope of making dreams come true and vanquishing adversity resonates with most people and was the key to the relatability of this film despite the out there nature of his profession. It was certainly more powerful to have the juxtaposition of the big strong boxer with the emotional strength of a child grow into his own than it would have been a corporate world worker who for many might be a more familiar sight but maybe not as strong a message.
Southpaw should totally be up for an Oscar this year.
In contrast to this Hitman: Agent 47 was, on paper at least, more of the kind of movie I would purposely go to watch. Spy/Sci-fi in nature and with some cool genetic tweaking thrown into the mix, it had the potential for good movie watching and yet it fell flatter than an A4.
Perhaps it marks the difference of a script written purely with the goal of commercial success as opposed to one that has all the signs of a decent creative venture.
The main character, a highly sensitive, genetically mutated girl who is on the run from something called the Syndicate is being hunted down for her skills which will be used to locate her father, the only man who knows how to make more of her. At first she appears scared, vulnerable, down to earth and bohemian; she is also a technophobe and a map using (yes real paper), archive digging polymath who, in theory, I should have been much more able to identify with. Yet I was left completely cold. The script was poor, full of holes and lacked conviction. One minute she can sense people coming for her in her sleep and the next she is fully awake and alert and doesn’t sense jack shit. What the fuck is that all about? Poor script that’s what.
At no point did I relate to her plight, which is closer to my field of interest than a male boxing champion ever would be; neither did I connect with her emerging bad assery, which felt rushed and out of character. She was as delicate, damaged and vulnerable as they come yet at no point did I feel concerned that she might die. Neither did I wonder how or whether she was going to get out of all of it alive, despite attempts to make her appear charitable, humble and chosen. Her own attachment to the male characters was cold and weak (nothing like Southpaw’s connection to his wife) even though one of the male leads turns out to be her brother who wakes her long suppressed childhood memories of abandonment. Blah!
Katia starts off as a frightened, feeble semblance of a human being but through the help of 47 she is given the space to grow and mature as the movie progresses so that she can come into her own, an improved version of the genetically enhanced human being that we know her to be by way of the film’s messages. In her universe her struggle is also very real; she fights to prove that both she and the automaton that she is travelling with are responsible for their choices and that they are not simply action figures made up by the sum of their parts, or that their mutated powers and lack of emotion, as in the case of 47, are affecting their humanity. Great in theory but it all fails to transfer out of the glossy look on the screen. Her pain simply does not contaminate the viewer.
I don’t know if you need to see both these films to recognize the similarities other than read about them here, but I thought there were enough common points in the search for personal growth at high stakes to make me wonder about weak and strong story telling. One failed miserably whereas the other was a major success. The power is always in the telling of the story.
Everyone struggles, everyone knows fear and loss and sometimes even bravery but it’s worth nothing at all if by the end of it the character leaves you cold. Blockbuster shootemups might be great for the adrenaline rush you get from watching them but I know that its Southpaw’s maturation and growth that will stay with me for the longer term.
So I ask, what is it that makes a viewer/reader empathize with the character?
Why do we choose stone memorials when our loved ones die? How can a cold hard stone represent everything you once shared with that person? Everything they meant to you, the memories you shared, the things they taught you, the love you had for one another?
The earth moves, it shifts, it compacts, it swallows your friend, your parent, your spouse, holding them prisoner under layers of clay from where they return to the elements and yet you worship the stone, talk to the stone, feel comforted by the stone. The stone comes to symbolise all that that person once meant to you, all that they were; like an anchor for their soul.
How poor is the stone for it does not hear and does not understand, it does not sympathise but maybe it alleviates. The cold hard stone offers comfort like the person beneath it used to do. It is the silent guard of a cargo that is both worthless and invaluable.
You bring flowers for the dead but they wilt and die so you bring some more. You light candles and say prayers yet they remain unanswered and the stone just glistens in the sun, staring back at you like the impenetrable memorial it is supposed to be, with a permanence you wish the person beneath it had.
The premise of this book is so cool that after reading it any Fantasy Author will say “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Or maybe it’s just me.
Coburn the Vampire wakes up post apocalypse in a world overrun by zombies. To a hungry Vampire, humans have gone from a fast food level of availability to foraging in the desert in July levels. They are very hard to come by and when he does find them he has to fight the zombies for them. If that isn’t an awesome concept, I don’t know what is.
In order to survive he forges a fragile alliance with a group of people who promise to offer him some of their blood in exchange for his help in fighting the zombies while they try to find a safe place to stay. They, of course, run into a lot of undesirable characters and compromising situations during their journey but Coburn helps them through it all as his humanity slowly overcomes his baser side.
The story is one we’ve all seen before in the post apocalypse spectrum. The world is full of danger; good people turn bad due to circumstance and commit terrible atrocities in the name of survival, but it’s done well and is convincing.
In many ways this book reminded me of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ in its harshness, imagination and emotion. I have said this before but I’ll say it again: Chuck Wending is this generation’s Stephen King. He writes with grit and doesn’t spare any punches, only his is a more millennial style. He is more concise in the creation of his universes, but no less rich, and the work never suffers. He just knows that readers today want to get there faster.
I don’t mind that. If I’m being perfectly honest I’ve yet to see anyone reach King’s levels of character development or world building and neither would I want to; King is King and Wendig is Wendig. I make the comparison simply as a way of highlighting his skill level.
Double Dead is part of a series of Coburn the Vampire books so I was left with a few questions about how he came to be and why some characters exhibited certain abilities. I was also slightly irked by the fact that he’s virtually indestructible, but his weaknesses fill that void. In all I would have like a little more background on Coburn but no doubt that’s to come later.
As I was saying the other day, this summer I had the opportunity to visit Florence. Florence, alongside Rome from two years ago, has always been one of those lifelong dreams, and I was very fortunate that this year I managed to make it a reality.
Walking into the Uffizi Gallery and facing Michelangelo’s Tondo just before the next room where I was flanked by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to my right and La Primavera on the left were moments I have looked forward to since childhood (ok teenagehood). Also seeing the David up close and personal was a moment beyond anything I can describe. It was like meeting old pen-pals face to face and realizing they’re better than your wildest expectations.
But I digress, the minutiae of my holiday aren’t the point here. Part of the reason I chose Florence this summer was the fact that it is close to Padua which is where a small part of Vampire Edifice is set. Padua University, in fact, is rumoured to be the second oldest university in Europe with an anatomy school that rivals none in prestige and history. It was home to several prominent figures like Galileo, Andreas Vesalius (father of modern Anatomy) and William Harvey, who discovered blood circulation, to name just a few. On a side note, in the hall of the forty I noticed a drawing of a man called Stephano Bathory (King of Poland) 1533-1586 who I am more than intrigued to research at some point for obvious reasons.
I can honestly say that the trip to PU was going to be as much of a highlight of the trip as the Medici Mausoleum or the David and at €5 for an hour tour I was very excited to make the three hour journey to Padua from Florence and back. Thanks are owed to my kindle and A Song of Ice and Fire for hours of entertainment.
Anyhoo, the first blow of the tour came in the fact that we were not allowed to take pictures of the rooms. Big bummer, ‘cause I’d planned a detailed blog post of the bloody thing. Secondly the tour guide lady was very economical with the details of the place. In fact, when she was asked a question about certain inscriptions on the walls she promised to come back to it later but never actually took the time.
The biggest bummer of all however came in the form of the Anatomy theatre, which I’d been looking forward to seeing all summer long, in anticipation of the trip. For those not in the know, an anatomy theatre is an inverse conical space, think upside down traffic cone, where students of anatomy would collect in order to watch the dissection of corpses in the name of science. PU’s Anatomy theatre was built in 1594 by Gerolamo d’ Acquapendente and was made world famous by some of the aforementioned historical personalities.
Were we allowed to see that? Oh no, that would’ve been too normal a thing to do on a specialist tour. Instead we were led in under it, picture the eye of the cone, and made to look up through the hole. Though there was a level of geeky coolness in the fact that this was the way the corpses got to see it, by way of practicality, it was next to useless. Atmospheric? Yes! Pointless? Also yes!
Whatever the case, though I was disappointed by the tour experience, I did love the location and of course the History of the place. What I did get to see and ask about satisfied my research needs for the book (I like to have visited the locations I write about wherever possible) and hey, I got to stand in the same rooms that Galileo and Harvey et al did almost five centuries ago. Can’t fault that.
On another note, whatever satisfaction I didn’t get from the tour at PU, I got in spades from the Museo La Specola in Florence itself. The museum holds one of the largest collections of wax anatomical aids from the 18th century and is an incredible sight for all lovers of medical history and the macabre.
The museum itself is not that well marketed and is home to series of other random exhibits which suddenly lead to the wax models in a slightly surreal shift of mood. It is an amazing place, with incredibly well-crafted pieces which marry the worlds of history, sculpture and medicine into an unforgettable experience. I know I sound a bit tourist guide-y but think of the fact that these models were sculpted from life (or death to be precise) in the days before refrigeration. Chew on that for a moment…
To my good fortune, due to its lack of promotion no doubt, there were only two families in the entire museum along with me, which gave the space an added air of sobriety. At times it felt as if the whole place was mine.
Very often my blog posts are like buses, there’s none for ages and then a bunch come together. To avoid a big post with several topics however, I’ll talk a bit about the book today and tomorrow about some of the research I’ve been doing in recent days. What’s historical fiction after all without some decent research?
The last couple of weeks have been super busy for me, I finished editing my book, went on holiday (which I combined with a research trip to Padova) and have spent the best part of this week formatting and listing it on Amazon (the listing part was quite quick admittedly).
I’m very pleased with the end result, though it was more delayed than I expected, but as it stands, I’d rather have a top product than a rushed one.
As some of you may have already gathered the book picks up where the last one left off, with Kati’s escape from the Countess and follows her during the four years she spends away from Csejthe. The world of Affliction opens up to the reader as Kati begins to come into her own.
Hungary 1610 A.D.
A wave of terror grips Csejthe village as Erzsébet Báthory’s long list of crimes comes to light, forcing Kati, who managed to escape death at the hands of the Countess, to go into hiding after her close call.
Having caught the Countess red handed, Palatine Thurzó is shocked by the atrocities committed by his cousin and becomes intent on getting to the heart of the murders. Events unfold further when he is put on Kati’s trail by one of Báthory’s co-conspirators.
Kati is then forced to risk a return to Csejthe in order to cover her tracks and hide the journals which threaten to expose the Afflicted. The task proves more dangerous than she thought, however, and she is forced to flee to Vienna where she hopes to find more of her kind.
Once there she is accepted into an Afflicted paradise where she is supported, educated and helped to deal with the pain of her past. When she discovers that Báthory’s ill son is secretly being held in a Sanatorium for the marginalized and depraved, though, she comes to the conclusion that all is not as it seems and her life might be in danger once more…
Still working hard to finish Vampire Edifice in the next couple of weeks.
Though I’ve some good posts in the works I’ve not found the time to write them down yet so here’s a language post to keep you busy!
Another milestone was reached this week in the from of my brand new author website. This project has been in the air for a while and was a little delayed by unforeseen circumstances but thankfully it’s all been sorted now.
Admittedly it is still in its infancy and will receive more beautification and content as time goes on, but is in a good enough state to go live. It is an umbrella site for all my work which will also include other series beyond Affliction in the future.
In other news, editing is continuing as always, and if all goes as planned Vampire Edifice will be going live by August 15th.