Thursday, 29 January 2015

A New Hope

With Star wars returning to our screens later this year, I thought it might be timely to dust off this fiction piece I wrote a long time ago in a country far, far away; when both the franchises combined in this story were very much in dormancy.

A blazing band of stars silhouetted the recent arrival's profile against the viewing port.
The scale and beauty of space was a sight that no one could ever really grow accustomed to, but he had given up being just a watcher a long time ago.

And look where that had got him! The Doctor sighed heavily and leaned against the corridor wall, burying his hands even deeper into his pockets. He had always hated being kept waiting, and his irritation with Them wasn't helping.
"Botched Dalek mission", indeed!
The "some good coming from great evil" line hadn't gone down too well, but he'd like to have seen them do better. And even now, the Doctor had a nasty suspicion that he had been manipulated again, provoked into accepting this "one last task" as a challenge. Sometimes he wondered just how corrupt the Time Lords really were.

In all honesty, however, he might have agreed to take this one on without any persuasion.
"Not the Daleks this time", the Intervention Agency had told him, "but perhaps you'll have better luck with the next worst thing."
And they hadn't exaggerated, either. The Matrix had displayed images of a dictatorship founded upon a particularly concentrated evil, eclipsing the light of an entire galaxy in its huge shadow. Thousands of star systems oppressed by the ruthlessness of its Governors, and the mindless efficiency of its armies. The Doctor hated oppression in any form, and this particular form was vast indeed. His mind drifted back to the images he had so recently reviewed. One of those Governors, a coldly vicious man with a key role in the events about to unfold... For the lives of him, the Doctor couldn't place why he looked so unsettlingly familiar...

"But this is definitely the last time", he vowed, remembering to be annoyed. The Doctor pulled his hat further down over his eyes and began to wish he'd bought his yo-yo. Espionage might be the CIA's style, but it wasn't his thing at all, too sneaky by half.
Glancing at the double star and its arid-looking planet ahead, the Doctor's irritation began to wane, almost as if this god-like vantage point on the cosmos forced him, as always, to consider the lives that inhabited it. Reluctantly, he had to concede that as much as he hated running errands, he did enjoy the opportunity to upset the apple cart onto the side of good; especially on such a galactic scale. And besides, he reminded himself, straightening up as his liaison furtively arrived, he had been waiting for royalty, this time.

Unable to resist, the Doctor tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially, and quickly passed the computer disc to the small, dark-haired woman who faced him. As she accepted it with a cool smile, a faint explosion rocked the hull of her small spacecraft.
"I'm afraid they've caught up with you already, Your Highness."
"We have the battle station plans now Doctor, that is the important thing. The Alliance owes you its thanks."

A little embarrassed, the Doctor bowed, and the white-clad figure turned and hurried towards a small robot, waiting further along the corridor.
The Doctor smiled to himself. "Charming girl, charming... but her father won't be pleased."
A heavier blast rocked the ship and the Doctor quickly made his way towards his own transport. The Time Lords had warned him not to hang about; this was going to be the start of something big. Fishing out the key, he paused at the TARDIS door and glanced back along the now-empty corridor.
"I liked that little robot, though. Wouldn't mind something like that for myself..."

En-route to Alderaan, the Millennium Falcon scoots down
a very familiar-looking visual effect.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Supernatural Phenomenon

Here's a question for you:  Which thirty-year old film ends with its entire cast covered in molten marshmallow?

Ghostbusters turned 30 last year, but it's enduring mark on popular culture was made almost instantly.  Actually, I seem to recall in distant 1984 that the pre-release campaign was already embedding itself in our collective consciousness - I remember a classmate quipping long before the film's NZ opening: "Who you gonna call?" when another complained that she thought her flat might be haunted.  I hadn't yet become the fan of Huey Lewis and the News that I was soon to be, so the ubiquitous theme song sounded fresh and original.  Shame on you Mr Parker Jnr - less of the "I want a new drug", and more of the "I need a new tune"!

Up until then, the resulting combination of horror and comedy had always been a modest affair, from Abbot and Costello, to the Addams Family, Carry on Screaming and Love at First Bite.  And so when I saw an early Ghostbusters trailer in the middle of that year, I assumed it would be more of the low-to-mid budget same.  Perhaps the effects were unfinished, but somehow it looked a little ropey. (Of course, on finally seeing the finished product I was surprised to find that it was anything but an inexpensive production).

The hype continued to build.  By the time I returned to the family home for the Christmas holidays, everyone was talking about Ghostbusters.  Reuniting with friends who were also home from their first year at other Universities, we fed each other's enthusiasm for this upcoming film.  We'd always loved horror, and something about a comical, clearly incompetent team, way out of their depth, resonated strongly with us.  As I've mentioned in an earlier post,
we had been inseparable all through School, had our own 'brand name' and also careened about in a distinctive vehicle which had seen better days.

The Star League, with our own 'ecto-1'.  Don't call us whatever you do!

  All that might have led to the following photographs.  Don't be too hasty to judge: teenagers living in Blenheim at this time had to make their own fun, and that's what we did.  Whatever our motivation, the imminent arrival of Ghostbusters clearly played a part here.

If left unchecked, this might have led to Ghostbusters 'sweded'

But when I did finally see the film for the first time, it wasn't with my childhood companions.  It was actually a first date, which in itself was surprising enough for me.  Fortunately, what seemed to be the most unlikely of date movies turned out to be quite the opposite (sundry '80s then-accepted script sleaziness aside).  So much so that the young lady had actually already seen the film but kept this fact from me so we could go together.

My friends and I might all have seen it for the first of many, many times separately, but somehow our love of Ghostbusters still managed to bond us.  Quotations, or adaptations of, still pepper our conversations to this day.  In fact, it is surely one of the most quotable films in history. And I think I can even still do Bill Murray's 'hop-walk', which I diligently taught myself.

I doubt I could say anything meaningful or insightful about this film that hasn't been said many times before in the last three decades.   Perhaps these gentlemen who've kindly synced their own Ghostbusters blogposts with this one will:

I watched Ghostbusters again the other night before writing this, for the first time in many years.  I was apprehensive: several films of that era have dated very badly, and many things we laughed at back then seem decidedly 'off' now.  Perhaps it would be one of those cherished memories better left un-revisited.  I put it on with very low expectations.

But by the end of the excellently creepy opening scene; when the terrorised Librarian is finally rooted to the spot, screaming into the off-screen arc light and wind machine, and that drum intro kicks in as the familiar logo coalesces from the edges of the screen  - I wanted to punch the air.  The love is still there, no matter how many streams have been crossed in the last thirty years.

And twenty five years later, Ghostbusters was channelled yet again
as I took part in this campaign to promote weathering-out the
economic recession - Gloombusters!

And here's some things I noticed for the first time on this most recent viewing:

  • The 'Oh-so '80s' soundtrack includes songs by Air Supply and Thompson Twins
  • The tall blonde woman who Louis dances with at his party is Jean Kasem, wife of the late, great Casey Kasem who's very famous voice also features in the film, (counting down the American Top 40, naturally) .
  • Sigourney Weaver in an off-the-shoulder orange curtain may very well be the best reason to watch this again

Friday, 23 January 2015

Busy-ness as usual

Generally I like to keep things on Phasmatodea very much like myself: lightweight, geeky and frivolous.  But just for a change, I'm going to have a rant.

ˈbɪzi (adjective)
1. having a great deal to do.
"he had been too busy to enjoy himself"

This particular four-letter 'B' word is fast becoming my least favourite in the english language.  I hear it lazily sprayed around every day as a quick-dry filler for deficiencies in time management, organisation and motivation, or waved like a little flag in attempts to increase a sense of self-importance - and so it is fast losing any sense of real meaning.

I'm as guilty as anyone, but I'm not about to try and list reasons why I think I'm entitled to wave that little flag.  Because we all have our own list: our own commitments, demands upon our time and energy - and some are even fortunate enough to have other people who depend upon them.
I'm privileged to be able to direct my own abilities, such as they are, towards creative projects. Whether at work or home they stimulate and reward me depending on my own level of commitment and enthusiasm. I try to keep fit, because I am no fun for anyone, including myself, if I don't exercise. Sometimes there are challenges which scare and daunt me - and always there is everyday life to be getting on with (which should never be taken for granted).

This all takes up time, sometimes all the time I have and more.  But I also know there are people out there who give far more of themselves, to their families, communities even countries than I can even imagine. There are volunteer workers, sports coaches, paramedics, athletes, carers, adventurers, mentors, helpers, parents and teachers who lead lives which would make mine look languid and selfish (which I couldn't entirely dispute).

Although the B word is often used for status, to me it also implies a loss of control - an inability to direct your life and apply your time as well as you might.  Worse than that, it's actually a rather excluding expression, a barrier and cold shoulder to others who would otherwise like to invest their time in you and share your enthusiasm. Instead it's a brush-off and worst of all - pretty boring.

This year, by all means work and play hard while you can, give 110% to whatever you do, always remember the people who matter, give your animals time and love and look after yourself.  Do what you can to find fulfilment, a sense of achievement and happiness.  Find your balance and be engaged, absorbed, involved, productive, industrious, devoted... even tied up on occasion - just don't be busy.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Greatest Instalments

We've looked at cinema in 2014, so what was happening on the small screen last year?

What?  Did someone move?

Game of Thrones

Let's get it out of the way.  I was a big fan, and the shocking 'red wedding' episode ended the 2013 season on an unforgettable note. However, 2014 seemed composed mainly of whip-pans to different continents and sets, allowing increasingly indistinguishable characters to exchange a few lines of exposition before flipping to another dialogue scene with someone else, somewhere else, talking about something else.  And if there isn't a big improvement this year, I'll be watching something else.  Just tell us a story for GoT's sake!

Who would you least like to be on the wrong side of?  Frank knows...

House of Cards

This is how it's done.  Another case of that rarest of beasts: an American remake of a British series which surpasses the original. Very few programmes could make you care so much about a character as despicable as Frank Underwood, but Kevin Spacey pulls it off, despite becoming increasingly in danger of being eclipsed by Robin Wright-Penn's magnetic performance as his wife, muse and secret weapon: Claire.  We might even have forgotten to breathe throught the entire duration of the season finale - highly recommended.

Marvel: Agents of Shield

The first series saw a steady increase in quality, particularly as it led to events showcased in The Winter Soldier movie last year.  Series two has shown flashes of brilliance and introduced new characters, one of whom is played by 'the Wonder Woman who could have been': Adrianne Palicki, and another who is unfortunately dreadful (looking at you, Nick Blood - and that is actually the actor's, not his character's, name).
Unfortunately, the finale which had been built towards all year, which a friend and I were intrigued enough about to formulate our own semi-serious synopsis for, ended with a confusing and dissatisfying flub. Marvel's first serious mis-step?  Next year will tell.

Strapping Lass: A picture of Adrianne Palicki as
Shield Agent  Bobbi Morse, just because.


I'm not a huge Batman fan - but to my surprise have become a big fan of this series.  I never watched Smallville, so can't compare that origin series to this one, but Gotham is packed full of fascinating characters, chief among them Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin-to-be, with genuinely challenging and surprising plots.  A show I thought could only be formulaic has become anything but, and I think I'll be disappointed if we ever reach the day when grown-up Bruce finally reveals his flying rodent fetish.  And Sean Pertwee's Alfred deserves his own spin-off.  Bat who?

(Third) Doctor Who: The Next Generation?
Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth.

Publicity images like this actually used to put me off watching Breaking Bad,
but the leads are actually anything but conventional hard men.

Breaking Bad

I know it's been around for years, but we finally got around to watching it this year.  We were reticent, as it felt like setting off on a huge, well-trodden journey which didn't even promise picturesque scenery or pleasant company.  Despite all this, we were hooked from episode one, charged through all five series without a pause and didn't even feel the mid-way slump which we'd been cautioned about.  So is it the best television series ever?
Trying to remain as impartial about my own favourites as possible, If Breaking Bad isn't; I can't think of a more likely candidate.

Some Zombies just want to have fun


The decomposing tongue-in-cheek pretender to the undead TV series throne steadily proved to be several times more fun than the increasingly dour Walking Dead, this year. Interestingly, the two series began with startlingly similar plotlines, but then Z-Nation took a far more entertaining turn (including a shameless Sharknado take-off) with it's quirky cast leaving Walking Dead's mopey Rick and his dysfunctional hangers-on far behind.
And unlike Agents of Shield, Z-Nation's finale delivered in spades.

They were all smiling in the other shot...

Penny Dreadful

In 2009 Sean Connery starred in a film adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen , featuring famous 19th century literary characters uniting against a common foe.
Last year another former James Bond was recruited for a strikingly similar venture - on the small screen, this time, and starring Victorian fictional villains rather than heroes.  Abraham Van Helsing (played by the incomparable David Warner) features briefly, amongst a menagerie including Frankenstein(creator and creature), Dracula, Dorian Gray and a Frontiersman werewolf. The sumptuous cast includes Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Billy Piper and Josh Hartnett and although this series unfolds at it's own stately, but disturbing, pace it is one of the most beautifully shot programme I've ever seen.
Best of all, like it's dangerous cast of characters, Penny Dreadful is very dark and completely unpredictable.

Front and centre, as she should be...

The Big Bang Theory

See, this list is not all dark - although Sheldon Cooper makes me tune out and into my own scenarios which culminate in his spurting, mangled body parts strewn all over the apartment.
The other characters are where the real gold in this programme lies, particularly in the effortless masterclass of comic timing given every week by Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting as Penny. Writers, please don't be lazy and just focus on 'quirky' Sheldon - lets have more of the other cast, particularly 'the girls'.  I suspect they help my Wife feel better about living with her very own Nerd.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Yearly Projections 2014

Was 2014 a good year for film? Here's my own top ten...


Actually premiering at Cannes in 2012, Broken is harrowing, but hugely rewarding urban drama. Brilliant performances from old hands like Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy are all-but eclipsed by the utterly enchanting and naturalistic performance from young Eloise Laurence as 'Skunk', who stands out like a lone wild flower growing in an inner-city demolition site. The gritty narrative of Broken attempts to deconstruct Skunk's life, but showing more irrepressible spirit than the struggling adults inhabiting her world she ultimately achieves the happy ending which everyone, audience included, might have lost hope in.

The Winter Soldier

A superhero movie where the lead character spends most of his time in jeans and a T Shirt, and Robert Redford gives us comic book adaptation cinema's most chilling and believeable villain so far. 2014 will be remembered as the year that Marvel did epic space opera, but more importantly in my mind, it's also the year they aced the espionage thriller.  Being fans of the Agents of Shield TV series, the very strong impact which the events of Winter Soldier leaves on the narrative of the TV show is yet another plus for us. Hail Hydra!

Sunshine on Leith

The Scottish musical which isn't Brigadoon. Listening to Scottish D-Js was always an odd experience for me - something about a Glaswegian being professionally friendly is just wrong (you have to work at being pals with someone from 'No Mean City', and then they're your friend for life)  Similarly, I couldn't imagine how a chirpy musical based on the music of The Proclaimers and set in contemporary Edinburgh was going to pan out.  Fortunately, the inevitable 'cheese' is definitely blue vein rather than broadway or West End cheddar, with an uplifting ending which is more than worth the sometimes difficult journey to get there.


New Zealand made a pitch perfect comedy/horror film in 2014 - and also released What we do in the Shadows.  Although the 'NZ-feratu' film gained all the accolades last year, for my money Housebound is where homegrown chills and spills were really at. Morgana O'Reilly's  Kylie Bucknell is a Kiwi heroine for our times, tough, uncompromisingly direct and utterly fearless. Hire it tonight!

X-Men: Days of Future Past

From the bleak and hopeless future, to a meticulously realised 1973, the latest X-Men film shows that it's traditional blend of ensemble action set pieces and intimate character beats still leads the pack in comic book movies.
These charcters have been with us for a long time now and this enhances how much we care about them, whichever version we might be watching.  And the flying stadium scene - just, wow!


My parents had this book back in the 70s, I suspect a lot of people did. Mai Wasikowska is perfectly cast as Robyn Davidson in this long-awaited adaptation of a singular woman's solo trek across Australia with four camels and a dog called Diggity. Davidson's 2700 km journey to the Indian Ocean would be difficult enough for anyone, but for an unaccompanied woman forty years ago the limitations in technology and gender politics make it even more of a remarkable achievement.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This film has garnered so much extensive praise from every quarter that I was actually reluctant to even mention it here.  But I kind of have to.  So I just did.


Another film I'm reluctant to mention because I wouldn't honestly recommend it. Sordid and disturbing, this gruelling tale of the gradual disintegration of an irredemable Edinburgh detective is also so perfectly directed and performed that it stays with you - even when you wish it wouldn't.  Watching former 'Mr Tumnus' James McAvoy in the previously mentioned X-Men film a few months later, I found my lip curling because I still couldn't divorce him from his repellant role in Filth for the first few minutes. A film possibly to be respected rather than liked.

Deep Breath

Like Day of the Doctor last year, I saw this at the cinema, and it grabbed the number four place at the NZ Box Office that week so I'm including Peter Capaldi's feature length debut. Althought the full extent of Capaldi's 'Like me or not, I should care because...?' performance is not yet apparent, the change of pacing from the periodically superficial freneticism of Matt Smith is - and it's a deep breath of fresh air.

The Finishers

A French 'Father and Son triumphing against all odds' film with a difference.  Wheelchair-bound Julien is desperate to connect with and motivate his recently unemployed, workaholic Father, Paul, and fixes upon a seemingly impossible challenge for them both. They enter a triathalon competition (actually filmed during an Iron Man event in Nice) where Paul pulls and carries Julien through the swim, cycle and run competition which sees many able-bodied contestants falter. Perhaps formulaic, but still an utterly inspiring reminder that the human mind and spirit is capable of overcoming all physical boundaries.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Coastal Change

Happy New Year! Here's a tale of a long, long ago summer which might chime with some of your own recollections of family holidays when school/work was still unimaginable weeks away...

I was always a late developer, never more obviously so than in my early teens. At that crucial age my already diaphanous self-confidence was shredded by two things: The first of these was the fact that I went to a single-sex college and had little-to-no concept of how to interact with girls – if I could even find any.  And secondly: an oddly-shaped bite saw my nervous smile scaffolded with glittering orthodontic braces for a very long, and socially critical, two years.

Kids seem so much more confident these days, some even see similar corrective treatment as a statement, but for me it was an unsightly muzzle and I felt as if I was trying to interact with an increasingly scary world with a paper bag over my head.  Indeed, some days that would have felt like a blessing. It’s been said that one reason the Frankenstein monster is so popular in youth culture is that the clumping, out-sized, misunderstood creature chimes with how an adolescent male can feel: trapped in an uncoordinated, complexion-ravaged and oddly-proportioned  body, struggling to be accepted before rebelling against an uncaring world. I certainly wasn’t late in developing my teenage angst.

Already shy, stuttering and gawky, what passed for a social life was spent with a few classmates who have remained loyal and cherished friends to this day.  None of us were sporting legends or endowed with full social calendars, but our somewhat book-ish camaraderie enabled us to happily suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous early adolescence together. If the unimaginably remote subject of girlfriends ever arose, the awkward, foot-shuffling silence could always be covered up with the kind of braying, teenage bravado which even we weren’t immune to (while we secretly hoped that maybe the combined colleges formal dance, still years way, might be our deliverance).
Then one summer it all seemed to change in a matter of weeks - a long-overdue quantum leap.
I think I can say exactly how it began. My usual summer holiday routine of spending almost all my time with a visiting friend, whom I only saw once a year, was interrupted.  The reason is lost in the mists of time, but I suspect the very thing lacking in my life, co-ed socialising, might have been a factor for him.

I faced an immediate future which lacked its usual structure, and like many social inepts, this vexed me.  My regular friends were away on long family holidays, or working summer jobs.  So I wandered down to the town swimming pool, the only place to be, (but not necessarily by yourself). And while convincing myself that I was having a great time all on my own, I received some abuse.  The friendly, good-natured abuse which boys at this age (actually, any age) greet each other with.  It was an acquaintance from school, he was calling me over to meet his friends, and some of them were girls.

At 15, I quickly discovered that I had a horrible tendency to go all ‘Rex Harrison’, in female company. Stilted vocabulary, exaggerated courtesy, I could hope at best to be called ‘polite’, but most likely, simply a dick.  But fortunately, they were all nice people, we had fun, I relaxed, and gradually realised that the same things I could make my usual male friends laugh with made girls laugh too. I could be funny, and not just unintentionally. Somehow, I was quickly accepted into this new fold, and we went on excursions to rivers, beaches and even out at night. But mostly, long December afternoons were spent punctuated by the reverberating twang of diving boards and the myriad splashes and shouts which make up the ambient babble of an outdoor swimming complex. Water would pool on the rough concrete we lay on, while the sun warmed and dried our backs and, impossibly, I talked to girls. To them I was new and I was different, sometimes even in an interesting way (being bookish can have its advantages sometimes). I was happy… and suddenly I was also gone, due to the sudden arrival of my first summer holiday job.

I wasn’t looking, it was found for me, but in the spirit of happily accepting all the exciting new things suddenly coming my way, I threw myself into hard, vineyard labouring. It almost killed me, but there were girls there too, who also found me funny – mostly because of my total naivety forged from years of ignorance of the opposite sex.  But at least I had new stories to tell my new friends when I saw them at the Town Pool in the weekends.
I hardly recognised my life anymore, I had new friends, a tan, I was even making money – and then I was transplanted for the second time.

My own family holiday had arrived, two weeks away from this recently-born, thrillingly ‘adult’ new existence to a place which might be politely described as infamously quiet and remote.  In a tent.  With my family.

Kaikoura has considerably more glamour and appeal these days, but back then my sister and I refused to believe we were actually staying here until Dad pulled off the highway into the dusty Motor Camp.  But even here, the unstoppable spirit of change which this summer had unleashed sought me out and continued to re-order my life.

It would have made this summer a perfect cliché to talk about a holiday romance at this point.  I did meet a girl (being a relative of our camping friends and staying in a tent right next to ours, even someone with my feeble hit rate couldn’t fail to) and we spent a lot of time together.  We walked along the beach, and talked, and talked, and talked – way past my usual bedtime.  Although my arrested emotional development couldn’t fail to turn this overwhelming new experience into something resembling infatuation, it was entirely one-sided and completely platonic. The closest it came to ever becoming in any way physical was her grabbing me in fright when a startled cow loomed out of the darkness as we crossed a field from the beach one night.  But what these many hours sharing stories and experiences with a slightly ‘older woman’ did for me was give my tremulous self confidence the final boost it had so badly needed for so long.
Even through a mouthful of wire I could apparently be entertaining, and I glimpsed finally that there could be more to existence than the cycle of school, family life and homework which had somehow contented me for the past decade. I also passed School Certificate that holiday and Dad gave me my first ever driving lesson. On returning from Kaikoura I was barely ever found at home.  I was growing up at last.

Meeting up with my usual friends at the end of that January, I think they could sense the change in me, we were all changing – it was inevitable even for us.
But for me, that one memorable summer seemed the catalyst which transformed years of swelling emotional and hormonal critical mass into something finally resembling an adult. As chain reactions go, it was hardly the Big Bang but the strangeness and joy of it all encouraged me to write.  I kept a diary and I loved trying to describe all the new experiences and people I was suddenly encountering.  I’m still writing to this day.

Some thought always goes into an illustration - I'd been thinking about this one for thirty years!