Saturday, 27 October 2012

Skyfall Review

When you have a bond film the excitement comes with the discovery of the plot as you experience it in the theater  To give you an honest impression about this film, this franchise, which is as familiar to you as the nursery rhymes your grandmother told you, I have to avoid all mention of the story, the plot, the angle of attack, the nuance of character. I have to give you a feeling for the film that will allow you to say, yes, that’s my kind of place to be, or no….British super spy W.T.F? I don’t want to ruin the journey you get to take.

Bond films can be all alike. The Brits have a problem, they have a man they can call on. He can be vicious (Connery) Suave (Moore) Cartoonish (Lazenby), Rough (Dalton) or even ready (Brosnan). Only recently in the last three films has James Bond actually been a killer. Much credit goes to the writers of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and the latest, Skyfall, for making a Bond we believe could do you some serious damage, while at the same time being a human being who does things for a reason.

 So what can I tell you about Skyfall?

I can tell you those reasons are all there in Skyfall. Loyalty, Country, Anger, Vengeance and even Love are rolled into a film that is as much about the world of dysfunctional families as it is about espionage and action.
I can tell you Bond is damaged and has to face a threat like he’s never experienced.

I can tell you Javier Bardem gives a performance as the villain that is truly brilliant.

I can tell you it looks beautiful and despite some nods to the past it provides cinematography that is at the same time familiar and different to the Bond cannon.  Sweeping cityscapes and romanesque labyrinths sit alongside neon glass houses and deserted cities.

What you do notice about this film eventually is that it is not about the physical journey. It is about the personal one. Who is James Bond? The director’s use of reflection, close up, the minutiae of expression all try to capture what has been for so long elusive, the reason for Bond’s being.

And at the film’s conclusion you are still in doubt. But during your journey you will have seen moments, albeit fleeting moments, of the truth of James Bond. You will have connected. It will have been with a look, a movement, an action or a word that pass too quickly for you to be sure. Because even the filmmaker cannot unravel and make bare the closed book, the quintessential Englishness of James Bond.

But trust me. By the time the credits roll you will feel you know him, just a little more.

What you know? Well that depends.


Check out the rest of the blog or my latest novella here 

Friday, 26 October 2012

No One

The city is smaller than I remember it. A boy when I left almost, away, to sea, sailing across the wine darkness into the rosy fingers of dawn on that morning. The Queen and the court on the docks, cheers and sadness together.
The gates are rotten. The bronze bolts stick out at angles. It will be one more winter before it drops of its hinges.
I pass people in the street. Young maidens in the latest low cut dresses. They are plentiful, some of an age you would expect to be married. Their mothers walk behind them talking, the market vendors cry out half-heartedly, the words are impotent on their lips and fade away to disappointment. The girls giggle. As they always do.
I see the palace atop the last hill. Defensible, impregnable. But not now. It is not a large hall. Enough for a hundred and then on the far side a series of rooms built into the steep hillside in and around an ancient Olive grove. The bedroom is there, I must remember the bedroom.
The Cowherd, the swineherd walk to my side. I have been invisible thanks to their magic. Rags from dead men, the stench of cow, pig, the fields on me. My hair is loose, long and knotted, my hands gnarled. Or so it would seem.
‘Supplicants are at midday’ Eumaeus growls in his low country voice. ‘We must make haste.’
We shuffle up the hill. I see old sights as I go. The old women washing, the orange tree at the midpoint of the hill. It is bare. The undressed branches are the sprawled hands of a woman I would rather forget. Circe and her cold hard eyes.
We enter the hall. It is empty apart from the long table and the Queen, supported by a handful of men and women. From what Eumaeus tells me they are all suitors in one fashion or another. A tall man speaks in Queen Penelope’s ear while the women fawn and flutter. She is at the centre of a web, caught, yet uneaten. The tallest of the men extends an arm and I feel myself tense at the disrespect as he lays a hand on my Queen, the Queen I have not seen for those long years.
It is custom. Here in Ithaka once the king is dead his son will inherit, and if no sons are found then the kiong can choose his own son from the men of the city. If there is no king, all the Queen has to do is declare him dead and choose a mate, a new husband to share her bed.
Penelope has held on for ten long years. Power in her hands, but power to condemn herself. Telemachus is dead. My own son, taken by fever only a year into my journey. The hopes of a homecoming dashed.
I shuffle across the smooth floor. The herdsmen stand well back. Philoetius and Eumaeus.
‘Queen’ I whisper, staggering, playing to the crowd. The tall man, Antinous looks down at me as if I am disease come for him in the night.
‘Argh, wretch’ he squeals, ‘Queen, why do you allow these men into your presence?’
The woman turns to him and speaks with slow deliberate words.
‘You eat my food suitor, you drink my wine, yet you will not show respect to the people who bring it to you.’
‘Queen’ I gasp, ‘I meant no disrespect, I am simply a humble man who has fallen on hard times as he has journeyed home.’
‘You are welcome here stranger’ she speaks without looking at me and I am thankful lest there is some recognition in her eyes. I back away as Antinous seethes. His eyes are cold but his hands are soft. He is a man who talks of war while others die.
That night I return and sit at the very lowest point possible. Eumaeus and Philoetious wait outside, turning a rabbit over a pit fire and talking.
The hall is long and narrow. The single table crowded by the men of the island. The old and the rich, the young and the hopeful. The lady of the island sits alone, to her left a single wooden, driftwood throne. Beaten but unbroken the chair is a sentinel over a raucous group of suitors for her hand. The kind long since vanished to the War, not yet returned, not yet confirmed dead. His presence is everywhere, and yet no-where.
‘I can tell stories’ I pipe up. Embarrassment in my voice, a calm set of eyes in my skull. One or two of the suitors turn and look at me. They see what I want them to see. A dark haired dirty stranger begging for scraps from the plates of great men. They turn away. I continue to speak.
‘I can tell stories’
‘No one cares vagrant’ one shouts. I duck as a wooden cup splinters against the stone doorway.
‘I can tell stories of the sea’ more cries for me to shut up, more cries for me to know my place. More food is thrown. Some hits, most misses. I watch a piece of bread loop from the far end of the table and catch it. I stand upright and bite a piece from it. Chewy and covered in gravy and spittle, nevertheless, I have eaten worse. I think about the horseflesh, and then the gull eggs and the sea kelp and finally rotting carcass of some great beast found washed up on the shores of Phaecia. I wince as I chew and remember the dogs that danced about its rib cage and the way the fat had started to drip from the leviathan in the heat.
‘I can tell stories of the islands’ I cry above the noise, above the cacophony of the anger and irritation. The men all turned to me now, they all looked with hatred. I am unclean, yet I dare to speak. I bite again into the bread. My eyes fixed on the lady alone. More missiles fly at me, I duck and weave. A few strike me, but none is sharp enough to cause harm.
‘I can tell stories of the heroes’ I yell, ‘I know them all’
This really angers one who stands and reaches for his belt to find no sword is there.
‘Dog’ he cries, ‘I should whip you. ‘The lady has no need for your tall tales and hopeless hopes.’ 
I move closer to him. I stink of the fields and he is revolted.
‘Please master’ I look at the lady as I speak, ‘I ask only to repay the lady for her kindness with a few tales of the war.’
As I say the word they all stop. They all look and they are all as one silent. There is only one war. The war that their king has yet to return from. The war that means potential heirs line up to marry the powerbroker on the island. The Queen sits still and steady, waiting forever for her husband. Yet weakening, and soon to succumb no doubt to the will of some angry, hungry man who wishes to wear kingship upon himself with no knowledge of its meaning, of its price.
The lady rises and beckons me forward. I stop at the very end of the table next to those least likely to succeed in stealing her away from the absent man. The young and the befuddled sit, drinking to excess. They ignore me, but the lady calls.
‘What story can you tell of the war stranger’ she says. Her voice is like the morning when it catches a dewy olive tree. It is oranges and yellows and lightness and grace.
‘I can tell all of it my lady’ I say.
‘And how can you be so certain of your tales?’
‘I was there when the city fell’ I say calmly. ‘When the trap split wide and your brave king and the troops of the late lamented son of Peleus tore the city asunder, I was there.’
I stare at the woman, wondering if there is any recognition in her eyes. He has been practiced these long years in holding her own counsel, but perhaps she suspects.
‘And what is your name stranger’ she asks, ‘we must know before we hear your tales.’
‘I would gladly give it my lady,’ I say, ‘but it is now lost, taken from me long ago. Now, across the wine dark sea I am simply nobody.’  
As I told the tale that they wanted I remembered not the glory, or the heroics, but the realities of our daring plan. The horse left as an offering. Contained within five soldiers who had drawn straws to be with the cunning Odysseus. It was a risk. They could well have burned us alive. But luck, fate, some madness in a city tormented by hunger. Whatever it was they dragged the beast to the heart of their home, still arguing all the way about whether they should burn it as an offering in the city. We lay still in between the timbers. 
The city breathed only gently in the morning. The screams and orgy of panic from the night before had given way to whispers and weeping. The central square was a butcher’s yard. Barrows continued to come from all quarters as Diomedes supervised the gathering of corpses to burn in offering.
Agamemnon sat aloft on the King’s dais. His brother Menelaus stood to one side. His barely recognisable wife by his side: pale, unconnected to the reality of what was happening before her. There was only the occasional flicker of eyes searching the meat for a recognisable face, a shield, a crest. Her children of the last ten years had been thrown from the battlements with the exception of her eldest daughter, now wrapped in rope in line with the rest of the remnants of the Trojan people.  She had been lured away by her prince and would now pay the price of her happiness in full along with the rest of the city.
Every man that could be found was slaughtered, every boy gelded and every woman thrown in rope shackles. There must have been a thousand men piled on the blood soaked dust and more arrived every moment. The fire would burn for a day and the stench of charred flesh would no doubt remain in the air and on the stones for another ten years.
By the remnants of the horse lay the gelded boys. Some would bleed out, Infection would no doubt claim half within a few days. The rest would survive to become beasts of burden.
In the distance horns were being blown as the horsemen hunted down the remainder of the scattered Trojans. A few would no doubt escape into the Anatolian flats, possibly even as far as another settlement. Their ships were burned. Whoever had run would find themselves no better than if they had stayed. Eventually death would come to all.
I strolled through the city we had longed to occupy for so long and saw all of its splendour smashed and burned by the rampage of an army without joy or women for so long. Bloody patches where infants had been dashed against the light sun baked stone before being gathered up only to die in their mother’s arms a few paces later. Snatched away and thrown aside while the women were raped by an army that would show no mercy.
The streets were death now. The cold after a frenzy. The cleaned platter after a meal. Bones and loose flesh in the teeth of a conflict now at rest, digesting.
The late morning brought the wailing of the women. Like a north wind they were led through the city. Bloody and bowed under the yoke of their new masters. Split up and given to the captains of the fleet. They were chattel, the spoils of war. The dinner guests were regaled with the treasures of troy as I thought on this. My lips speaking of the gold and silver statues of horses and Gods they would laugh at while my mind thought only of the stench of dying and dead and the empty eyes of the woman they had used as the excuse for this carnage.
The suitors applaud as I finish my tale with lists of the treasures taken. I do not tell them of my sickness at the memories or of the callous horror. They want to hear about war, not experience it.
A man mentions Agamemnon and another calls for his tragic tale. I cannot bear to think of the man, but I will continue to relay what they want to hear.
They want to hear about the tragedy of Agamemnon. The king was a cruel man. His build short, stocky, without grace, without natural balance. He was a hacker of men, an arm hidden behind a chariot as it rode into the fray. His guard would die, but not him.
The dinner never heard of his lust for the Trojan lands, his desire so great he wanted to demonstrate, to prove to the Gods he was the man to do it, to take them, his resolve was such that he slew his daughter.
The tales differ depending on who you hear from. The romantics say she was spirited away the moment the blade touched her skin, his devotion proved the winds favourable. The truth is raw. Men who knew wept as they told me how the girl was dressed and brought to dinner. A dinner in her honour as eldest daughter. The mother Clytemnestra stood there beaming at her husband’s adoration for her beauty, the youngest siblings to one side marvelling at their father’s previous disdain become love and celebration.
The captains of the ships were there. The feast went on and then to the fire pit they went. Priests there, waiting for the sacrifice that would mean good winds and victory. Long robes, ancient beards, frail and uncaring, they knew.
Agamemnon called his daughter to him and asked her if she wanted success for their endeavour, she said yes, with all her heart. Then he signaled and the priests bound her. The storyteller recalled the tears in her eyes, the confusion, the anger and then finally the terror as she realised what she was to him. No more than a means to an end.
I want to tell you that she vanished, that she was spirited away to some far land. Her throat was cut as she screamed for mercy, mother held back by the sea captains, father watching intrigued at the outcome. Whether his sacrifice would be great enough for the success. The priests dismembered her and burned the offerings, removing the liver, blemish free to show the assembled horde who paused as if wondering who they were before a roar of triumph grew from whispers and they marched back into the hall for the rest of the feasting.
They left the mother and children sat in the bloodied dust.
They had not forgotten when the great king returned. He was welcomed as a hero. I sanitised the return, the slaves being pulled off the boat and passed to the troops for their delectation, the gaudy spectacle of his return to the castle atop the great hill. We were welcomed as guests and there at the gates to the citadel were Clytemnestra, Electra and Orestes; the children now grown into a man and woman who held each other too closely to be brother and sister.
As an honoured guest I sat at the head of the table and in the midst of the feast I heard Clytemnestra tell Agamemnon.
‘Husband, I wish to wash the blood and dust off of your feet, I have prepared a bath for you.’
Agamemnon was a lustful man and she knew this more than most. Seven maidens appeared, all barely covered wearing the thinnest cloth to disguise themselves, but leave their bodies unhindered.
‘The women of the best men wish to thankyou as well.’
The great king lurched from his chair and away with the women. I can only report what I later saw. When looking for the king to make my peace and return to the beached ships I found the bath. Deep set in the floor of the room. He sat at one end, for a moment seeming at rest in the shadowy light, attendants either side of him. I crept forward with greetings and saw too soon that his arms were not rested, but pinned with great bronze spearheads to the side of the bath. His mouth was stuffed with burned rags of his long dead daughter and his throat had been opened with the sharpest of knives.
Brother and sister, naked and shivering knelt in front of him as his life slowly drained from him. His breath drawn now through the great maw in his neck. In the shadows behind emerged the queen. Naked her flesh was tight against her skin, age had been fought by anger and she could have been ancient or a maiden. In that moment she was beyond all creatures I have seen.
‘You are no one’ she called.
‘I am’ I replied.
‘You are not the same as when I saw you last.’
‘As is our way, dread Queen.’
‘Your intent?’ Both brother and sister had stood; they turned and faced me, clutching each other like lovers. Bloody water ran across their oiled skin.
‘To beg your leave to return to my ships. Home is a long way.’
‘Will you see home?’ she asked, bending and stroking the dying man’s hair.
‘One who is hated will return to Ithaca’ I said and turned.
My last vision of Agamemnon was the bronze knife of his wife slicing into his neck: his eyes bulging and his last bloody breath rasping over his vengeful wife and children. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012


Below the introduction to a new Novella - out on Kindle this Autumn

‘Hello Garden’

The cover of the small book is blank bar the title; my name. It is embossed in old fashioned type, the letters dig into the creamy cartridge paper. Like the front page of a movie script trying too hard. A smudge of lipstick smeared across the front like a butcher’s thumbprint. The red makes me feel uneasy. An omen in a real library or a deliberate message here in the depths of the new unreal.
Then I open it to the greeting. There on the first page the words whisper to me.
‘Hello Garden.’ Two words are there, printed stark against the white page that doesn’t exist in the library that cannot be.
I can hear a voice say my name. I can hear her voice.
She knows I am here. The web vibrates and draws her in.
 ‘Hello Garden.’ The voice like dates and caramel.
I turn the page and memories I have forgotten rise like floodwater. I am condemned.

It had all started this morning so simply, so peacefully.

Forgive me, but I want you to understand before I go on, even in this prehistoric medium. Words on a page, typed with my own fingers: mechanical, abrupt. I will write it as it happened. I cannot think in any other way. So ‘I am’, not ‘I was’. That’s the hope for now.
In my present world to experience in the past is to be unconnected. Everything I feel, everything I experience I do in real time. If I engage it is immediate, if I learn it is as if I was there unless I am searching some long lamented archive with my fingertips.
My mind has been altered so my memories are experiences I access as readily as a file on a computer to be played again and again. Like a teenager’s favourite, tortured track repeatedly pounding from behind a bedroom door.
In the twenty third century the world is here and now and at once. The past, present and maybe future are concepts that are slowly dissolving from language and from understanding as brains connect to the ever growing homogeneity of humanity.
This is my lesson. This is my punishment. I have been left my memories to access as I please, but their recollection must be transcribed, hammered out as interpretation rather than real; my fingers bruising themselves against a typewriter in my personal prison.
I have been reduced, my thought process redacted. 
You could not comprehend it, not until you have experienced it.
To have the world in your mind and to then be separated; it is a death and I am in my own private hell.
All I have is my memory and I will give it to you again, until she is happy, until she sees fit to release me to the universe once more.
I begin again and hope.
I wake in the usual way. My internal clock rouses me from REM sleep at the optimum point. Eyes open, moist, alert: I see my ceiling: corniced in a Victorian style, but stark white. The newsfeed scrolls across the bottom of my vision in pale blue and the messages wait in the top right. The information sits deep in my periphery, floating icons an arm’s length away, unless I consciously retrieve them to my foreground with a flick of my eyes or hand.
The pale green bulb telling me I have messages flashes the figure three and I lie back on my Japanese style bed, using my fingers to scroll through them like a cat batting at imaginary yarn. Two from my finance manager who wants me to invest in books.
I chuckle without sound. As no such thing as a book has been printed in fifty years the first edition market has erupted and there’s a twentieth century First edition Rowling he thinks we can get a share in. Putting my resources in printed paper is as crazy as putting them in paper money. I watch the first video message. His face appears as if he were before me, floating in a hazy facsimile of a chaotic office. I marvel that in an age of complete disclosure he still sends video messages from a rundown apartment amidst piles of papers. He is good, but he’s not image conscious. I delete both and add a note to my calendar to call him next week before storing the memory of the call.
The last message has no return address, no content other than a time. I don’t need to look at a clock. An internal chronometer tells me all I need.
I have twenty minutes before potential new employers make contact.
More than enough time for coffee.
I stand, stretch and walk to the kitchen counter to go through the physical routine of preparing an espresso. My apartment is vast and without walls: white minimalist furniture and cupboard spaces seamlessly hidden. My kitchen is shiny white enamel with only the barest obsidian touches. The counter sits flush against the wall and a single stool grows organically from the floor before a small island that leaves me leaning on a view out across the New York skyline through floor to ceiling windows.
The espresso machine is new, I could operate it with a single command, but I remember the old way. I remember the steaming two tone machines and coffee houses with cranking baristas working magic as they produced delicate cups of foaming oily blackness: crema with the aroma of history and travel. It makes me think of a moment I can’t remember.
I sit down and stare at the jagged skyline raising the white cup and dark sticky wake-up to my mouth, breathing in the memory. This happens to me more often than not.
Our brains are connections. Synapses from recognising the smell run a signal all the way to a memory that has an association. For me sometimes the memory is just not there; saved instead in a data file, safe from outside eyes, freeing my mind for other things. Every time I smell coffee it hits one of those dead ends and instead my memory ends in a small warning message, a red dot appearing in my periphery. The person, the event that it wants to run to is set in a series of ones and zeros locked safe in a separate drive. For most memories it is just in the hard storage surgically implanted into my brain, but for some memories the external drives need to be used. Locked safe away from me, they are the things that even I don’t want to know.
 It takes a while to get used to. But the universe is just too big now. For any sane person to live and work and interact in the modern world you have to file away what you don’t need. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Woochi: Demon Slayer

A film with time travelling Goblin Rabbits trying to steal a pipe that will….I don’t know what.
This is Asian cinema at its best. A story built on eastern story telling. Young buck, wise old master, humorous sidekick (who may or may not be a dog of indeterminate gender) and a love interest with guts and gumption when needed most.

Following the apprentice Wizard Woochi (Don Wong-Kan) and his shape shifting Dogberry esque friend Chorangyi and their hunt for the magic that will make Woochi’s name and Chorangyi human.

Fight scenes of inventiveness that take the stylistic quirks of the later Matrix films and make them great, comedic timing and watch out for the reality of magic in the second act (21st century) as we find out what would really happen if you had to seek out a magic painting at two in the morning in downtown Pyongyang.

Betrayal, magic, drunken Taoist gods who can’t seem to get anything right and a downbeat upbeat ending that wraps the film up in the brilliance of the eponymous hero’s own imagination.

This is a film for teenagers, lovers of story and people who don’t take themselves seriously.

Big bag of popcorn.

Get it now