Saturday, 9 June 2012

Prometheus (2012):

Big things have small beginnings.
– Michael Fassbender, as David, in Prometheus (2012).


The enduring appeal of Prometheus may depend on how (and if) this movie is followed up by a sequel that answers all the open questions left at the end of this one.

The original 1979 movie, Alien, is an undisputed classic; good enough to have created a new species of sci-fi bursting from the tired chest of the genre, a thinking man’s sci-fi with a sweaty, gritty, working environment feel, albeit with a formulaic horror/thriller plot of potential victims stalked and slain down endless dark corridors, while others share an even worse fate: becoming hosts to a terrifying parasitic organism.
I was 11-years-old in 1979 and Alien was rated X certificate (the equivalent to today’s 18 rating). I had no chance of getting into the cinema – any cinema! – to see it back in 1979. Luckily for me, I matured early and when I was 14, I was shaving regularly and able to pass for an 18 – 20-year-old. Alien was eventually double-billed at a local cinema with The Entity, in 1983. With an unshaven stubble on my face, I paid my money at the box office and was allowed entry with no problem. Seeing both those movies on the big screen was a treat to a young movie buff. Back in 1979, I bought two movie magazines promoting the release of Alien. They were A4 sized and folded out into giant posters. The first was of the “Space Jockey” with one of the astronauts standing in front of it. The other poster was of the alien itself.
The Space Jockey intrigued me more than the alien: the colors and design of the fossilized skeleton, looking as if it had either been fused to its giant chair – or even grown out of it, the ribbed walls behind it, the sheer size and scale of the set that dwarfed the actors. Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger’s bio-mechanical designs knocked me out. In the movie, the Space Jockey is only in one scene, an enigma to the characters as well as the audience, but I always hoped we would learn more about it in subsequent sequels.
Thirty-three years after his original movie, director Ridley Scott, returns with a kind of indirect prequel that gives us into an insight into what came before the chest-bursting Xenomorphs and background into the origin of the Space Jockey. All the staples of the original movie are evident in Prometheus: the team of explorers landing on a barren world to investigate something they don’t have all the facts on; severe weather conditions assailing them as a precursor to the greater threat they’ll eventually face; searching down long dark corridors; creatures spewing corrosive blood when wounded.
Prometheus begins with a prologue sequence of a powerfully built alien humanoid standing atop a waterfall as an alien ship moves through the clouds above. He drinks a dark liquid that immediately affects a painful physical transformation. As his body shatters and bursts, he tumbles into the water and his DNA strands flow through the water, reconfiguring into a new life form. Like the proverbial Phoenix, his sacrifice results in birth of a new species: humans. The timescale then jumps to 2089. Archaeologists and lovers, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover ancient cave drawings leading to a star map and other evidence that mankind was created by alien “Engineers”. An expedition is then funded by the elderly and frail Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the couple find themselves aboard the vessel Prometheus with a team to investigate what may have invited them to the planet of LV-223. Another regular plot element comes in the form of android David (Michael Fassbender). The main difference being that the androids in the previous Alien movies were indistinguishable from the other characters until their true identities were purposely revealed during the course of the story. In Prometheus, David is conspicuously stiff and mechanical in his movements, cold and aloof in his exchanges, although he seems to have developed his own emotional responses through studying old movies; Lawrence of Arabia in particular, mimicking Peter O’Toole’s mannerisms, speech and hair style. David even displays pain at being reminded about his lack of humanity and soul. Another plot similarity occurs when the assumed invitation turns into something malevolent after they uncover the Engineers intention to wipe out the human race.
Questions are posed to the characters and viewers: Did the dark liquid the Engineers intended to unleash on the human race cause their own extinction? Why, after creating mankind, did they then choose to wipe us out? What will Shaw and David find as they venture to the engineers homeworld for their answers? As already stated, Prometheus is set on the planet LV-223. The original Alien movie (and the 1986 sequel, Aliens) was set on LV-426, so where did the crashed ship with the relic of the Space Jockey come from? Will this turn out to be the ship commandeered by Shaw and David? Was the original warning message that Ripley deciphered in Alien another message left by Shaw?
As a life-time fan of the Alien movies (with the exception of Alien Resurrection, released in 1997, which I hated and don’t own in my DVD collection), I’ve been asked if I like Prometheus and I do. I like it a lot … but with reservations about the seemingly intentional open-ended questions. That aside, cinematically Prometheus is a joy to watch, the special effects are seamless, performances are excellent and there are impressive set pieces, but the ending leaves too many loose ends hanging which would render the movie uneven without another sequel to fill in the blanks this one leaves.
The tagline on the Prometheus poster read: “The search for our beginning could lead to our end.” What will the characters (and us the viewers) discover in the next instalment?
For many of the characters like Kane in Alien, and Newt’s father in Aliens, curiosity may have killed the cat … but satisfaction brought it back. Time will tell how the next movie in the series satisfies.

Ray Bradbury – RIP:

I didn’t discover what a fine writer Ray Bradbury was before seeing the 1969 movie, The Illustrated Man, when I was a kid. Although I don’t write the same fantasy/sci-fi genres of fiction as Bradbury, I find myself empathizing with him in other ways: he was a prolific reader and writer from childhood, a fan of H.G. Wells and Edgar Allen Poe and a firm believer in the importance of public libraries in society, especially to those living on a budget.
Among his many novels and short stories, his other notable books are Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, which were also filmed for film and TV, but The Illustrated Man remains my favorite. It was also the movie that made me a fan of Rod Steiger and the beautiful Claire Bloom. The novel is a collection of eighteen fantasy and sci-fi stories, of which only three (possibly due to budget and running time constrictions) are included in the movie:

The Veldt … parents fall victim to a sinister virtual-reality playroom they have installed for their spoilt children;

The Long Rain … a marooned group of astronauts who have crash-landed on a planet with constant torrential rain search for the oasis of a warm ‘Sun Dome’, but will they survive the journey or perish along the way?;

The Last Night of the World … society rulers believe they have been sent a sign predicting the end of the world and decide to spare children the horror to come by euthanasia.

The main plot that bookends these three sections is the story of a carnival worker, Carl (Rod Steiger). During one particularly hot day, he is at first befriended and then seduced by the enigmatic Felicia, who covers his body almost entirely with “skin illustrations”. The difference being that these are not normal tattoos. Carl is a hobo, travelling the roads, when we encounters and tells his story to another traveller, Willie (Robert Drivas), telling him that he intends to murder Felicia for cursing him with the skin illustrations. At first, Willie is sceptical, but ignores Carl’s warnings not to stare at the illustrations too intently because they have a hypnotic effect on the observer, coming to life and recounting horrific stories. Worse still is the bare patch Felicia left on Carl’s shoulder, which predicts the future for all who dare to look into it – but the predictions are always bad; showing how they will eventually be in their old age, or how they will die.

Although the movie may be regarded as dated, especially with the 1960’s fashion trends and that era’s view of how futuristic societies may be, the acting is excellent from the three leads and there is a palpable atmosphere of suspense and threat throughout the movie, generated from Rod Steiger’s masterful and ferocious performance. The scene in which Carl turns to find Felicia’s farmhouse has suddenly vanished, leaving only his clothes draped on a chair still remains chilling.

However, final credit has to go to author, Ray Bradbury, who penned the original source novel that inspired the fine movie. Like many of the greatest authors, he was a true visionary.

I hope future generations discover and enjoy his work as much as I have.

In memory of Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012).

Friday, 1 June 2012

Boxer Hobo, by Johnny T. Noctor:

When self-styled professional boxer and hobo, Johnny Noctor, regains consciousness in hospital the world is never the same for him. Johnny has sustained a fractured skull and serious brain injury and there’s a question on how he got that way. The doctors assume that he must have fallen over while drunk, but Johnny suspects that he’s been viciously assaulted. Frustrated by excuses and bureaucratic resistance, he hits the streets again with the firm intention of finding his assailant himself. Author, Johnny Noctor, knows how to write with a sardonic and often poetic wit: “I’m Noctor, where’s the doctor? … I’m not robo, I’m hobo … Doctor Dunn, are you married to a nun?” But along with the humor, there’s a serious story being told. Intelligent, sharp, wry and reminiscent of Charles Bukowski’s tales from the hard, alcohol-hazed side of life on the fringes of society, Johnny shines a light on so-called friends who only know how to use, take and then discard, along with the ugliness of an apathetic society and corruption in a sport he loves and values, while he struggles against his own demons, works hard to be a positive role model to his children and survives the brutalities of life on the cold, concrete streets where death stalks invisibly in the form of The Nothing, searching for the next easy victim. But Johnny refuses to be a victim, and however hard he got knocked down, he was never out for the count. His resolute, never-say-die attitude has to be admired as he triumphs over adversity when many other men would have crumbled and thrown in the proverbial towel.
Life, especially when complicated by injury and the misery of addiction, can be the hardest fight of all.

Libraries ... an endangered species?

I’m known to have my ‘Howard Beale moments’, particularly when something in the news pisses me off, sending me into one of those: “Where the hell is it all going – or has it all just gone to hell?” rant.
For those who don’t know: Howard Beale (pictured left) was a character brilliantly played by Peter Finch in Sidney Lumet’s movie Network (1976), also starring William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty. Superbly written by Paddy Chayefsky, it’s a sharp satire on the TV industry and media manipulation of the viewing masses. Those lucky enough to watch that underated gem of a movie will never forget the scene where Howard Beale launches into one of his many rants and instructs the watching TV audience to: “Stick your head out of the window and yell: ‘I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”
I’ve felt like doing exactly that many times over the years.
So, as I begin my own ‘Howard Beale moment’, allow me to also get a little nostalgic and sentimental over libraries. What prompted me was a news story that angered me: the possibility of many libraries closing because of cuts to public services. Does this sound trivial? Compared with far worse things happening in the world – maybe so, but they still play an important role in the community and there’s a knock-on effect to future generations who will lose out if libraries are allowed to be closed.
I love libraries.
I always have.
There’s something about those places.
They’re quiet … warm … they have tables and seats … shelves in multiple rows … all filled with books … multitudes of books! These days, they also stock CDs and DVDs, along with the latest newpapers, magazines and editiorials … but it’s the books that make the libraries the places they are.
I discovered the silent magic of libraries as a young child, as I walked around in awe of all those rows of books, those volumes filled with words, so much knowledge and imagination stacked, ordered and alphabetized according to author … all waiting to be discovered, read and absorbed.
I’ve spent many, many hours in libraries, enjoying the peace, the scent of the books around me. The older the book, the more distinct the odour of the paper becomes.
I’ve spoken before about the value of reading, and I will undoubtedly speak about it again in the future, because there is so much value in it. It’s important and vital to a child’s education to teach them to read as early as possible.
Sadly, for those living on a tight budget, books are a luxury they can’t afford. This is where the value of a public library can’t be measured. Register with the local library, get a library card and you can borrow all those books – for FREE! It doesn’t get any better than that.
It’s ironic that the media celebrates the anniversaries of classic author’s births and deaths, but so many people may be denied the pleasure of discovering those authors’ books because they won’t have access to a library. Future generations, along with many people today, might also be denied that pleasure.
I was a teenager during the 1980s and back then it was a hard time set to get harder. Unemployment was high and set to get higher. Kids had little to do and nowhere to go because many youth clubs had been closed down due to public service cuts.
Sound familiar?
Luckily for me, I had a dream: I wanted to be a writer.
That dream kept me from hanging around the streets in the rain, with other kids I knew back then who just wanted to get into trouble. I worked towards my personal dream in the library, which became my own quiet haven from the distractions of the outside world. It was a simple and valuable pleasure, sitting quietly in that warm place, surrounded by so much knowledge, having free access to so much literature, both classic and contemporary, text books and novels. It was the perfect place to finish up school homework assignments, write my own stories, read, and just enjoy the peace. I watched people of all ages come and go. Parents with young children, loaning books for themselves and early ‘readers’ for their youngsters, youths my own age and older students using the library to further their education, adults and senior citizens, returning books, reading the newspapers, using the place to meet their friends, while they chose other books to loan. Local reading and creative writing groups also met there.
My teen-era haven eventually became my character Jack Parrish’s haven in my book, Wrath and Remembrance.
Jack uses the library for different reasons: to read up on past events in the hope to fill the gap his amnesia has left and to be able to relax while keeping out of the way of his violent, alcoholic foster father.

Feeling content in my solitude, I settled myself at one of the desks and hid away from the world for a while. – Wrath and Remembrance, chapter 9.

The recent news of library closures, again due to government spending cuts, or whatever other reason, is nothing new. I remember entering a library during the early ‘90s. One of the librarians was sitting despondently at the entrance with a counter in her hand, clicking it every time someone walked in. She was worried back then about the security of her job because the word was out that if there weren’t enough people actually using the library, [they] could use that as an excuse to close it, put those librarians out of a job, and redirect the money … elsewhere.
Funny how history has a way of repeating itself.

There is nothing new, except what has been forgotten. – Marie Antoinette

One of the recent arguments in favor of library closures is the invention of ebooks, but that seems like a lame excuse to me. With so much going digital, will every library in the world close up for good and be consigned solely to cyberspace? After all, not everyone can afford to have their own computers and access to the internet in their homes. Many simply can’t afford to buy books, so access to libraries is vital as a resource to many children’s early tutoring. Many of the elderly and disabled have travel restrictions, so a local library is also important to them. You can’t put a price on the importance a local library has to the community as a whole.
The voting public need to speak up, protest and hold on to the library service. It’s a raw deal for all considering that they raise taxes, freeze pay rates, raise the cost of living and what it results in is people are poorer, have to shell out more to the system and get less for their money.
What a great system!
If those in power do go ahead and take this service away, then the public need to remember it come voting time … and make sure it isn’t forgotten in the future.
All this vacuous talk of cost-cutting from fat-cat millionaires at the top just doesn’t convince me.
Time will tell if libraries survive.
To say that the possibility of public libraries being closed down both saddens and angers me in equal measure is an understatement.
Is the right to access to free literature too much to ask for?
Is the right to read set to be a privilege only the rich can afford?
So … to end with the question of if libraries were animals would they be an endangered species? … Tell me it isn’t so!
What a sad loss to society that would be.