Here’s another very interesting short film starring Daniela Flynn, who was the lead in the excellent short science fiction film Expo I blogged about yesterday. The Deep End, written and directed by Meredith Koch, follows a young woman in a mental institution in 1950s America, who glimpses a beautiful red butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, and the butterfly starts to become a symbol to her, perhaps even a guide to choosing between reality and fantasy:
Expo is a deeply moving, very emotional short science fiction film directed by Joe Sill. Boasting some beautifully shot visuals as it follows a working mother, alone on a dangerous industrial Lunar base, as she gets a message from home, with the worst news any parent can receive, that her seriously ill child has lost her fight against her illness. The huge loss is amplifies by her vast isolation, alone on the Moon, the Earth, home, her now deceased child, all a vast distance away, hanging in the sky over her stark Lunar workplace. Actress Daniela Flynn gives a powerful performance, conveying the loss and emotion even through her protective spacesuit helmet, to give this well-shot short a huge emotional punch:
On a long walk on a very pleasant, warm, bright day I found myself at the Dean Gallery and decided since the light was so fine I would go to the adjacent Dean Cemetery. I’ve taken a lot of photographs there before, but it is a very large old boneyard and boasts a wide variety of different memorials and tombs in this rather posh part of Edinburgh, and I knew I had probably missed quite a few on my last visit, despite taking dozens of photos (there are quite a few famous names buried there, and some very elaborate and beautifully sculpted memorials and some very unusual ones, including to a Scots born Confederate officer from the American Civil War – not what you expect in an Edinburgh graveyard).
And indeed I had missed a lot – in fact I will need to wander back some time to take more in – including this large memorial, a Celtic cross, which is richly inscribed with a very detailed history of the man and event it commemorates, Lieutenant John Irving, Royal Navy. Lt Irving was a member of Sir John Franklin’s famous 1840s expedition to find the fabled North West Passage. His ship HMS Terror and her sister ships HMS Erebus, became trapped in the ice of the far northern waters, with Franklin and many others losing their lives. Eventually the remaining crew were forced to abandon their ships and tried to reach a northern Canadian settlement on foot, but the cold and the lack of food would doom them. A later American expedition found the cold grave of John Irving and these explorers paid honour to their late predecessors by arranging for his remains to be returned to his native land, where this memorial was raised.
Like many a boy when I was young I had books on the great explorers and loved those stories; that Victorian era is one of the great ages of global exploration, when the Royal Navy not only patrolled a worldwide empire as a military force but dispatched ships on missions of exploration and scientific endeavour – Darwin’s voyages on the Beagle being one of the more famous of those great world-spanning missions. Such expeditions pushed back the frontiers of our knowledge of our own world, but many of them came at great cost, a reminder that exploration and the gaining of knowledge is often demanding and dangerous. I had no idea this memorial sat there quietly in my city; it’s one of my simplest but greatest pleasures to find little historical gems like this tucked away (and to photograph it and share it) on my walks around Edinburgh, like little presents my city sometimes gives me as a reward for being curious enough to look around. And it’s always worth pausing and looking around you, because you never know when you might find treasure…
Yesterday since it was so unusually nice – bright sunlight, actually warm too (no biting, Arctic winds for once!) – instead of heading off to the cinema I decided to go for a long walk with the camera. Just a few minutes from my flat is an old train line which is now a cycle and walkway, which then connects to the Water of Leith. Once a busy river used heavily for industry it is now cleaned up, wildlife returned to it, very desirable homes along the banks and offering a lovely countryside walk right in the middle of the capital city, trees offering green-filtered shade, the sound of the water, singing of birds, squirrels playing around (sadly I didn’t see the heron who is usually around, was hoping to get a pic but denied). I was heading to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but rather than go through the streets took this route – rather nicely as you walk along the leafy river there is a bridge over to a steep set of stairs cut into one side which take you right up from this pleasant walk and into the grounds of the gallery. Nice way to combine ‘country’ walk with visit to the gallery, all without leaving the city centre.
I came up the top of the high steps (yes, panting a little, I do a lot of walking but not as fit as I was in my cycling days, and these are very steep stairs up quite an incline) and out into the back of the gallery. Walked under some cherry blossom trees, finally after the unseasonably bad weather now groaning heavily with flowers and petals. And as I turn around the corner of the building to the front, walking past some of the open air sculptures, I see a very small, very young kitty walking over to sit in the shade right in front of the gallery by a Henry Moore sculpture. Not what I expected to see in the grounds of a major gallery in the city.
Then this rather gorgeous, beautifully tiger-striped little cat sees me and lets out a loud couple of mieows before running right over to me. As I kneel down she comes right up to me, head out for a scratch between the ears then tilts up so I can scratch her wee furry chin. Then obviously deciding I was suitably cat-trained she lies down, rolls over and assumes the ‘tickle my soft, furry tummy, you know you want to’ position that all clever cats (and dogs too for that matter) know to use to help train humans to do their bidding.
This was the first time in months that I stroked a kitty, and the first time I heard contented purrs as I tickled that tummy – even better, I could feel them, purrs vibrating right through my fingertips. I miss that so much without my own furry girls to give constant attention to, and I suddenly felt so much better about the world, for a few precious moments just lost in that simple happy feeling that comes from interacting with a trusting, friendly animal who wants to play with you and get attention and love. The simple things that can make us feel so much better…
She was a very young, small kitty, guessing no more than a couple of years old. I was slightly worried she might be lost, perhaps walked away from her garden and somehow got to the gallery but not sure how to get home. She did have a collar on so obviously part of a family (or I might have been so tempted to take her home with me to take care of!), but when I checked with gallery staff they said it was okay, she came around most days and was very friendly, often sitting with some of them for their lunch and going up to visitors with a loud mieow and happily getting attention from them, so I was relieved to know she obviously just comes from a nearby home to this spot on her rounds and wasn’t lost and looking for help.
While she was curled up she noticed the end of her own tail and promptly tried to grab it. Of course as she reached forward to grab it her back end moved and so did the tail so she couldn’t quite get it, but was having fun trying (reminded me of my darling Dizzy when she was very young, doing much the same when she saw her own tail and tried to grab it). Since my usual ball of wool cat toy (best fun for a cat, the old ball of wool) was at home I improvised, managed to pluck a very long blade of grass to use as a toy, dangling it over her head as she clearly wanted to play, and she went mad for it, up on hind legs reaching for it, trying to grab and bite at it and having fun. Eventually satisfied she went off for a prowl then eventually spotting some new visitors sitting down on a bench by the path she ran over to them, standing up on hind legs to reach their arms with her paws as if to say mieow, here I am, pay attention to me…
In the gallery I saw a modern exhibit and also some of the older works such as the gallery’s Picasso, Duchamp and Dali works, all very enjoyable, but nothing made me as happy as ten minutes stroking and playing with this friendly little cat and hearing her purr. I do miss having my furry girls badly, amazing how much they helped me cope with life and all its slings and arrows. I have been looking at a couple of the websites for animal rescue shelters near me, but they all want any potential owners to have a garden for the cats. Since I live three stories up in a Victorian tenement this is a problem – it wasn’t a problem with Cassie and Pandora though. When they were kittens we were renting my friend’s place while he worked down south, and it had a nice garden for them – but they wouldn’t go out into it. Once they had been neutered and had all their shots the vet said right, safe to start letting them out now. But they refused to go outside. They would watch me from the window out in the garden, but wouldn’t join me. I tried carrying them out one day, they ran around in little circles in panic, yeowling, then leapt onto me, digging claws in and holding on to me, shivering. Okay, you really don’t want to go out, I won’t make you. So when I bought a place a little after that I thought well I don’t have to restrict myself to a ground floor flat with garden for the cats… And this was fine for oh so many years as my furrykins enjoyed being queens of their own little indoor domain, quite content. But it may be a problem now when I finally get myself ready emotionally to go down to the shelter and talk to them about rehoming one or two of their kitties. Which is a shame as there are so many animals badly needing a new home and love and attention, and I really need some animals in my life again.
For the last two nights I have very odd dreams – also unusual in that I actually remembered them fairly clearly, probably because I woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night, slightly discombobulated for a few moments sitting up in the dark with the dream still foremost in my mind, before becoming awake enough to realise it was just a dream. Then back to sleep and the dream continues – similarly when I actually woke up the dream was still running through my head.
Last night for some peculiar reason I dreamed I was making a documentary – said documentary involved, for no obvious reason I can think of, old folk artists the Alexander Brothers who we were filming on a kayak expedition. This kayak expedition started along the Scottish coast but soon moved inland where, due to severe floods, the towns nearby had been utterly flooded and we all paddled our canoes through the streets and, at several points, right through several houses, paddling along halls and into someone’s deluged living room, filming the brothers discussing climate change and the pleasures of both sea and the new urban kayaking in Scotland.
No, I have no idea where this came from, I haven’t been in a canoe since I was in the Boy’s Brigade at an outdoor centre (and that wasn’t yesterday!) and quite why this documentary was about the Alexander Brothers and kayaks I have no idea…
The night before that I dreamed my work told me that they were expanding the store above into the basement, so my desk down under the depths of the Bridges had to be moved even deeper down. I was taken on a long walk down a dark tunnel even deeper into the undercity below, where after a good half hour’s walk from my old desk we came to a floodlit area in one of the deep stone tunnels. It’s a bit of a walk to your desk, I’m afraid, they told me, then also added that I would have to put up with some noise and coming and going as there was an archaeological excavation going on just a few feet from where they had set up my desk. When I woke up in the middle of the night the dream was so strong in my head I was sitting there for a few moments thinking I’m not letting them treat me like this, must call my union rep… Oh, hold on, dream… And like last night, when I fell asleep again the same dream ran again. Not unusual for me to have odd dreams, we all have those, and the amount I read it’s not surprising I get a lot of them, but very unusual to remember them so clearly well into waking. And really, what the smeg was the canoeing through houses with a pair of old folk musician documentary about??
Wolfsong is a very sad and yet beautiful and moving short animated film by Toniko Pantoja: a wolf mother tries to regain her lost cub, now dead and stuffed as the trophy of an uncaring hunter, so she can sing the cub to sleep, but alas the hunter follows her determined not to lose his prize…
Cracking short film by Nick Ryan, The German sees a the pilot of an RAF Spitfire locked in a duel with a Luftwaffe ME 109 during the Battle of Britain. Determined to claim the Nazi pilot who shot down his friend the Spitfire pilot pursues the fleeing Messerschmit, the two exchanging fire, evading, chasing, diving through clouds, to a surprising conclusion:
Having a look around Vimeo I spotted another short ten minute film by Nick, A Lonely Sky, a gripping short movie about the attempts to break the sound barrier in the 1940s, complete with an appearance by Keir Dullea of 2001 fame, well worth a watch:
This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog:
Chas Worthington, the mega rich young heir to an enormous oil fortune, known for his womanising, his extreme sports hobbies and other wealthy pastimes. The Great Pacific Gyre, a rotation of currents that creates a relatively stable spot in the vast ocean currents, where gargantuan amounts of (mostly plastic) garbage flushed into the seas slowly accumulates over years. What does this rich young man and a gigantic, floating garbage patch have in common? What about claiming it as a new sovereign nation?
Chas may lead the playboy lifestyle expected of someone in his position, but behind the scenes he has been deviously out-manoeuvring the treacherous board of directors of his own firm (who want to take more control from him following his father’s death), funnelling vast funds into a secret tech project to do with altering the physicality of plastics and planning to get necessary equipment to the garbage patch, while also making contacts in various governments with strong UN presences who he can ask to help international law recognise his claim to set up the floating plastic continent as a legal country with sovereign state rights.
In lesser hands this could be a pretty straightforward (and clichéd) tale of rich boy who has guilt because his inherited wealth came from hugely polluting industry and wants to make amends. Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo, however, offer up a more complex and satisfying tale. Chas is not a stereotype – yes, he has done the ‘rich kid stuff’, yes, he feels guilt over his wealth coming from polluting exploitation of the world’s resources, but he’s no eco-warrior. He has multiple reasons for what he is doing, only some of which start to become apparent in this first volume. Some are indeed driven by ecological concerns, although he has seen enough of the big corporate world to know they will only back necessary changes if there is a lot of money to be made in it, hence his secretly developed new tech. Other reasons may well include the need to stand out and be his own man, make something by and of himself, not what was handed to him as a rich heir. And he’s not always likeable either, cutting others short, assuming his best friend and assistant will follow him (and not thinking too much about how much he is asking him to risk, without really telling him why) and he is impulsive, his Texan blood making him perhaps too quick on the trigger (which will have consequences).
It’s not a simple plan though; however much he thinks he has prepared and done all the relevant research, this is still something no-one has ever attempted, after all. And then there are complications you don’t expect – pirates seeking hidden WMDs, the intervention of the US government, both legally and militarily, a mysterious group of Pacific islanders who seem to have settled somehow on the garbage patch. And then there is a gigantic Octopus, which the islanders think may be a sort of god, with which he starts to form a strange relationship. The massive floating garbage patches in the gyres of the ocean were first predicted in the late 80s and are now scientific fact (see here for more), although Harris takes some science fictional liberties with it for dramatic purposes, such as making it large and solid enough to walk on and even build upon a little (very carefully!).This also allows Morazzo’s art (which at time reminds me, in a good way, of the Luna Brothers) to depict some spectacularly weird, alien landscape.
But it’s a fascinating premise, a driven and complicated young man playing at both ecology and international politics and corporate business at the same time, in a setting which only exists because of our civilisation’s own wastefulness of material and uncaring methods of disposing of our unwanted rubbish. Clever and intriguing, drawing on several contemporary global concerns, not least pollution of our environment, exploitation of dwindling resources, divisions of wealth, power and influence and corporate-goverment interests and powers (or abuses thereof). This took a very different path from what I originally thought it might be, which pleased me no end (I love when a storyteller throws me a curve ball and hits be some something I wasn’t expecting) and I’m looking forward to the second volume. Plus, y’know, it had pirates and a giant (and perhaps intelligent and aware?) octopus, what’s not to like?!
Just realised I totally missed my own tenth anniversary – the Woolamaloo Gazette traces its roots back to a satirical email spoof newsletter I sent out at college parodying current events and culture in the early 90s (when the internet was still the internet and not even the web yet) and the name stuck when I started blogging in early April, 2003. I was just looking back through that month’s posts and I see multiple discussions of books, from history to science fiction, from Richard Morgan’s then brand new novel to a chat with Iain Banks who at the time had just told me his next book was non fiction, a book about whisky (and for once he was delighted to do the research needed for his writing!), there was a lot of movie talk, discussion about work and a large chunk of satirical posts about then current political events. Ten years of the Blog They Couldn’t Hang – and oh boy, did some rather unpleasant people (who I still think had their own agendas for their nasty actions) try to hang it and me, but it backfired on them in spectacular fashion, and deservedly so (with no small amount of thanks to many people who supported me during that upsetting period). So over ten years of the Woolamaloo Gazette as a blog and over twenty since I first coined the name for those satirical newsheets I emailed around the college and to friends in other institutions. Feels odd but also a little satisfying.
Last weekend went off with chum for drive over the Forth, ended up at Loch Leven (where, among others things, the castle on an island in the loch was once prison to that unfortunate lady, Mary Queen of Scots), then over to the Fife coastal route back home, paused for the traditional bag of chips on the seafront at Burntisland, then head for home. When you follow the coastal road out of Burntisland it goes up quite high and gives spectacular views across the mighty Firth of Forth, not least towards the wonderful Forth Rail Bridge, which rises from the waters like some Victorian steel sea beast:
That same vantage point also offers views of my home, Edinburgh, from a different perspective, viewed from the opposite side of this vast river which cuts its way right into the geology and coast of the land. In this one (if you click to go to the larger versions you can see on my Flickr pic) you can just make out Edinburgh Castle on the centre right of the photo, glimsped from the Fife side of the river looking over to the capital:
And in this view of the harbour, docks and new buildings around the port of Leith you can also see the Royal Yacht Britannia on the far left. Images are not as clear as I’d like but on max zoom shooting through a lot of atmosphere and over water so they were never going to be as sharp as I would like. Still a wonderful view to see parts of my city from that angle.
And here’s the distinctive shape of Arthur’s Seat, the summit and the outline of the Salisbury Crags, the vast extinct volcano which sits at the heart of Edinburgh and is visible for miles around, it and the the volcanic ridge it caused (on which the Old Town perches and the Castle sits at the highest point) and the other hills help give Edinburgh its spectacular background, like few other cities in the world. Also keeps you fit walking and cycling up and down all those slopes! That’s why we need so many pubs to take a little rest in… You can see from this why this area has been settled for thousands of years – Edinburgh Castle is an ancient and imposing fortress, but millennia before it was built our Iron Age ancestors – and probably even earlier peoples – had fortifications on the side of Arthur’s Seat, offering them security, natural fortifications and views across the land and river to Fife, and even down the coast to North Berwick. You can see from this why an early people would choose to settle there.
At last, very belatedly signs of spring here – walking home tonight it was a fine spring evening, glorious light quality, bright, clear. I noticed a lot of daffodils in full bloom, a full two months late – those should have been in bloom back in March but such was the appallingly, unseasonably cold (even for Scotland)weather for much of this spring they are only now blooming. It was so nice I went slightly out of my way to walk along the Union Canal on the walk home from work, and saw that – finally – the blossoms on the trees are starting to flower, again weeks later than they should (really they should have flowered and fallen by now leaving carpets of soft white and pink petals across the pavements). Normally I would shoot these delicate petals and the clear, blue dome of sky above in colour, but for some reason I felt like trying them in monochrome and actually I’m quite pleased with how they came out, which I attribute to the beautiful light quality more than my own eye.
This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog
Jupiter’s Legacy #1
Mark Millar, Frank Quitely
There’s been a huge amount of buzz on various comics forums and twitter in the run up to the first issue of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s creator-owned new series from Image, Jupiter’s Legacy. The first issue hit racks this week – was it worth all that eager anticipation?
I suppose the answer to that is going to vary depending who you talk to – some of my colleagues loved it, where I would give it a more cautious thumbs-up. Which is to say I certainly enjoyed it, but no, I wasn’t blown away by it and to be honest some elements are a bit familiar to regular capes’n'tights readers, with elements of Tom Strong, Kingdom Come and Authority springing to my mind as I read the first issue (which is not to say there is no merit here, as I said, I did enjoy it after all).
Starting in 1932 we see a failed financier, wealthy family ruined in the crash of ’29 and the subsequent Great Depression. But he is less concerned with the loss of wealth and power than with what the Depression has done to his beloved America, a country now lacking confidence, unsure of its self, many unemployed, homes being repossessed, people literally on the bread line. And in a dream he is called to a mysterious island which promises some form of salvation. Gathering a group of friends who unquestioningly believe his vision, they manage to travel halfway across the world to an island on no charts. We don’t see what happens there, but when they return to the world they are changed, garbed in strange costumes, with awesome abilities and powers which they pledge to use for the betterment of humanity, to help…
Fast forward to the modern era, and the lazy, indolent, self-indulgent children of that first generation of superheroes. They too are superpowered, but more interested in the trappings of fame that come with their powers – money, sponsors, drugs, easy sex, superheroes for the me-me-me, 24 hour celeb-watch media, than in fighting evil (as one smirks, hey, most of the good villains are gone anyway, the older generation lived in a golden age for those kinds of battles). Into this crashes – literally a huge battle with a tremendously powerful being which takes a whole assembly of the older heroes to take down (with little to no help from their offspring, despite requests for aid).
In the aftermath one declares that he is tired of fighting villains – the world they served for the last few decades has again slipped back into economic chaos and moral quagmire, people again stand in line to beg for charitable food help. Perhaps they should be using their powers directly, getting involved in actually trying to change things and organise them at the political leadership level. Or should they remain ‘servants’ of the people and ignore the urge to take charge and try and fix a broken system which repeats the same errors to huge human cost every few decades?
It’s certainly interesting enough (and it boasts that lovely Quitely artwork of course, never a bad thing), and taking element of today’s world problems and comparing them to similar ones from history gives it some relevance, while also working as a mirror to the simpler way superheroes were back in the old days, compared to today’s heroes. But as I said I kept feeling too many elements were familiar – the political aspects of the Authority and Kingdom Come for instance, or the celeb superheroes of X-Statix, as well as the obvious schism between generations which Kingdom Come did so well.
That said I still found it enjoyable enough, if not exactly gripping – and most superhero tales by their nature use and re-use elements of earlier genre tales, so I can’t hold that against Jupiter’s Legacy, really (and it is using some of them to comment on the changing nature of how we want our heroes). Besides it is the first issue and so it is early days – the question is what Millar and Quitely will do with those elements and how they mix them up into something new and uniquely theirs. I may not have been totally blown away with it (and to be fair it had too much hype to live up to, which is a bit unfair to be laden with so much expectation), but it did what a decent first issue should do: it introduced the set up (in a compact but efficient manner, no dawdling), the main characters, already set up some forthcoming lines of conflict and, most importantly, yes, it does make me want to read the next issue and see where the guys take this, and that’s what a first issue should do.