Art-house movies and I have never really been what you’d call the best of friends.
Same goes with historical costume dramas.
So what was I thinking taking myself off to see THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, which, as it turns out, is both art-house movie and died-in-the-wool costume biopic – set in 19th century London?
What was I thinking? Quite a lot actually, and up to the point of the movie theatre lights going down in that time-honored, sped-up sun-set kind of way, it was all positive.
AND THEN THE FILM STARTED...
THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN is really two based-on-fact stories rolled into one. The first centers around the 70 year long project – begun in 1857 – of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. In real life this monumental task – the equivalent back in its day of mapping every star in the heavens – was helmed by Scottish schoolteacher and self taught linguist (he was fluent in more than a dozen languages) James Murray, played by Mel Gibson.
The second story concerns real-life American Army surgeon Dr Chester William Minor – played by Sean Penn. He spent 38 years in the infamous English mental asylum for the criminally insane Broadmoor. While incarcerated there he sent more than 10 000 submissions to James Murray for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.
A film about a dictionary compiler was always going to be a tough ask shaping it into something marketable and even mildly watchable for the general public. The inclusion of the numerous psychiatric institution scenes was an attempt to inject some drama and pathos, yet this film remains strangely lacking in energy.
THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN manages to generate as much tension as a broken guitar string. It’s ability to generate emotion is likewise on a par with a 2am multi-folding-ladder info-commercial.
Every character with a speaking part is saddled with delivering speech-long, overly serious monologues that have you wishing time would somehow magically speed up. And it’s all set to a wearying, sappy soundtrack that alternates between full-on opera and a mega-blast from the strings section of the London Philharmonic.
Two hours with this movie felt like two days. Managing dutifully to avoid reading a single review before seeing the movie, I poured over a heap of them afterwards. “A film which ends up being only mildly more interesting than reading an actual dictionary” was a reoccurring lambasting quip from a number of paid opinion-givers.
Going into the movie I held genuine curiosity. After enduring 124 minutes of near unrelenting tedium, I came out with eyeballs feeling like this –
If all that sounds a bit harsh, I can agree – it feels harsh saying it and writing it. Though perhaps not as harsh as Mel Gibson unsuccessfully suing the production company in a valiant attempt to wrestle back creative control of the project, and thus saving it from the commercial and critical disaster it has ended up becoming.
Nor maybe as harsh as both Gibson’s and Sean Penn’s decision to abstain from doing any interviews to promote the movie, less they somehow convey the false impression that they in anyway approve of the final product.
I really wanted to like this movie. Yet I’ve concluded what would probably be far more to my liking is the 1998 book which the movie is based on. The Surgeon of Crowthorne was written by British author (and Oxford graduate) Simon Winchester, a journalist with more than three decades of experience.
As a final note I should add that perhaps I could have recognized the writing was on the wall with me and this movie long before I actually took my seat and the lights went dark. The theater I ventured to see THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN at (The Regal at Graceville) has history for me. Bad history.
The last time I lined up to buy a movie ticket there was 16 years ago. That sadly lackluster occasion also ended with the eyeballs madly spinning and the smelling salts having to be brought out to revive me. And before anyone tries telling me what a marvelous viewing spectacle the Bill Murray/ Scarlett Johansson movie LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) was, I say this…
Ps. Every cloud has a silver lining (except apparently the mushroom shaped ones which have a lining of Iridium and Strontium 90) so watching THE MADMAN AND THE PROFESSOR wasn’t a total loss.
Seeing this film set me on track to unearthing some pretty interesting facts and figures about the English language. You’ve borne the brunt already of my version of the madman. Now comes the Professor…
The English language passed the MILLION WORD mark back in 2009 (at 10:22am GMT on June 10th, to be precise).
As of this writing, there are currently 171 476 words in use in English.
The average adult knows the meanings of approximately 30 000 words.
3000 words will cover 95% of everyday writing. 1000 words will cover 90% of everyday writing.
The English language adds a new word every 98 minutes.
Arabic is a language reputed to have over 12 million words.
The word“dictionary” first came into the English lexicon in 1220.
Like an historic museum specimen preserved in resin, old-school board game MONOPOLY some how still clings to life in the mega-pixel NPX (Nintendo – Playstation – Xbox) era.
I haven’t played it in close to forty years, and with my own daughter turning 10 next year, the window of opportunity for me to do so is fast closing.
Yet there now exists a reason that might well lure me back to the land of cheating bankers, paper money and pushing a grey plastic token (the shoe and the wheelbarrow were always my two faves) around a virtual properties gameboard.
Recently my favorite (yet perennially struggling) football team released their own branded version of the game. Fans who purchase a copy at least have some chance of winning when they play. That’s more than can be said for the St George/Illawara Dragons – the team that’s inspired this latest version.
The Dragons may have at one time owned the world record for achieving the most consecutive number of professional football premierships in a row (11 from 1956 -1966) but that, as history buffs would say, was a long time ago.
If poorly performing football teams aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other specific-interest incarnations of monopoly going around nowadays –
The three biggest innovations to emerge from the Monopoly Universe in recent times have been the ‘Cheater’s Edition’ –
The ‘Speed Die’ version –
And the cashless MONOPOLY VOICE BANKING edition –
Oops! Did I say THREE major innovations? Naturally I meant four because how could one forget this newest addition to the stable –
And to finish off there’s this…
Ps. There’s always time for one last monopoly story, right? So here it is….
Recently my family and I holidayed at a mountain retreat (O’Reilly’s) adjacent to Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland. The idea of this place is for guests to get back to nature while unwinding and taking life at a more relaxed pace. ‘City-life detox’ was what we’d come for (some family members being more eager than others) and city life detox was most definitely what was served up. Hotel rooms didn’t have televisions, air-conditioning or internet access.
What they did have was board games. Lots of board games! If you asked at reception they’d prize open a cupboard and an Aladdin’s cave of old school favorites – think Trivial Pursuit, Cluedo, Scategories, Kerplunk, Battleship and even the immortal classic Trouble would come spilling out like presents from Santa’s sack circa 1973.
Monopoly was there too but regrettably I wasn’t quick enough off the starting blocks. A Chinese man grabbed that one ahead of me. An hour later I spotted him again at the reception desk with the same Monopoly game tucked firmly under his wing. I wrongly assumed he’d finished playing and was returning it.
I chanced a friendly inquiry as we were both waiting in line while another guest tried without success (“Terribly sorry sir, this is a retreat. None of the rooms have televisions.”) to secure a tv-equipped room upgrade – “Wow, that was a quick game”, I enthused. “Playing with the speed die were you?”
Using perfect English he set me straight : “We haven’t started playing yet”. From that deflating moment on, and continuing for the rest of our two day stay, a weird dynamic developed between this 6 foot 2 inch chap and myself. Since it was a 25 kilometer dirt track trip down the isolation of the mountain for anyone wanting for a few hours to ‘retreat from the retreat’, most guests tended to remain on-site for the duration of their stay.
Guests got to know each other a little more under these enclosed circumstances. You’d start to recognize the same faces at the bar, the pool, the reading room, the games room etc. Every time I’d spot the Chinese man – whether it was in the dining room or feeding the parrots in the outside bird area or playing the ‘Harlem Globetrotters’ pinball machine with the slow-twitching right flipper in the entertainment precinct – I’d feel a strange compulsion to ask “How’s the Monopoly going?”
There’s no polite a term for it – I was Monopoly stalking. Maybe it’s the first time it’s ever been done anywhere in the world. But that’s what was going down. Even the usually obeyed Frozen-esque chidings of my wife to ‘Let it go’ fell on deaf ears. I had to have that Monopoly game.
I never did get that Monopoly game. To his credit, the Chinese man from Room 36 (Of course I got to find out his room number! What do you take me for … some kind of rank amateur?) always responded in a polite fashion to my none-too-innocent inquiries (cloaked by first engaging him in some distracting innocuous banter) regarding “How’s the game going?” In fact, he never once so much as even flinched – “Great game last night. Loved it so much we’ve got another one planned for this afternoon.”
I don’t in all honesty think he cottoned on at any stage to the fact that for two whole days he was the subject of surveillance and movement tracking the likes of which covert Intelligence units from any elite special forces unit you care to name (but can’t because they’re so secret) would have been proud to call their own.
It’s better he didn’t know how badly I wanted that Monopoly board. At the end of our stay, when the girl behind the reception desk opened up the creaking cupboard one final time to put back the games we had managed to borrow, I quickly eyed the shelves to see if the object of my nostalgic desire had yet been returned.
No dice. That Monopoly game and I were destined never to be united – at least while I was there. As we handed back our room keys and settled our account, I imagined even at that exact moment someone in Room 36 letting out a muffled cheer of joy because their thimble had landed on Mayfair and they had the cash in the bank to buy it.
PPS. A feature length MONOPOLY movie starring Kevin Hart (JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019) looks set to hit theatres early next year but in the meantime there’s this –
PPPS. Still haven’t had your fill of MONOPOLY related stories? Oh alright then … better click HERE.
It’s no secret ParkRun and I haven’t always been on what you’d call friendly speaking terms. Holy smoke, I waged war against these guys two years ago (HERE)
That’s all in the past now. These days I’ve really hit my stride with this Saturday morning five kilometre weekly ritual fun-run. You might even say I’m cruisin’.
Three years ago when I first commenced doing ParkRuns, my running ‘style’, for want of a better description, looked not unlike this –
Now, I’m happy to report, I can maintain a steady rhythm that on a good day looks more like this (minus the collar and tie) –
Last year I completed 26 ParkRuns. That works out on average one each fortnight. That figure surprises me somewhat since I couldn’t get motivated to turn up to a single ParkRun the whole of winter.
For those who are interested in this sort of thing, out of those 26 runs my fastest time was 28 minutes and 3 seconds (November 9th) and my slowest time was 31 minutes and 36 seconds (January 12th). The vast majority of my run times were in the 28 minute range.
In the name of humbling comparison, these are the current world records for running five kilometres –
Male – 12 minutes & 37 seconds (set in 2004)
Female – 14 minutes & 11 seconds (set in 2008)
Need it be said both these time-slaying, cork-popping, chiseled in history records were set by Ethiopian runners. Ethiopia (population 114 million) recorded bronze medals in both the male and female 5000 metre running events at the Rio Olympics back in 2016.
But I digress…
My own humble record-setting feat – I’ve been doing 7am ParkRuns since 2017, with 2019 being my most consistent ‘run’ of completion – was achieved across a total of five different ParkRun locations.
The most scenic of these places was without doubt the ParkRun I completed while on holiday down in Tasmania. Here’s a picture of me crossing the finishing line, with daylight second –
Anyone who’s ever participated in a ParkRun will find what I’m about to say difficult to fathom. On the Tasmanian ParkRun I actually got lost. I’ll say that again in case anyone is thinking they’re misreading that – on the Tasmanian ParkRun I got lost.
This course was a winding dirt track ‘in the woods’ located right next to Risdon medium to maximum security jail for male prisoners. Among the giants of root and leaf and with the wind blowing with a passion it felt like I was in the land that time forgot.
Actually, what it really reminded me of was the feeling that somehow I’d found myself in a deep woods scene from the Burt Reynolds movie DELIVERANCE (1972). Thankfully I didn’t meet up with any escapees on the run or toothless hillbilly’s while moving through, unlike poor Jon Voight and Ned Beatty in this moment –
Anyway, there I was putting one foot in front of the other amidst the Tasmanian wilderness when all of a sudden the track split into two. Up to this point I’d been careful to maintain sight of the runner about 40 metres ahead but coming around the bend, suddenly my guide was nowhere to be seen.
A ‘go left or go right’ decision lay waiting for an unsuspecting Queensland first-timer and I literally had no clue. So what did I do? I broke my golden rule about never stopping for breath during a 5 km ParkRun and stood and waited. Within 15 seconds salvation was at hand in the form of a singlet- clad 50 something ‘running man’ who steered me on the right path.
And THAT is my peacetime ParkRun story.
The list below is taken from the website RUNNER’S WORLD(HERE) It chronicles unusual things real life joggers have seen, found or encountered during their runs.
PSS. Not into running? Then you’d surely better click HERE
PSSS. If you’re not into running but more into movies about writer’s click HERE
Love may be blind but marriage is a true eye-opener. If it’s end-of-year truth you came looking for, you’re definitely in the right place this week. On the eve of launching into the fourth year of life for this blog, that morsel of tongue-in-cheek wisdom may be as good as any to hang my metaphorical hat on and reflect.
After three solid years and 147 published posts on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK, it’s fair to say my ‘relationship’ with blogging has by now entered the marriage stage. Gone are the heady days when I believed with every cell of my double helix I was about to shape humankind’s destiny and set the blogosphere alight every time my finger hovered over the ‘publish’ button.
If I think back I’m pretty sure I may even have originally set out to create the funniest, wittiest blog site the world had ever seen. Pretty quickly that proved to be way too hard. Like, WAY too hard. In place of that what else was there to do but start serving up common banter such as what you’re reading now. Humbling to be sure but over the passage of time adjusting the scope and breadth of ones formerly lofty ambitions makes sense if you want to keep going. And I DID want to keep going. Still do.
With over 600 million free-to-access blogs in the world competing for interest, that, I can now appreciate, was always an amusingly naive, overreaching thought. But gee-whiz, the illusion and false-belief phase sure was fun while it lasted!
These days, again like a marriage, I’m fully awake to the idea I’m no longer running a 100 meter race in the blogging stakes. Now I’m chugging along more like a marathon runner with the occasional surge and one or two sprint finishes thrown in for variety. Under these road rules the challenge is trying to keep things fresh and fun along the route.
On that note, I’ve said it before and I’m not shy in saying it again – the day I start taking things too seriously around here is the day I break open the metaphorical cyanide capsule that dangles on a gold-plated chain around the slender neck of SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK and bite down. Hard.
Over the course of the last three years I’ve seen a number of my contemporaries take their last breath. Blogs have a lifespan like all other things. When the interest that once burned magnificently like a furnace flame has dwindled to a barely breathing wet candle, and, worse still, perhaps even assumed the status of burden, there is little else for one to do but slip away quietly and make way for another, freshly setting out on their own blogging promenade.
This year saw SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK set a new comments record (60) for an individual post. My interview with junior author Georgia Bowditch in August received a very positive response. 2019 also saw me reconnect with two old ‘mates’ – John Rambo and the T-800 Terminator with the release of long-awaited new installments in those two film franchises. With friends like that who needs enemies right?
Then there was the right royal pranking of the Nigerian scam artist back in March. You had it coming Mr Badenhorst or Catherine Bessant or whatever your name was! Those antics ran for a total of three posts and kept me and a few readers along for the ride entertained in a pay-back flavored manner for the duration.
What will 2020 bring? Mystery, shenanigans and rum’n raisin icecream are all guaranteed since they’re my favorites. For assurances of anything else you’ll just have to tune in to find out. Before then however it’s time to look back on the year that was SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK style.
Show me a person that DOESN’T judge a book by its cover and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t read books.
What’s meant by that old axiom about book covers is don’t judge a book solely by its cover. But what fun and exquisite eye-candy those covers can sometimes be!
All but two of the books featured here were first published sometime during the course of 2019. Korean writer Un-Su Kim and American born author Nisha Sharma’s books, both published prior to 2019, were re-released this year with updated covers.
I can’t vouch for the content and story of a single one of these books ’cause I haven’t read them but oh my, do I like their skins!
Ps. You want more 2019 literary lookback? Be my guest HERE.
Recently I watched an episode of a new UK-based true crime television documentary series called WHAT THE KILLER DID NEXT(HERE)
This blog post will explore details of the case that featured in the debut episode of this program.
Helen Bailey (1964 – 2016) was a British author who wrote both the TopazL’ Amour series of books aimed at 9-12 year olds as well as the Electra Brown series for a teenage audience. In all she had 22 books of short stories, picture books and young-adult fiction published in addition to several non-fiction works.
She was reported missing in April 2016; three months later on 15 July, her remains were found hidden at her home. Her partner, Ian Stewart, was charged with her murder and found guilty in February 2017.
In February 2011,Helen Bailey’sfirst husband John Sinfield drowned while swimming when the couple were on holiday in Barbados. They had been together for 22 years, and married for the last 15.
Her first book for adults, When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis(2015), was based on her Planet Grief blog (HERE) which set out her journey through grief after he died.
The video below was filmed four years ago and shows Helen Bailey talking about the release of her newly published book WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN IN GOOD BIKINIS –
The book also noted her subsequent relationship, beginning in October 2011, with widower Ian Stewart, a father of two adult sons. In an uncanny coincidence, Stewart’s first wife also died in mysterious circumstances, back in 2010. This death was re- investigated upon his conviction for Helen Bailey’s murder.
Helen Bailey’s remains and those of her pet dog were found inside a hidden second septic tank inside her home. During the murder trial the jury was told by Bailey’s brother that during a visit to her home (in the town of Royston, North Hertfordshire, England) she had joked about the septic tank in the garage being a “good place to hide a body”, and that the remark had been made in “full earshot” of Stewart.
Financial gain appears to have been the motive for the callous crime. The jury learned Stewart was the main beneficiary of Bailey’s £3.4 million estate, and would also benefit from a large life insurance policy.
Ian Stewart was described in court as a “greedy, wicked narcissist”. Members of Stewart’s former bowls club recalled how he was obsessed with money and extremely parsimonious: he accounted for every penny he spent or was owed and once caused a scene at a bowls match when asked to pay for a cup of tea he argued that should have been covered in his membership fee.
Ian Stewart will be 90 years of age when he first becomes eligible for parole.
Ps. Back in November 2017 I delved deep into another homicide case involving a famous successful author. On that occasion however the author was the murderer. Revisit that story HERE
The last time I watched a TERMINATOR film in a movie theatre Bob Hawke was Australian Prime Minister and George Bush senior was in the White house.
It takes some coaxing these days to get me out into multiplex land and when it happens, there’s usually some connection with the past. A new RAMBO film (HERE) two months ago was one such occasion. I’m hoping the just released, long-awaited sequel to Stanley Kubrick’sTHE SHINING (words I never thought I’d hear myself say) will be another.
The chance to cast eyes on the latest installment in the TERMINATOR franchise was likewise too good a thing to pass up. I’ll admit I stopped following goings on in this series after the first two films (I rank the original THE TERMINATOR (1984) in my list of Top 30 all-time favorite films. I also consider it, unusually perhaps, as the most underrated romance story of 20th century cinema.
This latest addition to the Terminator stable was also an opportunity to see reunited for the first time in almost thirty years the original team of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton again playing Sarah Connor and director James Cameron, who serves as both co-story creator and co-producer this time ’round.
Speaking for the herd, I’ll pronounce TERMINATOR: DARK FATE ‘decent enough’ without ever going close to spectacular. 99 out of 100 movies made and watched never get within the electrified-fence perimeter of ‘spectacular’ so that in itself is certainly no failing.
But there are definite ‘problems’ with this film that have prompted some hard-to-please critics to label it as dull and lackluster. I’ll call them ‘flaws’ and if by chance you happened to be looking for a list, you’ve come to the right place.
Nearly thirty years ago, the at-that-time newly conceived digital morphing technology that allowed a cyborg assassin to get blasted square in the face with a shotgun and have the wound magically heal over before audiences’ eyes was both-barrels completely mind-foozling.
But three decades on when more or less the identical same film technology is used (the only difference being the liquid metal is now colored black compared to it’s circa ’91 silver appearance) to heal over bullet wounds, but to far less effect and far less sparingly than back in T2 time, the result is inevitably way more diluted.
The second major obstacle the film poses for audience enjoyment lies within the reprised character of Sarah Connor (played with a detached been-there-seen-that demeanor by 63 year old Linda Hamilton).
Where at one time the once humble waitress character who grew to become the embodiment of formidable female empowerment, channeled via a reluctant hero pushed too far and forced by circumstance to decisively and spectacularly ‘step up’ – in much the same way Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley character from the Alien movies did back in the same era – DARK FATE forces it’s audience to endure the company of a perpetually foul-mouthed, sarcastic, cynical and embittered warrior (what a lifetime of fighting will do to most people) who definitely comes across as though she’s fought one too many battles.
This hate-filled and at times downright arrogant matriarch bent on future-shaping and past-correcting revenge has, by this 6th movie, now transformed into a person who, frankly speaking, is somewhat of a melancholic downer to spend extended time with.
I’ll admit this one is less a flaw and more personal preference. Because of the negative tropes and stereotypes associated with Mexican/hispanic movie characters (drug cartels, gang members, maids, unwed mothers etc) I tend to shy away from stories that center themselves in that territory (an exception being the Siacario films which I enjoyed, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word given the ultra-heavy nature of both those movies).
DARK FATE boasts both a Latino heroine and no less than a Latino terminator, plus all the action takes place in Mexico city. U.S/ Mexico border patrols, border crossings and detention centers all feature heavily. White characters are in such short supply Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on more than one occasion referred to as ‘Gringos’. A similar phenomena made itself felt in Stallone’s most recent Rambo installment (HERE).
Maybe I should just be thankful the scriptwriters had the good sense not to force the Latino Terminator (played by American-Mexican actor Gabriel Luna) to utter Arnie’s famous line from T2 – “Hasta la vista, baby”.
No TERMINATOR sequel has ever come close to matching the sublime alchemy of James Cameron’s original 1984 masterpiece, in my eyes, for the simple fact that that first movie combined what I (but probably few others) regard as one of the best love stories of modern cinema with face-caving, next-level action. That’s a very rare mix that gets done well let alone as first-kiss unforgettably as T1.
TERMINATOR 2 featured at it’s heart a different kind of love – the maternal kind felt by Sarah Connor for her son John – that likewise assisted that movie to luminous and bankrolled heights. Since then however, poignant moments have been few and far between in the concussive TERMINATOR series.
DARK FATE is non-stop action to the point of repetitiveness. And when the ‘catch your breath’ moments do come, shoehorned in-between the almighty body-slamming battle set pieces, they’re full of dry exposition and back-story.
Throw in a distinct lack of suspense and tension, not to mention the complete absence of even the faintest trace of the quasi-noir atmosphere that helped make the original movie such a stone cold classic, and it’s no wonder some opinions of this film have it as, at best, a meek palate cleanser.
What no doubt comes across as poking and negativity on my part is an unfortunate by-product of my need to try to put into words why, despite a pretty fair attempt, DARK FATE comes across a little hollow and might be seen as confirmation that a tried and true formula is starting to show its age.
To at least partially atone for that I will end on a positive. There’s a flash-back scene about 15 minutes in that is so cleverly done it’s worthy of mention. Shortly after the apocalyptic events of Skynet-engineered Judgement Day have been averted, a young Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor) and a completely back-in-the-day-buff Schwarzenegger (T-800 Terminator) play out a scene on a Guatemalan beach.
Since all the actors are circa early-nineties young again I figured this was footage filmed at some point during T-2 (1991) that never made it into the final film and had been rescued all these years later from its relegation to the cutting room floor (to use a pre-digital term if ever there was one) and inserted here into DARK FATE.
Not even close, as I was to discover. I learned after watching the film that this re-imagined scene using younger versions of the now much more aged actors was all done using CGI. That is truly fall-to-your-knees-awesome film making. And soooo 21st century!
Ps. In the audience of the session I attended for DARK FATE were many people who were sitting alone. A number of these patrons were women well into their seventies. I noted one munching on cucumber sandwiches throughout the screening.
When the lights came on at the end several made their way down the carpeted steps with an uneven gait born of dinky hips. It was quite the eye-opener to behold the diversity and age span of folk who one might not necessarily first think of as being your garden variety TERMINATOR fan.
Pss. For a REAL time travel experience back to two years ago, click HERE.
Psss. If it’s gold standard analysis you crave look no further than the video below. The guy that put it together has used Sherlock Holmes style sleuthing skills not to mention countless hours of time tracking down key information references across the first five TERMINATOR films to assembly complex timelines documenting key events.
DARK FATE may have had its missteps but this video deserves no less than a Pulitzer Prize for film analysis. At 24 minutes it’s intended for die-hard fans but the screenshots below it should give some idea of the level of documented research on show.
I’d been trawling through lists of the world’s most livable cities, searching, very hard, as it turned out, for one that listed my city – Brisbane – Australia.
By way of background, allow me to share with you the knowledge that as of 2019, our world now plays host to 551 cities. Here ‘City’ is defined as a place populated by at least one million residents.
Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s’s more recognized, more favored and more glam city cousins reliably feature somewhere in lists of this type. But Brisbane? What were the chances of a city (population 2.3 million) that less than a decade ago was famously described as a no-frills ‘Wednesday Waitress’ of a travel destination getting a gong alongside the likes of ‘fabulous on stilts’ powerhouses like New York, London, Tokyo and Dubai?
Well, like I say, it took some trawling but eventually I did find a list that had the good sense or generosity of spirit – depending on which way you want to look at it – to list my home city. Indexes that stretched to a mere 20 or 30 listings were definitely not the sort of rarefied-air-territory to go looking for a more modest, more functional, less… how to put it… ‘glittering’ city experience the likes of Brisbane.
It counts all the way to 100. Brisbane comes in 51st position.
I was born in this city. And apart from three years living in Tokyo – Japan and two years residing on a small island in the Torres Strait, I’ve lived my life in this city. I won’t bore you with tales of how I’ve watched the place grow. But I will say I own two great books that brilliantly chronicle that growth.
Taking their cue from an archive project called LOST LONDON(HERE) these two impressive volumes, put together by the The Royal Historical Society of Queensland (HERE) boast over a thousand classic photos of old vintage Brisbane.
Yet my favorite photo doesn’t come from either of these books. A number of years back I saved a clipping from the local newspaper. It shows a young boy (Lionel Bevis) guiding his wooden goat-cart along a Brisbane street. Corner shops can be seen in the background and an old-style jalopy is about to pass the boy at a bend in the wide road. The photo was taken in 1947. I’ve never seen it published or appear anywhere again, in any format including the internet.Ilove everything about this photo.For me it is a bona-fide classic!
In addition to works of non-fiction, Brisbane has also been the inspiration for substantive works of fiction over the years, these novels among them –
And now comes another…
Former Brisbane-based author Tony Cavanaugh – (HERE) – who now resides in Sydney – has penned BLOOD RIVER. The book is being described as the most distinctly Brisbane novel published for some time.
Replete with iconic locales such as the Breakfast Creek Hotel, Brisbane private schools, gracious suburbs such as Ascot and old Queenslanders (houses), the author has described his literary creation in interviews as ‘a love letter to Brisbane’.
Considering the story is about a serial killer, it is a love letter that includes blood, profanity and murder.
And if by some small miracle, no-frills, bells or whistles local council websites happen to be your thing, you’re in huge luck HERE.
Ps. And while we’re off the topic of cities and back onto the topic of books and writing… I’ve been wanting to share this cartoon now for some time, ever since I stumbled across it browsing creative writing teacher Bridget Whelan’s site (HERE) It really is so spot on…
If it exists, I’m pretty sure I know where to find it.
Naturally that’s where every other odd, fandangled and rarely thought of item is slapdashedly holed up these days – your local trash or treasure thrift shop.
You might have to search a little for it but with any luck and some dedicated fossicking, the sought-after item from a land time forgot will glide magically into view – positioned right alongside last century’s hand tools, mismatched beige china plates by the hundred, dusty relics of what previous generations considered sporting equipment and naturally that ‘ol family favorite… the messily stacked and completely ramshackle collection of pre-loved but still-in-the-original-box jigsaw puzzles – every one of ’em with missing pieces… of course.
My local is not so much a shop as it is a depot. Cavernous and musty are the order of the day. Once inside, and having managed to sidestep the two life-sized female mannequins guarding the entrance-way – mannequins that looked for all the world like the one sharing crazy-pants Howard Payne’s apartment in the movie SPEED(1994) – I fairly predictably headed straight for the second-hand books section.
After some time browsing…
and finally hoisting the white flag of surrender to concede there was nothing of interest here on this day for me, I quickly changed tact and set myself the challenge of finding the oldest book there.
The first few I inspected were relics from early eighties publishing. “Nah”, I thought to myself in a superior tone, “I can do better than that.” It wasn’t long before I was in 1970’s territory and then, finally, like a vision of battered and aged loveliness before my eyes, titles from the swinging 60’s began appearing before me.
One of these I ended up buying for thirty cents. THE STORMS OF SUMMER is the 2nd novel (his first novel, published the same year as this one, was apparently described by Ian Fleming as “one of the outstanding thrillers of 1960”) of British author John Iggulden. Set in Australia, it’s a coming of age story about a young architecture student.
The inside cover reveals the publisher was CHAPMAN & HALL LTD (London). If that name doesn’t ring a bell then know this – these guys were the publishers for Charles Dickens – confirming this book does link hands across the mists of time with the ancients (ok, the slightly modern 19th century ancients).
For the curious, the opening sentence of this 351 page literary time capsule reads –
“At Ashford, when the other passengers climbed down from the service car and stretched their legs while they waited for their dusty luggage to be handed down from the rack on top, Charles Desborough realised that he must be the only one travelling through to the Inlet.”
And for the speed readers, the concluding sentence is this –
“You’re not like that, Charlie,” Tanie said again, not quite understanding all that he had meant.
But I wasn’t done just yet…
For I was about to hit, what in archaeological circles is known as ‘pay dirt’.
Real history and a TRUE discovery were about to be unearthed.
It was to come in the form of a spectacularly well-worn copy of a novel by English writer Evelyn Everett-Green (1856 – 1932), who is recorded as having written more than 300 books in her lifetime.
SWEEPIE tells the story of the adventures of a little girl, a lot of which seem to take place in a garden. It’s 243 pages long and was first published in 1918. I don’t know if the copy I bought on this day is a first edition but I’m going to say it is. That makes this book 101 years old! That also makes this book the oldest thing I own.
And just because I did it with the previous book here’s the opening sentence of SWEEPIE –
“I will not, then!” said Sweepie.
And the closing one –
“I’m going to be her chum now and until I’m grown up, and then I’m going to marry her, so that we can live happy ever afterwards; and the name of that ripping little pal of mine, who’s worth her weight in gold, is just – Sweepie!”
Adding to the find of this book (which has a wizened face like an overstored red apple) is a handwritten inscription pasted on the inside front cover –
Central State School – Maryborough – 1930 – Presented to Betty Leityee for Proficiency Grade IV
And that friends, is just one reason every now and then I choose to imbibe from the bottomless but still warm coffee mug of yesteryear. Geez, when it comes right down to it…
The character of John Rambo has been a guilty pleasure of mine from the beginning.
Not from the VERY beginning, mind, since that would rewind us all the way back to 1972. That was the year the overwrought Vietnam War veteran named ‘Rambo’ (the addition of a first name came courtesy of the films) first came to public attention via author David Morrell‘s debut novel. (Morrell has since gone on to write a great many other books, including 27 more novels HERE ).
Yet John Rambo and I have had what people would rightly label a thing since the day the first movie came out. I remember walking out of the cinema after seeing FIRST BLOOD and feeling like I’d just been put through an emotional eggbeater. It was brains-into-putty affecting for me. I was 16 years old.
By the time the second movie came out three years later I was a University student. Amongst some members of the lentil-eating, left-leaning crowd I was rubbing shoulders with at that time, admitting you were a fan of monosyllabic, warmongeringJohnRambo was enough to have someone play darts with a picture of your face and run you out of town.
Three years on again and with the third movie about to hit cinemas, I was by that time writing film, music and theatre reviews for a handful of small press publications. I remember sitting in a preview-screening theatrette with a handful of very serious-looking television and newspaper critics of the day.
At the end of the screening I mustered the courage to approach a newspaper film critic who was at that time Brisbane’s answer to Pauline Kael . I sought her opinion on whether she considered films like RAMBO 3 could be held responsible for inspiring real-life violence, a debate that was in full swing at the time.
I can’t remember what she said but I know it was very short. No doubt I’d been hoping to claim the privilege of an extended conversation with one of the heavyweight opinion-shapers of the day. Instead she blithely swatted me aside like the garden-variety, over-reaching young upstart mosquito she very obviously took me for.
No matter. I got to keep some impressive-looking glossy press kit pics of Stallone going hell for leather on his .50 cal mounted machine gun. Come to think of it, I wonder what ever happened to those prized pics? For a long time they were amongst my most treasured possessions. Draw a breath while I say it for you – there’s no accounting for taste. Right? Yeah, especially mine. Back then!
Before I detail my thoughts on the latest incarnation of Rambo to hit multiplexes worldwide – having gone to see it yesterday – I will document the official body counts for all five films in addition to my personal rating for each.
RAMBO: LAST BLOOD has attracted it’s share of one star reviews (HERE)(HERE) – (HERE) – (HERE) – (HERE). That’s about as unsurprising as hearing an American combat soldier during the Vietnam war complain their M-16 rifle jammed. The Rambo franchise has always copped a good face-smashing from critics.
The latest film, however, has the distinction of also being publicly disowned by no less an individual then the person who first created the character of John Rambo, author David Morrell. The renown writer has said he is embarrassed to have his name associated in any way with the film. In interviews (HERE) he has been quoted as saying the kindest thing he could say about the film is ‘it’s first two minutes were promising.”
Overall, I found RAMBO: LAST BLOOD to be a solid actioner. The problem with it is that the action – or to be more precise rough brutal justice – that’s dished out is virtually indistinguishable from the types of comeuppance metered out to bad guys by just about every other gold standard film vigilante hero you can name.
The type of savage punishment inflicted on the badder-than-bad hombres in RAMBO: LAST BLOOD could just have easily been at the hands of Bruce Willis resurrecting his John McClane character from the DIE HARD movies.
Or perhaps Liam Neeson going through his paces in another TAKEN. Denzel Washington would have been another actor easily up to the task with his Robert McCall persona from THEEQUALIZER series. Hell, throw them all in if you like – Clint ‘GRAN TORINO‘ Eastwood, Charles ‘DEATH WISH’ Bronson, even my old mate Keanu ‘JOHN WICK‘ Reeves.
VIGILANTES R’ US
Will the realJOHN RAMBO please step forward?
Point is RAMBO:LAST BLOOD is the least ‘military’ of all the Rambo films and much more like a mostly mechanical-feeling, by-the-numbers civilian revenge flick. By stark contrast, the distinction of the first movie was it had soulful moments – lots of soulful moments.
From the opening when Rambo’s told by the mother of his war buddy Delmore Berry he’s died the previous summer from Agent Orange induced cancer to Stallone’s final tear-splattered speech at the end before he reaches, child-like, for the embrace of father-figure Colonel Trautman (a part originally intended for Kirk Douglas but played sublimely by Richard Crenna), FIRST BLOOD (1982) was a movie infused from start to finish with what another character made famous by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa, would have described as ‘Heart and Soul’.
In it’s place in this latest outing we’re delivered buckets of blood and limb-tearing violence and cruelty the likes of which both Michael Myers (HALLOWEEN) and Jason Vorhees (FRIDAY THE 13TH) would be proud to call their own.
The R-rating is well and truly deserved. This is Rambo not just sticking in his signature serrated-edge hunting knife into his enemies but also twisting the blade. Then twisting some more.
In one scene, one of the Mexican drug cartel cutthroats that’s just fallen through a hidden trap-door and well and truly impaled himself on a bed of razor-sharp punji sticks is than further obliterated by a full 30 round magazine of bullets fired in hate by Rambo‘s Colt M16A1 machine gun.
Overkill was never the way of a trained special-forces soldier like John Rambo. Yet despite all the vengeance-seeking, LAST BLOOD remains strangely emotionally flat for just about all of its running length.
The only real nod given in the film to Rambo’s distinguished military background and training, apart from the HOME ALONE-style traps he sets for his pursuers back at his horse ranch/farm in the film’s finale, is the inclusion of the network of underground tunnels he has installed on his farm, presumably as some type of hobby-amusement to keep boredom at bay.
This part of the film reminded me of one of the best books I’ve read on the Vietnam War. THE TUNNELS OF CU CHI is a truly fascinating account of the discovery of a network of tunnels around Saigon during the Vietnam War and the resulting underground fighting between Viet Cong guerrillas and American special forces for control of those tunnels.
Since the soldiers who were selected to go down into those man-made tunnels on missions to hunt-down enemy Viet Cong soldiers – amid snakes, rats and booby-traps – were of necessity small-framed and wiry men, I always pictured myself as a ‘tunnel-rat’ in my imaginings about the Vietnam war. Ooops… digressing there!
As solid a civilian-themed action/revenge film LAST BLOOD is, it’s obviously not the military-hero film some fans of the series had been hoping for. In seeking to understand that mismatch, it helps to delve into some of the background development of the story. It begins with the myriad of rewrites that ensued after Millennium Films originally green-lit the movie way back in August 2009 with Stallone set to write, direct and star. (Rambo: Last Blood is directed by American Adrian Grunberg).
After years of on-again-off-again announcements, stalled meetings, creative differences and funding shortfalls, in 2015 Stallone and Rambo creator David Morrell re-developed the story for Rambo V; the actor wanted a ‘soulful journey’ for the character that the author described as a ‘really emotional, powerful story’.
Stallone pitched the idea to the producers, but they wanted to proceed with a human trafficking story instead (this is the central plot that is indeed the focus for Rambo: Last Blood) prompting Stallone and Morrell to abandon it.
In October 2015, Stallone pondered on the possibility of a prequel, stating: “It’s intriguing to find the whys and wherefores of how people have become what they are. The traumas, the loss and the tragedy of being in Vietnam would certainly be a great challenge for a young actor, and it would be ironic that Rambo directs younger Rambo having played it for twenty years plus”.
In 2016, Stallone revealed that Rambo V was no longer in production. Principal photography for the movie that eventually did get made began in October of last year in Bulgaria.
Despite the end-of-the-line sounding name, there is genuine hope that Rambo: Last Blood may not be the last audiences see of the veteran film war hero.
During this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Stallone said he would continue portraying Rambo if the fifth film succeeded. Only a few weeks ago Stallone confirmed that he has plans for a prequel to the series. Although he would not reprise the title role, he was quoted as saying he would like to explore who Rambo was before the war:
I always thought of Rambo when he was 16 or 17 – I hope they can do the prequel – he was the best person you could find. He was the captain of the team; he was the most popular kid in school; and the war changed him.
A character study movie of that ilk is one I would see as a worthwhile addition to the franchise.
IT’S A FILM I’D LOVE TO SEE MADE.
Ps. The guy in this video rates the Rambo films in the exact order of quality I do. Coincidence? Or can I finally stop looking for my film critic soul-mate? Either way, for the final word on John Rambo check this out …
Pss. Did I say final word? Of course I meant this would be the final word…
FIRST BLOOD, the novel written by David Morrell, may have come out in 1972 but here’s something I bet you didn’t know. Another novel, titled THE FIRST BLOOD, was published the year before that in 1971.
As well as being a comic book artist, American author Lou Cameron (1924 – 2010) was indeed a prolific writer, with more than 300 books bearing his name.
His work usually boasted muscular, no-nonsense prose through a prism of wry cynicism, sharp observation and a signature combination of gusto with pulp-style gritty realism. He was also considered an expert at devising unexpected, 11th hour plot twists. Now you know.