Danny Boyle, the tube and suspenseful endings.

I watched a film called ‘Fallen’ last night.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, before?

I hadn’t. It seems to have slipped a bit under the radar. It’s a 1998 horror film starring Denzel Washington – as I like horror and Denzel, and had never seen the two together before, I felt compelled to give it a go.

In short, it’s a good film – I recommend you check it out. Although, be warned, I’m about to give a spoiler…

….

Okay, so it had one of those ‘shock’ endings that you often see in horror or thriller films. You know the one…where you think the bad guy is dead…and then suddenly – BOOM – something happens to make you think otherwise.

Like those Jason or Michael Myers films where you see a shot of the killer at the end and realise that there’s going to be a sequel.

jason

It got me thinking about endings and how important they are. Although for those of us who ‘didn’t write today’ beginnings are harder than endings…!

The whole ‘shock’ ending started out as being a bit rebellious…something a bit different. Hollywood audiences were so used to things working out happily that a ‘surprise’ ending really used to work back in the day. Audiences didn’t know what to expect.

Their humdrum idea that ‘everything will be okay in the end’ was suddenly well and truly shaken.

However, nowadays, I wonder if it’s something that’s rather overused. Almost predictable. I’d say that 60 – 70% of the horror films that I’ve seen recently have relied on it. Which brings me to a point where I’d be more surprised if things ended up happily ever after.

One thing I think that does work is an ambiguous, open ending. The kind of thing that gets people talking long after the end credits have rolled.

A good example of this is in the film Shallow Grave, which came out in 1994. If you’ve not seen it I highly recommend it – it was the director Danny Boyle’s cinematic debut.

The film has caused a lot of debate online (and offline too) due to its ending. As the film ends one of the characters is badly injured, and as the emergency services arrive you can’t quite work out whether he’s dead or not.

After watching it I remember searching online to see what others thought, but no one seemed to be sure.

Fast forward several months and I’m on the tube heading from Camden to East London. I look over to my right…and who do I see in front of me? None other than Danny Boyle.

Back in these days I was an aspiring actor, so I opened up a conversation with him. He was a lovely guy and really chatty. It was during the chat that I suddenly realised that I’d been presented with a rare opportunity.

I could actually ask about the ending of Shallow Grave and have an answer from none other than the director himself.

And so I did. And he told me that the character was definitely alive at the end of the film.

He also told me how surprised he was whenever he heard that people thought the ending was ambiguous. When they filmed it they’d assumed that everyone would know that he was alive.

How about that!? A surprise ending wasn’t even meant to be quite so surprising at all.

(Oh and of course I asked him to cast me in one of his films. They were currently filming for Trainspotting 2. He gave me the name of his casting director – I emailed her, and alas, never heard back. Maybe next time)

While we’re on the subject of endings, there’s one film that steals it for me for every time.

thething.jpg

If you haven’t seen John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ you need to. Incredible slice of cinema.

 

 

Why are Iron Maiden more popular on Spotify than Madonna?

It surprised me when I read that, and I imagine it’ll surprise you too.

Not because Iron Maiden are bad…I’m a fan.

But because Madonna is…well…a pop singer. And, popular music should be the most popular…right?

She’s certainly more commercial, in a traditional sense. Plus, as much as I personally enjoy it, I’m aware that metal is an acquired taste – whereas Madonna’s music is aimed at appealing to everyone.

She also had the bonus of appearing on MTV and stations such as BBC Radio One, Iron Maiden never really had that exposure.

As a singer Madonna has always looked to adopt the latest trends – performing the hits that the crowds of the day would enjoy.

Whereas Iron Maiden found their target audience early on and found out how to please them. They never wrote a love song or anything like that. They just kept on doing the things that their fans like…building an army of life-long supporters, who would no doubt look to spread the love onto their children.

Meaning that they’d have another generation of fans, starting off a cycle that will eventually mean that the East London outfit’s music will last far longer than they will.

Not only that, but Iron Maiden’s songs tell stories about things that their target audience like. Fantasy, history, horror and even sci-fi.

trooper
(it’s really good, too!)

Plus look at their branding – they brew their own beer just the way their fans like it, they tour as much as they can and they have their own Boeing 747 jet that lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, personally flies.

How cool is that?

Plus they have their own logo. Same as bands such as Nirvana and Metallica. Does Madonna have a logo? If she does, I can’t recall it easily. Neither can I recall a logo for bands such as Take That.

It’s why, when you go into high street fashion stores, you see Metallica or Iron Maiden t-shirts for sale, you don’t see Madonna T-shirts.

Here’s a quote from Lady Gaga:

“Some people really don’t know the importance of metal and the scope of it. Those guys were filling stadiums, and they still are. And it’s because of the culture of the music, the poetry that’s so powerful, that whenever the fans come together, they unite in the essence of what Iron Maiden is all about. I always used to say to people, when they would say, ‘Oh, she’s the next Madonna.’ No, I’m the next Iron Maiden.”

gaga
(the next Iron Maiden)


by Ashley Brown.

Oh, by the way the initial inspo for this article came from Ryan Holliday’s fantastic ‘Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts’

 

 

Book review – ‘Faceless Killers’ by Henning Mankell.

“Every time Wallander stepped into someone’s home, he felt as though he were looking at the front cover of a book that he had just bought” 

Over the last decade or so I’ve heard a lot about Scandinavian crime fiction, particularly with the success of ‘the Killing’ TV series and, of course, the multi-million success of Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.

As ever, I arrived late on the scene and didn’t end up reading the Millennium books until earlier this year – some 12 or 13 years since they were released. I was blown away by them. I loved how they started out as such a simple crime story, only to turn into a high stakes series of thrillers. Once I’d completed them I set my sights on other Scandinavian genre luminaries. My first port of call was Camilla Läckberg’s ‘The Ice Princess’ – which was a little too ‘cosy’ for me.

And now, a couple of months later, I turn to another – Henning Mankell. ‘Faceless Killers’ is the first of his famous series of stories about Inspector Kurt Wallander. First off the bat, I have to warn you that it’s a very bleak tale. It’s set in a Swedish town where it’s always raining, and where social issues are hitting a boiling point.

“He took a sheet of paper out of a desk drawer. But what would he write? The day’s work had hardly involved more than collecting a large number of question marks.” 

The action kicks off with the seemingly random murder of an elderly couple in their isolated farmhouse. Inspector Walland is called out and soon finds out that the case is far from simple.

But, it’s not just about the investigation – a lot of the novel also talks about Wallander’s personal life. Which, to say the least, isn’t great. I have to say – particularly during the start of the story – I really didn’t like him as a character. He openly admits to slapping his estranged wife and also seems to have real issues against women in positions of power.

There are a good army of supporting characters included – such as Wallander’s veteran colleague, Rydberg and Martinsson, a younger office on the team. There’s also Wallander’s estranged wife, Mona and an attorney who he falls for, Annette.

““He took a sheet of paper out of a desk drawer. But what would he write? The day’s work had hardly involved more than collecting a large number of question marks.” 

(Sorry, I just had to repeat that quote. I jotted it down as I first read it and I think it sums up the story and the style so well.)

I really liked the character of Annette, but she was so underdeveloped that it felt like a waste. There’s a lot of build up to the fact that Wallander might have a chance with her, but then when something does happen it’s only acknowledged anecdotally – which was such an anti-climax.

The paragraph above goes to highlight a big problem I had with ‘Faceless Killers’ – half of it unfolds like a novel, and goes at a decent pace. But then, mishmashed in-between the fast-moving chapters, are other parts that seem to be almost like a diary.

There’s only so many times I can hear about how eating too fast gave Wallander diarrhoea before I’m thinking to myself – is this really benefiting the story? Okay, I get it – he’s a bit of a loser – there’s no need to keep reinforcing the point.

I’m sure many readers will no doubt empathise with some aspects of Wallander. Like all of us, he’s not perfect. He’s no Sherlock Holmes, definitely isn’t Shaft and can’t even hold a candle to Inspector Morse. Instead of having deductive super-powers, he gets to the end of his cases through dogged hard-work. Nothing more, nothing less.

wallander.jpg

(the Wallander series has been translated into many languages across the world. It’s also been the subject of several TV series – image source: Amazon)

The front cover of the book markets it as a thriller, but the pace drags to the point where I can only recall two genuine ‘thrilling’ scenes. One where Wallander is spying on some suspects, and another where he has a scrap with one of them. Both are well-written.

“Somewhere in the dark a vast meaninglessness was beckoning to him. A grinning face that laughed scornfully at all his vain attempts to manage his life.” 

Perhaps I’m a product of my generation, where stories tend to rattle on at a frantic pace – but, I prefer thrillers (like Steig Larsson’s) that suck you in and bring you right into the action. Even though some of the plot involves some quite ‘high stakes’ threats I only ever felt like I was a far removed observer and the constantly sidelining subplots such as Wallander’s failed marriage and his sick dad kept taking me away from the action.

It’s for this reason that I give ‘the Faceless Killers’ a 3/5. For the right reader I’m sure this would be good to read by the fire on a cold, dark night – but if I’m to read a mystery thriller I need it to be more compelling.

Mankell also addresses lot of issues in Swedish culture that I was only semi-familiar with – perhaps if I were a Swedish native I might have gotten more out of the points raised, although the book is about 26 years old now.

The opening chapters (even though they were meant to describe a nasty crime) somewhat bored me, the middle was entertaining enough for me to keep reading – but, if it wasn’t for the last 50 pages where things do pick up, I’d have probably given this a 2 star.

Having said all that, I read it in about twenty-four hours…take what you will from that.

Book review – ‘How to stop time’ by Matt Haig.

“You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do?” 

I got this as a birthday present from my girlfriend – she knew I liked books about time travel, and I have to say this novel completely took me by surprise. I’d never heard of Matt Haig before, either – which is a real shame.

It’s not strictly about time travel in the conventional sense, but it’s close to it in subject matter. The novels I tend to read are usually fast-paced, adventure-driven pieces – but this…well…this is something completely different.

A brooding, thoughtful book that muses on some of life’s big questions. It unfolds at its own, dream-like pace and constantly flits between the past and the present. The chapters are very short, which gives it a promiscuous readability – you know the feeling, ‘ohh just one more chapter then I’ll go to bed…they’re only short’.

“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.” 

The story centres around Tom Hazard. He looks 40, but he’s actually over 400 years old. He doesn’t look younger because he uses the kind of moisturisers that David Beckham advertises, he looks younger because he has a rare condition that causes his body to age a lot slower.

We join Tom as he starts work as a history teacher in an East London school. As you can imagine, such a long lifespan has left him with more than a few issues – such as constant headaches, a missing daughter and weird interactions with a secret society who are determined to keep the condition a secret.

““It made me lonely. And when I say lonely, I mean the kind of loneliness that howls through you like a desert wind.” 

‘How to stop time’ plays out as a historical drama mostly, almost like a series of memoirs put together by the ever thoughtful Tom. There is a subplot that plays out as a bit of a thriller, but it’s almost like it was added in as an afterthought – just to add a bit of action into things.

Screenshot_20170908-074533
(Sure, social media gets a lot of bad press – but it’s a genuinely nice feeling to be able to tweet an author and give them some live feedback on their work)

Having said that, it worked and it fitted in nicely with the story – mixing genres is always a tough balancing act, but I feel that Matt Haig has pulled it off here.

““It was like being stuck in the same song, with a chorus you had once liked but now made you want to your ears off.” 

The last novel I read before this was Stephen King’s 11/22/63 – there are parallels between the two. Both talk about the rhythm of time and how, after a while, you can almost predict the future based on what happens in the past.

The difference is King is a much older man than Haig, so I could see why he’d be able to talk with such insight about the passing of time, yet Haig manages to be just as philosophical and measured.

I recommend this – 5/5 for me.

Beware! The Termites of Productivity!

Beware! The termites of productivity!

Sometimes they pop up when you least expect them, other times you can see them coming from a mile off – yet, no matter how hard you try to fight them, they can end up getting the better of you.

Usually it happens when you’re working remotely or freelancing, but it can happen when you’re in the office too.

By termites, I mean those little problems that pop up and plague you to the point that they break into your productivity or, even worse, your creativity.

Earlier today I’d just set sails into a sea of creativity when I fell victim to a termite of productivity.

In the shape of this USB mouse:

20170907_153217.jpg

The track pad on my laptop has seen better days (along with the laptop itself) and, to try and delay buying a new one as much as possible, I decided to invest in a USB mouse.

I connected it and all was running smoothly for about thirty seconds.

Then it, quite randomly, decided to disconnect itself.

Was it the batteries? No.
Was it a potential hacker? No.
Was the mouse faulty? Unknown.
Was it conspiracy? *puts tinfoil hat on*
Did plugging it in and out again work? Yes.

But…the problem persisted.

Every few minutes it would decide to disconnected itself, so I’d have to stop my flow and reconnect it.

Doesn’t sound too bad…yet, when you’re working to deadlines, those minutes add up and, because you’re so intent on fixing the problem, you can lose track of just how much time you’ve lost.

Thus, the termites of productivity – little problems that slowly creep up and take away your time.

I’m sure you all know what I mean.

Don’t let them ole termites break you.

Keep your focus and keep the end goal in mind.

…now, let me email the company I bought it from…(oh wait, that’ll eat up even more of my time)

Why I didn’t write today @ the movies: The Limehouse Golem

It’s been a long time since I’ve been involved in the theatre. But I can still remember it well. The tension, the glimpses of the crowd behind the curtains before things kick off and then the feeling of getting a line wrong…only to realise the crowd don’t even have the script to berate you about it, let alone notice.

‘The Limehouse Golem’ takes us back to the musical theatre scene in Victorian London. A time before the cinema, when everyone who was anyone would pay a premium for entertainment.

The Limehouse Golem is certainly not a musical though, far from it. The theatre serves as a backdrop for a series of grisly murders. At the start of the film a minor playwright is found dead, it could be suicide…but the Victorian authorities are keen to pin it on his wife, Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) – who is one of the biggest names in the theatre at the time.

As Lizzie awaits trial we’re introduced to the sassy, ageing Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) of Scotland Yard. He’s never handled a murder case before, and then all of a sudden the case of Lizzie’s husband falls into his lap.

As the investigation moves on, it becomes more and more apparent that it could be connected to a serial killer dubbed ‘the Limehouse Golem’. I believe this story (based on Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’, was set just before ‘Jack the Ripper’ came to prominence – but there’s certainly a Ripper feel here.

LimeGolem_Crop.jpg
(how creepy is this poster? Source: bloody-disgusting)

The director Juan Carlos Medina dubs this as a ‘horror-thriller’, but I’m not so sure. Watching it, in a darkened cinema, it felt more like an atmospheric mismatch of genres – mostly melodrama (a genre all too forgotten now) with parts of police procedural, killer thriller and a touch of musical thrown in for good measure.

A lot of the tale is told in flashback – mostly about Lizzie’s life as a young woman in Victorian England. And how she rose up against an awful lot of adversity to become successful. The flashback narrative works well for the majority of the piece, although it does lead to it being a little disjointed from time to time…but perhaps that adds to the effect of the unhinged killer who stalks the East End throughout.

Daniel Mays gives a great supporting performance as Kildare’s police partner, and Douglas Booth takes a great turn as Dan Leno – a drag queen who works closely with Lizzie. While Olivia Cooke displays a tour-de-force or emotions as the bold Lizzie, Bill Nighy steals this for me in terms of his performance – it’s great to see him still looking so well, and able to command the lead as the pained Inspector Kildare.

All in all this is a 4/5 for me and I’d recommend it to you. It’s grim, it’s grisly but it’s without moments of humour. However, the mishmash of genres lets it down at times and I couldn’t quite get over the feeling that it didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up…so, it depends really on whether or not you appreciate an artistic narrative over a more straightlaced yarn.

by Ashley Brown

Calvin Harris

The trouble with making music as a job is that I have no outside interests. All I can do to wind down is go to sleep.” – Calvin Harris

He makes a good point.

For many people who aren’t creatives in their day job, their creative discipline is usually just a hobby or a side-job.

Often they do it because it’s very therapeutic.

And it begs the question…how would you manage your down time if your hobby becomes your day job?

I guess for some of us that’s the dream…