No easy kill – a carnivore story

 

 

Quick back story – Years ago I wrote this for a writing exercise where the aim was to write from the point of view of an animal without naming your creature.  I avoided dialogue as wild cats don’t converse with each other much in the wild, and I wanted this piece to have an immediacy unbroken by dialogue.  This piece ended up getting published in the Bondi Writers Group anthology that year, and then re-published in a literary magazine later. I had fun writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it :

No easy kill

There’s no such thing as an easy kill.  I was to learn this lesson the hard way on our first independent hunt. It was an event marked in each other’s memory.  For it was the moment we each claimed our birthright and carved our place in the world. However such lessons do not come without a price.

We all burned to each establish a territory where one could stand proud and roar at the night. One day the fortunate few would do so but first we were offered the chance to show our mettle. This was an important moment, it was how we marked our transition to maturity – the first successful stalk and feed.  My siblings and I, had been sent out to bring back our own kill.  We were of age, though little experience, and our sire Charga had decided it was time we got some.

Whirring with enthusiasm, and eager to prove ourselves we set out to find good spots to stage a successful assault.  Anxiety warred with anticipation as my kin followed our sire out onto the territory heartland. My closest sibling, Sheba was biting at Charga’s heels, and he snarled at her to settle down. My younger sisters and brothers, previously quiet, began growling their need.   But they were not to hunt today, only the oldest could be granted that honour. One look from his glowering eyes was enough to silence us all, as we separated to locate hunting spots.  

The evening rolled onto night, and I found a perfect position to hide and wait.  Suitable prey was in the area, and I was ready and waiting.  There was a lot of waiting.  Impatience was stirring in me, and I was pushing it down.  

I watched avidly as a winged one swooped and caught a scurrier – small meat – too small to satisfy me but I marveled at it’s precision.  The winged one, all hooked beak and familiar hungry gaze, was all clean and quick. It came from nowhere.  That is how the predators seem to the prey – swift and merciless.  They do not know the strain and the stress that is the underside of excitement.  They do not know how ruthless the savannah heartland is on her hunters, of how the nerves fray and the concentration wavers, of how a lapse can threaten your very survival.   Time seemed to stretch out but my need was high and urgent.

Stalking at night is not made any easier by the restlessness.  Every moment fighting the urge to spring out at any moving meat whether or not your time is right.  And timing is everything when the hunt is on.  You have to time your attack just right.  One second wrong, one moment early, and the meat are alert and away.

I crouched low, Charga’s training running through my head.  First you have to maneuver yourself within striking distance.  When you strike you must launch off the ground off your back haunches, lean into your hind paws until your muscle is coiled and tense, then spring through the air claws unsheathed as the prey freeze and see you – the striped death descending.  Then you grapple and twist, rip their throat out and devour the rest.

It all seemed easy.  I’d watched Charga, my sire, many times.  But I’d been waiting under the fern for nearly an hour with only the flies for company.  The wet heat was beginning to stick on my fur as unwelcome dew.  The smell of meat, live and grazing fat-bellied on the thick grass in the open meadow, muzzled my nostrils and sauced my bristle tongue until my fangs were awash in drool.  My head was beginning to blur silly with food so close but still out of attack range. 

 The flies buzzed around my head incessantly.  Sitting on my nostrils and crossing near my eyes, I was dying to swat them with a well-aimed paw but couldn’t risk drawing attention to my presence.  My tail twitched spasmodically but in small movements like an extra heartbeat.  And the restless, tight yearning to jump out and take them, pounding in my heart.

A few elders, old meat, stood at the outskirts of the group keeping watch.  A breeze rustled some leaves. Several pricked up their ears and froze.  Their faun heads high, their antlers upright, their awareness was heightened.  I froze too.  Not a sound was heard except for the clicking of some insects in the undergrowth.  The moment passed, they returned to their grazing, relaxing again, and I began to breath once more.

Some of the horned meat wandered out of the meadow, onto the edges of the field, where the dark ferns are, in my space, near me.  The time was almost at hand.  Suddenly a glowing amber eye flickered amongst the ferns.  

A small movement of a branch, and then the ferns exploded with blazing orange fury.  Sheba sprang upon the herd, paws outstretched, jaws wide and open.  I struck too, furious, that she had blown my cover and miscalculated the right time.  The herd was not close enough to make an easy kill.  My sister was always so rash, though older she was not wise.

They had scattered.  Sheba and I ran after them.   She veered left; I veered right, forcing the herd formation to bunch densely down the middle, showing up the weaker ones, the stragglers.  

Sheba was maneuvering her meat towards the creek past the undergrowth.  I watched as she jumped over the log near the ravine, in pursuit of her prey, her black stripes rippled and blended with the night, her orange fur flashed like an afterthought.  She made it look so easy, and for her it seemed to be.  I had to work harder.

My meal was bounding away from me, and I was leaping after it.  I seemed to run for miles, everything a dark blur, except my target, the meat, which was lit up in my vision.  Normally we’d give up at this point.  We aren’t long distance runners, and the night was perilous, even with our night-sight.  One wrong step and you could leap on a snake, a scorpion or worse, and your hunting days were over.  But we hadn’t eaten for days.  My stomach growled so often it was my constant companion.  Hunger snapped at my heels and put the spring in my haunches, and I gave chase.

One of the meals tripped over a fallen log and landed clumsily on the other side, then lost its footing.  I was on it in an instant.  My pulse combusted in my head and I ripped open the jugular and twisted its neck in my jaws.  The meal thrashed no more.

Just as I was primed to drag my meal into a shelter to eat, I heard a huge rumble, then a loud and anxious roar.  Sheba was in trouble.  Dragging my prey into some undergrowth, I leap to the left field and dashed down the ravine.  The sight that confronted me, was everything Charga had warned against.  Sheba had tussled with a grown big horn, and come off worse. I saw the flapping ears and long trunk flare then depart, shaking the ground in its wake.  

Sheba lay on her side, her ribs gored open, and lifeblood pouring out.  I approached her quietly and licked her head, and her side, mopping up the blood.  It was no use, she was panting in the hoarse gasps that signaled the end of all things.  Then she was still.  

Her prey, the antler horn, lay beneath her, decapitated, but uneaten.  I stared at it for a while, then began to eat, as I’d been taught.  You don’t waste meat, that is dishonour.

The spot is marked with my paws, my scent, and my claw marks on the wood stumps nearby.  It was drenched in her blood and her scent but they have long since washed away.  I want all to know that here died my sister on our territory.  That she died in battle with a big horn tusker, that she was brave and fierce.  This is the lesson I want all to know but her death was the harshest lesson itself.  The rules of the land show no lenience to the meat or the hunters.

Sheba had fallen foul of the most deceptive rule of all, never take it easy, never lower your guard, even when it seems you’ve got the upper hand.  Because, as Charga said, and I was to be reminded many times in the future – there’s no such thing as an easy kill.

 

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The best werewolf films, and why aren’t we seeing more of them?

Let’s howl at the moon

Horror films go through cycles but there’s one cycle that we’ve ignored for too long and it’s time is due.  Let’s return to the howl in the night at the light of the full moon.

We’ve had the vampire renaissance with Twilight, True Blood etc, we’ve had the zombie apocalypse with Dawn of the Dead, World War Z, TWD, etc, we’ve had the ghosts and witches and demons of The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises, but when was the last time we had a decent werewolf flick ? Where’s the werewolf resurgence ? 

It’s high time we had something with a little more bite in it. 

the beast inside us comes out on the full moon.

The best werewolf movies aren’t just horror flicks but are often about the wild nature part of us inside, breaking free. They’re about embracing our true carnal sensual natures and leaving our civilised shells behind.  Many werewolf films deal with themes of sexual awakening, physical or emotional puberty, some are ‘coming of age’ films in a gory disguise. 

They are also about the beasts inside men contrasted with the actual beasts that roam the countryside.  

One of the fantastic illustrations that comic artist Bernie Wrightson did to Stephen King’s graphic novel – ‘Cycle of the Werewolf’ which was made into the film Silver Bullet, mentioned in the list below.

Perhaps it’s the costly commitment required to do justice to the visual effects necessary to render werewolves properly. A makeup and VFX budget of a decent size, and artisans of some considerable skill are needed to make the transformations work, but it doesn’t mean your film has to be a multi-million dollar affair.  Some of the films I’ve listed below were made on low budgets [ 2.3 million pounds for Dog Soldiers, The Company of Wolves was pulled off for USD $2 million, WER and Late Phases are both low budget films ]. 

Some werewolf films go with the full wolf version [they change into a four legged beast], others with the classic man-beast but most films will have ‘the transformation’ scene, made famous by An American Werewolf in London.  But transformation or not, the basic requirement is a well acted, good story with interesting visuals.

With that in mind I’ve compiled a list of the best werewolf flicks I’ve seen or heard of. You’ve gotta check out these titles :

this film had one of the great werewolf posters. It’s a bit of a collectors item.

1] The Company of Wolves – directed by Neil Jordan, made in 1985. This is a fantasy-horror take on the Red Riding Hood tale that has not been bettered. It deals with the coming of age and sexual awakening of Rosaleen and her attraction to the darkness that dwells in the forest. Full of visual metaphors, and motifs and dream like sequences.  This was the film that announced the visual poetry of famed Irish film director, Neil Jordan. He’s one of my personal favourite directors of all time. He went on to film powerful dramas that dealt with Irish nationalism, but every so often he would revisit his fantasy beginnings. In between directing ‘Michael Collins’ and ‘In the Name of the Father’, he did a fantastic version of Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’ that controversially cast Tom Cruise as the flamboyant vampire Lestat – a casting choice that surprisingly worked. I love The Company of Wolves to the nth degree – it’s still so potent.  [The trailer doesn’t do it justice but I’ve put it here nonetheless].

 

2] Wolf – directed by Mike Nichols in 1994.  This is an underrated werewolf film that has Jack Nicholson perfectly cast as the titular wolf. It’s the underappreciated, urban working man going through a midlife crisis as he  discovers his wild side after a chance animal encounter and uses his new abilities to succeed. With James Spader and Michelle Pfeiffer rounding out the cast – it’s definitely worth a look. Mike Nichols may not be a natural hand at this genre, he’s known for his humanistic dramas like Heartburn, the Graduate etc, so Wolf was a real change of pace for him. But he did pull it off because he concentrated on well defined fleshed out characters.  And you gotta love Jack Nicholson, right ? He’s clearly having fun in this trailer :

 

There are several posters to this flick but this is the one I remember on the cover of the old video stores.

3] American Werewolf in London – directed by John Landis in 1981.  This film is THE ultimate werewolf movie of all werewolf movies. Basic plot concerns two American college students who are attacked backpacking through Britain. One survives, the other one dies but returns as a spectre to warn his friend that he’s going to change into the beast that attacked them. Mixing comedy with rather shocking body horror transformations sequences for it’s time – this film has not dated. And it has real bloodcurdling scares. Where do I start – the perfect structure – the humourous beats, the bloodcurdling wolf sequences. And last but not least – the best transformation scene of all time – for which we can thank legendary makeup artist and practical VFX magician, Rick Baker. And you know what – it hasn’t been beaten. 

 

the extraordinary and alluring Amanda Ooms, and her lovely wolf companion. Kudos to the animal wranglers on this film.

4] Wilderness – directed by Ben Bolt  , made in 1996.  Based on a novel, this show was made into a two and a half hour mini series, and re-released as a 100 minute movie. Both versions are good but the longer version is preferred.  One of the few female werewolf tales ever made, this made for TV film – a UK production, looks anything but that – it’s evocative and mysterious and has vivid performances by Owen Teale, Amanda Ooms as the were-woman, and Michael Kitchen before his Foyle’s War days.

Wilderness film poster

The plot concerns a disturbed young woman who tries to convince her lover that she’s a wolf, and her psychiatrist is sure he’s discovered a new complex that will make his name. When she moves to a retreat in Scotland, the true natures of all three individuals become apparent.

It’s a very different movie to your mainstream werewolf tale – more symbolic than a straight-out gore fest but it stays with you. If you can get a hold of this [it’s hard to find anywhere] – do. It was wonderful storytelling.   

 

5] Ginger Snaps –  directed by John Fawcett in 2000, this is an unashamedly feminist werewolf flick that has become a cult classic. Female werewolves are rare indeed, and the few entries made are amongst the best in the sub-genre. The plot concerns two death-obsessed sisters,  who are outcasts in their suburban neighborhood, that must deal with the tragic consequences when one of them is bitten by a deadly werewolf upon hitting puberty and getting her period.  The analogies between the monthly change brought on by the moon, and the monthly curse of femininity are strong, as is the examination of the sisterhood vs the patriarchy, the desire to conform vs individuality.  But political and thematic themes aside, this is a damn good werewolf film, and more importantly a good film – it combines a teen horror flick and a coming of age story to produce something richer.  Check it out now !   

 

It’s an action werewolf movie. The fastest moving creature flick since Predator, I kid you not.

6] Dog Soldiers – directed by Neil Marshall in 2002.  This was his directorial debut. The man turned out to be a major genre talent – he’s directed The Descent [one of the scariest horror films I’ve ever seen], and several episodes of Game of Thrones, including the famed Blackwater episode.  Dog Soldiers is a hell of a debut film and an unusual take on the sub-genre – it’s a soldier movie too.  The plot is this ; during a routine night time training mission in the Scottish Highlands, a small squad of British soldiers expected to rendezvous with a special ops unit, instead find a bloody massacre with a sole survivor. They then come under attack themselves and are forced to retreat to a farmhouse and wait it out till the full moon disappears at dawn. Stranded, and with no communications or backup, up against monsters beyond their training, can they survive the night ?

The VFX are a bit messy but they still hold up,  and the pacing hits you like a freight train and never lets up.  The actors are first class – Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham, and Sean Pertwee [who clearly has a love of the horror genre as he’s tackled quite a few] – and they brashly pull off the horror and black comedy elements with gusto. 

 

7] Underworld 1 & 2 only – Directed by Len Wiseman in 2003 and 2006, respectively. Wiseman also has a talent for the fantasy-horror genre. Witness his direction of the Sleepy Hollow and Lucifer pilot episodes.  But this was his feature debut and he knocked it out of the park ! Underworld is sexy, stylish, action packed and compelling.  It became a franchise but while this vampires vs werewolves saga started on a high note and with an even better sequel, every film after the first two is a case of diminishing returns. Michael Sheen is a classy werewolf and let’s not forget bass baritone voiced actor, Kevin Grevioux as Raze, his second in command. The man has the deepest voice in the business. If there was a real god of thunder he’d sound like this guy. And he’s a helluva werewolf. He also was one of the writers of Underworld – so he’s a multi-talented guy.  Most people will only think of Kate Beckinsale in a skintight PVC catsuit but these two films do a very good visual depiction of werewolves. I only wish we’d had more characterisation of their fighters but we at least get the marvellous Michael Sheen and even a germanic actor as a werewolf scientist. Beckinsale and Bill Nighy fill out the main vampire roles. The werewolves here are probably the best visualisations I’d seen in recent times.  The first film did a good mix of practical VFX and CGI, the sequels, alas, became CGI reliant. 

 

8] The Brotherhood of the Wolf – directed by Christophe Gans in 2001. This film is literally one of my favourite films of all time. But hang on a minute, Gita, the Monster of Gevaudan turns out to be something more than a mere Wolf so why is this film on this list ?  Well, there’s plenty of wolfs in this film that are symbolic for the grace of nature vs the cruelty of man. And for a great section of the film, it is implied that the beast is a monster-sized wolf.  There are monsters in this film, and it’s not just the beast of Gevaudan that is the problem. The beast within man is a big theme here in a film replete with many big resonant themes.  I know, this is not technically a werewolf film so I should exempt it from this list, and I’m grasping at straws to justify it’s inclusion but, damnit, it deserves a mention. And it does deal with wolves. 

And here’s the theme song from the film. Both the song and the film are absolutely gorgeous. If I only ever made one feature film as rich, gripping and multi-layered as this, I’d die happy.

 

9] Late Phases – directed by Adrián García Bogliano, in 2014 . The VFX might be low budget but they keep the monster shots subtle, the acting is good and the story is rock solid. A blind ex-Vietnam veteran in a retirement village is up against a werewolf who is terrorising the residents and killing them off, but who is the wolf, and how do you stop something if you can’t see it. The film has some strong themes on how we marginalise elderly people, and it got selected for the very competitive SXSW Film festival at the time – so it’s definitely worth checking out. 

 

10] WER -directed by William Brent Bell, made in 2013 – this is a found footage werewolf film that is much better than it has any right to be. A gentle giant of a prisoner , Talan, is accused of multiple murders. But defence attorney, Kate discovers he harbours a terrible secret. And then Talan escapes. Can she help him before it’s too late ?  Can they stop him ? The ending is a bit of a mess but this film has atmosphere in spades and a great tense buildup, and good acting.  And yes, this director has some shockers on his resume but this one of his better films, and proof that he has talent if not consistency.

 

11] HOWL – directed by Paul Hyett, made in 2015, is another British entry on this list. The Brits do really know how to do these things right. A bunch of passengers on a train get stranded in the forest when the train derails from what they think is a bear attack. That is until they hear the howling. As the power runs out and the night wears on, they have to survive and escape the fanged and clawed menace that is stalking them and picking them off one by one.  There’s some complaints that the wolves aren’t very wolf like but I appreciate that they tried to go for a different look than the hair-suit. 

The film poster to Howl. Do check out the trailer when you can – it’s great.

Also the characters are a bit stock standard but they are played by good actors who make the whole exercise compelling enough. And with actors of the calibre of Sean Pertwee, Ed Speleers, and Elliot Cowan involved –  it’s a decent entry that’s worth the watch.

 

12] Bad Moon –  made in 1998 by Eric Red – this film gets a bad rap and the critics tore it up at the time, but it’s being reassessed today as it did some things right. It’s actually much better than the reviews would lead one to believe, and genre lovers have rediscovered it since. It’s a movie told from the point of view of the family dog, a German Shepherd called Thor. Uncle Ted has moved back to the wood cabin with his sister’s family to recover from a traumatic attack in Nepal. But the family dog, Thor, suspects that something is very wrong with Uncle Ted.  The werewolf effects are good, the acting is solid and the story has a unique perspective. 

The trailer for this film is terrible so I thought I’d post one of the scenes instead :

 

13] Silver Bullet – directed by Dan Attias, made in 1985, it is based on the Stephen King novella Cycle of the werewolf. Silver Bullet has a wheelchair bound boy, Marty, trying to outwit a cunning werewolf that is terrorising the small valley community. It got panned at the time but a  re-watch reveals some half-decent scares, a rocking over the top instrumental-synth 80s soundtrack, a great cast who all nail their roles with conviction including charmingly dishevelled high-as-a-kite Gary Busey, Megan Follows – she of the Anne of Green Gables fame, and Terry O’Quinn from LOST, and , of course a fine lead performance by tragic child star, Corey Haim. This film has a lot in common with The Goonies and Gremlins in tone, so it does entertain but it doesn’t scare the pants off you. It’s either cheesy genius or scare-satire in disguise. I’m tempted to put it in the craptastic category below but the cine’ and the soundtrack and the performances elevate it to something better than that. The beginning narration however is heavy handed, and the music does too much signposting in the movie. I’d love a director’s edition that removed the narration and toned the music down during the stalking scenes. Still watchable though. 

 

Now for some truly craptastic werewolf films that are worth a watch for B-grade cheesy entertainment value : Big Bad Wolf – has a talking werewolf who kills off the kids in an isolated cabin leaving only a nerd and his girlfriend to escape the carnage and try to avenge their fallen comrades. The step-father wolf is played by Richard Tyson of Kindergarten Cop fame and Two Moon Junction.  It’s one of those ‘so bad it might be good’ kinda films. Don’t believe me ? Then watch the trailer where you can cringe and guffaw at the same time :

 

Wolves – a 2014 film with Lucas Till [from X-Men First class, and the rebooted MacGyver series], plus Khal Drago himself, aka Jason Mamoa, looks like a hot mess. A lone werewolf wanders into a rough country town on the outskirts that is run by a powerful werewolf gang.  It’s fast paced and with some decent action sequences even if it feels like a Teen Wolf tv series ripoff. 

[Note: I did not mention the Howling and any of the Howling sequels because frankly – they’re crap. The creature effects are interesting but the story is a mess and each sequel was another level of awful.  I’m also not including any old Lon Chaney flicks or Black and white attempts from the era of ancient film, because they really don’t hold up now.  There are great black and white horror flicks from the Classic Hollywood era but none of those are the werewolf flicks that were made then. And yes, I will stand by that argument. Try watching one if you don’t believe me. They are corny and cheesy as hell.]

the film might be a shocker [and not in a good way] but the comics were another level.
Also didn’t include The Wolfman with Benecio Del Toro – who is aptly cast but the film is poorly directed. Some good visual sequences are washed out by a really bad story with a rushed third act. 

I don’t mention the Michael J Fox, Teen Wolf flicks which are fun but not horror flicks at all. 

Is there an Australian werewolf film ?   I won’t go into the derisible Howling 3 – The Marsupials – because it’s a train wreck in what was already a shit franchise.

The closest we get to a decent entry is a short film ‘Overtime’ by Aussie writer-director, Craig Foster.  Overtime deals with overworked Ralph who urgently needs to get home – before the full moon rises. Can he get out of the office before his secret endangers his colleagues and his job ?

You can look at the trailer here:

 

It’s promising, and I do hope Craig Foster will get the chance to follow up with a werewolf feature one day.  

I also know that upcoming director, Heidi Lee Douglas has done a female beast short film where the lady is infected by a Tasmanian Devil, of all things [hey – the Tassie devil is probably the closest thing we, in Australia, have to a wolf , apart from the Dingo – so I’ll count it in the were-beast film sub-genre for now.  I’ll also happily welcome any Dingo-transformations that anyone wants to have a gander at. They might be laughable but they can’t possibly be worse than Howling 3].  Her short film, Devil Woman, will be released onto the festival circuit later this year. 

But in the meanwhile Australia has no runs on the board in this sub-genre. Maybe we think werewolves are a European thing ?  While we have no wolves in this country, we certainly have a strong contingent of European immigrants who’ve brought their myths and traditions with them. Is it too hard to imagine an immigrant werewolf ?   

They say every creative trend relates to a trend in the world – zombies are about how we’ve lost hope in humanity because we’ve trampled nature and caused ruin for our species in the process, ghost films are about our fear of the unknown, vampires are our fear of mortality.  

But a werewolf film is about the monster on the inside. We’re living in an age where there’s so much material abundance, and yet there’s cracks in the fabric of society, exposing our convenience is a thin veneer hiding deep discord and stress. And in a time where our leaders have shown to be capable of terrible human rights abuses, and selfish, callous behaviour, and where our society is being questioned about it’s narcissistic, self-obsessed nature – perhaps it’s time for a film about the monsters in us. And which monster is more visceral than the wolf ?

So maybe it’s time we tackled a werewolf film. Something that touches on the themes of social discord, and the struggle with the beast within.  We’ve proven we can do good zombie films, decent haunted house flicks, maniac serial killer films.  So does anyone out there want to unleash the wolf ?

Unleash the wolf !

What’s hot in April ?

And with several days hitting the 30 degree celsius plus mark, and bushfires burning away on the outskirts of Sydney – this title is literally on point.

We’re hitting the second half of April where we go all nationalistic for Anzac Day, we run into the Sydney Comedy Festival, starting on April 23rd, and the Sydney Writers Festival starts knocking on the door from April 30th.

But first, for local Eastern Suburbs cinephiles, Randwick Ritz Cinema is holding a Stanley Kubrick retrospective where they are screening all his films in the original film print this month.

You’ve already missed Dr Strangelove, and 2001 Space Odyssey, but Clockwork Orange is screening next Sunday and Monday, and the following week you get Full Metal Jacket on April 29th and 30th.  Kubrick films were made for the cinema screen experience so come along to one of these sessions if you want the full Kubrick immersion.

Like fancy dress ? Collecting costumes ? Then get your backside over to The Sydney Costume sale at 51 Railway Parade, Marrickville on Friday 20th April from 6pm – 10pm, or go on Saturday 21st April from 9am – 2pm.

If you’re feeling environmental or having a surge of consciousness – then the Earth Festival at the Royal Botanical Gardens on the weekend of the 20th and 21st April might be the thing for you. There’s a vegan tattoo stall, organic makeup and skin care, workshops and vegan food stalls. Tickets are $9.95 online or $15 at the door.

The Sydney Comedy Festival will kick off with their comedy gala at the Opera House but when you’re on a budget, my idea is to go for the upcoming names, and pick an event where you get several comedians for the price of one entry ticket.  The usual names are there : Kitty Flanagan, Cameron James,  Matt Okine, Luke Heggie, Craig Hill etc.

It’s the rising stars one should look out for.  And the SCF has you covered with events like: Eg. ‘Funniest Comedians you’ve never heard of ‘, ‘Break Out’ comedy showcase events etc.

Several of these events seep into May as well, so get cracking.

 

Dish Dining – Sri Lankan street food comes of age in Glebe

 

Tucked away near the end of busy Glebe Point Road, about a few minutes walk before you hit the Glebe foreshore, is this unassuming Sri Lankan Street Food restaurant that is the second outpost of the Dish Dining restaurants [there’s another one at Toongabbie]. It’s next to a vintage Cafe, a deli and an IGA, and is only a block down from the well established Toxteth Hotel pub.

With a street banner sign that looks like it was written in giant black texta for a school assignment, and a quiet dark interior with minimal decor, this place is easy to miss, and that would be a mistake. 

Dish dining Sri Lankan Street Food Restaurant is a surprise delight and a welcome addition to Sydney’s demanding food scene.

Before I ate here, all I knew about Sri Lankan food was that they used a lot of coconut and shared cultural underpinnings with South Indian cuisine. And I have to confess that Sri Lankan cuisine                                                                                              is not the top of my favourite foods list.  This wasn’t my culinary pick.

I came here to meet a good friend, ‘Pimp my Plate’ tour guide Awia Markey, who is quite the chef herself, and a true gastronome.  She picked this on the recommendation of a friend, and I was tentatively hopeful but dubious. A place that claims to be Sri Lankan Street food better live up to the hype. 

For those who don’t know, Sri Lankan food is an aromatic, spiced cross between South Indian Food and Malaysian cuisine but less of the extreme burning spice that scares some Westerners off South East Asian cuisine.

A cursury glance at the menu showed some reasonably priced dosas, hoppers, rotis, curries and finger foods. And the drinks ranged from chic herbal and iced teas to the gold standard of mango lassis garnished with cashews.

the balan dosa with avocado salsa and sambar curry and coconut chutney

We ordered a koti gala hopper and a balun musa dosa, some rotis and mango lassis.  We wavered over the Lamprais, and the begum feast.

the lamprais = a must try dish.

We weren’t sure what to expect but what we got was delicious savoury food that felt healthy and hearty without being heavy.

The Koti gala hopper was some fine lacy noodle doilies, with turmeric infused scrambled eggs, and grilled tomatoes with a dhal and coriander salsa.

lacy hoppers with turmeric infused scrambled eggs

The balun dosa was a mustard coloured yellow savoury crepe made with rice flour, and a came with a mild green coconut chutney, another red tangy chutney, an avocado salsa, and what looked like a small broth of samba curry. The rotis’ were accompanied by small side dishes of chickpea curry and yellow dhal.  I am now officially on the roti train and shall seek them out next time.

For those who have never eaten a roti, they are a round flatbread that come straight off a hot plate. that taste similar to chapatis but they are lighter and flakier. Commonly eaten in India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. The Sri Lankan style roti is a paler affair than the Indian ones i’ve seen, and I much prefer it.

I had to ask for raita to accompany the meal which is mystifying as I felt it should automatically come with it. But then I always feel that about Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan curries and flatbreads – raita, the indian cucumber and yoghurt side dish that is similar to tzatziki,  improves everything.  I was brought up to have a yoghurt side dish with all curries and dosas, as it gentles the stomach so that you don’t rush to the toilet after consuming spicy savoury food, and it’s an pleasant edible contrast to the earthiness of the curries.

The Dish Dining room – low key and unassuming.

Street Food is the new trend hitting the food scene around the world, with Aussie chef, Luke Nguyen, touring the streets of Asia and discovering tasty delicacies you don’t get in the kitchens of Sydney, and Brit chef, Ainslie Harriot has gotten in on the act with his off-the-beaten-track food discoveries across Africa. I’ve been waiting for this trend to sweep Sydney. It hasn’t yet but it’s slowly trickling in. I’ve seen lots of Thai Street Food joints opening up such as Bangkok Bites in Newtown.

But the driving force behind the international renaissance of Street Food is this social push to get back to the basics – fast, cheap-ish, healthy, food that you’d eat on the streets of the big cities, or the hideaways in village towns.

Street Food is about throwing away the snobbery of haute cuisine and rediscovering what the locals have always known – that finger food and meals from the food carts, street stalls, and backyard kitchens, are super tasty, fresh and inventive, and far more egalitarian than the stuff you pay $100 per head to consume. Street Food is everywhere across Asia, and Africa, and South America. It’s the stories that backpackers treasure, and tourists dare the backwater routes to experience.

I’m not sure how ‘street’ this Dish Dining Sri Lankan place is, but it’s a start. The lamprai, a mixture of meat, eggs and rice and spices wrapped in banana leafs like a pillow, that our adjoining customers ordered, looked very tempting indeed. And the dosa we shared was smaller than the usual massive sized dosa I’d get at Maya’s on Cleveland street or Kammadhenu’s in Newtown. Those dosas are like large savoury crepe rolls the size of the Magna Carta. I almost suspect that the chefs do write an agreement on them when they’re bored.

And whilst the prices weren’t as cheap as true street food. [You buy these delicacies for a few dollars on the streets of Asia – but then they don’t have the astronomical rents that afflict Sydney]. At $16 and $18 a dish – they were affordable.  Most dishes fall between $12 to $20. That won’t break the bank for an afternoon lunch outside.

We need to reclaim food diversity in Sydney. More street food places and uncommon cuisines are needed if we are to have any chance of being the premier city that we keep saying we are. At the moment, Melbourne and Hobart have stolen the culinary crown that should have rightfully been ours.

I looked at our lacy looking hoppers, and our yellow mid-sized dosa and though I could travel down the streets of Asia eating these.

Certainly they looked like something I would buy from a street stall in Sri Lanka.  And that is a start.

2nd excerpt from ‘Playing with Fire’ – a period mystery novel

Quick backstory about this project: The following is an excerpt from a novel I’m currently writing called ‘Playing with Fire’.  Set in the Victorian era, it features a recently orphaned girl of seventeen called Magda Soulditch who has relocated from India following the death of her parents, and been begrudgingly taken in by the wealthy and notorious Mordaunt family who are distant relations of hers that she’d never known about until now.  Magda, is determined to rise above her station and acquire true power so that she is never helpless again. And the Mordaunt family hide a closet of secrets, and play power games that Magda will have to navigate if she is to succeed in her quest.

I actually had no intention of writing a novel and started writing this by accident when I was going through an emotional crisis and did a character writing exercise to distract myself. I knew I wanted to do a period piece that didn’t feel archaic, and to deal with colonial relations, historical change and to have a supernatural bent.  I also wanted a strong, motivated female protagonist, who was different to your run of the mill heroine, and male counterparts who were sexy, dangerous men.  Suddenly a few pages became something more and now I have a third of a book filled with characters that seem to be speaking to me, or through me.  And I’m still going.  Here’s the latest excerpt, where our protagonist discovers an attraction to a magical rival :

Both Simon and Seraphina had the same striking pale eyes – a colour that varied from blueish grey to aqua green depending on the lighting.

Romulus had his bright, almost electric blue eyes, same as Uncle Magnus.

Electric blue, sea green – these were the Mordaunt eyes.  Eyes that could stab through your soul, or seduce you where you stand.

And right now, Simon bore down on me with those eyes.

“You aren’t who you appear to be” he said with dark intent.

A nervous tic fluttered across my throat as I fumbled ‘I..I don’t know what you mean’.

He smiled. ‘Oh I think you do’.

I turned away from him to hide how nervous I was feeling. Was the charade up already ?

“Think what you like” – I said in as offhanded a tone as i could summon.

He took a swig of his brandy and twirled his glass as if he could see something in it. Then the gleam in his eyes turned from contemplative to cunning.

“I found a very interesting diary hovering around your chamber the other day.  It mades for very engrossing reading. Of course, one needs a Sanskrit translator for a lot of it.  I wonder what Uncle Magnus and Septimus would think, if they knew you could read Sanskrit…” he trailed off letting the implications seep in.

I didn’t want to fathom that, so I went on the attack. “Sniffing around my room were you. If I knew you were so eager to see my under-garments, I would have left them on display.  A gentleman wouldn’t stoop to common snooping around a lady’s chamber ! But then you are no gentleman”.

“And you are no lady, Magda. Though definitely not a commoner either”.

He came closer. His auburn hair curled over his forehead like a dreamy poet of the Romantics. He was almost ludicrously lovely for a man, like one of those angels in the paintings at the basilica in the church – all high cheekbones, sharply defined, even features, smooth flawless skin and those changeable sea-coloured eyes that seemed to absorb me in their vision.

It would be all too easy to be drawn in by him. I could see the attraction my former classmates had to him. How they hovered about like flies when he’d come to visit.  How they stood about and fawned over him earlier tonight at the after-dinner reception.  On the surface he was all nonchalant charm and insouciance, but every so often when he thought no one was looking he gave the girlish assembly a contemptuous glance through the corner of his eye.

The last time he’d flickered a disdainful glance across the crowd, he’d landed on me and found I gave as good as I got.  I stared at him with fire in my eyes as though he was dust at my feet, then turned away and walked off.

The next thing I know, he’d made excuses and followed me.  I walked out on the balcony to grab some fresh air, and he’d joined me.  He began asking innocuous questions and then his insinuations started. That he had struck close to the bone, he never knew. Yet it was clear Simon suspected something but for reasons of his own, was probably not going to tell the rest of the Mordaunts. Which meant Simon had blackmail in mind, or something worse.

I wasn’t going to take the chance.

Inwardly shaking and seething, I knew I had to compose myself to do what had to be done next. I excused myself for a minute to powder my nose than on the way back to the balcony, I passed the service table and slipped the steak knife up my sleeve as I made a show of picking up a glass of sherry.

He watched me approach with the glass in my hand, all smiles and composure.  He raised his glass to me. I continued to smile at him with my crooked smile.

I wasn’t ready to give up all that I had gained so far. I clinked my glass with his.

“Now what were we talking about ? I quite forgot,” I laughed.

“About your identity, your mysterious origins” he answered, then a light mocking note entered his voice. “I thought you’d run away from me”.

“Why should I run ? I’m not afraid of you”, I said with more courage than I felt.

I made a show of adjusting my hair ribbons, playing for time.

“Allow me,” he purred.  Simon stepped closer to me, and tied my hair back into the posy. He inhaled my scent and bent over me as if to kiss my neck then he grabbed my wrist with the hidden knife and bent it back behind me, exposing the steel blade.

I gasped in pain.

“Planning to stab me with this ?”, he mused.

“You’re hurting me”, I hissed at him.

“And you were going to do worse,” Simon retaliated under his breath.   He squeezed my wrist until I dropped the knife and it clattered on the balcony floor.

Then he pressed himself against me, and I could feel the hardness within him. His arousal was straining his britches.

“you really are full of surprises, Magda.”  And then he nibbled my ear and kissed my collarbone, exposed by my low décolletage in the amber silk ball gown.   Then he released me as suddenly as he’d kissed me. I almost dropped to the floor, and he chuckled.  He put out an arm to steady me, but I brushed his offer aside and regained my equilibrium by holding onto the column beside me.

“Why don’t you shower your attentions on one of those simpering girls inside ?” I gestured to my other classmates back in the drawing room who’d been ogling him all evening.  “I’m sure they’d be more than grateful for your advances”.

“I’m sure they would be. But my charity doesn’t extend that far.”

“Charity”, I looked at Simon, reluctantly amused and also appalled at him. “God, you’re insufferable ! You think you’re better than them.  Those girls come from the best families in the district, and you think they are beneath you”.

“You think the same”, he observed.

I don’t think I’m better than them, do I ?  It’s true I scorned their trills and frills and displays of social feminine behaviour.  The kind of behaviour that seemed so pretentious to me, was the kind I was expected to imitate.

Simon contemplated his brandy glass and drew his finger around the rim.  Then he cornered me against the stone column

“I could expose you” he said. But I knew he wouldn’t. I could feel his desire as though it were  tangible in the air.  And as much as I deplored him, I was beginning to feel it too. Too often, it was like my body had a mind of it’s own. A ripe, wanton, fertile energy flowed through me but I resisted it. Not for Simon. He was bad news. But still my urges were strong.

“You could try. Give it your best shot. I’ll lord it over you in the end”,  I leaned forward from the stone column, my face mere inches from his.  I felt dangerous. I had to go but he had me pinned against the pillar, and my feelings were all astray.

Simon looked at me closely.  Gazed at my breasts barely constrained by my ill-fitting chiffon dress, where my nipples were hardening, at my face where my confusing sensual ambivalence must have been written across my features.

And he took my face in his hands and kissed me full on the mouth, thrusting his tongue inside. For a whole minute, I kissed him back then I pushed him angrily away. He grabbed my hand, and was going to kiss me again.

“NO” tore out of me, as I wiped my mouth with my sleeve. His eyes narrowed at that. “We’ll be seen !” I hissed.

“You want me”, He accused me, his thwarted desire mingled with frustration.

“Yes, Simon, I desire you. Or at least a part of me does. But I don’t like you”. He was surprised at that. Surprised at my frankness, and that I didn’t dispense the usual feminine tactic of denying my feelings.

I continued “Besides, you don’t like me either”.  His continued silence was daunting but I was determined to have my say. I removed his arms gently from either side of me, and he released me.

“you know you don’t. You’re always saying sneering things. And I’m always sniping at you. If we go this way – we’ll be forced to the altar, and I don’t want your ring on my finger”.  He was looking at me in some consternation.

“Magda, don’t presume to think you know me. You don’t. You don’t even know yourself.” He straightened my collar that he’d undone.

He turned to leave than looked back at me. His normal dispassionate face – a tumult of strong emotions.

“You’ll change your mind. And when you do. I’ll be waiting”.

Then Simon walked out of the balcony back into the drawing room.  I heard the laughter of thrilled young woman greeting him, and his laughter echoing back.

 

 

march in March

As autumn slowly unwinds it’s cooler tendrils upon us, it’s a good month to get active and get educated.

For filmmakers and content creators, you’ve got the ‘Film, Television and the Law’ panel event hosted by Arts Law at Giant Dwarf tomorrow night on the 21st March. With speakers from SBS, and Emerald Productions, amongst others, this is the perfect opportunity to ask those tricky questions you had about protecting your concept, future proofing, usage rights etc. The event kicks off at 7pm, and at $35 a pop, it’s probably the cheapest legal advice you’ll ever get.

On Friday afternoon, from 1-5pm, AFTRS is hosting a special masterclass for the producers and film business types who want to know the state of affairs in sales and distribution overseas.

Called the ‘Film and TV Export Market masterclass’, it promises to cover pitching content to international buyers, look at who is buying content and what kind of content they are after, international co-production collaborations and how govt grants can help with the export side of your business. It does cost a hefty $180 but in light of the recent conversations creatives have had over social media concerning the general ignorance of filmmakers about the film business, maybe it’s worth coughing up the money to see him.

On Sunday the 24th March, it’s time to march in March at a #Time2Choose rally at NSW Parliament at midday.  It’s about putting pressure on our state politicians to start acting to help the environment and invest in renewal energy.

At a time when seasonal temperatures are hitting record highs, and Australia has one of the leading rates of animal extinctions, it’s appalling that governments are trying to fund coal powered projects and shafting renewables.

If you want to send a message to our regressive state government, then turning up on Sunday is a good idea. Otherwise writing a letter or signing a petition is still better than doing nothing.

Are burgers killing food diversity ?

You might look at this heading and blink twice or hiss ‘What the actual f**k are you talking about ?’.

So let me clarify this with a sweeping statement that I will stand by in the hail of protest that is sure to follow :

There are too many burger chains and burger joints in Sydney right now.  At first the burger craze to do American styled burgers was fun. We had some crazy themed joints, some groovy attempts at Yankee burgers with ingredients that either made your mouth water or your eyes roll.  And, I’m the first to admit that some places do a very delicious job of making very nice cheeseburgers, beef burgers, aussie burgers etc.

A big USA style burger with the standard ingredients and a couple of extras

But the fact is that when you decide to eat out in a suburb and you are hit with more than two burger joints all serving variations of the same thing – I’d portend that there’s one too many burger places out there.

And this doesn’t take into account that most pubs, clubs, bowling alleys and game houses have burgers taking up a large part of their menu. If only we could see the exciting street food trends hitting our streets with the same speed as a new burger joint. I’m waiting to see South American food take off, or Malaysian street food, or South Indian backyard dishes, make an appearance on Sydney streets. The people who haven’t tried tamales and pani-puris, don’t know what they’re missing.

pani puri = little pockets of scrumptiousness that you’ve gotta try. Choose your filling and presto ! Bite sized yum.
The Tamale = the Mexican and South American dish you haven’t tried.

The booming burger joints stacking our suburbs are a taste numbing exercise in gastronomical monotony that has to start failing soon.  Food is very trend driven, and as with all trends, everyone jumps on the bandwagon until your current favourite food becomes so ubiquitous you start getting queasy at the sight of it.  Remember when every block had a Thai restaurant until we were saturated with Thai food.  It was usually cheap and tasty, until it wasn’t.  Now some of those shops have shut down because there was an over supply in the market. (I’d argue that there still are too many Thai restaurants). The same with Portuguese chicken a decade ago. It wasn’t uncommon to see a Nandos, Oportos, and chicken shops serving Peri-Peri chicken, all in the same suburb, and even in the same street.  Now you’re lucky if you see one in the neighbourhood.  I keep waiting for the same thing to happen to the burger craze but burger joints are hanging in there. And they show no sign of shrinking, to our culinary detriment.

You have The Burger Project [chef supreme Neil Perry’s foray into fast food], Burger 10, Big Daddy Burgers, Burgerlicious, Burgers Anonymous, Moo Burgers, plus all the independant burger shops such as Mary’s in Newtown, Down N’ Out in George st etc.

The Burger Project – probably the most successful high profile burger chain out there. And yes, the burgers taste great but it’s a bit pretentious. Cattle fed from Tasmanian grass is the big selling point.

Apart from the Grill’d chain, which is Australian owned and operated, and very supportive of local causes, social issues and even indie filmmakers, do we really need all these other chains. [ I gotta confess here – Grill’d sponsored the last web series I helped produce – so I can’t complain too much about them. And they’re actually pretty good, with a wide ranging menu that includes vegan burgers and low carb options].  The Burger Project brings the gourmet touch to the burger enterprise and are also Aussie owned, and uses Aussie ingredients, so maybe there’s an argument in keeping them around, but the other chains – not so much.

Grill’d – the Aussie burger chain success story and one of the first burger franchises out there.

[Note : I’m not including Soul Burger which is a strictly vegan burger chain].

Look I do understand why the burger trend has spread across the country so fast.

Hamburgers are cheap to make when compared to other cuisines. And they used to be cheap to buy but now gourmet burgers range from $10 to $22. I’m told that some venues even exceed that price range, which is frankly ridiculous. Burgers are also pretty easy to make. Once you have good quality beef, such as your Angus and your Waggu, with the right fat-to-meat proportions, it’s just a matter of slapping those ingredients together. No Masterchef genius required. Burgers are easy to eat – you just need your hands and a big hungry mouth – no cutlery required.

But they’re a disaster on several fronts. Burger shops are to food courts, and eat streets, on par with Marvel movies at the cinema. They’re easy, predictable nature steals patrons from other eateries that they would normally try and experiment with. I’ve seen this experience first hand – you go out with friends, and no one can decide what they want to eat, so rather than take a risk, we settle for a burger joint.  It’s like an admission of defeat.

Then there’s the environmental factor. Yes, you knew this argument was coming and you may groan, but facts are facts. Excessive meat eating is terrible for the planet.  The methane expelled by cattle, the sheer amount of pollution caused by industrial cattle farming, the enormous scale of land clearing that is impacting our flora and fauna – you can’t write off these so easily as the consequences are long term, and will affect your children and their children.

And the rise in burgers fuels the rise in meat consumption at a time where we need to be cutting down on the amount of meat we’re eating not stocking up.

Over a decade ago, in 2006, the UN calculated that livestock [animals bred for food] accounted for near 20% of all climate change emissions. God knows what it would be now, but that figure hasn’t gone down.

Scientists and biologists reckon that if all the meat eaters across the globe went vegan for at least 2 days a week, we’d reduce climate change emissions and take a big step into that mega-challenge we are all avoiding but we all need to face : save the planet.

And then there’s the dietary factor – burgers really are just carbs with a slab of protein. Few vitamins or minerals and almost no fibre.  One burger is often half, or more, of the average required calorie intake for your normal healthy person.  Watch the calorie count when you put your burger into the MyFitness App, and feel your face fall. The only food item that is as calorie dense in a small portion is pizza.

There’s also the links between excess consumption of burgers, and the increased risk of  heart disease, diabetes, cancer.  Too many burgers now could mean too many trips to the hospital later in life.

And that’s a place no one wants to visit.

So maybe next time you reach for that burger for the second time this week, give yourself a mental tap and try something else.

Stab the burger so it stays put. Try something else !