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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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.

 

 

Excerpt from ‘Playing with Fire’ – a Victorian mystery novel manuscript

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. 

And here’s an excerpt from what I’ve written so far :

 

PLAYING WITH FIRE – excerpt 

by Gita Irwin

 

Percival Hanbridge had promised me sherbet.  I’d heard a lot about this sweet, so I hinted to Percival that I’d like to visit a sweet shop.  I had never been to a proper sweet shop since setting foot in England. My aya was always trying to curb my appetite for fear of me putting on too much weight to fit into the heavy corseted dresses I had to learn to wear, just prior to arriving in Mordaunt’s Close.  I never thought I’d say this, but I really miss saris. They’re much less cumbersome than these dresses.  The saris would never again see the light of day, alas.  They were packed at the bottom of my suitcase, hidden under my papers. Sometimes I took them out at night and held them against me in the mirror and tried to remember my father’s words chanting the holy Sanskrit tales, or my mother sewing in the backyard where the ripe mangoes filled the trees and the monkeys snatched pistachios out of the stainless steel trays on the balcony overlooking my lake in Kerala.  Those days were gone, and I had to adapt to food with terrible names and worse flavours like ‘spotted dick’ and ‘yorkshire pudding’.  I complained to Percival about the monotony of the English diet and he assured me that they had very nice sweets nearby in the village. I remembered my aya’s warnings about confectionary,  but sherbet was light and easy to eat, or so I was told.  Encouraged by Percival, I expressed my passion for sweets with much enthusiasm and intemperate language. English manners be damned, I thought.

“Bloody awful,” I said, waving away my Yorkshire pudding piece on my fork, like it was a bad luck charm. “We should go today, just so I can get the taste of this gastronomic disgrace out of my mouth ! In fact, we should go now. This instant !” When the maid’s back was turned I hurled the offending meat item into the dustbin behind me.

He laughed at me but he happily agreed.

Percival ordered a small carriage and he lifted me up to the top, where I settled myself next to the drivers seat whilst he took the reins and then we were off.

The horses went at a brisk pace and the carriage was steady. Percival was an even-handed whipster’ who controlled the horses smoothly.

The countryside outside Mordaunt’s Close was austere but beautiful in a strange unrelenting kind of way. Meadows blended with sharp hills, and jagged rocks jutted out of slopes, covered in a frosted grass of the deepest green.  The sky was a cool, pale cobalt split with clouds that threatened to become overcast but wasn’t quite there yet.  It was a day that had some bite in it. I had on a cashmere scarf around my neck, and a fitted coat to keep out the cold.  English weather was still taking some getting used to.

Along the trip I noticed how quiet the land was, and told Percival.

“It is strange for this time of the year. I mean, it’s not winter yet so you should still hear some robins or cuckoos at least.” Percival responded.  He blinked about him as if just noticing the country he was in.

As we drew closer to town, I heard the clatter of horses and wagons.  We’d caught up to some other travellers. Several carriages were ahead of us.  They were driving their horses at a hard pace and seemed in a hurry. I looked at Percival.

“Is it usual for this road to be so busy at this time of the day ?”

“No. It’s not”, Percival looked troubled. He gave the horses a flick, and urged them to go faster.

“Anything the matter ?” the ride was getting a bit bumpier and I held onto the side rails hard.

“I hope not. Just don’t want to be left in the dust that’s all”, he said but I could see he was distracted.  We hit a hard bump and lifted off the floor. Percival sharply tugged the reins and I decided not to talk anymore so he could concentrate on controlling his team of horses.

When we arrived at the village, there was a queue of carriages and footman.  And a crowd of people were gathered around the water fountain at the centre of the street.

“Is something on ?” I asked him.

“There does seem to be more stage coaches than usual,” he agreed. “just wait here, I’ll have a look”.

I watched as he jumped down and went to one of the pedestrians and asked.  They looked dark and leery at him. Percival backed away.  What was going on ?  It was almost like they had an issue with him. He looked nervous, and confused.  Then several people moved in front of him with some purpose and I couldn’t see him. After a minute, the crowd parted and I saw him follow a man down a narrow lane across the road. I called out but Percy didn’t hear me.  Curiouser and curiouser.

Not satisfied with watching on the sidelines, I got down from the coach, gingerly putting my foot into the grooves so I wouldn’t fall.  It’s pretty damn difficult to get down from a coach on your own in these ridiculous heavy dresses I had to wear. Now if I had a sari on – different story.

“Do you need some help, miss ?” a familiar voice said by my elbow.  Halfway down the carriage, I turned to look into the happy freckled face of Hugh Fortenbrass.  I nodded.  He held me by the waist and lifted me down to the ground. I thanked him.

“And where is your companion, the dashing Mr Percival”, he enquired. His green eyes glinted merrily in the afternoon sun, and the rays lit his chestnut hair.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. He went to ask about what was causing this commotion and now I’ve lost him” I said, worried.  Raised voices were coming from the gathered populace at the water fountain.  Some men raised their fists and others hurled curses. They were restless and agitated. I’d never seen them like this before.

“We’ll have a look for him”, he gestured towards the crowd near the water fountain. “Two more girls have gone missing and the inspector hasn’t found anything. People are angry, naturally. And they believe that one of us are responsible”.

“One of us ?” I tried to sound casual, but all my senses were heightened.  I knew our family conducted experiments that involved some of the locals, but they were all paid, right ? And returned to their dwellings as far as I could tell… But we were of the Mordaunt lineage, feared and feted, and many a dark deed was laid at our door in ages past. If girls are missing in the Close then all the founding families would come under suspicion, including the Hanbridges, the Fortenbrass, and the Mordaunts. I tried to tamp down my rising alarm.  And Hugh Fortenbrass confirmed my fears.

“The lords and ladies of the Close, of course. When ever something goes wrong, the local heathens are quick to blame the gentry for their troubles. Ungrateful wretches.  Always the first to beg us for coin when the crops wither or their brats have the croup”.  His jovial expression disappeared under a scowl, and then reappeared again as if nothing had happened.

“Nothing to trouble a lady with, Ms Magda. We better have a look for young Percival. Make sure he hasn’t gotten into a fracas.  It’s probably best you stay inside the coach. I’ll just be a minute”

“No, I’m coming with you,” I protested vehemently. “I’d be safer there then left behind in here”.

He though about that for a second and then nodded. “stay close then, Miss”.

We walked into across the street into the narrow path where Percival had gone. There was no sign of him. Hugh gestured to me, then pointed, and I stepped forward and looked at what he was pointing to.  There was Percival’s quizzing glass on the corner. How odd to leave that ?  In laid with gold, it was worth some money. Not the kind of thing thieves leave behind.

“I think he’s gotten himself into trouble, Miss Magda. I don’t like the looks of this”, Hugh stroked his moustache thoughtfully as he looked around, and his brow furrowed.

“Neither do I”, I agreed.  Then, like Hugh, I surveyed the place. The path was a dead end. It led to a shop that was closed.  They couldn’t have dragged Percival back out into the street, as we would have seen them.

That left one of the fire stairs, but which one. Clearly Hugh was contemplating the same thing, as he went close to one of the stairs and looked up, only to have the afternoon sun glare in his eyes.

There were four fire stairs, two on each side. All of them went up about four storeys into the surrounding buildings. And there was no sign to indicate they’d taken Percival into any of them. The doors above were all firmly closed, and the shuttered windows were frosted rather than see through.  And I couldn’t see that much inside of the windows past the second storey.

“Maybe we should call the constable”, Hugh looked worried. But not as worried as me. The Fortenbrass connections may help but it might be too late by then. With local feeling rising against the founding families, we could all be targets.

Hugh looked around, and called out for help but he was met with silence. He ushered me to stand in a corner behind one of the stairwells so I wouldn’t be easily seen and he handed me a gun.  He indicated to me that he’d be back soon.

Hugh walked back out of the alley onto the main street, and returned one minute later looking frustrated.

“The constables have their hands full with that mob. They can’t come right now. They said they’d be along shortly”. He knew I was worried and he knew there was reason to be.

“It could be too late by then !” I flared.  Clearly the Fortenbrass connections weren’t of help to us now. He stood near me restless and upset. I was too, but I’m not a Fortenbrass, I have other options. The Mordaunt blood flowed in me, and something else did too. It was to this something else, that I reached out.  Closing my eyes, I murmured the words to summon her.  A rush of energy flowed into me, and with it came shards of images; a cobwebbed room, a bunch of ruffians attacking Percival, and one man with a gold tooth behind a yellow door.

I opened my eyes, and saw Hugh Fortenbrass looking at me in consternation.  And something else was mingled there – fear and recognition.

I had no time to ponder that. I’d worry about that later. For now, we had to rescue Percival.

Scanning the four fire stairs again, I saw the one at the back left hand side of this alley, had a yellow door on top.

I made my way to the back one, and motioned Hugh Fortenbrass to follow me.

“I think he’s up here”, I said.

“And how do you know that ?” he looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time.

“Just a feeling”, I was getting anxious, so I snapped at him “Look, I don’t have time for whatever it is that’s bothering you. Percival is in trouble and he needs our help.  If you don’t want to join me, then at least lend me your pistol and I will go up there alone if need be !”

That galvanised Hugh into action. He clambered up the staircase fast, with me behind him going as fast as these voluminous skirts would allow.

“Hugh, there’s someone nasty  behind that door. Better ram through it”, I called out to him. He looked down at me and nodded.

When he got to the top, he rammed his large frame against the yellow door. And it gave way. I heard a yell behind it, and the unmistakable thud of fists.  I saw a blunderbuss drop to the floor.  Then a man screaming as Hugh dragged him to the staircase and held him over dangling by his legs.

“Where’s Percival ?  I’m not going to repeat myself.” I stared at the man, he was a lower level hoodlum with a cuffed shirt, and bleary eyes, a pathetic snivelling creature who went for easy targets.  He was flailing and bellowing but I felt no sympathy for him.

“He’s with the maester, they’re holding him”, the ruffian whined.

“Who’s the maester ? Where ?” I barked at him.

“Why don’t you sodden gentry bastards go to hell ! You Hanbridges and Fortenbrass brought this curse upon us with your power hungry ways !” he cried out.

“What’s he talking about”, I turned to Hugh who was holding the man as if it were no effort at all.

Hugh growled at the man “Heathen superstitions.  The bastards won’t settle for their fair share.”

“Fair share of what ? What’s going on ?” I asked Hugh, and then looked at the dangling man.

“God is my witness”, the man sniffed.

“If you’re not careful, you’ll meet him shortly”, Hugh rumbled and lowered the man over the fence so he could see the concrete four storeys below beckoning.

The man screamed.

“Where. Is. Percival ? Where. Is. The. Maester ?” Each word shot out of me like a fist. The man shook, and answered.

“In the fourth room, there’s an attic. They’ve got him there”, he spurted out. Then Hugh Fortenbrass made as if he was going to drop him anyway, releasing one leg. The man shrieked.  Hugh then pulled the man close and clobbered him. The desperate ruffian went out like a light, and Hugh swung his unconscious form back over onto the staircase and flung him on the stairs.

I walked through the yellow door, carrying the blunderbuss that I picked up, determined to take all comers.

“You’ve got nerve. I’ll give you that, Miss Magda”, Hugh said with an admiring tone. He gestured me to follow him through the large warehouse rooms.

This fourth storey warehouse had obviously been used as storage of munitions. There were old canons, and shell casings, and boxes of discarded weapons lining giant shelves with ladders attached to them.

Rusty chains and cuffs hung off the wall on one side. Wooden boards that were stripped of paint and had holes punched through them, lined the other wall.  And running across the room were these three massive shelves, with the creaky wooden ladders.  A set of pre-Napoleon era canons were rusting away in a corner, covered in dust. At the other end of the room were four doors. Labelled numerically in Roman Numerals.

Both Hugh, and I dashed towards the fourth door when it opened, and out came the man with the gold tooth. The one I saw in the vision.  He was holding a pistol. Behind him was Percival Hanbridge, bloodied and roughed up, being held by two more ruffians.  The pistol was pointed at Percival.

“You come any closer, and your precious lad gets a hole in his head for the bargain” the gold toothed man sneered.  He was a bit better dressed than his fellow ruffians and was clearly the leader of the gang. He wore a chocolate coloured tweed suit with a waistcoat and vest that was stretched across his rotund shape. His hands were encased in black gloves, and his boots were black and polished. He wore a set of thin rimmed square spectacles that magnified his beady dark eyes. Bewhiskered, bearded, and with very prominent front gold teeth, he resembled a malign beaver. Admittedly, an upmarket one.

Hugh had a revolver trained on him.

The gold tooth beaver smiled at Hugh’s revolver with a sinister grin.

“do you really think you’re goin’ta get that pig sticker off before I blow your friend’s brains all over the floor ?”, the beaver said.

Hugh stepped forward with menace “I might be game to try, Mister. I’m a fair shot”.  The beaver clicked back the trigger on his pistol and pressed it right against Percival’s skull. Percival moaned in pain. This wasn’t going well.

It was time to try out my negotiation skills.

I dropped the blunderbuss, and stepped forward.

“I gather you are the Maester. ?” He nodded so I continued “and you are upset for something, Mr Hanbridge’s family have done ?” I let that enquiring note hang in there as I wasn’t sure what it was and hoped the beaver would enlighten me.

“Aye. His blighted family. And his”, he gestured at Hugh Fortenbrass. “They need to pay what they owe. Blood bonds are not so easily set aside in this neck of the woods, missy”.

I kept my tone conciliatory and sympathetic, “I can only imagine they’ve caused you great distress. Perhaps we can come to some arrangement and I can offer something to fix the debt that’s owed to you”.

“And who are you, Missy ?”, He looked me up and down, assessing me.  His tongue flicking across his gold buck teeth.  “And what exactly are you offering ?” he gave me a look that was like a touch, and I immediately felt disgusted but swallowed my distaste, and pretended I didn’t hear any implications in that sentence.

But Hugh did, and he was furious.

“This is Miss Soulditch. And you’ll speak to her with respect !”, Hugh thundered.

 

Lightning and Thunder – a ‘coming of age’ story, set in the 1990s skateboarding scene

LIGHTNING AND THUNDER

by Gita Irwin.

When the rubber wheels skidded off the tarmac, then swung around the curve, we knew Azzie was going for a three-sixty flip.  He glided downhill; jumping a few benches, then ricocheted off the kerb and spun.

Though pretty fast it seemed to happen in slow motion.  The swish of the deck as it cut through the air and twirled.  The silver flash as the metal bracings caught the sun.  For a second, the skateboard seemed suspended in midair.  Then, he finished the twirl like a ballerina coming down on a pirouette (without the stupid tutu) and the skateboard ‘cracked’ against the concrete as Azzie’s feet landed firmly back on it.

Flash and crack in perfect sequence.  Lightning and thunder is what us skateboarders call it.  The perfect harmony of angle, movement, and force of impact.  Only the best riders can do that and Azzie was one of the best.

The crowd held its breath as Azzie checked his skateboard.  Space and I, shoved through the packs so we’d get his signal.  When he saw us at the front, crushed against the railing, Azz’ stuck his thumb up and wriggled it side-to-side.

The deck was intact.  The crowd turned to us, waiting.  Space called out the result.  The crowd cheered.

Later, after money changed hands, some people grumbling, some people grinning, me, Space and Azzie stopped off at the Shack to celebrate our winnings.  Azz’ had won the most of all.  Fifty bucks.  And this his third win in a row.  It made me wonder why people were still stupid enough to bet against him.

The competition was pretty lousy.  None of them could flash and crack properly.  But as this tape of thoughts replayed in my mind, one of the competition walked in.  Paul Martin.  We all choked.  Azz’ hunched over the counter and practically buried his head in his Pepsi can.  He didn’t lift his gaze from the rim of the red cylinder, his black, shaggy hair hiding his face from view.  Space, crouched in a corner, tried to merge with the shadow on the wall nearest him.  I hid myself, standing behind a tall chick at the pool table.

We went unnoticed as he passed by, through the games room to the TV room.  I exhaled slowly.  Azz’ straightened up but Space was still tense.

What was Paul Martin doing here ?  He rarely, if ever, hung around at the Shack (for which we were supremely grateful).  He preferred bars to youth scenes, which was what the Shack is.

The Shack is the Punchbowl “youth centre”.  Our chill out hangar, a lazy joint where you could wile away an afternoon getting hammered at the Playstation, drumming some beats in the music room, playing hoopies pounding a basketball across the tarmac on the open court, my favourite, autographing the noticeboard with a signature style, Space’s weapon of choice, or using the benches as a test for skate rebounds, the Azz’ mark.  The Shack’s a long ugly (they never make these places nice) chocolate brown dorm.  The exterior brick walls, styled in stucco, are covered in graffiti.  Space, whose name is really Simon, has texta-ed, spraypainted, and drawn his tag all over these walls (and throughout Punchbowl for that matter), which is how he got his name – people stopped calling him Simon and renamed him Space after his tag.  Sometimes, reports turn up in the local paper of all the “SPACES” around the suburb, warning residents to “be aware”, and offering a reward for the culprit.

Of course, no one dobbed Space in.  Not even for the reward.  Here, in Punchbowl, we were more likely to welcome a cockroach infestation into our homes than a bunch of coppers.  Apart from the fact that the blue bastards are increasingly on the take, if you invited a copper into your home you’d become a social reject.  You might as well go into exile.

Police hate youth, it’s that simple.  Anyone under 25 gets a grilling.  To them, every one of us is either a raving druggo or a hardcore crim waiting to happen.  Once when I reported a break-in at my aunt’s place, this huge copper, who showed up, after doing the routine checks and asking the usual questions, handed me a slip of paper with Benito Marcos – my name on it.

It was a warrant for my arrest due to outstanding fines.  The fines it mentioned were over three years old and amounted to one hundred dollars – the consequences of stealing a lead pencil when I was thirteen.  The pencil couldn’t have cost more than fifty cents.

If I didn’t pay up that day, I’d have spent that night in jail.

The copper smirked and tapped his hand against his broad thigh as it became obvious I didn’t have any money.  Just as he was about to haul me off to the station, my aunt came back from work and got it sorted.

This is what coppers are like.  They’re like roaches.  Too many of them always crawling around on their ‘beats’, looking for trouble so they could swarm to it, adding to the garbage they find.  I only found out later that big roach that tried to lock me up was Paul Martin’s father.

Paul was his father’s son alright.  He had his dad’s big build and the same ‘pick on someone smaller to prove I’m a hero’ attitude.  Paul was cut up.  His muscles were so big, you could see the ridges of the veins straining to contain them.  His chest was a rock solid six-pack that belonged in a Mr Universe magazine.  He was so tight, tense and densely packed.  Sometimes I though that if he’d flex, he’d burst.

And if that wasn’t enough to make you want to avoid him, you only needed to see him at work.  Not working on a job, just working on other people.  Paul had heavy fists to go with his heavy frame.  And he liked to use them.  Every week, some guy would limp in the Shack bearing thick splotches of purple and brown he didn’t get walking into a door.

I got a black eye once.  Azzie was clobbered a couple of times.  We were lucky because we avoided him.  It was Space who was shit scared of Paul.  When Paul tried to start trouble with Space and Azzie a week ago, he got a visceral reaction from the tagmaster.  Space shivered and shook, his voice spluttered and trembled.  It was like waving sugar in front of a nasty dark roach.  Paul homed in on him, with sharp words and sharper fists.  Space only got away in one piece because of Azzie.  He hacked at Paul with the skateboard, dragged Space out of Paul’s headlock and they both bounded away on their skateboards, twisting around corners and nudging passers-by.

We’d all been jittery this morning when we saw Paul enter the wagers to test his skill.  Space’d thought we ought to let him win.  The faint purple smudges on his puffy grey eyes agreed with him.  Azzie was thinking the same thing, especially since he’d managed to whack Martin and get away with it.  Something unheard of in the Shack.  But I knew that Paul was a lame skater.  All flailing arms and no finesse.  If we didn’t beat him someone else would.

Azzie finally nodded.  Space deflated a little, his skinny white bod’ shrinking even further.

We were all good riders.  We could notch up one-eighties and king flips with no fuss but Azzie was the best.  He also practiced the most.  Three or four hours a day he’d spend skateboarding, five or six on weekends.  The rubbers on his wheels were replaced every week.  His deck was scored with shoe imprints and rubber burns from his Nike Air Jordans.  He covered every slope, rink and street in Punchbowl.  When he wasn’t at school, I knew he was skateboarding at the rinks.  Space believed Azzie was born on a skateboard.  I believed he was right.

When Azzie sailed through the air and the flash came, I glanced at Paul.  He knew he was going to lose.  But what I saw on his face was shocking.  His eyes were glazed over.  He followed Azzie’s momentum with a weird wide-eyed look of…of wonder.  That was the last thing I expected to see on his flat brutish face.  When Azzie landed and the crack came, Paul’s head flung back at the same time.  His eyes were burning with this need.  The rhythm of it all, the intensity sent a cold, wriggly worm down my spine, as if a cockroach had settled there and died, leaving its carapace remains for the worm to collect.

As I replayed this scene like a film in my head, a loud smash shook through the Shack.  The three of us raced to the source of the noise.  It was coming from the TV room, where Paul was.  Just before we came in, we saw a flash.  Space gasped, rooted to the floor.  My mouth was drawing flies.  Paul had somehow gotten a hold of Azzie’s skateboard and was hammering it in a frenzy.  The light flash had come from the silver hammer.  Clumps of wood jutted out unevenly, strewn strips flew off spreading splinters everywhere.

Azzie screamed and howled.  He wrenched the remains of the pulped, wrecked skateboard out of Paul’s hands.  Paul cradled the remaining shreds and cried.

We all stared at him.

“It wouldn’t make thunder and lightning,” he sobbed.  As he placed the battered fragments on the ground, a large cockroach crawled out from under the lounge and buried itself inside them.

 

ENDS

©Gita Irwin

 

August 2017 = a rare month of great cinema !

 

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It’s unusual these days to go to your local cinema and see not one or two but a handful of quality movies that cater to a variety of tastes.  This was common in the 80s and the 90s but after 2005 we just began seeing formulaic superhero franchises, lame remakes attempting to cash in on nostalgia, and low budget horror flicks .  Too many times I’d peruse the offerings at my local cinema and sadly note there was nothing I wanted to see OR that I’d seen the only decent film showing there.

The only exception to this quality cinema void, is Oscar period each year – that 4 months from November to February when the studios and indies release all their ‘intelligent’ films to be in the running for the Academy Awards.  Other than that period – most of the year is filled with the kind of films that had us groaning out loud or staying home and binging on Netflix.

But this past month at my local cinema has been replete with good quality well made films of a decent range of subjects and genres  = Variety – that one magic word that had been missing for a while from my local cinema.  And when I look around, I see the same promising content at other cinemas too.

If ever there was a time to go to a cinema in the hope of being pleasantly surprised, or thrilled even – this is it.

Look at the content that’s out at the moment : The Lost City of Z, Maudie, American Made, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, Spiderman Homecoming, The Big Sick, The Trip to Spain, Wind River, Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Earlier this month we had :  A Monster Calls, War for the Planet of the Apes, Ghost Story, Paris Can Wait, The Beguiled, , It Comes At Night, Wonder Woman [was still showing in some cinemas in the beginning of August].

If you’re still skeptical about the point I’m making – take a closer look at these films:

The Lost City of Z is something we don’t make anymore but should – a big scale humanistic exploration and adventure film that asks the big questions about imperialism, civilization, the search for wonder.

Maudie is a good biopic of folk artist painter Maud Lewis. It has Sally Hawkins who shone in Happy-Go-Lucky and soars in this. It also has my personal northstar – Ethan Hawke.  He always picks interesting unconventional projects and makes great choices as an actor. I know if he’s in something – there’s a good chance it’s pretty darn fine.  [Ethan Hawke and the concept of a northstar , will be the subject of another blog post soon].

American Made sees Tom Cruise shake off the dross was The Mummy and back in form with director Doug Liman in this gripping true story about the TWA pilot who ended up bring drug running for the CIA.

Even the most flawed of these movies – Valerian – is still fascinating and brave and does venture into new territory with resonant themes, spectacular unique imagery and a rocketing story, even if the leads are a let down.  It doesn’t feel generic or dull in any way.

The superhero entries that played in the cinemas this August are probably the best ones we’ve seen in recent years. Wonder Woman did gangbuster business as the first positive portrayal of a female superhero coming from DC.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a superhero flick as a John Hughes film in disguise, and is a lot better than it has any right to be.

Dunkirk is another grand film from visionary Christopher Nolan tackling a rarely visited war story with an approach that feels like a visceral first person POV experiment. It’s the closest you’ll get to being there without actually being there.

Baby Driver is a fantastic car chase heist film that oozes style and panache, and a kickarse soundtrack.  I absolutely adored this film, except for the ending which was unexpected but had me on the fence.  See it as soon as you get a chance.

Atomic Blonde is a brilliant action-spy film of the same calibre of the best recent Bond or Bourne films.  If you really want to know what a female bond looks like than watch Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton. As highly efficient, deadly and capable as Bond, Charlize Theron rocks a steely resolve and cool unruffled demeanour that exudes a world weariness that is very familiar. But unlike Bond, Charlize Theron is vulnerable – she takes a beating and every one of her wins are earned, and does have the odds stacked against her. Bloody eyed, bruised and battered but stolid and relentless – she’s a bona fide action star who deserves a whole franchise playing this character. She really is THAT good.  Atomic Blonde has nail biting action sequences and unexpected twists, and the perfect lead performance is bolstered by a great supporting cast too. James McEvoy always delivers the goods as the devilish Brit agent connection in Berlin, Eddie Marsan, and Bill Skarsguard and John Goodman make welcome appearances in key roles.

And speaking of kickarse soundtracks – Atomic Blonde has that late 80s ultra cool pop-rock fusion that’ll have you digging out your old records.  If Wonder Woman was aspirational feel-good girl power, than Atomic Blonde is the power of a steely eyed pragmatic woman.

The Big Sick is the rom-com for those who lost faith in rom-coms and thought that nothing good could be made in this genre anymore.  It’s surprisingly good. Just ignore the title. The title is terrible, the film is not.

Logan Lucky is a comedy heist that sees Steven Soderburgh make a welcome return to the cinema. After he threatened retirement, it’s great to see him back making smart, funny, accessible movies. He was once the shining star of intelligent humanist accessible cinema. He made stylish relatable movies without obvious flashy ‘auteur’ touches that might otherwise put off non film buffs. Logan Lucky may not be on the super high level of ‘Out of Sight’ but it’s still really good.

And coming out this week we have well reviewed Australian horror, Killing Ground. A film that will make you think twice next time you decide to go camping. Get off your arse and see it before it gets swallowed by the next blockbuster in the cinema schedule !!

Look at that survey of cinema titles this month and what do you see ?

There’s a whole variety of genres in all those titles – horror, biopics, action thrillers, car-chase flicks, war movies, sci-fi, murder mystery, superhero flicks, rom-coms, comedies.

And they are all good quality films !  Well structured, visually striking, and well paced with stories and characters you could care about.  Some titles may appeal to one crowd, some titles to another – but it felt like one of those rare months where there was something for everyone.  I hadn’t felt that since the 1990s.  A tentative flame of optimism has been lit in my soul.

[ The only major genre I see missing is kids movies.  And that’s usually the only genre where something decent is on throughout the year, but this year, it’s where we had the one of the few major celluloid crappers on the screen – The Emoji film. The less said about this – the better].

But still – overall it’s been a great month at the movies !

Don’t believe me ?  Compare August 2017 to last year – the major releases were Suicide Squad [all the proof Luc Besson needed to prove that Cara Delevingue can’t really act and he ignored it and gave her a lead role in Valerian. (Sigh)…], Ben Hur [a horrific unnecessary remake of an old era cinematic gem], Nine Lives [even cat lovers couldn’t save that flick], The Legend of Tarzan [even Alexander Skarsguard’s spectacular abs couldn’t elevate that flick], The Secret life of Pets [almost as banal as the Emoji movie].  And there was a boring Jason Bourne film. The only shining light that whole month was a little film called ‘Don’t Breathe’.

This August is a massive improvement and an answer to all those naysayers that say cinema is dead.  There’s been a bunch of great original films [Dunkirk, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver etc], and good franchise entries, and great adaptations of fresh existing intellectual property that hadn’t been tackled before [Atomic Blonde is an adaptation of a graphic novel].

August 2017 should restore your faith in cinema. Good movies ARE still being made. You just need to go out and see them.  And hopefully box office support means we might see a wide choice of good movies every month not just around Oscar time.

 

 

Do audiences really want to see original films ?

 

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I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret – sometimes people say what they think you want to hear.  And to go further with this notion ; Too often what people say ain’t what they really mean, but what they actually DO in their actions and their choices = that’s the truth right there.

I’m starting on this note because too many times I find that reality is at odds with the ideals that the public has stated they want. Eg.  Free education and healthcare – yet they vote for folks who do the opposite,  a clean environment – yet they leave plastic bags and litter everywhere. And this maxim rings true with entertainment too.

Case in point – endless movie remakes and sequels. You’re totally over it, right ? Wrong !

-Always the feedback I see online is ‘oh another remake, sequel, prequel – how boring  ! Hollywood has run out of ideas and is run by hacks, my grandma could do it better blah blah’

-I took these proclamations at face value and totally sympathised until recently.  How dare these uncaring studio suits keep foisting thoughtless remakes and pointless sequels on us ? Why does this keep happening ???

And the answer is….

Because you make it happen !  The box office numbers show that most of the time, audiences flock to existing IP instead of going to see original movies.

2017 Yearly Box Office Results

2016 Yearly Box Office Results

[I could put links for the whole decade – but I’m sure you get the picture].

IRL –  you vote with your wallet and every time you prioritise seeing these derivative films instead of original content then you send a message louder than all your whiny posts on FB, Twitter, Instagram etc.

Yeah there are exceptions – Arrival, Interstellar, Oscar nominees , Don’t Breathe, La La Land, and Get Out buck the trend – just to name a few.

But these are TOO few and far between.

Then make better movies – you say. Filmmakers are trying to.  But you need to go and see them. Your dollars talk louder than your Facebook likes.

LIFE – a alien vs human sci-fi thriller released In March this year, kinda proves my argument. It had a social media campaign, a mid sized budget – $58M – name stars amongst the cast, a diverse cast etc.

It’s also a good film. Not perfect but damn entertaining – it marries clever execution of the simple but strong premise with relatable humane, well rounded characters, and measured pacing that rockets along.  Yes, the alien menace plot is not fresh but it does a good job with it.

Yet, LIFE  didn’t open strong enough.  It may just break even, but it’s not the knockout hit at the box office it needed to be to get more mid-sized original films funded.  And then, of course, there’s Passengers, the $110M original sci-fi film with the two biggest stars on the planet – Jennifer Lawrence, and Chris Pratt.  And even THAT couldn’t save it.

Even Having Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal Doesn’t Mean an Original Film Will Be a Hit These Days

Whereas a crappy blockbuster of $100M plus based on an existing idea will either scrape through or become a hit. Eg. Transformers [any of the ‘Bay fest’ films], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC films – BvS, Suicide Squad etc [they might have been critical flops but they broke even or are in the black, financially and that’s what counts with the suits in charge, otherwise they wouldn’t keep pumping them out].

Why is this really happening ?

From stage left, waiting in the wings, are four theoretical Gita’s who will try and solve this conundrum :

1} Enter cynical Gita :  People are sheep. They want to play safe and stick to what they know.  Pre-existing IP such as Disney Classics like live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Marvel films, remakes etc. means they kinda know what to expect when they go to the cinema so they won’t be wasting $ with unwelcome surprises. Cinemagoer : “Movies are expensive, goddamnit. And I’m not risking my hard earned cash on weird experimental shit my kid could’ve crapped out with his Iphone”  [say it with a southern accent and it sounds even better].

2} Enter logical Gita : People can’t go to what they don’t know about. I mean who’d heard about ‘Cure for Wellness’ ?  If it ain’t on BuzzFeed, What Culture, Junkee, HuffPost, N Y Times or new.com.au etc, then how am I suppose to know ?

This is actually a good argument. Most films under $50 million, don’t have the advertising spend to compete with the sheer onslaught that a studio blockbuster will do. From social media meltdowns over extensively highlighted trailers, exhaustive coverage in any and all press online, as well as traditional avenues such as bus station posters, train station billboards, radio ads, TV spots etc – all require the kind of spend that most original films made, simply don’t have the budget for.

This argument works well for why most indie films fall by the wayside, but it doesn’t explain the larger scale original films that were starved of audiences.

And surely in this glorious online age where we’ve learned to subscribe to Netflix, buy stuff on Itunes for our latest fix, and use Google for research – it can’t be too hard to subscribe to a blog, or sites that covers news of original movie releases of the kinds of content you like, and when they are coming out to cinemas. Get a newsletter to your inbox, or see posts about those films you’re intrigued by via liking and following an appropriate film page on FB. You can fix the information blackout if you really wanted to… Remember Google is your friend.

3} Enter emotional Gita: But I don’t feel like seeing that original film because “it’s not my cup of tea / doesn’t appeal to me / I just don’t feel like seeing this kind of thing now”.  And you know what – if this is your reason than fair enough.

There’s no argument against emotions and personal taste – no one can or should dictate that …but I will leave you with this tale. On Good Friday this year, it was family movie night. We’d agreed to a late session so we could do dinner beforehand.  I was all primed to see Beauty and the Beast because I wanted to get all sentimental and romantic and shamelessly drown in nostalgia mush. But the rule of family night is that we all have to agree on a film to go to see it together. And my brother was dead-set against seeing Beauty and the Beast.  We were at an Event Cinema because I had a family pass gift card I wanted to use up, and the choices that night weren’t great – the girls voted against The Fate of the Furious, no one wanted to see Ghost in the Shell [nothing against Scarlett Johannson but we’d seen the anime version and the feature didn’t look like it would top that],  Mum, and the sister-in-law, had no interest in ‘Logan’ – much to the disappointment of my brother,  and that left us with a film called LIFE – an original film, as in – not based on any book or franchise,  whose title was vague and whose poster looked sci-fi but revealed nothing visually.  I didn’t really want to see it, but the clock was ticking and this was the only night we had so we all compromised and picked that one as the film for the night. And it turned out to be a great choice. A nail-biting survival thriller that united our family in unanimous approval, and had us discussing first contact, and our deepest fears long afterwards. Sometimes taking a risk and going against your obvious inclinations can reward you.  I will still see Beauty and the Beast at some point but I’m glad I didn’t get my way that night.

4} Enter practical Gita : This is a ‘double punch to the gut’ argument and it feels like this ;  It’s not on in a cinema near me and I ‘won’t/can’t/don’t’ travel to a cinema where it’s showing. It’s not showing at a time where I can see it, and by the time I get a night off to check it out, it’s already gone off the cinema !

The ‘punch to the gut’ is because it’s painfully true and it hurts filmmakers and cinemagoers alike.  Too many titles have a limited release at specific cinemas that will only show them at decent times [6pm onwards] for about a fortnight. After that fortnight the screenings shrink to once or twice a day at times when only the grey haired army would turn up to a cinema.

I’m still head scratching on how to counter this problem but I’ve got a couple of ideas :

#1 – Instead of lining up to be amongst the first to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, chomping at the bit to see that latest Alien franchise ripper,  or camping out to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, on opening night in December – take a rain check and prioritise going to a kickarse original film instead on it’s opening week, and see the blockbuster the following week or two. Because the Blockbuster [your Star Wars, Marvel, big $ remake] will still be showing at watchable times for another month whereas that original film you were intrigued about – no such luck, unless it performs like a badass race car in its first week of release. It’s not a fair playing field and your blockbuster film already starts ahead of the pack with it massive marketing clout. And then like any behemoth – they rig the game:  Studios prebook the best cinema slots months ahead so exhibitors like your Event Cinemas, Hoyts, etc contractually have to show these garguatuan movies for many weeks after release.  Exhibitors do have some say in this relationship but studios hold the balance of power on this one. I can talk with some confidence on this point because I used to work at a cinema has a second job. The boss would show me their upcoming releases and their programming schedules – what films got what slots at what time, and for how long – and it was a real eye-opener.  The indie films were lucky to get a few nights in the first week with late evening sessions, than if there was no traction they were shunted to the morning sessions = the kiss of death to any film that’s not aimed at the grey haired crowd. Most of the good spots each week were filled with back to back screenings of blockbuster rehashes.  If I’d had any sense, I’d have abandoned any thoughts of a film career than and there. But who goes into filmmaking because it’s a sensible career ?!

You might say – Oh but if I don’t see Star Wars/whatever blockbuster coming out on the first week, everyone’s going to spoil it for me !  And my answer = really, REALLY !  You couldn’t guess the plots of these films ??  Because most of them aren’t re-inventing the wheel, or even changing the street directions in these stories. They are, beat for beat, the same tale as a previous entry in the existing franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a near total reproduction of Star Wars: A New Hope.  The structure of Iron Man, Ant Man, Thor are all similar.  And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Alien:Covenant is not breaking new ground.  This is not news here folks.

Yeah, you might get thrown a few unexpected elements – the repentant stormtrooper, Han Solo’s kid turned bad. And a few new twists – Han Solo dies.  But if you want to avoid being spoiled you can stay off the internet for a while – that’s a tough one, I know. Or choose not to read them and berate those who do reveal details without prior warning.  Or pick door number 3 – learn to enjoy the pleasure of anticipation over surprise. Let the spoilers come, and go later anyway, biting your nails waiting for the ‘big surprise moment’ to occur.  I often opt for this – it’s not as bad as it sounds. A spoiler free universe doesn’t exist here, and I adapt to that reality, but I understand if it’s not for you. Different strokes for different folks and all that jazz.

2# Got friends who want to see an original indie film and who might join you ?  Then look up Fanforce and request that film at a selected cinema on a particular night. If they haven’t got a film you wanna see on their list of titles – then email them a request.  If enough people request a film and are prepared to pre-buy the tickets – that screening will happen !  This may not work for every original film on any date – but it’s worth a shot.  It’s kinda like crowd-sourcing a film screening – you buy the ticket up front but you only get charged if the venue sells the minimum target required for the screening to go ahead. There’s lots of intriguing indie film titles on there you might want to see, from thrillers, westerns, dramas and docos.  Check them out on the site here :

FanForce website link here.

 

The-Osiris-Child-Poster

Instead of lining up like a lemming to see Alien:Covenant, then griping on Facebook about the shortcomings, you might be better off checking out another dark sci-fi film set on a foreign planet, being released today in Australia called ‘The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One’ by Australian genre filmmaker Shane Abbess. It’s ambitious, gripping and unexpectedly moving. It doesn’t have xenomorphs or big star power but it plays like a sci-fi novel with chapters and moves at a furious pace, with enough unfamiliar elements to keep you guessing.  It does have very limited release in cinemas around Australia, so you do have to get in quick before the next bloated blockbuster drives it off, and then you’ll have to see it online. Having been fortunate enough to see a preview screening of it, I can tell you that it’s a film that does merit the big screen experience.

For more on the Osiris Child, check the website link here

Likewise if you’re looking for a thrill ride or a few good scares, you might put Pirates of the Carribean : Dead Men tell no tales , and The Mummy, on the backburner, and check out ‘It Comes at Night’, ‘Wind River’, ‘Lady Macbeth’, ‘The Bad Batch’.  You might find a new love or something you debate over or you might hate it but at least you’re going into something different than that tired franchise film you’ll groan about.

Discover some new filmmakers with fascinating story worlds ready to wow you.

At the end of the day – the power is in your hands. We either build the world we want to see, or let our unconscious choices create the world we howl against. And if a diverse cinema with original stories, fresh universes to explore and exciting new characters to meet, matters to you – than start making your choices align with your stated values.  The franchise blockbusters can wait, the original films – big or small, can’t.

 

 

Genre prejudice at the Oscars

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Forget the Moonlight and La la land debacle. The bigger question is why ‘Get Out’ a film with a near perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes didn’t get nominated. The answer = because it’s a horror film.

Likewise great comedies don’t get nominated.  Fantasy films = also largely ignored. This is less of a problem for science fiction films but the problem still persists.

The consequence of this deliberate oversight is that, often, the films nominated for the Oscars are films that have been largely unseen.  Specialist genre films attract audiences easier than straight drama films.  There are set audiences who are looking for a particular genre because they have certain expectations, and an appetite for those story conventions that specialist genre caters for. With a drama you don’t know what to expect in terms of form, structure, tone. You blindly hope that the trailer is a good indication of the type of film you will see.