Friday, 28 October 2011

Terrible Nova.

I know it has been on the TV for a few weeks but I watched the first episode of Terra Nova the other night.

In the first few minutes I was told that in the future the Earth is an overcrowded, pollution filled hell hole where everyone wears smog masks and families are allowed to have two kids only. Then I was introduced to the heroes of this series which was a family including dad who is a policeman and mum who is a doctor, they have two teenage kids but have also had a third illegal kid who is about five or six.

So the heroes are two people in positions of authority who have decided that two kids aren't enough for them and have squeezed out a third for no reason other than their own selfishness.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door and grim faced men in black uniforms burst in and search their apartment. They quickly find the youngest child who has been hidden away in a crawl space behind a wall. Despite the child being around five years old she is too stupid to remain quiet and starts whimpering 'Mummy' until the grim-faced men can't help but find her.

Dad then kicks off and punches a couple of the grim faced men before being stabbed with space cattle prods.

We then jump forward a couple of months where dad is in prison and being visited by his doctor wife where they discuss his overreaction and the fact that if he hadn't immediately resorted to violence and attacked the grim-faced men then he would have only been fined and not been locked up for a few years. So the whole 'Anne Frank' scenario falls apart and the grim faced men are suddenly more like police men doing their jobs rather than evil SS figures.

I may sound judgemental but so far I'm not warming to these characters.

His wife then slips him some kind of break-out of jail kit.

To cut this sorry tale short a wormhole in time has been discovered that links up to 85 million years in the past and a colony of humans has gone through it to set up a colony and re-engineer the past.

As our heroic wife is a doctor she is allowed to go through the wormhole and take two other people with her so she joins the queue to the wormhole with her two teenage kids. As they go through the husband who has broken out of jail pushes his way past everyone else in the queue carrying the illegal daughter in a rucksack. He then jumps through the wormhole into the past.

When they arrive in the prehistoric colony the authorities point guns at them for a few seconds then decide to do nothing other than give them a nice big house to live in. The leader of the colony frowns at the policeman every now and then but also asks him to participate in all the dangerous missions thereby allowing mutual respect to grow and the policeman to run around with a gun.

If anyone is still reading this post then I apologise for the rambling nature of it but I wanted to justify my opinion of how shit I think this programme is. It is a perfect example of special effects being no substitute for good storytelling. What exactly is is trying to say?

Basically two people whose jobs put them in a position to see how much damage overcrowding is causing have decided to ignore this and have as many children as they want, despite the future not looking great for their kids. They have broken one member of the family out of prison and then shoved other people aside so they can set themselves up in a better world.

After being told to root for a bunch of selfish, irresponsible arseholes like this there is little point in discussing the formulaic nature of the writing or the characters that are so shallow that they might as well have saved money on actors and used paper plates nailed to broom handles with the character traits written on them instead, such as 'Moody Teenage Son' and 'Gruff Authority Figure'.

If you want to watch a drama about a group of people trying to survive in a hostile enviroment then you are better off watching 'The Walking Dead'. The first series of this was gripping and I just watched epidsode one of series two last night and was literally on the edge of my seat at one point. This too has movie production values but the difference is they spent some of the budget on good writers and it makes all the difference. You care about the characters and when they are in danger it is genuinely nerve-wracking.

As for Terra Nova it manages to make Dinosaurs boring, which I suppose some sort of accomplishment.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Machno Witch: Part 2.

The next day saw us invent a whole new sport. There was a lawn at the front of the cottage surrounded by a wall, two players would stand facing each other and try to hit the opposite wall with a football while defending their own wall against the other players attempts.

Only feet could be used to attack the other wall and to try and tackle the other player but hands could be used to defend against strikes. We gave this the imaginative title of 'Wall Ball' and it proved so popular that by the end of the week there was barley any grass left on the lawn.

So we spent most of the day kicking a football and shouting while a chicken slowly roasted in the coal burning stove and the sun climbed to it's zenith then began to sink towards the horizon.

So far so Waltons Mountain.

In the late afternoon two of my mates said they were going to drive up the mountain to the disused slate quarry. They had heard there was a small deserted village called Machno near the quarry and wanted to have a look. About an hour after they had left the rest of us were sat in the garden supping a bottle of wine when we saw a cloud of dust approaching along the dirt track at some speed.

The cause of the cloud was my mate's Renault 5 which was bouncing along far too fast to be doing it's suspension any good. It slewed to a halt outside the cottage and they both got out looking a bit wild eyed.

'You aren't going to believe what we've just seen', they said.

They had driven up the narrow road that wound up the mountain and ended in the village of Machno. The condition of the road got worse the further they went until they it wasn't much more than a track.

They arrived in the ghost village which a was a huddle of abandoned slate cottages surrounded by dense forest. Getting out of the car, the trees seeming to muffle all sound in the empty village.

Then they noticed smoke risng from a garden of one of the cottages and walked towards it. The cottage looked in better condition than the rest of the village, there was still glass in the windows. As they got to the wall they saw a small bonfire smouldering in the overgrown garden.

Suddenly a bizzare figure leapt up from behind the wall. It was an ancient looking woman with white hair sticking wildly in all directions from her head and her hands stretched out on either side of her. My shocked friends then realised that smoke was rising from her hands and in each palm she was holding a fistful of glowing coals.

Then she opened her mouth and let out a shriek like a boiling kettle, waving her handfuls of smouldering coals as she did so.

My friends did the only sensible thing and screamed like girls and ran to the car. They tried to do a 3 point turn on the narrow lane which turned into an 8 point turn in their panicky state then didn't take the foot off the accelerator until they got back.

It was after they had breathlessly told us this tale that we realised that we had run out of ten pence pieces for the electricity meter and would have to spend the night in utter darkness apart from the glow of the fire. The village shop was closed for the night so we went to The Eagles for some change to be told that they didn't have any ten pences, which made us think that they were in on it and setting us up for a Straw Dogs scenario.

However we were resourceful and drove the ten miles to the next village and got some change from a pub there.

And so we sat up that night waiting to see if a crowd of locals would come to try and sacrifice us to the Witch of the Mountain, which of course they didn't and in the morning we felt like a right bunch of pillocks.

Nearly 20 years later I was hiking in Wales and took a detour out of curiousity and revisited Penmachno. It still looks the same but the customers in The Eagles were no longer quarrymen but tourists and hikers.

The slate barman was long gone and replaced by an attractive girl from Poland.

No-one knew anything about Machno or an old lady who lived up there and I didn't go looking for her.

I'd like to say that we found out who she was and explain her story but I can't. With hindsight she was probably a some poor lost soul living alone in a dead village who had gone mad with the isolation. It's a theory, I suppose.

Still, it was a great holiday and I would recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Machno Witch.

Before I tell this story I just want to say that no matter how outlandish or ridiculous some of the things I put in these posts are, I am not a creative writer and lying to you would be of no benefit to me.
Everything I tell you is true.

Here we go.

In the early ‘90s my friends and I rented a cottage in the small Welsh village of Penmachno in the Snowdonia Mountains. The cottage was on the outskirts of the village and had a coal burning stove, a coal fire in the living room, there was no TV and the electricity ran on a coin operated meter.

The village was at the foot of a mountain that contained a disused slate quarry. There were two pubs and four or five churches, all made from slate, in fact the whole place was slate.

On our first night there we walked down the unlit dirt track leading from the cottage and went to the nearest pub, called The Eagles.
We walked through the door into the heat from an open fireplace and din of voices, all speaking the Welsh language. The place was full of huge quarrymen, all of whom turned to look at us.

The pub fell silent as me and my four mates stood in the doorway being stared at. Now anyone who has seen American Werewolf in London will know this to be a Slaughtered Lamb moment. If you haven’t seen that film then you must do so immediately as it is a classic.

I looked around the pub and over at the roaring log fire place, made from slate of course. Above the fire was a large stone lintel with the words ‘Fear Knocked at the Door, Faith answered and No-one Was There’ carved into it.

Great, we’re going to end up in a fucking Wicker Man, I thought.
There was no going back now so we walked to the bar through the heavy silence.

‘What can I get you’? said the barman, who also looked like he was made of slate. As I looked at the row of hand pumps along the bar a huge bloke standing next to me held out his pint and said “Here, try a bit of that”. It was a deep, dark brown, almost black and I took a sip. It tasted as strong and dark as it looked

“Blimey, that’ll put hairs on my chest. What is it”? I asked, grimacing.

This was apparently hilarious as the big feller burst out laughing.

“John Smith’s Bitter and Beamish Stout mixed”, said the man.

“Looks like we’ll be having four pints of that then” I said.

“You lads sound English, whereabouts are you from”? asked the barman.

When we told them we were from Yorkshire the atmosphere suddenly relaxed and conversation started up again.
The Welsh are like the Scots and Irish in that they hate the English because of the nasty habit we had of invading them all the time. Fortunately for my friends and I Yorkshire shares a mining heritage with Wales so our presence in the pub was tolerated.
If we had been from Liverpool or London things wouldn’t have ended as amicably.

So we sat at a table and necked our bitter/stout pints while outside the mountains became enveloped in a night so black it was like outer space..

To be concluded in next weeks post: The Witch!!!!

Sunday, 2 October 2011


I was at the cinema recently and saw a trailer for Troll Hunter, a Norwegian film about the government employing someone to hunt the above mentioned mythical creatures.

Now this film hasn’t even been released yet and already American studios are negotiating for the rights to remake it.


If people want to see a film about hunting trolls then this desire has already been catered for by the Norwegians. Hollywood has a habit of buying the rights to perfectly good films made in other countries and turning them into American versions.

Troll Hunter will be interesting BECAUSE it is Norwegian, it won’t look or sound like an American film but that isn’t something to be afraid of.

I watched an English dubbed version of John Woo’s Hard Boiled where the dialogue seemed to be mainly people shouting at each other between gunfights. Then I saw a sub titled version of the same film and it was entirely different. There was good dialogue and character development and the film was greatly improved.

So instead of making a remake of Troll Hunter, probably set in Oregon or some such why not just watch the original?

Watching films from other countries can be an entertaining insight into their cultures. Mind you, those French films where people mope around smoking Gauloises and bursting into tears or laughter for no apparent reason are shit.

And by the way, I am having a problem commenting on some people’s sites, when I click Post Comment my text disappears. Any ideas?