Pictonaut Screenplay Challenge for April: ‘To Battle with the Big Cat’…

Wraaaaargh!” A guy on the internet asked me to show him my war face so, duly, there it is. Yeah, performance under pressure is not conducive to the creation of the most convincing war face. I’m sorry. Next time it’ll be more impressive. I swear: in real war life-and-death circumstances my war face is fearsome. Apache attack copters turn and flee from my warface, comrades. Believe it…

Regardless, the man who challenged me was Eminent Overbeast John Steele who excels as a goddamn war hero because he’s a guy who galvanises writing action. As well as being the ringraider of The Working Barbarian – which you should vote on, because I’ve got to write the next part of the journey based on the path you pick for our hero, Jala – the Steele Magus calls us to arms for the monthly Pictonaut challenge. Same objective: an image is presented and writers have to knock out a short story based on said image. I like doing this and liked the look of April’s chosen inspirational artpiece

“Office Warfare” by Rhys Owen.

It’s an illustration of a damn stylish leopard soldier by Welsh designer Rhys Owens. It’s got a feel of Full Metal Jacket about it and, feeling that feel and getting a Bravest Warriors power animal vibe, I decided to do something a bit different instead of writing a short prose story. I opted to tackle it as a script-writing exercise and do it as a screenplay for a short-film or single film sequence. Consider it a first draft, bare on technical detail and ultimately me fleshing out (furring out) an imagined world into a single scenario as I practice a writing format I’m eager to work on and improve. Feel free to pass on feedback, pointers or – on the off-chance that there may be inspired filmmakers with CGI-skills out there reading this –  go ahead and shoot it as a real thing.

My Pictonaut effort for April, then, is titled To Battle with the Big Cat and I hope people get a kick out of reading the script

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Irrelevant Judgement and the Doctor Who Feedback-Amplifier…

I have opinions but they are unimportant and irrelevant. You have opinions but they are unimportant and irrelevant. They have opinions but they are unimportant and irrelevant. Yet they are all out there on the internet clamouring for attention, expressed through various social media channels.

We live in a democratised information age that allows and encourages freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Simultaneously, though, it also empowers pompous arrogance and self-entitlement in a public space. At least that’s my opinion, and my opinion is unimportant and irrelevant.

I’m just blasting on my own blog – an ill-informed personal opinion zone – here but there is a wider sociocultural concern on my mind (on my Twitter feed, on the comments section of every single article I read, in the articles themselves, etc. etc.). Our society is very judgemental and technological advancements and changing times have conspired to make us even more judgy. What do you think? Like or dislike this? Vote for your favourite! Give us your feedback! Comments? Stick up your star rating!

We’ve got to a situation where we’ve got to have something to say about everything that happens or that we experience. (We don’t, by the way, and if we do that we’ll exhaust both our minds, mouths and fingers.) The thing that’s most troubling in this idea though is how there’s an explicit suggestion that there has to be a value judgement in that. You’ve got to like or dislike something. You’ve got to have an opinion on it, rate it accordingly and mark it down for posterity. You can’t be ambivalent or just let something be – it has to be categorised and subjected to a review treatment.

You realise that this goes beyond enjoyment of pop culture art when you find yourself batting off emails asking you write a review and provide a star-rating for a USB stick you ordered off Amazon. I’ve got to have an opinion on a pendrive? What if I don’t want to have an opinion and subsequently share it? Does anyone actually want to know what I think about the crap I buy, the stuff I watch or the experiences I immerse myself in?

Maybe, maybe not but most of the time it’s probably the latter because I’m not a person of immense wisdom or significance (Yet. I’m working on it, a’ight?). I’ve got some awareness and expertise in certain fields and likewise, I respect the thoughts of others who I know know about specific things. I flock to them and consult their personal experience if I wish to get an enlightened perspective and I figure that most people do likewise. Or do they? Do people put what people think – subjective opinions and not objective intellectual appreciation – above all else or, in fact, are people putting their own subjective opinion as the paramount truth?

Have we now got to the point where the opinion is more important than the actual original thing that we’re forming an opinion on? Across journalism across all media formats there’s now a greater emphasis on what the Twittersphere is saying and it’s mostly in my opinion (and my opinion is irrelevant and unimportant) asinine and adds nothing. Opinions are like arseholes in that everyone has one (some people have two) and they are best dealt with artfully one at a time in beautifully-lit private spaces. Everyone’s arsehole all at once forcefully shoved in your face, however, is a violent pornography nightmare.

Social media is a giant magnifying window in which to advertise your arsehole and all that dribbles out of it and collectively our culture encourages expressive incontinence. I’m moved to muse after contemplating the kind of things that I’ve observed in cyberspace over the space of the past week – lots of judgement and a lack of judicious, conscious thought on behalf of a lot of people (myself included). So many people rushing forward to spray their self-righteous opinions all over everyone else, but no one cares but that doesn’t matter ’cause everyone’s entitled to our opinion and this is how we do this right?

Skipping past current affairs and the spheres of politics, sports and suchlike – all infernal flame grills that require a Hazmat suit which I’ve left at the drycleaners – I’ll round up by coming back to the entertainment arena and the thing that prompted this on-the-fly thread in the first place: Doctor Who. It’s a popular BBC TV programme that airs on Saturday nights and follows the adventures of a Time Lord and his blue police box. It’s got wide appeal, tradition, history and oscillates between all kinds of stories, themes and settings each week. There’s a lot of interest and things that are worthy of note here – it’s a pop cultural concept encompassing multiple concepts and it inspires further thought and discussion.

In the aftermath though the emphasis appears to be judging each episode and then by extension the entire current ongoing series. In particularly the judgment is a value-based one of whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s a rating review and as soon as the closing credits have rolled I get the sense that people are falling over themselves to race onto the internet to slam down their opinion. But who cares if you enjoyed this week’s Doctor Who? Your opinion is unimportant and irrelevant! No one cares because they care too much about their own unimportant and irrelevant opinion! To log on to the internet at the weekend is to bear witness to the Doctor Who Social Media Spitting Contest. Everyone seems desperate to gob off and regurgitate their personal bile in the aftermath of eating up the broadcast episode. I sometimes wonder whether the draw of Doctor Who is now working out what you’re going to say about it after watching, how you’ll publicly judge it and how sure you are of your position in case you end up engaged in a spitting contest with someone who just happens to find exception to your hacking phlegm.

I think (and this is my unimportant and irrelevant opinion) that too often we, as pop cultural consumers, are approaching everything through a paradigm of “is this good or bad?” as if we are pre-emptively reviewing or rating the experience as we go through it. That affects your mindset and locks you into judgementalism. Sometimes this is required if you work or write as a critic  but on a functioning human level, it’s unnecessary. You don’t need to judge everything or form an opinion on everything and then weigh in by sharing it on Twitter or another online space or in real life. (And there is no real life. This is all an illusion and that’s not an opinion but actual fact.)

If you let go of that obligation – an obligation encouraged by all this technology and the social media connections we’re slavishly hooked up on – and you detach yourself from the evils of judgementalism you may be able to experience life as it is. Doctor Who just is. The film you watched just is. The product you just spent money on just is. The meal you just ate just is. Life just is. You don’t need to rate it, review it or stick a thumbs up or thumbs down on it every single time. What’s more you don’t need to tweet it out to everyone and force your judgement on everyone else. Attachment is the cause of suffering, and that’s Buddhist wisdom. Ah, satori

The side-effect of everyone forcing their judgement on everyone is that these opinions become even more unimportant and irrelevant and everyone’s just drowning in noise and even more apt not to listen. That’s just my opinion though and my opinion is unimportant and irrelevant…

Sci-Fi Cinema Stimulation, Deep in Oblivion…

Following up from last week’s excitement about The Hieroglyph Project and awe-inspiring possibilities of implementing science fiction ideas in actual reality, I want to write briefly about sci-fi film. I’ll keep it concise, ’cause your attention span probably can’t take it and I should save my longer, lyrical waxings about movies for proper film columns that haven’t been dashed off like spontaneous blog posts.

This weekend I went and saw Oblivion and I really liked it and got a lot out of it. Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek also really liked it and got a lot out of it, consequently exploring some of it in this spoiler-packed investigatory piece. It’s a compelling picture that touches upon a lot of resonant themes and, holding back so I don’t spoil it for people (it’s best off seen as cold as possible), it got me grappling with questions about existential purpose, memory, humanity and its relationship to both itself and technology. Big themes, my brethren. It appealed to me because I find this stuff stimulating and enjoy it when my pop culture stirs my soulstuff and massages my grey matter.

Sci-fi is my cup of tea and I dig the genre’s aesthetic trappings anyway. Oblivion reminded me of so many classic science fiction features and a few other things like the Portal videogames so it appealed to me. It didn’t just feel like a flagrant rip-off, however, and I recommend it as an intelligent and subtle big-budget film. Marketing and potential audience misconceptions may have it saddled as a brainless Tom Cruise action blockbuster but that’s not what it actually is at all. Another Den of Geek link here: this interview with director Joseph Kosinski discusses the original drive and vision behind the project and highlights the problems of pitching a film like this to both studios and marketplaces.

It’s been pretty disappointing to come away from Oblivion to read reviews that, for the most part, have been very dismissive of the movie. Aside from the outright unimpressed reviews (2 stars and total disdain) there are a great many that damn Oblivion with faint praise and admire its visuals and special effects but critique it as lacking intelligence or human interest.

Once again, I’m reluctant to delve deep into it for fear of spoiling what’s potential a very rewarding surprise cinema experience for someone. Still, I will say “Fuck you, Sally!” and state that, in my humble opinion, there’s a lot of intellectual depth and humanity embedded in the story and eking from between the frames. I’m a human being with some intelligence and I got it and I’d encourage others to watch it to see if they share my experience and not those who found it lacking on various levels.

Of course, experience of film or any artwork is subjective and maybe I’m very sensitive to the sci-fi genre in particular. I’ve found in recent years that the most resonant and affecting movies – on both an emotional and intellectual level – have been what you might categorise as sci-fi. Mind-expansion, extraordinary interest and masses of ideas are always in these stories if you care to engage with them. Even if they’re impressing themselves as a straight-forward action flicks, there’s always depth beneath the surface as this philosophical analysis of Dredd shows.

I’m not convinced when works of the genre are dismissed as ‘all style and no substance and/or no soul’ and honestly believe that, in terms of cinema, we’re currently experiencing something of a Platinum Age of Sci-Fi. There are so many excellent films being made and exciting proposals being greenlit that it’s glorious to be a genre fan. These are ambitious pictures of great intelligence – both emotional and cerebral intelligence – and they’re all accessible as both entertainment, brainfood or android-chickensoup for the soul. A few sci-fi films – films that have made me think and feel – from the past few years that I personally recommend and feel back up my conviction: Moon; The Adjustment Bureau; Source Code; Rise of the Planet of the ApesIn Time; District 9; Safety Not Guaranteed; Never Let Me Go.

There are more but most of all I’ve got to celebrate Rian Johnson’s Looper as the perfect illustration of how an original sci-fi story can touch your heart and mind. Such is my emotional connection to that film that I can’t articulate it eloquently and tend to just burst into tears as I meditate on its bittersweet beauty.

Ultimately, just watch and appreciate the rich and resonant sci-fi cinema that’s out there and happening right now. Oblivion is added to the list and in years to come we’ll look back and say “Hey, they were making pretty potent and profound films back then. What’s more, they’re awesome movies!” I’ve seen the future and know that this will come to pass…

Mass-Mastermind of the Hieroglyph, Awesome Utopian Future…

I am very much interested in science fiction. I am very much interested in visualising bright futures. Thus, I am very much interested in and excited about The Hieroglyph Project.

In brief, it’s an online space devoted to discussing the future with the aim of advancing progress and making the world a better place in years to come. People from a wide-range of backgrounds and areas of expertise can pitch optimistic ideas, debate possibilities and try and work out how we can move forward and make the utopian visions in our individual minds an actual shared reality. Science fiction speculation becoming science fact in the future, basically. A free think tank/brainstorm cloud in cyberspace led by the Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination.

Convinced by an explanatory article that it could be a very cool website to engage with, I immediately registered as was given the ‘all clear’ for membership. Now I – an enthusiastic science fiction fan but a complete amateur and novice when it comes to science fact – can talk to experts or at least observe their conversations. I can start dialogues with them if I wish but mainly, I’m eager to simply sit back and absorb their expertise and seek to learn off the community. I dig sci-fi films and novels and am always asking: “Why can’t we make that happen in this reality?” I watch the news and think “Why aren’t we using technology or the wisdom and skill of the most intelligent and inventive humans on the planet to resolve these probems?

Maybe now I and others will get some answers or at least get fresh, enlightened approaches to difficult, anxiety-inducing issues. I want to help generate solutions and create a better world and I feel that this fresh online initiative can help people achieve that. It also, undoubtedly, will enable me to expand my mind and interact with some of the most inventive and smart minds on the web.

First impressions suggest that Hieroglyph is both stimulating and fun and that it has the potential to be a fruitful, inspiring forum. If anyone wishes to join me there to explore and attempt to get their head around possible progressive futures inspired by sci-fi fantasies and the knowledge of adroit users, I can send you an invite.

Back to reading science fiction and imagining awesome, optimistic futures…

Rise of the Working Barbarian…

You are faced with a blog post discussing an online fantasy fiction project. At first glance it looks like it might be interesting and relatively well-written, but you’re wary. You’ve been burned before and are still smarting from that article that postulated that Game of Thrones was a bit like a soap opera. (It might actually be more like a 16-bit SNES RPG game.) Still sore and nursing the wounds inflicted while mourning the loss of several in your party, you tread cautiously and consider your options.

If you would like to retreat to something safer and potentially less risky, turn to this page of the internet. If you would like to read the blog post, carry on and continue below…

Ah, you chose wisely. I have an fantastical thing to share with you, friend, and that thing is The Life and Times of the Working Barbarian (or The Working Barbarian if you’re into the whole brevity thing). It is the brainchild of John Steele (Magus John the Steele) who is the venerable mastermind behind the monthly Pictonaut challenge. His wish is to make a Choose Your Own Adventure story happen on the internet, crowdsourcing the choices of people in cyberspace to make the narrative happen. A rag-tag bandit band of writers will then prolong that narrative and keep the quest going. I’m honoured and humbled to be one of those writers charged with the task of taking this forward. I’m not sure where it’s going to go or what I’m going to be contributing as it goes about getting there but, by Crom, I am all stoked up for it.

I think you should be psyched about it too. Now that The Working Barbarian has gone live I encourage you to head over to the site, follow it or bookmark it and start voting to make the adventure happen. It’s a fresh chance to channel the spirit of Fighting Fantasy adventure books and play a small part in the development of a story and mythos in a public space, all happening before your eyes and affected by your whims.

As I said, I’m looking forward to being one of the people involved in its unfolding. It’s not only a fresh creative challenge but something of a psychic throwback to childhood when I got high playing videogames like The Secret of Monkey Island and trawling through those Fighting Fantasy books. I always tended to make really bad choices and so repeatedly died or ended up doing silly things like opening treasure chests to discover deadly gemstones that blinded my character. I lost every fight, came out worse in every wager and was utterly humiliated in every drinking and eating contest. Thus, I had to cheat to actually finish the adventures and my compulsive personality and constant curiosity led me to flick through all the pages and explore all the options anyway. Ah, those were fun times and my fond memories encouraged me to back the recent Kickstarter campaign to turn Hamlet into an RPG novel and, yes, conjure up my magicks and excitedly commit to this.

Turning back to the project at hand, then: go forth and follow The Life and Times of the Working Barbarian. It will be epic. It will be entertaining. It will be high adventure of the highest quality and you will be helping it along. Make your choice well…

Movie Talk on Sunday: Crime…

Whadd’ya hear, whadd’ya see? I hear and see Movie Talk on Sunday and last night I got back to action in the Twittersphere to talk films. The topic this time around was crime movies and crime movies are my favourite movies. I therefore went at it enthusiastically and celebrated my passion for the genre over a couple of hours following the #MTOS hashtag.

Same deal as always: the Movie Talk on Sunday team select a host who sets ten questions and then film fans answer them. For posterity and in case anyone’s interested or wants extra references or tips, below are my responses…

1. What’s your favourite crime movie and why?

Goodfellas. Classic Scorsese. The most entertaining, absorbing, stylish and well-made portrayal of the criminal lifestyle.

2. Which director do you think makes the best crime movies?

Martin Scorsese. Marty is the Crime Movie Don.

3. What’s one crime movie you wish more people had seen?

I only recently discovered Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill, Tokyo Drifter). His arty crime movies need more love outside of Japan!

4. Which crime movie has the best chase scene?

Drive has great chases – just another thing that solidifies it in my mind as the perfect art action film. Damn I love that film…

5. What true crime story would you like to see as a movie? Who should direct?

I’d love to see organised crime links to the entertainment industry explored. Scorsese tackling Frank Sinatra’s mafia connections?

6. Who’s your favourite movie cop?

Pacino’s Serpico or Connery’s Jim Malone from The Untouchables. Primo grade streetwise tough cops that you actively root for.

7. Who’s your favourite movie criminal?

I have a thing for lone assassins so I’ll go with ‘The Professional‘, Jean Reno’s Léon (and, of course, Mathilda and the plant).

8. Which movies are better? Classic crime movies from the 70s or modern crime movies?

There’s no era from the entirety of film history that’s making ‘better’ crime movies. They’re all outstanding in their own way.

9. Where do the best crime movies come from?

I love crime flicks from the world over but the USA wins. The Great American Crime Movie: the best of modern pop culture.

10. If you could be any movie cop or criminal who would you be?

Cop: Jackie Chan’s Chan Ka-kui of Police Story – fun stunt action and martial arts fighting with über-’80s Hong Kong hoodlums.

Criminal: Joker from The Dark Knight. Pure chaos and glorious anarchy. Plus, I’d get punched by Batman and that’d be an honour.

And that was this week’s Movie Talk on Sunday rambling. I didn’t even touch on film noir, The Godfather series, Kurosawa’s contemporary crime films, the Coen Brothers, Hitchcock, Tarantino, Blaxploitation and so much more. Ah well. Nevertheless, the Sunday night tweetathon is always taxing but fun and generates interesting discussion around film. I recommend it to kino-crazed cool kids and encourage you to join in by following the #MTOS hashtag or the Movie Talk on Sunday Twitter feed. And even if you don’t, just go dig crime films of all origin, shapes and flavours…

The End of the Alternate Reality News Service…

Way back on August 28th 2012 A.D. in this current reality from which I’m writing I initiated the ‘Meanwhile, in an alternate reality…’ Tumblr blog. Given the power to gaze into parallel dimensions, I thought I’d use my gift to share the news and current affairs of other paradigms of existence with internet users on this particular version of Earth. I didn’t plan to do it for long but, as ever, I have a tendency to get carried away.

Next thing I knew I was months down the line consistently broadcasting daily news bulletins. Some people enjoyed the service, which was cool, and I personally got in touch with incredible visions of other ways of life. Alternate histories raised their head. I came to face startling scientific and technological advancementsutopian societies and dystopian nightmares. I experienced a myriad of weird and wonderful sociocultural traditions, beliefs, political issues, burning questions and so on. It all overwhelmed me, inspired me and intrigued me as more and more and so much more came forth on a daily basis. Glimpses of a Universe that had evolved differently kept hitting me and, altogether, I got a constant  reminder that the infinite Universes out there are beautifully diverse and fascinating to contemplate.

I dug it all and it blew my mind over and over. Subsequently, I had a lot of fun re-writing it all up as digestible news beats to share. Alas, nothing lasts forever and I’ve decided it’s time to call time on the service. Having hit the nice number of 222 updates I’m going to stop the news feed for now (at least in this reality). It’s true that similar broadcasts are continuing in parallel strains of existence and, of course, I may reboot it in our future but for now: halt. All good things must end and life is transient. I will devote all my energies to other brainmelting, awe-inspiring ideas but I’ll retain my interest in all the cosmic metaphysical wonder and ensure I keep in sync with alternate realities.

Thank you for reading and, please, make sure that blowing your own mind and considering the fantastical outside of your own quotidian existence is a daily exercise. The Universes are infinite. Enjoy exploring them

Fight! Fight! Fight! The Hugo Weaving War…

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!The Hugo Weaving War

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
The Hugo Weaving War

Agent Smith vs Elrond vs Mitzi Del Bra. The main antagonist of The Matrix meets one of Middle Earth’s pre-eminent Elves and meets one of Australia’s most entertaining drag performance acts for brutal ultraviolence. I wrote this thing (and had a hell of a good time doing so) for Andrew Blair‘s Fight! Fight! Fight! blog.

Read (and weep your way through) the whole thing by punching this link.