Groundhog boy

Poetry

When I wake each day.
And think about leaving the house.
I tend to freeze up.
Cos I’m shrouded by doubt.
Forced to bear my stare in the mirror.
But all I find is a frown.
Is this it?
I say, glancing down.
Sizing up my figure like I haven’t realised it’s round.
Cos I’m tubbier these days.
Always saying I’ll hit the gym.
Get ripped and thin.
Build a hard body all sculpted.
One that’s fit for kings.
But right now I’m more pauper material.
Stuck in a dream that feels forced and ethereal.
Wanting to scratch my skin from within.
But not really sure that the cause is bacterial.
Like there’s tiny critters invading my veins.
Breaking me down and planning my burial.
More likely something else troubles me.
This is I ponder as I’m sat drinking bubble tea.
Then a thought seduces me lovingly as it’s introduced suddenly.
I want a simple life.
One that’s calm and puzzle free.
Where it’s totally normal to demand a shrubbery.
Cos there’s a lot to learn from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Like how to not charge through life on a silly quest.
Where the end goal seems to be to slowly fail.
Cos when it comes to the human existence.
My body’s more ill-equipped than I’ll admit.
All whispy, spectral and grossly frail.
At best, I’m a phantom man who can’t fathom a plan.
As I amble along this ghostly trail.
Cos words are dead on my lips from life’s perilous hits.
So my creative flow is mostly stale.
And the story I’ll probably tell at the end.
Will likely be that of a lonely tale.
But maybe I’m blowing things out of proportion?
And these words I say are a shakedown, extortion and not to scale.
But in all honesty, I have been feeling lately like I’m locked in jail.
Trapped battling my own personal monster, like Captain Ahab.
With no real clue how I stop this whale.
As it drags me down to the ocean’s floor.
Salt water in my lungs.
Sneaking in like a Trojan Horse.
Till I’m as numb and cold as a frozen corpse.
But this got me thinking.
Everyone needs an antagonist, right?
One that can fight like Tyler Durden.
Because an alter ego is probably the only thing to help me break life’s chains.
So I can be more certain and free of burden.
But whether I get one or not.
It might now be the case that I’ve lost the plot and I’m way off topic.
Spouting nonsense like a lost prophet.
Why can’t I just stop it?
And be practical for once.
So I think in specifics.
Instead of simply resorting to gimmicks.
Painting a picture that doesn’t exist.
And then persisting by forcing the image.
Which is stupid.
Because I’m a force to begin with.
And it’s time I took myself by the scruff of the neck.
Otherwise, middle of the road is as good as it gets.
And I can’t settle.
It’s just not in my nature.
I’m much better at rebelling with truth than being a faker.
But to win, I need weapons to attack my psyche.
Give me a sabre, give me a razor.
Hell, I know origami, I’ll even do it with paper.
Watch me put in work on these rogue thoughts like they’re manual labour. 
Cos I’m relentless. 
And won’t stop with detractors till I weed out the traitors. 
Lay waste to their negativity till they’re nothing but vapour. 
So at the end, in the smoking rubble.
There’s stands a lone figure, a stranger.
All lit up like a saviour.
Turns out that it’s me. 
I’ve broken free.
And become stronger through failure. 
Cos I’ve emerged from my chrysalis.
And I’m all the more greater. 

Smoking used to be cool

Poetry

Remember when smoking was the way to be seen?
Back when all our idols did it. 
From Sean Connery to James Dean.
A cigarette hanging lazy from their lip.
So cool it made me wanna fake scream. 
Or get all starry-eyed and daydream. 
Then the world changed, and our bodies became temples of health. 
Now I could live longer.
And perhaps play a different hand to the one I was dealt. 
With quinoa and wheatgrass and gluten-free bread. 
I could be better. 
But a voice inside screamed to be shot in the head. 
Cos I missed the days of whisky and decadence.
Where I twerked in clubs, my body all twisty and elegant. 
And the way I flirted had a kind of trippy intelligence.
But now I just spend my days in health stores and coffee shops.
Damn.
It wasn’t long ago when Friday night dinner was one that I double dropped.
But even back then I was burning out.
And needed a plan to stop the rot. 
Cos this lifestyle couldn’t last, and before long would have to stop. 
So I ditched the night-time narcotics for fitbits and yoga mats.
With weekends spent browsing for more wholesome hits.
Like curtains and cushions and toaster racks.
Knowing this was way worse than my youth.
But somehow, now, I was kinda trapped and loathe to act. 
Cos my joys, it seemed, were cups of tea.
I had to grow up and face that fact. 
But life is never as black and white as people say. 
Sometimes, when you clear an obstacle, you still get wet like a steeplechase. 
But this is the glory of the human existence. 
And shouldn’t be a lethal race. 
So if I’m having a good time and not hurting anyone.
Should I be punished for my ‘evil traits’?
But whatever. 
Right now, on the table, lurks that cigarette. 
Its rush of calm is in my grasp. 
So where’s the harm if I go ahead and take that bet?
Look at it, laying there all seductive.
The sunlight framing its silhouette. 
With witnesses around I try and ignore it.
And attempt to casually feign regret. 
But in reality can’t hide my dismay.
As I put it down so it’s laid to rest. 
Cos frankly, I’ve been racking up debt for decades. 
So maybe now it’s time I paid that cheque?
Cos ribbons of impurity continue to unravel in my mind. 
And get me thinking, should I save these threads? 
Cos I need both the rebel and the sensible. 
And if I don’t feed them equally.
Then I may as well be as good as dead. 

Permanently exhausted pigeon

Poetry

So I’m at work a zombie, froze and stupefied.
Vacant stare like an airhead as he or she goes to beautify.
Failing at the most basic tasks.
Cos my mind is warm in this bubble.
Here I’m protected and can’t cause much trouble.
It’s the safest chance. 
But the rub is I’m failing to make good use of my clever smarts.
Which got me thinking.
Annoying morning people say the early bird is the one that’ll catch that worm.
So they’re likely to succeed at life if they go and snatch their turn.
Probably sharp each day cos they go to bed and rest their head.
This is something I cannot learn.
And truth be told it’s got me all concerned.

Then there’s those they call night owls.
In the morning they’re quick to darken.
Like an clear sky that suddenly fills with white clouds.
And their faces tell a story.
One that says you should probably pipe down or be prepared to fight now.
Ask for anything before midday then it’s lights out.

Then there’s those in-between.
Aka, people like me.

Permanently exhausted pigeons.
Cos during the day we twist and fidget.
Our minds chirp from lack of sleep like a swarm of crickets.
So be alert.
Or we’ll invade your society gleefully like a horde of misfits.
High functioning insomniacs.
Our brains beat thoughts at us rapid tempo.
Like a drum ‘n’ bass Goldie track.
And we’re about as fresh as a poorly prepared chef.
When all he’s got left to cook with is mouldy fat.
Stressed and on edge, we fight when cornered.
So don’t go backing us into a cul-de-sac.
Cos it’s clear our next mental gear is primal fear.
I’m just stating facts.
And the energy we have when leaving home, I’ll be honest I just don’t know.
Holy crap, I’m kind of surprised we make it back.
And daily life can bore us.
Cos most talk we have with people is just wasted chat.
Our minds elsewhere as we flirt with despair and then fade to black.

But don’t get me wrong.
We can be chirpy mothers too.
Honestly, we yearn for positivity if you catch us in a thirsty mood.
So coax out our best bits and see them bursting through.
And yes, this behaviour is rare, it’s true.
So for this sort of thing to happen we need a fair excuse.
But in the absence of one we’re kind of stuck in this loop.
Eat, sleep, work, and repeat.
At this point we’ve got nothing to lose.
It’s like the opposite of substance abuse.
Because we need life purpose.
It’s time we break free and chase dreams and find a place where life might hurt us.

Trash culture

Poetry

Hey hey, I’m feeling low today.
When did our culture become so throwaway?
There I was, on display in the shop.
Best of the bunch on the shelf at the top.
And this kid comes in, Damien was his name.
A little devil clearly destined for fame.
Then there he goes, he snatched me quick fast.
In his podgy hands I’m never gonna last.

But off we went, back to his lair.
Me with a looming sense of despair.
I’ve been a good toy this just isn’t fair.
But hey, what can you do?
Very soon I’ll be part of this mad kid’s zoo.
Yes it’s true I was once top of the line.
Until what happened was less than devine.
Years of abuse at the hands of Damien.
Until he threw me out, like he thought I was maybe done.

Sitting proud on a heap ‘o trash.
It’s hardly a leap to say I’ve crashed.
Then, like a bolt, a thought struck me hard.
I’m the dealer and now hold all the cards.
This trash heap, this is my Kingdom.
Now I rule I can have some real fun.

As other toys arrive I lay down the law.
‘Wherever you’re from it won’t be like before’.
The message is clear, they want me to rule.
They know as a leader I’ll be super cool.
But one, like a fool, rises against me.
‘If you lead we’ll never be free!’ he cries.
I stand to face him and see fear in his eyes.

My God, is this what I’ve become?
In my efforts to evolve I’ve turned into Damien.
This makes me freeze and go weak at the knees.
‘Please!’ I implore. ‘It won’t be like that.
Together we’re strong and that’s a fact.’
Slowly, as one, they all come around.

And that became the start of Toy Trash Town.

Over time we’ve built a community.
Part of the world where we can be free.
We had to scrap for it though, battling each day.
Fighting those that became so throwaway.

Take the red pill

Poetry

Feeling naughty, just hit 20 and I’m halfway to 40.
‘You laugh now son, you’ll blink and you’ll be 40’, my dad said, putting unwelcome thoughts into my adolescent head.
Jesus. At this rate it won’t be long until I’m dead, until I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Until, through hard graft and toil, I’m laying on a cold slab watching my soul call a cab as my beautiful brain and body spoils and sags.

We constantly joke about getting old because we don’t know when we’re going to go. If we did I’d be betting bold, so at the end of it all I’ve got something worthwhile to show.
Although who I’m showing I don’t know.
If there is a heaven, maybe my only way in is through laying low, avoiding temptation and just saying no?
But where’s the fun in that?
Do you really want a humdrum existence, one where your dignity remains intact?
What would you learn about yourself if you followed that path?

It’s time I hit you with a hard truth and one that will smart. Your plan will fail and not by half, it’ll come crashing down and you’ll sink fast.
Neither heaven nor hell await you but pergatory. A nothingless void.
In this there is no survival, you will be destroyed.

My advice to you?

Take the red pill. It will stick in your throat and you’ll feel ill, the pain will overwhelm and you’ll want to kill but persevere, quitting takes no skill.
As the drug takes effect you’ll once again be able to feel, your spidey senses will tingle as your body starts to chill.
But don’t be afraid or dismayed, you’re just going through change.

Coming out the other side you’re a butterfly, no longer shackled by the past you soar high, emotions hit you like a flood and you roar and cry.
You’re an eagle now you’re free.
All it took was one little pill and once again you could breathe.
In the end, all you had to do… was believe.

The Age of Adaline: Who wants to live forever?

Film

There’s a TV show I’m watching at the moment called Forever, starring Ioan Gruffudd as the lead character who cannot age. In each episode something happens to trigger his memory to a time in his past when a similar thing happened. Thus we learn a little about his character and it gives him a chance – in a knowing voice-over – to impart his wisdom on the strange things people do that shapes their lives.

It’s an easy watch, not too taxing and has a certain degree of charm. In the case of The Age of Adaline a similar flashback technique is regularly employed, but it tends to slow the whole story down to a plod at best, but let’s start, as most stories do, from the top.

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We meet Adaline (Blake Lively) working in a library in modern-day San Francisco. We learn (through the first of many lethargic flashbacks) that she was in an accident decades ago which causes her not to age – and to avoid suspicion she keeps people at arm’s length and changes identity every ten years.

You know the message of the film before it’s even got going. If you continually push people away you’ll never really live, blah blah. To get her living life she meets handsome stranger Ellis Jones (Dutch actor Michiel Huisman, most recently seen as Daario Naharis in Game of Thrones) who eventually cracks her frosty exterior and forces her to make a choice – after much to-ing and fro-ing – to live and actually love.

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But, like I say, you know all this. You’ll see it coming a mile away.

What you probably don’t count on is, halfway through, with the story heading the way we expect, we get treated to the pleasure of Harrison Ford turning up as Ellis’s dad, William. As things flag a little he gives everything a much needed lift and brings real warmth, gravitas and star power to proceedings.

In essence, he shows the youngsters how this acting lark is done.

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As a lead, Blake Lively is perfectly fine. Nothing she does will really blow you away but it’s a solid performance. In terms of looks you can see why she was cast; there’s a sort of timeless beauty about her that fits well. I spent the film’s first third giving her a hard time, likening her to a poor woman’s Rosumund Pike (who would have been great), but Lively does get better as she goes on and I warmed to her eventually. Damning with faint praise you might say, but praise nonetheless.

Returning to my earlier point about TV; as a story this one is slight and doesn’t feel that cinematic. Plus the regular flashbacks – which work well in the episodic nature of the small screen – do grind things to a halt here, testing even the most patient moviegoer.

Take Forest Gump for example. A guy sits on a bench and tells his story and each flashback is a joy as his life was so varied and full of excitement. Plus Hanks really sells it.

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The problem with Adaline is that her flashbacks all seem to be wistful, melancholy and full of remorse, which makes for a rather strained watch and she becomes difficult for the audience to like on any level.

The title of this blog, as some of you may have spotted, refers to the song by Queen in Highlander, a beautiful track that elevated a bit of a B-movie. Yet… even there the main character led an exciting life. And the flashbacks helped serve a dramatic story in the present. In The Age of Adaline her tale in the present day is just a straight up romance. C’mon guys, you need to mix it up a little.

So there you have it. A passable film with a reasonable cast and a bit of a wobbly concept. One to catch on a Sunday night but maybe skip at the cinema.

Death

Poetry

Death. What is death anyway?
If life is a journey from the cradle to the grave, where does it all end? How are we supposed to behave?
Religion has us all believing that we’re part of the plan, that if we stand up and help our fellow man we’ll be welcomed in, absolved of sin and born again.
There’s comfort in that I suppose. And for those of us that chose a different path, what then? Are we out on our arse? Straight to hell in a handcart?
Death frightens me I’ll admit it.
Whether heaven or hell await me I can’t say. For all I know my path is pre-ordained, like a stain on the carpet of life no matter the strife I endure I am constant until the end.
Do I have an arc? Am I supposed to learn something along the way?
Am I supposed to love, hate, work and pray?
Let’s say religion is for suckers but praying has a place, like meditation it takes us to a space where our minds can be free. Free to sing and dance and soar beyond ourselves, to transcend.
But this is only momentary, fleeting, short-lived. Like a damp squib our lives can be extinguished in the blink of an eye.
There’s nothing sadder than the moment after a party popper is released.
The climax has come and gone, all too sudden.
We cease.

Ps. Some of you may notice the feature image for this piece is Death, one of the endless, taken from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Neil worked with Terry Pratchett from time to time and they were friends. Terry died last month and this is my tribute to him. ‘Why not use Death from the Discworld series then?’, some of you may ask. Whilst he’s a great character he felt too masculine. I felt this piece needed a female Death, hence one of the endless.

Ex Machina: Lessons in playing God

Film

Alex Garland is a mighty fine writer. He’s now a director. His past writing credits include The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Dredd and now Ex Machina.

With the latter he’s stepped up to the director’s chair, and done so without missing a beat. He’s been helped by a great cast of course, in three rising stars: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

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The story here starts with young coder Caleb (Gleeson) winning a competition to spend a week with reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac), CEO of Bluebook (essentially, Google). He quickly finds out he’s to be the subject of a ‘Turing test’ (to determine artificial intelligence) with beautiful cyborg Ava (Vikander).

Attempting to manipulate – or at least stay on the good side of – an unhinged genius is something Gleeson has done before (in Frank opposite Michael Fassbender), but here he has his work cut out for him with Nathan.

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Right from their first meeting we see Nathan pumping iron outside his beautiful forest/mountain retreat. He’s a beast of a man with a shaved head and bushy, slightly unkempt beard, looking more like South American gangster than the head of one of the world’s most powerful tech companies. But then that’s the point, he’s not what you expect. He confounds expectations.

And with a masterclass in passive-aggressive behaviour, Isaac keeps us guessing. We see him as Gleeson’s Caleb sees him; drinking heavily then attempting to cancel it out by furiously detoxing. He calls Caleb his buddy, sharing a beer with him one moment then the next cutting him off mid-sentence with a psychotic look or antagonistically dismissive comment. In short, he’s used to being in control but has his demons. Lots of them, judging by the film’s first third.

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As most of us have been dimly aware, over the last few years Gleeson’s career has skyrocketed. Other actors often have showier parts, but he tends to provide the anchor to the story and a way in for the audience – if he was a footballer he’d be a defensive midfielder. Often overlooked, but the rest of the team know he makes them look good.

And talking of the rest of the team, when Caleb isn’t having unnerving conversations with Nathan he’s being challenged by Ava in an altogether different manner. Vikander is a revelation as Ava, all sharp, precise movements and piercing looks, she puts Caleb on the back foot from the get-go, challenging why he’s there and what he truly wants and desires, making him question himself as much as the situation.

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All in all, this is a riveting film from start to finish. The three leads excel in equal measure and Garland’s script and direction are strong. It’s tense, dramatic, emotional, and makes you question – in terms of technology and what it means to be human – where we as a race are going. Or where we might be going. It’s timely too, with Stephen Hawking’s recent comments that the existence of AI poses a threat to our very existence.

So, if films cannot tackle big themes and do so in a commanding, compelling and affecting manner, then what good are they? Or, to put it another way, if you care about the future of humanity and thoughtful, challenging filmmaking, go see this film.

The Leftovers: season one review

TV

The brainchild of novelist Tom Perrotta and brought to the small screen with the help of Damon Lindelof (the chap that drove most of us mad with frustration for years with Lost), The Leftovers was an unexpectedly beautiful and tragically poignant portrayal of the way society – and the world at large – copes with loss on a massive yet distinctly personal scale.

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The show begins with an event in which a significant portion (2%) of the world’s population vanishes in an instant, never to be seen again. The show isn’t too concerned with explaining where these people have gone, but more so with how the people left behind deal with life moving forward. Hence… The Leftovers.

To give the story an anchor (and focus) it’s largely told from the point of view of the Garvey family, particularly the Chief of Police Kevin (Justin Theroux), an amazingly complex (and thoroughly conflicted) individual.

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The rest of the cast includes Kevin’s daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and father (Scott Glenn), the former Chief of Police; Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), a mother who lost her entire family during the event; her brother Matt (Christopher Eccleston), a local priest who cannot reconcile his beliefs with what has happened; Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), a lady recently converted to local cult the Guilty Remnant, led by the resolute Patti Nevin (Ann Dowd).

At first, like a lot of people, I felt confused then indignant when I realised we’d not be shown what happened to those that vanished. You have to imagine that this was a conscious decision by the show’s creators, forcing viewers to experience similar emotions that those coping with – and trying to understand – the nature of loss might arguably go through.

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As avid (or resentful) fans of Lost are quick to point out, if you know Lindelof’s work you’ll know he likes to leave telling clues throughout his shows. Make no mistake though, clues is about all this shares with Lost. This is, through and through, a character study of a group of troubled individuals trying to live out their lives. But there is a constant stream of what could be clues, or at least suggestive imagery throughout.

A standout performance worth mentioning is Theroux’s Kevin Garvey, a self-confessed ‘bad guy’, despite (or because of?) his position of power as police chief. With a wife who’s joined the Guilty Remnant and wants a divorce through to a daughter with whom he cannot connect, a son on the run from the law and a father who’s been locked up on insanity charges, Kevin barely holds it together throughout the season, slightly unravelling with each episode.

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You could say his family represents a microcosm of the town at large and their problems, beliefs and conflict. Nora is another brilliant character. Utterly consumed with grief at the loss of her family she goes to some very dark places during the season, with Carrie Coon putting in a raw and unflinching performance.

Perrotta and Lindelof probably pose more questions than answers with this show. Where did the people go who vanished? Did they deserve to go? Are the ones that stayed the lucky or unlucky ones? Initially I found this story a difficult one to connect with, it’s sombre, loaded with grief and the characters are hard to like or understand. Yet, if you stick with it, you’ll find it gradually unfurls into something naunced, introspective, beautiful and very, very human.