Be still, my beating heart

Sticking my head up out of a pile of boxes, meerkat-like, to deliver an ode to Valentine’s Day: five love songs to help the heart beat stronger (some will be surprised to read that Love Will Tear Us Apart is not on this list).

1. Love Song, The Cure

2. Angel, Massive Attack

Watch the clip here.

3. Who Wants to Live Forever, Queen

4. To the Last Beat of My Heart, Siouxsie and the Banshees

5. Wild is the Wind, David Bowie

Top five vampire and werewolf movies

With Daybreakers (review) and The Wolfman (review) chewing up the big screen, here’s my pick of five vampire and five werewolf movies that are ahead of their respective packs. Feel free to chip in:

5 must-see vampire movies

1. Near Dark (1987): Director Kathryn Bigelow takes a vampire gang on the road – the v-word is never mentioned – and mayhem ensues, with help from a superb cast. Tangerine Dream provide the soundtrack.

2. Dracula (1931): Bela Lugosi helps imprint Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the archetype for decades to come, with gorgeous atmospheric cinematography.

cf Dracula (aka The Horror of, 1958) in which Christopher Lee adds his indelible stamp on the character in the first of Hammer’s long series of Dracula flicks.

3. Nosferatu (1922): A German silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, not suffering at all from copyright conflict with Stoker’s widow.

cf Nosferatu The Vampyre (a 1979 riff by Werner Herzog with Klaus Kinski in the title role: glorious!) and Shadow of the Vampire (2000) in which John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe have far too much fun bringing a behind-the-scenes tale of the making of Nosferatu to amazing life.

4. The Hunger (1983): Whitley Strieber’s novel is made all the more classy with Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie caught in a sunlit net of love, blood and death, beautifully directed by Tony Scott.

5. Vampire Lovers (1970): Ingrid Pitt is sensational as Camilla in this Hammer take of Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic lesbian love story.

cf other Hammer standouts Vampire Circus (1972, in which a travelling circus comes to town) and Twins of Evils (1971, a sexy tale of a vampire seeking to tempt — you guessed it, twins in diaphanous gowns — to his way of life. er, death).

* You’ll notice my cop-out with the ‘see alsos': just couldn’t decide on five from such a vast field that includes worthies such as Interview with the Vampire and Lost Boys. Maybe I should’ve gone for a top 10.

5 must-see werewolf movies

ginger snaps werewolf movie

1. The Wolfman (1941): Lon Chaney Jr does for the werewolf what Bela did for the vampire.

cf The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), another ‘traditional’ man-becomes-monster scenario given gravitas by Oliver Reed (who quite possibly was a werewolf; he was certainly a wild man!).

2. The Howling (1981): Psychiatry meets the beast within. No guesses as to who wins in this stylish attempt to move the werewolf into modern society.

cf Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer for a similar attempt with a great latrine moment.

3. Ginger Snaps (2000): Puberty is truly blue for two sisters caught up in the change. Two sequels are also notable for actually taking the story somewhere new.

4. The Company of Wolves (1984): Neil Jordan directs Angela Lansbury in a fairy tale about men who are hairy on the inside. You’ve been warned, Red!

5. An American Werewolf in London (1981): great soundtrack, cool corpses and Jenny Agutter. What’s not to like in this fine balance of pathos and humour?

* While we’re in shapeshifter mode, feline-lovers should head over to Cat People, both the 1942 original and the 1982 remake for some quality time.

Trivia bonus: David Bowie was a vampire in The Hunger and contributed this lovely song to the 1982 Cat People soundtrack.

The Wolfman – neither a howler nor a howling success

the wolfmanI’m halfway through watching The Wolfman — the new one, with Benicio Del Toro going all fur and fangs — and I’m thinking, I’m sure I’ve seen this movie before, but it was in black and white. I wonder if this new effort shouldn’t have been as well, just to make the point.

The delight (and dogged duplication) in the premiere werewolf movies of yore is clear in this effort, directed by Joe Johnson. Lots of moon shots, lots of foggy forests and silhouettes. Gypsies. Mobs with flaming brands. The village tavern that falls silent when the stranger enters. And absolutely nothing new.

But don’t let that put you off. It’s a solid, if uninspiring and strangely uncompelling, effort. The love story is such an undeveloped and fleeting thing, the tension between father and prodigal son so underplayed, the concentration on werewolfy rampaging with lots of gibbets so great, that it’s hard to get into the characters much at all.

The music, by reliable Danny Elfman, isn’t always used to best advantage, either. It’s not bad, it’s just used out of context at times, trying to make tension and jump! surprise! where there doesn’t need to be any.

But my goodness, there are other times when the suspense does kick in, and all those stereotypical Gothic scenes are portrayed in full cinematic glory: ruins, sweeping staircases, misty forests, gibbous moons through the spindly branches of trees. There’s even a decrepit, sprawling mansion in need of a serious cobwebbing and sweeping, complete with family tomb (I wouldn’t have been gobsmacked to see a headstone out the back with maybe Karstein written on it, or Usher, or Ligeia). Some not-too-shocking family secrets. Oh yum!

There are some adorable scenes set in old London town, and the whole is enlivened by Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard detective with a fascinating past, regrettably only mentioned in passing. I almost wish we’d seen more of his story: the echo with his previous, infamous case would have been delicious. And spare a thought for poor Art Malik, hidden in a beard as a servant with more silver bullets than he has brooms (neither of which he proves much use with).

I wouldn’t be cleaning my Universal and Hammer classics from the shelf to make way for this one, but lovers of that kind of werewolf movie will find something to appreciate in this recycled homage.

A collected bargain at Melbourne’s Worldcon

Ticonderoga Publications has announced an awesome pair of launches to be held at Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne in September (it’s the Worldcon, in case you’ve missed the news, so it’s a Very Big Deal). Kaaron Warren, whose novel Slights recently made the long list for the Stoker Awards (w00t! — notice the other Aussies on the list!), and the hugely talented Angela Slatter will both have new collections available — Warren’s second, Slatter’s first. Both promise much goodness, of the unsettling kind. Even if you’re not going to Worldcon — and if not, why the hell not? — you can order the collections online. Should make the next Aurealis Awards for best collection interesting!

Daybreakers – what a bloody mess

daybreakers movie poster

Oh dear. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time. The vampires have taken over the world and established a night-time society, sadly seemingly stuck in much the same pattern of commerce as ours, but alas, they’ve literally drained their food supplies to the point of extinction (humans be warned: this could happen to you). It’s a race: to track down the last humans, to synthesise a blood replacement, or find a cure. At the end of the day, the future of the planet actually comes down to corporate greed. The leeches!

Daybreakers fails to deliver on its promise. Once the story starts and people start talking, it quickly turns into a bloody mess. Maybe that’s me looking for a shiny new take on vampirism when all that was ever on offer was just more schlock hanging off a neat idea. Nothing wrong with schlock, mind you; it’s just, I wanted more from this. I’m not sure why.

The Spierig brothers’ previous movie, Undead, was gloriously schlocky, even with aliens, and I loved it. So maybe I shouldn’t have expected this to be any different.

But, what the hell is with the bats? I haven’t seen such horrible effects since Hammer Horror (hurray, back online and makin’ movies!) dangled a stuffed one on wires and jigged its wings about. The bats, flitting about both night and day and glorying in swooping the camera, were inappropriate, cheap, tacky.

And where was the logic? Does not drinking human blood make vampires turn into primal bat-things, or doesn’t it? If vampires can survive on pigs’ blood a la Nick Knight, then why don’t they? Why does mixing blood with your coffee (just coffee, we presume, the only foodstuff on-screen – viscera notwithstanding) make it palatable? Why does Ethan (and his little heart-monitoring do-hickeys) not burn but Willem gets toasty scarred? Why does throwing gratuitous buckets of blood and hosting cannibalistic frenzies (really blurring the line between vampire and zombie, there, lads) make boys coo with glee?

And isn’t it a sad day, really, when you have to (presumably to secure funding) throw some weird-arse colour filter over your lens to try to disguise the fact you shot your movie in Australia, not the US of A. Location was hardly a factor in the plot, so why force the crap accents on otherwise wonderful actors? Admittedly, I was familiar with a hell of a lot of the scenery in Daybreakers, it being filmed around my former hometown, but I’m still scratching my head about the massive Moreton Bay fig having pride of place on a ridge somewhere in Nowheresville, USA.

Stupid lookouts who get surprised in daytime when they’re standing in the middle of a massive open space with 360-degree visibility; humans who simply must charge around in convoys at night; a seemingly endless stream of last-minute saves by the handy off-screen ally. And even in 2019 we’re still trying for the (presumably) heart shot with a crossbow. Oh God. And did I mention the bats??

I’m sorry, but ‘because it looks cool’ is not a sufficient answer.

So, Daybreakers for me is a B-grade vampire movie, maybe flitting down around the C+ level, which puts it on a par with the rest of the Aussie crop. Sigh.

[Addendum: What I liked about Daybreakers: the concept; the visualisation of the vampire society; the fact that being a vampire didn't automatically make everyone a martial arts expert; no wire work; female lead Claudia Karvan not being made into some kind of sex-glamour-combat heroine (but she gets jumped twice, dude, so a little nous might've been nice); that the hero's brother has the actual hero's arc; Sam Neill]

Here, have some decent bats, care of a certain Nick Cave and his Birthday Party. And someone pass me a copy of Near Dark and a bottle of red. Cheers.

Death Most Definite – WANT

A bounce around the interwebs produced a lovely image of the cover of Trent Jamieson’s upcoming debut novel, Death Most Definite. It’s very pretty. The story sounds awesome, with its Pratchett undertones: a Reaper man trying to keep the lid on the restless dead when the boss goes missing. Given that Trent’s one of the best darn writers I know, I can’t wait to get my little paws on this read. The even better news is, there’s at least two more in the works for the same series. (Note to self: make more room on book shelf.) It should be out in time for September’s Worldcon in Melbourne — huzzah!

Writing space – a QWC blog tour

I consider myself to be a full-time Melburnian since November, when the move into my fiancee’s rental had been accomplished and my car was parked in the driveway.

At the end of November, we were given notice that our house was to be sold and we’d need a new abode. The nest, so recently feathered, was to be torn down, figuratively if not literally.

So it’s apt that the Queensland Writers Centre has asked me to profile my writing space as part of a blog tour: a little slice of space and time, recorded on the interwebs. This is the workroom. It’s a shared office, poor Kirstyn having surrendered her haven in my favour, so that I could set up the desktop. The result is a gloriously messy meld of her stuff and mine.

jason nahrung's writing desk

Some of the features:

The desktop PC. I don’t mind writing on a laptop, but I prefer the solidity of the PC, especially for editing. It’s got everything on it — email and old files and a bunch of RAM — and a full-size keyboard with all the keys in the right place. Stuck to its side is a picture I took of a sunset over the farm on which I grew up — my heart’s home.

The CD player. I love writing with music playing. It’s part mood-maker, part white noise generator. The caveat is that it must, for the most part, be familiar, so it can indeed fade into the background once I’ve got the groove.

Sekhmet and friends. One of the things Kirstyn didn’t have to move in the office when I merged in was her Egyptian stuff. I’ve always been interested in the ancient place, with a special affinity for Sekhmet (especially since a visit to Karnak). I’ve got a couple of figurines of her and the great scribe Thoth watching over the keyboard.

The screen saver. This changes, but this one is a picture of New Orleans’ French Quarter, taken from the Algiers ferry. If the farm is my heart’s home, the Vieux Carre could well be my soul’s home. It’s my most favourite of cities.

So that’s the den. But there’s more to writing space than where the words hit the page.

park gates

Our abode, about to be vacated, is near several small parks that have provided much-needed respite from the four walls and screen. One has these amazing gateposts and a leafy path, the other is an ‘urban forest': an overly sculpted strip of scrub flanked by houses on both sides, with a couple of muddy ponds supporting ducks and a bunch of other birdlife. To stretch the knees, feel the breeze and the sun or, occasionally, the coming rain wet on the wind, and allow the ideas and characters to jumble around in free-thought has become one of my favourite parts of the process.

duck pond

Now there’s a new park to be explored and a new desk waiting bound in cardboard in the garage. We’re hoping to have room enough for both of us to have our own dedicated writing space in the new house. For now, though, I’d better go make use of this one while I can.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening February to April 2010. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog.

The Road – a damn fine journey

the road, movie poster

Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road can breathe easy — the movie is a damn fine adaptation.

In fact, it’s probably one of the best that I’ve seen.

The mood of the book is perfectly captured on-screen, thanks to wonderful sets depicting the ruins of civilisation and the death of nature. Abandoned cities, broken roadways littered with wrecked cars, devastated forests, wildfires and electrical storms all show the grim future. The actual event is barely mentioned, no blame apportioned. It just is.

As in the book, the movie does not provide a strict narrative journey, but rather a series of vignettes marking the progress of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) through this blasted landscape, with flashbacks to the father’s life with his wife (Charlize Theron) before, during and after the calamity fell.

On the road, father and son have to dodge cannibal gangs while they head south, every day a search for warmth, shelter and food. Other stray travellers they meet are viewed with suspicion, providing a crux for the film’s thematic centre.

I felt a little let down by the conclusion in the book, but the movie, while changing it only slightly, manages with deft subtlety to make it work, and work brilliantly. Likewise there are some minor changes to events in the novel, but none are jarring, and all work to enhance the on-screen story.

There were some likely lads in our theatre who might have been expecting some kind of Mad Max/Cyborg storyline, and I suspect by their chatting and quick departure that they left disappointed by this thoughtful portrayal of the hopelessness and drudgery of life on the road. Or maybe they’d got the wrong cinema and only stayed in the hope of Theron getting her kit off — more disappointment, there, boys. But my goodness, doesn’t she just chew up the camera?

The casting (including Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall) was uniformally superb, some actors almost indistinguishable underneath their soot and grime and filthy teeth.

A soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis enhanced the tone without being overly dramatic or sentimental, the camera work was striking without being flashy; there was nothing not to like about this movie.

Director John Hillcoat has delivered an amazing reading of McCarthy’s novel that both readers and non should enjoy.

Top five in five

Newly arrived music on the stereo, in five words or less:

spinnerette album by spinnerette

Sketchbook 3, Johnette Napolitano: experiments in gentle heart surgery

Spinnerette, Spinnerette: spunky distillation spiced with Brody

Four on the Floor, Juliet and the Licks: natural born killer rock

The Definitive Collection, Nena: popping 80s highs, auf Deutsch

In This Light and On This Evening, Editors: glorious synths of gloom

Gargoyles of Brisbane

frowning gargoyle on brisbane building

Gargoyles in Brisbane? Who’d a thunkit!

Poor old Brissie aka Brizvegas aka my former hometown of the past 11 years is often criticised for not being city enough, as if a million souls and traffic snarls aren’t requirement enough. As if being a city is something to be desired, some badge of achievement. Hm.

Anyway, on a recent return, I was chuffed to find gargoyles adorning a fine old stone building on George Street — it’s a key administration road, lots of suits and government offices, which is probably why I’ve not noticed this edifice before, or at least not got around to taking pictures. This dude has a buddy, too, a smiling companion keeping an eye on the passersby, and another couple of buddies as well, watching over the front door and windows.

There’s another building, a self-proclaimed manor or somesuch, with a fine array of lions and griffins, but alas, my photographic eye didn’t quite roam that far on this trip, though I did snap the weather-beaten cat aloft on a building near my gargoyle find. There might be others? Anyone?

The point of this being, if a place has got theatres and cafes and more ‘foreign’ dining options than a Chinese takeaway and a Pizza Hut, AND gargoyles, honestly, what more do you need?? Anyway, good on ya, Brissie, for keeping the gargoyles aloft. Lord knows you’ve lost enough of your architectural heritage. Long may these dudes reign!