Movie review: Below (2002)

Synopsis: An American submarine stops to rescue survivors of a sunken ship but as soon as they are on board, strange happenings start to occur in this claustrophobic supernatural thriller.

Director: David Twohy

Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Dexter Fletcher, Matthew Davis and Olivia Williams

Review: I normally avoid war movies but I was drawn to this one due to its supernatural twist and also Dexter Fletcher – who doesn’t love him? Plus, ghost stories set at sea? I’ve not seen or heard one I didn’t love.

Anyway the pretence is that an American submarine undertakes a routine rescue mission, saving Williams and Fletcher. There’s plenty of misgivings about having a woman on board the submarine, not helped by things going bump in the depths.

Due to the setting of the film, it’s very claustrophobic which helps to build tension but it’s also well acted with even the minor characters putting in a good performance. Williams plays her usual ‘too cool British character’ we’ve seen in other films and shows such as Dollhouse but she does bring a certain depth to her character. Fletcher is typical Fletcher and plays his character well, while Davis as the first officer struggling to follow the commands of a rapidly unravelling Greenwood is excellent. However, it is Greenwood who steals the show as the war-hardened captain with a big secret.

I’ve mentioned the claustrophobia caused by the set but the director makes best use of the space and you get a feel for what life in a submarine must be like. The creaks and groans as the sub descends also adds to the unease felt by the crew and the fact that you know there is no escape when things start to go wrong builds tension and you’ll find yourself wishing the crew weren’t so far under water when ghostly happenings start to occur.

This was no jump-out-of-your-chair horror but a well crafted and thoughtful supernatural thriller which kept me entertained from beginning to end. I think it’s a shame that it’s not been more widely viewed and for those of you with Netflix it’s a great Friday night movie.

Book-irthday for Weird Wild!

Yay, it’s my book-irthday for Weird Wild! To celebrate my publication anniversary for Weird Wild, I’m doing a quick throwback to when I was interviewed by Margret Helgadottir on her blog about the inspiration for Weird Wild, how I get writing and other musings. You can read the interview here. If you’d like to contact me about my writing, reviews or anything else, please comment below 😊

March Meet the Maker: Favourite to Make

Welcome back!

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t, go do it now! Yes now! @bluebeaglebaby) you’ll know that I’m taking part in the #MarchMeetTheMaker event. Today’s title is ‘Favourite to Make’.

Hmm, well this is a tricky one. I’m constantly told I need to concentrate on one ‘thing’ but as any creative knows, there’s too many voices in our heads to listen to just one! So, here’s a few of the things I create!

Geri's makes

In many respects my first ‘baby’ is my writing. I remember writing the opening chapter of what would become my first novel ‘Akane: Last of the Orions’ while travelling through Brazil. Given how many other things I’ve written, it’s funny that this sticks in my memory, and I’ve still got the original notes too! It took a further seven years to finish, edit and submit it to publishers before it finally found its home at Fox Spirit Books.

Weird Wild by G Clark HelleryI have assorted other books available, including my collection of short stories ‘Weird Wild’. I’ll also be making short stories available through my website soon so pop back soon.

I’ve always loved different craft activities and since the birth of my daughter I learned how to sew. I’ve been busy designing her some skirts (see the picture above or my Facebook page for more images) but have recently really enjoyed sewing capes. I was commissioned to sew a ‘family’ of capes for a customer and my daughter liked them so much, I had to sew her some in assorted colours. Seeing her and her friends running around wearing them is brilliant. I’m planning to work on a few cosplay pieces soon. If you’d like a cape made for your little person, feel free to contact me for a quote. Capes

I’ve recently started ‘felting’. There’s something very relaxing about stabbing a needle into felt and I’m planning on making some figures. In the meantime, I’ve ‘felted’ a mermaid toy and also a series of cards, including these for Mother’s Day.

Felted cards by G Clark Hellery

Throw back Thursday: Define Yourself!

I wrote this piece in 2011, discussing how emerging authors should seek to create their own ‘online presence’ and how this would help with book sales and engaging with readers and reviewers by labelling, or pigeon-holing their work. Re-reading it now, I still struggle to define by work – it’s at times horror, comedy, science fiction, fantasy and drama. It’s me!

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Define Yourself

I’ve been thinking a lot about labels recently. I attended FantasyCon, the conference linked to the British Fantasy Society. As an aspiring writer there were innumerable interesting and relevant panels and discussions, as well as the chance to meet with other writers and discuss our work. However, this was where things got a little tricky. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been a little late coming to the genre and rather naively I thought there was only Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror, certainly those are the categories in my local bookshop. However, I was in for a shock when I chatted with other writers.

‘So is it a paranormal romance?’

‘I’ve just finished writing a military sci-fi but my passion is steampunk.’

‘I started in hard-core fantasy, but I’m drifting now towards anthropomorphic fantasy.’

I nodded vaguely, feeling like I should have taken a language course before attending the conference, because I was certain these people were not talking English.

I remember at university, learning all these new terms and phrases. One student mentioned to the lecturer that it was like learning a new language and he likened it to religion, once you know the phrases and labels you become one of the initiated, in a club which outsiders have trouble entering or understanding.

But then I got to thinking, what exactly do these labels tell us? For example, I described my first completed novel, ‘Akane: Last of the Orions’ as a fantasy, until someone suggested that it was more sci-fi and probably leaning towards military sci-fi, with invading aliens, space ships and human testing. However, there’s a strong romantic element, first love, betrayal, as well as mythology and religious theory. How can all of that be summed up in one word?

I spoke with one author who had coined the phrase ‘metaphysical fantasy’ for his own books. When I asked him exactly what that meant, he admitted that it didn’t really mean anything, but was a marketing tool. He’d identified a number of authors who he felt met the criteria of ‘metaphysical fantasy’ and linked them under an umbrella of his own creation, thus ensuring that his own work would be identified with more established writers. So now I was really confused. Was all this categorising and labelling nothing more than cynical marketing? Or a way to make yourself feel superior to the uninitiated?

Evidently modern authors need to create and maintain an ‘online presence’ to allow their fans to interact with them (as well as to keep their publishers happy!) and certainly there are some success stories about authors who initially published their work online, building up a loyal following and almost cult status before being connected to a publishers. It seems as if all aspiring authors need a web-page as any potential agent/publisher/editor/other interested person is likely to google you. Therefore I’ve been thinking about my own brand. There’s a plethora of information about branding and having sat in on the panel at FantasyCon 2011 about ‘How to Maintain Your Online Presence’ as well as reading the recent article on the BBC about ‘Should We Do Away With Privacy?’ it would appear that I should live my life out in the open, log time on the internet, but not express my political or other opinions for fear of alienating potential fans or publishers. I should define myself and my work in one word which sums me up completely, again in an apolitical, non-confrontational manner.

And how do these labels really help us? What do they really tell you about the person or in this case, the book? These labels have been created by society and people external to me. As humans we have an innate need to classify and group things. I’m sure we have all seen, and even been, a child who organises their lego based upon its colour. We segregate people by colour, religion, belief, interests, even sex. Humans have a need to organise, to quantify, but really to what end? I think the need to label and categorise says more about the society than it does about the person. As social beings we have an innate need to fit in and I suppose by labelling ourselves we allow ourselves to become part of a group with which we identify. It seems even in the fantasy genre, where we let our imaginations run free, we feel the need to constrain ourselves and establish sets of rules.

However, labels can blinker our thinking and it is this notion which has be concerned. I asked a friend to read my book. Initially she was very excited but as soon as I mentioned it was a fantasy novel, her eyes glazed over. ‘Oh, I don’t read fantasy books,’ she replied. A bottle of wine later and she was convinced. Later that evening I received a message from my friend, ‘I love your book.’

This obviously boosted my ego somewhat, but then the worry set in. By labelling my book as fantasy, I had isolated a large section of potential readership. It’s more a book about nature with elements of crime, horror, fantasy, alternative history and more thrown in. Like me, does it fit one label? And in doing so, does this mitigate the world of possibility it might become? As an aspiring author looking to one day market my book, what impact could this have on potential sales and readership? As I said above, are we at risk of labelling ourselves to such an extent that we risk limiting or isolating readers?

Words have power. They can build you up, or destroy you and like a snapping dog, they need to be treated with respect. In my life I have had the following labels: schoolgirl, uni student, traveller, office worker, teacher, friend, bitch, daughter, writer, girlfriend, wife, heterosexual, home owner, renter, borrower, lender, clown, adventurer,  vegetarian, volunteer, carnivore. Do any of these labels actually tell you more about me? Do they define me? I hope to one day add published author to this list, but what do any of these words actually tell you about me? And more importantly, would any of them make you more or less likely to buy my work?

As soon as you label something, someone, a book, genre, a group, you stop it becoming something more. It can never evolve or grow, it will forever be whatever it has been labeled. Don’t you think that’s sad? For example, think of Woody of ‘Toy Story’ fame. How would he be labelled? Probably as a child’s toy, but he was so much more: loyal friend, cowboy, leader, lover (what happened to Bo Peep anyway?). Now, not one of these labels fully describes Woody and to use any one alone would be a great disservice to him and that is the point I am trying to make.

So I would like to propose a shift in our thinking. I’m not suggesting a total removal of all labelling, but a more careful usage. Many readers say their job from reading comes from the ability to have their minds opened, so why are we so desperate to immediately limit their thinking by labelling books? I’m currently working on a horror novel, but it might (and probably will) grow to encompass other genres, including archaeological, history and fantasy. It’s therefore a novel of about nature with a supernatural, fantastical and historical twist. I’m very open to suggestions for it’s label….

And as for me? What one word label would best describe me? I’m still evolving, I’m learning something new about myself and this amazing world in which we live every day. There’s only one label that I feel fully fits.

Me.

Movie review: My Bloody Valentine (2009)

My Bloody Valentine 2009.jpg

Synopsis: A mining community is rocked when a mine collapses and in order to save himself, one of the miners kills six other miners. He wakes up from a coma on Valentine’s Day and the town discovers that he now has a taste for murder as he goes on a killing spree, with one of the only survivors being Tom (Jensen Ackles) the son of the owner of the mine. Ten years after the killings Tom returns to town and reopens the mystery of who the murderer was. Who will survive the swing of the miners pickaxe as the rampage starts again?

Director: Patrick Lussier

Starring: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King & Kerr Smith

Review: I’ll be honest, I only watched this movie because I have a crush on Jensen Ackles (yep, I’m a super Supernatural fan!) but I wasn’t disappointed. The premise of a masked serial killer stalking screaming teens has been done to death (excuse the pun) by a multitude of other and better movies but

However, I think the problem with the movie is that you don’t care for any of the characters. There’s more tell than show as the actions moves along quickly and I really don’t like being told how I’m supposed to feel about the characters or forced attempts at making us care with ham-fisted ‘she’s a mother, love her’ or bad guys suddenly attempting to be good because he’s realised how much he loves his wife. It’s handled poorly by the director but the actors try their best with an uneven script.

The other gripe I have with the movie is that it’s blatantly been made for 3D audiences, with pickaxes flying at the audience. I’m not a huge fan of 3D in movies like this: it doesn’t add anything to the story and when the action is determined by where the blood will spray, I think it loses a certain credibility (see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter where all the action is directed for 3D which makes much of it insensible on a 2D screen).

However, for a fan of Ackles, there’s plenty of they cheeky pout and the ending is well done, if not really a surprise.

Throwback Thursday:Remakes – The Good, The Bad & the Downright Pointless

Here’s a throwback to an article I wrote about in number of remakes of foreign language films, but it also links well to the number of remakes of ‘classic’ films.

 

So the remake of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ will be hitting cinemas shortly and it got me thinking about the influx of remakes which have graced our screens: Let The Right One In/Let Me In, Ringu/Ring, Ju-on/The Grudge, Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters)/The Uninvited, Seven Samuri/Ants, Magnificent Seven, Three Amigos, The Expendables and many more.

As someone who loves foreign films, I’m always a little skeptical when a remake of an acclaimed film is announced and I know that I am not alone in my eye-rolling when a new remake is announced. Surely if the first one was good enough, can’t you just read the subtitles? Does Hollywood really need to remake (read: destroy) an original when the original was a film of quality?

Reading a recent online article the stats are pretty depressing. According to the article,  American’s apparently do not like reading subtitles and therefore non-English movies always fare poorly at the box office there. Also, American’s prefer a known director, recognisable actors extended action scenes, and a happy ending. However it should be noted that foreign language films are rarely shown on the same number of screens or English language films which might go some way to explain their poor box office returns.

This last point reminded me of a conversation I had with a Japanese student about films. She said that the difference between many Japanese and Western films is that if the Japanese weren’t moved to tears by the end of the movie (generally with the main character or their love interest dying in a spectacular, often self-induced manner) then they did not feel as if they had received value for money. In contract, if you leave the cinema without knowing the baddie got their comeuppance and the geek found love with the impossibly beautiful girl, then we in the West didn’t feel as if we had got value for money. It’s a cultural difference which might explain the need to change the ending of so many films, giving them the ‘Hollywood’ shine.

However, the figures don’t lie. The original ‘Girl’ movie grossed only $10million at the box office in the US, despite the books being incredibly popular in the US (and all over the world!). The budget for the remake is estimated to be in the region of $100million but it is estimated that it will make significantly more than that, thereby making the studios investment worthwhile. I’m assuming that the studio will be able to deliver it to a wider number of cinemas (foreign language films normally only being shown in niche or smaller cinemas) and it will also have the glitz and glamour of red carpet openings. Already the marketing machine is in full swing with interviews with the stars already being fed to the eager media, something which was more muted for the original film.

A recent article on the Guardian website discussed the rising influence of ‘world cinema’ and the impact it was having on the US market. It seems that many countries want to tell their own stories their way. Remember the clamour when the film ‘Mongol’ was released? A beautifully shot film telling the rise of Genghis Khan in both Mongolian and Chinese, it was seen as the rise of film makers from smaller countries and heralded as a very significant film. It was hugely popular when it was released and whilst it’s box office takings were not huge in comparison to Hollywood ‘blockbusters’ it certainly got people talking.

Yet there is a growing shift in people’s attitudes towards ‘world cinema’. The ‘Numbers’ website did a breakdown of which genres are popular in different countries, stating that anime is popular in Japan although it could be argued that it’s ghost or horror films are more popular abroad, whilst Spain makes a number of horror films which are distributed internationally and I think we can agree that China has produced a significant number of highly entertaining and stunning martial art-mixed-with-fantasy films starting with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and continuing with Hero and House of Flying Daggers. A number of these films have entered into the mainstream consciousness and frankly a remake of any of them would be absurd. I doubt if the climatic battle between good and evil would be quite so passionate if filmed on a council estate in the UK, although that does offer up an intriguing plot twist.

Many foreign language films have received critical acclaim and Oscar nominations, such as ‘Un prophete’ (A Prophet) from France or for the Argentinian Oscar winner ‘El secreto de sus ojos’ (The Secret in Their Eyes). The popularity of directors such as Guillermo del Toro ensures that their work becomes more readily available and I personally love films such as ‘El laberinto del fauno’ (Pan’s Labyrinth). I can only hope that these beautiful films are never ‘Hollywood-ised’.

Whilst to an extent I enjoy a good remake, more often than not, I prefer the original. Take for example the remake of ‘The Grudge’. The original was terrifying with an evil little boy who will haunt my dreams forever. However the remake took all that was scary about the first one and gave it that ‘Hollywood’ glitz. There was no terror, there was no atmosphere and the storyline that Sarah Michelle Geller would be living in Tokyo, working as ‘help’ for the locals and not being able to speak the language fluently is frankly stretching the realms of belief too far. At least with the remake of ‘The Ring’ they transferred the action to the US, the dreary, rain-soaked location matching the darkness of the film.

I enjoyed the remake of ‘The Ring’ and I wonder if it is because whilst they were faithful to the original story (at times it even looked to have been copied shot for shot) but the action was transferred and Americanisms helped make it a different film. I suppose this is the reason why I enjoy both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Whilst the stories are essentially the same (lonely outpost village targeted by bandits only to be protected by a group of outcasts before a final battle to the death) they are set half a world apart and are very sympathetic to where it is set: Japan or Mexico and the culture of each setting becomes part of the film.

Perhaps this is the key to a good remake: the story essentially remains the same but it is told in the style its audience is most comfortable with. A good story with classic themes everyone can relate to is universal, take the remakes and adaptations of the Grimm’s Fairytales, including it’s most recent ‘Hollywood-isation’ in ‘Once Upon A Time’ on TV, two Snow White films to be released next year and ‘Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters’ to be released soon.

As a writer it’s very hard to create an ‘original’ story because you cannot help but be influenced by all those incredible (or not so incredible) stories which have gone before but taking the themes raised in some of these stories and setting them in different worlds or times fills them with new life. A good story never dies. Like the bards of old, perhaps rather than ‘remaking’ them, we should embrace ‘re-telling’ allowing the story to evolve and touch a new audience, filling them with the same passion the original filled me.