Friday, June 28, 2013

The Definitive Top 10 Mel Gibson Movies

Ok, definitive, may be a stretch and I understand that some of you may be groaning at the mere mention of the now infamous Mel Gibson. To be frank, I'm not looking for some earthy crunchy politically correct superstar when I queue up the next film on Netflix, I just want to be entertained.  And no matter what you think of the guy, no matter what controversy he's been involved in recently, Mel has made some great movies. Comedy, Shakespeare, Drama, War, Action- he's done it all, and done it well. This top 10 list was fun to make. I know I'm going to piss some movie critics off, but here goes:

Should these be Mel Gibson's Top 5 Films? Leave a comment below... ;)

Top 10 Mel Gibson Films
1. Payback (1999) Directed by Brian Helgeland, a hard hitting thriller with cameos by Lucy Lu, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson and William Devane. Gritty, punchy, mean and relentless; who roused these stars out of retirement?

2. Hamlet (1990) An inspired performance by Gibson, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and co-starring Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, and Helena Bonham Carter. It's my favorite version of Hamlet, and let's face it there's a multitude to chose from.

3. What Women Want (2000) A comedy, starring Gibson opposite Helen Hunt; a huge commercial success, grossing $374 million for an outlay of $70 million. A chick-flick with attitude, plot, intelligence and satire; how could it lose?

4. Ransom (1996) Directed by Ron Howard, and cast Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Liev Schreiber, Gary Sinise. The 5th biggest film of the year. The best twisted ending I've ever seen; with just 10 minutes left, I still wasn't sure of the outcome.

5.Braveheart (1995) Directed by and starring Gibson, low on historical fact, but passionate and stirring- and still the thirteenth highest grossing film of the year. (see also my post on how I believe this film defined an entire genre: A Braveheart for Every Nation )

6. Mad Max (1979) Gibson was paid $15,000 salary for the iconic movie, and it grossed $100 million; the highest ever percentage profit of any movie. Music by Brian May of Queen. It's basic in the extreme, and leaves us to our own interpretation, but it's Mad Max.

7.Gallipoli (1981) Gibson; Best Actor Award (Aus). The running scenes in the trenches set to Jean Michelle Jarre’s; Oxygene. Mixing humor with trench horror, it epitomizes the hopelessness of the enterprise, with an inescapable ANZAC spirit.

8. We Were Soldiers (2002) An epic Vietnam movie, directed by Randall Wallace, co-starring Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear, and a highly quotable Sam Elliott. One of my favorite Vietnam movies; the closing Scottish song chills my bones; "I'll lay me doon, in the cauld, cauld ground".

9. Conspiracy Theory (1997) Featuring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts, with Patrick Stewart as a memorable bad guy, in the best conspiracy movie ever. With a thousand Catcher in the Rye paperbacks in his library, who expected 'sane'?

10. Forever Young (1992) Gibson stars in a ‘time travel’ movie, with Elijah Wood, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Screenplay and original story by J.J. Abrams. Wonderful. Refreshing, well acted, and the best movie ever featuring a B-25 Mitchell bomber.
So what do you think? I know that perhaps your favorite didn't make the list. Here's the deal- some of my favorites didn't cut muster either. Im doing top 10, not top however many I need to fit them all in!
Do you agree with my Top 10 Gibson films? Post your own list below.

Close but no cigar on the list were; Air America (1990), The Bounty (1984), Get the Gringo (2012), Lethal Weapon,1,2,3,4 (1987 et al), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), The Patriot (2000), The Man Without a Face (1993). All great movies.

But... and I risk a throttling here.

At the VERY bottom of any Mel Gibson list...frankly of ANY list of praiseworthy films:

Signs (2002) Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Although Gibson’s highest grossing film, It’s never going to appear in any list of mine; a truly terrible movie. It will very probably appear in a rant masquerading as a blog post one day. Just don't get me started.

Now its time for you to weigh in- do you agree, disagree, disassemble?  Which one would you put at number 1? Please leave a comment below- debate is good for the soul.

Monday, June 24, 2013

To A "Warrior Poet" on Bannockburn Day

Robert the Bruce faced an English army on the field of Bannockburn on 23-24th June, 1314.
At the end of the movie Braveheart, Bruce (Angus MacFadyen) tells how the Scots took to the field and won the day, fighting like "Warrior Poets".  I still think that is one of the most ridiculous lines I've ever heard in a film, but as I got to thinking about it I decided to have a go at writing a "warrior poem"...

Crichton Castle, near Edinburgh Scotland ~photo ©Robert Ramsay 2013

In true Robert Burns style, I give you my own work...

To a Warrior Poet
By Ian Hall

I come upon this field o’ emerald green,
The sky sae blue, a shade that’s rarely seen,
Aroon’ us a’, jus’ perfect an’ pristine,
But aye, we’ll change it
By end o’ Day we’ll tak’ its calm serene
An’ re-arrange it.

I watch the mist that puffs oot frae ma’ moo’
The mornin’ cauld, grass glintin’ wae the dew
Then gallops on a flag o’ purest blue,
Wi’silver cross
We cheer, call “King!” an’ swear anew
For England’s loss.

Sword heavy, jammed in belt pulled tight
Axe ready, sharpened, shinin’ bright
Face paintit, an unco rachit sight
We stand an’ cheer
In front, the hale o’ bloody England’s might
We’ll end it here.

We wait oor turn, an’ watch the conflict lour
We ken that soon will be the mighty hour
That chargin’ doon the hillside Scottish power
Will win the day
Tae see the English cut an’ run an’ cower
We’ll hold the sway

I reach the foe an’ cut him doon wi’ swing o’ sword
I hack him up an’ doon wi’oot a word
Nae care o’ favour if he’s serf or Lord
An’ none expectit
I tak’ the work of the almighty God
An’ aye but wreck it

I swing ma axe in arcs aboon ma heid
An’ crash an’ slice, until he’s doon or deid
Stomp onward, an’ on the a’ the violence feed
I drink ma fill
Then suddenly we reach the end o’ oor stampede
An’ a’ is still

Silence fa’s like blankets thrown upon the bed
The moans o’ strangers that we cut an’ bled
The field no green, but stained an eerie dirty red
In English Blood
An’ thankfu’ still alive, an’ no' lyin' dead
Gi thanks tae God.

Robert Bruce, 23-24th June, 1314, Field of Bannockburn, Near Stirling, Scotland... "They fought like Warrior Poets!"

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Whovians: Doctor Who- Not Very Confidential

NOTE: As every good author should, I generally avoid confusing lingo-ism here on the blog.  The astute reader will see that I am making an exception in this case and refer to "Whovians" without any explanatory preamble.  I chose to do this because, frankly, you have to BE one to appreciate the amazing revelation I am about to proclaim...

Okay, Whovians, we all like our Doctor, don’t we?  We get invested not only in the character and the show, but the actor too. David Tennant found his Shakespearian works in FAR greater demand with the 18-40 crowd after he’d achieved his Whovian fame, and we can’t just attribute that to his looks.
The Doctors become more than just faces, more than just an interesting actor doing interesting things. We become fans. Slowly and surely.

I’m a Scot in the center of America, and I’ve seen it happen in the last five years. When I arrived here in 2001, few had even heard of Doctor Who. Now my American family all watch, and I can only assume from the constant stream of heretofore obscure British Who actors on US evening chat shows that it's  happening all over the country.

Who is YOUR favorite Doctor? Leave a comment below, lets take a poll;)

As avid fans, we crave every new Doctor Who facet we discover. We watch episodes multiple times, we have Whovian Series marathons, trying to leech every possible second of emotion from the screen. We track long plot arcs like junkies, and we whine like spoiled children when the series ends.
Do you know what we need?  We need a loan of The Doctor's T.A.R.D.I.S., we need to go back in time to January 2005, take a small camera, magically get a piece of telepathic paper to prove we’re authorized to be on the film set, and film a ‘behind-the-scenes’ show for each episode. YES, one show for each episode. We need on-the-set interviews, we need to shoot the TV show as it’s filmed, we need a Doctor Who back door.

Now to those who are already familiar with Doctor Who Confidential, (DWC) this is old hat. But to the new fans all over the world, who had to beg borrow or steal our new episodes, this is a great idea.

OKAY: time to stop teasing… and you knew what I’m going to say…. It’s already been done!
(hint, stay tuned to the end of the post for examples and links)

In the UK, back in 2005, after the airing of every new episode on BBC1, the British fans got a very personal message; "Now turn to BBC3 to get a behind-the-scenes look at tonight's episode"
Series 1 and 2 had a full 30 minute behind-the-scenes episode. It was so popular they extended it to 45 minutes in season 3.

They didn’t throttle the budget looking for a suitable narrator-
  • DWC Series 1 starred Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, and the Editor in the Long Game, DW series 1 episode 7)
  • DWC; Series 2 starred Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentleman and Doctor Who on radio)
  • DWC; Series 3 and 4 starred Anthony Head (Buffy, Vampire Slayer and Mister Finch in School Reunion DW series 2, episode 17)
  • DWC; Series 5, perhaps suffering from budget cuts saw Alex Price, a BBC Doctor Who voice actor doing the narration.
  • DWC; Series 6, the last to actually have a DWC, starred Russel Tovey, who had been considered for the Eleventh Doctor, before Matt Smith was decided upon. (He starred in Being Human, and as Midshipman Alonso Frame in the 2009-10 Doctor Who Christmas special, The End of Time)

After Series 6, because of budget cuts, they scrapped the show. The fans went mental, (a Brittish-ism for going crazy, also known as potty, la-la, doo-lally) After the huge protest, BBC transferred all future content to the Doctor Who website.

Anyway… to those who have not seen it, the show is eye-poppingly good. Just like I said above; interviews, silly trivia, cast shots, production stuff, editors notes, directors notes, and film from the run thru’s the read thru’s and the actual weekly meetings with techies and cast. It didn’t matter that they looked behind the scenes. It didn’t matter that they debunked the ‘truth’ behind the filming.
The show was called; Doctor Who Confidential, it played once after each episode, the BBC made a tentative effort to put it un dvd, and was promptly forgotten.

But not by us. The poor exiles of the British Isles, who download in the dead of night, who swap ‘Whovian’ discs in smoky cafés. The outcast/unclean pariahs who, although we still call ourselves ‘British’, haven’t had sausage and chips from a real chippie in thirty years. And then there are the poor foreign followers, who struggle to understand the show in the original English. It doesn't matter the method by which we watch...we’re all fans. All want to see this MEGA find. This richly veined seam of television gold.

I mean, I consider myself a fan, and I just found it in 2013. I mean, where was I for almost a decade?
Some of the shows on Youtube have only a few thousand hits. Every fan I encounter looks at me in utter disbelief when I tell them about the show. Then runs from my presence and for some reason has a sudden two week illness from work.

So… Doctor Who Confidential? Where can we find it?

Well first, here's a sample that you can watch right from my blog- featuring one of the best programmes EVER in Sci-Fi ~ "Blink" !

How do you find your own from here? Simple…
Search for "Doctor Who Confidential", and enjoy your evenings for a few weeks. I don’t think that every episode is up there, but it’s close. And because it’s not exactly, Doctor Who, the BBC hasn’t tried to ban it or rip it from the web. Go and watch the three doctors being just ordinary blokes, determined to enjoy every minute of being the world’s oldest sci-fi goodie.

Go to…
And search for the whole experience; series lists, links to play the programs, trivia too numerous to mention here, and more.

BUT BEFORE YOU GO…… Become a ‘follower’ of my blog…
Because very soon, I’ll tell you all about…. TORCHWOOD CONFIDENTIAL!
And don't be afraid, why not suggest new blog posts for me to investigate?

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur’s Court

Welcome to a new series of Blog posts; Excerpts from my new work in progress- A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur’s Court.

Although these will not tell the story exhaustively, they will hopefully let you know how the story is progressing and how our hero, Richard DeVere, is coping.  Bear in mind that because this is a work-in-progress, it is the ‘rough draft’, straight off the pen version, unedited, no re-writes here.

I’ll start at page one…

Chapter 1
Unknown date, Bedchamber
Never being known for any outward bursts of emotion, I pressed my back against the cold stone wall. Sweating, I panted quietly, allowing my breathing to return to as close to normal as my current circumstances would allow. The room before me lay dimly lit, only by a duet of candles either side of the rather grand bed. Apart from two antique drawer units, the room lay bare. I did the usual anti-panic measures; I pinched myself, I slapped my cheek lightly, then I spoke.


Everything seemed perfectly normal. Except, of course, that seconds before I had been spiraling in mortal combat with my enemy, Keith Cornwall; two vampires in a fight to the death. I’d crossed his path too many times to underestimate his hatred for me, and I had decided to fight this time, get it all over with. Either he’d win or I, he’d pissed me off far too many times in the last four years not to get a definite outcome.

But it seemed Keith and I were fairly evenly matched. In the end, with neither gaining the advantage in a kind of bear hug, we’d begun to spin. And vampires can move pretty fast. In fact, we’d been spinning so rapidly, my head still felt light and disorientated. Now here I was, alone in a cold, dark bedroom.

I took a step towards the light, and was alarmed by the loud crunching of my cowboy boots on the straw strewn on the smooth stone floor. Stone, not tile. Sensing movement outside the room, I stopped to listen and heard footfalls outside the door. I flattened myself against the wall again, sidling towards the darker corner, my boot soles again scraping against the stone.

The door burst open, and a gangly teenage boy raced in aiming himself at the bed, his long nightshirt trailing after him like a milky Superman cape.

“I shan’t write another letter, I shan’t!” he screamed, landing with a considerable thump on the bedding.

Considering the advances in mattress manufacture, I could have made some recommendations. I mean, this bed just didn’t give anything under his aerial assault.

An arm stretched inside the room, and pulled the door closed. “Goodnight your highness.”

Oh boy, not only a cold dark bedroom, but a brat to contend with.

“Me solum relinquatis!” he yelled over his shoulder at the closed door.

Wow, that surprised me for a comeback. I know Latin when I hear it. When I was eighteen, I’d done a year’s work placement at a lawyers firm in my home town of Hartford, Connecticut, and although I didn’t know what he’d said, it had sounded good.

Then he began muttering under his breath, his hands tightly clasped. I assumed he was praying, then he confirmed it by rolling over onto his back and crossing himself. With a petulant aimed breath at each candle, he threw the room into total darkness.  In minutes, the sounds of light snoring drifted across the void....

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's Day: A Tale of Two Scots Lyrics

Dad and me, Victoria Street, Gorebridge, 1962 (Tattie Raw)
He met the world as a Dalkeith boy,
Raised from a shaft at Monktonhall
In a well-oiled cage,
That locked away his dreams.
The song, Lucky was written by Dalkieth boy Fish (of Marillion fame) and has always been a favorite of mine.

My dad was raised in Gorebridge, just a few miles from Dalkeith, and his shaft wasn’t at Monktonhall Colliery, but nearer home; at the deep coal mine called the Lady Victoria. I’ve been in the cages of both mines, and know the darkness that creeps into your psyche as the human elevator descends, sending you into the depths of the earth. Each journey down, like visiting Hell for eight hours. Conditions underground sapped your strength, your health, and your hunger for life. The dust killed your lungs, and your respiratory system. My dad worked for the National Coal Board all his life; from boyhood fifteen to a jaded fifty-two, when he retired early.

I’m not sure, however, that the cage ever locked my Dad’s dreams away. He was born in 1933, and was a young boy through the Second World War. Times were hard, rationing lasted many years after Hitler took the poisoned capsule, and life went on.

Gorebridge Primary School Class Photo, 1945. My Dad is the one on the lower right.

Dad married Mum in 1957, but they stayed in the same village. It’s where my brother and I were born. Mum and Dad both lived all their adult lives there; very static, very ordinary, almost boring. They both died in the same house they’d been allocated when they were in their twenties. They’d been happy to stay there for almost fifty years.

So, you see; I’m not sure if dad had any unrequited dreams at all. Give him a fishing rod by the side of a river, or a comfy chair and a John Wayne film to watch, or stick him in his greenhouse, and he was as happy as a proverbial pig in clover. We grew tomatoes, and by all my recollection we supplied half the neighborhood. We reaped the harvest of his innate generosity in unusual ways. I still remember the night we got pheasants from the gamekeeper at Yair Bridge on the river Tweed (I think there was more than tomatoes involved here, I seem to remember a bottle of whiskey or two...). Dad was delighted at his prize, anticipating a wonderful home cooked version of "pheasant under glass". We hung the birds up in the greenhouse to mature, and we went to work the next day. When we arrived home dad went to check on the birds to find they had disappeared. Imagine his chagrin when he discovered Mum had thrown them in the trash, saying they "stunk tae high heaven!"

The Hall Men: Me, Brother Kevin, and Dad  (with longsuffering Mum, Kathy)

I mulled these thoughts around in my head for a day or two as I thought about writing a Father's Day post about my dad. Then yesterday afternoon, the day before Father’s Day, I was outside in my Kansas garden and working to tie my tomato plants to canes. I caught an unmistakable whiff of 'tomato plant' from my fingers and BAM!  I was back in Dad’s Alton greenhouse in Gorebridge, aged about ten. Back in those days, it was my job to water, feed, and to pollinate the flowers by ‘tickling’ them with a rabbits tail. I spent a lot of time in Dad's greenhouse.

Lyrics swept into my head, The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. The song was written by Mike Rutherford (Genesis) and B.A. Robertson, who’d both recently lost their dads.

I wasn't there that morning when my Father passed away
I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say
I had moved to America before Dad died, and I wasn’t there the day that he passed, so the words were poignant and oh so fitting. I smelled the tomato on my fingers again, just to feel the memory, just to feel the tears roll down my cheeks, just to remember him.

So, I’ll remember the smell of tomato plants on my fingers, John Wayne films, and the feel of a trout on the line, and as I do so… I’ll remember Dad.

A collection of my memories of Gorebridge, available in all eBooks

Now, due to the demand of my friends still in Scotland, available in paperback on Amazon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A 'Braveheart' for Every Nation

Despite its historical inaccuracies, the 1995 movie  Braveheart  has always been my favorite ‘Scottish’ Film. Yes, I know, it missed out on details- but what it lost in the minutia, it made up for in passion. I shake my head at the Irish accents and ignore the silly throwaway dialogue, instead I focus on my gut. I feel the movie rather than watch it. I feel the passion that drives the story to the last scenes. I shiver as poor Sir William Wallace dies; hung, drawn and quartered for all of Christendom to see. A wee tear shimmers to the surface of my tough old een as Wallace floats back to ‘Bonnie Scotland’ to join his resurrected true love, Mirren (spoken with as much ‘R’ rolling as my quivering Celtic tongue can permit).

Driven with nationalistic passion rather than historical accuracy,  Braveheart becomes more than just a movie; it typifies a whole genre. And although I will use Randall Wallace's title as nomenclature for this genre I am proclaiming, it certainly wasn't the first example.

In 1959, the year I was born, a huge undertaking began in the Cinecittà Studios on the outskirts of Rome, Italy. I don’t know whether to list Ben Hur as a Jewish Braveheart, or a biblical one encompassing the entire Judeo-Christian tradition. However you cut the cake, you end up with a sprawling three and a half hour epic that still is unrivalled. It only cost $15 million to make, but cashed over $140 million at the box office. And, trust me, a tenfold profit is real good money.

Ben Hur won an amazing eleven Oscars, a feat not to be equaled until Titanic and Lord of the Rings, four decades later. Considering the ultimate status of the film, it's quite incredible how many top actors turned down the juicy lead role… Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, and Leslie Nielsen. Kirk Douglas, keen to star, felt snubbed in favor of Charlton Heston, and this inspired Douglas to force Spartacus into production.

Fifty thousand extras were cast in Ben Hur. YES! I said 50,000. This will never be replicated. Ben Hur will forever sit at the pinnacle of the Braveheart genre; the shining city on the hill for all to aim at. And who can forget that white haired Scotsman, Finlay Currie as both Balthasar and the great narrator’s voice?

In 1960, Italy threw their hero Spartacus into the Braveheart ring. With Kirk Douglas in the exciting lead role, Britons Tony Curtis, Laurence Olivier,  and Peter Ustinov headlined a dazzling cast. Anthony Mann was originally hired to direct, but was fired after the first week, which paved the way for a young Stanley Kubrick to take over. Ouch! With a cast of over ten thousand, and a budget of $12 million, it was the year’s biggest hit, grossing $60 million at the box office. It would be a long time before the Roman Empire would inspire another Braveheart.

In El Cid just a year later, Spain’s own voyage into the Braveheart genre cast Charlton Heston again in the lead role. Who can forget the closing scenes with Charlton riding along the Peñíscola beach, his corpse tied to his horse, inspiring his nation to rout the infidels from Europe. El Cid was one of the last true spectaculars, filmed in 1961 at a paltry cost of six million dollars, yet grossing five times that amount with a gorgeous Sophia Loren as the love interest. Just two years after Heston's appearance in the epic of Ben Hur, it would have appeared to investors as a guaranteed winner.

In true epic fashion, Anthony Mann’s El Cid involved 7,000 extras, 10,000 costumes, 35 ships, and 50 outsize engines of medieval warfare.

In 1962, Greece was the next country to showcase its national heroes; 300 Spartans depicted the Battle of Thermopylae, Spartan warriors against the might of Persia. A very young Frank Miller (the Comic Artist who wrote 300, adapted into a major film in 2007) saw the movie and said "it changed the course of my creative life".

A decade later, in 1970, England took nationalism to a whole new level. Cromwell was a terrific effort to show the complicated plot arcs of the English Civil War. At a cost of just $8 million, it cast Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell, and smashed all records for ‘extras’ in a British film. Yes, it dodged the truth; yes it threw facts to the wind. But it held an audience, rooted into history, and that’s what counts… isn’t it? Plus, it gave work to so many English actors, Richard Harris, Alec Guinness, Timothy Dalton, Patrick Magee, Nigel Stock, and so on….. forever.

The same year, 1970, saw a coalition of Soviets/Italians release its own ‘French’ film in the Braveheart genre. Waterloo featured Rod Steiger as the Emperor Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as the Duke of Wellington. Yup, they met at Waterloo, and kicked lumps out of each other until some Prussians arrived, when they decided to call it a day, and wondered how they’d killed a hundred thousand men. In a single day.

In Waterloo, 15,000 infantry of the Russian Army acted out the main parts, with 2,000 cavalry. At the time, the film had the seventh biggest army in the world. But names like Orson Welles, and Jack Hawkins and the Russian Army don’t come cheap, and the film/movie cost $35 million for its two hours on screen. It would never recoup half of it.

Unless any of you can recall similarly veined tomes, the next twenty years were slightly barren as far as far as our newly designated Braveheart genre is concerned. The historic hero seemed to have fallen out of fashion. This is possibly due to the rise of the cinematic adoration for imaginary heroes like Superman and Batman (but dont get me started..superheros-Bah, humbug!)  I credit Braveheart itself for resurrecting the genre in 1995, and thus don't feel as guilty for the genre's naming.

In 1999, France decided it was time to honor a brave heart of it's own and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, was released. It attempted stardom, but for many reasons fell hopelessly short. Stars were dispatched to remote locations to film the ‘one true’ version of Joan of Arc; Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, and a cameo by Dustin Hoffman led a cast that also involved named British actors too numerous to mention. Some famous faces never spoke a word on screen. I cannot imagine the depth of cuttings that lay on that editing floor. Despite the most terrific medieval siege warfare scenes I’ve ever seen on film, it cost $85 million to produce, and never made a ‘sous’ of profit. I still say that Milla’s role was deep, engaging, and worth every second she appeared on the screen. But the role was not critically acclaimed, unfairly winning her a ‘Raspberry Worst Actress’ nomination. Academy Awards? Whatever!

The United States of America’s found it's own Braveheart hero the next year. Mel Gibson's Benjamin Martin rushed through autumnal forests with his tomahawks in hand, dispatching redcoats willy-nilly. The Patriot  took $110 million to produce, but grossed more than double the amount. Like Braveheart, it gave a nonchalant nod to  historical accuracy, but relied on the passion of the film to carry the day... and great performances by Gibson, Heath Ledger and Jason Isaacs. Again, like Braveheart, it caught hold of the gut of the indigenous population. It worked.

The Roman Empire finally returned to the genre when Gladiator hit the world’s screens in 2000. Costing $103 million, it was a risk. But director Ridley Scott created a masterpiece, and lead man Russell Crowe stole the show, making it the proverbial box office smash. Again, there was an inescapable British influence: Richard Harris as a dying Emperor and consummate performances  by Derek Jacobi and Oliver Reed spread over the piece like honey over Graham Crackers. Oliver Reed died during filming, and they used a body double, and $3 million of special effects to put Reed’s face posthumously onto the screen.

Even the Mayans had their own Braveheart. Apocalypto, filmed by Mel Gibson in 2006 cost $40 million, but grossed three times that. (Is anyone seeing a Mel Gibson pattern here?) It’s a super movie/film that deserves a widescreen showing and a good surround sound turned way up loud.

Creative expression of  ethnic pride is of course nothing new.  William Shakespeare started the ball rolling: his plays are lacking in historical fact, yet steeped in nationalistic fervor, with Richard III, Henry V, and Macbeth as prime examples. But if he rolled the original ball, others have picked it up and run far... Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, and Daniel Defoe's Three Musketeers to name but a few.

YES! There’s room for more Braveheart films. Every nation should have at least one. Throw the facts out with the bathwater, as long as it gets our blood boiling, it's fine by me. Bring them on.


NOTE: As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, (corrections, plaudits??) on all of the above.  Feel free to leave a comment in the section below!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Doctor Who meets Dracula- a Time-Travelling Vampire

I never really intended to write any of my novels. I just started writing, and a sentence became a short story, then the short story became a chapter, then, a few years/months later, out popped a book into the cradling arms of its daddy- me!

hmm, perhaps we could get David Tennant for the title role?

On the other hand, when I began  A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur’s Court  I had a complete goal in my mind. Not only a novel, but a trilogy- plot lines, titles, everything. It wasn’t like me at all. 
I had the ‘hook’- The title's play on Mark Twain's original time travel novel would spark attention.

I had the genre- Time travelling vampire; Doctor Who meets Dracula, a Bram Stoker’s Sam Beckett gone haywire.

I had the reluctant flawed character, racked with guilt, needing to squeeze revenge out of the situation. On his own, out of his depth, and no vampire buddies to fall back on.

Most importantly, I had the ‘history’…The deeply researched rich tapestry of Tudor England, with a twist; I was telling the story of a Prince that most people didn’t know; Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry the Seventh, big brother of Henry the Eighth, and first husband of Catherine of Aragon. Called Arthur as a throwback to England’s glorious mythical ages, he was a boy born to unite two warring factions in England. A unifying entity to end the bitter rivalries of the War of the Roses. He ended up being neither.
From the first line I threw my character in at the deep end.  A time-travelling vampire, thrown back five hundred and twelve years and a quarter of the earth’s diameter. Completely immersing myself in the project, in my first day I wrote 2000 words. I followed that pace for at least another ten days before faltering.

I wrote the entire 68,500 words in 51 days. I knew the punishing pace would be difficult at times, but little did I know it would be so much fun! I loved every page of it, and couldn’t keep the baby to myself.
I stopped. I had a day off. Then I sat the next morning, wondering what to write, and another 2000 words fell from my digitalized pen. Then another 2000. I’m five days into book two, A Connecticut Vampire in Queen Mary’s Court, and have already crossed the 10,000 word barrier. I’ve set myself a target: a trilogy in six months.

We all have stories in our heads. We all have time to sit at the computer. We all wonder if we’ll ever get published, if we’ll ever get discovered, if we’ll ever get famous. But we won’t find any of the above if we don’t write. And don’t think ‘luck’ is all you need.
Samuel Goldwyn once said; “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” As I sit at my computer tomorrow morning, churning out my next 2000 words, I’ll pray that I’ll get luckier too.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Scottish Curried Lentil Soup Recipe... Fast!

In past blogs, I've given real complex and intricate recipes for Scottish Curried Lentil Soup.
Here, we're aiming at the cook with more to do with his/her time than slave over a stove.
So here it is; Lentil Soup, quick-style.

1lb Carrots, (nicely chopped or brutally massacred in a blender)
1lb Rutabaga (Turnip to the rest of the world) treated as above.
One large onion (chopped, same as above, don’t cut yourself, but don’t go all crazy careful either)
Half a dozen Potatoes (chopped into small cubes)
(A healthy alternative to the potatoes here is half a cauliflower)
½ cup of RED Lentils
4 chicken stock cubes
Add to ½ pot of water.
Boil for a good hour, stirring regularly.
(Watch and not stick to bottom of pan)

Add cubes of the secret ingredient below to flavor.
Easy, tasty, and will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
And why not go see more recipes here.... a whole new way to think of soup.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Time Travel, Vampires and 10,000 Words

Suprise, suprise- Ive another new project on the go!   Im just starting book two of my vampire/time travel adventure, this one entitled A Connecticut Vampire in Queen Mary's Court... 10,000 words in five days... still on fire...
 "I unlocked the door, and burst in, to find her advancing on me, smiling, tears falling down her beautiful face. Smiling in return, I slipped my dagger smoothly into her chest. I heard her dress tear, I felt a slight resistance as my blade separated her ribs, then I heard the gurgling as I pierced her heart. As she frowned at me questioningly, croaked her last unpronounceable words, and fell limp into my arms, a knife fell to the ground between us, clattering on the floor. I bent to pick it up. The thin blade had been coated in sticky green ichor. I had dodged another bullet."
Queen Mary 1 aka "Bloody Mary"
I finished the first volume, A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur's Court, in 51 days. Here's brief excerpt
"The large four poster bed stood against one wall; only piece of furniture in the bedchamber, with a dark ornate carved headboard containing the coats of arms of both Arthur and Catherine. I pushed at the ‘mattress’ with the heel of my hand, finding it hard and unforgiving. The top coverlet was embroidered gold, but underneath, fine white silk sheets lay stretched tightly, the clean artist’s canvas for the coming night’s bloody painting. These, the sheets that would be held high for all to see, proving beyond doubt the broken hymen of a Spanish princess. The bloody stains that would be reported back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella as the successful ploughing of her virgin daughter by a fifteen year old boy."

A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur's Court  by Ian Hall will be published on Amazon very soon, and if things continued the way they have been, it will be soon followed by book two... stay tuned for the launch announcement. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Bloody Gavel: a Poem Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe

I am writing a short story for a collection called "The Bloody Gavel". As I rose this morning to get to work on the piece, it seemed I was channeling the darkness and grit of the "master of mystery and macabre"~ Edgar Allan Poe himself. I decided that the story should be in four parts, each woven from a verse of is the poem I wrote:

The Bloody Gavel
By Ian Hall

“It matters not, where you lay your bones,
Or the compass direction of travel.
For the fate was set, in paper and stone
At the strike of the bloody gavel.”

“Revenge is a route that’s easy begun
But the plot takes time to unravel
But man and his fate are fused into one
At the strike of the bloody gavel.”

“When unity dies in a gang of lies
Conspirators quibble and cavil
But trickery’s sting will show in the eyes
At the strike of the bloody gavel.”

“We never hear death, or the sound of his breath
Or the crunch of his feet in the gravel.
But the Reaper will reap, like a ghostly Macbeth
At the strike of the bloody gavel.”
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