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Analysis of “Skull Island” as a subtextual discussion of the inherent violence in Man and his struggle to escape the animal heritage of homo sapiens.

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Emerging from the venerable heritage of the Creature Feature, it’s easy to dismiss “Kong Skull Island” at first glance as nothing more than the latest in a parade of monster movies where viewers wager which of the shrinking band of principals will survive the carnage. Yet, I would say there’s a remarkable vivacity to the subtext of this film that bears further examination and even deserves greater credit than it has thus far received.

Leaving aside the lyrical, poetic cinematography that doesn’t so much recall “Apocalypse now” as reshoot it, I’d like to focus on the plot.

Scientists discover a mysterious island, thanks to the new technology of Satellite photography. But these are not ordinary scientists – these scientists have been tasked with finding previously unknown monsters, and this is (for unspecified reasons) their last chance to do so. Surely this previously unknown island that has been mentioned in historical documents as a place to avoid (wait, how unknown is it?) contains monsters by the BUCKETLOAD? The plan is approved and a survey is cobbled together with other, genuine scientists who are looking for something else. Probably oil. This is the 70’s, everyone wants oil. A squadron of helicopters, almost on their way home from Vietnam, are reassigned to this expedition, to the great relief of their commanding officer who clearly knew the likelihood of his men to fall prey to depression, drug abuse and homelessness following their return home to a hostile country. How farsighted of him.

As the helicopters sweep in over the island, they drop seismic charges, theoretically to map the substrata of the island. In truth, these are bombs to draw out the monsters. Kong makes his appearance and destroys all the helicopters, leaving only a handful of scattered survivors. He and the commanding officer lock gazes through the flames, establishing their emnity for the hard-of-thinking. Then Kong wanders off.

Later in the film, two characters get into a discussion over the AK-47 one of them is carrying.

“I took it off a Vietnamese farmer”, the character says. “Man told me he’d never held a gun before we came to his country. Sometimes you don’t have an enemy until you go looking for one.”

This is another pointer for the hard-of-thinking or American audiences. Because at this point the survivors are split into two groups – the soldiers, who are looking for the biggest heap of weapons to avenge themselves on Kong, and the others, the pretty ones, who meet the locals and a handy WW2 survivor who can explain everything to everyone.

Kong is a protector, the last of his kind. And he was defending his charges from the attack by the helicopters. This is proven by his lack of interest in attacking the film’s leading lady when she wanders across his path. He’s a nice guy, just two hundred feet tall. Worse still, Kong is needed by the islanders because there are worse monsters and he’s their only defender.

This, I feel, is the brilliance of the film. Mankind goes to the island, looking for a monster. Because of the way we go looking, we find one, and we give it reason to act monstrously. The film shows the two possible responses to meeting a monster: Arm, and fight back, or learn, and react with that knowledge in mind. The soldiers, and their commander in particular, arm because it’s what they’ve been trained to do, and to do in Vietnam where the enemy was almost impossible to see. Here’s the exact opposite, and enemy that’s all too visible. It’s easy to see the appeal in the notion of all-out attack.

But the pretty people have knowledge. They know what else hangs in the balance of Kong’s life, and they are willing to put their own lives on the line to protect the villagers, just as Kong is. They step between the soldiers and their enemy and try to make them see reason. All but the commander are persuaded, but for most it takes the arrival of the worse monster to prevent the killing of Kong. The commander himself is killed by the new monster, a victim of the hateful actions he has taken against the enemy he made.

I came away from this movie filled with a profound sense of having learned something about human nature and storytelling and the rediscovery of old tales.

Mrs Dim said she liked the bit where Tom Hiddlestone ran through the water in his t-shirt and jeans.

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Three days at Disney

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Growing up in the UK in the 80’s, Disneyland was an impossibly distant dream. Certainly, people went, and a schoolfriend even brought me back a pair of Mickey Ears with my name embroidered on them.* But it wasn’t until 1997 that Mrs Dim and I went to Disneyland Paris (as it was then) and got an idea of what the apotheosis of theme parks was like.

For years we talked about a return visit, but work commitments or the children’s age meant it was impractical. And then we found ourselves in Canada, with experience of having driven down to San Diego. We could cram into a hotel room and survive. We could actually travel to the original Disneyland!

With Eldest Weasel able to drive, splitting the two-day trip down was easier than previous journeys too. People may curse the kids’ habit of screen-gazing, but car journeys with teens are a lot easier than when I was their age, I think. No one made themselves travel sick by trying to read, there were no arguments over the music or audio books (because everyone has their own) and they did even look out of the windows from time to time.

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Here’s a key thing with our visit: We didn’t have a packed agenda. We like rides, but we weren’t intent on doing every single one. Mrs Dim wanted to wear a tiara and drink coffee on Main Street while watching people go by. I wanted to see anything related to Star Wars. Eldest Weasel doesn’t do roller coasters, but loves artwork. Middle Weasel was there for the Alice stuff. Tiny Weasel loves it all, but hates rushing for anything.

So, we ambled. Lucky for us, we met up with some friends who had already been there a week, and they gave us more crucial hints and tips, as well as physically walking us to stuff we’d like to do. But it was a far cry from the military operations you see some families running through, dashing from ride to ride, hauling children and buggies in their wake, determined to cross off each ride on their tattered and tear-stained maps.

We aimed low, and so for us the bar was passed with ease. We saw so much we weren’t expecting, rode rides we hadn’t even heard of before (and loved them!) and we got a day at Universal Studios into the bargain (when threatened rain kept away a lot of the visitors and made lines almost non-existent.)

Looking back through the pictures, it still seems an impossible dream It’s not something we can do again in a hurry, but I’m glad we did it with all three of the weasels. Whatever your view of Disney, you’re never too old to have fun. I don’t know if it really is the happiest place on earth, but we were very happy to go there.

 

 

*There are very few opportunities outside Disneyland to wear Mickey Ears without ridicule.

The Wizard of Oz and the 8th Canaversary

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Last night we all went to see Burnaby Mountain Secondary School’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Primarily, we were there because Middle Weasel was in the booth, working as Sound Tech for the show. It’s been a little surprising but very rewarding to see how she has thrown herself into the production, and the long hours she has put in with the rest of the cast and crew – all of which paid off last night in a great show to a packed Michael J Fox Theatre.

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Photo by Jennifer Gauthier of the Burnaby Now

But we were also there to celebrate our eighth anniversary of arriving in Canada. Famously, Dorothy finds her way back to Kansas and Auntie Em by clicking her heels and reciting “There’s no place like home!”. When we told people we were moving to Canada, they were often worried that we would miss “home”, but years of RAF life had meant we were used to the idea of home being each other, not the building we lived in. When Dorothy has her revelation about home, she’s not misty-eyed about the farmhouse or the fields of corn, it’s her aunt, uncle and the farmhands that she thinks of. Her journey through Oz gives her experience of all kinds of things – danger, excitement, friendship, adulation and wonder, but all of this only serves to show her how much she had back at home.* Eight years in Canada have changed many things, but we still eat evening meals together more often than not, we still take time to hear about one another’s day, and even if we moan about it, we’ll gather for a family meeting to discuss major issues.

There was an element, that day at Heathrow, of “We’re off to see the Wizard!” We didn’t know, really, what we were going to find in Canada, only that we hoped it would be good for all of us. Like Dorothy, we’ve made plenty of new friends on the journey, and we’ve found out that there really is no place like home, whatever you believe your home to be.

*It doesn’t, of course, offer any solution to the problem she actually ran away from in the first place – Mrs Gulch using her corrupt influence over the Sheriff to get a legal order to euthanize Toto. Lucky for Dorothy, when she gets back she finds out Mrs Gulch has been struck by a falling telegraph pole and has broken her leg! Hooray! A senior citizen living by herself has suffered a terrible injury! What a relief!

Buy “The Great Canadian Adventure” ebook on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

The Stars are Legion- Book review

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There are many sub-genres of Sci-Fi ; military sci-fi, Cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, dystopian and so on and so on. But there’s another view – there are only TWO types of Sci-fi.

The first type takes you by the hand and says “Here’s a different world. This is how it works.” The characters in the story don’t stop to explain exactly how their ship travels faster than light, I mean, with diagrams and equations and so on, but they do drop the crucial explanations that help the story make sense.*

The other type of Sci-Fi can be summed up by this picture from Onyxcarmine of Deviantart

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“The Stars are Legion” fits firmly into the second category of Sci Fi. Hurley’s story is set on living planets, a group of living planets so close together that characters get from one to another by some kind of semi-sentient space bike. They shoot at each other with cephalopod guns… Guns that shoot out cephalopods. There’s no tedious opening explaining the origin of the Legion, as the collection of planets are known. There’s no omniscient narrator describing the scene for you to imagine. There’s just the story, told chapter by chapter from the point of view of two of the central characters. Since one of them has recently lost her memory for the umpteenth time, she can’t help you understand how things work, because she either can’t remember or is having muscle memory make things work for her without any understanding. The other character freely admits to having lied, to currently lying to other people and to planning things she won’t admit, even to her co-conspirators. Talk about your unreliable narrator!

Tales that leap into the action and rush you along can be tricky to follow, and that’s when we’re talking near-future or straight forward stories. Hurley has imagined an entire ecosystem, no, a SOLAR system that is unlike anything we’ve seen before. These planets open and close, and have multiple internal levels. A single family rules a planet, or maybe several planets, and harvests organic material to repair the home planet. Yes, it can be confusing, and it’s exactly the kind of story that I usually shrink from. Often, the author of such a story is not explaining because they know and love their material so well, they’ve forgotten that we, the readers, don’t know it that way. But Hurley is telling a story, and the amnesia of the one character and duplicity of the other is part of that story, part of the engine of the story. If you surrender to the flow of the story, all your questions are either answered or proved irrelevant. I read the whole thing in three days, and it would have been two except I deliberately put the book down the second night. I was two chapters from the end and I wanted to read it with my mind fresh and awake – the final part of the book happens at a tremendous pace, and there’s a lot to take in.

Hurley sets a high bar here. This book is going to be very successful, and so there will be a lot of people rushing out their own versions of the “Jump on the hover dog” genre. But it’s not easy to do it this well, and it’s very easy to do it badly. If you’re not going to be there to hold your reader’s hand and explain things, then you need to know, not only how everything works, but also what’s important for the story.

 

*However, if any character talking to another starts their speech with “As you know…”, put the book down AT ONCE and walk away. It’s a bad one.

LAUNCH DAY! More Cosplay Disasters

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Yes! It’s finally launch day for my new e-book, “More Cosplay Disasters”!

In this follow-up volume to “My Cosplay Disasters”, I lay out the method I failed to develop properly to build another four helmets. This time I ruined:

A Captain Rex Clone Trooper Mod

A First Order Stormtrooper Helmet from “The Force Awakens”

Handles the Cyberman Head from Doctor Who

A Deathtrooper helmet from “Rogue One”

Each disaster is neatly laid out (which is more than can be said for my workshop) with accompanying photographs and a detailed account of where I went wrong (often, simply starting the project.)

There are many authors and makers out there who are keen to tell you how to do things right, but I’m pretty much the only person showing you how I do things wrong, thus proving that YOU could do a better job than me if you put your mind to it. Also, that I should have a different hobby.

The e-book is available exclusively on Amazon:

In the US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XCF665N

In the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XCF665N

In Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B06XCF665N

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And anyone else, check your local Amazon variant!

“More Cosplay Disasters” being launched soon!

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It’s been a quiet start to the year, with no new plays to announce, and while there are performances of many TLC scripts ongoing around the world, there haven’t been any local to me, or any that supplied pictures for me to publish.

However, this week sees the completion of my new e-book, the sequel to the extraordinarily successful* “My Cosplay Disasters”. This new book, brilliantly titled “More Cosplay Disasters”, will take unlucky readers through the process of construction used for the latest four helmets I built. As always, it skates merrily by the reason for building helmets at all, because who has time for psychological analysis?

Anyway, the e-book will hit Amazon stores in your region around the 1st of March, for the very reasonable price of $2.99 Canadian. If you don’t want a copy (which is understandable) then it makes a great gift, particularly for people you don’t like, or who have expressed a desire to make cheap cosplay helmets.

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If you don’t fancy the idea of this book, check out my Amazon page for my other boks, which are worse.

 

*Sold more than one copy.

A country is not a business

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Wandering around Twitter of late, it’s interesting to see who ISN’T supposed to have a political opinion: Actors, artists, singers, authors – they’re all castigated at one time or another for saying what they think about the state of politics in the world.

That argument doesn’t make a lot of sense. I may not agree with my favourite authors when it comes to politics, but I don’t see why they can’t voice their opinion on it. I mean, when something happens, reporters actually go out into the streets and ask regular people what they think – there’s no checking for credentials first. As for the argument that someone who’s famous might influence others, well, so what? My experience of “discussing” politics online is that you can’t change people’s minds about what they think, and I don’t think it’s different if you’re JK Rowling or Sting. If I heard JK was in favour of firing kittens into space from a giant catapult, it would change my opinion of her, not of the act of kitten-flinging.*

So, I think Mr Trump is a bad choice as US President. I’m no expert on politics, but then again, neither is he. I’d make a bad president too, precisely because I’m no expert in politics. Politics is part of the job – hence the title “politician”. Some people said he’d be good because he’s a good businessman. Again, perhaps that might be the case, but I hear he’s NOT such a good businessman. Nobody drinks Trump Vodka, or eats Trump steaks, because those parts of his business failed. His mortgage company folded. He has gone bankrupt several times, and let’s not forget that he had to settle that fraud case over the Trump University thing.

But let’s say he WAS a good businessman. Would that make him a good president? Here’s the point: I don’t think a country is like a business. Some people think it is, but those people are mostly concerned with making money. They think the country ought to have a booming economy above all else, because that’s likely to help their business be a success. In other words, my country is doing well if it’s making me rich.

A company takes seed money, and it produces something, or provides a service. But that’s not what we measure the success by. We measure success of a company by profitability. Imagine you’re running a company making Flimbarts. Someone says “How’s your company doing?” and you say “We made and sold two million Flimbarts last year!” That person will be impressed and likely say “Wow, you must be raking in the cash, huh?”

If you reply “Nope, we’re just breaking even.” they will be less impressed. You’re making lots of Flimbarts, and selling all of them, but you’re not successful, because you’re not turning a big profit.

A country is not a system for producing money. What a country really produces, is citizens. Through their work and taxes, they contribute to the financial stability of the country, but I would argue that it’s the condition of the population that is the measure of the country’s success, not the size of the economy. Look at it this way – if a country wants to attract foreign investment, it could offer cheap labour. The best way to ensure cheap labour is to remove safety restrictions, labour unions and age laws on working. Pay people peanuts to work in factories that aren’t hemmed in with costly safety measures, and it’ll cost foreign firms less to get their products made. More firms will use your country and your country will have a robust economy. But you’ll have miserable citizens, and unless you restrict their education and communication with the outside world, you’ll have rebellion and worker organization and riots.

If you provide education and healthcare and solid infrastructure, you have happy citizens. Healthy citizens. Bright citizens. You get innovations, industry, development. You get education tourism, where people flock to your schools because you’ve invested in them. You are at the forefront of new technologies because your educated citizens are at the forefront of the sciences that develop them. Their energies are focused on the future, not the misery of the present.

An acquaintance of mine on G+ has been patiently explaining to me that Trump is not a bad person. That his policies and executive orders are both legal and sensible. That most of them were Obama’s ideas anyway, or are overturning illegal ideas of Obama’s. He hasn’t answered my question about Bannon being appointed to the National Security Council, or the provable lies that Trump and his administration have been trotting out since…well, since the beginning of his campaign, but still… I feel it’s important to know that there are people who don’t view Trump as the insane choice. There are people out there who go beyond “Let’s give him a chance” and actually TRUST him.

All this American politics is relevant because I heard a conversation the other day at work. Someone was advocating Kevin O’Leary’s bid for the premiership on the grounds that “If America has Trump, we need someone who can deal with him.” From my point of view, that’s a Kindergarten teacher. Someone who can handle tantrums and outrageous fibs should have no trouble getting Donald under control. What we don’t need is another person viewing a country as a money-machine. I never understood what the American Dream was, but I think I see what Canada is – it’s not a place, but a collection of people from many, many different cultures, living and working together for each other and for the next generation.

*As far as I know, JK Rowling has NEVER advocated the flinging of kittens anywhere, by catapult or any other means. And even if she had, how would that change whether or not her writing is any good? I don’t agree with Orson Card’s views on marriage, but I still like “Ender’s Game”. Confusing the writer with the work is a mistake, I feel.