I am not exaggerating when I say that there are few people on planet earth who were more excited than I to see David Harbour suit up as Big Red. If anyone was going to like this film, it would have been me, believe me. My credentials: I regularly watch Syfy original movies with titles like Rise of the Shadow Warrior, Dawn of the Dragon Slayer and Mythica: The Darkspore FOR FUN. Not in a postmodern ironic way, not as a hate watch – I genuinely enjoy them. The cheaper they look, the better. I have long established on this blog that if a movie looks like it was filmed in someone’s garden for a fiver, the more likely I am to adore it – because these kinds of films are made earnestly by earnest people who sincerely love this stuff too.
That is the difference between a movie like Mythica: The Darkspore and Hellboy (2019): the former genuinely loves what it does and who it’s for, the latter is so arrogantly misanthropic in the name of hard-R edginess that the finished product is nothing but an empty, hollow thing. (Prince Nuada would be ashamed).
So why is it so bad and how did it end up this way?
Earlier this month I was reorganising my shelves (not a euphemism*) when I stumbled on my well-worn box-sets of Robin Hood seasons 1-3. Created by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allan, and produced by Tiger Aspect Productions, this series ran on BBC One from 2006 to 2009, and, for a lot of that time, was my favourite thing in the world. Boasting a superb ensemble cast, a swashbuckling sensibility and the same mischievous sense of fun purveyed by its amiably anachronistic antecedents A Knight’s Tale and the 1970s’ Musketeers movies, the Beeb’s noughties-made Robin Hood was one of my first loves and, as so often follows, one of my first heartbreaks.
With solid viewing figures and a passionate fanbase, the series generally stands up when re-watching it a decade+ later, even if its naffness is somewhat more prominent in the Netflix era of television. The first season is an entertainingly ramshackle stab at the legend, elevated by the enthusiasm of its talented cast and the beauty of its sensational setting (Hungary gorgeously doubles as a suspiciously sunny England circa 1192). It’s the second season where things get legitimately great, with everyone relaxing into their roles and amping up the interpersonal strife, with turncoats and traitors in both the sheriff’s inner circle and Robin Hood’s gang. Not everything clicks, but it believably builds to a breaking point and culminates in a shocking finale that almost put me off not just the series but television as a whole. The third season shambled along rather lifelessly, slowly decimating any sense of fun and adventure, and shoving everyone else aside in favour of what essentially became ‘The Guy and Robin Variety Hour’. It at least had the decency to go out with something of a bang, but I had emotionally checked out of the show long before its final reel.
This post is my humble stab at exploring what the series did so well, what it faltered at, and how I’d have done it differently…
*if you watch the BBC’s Robin Hood series, you’ll get this reference 😉
In the great tradition of single-character movies, Steven Knight’s Locke ranks with Duncan Jones’ Moon, Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried and Steven Spielberg’s Duel. I fully admit I didn’t get this film when I first saw it. Intrigued by the opportunity to watch Tom Hardy wearing a very nice jumper and speaking with a Welsh accent for ninety minutes, I was initially confused and disappointed by what I found to be a rather unexciting experimental film that concluded without clarity or closure. Revisiting it after four years of studying mens rea and doubles/Gothic fiction, I found Locke to be an unassuming masterpiece with lashings of subtext and suspense that cleverly relocated the movie thriller in a deeply personal context with small but meaningful stakes. The story follows construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) who, on the eve of a historic concrete pour he has been tasked to oversee (and much to the chagrin of his co-workers and family members), drives from Birmingham to London as a secret he has kept for months begins to unravel…
It’s that time of year again when we think back on the last twelve months and reflect on all the things we’ve done whilst, in my case at least, consuming a metric ton of chocolate. As 2018 trails to a close, my PhD thesis is slowly assembling, Frankenstein-style, into a fully-formed being. (That featured image contains all the notebooks I’ve filled with thesis-related ideas, thoughts and ramblings). Four years’ worth of work later and one era is ending while another peers over the horizon. It’s been a wonderful journey – the most challenging and fulfilling of my life yet – and it won’t quite feel real until I’m holding a bound copy in my hands.
This month, we’re treated to a guest post by indie author JD Estrada on his newly-released middle-grade novella Given to Fly. Named after a beloved song by Pearl Jam (a band whose influence on Estrada’s writing cannot be understated), the story follows the whimsical adventures of 11-year-old John Rivers, a boy whose dreams of flying lead him on an adventure filled with magic and mayhem, and maybe a few hard-earned life lessons along the way.
I’ve collaborated with JD on this blog before now – and was fortunate enough to beta read his latest non-fiction books Peace, Love and Maki Rolls and For Writing Out Loud – though this will be his first guest post on this blog. I was also treated with an early glimpse of Given to Fly, and I found it to be an entertaining, imaginative, emotional thrill-ride that deftly manifested the abstract into the actual, and which actually brought tears to my eyes by the last line. It’s out today, so let’s hear from the writer himself on the inspiration behind this new magical story: over to you, JD!
One of the very first posts I ever uploaded to my blog was a review of Penny Dreadful, in which I enthused over the Gothic decadence and intriguing introspection of this singular series. I love Penny Dreadful very much, but it had many faults and missed opportunities that still plague me. For one, I was always annoyed that the main cast didn’t ever fully ‘assemble’. Secrets that should have been revealed, weren’t, and characters who should have met, didn’t. I still highly recommend the show, especially to anyone with even the vaguest interest in the Gothic, or anyone who wants to see a better version of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Penny Dreadful was a five series show that only got three, and here’s how I would have handled the two seasons it was tragically denied.
I loved Venom.
Not because it’s good: it’s not. I loved it because it was fun and weird and wacky and totally unlike any comic book movie from the last decade. Brimming with Lovecraftian ickiness and Freudian innuendos, the movie exists in the strange, temporal hinterland between Batman & Robin and Catwoman in terms of tone and execution – despite the fact it came out in 2018.
The movie’s tagline declares that ‘[t]he world has enough superheroes’, and it’s right; this isn’t your typical comic book flick at all. Imagine, if you will, that The Mask, The Odd Couple, and Me, Myself and Irene got into the pod from The Fly: Venom would emerge as the macabre mist-baby of that unholy union. Less the dark anti-heroic gore-fest the trailers sought to portray, and more a body-sharing buddy comedy, Venom is at its best when it leans into its weirdness with fearless aplomb and just has a good time…
Public Service Announcement: go read these books! If you love Gothic anything, you’ll love these, and even if you don’t you’ll get a fantastic, feminist adventure series with a preponderance of tea and cake. Okay, now on with part two, which involves monsters, vampires, and other immortals – plus my casting ideas for an inevitable and much-needed adaptation (Netflix, hear my prayer…)
‘Why were adventures always so much less glamorous than they sounded?’ ~ Mary Jekyll
The Athena Club’s adventures continue in Theodora Goss’ fantastic follow-up to her glorious debut The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. The lady monsters of 11 Park Terrace are tasked with rescuing Lucinda Van Helsing from the Alchemist Society’s (SA) sinister clutches; their mission takes them across Europe, from the winding streets of Vienna to the ghoulish forestlands of Styria and further still into the dark heart of the nefarious SA.
It’s thrilling to see Goss weave together her already tight-knit group, seamlessly stitching in even more iconic figures from Gothic literature and threading them into the increasingly tangled mystery. Every character has a part to play in the story, in each other’s lives, and in remoulding our perception of female monsters. Once again, Goss deftly twists the classic tales and characters in myriad ways; every recognisable name that appears from the Gothic pantheon is thrilling (especially to Gothic geeks like myself). And every time a woman speaks to another woman about something that isn’t a man – whether that’s about their exciting escapades, philosophical discussions as to the nature of monstrosity, or the precise ways in which Diana and Mary irk one another – it’s another beautiful, subversive step towards reconstructing the Gothic canon.
There’s mystery, intrigue, romance, angst, frights, delights, thrilling escapes, daring rescues, and above all a deep love and respect for, and between, the characters who were wronged by their original creators (both in the text and in their real-life authorial inventors). If you have even the most passing of familiarity with the names Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, or if you just enjoy a ripping good yarn, then I highly recommend this series. Spoilers from this point on for the two books in the Athena Club series from here on out…
In my opinion, fantasy movies are at their best when they’re made on a smaller budget.
‘But Lord of the Rings!’ I hear you cry. That’s an outlier, okay? The exception that proves the rule. My personal favourite kind of fantasy is the sort of movie you stumble across on the Syfy channel at 3pm in the afternoon; the kind that looks like it was filmed in someone’s garden for a fiver and a Twix.
Even billion-dollar blockbusters can lay claim to some dodgy CGI, so the un-Hollywood effects of the humble Syfy original movie don’t bother me in the slightest. What really counts are the characters: whether you believe in them, empathise with them, and root for them. This is partly why the Lord of the Rings films endure while the Hobbit movies, though more recently released, are far more forgettable. It’s also why the Mythica series has quickly become one of my absolute favourite things of the past decade or more.