Tuesday 26 February 2013

ON THE ROAD - 2012 (dvd)

No one ever said that it would be easy to bring Jack Kerouac's iconic novel of the Beat Generation to the screen.
Jack Kerouac would have liked the idea of himself playing Sal Paradise with Marlon Brando as Dean Moriaty - but that never happened.
Then Francis Ford Coppola stepped onto the scene for he too wanted to film the book with the idea of casting Brad Pitt and, later, Colin Farrell in the Moriaty role and Ethan Hawke as Sal. An interesting combination.
In the end it came down to Walter Salles directing Jose Rivera's script; the stars Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriaty, Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Kristen Stewart as MaryLou.
The movie boasts a pretty good cast that includes Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.

The opening line of the film doesn't (I say in a pedantic way) correspond with that of the books. In the past that sort of deviation means that someone is basing the movie on the book.
That bias did not last for long though as the essence of the autobiographical novel soon asserted itself.

As far as I know the movie was not released in the UK and I only discovered the fact that it was coming out on dvd was because I wanted to know when it was coming out - after all the movie of a book that was so influential in my youth was of great interest.

However, I came away from the movie a touch confused. It was one of those movies that worked - yet didn't at the same time.

Garrett Hedlund brought Dean Moriaty to life. Drugs, sex and jazz - live now, pay later; freewheeling rebel and take responsibility for nothing. Never tied down to one place - never mind the odd woman/wife and children. Life is for the living.
Dean Moriaty dominates this movie just as that character did in the book.
Sal Paradise on the other hand plods through the movie more as an observer, note taker and narrator than the actual participant of the book. With his solo road trip the movie comes up with a series of snapshots rather than the reveal aspects of Paradise's character. An example is the flat bed truck full of young men and the celebrated 'piss call' - memorable from the book but dismissed with a vision of a man peeing from the back of the truck because he hadn't been when the piss call stop had been made.
MaryLou is a beautiful free spirit - but, sometimes, just there for decoration - even then her facial expression tells a story.

At 124 minutes I expected a lot - but there are flat moments and repetitive scenes that slow it down. Once having established the drug and drink scene I didn't think it necessary to keep producing lengthy close up are lengthy closeup. With a little more thought more of the book could have been brought to life.

Sam Riley had been pretty good as Pinky in the 'Brighton Rock' re-make so I did expect him to bring a rounded Sal Paradise to the screen. Given the script he did a good job.
After seeing Kristen Stewart play Joan Jett in 'The Runaways' - yes, a good piece of casting for the role of MaryLou. Again there were script limitations.
Garrett Hedlund - he dominated the screen as Dean Moriaty. The downside is that the movie is dominated by this one character.
Moriaty was the role model - a flawed role model. Paradise does live in his shadow for Moriaty is the man that he wants to be. Until Paradise begins to see the cracks and flaws in Moriaty's character and Sal discovers his own true self.
None of that comes through in the movie. In the last five minutes of the film Dean Moriaty turns up as a down and out, whining hobo that a well off Sal Paradise dismisses.

'On The Road' is one of those hit and miss movies (more hits than misses - just) that makes me both like and hate it.
This is a US, Canadian, French, Brazilian and UK (Film 4) co-production.
On the plus side it is better than the last attempt to film a Jack Kerouac novel - 'The Subterraneans' - that starred George Peppard.

Monday 25 February 2013


Last Wednesday Sony announced the imminent arrival of the Playstation 4 and I was geared up to do a write up about it.
Then I read 'The Digital Man' over on Gary Dobbs 'The Tainted Archive' and my sort of enthusiastic piece did a flyer out of the window.

So, the PS4 - a games console that is user friendly and links to your mobile and tablet. It enhances social networking to the point that your friends can drop by and watch you play your games. Also, it encompases your blu-ray dvd player, iPlayer, You Tube, Netflix - you name it your new console (whether Sony or Microsoft) will put just about everything in one place.
So far, the PS4 will allow you to try games before you buy - but is that a download buy or a disc. Like seeing the prototype console there was no information about that. However, there is a dual control that comes with a touchpad - bond with it and it becomes yours (like Bond's Walther PPK which only he can use).

So there you have it - a couple of hours of presentation reduced to a couple of paragraphs - but then I've not detailed all the technical stuff that I don't really understand.

There was a time when things were so much simpler.

We went to school and made friends with whom we played - pirates, cowboys, spacemen - whatever was popular at the time. TV was black and white and didn't become popular until the Queen's Coronation. Electric windows were for the well off or on American cars. And Paul Temple, Jeff Arnold in Riders Of The Range and Journey Into Space were the staple diet on the radio.
Comics like the Beano and The Dandy; Eagle and Girl; and, later, the prose comics like Adventure, Hotspur, Wizard and Rover were our weekly must read.

By my teens the prose comics disappeared - the stories like 'V For Vengeance' that fired the imagination were replaced bt comic strips. Television had evolved from  a single station (BBC) to three with BBC 2 and ATV (later ITV).  The old 78s had been replaced by vinyl records and the birth of the Long Player.

As time progressed, the TV became the centre of everything. Broadcast lengthened to the twenty four hour service we get today. There seems to be one in every room these days and far from becoming obsolete it has become a 'must have' necessity.
Even the flat screen in front of me as I type is a TV screen. Via my computer I can watch TV.
The TV was needed for the Atari; the Sinclair Spectrum; Commodore 64; Sega and Ninendo consoles; PS 1, 2 and 3 (and 4); GameCube; DreamCast; XBox and the subsequent generations together with the XBox 720.
And the dvd/blu-ray player also needs a screen - but then again the PS3 and 4 and the XBox 720 will make that redundant.

The telephone too has evolved. From that black phone with a silver dial that stayed put in the hall to the one we carry around with us. That original mobile brick has become small and slim; not only can you phone home but text message; send e-mails; watch movies; interact with the internet and read a book. And, of course, the likes of Samsung are about to compete with their version of the next generation of smartphones.

So my home may seem like a museum piece - it has bookcases filled with books, dvds and cds.
 As I look at movies and cds these days I see the words digitally re-mastered and wonder what it means - but then the Beatles 'Abbey Road' cover is digitally re-mastered as Paul McCartney loses his cigarette or the poster of Winston Churchill minus a cigar. Or a copy of 'This Sporting Life' by David Storey that omits one word from the description of a doll. Then there is the call sign for the breaking of the Moehne Dam, digitally re-mastered so as not to offend. I am waiting for the Blue Meanies to become the Purple Ogres in case any Conservatives should be offended. However, joking aside it does make me wonder what else The Digital Man has re-mastered.
This political correctness thing had to be part of the reason that 'The Dandy' went the way it did.

So, the new generations of mobiles, consoles and computers are all linked to the gentle art of social networking. One look at my Facebook page and I seem to have a lot of friends - but I have never met any of them socially. I guess that answers Gary Numan's question: "Are Friends Electric?"

Evolution, according to Motorhead, is a mystery. It is because it creeps up on us in such a way that no one can grasp it. Anyone against is just so out of touch - just accept or rather surrender to the inevitable.
With more and more people working from home Digital Man is becoming isolated. Shops online; downloads a lifestyle in books, movies and music; eats ready meals from a microwave and drinks whatever is the flavour of the month and chats with electric friends.

If not now then the future.

Thursday 21 February 2013


It is hard to believe that in September of this year it will be the 50th Anniversary of the formation of The Avengers.
The main villain of the first story is Loki who has been banished to the Island Of Silence and plots his escape by using the Hulk. Everyone thinks that the Hulk is the villain but the green one winds up saving a train from disaster.
Realising that the Hulk is an innocent party the Teen Brigade send out a message to the Fantastic Four but Loki manages to intercept it but it is received by Thor, Iron Man, The Wasp and Ant Man.
And so the foundation stones of The Avengers are laid.
Tired of being hunted the Hulk, eventually, becomes the fifth Avenger.
Captain America did not appear until issue number 4 and was made an honorary Avenger.
Over the years the make up of The Avengers had varied with even 'the bad guys' like Sandman joining forces.
The Avengers are the creation of Marvel Comics Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In the strip it is The Wasp -the only female Avenger at that time - that named the team as The Avengers. 
The movie 'Avengers Assemble' has, in my opinion, come along at the right time and ensures that The Avengers still have a lot of life left in them.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

SKYFALL: The Train Now Standing.....

The East Coast line from London to Edinburgh has unveiled the new Skyfall train. The train's original number was 91007 and leaves London from Platform 007 (where else?)

Tuesday 19 February 2013


So there I am sitting with the boxset of Bond movies but never watched the last two 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum Of Solace'. The main reason for this is that every reviewer and his grandmother have made negative comments.
In the light of 'Skyfall' I dragged both movies from their niche and watched them back to back. Quite a revelation that was too.

CASINO ROYALE - First off the full essence of Ian Fleming's novel is there. As with the book so the centre of the story circles around the clash between Bond and Le Chiffre at the card table of the casino. Of course, in the current climate, Le Chiffre's back story had to be changed but the result is the same.
Set against this is Bond's relationship with Vesper Lynd. As with the book there is a frosty chauvinistic moment that develops into something deeper.
Simply put 'Casino Royale' brought the original novel to life.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE - Continues from where 'Casino Royale' left off.
Bond is a driven man looking for revenge and needs to get Vesper Lynd out of his system. There is a new menace out there - an organisation that MI6 know nothing about. Enter Dominic Greene and his Green Earth project and embrace gullible corporations and governments to bend to his will. He counts on the greed of others to back him and not interfere in his projects. Create a drought and take control of the water - charge high rates (something that we see happen every day).
Whereas, his country seems to turn their back on him, Bond still serves his country and is patriotic in his own way.
The saving grace for Bond is in the character of the feisty Camille who, too, is looking for revenge.

The fortunate thing is that the consistency of Daniel Craig's Bond is in 'Skyfall'.

I really cannot fathom the negativity that went with the first two films.
I'll re-phrase that - the Bond that we are used to is Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan; gimmicks, gadgets, jokes and a host of Bond girls. All light hearted action/adventure movies and that is what we are used to.

Nor are the new batch of movies darker. The 'he disagreed with something that ate him' wry humour is still there. Nor is this a re-birth or a re-born version; this is the real James Bond - the one that Ian Fleming created.
And, maybe, now that the third movie is out there people are getting a touch more comfortable with this image.

'Casino Royale' was written way back in 1953 when kids like me should never have got their hands on that sort of book. Though, to be honest, it was perhaps a couple or more years later when I got the paperback. At the time, though, it both fascinated and was hated for the sex and sadism that has always ridden with it.
One of the key scenes was the torture of Bond by Le Chiffre - and in itself explains why the movie version has been a long time coming. Back in 1962 such a reproduction on film wouldn't have got by the British Board Of Film Censors. Nor can I see any of the previous Bond's getting their kit off - they would have a gadget and a one liner to get them out of the situation before the the seat was cut out of the wicker chair.

I suppose that the thing here is that the 'purists' didn't get the Bond that they wanted to see - and I did. In the process, I discovered that 'Casino Royale' could develop from a book to film - but it needed the right actor and climate for it to happen.

James Bond is moving on - the three movies together have announced that this is the end of the 'old' and the new is on the way. All this is in the 'Skyfall' script. Meanwhile, Mr.White is still around and the question remains who is with Quantum and who is against.

And I liked the tip of the hat to Goldfinger in 'Quantum Of Solace' - the bit where Strawberry Fields learned that The Rolling Stones meant every word of that song.
If there was anything bad about 'Quantum Of Solace' it is the lousy title song - not really a Bond theme.

Sunday 17 February 2013

SKYFALL (dvd) 2013

Here I sit with dvd in hand turn my face to the telly - yes, it is retro time. Bond and Beatles both turned up about the same time.

My wife couldn't see Daniel Craig as James Bond but after last night's viewing she has changed her mind.
No more gadgets? 'Did you expect an exploding pen?' asks the new geeky nerd Q. 'We don't do those anymore.'
That is until the famous Aston Martin comes into play and M dares Bond to use the ejector button.

'Skyfall' wasn't what I expected. I suppose that it should have been like all the rest; all that had gone before. But this film is pure adventure and despite the over the top villain Silva (Javier Bardem) who is a well thought through character - this was James Bond as written.

To be honest I had doubts about the script. M (Judi Dench) is in trouble as the sins of her past catch up with her. This puts the lives of MI6 agents around the world in danger. Politicians decide whether a secret service is needed in today's climate and the new Chairman of the Intelligence Services doesn't look as though he's on side.
My doubt was simple 'Colonel Sun' by Robert Markham. All the write ups that I had read seemed to hint that 'Skyfall' was something similar. As back in the day of 'Colonel Sun' we didn't believe that Ian Fleming would put M at risk in any way, shape or form.

On the other hand M wasn't a woman either.

Naomie Harris, as Bond's sidekick Eve, is an excellent partnership even if it does get off to a 'bad' start.

'Skyfall' is like a good slice of retro action movie. The script is a good one and Sam Mendes is in charge as director. If this is a representative of the new face of Bond movies then no 24 has to be just as good.

While Ralph Fiennes played an excellent character as the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committe, I couldn't help but smile at the choice of name - an ex-military chap called Mallory; son of the guy who destroyed 'The Guns Of Navarone' maybe?

'Skyfall' hits the shops (if any are left open) tomorrow.

XBOX 360 - The Future? An Update

Back in March 2012 I wrote a piece about the future of the XBox 360 and the evolution into the XBox 720.

With the technological advances I could see some way to an arguement for such a games console but was bothered that games could only be downloaded without any redress for the purchaser of those games being either able to get a refund for an unplayable game or sell it on in the second hand market.

Almost a year on and the same problems have been aired by 'The Edge' magazine. They too talked about one game/one machine. However, XBox 360 the official mouthpiece immediately refuted this as saying that it was rubbish. Instant denial, in my book, means that there is some accuracy in both 'The Edge' and my way of thinking. In this months XBox 360 magazine Edwin Evans-Thirlwell (online editor) though agreeing with one hand that trade-ins are desirable says, on the other hand, do we need them?

One can argue about the digital age and that 'downloads' are the 'in' thing but the whole idea of trade-ins is that games can be traded for a new one. Somehow that simple thing gets lost in the gushing throes that demand 'something' new.

And to download - you have to have an XBox Live membership.
So I would not only have to pay for my XBox 720 but pay out for the privelege of using it.
The counter-arguement is that you have to have an XBox Live account to play on the XBox 360. Not strickly true. If I want a games console - I don't have to have an account - simple. With an XBox 720 it would seem that no one would have that choice.

If Microsoft choose to go down that route - then they could be on the road to join the likes of HMV. But, I think, that it will all depend on what Sony do next. At the moment it looks as though the PS4 may be giving players the freedom of choice and would not want to jeopardise their market. The PS3 lost out to XBox last time around and if they want to come out on top again then they have to produce a better deal.

The debate will, no doubt, go on.

Whichever, as it stands I won't be in the queue for the new XBox.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

3 D - Or How To Wreck A Movie

Back in 1953 we kids who enjoyed Saturday morning cinema were given a treat. We were handed a pair of cardboard glasses with a green lens and a red one. When we were told to put them on we went 'wow'. There was a guy whacking paddleballs at us - girls shreiked and boys ducked. All manner of things came at us from golf balls to snarling tigers.
It was a great experience and we would get to experience more.
'Mighty Mouse' comic in 3-D; books with pirates, dinosaurs and westerns with Indians firing arrows straight out of the page.
Of course, the adults got to see the movies like 'The House Of Wax', 'Hondo', 'I,The Jury' along with some horrors all done in three dimension.

For us kids the phenomenon was short lived - like all good things we moved on. 3-D movies didn't though.

Each decade that has followed has attempted to revive this type of movie. Comic wise has seen 'Batman 3-D' and movies cropped up in the 1990s and still persist in their droves to the present day.
With some films it is an interesting experience but seen it once it becomes monotonously boring.

In this modern technological world these movies have not moved on. It is 1953 all over again - chuck something at the screen again and again. Surely, there is someone out there who can use 3-D to create depth inwards rather than outwards.

While I am ducking, because my brain is telling me that there is an axe coming in my direction, I am missing the action.

As far as I know there are no sequels planned for movies like 'Priest', 'John Carter' and 'Dredd' - all three pretty good movies when seen in a normal format - but they were in cinemas in 3D and flopped because, in reality, hardly any 2D screenings were available.

Of course, we now have 3D tv and 3D Blu-Ray players - but like all things even they last only until the novelty wears off.

Wednesday 6 February 2013


Joseph Alexander Bernstein was born during 1917 in Maidenhead, Berkshire but this was due to the fact that his mother had been evacuated from the family home in London's Bethnal Green because of the Zeppelin raids.
During the 1930s he joined the Labour League of Youth before moving further left to the Young Communist League though he never became a member of the Communist Party. At the time many in London's East End were following this route purely to stand up against the growth of the 'Blackshirt' fascism that made the Jewish community the prime target.
The young Alec wanted to join the International Brigade and fight Franco's forces in Spain but, as his later attempts to join the R.A.F. were to prove his eyesight failed him.
Despite this drawback Alec was conscripted into the Pioneer Corps and to fight a war not with a rifle but a pick and shovel.
As one of those who were first ashore in the D-Day landings in Normandy he did not realise that within a few years his experiences were going to lead to three of the best known war novels.

In 1947 Alec Bernstein received an advance of £50 from Jonathan Cape with the promise of a further £50 on publication for his first novel.


This was the novel that changed the whole concept of the war.
It was a story of the 5th Wessex and of the men who lived and died. The ordinary soldiers who were farmers and rural tradesmen from the country and the clerks and office workers from the cities. It was a novel that was lauded because it was written by a former army corporal about ordinary people who trained together, arrived on the beaches and fought their way to Mount Pinchon where they were decimated.
Reality was the instances of sudden death - follow a character's thread and then nothing. Killed in action and you feel the sudden loss.
Also this book dismissed the celluloid stereotype of men on board ship writing home, looking whistfully back, or playing mournful tunes on harmonicas. Anticipation and fear of what lay ahead yes but not the other.

From The City, From The Plough' was a well received novel both sides of the Atlantic.
And it would go on to inspire other like Elleston Trevor and the Australian author, Eric Lambert to write in a similar vein. This is the original band of brothers.

This 1950 novel was a change of pace.
The invasion of Scicily was over and the assault on Italy had yet to begin.
Weary from the battlefield a battalion arrive in the bombed out city of Catania where they are greeted by women, children and old men.
In a moment of peace lives begin to intertwine and unlikely relationships begin to form.
At the centre of the book is the love affair between Graziella, a young mother and Sergeant Craddock.
What this book does is highlight the impact  of war and emotions.

A sketchbook of short stories and like the previous books containing elements of autobiography. These stories not only traverse the journey through Scicily, Italy, France and on to Berlin but the final story is set against the backdrop of the Korean War.

'The Human Kind' was turned into the movie 'The Victors' written and directed by Carl Foreman. Sadly, the exploits of the British soldiers became American.

This trilogy of war novels set the benchmark and sixty odd years on from their first publication it seems that someone has woken up to their importance for all three books have been re-published by
Black Spring Press and Sort Of Books.

Also, on re-release are Alexander Baron's East End novels 'King Dido', 'Rosie Hogarth' and 'The Lowlife'.

Alexander Baron went on to write a total of 14 novels between 1947 and 1977.
He wrote the screenplays for 'The Seige Of Sydney Street' and the Australian western 'Robbery Under Arms'. He, also, wrote for the BBCs 'Play For Today' along with episodes for the TV series 'Poldark' and serials 'Jane Eyre' and 'Vanity Fair'.

Alexander Baron died in 1999.

Saturday 2 February 2013


It is no secret that most my formative years were in Orpington, Kent. So the discovery via Facebook that there was now a site devoted to the history of Orpington was around came as something akin to a happy event.
Orpington is famous for a couple of events - like it was the last place hit by a German V2 rocket. This was up by Kynaston Road and the only person killed was a Mary Millichamp who was the last civilian casualty of the Second World War.
1962 - and Eric Lubbock won the seat for Orpington from the Conservatives. Many record this as the start of the resurrection of the Liberal Party.
And no one can forget that this is the place that was the origin of the Buff Orpington chicken.
One of the most intriguing photos on offer is an ariel view of my old school. The huts are missing so the photo has to be pre-1955 but the chimney is prominent and I had fun testing my knowledge of which classroom belonged to which teacher.

This site, though in the early stages will always be a work in progress as both the oral and photographic images build up a picture of both past and present.

I still wander down the High Street from time to time.

The doorway (and read nothing into this) where I first met my wife has gone - but not the shop. Divito's the coffee bar where I hung out has gone and my old school is now a housing estate. Gone too are the old air raid shelters that stood for so long after the war in Spur Road one of which was home to a branch of the Young Conservatives.

And as my wife reminds me there was the celebrated 'Iron Curtain' - The Who and Tina Turner - Swinging Blue Jeans but not The Rolling Stones all played live there.

The Orpington History Organisation can be found at www.orpington-history.org - and they have a Facebook page.


Every so often I wander off into the blogosphere and have found three new sites that are worth checking out.

First up is AGE OF UNCERTAINTY (http://ageofuncertainty.blogspot.com) - The blogger known as Steerforth is an interesting guy. I only found his blog because I was looking up something about James Barlow. He has a lot of interesting things to say about his locale and about books, many of them old books.

Next is CONFESSIONS OF A WESTERN WRITER (http://confessionsofawesternwriter.blogspot.com) Neil Waring has a wonderful slant on the art of writing westerns - he also has another couple of blogs one of which is about Wyoming.

Third is RAYZER SHARPIE (http://rayzersharpie.blogspot.com) - Not much there at the moment but the pieces that he has done on Reacher, Deep Purple and 'Slay Bells And Six Guns' are interesting.