Sunday, 24 January 2010


Three of a kind, a full house, flush run: all familiar names to fans and players of poker alike. Those not involved, on the outside, so to speak, these names will be unknown to them. As unknown as people in another country, or even next door in some cases.

There all sorts of belonging of course, and of being on the outside. And I have experienced both. In fact I would say I still do, almost on a daily basis.
I think we all do, but maybe I just think about it too much. It affects me more when I see reports on the news about events such as the recent Haiti earthquake, seeing the faces of those who have lost everything, even hope. We feel helpless at times like this, and guilty to an extent, as we watch on TV, insulated from what is happening, no real sense of the smells, the heat and the chaos. And it feels bizarre, somehow wrong, that ten minutes later, having switched off this other world, you're making a nutritious dinner for yourself, knowing those people are still struggling, suffering, right now, in that other world. As someone once said of the 911 attack: "It was like watching a movie. It didn't seem real".

The other day I was relating the story of my early childhood to a friend, specifically my relationship with my father. Memories of 40 years ago, and yet of yesterday, still with the power to evoke emotion. Within this story I remembered a scrapbook that my mother had made, all about me.
I can see it now.
It had yellow and red vertical stripes, and was roughly eighteen inches tall by twelve inches wide. I can see some of the pages: one was a newspaper cutting of me holding a Spaniel puppy in my arms. It told of how the families two pet dogs had been stolen, and of the youngest boy, eight years old, me, being distraught at the loss. A kind stranger had appeared and gifted the puppy to me, and the local paper had picked up on it.

There were other items too, photographs, postcards, right up to and including my first business venture in 1991. But it stops around then, as did my mums life, and there were no more entries. I'd love to tell you more, but I cannot, as the scrapbook no longer exists. It was "disposed of", along with hundreds of photographs and other memorabilia, by my father, presumably his way of dealing with the loss at the time.

You can probably imagine my anger at this. Not a single photograph of me as a child exists. Not one. No early family photos either. Of course, I have the real memories, deep in my head, some locked away, but to have that scrapbook again, for some reason, is so important to me. It is impossible, of course. And why would I put so much importance on it? Well, I suppose it is a tangible item that shows I belonged, a physical thing that people can look at, irrefutable proof that I existed.

I get together once a month with my friends for an evening of poker. Usually around twelve of us gather.
Sometimes I play well, sometimes not. Like life, although there is skill involved in figuring out the right thing to do, often within a very short space of time, luck plays a big part. Position is everything in terms of where you sit in relation to the dealer.
This is one time when being last is a good thing!

But it's about so much more than that. The game for me is secondary, though at times I take it a bit too seriously, as my friends will no doubt know. For me it's about that need for human interaction, to tell our stories, and to seek approval. It's about being with them, being a part of the group. A safe environment.

Not being on the outside.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Road

The first film of 2010 that I've been to see, released by Dimension, was called The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce. The film is based on a book by Cormac McCarthy.

It is set some time in the future, but you're not told when. Judging by the cars and locations however it doesn't seem too far off. There has been some sort of apocalyptic event, but you are never shown or told what happened. The end result is most of humanity is dead or dying, all animals and birds etc have perished already, and the skies remain grey with all vegetation gone and trees falling virtually in every scene. A number of humans left have taken to hunting and capturing other survivors for food, having turned to cannibalism.

The story centres around Viggo Mortgenson and his son, who are on a mission to reach the coast in the belief it will be better there. His wife, played by Charlize Theron, has died you assume, having abandoned them early on, and we only get to see her in Viggo's dreams as flash backs.

The main event, as it were, in the original book, focuses on horrific scenes of cannibalism, but in the film the director John Hillcoat decides only to show you either the aftermath, or the events leading up to a potential capture and killing. I for one really enjoyed this approach. It was far more powerful and intelligent than resorting to trying to shock the audience with bloody violent scenes. The film is still shocking though. The desperation, the loneliness, the constant hunger and fear. This is a film, unlike most in it's genre, that you can say that this is how it would probably be if humanity was faced with such a situation. Arguably it still affects you and provokes thought long after you've left the cinema.

I normally find, in most films I see, certain events or dialogue that just don't work. But this film was refreshingingly different. The characters are never identified by name and it is superbly cast, keeping you concentrating on their plight. Viggo and his son are in every scene and you know what he knows. You never see anything he doesn't see. Robert Duvall makes a short appearance as an old man, and I found it difficult to recognise him at first, the makeup and acting was so well done. The film overall is superbly cast, and the sets are incredibly convincing. You sit there wondering where they found all these desolate and devastated locations, believing them all to be real. If this was CGi then it was superbly done.

Horribly credible, chillingly beautiful and wholly uncompromising drama, this depicts pretty much the end of the world for humanity. If you're feeling in a low mood don't go and see this. A feel good movie it is not. However, if you're a fan of realistic and intelligent films where everyone is not saved by saluting Marines at the end, then this is a film you wont want to miss.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Year of the Tiger

I know, I know, I said I would next post after New Year and, well, yes, I realise that we're almost into week two already. But here it is, the first blog of 2010, Chinese year of the tiger. I find this rather ironic as the Chinese pay high prices for parts of the endangered tiger for use in their medicine, and yet they pay homage to it in this year. Mind you, I've regularly had a rant about the Chinese, especially their human rights issues, and don't get me started on Tibet!

Oh, that feels better. A wee rant to start off the year!

Looking back on the end of 2009 I had a great time in the closing weeks. Christmas for me was one of the very best of all time. I can't really explain why.

I can tell you the elements that made it up; the great food, particularly good this year and cooked by my own fair hand; the great presents that I both received and gave, having spent time finding just the right ones, or in one case making it, and thoroughly enjoying giving them; visiting friends and they in turn visiting me; walks in the winter wonderland thanks to all the great snowfall, not to mention building a giant snowman; the smile on everyone's face as a white Christmas reminded them of years gone by, for some happier times. Maybe it was everything combining perfectly to make it just so, or maybe it was just the simple fact that I shared it with the most important people in my life, my friends.

As last year, I made an electronic Christmas card and sent that out whilst giving the money I would have spent on cards and postage to the Disasters Emergency Committee in response to their latest appeal for the devastating result of the earthquake and typhoon that hit East Asia in September. Like many people I give at that time of year to those more in need, but I often question myself if it is out of generosity or an attempt to appease my own guilt over what I have and they don't. Who knows. Maybe there's a lot going on there.

2009 was a successful film year for me, and I've hit the ground running this year with new pitches and films in the pipeline just in this first week, on top of a big film due for completion in June that I am still heavily involved with.

2010 has started well with a terrific, if not a little incident-packed, trip to the Scottish highlands to ski on the 6th January. The rest of 2010 is starting to look quite exciting too;

I'm planning a big motorcycle trip around mid-way through 2010. Currently the route takes me from Edinburgh, down through France to the Mediterranean coast, east via Monaco and into Italy, down the west coast via Pisa, inland to Florence, onto the Amalfi coast and finally across to Sicily. There is a ferry service that runs from Sicily that will take me back to Marseilles from where I'll then drive home. A round trip of 3000 miles, not counting the ferry journey. I dare say I'll be blogging as I go, and hopefully this trip will have no crashes to report.

There's a large personal construction project in the planning stages; a feature script to rewrite, and a completely new concept for a film in development.

All in all this is shaping up to be a busy year, with the first 6 months already filled! There are challenges ahead too that will need to be faced, and one which is potentially life changing, but I'll deal with that as it presents itself.

My best wishes go out to all my readers, and I'm looking forward to sharing the journey of 2010 with you, as well as the occasional rant.