In Search of Awe

Only those touched by awe can appreciate just how small they are, how little the petty squabbles and annoyances that so consume the majority of humanity actually matter.

If you have risked death knowingly, or seen the unbridled fury of nature, or witnessed a supreme act of sacrifice, or loved fiercely and briefly; then you understand.

There is only death at the end. We are in this world for the briefest of moments, a mere glimmer of time; and after we are gone, we may be remembered for a day or a decade or a century. But eventually, all is forgotten. Time erases everything.

Do not be saddened. It is not hopeless, it is glorious, to live with the knowledge of your own mortality. You will breathe deeper, think clearer, and carry your head high.

All that matters is what we do today. The world is big and bad and beautiful and it should be no other way.

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The Martian – Film Review

martian2015All things considered, I should have been hyped for the release of ‘The Martian.’

I haven’t read the book, but the premise is right up my alley – a lone survivor stranded in a hostile environment, forced to confront his own humanity and find the will to persevere?

That’s my jam.

But for some reason, I wasn’t. Maybe it was because the trailers for the film didn’t convey the sense of dread and desperation I would think someone in that situation might experience.

I’m happy to say though, after watching it, that ‘The Martian’ is everything it is supposed to be.

I was wrong. Get hyped.

I usually love Ridley Scott’s work, but then I’m a sucker for anyone who pays so much attention to history. With his science-fiction work it’s been hit and miss (‘Alien’ and ‘Prometheus’, anyone?). This year’s effort will no doubt go down as a “hit” though, and with good reason.

The directing is snappy, and absorbing. The script (adapted by Drew Goddard from Andy Weir’s book) is by turns tense and ridiculously funny – which in itself is a stunning achievement.

And, of course, the performances make it all work.


Matt Damon, as expected, humanises his character (Mark Watney) with all the skill we’ve come to expect from an actor of his calibre. And the substantial (and impressive) supporting cast – Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, and Chiwetel Ejiofor – all give performances that make us care about their various plights.


Some reviewers have stated that their only fault with the film is a lack of tension. And it’s true, it’s hard to balance Watney’s struggles with the sense of hope and wonder that his continued survival (and his determination in the face of overwhelming odds) evokes. And there are no “bad guys” in ‘The Martian’ for the protagonists to fight against, and that too makes it difficult. But also refreshing, in its way.

Ultimately, I think that ‘The Martian’ is one of the best “space films” ever produced; and that’s saying something, coming so close on the heels of ‘Gravity’ (2013) and ‘Interstellar’ (2014) as it does. It’s a love-letter to manned space exploration and the strength of the human spirit.

And if it inspires a few more people to look to the stars and wonder – well, that can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5).

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A Tribute to Phil Urich, the NEW Green Goblin!

This is a bit of a strange one…

During the mid-90s, when I was in my mid-teens, I was an avid reader of comic books. Mostly, the works of Marvel; and specifically the X-titles (Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, Generation X, etc.) and Spider-man.

This was the time of the Onslaught Saga, a companywide cross-over event that united all the major characters of the Marvel Universe (including the Avengers, Fantastic Four and the X-men) against one villain: Onslaught, a psychic and physical manifestation of the worst elements of both Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto).

Green_Goblin_Vol_1_1For me though, this era was just as much about someone else – an almost forgotten quasi-hero (or more accurately, hero-wannabe): Phil Urich, the NEW Green Goblin (as he tended to style himself).

The character of the Green Goblin has gone through many iterations. Most people know him only as the classic Spider-man villain, as seen in comics, on TV and in movies (most notably portrayed by Willem Dafoe in 2002’s ‘Spider-Man’, directed by Sam Raimi). But, in truth, more than one man has donned the green…

Phil was the fourth Green Goblin, and accidental heir to the character’s convoluted legacy. While accompanying his uncle, the famous Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, on an investigation, he stumbles across the secret lab of Harry Osborn, the second Green Goblin, and is bathed in a version of the “super-soldier serum” that gave Harry and his father Norman their powers. Equipped with a re-vamped costume and an arsenal of goblin-themed weapons, Phil manages to save his uncle from a group of thugs and thereafter embarks on a career as a masked vigilante, albeit an often half-hearted one.

The interesting thing about Phil is that he spends most of his time as the Goblin questioning his courage and purpose. Unlike Spider-man, he suffers no great tragedy that prompts him to evaluate his motives. In fact, he admits at one point (in issue #3 of Green Goblin from December, 1995) that he’s in it, principally, for “the laughs”.

Green GoblinHe also uses his new-found powers to try and gain the attention of the career-obsessed journalism-intern Lynn Walsh, with limited success; and even surrenders himself to (and subsequently escapes from) a supervillain so he can claim a ten-thousand dollar reward!

GG Issue 10In many ways, Phil’s story is an alternate re-telling of the Peter Parker/Spider-man origin tale, with obvious parallels and explorations of “what might have been”. What’s different this time is that Phil is a “90s kind-of-guy”, and represents what most people thought of Generation X (the generation, not the same-named superhero group!): directionless/adrift, morally questionable, sometimes lazy, obsessed with pop culture/money/fame, and without a righteous cause to provide motivation.

Dreamed-up by writer/editor Tom DeFalco, Phil and his version of the Green Goblin (the only “good” version the Marvel Universe has ever seen) lasted only thirteen issues. The conclusion of the long-running Spider-man Clone Saga and the return of Norman Osborn (the first Green Goblin) as a central villain meant that there was no room for Phil, and so he was shuffled off the super-hero roster (in a not-unkind manner, thankfully).

He later returned (in 2011), this time as a full-fledged villain, a character development I don’t exactly agree with. It’s the 90s Phil Urich that has stayed with me. I can’t exactly say why: maybe it’s because I identify with his outlook (having grown up in the same period)? Although the over-use of 90s buzz-words can be a little grating at times.

Or maybe it’s that he represents all of us who wished we could be superheroes, but never found the means (or the ability to overcome the fact that superheroes are fictional)!

The writing might not have been exceptional, and the quality of the artwork varied widely – but I’m glad I got to spend some time with this “costumed dude”.

And now you can too:

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Catching Up

So it’s been a while. Just thought I’d drop by and let you all know how I’m doing…

Overall, very well. It’s hard to complain when the winter weather here in Brisbane is better than the summer in some of the other places I’ve lived over the years.20150722_220131

I have been struggling with a sports injury though: plantar fasciitis has been afflicting both my feet, the result of a number of convergent factors – biomechanics, over-training, poor shoe selection. Essentially, the bands of muscle that link my heels to the balls of my feet are irritated and/or torn; so now I need to avoid running for a while, and concentrate on other things.

I bought myself a typewriter: an Olivetti Lettera 32 from the early 1970s. That’s pretty cool.

I also entered Ancient Warfare Magazine’s “Historical Fiction Contest” with a story about the 6th-century Eastern Roman/Byzantine general Belisarius, told through the eyes of one of his contemporaries, Althias. Sadly, I didn’t win – but kudos to the man who did:

Otherwise, I’m just waiting for inspiration to strike.

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Running vs Depression

I’m an avid runner.

I’ve never seen my running as anything other than a hobby, and a means to stay fit and healthy.

But I’ve always understood its power.

Running is more than exercise – it’s an empowering medium, and a transformative experience (if you want it to be).

Ultramarathon runners are a special breed though, taking everything about running and pursuing it to its logical extreme.

For years I’ve been fascinated by the stories of Dean Karnazes, Ann Transon, Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton, and many others. Men and women who regularly compete in events greater than the traditional marathon length of 42km (26.2 miles).

One of the new kings of the ultramarathon world is Rob Krar, a 30-something night pharmacist who has been tearing up the trails for the last couple of years, breaking records and inspiring others with epic feats of endurance.

What many of his admirers probably don’t realise though is that Krar has – and continues to – struggle with depression.

I count myself lucky that I’ve never felt the effects of this debilitating condition, but I have friends who have suffered. And one friend in particular who lost his battle against depression a little over two years ago.

So when I watched this video, I think I understood – or tried to:

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Mad Max: Fury Road – Film Review

11110866_658246694280855_1682386295316885693_oIt’s rare that I see a film these days that reminds me of what it was like to watch films when I was younger, before I began to overanalyse everything – to look for the joins that hold the movie together, if you will.

I remember watching action movies, and being awed by the spectacle – being lost in it, without reservation. It was only after the film was done that you could look back on it, and begin to wonder.

The best films are not films at all – they’re stories that live on in your heart and mind, for years. You see them, absorb them, and they become a part of you.

That is what Mad Max: Fury Road is like.

I know that I’ll watch and re-watch it again and again; and no matter how many times I see it, it’ll still fill me with a visceral thrill and a sense of wonder at the depth that George Miller has managed to incorporate into his imagined, post-apocalyptic world.

For those who don’t know, Max Rockatansky is a character who has been with us since 1979, when George Miller and Byron Kennedy, an Australian director and producer pair, dreamt him up. He’s a former police officer who bears witness to the collapse of civilisation (the cause of which is never fully specified) and loses everything in the process, becoming a wanderer and “Road Warrior”, scavenging to survive and fighting to hold onto the last shred of his humanity and the world sinks further and further into chaos, anarchy and depravity.

The first film, Mad Max, was followed by Mad Max 2 (called The Road Warrior in some markets) in 1981 and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985.

Now, Max is back, 30 years later and no less iconic. Although Mel Gibson has been replaced by Tom Hardy in the role, he handles it admirably. So does George Miller for that matter, who makes sure to frame the story of Fury Road as a mythic narrative. In this way, it is neither a true sequel nor a reboot – it’s just another story that stands alongside and apart from the others.

The plot is surprisingly strong considering that the majority of the film’s 120 minute running time is taken up by chase and action sequences, so that there is hardly a moment for the audience to draw breath and process the chaotic mayhem that dominates the screen.

It starts with Max being captured by the War Boys of Immorten Joe, a brutal dictator who uses water and the quasi-religious fervour of his followers to dominate the Wasteland.

Hardier than many of the others who have grown up in the irradiated, plague-ridden desert of the future, Max is initially used as a “blood bag” – a forced donor – to preserve the life of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a young driver in Joe’s army who is on his last legs.

At the same time, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is planning an escape from Joe’s world, across the desert to a dimly-remembered “green place” where she was born and stolen from as a child. With her, in the “War Rig” she drives, are five stowaways – Immorten Joe’s young wives, forced to nothing more than baby factories to help him produce healthy heirs.

None-to-pleased about losing his prized “breeders”, Joe sets off in pursuit of Furiosa, and with him are Nux and Max.

And that’s where things get really interesting.

635560680919636292-MAD-MAX-FURY-ROAD-MOV-jy-1019-There has already been (and will continue to be, I’m sure) a lot said about Fury Road’s message, themes and tone. Sexual politics play a part, to be sure. But for me, it’s as much a story about the concepts of survival, hope and redemption.

As he has done before, Miller proves himself a master at pacing and tone, while the cinematography, stunts and practical effects combine to draw the audience into a world that is at once both terrifying and compelling.

Hardy and Theron inhabit their characters so fully it’s impossible to tell where the acting ends and the living begins, while the others (especially those portraying the more outlandish denizens of the Wasteland) do equally as well.

All in all, Mad Max: Fury Road is the rarest kind of film there is – one that works on many levels, not just as an action film, but also as a philosophical musing on life and a commentary on the failures of humanity.

Watch it, and be changed forever.

Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5).

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Mad Max: Fury Road – Posterific


Old-school movie poster for the new-school Mad Max.

I’m officially psyched.

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Book Review: Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem

1270656Just recently I had the opportunity to read Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem, a book I’ve heard much about but never managed to find a copy of.

Until now.

It was well worth the search, and the price.

Published in 1970, Eagle in the Snow tells the story of Paulinus Gaius Maximus and his command of the XXth legion in defence of the Rhine frontier at the beginning of the 5th-century AD, a period of fragmentation and decline for the Western Roman Empire. “The Fall” is still some seventy years away, but the seeds of the empire’s destruction were planted long ago.

Now those seeds have grown, and are beginning to bear a terrible fruit. For Maximus, this means he must witness the destruction of everything he holds dear. Accompanied by his friend and cavalry commander Quintus, he sets out from his home in Britain to aid the Magister Militum of the West, Stilicho, in stemming the tide of barbarian invaders that threaten to overwhelm the empire. With a single legion of six-thousand men, he is tasked with defending a frontier – and by consequence, the entire province of Gaul – that once took eighty-thousand men to pacify.

Outnumbered, but not outclassed, Maximus pursues every avenue, and uses every trick he knows, to stop the likes of the Vandals, the Quadi, the Suebi and other migrating barbarian tribes from sweeping through the Roman world like a storm.

But even he cannot contend with nature.

I won’t ruin it for you by telling you what happens next, but suffice to say the ultimate confrontation occurs in the winter of 406AD; and if you’re familiar with late Roman history, that date should be significant to you.

What’s really interesting about Eagle in the Snow – other that than the story of a heroic defence against impossible odds, played-out against the backdrop of the crumbling Roman Empire – is the way Breem manages to balance the macro and micro-elements of the story. Individuals like Maximus and his cousin Julian, Quintus and the other officers, soldiers and allies of the Twentieth legion are never lost or forgotten amidst the apocalyptic chaos of war. And because of that, I enjoyed the battle-scenes all the more.

I also enjoyed the private battles that punctuated the action: between belief in the Christian God and the old pagan ways of Maximus and his devotees of Mithras; between personal loyalty and duty; and between realism, and idealism.

Eagle in the Snow is a treat for historical-fiction fans. Some will cry-foul over its inaccuracies, and there are some (though not quite as many as I had first thought there would be, considering some of the reviews I had read), including but not limited to the fact that many characters of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds can understand each other with little difficulty; and the suggestion that anything even approximating an old “Imperial” legion could exist in the 5th-century AD. But these are minor faults when viewed against the book’s monumental triumphs – putting us, the readers, into the shoes (or caligulae, as the case may be) of a Roman general, and making us care about his beliefs, his struggles, his hopes and dreams. And allowing us to share his love for a thing – an intangible thing – called civilisation; called Rome.

You will feel it, if you read it.

Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5), and one of my new favourite books of all time (that’s no joke).

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For a long time now I’ve been considering taking a break from this blog and starting a new, different project.

Although writing here does not take up a huge amount of my time, my personality requires that I continue to contribute regardless of whether I have much to say.

This compunction, I feel, is contrary to the ideal of writing. Writing for writing’s sake, while potentially fun and informative, is not always desirable.

That’s why I’ve decided to take a break and consider where I want to go from here.

I hope my meagre contributions have been enjoyable, at the very least. And there may come a day when I’ll return and continue where I left off. I may even migrate some of the content I have published here to another site, if things work out the way I hope they will.

If that happens, I’ll endeavour to let you know.

In the meantime, I just want to thank all those who have viewed, visited or commented on my blog since I began writing it in April, 2013. Your encouragement, voiced or not, has been much appreciated.

Thank you.

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Quote of the Day

“Courage may be taught as a child is taught to speak.”


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