nyqistI noted with some sadness last week the passing of Michael Nyqvist, the actor who starred in the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I rewatched the films awhile ago and  they remain very impressive. Nyqvist, like his Dragon Tattoo co-star Noomi Rapace, went on to some success in Hollywood, notably a fine turn in MI: Ghost Protocol and another in John Wick- in both films he demonstrated a flair for playing villains, which still surprises me considering the down-to-Earth heroism of his part in the Tattoo films. He clearly had some considerable range and I’m sure he had great roles/films ahead of him. He was only 56, which is awfully sad. You just never know, do you? 56. Seems so unfair.

norm1And of course, also last week came the news of the passing of film critic/BBC presenter Barry Norman. Beyond these shores his name likely means little, but to us in the UK -and particularly those of us who grew up in the pre-Sky era and the internet- Barry’s name is held with much affection. He presented the BBC ‘Film…’ series for something like 26 years, and his opinions held considerable weight before the internet came along and flooded us with inferior amateur film criticism (cough). Although I would often be at odds with him whenever he looked down on my favourite blockbusters I always wanted to know what he thought. I recall he was having a break from the show in 1982 when Blade Runner was released, so I never got to see what he thought of it- perhaps that’s just as well.

Barry Norman was to films what Sir Patrick Moore was to astronomy. You don’t realise, until you look back, for how many years we grew up with these people in such programmes, how big a part of our lives they managed to be. I don’t think presenters will ever be associated with such long-running programmes like that ever again, television was wholly different back then when we only had three and later four channels. I used to love that ‘Film…‘ music, and hearing Norman’s voice as he introduced the show and told us the films that would be reviews. Good memories.

Since I’ve just mentioned my favourite movie yet again in this blog… (hey, here’s a drinking game- read my blog and take a drink every time I mention Blade Runner…) ahem, anyway, while you’re still sober, regards Blade Runner, I guess everyone has seen the latest trailer for Blade Runner 2049 and this subsequent behind the scenes featurette. It still looks pretty promising. But thank goodness the film is a sequel and not Blade Runner 2018 or something. Prequels are just too much trouble.  The news that the original directors of the new Han Solo movie that Lucasfilm is making have departed/been sacked, and that the competent hack Ron Howard- oh the horror!- has been brought on board for reshoots, has had me thinking about prequels in general. They don’t really work, do they? Case in point the Alien prequels that Ridley is making. While I don’t hate them as much as some Alien fans do, they clearly add little to the franchise other than spoiling the Lovecraftian mysteries of the original. I fear this new Han Solo movie might do the same for Star Wars. After all, what’s the point? We know who the Corellian smuggler is as soon as we see him in Star Wars, we don’t need to know about his adventures as a young man or how he ended up working for Jabba the Hut etc etc.

Nobody mention Space Jockeys, please…

How tempting it might have been -and for all I know, might yet be- to make a prequel film to Blade Runner detailing Batty and his fellow replicants breakout from an Offworld colony and journey to Earth that led to the original film. Imagine some other actor playing Batty. The pointless plot leading to the inevitable landing near LA and dovetailing into Leon getting a job at the Tyrell pyramid. It almost makes me hope the new film is a flop so no further Blade Runner films are made. Heaven help us if ever the words ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘franchise’ get linked together. Becoming a franchise never really did Alien any good at all.

Much preferred it when films were singular with no prequel/sequel attached. These days you can’t get a blockbuster greenlit, it seems, without a prequel or sequel already set-up. But certainly prequels do seem particularly problematic, and rarely seem to work (I guess Rogue One springs to mind as one of the better ones).

Actually, whilst waxing lyrical on all things Blade Runner as is my wont, a belated note about the film celebrating its 35th anniversary last week. Well, its American anniversary. Far as I’m concerned, it’s 35 years old when we reach September, which is when it reached old blighty. Funny, to think how long it took for films to cross the pond back then (E.T. actually took longer, not released here until December, much to the pleasure of VHS pirates). I first saw Blade Runner on a Saturday afternoon, and I believe it was on the 11th September, to be precise. That’s when it hits 35 in my book. 35 years though. That’s rather scary.

brquadukI was never at all keen on this UK poster for the film. It’s got four Tyrell pyramids for one thing, shockingly inaccurate, but I did always love that headline banner, “A chilling, bold, mesmerizing, futuristic detective thriller”… yeah, that always summed up the film for me. Visually it is such an awful (literal) cut and paste job. The film, of course, was already dead in the water at that point in September, having utterly flopped Stateside. Thinking about it, I guess such long, drawn-out international releases just heightened the pain for film-makers on the receiving end of such failure. Did they bother with a London premier with any of the cast or crew or was it just dumped out there, I wonder? I just imagine a sour-faced Ridley in tuxedo struggling to break into a smile in-front of the press, or the studio deciding to cut its losses and not bother flying Harrison out.

Anyway, apologies again for my lax posting on this blog of late. Just gone through a very busy period at work (actually, I’m still likely stuck in the middle of it) and it’s left me little enough time to do anything at all at home.  I’m afraid this summer is passing me by. I didn’t even have time to write a post regards the anniversary of us losing our pet dog Ben a year ago last week- yeah, it’s been a year already. A very sad weekend, was that. Its dawned on me that I really haven’t yet processed it yet, losing him. I know that sounds bizarre, after all this time, but I really didn’t handle it at all well, when it happened, all the trauma and stress of his illness and everything, and I think I’ve really just avoided dealing with it, over all these months. Losing our first dog Barney was pretty awful but I managed to grieve and deal with it, but Ben? No. I really haven’t, and the anniversary just made me realise it.

But life goes on, even if it seems it’s passing me by of late. Can’t seem to get around to watching many movies.  Anyway, maybe I’ll manage a few of these miscellanea posts in lieu of proper reviews for awhile. I’m still here!




February 21st, 2013


Today is the fourth anniversary of losing our King Charles Cavalier, Barney. The days and nights and weeks and months have rolled on four years now- at once it seems a long time ago and only yesterday. A gentle rolling mystery of the workings of relentless Time- how can it seem so long ago and yet also seem just a few months ago? So much has changed and so little. It seems a particularly cruel twist of fate that in those four years we have gained and loved and lost another dog, too. With thoughts like that, Barney seems a long distant memory, lost in the tumultuous shadow of our still-intense grief over young Ben.

And yet, today, standing in the back garden where he used to love to run and play, near the sundial that marks where where we buried him, Barney seems to be only yesterday. I can see the bright glitter of his eyes and hear his bark and remember the feel of his fur under my fingers, his weight on my lap (not inconsiderable, he did go to doggy Fat Club, after all). “First rule of Fat Club, we don’t talk about Fat Club,” I used to tell him. “The second rule of Fat Club…” well, you know how that goes, and I’m sure Barney did too. I used to talk to him as if he were human and he used to look back at me with the wearisome patience only dogs have, as if they understand everything and humour their owners with a bored wag of their tail as they wait for mealtime to arrive. Barney sure did love his food. But he did beat Fat Club; he got his weight down -and even featured in our local newspaper, a moment of fame- and lived a month shy of thirteen brilliant years.

The price of loving is the weight of grieving, the currency of love our tears- I shed plenty over Barney. That last week was pretty brutal.

I do think of him often, it’d be impossible not to. Memories of him are everywhere in the house, and the garden. But the tears have dried up, I think, replaced by the fresh ones over Ben. I can think of Barney with warmth and fondness, the sadness faded, while thinking of Ben is still shards of glass twisting in my chest.

As is our tradition, we bought flowers and placed them above the spot where we buried him in our back garden the day after he died. I reserve a special hate for that day, just a week after my birthday that year, digging a hole for my dog under a bitter-grey sky that shed flakes of snow. Why is it that memory reserves a particular ability to remain vivid when it concerns such unpleasant times? It’d be so much more merciful to forget days like that.

Later, we play a disc of video footage of Barney, a time machine to priceless moments that we relive around this time of year. Suddenly he’s alive and barking, its Spring of 2009 and he’s chasing his ball as I kick it around that back garden where he rests now forever. His loud barking fills our room and our Westie, Eddie starts barking back, annoyed at the mystery of a room suddenly filled with the joyous barking of a strange dog.  In the same way as starting  a new journey and adventure with a perfect puppy named Ben helped heal the pain over Barney, the new experiences of our Westie puppy Eddie is helping us heal the pain of losing Ben. I always thought that Ben was a blessing, and the same is true of Eddie. Dogs can be the cure of sadness just as they can be the inescapable cause of sadness.

So today we remember Barney, as we will when its the anniversary of his birthday next month, and we recall birthday morning treats when we gave him a croissant to eat. Yeah, the first rule of Fat Club…



Portrait of Ben

20150831_175952Here’s my latest piece of art- a portrait of our dog, Ben. As usual I’ve had some trouble getting a decent photograph that properly captures the artwork (I really need to sort that out- the colours are so muted here the paper looks more grey than white).

Sobering thought- while I’ve done two pencil drawings in the past few years (one in colour, the other black and white) this is likely my first painting in three or even four years (my last painting being another portrait of a friends dog who passed away). If somehow I had a time machine and could tell my 16 or 18-year self that there would come a time when the space between my paintings could be measured in years rather than days or weeks, well, that younger self would be horrified. I used to live and breathe my art. I suppose its not at all surprising, once you leave school and college and enter the outside world and get a ‘normal’ job and get married and all that implies, its hard to keep it up. Life is full of distractions. God knows I find it difficult enough to find time to watch movies and put up posts here on this blog.

So anyway, this is my first painting in years and naturally I found it a bit daunting at first. You may recall I did a pencil drawing of a friends dog a few months ago, and at that time I decided to get more active with my art and follow it up with a painting of our own dog.  I already had an idea of what photo to paint from- it was a recent photograph I had taken of Ben, in which he was in a jolly mood excitedly looking out the front window that was behind me. It seemed to capture his character and was the natural choice of image. Capturing that in a painting though…

First things first- I had to find all my old art stuff, packed away in the spare room, and take stock of what remained usable. I had plenty of watercolour paper and my brushes on the whole seemed ok, but my old paints were looking worst for wear so I went out to buy some. I had some watercolours that seemed ok but wanted to be a bit bolder with this one, going the gouache route that I used to in sixth form. First harsh lesson for aspiring artists today- the price of tubes of gouache paint (how students afford it I don’t know). It could have cost a small fortune, and being a bit unsure how the whole enterprise would turn out with being so rusty after all these years, I chickened out and bought a cheap budget box of twelve core tubes. This would give me a little trouble later on, so I perhaps should have been a bit bolder with the money but I’ll just put that down to the doubts and lack of experience. I’ll certainly be investing in better paints next time.

20150830_182206Here’s a photograph of the painting in progress, with the original photograph alongside it. By this stage it was coming along pretty well, although the quality of the paints was causing me some trouble, proving the old adage you get what you pay for. Funnily enough, the actual painting part of things didn’t cause me the most time or trouble, it was getting the drawing right. Once I had that down on paper and was ready to start the painting, I actually future-proofed the whole thing by tracing the final drawing as insurance, so if I messed up during the painting stage I could lay the drawing back down on a fresh piece of paper and start again. I honestly expected to be doing just that and am very surprised/pleased that this initial attempt started to come along so well. I was very nervous laying down the first background wash, a light green that I used just to knock out the whiteness of the paper. I agonised about that colour by the way and it remains something of a doubt as to whether I chose the right one. I was overly tentative and indecisive about it but in some ways this might have actually helped me in the long run, because I was so annoyed by that indecisiveness that I chose to be bolder with the painting proper. Hence once I’d laid down some tonal base work for the areas of brown/tan fur I went in pretty bold with the black areas, where I might have otherwise been too cautious and wasted time/messed things up agonising over it.

20150831_180138Warning- Artist At Work! : this next image is pretty near the end of the road on Bank Holiday Monday. It was a short day at work so I was able to come home and crack on during the afternoon.  All told there was probably about eight hours work at this point spread over about a week, so it went pretty quickly considering how ‘new’ it all seemed to me. Maybe painting is like riding a bike after all. While I really enjoyed it and it felt a little bit like ‘old times’, the most over-riding memory about the whole thing was nervousness that at each step I could ruin it and result in having to start all over again. Mixing the colours was tricky and made a little more difficult by the quality of the paints -the tube of yellow ochre was unusable, for instance, as it came out of the tube all powdery and lumpy, something horribly wrong regards the pigment and binder- but I got around it. By this point it was clearly near-finished and I was very pleased with it. I had that old buzz I used to get in my teens when a painting was coming together; yeah, like old times, a nice feeling.


The whole point of the painting was to get something framed on the wall. This was something my wife has been badgering me about for years. We spent years looking for a nice picture to put on the wall and never found one, and Claire often said I should do one myself, particularly after doing those pictures for friends over the years. So here’s how this painting of Ben turned out when framed in £22-worth of frame and mounting card from Hobbycraft (yeah, I know, big spender). It does look lovely on the wall, an inspiration for the next painting I do, certainly (I’m not likely to wait years to get started on the next one with this looking back at me everyday). Inevitably I look at it and see things I’d like to ‘polish-up’ but it’s pretty much everything I could have hoped it would be, all things considered. You can over-work paintings and I think when it feels finished, its finished. I think I’ve captured some of Ben’s personality in it, which is what was my main goal.

Whatever next then? One of my intentions doing this one was for it to act as a warm-up to doing a painting of our old dog Barney, who we lost over two years ago. So that may be what I do next, if I go through all his old photographs and find one I can use. I’m sure I’ll find much of that difficult -to be honest I’m wary of that whole thing, painting Barney, it still feels raw, the feelings from losing him, even after years have passed. And doing him justice feels like a weight too. Ben’s still around to take on walks and play with and I’m sure there’s future paintings of him ahead of me, but a painting of Barney, that’s got all sorts of other tangled emotions all over it. You invest all sort of things into a painting, it isn’t just a technical exercise, you put some of yourself into it, and I still think the prospect of painting Barney something a little harrowing.

But I don’t want to be stuck doing just paintings of dogs, naturally I should shake things up a bit and do something different too, so I’m not sure the painting of Barney is the next in line. But I do know there will be something soon, and won’t be waiting months /years for the muse to take me. I really enjoyed getting into this old painting business again, which means that whatever anyone thinks of the actual painting, this portrait of Ben did me some good.

Barney is gone.

100_5091Our beloved King Charles Cavalier spaniel, Barney, passed away last night. You’ll have to forgive me and just plain ignore this post if you want to just read the usual film/book stuff on this blog. Right now movies and my usual musings here seem utterly pointless and trivial to be honest, and I can’t even imagine watching any films or commenting on them. All that seems some other life, some other world. Death is a crushing reality and everything else seems like fantasy.

Claire and I don’t have children, and I guess its fair to say Barney was our kid, the central part of our family unit. He would have been thirteen years old next month, so he was a good age. A Grumpy Old Bugger, I used to call him, the last year or two, but to be honest he still behaved like the lively, full-of-beans puppy he always did- just a bit slower, and he slept more than he used to. His death came as such a shock- it likely shouldn’t have done, he had been diagnosed with heart problems for the last six months, but until Sunday night when he suddenly took a turn for the worse, we could have imagined (denial is such comfort), that he had years left in him. Our loss seems sudden and cruel.

I suppose you have to be as dog-lover, or have one as part of the family, to really understand any of this. I can well imagine many thinking/saying, “its only a dog, get over it”. But Barney passing feels like losing a child, breaking our hearts. He was such a beautiful, warm and loving little guy,  such a central part of our lives for near thirteen years. No matter how bad a day at work I had, I could always come home and have him eagerly greet me with a big smile and a waging tail, leading me from the front door to the kitchen for his customary treat. He won’t ever be waiting for me anymore, and its genuinely heartbreaking right now.

But anyway, I just wanted to write something about him here. I think it helps me a little, somehow.  We buried him out the back garden today, and it was about the hardest thing I ever had to do. That either says something about how little I’ve lived or how much he meant to us, I’ll let you take your pick.  We try to concentrate on the thought he had a good life, he lived like a little prince, was loved very much and lived to nearly see his thirteenth birthday, which is a good age for his breed and he had his health pretty much to the end.  But most of all, well, he was a good boy, our Barney.