Five on Friday: Alternative Xmas

Put the X in Xmas! Tired of the kid friendly films? And you’ve already watched Hans Gruber fall this season? Here’s five holiday films that won’t overload the saccharine and might just give you a reason to smile.

THE THIN MAN: Thinly veiled portrait of Hammett and Hellman’s own hijinks. If you don’t love Myrna Loy and William Powell after this you have no soul!

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER: Speaking of thinly veiled, allegedly a portrait of the cantankerous Alexander Woolcott with the fabulous Bette Davis and a great cast.

THE APARTMENT: Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, romance without schmaltz.

BRAZIL: We’re all in this together. You might want to get used to the world of this film; we’re hurtling toward it.

IN BRUGES: Maybe you like to go on holiday abroad (while you still can). Martin McDonogh and the boys want you to have a real good time. If you like darkness, guilt and violence, this is the film for you, assuming you’ve already enjoyed THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT which I said I wasn’t going to bring up this time because I always mention it.

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Five on Friday : N.O.A. Rawle

1 Involution Ocean by Bruce Sterling. My introduction to sci-fi and an eye-opener to the world of addiction, I think I was about 11 when I read this story of John Newhouse’s quest to find a supply of Flare an illegal drug. Well worth searching for it! (The book not the drug…)


2 The Whispering Knights by Penelope Lively. Here was my introduction to fantasy. I loved the thought that kids (William, Sue and Martha) could do battle with witches like Morgan, then there were ancient stones and the English countryside. This may well be a little outmoded now there’s so much stuff on the market in this genre for kids.


3 Death bird Stories by Harlan Ellison. This is a psychedelic trip of an anthology with lots of his best inside. My personal favourite is ‘Along the Scenic Route’ because you are in the action and you know just what George, a middle-aged family man, is going through!


4 On Writing by Stephen King. The ultimate kick in the butt for any procrastinating talent lingering in your closet.


5 Jean Michel Jarre, ‘Oxygen’ and ‘Equinox’. They fuelled a thousand fantasies in my raw pre-teen mind. I’d put the repeat button and drift off to sleep with these now I can write for hours with them playing.


Foxy Friday: Kathryn ‘Kit’ Marlowe

Top Five Medieval(ish) Movies

The Lion in Winter

What’s not to love? Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, and the debut of Anthony Hopkins, a real medieval castle and a whole lot of family drama – and not just any family! Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women to ever live, going toe-to-toe with her second husband Henry II over which of their sons will become king. Bonus: the poignant evocation of the overlooked middle child, Geoffrey (sob!).


A gorgeous film that shows exactly why a medieval teen girl might decide to become an anchoress, which means being walled into the side of a church. Sounds mad, right? But to know that you wouldn’t be forced to work in the fields or to marry a man much older than you – plus everyone suddenly thinks your important and holy. Bonus: Christopher Eccleston is the priest.

Hrafninn Flygur/The Raven Flies

This is an Icelandic film; director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson wanted to use the Viking sagas to create a set of films that had the appeal of a spaghetti western. The film succeeds in the same fun sense of adventure. It doesn’t borrow directly from any one saga but uses familiar tropes of revenge, masculine one-upsmanship, the conflict between the Norse gods followers and Christians, and the divided loyalties of former slaves who become wives. Bonus: Icelandic horses are awesome albeit tiny and who knew there were Vatican ninjas?

Kristen Lavransdatter

Directed by the legendary Liv Ullman, this sumptuous film captures a good sense of how disruptive modern notions of love would be in the Middle Ages. Kristen’s mother offers a realistic picture of the reality of marriage as something one grew into when there were no other options. The film shows how the convent was really just as much a girls school as any modern one, with the same furtive conversations about sex and religion. Bonus: it’s so beautiful!

The Wife of Bath

This is a bit of a cheat: it’s a modernisation of Chaucer’s tale but it’s just so good (all the films in this BBC series range from good to extraordinary). Julie Walters plays the wife as an aging soap star who falls for a younger man after he joins the show. She’s larger than life and bawdy as they come, just like the original. The main story is the Prologue and her many marriages, while the plot of the soap borrows from the Tale (which is quite clever! Well done, Sally Wainwright). Bonus: Bill Nighy!

I could name a lot more but these will get you started.

Kathryn ‘Kit’ Marlowe is a writer of historical fiction, often with a good bit of humour. There are those who say she’s secretly an English professor who writes under other names. You can find her on Facebook, too. Her lovely author portrait was created by the fabulous artist S. L. Johnson.

Foxy Friday : G Clark Hellery

This week Geraldine has gone for something quite specific and provides a few quick picks for anyone looking for female protagonists.

Top five books with female protagonists

The Red Knight by K T Davies

Anyone who’s read my Twitter feed knows I’m a great fan of Davies and her Red Knight. The action is very well-written and the fantasy elements fit in naturally. Our heroine, Stenna, is a fierce warrior with occasional flashes of feminine emotion but she ultimately does her duty. I found her a very engaging character – someone I’d definitely like to go down the pub with & share a few pints (no girlie cocktails for our girl Stenna!). I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel (hint hint!).

red knight

Immortal by Christopher Golden

No Top Five of kick-ass females would be complete without my girl Buffy. I’ve read a number of the BtVS books an I feel Golden is one who’s best captured the characters and spirit of the show. This was one of the more adult-themed books and one which in my opinion added to the BtVS universe.

Study Trilogy by Maria V Snyder

Convicted murderer Yelena Zaltana is sentenced to death but is offered a reprieve by becoming the Commander of Ixia’s food taster. There’s action, mystery, double-dealing and fantasy and while the story may not be particularly original, Zaltana is the underdog you keep cheering for over three books. Not a challenging read but perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Our teenage heroine Valkyrie Cain (not her real name) works with the irrepressible Skullduggery Pleasant so save the world time and again from Armageddon. There’s so many things I love about these books: the banter between the characters is humorous and flippant, bringing levity during tense scene, the action is well written with much of it mixing magic with martial arts, the relationships between characters (both romantic & platonic) feel natural and are tested in relatable ways, it’s not all magic and fantasy with a fair amount of mystery involved & you’re never 100% sure if you can trust certain characters. The other great thing about these books is that there’s a plethora of strongly written female characters from Cain and her Shadow to Tanith Low (who has been given her own book!) these girls will be your best friends and worst enemies without falling into stereotype. Although officially a YA book, there’s enough in here to keep most adults entertained.

Miss Marple by Agatha Christie

Who doesn’t want this lovely old lady as their granny? Ok, murder and mayhem follows her (even to the Caribbean!) but imagine all those hand-knitted jumpers and scarves? I’ve long been a Christie fan and while Poirot is my favourite, I’ve got a soft spot for the nosy old lady from St Mary Mead and it could be argued that she’s the first feminist (independent means, not reliant on a man for anything except the occasional holiday paid for by her nephew, working equally with men in a mans world). I don’t have a favourite story and there’s not really any continuity with the stories so it doesn’t matter what book you start with. I like trying to work out who the murderer is but can guarantee that Christie will throw in more twists than a roller-coaster so settle back with a cup of tea and enjoy.

miss marple

Foxy Friday : James Fadeley

Foxy Friday: Pick five things to recommend, I was challenged. I thought about it, pouring over all my old interests, the shows I’ve watched and books I daydream of reading over again. For some reason, the most popular things always seem to miss me. I mean, I’ve seen Star Trek and Star Wars…but it’s the entertainment that’s slightly more outside-the-box that I keep coming back to.

So here they are.


Television / Science Fiction:

FarScape is the show that I refuse to let time forget. It’s about the travels of John Crichton, an Earth astronaut who accidentally stumbles upon wormhole technology and gets slung-shot to the other end of the universe. There, Crichton accidentally collides with another, alien fighter craft, before being brought aboard a living starship full of prisoners.

Unfortunately, that fighter craft happened to be piloted by the brother of a Peace Keeper fleet commander, who obsesses about getting revenge on Crichton. The rest of the show catalogs Crichton and his alien allies’ adventures, the cultural collisions, the exploration, discovery and the constant escapes. The show is full of humor and heart and never fails to entertain.

Vampire Hunter D

Book / Post Apocalyptic Horror:
If you’re a writer, somethings should be read for no other reason than to stir creativity.

That’s why I recommend reading Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi. Set in 12,090 A.D., the world has suffered a devastating nuclear war. The aftermath saw the rise of vampire nobility who ruled humanity. However, recent years have seen decline in their power, thanks to powerful Vampire Hunters. D, the dhampir son of Dracula, is the best there is.

The book series is absolutely packed to the gills with fantasy lore and futuristic twists. Fairy cloning factories, natural and artificial werewolves, cyborg horses. Kikuchi takes everything awesome, mixes it in a pot… and then sets it on fire. The only warning I’ll give is that the translations have not been stellar, so read it with a grain of salt.


Movie / Crime Thriller:
Perhaps you aspire to be a director someday, or simply like a well told crime story. In that case, you need to watch Following, Christopher Nolan’s very first film (you know, before he was cool). A 70-minute black and white neo-noir flick, Nolan managed to make this great movie… for a mere $6,000.

The story involves a young man who takes to following people in order to gain writing inspiration. One day, he picks the wrong person to stalk, as the man notices and approaches him. Surprisingly, this man introduces himself as Cobb… and admits to being a burglar. Cobb begins training the young man as an apprentice thief.

The film is full of twist after twist, and is told somewhat anachronistically. But if you ever had doubts about being able to make a fantastic film on a low budget, check out Following. You’ll happily be proved wrong.


Animated Movies / Police Thriller:
I’ve had more than my fair share of eastern influences in my life. And one of the best wasPatlabor 1, an animated movie about a Japanese police department who handles Labor (large, construction robot) crimes. Their duties vary between simple Labor trafficking, Labor thefts and violent crimes involving Labors. Isaac Asimov was very, very wrong.

But that mundane stuff was left to the television series. The Patlabor movie was big. Huge. A mystery of technological, beyond-the-grave vengeance with incredibly scary Biblical suggestions. It all ties together in a fantastic climax that manages to be both eerie, action-filled… and will leave you a little less inclined to trust technology.


Book / Fantasy:

It’s not very often that a character simply commands our attention based on his or her sheer… aura. But that’s exactly what Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by CL Werner, accomplished.

Brunner’s history and identity are hinted at, but never really expounded upon. Instead, most of his tales and stories focus more around the bounties he hunts over anything personal about Brunner himself. Nor does Brunner’s tales put him in the “epic fantasy” vein. This is simply a guy making his daily bread in the Warhammer fantasy setting, and a great way to remind us that not every tale has to be a personal quest, vendetta or ye olde save-the-world-from-the-darkness string.