Cheeseburger Gothic

Altered Carbon

Posted February 23 into Telly by John Birmingham

I finished my slow binge of Altered Carbon on Netflix this week. Loved it. I loved the book to when I read it over a decade ago, but that was so long that apart from one or two standout scenes (the concealed mini guns in the hotel, for instance) I had pretty much forgotten everything. It wasn't a bad way to go into the series.

I'm not sure how faithful the producers were to a black letter adaptation of Richard Morgan's original text, and frankly I don't think it matters. This was a powerful piece of cinematic storytelling, a rich combination of science-fiction and old school film noir.

The central conceit of the story is the encoding of human memory, a process which allows those who can afford it to live forever. I do seem to recall that the novel did investigate the social and political implications of the technology, the way that the super rich effectively claimed immortality for themselves, becoming ever less human the longer they lived. But I'm pretty sure the makers of the TV show really leaned into the idea with a lot more vigour. Altered Carbon was a much better forensic analysis of the consequences of a super concentration of wealth in a sci-fi setting than, say, Matt Damon's Elysium. It was violent, stylish (with a lot of visial callbacks to the original Blade Runner), thoughtful and, most importantly of all, just great fun.

No sooner had I finished the last episode than I looked up to discover that Amazon had announced they would be doing their own adaptation of Iain M Banks Culture novel, Consider Phlebus. I am almost as excited for that as I am for a second series of Carbon. It feels like we might be living through a new golden age of sci-fi, at least on the small screen.

15 Responses to ‘Altered Carbon’

Bangar mumbles...

Posted February 23
And in other Sci Fi new transparent Aluminum

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damian ducks in to say...

Posted February 23
This may be the thing that leads me to get Netflix. I started re-reading the series back in December when Morgan tweeted about the trailer. I interleave my reading these days -- it's what I switch to for warming down whenever I'm sick of the 10 or so textbooks I'm reading otherwise -- so I've just now finished Broken Angels and I'm about to start Woken Furies.

I've generally been much more a fan of your Chandler style hard-boiled noirish detective fiction than I have been of milfic (present company excepted of course). Grossman's Life and Fate, and anything by Heinrich Böll are standouts, too. I really enjoyed James Crumley's two detectives, both sort of halfway in between, both sort of soulmates of the Takeshi Kovacs I get from Morgan's novels. Mexican Tree Duck in particular does this sort of straddling of noir and milfic with enough flourish to be literary, if you squint your eyes a little.

Anyway the interesting and curious thing is that of the three novels Morgan wrote in the Kovacs series, I found I liked then in ascending order: Altered Carbon least, though I did like it a lot, and Woken Furies the most. Even though there's little trace of noir by that stage.

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jl reckons...

Posted February 23
Altered Carbon: One of my all time favs. Must see series.

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Murphy_of_Missouri mutters...

Posted February 24
It couldn't be Al Reynolds or Neal Asher.

It had to be this asshole.


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Barnesm reckons...

Posted February 25
Yep, Amazon releases a Culture series, that's the final tipping point that has me signing up for Amazon Prime. They almost had me with the live-action Tick, and I would like to see their series. 'The Man in the High Castle'. But there are so many streaming services now.

Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 25
Watch Luke Cage.

Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted March 3
The same guy who played Alexander Hamilton in the HBO miniseries John Adams.

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sibeen asserts...

Posted February 25
And how has Mr Morgan ticked you off, Murph?

Loved teh book and binged on the series. Grouse. Even SWMBO enjoyed it and she's not normally a fan of anything to do with sci-fi.

Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted February 25
A long, old story that really isn't worth investing time in. Needless to say, never bought a stitch of his work, not planning on watching the show.

I'll wait for the Banks project and see if that is actually worth watching. Surely has to be better than The Expanse.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon is gonna tell you...

Posted February 28
Started on this. Not too bad but i get a feel of daytime soap when i'm watching it. The main actor (had to look him up - Joel Kinnaman) seems a bit too clean cut or . . . . something. Not really gelling with me but going to hang in there for the rest. Haven't read the book.

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she_jedi mutters...

Posted March 2
I really loved this; I'd planned on watching an episode a week amongst all the other shows I have on the go at the moment and just gave up and binged it. I'm going to Singapore for the weekend and I've downloaded it to my Netflix app on my tablet to re-watch on the plane. I'm also reading the first book as too much Carbon is not enough :)

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jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 20
Finally pulled the trigger and got Netflix. The very first thing I sat down and watched was Altered Carbon. Burned through nearly entire first season today.

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jason ducks in to say...

Posted April 20
To both JL and JB. Less watching Netflix more writing. I am seriously struggling for a good read.

jl mutters...

Posted April 20
Fortunately there are only so many episodes of Altered Carbon.

jl asserts...

Posted April 21
...And, I just finished them all. That series was very good, although it did deviate from the book somewhat. And there is nothing cooler than a finale with swords, or Ortega taking her revenge. Excellent.

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Burger Lite: Back from the dead

Posted February 14 into Sport by John Birmingham

Dragged my worthless arse back to the gym today. I haven't exercised since mid-December. In my defence, I did manage to pick up a case of something called 'walking pneumonia' just before Christmas and have only just got the all clear from my doctor last week. It was a helluva thing. Hacking, coughing, spluttering, fever, chills, the whole ninety-nie snotty yards, for seven weeks.

I did a couple of courses of antibiotics, none of which seemed to help. In the end it sort of just burned itself out. Funny thing is, I'm still coughing. The doctor told me that my body has forgotten how to stop. Been taking some cough suppressant trying to give myself a break from it.

I got into a pretty good groove before all this too. I'd just finished the second bar of my brown belt grading for jujitsu. The ladies were travelling overseas. Apart from looking after Thomas all I had to do was write some words and look after myself.

Anyway, seven weeks later, I haven't stepped on the scales yet but I feel like I'm about three or four kg heavier.

Took it pretty easy today, on doctor's orders. Just half an hour on the elliptical trainer and a pretty mild session at that. I felt fine afterwards. We'll see how I shape up tomorrow. I'm really getting to that point in life where, when I put weight on, it really wants to stay.

8 Responses to ‘Burger Lite: Back from the dead’

Bondiboy66 reckons...

Posted February 15
That post sickness cough can hang around for ages...been there done that. I just waited it out. Getting back to the exercise is a bugger too, one becomes used to lazing about!

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted February 15
One does indeed.

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Rob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 15
Wife and I are doing the 5-2 fasting diet thingo. I've lost 5 kilos or more already, she is at nearly 7 or more gone. It really does work. And interestingly, kills your appetite for the rest of the week, so you become more mindful of what you're eating and are able to make conscious decisions about what and when you want to eat. Downside is , those Lean Cuisine low Kj meals are fricken awful. Only 23 kilos to go, at this rate I should lose that by July.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted February 16

NBlob mumbles...

Posted February 16
Madness. Respect, but madness. If I lost 23 kilos, there'd be less of me around and I like me.

Rob asserts...

Posted February 19
my middle aged spread really needs to go. I can feel my ankles and knees creak everytime I go up a flight of stairs

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jason reckons...

Posted February 19
I hear you.

Four kilos hanging around for almost a year now. Gonna have to address that real soon before i need top buy different clothes.

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Murphy_of_Missouri puts forth...

Posted February 21
Been swimming 600 yards every morning before class in the campus pool five days a week. Meanwhile I've been using the home gym for lifting, concentrating on arms, shoulders, core, and legs.

If I have dropped the ball anywhere, it is heading to the community center or campus gym to do those things that my home gym can't.

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Comic Book Dave

Posted February 13 by John Birmingham

Not a real thing, sadly. But some cool pen and ink work by Rob Henry.

Available on tees etc at Redbubble too.

6 Responses to ‘Comic Book Dave’

Dave W reckons...

Posted February 14
I pictured him looking stupider, if possible.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted February 14
And fatter, at the start. But each artist sees the story differently.

insomniac asserts...

Posted February 14
He does appear to have moobs, if that helps.

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Bondiboy66 mumbles...

Posted February 14
That's tops! I'd love to see a real graphic novel of The Dave. (or movie...cartoon...etc)

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Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted February 14

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Rob would have you know...

Posted February 14
I did the embiggened Dave, the George Candanza Dave is not a comic book cover option. I did include the crap 90s tattoo though if that helps

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Alexa in the house

Posted February 12 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

It's hard to believe I got an Echo before an Apple Homepod, but I did. The Echo is now sitting in our kitchen, where I would never dare put a Homepod. I've had a Bose bluetooth speaker in the kitchen for a couple of years now and it's given sterling service. But it's getting old, the charging brick has fallen apart, (I shudder to think how much it would cost to replace that sucker) and the whole unit looks like shit. Over the years it's picked up a second skin of cooking grease, microscopic organic debris, oily particulates and crap.

There is no way I want to drop $500 on a piece of Sir Jony Ive's handiwork in that environment.

The Echo, however... meh.

It's a fraction of the price, a literal fraction, about 1/5 I think, and it's not going to look any better once it's been exposed to a couple of weeks worth of cooking, but it's not going to break my heart either. Also, to be honest, the Echo is likely to be a lot more useful in the kitchen. The Homepod's inability to settle multiple timers has already been noted by most reviewers, as has Siri's constrained functionality compared to Alexa (and Google's eponymous AI). I think that misreads the purpose of Homepod, which is a mid-range premium speaker first, and a smart speaker a distant second.

Still, it creates an opening for Alexa. I've had her parked on the kitchen bench for a few days now and I'm getting used to the syntax and constraints native to Amazon's lady in a can. Because Alexa's APIs were opened up to developers immediately, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of 'skills' she can learn that are completely beyond Siri and probably Google.

I've taken to asking her for the surf report from Bondi every day.

Not having listened to the radio anywhere but the car for nearly a decade, I found myself listening to news bulletins again to start the day, because it's such a simple matter to ask Alexa to bring you up to speed. There are cocktail recipes, bus and ferry timetable information, cooking suggestions, podcast players, dictionaries, weather reports, all sorts of useful shit. It's a device focused on very broad but low-level functionality. That makes it a perfect fit for the kitchen. Or maybe just a very good fit. I don't find Alexa to be any more intelligent or responsive than Siri. There were some hilarious misfires when asking her to play music from an Internet radio service. (It's better now I've picked up an Amazon Music subscription on a free trial for three months).

I suspect the functionality will also greatly improve when Amazon Prime launches locally, and the Beast of Bezos starts competing with Coles and Woolworths for the food delivery market. The ability to add an item like butter or baked beans to a shopping list and have it turn up a day or so later will be a compelling use case. It's pretty much why I got the device.

It's a lot cheaper than Homepod, of course, and it sounds it. There are some types of music which sound authentically awful coming out of this speaker. OTOH there are plenty of other types, usually older albums for some reason, which sound just fine. Maybe it's the way music is produced these days, I don't know. But my old man music does sound way better than my new music playlists on this device.

It's hardly a dealbreaker, though. This is a kitchen speaker, and kitchens are terrible places to intensively listen to music. There's always something else going on, usually something noisy. Everything echoes of the hard surfaces. And people tend to be talking at or over each other. In that sort of environment a speaker which can pump out tracks at a reasonable volume is good enough, and this bad girl is more than good enough.

10 Responses to ‘Alexa in the house’

Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted February 12
So basically Alexa is your default breakfast radio crew without the zany hijinks. Be careful of the secret sound.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted February 12
Hard to capture the depth of my loathing for zany fucking hijinks.

Bondiboy66 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 13
The surf has been crap at Bondi for weeks.

As for radio - the car stereo is stuck on 2MMM (and the attendant shouty tradie ads interspersed with Zaniness and popular 'rock' music....or JJJ if thats too much. Or CDs. Don't bother with radio at home for the above reasons.

Dunno if I want one of these things spying on me at home. My luddite inner self is a bit suspicious....

NBlob mutters...

Posted February 16
I now podcast 6-7 hours a day. My Utes antenna was snapped off 2 years ago. Haven't bothered to replace it.

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Dirk puts forth...

Posted February 12
Looks good JB.

The problem I have with it is that it doesn't understand Dutch at the moment. But neither does El Goog at the moment (and Fruit IMHO is better bought at a green grocers ... ). But that is bound to change in time. Dutch will be in Home this year probably, and if Bezos comes over here (and he is making overtures to do so) Echo will support it also.

Would I buy one?
For a stand alone music system, maybe. But I would want to use more of the features and have it plugged in a total domotic infrastructure. So, music, video, lights, curtains, heat etc. And that "landscape" is at the moment to fragmented. To many different protocols, standards, interfaces. And with another battle of the brands brewing like in the 80-s with VHS, Betamax and V2000, i think i'm on the sideline for the moment.

But you made me curious what's out there.
I did some digging, and found something that might could be a reference for the 3rd generation. It's called Homey.
(note: site is best viewed in chrome, FF doesn't do the features that good).

IMHO it's not totally matured yet, but it could be the direction in which this battle will go.

The pro's:
1. what i can see it talks to about everything even old protocols like your tv via IR, bluetooth, different light systems, heating and WIFI/DNLA stuff.
2. It can operate with Alexa and Home.
3. It's an open system like Alexa, so there is room for growth

The con's
1. It's price is still a little on the hefty side (EUR 300, $ 370, A$ 470) but if that goes down to let say Eur 150-200, well then maybe.
2. The user friendly ness has to go up; what I've been reading in reviews installing it has kinda sorta steep learning curve at the moment, so that needs maturing.
3. What I can see it doesn't work in an Apple universe, except for the app. So no Apple TV interfacing etc. Not a big problem for me, but could be a downer for some.

PS: Google is teaming up over here with the largest grocer, so when Home finaly learns Dutch the shopping list could be made digitally. There is an app already for scanning the barcodes on products you want with your phone, so that won't be a biggie. add a cam to a next gen alexa/home maybe would be another option.

jl mutters...

Posted February 12
Albert Heijn strikes again? The last time I was in Holland I was shocked by the little personal barcode scanners at the door of my mother-in-law's little village grocery, the Plus. You would scan your own groceries as you put them in the basket. It made shopping soooo easy- a much different experience than here in the US at Wal-Mart, where there are huge bottlenecks at checkout. And Alexa makes it easier yet.

Dirk mutters...

Posted February 12
Yep. They even took it a step further in the last 6 months...

For the uninciated: Albert Heijn is the biggest dutch grocer (think TESCO/Wallmart). Sister companies include among others ETOS (eq. Boots/Walgreens), Gall & Gall (off license/spirits) and (eq. Amazon).

Shopping and paying:
1. You can pay at a normal nice girl operated till (cash/direct debit)

2. You can use a handscanner, a dedicated phone app or if you have only few items a fixed scanner at the automated till, check in with your loyalty card and pay by direct debit. You can also drop your empty bottle receipt there, which is subtracted from your bill.

3. You can order online, and pick up your groceriers packed and all 2-6 hours later or have them home delivered within 24 hours (exc sundays for now) for a fee. They are working on a system to cut that back to 6 hours, and add your deliveries aswell.

The app also points you to the discounts of the week, can be used as a personal groceries list (just scan the barcodes, or use you loyalty card info: they know what you bought earlier), and gives you special bonus on products you buy regularly. So in my case for ex microwave meals, milk and coffee beans.

If that ain't fast enough, they are experimenting with Near Field Communication, so anything you dump into the trolley is automatically added to your bill. Swipe your loyalty card and Direct debit card (also NFC) at the exit and you can go on your merry way. is one of the reasons Amazon is not here yet. Starting out as a online bookretailer they added and added products (electronics, pet supplies, beautyproducts etc.) and also cater to other retailers, who for a fee can sell via the system and use the logistics track. Standard delivery is within 24 hours (which is de facto standard over here for about everything you shop for only unless its from Germany (Zalando/Correct + 1 day) or China (allibaba 4 day minimum), express delivery is for an extra fee within 6 hours.

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Spanner puts forth...

Posted February 13
I'd already tweeted this but it warrants repeating.

Mr17 got a goog home mini in his bedroom.

I told him that Google now listens to him masturbate.

The look of horror on his face was priceless. It works because there is a grain of truth in there. Just what is the sneaky bastard listening to?

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Dave W would have you know...

Posted February 14
It looks like there is a pod-coffee machine off to one side. I trust that this is to keep the junior Birminghams away from the aeropress and single origin civet-cat bespoke beans.

But anyway- we have the el goog at home and much fun and hilarity ensued when we ask it to put ham and bay leaves on the shopping list. Instead, cam and Bailey's wound up on the list. Glad there isn't a one-touch buying yet.

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insomniac is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12
Have you asked Alexa to open the pod bay doors?

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Finished plotting: The Golden Minute

Posted January 31 into Writing by John Birmingham

After lying fallow for most of last year, I've got plans to do at least five books this year. Yep. Five. One is already drafted up - The Cruel Stars. And now another one has been plotted out. At least in draft form.

The last four or five days I've been stalking around my office, muttering at the dogs. This is my preferred method for blocking out a story. I talk myself through it before I write the first word.

It's surprisingly hard to do, even if you're using a template like Blake Snyder's fifteen story beats from his screenwriting How-to, Save the Cat. (Thanks to Girl Clumsy for putting me onto this. It's been a bit of a golden goose.)

The hardest part isn't filling out the beats (Opening image, catalyst, protagonists debate, and so on). It's later when you get most of the way through and you're tempted to just throw the plan aside and get writing. After all, it's sixty, maybe even seventy percent done! What could go wrong? You'll work it out on the page later. The characters know what they're doing.

Yeah, nah. Keep hacking away, JB.

So I kept hacking away, and today I finally filled out the last card.

Tomorrow I can start writing.

Friday, I start plotting WW 3.1.

And I already have the plots beaten out for two other books.

15 Responses to ‘Finished plotting: The Golden Minute’

HAVOCK21 ducks in to say...

Posted January 31

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jason mumbles...

Posted February 1
I am off on holiday next week with no Birmingham representation in my reading folder. Disappointing but... Five books, looks like next summer is sorted.

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insomniac reckons...

Posted February 1
Have you ever seen The Rewrite with Hugh Grant? Without having to watch the whole thing, check it out on Youtube at about 50.30 for a minute and hear him talk about a story line one of his students has written. Spooky.

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Surtac would have you know...

Posted February 1
"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story."
- Terry Pratchett

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Bondiboy66 reckons...

Posted February 2
Dunno which one to most look forward to? And that is some tortured English....

Murphy_of_Missouri mutters...

Posted February 5
Easy. Three point one.

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she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted February 6
YAAAAS!!! This is great news :)

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Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted February 7
Beer 'n books is a real thing. The excitement of starting a new book is joyfully enhanced by a freshly poured beer.
Here is a suggested beerage guide to JB's books.
Felafel - Coopers Sparkling Ale
AOT - Budvar Pilsener
Disappearance - Pirate Life Pale Ale
Dave v Monsters - Little Creatures Pale Ale
Girl In Time - Feral Hop Hog
Cruel Stars - Stone and Wood Cloud Catcher

Dave W ducks in to say...

Posted February 8
I am intrigued. Very intrigued.

I would have thought, though, to best understand the sleazy grime of Felafel one would have to drink cans from a 30-block of XXXX?

Therbs reckons...

Posted February 8
That was my first thought but after readapting the stage play version of Felafel for more recent times Bedes had Coopers Sparkling as a rider when he attended performances. So its a nod to Felafelling in this decade.

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 8
Enjoyed Felafel. Over here, I would re-read it with a choice beer called Natural Light. Almost cheaper than bottled water at Wal-Mart.

Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 8
And that would fit right in with the Felafel style

jl swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 8
Oh yeah. Stained bean-bag chairs, piles of empties, pissing in refrigerators, and seeking the dead junkie's money stash. Time to pop open a cold Nattie Light.

Rob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted February 9
ah cheap beer and a sympathetic ear.

Although with a Dave book I think some slab of non- descript Aussie beer would be in order, xxxx, VB or Cascade Lager. Mainly for the snark, Dave would drink non craft beer just to be bloody minded and sniff at those annoying hipsters with their slick beer. But then drink a Kaiju IPA while no ones looking. Dave's like that, a smug asshole.

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NBlob puts forth...

Posted February 10
For your consideration Via next draft

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Death Wish

Posted January 29 into Movies by John Birmingham

I rewatched this Charlie Bronson classic on Netflix a week or so back. A couple of things struck me. First, it's really badly made – in the way that lots of classic 70s flicks are really badly made. Choppy editing. Shitty music. Some terrible, terrible acting.

But I watched it all the way through because I'd never seen it before, and it is a pop cultural touchstone. I aslo enjoyed it, the same way I enjoy beer and tacos, or greasy hamburgers. If they are true to themselves they can still be great.

A couple of observations.

The fight choreography is awful, but the violence is more realisitc because of it. The home invasion and rape which provide the 'inciting incident' are difficult to watch. They are intimate but not voyeuristic. It's like watching CCTV footage.

Jeff Goldblum is one of the baddies!

But you never see him again. Bronson's architect doent hunt down the men who attacked his wife and daughter. The city is so full of scum there is no chance of ever finding them.

In this way, Death Wish is a revenge movie, but one firmly rooted in realism. In the dozens, even hundreds of later movies and TV shows inspired by it, the grieving father always gets his man. Liam Neeson's Taken series even dispenses with the grief and cuts straight to the vengeance in response to the mere threat of violation. Bronson's character would be impressed.

The other thing that stands out? The lack of guns. This is actually a lietmotiv for the movie; the disarming and emasculation of the American male by an earlier and very different 'gun lobby'. The anti-gun lobby. I found it weird to spend time an America so denuded of guns that one man with a pistol could constitute a clear and present danger to the civilised order, as Bronson does.

In searching for an image to run with this, I discovered that Bruce Williss has a reboot of DW coming out this year. Tere is more cinematic artistry in the two and half minutes of the trailer than in the entire running time of Bronson's original. But the realism is gone. And I have no doubt Bruce will have his revenge.

5 Responses to ‘Death Wish’

insomniac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 31
DW was on TV last year sometime, and I'd never seen it either. I started watching but I can still say I've never seen (all of) it, mainly due to the crappy acting etc, but if you really want to see truly bad acting try Murder on the Cape (or something like that) on Netflix. Any movie where the lead "actress" is the wife of the writer/producer/director probably isn't going to be a masterpiece.

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Surtac ducks in to say...

Posted January 31

I've never seen this film, but I did read the original book it was based on some years ago. I'm pretty sure I still have my copy somewhere. And you're absolutely right. The lack of readily available guns stands out quite starkly.

The Bronson film I do quite like and rewatch reasonably often is Death Hunt - Bronson as the suspected 'mad trapper' with Lee Marvin and Carl Weathers as RCMP guys trying to catch up with him.

And he's pretty good in 'Once Upon a Time in the West' as well.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted January 31
Yeah, quite a few people have praised Death Hunt since I posted this.

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HAVOCK21 mumbles...

Posted January 31
never thought too much of it, but that bloke in the vid clip above sure does fkn look like me. FOR I AM A FKN GOD!....Dam good loking the pair of us!

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w from brisbane mutters...

Posted February 1
To be fair, the acting never looks great in the cheesy genre style of the director, Michael Winner.

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