Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Wolverine - The Review

It's hard to relate to a superhero who doesn't bleed, or if he does, not for long. Which is why the sixth outing for Hugh Jackman’s razor-clawed Canadian Logan, aka Wolverine, is partly a welcome breath of fresh air.

Robbed of his healing powers (yes, like Superman II), he becomes cause for concern as bullets suddenly hurt after all these years.
Setting it in Japan was also a wise move.

Since 2000, we've seen Wolverine tackle assorted villains in the States, so good to get a change of scene.

The first two thirds of James Mangold’s movie are a stylish, occasionally thoughtful affair, with our hirsute hero first clashing with generic bad bear hunters, and then sent East to be reunited with the Japanese officer he saved from nuclear death at Nagasaki.

Orbiting around these two men are assorted relatives, ninjas, yakuza, and the odd acid-spitting mutant (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who chews every scene she's in, and refuses to look embarrassed by an absurd green costume in the third act.

Sadly, it’s that final chunk that becomes Marvel-by-numbers: boss monster, aka a giant robot samurai; massive smack down, heat and serve.
I love Marvel films and robots as much as any fan, but they really need to add a few different colours to their generic antagonist palette. Chrome has been used on their cinematic canvas for way too long.

While there are echoes of assorted other films, such as Eastern-themed Bond epic You Only Live Twice, the disappointing Prometheus also reared its ugly head thanks to a wince-inducing self surgery scene and an ageing protagonist’s machinations. (No spoilers but all will become clear).

Thankfully it's far better than X-Men Origins, and The Last Stand, but X2 still stands as the saga’s high point.

Added to the mix are alluring, flame-haired aide Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and key heroine Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
They help tame the eponymous beast, and are a welcome distraction from the orgy of slashes and gunshots.

Good to see Famke Janssen back as ex-X-Man Jean Grey too, albeit as a ghostly presence and with a weird digital anti-ageing makeover reminiscent of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s CGI anti-wrinkle treatment from X3.

Just a shame it’s all so meh. There are no sucker punch moments that get under the skin, and some of the dialogue is yawnsome. However, an action scene atop a bullet train adds a few fresh licks to the sense of Mission: Impossible déjà vu.

Stay tuned for the now obligatory credits teaser for the next key Marvel outing, in this case next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Thankfully you won't have to stay through the entire credits trawl for the privilege either.

Not as much fun as Iron Man 3, or as ponderous as Man of Steel, but good escapism for a dull Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Luther - season finale review

So the third series of Luther is done and dusted, and what a finale.
By now you've either seen it, about to watch on catch up, or have wandered onto this section by accident.
Safe to say, there are mild spoilers ahead.

As ever, this was another showcase for Idris Elba, an actor so compelling, he should be goalkeeper for England at the next World Cup; he just needs to show up and can save anything.
An army of ILM effects experts worked for months to create the huge robots in Pacific Rim and Idris managed to overshadow them all.
Obviously Luther is made for a fraction of that film's budget; Idris’s Stacker Pentecost’s costume probably cost as much to make as the final ep of the BBC’s compelling crime drama.

Naturally writer Neil Cross saved the best for last, playing his ace card Alice, the posh psycho killer millions hate to love and vice versa.

Effortlessly played by Ruth Wilson, Alice’s greatest crime was to steal the best dialogue.
In a genre littered with cliches, she tap danced around any plot holes with the skill of a seasoned hoofer.
Okay, like any drama, it wasn't perfect.

There was the odd moment I started grumbling at the TV, namely during Mary's desperate search for a key while standing in front of a plate glass door.
I don’t know about you, but if someone's coming after me with a shotgun, I wouldn't let a pane of glass stand in the way. I’d smash it with the nearest thing to hand and start running like Jess Ennis on Super Saturday until the eloquent psycho gunman du jour is a safe distance away.

I won't bother you with the ups and downs of the second act as this was all about the finale, and like far too many thrillers, it resorted to the obvious: scale a tall building and face an impossible dilemma before the authorities show up.

Taking a leaf out of the Life on Mars and Sherlock BBC guidebook to series finales, Luther may not have been staggeringly original, but thanks to the scenery-chewing performances of Idris and Ruth, it didn't matter a jot.
Given the choice between saving girlfriend Mary and psycho femme fatale Alice, poor Luther was understandably torn.

Thankfully, Alice literally nailed her chance to escape when the possibility arose, and the result was more edge-of-the-seat drama than edge-of-the-sky rise.

There's been talk of an Alice spin-off project, which is not a bad idea. Ms Wilson is magnetic in the role of her life, and who wouldn't want to see Idris guest star in that for a short spell instead of carrying a series on his formidable shoulders?

Now the series trilogy is over, for my money it’s time to give Idris the big screen vehicle he deserves.
Given the nail-biting/slashing touches of this run, it could be something incredible.

And if you need an investor BBC Films, I'll happily shell out for a new coat.
It has to be a lot cheaper than Stacker Pentecost’s Pacific Rim threads.

Luther: series three is released on DVD on July 29

Friday, 19 July 2013

The World's End Review - variant


You got blue on you: The World’s End Review

In the spring of 2012, I asked Edgar Wright whether he would reveal anything about pending movie The World's End, but he wouldn't buckle.
“You are the hundredth person to ask me about that today, and I'm not about to fold now,” he laughed.
I could understand his reluctance to talk about the film. After all, who wants to spend years of their life working on a project, only to have some filmmakers come along and steal his thunder before his own movie baby was born?
Now Wright and Simon Pegg’s Cornetto trilogy has been wrapped up, and it's a mixture of curious flavours.

For me, The World’s End is a film in three parts. The first is my favourite; a love letter to growing up in the Eighties, the music of the era, and blokey friendship.
A fine time, drinking in smoke-filled British boozers which still had their own identity, and revelling in the lack of responsibility.
(I'm not a smoker, but at least it masked the smell of sweat).

Yes, there comes a time when we all have to grow up and settle down, but that does not mean we can't be young at heart. And other such well-worn cliches.
Gary King is the manchild that never moved on from his teenage years, so little wonder many blokes can't help but root for him.

Wright and co-writer/star Pegg happily have a go at boozers that turned into cookie cutter family pubs thanks to chains.
(The subtext being that even pubs have become clones of themselves.)

With old mates Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman, Pegg’s character steals the show; he touches a chord with many of us who were growing up in the 1980s.
And if he doesn't, the sound track certainly will.

One of Wright's strengths as always been in his choice of music, and he does not disappoint here.
Old classics by The Housemartins and The Sisters of Mercy to name but two, pluck the heart strings for many outside the target audience for most blockbusters, as well as unleash a leash a tidal wave of nostalgia.

Until a key scene when Gary goes into a pub toilet and strikes up a conversation with a sullen youth, this was on course to be one of my favourite films of the year.
But then it took a ’From Dusk till Dawn-style’ left turn.

Chances are you'll know by now that the English town of Newton Haven has been over run by robots.
This leads to some relentless over-the-top fight scenes which are thrilling, but after a while became a bit monotonous.

The third act is possibly the weakest. Yes, it's always good when filmmakers take a risk and try to do something a little different. And full marks to Wright and Pegg for giving it a go. But the last 20 minutes feel like they have been tagged on from another film.

Nick Frost is always good value for money, and here he is on top form - part buttoned-up executive, part Incredible Hulk.
Pegg gives us one of his best performances to date. While Hot Fuzz’s Nicholas Angel was essentially the comedy foil for Frost’s loveable idiot Danny Butterman, here Pegg really gets the chance to flex his impressive comic muscles; a fine addition to Pegg and Wright’s greatest comedy characters, Shaun and Angel.

With a stronger third act, and less repetitive fight scenes, The World's End would have been on a par with the sublime Shaun of the Dead.
However, while it's not perfect, the beauty of Wright’s comedy is the fact that it stands up to repeated viewing.
In three years’ time, when ITV2 are probably showing this every other night, I will quite happily sit through it repeatedly.
However, it's that first act that will probably gain my most attention. It hints at a film that could have been.
I would like to have seen an alternate The World's End, without all the sci-fi and a bit of the action.
Which is ironic as that is just the sort of thing the 20-year-old me would have loved.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Pacific Rim - The Review

Cancel the apocalypse, put your brain in neutral and enjoy one of the silliest, yet most engaging films of 2013.

See giant robots tackle huge monsters; witness Idris Elba swaggering around giant sets like he owns the place (and we don't mind if he does as he's my favourite alpha male actor), and get that feeling you're watching a mash-up of Independence Day; Transformers; Iron Man; Akira and Godzilla.

Director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and his army of effects experts deliver a knockout slice of escapism which may utilise familiar tropes, but is never dull.

The two-plus hours flies by, but while Burn Gorman's scientist deserves a Razzie for most annoying screen character of the year, when you're dealing with a comic book movie this epic, you can almost forgive him for the OTT eccentricity.

One key problem with the movie was I had such a hard time understanding what anyone was going on about, I wondered if my hearing was going.

Sample dialogue: "Mumble, mumble, Jaeger, mumble Kaiju, mumble Stacker Pentecost, mumble..."
You get the picture.

Like Man of Steel, lots of buildings get destroyed in a series of outrageous set pieces.

However, there's a joy to this carnage, and as with MOS, we see little collateral damage, but a gag with an executive toy helps lend things a sense of cause and effect realism. It's a light, engaging touch that generated at least one giggle from me in an almost empty cinema.

(This was plain old 2D flavour. No D-box, Imax, 3D and it was still good fun.)
Yes, the characters were very basic, but the ever-reliable Ron Perlman lent colour to proceedings as Hannibal, a black market monster parts trader.

Nice to see Guillermo's obsession with ’things in jars’ is still present and correct, and like the sublime Hellboy, this works like a charm on its own terms. I would have liked more sucker punch moments, such as the flashback scene where a key protagonist rises from his giant robot, and we feel a swell of pride. Well, I did anyway.

Actress Rinko Kikuchi also deserves more of a role in a possible sequel; she spends much of the third act barely saying a word. Admittedly she is co-piloting a skyscraper-sized automaton against lethal alien reptiles, so I doubt I'd be spouting much memorable dialogue under similar circumstances.

However, there is a feeling she's mirroring Return of the Jedi's Billy Dee Williams and The Matrix Revolutions' Laurence Fishburne as 'the pilot in the third act starved of memorable, if any dialogue'.
It's almost like the writers built up such a head of steam juggling all the other characters, they couldn't be bothered with her by this point. A shame as she deserved better, especially with such a likeable backstory.

Will there be sequels? Possibly, if it can gain enough traction in North America and the rest of the world's lucrative key markets.

As the UK is around eight per cent of the world box office, I doubt its backers are too concerned with whether Blighty cinemagoers flock to their local multiplexes during one of the hottest weekends of the year. It should make enough money on Blu-Ray and DVD when its released in the run-up to Christmas.

GDT has done a great job of setting up his colourful universe, and while I'm not bothered if Charlie Hunnam's likeable but generic character returns, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the giant Gipsy Danger stride across my cine screen again in the near future.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Trans-Four-mer: why does Pacific Rim looks like a quartet of other films welded together?

“Go big or go extinct’ is the tagline for Guillermo del Toro’s new movie Pacific Rim, a snappy phrase for the supersize generation, where bigger is supposed to be better.
Back in the summer of 1998, posters for Godzilla screamed a similar soundbite: ‘size does matter’.

Maybe, but monsters can be as big as you like in these ground-rattling, Imax-friendly days, but without a decent script and a likeable cast, such films can be dead in the water.

Thankfully del Toro is one of the most creative, original film-makers working in Hollywood at the moment, and has been since he made breakthrough movie Cronos more than a dozen years ago.

I’m proud of the fact my first date movie with my wife was Hellboy, a film I never tire of watching, while his arthouse offerings The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth deserve every bit of praise thrown at them.

So when I heard he was making Pacific Rim, a multi-million dollar sci-fi epic about giant mechanoid warriors fighting huge monsters, my first thought was ‘Robot Jox versus Godzilla’.
“Robot what?” you may quite rightly say.

Well, back in the 1980s, cult film-maker Stuart Gordon, the man behind icky horror classics Reanimator and From Beyond, helmed a low budget fantasy epic about warriors in giant mechanoid suits who square off against one another in vast arenas. It was ‘Rocky with rivets’ if you like.

Inspired by the Transformers toyline (17 years before Michael Bay turned the idea into a multi-billion dollar franchise) it crashed and burned at the box office.

Given the fact Iron Man 3 made around $1.1billion worldwide, it’s little wonder Hollywood money men are falling over themselves to find another project in which guys in mechanical suits spend a lot of screen time trading blows.

With Gareth Edwards, maker of low budget cult hit Monsters, now hard at work on a new version of Godzilla, there are big hopes that can succeed where Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version failed.

If anyone can stitch together assorted genres such as robot warriors and Godzilla-style monsters then it’s Del Toro, the man who perhaps wisely dropped out of The Hobbit after months of pre-production to work on this epic instead. (A version of HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness also fell by the wayside).

Given the fact Peter Jackson’s opening movie in the Tolkien trilogy was a bit of a let down, let’s hope Guillermo can work his magic on this mecha-monster mash up.

Naturally it comes with a rallying speech provided as standard in all fantasy epics these days, though given the fact Idris Elba is the brilliantly named Stacker Pentecost inspiring the troops, it’s worth ignoring that nagging sense of déjà vu from Independence Day and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Oliver stone's untold history of the United States -DVD review

It’s a late night in 1984, and I’m waiting for jetlag to kick in.
I’ve buzzing from the first of many trips to the United States, and am watching The Hand, an early Oliver Stone movie that marked one of his first forays into the world of cinema.

Fast forward to January 1992, and like millions of film fans around the world, I’m sat in my local cinema absorbing JFK, Stone’s Oscar-winning movie which combines hard fact with some artistic license.

It’s the first time I’ve seen a film that successfully mixes a gripping drama with documentary footage, and tells a story so absorbing.

The standout for me is Donald Sutherland’s 20 minute monologue in which an array of facts via dramatisation and archive footage are presented to the audience.

It lingers with me for years, and the thought of presenting a history show as snappily paced and charismatically presented is enticing.

Which brings us up to date: another late night in the summer of 2013.
Not jet lag this time, but the same woozy feeling of unreality – this time because I get to ring Oliver Stone.

It’s late afternoon in Los Angeles, and the Oscar-winning film-maker has agreed to discuss his uber-ambitious TV series, The Untold History of the United States.

I’ve sat through the four 58 minute episodes (as requested), and if I’m honest, absorbed about half of it, while I managed to digest a chunk of the meticulously researched book before time ran out.

The latter is a cracking read, especially as a chaser to each episode. Like all fact-based TV/movie tie-in it enhances the material. I just wished the font was bigger.

My biggest fear is that Stone will catch me out, or put the phone down because I didn’t watch the other six episodes, but both he and collaborator Peter Kuznick turn out to be charm personified.

Let’s make no bones about it: The Untold History of the United States is one of the most ambitious documentaries ever attempted by a film-maker, and given the amount of material involved, there’s little wonder I feel like not all of it went in during the first sitting.

Imagine a snake trying to digest a small mammal, and you get the idea behind the enormousness of each episode. No unhinged jaws required for this but you will need an open mind and an equally strong stomach for some scenes.

All news reports these days are filtered versions of reality; violence edited for the sake of pre-watershed viewers, and even those after 9pm get a mostly sanitised version of events, so it’s shocking to see so many people shocked, executed, wounded, and generally hurt as Stone and Kuznick chart some of the darkest chapters of American history.

There are times when it make Game of Thrones look as cosy as a Disney movie by comparison. And like ‘Thrones’, Stone’s series is perhaps best seen as a box set of DVDs or Blu rays rather than as a weekly fix of facts and figures.

I sat through episode 10 a couple of times, and the second viewing was an enriching process. It reminded me of the time I saw Natural Born Killers at the cinema three times, and was absored by different elements of Stone’s controversial study of lethal young lovers lionised by the media.

Being a huge film fan, it’s hard not to ask him about his greatest works, and some of the lesser known projects he worked on, such as The Hand, Scarface, Conan the Barbarian and Salvador, as well as more obvious works.

He’s planning a revamped version of his flawed but fascinating Alexander, and JFK is getting a three US city re-release this year to tie in with the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
However, it’s clear that this series, which has dominated his life for years and absorbed a chunk of his own change, is the dominating force in his life.

The fact there are no talking heads, no computer-generated graphics (which dominated most docs these days but date like disco) means the shelf life should be a lot longer than many similar films.
One of the reasons is time; had Oliver and Peter added comments from assorted on screen contributors, there’s a chance it would have been a 20 hour show.

Part of me thinks that wouldn’t have been a bad thing, and I wouldn’t have minded Donald Sutherland popping up now and again lit by the great Robert Richardson, who worked on JFK and NBK, and with a John Williams score.
However, Blighty’s own Craig Armstrong does a fine job scoring the piece regardless.

* Oliver stone's untold history of the United States is out now on DVD

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Aibork 8

by Roger Crow

Seven: Dominion Slark
An hour later a helicopter touched down in the desert by the metal tent.
A man six feet tall, dressed in black with long grey hair stepped out.
"Why does this thing look like a giant teacup?" He said
"It's part radar, part weapon," replied his flame-haired assistant.
"Does it hold tea?" he asked.
"Probably," she replied, assuming everyone had said the same thing at some point.
She would have been right.
His name was Dominion Slark; he was about to enter one of Aibork's universes and become integral to its destiny.
Her name was Lisa Herald, former FBI agent turned Jacketman, and she was capable of remarkable things with a Monoset.
'A who what now?' You may wonder.
A five-foot long staff, part rifle, part torch, part spear, it was a Swiss Army penknife of a weapon which came with retractable viewfinder, grenade launcher, flamethrower and mine deployment unit.
It was the Jacketman's favourite weapon, wielded like a majorette's baton, and capable of all manner of mischief.
"Did I ever tell you about the time I tracked down Mark George?"
"No sir," said Lisa Herald, knowing she was about to endure a long, convoluted story.
"0kay, fire her up."
Lisa entered a code into the Cascade, and waited.
"Is it supposed to do something?"
"That's the idea sir,"
Then it started to whine and howl like a cat on heat. It wasn't an attractive sound.
"That's an attractive sound," he said sarcastically.
"So there I was, in a world of strange gravity and floating rocks. I blamed him for my wife's departure you see, but I was a younger man, full of angst and venom..."
"You tracked him down, got your revenge, and swore to never wreak it again?"
"Err, something like that," he replied.
Dominion took her hand and they entered the pale vortex.

"Valerie Storm?"
The lounge singer nodded, a little worried.
"Please back away from the piano."
Valerie did so, while Slark and Herald scanned it.
"Yep, it's a positive," Herald showed Slark an x-ray of the instrument.
"Semtex. C4." Said Slark, erasing the threat with a few deft movements and a hard shell container.
"Weren't you big a few years ago?"
Storm nodded. "Four top 10 hits," she smiled, weakly.
"Nice to meet you," smiled Slark, wheeling the explosives bin from the hotel.
Slark thumbed his headset.
"Bob? Slark. We've neutralised one threat."
"Good man." Came the reply.
"One down, 294 to go." Said Herald.
"Resort to plan B. We want you to kill two birds with one stone. We're sending you the coordinates."
Slark looked back at Valerie Storm and felt a twang of empathy. She had 38 minutes to live, and he couldn't do a thing to change it.
"Intel suggests this point," said Herald.
"Looks like a shed," he replied.

There was a smell of ozone and the sound of popping flashbulbs and then they were gone.

There was a single, decaying fuel cell, two inches long which was leaking precious fuel, and as fate would have it, it would only take a match to ignite it.
So, as the lunar lens started to heat the shed, dry old timber started to smoke.
Surrounding the shed in rings and rings were pianos. 294 of them, all as lethal as a heart attack.
"That should do it."
Herald smiled and flicked a switch on the assorted lamps on stands surrounding them.
There was no sound when the pianos vanished. Or the shed full of explosives.
The only sound was of birds tweeting.
It was strangely peaceful.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Aibork 7

By roger crow

Six. Fried Pink Parasites at the Whistle-stop Cafe

In the metal tent, the thudding and crackling of fried pink parasites was relentless.
Meg checked her incoming mail. Even in the desert she'd managed to get a signal thanks to the Cascade's array.
'Part radar, part weapon... Very handy for cell phones.' That's how he'd described it, back in the day, while working all night in their garage. And he was right too. Though she preferred the word 'mobile'. She hadn't quite sold out to the transatlantic, generic multinational world of 'one language suits all' yet.
Out here in the desert with a battery running low, the alarm clock was nearly back to zero, and ravenous candy floss wanting her for lunch. That was a twist.
"He got through okay. He's tracking the cupcake now in DC. Not sure when, but it's recent."
"I guess time travel is possible."
"The Pearl and the Cascade together are a powerful force. I had my doubts but he believed in it, and I guess that was enough to make it worth the trip."
Meg adjusted the camera.
"Well, that's a new one."
Kate looked at the tablet and saw the square that Aibork had drawn in the sand glowing.
"Looks like our man pre-empted the candy floss menace..."
"How so?"
"Incoming life forms. Small, but they're not converted by the pearl. So if we're lucky..."
The warning light on her battery started flashing.
"Looks like they're just in time."
Suddenly the sound of crackling parasites stopped, and there was a whooshing, a frantic feeding frenzy. Outside the tent was carnage as the new arrivals devoured the candy floss.
Bob Jones stared from the truck in amazement; his own vehicle had also been charged, by the car battery, but he knew Meg and Kate were running out of time.

The glass moon was slowly returning to normal, but a stray chunk of super dense cupcake which had broken off from the meteor was caught in its orbit.
And as the orbit started to decay, one thing was as obvious as an ice pick smashing into a bauble.
There would be collateral damage, and a sliver of glass moon heading to Earth was as lethal as any super dense rock converted into a sweet confection by a freak of nature.
All scientists would have said this was impossible, but it happened regardless.

"I think we should open a diner," said Kate.
"Yeah, fried pink parasites at the whistle-stop Cafe," smiled Meg.
Kate looked dejected; she'd stolen her thunder.
"Sorry," said Meg, gauging her unhappiness.
Bob stepped from the truck, all smiles.
"Intel says all the parasites are gone, and their predators."
"Well, that's something at least," remarked Meg.
"We need to get to the White House," Bob Jones ushered them to the truck.

They drove to a runway where a waiting transporter lowered its ramp. Bob gunned the engine, and drove onto the giant aircraft while it was rolling along the runway.
"I've always wanted to do that," he smiled.
Kate was ashen faced; she'd assumed he did that every day.
"Don't worry. I've done that 100 times in the simulator," he said.

"What's the password?" A security guard waiting behind a locked door asked him.
"You allow me to drive my truck on your aircraft and then you ask me?!"
"Sorry sir. The password."
Bob thought for a minute. He knew it had something to do with rock festivals.
"Err, if I had a big enough literary shovel, I'd like to bury all the Glasto references I heard on the BBC one summer weekend."
Meg and Kate looked at Bob like he was crazy, but were amazed when the guard opened the door.
"Is it me or is that the stupidest password in history?" Said Meg.
Kate didn't need to say anything.

Had they conducted a poll of stupid passwords, it would have come in top of the list.
But that was a list reserved for Aibork's designer universe for literary snobs. A place of much oak panelling, goatee beards and air quotes. In fact the universe was actually called 'Air Quotes'.

Bob Jones and the ladies secured themselves into their rocking seats as the transporter entered a sea of bad air.
"We have an ocean of this stuff to get through. I'd recommend anti-nausea aerosols," remarked a disembodied voice.
Bob produced three tubes and each of them snorted a blast of minty air. Suddenly their respective stomachs settled.
"Wow, I wish I'd had this on my flight to Florida." Meg was grinning. It may have been the mild hallucinogen in the spray which had made Kate look like a cartoon ham. To her mild embarrassment she'd started drooling a little.
Kate was also a little affected by the spray. Meg looked a little like a Rottweiler.
Bob suffered no such problems. He'd managed to filter out the nasal hallucinogen. A mixture of willpower and little sense of smell.
"What does this do?"
Bob took the device from Kate and put it back in its wall case.
"Guilt gun," he replied.
"Excuse me?"
"It unleashes a wave of guilt on the victim; gives them a crippling sense of self loathing."
"No prizes for guessing who designed that," smiled Meg.
"Sounds like my ex," remarked Kate.

The sliver of glass moon scored an arc across the sky, glinting in the sunlight.
It sounded like a molten plastic bag dripping from a stick.
It flashed over Norway, melting, diminishing, becoming a shadow of itself. The final square mile of crystalline satellite ate sky like a ravenous tiger before thwacking into a soft hillside.
All of which was inconsequential. Witnessed by a few birds, and a squirrel. There was just a slight problem.
This vertical lens, 80 feet high, started focusing the sun's rays on a shed.
It was relatively small and unmanned, but crammed inside were enough explosives to level a small town.
That would have been bad enough, but at the end of this particular small town was a nuclear warhead.
Stolen by terrorists in 1986, it had been hidden during a raid by the FBI. Though there had been exhaustive efforts to find said weapon, it had been hidden in plain sight, disguised as a snowman. The nuclear core had been disengaged and to most it seemed harmless.
So, end of story then.
Oh, except there was a single, decaying cell, two inches long which was leaking precious fuel, and as fate would have it, it would only take a match to ignite it.
This random, domino effect of catastrophe would normally have been highly unlikely. But that's the thing about the pearl. It had a habit of accelerating chance.
So, as the lunar lens started to heat the shed, dry old timber started to smoke.
It was going to be an interesting few hours for a few birds, and a squirrel... and 12 million people who would be affected by the resultant chaos.

Kate was wracked with an overwhelming sense of guilt.
Meg realised she'd accidentally on purpose shot her with the weapon.
'Sorry' didn't quite seem to cover the deep feeling of personal hatred generated by Aibork's ego bruiser.
"Sorry" she said anyway.
If looks could kill, Meg would have been mortally wounded five minutes ago.
She would have been angrier if it weren't for the pressure on her chest.
"How long does this last?"
"Depends if you're Catholic or not."
Clearly humour wasn't helping the situation.
"I...I just don't know why you would do that."
"I have a kind of dark side," smiled Meg.
It was unusual for a victim to feel guiltier than their attacker.

And then, as they entered the final approach to Dulles, it all made sense.
Strolling down the runway, was an enormous lizard. Or rather it looked like a lizard.
"That's perfectly normal. The unreality pearl is known to create lizards out of thin air," said Meg.
"Now i know you're not joking," replied Kate.

The amount of damage a US government transporter would suffer against a giant lizard was minimal.
The pilot knew it. The lizard knew it. So they agreed to go their separate ways.
But before it left the runway, the giant lizard coughed a badge onto the ground.

Bob, Kate and Meg arrived at the White House. Meg knew the big cheese of old; they'd had run ins before, back in the days when Aibork had been a special consultant at the Pentagon.

They were debriefed for an hour by some more very serious looking presidential agents.
As the debriefing finished, Bob handed the President a bag.
"I want to thank you... again... for your excellent work out there."
"You're welcome sir," he smiled.
"And how is our mutual friend doing?"
"We were hoping you could tell us sir."
Frowns, and the belief that this sort of thing had happened before. The president regarded his latest gift.
"These bags. I was told never to open them."
"That's correct sir."
He smiled and scratched his greying beard.
He nodded to an aide who took the bags away.
There was a smell of ozone and the sound of popping flashbulbs.
"Paradox parcels," said Aibork.
He was in the room, and yet not. A man out of time.
Kate and Meg looked delighted at the slightly eerie figure. Not a ghost. Not a man. Somewhere between the two.

Aibork's designer universes were one thing, but inter dimension appearances were something more serious.
"Whatever happens... Don't touch the pianos," he said.
Normally such random words would have gained little traction with the most powerful man in the free world, but Aibork's warnings were never to be taken lightly.
"Pianos?!" Mouthed Meg and Kate.
"Pianos." Said Bob.
"I'm in the future and the past. Pianos. Are the. Key."
"Even in inter dimensions, he's still coming out with the gags," said Kate.

"We're going to need specialists," remarked the president.
Bob nodded. "Agreed sir."
He thumbed his bluetooth.
"Send Alpha unit to point zero."


Monday, 1 July 2013

Aibork - 6

By Roger Crow

"What's with all the candy floss?" asked Kate.
"It's a parasite, like Spanish moss. Drifts on the solar winds, waiting for a rift to pass through."
"It's a parasite? What does in feed off?"
"Mostly us," replied Meg, fixing a camera into the ground.
Kate was wide eyed, and backed away from the floating strands of pink menace.
"I wouldn't worry. It's a benign parasite. It won't hurt you."
Kate breathed a little easier for a minute.
"Well, it might." Bob Jones was analysing a strand under a microscope as the women gathered round.
"Inter spatial moss is mostly benign, but the usually dormant antagonist gene has been activated. I'm guessing the Pearl could have switched it on."

As the gravity of the potential threat sank in, another query struck her.
"So how do you know Bob?" She whispered while he went to the truck.
"We're old friends from uni; he used to hang around my dorm in Edinburgh."
"An excellent training ground for spies," said Bob.
Kate was a little embarrassed that he'd overheard her.
The desert wind started to whip against their faces.
"Looks like a storm is brewing," said Kate.
"Well I don't fancy being out here with those parasitic candyfloss things."
Meg popped a battery into her jacket, opened her large rucksack, produced two parcels and selected a button on the side; they became one tent.
She climbed inside and secured the two halves.
Linking guy ropes to a nail gun, she fired them into the ground at four separate sections.
"Looks like things are bound to get intense," she smiled.
Meg and Kate climbed inside the tent; Bob Jones went over to his truck and closed the door.
Soon the sky was thick with pink parasites.
"Is it me, or is this tent made of metal?"
Meg nodded. "It's aluminium memory cloth."
She opened a Velcro panel on the wall of the tent, produced two wires and hooked it up to the battery she took from her pocket.
"That should keep that pink crap of us for a while."
"Let's hope so," said Kate. "Is there anything you haven't brought with you?"
"I used to be a girl guide," she smiled.
"Seriously, who are you?"
"Ex-Army, I belong to a troupe known as the Jacket Men. We like to be prepared."
As if to prove the point, she took a tablet from her pocket and turned it on.
It showed them a view of outside the camp. Images of the parasites bouncing off the electrified tent.
Meg thumbed her Bluetooth headset.
"You there Bob?"
"Here, there, and everywhere," he replied.
"Okay, stay frosty."
"Like a snowman," came the reply.
Meg took the over the alarm clock and pressed a second button. A red second hand started counting backwards.
"What happens when it gets back to zero?," asked Kate.
Meg said nothing.

Aibork felt dizzy, excited and nervous. He was displaced, staggering around Washington like some deranged vagabond.
But this was not the Washington he once knew.
The Pearl changed it.
He wandered by the War Memorial, trying to get his bearings.
If he could make it to his favourite steak house that would be something. And he was ravenous.
Oh, and he needed to find the most lethal cupcake in the universe.

Walking for an hour, he made it back up around Capitol Hill, skirted it and found the restaurant. The commuters and tourists all regarded him suspiciously. DC residents were a little 'buttoned up' at the best of times, but now they were excessively so.
He couldn't blame them the way he'd been acting. After all, dimension jumps could leave some with permanent psychological damage. Others had been left comatose as the brain simply shut down, synapses refusing to cope with the journey. Jet lag of the mind.
Good job he'd had his coffee. The caffeine and sugar had buffered the transition. But now low blood sugar was making him anxious.
He found the restaurant but it was closed.
For him this was a trauma on a par with the death of Valerie Storm, a eighties pop star, of Storm and Thunder, the act who were single handedly blamed for the hole in the ozone layer due to the amount of hairspray they used.
Aibork staggered up the road and got dinner from a food truck. It may have been from a styrofoam tray, but the lamb kabob and spicy chick peas with salad was worthy of a king. He sat on a wall with other lunchtime diners and felt normality return.
Taking a scanner from his pocket, he adjusted the dial to cupcake setting. Normally that would be highly unlikely, but Aibork had a guide to level three anomalies and meteors had been known to be converted to a rich, sugar and flour-based confection in a worse case scenario, aka a level three anomaly.
He fine tuned the device and managed to get a faint reading. Then he realised he needed to adapt it a little. This was picking up every cupcake in DC. He need alien cupcake setting. Part confectionary, part meteor.
"Hmmm, that's going to need a little work,". He said. The locals ignored him. They were more concerned with the freetarian plucking his dinner from the trash can.
He realised this was normal DC after all. It was just him that had changed.

Aibork found a postcard stand, scribbled a note and address on it and headed for the post office.
He checked his watch, and hired a bike from the nearest tour company.
Half an hour later he arrived at The Smithsonian.