Tuesday, 21 May 2013

FB3X Drabble Cascade #11 - Don't Leave Me Sneezing! (PG, M/M Romance, Fantasy)

This post is suitable
for all

Fantasy Boys XXX Drabble Cascade

This is my flash fiction entry for the 11th Fantasy Boys XXX Drabble Cascade.

Author's Note

So the theme this week is 'cold' and I already went for the sexy side of hot and cold in my drabble for this week on FB3X blog, Fire Under Ice, so I thought a little further and another image of cold for me is when you feel awful and you have a bad cold and fever and then I went one step further and wondered what that would be like for someone with dragon blood :)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Blog Hops - A Few Initial Conclusions

I've just completed a couple of blog hops:
The May Monster Madness 2013
Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2013

And on Fantasy Boys XXX, we run our own weekly blog hop every Tuesday, the Drabble Cascades.

I'm new to blog hops, but I thought I'd share a few conclusions I've come to about them so far.

  1. Firstly, they're fun, but boy are they a lot of work - it's not just the writing of blog entries, it the interaction with the other blog hoppers. This takes time, but is very rewarding.
  2. The two blog hops I joined in were at either end of the spectrum when it came to numbers, May Madness has just under 50 blogs involved and A to Z was in the thousands. I have concluded that I prefer the smaller hops. That is not to say A to Z wasn't fun, but with thousands of blogs, I didn't get a chance to go back to many after one visit and there was no practical way I could follow all those blogs, so it felt a bit like window shopping. I did follow a handful of blogs that really impressed me, but I didn't make many lasting contacts. However, on the May Monster Madness, I did manage to get round most of the blogs, I followed most of them and I found some bloggers whose content I really gelled with. :)
  3. A theme to a blog hop means I found more blogs that I liked first time around. A to Z had many, many types of blog involved, as you'd expect with thousands of entries, and some just didn't interest me when I clicked on them. However, with May Monster Madness, we're all talking about vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like and so most of the posts were just up my street.
  4. With a small hop, more people interacted with my blog as well.  Putting my cynical hat on, when you're one thousand and something on a linked list, it's not surprising not many people get that far and visit your blog. With 50 hoppers, there are still enough folks who might find your blog interesting, but not too many that you get lost in the crowd. 
I'd join in both hops again and I'm joining in other hops too, but next time I do the A to Z, I will have to pick the blogs I visit more carefully, decide what I like and stick with those blogs, because I got overwhelmed with the sheer number of blogs in the hop this time around and didn't keep track of the ones I actually wanted to go back to.

Friday, 17 May 2013

May Monster Madness #7 - Writing Up A Monster

This is my seventh and final post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I'm a writer, so I thought I'd share with you some of my thoughts around creating a monster on the page.

The Name

Many monsters already have names, we have vampires and werewolves and ghosts and ghouls, but there are many ways to play with even existing names to add something a little different to a monstrous creation. Sometimes I have a name in mind for one of my monsters, sometimes not and sometimes I just go with the pre-existing term, but a name can convey a lot.

Let's try an example: if I called a monster in my story a Snurfle Dumkin, what would you think? Well, for me, I'd think I was in the realm of a loveable monster, because the sounds I have used in my name conjure up ideas of friendliness. Snurfle is close to snuffle, and 'kin' is a sound often used as a diminutive. However, if I called my monster a  Sandrack, the sounds are much harder, more menacing and I've even thrown in a suggestion it could live in soft earth thanks to the use of 'sand' in the name.

So, making up a monster from scratch, a lot can be said in a name, but what if we're playing in an existing sandpit, i.e. we're using vampires, or werewolves, or such like. Well, a writer can add their own mark to these monsters with names as well. This was done very effectively in Underworld, where the werewolves were called Lycans - it instantly told us, the viewers, that we had to look out for the rules of the world associated with these creatures, they may not be common-or-garden werewolves.

I have a werewolf YA story, Samling Born, in The Wittegen Press Giveaway Games Anthologies, which I plan to turn into a longer work, and there, I didn't change the name of the species, they are still werewolves, but I did give them a group name, The Samling, to add my own stamp to my breed of werewolf.

The Raison D'etre

A lot of lower budget horror movies forget this important point, and it separates a good story from a poor one, I think. Every monster has to have a reason to be. Why are they in the story? Why are they doing what they are doing? Even if this is a mystery to the reader/watcher, because the suspense of not knowing is part of the story, the writer still has to know, otherwise, how would we be able to write what our monster will do next?

I am writing a YA vampire series called 'Heritage is Deadly', and my major antagonist for the first story, whose echo will go through all the other books, is Raxos, the vampire father of my protagonist, Tom. The stories are written from Tom's point of view, the reader does not know Raxos' motivation for doing what he is doing, except for what he shares with Tom, but I know, and it is a major influence for later stories that I am developing.

On the surface, Raxos is a ruthless, selfish, destructive brute, playing games for his own amusement, which could suffice as his raison d'etre, it was enough for The Gods of Ragnarok in Doctor Who The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, whose very lives fed off being entertained. However, this kind of reason to be would not sustain Raxos' presence for more than one book. Thus, Raxos has a large back story and motives that I can dip into as needed to add depth and colour to the sequels.

The Look

When considering how to describe a monster, I always think about what I am trying to convey with them. Despite the terminology, 'The Look' covers more than just sight, I consider all the senses, which is something books have over TV or film. Like the name, the look of a monster can tell the reader/watcher a lot about that monster way before they act.

During this blog hop, lots of people have been talking about lots of different monsters, from the mindless, shuffling zombie to the 'nearly normal' serial killer. Instantly these are mentioned, certain ideas come to mind. The zombie looks like it is decaying inside its torn and detritus-covered clothes, plus for the written medium, maybe there is a stench of that flesh decomposing as the mindless creature advances on its prey.  The sound that accompanies the lumbering zombie is the shuffle thump, shuffle thump of it's slow advance, plus maybe a hollow moan.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the vampire, suave and sophisticated in many incarnations. Francis Ford Coppolla's Dracula gave us two 'looks' for Dracula, both very stylised to match the mood of the film. One is the archaic Transylvanian lord, alien to Jonathan Harker's eyes, an old, eccentric man. Then there is the Victorian gentleman, but even that look allows the viewer to see Dracula's strangeness, an otherworldly sexiness that sets him apart from Victorian London. Both looks are rich and sophisticated, but could not be more different in the face of the vampire they show us. The transylvanian lord is strange, clearly from another culture, another time even, whereas the Victorian gentleman is a disguise behind which those who know can recognise the seductive monster.

The reader and the viewer both make assumptions from the look of a character, so it better be right. :)

The Reveal

I may have imagined up the most terrifying monster from the black pit of despair with deadly tentacles and eyes burning with supernatural fire, but it I dump him in straight in front of my audience with no build up and no suspense, I have lost half the battle to captivating my reader. Introducing my monster is all important.

Maybe I should start with that black pit, 

nothing can be seen, only a smell of death and rotting flesh.

Then perhaps

a tentacles slithers slowly out of the gloom, much to the horror of those watching: it's long and agile, searching along the ground, curling over anything it finds and oozing foul-smelling slime in its path.

It's not that much of a threat, yet, just a revolting curiosity. However,

then, suddenly, the tentacle whips out towards one of our spectators, latching around his torso. He screams, convulses and collapses, the tentacle tightening round his suddenly unconscious body and with one heave, the helpless human is halfway back to the pit. His companions dive in to help, they grab for his arms and pull him back. Yet the thing is incredibly strong and they are still sliding towards doom, although more slowly.

So now the tension is building. What owns this tentacle and can the humans save their friend? The humans are intent on their friend, getting him to safety, and the reader should be too when, wham, things get a whole lot worse.

The ground shakes, a low rumbling rises up out of the pit, trembling through the would-be rescuers and then a huge, shadowy form looms out of the crevasse. It is immense, the form too big to see all at once up so close, but large, sunken eyes, their depths shining with a devil-red, captivate the humans....

Well, I threw that piece together as I was thinking the reveal through, so it's not brilliant, but I hope you get what I mean. Build up, suspense, shock, they all play a big part in monster impact.

Alien did it very well, introducing a complete unknown that goes from an egg and then a face-hugger all the way to something that could be the ultimate threat to humankind in the Xenomorph. Predator too, having a killing machine remain invisible for most of the film. Even the old classic of the protagonist walking into a darkened room, which is a favourite of horror films is a very effective reveal - we all know something is going to happen, bit we don't know what, and it builds the suspense, so that when the monster darts out of the shadows, we're good and ready to be terrified by it. ;)

So that's it, my last post for May Monster Madness. Thanks to those who organised this great event, Annie Walls, Emma from Little Gothic Horrors, and Ked from Something Wicked This Way Comes. It's been a lot of fun!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

May Monster Madness #6 - My Favourite Dr Who Monsters

This is my sixth post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop.

Today, I'm devoting my post to a fandom I have been in since I was a little girl, Dr Who - yes, anyone under 20, there was a series way before the 00's revamp, and although CGI was unheard of, it spun a damn good yarn.

Dr Who had villians and heroes and it's fair share of monsters too, and today, I'm going to share my top 5 Dr Who monsters with you and tell you why I love 'em.

5. The Wirrn from The Ark In Space

I've mentioned these guys before in my May Monster Madness #5, and these are in my top DW monster list because they come straight out of insect behaviour 101. Anyone whose seen Life In The Undergrowth knows about parasitic wasps and how they can inject their larvae into the body of a living host to take it over. That a monster alien can do this to a sentient creature disturbs me more than any cutting, slashing killer.

4. Light from Ghost Light

Light is an almost all-powerful being, whose monstrousness lies in his instability and his complete disrespect for the life he is obsessed with cataloguing. Abuse of power is a theme that comes up in Dr Who from time to time and if ever there was an abuser, it is Light. He hates change, he hates evolution, because it puts his catalogue out of date and so his answer: not to start again, but to reduce life on Earth back to the primordial soup it was when he arrived on the planet. He's insidious, selfish and deserves to be on my list of favourites.

3.The Robots from The Robots of Death

Now, these might not sound like monsters, they're man made and humanoid, but it is their expressionlessness and lack of emotions that make them monsters for me. One of the characters from The Robots of Death, Poul, has a breakdown when the robots go rogue and start killing people, because he can't handle the fact that he is surrounded by mechanical men that look like him, but aren't, and that is the essence of why I find the robots so disturbing. They're on a par with clowns, where makeup hides real emotion, but in this case, they don't have any natural responses. The eeriest scene for me is where a damaged robot is lying on the ground, motionless except for its flailing fingers - it's like a corpse possessed.

2. Weeping Angels from Blink

I'm being very specific here. I loved the Weeping Angels in their original episode, Blink, because they were isolated, unknown and really, really creepy. Put them en masse, as they were in their second and third episodes and I think they lost some of their scariness. In Blink, they were perfect, it was even suggested at the end that they could be any shape of statue, not just an angel, and that is what was so damn frightening. They were a creature whose presence you could only track when not looking at them, because they did not move in sight of anyone and they could go from tragic stone figure to snarling evil in, literally, the blink of any eye. A really, really great monster straight out of nightmares, but they should not have been reused in hoards - more was not scarier.

1. The Fendahl from Image of the Fendahl

The creature of which I speak is not the wyrm-like creature in the background, although a Fendahleen is pretty scary, it is the Fendahl, the golden woman in the front (who, as an N.B. was played admirably by Wanda Ventham, a.k.a Benedict Cumberbatch's mum). The Fendahl is an ancient evil, something that can destroy all life on a planet, something so terrible, the Time Lords have been very naughty and sealed the planet where it originated in a time loop to destroy the Fendahl. I think it was very clever of the writers to gradually convert a woman into a stunning, but totally evil creature that wants to devour everything. This story of Dr Who left a lasting impression on me and still has the power to frighten me. When the Doctor tells people not to look in her eyes, I'm the one trying to watch the action while not looking all the way at the screen ;P!

So there they are, my top 5 monsters from DW - do you have any favourite Dr Who monsters? Do tell! :)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

May Monster Madness #5 - Monsters That Could Be Real

This is my fifth post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop.

As I write this post, I am sitting watching The Relic, a horror movie favourite of mine, because reading all the posts from this blog hop has put in the mood for some good ol' scares.

The Relic, about a monster created from consuming a fungus loaded with many, many different different animal hormones, falls into a class of 'almost possible' monster movies. This is the type of movie where science and fantasy combine. The film goes on and on about DNA and evolutionary biology, but the key to the whole plot is superstition and the unknown, that's why it is scary. The mixture of known and unknown, science and fantasy, make it that much scarier, because this thing might be real.

This is something that some science fiction does really well, take something familiar and turns it into something monstrous. The Wirrn from Doctor Who, the Ark In Space is an example of this. The Wirrn are a space-going insect, much like our wasps, and, like the parasitic versions of that species, the Wirrn plant themselves into a living organism and the parasitic grub then takes over the host, consuming them.

This is nasty enough and can be seen in our own nature, so it's not a leap for the viewer, if we accept aliens existing, that one of those races could be parasitic. However, to add another level of menace, the Wirrn grubs can also reproduce themselves by spreading their slime onto another host, something that happens to Noah, the commander of the space station which is the ark, and we see him slowly turn into a Wirrn, his intelligence, as well as his body absorbed into their hive mind.

You may think that this is far fetched, but, there are some parasites who take over the minds of their victims in our nature, there is one that takes over a snail and encourages it to go upwards towards the light so birds can eat it and the parasite can then gestate in the bird faeces. So, it's not so unreasonable and that makes it all the more monstrous when we see it happen to one of our own species!

Another monster that makes me shudder every time is the alien from The Thing. Again, it works on our fear of parasites, something that can absorb something else so completely that it can actually take on the shape of that thing. That's the genius of The Thing, you don't know who it is and as well as man against alien, we see man against man as well. I admire the moviemaker's magic in The Thing, but it gives me nightmares every time, so I don't watch it very often! ;P

I don't think something has to be biological to be a monster, either, there has been many a super computer looking to take over, control, or otherwise subjugate its masters. Computers exist, we have ones that can now hold conversations to a level where it is difficult to tell them from us, so the leap to making them intelligent and sentient is not a big one for the layman. Thus we have HAL in 2001, the support structure that strangles those it is meant to support. Also, we have Vger from Star Trek The Motion Picture, a monster destroying all in its path when we first meet it, but later, one of those loveable monsters, or, at the very least, a child that brings out the sympathy of the viewer.

And I want to finish with the monster that is all too real, the horror that already exists in our society, so is perfect fodder for horror writers: the serial killer. In this creature of nightmares, reality is almost worse than fiction, because it is so horrific to believe what one human is capable of doing to others.

Harold Shipman killed over 200 of his patients just because he wanted to. Ted Bundy lusted after slender young women with long dark hair and he killed them without conscience. So when we see the likes of Johnny Bartlet on The Frighteners, we easily accept that he is a serial killer and the horrors he has perpetrated are a shock, but not anything beyond our realm of possibilities. Thus the leap that makes him more terrible for the viewer is not his murderous nature, it is that he is a ghost carrying on his serial killings from the urn. Okay, so that bit is a lot harder to swallow, if you don't believe in ghosts, but the fact that he has a deluded girlfriend talking to him and helping him is, sadly, not so unusual. Serial killers make good horror.

So, that's me for today. If you have any ideas about monsters that could possibly, I'd love to hear about them. :)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

May Monster Madness #4 - Monsters with Beautiful Faces

This is my fourth post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop.

This post is all about those monsters that hide behind beauty: I'm talking about evil step mothers and wicked fairies. In these creatures from fairytales and fantasy, beauty is ice cold, their ugliness hidden behind a mask, but that makes them no less monstrous than an ogress. 

The first beautiful monster I want to talk about is the Wicked Step Mother from Snow White. A woman who wants to kill her own step daughter simply because the developing young woman is more beautiful than her. She is the ultimate in self-centred ruthlessness and many different actresses has relished playing her. Charlize Theron plays a wonderfully demented bitch queen from hell and is, IMHO, the best part of Snow White and the Huntsman. However, for deranged monster, Miranda Richardson gives her a run for her money in a Hallmark version. Of course, though, Disney, on film at least, gave us the original!

 Sticking with fairytales, but moving away from mothers to fairies, one of my favourite Disney villains is Maleficent, the wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty. For not being invited to the baby princess' christening, she turns up and curses the child to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. And then of course, she does her utmost to ensure that her curse comes true. Only Aurora's fairy god mothers' intervention turns death into sleep, but Maleficent is not finished. When the prince comes along to awaken his Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent turns herself into a dragon to prevent him from waking the damsel. This monstrous fae will stop at nothing to see her will win out.

Fairytales have their fair share of evil beauties, but they are not limited to this genre. In fact, science fiction has one memorable one for me, because she is introduced as a angel of mercy, a nurse, but she turns out to be anything but that. In Dr Who's, The Pirate Planet, we are introduced to The Captain, who rules Xanak with both a stick of rigid control, but also with the carrot of repeated Ages of Prosperity, where jewels and luxury are provided to all those who don't ask too many questions. The Captain has a pretty nurse looking after him. However, as the story progresses, this woman reveals herself as not only less than merciful, but also the new body for the evil Queen Xanxia, who was not only a despot, but used up all the resources of her own planet and has destroyed hundreds of others in the quest for eternal life. She's a mass murderer on an almost limitless scale and thus earns her place on my list of beautiful monsters.

Finally, I couldn't leave out my favourite genre and my favourite type of monster, that being paranormal fantasy and the vampire. In modern times, there have been many handsome/beautiful vampires gracing our screens, but I'm going to pick just one, because she is so coldly murderous, but intensely sexy that she deserves a mention. I'm talking, of course, about Vampire Willow from Buffy. Of course, she does have her ugly face, some would say her true face, but, like many of her type, her beauty is one of her weapons and when combined with her depravity is chilling.

So, that's it for today and I hope you enjoyed my little trip through monsters with beautiful faces. Do you have any favourite evil beauties?

Monday, 13 May 2013

May Monster Madness #3 - Loveable Monsters

This is my third post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop.

My subject today is loveable monsters, those (sometimes) ugly creatures that are a bit scary but that turn out to be adorable.

Jim Henson was a master at creating loveable monsters. From Animal in The Muppets to Ludo from Labyrinth, he could conjure up characters that were instantly a little bit dangerous/insane but were also totally hug-worthy.

Animal has long been a favourite muppet of mine. Just left of totally insane, this drummer extraordinaire always made me laugh as a kid. He has so thoroughly entered the collective consciousness of the western world that we only have to see him on a T-shirt to know that the wearer is trying to propose a little anarchy :)

Ludo is a loveable monster right from when we meet him in Labyrinth. He's a big, hairy, lumbering giant with few words, but a wonderful heart. He is a gentle creature whose heart is far from stone, even though some of his best friends are rocks ;)

Labyrinth, by its very nature, had more than its fair share of monsters in the form of goblins and even talking door-knockers and, the fairies are right little monsters as well, be careful, they bite! Because we are seeing them through the eyes of Sarah (whom Ludo lovingly calls Sawah ;)), most every creature she meets in the Goblin Kingdom is monstrous. This is not true in other fantasy realms where we may be looking/reading through the eyes of a person who would themselves be considered a monster by we humans, so, being a monster is relative and depends on the reaction of the protagonists in a story.

In Krull, most of the heroes are human, but they are joined by one cyclops (played by Bernard Bresslaw), who is viewed as somewhere between monster and man by the others until they get to know him. This is because cyclops are a reclusive people who do not mix with men. He is a sad character, as all cyclops are, because the true monster, 'The Beast' that Prince Colwyn needs to fight to rescue his betrothed, has given the cyclops the power to see the future, but only to see their own individual deaths. As a child, I always wanted to be able to give him a hug.

Science Fiction has its own share of loveable monsters as well. I would put E.T. into this category: he's short, round, wrinkly and alien, but those big, round eyes and his inquisitive, friendly nature make him one of the most adorable monsters of all time. I have heard it said that the US government bankrolled E.T. to get Earth ready for meeting aliens - whether it's true, or just a very cute conspiracy theory I will leave up to you, but I would say that in E.T. we have a really great boon to Earth-Alien relations ;P.

Of course, there are some 'monsters' on our screens that we love to love for completely different reasons: I'm talking about the suave monsters whose possibly murderous nature we ignore in favour of them being rather sexy ;). Dracula fits the bill here, and Edward (if you're into the sparkly one). Personally, I started fancying vampires in The Lost Boys. Vampires ooze sex appeal, they are seducers and monsters that make us wonder if we are that bothered about being bitten o.O.

Of course, there are some not-so-loveable vampires, but they don't fall under the loveable label, so I'll leave them to another post! Werewolves and even, dare I say it, zombies are also getting in on the sexy act as well these days. These are the characters we find in our paranormal fiction, and I've even been known to throw in a sexy ghost as well to my writing (The Need In Me). They're our strong-man, risky relationship fantasies and, I don't know about you, but I enjoy reading, watching and writing about them.

So, there you have it, my gallop through monsters we can't help adoring. Are there any monsters you want to give a hug, or maybe even a little bit more? ;)

Sunday, 12 May 2013

May Monster Madness #2 - The Woman In Black

This is my second post for the  May Monster Madness Blog Hop.

I've written, or rather, raved about The Woman In Black before on this blog, under Hammer's The Woman In Black and from that post, it is pretty obvious I am a big, big fan of this story in all its forms, book, stage play, TV adaptation and movie. However, today I want to concentrate of The Woman In Black, herself, Jenette Humprhey, who, to me, is a brilliantly terrifying monster.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

May Monster Madness #1 - Monsters & Me

Being a big fan of monsters and ghosts and ghouls, The May Monster Madness Blog Hop has it all for me ;) This is their second year, but my first.

I thought, since this is my first post in the blog hop, I'd tell you a little bit about myself and why I find monsters are great to watch, read and write. I'm a writer, and I firmly believe my taste in genres is down to my 80's upbringing watching and reading some great horror, sci-fi and fantasy.

I grew up watching the likes of Dr Who, with Daleks and Cybermen and weird creatures made from bubble wrap and green paint that could kill with one swipe of their slime. I hid behind the proverbial cushion and screamed at the right times. I remember distinctly as a small child being terrified by Davros, the creator of the daleks. He is humanoid, but so twisted and devoid of any humanity that the memory of his blind, crinkled face still gives me the shivers!

I was watching Dr Who as a young child, the evils the Doctor battled were my first monsters, safely PG, although they did some of the most dastardly things. I watched and read other sci-fi and fantasy as well as a child: fairy tales; V; Jason and the Argonauts; Invasion of the Body Snatchers had me looking under my bed every night for years! ;P

However, I was in my teens before I graduated to what I define as 'real horror'.  Movies such as Evil Dead, Salem's Lot, Nightmare On Elmstreet and the darkness of books by Stephen King and James Herbert. I've always preferred a good scare, as in ghosts and things going bump in the night to blood and guts and gore, but some of those movies from the 80's impressed me. Evil Dead, especially, which they have just remade, but I have yet to see the remake. The first in the Evil Dead series was produced on a shoestring budget by young men straight out of college and it has its naff acting in places, but it also has a creepiness that gets me every time I watch it. Sam Raimi proves he has the instinct for horror right from the get go, but the scariest bit in the movie for me is where Ash's girlfriend is sitting in the corner, possessed, looking like a demonic doll and she is just giggling, nothing else, just this high-pitched insidious sound. It is a moment straight out of nightmare and is spine-chilling in it's madness.

There was something about those 80's movies that I think has become lost in the over-blown CGI of many lower budget horrors of today. There was an effort to the cinematography that in a lot of movies has been replaced with computer effects. They lost the scare-factor by making the horror too big. However, there are still some good story tellers out there, in my opinion, where the story and talent of the director outclasses the budget. Boo! is one of those movies for me. It's an old fashioned situation horror, featuring, yes, that old favourite, the haunted mental hospital, but it takes the story of a mismatched bunch of people trying to get out of the nightmare to some interesting new levels with some good old fashioned camera work that scares the hell out of me. The camera sweeping past a shadowy figure at the back of the lift still gives me goosebumps :).

So, y'see, I like a good scare along with the best of 'em, but my monsters have to come with a good dose of suspense. I don't like pure slasher movies, there has to be something about monsters to me that is otherworldly: darkness has to be surreal. What do you think about monsters, are there some that you remember from childhood that still scare you?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Quartet - A Review

I am going to be brutally honest and sum up my opinion of this film in one word - disappointment.

Now I'll explain why that, sadly, my view is thus.

Quartet is about a home for retired musicians, but more than that, we're talking about divas and maestros all rubbing shoulders together in a rather lovely country house. Perfect basis for comedy with just a touch of bitter-sweet retrospect - at least that is what I thought. And the cast: well, some of Britain's best comedic actors, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Bill Connolly and Pauline Collins play our foursome of the title, plus there's Michael Gambon blustering away in the background and a host of other recognisable faces.

So, when the DVD arrived on my doorstep, I sat down eagerly in a prearranged viewing with my mother and father, who, being big fans of Maggie Smith, have been waiting for this movie since it was announced.

It started quite well. We are introduced to three of our four protagonists, Reggie (Tom Courtney), a rather sniffy, once lauded opera singer, Wilf (Billy Connolly), who is what he describes as a jobbing musician (also a rather good operatic singer), who has had a stroke and blames his lecherous activities on not being able to censor himself, and finally Cissy (Pauline Collins), who is a very sweet lady, with great memories of the glory days, but not too many memories of what she had for breakfast. They make an interesting trio, harping at each other, observing their world and, in Wilf''s case, making hell for Cedric (that's pronounced Seedric ;P Michael Gambon's bossy maestro who is taking the credit for organising the concert that is at the heart of the story even when others are doing most of the work).

However, my interest waned within about the first ten minutes. The reason being, I began to find everything about the film was muted, like I was viewing it through some dream that meant no-one could show their emotions. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something about the directing, I think, that cut me off from the characters.

Be in no doubt, there was material enough for a good film in there, but let me address the failures in each:

  • a home for musical artists - a perfect opportunity for eccentricity and colourful characters, a mainstay of British comedy-drama. Yes, well, we got the odd flourish of colourful characters and the montage at the beginning started very well, but as the film began to concentrate of the four members of the quartet, I think the film lost that background, relying mostly on the buffooning of Michael Gambon and the concert committee with the odd skit from the residents thrown in as they practiced for the concert - it was all a bit remote.
  • a concert that has to be a success or the home will close and everyone will have to go into a world that doesn't understand their artistic temperaments.  I got the feeling, although it was just a hint, that the home catered to the needs of musicians in a way that other places didn't, but, like most of the rest of the film, I don't think enough was made of this. Sheridan Smith played Dr Lucy Coleman admirably, but it was all smiles and the occasional roll of eyes, there was no real interaction, nothing that showed us she was really worried about the future of the home, nothing to sink a connection with her character into.
  • a diva leaving her home and moving into a new environment. Jean (Maggie Smith), is a famous opera star who has had to leave her London home for the only reason we are told is that she is recovering from a hip op (not really a good reason IMO, I would liked to have known more, what made her decide she needed to go into a home, why did the hip op make her decide she was vulnerable). I love Maggie Smith, my favourite of her roles is in Gosford Park. However, quite frankly, her slightly broken diva was lack-lustre by any standards, again, I feel the hand of the director here. I wasn't looking for OTT temper tantrums and histrionics, but what diva there was visible seemed to have been instructed to under act, which threw away a lot of moments in passing in the film that should have made more of an impact.
  • An old romance that has left both parties damaged. Jean and Reggie were once an item, a married
    couple, in fact, and they parted on bad terms. Both thinks they made a mistake in leaving the other, but, of course, neither says it, and thus we have the 'drama' part of our comedy. Now, there were some wonderful lines written for Jean and Reggie for this part of the plot, but, and yes, I am repeating myself, they were delivered in such a throw-away tone that it took me a little while to catch up, and I know I was supposed to laugh at some of them, but the timing was all wrong and I just didn't. Even the inevitable ending to this missed romance was played in such a muted way, I had to make an effort to be happy about it.
  • trying to persuade Jean to sing in the concert. Jean doesn't want anything to do with the concert. Actually, a poignant bit of the movie that I will give it points for is the moment Jean confesses to Reggie that she gave up singing because she couldn't cope with the pressure of having to be better and  better. Now, this was an important fact, it should have informed much of the action at the end of the film, but, it didn't - there was some mumbling about just get out there and sing, but no tragicomedic moments around self doubt and not wanting to go on - at least, if there were, I missed them.

All in all, Quartet felt like there was a good movie wanting to get out of it somewhere, but opportunities, both dramatic and comedic wandered by without the right timing or emphasis they deserved. And I think the ending summed it up - the quartet the whole movie has been about, the piece of music these four are famous for singing together, was done off screen, in music only. Now, I know actors aren't singers and miming is not always effective and the director was doing it deliberately, but since everything else about the movie had been so muted, I wanted my uplifting moment, thank you very much, and what I got was a view of the country house and the credits.