Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Please stand by

Normal service will resume at the Tearoom of Despair on March 1.

Thank you for your patience.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blood and sweat and guts and bone

I haven't yet read the Johnny Alucard book, the latest in the Anno Dracula series, but that's only because I don't want it to be over...

Wold Newman (or: The Ubiquitous Doctor Shade)
Originally posted June 22, 2012

Every couple of years, I get sucked into the fiction work of Mr Kim Newman, and it is taking me longer and longer to get out of that pleasurable pit again, because there is always more and more of it, and it's always entertaining.

I genuinely think Newman is the most entertaining writer on the planet, and I always love his work - from his numerous pulp-culture drenched short stories and novels to his meticulously researched and very funny non-fiction work.

When it comes to movies, he remains the one reviewer I invariably can trust (I’ve even come to concede that he was probably right about Army of Darkness), and when I pick up one of his books, I know I'm going to be entertained and absorbed. Whether it’s as his whiskey drinking alter-ego Jack Yeovil, or as Mr-Strokey-Beardey Critic, or as a horror writer who finds queasy terrors in the midlands of England, or as a builder of his own worlds.

There is so much of it now, that when I start reading Newman’s books again, I end up reading nothing else but Dark Future, Anno Dracula or Geneviève stories for weeks and weeks after, and it’s always totally worth it.

1. Pulp Friction!

Orgy of the Blood Parasites was going to be called Bloody Students, and that sums up the brilliant nastiness of Jack Yeovil’s hard-boiling debut. The only Yeovil novel that wasn’t part of a series, (although the name popped up on numerous genre-related reviews), it took Cronenberg horror to a nice English university, unleashing primal rages between the exams, and slaughtering its cast with unbridled enthusiasm.

Sometimes I think Yoevil’s books are my favourites of all Newman’s work. They’re so busy and rushed and packed, but even though Newman reportedly wrote most of them in a couple of weeks, there is still room for fun and excitement, with a healthy “anything goes” attitude.

The Warhammer fantasy books are better than they should be - Drachenfels starts with an epic quest, gets that crap out of the way in 20 pages and gets into the real story, which somehow turns into an extraordinary satire of the movie business in a medieval setting, and ends with my unashamedly favourite last line in any novel ever. Beasts in Velvet is a giallo murder mystery, right down to the gruesome deaths and weird perspectives (I’m still chuffed that I figured out what the dead man wrote on the barrel he was buried in), and all of the Geneviève stories have hidden depths, just like the smile of the incredibly old teenage girl who drifts through the tales. 

The Dark Future books are even better. They’re set in a world where anything goes, post-apocalyptic shenanigans banging up against Things From Beyond The Veil. It’s a series of books that are loaded down with noble heroes with tarnished souls, disgusting villains that kill you if you’re lucky, and a small mountain of pop-culture references.

Jackie catches JFK in bed with Marilyn in the early sixties, Nixon becomes president and epically bad pollution turns most of the US into a dangerous wasteland, filled with roaming teen gangs, and genuine monsters in all shapes and sizes. But it’s okay, because Colonel Elvis Aron Presley didn’t sign that contract for the devil, so there is still hope.

They area  painfully unfinished series of books, and I would give anything to read United States Cavalry, the once-promised conclusion. But I still end up reading the whole series all the way through, over and over again, because they’re so silly and so funny, and so noble and so passionate.

One book has Jason Voorhees, Michael Myersand a small army of fictional murderers taking part in a nuthouse riot – and that’s just a sidebar to the main event where a young punk girl staring down an unfathomably ancient evil. I know that I’m in the right place

2. Reel Life (or: ‘I didn’t raise my daughter to be a severed head.’)

The Dark Future might be still unwritten, and it has been an agonising wait for some of his books, but I still read new words by Kim Newman every month, in things like Sight and Sound and Empire magazine.

I’ve been getting Empire every month since 1993, and it didn’t take long to realise Newman (or Yeovil) was writing most of the reviews for films that I was interested in – all the gross horrors and cheesy sci-fi’s – and he was usually right. I’ve trusted Newman’s opinion for nearly twenty years, and it’s never steered me wrong.

After all, his criticism is always fair, and usually manages to find something – anything – nice to say about a lot of the films he watches. It’s still worth following up a Video Dungeon recommendation. So much of genre film is inherently worthless, you need a trusted voice to find the gems amongst the filth.

And he knows what he is talking about, because unlike many reviewers who think relatively slick movies like the Hostel or Saw films are as bad as things can get in cinema, Newman really has seen it all, and his film knowledge is actually scary.

It’s there in all editions of the excellent Nightmare Movies, where Newman categorises a vast amount of movies into various sub-genres, and finds interesting ideas and themes stretching across dozens of movies. He’s also written excellent books on western movies and apocalyptic cinema, and his first proper book to be published was non-fiction – the fun Ghastly Beyond Belief with pal Neil Gaiman, which is a list book of funny quotes from genre literature and cinema – some of it is incredibly funny, although poor old E E (Doc) smith gets an intellectual kicking.

The knowledge shown in Newman’s non-fiction work seeps through into fiction, and they also share an undisguised enthusiasm for all this horror rubbish. It’s still there in every issue of Empire, and every new short story.

3. The horror, the horror

Newman’s stand-alone novels and short story collections cover a wide range of genres and styles, but there is always, always horror in them.

Jago, the Quorum, Life's Lottery, Bad Dreams and The Night Mayor, along with several collections of short stories, call upon a host of weird influences. It’s the same sort of humorous horror that British horror fiction is so good at, a Grand Guignol of such grotesqueness, it manages to be incredibly funny and genuinely disturbing at the same time, especially because everybody is so bloody repressed. Built on a base of Hammer horror, with a fair amount of Amicus and those old Rank chillers added for taste.

Newman’s horror books can be nakedly brutal – in the climax of Jago, the hero, who is already suffering the worst toothache in the world, bites down on a mouthful of pins so the pain can override a psychic nightmare. But they can also be subtle – I took three goes at the kitchen-sink Choose-Your-Own-Adventure fun of Life’s Lottery before I realized it was a story about the horror of the mundane, and that it’s about ordinary lives full of wrong choices that skate around the edge of something vast and old and malevolent and ultimately lead to your doom. Unless you cheat, and then all will be well.

There are shadowy figures lurking in the background of these short stories and novels, who appear over and over again – Derek Leech, born in the Thames filth and a multi-media Mephistopheles for a New Wave Britain (and the narrator of Life Lottery), or Doctor Shade, slithering between universes, a dark presence in a dark car.

But while these books share more than the odd character, they also share feelings of deep dread, the sense that something crushingly normal has gone terribly wrong, and a whole lot of body-horror. Newman is from the Video Nasty generation of UK horror writers, and shares a bleak and bloody view of modern horror on the council estate that has also been mined by diverse voices such as Clive Barker, James Herbert and Ramsey Campbell.

But there is also hope – even though there are often horrible things happening to innocent people, the only ones in Newman’s horror fiction who are truly damned are those who deserve it and almost embrace their fate, (most notably in The Quroum, where Leech gets four souls for the price of one,) and the bleakness is balanced by the occasional piece of simple kindness.

After all, there always has to be some hope in the darkness, or what’s the point?

4. Somewhen else

The first Kim Newman book I ever read was Anno Dracula, which I picked up off the new release shelf at the Timaru Public Library in 1993. This was a good place to start, especially since I’d just seem Bram Stoker’s Dracula the week before, and it was very easy to imagine Richard E Grant as the devilish Doctor Seward in the book.

But the thing I really loved in that book - and the thing I still adore – was the author’s willingness to throw in an incredible amount of references, with vampires and other dubious characters from movies, books, television and comics filling the pages of the books.

It’s the sort of series where you see references to the work of a Professor Langstrom at the Gotham University during a conversation between Doctor Moreau and Herbert West, or where a prime suspect in a later murder mystery is Superman, or where Biggles takes to the sky to fight giant vampire bats, or where James Bond actually physically transforms from Connery to Bond.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen did the same sort of thing, but it’s no use playing “who did it first?’, because Phillip Jose Farmer wins that argument every time, and it’s not just about the fun. While it is immensely pleasurable to get a reference to some incredibly vague story, it gives the story added weight.

Bringing in characters from other pieces of literature negates the need for unnecessary background. A vague reference to the fate of poor dim Carmilla can actually have resonance for anybody familiar with her story, and when there are huge amounts of characters, there is a lot of depth. You don’t even need to see the name Fu-Manchu to know of the incredible schemes and plans the Oriental mastermind is working on in the background of Anno Dracula, and when a vampire Moriarty dreams of the centuries he can spend working on an Ultimate Mathematical Theory Of Everything, it adds a sense of tragedy that the “real” Moriarty couldn’t put aside his hate long enough to pursue the numbers.

I really, really like all of the Anno Dracula books. They’re full of action and humour and some incredibly satisfying plotting. I love playing Spot The Reference, and I don’t mind when I don’t get them all, because I might the next time.

I’ve been reading this series of books for nearly two decades, and I never, ever get sick of them.

On the other hand, I only just got to read the Diogenes Club books in the past six months, after stumbling across all three of them at a local library.

It’s almost the same world as the Anno Dracula series, but just a little closer to reality. The Diogenes Club breaches the gap between Arthur Conan Doyle and Adam Adamant, high octane cerebral adventures in the world of super spies and supernatural shivers.

It was a bit much, reading all three of the books in a two week stretch, and I've already forgotten a lot of the details of these stories, but they will be worth coming back to. All of Newman's stuff is worth coming back to.

Although Newman’s books have often been incredibly hard to find, and some – like the Diogenes Club books – fetch stupid prices on the second hand market. But the Anno Dracula books are now out in lovely new editions from Titan, with even lovelier extra material, and even though I have bought all of the books, the new editions were impossible to pass by.

So I'm looking forward to cracking into the Vampire Romance story in the new edition of the Bloody Red Baron, and I'm extremely excited that Johnny Alucard is actually happening. And there is the Hound of the D'Urbervilles, starring Colonel Moran, another collection of linked stories, and more new short stories in strange places and thoughtful reviews and essays in the expected places, and I still haven't read Back in the USSR, or the Doctor Who novelette he did, and it's all so much bloody fun.

Because it's all about the blood and the fun.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

How many sides does a piece of spaghetti have?

I got another phone call accusing of being part of a co-ordinated attack to take down the mayor of NZ's  biggest city the other day, and I finally snapped and told the caller it was all true and then he said 'A-ha!' and hung up on me. I probably shouldn't have perpetuated the bullshit, but I think I really made that caller's day.

The conspiracy and me
Originally posted December 18, 2012

 I love a decently weird conspiracy theory as much as everybody else, and at one time I really did almost believe there was one giant vast conspiracy, involving grey aliens and men in black, that was responsible for everything that was bad in the world.

But ever since I started being accused of being part of that conspiracy on a daily basis, I find it a little harder to believe.

Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Conspiracy theories are obviously attractive – imposing a narrative on random events can help make sense of those events, especially when they have tragic consequences. Terrible things can’t just happen because somebody fucked up, or wasn’t paying attention, or was having a wank when they shouldn’t have been, there must be a reason behind it. There has to be meaning.

And they certainly have some elements of truth (and it’s entirely possible that the most unlikely theories are actually totally true, because the world is just that weird sometimes). Nobody believes it was just one gunman on the grassy knoll, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that JFK was killed in a vast conspiracy involving the CIA, the Mafia and Nazis.

In the mind of the hardcore theorist, 9/11 is a symbol of unrestrained government power, Roswell represents the most terrible of secrets and Marilyn Monroe’s death showed that even the world’s most famous woman wasn’t safe from hideous and powerful forces.

They’re all good stories, even if the truth is almost always a lot messier, and far less interesting.

Strange events invariably occur around a world-changing moment, and can appear as proof of some terrible conspiracy. Unfortunately, explanations can often end up being a bit stranger – and more mundane – than expected.

Errol Morris summed this all up nicely in a short film he did about the Umbrella Man and his connection to the John F Kennedy assassination. After decades of assumptions and conjecture, it turned out the man who raised an umbrella on a sunny Dallas day in November wasn’t concealing a gun, or signalling for somebody to open fire. He was just making an obscure point about the dangers of political appeasement. Nobody could have predicted that, and it’s so dully unlikely, nobody would ever make it up, giving it the ring of truth in the white noise of speculation.

Even the smartest of us can see patterns where none exist. Noam Chomsky is a fabulous thinker – on both language and the merits of human compassion – but there is still a moment in the Manufacturing Consent film documentary, where he talks about a systematic suppression of certain information by major media outlets, and comes to the logical conclusion that there is some kind of collusion going on, because that’s the only way to explain the numbers he comes up with.

The only person to argue against his point in the film is a senior journalist who points out that omission or misreporting was almost always down to some kind of fuck-up, rather than some grand plan. He says you can’t get five people working in any newsroom anywhere in the world to unequivocally agree on anything, let alone systematically defraud everybody about everything.

But Chomsky was right and could prove it with evidence, because he was coming from an academic background, where it is perfectly acceptable for a Phd student to spend days or weeks or months tracking down the right reference, digging up the right data, and cross-checking it over and over again. And he was applying that kind of thinking to an environment where nobody wants to get their facts wrong and barely consider any political agenda, but damn it, the subs need page three right fuckin’ now, and people working under that kind of time pressure do make mistakes, and omissions, and the facts might come out unbalanced, one way or the other, because no system is in perfect equilibrium.

Of course, I work in a daily newspaper newsroom, so I’m obviously part of the problem. But if I was guilty of all the bias I’m accused of on a daily basis by our beloved readers, I only got one question: Where’s my fucking cheque?

I have some friends who still go on and on about things like remote viewing and hidden aliens when we’ve all had a few beers, and it’s not as easy to smile and nod politely as it once was.

The fevered righteousness of many theorists can be deeply off-putting. Room 237 – the documentary about the theories surrounding Kubrick’s The Shining - almost lost me when one of the contributors starts talking about how he is being followed by the Government because he’s proven that The Shining is Kubrick’s attempt to reveal he faked the moon landing footage, and they’re scared of him exposing the truth, and it’s s bit of a sour taste in a relatively sweet doco.

I put up with it, because I’m sure there were times when I shared the same ideas, even if they just seem more and more implausible and silly every year. I also put up with them because they’re often terrific fictional stories.

As long as you don’t actually believe they’re true, conspiracy theories can be vastly entertaining. The X-Files was way too serious for me, but tapped into pre-millennium paranoia with a deft hand. I loved the ‘What if all the theories were all true’ attitude of The Invisibles, (and I admit I’m watching that clock nervously). And I think the Big Book of Conspiracies is the single best thing in DC’s fucking excellent Big Book series.

After all, it’s aliens and other vast, eldritch forces imposing their wills on a blind humanity. They’re stories of brave individuals who exposed the truth, often with tragic (and poetic) consequences, and they show that the universe isn't a meaningless series of events. 

Yesterday somebody rang up the newsroom to tell me I obviously had a pro-Government agenda because one of the 200 headlines we had on the site that day said ‘rail loop’ instead of ‘rail link’, and the day before I got an email telling me that the climate change story I’d put up on the website was obvious proof of a socialist agenda, and I can’t tell what side I’m supposed to be on in the situation on the Gaza strip this week.

So I obviously can't be trusted.

But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a good spooky story or two.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This is my one lucky prize

I used to feel so alone in this cold, cold world, and comics didn't fill that aching, endless void in my soul.  But they helped!

Isolation, gone
Originally posted March 10, 2012

I still find it a little weird to be in a town that has comic shops, and I still think it’s a novelty to talk about comic books on the internet with people who care about them just as much as I do, if not more.

Things haven’t always been this way, and I’m still getting used to it.

When I was teenager and going through my peak comic period - at a time when I was utterly obsessed with all the comics in the world - I lived in a town of 3000 people near the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, right there on the arse of the world. Apart from my mate Kyle, whose enthusiasm for X-Men and 2000ad occasionally outshone my own, the idea of talking about comics with other people always seemed so... unlikely.

It was always fun to talk to Kyle about what happened when Rogue went through the Siege Perilous, or what was in Kano’s black box, but his tastes were particular, when I was into everything, and as far as I could tell, there was nobody else in the town of Temuka who cared about Mark Bagley and Dan Clowes in equal measure.

So I kept it all to myself. It probably didn’t do much for my social skills, and may explain why I unload so much of this crap on the blog now, (self awareness go!), but comics became something internal. I got right out of the habit of talking about them with anybody, content to live in my own little head with Black Panther and the Katzenjammer Kids. Like Warren Ellis liked to say, when it comes to comics, we all Come In Alone.

It wasn’t a case of never talking about comics with people, I was always up with discussion of particular comics with particular people, or giving specific comics to people who asked for them, but in general, it was all internalised.

Things are a bit different now.

I first came out of that weird shell a bit when I went to my first comic shop and talked to people.

It took me a long time to get to my first comic shop, and another decade before I could get to one regularly, and it was only then that I meet people who also really liked Grendel comics. Go to the same place often enough, and people remember you, and you get to talk about stuff you have in common.

But even that became off-putting: While there were good people, comic shops also hired people who managed to be more socially awkward than I was, and I never got into the habit of hanging around the shop and talking shit about this week’s new releases. I became a grab-‘em-and-go guy. Give me my fix and I’m out the door.

And even though I was now surrounded by like-minded geeks in the store every week, there still weren’t that many. It was all part of the geographical isolation of living in New Zealand, right there at the bottom of the world. They cost three times as much as they do in America and distribution can be decidedly dodgy, so comics have been an extremely niche market around here since the mid 1980s.

There still weren’t that many people to talk about comic books with, down in my tiny corner of the world. So far from the rest of the world, so far from anywhere.

All of that didn’t mean anything once I got on the internet.

The first thing I did when I got on the internet for the very first time was look up comic books.

This was 1995, so there wasn’t much to choose from, and I didn’t know where to look. I remember the first thing I found was a new review of a recent Superman comic, and I remember how chuffed I was to soon find a comic news site that updated once a week. (I think it was called Mania or something, and I have a vague feeling it eventually turned into Newsarama, but I could be getting totally mixed up there.)

Then I found websites solely devoted to Alan Davis and Matt Wagner and Kingdom Come, and that last one somehow became Comic Book Resources, and that’s when I really realised I wasn’t alone.

I got deep into the message board culture there for a couple of years in the late nineties at CBR. There were other places, but Alvaro’s boards (which I was just slightly stunned to discover still exist) was a bit too Eltingville Comic Book Science Fiction Fantasy Horror And Role Playing Club, and the Comics Journal message board (which changed and changed and died) was too Northwest Comix Collective, while CBR was just the right mix of dorkiness, politeness and obsession for all things comics.

I posted every day and spent time in a chat room (for the first and lat time.) I called myself Max Zero, because I really dug Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob, and because I like names with x’s and z’s in them. I got into it so much that it led to an unfortunate fan fiction phase, which we will never speak of again. (Although I always think I’ve got another Therapeutic Skin Jobs in me…)

And I wasn’t alone. If I’m one in a million, that still means there is hundreds of me on the net, and I became great friends with people I still haven’t met in real life. All those interests and perspectives that I had were hardly unique, and it was wonderful to find people who I could talk to about the latest Love and Rockets, or argue over the new Justice League line-up, or be inspired to check out Akira.

That kind of enthusiasm always fades, and I moved on from all that a while back. I last posted on CBR in 2006, and that was after a break of a couple of years. I still post on a semi-private message board used by those first CBR message boarders, and it’s comfortable, a nice place to discuss things like Before Watchmen without having to make some kind of public declaration on the issue.

But over the years, I became far more interested in blogs. I still love nothing more than a great link blog, but I mainly enjoy the essay-type blogs, where somebody takes the time to construct some kind of argument, or point of view.

Which leads me back, as always to the Tearoom of Despair. I’ve written more than half a million words for this blog over the past couple of years, and met some lovely new people through it, and I still feel weirdly privileged to write about the comics I love and share that adoration with the world, especially when the people who make them get to see my thoughts.

I never thought I’d get to talk – or write – about this stuff, or that anybody would even give a damn.

Ellis was right, and the act of reading a comic is a solitary experience. But that doesn’t mean we can’t babble on about it afterwards, and how it was moving, or irritating, or exciting. There is a connection between everybody who ever liked Spider-Man comics, let alone anybody - like me - who obsessed over something as relatively marginal as the Infinity Gauntlet.

Sometimes I still find it hard to talk about the things I love. Sometimes I really can’t find the words. But I’m getting better at trying to put all those stupid feelings that comics generate into words, and with the gently biting banter at the local shop. Because I get more chances to talk about these things, and more chances to get the attention of an audience who know what the hell I'm talking about. Because I've grown up, and gotten a lot better at small talk. And because I know I’m not alone any more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bisley's bizness

Simon Bisley will never die!

Originally posted November 10, 2011

Well look, I’m never going to be the best judge of Simon Bisley’s artwork, because I was 14 years old when I opened up an issue of 2000ad and was confronted by THIS:

So after THAT, he had me hooked for life, and I love everything he does. He caught my eye with the sleekest Joe Pineapples and meanest Blackblood in ABC Warrior history, I got every issue of Lobo he ever did, and bought a couple of issues of Doom Patrol even though I had them in a collected edition, just because I wanted those beautiful Bisley covers. I’ve got the insane Melting Pot comics, and Bad Boy and the one issue of Global Frequency he did and I love ‘em all.

From several interviews he has given, Bisley has laughed at the idea of formal art training, and this uneducated enthusiasm is there in everything he does. The Biz is part of that breed of artist who believe power is an entirely reasonable substitute for craft. Fortunately, he is also one of those artists who has talent to burn, and he often sets it alight for fun, right there on the page.

With the type of projects he chooses, this style of art isn’t just a benefit, it’s absolutely essential. There is no way Lobo would have become so popular in the early nineties without that extreme and sloppy Bisley art, and the wild freedom to do anything - unconstrained by things like artistic logic or reality - made those Doom Patrol covers the best looking comics on the stands.

This is nothing new, but as time has gone on, his influence has settled in more deeply, even if it’s not as obvious as it once was. It’s almost impossible to underestimate Bisley’s impact on British action comic art in the early nineties.  Dozens of artists started chasing after that rush of Biz that came from those very first paintings of the Horned God, even if like all the best drugs, nothing beat that original high.

In the aftermath of that first Bisley explosion, he was seen glowering in interviews behind dark glasses, long hair and a fucking big motorbike. Bisley was one of the few real superstar artists 2000ad ever produced, but while somebody like Brian Bolland forced everybody who followed him to be as clean and detailed as possible, Bisley inspired others to go crazy with the paintbrush. Look at any random issue of 2000ad a couple of years after the Horned God’s debut, and you can guarantee that at least 60 per cent of it will be muddily painted art (which looked like crap on 2000ad’s cheap paper.)

There were diminishing returns in this style: artists as diverse as Clint Langley, Carl Critchlow and video director Chris Cunningham all started out by being told to ‘do a Bisley’, before they all found artistic success by branching out into their own style.

One of the great things about Bisley, and something many of his initial imitators struggled with, was that he didn’t do everything in just one style – his work on Slaine is very, very different from his work on Lobo, which is very, very different from his work on Melting Pot, even though they all share the same vigorous vulgarity.

Even on Slaine, he would switch between lush, painted vistas and crude, ugly penciled faces to devastating effect. Some projects have been rushed and incoherent, others have been fully painted, and his overall style has seen several major evolutionary leaps.

Twenty-two years on from Prog 626, and Bisley is still doing the business. After years of relative quiet, during which he did the odd album cover for Danzig and comics for companies with names like Berserker and Full Cirkle, he has been chipping in on Peter Milligan’s Hellblazer comics over the past couple of years, resulting in drawings of the main character that look like this:

And this:

And this:

Hellblazer is currently blessed with the talent of Giuseppe Camuncoli, an artist who is making a mighty contribution to the comic with his moody and blocky art. As the series’ regular artist, he has taken on Milligan’s own brand of effete and spooky madness with glee.

But Bisley has also done some typically stunning covers, and the odd story inside, and this is a new Biz entirely.

It’s still the same square jaws and goofy kicking, still the same wired and aggressive body language, still the same odd splashes of colour. There is still plenty of devious energy and loads of evil sly looks and wicked grins and angry old punks spitting their anger at the old fascist enemy. There is also still some crazy exaggerated poses being thrown about, but it has all been suitably toned down, and the stories take place in a recognisably dirty England that is haunted by too many old ghosts, and defended by one cranky old git.

Because it’s also more restrained, with a newly murky palette from his colouring collaborators highlighting this restraint. All this craziness never comes at the expense of the story, and never overwhelms the tale it is telling. While this has been obvious in Young Bisley’s work, the ongoing dedication to just telling a well-crafted story is absolutely admirable. His storytelling skills have aged like a fine wine, and while that browner tone is the most obvious indication of Bisley’s evolution, it’s the panel-to-panel transitions that really show the maturity.

In some time travel-related parts of the current Hellblazer run, the reinvigorating shock of seventies punk is captured perfectly by Bisley (who would only have been a teenager at the time) in scratchy gloom. Kevin O’Neill did something similar to terrific effect in the dying pages of the most recent league of Extraordinary gentlemen, (although that example was particularly shocking after the psychedelic apocalypse in a London part).

While Bisley is proudly part of a long line of British artist who specialise in the grotesque (which includes artists like O’Neill and Critchlow), he is still very much his own man, doing his own thing. It grows and matures, but it is always, always unmistakably the Bizness.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fables: 20-up

The end of Fables is in sight, with some long-running plot threads starting to tie up, and I'll be genuinely sad to see it go, but at least we'll have 20+ collections to go back to....

Fables: 18-up
Originally posted Jan 19, 2013

It’s a little disconcerting to realise that when Hellblazer comes to an untimely end soon, Fables will be the longest-running title with consecutive numbering published by DC. It’s around the 125-issue mark - seventeen collections and dozens of spin-off volumes - and the only DC title in triple figures. Nothing else comes close.

It’s not the actual numbers that are weird – comic numbering is just a matter of marketing these days - it’s the realisation that Fables has been trucking along for a good decade now. Bill Willingham’s story still feels like one of the new kids of the Vertigo line, when it’s really an old man.

Fortunately, even after 10 years, it’s still a quietly entertaining mix of conflict, humour, fairy tales and humanity, with some of the most consistently gorgeous art in mainstream comics.

It is widely regarded that Fables stopped being an essential read once the Great War it was leading to was actually dealt with, but I’ve found the post-empire Fables comics to be far more interesting. With the inevitable success of the rebellion, the comic moved into a more uncertain era, as the collapse of a multi-realm empire turned out to have some unexpected consequences.

The immediate effect of the aftermath was that everything went wrong almost immediately, and the main characters, (those who weren’t slaughtered), were sent running for their lives from an impossibly powerful villain.

But even that storyline wrapped up a year or so ago, with one of the primal forces of the universe sacrificing itself for love. But things remained grim, with the most recent storyline putting a bunch of children through terrible ordeals. 

Just like in the old stories.

Fortunately, Fables isn’t always depressingly dour, with plenty of lighter periods in the comic’s history. And while it has certainly been a pretty grim comic for the past couple of years, it’s never been gritty, thanks to Willingham’s deftly light touch, and to the lovely artwork from Mark Buckingham.

The first few years of the title saw several changes in artists, although clean clarity – with just a touch of individual style - was always the main goal, giving the fantastical a grounding in something like reality. But Buckingham has been the main artist for some time now, and is still clearly relishing the chance to draw all kinds of heroes and monsters in all kinds of settings, something new every month.

Buckingham was a ferocious experimenter in his youth, with comics like Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman giving him the chance to play with a bewildering amount of styles. But he soon settled in a clear, flowing line that gives his figurework a malleable freedom, while never obfuscating or overwhelming the script.

When they do get some guest artists in, it’s people with similar stylish simplicity, like P Craig Russell or Zander Cannon or Adam Hughes or Shawn McManus or Gene Ha. But it’s Buckingham who has been the main artistic force behind Fables in its latter years, and who continues to keep it looking so good.

It would be difficult for anybody to find hard faults in Buckingham’s work, but Willingham’s story isn’t so universally admired. Some readers can’t get past the writer’s politics, and read hidden agendas in the most innocuous of storylines (or, in the case of something like the Israel analogy Willingham did once, can see the obvious agenda in the most obvious storyline). Other critics have written off Fables as a bit twee, or a bit over-simplified, or a bit rambling.

But with Fables, Willingham – whose superhero comics are always a bit clumsy and weak – has found a voice that delivers an entertaining and thoughtful take on the concept. The whole idea of fairy tales in the real world is nothing new, and there have been several television shows that have shamelessly taken Willingham’s ideas and done their own stories around the same concept, but they do not have the same light touch as Fables.

It isn’t the crazy idea of things like Snow White and the Big Bad wolf being a happy couple in modern New York that makes Fables so appealing, it’s the characters of Snow and Bigby, and the way they interact, and talk, and love, and fight, and would die for each other. Flycatcher’s journey from lowly janitor to the greatest of kings is genuinely moving, and the death of Little Boy Blue leaves an aching hole in the middle of the story.

There are still some spectacular set pieces and real humanity, in there among people who aren’t even remotely human, but Willingham will just as often swerve left when the story is going right, and enjoys cutting off the set piece at the knees, to focus on the effects on the main characters.

And they are main characters who grow and change, even if they stay the same physically. The fact that Fables more or less takes place in real time is a real rarity in regular, monthly comics, and the characters who aren’t in the comic for a couple of years go of and have a couple of years worth of life, unseen by the reader, is one of the storytelling techniques that make Love and Rockets such essential reading, down through the years.

Regular character building over a decade of monthly comics is always going to produce some depth, and Willingham and his artistic partners have used that depth to their advantage, giving the heroes and villains of Fables – all of whom are centuries old - new life..

I was deeply fond of the Jack of Fables spin-off and bought every issue, because it could have gone anywhere, and usually did. But I also wasn’t that gutted when it reached a natural conclusion with its fiftieth issue. It was a joke that had run its course, and it fittingly ended by literally blowing up the vast cast the series had built up over four-and-a-bit years.

Even though a few of the characters have had their happy endings in recent issues, Fables still shows no signs of stopping, and even if Vertigo does finally fade away, DC would be extremely foolish not to keep it going.

It might have reached its own natural conclusion when the great and evil Empire was destroyed, but there are always more stories to be found in the happily ever after.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Justice League: More than laffs

Still my favourite Justice League ever, because it's the only one that feels like it has actual human beings in it...

Justice League Awesome
Originally posted March 18, 2012

It’s always a little bit disappointing when the Giffen-DeMatteis-Maguire-Hughes-Templeton-Medley-Hefler Justice League is written off as all jokes, no feeling - because you can get so much more out of it than the bwah-ha-ha’s.

There is no denying that it could sometimes be a sublimely goofy comic, but it’s easy to forget that after years of terribly serious Justice League comics (that came to a dead end in Detroit, it was a welcome change of pace to have a few laughs at that time.

Especially when the 60 issues of Justice League/International/America – published between May 1987 and March 1992 – were crafted by creators with impeccable comic timing, an occasionally sublime depiction of exaggerated body language and some terrific banter.

Whether it was Mister Miracle's embarrassment after he came crashing through every floor of the Justice League embassy after assuming the roof could take the weight of the League's transport, or Guy’s adoration of General Glory, or the ongoing humiliations of poor old Blue Beetle, or the infamous 'one punch', or Kooeykooeykooey kurrency, or the skill of the punch-line set-ups that filled almost every issue, there were plenty of chuckles to be found.

But those laughs were more than just light relief - they humanised these four-colour superheroes in new and different ways. If you laughed along with Booster Gold, you ended up genuinely caring for Booster Gold. This version of the Justice League is still loved and enjoyed by many comic readers, and not just because it made them laugh, but because it made them care.

Born out of Legends, another fairly dire mega-crossover, Justice League International quickly found its own feet as a quirky, charming and occasionally dead serious superhero comic somewhere in the late 1980s. Rising from the ruins of the Detroit League, who were all systemically and heartlessly wiped out by mad old Professor Ivo, it brought together a group of DC heroes that managed to seem both entirely random and meticulously planned.

There were the standard old faces like Batman and the Martian Manhunter, some new characters to the League like Blue Beetle (recently arrived from Earth Charlton), Mister Miracle, Guy Gardner and Booster Gold; and a mix of both with the all new-all different Doctor Light & Black Canary, and Captain Marvel.

The series started off as a typically earnest and surprisingly silly late eighties super-comic, with the team taking on nuclear terrorism and the Royal Flush Gang, but under Giffen and DeMatteis' guiding hands, it quickly became something else. 'Moving Day' in issue eight helped set the template for the rest of the series, with the creators - and readers - having just as much fun with an issue focused on the heroes moving into their new headquarters as they would with another supervillan punch-up.

Not that there was any shortage of punching, with even team members often taking a swing at each other, but it was the quiet issues of Justice League, in-between the big battles, that gave the book most of its charm. Things approaching tenderness and genuine feeling could be found here, like the oddly touching sweetness of the Guy/Ice relationship, or moments where good friends were mourned.

But while it was undeniably goofy and arguably moving, it could also be deadly serious, and racked up a horribly high body count for a series remembered mainly for its giggling fits – entire villages of innocent Europeans were wiped out, Despero suddenly became some sort of avatar of homicide and slaughtered a hero’s family, and a street thug corrupted by an Apokalyptic mega-rod murdered dozens of his friends and even more policemen.

All that grimness was made darker by the lightness of other moments, and gave everything some context.
And it wasn’t just a case of goofy or grim, this Justice League worked on a number of interesting levels - some of the Biayalan mind control moments were truly disturbing, and the first Grey Man’s mission to de-saturate the world took an unexpected emotional term when he actually got what he wanted, as Giffen's mad ideas medlded perfectly with DeMatteis' humanism to create something new.

All of this was rendered by a cracking art team, with the usual brilliance of Magurie replaced by the lovely flowing lines of Adam Hughes. Linda Medley did some lovely work in the last couple of years, names like Mike McKone started to pop up, and there were interesting efforts from some slightly unexpected artists like Trevor Von Eeden or Kyle Baker.

This high quality of art is one of the signs of the brilliant work of editor Andy Helfer – the great unsung hero of this particular slice of comic history. As well as picking the right artists for the right story, Helfer also knew how to balance out the light and dark stories, and, most importantly, knew when to cut back on all that fabled dialogue.

His ruthless cutting pruned out a lot of it, and you only have to look at the new efforts by Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire that came out in ‘03 and ‘05, where the stories started staggering under the weight of their own cleverness, with no editor willing to tell these comic legends that they need to wipe out at least half of their precious dialogue.

Not that it was all perfect in the eighties and very early nineties – A lot of the gags just got too repetitive, the whole General Glory thing was a good one-issue laugh, but not a whole arc of its own; a lot of the gags just got too repetitive; the extension of the comic into those quarterly issues showed that a Mr Nebula story might be bloody funny for 22 pages, but an 80-pager was asking a bit much, and a lot of the gags just got too repetitive.

And some G'Nort - and I ALWAYS love to see G'Nort in a comic - was always a bit too much G'Nort....

But even with all its faults, this Justice League still has its own style that make sit endlessly enjoyable.  The DC Universe was an interesting place during these years it ran, where superhero comics were changing into their adolescent phase, and willing to try anything.

By the time Justice League #1 debuted, the DC Universe had got far enough past the Crisis on Infinite Earths to have complexity, without becoming convoluted, while it was also a period where individual point of views from creators actually seemed more important than corporate visions, (a status quo that lasted for at least a couple of years before the monetary-based status quo slotted back into place). 

So this was a comic that could have desperate battles to save the world rubbing up against off-kilter appearances by Darkseid (chilling with a cup of tea and a copy of Mein Kamf), or a night out on the town with G’Nort and Kilowog.

The surprising success of this style and tone invariably seeped into the wider DCV universe – this Justice league led the way into Invasion, still one of the most creatively successful crossover events, and the bantering dialogue suddenly appeared in all sorts of DC books.

This kind of bickering banter did feel new and interesting at the time. This style was well established in TV sitcoms, but rarely appeared in superhero comics, and under the right hands, it turned out to be a very neat fit. It might not have been for everyone, especially when comic readers were used to heroes showing their emotions by the way they put their hands on their hips.

The endless banter even got the better of some characters, with both Hawkman and Booster Gold unable to take it any more at different points, the characters speaking for readers who were upset that this wasn’t “their” Justice League, who still longed for the days of posing and gritted teeth, and just weren’t comfortable with an angst-free superhero.

But the great thing about super heroes is that there is plenty of room for all sorts of interpretations, and the Justice League’s  mixture of utter seriousness and utter silliness meant that over that five years, anything was possible, including the ability to care about these super people.

This was the most amazing fact about this incarnation of the League - even though he was an insensitive and boorish jerk, you actually liked Guy Gardner, or you cared about Blue Beetle’s waistline, or you wanted Booster come back to the team – where he belonged.

All that affection for that period of the Justice League has been strip-mined away in the years since, blown away for cheap shocks and idiotic reboots, with the most obvious use when Max Lord was revealed a master villain in a black polo shirt, callously gunning down poor ol’ Ted Kord.

Turning Max into a dull supervillian was supposed to be some great, clever twist, but it just made me feel like a fool, because like all the DC superheroes, I actually gave a shit when Max was shot and nearly killed in Breakdowns.

He sure fooled me, and it can’t help but retroactively tarnish the original stories. There have been periodic attempts to rehabilitate the characters that appeared in this Justice League run, and tap into any of that fondness that may still exist in current readers.

Unsurprisingly, the most successful were the (still-flawed) I can’t Believe it’s Not The Justice League and Formerly Known as the Justice League, but any other attempt to integrate these more light-hearted characters into the dark and moaning normal DC universe in the past decade are doomed to failure.

There is no place for a light touch here. (This includes the current New 52 effort by Dan Jurgens, which misses the point of all those original stories with spectacular cluelessness, but which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, with the same writer leeching most of the fun out of the Justice League as soon as Giffen and DeMatteis were done, nearly 20 years ago.)

I came late to the JLI. Even though I got the first issue when it was brand new, and picked up the random issue every now and again, I didn’t start getting it every month until the last year of the run, and almost all of my collection was collected out of back issue bins.

It took nearly a decade to fill those gaps (and even now, I’m short a couple of issues of the Justice League Europe), and I’ve never been tempted to get rid of any of this issues in the periodic purges of my superhero comics.

Because these Justice League comics still make me laugh, and they still make me care about the characters. Two decades after they first started bwah-ha-ha-ing, these comics have stood the test of time with humour and humanity.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Haters still hate, bless them....

I prefer writing about things I like, rather than things I don't, because life is too bloody short to worry about the rubbish. But I still really don't understand why people get angry with different perspectives, because listening other people's views, and maybe even learning something from them, is kinda what we're put on this world to do.... 

You're allowed to be a hater 
Originally posted June 10, 2013

Slagging people off is a great way to get page views, and I've got the stats to prove it. But I still try to keep my moaning to a minimum.

Of course, I’m as guilty of purely irrational negativity as much as anybody when it comes to my entertainments, and sometimes I hate everybody and everything they do, (and who doesn't?),  but I’m not really that interested in bitching about things too much in my writing here at the Tearoom, where the Despair is strictly ironic in a very-1992 way.

But you shouldn’t let that stop you from complaining about a comic or a movie or a TV show or a song you don't like. After all, anyone who insists that everybody should have the same opinion as them is a bloody fascist.

I'm not the only one who can't help reading poor reviews of things they love – reading negative reviews of the new Star Trek movie is like picking at a scab, because I fucking loved that movie – but I've still read plenty of them, and can take on the criticism. I doubt they will impact on my enjoyment of the film when I do see it again, even if I agree with some of the critical points.

But there are still some specific types of lazy criticism that still annoy the piss out of me, including, but not limited to:

* People saying Grant Morrison comics are full of weirdness for weirdness' sake, as if that was a bad thing. That's been wheeled out since the late eighties, and is looking pretty fucking dusty.

* Blind parroting of critical consensus, Everyone else is saying the same thing, so why not follow the herd over a cliff?

* This is a purely personal one, and it's a Doctor Who thing, but I've seen a lot of hip young Americans complain that a programme aimed at ten-year-old British kids doesn't meet their standards over the past couple of months. I still think it's pretty funny sometimes, but it's now definitely in the world of the obvious.

* A tendency to nitpick a film to pieces over pedantic shite. It's something that is especially prevalent in dork culture., but even my favourite (and non-genre) films of all time wouldn't stand up to that kind of pissy scrutiny.

* Any review that comes soaked in 21st century entitlement, filled with but-that's-not-what-I-wanted and here's-how-I'd-do-it.

* And, most of all, I can’t stand it when it gets personal.

So I was at these drinks a few weeks ago and I’m talking to Steve, somebody who was introduced to me as “someone who likes that geek shit too”, and within 30 seconds of the conversation starting, I already knew he was a wanker, because he said Deadwood was shit, and then he confirmed it when I made the mistake of saying the ending of Lost wasn't that bad, and that started him on a rant about Damon Lindelof, (except he kept pronouncing it Damon Lindhoff), and that's always a bad sign, because bitching about plot and script is an easy way for dumb people to look smart, and because everybody thinks they can do a better job than the writer, because that's not a skill or anything, and his rant was pretty epic, and got quite personal and insulting towards artists that failed to adequately entertain Steve, and it was an internet troll attack in real life, which I'd never even seen before, and he finished it all off with the sentence – “Damon Lindhoff can suck my cock off!”, and I genuinely didn't know what to say about that, and it was a bit uncomfortable, so I just took a sip of my beer instead.

Tsk. Steve.

But like I said, this was something that I hadn't actually seen in real life before, because it's remarkably easy to avoid this sort of thing in our multi-media world. I don't have to listen to the same boring old arguments, or irrational hatred, or general shit stirring. It's easy enough to find people who share the same opinion as me, and can back up everything I say, and it's easy to find trusted critics who can point out the flaws without getting bogged down in the usual complaints.

But there is one other group who really get my hackles up, and that's the hater-haters who insist everyone should see things they way they do. These tiny fascists, who insist that everybody has to love the sane thing they love, are even more annoying than the laziest of lazy critics.

There is a definite strain of it in most fandoms, and I see it all the time in both the world of comics and Doctor Who (which are the only two fandoms I can bear to really follow). They're relentless cheerleaders for something dorky, who fly off the handle at any criticism. Strictly speaking, I’m on often their side, because we both love the same thing. But I’m not on their side when they refuse to even entertain the possibility that somebody else might dig it as much as us. As if the lowest common denominator, which would be necessary to gain a universal audience, was something to aspire to.

One of the things I find endlessly irritating about geek culture is the absolutism of it all. Even though 80 per cent of everything falls within the boundaries of “okay”, it has to be the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever, with no room for the vast grey area in between. Likewise, many feel that they have to absolutely love or absolutely hate some small piece of entertainment, and are outraged that others might not feel the way they do, which is a pretty fucking stupid thing to be outraged by.

I can accept that people don't like the same things I do – I've been reading comics since I was three, and I'm a life-long fan of Doctor Who, so I'm certainly used to people slagging off the things I like.

But I can still disagree with them, even if they are my favourite critics. I respect where they’re coming on, and take their comments on board. I still think they’re wrong, but they’re equally convinced that I’m wrong, so it all balances out.

I can disagree with people easily enough, and can appreciate other points of view. And I can even safely ignore the kind of lazy criticsms that just drive me crazy.But I'm certainly not saying that they shouldn't be allowed to have a different opinion from me. You're allowed to be a hater, even if you're wrong, and don't let anybody tell you anything different.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Living through the DVD apocalypse

Sometime in the mid-nineties, I had a rental video copy of the fantastically violent Australian film Turkey Shoot stolen from my car, and I had to pay the rental store almost $80 to replace it. Last week, I found a DVD copy of the same film going for three bucks at a closedown sale. I'll be sad when all those stores are gone, but I'm making the most of 'em while I can...

So I go a little mental when video shops close down 
Originally posted June 26, 2012 

I know we’re all supposed to be into the minimalism of digital these days, but I like stuff. And I find the experience of browsing a bookcase full of chunky comics, esoteric novels and endless DVDs to be absolutely preferable to skipping through a computer folder. It’s an aesthetics thing.

So when a local video store went under recently, and sold off his catalogue of titles for $2 each, I went a little crazy on it and bought 30 movies (and a Doctor Who DVD). I also appreciate the irony of digital killing the video store.

They were all totally worth two bucks.


1. Kill List 

It was totally worth two bucks because: Kill List is probably my favourite film of the past year. I dig that deeply creepy vibe, and by the time the main characters are running away from crazy people in animal masks through pitch-dark tunnels, I was really, truly, terrified as fuck. It stars The Yawning Horror That Lurks In The Afternoon Sun, and Tyres from Spaced. The first time I watched it, I had nightmares for days, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give anything.


2. Fearless Vampire Killers 

It was totally worth two bucks because: I’ve never seen it before. I haven’t seen a lot of early Polanski, even though it’s always rewarding when I finally get around to it.


3. Jackass 3

It was totally worth two bucks because: If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough. And people getting smacked in the face in ultra-slow motion is always, always funny.


4. Matewan

It was totally worth two bucks because: John Sayles somehow makes worthy films that don’t feel like they’re bashing you around the head with the Worthy Stick, probably because he never forgets the little triumphs and humour in everyday life, while pointing a righteous finger at societal injustice.


5. 28 Weeks Later 

It was totally worth two bucks because: I have a definite fondness for 28 Weeks Later, because it has got one or two incredibly good sequences, and I remember seeing a giant poster for it while wandering around a deserted London at six in the morning, which was all kinds of unsettling. But I never bought it until it was too cheap to refuse because I hate the ending so much, mainly because it suggests that the American army’s blunt cruelty was actually right after all.


6. Diary of the Dead 

It was totally worth two bucks because: Diary of the Dead is even worse than 28 Week Later, filled with unlikeable characters and painfully obvious metaphors, but it’s still a George Romero zombie film, so there is always something. Hello, weird deaf Amish farmer with a big box of dynamite!


7. Somers Town

It was totally worth two bucks because: I never miss a Meadows film.


8. In the Name of The Father

It was totally worth two bucks because: When Gerry goes out the front door of the courthouse, I always want to rush out and punch a policeman in the face (with joy, not anger). Top soundtrack, too.


9. Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors 

It was totally worth two bucks because: The Amicus portmanteau horror movies are always worth a look – even if one of the stories is rubbish, it doesn’t matter, because a new one will be along soon enough. And they all have that weird seventies vibe that I do find creepily unsettling. But even with all that love and even though I saw things like The House That Dripped Blood and Tales From The Crypt years ago, I never saw this one, because I really thought it was a piss-take with a title like that. Turns out they were dead serious, which just makes it funnier.


10. The Guard

It was totally worth two bucks because: The smile on Brendan Gleeson’s face at the very end of The Guard is the single greatest enigmatic smile in cinema since the end of O Lucky Man! Plus, Mark Strong is awesome. Double-plus, the DVD comes with a terrific short film, which somehow has half the cast of Game of Thrones in it.


11. Machete

It was totally worth two bucks because: “Machete improvise.”


12. The Castle 

It was totally worth two bucks because: The Castle is easily the second best Australian film ever made, (after Mad Max 2, obviously). Endlessly quotable and genuinely heart-warming.


13. Taste the Blood of Dracula 

It was totally worth two bucks because: Somewhere towards the end of this film marks the exact moment the Hammer Dracula films went from ‘Not that bad actually’ to ‘that was bloody awful’, and all the hamfisted attempts to make it groovy by moving it into the modern day never got that mojo back.


14. The Lives of Others 

It was totally worth two bucks because: The bit at the end when you see the dedication in the book breaks my fuckin’ heart every time.


15. Die Hard

It was totally worth two bucks because: Die Hard is absolutely one of my favourite movies ever, thanks to an airtight script, some terrific action staging and unexpected moments of real humanity. But it was so easily available that I never got around to actually buying it, because I knew I would some day, and kept putting it off. I kept seeing it cheaper and cheaper, and still didn’t get it, but by the time it got down to a couple of bucks, I had no excuse. Which is a really, really boring way of saying I love this motherfuckin' film like it was my own child.


16. Die Hard 2: DIE HARDER

It was totally worth two bucks because: It didn’t have an airtight script, the action was often clumsy and real humanity got lost in the snow, but I still love the way John McClane spits out insults and other shit-talk under his breath when he’s fighting for his life.


17. Master of the Flying Guillotine 

It was totally worth two bucks because: That is one crazy-ass weapon, and some even crazier foley effects.


18. Red Hill

It was totally worth two bucks because: I like movies where the main character keeps getting the shit kicked out of them, but they just keep getting up. I also like movies where a silent, possibly noble, killer takes out a bunch of horrible people with absolute judgment. And I love movies where some kind of primal force of nature shows up as some sort of metaphysical and metaphorical summation of the whole film. So Red Hill was certainly my type of movie.


19. Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 

It was totally worth two bucks because: It’s probably my favourite of the Powell/Pressburger films, because of the balls it has in not even showing the pivotal duel around which the whole film revolves, and because it’s a remarkably humanist approach to a film made in 1943 that suggests that the enemy isn’t that different from us and that the Germans aren’t that bad, and because Deborah Kerr was smoking hot in an army uniform.


20. Four Lions

It was totally worth two bucks because: “Well, it must be the target. I just shot it!”


21. Be Here to Love Me 

It was totally worth two bucks because: The life story of Townes Van Zandt is depressingly familiar, but man, that voice…


22. Super

It was totally worth two bucks because: The moment where Frank totally loses it at the climactic moment is actually kinda shocking, and even a little bit moving, but it’s the wicked humour that saturates the rest of the movie that makes Super stand out from all the other real-life-superhero-who-is-actually-completely-mental films.


23. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

It was totally worth two bucks because: The messiness of the narrative is a perfect fit for this adaptation of Tristram Shandy, and while it certainly gets far too self-indulgent and self-conscious for its own good, that’s the point of the whole thing. Besides, it’s always fun to see Steve Coogan play Steve Coogan – those moments when he realises he will never be as huge as he thinks he should be are priceless (even if those moments are not as cruel in Tristam Shandy as they are in Coffee & Cigarettes and The Trip).


24. Zombie Holocaust 

It was totally worth two bucks because: Zombie versus shark.


25. Cube 

It was totally worth two bucks because: There just aren’t enough movies that mix up complex mathematical theory and extremely violent gore.


26.  Triangle 

It was totally worth two bucks because: I also always dig films about time travel that end in an eternal paradox that gives everything an absolutely tragic dimension. There aren’t enough of those films either.


27. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures 

It was totally worth two bucks because: The news that they are actually, seriously, going to make a new Bill and Ted film is great news. Bogus Journey is my favourite Bill and Ted film, probably because they play 20 Questions while falling into hell, but Excellent Adventure is still brilliant. I think the films really work because the main characters might be airheaded musicians, but they’re actually genuinely nice guys, and a future based on the philosophy of being excellent to each other is one I’d actually like to live in.  Plus, time travel.


28. Meet the Feebles 

It was totally worth two bucks because: I watched it for the first time in more than a decade the other night, and it was still gross enough to still make me feel a little sick. That’s fairly impressive


29. Silent Running 

It was totally worth two bucks because: Another one I had never seen before, which is just shameful, but it was just the one early seventies cerebral science fiction film that I never quite got around to seeing, (c’mon, there are a lot of them), so I’m fixing that discrepancy now.


30. Lost Highway 

It was totally worth two bucks because: David Lynch likes the fish burger meal at McDonald's with a chocolate shake. But he really likes coffee shops.