Friday, March 31, 2023

The best stuntpeople always make it look clumsy

One of the vital parts of cinema is the art of the physical stunt. Great stuntwork can make the most mediocre film great and the sense of physical peril has been baked into the medium since the glory days of Keaton and Lloyd .

Like all decent people, I have my favourite stuntpeople - Yakima Canutt for the imagination and sheer grit; Vic Armstrong and all the other mad British bastards of the 70s and 80s; even Tom bloody Cruise, who will one day give his life for cinema. 

And the very best ones are those who don't make it look slick. The dance-style that comes with grasps at absolute perfection has its place, but I prefer the ones who make it look clumsy.

In the bluntest of metaphors, it's one of the big differences between Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Lee was always so precise and never made a mistake, while Chan's characters are chaotic, making use of the environment in ways that looks improvised, despite putting in a tonne of work to make it look so good. Jackie is falling all over himself to get away from the bad guys, and somehow getting away with it.

Indiana Jones blunders through his fights and prevails through lateral thinking and outstanding endurance, Bruce Willis in the early Die Hards is always getting banged up. Even John Wick stumbles between the headshots. And the stuntpeople behind this beautifully fumbling action

Because you're never quite sure if they meant to almost fall off that moving car, or if that look of fear on their face as their arm goes up in flame is real. Action can be as messy as life, and the messier the better.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Getting the gang back together

Sometimes I just watch TV reunion specials to see how much greenscreen is going on. Getting a beloved cast back together ain't easy, and sometimes they have to use technological tricks to put everyone in the same room together.

It's the thing that put me off the last couple of Arrested Development series. Considering how highly I rate the first few seasons, I'm still surprised that there is a whole season of the show that I just never saw, but the way Portia de Rossi is clearly yelling at nothing in all of her scenes didn't help.

It's just the way it goes. Everyone has moved on, carved out careers, got their own shows. They come back because it's the place that got them started, and gave them a profile, but they have new schedules to work around.

And yet, even with all these restrictions and distractions, there can be real emotional catharsis in many of these reunions. Something like the Deadwood movie provided an elegant coda to the series, and gave us a last line of dialogue for the ages. Even if it's a bit awkward and weird, sometimes it's just nice to see old friends, and see how they are doing, and if they are okay.

I think about the snow on Charlie Utter's grave a lot.

They will keep doing it, and we all keep falling for it because they are exercises in pure nostalgia, and sometimes that is fine. They might even have some real value, even if they're not really together.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Back on the Dante again

I've been madly scrambling around for new podcasts to listen to after the mighty Wait, What? went off the air. Which is why, along with unrestrained nostalgia, I've been listening to a lot of Roger and Quentin lately.

But if there is something I love as much as hardcore video store nerds telling you about the good shit to watch, it's the Nikolai Dante comic strip, the one thing that got me back into 2000ad when I really thought I was done for good with the galaxy's greatest comic. So of course the Great Dante Readthrough is right up my ally.

The secret weapon on the podcast isn't Simon Fraser, the co-creator and primary artist on Dante, it's his excellent co-host Edie Nugent, who keeps things lively as they power through the Dante saga, especially when Fraser is a dour Scot who likes to have a moan about everything. They're a married couple, so the rapport is natural as she digs out fasincating pieces of trivia behind the series from her grumpy old sod of a husband.

I smashed through the first 20 episodes in a couple of weeks, which might be a bit indulgent. But all things Dante should be indulgent, what's the point otherwise?

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Claremont's mysteries: Let them be

One of the vastly appealing aspects of Chris Claremont's legendary X-Men run were the little mysteries that the writer would ocasionally drop into the saga, and then just leave them sitting there for years and years.

Brilliant in hindsight and undeniably frustrating at the time, Claremont was playing the long game, and left loads of things hanging that were never really explained. He could have Jubilee find an old photo of Wolverine from many years ago, where he's standing in front of some huge futuristic city, and then just move the hell on. (Jubilee's fatphobia hasn't quite aged so well.)

Sometimes it paid off - and after having the mysteries of the Shadow King bubbling away for years, it would all climax with some bloody big explosions on Muir Island - and sometimes it was just some weird aside that could mean anything, because you weren't getting any answers here, bub.

Of course, the original Claremont X-Men ended more than three decades ago now, and I have little doubt that many of these thing were probably answered in one of the thousands of X-Men comic books that have been published since, buried in some bullshit New Mutants mini-series from 2004 or something.

I don't know about any of that, all I have is the enjoyment of this long game when I go back and read these comics, and the way these mysteries could evolve and expand, or be clouded in more revelation, as the months and years rolled on. I'm not going to look it up on wikipedia or anything. I'm happy to let the mysteries remain.

Monday, March 27, 2023

This is what I get at the comic shows now

I do feel really sorry for the poor vendors at the tiny comic market which one of my local stores does every few months, with four or five tables of dudes just selling comics. I go pawing through all their stuff and only buy the bare minimum.

I'm a parent now and have other responsibilities, and while going to things like that is all I really want in life, I do feel bad, because I'm not paying hundreds of dollars for their key issues, I'm buying their most beat-ups Batman comics for a few bucks.

It's not like they don't have good stuff, but it's either things I already own - I've completed several comic runs that had been bugging me for half my life in the past decade - or a lot of comics I owned when I was 16, and I'm just strong enough not to go that far

So what do I get now? I get seven comics for $40, and they're all Marvel and DC There was not a hell of a lot of non-mainstream comics on offer anyway, and I take what I can get. They're just the random few that happened to end up all the way over here in New Zealand, far from their American origins.

But I get some. For a couple of bucks each, I get

  • The first issue of Cable's own comic, because I desperately wanted to read it in 1992, and never got around to it. I bought it in 2023, even though any interest in Cable I have has long since evaporated, because I never get sick of John Romita Jr, especially when he's at his chunkiest. Also I really like the use of pink on the cover. More covers full of carnage should have a neon pink background.
  • The 19th issue of Orion from 2001 had my attention with the fact it's Walt Simonson doing a Joker infestation of the Fourth World, but what really got my interest was this cover blurb: 'Tales of the New Gods by Eddie Campbell'.
  • A New Teen Titans that I don't think I've ever read before, an early issue in the direct market volume. I got it because I had never seen that beautifully cheesy George Perez painting before, and sometimes that's all you need. I still miss you, George.
  • A Booster Gold #1,000,000, because I have a terrible feeling I'm going to try and collect all the DC 1M issues, in a futile attempt to grasp onto my youth.

And for ten bucks each, I got these tiny slices of comic gold, in the form of:

  • The Demon #5, because you always gotta get some Kirby.
  • An issue of Not Brand Ecch, which I'm still surprised to discover is an actual comic book
  • Batman #215. I got this for the cover, which has Barbara Godon declare that Batman is unfair to Batgirl - well, he is! - but I've been scared to crack it open, because I don;t wanna know what 1969 creators thought about the hot topic of womnen's lib, especiually when it all looks like it's getting mixed up with 'girls just need marriage to sort themselves out' bullshit

My funds were limited, but that was all I got, but that's where my tastes are right now, a little stuck in the 60s and 90s, and in the weird things off to the side, rather than the big important runs that everybody likes. That's just the way it is right now.

(I really got to stop watching the videos Youtube shoves at me that are full of dealers opening up massive, massive collections of interesting and amazing comics, and seeing the buyer write off most of it as disappointing because they don't have any keys. Fuck yo' keys, man. That run of Superboy by Karl Kesel and Tim Grummet was dope.)

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Marvel Fanfare portfolios #7: June Brigman

June Brigman's work was always a treat, when you could find it. It had so much grace and warmth, and she would always nail any assignment, even if it was annual filler. Her Power Pack is the only real Power Pack, (although Jon Bogdanove comes really, really close).

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Charley's War in the mud

I was rereading a bunch of Judge Dredd megazines from the 2000s recently, and got sucked into Charley's War again, after seeing it reprinted in the Meg of the time. It's impossible to avoid being drawn into it because of the sheer quality, and I've had to read the whole series again.

It's the best war comic ever created. Pat Mills' scripts are still so angry and so very sad, after all these years. The story of a noble and ordinary bloke dealing with the horrors of war - all that pointless death, and all that endless mud. No other comic ever gets as literally filthy as this.

Artist Joe Colquhoun passed away almost 40 years ago now, but he remains unmatched in his ability to draw mud in all its forms. The first world war is full of it - crusted on the uniform, sucking you in, piled up and blow apart and spreading everywhere. Colquhoun's mud is thick and clawing. Everyone is covered in it, and it can be as as perilous as the bullets coming at your face.

Occasionally the comic would get out of the trenches, and show what Charley's cousins and pals were up to in air combat, or out at sea. But it always came back to the trenches, and it always came back to the best mud in comics.

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Hobbit and the compassion of Bilbo

I wanted to like the Hobbit so much. The Lord of the Rings were incredible films, and like the rest of the world, I just wanted more of that sense of epic and emotion. In the end we got something that was overblown and ugly - some weird fuzz filter over everything make it so unreal, away from the real-world hardware aesthetic of the originals.

(There's a great piece of behind the scenes footage where Andy Serkis is doing second unit stuff for the big battle and he has no idea what it's for, they just need people bashing into each other, and he does this for ages before they realise they don't really know what they are doing and pull the pin on it.)

So it had a lot wrong with it, but it also had the perfect Bilbo in Martin Freeman, and that still counts for a lot. Freeman overcame the worst haircut of the early 21st century to break everyone's hearts with his pained looks to camera in The Office, and proved surprisingly solid as Watson to Cumberbatch's Holmes, so when it was announced he was the new Bilbo, it seemed fitting.

And while old Bilbo definitely gets swamped and lost in the endless weightless battles, there is the part where he could kill Gollum, and he doesn't, because there's just no need for it.

I first read the Hobbit when I was seven years old, and out of all the adventuring, it was Bilbo jumping over Gollum and bounding to freedom that really stuck in my mind. When my primary school teacher asked the class to draw our favourite scene from our favourite book, I had Bilbo leaping high over Gollum (who looked like a miniature Godzilla).

And years and years later, that moment is easily my favourite part of the lamentable Hobbit films. It's all done without dialogue, just the unnatural eyes of Gollum, and the humanity of Bilbo's when he realises he can't kill the creature that his blocking his way to freedom.

It's an important part of the entire tapestry, that proves that pity and kindness do pay off. Because Bilbo does spare Gollum, Frodo later makes it to Mt Doom, and without Gollum, it doesn't go into the fire.

Bilbo doesn't know it in that moment, it's decades away, but while he doesn't save the movies entirely, he saves the world with his compassion. Maybe we could all try that.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

'Truth is relative' is a thing Perry White says now

As a professional news journalist, I obviously have very, very strong opinions about which is the very worst version of Perry White. For a long time, it was Laurence Fishburne's Perry in the Snyder films - a stout presence who gets angry when one of his star investigative reporters won't write a puff piece on a sports star. 

While that Perry was a very shitty manager, he was still ideologically sound, but the Perry White who shows up in the first scene of a recent Superman v Lobo ain't no Perry I know.

The regular comic book version of Perry is objectively terrible at his job, because you see evidence of that whenever a Superman comic prints a front page of the Daily Planet, and it's overwritten verbose bullshit, burying the actual news in unneeded cleverness or easy sentiment. 

We can cut him some slack on that, because it's not Perry's fault that comic book writers think that writing newspaper articles is easy and they know how it works because they read newspapers every day; and then produce copy that any self-respecting sub-editor would wipe their ass on before telling that Kent prick to cut back 400 words and get to the fucking point.

But there is no excuse for the latest Perry, in this dopey Lobo comic. He isn't any kind of journalist, because he's not interested in setting the record straight, instead arguing that truth is subjective and can be dictated by the mob and that the only thing that matters is clicks on a website, because they pay the bills. 

Fucking hell, Perry!

You can do this shit with the immortal J Jonah Jameson, because he's an opportunistic sociopath who occasionally does the right thing, but Perry goddamn White should stand for more than that. He's the last person who should be both-siding this shit

He's got a backbone and stands for the truth, in all forms, which is always absolute, and not dictated by Lex Luthor's dumb algorithms.

The rest of the three-issue comic doesn't have anything as irritating as that, although it comes close when Lobo - a creature of pure monstrous id, uses social media hashtags to discedit Superman (and it works). But there is such disappointment in seeing this side of Perry, because he used to stand for something, man.

Fucking hell.

The best version Perry White is obviously the mad 50s/60s Perry ,who pulled all sorts of crazy shit, but that was just the way he rolled, because old school editors of that time actually all did some crazy shit. That's entirely acceptable.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

At the video store with Roger and Quentin

We're nearly a quarter of a century into the new millennium, and I'm okay with the lack of actually useful technological advances like rocket packs and other flying shit, because I can just listen to Roger Avery and Quentin Tarantino talk shit about movies for hours and hours and hours while walking around, living my life.

I'll take that while I'm doing the dishes, or walking into work. I'll take that anytime

I fucking love these nerds, I love they still love this shit, and I love that their lives remain dedicated to telling people about all the great and dopey movies in the world (and make a few of their own).

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Bruce Campbell's comics of the dead

Getting in celebrities to have a go at writing comics rarely ends well. Even great prose writers with big non-comics fanbases can stumble when doing words and pictures together, struggling to show how things move in a static medium, or - more usually - drenching the art in heavy text to show how clever they are.

Sometimes, you get a novelist, or actor, or musician, or sportsperson or comedian who gets the comic medium and produce something wonderful. Gerard Wray came into writing comics with impeccable nerd credentials, but was still more of a star name as the MCR frontman, so it was still a little surprising when his comics turned out to be fun, interesting and clever.

Still, I'm not surprised that the latest star writer to have an ear for comics that I've noticed recently is Bruce Campbell, because Bruce Campbell can do anything.

He's been a goddamn legend since the first Evil Dead, a deeply charming and relentlessly energetic actor with a reckless disregard for both his own safety and his dignity. And now he's doing zombie comics in WW2 for DC. Which is just perfect.

It's not that there are any real twists or turns in the plot. It's Sergent Rock fighting nazi zombies, you know what you're getting. 

It's that the comics hum along. Sgt Rock is not the most verbose character a tthe best of times, even with the heavy 'war is hell' captions that often overload his classic stories, but there is no time for dealing with that shit right now, Rock, you got Nazi zombies and that Hitler jerk to deal with.  

The lack of any heavy narration from the writer gives Eduardo Risso's usual excellent work room to breathe, and keeps the action taught as the moody horror of the situtaion gets into your face

Seeing Campbell's name as the writer - and sole writer, no hand-holding by Marv Wolfman or anybody here - it looks like a gimmick. Give the well-known actor some comic, and what's the worst that could happen. 

Sometimes it pays off, and you get everything you might want from a Sgt Rock v zombies comic. Sometimes a gimmick is just a decent writer, giving a great comic artist wonderful things to draw, without getting in the way.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Spinal Tap: Doing without the rock and roll

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise Spinal Tap weren't a real band. Their lyrics were always funny as hell, but I had no idea they were entirely fictional for the longest time.

The original movie is a deadset classic, with so many good jokes and so many good lines, all perfectly delivered. I've occasionally watched the deleted scenes - and there is a lot of them - and they're funny as fuck too, but then you realise how perfectly weighted the original cut is.

But I had no idea about any of that for many years. All I knew about Spinal Tap was a tiny poster I saw at the big old St James cinema on Moray Place in Dunedin (a cinema that is still going as a chain multiplex now) when I went to see Mad Max 3. The poster didn't even have the band, just the picture of a twisted guitar and the classic line: 'As long as there's sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll'.

I've looked for this poster online and have never been able to find it, but I'm certain it exists, because that line stuck in my young brain.

And that was all I had to go on for a while, but I sometimes heard Spinal Tap songs on the radio. They did seem slightly more ridiculous than all the other hair metal bands of the late eighties, but only slightly. The group would show up on various TV things, or they'd do some weird concert that they'd play at 10pm on a Friday night, and they seemed real enough. I had no reason to think any different.

It was The Simpsons that broke the illusion. Not when the band appeared - that was perfectly in keeping with their fictional versions - but because the hype was so intense in the first year or so and  you were finding out who did the voices, and holy shit, that's Derek Smalls.

I had some mates that were into Spinal Tap, and while none of us were that obsessed with them, we listened to their tapes and talked about how funny they were, and I'm fairly sure they knew I thought it was a real band.

They let me rabbit on all the same, because that's the sort of thing mates do. Maybe they laughed about it later, but they didn't ruin the fun.

They might not be real, but Spinal Tap have got just as old as everyone else, and they're coming back in a new movie, apparently. I can't wait to see how they've aged ungracefully, even if they're made up.

(On an only slighted related note, I keep seeing clips of the Oscars last week, and while they're in my cool book at the moment, I think the most goddamn delightful thing about the whole affair was Nigel bloody Tufnel sitting in the front row, beaming away all weekend because his awesomely talented missus has just been crowned acting royalty. Go on, my son.)

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Marvel Fanfare portfolios #6: Norm Breyfogle

The late, great Norm Breyfogle is justifiably well known for his amazing work on Batman comics in the 90s - his reputation only keeps growing through the years - but it's a damn crime he didn't get a long run on Spider-Man. Bloody hell, look at that Electro!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Slaine of the ferry

As you get older, there are weird memories that can't possibly be true. They sit there in your head, conjured up from adolescent dreams or fantasies, and are as real as the houses you grew up in and the schools you went to - in your mind, at least.

Like I know that when I ran around on the inter-island ferry during a family trip in 1983 when I was eight, there wasn't a guy sitting up on the stairs on a quiet staircase off to the side, and I know he didn't look like Slaine from 2000ad, with a big fur cloak, something that looked like a giant sword hidden beneath it, and the best stubble I ever saw in my life.

That can't be true, but it's there all the same. There's other memories like that, involving the Big Red Cheese in a drunken stupor, and Superman and Batman outside my house, and there's another clear memory of seeing Doctor Who's TARDIS sitting on a dirt track near the Opihi River mouth.

They can't be real. They just can't.

But if I close my eyes, I can still see Slaine on the ferry and man, he looks so fucking cool.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Shoot 'em in the head

I've watched a lot of dumb horror movies, and the one thing I always hate, hate, hate the most is when they knock the killer out, and then just run off, and let the maniac recover and come after them.

Knock them down, sure. Why not cave in their fucking skull with the nearest shovel as well? If you're not sure if Ghostface is alive or not as you slide past him in yet another Scream installment, gouge that dickhead's eyes out while they're down.

Smash their shit up, stomp on their fucking neck. Put them down like the rabid dog they are. In real life I follow the non-violent teachings of all the finest humans, but in my fictions, self defense is the best defense.

I can still remember the sharp disappointment when this happens in the first Wolf Creek movie, and it doesn't turn out well for those who couldn't take a moment to open an Australian psychopath's jugular to the air.

Sometimes you get a movie like You're Next, which was satisfying on that score, because Sharni Vinson's Erin made damn sure that when she got someone down, they stayed down. 

Filmmakers will argue that their characters are too emotionally distraught to get stuck in, or that they wouldn't even have a movie if people acted like this. But if you're being stalked by a murderer, shoot them in the fucking head and nuke them from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The grey world of spyence fiction

While they always end up getting way too silly if they run for too long, I do have a very slight obsession with books, movies and TV shows that splice the kind of hard-nosed spy dramas of John le Carré with some bullshit science fiction and try to make it work.

Things like the Counterpart TV show, which had two seasons of the great JK Simmons bouncing between two timelines, where things are drastically different, including the big man himself.

Or the time-bending Lazarus, which is currently in production and has the world ending over and over again, but it's okay, because there's a reset butoon that only drives the people who know about it completely insane.

Weirdly, I never really got into The X-Files, even though it is the spiritual father of all these kinds of things, smashing together government paranoia with every piece of science fiction nonsense or straight up supernatural freak-outs available.

But I generally love these things, mainly because they are full of very, very serious people dealing with the most preposterous of scenarios. These things always have some kind of philosophical conundrum around the use of the strange technology, and its effects on human lives, but also have lots of double-crosses and gunfights and people in nice suits beating the shit out of each other, because they are, once again, very serious people who will do whatever it takes to get the job done, even as they bounce between universes and timelines.

Counterpart only lasted a couple of seasons, and I kind of hope Lazarus doesn't go on too long, even with a fantastic cast doing some wonderful work. Because you can only go so far down these rabbit holes before your arse gets stuck. Best to keep this kind of spy fantasy as a neat and nasty shock.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Batman is under the earth

I had a crippling fear of being buried alive when I was a kid, and a lot of that came from reading non-fiction accounts of Victorian nightmares at a worryingly young age. But a lot of it also comes from this fairly innocuous issue of World's Finest:

Issue #267 of the long-running Superman/Batman comic has the dark night detective overcome and placed in the most simple of all death traps - a buried coffin. And there was something uniquely horrifying about Batman being under their feet on the cover, with nobody thinking to look down. 

Still, the gymnastic skill in squeezing his whole body around in that confined space has stuck with me as a peak Batman moment. I just hope I never have to try and do it myself.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Up the academy

I've been a boorish hater of all things Oscars since the mid-nineties. After being obsessed with all the pomp and circumstance as a kid, I became frequently disillusioned by the kinds of films it championed, and could no longer overlook its many cold injustices by the time I really gave a damn about cinema.

And for all its sins, I can forgive them all because they gave Ke Huy Quan an award this year. And not just because he seems like a hell of a nice dude with the craziest possible story, but because he was really fucking good in that film. The part where the main Waymond is stumbling over his words, while supercool Waymond in a Wong Kar Wai universe is saying the same thing with such precision and poetry, that fuckin' gets me right there. 

The Oscars still always get it wrong, but they got this one right.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Witness me!

He's just another warboy, another faceless warrior on the highway to hell, as crew of an elite war rig. Many of his brothers will be crushed and splintered by the velocity of their battles, some will get sucked up into the sky and spat out again. But this guy has his moment.

He's just another warboy in the story of Mad Max, riding the fury road eternal on the back of his rig, all shiny and chrome, until he gets speared in the fucking face, and goes down.

But then he gets up, and demands and takes the epic death he needs. He's not bleeding out like a wimp, he's taking the poor other mother fuckers to Valhalla with him. Witness him.

The film rises to it, the score soaring and the camera given this doomed boy the status of a titan, the heroic moment he craves above all else in his stunted life. He just needs to be seen and all his brothers see him.

There is a lot of weird philosophy in Immortan Joe's worldview, ideas that takes some severe brain bending to even comprehend, let alone justify. But this bit of it, the desire to be witnessed, to be seen, that feels more eternal than anything else in this white line nightmare.

We have been carving our names in stone since we first learned to write, and we can still see those names now. We can still witness them, and speak of people who are long dust, their presence on this earth still noted, after all this time

We all have our own ways of doing it. Some of us want to be seen in art, or in family, or in accomplishments. Some of us might be seen in their blog about any old bullshit. 

They don't need to be remembered by everybody - indeed, the amount of people you want to be seen by always has a limit, and everybody has a different level. Some just want to be seen by a few, some want to be seen by the whole world.

Some want to be invisible, and who can blame them?

So the Warboy is an absolute monster, a fascist cog in the machine of death and tyranny, but we all know how he feels in that last moment, even as his suicide bomb death is a rejection of all thing civilized. Don't think about it. Just look at him.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Marvel Fanfare portfolios #5: Ken Steacy part 2

Man, judging purely by the casual beauty of his Storm, and with his ultra-modern shininess and harsh sharpness, Steacy would have absolutely killed it on a decent X-Men run.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

War of the Worlds: No one would have believed

It first appeared in my life as some weird broadcast on Radio Caroline, somewhere in the early eighties. They played the whole thing and it was absolutely mesmerizing, haunting synths beaming out of the sky into my small town life. 

But I couldn't tell anybody how much I loved Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds for many, many years. It was just so irredeemably cheesy. So very 70s, when the 70s weren't cool. 

While I don't believe in guilty pleasures anymore, and can proudly (and possibly wrongly) proclaim that Phil Lynott is a goddamn genius in this thing, I did once had to listen to it only on headphones, because nobody could know how emotional it made me.

I just loved the other-worldly sounds, and its earnestness, and its plaintive pleas for emotional depth. The oh-laas, the dead seriousness of Burton's delivery and the funky, funky beats. Fuckin' Forever Autumn, man!

(It's also got the best adaptation of the thuddingly exciting Thunderchild sequence in any version outside the original book.)

It's accidentally become the theme music to bath time in our house, and I never get sick of it. The chances of anything coming along like that again is surely a million to one.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Fight Club: Not everything has to go in a box

The biggest influence on the way I watch and enjoy films has always been Empire magazine. For many years, I automatically watched everything that got the full five-star reviews (we've had some major differences of opinion in the past few years), and have an almost complete collection of the British movie mag, dating back to 1993

Indulging in a monthly dose of cinephilia like this leads to a slow accumulation of knowledge and feelings about every fucking thing in the world of movies. But sometimes, sometimes I'll read something in it that is a kick to the face.

It might be a piercingly accurate comment about modern life lurking in a review of a goddamn Friends boxset or it might be passion for the films of Satyajit Ray that makes me realise how limited my movie perceptions were.

And then there was the time they classified Fight Club as a horror film, and I immediately stopped giving a shit how any movie was classified.

Back around the turn of the century, the magazine published a whole bunch of excellent specials full of tiny essays honouring the best of films, each one centered around a certain genre. And when the horror one came along, it was all the usual suspects - The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw, etc etc - with a few small surprises, and one real head-scratcher in seeing Fight Club in there.

It had only been out for a few years at that stage, and I was still thinking of it as some weird dark comedy more than anything maybe a drama if you wanted ot get all serious on it. But the essay for Fight Club - written by Kim Newman, of course - argued that the revelation about Tyler Durden proved that it was actually a classic Jekyll and Hyde story, which is about as horror as it gets. 

That's a point that could certainly be argued further, but reading that justification made me instantly realise how much it didn't matter.  It poked a massive hole in my ideas that everything should go in the right box, everything needed to be labelled

Growing up as a genre head obsessed with science fiction and horror and all that shit, the idea that everything needed to be categorised was just the way it was, and an idea that was fostered by the entire film business, right down to the  local video stores, which just had to keep the thousands of titles they had in stock in some kind of order.

But it doesn't really matter if you can't stick a label on something ,or if you call Fight Club a horror movie. But now those kinds of arguments are all over the internet, and it's just as boring as it was 20 years ago. It doesn't have to be like that. It never does.

I still don't think Fight Club is a horror. Not really. But it just doesn't fucking matter.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Judge Dredd: A fascist unlike any other

There's always somebody who thinks it's incredibly clever to point out that Judge Dredd is a fascist. And while it is always a valid point to make, it's also one that has been constantly pointed out throughout the 46-year history of the Dredd saga.  

There are way more interesting things to say about the character and world - a new book by PR droid Michael Molcher goes in deep on the parallels between Dredd's world and real world police states - but of course he's a fucking fascist. It's been pointed out so many times in the text itself, characters have said the exact words out loud in numerous occasions, and co-creator John Wagner has been very much open about this. 

But one of the things that keeps Dredd from being completely irredeemable - along with his sense of fierce fairness, absolute badassness and ultra-dry sense of humour - is that the big chin espouses a kind of fascism almost never seen in the real world

Because Dredd is the ultimate fascist in the most pure of ways, with no ego to tarnish the golden eagle on his shoulders. He doesn't purge political enemies, or desperately grasp after power - Judge Joe Dredd has no interest in any of that that, and has actively rejected it.

This lack of a desire for power, or for any more authority than he needs to do his job on the mean streets of MC1, comes close to some kind of weird utopian fantasy, if it wasn't for the dangerous and dire life of the poor citizens of Mega City-One. 

Dredd tried democracy once. It didn't take, and the lunatics who were willing to burn millions of people to bring it back only hardened that resolve. Dredd himself has embraced his role as the ultimate voice of his fascist state, but he is still one of a faceless mass, his individuality never seen beneath those lightning bolt eyes.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Comic artists, looking in the mirror

Growing up so very far away from the places that created my favourite comics meant I had very little idea of what the writers and artists I followed actually looked like, other than brief glimpses in spotty photos in a Sci-Fi Special or on a Bullpen page.

But once the internet came alone, one thing I was truly delighted to discover was that many artists actually physically looked a lot like a character in their stories. It's baked into the medium, and you can see it everywhere - so many of Jack Kirby's characters have the king's deadly gaze and stout demeanor.

Some of my favourite examples are Curt Swan, the exemplary silver age Superman artist, whose head looked more solid than anything in one of his Jimmy Olsen stories -

- and Frank Quitely, who in his secret identity of Vincent Deighan, has a terrifically strong jawline that is a constant in his work -

- or the mighty Coleen Doran, who could be anybody in A Distant Soil with her fantastic eyes and beaming face.

Some artists don't do this - thank goodness Bill Sienkiewicz doesn't look like one of his abstract delights, (although you can see where many of his long, thin faces come from), and while John Byrne's characters all share his round face, none of Frank Miller's characters look like the man himself, (which is funny, because Miller was always all about the projection). 

It's probably a good thing that I was always completely rubbish at drawing, there's enough me in the world already.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Dawn of the Dead: We got this by the ass!

There have been 11 million zombie films released since Dawn of the Dead came out in 1978, and none of them as good, because none of them have such a rich text deep in subtext and satire, none of them are as funny, and none of them are directed with such a clear authorial voice. 

I finally saw it on the big screen recently in a double feature with the original Night of the Living Dead, and that was a fine way to see it. It was the only movie of my all time top five films ever that I never saw on the big screen, so that's the end of that quest, I guess.

That trailer above literally gave me nightmares for years when I saw it in 1988, hiding among the coming attractions on a Jewel of the Nile rental. It was utterly terrifying and no matter how many times I read the cover of the cassette down the store, my parents wouldn't let me anywhere near it for another five years. I still have the video tape I got when I was turned 18. It's a prized possession.

But getting to see it on the big screen for once, that was something else, man. And the thing that I really noticed in watching the two films together is that Dawn fucking hums along.

The first movie is still brilliant - especially with the moody, skewed close-ups, with horrified eyes peeking out between the shadows - but does gets bogged down in long arguments about the merits of the cellar, while the boarding up of the house feels endless.

But Dawn skips from scene to scene with great authority. First they're trapped in a failing society, full of insanely dehumanizing housing projects and TV news that doesn't give a shit, and then our heroes are off, buzzing over rednecks and stopping off for one of the finest zombie kills in the entire medium.

Even when they're finally secured the mall for themselves and indulging in a hollow consumerist paradise, they still kill off one of the lead characters, and then the biker gang comes along and it all turns to shit again, and then they're off again.

The pace of the film - even as it established the clear parameters of the mall and which doors lead to their hide-out - is outstanding and keeps things entertaining, even as the biggest points are made.

The slow crawl of the zombies remains a vital part of the whole thing, but that doesn't stop the film from running you over at top speed. That was part of the genius of George Romero, and something few of his imitators ever really understood.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Rhino had all the music I needed

My old home town of Timaru has never really been big enough to call a city, with the population hovering under the 30,000 mark - the most generous possible definition of a city. But that's still enough people to support a fucking good record store. For a while.

When I was becoming musically aware, we had Rhino Records, owned and run by the most excellent Warren Prentice. It opened in one of the quietest corners of the CBD in 1989, but had the best sounds in town.

I was 14 when it opened and just another dumb little shit who didn't know anything about anything when it came to music, but I was keen to learn. So Rhino was my school - the place where I got something I'd glimpsed on Radio With Pictures the night before, or where I'd go to fill in the Pink Floyd knowledge. 

When I went though a big soundtrack phase, that was where I would find the Twin Peaks and Mystery Train tapes that I needed, and it was the only place I ever saw DAD 's most excellent No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims for sale to the general public

A place like Rhino was indispensable in pre-internet days, before everything started coming down the wire, and lasted for well over a decade. Warren also owned a shitty little basement bar in the Royal Arcade for a while and put on the best bands, and it was the first time I ever saw my best mates play for a crowd.  My best pal Anthony worked in the short-lived Dunedin off-shoot store, where we would slam tequila and listen to Britpop too loudly in the back room. I still have the video tape of Jean Rollin's wonderful Fascination that I bought for an unspeakably good price the day before it closed down.

At a time of music megastores, filled with racks of shiny new tunes under harsh neon, there was still lots of money in the business, even for niche providers like Rhino, especially when it was the only place in town you could get a Cure tee-shirt ,or an Ennio Morricone box set

So it shifted down Variety Lane a couple of times and then, 10 years later and near the new millennium, it was in a cramped little shop in the busiest part of town. I was going through a desperate search for new music that saw my and my mate Bri get a new CD each every payday and heading to Rhino to find something new, something that Warren thought was cool, was a pleasant ritual.

It turned into a place called Radiant Records for a while, moving into an old dairy on the main street out of town, but I had moved on again, and while it looked like a lovely store, it was never my local. And that faded away too, years and years ago.

I dropped so much money into the gullet of Rhino over the years, and still have a lot of the tapes and CDs I happily swapped my minimum wage cash for. There were a good investment, and I can still play them. Rhino is long gone, but the echoes still linger, pumping out of the stereo.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Marvel Fanfare portfolios #4: Ken Steacy part 1

Ken Steacy was one of those artists who only really did a handful of comic pages, but they were always absolutely dynamite - his line had the sharpest of edges, coupled with a Herculean strong sense of design. 

He also painted the cover for Spawn #1. Legend.