Thursday, November 30, 2023

Black Label ain't got nothing on Vertigo

Of course I was a Vertigo kid, I never had a fucking chance. I was 18 when it launched, hitting the exact right age for the imprint. But as an objective and rabid consumer of modern American comic books, I still think the market is missing something vital with its absence.

Vertigo shut up shop a few years ago, and the kind of things it delivered can still be found at companies like Image, but only a few of those series get the long-running promotion and support that Vertigo titles did. 

With the might of DC behind them, even the most idiosyncratic visions of the world could get 75 issues, and a lot of them didn't hit with huge audiences, but they hit enough. They were, crucially, stories that could only really be told in a long-running medium like the monthly comic, and weren't nakedly desperate attempts to get a movie deal (and the real money.)

DC will always say it's serving the same audience with its endless Black Label titles, but that's a line that really isn't concerned with delivering any kind of sophisticated suspense, full of very pretty books about hard it is to be Batman, or how some random hero need to be woken up to save the a post-apocalyptic world; and it just ain't the same. 

There are still some very nice comics with a Black Label logo on them - the devotion to producing album-sized comics should be absolutely lauded, because it really gives the often terrific art room to breathe. But there really isn't anything like the regular thrills of a Sandman, or a Preacher, of even a Shade the Changing Man. Just desperate searches for new IP, based on the same old shit. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Empire holds the line

I do like giving Empire magazine a lot of shit, mainly because of the unwarranted entitlement I've built up after buying it every month since 1993, and it's personally cutting when it's a bit disappointing. But it also means I have to give it proper respect when it delivers the goods, and the past few months have been fucking great.

I was 100% behind the actors and writers in their recent strike against the Hollywood system, because the Hollywood system is completely fucked, and the people who actually create the good stuff deserve far more the rewards. But you can already feel the brakes going hard on the flow of movie and TV product, and we haven't already felt the full effects of that yet.

And yet, without the massive influx of cinematic content, Empire has filled its pages with quality - highlighting a lot of films that are pretty fucking far from blockbusters, along with some some fascinating slices of movie history. Retrospectives on some deadset classics, and full articles on some of the weird shit behind the scenes of history, like the dude who did the electronics for Universal horrors, or Jimmy the fucking Raven.

Excellent stuff, even if the Marvel love still grates a bit. Might keep getting it for another 30 years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bob's book club: Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

* Spoilers for the ending of Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

My regular one person book club is still a thing, and the novels I grab at random at the start of each month are still pretty fucking rewarding. 

I got the usual temporal kicks from This Is How You Win The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, only to discover two days after I finished it that everybody else in the world had already read it; I really enjoyed the use of character perspectives in Rumaan Alam's Leave The World Behind; and thought the delicate structure and very Australian humour of Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson was outstanding.

In my relentless bid to find things outside my usual comfort zone, I've also found myself following weird trends, and have been reading multiple books about women going through emotional dilemmas that have strange elements of supernatural shapeshifting. I got Bunny by Mona Awad because it looked like a Heathers-type thing, and then became something else entirely and tapped into some very modern themes of alienation and creating artifical personalities and people, while also having a couple of cracking twists.

But my favourite random novel of the past six months is easily Rachel Yoder's Nightbitch, which I thought was tremendous.

It's an outrageously funny book - the part with the squirrel chase is the funniest thing I've read in a long time - and it might be about a woman who is turning into a dog, or might just be going howlingly mad, and it really doesn't matter, because she's growing weird hairs and digging up rotting rabbits in the back garden either way.

But the thing I appreciated most is that the main character's journey into doggydom feels like it is going to end with an admonishment, or some kind of punishment or humiliation for the main character, and it just doesn't do that at all. I've become so used to books making moral stands, no matter how oblique, and to get one that says that this all this weird shit is fine, and it all works out for the best, is actually refreshing.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for a happy ending.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Always wanted the Treasury

I used to ache for the Treasury comics, those gorgeously huge comic books that the big comic companies put out in the 1970s. I only ever saw them in ads, because these special editions never, ever made it to my corner of the globe. All we got was those gorgeous promos.

The ones promising big crossovers between Spider-Man and Superman were the ones I craved the most, and I've still never see an affordable copy out in the wild. I did get to read the Batman/Hulk one, but only in a smaller, black and white version that a local reprint company churned out (José Luis García-López's art was still absolutely dynamic in this weakened form, and his Bats will always be the definitive version in my mind.)

Over the years, I've managed to pick up issues here and there, some Legion of Super-Heroes, and some Avengers and Dr Strange things. My pal Nik recently gave me the Fortress of Solitude one, with Superman's hideout never looking better, and I got the Captain America Bicentennial Battles one in Sydney for 10 bucks, and sometimes I think that's the only Treasury I ever really need.

Only sometimes, though. I would still do anything for one of those team-ups, or the Superman/Muhammad Ali spectacular, or Kirby's 2001, without paying upwards of a hundred bucks for the thing. And even at those prices, it's so fucking tempting.

Because man, that ache ate away for so long, for so many years, that it's still hard to fill now. I've always envied my American brothers and sisters who could just grab it off the shelf, or just order this shit with five bucks and a SASE if it never appeared at their 7-11. Local reprints were as good as it got, and none of them were ever as gigantic as these treasured things. 

I still feel an echo of those childhood cravings when I see there is another one of those chunky Artist Editions, with some of the greatest comic art ever produced showcased in beautiful oversized editions. I can even order them myself myself these days, and have been severely tempted by some of the Bolland or O'Neill or McMahon books that have come out.

But the tyranny of distance always holds me back, because even if I could justify the $200+ in local money the actual book costs, I can't do that half again in postage it wil lcost to ship it to the arse end of the world.

Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better, but maybe that's a good thing. When you can't always get what you want, you can learn to love the absence, and that enthusiasm for something you will probably never own. Without the thing itself, the thrill can still be found.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Walt Simonson's Star Wars (part 1 of 2)

While most Star Wars comics don't usually do a lot for me, there have still been some phenomenal comic book artists working on the saga every now and then, from the eternal Al Williamson to the always wonderful Cam Kennedy.

But there's a part of me that always thinks the Walt Simonson and Tom Palmer art team on the Marvel comic in the early 80s is the best of all Star Wars comics. There's only a dozen or so issues, but each one kicks off with a blinder of a splash page, featuring some spacecraft blasting through the void, or some character wrestling with a huge dilemma, and even after all the Star Wars saturation of recent years, I'm always happy to highlight some of my favourites from that galaxy far, far away....

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Twister when you're naked

I watched Twister the other night, and while I saw it a million times back in the day, I hadn't watched it in years now. And it holds up pretty well - the first shot in the present day is some excruciatingly bad CGI of a satellite in space, but the actual tornado effects still look pretty good. Plus, it's got a blinder of a cast - it might be the first thing I ever saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in, and Paxton should have been given more Cary Grant roles.

And I can buy the way our heroes survive the final storm, even if there is really no chance they could actually survive it in real life, no matter how deep those pipes go. But what I really want to know is how they go through that and remain fully clothed by the end - people caught in actual storms are always having their clothes torn from their bodies from their nature, but their mid-90s khakis are barely ripped.

I know it's because a big, fun family blockbuster of the 90s, but the film really would have been improve if it ended with Paxton and Helen Hunt in the nude, surrounded by the debris of the storm

I just got to know where they get their trouser belts.....

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Twin Peaks variety hour

There's been a lot written about Twin Peaks The Return in the past half decade, because there is a lot to write about - what all that Judy stuff means; what does evil Cooper really want; and where the hell is Audrey anyway? 

But one thing that is often overlooked is that all through the series, Lynch is devoted to delivering a solid hour of entertainment, because there is always a kick ass musical segment, played out in full.

The use of music throughout the show is some of Lynch's best - the Otis Redding song playing as Ed and Norma is an all-time great needle drop - but the performances at the Roadhouse are consistently amazing, with trusted performances by undisputed greats like the Nine Inch Nails and Sharon Van Etten, and loads of great synth pop from the Chromatics and Au Revoir Simone. 

Even James, still doing his pissy little love song after all these years, brings something to the table.

The world could always use more dramas that peel open the heart of the human condition and holler into the vast existential they find below, but that doesn't mean you can't also have a good time on the dance floor.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Doctor Who: Still the best television show ever

The absolute best television show in the entire history of humanity turns 60 today, and I honestly can't wait to see what Russell T Davies comes up with next, but I'm here for the ride.

I once came up with three reasons why Doctor Who is the greatest fiction in the history of everything. But that was too easy, and didn’t cover all the little things that I love about the show – the weird jokes and tiny inflections – and also didn’t deal with the big, epic moments of life, and death, and cups of tea.

So here are 101 more reasons why Doctor Who is the greatest fiction in the history of everything:

1. That thudding, pumping and otherworldly theme music. It’s not just a fantastic tune, it’s a beautiful metaphor for the whole damn thing.

2. The no-space in The Mind Robber and Warriors’ Gate.

3. All of the Doctor’s mates flying the TARDIS together and towing the Earth back to its proper place in the universe at the climax of Journey’s End.

4. The show’s charmingly desperate need for cliff-hangers, which often saw individual episodes end on nonsensical notes. There might be fewer multi-part stories now, but it’s a tradition that has been proudly carried on to the new series.

5. The Special Weapons Dalek, and the way the other Daleks look at it as an abomination.

6. The Ninth Doctor takes Blon Fel Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen out for dinner in Cardiff.

7. The unnecessarily long pan across the dead beach at the start of The Leisure Hive.

8. Zoe Herriot in that spangly catsuit.

9. Zoe’s brains, especially on the occasions when she was actually smarter than the Doctor, and that was even sexier than the catsuit.

10. Ace’s bombs.

11. The moment when you discover what the object is that is getting everybody so hot and bothered in Lawrence Miles Alien Bodies, and the fact that it’s just one of dozens of times when everything about Doctor Who changes forever.

12. The thrill of the montage of all the Doctors at the climax of The Eleventh Hour, and the way the new ‘un walks right through them, straight into the role.

13. The mystery faces of the Doctor that appear during the mind duel of The Brain Of Morbius, and the fact that every serious Who fan has their own serious ideas about what it all means.

14. Nicholas Courtney sneaking into the background of Silver Nemesis.

15. The nudge-nudge, wink-wink cut to black right in the middle of Vengeance on Varos.

16. The fact that it wasn’t the Eighth Doctor that fought in the Time War.
17. “You've touched so many lives, saved so many people. Did you think when your time came you'd really have to do more than just ask?”

18. The whole last ten minutes of The Doctor Dances, but most especially the part where the Doctor gets one good day, and everybody lives. I always hoped Doctor Who would be good when it came back on telly, but I never really expected it to be genuinely great.

19. Bill Nighy’s speech about the ecstatic beauty of Vincent Van Gogh’s art.

20. The way the Third Doctor’s frilly sleeves would flail about when he was laying some kung fu from outer space on some pitiable fool.

21. The bit with the wires in Genesis of the Daleks.

22. The idea that the entire Time War, and all the devastation and death that came from it, all started with that bit with the wires in Genesis of the Daleks.

23.  Romana and the Doctor, punting away in an episode that will never be finished.

24. Ian Chesterton’s tie.

25. Jo Grant’s hair.

26. Peri’s bald cap.

27. Those gross, gross, gross giant maggots in The Green Death.

28. The beautiful structure of the plot of the Dalek Invasion Of Earth. Everything I ever need to know about plotting, I learned from that novelization.

29. The use of ELO in Love and Monsters. And I frigging hate ELO.

30. The Masque of Mandragora. Just that story title. I really like it a lot. I think it’s terrific.

31. The Fugitive Doctor's TARDIS in the ground
32. The suckers on the Zygons.

33. The brains with eyestalks in The Keys of Marinus.

34. That one time Ice Warriors weren’t total dickheads.

35. Abslom Daak, DALEK KILLER!

36. The use of a cricket ball to propel the Doctor through space in Four To Doomsday.

37. The slightly unexpected death of The Third Doctor in Interference.

38. The moment in The Parting Of The Ways when the Ninth Doctor’s hologram is talking around Rose, and then he looks right at her.

39. The massive data dump that occurred when I learned the answer to every single question in the Second Doctor Who Quiz Book from Target, in some mad attempt in 1984 to win a competition for every single Target book published, and I never heard anything about that competition, although I did get a Target badge in the mail, which was just confusing.

40. The First Doctor’s absolute and invincible stubbornness.

41. The Valeyard, and all he promises/threatens.

42. “Oh my God, I’m the tin dog.”

43. The endless running around in Paris in City of Death.

44. The moments where the voices in Midnight go from past to present to future.

45. The fake Sarah Jane’s face falling off in The Android Invasion.

46. The cracking “chap with Wings” in-joke in Paul Cornell’s No Future.

47. Those funky high collars the Time Lords use for their formal duties.

48. "No sir, all 13!"

49. The bit at the start of the Chase where the Doctor and Barbara sunbathe. While fully clothed.

50. Everything about the Time Crash mini-episode, but especially when 10 stops everything to gush about 5.

51. The cup of tea in the Doctor’s hand in the cover scene of The Also People, as he has a natter with some sentiment battle spaceships which have enough firepower to put a hole in the galaxy and are all very, very pissed off.

52. The Doctor’s explanation for how the TARDIS manages to be bigger on the inside at the start of Robots of Death, and Leela’s quite-right statement that it all sounds a bit silly.

53. The tiny, epic conversation between Unstoffe and Binro about the state of the universe in The Ribos Operation, and the look on Binro’s face when he is told he is right about other worlds.

54. The face of the Doctor in the opening credits

55. Vicki’s formal gown in The Crusades.

56. Sarah Jane’s Andy-Pandy outfit in The Hand Of Fear.

57. Tegan’s accent.

58. The ridiculous miming when Donna sees the Doctor again at the Adipose Industries headquarters, and that terrific punchline.

59. "One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

60. Sacha Dhawan's Master hiding behind the facade of another IT nerd, and me falling for it yet again.

61. The fact that I’m still not that sure what actually is going on in Ghost Light.
62. The cup of tea that sparks the Tenth Doctor into full action in his first adventure.

63. The Fourth Doctor knocking over the wine goblet in contempt in Warrior’s Gate.

64. The sad fate of Dodo in nineties novels. Soon after reading Man In The Velvet Mask and Who Killed Kennedy, in which she catches a terrible disease and is ruthlessly murdered, I had a vivid dream about the character, which was the saddest goddamn dream I’ve ever had in my life.
65. “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

66. The slow journey through the long decades in Father Time.

67. The weird anti-twist involving the spaceship in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

68. Any time the Daleks or Cybermen would appear in front of some grand London landmark.

69. The John Simm Master, tapping out the sound of drums on the table in Downing Street, after he’s just murdered everybody else in the room.

70. Derek Jacobi’s switch between the lovely and compassionate Professor Yana and the malevolent and immortal Master.

71. The low chuckle that always announced the totally surprising appearance of Anthony Ainley’s Master.

72. The Roger Delgado Master watching Clangers on a prison television set.

73. The daily singalong between all the souls trapped on New New York’s motorways in Gridlock.

74. The ninth Doctor’s genuine fear at seeing a lone Dalek had survived.

75. The Thirteenth Doctor's braces.

76. The fact that the Doctors rarely get along with each other when they do their big anniversary team-ups.

77. The Eighth Doctor’s perfect shoes.
78. The Ballad Of The Last Chance Saloon. Hardcore Who people often hate any attempt to bring the taste of the musical into their beloved science fiction, but I always dig it.

79. For that matter, I liked  the singing in The Rings of Akhaten, too.

80. The fact that it only took them one episode to realise that Kamelion was a really, really bad idea.

81. The Controller standing up to his tyrannical masters in Day Of The Daleks.

82. Capaldi's 'Hello sweetie'

83. The bit in one of the New Adventures where Benny orders a pint of vodka.

84. The cactus Doctor in Meglos. Rubbish story – fantastic visual.

85. Romana’s desperate, clawing attempts to stop the Movellan bomb going off on Skaro.

86. “Your leader will be angry if you kill me – I’m a genius!”

87. MC Escher’s mad perspectives invade Doctor Who in Castrovalva.

88. Brian’s diligent study of an inert black box in The Power of Three.

89. Any time the Doctor takes an older person along as a companion – sometimes Wilf and Evelyn are my favourite companions ever.

90. The bit in Transit where the Doctor comes barrelling out of an interplanetary travel tube system, and maintains his footing.

91. The trippy matter transportation in The Daleks’ Master Plan.

92. Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart standing up against ultimate evil at the end of Battlefield, without ruffling a hair.

93. The convention-favourite story about the eye patches.

94. The trip to the wrong 1980 in Pyramids of Mars.

95. The skull door appearing in Nyssa’s room in Terminus.

96. The part in ..Ish where the Doctor and Peri forget the name of the TARDIS.

97. The fight between Salamander and the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, and the sheer joy of actually seeing it for the first time.

98. The bit with the cat in The Dying Days.

99. Adric’s death. Most Doctor Who fans are rightfully glad to see the back of the annoying little twerp, but he died when I was eight-years-old, and I was bloody shattered.

100. “Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere the tea’s getting cold.”

101. The TARDIS.

* First published on the Tearoom in November 2013. The list has been updated with a few new favourites. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Welcome to the House of Pain

Somehow, I only just found out that the Otago Highlanders Super Rugby team down in Dunedin put out a cassette tape of their 'Highlanders Song', and blatantly used a Simon Bisley picture of Slaine to sell it. This was back in the 90s and I was living down there at the time, and I still somehow missed it.

Fucking hell, Slaine isn't even fucking Scottish.

Anyway, here's their song, and it's absolutely awful. Slaine would have their heads for it, and wouldn't think them too many:

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Blue Book: Giving the unexplained room to breathe

I've been devouring books about real life encounters of the unexplained since before I could read. I would get freaked out by the pictures of ghosts in the back seat of the car, and the remains left behind after spontaneous human combustions; and was intimately familiar with stories of people bouncing up against something metaphysical and weird.

So I've heard the stories of the great UFO encounters many times before, including the case of Betty and Barney Hill, but the recent Blue Book comics by Michael Avon Oeming and James Tynion IV still managed to find a new way to tell the story of what happened to those people on the dark roads of New Hampshire in 1961.

I only got the book out from the library for the Oeming, and didn't realise it was a non-fiction thing. It looked like another 'hey, here's an idea for a movie!' collections that flood the comic book scene, but its re-telling of an actual event was way more interesting than that.

Comics are the best medium for this kind of story - see the humongous artistic success of The Big Books Of... series that DC put out in the 90s - and their weird mesh of fact, fiction and mad ravings is ideal for the form.

All the details of the Hills' case have been told and retold over and over again, but the focus on that across a complete collection gives the mystery more room to breathe. 

With Oeming's typically atmospheric art, there is a real sense of dread and weirdness. But there is also more of a connection to the people who went through these strange experiences, of a kind not found in all the textbooks that ruthlessly examine their testimonies and evidence.

Something happened to those people on that long drive home, even if it was all taking place inside their heads, and Blue Book makes than more than victims of supernatural happenstance, but real people in a very strange situation.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Movies around the world

People always make give me weird looks when I tell them about going to the cinema while traveling overseas, because they just see it as a waste of precious holiday. It takes hours and hours to fly to anywhere else in the world from here, and there is so much to see in this wide and wonderful world, why the hell would you go to a cinema that looks just like the one down the street?

But sometimes you just need a break from the travel when you're gallivanting around the world. A place to get out of the elements, and just sit down and relax for a while, and the cinema is a good place to switch off, and maybe even see something great.

Unfortunately, my lovely wife and I have a terrible habit of seeing the absolute worst films in the most far flung of locations. Yes, we've been to a cinema in Iceland, but it was to see that Alexander Skaarsgard Tarzan film, which everybody has rightly forgotten the existence of. We've been in one of the grand old cinemas of Leicester Square to see the worst film in the Bourne series, and then saw the second worst in the series on the edges of Houston.

On our first ever major trip, while staying at a hostel somewhere in East London, we saw Die Hard 4.0, the biggest turkey in that excellent series. Our first cultural experience on our first trip to Edinburgh - after the obligatory fried breakfast - involved seeing the third Pirates of the Caribbean at a central city multiplex at 9am, because we'd spend the evening on the overnight bus from London, and couldn't get into our accommodation yet.

The only film we ever saw in Scandinavia was The Snowman. And not even in Oslo. We should have followed all the clues. We also saw Mother! in Hong Kong on a Sunday morning, in an absolutely packed cinema, and that was a diabolical way to kill the hours before our flight out.

Blade Runner 2049 was another London experience at the Odeon on Shaftsbury, and that was fine, but it wasn't the best Blade Runner by a long shot. It felt a little right to be seeing one of the new Star Treks in Winnipeg, on an overnight stopover on the way to Churchill, and it felt very right to watch True Grit somewhere in a small city in the great American desert.

Sometimes we get it right - the excellent Joe Strummer:The Future is Unwritten in Bath, and the also excellent Zodiac in York, but I ruined that a little by seeing the Total Recall remake when we returned to the North.

On the best trip, nearly a decade ago now, we saw John Wick and Inherent Vice in the Pacific Northwest of the US, and they're not just films, they goddamn cherished memories.

I wouldn't have remembered where I saw most of these films - I would barely remember I even saw that Total Recall without the international flavour. It's always been an absolute thrill to see these movies, no matter how many funny looks I get.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Marvel's Time Slipping: Salmon's Hulk, Evans' Red Skull and Fabry's Ghost Rider


Red Skull by Vince Evans

The Hulk by Tony Salmons

Ghost Rider by Glenn Fabry

I always love it when Fabry gets hold of a Marvel character, and they always turn into these weird creatures with strange skin textures, and flesh that is warping under the gravity of a super-powered world. That Thor thing he did with Ennis was the best of it, and turned New York into an absolute abattoir, with hundreds of thousands of people butchered. Fabry showed every drop of that blood. It was excellent. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Shaun of the Dead on CinemaStix: Thanks babe


I am such a mark for short, smart video essays about all the beauty of movies, and my favourite YouTube channel for that shit right now is definitely CinemaStix. Their videos have the very worst titles, but still find the most insightful things to say about the most familiar films. 

And I don't just like the videos because they're about movies I adore like Shaun of the Dead, but because they can still show me new jokes I'd never noticed before (it's the dude who has women all over him). Shaun is nearly 20 years old - it was the first film I ever went to the movies with my future wife and I've probably seen it a hundred times, and it still has layers I never ever thought about.

Tubular terror at 5.55am


So I came into the office really fucking early the other week, and the place was completely deserted at 5.30am. But it is a 24-hour radio station, so all the lights and TVs were on, and there could have been someone lurking in one of the studios down the corridor, for all I knew.

I'm used to shift work - I did a 9-5 shift a year or so ago and hated it so, so much - so this early in the morning is pretty normal, even if the brain goes to some weird places.

And this particular morning, for some goddamn reason, the radio was playing Tubular Bells and I became utterly convinced I'd wandered into a terrible 70s Italian giallo horror and a creepozoid murderer was creeping up behind me in slow motion.

Everything really got a bit paranoid, and in the end I had to check the whole goddamn office, including all those studios, always checking the corners of every room as soon as I cleared it.

Of course there was nothing, and I wouldn't expect there to be, but I still had to look. Because I wouldn't have been to do any fucking work if I was convinced some loon with a hare lip or something was creeping up behind me, steel garotte at the ready.

And then the early newsreader showed up, and the music changed to some godawful children's radio show and there was no murderer in the sound booth.

Although that's what they'd want me to think, right?

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Cricket is probably going to break my heart again (but not today)

Rugby is over for the year, and even though it's the main sport I watch and enjoy, I wasn't too upset by the All Blacks losing in the final of the recent World Cup. Not as upset as Sam Cane is gonna be for the entire rest of his life, anyway.

Shit happens, and so does Wayne Barnes. 

Losing at rugby doesn't break my heart, unless it's something really, really special. Cricket, on the other hand, breaks my heart all the fucking time.

Most of my friends are of intellectual stock, so I'm surrounded by people who genuinely hate cricket, including my gorgeous wife, who just thinks it's the dumbest thing in the entire world. But the ridiculousness of it is part of the whole deal, along with the patience to endure a match that can take five days and be settled in a split second. And it comes loaded with all the drama and some of the most massive personalities in modern sport - seriously, how is David fucking Warner still a goddamn thing?

And while Douglas Adams once thought of it as literally the most barbaric thing in the universe, I've always loved the game, especially the ODIs. They say the 50-over game is dying, and I truly hope not. 

I love the five-day Test - there were half a dozen matches in the past year which are legitimately some of the greatest Test matches ever played, coming to to the last ball, the last wicket, after five days of finely poised action.

And the T20s are fun, but they're just slogs. Wickets don't matter in the shortest form, who cares, here comes the next blaster, but they are absolutely everything in the five days, while the one-day game has the best of both worlds. 

And I have always adored the New Zealand cricket team, even - especially - when they get shit on. My first memory of it is the underarm bowl of 1981, which is pretty fucking formative, and probably the number one reason I never moved to Australia.

And since then, there have been moments of absolute glory - Grant Elliot's six to beat South Africa at the 2015 semi; Chris Pringle bowling an impossible maiden over to Bruce Reid to beat the Aussies; the day Nathan Astle said fuck it, and just went for it with one of the most egregious batting displays ever seen anywhere.

It's all balanced out by the tragedies and heartbreaks - the '92 team who suddenly looked unexpectedly unstoppable until they ran into Pakistan; and the way the last world cup ended was the biggest heartbreak of them all, denied by the absolute slimmest of margins and the insane idea that a batman can hit the ball while running between wickets. 

At least England were fucking awful at the current World Cup, and we got through to the semis, and they didn't. And while we just got thrashed by India last night, that's okay, because India are unquestionably the greatest team in the world right now, and beating them at home was always a tall fucking order.  

But I'm sure there will be more nail-biting losses, absolute tragedies of the form. No other sport does it better.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon: The final word

I did not want to see Killers of the Flower Moon at first, because the trailers made it all seem like DiCaprio was the white saviour swooping in to help the Indians with their problems. But then I heard his character was actually a total piece of shit, and that's the kind of Scorsese movie I can get behind.

(There were still too many scenes of him looking sad when he sees what high explosives he's been forcing people to use actually do to a human body. Just be a fuckin' weasel if you're going to be a weasel, don't try to humanise the fool.)

But it's the dual meaning of that last line that really hit home at the end of 3+ hours. It's a line that signifies that Mollie's life shouldn't be solely defined by the terrible tragedies that befell her family, but also that it was already being forgotten by a society embarrassed by such a naked grab for power. There's a lot going on in there in those few words, especially when you see who is uttering them.  

With this and Oppenheimer (and apparently Barbie which I have to see soon so my wife can lob patriarchy jokes at me), it's been an absolute blinder of a year for last lines in big films. They are what you walk out of the film with, and the perfect line can make or break a movie. I won't ever forget this one. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Love (and marriage) and Rockets

When you've been following the lives and loves of a single character for 40 years - especially one created by an absolute comics maestro like Jaime Hernandez - sometimes you miss or are blind-sided by the big life-changing events. Because you just can't cover everything in a complex life like this, and sometimes those huge moments just suddenly happen in the last couple of pages of the new Love and Rockets.

The way Ray and Maggie tie the knot in the latest issue of the brilliant ongoing comic series by Los Bros Hernandez is so understated, and so fitting for people in their fifties who know they don't have time to fuck around anymore and need to efficiently deal with their issues.

They're not kids anymore. Time to get on with things. (Except for Hopey, who really looked settled down for a while, but is actually still playing the same old song, one involving yet another Maggie substitute/doppelganger, which must be the fifth or sixth time this has happened.)

And so those two pages at the end of the issue, featuring  a courthouse marriage between two people who have loved each other their entire lives, even when they went years without admitting it. Just a couple of witnesses (but at least one of them is Hopey, Mags ain't that cruel), and the job is done.

Maggie has form with this, keeping some of her most significant milestones hidden deep inside. This isn't even her first marriage, with her last one happening entirely off page, and only confirmed when it was over. I still wonder how Tony is doing, although seeing everyone else at that reunion a couple of years ago was so fab.

There's no drama to it, because there usually isn't in real life. When I went through a wedding phase in my life - 20 in one year! - I used to fantasise about everything going a bit soap opera, but it never did. Not all of those marriages were that quiet, but there was no drama at the ceremony.

And you're left with the idea that after all these people have been through, they just fucking deserve some peace and quiet. Some rest, and sealing it with an easy declaration that doesn't burn down their world, but just gets on with things. That's love. Never mind the rockets.

Monday, November 13, 2023

On the road

I have to do some proper, serious driving in a couple of months, taking two different cars on the same 1000km+ road trip. It's going to be two hard days of traveling each time, including a three-hour ferry ride between the islands. 

I will be on my own for several days, just me and the highway. And every time somebody expresses concern about how rough it might be, I want to tell them to seriously go to hell, because I can't fucking wait to hit that road.

My American brothers and sisters might mock my 1000-kay odyssey as extremely weak sauce, and I know where they are coming from - I drove two days solid heading east from San Fransisco and got about 1/8th of the way across the country. Even my trans-Tasman cuzzies can scoff at my distance, because they have roads so endless people are always getting gobbled up by the desert.

I've done some miles, all around the world, (and seriously think Americans are the best drivers in the world). But I love the groove of my native roads in Aotearoa - the State Highway One I need to drive early next year has lakes and deserts and foreshores and endless rolling hills.

And while I haven't done a solo road trip like this in quite a few years, I haven't forgotten that the most important thing is the sounds. I've got weeks before I have to go, but I'm already thinking about what I'm going to listen to on the drive. I don't usually have complete control of the stereo in the car, and can't listen to as much Faith No More as I would like, and Anika Moa's excellent kids songs are mighty ear-worms that really get stuck in there. But this is my time.

There will be all sorts of music to cruise to, nothing eats up the distance by getting lost in the tunes.  I've been getting back into the full albums lately, rather than just playlists and other singles, and two or three of those and you're making some serious time.

It's always fun to tune into local radio station to see what is going on in the area you're shooting through, although I am also very wary of that after the time we got stuck in the American desert and only had - for some goddamn reason - OK Computer and Era Vulgaris on CD to listen to in the car.

There's also the obvious option of podcats and audio plays, and it's a chance to get through some Dr Who adventures that I bought from Big Finish a decade ago and haven't got around to yet.

I have also deliberately saved the last two Fall of Civilisations I haven't listened to - that's eight hours there, baby - but don't think I'll be able to hold off on the Band of Brothers podcast I just found the other day. I could catch up on the Black Sheep, a podcast by most excellent colleague William Ray - I only just realised I missed two whole seasons of that.

I got a bit more time to find something else. In the end, I'll only be on the road for a couple of days, but I have to make them count.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Nosferatu: I am going far away to the land of robbers and ghosts.

It's a rough week, so normal service is being postponed for the next seven days, and you'll have to wait until next week for my astute and highly dubious takes on the latest Love and Rockets, the last words in Killers of the Flower Moon, and the unreserved beauty of the game of cricket.

Instead, it's old-timey movie week at the Tearoom of Despair. I've spent a lot of time lately on the Timeless Classic Movies  channel on YouTube, and it's no hardship to share seven of my favourites over the next week. I've aonly scratched the service - there's tonnes of films there that I do want to see based on their title alone, and the fact they're rarely much more than an hour long certainly helps, but I'm such a basic bitch I've really only gone for the stone cold classics. Find your own faves.

Anyway, Nosferatu:


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Marvel's Time Slips: Smith's Captain Britain, Davis' Iron Man and Teran's Punisher

Captain Britain by Matt Smith
Iron Man by Guy Davis
Punisher by Frank Teran

Frank Castle is always bulked up, with that giant Andru/Zeck physique hardening into a mountain of man, but there is something just fucking creepy about a skinny, filthy little runt with a pot belly who is also the best killer in the world.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Blowing for Monty

I'd seen him in a few other films before, but after finally getting around to seeing From Here to Eternity and the part where he blows the horn for his dead friend, I can now understand why everybody in the 1970s - both men and women - had a massive crush on Montgomery Clift.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Leatherface: The best massacre is the third massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was always more terrifying as a concept than an actual movie. There's no denying that Tobe Hopper's film is a dead-set, stone cold masterpiece, but there is a part of my redneck soul that will always think Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is a better film.

The original Massacre was the epitome of the video nasty around my part of the world. Local video  stores didn't even have it, but a tape circulated amongst the adults around town. When my dad got to finally see it, he expressly barred any of us kids from watching a single frame.

As someone who loved The Omen, I thought this was drastically unfair, although if I stopped raging for a second, I could see his point. Even the cover of that grotty video getting passed around looked terrifying. In the end, he said it was pretty average, but he wasn't exactly a huge cinephile.

So the first Chainsaw I actually saw was the third, as part of the regular Friday night video sessions with my mates. Too young for booze, too old for toys, we'd pool our money together enough to get a shitload of hot chips, vast amounts of carbonated beverage, and a $3 weekly hire from the video store.

So that's how I got introduced to the Sawyers and their murderous ways, with the Leatherface, The Saw was family, and I fucking loved it.

I've seen most of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films since (although I seriously lost track two or three reboots ago). And of course I love Part Two, and its gonzo refusal to take it down a notch, until the dueling chainsaws at the end seems like an appropriate escalation.

And when I did finally get to see the original, it was as good as I'd always dreamed -  the sudden shutter, the chainsaw twirling in the sunset at the end.

But I still, in my heart, like part three more. You've got the mighty Ken Foree saying 'You're toast, fuck!', and wondering why these cannibal dickheads can't just order some fucking pizza; and a very young Viggo Mortensen oozing absolute charm as he nails a hand to the chair.

It was slick, where the original was grimy, and followed all the usual beats, when the original sawed out its own path through the high and dry Texas grass. But you never forget your first Chainsaw, no matter how many legends it spawned.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Pointing at the sign: The Eagles of Mordor would be a nightmare

It's been 20 years now and people are still making this claim like it's fucking clever, so I have to point at the sign again. For God's sake, the fact that it's a damned Hobbit who actually gets the deed done is the motherfucking point of the whole thing.


Dumb movie arguments (that think they're so smart)

Originally posted December 20, 2016



It's not hard to pick holes in your average big movie. The nature of mass collaboration and desperate commercial imperatives means every kind of blockbuster has some kind of plot or logic hole, and some films can be rife with them.

It can be a lot of fun to rip into a dumb movie, but there is a certain kind of nit-picking that is almost painful to listen to – one where the complainant's innate superiority to everyone else in the world is revealed, as they sniffily point out some logical flaw or scientific impossibility, while managing to completely miss the whole fucking point of the thing.

These kinds of complaints are repeated to the point of cliche, and almost become common truths, except these arguments are big, fragile balloons full of bullshit. There have been plenty of examples of this in the current age of blockbuster movie nonsense, but here are a few that always grate.

Why didn't the eagles just fly them all to Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings?

This might be the most foolish fucking argument in the history of pop culture – ever since the books were first published, there have been know-it-alls who point out the whole mess could have been cleared up if those eagles who save Frodo and Sam from the slopes of Mt Doom at the last minute had just flown them there in the first place.

And it's a reasonable argument to make, except for the fact that it spectacularly misses the biggest point in the whole damn saga. The story keeps telling you over and over that if anyone other than Hobbits – the most literally down to earth and sensible creatures in the whole of Middle-Earth – tried to take the ring, they'd be corrupted by its power, and would lose themselves to evil. It's why Gandalf can't carry it, or any elf, or any man, or any bloody eagle.

Even Samwise bloody Gamgee almost gives into it, and becomes Lord of the Gardens, so what chance would ancient and powerful creatures like the eagles have? If they tried to carry the ring to Mordor, or even carry someone who is carrying it, it wouldn't work.

There are other points being made here, about the necessity of a long, hard log to accomplish anything of true worth, or that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but there are no shortcuts here, and certainly no in-flight service.

The robots in the Matrix films must be dumb, because there isn't that much power generated by a human

Science nerds love this one, and if you're having a conversation about Keanu's cool kung fu, they'll always pipe up and point out that 'Actually, there is no way the human body produces enough power to sustain the robot civilization, so why should the humans be kept alive in that weird pink goo?', and that kills the kung-fu talk dead.

Leaving aside the whole issue of future tech that can extract power from humans in ways we neanderthals can't even comprehend, (science fiction is quite good at this sort of thing), or that there wouldn't be much of a story if one side just wiped out the other, with no hope of any return, it's another spectacular piece of dumb missing the point.

If anything, the humans in  the pods are there because the robots are actually trying to be better than humans - they're keeping them alive when they could just wipe them out easily. It's simple to think of the robotic overlords as monotonous tyrants, but they're highly-evolved AI creatures that have weirdly complex morals about this sort of thing.

Sure, they try to wipe out everybody not living in a pod, but that's the nature of a war they already won, and the fact that they show some kind of mercy proves that it isn't some kind of black/white absolutism, it's more of a green vibe of compassion.

Bonus comic bullshit: Batman says he's the goddamn Batman

All Star Batman and Robin looks like it will remain shamefully unfinished for a long while to come, which is just fine with a lot of people, who still hold up the moment early in the series where Bats says he is the goddamn Batman as the moment that Frank Miller totally lost all sense of Bat-characterisation.

It's actually nearly a decade old, and there is still smirking about it on click-farm comic book sites, but it's really getting old now, because it says it there, right in the story, that Batman is acting out a tough guy persona, and that he's really bad at it.

Even outside this context, it's a moment as funky as Bob Haney's classic 'Batman digs the day!' caption, but as part of the story, it's the ultimate example of Batman still needing to learn the ropes properly, and trying to figure out this intimidation thing. Sure, it's someone pretending to be tough, but it's supposed to be somebody pretending to be tough.

Star Trek teleportation is a mass murder device

This one has gained inexplicable popularity in the last couple of years, and some high-faultin' commentators can't help pointing out that the teleportation technology in Star Trek actually murders the people on the pad, disintegrating them, before creating a clone at the other end of the line, which thinks it is the same person who just beamed down, but is actually a copy.

Unlike everything else here, it's actually scientifically sound, even if it starts getting a bit theological on the notion of a soul, but anybody who points this out misses the fact that it is absolutely fucking horrifying from a storytelling sense of view

Why the shit would you need a downer like that in a rollicking tale of new worlds and new civilizations? This is Wagon Train To The Stars, not Existential Journeys Into The Soul. The idea that Kirk, Spock and the rest of the merry gang are soul-less abominations, constantly dying over and over again for the cosmic equivalent of going out to the shops, really drains all the fun, and storytelling drive, out of the whole fucking thing.

It's fine for those who are looking for an excuse not to like Star Trek, but if there are any positive feelings towards this whole 'boldly going forward' thing, you don't want to be dragged down by this kind of horror.

Independence Day: You can't hack that

The first Independence Day film is one of the most gloriously dumb blockbusters ever made - and while it is easy to write off as fluff now, it did feature some genuinely groundbreaking effects, and had a profound impact on giant films today.

There is much to pick at, but the tech-nerds always like nothing more than feigning amazement that Jeff Goldblum can just hack into the aliens' computer system, when it is desperately awkward getting any earthly computer configurations from different companies to talk to each other.

Leaving aside the idea that it is a nice nod to the classic War of the Worlds solution, with  new kind of bug bringing down alien invasions, or even that sci-fi thing again about technologies beyond the limited understanding of the real world, there is the little fact that there has been an example of alien tech sitting there in a hanger for decades, which scientists would have been trying to crack. It's right there, on screen. Jeff Golblum didn't have to be some kind of super genius to instantly figure out, the scientists have had years to get their heads around a new operating system and reverse engineer the crap out of it.

Out of all the stories here, Independence Day has the deepest holes and incomprehensible plot turns, but complaints about this little computer really need to be deleted.

Look, it's not hard to rip into these kind of things, they're all flawed – the Lord of the Rings are still pretty amazing feats, but so fucking bulbous, the Matrix films pissed away glorious opportunities with those shitty sequels, the Star Trek films are constantly running out of puff, and Independence Day is Independence Day.

But if you're going to expose the flaws in our entertainments, there is no need to regurgitate the kind of bullshit argument that sounds so smart, but is just as dumb as the movies it skewers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Following the X with Paul

That hardcore obsession with all things X-Men - the one I had when I was 12 and confused about a lot of things in life - it never really went away, and has flared back into life recently with a hardcore re-read of the Claremont years. 

But even I gave up on the X-Men in 1994, I have still followed everything that is going down in the world of X all through the years, even if I only rarely actually buy any comics. I read all the trades from the library - and holy spit, there are a few - and I read my mate Kyle's comics. And, most of all, I relied and still rely on Paul O'Brien and his X-Axis.

I'm now well into the second decade of relying on O'Brien to tell me what's going on. I love his writing style, mixing deep data dumps with precise skewering, and it tells me everything I need to know about the X-Men without even asking. From the pre-social media website to the podcast years to the current and constant updates, reviews and annotations on the House to Astonish website, I really don't know what I'd do without Paul.