Thursday, October 6, 2022

Death of a five-star review

Even though I've always been weird about the value of the five-star review system - four star systems are just a waste of space and half-stars are for cowards - I don't mind when the music magazines and sites drop them, because they're almost no bloody use at all.

In the few places I go to for reviews of new music that use a five-star system, almost everything gets three or four, and that's about it. Something truly awful might get a one, something truly spectacular might get the five, but almost everything hovers in the bland hegemony of 'pretty good'.

I still love it in the movies reviews, because you're much more likely to get a pan of a film, or a rush to crown the next great masterpiece. It's all as subjective as ever, but there is still something about a five-star review in Empire magazine that means something to me, and ensures I'll seek that film out, whatever it is about..

Maybe this unwillingness to really get stuck into new music is that it's a more personal medium, and slagging off an artist who is probably doing their very best can just seem mean, while movies are more of a collaboration, so you're less likely to get personal.

Or maybe it's just because music is more of a vibe that can never be consigned to any kind of ratings system, and a tune that means everything to millions of people can leave one person cold. The highs and lows of music can never be charted, no matter how many stars you use.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Huffin', puffin', blow your house in

I work with people who weren't even born the last time I even heard this song before last week, but I still remember every damn word.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Heroes Return: All foreplay, no feeling

So I'm reading some Heroes Return comic that I got from the library and it's the usual superhero nonsense and I'm good with that. I love seeing beings of unimaginable power smash each other in the fucking face. I get off on it. And Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness usually produce the kind of pumped-up hyperbole that is all I want in these kinds of comics, so I'm all in, for 200 pages, at least.

And it's all going along nicely when we get to this part during the big fight at the climax, where there is the biggest wind-up for some kind of pay-off, and then....

Nothing. It cuts to another bit of action. You don't see the hit of the hammer, or any of the pain Thor is bringing down, you don't see anything. No pay-off, no climax. The next time you see these characters, they're both roughing it up  at about the same rate, and then Thor is smacked down in the name of plot shenanigans and the answer to Thor's mighty question is tossed away.

I was so thrown off by this jarring cut, I had to find another copy of this comic to see if the collected edition had some kind of misprint, but it turned out that's just how it was.

Once on a flight home from foreign lands, the lovely wife was watching that Australia film, starring Huge Jackman and Nikki Kidman, and they cut out the bit where the rugged man and determined woman finally embrace and kiss and it was the biggest tease ever, with no reward. A harmless romance movie became something deeply frustrating.

I felt the same here, and while everything worked out okay for the good guys, (with the usual foreboding notes for the future), it all felt pretty unsatisfying. Jarring, discordant narratives might be an attempt to be big or clever, or things might have just got squeezed out by the endless pontifications, but I don't know how anybody could get off on this kind of thing.

Monday, October 3, 2022

I still haven't shot the piano player

If there was ever a single moment when I decided to be a movie fan, it was the day I picked up my first copy of Empire, the British film magazine. It was three months old by the time it appeared on bookshop shelves, but everything was three months old in this part of the world in the early 90s, so it wasn't that much of a bother, and the films the Empire team were starting to get breathless about were only just showing up in the first multiplexes and boutique arthouse cinemas.

To be honest, I only got the magazine for the posters, because it had the bitching Blade Runner one-sheet and a striking quad-style version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and they were a good buy, still up on my walls years and years later (but now lost to a clean-out.). But the magazine was a nice bonus, especially since it literally changed the way I consumed and enjoyed all sorts of movies.

I had been a science fiction and horror fanatic since a very young age, and almost all of the movie magazines I'd read were genre focused - Starlog and The Dark Side and Fangoria and such, not anything about straight movies.

But that Empire magazine was full of fascinating details about all sorts of weird films from all sorts of countries and genres - films that offered new perspectives on life and love and action, and I was 18 and ready to hoover all that shit right up.

I've read a lot of Empire magazines since that first one (I would say I've never missed an issue, but the appearance of the dread Australian edition fucked up distribution into this country, and I missed a few before I got into the comfortable regularity of a subscription), but I can still remember one particular meaty article from that first issue.

It was an thing about Shoot the Piano Player, the French New Wave film from 1960, directed by the great Fran├žois Truffaut and starring the mighty Charles Aznavour, and it sounded so fucking hot and smart. I could still dig on the Umberto Lenzi, and still do, but there were cinematic worlds beyond ray-guns and gore and existential dread.

And reading that article in my bedroom at our house with the hedge on Richard Pearse Drive, in another freezing winter, when there were still only two channels on the TV,,that movie became a metaphor for it all. It represented all the drama and foreign and arty films I'd never looked at, for all the new perspectives great cinema can aspire to. It has constantly inspired to try out new stuff, to get out of the dreaded comfort zone. All there, in the appreciation for Truffaut's little film. I had to check it out.

The punchline is obvious - 30 years later, and I still haven't actually seen it. It's never been on any TV station I was near, was in no video stores, and never popped up on any streaming services I've toyed with. I'd still like to see it just as much as I did in 1993, and if it comes near me, I'll lunge at it.

It doesn't matter, it's still a great metaphor. Metaphors don't need reality sticking its face into things.

I also haven't seen any of Satyajit Ray's masterful Apu Trilogy, even after Empire's poetic ode to it sometime in the early 2000s. I'll get there, man. I promise.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

TSJ 14

Fuck man, I haven't stepped foot inside a club in decades. But I do still watch Blake's 7, and always feel sorry for the mutoids.


ThEraPeutIc SKIn JobS 

Number Fourteen

Nothing Special 


    That was now, the past was prologue, and the everlasting moment stretched a little further than necessary, the catastrophic backlash a matter of dreadful inevitability. 

    He can’t hold on to the moment as his body protests with a vicious stabbing pain in his lower back, and he’s forced to use an Oxford comma, and retire from the dance floor.

    “Where the fuck are you going?” screams Kristine in his ear, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling him back. “Song's not finished yet!”

    Dr. Skin smiles weakly and gestures back towards the bar. “Thirsty,” he cries, desperate to be heard above the band, who launch into an ear-splitting crescendo, rock gods on the rampage, the crowd caught in their trap. The floor vibrates with the beat as he pulls free and makes for the bar.

    It’s too crowded as a disturbing number of young people cover every available surface, desperate to get drinks in. They’re having the best night of their lives, and their youthful optimism is too much for Skin as he veers left and staggers into the toilet.

    Surprisingly deserted, the bathroom offers Skin a chance to get his shit together. He splashes cold water on his face and washes away the sweat, the liquid refreshing as hell. He rubs his eye and glances at his watch. They only arrived at the club an hour ago, but it feels far longer than that.

    Resisting the urge to rub his eyes raw, Skin lowers his hand and stares at the reflection in the mirror above the basin. Streaked with an unidentifiable white liquid, he can still make out the features of his latest face. He isn’t completely satisfied with his new look, the eyes a little too far apart for his liking, but it is still a good, strong face.

    Staring into his own eyes, the one feature he never changed, Skin tries to focus. He doesn’t know why he feels so weak and indistinct, but felt it might have had something to do with the bullet he’d recently put in his brain. He’d shot himself in the head over a dozen times so far - it's just a thing you did in his line of business - and he’d recovered from each with consummate ease. Until now. 

    Now, he felt drained, listless. He’d danced the night away more times than he’d care to remember, but he hadn’t been able to keep up the pace tonight. Now, staring into the mirror, Skin sees an old man’s eyes staring back. “Fuck this,” he spits, turning away from the mirror and storming back out onto the main floor of the club. Self-pity is for morons, and Skin refuses to play that game anymore.

    Unfortunately, despite the very best of intentions, his body continues to conspire against him. He goes weak at the knees and has to take a seat in one of the comfortable armchairs management have thoughtfully provided.

    His head leaning back against the cushion, Skin’s eyes are drawn to the entertainment offered. A MagikMirror has been installed directly above the dance floor, offering mere mortals a glimpse into a higher dimension.

    In that strange place on the other side of the mirror, events beyond the grasp of human minds occur on a remarkably predictable basis. To normal eyes, the actions appear in the form of magnificent fireworks, an infinite amount bursting and flaring in a black void. The complete lives and histories of the inhabitants of the Big Brother dimension are measured in nanoseconds, their entire existence appearing as a crimson starburst, appearing for a moment before fading away. As it fades, the history is lost forever, a fact that has little effect on the dancers below. They just don’t give a shit.

    Dr. Skin cares so much it hurts, but he still finds it hard to feel sympathy for sentient light, and he turns away from the sight, looking around the other people filling the room. They’re all celebrating, positive vibes and love filling the air. It’s enough to make a cynic sick, but Skin feeds from it. From his seat he homes in on a conversation happening over the other side of the room. Ignoring the music and the noise of the club, he picks up on the two young people talking about pop-culture inanities.

    “Dude, I’m telling you. That bit in the credits where his face comes up like a wanted sign, only to disappear into space as the music builds. Man, it was like they would NEVER catch him, you know?”

    “Don’t ask me, man. I only watched it for the mutoids.”

    Skins pulls away from the conversation, strangely saddened by its triviality. He turns back to the dance floor, where Kristine has found a new dancing partner, a tall, wide man in dark clothing, subtly mirroring her every move. She doesn’t appear to take much notice, but jealousy still flares deep in the heart of Skin. He knows he should know better, but the savage pride of the emotion is still an integral part of his personality.

    Spurned on by this envy and driven by spite, Skin makes his way back on the floor, and pushes the dark man away. “Forget it, pal”, he says with good humor. “She’s out of your league.”

    “Who are you talking to?” asks Kristine as the dark man fades into smoke with a yellow tinge, which drifts lazily across the room before finally breaking apart.

    “I don’t know,” mumbles Skin, turning back to her and holding her hands tightly. The band bring the song to a sudden, abrupt halt, and there's a few seconds pause as they ready for the next audio blast. Skin takes the opportunity to talk at a decent volume. “I think I’m seeing things. And I think time is fucked.”

    “I don’t know,” mumbles Skin, turning back to her and holding her hands tightly. The band bring the song to a sudden, abrupt halt, and there's a few seconds pause as they ready for the next audio blast. Skin takes the opportunity to talk at a decent volume. “I think I’m seeing things. And I think time is still fucked.”

    “Well, what did you expect?” says Kristine with a smile as the first note of the next number rips through the audience, anticipation peaking at the crucial moment. “I told you not to have those mushrooms for breakfast. They’re notorious for it.”

    She’s right, of course, and Skin deserves everything he gets. But he perseveres, and overrules his body’s objections, putting the cause of commemoration above his own health. As the night moves on time…


    …weird and before he knew it, Skin and Kristine were alone on the dance floor. The band have long since disappeared backstage, and the club’s sound system wound the evening down with Nick Drake. Dead man regret and pre-dawn blues reared their ugly head, but safe in his lover’s arms, Skin felt nothing.

    Holding her tightly, Skin savored her scent: Hot summer sex and boysenberry ice-cream. A faint, musky smell that drove him crazy. The song drew to a close and Kristine broke out of his grip, stepping back and yawning softly.

    “Home?” he asked, reaching for her hand.

    “Hang on,” she replied, walking away toward the toilet. “I just need to powder my nose, then we’ll go.”

    Skin nods and walked back to the bar. The bartender has vanished, so Skin leant over and helped himself to a beer, tasting the sharp bite of the liquid with relish. Looking back around the club, light of the first dawn seeping into the air, Skin noticed that he wasn’t alone with Kristine. The mutoid lover and his friend were still sitting at their table, still talking, still babbling, still having fun.

    Despite the inherent rudeness of his action, Skin eavesdropped on their conversation. They’d missed the point of the celebration with the talking and from the sounds of things, the quality of the discourse had yet to improve.

    “You’re fucking kiddin’, right?”

    “No, I’m serious. It’s just like that shit prison comic you showed me. I’m the star of the six o’clock news!”

    “That was a comic book, fool. This is real life.”

    “Wake up, pal. Reality is getting’ more and more like a comic book everyday.”

    Skin wanted to listen further, but noted that Kristine was returning. It was a pity, he mused. The conversation appeared meaningless at first, but their was a definite subtext, and Skin was convinced he had to only listen for a moment longer and he might have discovered the true point of the dialogue. 

    But who gives a fuck? Kristine smiled at him in the way that never failed to melt his soul, and he followed her out of the club without another word.

    “Christ!’ hissed Skin as they stepped out onto the street. The sun had risen on the new year, and sent a distasteful amount of light directly into Skin’s eyes, scarring his retina. If he had looked closer, Skin might have noticed that the scarring was a direct mirror image of one of the more impressive living fireworks he’d seen earlier in the evening. But he didn’t look closer, and he didn’t notice.

    “Where’d we park the car?” asked Kristine, looking up and down the deserted street. Skin shrugged as he retrieved his sunglasses from an inside pocket and settled them on his face.

    “I wouldn’t worry about it,” he answered soothingly. “We’ll find it. We always find it. Sooner or later.”

    Taking her hand, Skin lead her away down the street. Sleep deprivation began to hit both of them simultaneously, crushing them beneath heavy eyelids and fogged minds. Kristine leaned her head on his shoulder and whispered wearily into his ear. “Another year, huh? Lets hope its better than the rest.”

    “One can only hope.”

    The street began to come to life around them. The new day dawned just like it always did, and offered the same amount of hope and frustration it always proposed. Anything was possible. The past might have been prologue, but the future was now.

The End


This has been a Mad Wish Production. Happy fucking New Year!

Saturday, October 1, 2022

All my comics look brown and yellow

I don't know if it's just a weird side-effect of the very particular American comic books I buy every month, but they're all coming with brown and yellow colour schemes on the cover. 

I only get a tiny amount of regular comics and I enjoy them all, but is this the new look?

Fuck's sake, it's like the inside of a 90s Vertigo comic out there. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

Brink: Seeing the conspiracy everywhere

There's a very funny moment in the latest volume of Brink, the thoroughly excellent 2000ad strip by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard. The series, which features the last of humanity are clinging to existence on giant space stations packed with a despairing population, explained the origins of a word that has been used in connection with dark eldritch gods from the deep nothingness, and it turned out to be something very banal. 

It's a moment that is almost thrown away, but it's also a delightful summation of how conspiracy theories grow out of misunderstood or lost information. The series has been about how humans who have been stripped of all hope turn to sects and cults for answers, and there have been horribly clear indications that there is something supernatural going on, with words that make people literally sick, and video that turns trusted friends into murderous automatons.

But there's also a good chance that there really isn't anything there and that it's all in the collective head of the last of humanity, who are filling the gaps with their own fears and monsters, and the perversion of a technical slogan into a terrible word is the clearest indication yet. 

The big dopey conspiracy theories always fall over because human beings don't work that way - the best argument against the faked moon landings or 9/11 is that thousands of people would have to shut the fuck up about it forever, and that never, ever happens.

But in Brink, there is a voice coming up from the deep, and it could very well be something vast and monstrous, or it might just be the echoes of a depressed humanity, seeing patterns where there aren't any, unable to recognise their own cries. 

The past few years have shown us that we don't have to live on the brink of existence in the cold vacuum of space to poison our brains, but it doesn't help.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Stuck to the cover

The cover price of an American comic book didn't mean shit to godless foreigners like me. By the time they ever got to any shop near me and through freight and exchange rate hikes, they were costing three times what the cover promised. A 75c issue of Alpha Flight would be $2.15, so it had to be bloody worth it.

So almost all the local comics had some kind of price sticker on them. Comics were so worthless to many sellers that they just scrawled the local price on the cover in irreparable ink - I still have so many comics with the owner of Baird's Bookshop's distinctive scrawl - but they mainly came with some kind of sticker.

And I always hated them and had to get them off straight away, to get as much of the cover as pristine as possible. It's a bit of a compulsion, and I've always had the same issue with old videos and DVDs that I bought from the local stores before they all disappeared, (getting the Video Ezy New Lynn sticker off a disc without leaving behind enough glue to jam up in the payer was a goddamn art).

But when it comes to comics, sometimes it takes so much patience to get it off without damaging the cover and you can't rush it, and after all these years, I've become a goddamn expert at it. I know exactly how slowly to pull something off, and the exact moment it's all gone wrong and the cover is starting to tear.

It was always bad enough with stickers, but leave them too long and they can become a complete mission. Because I know what happens when you leave them so long or pick up a comic second hand.

I spent about an hour recently getting a big 'NEW TITLE' sticker off an old 2000ad sci-fi special from the 90s, and there was was one local distributor who did comics for just a few months in the 90s, but left a garish yellow sticker that was hugely difficult to peel off without damage at the time, and near impossible now. I wasn't able to clean the sci-fi special, and you can see the sorry attempt in the photo above.

I've now been getting new comics from the local comic shops for a long time, and they know the value of things and never have any stickers, but I still get them off my 2000ads that I get at the local newsagent as soon as possible, before they become a permanent fixture.

Like many things in my comic reading life, I have become such a fucking expert for something that is of absolutely no use whatsoever in the real world. It's always the way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

You were always right, Len Biehl

I wish I could say the first critic who I really stated to notice by name was someone like Pauline Kael or Kim Newman or Roger Ebert or someone like that. But if I'm honest, it's probably the three-claw reviews a letter writer named Len Biehl would faithfully send in to Marvel Comics Presents every issue that first caught my attention.

For a brief period when I was all about the Marvel, I was getting MCP faithfully every two weeks. And with no internet to find any other opinions on the matter, for a few months Biehl's bullet-point review of every eight-page chapter - featuring Wolverine or Ghost Rider or whoever -  were smart, perceptive and very funny. I never saw Len's name on any other letters page, and have no idea what happened to the dude in the past 30 years, but I do enjoy his reviews of the comic as much as the comic itself.

Older Bronze Age nerds might have had their Uncle Elvis or TM Maple or whatever, but Len was my guy, for just that brief period of time.