Friday, October 21, 2016

Such a fucking nerd

I saw a huge billboard for the big local geek convention beside the highway the other day, and when I saw they didn't use the word 'comic' at any point on the billboard, it genuinely got me down.

I am such a fucking nerd.

Spoilers for a Mark Millar comic

It wasn't much of a surprise to see SkyFox pull a Siadwell Rhys in the latest issue of Millar/Quiteley's Jupiter's Legacy – as well as the usual blunt-force trauma that Mark Millar calls foreshadowing, he even had the Red Dragon's mask.

Still, hopefully Millar will go for a full-on Zenith rip-off in the concluding issue, and Silver Fox already pulled off a Peter St John and it's all happening in Walter's head. That would be perfect.

I am such a fucking nerd.

I cracked the 90 percent mark on Spider Solitaire the other day, and actually did a fucking dance around the room in celebration, but had to stop after I knocked a three-foot tall Batman doll off the bookcase.

One of his damn ears was broken off, and it makes him look a bit battle-weary, and a lot more goofy, and I think I like it that way.

I also have a Batman keyring, and his bloody foot came off yesterday. He just looks stupid.

I am such a fucking nerd.

I watched the Silence In the Library two-part episode of Doctor Who for the first time in years last week, and it was fascinating, because it was a completely different experience this time around, watching the non-linear story of River Song come to a beginning/ending.

The first time I saw it, years ago now, I was on the Doctor’s side, wondering who this mad woman who knows everything about him is. But seen now, after all the River Song appearances in the past eight years, it’s a whole different story, and it’s the Doctor who seems like a weirdo. Of course he can trust this woman, he’s married her (in an alternate dimension of no time), and she’s Amy and Rory’s baby, for crying out loud! Just because it hasn’t happened to him yet is no excuse for not recognising her.

River was really a part of the Eleventh Doctor’s story more than anybody else, she only appeared with the 10th and 12th once each, but each time it’s a little bit heartbreaking. Capaldi’s whispered ‘Hello sweetie’ in the last Christmas special is devastating, and it’s just as hard to see the Tennant Doctor look so baffled around the good Professor.

I am such a fucking nerd.

I paid $12.95 for the first Marvel Swimsuit Special in 1992, and I still own it today.

I am such a fucking nerd.

The free preview things that the big comic companies keep putting out are usually a total waste of space, but a recent Marvel one had something interesting, and got me to buy my first Luke Cage comic since forever. So maybe they do work.

It was a Luke Cage comic by Genndy Tartakovsky, who is some kind of mad master of hyper-kinetic smackdowns and comedy beats, so it was a pretty easy sell, but I’d forgotten it even existed, so I still needed to be sold.

I am such a fucking nerd.

After decades of watching all kind of gory horror films, it’s always a delight to see something new, to see something actually unique.

The current season of Ash versus Evil Dead totally delivered on that score, with the second episode featuring Bruce Campbell getting up to some extremely gory shenanigans at a local morgue, in his latest slapstick battle against the murderous evil from beyond the veil. At one point, Ash gets dragged up through the butt of a corpse, and has to spend the next few minutes fighting evil with the disemboweled corpse stuck on top of head, and the poor dead dude’s pubic hair and cock ring getting right into his face.

I’ve seen a lot, but I have not seen that ever.

I am such a fucking nerd.

The trade paperback collection of the terrible Scourge's rampage in the Marvel Universe was put out by Marvel under the title: Captain America: Scourge of the Underwolrd. It's spelled that way both on the cover and on the spine.

I keep thinking I should get rid of it, because even with the best of intentions, they're still not great comics, but I love that title typo, and it makes me happy seeing it on the bookshelf.

I am such a fucking nerd.

The other day, I had a few beers and was wandering around the central city, and it was all lit up and beautiful, and it really felt like this was a wonderful and lovely slice of space and time to be living in, and I know I’m coming from the realm of utmost privilege, but this is a wonderful and amazing time to be alive, and there is so much incredible beauty in this world, and it is my honour and privilege to share this world with all of you.

I am such a fucking nerd.

Every time I try to watch some political discourse on the television, this scene from Milligan/Fegredo's Girl comic pops into my head:

I am such a fucking nerd.

The lovely wife has been watching a lot of Poldark this week, sucked in by the almighty force of shirtless Aidan Turner. She describes her abandonment of all wifely duties as 'Poldarking', and insists it's a real verb.

She’s all caught up with it now, and has moved onto ‘Outlanding’, which is a little easier to handle, because at least she’s stopped talking in that godawful 18th century Cornish burr.

She is such a fucking nerd.

Millions and millions of people are going to go to a Doctor Strange movie later this month.

We are all such fucking nerds.

But what’s so bad about being such a fucking nerd anyway? Going through life without being passionate about something - whether it’s dumb comics, silly TV shows or the state of the entire fucking universe – is the dullest and most depressing of existences. Getting a bit obsessed with our favourite entertainments can be healthy, and immensely rewarding. They can help you connect with the world, and all the other fucking nerds in it.

I am such a fucking nerd, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Real ads from a fictional universe

I paid $12.95 for the first Marvel Universe Swimsuit Special at some point in the early nineties. Remarkably, I still haven't got rid of it yet.

I think it's the ads. I always love this kind of meta-bullshit. Now I just gotta find what I did with the 1992 Year in Review for the rest of them...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Horror! (you know, for kids)

I was too young to be allowed to see Blade Runner when it came out, but my parents didn't think twice about giving the young me this colouring book with a horror theme. Some of the pictures by the unidentified artist are clear rips on classic Universal and Hammer horror films, but a lot of the grotesques that were waiting for me to scribble on with crayon were straight-up nightmare fuel. Thanks Mum and Dad!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Al Williamson's mean and moody Blade Runner

I was only seven when Blade Runner came out, and was incandescent with fury when I was told I was too young to go see the new movie with Han Solo in it. In retrospect, it really isn't a film for seven-year-olds, but my brilliant and loving Nana Smith got me the comic version, with the whole movie collected together in one sharp 45-page adaptation, and a lean script from Archie Goodwin and some mean and moody art from Al Williamson. It took me a while to see Ridley Scott's version of the story, but Williamson's use of clear caricature, startling shadows and bold colours kept me happy for years. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Zombies on another Friday night at the video store

Video rental stores ruled the world of home entertainment for three goddamn decades, and I must have spent hundreds of hours roaming their aisles in that period, looking for something to watch. Looking for anything to watch. And usually settling for something fucking terrible.

This was, obviously, time well spent.

The whole concept of the video store isn’t quite dead yet, and may boast a half-life that lasts a lot longer than anybody expects, but it’s definitely on life support after taking a deep beating. They’re closing down everywhere, unable to make a buck anymore, as almost everybody downloads or streams everything they ever want from the comfort of their sofa.

I live in a city of more than 1.5 million people, and I’m pretty sure there are less than a dozen video stores left in the whole city. Every few weeks, a new store goes out of business, liquidating all its product and getting turned into a carpet store or some shit.

While this means there are some fantastic deals in those closing down sales - and you can pick up entire seasons of brilliant TV on DVD for a couple of bucks when the stores shut down - it's always a bit sad to see another one go.  They used to be everywhere, but are now a totally niche experience.

Back in the day, when I was growing up in the pre-internet era, there were more than half a dozen video stores in the small town I grew up in. Only half of them were big chain stores, with a staggering amount of variety in the independent joints.

The choice actually seems pitiful, compared to the entertainment options now, but after nothing but TV, the power of choice was intoxicating. I don’t always know what I want to watch, and the art of browsing is still far easier in person, so I spent countless hours wandering through those endless shelves.

Some video stores were huge, and it took literally years to dig through the shit and find everything that sounded interesting, or discover things like John Woo’s early Hong Kong action films, badly dubbed but beautiful, sandwiched between Brian Bosworth’s Stone Cold and Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action 3. Some days I would spend more time choosing the movie, than it took to actually watch the fucking thing.

My teenage years were spent in a tiny town of 3000 souls, and there wasn't a lot to do, so every Friday night me and my mates would have just enough money for some hot chips and some soft drink and a zombie movie. We watched everything we could, action, western, thriller, documentary, arthouse, comedy, and all the horror in the world. We did start to run out of good shit after a while, and were forced to resort to cinematic monstrosities like Curse Of The Cannibal Confederates, but we always walked away with something.

(It doesn’t surprise me to hear recently that while the small town video stores might look just as sickly, they are actually outlasting their big city counterparts, because there is just nothing else to do in the smaller towns, and cheap property puts a lot of stores back into the black.)

But Quentin Tarantino was fuckin' right - you can't beat the film education of a good video store. One of my locals had an astonishing array of Alfred Hitchcock films, you could find almost every grotty Italian horror film between all the region’s stores, and another video store manager must have had a serious hard-on for John Wayne, because almost everything the Duke ever did was sitting on his shelves. (It still took me years to find a copy of the Shootist.)

Over a couple of decades, I watched thousands of fucking films on videotape. I might have gone to one or two movies a week at the actual cinema, but I could get through eight or nine a week on tape. I'd soak that shit right up, and I’d watch anything.

Video stores started out as seedy little operations, with vast porn collections and smoky, darkly-lit shops. It all got a bit cleaner and more sanitised when the big chains started making serious money out of 1980s blockbusters, and they came in and overran everyone.

There were way more copies of all the big movies, but also a bland hegemony between them all. There was no need to go all over town looking for the latest Jim Jarmusch film, if the local chain store didn’t have it, none of them would have it. Even with huge mega-stores, choices became more limited.

I worked in a video store in 2001, and it was great because I could talk shit about the Coen Brothers with the customers, and watch two dozen films a week, but I only lasted eight weeks, because the boss was a total arsehole and it wasn’t worth it, so I went and got a job delivering furniture instead.

At that time, DVDs were still just a couple of shelves and most people still hired tapes. Porn was still a big seller, because gross old men in dirty raincoats are notoriously slow at technology uptake. The whole video store game got a brief breath of life with that DVD revolution, and that kept things going for a while, but the money just isn’t there anymore. 

We’re watching more TV and film than ever before, but there is no demand for browsing those endless dusty shelves. It’s too much effort to actually go and find something, when it can all come to us.

There were always some video stores that were a step ahead of the rest, places where you would have to go to find Fellini films, or Kenneth Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle. Every city usually had one good arthouse store, where you could find the stuff you'd never find anywhere else.

Unsurprisingly, these ones are the ones that are still hanging in there, thanks to loyal and cine-literate clientele. As the big chains wither and die, these are the ones that will survive the longest.

I haven't rented anything from a video store for a year now, not since my local disappeared. Just like everybody else, I get my movie fix from my sofa. I would love to spend more time browsing for crazy shit I'd never heard of before, but the stores just aren't there anymore.

But I still miss those long, painful nights roaming those aisles, looking for that one gem. And I certainly don't regret all that time lost between dusty shelves, not when there were so many good results.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cameron's pacing: Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

Back in the '90s, when James Cameron's Titanic film was ruling the cinematic world, a local magazine reporter tried to ingratiate themselves with noted script-writer John Sayles by getting in some pre-emptive sneering about the quality of the big ship's script.

But Sayles wasn't having any of that, and shut the moaning down by pointing out that Titanic's scriptwork was actually pretty impressive, using the example of the scene near the start of the film where the mechanics of the sinking are helpfully explained by the salvage crew. So when all the shit goes down in the final hour, everybody knows what is going on when the boat splits and rips in half – it's all been explained, and it doesn't get in the way of the savage thrills of the climax. That was some smart stuff, said Sayles.

Cameron's movies are amazingly popular and successful, but everybody always lays into his scripts because they are such easy targets, and misses the beauty of the structure.

It's been a while since Cameron was a regular film-maker - he has only directed one film this century, and it's extremely probable that he will spend the rest of his life making Avatar films. There have already been plenty of articles and chin-stroking think-pieces that have convinced themselves that Cameron has over-reached himself with his latest plan to do four new Avatar films, confident that there isn't the demand for Cameron's vision, and that he is going to fall on his face.

Cameron doesn't care. They said that about the first Avatar film, and Titanic, and almost everything he has done since the Abyss. Then his movies come out, and all the smart people sneer at them, and they still make billions of dollars. Maybe all those reports of rampant egomania and on-set hubris help overlook the fact that Cameron knows exactly what he is doing.

There are certainly some small truths to the sneering about the stories in Camerons films. They can be blunt and unoriginal – the plot of Avatar really was Dances With Smurfs – and the subtext is always painfully obvious.

The dialogue also gets a kicking for being so on the nose, but his movies still have one-liners that pop – Aliens is always going to be quoted until the end of time, even when most of that quotable dialogue comes from the ironic macho posturing of the marines.

His films are often too long, because they actually take the time build to something, and then take their own damn time paying it off. True Lies, Avatar, The Abyss and Titanic could all still lose a good 20 minutes each. But as overwieght as they are, the pacing is still solid as shit, and once things get going, they rock along.

And the structure of his Terminator films, and his Aliens movie, are immaculate. His success with these films is often imitated and never beaten, because they all lack that sense of pace.

Take Aliens, which takes a good hour to get going, as you follow Ripley's frustrating new life and get to know all the grunts, before dropping them into hell. It still manages to be an intense and exciting experience, with fevered nightmares and the exhilarating drop onto the planet – insistent military drumming gaining way to the acceleration-fueled thrills of the fall itself.

The tension – which is diluted a lot by the Special Edition, which offered an ill-advised view of the complex before the infestation - builds and builds for the first hour, and it's almost relief as the Aliens finally show themselves. It then slowly ramps it up again untiul the final 45 minutes, which just don't stop in a blaze of gunfire, explosions and hissing monsters.

And then it only goes and transcends the whole goddamn genre, by going past the natural end point of a fucking huge nuclear explosion, and has one final fight between the power-loading Ripley and the Queen Bitch, and it doesn't feel tacked on, or forced at all, but the natural end-point to Ripley's struggles. 

For all his technological innovations, Cameron is a total classicist in his action scenes, with long, flowing shots of all hell breaking lose. He was dabbling with the chaos of handheld 20 years before it was cool, with the first action scene in Aliens largely seen through the cameras on the heads of the grunts, putting the viewer right in the midst of the horror.

But most of the time, the action is more observational than immersive and coolly detached from the blood, sweat and fears. You're still worried about Sarah Conner, but you can see exactly how much shit she is in when she faces off against a metallic monster.

The action scenes also work because he doesn't just pace them as individual scenes, he paces them as part of an overall movie, which is much harder than it looks.

Take, for instance, the action in Zach Snyder films, which is usually loud and colourful and bombastic as fuck, but often weirdly detached from the rest of the movie, it's a cool, scene, but only a cool scene, while Cameron's action is a vital part of the whole story.

To use another fairly recent example of a terribly structured action film that could learn a few lessons from Cameron, you can go back to the latest Bond. Spectre builds to nothing – one of the biggest explosions in movie history is almost a footnote in the background, and then the film goes nowhere after that.

It totally runs out of ideas, just as things should be ramping up, and there is some half-arse running around a dark London. Even a crashing helicopter reeks of cliche, and the film doesn't build to anything, with the usual bullshit daddy issues substituting for any depth. Instead of leaving the film on a high, it ends with a sigh of boredom.

Cameron is well into his sixties now, but is just as driven when it comes to his particular passions. There haven't been as many films as they were early in his career, because he's been tinkering with the technology behind the scenes.

And who can blame him? He's has written the rules on how to put a large-scale cinematic on screen, and many blockbuster creators are still just catching up, or willfully ignoring his lessons.

After all that, he can spend as much time on the dippy hippy dayglo world of Avatar as he likes.