Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Night Local: Strawpeople - Crying (1994), 'Taller than God' (1996)

I feel like hearing some smooth female vocals for a change, so it's a Strawpeople song tonight. Or is it?

Oh, Strawpeople. I didn't even know I was a fan - but it seems obvious now, I like at least one song from each of their albums, have enjoyed most of their singles from the early days with Merenia and Stephanie Tuavehi, the sultry Victoria Kelly and the precise Fiona McDonald. Vicarious is as much McDonald's album as it is Mark Tierney's and Paul Casserley's, and yet its predecessor, Broadcast's, Crying, is a ripper. Ladies - you're both pretty! Can't we stop this fighting?

So tonight, as it's ladies' night, here are two videos, one opener from each of the aforementioned albums. I coud have done other songs - like Jamas I rather enjoy Beautfiul Skin (Trick With a Knife is a personal fave, too), but maybe another night, eh?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Hawk the Slayer is one of those movies I have heard a little about over the years, but have until now not seen. Now I have seen it – as has Jamas, but you’re here now, so listen up.
Hawk comes from 1980, and is an oft-maligned movie by purists of the fantasy movie form. It’s cheap, filmed in a non-movie ratio (at 4:3 it was apparently shot for TV and made it into cinemas instead) and is in some places cheesier than Cheddar county. And yet, it’s not as cheesy as you might think, and not as slaved to tropes as popular belief would have it. The story is basic – underwritten, arguably: two brothers, the older and wicked Voltan (Jack ‘what am I doing in this movie?’ Palance) and the younger, slightly less wicked titular Hawk (John ‘what’s my motivation?’ Terry) are caught in a blood feud after Voltan kills Hawk’s woman (previously Voltan’s), the brothers’ father, and in search of ill-gotten spoils and power, kidnaps the head of a fortress nunnery. Enlisting his allies Gort the Giant (Bernard Bresslaw!), Ranulph the Bowman (Morgan Shepherd!), Baldin the dwarf and Crow the Elf, and the occasional services of ‘Woman’ the Witch (Patricia Quinn!) Hawk seeks his revenge before Voltan gets his. And then Voltan gets his, if you see what I mean.

The world isn't under threat, there's no great evil rising over the horizon - Hawk's often likened to a Western, and I can dig that. It’s low fantasy and a lot of fun, partly in its execution, and partly in intent; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it’s not crafted quite well enough to be all that self-aware, and so for a discreet audience it’s become a somewhat guilty pleasure. The Darkness lifted some of its fruitier dialogue from the movie to open a recent single, Bill Bailey’s comic shop owner Bilbo was a fan in Spaced, and Hypnogoria's Jim Moon is, too, and I don’t think too many contortions have been pulled in their enjoyment – it is what it is. But what it is should be mentioned, too – or rather, what it has. An Elf and a Dwarf looking reasonably non-Tolkienesque, a Giant who isn’t really that tall (though he is the tallest of the gang), and some cracking quotable lines. Fan press and websites have had their fun over it for years – I recall an SFX back page article that launched into it for Bresslaw’s marginally greater height, Crow’s moccasin slippers and the dreaded bouncy balls and silly string magic cast remotely by Quinn’s sorceress. Palance isn’t so much chewing the scenery as crashing through it giving it a terrier-sized worrying.

 As I say, the story is light, and though there aren't plotholes per se, it does leave some questions unanswered, a world goes largely undetailed, and there's a definite attempt at teasing for a sequel at the end (there were plans for more - a trilogy or pentalogy, depending on whom you believe). For what's on show there's probably enough for an entertaining 90 minutes and some overenthusiastic fan fiction in there, and as I said before, though the protagonists tend towards tropes (the sneaky comic relief dwarf from the Iron Hills, the unearthly Elf - last of his kind, the noble Giant), they don't cleave explicitly to the styles or character types so worn down by years of RPGs, video games, fantasy trilogies and various knock-offs. In fact, as Jim Moon posits in his defence of Hawk for the 'Witless for the Defence' podcast, the movie manages to be contemporaneous with early Dungeons and Dragons style stories without being part of the tired, late 80s cash-in malaise. And so Bresslaw escapes his Carry On roots to give a mannered performance, and pairs well with his dimunitive partner; Crow is a different kind of Elf from the kind we've seen in Peter Jackson's movies - short-haired, a little bit feral and antisocial, and Quinn's 'Woman' is kinda sexy with her blindfold and hissing delivery.

Maybe we'll get lucky and someone will remake this with a better budget, crew and lead. In the mean-time there's this, a punchline to some, certainly not a patch on fantasy movies that followed it, but ahh, who cares. Hawk the Slayer? Lovable rubbish!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Night Local: The Datsuns, Harmonic Generator (2002)

Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror fame, Mastermind Jon Preddle of Doctor Who research fame, alleged comedian Jesse Mulligan of TVNZ fame... Hamilton, is there nothing you can't impress us with when it comes to the arts?

Certainly when it comes to 'New Garage', the city affectionately known as the Tron has it covered, for it is the birthplace of The Datsuns, and need I say more? No, I didn't think so.

Okay, so it's not Hamilton but Cambridge, but what's 24 kilometres down the Waikato River, eh?

The Datsuns' first album is a winner, and I know this because I own it, though I've never listened all the way through - a rainy day listen, maybe. It was a cheap purchase from the Oamaru Warehouse on a road trip down south. How do you make a lo-fi CD jacket even grungier and lower-fi? Why, lose the jacket and leave the CD in its case at quarter of the price - and so, a very cheap pleasure was made for me. But yes, three stonking singles and two of those have very cool videos to go with them. Now, MF from Hell really is my favourite, but for obvious reasons it doesn't get played in the Monkeyhouse very often, which is a shame as it would really rev up some winter workdays. However, if I can't have that song then the Wire-y Harmonic Generator is my next pick, so here it is.

Oh, one last piece of fact: this song gets namechecked in a Doctor Who Companion Chronicle (Eddie Robson's The Apocalypse Mirror) as a piece of TARDIS kit! I wonder if Jon knew that?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Monkey's Paws

Last week I was perturbed to discover something that’s been creeping up on me with my right hand: it can’t make a Scout salute any more.

For the uninitiated, a Scout salute is the same the world over, and is only slightly varied for Cubs, Guides, Brownies and so on – the hand’s three middle fingers straight, with the farthest finger tucked under the thumb and against the palm. It’s always made by the right hand, as Scouts always shake a fellow Scout with the left. This, our Scouting Manual told us, would equip us well in future endeavours, as we would always therefore be able to recognise the friendship of a fellow Scout. Real life didn’t work that way, of course. Strike one.

But other things have happened since the last days of my Scouting, some twenty-six years ago. Obviously I’ve not been required to make a Scout salute in that time (I’m not entirely sure why I tried it last week, to be honest), but if Old Righty has seemingly forgotten how to make one – you should see it, it’s pathetic, fingers like a row of naked geriatrics struggling to rise out of their deckchairs – then ‘his’ left-side counterpart can make one whip-smart. And ‘he’ never had to practice. Why is that? I’m guessing it’s because I’m right-handed anyway, and roughly in the years between giving up woggles and lanyards and now, I’ve been a guitarist (primarily a lazy strummer), and consequently with the stretching of fingers into new positions my left hand has become nimbler, faster, and generally ‘smarter’ than its earlier outstripper. The whole thing has been some gradual, weird reversal of fortunes, with my right hand – my creative arm, literally, now slower off the mark than his opposite. Strike two.

I’m a right-brained, apparently, being less logical/mathematical and more creative, so perhaps there’s some cerebral shenanigans at play. Dunno. In the mean-time, Old Righty has practiced and is making some headway into recovering his Scout salute-ability. Maybe I should have worked more on my fingerwork during my band days. I do remember the quiet thrill of watching my previously 'dumb' left hand acquire the skill to form chords, find their positions in time without me having to look down to check. It was like getting an extra 'right' hand, but it was as simple as acquiring a new skill. Anyone could do it.

Writer Steve Braunias once observed in an essay for The Listener his fellow contributor, cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and how his middle finger bent away from his thumb at the tip, as though it was shaped with years of drawing. Mine do that, but on both hands - I think barunias' observation was a little off, sadly. But I do have a callus on my right middle finger from years olf holding pens and pencils (will future generations boats these, I wonder?), and of course the string-tapping fingertips of my left hand have the requisite calluses, the badge of becoming a musician, as my guitar playing brother told me. You carry the story of your life on your hands. Being fair-skinned, and living in a country which bakes its citizens alive in the sun I look with abject mortification at my old man hands, and yet they’re the ones I was born with, and intend to keep for as long as I live, scars (I have them, from infant accidents and unruly pets), and all.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Night Local: JeanPaul Sartre Experience, 'Flex' (1987)

A quick post because it's getting late. Here's another Friday night music and paint me blue and call me Sally if it's not another act from the legendary Flying Nun label.

This one's for Christchurch. The rebuild is finally starting and visibly underway, and the city's still feeling the pain of post-earthquake rumbles, floods and inftrastructure headaches. I can't fix any of those things, but what I do have, as the man say, is a very specific set of skills. I'm a NZ music nerd with a blog. That's it, really. But this video has so much more - Christchurch's lovely Port Hills with its rocks intact and where they used to be, and the music of some of its best sons, the weird, daggy, Southern humour of the Jean Paul Sartre Experience, and one of their best songs from their early years, the lumbering, lustful and louche Flex:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RI (P), Rik...

It's a sad day in the Simian household, with the untimely death of the great Rik Mayall announced this morning.

I'm trying to recall the first time I was exposed to Mayall's comedy - probably it was Bad News Tour, made in 1983 (contemporaneously with This is Spinal Tap, apparently) but screened here some time in 1984. The mockumentary, shot 'fly on the wall'-style was a wickedly accurate pillorying of the banal and grubby world of the titular and highly amateur NWOBHM band. Being a young heavy metal fan I lapped it up and eagerly awaited the repeat screening a few years later, in time for the sequel. In the mean-time there was of course the ubiquitous The Young Ones (mid-1985, on a deservedly and therefore very cool late Friday night slot), which informed much of my infatuation with British pop culture of the time and then the underrated Filthy Rich and Catflap, The New Staesman, and ultimately Bottom in the Nineties.

 Through the late Eighties and early Nineties Mayall was almost everywhere - more often than not with Ade Edmondson, but not always. Young Ones was very big at my school (I had a mate who looked disturbingly like Rik and once submitted to requests from some girlfriends to have his hair done in the signature style of The People's Poet. Sadly, no photographic evidence exists) and latterly Bottom also blew our pants off, the first episode's cries of "Gas Man! Gas Man!" turning into a weird shorthand among friend for anyone we met who was decidedly a little off-skew. Drop Dead Fred was what ou might call a guilty pleasure - well, I liked it.

I don't exaggerate when I say that Mayall was seemingly everywhere - my first year at university had a Young Ones themed Orientation and I seized a poster for my wall. He was eminently spottable, whether cameoing in An American Werewolf in London and semi-regularly in Blackadder, co-starring in various Comic Strip productions (personal favourite appearances outside the Bad News stories: Consuela, Dirty Movie, Mister Jolly Lives Next Door and A Fistful of Traveller's Cheques) or on his tod, notably in a one-off screening of Weekend in Wallop, which introduced me to Mayall's early creation, the fantasist Colin Turvey:

Turvey seems to be a variation on many of Mayall's own creations - the tragically unhip outsider with delusions of popularity, talent or wit. Rik the Poet, Catflap's Richey Rich, Bad News' would-be dilletante Colin Grigson, and even Richard Richard, the frustrated middle-aged bludger of Bottom. Little wonder that he sought other roles to expand his repertoire, even when the old stand-bys never really left him. I did, however, really enjoy Rik Mayall Presents, with his episodes opposite Helena Bonham Carter (Dancing Queen) and Alan Cumming (Micky Love) being clear highlights. And off-screen a 'straight' production of Waiting for Godot, reuniting Mayall with Edmondson. I'd only read about this in The New Satesman, and for years wondered what the production would have been like - it sounded fantastic, but possibly misjudged. Did they pull it off? There only seems to be this news footage surviving as any indication:

Which isn't to discount his other collaborations with Edmondson - Twentieth Century Coyote's Dangerous Brothers which seemed incredibly anarchic when my flat watched it on off-air video. And of course, Bottom again, quite possibly the pinnacle of the pair's career where their writing and chemistry was absolutely top notch, even when corpsing live on stage in Southhampton:


My God but did we used to rewind that bit until the tape went speckly. And now it's set me off again. Rest in Peace, Mr Mayall, and thanks for all the laughter.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Night Local: The Verlaines, 'Anniversary' (1990)

As promised in my land of the Long White Sound week of Kiwi music videos, here's my first Friday night flick - and it's a Flying Nun act. Quelle surprise...

The Verlaines are a great Dunedin band. On some days I think they're the greatest ever Dunedin band - certainly, frontman and band engine Doctor Graeme Downes is nothing short of a genius; criminally talented and a classic in the mould of modest local frontmen without a skerrick of ego to them.

Back in the day a young Simian and his band (let's call them the Organ Grinders) supported The Verlaines at The Penguin Club, so yes, I have a stake in this choice of video. However, memory does not inform whether they played this song, from the understated 1990 album Some Disenchanted Evening on the night. Eh, I was too much in awe to remember the details. Here's one of my favourites from their too-impressive canon - Anniversary:

From Strip to Screen: Superunknown

What a difference one month makes.

May has been and gone, as Marvel, Sony and Fox have now had their tries at pitching the much-vaunted tentpole movie of the pre-Northern Summer season. The results were not entirely as predicted - well, not by me, at least.

Captain America The Winter Solst- er, Soldier went gangbusters, proving that the known Marvel superhero shop is still doing great business. Very big box office domestically, even, against which other superhero movies were inevitably measured.. 
Against this, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 simply failed to live up to its name.The common criticisms amounted to too many villains (wiht the aside being studio meddling in the script) and a lightweight plot, despite strong and almost universally-praised chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Sony now has not only a third movie in the franchise to pitch after this perceived disappointment, bu the promised Sinister Six spin-off, generally regarded as a tougher sell. Internet mischief being as it is, some in the fan community have taken the opportunity to  fly the 'Give it Back to Marvel!' flag, including a misjudged tweet by Max Landis; but for the moment it appears nothig will necessarily change. Hopefully an improved sequel or two will come. It's amost unheard of, but not entirely...
...because, Holy Cow - X-Men Days of Future Past went HUGE! This despite a visibly limited promotional through-line on toys and merchandise (Marvel now being accused of interference with Fox's comic movie franchises), and the X-Men series being regarded as a mixed bag outside of two of the original three movies and First Class - a fifty-fifty split, in other words. But reviews and audeinces have been very strong. Seems my prediction here was really off - even the cheeky inclusion of future Avenger Quicksilver into the movie turned out to be an unexpected highlight. Go, Fox!

DC/Warners sat out this movie round again, though there's very strong and positive word on both Flash and Gotham as imminent TV series, and the recent Affleck Batman reveal pleased a lot of DC fans. Indeed, a weak movie title in Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice aside, it seems DC Warners'  wheel of fortune is finally turning in the right direction again. 2016 is a logn way away of course, but the recent dripfeed of costumes, not to mention filiing being underway right now keeps this franchise alive.
...which leads, ultimately, back to Marvel. For while Avengers 2: Age of Ultron is also filiming at this moment, news of 2015's Ant Man losing Edgar Wright and its failure to date in securing a replacement director must hurt, and it does appear to have dented Marvel's so-far rather enviable reputation for giving unexpected directors free reign.
What happens from here? Well, watch this space. We've stil got Guardians of the Galaxy to come, and the aforementioned CW and Fox DC shows to come, plus Marvel's Netflix series too. Me, I got nothin'. I was wrong about X-Men, wrong about Spider-Man, and I haven't seen anything of the above yet, so don't follow me, as they say - I'm lost!