Sunday, December 25, 2016

Chilling for Christmas

It's Chriiistmaaaaas!

I hope you, dear Reader, are having a whale of a time, perhaps with friends and family, feasting, carousing, and drinking winters wolves from the harsh, bitter Northen Hemisphere midwinter. Brrr! I say. Brrr!!

Of course not Brrr. It's been a lovely balmy summer's weekend here at the Monkeyhouse with a blessing of rain on the Friday, a good sunny day's gardening on Saturday in anticipation of a family BBQ for Boxing Day. And as for Christmas Day, well!

Long-time readers of course will know that I have something of a bee in my bonnet about the Christmas musical fare. There are three kinds, ranging from the almost-too-appropriate (your actual Christmas carol about Jesus and whatnot), on-point songs about Christmas (Deck Those Halls, We Wish You A Messy Kwazmuss, and why does nobody sing Good King Wenceslas anymore? It's historical fact, people!) and then, hopefully somewhere in Hell where they belong, those seasonal pretenders which don't even attempt to reference Christmas at all but sneak in the door by virtue of being about ... snow (Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bell Rock and its accursed bob-sledding namesake.)

But look, I do like some well-chosen Christmas music, and the Simian household this year were left wandering the streets confused and bewildered when our friend Al wasn't able to produce an annual dedication to the Church of Snoopy this year. 

But amidst all the lazy Christmas covers album cash-ins, some  people do try, bless them. And even here in Aotearoa in 2016 there were attempts to create a localised Christmas song. Noble failures to hit number one, both TV3's Denis Marsh thingy and Air NZ's rather fun Julian Dennison/Ronan Keating Summer Wonderland gag. Summer Christmas is a hard chestnut to crack, and for me there were three contenders for this year's yuletide singalong:

So, in descending order of choice the songs were:

3. White Wine in the Sun - Tim Minchin

A modern Australian miracle, which featured on Al's Xmas Album from last year. It gets me nearly every time, but I'd not known about it before Al let me know about it (and I seemt o be the last person in the world to know it at all), so moving ever closer to home:

2. Michael Fay - Able Tasmans

Which isn't really a Christmas song, but does feature the chorus "It was Christmas Day, when Michael Fay gave his money away/And Jesus dont have a lot to say - we'd all forgotten his birthday"
It makes the list because it and its parent album hit the big 25 this year, and Lord knows, Hey Spinner is still a great listen, but not quite Christmassy enough (though very singable), so the number one is this:

1. Christmas Chimes - The Chills

Very local, very much on point, and maybe MAYBE a contender for this year's Al-bum, here's a fitting celebration of Christmas comforts for everyone, whatever your particular hemisphere, from Martin Phillipps' Dunedin ensemble.

This is a remastered version from the band's 1989 BBC sessions and was intended for an unrealised seasonal EP reputedly titled Silver Bells. There's still time, Marty! Do the album for next December and a NZ first!

In the mean-time, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Fourth Awakens

Rogue One, a Star Wars Story (d. Gareth Edwards, 2016) 

Well, I went and saw a new Star War tonight with my brother in law, as yet another installment in our 'due diligence' series of paternal gazumphing our boys' keenness to be part of the new Disney soft reboot shuffle. It was pretty good. Fantastic in places, a bit slow in others, a little wobbly in the plot department. Needed editing - particularly in the first half, where the movie was mainly concerned wth introducing its large cast and getting them to where they need to be in order that the main story begin.

The Star Wars universe was always classic Space Opera thanks to geography-busting hyperspace, but Rogue One's storytelling expediency has our heroes reach just where they need to be within five minutes of landing anywhere. Maybe, perhaps for the choppy first half, this is just as well, because it seems there are a lot of ducks to be set in a row in this movie before the action-packed second half gets into gear.

 That's a curious thing for this movie and its place in the Star Wars movieverse. I remember when Star Wars Insider magazine used to run a semi-regular column dedicated to readers who had found a friend who (gasp!) Had Never Seen Star Wars. That was... maybe fifteen years ago? In 2016 I think we should be able to decare that quest run to its logical conclusion. Nobody has not seen Star Wars now, surely. And yet despite its existence as a crowd-pleasing filler, Rogue One does go out of its way to explain, point out, and generally colour in the gaps for anyone who isn't already aware of the film's general story and maybe why there's no Wookie in this film.

Given that, this is (to me) the second attempt by filmmakers old enough to have at least lived through A New Hope's arrival in cinemas to pretty much tell the story from a different angle.
I suspect, in fact, that Rogue One is kin to The Force Awakens in both being irresistible attempts to re-tell A New Hope while 'improving' on the latter's limitations. A broader scope, greater diversity of races and species, more spectacle, a less lumbering baddie.

But once the story kicks in it does crack along, and though it's a well-worn observation, new droid K2SO is a fun addition - a sardonic and blackly comic foil with an intriguing hang-up. 

K2SO. Magnificent bastard.
K2SO is in places a practical effect, that approach so championed in SFX these days. There are of course two characters almost entirely reconstructed through CGI ... but as for finding our way out of Uncanny Valley, I think we're still not there, yet. But we've made good inroads, and maybe within five years we might actually be there. Suffice it to say, I think they really cracked it in A New Hope.

Should you see Rogue One? Yes, go and see it, and enjoy it. I was relieved that between the first trailer and the final cut some changes had been made. Not all reshoots need be a disaster, and it appears a different edit has done wonders to Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso, a character who really didn't appeal at all to me in those first teasers. The supporting cast are pretty good, and Ben Mendelsohn's Imperial foil a nice addition.

Still not sure whether I'm on board for Han Solo, though.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

'Evil' Lies Below

Waihinahina Park is a serene spot, located behind Woodridge and skimming the Horokiwi skyline. It commands gorgeous views of Wellington harbour, and is a lovely (if frequently windy) spot to exercise your dog, take in the scenery or just park and rest.
There's still a good standing of juvenile native bush about the spot, and a good amount of birdlife has taken to the area for its wetland look (there's even a hidden waterfall visible from the Hutt Road) The great thing is, there's little chance of it being developed in the near future, thankfully, because in its former life it was a landfill.
Yes, readers. And what's more, quite possibly under this spot likely lie the mouldering remains of a good number of  vintage TV, local and international, Doctor Who included. New Zealand often being the end of the line for 'bicycled' BBC programmes around the colonies. No longer required back home and with storage space also in limited supply at the old Broadcasting House, many now-lost episodes including, notoriously, Evil of the Daleks were bandsawed and thrown in the tip. It was a different time.

The hunt for lost and missing-thought-destroyed episodes of Doctor Who continues to this day, although it's ben  quiet activity of one man and a small army of helpers at this stage. This year there was even serious talk of diggers being used to unearth known locations for dumps containing cans and film. The old Johnsonvile tip is, apparently, a known location - though one assumes it's way down the list and, if the tip in question did become Waihinahina Park, then maybe it might be best for those concerned to leave the keys to the JCB at the depot and just enjoy the drive to this damp, green spot and its abundance of fresh air.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Into Darkness

Pretty cool news to round out a month of wobbles, shakes, tumbles and quakes: Push Push are reforming! No, hang on, that's not it. And it's certainly not the way to announce an article that otherwise ought to get my attention, because courtesy of Twitter I discovered The Darkness are coming to NZ next April. Yah-roo!

And then courtesy of chum Tim I discovered they're coming to Wellington. Get in.

Opportunities are now open for all and sundry to apply for the unofficial position of Jet's Plus One on 21st April 2017. No application will be refused.

And now, to mark this momentous news here's a celebration of calligraphy, geography, Cadbury Flake, casual/alarming cross-dressing and the institution of marriage:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Brought (back) to Book

Ma, I fixed a book!

This book I have enjoyed since I first found it in a bookshop in Roslyn, Dunedin some time in 1984.

It's not the actual book, actually. Who knows where that went? Loaned to a RPG-curious nephew, lost to the ages. Probably sent to a school fair or assisting in filling land. It happens, and because it happens, I looked for a replacement nearly ten years ago, and in that time (mainly sitting in my bedside cabinet), the secondhand copy I bought in a Newtown shop turned into this:

Now, the thing about having been a librarian for nearly 25 years is, I've never ever mended a book. At all. So when faced with detatched covers, dangling spines, and dried up glue like this:

...I had to resort to the librarian's friend, Google!

Long story short, during a week at home after Wellington's last office-closing earthquake, I discovered the book lying in pieces at the bottom of a box and decided then was the time to take action.

Covers were trimmed, glue was scraped off, and while the inner pages were separated into two or three 'blocks', luckily the interior was in pretty good shape despite some slight foxing. Hey, it's a paperback book - it's hardly top quality material from the get-go.

But hey, it worked! Mod Podge was the glue, a nondescript laminate (Coverseal, basically) stiffened up and waterproofed the cover, and I was even fussy enough to paint out the white creases and tears which couldn't be glued back together.

I fluffed the front cover, it turning out skew and the patched card replacement won't fool anyone; but my beloved old book is back in one piece and readable again. Hooray!

So proud I was in showing it off to Mrs Simian. Of course, it was only then that I realised I'd re-glued the insides upside down.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

1966 And All That

The true strength of a pop cultural icon lies in their resilience. Heroes and villains come and go, but the greatest of them endure through generations and interpretations. Yes, there may be periods when they are considered out of vogue, but being strong figures they are bound to return - perhaps as a farce, or a revisionist retelling, or as a mirror to contemporary society's travails.

I speak of the big ones: Robin Hood. King Arthur. Sherlock Holmes. Batman. The Sixties version.

No, come back, I'm not mad. I wasn't even mad in 1989 when I sniffed at this rare product of high camp and sixties psychedelia and walked away. Tim Burton's reinvention of the character was just around the corner and the big bad Nineties introduced a less colourful, more serious take on the character. The Dark Knight was the order of the day, and the Caped Crusader had quickly become For Selected Audiences Only. I eschewed the series' self-knowing silliness and cheap later episodes, and those misspent afternoons screwing my youthful freckled schoolboy nose at the hyper kinetic hi-jinks our neighbours' colour TV provided every same Bat-time same Bat-channel.

So what changed for me to rediscover the West and Ward Batman? Well it wasn't the TV show, though I do want to 'reconnect' with it in some form - the Blu Rays look mighty tempting. Of course the car I rediscovered to my surprise in the Dark Knight Rises extras. It was also the Bat-history, dutifully documented, directed and delivered by that doyen of the Detective Comics dynamo, Mr Jim Moon that got my attention. And it was the comic strip.

Yes, again, the Wellington City Library has done itself proud and has a pretty decent collection of the recent Batman '66 anthology series, being a set of new Batman tales told with the energy, the enthusiasm and the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic of the 1966 series. When they're good they're very very good- not since Lego's Batman '66 set have I been so relieved to see Caesar Romero's painted moustache so faithfully rendered beneath his Joker makeup. And Burgess Meredith's Penguin, Frank Gorshin's Riddler (who owes his reputation purely to the TV series and Gorshin's talents), the triumvirate of Catwomen in Kitt, Merriwether and Newmar plus other TV-only villains, like Egghead, Bookworm, Louie the Lilac, Ma Parker, Shame, King Tut and Marsha Queen of Diamonds. The captions recall the exclamations of the show's cliffhanger closers, the title fonts are perfect, and over all there's a spirit of fun in the series, even in recent years with its canon-bending introduction of anachronistic characters like Harley Quin and Bane.

For the most part the series sticks close to its roots, even with occasional crossovers to contemporary TV series (Green Hornet, Man From Uncle, The Avengers) and shout outs to the future (including a seemingly irresistable nod to a certain Seal song during a Poison Ivy outing). In case you're wondering, Batgirl gets as good as she gave, and there are some intriguing stylistic ventures also - notably a meta trip to Japan for the Bat trio where an encounter with Sixties comic villain Lord Death man. Trippy.

And trippy is as it should be. The '66 series is something to be celebrated, particularly amidst the sturm und drang of the Snyder films and Arkham video games. There was a time when Batman was fun, and was in on the joke, and those days did more for the survival of the Bat brand than anything in its comics. At The Warehouse in Whanganui recently I picked up a copy of the West and Ward Batman movie - until recently all you could get of the original series. Jet Jr and I watched it when it came home with me and we had a blast.

All of this presumably comes from a relaxing by Fox on its grip on the old TV series, leading to a minor snowstorm of retro products. The final release of the full series is the obvious jewel in the crown (those extras!), and the comic follows  of course. Batman 66 Lego is utterly adorable:
But no Batgirl minifigure? For shame!

And after the success of West, Ward and Newmar's animated reunion in Return of the Caped Crusaders there's now a follow-up in the works, featuring Two-Face voiced by - who else? William Shatner. Holy Dream Casting!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Seven Weird Facts About Pumpkins We Couldn't Believe Will Blow Your Mind

List posts. Gotta love 'em.

1. Pumpkins are fruit, notanically. They grow on a vine and develop from flowers.

2. Early European Jack O Lanterns weren't pumpkins, but were more likely carved turnips. Even in the US into the Twentieth Century your actual Halloween produce could be a squash, a turnip or swede, a cucumber or a potato. I wish we'd carved the weekend swede we had last Saturday because it was late season and inedible.

3a. I reckon kumara might be a go-er. A nice gold variety, obviously. (Sorry, a kumara fact crept in there)

3b. Back on topic: The first Dungeons & Dragons 'Bugbear' creature to appear in the game's 'white book' edition was a bear-like creature with a large pumpkin for a head, due to the artist taking Gary Gygax's description a litte too literally. Figurs have been made pf this vriant, and some still play Bugbears in this form. The creature was lifted out into Runequest as the 'Jack-o-Bear.' (note to self: must use these some time)

4. New Zealand's common variety pumpkins are usually more closely related to squash, which is why some American pumpkin reipes don't work quite so well with our varieties. But  thought my spicy pumpkin muffins kicked arse, thanks to Alison Holst's recipe.

5.  Pumpkins will climb if you let them. You can grow them perched in trees, on roofs, or even ladder 'em. That's what I plan to do.

6. I first developed an interest in drawing pumpkin-headed people during my band days when illustrating posters for my and other bands. An example was done of course this time a couple of years back Here's the first one I did, the spelling mistake was at the insistence of the band (I checked):

7.  And here's something I put out the front door this evening, our own Jack O lantern / Hinkypunk / Punkie / Spunkie what have you. It worked a treat and survived the ocasional maraduing tweens who turned up to graze over our sweet offerings, taking the larger bars, picking and choosing between the sweets... honestly, if they hadn't been the remainder of last year's bucket, the Chistmas pile, and sundry birthday party goody bags one could be offended!

In all, a pretty good Halloween, despite some less prominent decorations and the slightly under-par Jet Jr. Pop culture followers might wish to note that by and large vistors were in back as assorted zmbies, ghouls and ghosts, including one young lass in candy skull make up (bravo!, one Hawkeye (who drew his arrow at me and nearly copped a door in his face) and a Harley Quinn (who'd have been offered an extra pick from the candy bowl out of brand loyalty were it not for the fact that she'd already helped herself hugely.) Next year I might even dress up myself!

 Happy Halloween!

Hallowe'en in a Suburb

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Now, long-time readers and short-time archives browsers will recall from a year or so back that I am a long-time Halloween fan, and am quite happy to celebrate it, even out of season as we do in New Zealand. Tonight the Simian household will see in the Spookiest Night of the Year with a brace of in lawses and young cousins. Jet Jr is a bit poorly today, so it might be a stripped down affair, but the moment has been prepared for: the decorations have been dragged out from the garage, Mrs Simian has made some white chocolate cupcakes with chocolate spider toppings, and I've been busy with a pumpkin...

This is (I think) the first pumpkin I've carved in Wellington, and it's the best one I've done yet! The local pumpkin of this season is the crown pumpkin, a fine and fleshy variety which is not really ideal for carving. The flesh is a beautiful orange, and very thick as well as dense - excellent for soups and roasting, but in need of some prep for baking and the like. For the necessary deal of hollowing out the fruit, I hit on an absolute gift of a suggestion online: an ice cream scoop! This weekend Jet Jr and I selected an ideal pumpkin from a local market, and yesterday I got to work, reducing some five centimetres of flesh to about half that amount. The face design is courtesy of Jet Jr, who picked out his favourite sets of eyes, mouth, teeth and nose from sketches I'd prepared, and the knife work - well, it had to be me, was duly carried out. Too risky and hard otherwise.

 Elsewhere Halloween continues to insert itself into the local commercial calendar. All manner of tat can be bought for the day from your neighbourhood Warehouse or Two Dollar Shop, and the usual received wisdom is being reported and broadcast relating to the day's purported origins. Now, in my first Halloween posting I was still a wholesale subscriber to the belief that Halloween is a Celtic hangover and descendent of Samhain (this idea is still the majority view, appearing as recently on Radio NZ yesterday morning and presented by a professor of cultural stiudies from AUT) however over the past couple of years my opinion has changed, thanks to the reputable Jim Moon's research in his Hypnogoria podcast. We may never truly know whether Halloween is an Irish Celtic harvest festival marking the thin veil lying between the worlds of the living and the dead,  sustained in the US from potato famine refugees and exported back to us... but Jim doesn't believe it, and his case for the negative is an exhaustive and compelling one. I'm now led to believe that Halloween isn't especially Celtic, not particularly Irish, definitely not an American invention, and pretty much nothing to get all worked up over.

I've a mind to see if I can grown some more suitable, red-orange pumpkins to carve next May for a seasonal Halloween (when they'll also be in season.) As for today's pumpkin,he's going to be lit up tonight for the evening, and has already made a rather nice dozen spicy muffins to give out.

Boo-ya, indeed.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Steve Dillon

Just bloody gutted to read this this morning. 

Steve Dillon was one of my early art heroes. Coming into the world of Eagle's second generation return, and then into 2000AD meant that a banquet of inspirtional art was suddenly opened to me after childhood years of rote caricatures and established characters through Disney comics and UK kids' titles. I've not thought until now just how immediate the variety of styles and techniques hit me. There was no way any of these guys - the O'Neil's, Ezquerras, Kennedy's and especially McMahons would ever be mistaken for something from Key Comics. As I got older these stylistic and idiosyncratic outings became more and more intimidating as I vainly tried to copy them and develop my own confidence in drawing.

Cry of the Werewolf
Fortunately, among these artists was a younger name, only eight years older than me, whose style was more relateable. Assured, yes, but solid - really solid, well-defined and very 'readable'. Steve Dillon's  art was easy to aspire to, but reliably more complex than its his clean lines and nice black and white balancing suggested. That said, though, if there's a style that I took to most readily, it was Steve Dillon's. I mean this as no damped-down praise - Dillon was a master of ink, confident in every line, especially given his young age, and I've no doubt that I'm not the only young artist who ran to his deceptively-effortless work as a masterclass (paging Guanolad...)

City of the Damned
The rest, for Dillon at least, is history. Some early Doctor Who Magazine work, initially as a backup artists, but later to provide the work for Steve Parkhouse's last regular story The Moderator in which both Parkhouse and Dillon combine two then near-inconcievable Doctor actions - the Time Lord crying and shooting a gun, and turn the result into something very Doctorish indeed.   Lots of 2000AD, including three of the big hitters in the Eighties - Judge Dredd (the momentous death of series regular Judge Giant is pictured here, from Block Wars), Rogue Trooper and ABC Warriors plus some lovely covers for Zenith), and then, into the Nineties and more recent years, Transatlantic success, the most notable being Preacher, which he co-created with fellow 2000AD alumnus Garth Ennis. His line of stories for The Punisher has already been credited on several comic boards as being the reason some readers returned to the series, Dillon was that effective, that readable.

54 is no great age to depart this earth, though the very young age at which Dillon started his career (drawing Nick Fury and the Hulk at sixteen! And thanks to the keen foresight of Dez Skinn) means there are decades of his work to see, and a mighty field of followers who saw and were inspired by his instantly recognisable style, an who went on to draw for 2000AD, DWM, Marvel and DC. With the late Brett Ewins he co-created the influential breakaway pop-culture comic  Deadline and from that venture we have Peter Milligan, Jamie Hewlett and Tank Girl among others. The comics world has indeed lost a great storyteller.

As others have said already, completely unexpected. Thank God his prodigious start and global success means his talents and influence won't be forgotten.

The Moderator, Doctor Who Magazine

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


This week marks a bittersweet moment in the Simian household. Well, two, really. First and foremost is another year marked off by Jet Jr as he burns through his single-digit birthdays like a cheetah on Ritalin, but such things are unavoidable, and calls are for celebration. No, the second is the cruellest marker of time's passage, for this holiday weekend the labours of our local video rental shop cease, its dorrs to close forever.

For the past month Civic Video have been selling off their wares from top to bottom - DVDs, Blu Rays, TV series, movies, games, refreshments, shelves... like a distressing Dick Smith closure but cheaper and with longer queues. I defy any self-respecting staffmember to resist a sad and understandably rueful acknowledgement that this same throng could have saved the business on any other day, but over this short period it's been a quiet and certain bleeding out of a store that was a real life saver at times - particularly wet weekends and school holidays.

As a past librarian I've frequently had to make hard decisions about collection management. They're hard decisions because beyond the cold equations of linear metres, storage overheads, rental and futureproofing, there's an emotional attachment to a well-stocked collection. Like a lot of people my generation and older, I like to discover by browsing and through serendipity, and you can't do that much with what resources we have at home for domestic film viewing. We don't torrent movies (though I do admit I've been the grateful recipient of one or two in a bind), and we don't have Netflicks - though we suspect this will have to change at some stage. Sure, the hit rate for Civic was sometimes not our friend, and there would be a distressingly-large number of scratched discs that would have to be returned, swapped, and maybe returned again to be swapped for a different title for a crestfallen Jet Jr, but the store was a mainstay of our little suburb, and the staff were unceasingly friendly, courteous, and helpful. I'll miss them - I do already. I have been, I admit freely, in an extended period of mouring for the old place, even if I confess I haven't been using it as much as I should have, or would have done were I a younger ape with more time on my hands.

But as I say, it's been a real friend. When I broke my back nearly ten years ago I spent a lot of recuperating hours finally watching Outrageous Fortune. I binge-watched when it wasn't fashionable to! Thanks to the less-recent closure of a neighbouring Video-Ezy, Civic's collection was also pretty decent for arthouse fare, and their World and SF collections weren't bad, either.

Alas, no more. And two visits to the shop post-closure announcement have meant some sad purchases were made - I have Batman v Superman now, for my sins, plus My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (oh boy), The Spiderwick Chronicles, Snowpiercer, E.T, Galaxy Quest, a Count Duckula collection (which may be scratched beyond play but at $2.25 was worth the gamble) and The Bean Movie. The father and son before me in the queue second time around walked - or at least staggered off - with just over ninety titles ranging from Dog Day Afternoon to The Delinquents for a cool hundred bucks. On my first visit a small boy eyed my quartet of movies and quietly asked 'Do you have Hunt for the Wilderpeople?'. I didn't. No chance. How am I going to see it now?!  Whole collections of Tolkien, Rowling and Meyers I passed by, and I regret not picking up Frankenweenie when I saw it, but on the whole I felt somehow culpable in part to a good shop's demise.

So, off to Netflicks or Neon we Simians march and call it progress. I've known some great video shops in my time. Well, no I haven't. I've known maybe one or two - but Civic Video in Johnsonville along with Amalgamated Video in Kilbirnie were the best two Wellington shops I frequented. Aro Video deserves its dogged survival, and long may it continue, but to me it's never been as friendly, as homely, or as handily local.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


So now the DC cinematic universe is up and running, and what a start. Collective wisdom would indicate that it's not been the most auspicious of beginnings, but two things come to mind- principally that Marvel's movie universe didn't arrive fully-formed and blockbuster-ready, and that this muted beginning- plagued though it may have been with low critical scores and seemingly divided audiences, at least has a vision that its current creators simply cannot take for granted. Harsh lessons have been learned.

By far the greatest surprise has been Suicide Squad, a movie I did get to see and reviewed here. It did Box Office gangbusters, which on the face of it is very good news for a movie with only marginally-recognisable characters (and no, the Joker doesn't count, even if he does feature heavily in the trailers - simply put, the same word of mouth that afforded its bad reviews must naturally be telling anyone who listens that the Joker wasn't in the movie very much at all.) Indeed one of the big lessons moviemakers might take away from its four-week run topping the US box office is that August needn't be a dead zone for franchise movies and that a few more slots may open up in schedules in years to come, thanks to its performance. 

That said, this success was probably a fluke and not to be repeated. My worry is that the pressure that came off the reviews of Batman. V Superman and which informed the arguably-botched late changes to Suicide Squad will now be visited upon Wonder Woman, a movie which unlike Squad is expected to be a tentpole franchise winner. But a female lead and also one not yet wrought from Hollywood's A List and a less-recognisable setting for a Tinseltown movie (World War One, rather than its more recognisable legacy) may prove challenging.

Still, among the remarkable things about Squad was its apparent appeal in the US to some broader moviegoers - namely young women and Hispanics. It is a remarkably diverse and progressive cast ethnically and in gender, with (as Forbes covers) features nine out of its fourteen leading characters who are not a white male - and that includes all three potential villains (no, still not a Joker movie). Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman ought to appeal to one of those demographics directly, and further down the line James Wan will give us an Aqua Man who to intents and purposes could bring a decidedly Pacifika bent to a traditional white bread super hero.
Diversity is the next big battle in superhero movies, and it'sa battle that needs to be fought hard.When Marvel fans baited the 'serious and realistic' DCEU birth with cries of "hey, we just had a blockbuster movie featuring a tree and a talking racoon!" the correct response is to counter that with a movie led by an ethnically diverse and gender-mixed cast. Crocodile man aside, Suicide Squad did just that, and we'll see Wonder Woman headline on the big screen well before Captain Marvel, let alone a Black Widow solo feature.

So although its start was less than ideal I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of DC's hero franchise. Justice League may have the worrying presence of Zack Snyder behind the lens but is a year away yet with clear directive post-BvS, and there still seems a lot of goodwill held for it with Ezra Miller's Flash receiving a lot of positive buzz. There will be a solo Batman movie yet, Man of Steel 2 is in development, and somewhere in the schedule it's believed Margot Robbie will give Harley Quinn a well-earned victory run - with or without the rest of the Squad, and maybe with some other female DC heroes in tow. We'll see, keep working hard everyone.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Under Hill

I've been required to do a fair bit of travelling recently. A bit of flying (I love landscapes from above), and a lot of driving. Though New Zealand varies region by region, and certainly it's not the postcasrd travelogue recent movies have CG-ed up, there are parts of this country that are gorgeous in their mute simplicity.

As a young Simian I would travel the main highway to Dunedin with my parents when visiting family down there, and from the back set of our car I'd watch the contryside change as we travelled further south, becoming hillier, greener, the low slopes and mrangeds alternately withdrawing and approaching as we wound our way through places with evocative names: Blueskin Bay, the Kilmog Hill, Pigeon Flat, Flagstaff . As I grew older and took books with me for the journey these places would become proxies for Tolkein's Middle Earth locations: Weathertop, Amon Hen, the Dead Marshes, the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood.

Kilmog Hill by Ian@NZFlickr

For me, reading has always been a very visual experience. I'm unable to follow a story unless I can build a picture of it in my mind, with locations, casting (for want of a better term) and so forth. I've no idea if this is normal, but it's been the habit of a lifetime. Similarly, my Dungeons & Dragons experiences were also visual, and informed by the same landscapes I travelled though at the time. Travelling through the lower rolling countryside of the Kapiti Coast and lower Manawatu, Rotorua's Waioekea Gorge, and the Rimutaka incline brings back those fancies of a younger me, head full of roleplaying and fantasy scenarios. What armies of goblins and unspeakable creatures lurked inside those emerald grassy domes carved by rivers and wind?

Landscape plays a part in roleplaying, but I'm interested to know how much this matters to players from different locales. I was of course extremely fortunate to have literally just outside town the countryside that would become Peter Jackson's Middle Earth (and no, I've not yet made it to Matamata/Hobbiton!), but did city-locked Inner Birmingham and Greater Manchester players of my generation plant themselves in fantasy worlds built from their surroundings? Did the experience of players in the US work the landscapes seen from their bedroom and car windows into the same sweeping prairies and cliff and pine tree panoramas that the likes of Larry Elmore made a career painting into the rulebooks I lost myself in?

Answers on a postcard. Really.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Suicide is Painless

This month I had a stop-over in Gisborne for work. It was wet, I don't know anybody there and was a bit anxious about what was in store for me the following day, so rather than cooling my heels in a motel room with bad telly I took in a movie. I saw Suicide Squad in a small-town cinema at a late session with six other people including three of the local youths - loud voices, confident swagger, armfuls of candy bar popcorn and selfies galore. What the hell I thought, they may be more the movie's dynamic than I am.

But in the end I didn't mind Suicide Squad and some parts and characters I quite dug. It's certainly not the ultraviolent hoodlum gangster flick I feared it would be, and is more likeable than Batman v  Superman, and though it fell a little drunkenly between stools (namely the grimy urban vision of David Ayer's original shoot and the dayglo gonzo of Trailer Parks' reworking) it falls just short of recalling some mid 80s B movie fare in giddy pleasures. Perhaps I responded to this movie from a background in comics like 2000AD's Strontium Dog and Bad Company, where motley bands of outcasts find their honour in the spurned work of normal men, and redemption the insurmountable odds of doomed battle. Truly, Squad is to date the most comic-strip looking of the modern superhero movies, relishing in its colourful grotesques.

I find my reactions are frustratingly akin to those of others. - yes Margot Robbie, Will Smith and Viola Davis carry the movie. But yes also Jay Hernandez deserves more recognition for his doomed Diablo, and Joel Kiniman does a lot with his character Rick Flagg's character - enough, in fact, that I'm sorry the movie didn't make more of Flagg and Deadshot's grudging alliance seen through his eyes; the normal man amidst Amanda Waller's crew of deadly circus turns. Jared Leto is hard to gauge - he's simply not in the movie enough, and could have been edited out for the most part, which isn't to say I wouldn't want to see his Joker return, it's just that Squad is not a Joker movie whatever the marketing and trailer might have led everyone to believe. 

But, like Batman v Superman before it, Suicide Squad has turned out to be a different beast from the slick production the trailers promised. It is a little lumpy in places, and the third act looks like it's had some chops that would make F4ntastic Four snigger. The musical cues are all up the wop in places and in others are about as blurty and welcome as the soundtrack to a DIY programme. Cara Delevigne dances about as well as I do in her big scene, and there are other casualties along the way. Katana and Killer Croc hardly get out of the gate and are timidly underused, the former especially as Flagg's hired muscle. Boomerang has to feature in the Flash movie if there's any justice. We just see too little of him, and a comic foil with his rough unrepentant charm would to my mind be more fitting than Harley's "irksome" self-aware needling. 

But Jeez - it's not the end of the world, and it's not cinematic trash. It's guilt-free gung-ho hooligan heroism, with a powerful foil in Davis' Amanda Waller (essentially the true villain of the piece.) Its part in the DC cinematic universe is well-earned with some fun and effective cameos by two Justic League members, and its graphics are awesome. It's by no means perfect, but I can't help liking it. Let justice be served - let's see them again. 

Postscript: Justice has of course come to this movie, weirdly enough. The critics have been effectively silenced, and Squad has become the Little Blockbuster That Improbably Did. It's out-grossed Captain America : The Winter Soldier without a Chinese release, and out-profited Iron Man, its soundtrack has just gone gold, and it's Will Smith's most profitable movie. It's made a star of Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn into a future movie lead. This despite a lingering well-below-par critical score and acknowledged production and editing issues. The future for Suicide Squad looks bright, I'd say, though some of the above will assuredly make it an interesting one. And I can't wait to see what makes it onto the Blu Ray.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lead Time Lords: The Twelfth Doctor

Hullo! And welcome back to a new instalment of this lumbering series. There's more to come, so sit down, grab a stiff brandy and settle in.

Here, then, is the Twelfth Doctor, in the form of Crooked Dice Studio's lookee-likey Tucker Newman (great name.) Up until very recently CD were the only game in town for a Twelfth Dr figure, but new licence-holders Warlord Games have just teased everyone with their (slightly taller) version of him in his Hell Bent duds - hoodie, red 'lectric guitar, stupid f***ing sonic specs and his journeyman walk looking for all the world like the Mid-life Crisis Doctor he's sadly become. God I hated last year's season - for the most part. They do say no-one loathes Doctor Who more than Doctor Who fans.

I do digress, because the figure here is Peter Capaldi's marvellous, abrasive, alien Doctor in his first year, replete with his Hartnellesque lapel-hooking finger, his magician get up (check out that flash of red lining!) and that majestic pair of eyebrows. Why, I was so intimidated by those space caterpillars that I didn't dare finish painting his eyes for fear of catching the wee man's baleful gaze.

There was a bit of planning here, but no modification needed. It's a beautiful sculpt by CD's reliable Ernst Blofeld sorry, Veingart. Simple but effective, with the aforementioned overturned Crombie jacket front to break up the navy and charcoal stovepipes (I cheated - it may well be an all navy ensemble, but I wasn't going there.) He was a pleasure to paint, with a great likeness and very forgiving face (except the eyebrows, obviously) although I expect I may yet return to him to tidy up some of the blue and maybe... maybe, attempt those eyes. The cobblestone base is mine and I'm rather chuffed with it.

Cripes - he's looking my way again. Aargh!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Video Affects: 'Wuthering Heights' - Kate Bush

It's a point of historical fact that for probably the first years of my life my family don't own a modern TV. Ours is big, blocky, and black and white. When we finally have the luxury of two TV sets, the old one is housed for a while in the bedroom of my older sister, and on it of a Saturday evening she, my brother and I will watch the early evening fare before bedtime. Probably The Dukes of Hazzard, The Incredible Hulk or Little House on the Prairie. But crucially also, among my sister's M*A*S*H and Scott Baio posters, some tidbits of pop music via classic chart show Ready to Roll. I am eight years old, and about to have one of the great frights of my life.

Picture a night-black studio, its floor smothered in dry ice fog. Out of it and strobing with the same video feedback trick that made The Jackson Five's Blame It On The Boogie so memorable, is something more starting. A ghost. A wailing, wide-eyed spectral woman in white with a high pitched mournful song that could only itself be about a ghost. At eight I think I've heard of a banshee - and this seems the most accurate depiction of one I could imagine. Somehow, I think the song's creator would approve.

Kate Bush's oeuvre has always had elements of the supernatural and horror about it, from Hammer Horror to Experiment IV, the opening snippet of Night of the Demon leading into Hounds of Love to the wonderfully (and literally) batty cosplay on the back of fourth album Never For Ever. But no song is as redolent as Wuthering Heights, its Gothic imprimatur well intact. Unsurprisingly for what follows, Bush is a revelation - and Wuthering Heights sets out her agenda with aplomb. Eerie, arty, outsider music of a kind which ought not to be able to escape its Seventies trappings were it not for Bush's own ability to follow the trend and her ability to reinvent herself.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For the moment this is the first time I'll ever see Kate Bush, and I'm ready to run to the hills in terror. There are two videos for Wuthering Heights; this is the lesser-seen one, but it's the one that will haunt my nights for a good few weeks to come.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Mighty Bush

Times dictate that I must post this today, for today is the day that Kate Bush has her birthday. Happy Birthday, your majestic Weirdness.

Flap-flap-flap! It's a bat.

Kooky, spooky, and very very talented, Kate Bush landed on Earth on this day in 1958, and announced her presence to humankind twenty years later (more on that in another post). By this time she'd pretty much written out her career, and for the next two decades at least, she'd continue to be a significant presence in the UK pop world. She was young, gifted and weird. Arty, intellectual, sexy, exotic and cooly distant, she'd write, compose, choreogrph and direct her impressive body of work almost from day one, all the while maintaining the same destatchment that would mark her persona and probably frustrate her fans. There aren't many artists like her around these days, and there weren't then, either.

Bush Goes Full Achilleos
My first encounter with la Bush will be the feature of my next entry, but like Bowie before and after, her career and public presence (the two being virtually one and the same due to the artist's strict control over her private life) was something that I drfited through. I remember select videos and song from her early years - Wuthering Heights, Babooshka, Running Up That Hill, and the rest was pretty much catch-up.

Catch-up took place for me in 1990, and my second year at Uni. Having joined a band I was a young man very much in pursuit of new musical ideas and influences. My friends and I were all into easily-accessible student fare - local alternative bands, Flying Nun rostermates, Pixies, Smiths, REMs, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and so on. The result was that in all of this common ground there wasn't much I could call 'my' taste - it was simply shared with too many others. And then my brother's then-girlfriend played Kate Bush's The Whole Story to me one holidays while we were both hanging out at my parent's new home. I don't remember much more, except that I was immediately taken by it, and that Marg also recommended Hounds of Love as Bush's best album. I bought Hounds two years later, having got almost everything else on vinyl - this was one of my first CD purchases, and of course she was bloody spot on. Hounds of Love is a classic.  Perhaps I'll blog that one separately.

Ms Bush and I parted company shortly after The Sensual World and her pursuing the (to me) less accessible musical stylings of Trio Bulgarka. Clearly, a Hill too high for Running Up, but by then I'd consumed enough of her creative output to have satisfied my curiosity without entering the dark world of total fandom. Kate Bush fans - or those I'd be comfortable counting myself as one among them - were a bit thin on the ground in early Nineties Dunedin, but brief encounters led me to interesting places. A long conversation I had with a keen fan answering our ad for a new keyboardist revealed that he had recenty bought her retrospectve box set This Woman's Work. I was interested, my bandmates weren't, and we never got that follow-up meeting. But the next person I had an in-depth conversation about Kate Bush to was a lot more fruitful. Just over a year from that phone call I was looking to join a flat with a friend and the two of us met with a girl from his Anbthropology class who was also on the hunt for digs. She was a fan, apparently, and now she's Mrs Simian. So there's that.

We still play The Whole Story occasionally. Mrs Simian is a big fan of Jig of Life, and I would be remiss not to admit that This Woman's Work has got me through a couple of challenging life episodes. And we were both shattered to discover a fortnight ago that we'd blown our Saturday morning roster and not had the time to turn up to Waitangi Park for Wellington's own Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever. But eh. Maybe next year.

So, many happy returns once again Catherine Carder Bush, and thanks for playing a not insignificant part in the life I enjoy today.