Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fourthought

(I wasn’t intending to post another missive about movies, but two follow-ups within 24 hours of the last post tells me otherwise)

I knew we shouldn’t have crossed the streams…

For whatever reasons, call it fate, call it luck, call it karma – no sooner did Al, Jamas and El Guano and I synch our Ghostbusters posts, but Sony Pictures went and as good as announced their new, all-woman Ghostbusters. It’s like they knew!

Or was it because Fox on the same day finally released their first (hopefully there will be more?) trailer for Fantastic Four (Or Fant4stic if you will, though I won’t), suddenly we have eight interesting people to discuss.

Ghostbusters first:
Photomontage courtesy Radio Times
Well, as suspected for a long time, it’s definitely an all-female group, and Melissa McCarthy, a long-time favourite, is a member (a lot of negative noise about this casting, unfortunately.) I can dig it. There’s a part of me that would rather have a new crew than see the remains of the old Ghostbusters shambling around. I quite enjoyed bridesmaids, like Kristen Wiig in it (and McCarthy too, actually) – the rest of the cast I need to acquaint myself with more, although I do recall Kate McKinnon from the rare viewings of SNL I’ve had. We’ll see – I think this will rise or fall as much on its script as its performances anyway. Fingers crossed.  Don’t hate. Hate on the internet is stupid…

…And so to the new, younger, spooked-looking Fantastic Four:


Yeah, this is okay! I don’t have much of a dog in this fight – if there is a fight at all. I’ve seen both Tim Story versions (though one was on a plane, so who knows how much was cut out?) and while the self-aware goofiness of them was jarring at the time I’m still not sure that’s the route the franchise should be taking now, either – for all of the reception Guardians of the Galaxy got last year, it really was a sleeper hit and a gamble by Marvel that really paid off. This incarnation of the Fantastic Four is clearly not bred from the same stock, and its mixture of trepidation and emphasis on science and exploration seem specifically-chosen to separate the heroes from a lot of their screen contemporaries. I haven’t read any of the Ultimate FF comics (which the series is now purported to be based on), so this will be almost new territory for me. And I’d like to see more trailers – not to the extent of the overkill Amazing Spider-Man 2 presented, but perhaps some other POV trailers, given that this one only has one dialogue scene and clearly more reveals up its sleeve. It certainly doesn’t look cheap, though, and in this guise at least I can see a cross-over between Fantastic Four and X-Men easier than, say Spider-Man (as done right now) and Marvel’s superhero roster.

Sadly, like the Ghostbusters news, there was nerd rage. Oh yes, there’s a LOT of over-entitled anger about this from what I suspect to be tribal Marvel fans. Many are, predictably, swearing they won’t go and see it (fine, I don’t care – why are you telling me?) and demanding Fox “give” back the rights Marvel sold them years ago blah blah blah. I hope these guys are a minority, because with Marvel pulling the comic and any chance of merchandising, this franchise will be relying on the buzz its own promotion will generate. Meanwhile, its producer and director want to keep as much of the movie secret as possible. It’s another risky move, and I hope it pays off.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'Bust Never Sleeps

Hey, this post is synched with blog posts from Al, Jamas and Guanolad!

Thirty years on and a month or thereabouts from its New Zealand debut, here’s my Ghostbusters blog post.

I was a fan of Ghostbusters as soon as I’d heard of it, which if memory serves was during a hike on a school camp at the end of the third form year. My friend Andrew was recalling a clip that had played on a local after–school kids’ TV show, now easily identifiable as the hallway confrontation between Venkman and Slimer, but in Andrew’s re-telling, including the urgent walkie talkie relaying and eventual “he slimed me”, it sounded even more exciting.

And it was! I eventually saw it with other friends at the local picture theatre on a Friday night, sitting restlessly through a special short beforehand – which I think must have been a heavily-truncated Bowery Boys movie (Spook Busters comes to mind. It wasn’t great.) The rest cemented itself into my mind – already fed by a childhood of mythologies, ghost stories and space opera - phenomenally.


Anything with Bill Murray or Dan Ackroyd in it I’d watch; I got the soundtrack for Christmas from my sister and played and played and played it (my favourite post-production soundtrack goof in the movie – as the trio’s equipment is being removed from the college at the beginning, check out the headphone-wearing removal guy ‘rockin out’ to a slow Air Supply ballad) and I just basically loved the movie. I coveted, though never owned the roleplaying game (it got pretty good reviews as I recall) and envied my friends for their copies of the ZX Spectrum game (here's a walk-through!)


Ray was my favourite character (certainly he’s the most sympathetic, being cheated out of his family home for a decrepit fire station), although I was intrigued by Egon;  Venkman is a charming and charismatic creep, and Winston is a strange sort of audience-translator to introduce halfway through the story (he’d have been even more distracting if Eddie Murphy hadn’t passed on the role.) And I liked Janine more than Dana – and Louis Tully, seemingly formed in media is a brilliant character brought to life by Rick Moranis and Ivan Reitman.


Above all that it’s such a great and imaginative concept:  blue-collar pseudo-scientists and paranormal activity that springs from the very city they inhabit. I thought at fourteen that a double degree in Psychology and Parapsychology seemed a pretty valid field to go down – thankfully I never entertained the notion of actually pursuing it, but I also sketched out an idea of what my ghost hunting TV series would be like a year later – yes, influenced by Ghostbusters, but it was over time refined into something much more cynical and less funny. Speaking of which, it’s intriguing to note that there weren’t really any successful imitations (although I loved John Ratzenberger’s turn in the goofy House II), and I never saw Ghostbusters II in the theatre, that ship had clearly sailed for me as much as nearly everyone else by 1989.


But in the original there’s a lot to love, including a highly-quotable script and great teamwork by all onscreen. There’s a real invention to the effects – the earliest hand-painted Eighties lightning I think I’d seen; blue lightning was de rigeur by the end of the decade, but the Ghostbusters thanks to their proton packs had pink and orange energy beams, while Gozer was a radiant crystalline rose, Slimer was a lurid green, the library ghost was magenta – it’s a movie not afraid to play with the colour palette, probably for levity’s sake, but it really helps the movie find its own identity. The design is similarly unique – a firehouse HQ, the ’distinctive’ and utilitarian beige uniforms, the Ectomobile of course – there’s nothing really flashy or showy outside the backpacks and the ghost traps; even the containment grid is robust and practical, lending it more credulity. It has a great aesthetic and tone overall, effortlessly combining scares and laughs with virtually no mugging from any of its cast, and it made me want to visit New York. It also sparked my appreciation for Art Deco – an absolutely-fitting design choice for this movie being very New York, and being the design era of both the skyscraper and the archaeologist/antiquarian – heavy plot elements in this film. The success of all of the above means to me that Ghostbusters hasn’t really dated, even if it has become very very familiar.


And from here on? It’s been fun to reconnect with the movie, as I have through the Black Dog podcast, a recent SFX Special, and rewatching the film itself. The fan community still seems quite strong online: the original Ghostbusters RPG is now online. and reliably, Crooked Dice have produced a team of Paranormal Exterminators who would make great stand-ins for the crew, and currently there's also under construction a bea-u-tiful model of the Ghostbusters HQ

Will the love still be there once the feminised reboot has arrived? I think so – I hope so. The original’s place is secure already; last week I read a Spider-Man story to Jet Jr that featured Reed Richards trapping Spidey’s belligerent black symbiote costume in a special technical snare – rendered by the artist as a direct copy of the Ghostbusters’ spirit traps. I think we’ll be seeing the Ghostbusters around for some time yet.

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's a Mad Mad Mad Max World

Hi everyone, let's look at the trailer for Mad Max : Fury Road, shall we?

Okay then!



This trailer makes me very happy, and though I know why, I’m sort of surprised too.

For teenage me the post-apocalyptic world typified by the Mad Max films meant excitement in their Eighties form – fast cars, punks, explosions, anarchy; what adolescent boy doesn’t rally to such vivid imagery? Outwardly they’re irredeemably macho, but offer an opportunity for equality to the clever and inventive, the outsider and loner, and it can make heroes of nearly anyone – but especially these types. It may be the last earthbound incarnation of the Western, relying as it does on themes of transience and dislocation, and the delivery of natural justice in expansive and often barren wildernesses returning to an untamed state (post-apocalyptic films tend to be rarely urbanised in location.)

In many stories there’s an emphasis on the connection between man and beast of burden, where the Western’s horse has become a car or a bike, or sometimes a really big truck - vehicles are big in this world, either swift and lethal cars and bikes or rusting juggernauts of destruction. The nihilism appeals to the teenager inside us – the opening scenes of The Terminator were to my fourteen year old eyes probably the most awesome thing I’d ever seen on the big screen, with colossal tracked vehicles rolling over dusty human skulls. Of course I grew up, and by the time I was an university and the early Nineties arrived, the impetus of desert landscapes, heavy artillery and warfare over oil became a grimmer and actual thing. The same geopolitics had an effect on the Mad Max franchise also, effectively putting it into development hell for twenty years.

The Post-Apocalyptic genre has endured now for well over forty years in film, surviving various iterations – originally a consequence of Cold War and Nuclear Age panic, reasons for the end of civilisation have over the years also included plague, pestilence, rampant technology and, like seemingly every other genre, the post-apocalyptic world has become invaded by zombies too. There’s something inevitable about that, but I feel sorry for this latest addition, as I can’t shake the notion that when zombies enter any genre, that genre is as good as dead – you’re left with a literal zombie, its spark overtaken and driven by a mindless, deathless insatiable shambling mockery of its former living self. I digress.

What's not to love?
The post-apocalyptic movie is a near cousin to the Eighties barbarian flick, being staged in similar epic locations, emphasising brawn and brutality. It’s physicality and Darwinism, and seems to be quite universal – alongside more earnest takes on a post-nuclear world (Threads must be mentioned) knock-offs appeared in other countries such as Spain and Italy (no strangers to the Barbarian genre of course), and of course New Zealand’s very own, beloved Battletruck. And on a side note, Central Otago has never looked so like a desert than now, with its perilous edging towards proper drought. Probably the reason I’ve really enjoyed this trailer then is because it seems to be a return to Max’s world, more tangible now for being removed from the latterday pretenders of zombiedom, Skynet and rampant viruses. At least two of those things could conceivably happen in our lifetimes and pinned social collapse on pure economics – an energy crisis, followed by an environmental one. No mutants, no walking dead, no aliens or killer AIs, just human craziness and an empty landscape. I admire that, as much as the more tribal, less technological aesthetic in Miller’s (re)vision - the spikes and blades which just might be a nod to another Australian predecessor, Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris.

Maybe the other appealing factor of the post-apocalyptic genre is that it’s a social memento mori. When the mundane machines and vehicles of society can be turned so easily into carriages of destruction and brutality when a fragile economy and ecology collapse, it’s a reminder that despite our comfortable trappings, we may figuratively live only two inches of metal away from barbarism. And as I penned this today, somewhat fatefully the Doomsday Clock has returned to its 1984 position of three minutes to midnight.

So now, Mad Max is a nostalgia piece for me first and foremost; an odd place of juvenile thrills. But this trailer’s given me an idea for another modelling project this year – or more than one!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Was a Heavy Metal Stripper

One of the things I did over my Summer break was strip down all of my old lead alloy figures from the 1980s. They’d be about thirty years old now, are mostly Grenadier sculpts around 25mm scale, and bringing them back to life after years of dust and knocking about with variable plasterings of enamel paint became something of an addiction for me.
Skeletons, Tolkien, adventurers, orcs - a selection.
And I have to say, they turned out pretty well! It started with my previous forays into using Simple Green to strip my Mirkwood Elves. That was a worthwhile exercise, too, but required a lot of fiddly and sometimes messy follow-up as green stuff needed to be reapplied and repairs to be made after a gentle but rigid regime of bathing and brushing.
The old lead figures, on the other hand, proved pretty amenable to a Simple Green bath, with only a few exceptions, some notable:
1.       It seems my oldest figures needed more second or even third and fourth baths to remove the most stubborn primer coat. Possibly because of their age, or the thickness I may have been laying the paint on. No biggie, really.

2.       I did have two casualties – a Fantasy Lords warrior balanced on one foot, and a goblin posed similarly. Their snapped ankles probably speak more of years of wonky storage and more than a little enthusiasm in the toothbrush scrubbing (I was bveing careful, honest! But I’m occasionally a little klutzy)
D'oh!
3.       Some of the minis were stained, probably by the Simple Green. This caused them to go dark once stripped, and in some cases a tad grainy to the touch. These were in the minority and were largely older figures again. I did fret for a while that they might have had early signs of lead rot – fingers crossed they don’t, but hopefully some thorough sealing and painting will make them look presentable again.
It’s been a blast to do these, and extremely satisfying to look at the figures unpainted and still marvel at some of the sculpts – rendered without 3D printers or any of the modern paraphernalia. It seems a shame to even paint them again, but I will. And I’m really going to enjoy doing them!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tunnels and trawls - William Dear's 'The Dungeon Master'




Hello, and a happy new year!

Over the Summer break I've been reading The Dungeon Master William Dear's recount of the James Dallas Egbert case. In fact, I read the book in two days around other activities, as it was so engrossing. I previously covered the book and its effect here, and Shaun Hatley provides a summary and commentary on the book and the story behind it, including a fascinating contemporary snippet from Dragon magazine here. Consider yourself informed!

Now, I found the book at a local refuse recyclers shop - Trash Palace, of all places. Seemingly a fantasy/SF reader was having a tip-out, but this is the only title that really got my attention, amid the Silverbergs, Asimovs and, er, Brookses ( they’re going to be filming Shannarah in NZ! Eek!) I read it quickly, thanks to a plane trip and a few hours to kill travelling; it helps too that it’s quite readable.

Dear is an informal and engaging writer, somewhat prone to self-promotion but sympathetic to the object of his investigation, and well he might be. Dallas Egbert, as hindsight reveals, was not only a troubled soul but caught in a time when the best care was not available, and his tragic disappearance – as sensational as it seemed (and reads in Dear’s version) should be viewed as a remarkable episode in a short and unhappy life. The author make repeated points in retrospect about the lack of care Dallas received as both a very young student and a gifted individual with issues around his identity, the people around him and his well-being. Dear’s claim that Dallas simply wasn’t being protected by his university seems to go straight to the heart of the boy’s disappearance, and at least some way towards his ultimate fate, but the book concerns itself less with Dallas as a known individual, and relies more on the young man as a mystery in himself, which, given its retrospective nature, doesn’t help things. Dear is the writer and the protagonist of his own memoirs, and we never escape the fact that this is being written with the breathless energy of a missing persons case file first and foremost.

There is, nevertheless a concerted paternalism in his attitude towards Dallas, which book-ends the investigation itself during which Dear goes ‘method’ – living close to campus (although a more youthful colleague goes one better, it’s insinuated), experimenting with some of the troubled Dallas’ extracurricular pursuits, including ‘tresselling’ (an eye-opening chapter in which the detective lies in front of an oncoming train aping the boy’s occasional habit), and of course roleplaying in a session that, with its close parallels to features and the geography of the case seems questionable in its authenticity, if not unintentionally amusing in places. And then there are the steam tunnels – oh, those steam tunnels

Dear skips the homosexual liaisons and drug taking, however, virtually sub-contracting these areas to a couple of individuals outside his firm – surprisingly, this bears more fruit than Dear's meanderings, alongside an odd game of cat-and-mouse which ultimately leads to the ‘discovery’ of the boy. It’s a strange case – no wonder the more sensational parts contributed to the Satanic Panic of the early Eighties, and proved so ripe for adaptation by the schlockier end of writing at the time. Dear’s version of events cuts to the case for the most part, but the author’s attempts to mingle Dallas’ motivations with the then still-recent phenomenon of D&D paint him as not only a fish out of water, but an over-thinker. And something of a self-promoter: you may well roll your eyes at reading about his stellar career, his expansive mansion, his impressive case history and uncanny human touch; you may also wish to avert your eyes at Dear’s more recent forays into revisiting old and sensational crimes.

Still, despite itself, it is a human story, and an affecting one for its being based on real events. Ruefully, I admit that even without the hokey RPG session and larger-than-life Texan detective protagonist, played straight the book would make for a diverting documentary or film . Apparently, the options were recently purchased, so who knows?

Recommended, with slight reservations!

Friday, December 26, 2014

"From out of the cell runs an Elf..."

On Boxing Day 1984 a quiet revolution took place.

I am fourteen, and my newest alter ego, an Elven princeling by the name of Aben Silverstone has just been rescued by a party of tredidatious, no-nonsense adventurers led by a Dwarf with the unlikely name of Thorin Oakenshield.

It's a big deal for me to be playing Dungeons and Dragons with my older brother's group. Although also in attendance is my best friend Derek, and we're on neutral ground (Derek and his older brother's family home), it's understood that my presence there has been achieved by no small amount of wheedling and pleading by myself (and possibly some parents interested in some time out from their growing kids), and is at times barely tolerated. I am enthusastic, and equipped with the nervous rashness and oafery of a new, young player. I'm on best behaviour, because I am still somewhat in aweof these older boys I'm playing alongside with their quick wit and occasional ruthlessness. Nevertheless, my Elf stays with his rescuers, and we make it to the end of the module in textbook-style, with only one casualty, as I recall - a thief by the equally-unlikely name of Edmund Blackadder.


I've played this particular module before, of course, as it's the only one we own, Douglas Nile's The Horror on the Hill with its pine forest Jim Rosolf cover and slightly goofy internal Jim Holloway artwork. But that last time I was a different character, in a different party, and we barely scratched the surface of the dungeon. This was the real baptism of fire, and over that summer I'd join in at least one other game over several nights (Palace of the Silver Princess, a logical follow-up) before I would be dismissed with the directive to find my own group to play with. So Derek and I did, and that became a large part of my adolescence for the next two years until different friends, different priorities, and the inevitable girlfriends broke up the band. By then Aben had dropped his earnest folksy nickname and become Habenath Celebrant, moody Elven badass, and another story, really.

 Nile's module is simple fun, with some pitfalls along the way. It's less of a meat grinder than its obvious inspiration, The Keep on the Borderlands, but it has elements I'd reuse in my own original games later on (warring goblin or hobgoblin tribes in the same dungeon, surprise berserker NPCs, a magic fountain which gives and takes in equal measure) not to mention a pretty hefty end-of-game adversary, of which still I'm skeptical of our besting to this day. More significant of course are the things that my friends and me brought into our self-made games in the following months - bits of our teenage world, in fact, form the music we listened to, the books and comics we read, and the movies we watched. A shared world can be a strange wild-growing creation, but hold it up to the light and perhaps it's not that different from many other adolescent activities in retrospect.

Thirty years on I'm surprised that it can still be brought back by the odd Proustian trigger - a reliable home-made ginger beer, the new tase of that summer in Barbeque Shapes (they were better back then), the smell of old pulp paperbacks, and the incongrous contemporary tune. Funny things, really, but all part of the mix. This, then, is my true gateway to adventure.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peace on Earth, Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum...

It's nearly the end of 2014, and this video is now four years old. Dated, stilted, and more than a little awkward and weird - but enough of Bing and Bowie's original team-up, here's the heartfelt tribute. Merry Christmas, one and all from me and the Simian household, and oh yeah, peace on Earth and all that, too.


Link here because embedding disabled :(

Oh, and this is offically my 300th post. Jings!