Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Night Local: Sneaky Feelings - Husband House (1985)

Crikey Fridays - trialers everywhere! If you haven't already seen the Star Wars one then you might have seen the Batman vs Superman leaked one. Coming soon: the same thing with motion control and no Spanish subtitles!

Yes, it's the season. And the change of seasons is the subject of tonight's Friday Night Local. Last week I did all I could to not put another Shihad video up, because even then it was two weeks gone from Daylight Saving, and so a song that begins with the line "Put your clocks back for the winter" - though appropriate and wholly deserving - not to mention useful, just seemed an indulgence. So here instead is a song that marks the seasons change while being about something else.

Sneaky Feeling were a 'Dunedin Band' - one of the classic acts from Flying Nun's roster, although since their early triumph at making FN's much-lauded 'Dunedin Double' EP twinset, it seems the rest of the band's life was spent for the most part escaping the Dunedin label, while at the same time fighting for recognition from their record label. It's a complicated and somewhat fraught story, told much better and more personally by chief spokesman and frontman Matthew Bannister in his must-read memoirs Positively George Street. I was not a fan, but felt more than a little alliegance wit them during band days - they were local, they were somewhat 'outsiders' among the cool alternative Nun set, I could claim a vague familial connection with one of them, sat in lectures behind another, and so it went. But they didn't fit the Flying Nun label, and they weren't the only band to suffer for this. Bannister does a nice line in sardonic observational lyrics, but it's safe to say there's probably no other ex-FN act that can boast a teacher, archivist and high commissioner in its collective future.

And no other Flying Nun act produced a 'Husband House', with its opening crawl across the Sew Hoy factory and Speights brewery rooftop, goofy chess-club cool video, and irresistable droning chord refrain, which I stole for at least one of my songs back in my guitaring days. Some form of suspended A, if I remember it right.

'Husband House' of course observes the approach of Autumn with the not-too-shabby line "the season's old, and the leaves have turned to gold/and the wind blows cold from the south." It might sound a little pithy, but anyone who's experienced a southern winter in the Feelings' home town will know exactly what Matthew Bannister is talking about - and if you don't, just cop a view at theose wonderful rolling St Clair waves, delivered hourly from the South Pacific ocean. Now that's cold water surf. And speaking of rolling, mister projector sir:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Right Next Door to Hell

This post is one of three synched posts covering nigh-80s sci-fi movies from PaulAl and Jamas. Check 'em out!

'The Black Hole' (1979)

As a young viewer, or one new to the cinematic form, the experience of entering a movie theatre must be a kind of surrender.

 I am nine, and having been one of Oamaru's biggest Star Wars fans, nothing is going to stop me from seeing the next best thing. So far I've braved an omnibus edit of Battlestar Galactica (the first two episodes cut into movie length for foreign markets, NZ included), but this time I and the kids next door and up the road, are seeing the new Disney movie The Black Hole.

I've not heard much about it, except that it's a Disney film - so I'm sure it'll be good, and it has spaceships and robots in it  another plus. I enter the theatre, the lights go down, my young impressionable mind dutifully surrenders to the images and unfolding story on the screen - and despite some false bravery for my fellow movie-goers, I'm not a little traumatised by this movie, and don't really recover from its impact for a while. I did manage to recover enough to buy the read-along 45 story version of it, though. I still have it, in fact.

The Black Hole occupies a discreet stage in Disney's development; before it fully branched out into mature adult-oriented movies under the Touchstone Pictures brand; its late Seventies, early Eighties family movies have distinct edges to them - this, Dragonslayer, Tron and Something Wicked This Way Comes are all movies which sit uneasily with the rest of the fare from the House of the Mouse. Dragonslayer and Black Hole would by my estimation definitely be the most mature, and deal with very adult notions: The Black Hole, despite being riddled with the rigours of fifteen drafts between 1974 and its year of production, is at times a philosophical piece, a moral play exercising a very Christian form of judgement on its central villain/s. Your actual mad scientist aboard the mysterious Cygnus, Dr Reinhart, is part Nemo (Verne's Nautilus captain, not Pixar's clownfish) and part Ahab, and has in effect entered a Faustian pact with his creation Maximillian (some viewers read the relationship as the android having the scientist in its thrall, perhaps by telepathic control), and both are delivered in the movie's controversial ending to a literal scientific purgatory within the event horizon of the titular stellar morass. Despite this surreal and deeply disturbing scene, I don't even remember the hellish ending scenes (perhaps I covered my eyes?), and naturally they and the question mark fate of the surviving heroes of the good ship Palomino are brushed over somewhat on the 45, so this latest viewing - probably only my second - had me watching the last five minutes with my adult mouth agape.

 Still, this is not a conventional horror movie. There are no jump scares in The Black Hole, more a creeping tension that builds slowly (too slowly for some, as it turns out.) The largest scares are not scares in themselves - Reinhardt's robot guard Maximillian is simply a massive red wall, a bulking construction of plate metal, a baleful red eye slit and two arms termination in pinning, shredding blades. Subtle he is not, yet it's still a remarkably intimidating character for its silent hovering in shot - a serous bogeyman. Worse is the reveal of the true nature of Reinhardt's android technicians, zombified souls trapped behind mirror-masked cowls. Nightmarish stuff.
There are pitfalls. As Guanolad notes, the casting is a little flat, with senior actors for the most part playing senior roles - there's Ernest Borgnine, looking for all the world like a dress rehearsal of James Doohan in his last years. Anthony Perkins doesn't last the film (another horror flashback moment!), but Meg Tilly and a later career revival beckon anyway. Maximillian Schell is a pretty good Reinhardt, but is called to give a largely linear and saturnine performance; there's only really a brief instance where he reaches out to the sole female character in the movie to 'protect' him from his monstrous android alter ago, which invites any further intrigue. More successful characters are the two speaking robots: both are unapologetically Disney, with the urbane yet surprisingly scrappy V.I.NCENT voiced by an uncredited  Roddy McDowell and the battered and beaten B.O.B by  Slim Pickens. They're hardly the stuff of Asimov, but robots of the time were still a developing phenomenon onscreen, and it's not as if Return of the Jedi's comedy pairing four years later was Citizen f*cking Kane.
The model work is very good indeed, despite some rushed-looking matte compositions towards the end, and some obvious green screen fringing. Internally the Cygnus is deliberately vast, shrinking its visitors to Lilliputian dimensions and in most areas of the interior the design is noteworthy, too. All burnished bronze and shadows, with only one room all banks of flashing lights and screens - otherwise the Cygnus is an empty vessel, quiet corridors and impassive crew. While on the outside it resembles a prone Eiffel Tower with battleship turrets, within it has the menace of an unoccupied Bond villain lair. Reinhardt's dining quarters are urbane with their gilt chairs and chandelier, but the spectacle of the slowly whirling maelstrom outside is dis-quietening - the whole place is convincingly 'off' from the get-go. Rounding this out is John Barry's superb score - I got lost in its swooning strings.

This is definitely a movie of yesteryear, but thirty-five years on doesn't appear to have dated any more than it seemed at the time anyway. The Disney effort has a 'one-foot-in-the-sixties' earnestness that at least spares it from resembling too closely the lazier Star Wars rip-offs from around the same time (which we may well cover in further synched blogs.) A quick glance at my fellow bloggers reveals that yes - this is a movie which divides its audience, and so cast me in (or out if you must) among the lovers. That surprises me, but I don't think I'll be sending off for a hair shirt at the same time.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Two Cars, One Night

A quick and dirty post tonight, I reckon.

Lately I've been hitting the charity shops, a habit I've picked up from Mrs Simian (whose thing is Crown Lynn eartheware but is open to all sorts of stuff), and one I share with Jamas. The hospice shop in town has been occasionally fruitful, uncovering small treasures both minor (some Fighting Fantasy rulebooks) and really cool (a MINT condition Moldvay-era Basic Dungeons and Dragons set with Erol Otus-illustrated box and plastic geo dice  (crayon-ready, but sans crayon.)

It's also a god spot for kitbashing gear, namely old toys. From two expeditions I managed to garb these guys:

This is a 1903 Peugot made in 1969 by Lesney, one of the classic Matchbox manufacturers. Well, that's what the Internet tells me, but any Dr Who fan will be able to tell you what it could double as. Corgi were the original makers of the Third and Fourth Doctor's 'roadster' Bessie, and a few of these are still to be found online, particularly as replicas were released ten or so years back with a reissued DVD of The Three Doctors. Black Tree also made a version in white metal which is now out of stock and goes for crazy prices online. I don't have either, so this will do thankyou very much.

 It's in rather good condition, and were it not for the fact that these are not uncommon and go for much higher prices in immaculate condition with their old canvas tops and boxes, I'd baulk at drilling out the rivets, cutting out the back doors and windscreen, removing the spare tyre and back brackets and rearranging the lights and lamps. But don't convince me otherwise because I'm really happy with it and think it'll work out fine. A shame to paint over the brass, but there you go.

There's also this guy:

I thought this might have been a Happy Meal toy, and it was, but it was only when I spotted the Pixar name on the underside that I realised what - or rather who, I was looking at. What's up, Doc? Not a lot, because he's been much-loved by some kid. His crazy random-direction third wheel mechanism doesn't really work very well and his winder's lost its get up and go, but that's okay. The cardboard windscreen will go and some serious kitbashing will go on here. Doc may not ever resemble the 1952 Hudson Hornet he was based on again, but I think he'll look fine, if not a little mean and road-rashed. Oh yes, I have a very interesting future planned for this old boy...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday Night Local: Easter Edition.

Tonight I wasn't gong to do a Friday Night Local, I was going to post about Easter instead. But then inspiration struck and I thought to myself, as they say in Mexico: 'Why Not Have Both?' Welcome then to a very special post.

I am not a religious Simian. Oh, for a while in my past I definitely was; and then, almost overnight, I wasn't. A story for another time, perhaps. Despite this, I do find myself reflecting on the origins of Easter a this time of year. What a surpirse, you might think. Funny old world.

Here in NZ Easter comes at the begining of autumn, so any sort of hissiness about the appropriation of traditional seasonal festivites by the Christian church sounds about as silly as complaining the same of Halloween or Christmas down here. Our seasonal festival calendar just isn't working out being project-managed from the other side of the world. But here we are with Easter anyway, the spring festival at the end of summer.

In the Simian household we've settled into some traditions around Easter. You can't guarantee the weather will be good, but it's harvest time for the garden, and so the tomatoes are coming in, the bok choi is being picked over daily for bastard cabbage white butterflies, and planting for spring (dill, garlic maybe, broad beans) will start soon. Feijoas are in season, and after a delightful Easter in Rotorua a few years ago, they've become something of an Easter treat for us now - muffins and crumbles alive alive-o! nd of course, though summer is no time to be scoffing fruit cake, April in the southern hemisphere is quite fine for tucking into hot crossed buns, true comfort food. With one day left of daylight saving I've started fixing up some dodgy bits of paintwork around the house exterior. The spirit was willing over summer - it really was.

Let's talk about the video, though. ere's Shihad's Stations, from their debut LP Churn, now a sprightly 21 years old. Crikey. I do like this song, but even at the time I didn't receive the song's title as anything of religious significance (it was the future Mrs Simian who took me aside to tell me, you see); and so the video with its Christ (played by Headless Chickens' Bevan Sweeney) walking the stations of the cross seems to match the title of the song, if not the lyrics themselves. Anyway, as far as I can recall, this is the most Easter-y of all NZ music videos, so why not?

Have a happy and safe Easter, everyone!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ruby and Ferris: Done!

So yeah - I done gone and finished basing Ruby and Ferris, put Ruby's helmet on, and now they're done and good for quarantine display - whatever that is.
Not much to report, although this is the first time I've used my matte varnish - Testors Dullcote for those of you playing at home, and I'm pretty happy with it! Rather cynically (for reasons mentioned in the linked post) these guys were my first try-out on the spray, and as the result is no overt shininess or yellowed finish, I'm sold. Legions of lovingly-painted miniatures will soon be ready for their close-up!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Night Local: Sharon O'Neill - 'Words' (1979)

Whups, I may have forgotten a couple of Fridays.

ANYWAY, when last we met I issued a challenge to readers on Twitter to nominate a Sharon O'Neill song for the next Friday Night Local post. How did that turn out? Variably.

I can only conclude that because O'Neill is such a significant figure in the not-small arena of Kiwi women in rock, that simply coming up wth consensus was just too darned hard. Guanolad nominated 'Physical Favour's, but lost his bottle on it. Frankly, the late Eighties are not O'Neill's happy hunting ground, and I really think the other end of the decade is where her star shone brightest. On that note, Jamas sggested 'Maxine' - ah, but which video? The Australian one or the NZ one?  Answer: the Australian one is the more recognisable, with its quasi-narrative about the ill-fated streetwalker, but I prefer the local version. It's familiar without being overplayed - and 'Maxine' got a lot of play on both sides of the Tasman.

That was it for the punters, besides occasional commentor Tim who wanted a Shona Laing number (sir, hang your head in shame), and to be honest I thought I'd see Paul S chime in with the theme from 'Smash Palace', a great opener to Roger Donaldson's early masterpiece of kiwi mateship. 'Asian Paradise' has its fans... I'll leave that there. Here's mine instead:

'Words' is from O'Neill's debut and frankly, I can't hear it wthout wanting to sing along, surely the mark of a great pop song. Her voice doesn't have the husky, Christine McVie sound of some of the aforementioned tracks, but melodically it's very sharp, with some great backing vocals (check out the number of mic stands in that video!), and hell, any upbeat song that opens with the line "let me out like the new blood at the slaughter." is worth listening to I reckon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Down with the Clown!

A short blog post from me today, folks. Family medical emergencies having claimed all spare time and concentration*, this is one from the vault of drafts: Riddle me this: what is in this picture below?

Answer: A nail, of course. Ah, but no ordinary nail - it's been monkeyed with and turned into an even handier tool than one made to wed two pieces of wood - indeed, one that every scratch-build modeller, kit-basher and dad should have in their kit! One hack-saw, a model vice, a bastard file and some careful metal torture later a rare tool indeed has been born; one that was never meant to be wielded by those outside the fast food industry's toymaking empire...

"The worm has turned, has it not, my Happy Meal freebie friend? Look at you! You were once so proud, intact and flat of battery. Now feel the wrath of the tri-driver of Jet Simian!"

(*Family medical emergencies righting themselves by the day, incidentally)