Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back in the Room!

Hellooo... yes, it's me - talk to you from the Other Side!

Well, okay, the other side of my illustration project. I've now completed pretty much all (pending alterations and/r corrections and the final cover) of Mary's Christmas Gorilla, and almost on time. It's near time to return to the blog and some less-arduous pursuits.

Kid, I know how you feel...

Old promises and projects are slowly seeping back into a recently Gorilla/ Dr Who podcasting/ day-job-occupied brain, and all going well, I can return to some earlier projects (the Dreddorld judges, my Hobbit-themed figures including the half-done Mirky Dozen) and some new ones!

In short, I'm back in the room, and for the foreseeable will be blogging updates and back-filling my emptier months with posts that just wouldn't work so well right now. it'll make sense, believe me, but in the mean-time apologies in advance for whomever might be following me through RSS.

I'll also be doing some spring cleaning in the blog itself, updating some links, weeding out some inactive ones (sniff!) and adding some more recent interests. If you've stuck around for this long period of radio silence, cheers! And stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Intoning Verisimilitude to the Autocratic Hierarchy

No, I don't know what the point of Russell Brand is, a clever and charismatic man with a (largely) strong message and a (personally) irritating public image; but I do know a couple of things: firstly, that in order to truly make its mark speaking truth to power demands the register of the everyday citizen, and secondly, this is still very funny.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day of the Dredd

Well here we are then - October already, and as it's the first it's also Day of Dredd, er, day.
What? Oh come on. Star Wars fans get their own day and they've had eight movies of their own so far, while Dredd fans have had a quarter of that number if I'm even being generous (and in the matter of Rob Schneider's career that's quite generous enough, thankyou). So, somewhat half-heartedly and with the sure sense that Mickey Mouse won't ever want to buy THIS franchise, I'm putting my drokkin' hand up for the Make a Dredd Sequel campaign. I joined the Facebook group two years ago, signed the petition, have bought the DVD (just not on the same day of action last year), and though I'd be happy to buy the Blu Ray, it' not really an option right at the moment.

Dredd - America
However, I still love Dredd,even the glum, somewhat introspective mood it put me in on the busride home from seeing it. One of my heroes is a brutal, methodical tool of the System. I always knew that about him, although in his comic strips that persona has changed over the years. Dredd has had doubts, found reasons to question the system, and even before meeting the man who created it and with whom he shares a genetic heritage, has confessed to its shortcomings and failures, his own misguided beliefs. Judge Joseph Dredd is a complicated, human character inside a rigid, fearful authoritarian shell, and the miracle of his parent strip is that this has all come about through his own creator, John Wagner, in a slow, near forty-year burn.

Click Image to Close
 The tragedy of Dredd's failure at the box office is that we as fans or casual viewers won't get to see that remarkable evolution of character. It's a damned shame. The Dredd we have is a cold thing of beauty, but it feels to me like the first chapter of a bigger story. And I'd very much like to see it continue, because from what I've seen and heard of Alex Garland's plan for the movies, the best was definitely yet to come.

And that's my 2014 Day of Dredd post right there.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Monkey's Pause

Hello, Reader

Now then. This blog has been quiet again, and there's a reason: I am busy.

My current illustration job, David Haywood's book Mary's Christmas Gorilla is, in the words of Ab Fab's Marshall "at a very exciting stage", which in short means I've not got a lot of time for much else besides work, domestic stuff and illustration. You want to see a picture? Here's one:

This is Mary's teacher - or was, at least, before it was decided mutually between author and illustrator that she was a little too scary even in the role of antagonist. Perhaps I shouldn't have based her on a few real people I know - I dunno. She looked even scarier with the eyepatch, believe you me.

So there was quite a bit of stuff I wanted to blog about recently. It's election day here in New Zealand, so a rare post on national politics and the mood of the nation has, mercifully, been vetoed on this day of all days, because, reasons. You were better off without that spiel from this Simian, trust me.

HOWEVER, I was also going to blog about Shihad's recent astonishing return to form, FVEY, produced by their old sparring partner Jaz Coleman and bringing back the lead of their first two albums Churn and Killjoy with a vein of angry energy throughout fed by Jon Toogood's personal/political angst. It's an absolute belter, their most focussed since The General Electric and most urgent since Love is the New Hate. Nine albums in, most bands struggle to find the old magic, but this is just bloody awesome.

I also meant to blog Manic Street Preacher's Futurology, which is about a month old or older now. It's an interesting work, and I'll return to it soon.

Which leaves.. what? Friday Night Local? I'm resting it for a few weeks, folks, although you nearly had a video from FVEY, and a tribute to the late, great Peter Gutteridge of Snapper, The Clean and The Great Unwashed, who we lost a week ago. They'd have filled a few gaps, but I don't want this blog to simply be a string of You Tube videos, so we'll see them later.

Yes, all of these will come in the fullness of time, along with more Eighties genre movies, more Dreddworld judges, and maybe even some hints at just how my Mirkwood Elves are coming along. That should set me up for a few posts once October has raised its late-Spring head and daylight saving has arrived.

In the mean-time, there's everything else. See you on the other side, folks!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Night Local: Skeptics - 'Agitator' (1987)

This post comes a little late tonight as ths evening the Simian family were down at the waterfront following Wellington's Light Trail, a rather fun collection of international light installations, some animated, some fluorescent, some interactive, and many doubled in the reflection of a black, glasslike harbour. Gorgeous - but never mind the crowds...

It's the last Friday of the southern winter-we're nearly into spring, folks! And to mark the cold season's passing, here's one of the starkest, discordant, contemplative and gorgeous songs Palmerston North ever created. It's not going to be for everyone, but I'd suggest sticking around to the end if you can. No other song comes close to evoking the three bleak months of an Antipodean winter, with the sun farthest from the soil and the southerly ripping straight up from the Antarctic.

There aren't too many Skeptics video out there, and besides this, probably their most well-known and most infamous is AFFCO, which surely ranks alongside The Smith's Meat is Murder for warts-and-all coverage of what goes on inside your friendly local abattoir.

Despite the sensationalism, and maybe the dated sound of the sampling and drums (not to mention the dancing of Skeptics' late, great David D'ath), Skeptics were an important Flying Nun band, influencing the likes of Headless Chickens, Bailter Space and even non-Nun acts like Lung and Shihad, who, as mentioned in an earlier post, consciously doff their hats to this song in one of their own. In the last years of my own band back in the day Skeptics informed the big sound of my friend Victor's band Age of Dog. And so this one's for Victor, Piers and Tane, wherever they may be.

And here's to spring!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Requiescat in Pace, Vermithrax Regina

Dragonslayer (1981)
Valerian: Are you afraid of dragons?
Ulrich: No. In fact, if it weren't for sorcerers, there wouldn't be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them. Magnificent horned backs, leathern wings... soaring... and their hot-breathed wind. Oh, I know this creature of yours... Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit... crippled... pitiful. Spiteful!
I came to this story almost entirely cold, knowing perhaps that it was about a young man charged with the duty of slaying a dragon, and that’s about it. Dragonslayer surprised me at a lot of turns, being unsentimental and daring to upset a lot of staid storytelling conventions – yes, the Old man Dies, but if you thought it was simply to enable his apprentice to step up and meet his destiny then you should think again. Clearly George R R Martin was taking notes when he watched this, using names from the story (the titular dragon is namechecked in an early Song of Fire and Ice book), and I must admit to comparing the rather unexpected ‘stuff happens’ mood of the tale to that of Martin’s Westeros. In the grand scheme of the story good triumphs of course, but  it’s an intriguingly sophisticated story that’s woven in nonetheless. And I rather like the fact that Valerian, once unmasked as a woman, doesn’t revert to an utterly opposite  feminine sense of dress and speech, but retains a lot of the toughness and huskiness her earlier guise displayed – she’s just not your typical wilting flower (and come to that, even the sacrificial Princess is a cut above your usual shackled screamers.)

Like a few early 80s movies from the House of the Mouse, this is not your typical Disney fare, with some gore, violence, onscreen deaths and even a little rear/lateral entity; but we should applaud it for taking these risks, as much as its stablemate Tron pushed the limits of computer technology, here is (prior to the inferior 90s Dragonheart) the most ambitious onscreen live action dragon to date, and prior to The Hobbit’s Smaug, certainly the best rendered. Vermithrax Perjorative is a splendid creation – admittedly heavy on the matte-lines and moving with the requisite stop-motion trembles, her presence is nevertheless awe-inspiring, and her fiery breath the more convincing for being (apparently) provided by a real flamethrower. Jackson’s Hobbit may have given us the description of “a furnace with wings”, but Dragonslayer’s worm is the real deal – you even find yourself sympathising with this ancient killer when she finds the corpses of the last clutch she’ll ever raise.

There’s a practicality to the story which I love – though the place names are imaginary, it works hard to evoke a Dark Ages setting; real low fantasy with grubby faces, brackish skies and spellbooks seemingly composed entirely in Latin, the scholar’s tongue. Ulric’s tower is simply the most convincing wizard’s tower I’ve seen on film, and I’ve half a mind to lift it in its entirely for a future Dungeons and Dragons game. There’s literal pragmatism, also – Galen’s weapon is forged by a blacksmith using magic, but is no great device of destiny and ultimately fails in the task; he’s better off with a shield made of dragon scale and having his wits about him instead. 

Yeah, Peter MacNicholl isn’t immediately convincing in his film debut (allegedly he leaves this movie off his CV now. But keeps Ghostbusters 2 on??), but who could compete against Sir Ralph Richardson, whose wizard Ulric is seriously jostling the shoulders of Gandalf and Dumbledore for Best Cinematic Wizard Ever?  John Hallam as Tyrion (another George RR Martin hat-tip) works a sinister pragmatism to his antihero role (Hallam is no stranger to playing the bad guy, but one of the few other roles I’ve seen him play is the fey but no less sinister Light in Doctor Who’s Ghost Light – a quite different performance), and overall there’s a pessimistic mood to the story. As Ulric’s remains shoot over the heavens and the appeaser-King is wheeled to the dragon’s corpse to deliver a post-mortem coup de grace heavy with cynical propaganda, you really get the sense that Valerian and Galen are wandering out of a dying, idealised age and into an uncertain future.
This may be the last early 80s fantasy movie I’ll watch for a while, so I’m glad it turned out to be this one, a surprising yarn that’s not quite family-ready, but ideal for the young adult with an interest in This Sort of Thing. I wish I’d seen it sooner!

PS: Hey, this is another synchronised review with Guanolad and Jamas. Check them out!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Night Local: Graham Brazier - 'Fight' (1986)

As I'm typing this I'm watching Queen City Rocker, known outside NZ as Tearaway. It's not a particularly flashy movie, and the song below, Graham Brazier's promotional video for the movie, isn't either. But at sixteen the video and the trailer for the movie were enough to convince me that I had to see it some day, and Reader, today is that day.

It's earnest in its intentions, including some assured and un-selfconscious portrayals of a mingled Maori, Pakeha and Samoan gang culture, but it's not aged well. 1980s Auckland is very much a different country, populated by younger versions of some of New Zealand's best TV actors including Roy Billing, Peter Bland, Michael Moriarty and the late Liddy Holloway, whose son Joel Tobeck has an uncredited role in the movie as well. Seemingly inspired by real events and produced not long after the Queen Street Riots, it references a very different time, and boy has it dated. Still, there's local music royalty all through this, from ex-Gurlz singer and future When The Cat's Away vocalist Kim Willoughby's female lead (I had such a crush...), Willoughby's future partner and former Dude Ian 'Tex Pistol' Morris in the soundtrack, a cameo by Brazier and the rest of Hello Sailor cameoing as in-movie band 'Nite Attack' (the much-missed Dave McCartney also provided the soundtrack), along with Ardijah, and there are snippets of NZ punk bands No Tag and electro-avant garde Flying Nun outfit Fetus Productions. And the riot scenes are pretty well done.

Somewhere out there is a cassette of my band's earliest jam sessions in our bassist's parents' garage (he had the soundtrack), and me in the mix gamely trying to replicate Harry Lyon's urgent stacatto guitar work from Fight. Ironically, a similar, slower riff appears in the National Party's campaign ad, launched just this week. Critics were quick to point out the similarity to Eminem's Lose Yourself - but maybe the ad's Australian music maestros sourced their inspiration from closer to home?