Tuesday, 20 February 2018

New Doctor Who logo

The new logo for the new era of Doctor Who has just been revealed and I have to say I kinda like it. I was never too keen on the most recent logo, even though it certainly improved when that daft Tardis "ident" was quietly dropped...
This newest version of the logo ( how many times can I type "logo" in one post? ) is simple and elegant and the colour scheme is strangely similar to the Eccleston / Tennant "taxi cab" iteration.
The 2018 take on the logo ( I really couldn't avoid typing that word again ) appropriately suggests time or space flight with that streak running through the letters, with the final "O" also looking like a side-on view of a ringed planet to me. Yeah, I really do like the whole style of this.
The new show still seems a long way off but maybe this snippet of information is the start of some long-awaited info on Series 11. The new production team are understandably keen to concentrate on making the show and not giving too much away too soon... but, being the sad Whovian that I am, I'll take what I can get. I suppose it could always be worse...

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Star Wars: The Last Jedi and other recent( ish ) movies

A long time ago in a year far, far away ( 2017 ) there were many movies. Some of those I wrote about, some I didn't. Then there was another year ( er, this one ) and there were more movies. In a desperate attempt to resume blogging a heroic band of resistance fighters ( well, me actually ) decided to dash down some irrelevant and probably unwanted thoughts about these movies. In reverse order.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Although not the kind of film I'd normally see at the cinema ( and certainly not at Cineworld! ) this was one my friend Tom wanted to see so I went along with him, and James tagged along too. And I'm glad we did! This story of a bereaved mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter could have been a grim slog through grief and despair but turned out to be hilariously, spit-your-popcorn-out funny, as well as dark and raw. Some amazing performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell brought to life unforgettable, multi-layered characters, all morally conflicted and none of them wholly good or bad. Rockwell's character, a racist cop, was particularly repellent but somehow humanised ( but crucially not redeemed ) by the end of the story. I'd be amazed if a more compelling, surprising and emotionally visceral movie appeared this year.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Last Review. Yes, as ever I was the last person in the galaxy to see this movie, just sneaking into the cinema at the start of January while most people had already seen it and planned their Twitter backlash weeks before. I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was suitably exciting and epic with some interesting developments for the Rey / Kylo relationship, poignant scenes with the late Carrie Fisher, and a genuine feeling that the Star Wars story was now heading in a new direction with the demise of ( SPOILERS! ) Luke Skywalker. I won't even go into the ridiculous controversy over this character but just say that I personally thought it was a bold move to have some actual character development and progress in the saga. My only gripe would be some second-act padding which didn't really go anywhere, but the reliably stunning visuals and often warmly funny script made up for that. Hats off to director Rian Johnson for delivering a game-changing middle to the trilogy which, hopefully, JJ Abrams can conclude in style, excessive lens-flare and all.
Of course, the best part of the night was the post-movie chat in a nearby pub...


Thor: Ragnarok
After the Thunder God's second movie was a bit of a damp squib, Marvel obviously decided to add a dash of Guardians-style colour and humour this time around. Falling just short of an out and out comedy, Thor: Ragnarok was a fast-paced, light-hearted adventure which was the perfect antidote to the teeth-bearing, muscle-straining, dark 'n' gritty seriousness of many other super hero movies. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston clearly relished the chance to have a bit more fun with their roles, Mark Rufallo again demonstrated how he's one of the best actors in the MCU, and the awesome Cate Blanchett made an impact as Hela, Goddess of Death  -  easily one of the most convincing super villains since Loki first betrayed his hammer-wielding brother. It was also very satisfying to see some obviously Jack Kirby-inspired designs amongst all the colourful costumes and sets.


Blade Runner 2049
Without a doubt my favourite movie of 2017. Beautiful, poetic, intelligent and strangely moving, this decades-late sequel to a movie that really didn't need one is a masterpiece. I'd enjoyed a couple of director Denis Villeneuve's previous movies, Prisoners and Arrival, but they hadn't prepared me for this wonderful film. Like a fever dream of an '80s movie projected into the future, Blade Runner 2049 continues and extends all the themes of its predecessor while adding even more emotional content.
( Surely this is the only movie which can almost bring tears to your eyes over the destruction of what is basically a hard-drive. If you've watched it you'll know what I mean. ) Ryan Gosling again demonstrates why he's one of the best actors working today, giving a performance which manages to be both intense and subtle at the same time, and Harrison Ford is a delight as grizzled old Blade Runner Rick Deckard. Script, direction, acting, music  -  it all comes together here to form one of the best SF movies ever made, definitely a worthy follow-up to Ridley Scott's classic original.


It
A very satisfying take on the first half of Stephen King's huuuuge novel. The kids are all very convincing ( even though some key character moments are missing  -  no "Hi-yo Silver"? ) and the updating of the story from the '50s to the '80s is well done. Bill Skarsgard's interpretation of Pennywise the Clown is suitably chilling and is a worthy successor to Tim Curry's more humorous, TV-friendly version. Although nothing short of a 12-part Netflix series would be able to come close to capturing all the detail and layers of the source material, director Andy Muschietti does a fine job of suggesting all the terrible events that have happened in the town of Derry over the centuries, while keeping the focus on the "Losers Club" and their lonely battle with "It". If the inevitable sequel / part two keeps up the quality this may well be the best King adaptation since... I don't know, Stand By Me?


Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan's take on the "miracle of Dunkirk" was, for all its modern-day style and perspective, a surprisingly old-fashioned movie, in the vein of The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far. Neatly breaking down into three separate timelines ( covering land, sea and air ) which all converged at the end, the film told the story of the desperate attempt to rescue nearly 400,000 trapped Allied soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk. Eschewing any Hollywood romanticism, Nolan plunged the audience into the heart of the action, his characters struggling to survive with barely any time for unnecessary back-story or wistful speeches about loved ones back home. The widescreen vistas looked amazing ( I should have seen it in Imax! ) and the "ticking clock" motif in the score kept everything tense and urgent. Fine performances from Kenneth Branagh, a quietly dignified Mark Rylance and even ex-One Direction star Harry Styles who was very promising, although Tom Hardy was mostly wasted as an RAF pilot barely glimpsed behind his oxygen-mask. My only issues with the film were that the German threat often seemed too far away as men seemed to sit on the beach in relative safety, and the whole thing often seemed too organised and bloodless... especially when compared to the absolute chaos of Joe Wright's epic, one tracking-shot view of Dunkirk from Atonement. The film was basically an updated version of the rainy Sunday afternoon war movie you'd watch with your dad. And that's not a bad thing.

And that's me caught up, apart from the re-release of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. James and I went to see this at our local World Of Cine and, even though the film's publicity trumpeted a 4K resolution make-over, we knew we wouldn't get that in Gloucester. I had hoped for a relatively decent print but the grainy, scratchy version shown here wasn't even as good as my DVD copy. It's still a wonderful movie, of course, and great to see on the big screen again but I have to admit the ropey picture quality was a let-down. Keep watching the skies for a better screening...

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Gangsters


Me and Sarah back in our bank-robbing days. I'd just like to know what happened to all the money...

More ( possibly ) true tales from the Trumpocalypse


Wow! I wish I was from a shithole country too. Or maybe I am...?

( A book shop called Rough Draft in Kingston, NY via Michele Filgate on Twitter )

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Songs of 2017


Firstly, Happy New Year, people of Starship Blog! I hope you've all had a peaceful seasonal break.
Okay, most people will actually write their "Best Of" lists during the year to which they apply but, you know, where's the fun in that? As ever I'm allowing the best bits of 2017 to spill over into 2018 to bring some joy to this potentially terrifying but also potentially amazing new 365-day trip around the sun. Last year was a great time for new music but not necessarily for "chart" music. I have to admit I paid less attention than ever in my life to Top 40 -type songs during 2017. One or two songs did occasionally grab me but most of the chart fodder just seemed too superficial and manufactured for my tastes. I know that's the nature of pop music and it can be a glorious thing when done well but I found myself digging deeper for the truly good stuff.
Starting with this:


New York's favourite indie-dance hipsters stormed back from their controversial "retirement" with the American Dream album, demonstrating they're still the absolute best at what they do. Cracking songs such as Call The Police, Tonite and Oh Baby were suffused with James Murphy's paradoxically world-weary optimism and the sound of a band almost telepathically in tune with each other. I'm almost genetically predisposed to love this band, with their debts to Bowie and Talking Heads all too obvious, but I can't resist it  -  one listen to those analogue synths in Oh Baby and I'm gone...



And, talking of comebacks, East Kilbride's finest the Jesus & Mary Chain also returned, older and hopefully wiser but still 100 per cent rock 'n' roll. Their age-old formula of Velvets meets Phil Spector meets Punk still holds up and many of their new songs are as good as anything they've done. It was an absolute joy to see them play live back in April, 25 years since I last saw them and, if anything, the new songs sounded even better live  -  Always Sad, Amputation and The Two Of Us being the stand outs.



St Vincent is an artist who's never been properly on my radar. I've been aware of Annie Clark for a while but never really checked out her music until now. It seems she's become a huge pop star without me even noticing  -  I really should pay more attention to things like that. Her recent songs are as much perfect pop songs as they are acerbic comments on modern celebrity "culture", and her videos are amazing! In an age when the music video is more or less redundant St Vincent has brought some artistry back to the form. It's like early Lady Gaga but with a PhD. Check out future electro-pop classics Los Ageless ( which you can do above ), New York and the scarily sexy Masseduction...



I can barely think of any new bands in recent years ( certainly not UK bands ) who can match Everything Everything for sheer quality in songwriting, performance and overall ambition. If anything, they occasionally overcompensate with the ambition and some of their music can be too much of an aural maze, but when all their stars align they are unstoppable. Night Of The Long Knives, Can't Do and Desire again demonstrate how this band can peer into the existential abyss of the 21st century and still pull out some pop gold...



My 2017 Award for Rock 'n' Roll Lunacy goes to The Moonlandingz. As well as being one of the most head-spinningly mental live acts I've seen for years they also somehow tamed some of their electro-psyche-pop outpourings and wrestled them into a recording studio. If you value your sanity, don't watch the following videos: Sweet Saturn Mine, Vesssels, or Black Hanz ( oops! )



Without a doubt my Song Of 2017 is Living In The City by Hurray For The Riff Raff. This is a pleasingly retro-sounding song with echoes of Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Jonathan Richman, and the feel of a sweltering summer's night in a big city. The formidable Alynda Segarra is apparently known for a more acoustic sound but is here branching out in a rockier direction and it sounds great. I still haven't bought her latest album, The Navigator, but songs like the title track, Hungry Ghost and Pa'lante seem like such a perfect blend of the personal and the political that I think I'm going to have to get it soon.

Bands I like but didn't listen to properly last year:
Arcade Fire ( new album still unwrapped ), The War On Drugs, Pond, Courtmey Barnett & Kurt Vile

Honourary mentions:
Weaver by Richard Dawson
When The God Of Love Returns There'll be Hell To Pay by Father John Misty
Kept It All To Myself by The Weather Station
If The Storms Never Came by Joan Shelley ( Tom Wiggins  -  check this one out! )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x8esUNpa5A



Thursday, 28 December 2017

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time ( review with spoilers )

"Time to leave the battlefield..."

This year's Doctor Who Christmas special, the final Peter Capaldi story, was a strange beast. It didn't have much of a plot, didn't really have a villain, and it starred a companion who wasn't really there. And yet I loved it. I must be a strange beast too...
The concept of this story, of course, is the unlikely meeting of the First and Twelth Doctors, both at the point of regeneration, both refusing to change. After mysteriously appearing at the South Pole while still dying from the mortal wound sustained in his last battle with the Cybermen, Capaldi's Doctor meets his former self ( David Bradley channelling William Hartnell ) and also a World War One captain ( Mark Gatiss ), also plucked from his own time-stream and dumped in the snowy landscape. As the two Doctors inevitably bicker the Tardis is captured by a strange glass-like humanoid, one of a race known as Testimony, who want the Doctors to tell them a story. A fairy tale if you will...

As I said, it's quite a slim plot to hang a story on but, in true Steven Moffatt style, it's really an excuse for the Doctor to examine his own mortality and his own fears... and for each iteration of the Doc to crack a few jokes at his counterpart's expense. ( The "Mary Berry" line had me in stitches. ) The First Doctor is refusing to change because he fears the unknown, while the Twelth is tired of saving the universe after all these millennia and just wants to slip away. The consequence of them both dying at the same time in the wrong timeline would be catastrophic for reality, but luckily Bill Potts is on hand to help out...
Apparently, Bill wasn't originally intended to be in this story but Moffatt found, during the writing of the script, that there was a need for the character to appear and luckily Pearl Mackie agreed. This isn't quite the Bill we saw in Series 10, but "the sum of her memories" to paraphrase the Fifth Doctor  -  the essence of the long-gone Bill's personality, encased in a crystal simulacrum of life by Testimony. This "slight return" for Bill Potts is a delight. As bubbly and funny as ever, and still asking the questions no-one else would, this echo of the character is still recognisably herself while at the same time also something alien and melancholic. It puts me in mind of the last, heart-breaking scene in John Crowley's SF novel, Engine Summer, and is just as moving.
The scenes set during the iconic Christmas armistice at Ypres in 1914 hit home in a similar way, even though they are obviously sanitised for a Christmas Day tea-time TV audience. This brief respite from the insanity of the Great War is a lovely evocation of the Doctor's philosophy of seeing things from both sides and, when it comes down to it, just being kind to each other. This idea of kindness is now the defining theme of the initially cold and prickly Twelth Doctor, a man who has been made better and indeed kinder by the time spent with his human friends.
Of course, he also spends some time with his former self too, as portrayed by the wonderful David Bradley. The veteran actor has a ball as the First Doctor, ridiculing Twelve's sonic screwdriver and sunglasses ( "Indoors"? ) and generally being very un-PC. ( This does overstate the conservative attitudes of the early '60s but is funny. ) Bradley's Doctor shares some charming moments with Bill as they talk about the real reason he left Gallifrey long ago, and there is a genius moment at the top of the show when B&W footage of William Hartnell from The Tenth Planet morphs into colour HD footage of Bradley. If there is one small criticism I have of Bradley's performance it's that he doesn't quite catch Hartnell's impishness  -  his Doctor wasn't just a crusty old man, there was a real twinkle in his eye at times too. Otherwise it's a fine performance without the extra baggage of him playing Hartnell playing the Doctor, as in An Adventure In Space And Time.

As for Capaldi  -  what can I say? It's another barn-storming turn from this great actor, bringing us a Doctor who's at the end of his tether, wanting to give it all up, but finding renewed hope in the future. The scene where Testimony restores the Doctor's memories of Clara is just sublime, Capaldi purging all the hurt from the Doctor's eyes and giving us a heart-melting glimpse of his softer side. And it was so good to see Jenna Coleman again, if ever so briefly.
I'm really going to miss Peter Capaldi. His Doctor may have started out a little shakily by being just a tad too unemotional and distant but he's grown into the role until he IS the Doctor  -  a crazy old rock 'n' roller who rattles around the universe in his old blue box, helping out, trying to be nice but not always succeeding, saving people ( most of the time ) and trying to find the good in his enemies. We've had 40 episodes of the Twelfth Doctor and he's been amazing. But now, a brand new era is just around the corner...
Well, if you can call next Autumn "just around the corner"  -  it can't come soon enough!

Four And A Half Out Of Five Sonic Scredwrivers :-)

Monday, 18 December 2017

Let it snow

The second week in December saw the first "proper" snow fall we've had here in the Shire for about five years. There was only a light dusting of the white stuff down here in the valley at Glass Walking-Stick HQ so Sarah and I headed for the hills for the real deal...
Here are a few pics of the Winter Wonderland we found on the edge of the Cotswolds...

We started off at Coaley Peak viewpoint ( not that we could actually view all that much as we were in the middle of low cloud ) and then took the slightly treacherous, mile-long walk down to the amazing Woodchester Mansion...
The mansion is one of the jewels in Gloucestershire's crown, an unfinished Gothic building which was abandoned by its owners in 1873, leaving behind a unique glimpse into the architecture and building practices of the Gothic revival. Entering the mansion you can look upwards and literally see three stories above where the floors were never put in, and fireplaces and windows that will never be used looking back down at you. It's a stunning building and we've visited it many, many times over the years and explored its partly-finished floors, the chapel, the bakery, cellars, ball-room, kitchens etc. But I've never seen it in the snow before...


Although I did feel sorry for those snow-covered gargoyles...

It was an absolutely amazing afternoon in one of our favourite places and, even though it was quite a trek back up to the car and Sarah nearly got clobbered by a falling branch (!) brought down by the snow, it was well worth the journey.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Moonlandingz at Bristol Trinity

Sometimes, seeing a band with no prior knowledge or preconceptions can be a disappointment and a waste of money... but sometimes, happily, it can be one of the best gigs in years, which was the case with The Moonlandingz last week in Bristol.
My mate Glenn had a spare ticket for this gig and recommended the band so I jumped in the car with Glenn, Gail and, er, Barry ( possibly ) and his dog ( it's some indication of my age that I can't remember this guy's name a week later... ) and headed down to Bristol. Specifically to the Trinity Centre, an old converted church that I'd strangely never visited before, but which  -  after much frustrating searching for a parking space  -  turned out to be a really cool venue.
Support came from a young band called Sweat who played some very upbeat, pop-inflected indie. Although still at the "talking to your mates in the audience" stage and employing a little too much ill-advised autotune they had a great sound and are certainly a band to watch.
And then The Moonlandingz landed...
Apparently The Moonlandingz were a "fictional" band, created for some kind of art project involving Sean Lennon, who enjoyed being together so much that they went on to become a "real" band and actually put out records, tour and do the other things that real bands do. ( Which probably accounts for the late start of their set... ) Well they certainly seemed ( sur )real on the night...

They played a frenzied mixture of electro pop, psychedelia and rock 'n' roll, blurring genres right left and centre and kicking up a hell of a racket in the process. Front man Lias Saoudi wandered onto the stage carrying a bottle of wine and wearing what looked like his dad's old suit from the 1970s and then proceeded to give one of the most deranged performances I've seen in an age. After the first, relatively low-key, song the band launched into the sky-scraping Black Hanz and the gig took off like an electrobilly rocket bound for the Planet Gonzo. Shaking, twitching, screaming and bouncing around the stage, Lias stripped his rail-thin torso bare ( much to the delight of many in the audience ) and reminded us all how exciting a proper rock star can still be in this age of bland, corporate "acts".
Behind all this lunacy the band were super tight  -  the bassist was the spitting image of a younger Bill Bailey and was cool as frack, the keyboard player contributed some sonorous vocals as well as some cosmic sounds maaan, while the perma-pouting guitarist Mairead O'Connor was a fretboard goddess. And the drummer was a drummer. Actually he was pretty bloody good too.
Amongst the highlights were the Glam stomp of Vessels, the Cramps-gone-Kraftwerk of Glory Hole and the twisted singalong pop of The Rabies Are Back. At one point the bass guitar died and had to be replaced, prompting Lias to lead the band and the audience in an acapella folk song about "shovelling shite"  -  I remarked to Glenn that, alone in this crowd of urban hipsters, I was probably the only person with actual shite-shovelling experience.
For the epic Velvets-referencing, girl-group-gone-bad ballad The Strangle Of Anna, Lias invited half of the female population of Bristol onstage to sing along with him. On record the vocals are handled by the awesome Rebecca Taylor from Slow Club ( it's the Sheffield connection ) and the ladies who filled in for her weren't quite up to her vocal standard but had great fun none the less, as pictures show. The quietly fuming security bloke at the side of the stage wasn't having so much fun...

All too soon we were told "you won't like it but this is our last song" and, after an insane Man In Me Lyfe with Lias virtually bellowing his lungs out onto the stage and the crowd going equally nuts, the short but sweet 50 minute set was over with no encore. Talk about leaving 'em wanting more!
Without a doubt one of the best gigs of the year and that ain't no fiction...


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bronze Age Beauties - Sorcerers, Spies and the Supernatural

I haven't posted anything about comics here for a while ( in fact, I haven't posted much full stop ) so I thought I'd share a few recent-ish purchases with you, Dear Readers. ( See, I still kid myself that people actually read this 'ere blog... )
We'll start with Doctor Strange's last appearance in Marvel Premiere from March 1974, just before the Sorcerer Supreme regained his own comic book. This is the finale of the Cagliostro / Sise-Neg / Genesis epic by the titanic team of Steve Engelhart and Frank Brunner.
Doc and arch nemesis Baron Mordo are on a mind-bending trip back in time with the futuristic magician Cagliostro ( aka Sise-Neg ) who is absorbing magical energy as he goes, becoming stronger all the time, with the ultimate ambition of arriving at the beginning of the universe and becoming God. A very cosmic, quintessentially 1970s story which would probably have been unthinkable a decade before under the then restrictions of the Comics Code... or indeed a decade later when the so-called Moral Majority were making their censorious presence known in the USA. This is a fine example of Bronze Age Marvel at its peak with plenty of Engelhart's philosphical musings amidst all the psychedelic action and some beautiful artwork from Brunner and inker Dick Giordano...
And, for a change of pace, next are a couple of issues of Marvel's most successful entry into the martial arts craze The Hands Of Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu  -  or MOKF for short...
Issue 28 ( May 1975 ) has a striking ( literally! ) Gil Kane cover but unfortunately the interior artwork is by a committee of second-tier artists, due of course to the ever present Dreaded Deadline Doom which affected so many Marvel Comics of the time. Luckily the story by MOKF stalwart Doug Moench makes up for the weak artwork, giving us insights into Shang-Chi's past and his relationship with his devious half-sister Fah Lo Suee...
The next issue sees the series back on track with the return of regular artist Paul Gulacy and a change in direction as the strip becomes more espionage-based and less about Shang's war with his father, the Devil Doctor himself, Fu Manchu.This is the point at which Gulacy's artwork goes full Steranko and also, seemingly, full Bond  -  secret bases, evil masterminds and glamorous women all become mainstays of the series from here on in...
Incidentally, both of the covers of these two issues depict scenes that don't actually happen in the comics themselves  -  par for the course for the times, but at least they're eye-catching, exciting images that almost command you to hand over your money and buy the damn things...
As a contrast to all that Marvel-ous action here's a moody masterpiece by the great Neal Adams for DC's Phantom Stranger no. 16, Nov-Dec 1971. A classic example of the "clutching hand" trope, this is a restrained but still effective image with Adams' flair for design in evidence. ( Notice the Stranger's shadow looming across the logo. ) The interior is nothing too special, unfortunately. The lead story has some nice Jim Aparo artwork but a fairly humdrum plot, and there are a couple of back-up strips  -  a Doctor Thirteen tale by Len Wein and Tony DeZuniga and a Mark Merlin reprint from the '50s  -  neither of which start the pulse racing.
Over at Charlton Comics we find Ghostly Haunts no. 31, April 1973. Although not one of the best examples of Charlton's horror comics it's a fun issue with some typically idiosyncratic artwork from Don Perlin, Steve Ditko and Jack Abel. The cover's by Abel too and is a beauty  -  check out that eyeball on the giant squid thing! And isn't "Sewer Patrol" a job we've all wanted at one time or another? No? Just me then...
Finally, the pick of the bunch for me: Haunted Love no. 6 from October 1974. This short-lived excursion into Gothic romance is always difficult to track down so I was pleased to pick up this issue.  ( I actually bought the two Charltons and the Phantom Stranger for £1.50 each in a junk shop in St. Ives. ) The main draw was of course the fantastic cover by that madman Tom Sutton  -  very spooky! The witch alone is enough to give you the cold sweats...
Sutton illustrates the main story that this cover is based on and it's a suitably overwrought tale of cursed love in Fin De Siecle Paris, with the occasional nod to Aubrey Beardsley  -  great stuff!
And here's the Wuthering Heights-esque corner box by the stupendously talented Joe Staton...

Right, I'll have to go now  -  I need to read some comics...

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