Monday 29 August 2011

Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler (review with spoilers)

Team Tardis are back after their Summer break and are instantly flung into one of the craziest Doctor Who episodes yet. Which is really saying something for the Mad Moffatt Era.....

Amy and Rory summon the Doctor ( in snazzy, new green coat ) back from his quest to find Melody Pond, by tearing up a corn-field and spelling out "Doctor" in a crop-circle stylee. They are going to be poular with local farmers. The Doctor, of course, reads about this in the next day's local paper and then pops back in time to meet up with the Ponds and their previously unmentioned, tearaway best mate, Mels. ( Incidentally, it's nice to see that Leadworth is far more racially inclusive than comparable Gloucestershire villages in the real world, although it still can't seem to produce any inhabitants with actual Gloucestershire accents. ) Mels, being chased by the police for stealing cars, forces the Time Trio at gunpoint to take her back to Berlin in 1938 to - seemingly on a whim - assassinate Hitler. And she puts a bullet in the Tardis console for good measure. Have we got the hint yet? She's a baaad girl.....

"Shut up, Hitler!"

The long-awaited appearance of der fuehrer is actually a red herring as Hitler is quickly taunted by the Doctor ( "...the British are coming" ), punched out by Rory and locked in a cupboard for the rest of the episode. It turns out the sudden crash-landing of the old blue box has inadvertently saved Adolf from the murderous intentions of the Teselecta, a Terminator-style, time-travelling robot, controlled by miniaturised people inside its head... and not anything to do with Bo' Selecta! or test cricket.....

As this borderline-insane story twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing, Amy and Rory find themselves miniaturised and trapped inside the Teselecta, being menaced by its lethal antibodies, Mels is shot by Hitler but regenerates into ( SPOILERS! ) Melody / River who, obeying her conditioning by Eyepatch Lady, promptly fatally poisons the Doctor with lethal lipstick ( good name for a band! ) and then goes on a shopping spree in 1938 Munich. But it's the kind of shopping expedition that involves shotguns and semi-naked Germans.....

Mad enough for you yet?

Amidst all this craziness, Moffatt gives us more information on River's past ( or future? ), deepens the mystery of the Silence and provides some unexpected cameos from hologrammatic versions of former companions. Matt Smith is a delight as ever, whether playing cat-and-mouse with a temporarily homicidal River, sprawling across the Tardis floor in his death-throes, or playing the long game by providing a certain someone with a Tardis-blue diary.....

At the end of this cheese-dream-with-extra-pickles of an episode we are somewhere closer to understanding River's timeline ( from Melody to Mels to big-haired archaeologist with no remaining regenerations ) but still asking questions about the Silence and the Doctor's imminent death ( again! ) and probably in need of an aspirin :-)

4 out of 5 Bow Ties

Sunday 28 August 2011

King Of Comics

Jack Kirby ( 28th August 1917 - 6th February 1994 )

Still the King!!

Friday 26 August 2011

FF Fridays: "This Man... This Monster!"

To atone for my shameful lack of blogging recently, I thought I'd start another semi-regular comics feature, as a replacement for the late, lamented Steranko Saturdays. I've made no secret of the fact that my all-time favourite comic book is the Stan Lee / Jack Kirby Fantastic Four. A quick glance at my header picture above
( by the great John Byrne ) only confirms my nostalgic and slightly sad attachment to all those weird and wacky Kirby Kharacters from the Silver Age of the House Of Ideas. And, of course, the fact that the FF is 50 (!) years old this year and eminently newsworthy ( due to the Death Of Johnny Storm "event" ) convinced me to go into a bit more depth about the fabulous foursome and their four-colour fables. ( Can't you tell I've been reading some of Stan's supremely sensational scripts? It's suddenly all alliteration and hyperbole around these parts... )

Above is a cover-scan of my copy of FF #51, probably the most talked-about single issue of the comic. Coming after the mind-blowing spectacle of the Galactus Trilogy, this is a smaller-scale character study which begins with Ben ( The Thing ) Grimm suffering one of his recurring bouts of melancholy.....

Ben's walking the streets of a rain-soaked Manhattan, thinking to himself: "I'll never be human again! I'll live... and die... just the way I am!"
Before long he's taken in by a kindly wood-cutter... sorry... a bald scientist who operates out of his front room due to lack of funds, recognition etc. He offers Ben company and coffee but, of course, turns out to be villainous. He drugs the unsuspecting Thing and, using his handy "duplication apparatus", swaps places with Ben with the intention of destroying the Fantastic Four. He talks at first about his bitter years of being mocked for his theories and how he wants to prove he's the "mental superior of Reed Richards." However, as soon as he turns into a walking pile of orange rocks, he sounds more like an X-Factor candidate: "Now, all his fame... and his power... are mine!"

The fake Thing takes his place in the unsuspecting FF, with even an appearance by an irate, human Ben Grimm failing to uncover his deception. Reed, worried about aliens attacking the Earth
( and, to be fair, that had happened quite a few times over the last 51 issues ) is tinkering with his latest invention, a gateway into sub-space, or the Negative Zone as it is more often known. He plans to dive into this strange, new universe and explore it for the good of mankind. At this point, our ersatz Thing starts to realise that Reed isn't just a glory hound:
"He's tacklin' a job that won't net him a plugged nickel... and he's doing it without any fanfare... or any publicity!"
The "radical cube" is one of Kirby's most memorable machines, a gleaming metal monstrosity which sends Reed on his cosmic trip, prefiguring Clarke / Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey by 3 years:

"Everything is moving faster now! The universe has become a vast kaleidoscope of light and sound!! There's only one explanation... I'm finally approaching my goal! I'm at the very edge of sub-space!"

But, once past the "crossroads of infinity", Reed finds himself being drawn inexorably towards the Earth, where the negative elements of sub-space are destroyed in the positive-universe atmosphere.
( I've never quite figured that idea out. Has nobody on Marvel-Earth ever noticed huge chunks of anti-matter rocks exploding in the upper atmosphere? Or is it invisible to our world, coming from "a four dimensional universe"? More likely it's just a case of Stan Lee trying to make sense of Kirby's outlandish concepts, which often looked amazing but didn't bear much scrutiny. )

Our villain in Thing-form has been charged with reeling Reed back in on a cable ( high tech! ) and knows that this is his chance to leave him to die... but he can't do it. He struggles with his conscience and comes to this conclusion:
"I never did a worthwhile thing in my life!! But now... I've finally got the chance! I can really be Ben Grimm! I've gotta do it! I'll save Richards!"
( Interestingly, the formerly loquacious scientist is starting to talk and think more like Ben Grimm than himself. )

While the fake Thing dithers, the cable snaps, but he grabs the line and is pulled into sub-space. Standing on a piece of asteroid, hurtling to destruction, the un-named scientist realises that his years of envy were wasted on a man who was a far better human being than he could ever have been. Using the Thing's awesome strength he hurls Reed back through the portal to our universe and then sits down on his rock to contemplate his fate. As the real Ben Grimm changes back to his familiar, rocky form and the FF are reunited, Reed sums up this morality tale when he says that the anonymous "villain" may have done and planned monstrous things, but "he paid the full price... and he paid it like a man!"

This may all sound corny and preachy in this cynical age ( and it probably did back in 1966! ) but Stan's philosophy is heartfelt and warm and the story-telling of the Jack Kirby / Joe Sinnott art team is faultless. And I love that cover! With no dialogue or captions beyond the story's title, Kirby effortlessly sets out the drama: Reed trapped and desperate, surrounded by Kirby Krackle, Sue wordlessly pleading, the fake Thing standing immobile, looking lost, drawing the reader in - why is the "hero" doing nothing? It's an object lesson in selling a story with simple but powerful images. Something which, back in the Silver Age, was one of the consistently wonderful features of... The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!

Zoo days

Just a few of the crazy critters we saw at Bristol Zoo last Monday. I had the day off work as it was Sarah's "special" ( *cough! 40th!* ) birthday and we all had a great time, strolling around the gardens, watching the animals, enjoying the sunshine etc.

However, I must warn you now that the creature in the yellow T-shirt is very dangerous and must not be approached under any circumstances...

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Death Planet Commandos: the unofficial reunion

Last Saturday night Sarah and I hit the riot-torn streets of Gloucester ( it was pretty quiet, actually ) and headed for the glittering palace of rock 'n' roll delights known as The Pig Inn The City. The occasion was the 50th ( surely not! ) birthday party of legendary, ever-young DPC guitarist, Marky Muscles. As well as celebrating Mark's half-century ( again... surely not! ) we caught a couple of great Punk bands, Meat and Two Sick Monkeys ( coming to your town soon... ), and were there for the first, unofficial DPC reunion. Twenty-something years in the making :-)

It was lovely to catch up with the guys after such a loooooong time. Certain people have been suggesting to us that we reform, if for one gig only. It would definitely be fun... but is it likely? Don't know... ( and that's actually an old DPC song title... )

The lineup above is as follows:
cerebus660 ( me ) - rhythm guitar and (very occasional ) backing vocals
Jon B - bass guitar and lead vocals
Mark B - lead guitar and backing vocals
Paul P - drums
( Absent from photo and reunion - Ade - lead vocals )
( Thanks to the lovely Caz for the photos. )

The above is the final lineup of the band formerly known as Primitive and later known as Three-Eyes McGurk and the Death Planet Commandos, or DPC to their friends and enemies. I keep threatening to write a more in-depth history of my time with the band... maybe some day soon...

Anyway, here's the DPC back in the day. To be specific, March the 5th, 1988, Coney Hill Hospital Social Club. Coney Hill was a psychiatric hospital ( long gone now, of course ) and an unusual, but cool, venue for gigs. They often had country and western bands playing, so you would have to move hay bales around the stage to accomodate amps and speakers. This was only the third gig Paul and I had played with the band ( but we were rock stars already! ) and was a benefit for local Hunt Saboteurs - seems like a different world from this 21st century perspective...

We played about 4 gigs at Coney Hill and they were always a good laugh - certainly better than the bloody awful Night Owl gig. We played with other long-forgotten local bands such as Walk The Plank, An Elegant Chaos, Decadence Within...

Here's me, posing for photos in my "Atomic Kiss" Watchmen T-Shirt...

And, from left to right, a Coney Hill patient in red jumper and slippers ( seriously! ) who got up and danced and seemed to know all the words to our songs...
... me, Jon, Ade, Paul and Mark.

Rock 'n' Roll!!

Wednesday 10 August 2011

The mild, mild west?

In the wake of major rioting in London, Birmingham, Bristol etc. my home town of Gloucester experienced its own, small-scale riot last night. While nowhere near the scale of the virtual war-zones seen in London in recent days, this still must have been frightening for residents caught up in the fighting. About 60 people smashed shopfronts, set fire to a derelict college building and confronted riot police, who pushed the rioters back from the city centre and contained them in the Tredworth area of the city, where the disturbance had first started.

Whether this rioting was a result of genuine grievances and anger in an area which has seen racial tensions in the past, or was just an excuse for copycat thugs to go on the rampage just for the hell of it, it's still a damning reflection on today's society. The gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" grows daily, the bankers still rake in huge profits while the economy nosedives, Murdoch's right-wing media empire still has the monopoly on printed news in this country ( despite the "phone-hacking" scandal ) , prices of everything from food to fuel are spiralling, while a huge section of the populace are constantly being labelled as scum with no future, even as the constant celebrity-worship only reinforces our place at the bottom of the totem-pole...
I'm not condoning violence or rioting but eventually something has to give...

*Phew!* Rant over...
Interestingly, Sophie's boyfriend rang early yesterday evening to say that his dad, a police officer, had warned him to stay out of Gloucester city centre that night. The cops obviously knew it was going to kick off...

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Ghost Town

Tories in power, riots in the streets, economy in meltdown...

2011 or 1981?

Saturday 6 August 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part Two

"It all ends..."

For us, Harry Potter's 8-movie-long battle against the forces of darkness ended at the Lighthouse Cinema in Newquay, a brand-new, state-of-the-art movie emporium just a few minutes' walk from the beach. What a cool place!

While we were enjoying sun, sea and sand, Harry wasn't having such a good time. His mentor, Dumbledore, was dead, his school was under attack by Voldemort's hellish legions and - worst of all - the Quidditch stadium was on fire. ( Shame! )

Unsurprisingly, this is the darkest HP movie of the series as our heroes make a last, desperate stand against the snake-headed He Who Must Not Be Named. In contrast to the previous film's glacial pace this last installment fairly zips along as Harry and his gang break into the dwarf-controlled Gringott's Bank, take a wild ride on a dragon's back, meet Dumbledore's cynical brother, confront new Headmaster Snape and finally fight the Battle Of Hogwarts, with some excursions into the spirit world thrown in for good measure. Phew! And then, after all the series' Quidditch matches and teenage angst, it all comes down to a bloody big battle between Death Eaters, giants and Dementors on one side, and schoolchildren and their teachers on the other.

As usual with the HP franchise, my main criticism is poor or muddled ( Muggled? ) story-telling. Yet again, the Deathly Hallows themselves prove to be of little relevance to the plot, a key conversation between Harry and Malfoy's mum is botched, making little sense of later developments, and too many characters are killed off-screen in the final battle. On the plus side, the emotional pay-offs for the main characters work well, with Harry drawing strength from some supportive ghosts before his final battle, Ron and Hermione fully realising what they mean to each other, and even shy Neville getting his chance to shine as he defies Voldemort. The special effects are uniformly excellent, especially in the scenes of Voldemort's army assaulting the school en masse.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that ( SPOILERS! ) Harry wins out in the end and Voldemort dies, even though the cost is high for the Hogwarts survivors. We've come a long way with these characters over the 7 books and 8 films and this is a suitably epic finale but it's still anchored in the familiar themes of friendship, tolerance and courage that have run through the series. There's even a coda at the end, set 19 years later, that effectively brings the story full circle, taking us back to Platform 9 & 3/4 for another journey to Hogwarts.....

Soundtrack: Fuzzy Logic by Super Furry Animals

Tuesday 2 August 2011

On the beach

After various camera-related disasters last week I didn't think we'd have many photos of our recent trip to what Sarah calls "our beloved Cornwall" but luckily I managed to salvage a few.

This is the lovely Watergate Bay, a major surfing beach, just a few minutes drive from Newquay.

Sophie's ready to catch some waves.....

While James is on the lookout for sea monsters. One day.....

The building above houses the Extreme Academy ( for all your surfing needs ) as well as one of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurants. ( That is, the restaurant's actually called Fifteen. He might own a total of fifteen noshing-shops for all I know... )

And here we are, enjoying our breakfast in Fifteen, while still trying to spot those elusive sea monsters.

A very cool, modern restaurant with some excellent
( if expensive ) food. Well worth a visit.

Just make sure you've got a BIG appetite :-)

Soundtrack: Sea Within A Sea by The Horrors.


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