Saturday 25 February 2012

Hero surveying his kingdom

...although he looks a bit shocked that arch-nemesis Jasper somehow got into the shot...

...and some bloke in a stripey top :-)

Friday 24 February 2012

FF Fridays: King-Size Special 8

Although, as mentioned here, the first issue of the FF I ever owned was no. 106 from January 1971, I also somehow acquired this FF Special/Annual from December 1970. My mist-shrouded memory insists that I got this comic years later but that can't be right, unless I was given it second-hand by one of those strange kids who gave away their comics instead of collecting them. Imagine that? Hard to believe I know...

Anyway, behind this wonderful Johnny Romita cover is a treasure-trove of Lee and Kirby reprints from FF Annual no.1, starting with the epic "Sub-Mariner Versus The Human Race" in which Namor and his armies and undersea beasties invade New York. The longest FF story to date, when first published back in 1963, this is a Fantastically entertaining tale involving sea monsters, the FF going on an Atlantic cruise (!), Namor in disguise addressing the UN ( including Nikita Khrushchev ), a quick digression into Atlantean history, undersea armies conquering Manhattan, and the Thing saying "Whew!! That animated hunk of walkin' seaweed has more lives than a blasted cat!"

The issue also comes complete with some of those charming little extras that seemingly only Silver Age comics could boast: a gallery of the FF's greatest foes ( lovely Kirby images of Doc Doom, the Impossible Man, the Red Ghost etc. ) and a two-page question and answer section about the FF's abilities and interests, where we learn that Johnny's favourite hobbies are "sports cars, jazz records and girls ( though not necessarily in that order )" and Ben's are "weight-lifting, reading adventure stories and wise-cracking..."

At the risk of sounding redundant, they really don't make 'em like that any more...

Saturday 18 February 2012

The Woman In Black

"Don't go chasing shadows, Arthur..."

The Woman In Black is the revived Hammer Film's adaptation of the classic ghost story by Susan Hill. Recently widowed solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to the bleak, remote village of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of deceased widow Alice Drablow. Following a distinctly unfriendly welcome from the locals ( with the exception of Ciaran Hinds' wealthy landowner ) Arthur heads to the isolated and run-down Eel Marsh House to sort through the widow's papers. Here, alone on an island in the marsh, he is terrorised by the titular ghost and other phantoms, and is forced to confront his own fears and sorrow...

This is a suitably chilling and atmospheric version of the famous tale, from the pen of Jane ( Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class ) Goldman, and directed by James ( Eden Lake ) Watkins. Every creepy trick in the book is wheeled out to make the viewer uneasy as we follow flickering candles down darkened corridors, hear unearthly cries in the fog, and jump out of our seats as faces appear reflected in windows or glimpsed through a zoetrope. The gloomy, Gothic feel of the movie is reflected in the detailed production design: the jumbled, Edwardian mess of Eel Marsh House and the rain-lashed, grimy cottages and pub of Crythin Gifford. The Woman herself is a blurry, shadowy figure, often lurking at the edge of the frame, watching and waiting.

The main focus of the movie is, of course, lonely and troubled solicitor Arthur, as played by former boy wizard Daniel "Don't call me Harry" Radcliffe. He has to carry many long, wordless scenes in the middle of the slow-burning story as he explores the rambling, cobwebbed house, with only a small dog for a companion. ( No, not Rupert Grint... ) Radcliffe makes a fair attempt at pulling this off but is hampered by the repetitive nature of the scenes. He spends a lot of time looking out of the window at barely-glimpsed, spooky figures in the grounds of the house... then ventures out of the house to look back through the windows to see barely-glimpsed, spooky figures inside the house. But all this stage-setting pays off when the scares come thick and fast as the Woman's true nature and purpose are uncovered. While not as trouser-soilingly scary as the Nigel Kneale TV version from the 1980s, this is still a fine entry in the long tradition of English ghost stories and makes a change from the American teen horrors of recent years.

And, speaking of teenagers, the "Harry Potter effect" brought teens out en masse to view this movie in our local flea-pit the other night. Well, I say "view", but most of them spent more time talking, giggling, rustling popcorn packets, messing with mobiles and screaming like banshees at every scary moment. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, this almost completely spoiled the atmosphere of the movie, even worse than when we saw Paranormal Activity and kids were laughing like drains at the film's finale because they were too embarrassed to admit they were scared. I don't normally worry about this kind of thing, although I know a lot of people who do, but this time it really pissed me off. It was even more annoying because this was the first horror movie we'd allowed James to see at the cinema, because of its 12A rating, and it spoilt his enjoyment too. I think we'll appreciate it more when the DVD comes out...

...but at least we got to see some creepy toy monkeys :-)

Tuesday 14 February 2012

John Severin

The great comic artist John Severin has sadly passed away at the age of 90. Severin had a long and distinguished career and was famed for his instantly-recognisable, beautiful line-work and expressive characters. Most of his best work ( especially for EC and Marvel Comics ) was in collaboration with his sister, "Mirthful" Marie, an excellent artist in her own right.

Although best remembered for his war, western and humour artwork, I always think of John Severin as the definitive artist for Robert E Howard's King Kull. Here are a few fantastic examples of Mr. Severin's detailed and atmospheric Kull artwork...

There's more about the late, great JS at:

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday 12 February 2012

Whitney Houston

Very sad to hear today of the untimely death of the once-great Whitney Houston. I know her life had turned into a very public farce in recent years, but I still remember her as a fantastic singer and a very beautiful young woman. I bought her first album way back in 1985 after being impressed with her soulful vocals on the singles All At Once and Saving All My Love For You. Megastardom followed for the ( at the time ) clean-living Christian Whitney and, I must confess, I mostly lost interest in her work when she started performing over-sung, slushy ballads like the monster hit I Will Always Love You. Occasionally one of her songs would show a return to form like the funky It's Not Right But It's Okay - a strangely prescient song title.

But now she's gone, at a ridiculously early age, and a fallen star has risen for the last time. Above is the Whitney that I remember, from the cover of her second album, a talented and beautiful role model for African-American women, long before the drink, drugs and Bobby bloody Brown.
Rest in peace, Whitney...

Whitney Houston
9th August 1963 - 11th February 2012

Thursday 9 February 2012

Bill Stoneham artwork

For your viewing pleasure just some of the surreal and disturbing work of the artist Bill Stoneham. He is best known for his 1972 painting The Hands Resist Him ( above ), the infamous
"haunted painting" of internet urban legend.
For more of this unique artist's work head to his website here...

Pleasant dreams...

Sunday 5 February 2012

Nice weather for ducks...

...and herons, cranes, swans, geese, robins, pigeons, gulls etc.

Just a few photos from our trip this morning to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

We're lucky to have such a beautiful wetlands nature reserve virtually on our doorstep here in Gloucester. As members we go down to Slimbridge at all times of year and it's fascinating to see the change of the seasons.

After the snow we had yesterday, Slimbridge was still very icy, with birds slipping around on the frozen lakes. And, as you can see, it was quite misty and dank early on...

But it didn't bother these geese - they're used to it...

I was very pleased with these shots of this very bold robin who hopped up onto a bench next to me, hoping for some treats...

And here's Sarah, trying not to slip on the ice :-)

Some lovely, colourful Mandarin ducks. Always a pleasure to see them.

By the afternoon most of the remaining snow had melted and the sun began to shine through the mist.

A beautiful, if cold, day in one of our favourite places. What more could you want?

Even a stuffed fox (!) wanted to pose for the camera :-)

Saturday 4 February 2012

Another Earth

Sometimes it's worth remembering that Science Fiction doesn't have to be all about spaceships, artificial intelligence and time travel. Another Earth is an unusual, haunting little film, more in the mold of the New Wave SF of the late '60s / early '70s. It uses the so-called "One Gimme" approach - it's set in what is recognisably our world but one thing has changed: another, identical Earth has suddenly and mysteriously appeared in the sky. Ignoring any of the "Hard SF" questions ( how did it get there? why isn't its gravity wrecking our own Earth? etc. ) the film asks more human, emotional questions: what would its appearance mean to people? how would you react if you knew you were duplicated on another planet? what if you could travel to this new world?

Co-writer and star Brit Marling plays Rhoda, a physics student with a bright future ahead of her... until, on the night the new Earth first appears, she drunkenly crashes her car, killing a composer's family and leaving him alive but an emotionally broken man. After four years in jail Rhoda returns home but is unable to function in the outside world, can't connect with her parents and even attempts suicide. By chance she discovers the bereaved man's identity and decides to try and help him. She poses as an agency cleaner and, while she cleans his neglected house, she also attempts to rebuild his shattered life. Slowly, they become friends and then lovers but, all the while, John ( William Mapother ) is unaware of Rhoda's identity. And then she finds that she may have a chance for a new life on the other Earth...

Another Earth is a subtle, cool ( as in "chilly" ) film with a jittery, scratchy style and plenty of food for thought, leading neatly to a lovely, ambiguous ending. Although more a relationship drama than a true Science Fiction film, the SF concepts are ticking away in the background, just like the new Earth, unobtrusively hanging in the sky in virtually every exterior shot. The two leads are excellent as damaged, disconnected people, hesitantly reaching out to each other and hoping for some redemption. The gorgeous and talented Brit Marling, in particular, is a star in the making, her melancholy presence shining in many almost dialogue-free scenes. The lo-fi soundtrack by Fall On Your Sword is worth a mention, too: nervy and atmospheric, it perfectly complements the low-key visuals and naturalistic acting.

Four out of Five New Earths

( Oh, I should also mention that this was another film viewed at Gloucester's wonderful Guildhall Arts Centre. Always a pleasure. )


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