Tuesday 31 December 2013

Comics 1973

It's customary at this time of year for people ( and bloggers ) to take stock, to cast an eye back over the events of the past 12 months. Well... I'm not doing that here. Instead I'm looking back at a time 40 years ago when I was just a nipper and the universe was less than half its present size... or something. Looking at various years for my Mammoth Movie Meme series I realised that 1973 was one of my favourite years for movies, music and, indeed, comic books. So, I thought I'd do a few posts on that far-off time, starting with comics, probably not always the most important ones of the time, but long-time faves of mine  -  and I'll have to acknowledge here the wonderful work of fellow bloggers Steve W and Booksteve who have also covered similar ground on their own respective blogs...
First up is Savage Tales no. 2, a barbaric bonanza of Hyborian high jinks, featuring everyone's favourite Cimmerian in the classic Red Nails. It's a moodily faithful adaptation of Robert E Howard's short story with a fine script from Roy Thomas and absolutely jaw-dropping artwork by Barry ( Windsor ) Smith. This story definitely ties for my All-Time Fave Conan Comic Story Ever Ever with The Song Of Red Sonja from the same creative team. It really is the good stuff, by Crom...
As a total contrast, in Captain Marvel no.29 our space-faring Kree super-soldier takes time out from his battle with death-god Thanos to have a suspiciously psychedelic conversation with one of those all-knowing extra-terrestrials that always seemed to crop up in 1970s Marvel comics ( except for Night Nurse )  -  and thereby attain cosmic consciousness. OK. I'm not sure what Jim Starlin was smoking back then, but I'm glad he was, because he was really pushing the boundaries of what could be presented in mainstream comics at the time. This strip was, at the time, a fairly unique blend of science fiction, philosophy and Starlin's patented cosmic angst... before that became a bit tiresome. And that Starlin / Romita cover is awesome! Maaaan!
It's that Cimmerian again! Conan The Barbarian no. 32 sees our bare-chested battler caught up in nefarious goings-on in a fantasy version of China, and getting tangled up with the squid lady on the great Gil Kane / Ernie Chan cover above. And the John Buscema / Chan artwork inside the mag is a thing of beauty too.
Meanwhile, in Defenders no. 11, Doc Strange and his non-team of misfits have barely drawn breath after the end of the Avengers / Defenders War before they get whisked away to the Middle Ages where the Crusades are being further complicated by an evil wizard. Speaking of wizardry, continuity-magician Steve Englehart here manages to tidy up half a dozen plot-lines whilst spinning more, without seemingly batting an eyelid. I always loved these glimpses into the myths and legends of the Marvel Universe, before it all got too convoluted to follow...
Fantastic Four no. 142 introduces Darkoth the Death-Demon, a suitably Kirby-esque creation from the pencil of Rich Buckler. I always had a soft spot for ol' Darkoth, even though he wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the box. ( Oh, and if you're wondering who is "the most sinister super-villain of all" as announced on the cover... well, it's the Fantastic Four... take a guess... )
Whoops! Spoilt it.
Over in the DC Universe, in Justice League Of America no. 110 to be precise, things get more festive as "TV's Super-Friends" have to deal with some Ho-Ho-Homicide. Someone's murdered Santa ( notice my resistance to using a "sleigh"-based pun ) and the JLA, along with stand-in Green Lantern John Stewart, have to deal with the bizarre villain The Key before everyone can eat their mince pies in peace. Quite a grim story but it ends on a positive note as Stewart uses his Power-Ring abilities to spread some Christmas cheer among the slums of the DCU. One of the reprints in the 100-page comic is a classic from the Golden Age with the Justice Society also dealing with social problems, this time juvenile delinquency. Nowadays the biggest delinquents in comics seem to be the "super heroes" themselves...
Doctor Strange is again in trouble in Marvel Premiere no. 10 as he fights the Lovecraft-inspired monstrosity Shuma-Gorath, which has taken up residency inside the Ancient One's mind. Obviously there was no room at the inn for tentacled Elder Gods. The dream Doc team of Steve Engelhart and Frank Brunner pull out all the metaphysical stops as Strange plunges deep into his master's subconscious and realises he will have to kill the Ancient One in order to save the world. As they used to say, it's far-out fantasy in the mighty Marvel manner.
In a less philosophical plot Mister Miracle no. 14 sees the world's greatest escape artist and pint-sized sidekick Oberon investigate a "haunted" house which turns out to be a front for a criminal organisation led by the fantastically-monikered Madame Evil Eyes. This is Mister Miracle with all the Fourth World references dropped from the strip ( sadly ) and Jack Kirby just having a ball with insane characters and spooky, Gothic situations. Not a great work of literature... but great fun.
Special Marvel Edition no. 15 is a landmark comic, featuring as it does the debut of Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu. Although my favourite run of this strip is the Kung Fu / espionage mash-up of the Doug Moench / Paul Gulacy era, this establishing story by Steve Engelhart ( yes, him again ) and Jim Starlin ( yes, him again too ) is a terrific, two-fisted introduction to Chi, Nayland Smith, Petrie and the Devil Doctor himself, Fu Manchu. In 1973 everybody was indeed Kung Fu fightin'...
Although it's probably very uncool to say so, I was a big fan of Krypton's Last Son when I was a kid and Superman no. 263 is a great example of the kind of Supes story I grew up reading. It's a suitably dreamlike tale of an angry movie director who is given the power to have revenge on Superman by a character called Doctor Phoenix. The director sacrifices his ability to dream in return for bringing nightmarish scenarios to life. Superman goes through various torments in the story, including being turned into the titular "Man Of Molten Steel". There's some beautiful artwork throughout by the ultimate Superman art team ( in my opinion ) of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. And that impressive photo-collage cover by Neal Adams too...
More living nightmares in Swamp Thing no. 5 as creators Len Wein and Berni Wrightson carry on working through old Horror movie themes, this issue covering witches, familiars and torch-bearing mobs. Wrightson's beautiful, intricate artwork conjures up the look of old woodcut illustrations as Swampy battles his way through a village full of gurning grotesques.
And yet more Horror in Tomb Of Dracula no. 12... but then that's what you would expect really. It's a pivotal issue in this long-running series as Edith Harker, daughter of wheelchair-bound vampire hunter Quincy Harker, is fanged by the Count himself, forcing Harker to stake his own daughter. From these early issues and all through the comic's life, main writer Marv Wolfman was never afraid to change the strip's status quo and confront his characters with realistic dilemmas and emotions. And vampires. ( I really need to post more about TOD, without doubt one of the best Marvel series ever. And I'm sure I've said that before. Maybe one day... )
I'll finish with issue no. 8 of the short-lived but fondly-remembered ( by me,
anyway ) Wanted: The World's Most Dangerous Villains. This was a showcase for Golden and Silver Age reprints featuring ( you've guessed it ) villains, villains and more villains. This issue resurrected the frankly ludicrous Mister Who and also the Flash's coolest enemy, Captain Cold. I loved the Wanted poster designs on the covers  -  real "high concept" stuff. This was an experiment that was never going to run and run but it was fun while it lasted.

So, those were some of my comic book highlights of 1973. If you'd like to share any similar memories ( dear reader ) I'd love to hear 'em. Excelsior!

Soundtrack: Fireworks going off outside ( well, it is New Year's Eve )

Sunday 29 December 2013

Mammoth Movie Meme Part Two

Here we go with the second part of my movie meme  -  more celluloid in the spotlight:

16. Favourite [insert actor/actress/director] movies?
I've done a few actor / actress lists already, so I'll go with director now and choose my favourite films by the great Taiwanese film-maker Ang Lee:
Life Of Pi
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Sense And Sensibility
The Ice Storm
Brokeback Mountain
( That's a pretty impressive, and diverse, list of movies... and I still haven't seen all of his films. I need to see Lust, Caution next... )
17. List all you’ve seen from [insert actor/actress/director].
A strange question, this. How about James Dean?
Rebel Without A Cause
East Of Eden
They're the only three films of his I've seen and, of course, they're the only three films of his that anyone's seen...
 18. An underrated actor.
Someone who you can always count on for an intense, unusual performance is ace character actor Scott Wilson. His breakthrough role was in the 1967 adaptation of Capote's In Cold Blood ( which I haven't seen ) and he's also fantastic in The Ninth Configuration, Exorcist III, The Right Stuff and, more recently, he's been heartbreaking as bearded old patriarch Herschel in The Walking Dead.
19. An underrated actress.
 Maggie Gyllenhaal  -  always giving committed, layered performances but not likely to ever be a *big*star* because she's not the typically airbrushed-looking Hollywood type. See her in Donnie Darko, Secretary and Sherrybaby for three very contrasting roles.
20. An underrated director.
I'll have to choose Australian director Peter Weir. His best films combine deep psychological insight with a vivid sense of place, often pitting his characters against the elements. I've never understood why his movies aren't talked of in the same terms as those of Scorsese or Coppolla. It may be that he's too much of a populist for the critics. If you haven't already, I urge you ( dear reader ) to check out Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Last Wave,Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show ( you must have seen this one! ) or Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World. And then report back to me :-)
21. An overrated actor.
This is a tad mean-spirited isn't it? One actor I could mention is Johnny Depp. This is a bit of a cheat because I think he's a fine actor in the right role  -  Edward Scissorhands is a favourite in this house and he's also great in more realistic roles, I'm thinking Donnie Brasco or his parts in The Ninth Gate or Secret Window. However, he spends most of his time nowadays playing cartoon-like characters
( see below... ), often for Tim Burton, and I wish he'd stretch himself a bit. Maybe his best work was done in the '90s?
22. An overrated actress.
Again, a bit nasty this. I'll just say Elizabeth Taylor. I could never see her appeal although I'll have to admit she was certainly beautiful and charismatic in her youth.
23. An overrated director.
Guillermo Del Toro without a doubt. Controversial choice? Maybe.

24. A film you wish you had seen on the big screen.
Quite a few actually: Fight Club, Planet Of The Apes, Spartacus, Apocalypse Now, Lawrence Of Arabia, Alien, Rollerball and, er, Logan's Run ( the last three were movies that I was dying to see when they came out but I was too young  -  damn that BBFC! )

 25. A movie you’ve seen that you think no one else here will have heard of?
The Ninth Configuration ( 1980 )  -  William Peter Blatty's sort-of follow-up to the themes of The Exorcist, an arty, pretentious but hugely intelligent and often hilariously funny movie touching on such subjects as the purpose of evil, God's indifference to Man, and how to adapt the works of Shakespeare for dogs. Featuring unforgettable performances from Stacey Keach, the late Jason Miller and Scott Wilson ( him again ), it's a truly unique movie with an atmosphere all its own and some cracking dialogue. But, be warned, it does get very grim before the last minute touch of redemption...
26. Favourite movie characters.
Luke and Leia, Han and Chewy
The Corleones
Squadron Leader Peter D Carter, June, Doctor Frank Reeves 
Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow
George Bailey, Mary, Uncle Billy and Clarence
Martin and Ellen Brody, Matt Hooper, Quint... and Bruce...
Ellen Ripley and Jones the cat
Marty McFly and Doc Brown
HAL 9000

27. A film that was better than the book.
Jaws, definitely. Peter Benchley's novel is the epitome of what used to be called the "airport novel", a trashy, glossy thriller which, while exciting, has none of the mythic power of Spielberg's movie.

28. Best remake.
Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes. Oh, I'm sorry... I thought that was "worst remake..."
Most remakes tend to be dollar-chasing imagination black holes but there have been some exceptions like Cronenberg's The Fly and Carpenter's The Thing, while some movies like Philip Kaufman's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers may be just as good as the original in a different way. I've got no real answer to this one other than to say one of my fave remade films is Michael Mann's crime epic Heat, based on a previous TV movie by the same director, which I've never seen.

29. Your first favourite actor.
Probably Charlton Heston, strangely enough. I was a major fan of the Planet Of The Apes movies when I was a kid ( even joining the official UK fanclub ) and Heston's square-jawed but cynical hero really appealed. In fact, he cornered the market in tough science fiction heroes for a while, also appearing in The Omega Man and Soylent Green. And then, of course, I saw his epic performances in Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Agony And The Ecstasy... all fantastic, larger than life stuff. Just don't mention his politics...
30. Your first favorite actress.
I'm a straight male who grew up in England in the 1970s, so it has to be Jenny Agutter of course...
Soundtrack: Dare by The Human League

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

Hope everyone out there in Blogland is having a great Christmas / Hanukkah / non-denominational holiday. Best Wishes from The Glass Walking-Stick...

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Theatre Of Hate at The Fleece, Bristol

A couple of weeks back I went down to Bristol's hall of rock 'n' roll infamy, The Fleece, to see the reformed Theatre Of Hate. I can't say I was ever a fan of the band back in the day. I remember them being around in the Post-Punk era and I remember the single Do You Believe In The Westworld? being their one decent-sized hit and, er... that's about it. To be honest, I remember frontman Kirk Brandon's next band, Spear Of Destiny, more than TOH. But I thought they would be worth checking out, especially as Stroud's favourite sons the mighty Chinese Burn were supporting.
( And it was ace Burn guitarist Glenn's birthday too... )
Here are Chinese Burn in chaotic action with guest guitarist Rob ( left ) from Positive Reaction and
( Punk supergroup in the making ) Borrowed Time. As long-time readers of this 'ere blog will know I'm completely biased when it comes to this band. I've seen them play many, many times over the years and, even though they're mates of mine ( Glenn, in particular, I've known since I was about 19 and is a great friend ), I wouldn't praise them if they weren't any good. In fact, I think they're one of the best live bands around with some of the coolest, most intelligent and tuneful songs of any of their contemporaries, and can easily hold their own when supporting bands like TOH, From The Jam, New Model Army, SLF or UK Subs.
Even though I was slightly dubious about Theatre Of Hate after watching some of their old videos on You Tube, I was actually very impressed with them. They have a very dark, hypnotic power and can lock into some crushing grooves, with Stan Stammers' dubby bass often taking the lead, and the atonal saxophone adding some unusual colours. God only knows what Kirk Brandon is singing about but he has an extremely strong, distinctive voice with some serious lung power. Not many singers of his age can hold notes as well as he can! He also has some interesting stage moves  -  I especially like the one where he seems to be climbing an invisible ladder. The above picture shows him just after he's climbed back down :-)
They went down very well with the crowd ( although my gig-going companions, Caz and Jacqui, weren't totally convinced ) and caused many fat 40- or 50-somethings to hurtle around The Fleece like gorillas on steroids. I probably won't go out and buy any of their albums ( if I could find them ) but I'd definitely see them live again. Maybe I do believe in the Westworld after all...

Monday 23 December 2013

Mammoth Movie Meme Part One

 Thanks to Brother Cal over at the legendary Cave Of Cool for bringing this meme to my attention. I don't often get involved with memes but this one about movies seemed a bit of fun, so why not? Be warned there are 60 (!) questions but I won't do it all in one post. That way madness lies. The plan is to break it down into four parts so it won't cause too much eye-strain for the reader. Expect lots of ridiculous, ill-informed and self-centred choices ahead. ( Oh, and the first part of Cal's take on this meme can be found here... )

1. A movie you’ve seen most times in cinema.
Strangely enough, probably Evil Dead II. A friend of mine's mum worked at our      local cinema at the time and got us free tickets. I actually watched Sam Raimi's hilarious splatter-fest 3 times in a week. ( I suppose I could have lied and said something more worthy like Citizen Kane... )
2. Your most rewatched movie.
Probably Jaws, the original and the best. ( Sequels? What sequels? ) I first saw it at the cinema at the age of about nine and I've watched it Buddha-knows how many times since. And, even though I've got the DVD and can watch it any time, if it's on telly I'll always watch it. I still think it's the best thing Spielberg's ever done.
3. A movie you quote on a daily basis.
Withnail And I, without a doubt. Not just one of the best British comedies ever, but one of the best British films ever, full-stop. The dialogue as heard in the film is brilliant enough, but I'd recommend getting hold of the script book for Bruce Robinson's darkly witty descriptions and asides which add immeasurably to the spoken words. "What f***er said that?"
4. Favourite movie soundtrack.
I'll have to go with Nino Rota's  beautiful score for The Godfather, once heard never forgotten. Close runners up ( all for very different reasons ) being Lawrence Of Arabia, A Matter Of Life And Death, Taxi Driver, Sleeper, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange... the list goes on...
5. Top 5 films of your favourite actor and actress.
 I'm hard pressed to actually nominate a favourite actor or actress. There are so many actors I admire that it's difficult to pick only one... and even the best have had their occasional dodgy performances. For the purposes of this meme, however, I'll go with James Stewart and Marilyn Monroe ( old school! )  -  ask me again in ten minutes and I'd probably say two different actors...

Jimmy:                                                Marilyn:
It's A Wonderful Life                      Some Like It Hot
Rear Window                                   Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Rope                                                    How To Marry A Millionaire
Vertigo                                                The Misfits
Harvey                                                Niagara

6. Top 5 performances of your favourite actor and actress.
Just to prove the above, I'm going to go with two different actors for this. Awkward bugger, aren't I?

Robert DeNiro:                                 Sigourney Weaver:
The Godfather Part II                     Aliens
The Deer Hunter                             Alien
Taxi Driver                                        Ghostbusters
Mean Streets                                     The Ice Storm
Goodfellas                                          Galaxy Quest

 7. A movie storyline you wish you had actually lived.
 A tricky one. How about Roman Holiday? It would give me a chance to pose around a black and white 1950s Italy with Audrey Hepburn. ( I'd be Gregory Peck, of course, not Eddie Albert. )
8. A movie that reminds you of your mum.
Ang Lee's Sense And Sensibility. Sarah and I took my Mum to see this a few months after losing my Dad, Pete. Although there are some quite sad moments in the storyline Mum really enjoyed it and it was good to help take her mind off things. I'm not a fan of Jane Austen ( I read Mansfield Park at A-Level and it bored the pants off me ) but Lee and a great cast kept me interested. ( For a hilariously superficial debate about this film's casting see this link to the IMDB. )
9. A movie that reminds you of your dad.
No one film in particular, although we did watch a lot of movies together. When I was young Pete would always want me to stay up late and watch some film or other but Mum would usually veto it, saying I had school the next day etc. One night I'd been in bed for a good hour when Mum came into my bedroom, not happy, having clearly lost the argument, and said "Pete wants you to watch this film. Come back down." Cheers Pete!
I will say, however, that one of my regrets is not going to see A Bridge Too Far with him. Pete was a great fan of war movies and we had agreed to go to the cinema to see this. Being a typically empty-headed kid I'd forgotten that and arranged to go swimming with a mate instead. As Pete was a farmer and very rarely had time to go out we missed the opportunity to see the film and I've regretted it ever since...
10. Favourite movies from your childhood.
Many of my favourite childhood movies are still favourites ( I've always had good taste )  :-)  Here are a few:
The Wizard Of Oz
Jason & The Argonauts
Jaws ( did I mention that? )
The Jungle Book
Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
Dr. No
Planet Of The Apes
Star Wars
11. Favourite quote(s).
Bloody hell! This is a whole blog post on its own! Here are just a few:
"You're going to need a bigger boat."
"Monty, you terrible c***!"
"Well, no-one's perfect."
"I say you are the Messiah, and I should know  -  I've followed a few..."
"Funny how?"
"Get away from her you bitch!"
"It's not personal, Sonny, it's strictly business."
And if you don't know where these quotations are from, see me after class...

 12. Top 5 favourite female performances. ( Only 5??? )
Sigourney Weaver in Aliens ( see a pattern forming here? )
Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot ( yep, definitely a pattern )
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's
Diane Keaton in Annie Hall
Grace Kelly in Rear Window
13. Top 5 favourite male performances. ( Only 5??? again )
Al Pacino in The Godfather ( I could just do a Top 5 from this movie... )
David Niven in A Matter Of Life And Death
Robert DeNiro in The Godfather Part II
James Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
14. Favourite year for movies. ( Can't do just one. How about three? )
1939 ( Don't remember it myself... but it was Hollywood's annus mirabillis )
The year of The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach and, as they say, many more
1982 ( One I can remember and definitely remember having a great time at the movies )
The year of ET, Blade Runner, The Thing, The Evil Dead, Poltergeist
1973 ( The year of... you know what? This year deserves its own post. Watch this space... )

15. Your favourite movies from [insert year].
The random year is 1979 and the movies are Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, The Jerk and Monty Python's Life Of Brian  -  quite a cool selection :-)
OK, that's Part One done. It's Intermission Time... a selection of ice creams are available in the foyer... please don't slam your car door on the way home -  this is a residential area... 

Soundtrack: Scared To Dance / The Absolute Game by the Skids


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