Friday 27 November 2015

FF Fridays: Black ( Panther ) Friday

The dreaded Black Friday is here again, the day when many of us offer up a silent prayer of thanks  to our deity of choice that we don't work in retail. With the first cinematic appearance of T'Challa, Prince of Wakanda ( the Black Panther to you ) being teased in the recently dropped Captain America: Civil War trailer it got me thinking of the MCU's regal African prince. ( Yeah, I know... my brain works that way. ) Above is the original, unused cover by King Kirby ( of Brooklyn ) for the Panther's debut in FF #52...
and below is my copy of that issue as published, with an absolutely gorgeous Kirby / Sinnott cover...
And here's Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa from the upcoming Marvel slugfest. Can't wait to see this one!
And, seriously... consumers  -  just be careful out there...

Saturday 21 November 2015

Fabian Perez November 2015 UK Tour

This morning Sarah and I made our now-traditional annual trip to Whitewall Galleries in Cheltenham to see the great Fabian Perez's latest collection. The South American superstar artist had stopped off in the Shire whilst on the latest leg of his 2015 tour and we couldn't pass up the chance to see the man and his work again.
Fabian's latest pieces display all the sensuous passion and vitality that we've come to expect from such a talented figurative artist. Unfortunately, my phone pictures can't really capture the paintings' true colours  -  you really need to see them in the flesh, or should I say canvas?
No purchases or photo ops with the artist this time but it was great just to be there, mingle with the "beautiful people" ( some not so beautiful ), have some free drinks and see Fabian's fantastic work. Maybe next time?

Doctor Who: Series 9 Catch Up

I've got so far behind with my Doctor Who reviews ( and blogging in general ) this year that it's a bit pointless trying to write in any detail so long after the fact. This is no reflection on the quality of the show or my thoughts on it  -  I just haven't had the time or energy to devote to it that I normally do. Anyway, for anyone who's interested, I thought I'd fire out a few brief thoughts on recent episodes... in my standard "catching up in reverse" fashion:
Sleep No More
The "found footage" episode with no music, no opening titles and a creepy Blair-Witch-in-space vibe. Although the nature of the Sandmen takes some serious willing suspension of disbelief they are a nightmarishly relentless enemy, with their blindness and gaping-wound "mouths". This Mark Gatiss-scripted episode is more in the horror pastiche vein of The Unquiet Dead than his weak Robin Hood story from last year. Some nice touches like the spaceship crew being Indo-Japanese and a snivelling, twitchy performance from Reece Shearsmith lift this out of the tired found footage rut. But.... surely the Doctor fails in this episode? There is talk of a sequel so we may yet see the consequences of his failure to shut down the Morpheus machines.
The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion
Classic Who monsters return in a classic Who story. An ambitious, globe-trotting urban thriller, this two-parter almost feels like Spooks with added blobby aliens. The Zygons have been living in secret on Earth since the 50th anniversary special but now various factions are vying for power and attempting to start a war with the humans. The shape-changing nature of the aliens means the story has lots of paranoid fun with "who can you trust?" moments, especially when the cliffhanger reveals that Clara has been replaced by the fantastically-nicknamed "Zygella". Themes of identity, immigration and radicalisation all make this almost uncomfortably topical ( especially in light of the recent, awful terror attacks in Paris ) and harken back to the poltical comment of the early Pertwee years. Jenna Coleman and Ingrid Oliver ( as fan-favourite Osgood ) have some wonderful moments as variously human or Zygon incarnations of their characters, but the stand-out scene is an absolutely scorching performance by Peter Capaldi as he desperately tries to talk UNIT and the Zygons out of blowing up the world. Capaldi chews up and spits out Peter Harness' excellent dialogue at a ferocious rate, giving us possibly his Doctor's defining moment.
The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived
This two-parter features the much-heralded arrival of Maisie Williams and, while it doesn't live up to the hype, is an interesting mixture of "historical romp" and something deeper. In the first episode the Doctor, without the assistance of his Tardis or Sonic, comes to the aid of a village-full of Vikings when they are attacked by alien soldiers The Mire. With all their warriors dead, the Doc must train the remaining villagers, Magnificent Seven-style, to fight for their lives. This is all very light and humorous until the Doctor's actions cause the death of Williams' character Ashildr and he is forced to use the Mire's medical technology to bring her back. Of course, there's a price for cheating death. We then get into the ethical ramifications of eternal life as the Doctor encounters Ashildr again in the second episode, hundreds of years later, where she has become a highwayman. Er... highwaywoman. Or something.. There is a very weak plot involving an intergalactic amulet and an underused leonine alien, but the story really revolves around Ashildr's long, sad life and the Doctor's responsibility for all her heartaches. The unusually dialogue-heavy scenes between Capaldi and Williams redeem the slender material although the "eternal life is a drag" conceit gets a bit wearing after a while. Which is appropriate I suppose. I've only watched these episodes as they were broadcast and need to see them again, I think...
Under The Lake / Before The Flood
Being Human creator Toby Whithouse returns to Doctor Who and brings ghosts with him.Which is nice. These two episodes have a lot going on: a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey plot; some very creepy "spectres"; a well-realised underwater base; a briefly-sketched but satisfyingly diverse cast and a beautifully-designed monster in the Fisher King. It's always interesting to see the tension between science and the supernatural in Doctor Who and this story blurs the boundaries between the two as the Doctor is made to believe that ghosts could be real. And stalking an underwater base. And carrying axes. This is a very gloomy, doom-laden story ( in a good way! ) but it also has room for Whithouse's trademark humour  -  I love the scene where Clara gives the Doctor cue cards to help him talk to humans without causing offence or upsetting them. It doesn't work of course!
Although it doesn't all quite hang together, this is a mostly fine story with some great performances
( especially from deaf actress Sophie Stone who communicates so much without dialogue ) and a cracking cliffhanger that presumably sent a fair few kiddies scuttling off to bed fearing the worst for their hero. You can't beat a good scare! I'm sure the Doctor agrees with me...

Soundtrack: Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

Sunday 8 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday 2015

There is nothing more I can add to those four simple, poignant words...

Robyn Hitchcock at The Fleece, Bristol

Although Robyn Hitchcock is one of my favourite songwriters I've only seen him play live twice in nearly thirty years  -  once with his band The Egyptians and once with the Soft Boys. So, when he popped up at Bristol's fantastic Fleece last week I had to hit the flagstone floor of that grimy venue. This was a stripped down, mostly acoustic, set with Robyn accompanied on a handful of songs by former Egyptian Morris Windsor on percussion and some hipster called Charlie on keyboards.
After wandering into the venue almost unobserved, Robyn took to the stage to unexpectedly start with a blues song before kicking off the night properly with an atmospheric version of Egyptians classic My Wife And My Dead Wife ( "Am I the only one who sees her?" ), much to the delight of the relatively meagre audience. As ever, a Robyn Hitchcock gig is a mixture of absurdism, romance and poetry, a glimpse into his idiosyncratic world view with all the creatures and characters that lurk there. He can veer from a nostalgic I Often Dream Of Trains to a beautiful Chinese Bones ( the song of the night for me ) to the insane Victorian Squid  -  introduced by the comment "A lot of people are afraid of sex which is fair enough..."
 Although mostly just letting the music do the talking during the solo acoustic numbers, Robyn became more talkative when his "special guests" joined him on stage and he had somebody to bounce off. ( The punters that night were very much of the standing-around-and-clapping-politely persuasion which didn't help. ) Before playing a cover of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes oddity Tiny Mongomery  he remarked that Dylan was playing in Cardiff that night and was "at the comprehensible end of his cycle" at the moment, so you could hear the words when he sang... although he probably wouldn't play Tiny Montgomery. There was also much discussion of the frightening news of Phil Collins' return to music. When told that Collins was back, Robyn asked "how back?" and was told "back enough". All concerned decided that should be the title of the ex-Genesis singer's new album: "Phil Collins  -  Back Enough".
I had hoped for more Egyptians material but unfortunately the only song he played from Element Of Light ( my fave ) was its weakest, Winchester. Robyn mostly concentrated on more recent material, which was fine although I would have loved to hear him play Airscape or If You Were A Priest. Maybe next time?
I'm not always a huge fan of acoustic gigs but Robyn's amazing guitar playing, impeccable phrasing and alternately weird / moving lyrics make for a very enjoyable night out. After a crowd-pleasing Queen Of Eyes and a moody take on The Lizard ( "You vomit in a shed / The lizard got there first, he's dead" ) he was gone, presumably back to his own surreal, subaquatic universe. Next time he visits this planet ( or Bristol ) I'll have to try and catch him again. It's been a long 21 years since the last time...

Thursday 5 November 2015

Season of mists

Keats' famous line about Autumn came to mind at the weekend as a lot of the UK was enveloped by a blanket of fog. Here are some of the stunning views we saw up on Haresfield Beacon, just a couple of miles away from our house. We drove up the hill, leaving the cold and damp below us, to emerge in bright sunlight. The Beacon, an Iron Age hill fort and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, normally boasts some commanding views of the Severn Vale ( you can usually see across to the Brecon Beacons in Wales to the west, or further south to the Severn Bridges ) but on Sunday as we walked out across the hill all we could see was an ocean of fog...
The fog clung to the valley floor, barely moving, looking like snow or a frozen sea. Then the sun began to set and the horizon turned into a pink haze...
I've lived near Haresfield Beacon nearly all my life and I've walked up there countless times but I've never seen such a spectacle before. Absolutely amazing.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Halloween at Halloween

Last night Sarah, James and I went to the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall to see a timely re-release of John Carpenter's classic Halloween. Although maybe not the first so-called "slasher" movie ( 1974's Black Christmas has a prior claim to this dubious status ) Halloween is probably the best and most totemic of that sub-genre. All the familiar elements are already in place: the horny teens ( you have sex, you die! ), the holiday theme, the small-town setting, the implacable killer. What's impressive on watching this film today is how assured it all is. This was only Carpenter's third full-length movie
( after the low-budget science fiction comedy Dark Star and tough urban thriller Assault On Precinct 13 ) but he handles everything with such style and economy that you'd think he'd been doing this kind of thing for years.
From the opening flashback of young Michael Myers killing his sister on Halloween in 1963, to twitchy psychiatrist Donald Pleasance discovering the "evil is gone" from his place in a secure hospital, and on to Michael's reign of terror in Haddonfield, Halloween is an efficient chiller which cleverly ramps up the tension over its lean 101 minutes. Carpenter isn't afraid to use long, slow takes and prowling tracking shots as his mostly teenage cast go about their Halloween / baby-sitting rituals, while all the time the killer is watching them and waiting for his moment with "inhuman patience". Some of the creepiest scenes in the film don't involve obvious jump-scares ( although there are some great ones! ) or overt gore but just the simple sight of the white-masked "Shape" lurking just on the edge of the characters' vision before disappearing into the autumnal landscape.
 The majority of the teenage cast are just about adequate but Jamie Lee Curtis gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the shy, unfashionable girl who just wants to be accepted and maybe have a boy ask her out on a date, but who has to find reserves of courage and strength to protect her young charges ( and herself! ) from the seemingly-unkillable Boogeyman that is Michael Myers. It's the performance that introduced her to the world and it's no surprise that she kick-started her career with this movie. And then there's that iconic synth soundtrack  -  probably the most recognisable horror movie theme after The Excorcist or Psycho  -  as cold and relentless as the killer himself.
After nearly four decades (!) Halloween still stands as one of the most iconic and imitated horror movies and is still well worth its place in the pantheon.
And speaking of white-masked freaks...
We went for a walk around Gloucester after the movie and had a quick drink in the lovely Cafe Rene  -  here are Sarah and I sitting outside the pub...
...and here's James scaring any late night window-shoppers in Gloucester's King's Walk ;-)
Sweet dreams!

Soundtrack: Sun Structures by Temples


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