Thursday, 30 December 2021

Things I didn't blog about in 2021 - Part One: Recent Movies


 As anyone still here would have noticed, 2021 has been a pretty poor year for this 'ere blog. Although in the last year we've had ( slightly ) more freedom as things became ( slightly ) safer, and I've managed to get out and do more things, I've done less and less blogging. ( Irony, don't talk to me about irony. ) Anyway, I'm going to write about a few things I should have mentioned earlier, starting with movies...


But first... a slight tangent. Last year ( 2020, that is, anyone remember it? ) I really struggled with reading. I've always been a voracious reader, often with a couple of books on the go at once, but the whole craziness of the pandemic left me unable to focus on prose. I managed to read a lot of magazines and comics and probably way too much crap on t'internet but not novels. I started but didn't finish a few books which I may return to at some point ( Galapagos by Vonnegut, An American Dream by Mailer, Naked Lunch by Burroughs ) but the one book I did read was Frank Herbert's SF classic Dune. I first read Dune when I was about 13 and was totally blown away by it and have re-read it a couple of times in the following decades. I've always loved the book and, while it's no longer My Favourite Book Ever, I really enjoyed returning to Arrakis in preparation for the upcoming release of the new film adaptation. Well, I say "upcoming", but as we all know the film's release was delayed more than once due to the bloody pandemic. And then, it finally appeared like a sandworm on the horizon...


An adaptation of such a complex, dense novel was always going to be a major challenge for any film-maker and David Lynch's flawed but fascinating 1984 version demonstrated the perils of trying to fit the mammoth story into one movie. Visionary Blade Runner: 2049 director Denis Villeneuve made the risky decision to split the story across two movies and the box office success of part one shows the gamble paid off.
This new take on Dune is thankfully hugely successful. And that's the key word: huge. From the endless vistas of sand stretching before the characters, to the monolithic Chris Foss-inspired spaceships, to the colossal sandworms themselves, everything about this movie is on a massive scale. Luckily the drama also finds, er, space for small, subtle moments of character and reflection in between the epic set pieces. The cast are all outstanding, Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in particular being just perfect as burgeoning prophet / rebel leader Paul Atreides and his mysterious, psychic mother Jessica. Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin add testosterone as House Atreides warriors and Sharon Duncan-Brewster brings gravitas ( and exposition ) as the planetary ecologist Liet-Kynes. The luminous Zendaya has comparatively little to do but will feature more in Part Two and, similar to the charismatic Chalamet, the camera loves her.
Even with the breathing space afforded by the two-film format there's still detail missing here ( the Mentats aren't explained, there's little about the Navigators' Guild and nothing about CHOAM ) but it's not surprising really and doesn't detract from the story. Maybe more of this will appear in the next movie ( due in 2023 ) where we'll also surely see more of Paul's journey towards the later fanaticism and genocide barely glimpsed in this movie. ( Reading Dune as a teenager, I first came across the word "Jihad"  -  I'd never heard this before and presumed it was a term Frank Herbert had created for his science fiction universe. I wonder if this word will appear in the movies? I think it's likely to be replaced, as in the trailer, with the word "Crusade" which, while similar, obviously has different connotations. )
After the protracted wait for Villeneuve's Dune I was so glad to see it and in fact loved it so much I went twice, once to the Imax in Cheltenham and then to the Odeon in Hereford. I think it's a wonderful adaptation of a book that's meant so much to me over the years and I can't wait to see Paul become the legendary, infamous Maud'dib...


Another long-awaited film arrived late this year, the wonderful Edgar Wright's Last Night In Soho.
I've been a fan of Edgar Wright since the Spaced days and the idea of him directing a psychological horror movie was an intriguing one. 
LNIS tells the story of Eloise ( Thomasin McKenzie ) a shy, 1960s-obsessed fashion student who moves from Cornwall to that there London Town where spooky shit goes down. Specifically she finds herself somehow back in Soho of the 1960s, first in dreams and then maybe in her waking life, but in the form of a contemporary singer, Sandy ( Anya Taylor-Joy ), trying to make her mark in Soho's seedy clubs. Sandy is picked up by a seemingly lovable rogue ( Matt Smith ) who "helps" her with her singing career, only for things to go very wrong, and Eloise feels powerless to help her. This film is very good at showing the darkness and virulent misogyny beneath the glitz of the Swinging Sixties and Wright's recreation of the times is stunning. The casting of '60s icons Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp and Rita Tushingham adds to the verisimilitude and the film itself is dedicated to Rigg, whose last film this sadly was.
Although Wright's trademark whip-pans and frenetic editing, familiar from his more comedic films, have been toned down here, the direction is still assured and immersive, becoming looser and more jittery as Eloise's mental state fractures. When the psychological horror kicks in, the movie's debt to Polanski, Hitchcock et al becomes apparent although, for me, it doesn't go quite horrific enough. That's a very small caveat though, as the overall effect is very powerful and it's a treat to see Wright working in this genre. The script, co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns is sharp and barbed with some last-reel twists that really hit home. The two leads are both fantastic, especially McKenzie who completely sells Eloise's transformation, while Matt Smith was born to play a Sixties spiv.
I saw this in the cinema room of my fave venue, Gloucester's Guildhall, and it was great to see a film there for the first time since the pandemic hit.

More unblogged 2021-ness to come soon...

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Merry Christmas from The Glass Walking-Stick


It's late in the day I know but here's wishing all you lovely people out in the Blogosphere a happy and healthy Christmas.

Peace. ( Simon / cerebus660 )










Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Back to the cinema with Bond... and Shang-Chi


 

At long last, Bond is back! And his mission this time is to save cinema. ( Of course, this mission had previously been assigned to Tenet but, yeah, that didn't actually work. ) Will it work this time or will cinema just Die Another Day? ( Sorry. ) Going by the UK box office takings for No Time To Die ( an estimated £21 million over the first weekend ) there's a good chance this mission will be a success.

And, of course, it's Daniel Craig's final mission as Bond, bowing out with his 5th movie, the 25th in the series. As long as you don't count the 1967 Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again. And who does?

"Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in No Time To Live And Let Die Another Day" ( to give the movie its full title ) is happily a wonderful send-off to the Craig years. There's quite a bit of tidying up of storylines going on and some nice Easter eggs for the fans ( including the prominent use of an old Bond theme that really drops hints about the story's direction ) but it's not too obtrusive and feels appropriate. The expected action scenes and exotic locales are as exciting and gorgeous as ever although it's probably best not to think about the movie's carbon footprint. Ana De Armas and Lashana Lynch make impressive Bond debuts but both could have done with more screen time. We are however spared the tired Bond trope of the secondary female character being killed off to give our hero something to be angry about ( see previously Gemma Arterton, Berenice Marlohe, Monica Bellucci etc etc ) which is A Good Thing. The rest of the Bond "family" appear for this swansong: the single-letter likes of Q and M, and characters with full names like Moneypenny, Tanner, Leiter and Blofeld. ( Actually the single-letter names sound more believable. )

Rami Malek's villain is the weakest link here, his nefarious plan being short on explanation and long on stereotypical super-villainy. Luckily that's more than made up for by the sheer emotional high stakes of the story. Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux totally convince here as Madeleine's past catches up with her and Bond, leading to a nail-bitingly tense climax to this story and the Craig era. It's a refreshingly brave ending that is a satisfying final curtain for the best Bond since Connery, if not the best Bond ever.

NTTD was actually my second time back at the cinema since the pandemic began. My first, tentative steps back into that big dark room carpeted with popcorn were with Marvel's latest superhero slugfest.

Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings is an attempt to redress the balance of the predominantly-Caucasian MCU, where most of the actors seem to be called Chris. It's a hybrid of superhero and martial arts movies with an overwhelmingly Asian cast. And it's great fun.

Simu Liu is our hero, the son of an immortal Chinese warlord who's been hiding out in America under an assumed identity but ( wouldn't you know it? ) is dragged back into his father's diabolical world when assassins attack him and his best friend Katy ( Awkwafina ). Cue some ever-escalating and exciting martial arts battles, some not-too-cheesy ( by MCU standards ) humour, a fair old helping of fantasy with often gorgeous visuals and a lot of long-overdue Asian representation. Simu Liu and Awkwafina are charismatic leads you want to spend time with and there's the added bonus of HK / martial arts legends Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh who are both amazing and virtually steal the show from the young 'uns. Although not the Shang-Chi whose adventures I grew up reading ( courtesy of Steve Engelhart, Jim Starlin, Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy ), this take on the character has a more everyman approach and I'm hoping we'll soon see more of Shang, his ambiguous sister Xialing ( the striking, in more ways than one, Meng'er Zhang ) and the irrepressible Katy.

It was a great movie to see for my return to cinemas, a crowd-pleasing, popcorn-munching delight. ( I actually had a cup of tea and a hotdog, but that's typical of me. ) I went to my local picture palace, the Cineworld in Gloucester Quays, on a Saturday morning, gambling that the place would be fairly quiet. Luckily it was and I wore a mask in and out of the cinema so felt fairly safe. It was quite a big step to overcome my pandemic-spawned anxiety about crowds and people in general but I'm glad I did it and it gave me confidence to go back for Bond. Although today's news is dominated by UK Covid figures spiralling upwards yet again ( FFS! ), I'm hoping I'll get back to the flicks soon as the upcoming films from Edgar Wright and Denis Villeneuve will need my attention...



Saturday, 16 October 2021

Farewell to our Hero



A couple of days ago we said a sad final farewell to out beloved Hero. He was the most handsome, regal, slinkiest black cat ever, a Prince amongst felines. There's now a huge hole in our lives and we will miss him always.
Sleep well handsome boy, Big Mog, Mister Hero xxx



 

Sunday, 8 August 2021

60 years of The Fantastic Four


 Today is the 60th anniversary of the first issue of The Fantastic Four going on sale  -  the Big Bang of the Marvel Universe. It's hard to overstate the importance of this comic in the history of the artform, the industry and Marvel Comics themselves. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's unheralded story of four misfits gifted / cursed with superpowers kicked off a revolution in comics, the shockwaves of which still reverberate to this day.


Of course you don't need me to tell you that. The history of the FF and of the Lee / Kirby partnership has gone down in comic book legend, and rightly so. As a tribute to Stan, Jack and all their illustrious fellow creatives ( inkers, letterers, production staff etc etc ) I'm going to post some of my fave FF issues from my collection, starting with the earliest issue I own, no. 8  -  "Prisoners Of The Puppet-Master"







Excelsior!



Monday, 2 August 2021

The Wonderful World of the Ladybird Book Artists

Yesterday we ventured into Gloucester ( or "went up town" as we say round here ) for the first time in ages to check out the Wonderful World of the Ladybird Book Artists exhibition at the Museum of Gloucester. This indeed wonderful exhibition was curated by Ladybird Books enthusiast and expert Helen Day who did a fantastic job of pulling together hundreds of old books, items of memorabilia and, most importantly, original artwork. It was just so lovely to see the beautiful pieces of artwork from books that had brightened up so many children's early years. Sarah was moved to tears ( happy ones! ) to see so many of her childhood reading memories on display.

So many memories, so many books!



This illustration for the cover of Little Red Riding Hood by Harry Wingfield is one of the most iconic from the series and it still looks vibrant and full of life, 63 years after it was first produced.


And, from a slightly later era, just check out this full-on 1970s nostalgia-fest / feast. How many toys do you recognise here?




Unlike Sarah, I wasn't actually a huge reader of Ladybird Books as a child but I do remember this Pirates book  -  what a dramatic, superbly-rendered image! The artist was Frank Humphris, veteran of the classic boys' adventure comic The Eagle, more of which later...


Around every corner we found more sumptuous images, from rosy-cheeked 1960s kids to nostalgic fairy-tale scenes...




As well as all of these beautiful, dreamlike images I was very excited to find some old Eagle comics and some original artwork from the great Frank Hampson, creator of Dan Dare. I had no idea Hampson had worked for Ladybird Books so this was a real bonus.





And from the more realistic, historical books there were these moody pieces from John Kenney  -


( My apologies if some of these images are a bit askew. I was trying to take these photos through glass and was struggling not to have reflections of myself in the shots :-)  You wouldn't want to see that. )

It was a fantastic collection of artwork and memorabilia ( not pictured are sketches, letters from the editors, original printing "flats", invoices for work produced etc. ) and we were very lucky for it to be virtually on our doorstep. I'll just leave you with this very surreal piece, also by the versatile John Kenney:



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