When Harlan Ellison and Bruce Willis collided

There was a point back in the 1980’s when Bruce Willis was a struggling actor before getting his break with Moonlighting. Though for a number of people the first thing people like myself who are massive SF fans noticed him for the first time on the Twilight Zone adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s short story, Shatterday.

It’s an episode where Willis is basically performing by himself in a dual role, and it has dated quite well because it’s such a simple story, plus Willis flexes some acting talents he doesn’t often display. It also happens to be one of the best TV/film adaptation of one of Ellison’ work out there.

And oh, it’s also directed by Wes Craven. So enjoy this lost gem of SF television…

Superhero film fans get annoyed by Martin Scorsese, again.

Martin Scorsese is along with Steven Spielberg, the greatest living American film director of his, not to mention, subsequent generations. He’s made some of the best films ever made. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, The King of Comedy, Wolf of Wall Street; all films which are the very best of cinema so when he talks its because he knows what he’s talking about and he loves cinema. His recent comments about reducing all film to ‘content’ is so spot on it hurts.

Scorsese wrote, in his opinion, that content is now a “business term for all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode.”

To Netflix or any other streaming service, Avengers: Endgame and Raging Bull are equals. They’re content to be consumed depending on how the algorithm works for you so potentially, depending on what you ‘consume’, your entire view of what makes up film can include only say, superhero and SF films, sorry, ‘content’. Now I enjoy much of Marvel’s films, while DC have made the odd decent one, but Marvel’s odd, sexless world of simplified human emotions or Zack Snyder’s weird neo-facism via Ayn Rand are not telling great stories about humanity, though to be fair Snyder is a talented visual director as opposed to Marvel’s functional by the numbers direction.

But they ain’t art or great cinema.

And here’s Scorsese’s point. Flattening everything out to be the same reduces all filmakers into content producers, so the idea of art and artistic craft is eradicated for this mush which tastes fine but eat to much of it ends up killing the taste buds. Mixing in a bit of smoked salmon, or a fine wine in with your mush leads to a balanced diet but if you don’t have the choice you won’t know that you’re being cheated of expanding your love and enjoyment of what is a wonderful medium, so you end up taking it personally because you’ve made this ‘content’ part of your identity instead of calmly listening to the point that we can’t just throw everything in a pot and expect it to be consumed the same way.

Instead fans become sensitive and overreact, close ranks and in doing so prove the point. It’s a depressing circle which eats itself but this is 2021…

The prick of freedom

For the first time in my life I was excited about getting a small prick stuck in me. Yesterday was my covid vaccination and although this doesn’t give me the full protection when it kicks in, it is at least a start to rejoining the world.

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The set up the NHS have down the Louisa Jordan )the name for the SECC while it’s a hospital) is amazing. They could vaccinate thousands at one time, though for safety reasons they’re staggering it but the staff are doing an amazing job from the porter who warned me that it’s a bit of a walk and talked me into a wheelchair, to the nurse who injected me and everyone. What is depressing are those not taking their appointment because if they don’t get injected we might not build up the herd immunity to deal with Covid, which isn’t going away.

Anyhow I am feeling as run down and queasy as they said it would so that’s enough for now. This wee light at the end of the tunnel will see me through til my second jag in May.

Dealing with Covid deniers

I’ve been shielding for a large chunk of the Covid outbreak in the UK, but on my increasingly rare trips out I’ve had to deal with Covid deniers and anti-maskers who think Covid won’t affect them as they’re ‘healthy’. The other day I was in the shop and a chap was talking LOUDLY about how he ‘didn’t need’ the vaccine as it’ll only be the unhealthy and ‘weak’ that will need it with a sneaky glance at my disabled arse.

We’re over a year into this pandemic now and we still have people living in a fantasy about something which has killed 150k people in the UK alone, and if left unchecked (as was Boris Johnson’s initial plan) would leave millions dead, destroy the NHS and leave the economy trashed for generations to come. But no, some people want to have a drink in a pub or go clubbing, or just think they’re invulnerable.

I’m not happy with the endless lockdowns. My physical and mental health is fucked. They are however things I can hopefully fix. Having died gasping for a final breath isn’t something I’m coming back from. Denying a virus like this when people are suffering is a supreme act of narcissism and paranoia. Nobody is loving this. We all want this over, and it won’t end, let alone being under control if people believe lunatics who think the virus was designed by Bill Gates or some such shite.

The vaccine is being rolled out worldwide. We’re so close to getting on top of this but we won’t if people don’t get vaccinated because they follow a fantasy.

Five Years plus…

This time five years ago I nearly died after having a stroke, which during the treatment for that a massive tumour was found in my neck merrily bouncing up and down on my jugular vein. Yes, 2016 was a year to remember al right. Since then my life has completely changed, not to mention the Covid pandemic has now seen the last year of this life spent mainly shielding from a virus which would likely kill me given a chance.

But considering the options it could have been much worse. True, things are not fantastic for now but with a vaccine on the way a chance to live in whatever norlmality will be is aprspect worth waiting for.But here I am,half a decade later, still here struggling on. Lets try to get another half decade under my best…

Si Spencer RIP

This is shocking. The writer Si Spencer has died at the age of 59. Although Si worked outwith comics on the likes of Eastenders, it’ll be comics he’ll be remembered for, and a nicer bloke in comics you couldn’t wish to meet. A well known face in fan circles since his days on Crisis and editing Deadline, Si would be found at conventions chatting away to all and sundry.

The last few years has seen him produce some great work, with what I think is his best work, Bodies coming out a few years ago.

Gone far too early. He’ll be missed.

The world of Super 8 home films

Today if you want to see a film all you need to do is turn your TV on, go to any streaming site and pretty much anything you want is there. If it isn’t then there’s plenty of ways to find it. IT never used to be like this of course. Once we all had to get up off our arses to go to the video shop like a Blockbuster, or if we really liked a film you can buy it on VHS, then DVD and now Blu-Ray. Now imagine a time when you couldn’t just watch your favourite film but instead had to do with a Super 8 version of the film which was heavily edited down to normally around half an hour, if you were lucky. These versions of films did not mess around as they had to effectively act as highlights while staying true to the full version.

Here’s Alien as an example.

The chestburster happens around seven minutes into its 17 minute running time, leaving 10 minutes to cram everything else in. As for Star Wars, you dare not blink or you’ll miss something.

Same goes for The Empire Strikes Back.

Go to YouTube and there’s hundreds of them there in a handy playlist, and be warned some of these condensed films are literally less than highlights. Jaws for example runs just over ten minutes!

Yet there’s a charm to all these films. For years they were the only ways to see a film unless it was rereleased or it happened to pop up on TV, which for new films at the time would be years. An actual print of the full film would be out of the price range of most people, assuming they had the equipment and space to show them in. Super 8 versions could be shown on your wall.

These films are now massively collectable odddites from a pre-digital age where you had to improvise to see a film you liked, and these highlight reels were great pre-video solutions to a demand. I had a few of them but sadly sold them some years ago because they were gathering dust, but these clunky gems of memorbillia are things I wish I’d kept. Especially considering the current value of many of them…

Zack Snyder’s Justice League and fan service

After a massive fan campaign, Zack Snyder has finished his version of the Justice League film which was released in 2017 to resounding shrugged shoulders and now there is this ridiculously overblown trailer released.

In one sense I’m glad Snyder has made it perfectly clear about the inhert fascism of the superhero, but at the same time these are still children’s power fantasies so there’s this bizarre ever-so-serious tone which imparts these characters with a supposed mythology which gives them a gravitas they don’t deserve. It is basically, pompous.

But this is Zack Snyder we’re talking about. Now he’s clearly a talented filmmaker, plus his version of Dawn of the Dead is actually really good, while his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 is very good especially with Snyder’s obsession with the neo-fascist elements of Miller’s work. However Sucker Punch was offensive, patronising bollocks which I’m astonished got made at all, and his DC work is relentlessly humourless, bleak and endlessly dark. From Pa Kent’s needless self-sacrifice to the ‘Martha’ scene in Batman V Superman, Snyder has managed to get away with some dreadful stuff because his work appeals to a hardcore of fans.Those fans are incredibly vocal online and you have to applaud how they’ve convinced Warners there’s money in getting Snyder’s version made,though for a more general audience they’re perhaps tired of the enforced grimness of Snyder’s work.

However if at all successful this could effectively change how films are made. The pandemic means studios have to reconsider new ways to get to audiences, and if there’s a large enough one out there shouting for something then give it to them. I await it’s arrival next month in the same way I awaited my last set of medical tests, but whatever happens it will cement a place as a cinematic oddity. Just how much we’ll see in March.

S. Clay Wilson RIP

The generation of American underground comics lost one of its major talents and inspirations to others in the shape of S. Clay Wilson, the creator of the Checkered Demon.

I love Wilson’s comment when interviewed by The Comics Journal that comics should be something where you can draw whatever you want, which is exactly what Wilson did often getting himself into trouble with the law, and on this side of the Atlantic, customs would gleefully seize his works.

Wilson was transgressive in a way few comic artists ever could be, and few today ever try to be, but he (along with Robert Crumb and a handful of others) shifted what comics could be over their careers with artists like Tim Vigil clearly picking up threads of what Wilson left lying around. He deserves our appreciation as fans of the medium for what he did and his wife and family deserve our condelences. It can be safely said there won’t be another like him.

What I thought of some recent comics…Part two

Last time I gave a lot of recent comics a good and well-deserved kicking, especially DC’s titles which are mainly awful at the minute so I’ll start this off with something different from DC which is an excellent comic book.

The Other History of the DC Universe is a sequel of sorts to DC’s History of the DC Universe published 35 years ago, but this time it focuses on DC’s black and other minority characters in a five-issue series which dissects what it would be actually like to be black in DC’s superhero universe. Written by John Ridley (the screenwriter responsible for 12 Years a Slave) makes it clear from the issues published so far that it’d not be too much fun.

Drawn by various artists over the five issues, this promises to be an important series for DC who haven’t always been great with minority characters or representation as a whole. This could well be an important work when completed so get on board now.

Department of Truth is a massive disapointment. A great idea that there’s groups of people fighting to present the world in a certain way with one unit run by the not dead Lee Harvey Oswald is a great idea and at times it does work. The main issues with this is writer James Tynion makes great concepts but I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. This is a high concept series so it either needs a good everyman to have this world explained to them, or we as readers are dropped in this insane world and we pick it up as we’re going along.

The other problem is Martin Simmonds painted art. It frankly is a mess with characters wading through this shit-grey palatte at times and the entire thing having often such poor storytelling that I had no idea what’s going on. This is a shame as when it does click it can be great, and if rumour is true it’s heading for a TV adaptation which will make this a huge book for Image, maybe even fully replacing The Walking Dead in monthly sales, but otherwise this is disapointing.

Since the first Iron Man film, Marvel have struggled to find a decent selling let alone readable comic featuring the character. Part of the problem is that awful Civil War crossover written by Mark Millar which has hung round the character’s neck for over a decade. This may change now as Marvel have a decent title which looks like it’s selling better than before.

The creative team of Christpher Cantwell and Cafu don’t do anything spectacular. They just strip the character free of much of the crap built up over the last few decades just to concentrate on simple superheroics which creates a readable version of Iron Man in the first time for ages.

Dark Horse Comics may well be hurt by the loss of the 20th Century Fox titles such as the Aliens books which helped grow the company to what it is today, but it still finds diamonds in among all the rough. Spy Island is one of those wee gems.

Written by Chelsea Cain and drawn by Elise McCall, this is a comedy romp with roots going back to Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad, which isn’t a bad thing to be inspired by. It’s a load of great, fun nonsense with some great covers. A 4-issue mini which I’d recommend picking up.

And on the subject of great mini-series from Dark Horse, Mike and Laura Allred’s X-Ray Robot is a sheer joy. Now out in trade form I’d also recommend this typical surrealist bit of pop culture from the Allred’s just for a joyful, fun read from a team who remembers that superhero comics are supposed to be something other than grim and miserable.

And lastly, Al Ewing has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years, and his latest series, We Only Find Them When They’re Dead, is a so far interesting SF drama set in a future where giant god-like figures are found dead floating in space so humans being what they are, decide to harvest their body parts for a vast variety of uses.

Drawn by Simone De Meo the whole thing looks and feels like a strip from mid-80’s Heavy Metal, which again, is not a bad comparison. It clearly has been written for trade collections, so it doesn’t quite flow well reading it monthly, then again decompression in mainstream comics is abused, but I feel here that Ewing is working towards something big but right now everything feels like set-up and backstory. This aside I’d pick this up as it looks lovely and as said, there’s a purpose for all of this, I hope!