What I thought of Godzilla Vs Kong

There is no way one can review or talk about this film as you would any normal film. This is a film called Godzilla versus Kong where two giant monsters twat the hell out of each other for our entertainment. Yes, there is a ‘plot’ but it is complete and utter nonsense, while the script is complete garbage as some very good actors say some appallingly written lines but it does not matter a jot as this film features Godzilla and Kong headbutting each other. The acting is just above ‘Michael Caine turning up for the paycheque’ level, and in some cases people try to do more than what’s needed with a thin bowl of gruel but this film features Kong hitting Godzilla with an enormous glowing axe. The direction by Adam Wingard is sometimes clunky, but it is ok as when he’s directing scenes which feature Godzilla trying to beat the shit out of Kong by throwing him through skyscrapers then he’s done his job well.

This is a film for 9-year old me. I would have killed to see this film then. I would have done it decades later if the pandemic had put off its release much longer. This is fun, junk entertainment well made that looks fantastic at times, and yes, the script sucks but the final half hour of fighting in Hong Kong (a city here with an endless supply of skyscrapers to trash) looks fantastic, but this is a big budget peice of entertainment that will never, ever enter the lists of best films ever made but does take up a place in my favourite films because this is Godzilla versus Kong and I can’t ask for more than that.

What I thought of WandaVision

Marvel’s first Disney+ series had a lot of heavy lifting to do with there not being anything released from Marvel in over a year thanks to Covid, plus it had to prove Marvel’s TV output could match the film output. WandaVison succeeds when it tries to venture off from the Marvel formula and fails when it slides back into the Marvel formula.

The story is essentially about Wanda’s grief after having to kill her lover, The Vision, in Infinity War in order to save the universe from Thanos. In the small ton of Westfield she’s formed her own reality based round old American sitcoms in which she’s recreated The Vision, as well as forming her two children. The hundreds of people living there are being controlled by Wanda as characters in her sitcom. At the same time the US government are trying to find out what’s going on so we get a mix of old and new characters with a gron up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel being the most notable.

As a set up it’s interesting, and the first half of the series is superb. Using the sitcom format renders an odd surrealism into the series as the viewer tries to work out what’s going on with what are entertaining pastiches of each era of sitcom featured from the 1960s to the 2010s. In terms of storytelling it is brave as the Marvel formula is by now a well oiled machine, and the films don’t verge too far into anything too different to that which they’ve set out so far. WandaVision deliberately challenges the viewer and in doing so allows Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to flex their acting chops. The first half of this series is wonderful and bold. Then they play their cards too early and the series falls into traditional storytelling techniques which is a shame. Part of the problem is that WandaVision is there to push along the unstoppable plot which is the Marvel Cinematic Universe so this has to set up half a dozen things which follow it which makes for a less than satisfying end where we kick a Big Fight Scene or two masked in some good lines to give the idea this is something more than what it is which is well done superheroics.

I do hope though that Marvel decide to become more adventurous off the back of this rather than just sitting in their formula and endlessly repeating itself.Also sacrificing chunks of storytelling to cram in the relentless MCU plot is tiresome when it leaves so many dangling ends which may well take years to complete.

WandaVision though is overall a triumph of the superhero genre. It tries to break free of Marvel’s sometimes static direction by using less green screen unless needed, which makes it feel more organic.Having characters developed for longer was good to see, even if it still is firminly lodged in two dimensions. True it does swerve some of the bigger questions, like for example Wanda basically mind-raped the people of Westfield, while Monica’s glib dismissal of the population’s fear and hatred of Wanda continues my belief that the MCU isn’t a universe full of wonders but a cold, dark dystopia where literal gods walk the Earth without challenge. Civil War touched on this, but they pulled back on how awful it’d be to be there.

Marvel are in a good place as people have been so starved for their films that any possible exhaustion has been postponed thanks to Covid, but if it tries more like WandaVision while working hard to avoid the obvious, then it’ll have a strong future creatively. Though in future I wish they’d credit comics creators higher up the credits as this series quite literally took chunks of dialogue from various comics creators with the most minimal amount of credit they couold give.

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…

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…

Darth Vader stands in the centre of Bristol

There’s been a genuine wave of affection after Dave Prowse’s sad death the other day, and in his hometown in Bristol there was erected a fitting tribute to him as the only, true Darth Vader.

It’d have been better to have The Green Cross Code Man because then the statue could have kept it’s Bristolian accent…

Dave Prowse has passed away…

Dave Prowse has sadly died and with that goes a large chunk of my childhood.

Of course his role as Darth Vader is what he’ll leave as his main legacy (no actor since has given that sense of physical power mixed with pain that Prowse did) but for a generation of kids we knew him as the Green Cross Code Man, who was a superhero created to teach British kids road safety.

Even then he was dubbed as his native Bristol accent was found ‘laughable’ by some.

Though they eventually let him speak in his own voice.

I first met Prowse when he visited my school as the Green Cross Code Man to do his thing, and I was in awe of how huge the guy was. He seemed 6 foot in every direction. This was just before Star Wars, so few knew what was coming for him but he’d been an actor for some time mainly in Hammer films and odds and sods playing the heavy, but imagine my confusion when I got older and saw him in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

As I got even older and started working in comics, I’d see him at conventions signing for hours and somewhere in a box I still have some Marvel Star Wars issues he signed around 92 or 93. By this point he’d spectacularly fallen out with George Lucas, and Prowse was shunned from official Star Wars conventions, so he made his wage from going to every other show out there around the world. I’d see him frequently in the 90s and 00s with a long queue waiting to for things to be signed.

I’d see Prowse everywhere during this time; at shows, or coming out the Empire Gym he owned when I lived in St. Paul’s in Bristol, or his picture hanging by the bar in the glorious late night eating and drinking den, Renato’s in the centre of Bristol.

Last time I saw him at a show he looked frail, so his convention appearences declined and he’d be working online sending out autographed pictures stating ‘DAVE PROWSE IS DARTH VADER’ because he was.He gave years of joy for generations and he’ll always be Darth Vader.

And the Green Cross Code Man of course…

Star Trek: Discovery would be less annoying if it dropped the Star Trek

Star Trek: Discovery is back! Big flashy space battles are back! Needlessly grim grimness is back! A confused, thinly written protagonist is back! Everything you’ve seen in <insert Generic Space Adventure here> is back!

Now I like the programme. It is garabge science fiction, but as a bit of space fantasy adventure it is a load of fun, however it really isn’t Star Trek. Sure there’s stuff there that reminds you it could be Star Trek like the Federation, Starfleet, Spock, The Gorn, etc, but it never really works with the context of the programme, so we don’t have one of the few positive visions of the future but yet another post-apocalyptic vision of a broken future. You might throw in the hope things might be rebuilt or better but you’re still treading old water with the grim, dark future gone wrong.

Star Trek is a hopeful vision of the future where humanity does better and stays that way. It comes with flaws, but Deep Space 9 expertly dealt with those, and still came out with a positive hopeful vision of the future. Season 3 of Discovery just sets up a massive disaster (The Burn) and the aftermath of that in a post-apocalptic setting all too common in 21st century SF. We couldhave seen how humanity continues to better itself among the many species of the glalaxy while exploring unknown worlds. But no, grimness, trenchcoats, big fights and virtually nothing to engage the brain. As dumb fun it works but this isn’t Star Trek and it’d do better for Discovery if it was something seperate from that but hey, this is 2020 so everything has to be a grim reflection of the now. Except the original Star Trek was made at a time when nuclear war was a heartbeat away and much of the world was ripping itself apart, so if they can do it we can do it too.

How one comic collection changed the history of comics

Back in the 1970s the comic book market was slowly melding into place on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was nothing like how it is today. Dealers were still relatively few, and actual bricks and mortar shops were also thin on the ground or part of science fiction and fantasy bookshops. Problem with this is many of the owners of these shops cared little for comics but stocked them to help get people in and make a bit of extra money however one collection turned comic book retailing from a minor hobby for most and a living wage for a few into an industry. It cemented the importance of grade for collectors and made clear how rare some comics are over others.

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The Edgar Church collection was bought by Chuck Rozanski in 1977 and while there’s various versions of the story (spun mainly by fans envious of Chuck’s find) the facts are consistent as laid out by Chuck himself in a lengthy piece on his website. Purchased for around $1,800 (which works out at roughly $7,900 today), Chuck knew he had a bargain not to mention a once in a lifetime deal, Today the collection would be worth $50 million and the last few copies in the wild were auctioned off recently.

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Over the years the story has become myth & there’s many a collection that’s boasted to be Edgar Church pedigree, but in reality they were never of the same quality or number. And although big collections have hit the market in the decades since which did match the Church collection few changed the industry in the was this did.

See, without this Rozanski wouldn’t have grown as he did. Mile High wouldn’t be such an important company as it grew. The benefits of this showed a premium collectors market existed and the profits from this meant that in a few years MIle High would be pushing for what’s now called the Direct Market.  Had that collection been thrown out we’d be in a very different place in the industry.

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On this side of the Atlantic a few copies of the collection made it’s way over here. You’d see as well some American dealers show off copies at conventions back in the 90s, but the UK suffers from having less Golden Age around so prices tend to be higher than in the US so for most of us these comics will only be things we look at in awe.

Harlan Ellison’s guest of honour speech from Albacon 1985

Back in the distant past of 1985 there was a science fiction convention in Glasgow called Albacon which had the late, great Harlan Ellison as guest of honour. He was supposed to be there in 1984 but couldn’t come that year, so Norman Spinrad stood in for him.

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His guest of honour speech is legend among those who heard it. There was a recording made and for years I had one, but sometime in various house moves it was lost to time.  These days it’d have been slapped online but I gave up on that ages ago which is a bloody shame as it was glorious.

Well, when searching for something else I stumbled across the grail as the speech is in fact online and downloadable. I never thought I’d hear this again in my life. Some of it hasn’t dated well but the thing is a work of someone who was a genius and this is a wonderful bit of SF history.

Listen to it here.

What I thought of Star Trek: Deep Space 9

One of the good things about barely leaving my flat since March is I’ve done a few things I wanted to do; one of which is rewatching Deep Space 9. When it was on I did, and didn’t watch it. I did watch most of the last couple of seasons on its first broadcast, but overall I couldn’t be bothered with it. It was the 90’s and catching up with programmes were a lot harder if you failed to set your video recorder.

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I loved The Next Generation. It started badly but became a firm favourite after a year or so of it being broadcast in the UK, but DS9 was another matter. It was broadcast at the time on Sky which meant if you didn’t have a subscription you missed it, so for most of the first season, I only caught the odd episode which I generally didn’t like. This is supposed to be Star Trek yet they’re sat around a space station talking about prophets with a load of dull characters.

Even when I did start watching it every week I wasn’t especially taken with it, so when it finished I filed it away but over the years the series has come in for serious praise, and friends have asked if I’ve ever sat down and watched the lot. I never really had the time til Covid made the time so back in March I started watching DS9 from the first episode. The first season is a slog as it tries hard not to be TNG, but at the same time it is restricted by the station setting however by the second season everything starts to settle down, and the bigger picture begins to unravel. Also the characters start to become interesting, especially Sisko who til then has been bland but becomes something else as this man still struggling with trauma, but starting to realise there’s something in the religion of Bajor, the planet at the heart of the series.

Then there’s Major Kira. There’s no way in modern American TV would you have a terrorist as a leading heroic character, but here’s DS9 doing just that while struggling with some of the things she did in her past. While the others started to round out, even O’Brian who’d been a minor role in TNG turned into a solid leading character and showed that there’s a class hierarchy in Starfleet.  By the time Worf comes on board in season 4 the series is in full flow and has become something more than just another Trek spin-off.

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But although it is ‘dark’, it also protects the optimism for a future where the human race is just better, so much so that they fight a long, two year way which costs the lives of millions to protect it.

In fact DS9 is one of the best bits of television drama made. Even though the idea of binge TV wasn’t around in the 90s, it’s a show made for it by accident at a time when episodic TV in America at least, still ruled. It’s a complex show that doesn’t overplay the dark as Discovery did or was just a rambling mess as Picard was, but it’s also clearly the show which influences modern TV Trek the most, yet the producers of these shows don’t understand that preserving that positive vision is Star Trek. Without it, it just becomes a space adventure series which you’ll flick past on Netflix.

DS9 showed you can find hope in the dark and Gene Roddenberry’s vision was more or less preserved and even developed as DS9 showed how ordinary people lived their lives in a society where science and culture have advanced beyond what we could ever expect today. By the end of binging on it, I felt as if I’d missed out on something great at the time, but if there’s anything good about Covid is it gives folk like me a chance to reassess things and in this case, discover something wonderful.