Later by Stephen King

laterHaven’t read a Stephen King book for awhile, but this one was recommended by my brother and hey, by Stephen King standards this thing is practically a short story, running just under 250 pages which absolutely fly by. It has none of the padding and excess that weakens so much of Kings work- he’s always been a great writer in desperate need of a good editor in my opinion but there’s no such problems here; this book is tight and concise and pretty much has all Kings good points and few of the bad.

It also finds King on very familiar ground, with shades of his own The Dead Zone and The Shining and, as commented upon in the story itself, the Brice Willis film The Sixth Sense (I suppose one could describe this as King’s own spin on the latter). The main character is a child who realises he can see and speak to the recently dead, a ghoulish talent that finds surprising exploits as he grows up. Its probably assisted by being published as part of the Hard Case Crime imprint, which is dedicated to pulpish crime potboilers and therefore the book is not being essentially sold as a standard Stephen King horror yarn. I actually kept on expecting the crime element to come more to the fore when it really doesn’t; its there but not as much as the cover painting might suggest.

As a piece of pulp horror in the guise of a crime potboiler its really, really good, and as I have noted its brevity is perhaps its best asset. Its so easy when reading this to imagine King going off on a tangent or two and spreading the same storyline over 600 pages or more but thankfully he doesn’t, although perhaps the endearing main character and the clever premise might have some of Kings hardcore fans wishing it was indeed a 600-page opus.

My chief concern with the paperback edition I read was some bad proof-reading, as there are some pretty glaring typos that really should be unforgivable in this day and age- or is it rather indicative of how books are electronic files these days and such things are somehow easier to creep in (when I would have thought the opposite was true)? I just find them very irritating- there’s a few instances of sentences missing words, breaking the syntax although when reading it your brain will likely fill in the blank, hardly noticing (I grimaced at one and asked Claire to read the paragraph and she didn’t even notice it until I showed her- which is an interesting point perhaps regards how our brains work when reading).

I’ll not go into the plot or its twists/developments as they are the rewards of reading the story. Suffice to say this is a great little read that doesn’t out-stay its welcome, I really quite enjoyed it. Wouldn’t surprise me though if it turned out to be the start of a series…

Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards

br2049storybAnother Blade Runner 2049 artbook. The irony doesn’t escape me- if any film ever deserved an ‘art-of’ book it was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; even its fiercest critics would admire its visual strengths and production design (whilst also damning it for it, usually). Back in 1982 a strange publishing deal had some weirdly-fashioned tie-in books for sale, paperbacks of the screenplay with accompanying storyboards, and a sketchbook, but each was fairly lacklustre compared to the ‘art-of’ books that the Star Wars films were getting. By the time Blade Runner recovered from its dismal release and was reappraised as a classic with a sizeable audience, the rights issues with the Blade Runner Partnership and the creatives involved (Syd Mead etc) had grown so complicated that attempts to publish a genuine ‘Art of Blade Runner’ always hit a licensing brick wall, or so I’ve been led to believe.

But here we are, just over four years after that unlikeliest of sequels, BR2049 was released and we have a third BR2049 art book. Following on from ‘The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049’ and last year’s ‘Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked – The Art’ we get ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards’ which is a pretty much self-explanatory title. All three books are handsomely sized and presented hardbacks; BR2049 has certainly gotten plenty of love from the publishing side. Indeed, my one major issue with this storyboards book is that it really is missing  the films screenplay, if not part of the storyboard presentation then certainly as an appendices at the rear of the book, so my natural suspicion is that a ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Screenplay’ book is almost inevitable. Titan Books, I’m leaving room on my shelf.

On the one hand, I am reassured that there is still interest in BR2049 sufficient enough to warrant these books, various comic tie-ins and an anime series, so that while a third film in the franchise is unlikely in the extreme there is still yet some life in it. As someone who well remembers that post-1982 wilderness when I used to name Blade Runner as my favourite film and always get puzzled blanks in response, it still feels like I’m now in some alternate reality worthy of Philip K Dick (The Man in the Blade Runner Castle, anyone?). The very existence of BR2049 alone has me sometimes reacting with a ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming.’

So forgive me for just going with the fact that we now have three artbooks for BR2049 and that we dare not discount more books in the future (we already have a few collections of essays etc). Maybe before physical media shuffles off this world we might get a BR2049 SE on disc with documentaries and commentaries: hey Charles de Lauzirika are you busy these days I have a project for you (well, one can dream, but as I’m possibly living in a Blade Runner Castle-alternate reality lets go with it).

Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future (2018)

saturnbonestellA very welcome surprise to find this excellent documentary currently available on Amazon Prime. Anybody with a passing interest with art and science fiction and access to Prime would be advised to give this film a watch; its really quite amazing. It features the likes of Douglas Trumbull, Don Davis, Ben Burtt (and others like Ray Bradbury in archive interview footage), commenting upon Bonestell’s genius and visionary impact, and many examples of his remarkable paintings. 

Bonestell lived a quite extraordinary life, one which will always be quite unique simply because of what he lived through and saw during a long life (born in January 1888, died June 1986). He experienced the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and lived through two World Wars and all the technological advances of the 20th Century, from the Orville Wright first powered flight of 1903 to a manned landing on the moon and the first landers on Mars. The latter events, and the post WWII advances in rocketry that got us there, were obviously keenly important to him as he became known as the pioneer of what is generally called ‘Space Art’. Even people not too interested in art would have seen his work in film (matte paintings for films like Citizen Kane, no less, and design work etc for Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and an indirect influence on Kubrick’s depiction of the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey). When Bonestell’s usually surprisingly accurate guesswork and depictions of other worlds proved wide of the mark, as in his wonderful lunar landscapes, there is always a feeling that its reality’s fault for not measuring up to Bonestell’s art, not the other way around.

moonbonetsellBonestell’s paintings instead remain quite timeless and wonderfully evocative. I have a copy of Ron Miller’s excellent retrospective The Art of Chesley Bonestell but not at hand- alas I think its boxed up in the loft like so many other books.  I shall have to make a point of digging it out sometime soon, it would be fascinating to read again having seen this documentary.

 

Conan the Barbarian by Jason Aaron

conan jason aaronA very welcome oversized hardback collection of writer Jason Aaron’s twelve-issue run of Conan the Barbarian. The arc is titled ‘The Life and Death of Conan’ and is a pretty interesting take on the character for his return to Marvel: I suspect it was a deliberately introductory arc intended for new readers unfamiliar with the character, as it sweeps forwards and backwards in time referencing various parts of Conan’s life and adventures. It may also be a case of Aaron referencing REH’s habit of non-chronological stories, Howard depicting Conan as a King and then in his next story depicting Conan as a young thief, or later in his life as a pirate, writing stories at various stages of Conan’s life as if on a whim. It would be left for two fans to later write a probable chronological outline of Conan’s life piecing the REH stories into some kind of order (“A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” by P Miller and J D Clark first published in a fanzine in 1938). 

One of the ways to judge how good a new Conan story is, is perhaps inevitably to compare it to the mood and spirit of REH’s original tales. This is something of a double-edged sword because there is no way for any writer to really create something that rings wholly true of Howard. Conan’s creator may have been a pulp writer quickly turning out the stories to pay the bills (and at the time of the Conan shorts were written this would include paying for, or contributing to, his mother’s medical expenses as her health failed) but their quality has ensured his work has been in print for close on a century now. Indeed, it can be argued that Howard’s best stories are those not involving Conan at all, but it can’t be denied that the best of the Conan yarns are really something special. 

So how does Aaron fair with such an unfair comparison? Pretty well I think. I’m not really convinced that he manages to capture Conan’s character; there is something a little too civilized regards Aaron’s Conan for all his narrative commentary otherwise, lacking some of the dark barbarian of Howard. There’s a literal fixation on Conan’s wanderlust, Conan’s drive to see over the next hill, an ambition to experience all the Hyborian Age’s wonders that I don’t think was such a character trait in the Cimmerian at all. It feels a little too on the nose, too modern a point of view. I rather thought Howard’s Conan lived more aimlessly, subject to his own physical whim and excess, whether it be wine, women or loot. Aaron further features a rather unwelcome explanation for Conan’s success, attributing it to a witches curse and the protection from a Dark God that needed the Cimmerians blood at the end of a long life in order for that Dark God to return. Hey, I’d prefer to attribute Conan’s length of survival to his own efforts.

The art and colours (chiefly by Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson respectively) are beautiful; modern comic art is on this evidence rather more sophisticated than much of the 1970s art that featured in Marvel’s original Conan books, although I still think John Buscema’s Conan is the definitive one. This edition certainly benefits from the larger size- I initially bought this run in two softcover collections but really struggled with the small print, my eyes not what they were: no such problems here. Aaron left the title after issue twelve but I definitely hope that the successive issues with a new creative team can also be reprinted in OHC format eventually. While I am really enjoying Marvel’s omnibus reprints of both the colour and black & white Conan titles from the 1970s – 1980s, I would be fascinated to see where Marvel goes with this new generation of Conan titles.    

The Color Out of Space is so bright, you’ve got to wear shades

colorWell ain’t that weird, this one’s a tricky one- I actually quite liked Richard Stanley’s The Color Out of Space a wee teeny bit, but I’m hard pressed to explain why. Maybe its the fairly poor track record for films based on H P Lovecraft’s horror fiction; its highly likely that the best Lovecraft films are not actually based on any of his stories at all- thinking of Alien and Annihilation here- and its pretty clear that when film-makers try to bring actual HPL stories to the screen it never really ends well. Ironically, while HPL’s own prose is very serious and thoughtful archaically elegant, most films seem to swap tension for laughs, as if the tales are just so ridiculous you have to wink at the audience rather than yell “boo!” which is something that has endlessly irritated me, a trend set way back by 1985’s Re-Animator. If I had to name my favourite ‘proper’ Lovecraft film, it would probably be the late Stuart Gordon’s Dagon from 2001, and that was far from perfect. Or maybe the 2005 Call of Cthulhu produced by H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, although I’d contend that was more a ‘fan film’ than a genuine full-fledged motion picture. What I’m saying is, as far as Lovecraft films are concerned, the bar’s set pretty low. 

Maybe if Guillermo del Toro had managed to shoot his At the Mountains of Madness film ten years ago, things would be much different. That film possibly ranks among the great films never made, one of those lingering ‘what-ifs’ that film buffs can wax lyrical over whilst sharing drinks on a cold and stormy night. By all accounts, that film might finally have been Lovecraft done right, with a huge budget, visionary director and a great cast. 

Lets get the elephant out of the room straight away- I’m no fan at all of Nicolas Cage and he is perfectly hideous in this. Although one can argue the slippery slope his career has been on has been a long and steep one (if Hollywood had a Mariana Trench, you’d find Nic halfway down it), in recent years particularly he has essentially become a parody of himself. Here in The Color Out of Space he is absolutely, horrifyingly, mind-bogglingly terrible- I’ve seen him phone in some nonsense before, but he seems to think he can justify his casting in this film by having a wild tantrum in the kitchen. Maybe there is some level of meta-horror here in his casting that escapes me, some level of terror that his performance graces this film with that elevates it to some other subconscious territory of horror – God knows when I think back upon his performance it evokes something of a shudder.  

Its clear that  The Color Out of Space suffers by being made after the fantastic Annihilation, a film that, sharing so many of the themes and ideas of Lovecraft’s original story,  visually pre-empted many of the visual flourishes that Richard Stanley uses here- the twisted, richly-coloured vegetation and strange alien creatures used to express the sense of unknowable, alien nature. Indeed some viewers could be forgiven, in fact, for mistakenly thinking its based on the same source material or is indeed a sequel, both films after all concerned with an alien rock falling to Earth and transforming the land around its crash site, and ultimately warping reality. The world within the Shimmer of Annihilation has a profound strangeness, of normality slipping into alien nightmare, and Stanley uses similar art direction to same effect with this film. But Alex Garland’s film is far, far superior, with a better cast and script, and Stanley of course sadly has to contend with dear Nic. In any case, with the nagging feel of the familiar hanging so obviously over Stanley’s film, it loses any sense of originality that might have otherwise excited attention. 

But all that being said, how bad Cage is and how much the film suffers in comparison to Alex Garland’s film, I have to admit I still found it worthwhile. Maybe it was just refreshing to see someone trying to make something decent while at the same time making a HPL film: its heart was in the right place, you know? You gotta love a trier, especially if you’re a fan of this Lovecraft stuff, as I am.

Yet again though, here’s a horror film that makes the unforgivable sin of not really being scary, but that’s something I can say of most horror films of late so its perhaps not fair to slap the film with that one. Perhaps its the limitations of the budget, or the cast (the lack of chemistry between Cage and his onscreen wife Theresa, played by Joely Richardson, is deplorable, albeit quite funny in their awkward romantic moments, which had me wondering if it was a clever reference to Lovecraft’s real-life antipathy towards women, as if Stanley was weaving some complex meta-story). One of my chief issues turned out to be that perennial favourite of HPL movies:  with it showing flower-child daughter Lavinia (Madeline Arthur) messing around with amateur black magic at the start, the film establishes a silly fairy-tale-like milieu from the start that undermines any attempt to make anything afterwards feel as real or involving as the events, of, say, Annihilation.  And that’s before the pattern of nuttiness that rolls in when Nic appears, leaving Stanley nowhere to go but a kookier colour Purple than even Prince could have ever imagined. This, in a film which I’ve praised for being a serious take on Lovecraft. If nothing else, that surely indicates how low the bar has fallen with all these Lovecraft adaptations.  

BR2049: Interlinked- The Art

P1100243Much-delayed, BR2049: Interlinked- The Art finally got published this week. Written/curated by Tanya Lapointe, this book is a companion piece to her 2017 book The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, which was published back in 2017 shortly after the film originally came out. That book was a reasonable examination of the making of the film – the cast/crew and the sets, etc- but considering its title surprisingly had little actual artwork, instead focusing on behind the scenes imagery of the sets and actors and props, its title seemed rather a misnomer, something which this book addresses.

P1100244Its telling that the majority of the artwork within Interlinked -most of it artwork created in computer art packages as opposed to pen, brush and paper- is very tonal, very concerned with atmosphere and mood. Its clearly one of the things that most interested Villeneuve, or something that he prioritised. You can see it in the film itself, the studied attention to lighting and cinematography. An artbook for the 1982 film would have been more about the design details, the intricacies of objects, form and function, than what seems to have been the chief concern of the artists on BR2049. That being said, in this dawning age of limited behind-the-scenes documentaries on home video releases (we were so spoiled by Dangerous Days the 2007 documentary on the making of Blade Runner by Charles de Lauzirika and his Alien 3 documentary Wreckage and Rage) anything we can get now about the making of these films is fascinating and valuable. Obviously a detailed, definitive making-of book about BR2049 is some distance away, if ever, but if these artbooks are all we get, fair enough, its certainly better than the little afforded by the films marketing and home video teams.

P1100241They actually have a third book due out next year containing all the BR2049 storyboards, I imagine the three books together will be everything that the 1982 film never got even after all these years. Not that I’m sore about that. Well okay, a little- I waited years for an Art of Blade Runner and we never really got one; apparently all the rights issues derailed several attempts to actually get such a book of the ground. How odd though that the 1982 pretty much got no proper books (Future Noir may be the ‘bible’ of the making-of the film but it is deplorably lacking in imagery/presentation, and the few paperbacks we got in 1982, the sketchbook etc were basic) and yet the sequel seems to be getting so much attention- you’d think it had been a huge success and the franchise going from strength to strength).

P1100245In any event, its nice to see that BR2049 is still subject top some interest and attention. Maybe there is life in it yet. I suppose the chances of the film getting an in-depth and expansive future home video release with docs and commentaries etc -much as I would love to see it and double/triple-dip yet again- are so remote as to be quite inconsequential. Its simply the world and home entertainment landscape we’re living in. Interlinked is a very handsome book; and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of either of the Blade Runner films – its particularly interesting to see the evident mark of the 1982 film and the artists gradually moving away from it- I would have perhaps appreciated more text and anecdotes but its clearly more of a visual exercise, and that in-depth examination of the making of the film may yet be in my hands someday. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out considering the lasting interest/legacy of the 2017 film.

Villeneuve talks Dune

Here’s a link to an hour-long interview that Denis Villeneuve made for the Shanghai International Film Festival discussing his upcoming Dune. Its a fascinating insight firstly regards some of the issues he is a having making the film whilst the Covid 19 Pandemic continues, and also his thinking and approach to the adaptation. The film is still coming, folks- I’m not entirely certain it will be this December though. Fascinating stuff.

The 2020 List: May

Well, there goes May, a month of sitting in the comfort of a sitcom bubble and an impromptu Hammer film (mini)-marathon. It rather feels like, in viewing terms, everything suddenly put on hiatus (mirroring life in general, I suppose).

June seems to be promising, though, with highlights next week likely being watching Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back in 4K, and the 4K edition of Jaws is arriving tomorrow too. Hey, that’s hands-down a pretty special line-up right there, I’m frankly salivating at the prospect. I’m tempted to dust off my 4K disc of Close Encounters of the Third Kind to follow on from them, and maybe the 4K Superman: The Movie. And how about the 4K disc of Alien to wrap things up? Some sort of film festival: certainly beats any of the tv schedules.

Regards that Alien disc, I was looking at it on the shelf yesterday and that cover art they used still seems bloody ugly to me. I was pondering whether to swap the 4K disc with the Blu-ray disc in the Alien Anthology set, use that instead, and thinking how that makes me seem like some kind of nerd who needs to get out more (in these current times, that’s almost funny). That Blu-ray set of the Alien movies dates back to when the main studios still made some effort with packaging: I actually looked up when I bought that set and discovered it was October, 2010. That’s when I slipped into a moody funk, horrified at how time seems to rush by- its been ten years, nearly, since that set came out?  And THATS when I suddenly remembered that J.W. Rinzler’s great book The Making of Alien came out summer last year and, er,  I never finished it…. That’s a scandal right there, and something else to add to the, er, to-do list…

TV Shows

68) Still Game Season One

69) Into the Night

73) Still Game Season Two

76) Still Game Season Three

77) Still Game Season Four

78) Still Game Season Five

80) Still Game Season Six

81) Still Game Season Seven

82) Still Game Season Eight

83) Still Game Season Nine

84) Still Game Live 2014

85) Tales From the Loop Season One

Movies

67) The Scarlet Blade

70) Dracula AD 1972

71) X: The Unknown

72) The Abominable Snowman

74) The Satanic Rites of Dracula

75) The Quatermass Xperiment

79) Stand By Me

86) Life After Flash (Doc.)

Marvels 25th Anniversary Hardcover

marvels25thI have a very deep and abiding fondness for Marvels, a four-issue series that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Written by Kurt Busiek and beautifully illustrated by Alex Ross, the series was, as its title might suggest, a love-letter to the Marvel comics of old, particularly those of the 1960s when the comics were at their absolute peak. As a lad who grew up in the 1970s reading the b&w reprints published here in the UK, Marvels hit me as surely as if I had grown up in America in the 1960s reading the monthly four-colour originals.

Through the lens of newspaper photographer Phil Sheldon, Marvels took the proposition that the Marvel superheroes were real, and that Phil personified our own, mortals-eye view of the incredible larger-than-life figures and events that the Golden Age and subsequent Silver Age Marvel comics of the 1960s portrayed every month. Phil witnessed and photographed the original Human Torch, Prince Namor’s attack on Manhattan, the Fantastic Four’s battle with Galactus and the death of Gwen Stacey. Along the way Phil questions the role and purpose of the superhuman Marvels that had changed his world forever, and begins to weary of the continuous need of people and media to first idolise and venerate these heroes to superstars and then turn on them, belittle them, ridicule them.

marvels25thbRevisiting key events in Marvel history through the eyes of Phil is a journey of deep nostalgia for those of us who grew up with the comics, reliving adventures that enthralled us so. Nothing in any Marvel Studios Infinity War or Endgame could be as monumental or terrifying as the Galactus saga created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and nothing in any Spider-Man movie could be as heartbreaking as the death of Gwen Stacey, an event that changed comics forever. Its this last section, in Marvels issue 4, that so deeply affects me. When I was a kid, Spider-Man and its characters was as real as any movie ever could be, and Gwen Stacey just as real as anyone I read about or saw on television. Its not just the usual Marvel hyperbole that her death changed comics forever- the event signalled a watershed moment, and the treatment of it in Marvels was beyond perfect, it elevated it to something profoundly moving. Re-reading it in this new edition for the first time in a few years now, it was as breathtaking and emotional for me as it ever was.  Its a moment when its clear that Marvels itself isn’t ‘just’ a comic- its a genuine work of art.

marvels25thcI bought the original paperback collection of Marvels back in 1994, and its sobering indeed to realise that this new hardcover edition celebrating its 25th anniversary last year marks such a passage of time. Somehow the distance in time to its original publication is getting close to the original distance between Marvels and the 1960s comic-books it was a tribute to. Alex Ross’ beautiful artwork is as breathtaking now as it was back then- indeed in some ways its arguable that nothing has equalled it since. This edition actually reprints the 25th anniversary’s Marvels Annotated, which features a lengthy examination of each issue with panel by panel annotations that pick up references to the original comics and insights from Busiek and Ross about creative choices and technical details. This only reinforces my deep awe and respect for what they achieved. Coupled with additional background material, a Marvels Epilogue one-shot that serves as a coda to the original series and the original scripts and series proposals, this whole package is as definitive as any fan could hope for.

Feeling the Leviathan’s Wake

leviI’ve recently finished Leviathan Wakes, the first of the nine-book series that forms The Expanse. Partly its to fill the empty expanse (see what I did there?) in my life as I wait for season five of the show to drop on Amazon (hopefully before the end of the year), and partly its to sate my curiosity about what the original books are like, compared to the series.

As it turns out, the series is very faithful to the books by the evidence of this first entry. Can’t imagine many original readers being annoyed by any changes. I must admit I was rather surprised at how much of a page-turning potboiler it turned out to be. The book lacked the slow start and world-building that the series featured, with some characters appearing in the first series of the show not in this book at all, but clearly due to turn up in the second and third books. In some ways I found this a little disappointing, and I actually think the television incarnation might actually be an improvement on the book, because I quite enjoy all that world-building and exposition. It did seem odd, having been used to reading the Game of Thrones books, the sheer density of which dwarfed the HBO series even when it that series followed the decidedly sedate pace of the books. I suppose some readers might actually find the lack of possibly irritating explanations of how the Epstein Drive works or the detailed planetary politics going on in the background etc as being a bonus. I suppose I’ll have to see if the following books fill in some of those details.