NOS 4R2 by Joe Hill

nos4r2NOS4R2 is the first book I have read by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (‘Joe Hill’ is his pen name, his full name is Joseph Hillstrom King, but all credit to him not riding on his old man’s monicker). Its the story of Charles Manx and his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the licence plate ‘NOS4R2’ which, yep, spells out ‘Nosferatu’. Manx is a serial killer who is over a century old, a vampire that lives on the youth of children, who he abducts and spirits away to Christmasland, a place where it is Christmas everyday and from where children never return.

I guess its a little bit Christine, a little The Shining, a little The Dead Zone… which is not to depreciate Hills achievement here, its just that the style of Stephen King is so heavy in this, if I hadn’t been aware it was written by his son, I would have been convinced that King himself had written it under a pseudonym.  Its even as overlong as so many of King’s novels are, totaling almost 700 pages long when a bit of editing would have helped no end. But length not withstanding, its a rollicking read, a real page-turner and a reminder of back when King himself was at his best.

Inevitably, there’s a damn good film here in these pages- I haven’t read a book so certain there’s a great movie on the page since Andy Weir’s The MartianI think the book has actually been optioned as a mini-series on TV, which on the one hand makes sense as its such a big book, but really, I’m certain it could make a better film with a little editing.

Great summer read though. I’ll try other books by Joe Hill in the future.

 

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I Am Providence by S.T. Joshi

prov1I’m currently reading S.T.Joshi’s mammoth biography of H.P.Lovecraft, I Am Providence. ‘Mammoth’ indeed- I’m just 130 pages into volume one;  a two-volume work, the whole thing totals over a thousand pages across the two books. Its a sizeable undertaking just reading the thing, the amount of work writing it must have been formidable. While I read all of Lovecraft’s fiction in the mid-eighties (having at that point read most of Robert E Howard’s fiction) I have never really read much about the author himself or ever really been inclined to do so, hearing things from my friend Andy who was more obsessed by HPL than I that ‘filled the blanks’ as it were.

It has always been clear to me that Lovecraft was a decidedly odd fellow. Is that even a surprise, considering some of the stories that he wrote? My fascination  with Lovecraft is that his stories have haunted me for years and you see so much of his work in modern-day films and fiction- even if not in ‘straight’ adaptations, so much in the media has ‘Lovecraftian’ undertones (my first brush with such was Alien from 1979, clearly a Lovecraftian horror and indeed one of the very best). It is as if, after his death, he has gradually and increasingly infected the cultural zeitgeist in a similar way to how Philip K Dick did post-Blade Runner. Alan Moore recently wrote a brilliant horror comic-book/graphic novel, Providence, which had this ‘Lovecraftian infestation’ as its main theme and was particularly horrific for it.

Yet while I rather adore his best stories, Lovecraft has never struck me as someone I would actually like, were I to somehow meet him. Genius begats strangeness sometimes and like fellow Weird Tales writer Robert E Howard, Lovecraft was surely a little peculiar and outside of ‘normal’ society. Although I freely admit I’m likely fooling myself,  I always feel like I could have had a beer with Bob Howard and would have liked him, and would love to jump into a time machine and meet him (I once had an incredibly vivid dream in which I did just that, and stopped him from his suicide). As far as Lovecraft is concerned though, I doubt any meeting between us would have gone very well, but hopefully this book will allow me to understand him and his worldviews and his writing more.

Initially the book was rather a struggle, to be honest, with a dry, rather academic summary of the history of Lovecraft’s paternal and maternal family backgrounds up to his birth and the place where he lived. Joshi spares no detail in his account. Indeed, at the point I am at now some 130 pages in,  Lovecraft is still just 14 or so, some years away from any of his weird writing that I am familiar with. Instead the book has been concerned with his spoiled, insular childhood- the precocious, albeit over-sensitive, very intelligent young boy and the depressed recluse he became following his fourth and most traumatic ‘breakdown’ (which is what I am up to).

It has been fascinating, considering my knowledge of Lovecraft’s genuine strangeness and his racist views, to see where it possibly all arose. His racism, abhorrent as it is, is a tricky subject. I would never, to be honest, wholly condemn Lovecraft  for his racism as it was as much a product of the times he lived in, and the place he lived in, and while yes, he should have known better it can be perhaps understood if not forgiven. People are simply of their time and it’s wrong I think to view him wholly negatively from the enlightened perspective of today. The fact that his childhood was rather dysfunctional explains a great deal the man he would become. His maternal grandfather becoming his father figure after his actual father wound up in a mental asylum, and his mother, with her own increasingly fragile mental state, describing her teenage son as ‘hideous’ indicating she treated him with love and hate in equal measure (and I thought Bob Howard has mother issues, go figure). A solitary child, Lovecraft’s best freinds were his family’s library of books  that he simply devoured, enjoying intellectual interests rather than the usual childish playful ones of his peers. Not that any of this excuses his worldviews, but they do perhaps allow us to understand them

Perhaps I shall write more about these two books and any revelations in the weeks to come. I’m definitely enjoying it and looking forward to the later sections dealing with all those weird horror stories I am so familiar with.

 

Purple Reign

princePrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

A glimpse behind the purple curtain, and perhaps the most important recording period of Prince’s career – I say ‘perhaps’ because although Purple Rain is widely considered Prince’s masterpiece/breakout period, I really think Sign o’the Times and his output during that 1985 – 1986 period is more interesting, but that’s likely just a personal thing and I’m certain many fans will argue otherwise. At any rate, this exhaustive  book is an utterly fascinating read. And I must say, it’s a formidable prospect-  it’s huge, running at well over 500 pages of detailed text, I have to admit I’ve barely delved into it but having already learned so much from it,  I feel it necessary to mention the book on this blog to get the word out there to all Prince fans- you need this book. Buy it now or get it put on your Christmas lists, because this will surely be a cornerstone of anybody’s Prince collection in years to come. Best yet, the author intends for it to be the first in a series of such books, so hopefully my beloved Sign o’the Times era will get similar treatment someday.

The book is pretty much a day by day account of Prince’s work in the recording studio from 1st January 1983 through to the end of December 1984, from the last days of the 1999 tour through to the breakout that was Purple Rain and how it changed everything for Prince. It breaks it down to day by day, recording the dates and times and what was done, song by song, session by session, including those many songs currently in the fabled vault yet to be released (and those that leaped out onto the extras disc of the recent Purple Rain deluxe reissue). It documents how he worked, where he worked, who he worked with, and is filled with commentary from those who were there. It really is a new insight into Prince’s genius at a time when he was particularly on fire creatively, and shows just how hard it was to craft those songs. The work involved in documenting all this and collating it is quite breathtaking.

I’ll be losing myself in this book over the coming days and weeks. It’s a helluva book.

Facepalm Hell: Tomorrow, When The War Began

tomm2017.64: Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010)

Oh boy. This is one of those films that you just know is going to be bad, the premise is… well. You know all those teenager-oriented flicks we’ve been inflicted by over this past decade? Here’s another one. We’re in Australia, and seven teenage freinds from a small town go on a camping trip. They have a great time, but what they don’t know is that while they are out in the wilds without any internet or mobile phone signal,  Australia is being invaded by a mysterious Asian superpower. Returning home they find that they are at war and their townsfolk and families have either been imprisoned or murdered. There’s only one thing for it, the seven teens must wage all-out war and free their country. Fortunately, although Australia has fallen, none of the Asian invaders can shoot straight.

Wait, what?

I don’t know, I may have missed some details from going dizzy slapping my face with my palm. Good grief this is pretty horrifyingly stupid.  Attractive lead female secretly has crush on Asian guy from school, invites him to camping trip, and you won’t believe this but… he secretly likes her too. Another girl, a gorgeous dizzy blonde from a rich family (yawn) goes on the trip, has no experience with boys but is bravely confident one day some boy will ask her out… do you think one of the boys in the group has the hots for her? One girl comes from a strict religious background and refuses to resort to violence- will she compromise her beliefs when her freinds are in mortal danger and she suddenly finds herself holding an automatic rifle?

It did occur to me that, with very little effort, this could have been turned into a really effective, really funny comedy spoof of all those teenager-based movies and of course the film Red Dawn which it so closely resembles, but instead it is dreadfully earnest and completely, shockingly serious. This is no doubt due to the fact that it is based on a series of books written by some guy named John Marsden which I have been happily ignorant of up to now. I guess they are great reads for teens who feel misunderstood and under-appreciated and feel capable of curing the world’s problems, but I doubt they are great for adults who have lived in the real world and grown up, and they certainly don’t seem to make for great movie-making. As this film was released back in 2010 it seems it didn’t set the world alight and lead to further films, so at least we should be thankful for that.

For the BR2049 Bookshelf

cinefexBack in 1982, I remember standing in the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, upstairs in the magazine section. looking through Cinefex issue 9, which was devoted to Blade Runner. I very nearly bought it, but on limited pocket money funds decided to buy a few REH paperbacks instead, and maybe pick up the Cinefex at a later date. Damned fool I was. There was never any later date for Cinefex 9, as it quickly sold out and I spent years looking for a copy. Fortunately the issue was reprinted by Titan books in a hardback book many years later, which itself is OOP now and fetching rather large sums, so I did manage to eventually own and read it.

So, when I learned the latest issue of Cinefex would feature BR2049, I quickly ordered it, keen on history not repeating. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a pretty good read. It doesn’t look as if Cinefex devotes issues to single films as it used to (God knows there’s far more effects films these days than there used to be) so the BR2049 article shares the issue with articles on Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and the latest Kingsman film. Consequently the coverage isn’t as in-depth as it was for the original film (the issue also devotes a few pages to a pictorial of the original Blade Runner coverage from 1982, which is nice but does raise the forlorn wish that the issue might have simply been devoted to both films).

Of course in the good old days Cinefex coverage meant brilliant pictures of behind the scenes stuff, like models being built and matte paintings being painted on glass, and on the whole that’s all gone now thanks to CGI taking over. But BR2049 does feature extensive miniatures so there’s some nice pictures of that, amongst the CGI renders and wireframes that no-one on this planet can make exciting. I think the Cinefex article suffers from the cloak-and-dagger secrecy around the film prior to release, so although it discusses the creation of the 1982 Rachel, it doesn’t have any images to back it up, which have been made available elsewhere on the internet since the films release. Ultimately it’s a good article but not as exhaustive or complete as I would have liked, but hey, it’s different times now. We don’t even have the massive articles of Cinefantastique these days either. Progress, eh?

artbrA much more complete package, imagery-wise at least, can be found in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 book. Its an oversized (and consequently rather expensive, although Amazon have since reduced the price substantially) coffee-table book, that from the title might be inferred to be an art book but is actually more of a making-of book, dominated more by behind the scenes and production photographs than artwork. As a visual record and memento of the film and how it was made, it’s quite brilliant and everything a fan of the film could hope for. The imagery for the visual effects material is superior to the Cinefex article, although the text less substantial (so yeah, you really need both sources, unfortunately). The book also shares some of the limitations of the Cinefex article regards some of the more closely-guarded sequences (no imagery, again, of the CGI Rachel for instance).

It’s a brilliant book though. I might have preferred more substantial text but the imagery is breathtaking in the film so consequently that gets reflected here. There are some lovely behind the scenes shots and commentary about the film. It’s exactly the kind of book that I would have loved to see about the original film. Both are intensely visual experiences, and the Blade Runner ‘bible’ Future Noir is severely lacking in that regard. So maybe someone might write a more in-depth book about making BR2049 someday, who knows, but for now this will more than suffice.

george-hull-br6.jpgI almost wish one of the actors could have written a diary like Bob Balaban did for CE3K, that was a great book. Walter Koenig did a similar fly-on-the-wall book for ST:TMP. You don’t see that kind of book/coverage anymore but both were fascinating glimpses of the frustrations of making technically-demanding films and managing all the boredom behind the scenes. Yeah we get loads of DVD/Blu-ray featurettes on the best disc releases these days but that’s never as impartial/balanced coverage as one would prefer.

Fabrications & Misinformations: (not) a Youtube Woody Allen movie, but maybe it should be.

utbeThis morning I had an hour free, and thanks to the wonders of intelligent televisions (question for later: are the televisions more intelligent than the programs displayed on them?) I decided to load up Youtube, put ‘Blade Runner 2049’ in the search box and see what popped up. There’s a few nice featurettes on there; Weta has a nice one about the miniatures, and there are obviously those prequel shorts (I rewatched the Blackout 2022 anime, that’s really good). Some nice analysis videos are starting to surface- 2049 is clearly a great film for discussion.

But I watched a few review videos, and good lord some are just plain terrible. Is this the future of film criticism? Two guys are on there talking about 2049 for some forty minutes and they can’t even remember some of the character’s names. On another there’s four reviewers talking about the film, and one of them claims the original Philip K Dick ‘short story’ states that Deckard is clearly a Replicant. What is he talking about? That is patently not the case, and it’s a novella, not a short story.

This kind of stuff really winds me up. In this day and age, misinformation is everything- I mean, some people believe everything they see on the tv or internet. And everyone seems to think they can be a presenter or critic and put themselves up on stuff like youtube without any qualifications or talk without any research or due diligence. God knows this blog is read by very few and amounts to very little in the great scheme of things, but I think about what I write and make an effort to be factually correct. But some people are spouting utter nonsense and drivel on these videos. It’s like the inmates are running the asylum, and quality control comes a distant third, fourth or fifth in the aim to get as many clicks/views as possible.

The dangers, of course, are that some people’s careers can be put at risk because of the unqualified opinion and vitriol on these sites/videos, whether it be the film-makers being spoken about or professional critics views being swamped out in all the nonsensical noise. Every fool seems to have an opinion, well, of course they do, and I guess everyone has a right to voice that opinion, but please, take the courtesy of due care and do some research.  Next thing you know, our Prime Ministers, Politicians and Presidents will think they can spout any utter nonsense without having to back it up with facts. Oh, wait…

 

The Movie Art of Syd Mead

syd1Here’s a timely arrival, considering it’s clearly Blade Runner week here- Titan Book’s The Movie Art of Syd Mead. It’s a large-format, full-colour hardback totaling something like 256 pages, covering all of Mead’s work on movies over the past few decades, with the inevitable meat of the book (pages 88 – 153) concerned with his most famous project, Blade Runner.

I must say, I’m surprised to find there are pieces here I have never seen before, and others rarely printed, and even the pre-production paintings so familiar over the years are (mostly) printed from great scans and often spread over two pages, unveiling new details. (There is one painting, for Sebastian’s apartment, that is only printed at half-page size and looks to be from an older, inferior scan from the others, which likely explains its reduced size). There are, surprisingly, a few pieces actually missing so its is by no means complete, though the rarities/’new’ pieces are consolation.

For Blade Runner fans, this is a great opportunity to obtain a pretty definitive collection of Syd Mead’s sketches and paintings for the film. If ever a film deserved an ‘art of’ book, it was Blade Runner, and I know there have been a few attempts to get such a work published over the years but various rights issues nixed them. Considering Mead’s importance to the film, I guess this book manages to complete half of such a project (a ‘proper’ art of book would also need the matte paintings, the Ridleygrams, the storyboards etc). In any case, it’s a wonderful way to rediscover Mead’s Blade Runner artwork with most of it all in one place- the omissions are a little annoying, but I suppose they may be due to some pieces being in the hands of private collectors and/or the available scans not being good enough for inclusion (oh, oh- that doesn’t mean a ‘Movie Art of Syd Mead: The Final Cut’ will be due in a few years? It’d almost be poetic considering the many different versions of the film itself).

It even has a surprise at the end- a few pieces that Mead completed for Blade Runner 2049, for which he did designs for the film’s Las Vegas setting. I had no idea that Mead was in any way involved in the new movie. Incidentally, Blade Runner 2049 is getting its own ‘art-of’ book, currently due before the end of this month (conveniently delayed so as to avoid spoilers around the film’s release). So I guess it trumps the original film in that way at least (actually, it’s also getting a soundtrack release too so…).

Anyway, barring the odd omissions it’s a great book. I’d have appreciated a bit more text/ Mead commentary but that’s just being a bit picky, the artwork is the real draw and the reproductions are pretty great. It’s just over £20 at Amazon currently so well worth it.