Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Death Race 2000 (1975)

It is the distant future, the Year Two-thousand. The US is an autocratic state with an alleged enemy in France, and a nation has an obsession with the Death Race, a coast-to-coast rally where pedestrians, zealots, onlookers and even one's pit crew are fair game for vehicular carnage and point-scoring along the way. Race favourite is the shady Frankenstein, a patchwork man in black who is close friend with Mister Pesident, and wants to get closer still...

I've been thinking about watching this movie for years on curiosity value alone, and now I have - job done. And do you know what? I really enjoyed it!

I'm sure that a lot of this is down to timing. Twenty years ago I'd likely have taken this film in as a dated piece of seventies tat, much as I did Rollerball or The Omega Man. Ten years ago I'd have been a little more forgiving, but now, with my extracurricular activities involving kitbashing model cars into Mad Max-styled vehicles of pedestrian destruction, its time seems finally annointed. What a movie. Also, teenage me was an idiot. I might be edging towards the actual 100 points in Death Race's arcane scoring system, but I'd like to think I know the value of a decent Roger Corman movie.
But teenaged me was also a comic reader, and in particular a 2000AD reader. The DNA of 2000AD is all through this movie - future dystopias? Check. Ultraviolence and amoral heroes? Check. It's long been said that the initial look of Judge Dredd was based on the image of Frankenstein on the movie's poster; how satisfying then for a fan of the comic and films to see Dredd's spiritual godfather beating several layers of unholy crap out of Sylvester Stallone - Awesome! I swear that this is more a comic brought to life courtesy of Corman than the likes of Fantastic Four or Battle Beyond the Stars, and it seems fitting that the comic sequel was the work of 2000AD's Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, when their previous creation Marshall Law bears more than a passing resemblance to David Carradine's Frankenstein. 
There's just a real anti-authoritarian, gonzo vibe throughout that transcends the occasional performances, the low low budget, and the small cast. in places it is outlandishly violent, but it is by and large he violence of cartoons, and it shares the gleeful twisted humour of Mills and Wagner's best works. The themed cars and outlandish identities (Nerothe Hero, Machine Gun Joe, Matilda the Hun) are fun, the design work a little bonkers - especially Stallone's gangster suit pinstriped helmet, and although the cast is perhaps a little too white-bread, it serves its female characters pretty well, and I must admit I felt quite sorry for Calamity Jane's lonely three-point-tun into oblivion when her time came. Plus, not knowing the twist in the story meant that I was quite taken in by Frankenstein's concluding gambit.
Time's been rather kind to this film, making the movie's more outlandish plot points almost self-fulfilling in real life, from the Fox-style cynical TV coverage, the vilification of France as the enemy of 'Amurrikkin freedom', and even the President accusing a foreign power of sabotaging the telephone network has to be the Seventies equivalent of cyber-terrorism.
So yeah, a big thunbs up from me, and a nice wee birthday present for me over the weekend as I contemplate getting closer to the age when I too might be wheeled wheezing out into the street in front of a hospital, perhaps to meet my maker under the wheels of an oncoming novelty cat-shaped death machine or something. In the mean-time I rather fancy catching this again, perhaps in a double-bill with Rollerball.

Friday, July 24, 2015

He[a]r[i]n the Hunter/s

Evening all.

Now, of late things have been quiet on Jetsam, and somewhat reactive rather than proactive. I'm hoping to address this soon by posting some creative endeavours, but in the mean-time, some more reaction in the cheapest way - a combination post! Yes, my apologies. It's nearly bed time.

So what am I reacting against? Whaddaya got? Well, how about the long-rumoured and finally confirmed return of Hawk the Slayer?

That's pretty cool. Lord knows, the original movie had enough sequel hooks in it, and if I might take a moment to be a leeetle unkind, this is a movie project that may benefit from having some of its old cast unavailable for bookings. Okay, that is unkind - I loved Bernard Bresslaw and Morgan Sheppard, and it looks like Ray Charleston is back as a very Old Crow, but Voltan must be recast with Jack Palance out of the frame and, well, I wish them all the best. As readers will know, I rather took a shine to this little piece of cinematic miscalculation, and after some very disappointing fantasy movie spectacles, perhaps small-scale fantasy might be the way forward for a while?

And while we're riding through the glen, today's news is of another long-rumoured, long-attempted follow up to an even more beloved Eighties slice of fantasyfolklore. Robin of Sherwood is getting an audio sequel! Based on a script by RoS' late, great creator Richard Carpenter, Knights of the Apocalypse has a title that promises something as big and tumultuous as the original series' The Swords of Wayland. Even better, it's in good hands, courtesy of Bafflegab (who produce the wonderful Scarifiers series), script editor John Dorney (who has produced some top-notch stories for Big Finish's Doctor Who line) and a lot of the original cast. Okay, no Michael Praed, but Jason Connery, Nickolas Grace AND Ray Winstone, plus Judi Trott and Paul Rose! I'm in. Sign me up.

What a year to be alive. Cue Hawk-inspired rock song!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cape Expectations

This is a synched trailer review from a Batman perspective. You can read Kal-Al's Superman-oriented review here!

Over the past weekend I spent an inordinate amount of time online, trawling a handful of websites, pushing the Refresh button at intermittent intervals. Oh, and reading. I did this because I was never going to go to San Diego ComiCon – hell, I’d be hard-pressed to get to Armageddon this weekend, but virtually at least, SDCC was where it was at for me. And why? Because of this trailer specifically:
Yes, in Marvel’s absence, the weekend belonged to Warner Brothers and Fox Studios. And Disney – but dammit, every day is Disney day with or without Star Wars, so enough about that. Let’s talk about the Bat and the Boy Scout. And, also the Amazon! And the Villain – or the one we see here, at least.
The trailer was pretty much everything I’d hoped for, but most of all it’s impressed me with how smart it is. Directly referencing the climactic Battle of Metropolis from Man of Steel is a great start, and should immediately shut up the ‘concerned moviegoers’ who, three years on, are still bellyaching over the destruction wrought in Superman’s death-match with the physically superior and battle-ready General Zod. Moreso, it places Bruce Wayne in the middle of the battle, in a breath-taking sequence loaded with modern imagery. 2016 will see the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11; Zack Snyder’s choice to film the collapse of Wayne Financial’s tower from street level, and frame it from the experience of the average person in the street, can only reference one major recent real-life event. It’s brave, and it’s immediately resonating and it works. The sight of an un-costumed, quite human Bruce Wayne running into the debris cloud is jaw-dropping.
At ComicCon there was much made on both DC movie panels (for BvS and Suicide Squad) over how these movies are anchored in a real world context – yes, there are spandex(ish) suits, capes and super powers, but the real world reactions and impacts are, I think, a new addition to the genre. Super hero comics already work in a heightened version of reality, so this change down is a significant revision, and a smart move on the producers’ part to create points of difference for DC’s heroes and villains. These are deliberate images – the rooftop appeals for help from flood-bound families recalling Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, the familiar rainbow-coloured placards outside Kal El’s hearing in the Capitol deliberately recalling those of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrations are another. Maybe more than that, they are touchstones of US culture, a trigger against what looks like Superman taking on a global work roster (saving a Russian rocket crew, appearing in a Day of the Dead gathering.) In response, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor appears to be baiting his (unseen) audience's patriotism, resorting to a national xenophobia, recasting himself as a modern day Paul Revere in the droll “the red capes are coming!”
So this is the set-up, but there's still much to see – Jeremy Irons' Alfred in the flesh as Bruce's moral core, the Joker's handiwork over a fallen Robin costume, some nifty visual echoes of Frank Millar's iconic Dark Knight Returns cover. And, of course, Wonder Woman in action - at long last!

I'm still sold on this movie, even moreso than I was with the teaser trailer a few months back, and even moreso even after liking the casting of Ben Affleck. It seems we're stuck with a grim and gritty Batman for some time yet (thank god then for the 50th anniversary of Batman '66 next year and the animated movie tribute!) but while Christopher Nolan's similarly 'real world' Dark Knight trilogy left me cold in the end, I think Snyder's Batman will be the best Batman to date; and I think the injection of super powers and godlike heroes into his world will be for the betterment of Gotham's finest.

Next trailer will hopefully show even more. Roll on 2016!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Golden Hour

She got me when I was most vulnerable: flat on my back, sleeves rolled up, and bleeding into a plastic bag.

Flattery, gratitude, an acknowledgement of a long history of donating blood and a nice, clean (boring but reliable) record free of trips to exotic countries (Africa, the UK in the 1980s), drug use and exotic sexual encounters will get you an invitation to go that one step further into the world of plasmas donation. I was flattered, eager to please and matched the profile of age, gender and weight, so I said I'd give it a go. And this week was when I did it.

Apheresis is the technique used, a system not unlike blood extraction, but using a slightly bigger needle. They don't tell you that in advance, but I don't have a problem with needles (that shooty jabby clicky haemoglobin lance and the squeezing that follows, mind... I had a bruise on my pinky for two days!) You simply check in, lie on the reclining chair and over 42 minutes and three cycles an amount of blood is drawn out of you, fed into a centrifuge to extract the plasma, and then at the end of that cycle the blood is returned to you. Because of this, there's none of the requisite potential light-headedness or faintness after ex-sanguination, and you get biscuits and sweet cordial THROUGHOUT. And at the end you can get up, walk out and go back to work with just a couple of band-aids and an interesting story to tell.

My first experience was pretty interesting, but quiet. The room was warm (it's been a cold week in Wellington, but among the weird side effects of having your blood reintroduced to your veins alongside some residual anticoagulant is a slight chill), filled with the requisite equipment and machinery; quiet and business-like, the centrifuge in action whirred with a slight whine like an old hard drive. Above us and on the far side of the room a blackbird perched on the outside windowsill and kept leaping at its reflection in the glass, as it apparently had done for most of the week. Truth be told, I've had less interesting, weirder, and more uncomfortable hours. And unless you have a severe reaction to the experience of blood donation, there's an undeniably virtuous feeling about giving something of yourself freely that might save a life, ease suffering, make someone better.

My plasma may be used to help a burn victim, a cancer sufferer, or a premature child; it might be used to make one of three or four different types of drug or it might be used for research - Glasgow University is apparently making great inroads into synthetic blood substitutes, a great need thanks to the disastrous experience of CJD. It was, in the end, a very easy thing for me  to give - a little over a lunch hour, and a free taxi ride there and back to work, and the NZ Blood Service's need is very great at the moment because demand is high, and the alternative is to buy it from other countries.

I've given plasma twice now and will do so again.  If you are able, and have thought about doing so as well, I encourage you to take part.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Change of Base

A year or so ago, when this blog was still optimistically concerned with modelling and the works of Tolkien, Guanolad asked me whether my in-process Mirkwood Elves would be mounted in a diorama. At the time I hadn’t thought they would, as I had plans for individual bases and a little height adjustment in the offing – two birds with one stone. Mr G’s question stuck with me, however, because ‘til then I hadn’t given a great amount of thought to the group aspects of these miniatures. They’re not the same as my Company of Oakenshield who have names, recognisable features and (hopefully) personalities imbued in my conversions. These Elves, as much as I’ve worked on them, aren’t the same deal at all.

I don’t play miniatures games (or at least am unlikely to with these guys), so individual bases aren’t really necessary; and while I’m not yet ready to go the whole hog with a dynamic battle scene, I quickly came round to thinking that there could be fun in trying something more elaborate this time around, and planting my new minis in a terrain together. I considered my Balin’s Tomb model a success, but it’s just sort of there as a feature and little more, which is funny because its inspiration was the BGiME subscriber giveaway intended to fit the Fellowship minis free with particular issues. So, why not make a bigger stage for my guys indeed? So I did.

Here are the original bases, which will be re-purposed in time – it seems fitting.

And here’s the scenery stage for my Mirkwood Elves!

The base is from an electric jug – the terminal point in the middle has been sawn away and sanded down, with the hole patched with light card. Atop this is more card, pine bark for stones, sand, and various forest litter made from bark shavings, birch seeds, string (for the roots) green stuff mushrooms, and as a centrepiece, a log made from a scrap of branch found in the back yard, dried and tunnelled by various insects along the way. Thanks, guys!
In fact, nearly everything except the sand, the seeds and the jug base was sourced from under ten metres from the front door – even the scrubby plants are lichens plucked from our tree and dyed with some rather unused GW dyes. I’m really happy with it. I only hope there’s going to be enough room for all twelve Elves...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reasons to be Cheerful - 92 minutes' worth!

Speaking for myself and all other current events cast aside, 2015 is turning out to be an astonishing year for new albums from old acts.

A new Darkness album with their reunion now well behind them is cause for celebration. A new and unexpected album from Blur is up there with Lazarus as comebacks go, and if the music gods smile and deliver a new Chills studio album later this year as mooted, I will be a happy man indeed.

Still, the aforementioned is just new output from previously fragmented acts, free of contractual obligations or cynical nostalgia cash-ins. What's to get excited about there? Well, how about this  latest bit of good news received, courtesy of Tim B of this parish. Bruce Dickinson is now cancer-free and back in the saddle, and his band have a new album out in three months' time.

A double CD or triple vinyl if you're so inclined, including one track over 18 minutes long. I think Maiden may have finally gone Full-Prog, but ah well. Something to look forward to on the other side of winter, regardless. And I'm liking that cover art!

Still, we might need to take the afternoon off to give this one a decent listen - yes, mister B?

Monday, June 15, 2015

This Is The Day The World Ends

In the summer of 1982 the Stockholm Scientific Institute prepared an analysis of the aftermath of a theoretical nuclear holocaust set a few years into the new decade. The work caught the attention of Vatican Radio, who made much mileage over its doom-laden forecast of human annihilation and a planet reduced to desert and scavenging rodent survivors. As mention of the study was also made in this book, it also caught the attention of me and my friends mid-1984. After all, the fateful date in question for the study was the slightly more imminent June 15, 1985.

Today marks the 800th anniversary of a much happier milestone event, King John's signing of the Magna Carta, but the aforementioned date held our juvenile attentions much more, I should think. For a while, at least. A year after reading this tid-bit the thought really only occurred to me at a local youth group social, when I realised on the dance floor, awkwardly twitching to something ephemeral and of the moment, that that date had actually arrived - as in, right now. With somewhat nervous laughter I informed one of my friends, and, well, we danced on, a little more reassured - or not.
Thirty years on and the world has not collapsed into a radiated wilderness - yet. I don't recall why this anniversary popped into my head over the past weekend, but here we are, upright (or vaguely so) and here I am grown up, schooled up, mortgaged up and looking for work in all the wrong places. My adolescent anxiety/enthusiasm over nuclear Armageddon seems hopelessly quaint now, almost enviable. The stuff of nostalgia - and long may it remain so.

So in the spirit of thermonuclear nostalgia and misplaced plans, here's my get-through list for Post-Apocalyptic modelling, post-Mirky Dozen, of course. I've stuck to a short, easily-manageable list this time, even though with a new Mad Max movie out and Fallout 4 having just been released, PostApoc gaming and modelling has never been busier! 
My dreams of conquest (ruined):
1 irradiated roadside diner
1 scavenger dune buggy
and maybe,
1 Battletruck(tm) should I ever want to drop down a scale and join the kids kit-bashing Matchbox toys. Looks like fun!
Should that all fall into place then maybe I'll branch out into a Cursed Earth model and go full-Helltrekker. But that might have to wait for a few Dredd models first.