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View From The Brig(gs): Going Green, Heard it on the Radio, Oa Begins & More!

Huge apologies to my esteemed editor and the viewing readership.

This week has me penning my piece from a ‘flu-ridden deathbed, so I hope there’s someone out there reading these things!

My non-column professional week had ended well, though.

Propped up in my chair like the eponymous corpse from “Weekend At Bernies”, I had a marvelous hour-plus transatlantic videoconference casting session with a wonderful young actor, who I hope will be playing one of the handful of major roles in “Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz and myself’s upcoming World War II supernatural actioner, “PANZER 88”.

It’d be wrong to mention names until the ink is dry, but this is someone you know (and like!) from a variety of big-name studio genre pictures.

Spending every day battling with talent agents is a debilitating process at best: they’re supposed to be facilitators, but are often obstructions.

But when you’ve battled your way through the levels, and have defeated the Boss Agent, sometimes your reward is an inspiring and renewing conversation with someone who feels the same way about your project that you do, and is similarly-enthused to want to put something onscreen that will be quite remarkable.

Right! On to the goodies…

CINEMA
My movie-viewing hours were shockingly poor this week, due to general clamminess and bouts of viral narcolepsy. However, I did get to see the excellent new Bond movie from last year: no, not the (I felt) overhyped “Skyfall”, but rather “Everything Or Nothing”, a new documentary giving a fairly Roger Moore eyebrow-raising overview of the venerable 50 year-old franchise.

I’d have thought the various documentaries on the numerous multi-dip Bond box sets would have mined that trove dry, but there’s a surprising amount of new material, presented in a fresh way with scads of candid admissions. Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman’s contributions get a good innings (complete with some great home movie footage I’ve never seen before, of him on the sets of his various movies), and there’s interesting stuff about rogue producer Kevin McClory, who had the rights to “Thunderball” and became a persistent thorn in the side to the Broccoli family over the decades. (Indeed, it’s strongly hinted that the first round of court cases with McClory exacerbated Bond creator Ian Fleming’s poor health, causing his premature death.)

One-time “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Bond George Lazenby is ruefully open about how much his wild personal life and establishment-flouting played in getting himself canned after his maiden voyage; while Timothy Dalton’s always nice to hear from, and Pierce Brosnan gleefully vents his frustrations about some of the stupider Bond things he was made to do. (Everyone on the disc has the knives out for “Die Another Day”. Hey: am I the only one in the world that quite enjoys this movie, and doesn’t hate the Madonna song?!) Seriously worth a look; I’m thinking of watching it again very soon.

Also on the viewing roster this week was another movie documentary I won’t be returning to in a hurry. I’m famously not a fan of Film Academia, specifically the numbskull semiotics bores who “Read Great Meaning” into celluloid. I’m always delighted when I attend a Q&A session with a filmmaker, or listen to a commentary track, and the filmmaker flippantly tosses-off some anorak as they earnestly espouse their crazy observations.

Anyway. I watched “Room 237”, the new Rodney Ascher documentary about people reading meaning into Kubrick’s 1980 horror film “The Shining”. I wish I hadn’t: this is two hours of my life I’ll never get back again. I really like “The Shining” as a movie, but my idea of hell would be to be trapped in a room with the OCD loons featured in the nine segments of this film. From Government Conspiracy; though the Holocaust; to the plight of the American Indian, I sat listening to their theories about what Kubrick’s film “Really Means” with my jaw inching ever-southward. I really wanted William Shatner to appear and tell them all to “get a life”.

TELEVISION
Well. Probably like most of you (especially if you’re in, or trying to be in, the movie industry), it was Oscar Night on Sunday, and I put up the list of my “wants” on my Facebook page. A friend (oh, alright: “Transformers” producer Don Murphy – I’ll name-drop) called me immediately on not choosing Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor. I amicably agreed that he’d probably walk it, and affirmed I loved Day-Lewis in the role. My choice, I explained, was not the betting pool answer: but rather who I liked instead from the vetted selection: Denzel Washington for giving me two hours of wacky fun in “Flight”. As it was, I scored pretty high in nailing most of the categories anyway, although I was disappointed “Anna Karenina” didn’t get production design.

It wasn’t one of the most memorable Oscar Evenings I’ve ever seen, although the play-by-play live-snarking online with my Facebook buddies enlivened it. Within minutes of the awards ending, many of us had changed our Facebook Profile pictures to Pantone Greenscreen Green (began, I believe, at the VFX Solidarity International Facebook page), in support of the “Life Of Pi” visual effects winners, unceremoniously drowned-out by the orchestra playing John Williams’ “Jaws” Dum-Dum shark motif just as they were about to verbally protest the cutting of VFX industry jobs. What do you want to bet that if a production ever needs a digital shark from now on, delivery deadlines of those elements may fall mysteriously behind schedule in silent protest…

I’m not sure what the Oscar highlight was for me. I’ll shamefacedly admit that, although I don’t really care for Seth McFarlane’s TV shows, I did laugh at his cheeky “We Saw Your Boobs!” song.

Perhaps more enjoyable (sadly) than the show itself, was the hysterical Samsung Galaxy “Zombie Unicorns” spot that played during the commercials. I’m an iPad guy myself, but there’s no doubting that Tim Burton’s gleeful silliness soundly trounced Apple’s boring competing ad. Good job, Samsung.



As a big “Star Wars” fan (I think I might have mentioned that), I’ve diligently followed the CG animated “Clone Wars” TV show through every weekly episode. George’s series has verged off into kiddieville far too often, but the past two weeks’ episodes featuring Padawan Ahsoka being framed and on the run (with rain, thoughtful camera angles, full-on Episode IV “Empire” lighting, blatant quotes of Williams’ score, Anakin glowering and generally getting very Episode III on everybody, and the totally ripped-off sewer outlet escape from “The Fugitive”), felt a lot like Episodes IV-VI, and definitely the most “Real Star Wars Feel” of all the episodes so far. I’m not being too hopeful that Ahsoka’s going to survive much longer before the rise of “Order 66″…as well she shouldn’t. Isn’t it typical that George gets it very right, just before he sells the whole thing off?

In case you missed it, by the way, this week was the 20th anniversary of “Babylon 5”.

This shocked the hell out of me, and made me wonder where two decades of my life had vanished. I remember vividly back at the Dawn Of The Internet, sitting in my flat in London and chopping out the commercials in “B-5” with my VHS VCR, thereupon mailing the tapes to a friend in Australia where they were sadly bereft of the show. “Babylon 5” was to my mind (at least, until the rather dismal final season, when they seemed to run out of ideas and twiddled their thumbs), infinitely superior and more entertaining than its Trekkie competitor, “Deep Space Nine”. The Shadow War was seriously thrilling stuff: practically the Space Opera version of H.P. Lovecraft. What that show could be today, with the kind of VFX that grace “Galactica”…

RADIO
Yes, Radio! You read that right. In Britain, the BBC broadcasts several massively successful radio stations, and most of its shows can be downloaded from the internet as podcasts through iTunes or your iDevice, or (for a very limited time after they’ve aired) Auntie’s own web-based BBC iPlayer. The shows are excellent: like NPR, only…well. Listenable?

This week, BBC Radio 4 aired their final episode of this Season’s half-hour comedy show, “Cabin Pressure”, set against the backdrop of a one-plane airline. “Cabin Pressure” is undemanding and mildly-amusing stuff, but it’s of note to the Geek Contingent as starring Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” and the upcoming “Star Trek Into Darkness” fame, playing a marginally-competent bargain-basement pilot.

If you’re part of Cumberbatch’s legion of adoring fans, you’ll squee with delight over this, and rightly so. However, even better value for my money is his co-star in the series: Roger Allam, who plays his smoothly tricksy co-pilot foil. You’ll know Allam from his bad guy roles in “V For Vendetta”; “Speed Racer”; and lots of other movies that aren’t made by the Wachowskis. His velvet tones are like the Devil on speed, and are a pure delight to savor. The show is a pleasant listen for when you’re fixing your evening meal.

Of you can find it through your online download method of choice, give it a whirl.

I also enjoyed BBC Radio 4’s “Film Programme” from February 14th, regularly hosted by Francine Stock (and downloadable from the BBC through iTunes).

There was a fascinating interview with Karen Baker Landers, the supervising sound editor on “Skyfall”, who won the Oscar this last weekend. She explained a few of the very interesting techniques she’s used in past movies, including mixing-in women’s screams with the fireballs fired by the Romans in the forest battle at the beginning of “Gladiator”.

(Incidentally, BBC Radio 5 also has Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Friday afternoon “Wittertainment” film review programme, which is the BBC’s flagship film show and a must-play for Kermode’s often hysterical rants alone. I’ve been a listener for over seven years now. Highly recommended.)

BOOKS
I know I promised when I started this column to only say nice things about the media I slog-through here. But when you’ve been laid-low by H.G. Wells’ Martian Repellers, and you invest your valuable time in something, you hope it’ll deliver.

This week I read Daniel H. Wilson’s novel “Amped”, last June’s follow-up to his 2011 “Robopocalypse” (currently being actively developed as a movie by Steven Spielberg). “Amped” has apparently also been sold to Hollywood, this time around under the helm of director Alex Proyas of “I, Robot” fame. As I mentioned a few columns back, I’d had some problems with the third act (as we in the screen trade say) of “Robopocalypse”, and I can’t help but feel that the guys making “Amped” are going to have an even harder time getting cinematic mileage out of this.

Set in near-future America, its protagonist is schoolteacher Owen Gray, himself the recipient of a corrective chunk of technology in his head (the “Amp” of the title), which solely helps govern his epilepsy (or so he thinks.) However, he’s in the minority: most Amps have been made hyper-intelligent or physically gifted overnight by their implants, and as a consequence they’re viewed with distrust by the “normal” populace. This is a hoary old divisive plot device: it’s been used in everything from “The Midwich Cuckoos” (or, “Village Of The Damned” for you moviephiles); right on down to “Heroes” and “True Blood” on the weekly boob-tube.

Guess what happens next? Yes: Things Go Strangely Wrong, and are blown out of proportion by a hysterical media. Before you know it, there are rumors of a secret Amp cabal threatening the fabric of Apple Pie Redneck America, and a Senator (serious “X-Men” flashbacks here) calling for the rounding-up of Amps into camps. Before you can say “Dachau” or “Manzanar”, emergency measures are rushed into effect, and our on-the-run hero discovers his very own Amp is capable of much more than he imagined. I’d love to say the story escalates to a breathless climax…only it doesn’t. This is somewhat dull, with paint-by-numbers paper-thin plotting and unimaginative action sequences (and not enough of them) populated by stereotypical characters. I slogged my way through chapter-after-chapter hoping it would improve; this was, incredibly, a New York Times Bestseller, so I can only imagine there are a lot of disgruntled readers out there who’ll be wary of Mr Wilson’s next opus. (Sorry, Daniel: I did say largely-nice things about “Robopocalypse” previously. Honest.)

COMICS
After the fairly “meh” output by DC and Marvel that whittled the goodies down to the handful I mentioned in my last column, this week has an absolute embarrassment of riches from both companies.

“Spider-Man” springboarded a new superhero character recently that they then negated, and I’d almost thought we’d seen the back of the character for good.

When Peter Parker accidentally unleashed “Parker Particles” on school kid Tobey, SORRY!…”Andy” Maguire during a school-trip to Horizon Labs, and created a superhero of almost Superman-like powers, that was going to be a tough act to put away. However, they wrapped the story up, but… guess what! This is Marvel, so they’ve re-released young Andy and given him his powers again in “Alpha #1”.

Of course, Peter Parker this time is now the body-swapped Otto Octavius, and he’s been tweaking Andy’s abilities for his own ends. This is a pleasant little issue, and ends with a slightly horrific twist, and I’m curious to see where it leads. I’m giving it a thumbs-up at this early stage.

Still in Spidey-Land, Dan Slott’s “Superior Spider-Man #4” continues the shock-a-thon set-up by the last Vulture-oriented issue. This story begins with Ock/Spidey doing his patrol more efficiently thanks to his new little spider-robot helpers. But when Aunt May needs surgery, and Ock altruistically sets down to create an implant for her, he rails as he realizes Parker never achieved the proper academic credentials! (Say what you will, this bodyswap storyline is giving us an insight to Otto Octavius that were never going to forget!) Meanwhile, serial killer Marcus Lyman has escaped from jail (and massacres a diner in a graphic way that rather disturbed me for a Spidey issue); and as if that wasn’t enough, the Green Goblin turns up! This issue was packed full of incident, entertaining as hell, and comes highly recommended.

And finally, Brian Michael Bendis’ “Ultimate Comics All-New Spider-Man #20” has grade schooler Miles Morales (previously bitten by a stolen radioactive spider), whamming it out on the street outside his home with a hulking Venom Symbiote. There’s not much story here: if you’re up for a superhero slugging match, this is your issue. And it’s pretty nicely done, too.

Esad Ribic’s wonderful art propels the story in “Thor, God Of Thunder #5”, in which Past Thor escapes the God Butcher thanks to the timely intervention of a bunch of Viking berserkers, and Thors Past, Present and Future seem to be converging for an ultimate battle. Good stuff.

“Secret Avengers #1” flashes us back to the pre-“Avengers” movie, new-and-shiny Marvel Tie-In Universe; giving us a glimpse at how Black Widow and Hawkeye might have been brought into the fold at SHIELD. The storytelling is a little confused, but there’s apparently some kind of Lovecraftian terrorist outfit operating out of Russia who are planning a strike on the White House, and Hawkeye gets captured and interrogated with a threatening squiddy-thing. What this issue lacks in clarity, it makes up for in style, so I’m giving it a tentative “read this sucker”.

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Avengers Assemble #12” has Hawkeye and Black Widow in Russia…again. (Gee, do you think they’re gearing up at Marvel for a Hawkeye/Black Widow spinoff movie? I wonder…)

The story starts off with a flashback assassination on a Russian military bio-scientist (which I thought was fairly cold and troubled me a bit for what is, essentially, a children’s comic), and then jumps forward to Siberia, where the duo accompany Spider-Woman on a mission. Yes, it turns out that yesteryear assassination wasn’t such a great idea after all, as the story leaves the characters stuck in the middle of what will likely be a rather large brawl in the next issue. Again, DeConnick’s character building writing raises my interest in what is largely a fairly static story at the moment, so I’m giving it my seal of approval.

Jeff Parker’s “Dark Avengers #187” continues to take our alternate reality-hopping crew through this new ghetto-ized Avengers-verse they’ve landed in. Evil Tony Stark (well, I guess he doesn’t need an “Evil Beard” added in this Mirror Universe!) beats on his brain-controlled Hank Pym, while Evil Ben Grimm tosses the new Avengers into his Mole-Man subterranean lair’s arena; while the team remnants trek through a slightly peculiar Spider-Man’s part of town up above. This got a lot of “What If…?” enjoyment factor out of me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m including Christos Gage and Will Corona Pilgrim’s “Iron Man 3 Prelude #2” (that’s an ugly title) here, not because it’s particularly good (sorry boys: it wasn’t), but because it’s an apocryphal story filler about why Don Cheadle’s War Machine wasn’t in on the big fight at the end of the “Avengers” movie. The last frame is a nice little tribute to the film’s post-titles kebab house scene (which was not aired in the theatrical credits in Europe, by the way).

I’m not the world’s biggest Daredevil fan (although I seem to be the only person who really enjoyed the Affleck movie), but Mark Waid did something interesting this time around in “Daredevil #23”, by unleashing a bunch of sensory-overloaded super-criminals into the world, irradiated by the same toxic waste that gave Matt Murdock his powers in the first place. That was fun, but then he went a step further and left us hanging as Matt’s partner Foggy gets some fairly bad news. Surprisingly good.
Waid (again) gave me a fairly fun ride in “Indestructible Hulk #4”. Bruce Banner starts his day in his new home at a Nevada Atomic Testing Facility, and is brought in by SHIELD’s Maria Hill to investigate aquatic attacks by giant creatures under the command of the Atlantean Warlord Attuma. Like Ed Harris at the end of the Abyss, Hulk’s cliffhanger finds him plunging down into a bottomless trench. I’m enjoying this title, and cynically I have to wonder if this “Hulk-As-Agent” is the direction that future “Hulk” movies will take under the new Marvel-Gestalt.

Over in the X-Verse, Grek Pak continues the adventures of the multiverse X-Men team in “X-Treme X-Men 9 & 10” (yes, I’m playing catchup), as they hunt down evil Xaviers. There’s a real sense of deja-vu between both this and the “Dark Avengers” storyline, and you have to question why Marvel would want to have these stories running synchronously. “Issue 9” has the team go up against a Mordor-esque Witch-King Xavier in his castle fortress (spouting Wicked Witch Of The West lines), while in “#10” they’ve jumped to a Nazi Xavier universe (and an appearance from an Asian Namor, which is fairly interesting.) Out of the two issue, “#9” was the most entertaining for me: the artwork was fun, and Pak succeeded in making Dazzler (a character I usually groan when I see) actually interesting. I think this is going to be a fun title when it’s collected in graphic novel format.

In “Wolverine and the X-Men #25”, Wolverine takes the latest batch of X-Brats off to the Savage Lands for a spot of dinosaur brawling. There’s not much more to the story than this, but it’s a fun read, and I really like the current lineup of Youth X. My favorite is Glob Herman, who is basically a human-shaped pink undulating mass with a bunch of suspended organs inside. It’s a ridiculously endearing character: part Visible Man Kit, part Mr Blobby. (And if you’re reading that anywhere but the UK, I’ve probably just lost you completely.)

Over in DC-Land, Scott Snyder’s “Batman #17” brings the “Death Of The Family” storyline to a worthy conclusion, as the Joker has finally brought all the various offshoots of Bruce Wayne’s extended Bat-Family collected around a dinner table to exact his revenge. I’m probably giving the game away to say that there are multiple endings that escalate, but it’s a lot of fun. Again, another story that’s going to be a winner in collected format.

Still in the Batman vein, Peter Tomasi’s “Batman And Robin #17” is a little gem. I’m not sure where it fits in continuity, but it could be a standalone from anytime. It’s coming up to sunrise at Wayne Manor, and everyone (including Alfred) are hunkering down for a night’s (day’s!) sleep. What follows are their dreams, in little stylized vignette forms. Patrick Gleason’s artwork is absolutely lovely, and compositionally (although not in style) reminds me here a teensy bit of the way Mike Mignola fills his frames. This one is highly recommended. Very nice.

“Superboy #17” continues the “H’El” storyline. This one is called “Herald Of The World’s End”. I liked this issue, but I’m really surprised that DC have let this go through, and that writer Tom DeFalco thought he could get away with it. I mean: a giant humanoid-shaped planet destroying entity, The Oracle, is on the way to Earth, and it sends a Herald ahead of itself (and even CALLS it a “Herald”?) Is there anyone who reads comics who wouldn’t recognize the Silver Surfer and Galactus in this equation? (The Oracle even has protrusions from his shoulders that are more than a little reminiscent of Galactus’ helmet prongs.) You should be ashamed of yourself, DC. Be happy that R.B. Silva’s artwork is great fun, and distracts us.

“Green Lantern 17” is absolutely astounding, and is one of those epochal issues as it begins the “Wrath Of The First Lantern” storyline.

Starting with a flashback ten billion years ago on Oa, we see the (non midget!) Guardians attempting to probe into the Creation of the Universe…only to be visited by Volthoom, the “First Lantern”. The rest of the issue concerns Volthoom himself, a being comprised of multiple Ring Energies, as he flexes his muscles after being freed from imprisoment by the Guardians all this time. Dan Jurgens’ artwork is mesmerizing, and I just loved this issue.

Peter Tomasi’s “Green Lantern Corps #17” is another tour-de-force, as Volthoom (again) tortures Guy Gardner into experiencing “It Could Have Happened This Way” past memories from his childhood, his life as a cop, and beyond, and feeding on the resultant emotions. Gabe Eltaeb and Wil Quintana’s colors are astonishing.

Tony Bedard’s “Green Lantern – New Guardians 17” basically continues the above, only this time it’s Kyle Rayner’s turn to be tortured by Volthoom. Again, gripping stuff. “Green Lantern” has grown in leaps and bounds since this last DC reboot. It’s just a shame that all of this material comes so late, as we might have been saved that dreadful movie.

In China Mieville’s “Dial H For Hero #9”, we discover a lot more about the secret Canadian military-government agency that has been exploiting the bizarre “Dial” technology that can transform ordinary schlubs into very weird superheroes. If you were to plonk this comic book in front of David Cronenberg, he’d be filming it like a shot. And I’d be there to watch it.

Outside of the majors, Mike Johnson makes a lovely job of IDW’s “Star Trek #17” with F. Leonard Johnson M.D., who I assume is related. The story concerns the JJ Abrams-Universe rebooted Dr McCoy, and his reasons for getting into Starfleet Medical from his childhood.

If you’re a “Star Trek” fan, you’ll likely enjoy this.

I enjoyed Dark Horse’s “Star Wars #2” (which slots itself in the gap between “Star Wars” and “Empire”, and concerns a newly equipped rebel squadron), but several of the plotting points rankled with me and didn’t feel as if they sat well with the movies’ continuity. Hey. I’m a nitpicking “Star Wars” fan. What can I say?

OUT THERE
Moving away from the fun and frolics, and adding (I’m afraid) a sour note from the Real World, I want to end this piece by noting the passing this week of two real flesh-and-blood people.

One I knew well, a long time ago: the animator Bob Godfrey, who died at the age of 91. I learnt about Bob’s death from Terry Gilliam’s Facebook page. Bob was the first British animator (he was born in Australia, but emigrated Albion-wards) to win the Oscar in 1976, with his animated short film “Great”, about the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was nominated for three more: “Kama Sutra Rides Again” in 1971 (which Stanley Kubrick chose to accompany “Clockwork Orange” at British cinemas, making it essential viewing for Kubrick-philes); “Dream Doll” in 1980; and “Small Talk” in 1994.

I started off in the British film industry as an assistant cameraman, and back in the ’80s used to hang out with Bob’s crowd on a Friday night from his Covent Garden based animation shop, at the pub at the top of Neal Street. (He kept his Oscar in the studio, its gold plating worn down from the fingers of everyone who came in there who, obviously, just had to pick it up!) Bob was basically a big overgrown kid with garish and funky clothing, and a really nice bloke to-boot. He co-signed my application for my ACTT membership card (then, the British Film Union), for which I’ll always be grateful.

The second person this week I never met, but the product of his imagination has given me immense pleasure all my life. BBC designer Raymond Cusick died peacefully in his sleep last Thursday aged 84, although he’d probably given generations of kids sleepless nights. Cusick was the designer of the Daleks. There’s nothing more that needs to be added to that. If you don’t love Daleks, you probably shouldn’t be reading this page.

FURTHER OUT THERE (IN, YOU KNOW, THE UNIVERSE)
Oh, why not. In more uplifting news after that huge downer, Kepler 65 a triple planetary system of potentially Earth-like worlds was discovered! Rejoice! We may have somewhere inhabitable to flee, once we ravage and strip-mine this planet!

Sigh.

Okay. My ‘flu is abating. I think that burst of vitriol above purged my system. I’ll try and be nicer again next time around. Maybe…

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