Wednesday, August 14, 2019

TV: An episode of "Game of Thrones" (2017)

When I was on an aeroplane to Canada I took the opportunity to watch a random episode of popular TV series Game of Thrones to see what I could make of the plot. Of course, because I do not live under a stone I have some familiarity with what this programme is about, even though I have never seen a full episode. This one featured the Blondie Lady and her pals (who include the Short Guy) deciding to send a message to the Curley-Haired Guy, inviting him to join their gang. Meanwhile the Lady Who Shags Her Brother was rallying other people to fight against the Blondie Lady by warning them that, like her late father (probably a Blond Guy), she was some kind of mentalist.

There wasn’t too much in the way of gratuitous female nudity, though the Blondie Lady’s Assistant did get her kit off at some point. There was also an incident in which people on a ship were captured by pirates, I suspect for plot device reasons, while another guy had his skin cut off to save him from a repulsive disease.

It was all pretty dialogue heavy and focussed on people trying to form alliances and test each other’s loyalty. For me that was quite appealing, making it like an updated version of a classic BBC drama like I, Claudius. I can definitely see why people like this and may one day proceed with my plan to watch the very first episode of season 1 and then the very last episode of the final season so that I will know all about the Game of Thrones.
image source:

The Blondie Lady, the Short Guy and some other people recreate their favourite U2 album cover (Guardian: Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode two: Stormborn)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Film: "A Star Is Born" (2018)

On a flight to Canada with my mother I watched this film, which is the one about Jack, an ageing alcoholic cock-rocker, played by Bradley Cooper (who also directs), who meets, discovers and falls in love with up-and-coming pop singer Ally, played by Lady Gaga. The film is a loose remake of two previous films and the plot is broadly formulaic (her trajectory is upward while his leads down into the bottom of a whisky glass, with tragedy ensuing) yet I nevertheless found it quite affecting and my hard heart was melted by the sad ending (curiously a slightly different sad ending to the one I expected, which may or may not be one similar to the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand previous versions).

One thing I found mildly amusing was that Jack meets Ally when she is performing in a bar most of whose performers are transvestites. To me this seemed like an ironic nod to how Lady Gaga was once dogged by strange rumours that she was secretly a man (or a transsexual, or a something (you know how it is with rumours)). I was also struck by how this was a film without villains. Ally acquires a manager who is set up to some extent in opposition to Jack, but while he is a bit smooth, to me he does not come across as a bad person or as someone exploiting Ally; when he vetoes a joint tour between Ally and an increasingly erratic Jack, he is clearly doing so to protect his client. That said, his actions do precipitate the final tragedy, but the real villain here is alcoholism and Jack’s inability to moderate his drinking.

To some extent Jack and Ally are presented as inhabiting briefly overlapping musical words, his one of blues-bore country rock and hers a more pop sound. Somewhat surprisingly I did find myself thinking that Jack’s music sounded a lot more appealing than the pop stuff (though I suppose the film’s director is going to give himself the good tunes). I may have to start investing in records by Stevie Ray Vaughan and similar.

Finally readers will be pleased to hear that this film features Sam Elliot (the cowboy from The Big Lebowski). He basically plays the same part as he does in The Big Lebowski.
image source (Guardian: A Star Is Born soundtrack review – instant classics full of Gaga's emotional might)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Podcast: "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (2018)

This is a dramatisation by Sweet Talk Productions' Julian Simpson of HP Lovecraft's popular short novel of the same name. It is available to stream or download from BBC Radio 4. It is made in the style of one of those true crime podcasts that are popular with the young people, with the set-up here being that the Mystery Machine podcast people are investigating the eponymous character's mysterious disappearance from a locked room in a secure psychiatric institution.

I think this would be fun to listen to if you if were unfamiliar with the source material, as the true crime podcast stuff is done so straight that even I at the start found myself about to look up the previous cases the Mystery Machine had been involved in investigating. But even having read the original a number of times, I found myself gripped by this. Partly the narrative takes some twists and turns that bring it along different paths to the original, with Lovecraft aficionados noticing that it increasingly draws from another of his works. Partly also there is the power of the audio drama format. Being able to hear but not see is an extremely effective device for horror, as the mind's eye draws in the blanks in a way far more terrifying than any film's special effects could manage. And there are some truly terrifying moments in this, like in the first episode when an old house is being explored or in particular the later episode where one of the investigators is poking around in an abandoned trailer home. The cast are also excellent, as is the appealing music by Tim Elsenburg that ends each episode.

I therefore recommend this work highly and will be keeping an eye out for future productions by Sweet Talk and Mr Simpson.

Sadly The Case of Charles Dexter Ward failed to be nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category in the Hugo Awards.

images (Sweet Talk Productions)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Film: "Midsommar" (2019)

Ari Aster was widely praised for Hereditary and now he has returned with this offering, which can still be seen in the cinemas. You may well be broadly aware of the film’s premise, which is that a bunch of American students head off to take part in the midsummer festival of a weirdo cult in a remote part of Sweden; high-jinks ensue when the less appealing aspects of the cult's way of life become apparent. Unusually for a horror film, the action mostly takes place during daylight (the festival is so far north that there is almost 24 hour sunlight). It also takes place in a strange alternate universe where none of the characters have ever heard of either The Wicker Man or Nazi paganism. Of course, many people have never heard of these things, but the American characters are mostly students of folklore and folk traditions, so you would think that both of these would have impinged on their consciousness.

The spectre of The Wicker Man does of course haunt this film, with its similar basic setup, but the film plays with that a bit, using deliberate misdirection. At one point we learn that each year the cultists choose a young lady to be their May Queen, and we think we know where that is going; we are wrong. But the film is also its own thing. Where Howie was alone in investigating Summerisle, here there are a group of American visitors, joined by an amiable English couple (whom I got very fond of and wished they were appearing in a film with a more pleasant outcome for them). The film plays on the tensions between the visitors that in large part distract them from the more unsavoury aspects of the Swedish community’s life: two of the Americans are research rivals, while in turn the romantic relationship of Dani and Christian (mmmm) is in the throes of disintegration.

That relationship is interesting, with the two strongly played by Jack Reynor as Christian and Florence Pugh as Dani. It is easy to see Christian as a bit of a dickhead and I certainly found myself initially thinking of him like that, but I think there is a bit more to him, at least with respect to his relationship to Dani – he is in this relationship that has really run its course but is unable to leave her because she is in a very bad place and to do so would make him a heel (or so he seems to think, perhaps it would be better for everyone if he were to cut and run). The bros he hangs out with are however almost completely terrible.

It should be noted that Pugh’s performance as Dani is particularly striking in the sense of strength and fragility it presents. Anyone who has seen her in Lady Macbeth or the not-good film The Falling will not find this a surprise.
Another thing that should be noted about the film is the bright colour palette, which is not too much of a surprise for a film mostly taking place under the heady lights of a Scandinavian summer. What is particularly striking about this is the way the film evokes the magic mushrooms consumed by the characters at key points in the story, with colours and flowers pulsing in an unstoppable manner. Kudos should also go to the musical soundtrack by Bobby Krlic of the Haxan Cloak, which includes both the tunes performed by the cultists (like the Summerislers, they are a musical bunch) and the more usual kind of scored accompaniment, yet even the latter feels as much like part of the sound design as something meant to just signify mood to the audience. In this it reminded me of the soundtrack to Dunkirk, and I was going to launch into a discussion about how this represents and interesting new direction for soundtracks, until I recalled seeing the same kind of thing recently in the 1977 film Suspiria.

I am however not sure if Bobby Krlic did the song about the bear that appears not in the film but in an advertisement for the Bear In A Cage novelty tie-in product.

Film also features weird sex scene.

images:

välkommen (Guardian: Midsommar: what the hell just happened? Discuss with spoilers)

Handing on the torch (Vanity Fair: Midsommar’s Showstopping Flower Dress Was So Heavy They Hid a Chair Under It)


Sunday, August 04, 2019

"Bohemian Rhapsody" - Slight Return

I have previously mentioned going to see the brilliant film Bohemian Rhapsody. At some point afterwards my beloved reminded of an episode in the Queen story that somehow failed to make its its way into the film: their concerts in Sun City. For the benefit of younger readers, Sun City is a South African holiday resort, which in the apartheid era was located in what was then the faux independent "homeland" of Bophuthatswana. Queen were one of many international acts to be lured to Sun City or South Africa by apartheid money (others include Tina Turner, Status Quo, Black Sabbath, Joe Dolan, and Phil Coulter) but Queen played there in 1984, when no one could really say there were ignorant of the evils of apartheid South Africa. At the time Queen were also one of the biggest bands in the world and could hardly claim to have needed the money. Their attempted justifications at the time were weak (bullshit about not being political and being happy to play to anyone who wanted to see them). In a feat of complete political tone-deafness they even played 'I Want To Break Free' to their audience of white South Africans.

Queen also licensed 'We Will Rock You' for a Sun City advertisement. It's something else.

Queen's appearance in Sun City was I think important in galvanising artistic opposition to apartheid and led to the Artists Against Apartheid record. Playing in South Africa became increasingly problematic for artists, a situation that continued until apartheid's fall.


image source:

Queen arriving in South Africa (retroculturati: Queen’s Sun City Sin)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Finding the other Retro Hugo finalists online

In Dublin this August the Hugo Awards for the best science fiction and related stuff from 2018 will be awarded. Dublin will also be awarding Retro Hugos for material from 1943. In a previous post I linked to where most of Retro Hugo finalists in the novel, novella, novelette, and short story categories can be found online. But what of the other categories? Sadly here things seem to be a bit more difficult, but there is still more than nothing that can be looked at online for free.

Best Graphic Story

Readers will I think struggle to find some of the finalists in this category. Jack Cole's Plastic Man #1: The Game of Death is available in full on the Digital Comics Museum for online reading and downloading, but that seems to be the only finalist readily available in full online. The blog The Wonders You Can Do has an interesting post summarising and analysing Wonder Woman #5: Battle for Womanhood (by William Moulton Marsden and Harry G. Peter), complete with some illustrations. The Black Gate blog meanwhile has an illustrated summary of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon: Fiery Desert of Mongo. Hergé's The Secret of the Unicorn is available in many libraries and all good bookshops; a summary with sample illustrations can be seen on Tintin.com. That seems to be it. Libraries and bookshops may also have reprints of the other finalists.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Heaven Can Wait and Münchhausen are both available in full on YouTube. The Internet Archive meanwhile appears to have Batman, Cabin in the Sky, and Phantom of the Opera. And OK.RU has A Guy Named Joe.

Better quality versions of these films may be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Ape Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and Super-Rabbit are all available on YouTube. The Seventh Victim is on Dailymotion.

That leaves I Walked With a Zombie, for which YouTube has just a trailer. It might be available from commercial streaming services.

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Here are links to what the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists the finalists as having edited in 1943. Have a look at each issue's table of contents and see if it tickles your fancy. If you have infinite time, consider popping over to the Internet Archive to skim some of these issues.

John W. Campbell Jr.: Astounding Science Fiction & Unknown Worlds

Oscar J. Friend: Thrilling Wonder Stories

Mary Gnaedinger: Famous Fantastic Mysteries

Dorothy McIlwraith: Weird Tales

Raymond A. Palmer: Amazing Stories & Fantastic Adventures

Donald A. Wollheim: The Pocket Book of Science Fiction

Best Professional Artist

Samples of Hannes Bok's art can be seen here on the blog Monster Brains. Readers can also check out his illustrations to Robert W. Chambers' "The Yellow Sign" in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

While primarily famous for her saucy covers for Weird Tales, Margaret Brundage appears to have had a fairly quiet year in 1943, producing just the one somewhat tame cover then. A Google image search gives a broader look at her career.

Virgil Finlay's work can be seen on the covers of the March 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries and the February & May 1943 issues of Super Science Stories.

Unless you have been living under a stone you almost certainly are broadly familiar with the illustrations Antoine de Saint-Exupéry created for his own book The Little Prince, but if you need a refresher check out this post on the blog Faena Aleph.

J. Allen St. John's work can be seen on the covers of the January and February 1943 issues of Amazing Stories.

The art of William Timmins can be see on the covers of the February, June, and October 1943 issues of Astounding Science Fiction.

Fanzine and Fanwriter

FANAC.ORG is an amazing archive of fan stuff of yore. The people that run it created a portal page for fanzines from 1943 there, and there you will find links to scans of the finalists in both of the fan categories.

In case you can't remember, the best fanzine finalists are:
Fantasy News, editor William S. Sykora
Futurian War Digest, editor J. Michael Rosenblum
The Phantagraph, editor Donald A. Wollheim
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, editors Jack Erman (Forrest J Ackerman) & Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
YHOS, editor Art Widner
Le Zombie, editor Wilson “Bob” Tucker 

The Best Fan Writer finalists are:
Forrest J. Ackerman
Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
Jack Speer
Wilson “Bob” Tucker
Art Widner
Donald A. Wollheim
 
So there you go. With voting in the Hugos and Retro Hugos closing on 31 July, this does not leave much time to research your ballot.

In the meantime, here is another picture of my cat, with SF books in background:
More cat action

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Finding the 1944 Retro Hugo finalists online

Soon in Dublin the winners of this year's Hugo Awards will be revealed, including the winners of the Retro Hugo Awards for science fiction published in 1943. This year unfortunately there is no voters packet for the Retro Hugos. However most of the publications in which the finalists appeared are available on the Internet Archive, where they can be read online or downloaded by Hugo Award voters. See below for links to where the various works can be found. Voting closes at midnight on 31July, so get reading.

Novels

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, Jr. can be found in the April 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds.

Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner originally appeared in the April 1943 issue of Argosy, but it was subsequently reprinted in the July 1950 issue of Fantastic Novels.

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber, Jr. can be found serialised in the May, June and July 1943 issues of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game] by Hermann Hesse (originally published by Fretz & Wasmuth) is readily available from bookshops and libraries.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (originally published by John Lane, The Bodley Head) is also readily available from bookshops and libraries.

The Weapon Makers by A.E. van Vogt was serialised in the February, March and April 1943 issues of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Novellas

“Attitude” by Hal Clement appeared in the September 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Clash by Night” by Lawrence O’Donnell (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) appeared in the March 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” by H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in the collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep from Arkham House and is now readily available from bookshops and libraries.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was originally published by Reynal & Hitchcock and is available everywhere.

The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton was originally published by Hyperion Press and can possibly be sourced from bookshops and libraries.

“We Print the Truth” by Anthony Boucher appeared in the December 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

Novelette

“Citadel of Lost Ships” by Leigh Brackett appeared in the March 1943 issue of Planet Stories.

“The Halfling” by Leigh Brackett appeared in the February 1943 issue of Astonishing Stories.

“Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) appeared in the February 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“The Proud Robot” by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) appeared in the October issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Symbiotica” by Eric Frank Russell also appeared in the October issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Thieves’ House” by Fritz Leiber, Jr appeared in the February issue of Unknown Worlds.

Short Story

“Death Sentence” by Isaac Asimov appeared in the appeared in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Doorway into Time” by C.L. Moore appeared in the September 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

“Exile” by Edmond Hamilton originally appeared in the May 1943 issue of Super Science Stories. That appears not to have been uploaded to the Internet Archive but the text of the story can be seen here and here.

“King of the Gray Spaces” (“R is for Rocket”) by Ray Bradbury appeared in the December 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

“Q.U.R.,” by H.H. Holmes (Anthony Boucher) March 1943 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction.

“Yours Truly – Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch appeared in the July 1943 issue of Weird Tales.

I will do another post with links to where people can see some of the finalists in the other categories. In the meantime, Jeff Vandermeer once said that you should always include a picture of your cat in social media posts, so here is Billy Edwards.

more cats