In 1984, an unassuming technophobic geek from Vancouver named William Gibson penned one of, if not the, seminal works of what would later be called cyberpunk. The book, Neuromancer, was a tale of computers, espionage, and artificial intelligences that took the science-fiction world by storm, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards. He had also written a number of other short stories, which were later collected in the book Burning Chrome, and one of these stories, Johnny Mnemonic, was later made into a film of the same name in 1995.
I saw Johnny Mnemonic around its release, and it was bloody awful. Barring a few interesting bits of music, the film is one catastrophe after another, and it makes one’s teeth itch regularly throughout. The other day, for some masochistic reason, I decided to re-watch the film for the first time in almost twenty years to see if it was quite as bad as I remembered. It did not disappoint.
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In October, we will see the release of the remade Carrie, this time starring Chloë Grace Moretz in the titular role and Julianne Moore as her religious-zealot, overbearing, and abusive mother. I am cautiously optimistic about this upcoming film, as I feel both Moretz and Moore are singularly gifted actors who will likely bring something very interesting to the roles, never mind the special effects, which will almost certainly eclipse those in the last twenty to thirty minutes of the 1976 original.
Given the new film is coming out in the next few months, I decided, for the first time in many years, to re-watch Brian DePalma’s take on Stephen King’s first (well, first published) novel. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the feathered hair and, in terms of today’s displays, rather lacklustre effects (even for the time, the effects are pretty cringe-worthy in places), it still holds up as a terrific supernatural thriller encased in a horrific tale of adolescent abuse, both at the hands of Carrie’s peers and her mother.
75 years ago Action Comics #1 hit the newsstands, which means that today, for all intents and purposes, is Superman’s (née Kal-El of the planet Krypton) birthday. Happy birthday, good sir! As a Canadian, I also cannot help feel a bit of pride about this auspicious day – while created in the United States, one half of the team that dreamed up this mythic icon, Joe Shuster, was a Canadian. Yes, Jerry Siegel was American, but we Canadians take what we can get. (Perhaps we should look at Superman’s creation as an iconic representation of the partnership between our great nations, but even I have to admit that’s stretching the envelope pretty thin)
Anyhow, our esteemed editor, Andy Burns, asked me to say a few things about the Boy in Blue today, given it’s his birthday, and I said “Yes, for sure”, despite not being a huge fan of the series, the hero, or the DC Universe as a whole (not to say I don’t like these things – I’m just more of a Marvel boy). Why? Because Superman was my first introduction into the world of comics, just like he is for so many other fans, or one-time fans, of superhero comics. Superman is the superhero, after all; there was never anyone like him before, and there’s never been anyone like him since (all other attempts have been, at best, pale imitations – even Captain Marvel, who is the magical manifestation of the science-based Superman, never achieved the canonical status of Superman). The American dream made manifest, and a god amongst men, Superman is the dream to which we all aspire, even if we don’t really want to admit it.
Back in about 1980 (could have been as early as 1979 or as late as 1981), my father gave me two oversized comic books: Superman and Captain Marvel. Both contained origin stories and adventures involving the two caped heroes. Yes, I enjoyed the Captain Marvel stories (S-H-A-Z-A-M!), but it was the huge, almost-as-tall-as-me, Superman book that I kept returning to. In rich blues, reds, and yellows, Superman pummelled the bejeezus out of whatever Lex Luthor threw at him, and I loved every second of it; that well-worn, pages-falling-out, tome turned me into a comics fan for life. I was fascinated with his origin story (he’s from OUTER SPACE – what kid doesn’t like aliens and dinosaurs?), and his humble upbringing on a lonely Kansas farm before heading to the Big App…Metropolis as the über-nerd Clark Kent (no one in their right mind, even children, could understand how a suit and pair of glasses hid him from prying eyes, by the way, but it made for good fun) were terrific bookends to the madness and mayhem of Superman knocking Luthor-powered robots with his bare fists.
It was a glorious book, and a glorious introduction to the world of comics, and for that I thank you Messrs Siegel and Shuster, my dad, and above all, Superman.
Until earlier this week, it had been nigh on fifteen years since I had seen Alex Proyas’s take on James O’Barr’s The Crow. When it first came out in 1994, I was at the height of my goth days, and I thought it was the coolest film I’d seen in years. I lost count how many times I watched it between 1994 and 1995, read and re-read the comic, and even based a non-player character I had in an active Vampire: The Masquerade campaign on Eric Draven (played in the film by Brandon Lee, who, tragically, was killed during its filming). And then there’s the soundtrack: a number 1 album on Billboard’s 200 in late May of 1994, the soundtrack is a snapshot of early-to-mid 1990s alternative rock, with songs from Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots (whose “Big Empty” was a huge single itself), Rage Against the Machine, Rollins Band, Pantera, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Violent Femmes, The Cure (whose “Burn” introduced legions of fans to The Cure, even though they’ve never performed the song live), etc.
Basically, the film was pop-goth-pr0n, and I sucked it all up. If you’ve ever read the original comic, this isn’t surprising; O’Barr’s clearly influenced by the music of The Cure, Joy Division, Iggy Pop, and Bauhaus – you can practically hear the soundtrack when flipping through its pages.
Anyhow, fast-forward almost twenty years. While I did drown myself in The Crow for a couple of years, I think I decided it was actually pretty silly (apart from the film’s soundtrack, which I still love), and I gave up on it for the best part of fifteen years. It was only by chance that I decided to hit “Play” on Netflix earlier this week and give it another watch.
I’m here to speak about a cover of a cover of a cover: “Tainted Love”. The song was originally released in 1965 by American singer Gloria Jones, but it failed to achieve mainstream success (or even hit the charts despite a re-release in 1976) until English duo Soft Cell re-recorded their new wave dance cover in 1981. They’re certainly not the first band to achieve massive success off the strength of a cover, whether or not it was their first hit (Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn”, Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”, etc.), and they certainly won’t be the last (Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams of This”, Whitney Huston’s “I Will Always Love You”, Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”, etc.). Covers aren’t going away; they’re a mainstay in the music industry.
You might think I’m here to talk about Marilyn Manson’s 2001 cover of “Tainted Love” (a brief respite in a trite performer’s decline into mediocrity) – nope. I’ve instead brushed the dust off some ancient CDs and dug out my copy of Coil’s 1985 cover of the Jones-cum-Almond/Ball smash hit.
While far more reminiscent of the Soft Cell version than the Jones original, Coil’s lament is simply unnerving as it twists the dance-pop hit into a gothic-post-industrial dirge.
A few months ago, we were all hit with the news that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm for a staggering $4.05 billion, which, in an unbelievable act of altruism, George Lucas will be donating to charity. While jokes and memes hit the Internet within minutes of the announcement, as well as superficial complaints, it quickly became apparent that this acquisition was likely going to be a good thing. Yes, while Disney is responsible for a colossal amount of trite and repulsive shorts, films, and merchandise, it is also the owner of Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, and The Jim Henson Workshop. None of these staples of modern pop culture suffered from the change in ownership; in all cases, its creators kept total control of their visions and properties and made, arguably, the best feature films any company had ever produced after the change.
And then, the news yesterday: 2015 will bring us Star Wars VII directed by JJ Abrams, which is possibly the biggest and most exciting bit of Geek News to hit the Internet since the announcement that Joss Whedon was handling Marvel’s The Avengers. I, for one, welcome our new Jedi Master.
Blu-Ray, 20th Century Fox
The Art of Prometheus
A quick flip through, and scanning of, Titan’s recently published book Prometheus: The Art of the Film reveals Ridley Scott is a great lover of design. Leaving aside, for the moment, his amazing visions of the future in his earlier science-fiction films, consider, for a moment, the aesthetics, design cohesion, and appearance of Rome in Gladiator, the middle-ages in Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, the worlds of the Armed Forces in Black Hawk Down and GI Jane (on the latter – we are speaking only of design here!), and the urban claustrophobia of Hannibal and American Gangster. The man has an interest in, and a love for, every detail in all of his films. While this likely causes more than its fair share of consternation and frustration amongst his collaborators, the end result is always a thing worthy of attention. Even if the designs are loosely based on actual historicity or reality, there is an internal cohesion and relevance that makes his filmic worlds at once believable within their own frames of reference and also beautiful and wondrous. The book, like the film that it describes and illuminates, is a thing of beauty.
Neil Marshall’s second film, The Descent, despite its allusions to genre-films from the past thirty years as wide-ranging as Deliverance to The Thing, defies convention and brings its viewers to what is at once the most primal and terrifying of fears and yet an entirely new understanding of horror films.
The plot, like one of its major influences, Deliverance, is straightforward: a group of friends go off on an outdoor adventure and end up at the brinks of hell and madness. Specifically, after a horrible tragedy that ensued a year prior, namely the death of the family of the main character, Sarah, she and her group of friends go spelunking in deepest, darkest Appalachia and everything goes wrong. To start, they’re in a cave no one, or where they think no one, has ever been; it’s unmapped and completely new territory. No one knows where they are, and should they go missing, no one will know where to find them. The cave, or at least one tunnel, collapses, leaving them stranded in the dark (after quite possibly one of the most harrowing and claustrophobic scenes ever caught on film); they wander briefly through a few caverns to find an untold millennia-old cave painting depicting the mountain and two cave entrances. So there’s a way out. Hope. Well, that’s where the hope ends, unfortunately.