Saturday, 22 April 2017

Sunday Afternoon Reader, Part 5

Wow! It’s been over a year since I did one of these…so I guess I’m technically within the limits I set myself, but it’s definitely been too long nonetheless. Here’s three books I’ve made my way through recently. And hopefully Part 6 will be weeks away, rather than months.

Publisher: Ecstastic Peace Library
Year: 2011

I’ve mentioned once or twice *cough* on here my love for heavy metal, and it’s near impossible to talk about the recent history of the genre without talking about Mayhem. I’ve always been kind of ambivalent about them (though I very much enjoyed Live in Liepzig), but to deny the influence they’ve had would be a fool’s errand – and when I saw them live in 2010, they put on a crushing live show. 

This book is primarily a collection of photographs, punctuated with short essays from Jorn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud, who’s the sole original member of the band these days. It would have been interesting to hear some thoughts from the others too, but of course most of them are simply dead now – buried by time and dust, in the band’s own parlance. But the photos are fantastic (witness one of the band members wearing a Bon Jovi shirt; could you imagine that now?) not only for their historic value to Mayhem but for their insight into wider European metal culture in the 1980s.

Publisher: TSR, Inc
Year: 1989   

Back in the 1980s, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was insanely popular. In addition to the core game and its supplements (quite expansive in its own right), it had spawned its own animated series, video games, a metric ton of tie-in novels and all manner of unusual merchandise. An art book is a logical extension of the game’s products; but by manufacturing AD&D beach towels I feel like there may have been some misunderstandings about the game’s core demographic.

The art in here is primarily drawn from the mid to late 80s, and exudes an impressive sense of professionalism, accompanied by commentary from some of the artists themselves. Most, if not all of it is easily available online, but it’s a nice relic from an era when the game was arguably at its peak popularity. Gone are the crude but charming line drawings of the 70s, and no doubt there’s plenty who would complain that it was emblematic of TSR’s shift from hobby product to milking a cash cow. 

There may be some fairness to that criticism, too; in less than a decade, TSR would find themselves absorbed into Wizards of the Coast, victims of bloated product lines, poor business decisions and mismanagement. What kept the business running as a hobby doesn’t necessarily scale to a global level. But Dungeons & Dragons lives on, with the 5th edition released just in 2014 – it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.

Publisher: Harper
Year: 2007

As a kid, I was a massive fan of all things Peanuts, and was devastated when Charles M. Schulz died back in 2000. I had originally wanted to read this way back on first release, and have vague memories of flicking through it in Borders (remember them?) but probably couldn’t justify the cost. Waiting 10 years did mean I scored it for only $6, and I’m sure there’s a Charlie Brown-esque moral in there somewhere.    

Schulz’s family has been fairly critical of the book, and I can see why; though his personal life was far from enigmatic, author David Michaelis takes a deeper look than most previous biographers, and it stands at odds with some of the conventional hagiography that often grows around beloved public figures.

That said, though Michaelis’ commitment to uncovering the truth is commendable, it’s not a perfect book. It dwells far too long on certain subjects (like the dissolution of his first marriage) and not nearly enough on others that Peanuts fans might find salient (his involvement in the animated specials, his friendships with other cartoonists). I’m glad I read it, but don’t feel that I missed out for having waited this long.     

Friday, 21 April 2017

POP! Television – Twin Peaks: The Log Lady

“One day my log will have something to say about this. My log saw something that night.”

In a show that’s already studded with mysteries, riddles and bizarre characters, the Log Lady still stands out as one of the most enigmatic.

Derided as crazy by most of the town of Twin Peaks, we quickly learn that the Log Lady does have some kind of psychic insight into the strange events occurring in the town. But as with everyone else who’s got something useful to say (The Giant, The Man From Another Place, Laura Palmer et al) it’s couched in highly cryptic terms. Major Briggs comes closest to getting a straight answer out of her – and probably not coincidentally, he’s the character who treats her with the most respect.   

The POP is a solid recreation of her look on the show. If I had to pin down her style to four words, I’d call it “frumpy Sally Jesse Raphael”. Back in Stranger Things week I commented on the disparity between how people now view the 80s, versus how they actually looked. Twin Peaks was set in 1989, at the tail-end of the decade, and again, the clothes look dated – but not outrageously gaudy. So really, it’s pretty typical of what more conservative middle-aged women wore at the time.

Paint is mostly neat, though make sure you check the hairline and the log – these are the likely trouble spots. It’s an all-round solid POP. But with all of this said, I suspect the Log Lady will probably be the lowest-selling figure from the Twin Peaks line. Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper are the obvious pickups, and the rest of the characters scale down accordingly. I’m all in personally, but for more casual collectors, Log Lady is easier to pass on.    

Though Catherine E. Coulson passed away in 2015, the Log Lady will reappear in the 2017 revival as she had apparently already finished filming her scenes. She wasn’t my favourite character from the ensemble, but she was always entertaining. Who knows what the Log will have to share this time?   

Monday, 17 April 2017

Funko Mystery Minis – Horror Classics Series 2: The Fly

The 1950s were a golden era for horror and monster movies. Much of the world was undergoing a post-WWII boom, but there were still threats aplenty that people needed to exorcise from the psyche somehow – Communists (real or imagined) and the omnipresent spectre of nuclear war. From this climate, The Fly was conceived and birthed.

The film takes a very literal approach to the costuming, with a giant plastic fly head and “claw”. It’s cheesy by today’s standards, but it’s pretty typical stuff for the time. And when you watch enough older sci-fi or horror movies, you get to kind of enjoy this aesthetic. For instance, you can see the mould lines on the Metaluna Mutant’s costume – but does it really detract from the mood of the movie? Would a modern CG version look better without a substantial redesign? Generally, the answer is no. So you’re better off just rolling with it.  

This Mystery Mini replicates the look from the film fairly faithfully, while still matching with the stylised feel of the wider range. He’s got his lab coat, fly head and claw – all the key details that stand out. Paintwork is fairly nice too, with a metallic blue giving the distinctive fly’s eye look.    

I’ve never seen the original version of The Fly, but I’m quite a fan of the 1986 Cronenberg version, which is far more graphic and focused on body horror than the original ever would have been allowed to be. And of course, I like the Misfits song about the series too. So this figure wasn’t essential for my collection – but in spite of being from 20th Century Fox, he fits in nicely with the Universal Monsters.  

The Fly is packed at a 1/24 ratio; I’ve only ever come across one, and I was fortunate enough to find it in a comics store that sold them individually. It’s a great figure, and if you can track it down for a reasonable price, it’s well worth the investment. Now here’s hoping we eventually get a POP of this guy, and a Brundlefly too.   

Sunday, 16 April 2017

POP! Television – Twin Peaks: Audrey Horne

Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me and The Secret History of Twin Peaks.

“They found my friend Laura... lying facedown on a rocky beach... completely naked. She'd been murdered.”

I’m actually a relative newcomer to the world of Twin Peaks. My mother was a huge fan back when it was airing in the early 90s, but I didn’t start on it myself until late 2015. It had been on my to-watch list for years, but there was always some complicating factor – generally that the series wasn’t readily available on DVD or was simply too expensive for my then-limited means. Not to mention that a number of the DVD releases have had issues, too.  

But boy, am I glad I did. It rapidly became one of my favourite TV shows, and one of the big standout characters is Audrey Horne. 

Initially a mischievous troublemaker, within a few scenes of her on-screen arrival she’s sabotaged a multi-million-dollar deal. Why? Apparently just for laughs. She provides the first hint that the town of Twin Peaks has plenty of strange secrets beneath the surface, by acting as its very own femme fataleOf course, as the series goes on we discover that she does actually have a heart of gold (trite though the phrase may be) and she matures quite rapidly after meeting Dale Cooper. She’s not Laura Palmer’s friend per se, but she ultimately places herself in a number of high risk situations to help uncover the killer. She uncovers a lot of key clues -- if not the actual killer -- and in the process discovers that her own father was one of Laura’s several lovers. That's a conversation that no-one would ever want to have with their parents.  

In POP form, Audrey is depicted in her most memorable outfit – a red sweater and a plaid A-line skirt, accompanied by saddle shoes. Save for the muted colours, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of Grease. This outfit has a threefold purpose:
  1.  It somewhat resembles a school uniform (she is a high school student after all);
  2.  Its retro look thematically reinforces the show’s noir elements;
  3.  It’s also just something that a teen might have worn during the era. There was a big wave of 1950s nostalgia during the 80s – it’s one of the things that helped make Back to the Future such a big hit – and that had a flow-on effect to fashion, too.  

To reinforce her wannabe bad girl status, she’s also holding a cigarette. Just like the “tough” kids at your school used to. However, I’d say she pulls it off with a little more style…      

Audrey isn’t quit a compelling a POP as Dale, Laura or BOB, but she is a key character in the series and so it’s fitting that she made this initial line-up. Sherilyn Fenn is returning for the 2017 revival, so it will be interesting to see what Audrey’s been up to post-bank explosion – did John Justice Wheeler ever come back for her? And if he didn’t, did things ever work out with Coop? All will be revealed over the next few months.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

POP! Television – Twin Peaks: Laura Palmer

Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me.

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

Poor Laura Palmer. Her murder kicks off the events of Twin Peaks, and in the process exposes the seedy underbelly of the seemingly idyllic little town.

In spite of her death, we still see quite a bit of Laura throughout the series, primarily in dreams and in the Red Room. But we never really see her alive until Fire Walk With Me, the prequel/sequel film released in 1992. It's a frustrating movie; watching in 2017, you can easily go and reference the series via streaming site or DVD. But I can see why it drove viewers up the wall in 1992. It has some great scenes, but was it really necessary? It raises just as many questions as it answers, and the tone is radically different to the wider series. Some of this was due to production problems and studio interference, but it still felt like a missed opportunity.

Nonetheless, it’s good to be getting Twin Peaks POPs. I imagine this figure will generate its share of controversy in the weeks to come, as it not only depicts a corpse but a nude one at that. It’s not exactly a throwback to McFarlane’s edgier days, but given the upset that the Breaking Bad toys caused a couple of years ago we can only assume that Funko has been wiser than to try and stock them at Toys R Us.   

When the control art was first released for these figures, I was quite unsure as to how Funko would pull off the construction of this figure; would everything be one solid piece and painted accordingly? Well, now that it’s in hand, it appears that they’ve taken a separate POP figure, and then used a softer plastic to mould the plastic wrapping. It’s an elegant solution, though I question its longevity – I can see it yellowing, hardening and cracking if it’s exposed to sunlight, but admittedly that’s just speculation on my part.  

And in what seems to be a first for Funko, Laura comes with two display options – there’s the stand which keeps her upright, but she also comes with a sheet of cardboard that depicts the rocky waterside she’s found on. This is a cool touch, and I hope we see Funko do more like it in the future.

I suspect Laura will be one of the best-selling POPs in the line. She’s one of the most unique figures Funko has yet released, and with the show about to return to the airwaves, interest in the series is the highest it’s been in years. It’s an unusual collectible, and it exemplifies Twin Peaks rather well – it will be eagerly seized on by fans and utterly baffle everyone else.  

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

POP! Television – Twin Peaks: Dale Cooper

Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me. 
“You know, this is - excuse me - a damn fine cup of coffee. I've had I can't tell you how many cups of coffee in my life and this, this is one of the best. Now I'd like two eggs over hard. I know, don't tell me, it's hard on the arteries, but old habits die hard, just about as hard as I want those eggs.”
Kyle MacLachlan should be a much bigger star than he is today, up there among the George Clooneys and Brad Pitts of the world. He’s handsome, he has charisma in spades and he can act too. But as we know, things don’t always go the way they “should”*. A few dud films in the mid-90s (like The Flintstones and the notorious Showgirls) meant his star began to wane right as it really should have been ascending. Nonetheless, he’s still carved out a career that plenty of other actors would kill to have – and next month he’s going to be back on our screens in his best-loved role, Agent Dale Cooper!  
I normally loathe using the word “quirky” to describe things, but I’d say that it’s probably a fitting descriptor for Dale Cooper. He’s relentlessly cheery without being annoying, far more capable than the average man but never condescending, and totally weird without being alienating. We need more characters like him on TV. And though I love The X-Files, Mulder – the more famous FBI agent of the two – pales in comparison.
In POP form, Cooper is (naturally) depicted with a mug of coffee, and giving the thumbs up. If they ever do a second version, he’ll hopefully be holding a piece of cherry pie and/or tape recorder. Nonetheless, they’ve definitely made a good choice by going with this pose. Paintwork is solid (though check the hairline before purchasing) and the sculpt is excellent. All these factors boil down to a must-buy for fans of the series; you could pass over the others if your budget or space is limited, but Agent Cooper is essential. To paraphrase the man himself – every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it; don't wait for it; just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black, coffee…or a Funko POP.
For myself, I’m planning to pick up the whole line; between these guys and the Stranger Things POPs, Funko is really delivering some of their best quality work in years. But even more importantly, I'm really eagerly awaiting season 3. When we last saw Cooper, he was the new host for BOB -- with his "good" side seemingly trapped in the Red Room. What's been going on since then? David Lynch is not really known for giving straight explanations, but I'm sure we'll find out soon.

*Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have had to wait 25 years between Fire Walk With Me and season 3 of Twin Peaks, would we?  

Monday, 10 April 2017

POP! Television – Twin Peaks: BOB

Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me.

"Head's up, tails up, run you scallywags. Night falls, morning calls, I'll catch you with my death bag. You may think I've gone insane, but I promise, I will kill again!" 

Even accounting for it being a show oriented around a murder mystery, Twin Peaks touches on some surprisingly dark territory. And there’s no character that exemplifies it more than the show’s big bad, Killer BOB. 

A demon from the mysterious Black Lodge, BOB’s motives – or the full extent of his powers – are never really revealed throughout the series. But you can piece together bits and pieces; BOB and his fellow Black Lodge spirits seem to feed off the emotions generated by terror, and that terror is largely created through rape and murder. Using the human host of Leland Palmer, BOB has been able to carry on this way for a number of years – until, of course, FBI Agent Dale Cooper arrives in town. More mystically attuned than your average law enforcement officer, Cooper begins to realise there’s more at work in Twin Peaks than a simple serial killer.

Interestingly enough, the character of BOB was largely created by accident. While working as a set dresser on the pilot, Frank Silva’s reflection was caught in a mirror. On noticing the mistake, David Lynch decided he’d found his villain, and went from there – hence the street clothes. Coincidence? Perhaps in the real world…but in the universe of Twin Peaks, it’s just another example of synchronicity in action.  

BOB the POP is not quite as terrifying as his onscreen counterpart, but this may well be for the best. He’s got his hands clenched into claw-like gestures, and even without the snarling mouth you can pick up that he’s not a good guy. It’s an impressively cutesy take on a horrific character, and would fit nicely in with a horror collection even if you didn’t pick up any of the other characters from the line.  

Unfortunately, Frank Silva is unlikely to be appearing in this year’s revival of the series, unless it’s in archive footage – he passed away in 1994 as a result of AIDS-related complications. Whether BOB himself return remains to be seen, though I’d say it’s a safe bet he will. Perhaps the new host will even be Michael Cera? Stranger things have happened…