Archive for September, 2009

The new kittens!

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the two new members of the Williams household, shown here while studying the habits of fake mice in bathtubs. photoThey are:

CAPTAIN ZOOM (aka “the White Lion”):  When Zoom purrs, it sounds like a lawnmower starting up.  And he is always purring:  possibly the most extroverted cat I’ve ever met.  This is good news, because his friend is a little shyer, and needs someone to set an example.

AJAX (aka “L’Orange”):   For the first few days, Ajax was convinced the entire thing was a trap, and that any moment now he and Zoom would be consumed with gusto.  However, discovering the pleasures of the Belly Rub made him forget any such theories, and now he rivals Zoom in his quest for attention.

THEIR MISSION:  should they choose to accept it . . .  to consume fish at prodigious rates, chase each other at 3 in the morning, and sleep all afternoon.  We’ll see if they can handle it.

Alan Moore’s Captain Airstrip One

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

An oldie-but-goodie from the vault . . turns out that on Earth 744, Captain Britain was actually Captain Airstrip One, presiding over Oceania’s most exposed province in an ingenious depiction of what life was like for all of Winston Smith’s pals in Orwell’s 1984.   There’s PDFs of the resultant short strip in various places on the net, but it’s been scanned here.  Doubleplusgood!

Mad Max 4: Fury Road

Friday, September 18th, 2009

In Hollywood, nothing is ever truly over. Talk about a fourth Mad Max has been on and off again for so long one wonders if Georgemadmax2akatheroadwarrior04editedandresized Miller has taken a leaf or two from the Axl Rose playbook . . . but there have been recent reports that the success of 2006’s HAPPY FEET (!) has given Miller the leverage he needed to put Mad Max 4 into pre-production.  Particularly intriguing to me is that longtime  2000 A.D. artist Brendan McCarthy is supposedly penning the script. . .  McCarthy came up with many of my favorite Judge Dredd storylines, including one in which Ayers Rock gets blown up, which may or may not be a coincidence. Word is that Mel won’t be starring in the movie, perhaps because he’s too old to be an action-hero box office draw, but presumably also because he failed to outrun the cops the one time it counted most and then proceeded to settle some Authorial Intent questions in a far more explicit way than Derrida would ever have bargained for.

There’s also talk that Mad Max 4 will be animated, a la Happy Feet.    This makes me more than a little nervous.  But like I said yesterday, you have to respect this franchise for resisting the urge to make each movie a carbon copy of the one that came before it.  If Miller thinks he can push the envelope with an animated format, then it’ll be interesting to watch what he comes up with.  At the very least, it Fury Road ever DOES come to pass, we’ll get to see the next stage in the history of that world that Miller and Kennedy created back in the 1970s, when oil was drying up and the world seemed on the brink in more ways than one.  Times sure have changed, haven’t they?

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Easily the most problematic of the Mad Max movies, and as I noted in yesterday’s post, we’ll never know just how this movie would have turned out had producer Byron Kennedy lived. The conventional wisdom for BEYOND THUNDERDOME is that the first half rocks, and the second half wimps out on us. At least, that’s what I thought when I saw it the first time, but now I find it makes the movie all the more interesting: the Big Fight between Max and Blaster occurs scarcely half an hour in, after which Miller and Ogilvie take the film in a very different direction. In many ways, Thunderdome is a contrast between two radically different approaches to post-apocalyptic realities; both the inhabitants of Bartertown and the kids at Crack in the Earth are trying to eke order out of the chaos, each utilizing a different kind of myth (wild west vs. awaiting-of-god-from-the-sky). There’s a great series of essays on this dynamic here; I don’t agree with all of it, but I do think that this is a movie that works on many different levels—easily the most layered of the three films. The fight at the end, for example, comes in for a lot of grief because of its slapstick quality, but it seems pretty clear this was entirely deliberate: the chase is, in essence, a conscious parody of the Giant Chase at the end of the previous movie (though the device of the old railroad was sheer genius). And the final flight through a shattered Sydney is frankly one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in cinema—not to mention one of the most underrated.

One of the most brilliant things about the Mad Max movies is the way we chart the course of civilization’s collapse:  in the first movie, it’s a society in which the rot has set in deep, in the second movie, we’re post-apocalyptic, and mechanized gangs now fight for the gasoline that will keep them competitive, and in the third, there’s virtually no gas left and everything is going low-tech/steampunk.  BEYOND THUNDERDOME thus opens with Max-as-camel-jockey (and what an opening as we swoop in upon him), and—while we do see an awful lot of pig shit—we don’t see much in the way of cars or engines, except of course during that last chase . . . love the way Auntie Tina signals green-light:

The Road Warrior

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The Mad Max franchise was the brainchild of George Miller and Byron Kennedy: Kennedy produced and Miller directed, and that combination got them out of film school and into the big time. In the wake of the success of MAD MAX, the pressure was on, and they rose to it with one of the best sequels ever made. Now that they had the budget to go deep into the outback to destroy a LOT of cars and blow up a LOT of shit, they let the world they’d created descend past the apocalypse, and delivered a pared-down tale of epic archetype and savage action.   This time the American market didn’t dub out the Australian voices and Miller/Kennedy took it all the way.   Suddenly Mel Gibson was famous worldwide, and no one in my elementary school had ever seen anything like it.

Tragically, that was the high point.  While scouting out locations for the next movie, Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash at the age of 33.  A distraught Miller abandoned work on BEYOND THUNDERDOME; though he eventually allowed himself to be talked into shooting the fight scenes, the visionary partnership that had fueled one of the great sci-fi franchises was over.  But what they accomplished lives on:

Mad Max As One More Reason Why the NYT is Going Bankrupt

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

So in the wake of mulling over Mad Max, I dug out the NYT’s initial review of the movie in 1979; reviewer Tom Buckley wrote that the movie “is ugly and incoherent, and aimed, probably accurately, at the most uncritical of moviegoers.” But then 25 years later, a NEW review of Buckley’s appeared on a DVD: “With this stunning, post apocalyptic action thriller…Mad Max is tremendously exciting…one of the most tense scenes of the decade.”


In Buckley’s defense, the first version was the one with the lame dubbed American voices, and a reasonable person could certainly claim that this ruined the movie completely. And maybe after a quarter century, Buckley had finally figured out what the word cool means. But I think there’s something more going on here. The Big News Rags—Time, NYT, the Wash. Post, etc.—used to pull this kind of shit all the time: crap on something, and then once they saw how completely they’d misjudged the popular mood, revamp their opinion and hail it as a classic. But now with the World Wide Web as 24-7 street theater/reaction, that’s impossible. So there was a time that Rolling Stone could get away with dissing Led Zeppelin’s first albums in the 1970s (to say nothing of Black Sabbath’s), only to subsequently decide that these were, in fact, Legendary Rock Albums. But now the gulf between Traditional Media’s dinner parties and the zeitgeist is there for all to see. And it ain’t a pretty sight.*

*Sure, I know:  I’m probably reading way too much into this one reviewer’s change of heart. But I think my overall assessment is accurate.  And how Buckley failed to dig that initial chase scene is beyond me.

Mad Max

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Ah, the Mad Max movies. Did you know that until Blair Witch Project, the first Mad Max flick had the highest profit-to-cost ratio in cinema history? They shot it for 400K, and it made them over 100 million. The crazy part is that (at least initially) most of this came from non-U.S. markets; this might have had more than a little to do with the fact that the U.S. got a version in which Mel (and everybody else’s) voices had been dubbed over by Yanks.  Something about how the U.S. public wouldn’t have known what to do with a movie in which Australians were yammering on the entire time.  In fact, it was only with the release of the Mad Max DVD a few years back that we watch the movie without it sounding like a bad Hong Kong martial arts flick.

At any rate, we open with has to be one of the greatest auto chases in cinema history—“I am a fuel injected suicide machine!”—in which we see Max go head to head with the Night Rider, in a move that presaged the ending of Road Warrior where he collides full-on with the Humungous’ vehicle.  I love the way throughout most of the chase sequence Max just SITS THERE, listening on the radio as the chaos draws closer and the good guys get run off the road. #$# genius.   Spruce up your Monday by reliving the magic:

Leave no pet behind

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Fellow SF Novelist Dave Freer is emigrating from South Africa to Australia, but the costs of quarantine and transport for his four pets run to 19K. He’s set up a special storytellers bowl site where you can contribute $ to an ongoing novel he’s working on; please consider doing so, as those pet-owners out there know how hard it would be to leave an animal behind.

And speaking of animals, there will be a Special Pet Announcement on this site shortly.  The search for Spartacus’ successor is over!  Stay tuned for details.