Archive | April, 2015

Opposites attract: a spoiler-free comment on Avengers: Age of Ultron

24 Apr

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“Just one ticket?” I could hear the surprise in her voice. Seeing that I had heard it, she looked embarrassed. But I got that the ticket girl wasn’t saying “you sad man, seeing a film on your own” – if Ritzy staff can’t understand the joys of solo film appreciation, who can? – but rather, “you don’t have a child in tow? I mean, you do know this is a superhero movie?”

Lady, I was inhaling this superhero shit before yo’ mamma was born.

I’m sure I was more excited than the kids in the row behind me. At least, I didn’t see them bouncing in their seat the moment the Marvel logo came up on the big screen.

So does Avengers: Age of Ultron live up to expectations? Yeah. Not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Avengers Assemble, a little less cohesive in terms of plot, a little too CGI-tastic, but still huge fun and an incredible feat in juggling ten lead characters and giving them all a distinct voice. Joss Whedon won me over right from the outset: there’s this big chase and battle scene, and it’s all motorbikes and tanks and guns and flying shields and mystic hammers, and I’m like woah, too fast, too jerky, I can’t see, and Whedon knew we’d be thinking that, because that’s the moment he slo-moed everything way down, practically freeze-frame, for this beautifully choreographed comic-panel shot of the whole Avengers team flying or leaping through the air in their own individual styles.

I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. Why spoil the anticipation? But I will say, in terms of script-writing lessons, look for how Whedon uses opposites to powerful effect. Stark vs his metal twin; peace-loving Banner vs ragenik Hulk; sentimental Natasha vs assassin Romanoff; peace vs war; saving life vs extinguishing it; even, at the climax, going up vs coming down. It’s an effective technique, and elaborated on brilliantly by BBC script guru John Yorke in his recent Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why we Tell Them. (Writers: buy it.)

If this is how the blockbuster summer begins, I’m all for it. Now roll on Mad Max.

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Pushing the boundaries of comics with Igor Goldkind and Al Davison

10 Apr

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I am about to embark on such a day-and-night month of work that it would turn a lesser man into a gibbering loon, so blog posts will be few and far between. But before I scale the Cliffs of Insanity, I’d like to bring to your attention two fascinating projects from auld acquaintances on the comics scene.

First up, Igor Goldkind.  Igor was the silver-tongued PR for Forbidden Planet and Titan Books back in the days when editors insisted on writing the headline: “Biff! Baff! Pow! Comics Are Growing Up!” (Sometimes they still do.) He it was who popularised the term “graphic novel” in order to make national newspaper critics feel they were not soiling their hands in writing about Watchmen, Dark Knight or Maus; he who introduced Wendy James of Transvision Vamp to Alan Moore’s works, leading to her single Hanging Out With Halo Jones – and to a weird afternoon I spent in the then notorious comics haunt Bar Munchen hanging out with Igor, the diminutive popstrel Wendy, and two incongruously vast and hulking Easter Island-type bodyguards.

But I digress.

Igor has now turned poet. But rather than release a slim, elegant, and easily overlooked booklet of verse, he has challenged himself to push the boundaries of what an enhanced ebook can do in order to house his whirling words. Is She Available? is a comic, in the way that a film is a book. In other words, it’s not a comic at all, though it does feature illustrations by 26 luminaries including Bill Sienkiewicz, Glenn Fabry, David Lloyd and Liam Sharp. Some of the illustrations move, in semi-animated style. Some of the poems speak to you – literally – in Igor’s own voice. Some are set to avant-garde jazz music by Gilad Atzmon. The whole thing is designed by the Don of Font, Rian Hughes, whose typographical word-sculptures make an extraordinary complement to the poetry.

Pretentious? Certainly. If it’s pretentious to dare reach for the stars, when you could so easily settle for a poet’s garret. It’s really quite an extraordinary thing. You can download Is She Available?, published by Chameleon, for $9.99 at http://is-she-available.com/. The full range of features is currently available only on iOS devices – iPad, iPhone or Macs – though a Windows-compatible version is in the pipeline.

A large panel from Muscle Memory by Al Davison

A large panel from Muscle Memory by Al Davison

And secondly, Al Davison. Al is an extraordinary man. His graphic novel memoir of growing up with spina bifida, Spiral Cage, and his reboot of the Theseus myth told from the point of view of the monster, The Minotaur’s Tale, are two of the finest works in the comics field. Having been told he would never walk, he became a karate black belt and martial arts instructor. Now more often confined to a wheelchair, he is working on a searing sequel to Spiral Cage, supported through Patreon, about his childhood, including how his father tried, repeatedly, to kill him as a toddler.

You can read the story so far, free online, here.

But if you’re near Coventry, go see for yourself. This Saturday, Urban Coffee Co at Fargo Village, Coventry is hosting the live event Muscle Memory: The Instant Retrospective Exhibition, 5.30-8pm. Painting live, Al Davison will also be telling stories of his life while the audience can bid for each work in a simultaneous live auction. After that, the completed exhibition will run for four weeks.

Made In Dagenham: £15 tix

2 Apr
Gemma Arterton leads the cast of Made In Dagenham

Gemma Arterton leads the cast of Made In Dagenham

I’ve just seen that there are discounted £15 seats for Made In Dagenham (normally £35-£55), now that the show is closing after just five months on April 11. The offer ends midnight Friday, and is available here: bit.ly/1yHEjE8.

It’s sad that the musical failed to find an audience. The script is witty, the songs gutsy, the set amazing (justly nominated for an Olivier Award) and the true story of female Dagenham factory workers fighting for their rights, which led directly to the Equal Pay Act of 1970, still strikes a chord. The sequences with Harold Wilson are also some of the funniest I have ever seen on stage.

The West End has hosted too many so-so retreads of big Hollywood movies. It’s good to see one that takes some risks. And though it may not have the heart and the universality of Billy Elliot, it is my by some margin my favourite out of a good half dozen new musicals I’ve seen recently (including the misfire that is Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown).

And for £15? That’s the price of a West End film ticket.