Friday 20 June 2014

Iris Wildthyme of Mars cover ready

The full cover design for Iris Wildthyme of Mars has now been finalised. Beautiful artwork by Paul Hanley and fantastic design by Cody Schell. Just beautiful stuff. Full images on editor Phil Purser-Hallard's blog.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

HAMMERAMA: Demons of the Mind (1972)

Well, this is a peculiar one. A muddle of insanity, terror, murder and incest, it's a faintly sickening thriller. Directed by Peter Sykes in an erratic, free-form fashion, it's quite difficult to make sense of for much of its ninety minute runtime. At times I wondered if the revelation would be that all the characters were mad, which might well be true. It's all fairly hysterical, with every member of the cast overacting for maximum effect. Robert Hardy plays Count Zorn, a twisted landowner who keeps his two full-grown children imprisoned in his mansion home. His sister-in-law Hilda (Yvonne Mitchell) keeps the two youngsters under lock and key. Emil (Shane Briant) is a sickly, pale thing, yet still has the strength to repeatedly escape into the village and murder young women, while his sister, Elizabeth (Gillian Hills), with whom he has an incestuous relationship, manages a proper escape before being reapprehended and subjected to questionable medical treatment. 

The question of just who is insane and why the murders are being committed runs through the film. Patrick Magee gives his usual bizarrely mannered performance as Dr. Falkenberg, a theoretical psychologist who has developed a controversial treatment based on magnetic fields that supposedly permeate the universe. This Mesmer-inspired method seemingly allows him to probe into Zorn's disturbed psyche and reveal the truth of his madness. It's something of a flipside Fear in the Night, a psychological thriller posing as something supernatural. Demons of the Mind at first appears as a purely psychological case, but is revealed to have a supernormal element. 

There are some very striking moments in the film. The scattering of rose petals onto the bodies of the murdered girls is a striking motif, while various moments of female nudity aren't played for titillation the same way as in most Hammer films. Scenes of bloodletting the prone Elizabeth or watching the next victim get changed give an unpleasantly voyeuristic sensation. It makes the whole thing very disturbing. Overall, though, Sykes's direction is over the top and hard to follow. There's also a pretty unnecessary subplot with Michael Horden as a raving priest. It's a remarkable film, but ultimately too incoherent to really work.

Sunday 15 June 2014

It seems that, recently, a lot of people I admire have been dying. I guess it's part of growing older, that more and more people that mean something to you will go. And perhaps the loss of my grandfather in April has made me more aware of it. I'm not sure. In nay case, as well as the great Rik Mayall, so far this month we've lost several admirable people.

Sam Kelly. A very beloved English actor. Best known for his comedy roles in 'Allo 'Allo and Porridge, and his dramatic roles in Topsy-Turvy and Holding On. He was a fine jobbing actor who appeared in dozens of British film, television and radio roles. I have particularly fond memories of his regular role in the lesser-known sitcom On the Up, and his two excellent turns for Big Finish Doctor Who, including the critically acclaimed The Holy Terror with his college contemporary Colin Baker.

Francis Matthews: An English actor best remembered for his various roles for Hammer Films, including major roles in The Horror of Frankenstein and Rasputin, the Mad Monk. He was also Paul Temple for the BBC and the original voice of Captain Scarlet.

Eric Hill: Once a lowly cartoonist in an illustrating company, Eric Hill went on to write the legendary Spot the Dog books. Pretty much anyone in the western world will have encountered these as a child. Hill even invented, with his first Spot story, the lift-the-flap book. Very happy memories of childhood.

Marion Brandvold: A name unlikely to be recognised by many, Marion Brandvolt was a palaeontologist and geologist who discovered the first dinosaur nest. The nest of Maiasaura, which revolutionised our understanding of dinosaur parentage and care, had a major impact on the field. Brandvold was 102 when she died, having lived to see huge developments in the field.

In May, we lost a number of notable people, including:

Pom: The pen name of Josef van Hove, a great Flemish cartoonist whose work was published in Belgian newspapers throughout the late twentieth century. His work decorates many a cafe wall in Brussels and Bruges.

H.R. Giger: The Swiss artist whose nightmarish visions inspired many a writer and moviemaker. Most famous as the creator of the Alien, his portfolio was vast and disturbing.

Maya Angelou: Probably the most notable individual on this list, Maya Angelou's autobiographical novels gained not only widespread critical acclaim but moved thousands of readers. Her writing and activism have furthered understanding of the realities of life for women and African Americans. A truly influential woman, there are no shortage of tributes online.

While none of the above died young, it does not make their deaths any less saddening. The greatest respect to them all.

Friday 13 June 2014

WHO REVIEW: The Elixir of Doom

With the Companion Chronicles coming to a close, it seems quite right that they should revisit some of their greatest successes, and so we finally catch up with Iris Wildthyme and Josephine Jones (nee Grant) following their meeting in the superlative 2010 release Find and Replace. Once again, Paul Magrs writes a wonderfully odd, funny adventure in which Katy Manning performs both lead roles. Manning is absolutely on fire here, jumping between Iris, Jo and several supporting characters with ease. As the sleeve notes state, most people would assume she records each characters separately, but in fact she jumps between them, reading the script chronologically. She makes it sound effortless, a testament to her skill as a vocal actor.

The plot is fairly slight, just enough to generate some intrigue and mystery for Iris, Jo and the Doctor. Ah yes, he's here too, although not in his third incarnation, in spite of the image on the CD cover (Jo being a third Doctor companion gets a third Doctor stamp). While I won't give away which incarnation is featured, because it's much more fun just to wait and find out yourself, I will say that it's probably not the one you're expecting. Manning gets him spot on, too.

Iris takes Jo to 1930s Hollywood, to a party where they encounter the brash starlet Vita (another wonderful vocal turn by Manning). Jo and the Doctor saved her from a vampire in the 1970s, which sounds a lot more fun than dithering about on Solos or joyriding hovercraft. It turns out that not only are vampires real, but that there are all manner of movie monsters present in Hollywood in the Thirties. Vita is filming Leopard-Boy Meets the Human Jelly, with real monsters. But she has stranger secrets than that...

This story is an absolute joy, with witty dialogue, excellent performances and sound design and an atmosphere of decadent fun. Derek Fowlds provides fine support as Vita's partner Claude and other male roles, but this release belongs to Katy Manning. Iris and Jo make a fantastic team. Not many actresses display such amazing chemistry with themselves.

IXS Enterprise

NASA scientist Dr. Harold White has unveiled his designs for a prototype warp ship. As I pointed out before, we're a long, long way from creating a practical warp field, if such a thing is even practically possible. Still, the ship is gorgeous. The ISX Enterprise IXS-110 takes its inspiration from an obvious source. White even got Trek designer Mike Okuda to do some design work on it. So we have another Enterprise to add to the lineage - I guess this will go between Virgin Galactic's Spaceship-Two class VSS Enterprise and the United Earth Space Probe Agency's Declaration-class USS Enterprise.

flickr link for more pictures.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Rest in Peace, the People's Poet

On Monday, Rik Mayall was found dead. We're all still reeling from this. The first I knew about it was about five minutes after the news broke, my good friend and former Bottom-watching companion Andy texting me as soon as he found out. Then came the barrage of other messages as we all tried to confirm that it was just a rumour, or a hoax, or the silly old bastard playing a prank. But it wasn't. Rik is dead, and we still don't know what happened.

I didn't know Rik Mayall, of course, but he was one of those people who was part of the background of my life. His earliest TV work predates me, so he was already a fixture by the time I was old enough to be aware of such things. Spike Milligan called him "the arsehole of British comedy," something I'm sure Rik found hilarious. And arsehole he was, creating grungy, oily, offensive characters who were as subversive as they were unforgettable. Most often partnered by his best friend and comedy partner Ade Edmondson, (together they were The Dangerous Brothers) Rik was the face of alternative comedy throughout the eighties and nineties. The Young Ones was too early for me to fully appreciate, since its anarchic approach had already had an impact on British comedy by the time I was watching. Even so, nothing ever really approached the chaotic freeness of The Young Ones.

I'm sure Rik would have taken some comfort in knowing that he outlived his nemesis, Bloody Thatcher, by a good year. While Rick, he's Young Ones persona, was an anti-Thatcher anarchist, or at least wanted to be, he was far from being Rik's strongest weapon against the hated Tories. Alan B'Stard, the lead character from The New Statesman, is described on Wikipedia as "a selfish, greedy, dishonest, devious, lecherous, sadistic, ultra-right wing Conservative back-bencher," which more-or-less describes most Conservative back-benchers. A fixture of the late eighties and early nineties, The New Statesman returned as a stageshow in 2006, the new Tory government making it as relevant as ever. Just watch this, and see how close Cameron and crew are to B'Stard's way of thinking:

The New Statesman wasn't written by Mayall, Edmondson or their usual collaborators, Ben Elton and Lise Mayer. More often than not, it was some combination of these four who would create the comedy masterpieces. And more often than not, Rik was called Richie, since there's no point wasting creative energy on thinking of new names all the time. He was Gertude "Richie" Rich in Filthy, Rich and Catflap (Ade was Catflap), and most notoriously, Richard Richard in the insane classic sitcom Bottom. Rik and Ade's three series as disgusting flatmates Richie and Eddie will remain some of my most adored comedy material for the rest of my life. It's a shame Andy and I never pulled our fingers out and did our own amateur staging of our favourite Bottom episode, 'S'Out, especially as my younger self looked an awful lot like Rik's younger self. If you're wondering what I look like, a young Rik Mayall isn't a bad estimate.

We saw, along with fellow Bottomers, the last two of the five live shows, with Rik sweating his arse off on stage as he and Ade dealt out appalling violence to one another. I even got a heckler kicked out (I believe they may have shot him, but that might just have been a sound effect.) Rik's Bottom will always be one of my favourite things to watch. However, even more wonderfully awful, more notorious, more adored, was his other best known character, Flashheart. As Lord Flashheart in Blackadder II, Squadron Leader the Lord Flashheart, the Flying Ace in Blackadder Goes Forth, and their assured ancestor Robin Hood in Blackadder Back and Forth, Rik was absolutely, utterly magnificent. It's almost impossible to credit that this man, the most desirable man who ever lived, was in fact the same as the least desirable, the perpetually un-shagged Richie. Only Rik could produce two polar opposites so memorably. Still, it's worth remembering his uncredited first appearance in the series, as Mad Gerald in the final episode of The Black Adder.

There were so many other characters, from Fred of Drop Dead Fred to Professor Adonis Cnut, the only good thing in Believe Nothing. Rik upstaged everyone, in everything. Even his occasional straight roles were memorably weird, and usually came with a smutty name, such as his occasional role in Jonathan Creek, Detective Inspector Gideon Pryke. And then there were all his many, many voice roles, always unmistakable. He was cut out of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, though, which just shows what a shit director Christopher Colombus was. He was even supposed to be the villain in the unmade Doctor Who movie The Dark Dimension, although it sounds like he would have been wasted in that too.

In 1998, Rik went and nearly killed himself in a quad bike accident. Seeing him lying prone on the ground by his bike, his wife thought he was joking, but fortunately realised soon enough to get him to hospital for urgent attention. He spent five days in an induced coma, and then some considerable time adjusting to life with an injured brain. Nonetheless, he and Ade wrote the script for the Bottom movie, Guest House Paradiso, while he was in hospital. He returned to acting first with voice work and later onscreen and on stage (Pryke was his first post-crash screen role.) There were rumours of a new series of Bottom, based on the "Hooligan's Island" in the last few years, but Rik and Ade said that they just couldn't work together anymore. Later interviews suggest Rik just wasn't up to the scripting process. Plus, Ade was warned about doing himself serious damage if he kept on with those violent stunts.

We don't yet know how he died. It was possibly something to do with his injury; he remained on daily medication for injury induced epilepsy for the rest of his life. He will be missed by two generations of comedians and fans. Tributes have poured in for him, but the last word should go to his co-conspirator, Ade:

"There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree, stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he's died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard."

Saturday 7 June 2014

GHOSTBUSTERS! Thirty years of the Boys in Grey

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the premier of Ghostbusters. As if 1984 wasn't memorable enough for being my year of birth, it also gave us one of the greatest sci-fi comedy films of all time, a movie that kicked off a franchise that remains a favourite to this day.

Ghostbusters is  pretty much absolute favourite thing in the world, after Doctor Who. The original film is, of course, a classic, but it was the animated series that captured my heart. The Real Ghostbusters aired from 1986 to 1991, and continued in syndication for a few years both on American and British TV. I was obsessed with this show as a kid. I taped the episodes off CITV, and watched them so many times that I actually wore out one of the videos (not the tape, the case. It buckled through overheating.) That, however, is a subject for another article. No, today we talk about the original, the movie that inspired the cartoons, and which I was shown a few years later.

Needless to say, I loved it. Much of the humour went over my head, of course, being a small boy. When I watch it now - which is often - I can never get over quite how rude the film is. There's a lot of adult humour in there that I was simply oblivious to as a child. And there are still little jokes that I spot that somehow passed me by on previous viewings. Ghostbusters seems almost perfect in its set-up and production. It's surprisingly slow to get going, gradually moving from university labs to the knackered firehouse to the first, spectacular battle with the green ghost. Most of the Ghostbusters many jobs as spectral pest-controllers are glossed over in a rapid montage as the film moves onto its climax. The possession of Dana and Louis, leading to the manifestation of Gozer, is pure horror movie material, the humour tempered by some quite unnerving imagery. Then it all goes nuts when Gozer takes the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Being steeped in the franchise, it's hard for me to appreciate just how strange this movie is. One thing I love is the very rare opportunity to show Ghostbusters to someone who has never seen it before. Stay Puft usually takes the cake.

Considering how utterly perfect the cast are, it's odd to learn that initially some very different names were attached to the project. While Aykroyd and Ramis were there as Stantz and Spengler from the beginning, their script was written as a vehicle for John Belushi, originally intended to star as Peter Venkman. Belushi's death by overdose put paid to that, and so Bill Murray stepped in to play the parapsychologist lothario. Murray's semi-improvisational performance is, inarguably, a high point of the film, and it's bizarre imagining anyone else in the role, even someone as comically gifted as Belushi. Not that the late actor was forgotten. The green ghost, who became known as Onionhead by the production team, and finally, by the fans, as Slimer, is popularly held to be the ghost of Belushi.

Other casting changes bring to mind a very different production. Somewhere in the multiverse, there is a version of Ghostbusters featuring the great John Candy as businessman Louis Tully, and Eddie Murphy as 'buster recruit Winston Zeddemore. In the event, we got what is, for me, an unbeatable cast of Aykroyd, Ramis and Murray as the core trio, with Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis as able support. Even the lesser roles are spectacular. Fans rarely praise him enough, William Atherton is bloody fantastic as the insidious Walter Peck, and is the one figure whose absence hurts the sequel. The lesser roles are brilliantly cast too, with eighties comedy greats such as Jordan Charney as Dean Jaeger, veteran actors such as Alice Drummond as the terrified librarian, and Larry King as himself.

Considering that Ramis and Aykroyd took their inspiration from early cinema ghost-hunter comedies, the initial treatment for the film went off in wild and bizarre directions. They pitched to Ivan Reitman a script that had teams of ghostbusting professionals travelling between dimensions, battling gigantic monsters, of which Stay Puft was just one of many. Realising that he could never finance such a film, Reitman encouraged the boys to pair it down. Rick Moranis is said to have had some major input into the final script, which provides a far more relatable, less comic-booky approach. We can easily empathise with these hopeless graduates as they try to carve out an utterly insane niche in the world. Lucky for us that they did, or Gozer would have annihilated New York City, and probably the world, had he been left unchallenged.

Is it perfect? We, no. Reitman's direction is more suited to comedy, and he struggles a little with the climactic action sequences. Hudson and Potts are underused. And, while it's not a flaw, most fans miss that Peck, for all his arrogance, is absolutely right to call the 'busters up on their illegal, unlicensed nuclear-magnetic equipment. He's still stupid for switching it off, though. Still, just watch the film. The effects still looks impressive today, after thirty years of progress - a benefit of practical and film effects over the rapidly developing use of CGI. The comedy is dark, eccentric and often slight, but it perfectly fits the story. Then there are the ghosts. Not just Slimer and Stay Puft, but all the wonderfully strange and unnerving designs. The Terror Dogs, Zuul and Vinz Clortho. Eleanor Twitty, the library ghost. The cab-driving corpse. The shrieking thing that flies out of the subway. Gozer's humanoid manifestation. All spectacular.

Ghostbusters is a classic, no doubt about it, and it spawned a host of other elements.The underrated Ghostbusters II. The aforementioned animated series, its own sequel Extreme Ghostbusters, also unfairly aligned. Comics and video games, action figures, a huge Lego set on the way. Where it will go now, is uncertain. Supposedly, Ghostbusters 3 is happening. Over the years, there have been several attempts to make a de facto third instalment. Scholly Fisch penned the rather mediocre, but extremely collectible novel Ghostbusters: The Return. The 2009 video game is essentially the third movie, featuring as it does the voices of the original cast, with Ramis and Aykroyd involved, albeit minimally, in the scripting. The IDW comic series currently progresses the story forward from this, incorporating certain elements from the animated canon to create a new Ghostbusters future. And they're finally able to use Dana, which really makes it feel like the third chapter.

The movie itself is meandering along, we here. Ruben Fleischer is said to be involved as director, which sounds perfect, since his previous hit, Zombieland, is pretty much the honorary third Ghostbusters for many of us. (Bill Murray's cameo sealing the deal, of course.) But with Murray not interested in reprising the role of Venkman, Aykroyd slowly losing the will to make the film and Ramis sadly deceased, it's looking less and less likely a satisfying third movie will be made. Still, we'll always have that first classic movie. Happy anniversary, Ghostbusters.

New articles on Television Heaven

Just a quick heads-up: I have three new articles on Television Heaven this month. I've taken a look back at two Tom Baker Doctor Who serials, Genesis of the Daleks and Terror of the Zygons. Plus, a piece examining the lesser known but fascinating European 60s space opera, Raumpatrouille Orion. There are many more articles on a variety of TV genres on the site; pieces by other authors include new reviews of Press Gang, Knightmare and The Curse of Peladon.

Thursday 5 June 2014

X-Men - Kinematic Continuity Questions

How is Xavier alive, and how does Magneto have his powers back? Xavier was killed in The Last Stand, and Magneto was depowered by the mutant 'cure.' Now, both events have potential get-outs hinted at by that movie. Magneto was seen playing chess at the end, with a barely perceptible movement of a metal piece hinting that his powers were returning. The post-credits sequence hinted that Xavier's mind had survived his death at the hands of the Phoenix, and had set up shop in a comatose body. However, neither of these is elaborated upon or even given any mention in Days of Future Past. The post-credits sequence of The Wolverine has Logan state that Xavier's presence is impossible, to which he merely replies that Logan is “not the only one with gifts.” DOFP however, mentions nothing. Some kind of explanation, however, brief, would have been welcome.

It's possible that the mutant 'cure' was not as all-powerful as it appeared to be. Perhaps it's effectiveness faded over time, and required top-ups, more like the genetic therapy that McCoy uses on himself and Xavier in DOFP. This would certainly help to explain why the Sentinels are killing mutants and potential mutant sires, rather than forcibly curing them. As for Xavier, even if we accept that he has acquired another body, why does he still appear the same? He's even in a wheelchair. Perhaps his new body is quite different, but he is telepathically projecting his original appearance. The commentary to The Last Stand suggested that Xavier had a braindead twin whose body he took over, which is not mentioned in the film and is also really stupid. There is nothing in the films to actually suggest a full explanation. Seriously, one quick line would have done.

Why are Scott and Jean alive in the altered timeline, yet Rogue is powerless? Clearly, the new timeline has experienced some quite different events to what we've already seen. If the first two movies happened, they must have happened in a different way, but The Last Stand doesn't seem to have happened at all. If Jean didn't sacrifice herself at the end of X2, she never would have returned as the Phoenix, and never would have killed Scott in the naffest of offscreen fashions. Why, then, is Marie able to touch Iceman without her energy draining powers affecting him? Perhaps the mutant 'cure' was still developed, but with a different chain of events in the absence of the Phoenix. Alternatively, perhaps with Hank McCoy present, Marie has been able to use some kind of therapy to suppress or control her powers.

How is Shadowcat able to transport someone's consciousness through time? Again, just one line to explain that she'd developed a secondary mutation, or trained herself to phase through time as well as space would have done. And is she really sitting there, with no food, sleep or bathroom breaks, holding Logan's mind in place the whole entire time? Because if time runs in parallel in both timezones, she's been squatting there for days.

Did any of Origins: Wolverine actually happen? Aside from the fact that the previous films have now been shoved into an alternative timeline, it seems as though the widely hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine has already been retconned out of existence. That movie suggests that Logan spent most of the twentieth century hanging out with Sabretooth, and that they were both present during the conflict in Viet Nam, none of which meshes with Wolverine's presence in America in 1973 here. That said, it's not as if the version of Sabretooth we meet in Origins: Wolverine has much in common with the virtual mute we met way back in the first ­X-Men film in 2000, so disregarding Origins isn't necessarily a bad idea.

What's going on with Mystique? The retcon I found hardest to swallow in First Class was learning that Raven spent her childhood as Xavier's adopted sister, before joining Magneto and becoming Mystique. This was all excellently done, but nonetheless clashed somewhat with the initial X-Men trilogy, in which neither party showed any affection or emotional engagement with one another. DOFP at least managed to link the two versions of Mystique, although it raises further questions. What happened to Mystique in the original timeline, if she was captured by Trask and used to develop the Sentinels' shifting abilities? Did Magneto break her out? Considering that The Last Stand doesn't seem to have occurred in the new timeline, I think it's safe to assume that she still has her powers, so it's feasible she's till out there, but we don't know on whose side.

As a related aside, in the comics, Mystique and Azazel were revealed to be Nightcrawler's parents. Now, that's not necessarily true of the movie-verse, but if it is, Nightcrawler will have to have been born by 1973, considering that Azazel is dead and Mystique certainly does not appear to be pregnant. That's not a problem; Mystique clearly ages slowly, just as in the comics, so it's feasible Nightcrawler does too. Nightcrawler is expected to appear in X-Men: Apocalypse, so perhaps we'll learn something more then.

Why are there two Bolivar Trasks? And, for that matter, two Emma Frosts, two Moira McTaggarts and possibly two Toads? Well, the two Trasks aren't really a problem. Bill Dukes's character in The Last Stand was clearly based on the comic's Bolivar Trask, but never got a name beyond Secretary Trask and had little impact anyway. So he's just another guy with the same surname (and props for the blind casting – an African American man and a caucasian dwarf both getting the role instead of yet another tall white guy). The two Origins: Wolverine is only ever referred to as Emma, and is the sister of Kayla Silverfox. So I guess she just happens to have the same crystalline powers as Emma Frost, and the same first name. (Again, if Origins even counts.) The two Moiras is another oddity, one being a briefly seen Scottish medical doctor at the end of The Last Stand, and the other an American secret agent and Xavier's love interest in First Class. Clearly they can't be the same person, although I suppose it's feasible that they are related – maybe the Last Stand Moira is the First Class Moira's daughter or something. The two Toads might be the same character, although the green-skinned, leaping version from the first X-Men film and the warty, goggle-wearing version from Days of Future Past seem quite different.
Emmas are a bigger problem, although again, they could just be two people with the same name. The Emma we meet in

Why does Wolverine have metal claws in Days of Future Past, and does he have them in the new timeline? A big cock-up, this one, considering that The Wolverine only came out last year and is fresh in people's memories. In the climactic (well, climactic-ish) battle in that film, the Silver Samurai lopped off Wolverine's adamantium claws with a hot adamantium blade. He soon grew back bone claws, but there's no way, surely, for his adamantium to grow back. So why does he have metal claws in the future scenes of DOFP? The most likely explanation is that Magneto used his powers to manipulate the metal in Logan's body, but again, just a quick explanation would have sufficed to end this mystery. On a related note, does Wolverine have an adamantium skeleton in this new reality? Considering that in the last scene of DOFP, he is dragged off not by Stryker, but Mystique disguised as Stryker, it's questionable that he goes through the Weapon-X treatment in this timeline.

What happened to (insert mutant name here)? Well, Mystique's look at the files tells us that Azazel, Emma Frost and Angel Salvadore from First Class have all been killed and dissected. One of Angel's wings also turns up on display. Havok is alive and well, serving in Nam, but we don't know what happened to Banshee. As for later characters, Nightcrawler was going to turn up in the future scenes at one point, but was cut at an early stage because of the overload of characters. Rogue's future scenes were actually filmed, but cut, leaving only her alternative future cameo. Yukio, Logan's 'bodyguard' from The Wolverine, was already absent by that film's “two years later” post-credits scene, so her whereabouts are a complete mystery. Her precognitive skills might have come in handy in avoiding the Sentinels, though. Angel (Warren Worthington, not Salvadore) is a notable absentee, since The Last Stand seemed to be setting him up for joining the team. Perhaps he'll appear in the sequel, seeing that he was a major part of the Apocalypse storyline in the comics. According to the tie-in site, '25 Moments,' Angel was killed in 2011 in the Sentinel timeline. No news on Pyro, Magneto's volatile protegé from X2 and The Last Stand. Gambit does not appear, but we know he's alive in the altered timeline since he's set to appear in future films. The status of Blink, Bishop, Sunspot and Warpath in the new timeline is unknown, but BingBing Fan (Blink) has revealed she's signed up for further films.

What happened in the original timeline, before Logan changed everything? The sequence of events seen in Days of Future Past makes the original timeline hard to work. Magneto is imprisoned for ten years following the assassination of Kennedy in November 1963, until Logan, Xavier and Quicksilver break him out. How did he escape in the original timeline? It's tempting to imagine Mystique had something to do with it, but she's busy trying to kill Trask at this point. The development of the Sentinels is also confusing. Trask is ready to demonstrate his mark-one killer robots as early as 1973. The failed assassination attempt allowed him to push the programme forward on panic value, but even so, the development in the original timeline was slow. It's easy to accept that the shapeshifting Sentinels took a long time to develop, even with Mystique's tissue samples to hand, but why were there no simpler Sentinels sent in to quell the mutant uprising in The Last Stand? They'd have evened the odds at least.

Where does the X-Men universe go from here? Well, it's X-Men: Apocalypse next. The post-credits scene shows En Sabah Nur, latterly Apocalypse, basking in the worship of his followers, while he psychokinetically assembles the pyramids, as the Four Horsemen look on. Apocalypse is going to be set in the eighties, although there are apparently going to be at least cameos from some of the older generation X-Men. This new timeline can unravel in unforeseen ways – although we've seen a happy, shiny future for the Xavier school, we know time is in flux and can be altered. Presumably, Cable could well be involved, stepping back from even further in time. Has the change to history somehow allowed Apocalypse to rise to power in the twentieth century? (Perhaps the Sentinels would have killed him originally? Seems dubious, but not impossible.) And will Mr. Sinister be in it? And if not, why not?

REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past

So, here's my somewhat belated review of the seventh movie in Fox's X-Men franchise, after everyone else has posted theirs. I guess this means I can speak quite freely regarding plot points, so if you haven't seen it yet and have still managed to avoid spoilers, best stop reading now. In short, I loved it. Days of Future Past is easily the best of the franchise since X2, and the fact that Bryan Singer is back to direct is no coincidence there. Like X2, this movie has a fairly straightforward plot made apprently more complex by all manner of extra elements and a large cast of remarkable characters, and like X2, Singer and his scriptwriters manage to keep things clear, entertaining and fast-moving.

The decision to bridge the gap between the young cast of X-Men: First Class and the older cast of the earlier trilogy is a timely one. It's been fourteen years since the first X-Men came out, which, despite my seeing in a cruddy cinema on a very unsuccessful date, has become a favourite. Singer's first instalment not only kicked off a franchise, but a whole new generation of superhero movies, which until then had been an unfashionable relic of an earlier period of film. Sadly, the X-Men franchise flagged after Singer's departure, with X-Men: The Last Stand fairing poorly due to some illogical plotholes, fluffed character work and an overloading of new characters, which detracted from its many plus points. The less said about the misconceived Origin: Wolverine the better. The follow-up to this, a Magneto origins film, was itself mutated into the altogether more palatable First Class, which mixed modern sensibilities and characters with the comic's roots and revamped the saga. If there was to be a crossover between the two generations, it really had to be now, while the ageing cast of the original are still at the top of their game and the original films still fondly and clearly remembered.

Tackling the Days of Future Past storyline must have been a no-brainer once the time travel element was decided upon. The apocalyptic future sequences – set in 2023, ten years after the print version – are breathless but brilliantly done. A whole film of this would be too much, but opening the movie with it, and periodically snapping back to see it, holds the film together and maintains the stakes. Events in the seventies and events in the future feed into one another, keeping the plot tight. The future cast have less screentime than their past equivalents – with the obvious exception of Hugh Jackman – but all do very well with what they're given. Patrick Stewart, especially, is effortlessly classy as the elder version of Professor Xavier, while Sir Ian McKellen takes to his more heroic role. It's rewarding to see Professor X and Magneto side by side, even under such terrible circumstances. I still feel that Ellen Page is somewhat wasted in the role of Shadowcat, but at least she gets some far better material to work with than she did in The Last Stand. Halle Berry remains woefully miscast as Storm, but this isn't really a problem here, as she is mostly there to provide pyrotechnics.

Of course, the man holding it all together is Hugh Jackman. It's a sensible choice, making Wolverine the star of the film. He's been the most popular character and actor of the franchise, proving his surprising casting back in 1999 absolutely right. Jackman has been the lead in six of the X-Men features now, and the only actor to appear in all seven. Making Wolverine the character to travel back in time makes perfect sense from a logistical perspective, although if they'd really wanted Shadowcat to be the one to do it, they could have just made it a physical time jump instead of a mental journey. Nonetheless, it works better this way; not only is Jackman the favourite face of the franchise, he can handle the action scenes in a way that Ellen Paige certainly wouldn't have. Of course, they could have picked anyone from the cast had they so chosen, but let's be honest, it's Jackman that pulls in the punters.

The Wolverine, while flawed, gave Jackman the chance to play a more mature version of his character, developing to the point where he was finally becoming comfortable with his nature. Setting this a further ten years or so on gives him the opportunity to play a version of Logan who has finally come to terms with himself. It's a calmer, more reserved take on the character, and this is part of the best elements of the movie. The more mature Logan gets to act as a guide and mentor to the young Xavier, a fascinating role reversal that ties DOFP back to the first film and keeps things fresh.

James McAvoy soars as the younger, damaged Xavier. Taking away his need for the wheelchair is an intriguing decision, brilliantly justified. Not only does it allow Xavier to take part in the showstopping prison break scenes, it also illustrates his desperation and the lengths to which he has gone to cope with his loss. We've never seen Xavier like this, a broken man, and it's an essential stepping stone from the buoyant, cocky young man of First Class to the wise elder statesman of the trilogy. While there is still little common ground between the performances of McAvoy and Stewart, we can believe the one man growing into the other. The lack of telepathy also allows the writers avoid the obvious issue that he could simply read Logan's mind, and inject some drama into their meeting.

It also ties nicely into Hank McCoy's inclusion in the story. The omission of the Beast from the first two films always seemed an oversight (perhaps just because he's always been a personal favourite), and the casting of Kelsey Grammar in The Last Stand, while perfect, was wasted on that script. Nicholas Hoult was a fine choice to play the younger McCoy in First Clas, and he works well here as Xavier's carer and right-hand man. I could never understand fans' griping at the character's variable appearance in the films from his cameo in X2 to the trailers for this DOFP. Beast's appearance in the comics has varied hugely over the years, as he flitted back and forth between pink and hairless, grey and simian, blue and feline... McCoy's genetic serum is thematically sound, allowing both him and Xavier to suppress who they really are. While Xavier is presented as an addict, lost to depression, McCoy is simply still struggling to come to terms with who and what he is. His transformations into full-on Beast mode are an easy one for audiences raised on Hulk stories to comprehend (we've already started referring to it as 'Hanking out').

Then there's Michael Fassbender as the younger Magneto. He has leading man looks and charm, but can pull off a sinister turn with the best of them. He's very much channelling McKellen here, with certain scenes verging on impersonation. However, some of his most powerful moments are when he is in reduced circumstances, as in his imprisonment (beneath the Pentagon, for some reason) and his final fall from grace. As essential as his inclusion is, you've got to wonder why future Magneto ever suggested he was necessary for the mission. After the, admittedly thrilling, prison break, Magneto does little but provide Xavier with someone to be at loggerheads with. Once events get moving, he's a massive liability, turning on the team and getting straight back to his mutant superiority campaign. Considering that one of his major skills is stopping bullets, he really doesn't help much in preventing an assassination. He does look fantastic in a hat, though.

There are so many excellent cast members that it's hard to know where to stop. Peter Dinklage is, as always, a class act. There are occasional touches of Tyrion Lannister in his calm, collected, but fanatical Bolivar Trask. Jennifer Lawrence has come in for some flak for her performance as Mystique, but I really don't understand why. She gives a beautiful performance as someone who has become lost in their desire for justice, ever more out of her depth. You can see her taking the steps that will turn her into the ruthless bitch that she was in the original trilogy. She threatens to steal scenes from any of her male castmates, something that is not easy to do with the talent on display here. There are a lot of characters running around here, but unlike The Last Stand they are all well used – with the exception of Anna Paquin's Rogue, almost wholly cut from the film. Worthy of special mention though is Evan Peters as the young Quicksilver, Peter Maximoff. Making Quicksilver cool for a modern audience and making him work onscreen was never going to be easy, but this cocksure young thief is a highlight of the film. The slo-mo gunfight scene, in which Peter calmly saunters through the swarm of bullets and debris tweaking trajectories (not stopping bullets, my physics-brain rejoices) is fantastic. I usually hate slow motion in films, but this actually worked to sell a concept, instead of just being used to pad out a scene. We can only hope Quicksilver is done half as well in the upcoming Avengers sequel. Altogether, Days of Future Past is visually spectacular, as can only be expected. The Sentinels, in both their guises, are fantastic – although I prefer the retro-flavoured seventies version.

The most striking thing about this storyline is that everyone is, in some way, justified in their prejudices. Trask is right to fear the mutant uprising. Magneto is an absolutely terrifying foe, one that proves that some mutants genuinely are a threat to humanity as a whole. Yet he, equally, is justified in his fear and hatred of ordinary humans, by the actions of Trask and his supporters. There is little right here, just a succession of wrongs. Even Xavier has the potential to be a horrifying threat; someone who can not only read minds, but control them, and totally convinced of his own moral superiority. In the event, Xavier, Shadowcat and Logan alter fifty years of history to their own benefit. It's easy to understand why people would be so frightened of them. It's a powerfully entertaining, over-the-top but provacative film, effectively capping the fourteen-year-old franchise and wiping the slate clean for a new era. It's not a bad idea, rebooting without erasing the past, muchlike the new Star Trek series. Overwriting The Wolverine only a year after its release may be a little overzealous, but this is Marvel – there are multiple realities stacked alongside each other by tradition. (Officially the X-Men movies up to this point are set on Earth-10005; the new timeline lacks an official designation so far. I am a geek.)

Both as a capstone to a long-running series and the birth of a new one, and as a stylish sci-fi actioner in its own right, Days of Future Past is cracking movie. Just please keep Bryan Singer for X-Men: Apocalypse.

Monday 2 June 2014

Americaaaaaaaa, Americaaaaaaaa

Gorgeous silly person.
Well, that was a very nice week that was. Six days in the company of my very beautiful and very silly friend Ashley, aka Iso Suicide aka Papyrusaurus aka Fishstixandcustard aka assorted pseudonyms. Six days of hanging out in Erie, Pennsylvania, with her and her two tiny boys, the very awesome Finn and Cabbie (aka the Super Mankoski Bros).

Super Mankoski Bros.

This is actually my second trip to the States, but my week in Boston, Massachusetts was almost ten years ago, and was not nearly so fun, since I had no pink-haired friends to enjoy it with. Erie is a beautiful city. It has Lake Erie, of course, one of the Great Lakes (read: huge bloody inland seas) which is stunning. Sometimes afloat in the lake is the USS Niagara, the flagship of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, between the USA and the British Empire. Nowadays it's a museum ship. We chose to spend our money on the ExpERIEence Children's Museum, which had magnets and train sets.

Americans are very good at BIG food, although I am better at eating large amounts than Ashley, which calls into question what kind of stomach training we've both been receiving. Ashley does, however, make fantastic empanadas and quesadillas, and can pick out the best places to buy gigantic burritos. However, the finest place to feed is ThreeB's, which promises "Beer, bacon and barbecues." You receive sweet bacon with your first beer, and it only gets better from there. We hurt our stomachs. Erie has many fine beers, but not enough tea. There was a day in which I almost missed having a cup. Don't worry, I sorted it.

Between many trips to the park with the kids, we explored some of downtown Erie, ate more fantastic food, met up with some very cool people and spent a great deal of time in the largest second-hand bookshop and comic store I've had the fortune to visit in many years. I stocked up on some classic Trek, and Ashley presented me with some vintage palaeontology and anthropology tomes. But most of all, I took a much-needed break from my everyday life and chilled out with my friend and some old sci-fi. There's nothing better than watching City of Death with a beautiful woman, probably.

The British Aisles

Lighthouse at Presque Isle

Snazzy tourist bus

Lake Erie

They have unusually large acorns here.

And unusually large and happy frogs.

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