Uncollected Thoughts: Suicide Squad

I debated doing one with Margot Robbie alone but decided that would be sexist

They warned me, but I had to see for myself, and now I have and they were right. DC’s Suicide Squad movie is crap, for all the reasons everybody has already said, but at least it’s not Batman vs Superman crap, though it wouldn’t have to cross a very wide street to be so.

I’m not going to go into expansive detail, which makes a change from the film. Actually, the film doesn’t so much go into infinite detail, dragging things out at every possible turn, as to slide very slowly across the surface of things, dragging it out at every possible turn.

This is the third time out of four DC Universe films (the fourth of which I have not seen and will not see) that I have been checking my watch inside the first thirty minutes (18 minutes and 23 seconds here, a new personal best). This was because the film was doing everything it could to avoid actually portraying a story, and boring the arse off me.

When the ‘story’ actually began, the film had forfeited all goodwill by being so clunky. It then went to to be not so much clunky in its development of the story as non-existent. There isn’t a story, just a series of events, through which we move at a funereal pace, occasionally upping the tempo for ill-directed, confusing fight scenes, in which you can barely see anything anyway because this is all taking place at night (DC films don’t do daylight, it’s far too light-hearted and Marvel).

I recall that a lot of reshooting took place before release in order to add a more light-hearted and comedic tone, but I assume all that stuff got left out of the final print, because I didn’t see any of it. Sure, Harley Quinn is constantly quipping, and snarking, and being generally absurd, but despite a vigorous performance by Margot Robbie, she isn’t actually funny.

Ms Robbie is, indeed, the highlight of the film, but only because her body gets flaunted over and over again, and it’s a nice body. Then again, Cara Delivingne, as June Moone/The Enchantress, also has a nice body, most of which is largely uncovered for 90% of her screen-time, and the film manages to make her look thoroughly unattractive.

I’ll say no more, as others have already said all of this, in more detail, and i am merely recording that they’re right.

I grew up on DC Comics. By temperament, I always preferred their less-frenetic, less-hysterical approach to superheroes. I have a half century’s emotional investment in these characters. I would just like to go and see a film about such characters that is at least half as enjoyable as those featuring Marvel characters for whom I don’t have anything like the innate sympathy. I’m beginning to suspect that I should stick to my boxset of the Christopher Reeve Superman films (maybe not no. 4…)

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e06 – Trunk From The Past

Firstly, an apology: Thursday is Tales of the Gold Monkey day, but, like other posts on this blog, I don’t watch, blog and post instantly, but schedule certain series. You’d think that after 61 years I would have learned how to count up to seven, even across one month’s end into another, but clearly I still have difficulties with simple arithmetic, which is how I managed to schedule last week’s post for Wednesday instead. I feel a proper fule!

Returning to our regularly scheduled feature, episode 6 made up for last week’s sidelining of Sarah by making her the focal point of a story that, with glorious improbability, wore its ‘Son of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘ atmosphere on its sleeve by transporting Ancient Egypt, dead Pharaohs and death curses to the South Pacific!

This was set up by an extensive flashback, kicking off the episode, set in 1937 Cairo. Archaeologist Professor White, father of our lovely Sarah, translates hieroglyphics into a succinct curse: He who seeks the tomb of the Pharaoh Ka seeks death. The Professor is duly unimpressed, even when the balcony doors slam shut and the light goes off, that is, until he is attacked and stabbed in the chest by a tall, strapping lad in a seriously impressive Anubis helmet.

Meanwhile, in the street, a cab disgorges a sneezing Sarah, her allergies activated by the dust of the excavations and sneezing uncontrollably, and Ted Harrison, her father’s assistant. Oh, and her fiance. We’re prepared for this as it”s a big point, understandably, in the pre-credits foretaste, and the two do appear to be close.

Sarah arrives in Daddy’s room to find his stabbed body on the ancient Egyptian trunk and the Anubis-lad crouched over the body. Being an American spy, she grabs her gun and blasts Anubis off the balcony, which brings Ted running, only to imply she’s had a shock-induced hallucination: there’s no body in the street.

Cut to one year later, and having formed our own conclusions about that engagement given that Sarah is in the Maravellas and playing up to Jake, we cut to our heroic plane-flying team, flying in dense cloud, at tight, with every instrument flopping wildly. They’re delivering a heavily wrapped trunk-shaped package to Sarah. Funnily, when the package breaks loose from its moorings and slides to the back of the Goose, the instruments go back to normal. Only the audience notices this…

So Jake, Corky and Jack deliver the package to Sarah in the Monkey bar, and she goes all little-girl excited over it, believing it to be the dresses she’d requested of her Aunt Helen, but it’s not. it’s the trunk, the one her father was stabbed to death on, and her instant reaction is horror, revulsion and fear.

Jake takes the trunk back to the Goose where Corky, having checked all the instruments, has discovered they’re all 100% ok, which doesn’t explain why they simultaneously went haywire (we know, don’t we, audience?). Meanwhile, Sarah, having retired to bed, is woken by a dream: or is it a dream? The first part of it may be, a vision of her father’s murder, but the second part is altogether more real. This is her father, warning her to be careful. There is no fear in Sarah, only great loss.

Come the next morning, Sarah is explaining the background to Jake, including a somewhat ferocious defence of her father’s pet theory – ridiculous of course but Daddy was convinced of it – that Ka, worried about Tomb-raiding in the Valley of the Kings, had his pyramid built ‘across-the-water’: seriously across the water, in the Maravellas.

Let’s swallow this one whole: this is not the kind of series where adherence to realism is the name of the game. Enter Ted Harrison, greeted with enthusiasm and serious kissing by Sarah that gets Jake’s back up even before Ted reveals himself as Sarah’s fantasy. Technically, that’s true. The engagement has never been formally broken off, though Ted’s attitude towards Sarah being a woman and therefore not capable of standing up for herself is one of the reasons Sarah has, more or less, rejected him.

Ted’s sent the trunk because he’s at last found Professor White’s notebook, though it’s all written in code that only Sarah can break, though she requires twin moments of inspiration from first Corky then Jake to get the passkey. And it’s Jake that spots that the base of the pyramid in the trunk is a star map, identifying a remote island in the northern Maravellas, in the Japanese Mandate.

This is clearly going to be dangerous.Sarah has another vision of her father, warning her not to go, followed by an Anubis with raised dagger, which causes her to faint. Still, she won’t be left behind. Jake and Ted don’t like each other, and have already had one of those fist-fights that smash up the flimsier bits of the Monkey Bar and cause Bonne Chance Louie to stand firmly aside, totting up Jake’s bill (this one totalled 100 francs), but Ted takes things to an altogether dirtier level, saying that he doesn’t want Sarah going with them because he loves her very deeply. And what does Jake have to say to that?

Nothing, in fact. He backs down rapidly, to his own self-contempt, and is ‘rewarded’ by seeing Sarah and Ted holding hands in the back of the Goose as they head northwards. Somewhat maliciously, he has Corky fetch the pyramid stone back and forth, requiring the affianced pair to have to let go of each other’s paws every time. It’s bloody obvious what he’s doing and Sarah isn’t fooled for a moment, nor is Corky, though it does establish that the magnetised stone is what is buggering up the gauges.

That they’re in the right place is immediately obvious when the natives on the island wear Egyptian headdresses, divided skirts and speak Ancient Egyptian. Worshipping Jack as a God is another giveaway. And then, in the least surprising surprise twist of all time, Anubis himself, in headdress and costume, emerges from the Goose: it is Ted.

His rationale for all this craziness is that, through his Egyptian mother, he has been a worshipper of Amon-Ra, and a Priest, since he was four. Jack will be worshipped as a living God, Sarah – tricked out in a very fetching black fringe-and-page-boy wig with excessive eye make-up – will become his wife and a Priestess, and Jake and Corky will be invited to the wedding. As the sacrifice.

There’s a somewhat non-Egyptian pyramid in the woods (you can’t get the stone, you know, nor the slaves) with a locking mechanism that requires only the pyramid stone as capstone. This opens the tomb, and the execution is to be Jack and Corky thrust inside, with the capstone, to do a living death.

Which is when Jack saves the day. Our favourite one-eyed terrier has to be carried around in a little because, being a God, as he already knows himself to be, his worshippers can only stand if he is above their head-height. So, leaping from the litter, he forces everyone to prostrate themselves. Jake and Ted have a brief scrap inside the tomb, with the door descending: Jake gets out but Ted is doomed to a living death…

The coda takes place back on Bora Gora, with just Sarah and Jake. Her greatest sadness is that those oddly comforting appearances by her father were only trickery by Ted. But Jake reminds her that this is only true of the second one: the first took place before Ted reached the island. Sarah’s father is indeed watching over her. Whether or not he’s saying this because he believes it or because its gets Sarah melting into his arms for a prolonged snog, we don’t know, but the episode ends on a freeze-frame as a hand lighting a rather ornate pipe appears in the extreme foreground…

I’ve gone on about the plot at greater length than I usually do because, although the story is simple, and is perfectly matched to the show’s ethos of recreating Saturday Morning Cinema with its tongue only so far into its cheek, this episode demonstrated just how dense and detailed episodes can be. The plot is a spine upon which so many different vertebrae, comic and otherwise, can be hung. Touches are light, but are cleverly assembled to imply a depth greater than screen-time requires. Even in small touches, the episode can tease and imply about the established personalities of its cast, suggesting things about the times between episodes.

Sarah’s grief about her father and her self-reliance, despite the way that the show constantly undercuts it is mixed in with Jake’s evident devotion to her and the way that his rootlessness as a soldier of fortune prevent him from saying it in words. There’s a cameo from the Reverend Tennbaum, suspicious of Jake’s plans, as well he might be, but thrown off the scent by Jack revealing a hitherto-unsuspected ability to lie. Sarah’s evident delight at Jake’s childish interruption of the hand-holding. All of these, and more, are indicated by brief moments, kept spare and lean, and used as variations on the cliched set-up.

This was a another very strong episode, and an example of how to write a commercial, entertainment-only series and expand straightforward adventure into something more intriguing.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e02 – The Ship

The Captain and Kilana

Deep Space Nine‘s 98th episode was a curious collection of bits that, for the most part, were well-made in themselves but which didn’t, for me, quite cohere into a substantial whole. The effect was unusual, a bit like the curate’s egg, though without anything in it that was specifically bad.

This was a story for half the cast, Sisko, Dax, Worf and O’Brien, in the Gamma Quadrant on a McGuffin Mission, examining a remote planet for its mining potential. The other half, Odo, Bashir, Quark and Kira, had a ‘B story’ of their own though it’s stretching the boundaries of the term to apply it to something begun and ended in a single scene, lasting about ninety seconds, if that, so we’ll ignore it.

The Sisko Four were in a party of nine, which meant that, even though none of them were wearing red shirts, you knew the other five were going to be for the chop the moment the story really began. Three of them made it onto the guest star list, though only F. J.Rio as O’Brien’s assistant, Muniz, had any kind of role. Four got killed more or less immediately: Muniz was mortally wounded and took most of the episode to die, teasing the audience into hoping for better, because his gently disrespectful attitude towards the Chief, and his obvious competence were the makings of a very appealing recurring character. We could have stood a lot more of Muniz, but his fate was pre-determined.

The open took us from some gentle ribbing between O’Brien and Muniz whilst exploring rough terrain, to the expedition successfully establishing the target planet as worth mining, to a ship coming out of cloaking and crashing not far away, to the discovery that it was a Jem’Hadar ship.

This was a brilliant opportunity to get acquire and study hot Dominion technology, and Sisko was determined to gran it with both hands: it was no less than his duty. This led to an oddly atmospheric explanation of the upside-down ships, all flashlights, darkness, hissing pipes and odd camera angles coming together to create a brilliantly effective impression of a kind completely alien to DS9.

The ship contains 29 bodies, its entire Jem’Hadar crew being dead.

Next up was the arrival of another, this time intact Jem’Hadar craft, destroying the runabout and opening fire, killing all the metaphorical ‘red-shirts’ except the belly-shot Muniz, and beseiging the Sisko Four inside.

This Jem’Hadar lot are led by a Vorta, of course. Pleasingly, this was not the ubiquitous Weyoun, but rather Kilana, played by Kaitlin Hopkins as a hesitant ingenue, inexperienced, gently flirtatious and all the while displaying enough cleavage to stun an ox. They want their ship back, and are willing to return everyone to DS9, intact, rather than start a fight.

Sisko, naturally, refuses. Apart from it being his Duty to the Federation, and his personal commitment, he doesn’t trust anyone from the Dominion further than he can spit.

Kilana tries again: this time she only wants a mysterious something off the ship and Sisko can have the rest, which he also turns down, ordering everyone to find out what this so important thing is. They’re all convinced it’s some form of military advance but I could see quite clearly what was coming, and it was a little less than convincing that no-one out of four such hardy and experienced Dominion fighters couldn’t even conceive of the most obvious explanation: there was a Changeling on the ship.

This wilful ignorance persisted even though the Jem-Hadar laid down an ongoing barrage of shells detonating outside the crashed ship, taking great care not to so much as scratch its paintwork. Meanwhile, the bombardment frays everyone’s nerves. Muniz continues to die, still clinging to his irreverent attitude, but getting progressively worse. O’Brien refuses to accept the inevitable and keeps reassuring him he’ll be saved, and even Sisko supports this attitude. This leads to the inevitable conflict between O’Brien and Worf over the latter’s cold-eyed clarity, and his Klingon belief that Muniz should be told the truth, so that he can prepare himself, or even that his struggle should be ended, to give him a death with honour, not this unworthy outcome.

We’re running out of time now, so the pace has to be forced. Muniz expires. Sisko and Dax discover some disgustingly greasy drips coming from the ceiling that prove to be the Changeling, a revelation only to the cast. It’s dying, unable to maintain its structural integrity, and spills all over the floor before turning into carbonised ash. Instantly, the bombardment stops. Kilana teleports aboard. All the Jem’Hadar have committed instant suicide, totally offscreen, because they let their god die. Sisko and Co can go, unmolested, and take the ship with them, no worries, as long as she can scoop up a test-tube worth of the Founder’s remains to take back to the Dominion.

This is the only scene that doesn’t work of itself. Sisko has lost five crewmen, but it seems to be the suicide of the purely homicidal, psychotic Jem’Hadar that pushes him to the edge of mild hysteria over so many people dying for this, and all because he and Kilana didn’t trust each other. It doesn’t work because it’s false. There’s a war going on and you’re not supposed to trust the enemy, especially when they’ve got overwhelming superiority in numbers and weaponry and are promising to let you go. Sisko’s sudden horror at this tragedy and his feeling of responsibility, which will be further developed in a subsequent scene with Dax, also doesn’t work because it has no basis in reality: with the exception of Muniz, who we assume could have been saved with proper medical attention, all the deaths took place before Sisko first spoke with Kilana, so his near-hysteria is for the death of the Jem’Hadar.

Nevertheless, there was an effective closing scene with O’Brien and Worf. The Chief is in the hold with Muniz’s coffin, talking to him, when Worf enters. The Klingon identifies O’Brien’s actions as echoing the Klingon tradition/rite of ak’voh, of friends guarding the body of a dead warrior from predators until it is ready to go to Sto’vo’kar. He joins O’Brien in his vigil.

As I said at the beginning, with the exception of the scene I’ve identified where Sisko nearly gets hysterical, the various elements of this episode are handled well in terms of both writing and acting, and that of the initial exploration of the ship in effects and cinematography, but somehow it didn’t come together as a whole. This was an episode I’ll remember for its parts rather than its sum. And I don’t mean Kaitlin Hopkins’ cleavage when I say that.

A Birmingham Weekend

After a weekend of summer sunshine and heat, almost to the point of oppressiveness, I woke this morning to the comfortably familiar sound of July rain, falling steadily from a grey sky. It took me back to a weekend away in Birmingham, thirty years ago.

Birmingham sounds like an unusual destination for a weekend away. I don’t like the city, and I don’t like the action, but Lancashire were playing a County Cricket match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, and I never minded an opportunity to visit Nostalgia & Comics (from where I acquired my Cerebus no 1, by trading a complete set of the Claremont-Cockrum/Claremont-Byrne X-Men and still got ripped off) and the still much-missed Compendium Books, the best second-hand SF bookshop I’ve ever visited.

In addition to all this, I had a good mate back then who’d not long since moved out of Manchester to train to become an Addiction Counsellor. He was now working in the Midlands and staying at the Nurse’s Home attached to a hospital in North Birmingham. So we set it up that he would give me directions to find the Nurse’s Home from the A34, so I could drop off my overnight bag and he could lend me a Birmingham A-Z, and I’d find my way back there after the cricket.

I made a bright, early start and was at the Nurse’s Home for tennish, picking up the A-Z and my mate and one of his fellow residents, and driving them into the centre of Birmingham.

Compendium and N&C were handily close together, a walk of less than ten minutes. There can’t have been much in there to interest me because I ended up splashing out on the new Tolkien History of Middle Earth, edited by his son, Volume 5, The Lost Road and other writings, which was something like £20 even then. I tucked it into my shoulder bag and drove on to Edgbaston.

I visited that ground a handful of times in the Eighties, in the first occasion to watch the Saturday of the Third Test against the West Indies, and then a couple of times with Lancashire. Cricket grounds have their own feel and appeal. Old Trafford I love, of course, and despite its several flaws, and I’m not even including the preponderance of Yorkshiremen about, I have always liked Headingley. Trent Bridge has always been a delight, but Lords leaves me cold, too much smugness in the air. Edgbaston is a small, oddly mis-matched ground, no two parts of which look alike and I’m not keen on it.

It was a typical, relaxed cricket day for me, kicked back in the stand, idly diverting my attention between the cricket and my new book, with a bit more time for the latter than I’d really wanted when the rain came over in the mid-afternoon, and the infamous ‘Brumbrella’ was winched out.

This was a unique extended tarpaulin that in the event of rain could be winched out to cover the entire playing field, except for one awkwardly-angled corner. It stretched out prophylactically and I eased back and read.

For a time, I got talking to a couple of home supporters, about their ground, and ours. They were pleasingly loyal to Edgbaston, well aware of its flaws, but content with it because it was theirs, as they should be. They eventually left, but I stayed because I’d travelled all this way to be here, and I had nothing else to do, and I was content to read and absorb the atmosphere. If I have to be somewhere when it rains, a cricket ground is a very pleasant place to be.

By the time play resumed, the ground was virtually empty. I wandered round, looking at the pitch from different angles. In one corner, opposite the Pavilion End, was a high-banked stand and I was at the top of that when Graeme Fowler struck a perfect flat cover drive, straight to the fence below me. It was one of those shots, all along the ground, where the ball hits the fence before the sound of the shot leaves your ears, and the fielders didn’t move because there was not enough time for them to move.

By close of play, the evening had become sunny and dry, and the sky and the air was a rich, warm gold. It was perfect weather for driving in, looking at what was around me, exploring a strange place. If I couldn’t be in the Lake District, at least I was somewhere I didn’t know, and I decided impulsively that, instead of using the A-Z to plot a course back to the Nurse’s Home, I would just point the car in its general direction and set off.

It didn’t take me very long to have no idea where I was or where I was going. In other circumstances, this would have qualified as being lost, but this was practically the purpose of everything. I found myself heading out of the city towards the south west and the M5 and curving back in again. At one point, I found myself driving along Handsworth main street. It was a slow, straight drive, full of people on both sides, and not a white face to be seen.

This was a new experience. I wasn’t disturbed, or angry, or threatened, or resentful, or anything. I was merely curious as to how far I could go without seeing another white face. It must have been at least a mile, of continuous crowds.

I left Handsworth behind me and motored on, still relishing the driving conditions. This couldn’t last forever and, after something not far short of two hours of wandering, I reluctantly decided that I couldn’t carry on like this forever. I looked for a quiet place where I could pull up, out of the way, find myself in the A-Z, and work out the route home.

There was a turn up ahead. I pulled round to the left, started to slow down, and then burst out laughing. I recognised this road. I had driven down it this morning. The hospital was about a quarter mile down the road, at the bottom. All that driving around, amusing myself, had ended with me getting where I wanted to be, as if by dead reckoning!

We didn’t do anything that evening. I remember sitting around in a bit of a group, including five or six of the nurses, and chatting. One of them in particular I remember, because although she wasn’t the prettiest, and she said very little, a couple of years my mate married her, and they had three children.

We didn’t sit up too late, and I went off to my room and went to bed.

In the morning, I woke about sevenish to the sound of rain. Steady, heavy, unceasing rain. I lay in bed, listening to it for some time before going and looking out of the window. It was falling unchangingly, into the trees dotted around the gardens. There were no gusts, no winds, no bursts, just a long hard fall, and the sound of it was a constant bass note drumming outside the window.

We had no plans, and I didn’t know where my mate’s room was, so after a while I dressed and lay on the bed, reading Tolkien and listening to the rain. It went on and on, for hours, without changing. It must have been after midday before there was a knock on my door.

The rain meant there was nothing to do, so after a drink, and a bit of lunch, I was going to make a dart for it. very few people were about, just one of the nurses that hadn’t been with us last night, and we invited her to join us.

I was working full-time as a Solicitor then, and relatively flush with cash, and thus quite happy to buy a round of drinks, especially as the young lady was quite pretty (not that I had any hopes, let alone expectations). My mate warned me against it: the nurses were badly paid even that far back, and didn’t tend to accept rounds as they couldn’t buy them themselves, and had their pride.

We stayed an hour at the pub. It was still raining, now at least six hours, without any variation in its intensity. I wondered whether there’d be any effect on the drive north, but I got home without incident, taking things slowly and easily. The rain was calming and stilling, the driving easy.

It seemed that the rain was a purely local phenomenon. In London, at Lords, the MCC Bicentennial match, and a Rest of the World XI, had gone on uninterrupted, and the BBC News had an item from the game that I watched with interest, apparently an amazing run out. Given that this was the famous instance where Roger Harper ran out Graham Gooch, it was actually deserving of mention as a news item, and when it came up on screen, I was in awe and disbelief.

Harper was a West Indian cricketer, 6′ 6″ tall, whip-thin and one of the most athletic and agile fielders the world has ever seen. Unusually, he bowled offspin, approaching from the left at an acute angle, almost hopping into the crease and delivering the in an astonishing arc that saw it come out of virtually the small of his back and over his head. After releasing the ball, Harper fell away, quickly, to the left.

Gooch was well-set, with over 120 runs under his belt. He came down the wicket to the ball, played a crisp ground shot, with forceful pace to the right of the bowler’s wicket, his momentum taking him about two yards out of his ground. In ordinary circumstances, the shot would have flashed past the stumps and raced to the fence, with no fielders in position to intercept it. Gooch was already slowing down, secure in another boundary. Except.

Except that Harper spun out of his movement left, shot across right, bending double, his right hand trailing the ground, taking the hard-hit ball in his palm, lifting it up to his shoulder in a single flowing movement and hurling it back down the pitch towards Gooch’s stumps. Gooch, seeing this, knowing he had no chance to get back, was turning as if to throw himself back, diving into the path of the throw, but it was two fast for him and he was still turning when Harper’s throw flashed past him and hit the stumps.

It was an unbelievable moment. If I’d been at Lords to see it, in real time, it would have been like the time, six years later, when I saw Shane Warne bowl THAT ball: it would have been two fast, too furious to comprehend, and I would have needed to go home to watch the TV replay, to understand what I had seen.

And that was my weekend in Birmingham, when it rained for hours unbrokenly, like the rain with which I began this morning, summer rain in the best British fashion, going about its business unfussily, just pouring it all down.

Not since the last century…

I’ve popped into Manchester City Centre today to post an item sold on eBay and to carry out my monthly visits to Forbidden Planet and Pizza Hut. The latter was distinguished by a very sweet young lady acting as my waitress, who made me wish that if only I was forty years younger… but then I remember what I was like back then and she’d still never have had anything to do with me (and she would have been right, dammit).

But I had a delightful surprise in the former where, in addition to my monthly copy of Astro City, they’d saved me a complete set of the DC/Looney Tunes crossover specials. Team-ups like Batman vs Elmer Fudd, Superman & Bugs Bunny and the one with the single greatest idea, Lobo vs the Road Runner, with Wile E. Coyote hiring th’ Main Man to assassinate ol’ Meep Meep. Tell me that’s not an idea of hilarious proportions.

I’ve loved reading them all, and, with the possible exception of Suicide Squad meet the Banana Splits, this set are universally better than the Easter-time DC/Hanna Barbera crossovers.

But the point is that this added up to 8 (eight) new comics in one session, and I’ve been wracking my brains to try to remember the last time I bought so many copies in a single purchase and I can’t remember any time this would have been viable in the last twenty years.

Not since the last century, then…

CI got the serious cover, not this one…

Life is shit sometimes

He was only a little lad, and I never met, but he had a smile that could replace floodlights at a football match and the look on his face told you that even though he would only ever have a very short life, he thought that every moment was worth it.

I’m far from the only one crying for little Bradley Lowery, who died today, aged 6. You knew that if only life wasn’t so shit as to do things like this, he was going to have one brilliant life, and be so much fun for so many people. This was never going to be enough.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – A Reconsideration

It’s not that long ago that I finished a series of blogs about Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club books, a staple feature of my childhood and that of my generation. With a handful of exceptions, I was using later editions of the books, editions that had been heavily edited to make them ‘less middle-class’, ‘more relevant to modern children’ and, perhaps more pertinently, short enough to fit the standard length of the cheap and successful Armada paperbacks. Several books lost close upon 100 pages of content which, by most accounts, was done in a most unsympathetic manner.

After I’d finished the blog series, which came some time after writing the posts themselves, I made an impulse purchase of the Girls Gone By imprint of Mystery at Witchend. The GGB series are immaculate paperbacks that use only the First Edition text, reproductions of the original dustjackets as covers and include not only the original illustrations but those applied to later editions.

Mystery at Witchend was a revelation. There was so much more detail, more depth, and I remembered each of the illustrations immediately, from the copy my parents bought me so many years ago. It wasn’t, quite, a completely different book, but it demonstrated just how feeble was the version I’d read and blogged.

The problem with the GGB editions is that they’re expensive enough to begin with, and especially so for the earlier, out-of-print books, which are damnably costly. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to upgrade to GGB editions for nearly three-quarters of the series. These are unfailingly better books, and in so many ways the comments and criticisms I made of their shorter versions are shown to be unfair once I have access to the book as written.

Once I have the full set, I intend to revise the entire blog series, so apologies in advance to those who weren’t interested to begin with and who don’t want to go through all that a second time. I’ll be a bit more specific about the differences when each book comes under the spotlight in turn, but I do have to go on record as soon as possible over one major accusation I made towards the end of the series.

I was very critical of Treasure at Amorys for bottling out over the relationship between the Warrenders, Jon and Penny, which I remembered as having been brought to the same recognition and declaration of love as David Morton and Peter Sterling in the previous book. I remembered it as such, but the edition I read bore that out in no respect. Now I know my memories were right, and my accusations wrong, because the Armada edition I read edits out every single instance of the growing realisation in both Penny but mostly Jon of what the other means to them. Even the closing paragraph, in which Mary Morton sighs heavily over how she and her twin have got to deal with another love affair was edited out.

So I owe the memory of Malcolm Saville a more accurate tribute, once I can read the complete Girls Gone By set. Six books to go. Two, at least, look like being bloody difficult to find, so you may not have to go through this again for a while. But we’ll see.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: s05 – Escape from Death Island

If you think from the title that this week’s episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey is going to be a riff on Devil’s Island and a (probably soft) take on the Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman film, Papillon, you’re bang on the money. I’ve never seen Papillon, though a mate of mine who did was wildly enthusiastic about it, but the influence is obvious.

The set-up is ingenious. Jake, Corky and Jack are flying middle-aged Englishman Arthur Fromby and his seriously dodgy accent to Lagoda Island, better known as Death Island, a French penal colony, with Fromby’s son, Eric (a non-speaking role for a younger Xander Berkeley, of 24 fame) is a prisoner. Eric has been banged up for murder: he’s told his father it was Justifiable Homicide, but as Bonne Chance Louie describes it, it’s more of a crime passionelle (caught his wife in bed with her lover, shot ’em both).

The authorities on Death Island, Colonel Vilgay and Sergeant Roget, are reluctant to even let them land, despite Fromby having all the requisite permissions. Unfortunately, just two weeks earlier (as seen in the open), Eric has led an unsuccessful escape attempt, and is being punished by incarceraion in the Oven, a box in the sun. It is killing him.

The conditions, the maltreatment, the lack of resources, the sadism, infuriate Jake, who allows Fromby to try to smuggle his son out to get medical attention, but they’re all captured, dressed in pink-striped prison pajamas, leg-shackled and set to ‘work’. Eric goes back in the Oven. Jack goes into hiding with Roget determined to shoot him.

Back on Bora Gora, Sara gets infuriated at Louie’s seeming acceptance of their friends’ plight, but is of course completely ineffectual (this is not Caitlin O’Heaney’s week, nor is the ongoing portrait of her as being mainly fury and ineffectiveness particularly edifying). Louie flies out to Death Island and negotiates the trio’s sentence down to a week, not that they appreciate him for it.

But matters come to a head when Corky gets bitten by a water-snake. He’s feverish, desperately in need of medical supplies which won’t be available until the supply ship gets here in several days time. He pleads with Vilgay to be allowed to fly Corky to Bora Gora for treatment, but the Colonel is callous to the last.

So Jake has to escape, which as we’ve seen is not easy, with a middle-aged bloke and a feverish mechanic. On the way, in a twist I hadn’t seen coming but which was gently foreshadowed before the Goose even landed on Lagoda Island, he learns that Vilgay and Roget are imposters: prisoners who have murdered and replaced the real Colonel and Sergeant, and who plan to escape on the supply ship.

In the flight to escape, Jake rescues Jack from a trap-noose, shoots down Roget and gets the Goose into the air with the re-use of some footage from the Pilot, and all’s well that ends well. Vilgay has been captured, the Director of Prisons is flying out from Paris to reform Lagoda, Corky survives. Eric, sadly enough, has died, his only words a message telling his Dad he loves him, scratched out in the dirt of the Oven, but Jake consoles Fromby by telling him that, if Eric hadn’t tried to escape, they would have not seen below the surface of Lagoda and Vilgay and Roget would have gotten away with it: a lot of people are alive because Eric did what he did. It’s not a bad message to remember your dead son by, especially as no-one tells Fromby the true circumstances of Eric’s ‘Justifiable Homicide’.

And there’s a cute sting to freeze-frame upon at the death. Corky’s snake-bite has the unexpected side-effect of clearing his befuddled brain and he starts remembering everything under the sun, down to his High School locker combination. Now, restored to rudish health, when Sara brings this bonus up, Corky looks up in innocent puzzlement: “I don’t remember that,” he says.

To be honest, I doubt there’s going to be anything more that’s new or original that I’ll have to say about Tales of the Gold Monkey. Sara gets short-changed this week, and the German/Japanese Axis are again absent from everything but the credits, but it’s still great fun, with no other intentions. It’s what it says on the tin. And I still enjoy it, thirty-five years on from its first broadcast, and another forty-five years on from its inspiration.


Uncollected Thoughts – Wonder Woman

Superman only lifts cars

The benchmark is still Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. That, as you may recall, was the first and still only film where I have wanted to get up and walk out, bored, after only thirty minutes. Wonder Woman is nothing like that. True, I looked at my watch for the first of many times only twenty minutes in, but I did not feel the urge to walk out at any time. To have the film over a good hour before it finally stopped, yes, but not to leave before the end.

Because it’s dull, unstructured, painfully slow and if this is the best the DC Expanded Cinematic Universe can do, then I am already considering whether I do actually want to go see Justice League of America.

Perhaps some of it has to do with not being a woman and therefore not being capable of the kind of identification there must be to seeing a woman lead a major film, display superpowers, be so effortlessly superior to everyone about her with the exception of Ares, the God of War, or Truth, if you believe him. At least it manages this without any self-congratulationary stops to pat itself on its back over it’s women’s strength, the way Supergirl does.

Perhaps it has something to do with my not really having read that much Wonder Woman: the George Perez post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot was the only time I collected the title. But dammit, she’s part of DC’s Trinity, the Big Three, and she’s a bloody good character.

But DC still don’t know how to make successful films. There’s plenty of spectacle, seriously good CGI and battles galore, but they’re so widely spaced you could fall asleep in between, it’s all so bloody portentous and grim and foreboding, and despite what other people have said, I really don’t think Gal Gadot is that good an actress. Nor that beautiful a face (hey, I never fancied Linda Carter either: do you think it’s me?)

Yes, she’s an excellent action actress, but for everything else I found just just a bit on the wooden side.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor was decent, whilst the comedy sidekicks were good but but wasted through not having anything of substance to do. For instance, Charlie the Scottish sniper was set up as being disturbed by his experiences: seeing ghosts, can’t actually shoot straight, know what I mean, all good character stuff and then it just gets forgotten, so why did we bother?

The only unalloyed glory about this film is David Thewliss, as Ares. Is this man capable of giving a performance that is less than superb, even when he’s dealing with material that’s beneath his talents? Only in the closing stages, when he’s CGIed into a metal helmet that you can barely make him out through does he lose the way, but by that point, acting is superfluous and nobody could make anything of that.

So, there you have it. It’s a massive success, it didn’t annoy the living hell out of me like Batman v Superman, and I didn’t want to walk out. In the DC World, this counts as a success to me. I just wish I could have enjoyed a DC film more than I did the trailer for the latest Spider-Man.