I love a pop-culture list. I don’t get annoyed at lists, because they’re a great way to discover new things. For a film nerd, the release of the once-a-decade Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll of critics and film buffs is a bit like an early Christmas.
I like the Sight and Sound poll because its ten-year gaps force us, in a culture that never stops speeding along, to slow down and take stock. Cinema is barely more than a century old after all, and this poll has always felt a bit more sturdy and authoritative than year-end magazine lists and listicles. That’s not to say it’s always “right,” but it’s always worth reading.
The poll seems to have taken a large leap forward this year rather than the more stagnant aura it once had – Kanetopped it from 1962 to 2002, for instance. I’m sure certain corners of the internet are howling that Hitchcock and Welles were pipped by a woman, but I’m totally cool with it. I adore Hitchcock and Welles and as fun as these lists are, nothing has changed about that for me today. But I do get to (eventually) check out Jeanne Dielman, and hey, I might discover a movie I totally love in the process.
That’s the true beauty of lists like Sight and Sound for me. I grew up on Police Academy movies, but there’s so much more to cinema too. I was introduced to Yasujirō Ozu’s heartbreakingly good 1953 dramaTokyo Story because of its high placement on previous lists. I’ve discovered many more movies because of lists like this or the late great Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” features.
There’s some great progression from 2012 on the 2022 list, which features far more women and Black and minority creators than ever before. Some absolutely stellar more recent films have inched up – David Lynch’s masterpiece, 2001’s Mulholland Dr., is now in the top 10, the newest movie there, while very recent movies like Parasite, Get Out and Portrait of a Lady On Fire are included. Others are gone – Lawrence of Arabia and Chinatown dropped from the top 100, but that doesn’t make them any lesser in my own eyes.
Film ain’t a contest to me, and I don’t care if your list puts Jaws above Kubrick’s 2001 or you think Adventures in Babysitting is the best movie of all time. We love what we love, and in an increasingly vile and argumentative internet, that bears remembering.
Anyway, I’m happy to spend weeks poring over the list, which now includes at least 35 movies I’ve never seen. Film internet will be debating, arguing, praising and condemning the Sight and Sound list probably until the next one rolls around in 2032 (assuming we’re all still here). Me, I’ll be watching some movies.
A few years back I looked at my top 25 albums of 1994, 25 years later. Now, as if by infernal design, the clock has rolled forward a few more years, and somehow it’s 25 years since 1997, another great year for music in the eyes of the young Nik.
Through the increasingly blurry eyes of middle age, I think of 1997 now as the end of my youth – I finally moved on from my old college town in Mississippi after working at the local paper for a few years after graduation, packing up my battered ’89 Toyota and driving back across America to my native California. It was a leap in the dark, the kind most of us can only make when we’re too young to know how hard it can be to change everything about your life overnight. By the end of 1997 I was in a completely different place than where I started.
Here are my 10 favourite albums that guided and haunted me as the soundtrack to a year of chaotic upheaval. I still love them all today. (*I know, I know, it’s a very white, male alternative list of musicians, but in all honesty, that’s what I was listening to in 1997 in a world that was a lot less diverse and inclusive than it is now. Things have definitely changed for the better in that regard in 25 years.)
In alphabetical order by artist:
Ben Folds Five, Whatever And Ever Amen – Like a geekier Elton John and Bernie Taupin at their peak, Ben Folds combines hummable melody with little character-filled vignettes in song. Bouncy and sad all at the same time, Whatever And Ever is his best album, which manages to combine silly pop romps like “Ballad of Who Could Care Less” and “Song For The Dumped” with brittle ballads about abortion (“Brick”) and breakups (“Selfless, Cold and Composed”).
Blue Mountain, Homegrown – Old friends of mine from Mississippi who’ve done a gorgeous job of mining alt-country over the years, this is absolutely one of their best albums and a slice of genuine heartland Americana that holds up well. Twangy anthems and lovesick laments with just a hint of punk-rock rebellion and a reminder of how great the alt-country scene and fellow travellers like Uncle Tupelo and The Old 97’s were at their peak.
David Bowie, Earthling – I guess few Bowie fans would put this in their top 10 of his remarkable career, but I absolutely love this drift into jungle and techno sounds that is menacing, fierce and dangerous, released the year Bowie turned 50, and it feels like a rage, rage against the dying of the light. A lot of artists embarrass themselves by jumping on trendy new music but for Bowie, it just felt like more of the curious magpie eye that drove his entire career. A raucous rave of an album.
Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind – It feels like the words of a thousand-year-old man on a mountaintop, but if I want to feel old now, I’ll realise that Bob Dylan was only five or six years older than I am today when he recorded this gorgeous, drifting reverie of an album. It was the beginning of a critical comeback that’s never really dimmed for the great bard of modern song. “Not Dark Yet” is a song I listen to more and more as the days drift by faster and faster.
Green Day,nimrod. – I’d only call myself a medium fan of this band, but for some reason, this album really got to me, combining their punk-pop brattiness with an ecclectic energy and plenty of goofy wit. I remember hearing the uncharacteristically mellow ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” played at a high school graduation ceremony I covered for a small-town newspaper that year, and somehow, that felt like the perfect song for the moment.
Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig! – This all-time power pop bashes marks the end of an absolutely stellar run by the Dayton, Ohio band who, led by genius Robert Pollard, have been bashing out prolific tunes for decades now. Almost every GBV album has great songs on it, but Mag Earwhig! is one of the last where every single song feels like an earworm #1 single from an alternate universe.
Freedy Johnston, Never Home – Another gent I wrote about recently, his hugely underrated fourth album is full of his trademark story-telling lyrics, an angsty edge and songs that keep unfolding themselves the more you listen to him.
Pavement, Brighten The Corners – Hold a gun to my head, but this just inches ahead of Earthling and OK Computer as my favourite album of 1997. Pavement at their surreal, whimsically witty peak, but filtered through a haze of melancholy that makes this album feel like their most sincere slice of gently askew rock. It’s an album that mourns a vibe, a time and place, without ever being quite sure why it’s sad that it’s ending. As my world changed so much in 1997, Malkmus’ songs like “Shady Lane” and “Starlings of the Slipstream” seemed to sum up something I was feeling, even if nobody was really sure what it was. It was the 1990s, mate.
Radiohead, OK Computer – It would be heresy to leave this off any list of great alt-rock of 1997 (even if it’s slightly pipped for me by Kid A as Radiohead’s best album). Thom Yorke’s yearning moan, the rock riffs that float between anthemic and drifting, the vaguely elusive lyrics… at the time, OK Computer’s dire visions of a lonely world fraught with conflict and isolating technologies seemed like a dark warning. Now, it just seems like what much of the world became.
Bubbling under the top 10: Björk, Homogenic; Cornershop, When I was Born For The 7th Time; Michael Penn, Resigned; The Old ’97s, Too Far To Care; Prodigy, The Fat of the Land; The Simpsons, Songs In The Key of Springfield; Depeche Mode, Ultra; Whiskeytown, Strangers’ Almanac; Elliot Smith, Either/Or; Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out.
Licensed comics based on existing properties are as old as the medium (believe it or not, kids, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis could once sustain long-running series) and I’ve always had a weird yen for Marvel Comics’ exuberant movie and TV comics franchises of the 1970s.
Marvel has had a huge run of licensed comics that kicked off with the huge success of Conan the Barbarian although for many in my generation, their excellent Star Wars series was what hooked fans for a lifetime. (I’ve dabbled in the many, many Dark Horse and later Marvel Star Wars comics over the years, but for me, still, the only “real” Star Wars comics are the original 107-issue Marvel run.)
Beginning in the mid- to late 1970s, Marvel licensed comics were EVERYwhere – toy lines like Shogun Warriors and Micronauts and ROM, movies like Planet of the Apes and Battlestar Galactica and Godzilla.
The licensed titles were often advertised in the pages of other comics I already read, and I usually hadn’t seen the source material they were based on, so things like the brief seven-issue run of Logan’s Run or the real-life stuntman The Human Fly always intrigued me. Who were these characters side-by-side with Thor and Iron Man? Why was there a comic about them?
The Marvel licensed comics of the 1970s were all over the map, quality-wise, but they also had a sense of freedom. ROM spun an entire epic cosmic war out of its cheap plastic toy inspiration, and Marvel’s Godzilla brought us the immortal image of Godzilla shrunk down to human-size and skulking around Manhattan in a trenchcoat. The licensed comics never felt like they had to be particularly faithful to their sources, so you got things like Star Wars’ immortal, somewhat controversial Jaxxon the rabbit that you can’t imagine Disney/Lucasfilm would ever permit today.
So anyway, this weird completism is why I ended up buying the entire brief seven-issue run of Man From Atlantis for cheap recently, because it’s one of the few ‘70s Marvel licensed series I’d never read. I don’t even LIKE the TV series, really, and honestly Marvel publishing what was always basically a bargain-bin version of their far cooler character Namor the Sub-Mariner seemed weird. But hey, the comic was written by Marvel’s go-to licensed comics guy, the underrated Bill Mantlo, and art by Frank Robbins, whose loose-limbed antic figures appeal to me more now than they once did. The comic is actually fairly fun underwater antics with a far higher budget than the TV series had – and more inventive than its source.
Licensed comics are still very much about today – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the indefatigable Star Wars, Transformers, Star Trek, GI Joe, Conan and much more carry on telling stories that go far beyond the source material, yet when I pick them up they always seem a bit constrained, somehow. Maybe the big difference is that when those Star Wars and Godzilla comics were on the stands 40 or so years ago, you couldn’t just hop online and watch a Star Wars movie. You had hazy memories of cinema visits, and the tie-in comics provided a valuable map back into the entertainment you dug. Licensed comics allowed you to return to these worlds, again and again, when it wasn’t quite so easy to do so.
These days, with so much of everything everywhere all the time, a licensed comic seems somewhat less unique than it once did, and more just a part of the flood of content washing over us all. Hey, but that’s cool – I’ve still got quite a few issues of Micronauts to track down.
To be fair, I’ve been ‘quietly quitting’ Twitter for about a year now. I realised a while back that I would go on Twitter and immediately find myself sad, irritated or angry about something I saw, and thought that maybe a place where you go to feel bad is not a place you want to spend too much of your time.
It’s my own personal experience, and many people have fine times on Twitter or whatever social media platform they’re on. But for me, Twitter has become a loudmouthed and toxic bore of a place. I’m not alone.
I unfollowed hundreds of people over the past year – nothing personal, mates – but basically tired of the endless echo chambers and social media bubbles, of outrage merchants and people pointing out other people’s stupidity or arguing with strangers. I stopped interacting so much or blathering my thoughts, mostly just posting links to my own work elsewhere – which honestly, get less interaction on Twitter than they do in other places online anyway. Pretty much my main reason for sticking on Twitter is habit and its utility in following breaking news, but there are plenty of alternate places one can do that now.
When social media was fresh and new there was the novelty factor in posting memes, dad jokes, hot takes and quick-fire reactions (I look at my Facebook posts circa 2010 and cringe at how open and carefree I was with my life, not knowing how dangerous that could be). For the first time, anyone anywhere could broadcast their thoughts to a global audience instantly.
Things changed. I saw it unfolding clearly in the past few years: social media became weaponised. What were once cutesy status updates and thoughts became fodder for warfare. A casual post erupts into a hate-fest. Lingo like “main character of the day” as a term for online pile-ons – some deserved, many not – became normal. I’m a straight white male on the internet so it’s been relatively mild for me, but know so many women and LGBTQ+ people who are subjected to terrible, dehumanising treatment every single day online. Misinformation has exploded to the point where a good part of my paid work is debunking it.
The change in management on Twitter to yet another loud-mouthed arrogant rich wanna-be messiah figure drunk on his own power and its increasing vibe of a dark, angry place for me makes it easier to finally leave entirely, which I’m doing at the end of the month.
Social media hasn’t been all bad for me and I’ve “met” many lovely people, like the terrific writer and actress Michelle Langstone, who I guess I’d call a “digital acquaintance” and who left social media sometime this year herself. In a recent interview she nicely summed up the house of mirrors effect these spaces have on us very well: “At some point, I realised I’d come to rely on other people’s responses to the material I was posting and that was shaping who I was, and how I felt about myself.”
Social media feels increasingly performative, and I’d rather focus my energies more on being truly creative with things like this goofy website, my freelance and paid writing, and my comic book scribbles.
That’s just my solution, and for everyone else, hey, whatever works.
I’m not leaving “the internet” – I mean, geez, as a writer and creator in 2022, I really can’t, unless I want to be the tortured artist in the attic muttering away to myself alone. But I can certainly choose where I want to spend my time online, and on places that make me feel good.
What is it: The first “midnight movie,” the surrealist “acid western”, “the weirdest western ever made.” Director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s extreme cult hit El Topo was a groundbreaking, aggressive statement that helped to change cinema, taking western movie tropes and turning them into a bizarre, questing meditation on morality and enlightenment. Populated with grotesque images and moments of startling beauty, it’s soaked in blood, disorienting with its casting of real-life disabled or maimed performers, and the kind of movie all the film cognoscenti say that you really must see at least once. So, finally, I saw it once.
Why I never saw it: For a movie that’s legendarily strange, El Topo has had a difficult path to actually being easy to see. It got tangled up in legal wrangling and was only released on DVD in 2007. The first of Jodorowsky’s films I’ve dipped into, El Topo is often called Jodorowsky’s ‘most accessible’ movie. I’m a fan of weird, but weird is very much in the eye of the beholder, ain’t it? (I still recall a date who I took to the Michael Bay movie The Rock talking about how strange and weird it was afterwards. Reader, we did not date again.) I love my Lynch and Cronenberg but am fully aware I’m a mere babe in the wild, vast woods of weird cinema, and have to admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with El Topo.
Does it measure up to its rep? The big question for every viewer of El Topo is whether or not it’s just a procession of cruelty with no deeper meaning. When the subject is nothing but “people are terrible,” it gets old, fast. El Topo starts off feeling a bit like a particularly dark spin on the whole “lone gunman wreaks vengeance” plot, following the man in black and his inexplicably naked young son (Jodorowsky himself plays the gunman) as they discovered a gutted village filled with dead people, track down the corrupt bandits responsible and execute them. The gunman then abandons his son for a rescued hostage and ends up on a surreal quest through the desert to kill four gunmen legends and become “the best there is,” a quest that gets increasingly stranger. In the end, the gunman disappears and is reborn years later in a cave, bleached white and now a mystical holy man who can’t quite escape his violent past.
While it’s hefty with the DNA of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Django and other western icons, to me it also shares an awful lot with books like the dark, biblically violent Cormac McCarthy novel Blood Meridian, which also sees the west as a seething quagmire of man’s worst instincts, or of Robert Bolaño’s epic 2666, which turns an unflinching catalogue of murders into something stranger and deeper. If anything, I have to admit that El Topo wasn’t quite as weird as I imagined it might be, especially in its more grounded first half. Where it sticks, however, is the insinuating ugly beauty of its vision, where Jodorowsky stages violence with an icy calm eye as men, women and even children are gunned down, and in the end, we’re not certain if he’s saying life is worth nothing – or worth everything. There’s precious little hope in its final moments, suggesting an endless circle of violence and thwarted redemption.
Worth seeing? On one level, El Topo probably doesn’t seem quite as groundbreaking as it might have 52 years ago. We’ve had plenty of deconstructionist westerns: Clint himself in Unforgiven, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and much more, and plenty of weird, brutal cinema. Yet despite its more grotesque flourishes, El Topo is still a singular, fierce vision. His use of real-life amputees and dwarves is confronting, as is the brief animal deaths and sexual violence. Jodorowsky claimed back in the ‘70s that he really raped his actress co-star in one vivid, violent sequence, although he’s since walked that back as a big-mouthed publicity stunt. Either way, El Topo is still a triggering film, but it has value as some kind of warped mirror on society. Seen 50 years on, yes, El Topo does seem madly self-indulgent, frequently sadistic and exploitative. Yet it’s also hard to stop thinking about some of its imagery. I’m a sucker for the vision of a man in black, riding across the desert, on his way to who knows where, but knowing there’ll always be blood in the end.
It’s time for the second annual AMOEBARGAIN SALE of rare out-of-print back issues of my comic Amoeba Adventures – plus, a special reprint of one of my favourite issues of the original series, back in print for the first time in years! If you are wanting to pick up handsome physical copies of my comics, including the last few copies I have of some real rarities, now is your chance.
Just released:Amoeba Adventures #27: The 25th Anniversary Edition
It’s the final issue of the original 1990-1998 run of Amoeba Adventures, and one of my favourite comics ever. Somehow or another, 2023 marks 25 years since this bad boy came out. Way back in 1998, I was dead broke and living in a hick town in the middle of nowhere so the original print run of AA #27 was very small and quickly gone. After the carnage of “The Dark Ages,” the All-Spongy Squadron regroups for one last hurrah. Setting up the status quo for the 2020 Amoeba Adventures revival, it features Rambunny, Spif, Ninja Ant, Prometheus and Dawn one last time – and of course, a drunken bar brawl! This special reprint also includes EIGHT pages of rare art, interviews and behind-the-scenes commentary. A mere US$5.00 – only a small amount have been printed and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Plus! Vintage Amoebas! Get ‘em before they go!
There’s still a small handful of vintage 1990s Amoeba Adventures issues I’ve got in storage that it’s time to set free – these are out of print original printings and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever and are going dirt-cheap!
Amoeba Adventures #11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 23 – Sorry, all sold out!
Recent issues: Plus, if you’ve missed out on the super cool limited print edition of the most recent issues, there are just a few left. Everything must go!
Amoeba Adventures #28 – SOLD OUT!
Amoeba Adventures #29 – ALMOST gone!
Amoeba Adventures #30 – FIVE copies left!
Amoeba Adventures #31 – The most recent issue!
For a limited time, all now available for a mere $5.00 each!
Finally, work is well underway on Amoeba Adventures #32, the FIFTH new issue – it won’t quite be ready until closer to Christmas, but if you want to pre-order the limited print edition of that now, it’s a mere $US7.50 shipped anywhere in the entire world to you when it’s available.
Sale ends November 30, so don’t delay! How to order: Postage is $1 for 1-2 books, $5 for 3-6 books, $6 for 7 or more. Send funds via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org
Of course, if you’re a child of the modern age and don’t mind digital, a reminder that EVERY one of my comics is available as a free PDF download right here – all 32 issues of Amoeba Adventures, spin-offs, weird side projects, jams and much more. As always, thanks for reading!
Finally, today, I picked up the first issue of Miracleman: The Silver Age, which will be republishing the first two 1990s issues of Gaiman’s story with new art and finally, finally, carrying on the story with #3. It’s been a while.
Miracleman, back in the late 1980s, was one of those comics that blew my teenage mind, as written by Alan Moore and a series of often-astounding artists. To make a long, very complicated story short, Miracleman (originally known as Marvelman) was a sloppy Captain Marvel/Shazam rip-off in British comics in the 1950s whom Moore revived in the early ‘80s for one of his typically post-modern takes on superheroics in the pages of the British comics mag Warrior. It was later picked up for wider US distribution by Eclipse Comics, which went on to continue the story – albeit in stops and starts, a trend that has plagued Miracleman to this day.
To this day, it’s still one of my favourite superhero comics. It takes the idea of a man who can turn himself into a superhero by saying a magic word (Kimota!) and turns it sideways and delves into all the disturbing possibilities of such a transformation. Moore presented Miracleman’s world with a gritty realism, contrasted with the kiddie-comics of the old Marvelman/Captain Marvel era, and ultimately, it took a dark turn into dual identities, sadism and power that still seems groundbreaking. It also asked the horrifying question, what would happen if a 10-year-old boy had superpowers and was corrupted by them? (The answer being Johnny Bates, Kid Miracleman, one of comics’ most indelible villains.) It was a comic that could be breathtakingly brutal as well as dazzlingly beautiful in the same issue.
I first came to Miracleman a bit later in the run, when the astounding painterly art of John Totleben joined with Moore’s scripts and the story moved into its zenith, setting up a clash between Miracleman and Kid Miracleman that literally changed the world. Instead of a superhero battle leaving a mess to tidy up, this fight ended up with Miracleman asserting control over the globe, eliminating poverty, hunger and war, but also forever changing humanity.
I’m used to waiting for Miracleman. I still remember picking up Miracleman #14 at some comics shop in Oregon while on a road trip with my dad, decades ago, and its cliffhanger ending with Johnny Bates free and about to unleash his power on the world. The next issue didn’t come out for months and months, leaving me hanging. The issue after that, #16, Moore’s final issue as writer, didn’t come out for more than a year.
After Gaiman took over as writer, he and Buckingham delivered an excellent “Golden Age” arc looking deeper at Miracleman’s ‘perfect’ world, and then two parts of “The Silver Age,” meant to dig deeper into its conflicts as his sidekick, naive Young Miracleman, is resurrected 40 years after his death to a changed world. (A final part, “The Dark Age,” was teased to follow.) Miracleman #24, released in 1993 was the second part of the “Silver Age.” And then…. nothing. For decades.
In the many years since Miracleman first appeared, we’ve seen a zillion other reimaginings/dark reboots/postmodernistic takes on superheroes, most of them kinda dire. Even Moore himself went to that well a little too often in his career, but still, for me, years on Miracleman casts a daunting spell. Its peculiar combination of darkness and idealism still speaks to me.
Its legacy has been debased a bit – I utterly hate that Alan Moore is credited as “The Original Writer” on reprints due to creative/legal squabbles, even though it’s what he wants. I loathe the truly terrible idea of Miracleman being absorbed into the Marvel Universe proper which seems inevitable and has been teased for ages now. This story doesn’t need to be shared with that of Spider-Man and Wolverine, but then again, DC already crammed Superman into Watchmen, so nothing is unthinkable in corporate comix™.
Still, I want to know what happens next for Miracleman, at long last.
For 29 years now, I wondered what would happen next when Young Miracleman was revived into a utopian world he doesn’t understand, what would happen to Miracleman’s idyllic kingdom, and of course, of course, what might happen if the devil Johnny Bates returns. Barring getting hit by a truck or something on the way to the comics shop, it looks like it’s finally gonna happen soon. It may disappoint, it may amaze, it’s hard to know. But boy, I’m glad I get to see the end of the story.
I still believe in Miracles.
(*Speaking of miracles, I barely noticed that October marks exactly four years since I revived my regular blogging on this site, picking up a blogging ‘career’ that started way the hell back in 2004. Blogging again, uncool as it may be in the age of TikToks or whatever, has really sparked my creativity and I’m writing more for profit and for fun than I have in ages. So, thanks to you out there in the internet void who read this junk, it is appreciated!)
It’s the spooky season, and Halloween is nearly upon us! What better way to celebrate than lining up a handful of horror movies – since I outgrew trick-or-treat, my favourite way to mark the holiday.
Vampires are a Halloween mainstay, and for my Halloween post, here’s my Top 13 Movie Vampires (many more could have made the list, but I decided to stop with the spooky 13).
Where it all began
Nosferatu (Max Schreck) Nosferatu, 1922:One hundred years old this year, the first major screen vampire in this not-quite adaptation of Dracula is still horrifying. Apparently some people even thought Schreck was a real vampire! The movie is brisk and terrifying even after a century, and features several shots that are among the greatest in horror history. Sure, you could argue this Nosferatu doesn’t really have a character, but who cares when he’s this scary?
Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Dracula, 1931: The ultimate interpretation of Dracula, so iconic that Lugosi spent the rest of his life both chasing and running away from it. It’s hard to look at a role like this that’s passed into legend with fresh eyes, but watch it again sometime and see how Lugosi sinks his teeth (sorry) into his sexy, strange vampire. Everyone from Anne Rice to Twilight owes him a debt.
Dracula (Christopher Lee) Lots of Dracula movies, 1958-1973: The thing about Christopher Lee is he looked great as Dracula in a whole series of Hammer Films vampire flicks even when the movies themselves were rather sloppy and stilted and had titles like Taste The Blood of Dracula. They even made the mistake of having Lee – one of the best horror voices of all time – nearly mute in several of the movies and his character and competence seemed to change from film to film. None of that really matters, because besides Lugosi, Lee is the finest dark prince ever to play the role.
Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) Dracula’s Daughter, 1936: It seems weird in these days of never-ending franchises, but Lugosi did not return for a proper Dracula sequel. Instead, this ‘sidequel’ introduces his supposed daughter, the gloriously goth Holden. It’s one of the many bashed-out Universal Horror cheapies that barely run over an hour, but Holden’s sultry Zaleska is a striking, strong and modern creation – witness the barely concealed lesbian subtext in one famous scene.
Lestat (Tom Cruise) Interview With A Vampire, 1994: Man, there was an outrage back in the day about Tom Cruise playing Anne Rice’s bratty vampire, but every time I watch this, he seems a little bit better – preening and smug, he blows a sleepy Brad Pitt off the screen. I still haven’t seen the new TV reboot yet, but for my money this flick captures the lush absurdity of Rice’s prose very well.
Blacula (William Marshall) Blacula, Scream, Blacula Scream!, 1972-73: William Marshall was better than the material in the Blacula movies, which are a silly blaxploitation hoot with few moments of real terror. But boy, did Marshall act the heck out of Blacula, giving a wounded dignity and majesty to his cursed African prince that lifts the movies themselves. His grand booming voice alone ensures a place on this list.
Totally ‘80s Vampires
David (Kiefer Sutherland), The Lost Boys, 1987: Come on, who didn’t want to be a Lost Boy after watching the hooligan vampire gang led by Sutherland’s David storming around Santa Cruz, where weightlifting saxophonists wail away the night? Flashier, sexier vampires became a big thing in the ‘80s, and the hair-sprayed, sultry crew led by David were among the vanguard.
Jerry Dandridge (Christopher Sarandon), Fright Night, 1985: As this list shows, the ‘80s were a terrific time for vampire reinventions. Here’s the yuppie vampire, smooth scarf-wearing Jerry Dandridge, played with memorable charm and snark by Sarandon. The meddling teenager next door is sure Dandridge is a vampire – needless to say, the kids are always right.
Severen (Bill Paxton) Near Dark, 1987: The white trash dark reflection of that same year’s Lost Boys, Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire western is a magnificently tense and gorgeously filmed story of a band of roaming vampires and the young cowboy who falls in with them, but the whole dang movie is nearly stolen by the late great Bill Paxton’s swaggering, sleazy Severen, a member of the vamp gang who honestly does not give a damn and storms through every situation like a pure creature of the id. He’s terrifying, and hilarious.
Darned weird vampires
‘Space girl’ (Mathilda May) Lifeforce, 1985: She’s a kind of space vampire, and she spends about 95% of her screen time utterly naked in Tobe Hooper’s bizarrely grandiose sci-fi/horror epic. It’s a trashy movie but it’s also so determined to be weird, from an overacting Patrick Stewart to its swirling, cosmic climax. It’s not a very coherent film, but May’s stoic, creepy otherness makes her nude dark creature fascinating.
Jiangshi, Mr. Vampire, 1985: Chinese vampires are weird. This insane Sammo Hung comedy horror introduced mass audiences to the Chinese folklore “jiangshi,” hopping corpses who are somewhere between zombies, vampires and leapfrogs. The vampires in this movie are creepy because they’re so far from what Bela Lugosi made us think of, more animal-like than anything, and its success led to an explosion of wild, weird films.
Not quite vampires
Blade (Wesley Snipes) Blade, Blade II and Blade III, 1998-2004: Wesley Snipes’ attitude-filled vampire killer who’s also a reluctant vampire himself was the first Marvel comics character to actually star in a hit film, and the blood-splattered, over-the-top Blade series is still a heck of a lot of fun, combining action movie energy with gory horror.
Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) Vampire’s Kiss, 1989: Cage is well known for going over the top. In Vampire’s Kiss he not only goes over the top, he launches himself into outer space. In this unhinged, extremely black comedy, he’s a yuppie sleazebag who apparently is bitten by a vampire. Cage goes “full Cage” as his character gradually loses his mind, eating cockroaches and screaming through the streets of Manhattan. It’s hilarious, but it’s also one heck of a piece of method acting. You’ll never forget it.
Honourable Mention: The vampires from What We Do In The Shadows; The Hunger; Let The Right One In; Nosferatu (Herzog remake); Only Lovers Left Alive; Count Yorga; Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Watching British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s brief tenure go down in flames has been an exciting spectator sport. After a mere 45 days in office, she’s resigned, and while the debates over her car-crash of a tenure will be going on for some time, eventually, she’ll be a footnote – the shortest serving UK Prime Minister ever. At least she’ll have company, in that weird world of history’s short-timers.
In fact, Truss is not anywhere near the record set in other countries for the shortest leadership – the briefest US President lasted a mere 31 days, while in New Zealand, our shortest-serving Prime Minister was only 13 days. In Australia, it was just eight!
US President William Henry Harrison is a footnote in Trivial Pursuit games. He died a mere month after his inauguration, the then-oldest US president at the age of 68, after giving a nearly two-hour inauguration speech in the freezing cold. His health declined over his short term, not helped by a habit of going for long walks without a coat or hat in wintry March weather. Because it was 1841, his treatment during his illness consisted of fun things like enemas, “cupping,” castor oil, opium, and a lovely cocktail of camphor, wine and brandy. It didn’t help. He lingered until April 4, 1841, only his 31st day in office. He gets points for what is perhaps the most “I love my job” deathbed speech of all time – “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of government; I wish them carried out, I ask nothing more.”
Harrison’s death has long been attributed to pneumonia, but more recent research has found it might have been some kind of enteric fever, spawned by Washington’s then literal swamps. He didn’t leave a whole lot of accomplishments other than running what might be considered the first “modern” campaign, yet his death, the first of a US President in office, did help establish the precedent of the Vice-President becoming President. Many thought John Tyler should only become an “acting President” but he simply assumed the full office, which is how it’s worked ever since.
Here in New Zealand our shortest serving leaders have mostly been during the earlier days of British colonial government. Henry Sewell was New Zealand’s first premier, Prime Minister or “colonial secretary” from May 7 to 20, 1856, during the very earliest days of our colonial government – “he was too reserved and elitist for the rough and tumble of colonial politics, as the brevity of his premiership showed.” Other earlier PMs had pretty short terms as well. In modern times, the late Mike Moore served for only 59 days in 1990 before his Labour Party was voted out of office. Despite his short term, he went on to have a pretty solid career in world politics and was given that crowning kiwi accolade when he died at age 71 – “an everyday bloke.”
Across the ditch, there’s certainly been a lot of turnover in Australia’s Prime Ministers, including what I believe is the only Prime Minister ever lost at sea, but they’ve got work to do to catch up with poor Frank Forde, who only lasted 8 days in 1945. He became Prime Minister when John Curtin died suddenly, but a week later his Labor Party picked someone else to lead, and well, it was farewell, Forde.
Few will mourn Liz Truss’s brief term as Prime Minister, but its mere brevity indicates she’ll go down in history for one thing, at least – just maybe not the way she wanted.
Weirdly low-profile for a giant green monster, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is the forgotten overshadowed superhero stepchild of the same movie summer that brought us Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.
It’s flawed, for sure, and lacks the machine-tooled precision that the MCU movie-making machine has settled into. But when it works, The Incredible Hulk still feels to me like the best Hulk movie we’ve had to date. I think of all the Hulks we’ve seen on screen, it remains the closest to the “classic” Hulk – doomed scientist on the run from his curse, haunted and heroic. Ang Lee’s muddled 2003 film mixed intriguing ideas with a bizarre plot and felt like a Hulk in name only, and in a series of Avengers and Thor movies, Hulk has been more of a superheroic comic sidekick.
Incredible Hulk opened mere weeks after Iron Man but these days is often lumped at the bottom of lists ranking the 30 or so Marvel movies. Still, nearly 15 years on, The Incredible Hulk is having a weird revival in the MCU – its villainous Abomination portrayed by Tim Roth has returned in the She-Hulk TV series, and the super-smart Hulk villain TheLeader, whose heel turn by Tim Blake Nelson was only hinted at way back in 2008, is reportedly set to appear in the next Captain America movie. Often dismissed in MCU fandom, there’s still a lot I like about Incredible Hulk.
Edward Norton’s tense, nervy turn as Bruce Banner owes a lot to Bill Bixby’s classic stressed-out Banner in the 70s Hulk TV show. The movie wisely skips over the Hulk’s origin in a quick few cuts and jumps to the status quo of Banner on the run from the government, hiding out in a colourful Brazil favela. The South American setting for the movie’s first act is already something a bit different, grittier than the typical superhero movie, and while there’s barely a Hulk to be seen for the first part of the movie, Norton’s haunted portrayal and the sense of impending doom carries the film well.
We follow Banner from South America back to America, where he catches up with long-lost love Betty Ross (a great Liv Tyler) and the late William Hurt’s cruel and stern Thunderbolt Ross, as well as a tightly-wound soldier named Emil Blonsky (a coiled and ruthless Roth) who wants to take down the Hulk. When the Hulk does finally appear in broad daylight in a university campus battle, it’s suitably impressive. No, the Hulk doesn’t get a lot of screen time here, but when he does, he leaves his mark. The 2008 CGI is perhaps less smooth than modern motion-capture, but I like the somewhat ravaged, demonic look this Hulk has.
Incredible Hulk captures the cat-and-mouse game that Banner played with his pursuers so often in the comics, reminding us that the Hulk at his core is a misunderstood monster, not a superhero (and really, not an Avenger despite the movies – in the original Avengers comics, he lasted to the second issue before quitting the group).
Where Incredible Hulk goes off the rails is in a rushed and silly final act, where Roth’s Abomination becomes a CGI gumby and New York City ground zero in a battle that doesn’t feel like it has any of the stakes or tension of the preceding hour or so of the movie.
Director Louis Leterrier isn’t really A-list – movies like The Transporter or the terrible Clash of the Titans remake – yet the many deleted scenes on blu-ray show he and Norton were trying to make a different sort of movie than it turned into when it was shoehorned into a Marvel Cinematic Universe building block. Norton clashed a lot with Marvel and wasn’t invited back to play the Hulk again.
There are brief moments in Incredible Hulk that feel raw and adult compared to a lot of superhero flicks – Betty calming the enraged Hulk down when he’s frightened by a rainstorm; Bruce and Betty’s fleeting hotel room tryst, ruined when Banner realises, “I can’t get too excited,” or the keen glittering madness in Roth’s Blonsky, which has been erased for comic effect in She-Hulk.
The Hulk has proven a remarkably protean character in the last few decades in the comics – after settling into the childlike “Hulk smash!” brute for most of the ‘60s and ‘70s, in the mid-1980s writers started experimenting with variations on the Hulk’s dual identity, pioneered by the great, tragically curtailed writer Bill Mantlo when he introduced a lengthy take on the “smart” Hulk – one with Bruce Banner’s intelligence – and perfected by Peter David in his iconic 12-year run on the character where he brought us the calculating Grey Hulk, a “merged” Professor Hulk and much more. Since then we’ve had Red Hulks and Immortal Hulks and Robot Hulks and Son Hulks and much more. There’s so many Hulks.
Yet, I’m still a bit partial to the simple, crisp duality of the “Incredible” Hulk, a lumbering Frankenstein-ish monster who isn’t inherently evil but is treated that way, and a Bruce Banner whose life is ruined by trying to live with this unpredictable curse.
To be fair, I like Mark Ruffalo and his charmingly dorky Banner, but too often his Hulk has never quite felt like more than a CGI strongman. His Banner seems annoyed by being the Hulk, not haunted like Norton. The “merged” Hulk introduced in Avengers: Endgame is more awkward and bumbling than the confident version introduced in Peter David’s comics. Endgame skipped past all the settling of the Hulk’s inner conflicts introduced in Infinity War, waving all that off in a time-jump. I simply feel there’s a little too much Ruffalo in the Hulk in his current MCU incarnation and not enough, well, Hulk.
It’s a big “what if” whether Norton could’ve been good as a Hulk in an ever-expanding, ever-calculating Marvel Cinematic Universe. His portrayal is a bit too idiosyncratic, a bit too “real” to play well with others. But it’s still the screen Hulk I like the most.