Friday, 26 August 2016


The funniest thing ever to come out of Australia is a cookery programme

When someone sitting next to me at work sends me a You Tube link for a video which I HAVE to watch, NOW because it’s the funniest thing EVER, I usually try to surreptitiously kick my computer cord out or remember a fictitious meeting I’m late for.  
It’s not that I’m ungrateful, it’s just the pressure.  Humour is, as they say, a funny thing, and being told I’m going to find something funny gives me performance anxiety.  Maybe I won’t feel like being amused.  I might suffer a sense of humour disfunction - leaving them disappointed and me weakly suggesting that I must be tired. Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old git after all.

But when a workmate who writes actual cuisine columns recommended The Katering Show to me, I couldn’t say no. And neither should you because it is pure, distilled genius.

The premise is simple, Kate McLennan, a self-confessed intolerable foodie, is determined to demonstrate the preparation dishes suitable for her food intolerant friend, Kate McCartney.  With McCartney's reluctant participation.

Kate McCartney's dead-eyed stare is almost as unnerving...
So each episode sees their friendship teeter on the edge and possibly their sanity as well. The dishes prepared are usually inedible, McCartney’s intense disinterest inevitably reasserts itself while McLennan's desperate smile stretches to manic, then crumbles as every session inevitably spirals out of control.

... as Kate McLennan's fixed grin.
It’s the personalities and interaction between the Kates which makes it work so beautifully.  Is it a masterclass in improvisation or is everything meticulously rehearsed?  Or, God forbid, are they really like that?
Decide for yourself.  Here are the links.
Watch it.

Episode 1 - Mexicana Festiana

Episode 2 - Ethical Eating

Episode 3 - We Quit Sugar

Episode 4 - Thermomix

Episode 5 - Food Porn

Episode 6 - Christmas

Season 2

Episode 1 - Red Ramen

Episode 2 - Yummy Mummies

Episode 3 - It Gets Feta

Episode 4 - The Body Issue

Episode 5 - The Cook and The Kates

Episode 6 - Tying the Not

Episode 7 - Chienging Flavours

Episode 8 - End of Days

Friday, 12 August 2016

Front Drawer

A touch of gloss can make anything look good!

All the astrological symbols have been customised
 to relate to the satirical predictions in the article

It’s been quite a year for illustration commissions, due in no small part to the fact that I am one of the few illustrators left in our organisation.  I’m possibly also the only one stupid enough to work all hours because I don’t want to turn the opportunities down.

Putting the adverse effects on my health and family life aside, here’s a gallery of covers I’ve illustrated for the Sunday Star Times Sunday magazine this year.  

The SST seem to like me because, rather than ever really establishing a style of my own, I rip real artists off.  Or homage them, if you prefer. And Sunday is a glossy supplement - so the stock quality helps  me look good most of the time…

In the style of: Frankie magazine

In the style of: Roy Litchenstein

In the style of: The New Yorker

In the style of:  hang on, this just might be my own! Fancy that...

Not in the Sunday Star Times magazine section, but in the style of:
Soviet propaganda posters

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ghoul Assembly: Part five - Spent Penny

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

We watched the last ever episode of Penny Dreadful this week - a wholly unique series which falls perfectly into this series of posts about 'monster mash-ups'. Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and his intended Bride, a Wolf Man or two, Dorian Gray, Doctor Jekyll and various witches and demons all collided over the three years which this series lasted.

Not all of these people are quite human.  Hardly any, actually...
But none of these figures were mere archetypes, they were all as complex and nuanced as any of the programme’s human characters. To say this was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen done right is to pay disservice to both works - Penny Dreadful was like nothing else on television, stately in it’s pacing, utterly unpredictable and sometimes infuriating in it’s determination to avoid convention. 
 Oh how I gnashed my teeth in frustration when they introduced the very great David Warner as Van Helsing, no less, only to kill him off in the following episode!

Ethan's real last name is Talbot and he has an affinity with wolves.
Nope, nothing sinister here...
But above all, this was one of the most beautifully shot period drama TV I’ve ever seen - absolutely suited to a huge cinema screen - particularly the wild west vistas of this last season. Pause any frame from any moment of this series and you could frame it to hang it on your wall.

Victorian factories on the Thames - it's like being there
Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives was arguably the central character, initially drawn into events through there friendship with a certain Mina Murray. Mina doesn’t survive her encounter with a particular Transylvanian Count in this story, but her father Sir Malcolm (played impeccably by a grizzled but formidable Timothy Dalton) does. He becomes Vanessa’s protector and they gather an extraordinary league about them, all with their own secrets and dark pasts.

Dark events always centre on Vanessa - she's a spook magnet
To try and prĂ©cis the dark and spiralling twists the series took is a fool’s errand, but moments stand out above the others. The first appearance of the Frankenstein creature and Greys portrait are unforgettable but for me Billie Piper’s Lily has the most startling scene. In the process of leaving her cringing creator Victor Frankenstein after terrorising him into submission, she suddenly turns and retrieves a bouquet of flowers he had naively offered. Her arm darts out like a striking snake, attention utterly focussed on this one action as if he no longer even exists, and then she’s gone. Something about this explosion of animalistic intensity in a harmless, even endearing, act is very unsettling.

Billie Piper as Lily Frankenstein - she's nobody's Bride.
It hasn’t been a flawless ride. Season two took a swerve from the Dracula story to involve us in what seemed to be a very long encounter with a coven of demonic sorceresses. It had it’s moments, but seemed to lose momentum and meander a little, concluding unsatisfactorily in one of those hallucinatory ‘confronting your own guilty past’ sequences.

(A 4:43 effects reel for Penny Dreadful season 3 - well worth a look.)

This final year was an absolute return to form. Every character given more depth, and some welcome new ones added, particularly Victorian adventuress Catriona Hartdegen, played by Perdita Weeks with an unusual delivery which makes it appear as if she’s being dubbed.
A lengthy interlude in the United States provides a fascinating Western adventure with added werewolves and Brian Cox, before returning to London, and Vanessa, both now in the sway of Dracula. The silent, fog-shrouded city, abandoned by the living and haunted by rats and ragged clusters on the undead, has all the elements for a worthy sequel to Bram Stoker’s novel.

The final showdown...
But now Penny Dreadful is gone, the usual masterpiece title sequence replaced with the simple caption ‘The End’. Victorian London will never seem so sumptuous, or foreboding, again - and these familiar characters may not be re-interpreted so memorably for a very long time.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Ghoul Assembly: Part four - Rumble in the Castle

Stitch this - fur flies in the original monster smack-down

Lon Chaney jnr, having played the Monster and the Wolf Man in their previous solo films,
was originally slated to play both roles in this film.
The monster mash-ups I’ve looked at so far have involved generally amicable meetings of monsters.  Disagreements are inevitable, but that hasn’t been the core of either Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Monster Squad, or Bride of Frankenstein.  This first sequel to The Wolf Man and fourth to Frankenstein was set up purely by Universal t have it’s two most profitable monsters ‘throw down’.  Despite going on to arguably eclipse the other horror-nati, Dracula wasn’t given a franchise of his own by Universal (even the Mummy got his own film series)! I’ll speculate on the reasons for this when we look at our next film.

But the fact that poor Bela Lugosi never received the recognition which he deserved at the time is undeniable, and here we see him reduced to playing the Frankenstein Monster - in his sixties.  He had famously turned down the role in his hey-day, rightly deeming it ‘not sexy enough’, and so unknown actor Boris Karloff took the role and his own name to undying stardom instead.

Didn't your mother tell you never to thaw out Monsters you don't know?
Not only were Lugosi’s speaking scenes cut in Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (at this point the monster has the brain of Ygor - also played by Lugosi in a previous instalment), but so was any reference to him being blind as a result of that transplant.  This renders Lugosi’s flailing movements a little puzzling to audiences, but did also set the template for the arms-outstretched ‘Frankenstein Monster walk’, forever.
Another theory for Lugosi's lines being cut was the studio's reluctance in having a heavily European-accented antagonist delivering scripted dialogue about world domination in 1943. 
Either way, the Lugosi is more often doubled by stuntmen in this film - particularly in the climactic battle.

Or open wolfsbane-filled coffins on the night of a full moon?
In the other corner, poor Lawrence Talbot finds that the werewolf curse he gained in The Wolf Man also appears to make it impossible for him to stay dead.
In a splendidly creepy scene, Grave-robbers get the fright of their lives when they break into Talbot’s tomb, allowing moonlight to shine into the wolfsbane-filled coffin.
Revived and more determined than ever to rid himself of the curse, he travels to Universal’s fairy tale Europe to once again seek help from gypsy woman Maleva who only offers spectacularly bad advice.  She recommends a certain doctor familiar with the secrets of life after death - and they journey together to castle Frankenstein.

The first part of this film - the ‘Wolf Man sequel section’, is as good as anything Universal ever produced.  Lon Chaney jnr is as one note as ever, but it is the perfect note for his tortured character.  It is only when he thaws out and befriends the weakened Frankenstein monster that the film seems to veer off the rails.

Larry Talbot and the Monster seem to get on, but his alter-ego takes exception.
I first saw this with friends at a legendary Sunday Horrors session in my youth, and it certainly entertained. A scene beginning with an excruciating musical number, cut short by Talbot understandably losing his temper and ending with him leaving the scene on a horse drawn cart with the Monster kicking wine barrels off the back, is comedy gold.  We had to include that it was some elaborate improvised sequence performed to pad out the running time.

Our irritating hero - who begins the film as a normal surgeon but seems to rapidly graduate to international detective and mad scientist, has equally confusing motives.  Instead of curing Talbot and draining off the Monster’s remaining energy as promised, he suddenly decides to supercharge Lugosi instead.

No-one seems to have their heart in it in this publicity still -
but at least Ilona Massey as Baroness Frankenstein looks
like she's toppled out of a Hammer film.
This seems to both revive the Monster’s eyesight and his libido as well, promptly, and understandably, carrying-off the rather delicious Baroness Elsa Frankenstein.  Larry is having none of this however, and thanks to the experiment being carried out on yet another night of a full moon, transforms and defends the lady’s honour in a brief, but enthusiastic, tussle with Lugosi’s stunt double.

It all kicks-off in the castle - art by Joe Jusko
The biffo is cut short when the local publican, looking disturbingly like Benny Hill’s character from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, dynamites the dam above the castle and deluges the battling beasts in mighty flood. Hopefully it also wipes out the asinine villagers and our dull doctor/detective as well.  (Are we really supposed to care more about these extras than the monsters?)
And no, I haven’t made any of this up.

I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t love this film, because I do.  It is the original, definitive creature clash, rightly paid tribute to in the form of clips and music cues appearing in other movie matches to come - King Kong vs Godzilla, Freddy vs Jason and Alien vs Predator.

Universal itself was to repeat the multiple monster formula from here on, but sadly this film also sees the point at which the studio’s once prestigious Horror output dropped from A to B-movie status.

Marvel comics get in on the act in the early 1970s.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Cartoon carnival

How difficult can it be to be funny once a week?

NZ makes great films, but we'll always go back to 'hooning' (hopefully)

That lame title might give you an idea.  When 'I were lad' the local cinema used to present a ‘cartoon carnival’ - basically splicing together a whole programme of the cartoons which they usually played before movies.  Mr Magoo and Huckleberry Hound were all good and well in isolation, but a whole afternoon in the company of them and their friends could pale somewhat.
But the cinema made money and our parents got us out of their hair for a couple of hours.

This year I have been given a weekly cartoon to do - which sounds like, and is fun, but is not easy.
The only real stricture I’ve been given is to stay away from NZ politics, so as not to encroach on the sterling work of our immensely talented daily cartoonists. 
Mine is weekly, so I have to try to pick a subject which is current, but won’t be completely out-dated by the time Saturday rolls around.

The audience is predominantly female and probably looking for an amusing Saturday morning breakfast diversion rather than razor edged satire.  
There was much I wanted to say about Brexit, not so much about Britain's decision but the condemnation from other nations. Suddenly appearing to know all about the European Union and exactly what it meant for people living in the UK, questionably-informed shaming was sprayed all over social media. And as for critics from the US - get your own house in order first. PLEASE.
It’s a huge subject which I don’t know a great deal about either, so I’ll stop now - and I submitted a very non-judgemental illustration instead.

I try to keep it light, and possibly even amusing every so often. I will be taking swipes if I think an issue or person deserves it, though - I'm holding the pen!
But I have to admit it causes me agonies of self-doubt and apprehension every time I send a new cartoon for approval - so if any of you have ideas - do let me know!

A pet-hate of mine - and everyone else's apparently

And if you can't be funny - try going for a wry smile instead...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ghoul Assembly: Part Three - Bridal Vile

Looking for love?  If you have the right connections it can be a straight-forward operation…

In our Ghoul Assembly monster-mash-ups series so far, we’ve looked at an Abbot and Costello comedy and a 1980’s coming-of-age family adventure.
This time, we’re looking at a romance - the great romance of horror cinema, even if it was a disastrous first date.

1935’s Bride of Frankenstein is cinema’s first big-budget horror sequel (as opposed to quick cash-in) and director James Whale’s masterpiece. Perhaps a little like Tim Burton and his smash hit 1989 Batman, when the studio finally convinced the director to do sequel he made his film first and foremost, which also just happened to have the title character in it.

Pretorius also has success in creating life - on a much smaller scale
I can’t agree that Bride of Frankenstein surpasses the original Frankenstein as it has been too long since I’ve seen that film, but film historians certainly think so. It is clearly a more expensive, expansive production, make-up genius Jack Pierce has perfected Karloff’s monster (looking more bulked-up and menacing in this film) and Ernest Thesiger’s fruity, frosty Dr Pretorius is one of macabre cinema’s greatest villains. 
His miniature creations still invoke a response of ‘how did they do that?’ today, and the cavernous expressionistic sets and painted skyscapes drip with atmosphere.

All this, and we haven’t even mentioned Elsa Lanchester’s startling bride. Horrifying and weirdly attractive in equal measure, her few, wordless moments on screen have earned the actress and her portrayal screen immortality. Perhaps the then current art-deco influenced fascination with ancient Egypt inspired her look: semi bandaged with an Egyptian head-dress style beehive which makes the bride look like an electrified Nefertiti.

Lanchester’s performance is also a masterstroke, conveying post-birth disorientation with her darting eyes and weird snaps of her head, and finally rejection of her intended mate with that goosebump-raising 'swan hiss'.

We only see this magnificent character for a few moments when she is barely aware and functioning - what a force she would have been at the height of her powers. Perhaps Billie Piper’s amazing performance in Penny Dreadful is an example of what might have been.

Elsa Lanchester also plays Mary Shelley, seen here with Percy Shelley and Byron,
in the prologue.  Her impressive decolletage was censored from the final film.

I have to be honest and say that the middle of the film, like the poor monster, tends to meander a little. But the final act makes it all worthwhile. It’s only appropriate that groom and wedding party are kept waiting for the bride.  Her eventual entrance, to a ghastly parody of wedding bells on the soundtrack, is unforgettable.

Here comes the Bride...

Sunday, 17 July 2016


I have to say; I think a critical error has been made

A recently released film has had a traumatic birth.  Wildly taken-against from the start, accusations of pointless and unwelcome rehashing of previous films, offensive stereotyping, miscasting and dodgy digital effects have cluttered the webisphere.
I saw it last night and am left feeling utterly mystified.  Not by the film itself, which we all gave a ten-out-ten, but the attitudes of people who surely go into a film with minds already made up and a grim determination to tear what is intended as a fun experience to bloody pieces.

I’m not talking about the fan tirade against the latest Ghostbusters, which seems to be happily entertaining audiences despite it all  (see Jamas's review here: but the critical lambasting of The Legend of Tarzan.

Really, film critics - what IS your problem?

Tarzan and friends about to bring a whole herd of trouble down on the slave traders army.
I know we seem to live in a world where to be interesting a literary hero apparently has to be a black clad, gravel voiced psychopath.  And CGI-ed violence apparently needs to distract an attention-deficited audience from their texting every other scene, but some of us still want a wholesome movie experience.

And The Legend of Tarzan is certainly that.  The intention of the film studio might be a cynical franchise building one, but the suits seem to have dropped that ball and somehow delivered a great night out for it’s own sake instead.  Which surely should be the point of a film about a man raised by apes.

Samuel L Jackson plays real-life figure George Washington Williams
The easy bulls-eyes this character has to wear have been addressed - the out-dated white saviour themes are rebalanced largely by a great performance from Samuel L Jackson and meaningful roles for the many African characters, our female lead is certainly no damsel in distress and animal cruelty is completely removed by removing animals.  The apes possibly fall under some digital effects scrutiny for knuckling through the uncanny valley - coming to close to ourselves and suffering from comparison with real humans.  But the other wildlife is beautifully realised - particularly in a surprising encounter with a pride of lions.

Surprise is a key word in this film. The plot may be linear and coherent, but like the many twists the jungle river which the villains must navigate takes, nothing ever feels predictable.
What is unsurprising is that the cast ‘get it done’. 
Alexander Skarsgard brings an enigmatic magnetism to John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, and an undeniable physical presence despite being no where near the steroid-engorged grotesquerie which contemporary Hollywood seems to demand of its heroes.  This is not an 'origin story', thank goodness, and so both actor and character have a mighty reputation to live up to when he returns to Africa.  Despite a shaky start, Tarzan’s legend is fulfilled. 

Jane Clayton is easily just as heroic and at home in the dark continent as her husband, without once again falling into improbable contemporary female tropes.  She is brought to life by the impossibly beautiful Margot Robbie, also about to play Harley Quinn, in DC Apologists last great hope: Suicide Squad.  Good luck to you chaps - your heroes have let you down so maybe the villains will do better.

In  a year where cinema royally afflecked-up a promising depiction of my favourite old-fashioned, pure-of-heart hero I’m enormously relieved to see the Lord of the Jungle done properly. 

If you want an old-fashioned adventure where good triumphs, you can tell your heroes from your villains, your heroine is brave and resourceful  - and friendship, honour and animals save the day - ignore the critics and grab a vine.

I gave this film a ten not because it is a perfect film - but because it was a perfectly entertaining movie experience.