Thursday, 21 September 2017

Happy 5th Birthday to the Lupine Book Club

5 years ago today, I published the very first article on the Lupine Book Club. While the blog didn't become particularly active until several months later, that first article is still where it all began.

Much has changed since 2012; I could talk for pages, but the short version is that I've gotten married, bought an apartment, hit the big 3-0, and become a cat owner.

I don't plan to do anything particularly special to mark the occasion -- maybe have a beer or two. But I want to thank all of you who've visited the Lupine Book Club over the years.

Here's to many more years ahead!   

Friday, 8 September 2017

Grossery Gang: Trash Head

Trash Head aka Clanky
Trash Head used to be your average filthy trash can until he was splashed by toxic juice and mutated into a pile of trash that’s ready to smash!
Trash Head is choc full of slop and is ready to empty himself on his enemy!
He’ll always throw up a challenge to the Clean Team!
Get ready to fight dirty!


Well, I’ve certainly referred to action figures as garbage in the past, but I think this is the first one where I didn’t mean it as a pejorative.

Last year, I took a look at a couple of Grossery Gang miniatures back when Series 1 was first released last year. We’re now up to series 3 – released under the title of “Grossery Gang vs The Clean Team” – and as something of a supplement to the main series of blind-packaged miniatures, Moose have release a number of Grosseries as fully-fledged action figures.

Trash Head here is (unsurprisingly) a trashcan. He’s leaking slime from his lid and his disgusting gaping mouth, while his limbs also appear to be made of the green stuff. In the mix is all sorts of other stuff, including cockroaches, fish bones and even an apple core. It’s totally disgusting and it is completely AWESOME! It’s the must-have accessory for every crust punk this year.

The overall aesthetic is quite reminiscent of the 1980s/1990s Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line, both in packaging and sculpt. Others have been pretty swift to point out the similarities to the long-defunct Food Fighters, who were originally released by Mattel in 1989. You’ll also find that the price point is reasonably retro, too – this figure retails for $11, which is impressively cheap in this day and age.  

As befits the figure’s pseudo-retro look, articulation is not amazing – but it’s slightly better than you would expect. I was expecting cut arms and legs, similar to a 5POA figure, but they’ve actually included swivel joints on all four limbs, which gives it an adequate range of movement.

Trash Head also comes with two accessories – a large set of fish bones which serves as his weapon in his war against cleanliness, and a Grossery of himself*. I believe the Grossery (or at least the paint scheme) is unique to this particular set, which will make it worth the price of purchase alone for some obsessive fans.

The Grossery Gang action figures are collectively great, and I hope we see more of them in the future. They’re incredible designs, a reasonable price point and they have a fantastic throwback feel overall. Highly recommended, even if you haven't been collecting the line. 

With that said, while these figures have been out in the US and Canada for a few months now, they’ve only just shown up in Sydney. The Grossery Gang brand seems to be going gangbusters overseas, while apparently having a bit of a mixed time here in Australia. Series 2 never really seemed to get much distribution, and Series 1 is also still hanging round in quite a few places too. Hopefully with the arrival of series 3 we’ll see a bit of a resurgence the public’s awareness of the brand.  


*What a narcissist  

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

POP! Television – Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting

Until recently, I’ve only really known Bob Ross as something of a campy cult figure via the many, many parodies and memes of him that have done the rounds. With his easily imitable afro, beard, soft-spoken manner and memorable catchphrases, he was a comedian’s dream. But his endearing onscreen persona seems to have had at least some grounding in reality – he’s developed quite a sincere following over the years, one that seems to be far larger than the irony-driven fandom.   

This second-hand familiarity isn’t so surprising, though; I’m not sure that The Joy of Painting was ever actually on Australian TV. But more than 20 years after his passing, we can now enjoy his work more easily than ever, thanks to his presence on YouTube and Netflix. And of course, Funko have now seen fit to add him to their POP! Television line.  

The sculpt is excellent, capturing him in his signature painting outfit. It’s presumably a younger Bob Ross, as by the early 90s he had fairly evident streaks of grey throughout his beard. He’s also armed with his famous 2-inch brush, and his clear palette, complete with smears of paint, ready to be daubed onto the canvas. It’s a shame he doesn’t come with one, but I’ve seen ones in The Reject Shop which would be just about in scale. I may have to invest in a few, and create a display for him.

But on the topic of paint...unfortunately, Funko seem to have had numerous “happy little accidents” in the process of applying apps at the factory. One of his eyes isn’t properly painted, his beard isn’t covered properly and his outfit is a little sloppy. Another one for the ever-growing to-fix pile. 

Paint imperfections aside, I have no hesitation recommending this figure. Bob Ross doesn’t really fit in with most over POPs you’ll own, but is nonetheless a fantastic addition to the shelf or desk. Figures like this really remind me why I started collecting POPs in the first place; the figure captures the subject exceptionally well, as opposed to just being some garbage ground out to meet a licensing commitment. It’s an eccentric addition to the collection, just as Bob Ross himself was – and continues to be – to our TV screens.  


Saturday, 2 September 2017

POP! Movies – Carrie

I seem to have been on a bit of a Stephen King kick of late. I reviewed the new version of IT just a few days ago, today we look at the POP version of Carrie and even as I type I’m watching the first episode of Stephen King’s The Mist.

Based on Stephen King’s first (published) novel, Carrie is the incredibly depressing story of a teenage girl who develops psychic powers. It was adapted into a film pretty quickly after release, with Sissy Spacek cast in the titular role. 

Both the book and movie of Carrie certainly contain their fair share of supernatural scares, and there are a lot of themes you can draw from it – high school as the real horror, bullying, victim blaming and sexual awakening just some of them. It’s not hard to see why the popularity of both continues after so many decades, even if they show signs of age*.  

But for me, most of the terror lies in Carrie’s religiously abusive mother. We don’t really find out which brand of Christianity Carrie’s mum adheres to, but it looks to be some kind of strange variant of Catholicism (we see Carrie praying in front of a statue of Saint Sebastian at one point). But in terms of practical application, her mother’s rantings and ravings come across as some kind of fundamentalist Protestant strain – ill-informed and deeply suspicious about the world. 

I’ve never experienced anything as extreme as Carrie, but as a kid I attended a Christian school that fell under the sway of a Charismatic movement known as the Toronto Blessing – lots of speaking in tongues, people collapsing around the place, that kind of thing. From my perspective, the principal used it as a way to consolidate his particular ugly brand of authoritarian leadership, by trying to fill student and teacher minds with bullshit. Maybe some of them even believed it at the time, I don’t know. It’s affected me more as an adult than I think it did as a kid, causing me considerable anxiety and leaving me highly skeptical of the whole phenomenon. 


Now to be fair, I haven’t been to the church in Toronto that originated the whole thing, so I can’t speak for their experiences. But based on my own, I’m inclined to think the whole thing was a hoax, or some kind of hysteria. I certainly don’t think it was a good thing – it’s been a blight on the modern church since. So yeah, the scenes with Carrie’s mum pushed some buttons for me.

But I have digressed heavily. The POP itself is quite simple, showing Carrie at her prom, post-pig’s blood. She’s wearing a slip-style dress, and still has her corsage on. My only real complaint is that could actually be way, way bloodier to better match the art on the back of the box, and the film itself.
If you’re a fan of the movie, this is a no-brainer. It’s one of Stephen King’s better adaptations, and though it’s showing its age, hugely influential on horror films ever since followed. Not Funko’s finest work, but definitely a solid piece for the shelf.


*I’m yet to see the remake from a few years ago

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Lupine Film Club: IT (2017)

WARNING: Contains spoilers for the novel of IT, the 1990 adaptation of IT and the 2017 film of IT

Book to movie adaptations are always going to upset a certain contingent of fans. It’s not hard to understand why, either; the adaptation is often seen by far more people than read the original work, and if it’s a bad one…well…  

Few writers probably understand this as well as Stephen King, who must surely one of the most heavily adapted authors in the world. The man already has his name on literally dozens of terrible adaptations of his novels and it doesn’t seem to have hurt his book sales any – so what’s the issue here?  

Well, when you’re talking about IT, it’s not so simple. The book was actually already adapted for the small screen back in the 90s, as a TV miniseries which became an instant classic. For a certain generation of horror viewers, it’s one of the most terrifying pieces of TV ever made. Sure, it hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s a pretty faithful adaptation and it’s readily available for home viewing. A remake seemed like a dubious idea at best, and an abomination at worst. Tim Curry’s take on Pennywise has long since entered the horror pantheon, and despite not having aged terribly well in the fashion department, the miniseries still conjures up some impressive scares today.   

But like IT herself, Hollywood seems to operate in 27-year cycles*. And so, the creature has again risen from beneath the sewers to terrify a whole new generation. Things have changed a little since we were last in the town of Derry, though. The children’s setting has been moved from the 1950s to the late 1980s, and the characters have also had certain background elements tweaked.

I am not a purist when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations myself, so for the most part, these changes are fine. The only one I didn’t really like was Beverley’s reduction to a “damsel in distress” role towards the end of the film. Aside from that, the plot follows the main beats of the novel, so there’s no real surprises if you’ve already read it. If you haven't, I won't give too much away; it's a kid's adventure story meets Stephen King's signature brand of disturbing small-town horror.

Proceedings feel a little cramped and rushed, but part of this is simply because there quite a few main characters. I may draw ire for saying so, but I suspect that at least one of the Loser’s Club could have either been cut or amalgamated into another character; a movie is not a book, and you don’t have the same space to work with in terms of giving characters equal time. With that said, all of the kids put in a great performance – there isn’t a weak one among them, and it’s almost a bit of a shame that we probably won’t see them in these roles again.

But the real question on everyone’s lips is really centred around another character, though – Pennywise the Clown, the titular IT. Revealed to be something of a Lovecraftian entity in the original novel, IT's origins largely go unexplored in this film, beyond the obvious conclusion that he’s some kind of supernatural monster -- but more importantly, how does this new version compare to Tim Curry's take on him? 

Well, Bill Skarsgård does a good job, if not quite such a distinctive one as Tim Curry. My main objection is that most of the time it really seems like a stuntman or CGI double is there in his place; though Pennywise gets a reasonable amount of screentime, I didn’t really feel like Bill Skarsgård got enough time for himself to shine in the role. Part of the character’s appeal is that he’s menacing without necessarily doing too much; the implied threat is often more effective than the xenomorph-esque jaw dislocation. Still, his design will no doubt give kids nightmares for years to come – and that’s as good a measure of success for a horror villain as any, really.

IT has had something of a troubled production. Actors and directors have come and gone, and it becomes most evident in the updated 1980s setting -- or rather, the lack thereof. With Finn Wolfhard in a starring role, and the 1980s setting, comparisons with last year’s Stranger Things are inevitable -- you can't help but think they're aiming for some crossover appeal. Indeed, you sometimes find yourself wishing for the deft touch of the Duffer Brothers in handling the look and feel of the era. The period setting feels more like window dressing; aside from a few bizarre outfits and the lack of computers or mobile phones, it could have been filmed last week. The main concession we get are some vague allusions to The Goonies and Stand By Me. Neither is surprising, given that The Goonies came out around the same time the novel was released, and Stephen King wrote the short story Stand By Me was based on.

Part of the reason IT – both the novel and the TV adaptation – worked so well is because it tapped into the zeitgeist of the time. Clowns are always objectionable and terrifying, so King picked a good villain – but there is much more to its success than that. Y’see, back in the 1980s there was a big revival of interest in 1950s culture; early rock and roll, James Dean, all that stuff. Baby Boomers were getting nostalgic for their childhood, and the pop culture of the time reflected that in a lot of ways**. IT pushed all these buttons, and also tapped into a more disconcerting truth about the era, too – it’s fun to reminisce, but you’re getting older…and you might actually have been a better person back when you were a kid. Your best days are quite possibly already behind you.   

This adaptation doesn’t really have, or even try to create that kind of resonance, and instead trades subtext for (admittedly effective) jump scares. The end result is that it’s creepy and unsettling, but it doesn’t really establish a distinct identity for itself. IT is ultimately a very competent film, and certainly worth a watch on the big screen – but it does feel a little disposable. Here’s hoping that Chapter 2 rectifies some of those issues, and showcases the true potential of the story. 

IT opens in Australian cinemas on September 7th. You can view the trailer here.

*Not entirely, but just suspend your disbelief for the purpose of the line here.

**This is also part of the reason Back to the Future was such a hit, and why Chris Isaak had his breakthrough in the era.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

POP! Rocks -- James Hetfield (Metallica)

Since the release of their eponymous “Black” album, Metallica have consistently been one of the most controversial bands in heavy metal. Many (this writer included) cut ties a long time ago, content to remember their past glories fondly but abandoning any hope that they’d rise above the level of average dad rock again. They kind of did on Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, but calling it a triumphant return would be...generous. Still, they have nothing to prove critically, based on their first few albums. And based on the albums that came afterwards, they have even less to prove commercially.

But though I think they’re a bit of a spent force musically, I was quite pleased to see Funko were making Metallica part of the POP! Rocks line. I knew James Hetfield would be a must-buy for me, and so now he stands on the shelf alongside Jimi Hendrix and Lemmy.   

This POP shows Hetfield circa the release of the Black Album, though it could kind of be him anywhere between 1988 and 1992; the main thing marking it out as specifically from this period is his wolf’s head necklace. But if you can pinpoint it to a certain date or concert, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

It captures an interesting time in the band’s history; Metallica were transitioning to a much more commercial sound via the release of the Black album, but they were still unapologetically a metal band, and looked the part. Hetfield has a bit of a pseudo-Lemmy look going on with his facial hair, in tandem with a not-quite mullet. It’s not his best look, but he’s certainly had worse over the years. Appropriately, he’s got his distinctive white Gibson Explorer, though it’s sans “EET FUK” sticker and instead has a Metallica logo printed across the lower edge. The guitar itself is surprisingly detailed, with tone and volume knobs, and even a pickup selector switch! Funko have also included a guitar strap, which is a nice touch. This is the first time I’ve seen them do it, but I assume future guitar-slinging POPs will also feature them.

Paint is sloppy, which is not particularly surprising. It’s mostly forgivable, except for the face, which is noticeably patchy on the moustache. This is one I might – MIGHT – actually get around to repainting myself, because I really wasn’t thrilled with the work done at the factory.    


It’s definitely not Funko’s best POP! Rocks piece – but it’s a fun one for Metallica fans. You can also pick up Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo to complete the band, should you feel so inclined. I’m still hoping for Ronnie James Dio further down the line; hopefully the release of Metallica is a sign of them testing the water for future metal releases.   

Friday, 11 August 2017

Lupine Record Club: Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (2017 CD Reissue)

Year: 1984/2017
Label: BMG/Noise

You can’t talk about any type of metal or hard rock for too long without running across Celtic Frost. Hugely influential across death, doom, black, thrash, and even helping shape Creed(!), Celtic Frost are in a league of their own. There were lots of bands working in a similar vein at the time – most notably Venom and Bathory – but Celtic Frost always stood out above their competitors. There was an intensity and seriousness to their work that belied their youth, and I suspect has helped their work last the distance over the years.  

I first came across their name in 2002, when taking my first steps into the world of extreme metal. But this being a time before YouTube and Spotify, and me not being an avid music pirate*, I didn’t actually hear them until I picked up a copy of Morbid Tales in 2005. Not long afterwards, they’d reform again and release Monotheist; it was intended to be the start of a grand new era for the band, but within a few years things deteriorated again and Celtic Frost were no more, with the key members barely on speaking terms.

Frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G. Warrior) has gone on to form Triptykon, while bassist Martin Eric Ain has kept a comparatively low profile. Nonetheless, their legacy still looms large, so I was pretty excited when I heard there was a new reissue of their albums on the way. I think it’s been around a decade since they had any sort of larger scale release, probably to coincide with the then-new Monotheist.

Morbid Tales has been remastered, but not remixed as far as I’m aware. In the past, Tom G. Warrior has been pretty adamant that for better or worse, the original mixes of his albums should be retained, serving as something of a historical document. Plenty of bands of their stature take a pretty revisionist stance when it comes to their own history, so I think there’s something admirable about keeping things as they were, warts and all.

30-odd years later, it still sounds great. It’s definitely raw by comparison to modern production techniques – and even in comparison to some of their contemporaries – but it suited their sound, and it still holds a power that is often lacking in bands that are far more polished. Totally essential for anyone interested in the history of extreme music, and great on its own merits too. But is it worth upgrading if you already own a copy? That’s a more complex question than it might sound – you’ll see why at the end of the review.  


Aside from the remastered audio here are three major changes to the packaging – the first is that that the artwork has been restored to its original look. The more recent reissues had an ersatz artwork on it which was perfectly serviceable, but didn’t have the same crude 80s feel**. For some, this will justify the purchase on its own merits.

The second is one that annoyed me a little – namely, the three Emperor’s Return EP tracks have now been moved to the reissue of To Mega Therion. Every other reissue I’ve run across has had Morbid Tales and Emperor’s Return together, so it seems a little strange to me – but no doubt there are compelling reasons for now doing it this way. It is more “correct” in terms of release chronology. In their place are four rehearsal tracks – Morbid Tales, Messiah (an old Hellhammer track), Procreation of the Wicked and Nocturnal Fears. They’re novel, but (like most bonus tracks) not essential. Still, they were impressively tight on these old tracks; missing them live in Sydney a few years ago is still one of my deepest regrets.

The third is the inclusion of a new booklet; the lyrics are contained of course, but there’s also plenty of cool photos from the era, and some liner notes. But you’ll notice that there are no written contributions from Celtic Frost themselves…and herein lies the complexity that I mentioned earlier.
Though Fischer was heavily involved in the process of creating these reissues, he has now withdrawn support for them due to a dispute with BMG concerning his liner notes. Prior to their release, he also had this to say on Twitter:

 I’m sure both sides have compelling arguments as to why they were right, but being a creative type myself I’m more inclined to side with the artist. So would I have still picked it up had I known this beforehand? Probably not. The older reissues still seem to be readily available for the time being, and I was certainly satisfied with my older copy when I bought it all the way back in 2005 – the extras are nice but don’t necessarily warrant replacing an older edition. But if you’re a fan, you’ll have to make up your own mind.  

*Not to mention that a lot of metal was actually quite hard to get hold of if you wanted to go that route back then.  

**Curiously, it’s been readily available as a t-shirt design for pretty much this whole period; maybe they were able to get the rights back around the time they put out Monotheist