I Met My Favourite Band Killing Heidi – and it was Glorious

WARNING: Unabashed fanboying ahead.

It’s an old maxim delivered to the young and starry-eyed with regularity: never meet your heroes.

The implication is, of course, that the idols you cherish for their sporting prowess, acting talent or musical genius may not necessarily be the nicest people. In fact, they could be rampant arseholes. The Internet is replete with stories of fans who’ve met with their heroes only to have their perceptions shattered with cold indifference or blatant rudeness; or, on the other hand, fans who get starstruck and embarrass themselves.

I am so glad I never listened to this old axiom, because I met my heroes a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of the best moments of my life.

These particular heroes of mine aren’t my literary idols, by the way. They are an Aussie alternative rock band – my favourite band – and they are called Killing Heidi.

I should probably back up.

I grew up in a country town and as a kid I felt quite isolated and alone. I don’t mean geographically isolated – although my hometown Geraldton is four hundred k’s from the state capital, and close to nothing else except the Indian Ocean. I don’t mean literally alone, either, because I grew up in a family of eight and with truckloads of Italian cousins, so people weren’t exactly hard to come by.

No, I grew up feeling isolated and alone in the sense that I had a creative, artistic, sensitive, ponderous, powerful element to my personality, and I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it or where it belonged. I knew I wanted to become a writer from this young age, but I had no concept of how to get there: from country boy to published writer seemed an impossible step. From where I started, actually crafting a career as a fair dinkum author seemed about as likely as making it as a rockstar.

Enter Killing Heidi.

This angsty teenage rock band from country Victoria formed the soundtrack to my teenage years. I can’t remember the first time I heard their debut hit Weir (1999) – a massive teen anthem – but I can recall the first time I heard their number 1 track Mascara. It was early in the year 2000 – February or March – and I was eleven years old. We were in Perth to pick my sister up from the airport, and while we waited around the hotel room in Belmont, this super cool music video was on TV with this awesome, melodic song thumping over the top, all giant riffs and bouncy synths.

I was entranced. Mascara became my favourite song. It was all about being different, not conforming, being yourself … self-empowerment and individuality. I identified. Even though I didn’t have the words for it at that age, I knew I was a bit of a weirdo. It was nice to know someone on the radio knew what that was like. There was a wordless understanding.

I had an obsession for a few months – I did a school project on Killing Heidi and their first album, despite not yet owning it. Then my twelfth birthday came around, and my brother gave me a CD for my present.

“It’s that song from that band you like,” he grunted.

I opened it with excitement, to find an unfamiliar CD single. It was Beauty Queen by Perth rock band Lash. Ohh, I thought, my heart plummetting. Lash. Mascara. I can see how my brother got confused. I was crushed, but just said thanks and went on with playing Pokemon: Yellow. (Incidentally, Lash totally wailed.)

I guess, being that age, I moved on to the next obsession, never got Reflector, and trundled along for a few years – until I hit a snag.

I was about sixteen when I got mired in a massive pit of depression. I knew what normal awkward teenagehood felt like, and this shit was worse. Impenetrable black. I eventually didn’t want to be on this planet anymore.

Around that time, Killing Heidi released their self-titled third album (2004). Recalling how much I’d loved their music as a younger kid, I begged for their new album for Christmas, and got it (the right CD this time). That album introduced me, properly, to the world of rock music. Moreover, the lyrics spoke of pain, anger, hurt, reflection, fear, freedom and self-determination … and it struck a chord.

I quickly got myself copies of Reflector and Present, their second album, and Killing Heidi became my favourite band. The music and lyrics on their three albums got me through the worst and darkest years of my life, and have stayed with me ever since – inspiring me, pumping me up, spurring me on.

In 2006, the band broke up, and though I caught them live a few times over the years (2006, as an acoustic duo, and 2009, as The Verses), I was hanging out to see the real-deal plugged-in Killing Heidi I grew up with.

Seeing the band at the Astor Theatre in Perth on June 2nd as part of their national reunion tour was a total trip. I went along with my partner and one of my best mates. Neither of them had seen me quite so hyperactive before: I felt transported back to my youth, so excited for the meet-and-greet session before the show.

About thirty or forty fans lined up for the meet and greet. The first pair went through the rippling black curtain to meet the band. I figured it would be like when you meet actors at Supanova or ComicCon: you say g’day, maybe a couple of sentences, they take your photo and whisk you away.

This wasn’t like that.

The first pair were with the band for a good five minutes. So were the second pair.

“This band are so nice,” the security guard told us as we waited to go in next. “You work with a lot of different bands over the years, but these guys are nice to everyone – the crew, all the staff, the fans – everyone.”

He wasn’t wrong. The members of Killing Heidi were the nicest people I’ve ever met at a meet and greet – and I’ve been to quite a few. I met Perth-born drummer Adam Pedretti, guitarist Jesse Hooper, and his sister, lead singer Ella Hooper. We chatted. We hugged. We got to talk about the band, their music, how much it meant to me growing up. I suggested they release a Greatest Hits already (which they totally should). We talked some more, about their other projects. We got a few photos. They signed my copy of Reflector. It was ace.

I left the room on a cloud.

Then we saw the band live, and they were everything I’d hoped for. This was a full electric show, and Killing Heidi rocked out hard, and I was front row. Reflector songs got heavy play – unexpectedly, even deep cuts like Real People and Astral Boy which I was so glad to hear live – and Ella nailed all the notes. They also played all the singles from the other two albums, and even a Verses song and an Ella Hooper solo number (Monkey Mind, which was rockier and incredible live).

But for me, the most poignant moment was when they played their 1996 song, Kettle.

Ella and Jesse Hooper were 13 and 16 respectively when their first song Kettle won radio station Triple J’s Unearthed competition in 1996. They were an acoustic duo from Violet Town in Victoria – a place much smaller than Geraldton, if not quite as remote. A few years later, their debut album Reflector (2000) became a massive sensation across Australia. Reflector became the fastest-selling album in Australian history, going four times platinum, and making them massive rock stars.

Their success story is so well-known, and their triumph over the pop charts seemed so instantaneous, that it never seemed like there had been any hard yards for the band in reaching their zenith.

But that night at the Astor gig, Ella reflected on their humble beginnings. How they were two no-name teenagers from a little country town with a single song. How Ella thought it was big-headed of her brother Jesse to submit the song to Triple J, because how would they ever make it, really?

“I don’t wanna get all ‘footprints in the sand’ on you guys,” Ella told the crowd at the Astor. “But if you have a big dream, go for it. You might just make it.”

I’m paraphrasing, because I was transfixed at that moment and forget her exact words, which were probably more poetic. But her words felt, to me, like motivation. And confluence.

If two ambitious kids from Violet Town can make in the end (through all the twists and bends …), maybe I can, too.

I am so glad I met my heroes, because they gave me the same joy and strength in real life that their music and lyrics have given me for years. And the inspiration to keep going.

I’m going to make it.

Holden

</fanboy>

Wonder Woman is the Best DCEU Film So Far. Here’s Why. [SPOILERS]

The weight of expectation on the release of this month’s Wonder Woman film was enough to buckle the shoulders of even the sturdiest Amazon warrior.

The overlords of the DC Extended Universe would have been holding their breath for this release. After the lukewarm reception to 2012’s Man of Steel, the critical and fan backlash to the abysmal (and dull) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and that same year’s hot mess of reshoots, rewrites and re-cuts, Suicide Squad, they needed a genuine win.

It wasn’t just a case of turning a juicy profit for the studio fat cats, either. Like the eponymous heroine, Wonder Woman had to be nimble and agile, walking a number of tightrope acts. The film couldn’t be too dark, or it risked being lumped in the BvS basket of boredom; too light and fluffy, and fans looking for gritty superhero realism wouldn’t want to see it.

Even Wonder Woman’s costume reflects that tension: though much darker, armour-like and practical than Lynda Carter’s 1970s spandex, her gear is still significantly brighter and reflective of hope than her appearance in BvS.

There were also aggro Twitter politics to be danced around: Wonder Woman had to somehow placate both feminist and anti-feminist audiences. Feminsts were already concerned about issues ranging from female agency through to the more trivial matter of the protagonist’s underarm hair (or lack thereof). In the red corner, anti-feminists were waiting in the wings to deride any female-led film that played into cloying social-justice sensibilities, as with the notorious kerfuffles around the critically-panned 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.

Somehow, perhaps as only a princess of Themyscira could, Wonder Woman ducks and weaves the hail of bullets from awaiting critics, impresses them all, and emerges stronger than ever.

Wonder Woman is a superb film.

More importantly, this film is actually really fun – and that isn’t true for any DCEU film thus far.

The movie opens in modern-day Paris, where Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), now working at the Louvre, receives an aging photograph from Bruce Wayne. Diana recalls her past: specifically, the events that led to the photograph in question. Born on the mystical Greek island of Themyscira, an island populated solely by females – and female warriors, at that – Diana is trained to become the strongest warrior of them all.

Trained by her aunt, Antiope (an impressive Robin Wright), and guided by a protective mother (Connie Nielsen), Diana masters the ways of the Amazon. She learns the mythology of her people, too: that the wars of the past were caused by the Greek god of war, Ares, and that his return may be inevitable.

Cue the unexpected arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a captain from the United States Army Air Service, who crash-lands a plane near the protected island, opening Diana’s eyes to the world beyond. Learning that the entire world is in the throes of the fourth year of World War I, and believing Ares to be at the core of it, Diana enters wartime Europe to help end the war; Steve, needing her help, allows her to join him.

What follows is one of the more memorable superhero tales in recent memory. Transposing the story to the 1918 setting is a stroke of genius by the film’s writer Allan Heinberg: the curious mix of power and innocence that radiates from Diana is juxtaposed perfectly with the era’s suffragette politics. Gal Gadot is not just radiant, but convincing: she deftly runs the gamut of charming, likeable protagonist and unyielding Amazon warrior powerhouse.

In fact, her heroic qualities reverberate in the sky-shattering guitar riff that has become rapidly well-known as Wonder Woman’s new theme music. Several powerful scenes in this film – both the high-octane and the poignant – gave me shivers, and this leads to the film’s biggest power.

Wonder Woman is an earnest film that actually gives the audience hope; the heroine inspires the viewers. The film doesn’t deflate its meaningful moments with poorly-timed comic relief; nor does it pretend, as BvS did, that it’s too cool and aloof to deal with genuine emotion. Certain moments hit you squarely in the feels: this superhero talks about her belief in love, and in an era of rapid-fire quips and dark broodiness, this resonates.

Gadot isn’t the only stellar actor in the cast. Pine is brilliant as her love interest, Steve, making the most of his playful, perfectly-pitched comic moments. He also enjoyed a fairly drawn-out “nude” scene in which he which boosted his credentials as bona fide beefcake and delivered some top-shelf innuendo (“I’m above average …” he tells Diana – with just enough boyish charm to avoid being crass).

Supporting actor David Thewlis (AKA Professor Remus Lupin) does an impressive job as Sir Patrick Morgan, while Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) is a delight for audiences. Sameer (Saïd Tachmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) round out the good guys as a trio of likeable rogues – though all three characters feel like they could’ve been explored more had the story not been as tight.

Only the villains seem to be reading from a different script: Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his mad-scientist sidekick Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) come off a little cartoonish. The dilapidated lab with beakers everywhere is a little cliché, and given the two are cooking up mustard gas to wipe out civilians, those scenes surely could have been taken a little more seriously? It clashes with how soberly we are invited to view the scene of the village actually being bombed with the gas.

And as good as this film was, I can’t have been the only one who walked out of the cinema wondering why the evil Germans didn’t speak bloody German among themselves? Given that director Patty Jenkins wasn’t afraid to expose subtitle-averse audiences to a multilingual exchange between Diana and Sameer, why avoid the subtitles with Ludendorff and his cronies? Please explain.

That said, Jenkins’ direction is exquisite. I wouldn’t be surprised to see fan campaigns to oust Zack Snyder as director of any further DC films and replace him with Jenkins. Hell, I might join them. Jenkins is talented, and her interviews show that she isn’t just pandering to the fandom; rather, she has her own vision and it is aligned with the audience – something Snyder has failed to master.

The only thing missing from this movie? Nobody actually called Diana “Wonder Woman”. A deliberate decision, perhaps, but at least a wink to the name would’ve felt appropriate.

Wonder Woman is a triumph, and it may be the turning point DC desperately needed. Roll on, Justice League.

Guys! I’ve been profiled on The Dreamers Blog! :O

Hey guys,

It’s such an awesome feeling being profiled for someone else’s website – especially when the questions are all about having big dreams and what it takes to follow them.

Today, writer and blogger Douglas Geller has profiled me for his Dreamers Blog. He interviews people from a range of disciplines – writers, artists, MMA fighters, you name it – and asks them how they keep their dream alive and stay motivated.

In our chat, I talk about how my parents compared me to a robot from an 80s sci-fi movie (really), why I want to live life like an early 90s Jewel, and I make a dubious Bed, Bath and Beyond analogy about my writing.

Check out the full profile here, and don’t forget to give Doug’s pages a like!

Cheers,

Holden

 

My Whole Life is Thunder!

Everyone knows musicians and actors live for the spotlight and can sometimes tend to the narcissistic end of the spectrum. As Lady Gaga sang back in 2013, musicians “live for the applause”. 30 Rock‘s Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), an actress on the show-within-the-show, gave perhaps the best response when someone suggested they had stolen her thunder, dramatically screaming, “My whole life is thunder!”

Maybe a lesser known fact is that us writers also crave the limelight. Even the most introverted among us desire some level of attention: the quest for publication alone is admission of a desire for external validation. If we did not want a little thunder, we would be quite content to write endless novels on our laptops and leave them there until the beginning of the digital dark age.

But we want publication because like Gaga and Maroney, we have some level of fame whore within us. We create stories and worlds, and it’s a nice feeling when someone who isn’t us reads them and goes, “Oh, that’s so cool.”

I don’t think it’s super cool to admit we like the attention. Especially in Australia, where such an admission is going to get you chopped down (see: Tall Poppy Syndrome). But to some extent, it’s the truth for every artist, no matter how humble they try to appear. I’m not the only writer who likes the attention, surely?

I got to enjoy the view of my first few streamers of electricity this week. Firstly, I spotted my story The Scroll of Isidor charting on the Barnes and Noble bestselling fantasy short stories list (it started at #45, crept up to #31, and has now slid back to #33). That was a cool feeling, because it quantified the success of this story in an understandable way. I’ve been tracking the sales for the e-book, but it’s hard to know how they stack up compared to others in the field; a chart eliminates that query. It’s nice to enjoy a small modicum of success. As I like to think of it, it’s a taste of things to come.

A second burst of lightning came when I was profiled for the first time as an author. After we crossed paths on Goodreads, book blogger Mercedes Fox interviewed me this week for her website.

I had heaps of fun talking about my work as a writer and what drives me. The hardest question was about my favourite fictional character. I ended up choosing Nathan Drake from the Uncharted video game series, but it was a tough call. I tend to like intelligent, witty, dry-humoured alpha male characters, and there actually aren’t that many well-crafted ones out there. Drake, however, is a sick cunt. If I could be anyone fictional, I think I’d be him. When I was a kid, I liked Tintin a lot, but in terms of being a 3D character, he’s a bit lacking and rather milquetoast. Drake is like a more buff, more hardcore, more awesome version of Tintin, but more likeable than Indiana Jones.

We also talked about me getting carried away writing sex scenes (a challenge since I write YA!) and having an existential meltdown in 2014 and how that turned my life around and made me a harder worker.

You can check out the full interview here.

So this was a big week, and like any slightly self-obsessed artist, I did enjoy the burst of attention. But now I’m hanging to crawl back into my hermit shell for some weekend downtime. And by downtime, I probably mean working on my current WIP. And possibly binge-watching Riverdale, because I was a huge Archie Comics geek growing up.

Wishing you guys an ace weekend: read and write well, and remember, like Jenna Maroney, YOUR WHOLE LIFE IS THUNDER!

Holden

I got writing advice from Matthew Reilly and ignored it. Because I’m a fuckwit, that’s why.

In November last year, bestselling action author and bona fide super geek Matthew Reilly stopped off in Perth as part of his book tour to promote The Four Legendary Kingdoms, the latest instalment in his uber-successful Jack West Jr series.

Keen to hear him speak about being a writer, I went along to his packed-out evening talk at Wesley College, a posh private boys’ school. I scored a seat in the nosebleed section, looking entirely out of place decked out in my favourite Five Finger Death Punch jersey and Obey cap among the white-collar types and the blazer-wearers. I’m fairly sure a pre-emptive suspicious persons report was filled out in my honour.

But I digress. Matthew Reilly was fascinating to listen to, and spoke with the confidence of someone who has been successful for a long time. He handled the Q & A like a seasoned pro. What’s most interesting about Reilly is not so much his phenomenal success as an Australian author – for which I reckon he never gets enough credit in his homeland – but his path to becoming a megastar. After being rejected by every major publisher and their poodles, Reilly self-published his first novel Contest in 1996 when he was only in his early twenties. After convincing the owner of a local bookshop to sell it, the book was spotted by an editor from Pan Macmillan, and he picked up a publishing contract.

I look up to Matthew Reilly for a number of reasons. He’s an Aussie author. He writes action/adventure novels, which I love reading. Jack West Jr is an Australian character, which I think is awesome in a blockbustery kind of novel. My fantasy novels tend to the more actiony end of the spectrum, so Reilly’s also an influence on my own work. While he often cops stick for not being “literary” enough, critics who level that at him are a little off-base. Action thrillers are a different genre to literary fiction: fans read these books because they want to be entertained. They don’t want to see Jack navelgazing for two-thirds of the book about his feelings. Reilly writes his novels as if they’re films, and once you take that on board, it’s easier to see what he’s doing.

Anyway, after the talk, I waited in a very long line (about an hour and a half, from memory) to get my copy of The Four Legendary Kingdoms signed. We were given cupcakes by the organisers, which was a nice touch. Then I got to meet the author, shake his hand, take a photo and have a brief chat with him.

Seizing my chance for advice, I told Reilly I was writing a YA Fantasy novel, that he was an influence on my work, and if he had any advice for me as I approached the querying process.

I figured it might be a boring, common question for him that would receive a one-line response, but to my pleasant surprise, Reilly was incredibly generous with his time. He essentially stopped the queue and rattled off a sequence of rapid-fire advice to me, which I quickly tried to memorise.

He made a point of adding one final piece of advice.

“Revise your manuscript again,” he said, locking eyes with me in a way that said take this seriously. “No matter how much you think it’s finished and polished, there’s always one more revision to be done.”

I nodded and smiled and thanked him for his time, and shuffled along past the weary-looking event staff.

But did I take the expert advice of this intelligent, successful, bestselling author seriously?

No.

Because I am what the French would call un connard, and the Aussies would call an arrogant fuckwit.

Most artists, myself included, tend to see-saw in a slightly unhinged manner between crippling, overwhelming self-doubt and full-blown narcissism. Sadly, that day was an egoic one: my head was wedged firmly within the warm dankness of my colon.

“Oh, Matthew, you know not who you are dealing with,” said a slightly medieval-toned fellow in my head. “For I have done seven drafts of this manuscript. I have worked with one of the greatest editors in the land, and another copyeditor has tidied it up. I am not some garden-variety amateur writer. I don’t need another revision. You, sir, are wrong.”

So I took my seventh draft of a manuscript and queried my first round of agents. I had to wait until the new year for responses. One finally came through: a form rejection, which stung. Another never replied after the initial acknowledgement of receipt.

But the third agent emailed back and said he was interested in seeing the full manuscript.

I did some metaphorical backflips, sobbed uncontrollably (that was a day of doubt) and then calmly replied with a “please see attached, kind regards” kind of way that successfully disguised how ecstatic/utterly destroyed I was.

Just getting a full request was proof, to me, that I wasn’t totally rubbish. I was good enough to generate professional interest. Even if it came back as a no, it was a confidence boost.

A couple of weeks later, I came back home from a run around the block and felt my phone vibrating. An Eastern states number. I tried to stop panting and answered in a level voice.

It was the agent who’d requested the full.

This is it, I thought. Agents don’t waste time calling people unless they’re offering representation. This is my moment!

“Great to hear from you!” I gushed to the agent.

There was an awkward silence at the other end of the line.

“Uh, you might want to hear what I have to say first, before you say that,” he said simply.

It was a rejection.

A thirty-minute phone call of a rejection, which is now my high water mark for how much disappointment my body can physically take.

The agent liked my manuscript. He said it was a strong read. He said he came to care about the characters and really liked some of them. But the word he used for the novel was “competent”, which cut me deeply. You want your accountant to be competent. You want a novel to excite you. And he wasn’t excited.

“It’s competent, but not good enough,” he said. “It really has got to be jolly good.”

I took copious notes, because this phone call – as crushing as it was – was a gift. This incredibly busy, successful agent was bothering to spend half an hour of his time on the phone with me, a no-name writer trying to get my first novel published who wasn’t an existing client. This was incredibly generous of him, and I asked as many questions as I could.

Some of his feedback didn’t land, because it was off-base for the type of story I wanted to write. But a lot of his feedback struck a nerve. It hurt because I knew he was right. Once I thought about it, and looked at the manuscript, I could see he was on point on a few matters. The manuscript still needed work.

After self-flagellating with a cat o’ nine tails and gnashing my teeth for the past few weeks, I’m finally ready to actually talk about this.

Because it means I’m no longer at the querying stage. I have to go back a step, and do an eighth draft.

You know, like Matthew Reilly told me to do.

Tail between my legs, I will admit I should’ve listened to him in the first place.

So what’s next? I’m working on a YA novel at the moment. I’m going to finish that first, because it’s burning with more urgency. And once the first draft of that is complete, I will return to my fantasy manuscript and start working on the eighth draft. And I’m going to make sure it’s bloody excellent.

Failure has always motivated me to do better, and this is no exception. I won’t finish with this novel until it is so good it demands a place on bookshelves; and I won’t stop until it’s published and sitting on one.

Holden

Review: Power Rangers is a Better Superhero Film than Logan [SPOILERS]

[CAUTION: Major spoilers ahead for both films.]

Remember when superhero films didn’t constitute a genre in their own right?

Me neither, but beyond the reaches of our pop-culture-saturated memories, there was a time before Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) when superhero movies in general didn’t do that well.

Of course, superhero lore has thrived in comic books for decades. But during the 90s, fans who wanted to see their cartoon heroes brought to life had to make do with a rapidly-declining series of Batman sequels. (Joel Schumacher has since taken the credit – or blame, rather – for the infamous batnipples.) More often than not, comic book interpretations landed on the small screen, usually as animated TV series pitched at juvenile audiences. Even Superman couldn’t shake off the social opprobrium of 1987’s disastrous Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, remaining confined to the live-action television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman during the following decade.

This side of the new millennium has seen the rapid change in fortunes for the superhero genre we are now accustomed to. Early outings by Singer (X-Men and 2003’s sequel X2: X-Men United) broke new ground in presenting fantastic superheroes and villains in a darker, grittier world – a realistic world. Adult fans no longer needed to use their children as human shields against criticism for seeing the latest superhero blockbuster – because the films were no longer the domain of children. Since 2000, the primary viewership of superhero movies has progressively shifted from children to older teens to adults, and the tone of these films has grown increasingly darker. Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboots led to a watershed moment in this trend: 2005’s Batman Begins set a newly dark tone for the franchise, surpassed by 2008’s phenomenal masterpiece The Dark Knight.

The epic success of The Dark Knight led to what many refer to as the Nolanisation of the superhero genre: with some notable exceptions, most superhero films from both DC and Marvel since 2008 have been deliberately darker. Indeed, Nolan’s legacy can be seen across Hollywood, from Daniel Craig-era Bond outings like Casino Royale and Skyfall through to gritty fairy tale live-action adaptations like Maleficent and Snow White and the Huntsman.

But in 2017, the tide may be changing. This is most apparent in the first two highly-anticipated superhero blockbusters of the year.

Logan is the ninth X-Men instalment (excluding 2016’s Deadpool) and represents Hugh Jackman’s final performance as the mutton-chopped, razor-clawed Wolverine. Set in a dismal, depressing-but-not-quite-dystopic version of 2029, Logan sees Wolverine (Jackman) as a battle-scarred, flask-swigging lone wolf (haha).

A far cry from his life with the X-Men, Logan’s twilight years consist of driving a limo around Texas to fund his alcohol addiction as his body slowly begins to shut down from adamantium poisoning, and to afford medication for the nonagenarian Professor Charles Xavier (played by an incandescent Patrick Stewart). The professor has been sequestered away in a remote, desolate part of Mexico (in this version of 2029, Trump’s wall apparently never got off the ground), cared for by the albino mutant-trufflehunter Caliban (Stephan Merchant).

The cause of this sombre new life is never fully elaborated; viewers only catch mentions of an “incident in Westchester” in which, in a psychic seizure, Xavier killed a heap of the X-Men and innocent civilians. The implication is that the other X-Men we know and love all died in the destruction of Xavier’s old mutant school.

After being begged for help by Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse for biotech company Transigen, Logan discovers the corporation has been experimenting on a group of genetically-engineered child mutants. After Transigen ordered the children to be terminated, Lopez and other staff smuggled some of the child mutants out of the complex, including the 11-year-old Laura, who she now asks Logan to help transport to an imagined mutant sanctuary named Eden somewhere in North Dakota.

What follows is something like an indie road trip film mashed up with moments of intense action. After Lopez is murdered, Logan and Xavier whisk Laura away and head for Eden, all the while tracked by murderous and slightly unhinged Transigen goon Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

The funereal tone of Logan was foreshadowed by the inclusion of Johnny Cash’s elegiac 2003 song ‘Hurt’ in its trailer. At the film’s opening, Logan is already on the verge of suicide, having crafted an adamantium bullet for the day he decides to top himself. And at the film’s end, his story is brought to a final end as he dies in the arms of Laura, who is revealed to be his cloned daughter.

Logan is brutal, and the first X-Men film to deliberately seek an R-rating (MA15+ here in Australia). Director James Mangold was quick to capitalise on the higher rating, with Wolverine dropping the F-bomb without restraint and slicing and dicing his claws straight through arms, chest and heads. The violence is brutal, but so is the toll the film takes on the viewer’s morale.

Despite the miasma of depression that clings like a cumulonimbus cloud to every second of the film, there is plenty to love about Logan.

The performances are stellar: if Hugh Jackman is looking to move on to film noir or any number of indie film genres for the next arc of his career, he’s presented a brilliant audition reel here. Stewart gives his best performance as Xavier, also: he finally has the leeway to present a more human depiction of the professor, and every endearing moment makes his on-screen demise even more gutwrenching (despite it being thoroughly telegraphed). Newcomer Dafne Keen is radiant as the young Laura – despite remaining taciturn for nearly the first half of the film, she holds her own against the film’s grown-ups and maintains a powerful aura.

The film’s writers also deserve props. Not only is the dialogue tight and effective, but the pacing is excellent, vacillating between bloody action scenes and quieter moments with just enough glimpses of emotional truth. Moreover, the deliberate decision to avoid a genre-typical over-the-top big bad – with the usual ‘save the world’ menace at the climax – is refreshing. The action is scintillating, but small-scale, and all the more resonant for it.

In fact, Logan as a film is exceptionally well made, poignant, and moving.

But as a superhero film, it absolutely sucks.

Logan is perhaps the best example of taking Nolanisation to its extreme: a superhero film so dark, so gritty, so goddamn devoid of fun and fantasy, that it renders itself irrelevant.

What good is it to escape from our shitty, depressing lives into a world that’s even more depressing and shitty?

Worse, we suffer with Wolverine for two hours for nothing. There’s no real victory. He gets killed, bleeds out, dies and is buried. The child mutants hold a makeshift funeral for him in the woods and then move on. For a film that concludes Wolverine’s story – the story of the main character of the X-Men films – this death is unexpectedly minimalistic and devoid of pathos. There is no link back to any of the former films, nor any of the former characters. No life-before-your-eyes moment. A brief flashback of Dr. Jean Grey would’ve been appropriate here, but there’s zip.

There is a coldness to this kind of film making. Mangold’s subtext is that emotional moments are the purview of lesser films – something like those camp Tim Burton or silly Joel Schumacher films – not hip 2017 productions. Melodrama is out and cool detachment is in. Even when you’re ending your main character’s life.

The same detachment pervades and undermines the film. The superhero genre has always been a source of escape from the harsh realities of our brief human lives and unjust world. The genre became popular escapism because it not only offered us fantastic heroes who had powers far beyond our own, but because it allowed us to imagine a world where good triumphs over evil, and justice can be served.

Logan offers no such proposition. In fact, it actively rejects it; even the title refers to the protagonist’s human name, not his superhero name. Mangold certainly knows what he’s doing.

But to subvert a genre to such an extent at this late stage – the final part of a series – jars horrendously.

Capping the X-Men legacy with Logan is like dining on a sumptuous eight-course meal and being served a miniscule molecular gastronomic foam for dessert.

In terms of folklore, it’s like watching Frodo get murdered by Gollum just before he can destroy the ring, or seeing Voldemort destroy Hogwarts while Bellatrix Lestrange toys with Harry Potter’s corpse. Is it dark? Yes. Is it what Nolan would do? Probably. But it is also poor storytelling and emotionally unsatisfying.

The 2017 Power Rangers reboot may not seem worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Logan, and in terms of filmmaking prowess that’s probably true.

But in terms of genre and purpose, Power Rangers is a better superhero film than Logan could hope to be.

A remake of the 1990s television and merchandising juggernaut, Power Rangers tells the origin story of five American teenagers who discover coloured coins that give them superpowers. They are suddenly imbued with super strength before locating a spaceship buried deep underground. On board, they learn the meaning of their powers from a robot, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), and an ancient warrior named Zordon (the original Red Ranger from 65 million years ago, voiced by Bryan Cranston). The five teens are charged with defending the precious Zeo Crystal from a vengeful former ranger named Rita Repulsa (an excellently over-the-top Elizabeth Banks).

The plot and premise are predictably naff, and also very reminiscent of the 90s television series and an era before 9/11. An era when superhero stories were targeted at children and teens.

That’s not to say Nolan’s shadow doesn’t loom over this film, too – as Doris Lessing said, no person can resist the current of their own time. The 2017 Power Rangers may still be lighthearted and fun at its core, but it’s being remade in a post-9/11 and post-Nolan world. There are shades of a more serious tone here and there, from Zack’s relationship with his mother to Trini’s sexuality and Billy’s autism.

The difference is that, rather than dominate the story, these aspects serve as they should in a story of fantasy: as decorations and trimmings to the central story.

The relationship between the five teenage leads begins awkwardly, and takes a little too long to warm up, but once the flames of connection are stoked, a sense of bonding takes place – not just between the characters, but between the characters and the audience. Flashes of well-placed vulnerability endear the teens to the viewer. Even the cocky Jason (Australian-born Dacre Montgomery), the Red Ranger and leader of the group, is given some moments of both angst and arrogance that allow Montgomery chances to show off his charismatic presence on screen.

The initial tension between the teenagers is superseded by genuine affection part way through the film. Then comes a slew of really rare concepts for today’s flicks: youthful hope, collaboration, friendship, justice … even some laughter here and there.

Is Power Rangers as realistic as Logan? Well, of course it isn’t. Rita Repulsa’s name alone is juvenile. She can also summon a giant monster dude who’s made out of molten gold. The rangers should die about three times each, but they don’t. They can produce magical armour through the sheer force of will. And they have giant dinosaur-themed machines that combine into the giant Megazord, once a staple of 90s kids’ toy boxes.

Power Rangers is silly and unrealistic. But good lord, is it unexpectedly fun. When I heard the brief bars of the original theme song, I felt like a kid at the movies again.

As blogger Robert Selth noted, when legendary film critic Roger Ebert reviewed Batman Begins, he astutely observed that, “The movie is not realistic, because how could it be. But it acts as if it is.”

Ebert’s insight goes to the core of post-Nolan superhero genre’s success – and why it’s growing ever more rotten. Because our current measurement of how successful a superhero film is whether or not it is realistic, instead of whether or not it is fun.

Logan was realistic, and an excellent film. But as I walked out of the cinema and back into a world where essentially everything is screwed up, I felt more depressed than when I walked in.

Conversely, I went to see Power Rangers expecting to roll my eyes, and unexpectedly left the theatre with a smile and a spring in my step, buoyed by the prospect that the good guys did win something for once.

And isn’t that why people have historically turned to the idea of superheroes for entertainment? In a postmodern, post-9/11 world, the idea of being briefly diverted for two hours with ideals of hope and believing in something is appealing.

There’s room enough for both types of film, of course. But do both of them have the right to call themselves superhero movies?

“I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member”

Both Woody Allen and Groucho Marx are credited with the quote in this blog post’s title, so pick your favourite and it can be attributed to them.

Personally, I’m gonna side with Groucho on this one, only because he’s funny like Eddie Murphy or Tina Fey are funny. Whereas Woody Allen is funny like the-wasted-hobo-screaming-racial-epithets-on-the-street-is-looking-at-me-kinda-funny.

Anyway, all of this is to say I joined a bunch of stuff this week and it makes me feel much more writery. I feel no more cultured and no more intelligent, mind, but I feel like I’m at least doing the stuff that a 21st Century Digital Writer should do (free lamingtons if you get the punk reference).

The first thing I did was join WordPress at last. I knew I’d eventually need to start a damn blog like all the cool writers, but I kept putting it off the way you put off a trip to the dentist. The thought of having to write stuff that wasn’t fiction on a regular basis was literally as frightening to me as a root canal. Or that giant suction tube they stick down your throat. *shudder*

But now that I’m here, I can see that a blog, like brushing my teeth and flossing regularly, is actually pretty good for my health. I think I’m gonna like it here.

Then I joined Goodreads. That is a brand new experience for me, as both a writer and a reader. I’m still getting my head around how massive that site is. Especially how many levels of groups and discussions there must be. I did, however, introduce myself in a thread only to have another user recognise me from Twitter, so that was interesting to see how the social circles for writers must be quite small.

I do have a confession about Goodreads though. When they asked me to review like 20 books before I could continue to the next step, I randomly clicked on stuff that I *thought* would be okay. As in, I hadn’t actually read some of them. I thought The Martian by Andy Weir was probably a good book since the movie, uh, was a big deal and had Matt Damon in it. I didn’t realise this shit was going on my permanent record! Like, everyone can see it. So I’ve now had to go back and unrate all these rando novels because the guilt was just too much. (NB: This is what being raised Catholic can do to you.)

Last of all, as I’m *ahem* a full member of the Australian Society of Authors, I set up my new member portfolio on their website. It’s actually incredibly schmicko and looks ace. It’s an excellent, brief summary of my background, publishing history and credits, and my relevant skill set. The best thing is, employers can find me, so if they’ve got some doubloons to ditch at a penniless author at some point in the future, I might just be that author! Check it out here – and if you’re an Aussie author, get yourself signed up for one of these bad boys.

So it’s been a week of joining all these gnarly new platforms. Now I gotta start bloody well using them. 😀

‘Cause I’m a 21st Century Digital Boy

I don’t know how to get published but I’ve got a lot of online platforms …