Thursday, February 28, 2008

Comics Toon Double Feature

As a fan of adventure animation, I've very much enjoyed the recent trend towards direct-to-DVD animated features based on comic books, both old and new. Of course, I love all of the DC Universe animated features, the Hellboy Animated flicks, even the Stan Lee Presents originals, like The Condor and Mosiac. Of the Marvel entries, so far I've only seen the first Avengers film, but I thought it was pretty decent, and plan on checking out the Iron Man and Dr. Strange toons eventually.

Well, last night, I picked up two new additions to the DVD library: Justice League: The New Frontier, based on the graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke, and Turok: Son of Stone, based on the old Dell/Gold Key comic book series of the same name. Both were damned good.

In the case of New Frontier, I must admit that I was a teeny-tiny bit disappointed. Apparently Warner Bros. has mandated a strict 75 minute limit on the running times of their in-house animated features, which meant that a sizeable chunk of Cooke's sprawling, epic graphic novel had to be cut from the animated adaptation. It still works remarkably well, but I was distracted by what was missing. I'm sure that my enjoyment of the film will only increase on subsequent viewings, as I'll be able to concentrate on and appreciate what was left in, rather than dwelling on what was cut out. Voice casting is excellent across the board – one wonders why Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) and Lucy Lawless (Xena) were never cast as Superman and Wonder Woman before, they're so well-suited to the roles. Ditto Miguel Ferrer as the Martian Manhunter and Neil Patrick Harris as the Flash. The only voice I didn't like was David Boreanaz (Angel) as Hal Jordan – but then, Boreanaz has an acting range somewhere between pine and oak.

Turok was a series of huge surprises. The first suprise was that it was clearly based on the original Dell and Gold Key Comics version of the Native American dinosaur hunter and not the later, more familiar to modern audiences, Acclaim Comics/video game incarnations. This is a good thing. The second surprise was the overwhelming amount of R-rated violence in the film. Another surprise was the intelligent, well-structured script by comics writer Tony Bedard, which nicely fleshed out the characters while respecting their history. And the animation, led by veterans of both the DC Universe projects and the cartoon Hellboy franchise, was excellent.

Both films were really top-notch, and I hope that this trend continues for a good, long time. I'm already looking forward to the Batman anime anthology that's next on the DC/Warner's slate. They've apparently lined up a handful of Japanese animators to direct several, interconnected anime-styled shorts that lead up to the new live-action Batman flick, The Dark Knight. I think it's an awesome idea!

Man, wouldn't it be incredible to see my Femme Noir comic adapted to an animated feature?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Would You Like To Know More?



My wife and I are fans of the original, 1997 Starship Troopers film, and we're just about the only people I know who didn't loathe the first, direct-to-DVD sequel, Hero of the Federation. It wasn't very good, mind you, but we enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the animated Roughnecks series, though I've heard it's pretty good. And yes, I know, the novel by Robert Heinlein is vastly better, but the movie's such a great, goofy ride, that I love it.

Now, ten years after the first, they've finally made another Troopers flick, and Casper Van Dien is back as Johnny Rico, looking considerably more weathered. Hopefully, this one will be closer in tone to the original. The trailer looks promising, despite the presence of pretty-but-wooden Jolene Blaylock. Here's hoping.

Wednesday Cover #3: Blackhawk

One more of my favorite comic book covers. Next Wednesday, I'll try to get a cool pulp magazine or paperback piece for this slot, but this week, we've got a memorable Blackhawk cover by my pal, Rick Burchett.

This particular incaranation of the Blackhawk character is not my favorite, spinning out of a three-issue miniseries by Howard Chaykin that re-imagined the WWII aviator as bit of an asshole. While I like a lot of Chaykin's work, it's pretty clear that he doesn't really believe in "heroes," at least not the usual, idealistic types found in traditional comic books, and his version of Blackhawk reflected that cynicism. The monthly comic benefitted from strong art by Rick, though, and I especially like this montage cover.

I've always loved the sharp sense of graphic design in Rick's work, and it's particularly evident here.

ADDENDUM: Here's a great Blackhawk fan site, with a complete history of the comic and character, extensive cover galleries and tons of trivia. There's even a section devoted to Rick's art on the book.

Wednesday Morning Musings

Another big snowstorm blew in last night, and we are now literally snowed in. Heavy, wet snow slid off the roof and has the front door totally blocked. If I can't get ahold of someone to come dig us out, come morning, one of us is going to have to tunnel out through a window. Hopefully, we can get the door cleared before the dog has to go out again...

Anyway, it's been a rough week or so. I've been under the weather, and so has my wife. I've been working on the various projects on my plate, but it's going even slower than usual.

Among those projects is my next DVD column, which I hope to have posted before the weekend. I've been watching the new DVD release of the first season of The Equalizer, and it holds up very well. The scripts are, for the most part, pretty tight, and Edward Woodward brings a lot of conviction and dramatic weight to his role as ex-spook Robert McCall. The mid-80s' New York location shooting is effectively gritty, and the guest casts are solid. Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and Ron "Superfly" O'Neal both have recurring roles as badass cops (which is especially cool for a 70s Blaxploitation fan like me), and Robert Lansing, as McCall's ex-CIA superior, "Control," is excellent as usual.

Good stuff, and I hope it sells well enough for Universal to follow up with the remaining seasons.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stephen Marlowe, R.I.P.

Another great Gold Medal paperback crime fiction writer has passed away. Stephen Marlowe, author of the Chester Drum private eye mystery series died last Friday.

I haven't read as many Marlowe books as I'd like – I've never been able to find very many copies in readable condition – but I've enjoyed the few I've found. I particularly liked the international scope of the series.
WILLIAMSBURG, Va.—Novelist Stephen Marlowe, best known for a series of books featuring private detective Chester Drum, died Friday at a hospital after a long illness, his family said in a statement. He was 79.

Marlowe began his career as a writer of pulp and science fiction and wrote more than 50 novels. His series featuring Chester Drum began with The Second Longest Night in 1955 and concluded with Drumbeat Marianne in 1968. His more recent work included fictionalized biographies, including The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus in 1987, The Lighthouse at the End of the World in 1995 and The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes in 1996.

Marlowe was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1949 with a degree in philosophy before serving two years in the Army. He spent decades of his working life overseas, mostly in France and Spain, and founded a writer-in-residence program at his alma mater in 1974.

Marlowe received France's Prix Gutenberg du Livre in 1988 and the Life Achievement Award of the Private Eye Writers of America in 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Ann, and two daughters.
R.I.P. Mister Marlowe.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wednesday Cover #2: Shang-Chi

I just love Paul Gulacy's work.

And I loved Master of Kung Fu. Aside from fantastic art by Gulacy (and later, Mike Zeck and Gene Day), I think Doug Moench's writing had a huge influence on my own.

Here's Paul's website.

Wednesday A.M.

It's very early on a cold Wednesday morning, and I'm still not feeling well. I think I may be fighting a virus.

On top of that, had a frustrating day with a lot of computer problems, and didn't get as much work done as I'd hoped. I love my Mac, but sometimes it can really piss me off.

On the plus side, the Charlie Chan box set that Brandi bought me as a Valentine's gift showed up today, as well as some complimentary trade paperbacks for review in my Guns In the Gutters blog.

I'm exhausted and chilled, so I think I'll climb into my recliner under a blanket, and watch Charlie Chan in Reno before heading for bed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Night Blues

It's about a quarter to midnight. Normally, this would be the time when I would really be just starting to get to work. But I'm not feeling well, and I'm kinda low, so I think I'm going to go to bed soon.

I've got a bit of a stomach ache, my sciatica's acting up, and I'm feeling crappy about a writing gig that after almost a year of struggling with, I've finally had to give up on. It was just a short story for an anthology, but with all that was going on last year, I got a very late start on it. Then, about halfway through... it stalled. I lost my way. I just couldn't get another paragraph out.

I took a break, and tried to come back to it fresh, but no soap. I did it again, and nada. Finally, the ultimate, drop-dead deadline came around, and I gave it another, full-bore assault... and just couldn't get it jump started. I don't know why. I'm just blocked on this particular damned story.

I've had a lot of short stories stall out in the past, and I simply abandoned them. On a very few occasions, I was able to revisit them a long time later, and BAM! I was able to break through the wall and take 'em home. But this is the first time it's happened on a story I was commissioned to write, and I feel awful about it – especially since I was really excited about being part of this particular anthology.

Shit.

I think I'm going to bed. "See you" tomorrow.

Knight Talker

Well, the weather here was crappy last night, with lots of wind and freezing rain, and since we don't have cable, our TV reception was awful – which figures, since it's the first time in about a year that I was looking forward to watching something on broadcast TV.

In fact, the reception was so bad, that I almost turned off the set and gave up on the idea of watching the new Knight Rider telefilm.

But nostalgia won out, and I persevered.

For the most part, I enjoyed it... but it wasn't a good as I'd hoped. Unlike most revivals of old TV shows, this one actually had much the same feel as the original series. I thought the cast was likeable enough, and the plot servicable, and I liked the car. I even liked Val Kilmer's voice work as KITT. The biggest difference was that in this version, they attempted to flesh out the characters a tiny bit more than in the original. Well, while I am all for deeper chacterizations, the writers' idea of how to do this was to have the characters have long, expository conversations with the car. Lots of long conversations.

With the car.

The biggest problem for me, though, was that the film didn't really show KITT in action beyond a couple of very routine car chases and some nano-tech camouflage and self-repair functions. You'd think that after 25 years, they could have thought up and executed some really exciting stunts to put the car through, but they didn't. Hell, they didn't even jump the car over anything!

But that's modern TV writing, unfortunately: lots of dialogue, a lack of action, and anticlimaxes.

I keep hearing people saying how TV writing is so much more sophisticated than in the 70's and 80's, but I also find most of it a hell of a lot more boring.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Weekend Flicks

We've been watching a lot of movies here this weekend. We went out and rented a handful of DVDs on Thursday, and I had a few new ones here that I had recieved for reviewing purposes that I was eager to see, so....

Unfortunately, our local Hollywood Video didn't have the two films I went there specifically to rent – the 2006 horror comedy Black Sheep and the 1983 Roy Scheider classic Blue Thunder. I still can't believe they didn't have Blue Thunder!

Thursday evening we watched – as our Valentine's Day flick – was Must Love Dogs, a 2005 romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Diane Lane, written & directed by Gary David Goldberg. While it was formulaic and predictable, the cast – all of them over 40 – was great, and the movie was very well-written and acted. It was also nice for a change to watch a movie about grown-ups – I just wish the story had been fresher.

We finally got to see Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf. While I kept waiting for Shrek to show up, it was a fairly entertaining and straight-forwrard telling of the ancient story. The motion capture, computer-generated actors were, as usual, distractingly plastic, and I never really saw the point of making the movie that way if you're just going to make the cartoon characters look like the actors voicing them, but... it was okay. Liked it about as much as 300.

Was very impressed by Ben Affleck's direction of Gone, Baby, Gone, based on the Dennis Lehane P.I. novel of the same name. Now, I'm not much of a Lehane fan – I don't feel that he's quite as impressive an author as he and his followers seem to believe – but I thought the movie turned out quite good. Casey Affleck was decent enough in the lead, I still have a huge crush on Michelle Monaghan, and Ed Harris was brilliant, as always. The supporting cast was particularly impressive, and big brother Ben did a remarkable job of capturing Boston and its people on film. Definitely worth checking out.

Another flick I'd been eager to see was the Korean-produced D-War (Dragon Wars), director Hyung-rae Shim's second attempt at making an international monster movie blockbuster, after 1999's Yonggary (known in America as Reptilian). Like that earlier film, D-War was shot in English with an American cast, but the story is deeply rooted in Korean mythology. basically, it's about a war between two giant serpents – one evil and one good – both of whom need to get ahold of a young woman containing the power to allow one of them to become an all-powerful celestial dragon. Unfortunately, while the premise is pretty cool, and the extensive creature effects were extremely well-realized by Shim's own, homegrown FX house, the script is inane, filled with gaping plot holes, inconsistencies, underdeveloped characters and banal dialogue. That said, I have to admit that I enjoyed it despite its many weaknesses. I guess I'm just a sucker for giant monsters wreaking havoc. Besides, it tickled me that Shim filmed several scenes in L.A's Bronson Canyon; it gave the flick a nice tie to all those old Hollywood B-movies that I love so much. Intentional or not, it was a nice homage.

The movie we watched that had probably the most impact on me though, was Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, a musical set during the turbulent Sixties, written around and incorporating the songs of the Beatles. The story is slight, predictible and filled with Beatles references, but the cast of mostly-unknowns are all very appealling (and good singers), and Taymor's background as a graphic designer really showed in the film's truly astounding visuals. My wife reviewed the movie in considerable detail in her own blog, so I won't bother here. But I will say that I really enjoyed it, and while it's not perfect, I found it charming, involving and frequently impressive.

Besides – any movie that has five Salma Hayeks in nurse's uniforms is worth seeing.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another New Knight

I wasn't really what you'd call a huge fan of the original series, although I certainly watched it fairly regularly, and I distinctly remember sitting down to watch the premiere episode with my family back in 1982. But, as you may have noticed, I've been rather nostalgic lately for the television shows of my teen years, and I must admit to a certain eagerness to see the latest incarnation of Knight Rider, which airs tomorrow night on NBC.

Let's face it, the idea of a lone crimefighter with a super car is just a friggin' perfect idea. It's so compelling a concept, that there have been three previous attempts to revive the Knight Rider franchise: Knight Rider 2000 (1991), Knight Rider 2010 (1994) and Team Knight Rider (1997). There was even a fairly popular syndicated show in the Nineties that lifted the premise wholesale: Viper. And now, they're trying again.

This one's another TV movie/backdoor pilot and stars Justin Bruening as Mike Traceur, apparently the son of David Hasselhoff's Michael Knight from the original series. The voice of KITT (originally the "Knight Industries Two Thousand" and now the "Knight Industries Three Thousand") is provided by Val Kilmer, replacing the great William Daniels (much to my wife's dismay). The new KITT is a 550 HP Ford Shelby GT500KR Mustang rather than the Pontiac Trans-Am. It does appear to still have that awesome Cylon eye, though.

I don't expect much, although, obviously, I hope it's fun. It's executive produced by original creator Glen Larson and Doug Liman, who produced the great Bourne films, so there's hope.

I'll let you know what I think tomorrow night.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Jonny Quest

It's the middle of the week, and I thought I'd post one of my favorite comic book covers here for your viewing enjoyment. I might make it a weekly thing, if I remember. If I do, I'll probably alternate between comic book, pulp magazine and paperback covers, just to keep it interesting.

This week: Comico's Jonny Quest #5, 1986. Art by Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer. For a while there, Stevens was doing lots of covers for a number of independent publishers, and all of them were gorgeous.

Comico's Jonny Quest, by the way, was one of the best comics series of the 80's with fantastic writing by William Messner-Loebs and slick cartooning by the Mark Wheately/Marc Hempel team. The series was extremely faithful to the spirit of the original cartoons, but with deeper characterizations and a great sense of high adventure. Better by far than any of the animated sequels actually produced by Hanna-Barbera.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our Man Chan

My wonderful wife has informed me that, having become tired of my incessant whining, she has ordered Fox's Charlie Chan Volume 4 box set for me as a "Valentine's gift."

Now, that's true love.

I've written here before about my fascination with and affection for 30's and 40's B-unit series detectives, including Mister Moto, The Falcon, Mike Shayne, Dick Tracy and even Mister Wong. And while Universal's Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are probably my favorites in the subgenre, the Chan films are a close second – and, unlike those Holmes flicks, I haven't seen them all a dozen times!

The three previous Fox sets contained beautifully restored versions of all the surviving Chan mysteries starring Warner Oland. This latest volume moves on to the first four series entries starring Sidney Toler, who assumed the role upon Oland's death.

Now, Oland was the better actor, and his portrayal of Chan is undeniably definitive, but I rather like Toler's sly, slightly acerbic take on the Asian-American detective. He's definitely a bit harder on his offspring, but I really like the secret smile he gives whenever he's gotten a really good dig in, or when a malefactor falls unwittingly into his traps.

I've never actually seen any of the four films in this set – Charlie Chan in Honolulu, Charlie Chan in Reno, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, and City In Darkness – so, I'm especially eager to get this collection. I've read that Treasure Island has the best script and cleverest mystery in the entire series. I can't wait to finally see it.

When World War II came around, Fox dropped the series. At that time, Toler personally purchased the film rights to the character, and made a deal with Poverty Row studio Monogram to continue the series. Despite the drastically-reduced budgets and increasingly silly scripts, I still enjoy those films. Six of them were released on DVD by MGM a few years ago.

Anyway, according to the missus, the discs should be here in five to ten days. Knowing my luck, it'll be ten. Sigh....

Monday, February 11, 2008

Thundarr The Barbarian



Created by Steve Gerber, with character designs by Alex Toth and Jack Kirby.

One of the top five animated adventure series ever, along with Jonny Quest, Batman the Animated Series, the Filmation versions of Flash Gordon and Tarzan.

Steve Gerber R.I.P.

Cripes. Another one. Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck, and one of the most original and intelligent comics writers ever, has passed away.

I loved the original issues of Howard, and pretty much everything else I ever read by Gerber – The Defenders, Man-Thing, Tales of the Zombie, Hard Time, hell, even Destroyer Duck. He was also the creator of one of the great Saturday morning adventure toons, Thundarr the Barbarian. How cool is that?

Mark Evanier has a very good memorial at his blog. Go read it.

Rest in Peace, Steve.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Roy Scheider R.I.P.

Well, hell. It always seems that whenever I post an obituary in this blog, within hours there's suddenly yet another passing I feel obligated to comment upon.

Roy Scheider died today at age 75, after a battle with cancer.

Take a look at his credits. What an amazing career of memorable roles and quality projects. Jaws, of course. 2010. Blue Thunder (I really need to see that again). Sorcerer. The French Connection. The Seven-Ups. Marathon Man. The Naked Lunch. Romeo Is Bleeding...

He was part of that last great generation of character actors who could play leads, before the movie industry became obssessed solely with pretty boys and grunting beefcake. A consumate actor of remarkable range, Scheider always brought great humanity and weight to his roles.

Well, now he's gone. The man who took down the shark has moved on. But he made his mark, and film fans will always be grateful.

Rest in peace, Roy.

John Alvin, R.I.P.

You might not know the name, but if you're a movie fan, you've definitely seen his work. John Alvin was, like the still-active Drew Struzan, one of the last of the great movie poster artists.

Unfortunately, the talented hand that crafted the lobby posters for such cinematic favorites and box office blockbusters as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial, Gremlins, Willow, Star Trek VI, Cocoon, The Princess Bride, The Color Purple, Short Circuit, and Blade Runner, among so many more, passed away last week.

I had his Blade Runner poster on my studio wall for many years, through at least three apartments, and it's one of my favorite pieces of film art ever.

I feel a great sense of loss. There was once a time when there was certain joy in walking around a theater lobby, lingering over the posters. The best of them sparked your imagination, whetted your appetite, and inflamed your anticiptaion for the movies they advertised. But now, as film marketeers rely more and more heavily on Photoshopped head shots and generic, cookie-cutter poster and DVD package templates, the wonderful art of film poster illustration is rapidly fading to black. And with the passing of John Alvin, that heartbreaking process is only going to be accelerated.

Rest In Peace, Mister Alvin, and thanks for the memories.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

More 70's TV Nostalgia

Anyone else remember Cliffhangers!, a short-lived (10 episode) attempt to revive old fashioned Saturday matinee adventure serials in prime time?

Like Sloane, it was another 1979 production, in this case, developed by veteran genre TV producer Kenneth Johnson (The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation) for NBC.

Each weekly installment featured 15-minute chapters of three ongoing serials – Stop Susan Williams, starring Susan Anton as a sexy reporter in constant peril, The Secret Empire, an unabashed rip of Gene Autry's 1935 Western/sci-fi serial, The Phantom Empire, but without the singing, and The Curse of Dracula, featuring Michael Nouri (The Hidden) as a romanticized King of the Vampires, teaching history at a California college!

It's another show that I, as a 16-year-old kid, loved, but its unlikely to ever see a legit DVD release. Still hoping for Man From Atlantis, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Project: UFO, though....

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tease

The "teaser" poster for Quantum of Solace has been unveiled, and it certainly suggests – as several reports have stated – that this new Bond film picks up just minutes after the conclusion of Casino Royale. As for the poster? Not a great design, but it gets the job done.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

DVD Late Show Returns

After a two-month hiatus, a new DVD Late Show column has now been posted over at Quick Stop Entertainment. It may not be possible, but I'm going to try for weekly columns – at least for a while.

This week's column includes short reviews of the documentary film, Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream, the obscure thriller, The Killing Kind, the new reissues of It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, the incredible Twin Peaks: Gold Box Collection, Galactica: 1980, Battlestar Galactica: Razor, The Addams Family Complete Series Collection, Charles In Charge: Season 2 (seriously), and Magnum P.I. – The Complete 7th Season.

Check it out.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

New Websites Now Live!

The official Femme Noir website is now live at www.femme-noir.com.

The site will be the primary outlet for news and updates about the forthcoming Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries comic book miniseries from Ape Entertainment, as well as the new home of the original Femme Noir webcomics adventures – "Cold, Dead Fingers," "An Eye for A Spy," and "Chambers of Horror."

There's also a gallery of the best Noir pin-ups from the old Supernatural Crime site, creator bios, reviews and more.

Additionally, the official Perils on Planet X website is now online, as well, at www.perilsonplanetx.com!

Both sites were designed by me, with coding and substantial design improvements by my multi-talented spouse, Brandi, who's spent her entire Sunday whipping these websites into shape for me. Swing by and check out all her hard work, won't you?

Friday, February 01, 2008

More Sloane

Craig found this Sloane clip – episode preview and opening titles - on YouTube.



Is it sad that now I want to see the show again more than before?