Sunday, August 31, 2008

Weekend Theater: Dick Tracy

Back in the Sixties, the producers of the Batman and Green Hornet television series produced a pilot for a Dick Tracy series in the same vein. It wasn't picked up, although, from all reports, it was a pretty faithful adaptation of the Chester Gould comic strip as it appeared at the time.

Here are the opening credits:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday A.M. Miscellany

• Yeah, I know. I haven't been posting much lately. Basically, I haven't had anything to write about. I'm working on a half-dozen projects that are all moving at various degrees of slowness, and have been feeling kinda lethargic and distracted. Guess I'm in a funk.

• Other than trying to write, all I've been doing is watching DVDs with the wife in the evenings. We've been watching the first three seasons of The X-Files, which I haven't seen since they originally aired back in the early 90's. We're about halfway through Season 3 right now, and I'm really enjoying revisiting Mulder and Scully. Thanks to Netflix, we recently wrapped up watching the first season of the Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, as well, which I liked better than I expected. It's not as good as Who, and waay too preoccupied with sex, but this first season had some genuinely excellent episodes, and the good outweighed the bad by a fair margin.

We've also recently watched the French animated film Persepolis, which I highly recommend. Ditto the HBO miniseries, John Adams, which was rather brilliant. I can also recommend the latest DC Animated feature, Batman: Gotham Knight, an anthology of Batman stories animated by several renowned Japanese anime directors. The stories bridge the gap between the live action features Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and with maybe one exception, are excellent. I'll be adding this to my library eventually.

• The third issue of Femme Noir should be at the printers now. The fourth issue is coming along nicely, and should be ready to deliver to the publisher shortly. Among the projects I mentioned above is a Femme Noir 48-page one-shot special, tentatively titled "Supernatural Crime" (after my old website), and I've already begun scripting it. We're also discussing with the publishers, Ape Entertainment, a second miniseries and a collection of the original webcomics, which would be re-scanned, and re-colored for print. I'll keep you posted.

• Just found out yesterday that there's going to be a one-day comics & pop culture show in Bangor, Maine on September 13th called BangPop! If I can scrape up the fee for a table, I'm planning to attend. I haven't been to any conventions or shows in two or three years, and I figured that even if there isn't much of a turn-out, it might be a good idea to get out and hawk some books.

• The weekend before that show, Brandi and I will be camping out at Cobscook Bay State Park, which is, very nearly, as about as far East as you can get in the United States. We haven't been camping in several years, either, and now that I've lost some weight and am starting to feel better physically, we thought it was time to break out the tent and rough it for a couple of days. It's a beautiful park with secluded campsites and it will be nice to get outdoors for a weekend. Of course, it's already starting to feel like Autumn around here, so we're planning on bringing some warm clothes.

Hopefully, I'll be feeling well enough to do some hiking with my wife and our dog.

• Here's hoping you all have a great and safe Labor Day weekend!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Dark Knight

I finally got to see The Dark Knight.

Thursday evening, Brandi and I went to see the second highest-grossing movie of all time, director Christopher Nolan's second stab at translating the Batman mythos for the big screen, and...

...I loved it.

It is a remarkable movie. It's riveting, thrilling, exciting, frightening, uplifting, suspenseful, visceral, haunting and ultimately heartbreaking. While long, the film never drags, and I found it to be a considerable improvement over the admittedly excellent Batman Begins, with a layered, engaging story that relentlessly drives forward to an amazing and emotionally satisfying conclusion. This powerful story is further seasoned with a plethora of delightful subplots and details – the brief reappearance of The Scarecrow, Gotham City's other "batmen," and the guy who figures out the hero's secret identity.

First off, Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker is – as I'm sure you've heard – astounding. From the moment of the character's first appearance in the film, I completely forgot that it was Ledger. I never once thought, "Hey, Ledger's doing a great job;" the transformation was so complete and terrifying. In fact, it wasn't until the movie ended and his name came up in the credits that I was suddenly struck with a pronounced sense of loss as I remembered that the actor was dead, and we would never see this Joker again.

Gary Oldman spent so much of his career gleefully chewing the scenery in movie after movie that his subdued, thoughtful interpretation of Commissioner Jim Gordon is nothing short of a revelation. For the first time on film, the character finally has the depth, emotional layering and dignity of his comic book counterpart, and Oldman flat-out nails the role.

Veteran thespian Michael Caine once again brings substantial emotional weight, genuine wisdom and a delightfully sardonic wit to his portrayal of Bruce Wayne's faithful manservant, Alfred Pennyworth. While his screen time is limited, he has several memorable moments, and he remains the heart of the Nolan Bat-universe.

While a bit light on chin, which still makes him look odd in the cowl, Christian Bale has once again triumphed as the titular Dark Knight, portraying Bruce Wayne as a complicated, obsessed man with astounding abilities and resources, but all too human frailties.

The rest of the cast – Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, et al – are uniformly excellent. I'll say this for Nolan: he knows how to get great performances out of his actors.

Is it the best comic book movie ever? Quite possibly, though I'll have to watch it a few dozen times on DVD before I'm certain. It is a surprisingly mature, thoughtful film that isn't afraid to unnerve its audience, and it delivers the requisite action and thrills with aplomb.

I can't wait to see it again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More New Reviews

Tony Isabella, whom I've known since we both belonged to a comics creators APA in the early 90's, is a comics industry veteran; a former comics retailer who also wrote and edited various titles for both Marvel and DC from the 1970s into the 90's.

Additionally, he's a long-time reviewer/columnist for the Comics Buyers Guide magazine, and has kindly reviewed the first two issues of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries and the first two issues of Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead in his regular "Tony's Tips" column for CBG #1647:
Years ago, I was telling anyone who would listen that my pal Christopher Mills was a writer well worth watching. Though he has never worked for the “bigs” - Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse are all asleep on the job - he has consistently produced first-rate stories for a variety of publishers.

Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #1 and 2 [Ape Entertainment; $3.95 each] take us to Port Nocturne, a city of mean streets where justice frequently comes in the form of a beautiful and mysterious woman. In the first issue of this four-issue series, Mills probes the origin of the city’s phantom protector through an investigator convinced that this “Blonde Justice” must be one of three women. Though there’s no definitive answer in these remarkable vignettes, brilliantly, moodily illustrated by Joe Staton with inks by Horacio Ottolini, the nifty noir will delight any reader with an interest in crime fiction. The second issue - “Dead Man’s Hand” - features a chilling tale of extortion and revenge, also drawn by Staton and Ottolini. Both issues are exceptional and neither is to be missed.

I’m giving them the full five Tonys.

Mills is also writing the Kolchak Tales: Night Stalker of the Living Dead mini-series for Moonstone [$3.99 per issue]. Reporter Carl Kolchak has been brought into contemporary times (cell phones, etc.), but Mills has retained the rumpled demeanor and dark humor of the character. This time around, Kolchak is banished to Georges Corner, Nebraska to interview a pop star during a fair in her home town. That would be scary enough for me, but, before long, our man on the monster beat is dealing with townspeople turned into flesh-eating zombies.

Mills does a great job writing Kolchak and the various locals who cross the reporter’s path. Artist Tim Hamilton delivers solid storytelling and visuals. This series is ghoulishly good fun and earns an impressive four Tonys.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

DVD PReview: Honey West

Later this month, VCI Entertainment will be releasing Honey West: The Complete Series on DVD. They kindly sent me an advance copy for review.

This 1965-66 series only lasted one season on ABC television, but it was remarkably influential. At the time, women on TV were pretty much exclusively housewives and/or secretaries, but Honey – as portrayed by the lovely Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet) – was a fully liberated businesswoman and action heroine; a licensed private investigator with sublime martial arts skills, intelligence and a sharp wit. In fact, Honey predated The Avengers gals Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg in her use of judo and karate, at least so far as American audiences were aware.

Airing, as it did, during the first big Bond craze alongside The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and other secret agent series, Honey and her platonic business partner Sam Bolt (John Ericsson) were rather gadget-mad, with an electronic arsenal that the CIA would envy. Aside from their fully-equipped surveillance van, they also employed a plethora of disguised radios, miniature TV cameras, exploding earrings, and other similar gizmos.

Loosely based on a series of somewhat racier paperback novels, the half-hour episodes move fast and are action-packed, with witty dialogue and clever, twisty plots. None of them stand out as particularly exceptional, but they're consistently enjoyable. As a crime show, it's lightweight, but as entertainment, it's solid gold.

VCI's 4-disc DVD set includes all 30 half-hour episodes in fine quality B&W, full-frame transfers. Picture quality is surprisingly solid, on a par with the company's previous Burke's Law release, and this set is much more economically packaged, with all 4 discs tucked into a standard size case. The set also includes two still galleries and a slew of vintage television commercials.

If you're into vintage television – or interested in strong female action characters – this DVD set is highly recommended.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday A.M. Musings

• Still haven't seen The Dark Knight or Hellboy II, dammit.

• Picked up the first season of the original Get Smart television series on DVD. This retail version doesn't include the special features of the Time-Life online exclusive edition, but it was cheap (actually, I got it free, after trading in some old discs I no longer wanted). I went through all 30 episodes in about four days. I used to watch the show after school when I was a kid, and it's just as much fun as it was then – maybe more so, since I get all the references and inside jokes now. I also got the 1980 theatrical film, The Nude Bomb, in which Don Adams first reprised the Maxwell Smart role. It's not great – and suffers from the inexplicable absence of Barbara Feldon's Agent 99 – but it has its moments.

Based on the reviews, I'm waiting to check out the new Get Smart movie when it comes out on video. I like Steve Carrell, but a lot of what I've heard about the film and the handling of the characters just sounds wrong to me.

• Also picked up three sci-fi double feature DVDs that were recently released by Warner Brothers as Best Buy exclusives. The were Moon Zero Two and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Battle Beneath the Earth and The Ultimate Warrior, and World Without End and Satellite in the Sky. Some of these I had never seen before – and a couple of them I wish I still hadn't – but I'm particularly pleased to finally have When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth on DVD.

I am also glad I finally got to see Moon Zero Two, a "space Western" from England's Hammer Studios. While severely flawed, it was a noble attempt at a scientifically plausible lunar adventure story, and it stars the always-lovely Catherine Schell of Space: 1999. Hell, I even enjoyed the oh-so Sixties "mod" costume designs and lounge music score.

• The third issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries has been completed and delivered to the publisher, so it should be going to the printers soon. Look for it around the end of the month or the beginning of the next.

• I've been on the Atkin's Diet since sometime in May, and I've lost somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-five pounds so far. Since I ballooned up to over 350 after my surgery a year and a half ago, I still have a long way to go. Still, it's nice to not have to wear sweat pants all the time, and a great many of the persistent aches and pains I had become accustomed to have substantially abated.

The diet is monotonous, I'm impatient with my progress, and I'm suffering from severe carbohydrate cravings – especially for bread and potato chips – but it's working. I just hope I can keep dredging up the willpower to stick with it.

Isaac Hayes R.I.P.

Isaac Hayes, who won both a Grammy and an Oscar for his hit title song from the 1971 film Shaft, was found dead at his home in Tennessee on Sunday. Hayes was 65 years old.

Hayes was an iconic figure in the soul music scene and also dabbled in acting during the 70's Blaxploitation cycle, playing the title role in one of my all-time favorites, the awesome bounty hunter flick, Truck Turner.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Grimjack

Tim Truman's cover for the first issue of Grimjack, probably still my favorite comic book series ever. Created by writer John Ostrander, the 80's series combined hardboiled detective fiction with sword & sorcery, sci-fi and sheer strangeness. Freelance tough guy John Gaunt, a/k/a Grimjack, worked the mean streets of the pan-dimensional city of Cynosure, where all universes meet, and physical laws can change from block to block.

Amazing, inventive and gritty as all get out, Grimjack remains a marvelous example of the unlimited creative potential of the comic book medium, and I cannot fathom why the reprint volumes from IDW a couple years ago didn't sell a lot better.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

The second direct-to-video sequel to 1997's sci-fi actioner, Starship Troopers, has just been released on DVD by Sony Home Entertainment. Casper Van Dien reprises the role of Johnny Rico ten years after his star turn in the original film, this time joined by Jolene Blalock of TV's Enterprise and a number of mostly unknown co-stars.

It's about a decade since the events of the original film, and the war against the Bugs drags on. After a devastating defeat on a colony world, a Federation starship explodes over the planet OM-1, stranding the Federation's beloved leader Sky Marshal Anoke and several others, including sexy pilot Lola Beck. It's up to Colonel Johnny Rico, hero of the original Bug Invasion on Planet P, to lead a team of Troopers on a daring rescue mission.

Written and directed by Ed Neumeier, the screenwriter of the two previous films, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a solid continuation of the franchise, much closer in tone to the first movie than the second installment was. Despite a considerably smaller budget, the production values are surprisingly decent, although the CGI alien "bugs" aren't quite as well executed this time around.

Neumeier's script continues to mix gung ho military action with heavy amounts of social and political satire, and for the most part, it works. The acting is generally adequate, with Blalock something of a revelation, playing her part with some surprising toughness. Van Dien really doesn't look ten years older, but he gives a considerably more layered performance this time around, granting Rico some welcome maturity and perspective. Still, it's not Mamet – the dialogue is just as corny and cliche as in the original film, so if you decide to check it out, don't get your expectations get too high. Ultimately, it's just another DTV sequel to a 10-year-old cult SF film, a little better than most.

The DVD looks great, as one would expect. Bonus features include a couple of commentary tracks, a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a music video of a slyly witty song used prominently in the film.

For fans of the franchise, it's definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

New Femme Noir #2 Reviews

The second issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries came out last week, and a few reviews of that installment have hit the interwebnet, including a very nice write-up from Eric Lindberg at Broken Frontier:
Christopher Mills makes no apologies with Femme Noir. An homage to two-fisted detective stories and 1940s film noir, the series wears its influences on its sleeve and revels in every classic cliché and trope of the genre. Rather than seeming too cute or trite however, Femme Noir achieves its goal of invoking the moody atmosphere of its source material... The art by veteran comics artist Joe Staton is also a major factor in capturing the desired feel. Staton’s somewhat stylized cartooning—all rounded curves and sharp angles—has many echoes of the classic comic strips of the 40s era , right down to the title being visually (and dramatically) incorporated into the opening splash. His design for the unnamed blonde anti-heroine, with her thick ringlets of hair and swirling miasma of cigarette smoke, creates an equally memorable visual.
And Comixtreme reviewer Terry Verticchio covers the issue in that popular website's weekly "Done-In-One Reviews:"
This issue is filled with hard-boiled, two-fisted, two gun action, cats and wrens. The atmosphere is so thick in this book it’s like a pea-soup fog has fallen over your glims, but of course that’s its charm. I’ve always enjoyed this genre, either in books or film, so this comic is fun for me, and of course having a lead character always walking around in fishnet stockings and sporting a hairdo that even Veronica Lake would envy doesn’t hurt either.