Sunday, February 21, 2010


I've always loved the cheesy ninja movies produced (primarily by Golan-Globus' Cannon Films) in the 1980s, starring Sho Kosugi and Michael Dudikoff, et al. In fact, I'm a huge fan of the studio's four-film American Ninja series (and yes, I know there's a movie called American Ninja 5, but it's not really part of the series, just some deceptive/dishonest marketing by the distributor) - I truly enjoy the complete absurdities of the comic book plots, the clumsy choreography and the low-tech cheapness of the productions. In fact, my only complaint is that there weren't more of them.

Hell, I'm kinda embarrassed to admit it, but when I was in art school, I bought some shuriken throwing stars and ninja "tabi" boots from ads in the back of a karate magazine. If I'd had the money, I'm sure I would have bought a whole ninja outfit, too.

Well, coming out on DVD in a couple of weeks is Ninja, starring British martial artist Scott Adkins as a "white ninja" battling an evil counterpart. From the trailer it looks like a near-perfect updating of the Cannon Films good ninja vs evil ninja formula - photography's a little slicker, CGI blood instead of ketchup, more wire-fu - but otherwise, pure, old school drive-in chop socky.

I expect to get a copy for review soon, and will definitely cover it for DVD Late Show. I'm actually eager to see it. I've been thinking for a long time that ninjas were due for a pop culture comeback. Will Ninja measure up to the sheer brainless pleasures of 1983's Revenge of the Ninja? We'll see....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On the Radar: AIR FIGHTERS #1!

The first issue of Moonstone Books' Air Fighters #1, featuring all new stories of the Golden Age aviators Airboy, Valkyrie, Sky Wolf, Black Angel, The Iron Ace, etc., will be in stores next Wednesday, the 24th.

This issue also includes the first new Captain Midnight adventure in decades, "Pyramid of Fear," written by yours truly and illustrated by Rick Burchett and Richard Clark.

This is my first published work of 2010 - looks like I'm off top a flying start!

UPDATE: Comics Continuum has a "first look" at Air Fighters #1, with sample pages from all of the stories. Check it out here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What I'm Watching

As I've mentioned before, I don't have cable and can no longer receive broadcast channels since the switch to digital. The new, "improved" transmissions can no longer be snatched out of the air by our aerial, so where we once were able to watch "free TV," albeit with lousy reception, we can't get anything at all now. Hooray for technology!

We do, occasionally, watch new shows online, but I find watching shows and movies on my monitor to be both uncomfortable and somehow unsatisfying. Thus, for the last few years, we've watched the television series we're interested in on DVD. Some we buy, and some we rent through Netflix.

Last month, we re-watched the second season of Burn Notice again, and currently, we're working our way through the entire run of Farscape.

This is the second time we've watched the series, and the first time on the new A&E discs. We originally watched the series on the old ADV "Starburst" editions as they were released, about four years ago or so. Since they released each season in three volumes, with months between each volume, it took us a while to get through the four years of the show. Also, some of the first season discs were defective, and there were parts that we just couldn't get to play.

Well, we'd been thinking about re-watching Farscape for a while, and when we found out that the show had been re-issued in a more compact and technically re-mastered edition, we packed up our old discs and traded them in at Bull Moose Music, a local chain. The credit we got for the trade-ins covered most of the price of the new set. Yeah, we had to pay a little out-of-pocket, but it was worth it. The remastered transfers look better, there are some new extra features, and most importantly, it takes up only a third of the shelf space of the old sets.

The show itself is as good as I remembered; outrageous, action-packed space opera with remarkably high production values, a freewheeling spirit unlike any other SF series, and a delightful sense of the absurd. The Jim Henson creature shop devised some genuinely amazing aliens, and the special effects were, at the time, nearly feature film quality.

Last night, my wife picked up the first season of one of her favorite shows from the past, The Pretender. I suspect we'll probably be watching those once we finish up the last season of Farscape. I've only seen one episode of the show so far, and I'm not particularly impressed, but considering the stuff she's sat through for me, I'm willing to give it a shot.

In the wee hours of the morning, while she sleeps, I've been watching random episodes of Mission: Impossible. I received the seasons I was missing for Christmas, and I've been jumping around among the different seasons, watching two or three episodes a week. It's been interesting, seeing how the show evolved over seven years, and I enjoy watching, say, a second season episode with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain one night, and then a 5th season episode with Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Anne Warren and Sam Elliot the next - and maybe jumping all the way back to the first season the next night and watching Steven Hill lead the team.

I enjoy them all, but one thing I don't understand: if Cinnamon is such a famous model, and has her face on all those different magazine covers that Phelps pulls out of his file, how come nobody ever recognizes her?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Scott Mcloud - SPACE ANGEL!

Space Angel was a television cartoon produced by Cambria Productions from 1962-1964 for independent television stations. It was produced in 5-part, 5-minute chapters that could be serialized every weekday morning as part of a local station's cartoon kiddie shows.

It's notable for a number of reasons. It was one of the first programs aimed at children that exploited the 60s space race, it was the first job in animation for acclaimed comics artists Alex Toth and Doug Wildley, and it employed the patented "SyncroVox" process. This amazing process involved superimposing the highly rouged lips of live actors over the faces of cartoon characters, for absolutely perfect, synchronized dialogue! Among Cambria Production’s other innovations was an extremely liberal interpretation of the word "animation," as they relied pretty heavily on utterly static drawings of their characters.

This six-page comic story was drawn by Toth to promote the cartoon, and appeared - I believe - in an issue of Jack & Jill magazine.

Read my review of the Space Angel cartoon DVD collection at DVD Late Show.

Day of the Dolph Fan

I've always liked Dolph Lundgren as an action star. I never really thought he had much range, or that very many of his films were any good, but he was always convincing kicking people's asses or shooting them, and , thanks to his appearance, he possesses a formidable screen presence. I mean, think back to Dolph as Ivan Drago in Rocky 4 - that was a classic screen heavy. I'm pleased that he's back in the mainstream public's eye again somewhat after years in the direct-to-video realm, with the forthcoming, all-star action flick The Expendables, getting so much anticipatory buzz.

Well, I have to readjust my evaluation of the man even further upwards, I think.

He recently appeared on a Swedish awards show, The Melodifestivalen (The Festival of Melodies), where, instead of simply lumbering out, reading a few jokes and names off the teleprompter, and then heading backstage, he... well, see for yourself:

(Gah! Even I'm ashamed of the pun in the post title!)

Friday, February 05, 2010

My 15 "Most Wanted" DVDs!

Back around 2006, I wrote up one of these lists, and since then, around half of the titles I wanted at the time have shown up on legal DVDs - FROM BEYOND, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, LAND UNKNOWN, THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, the CHARLIE CHAN series, etc. Some of them - DOC SAVAGE and the Gordon Scott TARZAN titles, specifically - only on Manufacture-On-Demand DVD-Rs from Warner Archive, but at least they're available. And still others (A STUDY IN TERROR, STARCRASH) have been announced as coming to disc soon.

Some still haven't appeared on commercial Region 1 DVD, though, and they're at the top of this list:

1. I, THE JURY (1982). This Larry Cohen-scripted take on Mickey Spillane's first and best-known novel's got nothing whatsoever to do with the book. Armand Assante bears no resemblance to the Mike Hammer described by Spillane. Yet, there's a surging current of trashy, exploitation flick electricity that catches me up every time I put in my old, beat-up VHS copy. Good cast, too: Lauren Landon, Geoffrey Lewis, Paul Sorvino, and a frequently naked Barbara Carrera. Why isn't this on DVD?

2. CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991). This made-for-HBO, Martin Campbell (CASINO ROYALE)-directed fantasy starred the vastly underrated Fred Ward (TREMORS) as Phil Lovecraft, a down on his luck private eye in an alternate 1940's Los Angeles where everybody uses magic and the supernatural is natural. A great pastiche of Forties noir and pulp horror, with outstanding performances by Ward, David Warner, Clancy Brown and Julianne Moore... with hardboiled dialogue to die for. There was also a sequel, WITCH HUNT, which wasn't quite as good (despite being directed by Paul Schrader), and which recast/miscast Dennis Hopper in the Lovecraft role. Neither is available on DVD.

3. THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977). Richard Boone is a millionaire big game hunter with an awful toupee who discovers a prehistoric lost world hidden among the snow fields of Antarctica. Trapped there, he becomes obsessed, Ahab-style, with killing a T-Rex. The dinosaurs are men in suits (made by Toho FX guys!) and the film was made by Rankin-Bass Productions. Hell, I can still remember the theme song... This ridiculous Seventies TV movie is a treasured childhood memory, and I really want a good copy of it.

4. THEY BITE (1996). An early feature by B-movie director/FX artist Brett Piper (SHOCK-O-RAMA) that was only ever available on VHS, THEY BITE is an ambitious spoof of Fifties sea-monster flicks, with tons of cool low-tech special effects, rubber monster suits, naked women, insanely bad acting, and porn "god" Ron "Hedgehog" Jeremy in a featured role. I love this movie!

5. GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), and, while we're at it, 6. GODZILLA 1985 (1984) and 7. GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989). These three titles are the only films in the series not legally available on Region 1 DVDs. Because a TV-edited version of GODZILLA VS. MEGALON was incorrectly assumed to be in public domain and heavily circulated by multiple "budget" VHS labels during the 80s/90s, I believe Toho is holding back the title from a legit U.S. release. And yes, I know it's the worst of the series, but I want it anyway. GODZILLA (Known as GODZILLA 1985 in the U.S.) was released theatrically by New World Pictures in a heavily-edited and re-scored version with Raymond Burr and lots of Dr. Pepper product placement. Anchor Bay picked it up with the rest of the New World library and announced that they planned on issuing it on DVD, but Toho is apparently blocking its release in any form. GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE was released by Miramax on VHS (in widescreen), and as far as I can tell, they still have the U.S. rights, but seem to have no interest in releasing it on DVD (Now I'm really wishing I'd bought the laserdisc when I had the chance).

8. FORCE: FIVE (1981). Handsome and charismatic World kickboxing champ Joe Lewis only starred in two films (the other was 1979's JAGUAR LIVES!), and that's a shame, because I thought he had the makings of a real exploitation action star. He couldn't act, of course, but he looked great kicking ass! This low-budget rip-off of ENTER THE DRAGON (written & directed by that film's director, Robert Clouse) teamed him with a handful of other skilled martial artists (among them, Richard Norton and Benny Urquidez) for a fun, fast-paced, chop-socky camp classic that I remember fondly.

9. BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME (1991). Not a great movie, but I remember it being kinda fun, with Marc Singer reprising his role as the Doctor Doolittle of sword-slinging barbarian heroes and amusing turns by Wings Hauser and Sarah Douglas as the villains. Dar the Barbarian finds himself running around 1990 Los Angeles looking for an evil wizard, accompanied by his black tiger and kleptomaniac ferrets. How can that not be entertaining?

10. YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1984). This Italian-made caveman/sci-fi cheesefest starring beefy Reb Brown is one of the most entertaining drive-in adventures of the 80s, and a VHS and pay cable perennial. Unfortunately, it's nowhere to be found (legally) on DVD.

11. THE SOLDIER (1982). James Glickenhaus' (THE EXTERMINATOR, SHAKEDOWN) low-budget espionage epic, starring a pre-WISEGUY Ken Wahl and sporting a Tangerine Dream score was one of biggest drive-in and grindhouse hits of the early 80s. But, as far as I can tell, it's not on DVD.

12 & 13. Also missing in action even now are the Cannon films ninja epics ENTER THE NINJA with Franco Nero (DJANGO) and Susan George (CRAZY MARY DIRTY LARRY) and the nigh-legendary NINJA III - THE DOMINATION. The second of their "ninja trilogy," REVENGE OF THE NINJA, has been available on disc for years, but with control of the MGM library (which controls the Cannon library) being passed from company to company over the past decade, these Sho Kosugi vehicles seem to have been lost in the shuffle. Both have recently shown up for online viewing, so maybe DVDs are on the way.

14. LASSITER (1984). This Word War II caper features Tom Selleck (RUNAWAY) as an American cat burglar living in London with a dance hall girl (Jane Seymour at her loveliest) who is pressed into service by American Intelligence and Scotland Yard to steal some diamonds from the German embassy. With a top-notch cast (including Bob Hoskins and Lauren Hutton), good jazz music and a light touch, it's really amazing that it's in limbo.

15. THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966). One of the few truly great Spaghetti Westerns that nobody - big studio or boutique label - has yet released on DVD. I caught it on the Starz Western Channel in pan & scan about a decade ago, and have been longing to see it in widescreen ever since. Great performances by the legendary Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian, excellently directed by Sergio Sollima. Long overdue.

In any case, that's my ten most wanted b-movies on DVD (at least at the moment). Feel free to post the titles you're most wanting in the comments.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Planet Hulk!

As a fan of action-adventure animation and comic books (hell, I've even been known to write a few), I always look forward to the animated features that have been coming with some regularity from Warner Animation/DC Comics and Lionsgate/Marvel. I've enjoyed most of the Warner/DC flicks, but with the exception of NEXT AVENGERS, I've found the Marvel ones to pale beside their competition's efforts. I'm not entirely sure what it is - they're decently produced - I guess I just haven't found the stories to be particularly interesting or compelling.

The latest Lionsgate/Marvel animated feature draws from a popular storyline from the comics, PLANET HULK. In this spacefaring swordplay saga, several of the Marvel Universe's most powerful heroes take it upon themselves to rocket the uncontrollable, unstoppable, rage-fueled jade behemoth into space. He crashes on an alien planet right out of the interplanetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is immediately pressed into slavery as a gladiator. True to the classic traditions of heroic fantasy adventure, it isn't long before the Hulk is leading his fellow slaves in a righteous revolt against the obligatory planetary tyrant.

I can't say how the adaptation compares to the original comics (I haven't managed to get my hands on the expensive collection), but despite the familiar plotline, I found PLANET HULK to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Design, animation, voice acting, music - all are very well done, and the script is intelligent and witty. I happen to be a fan of the character, and I found his portrayal and visual design in PLANET HULK very appealing. It's good stuff.

The movie is available in several DVD configurations and on Blu-Ray, but I got my hands on the single-disc DVD edition. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is - unsurprisingly - excellent, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is clear and robust. Bonus features on this edition include an audio commentary by Supervising Producer Joshua Fine and screenwriter Greg Johnson, a teaser for the forthcoming THOR: TALES OF ASGARD animated film, a "Making Of" featurette, and trailers for other Lionsgate/Marvel titles.

So, yeah, I liked it. Good direct-to-disc animation featuring one of my favorite comic book characters in one of my favorite fantasy genres. If you dig super-hero cartoons and the Hulk in particular, you'll probably enjoy the hell out of it. Recommended.

(This review is cross-posted from DVD Late Show.)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Wednesday Cover: Buck Rogers

This is from the late 70's Gold Key version of Buck, which was based on the then-current television series. I don't know who painted this cover, but I just like it for some reason; probably it's pulpy style and simplicity.