Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday Cover: The Out Is Death

Cover illustration by the great Mitchell Hooks. The book's pretty good, too.

Recent Reviews at DVD Late Show

That's right, pulpeteers: it's time for another reminder that I also publish a variety of cult, B-movie and genre DVD and Blu-Ray reviews over at my DVD Late Show website. Admittedly, posting has been rather erratic over the Summer, but I think I'm getting back on track, and hope to plow through the backlog of discs that have piled up on my desk over the next few weeks.

Since the last time I posted a site update here, I've published reviews of Hobo With A Shotgun, starring Rutger Hauer; the classic Hanna-Barbara sci-fi 'toon, The Herculoids; The Baby; the Shout! Factory Blu-ray special edition of Roger Corman's Battle Beyond the Stars; the Women In  Prison Collection (Chained Heat, Red Heat, & Jungle Warriors); the George Sanders RKO Saint Film Collection; the Damnation Alley special edition Blu-ray; the low-budget Steve Austin action flick, Tactical Force; Batman: the Brave & The Bold, Season 2 Volume 1; the Man From Atlantis Complete TV Movies Collection; and VCI Entertainment's Blu-ray of the 1964 spy spoof, Agent 8 3/4 (a/k/a Hot Enough For June).

If all goes well, the next few days will see DVD Late Show reviews of James Glickenhaus' drive-in fave, The Exterminator, starring Robert Ginty & Christopher George; Conan The Adventurer Season 1; the Norwegian monster flick, TrollHunter; Man From Atlantis - the Complete TV Series; the 1990, Albert Pyun version of Captain America; Thundarr The Barbarian and more. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kirby!

Remembering the legendary Jack "King" Kirby on his birthday. Comics will never see his like again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Reboot of Mr. Wong

It's interesting that so many people - including myself, on occasion, complain so much about Hollywood's seeming obsession with sequels, remakes and "reboots." The thing is, none of this is new. As I like to point out, John Huston's classic The Maltese Falcon was a remake of a movie made ten years earlier. Reboots - as we call it when filmmakers take an established franchise character, and start over with a new actor, pretending that the previous film installments never occurred - like Batman Begins and Casino Royale, aren't exactly a new phenomenon, either.

Karloff as James Lee Wong
Over the two years of 1939 and 1940, Poverty Row film studio, Monogram Pictures, produced six movies about a Chinese detective living in San Francisco named James Lee Wong. These films were based on some magazine short stories by pulpster Hugh Wiley, and were intended as the low budget "answer" to Fox Studios' popular Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto film series. In the first five films, James Wong was portrayed by Caucasian screen bogeyman Boris Karloff, under some light makeup, as a sly, somewhat sedate, consulting criminologist. His police contact was Lieutenant Street of the SFPD, portrayed by burly character actor Grant Withers, and they were frequently aided/irritated by a pretty young reporter played by Marjorie Reynolds.

These first five entries - Mr. Wong, Detective, The Mystery Of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong In Chinatown, The Fatal Hour and Doomed To Die - were decent enough B-mysteries, a little lethargically-paced, perhaps, but okay time-wasters. When Monogram began production on their sixth Mr. Wong mystery - Phantom Of Chinatown - Karloff was, for some reason, unavailable. But, instead of casting another Caucasian actor (like Roland Winters, for example), Monogram actually hired Keye Luke - probably best known as "Number One Son," Lee Chan, in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films - to take over the role.

Keye Luke as Jimmy Wong
And, according to most sources, that bold casting choice made Phantom Of Chinatown the first American-made movie since the Silent Era to have an Asian actor in the lead role. Top-billed, no less.

Of course, Luke was in his early 30s at the time, and Karloff was in his 50s, so it seemed unreasonable to expect audiences to believe that Luke's Wong was the same Wong as Karloff's, so the characters call him "Jimmy" and Withers' Lieutenant Street acts as if he's meeting Mr. Wong for the first time. Now, for some reason unknown to me, Phantom was the last Mr. Wong film at Monogram (although the scripts would all be recycled when the studio got their hands on the Chan character a few years later), but it's pretty clear that they were setting things up to continue with Keye Luke in the lead.

Now, there were other film mystery series that replaced lead actors during the 30s-40s - Sidney Toler replaced Warner Oland as Chan at Fox, a couple of suave British actors took turns playing The Saint at RKO before and after George Sanders, Ralph Byrd took over for Morgan Conway as RKO's Dick Tracy after a couple of films, etc. - but there was generally no acknowledgement of the change, and, as far as I can recall, in no cases did they ever just act like they were starting over from the beginning!

Nowadays, "reboots" may be annoyingly trendy and way too common (a Spider-Man reboot? Already?) -- but the idea certainly isn't new.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Made In The U.S.A.

I've seen three out four of the major studio super-hero movies in the theater this Summer (unfortunately, I missed X-Men: First Class). I thought Thor was pretty good, but I had some issues with it (especially the ending), and didn't like it quite as much as most people seemed to. On the other hand, I liked Green Lantern somewhat better than most reviewers and fans did - but, admittedly, I have a soft spot for the character, and was thus willing to forgive certain plot problems.  Most recently (a few weekends ago), Brandi and I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger... and I loved it!

I suspected from the trailers that it would be right up my alley, and that suspicion was reinforced by the fact that it was directed by Joe Johnston, whose film adaptation of Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer is among my favorite comic book movies of all time (I really want Disney to re-issue it on Blu-ray). Johnston really has a feel for period adventure fare, and his handling of the WWII setting and the various pulpy elements of the Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely screenplay was exemplary. I've heard a number of fans bitching online about the changes to Cap's origin story (especially the changes made to the character of "Bucky" Barnes), but considering all the retcons and embellishments made to the original, 60 year-old Simon & Kirby story (which, remember, was 8 pages long and aimed at an audience of ten year-olds), I thought the movie pulled off a brilliant balancing act, capturing the essential spirit of the character and concept, while interpreting it in a way that appealed to a mainstream audience of all ages.

The cast was fantastic. Chris Evans made a great Cap and even greater Steve Rogers. Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving were perfect in their respective roles. Hayley Atwell was sexy, smart, and capable. Neal McDonough as "Dum Dum" Dugan - small a part as it was - was inspired casting. There wasn't a single miscast role in the film.

Even the extensive CGI (which I have a reputation for hating) didn't bother me, because it was executed with care, thought and some genuine artistic style. A shot or two might have jarred, but overall, it enhanced the storytelling, and that what it was supposed to do. What people misunderstand about my criticisms of CGI and other modern filmmaking tricks, is that I only hate them when they interfere with my ability to engage with the story. Nothing yanks me out of a movie story faster than an unnaturally-moving cartoon monster or obvious CGI "stunt" - fortunately, Captain America: The First Avenger, had very few moments like that.

Anyway - if you haven't seen it, you probably should (I think it's still in theaters, right?). I know that when the Blu-ray disc comes out, it'll be going straight into my home video library. It's really good stuff.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kelly Covers Carter

Down To A Sunless Sea
Jandar Of Callisto
Ylana Of Callisto
Just because they're pretty, here are three stunning and evocative paintings by fantasy illustrator Ken Kelly that graced the covers of the Lin Carter interplanetary adventure novels Down To A Sunless Sea, Jandar Of Callisto, and Ylana Of Callisto.

Enjoy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. on DVD

It's April in August -- According to Stephanie "April Dancer" Powers herself, the complete The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. television series will be out on DVD from Warner Archives next week! Man, I love Manufactured-On-Demand DVD.... of course, I'd love it more if the discs were a little cheaper.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

At Last! Culp & Cosby, P.I.s

Finally! Never before legally released on home video (although there was/is a really awful unauthorized DVD floating around), Robert Culp's 1972 P.I. flick Hickey & Boggs, which reunited him with his I Spy co-star Bill Cosby, with a script by Walter Hill, is officially coming to DVD later this month, courtesy of MGM's "Limited Edition Collection" of Manufactured-On-Demand discs.

I've only seen about the last 5 minutes of it on cable TV in the mid-90s, and I've wanted to see the whole thing ever since. It's generally well-regarded by P.I. movie/noir fans, even though it was apparently a bit too grim and dark for audiences in 1972. I'm eager to get my hands on the movie - hopefully, it won't disappoint.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday Cover: THE BEST OF LEIGH BRACKETT

I recently ordered a slew of fantasy paperbacks from online used book dealers. As noted last week, I primarily acquired a handful of Lin Carter fantasies to fill in some holes in my collection, but I also decided to get some Leigh Brackett space operas/interplanetary swashbucklers as well. I am currently alternating between the two authors. I just finished Carter's first "Zanthadon" lost world adventure, and have started on Brackett's Outlaw Of Mars. Upon completing that, I intend to read another Carter book.

I have not previously read much of Brackett's work, although I have been long fascinated by her career as a writer. I've always felt a little odd in that my love for fantasy fiction rivaled my rabid affection for hardboiled crime tales, so I'm intrigued by this woman who not only appears to have shared that duality of literary passions, but is considered to be one of the greats by aficionados of both genres. As her career also included notable screenwriting credits (The Big Sleep and The Empire Strikes Back!), she attracts my attention as a film buff, too.

The Best of Leigh Brackett was published by Ballantine Books' Del Rey science fiction imprint in 1977, and collected a handful of her classic short stories and novellas. It was edited by her husband, noted science fiction author Edmond Hamilton, and was graced with this cover painting by Boris Vallejo.

Actually, this is the only book of that recent batch of purchases that has yet to arrive; ironically, it's also the only one that was shipped from a Maine-based bookseller! All the other books came from much further away and got here more quickly. Gotta love the Post Office!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Zoe. Photo by Brandi.
Here's Zoe, keeping me company in my cluttered office.

Monday, August 08, 2011

BLACK DYNAMITE - The Animated Pilot

I'm a big fan of the 2009 blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite, so I’m looking forward to the upcoming animated series, coming soon to Adult Swim.

Titmouse, Inc., produced the 11-minute pilot above, which features much of the original film’s cast reprising their roles for the animated version, including Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Kym Whitley and Tommy Davidson. The animated series is aiming for a Spring 2012 premiere on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Super

The first official shot of actor Henry Cavill as The Man of Steel. Looks good to me.

The Engines Of Sacrifice

My pal James Chambers, an exceptionally fine writer with whom I collaborated with on our comic book series Shadow House (among other projects), has a new horror fiction collection coming out from Dark regions Press called The Engines of Sacrifice. This volume contains four novellas inspired by the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.

These are:

"Investigation 37": In the late years of the Vietnam War, Lavender May runs away from home to search for freedom and peace in New York City, but instead, she finds only a world of magic, witchcraft, and lies.

"The Ugly Birds": Only one thing could save Carmine Darabont's comics magazine from going under: publishing the next chapter of the hit series The Otherworlders. But what dark secret drives its creator--Carmine's ex-fiancé--to refuse to deliver it?

"The Hidden Room": At the height of the Cold War, Doctor Calvin Lenox is a member of the Nuclear Emergency Search Team. With his life spiraling into despair, he confronts the mystery of a runaway Soviet defector and the death of three men, only to find himself at the mercy of...the Faceless God.

"The Engines of Sacrifice": What is the power of words? Can they control the fabric of reality? In a horrifying new world, underground author Rowley Cray struggles against a totalitarian government gone insane and the possibility that he can control the souls of the dead.

Jim's numerous tales of horror, dark fantasy, crime, and science fiction have appeared in more than 30 anthologies and magazines, including: Bad Cop, No Donut; the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series; Bare Bone; Cthulhu Sex; Dark Furies; The Dead Walk; the award-winning Defending the Future anthology series; The Domino Lady: Sex as a Weapon; Dragon’s Lure; The Green Hornet Chronicles; Hardboiled Cthulhu; Allen K’s Inhuman; Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak: Supernatural Sleuth; New Blood; No Longer Dreams; Warfear; and Weird Trails. He wrote the collections The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales, and Resurrection House.

If Lovecraftian terror is your thing, I guarantee that you'll like Jim's handling of the Mythos. You can pre-order the book HERE.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wednesday Cover: The Black Star

I make no apologies for being a fan of Lin Carter. In recent years, it has become fashionable to deride his fiction for its derivative nature and ignore his contributions to the fantasy and science fiction genres as an author, anthologist and editor. True, his work was "inspired" by the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, Lester Dent and many others, to the point of pastiche - and, to his credit, he gleefully made no secret about it; but it doesn't mean that his stories weren't good fantasies in their own right. He was a prolific, skilled wordsmith with a fertile, unbounded imagination, and an exemplary editor, and I've enjoyed reading and re-reading his adventures since I was a teenager.

The way I see it, he was simply a man who loved heroic fantasy, and when he had read everything that was available in the genre, he wrote his own. Since that's pretty much what I do, who am I to criticize?

Here is Frank Frazetta's dynamic cover painting to Carter's The Black Star, the first volume in a proposed trilogy of sword & sorcery novels set in ancient Atlantis. Unfortunately, the second and third Atlantean books never materialized; two more among the many unfinished projects left unrealized upon Carter's death in 1988. Despite that, The Black Star is still an entertaining and engaging fantasy adventure.

I've had Lin Carter on the mind of late because I recently acquired several "new" Carter paperbacks - finally completing the Jandar of Callisto and Thongor of Lemuria cycles, and picking up all five of his Zanthodon novels (his "take" on Burroughs' Pellucidar). There's still a couple of dozen Carter books I need to get to complete my collection, but I will... someday....

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Space Ghost Meets Batman


Here's the cold open to a recent episode of Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave & The Bold animated series that teams the caped crusader up with Hanna-Barbera's spectre of the stars, the legendary Space Ghost - and his companions, Jan, Jace and Blip! Actually, at just under 6 minutes, this is nearly the length of an actual, complete 60s Space Ghost episode!

Gorgeous stuff. A nice homage to Alex Toth's original Space Ghost designs, but with a nice, modern feel. This really makes me want to see WB Animation and Cartoon Network create a new Space Ghost/Herculoids adventure hour - or, better yet, a direct-to-disc feature film!