Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It can only be one thing – Prehistoric!

In the Seventies, producer John Dark and director Kevin Connor made a series of fantasy adventure movies based on and/or inspired by the works of pulp writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. These films (all starring beefy TV cowboy Doug McClure) were The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, At The Earth's Core and Warlords of Atlantis.

The other night, I re-watched The People That Time Forgot.

People, American International Pictures' sequel to the Amicus Studios-produced The Land That Time Forgot, was released in the Summer of 1977. A square-jawed aviator played by Patrick Wayne, son of John, and star of the same year's Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger, leads an expedition to the prehistoric island of Caprona in search of adventurer Doug McClure, still marooned there after the events of the previous film. The expedition consists of Wayne, his mechanic (Shane Rimmer; The Spy Who Loved Me), a female reporter (Sarah Douglas; Superman 2), and a paleontologist (character actor Thorley Walters). After their biplane is forced down by an attacking pterodactyl, the adventurers discover a beautiful cavegirl (the gorgeous Dana Gillespie, below) who eventually leads them to Skull Mountain and the evil, samurai-like Nagas who have McClure locked away in their skeleton-strewn dungeon.

People is a full-blooded, old-fashioned Saturday matinee adventure, with vicious cavemen, clunky dinosaurs, an evil Tor Johnson lookalike, volcanic eruptions, swordplay and plenty of heroic deering-do. As in Sinbad, Wayne makes an acceptable, if not particularly charismatic, hero, while Douglas, an underrated actress who's appeared in tons of fantasy films, makes the most of her spunky girl reporter role. Gillespie provides the eye-candy, and Walters and Rimmer provide solid support. McClure, who shows up late in the film, looks a little tired of these cut-rate lost world epics, but acquits himself adequately.

The production design and special effects have a charming, nostalgic cheesiness about them, with obvious matte paintings, miniatures and mechanical monsters adding to the cliffhanging fun. Although primitive by today's high-tech standards, I'll take this kind of hand-crafted filmmaking over today's CGI-dominated 3D toons any day. The photography is magnificent, making good use of the rugged, prehistoric-looking locations, and the score by John Scott is rousing, if a bit sparse.

The Land That Time Forgot and People That Time Forgot were released as a double feature DVD by MGM Home Video some years ago as part of their marvelous, consumer-friendly "Midnight Movies" line, and might still be available from some retailers. The disc is bare-bones – just the two movies and their theatrical trailers – but the widescreen transfers are beautiful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New DVD Late Show Posted!

My latest DVD Late Show review column has been posted at Forces Of Geek. This week's installment covers a bunch of recent horror and B-films, including Nightmare Castle, The She Beast, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, The Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon, The Terminators and Burn Notice Season Two.

Here's the Direct Link to the column.

I neglected to post here when the previous column went up a couple weeks ago. But it's not too late to read my reviews of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Dragonquest, While She Was Out, Two Evil Eyes, Fast Company, and Never Say Never Again on Blu-Ray.

Here's that Direct Link.

I Like This Comic: Super Human Resources

I don't write about comic books (other than my own) here very often because I don't read many new comics. I can't afford to buy anything regularly, and there isn't a comic store nearby. I do read comics all the time, but they're usually older books from my collection.

Every once in a great while, though, one of my publishers will send me a few books to check out, and that happened last week. David Hedgecock at Ape Entertainment sent me a small CARE package of recent Ape titles, and while all of them were good and well-worth reading/buying, I was especially impressed by the Super Human Resources collection by writer Ken Marcus and artist Justin Bleep.

It can most easily be described as The Office with superheroes, but that does the book a bit of a disservice. It's actually considerably better than that.

Originally published as a four issue miniseries, SHR tells the story of Tim, a somewhat nerdy temp worker who is hired by Super Crises International (SCI), the corporate headquarters of a team of superheroes, to help out in their billing department. Basically, SCI's like any other big corporation, except that the receptionist is a zombie, the research department is run by a horny android, there's a mysterious caped crusader living in the basement, and the copy machine has just become sentient. Other than that, it's just like every office you've ever inhabited a cubicle in, with all the petty power struggles, surprise birthday parties, holiday gift exchanges, and monotonous paperwork that makes a job a sentence.

Super Human Resources is a lot of fun, and very funny.

You can read the entire first issue online here, for free, or you can check out the SHR website here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Louisa Nadeau

My maternal grandmother, Louisa Nadeau, passed away late Monday night/early Tuesday morning. She slipped away peacefully, in the company of her children. She was nearly 94 years old.

She was the only one of my grandparents that I was ever truly close to. Her husband died when I was about five, and my father's parents were spending much of their time in Florida while I was growing up. A devout Catholic, French Canadian woman (who would frequently slip into French when excited or when her English vocabulary proved inadequate for the thought she was trying to express), she was always supportive of me and my creative efforts. We shared the same birthday. Every Christmas dinner was at her house. As a child, I spent many hours at her kitchen table tracing comic book panels and making up my own stories. I found my first Edgar Rice Burroughs novel in a box of paperbacks in her basement (I don't know who it belonged to originally – one of my uncles, perhaps – but she told me I could have it.), and when my sister and I would stay overnight on weekends that my folks were away on snowmobile trips or vacations, she always let me stay up as late as I wanted to watch the CBS Late Movie (which is where I first saw The Avengers and The Return of The Saint).

I never saw her angry. As far as I know, she was never anything but warm and loving, and I'm going to miss her – and the sparkle in her eye – terribly.

Rest in peace, Grammy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Superman

A marvelously well-drawn cover by the legendary Neal Adams graces this late Seventies issue of Superman, enticing the adolescent audience with a shocking scene designed to compel kids into shelling out their 30¢ to discover just why Kara would be doing such a heinous thing.

It worked on me.

I truly miss covers like this.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

DVD Review: DragonQuest

The latest fantasy epic from director Mark Atkins (Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls) and The Asylum, is unfortunately not as entertaining as the director’s previous Merlin & The War of the Dragons, with an utterly predictable and sophomoric script, and a decidedly unexciting climax.

The story is one we’ve seen a thousand times – an evil wizard is threatening the countryside, a young apprentice is "the chosen one" to defeat him, but must go on a series of quests to acquire certain magical items – in this case, gems of virtue – before he can defeat the bad guy. As usual, he is provided with guides and protectors. Unfortunately, the script never adds anything new or interesting to this time-worn plot. Even the "quests" are boring – our hero just sets out in an apparently random direction, and each gem (with its accompanying lame "challenge") appear directly in his path, one after another, in order. This leads to one of those really boring sorcerer duels where two wizards stand about twenty feet apart and point their fingers at each other while animated lightning bolts leap back and forth between them.

Here’s a thought, guys: next time, why not have the wizards lob animated fireballs at each other like softballs, so that they have to dodge ‘em and avoid explosions going off around them. Put some movement and action in there. It’ll make your climax at least a little bit interesting.

The cast is generally wooden and uninteresting except for its top-billed and presumably better paid stars. Veteran heavy Brian Thompson (Cobra) is effective enough as the evil wizard, considering that his role is horribly underwritten. Of course, he can play these sort of parts in his sleep, and just may be doing that here. Jason Connery’s (Shanghai Noon) part is little more than an extended cameo, but he plays it okay. Marc Singer (The Beastmaster, V) hams it up outrageously in his role as a washed-up old warrior, but at least that makes him fun to watch and injects a bit of energy into the otherwise listless proceedings. As our young hero, Daniel Bonjour is boring as hell, though leading lady Jennifer Dorogi looks quite hot and handles her swordplay with some flair.

Production-wise, well, the CGI dragon effects by Tiny Juggernaut are fairly decent, but sparsely used. The setting is supposed to be another world, but there’s nothing particularly otherworldly about the way it’s shot. How much would it have cost to have digitally tossed in an extra moon in the sky, or for that matter, tint the sky a slightly different color? Make an effort, for goodness’ sake. This is a fantasy! The look of the film is pretty boring, too. The California locations are adequate, but they’re not nearly as visually appealing as the Welsh vistas used in Merlin.

On the plus side, composer Chris Ridenhour once again provides a superior score that almost seems too good for the film it accompanies.

Anyway, The Asylum DVD presents the feature in a sharp, anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 surround sound. The traditional extra features are there: a half-hearted "behind the scenes" documentary, blooper reel and selection of deleted scenes. And, of course, a selection of trailers for other current Asylum releases.

After enjoying Merlin And the War of the Dragons, I had high hopes for Dragonquest, but maybe that was the problem. Considering the budgets and speed with which The Asylum cranks these flicks out, it probably doesn’t pay to set your expectations too high. Fantasy fans might enjoy giving this disc a spin, but on the other hand, it might just be better to wait for it to hit the SciFi Channel.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

David Carradine, R.I.P.

I never really watched Kung Fu. In fact, I've probably seen more episodes of the 90's syndicated sequel series, Kung Fu: the Legend Continues, and I only saw two or three of those. So, David Carradine wasn't "Grasshopper" to me.

No, I'm a B-movie junkie, so David Carradine was Frankenstein in Death Race 2000, Kaz Oshay in Deathsport, Coy "Cannonball" Buckman in Cannonball, hardboiled cop Shepherd in Q, Rawley Wilkes in Lone Wolf McQuade, Kain in The Warrior & The Sorceress, badass bartender Jim Roth in Armed Response, the two-gun Dracula of Sundown, and of course, four different characters in Circle of Iron.

And those are just the characters I remembered off the top of my head.

David Carradine died yesterday in Bangkok, Thailand. Apparently it was a suicide. I have a hard time reconciling that with confident, cocky, sometimes arrogant Carradine, but one never knows, I guess. He was 72.

Rest well.