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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Counter Paradise

I don't know who the artist is who painted the great movie poster-styled cover to this 1968 Nichol Fleming (Ian Fleming's nephew) spy novel, but I like it a lot. As for the book itself, well, it's been sitting on my shelf for several years now, and I still haven't gotten around to reading it. I will one of these days, though.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Original Bastards

The inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s latest motion picture, The Inglorious Bastards is a rousing 1978 knock-off of The Dirty Dozen and similar military adventures from Italian exploitation maestro, Enzo G. Castellari (The New Gladiators, The Big Racket).

Set during WWII, Bastards tells of five condemned American soldiers, who, on their way to court martial and imprisonment for various crimes, escape from their convoy during a Nazi attack, and decide to head for neutral Switzerland. They soon meet up with and are joined by a German deserter, who helps them get past various enemy obstacles. But when the Bastards accidentally wipe out a squad of American commandos (to be fair, the commandos were disguised as Nazis) they find themselves volunteering for a suicide mission to steal a V2 warhead from a Nazi train deep inside enemy
-occupied territory.

Starring veteran exploitation stars Fred Williamson (Hammer, Black Ceasar) and Bo Svenson (Walking Tall Part 2), Bastards is a highly entertaining war movie filled with wild stunts, sly humor and some spectacular low-tech special effects work. Castellari has
made movies in virtually every genre, from violent, gritty cop/crime dramas to post-Apocalyptic Road Warrior rip-offs, and the most consistent element in his work is a genuine flair for exciting action. The Inglorious Bastards is never boring, and if the story is completely unbelievable, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

Previously released on DVD by Severin Films, the company inaugurates its Blu-Ray program with this upgraded, feature-packed re-issue. Featuring a remarkable new 1.85:1, 1080HD transfer and robust Dolby 5.1 Surround audio (a stereo track is also included), Bastards has probably never looked this good. Sure, it shows its age and won’t be confused with a 2009 feature, but the image quality is sharp, with rich colors and fine detail, and no notable print damage.

The Blu-Ray edition includes all of the features of the original 2-disc DVD, with a director’s audio commentary, an entertaining and enthusiastic on-screen conversation between Quentin Tarantino and director Castellari, a featurette on the locations used for filming, and an in-depth, behind the scenes documentary featuring interviews with much of the cast and crew, including Castellari, Svenson and Williamson.

Exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition are two additional featurettes. The first records a screening of the film at Los Angeles’ New Beverly theater, with the director and stars on hand to take applause and answer questions. The second documents Castelleri’s 70th birthday celebration in L.A., with a guest list that includes not only Williamson and Svenson, but also B-movie stalwarts John Saxon and Lou Ferrigno, both veterans of the maestro’s international productions.

The disc does not include the soundtrack CD that was included in the 3-disc special edition DVD, however.

If you’d like to see where Tarantino got the inspiration for his new movie, a fan of Euro-exploitation fare, or are a Fred Williamson fan – and who isn’t? – The Inglorious Bastards is a great bet for a rental or purchase. The Blu-Ray is especially nice, and would make a fine addition to any cult cinephile’s collection.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Jonah Hex Rides!

"Cold-blooded killer, vicious, unmerciful hellion without feeling, without conscience... a man consumed by hate, a man who boded evil..."

That's how writer John Albano described bounty hunter Jonah Hex on the splash page of All-Star Western #10, 1972. I've been a fan of the character for years, and have enjoyed most of Hex's incarnations (even the post-Apocalyptic version from the 80s). I'm both pleased and surprised to see a big-budget Jonah Hex feature film on the horizon.

It looks to incorporate some of the supernatural elements of the Joe Landsdale/Tim Truman miniseries from the 90s, and that's okay by me, as long as they still give the whole thing a cool Spaghetti Western vibe. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Latest DVD Late Show column posted @ FOG

A brand spanking new DVD Late Show column has been posted at Forces of Geek. On deadline, even!

We've got a whole slew of fresh DVD and Blu-Ray reviews this week, including looks at the Friday the 13th remake, Merlin And The Book of Beasts, both Green Hornet serials, The Middleman - The Complete TV Series, Parker Lewis Can't Lose - Season 1, The Inglorious Bastards and The Echelon Conspiracy on Blu-Ray, and even a Lindsay Lohan romantic comedy (it's not great).

Check it out HERE.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Regarding Tarzan

In the comments to the Tarzan comic book cover I posted yesterday, several people expressed little familiarity with the many Tarzan films made over the years, which surprised me. When I was growing up, even here, in the wilds of rural Maine, with only three television stations, Tarzan flicks (and the Ron Ely teleseries) were a staple of local broadcasting.

Admittedly, they're not shown much these days, and except for the Johnny Weismuller flix from MGM and RKO, most of the ape man's cinematic efforts are unavailable on DVD. (There are a few of the cheaper, independent Tarzan movies – ones that have fallen into the Public Domain – on disc, but they're not among the better ones, unfortunately. Oh yeah, the Bo Derek one is on DVD, too...)

Me, while I adore the Weismuller Tarzans (and Tarzan And His Mate is among the best – maybe the best – jungle adventures ever filmed) I'm also a huge fan of the later films from the Sixties.

Beginning with 59's Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (a bold title, but it lives up to it) with Gordon Scott and continuing through the two Jock Mahoney films and three Mike Henry vehicles, the last seven Jungle King movies from producer Sy Weintraub, are pretty much my favorite film interpretations of Edgar Rice Burroughs' signature character. Though updated to then-contemporary times, they actually portray the character much closer to the Burroughs novels than the any of the earlier films.

Tarzan is portrayed as literate and articulate, he travels the world, and can adapt quickly to any dangerous situation or environment. These films dropped the cinematic baggage that had built up over the years (Jane, Boy, etc.) and were pretty much balls-out adventure films with a badass in a loincloth. The best, IMO, are Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959), Tarzan The Magnificent (1960) – both starring Scott and surprisingly adult in nature – and Tarzan And The Valley of Gold (1966). Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963), is very good, too, though I find it uncomfortable to watch; star Jock Mahoney was ill during filming, and he literally wastes away as the movie goes on. Fine Tarzan adventure, though.

If you're interested in the history of the cinematic ape man, the best online resource I've found is the late Matt Winan's Tarzan Movie Guide website. He passed away in 2008, but the site is maintained by friends, and it's incredibly comprehensive.

Now... if Warners would just get around to releasing the Lex Barker Tarzan films on DVD...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Tarzan

My favorite movie ape man, Gordon Scott, graces this photo cover for Dell's Tarzan #92.

Monday, July 13, 2009

DVD "Buzz:" The Green Hornet Strikes!

VCI Entertainment has announced the DVD release of two long-anticipated serials: The Green Hornet (1940) and The Green Hornet Strikes Again (1941). The 2-disc sets are due out on July 28th and feature liner notes, radio shows and a photo gallery. Retail for each is $29.99

I just received review copies of both serials, and I have to say that these are among the best transfers I have seen from VCI. For years, they've been pretty much the only mainstream outfit releasing classic cliffhangers regularly on DVD, but frequently the source material on these old chapterplays is in pretty rough shape. VCI usually makes a solid effort to make them presentable, but often the best material they have to work from are old, beat-up 16mm prints.

Both of these Green Hornet releases, however, were prepared with the cooperation of the original studio – Universal – who apparently provided high quality 35mm prints to VCI for the DVD remastering. There are still some specks here and there, but otherwise they look great, with solid contrast and no major print damage.

The Green Hornet (1940)
Originally created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker for an American radio program in the 1930s, the character appeared in two Universal serials. In the first 13 episode serial, the city is faced with rising crime and increased racketeering activity. In an effort to bring order to the chaos, intrepid newspaper editor Britt Reid (Gordon Jones) becomes the masked crime fighter called the Green Hornet. As far as the police are concerned, the Hornet is himself a criminal; this misunderstanding enables Reid to operate "outside the law" to battle criminals and racketeers. Working alongside the Hornet is the brilliant inventor/sidekick Kato (Keye Luke), the only living person who knows the true identity of the Hornet.

Bonus Features: Liner Notes by author Martin Grams Jr., Two Original Radio Episodes of THE GREEN HORNET, Photo Gallery, Trailers. Product Specs: 2-DVD9s; Dolby Digital 2.0; 258 minutes; B&W; 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio; MPAA - NR; Year - 1940; SRP - $29.99.

The Green Hornet Strikes Again!
In this 15 episode follow-up, Britt Reid (Warren Hull) is enjoying a vacation in Hawaii. While he is away, he learns that a crime organization has extended its activities into virtually every industry in the city. Disguised as the Green Hornet, Britt makes forays against the underworld establishment, with each attack bringing him closer to the identity of the syndicate mastermind, an arch crook named Grogan.

Bonus Features: Episode Selection, Liner Notes by Martin Grams Jr., Two Radio Episodes of THE GREEN HORNET, Photo Gallery, Trailers. Product Specs: 2-DVD9s; Dolby Digital 2.0; 293 minutes; B&W; 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio; MPAA - NR; Year - 1941; SRP - $29.99.

Since these particular serials were contractually obligated to get approvals on script and casting from the original radio creators, The Green Hornet serials are among the most faithful adaptations of a super hero from one medium to another. Individual chapters are frequently based directly on radio episodes, and in the first serial, radio star Al Hodges actually redubbed all of Gordon Jones' lines during the scenes where he wore the Hornet's mask.

I'll be writing a fuller review for my column next week, but if you collect old serials, or are a Green Hornet fan, I can recommend these DVDs without reservation.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Captain Midnight Preview

My gout is acting up (seriously, it's like I'm a 90 year-old) and I'm in horrible pain, so this will be a brief post, but since I hadn't been posting much here lately, I thought I'd try and make up for it and share with you folks a couple of pages by Rich Clark from our upcoming Captain Midnight one-shot for Moonstone. It's been a long time brewing, but it's finally coming together.

For the several weeks, I've been mostly working on the Captain Midnight prose anthology that I'm editing for the same publisher. The book features stories by Stephen Mertz, Howard Hopkins, Win Scott Eckert, and John J. Nance, among others. I've got a story in there, too, and I only finally got around to writing it last month. Here's an excerpt from that story, "Countdown to Midnight:"
The night sky was overcast, and only a thin sliver of moon occasionally showed itself through rare breaks in the dark gray firmament. Against that sky, the black Nightfires were nearly invisible. Shark would never see them coming.

They had reached the given coordinates, and Midnight reached forward to place a black-gloved hand reassuringly on his stepson’s shoulder. "Remember, Chuck, don’t break radio silence until after the fireworks start. Shark knows our frequencies and is certain to have them monitored."

Chuck struggled to keep his voice calm and his tone strictly professional. "Yes, sir."

"We’ve planned this the best we can. After I get away from there, I’ll try and find someplace for you two to pick me up. If enemy fighters get off the ground, I don’t want you to engage them. Bug out, you hear me?"

His adopted son, who had no intention of abandoning him, nonetheless said, "Yes, sir."

"Good man." Midnight rechecked his gear, and clutched the bulging demolition bag to his chest. With one finger, he toggled a switch, and the section of canopy above him smoothly slid back. The night wind howled deafeningly throughout the open cockpit, and Midnight took a deep, calming breath before hurling himself into the frigid air.

Bailing from the Nightfire fighters without using an ejector seat was always nerve-wracking. If one wasn’t able to propel themselves fully clear of the plane, they could find themselves swept back along the fuselage and into the blades of the propeller. But Captain Midnight had made many jumps from the aircraft he himself had designed, and sailed without difficulty into the darkness.

One hand tightly clutching the demo bag, he reached up with the other to adjust a small knob on the side of his goggles. Instantly, the mountaintops below snapped into clear focus, as the miraculous night-vision device created by Tut Jones was activated. He spread his arms then, deploying small "wings" of treated cloth. He called this his glider-chute, and the strong material stretched from his wrists to his hips, allowing him to guide and control his fall with surprising proficiency, despite the savage mountain air currents. Quickly checking the compass strapped to his wrist, he banked to the south, his crimson scarf snapping in the wind over his shoulder, and glided like a soaring bird of prey towards a particular peak.
I've also been trying to get ahead on scripts for Kolchak: The Night Stalker Files, but things – like this damned gout – keep coming up to keep me away from the keyboard. Well, at least I'm pretty much caught up with Captain Midnight... for now.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Bloodthirst

This painting by Joel Adams (son of Neal Adams) graced the cover to the first issue of Bloodthirst: The Nightfall Conspiracy, a two-issue miniseries from 1994. As it happens, this was one of the first comic books I ever wrote. It featured a female vampire spy named Christine Bishop, who worked for a top secret organization known only as A.C.T.I.O.N. The interior art was by my pals Delfin Barral and Chuck Bordell.

By a strange coincidence (!) I happen to be giving away a free set of this two issue epic over on my Spy-Fi Channel blog. If you're interested in entering the drawing, click on over there and follow the directions in this post. You might want to hurry, though – the deadline for entries is midnight tonight!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New DVD Late Show @ FOG

A brand new DVD Late Show column has been posted at Forces of Geek.

This one includes a slightly revised version of my Outlander review (see below) along with looks at Blue Underground's new Blu-Ray release of the David Carradine martial arts classic, Circle of Iron, the new Children of the Corn Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay, the first season of the original G.I. JOE cartoon on DVD, and the latest "mockbuster" from The Asylum, Transmorphers: Fall of Man.

Check it out here.

Vikings and Aliens

Probably the most entertaining fantasy/sci-fi genre film I’ve seen in five years, Outlander, was handled most bafflingly by it’s distributors (The Weinstien Company), bypassing theaters almost entirely, and being dumped on home video without fanfare. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. Seriously, it's got spaceships, Vikings, swordplay and a badass alien monster – who could ask for anything more in a movie?!

In 709 A.D., an alien spaceship crashes into a Norwegian lake, with two survivors – a humanoid space marine named Kainan (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ) and a bestial predator known as the Moorwen. The monster immediately sets out to prey on the local Vikings, while Kainan is first captured, then accepted by a tribe led by a warrior king named Rothgar (John Hurt). He falls in love with Rothgar’s daughter (Sophia Myles, Underworld 1 & 2, and Doctor Who's "Girl In The Fireplace"), and leads the Vikings in battle against the creature.

Beautifully shot and energetically paced by director Howard McCain, Outlander is a surprisingly satisfying genre gem. Even Caviezel’s bland performance can’t diminish the fun and excitement generated by the quality production values, solid cast (which includes the always welcome Ron Perlman as a rival Viking chief) and spectacularly effective special effects. The Canadian location work – augmented by digital matte paintings – is stunning, and the action scenes are handled with aplomb.

Genius Products’ DVD presents the film in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks perfect. Audio is a robust Dolby 5.1. Extra features include a commentary track by writer/director McCain, and producers Dirk Blackman, Chris Roberts and John Schimmel. There are a handful of deleted scenes, production design galleries, effects tests, animatics, and the theatrical trailer.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Captain America and I wish all my U.S. friends a very happy Fourth of July weekend, with lots of fireworks, food and freedom.

I know I haven't been posting much here over the last month or so, but I've been buried in writing and editing work. I'm putting the final touches on the Captain Midnight prose anthology – including writing my own 8,000 word short story – for Moonstone (we're shooting for a January/February '10 release), pulling together the Captain Midnight comic book one-shot (Richard Clark's art is looking great!), and trying to catch up and get ahead on Kolchak scripts.

I'm also attempting to stay on top of my DVD Late Show review column for Forces of Geek, which takes a lot of time, what with all the discs to watch. There should be a new column this Tuesday.

Then, beginning Wednesday, I'll be starting a big editing/design job. Somewhere in there, my wife and I plan on switching office spaces and setting up my new PC (bleah). Even with all that, I still hope to post here more often, too.

I have been posting a lot over on my Spy-Fi Channel blog (Of course, I posted a lot the first couple months of my Guns In the Gutters blog, too), however, so if you're at all interested in my geeky ramblings about espionage pulp and cheesy spy TV shows, you might want to check it out. Or not. Whatever.

Have a great holiday weekend, friends!