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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Back To The Jungle!

My wonderful wife surprised me today with an early birthday present of the Lex Barker Tarzan Collection from Warner Archive. Barker was Johnny Weismuller's direct successor at RKO for producer Sol Lesser, and the films themselves are very much in the mold of the producer's earlier RKO entries. Still, the classically handsome, intelligent-looking Barker makes a very fine ape-man, and the movies continue to be great, old-fashioned, Saturday matinee material.

My favorite Tarzan films still tend to be the ones produced by Sy Weintraub in the late 50s/60s (specifically Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, Tarzan the Magnificent, Tarzan And The Valley Of Gold), but these are a lot of fun, too, and I'm thrilled to finally have them in my library.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stuck In The 80s - Avenging Force

My wife recently bought us an inexpensive Phillips DVD player that will play multi-region discs. As movie buffs, it had frustrated us for some time that some of the films we wanted were available in other parts of the world, but not in the U.S.  Films like Solomon Kane, for example.Of course, while the Internet and a credit card makes ordering products from overseas a simple as a click of the mouse, we've already discovered a few small hazards of International purchases. On the plus side, so far we've found exceptionally reasonable prices for many of the DVDs we want. Even with shipping, they've been cheaper than I would expect to pay for a comparable domestic product. But, on the minus side, many online retailers (including giants like Amazon UK) are infuriatingly vague in regard to such details as what aspect ratio the films are are presented, what language they're in, and whether they've been enhanced for 16x9 widescreen displays.

Anyway, I digress. As may be obvious from my posts here of late, I've been in a mood for 80s-early 90s-stye action films. One that I've really been wanting to see again is the 1986 Cannon Films flick, Avenging Force, starring the guys from American Ninja (another favorite), Michael Dudikoff and the late, great Steve James. Unfortunately, the movie has never been released on DVD in U.S.  Fortunately, it was released in England, and an affordable copy was available for me to order through Amazon UK, and it showed up here in Maine today.  I was a little disappointed to discover that it isn't in widescreen (damn those vague product descriptions, anyway!), but what the hell. It's better than nothing - and certainly better than paying twice as much for an old, worn-out VHS tape.

Watched it this evening. It was the first time I'd seen Avenging Force since I caught it in the 80s on one of the Pay-cable television stations. It's fun - Dudikoff and James had good chemistry here and in the American Ninja flicks they did together, and the direction by Cannon mainstay Sam Firstenberg is competent and professional. It has some decent action scenes, and great, picturesque New Orleans/Louisiana bayou locations. The final sequences, set in a very scary swamp during a rainstorm, were very well staged, especially for a Firstenberg flick.

Coincidentally, the New Orleans locations and Most Dangerous Game story element of rich and powerful men hunting human beings for sport prefigure similar elements in John Woo's 1993 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, Hard Target. At least, I assume it's coincidental.

Surprisingly, Avenging Force has a notably different tone from the other Cannon action films of the time, as the villains aren't foreign terrorists or Russkies, but a domestic right wing supremacist group. The ending is odd, too - quite blatantly leaving the door open for a sequel (or series).

Interestingly, Dudikoff's character has the same name ("Matt Hunter") as Chuck Norris' character in Invasion U.S.A., made by the same studio the year before - although he's quite differently written in Force than he was in Invasion. I wonder if Cannon was toying with creating another in-house franchise...?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Was thinking about the great Brandon Lee this evening. Still saddened and haunted by the knowledge that he passed away so young. Hard to believe he died almost twenty years ago now (March, '93). Man, I feel old.

He was terrific in The Crow - and clearly had the charisma and talent to be a mainstream star. But he also made a couple of highly-enjoyable B-action flicks. In fact, Rapid Fire and Showdown In Little Tokyo (with Dolph Lundgren) are among the best of the early 90s. I'd like to think he would have made a lot more, had he lived.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nowhere Fast

Awesome poster by Patrick Leger!
Seriously, why isn't Walter Hill's Streets Of Fire on Blu-ray? Universal released it on HD-DVD; would it be that hard to port it over to Blu?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Atomic Hotties: Salma Hayek

I have been in lust - and unabashedly so - with the stunning Salma Hayek ever since I saw Desperado in the theater back in 1995. Breathtakingly beautiful then, and even more so now, I consider the Mexican-born actress to be pretty much the ideal of feminine perfection. Don't try to convince me otherwise; I am unshakable in my conviction.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wednesday Cover: Solomon Kane

I haven't actually read any of Dark Horse Comics' Solomon Kane titles, but I must admit that this Mike Mignola cover for the The Castle Of The Devil one-shot, ingeniously laid out like an old Dell Comics cover, is just delightful on a whole lotta levels.

R.I.P. Richard Lynch

Sad news tonight. I've just heard that the great Richard Lynch (or, as my wife called him, "Cat-Man"), the iconic face and velvet voice of villainy in more than a hundred TV shows and movies, has passed away at age 76.

With his unique looks (in part attributable to a bad LSD trip which resulted in the actor setting himself on fire!) and sinisterly silky voice, the Brooklyn-born actor was the go-to bad guy for television and B-movie producers for decades.

He appeared in so many of my favorite television shows and exploitation films: Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, The Sword & The Sorcerer, Invasion USA, Deathsport, Trancers II, Puppet Master III, The A-Team, God Told Me To, Star Trek - The Next Generation, A Man Called Sloane, The Fall Guy, and, perhaps most memorably (at least for me), the terrific 1979 TV movie/pilot film, Vampire, which gave him one of his few leading roles.

They don't make character actors like Lynch, anymore, and we movie buffs are all the poorer for it. Rest in Peace, sir.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Spider And The Monster Makers

A few years back, I contributed a short story to The Spider Chronicles, a prose fiction anthology from Moonstone Books spotlighting the legendary pulpmagazine character created by Norvell Page. The book was fully licensed and featured a stellar line-up of talent: Steve Englehart, Martin Powell, Bill Crider, Mort Castle, Chuck Dixon, C.J. Henderson, Howard Hopkins, John Jakes, and many others. I'm still not sure how I rated inclusion in such august company. My story, "The Spider And The Monster Makers," was my humble attempt to emulate Page's breathless, vivid prose, and although I don't think I quite accomplished that goal, I'm still quite proud of how the story turned out, and feel honored to have been asked to participate.

A week or so ago, artist Tom Floyd (creator of Captain Spectre) posted a scan of this great illustration, which accompanied my story in the aforementioned anthology, over on Facebook. We exchanged a few e-mails about it, and he graciously gifted me the original artwork, which will soon be in a frame adorning my office wall. It's a terrific piece, and evocatively illustrates the action-packed climax of my tale.

If you missed the book when it came out, I believe that it is now out of print and commanding "collectible" prices. However, I have discovered that Moonstone does have a Kindle e-book edition available that can be purchased through Amazon here: The Spider Chronicles

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Mark Of Kane

For three years, I patiently waited for an American distributor to pick it up. Never happened. And, despite the temptation, I even virtuously avoided illegal downloads and unauthorized YouTube vids -- but -- I could wait no longer! Once Brandi told me she'd bought us a multi-region DVD player, I scooted over to Amazon UK and ordered a Region 2 PAL DVD of 2009's Solomon Kane, based on the character created by Robert E. Howard.

Even with shipping, it only cost me five and a half bucks, American.

The disc arrived today, and I watched it this evening with Brandi.

Although not strictly faithful to the Word, Solomon Kane nonetheless captures the spirit of the Bob Howard pulp stories in a way that no other REH adaptation has yet approached. The screenplay is a bit too Hollywood boilerplate - and, thus, predictable - but the film as a whole rises above its script's over-familiar conventions and is, ultimately, a superior entertainment. Production design, casting, photography and musical score are well above par.

James Purefoy is note-perfect as the dour Puritan swordsman, and director Michael Bassett keeps the film moving at a fair clip while still allowing the characters time to earn the audience's sympathy/empathy. Also notable is the terrific musical score by Klaus Badelt and the gorgeous cinematography by Dan Lausten.

As for the special effects, yeah, there are a few dodgy CGI bits in the beginning and some cartoon demons in there, but it is a sword & sorcery saga, after all. I've heard more than a few complaints about the end of the film, but it mostly worked for me. Compared to every big budget Hollywood fantasy film I've seen in the last 5+ years, the climactic scene of Solomon Kane was positively restrained in its use of CGI; it was hardly the sort of pixelated overkill/cartoon orgy that's become de rigueur these days.

It's not Van Helsing. It's not Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. It's a very modern, surprisingly mainstream special effects adventure film, and I cannot fathom why it hasn't garnered an official U.S. release. If the suits considered it too dark, or the character too obscure, or Purefoy too unknown  for wide theatrical distribution, I sorta get it. But it doesn't explain why it hasn't shown up on SyFy or on DVD.  I'm sure there's some good reason for it, but it's a mystery  to me.

In short, though Solomon Kane is not a perfect film, nor a literal adaptation of Howard's prose, I loved the movie. Best sword & sorcery flick I've seen in ages, and far better than the most recent Conan film.

I suspect the gentleman from Cross Plains would have gotten a kick out of it, too.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New This Week at DVD Late Show...

I'm trying to get back into the reviewing groove at my DVD Late Show website. To that end, I'm aiming to post at least two new reviews a day, every day this week.

Today: I've got reviews of the Spaghetti Western Double Feature: The Grand Duel & Keoma Blu-ray, from Mill Creek Entertainment and Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp - The Complete Series, from Film Chest.

Tomorrow: the greatly anticipated (by me, anyway) Red Scorpion Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Synapse Films, and the 80's Sho Kosugi ninja thriller, Pray For Death, from the MGM Limited Edition Collection (MOD).

Wednesday: Hammer's new Gothic horror, The Woman In Black (on Blu-ray) and the goofy Monster Brawl (also on Blu-ray), from Image Entertainment. 

Thursday: we'll travel to strange worlds with Warner Archive's Captain Nemo And the Underwater City and The Asylum's Nazis At The Center Of The Earth!

Friday: It's a surprise! Stay tuned!

ADDENDUM  6/22/12: Well, I didn't quite make my goal. Will repeat the attempt next week. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

He's played by their rules... Until now.

My Red Scorpion Blu-ray from Synapse Films arrived in the mail today. I've watched some of it - and a couple of the bonus features - and I have to say: it looks terrific. Synapse did a fantastic job and put together a pretty definitive edition of this late-80s Cold War actioner. I'll be finishing it up later tonight, and should have a full review posted at DVD Late Show soon.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Under The Sea...

Ever since I saw the Walt Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea in elementary school, I've been fascinated with underwater adventures of the fantastic kind. This explains my affection for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (not to mention, Man From Atlantis!) and books like Gaylord Dubois' Rex, King Of The Deep (about an American millionaire who builds his own super-sub in WWII to battle Nazi U-Boats) and the 80s men's adventure paperback series, Omega Sub.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, DC Comics published several of their titles as 100-page quarterlies. To fill out that expanded page count without paying for new work, they reprinted tons of classic (and not-so-classic) Golden Age and Silver Age stories - which were all new to me.

It was in those reprint fillers that I first discovered the chronicles of the Sea Devils, a group of undersea adventurers. Those stories - abundant with sea monsters battling heroic frogmen (and one woman) - really pushed my adolescent buttons.

DC has just collected the first 16 issues of their Sea Devils comic book (along with three issues of Showcase that debuted the feature) in one of their telephone book-sized Showcase Presents volumes. Over 500 pages, printed in black & white, which really suits the gorgeous artwork of artist Russ Heath. The scripts are by DC workhorses like Robert Kanigher and Bob Haney, so you know the stories are going to be wild, absurd and, well, awesome. I can't wait to dive into the book later tonight.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The "D" Is Silent...

The first trailer for Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained hit the web today. Quite coincidentally, I've been watching a lot of vintage Spaghetti Westerns* over the last couple of weeks, including several that were clearly among Tarantino's inspirations for his forthcoming homage, starring Jaimie Foxx, Chistophe Waltz, Don Johnson and Leonardo DeCaprio.

Keep an eye out for the original "Django," Franco Nero, in the new trailer above. Really looking forward to this one!

* Specifically: The Grand Duel, Keoma, A Bullet For The General, Django Kill!, and Death Rides A Horse.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Wednesday Cover: SEA DEVILS

This exciting Russ Heath cover for DC Comics' Sea Devils #6 just whets my appetite for the new DC Showcase Presents collection of the early issues of this 60s undersea adventure title. In the 70s, DC used to occasionally run reprints from this series in their 100-page comics, and I always enjoyed them. I can't wait to get my hands on this 512-page collection!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Eighties Action Summer

Tonight, I'm watching these Cannon-era Chuck Norris movies -  The Delta Force, Missing In Action and Missing In Action 2 - on Blu-ray on my 55" High-Definition television.  

Life Is Good.

The Norris discs are currently Wal-Mart exclusives. Code Of Silence and Lone Wolf McQuade are due out in July, right in time for my birthday. With Red Scorpion with Dolph Lundgren coming out next week, and The Expendables 2 in theaters in August, I'll truly be experiencing some retro-80's action movie bliss this Summer.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Weekend Double Feature... In Space!

Takin' A Drive

Well, a full 15 years after it came out, I finally got to see the Mark Dacascos action film, Drive (not to be confused with the more recent Ryan Gosling film of the same title). Standard B-movie plot and acting, but the best Hong Kong-styled action and fight scenes I've ever seen in a U.S. film. Terrific stuntwork and Dacascos is friggin' amazing!

The 1997 movie was directed by Steve Wang (Kung Fu Rascals, Guyver), and co-starred  Kadeem Hardison and the late Brittany Murphy. I can't say I was a fan of Murphy's, but she's just delightful in this movie. Villain John Pyper-Ferguson (who, interestingly, was in the 2011 Drive, as well, although Brandi and I know him from The Adventures Of Brisco County), makes a great heavy and has most of the best lines.

Too bad the U.S. DVD is cut by 10 minutes and presented in the wrong aspect ratio. We're finally getting a Region-Free DVD player, so maybe I'll save up and order the uncut UK version (which also has different music, I understand) one of these days.

ADDENDUM: I just ordered the Region 2 widescreen version from Amazon UK for less than $10 American - shipping included! Cool!

Friday, June 01, 2012

New EX2 TV Spots

My wife doesn't get it -- but I'm more excited about The Expendables 2 than I was for The Avengers (and I'm a big super-hero nut) and the new Bond film (card-carrying Bondophile since I was 15) combined.

From these two TV spots, it looks like EX2 is going to have a lot more (intentional) humor, and the action will be better-lit - which addresses the two most frequent complaints I read about the first movie. Personally, I can't wait!