Friday, February 05, 2016

My 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2016

Just for fun, we'll do this backwards and count down towards Number 1. Only four of my 10 Most Anticipated 2015 Movies made it onto my Top 10 for the year, so let's see if I can predict greatness any better. This year, I'm including 20 films, just because there are a couple in the bottom 10 that I really wanted to mention.

20. X-Men: Apocalypse



Except for a brief thrill at seeing Bald James McAvoy, the trailer doesn't do it for me. Some of it is the smug way that Rose Byrne suggests that Apocalypse is the inspiration for world religions, but mostly it's the feeling that I've seen all this before. Still, I tend to enjoy these movies and I'm hoping that Oscar Isaac's immense charm shows through the layers of effects used on his character. I'm also excited to see how some of the new cast do, especially Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner, but also Kodi Smit-McPhee.

19. Warcraft



Never played the game and I don't love the character designs, but I likes me a big fantasy movie and appreciate that the orcs have real personalities. My expectation are low, but I'm hoping to be surprised.

18. The Nice Guys



The red-band trailer promises more of the old ultra-violence than I'm ready for, but I love both these guys and it looks like an entertaining relationship.

17. The Jungle Book



I'm cynical about all of Disney's live-action remakes of old hits, but then I remember the late-90s/early-00s and all of those sad animated sequels from The Return of Jafar to Cinderella III. It could be worse. Besides, Disney's at least picking some excellent directors to head these up and I'm encouraged by Jon Favreau's involvement.

On the other hand, I can't help feeling like we've already been down this trail.

16. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows



I totally skipped the first Michael Bay TMNT movie and had no interest in the sequel until I saw the trailer. This thing is going all-in on stupid references to toys and the first cartoon series. I mean, Rocksteady, Bebop, and the van that shoots manhole covers? Hoping for a Krang reference, at least as set up for the third one. Might be a lot of fun.

15. Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur



I mentioned that I still love Guy Ritchie, right? As dumb an idea as a Round Table Cinematic Universe sounds, I'm ready for Ritchie's take on Camelot.

14. Kubo and the Two Strings



I always like Laika movies. I never go completely ga-ga for them, but they're consistently entertaining and this looks like a good one.

13. Ghostbusters



I really enjoyed the first Ghostbusters movie, but the sequel and cartoon killed any idea of it as a sacred object. I'm for a film-maker like Paul Feig - who has a spotless record as far as I'm concerned - taking this and doing whatever the heck he wants with it.

12. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back



Jack Reacher was a pleasant return to old school action movies with a likable, lone, mysterious hero solving a mystery and saving some people without the entire world having to be at stake. I like my epic superhero movies as much as the next person, but I'm also very into more of this.

11. Bourne 5



We're finding out the title this weekend during some sporting event, but they can call it Bourne Again for all I care. Damon's back and I'm excited.

10. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them



This is one where "anticipated" doesn't exactly equal "excited about." I'm skeptical about this endeavor, but also extremely curious and nervously hopeful.

9. Underworld 5



I love these movies. Huge fan of Beckinsale and the White Wolf role-playing games these are not based on, no sir, we promise you they are not.

8. The Legend of Tarzan



I'm still waiting for a movie that's at all faithful to the first novel, but this'll do in the meantime. Not a great fan of those pants, but everything else looks pretty good. And I need some live-action Tarzan in my life right now.

7. Captain America: Civil War



The Civil War comics made me hate Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr made me love him. Matter and anti-matter are about to collide. Maybe that's why I'm not more excited about this than I am. Still, it's the next, big, epic Marvel movie and I'm a fan of the series.

6. Doctor Strange



I mentioned in my movie rankings for 2015 that I like the epic Marvel movies better than the "smaller" ones that explore other genres. But then I go and decide that I'm more interested in Doctor Strange than Cap 3. That's a lot because of Cumberbatch, but I think it's also because I've always wanted to like Doctor Strange comics more than I have. There's a lot of potential for some cool, spooky, magic realism in that concept, but most of the comics I've read have tended toward trippy fantasy. I was probably reading the wrong ones, but I'm hoping that - like with Iron Man - the Marvel movies are able to give me the version of the character that I've been craving.

5. Jane Got a Gun



As I'm writing this, I'm planning to see Jane Got a Gun tonight. I'm a fan of Natalie Portman and an even bigger fan of Westerns. This is part of some other plans to watch more Westerns in general. More on that later.

4. Moana



A young woman and a demi-god played by the Rock search for a fabled South Seas island. Hollywood is getting my letters!

3. Hail, Caesar!



I'm always interested in the Coen Brothers, but the films that I most adore from them are the ones like Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? where humor is a major focus. It's been a while since we had one of those and I can't wait for this one.

2. Star Trek Beyond



Justin Lin rescued the Fast and the Furious series and I have complete faith that he can do the same for Star Trek. Not that Star Trek really needs rescuing. It just needs to recover from Into Darkness which was a horrible misstep, but not a complete disaster. Even that had its moments and the new series has some great DNA that worked super well in 2009. It just needs someone like Lin (a confessed Trek fan who just so happens knows how to make exciting movies) to help it take its next step.

1. Rogue One



I'm not as pumped about this as I was about Force Awakens, but I'm still pretty excited. I don't care as much about the filling in of continuity holes as I do about a diverse cast of rogues trying to avoid Imperials while pulling off a heist. Sounds totally fun and a I'm hoping it proves that there are many kinds of great stories that can be told in the Star Wars universe.

2015

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Manly Wade Wellman's "Lee Granger, Jungle King" [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Manly Wade Wellman has many feathers in his cap: famous Weird Tales writer, a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Edgar Award for True Crime, a Pulitzer prize nomination for non-fiction, and the notoriety of appearing in court during the famous Fawcett vs. DC trial of 1948 (which Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood parodied in "Superduperman" in the fourth issue of Mad Magazine, April-May 1953.) Manly spoke from the stand of how his editors had encouraged him to steal freely from Superman for their comic, Captain Marvel Adventures. It was a strange place to end up. But where did it all begin?

Manly Wade Wellman decided to try writing comics after his friend and fellow Weird Tales author, Frank Belknap Long, had ventured into the world of "squinkies" as Manly called them. By March 1941, Manly would be writing the very first Captain Marvel tale "Captain Marvel vs. Z" in Captain Marvel Adventures #1. But before that he sharpened his pen on a few other comics including "Lee Granger, Jungle King" for Slam-Bang Comics (March-September 1940).

Slam-Bang was a Fawcett title that ran for only seven issues, but Manly and Granger appeared in them all. Beginning with issue #1, Lee Granger got the last nine to ten pages of each issue. The scientist-explorer sets out on a mission to fly over a part of unknown Africa. His plane is sabotaged by Arabs who are conducting illegal slaving in the unmapped territory. Granger saves himself when his plane explodes by using his loose clothing like a parachute. He is discovered by pygmies and accidentally wounds their chief with a poisoned spear. Granger saves the man's life and becomes friend to the entire tribe. As the pygmies' leading light, he teaches them science, helps them build a brick town, and even captures a lion and alters its brain. This is Eric, the talking lion, who is Granger's best sidekick.

In later episodes Granger defeats the invading Arabs, a race of flying demons called the Djinns, helps scientists who struggle to find the lost ruins of the Gelka (guarded by savages and gorillas), and fights the usual greedy white hunters bound to steal Eric away. He also encounters the queen of the giant ants, a woman raised by insects. The longer, ten-page format allowed Wellman to expand his story where many jungle characters had to make due with only five pages. The art was most likely drawn by Jack Binder in his usual serviceable but crude style.

Granger meets many beautiful woman, from rich debutantes to scientist's daughters, but they always leave, asking if they might meet again. The best of these was Kate Bond, who enters the hive of the ants, carrying a gun, which she is not reluctant to use on the queen herself. You have to remember these are pre-Code comics! Beautiful and deadly, she might have made a queen to Lee's king if the comic had continued.

What strikes me most about this strip is first off that Lee Granger is not a Tarzan wannabe. Only once does he use vines to swing down on foes. Usually he uses his superior understanding of science, making him more of a jungle Doc Savage than a Lord Greystoke. Secondly, Wellman's scenarios are usually not too typical of jungle stories, having a more fantastic element to them. I especially liked Issue #3 that has the feel of Robert E Howard's "Almuric" to it, with winged foes and sword fights (both that story and issue #3 appeared in May 1939 so it might have been Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pirates of Venus (Argosy, October 2, 1931) or Howard's "Wings in the Night" (Weird Tales, July 1932) that inspired him just as easily.

The source for the giant ants could have come from any number of pulps (which Manly knew, for he was in them) such as "The Master Ants" by Francis Flagg (Amazing Stories, May 1928), "The World of the Giant Ants" (Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1928) by A Hyatt Verrill, or "The War of the Great Ants" by Jim Vanny (Wonder Stories, July 1930). And of course, the jungle ant classic, "Leiningen Versus the Ants" by Carl Stephenson (Esquire, December 1938).

Wherever Manly got his ideas, they were better than most of the jungle crowd. Only once does he stoop to overt racism in the strip, when he claims he must save the scientists because they are white. Such narrow-mindedness seems odd from the man who flew in the face of convention with his debut "When Planets Clashed" and wrote of space war from both sides of the conflict. His work as a whole speaks of a love for all humankind. It was this deep compassion that made stories like "Song of the Slaves" (Weird Tales, March/April 1940) memorable, or his work on the Civil War worthy of Pulitzer consideration. And it was this sense of honor that directed Manly to tell the truth on the stand in 1948. Manly was always, first and foremost, a gentleman.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Top 10 Movies from 2015

1. The Force Awakens



I feel like I've talked enough about my feelings for Force Awakens. My initial reaction was on Starmageddon, with a deeper dive on Nerd Lunch, and then some follow-up thoughts on Starmageddon again. The short version though is that no, the movie isn't perfect. Yes, there are flaws. None of which matter to me when I'm watching it. I just love these characters too much. Exactly how I feel about the original movie, by the way, and Force Awakens is easily in my Top Two films of the series.

2. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation



I loved Ghost Protocol, but Mission: Impossible III was the one to beat for me and I think Rogue Nation did it. Sean Harris isn't as scary a villain as Philip Seymour Hoffman was, but he's still terrifying and extremely watchable (unlike Michael Nyqvist's relatively generic bad guy in Ghost Protocol).

And as much as I love Keri Russell, Rebecca Ferguson's character is way better and I want a whole series of Ilsa Faust movies, please. Plus Alec Baldwin in a great role, plus an extended role for Simon Pegg, plus some amazing action and stunts. The Mission: Impossible movies are making better Bond Movies than the Bond movies lately.

3. Inside Out



Pixar has been so uninspiring the last few years that I wasn't at all convinced that a Herman's Head remake was going to be anything I wanted to see. But then reviews rolled in and the word "masterpiece" was used a lot, so I got my hopes up and checked it out. "Masterpiece" is an accurate word. Inside Out is touching and profound and measurably makes life better for its existence. It's the best movie I saw in 2015.

The only reason it's not at the Number One spot on this list is that it's not tapping into childhood nostalgia the way the first two are. I mentioned in an earlier post that these are listed in order of my enjoyment of them, not in terms of objective quality. Not that quality is all that objective anyway, but just thinking along those lines would have made this a different list. My head values what movies like Inside Out and Black Sea are accomplishing from scratch, but Force Awakens and Rogue Nation make my heart soar. This list is about my heart.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road



This was a lot of people's Movie of the Year and it's the one I'm rooting hardest for in the Best Picture Oscar category. I have not a single negative thing to say about it. It's awesome and beautiful and I love that it exists. But as much as I love Imperator Furiosa, I love Rey, Faust, and Riley's feelings more.

5. The Man from UNCLE



I'm still a fan of Guy Ritchie, including RocknRolla and the Sherlock Holmes movies, so I was very much looking forward to The Man from UNCLE. And I wasn't disappointed. It's got all of his style used in wonderful service to '60s spy movies. It's a gorgeous film, too. Every shot of Henry Cavill looks like a GQ ad come to life. And his delivery is as awesomely square-jawed as his face.

I didn't buy some of the initial attempts to build relationships between the characters, but once those were established I loved watching the team interact. It's a pleasant change to watch a spy movie that's more about rhythm, relationships, and revelations than stunts and set pieces. Not that there's anything wrong with stunts and set pieces, but not every movie has to be focused on that.

The soundtrack is also amazing. I don't buy many soundtracks anymore, but I got that one.

6. Mr. Holmes



A wonderful character piece with an even more wonderful performance. If I have one criticism, it's that the mystery story isn't as strong as I want it to be, but it's really not about the mystery story. It's about the kind of man you might expect Sherlock Holmes would become, and whether or not that's someone he wants to be. Lovely movie.

7. Avengers: Age of Ultron



This gets rated way higher than Ant-Man, because it is the wham-pow epic of a movie that I want Marvel films to be now. But it's not as solid as the first Avengers, probably because it's just trying to do so much that it can't do everything well. I have no problem with Black Widow and Bruce Banner's becoming romantically involved in concept; it's just that the movie doesn't do a good job of selling them as a couple. Seeing Hawkeye's family is very sweet and I loved it, but it doesn't really add anything to this story. I'd rather have that Thor stuff added back in, because it does bear on the plot.

But I liked it so much more than I didn't. There are some super fun moments (that party!) and I love that it takes the time to show our heroes being heroes.

8. Jurassic World



I think the only Jurassic Park movie that I truly don't care for is the second one. And even then, it's been so long since I've seen it that I only have the fuzziest recollection of what I didn't care for. Something about the T-Rex's city adventure not being as awesome as it could've been. Maybe I'd like it more now. Or maybe I'd remember other things I don't like. My point is that I'm a pretty easy mark for these things.

If there's something I like better than dinosaurs, it's theme parks. Well, mostly Disney World, but there are other good ones. I even have a weird thing I do when I visit zoos and Japanese gardens where I think about how I'd design them differently. There should be a concession stand there, a tram that runs along here; that kind of thing. So to see a Jurassic Park movie with a fully functioning theme park was exactly what I wanted. Not because I loved all the attractions they came up with - I didn't - but because I love thinking about how I'd improve them. It taps into a specific kind of nerdom that lights me up.

Add to that Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, both of whom I love for different reasons, and let Pratt lead a pack of raptors from his motorcycle... I agree that the gender politics of Jurassic World aren't good and I agree that the death of Claire's assistant goes on way too long. I don't like either of those things. But between some favorite actors, theme park nerdery, and giant lizards, there's way more about it that I love.

9. Crimson Peak



Excellent gothic romance. A bit more graphic than I'm used to from the genre, but it works. And I suppose there's precedence if you take the Hammer films into consideration. Easily my favorite Del Toro film so far and I expect to find even more to like about it when I watch it again.

I took along Diane and David for this one. Diane's not into horror and David's skittish about some kinds of scary movies, but they both loved it. Looking forward now to seeing if David will also enjoy stuff like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Northanger Abbey.

10. Ex Machina



Smart, fascinating movie about a guy who's brought in by a reclusive tech genius to test a new AI system. At least, that's what it appears to be about. The film quickly raises questions about who's actually being tested and why.

It's not a twisty-turny movie in the sense that it's trying to "getcha." It's very clear from the start that something is up. But it rewards keeping an open mind and not trying to outsmart it. It played with my perception of what the movie is even about, so that by the end I was watching a different movie from the one I started. I'm eager to watch it again from this new perspective. Betting I like it even more.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

10 Movies from 2015 That I Liked a Lot

11. Creed



Fantastic. Hard to see the final fight through my tears, though.

Actually, I could say that about most of the Rocky movies anymore. Something about where I am in my life right now helps these movies hit me hard. Exceptions are III and IV; not that I don't love III, but it's not as emotional for me as the others. I rewatched all the numbered ones and finally saw Rocky Balboa for the first time shortly before watching Creed and loved the whole experience, but I wonder if I wouldn't have liked Creed even more if I didn't have all the others in such close proximity to compare it to. Especially Rocky Balboa which was pretty much perfect and a bigger surprise.

Still, wonderful movie.

12. The Martian



I have a knee-jerk, negative response to survival films, mostly because I dread spending two hours with just one character. I know that that's almost never the actual case in these movies, but it's a Pavlovian reaction by this point. Many reviews told me that The Martian spends a lot of time with the people who are trying to rescue Matt Damon, but I still had to push myself into the theater. And of course I'm glad I did.

Damon's character faces his problems with intelligence and humor. That's true of all the characters, really, so the whole movie is refreshingly positive and inspirational. It's the movie that Tomorrowland was trying so hard to be. The drawback is that its lightness dilutes the tension and suspense somewhat, but The Martian is inspirational science fiction first and survival thriller second. It totally succeeds at that primary purpose.

13. Trainwreck



A drawback to seeing this later than a lot of people is that it couldn't possibly live up to the hype I was hearing. It's a funny movie and I cared about the characters, but I wanted to be laughing harder than I was, not just chuckling quietly. A very good romantic comedy, but not one I'll be revisiting a lot.

14. Ant-Man



Another very good superhero movie from Marvel. I love that it has its own tone and stands apart from the other Marvel films, while totally fitting in with them at the same time. I had a lot of fun with it, but the bar on Marvel movies has been raised so high at this point that I'm sort of disappointed if I'm not losing my mind over how awesome they are. Not fair, but that's where I am.

15. SPECTRE



As huge a Bond fan as I am, I was frankly unexcited to see SPECTRE. The trailers emphasized themes that have been thoroughly explored in the previous three Bond films: distrust, Bond's going rogue, etc. And the lackluster theme song did nothing to draw me to the theater on opening night. That said, once I saw it, I immediately went back the following night.

The first time, I spent the movie trying to figure out the plot. It felt lighter in tone than the trailers suggested, but was that a decoy? How much could I trust Madeleine Swann? Was Christoph Waltz playing Blofeld or not? I ended up being satisfied with the answers to those questions and looking forward to seeing the movie again the next day.

And I liked it even better the second time. Knowing what to expect plot- and tone-wise, I was able to focus on the themes and characters. I love what it says about Bond and how he's grown since Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. His final confrontation with Waltz' character - the self-styled "author of all your pain" - is remarkable and wonderful. Waltz wants to be so consumingly important in Bond's life, but Bond's not having it. I love that he's matured to that point, even though I absolutely dread the potential repercussions in the next movie.

The reason it's not higher on my list is that not only is it nowhere near my favorite Bond movie, it's not even the best spy movie I saw this year. If you're interested in more detailed thoughts about it, I wrote those up, too.

16. Pitch Perfect 2



Might even like it better than the first one. The humor is still uneven and I really don't care for the way it resets the group's success to zero so that they can repeat their climb to the top again, but the addition of Hailee Steinfeld, Keegan-Michael Key, and for the love of God: Das Sound Machine...

Look, sometimes a sequel just needs to do what the first one did and do it a bigger. I don't say that often, because it doesn't work that often, but it sure works in this case.

17. What We Do in the Shadows



My expectations were too high. The concept is hilarious and the trailer had me rolling, but the movie never made me fall out of my chair in laughter and - fair or not - that's what I thought I was going to get. Still, super funny and highly recommended. Looking forward to the just announced sequel: We're Wolves.

18. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials



Don't know if the Maze Runner movies are getting lost in the mass of other YA dystopia adaptations or if I'm just reading the wrong film coverage. It feels like no one's talking about these, though, and that's a shame. They're solid adventure stories with interesting characters who have complex motivations and are played by appealing actors. Ready for the next one.

19. Spy



Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy do it again. This time, they made a great spy spoof that also became one of my favorite Jason Statham movies. What keeps it from being higher on the list is the amount of time it spends on McCarthy in sad, cat lady disguises. It does that so that she can break free of them and be awesome - and once she does, it's great and I love it whole-heartedly - but I had to get through that stuff to get to the great stuff, so that keeps me from loving it.

It also doesn't help that all the US marketing for the movie focused on cat lady. I had to go to Korea to find a poster of McCarthy looking cool. It makes me very sad that US marketers didn't think anyone wanted to see that.

20. Black Sea



An excellent, undersea heist thriller. Not nearly as much about the tension between the English and Russian halves of the team that the trailer would have you believe, but that stuff is certainly in there. My issue with it has nothing to do with the movie itself and everything to do with what I wanted it to be. The thriller stuff is totally in there and it's very good, but ultimately the movie is more interested in the emotional journey of Jude Law's character and that takes the story in a specific direction I was sorry to see it go. If this list were about objective quality and not about my personal reactions, Black Sea would be in a different spot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

This month was JanuMAYry at Nerd Lunch



I used the term "embarrassment of riches" at some point this month to describe my experience podcasting four weeks in a row with the Nerd Lunch crew, and that's pretty accurate. I love those guys and Kay and one of the many highlights of 2015 for me was getting to talk our way through the Star Wars movies. So starting off 2016 by joining the show four weeks in a row for various topics was indeed a rich blessing. I'm a little sheepish about taking up time that other guests could have been on, but regret nothing. That was crazy fun.

We wrapped up the Star Wars discussion (for now) with Pax, Kay, and I discussing the Star Wars EU books and comics and then the whole panel convening to cover The Force Awakens. But I'd also wondered out loud about the possibility of being on this year's Nerdstradamus episode, because I love annual predictions episodes (Pop Culture Happy Hour does that too, for example). And Jeeg was awesome and made that happen. As schedules would have it, that fell right after the Force Awakens episode, so the fellas decided to just go for it and have me on all month. Today, the final episode of the tetralogy dropped, in which I join CT, Pax, and one of my favorite Nerd Lunch guests, William Bruce West to talk about Undeserving TV Revivals.

I interpreted "undeserving" to indicate a lack of clamoring from the current public, but my pick was a show that was super popular in its day and I'd love to see it come back. CT went sort of that same route, while Pax and William went with shows that weren't all that loved even in their heyday. I'll leave it for you to discover in the episode what our choices were.

You can hear all four of the recent episodes in the links above or embedded below. Or on iTunes or wherever else you like to listen to podcasts.







Monday, January 25, 2016

Tweenies of Venus: The Early Asimov [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Isaac Asimov never made any secret about the fact that he was not an instant success. Where Robert A Heinlein and AE van Vogt exploded into science fiction fully formed, Ike had to crawl his way slowly through an apprenticeship that included dozens of stories. The Good Doctor collected these initial tales in a book called The Early Asimov (subtitled Or Eleven Years of Trying) (1972).

The Early Asimov, despite containing none of his best work, is a fascinating read for he chronicles his first experiences as a writer, especially those with editor John W Campbell, to whom he dedicated the book. Amongst these early pieces, Ike also tells of stories he wrote and threw away. At least a dozen of them, enough to make any completist cry. If they still existed, we could have published a second book, something like The Worst of Isaac Asimov.

Amongst the stories that didn't disappear, is an Astounding reject called "Half-Breed," which Asimov sold to new editor (and former agent), Fredrick Pohl. The magazine was called Astonishing Tales and because of its low pay it received stories rejected by Astounding and Amazing, including such charming pieces as Manly Wade Wellman's "Elephant Earth" and Asimov's now classic robot story, "Robbie."

"Half-Breed" was a number of firsts for Asimov. The Astonishing Stories February 1940 issue was the first time Asimov had his name on the cover of an SF magazine. The story was 9000 words long, so it appeared as "a novelette," also a first for the Good Doctor. Best of all, the story was popular enough that Pohl asked him to write a sequel, something he had not done up to that point, though he would in the future with his Foundation series. "Half-Breeds of Venus" appeared in Astonishing Stories December 1940 and was another first. The cover art for the issue featured Asimov's story, not just an author mention. He'd "made the cover," a big deal back in those pulp days.

The plot of "Half-Breed" has frustrated scientist Jefferson Scanlon rescuing a "Tweenie" boy named Max. Tweenies are half breeds of human and Martian blood. Their appearance is striking: "...There was no mistaking that brush of wiry, dead-white hair that rose stiffly in all directions like porcupine-quills. (The story's illustrator, Eron, makes sure to include this impressive feature.) Scanlon adopts the boy, who helps him discover nuclear power and make him an important and rich man. As Max gets older, Scanlon seeks a bride for his adopted son, taking on Madeline and her two younger sisters as wards. Scanlon and the Tweenies become progressive in politics, creating Tweenietown. When government men begin to realize that Tweenies are superior to purebred humans or Martians, trouble lies ahead. Fortunately, Max and the other Tweenies have been secretly building three spaceships, which they use to head for the frontier planet of Venus. Max wants Scanlon to join them but he refuses, staying behind. The story ends with Jefferson Scanlon standing in the deserted Tweenietown, knowing he has furthered a race that will one day conquer the entire Solar System.

The sequel, "The Half-Breeds of Venus" continues the story of the fugitive Tweenies. Their ships make it to Venus and they begin an underground complex to live in. Max Scanlon hands the reins over to his son Arthur, while his younger son, Henry has a blossoming romance with Irene. The Tweenies discover a race of telepathic lizards in the lake nearby. These creatures, that they dub "Phibs," are peaceful allies to the Tweenies. Before the new base or a force field device can be perfected human settlers show up in valley and the Tweenies discuss their options. They could wipe out the humans or hide from them. Max knows that if the humans are attacked retaliatory forces from Earth would follow and the Tweenies would suffer. They choose to hide. Henry and Irene sneak out and approach the Phibs with their plight. The Phibs agree to go to the jungles with the Tweenies to corral three Venusian dinosaurs. After a harrying trip back, the dinosaurs are let loose in the human village, but only after the inhabitants have had time to flee. The plan has worked and the Tweenies and Phibs can go on being friends without human interference.

The second story lacks the power of the first. Asimov writes more action and romance than he usually does, but he is no Edmond Hamilton. There are some dialogue sequences that are embarrassingly bad. Asimov apologizes for the scientific impossibilities in these early stories, but there are other writing offenses that make you cringe more. He wisely leaves his Tweenies to their destiny and moves on.

Story elements aside, there is one interesting feature about these stories: the use of the word "Tweenie." Asimov's "Tweenie" is similar to "Tween" or "Tweener," used to describe children 10 to 13. Both words are derived from the word "between." Tween also rhymes with Teen, making it more attractive than "preteen." In Asimov's case, the Tweenies are between human and Martian. The expression Tween doesn't really become prominent until the 1990s, a good fifty years after Asimov. Like the words "robotics" (which Asimov coined), "astronaut" (Neil R Jones), "terraforming"(Jack Williamson) and "alien" (as an extraterrestrial) (Otto Binder), science fiction was there first.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Friday, January 22, 2016

10 Movies from 2015 That I Could Take or Leave

21. Aloha



There's a lot of pressure on Cameron Crowe to make great films and this is not a great film. It's reaching for something that it can't get hold of. But what it does manage to grasp, it does really well. It's a great-looking movie with characters I liked a lot and some intriguing moral dilemmas.

22. Furious 7



I'm a big fan of these of movies and that hasn't changed with this one. Still has lots of what I love about this series: tough people, awesome stunts, and a ton of heart. But the plot is thinner this time (and they're always pretty thin), so that and the bittersweetness around Paul Walker's death bring it down for me. It's an amazing technical achievement though in terms of stunts and filling in scenes that Walker hadn't been in. A solid entry in the series, but not one of the best.

23. Kingsman: The Secret Service



X-Men: First Class always makes me forget that Matthew Vaughn is also the director behind Kick-Ass. And everything that turns me off about Kick-Ass is a problem for me in Kingsman as well. I'd put all the blame on Mark Millar, but I like Wanted, so I think it's the combination of Millar and Vaughn. They're both thrilled/intrigued/whatever by hyper-violence and just being really super explicit. I'm not, so including that in an otherwise cool story about dapper spies is a big drawback for me.

24. Terminator: Genisys



I didn't even want to give this a chance. I'd written off the Terminator franchise as something I'm no longer interested in. I mean, I don't use the word "franchise" very often when I'm talking about a movie series. I much prefer to think in terms of continuing story, and "franchise" sounds so business-y. But that's exactly what the Terminator movies have become, with the rights-holders leasing out the property to anyone who wants to reboot it and try to make some more money.

David was really curious about this one though and it became an excuse to show him the first two. So we went and it was surprisingly watchable. I have many problems with the story and both Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney are boring, but Emilia Clarke is an awesome substitute for Linda Hamilton and Schwarzenegger is at the absolute top of his game. I loved both of their characters and the relationship between them.

25. The DUFF



The title is horrible and I was afraid that the movie would be, too. It's a lot of fun, actually, with a nice message about being comfortable in your own skin. Not quite on the level with Easy A, Ten Things I Hate About You, or the best John Hughes movies, but a solid high school comedy. I might even rank it higher after another viewing or two.

26. The Hateful Eight



Great idea. Killer cast. Pretty to look at. Fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. And I was intrigued by the building of the mystery.

But it could've been 45 minutes shorter without losing anything of the story. There's too much dialogue that I don't care about and too many long, sweeping shots of countryside. It's gorgeous countryside, but an hour into the movie, I was ready to get on with things. I was also disappointed in the solution to the mystery, but at least there's no room for boredom as that's unfolding.

I saw the shorter cut without the intermission and ironically, I think the longer version may have helped some of my issues. More specifically, having the intermission as a palate cleanser may have helped. Would like to try it that way and find out.

27. While We’re Young



I like the ideas in While We're Young. Transitioning into maturity is a weird process that deserves some exploration. Very few people actually feel mature. Instead, we think of ourselves as younger than we are, so it can be startling to confront the reality and challenging to ease into the mindset that growing older doesn't mean not having fun anymore.

All of that is cool and While We're Young touches on it, but then it gets distracted by a theme it's way more interested in: the importance of veracity in documentary film-making. Which is also thought-provoking, but not what I signed up for. Still, great cast and it was this movie that made me realize I'm an Adam Driver fan.

28. Jupiter Ascending



So ambitious and so cool. Doesn't deserve the John Carter-level derision it got (but then, neither did John Carter). Sadly, though it's fun, it's not great. As in, I totally would have paid money for sequels, but it's not that big a deal to me that there won't be any.

29. Focus



I suffer enough Will Smith Fatigue that I wasn't going to watch this one at all. The trailer made it seem very serious and all about whether untrustworthy people can trust each other, so yawn. But then I heard some positive reviews about how it's really just a fun heist movie and I'm always up for that. And it is a really fun heist movie. A mediocre one, but enjoyable and at least it's not dour.

30. Mortdecai



I thought this might be interesting to watch after re-visiting the Pink Panther movies this year. Johnny Depp's cartoon mode has grown tiresome in the last few years, but he's doing it less in Mortdecai (meaning that you can glimpse a human being under all those mannerisms) and his supporting cast (Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, and especially Paul Bettany) are doing great, comedic work. Jeff Goldblum has a fun role, too. All that plus an entertaining caper plot and the whole experience was much more than I hoped for.

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