Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy 50th

Today is my birthday and it's a big one. So to celebrate, here are 50 other things that turn 50 this year.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Introducing Southern Charm

My pal Jody Collins is from Knoxville, Tennessee and he wanted to start a podcast that takes a positive look at Southern culture. Since I'm a Southern transplant to Minnesota, he asked if I'd be into joining him for it, and of course I am.

The first episode is out and I think it's pretty great. We open and close with songs by Southern musicians, talk about our individual histories with the South, discuss the work of photographer Jack Spencer, and then Jody wraps up with his recipe for fried okra. If that sounds like your glass of tea, you should give it a listen.

Garden & Gun article on Jack Spencer

Spencer's book is This Land: An American Portrait

Intro Music: "What's She Found" by The V-Roys

Outro Music: "Devil's Teeth" by Muddy Magnolias

Monday, May 22, 2017

7 Days in May | Noir Vincent Price and Monster Summer Camp

The Web (1947)

I don't know if this is blasphemous, but I like Noir Vincent Price better than Horror Vincent Price. He's great in Laura, even better in His Kind of Woman, and now I have The Web to admire him in. There's a bunch of others that I haven't seen yet, so I'm making a list. If you have more to recommend, please do:

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Shock (1946)
The Long Night (1947)
Moss Rose (1947)
The Bribe (1949)
The Las Vegas Story (1952)
Dangerous Mission (1954)
While the City Sleeps (1956)

Price is delicious in The Web, but he's not the only one. This was my first Ella Raines movie and I'll be seeking out more of her stuff as well. It's a great thriller in which a naive lawyer (Edmond O'Brien) is suckered by a wealthy businessman (Price) into committing murder. That's a bit of a spoiler, but O'Brien figures it out quickly and most of the film focuses on how he's going to prove his innocence. William Bendix steals every scene he's in as the lead detective on the case. He reminds me of John Favreau in a really good way: serious, but kind of goofy and totally likeable.

Raines plays Price's secretary and I like the dilemma that she's in as she starts to trust O'Brien and distrust Price. O'Brien's character is horribly sexist - assuming, for starters, that she got her job simply because she's gorgeous - but the movie kind of steers into that by explaining that he's also really socially awkward. It doesn't excuse some of the things that come out of his mouth, but I like that it offers a reason for them beyond "1947."

Lethal Weapon (1987)

This has been on the list to show David for years, but it got bumped up a few months ago when we watched Silverado. David mostly knows Gibson from Braveheart, so there's a lot of catching up to do on that filmography.

I hadn't seen Lethal Weapon in decades, so I was pleased to see how much it holds up. I'd forgotten a couple of important plot twists, so the story kept me interested, but mostly it's about Gibson's performance as possibly-crazy Martin Riggs. There's some damn good acting in there. And of course his relationship with Glover's Roger Murtaugh, which provides much needed relief from the palpable grief surrounding Gibson's character.

Father of the Bride (1991)

I'm trying to remember why I finally pulled the trigger and bought this, but I'm glad I did. I think maybe we were talking about Martin Short or BD Wong and I realized that David needed to meet Franck Eggelhoffer and Howard Weinstein. Especially Howard Weinstein.

But even though theirs are the biggest performances in the movie, they're not the most important or best ones. I'd forgotten how much I love late-'80s-era Steve Martin (which this fits into more naturally than '90s-era Martin). He's right in the sweet spot between the desperate craziness of his early years and the melancholy of his later stuff. He's confident, he's physical... Watching this makes me want to revisit Roxanne and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles immediately.

And the rest of the cast is great, too. Diane Keaton doesn't have a ton to do, but she's exactly what the movie needs to balance out Martin's overreactions. And Kimberly Williams is lovely as someone torn between excitement about the next stage of life and fear of leaving the previous one behind. The movie focuses on Martin's character, but never forgets that there are other, real people making the journey with him.

Camp Midnight by Steven Seagle and Jason Katzenstein

I'm a big fan of Steven Seagle, monsters, and stories about summer camp. Camp Midnight helped me understand why I like the last two so much: they're both about outsiders and the struggle to fit in. Seagle and Katzenstein are insightful and entertaining about why that can be so hard.

Jam of the Week: "Don't Take the Money" by Bleachers

Sometimes you just need a big anthem that you can scream along to. Even better when it's a reminder to not sell out, but stick with your passions. Even more better when the video is funny.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mystery Movie Night | Point Blank (1967), The Phantom (1996), and The Village (2004)

Are you ready for controversy? In the latest episode of Mystery Movie Night, Dave, David, and I are joined by very special guest Jeff Somogyi (Nerd Lunch Presents Down the Rabbit Hole) to talk about some divisive movies. We question Lee Marvin's murder skills, M Night Shyamalan's storytelling skills, and Billy Zane's... pronunciation of "refuse?" Okay, we don't question much about Billy Zane, but there may be another element or two in The Phantom that make us wonder. Check out the great discussion and see if you can guess the secret connection between the movies before it's revealed.

00:02:19 - Review of Point Blank

00:34:54 - Review of The Phantom

01:03:20 - Review of The Village

01:47:00 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When Planets Clashed: War in Space [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Manly Wade Wellman continually surprises me. "When Planets Clashed," his writing debut back in Wonder Stories Quarterly Spring 1931 is no exception. I expected a juvenile effort, technically poor, but showing the spark that would flower in years to come, such as Robert E Howard's "Spear and Fang" in Weird Tales. Instead of some filler piece, "When Planets Clashed" is an interplanetary war tale with a difference. Yes, it has the elements Hugo Gernsback would expect in a story about Earth and Mars waging a war across space. But as Gernsback says in the story's intro:
Stories of Interplanetary warfare usually presuppose earthlings who are all heroes and enemies across space who are all villains. The supposition is also made that earth is fighting to defend its honor or its people from a predatory race from another world.
The idea of an interplanetary war certainly wasn't new in 1931. HG Wells started it off in 1898 with the War of the Worlds, in which the invaders were inhuman, squid-like beings. Future wars between humans go back even further to novellas like George Tomkyns Chesney's "The Battle of Dorking" (1871), where England is invaded by thinly disguised Germans, and even Hugo Gernsback's own classic publication of Philip Francis Nowlan's "Armageddon 2419" that featured the Asiatic Hans who conquer America. Gernsback's competitor, the Clayton Astounding, presented numerous examples of stories in this fashion, with brave Americans beating evil invaders. So Wellman is writing within an SF tradition, but it is what he does within that tradition that is surprising.

Despite Gernsback's applause that the story is different, much of it is not. He claims that the hero is not so heroic. This is untrue. Jack Stillwell, our earthling who loves Mars and in particular the Martian girl Yann, promises her he will fight for his side with honor. This involves him going single-handed to the moon to locate a secret base of Martian raiders. Once he finds it, he decides it is too big for a fleet of earth ships to destroy, so he sneaks inside as a saboteur. Fortunately, he runs into Yann's brother Nalo and the Martian naively allows him to have run of the ship. Betraying his friend, he blows up the super-ship, killing Nalo in the process. Torn with feelings of guilt, he still joins the Earth fleet that engages the superior Martian armada and wins. This part of the story is filled with radio-controlled bombs and destructor rays little different than Raymond Z Gallun's "The Crystal Ray" or even John W Campbell's "The Ultimate Weapon" five years later. The middle part of this tale is well-written, but nothing new.

It is the beginning and ending of the story that make it stand out. In the beginning we see Jack torn between his loyalty to Mars and Earth. He leaves Yann with the promise that he will return to her after the war is over. And he does, but carrying a terrible weight. He has caused the death of Yann's brother and indirectly her father as well, who died in the space fleet battle. Yann says, "How sad that the war was needed to assure one world of the humanity of the other..." No glory for Stillwell the war hero. His pain is so great that he says he can not bear Yann's touch and must go away and never see her again. She changes his mind by saying she has lost her brother and father; must she lose Jack too? He relents and says he will take her to Earth, which he describes as so beautiful. Yann accepts his invitation but you can sense she is also losing the planet Mars. The finale is so atypical of pulp science fiction that I am surprised the story lies largely forgotten; unanthologized. I can only surmise it was the occurrence of World War II that made this tale fade away. The philosophy behind it -  the acknowledgement of propaganda and its role in the war - would become unpopular after the Depression was over. From Gernsback's introduction again:
This psychology is not at all new. It is the favorite in our wars on earth, and the propaganda each nation pit out in 1914-18 in the form of books, lectures and motion pictures showed it as a just, peaceable nation defending only its right to existence.
With the perspective of nearly fifteen years behind us, we are able to realize that seldom is any nation solely a villain and another solely a hero. Wars, we have learned, are the work of professional war makers, and are fought by men who kill those they might be friendly with, were they permitted to be. The present story is splendid for the picturization of an interplanetary war, that shows both sides of the picture.
Such a debut should have been noted by historians. (EF Bleiler, in SF: The Gernsback Years, found Nalo's behavior unconvincing, for he would have certainly had Jack arrested as a spy.) Wellman remains largely known for his last works about occult detectives in the fantasy genre and much of his SF work has not been appreciated fully. He would get to return to the interplanetary war theme toward the end of his career in Sherlock Holmes and the War of the Worlds (1975), which he wrote with his son Wade Wellman. And again in The Beyonders (1977) he would show how an alien invasion affects a small, rural town, an approach M. Night Shyamalan would use in Signs, twenty-five years later.

One of the reasons that Wellman could write such a story as “When Planets Clashed” was his unusual upbringing. He began life, not in America - world of hot dogs and baseball - but in Uganda, the child of missionary parents. Manly’s first companions were very unlike himself, allowing him to see the universality in different cultures rather than the differences. It is this perspective that does not allow him to paint the Martians as villains. Wellman would rely on this sensitivity again in his numerous historical works, especially those with Native American people such as The Last Mammoth (1953).

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 He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Monday, May 15, 2017

7 Days in May | Attack the Block and Man-Thing

Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block has been on the rewatch pile for a while now. I love the movie, but David had never seen it and I knew he'd dig it, 'cause John Boyega and aliens. What's so remarkable about it to me is the way that it introduces Boyega and his friends as completely unsympathetic thugs, but gradually redeems them so that they're heroes at the end. That's a really hard job and the movie does it masterfully.

And that alien design is the best.

Dick Tracy's Dilemma (1947)

I've checked out some old Dick Tracy before and didn't especially enjoy it, but Dilemma is a treat. There's no real mystery to it, because the crime is presented onscreen and the movie's just about watching Tracy and Friends try to piece things together, but Jack Lambert is terrifying as The Claw, a low level thug who's just a little more crazy and ruthless than everyone else. There are some terrific, suspenseful moments throughout, so the movie's worth tracking down.

Zorro (1957-61)

Zorro is still in Monterey for some reason, but my interest is renewed by the introduction of Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man) as a recurring foil for Don Diego. The two characters are old rivals and things get complicated when Señorita Verdugo (from earlier in the season) returns and both men like her.

I'm not usually crazy about these kinds of romance triangles where two people both like the third and the object of their affection refuses to make a choice. But it works in this case, because I feel like Verdugo actually has made a choice, but one of the men isn't paying attention. We'll see though. This storyline is still in progress and I don't know how it's going to turn out.

Whatever the case, Anderson adds a lot of fun to the cast. He'll eventually wear out his welcome, I suspect, because this plot can't go too much longer, but for now I'm enjoying him.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-93)

Watched a couple of episodes packaged together as The Phantom Train of Doom. Indy and his pal Remy have been transferred to Africa to fight Germans there, but have trouble joining their regiment and instead get pulled into a mission with some elderly, but feisty soldiers who are trying to track down a mysterious train with a giant cannon that's been troubling the Allies.

The story is light on education; it doesn't even go into why the war has spilled into Africa. But that may be why it's more exciting than most of the Young Indy series. It's not full-on pulp, but it gets closer than the series has so far.

Underground (2016-present)

We finished Season Two just in time to watch the finale live. It's not as strong an ending as the first season, which leaned more towards satisfying conclusions than teases for next year. This one is mostly teases. But they're good teases and I'm still very much hooked. Looking forward to watching live next season.

Zorro: The Complete Pulp Adventures, Vol. 1 by Johnston McCulley

Most of this collection is made up of The Curse of Capistrano, the original Zorro novel that I've already talked about. But there are two other Zorro stories by Johnston McCulley in it, so I read those, too. And I'm probably done with McCulley's Zorro stories. At least for a while.

The problem is that they're influenced by the Douglas Fairbanks movie. I love the movie, but it bugs me to see original versions of things I love transform themselves to be more like film versions. Like when Ian Fleming retroactively made James Bond a Scot so that he'd be closer to Sean Connery. Or changes in the looks of Marvel superheroes. It destroys the illusion that the story I'm reading is about real characters in a real place and I'm reminded that they're just "properties" (a term that - along with "franchise" - I try to avoid as much as possible when talking about characters and series).

The biggest change from Capistrano to the short stories that followed it is about Zorro's secret identity. Capistrano ends with the threat defeated and Don Diego's revealing that he was Zorro all along. We can't have that in continuing adventures, so "Zorro Saves a Friend" hits the reset button. I tried to make that story work as a prequel to Capistrano and was somewhat successful, but the other story in the collection, "Zorro Hunts a Jackal," makes it impossible. "Jackal" continues using characters from "Friend," but there's no way that it can take place before Capistrano.

McCulley also plays loose with Zorro's support system. In Capistrano, Zorro's servant Bernardo was deaf as well as mute, but that was changed in the Fairbanks movie so that Bernardo was mute only. McCulley copied that in the subsequent short stories, but I'm not sure what his reason is. Bernardo barely appears in Capistrano and - unlike the movie version - doesn't help Zorro at all. And even though he's able to hear in "Friend" and "Jackal," Bernardo still doesn't provide any assistance. For that, McCulley has created a whole new character, José of the Cocopahs, who's able to hear and speak. And frankly, he speaks too much, because he blabs Zorro's identity to several people. They're all trustworthy, it turns out, but it feels like half of LA knows who Zorro is in the short stories.

There are also a couple of essays in the collection and they're worth mentioning: Sandra R Curtis opens the book with a comparison of Zorro's California to the historical one; then Ed Hulse wraps things up with the story of how Curse of Capistrano was adapted for the cinema.

The Man-Thing by Steve Gerber: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

"Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch!" The specificity of that strange super power has intrigued me for years, so when it came up again when I was reading Master of Kung Fu, I decided I needed to finally read some Man-Thing and figure out what that's all about.

I've been thinking a lot about fear as a motivation lately, especially during the last election, in which both major candidates used it as the basis of their campaigns. I wondered if Man-Thing had anything interesting to add. Why is this mindless swamp creature so opposed to fear? Is Man-Thing symbolic of something else that battles fear? If so, what? And what does burning have to do with it?

Sadly, if there's deeper meaning in these comics, I'm missing it. Like most serialized adventures that are passed from writer to writer (and that's the case here, even though Steve Gerber's name is in the title and he wrote most of the stories in the collection), ideas get introduced then dropped or changed as the story evolves.

Man-Thing started in a standalone story in Marvel's black-and-white anthology magazine, Strange Tales, where writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas gave the monster the ability to burn people with his touch. It's not explicitly connected to fear, though. Thomas kept the story going in a two-part adventure in Astonishing Tales, where Ka-Zar connects the Man-Thing's burning power with the emotion of fear, but it's still not explained why.

When the character got his own, ongoing feature in Adventure into Fear, Conway was back writing and added to the fear/burning connection the explanation that fear is an emotion that Man-Thing hates. When Gerber took over in the next issue, he just continued what Conway and Thomas had started, eventually adding the famous catch-phrase.

So I was disappointed in the lack of any deeper meaning to the connection between fear, burning, and this awesome-looking swamp creature. As far as I can tell, it wasn't the result of a creator's philosophy, but just random connections that developed over time.

And I was also disappointed at the willy-nilly plots that Gerber ended up laying over the character. It reads like Gerber was never sure what to do with Man-Thing. There are stories with social commentary about race and environmentalism and capitalism, but they're interspersed with goofy high fantasy and Tales from the Crypt-style horror. Some of these work really well, but some - especially the fantasy stuff - really don't.

The art is pretty great throughout the collection, though. Gray Morrow, John Buscema, and Mike Ploog are special favorites of mine, but there's also good stuff by Rich Buckler, Val Mayerik, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, and Vicente Alcazar.

Jam of the Week: "Woman in Chains" by Tears for Fears, featuring Oleta Adams 

We saw Tears for Fears live last week, so that's still what I've been listening to. It's amazing to me how relevant "Shout" still is, with its call for people to speak out loudly about the things that upset them. And it's equally amazing - and heart-breaking - how relevant "Woman in Chains" still is as well.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Greystoked and Down the Rabbit Hole

On the most recent Greystoked, Noel and I review the stories that influenced and were influenced by Tarzan up through 1929. Starting with Gilgamesh and ending with Tarzan the Tiger, we talk about Tarzan books, comics, and theater as well as connections to H Rider Haggard, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mickey Mouse.

Opening music from "Wild Cat" by Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti

Closing music from "Diga Diga Doo" by Duke Ellington

That's not the only podcast I was on this week, though. I also got to sit in on Nerd Lunch Presents Down the Rabbit Hole, an always entertaining exploration of various wikis. On this episode, I sat in for Pax and the guest was Dr. Andrea Letamendi from the Arkham Sessions podcast. In honor of the coming Wonder Woman movie, we dug into the DC Comics Database to see if we could get from Mr Mxyzptlk to both Arkham Asylum and Primal Force's Leyman.


Related Posts with Thumbnails