Friday, March 24, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mystery Movie Night!

The Mystery Movie Night podcast turned one year old last month! So did Hellbent for Letterbox, but we'll talk about that later. Here are the last few episodes, in case you missed them:

Episode 11: Thing from Another World (1951), Shoot to Kill (1988), and X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)



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Dave, David, Erik, and I covered the Howard Hawks science fiction classic The Thing from Another World (1951), the Sidney Poitier/Tom Berenger thriller Shoot to Kill (1988). and the much maligned second X-Files movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008). And since it was the first episode of 2017, we also talked about our most anticipated movies for the year.




Episode 12: Ghostbusters (1984), King Kong (2005), and The Lego Movie (2014)



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David, Dave, Erik, and I talk about the original Ghostbusters flick, Peter Jackson's King Kong remake, and the surprise hit of 2014: The Lego Movie. We loved one of them and were evenly divided on the other two. Also with this episode: I finally got smart and started including time stamps in case you're only interested in specific reviews.

Ghostbusters discussion starts at 00:02:00

King Kong discussion starts at 00:31:00

The Lego Movie discussion starts at 01:02:30



Episode 13: Muscle Beach Party (1964), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), and X-Men 2 (2003)



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Dave, David, Erik, and I are back for another Burt Reynolds car chase movie, teenage beach shenanigans, and the death of Jean Grey. What did we think? What's the secret that connects them all? Tune in to find out!

00:01:12 - Review of Muscle Beach Party (1964)

00:21:29 - Review of Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

00:41:18 - Review of X-Men 2 (2003)

01:15:12 - Guessing the connection

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Cowboy, a Space Captain, a Private Investigator, and a Barbarian Walk Into a Bar... [Guest Post]



By GW Thomas

That could be the beginnings of a really lame joke, but it's something more. All four of these characters, these separate genre icons, share something in common. They are all cut from the same bolt of cloth... the American hero.

The Cowboy grew out of the nostalgia for a Wild West that never really existed outside the imagination of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show. You can see the beginnings of him in the fiction of James Fenimore Cooper (1820-1850s), but it is Owen Wister who gets credit for the first official Western novel, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902). After him come all the rest, from Zane Grey to Louis L'Amour, along with his near cousin, the Northern hero: Mounties to gold-miners in the fiction of writers like Jack London or Rex Beach. North or West, the trappings of the Western and Northern include the tough, solitary cowpoke who enforces his own stern code with a shooting iron or a hanging rope. Locales where you'll find him include the wilderness and smoky saloons.

The second of these true, American heroes is the hardy Space-faring Captain. Pinpointing an exact creator is a little harder, for science fiction heroes begin with John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs in February 1912 in "Under the Moons of Mars," acquiring all the fighting skill of the old romantic heroes, but then moving on to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Hawk Carse, Eric John Stark, and the list goes on and on... Best of all of them was CL Moore's Northwest Smith, who hung around the seedy bars of Mars with his pal, Yarol the Venusian. These tough spacers drank segir, slept with alien chicks, and could shoot or punch their way out of any situation. They lead the way to the final icon, Captain Kirk of Star Trek.

The Private Eye was invented by Carroll John Daly in "The False Burton Combs" in Black Mask (December 1922). Daly may have been first, but his work was expanded by Dashiell Hammett, who had actually been a Pinkerton agent, and later by Raymond Chandler, who elevated noir pulp fiction to the highest level. The central hero is, of course, a private detective, who knows the mean streets and follows his own code of justice. This doesn't always match that of the police, who are often as corrupt as the criminals. Mystery tales date back to at least Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murder in the Rue Morgue" (Graham's Magazine, April 1841), but was made hugely popular by British author Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes in The Strand. The Private Eye was America's response to the effete murders in the vicarages over tea that the British cozy mystery was at the turn of the century. None of that middle class snobbery for the PI. He is a creature of independence, often found drinking in an illegal speakeasy.

The barbarian hero of sword-and-sorcery is our last of the foursome. The author who created him was Robert E Howard, in January 1929 with "The Shadow Kingdom," starring King Kull. Kull, like his replacement, and by far, the quintessential icon of S&S, Conan the Cimmerian, was a rough, deadly warrior, who claws his way to kingship. The barbarian is skilled with weapons, a hater of sorcery and evil magic, and a hero, but on his own terms and for his own price, which is often taken in gold, booze, or sex. He marches to the beat of his own drum, whether in a desert, a jungle, a filthy city with its steamy dens of iniquity. Conan walks a dark path and no furry little hobbits need apply.

So why do all these heroes exist, and why America? All of these characters are products of pulp fiction, whether in the early days when they were called weeklies, or in the later, true pulps. Magazine fiction since the 1880s had been driving genre with specialized types of reading. In America, this looked a little different than elsewhere, for North America was a land of pioneers. The sedate, well-established, Oxford-educated type good guy was seen as suspiciously too civilized for a land such as the US. American heroes had to be tough, whether they were in the Yukon or the Arizona desert or in imaginary lands or the quickly growing cities with the new problems of gangsterism and corruption. Only a hard man could walk the line between right and wrong.

World War II and later the Cold War would turn these heroes into sadly dated characters; no longer in style. They could have died in the pages of the pulps that folded and blew away by 1955. But was that really the case? Look at paperback sales in the 1950s and 1960s, and there they are again: the cowboy (Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour sold millions), the PI (whether he was Mike Hammer, Shell Scott, or Mike Shayne), the space captain (he fell on hard times in print but made it on radio and the small screen), and the barbarian (who sold millions of purple-edged Lancer paperbacks with the help of Frank Frazetta).

These characters all became icons, part of our collective culture along with the jungle lord and lady, the avenging swordsman, the secret agent, and the superhero. Love them or hate them, they all serve the same function: a plot Christopher Booker calls "Overcoming the Monster." The hero takes on the the "Big Bad" and wins, whether that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Beowulf. These heroes tells us we are not small, but can win; that our personal code is worth protecting, that there are reasons to charge "once more unto the breach." The hanging around in bars... well, what else is a hero going to do while waiting for that next adventure?

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

7 Days in May | Blood Father and La Belle et la Bete

Blood Father (2016)



Look, I wanna be mad at Mel Gibson and I am. But just like I'm mad at Tom Cruise and still go to his movies, I love Gibson's acting and I'm usually curious about what he's doing. Blood Father looked like a callback to what Gibson does best: playing unhinged heroes with a lot to lose.

In this case, he's an alcoholic ex-con with a lot to apologize for who's too far beyond redemption, but would settle for some peace in his later years. That goes out the window though when his estranged daughter calls him out of the blue in desperate need of money and help. When he offers it, he's pulled into a nasty situation with violent consequences.

I like that Gibson's character is drawn back into the criminal world, but he doesn't just settle in like he's always been there. He's old and weary and every step of the way it's clear that he's making sacrifices for his daughter. As the title gives away, it's a movie about parenthood that uses violence and crime to accentuate the extreme love that Gibson's character feels for his daughter. I liked it a lot.

La Belle et la Bete (2014)



I didn't make it to the theater last week and even if I had, the live action remake of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is more a curiosity than a must-see. But I've had this French version on my To Watch list for a while and by sheer coincidence it made it to the top just as the new one's coming out.

I've talked before about what I really like in this story, so any new interpretation has my attention, but I also totally dig Léa Seydoux (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, SPECTRE) and was attracted to the idea of seeing a French version of this French fairy tale. Also, the visuals are lush and imaginative.

It is an imaginative take on the story, but I was disappointed by the quality of the CG effects that are never quite believable. Some of the story changes are good (I love the explanation for why and how the Beast got to be the way he is), but others just seem like excuses for some over the top effects (that again, aren't that spectacular anyway). It's a worthwhile version of the story, but unfortunately not going to become a favorite one for me.

The Wild Life (2016)



Absolutely miserable. Didn't even finish it. I was warned, but you know what? "Nice job" to whoever put together that trailer. You got me. The trailer has fun music and cuts clips together in a way that looks like actual humor. The movie does none of that. It's dumbed down to five-year-olds and reminded me of an amateur Sunday School puppet show. Glad this was a Netflix DVD and not something I paid money to watch.

Henry V (1989)



I kind of gave up blogging about my British History in Film project. I'd like to get back to that. But I haven't given up actually watching the movies. I left off blogging about Edward II, but since then I've watched the mini-series World Without End (2012) that deals with fallout from the events of Edward II (as well as the Black Plague) and started The Hollow Crown, another TV series from 2012.

The Hollow Crown is a great idea. It presents Shakespeare's Henriad tetralogy as a complete story, using as many of the same actors from play to play as possible. Ben Whishaw (Q in the current Bond films) plays the tragic Richard II who's usurped by Rory Kinnear's (Tanner in the Bond movies) Henry IV. Jeremy Irons plays the aged Henry in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 with Tom Hiddleston as his son, the questionable Price Hal. At first, I wasn't sure how Richard II fit thematically with the other plays (other than just showing Henry IV's rise to power), but then Shakespeare helped me out with a line of dialogue explaining that IV is so worried about Hal because he sees in Hal the same traits that made IV want to take Richard's crown in the first place. It's a powerful story about fathers and sons, but also about duty and responsibility.

Before I watch the Hollow Crown version of Henry V, I wanted to revisit Kenneth Branagh's version, which made me realize nearly 30 years ago(!) that I actually could enjoy Shakespeare's history plays as much as I did Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I've seen it countless times, but not recently, so it was great to see it again and especially fun to rewatch it now with all the backstory of the earlier plays finally in my mind. Branagh includes some scenes from those plays in Henry V as flashbacks and it was also cool when I watched those plays to recognize where I was for a moment.

Branagh's Henry V is still powerful and funny (so funny) and I'd forgotten how stirring Simon Rattle's score is. I used to have the soundtrack somewhere and need to find it again or rebuy it.

Anyway, looking forward to seeing how The Hollow Crown interprets it now.

Zorro (1957-61)



I'm on a huge Zorro kick lately and it's because of this show. I'm about halfway through the 39-episode first season and it is so awesome. Guy Williams is the definition of swashbuckling and perfectly plays the balance between dashing Zorro and passive Don Diego. Gene Sheldon is also delightful as Diego's mute manservant Bernardo and Henry Calvin is a joy as the good-hearted, but wrong-sided Sgt. Garcia.

I expected most of that, having watched an episode or two as a kid, but what I'd totally forgotten was the amazing sets and matte paintings. Disney threw some real money at this and created a wonderful fantasy landscape for southern California with all kinds of great cliffs and passes and skull-shaped mountains.

And I had no idea that the storytelling was so 21st Century. Each episode is more or less self-contained, but they also connect and build on each other to tell longer stories. The first 13 episodes pit Zorro against the ruthless Captain Monastario and I was shocked when he actually succeeded and that storyline ended. Then, just as Zorro's thinking of retiring, a new enemy shows up in the form of a secret society that uses eagle feathers to communicate. I'm in the middle of that story now and loving every minute of it.

It's got me wanting more Zorro, so I've been reading The Curse of Capistrano, the original Zorro story by Johnston McCulley that was serialized in All-Story Weekly. I'll report more on that later, but I'm very much enjoying it so far, too. It's briskly written and I'm surprised to be over halfway through without seeing one mention that Don Diego and Zorro are the same person. Once I finish that, I'll make a project of rewatching my favorite Zorro movies.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-93)



This year is the 25th anniversary of Young Indiana Jones, so I decided I should probably finally watch the whole thing. I was a fan back in the day, but its sporadic schedule made me miss a bunch of episodes and I finally just gave up.

The DVD collection (which is what's on Amazon Prime for me to watch) has Special Editioned them, but I don't really mind. They've taken out the framing sequences with the 90-year-old Indy and I'm kind of sad that those aren't available for me to watch if I want to, but I also didn't especially like them. And I do really like that the episodes are reorganized into chronological order instead of jumping around between 10-year-old and teenaged Indy.

David asked me if I recommend the show and I don't know that I do. Not unconditionally anyway. I'm enjoying it, but it's very different from the adventures of Harrison Ford. Each episode has its small mystery or adventure, but the focus is mostly on introducing a new place or historical figure. It's entertainingly educational; it's just not thrilling in the way that Indiana Jones is known for.

I'm partway into the 10-year-old's travels with his parents and governess as they follow Henry Sr on a lecture tour. We've been to three different parts of Africa, and a few places in Europe (Paris, Vienna, and Florence, so far). Highlights include Lukas Haas as Norman Rockwell, Danny Webb (Henry V) as Picasso, and Max Von Sydow as Freud.

Underground (2016-present)



Finally, I'm about halfway through the first season of Underground and am loving the show. It starts off as sort of a disturbing, Southern version of Downton Abbey. It never focuses long on the owners of the Macon plantation (which is good, because they're horrible), but there's instead a stark contrast between the lives of the house slaves and the field slaves. Neither group is well off, but they have different challenges that are fascinating to learn and think about.

Mixed into that story is another one about John Hawkes, the brother of the plantation's owner Tom. Both brothers are from the north, but where Tom has become a slave owner, John very strongly believes in abolition. So he and his wife Elizabeth consider becoming a part of the Underground Railroad and have to weigh the costs of participating in an illegal, but morally right endeavor.

Very quickly though, the focus of the show becomes an escape plan by a group of the Macon slaves. It's led by Noah, who's tried to escape once before, but managed to hide the fact even though he was caught. Smart guy and Aldis Hodge is absolutely captivating in the part. The rest of the group comes from a mixture of people hand-picked by Noah for their talents and/or abilities to get things that the group will need. And not all of them have the group's best interests at heart. Once they run, the show takes on a Walking Dead feel with slave hunters standing in for zombies. It's a brilliant show that constantly changes the way it tells its story so I'm always guessing and always intrigued.

Jam of the Week: "Burn the White Flag" by Joseph



As I try and make another go of this "7 Days in May" feature, one of the things I wanna do each week is share a song that's making me happy. This is one of my favorites from last year. It's rowdy, folky, and has hand claps. I'm a total sucker for hand claps.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Kill All Monsters Omnibus will be here soon!



If you look at page 65 of this month's Previews catalog (that's the one with the March 2017 cover date for stuff hitting shops in May 2017), you'll see the solicitation for the Kill All Monsters Omnibus, Volume 1. Because of the way the book market works, our ginormous hardcover isn't actually hitting in May with the single-issue comics being advertised in the same catalog. We're coming out on July 19.

And we'll be everywhere. It'll be very easy to find the book, especially online. But if you prefer to buy it at your local comics shop on the day that it comes out, now is the time to let them know that you'd like a copy. Or if you forget, they can special order it for you later. That works, too.

It's going to be awesome. I just this week got to read the whole thing for the first time and I'm really happy with it. Jason is, too. We can't wait for you all to see it. It's going to be a brick of a book: 368 pages containing the previous Ruins of Paris volume (slightly edited, so the original book is still a unique object), the continuation and conclusion of that story, the complete Dark Horse Presents story (reformatted for widescreen presentation), a whole new story set in a different part of the Kill All Monsters world, and pin-ups by some amazing artists. And all of that for about $25.

It's almost here, you guys!



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