Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homefront?

The title doesn't make much sense in context, but regardless, Homefront the movie is a solid action movie written by Sylvester Stallone (!), directed by Gary Fleder and starring Jason Stathem and James Franco.

Stathem plays "Broker", an undercover DEA agent who takes down a bunch of biker/meth dealers and winds up on the surviving biker's hit list. For reasons not really explained (though Broker's wife died off-camera a some point), Broker quits the force, packs up his 12 year old daughter and buys a ramshackle house in rural Louisiana.  Evidently the DEA has an amazing pension plan because Broker no longer has to work and spends most of his time puttering around doing home-repairs and charming his daughter's grade school teacher.

But.  There's ALWAYS a but.  When daughter Maddy gets in a schoolyard fracas with a bully, daddy Stathem is confronted by the bully's annoyed parents and employs his DEA/ninja skills to settle things.  Except slamming a guy to the ground and choking him in front of his wife and son doesn't have the placating effect he hoped.  Turns out the wife's brother is "Gator" Bodine (James Franco), yet another meth dealer with a cadre of goons, and he doesn't take kindly to this newbie roughing up his relatives.  He's probably sore because people make fun of his name.  Anyhow, a series of tit-for-tat confrontations escalate until... well, I won't get into spoilers, but there's a lot of beatin' up and shootin'.

That sounds pretty routine, but there are a couple of things going for Homefront.  First, it's very well directed by Gary Fleder, who eschews CGI stuntwork for more grounded fisticuffs.  Cars don't magically fly over other cars and bodies actually obey the laws of physics.  It's also very well acted by Stathem, Franco and Winona Ryder as a meth head (!).  And finally, the story actually leaves room for characters to evolve in slightly unexpected ways.  In real life, sometimes it actually IS possible to apologize and put things behind you without a half dozen suicidal machine-gun toting dudes coming after you.  At least I hope so (sorry I flipped you off, guy who cut me off in traffic!).

But again, I don't get the title. I've read that this was originally going to be a Rambo sequel, and a story about a soldier from overseas coming home to fight local bad guys, well, then Homefront makes sense.  U.S. based DEA agent retiring to U.S. based meth region and getting into fights, not so much.  Oh well.  Too bad there's an old Burt Reynolds movie called "Gator" because that's a great title...  


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Nebraska Is A State of Mind...

...and "Nebraska" is also a really good movie from director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson.  Yes, it's WGA "screener season" again, my chance to catch up on some great movies from the comfort of the couch. Yes, back cover of screener DVD box, I understand that movies are meant to be seen on the big screen... now leave me alone!  Get off my lawn!

Which is sort of the tenor of Nebraska... Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an elderly, verging-on-Alzheimers fellow who becomes convinced he's won a million dollar Publisher's Cleaning House-type sweepstakes.  But he needs to get from his home in Billings Montana to the sweepstakes office in Lincoln Nebraska to collect it.  Woody's wife and adult kids know it's a scam, but finally his son David (Will Forte) takes pity and humors Woody by giving him a lift.

It's a pretty classic set-up for some father/son road-trip bonding, but Woody makes Wilson the volleyball look like a chatterbox. So that doesn't exactly work out.  Then a pit stop in Woody's hometown leads to encounters with family and old friends who actually believe the million dollar story, leading to new adventures in greed and avarice.

Nebraska the movie is less about big laughs (though there are a couple) and more about those knowing smiles of recognition. Awkward family encounters, pointed silences, secrets unwittingly (or maliciously) revealed... twist those moments one way and they're tragic, twist them just a little the other and you have this movie.  Writer Bob Nelson has an ear for awkward dialogue and a great comic sense of timing.  There's a bit involving an air compressor (!) that is pretty darn funny.  And believe me, people have tried to make air compressors funny before!

You need to settle in for this one, let the moody black and white photography draw you in, but once you're there, Dern is amazing as Woody and June Squibb as his long suffering (but hardly passive) wife Kate is great, too. Good stuff!

    

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Shark Alley The Novel

My buddy John Goins is a man of many talents (bass player for the legendary punk bank "The Cleavers", poker player extraordinaire in the legendary Nugget casino in Reno) and now he's added "excellent novelist" to the list.  His first novel, "Shark Alley", is now available from Smashwords for the ridiculously low price of $2.99, and it's well worth checking out.  A clever Western set in San Francisco's Barbary Coast, it's like a cross between Bonanza and The Wild Wild West, with great characters and lively twists.  I was hooked from page one!

Here's the official description:

SHARK ALLEY: San Francisco 1877: An insane ex-Confederate Colonel is murdering members of the famous Barbary Coast Squad. "Shark Alley" follows Detective Inspector Nick Lockwood as he pursues the evil Colonel Tobias before Lockwood's hidden past is revealed.

This gets my whole-hearted, five star, thumbs-up, multiple smiley-face recommendation.  

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/376669

Saturday, November 30, 2013

On The Passing of My Father...

My father Eric Verheiden passed away on November 14 after a long struggle with prostate cancer.  He had recently turned 87 years old.  He is survived by his four sons and six Grandchildren, and he's resting alongside his wife Caroline, who passed away in 2008. 

Dad was born on Oct. 24, 1926, son to Amy and father Eric Senior.  My dad's dad was a logger in Oregon's timber industry and an accomplished amateur painter.  There were two sons, Eric and younger brother Hans, and the family was living in a small home in Portland Oregon when the depression hit.  A hard life became even harder when Eric Sr. was killed in a logging accident in 1933.

But the family persevered.  Classified 4F because of a heart murmur, my father worked in Portland's shipyards during the war.  His mother Amy worked in a cannery while attending to Hans, who had contracted polio and spent many months in the hospital.  They did not have an easy life by any means, but I honestly can't remember my father ever complaining about those days.  If anything, he would remember life in the 30's with fondness.  Buying used Doc Savage pulps for a nickle each from a nearby bookstore.  Working in a hardware store for 10 cents an hour and learning all about tools.  Fixing up on old car and rolling around the neighborhood.  

(Actually, I do remember one complaint: he washed dishes to pay for his tuition through college, and he hated souffle days because those pans were almost impossible to clean.)     

Dad graduated from Oregon State University -- he was an electrical engineer by trade and worked his entire career for Portland General Electric, the utility company that (still) delivers electricity to a big chunk of Oregon.  Early in his career, my dad designed the physical power poles that carried lines into various rural areas.  He was especially proud of one of his more elaborate constructions and took my then pregnant mother on a bumpy ride to check out his handiwork.  Not long after, yours truly was born prematurely...

For a long time Dad was the guy who would put together the crews on snowy/icy/stormy days to repair downed power lines.  Later he rose in the ranks of management and was involved in figuring out budgets and the "business of business" that kept the lights on.

My dad was proud of his work, but I think he was most proud of the freelance articles he wrote and sold to various utility/power company journals back in the day.  Most of these sales happened when I was still just a tyke and something about his delight and pride over those articles clearly registered in my four year old lizard brain.  So go ahead, blame my dad for my so-called writing career.  Trust me, he won't mind.

My father met my mother at the Oaks Park skating rink (it's still there, in "The Oaks" amusement park in Portland), where they shared an affinity for roller-skating and dancing.  He was 19 and she was 16, sparks flew, and they were married three years later.

Next thing you know, kids! They had a couple of "parenting" policies that seemed natural at the time but which I now, looking back, think were actually quite progressive.

1): If the kids needed anything "educational" (books, magazines, tuition), they would do whatever they could to provide it.  They subscribed to both local papers and dozens of different magazines, everything from the news weeklies to Road and Track and National Geographic.  I grew up in a house where reading and learning were as natural and routine as our morning bowl of Cheerios.

2): As long as his kids got good grades, there were never any "bed times" or "be home by 11" edicts.  We all kept crazy hours, but two of my brothers graduated with PhDs (Math and Physics), a third retired early from Microsoft, and then there's me, the Hollywood bum.   So I guess the system worked okay for us.

I have endless fond memories of growing up in (then) rural-ish Oregon.  We had a small house on one and a half acres of land, plenty of room for four boys and nearby friends to build forts, tree-houses, dig "holes to China" and other non-internet related activities.  When we were still kids, my parents invested in a small power boat and we spent many Summer weekends on the Willamette and Columbia rivers, water skiing and crashing through the wakes of passing big ships.  We rented trailers, dragged them behind our old station wagon and drove to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and many other vacation destinations.

Frankly, we made "Leave It To Beaver" look like an episode of "Sons Of Anarchy."  My parents didn't drink or smoke and I can count on one hand the number of times they had an argument.  No "horrors of childhood" stories here -- if any of us screwed up later in life, it was our own damn fault!

My Dad was an Eisenhower Republican, which led to the occasional (ahem) argument, but after the prosperous Clinton years and the not so prosperous Bush-2 years, he switched to Democrat and never looked back.  My father and mother were not particularly religious, and my father especially loathed the so-called Moral Majority and "social conservatives."  One strong memory, from when I was six or seven years old: my father had invested in the "Time-Life Series on Religion", a six volume set.  He didn't feel it was right to let his lack of religious interest influence us, so he decided he would read us a chapter a night from the books so we could make up our own minds.  That lasted two nights.     

Dad probably would have kept working for PGE until 65, but when early retirement deals were offered to older employees in a round of cost-cutting, my Mom encouraged him to take the deal and he retired at 59.  He later said it was the best decision he ever made (well, second to marrying my Mom).  Unlike some fellows who miss the hurly-burly of work, Dad was liberated and did much traveling/bike-riding/backyard sitting with my mother, until she was afflicted with both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.  It was an especially brutal combination, and despite having resources to do otherwise, my father insisted on caring for her by himself through her entire illness, a 24/7 job.  He was devastated when she died and she was never far from his thoughts in the years after.  They had been married for 59 years.  Then Dad's younger brother Hans died on Oct. 17, 2011, after struggling with the after-effects of polio all his life. 

My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer early on and struggled with the disease for nearly 17 years.  Actually, I'm not sure "struggle" is the right word.  He had a radiation treatment at the beginning, then started a regimen of medications, but only really started to manifest symptoms this year.  His doctors were perplexed (in a good way!) by his condition... there were times when Dad's PSA (prostate specific antigen) score soared into the 100's, this when a 10 is considered cause for alarm, but his doctors noted that they could only treat symptoms, not a number, so as long as he was feeling okay...

That finally ended this Summer, and when Dad's oncologist recommended hospice care in late August he took it with his usual calm demeanor.  My father wanted to stay in his house until the end, and with the help of some amazing caregivers and the hospice workers, he got his wish.  To a person, the caregivers were astonished by my dad's good cheer and graciousness.  He was always worried about the burden he was putting on them.  Our family was with Dad as much as possible, but his caregivers Steve, Gary, Norma, and Nikki (who was there with me and my younger brother when my father died) were amazing.

I could go on, and may in future installments, but that's what comes to mind a week and a half after his funeral... 

  

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

It's Been Awhile...

...and I figure I should post for "proof of life" or something.  Anyhow, I haven't disappeared, but it's been busy and difficult time the last few weeks and the ol' blog has suffered.  But I'm still seeing movies (hello, "The Room!"), collecting music (but enough of the gigantic impossible to store box sets, please!) and working on various projects.  Aside from writing the already announced "Children of Paranoia", nothing that ready to announce yet, but things are forging ahead.

More soon...


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen and It Can't Get Up

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN: So some North Korean bad guys want some prisoners released, so they manage to put together a cargo plane equipped with enough weapons (defensive and offensive) to fend off fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles (!) and launch an attack on Washington D.C. and the White House. Meanwhile, semi-disgraced secret service agent Mike Banning (great hero name! Wasn't he the tough guy on Jonny Quest?), played by Gerard Butler, winds up being the last man standing inside the White House after the really suicidal terrorists manage to capture the President and his top aides.

Look, this sort of movie is what it is. I'm a big fan of 80's style style action movies so in the immortal words of George W. Bush, "bring it on!" But a couple of things:

First, this movie is amazingly blood-thirsty.  The filmmakers wanted to make the attack feel dangerous and visceral, so when the magical Korean gunship bears down on the Washington monument and opens fire, tourists and guards and hapless acres of sod are blown apart in an orgy of CGI blood spurts and dust pops.  That's followed by a ground assault where dozens of secret service agents (and bad guys) are blasted. This is not the "war is heck" version of a White House takeover. 

Second, as much as I love old style action movies, I find myself more fascinating post-viewing by contemplating the logistics involved.  There's an entire movie in showing these North Korean bad guys recruiting a disgruntled American secret service agent, buying a cargo plane and amassing the high tech arms used in the attack.  I have no idea if the missile defense system aboard the cargo plane exists or would actually work, but the planning and devising that went into building it would be compelling.  And there's a whole 'nother movie in how the bad guys managed to insinuate themselves into the Korean delegation, gathered their suicidal forces and got them into the United States.

But watching Mike Banning kick a lot of ass is fun too... 

 
  

King V.S. Kubrick

A writer at "The New Statesman" takes umbrage at the idea that Stephen King didn't care for Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of THE SHINING.  Internet flames ensue!

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/09/stephen-king-still-wont-accept-kubricks-genius

Me, I find the article's stance puzzling and irritating. In an effort to defend Kubrick's vision no matter what, the writer seems to forget that King was the creator of THE SHINING and has every right not only to be unhappy with the adaptation, but to have that opinion respected.  I take particular exception with this section of the article:

Despite these criticisms flying in the face of popular opinion, King is not being deliberately contrary. In fact, his assertions prove that his connection with these particular characters have rendered him incapable of appreciating a terrific piece of cinema.

Really?  Condescend much, pal?  The guy who wrote the novel and created the characters has been rendered "incapable" of critical thought because he doesn't agree with you?

But then the truth is, I agree with Stephen King on this one.  I consider Kubrick one of the few true geniuses of film, but everybody has a misfire from time to time and for me, THE SHINING was one.  I was riveted by the book and still remember going to the theater gleefully anticipating the first real no-bullshit Stanley Kubrick horror film.  But King's right -- THE SHINING is cold and withdrawn.  Where's the amazing moment from the book where Torrance rampages through the hotel, slamming a bloody axe against the walls as he descends into total homicidal madness?  How did that become a literally ice-cold chase scene through a frozen hedge maze?

Look, even average Kubrick is better than 99% of the stuff out there, so there is much to admire and enjoy about the movie version of THE SHINING.  But accusing King of just not getting it is taking Kubrick veneration a step too far.  (Which is also the long way of saying I'm looking forward to the next film adaptation of the book!)



Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Runaway Train

One of the best films to come out of the Cannon factory (which, in this rare case, is NOT damning with faint praise), RUNAWAY TRAIN has just been reissued on blu-ray with many extras, though this edition appears to be only available (so far) from the U.K.

Based on a script originally written by Akira Kurosawa, TRAIN is about two escaped convicts, played by Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, who have the bad luck to a), escape from a maximum security prison in a blinding snow storm and b), hitch a ride on a train just as the engineer keels from a heart attack.  Various plot devices ensue that leave the train roaring down the tracks at high speed with no way to stop it.

In other hands this could have been another forgettable Cannon quickie, but director Andrei Konchalovsky makes everything he can out of the situation, and the result, as Jon Voight says in his commentary, is visual poetry.  There are many striking sequences, some made even more astounding when some of the tricks are revealed.   (Hint -- a big chunk of the movie was shot in a warehouse on Beverly Blvd. in Hollywood).

But the beating heart of this movie is Jon Voight, who delivers a riveting, over-the-top, compelling performance as Oscar "Manny" Mannheim, one of the escaped cons.  When we first meet Manny, he's being ordered released from the solitary cell that evil Warden Rankin (John P. Ryan at his nastiest) had him welded into (!) years earlier.  There's some nasty history between these two, and when Manny bids prison adieu, Rankin is determined to bring him back.  Meanwhile, Manny has to deal with his "partner" Buck (Mr. Roberts) whose self-aggrandizing blabber would have had Mother Theresa reaching for a gun.  One of the best scenes in the film, where Manny finally explodes on Buck for boasting about all the amazing stuff he's going to do once they're free, turns out to have been scribbled out by Voight the night before shooting.  Which means I have to hate him, I guess, but it really is amazing stuff.

I've always loved this movie -- the look, the gritty dialogue (some by ex-con Eddie Bunker), the performances, the incredible stunt work and FX -- it's got it all.  There are interviews with Konchalovsky, Roberts and supporting actor Kyle Heffner, but a lengthy piece from Jon Voight is especially interesting.  Well worth hunting down!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jack Kirby's Least Used Best

This is a fun list of some of Jack Kirby's craziest (in the good sense) concepts, most of which I had forgotten or somehow missed.  The planet that is so evil it has devil horns is especially audacious, but they're all pretty amazing. 

http://comicsalliance.com/jack-kirby-ten-most-amazingly-underused-concepts/

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Silence: Feel Good Movie of Never!

THE SILENCE: Another entry in the Germanic/Norwegian noir category popularized by "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", but the "The Silence" is less thriller than it is a somber mediation on loneliness.  It opens with two 30-ish guys coming up on a teenage girl... one of the men attacks, rapes and murders the girl while the other watches in mute horror/fascination.  When it's done, the "accomplice" packs up his stuff and leaves his murderous friend, but does not call the police.

23 years later, another young girl is murdered in exactly the same way.  In a slow build, we find the accomplice in an entirely different space, shocked that there's been another murder.  The cop who investigated but never solved the old murder has just retired but wants to help with the investigation, and the mother of the first victim continues to grieve over her daughter.  On top of that, another cop on the case is suffering a near nervous breakdown after the death of his wife from cancer five months earlier.  Like my title line suggests, it's not exactly the Three Stooges...

How all these characters eventually come into one another's orbit is the slow genius of the movie.  The why of the second murder becomes the signature question, and I'm pleased to say that there actually is an answer and it is simultaneously surprising, sad and compelling.

It's not exactly light viewing, but "The Silence" is beautifully shot and remains true to its subject matter... as in, there's no last act car chase.  The blu-ray comes with two short films by the same director (I haven't seen them yet) and cast/crew commentary...        

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Nilsson Alert!! As In Harry Nilsson...

So RCA's just released a 17 CD box-set collecting all 14 of Harry Nilsson's RCA albums + 3 discs of extras, all in cool cardboard "LP" sleeves.  Having all of Nilsson's material in one handy little box is great news unto itself, but what makes this set "must have" are the three CDs of (mostly) unreleased demos, unreleased tracks and etc.  If you're not familiar with Harry Nilsson -- well you should be!  The album "Nilsson Schmilsson" is a flat out classic, one of those 100 albums you must hear before you die.  Nilsson's songs range from rockers to tin-pan alley to spine-tingling ballads.  Mostly, you need to hear this guy for his voice, which will send chills down your spine (in all the good ways). 

Nilsson had his ups and downs -- sadly more downs as the 70's wound into the 80's.  His story is well told in the excellent documentary "Who Is Harry Nilsson and Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?", but I'm focusing on the music here.  Which is mostly great.  I'm still plowing through the collection, but the solo piano demos for Nilsson Schmilsson (most of which were released in the U.K. a few years ago) are stunning and practically worth the $99-ish price for the set on their own.  Good stuff worth supporting! 


New Stuff!

Been reinforcing the concrete slab under our house to handle the influx of "stuff."  Among the latest arrivals:

BOY AND HIS DOG (blu-ray):  Harlan Ellison's classic novella as adapted by non other than L.Q. Jones, perhaps best known for his scuzzy roles in various Sam Peckinpah movies (Tector in The Wild Bunch!) and... well, for this.  In the year 2024 (only nine years away!) a nuclear war has scoured the Earth and the last rag-tag survivors run around scavenging old canned goods and being mean to one another.  A very young Don Johnson plays Vic, a horny-as-hell kid who hangs on the periphery of all the bad stuff, desperate for sex.  Vic has an edge on the rest of the survivors because he's developed a telepathic connection with his cute and very sardonic dog Blood, who protects Vic while insulting him in amusing ways.  "Adventures ensue."  This new master looks amazing -- and I always liked both the look of this movie (Mad Max four years before Mad Max) and the sardonic, cynical tone.  The disc also comes with a cool recent interview/"conversation" between L.Q. Jones and Harlan Ellison that explores how the picture came together.  Good stuff.

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (blu-ray): On the other hand... amusingly, both Boy and his Dog and Melting Man open with stock footage of fiery explosions.  Nuclear bombs in Boy, sun flares in Incredible.  However that's pretty much where the similarities end.  70's horror fans have an affection for Melting Man because of the grisly early make-up effects by Rick Baker, who was coming off the DeLaurentis King Kong at the time and who admits in one of the DVD extras that he wasn't sure this picture was a good career move.  But he made what he considered an outrageous bid for the make-up job and to his surprise they agreed, so this incredible guy?  He friggin' MELTS.  And melts.  And melts.  There isn't much story here, an astronaut gets fried by solar radiation and when he gets back to Earth he starts to, well, you know.  Evidently melting makes a guy real pissy and homicidal, and most of the movie features our titular character rampaging the low budget countryside killing people.  Toward the end a character begs the cops not to shoot Meltie because "the more he melts, the stronger he gets!"  But that scientific observation is eventually proven inaccurate.  Besides the Rick Baker interview, the disc also features an interview with director/writer William Sachs, who claims the producers ruined his vision -- he wanted to make a black comedy and they wanted straight horror.  What they wound up with was a very cheap, sadly boring movie with some gloppy make-up FX.  My two favorite parts: the opening title is "The Incredible Melting Man," followed by "Starring Alex Rebar as The Incredible Melting Man."  Poor dude (whose character name is actually "Steve") doesn't even get a name in the credits.  And then there's the ending, which suggests the comedic tone that Mr. Sachs claimed to be aiming for.  Otherwise, this is one of those "thank God for fast forward" curiosities...

BULLET IN THE HEAD (blu-ray):  Walter Hill teams up with Sylvester Stallone for a 70's style guns and gangsters movie, but sadly this one's a misfire.  Stallone plays an assassin who wants revenge on the really nasty guys (I'm looking at you, Jason Conan-guy Momoa) who killed his partner.  Stallone winds up joining forces with a cop played by Korean actor Sung Kang.  Stallone SMASH.  Mayhem ensues, just not particularly interesting mayhem, and it's capped by one of my least favorite gangster movie tropes, the absurd "bad guy kills all his own guys" scene.  Everyone involved has made WAY better movies so chalk this one up as "ehh" and hope for better next time...






Friday, August 02, 2013

Children Of Paranoia And Me!

So my next project has FINALLY been announced -- I'm adapting Trevor Shane's excellent "Children of Paranoia" for CBS Films, working with producer Akiva Goldsman.  C of P is a thriller with awesome twists and turns, and a very emotional story at the chewy center.  As happens in the world of show-biz it's taken 2 1/2 years of pursuing, pitching, deal-making and now, finally, writing to make this happen -- but it's worth it.   

Since it ain't official until it appears in Nikke Finke, here's the piece:

http://www.deadline.com/2013/08/cbs-films-options-children-of-paranoia/

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

San Diego ComicCon Excitement

Always enjoy visiting San Diego, and this ComicCon was especially pleasant weather-wise... very cool and comfy.  I did my usual investigation of various dealers, though for the first time in years I didn't buy any collectible comics.  I did however buy several collections (Golden Age "Phantom Lady" anyone?) which may explain why my appetite for pricey old books has diminished.  If I just want to read old comics, many are readily available in multiple forms. 

My greatest find was a page of original art from the 1960's "Herbie" comic -- specifically the last page of "Egyptian Conniption" from Herbie #19 (1966), where Herbie brings a bloated Cleopatra to present day to please his father, only to figure out that Dad was actually lusting over the much prettier Elizabeth Taylor version.  A Herbie website notes that this particular page features possibly the most optimistic father-son moment in the entire Herbie catalog -- Herbie's straight-laced Dad gives the son he usually calls "a fat little nothing" a wink after Herbie makes Cleo disappear before Mom comes home.  If you've never had a chance to check out Herbie, trust me, it's one of the most bizarre and somewhat subversive comics to ever come out.  And the entire 60's run is available in glorious hardback reprint from Dark Horse...

My only complaint about the convention this year would be my multiple run-ins with overzealous security.  Arriving to participate in a (fun!) Battlestar Galactica panel, I was told that panelists are not allowed to enter through the front door (!). When I asked which door was permitted, there was no answer.  When Richard Hatch and the rest of the panel went through the forbidden front door I just bulldozed along with them, but really?  Later I grew increasingly more grumpy with long lines of autograph seekers blocking entire central aisles with security approval.  I can't count the number of times I was told to detour and/or "keep moving" while wandering the crush of the con. I suppose it's heresy to even suggest this, but maybe those sessions need to be moved off the main convention floor...?

Oh, okay, one more complaint, but this is totally outside convention control: the price gouging by local hotels.  I could buy a very nice room in a high end Hawaiian resort for what it cost to stay in S.D. this year, and while I love San Diego, trust me, I love the Kona Coast even more.  But oh well.  I doubt I'd find too many Herbie pages on the big island...

 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Catching up...

Now that the frenzy of Sharknado has abated and the big San Diego ComicCon looms, time to FOCUS.

NEWS!  I'll be on the Battlestar Galactica panel at SDCC on Thursday, 7/18, at 10:30AM.  I understand there may be other surprise guests including a possible "hello" from the Admiral himself.  Since security wouldn't let me in last year (the room was full) I figured the best way to SEE the panel was to ask to be on it, and moderator Richard Hatch was kind enough to tender an invitation.  Anyhow, BSG is always fun to  blab about...

NEWS! Some very cool developments work-wise, but I have been asked to hold off any revelations until all can be coordinated.  I'm told an announcement of one of the projects will surface any day now (keep your eyes on Deadline Hollywood!). Suffice to say my lazy Summer has suddenly become a Worknado of writing madness...

NEWS! I actually did watch Sharknado.  First, I think it's cool that Anthony Ferrante, former editor of Fangoria, is now directing movies.  Second, well... I think it's cool that Anthony Ferrante, former editor of Fangoria, is directing movies.  Okay, that's a little snarky.  Actually, I'm kind of impressed by the sheer amount of bad CGI and "action" given what I assume must have been a *ahem* modest budget.  Plus it was set in Santa Monica, my almost home-base here in Los Angeles.  And John Heard was eaten by a shark.  Okay, that's enough on Sharknado...

* UPDATE 7/14: After much thought, I'm not sure Mr. Ferrante was actually the editor of Fangoria, but he did write for them...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Lazy Tuesday Mulling... Original Comic Art Edition

I've been picking up the odd piece of original comic book art from time to time.  I have quite a few examples from my own books, but also a number of pieces by my fave/most intriguing artists and books.  I doubt there are too many other collectors dying for a page of Tony Tallarico art from the Dell 60's "Werewolf" series, but at $30 a page, I'm there!

One thing I don't particularly like are pages that don't have the lettering actually on the artwork.  Almost all current comics are lettered with computer programs and overlays, a process which put a lot of fine hand-letterers out of business (*sigh*) but which makes editing, corrections and (*sigh* again) rewrites infinitely easier.  So I get the practicality of it all.  But original art still looks naked without the balloons and captions... meaning the vast majority of my original art collection is pre whenever the computer age of lettering kicked in.  Happily, most of my comics were done when the lettering was still being inserted by hand.  I just... like that.

In fact, I am inordinately pleased that I started my comics career way back when (some) books were still being published on newsprint-ish paper, with (mostly) hand-lettered cover copy and less than optimum color separations.  Because that's "comics" to me.  Everyone's eye adjusts to their own age of comics, so I'm sure most modern comics fans find older books unbearably primitive. But for me, the anti-slickness is most of the attraction.  I love the hand-made, seat-of-your-pants look that came from hand-lettered cover copy and logos, from a time when lettering Gods like Artie Simek or Sam Rosen or Ben Oda or Bill Spicer could make or break artwork with their truly remarkable styles.

This isn't some Luddite repudiation of computer lettering or better printing.  I know artists from the old days were endlessly frustrated with bad printing and the loss of detail that resulted.  And there are some modern artists who do their own lettering on the page (hello, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Robert Crumb) because the letters are a design element just as important as the artwork itself.  I guess I'm mostly thinking that slick for slick's sake isn't always a plus.  Anymore than crude for crude's sake always works.  I don't like those Tony Tallarico pages THAT much...



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lifeforce and British Security!

Tobe Hooper's amazing and insane Lifeforce has just come out on blu-ray, and it is as nuts as I remember from seeing it in the theater many moons ago. Based on the Colin Wilson book "Space Vampires", Lifeforce is probably most remembered for the lengthy and impressive nude scenes performed by Mathilda May, who gamely walks around London in the buff because space vampires don't need no clothes.  Yes, London, because this is a fanciful world where England is in the space race.  In fact the biggest leap in the film is the idea that the U.S. and England would actually cough up the cash for a joint space mission, and the U.S. would allow the HQ to be in London!

What impressed me most on this re-view of the movie is how casually our stalwart and mostly British scientists (including Frank Finley and Patrick Stewart) take the greatest discovery in human history.  Texas-drawling astronaut Steve Railsback and his shuttle crew find a space-craft hidden in Haley's comet.  Cue some cool John Dykstra special FX as our spacemen float into the ship and come across three naked humanoid forms inside crystal cubes, including the aforementioned (and did I mention impressive?) Ms. May.  Just looking at Mathilda provokes a lot of eye-acting from Railsback and the other astronauts -- her beauty is seductive, ya see.  Stuff happens and the aliens are eventually brought back to Earth for study. 

But the discovery of alien life seems about as exciting to these scientists as deciding between beef or fish for dinner.  They schedule the dissection of the seemingly dead female alien in the middle of the night, and send one schmucko with a scalpel into the dissection room to do the deed.  No one else is even watching -- guess they have better things to do than be there when someone CUTS OPEN THE FIRST ALIEN LIFEFORM EVER DISCOVERED.  Upstairs in his office, the lead scientist dozes off (!) in front a video array while scalpel boy gets busy -- only to have the female alien snap awake. Schmucko is getting his soul-essence sucked when the sleep-deprived head scientist finally snaps out of his stupor and calls "security".  The naked alien lass strolls around the lab while a crack force of three oblivious Bobbies -- one of whom offers the naked female space vampire a sandwich to settle her down -- basically watch her walk off into the night.  

I will say that you really don't know where the hell this movie is going, which is a plus -- there is a lot of whacked out shit going on in this thing.  And the blu-ray transfer is pretty spectacular.  But otherwise, there's a reason this hasn't risen higher in the pantheon of classic sci-fi...   

    

So Many Demos, So Little Time!

I'm back!  With reviews!

PETE HAM/Keyhole Street: Demos 1966-67:
A great 2 CD compilation of unreleased demos by Pete Ham, the tragic lead singer who went from The Iveys to the amazing Badfinger.  (AKA the guys who gave us "No Matter What" and "Without You.") Given there are already two CDs of Ham demo-type stuff available, it's impressive that there's still so much left to be unleashed. This project was created and crowd-funded by Ham's son, and it's a classy package. Dozens of demos (mostly Ham on guitar, over-dubbing his own vocals), in excellent quality.  Ham was a power-poppy guy from the very start, and so unlike some demo compilations, these are very fun and listenable.  The crowd-funding part of the project is over, but you can still buy the CD set by going to http://www.pledgemusic.com/artists/peteham .

DEL-LORDS/Right For Jerry Vol. 1 and Vol. 2:
The fantastic Del-Lords have come back with a vengeance, first with a new album ("Elvis Club" -- buy it!), and now for super-fans this two CD set of demos from their earlier era.  Some of the tracks appeared on their studio albums, some not, but either way you get two new albums of prime Del-Lords.  Check out some sample tracks and order from http://del-lords.com/music/

Friday, May 24, 2013

Parker's Last Stand

More thoughts as I play movie catch-up --

PARKER: Jason Statham IS "Parker", Donald Westlake's thief with a heart o'gold (ish).  When Parker's criminal crew turns on him post-State Fair heist and leave him for dead, it's more or less obvious where this story is headed: bloody revenge!  Bloody, I tell you!  Unfortunately for the real bad guys (led by Michael Chiklis), Parker shrugs off multiple bullet wounds like paper-cuts and, well, mayhem ensues.  I like Statham in just about everything he's done, but I can't say I always like the movies (I'm looking at you, "Blitz"!).  This one falls somewhere in the mid-range... nicely done, but a story involving Jennifer Lopez as a down-on-her-luck real estate agent insinuating herself into Parker's life really slows things down.  Also, I'm as game as anyone for stories about thieves, but the moral world presented here is pretty damn murky.  "Civilian" characters aid and embrace Parker without a second thought.  This guy may give carnival dolls to cute little kids, but he's also a multiple murderer, and sheltering him from the police is not only stupid, it's a felony.  And the ending, which I believe was meant to be heart-warming, is frankly pretty bizarre... unless your only idea of happiness is a big stack of cash, regardless of how many people died to get it.  Oh well.  I still kind of enjoyed it!

THE LAST STAND: This was Arnold Schwarznegger's first starring role post-Governor-ship, and it was sort of a curious choice.  He's actually fine in it, playing a older small town Sheriff forced to confront a bunch of heroin cartel murderers, but the rest of the movie just asks for a few too many "gimmes."  I'll buy that a billionaire Mexican cartel guy can hire enough goons to break him out of custody in Las Vegas.  I'll buy that said goons can arrange an impossibly complex escape plan.  What I can not buy is that after doing all this, the cartel guy's next move is to drive a really fast car from Vegas to the Arizona border and then into Mexico.  And I really can't buy that the entire Federal Government, who are following said speedy car most of the way by helicopter, can't stop him.  No, that job falls to Arnold and his small town misfits, who use the local gun-collector's artillery to wage World War III on the cartel forces.  The tone of this movie is quite bizarre, going from deadly serious to goofier than hell in the blink of an eye.  Johnny Knoxville plays the eccentric gun collector in a performance that makes Jerry Lewis look subdued.  But in the end I come back to the fact that Schwarznegger is fun to watch...


Friday, May 17, 2013

The Fury Of The Evil Dead Texas Chainsaw...

Been catching up on my uber-gory movies recently -- pretty much spoiler free for those who care!

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D: The original Chainsaw was one of those eye-opening horror movie events for yours truly.  I can't remember where I put my cell phone last night, but I can still remember sitting in the nearly empty Village theater in Beaverton Oregon on the Friday the original Chainsaw opened back in 1970-something.  It was quite an experience.  During the famous scene where Leatherface plops a pretty young thing on a meat hook, an older woman in the almost nonexistent crowd stood up, shouted "I thought this was going to be a detective movie!" and stormed out.  Me, I stuck it out to the bitter end, and to this day I can't think of another movie that's beat the original Chainsaw's trifecta of extreme mood, freaky characters and unsettling bravura horror scenes.  Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel and crew spun some seriously messed up movie magic with their crazy little movie...

I've also managed to catch most of the sequels/prequels/remakes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also directed by Hooper, was pretty widely dismissed when it first came out, but it's a minor masterpiece.  Completely different from the first movie, pretty much a black comedy, but any movies that pits Dennis Hopper (!) against Leatherface in a chainsaw battle is a winner.  After that, things get a bit soggier. There was a Chainsaw 3 with future Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen as a freaky family member.  An off-shoot-ish remake featuring a pre-stardom Matthew McConaughy and Renee Zellweger.  Then the two Platinum Dune efforts, which were closer to the tone of the original but were still beating the original formula -- kids arrive at spooky house, cross creepy family, mayhem ensues -- to death.

So I was pleasantly surprised that the latest Chainsaw effort tried something new. Essentially beginning twenty minutes after the end of the original 1972 movie, TC3D (which I saw flat on blu-ray) is about rejiggering the franchise in a different direction.  Yes, a pretty girl brings her pals to a creepy house and mayhem ensues, but then there's a turn about halfway through the movie that I found fun. I will say that some of what follows asks the viewer and requires a couple characters to more or less forget that our friend Leatherface is a brutal mass murderer, but okay.  Bottom line, Chainsaw movies certainly aren't for everyone, but if you are predisposed toward this sort of entertainment, then this is a pretty good one.

EVIL DEAD (2013): I can also remember where I was to see the first Evil Dead -- the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, a packed midnight Festival show before the official release.  I believe I was sitting behind Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and I'm sure there were other like-minded celebs in house, because E.D. had amassed quite a rep among horror fans.  Suffice to say the crowd went nuts. Who would have guessed that many years later I would adapt and expand the original Evil Dead movie in graphic novel form (from Dark Horse, buy it!) and actually get to work with creators Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell on multiple projects.

The new Evil Dead is essentially a remake, but glossier and WAAAAY bloodier. Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Director Fede Alvarez clearly loves the original but isn't slavish to the story, offering some intriguing change ups.  I caught this at the end of its theatrical run -- I was the only guy in the entire theater at my local multiplex -- so I can't offer any reports on audience feedback.  Look, I will always prefer the Evil Dead world where Bruce Campbell's Ash is taking it on the chin, but as an adjunct, this one rocks right along.  However, nothing in the new movie beats the excruciating moment in the original when a demon jams a pencil into a character's ankle.  That STILL gets a wince...

THE FURY (1978):  Recently issued on limited edition blu-ray, this Brian Palma movie is rarely mentioned when discussing Mr. D's filmic contributions. I remembered kind of liking it back in the day, but seeing it again elicited one of those "what wuz I thinkin'?" moments.  John Cassavettes at his creepiest plays a CIA type guy who is collecting kids with telekinetic abilities.  Kirk Douglas is another spy, and father of a gifted son (VERY creepy Andrew Stevens).  For some reason, the Cassavettes character stages a bloody massacre involving multiple terrorists to separate Douglas from his son -- there must have been an easier way! -- but Kirk survives and spends the movie trying to track his wayward son down.  Meanwhile, pretty Amy Irving is also a telekinetic who is roped into Cassavettes' organization and discovers she can make mean girls bleed when they piss her off.  

The tone of this movie is bizarre.  Douglas (who must have been pushing 60 and does multiple scenes shirtless) is trying to track down the guy who kidnapped his son and arranged a massacre.  But he's downright jovial while doing it.  He breaks into an apartment during a chase to lay low, ties up a bickering couple and makes friends with the dingy mother-in-law (!) in a scene of low comedy.  Douglas spends what feels like hours coloring his hair white, putting a pillow under his shirt and otherwise altering his appearance -- only to be identified by the bad guys as soon as he walks out the apartment door.  He then kidnaps a couple of off-duty cops at gun point, including a VERY young Dennis Franz, who is terrified that the ensuing car chase will put a dent in his brand new Caddy.  This scene goes on for-evah and, hold on to your sides, the car doesn't make it.

The Fury is most famous for its bloody climax, where the uneasy combination of spy movie and science fiction thriller finally collide and heads (well, bodies) literally explode.  Those scenes are kind of fun.  But the fate of the Douglas character is one of the more anti-climatic moments in film history.  I have a great affection for nutty 70's movies, but this one is just kind of not-great...

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Me And The Great American Pitch Fest

I've never done one of these events before, but I guess there's a first time for everything.  Barring some unforeseen disaster, I'll be visiting the Great American Pitch-Fest in Burbank on June 1.  I am part of the "free" side of the show, so anyone who wants to come by is welcome and it won't cost you a dime.  I will be available to discuss my work on Hemlock Grove, Falling Skies, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes... you name it, and if I can remember the details, I'll try to offer what may pass for advice. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hemlock Grove Is ALIVE. It's ALIVE...

Okay, holy crap, how did I go over a month without a real post?  Well, it's simple: it's been a little busy around Casa Verheiden, AKA "the bedroom office."

Hopefully by now folks know that Hemlock Grove, the show that occupied much of my 2012, has debuted via streaming on Netflix.  13 episodes, and every stinkin' one of them can be watched, devoured, analyzed, rewatched and rewatched again.  (Are you picking up a theme?)  The reaction has been fascinating.  I learned long ago not to take criticism personally, so the drinking of the last week has been celebratory, not reactionary.  (Well, most of it.)  Still, I'm not sure I've ever been involved in a show that polarized opinion quite as much Hemlock. 

That said, I am amazed and heartened by the reaction to the show on twitter, the audience reviews on Netflix and IMDB (by actual viewers!) and the fact that poor lil' Hemlock actually reached more viewers the first weekend than (the excellent!) Netflix series House Of Cards.  We knew we were making something a bit off the wall and different, and it's fun to see that there are a lot of folks out there that get that.

It's also been fun to get feedback from people who has seen all 13 episodes, as opposed to the first three that were sent to reviewers.  When we told folks that the show was a 13 hour movie, we kind of meant it.  Fashioning a critique based on the first three episodes is a little like watching the first 15 minutes of a feature film and banging out a review based just on that.  To be fair, not everyone falls in love (ahem) even after watching all thirteen.  But that's okay.  The show's not for everyone, and there are plenty of other viewing options available. 
  
The twitter feed (#hemlockgrove) has been especially hypnotic.  I'm no math whiz, but there must be hundreds of thousands of comments by now, and I'd say a good 85% seem positive.  I first started with twitter on Falling Skies, and I have to admit, I've gone from a skeptic (140 characters?  What can you say in that?) to an addict.  

There has been no decision re: a Hemlock Grove season two at this writing, so we shall see. But for those who yet to have a taste our wares and haven't joined Netflix, you can get a free one month trial subscription and give it a shot.  Meanwhile, I'll be back with more news soon...     

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

So What's New In Tennessee?

http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/tenn-lawmaker-allegedly-drove-90-mph-while-masturbating?ref=fpb

My favorite part of this story?  "Recalling dozens of complaints in recent years, Terry Christian, a Kingsport detective, told WJHL that Blakely's behavior has gone on "for so long an (sic) nobody's addressed it." I guess his insanity was Grandfathered in...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hemlock Grove: The Trailerpalooza!



A handy compilation of trailers put together by Aaron Douglas, who plays Sheriff Sworn on Hemlock and the legendary Chief on Battlestar Galactica...

Hemlock Grove,  April 19, only on Netflix.  
First Trailer -- HEMLOCK GROVE -- A Netflix Original Series [HD]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlZUsPcChgI

Hemlock Grove: UK Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwN1Sx7PNVU

Hemlock Grove: IGN Exclusive Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwTw03j5_Tc

Hemlock Grove Trailer - "Gypsy" - A Netflix Original Series (HD)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIL0u2RUR9M

Hemlock Grove Trailer - "Blood Angel" - A Netflix Original Series (HD)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW_QF7SIJ_s

Hemlock Grove Trailer - "Suspects" - A Netflix Original Series (HD)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HjbcEfqLws

Hemlock Grove Trailer - "Grisly" - Netflix (HD)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WweCmgr7fyA

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tri-Corner Hats

So some really severe elderly folks at CPAC are outraged that Rob Portman has endorsed same sex rights after discovering his son is gay.  That's to be expected.  But when did cosplay become a thing among the conservative crowd?

http://deadstate.org/cpac-attendees-condemn-sen-rob-portmans-endorsement-of-marriage-equality-video/

On Vinyl...

A veteran record (as in vinyl records) collector finally gives up the ghost...

http://www.avclub.com/articles/has-the-vinyl-revival-gone-too-far,93610/

I dumped most of my vinyl collection -- at least 2 or 3 thousand discs -- five or six years ago.  Lack of space X convenience of CDs + cost of storage room to house all that stuff = bye bye.  I did keep most of my singles and a few of my fave platters, but otherwise my collection is hopefully entertaining the swingin' hipsters who found them in Amoeba L.A.'s used-vinyl area...

Where I would disagree with the writer is his comment about not finding much difference between an MP3 and a vinyl record.  After too many concerts and lengthy drives with the car system cranked to 11, my hearing ain't what it used to be, but I can still tell the difference between a thin, tinny MP3 and, well, non-MP3 playbacks.  What worries me (and worries audiophiles way more) is that an entire generation has grown up with the thin MP3 sound and have become culturally adjusted to that  sound quality.  The fat bass and richer horns and deeper vocals that come from a fully realized recording may actually be negatives for those folks...

BTW, I still buy a (very few) vinyl records, but less for the record than the graphics. One thing we have lost in our i-tunes/spotify/whatever else age are the amazing covers and liner notes that graced many seminal LPs.  Strictly as art, there are some mighty impressive pieces out there.  As music, I'm happy with the CD or lossless version...    

Monday, March 18, 2013

Me, Hemlock Grove, WonderCon

Just announced, there will be a Hemlock Grove panel at WonderCon this year, 6:30PM on Friday March 29.  Here's the official blurb:

6:30pm - Netflix's "Hemlock Grove" - Room 300DE
From executive producer Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) and based on Brian McGreevy's novel of the same name, Netflix's Hemlock Grove is a riveting one-hour murder mystery series that revolves around the residents of a former Pennsylvania steel town. When 17-year-old Brooke Bluebell is brutally murdered, any of Hemlock's peculiar inhabitants-or killer creatures-could be suspects. Through the investigation, the town's seamier side is exposed, revealing nothing is what it seems. Beautiful, terrifying, and graphic, Hemlock Grove is unlike anything else in its genre. Appearing are executive producers Roth, McGreevy, and Lee Shipman and cast members Famke Janssen (X-Men), Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II), Bill SkarsgÄrd (Anna Karenina), Landon Liboiron (Terra Nova), Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley, Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica), and Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica).


And other executive producer me.  Come on down!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

John Carter FROM MARS dammit

I picked up the Kindle version of the book "John Carter and the Gods Of Hollywood" because the reviews were effusive and I like your basic exploration of why bad things happen to good movies as much as the next guy.  JC and the Gods is a scary thorough examination of the machine that produced and then attempted to promote the recent John Carter movie.  The gist of the author's thesis is that the movie both fell through the cracks during a regime change at Disney and/or was intentionally or unintentionally sabotaged on the publicity side by folks who just didn't get it. Per the author, movies like The Avengers were drawing up enormous media oxygen while John Carter simply wasn't getting the same level of attention.  According to the writer, it was basically the endless missteps in the promotional campaign for Carter that led to a less than stellar opening and big box-office trouble.

I should mention that I hadn't actually seen the movie itself before I started reading the book.  After learning about all the missteps on the Disney side, I finally got around to a sit down with the movie itself.  And guess what?  It's just not very good.  Obviously everyone involved tried to make a great, epic, sprawling fantasy out of a classic piece of Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure -- but in the end the magic just wasn't there. And sometimes that just happens. 

On a much smaller scale, I've become gunshy these days when folks tell me that one of my TV scripts is bound to be "the best of the season," because it seems like those are inevitably the episodes  where another shoe drops and they become the problem child.  It's not that anyone sets out to do a lousy job -- and I really don't like the snarky piling-on that occurs when a John Carter comes along -- it's just that sometimes things just don't work out.  It's not great for Disney stockholders or fans hoping for the further adventures of John Carter, but not a diabolical crime either...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

12 Years Old. Yes, 12 Years Old.

Want to see a 12 year old kid named Caspian Coberly play Red House on guitar in the style of Jimi Hendrix? The video is here...

http://www.caspiancoberly.com/

Want to see me trying to learn a chord?  I didn't think so...

Hemlock Grove Is Screaming to Stream!

Years in the writing, months in the producing, and now it's just weeks before Hemlock Grove debuts on Netflix.  April 19, to be exact.  Members of the cast and crew, including yours truly, will be discussing the evolution of the show at an upcoming fan event that will be announced "soon" -- but meanwhile, here's the poster:

Hemlock Grove season 1 poster.jpg

What exactly is Hemlock Grove?  Well, despite the poster image, is it not a 13 episode treatise on the hazards of hand-feeding your pet wolf.  It IS, in fact, a suspenseful thriller about a small Pennsylvania town plagued by multiple murders, and the unlikely friendship that develops between two "opposite sides of the tracks" high school boys investigating the crime(s).  More to come as we close in on the release date.  April 19!  All episodes at once!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

New! New new!!

AMERICAN COMIC BOOK CHRONICLES: THE 1960's, 1960-1964:  From the fine folks at TwoMorrows press, this is the first in what I hope is a lengthy series of volumes exploring the wild and wooly history o' comics. Written by comics historian (and fellow Capa-Alpha * member) John Wells and generously illustrated with hundreds of full color images, this edition explores an especially cool moment in comics history.  If not precisely the birth of the silver age (most folks say that started when the new Flash debuted in 1956), then it was certainly the birth of the Marvel age of comics, with the debut of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, the rebirth of Captain America, Thor, etc., etc., etc. But there were all sort of other comics available in those days, from a panoply of publishers long gone.  ACG, Gold Key, Charlton, Dell, Harvey and more.  John's written a conversational and comprehensive history here and TwoMorrows has given the book the deluxe treatment.  Well worth checking out.

MESSAGES IN A BOTTLE - COMIC BOOK STORIES BY B. KRIGSTEIN: 240 full color pages of exquisite work by Mr. Krigstein, one of the finest artists to ever grace the world of comics. Delicate pen work and incredibly lay-outs abound in this comprehensive volume that includes his best EC stories.  Anybody who believes today's comics are as good as it gets needs to give this a look.   And look Ma -- not a superhero in the whole bunch. 

MARVEL FIRST - WWII SUPERHEROES: 450 pages of full color Golden Age "origin stories", from superstars like the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America to obscurities like "The Fin" and "Rockman", this is a raw injection of 40's comics madness.  Up until the 80s, I think these type of stories are what most of the public had in mind when someone said "comic book."  Crazy heroes, primitive but often exciting artwork, and stories that have fever-dream logic when they have any logic at all.

COLLECTED COMICS FONDLING/Dark Horse Presents 1986-2000: A print-to-order publication, I picked this up because it promised to index all 157 issues of Dark Horse's flagship title (+annuals).  Which it does.  But there are also reviews.  And I didn't make it past page one, where there was this gem re: Dark Horse Presents #2: "Wow, does (Concrete creator Paul) Chadwick ever try hard to be cute. His Concrete story this issue is completely useless, inconsequential diversion... Maybe I'm missing the point." Well, yes, you are.  Anyone who can't see the artistry and charm in my pal Paul's Concrete stories is a hopeless case, and yes, I am biased.  Oh well.  

* Capa-Alpha is a comics-related amateur press alliance that was formed in the early 60's and continues to this day.  Members write and publish fanzines that are gathered each month by a Central Mailer, who distributes the collection to members.  I've been publishing my own apa-zine for Capa-Alpha off and on since 1971... 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fear! 2013!

I saw the band Fear in Portland Oregon in 1979.  The best part of the experience was arriving way too early for the show and sitting next to lead singer Lee Ving at the bar before the performance.  Meaning me and my buddy Stan actually "had a beer with Fear."  I wish I had some miserable experience to report, but Lee was actually a nice guy and seemed to enjoy blabbing to two enthralled Oregon kids.

It was an amazing show.  Fear in their prime = AMAZING.

Here's Lee Ving with Dave Groel of Nirvana doing Fear in 2013.   He's still AMAZING.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK_nI_2QRGo

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Crashmobile

For some reason I've been obsessing recently over an old toy called "Crashmobile."  I guess it's a sign of getting older or dementia or who knows what, but I remember buying several of these as a kid and having no end of fun smashing them into the wall and watching them explode.  So now it's all about finding one (or two or three) of them again to relive what was probably a less exciting childhood adventure than memory allows.

They were called Crashmobiles because that's exactly what they did.  There were several models in different sizes, but the design was more or less the same across the CM spectrum.  You would squeeze the sides and roof of the car together over a springy-lever connected to the front bumper of the car.  Roll the car forward, bonk the bumper, and KAPOW.  The lever would be triggered and the thing would burst apart, usually while the child operator was making horrific screaming noises ("aghh, gahh, my legs are broken, I've been decapitated, aghhh, agghh!!!).  Then you would carefully gather the parts, rebuild it and repeat.  Until the car broke for real (something that usually happened really fast) and you had to steal 20 cents from your Dad's sock drawer (sorry Dad) and run to the supermarket for another.

But you have to admit.  There's something genius about selling a toy that's MEANT to be broken. 

What the image below doesn't really sell is just how tiny the Crashmobile Jr. really was. Like, three inches long and maybe an inch across.  Also, this image is from later in the life of CM Jr., which was a mere 19 cents when first unveiling.  And finally, someone must have stored this one in their dirt closet, because fresh Crashmobiles weren't usually this dusty.

Anyway, crashmobiles.  What can I tell you.  As a child I was easily amused...



Monday, February 18, 2013

Human Nature

I will fully admit to reading the occasionally human interest/gossip piece online.  There sure are a lot of celebrities/politicians/etc. doing a lot of interesting/odd/scandalous stuff. But it's the reader comments that always bring me up short.  Today, to pick a piece at random, there was a story about actress Maya Rudolph being pregnant with her fourth child. That was it... married actress is having another kid. Seems innocuous enough, until you get to the comments. For instance this (of course anonymous) gem, among the first few:

"Another worthless HuffPost piece. No one cares that Maya can't keep her legs crossed."

Can't keep her legs crossed?  Are we now at a place where married sex that leads to pregnancy is considered "dirty?"  If all women "kept their legs crossed" there would be no human race, though (silver lining!) there would also be no bizarre internet trolls posting pointlessly ugly comments about something that's actually kind of sweet.  But the hits just keep on coming...

"What did Maya's left leg say to her right leg? Nothing! They've never met!" 

"Is this one of those Hollywood freaks that supports abortion? I wonder if she believes her fetus is alive yet?" 

"Ugly people have ugly kids... won't someone stop Maya Rudolph from reproducing? She looks like someone took a dump on her face"
Remember, all this for a nothing news blip about an (sorry, commenter #4!) attractive actress getting pregnant for the fourth time with her husband.  No scandal, just someone havin' babies.  

I draw few conclusions from this anecdotal exploration.  Except that the human race can be a sad, sorry bunch sometimes...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Wood Bookshelf...

There seems to have been a Wally Wood renaissance recently... here are the latest arrivals creaking my overworked bookshelves...

THE EC STORIES OF WALLY WOOD/Artist's Edition: Okay, this is incredibly cool but truly obsessive. IDW is putting out a series of massive volumes offering full-scale black and white reproductions taken from the actual original art by various top notch comics artists.  This edition, featuring the truly glorious work of Wallace Wood, is 144 pages, 25 x 19 x 1" and weighs in a 9 lbs!  What you get are incredibly detailed images of the original art from several classic EC stories by WW, right down to the publisher's stamps, hand-written notes, coffee stains... you can even make out the brush strokes inside large areas of black.  The detail is amazing and Wood definitely deserves the deluxe treatment.  IDW's also done similar volumes for Dave Stevens' Rocketeer and most recently Gil Kane's early Spider-Man.  The first edition is long gone and is going for $500-ish on Amazon, but search and you may find the second edition for slightly less.  So no, these are not cheap, but so it goes...

WOODWORK: Okay, you're getting physical therapy after reading the Wood "Artist's Edition" but still want more?  Check out "Woodwork", also from IDW, which is an American version of a museum catalog released in Spain in 2010.  The text is in English and Spanish and there are hundreds of illustrations in B/W and color from the entire run of Wood's career.  I am still working my way through this, and if the word definitive means anything, it means something like this.  And it's quite a bargain (on Amazon, anyhow), 352 pages for $32.00.

CAME THE DAWN (The EC Comics Library): You've seen the faux original art and read up on Wood's bio, now how about some more stories?  Fantagraphics has gobbled up the EC library and is releasing a series of hardcover collections of scattered works, including this one featuring tales illuminated by Mr. Wood. These EC stories have been reprinted many times, but there is always a new audience who didn't spring for earlier editions and deserve a chance to enjoy the goodness.  Personally I prefer EC's war books to their horror and sci-fi titles, but they're all at least interesting. These collections are relatively inexpensive ($18.00 on Amazon) with excellent (black and white) reproduction, so buy it and tell all your friends that you've got Wood!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Orson Welles On Peas

There are few things more fun than hearing Orson Welles' sonorous voice.  Except, perhaps, hearing Orson Welles chew out some British advertising twits who keep asking for more/better/different takes for their frozen peas commercial...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhWM4_pIKVg&feature=player_embedded#!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hemlock Grove Is Coming Your Way! April 19, 2013!

The cat is out of the bag, the secret is out, the mystery is revealed -- at least some of it!  My latest project "Hemlock Grove" was formally announced 1/9/13.  The second original series for the fine folks at Netflix (the first being "House of Cards", which you should also watch!), Hemlock Grove will be revved up and ready on Netflix 4/19.  That's right, all thirteen episodes at once.  Binge watch, gorge, gobble, or slowly savor... it's up to you.

Just to tee it up, Hemlock Grove, based on the fine novel by Brian McGreevy, tells a mysterious tale of two families intersecting in a fading steel town.  When a series of grisly murders begin, it lands on two very different sons from these families to uncover the killer.  But there are many twists and turns and bizarre goings-on to deal with along the way...

Read the article below for more details.  And get ready for something really different... 

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/netflixs-hemlock-grove-no-shortage-410447

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Video Games. That Must Be It! Video Games!

20 little kids are gunned down by a disturbed guy with an assault rifle capable of shooting dozens of rounds without reloading, but the real problem is video games!

I could vent, but this fellow says it better and backs his views up with some quaint, obviously anti-American "facts." 

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/dishonestly-and-ignorantly-switching.html

Monday, January 07, 2013

Killdozer!

It says something about my movie-viewing priorities that I have a stack of Academy Award contending screeners collecting dust next to the DVD player, but I threw on Killdozer as soon as it arrived. A TV movie from the 70's in the "when machines come alive!" genre, I vaguely remember seeing this when it was on network television and kinda liking it.  I still do...

First off, we're talking about a great 70's cast.  Clint Walker, Neville Brand, Carl Betz, Robert Urich, James Wainwright... all stuck on a remote African island where their tiny crew is running heavy equipment, clearing an area for some sort of oil installation.  Urich accidentally drives his D9 bulldozer into a meteor that glows, fries Urich with radiation and then takes control of the bulldozer.  It's never really explained why the meteor-imbued bulldozer feels the need to kill all humans, or how charging around an uninhabited island knocking over logs furthers some sort of goal.  But maybe I'd be angry too if, after careening through the universe, my essence got stuck in a piece of construction equipment.

The best part of the movie is the extremely laconic way these guys deal with their increasingly precarious situation.  Urich is french-fried by radiation, lingering just long enough to tell Clint Walker that he saw a blue flash "enter" the bulldozer.  Foreman Walker decides to keep that rather pertinent info to himself and tells the other guys to bury Urich and get back to work.  Nobody really asks how somebody driving a bulldozer could get so irradiated his skin would bubble and turn black.  Then another worker gets flattened by the runaway dozer after trying to hide in a pipe.  They plant him next to the first guy and Walker still insists everybody should just suck it up and get back to work.  Call me a softie, but if it were my crew, I'd give them the day off.  

Only when Carl Betz (who must have spent his time between takes wondering how he went from being the lead on The Donna Reed Show and Judd For The Defense to playing an embittered scoop-shovel operator named "Sourball") admits he overheard Urich's dying declaration does Walker decide to level with the other two survivors.  But he STILL insists they need to keep working because, uhh, they might get in trouble. Like two guys out of a six man crew dying 24 hours apart in industrial accidents won't raise an eyebrow or two...

Anyhow, Walker finally decides to let the job go when his pal "Chubb" gets blown up by a D9 sneak attack.  Two things here.  One, even though Killdozer has been taken over by an alien entity, it still makes a lot of noise when chugging around, so "sneak attack" may be the wrong word.  And two, Neville Brand's Chubb was really a pretty nice guy considering he had to endure people calling him Chubb.  If they called Killdozer Chubb, I'll bet it would have been twice as mad.

Anyhow, our last three survivors take time out of being chased by Killdozer to bury Chubb's remains with the others, only to be suckered by another bulldozer move (shoving an avalanche down on the gravesite).  Now Clint's pissed and it's time for vengeance!

So there you go!  Cool 70's TV movie sci-fi at its finest.  And the made-to-order DVD looks great.  I don't know if the picture's been remastered or someone just took very special care of the original, but the color is vivid and the image quality is great. Highly recommended!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

On The Subject Of Health

Veteran comics, film and TV writer Peter David suffered a stroke a few days ago and has started the long struggle back.  You can follow his journey, chronicled by his exceptionally together wife, at his website:

http://www.peterdavid.net/

Peter's wife suggests buying some of his books (especially the online ones, which I suspect pay him a much larger royalty than his Marvel work) to help them get through this difficult time. Evidently the family has health insurance, but there are still co-pays and all the stuff that insurance refuses to cover.  Anyhow, you should check out their blog and consider buying a book or two.

But Peter's predicament brought to mind the entire debate over health care and "Obamacare" and the rest. Having had my own share of health issues over the last couple years, I am grateful for the existence of the Writer's Guild and the (excellent) coverage I get through their offices. As a freelance writer turned producer, I've worked for dozens of companies over the years, but my insurance remains constant.  It is one (of the few) things I have not had to worry about since I joined the Guild 23 years ago.

When I hear people lamenting the idea of a national health care system, suggesting such a system could somehow bankrupt and destroy the American economy, I get frustrated.  Because the current mercurial, expensive and inefficient insurance system often traps people in jobs they hate simply because they need the insurance and can't risk switching because of pre-existing conditions or other issues.  Imagine how the American economy might flourish if these conscientious people, determined to keep themselves and their families covered and not become a drain on the system, were freed from being beholden to a job for insurance?  How many small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures might arise if people could follow their dreams as opposed to being chained to some dead-end job?  Having coverage has certainly liberated me and made it possible to follow my so-called dream. 

I spent almost six months in Canada last year, and socialized medicine doesn't appear to have turned that country into a post apocalyptic wasteland. Quite the opposite, actually.  We need something similar here.


Saturday, January 05, 2013

Movies! I Saw Some Movies!

So 2012 turned out to be a pretty good year for movies.  I'm still catching up on screeners and screenings, but any year that coughs up LOOPER (superior science fiction) and DJANGO UNCHAINED (crazy Western) gets a big thumbs up.

DJANGO likely needs no introduction, it's Quentin Tarantino's latest and this time he "does" spaghetti Westerns like he did World War 2 movies in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. From the opening sequence, with a new but already classic Django theme warbling in the b.g., I was hooked.  Yes, it's got some insane violence, including a wildly over the top gun-fight battle that makes the Wild Bunch look like an episode of Gunsmoke.  But the bad guys are bad and Django is good and that's what Westerns are all about.  DJANGO is funny, clever, extremely well acted and worth a trip to the theater.

LOOPER is a time travel thriller, a genre for which I have a rather obvious affinity.  Conceptually, I was intrigued that LOOPER demanded audiences accept not one, but two rather major "gimmes" re: the future world depicted.  One, that there's time travel (with the usual panoply of vague rules) and two, there's also been an outbreak of telekinesis among 10% of the population.  Usually one of these is enough... but they pull it off in grand style here.

Yes, one could argue that the criminal organization using time travel could have been a tad more creative.  In the film, they send people they don't like 30 years back in time to be executed by assassins and that's basically "it." But I don't care. A movie this creative and thought-provoking gets a big thumbs up from yours truly.

SPOILERS BELOW:

CHERNOBYL DIARIES is NOT one of the movies that made 2012 great, but I finally caught up with it because I'm fascinated with nuclear power/weapons/Chernobyl and "etc."  First off, a disclaimer about the title -- there's no diary! The movie starts with some found footage-ish material but (thankfully) drops that conceit fairly quickly and becomes a straight horror movie.  A gaggle of American tourists decide to take an "extreme tourism" trip to the empty town of Pripyat, emptied and left vacant after the nearby Chernobyl reactor exploded. But the tour van breaks down and our hapless tourists are stuck in Pripyat.  Which, wouldn't you know, has been overrun with... well, that gets into spoilers.  Avert your eyes if you want the mysteries of Chernobyl Diaries to remain exactly that...

Anyhow, the area is overrun by radioactive mutants, who, like all movie radioactive mutants, are not tragically afflicted folks consigned to hospital beds, but are in fact powerful, ruthless cannibalistic (I think) killers.  Somewhat social, since mobs of them attack newcomers, but otherwise mean little buggers.  Why the radiation hasn't reduced them to blind, stumbling wrecks like our "heroes" is left unexplained.  Oh well. There is a fascinating movie to be made from the Chernobyl debacle, but until they make it this oddball horror offshoot is resolutely "okay."  Like a lot of these movies, I get sucked in by the atmosphere and creepy-crawly scares, but when monsters start eating everyone I start checking out.

 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Television In The News! 1-3-13!

We are truly living in the golden age of television!   

So, are you one of those people who misses the risky "on the edge" vibe of live television?  You won't after watching this:

http://laist.com/2013/01/02/video_local_tv_stations_disastrous.php

Twin Peaks may be coming back?! 

http://www.uproxx.com/tv/2013/01/twin-peaks-returning/

More live television antics that morality groups single out when fundraising from people who would never see these moments unless they were pointed out to them.  Hence somewhat defeating the purpose of sheltering their precious eyes from such depravity, but what do I know, anyway?!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/kathy-griffin-backlash-nye-cooper-video_n_2400000.html?icid=maing-grid7|main5|dl4|sec1_lnk2%26pLid%3D252183

And here's some token vegetable news to fill out this huge news day!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/king-louis-xvi-blood-squash-beheading-dna_n_2399175.html