Friday, April 17, 2015

THE DOC AND THE ROCK




Regular readers of this blog are probably aware of the fact that I'm a huge Doc Savage fan. This pulp hero ranks in my top five favorite fictional characters (along with James Bond, Superman, Sherlock Holmes and Conan the Barbarian).

There's been talk lately about Shane Black making a Doc Savage film with Chris (THOR) Hemsworth as Clark Savage Jr. That's not a bad choice at all but after watching a recent episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, I've come to the conclusion that this man:







Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, would make a very good Doc Savage. A spray on full body tan, a bronze wig and a ripped shirt is all this guy needs to look like Doc. The Rock is the only contemporary actor that has the sheer physical presence required to do Doc justice. I'm sure I'm not the first Doc Savage fan to suggest this. What do you think?

Oh, and by the way, here's Ann-Margret (who would have made a terrific Pat Savage if a Doc Savage film had been made in the 1960s).




 

Friday, April 10, 2015

REX HAVOC: ASSKICKERS OF THE FANTASTIC


Recently I reviewed AGE OF VOODOO by James Lovegrove here on my blog. In that review, I mentioned how the military monster fighter group Team Thirteen in the book reminded me of the old Rex Havoc comic book series which ran in Warren Publishing's 1984/1994 magazines back in the late '70s/early '80s.  The series was short lived but very fondly remembered.

Imagine my surprise when comic book writer Jim Stenstrum, the "father" of Rex Havoc, posted a comment on my blog later to inform me that he had just published a new Rex Havoc novel. I was thrilled to hear from Jim and made a point to order a copy.

Before I could do so, Jim contacted me again saying he had some extra copies of his book and he would be glad to send me one if I would just send him my address. I did so immediately and it wasn't long before a signed copy of the book arrived in my mail box.

I finished reading the book this morning and I loved it! If you're looking for serious literature in these pages, keep looking. But if you're in the mood for a funny, fast paced, action packed adventure in which Rex Havoc and his new teammates kick some serious monster butt, this one's for you.

It's a bit darker than previous Rex adventures and Rex has undergone some interesting changes regarding his powers and abilities. The ending leaves things wide open for a sequel which I will certainly read and enjoy. Among the humorous highlights here: an Eegah! name drop, Clint Eastwood on a list of top ten threats to humanity and the real story behind the Rex Havoc adventure entitled The Day The Earth Sat Down.

I must take this opportunity to publicly thank Jim Stenstrum for his amazing kindness and generosity in sending me this book. Hearing from him and receiving this gift really made my day. Which brings me to a couple of final things.

If you're an author of the kind of material that I write about here on my blog, please feel free to contact me about sending review copies my way. I'm happy to read and review your books if you'd like me to. All I ask is that you first take some time to actually read my blog to see the kind of material I write about and only contact me if your work falls within these categories. What do I like? Well, for starters, I enjoy pulp fiction, hard boiled crime stories, thrillers/mysteries, action/adventure, horror, science fiction and American history. 

Finally, I'm reasonably sure that Jim Stenstrum found my blog by doing a Google search for the words "Rex Havoc". I'm not naive enough to believe that he was or is a regular reader of this blog. But this encounter just goes to show that I never know who might find their way to this blog through whatever means, find something they like and contact me directly.

Because of this, I'm going to name drop a certain someone in every blog post I write from here on out because, hey, you never know.

Here goes:

Ann-Margret

 

Monday, April 6, 2015

THE BANK JOB


One of the pleasures of watching a heist flick like THE BANK JOB (2008), is anticipating just exactly what's going to go wrong with the caper. And you know something will. It's one of the tropes of this sub-genre of crime film. No matter how well planned and executed the heist is, something will inevitably go wrong and generate even more suspense for the duration of the film.

In THE BANK JOB (which is set in 1971), British intelligence outfit MI-5 is very interested in a particularly incriminating set of photographs stored in a safety deposit box in a London bank vault. They can't legally touch it but they can recruit a team of amateur bank robbers to tunnel into the vault from the basement of an adjacent purse shop to get the photos and whatever other valuables (money, jewels, stocks, bonds, etc.) they want.

It's not a bad plan and the team, led by Jason Statham with the lovely Saffron Burrows the contact point with the government spooks, gets exactly what they came for. And much more.

Turns out there was more than one set of incriminating photos stored in a safety deposit box and the thieves now have them in their possession along with a ledger (belonging to a pornography kingpin) whose entries list payoffs to various crooked London cops.

The robbers soon find themselves in a squeeze play. The spies want the photos. The mobster wants his ledger. Statham and gang just want to survive and get away to enjoy their loot. It's up to Statham to negotiate some tricky business to insure his safety but not before a few of the gang are caught and killed by various players.

Loosely based on a true story (a London bank was robbed in much the same way in 1971), THE BANK JOB is competently directed by Roger Donaldson with a good script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. There's not a lot of action here until the very end when Statham takes out some mobsters. The suspense slowly builds and the story takes some interesting twists and turns.

THE BANK JOB isn't the greatest heist film ever made but it's solid, well done and worth seeing.

 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

CITY ON THE EDGE OF MAYBERRY


I watched THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER while eating lunch today. It's the classic first season STAR TREK episode written by one of my all time favorite writers, Harlan Ellison and it ranks as one of the best TREK episodes ever. I've seen it several times.

But this afternoon, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. In the story, Kirk and Spock are supposed to be in New York City circa 1930 but it's clear by the evidence in the photo above that they're not in New York. It appears they've landed in another famous American city. 

Who knew that Floyd Lawson had been in business since 1930?

 

HEY, I WAS THERE!


I recently read ALTER EGO #63 (December 2006), a special issue dedicated to the life and work of legendary comic book artist Alex Toth. Inker Terry Austin contributed a piece about how he met Toth at a comic book convention in Houston during the summer of 1980. I was at that convention. It was held at the old Shamrock Hilton Hotel.

I must confess, I don't recall Toth being in attendance. I do remember that the longest lines were for Chris Claremont, Terry Austin and George Perez. Claremont and Austin (artist John Byrne was announced but was a no show) were riding high with Marvel's UNCANNY X-MEN while Perez (and writer Marv Wolfman) had just hit pay dirt with the release of DC's NEW TEEN TITANS.

I hovered around the tables where these gentlemen were seated, catching glimpses of them signing and sketching but I didn't feel like standing in line for who knows how long just to get something signed. I admired their collective work but I was in search of something else. Something more vintage. I just didn't know exactly what that would be.

Later, at a dealer's table, I found a copy of ALTER EGO #10, the original fanzine published by Roy Thomas and featuring a Gil Kane cover and interview. I immediately bought it and knew what I had to do.

Gil Kane was also a guest at the con and I immediately headed towards his table with my purchase in hand. I expected to find a long line but there was no one at his table. He was sitting there chatting with a young woman. I asked him if he would please sign my ALTER EGO and he gladly agreed to do so. We exchanged pleasantries and I told him how much I admired his work. While we spoke, my buddy Bob Parker, snapped pictures of us. I used to have those photos but lord knows whatever happened to them.

I couldn't believe that I had just met a comic book legend. It was one of the highlights of a memorable weekend that was stuffed with great pop culture experiences because that Saturday night, Bob and I along with our buddy Jim Robertson went to see THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK at the old Alabama Theater near the Rice University campus. We sat in the balcony and felt it literally shake beneath our feet when the Imperial AT-ATs first rumbled onto the screen. That theater later became a Book Stop store. I don't know what's in the space now.

Oh, and on the Friday night before the con, Bob and I went to see THE ISLAND,  a perfectly dreadful film adaptation of Peter Benchley's novel starring Michael Caine.

Well, two out of three's not bad.

Friday, April 3, 2015

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR


DR. ZHIVAGO did not win the Best Picture of the Year Academy Award in 1965. That honor went to THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Yet author Andrew Grant Jackson says ZHIVAGO was the Best Picture winner in his new book, 1965: THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY YEAR IN MUSIC. The statement comes in a chapter about the British Invasion where Jackson argues that not only did the Brits dominate the U.S. airwaves, they also ruled at American cinemas. That's not an inaccurate assessment but it's sloppy and lazy to make an erroneous statement like this just to bolster your argument especially in this day and age when anyone can Google the correct Oscar winner for that year.

You don't have to have been alive in 1965 to write a book about it and judging from Jackson's author photo on the dust jacket, he certainly wasn't around back then. I was. Granted, I was only nine-years-old at the time but I wasn't in a coma. I well remember a lot of the material Jackson covers in this book. I was a regular listener to top 40 radio (KNOW-AM, The Mighty 1490!) and I bought singles and albums. I also took both piano and guitar lessons and my songbooks in both classes included many of the songs discussed here.

Jackson covers a lot of ground here, focusing especially on the headliners (The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones) along with many lesser acts and some "one-hit wonders". There's good background on The Wrecking Crew, the group of Los Angeles studio musicians (including future stars Glen Campbell and Leon Russell) who played on countless tracks.

But Jackson has let others do all of the heavy lifting here. It doesn't appear that he conducted any interviews with anyone still around from 1965 for information. Last time I checked, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (among others) were all still among the living but Jackson doesn't appear to have spoken to any of them. Instead, he pulls material from dozens of pre-existing sources including books, magazine and newspaper articles, documentary films, etc. 

He does an admirable enough job of taking a lot of material and weaving into a readable narrative of a key year in the history of rock and roll. But I would argue that as important as 1965 was, so was 1964. And 1966. And 1967. Hell, every year provides several pivotal, seminal moments in whatever sub culture you want to study: popular music, television, film, comics, literature, art, theater, dance, sports, and others.

Jackson also makes several cause and effect suppositions here about what certain song lyrics really mean. Many, he argues, are responses to other songs by other artists, with many acts commenting (overtly or covertly) about the competition. This could be true. It could also be false but Jackson makes many of these statements as a matter of fact with no sustaining evidence to back up his claims.

1965 isn't a bad book. I did enjoy reading it and it brought back many fond memories of the music I listened to then and still do to this day. But when I come across a factual error like the ZHIVAGO boner in a history book, I have to stop and wonder, if this guy could get this fact wrong, what the hell else is inaccurate in this book?

If you're of a certain age, read 1965 and take a trip back to an exciting time in American history. But be prepared to take some things with a grain of salt.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

CHASING AMY


A long time ago, I read an interview with Kevin Smith in an issue of WIZARD magazine. In the interview, Smith made several disparaging remarks about Jack "King" Kirby. Longtime readers of this blog know that Kirby is my all-time favorite comic book artist. I took umbrage at what Smith said and vowed to never see or read anything with his name on it.

As Batman once said, "things change."

I've watched and, for the most part, enjoyed many episodes of COMIC BOOK MEN, the show that stars Smith and his comic shop buddies on AMC. And I did finally see one of his films, the god-awful COP OUT (2010), a staggeringly routine cop-buddy comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. I'm still not overly impressed with Smith but I no longer hold a petty (and utterly pointless) grudge against him.

Still, I haven't been exposed to the work that more or less put him on the cinematic map. That is, until yesterday, when I watched CHASING AMY (1997), Smith's third film after his smash hit debut CLERKS (1994) and MALLRATS (1995). CHASING AMY, the third film in what's referred to as the "Jersey trilogy", is a romantic comedy in which comic book artist Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck, (DAREDEVIL (2003), Superman in HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) and soon to be Batman in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)) meets and falls in love with another comic book artist, Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams). But there's a catch. She's a lesbian.

The two soon become friends but it's obvious that Holden is deeply in love with Alyssa, much to the chagrin of his comic book co-creator and life long friend Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). Holden finally admits his feelings to Alyssa and, after first denying him, Alyssa admits her feelings for him. They sleep together and begin a passionate relationship, only to have an incident from Alyssa's past create a major problem for Holden.

CHASING AMY plays heavily on the adolescent male fantasy of being the one guy who could make an attractive gay woman change her sexual preferences and make love to a man. The language is unbelievably coarse, vulgar and crude but it's the way young men talk and that's something that Smith gets right. And credit to Smith for avoiding a Hollywood style happy ending with a bittersweet final scene.

But the trouble here is Smith himself. Like that other boy wonder of '90s cinema, Quentin Tarantino, Smith is in love with his own words. CHASING AMY suffers from being incredibly over-written. Dialogue is the only thing propelling the narrative here and there's a lot of it. Some of it is genuinely funny, some of it is very moving, especially the lines given to Adams, who delivers the best performance in the film. But much of what the characters say sounds like lines written by a screenwriter. The dialogue sounds contrived in some scenes and it's simply not the way people talk in real life.

Like Tarantino, Smith is a virtual one man band, serving as writer, director and actor here. There's no one to tell him (or QT) to cut something here, add something there, this scene works, this scene doesn't. He's in complete creative control and while his intentions may be good, what he puts on the screen could benefit greatly from a critical assessment given by another pair of eyes (or two).

CHASING AMY is also one of the most visually static films I've ever seen. Smith frames everything in a locked down, medium shot and, rather than moving his camera, he simply cuts from first character to second character back to first character over and over again. It's like watching a tennis match. I hate tennis.

When Smith does finally move his camera, the results are liberating, thrilling and refreshing. At first I thought the rigid, formal compositions, medium focal length and locked down camera was a deliberate attempt to replicate the old 9-panel static grid of a comic book page (since this film is about comic book creators). But I soon realized what was really going on.

Smith was operating on a very limited budget ($250,000), with probably a small crew and a limited amount of time in which to make the film. In order to operate at maximum efficiency he chose to do one camera set up at a time, get all of those scenes shot and then switch to another set up, shoot all of those scenes, and move on. Camera set ups take time and money. I know. I've been on a film set and seen how long it takes to set up just a few short shots. So, Smith's visual choices are as much economic as they are artistic, at least, in my opinion.

Smith also gives himself the key moment in the film in which he explains the meaning of "chasing Amy", since there's no character by that name in the film. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) are a stoner Greek chorus (okay, duet) who show up in a third act meeting with Holden. It's Bob who breaks his silence and reveals the secret. It's semi-profound and the rest of the film turns on what he tells Holden but I can't help but believe that the information could have been given by some other character rather than Silent Bob. It seems incredibly self-indulgent on Smith's part.

The scenes in the film that actually deal with comic books, conventions, meeting with studio executives (a Matt Damon cameo), working at the drawing board, inane arguments about Archie's real sexual preferences, a gay black comic book creator, Hooper X (Dwight Ewell) exhibiting a rabid, "hate honky" persona in public and when interacting with a young fan, are good and ring true. I would have liked to have seen an entire movie focused more on the world of comic books than a straight/gay love story.

There are those who say that CHASING AMY is one of Smith's best films. It's the film in which he showed some maturity and depth and began to rely less on dick and fart humor (although there's plenty of that on display here). That may be so to those who have seen all of Smith's films and are more familiar with his body of work than I am.

CHASING AMY is not a bad movie. It's an honest effort to show how messy and painful love can be between two people be they straight, gay or whatever. I give Smith credit for trying something different and making the best film he could at the time given the resources he had to work with. CHASING AMY is an uneven, sometimes awkward film. But it's compelling, funny and interesting and definitely worth seeing at least once.