Sunday, November 30, 2014

GUNS AT BATASI


I watched GUNS AT BATASI (1964) for the first time the other day and enjoyed it. Although the DVD copy I have is from the 20th Century Fox "War Movies" collection, it's hard to classify this film as an actual "war" movie. It does involve military forces and armed conflict but it's not set during any actual historical "war".

The story takes place in an unnamed African country during the then present day (1964). The country has recently been granted its' independence from Great Britain. There's a provisional government in place and British troops are still in country, training the natives to serve in what will eventually become their own national military.

But the situation is fraught with tension. A revolutionary group stages a coup against the brand new government. There are supporters of this group within the military and they soon seize control of the military base at Batasi. They order the British soldiers there to surrender their weapons and stand down. And that's when things take a turn for the worse.

A British Sergeant Major (superbly played by Richard Attenborough) refuses to back down. He's been posted to British colonies and military bases around the globe over the course of his military career but he's never been in a combat situation. He sees the current situation as a chance to uphold his military training and loyalty to the crown and, just possibly, to cloak himself in the glory of battle.

Attenborough and his men (a small handful of other officers) use their officer's club as a fortress against the rebels who eventually issue an ultimatum: surrender their weapons or be killed. To show that they mean business, the rebels bring in two giant cannons and point them at the building. Against a ticking clock, Attenborough and one of his men sneak out and blow up the guns only to find out that everything has been resolved between the new, revolutionary government and the British foreign office. Peace is restored but Attenborough is transferred back to England due to his insubordination.

GUNS AT BATASI is an intelligent, well written (Leo Marks, Marshall Pugh and C.M. Pennington-Richards adapted the novel Siege of Battersea by Robert Holles) drama. Director John Guillermin keeps things moving and slowly ratchets up the tension between the British officers and the rebel soldiers. He gets good performances out of a solid cast which includes Jack Hawkins, Flora Robson and Mia Farrow. Although set in Africa, GUNS AT BATASI was filmed entirely in England. A great deal of the "action" takes place indoors with scenes in the embattled officers' club having an air of claustrophobic unease and dread. A minor film but a good one. Thumbs up.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

BADLANDS


Well, I'm glad I finally got that out of my system.

Until a few nights ago, I'd never seen a Terence Malick film. The mercurial (and sometimes Austin resident) filmmaker has a reputation for making beautifully shot, incredibly cerebral films. He also rivals the legendary Stanley Kubrick for producing a small body of work over an extremely long period of time. Consider his filmography: BADLANDS (1973), DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978), THE THIN RED LINE (1998), THE NEW WORLD (2005), THE TREE OF LIFE (2011), TO THE WONDER (2012) and KNIGHT OF CUPS (2014). That's seven films over a forty year span.

I finally watched my first (and most likely, last) Terence Malick film the other night. BADLANDS ran on TCM and I recorded it and watched it. I'm not certain of this, but I'm willing to bet good money that some 1973 film reviewer used the words "lyrical, poetic" in his or her review of BADLANDS. "Lyrical, poetic" in a film review are code words for "has no plot". BADLANDS has a plot (sorta). It's a beautifully shot film (three cinematographers worked on the film: Tak Fujimoto, Stevan Larner and Brian Probyn), well acted (the young Martin Sheen and even younger Sissy Spacek are both very good), glacially paced film about two young lovers/killers on the run in the 1950s.

Except that there's no dramatic tension, no sense of urgency, no blackly comic buzz to the whole affair. BADLANDS goes nowhere and takes it own sweet time in getting there. You want a good young lovers/killers on the run film? Check  out THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948), GUN CRAZY (1950), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) or THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974), any one of which is infinitely better than BADLANDS.

Based on the true story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958, Martin Sheen channels his inner James Dean into his portrayal of Kit, an insane young man who kills several people throughout the course of the film, all for no apparent reason. Kit is no thief who kills in the commission of his crimes. He's a thrill killer without the thrill. Spacek is Holly, a borderline retarded young woman who accompanies Kit on his cross country spree after he shoots her father (the great Warren Oates, who is sadly under used here). The two live a fairy tale existence for awhile, setting up a tree house in the woods where they become a Swiss Family Robinson style little family. But the law soon stumbles upon them, Kit shoots and kills the police officers and they're on the run again. They're eventually captured. Kit is executed, Holly receives probation.

As I said, the film is gorgeous to look at and well acted but that's about the only nice things I can say about BADLANDS. It's a pretentious art film and I hate pretentious art films. I don't think I'll bother to see any other Malick films. I'll add him to my list of filmmakers to avoid along with David Lynch and Quentin Tarrantino. Thumbs down.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

THE BLUE MAX


It is stuck in my memory that I saw THE BLUE MAX (1966) at the Varsity Theater on The Drag when it was first released. It was a Sunday afternoon matinee. Don't know why I can remember that. I just do. So it's somehow fitting that I recently watched this film for the first time since 1966 the other afternoon. And yes, it was on a Sunday.

THE BLUE MAX, with a screenplay by Ben Barzman and Basilio Franchina from the novel by Jack D. Hunter, tells the story of one Corporal Bruno Stachel (George Peppard), a German army infantryman at the beginning of World War I who yearns to become a fighter pilot and, more importantly, an ace (20 kills) along with the accompanying Blue Max medal of honor. He joins a German squadron where he immediately sets out to prove himself in air combat at any cost. He lies about his first kill and butts heads with both his commanding officer Hauptmann Otto Heidermann (Karl Michael Vogler) and the resident ace, Willi von Klugermann (Jeremy Kemp). Stachel is from common stock which makes his desire to equal and better his aristocratic squadron mates even stronger.

Stachel's exploits soon catch the eye of General Count von Klugermann (the great James Mason) and his wife, Kaeti (the breathtakingly beautiful Ursula Andress). The count sees Stachel as playing an important part in a propaganda campaign to win the hearts and minds of the German people by showcasing the achievements of a commoner among the aristocracy. Kaeti, on the other hand, just wants to sleep with Stachel. They do so but it's a relationship that will soon lead to Stachel's downfall. Stachel eventually earns the highly coveted Blue Max but when the count learns that he won it by cheating, he lets Stachel fly a dangerously unsafe new, experimental aircraft with disastrous results.

THE BLUE MAX is a big, old-fashioned (it's got an intermission, anyone remember them?) epic war movie. Director John Guillermin does a great job with the action both on the ground and in the air. Shot in Ireland by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, THE BLUE MAX has a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith and spectacular flying sequences with stunt pilots and vintage aircraft putting on a dazzling show. Peppard is a bit stiff but I've always liked the guy. Mason is, as usual, superb and Andress is simply too gorgeous for words.Thumbs up.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A FINE PAIR


I took a chance on A FINE PAIR (1968) (when it showed up on TCM a few days ago) based solely on two things. The first was the film's description which read something like " a New York City police officer is blackmailed into helping a sexy cat burglar pull off a jewel heist". The second was the fact that said "sexy cat burglar" was played by the one and only Claudia Cardinale. The beautiful Italian actress has always been a favorite of mine and I figured anything with her in it was worth a look.

A FINE PAIR is an Italian film, directed by Francesco Maselli with a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. The beginning of the film takes place in New York City and it's odd to see an American city in a foreign made film. The action quickly moves to Continental Europe where the rest of the film takes place. But the cinematography is grainy and murky throughout and everyone's dialogue appears to have been looped in during post-production. As a result, A FINE PAIR, lacks the polish and slickness that other Hollywood produced romantic comedy caper films such as CHARADE had.

But it's not a bad little film at all. Rock Hudson is the NYC police captain who is pulled in by Claudia Cardinale, a young woman he's known since she was a child. He's friends with her family, a large Italian clan in which all of the men are police officers. Cardinale comes to New York and seeks Hudson's help. She tells him that a "friend" has stolen some jewels from the home of a wealthy couple who are on a cruise. She convinces him to help her replace the stolen loot before the owners return and discover them missing. Hudson agrees and they're off to the German Alps to figure out how to break into a virtually impenetrable fortress like house.

Hudson comes up with an ingenious way to defeat the state-of-the-art (for 1968) security system and while he's replacing the jewels (fake, of course), Cardinale steals the real ones. Afterwards, Hudson is turned on by his new life of crime and wants to accompany Cardinale on her next caper. But she wants to go straight. Or does she? The two fight and split up and it's a game of who's conning who before they're finally reunited at the end.

A FINE PAIR is light weight, breezy and fun. It's no masterpiece but I enjoyed watching it. Heck, I'd watch Claudia Cardinale read the phone book.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

AIR RAID WARDENS


In terms of sheer durability and longevity, the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was hard to beat. Both men had made numerous films separately in their careers before they teamed up as a duo on screen officially for the first time in PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP in 1927. 107 films and twenty-three years later, they made their last movie, ATOLL K in 1950.

For the record, these guys aren't my favorite comedy team from the Golden Age of Hollywood. That honor goes to the Marx Brothers, closely followed by, yes, the Three Stooges. Hey, I was exposed to the Stooges shorts at a very young age and their brand of roughhouse, slapstick (literally) humor stuck. They still make me laugh. I've only seen a handful of Laurel and Hardy films over the years and while I've enjoyed each and every one of them, I can't honestly say that I'm a huge fan.

I watched AIR RAID WARDENS last night. I recorded it off of TCM and no sooner had the film began than I remembered seeing  it not long ago when I had previously recorded if off of TCM. But I was in the mood for something light and funny and this one fit the bill. AIR RAID WARDENS (1943) is one of two films the duo made at MGM in the 1940s. In the film, they play failed businessmen in a small American town. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, they decide to enlist only to discover that none of the services will have them. They return home and split their failing bicycle shop with a meek, mild mannered man who sells radios. They also sign up for the local Civil Defense battalion. They proceed to make a mess of that and are finally forced to resign as air raid wardens. Dejected and despondent, the boys eventually turn into heroes when they discover that their mild mannered business partner is actually the head of a Nazi spy ring that plans to blow up the magnesium plant outside of town. Thanks to the intervention of Laurel and Hardy the plot is foiled.

There's nothing new, fresh or original to be found here. You can see every joke, set-up and situation coming from miles away but the pleasure is in the anticipation and the pay off. There's a nice sequence where the boys terrorize Edgar Kennedy who was the master of the "slow burn" comic take. Kennedy's signature mannerism of slowly wiping his face with one hand in frustration was later appropriated by Brian Keith who used the gesture in almost every episode of the 1960s television series FAMILY AFFAIR.

One thing that struck me as odd is how everyone in the film constantly refers to Laurel and Hardy as "the boys" even though they're both grown, middle aged men. AIR RAID WARDENS is light and breezy and fun. No belly laughs to be had here but I did get a couple of chuckles out of it and that's exactly what I wanted.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

OFF TO A GREAT START


I had a great time last night at the first classic film night at Waco's newly reopened, one-hundred-year-old Hippodrome Theater. I had the pleasure of introducing "Marilyn Monroe" at 6:30 p.m. who sang several songs for the audience while they were placing their food and drink orders and waiting for the film to begin.

Then at 7:00 p.m., Marilyn joined me on the stage for some announcements for upcoming events at the Hippodrome and to introduce THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (1954). The plot of the film was, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood, "about as solid as a loaf of bread" but it was a ton of fun to watch and the audience seemed to really enjoy it.

When the movie was over, I took the stage to make some comments about the film and to take questions from the audience for about fifteen minutes. I had to correct one patron who said that Donald O'Connor and Mitzi Gaynor (who co-starred in SHOW BUSINESS) also appeared together in another 1954 musical film, WHITE CHRISTMAS. Sorry, but no. WHITE CHRISTMAS stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney.

Afterwards, Marilyn and I posed in the lobby along with a nifty poster (which I brought home to hang on the wall of the man cave) promoting the event. Marilyn was a doll. Great singer and really into her character. I'm just glad the Hippodrome didn't hire an Ethel Merman impersonator!

There are more classic films scheduled for the Hippodrome including THE CIRCUS (Charlie Chaplin) and the first three original STAR WARS films (STAR WARS, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI). I've written notes for all of these films but dates for screenings have not been announced. Check the Hippodrome website (the address is located on the right hand side of this blog) for more details.

Being a part of film history last night was a dream come true for me. I had an absolute blast. My thanks to Melissa Green, programmer for the Hippodrome, for giving me this wonderful opportunity. A classic film and a classic theater makes for one unforgettable, classic evening.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

"SEE ME. HEAR ME."


This coming Tuesday evening, November 18th, at 7:00 p.m., I'll be introducing a screening of THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (1954) at the newly re-opened, one-hundred-year-old Hippodrome Theater in Waco, Texas. A talkback will follow after the screening. The Hippodrome website says I'm a "film scholar." I like the sound of that.

This is the first of many classic film screenings scheduled at the Hippodrome. Coming up (dates to be confirmed) are THE CIRCUS (Charlie Chaplin) and the first three original STAR WARS films ( A NEW HOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE RETURN OF THE JEDI). More will be announced shortly but those are the ones that I've written film notes for.

I had my first meeting with Melissa Green, programmer for The Hippodrome, back in June. I agreed to write film notes for any and all classic films they screen and to provide introductions and talkbacks on an occasional basis. I haven't written about this until now because I wanted to wait until everything was official and the theater was actually open for business.

The Hippodrome has plans to be Waco's home-grown version of Austin's venerable Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. In addition to the occasional classic film, the Hippodrome will play first run feature films, live music, theater (including the Pollyanna Theater Company's production of LIBERTY! EQUALITY! AND FIREWORKS!), etc. The plan is to have something happening every night of the week. The theater has two performance venues, the main theater on the ground floor and an enclosed, more intimate balcony theater on the second level. There's also a full bar and restaurant.

I'm thrilled to be a part of the rebirth of this piece of Texas movie theater history. If you're in the Waco or Central Texas area and want to see a classic film along with yours truly, go to  http://wacohippodrometheatre.com/events to purchase tickets and for more information.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

SHADOWED MILLIONS


1933 got off to a great start with the publication of SHADOWED MILLIONS by Maxwell Grant (the house name that Shadow creator and chief scribe Walter Gibson worked under) on January 1st. It was the 21st published adventure of the pulp crime fighter. That's the 1970s paperback reprint pictured above, published by Pyramid Books and sporting a gorgeous cover by master comic book artist Jim Steranko. I finished reading this book last night and it's a corker.

Alvarez Legira, consul of the newly created South American republic of Santander, comes to New York City to acquire ten million dollars from a group of wealthy financiers and investors. Ten million dollars is a hell of a lot of money in 2014. In 1933, it was an absolutely astronomical sum. Legira secures the loan but it's not clear if he will use the money to boost his country's economy or if he plans to abscond with all of it for himself.

Crooks get wind of the deal and start maneuvering to cut themselves in for either a piece of the action or the entire amount. Legira hires a look-a-like to throw off the bad guys but it's too little, too late. Murders occur and Legira is forced to go into hiding with the money while he waits for a boat to arrive off of the coast of Long Island.

Of course, The Shadow is mixed up in all of this and he races against the clock to prevent a criminal mastermind from stealing the money. There's a terrific gun battle in the third act, followed by a hell-and-gone car chase and shootout before the final showdown aboard a yacht where The Shadow engineers a masterful switcheroo.

SHADOWED MILLIONS is fast paced and fun. It's far from the greatest Shadow novel ever written but it's a good one nonetheless. Thumbs up.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

WONDER BOYS


I have a signed copy of Michael Chabon's 1995 novel WONDER BOYS sitting on one of my bookcase shelves, alongside other Chabon works, some signed, some not. I had the opportunity to meet Michael Chabon several years ago when he spoke at Southwestern University in Georgetown. Judy and I were there to hear him and later, meet him and get some books signed. While he was signing my copy of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY (which remains to this day, the single best book, fiction or non-fiction, that I have ever read), I went into full blown fanboy geek out mode. I started babbling to Mr. Chabon about how much I loved KAVALIER, that it was the best book I'd ever read, that I'd waited my entire life to read a book like it and on and on. He smiled, graciously said "thanks" and shot a quick glance at Judy, which prompted her to add, "he's not kidding, he really loves your books."

I read WONDER BOYS shortly after I read KAVALIER, which would have been sometime around 2001 or 2002. I don't remember all of the details of the novel, but I do know that I enjoyed it immensely (although not as much as I enjoyed KAVALIER, but they're two completely different works and it's not fair to compare them). I also enjoyed watching the 2000 film version which I finally got around to seeing for the first time the other day.

Michael Douglas stars as Grady Tripp, a college writing professor and bestselling novelist with exactly one book to his credit. He's been working on his follow-up effort for several years now. Tripp's problem isn't exactly writer's block. He has no trouble writing. He has a great deal of trouble stopping writing and thus, his manuscript fills several boxes. He's being pressured by his editor, Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.), who's in town for a weekend writing conference. Crabtree is in danger of losing his job at the publishing company where he works and he needs Tripp to give him something he can publish and soon.

Adding to the mix is one James Leer (Tobey Maguire), a brilliant, eccentric student in Tripp's writing class. Leer is a remarkably gifted writer but he's also a pathological liar, constantly making up stories about his family and childhood. Leer attaches himself to Tripp and Crabtree for the weekend and all sorts of mishaps occur.

Oh, and let's not forget that Tripp's wife has just left him, Tripp's affair with the married chancellor of the university (Frances McDormand), who discovers that she's pregnant, the fetching young Hannah Green (Katie Holmes), another of Tripp's writing students who just happens to rent a room in Tripp's house, and the pompous bestselling (and sell-out) author Quentin Morewood (Rip Torn) who is the guest of honor at the writing conference.

Much happens over the course of the weekend, so much that it strains credulity slightly to believe that so many wild and wacky events could occur to these people over such a relatively short period of time. A lot of booze is consumed and a lot of marijuana is smoked. Sexual relations (gay and straight) take place. And Tripp drives around with a dead dog in the trunk of his car.

The screenplay by Steven Kloves does an admirable job of adapting Chabon's novel. As usual, the book is better but this is certainly a worthwhile transition from page to screen. Director Curtis Hanson (who did a magnificent job with L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) gets great performances from a powerhouse cast of talented actors and actresses. Douglas is outstanding as a writer going through a mid-life crisis and there's plenty of sly humor (and a few belly laughs) along the way.

As a comic book fan, I couldn't help but notice that four of the stars would later appear in comic book based, superhero films. Douglas is set to play Henry Pym in next year's ANT-MAN, Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in three Sam Raimi films, Katie Holmes was Bruce Wayne's (Christian Bale) girlfriend in BATMAN BEGINS while Downey has starred as Tony Stark/Iron Man in three IRON MAN films and two AVENGERS movies.

WONDER BOYS is a smart, funny film which somehow never found the audience it deserved. Although a failure at the box-office on first release, WONDER BOYS is well worth seeing. It does right by the work of Michael Chabon and makes this boy wonder: hey, are we ever going to see the long talked about film version of KAVALIER AND CLAY?

Friday, November 7, 2014

SYRI-YAWN-A


It' s beautiful fall day. Too beautiful to waste it watching SYRIANA (2005). I gave this film one hour and turned it off. I had no idea what was going on in this convoluted and snail paced "thriller". Something to do with a merger between two American oil companies, middle east terrorists, a CIA assassin and an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. George Clooney won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a CIA operative. I kept watching, thinking that any minute now, in the next scene maybe, surely the pieces of this puzzle will start to come together and make sense. Are any of these various characters ever going to meet? Do any of the multiple storylines ever converge? Who cares?

SYRIANA is an unmitigated mess of a film and it's hard to believe that it got made with such high profile talent attached to it. I can usually make it through even the worst of movies (and lord knows, I've watched a lot of low budget trash over the years) until the bitter end but this? A major motion picture from a big Hollywood studio? Absolutely impossible to figure out what's going on and where the story (if you can call it that) is headed.

 I'm going outside for some fresh air.


CARNIVAL OF SOULS


Every year at Halloween time, Turner Classic Movies runs a bunch of horror films. I record as many of them as I can with the hopes of having the time to watch some of them. Some of the films I've seen before, while others are new to my eyes. One of the films I recorded this year was CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962). I saw this one way back in the 1980s and watched it again for the first time in thirty-some-odd years last night.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS, as it exists today, comes with a couple of pedigrees it didn't have in 1962. For one thing, the film is now distributed by Janus Films (the print I watched had this title), which is known for distributing both foreign and domestic films of classic status. COS has also been released on DVD by the prestigious Criterion Collection, which does a first rate job with all of their releases when it comes to print quality and archival material. So, CARNIVAL has more standing among film buffs today than it did when it was first released fifty-two years ago.

The story concerns a young woman (Candace Hilligoss) who somehow survives a fatal traffic accident (her car goes off of a bridge into a muddy river) at the beginning of the film. She emerges from the river, wet and covered in mud and she is, not surprisingly, shell shocked by the whole experience. She leaves her small Kansas town and travels to Salt Lake City, Utah where she has accepted a job as a church organist. Driving along the desolate highway at night, she sees a creepy man (Herk Harvey) outside of her car and in the roadway. Once settled in the city, she continues to see this mysterious, ghoul faced man at various times and places. Is he real or a figment of her disturbed imagination?

Hilligoss becomes more isolated and distant from the people around her and she becomes obsessed with the deserted and dilapidated carnival grounds situated on a dried up lake bed outside of town.. She journeys there alone to find answers but to no avail. She suffers several hallucinatory, disorienting episodes involving the pavilion, the ghoul man and other resurrected dead people. There's a nightmarish climax and a final shot that brings everything full circle.

Director Herk Harvey shot CARNIVAL OF SOULS entirely on location in Lawrence, Kansas and Salt Lake City, Utah with a budget of $33,000. The use of real locations and real people as actors adds a great deal of atmosphere to the film. This isn't some Hollywood production filmed on sound stages and back lots. There's a cinema verite feeling to the action and the camera work, framing and editing make CARNIVAL at times feel more like a European art film than a drive-in theater exploitation pot boiler.

Hilligoss is effective as the haunted lead and Hervey is creepy as the silent ghoul. The film has similarities to the classic first season TWILIGHT ZONE episode "The Hitch-Hiker" (air date January 22nd, 1960) which featured the lovely Inger Stevens as a blond motorist plagued by a mysterious hitch-hiker with both the film and the television show having roughly the same ending.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS also prefigures Roman Polanski's REPULSION (1965) which starred the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve as a haunted young woman. And the low budget, shot-on-location, amateur actors, do-it-yourself ethos of CARNIVAL is a clear inspiration for George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).

CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a good little horror film. The atmosphere is suitably creepy and Hervey shows real flair as a director. He managed to get a lot of bang for his buck with this disturbing and haunting tale. Recommended.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

THE END OF ETERNITY


I was in the bookstore the other day, in the science fiction section, when a handsome new trade paperback caught my eye. It was a new edition of Isaac Asimov's 1955 novel, THE END OF ETERNITY. I picked it up, read the blurbs and thought "This sounds pretty cool. I'd like to read this one." That was immediately followed by a second thought, "I think I already have a copy of this at home."

I was right. I did. The copy on my man cave bookshelf is the one pictured above. It's the Fawcett Crest paperback edition published in October 1971. I think the cover art is terrific and, now that I've read the book, I think what's behind that cover is pretty terrific too.

In the far future, a place called Eternity exists outside of and removed from regular time and space. There, the Eternals, a group of highly trained, brilliant men, constantly monitor centuries past, present and future. They search for key events that cause things to go bad in history and when they find them, they institute changes (some small, some large) that cause the event not to occur and for a new reality to come into being. The Eternals are acting out of beneficence and have only the best intents for mankind but by robbing man of his chances to make disastrous mistakes along side supreme triumphs, the Eternals are forcing mankind along a safe path of evolutionary development and an ultimate dead end.

All of this is discovered over the course of the novel by our hero, Andrew Harlan, a Technician who is destined to play a crucial role in a cause and effect time loop that creates Eternity over and over again. Harlan dares to fall in love with a woman from another century and he takes her "out of time" and hides her in the far "upwhen" centuries of Eternity.

But that's only the beginning of his crimes and as things rocket along, Harlan (and the reader) experience one mind-shattering revelation after another as the many truths and secrets of Eternity are finally revealed.

THE END OF ETERNITY is a great science fiction novel, bursting at the seams with heady ideas and concepts, all of which are skillfully explicated by the master, Isaac Asimov. The narrative starts slowly but gradually builds tension and excitement with each new twist and turn. While there's little physical action, this is still a page turner. I couldn't stop reading once I reached a certain part of the book because of the secrets that were being exposed in each chapter, all of which jibe perfectly with everything that has gone before. Asimov plays fair with his mystery here. All the clues and information is there, you just don't know what's important when you read it for the first time.

I grew up reading a lot of science fiction but somehow, I never picked this one up. I'm glad I've finally done so. THE END OF ETERNITY is a winner, a classic science fiction novel by a master of the genre. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

WIZARD WORLD AUSTIN COMIC CON 2014: PRO AND CON


Let me begin this piece by saying that I scored some very cool books (and an action figure!) at the recent Wizard World Austin Comic Con. Those treasures have all been posted here over the past month and I am quite pleased with everything I bought. And, as related in another post, getting to and from the convention was easy thanks to Metro Rail. However, I have several criticisms of the overall convention experience, enough so that I honestly don't know if I'll attend another one.

To begin with, for some reason the con this year ran Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which is very unusual. All previous Wizard World conventions have been Friday-Sunday affairs. My guess is that this scheduling must have been due to the availability of  the Austin Convention Center but it's still a strange schedule. I bought my one day pass for Friday, so I was there on day two of the three day event.

The convention website didn't post a schedule of panels until the week before the event. Again, I'm sure that several last minute things had to be nailed down and commitments from convention guests had to be confirmed but I would have liked to have seen this information posted earlier if possible.

That said, there were two panels on Friday that I decided to attend first before hitting the dealer's room. The first was a celebration of Marvel Comics' 75th Anniversary. There were three people on the panel: former Marvel editor/writer Danny Fingeroth, my pal Alan Porter and some guy whose name I don't recall. I don't why Alan and the unknown panelist were up there because they added nothing to the event which consisted of a PowerPoint presentation narrated by Fingeroth. Fingeroth spent a great deal of time on the golden and silver age days of Marvel, so much so that he had to rush through the last 25 years of the company in about five minutes. Fingeroth provided no insights into what the company was like during his days on staff (which I would have loved to hear). He talked, the other two guys threw their two cents in occasionally and I didn't learn a single thing I didn't already know about the history of Marvel Comics. Not a great panel by any stretch but it was far better than what followed.

The next "panel" (actually a one-woman show) was in the same room so I stayed put to see and hear something entitled "From Science Fiction to Science Fact". The woman presenting the material never identified herself to the audience so I have no idea who she was or what her credentials were. Was she a science fiction author? A scientist? A science writer? A futurist? No clue.

Her presentation was another PowerPoint slide show of various technologies that are either already in existence or in development. It was like reading an issue of POPULAR SCIENCE with an ill-informed narrator. I got the impression that this woman had simply surfed the web for various science sites, found some interesting material and put it all together. Anyone could have done this. Her final "slide" was a plug for her various self-published science fiction books were for sale in booth number 1234. I doubt many people left that "panel" and made a beeline for her booth. In fact, many people bailed out of the presentation as this woman droned on and on and folks realized that they all had better things to do. I stayed until the end and wished I hadn't.

One mediocre panel and one bad presentation down with the rest of the day to go. Time to hit the dealer's room and see what treasures I could find.

The first thing I did was reconnoiter the whole exhibit hall and identify the booths I wanted to come back and hit on a second pass. To the left of the hall was the autograph and photo ops section. The main, center part of the hall was where the dealer's booths were located with "Artists Alley" at the rear of the space. In the center of the dealer's space and taking up an sizable piece of expensive Comic Con real estate was Neal Adams. Adams was at the convention last year and I bought a Superman print from him. He signed it for me and I have it framed and hanging in the man cave. I didn't particularly want to purchase another item from Adams this year but it was nice to see him again. The right side of the hall featured interactive exhibits, games and a space for people to play Magic The Gathering and other role playing games. So, something for everybody with cos players everywhere.

I traversed the entire exhibit hall in about 30 minutes. Had I missed something? I covered the dealer's area again just to make sure and I was right the first time. There were almost no comic book dealers at the show. Oh, there were tons of other stuff. You want swords? Several booths had them along with light sabers, prop replicas of guns, T-shirts, art prints, high-end, autographed collectibles, action figures, toys, bobble heads, steam punk paraphernalia, bootleg DVDs (how do those guys get away with selling clearly illegal merchandise at these shows?), the current "hot" comics and more including a booth selling sugar gliders (who comes to a comic book convention to buy a live animal?), several "spin-and-win" movie passes booths, a booth for the Gay Geeks of Central Texas and State Farm Insurance. Wait, what? State Farm Insurance?

What I didn't see was very many booths offering vintage comic books, magazines and toys for sale. For instance, at last year's Wizard World, legendary comic book dealer Mile High Comics had an enormous set up with literally thousands of comics old and new for sale. They weren't here this year and I suspect there are two reasons for that. One, the big New York Comic Con was coming up and they probably decided to spend their money on that show instead of Austin. And two, that they didn't have strong enough sales in Austin last year to warrant coming back. There were other big comic book dealer booths that were at the con in 2013 but they were all missing in action this year.

I counted about half a dozen booths offering back issue comics and I decided to hit them all and ask for what I was looking for. My holy trinity of wants this time around were Dell and Gold Key comics, men's adventure magazines and pulp magazines. You've seen the Dell and Gold Key comics I was able to find. No one had any men's adventure comics and only one dealer had any pulps (four overpriced issues of WEIRD TALES). Granted, I'm at the far end of the collector spectrum, a 58-year-old man with specific interests that aren't "hot" and popular with the younger buyers. Heck, most kids probably don't have a clue about the type of material I was looking for. I also get that booths are expensive and that dealers have to bring what they think they can sell in order to cover their costs and make a profit. They are business people and I respect that.

But I found it somewhat distressing that so few comic books of any kind could be found at a convention with the word "comic" in it's name. Everything else pop culture was well represented. State Farm Insurance was represented. Sugar gliders were there. But comic books? Good luck finding 'em at Wizard World Austin Comic Con.