Sunday, May 31, 2015


I recall seeing INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959) for the first time sometime in the mid-60s at my grandparents house on a Saturday afternoon. My grandparents had a large antenna attached to their house which allowed them to pick up television broadcasts from stations in far off San Antonio. This was in the pre-cable television days. One of the San Antonio stations had a Saturday afternoon "Shock Theater" type program and that's where I first saw this film. To be honest, it kind of scared me when I was a kid.

I watched it again this afternoon for the first time in almost fifty years and, like so many things from my youth, it is nowhere near as good as I remember it being. In fact, it's pretty bad.

Atomic scientist Dr. Karol Noyman (John Carradine) dies in a laboratory explosion at the beginning of the film. His colleague, Dr. Penner (Philip Tonge), decides to quit working on atomic weapons and resigns from the government. That night, the reanimated corpse of Dr. Noyman appears at Penner's house and provides a huge info dump to get things moving. Turns out he's the vanguard of a race of invisible aliens with a base on the moon who have decided that with atomic weapons and space flight now a reality, the people of earth have suddenly become a threat to their race. Noyman gives Penner 24 hours to deliver the message "surrender or be invaded". The message is delivered by Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton) and, of course, no one takes him seriously.

When the deadline has passed, the aliens, true to their word, began their attack. This is accomplished through copious amounts of stock footage of various disasters and shots of animated corpses wandering the countryside. Curiously, all of the living dead are middle-aged, well-dressed white men (with cool ties!). This plot device neatly prefigures George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).

Dr. Penner, his daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron), and Dr. LaMont are put under the command of U.S. Army Major Bruce Jay (genre icon John Agar). They hole up in a bunker in Bronson Canyon (a location that my buddy Kelly Greene and I visited in 1994) to work on a way to defeat the aliens. We're told that there are other such teams in other bunkers but we never see any of these other people. The budget only allows for these four actors to save the world.

Through trial and error they discover that highly amplified sound waves can drive the aliens from the re-animated corpses and eventually kill them. They quickly cobble together some sonic bazookas and go on the offensive. The devices work, an alien ship is destroyed and the world is saved.

Invisibility, as a movie gimmick, can work well if some thought, care and attention to detail is put into the production. Just look at James Whale's classic THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). Here, invisibility is used because, hey, what could be cheaper than invisible aliens? The low budget accounts for the use of tons of stock footage and the same, lame "invisibility" effects recycled repeatedly throughout the film. It's rumored that director Edward L. Cahn had a two week shooting schedule and actually shot the film in one week just to impress the cast and crew. That haste is evident in every frame of this film. The idea of INVISIBLE INVADERS isn't a bad one, and as I said, it appealed to me as a kid. If this script by Samuel Newman had gone through a couple of rewrites, if the budget had been a little bit bigger, if Edward L. Cahn had slowed down and tried to actually make a decent picture instead of a cheap, quick exploitation film, things might have been different.

As it is INVISIBLE INVADERS just isn't very good. It's worth seeing at least once if you're a die-hard aficionado of 1950s science fiction films (as I am). But if you're not, move on, there's nothing to see here. Literally.


Saturday, May 30, 2015


I watched SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956) for the first time this afternoon and really enjoyed it. It was the first British science fiction film to be shot in CinemaScope and WarnerColor.

The plot deals with the launch of the spacecraft Stardust into earth orbit. The mission is supposed to be purely scientific but a Tritbonium bomb has been added to the ship's cargo. The goal is to detonate the bomb above Earth's atmosphere where it's destructive power will be seen by the entire world and thus, put a halt to any and all future conflicts. Of course, something goes wrong and it's a race against time to separate the bomb from the exterior of the ship where it has become stuck due to "magnetic attraction."

Kieron Moore stars as the captain of the Stardust with a lovely young Lois (Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films) Maxwell as a reporter who stows away on the Stardust to get an exclusive story. Donald Wolfit gives a good performance as the creator of the bomb.

The film makes good use of stock footage of actual experimental aircraft of the time while the Stardust is a nicely conceived miniature. The special effects are by Wally Veevers who would go on to work on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).

SATELLITE IN THE SKY has a matter of fact tone and atmosphere. There's some narrative time spent on the ground prior to the launch that explores the personal lives of the crewmen. The sets are nicely designed with good matte paintings in addition to the miniatures work. SATELLITE IN THE SKY ends rather abruptly. When the bomb explodes, the movie's over. Nonetheless, I found it to be an earnest, well-mounted production. Recommended to fans of '50s science fiction films.


Here's another book I've read while recuperating from hernia surgery. CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (2002) by Max Allan Collins, is the twelfth Nate Heller mystery. Heller is Collins detective hero who gets involved with many of the major crime cases of the twentieth century and in the process, meets a veritable who's who of historical figures.

Set in 1950, CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL finds Heller involved with the organized crime investigation and congressional hearings spearheaded by Senator Estes Kefauver. At the same time, Senator Joseph McCarthy is ramping up his communist witch hunt through similar hearings. A detective in Heller's employ has a mountain of evidence to surrender to the feds but certain organized crime figures, including Mafia boss Sam Giancana, don't want the evidence turned over. Heller is caught between a rock and a hard place when his operative is killed by a crooked cop and he's forced to retaliate.

It's a twisted maze of mobsters, corrupt politicians and police, Frank Sinatra and oh, yeah, a very young Jayne Mansfield. Heller sure keeps some interesting company.

I love this series. Some may quibble that it's impossible for one man to have met all of the people that Heller does and to be involved, however peripherally, in some of the biggest crimes and mysteries of the twentieth century. I'll grant that, but hey, these are novels, not history books. Collins does do a tremendous amount of research which makes the books as authentic as possible and he always includes a postscript identifying all of the players, both real and imagined. It's a great blend of film noir and The History Channel. I've said it before but it bears repeating: if you love mysteries, if you love history, you'll love the Nate Heller novels. Check 'em out.


Friday, May 29, 2015


It's no exaggeration to say that the poster art (by Reynold Brown) pictured above is far and away the single best thing about WORLD WITHOUT END (1956), a soporific science fiction film that I watched this afternoon.

A flight to Mars with a crew of four runs into an unexplained time warp in deep space. Their ship is deposited on an unknown planet which is clearly not Mars. As the crew explores the countryside, they discover that they are on Earth in the far future. It's a world of giant, cave-dwelling spiders, and savage, cyclopean cavemen. Normal humans exist in an underground society where the men are weak and slightly effeminate and all of the women are hot. Smoking hot. It's a neat inversion of the future Earth found in THE TIME MACHINE (1960), where the tame, timid humans lived on the surface and were menaced by the bestial underground living Morlocks.

The men realize that they cannot return to their own time so they try to rally the humans to return to the surface and reestablish their society there where it can grow and thrive. They meet with resistance but eventually win them over. The crew (along with a cute young woman), return to the surface, do battle with the cavemen and defeat them, thus allowing the humans to return to the surface and begin rebuilding civilization.

Leadenly paced, with long passages of nothing but bad, stilted and wooden expository dialogue, WORLD WITHOUT END is a snoozer. I know I nodded off a couple of times. The art direction is decent but the underground sets all have the same geometric designs and tons of mid-century modern furniture. The color cinematography is vivid and lush but director Edward Bernds doesn't use the CinemaScope format to its' full advantage.

Bernds had an interesting career as a director. He helmed many of the Three Stooges two-reelers at Columbia before moving into feature films. His other genre efforts include QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) and VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961).

The crew of the space ship includes genre veterans Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor. Marlowe appeared in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956), both of which are superior to WORLD WITHOUT END. Taylor still has a bit of an Aussie accent here and would of course go on to star in George Pal's masterpiece THE TIME MACHINE (1960).

While watching WORLD I couldn't help but wonder what all involved thought about what they were doing while the film was in production. They had to know the material was pretty dreadful but everyone was drawing a paycheck for their work and for all involved both in front of and behind the camera, that's what really mattered.

WORLD WITHOUT END is worth seeing at least once if you're a fan of 1950s science fiction films. Just don't expect much.


I remember seeing Howard Hawks's AIR FORCE (1943) during the summer of 1977. It played on the UT campus, back when numerous auditoriums around the forty acres featured regular screenings of classic films. I loved it when I first saw it and I enjoyed watching it again yesterday.

The story focuses on the crew of the Mary-Ann, a B-17 bomber on route (with other bombers) from San Francisco to Honolulu. Hawks takes his time to introduce each crew member and establish their respective personalities. The crew is composed of Harry Carey, Charles Drake, John Ridgely, Gig Young, Arthur Kennedy, John Garfield, James Brown and George Tobias. But it's only after the plane is in flight do we learn the date of this fateful voyage: December 7th, 1941.

The plane lands at Pearl Harbor, refuels and takes off for Wake Island, which has also been hit by the Japanese. They barely have time to resupply before they're forced to take off again, this time for Clark Field in Manila. They arrive to find the base under siege and short of planes. They gear up and take to the skies along with a ragtag squadron of fighters. The Mary-Ann suffers major damage and the crew abandons ship, except for the mortally wounded captain and gunner Garfield who somehow manages to land the plane in one piece.

There's a dramatic death-bed scene where the men say their goodbyes to the captain. Then they all decide to rebuild the Mary-Ann, using parts scrounged from other planes. It's a sequence reminiscent of FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX as the men put together a makeshift aircraft. But they succeed, the Mary-Ann once Aggi takes flight and discovers a massive Japanese naval armada. They call in the reinforcements (other bombers and fighters) and lead the successful attack on the Japanese fleet.

AIR FORCE is a terrific piece of wartime propaganda. Made while the war was still being fought, it's an old-fashioned, flag-waving tribute to the men of the United States armed forces in combat around the world. Beautifully shot by James Wong Howe, AIR FORCE features claustrophobic scenes on the plane, convincing model work and a judicious use of stock footage. Hawks focuses on the men and their relationships, how they react under stress and fear. Hawks understood the unique fraternity of men in perilous situations and managed to bring these individuals to vivid life.


Thursday, May 28, 2015


I know I read John D. MacDonald's APRIL EVIL (1956) for the first time back in the 1980s. I re-read it recently while recuperating from hernia surgery. It's as good as I remember it.

The plot is basic caper material. A rich old eccentric keeps a million dollars in cash in a vault in his two-story, stone house in the small town of Flamingo, on Florida's gulf coast. A gang of professional crooks, Harry Mullin, Sal, The Ace and Ronnie (the last, a hired killer), come to town to plot the robbery. At the same time, the simmering greed and corruption of the old man's heirs, Dil and Lorena, comes to the surface and they decide to try and con the old man out of his money. And a nosy kid who lives next door to the house the crooks have rented, learns the truth about his new neighbors.

All of the characters are well drawn as is the sense of time and place. My only complaint, and it's a slight one, is that after so much build up, the actual heist is over fairly quickly and so is the book. Still, this is one lean, mean, tough little piece of vintage pulp crime fiction. It would have made a helluva good movie in the 1950s. Recommended.


Sunday, May 17, 2015


I finished reading Elmore Leonard's THE MOONSHINE WAR (1969) the other day. I have a vague memory of reading this one back in the 1980s but I had forgotten enough of the story to make this a brand new reading experience.

Set in 1931, THE MOONSHINE WAR is a transitional novel in Leonard's body of work, falling neatly between his earlier, fine western novels and the rest of his contemporary crime thrillers. Moonshiner Son Martin is sitting on top of a fortune worth of illegal white lightning in the back hills of Kentucky. The booze was distilled by his late father and only Son and his hired hand, Aaron, know the location of the hidden barrels of whiskey.

Along comes federal Prohibition agent Frank Long, a WWI buddy of Son's. Long is looking to find the hidden treasure but Son won't co-operate. Long decides he needs help so he calls in bootlegger and criminal genius Dr. Taulbee. Taulbee brings along his psychotic hired gun Dual Meaders and his young prostitute Miley Mitchell. Taulbee decides Son needs some extra persuasion so he recruits a small army of thugs to put pressure on Son's neighbors, all of whom operate stills of their own. When that fails, the bad guys resort to murder before things come to a (literally) explosive climax.

THE MOONSHINE WAR is a tightly constructed little crime thriller that moves along at a nice pace. The characters are all well drawn, as is the time and place and the dialogue is first rate. It may not be Leonard's best but it's a good one.

There was a movie version of THE MOONSHINE WAR released in 1970. I've never seen the film but the cast includes Alan Alda as Son Martin, Patrick McGoohan as Frank Long, Richard Widmark as Dr. Taulbee and Will Geer as Sheriff Baylor. When I was reading the book, I cast the characters in my mind as follows: Charles Bronson as Son, Dennis Weaver as Frank, Strother Martin as Dr. Taulbee, Bruce Dern as Dual Meaders and Woody Strode as Aaron. 



Friday, May 15, 2015


Haven't had a chance to see the new MAD MAX: FURY ROAD yet but I hope to do so soon. The buzz about it is good and the trailers look awesome. But before I venture off to the local cinema, I thought I'd spend some time this afternoon revisiting an earlier MAX film: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981).

I first saw THE ROAD WARRIOR when it was released in 1981 at the old Highland Mall Twin Cinema. I didn't see the first film, MAD MAX in the theaters when it was released, but I do recall seeing ads for it when it was out. Just never made it to the theater where it was showing (the old Northcross Six, if I recall correctly). I finally saw MAD MAX on either HBO or Cinemax, back when those two movie channels actually showed movies, and was a bit underwhelmed by the film. It was an okay, low budget actioner but I didn't think it was anything spectacular.

THE ROAD WARRIOR, on the other hand, blew me away. I saw it twice at the theater and a couple of more times on home video but I hadn't seen it in at least thirty-four years until this afternoon. It still holds up as one hyper-kinetic, adrenaline fueled piece of filmmaking. And it looks fantastic on Blu-ray. 

I recall describing the film when I first saw it as "Jack Kirby meets VANISHING POINT" (and extra points if you get both of those references). Australian director George Miller tells what is essentially an American Western film set in the future in the Australian outback. A world wide conflict has reduced humanity to warring tribes and oil is one scarce and precious commodity. Max (a very young Mel Gibson), survives on the roads against marauding gangs on motorcycles and vehicles that look like they came from some dark and twisted version of the old cartoon series WACKY RACES. What Max needs is fuel and he finds it in a besieged refinery compound in the middle of nowhere. The people in the compound are constantly harassed by the marauders and yearn to escape with their precious oil to a more civilized (a relative term of course), outpost. Max, who only wants enough gas to get him on down the road, falls in with the group, realizing that he's their only hope of salvation.

Max agrees to drive an 18-wheeled oil tanker out of the compound and thus begins the astonishing, climatic chase across the desert. It's a thirteen minute long set piece of sustained vehicular carnage and edge-of-your-seat thrills which ranks as one of the greatest chase sequences ever filmed. And when the chase is over, so is the movie.

I have still never seen the third Mad Max film, BEYOND THUNDERDOME. Maybe I will one of these days. But I can't imagine it's as good as THE ROAD WARRIOR This is stripped down, pedal to the metal action film making at it's finest, an amazingly durable touchstone of '80s science fiction cinema. Highly recommended.

P.S.: There's only one thing that could make this movie better:


Sunday, May 10, 2015


I finished reading THE AGE OF RA by British science fiction author James Lovegrove the other day. It's the third book of his "Godpunk" series that I've read. "Godpunk" is a series in concept only as each novel is a stand alone in which various ancient religions and pantheons play a major part in the narratives. The first of these that I read, AGE OF AZTEC, I loved. It had a pulp fiction/comic book character as the protagonist up against Aztec deities returning to earth. It was fast paced and action packed.

The  second "Godpunk" book I read was AGE OF VOODOO, which was a B horror/action movie on steroids. It started off slow with way too much talk and exposition but kicked into high gear in the second half of the book.

AGE OF RA starts out strong then quickly stalls, never actually managing to get back into first gear for the duration of the book. It's an intriguing premise. The entire world worships various gods of the ancient Egyptian pantheon with countries pledging their allegiance to their respective gods and goddesses. Every nation is tied to a god except for Freegypt, which refuses to worship any of the gods. David Westwynter, a British soldier, finds his way into Freegypt after his squad of paratroopers are ambushed and killed with Westwynter left for dead. In Freegypt he meets a beautiful woman, Zafirah and a mysterious, masked figure known only as The Lightbringer. The Lightbringer has more than one secret up his sleeve but his primary mission is to lead the forces of Freegypt against neighboring nation states in an attempt to topple the stranglehold the gods have on the world. It's a doomed gambit but all is not what it seems.

To say anymore would be to ruin a couple of major plot twists that radically effect the course of events. AGE OF RA is not a bad book. It's a compelling concept that deals with issues of fraternity, faith and belief. There are some well written battle scenes but the book lacks the propulsive narrative drive that AZTEC and VOODOO had. I kept reading but I wasn't turning the pages as quickly as I did with Lovegrove's other books. AGE OF RA is certainly worth reading but if you haven't sampled any of the "Godpunk" novels, start with AGE OF AZTEC like I did. It's the best of the three I've read so far.

You know what would have made AGE OF RA a real winner in my book? An appearance by this lady:

I know, this is a book I'm talking about, not a movie but hey, Ann-Margret is like bacon. She makes everything better.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Years ago, comic book artist Gil Kane did an in store appearance at a comic book shop in the old Northcross Mall. I don't remember the name of the shop. I really wanted to meet Gil Kane for a second time but his appearance conflicted with my work schedule. I brought some Silver Age issues of THE ATOM (with Kane art) from my collection and left them with the young lady who managed the shop (I believe her name was Sabrina, if I recall correctly). She had Gil Kane sign them (in silver ink no less!) and here they are.

THE ATOM #18 May 1965

 THE ATOM #30 May 1967

THE ATOM #31 July 1967

THE ATOM #36 May 1968

THE ATOM #37 July 1968


I found a brand new, never opened, still sealed in shrink wrap DVD of KINGPIN (1996) the other day at the thrift store. Even though I'd seen the film before I figured that a brand new copy for only a buck was too good a deal to pass up Besides, this movie made me laugh my ass off.

KINGPIN, directed by brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly  (from a script by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan), is a lowbrow, rude, politically incorrect comedy about three of life's losers who find a measure of redemption in the world of, wait for it, bowling. Yes, bowling. Part road comedy, part sports cliché movie and all vulgar humor (much of it directed at handicapped and disabled individuals), KINGPIN is one very funny movie.

Woody Harrelson stars as Roy Munson, a one time bowling champion who has hit the skids. He's an unemployed alcoholic with a bad comb over. And oh yeah, he has a prosthetic hand. Munson stumbles across Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid in a blond page boy wig), an Amish bowling prodigy. Munson sees Ish as his ticket back to the big time. He plans to coach the naïve young man and enter him in a million dollar, winner-take-all bowling tournament in Reno, Nevada.

The two cheat, steal, hustle and con their way across country eventually crossing paths with Claudia (Vanessa Angel), a woman who knows a thing or two about hustling herself. They finally reach Reno but an injury to Ish forces Munson to take his place in the tournament where he must face his nemesis, Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray, sporting another ridiculous comb over). There's lots of high drama (veteran sportscaster Chris Schenkel calls the big showdown), before the end of the tournament.

Harrelson is good as the sleazy Munson, while Quaid imbues Ish with a sense of innocence and naivete. Angel is just there for eye candy while Murray practically steals the show in the third act. There are plenty of gross sight gags, physical humor and one liners, many of which are guaranteed to offend the sensitive. Me? I thought it was hysterically funny. Stupid? Yeah. Dumb? Yeah. But the Farrelly brothers manage to find the inherent goodness in these lovable losers. If you're looking for sophisticated comedy, move along. You won't find it here. But if you have a penchant for well done gross out comedy, KINGPIN rolls a strike every time.


Thursday, May 7, 2015


Two of my buddies, Steve Cook and Chad Wilman, have both recommended history writer Nathaniel Philbrick to me so I figured I should check him out. When I found a copy of SEA OF GLORY for two bucks at the local thrift store, I didn't think twice about buying it. Boy, am I glad I did.

SEA OF GLORY (2003) is an epic adventure story about a little known part of American history. In 1838, the U.S. government (mainly the U.S. Navy), commissioned an exploring expedition to chart, survey and map what was at the time, the largely unknown and unexplored Pacific Ocean. It was an enormous undertaking that would take a total of four years to complete. Six sailing vessels made up the squadron and they were manned with a variety of seamen (some experienced, others green) and scientists of various stripes.

They were also under the command of one Charles Wilkes, a man with severe psychological problems. A martinet with delusions of grandeur, Wilkes horribly mistreated his men, often punishing them with whippings and beatings that exceeded what maritime law permitted. He was petty, vindictive, untried and he desperately longed to acquire a higher rank. But as emotionally unstable as Wilkes was, he was a remarkable surveyor and many of his charts of Pacific islands and waters were still in use one hundred years later during World War II.

The Exploring Expedition, or Ex. Ex. as Philbrick refers to it, was given a formidable assignment. Wilkes and his crew explored the shores of Antarctica at a time when very little was known about that immense continent. They encountered fierce, cannibalistic natives and met spears and clubs with guns and swords. They ascended to the top of Mauna Loa, an active volcano in Hawaii, where the temperatures were both extremely cold and hot. Finally, they sailed to the Pacific Northwest to explore the deadly waters of the Columbia River. Along the way, vast amounts of specimens were collected that eventually became the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution.

But when the voyage was over in 1842, Wilkes didn't return to the United States a hero. Instead, he faced a military court martial brought by several crewmen who suffered under his hand and lash.

Philbrick makes the case that the Exploring Expedition should be as well known today as the similar expedition of Lewis and Clark. But Wilkes was his own worst enemy. His hubris, pride and ego constantly got in the way. He longed for so much more that he could never be satisfied with the truly remarkable achievements he had accomplished.

SEA OF GLORY is a page turner of a true adventure story, an epic voyage of discovery and exploration. It's also a penetrating and insightful psychological study of a man whose own quest for glory eclipsed everything .

Highest recommendation.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


Just back from seeing AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON this morning. I'll get to my thoughts on the film in a minute but first, a short trip down memory lane.
As I noted in a previous blog post, the first issue of THE AVENGERS that I can remember buying was #25. I'd seen issues on the stands before but it was the combination of this off-beat quartet of heroes (Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) facing off against Dr. Doom that won my twelve-cents. I enjoyed the comic but I didn't buy AVENGERS on a regular basis until September 1966.
That's the month when I started buying almost every Marvel comic book on the stands each month. The issue of AVENGERS that I started with was this one:

#33 was the second part of a two-part story in which the Avengers battled the nefarious Sons of the Serpent. The story was by Stan Lee with art by Don Heck. The lineup had changed by this time, with Cap's "Kooky Quartet" expanded with the return of original Avengers Goliath (Hank Pym/Ant-Man/Giant-Man) and the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne). From then on, I purchased AVENGERS every month and it quickly became one of my favorite Marvel titles.

Flash forward to the summer of 1968. I bought new off of the stands (or more likely the spinner rack) the issue in which Ultron first appeared.

 #54 featured another new Avengers line-up (Goliath, Wasp, Hawkeye and Black Panther) against a new iteration of the Masters of Evil (Melter, Whirlwind, Klaw, and Radioactive Man) in a story by the best AVENGERS creative team of all-time: Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Granted, Ultron only makes a cameo in this issue but nonetheless, he's in there. And I read it. So, yeah, I was there at the very beginning of Ultron as a major Avengers foe.

Which explains the stupid grin I probably still have on my face a few hours after seeing AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. I won't give a detailed review here (besides, most of you hardcore fan boys reading this have probably already seen the film) but I will note several things that I loved about the movie.

First of all, it's still hard for me to believe that I can go to a theater, pay my ten bucks and see a live-action, big budget AVENGERS movie on the big screen. If someone had told me in 1968 (I was twelve at the time) that in 2015, there would be a blockbuster motion picture starring the Avengers and Ultron, I simply would not have believed it. The special effects technology that existed in 1968 were stone knives and arrowheads compared to what we have today. A 1968 AVENGERS movie would most likely have been a rather embarrassing, low-budget and, yes, pathetic attempt to bring these characters to life. Still, I would occasionally play the "what-if" game in my mind, imagining a day when such a film might actually be made and wondering what it could possibly look like. But in my wildest dreams, I never saw in my head what I saw on the screen today.

Captain America. Iron Man. Thor. The Hulk. Hawkeye. The Black Widow. Quicksilver. Scarlet Witch. The Vision. Ultron. Nick Fury. War Machine. The Falcon. Baron Strucker. Ulysses Klaw. Wakanda. Vibranium. Infinity Gems. Thanos. All that and more in one movie? Oh, yeah, I had a fangasm deluxe.

Director Joss Whedon stages some spectacular action set pieces that are leavened with quieter character development scenes. A beauty and beast relationship between Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce (Hulk) Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is given a lot of screen time and Clint (Hawkeye) Barton (Jeremy Renner) has one helluva of a secret.

There's a terrific mano-a-mano battle between the Hulk and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) with Tony in Hulk Buster armor. There are scenes of mass destruction of several cities but the Avengers go out of their way to make sure the people in those cities are safe (unlike the wholesale, wanton destruction of Smallville and Metropolis on display in MAN OF STEEL).

Ultron (James Spader) is a terrific foe. We get the introduction of three new Avengers, two of which, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) start out as villains only to be redeemed as heroes (as in the comics). The third newcomer is The Vision (Paul Bettany) who was always one of my favorite Avengers.

Lots of seeds are planted for future films. Ulysses Klaw and vibranium will definitely return in the upcoming BLACK PANTHER film as will the nation of Wakanda (we get a fight scene in a Wakandan city but no mention of Prince T'Challa). Thor is off in search of the remaining Infinity Gems (a search that will most likely continue in the next THOR film), an Avenger dies (no telling who!) and there's an entirely new Avengers lineup in place at the end of the film. Oh, and the credits teaser is a short appearance by Thanos, who will figure prominently in the next two AVENGERS films.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is not my Avengers. Changes have been made in the characters and story lines. In the comics, Hank Pym created Ultron who in turn created the Vision. Here, Ultron is created by Tony Stark. The Scarlet Witch's powers in the film include the ability to mess with people's minds (a far cry from her original hex power). But I'm okay with these changes and my original beloved Avengers still exist in those old comics that I hold so dear. A film is not a comic book and this iteration of the Avengers is perfectly acceptable to me. Joss Whedon and company certainly haven't ruined these characters and this franchise. If anything, they've brought it to an entirely new audience and generation for whom this version will be their Avengers.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is an enormously entertaining, fun comic book super hero film. I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Friends, how long has it been this blog has posted a photo of Ann-Margret?

 Well that's just too damn long.



This is that OHMSS story I mentioned on a blog post a couple of days ago. By the way, I have a reproduction of the one-sheet pictured above framed and hanging on the wall of the ol' man cave. I love it!

Christmas night, 1969. The new James Bond film, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE opened at Austin's Paramount Theatre. I couldn't wait to see it. I begged my older brother to take me to see it that night after we'd had a final round of Christmas gifts and food at my grandmother's house. If I recall correctly, I had a booklet full of Interstate Theater gift certificates that were burning a hole in my pocket. He agreed and we set out for downtown Austin.

The film has a running time of 140 minutes. Let's say that the showing began at 10:00 p.m. That means that by the time we got near the end of the film, it was well past midnight In the film, Bond (George Lazenby)  defeated Blofeld (Telly Savalas)  in a spectacular battle sequence in the third act. The action then moved to the wedding ceremony of Bond and Tracy (the drop-dead gorgeous Diana Rigg). Wedding bells were ringing as the happy couple left the church and headed for their going-away vehicle. At that point, my brother gave me an elbow to the ribs and whispered, "come on, let's go." He figured that the movie was essentially over. The bad guy was dead and it looked like Bond was going to have a "they-lived-happily-ever-after" ending.

I wasn't entirely sure the movie was over. After all, we still hadn't seen the final credits which usually announced that "James Bond would return in fill-in-the-blank." And this was a James Bond film, albeit an extremely unorthodox one with not only a different actor in the starring role (one who acquitted himself very well, by the way), but radically different in tone, style and pacing. This was a Bond film quite unlike any of the previous Sean Connery films. I thought that anything could still happen.

But then again, it was very late, we were both very tired and my brother was driving. If he said we're leaving, we were leaving. So leave we did while the film was still playing.

Cut to January, 1970. Classes at O.Henry Junior High had resumed after the Christmas break. I was talking to a buddy of mine (and I'm sorry but I don't recall exactly who it was) about what we'd done over the holidays, what cool gifts we'd received, what neat movies we'd seen.

We had both seen OHMSS and loved it. We were comparing notes when my buddy said, "can you believe they killed his wife at the end of the movie?"

Wait, what?

"You're kidding," I said. "My brother and I left when Bond and Tracy got married. The movie was over."

"No it wasn't," he countered. "At the very end Blofeld shot her and Bond was crying over her dead body."

I was stunned. Shocked. I couldn't believe that I missed perhaps the most crucial plot element of one of the best Bond films ever made because my brother thought the movie was over and made us leave. I was sorely tempted to go see the movie again by myself just to see the entire thing but I never did. In fact, it wasn't until years later, when I saw the film on television, that I finally saw those oh-so-important final minutes of film.

Lesson learned: a movie's never over until the final credits are finished and the house lights come up.

Second lesson learned: quit going to the movies with my brother.

I guess I was a bit slow to learn the second lesson because a similar incident occurred when we went to see ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I'll tell you about that in the near future.

Friday, May 1, 2015


This blog will celebrate it's third birthday in June. In nearly three years, I've had 1,130 posts and 100,556 hits. My deepest thanks to everyone who has taken the time to look at, read and comment on the stuff I post here. I sincerely appreciate it and it helps to greatly allay the fears I had while dining in the restaurant pictured above. Allow me to explain.

May, 2012. Judy and I, along with our good friends Chad and Kathy, took a trip to New York City. One night, we had the pleasure of dining at Da Marino Ristorante Italiano at 220 W. 49th St. The restaurant was literally right behind our hotel, which was located in Times Square

The atmosphere of this restaurant was old school. The staff friendly and outgoing. And the food was very, very good. I'd go there again should the opportunity ever arise and I recommend it to anyone visiting New York.

While we dined, the subject of writing a blog came up. We had a spirited discussion about the possibility of my beginning a blog and writing about all of the pop culture stuff I know and love. Judy, Kathy and Chad were all extremely enthusiastic and supportive. Me? Not so much.

I was worried that no one would read it. I was afraid that no one would care about what I have to say about films, books, comics, pulps, etc. After all, I would just be another voice in an increasingly large space known as "the blogosphere". How to cut through the clutter? How to stand out?

Everyone who has ever taken up a writing career of any kind wants to know that someone will ultimately read the words they've committed to paper (or screens as the case may be). At least when I was a freelance writer, I knew the various publications I worked for had a certain, guaranteed readership. And besides, I got paid.

Doing it for free and just hoping that people would eventually find my blog, read it and enjoy it, was a huge leap of faith for me. My wife and friends were convinced that I could do it. I had to be shown.

June, 2012. I come home from work and Judy announces, "guess what you have? A blog. I set one up for you. Now start writing." I did and here I am. Thanks honey, for believing in me.

By the way, I don't believe I've ever publicly stated some of my basic ground rules for this blog. No religion. No politics. Nothing work related (good or bad). Try to be nice and not say bad things about any living person. I think I've managed to abide by those rules.

Oh, and after dinner that evening, we enjoyed a performance of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, starring James Corden, at the Music Box Theatre. It's a hysterically funny British comedy with plenty of slapstick and physical humor, which I enjoy when it's well done and it certainly was that night.

So my thanks to my wife and my friends and to Da Marino Ristorante Italiano for a memorable night and the start of this blog.

Who knows, maybe the restaurant will put up a historical marker over our table. Or at least give me a discount the next time I eat there.