Category Archives: film

Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell

I have known Derrick Ferguson a long time as an online friend, and I’m proud to consider him a friend, even if we’ve never met in real life. For those of you out who think I’m an authority on film, I bow to Derrick as a master. He’s given me great writing advice over the years, but none so informative as the lessons I have learned simply by reading his work.

There’s a story I’ve told Derrick, and I guess (I’m really thinking positive here) the whole world as well on the GAR! Podcast, about a visual aid I was using at a point where I was trying to write in a pulp style. It was a sign I taped over my desk that read “I want to be Derrick Ferguson when I grow up.” That’s how well the man knows his genre. Derrick knows pulp, and he knows it so well, he has created a pulp hero for a new age – Dillon.

Dillon is a man who would make Doc Savage proud to know him, that’s how pulp he is. He is a man of skills, of integrity, of style, of exotic and mysterious background, he’s a lover, he’s a fighter, and most importantly he is a man of his word. Dillon is that rare entity in this dark world of ours – he is a likable hero we can root for, and a man who will win for the right reasons.

In the second novel (although it doesn’t much matter in what order you read the books) in the series, “Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell,” this pulp hero for a new age faces all the threats and situations that make the genre special. He must find an ancient artifact of great power, stop a civil war in an exotic island nation, and save the entire planet from the coming of a demon, along the way fighting femme fatales both human and shape-shifting, jet pack soldiers, warring airships, giant barbarian kings, and old fashioned tough talking gangsters. This was a hoot.

When was the last time you read a book that was fun? When was the last time you read a book where you cheered out loud for the hero? Where you hissed the bad guys? Where you laughed at the quips of the good guy? This is the book (books), and the hero for you. Check out “Legend of the Golden Bell,” and the rest of the books in the series, as well as all of Derrick’s other work. It, and he rocks.

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Now You See Me

Now You See Me ~ I kinda wish I hadn’t seen this movie. Had we left halfway through the movie, or two-thirds in, or even three-quarters, I might have had a completely different opinion. The last twenty minutes is where this mindless but fun and entertaining flick takes a left turn into the toilet.

Here the thing. You have a wonderful cast starring Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Common, and even Woody Harrellson, who usually just gets on my nerves, giving excellent entertaining performances. You have a movie that seems to walk the thin line between flashy heist flick and magician fantasy, full of wonder and charm. And then it turns to crap in the final act. I suspect they started filming without an ending.

I have a rule that many of my friends question. I don’t leave a movie until it’s done, no matter how bad it is. It could have a terrific ending that makes the rest of it seem brilliant. It has happened. Now You See Me is the opposite of this rule. It’s a good movie with a crap nonsensical ending that just sours anything in the first three quarters of the flick. Twenty minutes in, I loved Now You See Me. When the credits rolled, I hated this movie.

RIP Elmore Leonard

We have lost another living legend, this time a god among writers, award-winning novelist Elmore Leonard has passed away. He’s written over fifty novels, a handful of short stories and screenplays. Movies and television shows have been made for dozens of his works.

Among his writings are some of the subtle masterpieces of our time, including Rum Punch (filmed as Jackie Brown), Gold Coast, The Big Bounce, Get Shorty, Be Cool, the short story 3:10 to Yuma (filmed twice), Out of Sight, 52 Pick-Up, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, Riding the Rap, and more than a few novels that inspire the TV series “Justified.”

When I think of the written western or crime fiction I think of Leonard as the master. When I was in college, and stubbornly insisting I wanted to be a writer, a professor told me, “If you want to write fiction, read Elmore Leonard,” suggesting it was education by example.

I can’t get it together to say much more. We have lost one of the greats. Click here and I’ll share his ten rules of writing, quite possibly the best writing advice ever given. Elmore Leonard was one of the masters, and there’ll never be another like him.

RIP Karen Black

Earlier today I found out that actress Karen Black had passed away via a Tweet from my good friend Andy Burns, also editor-in-chief of Biff Bam Pop!. Another Tweeter’s response was that he had no words. That’s how I feel. We’ve lost one of the good ones, a legend of the genre. Karen Black died yesterday in Los Angeles from ampullary cancer at the age of 74.

When I said genre, I am of course talking about the horror genre. Karen Black probably most remembered film is one where she played a tour de force of four characters in Dan Curtis’ TV movie of the week Trilogy of Terror. It was at the aforementioned Andy Burns’ website, Biff Bam Pop!, that I talked about how that film still scares the crap outta me. You can read that here.

While it’s true she made her share of horror films, notably Trilogy, and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses among others, it’s a fact she never stopped making movies. But of all the films Ms. Black has made, it is the movies of the 1970s that defne her. Hell, one could even say that Karen Black defined film in the 1970s. She changed the way women and sexuality were portrayed on the big screen.

Among her films are some of the best or at least most memorable of the decade, including Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, Capricorn One, In Praise of Older Women, Hitchcock’s last movie Family Plot, and Robert Altman’s Nashville. She also starred on stage and on television as well as film. She was a composer, screenwriter, producer, and author of children’s books.

I met her once a few years back, at a Chiller convention near the Meadowlands. We were about to leave and I saw this seemingly crazy woman screaming at people to get her something or other. The men surrounding her scrambled. I realized it was Karen Black. She was holding court in the lobby of the hotel.

I was either brave or stupid, so I approached her and told her she was great in Easy Rider and Nashville, and that I loved her in Trilogy, even though she scared me to death in it. She was kind, and soft spoken, and thanked me, even shook my hand. Moments later she was barking at underlings again, but to me, and other fans who approached her she was an angel.

That’s how I will remember Karen Black – a kind loving woman who adored her fans. Not the psychopath possessed by a Zuni fetish doll. And that’s probably for the best. We’ve lost one of Hollywood’s great actresses, and she will be missed.

The Lone Ranger 2013

The Lone Ranger ~ When the film was over I turned to The Bride and said that if Walt Disney was alive and found out his company had obtained the rights to make a Lone Ranger movie he would be so happy, and if he’d seen what his company had done with it – it would kill him.

I have a long association with the Lone Ranger, although I can’t remember where it began. I recall the cartoons of the 1960s by Format Films. The Ranger wasn’t quite a superhero, but the bizarre Ralph Bakshi meets “The Wild Wild West” style of these shorts mesmerized me. I also remember being introduced to the radio show at an early age, and seeing Clayton Moore in reruns of the 1950s series. And when I learned that he was related to the Green Hornet, to me, that just made the Lone Ranger even cooler.

In the superhero movie boom (a firecracker compared to recent decades) of the 1970s, they tried badly to put the masked man up on the big screen, but that ended horrifically with the mess known as The Legend of the Lone Ranger. That dud, along with the bad publicity of not allowing Clayton Moore to wear the mask in public, was enough to bury the character for years to come.

This 2013 movie production, starring Johnny Depp as a mentally ill, delusional Tonto, along with Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, his behind the scenes pals from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, just seems like a bunch of guys got drunk, had money to burn, and decided to ‘play’ Lone Ranger. And the kid who had all the toys wanted to play Tonto as an idiot.

I’m sorry. I just can’t abide this rape and mutilation of beloved childhood characters. First, we are meant to sit through another longwinded origin story. Let’s get this straight, if an origin story can be told in two sentences or less – we don’t need to see it. Just say it, and get on with the movie’s story. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with superhero films. Stop wasting time with origin stories. Superman’s origin was told in seconds at the beginning of every episode of the George Reeves TV series. DC Comics of the 1970s featured a one paragraph origin of the title hero on the first page of every issue. Let’s go back to that.

I can’t understand the premise of making this movie honestly. Was the point to destroy a lot of trains and ruin childhood heroes? Poor Armie Hammer is given very little to do, hardly any of it heroic, as the title character. What he does do is kill, which is something the real Lone Ranger would never do. The writers made Butch Cavendish into a cannibal, and not subtly either. I personally thought this should have had an R rating, just for that.

The only thing worse than Butch’s cannibalism would be the way Johnny Depp chews up scenes and spits them out like steaming vomit. Taking his character cues from Kirby Sattler’s painting, “I Am Crow” rather than the character Tonto, Depp is unforgivable. From his halting stereotypical speech to the dead bird on his head, his Tonto is an absolute disgrace.

I hated this movie, and I hated even more that my childhood heroes were destroyed in the making of it. I will get through it. There are still the movies, TV series, cartoons, and especially the radio shows to preserve the legacy. I will survive this travesty, but will the Lone Ranger?

Richard Matheson 1926-2013

We have truly lost one of the legends of the writing game. Celebrated multiple award-winning author Richard Matheson passed away this weekend, surrounded by family and friends. He was 87.

Even if you didn’t know his name (shame on you!), you know his work. Here is just a sampler – the following movies are all based on his work – The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, Real Steel, Trilogy of Terror, The Box, Loose Cannons, The Legend of Hell House Burn Witch Burn, Jaws 3-D (hey, a paycheck is a paycheck), and the these last three, all based on the same novel, The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and I Am Legend.

That’s not all, all of the good “Twilight Zone” episodes that weren’t written by Rod Serling, they’re all Matheson too. He wrote hundreds of short stories and books, and countless hours of television in many different genres, including episodes for “Star Trek,” “Combat!,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Thriller,” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” Other than “The Twilight Zone,” possibly his two greatest contributions to television were the Steven Spielberg-directed Duel and The Night Stalker, which became a fondly remembered cult TV series.

We have lost another legend.

James Gandolfini Dead at 51

Actor James Gandolfini died today in Italy from a massive heart attack, he was 51. The three time Lead Actor in a Drama Emmy winner was best known for playing bipolar modern gangster and family man Tony Soprano in HBO’s “The Sopranos.” He was also a producer, and a star of stage and screen, besides his television work.

I first became aware of the man when he played a very evil piece of work in Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. His menacing presence made him perfect for the complex character of Tony Soprano in my opinion.

“The Sopranos” first entered my wheelhouse during its second season. I had written a still unpublished novel with hyper-violent overtones. Two beta-readers told me I needed a balance between the violence and the drama of everyday life, and both, separately suggested that I had to see “The Sopranos” so I could see how it’s supposed to be done. I got HBO, and was blown away. I quickly caught up, and was addicted to the show until its end.

Most of the reason the show was so successful was Gandolfini’s talent and presence. If we did not believe Gandolfini as Tony, the show falls apart. He was the show in many ways.

The man was perhaps the best lead in perhaps the best show ever made for TV.   It is so sad to lose such a talent so young. Who knows what might have been in his future. James Gandolfini will be missed.

Blackmail 1929

While known alternately as both Great Britain’s first and Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound movie, Blackmail in truth was released simultaneously as a talkie and as a silent film. To make sure it was seen by as many people as possible, Hitch made two versions, the one silent to ensure theaters not yet equipped for sound in 1929 could still show it.

Blackmail is a tale of passion, betrayal, murder, and yes, blackmail, based on a play by Charles Bennett, who also helped Hitch adapt it for the screen. Bennett would end up working with the director in this capacity many times over the years, on films like Secret Agent, Sabotage, The 39 Steps, Foreign Correspondent, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. On his own he would also go on to adapt the TV version of “Casino Royale” and Curse of the Demon.

While originally a stage bound story, Hitch, and Bennett, do a wonderful job of opening the story up to many locations and sets. Many adaptations like this of the time were limiting and almost claustrophobic. The film’s climax is an edgy mad chase through the British Museum, similar to scenes Hitch would continue to construct throughout his career.

Lead actress Anny Ondra, primarily a Czech and German actress is stunning as an early Hitchcock blonde. All the other roles are played with precision but Ondra is the standout by miles. She was so well liked that the studio refused to let Hitch do the ending he wanted. The studio insisted Ondra walk free at the end, rather than pay for her crimes.

Hitch’s directing and storytelling skills are at their height here, and seriously, when aren’t they? Even before he was the master of suspense, he was always a master filmmaker. As with all Hitchcock films it is key you pay attention at all times, the devil is in the details. Simple yet complex, the dynamic storytelling style that would make Hitch one of our era’s greatest directors is evident and already honed here at the end of the 1920s decade.

I recently caught the rarely seen silent version on “Silent Sunday Nights” on TCM, and it was stunning. Must see for any Hitchcock fan or student of the medium, recommended.

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

Possibly one of the greatest special effects artists who ever lied passed away today. Ray Harryhausen was a big part of my childhood, and a big part of my adulthood. He influenced so many people, and in turn, he was influenced by another genius, Willis O’Brien, whose work in stop motion animation made King Kong the classic film, and the classic character he is today. He learned at the master’s side and took that art even higher. Harryhausen was one of the greats.

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve seen Jason and the Argonauts. I seriously think a hundred times would be a conservative guess. There’s nothing by Harryhausen that I didn’t love (and that includes oddities like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the Puppetoons), but Jason is probably my favorite. I remember as a kid, channel 29 had the rights to it, and I never missed it when they aired it. The film is a beautiful piece of art, from start to finish, and it fueled my early love of the Greek myths.

I love the Sinbad films, 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. I watch them relentlessly when they air. Harryhausen’s involvement in Beast led to a semi-rational hatred of the Godzilla films, which he felt both ripped off and cheapened his work. His statements to that effect didn’t lessen my respect and awe for his work, but man oh man, it did hurt this Godzilla fan.

I was never really a fan of Clash of the Titans, as by then, his age, and the amount of time it took to do his Dynamation, made him begin to cut corners and it just didn’t look as good any more, to me at least. But then again, Harryhausen cutting corners was nothing new, as 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea featured a five-tentacled octopus.

None of that diminishes Harryhausen’s accomplishments and my love for his films. We have lost one of the living legends of Hollywood, and a master of an animation style that may never be the same again. Ray Harryhausen will be missed.

Evolve or Die, A Star Trek Rant

Those Star Trek people infuriate me. You know the ones I mean. Whether they call themselves Trekkers or Trekkies (and yes, I do know the difference), it makes no difference when it comes to the 2009 reboot of the franchise, and its upcoming sequel in just a few weeks.

Let’s be serious now – if Gene Roddenberry had actually gotten his “Star Trek: Phase II” on the air when he wanted to, would we be still talking about Trek now or would the proposed series just be an embarrassing footnote like “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island” or “The Brady Bunch Hour”? Let’s all be thankful that Star Wars was so successful, and Paramount made Roddenberry move it to the big screen.

And while we’re being thankful, let’s be thankful for J.J. Abrams for finding a way to both be faithful to continuity, and to free himself of it. He paid respect to the fans, and opened up the field for a new generation of fans. It works in the story, and you have the old continuity and the new continuity existing side by side. And come on, it’s not like time paradoxes and parallel universes are foreign territory for the franchise. It’s almost the norm if you look at the original series.

Let’s talk about TOS, as “The Original Series” is called. It may as well stand for The Old Series, because it’s dated. Worse than that, “Next Gen” is even more painful when it comes to looking dated. Special effects and hairstyles weigh down TOS, but man oh man, ST:TNG just screams eighties. It’s so bad, it’s almost embarrassing. And for most of these Trek people, TNG is the gospel canon.

I lost interest in Trek television, when “Deep Space Nine” came along, and once the Captains met in the movies, I was out of there too. “Enterprise” brought me back. The Trek people hate “Enterprise.” I think it was great, it not only brought me back to Trek, it brought The Bride as well. The Trek folks whined about how the Vulcan protagonist behaved, behavior that was rationalized in the context of the series by the way.

These are the same people that don’t have a problem with Klingons not having ridges in TOS, faulty physics, jumbled histories and timelines, and of course the fantasy of a cashless society. But a Vulcan enacting free will, that’s wrong. It’s okay for Spock, but nobody else.

Seems to me that the Trek folks have a problem with the mainstream taking their toys. It was okay when no one else liked Star Trek, but when there’s a blockbuster movie, they get defensive. And I throw the “Doctor Who” latecomers into the same garbage bin.

I loved Abrams’ Star Trek, and can not wait for the sequel. All y’all old Trekkies and Trekkers, feel free to stay home and not see it, just shut up about it. You’re ruining it for the rest of us.