Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Back Issue! #85 on Sale Now!

The newest issue of TwoMorrows' Back Issue! is on sale now, and features a piece by me entitled "It's A Power Records Christmas." Pick up a copy now!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reel Retro Cinema

A few weeks ago was the debut of a new movie column I'm writing for 13thDimension.com, entitled Reel Retro Cinema. Every few weeks I'll be talking about an older film with some connection to the world of comic books. So far I've written about Danger: Diabolik, For Your Eyes Only and, most recently, Jaws 2. I'm having a lot of fun and I thank 13D Editor Dan Greenfield for getting me on board. 

There will be a new column every two weeks(ish), so keep checking back to see what film I cover next!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Back Issue! #84 On Sale Now!

The newest issue of TwoMorrows' Back Issue! is on sale now, and features my long-form interview with comics/novel/TV writer Alan Brennert. This interview was originally conducted for my show, The Fire and Water Podcast, but BI editor Michael Eury thought it would be great to run in this Supergirl-themed issue.

I am a huge fan of Alan's work, have been since I was a kid, and it was a real honor to get to talk to him at length about his comics work. I'm proud that the interview is running in Back Issue!, alongside many other fine articles about The Girl of Steel!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Movie Monday: Some Came Running


Some Came Running - Directed by Vincent Minnelli. Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer, and Arthur Kennedy. Released December 1958 from MGM.

I had never heard of Some Came Running--despite its pedigree, both in front and behind the camera--until Martin Scorsese used a clip from it in his three hour plus documentary A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, one of my favorites. The sequence Scorsese showed was so compelling and beautiful that I made a mental note to track the film down and watch it. Flash forward ten years(!) or so, and I finally got around to watching it through the magic of iTunes. 

Some Came Running is based on the book by James Jones, who had a massive hit with his first book, From Here To Eternity, which of course was a huge hit for Hollywood, as well. SCR was not received nearly as well, but MGM still gave the film the deluxe treatment, hiring Vincent Minelli to direct and getting megastar Frank Sinatra to play the main character, WWII vet Dave Hirsh, who returns to his home town after many years away. Dean Martin, fresh off his breakup with Jerry Lewis, was brought in for his first real dramatic role, and Shirley MacLaine was set to play none-too-bright-but-sweet floozie Ginnie Moorehead.

The film opens with Hirsh on a bus on the way back to his hometown of Parkman, Indiana, having been put there in a drunken haze by some buddies, along with Ginnie, whom he apparently hooked up with as well. Ginnie likes Dave, but now sober he is surly and mean, and basically tells her to take off. Soon after, Dave takes a room in a hotel, and deposits the small fortune he has on him in a bank--but not the bank owned by his brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), which causes quite a stir. Aside from his service in WWII, Dave became a semi-famous writer, but he seems unwilling to engage that part of his life now.

Things are clearly tense--very tense--between Dave and Frank, and the older Hirsh is not happy that his brother rejects Frank's attempts to have him meet the "right" people, preferring to drink and gamble, alongside new pal Bama Dillert (Dean Martin), a charming rogue who never takes off his cowboy hat. Ginnie flits in and out of Dave's life, even after he meets the daughter of a family friend, a schoolteacher named Gwen (Martha Hyer). Gwen tries to convince Dave that he has a real gift and shouldn't ignore it, causing Dave to fall for her. He still spends time with Ginnie, even getting into a drunken fist fight with a former hoodlum boyfriend of hers.

At this point, the film stays relatively in place, plot wise, as we watch all the characters bounce off around one another and go through their paces (all the supporting characters--Bama, Frank, Frank's wife Agnes, Frank's secretary--get their own subplots). Sinatra is good, if a bit morose, as Dave. As you might expect, his best scenes are with Martin as Bama the gambler, who had such a natural charm on screen it's sort of unbelievable. As much as I enjoyed Some Came Running (and I did), there were times where I wish the movie would ditch all these sad sacks and just follow Bama and his adventures.

The thing that kept me the most enthralled while watching Some Came Running was the visuals--shot in Cinemascope (unusual at the time for a non-epic), this movie is simply stunning to look at. Every scene is so beautifully composed and lit, the colors so vivid, that I think it's at least half the reason I enjoyed watching it so much. The final sequence (shown in the aforementioned Scorsese documentary), is so wonderfully staged that it's a complete knockout. It helps that MacLaine, in some ways playing a thankless role, is so good--sure, Ginnie is a sort of cliched Hooker with a Heart of Gold, but her inherent, somewhat dimwitted goodness is so sweet that when she does what she does at film's end, it really hits you. It's not a surprise she was nominated for an Oscar for this role.

Is Some Came Running another From Here To Eternity? No. It feels like it thinks it's more profound and deep than it really is, and at times Sinatra's character is such a self-involved dick that you wish everyone would just dump him and move on with their lives. Still, the performances are all quite good, and as I said the movie is just so beautiful to watch unfold that it's well worth your time.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Movie Monday: The Vampire Lovers


The Vampire Lovers - Directed by Roy Ward Baker, Starring Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O'Mara, and Peter Cushing. Released October 1970 by Hammer Films.

Ever since I launched the Film & Water Podcast, I've been wanting to get back to writing the occasional movie review here for this long-dormant writing blog. Then when my pals Chris and Cindy Franklin reviewed Hammer's The Vampire Lovers for a Halloween-themed episode of their show, the Super Mates Podcast, it inspired me to watch the movie for the first time. After watching it via Amazon Prime, I decided to jot down a few thoughts on it myself!

The film has a killer (no pun intended) opening, where a vampire hunter named Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) beheads a beautiful, sultry vampire who has killed his sister. We then flash forward to the home of General Von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), which includes a niece and a sort of adopted daughter named Marcilla, played by the stunning Ingrid Pitt:

It's clear right off the, er, bat, that Marcilla is, if not a vampire, certainly a bit different than the rest of the family. She seems to regard every woman in her orbit with lust, and puts the moves on the General's niece, only waiting until after the seduction is over to put the bite on her. In an unusual bit, it would seem that Marcilla does not turn into a bat, but rather a cat. The General's niece has intense nightmares about being smothered by a giant cat ("Its fur was in my mouth!"), but everyone dismisses her until it's too late.

Marcilla (now calling herself Carmilla, doing the whole Count Alucard bit) then takes up with another family, and puts the moves on the young daughter, a saucer-eyed waif named Emma (Madeline Smith). Their relationship is so hilariously inappropriate, with Carmilla barely bothering her sexual interest in Emma, that you wonder what the rest of the household was doing. There's a scene where Pitt chases Smith around while both of them are half nude, ending with a clinch on the bed, which told me why this particular Hammer Production never showed up as part of the weekend "Creature Features" that I watched as a kid:

After a few more killings (Carmilla does put the bite on some men, but she seems to want to get it over with as soon as possible), the jig is up for Carmilla, and she is chased to her family crypt by the General and Baron Hartog, now much older and weary from having so much experience hunting vampires:

Generally, The Vampire Lovers is delightfully straightforward: Carmilla is a lesbian vampire, and basically humps and bites her way through everyone she meets until the people around her wake up to the situation. There's a not a lot of tension or suspense here, you're basically just waiting for the obvious to be discovered. It's funny, in some ways Carmilla being a vampire is more readily accepted as a reality than her being a lesbian: everyone seems just seems to think Carmilla is a close family friend, despite the fact she's caught several times laying in bed with her quasi-adopted sisters and other family relations.

The one element the film has that is unexplained is the occasional shot of this vampire-y dude, sitting on a horse and laughing at...something:

This character never interacts with the characters or the plot, is he Carmilla's Dad, doing the Proud Papa bit from afar? Who knows! Maybe he's just a perv who really enjoys watching Carmilla get naked and frolic around (who doesn't?). I imagine Hammer was able to get away with all this soft core stuff because of the English accents, period frippery, and the fact that this was adapted from an old book (Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu), which gave the whole thing a patina of class. In many ways, the most erotic scene is a shot of Ingrid Pitt naked but in silhouette, she had such an outstanding figure that went lit artistically, it's quite classy and really sexy. The bare breasts are nice and all, but not really needed (the 14 year old me is wondering who the hell is writing this).

The big minus for me was Peter Cushing as the General. It's a very dull part and while he breathes as much life into it as he can, there's just not much interesting stuff for him to do. Apparently he was a late addition to the cast, which might explain why he wasn't cast in the Van Helsing-y role of Baron Hartog, which seems like a natural.

As you might imagine, the poster for The Vampire Lovers features way more exciting stuff than what happens here, it's mostly Ingrid Pitt standing around drooling over nubile women while everyone else phumphers around. Still, there are worse ways to spend ninety one minutes!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie Monday: Hot Millions


Hot Millions - Directed by Eric Till, Starring Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, Karl Malden, Bob Newhart


I recently showed my girlfriend Michael Curtiz's 1955 film We're No Angels, and she fell in love with it. And the part she loved the most was Peter Ustinov, who delivers a wonderfully strange comedic performance. So I thought we'd try some other Ustinov movies, and when I saw this film's cast, I knew this had to be next.

Ustinov plays Marcus Pendleton, who is just being released from prison for embezzlement. Pendleton is a crook, sure, but he's so smooth and charming that he even does the books for the prison warden! Released into a world heavily dominated by computer, Pendleton meets programmer Caesar Smith (Robert Morley) and convinces him to pursue his lifelong dream of hunting moths. He then assumes Smith's identity and gets a job at a huge corporation run by Carlton J. Klemper (Karl Malden). He buts heads with the company's top computer man Willard C. Gnatpole (Bob Newhart), who distrusts Smith and scoffs at his supposedly superior knowledge of programming.


It doesn't take long for Pendleton/Smith to start running a scam which involves getting the computer to write and send checks to various false companies, all over the world, owned by him. In the meantime, he meets a nice, if nervous, young woman named Patty (Maggie Smith). After just a date or two, they fall for one another, even though Pendleton isn't honest with her about why he has to travel so much and what he's really up to.


The noose starts to tighten around Pendleton, and at the same time Gnatpole makes a play for Patty (at one point they go shopping at one of the Beatles' Apple stores, a failed experiment that only lasted a few months--Hot Millions features some of the only surviving footage of one of the stores). Eventually Pendleton and Patty have to leave England, and are chased by Klemper and Gnatpole. The customs agent they deal with is played by Caesar Romero, defying anyone who wouldn't believe that celebrities as disparate as Karl Malden, Bob Newhart, and Caesar Romero were ever in the same room before:


Hot Millions is very silly and light as air, and the final scenes are that, only more so. Patty has more upstairs than people think, and she figures into the story more prominently than just being the love interest. She and Ustinov have a real chemistry, and there's a very sweet, wordless scene where he starts playing the piano and Patty joins him on the flute.

Despite his funny character name, Bob Newhart sort of plays the heavy here. He seems the only person to doubt Pendleton's veracity, and tries to steal Patty away from him to boot. The film seems to regard corporate bureaucrats like Gnatpole with real disdain, choosing to side with the charming--if admittedly completely crooked--Pendleton, who does what he wants and knows how to get it, silly little laws be damned.

Hot Millions is a very slight film, and not worth spending a whole lot of effort to track down. But it is a nicely diverting couple of hours, and I have to say it is fun watching this very unique cast put through its paces. If you're a particular fan of Peter Ustinov--as we have become--you'll enjoy it.

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