Apr 24 2017

Guest List: Thomas Kent Miller’s Top 11 Other Graphics Left Out of Mars in the Movies

I turned in 69 graphics to potentially use in my new book, Mars in the Movies: A History; the publisher used 43. My previous Guest List for Flick Attack shared 13 that sadly didn’t make that cut, mainly due to resolution concerns. Here are 11 more, kicked back mainly for the same reason. However, unlike the last batch, it is probably just as well that these were not used, as nearly all are not as clearly focused on Mars as the ones that did get printed in the book.

1. From the 1918 Danish film A Trip to Mars (Das Himmelskibet). Unavoidably blurry, once the spaceship Excelsior lands on Mars (see my previous Guest List) and the crew emerges, they are fêted by throngs of happy Martians. The costuming and production design are impressive.

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Mar 19 2017

Reading Material: Short Ends 3/19/17

Getting a nightly fix of The Twilight Zone in a syndicated run one summer in the 1980s, I was taught a couple of things: Rod Serling was a frickin’ genius, and not all black-and-white TV is boring. According to TV critic Mark Dawidziak, many more lessons await imparting, which he has detailed in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life, a “heartfelt tribute … wrapped in a self-help book.” Here, Dawidziak has taken 50 common-sense life lessons — such as “Never cry wolf” and “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is” — and discusses them in relation to key TZ episodes (even the one with Talking Tina). While the book is not an episode guide, each chapter could stand alone as a fine essay on one aspect of the game-changing series. Fully illustrated with stills from the shows in question and including “Guest Lessons” from the likes of Leonard Maltin and Mel Brooks, Dawidziak’s syllabus is infinitely more relatable than the likes of Zig Ziglar, but you’d better already be a hardcore TZ fan to gain any value.

By the power of Zeus, Italian Sword and Sandal Films, 1908-1990 is not the definitive book I wanted it to be, mostly because so little of it required actual writing on the part of co-authors Roy Kinnard and Tony Crnkovich. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback does cover what its title promises, with films of the peplum genre arranged alphabetically from Adventurer of Tortuga to Zorro the Rebel, but said coverage is largely rendered irrelevant by the existence of the IMDb, because we get a full list of the cast and crew. Comments from Kinnard and Crnkovich, unfortunately, are limited to a sentence or two, except in the rare case of a game-changer like 1958’s Hercules. Otherwise, their contribution to each entry is scant; for example, for Charge of the Black Lancers, they write in total, “It’s the Poles vs. the Tartars in this action drama, co-produced by Italy’s Royal Film, France’s France-Cinéma Productions, and Yugoslavia’s C.F.S. Košutnjak.” Gripping, no? Although illustrations are bountiful, Italian Sword and Sandal Films is more of a list than a book. I suppose if the apocalypse wipes out the internet, it may serve more purpose.

I want to get lost in Rat Pack Confidential author Shawn Levy’s latest book. Not in the sense of perusing its pages, which I’ve already done, but actually retreating to the world it depicts. Pending the creation of the time machine, I was born too late. The next best thing is the book, Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome, and while not exclusively about movies and the men and women who made them (hence the Pucci, as in kaleidoscopic fashion maven Emilio), the cinema arguably did more than high fashion to make the Italian capital a cultural touchstone around the postwar globe; Anita Ekberg’s fountain-cavorting sure saw to that. Part history, part travelogue, all intoxicating, Levy’s multinarrative work vividly recalls a jet-set splendor that, while never can be replicated, at least can be revisited through the film classics that have visually bottled that feeling forever. Or we could always throw an orgy. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.


Feb 26 2017

Reading Material: Short Ends 2/26/17 — Another Accidental All-McFarland Edition

Does the world need more than one book on the movies of Mamie Van Doren? Hell, no. But I sure do! With Joseph Fusco’s 2010 book already sitting on my shelf, now there’s Atomic Blonde: The Films of Mamie Van Doren to keep it company. First published in 2008, Barry Lowe’s book now is back in print and available in a more affordable paperback edition from McFarland. Today a prolific author of gay erotica, Lowe spends the first 50-ish pages to deliver a condensed biography of the former Joan Olander, the virginal farm girl who became one of the three iconic sex bombs of the squeaky-clean 1950s and boundary-pushing ’60s, behind Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. And the rest of the text? Why, a flick-by-flick examination of her career, of course, with special attention given to her campier efforts — including High School Confidential!, Sex Kittens Go to College, Las Vegas Hillbillys, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women — and no punches pulled. Lowe wrote this breezy book with the hopes that readers might see her as skilled beyond testing the thread strength of sweaters, and yet it is populated with photos that play up those God-given talents. In my eyes, that’s not really a complaint. Recommended!

Maybe having been born in 1971 has something to do it, but I think some of the most memorable vampire movies came from that decade. (I mean, seriously, The Vampire Happening? The Vampires Night Orgy? The Dracula Saga? C’mon, folks!) Gary A. Smith agrees; as he writes in the introduction of Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between, “filmmakers everywhere jumped on the bloody bandwagon,” giving us bloodsuckers that also were black, gay, adept at kung fu, peace-preaching and puppies — just not all at once. The fun of this McFarland & Company paperback is in Smith covering their respective flicks not chronologically, but broken up into distinct groups, such as “Carmilla” adaptations, Jean Rollin works, Mexican entries, outright comedies and, yep, “Vampire Porn.” Any book that gives the likes of Al Adamson, Andy Milligan and Jess Franco chapters of their own is one worth sinking your teeth into.

One area of the movies I have yet to take a deep dive into? Ye olde serials. Other than chapters of Bela Lugosi in The Corpse Vanishes doled out across several early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, these superheroic, swashbuckling, space-patroling, spy-smashing tales remain a blind spot in my cinematic education. Because they are extinct, I’m guessing the same may be true for many of you. For a crash course, turn to Geoff Mayer’s Encyclopedia of American Film Serials. Designed by McFarland & Company as an oversized paperback, it seems ready-made for decades of referencing to come. It holds tremendous value in that it’s indexed not only by titles, but actors, directors, writers — heck, even composers! Entries are written with voluminous knowledge, with particular attention paid to concepts and cliffhangers, but the introduction gives a broad, baseline knowledge of the art form, its various studios and its eventual death. The reproductions of poster art are entirely welcome; I just wish they were in color, although the shorts they shilled were not. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.


Feb 5 2017

Reading Material: Short Ends 2/5/17

David Thomson is one of our finest living writers, period. He just so happens to work in the field of film criticism, yet his prose sings as marvelously as any acclaimed work of fiction. Each book he releases is an event for cineastes, including his latest … although it is about the movies’ archenemy. In the Thames & Hudson hardback Television: A Biography — heavy in size, heady in subject — Thomson relates the history of TV in the same manner he did cinema in 2012’s The Big Screen: purely on his terms. That means neither chronologically nor logically by anyone’s standards, yet the book feels that way once the whirlwind tour is done. The man can pivot on a dime, going from Gunsmoke to The Rockford Files to James Garner’s Polaroid ads with Mariette Hartley to Merv Griffin — and somehow, his dot-connecting leaps work. The cover image — the iconic one from 1982’s classic Poltergeist — is as good a joke as any, representing Thomson’s sometimes contentious relationship with the boob tube. And let’s be honest: His is ours.

While not quite a runaway smash, The Legend of Tarzan performed better than expected at last summer’s box office, proving there’s lots of life left in the lord of the apes. For the life already lived, David Lemmo recounts the pulp hero’s first century of existence in Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback has the daunting task of distilling 100-plus years of content into roughly a 200-page narrative, and for the most part, the man succeeds. With Edgar Rice Burroughs writing dozens of novels starring his creation, adapted for dozens more motion pictures, there is little space for Lemmo to dive too deeply into individual works. Plus, the preceding sentence doesn’t take into account Tarzan’s adventures into TV, radio, comics, toys and other merchandising vines, all of which get covered here — just at a monkey’s-eye view. For example, the aforementioned Legend film merits one paragraph, but that’s more than is earned by Hollywood’s heretofore most recent live-action Tarzan film, 1998’s flop Tarzan and the Lost City (a vehicle for a loinclothed Casper Van Dien). Lemmo’s writing leans heavily on names and dates, so passages tend to grow arid. For those seeking a reference work on just the movies, reach for Scott Tracy Griffin’s recent Tarzan on Film; for a broad overview on the character’s wide-ranging market penetration and influence, Lemmo’s book serves as that introduction.

As you may have noticed with his previous book on Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010, when David Grove gets interested in a celebrity as a subject, he goes all in. Now, he’s gone all in on the troubled star of Damnation Alley, White Line Fever and TV’s Airwolf in Jan-Michael Vincent: Edge of Greatness. One of the best things about the BearManor Media release is that it exists at all; although once a matinee idol, Vincent is remembered more today (when he’s remembered at all) for substance abuse struggles and other tabloid fodder. I’ll be the first to admit I thought the actor already had died. Perhaps Grove’s book can help — not to rewrite Vincent’s history or legacy, but just to make certain that someone acknowledged his talent and, furthermore, mourned its loss. If you’re not already a fan, Edge of Greatness won’t change your mind; I suspect it won’t even be read by JM-V virgins. Working without input from or access to his subject, Grove guides us through each step of Vincent’s career at a quick clip, from its sharp ascent to an extended train wreck of a fall. Any fear on your part that Grove will indulge in hagiography is unwarranted, as the rather odd and sobering (pun not intended) final chapter makes clear. —Rod Lott

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Jan 26 2017

Reading Material: Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page

Blair Davis’ Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page was not quite the book to which I had been looking forward for the better part of 2016. Turns out, that’s a good thing — even a great one.

While the rest of the film world debates the merits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC’s catch-up attempts, Chicago-based cinema professor Davis dives deep into the comic-book (and -strip) movies and TV shows few care to acknowledge, from the Dick Tracy flicks of the 1940s and all those Blondie comedies to the early serial adventures of Superman, Batman, Captain America and pulp-borne heroes of whom you haven’t heard.

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