Thursday, December 14, 2017

I saw the Last Jedi...


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "Star Wars" works best when it adheres to its John Carter, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon roots. When it deviates from that, it becomes something other than the original intent: case in point, the prequel trilogy. 


"Force Awakens" pleased many fans by recapturing the old, George Lucas feel (though some critics claimed perhaps too much so, becoming more of a "New Hope" remake than a veritable sequel) and "Rogue One" (though a deep, somber vision) dared to capture (and basically succeeded) "The Empire Strikes Back" mystique. All signs looked promising, therefore, for producer J.J. Abrams and writer/director Rian Johnson's "Episode XIII: the Last Jedi" to continue the recharged spree, but hints that things might go awry surfaced some months ago in a couple enigmatic trailers. 


Is "Last Jedi" a fumble or on-course success? To be quite frank, it's a bit of both and neither, becoming an odd, unorthodox chapter that in one sense embraces tradition and in another, spits straight in its eye.

I won't spoil the plot, though many have speculated correctly as to what some of its elements might be, but I will surely confirm that it concentrates on Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). In this cozy, "family" affair (but don't hold your breath for a trustworthy reveal of Rey's lineage), we must come to terms with who's good, bad, and somewhere in-between, with various "surprises" installed in a somnolent attempt to give the memorialized "Empire" a run for its money. If the truth be known, this chapter is destined to break a few hearts, but when all else fails, we can at least count on the strength of its characters to snuff the discourse...right?


Alas, yes and no, and much of the blame goes to the new kids on the block. Rey is presented as far too perfect, too annoyingly preordained for us to empathize with her. Let's face it: Luke had a golly-gee, farm-boy, "I wanna make good against the odds" vibe that made him identifiable, but Rey is a blatant champion (and was pretty much so even in "Force Awakens"), leaving one little choice but to focus on the wayward Kylo, though he's not all that much better.

As "Force Awakens" villain, Kylo's temperamental and remorseful swings made him one of that installment's best features, but in "Last Jedi", his impetuous ambivalence has diminished. Ren, though still bad, has become downcast compared to his previous outing. Therefore, whether he champions the dark side or rejects it becomes of little dramatic concern or at best, confusing.


To make the film's character brevity even more agitating, Finn (John Boyega), who proved a respected underdog in "Force Awakens", is as monochrome as his young counterparts. (Man, it would have been swell to see him develop into something more than a something-already-close-to-better.) Though he does bumble some for tradition's sake, it's really his friend, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who reinstates his air of levity. Alas, the duo's energetic escapades seem more disjointed than relevant to the plot. 


Who then (if only for complexity's sake) rises to the occasion? Why, it's none other than good ol' Jedi Master Luke. He's not the guy we once knew, and yeah, he might possibly be the sorrowful last of his kind, but he's seasoned enough to make his moments shine, and contrary to his cameo in "Force Awakens", he's given ample opportunity to dominate the scenes in which he's featured. 


Much of the credit for Luke's depth goes to Hamill, who layers his mature Skywalker with influential, Ben Obi Wan Kenobi contemplation, though with a threatening dash of fatherly Vader. Hamill has always been an underrated actor and for better or worse, forever linked to Luke, but in the case of "Last Jedi", his iconic presence sure does save the day...well, aesthetically, that is. (Again, I'm being respectful here not to give too much away.)


As expected, various established and more recent supporting characters revolve around our principles, like Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis); C3PO (Anthony Daniels); R2D2 (Jimmy Vee); Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo); Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac); "DJ" (Benicio Del Toro); General Hux (Domhnall Glesson); Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern); Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie); Paige Tico (Ngo Thanh Van); and (maybe, just maybe) an adored, little, green guru from chapters past. In addition, we're given a heavy supporting appearance by Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, but most of the character nostalgia takes a backseat to the exotic locales; crimson trimmings; and fervent, spaceship roars. (On that note, where the hell is Billy Dee Williams? I've no real gripe in seeing a cutie-pie Porg occupy the Millennium Falcon, but gee whiz, wouldn't it have been cool if Lando Calrissian had sat in Solo's seat?)


By the time the interminable credits roll, "Last Jedi" can only be taken as a lofty, ideological bridge between chapters, with the line between right and wrong, light and dark, Resistance and First Order blurred at best. It in no way reflects Edgar Rice Burrough's straight-and-narrow narratives, let alone Hollywood's classic, moral-based serials. In other words, it's not true-blue "Star Wars", but then (as the jaded would be quick to point out), what is anymore? (I'd argue that "Guardians of the Galaxy" comes damn close, but that's another topic for another time.)

Perhaps when viewed as part of the three-trilogy saga, "Last Jedi" won't seem so conspicuously cumbersome, but for now, it looks like Lucas' mid-trilogy, tried-and-true formula has been yet again trampled. Don't get me wrong: It ain't bad (not by a long shot), but it sure ain't what it used to be or could have been; and damn it all to hell, didn't Abrams and Disney promise to give us old-timers what we crave? 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

SECRET AGENT X COMIC BOOK ZOOMS FORTH FROM ROSEBUD STUDIO!!!


Ron Fortier and Ron Davis give a great spin on an old, pulp favorite: SECRET AGENT X!!! And let me tell you folks, this 30-page, Redbud Studio comic book is beyond action-packed!!!


In the presented adventure, "Race with the Devil", the mysterious "Man of  a Thousand Faces" pursues Nazi Era intrigue, with Fortier's script capturing the tense flavor of the perilous time and Davis bringing it all to life through his stupendous illustrations.

Fortier's tale ideally places X within all aspects of the excitement, even when the agent's presence isn't necessarily discernible. By tradition, we shouldn't know X's real identity, let alone his actual face, yet at the same time, Fortier allows us to know the famed agent inside out. He's a hero we can easily cheer on and call a friend, despite his blending into the scenery.  


X's lovely Betty Dale is also on hand, as well as his Washington "controller", the resourceful K-9, plus the sadly misled Inspector John Burks, in what becomes a tense pursuit to protect a foreign dignitary before the dastardly Colonel Kraunz does him in. 

X made his debut decades ago in Ace Magazines, and within recent years (thanks to Airship 27 Productions) the character has gained a remarkable resurgence. X is a veritable forerunner to James Bond, Derek Flint and Napoleon Solo, but he was also a contemporary of the Shadow, the Spider and Doc Savage. Though X's escapades more than hold up to those of any modern avenger, he thrives best in the luxurious and atmospheric past. Fortier and Davis strike just the right balance with "Race with the Devil", so fans of the disguise-switching crusader needn't worry. This one delivers the goods from both ends of the imaginative spectrum. 


In a time when some find it fashionable to tell comic-book tales in shades of gray, we need more straight-forward variations like Fortier/Davis' courageous concoction. On this basis, I hope "Race with the Devil" proves successful enough (and it darn well should) to spawn many Redbud Studio sequels. 

Purchase "Secret Agent X: Man of a Thousand Faces" today at ... http://www.indyplanet.us/product/157620/. 

PS: "Race with the Devil" is capped by an informative, touching essay by X author, Frank Schildiner. Definitely a must-read!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I saw Joshua Kennedy's Theseus and the Minotaur...


Writer/director/producer Joshua Kennedy has proven himself one of the most versatile filmmakers on the scene today, and with his latest Gooey Film production, "Theseus and the Minotaur", he takes his imaginative skills to even greater, spellbinding heights.


This magnificent, sword-and-sandal/peplum homage caters to (as the title more than implies) the great, Greek myth of Theseus, the Athenian who came to slay the mighty hybrid beast in its labyrinth lair. The Minotaur, as most know, was conceived as a result of an intricate (and rather perverse) path, thanks to dear ol’ King Minos' meddling ways. Out of spite, he even sacrificed warriors to the bloodthirsty creature. This legend refashioned in the film, wisely placing emphasis Minos' quest for the Sword of Zeus; his use of the dreaded Minotaur to maintain his sadistic control; and ultimately, Theseus’s journey to defeat the power-hungry despot and his mighty monster to become Athens' king. 

The cast is ideal and credible in its execution of the myth, with Marco Munoz as the charismatic and courageous Theseus; Jamie Trevino as the feisty yet coerced Ariadne; Brian Warren as the comical Backhos; Tom Pearson as his equally comical companion, Kastor; Bo Elizondo as the combative but redemptive Deimos; Michael Alebis as the doomed King Aegus; Ana Kennedy (Joshua's mom) as the maternal Aethra; Gus Kennedy (Joshua's dad) as the warm and wise Gregorios (who at one significant point does a remarkable job channeling the great Patrick Troughton); and bestowing his fans with another crisp, grandiose performance, the writer/director/producer, himself, as the crafty King Minos. (I must say, Kennedy does an amazing job, giving his character the ideal air of magical, entitled petulance, worthy of any past, peplum nemesis.) 


Story-wise, Kennedy's script covers ground well beyond the Theseus myth, giving his audience aspects of Silvio Amadio's "Minotaur, Wild Beast of Crete"; Ray Harryhausen/Charles H. Schneer's "Jason and the Argonauts" and "Clash of the Titans"; Steve Reeves and Reg Park's Hercules adventures; and all those gutsy (and for the sake of English-speaking audiences), renamed Maciste outings. Kennedy not only mimics the look and feel of those epic endeavors, but does so in such a way that his story falls flawlessly among them. In other words, "Theseus and the Minotaur" isn't just a wannabe; it's the real deal. 

To further elaborate, there's an inherent warmth (both in spirit and pigment) in Kennedy’s creations, ideally suited for the sword-and-sandal genre. Sword-and-sandal films are generally ripe in their golden-orange and purplish-crimson hues, to the point where one can't help but fall under their spell. Whether their budgets are of the Italian shoe-string sort or a Kubrick "Spartacus" stature; that sense of warmth (along with the accompanying sweat, blood and fancy decor) prevails in all instances, as does their corresponding, ethical essays on right and wrong. In this regard, the best sword-and-sandal films have no time for pretentious shades of gray or silly, school-room sorcery when a strong arm, a hefty sword and blazing cinematography can do the trick. “Theseus and the Minotaur” respects and incorporates these distinguishing elements with supreme care, and I believe that's why the film emerges as such an incontestable and successful labor of love. (BTW: From a photographic perspective, the enchanting, Siren sequence captures classic peplum in ways that no fantasy film has in years.)


What also heightens Kennedy’s throwback style is the film's use of stop-motion animation, rendered by Ryan Lengyel. Watching the Minotaur and his titanic costars move about with such tender-loving expression is something that no CGI (and that means even the best of the big-budget best) could ever hope to capture. If Hollywood weren't so marred by snobbery, Lengyel would receive an Oscar for his efforts, and in the same vein, so would Kennedy for permitting this splendid technique into his film. No doubt, stop-motion masters Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen; Peter Peterson; Jim Danforth; and Dave Allen are looking down upon "Theseus and the Minotaur" with immense pride and pleasure. 


As I've said before (and I’ll undoubtedly say it again), Kennedy acknowledges the hallmarks that make movies special (or at least used to), and that’s why his films succeed in delighting those of us who know and love cinema. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for making "Theseus and the Minotaur" part of his prolific legacy and allowing it now to be part of my heroic-fantasy library. I'm happily fated to watch the titular warriors duke it out on limitless occasions, and if that's not a sign that I've gained a new, all-time favorite, I don't know what is. 


“Theseus and the Minotaur” can be purchased at oldies.com: https://www.oldies.com/product-view/1112D.html?c=gbase&gclid=Cj0KCQiAmITRBRCSARIsAEOZmr41kU-0qET3J-xE8G41ENtBiEAG_gJh4PphZEk99gnFzheMA-wU5p8aAqDoEALw_wcB.  

BTW: The DVD release also includes Lengyel's brilliant, stop-motion short, "The Night of the Beast (from Twenty Zillion Years Ago)". It brims of fun, excitement and creepy cheer: a perfect supplement for the main feature.

Friday, December 8, 2017

AIRSHIP 27 PODCAST (DEC '17): READY FOR TAKEOFF!!!

Strap in, ladies and gentlemen, and get set for another forceful flight of fancy with Airship 27's latest Podcast (Dec '17)!!!


Captain Ron Fortier and Chief Engineer Rob Davis cover such delightful topics as the coming-soon "Secret Agent X: Man of a Thousand Faces" comic book from Rosebud Studio; Gene Moyers' "Shrike" novella (our introduction to a cool, female Shadow variant in "Mystery Men and Women Vol 5"); the highly anticipated "Bass Reeves Vol 3"; and Airship 27's exclusive rights to Michael Black and Ray Lovato's "Doc Atlas" New Pulp adventures!!!


So tune in at ... http://comicspodcasts.com/2017/12/08/airship-27-podcast-34-the-shrike/. You're in for one helluva, audio ride!!!

POST:SOC...ECLECTIC SOUNDS TO AID THE HOMELESS, COURTESY OF THE SUBMARINE RECORDING COMPANY AND THE DEPAUL INTERNATIONAL CHARITY


The Submarine Broadcasting Company is known and respected for its unique, musical selections and now, its caring ways. As such, it has combined its exemplary traits by producing a marvelous and mercurial compilation to assist the honorable DePaul International Homeless Charity (named after the great, social reformer, Saint Vincent DePaul), which grants support to those in dire need.


It's not my place to point fingers or give reasons why some fall upon their austere paths. I only know that it saddens me to see and hear of such anguished souls, and until someone of enlightened inclination and perhaps even larger heart can conceive an unfailing solution to the problem, the best we--and sterling outfits like Submarine Broadcasting and DePaul International--can do is share the proceeds culled from those who care enough to make some positive impact.


Submarine Broadcasting's 30-track, benefit album is entitled Post:Soc, and it contains a lengthy line of eccentric, insightful and provocative artists: Martin Neuhold; Alwin Van Der Linde; Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete Shimai; Chad Frey; Bridget Wishart & Everling; Crayon Angels; Tracy K. Woodard and Gabriel Monticello; m.t. scott; Kirameki; Autonomaton; Beltism; Synaptyx; Candy L; Cousin Silas; Jim Wylde; Ian Haygreen; Pampered Fists; Bunny and the Invalid Singers; Lezet; Valet Surprise; {AN} EeL; Peri Esvultras; Mean Flow; HYPERCUBE (ft. Santiago Jimenez Borges & Frederic Iriarte); Glove of Bones; Saint de l'Abime; CJA Band; SOLILOQUA; Playman54; and Carbonates on Mars. 

Yes, an enormous queue, but it should warm the spirit to know that so many were willing to share their creativity for such a righteous and genuine cause. 


Though each artist presents his/her own take on matters of woeful detachment, their combined work generates a flavor that connects to one's emotions in broad, powerful tiers.

The selections are divided into a sporadic spree of three categories (at least to my ear), which include a nomadic/tribal stretch; a desperate/defiance section; and a symbolic/robotic patch.

The portions intermingle ideally, I believe; for those who fall into a wandering state might likely need to romanticize their maddening circumstances or simply resign their fight for "normality", letting discourse be their guide. (Probably many fluctuate between the mindsets, but who am I to say or judge? I can only imagine their strife and hope to empathize.) 


For the sake of the album's robotic strokes, I found myself thinking of Phillip K. Dick's android extrapolations: that is, the way his synthetic characters were forced to escape one form of existence for something better, but in the process, could only run without the hope of a permanent home. Also, the need to question one's worth and sense of reality isn't, in truth, an android state (though Dick did project such), but it's truly a part of the human condition. We ask ourselves how we came to enter our current stations and whether our status quo is justified; and if not, can our situations ever be altered...made better?

Answers to such can be many and varied, but Post:Soc doesn't try to unravel the hows and whys or determine definitively what the future may bring. The music only paints the road before us, and on that road are people we simply can't ignore. 


We're of the same species, possessing the same feelings and desires, even if our positions may not always match. Most listeners, in this respect, will identify with what Post:Soc presents and during the album's tumultuous trip, come to care even more for the heartbroken and downtrodden individuals who populate any given society.  

Post:Soc is available for download at ...  https://postsoc.bandcamp.com/. All proceeds will be forwarded to the DePaul International Homeless Charity for immediate distribution.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

SO LONG, CONRAD BROOKS...


You were the last remaining of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s cinematic clan, having costarred in "Plan 9 From Outer Space"; "Bride of the Monster"; "Night of the Ghouls"; "Glen or Glenda"; "Jail Bait"; and "The Sinister Urge".

You also made us smile with your special appearances in "Beast of Yucca Flats", which headlined your good buddy, Tor Johnson; "Max Hell: Frog Warrior"; "Toad Warrior"; "A Polish Vampire in Burbank"; "Curse of the Queerwolf"; "Conrad Brooks vs the Werewolf"; "Monster Man"; "Toilet Gator"; "Space Vampires from the Planet Blood"; "Bikini Drive-in"; and of course, the new "Plan 9" (2015), with dear, ol' Mr. Lobo...to name but a few. You also took a stab at directing/producing, gifting us with the "Gypsy Vampire" and "Hillbilly Monster" sagas, in addition to "Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf." 

You clearly loved life, Mr. Brooks, which included your adoring fans, who always felt fulfilled and elated after meeting you. May you enjoy your time in eternity with the old gang. I can only imagine all the eccentric wonders you're yet to concoct in the Great Beyond...

THE PERSONA AND HYDE SEED MAKE GREAT HOLIDAY GIFTS!!!

Take it from the peculiar lookin' chap featured below: It's hip to pose in public with copies of Michael F. Housel's "Enter--the Persona!" and "The Hyde Seed". 


As most of you know, they're published by Airship 27 Productions, with audio-book counterparts available through Radio Archives/Amazon Audible.


Check out the following links to purchase any of the various formats, or contact me directly via "bizarrechats" if you'd like an autograph paperback to show off to your friends. The autographed editions sure make nice holiday gifts--hint, hint.


https://www.amazon.com/Persona-Enter-1/dp/0997786817/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512417549&sr=8-1&keywords=enter--the+persona  

https://www.amazon.com/The-Hyde-Seed/dp/B074SSQYBJ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1512417602&sr=1-1&keywords=the+hyde+seed