Wednesday, April 04, 2018

'Casting Off | Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

An epic start to an epic movie series deserves an epic panel to talk about it. On the latest 'Casting Off, David and I are joined by Ron Marz, Liz Twachtman, and Mike Westfall to spring a man from jail, commandeer a ship of the fleet, and sail with a buccaneer crew out of Tortuga. We're completely obsessed with the treasure that is this movie.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Thundarr Road | Interview with Thundarr writer Buzz Dixon, Part 2

We'll be back on the Road soon with the next recap, but until then, enjoy the second part of our interview with writer Buzz Dixon. Noel talks with Buzz about life after Thundarr with special focus on GI Joe. It's another great conversation with great, new stories that you won't want to miss.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | Red Sun (1971)

On this episode of Hellbent, Pax and I discuss Terence Young's East-meets-Western starring Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune, and Ursula Andress.

We also have short talks about some things with long titles: Anton Treuer's book Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask and Chuck Connors in Kill Them All and Come Back Alone.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Mystery Movie Night | Major League (1989), A Few Good Men (1992), and Benny & Joon (1993)

We're all about baseball, brigs, and Buster Keaton on the latest Mystery Movie Night. Dave, David, Erik, Evan, and I discuss a trio of '90s movies and what it is that connects them all.

00:01:44 - Review of Major League

00:26:45 - Review of A Few Good Men

00:44:35 - Review of Benny & Joon

01:08:00 - Guessing the Connection

Friday, March 23, 2018

Pop Culture Retrofit | National Lampoon's Vacation Western

Pop Culture Retrofit is a great idea for a podcast. Each episode, Christian and DiGio take a movie or TV show and imagine what it would be like in a different medium or genre. So: what if The Breakfast Club was a Disney animated movie with talking animals? Or The Da Vinci Code was a game show? Or Die Hard was more appropriate for cats? It's not just a great concept; it's hilarious.

Sometimes they have a guest and for the latest episode they let me come on and help think of ways to turn National Lampoon's Vacation into a Western. I had a blast and laughed a lot. You need to check this out.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Greystoked | 1930s Recap

On the latest Greystoked, Noel, David, and I review the decade that changed Tarzan forever in the public eye. We discuss not just the wild success of MGM and Johnny Weissmuller's interpretation, but the Burroughs novels from the decade as well as imitators from Bomba to Ka-Zar.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Villain (1979)

Pax and I giggle and groan over Hal Needham's slapstick comedy starring Kirk Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ann-Margret.

Also: a brief Lone Ranger discussion and mini-reviews of 1967's Hour of the Gun (with James Garner as Wyatt Earp) and Mighty Marvel Western featuring Rawhide Kid, Kid Slade, and Two-Gun Kid.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nerd Lunch | An Extra-Helping of Black Panther

Last week on Nerd Lunch, Jeeg invited me, William Bruce West, and Liz Twachtman to talk about Black Panther. It was my second podcast talking about it; the first being N3rd World a couple of weeks ago. The N3rd World discussion is my initial reaction; Nerd Lunch is after I've had a chance to process it a little. I need to see the movie again though. There's so much to think about in there.

Anyway, it's always fun visiting with Jeeg and Will and it was a pleasure to meet and talk to Liz, too.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | Hannie Caulder (1971)

Shawn Robare joined Pax and I for another episode, this time to discuss Raquel Welch and Robert Culp in Hannie Caulder, a movie that was a big inspiration for Quentin Tarantino.

There's also some Pony Express mail about Robert Blake Westerns and in "Whatchoo Been Westernin'," we mix genres with the post-apocalyptic movie Scorched Earth and the steampunk vampire novel Blood Riders.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Mystery Movie Night | Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), 10,000 BC (2008), and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)

We talk princesses, pyramids, and pecs. And stay tuned to the end for a quick, bonus discussion of Black Panther.

00:01:15 - Review of Atlantis: The Lost Empire
00:19:47 - Review of 10,000 BC
00:36:18 - Review of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
00:56:13 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Guest Post | Marga the Panther Woman

By GW Thomas

Jungle lords were nothing new in 1940. Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan in 1914. Johnny Weissmuller had been playing him in the movies since 1932. Tarzan knock-offs like Bomba, Og, Son of Fire, Jungle Girl, Jan of the Jungle, Kwa of the Jungle, Kaspa the Lion Man, Sorak, Hawk of the Wilderness, Bantan, and Jaragu of the Jungle filled magazines and books. So why was there a sudden spike in jungle comics in 1940?

The biggest reason for the increase in characters was the creation of a sister book for Fiction House's Jumbo Comics that featured Will Eisner's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. The new comic was called Jungle Comics and it followed its name, featuring only jungle characters. It ran for 163 issues from January 1940 to Summer 1954. In the first year, Jungle Comics offered Kaanga, Wambi the Jungle Boy, White Panther, Tabu, Camilla, Captain Terry Thunder, Simba, King of the Beasts, Drums of the Leopard Men, White Hunters of the African Safari, Roy Lance, and Fantomah. Some of these characters were so popular they spawned comics of their own like Wambi Jungle Boy #1-18 (Spring 1942-Winter 1952) and Kaanga #1-20 (Spring 1949-Summer 1954).

All of Fiction House's competitors took notice and jungle lords and ladies began to show up shortly afterwards in many comics. Fox’s Science Comics #1 (February 1940) largely filled with costumed heroes, created their first jungle gal, Marga the Panther Woman. (This was seven or eight years before Rulah, Jo-Jo Jungle King, Zago, Tegra, and Fox's other jungle denizens.) Marga and also Hillman's awful Blanda the Jungle Queen were the first out of the gates in the race for the comic jungle. The comic's author and artist, James T Royal is not known, though it may have been Emil Gershwin using a pseudonym. Louis Cazeneuve is known to have inked other people's pencils on the strip.

Since Marga appeared in a comic dedicated to "Science" her origin had to be scientific. Marga possesses real panther abilities, such as speed and strength, along with wicked claws, because mad physio-biologist Von Dorf wanted to create a race of panther-people. Once Marga is transformed, she tries to kill the doctor so that no one else should be subjected to the treatment. She leaves, thinking him dead. Von Dorf revives, then proceeds to blow himself up out of some desire to keep his secret process from others. In the end, Marga alone will possess the panther-like abilities. As a Pre-Code comic, Marga's first adventures are violent and the tone is harsh and unfriendly.

Again, since Marga appeared in a science fiction comic, her next adventure is in a weird, futuristic city where brave flyers like Ted Grant face off against the evil Uchunko and his spaceship marauders. Marga takes a back seat as Tom rescues her from a pit filled with snakes. The story ends and the next time we see Marga, she is living in the jungle like any self-respecting jungle lady. No more sky pirates or spaceships. From now on, Marga will be a terrestrial (if highly unusual) earth dweller.

The next story was obviously inspired by the film The Wizard of Oz, because an evil scientist named Professor Meier is capturing animals and turning them into winged monkeys that he can control with his mind. The winged attackers capture Marga, and the Professor plans to make her into the general of the army of flying beasts. The serum he gives her does not turn her into a drone, but increases her already super powers. With the help of a rogue flying monkey that she calls Homer, she goes to the army of the nearby city and destroys Meier. An antidote is given to the animals and she returns them to their natural state. Homer turns out to be a police dog; now Marga's bosom companion (though we never see him again!)

After defeating the Professor, Marga gets a chance to join the circus. She becomes the star of the show with her tiger-wrestling and -throttling act. The evil Dr Borgia wants Marga, but she spurns his advances. When rival circus owner Randler wants to buy Marga out, he joins forces with Borgia to implant lion essence in the tiger, so that it will kill Marga. Marga defeats the savage beast only to become one herself, killing Borgia and Randler. She goes to trial for her crimes but the judge won't sentence her. She is free to return to the circus but chooses instead to return to the jungle. This installment is particularly noteworthy for its cartoony and inconsistent artwork.

The following story is better drawn in places (with small cribs from the Sunday funnies Tarzan) but almost lacks any real logic. The local Africans are trying to kill a rogue elephant, but Marga intervenes. With the elephant's help she rescues the village warriors. The person who was aggravating the pachyderm (not really sure who that is?) is killed, so all is well again.

The artwork up to this point has been inconsistent, with the style and conventions for speech bubbles and lettering changing each time. Now that the strip was being drawn by a single team, a standard opening was created for Marga: "Inoculated with the traits of a black panther, MARGA, an attractive white girl, joins aviator TED GRANT on an expedition into the jungle fastness." Ted Grant, now an African adventurer rather than a spaceship captain.

Shortly after this, Marga moved from Science Comics to Weird Comics where she did her thing side-by-side with The Sorceress of Zoom, Dr Mortal, and The Eagle, once again a jungle gal in a superhero magazine. But this time Marga settled into her groove with evil hunters, an occasional caveman or dinosaur, and plenty of obvious evil baddies. She rescues Ted, Ted rescues her, and nothing much changes in the jungle for a dozen more similar tales. Marga's blue-black dress is now red and her less vicious attributes (no longer a man-killer) and plots are as time-worn as bad Hollywood B-movies. And so Marga went out, not with a savage jungle yell, but with a wave and an unfulfilled promise for more adventures.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | Godless (2017)

Pax and I are joined by special guest Shawn Robare (Branded in the '80s, Cult Film Club) to talk about the Netflix mini-series Godless starring Michelle Dockery, Jeff Daniels, and Jack O'Connell.

And in "Whatchoo Been Westernin'?" we discuss the '80s cartoon Bravestarr and the movie Hostiles starring Christian Bale and Wes Studi.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Birthday, Hellbent for Letterbox!

Pax and I celebrated the 2nd anniversary of Hellbent for Letterbox with a quick look over our shoulders at the last two years, then forward for a few hints of things to come. We also caught up with brief discussions of Hickok (2017) and Billy the Kid episodes of Tales from Wells Fargo and Death Valley Days.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | Bite the Bullet (1975)

In the most recent Hellbent, Pax and I talk about what we assumed was Cannonball Run in the West. Will Bite the Bullet be another case of foiled expectations like Bandolero! and 100 Rifles?

I also give a quick review of the 2017 remake of The Beguiled by director Sofia Coppola; starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Mystery Movie Night | Operation Kid Brother (1967), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), and Hudson Hawk (1993)

Mystery Movie Night has a brand-new, permanent co-host! Evan Hanson has been a guest on a lot of podcasts, including Nerd Lunch, Hellbent for Letterbox, and Starmageddon (Rest in Peace) and he was also a guest on Mystery Movie Night Episode 20. Since my brother Mark isn't able to join us most of the time, we've been thinking about re-adding a fifth member and we're thrilled that Evan was interested.

For his inaugural episode, we talked about James Bond, Joey Ramone, and Almond Joy. Lots of strong opinions on this one. I think it's especially funny.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Dragonfly Ripplet | The Films of Ed Wood

It's a podcast crossover! After discussing Tim Burton's Ed Wood on a recent episode of Mystery Movie Night, David and I decided to watch the three movies talked about in that film: Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Were they as fun as Burton made them look? Or as bad as their reputation? David tells all in this mini-episode of Dragonfly Ripple.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Thundarr Road | Attack of the Amazon Women

Thundarr Road is back as we follow Thundarr to South Dakota for some time at... the ocean? "Attack of the Amazon Women" has undersea warriors, a warhead, and a worrisome spider. We discuss it all.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Hellbent for Letterbox | Sunset (1988)

On the latest Hellbent, Pax and I take a detour from traditional Westerns and talk about Blake Edwards' murder mystery where Western movie star Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) and Western legend Wyatt Earp (James Garner) try to catch a killer in 1920s Hollywood. It also has Malcolm McDowell and Mariel Hemingway.

And as long as we're covering not-quite-Westerns, I also talk a little about Brett Haley's The Hero, starring Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, and Katharine Ross.

Friday, January 26, 2018

'Casting Off | Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Hey! 'Casting Off is back! One of the drawbacks to this one just being me and David is that I can put off doing it if things get busy. I'm gonna work on doing better this year and may bring in some guests to help me feel more accountable.

To kick off the new year, David and I discuss the Mike Mignola-designed, Disney-animated, dieselpunk masterpiece, Atlantis: The Lost Empire. And we also mention a couple of other Atlantis stories, including a Godzilla cartoon and the current Aquaman comics.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Greystoked | Tarzan's Revenge (1938)

On the latest episode of Greystoked, Noel and I are joined again by my son David to discuss Sol Lesser's second Tarzan movie, the much maligned Tarzan's Revenge. It has a reputation as one of the worst Tarzan movies, so among other things we talk about whether it deserves that notoriety.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Nerd Lunch's Last Jedi Drill-Down

Last Jedi was a Top 5 movie for me last year, so it's no secret that I loved it, but if you're in the mood to hear me gush at length, then Nerd Lunch's latest episode is for you.

OR... maybe you're in the mood to hear a variety of opinions on the movie. If that's the case, you should also listen. I loved it, Carlin hated it, and everyone else is somewhere in between. Jeeg has the perspective of someone outside of the hardcore Star Wars fandom, Pax comes at it with a heavy love of Luke Skywalker, and Kay brings knowledge of and passion for the Extended Universe. It's five friends having a heart-felt, but rational discussion about the most divisive movie of the year. It's almost like we've brought balance to the Force.

Friday, January 19, 2018

My 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2018

It's fun to think about what's coming out and which movies I'm most interested in, then compare that at the end of the year to what I actually enjoyed.  Of my 20 Most Anticipated last year, 12 of them turned out to be Top 20 movies for me, so that's pretty cool. One of them (Hostiles) was pushed back to this year and another (Jumanji 2) I just haven't been able to schedule yet, so that leaves 6 that were disappointing in some way.

Of those, I've seen and was underwhelmed by three (The BeguiledThe Mummy, and Justice League) and thanks to trailers and reviews, completely lost interest in three others (Dark TowerFerdinand, and Pitch Perfect 3) before they hit theaters.

So here's what I'm most eager to see this year. As always, these aren't the movies that I'm predicting will be the best; just the ones that I most want to see. Tell me what you're looking forward to in the comments!

20. Tomb Raider

I'm a mark for treasure-hunter movies and have enjoyed even the Angelina Jolie movies on some level. The trailer for this one is visually impressive and Vikander is a talented actor, so I'm just hoping that the story is up to snuff.

19. Mary Magdalene

One of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament, even without the Dan Brown nonsense. It's about time someone made a movie about her.

18. Mary Poppins Returns

I enjoy the classic adaptation, but it's not holy ground and I'm glad to see that the rest of the book series will get some attention, too. Not that I've read the books. And these movies will see that I don't have to.

17. Mowgli

I don't really need a new Jungle Book adaptation, but I'm interested in almost anything Andy Serkis does. And it'll be interesting to see what he does to avoid comparisons with the Jon Favreau Disney remake.

16. Incredibles 2

I've cooled off on Brad Bird after Tomorrowland, but I've still loved 80% of his movies and am interested in what he's able to do with this. I'm especially curious how a new Incredibles movie compares to the modern landscape of superhero movies. The first one was released the same year as Spider-Man 2, when we were just starting to figure out that great superhero movies were possible. The bar has been raised a lot higher since then and I'm not 100% confident that Incredibles 2 can clear it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Top 10 Movies of 2017

10. War for the Planet of the Apes

This is the weakest of the new PotA trilogy, but the other two are so strong that War doesn't have to top them to be amazing. I love how the overarching story builds and explores the conflict between compassion and hate, with each entry looking at it from a different angle.

Rise sees compassion and hate mostly from the human point of view as different people have different feelings about the apes (and by metaphor, about anyone who's different from them). Dawn transfers the conflict to the apes as Caesar and Koba struggle with the proper response to humanity's abuse. But in War the conflict is within Caesar himself.

His ongoing battle with the human Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has led Caesar down a dark path and threatens the beliefs that he holds most dear. War handles this in a beautiful, emotional way and it's a great conclusion to what's easily my favorite science fiction trilogy of all time (at least until the current Star Wars trilogy is done... fingers crossed).

It's this low in the Top 10 only because of particular plot points that I don't care for, but that's about me, not the movie.

9. Wonder Woman

It's awesome. The first DCU movie that's about an actual super hero. I love that Wonder Woman goes on a character journey that is never about whether or not she's going act heroically. It's about her world view changing from simple and naive to complicated and mature. It shakes her to her core, and there's a Zac Snyder moment that made me worried about what she'd do, but she recovers quickly and gets back to the work of fighting evil. Just beautiful.

And I love that the movie is able to introduce her to the world as a fish-out-of-water without sacrificing her confidence. She's learning a new culture and there are funny moments that result, but she's never the butt of the joke.

I do want to point out one thing though that bugs me a little. Not about this movie as its own object, but what it reveals about the wider DC movie universe. In Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman has clearly been gone a long time. No one knows about her or remembers her. It's a major plot point that Batman figures out that she's not a brand new hero, but someone who was around a long time ago. And BvS implies that something happened when she was first here that sent her into hiding. She may or may not have fled back to Themyscira, but she certainly disappeared from the public eye. And that made me concerned - especially in the shadow of Man of Steel and BvS - that Wonder Woman was going to be another dark movie about how heroism is punished.

Watching Wonder Woman, I can still see that movie in there. Diana goes through the ringer. And I can imagine a Snyder-influenced ending where she gives up her mission and just goes home for 100 years. I am so glad that the folks in charge decided not to do that and instead had Diana stick around to keep working, but it does create a large discontinuity with BvS. Making a movie about a hero is a great course correction for the series, but it is a course correction and not a flawless one.

The real thing keeping Wonder Woman out of my Top 5 though is the Ares battle. It's not bad, but I have a hard time with the transition from David Thewlis to full-on, battle-mode Ares. That whole fight is too much CG splashed across the screen. It doesn't ruin the movie in any way, but it's a weakness in an otherwise flawless production.

8. It

I've never read the book or seen the original mini-series adaptation, so I have nothing negative to say about restructuring this first film to be just from the kids' point of view. It was an awesome move and created a movie very much in the vein of Stranger Things and all the '80s kids-on-bicycles movies it's an homage to.

The kid actors are all great and the characters are mostly all great. There are one or two who could be superfluous, but I'm not complaining. None of my favorites were cheated of any characterization because of the others.

It's an entertainingly scary movie. Not completely terrifying, but chilling enough. And I like how the human monsters (bullies and certain parents) are just as nerve-wracking and horrifying as any of the supernatural ones. In the end, the strategy for defeating both kinds of monsters is the same and I love that, too. Can't wait for the sequel.

7. Table 19

I wanted to see this because I like Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, and Lisa Kudrow and the trailer looked pretty funny. I generally like wedding comedies because weddings are pretty funny anyway, but I wasn't prepared for how funny and touching Table 19 is.

It's the Breakfast Club of wedding movies. The concept is that at every wedding there's a table of misfits whom no one really expected to come or knows what to do with. Kendrick is the ex-girlfriend of the bride's brother. Robinson and Kudrow are a married couple who have a business relationship with the bride's father. There's also a former nanny, the solo teen-aged son of some family friends, and a disgraced cousin.

But where I expected a revenge comedy about these misfits' taking over the wedding, Table 19 is interested in the characters as people. It discusses why they all decided to come in the first place, forces them to confront their status as outcasts, and lets them bond in a really beautiful way.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Amazing. Spectacular. The ultimate. Web of, even.

I'm not going to call it my favorite Spider-Man movie, because there's some apples-and-oranges going on, but it's exactly the Spider-Man movie that I needed right now. No origin story and not even any universe-building. In fact, it's the opposite of universe-building, because the whole point is to explain why Spider-Man needs his own special corner of the MCU. And I love that the explanation is built on the phrase, "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man." It makes sense, it's what the character needs, and it's exactly where I want to see him go.

Also, what a great, funny, diverse cast of supporting characters. And Michael Keaton is brilliant. Best movie interpretation of a Spider-Man villain so far. And I'm not forgetting about Doctor Octopus.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

I liked it better than the first one. It's just as funny and visually interesting and the music is just as cool, but it has a more complex villain and some really great (and truly touching) development for Rocket, Yondu, and Nebula. Mantis is an awesome new character and my love for Dave Bautista is now fully stoked. Also, some excellent cameos that were genuine surprises.

4. The Last Jedi

The short version is that I love it. It's a Top Three Star Wars movie for me and I appreciate it more with each viewing. Five times as I'm writing this.

I'll give you the long version on an episode of Nerd Lunch next week, but feel free to discuss with me in the comments below if you want. This is a controversial one and I'm interested in talking it out.

3. A Cure for Wellness

Gore Verbinski's latest film is the best Hammer horror movie in 40 years. It's weird and gothic and so directly aimed at a particular audience that I understand why critics were largely down on it. But I'm fully in that intended audience.

It's about a young man (Dane DeHaan) who's sent by his company to retrieve their CEO from a Swiss wellness center that he's disappeared to. After being stonewalled by the spa's director (Jason Isaacs), DeHaan begins to suspect that something sinister is going on. Not just with his boss, but with all the patients and a young, not-quite-a-patient named Hannah (the impossibly awesomely named Mia Goth). I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, but it gets strange and lurid while still holding together as a story. The weirdness isn't for its own sake; it's part of a mystery that makes sense, even though it's wild and imaginative.

2. Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is as powerful as everyone says. It's simultaneously uplifting and frustrating in exactly the ways that it's trying to be.

What's cool though is that it's also frustrating in some surprising ways. In addition to stories of casual, systemic racism (which are always more powerful to me than the overt, aggressive kind), the movie makes a rather depressing statement about what spurs the white characters towards progress. Since NASA is literally about reaching for the stars and making scientific progress, I guess I expected the movie to depict social progress as some kind of natural result of that.

That's very much not the case though and the film spends quite a bit of time reminding us that the '60s space race was a product of the Cold War. Whatever justice the main characters experience by the end isn't a product of compassion, but fear. It takes the common enemy of the Soviets to motivate the establishment and help it see the value of its non-white allies. Progress is made and that's why Hidden Figures is an encouraging story, but I like that the movie complicates, rather than romanticizes what sparks that change.

1. Kong: Skull Island

I love the 2014 Godzilla, but I also understand the complaint that the monster's not in it enough. I completely disagree, but I understand it. That's definitely not a problem with Kong: Skull Island though.

This isn't the familiar Kong story, but that's for the best since that story is well defined by now. It was time for something new and this is it. The island and its inhabitants (human and monsters alike) are all cool and the film spends plenty of time on them. More importantly, it also spends plenty of time on the invading characters so that I absolutely cared what happened to them, too. Even when I disliked what someone was doing, I totally understood why they were doing it.

It's a great companion piece to Godzilla and I cannot wait for the eventual showdown between the two monsters.


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