Monday, February 20, 2017

Damon Knight: Artist! [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

When you think of Damon Knight (1922-2002) you get a picture in your head of an old dude with a long, grey beard. Maybe you see him editing Orbit or hanging off the arm of his wife, Kate Wilhelm. Knight won many awards, wrote several books on writing science fiction, and is best remembered as a reviewer with high standards of quality in the genre. What you don’t picture is a twenty-year-old kid doodling – because Damon Knight started in science fiction as an artist. His first published work was in Amazing Stories, May 1940. His first story appeared just a little later in Ray Bradbury’s fanzine, Future Fantasia, Summer 1940. It was called “The Itching Hour.” His first professional sale wasn’t until February 1941 in Stirring Science Stories with “Resilience,” where they botched the ending. By 1950 he would be writing stories like “Not With a Bang” and “To Serve Man” (made famous on The Twilight Zone with “It’s a cookbook!”) and his fame as a short story writer would be forever set. Before then, a lot of minor work and plenty of artwork.

It would be fair to describe Knight’s art style as “cartoony.” That first sale to Ray Palmer was a cartoon. The cover he drew for the fanzine, Le Zombie in January 1940 has the same line-oriented feel. Despite this simplified style, Knight puts it to good use, adding more atmosphere and interest with delicate shading and atmospheric tones, eventually working on black scratch board. His work appeared primarily in Science Fiction Quarterly, Future, Super Science Stories, and Weird Tales, all low-paying art markets. This also explains why his artwork is so hard to find. With the exception of Weird Tales, these magazines were small timers and not collected as widely. (I imagined only for a random second that it was because Knight had purchased up as many copies as possible over the years and destroyed them. Like I said, only for a second.)

There is almost nothing written about Damon Knight’s artwork. He did not comment extensively about it himself. (I could be wrong about this and if you know otherwise, please let me know. I found one bio where he calls himself “artist.”) So I’m going to make a few surmises about it. I think his biggest supporter and influences were Boris Dolgov and Hannes Bok, two other Weird Tales artists with cartoony but powerful styles; acolytes of Maxfield Parrish. If this is true, then when Knight got to illustrate a story by Hannes Bok with “Starstone World” (Science Fiction Quarterly, Summer 1942), this must have pleased both of them. (Though the two illos are not his best and I haven’t included them.)

After the reprinting of “Herbert West, Reanimator: Part 4” (November 1942), most of Damon Knight’s work for Weird Tales was illustrating poems, but in January 1943, Knight got to illustrate Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s “Seventh Sister.” By 1946, Knight put away the drawing pencils for the blue ones. With new markets coming like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Galaxy, he was ready to explore SF through words alone. His last illo was “The Haunted Stairs” in Weird Tales, May 1946. Knight was twenty-four. Any dreams of being another Hannes Bok or Lee Brown Coye were abandoned for the typewriter. Sadly, Knight never got to illustrate one of his own stories.

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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

My 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2017

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. For example, last year, seven of my Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies for 2016 actually made it in into my Top Ten of the Year. That sounds pretty good, but I listed 20 Most Anticipated Movies last year and only half of them were in my Top Twenty.

Two of them (Underworld: Blood Wars and Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) got pushed back to 2017, so they don't really count, but three I didn't even bother to see after learning more about them (Warcraft, Jason Bourne, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; though I'll likely decline its advice and go back for that last one at some point). The remaining five (Hail Caesar, Fantastic Beasts, Ghostbusters, TMNT 2, and X-Men: Apocalypse) were all over the map in terms of how much I enjoyed them.

Which goes to show that we need to underline the words "interested in" in describing this list. These aren't the movies that I'm predicting will be the best; just the ones that I most want to see. That could be out of genuine excitement, but it might just be irresistible curiosity. I'll try to specify which as I go.

Tell me what you're looking forward to in the comments!

20. The Beguiled

Sofia Coppolla directs this Western (I don't like calling them Southerns, but technically that's more accurate in this case) about an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) who's imprisoned in a Confederate boarding school for girls and tries to charm his way out. Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Kirsten Dunst are the primary occupants of the school. I like all of those people, the setting, and the drama of the situation.

19. Ferdinand

One of my favorite children's books. I have way more in common with the character of Ferdinand than I should ever admit. I have no idea if this is doable as a feature length movie, but I generally like Blue Sky's stuff, so hooves are crossed.

18. Hostiles

Another Western; this one with Christian Bale as an Army captain escorting a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family through hostile territory. I'm concerned that Studi gets like 12th billing right now on IMDb, because I'm most interested in seeing the relationship between his and Bale's characters. Hopefully that's not indicative of his actual importance to the story.

Lots of other great people in this thing, too. Rosamund Pike and Stephen Lang, for instance, but also Ben Foster in his second Western with Bale after 3:10 to Yuma ten years ago.

17. Jumanji

I'm not crazy about the original, but it had a cool concept, which means that it's ripe for a remake. And I couldn't be more excited about The Rock and Karen Gillan as the leads. Hoping it's more focused on high adventure and less schmaltzy than the earlier version.

16. The Dark Tower

Never read these books, but they've certainly captured a lot of imaginations and I usually like fantastical Westerns. I also like Stephen King, though movies based on his work are a mixed bag. I guess I'm pinning my hopes on Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in this genre instead of on the source material.

15. Spider-Man: Homecoming

I like Spider-Man and boy that was pretty cool in Civil War. But I don't love Spider-Man and there are some things about this that just make me tired. Young Aunt May and the look of the Vulture aren't thrilling me, for two things. Another is that I already feel like I've seen all the Tony Stark/Peter Parker interaction I want to in Civil War. And as much as I trust in my heart that Marvel is going to make a good movie, this is still another Spider-Man reboot in too short a time.

On the other hand, I've learned not to bet against Marvel. If this is the fun, teen comedy that it looks to be, I expect to be much more excited coming out of it than going in.

14. Pitch Perfect 3

'Cause I love these movies. The humor is always pretty uneven, but there's always a good character arc and I do like me an a cappella mash-up.

13. Table 19

We've been rewatching Friends and I'm totally ready to see Lisa Kudrow do something more than a cameo in a movie again. And I always enjoy Anna Kendrick and Craig Robinson. The trailer made me laugh and I usually enjoy seeing outsiders push back against their oppressors, so this has a lot going for it.

12. Justice League

I have no idea if I'm going to like this or not and that lack of expectation is partly what's attracting me to it. But mostly, it gets my money because it's our first real look at Jason Mamoa's Aquaman.

11. Murder on the Orient Express

They don't really make straight-up murder mystery movies anymore, so this is cool. And it's cool that Kenneth Branagh is directing it. And it's cool that Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, and Derek Jacobi are all in it. I'm a bit more nervous about Johnny Depp and especially about Branagh's playing Herucle Poirot. Either (or both) of those could be goofy, caricatural performances that will ruin the movie for me. But I'm glad someone's adapting some Agatha Christie again.

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I love the opening trilogy (even At World's End), but On Stranger Tides needs making up for. This will either bring the series back in line or prove once and for all that we're done. Really hoping for the former, because there's so much potential for a lot of fun movies in the Pirates world.

9. The Mummy

As a huge fan of the Universal monster movies from the '30s and '40s (and '50s, when you add in Creature from the Black Lagoon), I'm all for the studio's trying to make a Marvel-style, connected universe with those characters. In fact, Universal was already doing that 70+ years ago. Marvel just revived the idea with superheroes.

I don't know if it's going to work this time, but they're starting in a pretty good place with a Tom Cruise action movie that's also trying to be legitimately scary. Working in Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll feels like a great idea, too, especially since they're not knocking people over the head with that fact in the trailer. Nowhere is this being billed as Mummy v Mr Hyde, which already puts it on a better track than Warner Bros.

8. Thor: Ragnarok

Speaking of Marvel, Thor is one of my favorite superheroes, Chris Hemsworth is one of my favorite actors, and I love the pitch of Ragnarok as a buddy road trip movie with Thor and Hulk. I've liked the other Thor movies, but they aren't as strong as the best Marvel films, so I'm not expecting to be blown away by this third one. I just want it to be a good time at the movies and don't see any reason to expect anything else.

7. Kong: Skull Island

I'm hoping that the trailers are leaving some surprises, because I've always thought it would be cool to have a movie completely focused on Skull Island. It's an awesome setting for adventure and Kong: Skull Island has a great cast to put in it. I just don't like feeling that I've already seen most of the film in ads.

6. Logan

I like Wolverine best when he's mentoring a young girl or woman. And I'm super excited by what I've seen of Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Charles Xavier in this. Logan appears to be a movie about relationships. That was the best thing about The Wolverine, too, so yes, more of that.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

"Obviously," indeed.

4. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson and I don't always get along, but if we learned nothing else from my excitement about Jupiter Ascending, it's that I'm always on the lookout for the next, great space opera. See also: Guardians of the Galaxy. My excitement for Valerian edges out Guardians because it's new. It looks insane and amazing and both Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan are fascinating people whom I'll enjoy watching go through whatever lunacy Besson has planned.

3. War for the Planet of the Apes

I'll always have a special place in my heart for the Planet of the Apes movies of the '60s, but I don't think there's any denying that these new versions are way better films. (Except for maybe the original Planet of the Apes, which totally holds up.) There's still a part of me that can't believe I like these new ones as much as I do, but I've learned to shut that part up and just let myself be excited. This is gonna be great.

2. Wonder Woman

We've waited so long for a Wonder Woman movie and this one has the right ingredients - and the right trailer - to promise a good one. It's still concerning to me that the folks behind Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were allowed anywhere near this thing, but I have my fingers crossed and am holding my breath that their influence will be minimal and that we'll get the film we hope for.

1. The Last Jedi

Rey! Finn! Poe! Luke!

I have crazy high expectations for this, but I trust that Rian Johnson in the one to meet them.

Monday, February 06, 2017

My Top 10 Movies of 2016

10. Rogue One

I've talked about this one at length on podcasts. Recorded my initial reactions on Starmaggedon, then got together with the Nerd Lunch crew to dig more deeply into it. But if podcasts aren't your thing, here's the short version.

I went into Rogue One just hoping for an entertaining movie that was different from the typical Star Wars experience, and that's exactly what I got. It's a great story and everything a prequel should be. My only disappointment was that I didn't connect with any of the characters as much as I wanted to. I feel empathy for many of them, appreciate the moral journey that Cassian goes on, enjoy what Saw Gerrera represents to the Rebel Alliance at large, and I really really like K-2SO. I just don't love any of these folks as much as I do Rey, Finn, and Poe.

9. Sing Street

I love the setting and the music. That's a lot of fun and the original songs are super catchy and sound right out of the '80s. I also really love the relationship between Conor and his older brother and the themes about firstborn children blazing trails for their younger siblings.

I'm not crazy about the assertion that success can only be found outside of Dublin, though. Especially since the movie has to ignore the existence of U2 in order to make that claim. It's a major omission for the sole purpose of forcing Conor down a particular path, when I'd much rather have seen him make a different choice anyway.

Very good movie, but as someone who adores director John Carney's Begin Again, I expected much more from his take on my favorite music genres.

8. Magnificent Seven

Another one that I went into more detail about on a podcast. Very nice update. I love the diversity in the cast and these actors are all compelling and great. I also love James Horner's score, especially how he suggests the original Elmer Bernstein music without simply dropping it in whole.

My issue with the movie is that it replaces the complex themes of the original with a straightforward revenge story. Peter Sarsgaard is great as the villain, but the character is so charmless and excessively evil (unlike Eli Wallach's Calvera in 1960) that he becomes less interesting.

Still, the way the heroes react to Sarsgaard's character is great and that's where the real story is anyway.

I liked it even more the second time I saw it. Everyone's motivations may be simplified from the original, but I don't like the characters any less for it. In fact, I like all of these Seven more than a couple of the originals.

7. Doctor Strange

Visually stunning with great performances. I loved the sense of humor. Strange has a similar character arc to Tony Stark, but it's different enough to stay interesting. Stark's ego and selfishness makes him charmingly careless while Strange is arrogant and often mean. The similarities seem intentional though and I love the movie's description of the mystical masters as essentially the Avengers of the spiritual world.

6. Legend of Tarzan

I was extremely skeptical after seeing the trailers, but I love this movie.

I love that it doesn't spend much time on Tarzan's very familiar origin, but relates only what it needs to in quick flashbacks sprinkled throughout the main story. It's made some minor changes to that - mostly around Jane's background - but for great reasons that improved her as a character.

And it's the characters that I love the most. This feels like Tarzan and Jane, but a mature, contemporary (even though it's set in the nineteenth century) Tarzan and Jane. They're clearly equals and Jane has a lot to do. She's technically the damsel in distress for quite a while, but the movie comments on that and subverts it. Margot Robbie can pretty much do no wrong at this point.

Alexander Skarsgård is a perfect Tarzan. He's big, he's physical, but most of all he's completely convincing as both English lord and wild man. It's awesome, because we meet him in London, then get to watch the civilization slowly fall off of him once he returns home to the jungle. It's simultaneously thrilling and also kind of heart-breaking to watch.

The various tribal people are also fantastic. Sidney Ralitsoele in particular plays an unbelievably handsome and charming ally. I expect to see a lot more of that guy.

I don't always know what I'm going to get from a Samuel L Jackson or Christoph Waltz performance. A lot of times, they're just doing their Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz things, but every once in a while they'll really go all out for a character. I didn't expect Legend of Tarzan to be one of those times, frankly. I was expecting it to be just a big, dumb, heartless cash-grab with half-hearted performances. But everyone's put a lot of effort into it. It helps that they have strong characters to work with. Waltz' motivations are believable and go way beyond just being evil and destructive. And Jackson has a touching backstory that also gives him purpose in the film and explains his actions.

The writers not only get these characters; they also clearly love Burroughs' novels. This feels like a Burroughs adventure. From an alternate timeline perhaps, but the heart is there. And there are lots of references to Burroughs' stuff that I won't spoil.

I do have one minor issue and that's with the quality of the CG. It's not horrible, but it's not especially good either. I was able to overlook it though, because I was so pleased with everything else.

5. Captain America: Civil War

When Warner Bros announced their plans to fast-track the building of a DC cinematic universe, I was worried for two reasons. First, it would be headed up by the folks responsible for the problem-filled Man of Steel. But also, it sounded like WB was hoping to reap the benefits of a shared universe without putting in the years of character development that Marvel had. That's very clearly seen when I compare Batman v Superman with Civil War.

The movies have almost identical plots, with their villainous masterminds who manipulate heroes into fighting each other. But BvS feels forced and unnatural while Civil War is fun and organic. Everything that happens in Civil War flows out of motives and decisions that are believable because Marvel has spent several years exploring and growing these characters. I like all of these people and I understand why they do what they do, even when I don't agree with them.

But Civil War's success isn't all due to work done by previous movies. It's just more smartly written than BvS. The source of the conflict between the heroes is complicated and fascinating, unlike the self-absorption and bigotry that drives BvS. The characters in Civil War are way smarter, too.

So Civil War really shines next to BvS, but even without that comparison, it's a great time at the movies. It's thought-provoking, but it's also funny and the fights are amazingly choreographed. This is superheroics at their best.

4. Jane Got a Gun

I was totally sucked into this story of a woman who's had to make some hard decisions and now faces the violent consequences. There's some High Noon going on in that it's as much about the build-up to the final confrontation as it is about the confrontation itself.

I love that almost as much as I love the way it gradually reveals the characters' pasts and why they currently feel about each other the way that they do. It's all complicated and human; none of it more so than Jane herself. Portman does a great job, as do all of her co-stars.

3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Delightful and beautiful. I'm such a sucker for stories about broken people who learn to connect with each other. Especially when they're as charming and funny as this one. I don't want to say too much and oversell it, but I highly recommend this one.

2. Star Trek Beyond

My favorite of the rebooted Star Trek movies. That's not saying anything in comparison to Into Darkness, but I quite enjoyed the 2009 movie and this is better. 2009 did a great job of introducing the alternate timeline and these new versions of the characters, but it's still an origin story. It has to spend most of its time getting everyone into place so that we can have movies like Star Trek Beyond, which is what I really want to see.

Beyond plays like an episode of the show, but a really badass episode of the show. It's got everything I want in a Star Trek story: strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations, reflections about humanity, and plenty of action. As much as I hear fans talk about action as if its some kind of necessary evil for Star Trek these days, it's always been a vital ingredient of the series and I love having it in the mix.

And speaking of "new life," I have a new favorite Star Trek character in Jaylah. Holy Neck Pinch, she's awesome.

1. Moana

I was hoping to love this. I'm a big fan of Disney animated movies when they're done well and the Pacific islands setting is so my bag. Plus, The Rock. But it's even better than I imagined.

The movie subverts expectations while still feeling very much like what it is. And those coconut pirates are totally rad. I laughed a lot, I was deeply moved, and the songs are as good as any Disney musical since The Little Mermaid (or maybe Aladdin; in a really long time, is my point). You know how little girls everywhere drove everyone crazy with their personal renditions of "Let It Go?" That was me with "How Far I'll Go." And David and I can't stop singing "You're Welcome," either.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Hellbent for Catching Up

If this blog is the only way you know about new episodes of Hellbent for Letterbox, first of all, shame on you. But second of all, there are a whole mess of episodes since the last time I mentioned the show here. In October, we welcomed our very first guests - Michael DiGiovanni and Andrew Bloom from the Classic Film Jerks podcast - to discuss the Magnificent Seven remake starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.

And as long as we had Digio and Bloom, we recorded a special episode copying one of our favorite parts of their show: re-casting older movies with modern actors. We did that with 1988's Young Guns, each of us picking new actors to play the six main characters and maybe a side character or three.

October was a busy month for the show and we wrapped up with a special look at the Western career of DeForest Kelley (whose name I misspelled in the image above, but I apparently can't be bothered to go back and fix it). I visited with author Kristine M Smith whose freelance writing career was launched by Kelley in 1969. She also served as Kelley’s personal assistant and caregiver during the final months of his life and has written two books about him: DeForest Kelley Up Close and Personal, A Harvest of Memories from the Fan Who Knew Him Best (2016) and The Enduring Legacy of DeForest Kelley: Actor, Healer, Friend.

In November, we were back to regular episodes, starting with a discussion of Danish director Kristian Levring's The Salvation, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. We also talked briefly about HBO's Westworld, Warlock (1959), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), and stared a new segment where we read listener mail.

Later in November, we covered our first TV series on the show. The Young Riders debuted in 1989 and starred Ty Miller, Stephen Baldwin, and Josh Brolin. We talked about the premise of the show, the obvious connections to Young Guns, and whether or not we thought it succeeded on its own merits. There was also some quick discussion of In Old Santa Fe (1934), Outlaws and Angels (2016), and "They Went Thataway," a Billy the Kid episode of the 1975 TV series, The Ghost Busters.

December brought one of Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott's many collaborations. Ride Lonesome also stars James Best, Pernell Roberts, James Coburn, Karen Steele, and Lee Van Cleef. We also talked a little about Season 1 of Westworld and Marvel's Apache Skies mini-series by John Ostrander and Leonardo Manco.

Closing out 2016 was our conversation about the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, and Alan Tudyk. And in "Whatcha Been Westerning," we were all about comics with Kingsway West, The Sixth Gun, and Marvel Westerns.

2017 opened with our first '30s Western on the podcast, George Marshall's Destry Rides Again starring Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart. I also recommended The Duel (2016) starring Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth.

And finally, a week or so ago we discussed the 1985 ensemble western Silverado starring Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, and Jeff Goldblum. Also: 1935's Annie Oakley and some Western films to look forward to in 2017.


Related Posts with Thumbnails