Monday, June 29, 2020

Mystery Movie Night | Batman (1966), RoboCop (1987), and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

It'll take the detective skills of Batman, the persistence of RoboCop, and the endurance of a Terminator to figure out the connection in this episode. Join David, Erik, Evan, Dave, and I for sensational repartee about sinister riddles, savage robots, and sassy ragamuffins.

00:01:28 - Review of Batman (1966)
00:15:34 - Review of RoboCop (1987)
00:26:09 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
00:46:38 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Super-Blog Team-Up | The Treasure Island Expanded Universe

One of the best things about hosting the Fourth Chair Army Invasion podcast and now AfterLUNCH is all the great people I've met and get to have cool discussions with. One of those is Chris (aka Charlton Hero) from the Superhero Satellite blog who invited me to participate in this month's Super-Blog Team-Up, a blog crossover project where a bunch of different bloggers all talk about different aspects of the same topic on the same day. 

They do this a few times a year and this time it's about the concept of Expanded Universes. I'm a big fan of the idea. When Star Wars came out in 1977, I immediately started dreaming about sequels and craved more adventures with Luke, Leia, Chewie, and Han. And I was able to get them through Marvel's comics (and Pizzazz magazine), newspaper strips, and novels like Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Brian Daley's Han Solo trilogy, and L Neil Smith's Lando Calrissian series. Those died down after a while, but came back in a big way in the '90s thanks to Dark Horse Comics and Timothy Zahn's hugely successful Heir to the Empire sequels. Suddenly, the Star Wars galaxy was wide open for exploration again. But I didn't stop there. The concept of Expanded Universes got me interested in exploring the comics and novels of other favorite things like Star Trek and Planet of the Apes.

For the Super-Blog Team-Up though, I want to talk about an EU that I've only discovered relatively recently: the surprisingly large number of prequels, sequels, and crossovers related to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. I'm mostly going to talk about English language spin-offs here (or at least ones that have been translated into English), but the novel has inspired stories in various languages, including at least one Russian sequel and a Dutch prequel. 

I feel like I should mention, though it probably goes without saying, that most of these prequels and sequels were created independently of each other. So not only do they not reference each other; most of them will directly contradict. It's not an Expanded Universe in the sense that a central publisher or studio has exclusive rights to manage and curate a cohesive continuity. But that doesn't make it any less exciting to revisit these characters and their adventures as imagined by many, many different artists.

The novel was published in 1883 and almost immediately inspired spin-offs (though the authors of those first works wouldn't have thought of them that way). One of them was by Stevenson himself: a play he wrote with WE Henley called Admiral Guinea. It was published in 1892 and is about a meeting between the eponymous "admiral" and three other characters. Admiral Guinea was once the commander of a slave ship, but has given that up and now calls himself Captain Gaunt. He's remorseful about his past occupation, which complicates his feelings about his daughter's wanting to marry a former pirate. And while all of this is going on, a former crew member of Guinea's shows up to extort money from him. This past companion is a blind beggar named David Pew, whom Treasure Island readers know as Blind Pew, the sightless vagabond who delivers the Black Spot to Billy Bones at the Admiral Benbow Inn.

A couple of decades later, Peter Pan's creator JM Barrie worked Treasure Island characters into the backstory of Captain Hook and his crew. Barrie had published the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up in 1904, but in 1911 he published a novelization of it called Peter and Wendy. In the novel, Barrie adds details, including references to Treasure Island's Captain Flint and Long John Silver. One of the pirates who sets up the plank for the children to walk is named Bill Jukes, whom Hook says served on the Walrus with Flint. And Hook himself claims to be the only man feared by Barbecue, a reference to the sea cook Long John Silver.

Treasure Island got its first full-on spinoff novel in 1924 with Porto Bello Gold, a prequel by AD Howden Smith. I haven't read or seen all of the Treasure Island EU that I'll talk about, but I have read Porto Bello Gold. It's told through a new character named Robert Ormerod, a merchant's son who also happens to be the nephew of the notorious pirate Captain Murray (not a Treasure Island character as far as I remember). Murray forces young Ormerod to join a scheme to liberate a ton of treasure from the Spanish for political purposes and piracy ensues.

The connection to Treasure Island comes from Murray's partner, the infamous Captain Flint. And Flint's crew of course includes Long John Silver, Billy Bones, and Blind Pew. Ben Gunn is also a character, but he works for Murray as a steward whose great goal in life is to escape having to wear a uniform.

It's a great, fast-paced novel about the capture of the treasure that everyone's looking for in Treasure Island as well as the conflicts that need resolving in Stevenson's tale. It puts all the proper pieces in place, but avoids feeling like that's it primary purpose. It's very much a story about Ormerod and his allies (a mountainous frontiersman and the daughter of one of Murray's conspirators) trying to survive the schemes and shenanigans of the cutthroat crew they've been forced to join. The prequel stuff happens in the background, which is great. And it's all spiced up by a brilliantly faithful characterization of Long John Silver who's just as cunning and flattering as Stevenson wrote him. I highly recommend it.

In 1935, HA Calahan wrote a sequel called Back to Treasure Island. I haven't read it, but it's about the recipients of the earlier treasure who (all except Jim Hawkins) have lost their shares in bad investments and want to return to the island to collect the other treasure. Silver finds out and the adventure continues.

The adventure also continues in the 1954 film Return to Treasure Island, which has Tab Hunter and Dawn Addams as contemporary (that is, 1950s) treasure hunters looking for Flint's other treasure. I haven't seen this yet, but don't be surprised if I watch and blog about it soon. It's summer and I'm in the mood.

Also in 1954, producer Joe Kaufman decided to piggyback on the success of Disney's 1950 Treasure Island adaptation with his own sequel. He brought back the Disney film's Byron Haskin to direct and the iconic Robert Newton to play Long John Silver. They filmed in Australia and called it simply Long John Silver, although it was released in the UK as Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island, creating some confusion with the Tab Hunter film. The plot is about Silver's attempt to rescue Jim (recast with Kit Taylor, instead of Bobby Driscoll from the Disney film) from another pirate who's kidnapped Jim along with a governor's daughter. And if they end up getting that legendary second treasure, then that's good too.

Long John Silver spawned a TV series the following year, The Adventures of Long John Silver, also starring Robert Newton and Kit Taylor. It only lasted one season, but there were 26 episodes.

Everyone's favorite crazy pirate hermit Ben Gunn got his own novel the year after that in 1956 by RF Delderfield. It's called The Adventures of Ben Gunn and describes his career (as told to Jim Hawkins). Which makes it also a prequel to Treasure Island since Gunn talks not just about his becoming a pirate, but also the specific events that led to his being marooned on the island.

A couple of decades later, Leonard Wibberley wrote a Treasure Island sequel in 1972 called Flint's Island. It's about another ship that accidentally stops at the infamous island to repair some storm damage, but then Silver shows up looking for that second treasure again.

In the mid-'80s, the Return to Treasure Island name got another go on a mini-series with Brian Blessed as Long John Silver. The official name was John Silver's Return to Treasure Island and while I call it a mini-series, it was ten episodes long. And they were fairly episodic installments, as opposed to a strong central story that just needed ten parts to tell. It took place a decade after the events of the novel. Jim has just graduated from Oxford and is returning home to the inn where his mother throws him a party with his old adventuring friends, including Ben Gunn. But then Long John Silver shows up, still thinking about that second treasure.

In 1996, there was yet another Return to Treasure Island via a movie starring Stig Eldred (Dick Tracy) as Long John and Dean O'Gorman (Fili in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies) as Jim. In this one, the now adult Jim has a fleet of merchant ships that have come under attack by a pirate named Captain Savage. While trying to work through this, Jim falls in love with a woman who turns out to be Silver's daughter. And you better believe that second treasure on the island plays a part.

In 2001, Frank Delaney wrote a sequel called Jim Hawkins and the Curse of Treasure Island under the pseudonym Francis Bryan. It takes place 12 years later and Jim now runs the Admiral Benbow Inn. When a woman shows up with her young son, looking for one of the pirates marooned on Treasure Island, Jim decides to help her even though there are powerful people trying to stop her. 

In 2007, French comics writer and editor David Chauvel commissioned a pirate volume in his Seven series. The concept of the series is that each volume features a team of seven people, all from differnent time periods. Seven Pirates is by Pascal Bertho and Tom McBurnie, and it has grown-up Jim Hawkins as a struggling merchant who puts together six of his former treasure-hunting partners to (you guessed it) return to Treasure Island for the other part of that booty. This one is French language and to my knowledge hasn't yet been translated into English, but it's made the rounds into some other translations and the publisher Dargaud has translated some of their other comics into English, so my hope is that we get an English version soon.

Speaking of French comics translations, Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray's four-volume graphic novel Long John Silver was published (also by Dargaud) in 2007 and is available in an English translation. I've read this one and it's gorgeous. And it's a great sequel to Treasure Island. Lauffray's artwork is incredibly detailed and immersive. Dorison's plot introduces a fascinating character named Lady Hastings, who is as different from Jim Hawkins as can be. She's delightfully wicked, cunning, and courageous; a worthy foil for Silver and the perfect person to bring him into a new treasure-seeking venture. And Silver himself is as charmingly crafty as ever. Once they set sail, the voyage is filled with politics and scheming. It's the same tactic that Stevenson used in Treasure Island, but to very different results. Treasure Island has its moments of darkness, but this is a scarier version with rougher stakes.

Once the characters arrive in the New World, the adventure becomes a Heart of Darkness-like psychological thriller as the crew heads upriver into the jungle in search of a lost, gold-filled city. Doubts arise in some of them about the wisdom of the venture, so things get tense. And while I always worry about how well these things are going to end, Dorison and Laufray do a nice job with a conclusion that's both epic and emotionally satisfying. They have pirates fighting Aztecs with shades of Lovecraft looming over all of it. The whole thing is a great read on the character of Long John Silver and what drives him. 

In 2008, John Drake wrote a prequel trilogy starting with the novel Flint and Silver. I've read it and loved it, though I haven't yet checked out the other two volumes: Pieces of Eight and Skull and Bones. The only reason is that I listened to Flint and Steel as an audiobook and was waiting for the other two to be adapted that way. But I've since fallen out of love with audiobooks and I'm planning to buy the physical copy of Flint and Steel and then complete the series. 

It's a fantastic book. Even though it's a prequel, like Porto Bello Gold it never just checks boxes and connects dots to get to Treasure Island. Drake has so fleshed out his characters - not only Joe Flint and John Silver, but also Billy Bones, Israel Hands, Silver's wife Selena, and others - that they and their relationships are what I care about. Discovering islands and burying treasure are awesome when they come up, but those are fun additions to the story; not the point of it.

Something that I don't always like in novels is that the plot meanders and there's not a clear resolution by the end. Since it's the first in a trilogy, readers who are adamant about getting a complete story in a single volume may be disappointed and I'm usually disappointed in that, too. But again, it's the characters who are most important in Flint and Silver and I was emotionally satisfied with the way Drake leaves them at the end, even if there are still major plot points to be resolved. It's well-researched both for historical accuracy and consistency with Stevenson's novel, but Drake is a great writer who knows to let that be background to his world and not just dump it all over the reader. I highly recommend Flint and Silver to fans of Treasure Island or just great pirate stories in general. 

Return to Treasure Island was too easy a title to let sit, so in 2010 we got another story with that name, this time a novel by John O'Melveny Woods. This one takes place just three years after Treasure Island and has Jim learning that Long John Silver has been captured and sentenced to hang. Jim decides to rescue his problematic pal, which leads the two of them back to Treasure Island for something called the Pharaoh's Gold. I don't know if that's the notorious "second treasure" mentioned in Stevenson's novel or something all-new, but I'd like to find out. 

In 2011, John Amrhein Jr wrote a book called Treasure Island: The Untold Story. It's not really a prequel or sequel to Treasure Island, so I hesitate to mention it, but it's a cool and unique idea. Amrhein has done a ton of research into actual historical events that he claims inspired Stevenson's story. There's a buried treasure and a map to an unnamed island and even a one-legged sailor. I think I could skip it and still call myself a completist, but it sounds fascinating enough that I'd like to read it anyway.

Not to let that Return to Treasure Island title sit too long, English poet Andrew Motion wrote Silver: Return to Treasure Island in 2012. It takes place 40 years after Treasure Island, so Jim and Long John have long since retired from treasure-hunting. But their kids... I mean, that second treasure is still just sitting there.

I've had some fun pointing out the similarities between titles and plot points in these sequels, but the truth is that I'm eager to read all of them. There are infinite ways to tell stories about the same basic plot, so it doesn't bother me at all that the second treasure is the focus of so many sequels. After all, Stevenson left that detail sitting there just begging for writers to follow up on it. I'm glad that so many have.

One last prequel novel before we get to the TV show: In 2014, David K Bryant wrote Tread Carefully on the Sea. It focuses on Captain Flint and a scheme to kidnap a governor's daughter, but also deals with Long John Silver and how that treasure got on that island.

Of course the big thing that happened in 2014 was the premiere of the TV series Black Sails on the Starz network. I've only seen the first season, but I loved it and need to go back for the rest. The concept is brilliant: It's not just a prequel to Treasure Island with Captain Flint, Long John Silver, and Billy Bones. It also has Stevenson's characters interact with actual, historical pirates like Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Woodes Rogers, and Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. And of course Israel Hands, who was not only the real-life second-in-command of Teach, but was also a character in Treasure Island.

It would take a whole series of posts to cover Black Sails the way I want to. And now that I've done this post and reminded myself of all of this extra Treasure Islands material, I'm gonna. So thanks again to Chris and the rest of the Super-Bloggers for letting me join in for this. I've added a bunch of books and movies to my reading and watching lists as a result.

And if you'd like to read about the other Expanded Universes the Super-Bloggers are talking about, here's the whole list:

Monday, June 22, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Red River (1948)

Pax and I watch the Howard Hawks / John Wayne classic Red River featuring Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, and Joanne Dru. 

Also: Comics! Pax reads Wild West, Book 1: Calamity Jane by Jacques Lamontagne and Thierry Gloris. And I read IDW's collection of Doug Wildey's Rio: The Complete Saga.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Western History | The Far Horizons (1955)

I've finished the Zorro section of my Western History movie project for now, exploring the time of the Spanish occupation of California. Meanwhile, back East, the barely-30-year-old United States is concerned that their new country is surrounded by not just the Spanish, but also the French. That's what sets into motion the events of The Far Horizons.

Thomas Jefferson (Herbert Heyes) has just pushed through the Louisiana Purchase, acquiring a bunch of French-controlled territory as well as France's promise that they won't compete with the US in taking a lot more uncontrolled land from the Indians who live there. Jefferson is eager to get the land explored and surveyed to cement US control over it. He appoints Army Captain Meriwether Lewis (Fred MacMurray) and his buddy Lieutenant William Clark (Charlton Heston) to do this.

The film never mentions Manifest Destiny. Jefferson's stated concern is that he wants to protect the US from the European powers that currently surround and threaten it. In Jefferson's opinion, the US will only be safe and prosper if it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so he orders Lewis and Clark not to stop their exploration at the border of the Purchase. They're to keep going until they reach the Western coast and claim it for the US. So while Manifest Destiny never comes up as a concept, it's there in practice with the US and European powers assuming that they have the right to take whatever they can get their hands on through negotiation, trickery, or outright violence.

I'm not an historian and can't comment much about the accuracy of this or really any of the films I'm watching for this project, but I assume that all of them are willing to sacrifice historical fact for good drama. That's not even a criticism; I would too. But I've done enough reading about the Lewis and Clark expedition to be surprised by the romance that Far Horizons forces between Clark and the Indian guide Sacagawea (Donna Reed). That didn't happen. 

But again, no judgment. I'd be okay with the fiction if the relationship actually worked in the context of the film. It doesn't though, and that's my big problem with the movie. There's no sweetness to the relationship or any other reason for me to root for the couple. In fact, there's every reason not to want to see them together since Clark is already engaged to a perfectly likable woman (Barbara Hale) back East. 

Another huge barrier to the Clark/Sacagawea romance is the casting of Reed. She's a fine and charming actor, but she's in no way the right person to play this role and it's painful to watch. They have her in thick, brown makeup and a bad wig and she's not for a second convincing as an American Indian. Not that the big issue is how convincing she is. She never should have been cast, period, even if the makeup had been better. But on top of that, her appearance is a constant reminder of how artificial the story (and its central romance) is. 

A third thing that keeps me out of the relationship is Clark's giving Sacagawea the nickname "Janey" because her actual name is "too long" for him. That's apparently historically accurate, but my understanding is that the real Clark called her that as slang for "the girl" and not as a European-sounding pet name for someone he's supposed to be in love with. It irritates me both ways, but it's especially damaging to any investment I might have in Clark and Sacagawea's relationship.

As far as I can tell, the romance is there for two reasons. First, it creates tension between Lewis and Clark. Lewis is in love with Clark's back-East fiancée and doesn't want her to be hurt by Clark's dumping her for someone he met on the trail. Despite the difference in Lewis and Clark's ranks, Lewis had promised Clark an equal position as co-leader of the expedition, but Lewis forgets all of that and orders Clark to sever his relationship with Sacagawea. This could have been a great dilemma if I cared about Clark and Sacagawea staying together. But I was more upset about Lewis' going back on his word and pulling rank.

The other reason for the romance is to sort of comment on the differences between Clark and Sacagawea's worlds. Everything is hunky dory out here in the Wild West, but what will happen when Sacagawea returns to Washington at the end of the journey? There could be something there if the film cared to dig into it, but it's only superficially interested. Or again, maybe I'm the one who's superficially interested, because I don't really care whether or not Sacagawea is able to fit in and stay with Clark. Instead, I'm rooting for him to honor his commitment to Barbara Hale.

On the positive side, the movie was shot in Paramount's VistaVision and there's plenty of gorgeous widescreen photography of beautiful country. And the score by Hans Salter is appropriately sweeping and epic. And there's also a lot of buckskin jackets and fur caps. Visually, it's a feast. 

It just needs a better story to drive it. I wish someone would make a mini-series that deals with the expedition more honestly while also exploring the various Indian perspectives on it. The Far Horizon does a little with the Indian point of view, but those who cooperate with Lewis and Clark are clearly the Good Indians and those who are suspicious of the explorers are clearly the Bad Ones.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Sophomore Year: The Breakfast Club

The second season of my hypothetical Pretty in Pink TV series would take place from Fall 1984 through graduation in Spring 1985. That's the time period when The Breakfast Club and Weird Science came out in real life, so the season will cover those events. Not to the same extent though. I'll talk about the issues with Weird Science in a minute, but The Breakfast Club will get most of our attention and will provide the title of the season.

First though, we need to introduce a couple of new freshmen characters. Starting at Shermer High this year are Sloane Peterson and Jeanie Bueller, both from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Jeanie of course is Ferris' sister and Sloane will go on to be his girlfriend in later seasons. 

To play Jeanie, I'm casting Olivia Edward from the FX series Better Things. Over the last season, Ferris will have risen to the top of the nerd clique. This season, he'll start making friends in other groups, though still keeping Cameron as his best friend. Jeanie enters high school already resentful of her brother and she'll work hard to distance herself from him. He may not be the most popular kid in school yet, but people (including Ferris and Jeanie's parents) love him and she feels deprived of attention. She has a chip on her shoulder and can be something of a bully, but she builds a circle of friends over this season. Sadly, they're headed towards being the Mean Girl variety.

Olivia Edward

One of the early members of the circle is Sloane, played in our show by Modern Family's Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. Sloane quickly resents the group's negativity and starts looking for other friends, which she finds in the sophomores of an AP class she's in. One of those sophomores is Amanda Jones (introduced last season), but Sloane's success with the older kids make Jeanie and the rest of the new Mean Girls want to target Sloane even more. By association, Sloane comes to dislike not just Jeanie, but her brother Ferris as well. 

Aubrey Anderson-Emmons

Jeanie and Sloane's drama isn't actually a major focus of the season though. We'll check in on them from time to time and maybe we dedicate an episode or two to them, but they're mostly working to the sides of the bigger stories.

Another group that will fade back is the Sixteen Candles characters. Last year's seniors have graduated, of course, including Samantha Baker's boyfriend Jake. We'll do a little with her trying to keep a relationship with him going while he's away at college, but absence does not make the heart grow fonder for him and he'll end up breaking things off with her. We could probably deal with all of that in a single episode and Samantha becomes less of a presence in the show as the season starts focusing on other characters. But the theme of rocky high school-college romances will bookend the season when we wrap up with other characters headed towards similar situations.

Andie Walsh and Keith Nelson already broke up last season, but they're still main characters this season. As are Ducky and Watts. Keith continues to be interested in Amanda (which ties into Sloane and Jeanie's story), but Andie is turned off relationships for the moment. Which in Ducky's mind makes her available, so he becomes bolder in his attention to her. Andie reacts by retreating from Ducky and hanging out more with Watts, who resented Andie last season, but likes her now that she's not dating Keith anymore.

Sharing time with all that drama are the Breakfast Club characters: Claire, Andy, Brian, and John. They were all introduced last season and are part of different cliques (well, Claire and Andy hang in the same circles), so we'll spend the first half of the season getting to know them and their friends (also introduced last season) better. Allison is still lurking around the background by herself and not speaking to anyone.

Heading into the mid-season finale though, Claire, Andy, Brian, and John will all do things that get them detention. We'll pay special attention to the peer pressure leading Andy to tape another kid's butt cheeks together in the locker room. And to the parental pressure Brian is feeling and his failure in shop class. At the end of the mid-season finale, all four will prepare for a Saturday detention at the school.

Then coming back from the mid-season break, things have radically changed for the four characters and also for the mysterious Allison, who was never mentioned as going to the Saturday detention. Claire and John are dating now, as are Andy and Alison. The second half of the season will largely be about figuring out how - or even if - that's going to work, including the four's relationships with the still single, still nerdy Brian.

We have to work Weird Science into all of this somehow, but the problem with that movie is that it's so tonally different from the other Hughes teen movies. They all have their silly moments, but Weird Science is a whole other genre with its wacky science fiction story. 

I think the best thing to do is to have it happen, but in the background and with enough question around it that viewers can decide for themselves how much of it really happened. At some point, there will be a couple of episodes where Gary and Wyatt are suddenly hanging out with this mature, beautiful woman and start dressing and acting much cooler. But then abruptly, in the very next episode, they're back to being outcasts again, although they now have a couple of really cool girlfriends.

We never get into Gary and Wyatt's heads about any of this. It's just stuff that's happening around our main characters and the only insight we get to any of it is the gossip and speculation going around the school. Everyone's talking about an insane house party that took a weird turn, but no one knows anyone who was actually there, so no one knows what really happened.

The main drama, especially heading towards graduation, is going to be around the Breakfast Club quintet. Claire and John are both graduating and headed in very different directions. I want their relationship to work for the rest of high school, but it's very uncertain that they'll survive Claire's going to college. I'm more hopeful about Andy and Allison, but the problem there is that Allison will still be in high school next year. Andy is considering not going to college so that he can stay close to her, but there's no way his parents are going for that plan. It's something he's going to have to figure out over the summer, which leaves a nice question mark heading into the show's Junior Year.

Monday, June 15, 2020

AfterLUNCH | Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

While AfterLUNCH is officially a monthly show, I've been thinking about how to have fun things to listen to in the weeks between episodes. One has to do with the short-lived podcast that David and I did called ‘Casting Off, about nautical adventure stories. I'm not going to rerun the whole series on AfterLUNCH, but there are a couple of episodes with guests who’ll be familiar to Nerd Lunch listeners.

This first one is a deep dive into the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl. There’s already been an official Nerd Lunch drill-down on the first four movies of the Pirates series, but this conversation is different enough that hopefully it's be worth listening to. In addition to David and I, the panel includes Nerd Lunch Fourth Chair Army members Lizzie Twachtman and Mike Westfall, as well as comics writer Ron Marz.

The plan was always to have this same panel come back and talk about the rest of the Pirates movies, but that never happened. Part of the reason for sharing this episode now though is to set the stage for finally continuing the series, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Rio Bravo (1959)

Pax and I hop into some Howard Hawks and John Wayne with Rio Bravo, also starring Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson. 

I wrap up my Zorro project (for now) with the '80s sitcom Zorro and Son, the '90s Zorro cartoon, and the recent CG show Zorro: The Chronicles. And Pax checks out the film that started the '80s 3D craze, Comin' at Ya! (1981).

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Western History | Zorro: The Chronicles (2015)

Who's in it?:
Johnny Yong Bosch (Akira, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) as the voice of Zorro.

What's it about?: Re-imaging of the Zorro legend with Zorro as a teenager.

How is it?: After watching so much Zorro for this project, the stories in this French-produced animated series felt very familiar. The evil captain has the typical tactics for oppressing the people of Los Angeles and Zorro uses his customary methods of fighting back. I only watched a few episodes before feeling like I had a good handle on what the show has to offer.

There are some new elements though and things it does well. Don Diego is a teenager in this version, as are his allies. He still has a mute servant named Bernardo (who also pretends to be deaf, as in the original Disney show and some other versions), but they're more like best friends than employer and employee. And like the 1997 cartoon, there's also a female ally.

In this one, her name is Ines and she's Diego's sister. And unlike 1997's Isabella, Ines doesn't have to figure out Zorro's secret identity, because Diego lets her in on it pretty much as soon as he creates the Zorro persona. I like her and Bernardo both, but the show's still called Zorro and he gets all the best stuff to do.

The animation is fine. Characters don't always move naturally, but the faces are pretty expressive. What the art does super well though is character design and backgrounds. The costumes are all highly textured and detailed, with Zorro's being especially cool with kind of gold-brown piping and accents as well as cool, scarlet highlights on his collar, sash, and cape. 

And someone spent a lot of time on the environments that the characters move around in. Every scene has a great sense of geography with wide shots that establish where everything is and the camera freely moving around to show where everyone is in relation to each other. That's especially helpful in big action pieces set around a fort or house or a remote location out in the country. Even if I'm not wild about the stories in Zorro: The Chronicles, I'd love to play a video game set in this world.

Rating: Three out of five rooftop leaps.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Introducing the AfterLUNCH Podcast | Elevator Pitches and Studio Notes

A couple of years ago, when the Nerd Lunch fellas started talking about being fatigued with the responsibility of putting out a weekly show, I pitched them an idea to help relieve some of that burden. I volunteered to coordinate and edit an episode every month made up of just members of the Nerd Lunch Fourth Chair Army. It's a large group of around a hundred people, many of whom were already my friends and people I've recorded with.

It turned out that the Nerd Lunch crew already had ideas for filling up a couple of weeks in the month with other material that wasn't Nerd Lunch Prime (as it came to be called). But there were still those odd months with five Tuesdays, so I created Fourth Chair Army Invasion to fill in those fifth Tuesday holes.

Every other podcast that I've helped create has been focused on a narrow topic: Western films, Tarzan movies, Christmas movies, Thundarr the Barbarian, etc. Even Mystery Movie Night has a structured movie-review format even though we talk about a wide variety of movies. What I loved about Invasion was that it opened the doors wide to talk about anything. I'd never managed a general-interest podcast before and it was super fun. So when one of those other weeks in the Nerd Lunch schedule became open, I was invited to turn Invasion into a monthly show and I jumped at it.

A little over a year ago, Nerd Lunch announced that it was going to be ending. There were a lot of moving pieces around that decision, so no one knew at the time exactly what it meant for Invasion, but I knew that I wanted to continue doing some kind of all-purpose podcast with a lot of variety. Maybe that would be my own, completely independent, new show. Maybe it would be more closely tied to the Nerd Lunch legacy. But either way, I was going to do it.

As the last year of Nerd Lunch went on, plans solidified and conversations were had and we all decided that it would be cool if the new show was actually on the Nerd Lunch feed. That would let the existing Nerd Lunch episodes stay archived in the same place, while also hopefully bringing some of the Nerd Lunch listeners to the new show. I tossed around a few different name suggestions, but it was Paxton Holley who came up with the AfterLUNCH name. I love that it's descriptive, but also self-deprecating in being adapted from a crappy sitcom spinoff. Legendary Fourth Chair Army member Mike Westfall created an awesome AfterLUNCH logo and we were off to the races.

So now the first episode of the all-new AfterLUNCH podcast is here. Pax himself pitched the idea for the episode in which he, Adam Pope, Shawn Robare, and I each try to sell an idea for a movie, TV show, or product, then modify that idea based on notes from the other panelists. It's a weird and funny episode; the perfect way to kick off the new show.


Related Posts with Thumbnails