Archive for February, 2011

Un Court Essai Sur Les Exemples Récents Du Cinéma Loup-Garou

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Last year when Howard Waldrop and I reviewed The Wolfman (executive summary: don’t waste your time), I offered up a list of other werewolf films that would be more worthy of viewing. Two of those, Ginger Snaps and Kibakichi, were films I hadn’t seen when I wrote that. I’ve now managed to see both, and can offer up judgment: Ginger Snaps is well worth seeing, but Kibakichi isn’t.

Ginger Snaps tells the story of the two Fitzgerald sisters, one (Ginger) hot, goth-y and redheaded, the other (Brigitte) dark and mousy, who go through their rebellious outsider phase by snapping artfully staged photographs of the other’s fake suicides, smoking, fighting with the stuck-up girls in field hockey, and generally behaving like teenage girls. Unfortunately for them, mutilated dogs have been showing up all around their neighborhood, and a late night encounter with what’s been killing them in a park leaves Ginger with wounds that heal entirely too quickly, newly grown patches of hair, a sudden taste for fresh blood, and the beginnings of a tail. And did I mention that the werewolf attack falls on the same day she get her first period?

Om Nom Nom

This is a very solid film with good acting, a clever script and firm direction. It can be enjoyed either as a straight werewolf film, or an extended (and unsettling) metaphor on the wrenching changes puberty inflicts upon the female body. (The film garnered a lot of comparisons with Carrie when it first came out.) Of werewolf films of recent memory, I would have to count this second only to Dog Soldiers.

Also, Katharine Isabelle looks really, really good just before she goes all four-legged.

On the other hand, Kibakichi is one of those films where all the best scenes are in the trailer. You would think that a Japanese film with werewolves, demons, samurai and Gatling guns would rock, but unfortunately Kibakichi has the quality of an exploitation film and the pace of a lush period drama, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be aiming for. The special effects range from the passable (they’ve mastered the art of copious geysers of blood) to the laughable, including one scene where the ghosts (demons? demon ghosts?) rip apart a gambler and its obvious that the attacking creatures are puppets on strings. (And at one point the titular protagonist is menaced by what look like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, except not nearly as convincing.) Plus the werewolf transformation scenes are sub-par. While not unremittingly awful, even gorehounds and Asian horror fans are likely to find it disappointing. It also has possibly the worst dubbing I’ve ever seen in a film.

Dwight’s thoughts on Kibakichi here.

Howard Waldrop’s Review of the Decade of SF/F/H Film Now Up

Friday, February 25th, 2011

He took a little different approach than mine, just covering things we reviewed.

My Top SF/F/H Films of the Noughties Piece is Now Up

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Over at Locus Online.

Howard’s piece should go up pretty soon as well.

Richard Cory Went Home Last Night and Put a Bullet Through His Head

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

This has to be one of the saddest and most inexplicable local stories of recent memory: Yoli and Michael Amr, founders of Gumbo’s, Yoli’s Jambalaya and Mama Roux, are now dead in an apparent murder-suicide.

This is a profound shame, as in each of their incarnations, they had the best Cajun food I ever tasted (and this is from someone who’s eaten at K-Paul’s in New Orleans).

I have trouble believing it was money troubles, since Mama Roux was always packed when we went there. Maybe there were health issues.

I’m at a loss. Sometimes people, even successful and apparently happy people, do inexplicable things.

He’s Mister Heat Miser

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the Rankin Bass production of A Year Without a Santa Claus. Like all the other warhorse Christmas specials of my youth, it got trotted out pretty much every year.

All the works of Rankin Bass are hard to evaluate separate from the nostalgia factor they invoked. On a level of technical proficiency, they weren’t particularly proficient. At it’s very best, their animation was of the quality of Hanna-Barbera, which is to say it sucked, and their stop motion work was more stop than motion. (I have not seen their animated film version of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, which I am given to understand is better.)

For an example of both good and bad, take a look at the classic “Snow Miser/Heat Miser” songs from A Year Without a Santa Claus:

I don’t think the lyrics of that songs are going to be taught in songwriting classes (it takes a special type of lyricist to rhyme “degrees” with “degrees”), but damned if that song doesn’t stick in your head. Go up to just about anyone from my generation and sing “He’s Mr. Heat Miser,” and you’re virtually guaranteed to have them sing back “He’s Mr. Sun.” (Who was it that said “Memory is a crazy beggar woman that hordes bright bits of tinfoil and throws away food”?)

Whatever their flaws, Rankin Bass productions usually had a few bits of cleverness and interest scattered throughout.

The same can not necessarily be said of the cheap spinoffs done of their work. Did you know that they did a live action remake of A Year Without a Santa Claus? If you think to yourself, “Wow, that sounds like a really, really bad idea,” you’re not the only one.

As proof, take a look at this:

Well, Snow Miser can certainly sing, and Heat Miser…uh, goes a long way toward making Snow Miser’s singing sound that much better.

And thisthis is Just. Freaking. WRONG:

It’s like if Ralphie from A Christmas Story came back at age 35 to do an infomercial for winterizing your home. Yes, it’s from the sequel to the original A Year Without a Santa Claus, A Miser Brothers Christmas, and, if this clip is any indication, it looks to be as fondly remembered as The Christmas That Totally Ruled and KISS Saves Santa.

Stop. Just stop.

I leave you with one other Rankin Bass piece of music, the high point of their otherwise-not-even-remotely-fondly-remembered version of The Return of the King:

Previously Undocumented Abraham Lincoln Book Set Found

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Here’s a lesson for book collectors: Sometimes, even in popular and well-documented fields of collection, something slips through the cracks. In this case it was a 24 volume set of the collected works of Abraham Lincoln, missed by all previous Lincoln bibliographies, the last volume of which is bound holographic letters by Lincoln and others. So how could all the previous Lincoln bibliographies have missed it?

Perhaps because the entire print run of this edition was limited to 8 copies.

Talk about your impossible holy grails. It makes Nine Princes in Amber look positively common by comparison….

Congrats to George R. R. Martin & Parris on Their Nuptials

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Those crazy kids, rushing off into marriage after a mere 31 year courtship.

Borders Closing ALL Its Austin Locations

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Borders is closing all three Austin-area stores.

This is a darn shame, but their prices never struck me as competitive with online stores, even for those few items I didn’t buy direct from publishers.

Borders may well be doomed by online sales and electronic books, but some chains can take a long time to die. Until recently there was even a Hastings Records in Round Rock, even though I though they had died out a long time ago…

Borders Files for Bankruptcy, to Close 200 Stores

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

This is probably not good news, any way you slice it.

The list of stores will be coming later this afternoon.

In other news, Lame Excuse Books says there are no plans to close its one non-retail location…

Retro TV Memories: The Fantastic Journey

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Back in my ill-spent youth, before we had any video games other than Pong, I watched a lot of TV. Along with the classics (I Love Lucy, Star Trek), I watched a good bit of the same primetime fare everyone else watched back in the days of three broadcast networks and no cable. In particular, I would watch pretty much any prime time science fiction show in the 1970s, no matter how bad. Some, like Kolchak: The Night Stalker, hold up much better than I would expect them to.

I’m pretty sure The Fantastic Journey does not, mainly because I remember thinking that it sucked even while I was watching it. I even remember thinking it sucked more than The Man From Atlantis, which, I assure you, sucked pretty hard. (After all, that was a show with an episode that had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as an alien on another planet panning for gold in invisible water. And no, it didn’t make any more sense in context.)

Anyway, I thought I’d do this post on The Fantastic Journey not because it was good, but because once every six months or so I found myself discussing the TV shows of the 1970s and being unable to recall the name of the show. It could also be seen as some sort of weird precursor to Lost, but with a smaller cast and a refreshing lack of tedious flashbacks. So this page is more or less something for people to find on the Internet searching for the same half-remembered plot elements just so they can prove to their friends that no, they didn’t imagine it. (Keywords: The Fantastic Journey, island, Bermuda Triangle, zone, portal, TV show, 1970s, bad, suck)

The setup, as I remember it, was some modern Americans (including an annoying kid, which was the style at the time) being marooned on an uncharted island somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, and every week they’d go through some sort of zone or barrier that would transport them to another time period where they ran into pirates, aliens, future civilizations, or any other thing 70s TV writers on deadline could think of to keep them in cocaine for another month. According to this far more informative writeup on the show, they were stranded there by some weird green cloud enveloping their boat. And it went downhill from there.

Here’s the opening credits, which I seem to have mercifully forgotten:

Wow, that cheesy disco synth theme is everything that was wrong with music in the 1970s rolled into one excruciatingly painful package. I’m sure that right now, it’s being played on an infinite loop to torments the souls of the damned at Hell’s own disco.

And here’s the opening of one episode, which makes it seem even worse than I remember:

Roddy McDowell adds that touch of class to remind you that, yes, he was in an awful lot of horrid crap. (See also: Laserblast.)

That’s pretty bad. Thanks you sir, may I have another?

What that scene really needs is the Monty Python knight to limp up and whack Mongol Riddle Guy upside the head with a rubber chicken. There also seemed to be a contractual requirement for several minutes of running in every show. (Cheap! Pointless! Eats up screen time!) And nothing says “It’s the future!” like green unitards and shiny, asymmetrical skirts.

And there’s plenty more where that came from on YouTube, for those with an unquenchable thirst for cheesy 70s science fiction TV shows. But everything about the show gives you the distinct impression people involved knew it was doomed and were only in it for the paycheck.

Here’s the IMDB link for the show.

Let’s face it: The Fantastic Journey was just a big slab of suck, and I only post this here as a warning to others and to prove that, yes, it actually existed.

Tune in next week when I channel my vague memories of John Saxon blowing up mutants with a photon bazooka (or some damn thing).