28 April 2010

A little late to the Jonah Hex game

When I first heard Warner Bros. announce that they had green-lit a Jonah Hex movie, I was excited. I haven’t read much in the way of the Jonah Hex comics from DC, although I’m familiar with the character, but the important part for me was that this was a new Western movie. I’m always thrilled to hear about new Westerns. I support them. I’ll see any Western released in theaters. And in the case of Jonah Hex, it would be a “Weird Western” with heavy Steampunk decorations. That’s all love. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

Except . . . I’ve almost heard nothing about the film since then. Neither has anybody else. The movie, which stars Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex and also features Megan Fox and John Malkovich, is due to hit a screens on June 18, less than two months away, and Warner Bros. hasn’t even released a trailer yet. The first trailer is coming out tomorrow, attached to the re-make/re-boot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which I don’t plan to see. Releasing the first trailer less than two months before the opening? That’s a bad sign. And the first poster (see below) didn’t come out until this week.

Did Warner Bros. forget they had Jonah Hex on their schedule? Or, as is more likely, they would rather no one know the film is coming out because they don’t believe in the finished product?

A preview screening was done for the film in L.A. over the weekend, and the observations on movie websites from the people who were in attendance range from “disappointed” to “unwatchable.” Combine this with Warner Bros. hesitancy about promoting Jonah Hex, and you’ve got reason to think that film is heading for a fast exit from theaters after June 18.

I want Jonah Hex to do well because I want Westerns to do well so studios will release more of them. But there are plenty of warnings signs on this to make me certain to have my expectation meter tuned properly. I’ll still see the movie—I have an obligation to the theatrical Western, I vote for them with my pocketbook—and hope, hope that the warning signs are all false.

27 April 2010

Movie Review: Vera Cruz

Vera Cruz (1954)
Directed by Robert Aldrich. Starring Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, Sarita Montiel, George Macready, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Henry Brandon.

Update: Vera Cruz is now available on Blu-ray. I haven’t see the transfer, but the reviews indicate that the grainy Superscope process hasn’t been tampered with, so the film looks about as close to how it did in theaters in 1954—flaws and all. That’s how it should be.

If I’m going to talk at any length about the Eurowestern, I have to mention Vera Cruz, the U.S. Western that had an enormous impact on how Italian filmmakers would start to revise their vision of the genre in the mid-1960s. You can imagine Sergio Leone watching this movie and saying, “Hot damn, this is how I wanna make ‘em!” (Sam Peckinpah was watching too; The Wild Bunch contains some direct visual quotes from this earlier trip down to shoot up Mexico.)

Vera Cruz doesn’t have the visual innovations of the Italian Western; it looks much like a 1950s U.S. product, with the exception of actual Mexican location shooting. What it changed was the addition of sneering cynicism and an army of self-interested shady folks out to double-cross and backstab each other over a shipment of gold. That’s pretty much the first half of Sergio Leone’s career summed up in one sentence, but it wasn’t what audiences expected from A-picture Westerns in 1954.

26 April 2010

Book review: The Sacking of El Dorado

Yes, I know I haven’t posted for a week. For some reason, April is usually a slow time on my blog. I’ve been busy with my short fiction recently, and fallen a bit behind in my blog responsibilities. Usually, I find myself working on whatever I plan to post for Black Gate that week.

And here it is, time to post on Black Gate again. I have not strayed far from my subject matter from last week. Because, actually, it’s the same subject matter: The King of the Pulps, Frederick Faust. A.k.a. Max Brand. A.k.a. eighteen other names. A.k.a. that guy who published thirty million words in his lifetime so they rest of us would feel like incompetent slackers.

Last week I waxed pretty general about Faust. This week, I decided to narrow the focus and review a specific work of his: the short story and novella collection The Sacking of El Dorado, which was published for the first time in 1995 in hardback, and is now available in paperback from Leisure Press. This is a superb gathering of Faust’s early Westerns, all from 1919–1920, and show ingenious plotting and psychological drama against the mythic West that he made his own.

Read the full review here.

19 April 2010

Somebody had to talk about Frederick Faust

I may seem to be repeating myself here, but since I’ve gone so long on this blog without talking much about one my favorite authors, Frederick Faust, a.k.a. Max Brand and nineteen other names, I guess I can be excused a back-to-back posting. (Go here for the other one, a review of Luck.) And this post is a general one about Faust’s history, his achievements, and the unusual contradictions of his writing life, which I cooked up for the entertainment of Black Gate readers.

If you’re interested in pulp, you need to check out some Faust. I hope my little essay will convince you. You can read it here.

18 April 2010

Book review: Luck

Luck (1919)
By Frederick Faust writing as John Frederick

Although he is one of my favorite authors, I have almost never written about Frederick Faust before on this blog. One of the reasons I rarely discourse about Mr. Faust is that it is tricky to come to grips with his work because there is so bleeding much of it.

Do you want to hear some scary stats? Well tough, here goes. . . .

Between 1917 and his death in 1944, Faust published approximately thirty million words of fiction. With the average novel size of 60,000 words, that means Faust produced around five hundred novels in his lifetime. If we go by NaNoWriMo book length, he wrote six hundred novels, meaning he could have won NaNoWriMo six centuries running. Even if we hulk up the novel word-count to 120,000—common in today’s book market—that still gives Faust two hundred and fifty novels written in twenty-seven years. His bibliography in The Max Brand Companion runs sixty pages long. New novels and short story collections never published previously in book form are released at the rate of one a month since his death sixty-six years ago. He wrote using nineteen different pseudonyms, and sometimes whole magazines issues contained nothing but his work under different names.

No brag, just fact. Do you begin to perceive the “Frederick Faust Dilemma”?

Or perhaps the “Max Brand™ Dilemma.” Brand is Faust’s most popular pseudonym, and today all his work is published under the Max Brand™ trademark, although the introductions and author blurbs use his real name. But since Faust never cared to have his real name on his fiction when he was alive, he wouldn’t feel bothered that he’s primarily known as Max Brand™ to this day. It is one the crispest pen names of all time, admittedly. And I love having an excuse to use the trademark symbol when I write Max Brand™. Like that.

15 April 2010

Movie Review: The Entity

The Entity (1981)
Directed by Sidney J. Furie. Starring Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, Margaret Blye, Alex Rocco.

From its short description—an invisible paranormal creature brutally sexually assaults an attractive single woman numerous times—you might think that The Entity is a sleazy, sexed-up exploitation film, like many of the low-budget Exorcist clones that clogged up drive-ins during the 1970s. But the film defies expectations and plays as an A-budget “class” picture, much like The Omen. It acts like a mash-up of a serious rape drama and a ghost story.

Well, is that a good thing? Depends on your expectations, I imagine. I ended up liking the movie, but sometimes the dead-pan exterior turns ludicrous. And I liked that, too. No matter how you try to play it, The Entity concerns a woman getting beaten and ravaged by an unseen force, and that’s going to look occasionally absurd, espcially when the unseen “entity” (hey, the title!) occasionally manifests its power through Jacob’s Ladder-esque lightning bolts, green laser lights, Atari 2600 sound effects, and a hilariously overused guitar thrumming soundtrack accompaniment. On top of all this, the invisible attacker, when it doesn’t get its way, slams down on the accelerator on its victim’s car and drives her on a wild drive to the Santa Monica pier. This is where you drag out your Toyota Prius jokes. Caution: Joke will date rapidly.

12 April 2010

Book review: Who Fears the Devil?

It’s been a touch quiet here in “The Realm” (I rarely call the blog that) during the last few days. But I have an excuse: I was at my Uncle Phil Elliott’s wedding in Carson City, Nevada. And being up in the Sierras, it would only make sense that when I got back to Los Angeles for me to fire up the blog again with a review of a collection of mountain stories. Not the Sierras, admittedly—mountains on the other side of the continent. Good enough, right?

Today at Black Gate, it’s another review of a Planet Stories volume from Paizo Publications. (You purchased Ship of Ishtar, right?) Who Fears the Devil? is a collection I’ve eagerly awaited. It brings together all of Manly Wade Wellman’s short stories about Silver John, an Appalachian Mountains guitar slinger who takes on the supernatural with folk songs.

It’s wonderful and unique stuff the late Mr. Wellman created, so check out the review, and then buy the book.

07 April 2010

Movie Review: The Wraith

The Wraith (1986)
Written and Directed by Mike Marvin. Starring Charlie Sheen, Sherilyn Fenn, Nick Cassavetes, Dennis Quaid, Clint Howard.

I’ve waited many years to watch this film. It haunted me since I first saw the VHS box at the video store where I worked during high school. A lonely road snaking into a purple twilight, teens cowering together in the front, the promise of ghost car and a sinister rider bent on revenge in the wasted desert….

Actually, I didn’t anticipate anything good. This was one of those “missed ‘80s genre pictures” that I developed a fascination with simply because it was odd and rare and I recalled the video art. I had to wait until 2010 for a decent DVD release before I was able to finally watch the low-budget bonanza of what might have happened if John Hughes had directed Mad Max.

06 April 2010

Movie review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans (2010)
Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Sam Worthington, Mad Mikkelson, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, Pete Postelthwaite.

You may not believe this considering I’m a hardcore Ray Harryhausen fanatic, but I walked into my local movie theater showing the re-make of Clash of the Titans with an open mind. Or as open as possible for someone who can pinpoint the original 1981 film as the moment from his childhood when he awakened to fantasy adventure.

And I’m glad I kept my mind pried open. Because Clash of the Titans: 2010 is a perfectly adequate modern fantasy movie, and I was able to enjoy the good that it had to give.

This may not sound like a stirring recommendation, but when you consider the complete Olympian thrashing the film is getting from the majority of critics, for a Ray Harryhausen defender to say, “Hey, I kind of liked that,” is, ahem, a titanic deal. (I’m really, really sorry about that pun.)