Delta-vee presents classic Old Time Radio productions and modern audio drama, today’s episode: “The Dunwich Horror”. The works of H.P. Lovecraft have had a pervasive and lasting influence on modern horror writers, from his themes of forbidden knowledge and nihilism to his habit of founding mythology upon a secret history fabricated from whole cloth. Of his many works, the most well know are unarguably the Cthulhu Mythos, a loosely defined collection of secret history lore upon which Lovecraft built many of his stories, and which he encouraged his contemporaries to reference in their own works. “The Dunwich Horror” stands as perhaps the quintessential representative of the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole, containing as it does nearly every staple element of Lovecraft’s other fiction. His horror fiction is replete with monsters beyond the ken of man, secret cults devoted to the outer gods, and heroes whose credentials are more scholarly than physical. In one aspect only does “The Dunwich Horror” depart from traditional Lovecraftian storytelling: the heroes not only survive their adventure with body and minds whole, but emerge triumphant … after a fashion. Despite the not-completely-nihilistic ending, Lovecraft considered this story “so fiendish that [Weird Tales editor] Farnsworth Wright may not dare to print it.” Wright did not agree with this sentiment, and snapped up the story for $240 (about $2800 today), making this the single largest payment Lovecraft had yet received for his work (Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. II, p. 240; cited in Joshi, p. 101). “The Dunwich Horror” was first published in the April, 1929 issue of Weird Tales; this episode of Suspense first aired on November 1, 1945. And now, our feature presentation ….
Delta-vee presents classic Old Time Radio productions and modern audio dramas, today’s episode: “The Defenders”. The works of Philip K. Dick repeatedly treat themes revolving around our perception of reality and personal identity. Protagonists in Dick’s work were often regular people rather than action heroes and did not need to be human at all; the qualities that defined humanity for Dick included traditional virtues such as honesty, kindness, and the ability to act rationally. Dick’s heroes often engaged in extensive rational analysis of their world, often concluding that the world around them could not be objectively real but a product of their own perception and interaction choices. Dick displayed an overarching fear and hatred of war, both as a political and social instrument, believing it to be an expression of the immaturity of human culture. Jungian psychology played a large part in Dick’s thinking, shaping his stories around themes of the collective unconscious of humanity, the behavior of individuals in groups, and the intrinsic nature of personhood. Film adaptations of Dick’s work include “Minority Report”, “Total Recall”, and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”; Dick’s work has been pervasively influential in the science fiction genre as a whole. “The Defenders” presents a world where a war started by humanity is prosecuted by machines, precursing both Keith Laumer’s “Bolo” stories and James Cameron’s “Terminator” franchise, and treats Dick’s three themes in a very succinct and expressive way. “The Defenders” was first published in the January, 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. This episode of X Minus One first aired on May 22, 1956. And now, our feature presentation….
Delta-vee presents classic Old Time Radio productions and modern audio dramas, today’s episode: “Sam, This Is You”. Murray Leinster wrote more than 1500 short stories and novels during an extremely prolific writing career under a variety of pseudonyms, the “Leinster” persona being the most famous of them. His writing career began well before World War I when he wrote for a wide variety of genre fiction magazines, including westerns, mysteries, and romance, but it wasn’t until pulp science fiction started to become widely accepted in the 50s and 60s that he published routinely under his real name, William Fitzgerald Jenkins. Leinster accumulated many “sci-fi firsts” to his credit, including genre conventions such as parallel universe stories and the universal translator. Leinster’s most famous story is unquestionably “A Logic Named Joe”, where he predicts not only personal computers associated with everyday tasks, but the existence of a pervasive network of interconnected information systems. The “Sideways Award for Alternate History” was created in 1995 to recognize outstanding parallel universe stories, and takes its name from Leinster’s story “Sideways In Time”. Leinster’s story “Sam, This Is You” dabbles in time travel without dipping into the complex arguments of causality and predetermination that accompany this kind of exercise in the modern and post-modern storytelling era. Instead, Leinster lets events play out in a continually unfolding drama that assumes history will play out more or less the same way regardless of outside meddling; that era’s optimistic outlook stands in sharp contrast to contemporary attitudes of mistrust and fear that now form the prevalent reaction to personal insecurity. “Sam, This Is You” first saw print in the May 1955 issue of Galaxy magazine; this episode of X Minus One first aired on October 31, 1956. And now, our feature presentation ….
All those reviewers are wrong.
“Sucker Punch” is a subtle, complex, and carefully executed exercise in storytelling and filmmaking. Snyder tells us the story of Baby-Doll, a young woman we meet immediately following the death of her mother, and stay with her during her tragic attempt to save both herself and her sister from their abusive step-father. In retaliation, the step-father commits her to an asylum where she is scheduled to be lobotomized. Baby-Doll retreats from reality into increasingly complex fantasies in her attempts to escape from the asylum and regain her freedom.
If “Sucker Punch” sounds depressing on the outset, it is. This movie deals with horrific themes of abuse and social disassociation, but does so through coy manipulation of the main character’s perception of reality. The imagery ranges from historical 1920’s to romanticized burlesque to fantasy-steampunk-scifi in a visual treat fluidly appealing to modern video gamers and fanboys. The heart of the film remains with its treatment of theme, and “Sucker Punch” is a film that deserves to be studied and appreciated for its attention to the finer points of filmmaking and storytelling.
“Zero Hour” is the new book from ResAliens collection the spiritual suspense stories of Stoney M. Setzer. Setzer’s stories have appeared previously in Residential Aliens and Christian Sci-Fi Journal among other venues. Edited by Lyndon Perry, this collection brings together twelve previously published stories along with three never before printed.
The cover copy claims similarity to The Twilight Zone, and certainly there is something of that flavor herein. Stories like “In the Shadow of the Sphinx”, and “All Hail Sam” feel like they should begin with Rod Serling voiceover delivering the moral lesson of the story. Other tales hearken back to radio programs like Escape and X Minus One, with the subtle deviations from reality that tell the reader something is just barely off about the world they are experiencing; “Doomsday Falls on a Tuesday This Year” and “Square Peg” need only a scratchy background of static noise to complete the illusion. Still other offerings evoke the classic short stories of Larry Niven or Isaac Asimov with their emphasis on the ordinary character reactions to the most extraordinary situations, including “The Alabama Hammer” and “We Serve All Kinds Here”. Finally, Setzer delivers his more direct spiritual lessons in the form of pure morality plays in “Darkest Before Dawn” and “Enamored”.
Readers looking for hard-edged, violent, or sensual fiction need to turn away. Setzer’s stories are comfortable, familiar, and hazy, surrounded in a dream-like quality. He pulls no punches when it comes to questions of morality and spirituality, using his words in direct manner that leaves no question as to his intention to evangelize, or his stance on matter of religion. His message is consistent, and delivered with an urgency that erases all doubt in the mind of the reader: “The world is larger than you realize. Truth is unavoidable. All men need a savior.”
When Scott Roche titles his new story “Fetch”, it’s a safe bet he’s not on about that cartoon dog that runs his own game show.
In Irish folklore, a “fetch” is a more or less benign spirit that appears as a portent either of impending death if seen in the evening, or of long life if seen in the morning. It takes the seeming, or appearance, of the soul that it portends, and is sent to escort the soul to the afterlife – whether divine or infernal. The fetch is a silent creature, it does not stalk nor terrify, and may be seen anywhere, under any circumstance. While popular in Irish folk lore, the fetch is seldom seen in other literature.
Roche, true to form, sets out to turn folklore on its ear. While inspired by this traditional Irish spirit, Roche’s story carries little else of the Irish flavor on the reader’s journey through twilight. The result is slightly surreal, modernistic encounter with the edge of the supernatural. Roche’s style is easy to read, and this short story is no exception, waltzing from intro to conclusion with a steady pace and familiar language.
In the tradition of Algernon Blackwood, Roche’s skeptical protagonists are placed in a situation beyond their control. Their primary role is that of witness, and the main conflict of the story consists of spiritual debate rather than actions and deeds. True to his modern influences, when the action becomes personal it gets visceral and bloody very quickly. The conclusion is inevitable, and the story feels very complete when finished.
Roche’s missteps are few enough. For a story set in Ireland and drawing heavily on a very specifically Irish folklore and Catholic doctrine, there is not much of the Irish or Catholic flavor to the tale. But for one or two idioms, this story could have been set anywhere in the world, and the main character could represent any given religion. For a story whose pivotal action revolves around the spiritual merits of faith and the trappings of the Catholic church, the story blithely overlooks consistency of spiritual elements in favor of dramatic presentation. Twice, an otherwise pleasant read jars the reader out of the story with unexpected cursing.
“Fetch” is a solid entry in Roche’s stable of work, most of which is supernatural in flavor and paranormal in outlook. His work may be found on Smashwords, and with other writings in his own set of blogs, found at http://scottroche.com and at http://spiritualtramp.com.
Alternate and parallel earths are a staple of modern science-fiction, due in no small part to the prevalence, or even dominance, of these stories in the pages of the DC comics titles all through the 60’s, 70’s and into the 80’s. Though the company departed from this convention during the late 80’s and 90’s, duplicate earth stories are back with a vengeance, in the comics, on the tv series, and finally in the movie-length releases.
Evil is never so clearly defined as in the presence of good, and the duplicate reality stories really bring this contrast to light in clear and interesting ways. Whether it is the antimatter universe of Grant Morrison’s “JLA Earth 2”, or the Justice Lords of the millennial Justice League animated series, I have always loved seeing the good guys triumph over their darkest failings brought to life. I was excited to see the teasers for this movie in front of Green Lantern: First Flight, and thrilled to hear that Dwayne McDuffie was the pen behind the script and story originally pitched for the animated series. With this kind of talent and creative team, standing in front of the movie aisle waiting for me to make up my mind, I made a judgment call and filched the price of the Blu-Ray from my Starbuck’s budget.
The movie is not based on any specific Justice League story. Dwayne McDuffie pitched an original story for the millennial Justice League animated series; although it did not get picked up for the series, the script has been revised and is finally seeing the light of day. DC has a long tradition of “evil twin” universes, from Earth-3 of pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths to the antimatter universe of current continuity, and now endless variations of good and bad between 52 worlds of the multiverse. McDuffie is a veteran of comics and screen-writing both, and has a history of balancing the best of characterization and storytelling.
Story (Pass/Fail) – Pass
The lines between good and evil have never been so clearly drawn. Heroes and villains clash simply for the dictates of moral causitude. Evil is afoot, and those who stand against it must stand. The story of this movie is merely a vehicle for the twin pillars of world-shattering action and moral philosophizing. No plot twists, sudden revelations, or shades of moral gray mar the smooth purpose of this story. With a single exception, care is take so that the viewer is not jolted from his suspension of disbelief by contrived action, unbelievable coincidence, or inconsistent presentation. This story is about people who fight and why they do it.
Characters (Pass/Fail) – Pass
If the motivations of good people seldom seem as interesting as those of the bad, here we are treated to flatly small-minded and extremely dislikable villains who at first glance seem only to desire evil for its own sake. As the movie progresses, we discover the truth of the matter. The Crime Syndicate is not a maniacal group of laughing super-villains; they’re merely thugs, gangers, and hoods with unparalleled might. There is no glamor, no humanizing and sympathetic code of honor. With the sole exception of Owl-Man, these characters are repulsive and despicable. Next to them, the sketchily drawn heroes positively shine.
Technical Merit (Pass/Fail) – Pass
Impeccable voice acting conveys perfectly the character of the principle leads. Spectacular action sequences take place in astounding environments. Music, foley effects, and dialog are perfectly mixed, and a treat to the ears. Awesome visual sequences combine modern and traditional effects seamlessly. Although this film never really presents innovative material, at no point does its arsenal of tried-and-true techniques fail.
Content (Pass/Fail) – Pass
Whether Owl-Man is calmly explaining the completely rational purpose behind destroying the universe, denying the presence of inherent good in humanity, or revealing heroes and villains alike as slaves to circumstance and determinism the lead villain (voiced by James Woods) wields the moral and philosophical substance of the movie like a scalpel. Add in some generally excellent bonus features in the way of four additional Justice Leage episodes (two complete stories) from the millennial series, a bonus short starring the Spectre, an analysis of DC comics post-crisis, sneak peeks, trailers, and the complete pilot episodes of Wonder Woman (70’s) and the unfortunately unaired Smallville spin-off Aquaman, and the Blu-Ray is an incredible value. Minus about three hours of content, the 2-disc DVD still rates a hearty second place.
Shelf Life (Pass/Fail) – Fail
Reluctantly, this offering fails to offer a compelling reason for repeat viewing. No audio commentary tracks are included. Even James Woods creepy and stirring performance only carries so much weight. The movie lacks the emotional punch needed to rate serious study, or the stand-out action to make it a background piece. Even the special features, once viewed, are unlikely to be called again for their own sake. The best value for money on this movie would be a weekend rental. It will reward dedicated viewing, for the sake of the subtext and content, but nothing in this film demands it.
“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”
I was surprised to find “Planet Hulk” on the new movie shelf this week, not having seen any trailers for the project at all. Given Lion’s Gate’s track record with Marvel properties, and especially with adaptations of existing stories, I didn’t hesitate to slip the Blu-Ray version in between the laundry soap and frozen pizzas, where my wife would hopefully overlook it until we’re at the checkout lane….
I didn’t follow the Planet Hulk stories in the comics when they were current, but made the opportunity to read the back issues once World War Hulk exploded into Marvel continuity. The dozen-plus issues worth of adventure on an alien world brought the Jarella stories of the 70’s to mind, though without the trademark storytelling of Harlan Ellison or Len Wein. I found it especially intriguing to see the differences in popular culture that 30 years has wrought on a very similar story.
The premise of Planet Hulk is straightforward: Hulk is exiled to an alien planet by a group of heroes from Earth because he is too dangerous to keep and presumably too difficult to kill. Now essentially free from all previous continuity, an entirely new cast of characters and settings can be introduced and explored at will. As a comic series, Planet Hulk stands on its own merit as a self-contained story that eventually leads back into the mainstream Marvel continuity with World War Hulk. As a movie, it fares even better.
Story (Pass/Fail) – Pass
The movie turned out to be a fairly faithful translation of the comic books into animation – as faithful as possible when crushing two-years worth of books and crossovers with overlapping story arcs into previous and future issues into an 80 minute movie. For all that, it is not an incredibly complex story, a superhero/sci-fi rendering of Conan the Conqueror, or perhaps Kull the Conqueror. Either way, the movie could aptly have been titled, “Hulk the Barbarian”, and stood easily alongside the best work of Robert Howard. Little effort is wasted on cleverness or complexity, and the movie smashes into the action fist-first, plunging the viewers into a never-ending cascade of violence, treachery, and injustice.
Characters (Pass/Fail) – Pass
If the plot is simply a vehicle for the action, the characters are the beating heart of the story. The leading roles of hero, villain, and love interest are impeccably voice-acted, full of barely restrained emotion, crushing determination, and despicably blind selfishness, And in an alien world where Hulk is the only hero guaranteed to stand at the end of the film, the intensely personal stakes of love, loyalty, and survival hit home with gut-twisting purpose.
Technical Merit (Pass/Fail) – Pass
Although I had hoped for the detailed animation and epic money shots of previous animated Lion’s Gate films, Planet Hulk followed the same pattern of animation as New Avengers, and the TV series Wolverine and the X-Men. Little to no cell-shading or CGI is used to enhance the flat traditional animation of the story. Character designs are simple instead of complex, and backgrounds lack detail and depth. The movie is solid, and very watchable, but feels more like it was produced on a television schedule rather than as a cinematic feature. Even the soundtrack is dutiful and easily up to standard, but fails to excel in emotional resonance.
Content (Pass/Fail) – Fail
The story is artfully simple, but will leave viewers with little in the way of meaningful conversation. A character analysis of Hulk might yield a discussion on the merits of self-control, the benefits of society, and the responsibility of the strong towards the weak, but it seems like entirely too much effort. Although the action is at times incredibly violent, it is mostly downplayed, and there is no sensual content whatsoever. The special features are appreciated efforts, and some interesting behind the scenes of the comic story, but ultimately are too few to justify the price difference between the DVD versions. The Hulk vs Wolverine episode of Wolverine and the X-Men was a nice thought.
Shelf Life (Pass/Fail) – Pass
At the end of the film, I immediately wanted to watch it again, both for the film’s own sake, as well as for the two feature-length commentaries. I suspect there is more to this than a simple action fest, and I find myself perfectly willing to put in the time to make a better study of the story and characters. Plus, my son likes to trot out his action figures and help the characters on screen earn their victory.
In a world where drivers of consummate skill and daring steer super-charged racing machines across tableaus of light, color, and motion through tracks and stunts that defy the laws of physics themselves, one young man learns the cost of integrity pitted against the unassailable might of money.
Perspective: I don’t remember the movie in front of which this trailer premiered, but I do remember determining to see this film. The Wachowski name carried little weight in my mind, following hard on the heels of the disappointing Matrix sequels and the abysmal V for Vendetta. Nor was I attracted for sentimental reasons, the Speed Racer franchise is one of the few “old-school” anime I had never actually watched, and about whose mythos I knew nothing. I came into the movie tabula-rasa; while it came as something of a shock to discover that “Speed” is the name of the main character, it certainly set the tone for the rest of my expectations.
Background: The Speed Racer anime and manga revolves around the adventures of Speed, a teenaged, hot-shot, race car driver seeking his fortune on the international race car circuit. The distinctive cars and colorful character designs form the backbone of the series, and a lasting influence on pop culture that has seemingly been absorbed by osmosis into the collective geek unconscious. The Wachowski brothers take this imagery into the new millenium with their 2008 movie release, faithfully preserving the costuming and vehicles in their vision of the story.
Characters (Pass/Fail) – Pass
The characters of Speed Racer are a cast of adults. Speed himself, a teenager in the anime, is a young man in his early twenties, just coming into the powers and responsibilities of adulthood. No gang of whiny, self-absorbed, angst-ridden tweens – these. Pops Racer is a man of passion, integrity, and optimism, qualities he passes to his sons with unerring clarity and dynamism. The primary dynamic is between family, and this is no selfish, dysfunctional Big Brother cast. These people disagree, often passionately, but respect each other and place other’s needs ahead of themselves. The maturity and responsibility exhibited by this cast of characters is a refreshing change from the over-sexed, self-absorbed, hugely-dramatic population of Twilight or JJ Abram’s Star Trek that is “all attitude, all the time.” This cast carries the audience through charisma, empathy, and admiration.
Story (Pass/Fail) – Pass
Speed Racer is about action, and the story delivers in spades. Clear-cut stakes, defining moments of glory and failure, and firm lines drawn between good and evil give us a solid adventure that doesn’t rely on twist-endings, contrived drama, or bait-and-switch tactics to keep the viewer interested. Little attention is paid to interpersonal angst; no attempt is made to employ complicated subplots. The big reveal is the payoff the rest of the movie has been charaging inexorably towards. The world of Speed Racer is so hyper-realistic that little seems beyond the scope of suspended disbelief. The action moves directly from goal to post in the most straightforward and logical manner possible – and Speed Racer never strays from the established logic of the story. In several places, the movie takes an abrupt left turn for the sake of forced comedy; Spritle is the primary culprit behind these jaunts, and his antics seem forced, awkward, and horribly distracting. In spite of this glaring flaw, the story that formes the core of the movie is solidly built.
Technical Merit (Pass/Fail) – Pass
The Wachowskis command of color, motion, and pacing is absolute. The directors use light, shadow, and color to merciless manipulate the audience’s perception of characters and emotions. Cars thunder around us in breathtakingly impossible action scenes. Scenery and set design reflects the hyper-realism that is their trademark. This world exists in some other time and place where reality appears wholly unfamiliar, but conforms to a set of rules the audience intuitively senses. Even when the audience is allowed to catch their breath while the plot advances inexorably towards its climax, the camera doesn’t sit still, pushing the story forward with the subtle sense of motion that is the main technical device used in the film. Costuming plays a huge part in the audience’s ability to immerse themselves in the film, blending anime designs with a stylish functionality one would expect on the streets of Tokyo or Hollywood. Unfortunately, where the directors fail, they fail big. Unaccountably poor green-screen sequences look positively shoddy next to the adrenaline filled racing sequences. CGI and practical effects blend seamlessly in all the important scenes, drawing unwarranted attention to the slipshod FX that seem to revolve around the character of Spritle, as if these scenes were cobbled together at the last minute by film crews borrowed from the set of the soap opera next door.
Content (Pass/Fail) – Pass
This is no darkly nihilistic cyberpunk future, nor is it a dystopian society in dire need of rebellion. In Speed Racer, one man can make a difference by virtue of his own integrity. Themes of integrity are at the forefront, delivered by Pops Racer, Rex Racer, and Racer X as they assure us that the truth can’t be suppressed, and that a man is defined by his struggle with corruption. Speed’s struggle to come to terms with what it means to be an adult is the compelling and thought provoking heart of the film. Personal violence is largely played for comedic value, but the danger that comes from the race track is never downplayed. Language is uniformly clean, with a few exceptions; authority figures are respected, if not always obeyed. In the end, it is not Might that makes Right, but rather Right that empowers Might.
Shelf Life (Pass/Fail) – Pass
Action junkies of all ages will want to see this movie again and again, roaring the fusion pumps of the T-180s through subwoofers cranked to the max. One viewing simply will not suffice to appreciate the depth of story, breadth of action, and dynamic relationships that raise this movie to greatness. Speed Racer really is a film that rewards multiple viewings, allowing the audience to appreciate the subltety of the Wachowskis’ manipulation of theme through cinematic device, admire the character of the Racer family, and thrill to the unmatched momentum inadequately reffered to as “racing”.
A tale of loyalty and unlikely friendship featuring two of the most famous super-heroes on the planet, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies pairs the Man of Steel with the Dark Knight. The iconic heroes unite when President Lex Luthor accuses Superman of terrible crimes against humanity and assembles a top-secret team of powerhouse heroes to bring Superman in. But the “World’s Finest” duo are determined to topple the corrupt president’s reign once and for all!
-from the ad copy on the back cover of the trade paperback edition
Perspective: I picked up issue one of the new series Superman/Batman with hope that the adoption of the Kids WB Superman/Batman logo from the Saturday morning adventure hour heralded the same kind of storyteling, glanced at the clean, manga-esque interior art by Ed McGuinness, and finally noticed Jeph Loeb’s name in the writer’s credit. I put the book down and walked quickly away. Loeb’s excellent thriller Batman: the Long Halloween had made enough of an impression in my mind that I also purchased the overly sentimental Superman For All Seasons by the same creative team. After that disappoinment, Jim Lee’s astounding art coupled with the promise of another detective thriller lured me into the twelve-part Hush – densely packed with guest-stars, nonsensical plot device, and held together by author’s fiat. It wasn’t until issue seven centered on Superboy and Robin that I reluctantly acquired the back-issues; at that I point I felt morally compelled to at least purchase the book until the story-arc had been completed. Twenty-five issues later, I want my money back.
Surprisingly, when Green Lantern: First Flight included a teaser for this project, I couldn’t wait to see the translation to animation. I expected a clean adaptation of Ed McGuinness’ spectacular and dynamic artwork accompanied by a team of editors to turn Loeb’s poorly plotted showcase of his partner’s artistic talent into a massive brawl wherein the World’s Finest take turns whuppin’ up on a parade of guest stars. Time for popcorn.
Background: The “World’s Finest” team of Superman and Batman have appeared in one form or another as friends and allies in adventure since 1941. The two characters share an iconic status in the pantheon of DC heroes, and it is this status rather than equality of ability that has them joined at the hip in graphic literature. The so-called “contrasting characterization” is a relatively recent innovation, as the heroes shared virtually identical story structures even into the 1980’s: villain appears; villain confounds hero; hero uses deus ex machina to restore the status quo. These characters have not been used consistently in this fashion, nor in any continuing shared publication, since DC reorganized their internal continuity of story in 1984.
Following the success of adapting Darwyn Cooke’s Justice League: the New Frontier from graphic novel to animation, the adaptation of other best-selling publications seemed only natural. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies presented an opportunity to use multiple DC character properties without attaching the words “Crisis” or “Justice League” to the project.
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