Forgotten Films – Read or Die (2003)
This is the 122nd in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films.
I mentioned last time that I had wanted to review Mesa of Lost Women but did not have time to see it before writing the column. Well, I did take the 69 minutes to see it and, rather than review it here, just save yourself the grief and mental torment and pass on it, unless you like an incomprehensible film that appears to be a wedding of two separate fragments thrown together for a drive in showing where you are much more interested in your date and what they are not wearing than the film. Even with women turning into giant spiders, I couldn’t recommend this one.
So, instead, I went to my latest Netflix offering, READ OR DIE. This is an anime film from 2003 (or possibly 2001, if I believe IMDB). I had seen it before but it had been a long time so it seemed the perfect film for a chilly wet morning.
Yomiko Readman is a young woman in Tokyo who suffers the same obsession I do. She loves books. They are everywhere in her life, in stacks across the floor, on top of the telephone. She is underemployed at the beginning of the story so when she receives an offer to be a substitute teacher, what is the first thing she does? She goes off and spends what cash she has buying more books. In one store she runs into another woman who wants the same volume that she does, but Yomiko gets it first. A copy of Immortal Beloved in German, volume one of two is the book in question. Leaving the bookstore, trailing her rolling bag filled with new acquisitions behind her, she walks out into the street only to find a crazy fight going on with a giant insect and its rider.
The two attack Yomiko who is unaware of their presence because she is reading her book. When the insect tries to take the book away, Yomiko is startled into action. Yomiko, it seems, is a paper mage, a form of magician who can do odd things with paper, like build shelters or spears or butterflies. Paper does whatever she wants it to do.
Soon she is summoned to the British Library Services were she is apparently a part time employee as a spy. Now, this woman is worse than ditzy. She sees a book, she must read it. So she is not a great spy or secret weapon. While in the office of her supervisor, known as Joker, she meets up with Miss Deep (a code name just as Yomiko’s The Paper is a code name). Miss Deep is the woman who had competed with her earlier for the book. And here is where X-Men comparisons will start to happen. Miss Deep aka Nancy Makuhari, has the ability to walk through walls, floors, ceilings, anything ala Kitty Pryde. Yomiko is Storm with a paper rather than weather ability.
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FORGOTTEN BOOK: DARK TANGOS by Lewis Shiner, 2011
This is the 147th in my series of Forgotten Books.
I have had this book on the shelves for a couple of years, wondering when I would get to it. There was a small bit of trepidation there, because it was the only Lewis Shiner novel I had not read. I have known Lew for about 30 years and I knew it would be years before I had another novel to read. At his best, there have been three years between novels, sometimes much longer. It was one of those things, like not reading the final Raymond Chandler novel or holding on to one special book because you know you will love it and it’s kind of nice to know that there are certain things you can always be sure will be good.
But the other day I found myself with DARK TANGOS in my hand and I opened it up. I was hooked again. It is a story that I know is a part of Lew’s own soul as it deals with tangos. For the last 10 or 15 years I know he has regularly gone to Argentina to study and dance. Music and dance are integral to him so it would only make sense that he would write about them.
Rob Cavenaugh is a computer programmer whose life is upside down. His marriage is over – in a separation, but over. His son does not care about him. His work life is dead. He finds himself re-assigned to the Buenos Aires office of the large company he works for.
Resigned to his fate, he moves into a small apartment and begins to explore one of the world’s most interesting cities. His explorations take him to an old tango teacher who takes him on. He is a good dancer but lacks some of the passion and spontaneity that would make him great. He works, he eats, he sleeps and he dances. That is his life.
Along the way he learns a lot about the city and the political turmoil of the last century. The Perons and other dictators. The US and CIA involvement in bringing regimes up and crashing them down. The fact that no matter what has happened you really do not want to get involved with the police – the real ones or the secret ones. Nothing good can come of it and much bad probably will.
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FORGOTTEN BOOK: BLOOD OF THE LAMB by Sam Cabot, 2012
This is the 146th in my series of Forgotten Books.
I go to a lot of conventions. Too many, if you ask my wife. I have been doing that for 40 years now and I have been to a lot of them. Three years ago I went to NoirCon in Philadelphia. I was there for the debut of a book DAMN NEAR DEAD 2 edited by Bill Crider. I had a story in there that I was quite proud of. The publisher was David Thompson of Busted Flush Press and Murder By the Book in Houston. I had known David for a long time and he was (justifiably) proud of this book. The convention was in November. David died unexpectedly in September that year.
But we persevered. Many of the authors in the book made the trip to launch the book. But the Fates were not through with us. Through some snafu, the books went to New York and we all went to Philly. So we had a panel or two anyway.
I enjoy mystery conventions a lot. I have been to Bouchercon a few times. It is the mystery field’s equivalent of a world science fiction convention. NoirCon was special too. I do not get to east coast conventions very often. Texas is pretty far away from most places. So when I went to this one, I knew almost nobody. I had met Vicki Hendricks at one of the Bouchercons but did not really know her. Same thing with Duane Swierzcynski except I met him at Con Misterio in Austin. For the most part I did not know many folks. Which made me have to force myself to meet people, which I am naturally not good at doing. The term ‘party broccoli” has been used to describe – not even good enough to be a wall flower.
So, I put on my best face and introduced myself around. I was fortunate enough to run into Reed Farrell Coleman (a bloody fantastic writer if you are not familiar with his work) and he helped introduce me around. I met Cullen Gallagher, Phil and Patti Abbott, Anthony Neil Smith, Cristal Faust, and many more. And I met S. J. Rozan. Wonderful people all the way around. On Friday night I went out to eat with Reed and SJ and Wallace Strobe. It was delightful!
I had read some of SJ’s Lydia Chin/Bill Smith detective stories. Set in Chinatown and New York City, they alternated story telling between Chin and Smith and the differences were almost better than the story.
I signed up for SJ’s newsletter which is very fun to read. Over the last couple of years she had been talking about this big fantasy novel she was working on with another writer, Carlos Dews. She would not reveal much other than it was different from anything she had done and it would be set in Rome, which is definitely not New York.
The book finally appeared in 2012 and I managed to get a copy at the WorldCon here in San Antonio and it was high on my list of books to read.
So, 550 words into this review I am actually going to talk about the book. Father Thomas Kelly is a Jesuit priest from Boston, summoned to work in the Vatican Library by his old friend Lorenzo Cardinal Coosa who has been appointed Librarian of the Vatican. It appears that an old document is missing. No one is quite sure when it went missing or exactly what might be in it but there are hints that it contains something that could destroy the Church. Also looking for the document is historian Lidia Petro, who is a Mantra. She has been told by the Council of the Noantri that she must find this document and she may have to enlist the aid of this American priest to find it.
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Forgotten Films – Radio Ranch (1940)
This is the 121st in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
I went out to a Relaxacon this last weekend. Since ArmadilloCon was not held this year due to the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, a Relaxacon was held. This is a convention with no programming, no guests, no dealer’s room, nothing. It’s just a way to hang with some friends, talk books, movies, play games, eat, take walks, whatever. This was the third ArmadilloCon Relaxacon held (the other followed the 1985 North American Science Fiction Convention while number 2 followed the 1997 World Science Fiction Convention which was also held in San Antonio).
While we partied near Canyon Lake there was lots of fun. I awoke early on Saturday morning before anyone else was moving. My room had a DVD player and a TV which did not handle broadcast programming. I had brought DVD’s in case someone was interested and I ended up watching Radio Ranch because it was there, it was short and it was the first film on the disc. The DVD player had 4 buttons – power, open/close, play, and stop. I had wanted to watch Mesa of Lost Women but it was the second film and I did not have time to watch the other and then the second film.
Radio Ranch is the short feature version (70 minutes) of The Phantom Empire which was a 12 chapter Gene Autry serial (and a good one at that). Most of the plot remains, some of the songs, and the nice science fiction elements are there though some of the explanatory materials are gone.
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Forgotten Films – The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
This is the 120th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
Since Halloween is next week, I thought I might review a horror film of some sort this week and I chanced upon The Mask of Fu Manchu. It is not really a horror film unless you lived in the 30’s and feared the yellow peril was imminent. But I first saw it as part of a Halloween special on TCM years ago after wanting to see it for many years. The VCR and DVD boom finally led to my being able to see it and also to own a copy.
I am a fan of Dr. Fu Manchu in many of his incarnations. This film is perhaps the best depiction of him on film ever done, though Karloff looks nothing at all like Sax Rohmer’s description of the evil genius. What Boris Karloff brings to the role of Dr. Fu Manchu is the ruthlessness and sociopathic tendencies that are the more endearing qualities of the would be Master of the World.
In this film, Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) has discovered the lost tomb of Genghis Khan, a frequent theme in some of the films I have reviewed. Commissioner Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone, a few years before his stint as Judge Hardy over Mickey Rooney’s Andy) asks him to hurry in his trip because Smith’s arch-enemy Dr. Fu Manchu is also on a quest for the golden mask and golden sword that will proclaim him as the second coming of the Great Khan and allow him to unite the oriental world against the white man and being about genocide. At least of the men. He promises the warlords the white women as their wives and slaves, which they all agree is a good use of them. This scene in particular made Asian Americans despise the depictions of Orientals in this and other films.
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FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN by Alan Garner, 1960
This is the 145th in my series of Forgotten Books.
The World Science Fiction Convention has been gone for more than a month but I still find myself writing about it. I bought a lot of really great books including Alan Garner’s BONELAND which is the final volume of his trilogy begun with THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN. Garner is one of the great English fantasists, and has now been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Fantasy Convention, an honor long overdue. Another interesting title I got was BLOOD OF THE LAMB by Sam Cabot, but we’ll hear more about that next week.
WEIRDSTONE was Alan Garner’s debut novel and it did well enough that he was able to write a sequel and to buy the medieval home where he was living. It is, at heart, a children’s book and our two main characters are Susan and her twin brother Colin.
The Weirdstone is a magic talisman that was used to defeat the evil Nastrond and it is instrumental in keeping him from returning. But the stone has been lost over the years and, though it is lost, Nastrond is still imprisoned within the earth by the magic of Cadellin Silverbrow who watches over an army of warriors and their horses within the dwarf caves of Fundindelve.
Enter Colin and Susan who have been sent to live in the country with Gowther and Bess Mossock, a farmer and his wife while their parents are abroad. Susan, unknown to her, has the weirdstone on a bracelet. She and Colin learn to wander around the hills and the countryside, being fearful of the deep caves, and run into Cadellin, though they do not know who he is. Cadellin fails to recognize the stone on Susan’s wrist.
Others do recognize it, though, including Selina Pace, a neighbor of Gowther’s who is a witch and a servant of Nastrond, though no one knows this. She steals the bracelet and the children attempt to get it back with the help of Fenodyree and Durathror, warrior dwarves and allies of Cadellin.
There are narrow escapes and threats, a thrilling chase through dark mines and mountains and exploits against wolves and shape shifters and demons and the like. All a great deal of fun.
It is easy to see how this appealed early on. After all, Tolkien had just been published one or two years before Garner began his tales. There is much of the myth of England infusing the novel and many of the characters could have existed nowhere else. In the 50th anniversary edition of the book which I read this time, Garner talks about trying to find the voice of the people for the novel and how he met a farmer as a child who was exactly what he needed. The farmer and his family, along with Garner’s family, had lived in this one area for more than 400 years. As Garner recalled this man and his way of speaking, he knew he had the character he needed. And Gowther is a memorable character.
This is a great book and one every fantasy fan should read. It does not have the breakneck pulp style action but it moves well. The sequel MOON OF GOMRATH is just as good. I have not gotten to BONELAND yet but I know that after 50 years Garner will end it well.
The book has been generally available for many years and copies can be found relatively inexpensively. Check it out.
I should be back on a more regular basis now that the World Science Fiction Convention has finished. I was busy with that and some ailments following the convention, leading to a few missed postings. I have a lot of great stuff to read and report on.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts the Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.
Forgotten Films – Logan’s Run (1976)
This is the 119th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
If you had asked me before I watched this film this afternoon what I had thought of it, I would have said it was OK when I saw it back in the day. Watching it, I began to wonder if I had actually seen the film before. And I think the answer was No.
This was odd to me. I remember reading the Marvel comic back in the day and I thought I must have seen it on TV or something. I knew the stars were Michael York as Logan 5, the fabulous Jenny Agutter as Jessica 3, and a brief but memorable appearance from Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Holly the hair stylist/plastic surgeon receptionist. Mostly I remember Jenny Agutter from Walkabout and The Railway Children. Other memorable films such as An American Werewolf in London were in her future.
But as I watched it there were scenes I do not ever remember seeing or hearing. The film takes its basic premise from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel of the same name. I remember reading the short novel and enjoying it.
The story takes place in an idyllic setting with young people everywhere. That is because everyone can live carefree until they reach the age of 30. And you can’t lie about your age because a crystal is embedded in your palm that changes color as you age. When it starts blinking, your time is coming up. Then you can submit to the rite of carousel where you may be reborn into a new life, You get to wear a funky skin tight red and white costume and rise into the air where a giant gem shoots you down. If you do not want to do that, you can try to escape by running.
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Forgotten Films – The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
This is the 118th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films.
The thing I enjoy most about doing these reviews is getting to share with each of you some films I really love (or hate). The second best thing is that I get to watch lots of odd films and my wife does not complain, like she did when I watched the pilot for Sleepy Hollow. She did not like it one bit and asked what I saw in it. Not wanting to make that show a battlefield like I thought Agents of SHIELD might be, I let it go.
She walked by while I was watching The Adventures of Prince Achmed and I was able to tell her all the cool things about it. It is one of the very first animated films, though it is done in silhouette format using cardboard and metal cutouts animated frame by frame, just like King Kong. It was done in German so you still have to read your film. The copy I saw indicated that it may not be totally complete and it was made from foreign copies rather than German master films. It combines portions of Thief of Baghdad and Aladdin and other Arabian Nights films into a pleasant fantasy film.
Young Prince Achmed lives in a caliphate. His father is the Caliph and his sister is Dinarsade. An evil African magician shows up at court and has a flying mechanical horse. He refuses o sell it but allows Achmed to ride it. He conveniently forgets to tell Achmed how to make the horse come down. He can go up but not return. This puts Achmed on a series of adventures. He meets the beautiful Peri Banu, a princess in charge of some demons. When she forsakes the demons for Achmed, they come after the pair. Peri Banu is taken away to the island of Wak-Wak were she is imprisoned and threatened. The entrance to Wak-Wak is sealed and can only be opened by Aladdin’s magic lamp.
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Forgotten Films – Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)
This is the 117th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
One of the great things about living in Texas is that I have been able to see many wonderful music shows over the years. Since 1969, I have seen at least one live music show of some sort every year. Some years, like when I was in college and very broke, there were few shows. Sometimes when I was traveling it was harder.
But over the years I got to see a lot of fun shows. I saw Pavarotti in 1984. I saw Townes Van Zandt at a Pizza Hut in 1974. I saw the Iron Butterfly in 1969, the Ramones in 1980, and Elvis Costello in 1978.
One of the bands and singers I have missed over the years is The 13th Floor Elevators and their phenomenal singer Roky Erickson. I was not familiar with them when the Elevators first rose to national prominence. It was only when he released his single “Two Headed Dog” that I became aware. I loved it and the subsequent album “The Evil One” that I fell in love with his work. One of the songs from the album was “Creature with the Atom Brain”. Not a great song, but I liked it. I featured Roky reciting bits of dialogue from the film.
Regardless of what my wife says, I do not watch every B science fiction film from the 1940’s or 1950’s. I have seen quite a few but there are quite a few I have missed. One of them is Creature with the Atom Brain. But, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and their love of all things B, I saw it this weekend.
It’s pretty standard, hokey science, and reanimating dead men sorts of stuff. Mad scientist develops a way to make dead men walk and do his bidding. Evil gangster funds scientist and then takes revenge on those who sent him to prison – the DA, another gangster, his accountant, and the “gunsel”. Richard Denning plays Dr. Chet Walker, a police scientist, who, from a timely scrap of radioactive blood and fingerprints from a dead man deduces that the man had been activated by “atom rays”. Shoddy science work but dead men walking are always fun.
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Forgotten Film – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
This is the 116th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
I am not sure how forgotten this week’s film. It certainly was not forgotten by me. I eagerly awaited its release and was planning how to spend that weekend when I got news that I would be traveling to Paris that opening weekend. I was leaving on Saturday. Sure I could have crowded Friday night on with seeing it instead of packing but prudence prevailed and I went to Paris properly packed.
When I got to Paris I knew I would have one weekend free so I looked around the papers to see if it might be showing in a theater somewhere that I might find it. I hoped it would have French subtitles that I could ignore, otherwise I might not understand the dialogue but I would love the visuals. But I had no such luck. So I prepared to see it when I returned from two weeks in Paris. But wait! Fate had other ideas for my viewing pleasure. I got a call and instead of returning home, I went directly to Tokyo for two weeks. Sure, I was getting to go to two continents I had never visited before, but I was missing SKY CAPTAIN. Would it still be playing when I returned to San Antonio? Or, would I have to hope for the dreaded dollar theater and its sticky floors and chairs?
Fortunately I got the best of both worlds. I got to see the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay (which I liked better than the Louvre), and parts of Tokyo. I missed the Texas-OU game because I was not quite brave enough to find a sports bar somewhere in Tokyo with a satellite hookup that would be showing the game at 3 AM. One of a very few of those games I have missed in the last 40 years.
I saw this film the day I returned and I LOVED it. I was the target audience. A fan of the Blackhawk and Buck Rogers comics. A fan of movie serials such as SPY SMASHER and FLASH GORDON. A fan of noir type tales. And a fan of the various stars.
The setting is some alternate universe where in 1939 zeppelins still fly to the top of the Empire State Building. Giant robots terrorize citizens of New York. Plucky girl reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow, looking fetching in 30’s trenchcoats and suits works for Editor Paley (Michael Gambon) at the Chronicle. Mysterious super aviator Sky Captain aka Joe Sullivan (Jude Law, one of the producers of the film) has a base near to New York and tackles odd adventurers for the city. At his base Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) creates wonderful invention for Sky captain to use.
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