District 9


This is a rather strange movie. Filmed in a street-documentary way, with lots of choppy hand-held scenes reflecting modern war footage, it is the story of an ill-advised attempt to relocate aliens from their shanty-town to concentration camps farther away from the human populace. The aliens are somewhat sullen, violent arthropods who suffered some disaster in space that left them starving and leaderless. I had to wonder how HPL would react to creatures that resemble giant, intelligent seafood. The humans call them “prawns”; it is the first sign of the disdain with which they are viewed.

The movie is set in South Africa, and obviously the alien-hate can be read as an allusion to racism, but it is not really played to excess. It is just the backdrop to an interesting drama, played at both the personal level and a world-wide level as the humans find the prawn are not all as simple-minded as they believe. Three of the prawn have been planning for twenty years to escape the prison that is earth.
In a review for SFX, Nick Setchfield remarks:

This is pure body horror in the lineage of Alien, The Thing and The Fly.

That is certainly an element. Don’t go see this if you are easily grossed out. He also has these comments which I found interesting:

Wikus van der Merwe is a nepotistically-appointed bureaucrat, a Pooterish Afrikaaner charged with overseeing the mass eviction of the alien township. Tank-top, Chuckle Brothers moustache, neat side-parting. The word dweeb is all but laser-etched on his forehead. From the moment you clock his nervous weasel features you know he’s one of those middle-management peons cinema routinely earmarks for death in a moment of grisly, crowd-pleasing black comedy.

And then there’s a moment when you realise, with sudden, amused shock, that this is the hero, that they’ve handed the movie to this man (actually, it may be the moment that he ditches the tank-top). Sharlto Copley is brilliant as Wikus, mining unsuspected reserves of heroism and furious morality beneath the nerdish exterior …

The review has some slight spoilers, which I won’t repeat, but I did think the movie needed a final scene which never comes. Director and writer Neill Blomkamp said in an interview that while Hollywood always ties up the loose ends, real life isn’t always so neat. Well, that’s why we prefer stories to real life for entertainment, Neill. Still, a thoughtprovoking and compelling movie — you’ll either love it or hate it, apparently.

10,000 BC


Roland Emmerich’s much-maligned pre-historic fantasy adventure is making the rounds of the cable channels these days. It’s not a good movie, but it’s not as terrible as some claim either. Slavers capture some people from a tribe of mammoth hunters, including our hero’s love, so he sets out with a few other brave friends to track them down and effect a rescue. It turns out they are being taken to slave on massive pyramids, being erected by an advanced prehistoric civilization a la Stygia, ruled by sacrifice-demanding “gods” from Atlantis, or perhaps another world. There are other weird elements in the prophecies that move the plot and an ancient witch-woman with visionary and other powers. Obviously, complaints about historical accuracy are as off base as they would be regarding a Kull movie. The real stars of the show are the metafuana, particularly a scene stealing digital sabre-tooth and the hordes of mammoths.
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers agrees:

The best acting comes from woolly mammoths, man-eating ostriches and a saber-toothed tiger — and those babies are digital. It’s the human actors who look fake.

Like Conan, D’leh (Steven Strait) can raise an army when needed, and he manages to recruit a tribe of black savages to his cause as well as igniting a slave rebellion among the pyramid workers.

The climactic invasion of the united barbarians and savages, sweeping into the decadent civilization of the pyramid-builders to slaughter and destroy evokes Howard; it’s like watching the fall of Acheron or the chaotic climax of “Marchers of Valhalla.”

Like “In the Name of the King,” this is an attempt to do sword & sorcery without actually crediting Howard, but his influence is there anyway. It’s also an interesting enough, if flawed, popcorn movie.

A Big Guy Turns 10


I saw this article about The Iron Giant turning ten years old the other day. This is one of my favorite movies, and the article goes a long way towards explaining why. (It also does a good job of explaining why summer blockbusters suck these days, and has a totally unneccessary reference to local starlet Megan Fox’s breasts.) Believe it or not, both Jennifer Anniston and Vin Diesel turn in riveting vocal performances in this film. The idea of a government agent whose raging paranoia leads him to lie and usurp authority is as scary now as its ever been, and the idea of an alien robot inspired by Siegel & Shuster’s Superman puts the lie to H.R. Hayes’ 1946 rant in the most powerful way possible. I don’t often crank up the old VCR but in this case I made an exception. If you don’t know this movie I really encourage you to click on the well-done article, it even has an excerpt from the film.

DEUCE ADDS: Follow this link to the Iron Giant Project blog.


We’ve discovered Dexter, Showtime’s series about a serial killer. The character is a vigilante, somewhat like Watchmen’s Rorshack, except that Dexter realizes he is mentally and emotionally flawed. It’s a very good and complex show, and touches on Howardian themes of vengeance and violence.
More here.

Great Scott

Caught Straight into Darkness this week. A bizarre film, it is an anti-war movie set in WW II, about two mismatched deserters who encounter a partisan army made up of “special” children, with echoes of Freaks and Johnny got His Gun. One of the soldiers, Deming, is played by Scott MacDonald, and while watching him I was struck by how much he looked like the famous Frazetta image of the berserk soldier firing the machine gun. He has a Celtic brutishness that would also qualify him, in my opinion, to play Conan or any of Howard’s Crusader heroes.

Eleanor “Ellie” Frazetta: 1935-2009


July 17, 2009, East Stroudsburg PA: Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Frazetta, the
wife of celebrated artist Frank Frazetta, passed away today to be with the Lord after a courageous one-year battle with cancer.

Eleanor Kelly was born in Massachusetts and moved to New York where she married Frank in November, 1956. She acted as his business partner as well as his lifelong companion. Known for her feisty personality as well as her intuitive business acumen, she was instrumental in successfully establishing record prices for Frank’swork throughout her life.

She is survived by her husband Frank, her four children, Frank Jr.,Billy, Holly and Heidi, numerous grandchildren, and many friends.

A public memorial is planned and details will be announced
shortly. In the meantime, the family requests privacy.

Rob Pistella
Stephen Ferzoco
On behalf of the Frazetta Family

That was the announcement that went out over the internet on Friday, July 17. This is my belated tribute to Ellie. (Continue reading this post)

Half-Blooded Movie


Wife and I caught Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince today. We’ve both read the books, which makes watching the movie a little less interesting. Still, it was something to to do on a summer afternoon. Our local critic noticed the large teen soap-opera content, as Harry, Ron and Hermione work through youthful entanglements. The rest of the movie is largely given over to providing background, or the search for background. There are not nearly so many action scenes as in the previous movies, though the few they have are pretty high quality. But four or five action scenes in an almost three-hour movie ain’t much. This movie seems to see its role as setting up the audience for the two Deathly Hallows films, and it is a success as far as that goes. As an entertainment, though, it’s kind of weak.

A refugee from Hell


I’ve never been much of a Clive Barker fan, so I never saw “Lord of Illusions” when it came out. It’s been playing on our cable though, so we gave it a try. Despite Leonard Maltin’s half-hearted endorsement (“Intelligent thriller [. . .] better than the usual genre fare, but it’s thinly plotted, and condescends slightly to its audience” it was entertaining enough and I never saw any condescension.

It stars “Quantum Jump”-er and “Star Trek Enterprise” captain Scott Bakula as a out-of-his league gumshoe and a very hot, young Famke Janssen (Jean Grey of “X-Men” ) as the damsel in distress. The plot, which involves cults and real magic, has several Howardian elements, which makes me wonder if Barker is a fan.

At the start, two cultists murder a mystic, and one of them has filed teeth (not that that necessarily owes anything to Howard’s “Shadows in Zamboula” — but the other one is the creepier. This is a prelude to the main plot, which involves the PI being hired to check into whatever problem is haunting an illusionist, who then apparently dies in a stage accident. He has been hired by the sultry wife/widow whom he promptly bangs. What the illusionist feared is a man who has been dead for over a decade –a man who taught him that magic was real. In a very creepy sequence with echoes of Acheron, this dead sorcerer is brought back to life by his faithful cult.

For our P.I. hero, who seems not too far removed from Howard’s River Street, handgun fire is a hearty incantation, but in the end, it is the borrowed power of a formerly subordinate mage (the illusionist, not actually dead after all, but now getting there) who tried and failed to stem the black master’s evil — as in “People of the Black Circle” — that lets our braver and more determined hero throw the sorcerer back down to hell, in a sequence that relies on flashy special effects to the detriment of good storytelling. Still and all, a very interesting film.

The Duke of Americana, Thirty Years Gone

“I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.”

John Wayne in The Shootist (1976).

My general awareness of Marion Morrison, aka, “John Wayne,” started early on. My father (along with my paternal grandfather) was and is a John Wayne shootistfan. I was probably viewing John Wayne flicks in the cradle. My specific knowing of whom John Wayne was, without a doubt, began when I watched a broadcast of True Grit right before I entered the double-digit stage of my lifespan.

John Wayne, portraying Rooster Cogburn, was a dangerous man. I definitely figured that out, way back in 1976. One film critic described the Duke as embodying a spirit of “muscular Americanism.” Whether one agrees with all that implies, John Wayne most emphatically did so. Just as Conan of Cimmeria, without a doubt, personified Robert E. Howard’s vision of “muscular barbarism.”

John Wayne died thirty years ago today.

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learnt something from yesterday.

— Inscription on John Wayne’s headstone.

“Man in black”: Nick Owchar’s take on Solomon Kane

“Before Conan, there was Kane, a Puritan swordsman on a restless search for justice.”


That’s the lead-in from Nick Owchar’s, “Man in black: Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane,” published this May 24th in his monthly column for the Los Angeles Times. Owchar, deputy book editor for the LA Times, turns in a quite respectable piece on the Man From Devonshire (and his creator). His column, “The Siren’s Call” (a title I truly dig), was a joy and revelation once I (very recently) discovered it. Dear readers, brethren, kindred and fellow travellers, Ol’ Nick is one of us. Peruse his previous columns (future blog-fodder, for me) and tell me it ain’t so. (Continue reading this post)