Sunday, August 29, 2010

One Post; Three Answers

At the beginning of the month, two of the questions I was asked involved my favorite holiday, Halloween. A third question concerned ghost stories and urban legends. I'm going to answer all three of them in this one post for two reasons. First, they're all related enough that thematically it seems okay to do so. Second, the other thing that all three questions have in common is that when I first read them I thought with the appropriate amount of mulling time I'd be able to provide detailed, satisfactory answers. for all three questions, sufficient mulling time turned up the sad fact that satisfying answers proved elusive.


Michael Jones asked what my favorite ORIGINAL costumes were of trick-or-treaters who have visited my house in recent years.

That turns out to be a pretty tough question to answer. At our house, my wife and I usually switch duties each year. One year I stay home and hand out the candy while she takes our kids trick-or-treating. The next year we switch roles. Last year I was out on trick-or-treating escort duty, so I didn't see a lot of the costumes parading through the neighborhood, except from a distance. Our street is very dark, so I never really got a good look.

Looking back on recent years when I was home handing out the candy, there weren't a lot of original costumes in the sense of the kids coming dressed as their own creations. There were the usual suspects of football players, princesses, soldiers, licensed characters ranging from Star Wars to Pokemon and the Super Mario Brothers, but nothing I'd say was invented out of whole cloth.

Even my own kids are not immune to that. My son has been a Star Wars character almost every other year. In terms of original costumes that are home made vs the mass manufactured store bought variety, I've seen a bunch of varying quality, but nothing that really leaped out and grabbed be (even figuratively). I also don't generally photograph other people's kids, so I don't have much to show here.

I will say, with complete parental pride, that my own kids, whether dressed as Star Wars characters, Cat Woman, a robot, frog or rhinoceros, with only a couple of exceptions have either worn completely original costumes, or store bought costumes augmented with hand made elements, or mostly home made costumes augmented by store bought elements. While the photos of my daughter's awesome frog costume have eluded me, here are photos of her as Dr. Syn, alias the Scarecrow from last year and as one of the two witch doctors from "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" from 2008. My son appears in his mummy costume from last year (before neck wrap was adjusted), and as a Clone ARC Trooper from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" from 2008.




Robert Pope asked me what the one piece of visual entertainment (tv or movie) best encapsulates and expresses my emotional attachment to Halloween. 

Again, I thought with a little ruminating I'd come up with an answer, but there isn't one. It turns out that I haven't truly found a movie, or tv episode or special that really conveys my emotional attachment to Halloween. I guess this means I'll have to make something of my own. 

Movies and television have certainly played a central part in my annual Halloween festivities from childhood on, and while some movies I connect with Halloween more than others, it's more as a trigger of Halloween memories I associate with the movie, and not because the film's content suggests what I love of Halloween. 

For me, the biggest triggers that encapsulate my attachment to Halloween are smells. Candy corn, fall leaves, autumnal air, candles, pumpkin, the smell of the inside of those cheap plastic masks made by Collegeville and Ben Cooper that we wore as kids, the plastic decorations, all evoke what I love about the holiday. Certain seasonal artwork does the same thing, as did Target's unrivaled 2003 Halloween campaign, Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree," any incarnation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and a few other things. The closest movie and tv connections are the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of "Fantasia" followed by "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" if it ditched the Snoopy WWI flying ace subplot, "The Munsters," "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," and "The House on Haunted Hill," but none of them has everything, or comes really close. 



Finally, Sean Cloran wanted to know what my favorite urban legend or ghost story is. 

Again, I'm sorry to say I just don't have one. All of my collections of ghost stories are currently boxed up and tucked away, and I meant to flip through them and see what jumped out, but since this was supposed to be my favorite story, I decided I should know what it is without having to look for one. As far as urban legends go, I've always been partial to the phantom hitchhiker tales where lonely young men give rides to attractive women who disappear when they reach their declared destination. When the man inquires at the house he learns the girl was the daughter of the residents and she died years ago. I always felt this story had a few nice elements to hook you in. Usually they occur in a very specific location making it allegedly possible for anyone to see and even give the ghost a lift. The ghost, for once, is non-threatening. The story is just as much about the man giving the ride as the girl taking it. It's sort of a tear jerker. I also simply like the impact this unobtainable girl has on the lonely man, and always wonder what he'll do next. Will he keep looking for her? 

As much as I like this particular story, I don't know that it's heads above any others, but I guess it will have to do. 

Sean, I have one more question from you to answer and hopefully that will make up for the lackluster answers here. For everyone else, my apologies. There's always next month. 


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arnold Drake

The month of August is nearly gone, and I still have a batch of questions asked at the beginning of this month to answer.

First up, Sean Cloran asked me my thoughts on the late Arnold Drake (1924 - 2007). For those of you who don't know who Drake was, he was a writer, mostly of comic books, but also novels, a pair of movies and several musicals.

The bulk of Drake's comic book work comes from the 1960s. Since I didn't begin purchasing comics until 1971 or 1972, and since reprints were pretty rare still (except for at Marvel which is how I was able to Grow-up on Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man and the Kirby/Ditko giant monster comics) I missed all of this work as a kid. I didn't discover Arnold Drake until 1984-1985, when I came across some of his DOOM PATROL comics while scour back issue bins for back issues of my favorite childhood comic book series, TUROK: SON OF STONE. The first two issues I purchased were these:

The weirdness displayed on these covers captured me right away, and what was on the inside not only lived up to what was on the cover, but exceeded it. Everything about it appealed to me including Bruno Premiani's gorgeous art, to the characters who acted in many ways like the bickering family that was THE FANTASTIC FOUR, but there was something else going on here. Except for the Chief, the wheelchair bound genius who led the Doom Patrol and served as a father figure to the other members, everyone else was like Ben Grimm. Size-expanding Rita Farr, who was unhappily married to a wealthy man with powers of his own, Larry Trainer who had to wear specially treated bandgaes so that he didn't irradiate everyone around him with the negative energy spirit that inhabited his translucent body,  Cliff Steel, a disembodied brain inhabiting a robot body, and even Gar Logan, a green skinned boy who could physically transform into any animal (which were all green too) all wanted normal lives for themselves rather than acting as misfit superheroes to a world that shunned them. This fit exactly into my affinity for the movie PINOCCHIO, and would be a running theme throughout almost all of my work. There was something about these characters that looked like superheros (offbeat superheroes) but didn't act like them, and rarely used their superhero names, which resonated with me. This was the sort of comic book I wanted to write. Especially when compared to much of the superhero comics being published just before the lightning struck in 1986 with THE WATCHMEN, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and MAUS.

When I was writing XOMBI back in the 90s, it was often compared with Grant Morrison's run on DOOM PATROL which finished shortly before. People often cite Morrison's work as an influence on me. This is not the case, or at least, not in the way anyone thinks. My first work in comics was in the late 1980s at Marvel, and much of the stuff I was pitching was very similar in tone and content to work I'd later be known for. Back then, it was rejected as being too strange. At Marvel, Chris Claremont and John Byrne still ruled the day, and my weird stuff never really got anywhere except for the occassional WHAT IF...? gag such as "What if Nick Fury was an Agent of Captain America's Shield." Then I saw Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL, which was very much like Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol, and I thought, "How come this guy is getting to write comics that I'm not allowed to?" Any similarity between Grant's work on my own was merely because we were reading the same books and watching the same movies and clearly had a similar mindset. The real influence he had on me was seeing that you COULD get the kind of stories I wanted to tell published, and after a hard fought, if unsuccessful attempt to take over the writing duties on DOOM PATROL after Grant departed, I finally found a home for this brand of storytelling with XOMBI.

Why do I love Arnold Drake? Let the following DOOM PATROL speak for me.

His impact on me didn't stop with the Doom Patrol (which was his favorite project). Not only did he create the Doom Patrol, but he also created STANLEY AND HIS MONSTER and DEADMAN for DC Comics. Deadman was a superhero who was once an aerialist who was murdered, and while he could not physically interact with our world, or communicate with anyone directly, and remained invisible to the living, isolating him from humanity (much like the members of the Doom Patrol) he could possess the living, and speak and act through them. Drake really wanted to use this character to cash in on the interest 1960s youth had in Eastern Spiritualism, and use the series as a means to illustrate the differences and similarities between our world and the afterlife, but DC didn't allow that.

STANLEY AND HIS MONSTER was a humorous boy and his dog story only with a monster instead of a dog. Drake wrote as many humorous comics including stories for DCs BOB HOPE and JERRY LEWIS comics as he did his science fiction and superheroic ones. Usually he combined the two, and quite successfully. Bob Hope, for example, was done as a comedy-adventure much like Bob Hope's early movies. With only a few exceptions, I typically graft humor onto whatever type of story I'm writing.

Drake also created THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY for Marvel. While I wouldn't encounter Drake's handling of these characters until I was an adult, these were favorite characters of mine from the time I laid eyes on them in 1974s MARVEL TWO IN ONE #5 and I became somewhat obsessed with them as a child.

Drake wrote many other comic book stories as varied as the X-MEN, LITTLE LULU, STAR TREK, DARK SHADOWS, and even WELCOME BACK KOTTER among many others. The remaining title that he wrote for that had an important impact on me, was for DC's HOUSE OF SECRETS where he wrote a number of stories starring Mark Merlin, Sleuth of the Supernatural. It was a character he didn't really care for, which is understandable. Mark Merlin was a rich, handsome, supernatural investigator, who accompanied by his fiance, Elsa and their cat would travel around investigating many strange phenomena. Some were hoaxes, but others were quite real and could only possibly be defeated by a particular magic amulet that Merlin happened to have on him. In 1990, I pitched a greatly revamped version of this to DCs Vertigo imprint. It was rejected. I realized that I had changed it radically enough that it wasn't really Mark Merlin, and then changed it a bit more. I pitched it as a television series in 1991 and was told more than once that no one was going to want to watch a tv series in which a man and a woman investigated the paranormal every week. In 1993 a TV series called THE X-FILES debuted.  I then brought it back to comics, this time at Milestone Media where it was originally going to be a spin-off series from XOMBI about a wealthy, glamourous married couple who investigated the paranormal named Adam and Julia Kadmon. XOMBI was cancelled and Milestone slowly wound to an end shortly afterwards. Finally, it found it's way back to Vertigo as MIDNIGHT, MASS..

So, I have nothing but praise and affection for Arnold Drake, a man I, regretfully, never met and never got to thank. He was an innovator. I can only imagine what coming across the  DOOM PATROL must have been like at a time when bombastic Jack Kirby-style comics ruled at Marvel, and stately, formal Wayne Boring artwork still commanded at DC. Drake's writing came across with a concise relaxed ease that contrasted with Stan Lee's narrative style that sometimes seemed desperate to grab you by the throat, yet was always exciting, especially when paired with Premiani's gorgeous art which was expressive and strange without being flashy, a combination that only served to make the odd odder. And how could you not have a crush on his Rita Farr?

Drake is also responsible for IT RHYMES WITH LUST.  His writing contribution to the first American graphic novel in 1950 generally takes a back seat to its groundbreaking status for being the first graphic novel, and to it having been illustrated by Matt Baker, the first African-American comic book artist to become prominent in mainstream comic books. Drake wrote the screenplay for WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? which starred Sal Mineo and Juliet Prowse, and wrote, produced, and directed THE FLESH EATERS that has the same strange quirky sensibilities found in much of his comic book work.

If I could, I'd have a bust of Arnold Drake perched on a shelf above my computer. Since I can't, I'll leave you with a quote from Arnold Drake taken from an interview by Katherine Keller for Sequential Tart:

I had always wanted to switch the "Oh, it was only a dream!" ending of a story. I wanted it to come out "Oh, it was only reality!" 

and this:

Just one of many, many more reasons I love Arnold Drake.


From the Archives 5

Like last week's "From the Archives" the above was done as a contest prize for HERO magazine. In this case the contest was meant to promote my other series at Milestone, XOMBI. The artwork was done by regular XOMBI artist J.J. Birch and depicts teh title character, David Kim fleeing from one of the kinderessen, a group of child eating monsters which debuted in XOMBI #13, then reappeared in issues #15 and #16 as part of a brief story arc connected to a company wide crossover event called "The Long Hot Summer."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Robert Greenberger Talks About Returning to Write Comic Books After a Twenty Year Absence

BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 hits comic book stores today. Featuring art from our pal, Robert Pope, this marks the first time Robert Greenberger has written a comic book in twenty years. He's done plenty in between comic book stories, including a stint at the helm of what has become the current incarnation of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS.

He talks about his return to comics and how he wrote BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 over at John for Kids! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A NEW Post Over at My Comic's Blog for Kids

There's a NEW post on how a comic book cover comes to be. That lovable rascal, Robert Pope provided the preliminary sketches, finished art and behind the scenes know-how that made this post possible. Check it out here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

Today prolific author and national treasure, Ray Bradbury turns 90 years old. His work had a tremendous impact on me in my childhood and helped steer me on my path towards being a writer, and certainly steered me towards the types of stories I wanted to tell. Prior to discovering the works of Ray Bradbury in my school library (beginning with S is For Space) while monsters and science fiction were a huge part of my life, my literary leanings were more along the lines of Jack London and Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, stories set in the late 1800s, mostly aboard ships at sea which meet with disaster. Bradbury's work pulled me in in a way no other author did, and I became an instant fan and continue to cherish his work to this day. Alternately earnest and chilling, his stories impacted me because while the situations were not those encountered in everyday life, the people in them were, and at some point I recognized that stories could be as strange as you wanted them to be as long as what was happening was happening to characters who seemed real and acted like real people might in those same circumstances.

I also admire Bradbury for being able to maintain his boyish enthusiasm throughout his entire life without ever having it suppressed, or feeling like he had to suppress it.  When I think of Ray Bradbury, I think of Halloween.

Stop by his website to check out both works old and new, and if you haven't seen it yet, take a look at Rachel Bloom's NSFW love letter to Ray Bradbury which he's seen twice and really liked. How could he not? What writer wouldn't want to inspire this sort of reaction from a fan? Bloom has some great insight of her own when she said in a recent interview on Booktryst:

Writers are thus the pinnacle of intelligence. While actors are great and awesome, writers literally create new worlds from scratch. What is sexier than that? Personally, I don't know why every person out there isn't dating a writer. 

You can also wish Ray Bradbury a happy birthday by going here.

The above image is by Lou Romano created for the cover of Written By, the magazine of the Writer's Guild of America. 


Friday, August 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft

Today, H.P. Lovecraft would be 120 years old and probably no happier than he was even 100 years ago. That's no excuse for us to not celebrate his singular literary stylings. Here's a link to a post I put up back in 2006 that in itself is full of links to various Lovecraft resources including the short stories themselves, should you dare to face them.


Happy Birthday, Frankensteinia!

Today two of my favorite blogs celebrate their birthdays. Both are the brainchildren of Pierre Fournier, and are regular, necessary, stops of mine. I can't recommend either of them enough.

Frankensteinia, which celebrates all things Frankenstein is a beautifully designed, informative and insightful resource with 500 posts covering every aspect of Mary Shelley's creation that you can think of, and many you can't, and the well of material still seems to be bottomless. It celebrates its third anniversary today.

Monster Crazy turns two today. Visit here for a daily dose of fantastic horror and monster imagery from around the internet including links to numerous blogs and websites that will expand your diet of the monstrous. As far as I'm concerned you can never have enough.

I toast you, Pierre for giving the world these two wonders. Thank you!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From the Archives 4


KOBALT was a superhero comic book series I created and wrote for Milestone Media back in the mid-90s. It lasted 16 issues and concerned a seemingly psychotic grim and gritty superhero who was forced to take on a bumbling doofus as a sidekick. Initially it was drawn by Arvell Jones who drew this great piece as a contest prize for, I believe, HERO magazine.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing About Mythical Creatures

Ken H. asks about what research materials I use to write about various monsters, ghosts, demons, etc. that are taken from myth, legend and folklore.

It's something I've been interested in since before I could read.  I was born in the late 60s and as someone who was hitting elementary school in the early 70s I couldn't escape the incredible public interest in cryptozoological creatures such as Bigfoot, the yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. There were books and tv shows about these creatures seemingly everywhere you looked, and I was just as fascinated as anyone else. I also benefitted from the final years of the monster boom, where classic monster movies dominated magazine covers, school supplies, toys and especially tv. I couldn't get enough of them either. All of this led me to comics where, Marvel in particular, was publishing comics using Dracula, werewolves, giant monsters and others. Simultaneously, I began to discover the monsters of myths and fairy tales. So, really all of this stuff is in my blood and has been so for a long, long time.

The benefit of this is that I have a really good mental catalogue of what's out there. To augment that though, I also have a pretty decent library of ghost stories, old horror novels, books on monster movies, strange artwork, both kinds of magic, and yes, lots of books about myths, legends, folk and fairy tales. When I moved a little over a year ago, my office went from one that was able to house five bookcases along one wall to one where I can only fit two. In my old office three of those bookcases were filled with  my books on mythology and fairy tales, now only one is, and the rest of those books are either scattered throughout the rest of the house or still boxed up.

There's nothing really outrageously rare, or unusual, in my collection. I think I have all of the Pantheon books of world mythology and folktales which I recommend. I also have all but a few of the Andrew Lang Fairy Books which are also a great start for anyone interested in this sort of thing. Whenever I'm traveling I tend to visit any used bookstores where I end up and will always check this section of their store. I'm finding less and less these days, but love when I come across something regional published by some small local press.

I have a number of encyclopedias of mythological characters and monsters. A lot of the more obscure monsters I've used in stories have come from these, but these books do have their faults. Definitions of the more obscure monsters are pretty brief, such as "Hungarian creature of legend said to ambush lone travellers on country roads." There's not a lot you can do with that, but if there's a germ in there that ties into something I'm working on I may use it anyway, and do what I always do, which is to make up the rest. When I'm doing this, I do try and make whatever I add true to the spirit of the region the creature comes from. I'll sometimes embellish it with details from similar creatures from other places, and will build upon it using the language and cadences of folk tales from the region. A good example is this is the story "The Serpent's Tale" which appeared in XOMBI #18. The entire African folktale that's related here is entirely made up, but feels genuine because I used storytelling techniques from other folk tales from the region from which it supposedly came.

One of the highest compliments I receive is when someone asks me where I found a particular folktale that I used in one of my stories and the truth is that I just made it up.

Some books that have either really shaped my interest, or I find useful in a broader sense are Passport to the Supernatural: An Occult Compendium from All Ages and Many Lands by Burnhardt Hurwood, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers and No Go, the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling, and Making Mock by Marina Warner, Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth and Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia by Carol Page, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Vintage) by Bruno Bettelheim. Clicking on the links above or at the end of this post will take you directly to them. Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beyond Belief: The Curious Collection of Rufus Excalibur Bell

Yesterday I visited The Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA, which not only features an outstanding collection of arms and armor and featured a demonstration on Viking combat techniques, but now through June 2011 is exhibiting Beyond Belief: The Curious Collection of Professor Rufus Excalibur Bell.

Bell is/was the Higgins Armory Museum's Curator of Curiosities, a position created for him in perpetuity when the museum was established in 1929. Bell has rarely been seen since, but crates and packages of his astonishing findings keep showing up at the museum, and for the first time the public gets to see some of this strange collection.

Here you will find the wings worn by Daedelus, the mounted heads of the jabberwock and many other dragons, a minotaur hoof, a frozen yeti, the contract between Faust and Mephistopheles, a gargoyle skeleton, and a centaur's.

There is the huge scorpion tail of Pazuza, a bird child's hand and items once belonging to Dr. Moreau. You can view the head of Medusa, but only by looking at it through a mirror. There's a fresh water mermaid, strange masks and mummies. A armored deep sea diving suit used by bell as well as some crab-lek machines, and a squid-shaped deep sea probe.

You can also see the sandals worn by Sisyphus as he pushed that rock up hill over and over again. It's right next to Loki's mistletoe spear. The collection even boasts the golden fleece, the left eye of Horus, and the beak of a kraken.

It's a truly stunning collection with Atlantean artifacts, the Mayan Doomsday Clock, a preserved Windigo head, and dozens of unopened wooden crates and brown paper wrapped packages. There was even one belonging to Pandora, that someone tore open, featuring a post-it note from Bell instructing whoever opened it to see him in his office. His office is full of bookshelves containing volumes both common and some very much one of a kind.

The exhibit really tickled my fancy, bringing to life such collections of strange artifacts that I've written about in Midnight, Mass. and other works. It was a treat to see so many items well displayed in one location.

The only drawback was that the exhibit prohibited photography and an attendant made sure this policy remained in effect. Most of the photos here came from Tufts Magazine which has a nice article on the exhibit and Professor Bell,  as well as details about particular items in the collection.

The entire exhibit was the creation of Hilary Scott who conceived of, and constructed everything. There's a touch of whimsy to many of the items, and I think the real goal was to excite  the imaginations of children visiting the exhibit. There really should be a companion book to this exhibit, actually two--one for adults and one for kids.

There's a Youtube video of Scott building these deep sea specimen containers here.

You can also watch an interview with Hilary Scott discussing the exhibit and one of  Scott showing more of the items on display.

The arms and armor that make up the rest of the museum are also a great treat to look at.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Favorite

Martin Arlt, the man behind the excellent magazine, Mad Scientist (for which I am a contributor) asks what my favorite kaiju movie is and why. For those who don't know what a kaiju movie is, these would be your giant monster movies produced in Japan.

I love this subgenre of movies, but while I can sit through almost any of them and enjoy a vast number, there are only a handful that I truly love. My favorite of the bunch barely qualifies as a kaiju movie since the "monster" is really a warrior god imprisoned in a forty-foot, or thereabouts, tall statue who comes to life at the pleading prayers of the desperate in order to punish the wicked.

The movie is Daimajin, or simply Majin, or Majin, the Monster of Terror as I knew it as a kid when it would seemingly appear on television every month along with at least one of its two sequels. Majin was more familiar to me then than almost any other monster, and I devoutly watched this movie every chance I could. It took a long time as an adult to find anyone else who remembered this movie, or to finally find a copy to watch again. When I did, it immediately reawakened all my memories of watching it as a kid.

As a child I think I liked this movie for two reasons. Like the Gamera movies (also produced by Daiei Studios) a child always seemed to be at the center of the story. Also, there seemed to be some real weight to the storyline beyond the usual battles and destruction of other giant monster movies I was seeing --both Japanese and American. I liked a wide range of movies as a kid, and this felt more on par with something like "The Bridge of the River Kwai" than "Reptilicus."

In a lot of ways Daimajin is a lot like the story of Moses grafted onto a samurai melodrama. Set in 18th Century Japan, a fair ruler is overthrown by a cruel one. The children of the good ruler are whisked off to exile, where hopefully ten years later as adults they will be able to set things right. As it turns out, everything goes wrong and gets worse. The son and the guardian who protected the children are captured and sentenced to death. The daughter, and an orphaned boy pray to the statue of the imprisoned god begging for his help. The daughter offers her life to the god. The statue comes to life, revealing a cruel face and strides off to smite the bad guys before reverting back into statue form and crumbling away into dust.

The two sequels (all three movies were made in 1966) follow a very similar plot of the conquest of good people by cruel warlords, the enslavement of the good people, the attempts and failures of the heroes to overthrow the badguys and set the slaves free, and then the capture of the heroes with their imminent execution disrupted by the timely arrival of the deus ex machina of Majin, who disintegrates after saving the day. I advise against watching these as a triple feature.

Daimajin has really high production values for this type of movie for the time it was made, and in comparison to Daiei's major kaiju films starring Gamera. It is beautifully shot, has nice sets, often gorgeous scenery, large casts, several battle scenes, capable actors, and mostly really good special effects. The character of Majin doesn't actually come to life until well after an hour of the movie has gone by. Unlike the sequels though,
he seems omnipresent from the very first frames of the movie featuring a giant eye superimposed over the mountain which contains the statue of Majin. The people fear him and living in the shadow of his domain certainly shades everything that happens. By the time he is finally revealed, it feels like a big moment. Of course, the ominous three-note motif present in Godzilla composer, Akira Ifukube's score only helps.

Once released, Majin lumbers forward at a ponderous rate. This doesn't seem lame though, like the shuffling of Universal's mummies. His footsteps reverberate with the inevitable. His pace, like his expression never changes, and he merely walks through his obstacles, occasionally pausing to strike down a building, or to grab a samurai. Majin comes on as an unstoppable force, and you, and the bad guys, know there's no escaping him. I also really like the design of the character and pretend I don't notice how the wind is able to make his shoulder guards and the sides of his helmet occasionally flap as if they are made of rubber and not stone.

Unlike many other kaiju movies where the human element seems like tedious padding between the monster parts, the human story here, IS the story, and as cliched as it may be, was very involving. How else could I have been so enthusiastic about this movie at age 8, when the giant monster doesn't appear until so late in the movie. The entire story really unrolls nicely, building up to its climax with a nice bit of suspense. It's also nice to see a giant monster movie from that period where the monster wasn't engaging in clowinsh wrestling moves and other hokum like what was the norm in Gamera and beginning to become the norm for Godzilla. Majin is a serious, and scary looking giant.

Beyond Daimajin (and I'll include the sequels which are all of about equal quality) my other favorite kaiju movies really don't hold any surprises.

Godzilla (1954)
Mothra (1961)
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack! (2001)
War of the Gargantuas (1966)
and the Gamera trilogy made in the 1990s.


Monday, August 09, 2010

My Favorite Movies of All Time

I'm not a person with a lot of favorites. I don't have a favorite color. I don't have a favorite food. I don't have a favorite in a lot of categories. There are a lot of things that I'm enthusiastic about but they all come with different qualifiers for why I like them. For me almost every high ranking choice in any category ends up being like comparing apples and oranges. There are just too many factors to why I like something, or don't like something that it's really hard for me to elevate one thing above another. So, one of the most dreaded questions I am ever asked is what is your favorite (fill in the blank). I was asked a few of these this month, and though I dread these questions, I'll do my best to answer them.

Sean Cloran asked me to distill my list of favorite movies down to ten or less. That one I can actually do. My top ten list of movies has been pretty consistent for a number of years and only contains six movies. there are a bunch of other movies that hover around those four remaining spots, yet none has taken permanent purchase yet. My top six will almost certainly surprise anyone who follows this blog or my work.


PINOCCHIO (1940). This has been my favorite movie for at least my entire adulthood. There is not a single thing I don't like about this movie. It took me a long time to realize that almost every single thing I write (barring licensed projects) is the Pinocchio story involving extraordinary characters who just want to be like regular people. I don't have the impulse to like everyone else, and don't think I ever have, so I'm not sure why I'm drawn to that aspect of the tale. My enjoyment of the movie is not solely tied into Pinocchio's desire to be a real boy, and usually I pay no attention to this driving plot point.

As a side note, I don't like the book that this movie was based on.



When this movie first came out I was living in New York City and I think I went to see it every day for two weeks taking different people, or repeat viewers with me each time. Much of the movie is otherworldly, poetic, dreamlike, haunting, in its deliberate meandering pace and gorgeous black and white photography and accompanying musical score. The plot here is basic, yet keeps you on the edge of your seat for all of its small key moments which are in fact momentous. I also, as I write this, realize that Wings of Desire with its story of an angel who wants to be a man is also the Pinocchio story. It's a truly beautiful movie with a really disappointing sequel.



I'm not sure why this movie has resonated with me so much. Based on Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" George Stevens' adaptation is beautifully filmed and full of excellent performances. I often wonder why Elizabeth Taylor is still a celebrity and not a former actress who has fallen into obscurity over time having not made a movie in decades. Watching this, however, there is no doubt how she became a star. I often have a hard time reading novels, or watching movies in which the protagonist makes bad, self destructive decisions, but this movie is just a winner all the way through.



This is one of a handful of movies that after I first saw it felt compelled to watch it again immediately. This movie is gorgeous in every way imaginable and features amazing performances by my two favorite actors on the planet, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk and Tony Leung Chiu Wai as neighbors who discover that their spouses are having an affair. This movie which was apparently improvised over several months could not possibly have been made simply from following a script. So much of the movie is told through the character's body language and expressions and not through dialogue, yet with no doubt as to what was taking place within them. Deliberately paced with gorgeous cinematography, costumes, and a perfect soundtrack, this is simply a gorgeous movie. Wong Kar-wai is one of my two favorite directors of all time.



I think I was one of about 6 people total (I kid you not)who saw this movie during it's American theatrical release. This may be the bleakest movie I have ever seen and it's absolutely brilliant. It stars John Hurt as the voice of one of two dogs who escape from a research lab. While the horrible things done to these dogs have nothing to do with it, the same lab was also doing research with the plague. Fearing the dogs may have contracted it and brought it out into the world, they are hunted down. I wore out my VHS copy of this making people watch it. One the dogs hit the beach I always feel compelled to make an excuse to leave the room because it's an incredibly hard ending to sit through. Like my other picks I can't recommend this movie highly enough.



I like other Wes Anderson movies better, but when I first saw this I left the theater thinking that I wished I had made this movie.

I'm sure I provided a lot less analysis than people may have wanted, but I think really examining the stuff that resonates with us too closely is a dangerous act. I don't want to know why something has such a strong impact on me, I'm just happy that such a thing exists.