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THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964)

28/11/2016

the-americanization-of-emily-1964One film that everyone should see — especially Americans — and especially Americans in positions of life and death authority such as peace officers and service personnel — is The Americanization Of Emily (1964), directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Paddy Chayefsky (going very far afield from William Bradford Huie’s novel). Set in England before and during the invasion of Normandy, this dark comedy stars James Garner in one of his patented cynical-roué-with-a-heart-of-gold roles and Julie Andrews as a military driver about as far as imaginable from her wholesome turns as Mary Poppins and in The Sound Of Music (respectively released before and after this film).

taoe-6e8Emily also features James Coburn as Garner’s somewhat treacherous pal, Melvyn Douglas as the admiral they work for, and Keenan Wynn as a drunken sailor with the best line in the picture (“We ain’t that stoned!”).

taoe-coburn-and-garnerIt’s a very literate and philosophical film (as was everything Chayefsky wrote) with a lot to think about in it, but there’s one crucial sub-plot that we all need to focus on.

Douglas’ admiral is responsible for the naval logistics behind the invasion of Normandy, and the mental strain weighs heavily on the man. As he starts to lose his grasp on reality, he develops an obsession that “the first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor”.

taoe-admiralThis sends Garner and Coburn off on a fool’s errand to film a documentary of the Navy’s combat engineers blowing up mines and other obstacles in advance of the actual invasion force. Garner drags his feet for obvious common sense reasons of not wanting to get killed, but Coburn becomes gung-ho about the project.

Douglas then suffers a full a full blown nervous breakdown, a psychotic fugue that temporarily incapacitates him but his orders, once put in motion, can now no longer be amended, changed, rescinded, or sidetracked. Suffice it to say Garner finds himself in the unenviable position of being “the first dead man on Omaha Beach”.

taoe-emily-stillAs soon as the admiral’s mind clears, he is horrified to find his underlings acted on what should have been obviously ignored as the product of a stressed mind reaching its breaking point. Garner’s documentary served no real purpose, dozens of lives were needlessly risked, and in the end Douglas is wracked with guilt that his psychotic obsession sent a valued and trusted aide to his meaningless death. (There is, of course, a nice double-twist reverse to end the movie on a high note, so don’t worry about this one being a downer; it’s tons o’fun.)

I want to focus on Coburn’s insistence of following through with Douglas’ orders despite the fact he acknowledges such orders are nonsensical! He tells Garner:   “You…nearly got yourself court-martialed, stripped of your commission, sent to the Arctic Circle to do polar research. Man, you don’t tell two-star admirals you don’t approve of their orders. Now you’re on the Admiral’s brig list.”

Coburn’s method of handling things is to cut orders that let Garner delay the inevitable by a few days instead of bringing the real problem — “The service takes a dim view of lieutenant commanders who call the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy a nut” — to anyone’s attention.

Sometimes, dammit, ya just gotta run that risk.

Though Emily doesn’t hang a lantern on this point, the facts are after WWII we executed Germans and Japanese who did exactly what Coburn’s character did: Just followed orders.

They surrendered their integrity and their humanity by never questioning or challenging the orders handed down from above. They followed through on them, even when they thought they were stupid and evil and self-destructive, because they thought they could escape moral and ethical responsibility by handing such decisions over to others.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

The person on the other end of your club or your pepper spray or your gun or your drone targeting system will be hurt by your actions.

There is no escaping that.

It may well be that your actions can be justified — you stop a deranged spouse from killing their family by shooting the attacker — but it will nonetheless be your responsibility.

And you may find yourself in situations where you will agree wholeheartedly with those above you that a specific group needs to be attacked, and if so then you must own your moral and ethical choice: You share credit or blame, honor or guilt for something you did willfully.

There will come other times, however, when you will have your doubts, and perhaps even times beyond that when you will know what is being asked of you is wrong.

You must resist at those times.

You will not be held blameless for any harm that befalls someone unjustly on your watch.

You may escape legal responsibility for a time, but your actions will follow you, and whether the debt is paid directly or indirectly, it will be paid.

The Americanization Of Emily is a funny comedy, using dark humor to get its points across.

It can afford its cynicism:
At the end of the day its actors removed their make-up, returned their costumes to wardrobe, and went home.

People in the real world aren’t
afforded such luxuries.

 

 

 

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THUNDARR THE MOVIE or How I Almost Created Kickstarter

27/11/2016

Well, this is a blast from the past!

thundarr-the-movie-presentation

Patrick Sullivan, over on Facebook’s Charlton Arrow page, found in the archives of Charlton Comics a copy of the old and long since forgotten Thundarr The Barbarian movie treatment I wrote for Ruby-Spears, one of the last things I did for them as a salaried employee (though I came back for a couple of freelance gigs).

How it wound up at Charlton I have no clue, but I suspect somebody was trying to make a comic book deal as Charlton was well known at the time for publishing TV tie-ins.

Thundarr The Movie is an interesting bracket to the Thundarr TV series because it was intended to be a prequel, telling the origin of the Sunsword, how Thundarr came to possess it, and how he teamed up with Ookla and Arial to fight wizardry and super science and evil mutants on the ruined Earth of the far, far future (i.e., post 1990).

On the other side of the actual Thundarr TV series, a proposed follow-up series.

Let me back up a bit and set the stage and context…

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears are the guys who created Scooby-doo. This set a lot of dominos in motion until they ended up in charge of their own animation studio.[1]

They had some success with weekend and afternoon specials, but their first — and arguably biggest — post-Scooby hit was Thundarr The Barbarian.

I’ve posted elsewhere on my involvement with Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier and Marty Pasko and a host of other well known and not so well known creative geniuses[2] who shaped Thundarr.

Thundarr lasted a paltry two seasons, and when the series was taken out behind the barn and shot put to pasture, Joe Ruby had us explore options to keep the basic idea going.

IIRC John Dorman created a canine version called Thundogg The Barkbarian while Jack Kirby conjured up Eric The Rude, an intelligent barbarian kangaroo in Thundarr’s world.

None of these saw light of day beyond some preliminary art.

One possibility Joe wanted to explore was turning Thundarr into a feature film.

If memory serves correctly, Steve Gerber was already strapping on his parachute to bail on Ruby-Spears so Joe handed the development task over to me.

Let be back up a bit further and talk about Ruby-Spears’ feature film ambitions:  They always had a desire to do an animated feature but could never get any traction. Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby (along with numerous other R-S staff artists) developed an idea called Ripoff which was to have been the ultimate mash-up funny animal parody of all 1980s movie genres featuring a Burt Reynolds-like dog and a Sally Field and / or Dolly Parton-esque canine counterpart (another idea called Animal Hospital, art by Jack, started as a TV series pitch but ended up being incorporated into the Ripoff presentation).

Joe asked me to develop a sci-fi detective series derived from inspired by Blade Runner and I came up with an idea called Numan, the last private eye in the world of the future (2020, IIRC). The idea quickly proved itself too edgy for TV at the time and so it was ported over as a feature development.[3]

Another couple of stray ideas may have been briefly considered for theatrical film development but for the most part that was it before Thundarr The Movie.

Thundarr was a frustrating situation for us. It was by all rights a popular show and character and we should have secured any number of marketing deals, but nobody could ever make a go of it.

This was before the big syndication boom of the mid-1980s[4] and so the last chance for Thundarr before disappearing into the mists of TV history was to get a feature film off the ground.

I suggested a prequel to the series, one that would be grittier and grimmer[5] than the TV version, with a little more oomf! to the violence and a whole lot more boomba-boomba-boomba if you know what I mean and I think you do.

The problem was finding financing and distribution for a film.

You’d think that in Hollywood that would be easy:
Somebody would cough up a few million bucks to make the movie and others the millions needed to distribute it.

Well…no.

Numer-o uno:
Nobody was making independent animated features at the time — especially straight forward action-adventure science-fantasy — so there was no marketing model any distributor could follow to success.

Numer-o two-o:
The rights situation at Ruby-Spears was already starting to grow messy. One reason there has been virtually no authorized merchandising off the show is that Ruby-Spears eventually was subsumed by Hanna-Barbera, their chief rival, and H-B in turn was absorbed into Turner Broadcasting (or Media or Pictures or Studios or whatever the hell they were calling themselves that minute) and soon after that Turner hizzownsef was bought out by the Brothers Warner and today there’s virtually no one at Warner Bros animation who knows about, much less gives a rip, for Thundarr The Barbarian. The feature film threatened to become even messier rights-wise.

Still, we were determined to give it the old college try.

My premise altered the backstory a bit:
Instead of a comet nearly destroying the Earth, it would be the Sunsword itself that wreaked the havoc.

An indestructible alien weapon of immense power, it was lost millennia ago in an epic space battle between two alien species. The inert hilt fell towards Earth, shattering our moon when it hit but slowing down enough as it passed through so as not to utterly destroy the Earth when it landed here.

As best I recall (we went through several drafts and kicked a lot of ideas around) the story proper would pick up with Thundarr and Ookla enslaved by Arial’s wizard father. Arial is not a wholly virtuous character though she is demonstrably better than her father. When they learn of the existence of the Sunsword from advanced alien scouts, she sets off to find it first. Thundarr and Ookla either escape and kidnap her in order to find the Sunsword first so as to keep it from falling into evil hands, or (depending on which draft it was) she drags them along to do the grunt work.

In any case, the story reaches a climax in which our three protagonists plus her evil father plus both still-warring alien species plus the local mutants actually in possession of the Sunsword all go for the weapon at the same time.

All hell breaks loose but Thundarr eventually prevails and Arial comes to realize there may be something to this goodness thing after all, and we end at a point sometime before the very first regular episode.

As hard as it may be for some of you die hard Thundarr fans to fathom, nobody wanted to give us a few tens of millions of dollars to do this.

Two things I do recall vividly:
First, Joe was really opposed to my idea about the mutants who possessed the Sunsword until our protagonists show up. My idea was that the hilt would have crashed into the middle of a championship football game so that thousands of years later a religious cult was grown up around the Sunsword, one in which the priests wear religious garments patterned after football uniforms, the high priests would be dressed as referees, the temple choir would sing football cheers in the manner of Gregorian chants (“Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah…”), etc., etc., and of course, etc.

‘Cuz my approach to the material has always been “embrace the absurdity”.

There are plot holes and logic gaps in Thundarr big enough to fly a fleet of Airbuses through wingtip-to-wingtip so if you’re going to have a future where indestructible handheld weapons shatter moons and wipe out civilizations as the result of an unintended impact, you might as well go all the way and pile the wild ideas on top of each other.

I seem to recall Joe allowed me to keep the basic idea but insisted we water it down considerably.

The second thing I recall was that I came up with the idea of funding the film by pre-selling tickets.

Now, that’s not a big thing in these Kickstarter / Patreon days, but at the time it was a pretty radical idea.

I know Ken Spears chuckled at the idea when I suggested it, asking how we were going to sell tickets before the movie had even been filmed.

I had an answer for him, an idea stolen from Kenner’s Star Wars Christmas gift coupons:  We’d sell certificates that could be redeemed at theaters for admission when the film was released; theaters would be encouraged to participate because since those members of the audience had already long paid for their ticket, they’d have money to buy popcorn and candy and soft drinks[6].

Ken eventually came around to my way of thinking insofar as he agreed it was possible, but wasn’t convinced enough to want to make the effort to find out if we could actually pull it off.

So that idea — and Thundarr The Movie — died aborning.

It’s a pity, since if we had done the movie and the follow up TV series we proposed — Thundarr The King — then we could have had a really nice animated epic that would have spanned our hero’s life from young adulthood to a (physically) mature man and father of twins.

What? You never heard of Thundarr The King before?

Well, let me tell you that story…

…some other time.

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.

.

[1] How they met, teamed up, came to create Scooby-doo, and the aftermath leading up to the creation of Ruby-Spears Productions is a fascinating story in and unto itself but one for another time.

[2] Plus some insane maniacs; R.I.P. John Dorman.

[3] Joe disliked the name (a nod to New Wave musician Gary Numan) so we changed it to Skanner (a nod to David Cronenberg’s Scanners). I know I spent a lot of time world building for the show, but aside from a few stray details I have nothing substantial to share. I did create a futuristic patois and cadence for the characters to speak, but can’t recall much more of it than his introductory tagline: “Dub me Numan; I peep.”

[4] Not that the syndication boom would have done us much good as it was almost entirely focused on other people’s toys and almost never on new and / or original characters.

[5] Hey, those words weren’t hackneyed back then!

[6] And theaters don’t have to share any concession sales with the distributors or producers.

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Wot Hoppen?

10/11/2016

There is no simple thread, no single cause to explain Trump’s victory. There are many, many factors, some operating alone, some overlapping with others like a Venn diagram.

There’s a great temptation to view all this as one vast interlocking conspiracy but it’s not. It’s more like a core illness that allows other opportunistic infections to settle in. Treat the main illness and the smaller ones will fade away on their own; deny the reality of the main illness and the problems will never go away. Read the rest of this article »

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Coming Soon!

27/10/2016

animated dismalland logo

animated title be prepared to be scared BW

animated title here is terror

animated eyes of a man possessed

animated soupy sales goez nutz

animated girl gang title BW

animated thrill girls of the hiway

animate title brutal and bloodthirsty BW

anaimated title slimey hand BW

animated HoHH bad touch

animated shocking diabolical BW

animated Bad Girls Go To Hell title

animated crazy clown cmon

animated 1920s gal shrinks back in fear

anaimated title human sacrifices BW

animated giant gila monster titles

animated horror of spider island

animated CWotM spide attack

animated 3 stooges curly heebie-jeebies

animated night tide trailer

animated FvwaF title 1

animated fasked figures approach BW

animated anonymous citizens

animated metropolis death descends on the city

animated stan n ollie skeletons

animated Vela shock star title

animated panther woman BW

animated weird

animated title nasty BW

animated to avoid fainting BW

animated title you will have nightmares BW

animated mudhoney madame

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On The Convention Trail: Alpha-Omega Con III Sept. 24

23/09/2016

on-conv-trail-1950_04-ed_cartier_gnomepresscalendar

I’ll be at Alpha-Omega Con, the Third Annual Christian Comic & Pop Culture Convention to be held from 10AM to 6PM this Saturday (September 24th) at the Well Church in Artesia, CA. (New location!  NOT the previous venue!)

We have a full schedule planed with numerous activities and guests on tap, including:

Mike Shields IITownsend ColemanWill MortonKatie LeighStephen WeeseBrett BurnerMike S. MillerMike KunkelEric JansenPastor Fred PriceDr. Thomas ParhamClint JohnsonKevin YongScott A. ShufordCarmi FellwockBuzz Dixon (Wot da — ? Sheesh, they’ll let anybody in!)

There will be three tracks of programming, and I’ll be on two panels:

Creating 3D Characters in a 2D World (moderated by Dr. Thomas Parham)

=and=

Gender Roles in Comics and related Media: Bias vs. Biblical (moderated by yrs trly)

See ya there!

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On The Convention Trail: Granite State Comic Con Sep. 17-18

15/09/2016

on-conv-trail-1950_04-ed_cartier_gnomepresscalendar

Having worn out my welcome on the West Coast, I’m now invading the Far East (well, U.S. East Coast) for Granite State Comic Con to be held Sept. 17 – 18 in Manchester, N.H. at the Radisson Center of New Hampshire.  Lotsa GI Joe and / or Sunbow related topics & guests, including Larry Hama, Tom Feister, and Samantha Newark among many, many more.  See ya there!

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On The Convention Trail (Nerd Con Aug. 26-28, 2016)

4/08/2016

on conv trail 1950_04 ed_cartier_gnomepresscalendar

I’ll be at Nerd Con in Escondido August 26 to 28, participating in panels devoted to classic 1980s animated shows and featuring such illuminaries (hey, did I work on that show?) as Flint Dille, voice actors Michael Bell (Duke, Firefly, Swoop, Sideswipe, Plastic Man, and Grouchy, Handy, and Lazy Smurf among others) and Gregg Berger (Grimlock, Skyfire, Long Haul, Outback, Spirit, plus tons more).

SEE YOU THERE!

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Greg, Nerd Con organizer Joe Troutman, Michael, & yrs trly

 

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I Blather On (Yet Again)

20/07/2016

Josh Hadley invited me to talk about adapting the classic pulps into modern media over at Radiodrome.  My part kicks in at the 25 minute mark.

Norman Saunders - Reprint-of-August-1936

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I Luvz Me Some GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

16/07/2016

This is how you do a remake![1]  Keep the core idea and story, keep the elements and tone people like, but feel free to go afield from that so long as you stay in the same ballpark.

Ghostbusters (2016; directed by Paul Feig, written by Katie Dippold & Feig, based on the 1984 film directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) does that perfectly, adapting and expanding upon the original by reinterpreting it for the 21st century and reflecting a female cast.[2]

The new all-female Ghostbusters are not simply the original characters in drag: 
They are unique and interesting on their own account, their relationship is not that of three college chums + an employee but rather a series of overlapping relationships and histories that finally jells into a single compact team.  Kristin Wilg as Erin Gilbert is former BFF with Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates; the friendship broke up over Gilbert’s desire to pursue “serious” science instead of paranormal investigations.  Yates is now friends / co-researcher with Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann, a hyperkinetic engineer whom my younger granddaughter describes as “the best because she’s funny, she builds things, and she’s flexible.”  And to this mix Leslie Jones as MTA employee Patty Tolan who first comes to the Ghostbusters as a client and pretty much invites herself into the club; her encyclopedic and photographic memory of New York history and geography make her a vital addition to the team and while her character may lack to formal education the others possess she is certainly their equal in the brains department.

Oh, yeah, these ladies are all smart.  Very smart.  That’s what makes this film so delightful:  The female characters are characters who are female, not stereotypes being forced into an old story.  They come across as fresh and original while still maintaining the flavor of the 1984 film.

In fact, the only real dummy in the film is their beefcake receptionist, Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth) who is one of the stupidest yet most endearing characters ever in movies.   He, too, plays a vital part in the construction of the film, albeit not the one you might expect.

The basic plot is still the same: 
Ghostbusters, after being drummed out of academia, start a business that nobody takes seriously until they finally catch a ghost; then as business booms the government tries to regulate them out of existence only to find itself hopeless outgunned by a massive supernatural invasions and forced to rely on the team to save the day.

The script construction is great, you get everything you want in a Ghostbusters movie only not in the way you expect it, including cameos galore featuring the original cast.

Highly recommended.

ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-images

[1]  Not a reboot, a remake.  A reboot drastically alters something about the theme / tone/ intent of the original  Reboots done well are good, but too often they are just a new creative team pissing on material to mark it as their.

[2]  There’s been a lot of hate directed at this film by MRAs suffering terminal butthurt from the fact the four main characters are female as opposed to the four male protagonists of the first film.  Congratulations, guys; now you know how women feel when they see men starring in 88%.  Ghostbusters ’16 is aware of that animosity and comments on it directly more than once in the course of the film, and almost always to dismiss it as unimportant to Just Doing Their Jobs.  Brava, Ghostbusters ’16!

 

 

 

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Compare And Contrast: New VOLTRON vs RWBY

23/06/2016

This is gonna be a short one because despite many people lauding the new Voltron series on Netflix, I just couldn’t get into it.

Five minutes in and my interest failed to engage. Technically proficient, good character and mecha design, but man, the dialog and plotting were just gears slipping. Not a fresh idea in the bunch and all hammered home with sledgehammer intensity.

CnC VvR voltron3

I watched the first two scenes, skipped ahead about 20 minutes, watched some more, tried the opening of the next episode, said fuggedaboutit.

Not saying it’s bad, not saying you can’t enjoy it.
Just saying for me it failed to grab my attention.

Conversely, RWBY sparked my interest immediately despite a lengthy deadly dull narrated opening and clearly derivative anime tropes.

Perhaps that’s why it attracted my attention:
When you start a faux-anime story with rip-offs homages of Alex and his droogs raiding what looks like a candy or bubble bath shop, well, you’ve got my attention enough to want to see what happens next.

And when one of the pseudo-droogs points his sword a young female customer in a red riding hood and she looks at him innocently and asks, “Are you threatening me?” we all know what’s going to happen next, the question is how well and with how much panache?

And sunnuvagun, they pull it off. Frankly the video-game quality animation is far from perfect, but the character designs are fun and the character interactions and dialog keep the more familiar parts of the show from working against it.

CnC VvR 4 RWBY

RWBY is available online but Netflix has edited all of the first season into a single feature length story. It’s episodic but fast moving.

Comparing the two shows — even as briefly as I did with Voltron — sparked some critical thinking regarding media for kids then and now, and what quality of writing is to be found among them.

And to do that I’m going to need to invoke Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and John Wayne…but that will require another post.

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