The Tweeks love anything British, they love comics, and they love groups of kids solving mysteries so of course they were freaking out over John Allison’s Bad Machinery series where a group of 6 preteens in Tackleford, England not only solve cases, but spazz out over unicorns in video games. Watch our review of Volumes 1 and 2 and see why this is kind of like a younger Buffy without the vampires or British cartoon-y Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys only better.
Raymond “Ray” Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) died today at age 92, leaving behind a legacy of pioneering special effects work and a filmography that has deeply influenced writers, artists, and filmmakers for generations.
Dubbed by Starlog as “The Man Who Work Miracles”, he was one of the most influential movie makers who was himself inspired by Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion animation in King Kong. He took O’Brien’s efforts and improved upon them, branding it as Dynamation.
Although he resided in England for the majority of his adult life, Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles. King Kong was the spark that set him on a course towards a career in film, meticulously creating miniatures that could be photographed a few frames at a time followed by the tiniest of movements, followed by more frames, until the model appeared to move across the screen. This was done with artistry and engineering know-how long before Industrial Light and Magic brought computer-aided technology to the process.
When the legend met the student, they bonded quickly and Harryhausen was given pointers to improve his work through trial, error and art classes. Along the way, he befriended fellow Angelino Ray Bradbury, just at the beginning of his fantastic career. Little wonder they both belonged to Forrest J. Ackerman’s Science Fiction League, linking the trio until their deaths.
Like O’Brien, Harryhausen strove for realistic creatures to confront the live-action performers, drawing inspiration from the myths and legends familiar to people the world over. He began his professional career with George Pal, contributing to his series of Puppetoon shorts. World War II intervened and Harryhausen was assigned to the Special Services Division, continuing to make movies. This proved an invaluable tutorial and lab for experimenting with his animation techniques.
Soon after leaving the service, he embarked on the first of several dream projects that would dot his career. He did some demo footage based on H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds but the project never materialized. Instead, he was hired to work on Mighty Joe Young, letting the master and student work together and earning them earning them the Academy Award in 1949 for best Special Effects. Harryhausen was hired solo to provide the effects to The Monster from Beneath the Sea. When a connection was made to Bradbury’s story “The Fog Horn”, the film was renamed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the story’s original title and was released to acclaim and box office success in 1953.
By this point, Harryhausen had developed the technique that saw him shoot the actors then animate the creatures, splitting the image between foreground and background, the latter becoming a rear projection with the models before it. With mattes, the images were combined and Dynamation was born, although it was named later.
Harryhausen continued to evolve his work and then made the leap to color with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958. By now, he was partnered with producer Charles H. Schneer – beginning with It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) — who helped him perfect the shift to color, experimenting with different stocks until the look was right. Given the requirements of the models, Harryhausen became far more intimately involved in the story than most effects men ever did, ultimately co-directing many features although Director’s Guild rules denied him his proper credits.
The Sinbad series of films found an eager audience in the later 1950s and early 1960s as all things fantastic played well on screen. It offered adults, and their children, a wholesome escape from the Cold War tensions. It wasn’t all fantasy and monsters as Harryhausen and Schneer also produced several science fiction tales, such as 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).
They continued to produce works that stretched the imagination until 1963 and what is considered by many his finest outing, Jason and the Argonauts. Here, there was the amazing complex battle with the skeletons and the multi-armed gorgon. Little wonder that Tom Hanks, who first saw it as a kid, proclaimed years later, “Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane…I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made!”
Despite this pinnacle of technological achievement, tastes were changing and he endured a series of box office failures. After losing his contract with Columbia Pictures, he wound up in England working for Hammer Films’ One Million Years B.C. (1967). That film’s success allowed him to on to make The Valley of Gwangi (1969), a labor of love considering it was O’Brien’s unrealized dream project.
Harryhausen endured a lean 1970s, kept in the minds of readers thanks to Ackerman’s devoted retrospectives in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Finally, thanks to Star Wars, inspired in part by Harryhausen’s work, the appetite for fantasy was back and he revived Sinbad beginning with The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. This and its sequel Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger were suddenly feeling dated and jokey, not at all what modern day audiences found palatable.
He put everything he had into his Greek myth opus Clash of the Titans (1981), working with protégés Steve Archer Jim Danforth, much as O’Brien mentored him. With a star-studded cast and the addition of the impressive Kraken, the film was a last hurrah but for audiences now used to computer-generated effects, it looked and felt dated. Harryhausen was effectively retired, like it or not.
Thankfully, his work was rediscovered with h advent of magazines like Starlog, the rise of cable television, and a new generation of fans enchanted by his creations. As a result, he released several lovely books about his career: Film Fantasy Scrapbook, An Animated Life, The Art of Ray Harryhausen, and A Century of Model Animation. With the arrival of home video, Harryhausen personally oversaw the restoration and transfer of his films, from VHS to Blu-ray.
Harryhausen relocated to England in 1960 and in 2005, donated his archive, some 50,000 pieces, to the National Media Museum in Bradford, England. His efforts have not gone unrewarded such as being given the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for “technological contributions [which] have brought credit to the industry” in 1992, handed to him by Bradbury, and a special BAFTA award, delivered by director Peter Jackson.
Hollywood didn’t forget Harryhausen either, with Columbia’s parent, Sony, naming their main screening theater after him and his receipt of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His influence and spirit will live on for generations to come thanks to his films being available to enjoy and the generations of filmmakers he inspired.
How to Fake a Moon Landing
By Darryl Cunningham
176 pages, Abrams ComicArts, $16.95
There has been a preponderance of memoirs as graphic novels filling bookshelves over the last few years but with the exception of Joe Sacco’s work, there has been precious little journalism done in the graphic form. Cartoonist Darryl Cunningham, therefore, is a welcome voice, shedding some much needed light on the darker areas of science and culture. He made his name with Psychiatric Tales and then turned his attentions to Science Tales; Lies, Hoaxes, and Scams, which was released in England. Since then, he added a chapter and this month Abrams’ ComicArts imprint releases it as How to Fake a Moon Landing.
Cunningham breezily takes us through some of the hot button topics that are used as bludgeons by No Nothing Conservatives or are blown out of proportion by a lazy media. As one expects, the Moon landing is just the beginning, with chapters also dedicated to the MMR Vaccination Scandal, Evolution, Global Warming and so on. Each chapter spells out the facts, sourcing them along the way, and then shows where fact goes off the rails and becomes fodder for others to misuse. While he takes the cranks and critics to task, he also often faults the news media for never digging deep enough or presenting the other side of the argument for a “fair and balanced” look at the issue.
In a sprawling interview with Tom Spurgeon in 2011, he explained, “The comic strip format is particularly good at presenting information in a concise and entertaining way. A comic strip is so easy to read, that you can often find that by the time you’ve decided not to read it, you’ve read half of it. It’s a very immediate format that engages straight away and can deliver a lot of information quickly. It’s the perfect medium for presenting complex information. I’m surprised it’s not done more often. I’ve never thought of myself as part of any social activist tradition. These social and political subjects have naturally evolved out of my own interests, and to some extent, my frustration and anger with the status quo.”
As a result, you might be surprised to learn that the MMR matter was the result of one doctor’s efforts to sell his own medicine or how much money the oil industry spent on lobbying; resulting in Vice President Dick Cheney ensuring a particular bill was effectively neutered. As usual, the common man is left to pay the price or suffer the consequences. Since its initial publication, Cunningham dropped “Electroconvulsive Therapy”, replacing it with “Fracking” which remains a current topic of debate. As a result, the book is exceedingly relevant as it digests the issues down into comprehensible chapters, pointing where you can look next for more detail.
Cunningham’s approach is pretty similar to how Scott McCloud educates us about graphic storytelling and it works. He infuses each chapter with black, white, and one other color, keeping things stark and letting the reader focus on the facts. On the other hand, those who automatically buy into conspiracy theories or refuse to allow facts into the discussion will dismiss the book which is a shame. Wisely, he closes the book with a prophetic chapter on “Science Denial”. Cunningham does a remarkable job with difficult material and for high school students, just opening their eyes to the world around them, this is a terrific primer.
Matthew Holness first rose to notoriety with his character of Garth Marenghi; author, dream-weaver, visionary, plus actor. He’s a perfect creation, all the insufferable genre authors boiled down to one. Holness has returned with another author and another genre, and takes the story in the opposite direction. A Gun For George, available for viewing at Britain’s Film4 website, is a short film featuring a down on his luck author who’s angry at the world for the loss of his brother, and his popularity.
Terry Finch is the author of the (once) popular Reprizalizer series, a two-fisted vigilante, taking to the criminals of suburban England. He’s self-deluded, down on his luck, and angry at the world about it. While you laugh at garth and look forward to someday seeing his head trapped in farm equipment, Matthew makes you feel for Terry. His books are clear Mary Sue fiction, but with the world of Men’s Adventure series as their base, series like the Mack Bolan books that emerge from Gold Eagle press with astonishing regularity. Terry is hanging onto life by his nails, trying to sell his books door to door to make enough to repair his car, George, named after his brother. But when an old fan bequeaths him the contents of his council flat, including a loaded revolver, the implication is that Terry may finally erase the line between reality and fantasy.
Holness is a contemporary and collaborator with the gang from The Mighty Boosh, as well as popular comedians Richard Ayoade ([[[The IT Crowd]]]) and Matt Berry ([[[Snuffbox]]]). It’s a darker comedy than the Marenghi work, and features none of his past collaborators. Marenghi is an ego-trip on two legs, while Finch is a poor and desperate man, unwilling to admit that his books are a thing of the past, if indeed they were ever much popular at all. The film switches between modern day reality and Finch’s revenge fantasies, filmed in the style of a seventies “One man against crime” film trailers. Terry’s past is only alluded to, but it can be easily inferred that his books are an impotent strike back against the real assault of his brother George, which is why they are so important to him.
Holness is representative of a lot of British humorists who don’t feel the need to crank out non-stop product of questionable quality, preferring to take their time a craft the work to perfection. This short film is an example of why that can be a very successful process. No news on if we’ll see any more of Terry Finch in the future, but what we have seen here was well worth the wait.
One Family. One Legacy. One Problem.
Texan writer, Robert Howard, travels to London for inspiration for his stories when he finds himself in a street brawl. Aided by a struggling actor named William Henry Pratt, Howard sees off the thugs and sets about returning the favor for his newly injured and incapacitated friend. Howard agrees to take over his role as a ‘whipper-in’ on an upcoming foxhunt hosted by the Harker family.
Howard meets the Harker’s and learns about their travels in Hungary and Romania, before settling in England once more to closely guard a terrible secret.
Putting his considerable horse-riding skills on show, Howard catches the eye of Gwendolyn Harker, the daughter of Jonathan and Mina. Her parents regard Howard’s intentions with suspicion, and their dark and deadly legacy is revealed before him, leaving him with a fight for his life.
Can Howard unravel the secret and save himself before it’s too late?
Robert E. Howard, Boris Karloff and Mina Harker…what more do you need to know?
Buy it today on Amazon or the Anachron website!
Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode,The Snowmen.
Surpassed only by the Daleks, the Cybermen are the Doctor’s greatest foes. So like the former, it was only a matter of time before we would see…
RISE OF THE CYBERMEN / THE AGE OF STEEL
by Tom MacRae
Directed by Graeme Harper
“If you want to know what’s going on…work in the kitchen.”
The TARDIS falls out of the time vortex and crashes…in London. Well, no, not quite, it’s a parallel Earth, one where Zeppelins are an established mode of transportation, and Rose’s dad Pete is not only alive, but one of the most successful businessmen in England. The Doctor cautions her that this Pete is not her father – there may be another Jackie or even a parallel Rose in this world. He’s partly right – Pete and Jackie are married, and fighting, but there’s no Rose Tyler. With the TARDIS recharging, the trio does a bit of investigating. Pete Tyler has sold his company to John Lumic, owner of Cybus Industries, who make the earbuds that literally everyone wears, a replacement for the smartphone. Intrigued at anyone with that much influence, The Doctor gives in to Rose’s wishes, and they plan to visit Pete. Mickey, on the other hand, visits the home of his grandmother, who on their world, raised him but died five years ago, only to learn that here, she’s still alive. The Mickey, or rather the Rickey of this universe, however, is a freedom fighter against Lumic’s Cybus corporation, which has become so a part of society it makes Apple look like Onkyo. Lumic has a new process for preserving the human brain and “upgrading” human beings. when the UK President refuses to allow the procedure to be tested, Lumic takes the law into his own hands. He lures a number of forgotten men into a truck and uses them to create his new humans – Cybermen.
A solid pair of episodes, bringing a classic foe back in a new way. These are not the Cybermen from our universe – they appeared on the planet Mondas, Earth’s twin that shot out of orbit eons ago. This gives them a chance to re-introduce an old enemy without having to educate the new fans about their history. Daleks are so endemic to British culture, there was no need to re-introduce them, they could just hit the ground running… or rolling.
As more and more Cybermen appearances have stacked up, there’s been some confusion as to whether we’re still seeing the Cybermen from “Pete’s World”, or the ones from ours. The “C” logo has disappeared from the chest, suggesting we may now be looking at native Cybermen. It’s hoped that Neil Gaiman’s upcoming episode, tentatively titles “Last of the Cybermen” will address this issue.
The episode was inspired by a Big Finish audio adventure, “Spare Parts” by Marc Platt. While the final script was quite different from the original story, Davies made sure Platt was paid a fee and got a “Thanks to” credit in the episode.
Mickey’s departure is the first voluntary one for a Companion in the new series. In the old days, willing departure for The Doctor’s friends was the rule – in the new series it’s the exception. So far only Mickey and Martha Jones were the only ones to leave the TARDIS by their own choice, and in both cases they came back to help again. Noel Clarke brought Mickey to new places in the episode, finally becoming his own man, both in how he handles himself, and being able to come to terms with his relationship with Rose. Getting to play a dual role also showed off his breadth as an actor. We got to see alternate Roses and Petes as well, but not both at the same time.
This story(and an upcoming one that addresses this world again) are a classic example of the TV Tropes about parallel universes, specifically that the alternate version of a main character doesn’t really count. Rickey dies, but that’s okay, Mickey’s ready to take his place. Even the Jackie of Pete’s World dies, which sucks for Pete, but since The Doctor has spent the whole episode reminding Rose (and the audience) that “She’s not your mother”, it’s no big deal, just good for a moment of pathos. And they drive that home by making sure we see “our” Jackie at the end of the episode. Pete’s the only one we really care about, because “Our” Pete’s already dead. Besides, the other Jackie was a bitch.
They also do a good job of skewering a trope or two as well – note that when looking for the transmitter controls in the zeppelin bridge, Mickey says he doesn’t know what he’s looking for, and Jake annoyingly comments that maybe it’ll be in a big box with “transmitter control” in big red letters. Later on, they find it… in a big box with “transmitter control” written on in big red letters.
- Neil Gaiman’s Cybermen Storm These New Doctor Who Set Pictures (bleedingcool.com)
Kung-Fu Monks, a werewolf, and Queen Victoria. Rest assured that when someone threatens his friends, The Doctor will fight them…
TOOTH AND CLAW
by Russell T Davies
Directed by Euros Lyn
“Am I being rude again?”
Aiming for 1979 and an Ian Dury concert, The Doctor lands in 1879, and in Scotland. The TARDIS lands in the course of Queen Victoria, who is on the way to have the Koh-I-Noor, the prize diamond of the crown jewels, recut. Quickly presenting his psychic paper, he and Rose join the party as it stops off at Torchwood House, home of Sir Robert MacLeish and his family. What the royal coterie don’t know is that the house has been taken over by a band of monks who are in possession of a honest to Harry werewolf. They plan to have the beast bite the Queen, infect her, and through her, take over the nation, and the Empire. Sir Robert is forced to cooperate as the monks have taken his wife and most of the female house staff hostage, and if he disobeys they will be slaughtered,
It’s revealed that Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father were friends for years, and shared an affinity for both science and folktales. Sir Robert’s father had designed what appears to be a massive telescope, but The Doctor quickly notices it’s oddly designed – too many mirrors and prisms. As the evening proceeds, Sir Robert desperately tries to clue the party to the danger, and over dinner, as he tells the tale of the werewolf that’s been haunting the moors for almost 300 years does the Doctor make the connection. As the full moon rises overhead, the werewolf begins his transformation, and the monks, posing as the staff, overpower the soldiers.
It turns out that the house has been prepared for this assault. The library has been warded with the oil of the mistletoe plant, which the werewolf cannot bear to touch. And the telescope is just the opposite – it’s a light cannon, powered by moonlight, and the Koh-I-Noor is the focusing device. So with the help of the planning of Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father, the monster is defeated. Queen Victoria is happy to have been saved, but is horrified at The Doctor and the life he leads. She banishes The Doctor from England, and founds the Torchwood Institute to study the stars and defend the Empire from its threats… including The Doctor.
As opposed to last season where the arc plot was barely mentioned, just nearly subliminal mentions of the “Bad Wolf” phrase, this season the concept is in plain sight. Torchwood was mentioned as a plot point in The Christmas Invasion, and now we see its inception. Not a bad start for a word that was nothing more than an anagram to disguise the tapes going back to the BBC.
Of COURSE when The Doctor has to pick a Scottish name, he’s going to pick Jamie McCrimmon. Jamie was a Companion during the Troughton years, and came back for both the twentieth anniversary adventure, and the Colin Baker adventure The Two Doctors. The other half of the joke is not as obvious to American viewers – “Balamory” is a BBC children’s show set in the titular town, on an island off the coast of Scotland. And of course, David Tennant is Scots, so we actually hear his proper accent in this episode when The Doctor is “affecting” one.
This is the second time that a diamond was used as the focus of a light weapon, as opposed to a more scientifically accurate ruby. The Horror of Fang Rock featured a cruse laser cannon made from a lighthouse and a diamond by the fourth Doctor.
That mad crazy Crouching Tiger stunt near the beginning of the episode took a full day to film. Quite an extravagance for a TV show, but well worth it for the moment.
- A Doctor A Day – “The Christmas Invasion” (comicmix.com)
Women had made their mark as pilots well before World War II. Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, Bessie Coleman, and Harriet Quimby were some of the women holding records in aviation.
When war broke out in Europe, Cochran, Harkness and other women went to England to volunteer to fly in the Air Transport Auxiliary, which had been using female pilots as ferriers since 1940. These women were the first American women to fly military aircraft – Spitfires, Typhoons, Hudsons, Mitchells, Bienhams, Oxfords, Walruses, and Sea Otters under combat conditions.
In 1942, now in the war, the United States was in desperate straits for combat pilots. After much political maneuvering and bickering, it was decided to train women as ferry pilots, with Jackie Cochran enlisted to direct the program. 25,000 women applied; only 1,830 were accepted; of these, 1,074 passed the training and became Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPS. The WASPS flew over 60 million miles, piloting everything from trainers to fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustangs and the heavy bombers: B-17s, B-26s, and B-29s. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested newly overhauled planes. And they towed targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting – with live ammunition.
In 1959, an independent researcher named William Randolph Lovelace, who was part of the team developing the tests for NASA’s first male astronauts (who became known as the Mercury 7 – see or read The Right Stuff) became interested in finding how women would stand up to the same conditions; in 1960, he invited accomplished pilot Geraldlyn “Jerrie” Cobb to submit herself to this challenge.
The tests ranged from general physicals and X-rays to weird things like swallowing a rubber tube to test stomach acids, undergoing electrical shocks to test the ulnar nerve (found in the forearm), having ice water shot into their ears to test vertigo and reaction time, and dozens of other weird oddities. (See or read The Right Stuff to get an idea of the regimen.)
She became the first American woman to undergo and pass all three phases of the testing.
19 more women were invited into Lovelace’s program, which was funded by WASP director Jacqueline Cochran.
They became known as the Mercury 13.
I bring this up because writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is doing something remarkable in the new Captain Marvel series. Without publicity or blowing of trumpets, DeConnick is rewriting the possibilities – no, the actualities – of “women in comics.” Using the proud history of women in aviation, including the WASPs and the Mercury 13, DeConnick and her team, which includes artist Dexter Soy and editor Stephen Wacker, are presenting women who are just as smart, just as stupid, just as capable, just as frightened, just as full of bravado, just as confused, just as sure-minded, and just as fucked-up as any of their male counterparts.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
John Gillepsie Magee, Jr.
By the way, Captain Marvel rocks!
Fly, girl, fly!!
TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten, Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon
TUESDAY EVENING: Michael Davis In France