Monday, March 29, 2010

Sean Flynn: Forgotten Swashbuckler

Today while reading the news there was an article about the possible discovery of the remains of Sean Flynn, the son of Errol Flynn. Sean Flynn became a forgotten swashbuckler, albeit mostly by his own choice. He wanted to pursue his own path as a photojournalist and war correspondent: a choice and pursuit that cost him his life.

Born in 1941 to Errol Flynn and Lili Damita, Sean would start acting, appearing in bit parts and TV spots, until he starred in The Son of Captain Blood, in 1961. (His father died of a heart attack in October of '59). He then went on to do a total of eight films before giving up on acting pursuing his career as photo journalist.

Sean Flynn lived as interesting a life as his more famous and infamous father, trying his hand as a big game hunter, guide, and game warden in Africa. Then as a photo journalist he saw the Vietnam War along Special Forces troops, as well as reporting in the Middle East during the Arab-Israeli war. In 1970 he went into Cambodia where it was believed that he was taken by Vietnamese Communist forces and likely met his end soon after those events. His body was never recovered and the truth about his disappearance and death was never really known. He was declared legally dead in 1984.

Father and son seemed to live mirrored lives in many respects. Both did acting as a way to make money. Though Errol Flynn seemed to relish his movie stardom, he was never happier than when he was on his boat Zaca. He spent time in Spain as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, and then later getting himself on the wrong side of the Castro revolution is Cuba.

Sean Flynn tired of movies or was bored. Or did he not want to follow in his father's path? As Errol broke from his own bookish father and eschewed academics did Sean wish to avoid following Errol? Avoid following the same scandal strewn path? Or did he not wish to stand in the Great Swashbuckler's shadow? These are just my speculations and musings. I personal think that all of the above might apply.

I hope the remains that were reported are indeed Sean Flynn. Though his parents are both long gone themselves, it may provide their spirits a bit more ease, his family that remains a little peace to have the mystery solved. Like so many that lost family in those jungles during those years of conflict who wondered what had become of those loved ones, maybe some semblance of closure can be found.

Perhaps Sean can also find that peace, and he and Errol are together on the deck of a spiritual Zaca, fishing poles waiting for a nibble or hands upon the wheel. A Caribbean breeze filling the sails, sending the schooner flying into the sunset, just like in the movies.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Princess of Mars: Traci Lords is Baaaaack!!!!!

I finally broke down and dropped my five bucks to rent Princess of Mars, written and directed by Mark Atkins. The direct to video 2009 release stars Antonio Sabato, Jr. as John Carter and Traci Lords as Deja Thoris. This film is based on the series of adventures penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame. The stories were "planetary romances", what has become known as Sword & Planet. There were roughly a dozen or so of these stories, usually serialized in various pulp magazines, the majority surrounding John Carter as the main character.

John Carter was a Virginian who had served during the Civil War as an officer. He was adept at shooting, riding, and he was deadly with a sword in his hand. All prerequisites for what was to come. Through a process which could only be related to astral projection, but with physical form, John Carter finds himself on the red planet that the natives call Barsoom and we know as Mars. He finds with the lighter gravity of Mars he is stronger, faster, and able to make tremendous leaps. He befriends, a four armed tusked warrior named Tars Tarkas, of a race called Tharks. He rescues Princess Deja Thoris from the Tharks; he goes on to embroiled in the events and politics of Barsoom. He saves the planet from suffocation by revitalizing/turning on the air pumping station that maintains the thin atmosphere. The first story ends with John Carter declared War-Lord. All the John Carter tales are related in the first person as Carter returns to Earth periodically having learned to secret to willfully travel between worlds, so the tales are as he related them to one of his descendants. (Burroughs)

The Mars of Burroughs imagining is a post-apocalyptic desert planet, inhabited by humans, myriad multi-limbed beasties, an assortment of weird races, and mad scientists for Carter to pit himself against. The world is drying up, becoming arid and inhospitable. Ancient technology manifests itself in things like air ships, flying sleds, radium guns, and afore mentioned pumping station. There are other super-science plot devices such as brain transplants from living bodies to synthetic ones and between species. The cultures are all honor bound warrior based societies with an emphasis on personal combat and reputation. With the technology becoming rare as it breaks down with little knowledge to replicate or repair, the societies have fallen back on swordsmanship and hand to hand combat as a means to wage war.

The Burroughs' books are great fantasy and an exemplarily example of pulp fiction that would go on to influence generations of writers, including Robert E. Howard and later day literary heroes like R.A. Salvatore.

Now the movie: not bad. Not good, but not bad. The movie actually does a fine job of adapting The Princess of Mars. But like so many Sci Fi Channel productions it suffers from a very low budget. But unlike the upcoming Conan film, the one of ARNOLD fame and even the new Solomon Kane film that will be released on DVD here in the States, this film actually follows Burroughs' story closely.

The film Princess of Mars has modernized John Carter, (Sabato) in that he is a Captain in the Marines rather than a Confederate officer, in the Middle East rather than in the Old West prospecting gold. The Mars of this new rendering is a planet in the Alpha Centauri region called Mars 4. John Carter agrees to be part of a teleportation experiment to this remote and theoretically inhabitable world. This gets around the fact that hard science has ruined the planetary romance and the turn of the century speculation about the Mars of our solar system.

When he arrives, as in the novel, he encounters the Tharks who are amazed and entertained by his prodigious leaping ability and strength. The rest of the film follows the original Burroughs' plot loosely, replacing the enemy city-state of the novel with the machinations of another Earth man that had also agreed to the experiment.

The nit and the picky: the production value is stupendously low. In the Burroughs tale the Tharks are ten foot four armed green giants. In the film they are men in rubber masks, but at least they kept their tusks. The make up is not bad, and at least they try to keep some semblance of the original envisioning, but like the thoats (6 limbed beasts) that are reduced to bipedal raptor-like creatures, the extra limbs are lost to save CGI money. The green screen shots are painfully obvious as such, and the swords, which were such an integral part of the society, are really cheap wall hanging pieces and have no uniformity of style: Roman gladius, sabers, and psudo-celtic broad swords. Of course there is Traci Lords, her acting was stilted, her facial expressions minimal, I half suspect from Botox to fill in the lines of a hard lived life. I envisioned a younger, fresher faced Deja Thoris, but admittedly, at 42 she still looks great in a leather bikini. The editing between scenes and cut scenes are rough and sometimes jarring. The film lacks the epic swashbuckling scale that the novels possessed.

The cool and geeky: This is John Carter of Mars as a live action film! There is a bigger production slated for 2012, but this came first. It stayed close to the source material as I said to hear the name Deja Thoris or Barsoom spoken aloud; to enjoy a version of Tars Tarkas befriend John Carter is geeky coolness. Despite the lack of a budget I think those that worked on this film wanted to make a good John Carter of Mars movie, but it is hard to realize that sweeping vision on a stipend. Sabato looks like John Carter, tall and muscular, dark haired, with honorable sensibilities. He might not have been the southern gentleman of Burroughs' stories but he is the man he could be in this modern, ambiguous era. And the former Calvin Klein model is not half-bad as an actor.

I caution that this film is really for die hard geeks like me. I will say at least they tried, and I don’t think they did a bad job considering what they had to work with. I would also point to this movie and say to those making the new Conan and the 2012 John Carter of Mars, a good story can be adapted faithfully. I would also caution them that all the special effects in the world do not make a bad story any better.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Saturday Morning Pulp: Demon Dogs!

Mangus suggested this week's post as part of the title for this blog deals with my love of Saturday morning goodness. I have always loved cartoons. For those that want to sound more mature we can call it animation. Cartoons are for the kid in all of us, some just never lose enjoyment them. From Looney Toons to Snow White Disney’s first animated feature in 1937 to Ralph Baksi’s Wizards in 1977. The last is a lot more adult then the other two though. Animation has been a way to tell stories in motion that really could not be done in live action, as an artistic expression, or just make us laugh; from Marvin the Martian to Vampire Hunter D, cartoons are for the kid in each of us. It has been a great medium for pulp fiction.

The list of cartoons, or animation if one prefers, that deals with the pulp style of adventures and space opera would take up blog space for years to come. From the Max Fleischer's Superman, Johnny Quest, Zorro, Planet of the Apes, even Popeye, the list stretches on. But my favorite cartoon that screams pulp action is Thundarr the Barbarian.

Thundarr the Barbarian, created by Joe Ruby ran from 1980-1982 on Saturday mornings. A post-apocalyptic world summed up with the introductory voice over: The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruin!

Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn...

A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.

He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

Okay, tell me anyone who loves sword and planet or pulp sci-fi would not be all over this? I loved this show before I even knew about the definitions of various styles of fantasy or sci-fi. I just knew there was this kick-ass barbarian tearing through a world of mutants and wizards! I was there ever Saturday, and to prove my original statement about the kid in all of us, my dad was on the couch right beside me! This show is classic sword and planet style of fiction with the mix of science, magic, and primitive weapons. The hero Thundarr is of the typical barbarian mold, he is tough, strong, and straight forward. He fights for those too weak to fight back for themselves. Princess Ariel provides beauty, smarts, and sophistication to the group, along with her sorcery. Then there is Ookla the Mok, a bestial warrior that tosses half ton trucks and uses tree trunks as spears. He is Thundarr's best friend and provides over powering muscle and savagery when needed. He has also seemed to work himself into pop lexicon with the phrase: "What the **** is a Mok?!?!"

The main plot of the show has Thundarr and company traveling across the blasted waste of the world fighting to free humans from the oppression of wizards, mutants, and pretty much anyone else that wants to attack the weak and defenseless. He is a hero for younger kids, straight forward fighting for what is right for right's sake alone. The plots are simple and jump right into the action. This is Saturday morning cartoons though; it is aimed at the 7-12 crowd. That does not take away from the series in any way, but rather it makes the other aspects more important and appreciated by me now as an adult.

For example the background painting of the setting shots; just the imaginative way that such an apocalyptic future was visualized. The city-scapes that were buried almost intact, to amusement parks and old ocean liners used as homes, to establishing shots of the cataclysmic destruction. The wizards were each unique in their powers and the technologies they sought or possessed. The mix of old world tech and magic makes this a great setting for pulp fantasy geeks like me.

The stories were simplistic but not dumb, some of the ideas for Thundarr's adventures were very good, and could have been developed along more adult oriented themes if they were written for such an audience. For example the idea of the wizards themselves ruling over their own little fiefdoms and Thundarr seeking to destroy them would make for a good series of more adult oriented adventures. The deeper intrigues of warring wizards could be explored with Thundarr and his companions caught in the middle. But I digress into speculation and the realm of fan-fiction.

Needless to say Thundarr the Barbarian was a fun pulp fantasy for a younger audience with enough to hold an adult's interest too. The series is supposed to be released in DVD later this year in a bundle with several other Saturday morning cartoons and I will be in line on release day!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Republic of Doyle—Oh Yeah!

Oh Yeah! The show had me at the theme—a song by the New Foundland band Great Big Sea. This is appropriate because the show is set in St. Johns, New Foundland and the town figures prominatly in the lore of the band. Republic of Doyle is a private eye television show out of Canada that other reviewers, bloggers, and their own website have compared to The Rockford Files and Magnum P.I. This is good company to be found in and I agree with the assessments.

Republic of Doyle stars Allan Hawco who is also a writer and producer for the show. Hawco plays Jake Doyle, a wise cracking brawler with a heart of gold. He works with his father in a P.I. business in St. Johns, with the menagerie of supporting characters; his father's girlfriend, his sixteen year old niece, his sorta ex-wife who is a doctor, and his sorta girlfriend cop buddy.

The show has run seven episodes so far, and I have enjoyed them all. The mysteries have been the usual T.V. fair, but like Magnum P.I. and Castle, the fun of Republic of Doyle is the characters themselves and the interactions between them. The cases aren't solved with cold logic or cool technology but through intuition, leg work and the tenacity to pound at something until the answer present itself or the bad guys tries to shoot the detective.

Jake Doyle is a womanizer in the charming, blue eyed, boyish kind of way that causes the all the girls to fall for him. He even has a sweet old GTO to cruise around in, after all one of the prerequisites of being the cool private investigator is to have an awesome ride. He jumps first, thinks with his gut, ready to throw a fist or toss back a pint. He is the guy all other guys wish they were or could be, even for a day.

The sniping between Jake and his dad Malachy is the glorious interplay that should be expected between a father and son trying to work together in business as partners. Of course they are opposites and work from different points of view, but share the same cunning and street smarts. I find myself chuckling out loud sometimes because the humor between the characters is that good--or I am that easily amused.

The rest of the cast adds to the chaos and interplay, from the rebellious niece to the lawyer that is trying to keep Jake from digging a deeper hole with his soon to be ex-wife. The soon to be ex-wife Nikki, played by Rachel Wilson, is a manic, high strung woman that can't decide whether she wants to hit Doyle or bed him. Sometimes one leads to the other in no particular order. Of course Jake's temper is equal to the task so even casual encounters spark with friction and sexual tension. Though episodic the underlying story carries from one episode to the next, picking up where the previous one left off.
Like other shows of the genre the location is a character as much as the players, St. Johns is a gorgeous place, with its colorful buildings and bay waters, watching the establishing shots make you want to vacation there. The music is perfect for the setting as well, foot chases and fist fights are punctuated by jigs and reels. Great Big Sea's vocals even make up part of the soundtrack for one episode.

My only complaint is the effort I have to make to catch episodes. Obviously, being in the south of the U.S. I find it difficult to catch Canadian television and I can't seem to get the episodes to play from the CBC website, though preview video plays fine. Either it's my machine or their coding, so I have to troll the internet or purchase down loads. Fortunately I like the show enough to put in the extra effort. I just hope the DVD for season 1 makes it down here.

So if you are a fan of just plain fun detective stories with a cast of characters that make you come back for more check out Republic of Doyle.