Archive - May 2009
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May 28th, 2009
Now, HERE'S A Happy Little Group...
Yesterday, having recently joined the local Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce, Lynn and I had our first face to face meeting with one of their representatives. Having never met a cartoonist before, she seemed surprised to see that I was actually WEARING SHOES!!!

No, not really. In truth, she was a very nice woman who seemed pleasantly intrigued by the novelty of my vocation. Among the many useful nuggets of info she shared with us was that that very evening, there was a table top expo taking place at a local Holiday Inn, and suggested we may want to check it out. Which we did.

A complimentary photo booth was set up to take a quartet of pics of attendees that could subsequently be folded into a cube. However, instead of a solo block for each of us, our entire clan was escorted into the booth for a family portrait, albeit a crowded one. As we rarely seem to have pictures taken with all three of us together in the same photo, these four pretty much qualify as the only recent Hembeck family portraits available. Obviously spontaneous, I really liked the way they came out--and mindful of the way photos of Julie and friends taken in similar booths over the past few years have since faded away almost to nothing, I figured it best to scan 'em in to save for posterity--and to share 'em with you folks here.

Not pictured: the shoes I'm wearing--and I really AM wearing a pair, honest...
May 27th, 2009
Where There's Hope, Part Two

Dolores Hope, widow of the legendary Bob Hope, celebrated her one hundredth birthday today, six years after her husband had previously reached the century mark on his own (passing away under just slightly two months later).

We here at salute this remarkable achievement, one that no doubt has the four Hope children singing, "Thanks For The Memories--AND The DNA!!"...

(Well, maybe if they weren't all adopted it would, but hey, I wanna tell ya...)
May 26th, 2009
Hall of Infamy

One of the most unforgettable experiences of my life was a watching a movie called "The Sadist" with my mom when I was eleven years old.

(Well, sure--how could it NOT be?...)

The year was 1964. As sometimes happened, I found myself sitting in the same room as my mom as she channel surfed while I paid scant attention, instead focused intently on my comic book de jour. Usually she'd catch a late night "Perry Mason" rerun or an old Hollywood chestnut, and the action up on the screen would barely make an impression on yours truly.

But somehow, this night was different.

Maybe it was seeing the name Arch Hall, Jr. in the credits--hey, wasn't he the guy from "Eegah!" (with Richard Kiel in the non-Geico caveman title role) and "Wild Guitar"? Those movies were fun--maybe this one would be too.

Boy, was I ever wrong THERE!

I don't think I even knew what a sadist was going into this movie, but I sure did afterwards. The plot is simple: three schoolteachers, two male, one female, are on their way to see a game at Dodger Stadium when some minor car trouble diverts them to an out of the way gas station in search of help, but instead have the extreme bad fortune to stumble across Charlie Tibbs (Hall) and his teen-aged girlfriend, Judy (Marilyn Manning). The psychopathic Tibbs had already killed several innocent people before making his initial screen entrance, and it's very quickly established that he has absolutely no compunction about adding these three to his grim total.

The remainder of the film plays out largely in real time, a nerve-wracking game of cat and mouse (with, as expected, the cat winning more often than the mouse). Hall's performance may appear cartoonish at times, but it's that very quality that makes it so thoroughly effective as a portrayal of a man totally devoid of empathy for other human beings. The film is harrowing, brutal, and absolutely unforgettable--especially if you're eleven years old and watching it in the company of your mother!!

I don't recall what I may've said to mom when the end credits mercifully filled the screen--I probably mumbled a few vaguely non-committal comments, not wanting to let on just how shook up I was--but from that moment on, I was curious to see it again, just to make sure I actually saw what I saw!!

It never played on TV again.

Well, at least not in my area. And believe me, I checked--each week, when we got the latest issue of the TV Guide, I'd read through the listing of that week's upcoming movies (remember when TV Guide actually had helpful features like that?...), always to no avail. Except for a single capsule review nestled away in an issue of CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, I never saw any reference whatsoever to the movie in print. But I sure never forgot it, and one of the first things I did when I dove headfirst into surfing the net about a decade back was Google it.

Seems as if it made an impression on OTHER folks as well, and is now considered something of an overlooked classic. And NOT--trust me--one of those "so bad it's good" type classics (despite some of the ripeness of Hall's acting). This movie still packs a jolt. I know--thanks to it being issued as one of those cheap, public domain type DVDs awhile back, I finally watched it a second time a few years back, and it STILL left me drained afterwards.

Ten years after "The Sadist" first hit the drive-ins in 1963, a movie called "Badlands' was released to great critical acclaim, starring a young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek. Like "The Sadist", the scenario and the characters were suggested by the real life killing spree Charlie Starkweather and his high-school aged girl friend, Caril-Ann Fugate, embarked on in 1958. I saw "Badlands" back when it originally came out--not since--and remember it as a well-done flick, but, despite the obvious violence included in the story's course, nowhere near as disturbing as the Arch Hall Jr. version. The approach here was to get somewhat into the heads of Sheen and Spacek. You NEVER get into the head of Hall's character--you just wanted to get AWAY from him!

Aside from the classic monster flicks of the thirties and forties--and the cheesy sci-fi of the fifties--I'd hardly call myself a horror movie fan. My familiarity with modern day cinematic terror is pretty much limited to "Psycho", the original "Night Of The Living Dead", the first "Halloween", "The Exorcist", and "Alien"--never witnessed a chainsaw massacre, visited Elm Street or the last house on the left, or wandered into the theater on Friday the 13th, so I may not be one to judge, but for my money, "The Sadist" is the most frightening film I've ever seen. Because there's absolutely nothing in it that's unbelievable--given the right circumstances, it could play out all too easily in real life. Never has a movie set almost entirely outdoors seemed so claustrophobic, the so-called wide open spaces providing almost no chance for escape.

Four decades went by between my pair of viewings. A little over ninety minutes pass for the hapless trio who innocently set out to see a ballgame on a warm sunny day in California. In the intervening years, I'd naturally forgotten some of the film's specific details, but what I never forgot was the ironic juxtaposition found in the final scene that hammers home the palpable sense of senseless loss which, in the end, is what this film is all about.

And after hearing me go on and on about " The Feel Bad Flick of 1963", if there are still a few of you out there who'd like to actually see it for yourselves--well, you're in luck (sorta...)! You CAN, as just the other day I noticed that YouTube has recently posted it for your viewing unenjoyment on their official full-length movie page (as well as a pair of other, campier Arch Hall, Jr. classics, both of whose links I include simply as the relief you'll no doubt eventually crave from the unrelentingly grim nature of "The Sadist")!

Here they are...

"The Sadist"(1:32)


"Wild Guitar"(1:34)

Like I said, while this sure ain't a happy movie, and though there's virtually no onscreen blood or gore spilled, it's not an easy movie to watch--or to turn away from once you begin.

Hey, even mom would have to agree--it sure was a lot more horrifying than your run-of-the-mill episode of "Perry Mason", that's for certain!!...
May 21st, 2009
Big Ten

Before I get down to wheeling and dealing today's ten new illos, I'd like to make a few publishing announcements and offer a few links of personal interest.

First off, I've been informed by several readers out there that the 50th issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA with my two page tribute to the Sentinel of Liberty (colored ever so niftily by Chris Giarusso--I've seen scans, if not the actual comic) hit the stands this very week!! It may be only a scant pair of pages, but remember--one Hembeck page promises double (and sometimes triple) the reading enjoyment of most other scribe's single pages, so if you're so inclined, I suggest you seek it out, and I sure do hope you like it!! (And if you do, TELL someone! Like, hmm, maybe Tom Brevoort?...)

I'm doubly delighted to report that my ten page "Petey" epic, "Loa and Order", guest starring the Drumm brothers, is scheduled to appear in the very next issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN FAMILY, number seven, out in one short month!! Again, while there are high hopes and tentative plans for more such stories (you DO want to witness young Petey Parker's first meeting with Johnny Storm, don't you?...), it wouldn't hurt my chances any if you'd drop a line saying as much to one of the Mighty Marvel Big-Wigs!!

Beyond that, I'd like to take a second to officially congratulate my buddy, Roger Green, and his lovely missus, Carol, on chalking up a full decade of marriage--to each other, even!! This notable event took place last week whilst I was off-line and visiting--oddly enough--the honeymoon capital of the world, Niagara Falls!! Significant of nothing, I suppose, both worth a mention just the same!! In any event, big-time congrats to both Roger and Carol--and as long as you two stay clear of Angelina Jolie, I'm sure everything will be fine!...

Then there's my OTHER old buddy, Rocco Nigro, who's finally joined the internet revolution with a blog of his own, "On The Rocs"! He's just getting started up, but you can still go check out some of his intriguingly surrealistic art, as well as a review of that recently published collection of Golden Age Boody Rogers stories!! Nice job, fella--now we just need to get you on Facebook where you can mingle with the likes of yours truly and the faux Bob Crumb...

Well, that brings our pre-commercial commercial announcements to an end--now, LET THERE BE ART!!

BATMAN versus The JOKER (dressed as--gasp--ROBIN)!!
SUPERMAN versus Silver Age LUTHOR and BRAINIAC!!
Click on each of the above images to get a gander at larger versions.

And follow this link to the current Ebay auctions--bid early, bid often!!

Thanks folks--see you next time!!
May 20th, 2009
Another Day, Another Movie

We all went to see "Adventureland" today (paid the full two dollar admission as well--wanted to make sure we caught it before it left the multiplex). Seeing that this romantic teen comedy set at a run-down amusement park, circa 1987, received a surprisingly high average of 89% over at Rotten Tomatoes was impetus enough to get me to see a flick I likely otherwise would've passed on (plus, truth is, I'm a sucker for the amusement park milieu).

It wasn't bad, but I sorta felt I'd already seen it a few months back, as "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist", whose plot was very similar (and which I liked a whole lot better--and not just because I saw it first). Star Jesse Eisenberg--who looks like a cross of SNL's Andy Samberg and the aforementioned "Nick", Michael Cera"--portrays a sensitive, intellectual college grad (who also happens to be a virgin) working a summer job at a cheesy amusement park, before going off to grad school in the fall. There he meets fellow employee, the worldly Kristen Stewart (the female star of the "Twilight" series). Eventually (and inevitably), this mismatched pair fall in love, but not without enduring a fair amount of complications both before and after.

Very few laughs, though--anybody expecting a raunchy teen sexfest (which is how the TV commercials tried to sell this) will be sorely disappointed. Despite the obligatory swearing, drinking, drugging, and (off-screen) copulating, the heart of the story is sweet. It's just that I must be going to too many movies these days, as it sure feels as if I've seen it all before. Stewart and Eisenberg make for an attractive couple, but that's ANOTHER thing--do girls like Stewart (or Kat Dennings in "Nick and Norah") REALLY wind up with guys like Eisenberg or Cera, or are these movies as preposterous fantasies as "Watchmen"? I mean, these kinda stories have a certain appeal to guys like ME, but I wonder how the LADIES in the audience are feeling? "Oh great--the geek gets the hot girl--be calm my pitter pattering heart." Where are the movies in which the geeky GAL gets the hunk? (Not that I really need to rush out to see said film, mind you--just curious...).

SNLer's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have supporting roles as the married couple who run the park, but only Hader has the opportunity to generate any laughs. Wiig--currently the funniest and most used cast member of the venerable sketch show--has little to do, and does it very quietly. Someday she'll get a proper big-screen showcase, but this sure ain't it.

One other quibble--when it comes to teen romcoms, I've come to expect a certain amount of boozing and drugging, but I kinda thought this movie went a bit over the line into irresponsible territory. I seem to recall that the two lead characters in "Nick and Norah" eschewed both, leaving the drinking entirely to their friends in the back of the van, as the group drove all around Manhattan on one eventful night. Conversely, in "Adventureland", everyone--including our sensitive, intellectual leading man--is shown repeatedly smoking pot and drinking alcohol--


Again and again. With no real consequences, save for (SPOILER WARNING) late in the flick when, bummed by his break-up with Stewart, Eisenberg grabs a bottle of hard liquor his dad has stashed in the glove compartment, guzzles it while driving, swerves to miss another car, hits a tree, and wakes up the next morning to be berated by his mother, ultimately relinquishing all the money he earned at the park to pay for the auto's damages!! Well, THAT'LL sure teach HIM!! In relation to cinematic substance abuse, there have been more responsible Cheech and Chong flicks! Geez...

Otherwise, not a bad movie, just not nearly as good as I expected it to be--and given the choice, I'd easily recommend the superior "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist".
May 19th, 2009
We Watched "Watchmen"!

Lynn, Julie and I just got back from the theater, having viewed the film adaptation of--as the credits would have it--the "graphic novel co-created and illustrated by Dave Gibbons", Mr. Moore apparently opting to eschew any credit for the original scenario. Without knowing specific details--I didn't read any reviews (and still haven't) before seeing the flick--I was nonetheless fully aware that this big screen version did not win universal plaudits from either folks familiar with the source material or from those blissfully unaware of it.

Me, I liked it.

Let me explain.

In the thirteen months it took DC to issue the original limited series back in 1986/1987, I read each of the twelve issues as they came out--and haven't since. I have a paperback collection of the whole thing I bought a long time back, with the plan in the back of my mind being to someday sit down and enjoy the whole thing in a far more concentrated period of time--but , well, I haven't, y'know? But I have paged through it in recent times, mostly looking for costume reference to do up my own versions of the main cast. So, I kinda knew the plot, having read the story once twenty two years ago, and looking at it, been reminded of some of the key visual cues, but oh so many of the finer points have long ago faded from my memory banks. And the two hours and forty five minutes I spent watching the, well, YOU know who--THAT was the very first time I experienced the story in toto without waiting a month in between each chapter, and it sure makes a difference.

Whether or not the film deviated from some key elements of the comics, I couldn't truly say. All I can say is that it worked for me as a movie, mostly. Yes, it lacked some of Moore's sublime verbiage, and while Gibbons art was masterfully replicated in general, the subtle artistry of his panel by panel breakdowns--a particular strong point of the original series--couldn't help but be totally lost. But there's a lot of story to be told, and it unfolds in segmented yet mostly smooth fashion. I had no trouble following it, and in fact, appreciated the ending more than I did when I finally read the twelfth and final issue (y'see, I had been anticipating the greatest finish of all time, which is fairly hard to deliver; sorta knowing what was actually gonna happen made it far easier to swallow). Lynn and Julie--neither of whom knew the first thing about the storyline--both proved up to the task of following the at times convoluted plot, and enjoyed it, mostly.

About the aforementioned mostlys. The movie's a bit on the violent side at times. Being familiar with the comic, I knew this going in. But you know what? A six panel sequence of a thug being killed to so as to facilitate another crook's access to a jailed Rorschach is a whole lot more intense when amplified--and expanded upon--on the big screen. The violence in the comic book version of Watchmen never seemed to be intended to titillate--I'm not sure I can say the same for the movie version. That was Lynn's big objection to the film, and as someone who doesn't particularly care for excessive bloodletting, it made me squirm at times as well. I could more easily tolerate the rudimentary fisticuffs favored by Nite Owl and Silk Spectre as opposed to the Grand Guigol-fueled antics of The Comedian and Rorschach, even if the actual point was to contrast their opposing approaches.

The actors? All fine. No one's gonna get nominated for an Oscar, but no one embarrassed themselves, either (though I thought that nose hastily puttied onto the actor playing Nixon WAS distracting at times...). I liked the music, especially the clever way they worked in Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along The Watchtower" (not nearly as subtle a drop-in as the fleeting use of a Supertramp ditty in the first Superman movie, but decidedly more appropriate).

Overall, the so-called greatest graphic novel of all time made for a decent movie--and I think THAT'S why it failed to connect more with either the general public or to devoted Moore/Gibbons fans. "THIS was the greatest graphic novel of all time?", the uninitiated no doubt wondered, and to those to whom it WAS the greatest graphic novel of all time, well, it clearly wasn't the greatest movie of all time, so they had to be disappointed as well. Me, I know movies are movies and comics are comics, and I try not to expect them to be one and the same. So, it was a decent movie. Now, I'm hoping to find some time to finally reread the limited series--and maybe then, I'll realize just how bad a movie it was! But for tonight, save for witnessing a little more blood splattered than I may've liked (and I am ever so thankful we didn't see it in IMAX!!...), I had a good time. Better than I did at "The Dark Knight", "The Hulk", or yes, even at "The Spirit"--but nope, not "Iron Man".

On a side note, the theater was fairly full (it was dollar day, reduced to a single showing in the film's second and final week), and unfathomably, someone brought a BABY to see "Watchmen"! Forget who's watching the Watchmen--who's watching those parents?? Geez, at least the kid was mostly quiet--and may well've left midway through, as nary a peep was heard after awhile--but still, WHAT were they thinking?...
May 18th, 2009
I'm Ba-aaack!!

Pardon the absence.

Lynn and I left for Geneva last Monday, making the five hour drive upstate to pick up daughter Julie, who successfully completed her freshman year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It took us about two days to pack up all her stuff, and what we didn't leave at her boy friend Alec's apartment (like winter coats and such), we barely managed to stuff into our car--


Yup, it was time for a short vacation in Buffalo, New York. Know that thirty-five years ago this very month, I first met Lynn Moss there, a freshman who'd been living in the very same dorm as yours truly, though we'd blissfully ignored each other for the entire year until the waning weeks of the spring semester. I don't need to tell you how THAT came out! So naturally, Buffalo equals good memories, and we wanted to share those vibes with our offspring (the last time we'd been in town was way back in 1988, a couple years before Julie was hatched).

Big mistake.

The SUN Y Buffalo campus had changed significantly even by 1988, eleven years after we had left--the short of it is, there was an old, Main Street campus where we had both lived and attended most of our classes, and a new, just emerging (circa 1974) campus located out in the middle of nowhere about a twenty minute shuttle ride away from the original campus, very little of which was built while we attended the school. NOW the new campus is the main campus, a sprawling city in and of itself (and almost totally unfamiliar to us alumni) while the Main Street campus is now devoted entirely to medical and dental grad students. Norton Hall--once the bustling student union of yore, has since been renamed, rebuilt, and now houses dentists of the future and is no longer open to indiscriminately wander through!! And Cooke Hall--our beloved dorm? The name has since been transferred over to the no-longer-not-so-new campus, with the front door locked to previous residents. To add injury to insult, we were caught in a sudden rainstorm during our trudge down memory lane, a suitable end to a decidedly imperfect tour.

(And things looked even more dire while reinvestigating the various off-campus dwellings we rented back in the day. Just about every familiar landmark on Bailey Avenue was either gone completely or regrettably run down. Main Street was only slightly better--everything changed, save for Parkside Candies remaining intact, as well as--remarkably--Queen City Comics!! (Though Queen City was originally located on Bailey--by '88, it was on Main. It was the first bona fide comics store I ever regularly patronized--I can still recall walking down there my first weekend on campus and buying, among other books, the very first appearance of Master of Kung Fu in Marvel Special Edition. I never chatted much with the folks behind the counter, though, and my loyalties switched over to Grant Books across town mid-way through my stay in Buffalo, but it's nice to know they're still there. Yes, I stopped in. No, I didn't recognize anyone--unlike back in '88--I didn't buy anything, and as per usual, didn't identify myself. No point at this point, y'know?...)

So we spent a few hours with one of Lynn's aunts (another reason to visit the area--my wife has relatives in town) and visited the Albright Knox Art Gallery, and had a mostly good time. But going back to the old school in search of the past? Not the best idea we ever had.

Going to Niagara Falls on Friday? THAT was a GREAT idea!! Remind me to tell you about it sometime!

(And if you're Facebook friends with Lynn, check out the three photo albums of 60 pics each that she's already posted, with the Buffalo chapter still to come. Ah, ain't digital cameras grand? I'll try and share a handful of the 200 plus that we took here in the coming days, so don't say you haven't been warned!...)

Saturday, after a seven hour trek down the New York Thruway, we finally arrived home. It was fully my intention to share these personal endeavors with you later that self-same evening, but with only minutes of Monday left, I've FINALLY managed to bore you with the details of my mini-vacation in Buffalo!!

Vacation in Buffalo?

Well, it SOUNDED like a good idea at the time...
May 11th, 2009
Illo Me This, Caped Crusaders!

Theme time!!

Todays's illos?

DC Good Guys versus DC Bad Guys!!

Such as...

The FLASH versus The TRICKSTER!!
Larger? Click yer mouse on the pics!

Ebay auctions? Here!!

Thanks for stopping by!!
May 9th, 2009
Boys Will Be Boys

The other night, while searching unsuccessfully for a tape containing a bunch of early Bing Crosby flicks, I instead located that previously elusive tape housing the 2000 telefim, "The Beach Boys: An American Family", the one I couldn't find a few weeks back, so I instead watched "Return To The Batcave". Well, this time around, I figured it was fate, so simply I abandoned my quest for Bing and inserted this tape into the VCR instead.

Aside from The Beatles, The Beach Boys are my all-time favorites, so you might wonder why it took me so long to get around to watching this particular bio-pic. Well, one reason is, this ABC production hit the airwaves a mere ten years after NBC's "Summer Dreams: The Story of The Beach Boys". That was the one that starred Bruce Greenwood as Dennis Wilson, the wild brother, focusing inordinately on his antics and limiting brother Brian to second-banana status, ending with the drummer's tragic drowning death. It was also the film in which the Al Jardine character--Beach Boy number 5, for those of you keeping score at home--didn't merit a single line in the teleplay!! Not one!! So maybe, back there in the year 2000, I felt it was a bit too soon to revisit once again this all too familiar story (well, all too familiar at least to ME).

But I'm glad I did!! Not only was proper emphasis of this sprawling sage restored--composer Brian Wilson being the focal point, followed by his tyrannical father Murry, cousin (and collaborator ) Mike Love, with Dennis coming in a semi-distant fourth (though of course he naturally gets the spotlight during the recounting of his dalliance with the Manson Family). Amazingly, THIS Al Jardine gets plenty of dialog!! Even David Marks, his brief early era replacement, gets several scenes!! Frankly, I was amazed at the film's excessive attention to the group's genesis.

I shouldn't have been--and wasn't, not once the words "To Be Continued " flashed across the screen!! This was TWO-PARTER!! Four hours, not two!! D'oh--I totally forgot! when i began watching! But at that point, I was firmly committed (not to mention enthralled), so I kept on going, taking in the whole thing in one glorious single sitting.

Y'know, it's kinda pointless reviewing an otherwise unavailable TV flick from nearly ten years ago, except to say, if you're a Beach Boys fan--or even harbor a minor interest in the group--this flick is worth checking out (if you can FIND it...).

The only scene available on the YouTube was apparently posted by Nick Stabile, who portrayed Dennis (him again!...). In it, lip-syncing to Dennis's actual vocal, he performs the lovely "Forever" for dad Murry (4: 32). This is perhaps the only scene in the entire four hours in which Father Wilson comes off agreeably. Likely that's because the very next scene he's in (not included here), he falls out of bed and suffers a fatal heart attack. But at least Mr. Wilson made nice with Dennis first...

Unlike the 1990 teleflick, this one ends on an up note, focusing on a triumphant 1974 concert appearance of the revitalized Beach Boys (with each member's eventual fate written in text across close-ups of the various actors). This ending mirrored the finale of The Three Stooges ABC bio-pic of a year or so later (the one with Michael Chiklis as Curly), another recent--and belatedly--viewed hunk of VHS tape by yours truly (and a much sillier flick, as the flick's writers unconvincingly tried to work Stoogisms into their protagonist's everyday lives). That one had the rediscovered comics meeting their new-found TV bred audience for the first time, performing a live stage show for their new generation of fans in 1959. Nice ending--BOTH times ABC used it.

But The Boys story didn't come to a halt in 1974, not by a long-shot, as shown on a special two hour edition of A&E's "Biography: Brian Wilson", broadcast just a few days before the ABC mini-series, and seemingly done in conjunction with it (which I watched AFTER the fictionalized version). Seeing several of the anecdotes from the bio-pic in turn verbalized by various interviewees--gee, Brian really DID spill hot chocolate on his future wife when he first met her!!--was an odd experience, lemme tell ya! The last quarter century of Brian's largely Beach Boyless life is given due coverage, and it's not always a pretty picture. In fact, it rarely is. Against all odds, he survived.

But even if he didn't, his music will. I go in and out of cycles--and up until I watched all six hours of this tape, I'll admit, I was on an "out" cycle. But y'know, I ALWAYS come back to Beach Boys music eventually. I never stay away for long, and thanks to a little video nudging, everything from "Pet Sounds" to "Sunflower" to "Keepin" The Summer Alive" is getting prime time play on the ol' CD machine!! Can't say I'm going surfing anytime soon--and these days, I really DON'T get around--but that's okay. I'm more than happy to simply sit in my room and enjoy the good vibrations!!
May 8th, 2009
Hang In There, Harold!!

When it comes to the so-called golden age of silent comedy, is there any single image more iconic than Harold Lloyd dangling precipitously from the hands of a building's clock, high above the streets below?

And yet, it was only recently that I FINALLY saw the film that contains this famous sequence, 1923's "Safety Last". Fact is, until I dug out an eight hour tape made back in 2003, when TCM broadcast an entire day's worth of his movies, I'd pretty much never seen a Harold Lloyd movie PERIOD!! Not really my fault, though--as indicated here, Lloyd owned a majority of his own films, and back in the sixties--when I would've been most likely to have viewed them--he was asking too much money to broadcast 'em, so most station managers chose chump change for Chaplin over loads of largess for Lloyd. Makes sense, I guess--but it also deprived me from appreciating the bespeckled comedian for way, WAY too long!!

The tape I had on hand was arranged chronologically, beginning with several shorts made in the late teens, then onto to a few Roaring Twenties era features (including his other classic, "The Freshman"), finishing up with an early pair of sound vehicles, "Welcome Danger" (1929) and "Movie Crazy" (1932). (Check out this fascinating article about "Welcome Danger'', Lloyd's first talkie. Originally filmed as a silent picture--AND clocking in at an astonishing 2 hours and 45 minutes!!--a majority of the picture was refilmed with sound after Lloyd witnessed the amazed reactions of audiences to other early talkies, adding dubbed dialog to the rest, while shaving off over an hour of the original's bloated running time. Frankly, it's a bit of a mess, but an interesting mess that's not with out it's bright spots. Right from the get-go, though, Lloyd comes across as tremendously comfortable speaking on screen. In fact, opposite the delightful Constance Cummings in "Movie Crazy", Lloyd makes for a very appealing romantic (albeit comedic) leading man.)

But forget all that for now. Let's talk "Safety Last". It's one of those universally accepted classics of the silent era. Hey, I've SEEN some of those universally accepted classics in my time, and I'm often left scratching my head afterwards, wondering just what all the fuss was about. Not this time. It's a wonderfully conceived film, and far more than the few famous seconds used in every compilation of famous film clips ever compiled. That whole climbing up the side of a building bit? It lasts nearly a half hour--and is set up very nicely, storywise, in the time preceding it. I wasn't a Harold Lloyd fan before popping this tape into the VCR, but "Safety Last" sold me.

And if you're not already sold, thanks to YouTube, you can take a look for yourself, and maybe it'll sell YOU too!!

Safety Last Part 1

Safety Last Part 2
Safety Last Part 3
Safety Last Part 4
Safety Last Part 5
Safety Last Part 6
Safety Last Part 7
Safety Last Part 8

Amazing what you can do with a pair of glasses and a whole lotta nerve...
May 7th, 2009
To paraphrase Benjamin J. Grimm,


To wit--

To view larger, click mouse on illo.

To purchase originals, here's the list of current Hembeck Ebay auctions.

To read more, come back soon--seeya!!
May 6th, 2009
The End--Or The Beginning?....

Yesterday, we went to see the Oscar nominated Best Picture contender, "The Reader", featuring Kate Winslet's Best Actress winning performance. As these sorta things go--former female SS officers seducing underage boys, using sex to con them into reading Homer's "The Odyssey" and Tintin comics out loud to them--it was pretty good. Winslet truly deserved her prize, not only for her acting (which was exemplary) but also for the sheer guts it took to perform so casually--and convincingly--naked for most of the first third of the film!! Whoda ever thought so much skin and simulated sex could get past the old fogeys in the Academy and still garner you an Oscar? I guess the story's Holocaust connection didn't hurt any...

But we're not here to talk about that. Decent movie--go see it. No, I want to complain about a trend I've been noticing of late, one that "The Reader" was especially guilty of:

Credits banished to the very end of the movie.

And not just credits, but the actual title as well!

Look, I'm not a TOTAL idiot, okay? I generally KNOW what film I've just seen, but still...

The movie ends, the screen goes black, and first up is the director's name (natch), then the writer, then the author of the original source material. Fine, I say, if somewhat begrudgingly. THEN the producers--of course. But if by now, you're expecting to see names of the stars of the film--much less the actual NAME of the thing, well, you're not even close!1.

No lie--the names of the HAIRDRESSERS rolled across the screen before the cast made an appearance--themselves preceding the godforsaken title, no less!! it had to be a good three or four minutes after the last scene played out before any of us still in the theater learned that that was Ralph Fiennes playing the male lead and not Liam Neeson (hey, an easy mistake to make, y'know?...).

And I got a newsflash for you, Hollywood--THERE WEREN'T HARDLY NO ONE LEFT IN THE THEATER BY THAT TIME!!!

There never is. It's amazing to see folks flee these darkened arenas as soon as the lights come up but before the credits begin to role in earnest--you'd think people were afraid that the last one out would be obligated to pay for the Best Boy's college education or somesuch!!

The truth is, you'd think the film-makers would WANT the folks watching their movies to know exactly WHO was responsible and put the credits--at least SOME of the credits (catering can wait til' later--no objections THERE...) at their flick's outset. But no. Someone. sometime decided it was way cooler to list the credits at the conclusion of a film, and now EVERYONE does it!! I was struck by the fact that "Coraline" DIDN'T resort to this now-tired device, and actually let the audience know who was responsible up front--because, god knows, even with some nifty animation accompanying the end credits, fully two-thirds of the patrons in the theater that afternoon fled their seats as soon as the curtain came down on the story proper.

So, c'mon, you cinematic artistes out there--put your masterpiece's name right up front. We won't think less of you, promise. Don't be shy--Kate Winslet certainly wasn't, and look what it got HER!...
May 3rd, 2009
Boris, Boris, Boris!! (..And A Pair Of Belas...)

Well, I finished watching the other three Boris Karloff films that were on that TCM tape with the "Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome" flick I told you about the other day. Y'know, I find it pretty hard to believe, but as best I can figure, I'd never actually seen "The Black Cat" or "The Raven" before--though the latter's climactic "pit and the pendulum" sequence seemed awfully familiar, likely because it was featured in a documentary about co-star Bela Lugosi that I caught on PBS years ago. Inasmuch as both of these films garnered heavy visual coverage in the sixties' era monster mags I was briefly obsessed with, finally seeing them produced an odd sense of deja vu. Images, burned into my impressionable pre-teen mind, were finally playing themselves out on my TV screen, four and a half decades later!! Very odd sensation.

As for the movies themselves, the pre-Hays Code "The Black Cat" is easily superior to the following year's (1935) "The Raven". Both have little to do with Edgar Allen Poe, both offer enough blatantly implied torture to keep any and all of Lon Chaney's distant relatives happy, and both feature the scene-chewing thespian technique of Bela Lugosi, an acting approach that doesn't differ much whether he's playing the bad guy in "The Raven" or the good guy in "The Black Cat".

Karloff, on the other hand, displays an admirable versatility--though he's mostly wasted with a largely mute role in "The Black Cat" (as well as being made to suffer a less than classic make-up job). By contrast, as the urbane devil worshiper in "The Black Cat", he oozes menace even when traipsing about his futuristic act deco mansion in his dressing gown!!
But the real surprise for me was the OTHER Karloff-starrer, 1937's "West of Shanghai", a movie I was frankly totally unfamiliar with. The story isn't much--several Americans travel to China in hopes of making claims on a recently discovered oil field, only to run into a Chinese warlord, who takes them all as his prisoners. Boris, the aforementioned warlord, doesn't actually show up until about 15 minutes into this zippy 64 minute programmer, but once he does, things REALLY start to cook!!

I was fully expecting him to be a total brute, an unfettered Ghengis Khan type. Instead, delivering his lines rapid-fire in broken English, always with an underlying sense of amusement, Karloff's General Fang is more Charlie Chan by way of Damon Runyon!! Like I said, the plot's nothing much, but there's more than enough enjoyment to had listening to Karloff trade snappy patter with the rest of the cast to more than justify catching the flick if you ever get the chance!!

Going along with that line of thinking, I had sincerely hoped the whole thing was up on YouTube somewhere, but alas, 'tis not the case. However, there IS the original trailer for the film posted, and the two-and a half minutes it takes to eye-ball it may give you a taste of what I'm talking about. (Notice how even the on-screen blurbs are tongue -in-cheek, with the star billed as "Boris "Baby-scarer" Karloff"). Oh, and if the previews make ol' Boris out to be a bit more blood-thirsty than I described, please not that most of his threats encapsulated there-in were empty (though the two characters he does kill--or has killed--during the film truly had it coming.).

"West of Shanghai" gave me new and deeper appreciation for Karloff's acting prowess. Too bad he was usually type-cast as a baddie--there's evidence here that he could've done very nicely supplied with some dryly comedic material.

Bela on the other hand? Well, many of his later movies WERE funny. Trouble was, they generally weren't supposed to be. Oops...
May 2nd, 2009
Rawhide, You GOTTA BE Kidding!!

As regular readers of this blog may recall, I've recently discovered the work of a fellow by the name of Clint Eastwood. Okay, so I'm not exactly on top of the trends--better late than never, y'know?

To that point, my buddy Tom Hegeman shot me a quick email, recommending that I give "Unforgiven" a look-see, as Eastwood uses the film to debunk myths of the Old West, telling it like it is (or was). Well, Tom, I'll have to search that one out, but in the meantime, it got me to thinking:

I wonder if Clint spent any time debunking something like THIS?....
This little flight of Stan Lee/Jack Davis fantasy first appeared in the June, 1963 issue of RAWHIDE KID, number 34 (which I first read only about a week ago in the second Masterwork's volume collecting the Kid's sixties' era adventures). Y'know, I've seen a ton of stunningly contrived methods of avoiding blood-letting in the Code approved Marvel westerns of the day, but this may well be the single most jaw-droppingly unbelievable one of them all!!

Even Clint Eastwood couldn't make THIS scenario work, pardners...

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