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Alex Bledsoe Writes a Love Letter to Carl Kolchak

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Kolchak The Night Stalker-smallOver at Tor.com, occasional Black Gate blogger Alex Bledsoe has written a Love Letter to Carl Kolchak. As brilliantly portrayed by Darren McGavin in a single season of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75), Carl Kolchak was one of the greatest supernatural sleuths of all time — and a personal hero of mine when I was 10 years old. (And for much of my 30s and 40s, now that think about it.)

So get your eyes off him, Alex. He’s all mine.

I already had vague notions of writing my own stories, but as a lonely geek in small-town Tennessee, being a writer seemed about as likely as getting a date.

But when I saw Kolchak, everything changed. So what if girls ignored me? I could ignore them just like Carl did. What did it matter if there was nothing in my small town to make me look forward to the future? The Truth, long before the X-Files, was out there somewhere, in a big city like Chicago where monsters could lurk with impunity. All I needed were a few pieces of gear, like a portable cassette recorder (these were cutting edge at the time), a 110 camera … and that most glorious of inventions, the typewriter, featured in the show’s credits.

Alex Bledsoe is the author of five Eddie LaCrosse novels (including The Sword-Edged Blonde, and the latest, He Drank, and Saw the Spider), Blood Groove, The Girls with Games of Blood, and the Tufa novels, The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing. His last article for us was Pacific Rim and the Culture of Rip-Off Vs. Homage.

Read the complete article here.


Fantasia Focus: The Zero Theorem, by Terry Gilliam

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Zero TheoremBefore continuing my Fantasia diary with a look at the movies I saw last Sunday, I want to focus in on one specific film that struck me as an utterly brilliant piece of science-fiction satire. I think it divided the audience; I’ve heard and seen reactions from people who were left cold by it as well as from people who loved it as much as I did. Perhaps that’s not surprising. The movie is The Zero Theorem, directed by Terry Gilliam from a script by Pat Rushin, and it is as idiosyncratic and persistently individual as you’d expect from Gilliam.

Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is an eccentric solitary in a hyperconnected future. He works for a corporation, Mancom, plugging numbers together — which he does by manipulating blocks on a screen with a joystick, effectively playing video games. A chance encounter with Management (Matt Damon) allows him to work from home, a deserted church, trying to put together the zero theorem, a mathematical proof of the pointlessness of life — which Management believes can be leveraged to make money. Qohen’s pleased, since what he wants more than anything else in life is a phone call he believes will come out of the blue and grant him enlightenment, and now he can sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. But his solitude’s plagued by outsiders, including the seductive Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), and Management’s son Bob (Lucas Hedges), an even sharper computer whiz than Qohen.

The Zero Theorem is visually startling, steampunk gone day-glo. It’s a perceptive, idiosyncratic take on the Wired World Of Today, here depicted as Brave New World gone berserk. In fact, Gilliam considers this movie part of his ‘Orwellian trilogy,’ along with Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, but it certainly feels more like Huxley. It depicts a world commercialised and infantilised, where ads for the Church of Batman the Redeemer float above the street. It’s a sharp criticism of easy escapism, but seems to question as well where contrasting meaning is to be found, whether religious transcendence is valid or whether belief is just another form of escape. The movie’s more interested in questions than answers, even questioning itself and its own metaphors on occasion. Days later, I’m still thinking about it, arguing with it, astounded by it.

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My Fantasia Festival, Day Three (Part Two): Han Gong-ju and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Han Gong-juTo my mind, if you’re a critic of any integrity, sooner or later the criticism you write will lead you to challenge your views of yourself as well as your views of the art you experience. That’s the nature of much truly effective art: it makes you look at yourself and think about yourself in new ways. If you’re trying to articulate your reaction and assessment of such a work, honesty will compel some self-examination as well. Powerful art requires an acknowledgement of one’s subjective response.

I mention this because the films I saw at the Fantasia festival last Saturday evening both did this in different and complementary ways, leading me to similar conclusions. The first was a South Korean movie called Han Gong-ju, written and directed by Lee Su-Jin. The second was Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, directed by Josephine Decker from a script she co-wrote with David Barker; Decker’s earlier short feature Butter on the Latch screened afterwards.

The eponymous lead of Han Gong-ju is a Korean schoolgirl who, as the movie opens, is being transferred from her old high school to another school in a different city. Why? We don’t know; but it’s clear that something grave has happened. The mother of one of her teachers takes Gong-ju in, and the movie alternates between showing Gong-ju’s new life and flashing back to slowly answer the question of what caused this sudden and massive change.

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My Fantasia Festival, Day Three (Part One): The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, Demon of the Lute, and Patch Town

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Satellite Girl and Milk CowSaturday was my first really big day at Fantasia. On weekdays, the festival usually starts its screenings at 5 or 6, with the occasional matinée at 3. Weekend days kick off around noon, meaning many more movies are on offer. Which also incidentally increases the risk of losing track of the need for a meal. I ended up seeing five movies last Saturday, with a dinner break after the first three. So this post will cover those first three films and I’ll have another up shortly looking at the next two. (In general it seems like I’m going to have more Fantasia posts than I’d thought, as I try to keep up with the films I’ve watched.)

I started at the Hall Theatre at 11:40 with an animated film from Korea called The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. As soon as that ended, I ran across the street to the smallest of the three main Fantasia theatres, the J.A. De Sève, where I watched the wild Shaw Brothers kung-fu film Demon of the Lute. After which I stayed with the De Sève to watch the Canadian feature Patch Town, which turned out to be a charming, surreal fantasy. It was a good, if somewhat lunatic, afternoon.

(Incidentally, the reason why I mention the theatres in which the movies are playing is because after a few days, it seems like each one has developed its own personality. Big broad-appeal films play at the Hall — bearing in mind that ‘broad appeal’ at Fantasia can mean something like Zombeavers as well as Guardians of the Galaxy. The D.B. Clarke seems to host a lot of thoughtful films with fairly high production values. And the De Sève has featured a number of experimental films and documentaries, as well as screenings of older films and the occasional thriller or horror movie.)

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Headed For a Watery Grave: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Ten: Doom Ship

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Captain Marvel Chapter Ten BettyI’m glad to see that you’ve gotten here early — as we near the end of our saga, seats are going to be at a premium, and you’re fast running out of opportunities to see Frank Coughlan Jr. and Tom Tyler perform their mystic switcheroo. I mean, once this silly thing is out of the theater, it’ll be forever relegated to the realm of nostalgic memory — it’s not like anyone will be able to watch it at home sixty years from now! That would be magic…

And so, while we still have the chance, let’s join the ragged remains of the Malcolm Scientific Expedition in their struggle against the malific machinations of the sinister Scorpion in this week’s chapter of The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Doom Ship.” Shazam! (Cough, cough…)

Pay close attention to this week’s title cards, recapping Chapter Nine; there will be a quiz after the main feature. “The Scorpion — Forces Doctor Lang to reveal the hiding place of his lens.” “Doctor Lang — Gives Betty the combination to his safe.” “Captain Marvel — Tries to warn Betty of a death trap at Lang’s home.” “Billy Batson — And Betty decide to get the lens.” Now to pick up where we left off…

Last week, we left Billy and Betty standing in front of the late Doctor Lang’s safe, unaware that two tommy guns were aimed at their backs, primed to fire as soon as the safe is opened. (They’re also unaware that Barnett and two other Scorpion men are watching them from hiding.) Just as Billy turns the safe’s dial to the last number, but before he can open the door, Barnett and his boys emerge from behind the drapes.

One of them shoves Betty out of the way. She slams against the wall and is knocked out (by the serial’s end, this woman will have suffered more concussions than Brett Favre) and then he slugs Billy on the head with a gun, laying the intrepid broadcaster out cold.

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My Fantasia Festival, Day 2: Kite and Open Windows

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

KiteOn Friday night, the cats came out at Fantasia.

They may have been around on Thursday, too, but this was the first I’d heard them this year. It’s one of the traditions that’ve sprung up at Fantasia: some years ago a series of short films called Simon’s Cat fostered an outbreak of meows among the audience (or, for the francophones, miaous). Somehow it spread to the rest of the festival. And then returned the next year. So, now, when the lights go down for a film — but before anything starts playing on the screen — you’ll hear the audience calling out meows. And the occasional ‘woof’ or ‘baa,’ just for variety.

Friday night, I saw two films welcomed by meows. Kite, a bloody near-future sf film, played at 6:35 in the big Hall Theatre, preceded by a short comedy, Raging Balls of Steel Justice. Then I headed downstairs to the D.B. Clarke Theatre to catch a twisty thriller called Open Windows. I don’t think either feature was entirely successful, but both qualified as ‘interesting,’ the latter rather more than the former.

Let’s begin with the short. Steel Justice is a violent, raunchy parody of 80s action movies, done in claymation. A Sledge Hammer!-style supercop and his horny robot sidekick have to save a prominent banker who’s been kidnapped by a barn full of escaped convicts. Much carnage ensues. It’s quick, fluidly animated, and extremely gross. As the saying goes: people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like. The humour wasn’t quite to my taste, and it did feel quite a lot like the aforementioned Sledge Hammer! without network content guidelines. For some, that’ll be enough to make it different; as it happens, not for me. At any rate, what it does, it does competently.

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Adventure On Film: Time After Time

Monday, July 21st, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Movie fans will forever remember Malcolm McDowell for his simpering, ultra-violent turn in Aimages Clockwork Orange (1971), but actors aren’t the sort to rest on their laurels, and by 1979, McDowell felt ready to embody a genuine historical figure, H.G. Wells.

The film was Time After Time, not to be confused with the Cyndi Lauper song (or the infinitely better cover by songbird Eva Cassidy), and if there’s a more definitive origin point for the Steampunk movement, I’d like to know what it is.

At the helm is first-time director Nicholas Meyer, who must have a soft spot for science fiction. Only a few years later, and armed with a much heftier budget, he was tapped to captain Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982).

As for Time After Time, it’s far from perfect –– the script contains several gargantuan plot holes, and we viewers (if I may be forgiven the mixed metaphor) must swallow hard to keep up –– but it does work in fits and starts, thanks especially to the looming presence of David Warner as a time-skipping and dangerously prescient Jack the Ripper.

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Han Solo Breaks a Leg

Monday, July 21st, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Han-Solo-Harrison-Ford-Star-Wars-7As with most “BIG EVENT” movies, from the first day the new Star Wars film was announced, fans, critics, and Hollywood pundits have been speculating about what the storyline will be. The rumor mill is in full gear and so it will go until the first previews are actually screened late next year. The studio and filmmakers have been playing their part by keeping everything mum, hush-hush, top-secret –  confidential scripts and non-disclosure clauses in actors’ contracts (on threat of being tossed into a rancor pit). The usual.

So when Harrison Ford broke his leg on the set a few weeks back (as I’m sure most of you have heard), the Hollywood gossip machine was already fired up and spitting out rumors on cue.

First, though, if somehow you missed it, this is what happened: Apparently, a door on the Millennium Falcon fell on him. And pause for a moment here to let that sink in. Could you have imagined, ten years ago, that in 2014 you’d be reading about Han Solo breaking his leg on the Millennium Falcon? The Falcon is undoubtedly a bit more dangerous to navigate when you’re 72 years old — but who would have thought that old space smuggler would be back on the big screen? Ford has vehemently insisted for the past THIRTY years that he would never again reprise the role that made him famous. The prequels came and went, and the clock kept ticking, and George Lucas said he wasn’t going to make any more films, and most people just naturally assumed that Ford was probably correct. But — surprise — Han Solo is back!

And then he breaks his leg.

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Afrofuturism and Empowerment

Sunday, July 20th, 2014 | Posted by Elwin Cotman

DETCON1This weekend, I have the pleasure of attending the DETCON1 in Detroit, the North American Science Fiction Convention. I have never been to a NASFIC, but it rose on my list of cons after seeing how sincere the organizers were in having a diverse body of panels and panelists. Not just from a standpoint of age and background, but the mediums that are represented too. I will be doing four panels, two of them on Afrofuturism.

Pretty cool. Still, I feel trepidation. When you go on a vacation (and that’s what con-going is), the real world does not stop. And in the real world, the host city Detroit is in dire straits. With property so cheap, gentrification is at an extreme level. Corporations are buying up whole blocks. Citizens who can’t pay their water bills are getting the utility shut off.

It is nice that the city can attract events like NASFIC or the recent Allied Media Conference. But I hope that we aren’t so busy celebrating spec-fic to at least acknowledge that we’re in a city where the poorest people don’t have water.

I don’t know why anybody reads The Hunger Games. You want dystopia, just read Reuters.

But that’s the irony of dystopia. Writers make novels about the types of issues that marginalized communities face every day, and pass it off as something that could only happen in the future.

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Geek Tyrant on “10 Great 1950s Sci-Fi Movies You May Never Have Heard Of”

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Flight to Mars 1951-smallWhen I was growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, there was a theater that had a science fiction and monster-movie double feature every Saturday. After we finished our paper route, my brother Mike and I would walk downtown and plunk down our hard-earned money for three and a half hours of monster movie bliss.

The theater was always packed with screaming kids. There Mike and I saw films that are still burned into my brain today — like the terrifying Planet of the Vampires (1965), giant-monster classic Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), and the greatest film of all time, Destroy all Monsters (1968).

Needless to say, I still have a weakness for classic monster movies, and especially the great science fiction films of the 50s and 60s. Also, the not-so-great science fiction films of the 50s and 60s.

You can’t walk downtown with 50 cents and watch a monster-movie double feature these days. Fortunately, you don’t have to — virtually every science fiction film of the 20th Century is available on DVD, Blu-ray, or download, for your home-viewing enjoyment. The real question these days isn’t how to see these great old films, but which ones are worth your time?

The answer, of course, lies on the Internet. There’s a ton of info out there, if you’ve got the energy to look for it (and sort out the relevant stuff). Or you could just rely on us — that’s what we’re here for.

One of the most useful articles I’ve stumbled on recently is Joey Paur’s Geek Tyrant piece ”10 Great 1950s Sci-Fi Movies You May Never Have Heard Of,” which covers many terrific SF films I really enjoyed, such as When Worlds Collide (1951),  and more than a few I’ve never seen, such as Flight to Mars (1951) and 4-D Man (1959). Lots here to keep you entertained in the late hours — check it out here.

Thanks to SF Signal for the tip!


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