Saturday, January 1, 2011

Only the Best of 2010 (okay, a few clunkers, too)

by John Scoleri

What started out as a top ten list of 2010 quickly morphed into a massive article across a variety of categories, so for sake of clarity, Peter and I decided to split our lists up. You may find a bit of overlap, but for the most part we'll be exploring different territory.

FICTION

InternecineMy favorite read of 2010 was Internecine by David J. Schow. Advertising executive Conrad Maddox finds himself mixed up in someone else's affairs when a key to an airport storage locker is left in his rental car. Inside the locker is a Haliburton briefcase with guns and instructions for a hitman. Rather than backing out gracefully he falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. This inspired thriller offers an underground tour of Hollywood that only an insider could provide. Schow is just the man for the job.



Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy Deluxe Boxed Set: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Plus On Stieg LarssonSteig Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has become a worldwide publishing phenomenon. Despite a slow opening, I stuck with it to see what the fuss was all about and ended up really enjoying this murder mystery/thriller, in part for the interesting story, but even moreso for the unique characters, most notably psychologically damaged hacker Lisbeth Salander. Those who criticize the late author's apparent misogynistic tendencies may have a valid point; consider that a warning to potential readers. The Swedish film adaptations also make my list below.

Mister SlaughterMr. Slaughter is Robert McCammon's (no middle R in his current publishing incarnation) third, and quite possibly best, adventure of his colonial protagonist Matthew Corbett. If you're not averse to well crafted period fiction, I highly recommend the prior novels in this continuing series as well (Speaks The Nightbird and Queen of Bedlam). It is quite a thrill to have McCammon back in full force, and this tale of the pursuit of a serial killer will definitely appeal to the fans of his horror fiction.



Horns: A NovelWith his second novel, Horns, Joe Hill confirms he is not a one-hit wonder. Ignatius William Perrish wakes up to find he has grown, yes, horns. In the wrong hands, this could easily have fallen apart as a ludicrous idea, but like Neil Gaiman, Hill somehow manages to weave the fantastic and realistic elements of the story perfectly.

I wanted to send a special shout out to Subterranean Press, who continues to put out some of the most beautiful volumes published today—and almost always on time! A wonderful contrast to some other presses who seemingly only manage to get a release out on time when it involves a marquee name, ignoring the fact that they are holding customers money for books solicited years ago. You know who you are...

FILMS

The Stieg Larsson Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) [Blu-ray]I watched the entire Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest) after reading the first book in the series, and before their theatrical debut in the US. I felt the first film was an excellent adaptation of the first book in the trilogy, although I did find having read said volume made some of the background story elements easier to follow. While the first film stands alone, the following entries in the series affirm that it is best viewed as a trilogy. Noomi Rapace is picture perfect as Lisbeth Salander. I don't envy Rooney Mara, who has big shoes to fill in David Fincher's American remake.

Tron LegacyDespite being a fan of the original TRON, which I saw theatrically at age 12 in 1982, I could not believe the amount of hype built up for TRON: Legacy. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this 3-D juggernaut from Disney. I thought it was brilliant to bring back Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner to reprise their roles from the original, (Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley), and Olivia Wilde was captivating in the role of Quorra. Despite complaints that the film loses the audiences interest once the sequence on the game grid is over, I felt it was everything one could reasonably hope for from a sequel to TRON.

The Crazies [Blu-ray]Timothy Olyphant does a fine job in the solid remake to George A. Romero's The Crazies. A great premise that is served well by a larger budget, even though the trailers would have you believe it was just another apocalyptic zombie film.

I know, I know, I still haven't seen Black Swan, Inception (perhaps when Peter's in town next weekend we'll throw that up on the big screen), and I've got Winter's Bone in my queue as Sheryl Lee's in it, and I'll watch anything with Sheryl Lee.

DVD/Blu Ray

Night of the Living Dead [USA] [Blu-Ray]It's hard to believe that the staple of all home media formats has taken so long on the road to high definition. While it remains unreleased legitimately, Night of the Living Dead saw what appears to be a grey market release of the best available transfer in high definition. The reason I say grey market is that I have to believe the source material used is the near pristine print used for the Elite and subsequent Mirimax/Dimension DVD release. I'll buy an official release as soon as one is offered, to ensure the Image Ten folks get their fair share of the proceeds, but since there's no sign of that on the horizon, I recommend this edition as the best available placeholder (yes, the one with the flopped image of the John Russo ghoul head).

Dario Argento's Inferno [Blu-ray] (Uk Import Region Free)Our friends at Arrow Video in the UK gave us a beautiful HD transfer of Dario Argento's Inferno as a zone free Blu Ray (not that Blu Ray zones need be a concern any more—see below). One of my favorite Argento films—the second in his Three Mothers trilogy has never looked better. For those who are more patient that I, Blue Underground has announced a domestic Blu Ray release for March of 2011.

Another treat from the UK is Video Nasties, a three-disc limited edition set which features trailers to all 72 films that wreaked havoc in England in the dawn of the video era, along with a comprehensive documentary on the subject. It's a subject I've always been fascinated with (in that fortunate, it-could-never-happen-here way), and this really does seem to be the end-all, be-all word on the subject. Again, if you're not currently set up to play Region 2/PAL discs, keep reading.

Another special mention I wanted to include was for the Warner Archive video on demand service. I have been supporting this service since it was announced, and have already ordered more than 30 titles (at varying discounts—they even offer up $5 coupons when I leave items unpurchased in my shopping cart!). I've picked up Ann-Margret features, Richard Matheson TV movies, Lon Chaney silent classics, an Angie Dickinson signed Pretty Maids All In A Row, and the complete series of Thundarr the Barbarian!

TV

I've been reading The Walking Dead comic since it was originally released (as I have just about every zombie comic book series that preceded it). Aside from one notable exception (Deadworld), most die within four issues, whereas Robert Kirkman's series is rapidly closing in on 100 issues. I find it entertaining, but have never viewed it as anything more than a riff on the work of George Romero. So it was with mixed emotions I approached the television series. With Frank Darabont at the helm, it certainly had promise. A successful run of six episodes has ensured a second season, however it will be interesting to see how it does after nearly a year between episodes. As a zombie film aficionado, I enjoy the series for what it is. I'm frankly amazed that they can get away with things on cable that Romero couldn't do in an R-rated film just a few years ago. The show has veered somewhat from the path of the comic, although there will be plenty of opportunities for them to touch on story arcs from the comic series. I felt that after a strong opening, the show dragged for a number of episodes, seemingly forgetting that there was a threat out there. A number of characters were subsequently offed in a single episode, and in the final episode of the season, we finally get something interesting to chew on as the group arrives at the CDC. Unfortunately, things are a little too contrived (the timing of their arrival being a tad too perfect), and what might have been an interesting multi-episode arc is wrapped up in a nice bow rather that extending into the next season. For my money, I would have cut some of the needless meandering of the initial episodes and extended their stay at the CDC. Even with the same outcome over six episodes, I believe it would have been more fulfilling. Time will tell where things go in the new season. I'll continue to support the show in the hope that it can grow into something even better.

Lost: The Complete CollectionPeter and I watched the pilot for Lost when it premiered at the San Diego Comic Con in 2004. In the panel following the screening, the filmmakers were quick to shoot down two theories raised by the audience. 1) The island was populated with dinosaurs. 2) The characters were not dead and in limbo. With that in mind, I wish that they had been lying about the first. Lost Season 6, and in a sense the series as a whole, has to be considered a disappointment. And lest you think I need everything spelled out in black and white, my two favorite TV series of all time are Twin Peaks and Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner.

TV ON DVD

The Twilight Zone: Season 1 [Blu-ray]By the inclusion of the unofficial pilot "The Time Element," The Twilight Zone Season One Blu Ray is a must buy. Fortunately Image has gone all out in the remastering of the show for this HD release. Expanding on the extras created for the original DVD collections, the series is definitely worthy of the double, triple, or quadruple dip that the Blu Ray set may represent.




Thriller: The Complete SeriesBoris Karloff's Thriller arrived on DVD in a complete series set that, if your timing was right, you could have picked up for less than 50% off the retail price. While not on par with The Twilight Zone as far as the transfers are concerned, the extras produced for this set, a significant number of audio commentaries, make this a worthy addition to your DVD library. And when you add in all of the supplementary goodness to be had on our A Thriller A Day blog, how could you go wrong?

COMICS

Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer Artist's Edition HCIf you had asked me a year ago if we had seen the end-all, be-all edition of Dave Stevens The Rocketeer, I would have said absolutely. The Rocketeer: The Complete Deluxe Edition was a beautiful slipcased set including both comic series, along with 100 pages of bonus materials ranging from original sketches to reproductions of original art pages. It sold out almost immediately, but has since been reprinted and is still the ultimate color edition of the groundbreaking work. So if you have that, what more could you possibly want? Enter The Rocketeer Artist's Edition. Reprinting the entire series from the original art (in almost all cases) in its original 11x17 size, this is an amazing representation of Dave Stevens' work. Issued at this year's San Diego Comic Con, copies were trading after the show at a significant markup. Fortunately, as with the deluxe edition, IDW has gone back to press and will be releasing the book through mass market channels in 2011. The casual fan can always enjoy the trade hardcover The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures. If you're a big fan, you won't want to miss the Deluxe edition. And if you're a die-hard Rocketeer fan (and have ordered the anamorphic widescreen DVD from the UK), you'll want to add the Artist's Edition to your library as well.

Sometimes, we find ourselves enjoying things that we're almost embarrassed to admit. Such is the case with The Punisher: Franken-Castle. For reasons that I had no particular interest in exploring, Marvel's Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, was torn to pieces. Enter Morbius, The Living Vampire, and his monster pals, who sew him back together, Frankenstein-style. Written by Rick Remender, with segments illustrated by John Romita Jr., Tony Moore, Dan Brereton (left) and a few others, this is an all-out monster party. In addition to Morbius, you've got the entire Legion of Monsters: Man-Thing, Werewolf (By Night), the Living Mummy, Manphibian and more. After being tempted to pick up the monthly issues, I was patient (for a change) and waited for the hardcover collection to be released. What can I say? It's a guilty pleasure.

Doctor Spektor Archives Volume 1 HCIn the final issue of The Scream Factory, I wrote an issue-by-issue analysis of Don Glut and Jesse Santos' The Occult Files of Dr Spektor. My favorite Gold Key series has now been reprinted in a hardcover archive format by Dark Horse, with the remaining volumes on the way. I plan to write an updated piece for bare•bones once all of the archive volumes have been released, but don't wait and risk that the early volumes go out of print. My only disappointment is that they've gone with a non-gloss paper stock for these volumes. The resulting books weigh a fraction of their other archives, and while they still look nice, one would expect that with the lesser production values, they might reduce the price a bit. No such luck. Fortunately, Amazon offers them at a substantial discount.

REFERENCE WORKS

Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed WorksThis year also saw the release of Matthew Bradley's Richard Matheson On Screen, which will not come as news to many readers of our blog. If you're a Matheson aficionado, you'll definitely want to include this book in your library. Bradley covers everything you could ever hope to track down (and then some), and draws upon numerous interviews with Matheson, making this the permanent record on the subject. I'd go so far as to say that Bradley knows more about the filmed works of Matheson than Matheson himself, and we're lucky he's chosen to share his knowledge with the rest of us.

The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes BackJonathan Rinzler follows up his excellent The Making of Star Wars with The Making of The Empire Strikes Back. Drawing on period interviews with the cast and crew, he once again pulls out all the stops, unearthing tons of never before seen original artwork and production photos, not to mention stories behind the making of the most popular of the Star Wars sequels. If you're a fan of the art of Ralph McQuarrie, the amount of his previously unpublished work included throughout this volume alone makes it worth picking up.

And even if I wasn't involved in it, I'd recommend the souvenir program produced this year for the special gallery of Ralph McQuarrie original art that was on display at Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando, Florida: A Gallery of Imagination.



Knowing Darkness: Artists Inspired by Stephen KingJerad Waters at Centipede Press has done it again, this time with Knowing Darkness: Artists Inspired By Stephen King. A colossal, oversized slipcased edition containing hundreds of key pieces of Stephen King artwork, from book covers to nearly all interior art from King's limited editions to date. Centipede offers some of the finest production values when it comes to small press publishing today, and while their books are not inexpensive, you certainly get your money's worth when you buy one of their books.



Night of the Living Dead: Studies in the Horror FilmAnother Centipede Press title that made my list this year is Studies in the Horror Film: Night of the Living Dead. Consisting of reprints of essays and interviews from a variety of obscure sources, it is nice to have in a single, durable volume. Contributors include Paul Gagne (The Zombies Who Ate Pittsburgh), R.H.W. Dillard (Horror Films), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Midnight Movies), Kendal R. Phillips (Projected Fears), Kevin Heffernan (Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold), Greg Waller (The Living and the Undead) and more. A must have for NOTLD fans, even if there's nothing represented from The Scream Factory 25th Anniversary NOTLD Tribute magazine. ;)

Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie EverI wish I could speak as highly of Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever Made by Joe Kane. While the book certainly has much to offer the NOTLD/Romero fan, I have a few issues with it. First and foremost, the title is misleading. The book, like Paul Gagne's The Zombies Who Ate Pittsburgh, focuses on the entire career of George Romero. Only about a third is focused on Night of the Living Dead. And that leads to my second, and more significant concern. As someone who is well read when it comes to Night, I was able to recognize quotes from interviews that I had read before, presented herein with no attribution. In fact, there were several stories that I had only ever heard in the documentary Autopsy of the Dead, and that film is only noted in the 'filmography' section of the book. The absence of any footnotes is at a minimum a glaring oversight, as this will very likely become the de facto source of information on Night moving forward, without recognizing all those who necessarily did the work to gather said information. Authors (and publishers) in today's world should know better.

The Art of Drew StruzanWho would have thought that someday I would see David Schow's name bandied about in Star Wars magazines and websites, and yet that is exactly what happens when you hang out with the likes of Drew Struzan. The Art of Drew Struzan, co-written by Schow, is the first collection of the artist's work to include a number of rare preliminary sketches and paintings. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Big Trouble in Little China, Back to the Future... they're all represented in here. If anything felt like it was missing, it would have to be a number of Struzan's contributions to the Star Wars special editions. But that leaves room for future volumes, right?

Ray Harryhausen - Master of the Majicks: The British Films, Volume 3 (Majicks, Volume 3)Archive Editions just released their second volume of Ray Harryhausen's Master of the Majicks (Volume 3) by Mike Hankin, covering the master's British films. Profusely illustrated, this 600+ page tome is another must have for the Harryhausen collector, even if you've got all the other books on the subject. I would be remiss if I did not point out that Caroline Munro provides a Foreword and is featured in numerous photos throughout the Golden Voyage of Sinbad section. Quantities are limited, and as Volume 2 is already sold out, don't miss out on this if you're interested. Volume 1, focusing on Harryhausen's early works, is forthcoming.

The Complete History of the Return of the Living DeadJust under the wire, but worthy of a mention after flipping through the profusely illustrated pages, comes The Complete History of Return of the Living Dead by Christian Sellers and Gary Smart. While not a FAB Press book, (it was published in the UK by Plexus) it has that same look and feel. It's comprehensive in that it covers all five films in the series. The original deservedly gets the lion's share of the attention. With access to photos from the film's still photographer and others, we are treated to dozens of images that have never been seen before, and not just the run of the mill press kit shots that have been reproduced over and over again. I hope to find that the text lives up to the visuals.

Finally, I'll second Peter's vote for David Horne's Gathering Horror, and I've only made it a few dozen into its almost 700 pages. If you are at all interested in the Warren magazines, head on over to eBay right now and order up a copy while you can get it at its extremely reasonable list price ($35). I assure you, with a print run of only 300 copies these will not last, and it promises to be the ultimate Warren reference for years to come.

MUSIC

THEY WON'T STAY DEAD! Music from the soundtrack of NIGHT of the LIVING DEADJim Cironella, producer of the excellent Night of the Living Dead documentary Autopsy of the Dead (directed by Jeff Carney), pulled out all the stops in the compilation and remastering of They Won't Stay Dead, a CD containing almost every library cue from the soundtrack to Night of the Living Dead. If you've been hanging on to a bootleg CD of the original Varese Sarabande LP, it's time to upgrade. This release not only contains some cues not included on the LP, it also corrects some errors from that release. To reiterate, this is not sourced from the album—Cironella went to the original library source tracks, and it has never sounded better. (As an aside, one more place you can hear some of these cues is the unofficial Twilight Zone pilot, "The Time Element.")

OTHER COOL STUFF

Since I wrote an entire blog entry on the Aurora Monsters of the Movies Creature From The Black Lagoon model kit, I figured I'd just point back to that. :)

Monster Scenes Vampirella Figure 1/13 MoebiusA late but welcome arrival this year was the Aurora Monster Scenes Vampirella model kit reissue. Long considered the holy grail to monster modelers, it just goes to show that in time, everything cycles back around. Frankly, it's almost worth it just having the box.

If you're a modeling fan, you'll be excited by a number of kits scheduled for release in 2011, including the "Strange Change" series (all three—The Mummy, The Vampire, and The Time Machine), and the greatest of the Aurora Prehistoric series, the huge 1:13 scale Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Here's another notable mention for 2010. Whoever at Hasbro came up with the idea of releasing Star Wars figures on vintage style cardbacks is brilliant. Banking on nostalgia is by no means a sure thing, but in this case it appears to be paying off. I've spoken to a number of collectors who had gotten out of the hobby, only to get pulled back in by this latest marketing tactic. Of course the added temptation of a mail-away rocket-firing Boba Fett couldn't hurt.

On the flip side, the folks at Gentle Giant introduced a new twist on vintage Star Wars figures, offering 12" scale replicas of the 3-3/4" line. They started with convention exclusive releases of Boba Fett and the Stormtrooper, with half a dozen others since announced. As cool a concept as this is, at $75-100 each, they seem outrageously overpriced, particularly when compared to what contemporary 12" fully costumed and articulated figures cost.

Last but not least, the folks at EFX Collectibles released the first in what promises to be a series of replicas based on the concept work of Ralph McQuarrie. For their inaugural effort, they produced Ralph's Darth Vader helmet in 1:1 scale, based on the design used for the original paperback tie-in cover. Working closely with Ralph, they've done a fantastic job at bringing his design to life in three dimensions. Limited to only 250 signed copies, this edition sold out almost immediately and is already commanding a hefty premium on the secondary market.

HARDWARE

Readers of the print editions of bare•bones may recall my singing the praises of the APEX DVD player many years ago. That was a groundbreaking unit that was not only inexpensive, but offered a quick region switching capability via the remote. Welcome to the 21st century. The Insignia WBRDVD2 not only offers all region DVD playback, it also supports all zone Blu Ray playback. For a player that's only $129 (and often on sale as low as $89), it's a deal that can't be beat. No more complaining about that UK or French Blu Ray release. The world of home video is opened up to you, all by way of entering a simple code on your remote.

I know there are other books I've read, movies I've seen, and things I've acquired that, had I a better memory, would make it on this list. Chances are, those will turn up as an article of their own someday.

Here's looking forward to everything 2011 has in store!

2 comments:

Walker Martin said...

John, thanks for mentioning VIDEO NASTIES, which I had forgot about. I just ordered the boxset on amazon.com UK. Also I was interested in what you said about DOCTOR SPEKTOR. Somehow, I completely ignored this character but he sounds very interesting. Amazon has the reprint book discounted plus the second volume is scheduled for March. Several of the stories are reprinted on the internet(google.com).

Tom said...

Thanks for the post. Lots of great info. I personally enjoyed Speak the Nightbird. I would put it up against Swan Song or Boys Life any day. I know many McCammon fans would disagree. I will also check out Horns based on your review. Finally I think the Walking Dead is a great Series and I am glad it is popular with the average TV viewer. Hopefully we will get 12 episodes next year.