Friday 30 May 2014

LepreCon 40 Mini-Film Festival

The first time I hosted an Apocalypse Later mini-film festival was at LepreCon 39 in May 2013. That means that when I reprised the event with entirely new material for LepreCon 40 in May 2014, I was celebrating my first year as a programmer. I'll be doing so officially at the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival in mid-June where I'll re-screen each of the local sci-fi shorts that I've screened at various events this year.

I've learned a lot as I've gone, from that first eyes wide open attempt at LepreCon, through similar follow ups at CopperCon and DarkCon to my return to LepreCon this year, as well as a similar programming event in a different format at Wild Wild West Con.

I expect to change some minor details as I program such mini-film festivals at conventions during 2014 and 2015. I may stick to short films and ditch the feature I've been adding after those sets. If I replay on a second night during the con, I should time it to begin an hour after the vendor hall closes. That sort of thing.

Mostly I believe I've found a pretty solid framework to work to. The most important decision I took has surely been to ditch the submission model and go entirely with carefully selected material, casting my net internationally but also taking a strong look at local films and, where possible, bringing out filmmakers for Q&As. It's the quality of the films that I screen that is bringing regulars back time and time again to see my selections.

And with that said, I'm going to start posting about the sets I've programmed thus far, to highlight the films and the filmmakers and to allow more people to see them, when they're available online.

First up, here's my anniversary set at LepreCon 40, which included nine short films from five countries and a feature.


Logan Must Make Star Wars (2014) 5m
Squishy Studios (USA)
dir: Nathan Blackwell (local filmmaker)

Trial of the Mask (2013) 13m
40+BC (USA)
dirs: Cory McBurnett & Bill Reichardt
not on IMDb

Terminus (2013) 13m
Angel Ruiz (USA)
dir: Angel Ruiz (local filmmaker)
not on IMDb

Timeholes (2013) 2m
Berry Cinema & Grey Area (UK)
dir: Ben Mallaby

The Secret Keeper (2012) 18m
College and Main Productions (USA)
dir: Bears Fonté

Present Tense (2013) 7m
Skinny Bones Productions (USA)
dir: Jaz Garewal (local filmmaker)

Elephants Dream (2006) 11m
Blender Foundation (Netherlands)
dir: Bassam Kurdali

Sight (2012) 8m
Bezaleal Academy of Arts and Design (Israel)
dirs: Daniel Lazo & Eran May-Raz

Evergreen (2006) 14m
The Team (Greece)
dir: Iphigeneia Kotsoni

Idaho Transfer (1973) 86m
Pando Company (USA)
dir: Peter Fonda

Three were local Arizona shorts, with two from elsewhere in the United States. The UK, the Netherlands, Israel and Greece also contributed a short film to round out the set. The feature was also American, a 1973 picture in the public domain called Idaho Transfer, directed by no less a name than Peter Fonda.

Logan Must Make Star Wars
Logan Must Make Star Wars was a submission to the A3F 48 Hour film challenge in 2014, where it won for Best Comedy, Best Director and the Brock H Brown Award for Best Script.

It's such a quintessential Squishy Studios comedy that we'd recognise it even if the cast didn't have familiar faces. The consistently funny tone is very recognisable from earlier films like Zombie Team Building and Masters of Daring, not to mention the Voyage Trekkers web series, but it's given a fresh target, namely the Star Wars series and its creator George Lucas.

Logan Blackwell, well known for a long series of lovable but inept characters, plays another one here. In shenanigans only summarised at the outset, he finds himself thrown back in time to 1974 where he causes the death of George Lucas. Horrified at the idea of a future without the Star Wars trilogy, he slaps on an astonishingly fake disguise which isn't questioned once and attempts to make A New Hope from memory. As they say, hilarity ensues as Logan highlights truth after truth about the first Star Wars feature in an effortless set of gags.

My first Squishy Studios film was Zombie Team Building, which played both the Phoenix Fear Fest and the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, and I've been hooked on their work ever since. I was honoured that writer/ director Nathan Blackwell allowed me to screen his rarely seen 2007 feature The Constant Epiphanies of Billy the Blood Donor at LepreCon last year. We also had a fun Q&A after the screening. I'm sure you'll see more from Squishy Studios at future events.

Most of their films are available online to watch for free, including this one, which is at YouTube and Funny or Die.

Trial of the Mask
There are fan films everywhere. Trial of the Mask serves double duty on that front because it's not just a Star Wars fan film, it's also a fan film about its lead character, Steampunk Boba Fett. It provided his alter ego, John Strangeway, with a means to go beyond mere cosplay and build depth, substance and history to his character.

Strangeway is based in Georgia but travelled to Arizona to be a special guest at Wild Wild West Con 3 in Tucson this March, where he granted me permission to screen the film wherever I wanted. Like so many filmmakers, making a short film is just the beginning; the real challenge is to get it seen and any new eyeballs are good eyeballs.

It's not without its seams. In particular, the CGI backgrounds are decent but can't match the rightfully acclaimed physical design of costumes like Strangeway's and the steampunk Darth Vader who hires him to track down and kill someone from his past.

It really tries to do everything a Star Wars movie does, which includes the inevitable asteroid avoiding scene, but however much that and certain other scenes should have been trimmed or removed, I still enjoyed this better than the official Lucas prequels. The heart of the story rings truer than the prequels too, because the effects on the ground are delightfully real, unlike the terminally shiny CGI that Lucas fell in love with. It also helps that Steampunk Boba Fett embraces playing down and dirty just like any legendary bounty hunter would.

Strangeway will be back in Arizona in June to appear at Phoenix Comicon, where this will be screened once more. He'll even be taking part in the Steampunk Fashion Show on the Saturday afternoon. In the meantime, you can check out Trial of the Mask online at YouTube.

The most recent addition to my LepreCon set, Terminus is a local Arizona film starring Angel Ruiz, who also wrote and directed. Ruiz is a versatile and experienced talent who keeps new films coming every year, many of which play on the big screen at the Phoenix Film Festival, which is where I first saw Terminus this year.

I found this one more consistent than last year's fun offering, Interceptor, because the script rang more true, even if, as Ruiz believably suggested during the Q&A at the Phoenix Film Festival, that it only sprang out of a desire to tell Michelle Palermo to fuck off on screen.

Ruiz plays a man looking for a job and Palermo is the boss who puts him through a trio of tests during his interview. Terminus is the name of the company, highlighted at the beginning of the film with a fake commercial, that specialises in 'people placement'. Certainly that's what happens by the time the credits run, just not in the sort of way you might expect.

Ruiz and Palermo are regulars in local short film, as is Carrie Fee, who plays Palermo's secretary. With a cast as strong as this and a crew just as reliable, it really falls to the script to determine whether this is going to be a keeper or not and in my opinion it's the best Ruiz has written for quite some time.

It can't be seen online yet because Ruiz has a habit of letting his films slip away after they're made and screened. Every time I meet him I press him to get them online or at least to get pages up on IMDb for them. Those without a background in Arizona film might be excused for believing he's only made a handful of pictures, but there are a whole slew of them waiting for him to share online. Here's another reminder, Angel!

I couldn't resist Timeholes, a short short from the UK that runs a mere two minutes. It's as true a time travel film as I've ever seen, not because it wraps up all the inevitable complexity in a believable knot but because it looks beyond the technical details at the reality of how the concept might be used. The time travellers here aren't Victorian gentlemen or white-robed scientists. They're party animals out on hen and stag nights.

I first heard about Timeholes in February at Boing Boing, because of the conditions of its release. Director Ben Mallaby released it online under a Creative Commons 3.0 license that allows it to be screened, remixed or otherwise adapted for free with attribution. I'm a big fan of Creative Commons licenses and chose to publish both my books under one, which allows for non-commercial adaptation with attribution.

On following the link to Vimeo, I was happy to find that not only was Timeholes freely available for me to screen, it was also an excellent little film, superbly constructed without an ounce of fat on its bones. It's well acted and well shot with excellent effects and a special nod being deserved to the prop department who found just the right penis whistle.

It's watchable for free online at both Vimeo and YouTube.

The Secret Keeper
I've been trying to schedule The Secret Keeper for some time, but couldn't get in touch with the director, Bears Fonté, until recently. I first saw it at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in 2013 and reviewed it at Apocalypse Later. It was one of my favourites from two stellar selections of short films from sci-fi programmer, Michael Stackpole.

Partly this is because it doesn't feel like your usual sci-fi short film. There are no spaceships or ray guns, not even any extrapolations of current technology. Instead, it introduces an odd profession, that of the secret keeper, which is exactly what you think except in a more literal way. The service provided by a secret keeper has strong comparisons to both prostitutes and confessors, making it a fascinating mix of the sacred and profane.

I was hooked just on the concept, but Fonté script from a story he wrote with the excellent lead actor, Sara Fletcher, placed it into a believable world that isn't ours but isn't too far away from it. It's one of those films that plays better to me each time I see it and I was impressed on the first time through.

The Secret Keeper is not available to watch online at this time, though a number of trailers for it are.

Present Tense
I like to mix up my mini-film festivals so that the selections play well together but carry different tones, explore different sub-genres and never feel like they've repeated anything. Present Tense is another film I saw at the Phoenix Film Festival this year, made by a Tucson filmmaker called Jaz Garewal, who I'd forgotten had made another short film that I reviewed a couple of years ago, BlamBlamBlam ClickClickClick.

It's another comedic time travel movie, but with a completely different take to Logan Must Make Star Wars or Timeholes. This plays it far more conventionally but then ratchets it up beyond any level I've seen before.

The scene is a wedding, where Alex and Cynthia are about to become man and wife, but a future Alex throws a spanner into the works by appearing out of nowhere to try to convince him not to go through with it. Then another future Alex appears to tell him the exact opposite. And on and on it goes, until we can't fail to laugh at the insanity of it all. Yet each and every one of the many time travel paradoxes has been done before, sometimes recognisably and sometimes not.

Because it's so closely parodying famous films, this is the sort of picture where we cringe at the first homage, become bemused at the second one and gradually fall in love with how far Garewal was willing to take it, somehow wrapping it all up neatly at the end. I waylaid him immediately after his Phoenix Film Festival screening to ask for permission to screen it again at LepreCon, which he thankfully granted.

It's not available to watch online yet, but given that it was funded through Kickstarter I'm sure it will be at some point.

Elephants Dream
This 2006 Dutch animation from the Blender Foundation, cited as 'the world's first open movie' was my backup for a film I couldn't get permission for in time, but it's a visual treat. Blender is open source 3D rendering software and the folk behind it have made a number of films using it that get better all the time. I've screened one of them before, Tears of Steel.

The story of this one is too obscure for my tastes, the very deliberate open ending leaving a lot of unanswered questions, but visually it's a surrealistic gem, even after eight years, so I threw it in to segue between the wild comedy of Present Tense and the creepy near future realism of Sight.

All the Blender Foundation films are available to watch online for free and they're Creative Commons licensed which allows people like me to screen them in sets like this.

This one's at Vimeo and YouTube, as well as the Internet Archive.

I fell in love with Sight at the inaugural Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival last year, where it was almost the last film I saw on the Sunday afternoon after most people had left. It's an Israeli film, stunningly a graduation project at the Bezaleal Academy of Arts and Design, and it contains one of my favourite end credits sequences of all time that you just have to pay attention to. Before that is a chilling look at near future technology, extrapolated from imminent and already controversial concepts like Google Glass.

Sight is very similar augmented tech, but it goes a number of steps beyond what Google are aiming to shake the world with. Instead of a pair of glasses, Sight is more like a pair of contact lenses, that stay in all the time and drive every part of Patrick's day. It also turns almost everything into a game, from chopping up cucumbers to recognising constellations. The sinister side arrives when he applies this to dating Daphne.

There's so much to say about this film that I'll surely write a lengthy review at Apocalypse Later at some point, but suffice it to say that it's well shot, well acted and with amazingly well integrated CGI to overlay what the characters see through their Sight systems. With everything important digital, there's little to provide in the way of traditional sets. Patrick's apartment appears empty to us, just a couch and a blank wall, because he lives inside his Sight. I'd love to watch this again in ten years time and see how much of it has become routine.

Sight can be watched for free at Vimeo, where it was a deserved Staff Pick, and at YouTube.

The theme of LepreCon this year was '50 Shades of Green', which sounded way cool but turned out to be next to impossible to program around. All I could conjure up was muppet porn, so I found an image of Miss Piggy in bondage gear with Kermit on a leash to throw up as a backdrop. The one short film that I felt fit the real theme properly was this one, a short film from Greece by director Iphi Kotsoni.

It's a deceptive science fiction film because it starts out as a fantasy, with a woman bringing news to a village and hoping that tribal mistrust won't cause problems. Everything is beautifully realised, from the sets to the props via the costumes. The cast were well chosen, the lead being a believably strong woman in a world dominated by men. Even the tattoos are notable and the colour green is a very strong thematic element.

How fantasy becomes sci-fi you'll need to find out by watching the film yourselves, but it's through a stunningly believable escalation that reminded me of the Pern novels of Anne McCaffrey, feudal fantasies that became pure science fiction over a series of world building.

Evergreen can be watched for free online at YouTube. This link is to the version with English subtitles but there are others that favour French or Greek.

Idaho Transfer
And so to the feature, which for a change was new to me as well as everyone else in the audience. I struggled to find a film that fit the theme of the convention but which I'd be able to find permission to screen, so I eventually settled for Idaho Transfer, a 1973 feature in the public domain, on the basis of what I'd read about it and the fact that I'd found a better quality copy than is normally available in the usual box sets.

It turned out to be an odd film, but one that generated some interesting discussion after the credits rolled. While I wouldn't call it a great movie, it has, however, stayed with me so there are definitely strong positive sides to it.

While the director is well known, being twice Oscar-nominated Peter Fonda making his second of three films as a director, the cast were and still are almost all unknowns, the only exception being a small role for a young Keith Carradine. The location is also a strong character in itself, the film being shot in the bleak Mountains of the Moon national park in Idaho.

It's another a time travel movie, one clearly birthed from the counterculture scene of the late sixties but with a pessimistic tone that is all seventies. The feel is that everything was possible until the Man screwed it all up. We're never told quite what ecotastrophe befell the planet, just that one did and we watch an odd set of youths flounder around in the aftermath until a stunningly out of the blue finalé.

It's an odd film in that it's consistently slow and nothing much happens in it, but it's haunting in a way that makes the hour and a half running time seem short. The jolt of the finalé shakes us out of what is almost a hypnotic state to ponder on the themes. I'm happy to have experienced this for the first time in good company with a chance to talk about it immediately afterwards.

And that was my mini-film festival for LepreCon 40 in May 2014. Next up, I'll work backwards to Wild Wild West Con and DarkCon.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Apocalypse Later Film Festivals at Conventions

I've been programming film festivals at small local Arizona conventions (between 300 and 4,000 attendees) for a year now and they've gone very well. Given their success (I've had between 20 and 300 attendees just for my screenings), it's become clear that I need to set up this reference page to which I will be sending a lot of people.

A little background... some of these conventions have run film festivals before but they tended to use a submission-based model which generated them a small amount of income, perhaps offset by the cost of awarding a prize. This didn't work well. Few films were submitted and quality was never guaranteed, so these screenings tended to be both poor and short. Audiences drifted away.

When LepreCon asked me to program their film festival at LepreCon 39 in May 2013, I chose to ditch this failed model entirely. Instead I programmed a 90 minute set of short films and a feature, with a Q&A in between with any local filmmakers who attended. This approach guaranteed a decent running time, quality material and the opportunity for audience members to meet some of the filmmakers.

The theory is that everyone wins:

- I have no budget and don't get paid, but I do get into the convention.
- There are neither submission fees nor prizes, so to filmmakers it's an opportunity to reach new eyeballs (like Vimeo or YouTube, but on a bigger screen).
- Audiences get to see a quality set of films for free with the potential bonus of local filmmakers to talk to.
- The conventions get publicity, good feeling and the possibility that they may sell memberships to their full events.

Thus far this has seemed to work and the success of the LepreCon 39 event led to more of the same.

After LepreCon in 2013, I programmed similar film festivals at DarkCon, CopperCon and Wild Wild West Con. I returned to LepreCon in 2014 for their 40th anniversary, will be returning to CopperCon in August and, after Hallowe'en, I'll be programming at FearCon. Numbers are strong. Some of the audience members have come specifically for my film festivals and have returned time after time. Some have also bought convention memberships.

As I'll be sending convention contacts and filmmakers to this page, here's how the model works and how it affects you.

For Filmmakers

If I'm contacting you, I've already seen and enjoyed your film and believe it would be a good fit for a particular convention. It may fit the theme of the event or tie in to the special media guest.

I may have seen it online, at another film festival or even as a submission to another film festival (as I currently screen for five different events). In some instances, I may already have reviewed it at my main review site, Apocalypse Later, and you may have originally sent it to me for review.

Primarily what I'm asking for is your permission for me to screen your film. I'm very keen to obtain permission from filmmakers (or other rights owners) in every instance.

There is no financial component associated with my film festivals. There are no submission fees for filmmakers and no payment for me. This is not a competition and there are no prizes.

My film festivals are also free and open to the public so there's no commercial gain. The conventions do hope that attendees buy memberships to their events, but this is not required. However there are two exceptions worthy of note:

1. Wild Wild West Con takes place in a closed venue, Old Tucson Studios, so while my film festival itself is free, attendees must either have bought a pass to Old Tucson or Wild Wild West Con to get to the venue.

2. Similarly, FearCon centres around a larger film festival, at which I'll only be one part. My set will be free, but attendees must have bought a pass to FearCon to get into it.

I may also be asking for a high quality digital copy of your film so that it can be seen exactly as intended. In some instances I may already have this, perhaps a short from Vimeo or YouTube or a feature on DVD, but often I'll either not have a copy at all or only a lower quality one.

The screens I use are generally portable ones, so not huge and 720p (or even 360p) will play well. There are the same two exceptions, however, where 1080p is highly recommended:

1. At Wild Wild West Con, films are projected onto the big screen in Old Tucson's historic saloon set (where so many famous films were shot).

2. At FearCon, the screen will also be very large and my set will be surrounded by other film programming.

If you're a local filmmaker, I'll also ask if you might be available to come out to attend and be part of a Q&A in between the shorts and the feature. This is not required, especially on a Thursday evening and as there is no budget to help you attend, but it does add value for the audience and allows you to connect with them directly.

While I have not done this over the last year (yet), now that I've set up Apocalypse Later Now! to host anything I write that isn't a film review, I plan to post coverage of each of my film festivals with brief synopses of each film, links to IMDb and my reviews (where appropriate), poster images and links to any media that may be online, such as at Vimeo or YouTube, whether that be the full film or just a trailer. Hopefully this will build publicity for your work.

For Conventions

I provide this service to conventions primarily to ensure that you have a strong film festival with quality content at your events, without having to worry about any aspect of making it happen.

There is no financial component to these film festivals. I do not charge filmmakers submission fees or offer prizes. I do not expect any payment from conventions. Your events will not gain anything financially unless attendees choose to buy convention memberships after attending the film festival.

Here's what I bring to the table:

1. I handle all programming. Because I'm now hosting these film festivals at many conventions, I'm able to keep my eyes open at all times for new material that I believe would play well at a future event. I will happily work to your theme.

2. I handle all approvals. I will obtain approvals from the filmmakers (or other rights owners) before screening any film.

3. I handle all liaison with filmmakers. I keep in constant touch with the local film community, so can bring out local filmmakers and host Q&A sessions.

Here are my requirements:

1. I need Operations to supply a room, a projector and a screen. I'll bring a laptop, speakers and all the media content.

2. I should be listed on your website and in your programme as a Participant with a brief bio that I can happily provide in either long or short form, as required. In addition to the film festival, I'm happy to serve as a panelist or moderator on any panels you see fit. I have strong experience in both functions.

3. As a Participant, I should receive two passes to your convention.

I do not expect to be seen as a Guest or as Staff, unless I'm doing something else for your convention that means I meet those criteria.

I do not need to be part of your convention committee and would not expect to attend any planning meetings, with the possible exception of an initial one to flesh out what I've outlined on this page.

While I'd generally expect to work to what has become my standard model, I'm open to any suggestions as to how you might prefer it to be changed for your particular event. We would need to work this out as far in advance of that event as is possible.

For Audiences

My film festivals are free of charge and I hope you enjoy the service I'm providing enough to come back for future events.

Please take your attendance at one of my film festivals as an opportunity to look at what else will be happening at the convention that's hosting me. If you like what you see, please consider buying a membership.

These are generally small conventions so you'll have a much more personal experience than at a large event like Phoenix Comicon. The negative side is that there's much less of everything but the positive side is that your time will be more valuably spent at every aspect of it. If you've ever met a special media guest and wanted to spend more time with them, then these small conventions are absolutely for you.

Please also support the filmmakers. If you enjoyed a movie at one of my film festivals, consider contacting the people who made it to say so and then check out their other work. Buy their DVDs, watch their films on Vimeo or YouTube and tell your friends what they're missing.

My next film festival will be at LepreCon 40 on Thursday, 8th May, 2014, starting at 7.00pm. The venue is:

Marriott Mesa
200 N Centennial Way, Mesa, AZ 85201
(480) 898-8300

Convention Details

Here are details for each of the conventions I've programmed for thus far (or am scheduled to program for in the future):

DarkCon (every other January)
Website | Facebook

This is a sci-fi/fantasy convention run by the Dark Ones with a strong focus on the punked genres (steampunk/cyberpunk/dieselpunk etc). It began in 1995. This year's event was in Phoenix

Wild Wild West Con (March)
Website | Facebook

This is a dedicated steampunk convention run by the Arizona Steampunk Society at Old Tucson Studios, just outside Tucson. 2014 was its 3rd year.

LepreCon (May)
Website | Facebook

This is a general sci-fi/fantasy convention in Mesa with a focus on art. 2014 will be its 40th year.

CopperCon (August)
Website | Facebook

This is a general sci-fi/fantasy convention in Mesa with a focus on literature and media.

FearCon (November in 2014)
Website | Facebook

This is a dedicated horror convention and film festival run by the folk from Trash City. 2014 will be its 6th event, which will be at Fear Farm in Phoenix.

Thank you!

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Completing Filmographies

As anyone who's read my main review site knows, I'm not only a film critic, I'm a film fan. I don't just need to watch movies that people send me or which fit the scope of a new book, I'm always interested in what went before and what will come after, what influenced what and what else was going on at the time.

I'm also a collector, so I tend to organise things into lists. I especially keep lists that establish a base grounding, not just obvious ones like the IMDb Top 250 or the AFI's Top 100 lists but more obscure ones too that detail British, Australian or Chinese films; horror, sci-fi or blaxploitation movies or films from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s.

I have what I consider to be a useful strain of OCD which means that once I've started a list, I like to see it completed. If I've listed the films that Alfred Hitchcock directed, for instance, then I surely want to get hold of them all, watch them all and review them all. Of course, at that point I have another book or two in the making, so there are fringe benefits.

Sadly, what I've discovered is that completing a filmography or, in other words, watching everything that person X has made or appeared in, is a surprisingly tough proposition.

We've been conditioned to know that many films are lost, up to 90% of all silent movies. I therefore don't expect to be able to see everything Lon Chaney made, as sad as that state of affairs is. But what about people still making films today, major names like, say, Oscar-winner Roger Corman?

He directed fifty films but I was missing one for years until I tracked it down under another title at a video rental store in New Zealand on PAL VHS. I managed to find someone who rented it, ripped it and made it available to me and I've had a lot of feedback about the review I posted of it. It's sad to know that its official release is being suppressed by its rights owner.

That happens more than we might imagine, but most modern films that are unavailable today (like a suggested 40% of all movies released on VHS) are probably so because of the cost of licensing the soundtracks for a new form of release. For instance, I watched an early Lance Henriksen movie as a VHS rip because it'll never be released officially in a newer format. The reason is that there's hit disco music on the soundtrack that would cost more to license than the film's release would ever make. That's a shame.

So how well have I done with completing filmographies thus far?


The first filmography I thought I'd completed, almost a decade ago, seemed like an easy one: Skippy, the wire fox terrier who was so memorable in the 1934 movie, The Thin Man, that he was promptly renamed to the character he played, Asta.

It was easy because, at that point in time, IMDb only credited him with appearances in six movies, half of which were entries in the series that The Thin Man became. The others included such notable pictures as Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth, so it wasn't hard to wrap them all up.

The catch turned out to be that IMDb wasn't quite accurate. A decade on, there have been six additions to Skippy's filmography there, only two of which I've seen. What's more, Wikipedia disagrees with IMDb's list. While it accepts five of the new titles, it ignores the sixth and adds a new one entirely. It also rejects two of the original list as later films featuring a copycat of Skippy.

Now there are a potential thirteen movies that Asta stole away from the human actors and I've only seen eight of them. So, Skippy's off my completed list.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
The Kennel Murder Case 1933 7 7 Michael Curtiz IMDb
The Thin Man 1934 7 7 W S Van Dyke IMDb
The Lottery Lover 1935 Wilhelm Thiele IMDb
The Daring Young Man 1935 William A Seiter IMDb
The Big Broadcast of 1936 1935 Norman Taurog IMDb
After the Thin Man 1936 7 7 W S Van Dyke IMDb
The Sea Racketeers 1937 Hamilton MacFadden IMDb
The Awful Truth 1937 5 5 Leo McCarey IMDb
I am the Law 1938 Alexander Hall IMDb
Bringing Up Baby 1938 7 7 Howard Hawks IMDb
Topper Takes a Trip 1939 5 6 Norman Z McLeod IMDb
Another Thin Man 1939 6 7 W S Van Dyke IMDb
The Thin Man Goes Home 1945 6 6 Richard Thorpe IMDb

Grace Kelly

Next up for me was Grace Kelly, who had a brief but very memorable career in the early fifties before retiring from the screen to become Princess Grace of Monaco.

I'd already seen a number of her films, many of which are seen as some of the greatest ever made. I'd seen the three she'd made for Alfred Hitchcock, along with High Noon and Mogambo, John Ford's remake of Red Dust. When TCM chose her as their Star of the Month, it wasn't tough to catch up on the rest, including her sole pre-fame picture, Fourteen Hours.

There's far less opportunity for a catch with a prominent actress working in the fifties who became famous on her second film than a canine actor who started a fashion trend in the thirties. There is one though: those eleven titles were all theatrical releases, which was actually the short part of her screen career.

She also appeared in almost sixty television broadcasts, perhaps all of which were shot live, making them a great opportunity for a confident young stage actress. Most were plays for sponsored shows like Lux Video Theatre, The Philco Television Playhouse and Kraft Television Theatre. I haven't seen a single one of these, but at least I've reviewed all her features.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
Fourteen Hours 1951 5 5 Henry Hathaway IMDb
High Noon 1952 7 7 Fred Zinnemann IMDb
Mogambo 1953 5 5 John Ford IMDb
Dial M for Murder 1954 7 7 Alfred Hitchcock IMDb
Rear Window 1954 7 7 Alfred Hitchcock IMDb
The Country Girl 1954 7 7 George Seaton IMDb
Green Fire 1954 4 4 Andrew Marton IMDb
The Bridges at Toko-Ri 1954 6 6 Mark Robson IMDb
To Catch a Thief 1955 5 5 Alfred Hitchcock IMDb
The Swan 1956 5 5 Charles Vidor IMDb
High Society 1956 4 Charles Walters IMDb

Tura Satana

Excepting a local actor by the name of Cavin Gray Schneider whose films have a tendency of finding a way to my reviewing eyes, thus ensuring I was almost always complete for his filmography, the first sure shot was the late and much missed Tura Satana.

She only made ten features, but over a period of almost fifty years, making her hardly prolific on screen. These weren't too hard to track down, especially as Ted V Mikels, who made 40% of the films she appeared in, has made his pictures cheaply and easily available through Alpha Video. The others included a Billy Wilder film (Irma la Douce), Russ Meyer's most lauded picture (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) and a Rob Zombie movie (The Haunted World of El Superbeasto).

The most obscure may be Sugar Boxx, a recent women in prison movie, and I saw that on its theatrical run with the director, Cody Jarrett, and its leading ladies presenting the picture in person. When I shifted my reviews of Tura's films into book form, Cody was kind enough to write an afterword for me.

My book has a slightly misleading title, Velvet Glove Cast in Iron: The Films of Tura Satana. The reason it's misleading is because when I realised how short a filmography book would be with only ten reviews, however in depth they happened to be, I decided to attack her television performances too. That wasn't too tough either, given that IMDb only listed three of them and all are available on DVD, and it bulked me up far enough to get a spine on the book that wasn't just a strip of colour.

As always, there's a catch. Doing my research for this book, I realised that she apparently did other work on television. It's just that IMDb doesn't recognise it. In fact, all I found were the same set of hints in a collection of obituaries.

Apparently she earned her SAG card on an episode of Hawaiian Eye, but we don't know which one. She appeared in the TV adaptation of The Greatest Show on Earth, perhaps as a recurring character, but nobody lists who she played or which episodes she was in. Even more flimsy, there's mention of a show called Valentine's Day that she may or may not also have shown up in.

This is tough. I've managed to get hold of a complete run of Hawaiian Eye, but I'm only a few weeks into its 134 episode run. At an hour a pop, it runs almost ten times as long as Tura's entire film career. Maybe I'll find her in there one day. I've seen a couple of episodes of The Greatest Show on Earth, which only ran for thirty, but I couldn't see her in either. I haven't even managed to find a single episode of Valentine's Day yet. So it goes with TV shows half a century old.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
Irma la Douce 1963 6 6 Billy Wilder IMDb
Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? 1963 4 4 Daniel Mann IMDb
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965 6 6 Russ Meyer IMDb
Our Man Flint 1966 5 5 Daniel Mann IMDb
The Astro-Zombies 1968 3 4 Ted V Mikels IMDb
The Doll Squad 1973 4 4 Ted V Mikels IMDb
Mark of the Astro-Zombies 2002 3 3 Ted V Mikels IMDb
Sugar Boxx 2009 5 5 Cody Jarrett IMDb
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 2009 3 4 Rob Zombie IMDb
Astro-Zombies: M3 - Cloned 2010 3 3 Ted V Mikels IMDb

Jason Statham

And so my better half and I decided to knock out some filmographies of much more recent people, knowing that we'd soon be out of date but that we could at least get to complete them.

First up was someone who could be described as a guilty pleasure, but I'm hesitant to stoop that low. He's Jason Statham, who has successfully transitioned from a quirky character in Guy Ritchie's best movies into both a modern action hero and a sort of contemporary equivalent of the coolness epitomised decades ago by Steve McQueen. Not bad for an underwear model, huh? Well, he was also an Olympic diver.

We completed his filmography at the 33 film mark, 2013's Hummingbird. Thus far he's only released one more, another 2013 movie called Homefront, but he has a few more in the works, including a new Expendables sequel and a turn as the villain in the seventh Fast & Furious picture.

I've found Statham's career to be fascinating. After two films for Guy Ritchie, he soon found himself working with some great names, including producer Luc Besson, directors John Carpenter and Michael Mann and co-stars from Tom Cruise to Steve Martin via Jet Li. Unfortunately he added the notorious Uwe Boll to that list, but respected indie names like Géla Babluani restore some street cred.

Sure, his best two titles were his first two (though, ironically, his third is arguably still the worst) and that situation will take a great deal of effort to overthrow, but the next rank in quality includes some of his more obscure titles and also his most recent.

I knew about Parker and Furious 6, for instance, as his first two 2013 movies were both heavily advertised, but they were also annoyingly average. His third 2013 picture was one I hadn't even heard of until it popped up on Netflix, but Hummingbird turned out to be one of his best films yet. The poster child for that category is 2005's London, which sounds like it ought to be the quintessential Guy Ritchie ripoff but was actually a surprisingly decent drama with a Statham performance unlike any other.

The surprising performances weren't always in great movies but they were always interesting. He had a small role in the Steve Martin take on The Pink Panther, for instance, which was awful, but his cameo was the best bit. His Uwe Boll paycheck, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, was surely an epic failure but it was, at least, an interesting one. Most unlikely thus far has to be Gnomeo & Juliet, the retelling of Shakespeare through animated garden gnomes.

And so we merely have to keep up with new releases to maintain a complete filmography. That shouldn't be too tough.

Title Year H D Director(s) IMDb
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 1998 7 7 Guy Ritchie IMDb
Snatch 2000 7 7 Guy Ritchie IMDb
Turn It Up 2000 3 3 Robert Adetiyu IMDb
Ghosts of Mars 2001 5 5 John Carpenter IMDb
The One 2001 6 6 James Wong IMDb
Mean Machine 2001 4 5 Barry Skolnick IMDb
The Transporter 2002 6 6 Louis Leterrier & Corey Yuen IMDb
The Italian Job 2003 5 5 F Gary Gray IMDb
Collateral 2004 6 6 Michael Mann IMDb
Cellular 2004 5 5 David R Ellis IMDb
Transporter 2 2005 5 6 Louis Leterrier IMDb
London 2005 6 6 Hunter Richards IMDb
Revolver 2005 5 5 Guy Ritchie IMDb
Chaos 2005 5 6 Tony Giglio IMDb
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale 2006 3 3 Uwe Boll IMDb
The Pink Panther 2006 3 4 Shawn Levy IMDb
Crank 2006 6 6 Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor IMDb
War 2007 4 4 Philip G Atwell IMDb
The Bank Job 2008 6 6 Roger Donaldson IMDb
Death Race 2008 5 6 Paul W S Anderson IMDb
Transporter 3 2008 5 5 Olivier Megaton IMDb
Crank: High Voltage 2009 5 5 Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor IMDb
13 2010 5 5 Géla Babluani IMDb
The Expendables 2010 5 5 Sylvester Stallone IMDb
The Mechanic 2011 5 6 Simon West IMDb
Gnomeo & Juliet 2011 4 4 Kelly Asbury IMDb
Blitz 2011 4 5 Elliot Lester IMDb
Killer Elite 2011 5 5 Gary McKendry IMDb
Safe 2012 5 6 Boaz Yakin IMDb
The Expendables 2 2012 5 6 Simon West IMDb
Parker 2013 4 5 Taylor Hackford IMDb
Furious 6 2013 4 4 Justin Lin IMDb
Hummingbird 2013 6 6 Steven Knight IMDb

Johnny Depp

Next up for us is Johnny Depp, given that my better half and I have both seen over half his films already, albeit sometimes different ones. We've both been big fans from the early days, though we're cringing in advance at many of the newer blockbuster titles.

Again he has a fascinating filmography, one which I'm eager to explore. I'm intrigued to see if, like Statham, some of his more interesting films are the obscure and surprising ones. For instance, those who know him best as Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka or the Mad Hatter may be surprised to know that he appeared in films not made by Disney or Tim Burton. His early career is particularly eyeopening.

As well as we knew those early films, there are still oddities to find. For instance, we only recently discovered Slow Burn, a TV movie he made in 1986, and Arizona Dream, an overlong picture he made for Emir Kusturica. Incidentally, the directors he's worked for are a dream list for an actor: Jim Jarmusch, Lasse Hallström, Terry Gilliam, Roman Polanski, John Waters, Oliver Stone, Wes Craven... the list goes on.

Next up for us is probably The Brave, a film he directed himself but refused to release Stateside after negative reviews at Cannes shocked him. Other titles I'm eager to catch up with include Before Night Falls, in which he plays three different characters, and ...And They Lived Happily Ever After, which is a French movie In French. I'm not particularly looking forward to Dark Shadows, but complete means complete...

The Future

I'm sold on the concept of completing filmographies because they send us on fascinating rides, if not always enjoyable ones. They give us a better picture of careers we only thought we knew and often show how the talent grew. I want to do more of these, if only I can find all the films needed to complete particular filmographies.

I don't know who will be next after Statham and Depp. I'll figure that over the next couple of months. Watch this space.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Authorpalooza at Dog-Eared Pages

Today, I hit a new milestone for Apocalypse Later: I participated in my first author signing event, Authorpalooza at Dog-Eared Pages in Phoenix. I sold as many books as you can count on neither hand, but I had a blast anyway, catching up with wonderful authors I already knew and discovering wonderful authors I didn't, learning all the way. Here's where it begins and I can build from here.

Dog-Eared Pages is a real discovery of a used bookstore nestled away in a strip mall in northeast Phoenix. The address is 16428 N 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85032. To make it even more awesome than any used bookstore is to begin with, it's run by an author, Anna Questerly, whose historical trilogy for young adults, The Minstrel's Tale, I bought a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed.

I found myself sat indoors out of the Arizona sun on what became known as the 'accent table', given that it housed one strange Englishman in a kilt and one lovely French lady, Vijaya Schartz, who writes novels that refuse to be categorised.

I loved how she described her sales pitch: her main series is 'science fiction with sex' to potential male buyers, but 'romance with science fiction' to the female equivalent. Really, she writes science fiction and romance all in the same book, unless she's writing historical, romance and fantasy, all in the same book. Why be pigeonholed?

The same could be said for Vijaya herself. Beyond writing over twenty novels, she acted on stage and television, sang in cabaret and exhibited paintings. She earned a place on the French national gymnastics team, obtained a black belt in Aikido in Hawaii and studied yoga in an ashram in India. In her spare time she has hosted a radio show and run most of the local author organisations. She certainly keeps herself busy.

While her covers range from hard science fiction to traditional romance, it's her Chronicles of Kassouk series, beginning with White Tiger, that stand out the most, with their elegant font and their striking images of the eyes of big cats. It's always these that people hone in on first.

I didn't check, but Vijaya may have written the oldest book being signed, as the earliest of her many novels dates back to around the year 2000. The author I've seen around the longest, though, is Kris Tualla, who we first bumped into at the Glendale Chocolate Affaire, a great place to meet local mystery and romance authors.

She writes several series of historical romance and suspense and is doing her best to put her setting on the romantic map. 'Norway is the new Scotland' she proclaims, having written a whole slew of novels about the Hansens, set as far apart as the 14th and 19th centuries. She's currently filling in the gaps in between.

Her newest books are A Discreet Gentleman of Mystery, the fifth in her Discreet Gentleman series, and the novella In the Norseman's House.
Emmy-nominated journalist turned contemporary romance author Morgan Kearns is a regular at local book events too. Her website suggests that she's approached 'random young hotties' to ask them to pose for her book covers, but I didn't get a second glance today. I'm only three words short of joining that company!

As the baseball jersey she wore today highlights, many of her romances tie to sports, which her Deadlines & Diamonds series suggests is apparently a popular combination. I'm not big on those wacky American sports, though, so I'm more likely to pick up her vampire playboy series, The Gossip of Mysterious Lane.

Sharing Morgan's table was a bubbly lady going by two names.

Under her real name of Sharon Arthur Moore, the one she taught under for 39 years, she writes historical fiction, women's fiction and culinary mysteries, a delightful genre if ever I've encountered one. I adore the title Mission Impastable, the opener for her Dinner is Served mystery series. It's followed up by Prime Rib and Punishment.

She uses the exotic pseudonym Angelica French for her steamier erotic romance novels, like Streetwalker and Sex for Sale, which feature Carrie, a prostitute who hates sex, and Harlan, who runs a bordello.

Another author I've seen before is Ethan Russell Erway, who I found at Phoenix Comicon last year, drawn in by the excellent covers of his two adventure novels for children. They centre around the character Michael Belmont, who I've heard described as 'Indiana Jones meets Harry Potter'.

He also writes science fiction, with his Bleeding Star Chronicles currently in its fifth volume, all of which are collected together in an anthology. I hope his steampunk series, beginning with the novella, Blowing Off Steam, makes it into print sometime soon, but we may need to wait for the whole series to complete first.

V S Nelson was a new name to me today, but she's been keeping busy turning out epic fantasies the size of doorstops. They're easily recognisable as the purple books, which works well, and they mix up genres in a similar way to Vijaya Schartz.

The Sekhmet's Guardians series are paranormal, romance, adventure, historical, you name it. Just don't blink or there will be another doorstop ready to go.

Braving the Arizona sun with a charming accent was Camelia Miron Skiba, who apparently writes multicultural romance. I never knew how many subgenres there were.

Her Dacian Legends series have covers that leap out, all black and white with a single other colour sneaking in to catch us unawares. Hidden Heart looks rather enticing too.

I was on something of a budget today, but I couldn't resist picking up a book from Fran Orenstein, a lady who may just write in a different genre for each day of the week, or at least for a differently aged audience.

Her titles are well picked ones that leap out: Death in D Minor, The Mystery of the Green Goblin or The Spice Trader's Daughter. Best of all may just be Fat Girls from Outer Space, which isn't what you think; it's a contemporary novel for tweens.

It was The Book of Mysteries that I snapped up, a collection of three fantasy adventure novels for young adults (The Wizard's Revenge, The Gargoyles of Gothica and The Centaurs of Spyr), because anything that revolves around a disappearing bookshop run by a magician has to be in one of my signed bookcases. The fact that the cover looks rather like a cyclops grichle was just icing on the cake.

Fran was nestled inside Dog-Eared Pages, just on the other side of the Bargain Books area, with a couple of other authors.

Science fiction author Alan Black's mother explained in one anecdote why Amazon reviews are so important. I've been told before that if a book reaches the 50 review mark, which is much harder to do than it sounds like it should be, Amazon will promote that book. When Metal Boxes reached that target, Black became the Amazon Author of the Week, and promptly sold 4,200 books during that period. That's like Easter, Christmas and Wookiee Life Day all at once.

Black's science fiction novels sound like throwbacks to the great stories I grew up reading, courtesy of my mother's home library. They're described as 'young adult science fiction military action adventure', but to me they sound like Heinlein's juveniles, which I recently re-read in entirety. Chewing Rocks is his other sci-fi yarn, but he also writes general fiction (the Ozark Mountain series, with Bernice Knight) and comedy (Chasing Harpo, about an orangutan on the lam).

Last, but certainly not least, was Kiki Swanson (who is not to be conflated with KiKi Swinson, who Google seems to want me to look at it instead).

Swanson is a former Presbyterian church leader who writes fictionalised versions of real historical stories. If I didn't have to get back to my own table to try to sell my own books, I could happily have talked to Kiki for the rest of the day.

Perhaps her books, like My Will Be Done and Yes, I Can!, could be best described as stories, as they sound like wells in which to dive and experience, the most enlightening of books to read.

And that wraps up Authorpalooza, except for that strange Englishman, the only author attempting to sell non-fiction today and clearly not finding the right audience. Just to make this post complete, I should mention my two books about film. The covers are at the top of the page.

Huh? An A-Z of Why Classic American Bad Movies Were Made looks at 26 different reasons why people thought it might be a bright idea to make movies and explains through 26 different movies why they weren't quite so bright after all.

Velvet Glove Cast in Iron: The Films of Tura Satana runs through every feature film and every episode of a TV show credited at IMDb that Tura Satana, the star of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! appeared in.

Many thanks to my better half, Dee Astell of Countess Chaos Creations, who took all the photos.

I've linked to each of the author's pages above, but here's a list for easy reference with fresh links.

Dog-Eared Pages:
Countess Chaos Creations:

Alan Black:
Ethan Russell Elway:
Angelica French:
Morgan Kearns:
Sharon Arthur Moore:
V S Nelson:
Fran Orenstein:
Anna Questerly:
Vijaya Schartz:
Camilia Miron Skiba:
Kiki Swanson:
Kris Tualla: