Happy birthday to Jack “King” Kirby on what would have been his 96th birthday.
My first exposure to Jack Kirby’s work was back in the 70’s in the Italian language reprints of his Silver Age work on The Fantastic Four and the Eternals. These reprints were published in Italy about 10 years after their initial U.S. publication, but they were new to me and I was hooked. I’ve been a fan of his work ever since, and I’m truly grateful for the iconic characters he created and co-created over the course of his career.
Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie-going by revisiting the films of the Summer of 1983.
Release Date: July 26, 1983
Directed by Peter Yates; Screenplay by Stanford Sherman
Starring: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Alun Armstrong, John Welsh, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane
This is a review that I’ve been looking forward to since I began this retrospective on the films of the Summer of ’83, but not for the reasons you would expect. Most of my reviews involve revisiting films I enjoyed or may have missed in the theaters upon their initial release 30+ years ago to see if they still hold up, but back when Krull first hit theaters on July 26, 1983 I distinctly remember not enjoying it.
By the Summer of 1983, I had been raised on a steady diet of fantasy films like Excalibur and Dragonslayer (both of which still hold up in my book) and Krull didn’t measure up to those films when I first saw it at age 11. But since then, other nostalgic fantasy/sci-fi fans I encounter always talk about how much they loved Krull as kids. Was there something I missed? So I went into this week’s screening with an open mind to see if it indeed was a good film on par with its cinematic peers of the early 80’s.
The film begins with a mountain-like vessel traveling through space and landing on the planet Krull. “The Beast” leads his army of Slayers in conquering the planet. Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) are about to be married, merging their fathers kingdoms in order to fight The Beast’s army, but the ceremony is broken up by the Slayers, their armies killed and Lyssa is kidnapped. Left for dead, Colwyn is healed by Ynyr (Freddie Jones) and retrieves a weapon known as the Glaive before he can attempt to rescue Lyssa. Colwyn recruits a group of escaped convicts on his journey to find the Black Fortress and Princess Lyssa.
The opening credits of the film had me impressed with the level of talent that collaborated on Krull, particularly director Peter Yates and composer James Horner, but the excitement I felt during the opening credits slowly turned into disappointment once the opening line of the film was delivered, and continued as the film progressed. The main source of disappointment for me was with Krull’s script, which is a pastiche of elements from successful fantasy/scifi films that came before it. Prior to Krull, screenwriter Stanford Sherman wrote for the 60’s classic television series Batman and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and later one of my favorite movies as a kid, Any Which Way You Can starring Clint Eastwood. Unfortunately Krull’s weak story has a ripple effect on the rest of the talent involved with the production beginning with director Peter Yates.
Yates’s drama The Dresser (also released in 1983) is a film I enjoyed particularly for actor Tom Courtenay’s performance in the title role. Going into Krull, I had expected Yates to bring out impressive performances in the cast as he had with Albert Finney and Courtenay in The Dresser, but Sherman gives the characters little in terms of depth, and his uninspiring dialogue gives the actors little to work with. Yates’s use of the camera for the location shots is surprisingly static, and the imposing mountains of Cortina in Italy fall flat with shot compositions containing little action.
I was very happy to see James Horner’s name as the composer of the film. His distinguished career includes the incredible score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and his score for 1991’s The Rocketeer is one that I break out on occasion when I need a burst of inspiration. Beginning with the opening credits, his score for Krull is powerful and heroic but unfortunately it keeps that same tone throughout most of the film and there are moments the audience needs a breather.
And so, 30 years later I now realize why I didn’t enjoy Krull back in 1983: in my opinion every line of dialogue, every effect, fight scene, etc. overachieved and subsequently fell flat in the attempt to create an epic fantasy film. The individual parts just didn’t gel, and instead of an epic story Krull plays out as more of an introductory level Dungeons & Dragons module.
The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.
#17: Michael Zeck
When I started the Captain America Project in 2010, I knew the page would not be complete without a sketch by Michael Zeck. His run on Captain America in the early 80’s was my favorite of the title and stood out with his bold artwork and amazing covers. He rarely made convention appearances so I wasn’t sure the opportunity would come up for a sketch, but I always kept a space open on the page “just in case. ” Back in June I had the honor of meeting him at Wizard World in New York and he drew this fantastic Cap sketch for me at the show.
A big thanks to Michael and also to Renee Witterstaetter of Eva Ink Artist Group for the opportunity to add this Captain America sketch to the page.
Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie-going by revisiting the films of the Summer of ’83.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Release Date: July 29, 1983
Directed by Harold Ramis; Screenplay by John Hughes based on his short story Vacation ’58
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Jane Krakowski, John Candy, Christie Brinkley
National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the films that I looked forward to the most going into this retrospective. Even though I tend to concentrate on fantasy, sci-fi and comic book films I have to include a classic comedy now and then. There are movies that you enjoy, there are movies that you watch many times over, but every so often there’s that one movie that you just seem to empathize with. National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of those movies, and 30 years later it still gets an audience to laugh at its classic scenes and cringe at the memories they bring back of our own summer family vacations. I’m sure most folks over the age of 40 hear a few bars of Lindsay Buckingham’s Holiday Roads on a long distance drive.
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) plans a cross country drive from Chicago to California with wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and teenage kids Rusty and Audrey (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron). He’s convinced himself (but not his family) that a road trip to Wally World (a theme park based on Disney World) will allow them to experience the bonding and quality time they wouldn’t experience by flying. The trip starts on the wrong foot when the Antarctica Blue Sport Wagon they ordered from the car dealership hasn’t arrived and the only car available for them is the frumpy, olive green, wood paneled, eight headlighted Road Queen Family Truckster. Along the way their car is vandalized in St. Louis, they’re stuck with Ellen’s annoying Aunt Edna in the back seat, money runs out and a wrong turn totals their car. But, as the ever patient Ellen says, “With every day there’s new hope.”
The film has great cast led by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, but it’s the supporting actors in their cameos that add the extra layers of humor that keep the laughs going: James Keach as the highway patrol officer that goes from threatening to crying in a scene that is both hilarious and just wrong at the same time, John Candy as the Wally World security guard dragged into Clark’s breakdown, and Randy Quaid as Ellen’s ne’er-do-well cousin Eddie that suckers them into driving Aunt Edna from Kansas to Phoenix. It was a treat to see comedic icon Imogene Coca as Aunt Edna in Vacation, but her role provided only a fraction of the comedic gold she brought to TV viewers on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows in the 1950’s and I wish there was a little more written for her. But the scene stealer throughout the film is Clark’s muse of the road played by Christie Brinkley. Is there anything more 80’s than Christie Brinkley and a red Ferrari?
In under two hours, director Harold Ramis is able to pack in urban plight, teenage drug use, underage drinking, animal cruelty, death and a midlife crisis on the Griswold family’s road trip to Wally World. John Hughes’ screenplay was based on his short story Vacation ’58, and soon after his career as a director would explode with 80’s teen classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The running gag in the subsequent three Vacation films (European Vacation, Christmas Vacation and Vegas Vacation) was the casting of different actors to play Rusty and Audrey. Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron will always be the Rusty and Audrey movie fans will remember, and it would have been fun to see them reprise their roles in European Vacation. Barron was supposed to return as Audrey in the second film, but when Anthony Michael Hall had a conflict starring in Weird Science (also directed by John Hughes), the role of Audrey was re-cast as well.
I wasn’t able to see National Lampoon’s Vacation in the theater back in 1983 due to its R rating (although the film is very tame by today’s standards), but it’s a film I watched on many a Saturday night with my friends and cousins throughout the mid-80’s. Back then we appreciated the humor at face value, but 30 years later we now approach the film with a sense of empathy. Back then, the farthest my family ever drove on our vacations was Montreal, with most of our summer trips taking place in Lake George, NY. Our version of the Road Queen Family Truckster was a midnight blue 1977 Ford Granada with burgundy pleather interior. But as fun as those trips were, without fail, just before putting the car in gear for the drive back home, my father would end the trip with, “Next year, I’m taking a vacation by myself!”
This year, my faithful sidekick and I flew out to Colorado and spent a week and a half driving through Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska before flying back to New York. It was my first time in that part of the country, and the most surreal part of the trip was the lack of cars on the road compared to the Northeast. Highlights of our trip included Devils Tower, Custer National Park, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands with a few roadside attractions along the way like the giant Campbell’s Soup Can in Colorado, Dinosaur Park in South Dakota and a giant coffee pot in Wyoming. This was our first real road trip together, and after 30 years of watching Clark Griswold experience everything short of locusts in National Lampoon’s Vacation I couldn’t help but wonder what lay ahead of us on the road. But along the way, a miracle happened: nothing. No broken down car, no bad weather, no short fuses (okay, there was that one time I missed a turn and went nuclear a la Clark in the classic “Can we go home” scene). But it went as smooth as can be and it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. Coincidentally, next up is a road trip in Europe…
Overall National Lampoon’s Vacation was as I remembered it, although the pace felt a little slower this time around. And while each scene made me laugh and gain a greater appreciation for the Ramis and Hughes’ style of humor, my older self began to see Clark in a different light. He was no longer just that nerdy dad who’s best intentions tend to make everything worse. At the end of the day, Clark goes through each of those great lengths, much to the chagrin of his family, just to bring them all closer together and have them experience a little bit of fun that they might remember when they’re older. And watching National Lampoon’s Vacation again 30 years later, I simply smiled and looked forward to the day I’d be behind the wheel of my own version of the Family Truckster, family in tow, on a quest for fun.