Forgotten Films: Porco Rosso (1992)

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 145th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It is no secret that I like the anime films of Hiyao Miyazaki. Back in 2011 I reviewed Nasicaa and had nice things to say about that. So this week, I decided I needed to return to Miyazaki’s vision of the world. My friend, Sam Hudson, gave me the DVD of this film some time ago, but I never quite got around to watching it. This happens far too often. He had previously lent us the Canadian production of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra starring Christopher Plummer. He had been by the house of Thanksgiving, so we watched it then and I was able to return it to him.

Now, back to Porco Rosso. I’m not sure why I had not watched it. It hit several of my hot spots – Miyazaki, air pirates, animated films and true fun. So, Sam, I publicly apologize. I should have watched this sooner and credited you for making it happen.

Porco Rosso is the story of Marco (voiced by Michael Keaton in the English language version), a World War I flying ace for Italy, who is the last of his old squadron. His best friend died in their final battle just two days after marrying the lovely Gina. During the battle, he sees the ghosts of various pilots and planes heading into the light. He tries to follow them but is rendered unconscious. When he awakens, he finds all the others gone and he has changed. When he sees his reflection, he finds that he has been given the face of a pig. Marco is gone; enter Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig. He is a loner who works as a bounty hunter stopping air pirates working the Mediterranean Sea. He fights the sea planes, never killing, but disabling planes for fees from the ship owners.

And he is very good at what he does. So much so that the pirates hire an American pilot Donald Curtis (Cary Elwes) to bring Porco down. Curtis has met them at the Hotel Adriano, run by Marco’s longtime friend and the widow of his best friend, Gina (Susan Egan). Curtis has an interest in Gina but is upset that she is more interested in Marco. In a dogfight, Porco loses to Curtis, but manages to survive and bring most of his plane home.

He takes the plane to Milan and his old mechanic Piccolo (David Ogden Stiers). Marco is a wanted man in Italy, so he is taking a serious chance. Piccolo’s sons are all gone into the Italian military, but he has a secret weapon. His granddaughter Fio (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) is an engineer and has some radical plans for the new plane. Marco does not have enough money but eventually allows Piccolo and Fio to build the plane. Since all his sons are gone, he recruits all the women in the extended family to build the plane.

Eventually, Marco and Fio have to escape before full testing because the secret police are coming. Marco finds all the pirates waiting for him at his “secret” island lair. Eventually, though Fio’s negotiation, Marco and Curtis agree to a duel. If Curtis wins, he will marry Fio. If Marco wins, Curtis will pay off the plane’s debt.

There’s quite a bit more to the story, but that’s the basic plot. There’s lots of fun, some weird Japanese humor and lots of brilliant vistas and aerial combat. I don’t know if Neal Barrett Jr. ever saw this, but I know he would have loved it. He was a major fan of World War I aircraft and the fabulous aviation pulps of the period. I could not help but think of him as I watched this film. He’s been gone nearly two years, and it seems I think of him almost daily.

I had a great time with this film and I think if you like anime, aviation pulps or fun stories you will also. The film is available, as are most of Miyazaki’s, through Disney, who released the version I saw. They should be readily available from the usual online sources.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Forgotten Book: Spicy Adventures by Robert E. Howard (2011)

Tame by today's standards, but enough to get you in trouble in the Bible Belt of the 1930s.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 161st in my series of Forgotten Books.

I love the work of Robert E. Howard. The man from Cross Plains is one of my literary heroes along with Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Neal Barrett, Jr. And this year I made my second trek to Cross Plains for Howard Days, where he is celebrated in the manner he should be.

I first discovered his work in the mid-1960s with the various Lancer, Ace and Dell editions, particularly the Conan and Kull stories. Then, in the 1970s, the Donald Grant hardcovers along with the Zebra paperbacks brought him deep into my grasp. I managed to get an Arkham House Skullface and Others from the university library. But I had to give it back. Later I got the Neville Spearman hardcover from the UK. When I sold my books I was sorry to see it go, so I was ecstatic when Half Price Books put it into their clearance for $3 about a month later. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

I was also pleased to co-edit Cross Plains Universe: Texas Writers Celebrate Robert E. Howard for the 2006 World Fantasy Convention, where we honored Howard’s centenary. It’s one of the best things I have ever done and I remain inordinately proud of the book.

So, this year, when I went to Howard Days, I got to revisit the Howard house and look at where the magic happened. I took my wife with me since she had never been. It was a great weekend.

And while I was there, I bought some books from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, including this week’s offering, Spicy Adventures. I have a fondness for old pulp stories, particularly the Spicy pulps. I blame Steve Mertz who introduced me to Robert Leslie Bellem and his skewed stories back in the early ’80s. Between him and John Wooley, I read a lot of those things.

By today’s standards, the Spicies are pretty tame. But in the ’30s, you could get in some trouble in the Bible belt if you were seen with one. The Spicies frequently had women in scanty clothing, sometimes ripped or missing. Sex was implied but never seen. And REH wrote several stories for them.

Here we have the five tales that Spicy Adventures bought from Howard, as well as three others written for the market but not purchased. And you also get four synopses and two earlier draft versions of a story as well as an informative introductory essay by fabulous Howard scholar and all around good guy, Patrice Louinet.

The stories are pure pulp adventure, fueled with adrenaline. “The Girl on the Hell Ship,” which has previously been the title story in a paperback collection called She Devil is the first offering. This one was written at the urging of E. Hoffman Price (the only man known to have shaken the hands of both Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, which got him many beers at conventions). Price was regularly selling to Spicy Adventures and found it to be easy money. (For a taste of Price’s work, a wonderful e-book titled The E. Hoffman Price Spicy Adventure Megapack from Wildside Press makes a wonderful experience for your Kindle).

“The Girl on the Hell Ship” features Wild Bill Clanton, who finds young maiden Raquel trying to flee from two brutes from the ship Saucy Wench on a South Pacific island. Things get wild and Clanton eventually assumes command of the ship with the prize of his passion. “Ship in Mutiny” finds Clanton and Raquel displaced from the ship by mutineers who inadvertently kill the only person other than Clanton who can steer the vessel. Unfortunately, the local man-hungry queen of the natives has her eyes on him.

Other fun stories include “The Purple Heart of Erlik,” which Roy Thomas made into a Conan comic (if I recall correctly and I may not) that features a young female grifter trying to escape from the Far East and trapped into a scheme doomed to failure. And then there’s “The Dragon of Kao Tsu” with more Eastern adventure.

Wild Bill Clanton appears in several stories. He is kind of fun.

The book is relatively short, a mere 211 pages. But it has a great cover from premier Howard artists Jim and Ruth Kreegan. It’s a little pricy, but the sales benefit the Robert E. Howard Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and presenting the works of REH as he wrote them. If you read the deCamp Howard collections, you did not get the full, real Robert E. Howard. So buy books from the foundation.

I picked up 7 books while I was at Howard Days. I didn’t want to spend that much money, but I really, really, really wanted the titles. This particular book is limited to 250 copies. If you are interested, do not hesitate. Check out their website to see all the various volumes available.

Also, if you’re a Howard fan, check out Project Pride, the lovely locals in cross Plains who maintain the Howard House and help host Howard Days.

It’s all worthwhile. And may Crom ignore you when you need it.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


It’s about the Books: Reflecting on last weekend’s ArmadilloCon

The bar scene at ArmadilloCon: Not quite as odd as the bar scene in "Star Wars," but still full of strange characters. Among them (left to right), SF Signal's John DeNardo, author Joe McKinney, Adventures in SciFi Publishing's Brent Bowen, and author/scholar Matt Cardin.

I attended my first ArmadilloCon three years ago, after decades of staying clear of the SF convention circuit. My memories of cons past were of people in badly fitting Star Trek costumes haggling over toys and packing into hotel rooms to watch sixth-generation copies of anime shows.

If that’s also your memory of SF cons, listen up: ArmadilloCon is not that. Not by a long shot. It’s a con for writers, aspiring writers and people who love SF, fantasy and horror literature and art. Sure, there are a handful of people walking around in steampunk duds and few toys on sale in the dealer’s room, but mostly it’s about the books.

ArmadilloCon 32 was last weekend, and I spent a good portion of it hanging with author and Missions contributor Joe McKinney, podcaster and whisky expert Brent Bowen and the brilliant horror scholar and writer Matt Cardin (who also records eerily beautiful music, it turns out). The three of us put down unhealthy amounts of booze and spent quite a bit of time talking about our favorite obscure horror films. I also enjoyed hooking up with old friends Nicole Duson, an up-and-coming Austin writer, and John DeNardo of the brilliant SF Signal website.

This was the first year I participated in panel discussions, and they turned out to be a blast. During a panel on the New Weird, Neal Barrett Jr. and I agreed that there probably isn’t a New Weird, per se, since many writers — including Neal — have been weird for a long, long time. I also enjoyed my panel on the challenge of writing short stories, where I ended up between luminary authors Michael Bishop and Howard Waldrop (how the hell did I end up so lucky?). Finally, I ended up on a panel about H.P. Lovecraft’s enduring legacy with Matt Cardin and Don Webb, who displayed amazing knowledge of the author’s work. The always witty Joe R. Lansdale made a great case (and one I agreed with) that horror authors can learn far more from writers like Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch and Flannery O’Connor.

Between all the panelizing, socializing and drinking, I managed to fit in a few readings. Stina Leicht read from her upcoming novel, which mixes Celtic mythology and the complicated politics of Northern Ireland. Can’t wait for that one to hit the stands. Joe McKinney’s Sunday afternoon reading of his story “Survivors” proved a great capper to the con.