Thursday, July 14, 2005

Trapped in the Closet, The League bears witness


Remember the dude who teamed with Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes gang to teach a whole generation he could fly (or was it them? I can't recall...)? Just who was that man singing that inspirationally treacly tune?

R.Kelly. That's who. The film: Space Jam. Yeah, I saw it. Shut up.

R.Kelly then used the launchpad of his success with Taz and Co. to do two things:

1) create a series of videos which were operatic in nature, belying the over-produced goofiness of R.Kelly's substandard R&B stylings.

2) get charged with 21 counts of child pornography.

For the past few years, it's been the latter of R.Kelly's two achievements that has really been grabbing headlines.

Well, good news for music lovers. R.Kelly is back! And this time he's come with an astounding creative vision, an operatic saga of Wagnerian proportions. Crossing the span of five songs and five music videos, R. Kelly's opus is curiously dubbed "Trapped in the Closet".

Yes, "Trapped in the Closet." R.Kelly's not afraid of ducking the big social issues. Like picking up chicks at bars and then having to hide from their husbands in, you guessed it, the closet.

This sort of stuff more or less makes up the entirety of the 5-song cycle.

Now I know all of you want to dash off to watch all the videos, but maybe you don't have 20-25 minutes to dedicate today to R. Kelly? Well, The League is here to assist.

Remember how in the summer you'd get a job and you'd be working with people you just don't know in the slightest, and then in Day 2, they decide to start unloading all of their Jerry Springer personal lives on you? And you begin to formulate a theory that this person seems to have designed their model for proper behavior between human beings by watching endless hours of Melrose Place and The O.C.?

And despite the fact they're managing to bore you AND make you uncomfortable with their stories, you can't manage to just shush them. After all:

1) Your mama raised you to be polite and listen
2) You figure that if they're telling you, it must be very important and maybe they've decided you're the only person they can talk to (until you realize every single person around knows the entire story by heart by now)
3) You figure if they're bothering to tell you this incredibly convoluted story with a half dozen characters and an obvious chain of incredibly poor choices on the part of the narrator, my GOD, there's got to be a point...

And then the person finishes the story and asks you what you what you think, and you're left standing there wondering, since their story has made you seriously consider the legitimacy of mandatory sterilization for the very first time, that maybe you're a closet fascist.

Well, that's R. Kelly. R.Kelly is the moron who sat in front of me that bleak summer at North Harris Community College who couldn't pass any exams whatsoever. R.Kelly is the twit who took up my coffee break three consecutive days at Chuck E. Cheese. R. Kelly is the flake I sat next to at defensive driving. R. Kelly is the angrily irresponsible boob Real World casting agents salivate over.

What does the song cycle accomplish?

The sheer scope of the project screams "epic", and you can almost feel it. This is IT. This is R.Kelly's big artistic moment, his chance to prove he's not just a guy who takes pictures of underage girls. He's a serious artist with a big picture of the world that he simply must share or he might explode.

And, apparently, he's a guy who doesn't think it's weird that he doesn't need to come home to his wife at night, and that he will cheat on his wife after a drink or two. We also learn that he's a serious artist who doesn't wear protection (nor even shower) after finding out about the wild world of sexual intrigue he's just foisted upon himself.

Re: the title

I don't want to give anything away. Someone in this tale is, in fact, gay... Is it R.Kelly? Well, the title would suggest exactly that. But, in a completely unsurprising display demonstrating a total lack of subtely on R.Kelly's part, R.Kelly as narrator is not revealed to be gay. He's actually trapped in the literal closet.

It is another character who disappears after Song 3 that is figuratively "in the closet". And while Figure #3 is important, he's not really central enough to make you think he should really be grabbing the title.

The whole enterprise sort of leaves you wondering. Is R.Kelly that naive to think that the title wouldn't raise a few eyebrows, or were the extra two parts of the song just R. covering his tracks? The world may never know...

Now, for no particular reason a gun enters late in Track #1, adding both an alarming insight into R.Kelly's first line of defense in a confrontation and a lot of awkward and pointless gun waving during the interminable Track #2.

Musically, all 5 tracks are the same indistinguishable mass of steady beats and audio loops. What's supposed to be carrying all five tracks, in theory, is R.Kelly's vocal. There is a sort of rhyme and meter, but the entire thing feels more like R.Kelly made up as kooky of a story as he could while floating in the tub and then added a few loops behind it.

Still, you doubt The League? Here are some of my favorite lyrics.

Damn, here comes a police man
He drove right up on me and flashed his light
Then I pulled over without thinkin twice
He hopped out the car and walked over to me
And said license and registration please
I looked up at him and said
Officer, is there somethin wrong
He said no, except you were were doin 85 in a 60 mile zone
Then I said officer
Let me explain please
Ya see the truth of the matter is
Is that I have an emergency
He said no excuses
And no exception
I said this is some he gave me the ticket

Tellin' it like it is. Reportin' from the streets. It's R.Kelly. For all the lyrics, click here.

The truth is, this actually reads about 10 times better than it actually sounds.

Leaguers, I simply CANNOT RECOMMEND "TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET" ENOUGH. It's a rare thing when one sees a project so obviously important to an artist, a project so near and dear to an artist's heart that they want to say, "THIS IS IT! THIS IS THE ONE THEY'LL REMEMBER ME FOR!" And it is rare that such a labor of love is such a complete trainwreck of misery and crapola completely exposing the artist for the hacky schmuck he really is.

To watch the entire epic, click here.

I have no idea what TP.3 means. Maybe it's slang for "The law requires that I inform you that I am living in your neighborhood."
TTSNB, San Diego ComicCon Part 1

It's San Diego ComicCon time again, and that means it's time for a whirlwind edition of TTSNB.

As always, The League is just leeching off the good work done by the folks at

The San Diego ComicCon has become a real launchpad for new toy lines and showcasing new product from existing toy lines aimed at collectors. So not all toys in this edition of TTSNB are necessarily TTSNB. There are also toys The League finds to be of interest.

DC Direct usually just makes DC Comics related merchandise, but recently decided to add items to thier line which include other WB properties. Not the least of which is the popular Looney Tunes characters. The League tittered like a little girl at seeing the new Looney Tunes Golden Age collection.

You can have your action heroes and I can have mine. Johnny Cash gets his own action figure from SOTA TOys. I can't wait to see the battles between Johnny and Megatron.

Do the chickens have large talons? Now you can decide! Set up Cage Fighting matches between Napolean and Kip. Make up your own election speeches for Pedro! Envision your own, unique dance for Napolean! All your wildest dreams will come true with these collectible figures from Napolean Dynamite.

Personally, I wanted a Debbie figure with her handcart loaded with plastic crates.

Vote for Pedro.

Did you enjoy seminal 80's action film "Die Hard"? The League did. Coming soon, the folks at Palisades Toys will be bringing you adorable likenesses of our friends Hands, John, and Argyle. But, curiously, no Al.

The League is so far most excited about a new line of DC COmics toys from Mattel which appear to tie in with the Batman line The League has been so fond of (anyone remember The League welcoming Killer Croc home?).

While The League is puzzled over the Batcentric nature of the toys, The League suspects Mattel had some Bat-TOys all ready to go when they decided to go to a DC line instead of a strictly Bat-Centric line. We're hoping we see a Wonder Woman and J'onn J'onzz in pretty short order. But we do have a new Bizarro, and that ain't all bad.

This may also explain why DC Direct is now moving into creating non-DC Comics related figures.

update: I forgot the link to the new DC figures.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Reed T. Shaw, Captain of the starship "Winaprize", and proud father of QuickDraw McShaw has popped up in the old e-mail box.

Reed-o has some interesting links to share.

On the subject of Lance Armstrong, go here.

and here.

For race updates, here.

And, hinting The League and Mrs. League might do well to look into the sport, Reed sends along a story about The World Wife Carrying Championship.

You can read here and here.

Being of the Finnish persuasion, i wonder if I wouldn't have a genetic disposition for toting around wives. Especially my own.
Hey, all.

Quick Suggestions for Further Reading:

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is coming out today. Run, do not walk, to your local comic shop. Get it while the getting is good.

Written by Frank Miller
Pencils by Jim Lee

Click here for the previous SFFR to read up on Age of Bronze Vol. 1.
The League Goes to the Cinema to bear witness to

So, The Legue took in a special weekday journey to the cinema to catch up with Marvel's latest foray into the world of celluloid.

Jack Kirby created the FF after leaving DC and Challengers of the Unknown behind. Stan Lee pretty much forced him to turn his adventuring team into super heroes to help him launch Marvel Comics, and it worked. For forty years the FF has been the First Family of Comics, and is billed as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine." A loyal fanbase the FF has. And Marvel does a good job of replicating the spirit of the comics while recreating the origin in a world without Commies to beat into space.

As anyone who has ever spent more than twenty minutes perusing The League can tell you, I'm going to dwell on the fidelity of the comic-to-big screen adaptation. Which is pretty close, actually. Four (well, five) people go up into space to check out some cosmic rays, something goes wrong, cosmic rays bombard our heroes and amazing powers are bestowed upon the heroes.

The Four (well, five) return to Earth and fight Mole Man. Well, no Mole Man, but I don't think you're going to hear anybody complaining that the first adventure didn't include Mole Man. Instead, we've jumped to villain numero uno. Lucky number 5 up in space is Dr. Victor Von Doom of Von Doom Inc., a company powerful enough to own it's own space station with gravity replicators. But, a company which has not yet gone public.

Curiously, instead of giving Doom a pathological hatred of Reed for being right about some calculations (and Doom being wrong, and this leading to an experiment exploding in Doom's face, scarring him and pledging a life of anti-Reedism), in the movie, Reed sort of does shoulder some plame. During our space mission, Reed forgets to carry a zero, and realizes the space storm isn't coming in seven hours, it's coming in seven minutes. He tells our hapless CEO, Doom, about the predicament. Doom tells him he should probably get rolling with his experiment (having just spent a billion dollars getting everyone into space. Note to self: Leave at LEAST a day early for space-based experiments).

Next thing we know, kablooie! Our heroes (and, we learn later, Doom) are bathed in cosmic rays.

After an improbable scene atop a bridge (either Georhe Washington or the Brooklyn Bridge...) the FF become Media darlings, and for some unexplained reason, this makes Doom's IPO tumble. Doom, however, is left holding the responsibility ball and is told his company is now, uh... doomed, thanks to the failure of the space project. (Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversify, Victor!) Ironically, for once, a villain appears to have a fairly legitimate reason to be irritated with a superhero movie's protagonist. Oh, that, and Reed steals his love interest. So, yeah...

Anyhoo, a vast majority of the movie is dedicated to the FF discovering their powers and dealing with suddenly being dumped into the media spotlight. And then Doom goes crazy and tries to kill everyone. And he has super powers and no accent, although he's from a tiny Eastern-European country.

Anyway, the Four get their act together and have a somewhat interesting battle with Doom in Vancouver/ NYC. The Thing picks up an HBC (Hot Blind Chick), Johnny zips around sporting the best effects of the movie, Reed's effects are uniformly terrible, and Sue's effects are sort of old hat, so...

Anyway, is it close to the comic?

Well, sort of. The Baxter Building is there. Willy Lumpkin, the FF's mailman, makes an appearance. It's still early in the game for a Fantasticar or HERBIE, or Annihilus or, uh... Galactus. And we are saved from the menace of explaining the Inhumans. In one major departure, Ben Grimm is given a wife he can lose, but she's not around as much more than a plot point before disappearing.

Von Doom's past is changed, but, more than anything, Julian MacMahon is just never properly threatening. In fact, as mentioned before, you sort of get the feeling that maybe he has a lot of legitimate reasons for not liking Reed Richards. Sure, he's a bit egotistical, but he just seems like a run of the mill jerk with a lot of dough. To his credit, he appears interested in being helpful to the FF for the first half of the movie, not to mention concerned for the future of his company, which, no doubt employs hundreds of loyal little scientists, office admins and janitors.

The final act just never really leads you to think Doom is really all that threatening, and while MacMahon isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, Tim Story's direction of MacMahon just sucks. Doom is not the kind of guy who picks up a rocket launcher, walks to a window and fires it. Doom uses robot minions to do his dirty work, and would never lower himself to getting his own hands dirty. Also, Doom has sort of a regular guy voice for the face that literally inspired Darth Vader.

As Sue Storm, Jessica Alba does little more than act bratty and fill out a spandex suit. One is left to wonder, aside from her Barbie-like features, what an egg-head like Richards would want with Sue? She yells at him and lays passive-aggressive guilt trips on him like a perpetual bad-ex-girlfriend machine. Not to mention arbitrarily shouting at her brother. But she's pretty, so we know our hero will love her by movie's end. Her invisibility effects are okay, I guess. Nothing innovative makes it's way into that department at all.

Chris Evans plays Johnny Storm just as he is in the comics. Broad, silly, but with a conscience. And, again, the best effects seem reserved for the Human Torch sequences.

Initially I was disappointed that The Thing was not a CG generated 7' high 4' wide behemoth. And part of me is still disappointed that isn't the case. At times the Thing's latex costume is convincing, but whenever he turns his neck, you can see that it's Chiklis in a rubber suit. Still, he looks like he's got better mobility than either of Keaton's Batman suits. I guess The Thing was fairly close to Lee and Kirby's initial take. Chiklis doesn't embarass himself in the role (or suit), and given the kiddy audience this movie is intended for, his pathos at becoming The Thing is probably heavy enough. Nobody likes a whiner. Chiklis wisely goes with understandably grouchy.

The dude playing Mr. Fantastic probably didn't need to read any comics to get Reed Richards down pat. He's just a guy who loves his work and has forgotten about everything else in his quest for the advancement of science. His power is to stretch his body mass into any shape he likes. Sort of like the ultimate Stretch Armstrong. The Mr. Fantastic FX are, as noted above, quite lame. But I never really cared too much. It took me out of the moment a bit, but after w hile you can play a game where you try to decide what part of mr. Fantastic is actor and what part is colored polygons.

Most disappointing was the creative team's lack of Kirbyism. Jack's name is up there in the credits right next to Stan's (a shout out to fans who know who REALLY dreamed up the FF), but no sign of his wild vision for the FF's unique technology makes it into a single frame. Instead, everything looks sort of as if it were purchased at Fry's electronics. Where are my Kirby-dots when Doom crackles with energy? Where are the wavy lines over glass? The unnecessary zigzags? The odd reflections of endless miles of steel tubing? Where are my pronounced bottom lips and sleepy looking eyes?

Dammit, man! I wanted KIRBY! Where's my fill of villains with improbably designed headgear?

Also, for some odd reason, the script makes it sound as if Reed is a genetcist. Which is fine, I guess... But the FF in the comics are adventurers, not guys working ont he human genome project. Nor are they superheroes with capes going out on patrol. They're a team of professionals ready to jump in the Fantasticar (designed by Reed) to drive through the transdimensional gate (also designed by Reed), to collect data with instruments (designed by Reed), for application in industrial projects (by Reed). Unfortunately, they often run afoul of transdimensional beasties and alien warlords in their travels. And it was this adventurous attitude that got them bathed in cosmic rays in the first place.

In truth, the movie was better than I expected. It's certainly more enjoyable than the forgettable Daredevil, but is still a far cry from the rare-achievemnt of the Spider-Man movies. The story and characters are terribly kid friendly, and a part of me would have loved to have seen more toys and doo-hickeys (Fantasticar, HERBIE) for younger fans to have as $20 plastic toys.

Maybe next time around.

Not only does the film jump up and point to the likelihood of a sequel, it's made enough this weekend alone to justify a second round with the FF.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The League Presents:

The Longhorn Po-Boy Enthusiast

Anyone who lived in Austin got used to occasionally seeing local eccentric and body-modification nut, Enigma, out and about from time to time. The first few opportunities running into Enigma at 2:00 am at Magnolia Cafe was always sort of titillating. "Don't look, don't look... okay, NOW!" you'd always say to the person who hadn't seen Enigma and/ or his Cheetara look-alike girlfriend.

But after a while, you'd be headed into Kinko's to photocopy your tax forms or headed into Longhorn Po-Boy to grab lunch, and there was Enigma. And that's sort of the trouble with naming yourself "Enigma" and trying to set yourself apart from the rest of us regular jerks. The magic is sort of gone the second someone sees you actually doing the same mundane bulls**t everyobody else has to do. (I would love to see Enigma having to water his yard. Seriously. It gives me the chills just thinking about it.)

Having no discernable talent not held by the average 19-year old in Austin, Enigma has sorted of traded on his modification at freak shows and a brief appearance on X-Files about 10 years ago.

Encouraged by the attention, Enigma remains true to his vision for himself, and while something about all that ink sort of makes you feel that the man just needs a big hug, you also have to admire his ability to sit in a chair while somebody pokes him.

Palisades Toys has just announced that Enigma will be turned into a tiny, abstract little action-thing for collectors of this sort of stuff.

The League admits to a twinge of jealousy at this man's ability to dye himself blue, but The League is also a sucker for a steady paycheck and health insuance.

Also, why is the toy gray?
Roger Ebert: Fantastic Fear

In reviewing "Fantastic Four", I believe Roger Ebert just said, "Well, I'd like to see Jessica Alba in an Invisible Bikini." And then later went into how Alicia Masters and Ben Grimm would need a "reinforced bed" if we're to believe their romance should come to it's logical conclusion.

Thank you, Roger, for taking something delightful from my childhood and making it high-octane nightmare fuel.
this shall make Steanso wet himself.

Correction: this will make Steanso wet himself even more.

Soulhat returns! Whoo-hoo!

Thanks to Jim D. for the link.

And no thanks to Steanso for dragging me unwittingly to a Soulhat show in 1994.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

this image would be hilarious if I could get it to show up the right size. Click for full-sized hilarity.



Since The League was a wee tot, he's been a bit interested in HG Wells' tale of horrific panic, War of the Worlds. I confess that my interest hasn't really been in the novel (which I finally attempted to read this spring to, uh... mixed results), but in the 1938 radio broadcast and 1953 film versions of WoW.

In 7th grade I had initially heard about the mad panic caused by Orson Welles' broadcast, and located tapes of the show. For those of you unfamiliar with the 1938 broadcast and ensuing panic, I HIGHLY suggest you read up on the broadcast here. The radio broadcast is absolutely worth listening to for more than nostalgia reasons. Just imagine tuning in a few minutes late and it sort of boggles the mind.

In 1988, a TV series based upon the 1953 movie was released. Staying mostly in continuity with the movie, WoW: The TV series suggested that the 1953 attack had been a scouting mission of some sort, and in 1988 the aliens were finally getting off their duff and getting serious about taking over the planet. The show was 1) not that great, 2) got real weird real fast, and 3) was on at some awkward time, so I didn't catch it all that often.

It DID lead me to rent the 1953 movie which, along with the debut of MST3K, led me to a love affair with classic sci-fi, good and bad, which continues to this day. (It is no coincidence that both War of the Worlds and MST3K both have characters named Dr. Clayton Forrester.)

I still watch the original film about once a year. Sure, it's a bit dated and sexist, but it's good at what it does, and I can still remember how it scared me the first time I saw it. The ship design is still excellent. Sound FX, alien FX and force field FX still hold up remarkably well.

War of the Worlds relies on poking and prodding your fight or flight responses. Unlike Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or even the aliens from ID4, the aliens in WoW can't be fought, can't be slowed, can't be tricked with some nice flying and a Mac with a wireless connection. They're pure unstoppable force with no points of weakness. To see a tri-pod is to see death arriving.

So how does Spielberg's War of the World's stack up?

Pretty well, I guess.

It should be no surprise that the special effects, sound design, set design, etc... are all top notch. The tripods look and sound phenomenal. Scary, monstrous stuff, taking cues from both the novel and the 1950's film (sound FX and the look of the force fields). And while I like the gliders from the 1953 version, it's no secret that the gliders were there because the special FX folks couldn't animate a 3 legged vehicle without it tumbling over. This crew makes it work.

The tripods seemed to have more of a functional purpose in previous incarnations, given the aliens' physiology. There's nothing really wrong with the current look of the aliens, but by taking away the fact that the aliens are using the tripods for tasks (ie, violence) their bodies can't perform, it somehow takes away the cold thuggishness of the three-eyed blobs as they go about their business.

Oh, three eyes? Not in this movie, baby. These joyriders are all about stereoscopic vision. Seemingly the love child of tea aliens from AI and ID4, it's all elbows, long limbs and beady little eyes. It's a nice design, but I sincerely liked the squat blobs of the 1953 version a bit better. Not to mention that the horrible three-part eye was about all you really saw of them. (creepy little three-eyed bastards).

The film uses images of devastation with great effect. Unlike the fireball devastation of, say ID4, Spielberg's WoW tears apart freeways and overpasses, blasts apart intersections and disintegrates buildings, brick by brick.

Tom Cruise is, and I hate to say this, pretty darn good. As much as he annoyed the hell out of The League in The Last Samurai, Tom uses that cocky charm to good effect in this film (for maybe five minutes when things go boom). Yes, he is a jack-ass, but in this movie, he's our jack-ass.

Dakota Fanning is good, I guess. I've read some reviews which talk about her giving an Oscar-worthy performance, but I don't know if that's quite how I see it. Sure, she's good, but, you know...

The story flows along at a good pace, although it does eliminate the familiar "standing around the spaceship until bad stuff happens" scene which found it's way into the book, radio show and movie. The script definitely borrows elements from the book and 1953 film (avoiding detection in the house) to good effect.

The movie does a fairly good job of propelling itself along (at breakneck pace) while integrating memorable character moments. Some of these are Spielbergian character moments of goofy sentimentality, but it's not that they don't work or even necessarily insincere. They're just... sort of... Squishy.

A lot of items remain unnecessarily unexplained. And while War of the Worlds has never gone out of it's way to get into the minds and motivations of the aliens, some items simply could have used a little clearing up.


Unsurprisingly, the points at which the script strays furthest from the original concepts are where the story runs into trouble. Innovations like the aliens inserting themselves via lightning strike goes beyond defying physics to defying logic. Were the aliens just floating around in a cumulonimbus for the past million years? Is there a mother ship or not?

The film suggests that the tripods sat dormant for millions of years. How on earth were the tripods not identified under the streets of NYC, Boston, Chicago? Why did the aliens wait a million years?

Waiting a million years suggests that the aliens had been to earth before. Wouldn't they be aware that they were going to keel over if they'd visited earth before?

Further, this Modus Operandai suggests that this was most likely not the first time the aliens had used this MO for invasion. Have the aliens not yet learned the value of a good, sealed space suit?

And if they had a million years, why didn't they just nuke earth from orbit and come back when the radiation was gone? Or use cows for their evil schemes instead of people?

end spoilers

The movie makes more sense in the context of Mars invading earth, and while the movie never explicitly says where the aliens come from, the logic behind the original movie, radio show, etc... somehow seems to add up slightly better.

That said, the movie is a good popcorn movie. It may, in fact, win some academy awards for sound and visual FX. And while WoW will most likely continue to be interpreted for film, TV and who-knows where else, this version certainly won't do the general property that is WoW any disservice.

Anyway, all in all, fairly enjoyable.

I also saw the trailer for Peter Jackson's King Kong. People (I'm looking at you, SGH) seem bent out of shape about this movie being made. I'm not really sure why.

Look, I love the original King Kong. I think it's a great adventure movie, but, let's be honest, it's not 1933 anymore. The story should still work for audiences today, and today's effects are a direct descendant of the original Kong.

It's got a gorilla and dinosaurs. Thus, it has already earned my $8.00.