Saturday, July 05, 2008

City of Austin Fireworks?


My folks came into town today for a little family cookout. Susan joined us, as did Jason + Cassidy and one Heather Wagner.

I was wary of the heat of the day and the lack of shade in my backyard, and so had planned to cook inside. Jason, believing this to be unpatriotic, took control of the charcoal and flame. He is GrillMaster '08. And he did, I might say, a superior job.

Mom brought in some really good asiago and spinach sausages. Susan brought a nice pasta salad. Heather brought some vegetarian sausages. And I picked up some burgers.

Anyway, we had too much food and drink, but that's a good problem to have.

Afterwad, we headed to the Hyatt at Town Lake, where my folks had rented a room. We picked a nice spot, met up with some family friends, and enjoyed the sun going down and waited for the fireworks.

I haven't seen a fireworks show in Austin for several years. Last year was our first Fourth back, and we wound up shooting off bottle rockets with Mangum out in Buda. Prior to that, we'd either been in Phoenix or visiting Houston. Prior to that... I don't really recall. But Austin's fireworks were really, really good this year.

Much better than the usual Chandler, AZ fireowrks, anyway. The company and lakeside view didn't hurt, either.

So a tip of the hat to my folks for landing us a nice spot for fireworks. It was a very nice Fourth.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

I had this plan for this Independence Day post, but then I realized: I'm still looking for a job. And, like it or not, if people are Googling my name and (1) locate The League, (2) can get past the fact that I'm obviously a huge dork, (3) and don't agree with me about, say, Wall-E, I'd hate for (4) something I'd say in espousing my personal philosophy regarding Independence to keep me from getting an interview.

Suffice it to say, without getting all Toby Keith on you, I am aware of the virtues of living and working in a country which was established with no smaller goal in mind than the liberty and freedom of its citizens. And I am proud that in the history of the United States, we seem to take the idea of equal rights for our people so seriously that we're able to make steps forward, changing both law and society, and eventually hearts and minds. 1920 may seem a little late to have finally granted women the right to vote (and it was), but it DID happen. And though progress may be slow, the march of history in the US points in the direction of shared rights and privileges for all of us.

I salute the dream of forefathers who conceived of a place where the citizenry could publicly question the will of the government with no fear of reprisal, and who insisted that the voice of the people would guide how those selected for office might govern.

I am a flag waver. There's a 3x5' flag hanging from my front porch. But I don't labor under any delusion that flags or pins or whatever magnet or sticker is trendy to have on your car is some indicator of how much more I love my country than the next person. I'm happy to hang the flag when I think of the achievements of the US, and the amazing ideals upon which the county was founded. And how we strive to build upon that foundation, pushing forward not toward being necessarily a nation known for its might, but as an ideal for government, justice and personal liberty. That a love of commerce is not our only ideal, and the pursuit of filling our coffers is not the sole drive for our nation and its choices.

We're better than that. And the Fourth is a chance not just to grill up a burger, get a sunburn and watch some fireworks, but its a chance to remember the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And how each of us is a steward of those ideals for ourselves, our community and the world the next generation will inherit. And the generation after that.

It's my greatest hope that technology and wise choices will leave the United States of the July 4th, 2108 looking back at us with the same disbelief we reserve for the social inequality of our own nation from 100 years ago. And that, maybe, just maybe, we'll have found as-yet-untapped wisdom to live as neighbors with all nations.

Even Canada. Who would gladly invade us and take our stuff if we were not to remain vigilant.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Apple goes Super Awesome

iTunes has partnered with Waner Bros./ DC Comics to put a whole mess of cartoons, live-action, etc... online. If you don't already have all of these great shows in another format (say, DVD), then this is a great opportunity.

I'm especially excited to see they've made "The Adventures of Superman" available, starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates (Noel Neill would join the cast in Season 2, reprising the role she played with Kirk Alyn in the movie serials).

Also, look for:

Batman: The Animated Series
Superman: The Animated Series
Batman Beyond
Super Friends
and the original Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons

Episodes are priced at a very reasonable $1.99, or about $1 less than a comic book.

Go to iTunes and look for DC Classic Animation.

Holiday reminder

Jeff Wilson's family has been able to get a sign put up asking motorists not to drink and drive.


Please be careful this 4th of July weekend.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Troubles McSteans!

Jamie has decided to launch a blog.

I have no clue where the urge came from, and I'm not asking.

Unlike many bloggers, Jamie has a story to share. Its a story I've mentioned here, but that I've kept somewhat close to the vest as I never felt it was my story to tell.

It's my hope that through the blog, you'll see a bit of what I see in Jamie. I wouldn't have gotten serious about her if she weren't smart and funny. She's insightful, tough and genuinely cares about other people. She's also fighting every day, and I hope maybe you can get something out of how she handles her trials and tribulations with no small amount of panache.

It'll be interesting to see where she does with the blog, and if she decides to stick with it.

So, pop over for a visit, will you?

Troubles McSteans

Our Pets Talk

I grew up with something like Noah's Ark. Dogs, snakes, iguanas, turtles, fish, hermit crabs, rabbits....

It doesn't take a genius to know that dogs and cats are common not just because they're generally pretty affable, but because they have personality. Like anyone with three kids, our three pets each have a special place, and each of them get and require special attention.

Mel is the smart one, who is pretty good at entertaining himself. He lives to please, but as he's gotten older, he also seems to see himself as a bit more of an equal in the family pack. Certainly he sees himself as somewhere in the family hierarchy above Jeff and Lucy, which, I suppose he is. He is often told he's "the good one" or "the smart one", mostly because he's self-sufficient and doesn't need constant maintenance. Mel genuinely has things figured out. He often just seems less like a pet and more like a particularly quiet roommate who is always up for hanging out or running an errand with you.

Jeff the Cat is our little time bomb. He loves me, but not so much anyone else. Including, to her eternal chagrin, Jamie. He follows me around all day, and sleeps by my side at night. Everyone else is suspect, but he is learning to sit on Jamie after living with her for nine years. But he'll also attack her at night if he feels his box isn't clean enough. Why he associates Jamie with the box and not me is sort of a question mark, but there you have it.

Nobody but me likes Jeff. We're pals. In his own way, he's terribly demanding and stubborn, but he's also my first cat, and maybe they're all like that. Jeff is also the rare cat that knows when he's being called and will eventually make his way over (if he's not otherwise occupied). I think he also knows his name.

Lucy is my little princess, but I suspect her lineage may be more of a bamboo shoot that a branching family tree. She's sweet as can be, but doesn't make the mental connections that Mel makes between cause and effect, which makes her very difficult to train. To my eternal frustration.

In her first year, she wasn't at all interested in people. She just sort of bumbled around, doing her own thing. Two years later, and if you're ever further than three feet from the dog, its because she's orbiting someone else. But she'll be back.

All three animals talk.

Mel is the only one who speaks on command, but will NOT do so if he knows Jamie is around as he is aware that loud barking upsets her. Seriously. He waits for her cue before he'll speak. Otherwise, he makes very little noise except to welcome you home (with little dog cries), and a sort of yawning sound when he wants something, such as dinner. He will wag just so to shake his tags if he wants your attention.

Jeff is one talky cat, and will wander around the house saying "Meow?" if he's not clear on where you are. He meows if he wants you to go upstairs. He meows for you to turn on the water in the sink so he can play while you shave. He also meows at you if you're not paying enough attention to him. And, he talks at birds. Do your cats chatter at birds? Its weird, but it seems to make him happy.

Lucy cries whenever she doesn't get her way. Which is about 80% of the day. Sitting near her but not petting her? Low whine. Getting close to dinner, but its not five yet? A long, slow, sustained whine. Happy? She says "Aeh, aeh, aeh". But mostly she cries a lot.

The pets have a minimally competitive thing going on for our attention. Mel is usually happy just being in the room, but Lucy isn't happy unless she's sitting on the couch with you or on you. Jeff wants to choose where he sits. But its not unusual to find yourself surrounded by pets if you're the only one in the house.

And aside from the constant motion between 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM, there's often some discussion going on between you and the pets. This includes guests, as Matt has noticed.

It's a good level of discussion, and there's few pleasures like that level of communication you get with your pets, where you kind of talk at each other with words, sounds and body language. Live together long enough, and that's kind of what you need to do to make it work.

Growing up, I had a somewhat stand-offish relationship with our first dog, who only really liked my mom. But our second dog, Misty, and I hit it off pretty well. And that's where I got used to talking to your dog and eventually learning what sort of conversations you have with your dog that work. Misty was pretty smart, and she had her opinions.

I have no idea how you people without pets get along.

New Bond Trailer

Jamie will be pleased.

I really, really enjoyed Casino Royale. I'm not the Bond-ophile that JAL is, but I kind of felt the Bond franchise, previous to the Casino Royale relaunch had sort of become a weird parody of itself. It was like they'd lost focus of anything that grounded Bond as a real character and were trying to up the ante for a caricature with every movie.

Casino Royale seemed like a movie about a legitimate character, with real motivations rather than trying to squeeze in bad puns while keeping his hair perfectly straight. If you've been keeping up with Jason Bourne and Bond, its not a bad time for espionage-based action flicks.

Anyhoo, I'll be seeing this one.

The Unemployment Chronicles: Tuesdays in the Park

-Went and saw "Frankenstein" at the Paramount this evening. It was sort of amazing seeing the film on the big screen.

The magic of the movie was somewhat diminished by the plus-sized gentleman who plopped down in front of us as the film began, had something of a running commentary with himself, which ceased only when he would fall asleep and begin snoring loudly. Which he did three times. Curiously, I was happier with the snoring than the commentary.

-Is anyone else waiting for the seemingly mild-mannered Disney boy band "The Jonas Brothers" to realize they're bajillionaires and girls love them? And looking forward to TMZ's coverage of the inevitable spinning out of control?

I am a bad, bad person.

-Did you know Tyra is on TV somewhere 24 hours per day? And yet I've never actually watched any of her shows.

-This week's Comic Fodder post got me a link from Dirk Deppey's Journalista!. So, good for me, I guess. I'm not particularly passionate about the bizarre and illogical manner in which comics are distributed, etc... but I also think its a far greater culprit in declining numbers of comic readers than things like "continuity" or "complicated stories".

-Went to Barton Springs today with Jamie. We floated for a while, and Jamie went off the diving board for the first time. I wish I'd had a camera to capture the ridiculous grin she had on her face when she jumped off the end.

Then the lifeguard blew his whistle at Jamie for wearing her aqua shoes off the board, so now Jamie refuses to ever go off the board again.

We also hit "Dog Almighty!", a hotdog shop. And I was pleasantly surprised by the Pfluger Dog, which was covered in sauerkraut and onions (two items I could put on any food). I mentioned the sauerkraut being very good to the owner, and she gave me the secret, which I refuse to share here, so you'll maybe try the Dog Almighty! yourself.

-Looking for jobs is weird. The internet is such a black hole. I send off a stack of resumes every day, but you rarely hear anything back. Even a rejection. And then, from some places, they let you know more than once you were rejected. And it's sort of like: Hey, I got it the first time, but thanks.

-Jason's pup, Cassidy, had tooth surgery today to remove and/ or fix a broken molar. So I'm wishing our three-legged pal a speedy recovery.

I love that ridiculous dog and her ever-wagging loop of a tail.

-Almost done boxing up comics. After more than a year, this has been a bit more of a chore than usual. I'm also considering what portions of my collection I could begin pondering unloading. For example: why do I have that crate of X-Men I'll never read again? Would anyone want to buy my run of Hitman?

It's also slowed my reading of comics. I just got my now-monthly dose of comics from my pusher, and I've only made it through my Super-books, the first 3 issues of Trinity an Final Crisis.

Seems like a lot, but, ya'll. I don't have a jobby job. So I have time on my hands.

-My folks are coming in for the Fourth, so if I promised anybody a 4th of July Extravaganza, those plans are now but a distant memory of a dream. It's also only a few days after their 40th Anniversary, so we're more or less celebrating that, too.

-yeah, happy belated 40th Anniversary to my folks. They're two peas in a pod, but they also taught me quite a bit about how you have to work at a relationship and never take one another for granted. A better example, I could not have had.

-I might take Lucy and Mel to the spill-over tomorrow so we all get out of the house.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Colonel Blimp, revisited...

Well, I'll be dipped.

It seems that when I shot my mouth off in this recent post regarding a Batman back-issue, I should have bit my tongue.

In the post, after praising the comic, I said the following:

The problem: Not only is our terrorist wearing a grape-colored chauffer's outfit, his nom-de-crime? Colonel Blimp.

Not exactly a name geared toward striking fear in the hearts of the populace. And a little on the nose, I think. I am unsure why Conway and or Kupperberg slacked so badly on the villain's name, but there you have it.

Let this be a lesson to YOU, Leaguers. ALWAYS GOOGLE IT.

According to Wikipedia, Colonel Blimp was not originally a DC Comics creation, but, in fact, a sly nod to a British cartoon character of the same name. See the Wikipedia entry.

From the post:
Blimp was a satire on the reactionary opinions of the British establishment of the 1930s and 1940s.

Interesting, no?

This Col. Blimp character must have been pretty popular. There's even a movie called: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp that received the Criterion Edition treatment.

Further, it seems the Col. Blimp in the issue was actually a call back to a very early Batman comic featuring a villain named Carl Kruger. Who employed a dirigible of some sort.

It would be interesting to learn a bit more about what Gerry Conway was thinking, employing the name (but not the likeness) of the other Col. Blimp. It seems highly unlikely the use of the name was a coincidence.

So, there goes the one weird things about Detective 519. Go figure.

By the way, if you haven't read the comments in the original post, we were honored to have Mr. Paul Kupperberg, who scripted the issue, drop by and discuss the artist, Don Newton, and a few other items.

I'm off to go dig the Carl Kruger story up in a reprint. I must have read it a while back. Plus, I may look for this Col. Blimp movie.

Man, I love comics. And the internets.

Meredith's Kids!

What time is it?

It's ubiquitous Spider-Man time!

These are the children of my old high school chum, Meredith. Apparently Mer is raising those kids right, and teaching them in the virtues of 'Ol Web Head.

It's pretty late, and I can't remember their names. So, from left to right, meet: Rutteger, Snoopy and Sleepy Pete.

Leaguers, if you want for me to remember the names of your children, don't forget to start early. I think one of these kids if John, one is Zack, and maybe one is... Matthew... or maybe Michael. Perhaps Cliff. I'm not sure.

Anyway, delightful kids.

Mer has just upped the super-hero ante. What will you do?

Monday, June 30, 2008

The League supports Wall-E

Mangum must be getting soft in his old age. Ten years ago the mention of going to see a cartoon would have been met with snide derision, even if it featured a robot and dystopian visions of the future.

But... in the intervening years, Mangum has become a shell of his former punk-rock self. He has begun to fill his home with photos of kittens and lots of little statues of clowns holding balloons, and is always looking for new recipes for quiche and cupcakes.

Never give up smoking, kids.

Anyway, he pitched to me a screening of Wall-E, the latest Pixar venture. So, Sunday night we met he and Nicole at the Alamo South, and we were also met by Heather Wagner. And while we were all convinced that should Nicole and Wagner ever meet, time would stop and the universe might split in two, all I noticed was a small popping sound, like bubble wrap.

Nicole also got a new haircut. She looks sharp, but for some reason she felt self-conscious about it. And I should probably apologize to her about my attempt at complimenting said 'do.


I'm always far more excited to see a Pixar movie than any other cartoon. Its not just that Pixar is consistently 3-5 years ahead of everyone else as far as technology goes, but because Pixar's ability to tell a story is so very, very, very much better than what you see in 99& of the rest of family entertainment.

I'm on record with my lack of enthusiasm for the current post-Robin-Williams-in-Aladdin, post-Shrek belief that pop-culture references make a movie, or that having known comedians constantly riffing is character. I think kids and parents deserve better. I think if they want my dollar, I deserve better.

I haven't always loved every Pixar film equally. I think "Finding Nemo" is a little blah. There are parts I like about "Monsters, Inc.", but it felt like it was drifting into "celebrity-voice-theater" as its focus. That said, I'm a big fan of both "Toy Story" movies, so go figure. And I've never seen "Cars". Because, really? Owen Wilson as a NASCAR car?

My feeling is that the Pixar creators took a look at how well their short films work, and how audiences seem entirely pleased with those shorts, and took a gamble to apply that same craft to a feature length film.

Wall-E is a movie about a lonely little robot, left behind on Earth as mankind abandoned a trash-strewn, presumably polluted Earth for the stars and greener pastures. Wall-E spends his days packing, crushing and stacking the garbage strewn about the planet. Mankind hasn't returned, and in the ensuing years, of all the many, many droids just like him, only Wall-E remains, carrying about his tasks, with only a cockroach to keep him company.

How anyone managed to make a roach sympathetic while refusing to de-buggify the thing is a testament to the craft going into the film.

Wall-E has built a small home for himself, full of items he's begun to collect. And he's a fan of the movie and music of "Hello, Dolly!" which he likes to watch on a top-loading VHS player (oh, yes. Its the small things in the movie). While the movie brings him joy, it also reflects upon his desire for companionship, which is met one day with the curious arrival of a space probe robot seemingly designed by the engineers at Apple.

I don't really want to tell much more. The pacing of the story is fantastic. And though there were actually few children in our theater, the fact that the movie is incredibly light on dialog and doesn't rely on borscht-belt humor, nor fart gags for laughs, the audience stayed with the movie every step of the way.

Like much classic sci-fi, Wall-E is really a cautionary tale. Like "Idiocracy", the movie is really about mankind's consumerist, wasteful culture... but to tell more is to both give too much away, and to suggest some sort of political agenda to a movie that doesn't have one. It is a movie for our precarious place in time and for each of us as a steward of the future of the planet, and ourselves.

The visuals on Wall-E have passed from the flat, cartoon world of Toy Story to a world in which these two eyes (as bad as they are) often couldn't tell if some items/ shots/ etc... were CGI or photo compositing. And its something Pixar absolutely makes work.

Add in terrific management of a multitude of characters who, essentially, don't speak, terrifically directed scenes, and humor based on characters, motivations, etc... that actually works, and I think you've got the best Pixar movie since "The Incredibles" (which is, by far, my favorite).

Kids or no kids, The League thinks Wall-E needs to be on your summer movie viewing list. And, for the love of mike, see it on the big screen, where it belongs.

And now I kinda want to rent "Hello, Dolly", which I haven't seen since 1994.

Comic Fodder

I've got a new post up on the ridiculous world of comic book purchasing, and how its bad for the industry.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The League has an evening out

Last night Jamie and I met up with Carla and David at Shady Grove. For those of you not familiar with Austin, its a bit of an institution down on Barton Springs Road, about a mile from the actual Barton Springs. The area is/ was one of my favorites in Austin. It's right near the Chuy's restaurant where the Bush girls had their infamous carding incident, and Zilker Park.

But reminders that nothing good can survive in Austin without a real estate mogul buying up what made the place interesting to begin with, leveling it, and putting in over-priced condos... there's now a massive trench in the earth, several stories deep where there used to be a very Austin, very goofy trailer park full of burnouts and hipsters.

Nonetheless, Shady Grove endures and will thrive with people living next door in a multi-story condo. It may just have a heck of a lot more shade over it than it used to.

It was great seeing David and Carla. It'd been a really long time. Carla's been flexing her acting muscles taking improv classes, which led to a discussion earlier this week regarding maybe going to see some improv after dinner.

We wound up at the ColdTowne Theatre off Airport, not too far from where I used to live circa 1997. The funny thing was, I knew of about eight ways to get there, but I couldn't remember exactly the fastest way. I've lived in too many spots all over this town. And its been too long since I lived North of the River.

ColdTowne is a troupe formed by several Katrina evacuees who were doing Improv in New Orleans, but fled to Austin in pat because troupe member Tami Nelson had lived here prior to living in New Orleans. I know this, because I knew Tami in high school and then here in Austin in college and post-college. She wasn't a theater person, or in improv then, but when it was one of those things: Tami + Improv = total sense

But we also hadn't gone to see her perform since being back. The honest-to-God's-truth of it is that I get really anxious going to see people I like perform live in any capacity. Seeing people perform live and feeling that it came up short is always kind of awful. Its bad enough when I read what people have written and I don't find myself exactly pumped about reading it/ telling them I liked it. Its something again when I feel stuck for an hour or two watching it live (like, i can't get away or they'll see me) and I have to see them right after the show and drop superlatives on them.

There are a few exceptions. I know and like what Jason's band plays enough to feel comfortable saying things like "your vocals were down way too low through the whole show" or "I couldn't hear Frank's guitar" or whatever. You don't need to just blow sunshine anymore when you've seen someone play that many times, and, really, they might WANT to know some technical issues.

But with theater and Improv, man... that's just your friend standing out there. That's not the acoustics of the space, or maybe giggling because someone missed a change mid-song. And if its bad... I assume they can know its not going well when nobody is laughing.

Anyhow... The League should have known, as The Austin Chronicle listed ColdTowne as the Best Comedy in Austin. Which, I know, seems crazy with yours truly, plus Jeff the Cat, in our amazing stage show. But maybe because our show is too avant garde?

Unfortunately, three of the five of ColdTowne proper were out of town, so the format of the Saturday show was a bit off, but still really good. The first troupe to come out was "The Midnight Society", comprised of maybe eight people. It was a student group, who were nonetheless pretty darn polished. They were fun, with some standpiyt players within the group.

Tami and her partner did a two-person show under the name "Bird Dog", and, seriously, it was great. I can't recall if they did four or five scenes, total. But, yeah, well, well worth seeing. So, I'm looking forward to seeing the full ColdTowne troupe with, like, 65% more comedy.

So, if you're in Austin, go check out ColdTowne, go see Tami, and have fun.