Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No, I've Never Actually Read the Books. Why?

Calvin found this.

From the studio who brought you "Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus". Seriously.

I haven't seen the movie, but seeing a poster with Sherlock Holmes and dinosaurs, a gigantic squid AND fire breathing dragons on it is exactly representative of everything I think about when I consider how Hollywood deals with perfectly good source material. Except that there are no boobs anywhere on the poster.

Yes, I know Asylum is sort of kidding as a company. I am not sure their audience knows that.

Coming to DVD end of January.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The League Reads/ Listens to: Dracula

On Thursday morning I finished a 12-hour audio book of the original novel of "Dracula".

If you've grown up in the US, you're familiar with Dracula via Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman or any of the other innumerable TV or film versions of the character. And, most likely, you've seen one of those History Channel specials on "The Real Dracula" about the Romanian count who is rumored to have killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people on the end of a pike.

I've seen the Browning directed, Lugosi starring "Dracula" at least five times, seen the Coppola directed, Oldman-starring "Dracula" two or three times, seen a few other versions, at least two plays of Dracula (one of which was a musical), odd sequels to Dracula from "Dracula 2000" to "Monster Squad" (which gave us the phrase "The Wolfman has Nards!", for which I am eternally grateful).

But I'd never read the book.

Drac didn't get to tidy up before you popped by.

For today's reader who picks up the book for the first time, unfortunately, "Dracula" has two things going against it.

1) It definitely works in that "paid by the word" mode of its contemporaries, where characters are likely to have long, unimportant asides and speeches that go nowhere. By today's standards of narrative economy, its hard-going at times.
2) It more or less defined a tradition and formula, based upon folklore and tradition, that has become so completely ingrained in the popular psyche that you already know what is coming through 99% of the book. Especially if you were familiar with the book from other sources.

That said...

Its not a bad listen or read. Even scenes which we've all witnessed on screen becoming far more chilling as described in the course of the book and with Stoker's ability to deliver this information as fresh and revelatory.

What struck me most is that, while Stoker does make a 4th quarter play to recognize that his Count was also once a human and therefore should get some measure of pity, this is not the "oh, I'm really just a stand in for those broody guys from high school" Dracula which we've come to know over the years. My guess is that the Lugosi (who, apparently, the ladies quite liked), and the lack of gore and general ickiness described in the book, makes becoming a vampire seem not all that bad. You stay good-looking, you never die or get sick, you get your way all the time, and have an array of super powers that would make Martian Manhunter jealous.

got... got a little something... right there. on your chin. there. you're gonna want a napkin.

But Stoker's Dracula and vampires are drawn from the tradition of demons and monsters, not GQ models. Dracula himself is horrible to behold before Harker even figures out there's anything amiss. Drawing blood isn't an exaggerated hicky, but something Drac and his lady-friends do by stealing peasant children in sacks and then going family-style on them. Turning into a vampire isn't waking up with superpowers, as if one were accidentally bathed in cosmic rays, but a weeks-long process of slow death with the knowledge that one is becoming a hellspawn, but cannot even tell anyone else to kill them, because that will just turn you into the hellspawn directly.

It's a bad scene, and when pop culture critics look with crooked eye at the post-Anne Rice foppish-emo take on vampires, there's a reason for it. The horror of being one of the undead is not an inconvenience, which is more or less how Rice and the post-Rice followers portrayed their vampires. There is no choice to live well by raiding blood supplies or hunting deer or whatever modern creators have decided is an acceptable substitute, because becoming a vampire means loss of self, and what replaces you (whether you or a demon substitute) is not particularly interested in the ethics of the living.

Being a vampire is not all that different from modern images of zombie-ism, in that the zombies (and in many cases, werewolves) obviously have no choice about their motivations. Oddly, one of the more popular visions which seemed to match up was how vampires were portrayed in the first season or two of Buffy (which I didn't watch after season two or so. Sue me.).

Dracula enjoys the great taste of Keanu.

I tip my hat to Stoker's depiction of Mina, a character who is portrayed often as a damsel in distress, and unconvincingly as a character at all by Winona Ryder. Stoker celebrates "the modern woman" who was still 30 years off from the vote, but who men were surprised to learn could type, understand science and math, etc... And which Madam Mina seems to exemplify (and is far, far more interesting a character than the character of Lucy, who mostly swoons and feels pretty, then sick).

The belief in science and reason by the heroes is never questioned, superstition is puzzled out, and even the supernatural is more or less suggested to be just one more mystery of science. This current is occasionally explicitly addressed, but is certainly evident in how Stoker's characters grapple with the dilemma's surrounding them and give way from from what they know as gentlemen, to what they eventually open their minds to via observation and experience (which, honestly, takes up a huge portion of the book, and often seems to be the exact point of the book).

I confess to a particular affection for the character of Quincey Morris, who is often eliminated from the stage and screen versions, as his role is mostly to be The Manly Texan who is there to wield a Bowie knife and be happy to tackle some vampires while the Englishmen are grieving, swooning, etc...

And, of course, its easy to see why so many versions (particularly Coppola's film) become enamored with the wily genius of Van Helsing (whose name but nothing else is lifted for the Hugh Jackman movie of a few years back then seemed hellbent on ruining Universal's Monster Movie franchise). He's an interesting character, a man of science who openly recognizes that perhaps the age of reason and scientific investigation have led to people not looking at the sources of folklore and myth.

Some of the "scientific" discussion doesn't make a load of sense (I never got the "child-brain vs. man-brain" thing), but Van Helsing really sells it.

Dracula himself becomes somewhat lost as a character after the first quarter of the book. Only Harker has direct conversations with Dracula, while still in Transylvania. The polite foreigner who has moved into town of stage and screen is an invention intended to keep Drac on stage. But you kind of have to love how darned eeee-vil Dracula is when dealing with Harker, and what a clear picture is drawn of who the guys is, and that he is, in fact, struggling to get the hell out of the sticks and be a man of the world/ have a much bigger hunting ground.

If I've a complaint, its that Dracula's death is oddly ant-climatic both because (a) you know its coming, and (b) by today's standards, its not exactly a "Big Boss Fight". I found myself sort of rooting for the guy by the end, which I would guess is not an uncommon position.

Batman makes everything awesomer.

Regarding sex and the vampire:

There's absolutely no question where Stoker was going with his succubi-like "Brides of Dracula" (a term which doesn't actually appear in the book, if memory serves). Harker discusses what a big turn-on the women are, and when Van Helsing happens upon them, he's no less enchanted.

However, having had heard repeatedly how "sexy" we're to find the character od Dracula, and given the tone of the Frank Langella, Lugosi and Lee films, the eroticism of Dracula himself is a bit non-existent. The source I figured I was counting on for the lustiness of Dracula was Coppola's presentation, which he were told was a faithful adaptation, but that's fairly iffy. Given that the book is written in the form of various journals and diaries, it's possible, one supposes, that Mina and Lucy simply do not discuss the sexual aspects of vampirism, but the scenes I recall from the Coppolla film in which Mina is wooed just aren't there.

I'm of a mind that Stoker intended for Dracula himself to be deriving some sort of pleasure from taking his female victims (which is very different from how one assumes Dracula dealt with the all-male crew of the ship which brought him to England, who seem to have been roughly dispatched), as he returns to them night after night, and the book does suggest that Vampirism may spread by lovers willingly being turned to spend eternity with their partners.

But as for a suave gentlemen who maybe nibbles a little to hard on the neck? That seems to be derived from plays and movies, as neither Mina or Lucy ever really actually meet Dracula outside of when he comes to them at night.

On the whole, yes, the book could be a bit of a struggle to get through if you're not one for the flowery and often purple prose of the time period. But as vampires have become such a hot topic of books, TV and film of late, its worth going back to the original material and trying to understand how we got to the point where vampires are hanging out in the deep south and ordering blood at bars, and it's probably worth considering why we try, quite literally, to defang them.

The book, be forewarned, was unusual for its day. Vampires were not dominating the sales charts, and every school kid probably didn't know how two or three ways in which you could bump off the undead. So the book spends no small amount of time basically explaining what the heck is going on and setting up the various rules and roles of vampires which our vampire media of today still at least acknowledges.

I did enjoy the book, and if you were of a mind to get at the origin of vampire in the popular imagination, I'd say its an invaluable read. I do not believe I'll seek out Dracula's predecessors in literature and penny dreadfuls (I think I've actually seen a filmic adaptation of Carmilla back in college, but beer was involved, so...).

Friday, November 06, 2009

If this Existed, I Would Read It (update: It is real, I will read it)

fun with Photoshop at

Editor's Note: Dorian (author at Postmodernbarney) has written in to inform me that this is an actual book, not Photoshop at all! I am... amazed. And now will be seeking my very own copy. A trip to Half-Price before I buy from Amazon.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dune Book Club

In the spirit of both Jamie and I finishing "Dune", and now watching the Sci-Fi Channel's devoted but slightly goofy 2000-era mini-series, I wanted to point to a new web project by comic creators and fans which is devoted to Dune.


And, geez... will someone just fund Paul Pope so he can create a whole Dune graphic novel instead of doing single pages for his own benefit?


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Book(s) That Changed Your Life

(editor's note: I started this post a week ago, prior to my announcement about wrapping up LoM. I am not entirely satisfied with the post, and considered dumping it. But, heck... Here it is.)

Recently "This American Life" ran an hour on "The Book That Changed Your Life". The stories went in directions I wouldn't have expected, but for those of us who grew up in houses littered with books (and that includes most Leaguers as near as I can tell), and who cherish the object of a book as well as the content within, I think its worth a listen.


The criteria I'm using is not "These are the best books I've ever read", or "these books will make me look real smart-like". Instead, the list reflects books which I managed to read at some critical juncture, at just the right time, and which wound up affecting my worldview, my habits, my vision of how things are or ought to be. Books that, quite literally, changed my life in some way.

This list is not complete. I am trying to be specific, and will discuss other books in a later post before we wrap things up. I also do not want to be driving down the road a week from now and realize I left something off of the list, so why not make leave it open ended?

Again, send in your own books, or link to your own posts written elsewhere. That can be a post as well at some point.

Some Books that Changed my Life:

1) Go, Dog, Go!
Dogs. In cars. Going to a party in a tree.
My earliest memory of reading. Quite literally remember reading this to my grandmother while sitting on her lap, which had to have been a fairly awful experience for the woman.

"Go, Dog, Go!" doesn't get the press of Dr. Seuss, it hasn't been adapted into a major motion picture, it's devoid of themes beyond dogs driving, partying and rejecting one another upon their choice of hats. But it is THE book I read over and over as a kid.

2) Fahrenheit 451
Some weird-o teacher I had in fifth grade decided this made for fine assigned reading. A book my honors English class in high school found puzzling, presenting a future which every generation that reads it must feel is coming quite literally to pass. Probably, though, the first time an adult asked that we discuss a book in any actual real terms.

Whether it was my introduction to the concept that "ideas are dangerous" or not, I do not recall, but it absolutely crystallized the notion in my mind. Both in how far we'll go to keep a comfort and status quo (even in the face of Armageddon), and that ideas, words and what's contained in the expression of ink on paper is something to die for and with.

I've re-read the book at least a half-dozen times. Honestly, of all the dystopian future-stuff on this list, this is the one that seems like its the one we're going to slip into most easily, if we aren't already there.

3) The Dark Knight Returns
For a 12 year old who was cluing in pretty quickly that the world outside our neighborhood was a big, spooky place, who felt Ronald Reagan was a cartoon more than a human, and watched the F4's flying endlessly overhead when Mueller was an Air Force Base rather than an airport, the world of Dark Knight Returns seemed logical.

What was lost by the comic industry was that Miller, Varley and Janson were telling a story with a moral core, about pushing back against the ever expanding apathy and cruelty, and resignation that our elected officials seemed like showmen rather than leaders.

Miller would expand on the idea in Martha Washington, but for today's kids to turn to DKR, just as UK kids might turn to "V for Vendetta", to understand the 1980's in the US a bit more.

It also marked the time when I realized I was reading a comic that was blowing the doors off convention, not just in regards to format, layout, style, etc... but was using the medium and characters to comment upon the world I was living in, beyond using it as a setting for backdrop for super-powered struggles. Where X-Men was an earnest allegory that often felt clunky and repetitive, Dark Knight was electric shock satire.

If the comic industry never recovered, I guess never did my twelve-year-old brain. I am sure I am not alone in saying that I'm still chasing the rush that was the first time I read this comic, cover to cover.

4) Frankenstein
I am fairly certain that, at some point, I would have cracked this book with or without the help of Gwendolyn Fort's 9th grade English class. I knew the movie, and had watched a production of a play of Frankenstein on PBS in its entirety, which absolutely chilled me as a middle-schooler.

Obviously The League's grades meant he was unlikely to head into a life of science. However, I can attribute both the book and Ms. Fort's guiding hand, and what is probably no small dose of Kennedy-era idealism, in how I wound up reading Frankenstein as a story of hubris, failed responsibility, and really awful parenting.

There's no doubt that Frankenstein's creation performs horrendous acts by book's end, but as always, its in understanding the motives and causal relations that the book locked into my 15-year-old brain and lodged itself there.

I am not a fan of ideas like "a perfect book", and Frankenstein is far from that. Its a product of its time and seems to often drag on at length in some odd places, but its a book I would most certainly hand my own 15-year-old.

5) Kingdom Come
Most high school geeks give up on superheroes at some point, even if they keep buying comics. I had been fortunate enough to become tried of superheroes (in no small part due to the fact that I wasn't on-board with the 90's-era, Image-explosion, Rob Liefield influenced Chromium Age). At that time, I was picking up the books that were setting the stage for what became "Vertigo" comics. Sandman comics, Swamp Thing, Shade...

Alex Ross's art got me to try out "Marvels", and I'd thoroughly enjoyed that book, and so selling me on "Kingdom Come" wasn't all that hard, despite what I perceived to be a high sticker price.

The truth is, I'd been a fan of the DCU and Superman somewhat prior to the series, but Mark Waid and Ross's book managed to say an enormous amount not just about what I felt I was seeing in comic shops, and not just in entertainment, but reflected some of my own disillusionment that every undergrad experiences when you look a bit at the world you've inherited. While I was no aging preacher, Norman McCay's disappointment, Superman's grappling with the world he'd turned his back on, Wonder Woman's fury, all resonated.

Anyway, its a hell of a book, and if 80's-era Batman, JLI and GL and scattered other DC books were what got me interested, Kingdom Come's unblinking reflection upon the attempt at goodness in a world where such notions are considered juvenile, naive and even suicidal is a message worth returning to on a regular basis.

Kingdom Come, more than any other book, was why I came back to superheroes, and its influence on the next 15 years at DC is why I've wound up falling in with the DC partisan camp, why I fell in love with superheroes again as I entered adulthood, one of the reasons I became intrigued with Superman again, and why I came to expect more of "heroes" in all kinds of stories. And it had much to do with the how's and why's of how an adolescent hobby became a preoccupation that I'm still happy to entertain.

6) Superman: Peace on Earth
By Alex Ross and Paul Dini, this book is always the one I'd put in the hands of friends who start asking the hard questions about Superman. Why hasn't he made life perfect for everyone? What's holding him back?

It's brief, and I re-read it every Christmas, finding time between watching some version of "A Christmas Carol", "It's a Wonderful Life" and other required Holiday media. But its also not a story frozen into the Christmas season.

The book is in the format of a picture book more than a comic, and its a beautiful piece of art, with or without the story. But it does ask the questions that come into focus about anyone, but which are thrown into sharp relief when you apply The Man of Steel.

In the era when we're continually told Superman is outdated for our times, that the character is "broken", that wanting to do right out of a sense of right, social justice, etc... is quaint and old fashioned, and isn't as hip as wanting vengeance, etc... This is the book that I felt solidified for me not just the conflict of the character which most critics don't ever bother to get at, but that while Superman is often portrayed as the Ace of Action, the character is, and always has been, about trying to make a better world.

I suppose if anyone doubts my interest in 'ol Superman, which was influenced in no small part because of this book, which I believe gets at and explains the core of the character, I welcome you to come visit League HQ sometime.

Honorable Mention:

Caves of Steel
I, Robot
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Henry Reed, Inc.

Again, this list is nowhere near complete. And even with my clearly stated criteria, its tough to point to a book and say "Yes! It was while reading this book that I had a revelation! That I developed a new obsession!"

I earned a degree in history in part because of the reading I was doing, but it was the flood of reading at the time, and not any one book. The people in the NPR story made interesting and somewhat profound choices because of certain books. I did not go to Africa because I was reading Hemingway short stories. I didn't open a detective agency because I was reading Chandler and Hammett. I didn't run for President or turn to "the strenuous life" after reading up on TR.

So the list is tougher than you think it'd be.

I may do a list of League's Final Recommended reading before all is said and done. That might be fun.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The League Reads: A Princess of Mars

So on the plane to San Francisco I decided to read a book I'd picked up on a whim at Half Price Books, the first of the John Carter of Mars series, "A Princess of Mars".

I did not pick up the book just because there was a boob on the cover, but because the John Carter novels are occasionally discussed in the deep-dive-geek-circles, as a sort of watershed of fantasy and science fiction, or, more accurately, one of the early works from which all other sci-fi flows. There was also a glimpse of Carter in one of the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" graphic novels and it looked neat, but I had no idea what was going on.

Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whom you probably think of as the creator of Tarzan, the first John Carter novel was released in a serialized format starting in 1912. What is genuinely shocking is how little the genre of sci-fi has changed in the ensuing 100 years, and how much of an effect the John Carter novels must have had on the readership, leading to everything from Superman (1938) to Flash Gordon (1934) to Buck Rogers (1929).

It should be mentioned, the first in the series that I read, "A Princes of Mars" would be better served categorized as a fantasy novel, as there's little in the way of "science" in the book. The how's and why's of technology do exist, but aren't the focus, as the Mars portrayed is a clannish, barbaric world more akin to a Robert E. Howard novel than Asimov. And, certainly, one can see the various races of the Moons of Mongo and the arrival of Flash Gordon, swashbuckling swordplay, and flirtations with the princess as a direct descendant of "A Princess of Mars".

Wikipedia is helpful in trying to figure out what may have spawned some of Burroughs' concepts, but its nothing I'm terribly familiar with. By today's standards (of which much of fantasy and sci-fi, I'd guess, is a 20th generation copy of a copy of copy of a...), the book can feel a bit dated and off, but its also like seeing a 1935 Duesenberg Phaeton and just marveling at how this sort of thing was put together in comparison to today's autos. There's some passion and artistry, even if they don't have the cup holders, iPhone drop and electric heating seats.

While it was often difficult to buy the astounding luck and superhuman genius of our hero, the book does a great job of defining the cultures of the various Martian people, and glimpses of their history. And, he provides an interesting mechanism for how, pre-Werner Von Braun, Burroughs conceived of how his character would appear upon the surface of a neighboring planet. A concept I suspect Adam Strange comics have lifted, most notably in the recent run in Wednesday Comics.

Carter is, by the way, a Virginian gentleman who has served a tour of duty in the Civil War. Who has something going on with possible immortality prior to even arriving on the Red Planet. Its interesting to see a sci-fi hero from a by-gone era, and its an interesting juxtaposition with the Barsoomians, and how Burroughs frames' Carters relations to them.

Readers should recognize the books is both well ahead of its time in many ways, even as it's oddly chaste in its depiction of romance, and only occasionally shows glimpses of alternate ideas to gender roles as the author may have felt most comfortable in 1912. And, of course, the earthly virtues of a gentleman of Virginia often win the day for our hero in the barbaric Mars.

There's also a scene in the book during which Carter lays a kiss on the titular princess, and I thought "well, man... I can totally, totally see this as a movie". Which, you know, in 1912, its entirely unlikely Burroughs was envisioning crazy CGI FX and a screaming Queen guitar solo.

Clocking in at around 160 pages, as a slow reader, I got through the book in two plane rides and maybe an hour in the hotel. So even if its making you miserable, the book is a quick read by normal human standards.

I have several other books to read, including a couple of Dune books (which I think was an interesting book for comparison), but I am interested in reading a few more of these John Carter books.

By the way, Pixar is supposedly working on a John Carter movie.

Anyone else read this book?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe in Austin

Last week two new exhibits went up at the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus, which is literally about a city block from where I work. The Harry Ransom Center (or HRC to us hip kids) is one of a few* very important and impressive repositories on campus at UT. It houses all sorts of stuff, from what is supposed to be the first daguerreotype to one of the Gutenberg Bibles to Robert DeNiro's personal memorabilia collection.

One of these exhibits is the Edgar Allan Poe collection. I plan to take a couple of hours next week during work (an extended lunch break, don't get in a tizzy) and check it out. Items include handwritten items by Poe, artwork tied to publications of his work, etc... Seems quite nifty.

There's also an exhibit called "Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works". I guess its an exhibit on the history of astronomy which, between you and me, I know absolutely nothing about.

For the benefit of my family, who mostly don't usually seem to understand what the group I work for does for a living: I'm linking to the Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection. Now, this isn't our work, but its representative of the technology we manage and are bringing to 18 separate institutions across Texas. So, they might now have a Poe collection, but they are likely to have some collection between their walls that could easily be shared with the world.

I agree that I am much more excited about seeing these items in person than I am about looking at images on my monitor, but I am also thrilled that the HRC is working to put these sorts of things online as part of their exhibit. I'm just trying to figure out if they're using Content DM as their repo...

Anyway, if you took high school English, you most likely are the barest bit familiar with Poe's work. I've only read chunks of it, but I think it will be fun to get down there and maybe learn a little something. Several items appear to be on loan from other institutions, so Austinites should come see them while they're in town.

*UT also houses the Benson Latin American Collection, The LBJ Presidential Library, The Blanton Art Museum and, I think, at least another two museums, a Federal Depository Library (with several component sub-libraries), and a ridiculously large football stadium which will be used 6 days this year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Small Post Tuesday

An Important Excursion, Part 2

Jamie took most of the pictures, so if you want to see the trip in some quick snapshots, here's the link to Jamie's write-up.

Poe Comic Out

I neglected to mention it, but the Poe comic, written by Austin's own J. Barton Mitchell was released last week. JackBart (that's what we J. Barton here at The League) has told me repeatedly that "the first issue is a little slow". So, while I didn't find it to be so, the author did.

If only someone could have fixed that! But WHO?

I kid of course. I think it's a "slow boil" sort of thing, so do with that what you will.

Anyhow, go to your local comic retailer (when in Austin, try Austin Books) and ask for it by name! Poe! (It's about Edgar Allen Poe, not pop rock sensation, "Poe". Just FYI.)

Here's a preview at CBR.

JackBart if off to San Diego to do signings at the Boom! Studio booth, where he has promised to get me a signed copy of Irredeemable from Mr. Waid. Which would be nifty.

Dune Report

I'm actually reading Dune and enjoying it. So I'm off to go read more of it. That and comics.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Monday Evening Round-Up: Ro-bama, Beer, Dune

The Robo/ Disney Conspiracy

It seems Disney has joined with the robots to work against us.

Beer Surplus Jettison Cooperation

Leaguers will know that my one regret about opening the doors to League HQ in celebration is that we often wind up with a great deal of undrunk beer and beer-like items (Mike's Hard Lemonade, etc...). Well, this is a problem no more.

We have a house full of recently graduated Lutherans living across the street who, upon my offer, seemed more than willing to take the surplus off our hands. Once again, our fridge is free for the storage of leftovers and numerous tupperware items of indeterminate storage points.

I salute you, Lutherans, for your readiness to consume that which we could not.


So, Leaguers, I have a confession. I've never read Frank Herbert's Sci-Fi classic, "Dune". Nor have I seen the movie in its entirety. I think i watched the entire original mini-series on Sci-Fi (or, SyFy, as they've rebranded themselves this week), but since I can't recall how it ended, I can't say for certain.

Its embarrassing to have a weak point in my nerd-armor, but there you are. I've no real excuse, but I've also always been a much bigger fan of sci-fi movies than I have been that of books. I read a lot of Asimov and Bradbury at one point, and some other stuff, but sort of lost interest in bothering to read the actual books.

But during our celebration of independence from the bastards in England, I got caught in a 30 minute conversation on the subject of "Dune" between Steven, Lauren, Eric and Patrick. And I figured... oh, hell. I might as well.

So posts may be short for a while, because I'm actually going to read a book.

Yeah, I know...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sherlock Holmes movie en route

I'm not a Sherlock Holmes aficionado. Nor am I a member of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Society, etc... But like many people, I read my fair share of Holmes at one point in my life.

I'm not really sure Holmes translates very well to a late 20th or early 21st Century aesthetic when it comes to movie making. And as much as I like him in movies from Iron Man to Chaplin, I'm not sure Robert Downey Jr. would immediately pop into mind as my first choice for Holmes. Or Jude Law as Watson (that one just baffles me). Both are fine actors, certainly. But it also sort of screams "this ain't your father's Sherlock Holmes! This is EXTREME Holmes, kids!". Not surehow I feel about that.

I'm also noting that like many trailers these days, this trailer indicates absolutely nothing about story. There was a theory when I was in film school that the usefulness of story had come to an end. I'd sort of scoffed at the idea at the time, but... apparently you at least don't need a story to sell people on showing up for a movie.

On the plus side, it also means somebody is going to cash in by putting out nicely bound editions of the actual Holmes work. And while I will most certainly go see this movie (note: it features explosions), I will also probably be looking for a nice edition or two of a Holmes collection.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Already Spike Jonze's film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" has become renowned for a painful production process and clashes with the studio. The movie was started some time ago (years ago), but its just now that the trailer has been released and a launch date of October 16th has been announced.

I desperately hope that the movie is up to the standard set by the children's book. "Where the Wild Things Are" holds a special place for so many of us whose parents found a place for it between Dr. Seuss's whimsy, the pedantic lessons of familial virtue of The Berenstein Bears and other staples of growing up in American (or maybe Canadian and English) households with books.

You can see the trailer here.

I so desperately want to love this movie already. Jonze has spared no effort in creating living versions of Sendak's Wild Things. Now, if he can keep intact the magic of roaring your terrible roars and being sent to bed without any supper.

Also: Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" is one of my favorite songs of the decade, so that's a nice touch. And, of course, Catherine Keener (how does she always wind up in at least potentially good projects?).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Denton, KareBear Birthday

As the title says, I'm in Denton, Texas this evening at a lovely Holiday Inn.

I really don't get the deal behind paying a lot for staying in a 5 star hotel. If the place has fresh towels and a bed, I'm good. If there's a restaurant in the actual hotel, usually that's very good.

I get it if the hotel is, say, on the beach, such as Las Brisas del Pacifico where we stayed in Costa Rica. or the place at Arenal where we could lay in bed and listen to the rumblings of the volcano and watch it from our balcony. But when you're just moving from place to place? Meh.

That said, I had an absolutely terrible cheeseburger for dinner. Awful. I don't even feel well now.

Driving up I listened to about half of the unabridged "The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell. I've only read one of her other books, and I think I listened to the audio book of "Assassination Vacation". I need to see if we still have that anywhere.

Vowell is an interesting writer in our blogging age. She's certainly not writing in the David McCullough or Stephen Ambrose style (my "way back from Lubbock" book will be "Flags of Our Fathers", btw). She kind of jumps all over the place, tells personal anecdotes to cement home points about how we carry a spirit or history with us, and often relates history through the eyes of the typical white-bread American suburbanite (we know our history through sit-coms more than school). And it works. It sticks with you far more than a prattling off of names, dates or even reconstructing complex paths to historical events.

She's not going to win over any Reaganites with her deconstruction of The Gipper's use of Winthrop's "City on a Hill" sermon, aka: A Model of Christian Charity. But she does bring to life (thus far, I'm only half-way thru) the spirit of the Puritans, their perspective, etc... And just as we accept that we may not always comprehend cultures separated from a distance for their different ideals, Vowell is excellent at delineating the differences between what a modern reader might see and our founding culture, separated by time.

Anyhow, if I'm going to be on the road, I prefer I find a good way to spend the time, and audio books always seem to fit the bill.

Man, the air conditioner blower in my room is enormous and hangs half-way over the bed. When it comes on, it totally mutes the television. Unreal.

I am going to sleep like a log tonight.

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday. I hope she has the happiest of birthdays, and I hope I can manage to get her on the phone, which is always hard on her birthday. She's usually off and running as friends or my dad take her out and about.

Spoke with her tonight, and she related a story that sort of sums up my mother.

They now own a house in Austin as well as their other place in Spring. Upon returning home Sunday, Karebear realized she might have left the oven on in Austin. Rather than ask Jamie, Jason, Susan or I to go check, she got up at 5:00 or so on Monday morning and drove all the way to Austin. The stove wasn't on, so she turned around and went home.

My mother, ladies and gentlemen. This is, I might add, the second 1 day trip like this she's made in recent memory. The last was when we needed someone to be in austin in October to be here when we moved the furniture out of the downstairs. Maybe a 30 minute job.

The Karebear would make an excellent long-haul trucker, I think. Especially if she had Peggy riding shotgun.

Anyhow, Happy Birthday, Mum. See you this weekend. Jamie and I love you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Li'l Leaguers: Superman and Batman in Kid's Books!

Hey, I know there are a lot of Leaguers out there who've got young super-heroes of their own.

It seems Stone Arch Books is publishing a line of children's superhero books featuring The Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader. Art is in the style of the JLU/ Bruce Timm animated format.

Check them out here.

If you buy them and need help pronouncing villain names like Mr. Mxyzptlk, just lemme know. I would have freaking LOVED these as a kid.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Simon's Year End Lists for 2008

It's not too late to send in Year End lists to LoM!

Simon sends his list from the far off land of Ontario. We are lucky to get any correspondence from our brothers in the British controlled territories of Canada. Let us cherish these words he's sent to us in the free land of America and wish them well in their struggle for freedom under the jackboot of the Queen.

One day you will taste the bacony flavor that is freedom, my friend.

With no further ado, here's Simon's take on 2008:

*Top 5 Books I've Read*

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: I
was very late to the party on this one but it is an amazing story and
you can see how it won the Pulitzer Prize.
2. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: subversive, entertaining and
educating fiction by my favorite of the new breed of SF writers.
3. Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B Cialdini: A
great book that can be used for good so that you can understand how
people can talk you into doing things you don't want to do and for
evil by using the tricks within to turn people into your mindless
minions. This book is probably on Lex Luthor's bookshelf.
4. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch: I'm a Dad now so I worry
about this type of stuff. It's Randy Pausch's advice to his kids that
he wrote after he was diagnosed with incurable cancer.
5. Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty: I "read" it as an audio book
which was a novelty for me. This is a hilarious novel about also ran
super-heroes who need to step up and save the world.

*Top 5 Comics I've Read*

1. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison: The absolute best Superman
story ever told bar none.
2. Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories by Warren
I'm such a sucker for multi-layered stories with tons of
literary and pop culture references. See 5 for more evidence.
3. Welcome to Tranquility: Volume 1 by Gail Simone: What does
happen to retired super-heroes? Gail Simone answers this with her
customary humor and pathos.
4. Astro City Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek: My favourite of
all the Astro City volumes where he explores what it truly means to be
human using an analogy to Batman and Robin.
5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan
While I did not like it as much as the first mini series this
book is filled with so much information that you literally need a
compendieum website to fill in the blanks

I wish I could give you a top 5 movies I've seen this year but I've only
really seen Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight and Wall-E. I
was aiming for quality not quantity this year.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ten-Cents to Fifty Dollars - Won't someone think of the children

For my birthday, M.I.L. gave me a copy of David Hadju's recent book "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America". It's a brisk read at under 400 pages, and Hadju's pacing is to be commended. Much more than that, however, is Hadju's ability to seemingly depart the freeway to explore the nearby neighborhoods, only to make you realize that without an understanding of the neighborhoods you've passed through, the destination wouldn't make much sense at all.

The book does not center entirely on Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book "Seduction of the Innocent", but its importance to the story is undeniable. As are the why's-and-wherefore's of the early comic industry. In fact, first reading "Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book" is highly recommended before plummeting headfirst into Hadju's account.

From their inception, comics were considered unfit for reading for impressionable minds, from children to the lower class immigrants of New York who read Barney Google and Little Nemo. Culture was not to be considered democratic, but controlled and appreciated entirely by the moneyed and those of breeding and taste.

Comics were... something else altogether.

This is nothing new. Prior to the comic books, penny-dreadfuls and pockets books were considered a danger to children at and before the turn of the century (read up on Varney the Vampire and its ilk sometime). Then pulps. Then gangster pictures. Later, Rock'n'Roll, television, and leading up to today's questions whether watching The Matrix then playing five hours of Halo will lead to a psychic meltdown which ends in murder.

"The Ten-Cent Plague" tracks the development of comics in parallel with the post WWII and Cold War paranoia and topic-of-the-moment, Juvenile Delinquency. Comics, being something kids consumed as readily as, say, Grand Theft Auto or Halo in today's market, were a mass media for the children of the mid-20th century. In part due to the rise of public concern over "Juvenile Delinquency" (see: Rebel Without a Cause), Wertham (and many others) saw a direct causal link between the consumption of comics and Juvenile Delinquency drawn seemingly from the fact that his patients would verify that they had read comics.

To clarify, comics of the era were not all superhero comics, but covered many areas from Romance, to Westerns, to GI combat, and especially crime, with no small amount of horror thrown in by EC and others. The modern equivalent might be to ask that all video games be taken off the shelf because a psychologist found his criminally psychotic patients had played X-Box.

Wertham (and many others) took up the crusade against comics, and found politicians happy to play along. Whether politicians were sincere or cynically vote-grubbing is unknown as they beat the drum to save the hearts and minds of the nation's children by putting comics out of business.

The book has a certain tragic, march to doom feel about the proceedings, especially when you're aware of how things will pan out for the industry.

I honestly thought Hadju could have done a little less to villify the antagonists. Sometimes it seems Hadju simply cannot withhold his contempt, and his criticisms seem a bit on the nitpicky side, even when he's correct.

What Hadju does do well is remind the reader that it was only 60 years ago that the outrage was such over comics (including Superman, Batman, and others...) that children were incited to collect comics and burn them in public displays. In addition, these same organizations would pressure shopkeeps to quit carrying comics or face a boycott in small towns where the children (and their parents) kept the stores afloat. Ironically, even as foes of comics decried the content within and held burnings, they denounced censorship as a tool of commies and fascists. And I might point out, this book burning was going on just five years or so after the conclusion of WWII and America's horror at the book burnings of Hitler's Germany.

The metatext of the story, really, is that the issue is as current today as it was when EC Comics folded. Politicians looking for an easy, bullet proof cause by targeting a non-issue which supposedly effects "families". Pop psychology playing into a national fervor about a largely imaginary concern played up by the media. The adults convinced that children must live in a state of eden-like innocence until they're 18 and ready to put on a military uniform, and that any naughty words will warp their fragile little minds. Inane rhetoric questioning "who is patriotic?".

In short, parents were told to fear comics by the press, government and someone trying to sell a book. And it led to the hamstringing of an entire medium in the US, garnering it a reputation for children and the dull-witted, which continues to this day.

Fundamentally, I agree with Hadju's point-of-view. I find any attempt at censorship to be highly suspect, so I'm sort of the choir to whom he's preaching. And I find the sorts of "won't anyone think of the children?" pleas unconvincing when the goal is so broad and undefined.

But I don't have children, and most likely never will. I will never stop to wonder whether the video games, movies and internet content that Clark, Diana or Little Bruce were viewing would melt their brain and turn them into little sociopaths capable of MURDER.

However, I think at this point we don't NEED research to know that people, society, etc... are far more complicated than to believe that Cause A will have Effect B (and that is more or less what Wertham claimed during official hearings). But somehow the opposite is generally "common wisdom". And once the press smells a story and fans the flames of a "controversy", it can begin to border on an hysteria.

Perhaps because there's always a new generation of parents who never gave the matter of media and childhood development much thought until faced with the challange of parenting... Or perhaps because they found their kids either watching some god-awful movie which will warp their fragile little mind, or they look for someone/ something to explain why junior was caught selling bags of the dope... blaming the ills of society on purveyors of entertainment is a never-ending issue in the press.

And, yes, there's always somebody whose got a screw loose and decides to re-enact Taxi Driver, and (with all due respect to the tragic deaths in question) that tends to cast a disproportionate level of concern versus the millions of other consumers who did not go Travis Bickle.

It seems the difference between the era in which Wertham and the modern era is the litigiousness of the modern era versus the public shaming by committee of the HUAC-era. As such, lawsuits are filed all the time these days against, well, mostly Rockstar Entertainment. The suits blame the game maker for deaths "inspired" by Grand Theft Auto. Just as Wertham and Co. pinned violence among children to comics, as well as a host of other crimes, so too, do today's attorneys and the parents that retain those attorneys.

Its worth noting that at the same time that the above linked lawsuit was going into place against Rockstar, congress passed a bill keeping citizens from suing the actual gun manufacturers, effectively stating that a gun manufacturer is in no way culpable, but pixels on a screen are still up for debate. The next year, a Tennessee congressman put a bill into consideration (in the State Senate) banning the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone. And if you want to feel your brain begin to melt, Google something like "bill to ban video game".

And so it goes on and on. But don't think comic shops are off the radar. Read up on Gordon Lee. Despite the age of comic readership having a mean of something like 23, many folks still believe comics are created for and aimed at small children. And that leaves today's comic creators in a precarious position when it comes to community standards, etc...

Like penny dreadfuls, comic strips, comic books, Jazz, Rock'n'Roll, horror movies, and whatever else that came before... Video Games will enjoy the slings and arrows of the generation which did not spawn it. But I do understand that video games are not passive entertainment. The user CHOOSES to partake in the action of the story, and increasingly so in games as complex as GTA. But the rules seem largely the same.

To be clear, I DO believe in ratings systems, and that stores would do well to self-monitor ratings for both comics and games. After all, parents should have some sort of guide to assist them in making an informed decision. They can't possibly pre-consume every game, book, movie, etc... that their children will wish to view. Without these kinds of tools, we run the risk of living in the world which has to be sanitized entirely for the youngest audiences, or government dictates for censorship and the can of worms that opens up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Test Footage: Where the Wild Things Are

This is just test footage. I have no idea if that's the script. It isn't the real kid actor, or the right costume, apparently.

But, hey, wow.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Melbotis Reading Club: All the Pretty Horses

Hey, Leaguers...

I've had a question regarding what I'm actually reading. I picked up a three book Cormac McCarthy collection of the Border Trilogy.

It's just over $20 for three books in hard cover, and that ain't bad.


There was also some talk of some sort of reading circle. Well, I'm reading All the Pretty Horses, and I'm on about page 95 right now if you want to catch up.

Before I read my next book, I'll be listing the book and version of it I'll be reading before I crack the cover. And if you want to play along at home, feel free to do so.

Monday, March 26, 2007

We had a lovely weekend.

Saturday we arrived at my folks' place, dropped off Melbotis, discovered my parents' air conditioner had died, got ready and then headed for Erica and Scott's big night.

The location wasn't too far off 288 in South Houston. It was a lovely, outdoor ceremony at dusk. The ceremony went off without a hitch, although I later heard rumors that the bride's mom had somehow disappeared prior to the ceremony and this caused some backstage consternation (no drama, she had just wandered off or something).

The reception was similarly lovely. Erica and I went to high school together, but whereas I showed up for the last three years of high school, Erica had lived in the same area since she was five. Therefore, there were a lot of faces at the wedding that I sorta-recognized, but was unable to put a name with. Aside from one, who, of course, had no recollection of me at all. And in this manner the cosmic wheel doles out justice.

Did some dancing, including some of my patented "Robot". Jamie looked totally foxy, so I got to appear as the guy with the cookie on his arm. Go, me.

Returned to Shannon and Josh's place, chatted a bit, got some sleep, and then got up in the morning yesterday for the post-wedding breakfast (which began at 8:00). The breakfast was obviously thought up by people who didn't plan on hanging near the bar at the wedding. Anyhoo, that was nice, and we got to see the bride and groom looking a little less stunned as they made their morning rounds.

Yesterday was Jamie's birthday, and I think my presents were sort of a dud, but she seemed happy enough. Shannon and Josh were nice enough to drop by for dinner.

I also found out (last, as always) that Julie B., wife of Cousin John, is expecting. Bully news, I say. John and Julie are great folks and will make ace parents, I have no doubt.

Today we dropped off Jamie at dialysis, I had lunch, then hit the road. It's raining like crazy in Austin, which I drove into around Giddings. It was all right. During Heather's recent visit, she'd loaned me a book-on-CD of Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher".

I haven't read any King since, maybe, middle-school. And somehow it's comforting to hear King's paid-by-the-word approach to a novel, with his squarely believable characters who eat the same junk you do, get hung up on the same minutia as your neighbors and are usually written awfully close to the folks you already know. In a way, it's sort of stunning how difficult a task that must be for writers to achieve. the Joe Averages who populate most novels are there specifically to remind you that average people are quirky and bizarre in their own way... But King's books are more interested in putting folks that could be you into some odd situations.

One of my great dis-satisfactions of trolling the New Fiction aisle at Barnes & Noble is that the characters all too often might as well appear in books down in the sci-fi and fantasy book sections for as much relevance as they have to my daily life. The kid winning the spelling bee with seemingly supernatural talent, the lonely widower bee keeper, the Indian kid stuck in a boat with a tiger, the Chinese peasant's family getting the tar kicked out of them for generations, the rich scenester with the tell-all about how they realized life isn't about doing copious amounts of blow, the Addams Family/dysfunctional family yarn... It's exciting to write about exciting people, no doubt. And we've all sat in a class where someone mistook their life for being worthy of novelization. So I'm not sure what the happy medium might be that I'm looking for.

That's not a knock on those books, it's much more of a knock on my own taste and patience. All stories worth telling, but none of which dwell anywhere near anything resembling the life of Bill and Kathy Armswagger in Goober Springs, Alabama. It's an oddity of the legacy of American Fiction that the person who may chronicle this period in the US most accurately might do so with stories of killer cars, rabid dogs and weird clown/ spiders. His characters are not just projections of who King wishes he could be, or cooler people living cooler lives than the author which King actually manages to swing...

That said, King still drives me nuts with his endless parenthetical asides (a crime which should be outlawed in any form of writing. It distracts, is tangential, and never really adds to the narrative at hand). I guess I'm mostly a glutton for narrative economy, possibly a by-product of reading too many comics and reading screenplays where much of the action is shown, not told. And I certainly see the flaws of which I feel guilty on the page in his work. Sometimes you wish he would simply kill his darlings... But what editor is going to tell King how to write at this point in his career?

That said, without the asides, how much of that detail I admire would survive? I'm conflicted, Leaguers.

Listening to it can be taxing, when you just want for him to describe the important action, not some-body's goofy hat.

I got through 3 discs today as I took an extra hour on taking The Admiral and KareBear's official shortcut from Manor to 71, and, I believe, missing a turn at 183. Then getting stuck in the molasses of Austin's traffic, when one adds in rain.

Jeff The Cat is quite happy that someone is home, and in a bit I'll head down to Jason's house to retrieve Lucy, whose been inside all day at Jason's. Tonight will be fun.