Monday, June 09, 2008

NBC's "Fear Itself"

I watched the new NBC horror anthology TV show "Fear Itself" on Friday (courtesy, DVR).

Here's the NBC promo:

It had fairly high production values, and might appeal to fans of "Tales from the Crypt", low-budget horror, possibly "The Twilight Zone", etc... This is going to sound odd, but it was a bit predictable in its attempt to remain unpredictable. Partially because of the audience's knowledge that this is a horror anthology, so there are really only so many ways this is going to go.

But, being an anthology show, its not serialized television, so next week will be all new actors, directors and story. And I find that pretty appealing.

Once upon a time I was pretty into shows like "Twilight Zone" and "Amazing Stories". I appreciate the short-story as television idea, and I think the confinement of Standards and Practices for network TV forces creators into corners where they need to be creative to build suspense rather than depending on splatter-fests, a la most of today's horror.

As I get older, I'm definitely handling horror better than when I was a kid. Back then, a 50's-era B-movie about a disembodied, floating brain could send me running away from the TV in terror. But its also funny how the rules of Horror don't really change. Especially in the short-story format. It always ends with a twist ending, a la Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. Evil is rarely actually defeated. It's almost like the short story form gives the viewer the opportunity to see the futility of a struggle against the grotesque, one way or another.

I think movies and novels tend to want to give you a bit more pay-off for time invested. After all, I don't want to read a 500 page book and then have a conclusion that feels neither final nor is unsatisfying in any way.

That said, I've avoided the "Saw" movies, "Hostel," etc... like they'd give me the clap. What little I understand about those movies doesn't seem very much up my "the best horror movie ever is 'The Haunting'" take on horror. Perhaps they've begun employing a bit more of the scorched earth policy of short horror fiction.

Of course, a little of all that can go a long way. After all, audiences sort of gave up on M. Night Shyamalan in the 3rd reel of "The Village". But when you don't know...

It should be noted that "Fear Itself" was a bit on the graphic side. Or, at least, they can get away with movie level stuff on TV these days. So don't expect a Vincent Price movie, with just a trickle of blood.

3 things I didn't like:

a) I'm not really comfortable with the co-option of the phrase "Fear Itself" for the title of the show. But, kids... what do they care about history?

b) The opening was oddly reminiscent of the opening of the Fox's late-90's show "Millenium". But not really.


Fear Itself (and its really not good theme song. actually, that theme song is ridiculous. I guess that's four things I don't like.)

(SPOILER: Also, there's a scene where a guy is alive and they sew his mouth shut. Also in the pilot for Millenium. I'm just saying...)

Also, Jason pointed out that opening sequences in horror have all had a certain sameness since "Seven".

c) And this is REALLY nitpicky, but all of the female leads in the episode "Sacrifice" are supposed to be 3 amish sisters (ie: no hair dye), but all of them have very obviously dyed blonde hair in a sort of Heather Graham-ish style. I just thought it was sort of unnecessary, and it took me out of the movie a few times.

But, you know, by and large, I thought it was good B-horror, without getting schlocky. For that, I turn you to the Sci-Fi Channel and their insistence on a new movie each week, no matter how awful (see: Never Cry Werewolf. Or, rather, don't.).

Texas Governor's Mansion Burns

Every once in a while, Jamie will wake me up in the morning with a non-sequitur, then leaves the bedroom. This has the effect that I often am unsure if I just dreamed whatever Jamie told me, or if it actually happened. Yesterday was such an occasion.

"The Governor's Mansion burned down."
"The Governor's Mansion caught on fire and burned down. Rick Perry wasn't there."
"So nobody got hurt."
"That's good."
And then she wanders off.

At this point, usually, Lucy jumps on the bed to get attention and Jeff the Cat starts meowing at me. Every morning is a party when I wake up.

Anyhow, I sat there blinking for a minute, trying to determine if I'd just dreamed the information about the Governor's Mansion, but I hadn't. Why it seemed so impossible for the Governor's Mansion to burn down, I don't know... The building was 150 years old. The fact that it hasn't burned down before is sort of a miracle.

Here's an AP story on the blaze.

Here's the official website.

When I heard that the cause might be arson, that sort of made more sense than a random fire. There's always drunk people and crazy hobos running around downtown. Add in the tinfoil helmet crowd, or even some overzealous activist, and it could be anybody, really.

Of course, there's also a considerable fence and wall around the Mansion... and I would have guessed better security than what must have been present. But... anyway, i don't think criticizing security in this case is particularly useful as I don't know the facts.

As you've no doubt heard, fortunately the Mansion was undergoing renovations, which meant that the antiques and artifacts of the Mansion had all been moved off-site and were not lost. And, Governor Perry had been living elsewhere during the renovation, so the fire did not claim his Wii or extensive Hummel figurine collection.

I am, of course, now kicking myself for never getting off my duff and going for a tour of the mansion at any point in the past, oh, 24 years when I've lived (on and off) in Austin.

People who live in New York don't go to see the Statue of Liberty or the UN building. I doubt Parisians hang out at the Eiffel Tower on the weekends. And I don't often take advantage of the historical artifacts, museums, etc.. that Austin has to offer. Certainly losing one of the buildings sort of puts things in perspective, and is a reminder that those places shouldn't be merely taken for granted.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

JLA Movie question

Yurgh. I'm looking over my last few posts, and if the tone is any indication, The League needs a jobby job. How seriously am I really supposed to ask you Leaguers to take this business? And yet I ramble on for 10,000 words.

That's a sure way to keep a readership. Sweet Christmas.

Anyhow, I asked for some blog topics the other day, and a few folks stepped up. Steanso sent me some ideas that, if put into place, would end in an arrest. My favorite, though, was taking Lucy to various places and see where she could get in. I would have started, of course, with the State Capitol.

Simon asked how I felt about the now-shelved George Miller directed Justice League movie. Well, Simon, I'll tell you...

That movie was going to be all kinds of terrible. And the universe can do without a terrible JLA movie. I'm not sure what sort of alternate universe much of Hollywood works in, because it just doesn't seem like it should be too hard to "get" the JLA, but everything I'd read leading up to the cancellation notice was the same sort of cockamamie nonsense I'd read regarding Superman revivals before Singer got ahold of the property (ex: Ashton Kutcher as a Superman who has a destiny to fulfill on the planet Krypton. Which, btw, has NOT exploded.).

The idea of the Miller movie was, I believe, to drop the viewer in on the JLA after the JLA was already formed, thereby consciously avoiding what could be a fascinating origin story, wrought with drama and what-have-you. Instead, we'd see an internal split within the JLA. A team which we just met... so why we were supposed to care that they were having issues, I do not know.

This inter-office politicking would, no doubt, have led to "the unnecessary super-hero fight". The super-hero fight is the fight people always THINK they want to see between superheroes, but, really, you're usually so painfully aware of the fact that its a perfunctory fight before the heroes come to terms and go after the actual threat that the whole thing always feels like a waste of pages in comics.

The Original Seven of the JLA

It should be noted that WB was not planning to use the pre-cast Bale and Routh in their respective roles as Batman and Superman for the JLA flick. Which seems it would, at best, dilute the brand WB should be promoting for their own product. And, essentially, tell the audience "we don't take any of this seriously enough to bother to cast the same actors, so don't you worry too much about it, either."

And, of course, one of my chief complaints was that it seemed a CW or reality-show casting producer had gotten ahold of the movie and was going for the Tiger Beat sort of actors. Pouty-faced young Hollywood, intended to draw in the girls, 10-17, I guess.

If Iron Man and Batman have taught us anything, its that one not only doesn't need to cast young CW network-types, but that fans react much better to adults in these roles (depending on the role. We can go young on, say... Wally West.). A little age can lend superheroes a bit of gravitas that, a show like Smallville has never been able to muster.

I don't have a particular JLA origin story in mind I want to see, but I DO KNOW that for WB to launch a franchise, they need to give the audience a starting point from which to work. And that means an origin story. Not a JLA dysfunctional-family story.


By the way, the rumor (and evidence from the stinger at the end of Iron Man bears this out) is that Marvel is putting out an Avengers movie in a few years. After they've established several characters in their own feature films, starting with Iron Man and continuing on with a Cap movie, etc.... The common thread seems to be Nick Fury meeting with the characters in each of these movies as they're rolled out.

I can't tell you how smart this seems. WB's plan was to put out a JLA movie, and then do spin-off's of various characters. But... if the JLA movie wasn't any good (and it didn't look like it would be) wouldn't that manage to hurt seven potential properties?

Not only does Marvel's formula give each property a chance to get in their unique origin story and set up the characters, the audience will have a built-in affinity for the characters which will make the Avengers movie a near guaranteed financial success. Narratively, the movie also won't have to waste the time necessary to introduce characters, give them some special plotline, etc...


Just think of those Rock and Roll Hall of Fame jam sessions where you see all those guys rocking out, and even some of them you don't know... and even if they're playing some song you don't like all that much, its still cool to see Elvis Costello, Sting, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and all sorts of other folks all sharing a stage. You know each of them individually pretty well, and even if you don't love, say, Tom Petty... you can maybe respect him a bit more just because he's sharing the stage with these other guys you DO like.

And, man, I think Marvel knows how to do this pretty well from their comics, so the chances of a decent movie are already pretty darn good, if they produce through the newly established Marvel Studios.

Really, what CAN'T Warner Bros. and DC learn from this?

Each of these guys could probably carry two or three movies on their own

DC would do well to begin introducing the Original 7, or at least several of the Original 7 in their own movies FIRST. They don't necessarily need a through-line like Nick Fury to pull them together. But why water down the concepts by forcing them into a JLA movie for their first appearance, and muck up what could be a pretty good feature film for that property before its ever seen the light of day?

There's a rumored Green Lantern movie in the works. Its only at the script stage, but its got pretty decent writing talent attached with Marc Guggenheim (who does movies, TV and comics). Its supposed to be a Hal Jordan origin story, which is a good sign. Supposedly they're also talking about a Green Arrow movie, but that's rumored to be based on the formerly abortive script called "SuperMax" which was about a super-villain prison. And didn't touch on GA's origin at all.

And... there have been rumors of casting for another Superman movie (for some love interest, I believe).

So... get these movies out there. Give the DCU some time to breathe. Unlike Marvel, who has seen success with Spidey and other non-Avengers, the DCU has the advantage that their big guns are now (or have at some point) been in the JLA. Whatever they build on now with their movies COULD build right into a JLA movie.

We'll see.

Two last things:

1) The failure of a single JLA movie translates to potentially killing 20 movies or so. If 3 movies could be made for each member of the JLA, plus, say, 3 JLA movies... that's a lot of movies which one failed JLA movie could potentially screw up.

Now, I live in a life pretty muddied with delusion, but I do think that we're talking about at least ten other, non-JLA movies. A few Supermans, Batmans, GL's alone come out to 9 movies. Surely a WW movie is possible. So... you do your own math.

2) If the producers are worrying about the budget for a JLA movie, they're missing the point of the JLA. The JLA is huge. But, mostly, they need to pick up some Morrison-era JLA comics to see what epic storytelling in the JLA can really mean. Or, possibly, something like Ross's "Justice", or "JLA: Liberty and Justice".

Don't think Superfriends, think "The Right Stuff". Think "Superman: The Movie" times 7.

I'm just saying.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Accessibility in Comics

I just want to make sure you guys understand that the column below is an opinion. I sincerely believe a lot of what I say below. I don't think this is controversial, but in the comics-blogosphere, there are certain elements of "common wisdom" about comics that people accept as fact.

One of these issues is the inaccessibility of comics.

The slippery slope here is that there just isn't much in the way of fact and statistics to hang onto when expressing an opinion or making a point about comics fandom, etc... So this post was actually a bit hard for me to put together with little in the way of data to pull from.

Anyway, its an opinion. And its not based on any particular evidence, other than a trend I've been seeing at Newsarama and other trafficked websites.

Since I have no data, I'd really like to hear your opinions in the comments section. If I'm way off base, I'm way off base. But I'd at least like to challenge this particular notion of "accessibility".

Comics, as an industry, are not in a great financial position. Top selling comics usually sell around 100,000 copies. I'm at a loss for what the "mean" might be for comic sales, but comics from the Big 2 (Marvel and DC) start facing cancellation in the 20K range and lower. To put it in perspective, some of the lowest rated TV shows on network TV (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and CW) are pulling in around 2 million viewers (Example: The Pussycat Dolls present: Girlicious). Or, roughly, 100 times the number of people buying that issue of Blue Beetle, which is only movinga round 20K per month.

The Problem

After the 1940's and 50's, when titles sold in the millions annually, the common wisdom surrounding why comics go mostly unread these days is that comics are "inaccessible". It should be noted that this inaccessibility is believed to exist despite the $100 million opening weekends for movies like Iron Man (whose comic of the same name sold 38,000 copies in April 2008).

The definition of "accessibility" in comic blogging parlance is (I guess): the complication a reader may experience while attempting to become engaged in a superhero comic narrative. This complication may be due to the intricate nature of a storyline and character(s) who have amassed considerable back story, which the reader may feel they need to know before engaging the current story in its full capacity.

So the problem may be seen as: Comic superhero narratives extend over years, and, in many cases, decades. So that if Sally Newreader picks up an issue of, say Iron Man, the world she would encounter with a single issue's read would be SO MINDBOGGLING that she would give up on Iron Man, and (perhaps) comics forever.

Narrative Complexity

The truth is that comics DO have ongoing narratives. Picking up any single issue of a series might drop you mid-stream into a story, and there's no guarantee the reader will feel they have adequately caught up by the end of the issue. Add in the idea that any single issue of Iron Man is but a peek into a character who has been around since the early 60's, which has been a part of a larger universe since that same time, with dozens of comics released each month defining that universe... and all the characters that have appeared in that series, and all of the storylines which have appeared... And, technically.... yes. It could be seen as a bit daunting to jump into a comic on the strength of one issue.

Just who is reading these things?

I think its important to understand who comprises the comic audience. DC and Marvel don't really go out of their way to hype their marketing research, but a few stats I've seen suggest that the audience is HUGELY male, and in their 20's or older. One report stating the audience was 90% male, and respondents were an average age of 29 (29!). Johanna had some words of wisdom on the issue about a year ago.

This is in sharp contrast to the audience which was believed to consume comics from the 1930's - 1970's and the rise of the comic fan movement (if you'll pardon the expression) which began the change in demographics.

Today's superhero reader is most likely a male, much older than the school children of years past. My guess is that they have been reading comics for many years, and that they have specific characters and titles which they follow. Although, increasingly, readers will move from title to title to follow a writer and/ or artists.

Where can I get these funnybooks?

Its also, I believe, key to understanding the accessibility of comics to understand where comics are available and the cost of a single issue of a comic. Comics are now available in the traditional format (20 pieces of paper folded and stapled together) almost exclusively in specialty retail shops. These comics now cost around $3.00 a pop. To make my point, the spinner racks in the magazine aisle are now long gone. Comics are no longer distributed through the same channel as magazines. Instead, a single distribution company holds a monopoly, and they work almost exclusively with the small retailers of comic shops (there are no big, nationwide chains of comic stores.).

In short, the point of physical access for readers and comics has all but evaporated. When Marvel and DC decided to quit competing for space on the newsstand, they made a decision to become a product for boutique retailers. This decision was either consciously, or unconsciously made to keep kids out of the equation. But...

Kids = new readers

new readers = growth (or at least a sustainable business model)

A trip down memory lane...

Returning to the idea that comics are inaccessible, I have only my own recollections, and the anecdotes of a few other folks to go by.

My first issue of Uncanny X-Men (a series of which I have 172 issues) was issue 210. It occurred between two well known storylines, the conclusion of the Rachel Summers/ Phoenix/ Selene storyline and was one issue before the Mutant Massacre. I had no idea what a mutant was, who this "Rachel" person was, what battle occurred that everyone was so worried about, or what was going on. But I was hooked. And I think 172 issues speaks pretty well for how devoted I became until the post-Claremont flailing.

I also started reading Batman comics right before the notorious "Dial in and kill Robin" stunt. I really didn't understand who this second Robin was, what his background might be, how he related to Batman, or what the past 45 years of Batman comics were like. But I was similarly fascinated.

So what...?

Question #1: The question, then, is: Do adult readers, coming to a shop for a specific purchase and more entrenched feelings regarding brand loyalty, etc... truly find new comics inaccessible, or do they simply not find new concepts and comics worth exploring?

Question #2: Are kids and their natural sense of exploration a more apt audience for the endless mythologies of mainstream comic superheroes?

My opinion is that it's not a clear cut answer. New series rise and fall, just as they once did on the newstands. But the audience is just so much smaller with comics unavailable to the general public.

The argument I would make is that the narrative of comics is not what is keeping NEW READERS away. The barrier seems more likely to be the limited availability of comics due to the boutique nature of comic shops. Add in the price point, which many may find a bit steep, and its a tough sell.

Won't someone think of the children...?

And, geez... You're going to need those kids. Find a way to reach them. And, for the love of Wertham, make sure the content isn't going to sink the industry. Johnny DC is a GREAT start (seriously, I love the Johnny DC titles). But also get the other stuff out there, too.

But unless those comics end up in the candy aisle or in the toy section at Target, I have no idea how kids are going to find them. Moms aren't taking their 8-year-old to the comic shop, and it seems like there's a market here.*

For those sad, unsatisfied fanboys...

I have no answer. I have my suspicions. I don't think adult readers, already invested in a number of titles are likely to be willing to expend either money or energy to uncover the mysteries of, say, Iron Man in the way they might have done at age 11 when first getting into superhero comics.

From the comments I've seen, it does seem that there's a rush to condemn event comics such as Final Crisis for not sticking to some indefinable simplicity out of a Universe in which many of the commenters have seemingly never before taken interest. I'm not sure how to solve that accessibility gap. In some ways, it seems, someone new to superhero comics would be at an advantage. They would not assume they should have all a priori knowledge, and write off concepts they might not immediately recognize as "inaccessible".

As per most other titles... unless you're talking Morrison's Doom Patrol or Invisibles, accessibility into the worlds of each title isn't a huge issue. Marvel spends a page at the beginning of each issue recapping previous events. DC has a marvelously crafted blurb explaining who each titular character is on the title page.

In my opinion, things seem complicated not because they actually ARE that complicated, but because the readers feel its easier to pass judgment rather than actually checking out the series (as a Superman nut, I'm particularly sensitive to this issue). But could anything be more convoluted than a team-book like X-Men? Or a character like Batman, managed by how many creative teams across how many comics? And still these comics sell okay to the existing fanboy audience.

When I was a kid...

As I mentioned, my first issue of Uncanny X-Men was issue 210. Today, my run begins with issue 169.

My point being: Yes, X-Men had a complicated past, running 209 issues before I tapped into the X-Universe. And in those days, in order to get the back story, I had to talk Karebear into driving me down to Austin Books so I could pillage their back-issue bin. There weren't trades in the 80's. But, even as a kid, I didn't feel that I needed to start from the beginning. Instead, if issue numbers were referenced, I saved my pennies and went looking for the back-issues.

It wasn't "inaccessible", it was something to uncover. And, honestly, its sort of how I feel about Superman comics these days. Nothing like doing a victory dance because you stumbled across a beat up comic featuring the first appearance of Parasite (again, thanks, Austin Books!).

So in conclusion...

I don't buy the "inaccessibility" argument. Maybe for some, limited titles. But I certainly don't buy it for most of the mainstream DCU or Marvel U titles. To me, it sounds like an excuse. After all, the audience got into comics at some point. Often as children. And while I do honestly believe today's superhero comics are more sophisticated than those of the 70's and 80's (and much of the Image-tastic 90's), I don't believe that literate adults really find the 22 page floppies impenetrable.

What I do believe is that the readers simply lack the switch which once turned them on to new ideas, new characters, etc... that aren't part of the superhero comics with which they're already familiar.

In my opinion, making those comics accessible is part of the fun. Good writing in current issues has often made me want to learn more. And, today, its easier to do so than ever with collections, Marvel's Digital Comics, well-timed re-prints, etc... But... I think more often than that, good writers also don't assume readers will know everything and give the readers what they need to know. The problem comes when a assumption is made that the knowledge is there by poor writing.

That said, the comics exist within SHARED UNIVERSES. Event comics do sell well, and are probably good for not just the strength of the companies, but as a reminder to writers that their comics and characters don't exist in a bubble. To suggest that comics referring to the shared universes and their complexity shouldn't exist is asking the the Big 2 to give up on one of the most exciting parts of what makes these universes great.

*Have you stood in the toy aisle at Target? Literally half the folks are NOT shopping for the kid who is with them, but for a present. How easy would it be to sell comics as a cheap substitute for a toy to some kid pouting because he's not getting a Transformer? Especially when your comic ties into the toys on that same aisle...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

How The League Views the Election...


Anybody have any ideas for topics for posts? Anything I can do here I haven't done of late? I'm feeling a bit tapped out.

The girls at League HQ

...they stick together

Lucy decides to join Jamie for a nap

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

ACL Fest 2008 - seriously ACL Fest?

The ACL Fest has already released their schedule for this year's Festival. And... its looking a little bleak for The League.

Last year there were some conflicts on the schedule. This year, it seems like more than half of the bands I was planning to see are playing at the same time, which means half the money I spent on a ticket is going to waste.

I just saw Austin Super Music Geek Andy Langer on News8 essentially making fun of anybody who would take exception to the schedule, and... well... suck it Andy Langer. Not all of us get paid to go to shows, and some of us have to take days off work to go to this thing.

Andy Langer also fails to note that unless you get to the good shows early, you're way in the back, and... bleah. So even when, say, Jenny Lewis starts a little before David Byrne, and, technically you can see both... you're going to miss a good part of David Byrne AND you're going to wind up closer to the beer booths than the stage.

Day 1
Jenny Lewis plays at the same time as David Byrne
And the headliner that night is somebody I've literally never heard of.

Day 2
Black Joe Louis, Robert Earl Keen and Erykah Badu play at the same time
Duffy and Spiritualized play at the same time
But... really... Beck and Robert Plant/ Allison Krause play at the same time. Seriously... wtf?

Day 3
Heartless Bastards, Raconteurs, and Gnarls Barkley at the same time. 3 of the big reasons for me to show up, and... seriously? Does the ACL Fest staff really think there's no conflict for the audience here? When there are so many holes in the schedule for hours at a time?
And the big closing act? The Foo Fighters. A pop band for frat dudes. Well done, ACL Fest. Didn't you guys land Dylan last year?

I am deeply disappointed. There are a few points of minimal conflict in the schedule, such as Gillian Welch and Vampire Weekend playing against nobody else I'd care to see. But, honestly, this is putting a pretty big cloud over the whole thing for me.

I don't really care if it costs more. Next year, I'm not buying tickets until I've seen the line-up and schedule. I've already spent the money for this year, so I'm locked in. But that Raconteurs/ Heartless Bastards/ Gnarls Barkley trifecta is particularly bothersome. As is the lack of big, headlining shows this year (that I care about). And while I'm glad I saw so many new acts last year (and subsequently picked up albums), those were interspersed with bands that I was already happy to see. Less so this year.

I know, I know... I'm old. I may not even be in the right demographic anymore to be who the festival is aimed at. And I don't want to spoil it for Jason before we've even shown up, so I'm going to quit complaining. And I'm not sure I wouldn't have gone to the festival with this info. But I will say I'm not even half as excited about this year's schedule than I was about last year's...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Movie Rewind: Bad Movies

Despite trying to cram in as much fun as possible while in Costa Rica, I did wind up watching the last 3/4's of the first Fantastic Four movie in my hotel room (in English with Spanish subtitles). And its funny, because I remembered being dissatisfied with the movie when it was released, and I believe I grumbled a bit about it here at LoM.

On a second viewing, its worse than I thought. It's typical of the 90's-era takes on superheroes in that the creative team diverted from the formula enough (in this case, primarily with Doom) that it sort of detracts from the whole.

It doesn't help that the movie is really broad and really stupid.

The creative team played the charatcers and situations almost entirely for wackiness and laughs, which would be fine, if the gags were funny. It all sort of feels like someone explained the basics of the FF to a group of amateur night comedians, and let them riff as to the possibilities of each character for slapstick, rather than "what can we do that's new or interesting". And, typical, of 90's era movies, the final act makes no sense what-so-ever.

I place the blame at the feet of director Tim Story, who clearly wanted to exercise his comedic muscles (he directed Barbershop) rather than try to bring the movie up to Spider-Man levels. And, in aiming low, Story achieved his goals.

I also watched Transformers again synched up with Rifftrax (the web-project from the guys who used to do MST3K). And, as displeased as I recall feeling at the time of the initial viewing (I almost walked out), its amazing to see how god-awful the movie is on a second viewing when you aren't sort of dazzled by the gigantic, shiny robots and the promise of Robosaurus. Also, its a bit stunning how terribly Shia LeBouf's character is handled by both Shia and the writers. They seem to be challenging the audience to dislike "Spike" with every scene. All line delivery set to "wacky stammering", and a character who can best be described as a stalker and, worse, eBay re-seller.

Mostly, the script is just dumb. The Transformers take a long, long time to actually appear. There's a complete and unnecessary storyline involving some random Australian girl and Anthony Anderson (never a good sign for your movie when you've involved Anderson). And John Turturro in a career-crippling appearance as some sort of a-hole G-man. Add in the 70's-funktastic (read: black is funny!) stylings of the Autobot known as Jazz, and robots peeing on John Tutturro, and... man.

It seems almost as if no plotline or idea was ever completely scrapped as the movie was assembled. The story of the damn MacGuffin Cube (or whatever its called) is complicated enough. I don't need for Megan Fox to have a backstory (Spike never gets one). Nothing really comes out of the story of the soldiers in Qatar who are moved to the US. And the hackers' storyline ends about 1/3rd of the way into the movie, but they still stick around. Meanwhile, the titular Transformers are given nothing to do.

Its supposed to feel, I think, like an epic disaster movie with all the moving parts coming together in the final reel (think ID4. Wait. Don't do that, either.), but, instead, the mashing of pieces feels like a 2.5 hour trainwreck.

But, worry not, they're filming a sequel. Bumblebee will be back in action soon enough.

I don't often revisit the really bad flicks. I saw them once. That seems to be enough (enough being able to say "yeah, I saw that" when a particularly awful movie is mentioned at work or in a social setting.) But once you begin watching one of these flicks again, its tough not to sit and begin cataloging all of the problems with a movie, and wonder where, exactly, did things go so far off track? How did they decide that Doom, a well defined, Vader-like character, should be redesigned from the ground up into a guy who delivers each line with the bombast of Jerry Seinfeld? Why did they make Jazz the Autobot sort of offensive, and how did that make it to the final cut? Who writes like that? Who, at the studio, green lights something so... dumb?

I also, just FYI, watched part of "Basic Instinct 2", which scored a 7% on Which is still 50% better than I would have guessed, but the polling of top critics does, actually, land it squarely at 3%. The movie seems constructed solely to stroke the ego of Sharon Stone, assuring her that she is good enough, smart enough and sexy enough to get everyone around her to behave in the kowtowing manner of personal assistants and the Hollywood press corps' deferential treatment she somehow still receives despite the fact that nobody really cares about Sharon Stone.

But within the context of the movie, Stone's "mysterious sexiness" is hilarious.

The character of Catherine once again has the personality of a bullying DMV employee mixed with that girl in the dorms who needed attention, so she'd use lots of four-letter words for shock value. And, seriously... Stone just isn't that physically attractive. She sort of falls into that realm of Nicole Kidman, where I just don't get the appeal. It's like going to the mall and hanging out a bit too much around the mannequins.

The movie would probably be laughably bad with the right audience, or if they actually pushed it to the next level with unnecessary nudity and/ or violence. That would be something, at least. Sadly, the proceedings feel plodding and dull, and I didn't see either enough mayhem nor premium-cable worthy nudiness to keep my attention. Characters seem entranced by Catherine Tremmel for no particular reason other than the dictates of the script, and rather than sensibly avoiding someone accused of multiple murders, seem eager to hang out with her. Because, we're told, Sharon Stone is SEXY. and MYSTERIOUS.

Also, the protagonist who falls into Catherine's web-of-deceit is some pale British dude who seems like little more than a walking plot device so Stone can all but twirl a mustache and wring her hands while cackling.

Anyhow, I coudn't finish watching it. Maybe the end vastly improved the whole package?

I like to watch some bad movies. I've seen R.O.T.O.R. twice. But something about big budget, low delivery movies is particularly irksome. It seems with that mush riding on a movie, why not run the scripts and idea past some folks whose careers don't depend on agreeing that Sharon Stone is still red hot, or that jive-talkin' robots (seen in both Transformers and R.O.T.O.R.) aren't full of comedic value. Nor is that "characterization".

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Final Crisis #1

DC Comics' mega-event of 2008 is the Grant Morrison penned "Final Crisis". The first issue hit the stands Thursday, and I picked up the issue Friday.

From what I read, I would never recommend that the issue be taken as an entry-level comic to the DCU. The story is mired in DCU characters and continuity, and asks that readers have been paying attention to recent output from DC, but also picking up key collections as they've been released of late.

None of that is intended as a criticism. At some point, you're either allowed to tell stories for people who have been following along (see: Lost, BSG), or you're stuck in the perpetual cycle of episodic storytelling, where the reader can pop in and it doesn't matter if they're familiar with the concepts and characters before tuning in (see: Law & Order, most police procedurals).

The story actually seems to make events such as the abysmal "Countdown" make some sense, as well as the uncompleted, unnecessary "Salvation Run". It embraces characters from Kirby's 70's run on New Gods, Anthro and Kamandi, while seamlessly embracing recent events in the DCU, such as Johns' introduction of the Alpha Lanterns in Green Lantern. Morrison also plays with some of the toys he created during his mega-series "Seven Soldiers of Victory", and its probably worth returning to your issues or collections of that series to get an idea where he might be headed.

But what I've always enjoyed about Morrison's stories is that, despite the need for our heroes to win, his set-ups don't tell me how the story will unfold in a neat pattern I can consume with the predictability of a McDonald's meal.

Unlike Marvel's competing event "Secret Invasion", "Final Crisis" isn't telegraphing the ending before the story has started. I am picking up both series, and, honestly, compared to last year's "Civil War", I've been a bit let down with Secret Invasion since sometime last fall when Elektra was revealed as a Skrull in "New Avengers".*

I've already read considerable negative noise in the blogosphere on "Final Crisis", and much of it is a reminder of the grim state of the monthly comic. A lot of it seems to bemoan that the reader isn't able to jump into the story with page 1, which seems a bit unfair. Morrison does what he can to provide exposition without recounting 40 years of DCU history.

As I mentioned, I don't think this would be a great first comic to hand to someone, but I also don't think that asking readers to pick up on contextual clues or have the slightest bit of knowledge of the DCU as a comic reader is that tough of a request.

But to address some particular resurfacing internet complaints:

(a) If you have to ask who Dan Turpin is, well, bone up on your Kirby and New Gods reading, or just check Wikipedia. (b) Maybe if the reader continues to follow the series, s/he will be rewarded with knowledge of who characters are and what is going on.

(League special nerdy snark: If some are confused by "new characters"/ obscure characters (gasp!), you might want to note that DC is telegraphing to readers what MIGHT be important in upcoming storylines by what its including in its re-release of older material.)

The art of the issue, by JG Jones, is phenomenal. He seems to have a tremendous ability to meld the mundane and the fantastic, and portray them side by side without either seeming silly (and did you see his Metron?). The coloring is excellent, the rendering and composition top drawer. I've mostly known Jones as a cover artist, but I'll need to do some research and see what titles he's previously handled. It's not the same hyper-realistic style we'd see out of Ross's watercolors, but there's always room at the table for terribly talented artist.

This issue included a lot of what I've found exciting about the DCU. The New Gods, The Question, Green Lanterns... and a history that extends back to the cavemen with Anthro and Vandal Savage, all the way to the 31st Century and beyond. This issue only plants the seeds of what could be a great series, but the pieces are in place. Fallen Gods, Red Skies... Color me intrigued.

I guess the watchword I'd share on Final Crisis is: Patience. Comic nerds can be such an impatient lot, insisting on instant gratification, plotting and pacing be damned. Just get to the fights, and don't ask the reader to work.

It seems the same lack of patience which has marred many reader's experience during the current, phenomenal run on Morrison's Batman (which is taking the better part of two years to come to a head) may also rain on the parade for Final Crisis.

What readers seem to forget is that super-hero comics are often plagued by writers and story lines that start promisingly, but end with a whimper. Look at virtually any 90's era DC cross-over, from "Final Night" to "The Death of Superman", and you'll see potential squandered as the big ideas come out of the gate first, and its all about the writer trying to scramble once they've got the reader's attention. And, honestly, I kind of felt that way about issues 3-6 of Marvel's Civil War (for this reader, the outcome that seemed most logical won out).

So give Final Crisis some time. Give Morrison's Batman some time. And, for God's sake, give All Star Superman its due. We're getting great comics from the guy, and it feels like we're headed to a point where DC has trimmed the excesses of the post-Infinite Crisis DCU and is finding out what really works.

And I think Final Crisis, given time, will define what that will mean for DC Comics for the next few years.

*Really, the story of Secret Invasion, to anyone who'se ever watched TV, should play out as a big superhero slugfest which will involve super-heroes realizing their teams have been infiltated by spies, go through unease that comrades have been aliens/ bodysnatchers/ commies/ what-have-you, and it will all end in a big fight where the heroes team up and push the enemy out into space. It's all very "They Live". With superheroes instead of Rowdy Roddy Piper.

If anyone is interested

Hey, I think I'm going to the Paramount to see "Laura" and maybe "Out of the Past".

The show starts at 7:00. If you're coming, give me a holler. I plan to get there around 6:30 to see what they have for a pre-show.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

2 things

Hey Leaguers,

Apropos of nothing

Austin Books is a heck of a store. And they had a darn good Free Comic Book Day. I salute them.

Hi, Brad!

Summer Movies

Austin's Paramount Theater has already started the 2008 Summer Film Series. And there's a lot of great stuff coming up.

In June, they're showing
-The Exorcist
-Mary Poppins (and I LOVE Mary Poppins. Shut up.)
-Harold and Maude - never seen it
-Laura (this movie is really good. No lie.)
-The Birds (Oskar Sala!)

-Frankenstein & Revenge of Frankenstein (why they didn't grab Bride of Frankenstein, I have no idea)
-The Haunting
-Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
-The Last Picture Show - never seen it
-Hud - never seen it
-Three Days of the Condor - never seen it
-Village of the Damned - only seen the re-make
-The Time Machine
-Planet of the Apes
-The French Connection

-Destry Rides Again
-Blazing Saddles
-Gone With the Wind

-Bridge on the River Kwai
-Rear Window
-(and your endurance test) Lawrence of Arabia

Not bad. If anyone is interested in any of these movies (or something I didn't mention), let me know, and we'll make an appointment.

Friday, May 30, 2008

So long, Harvey

Harvey Korman, 1927 - 2008

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.

Our Monkey/Robot Masters...?

I suppose at some point I was going to pass some line on a curve and become the Jack Van Impe of predicting doom by robots and/ or monkeys.

But what if the monkeys and robots joined forces...? I know you haven't thought too much about this. Fortunately for you, I have.

So, yes, I volunteer the pages of LoM for alerting people to the impending robot/ monkey apocalypse.

Erstwhile Leaguers Randy and JAL sent along this story, knowing that I would be rightfully concerned, and I would, in turn raise this concern with YOU, my Loyal Leaguers, who also see the spectre of the robot/ monkey menace for what it is...

Please click here for the first signs of the endtimes.

And, of course, here.

Just remember, it always starts small. The Romans thought the Barbarians were adorable little tykes at one point, too.

We may have literally dozens of chances to prevent this unlawful marriage of cybernetics and simian before its too late, but what will YOU do to speak out against them before they're forcing you into a banana labor farm or keeping you around to polish their shiny feet and posteriors?

Obligatory Vacation Pics

A brief travelogue

Thursday we arrived in Costa Rica about 12:00. We rented a large Toyota SUVish thing and hit the road for the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Arenal is a large volcano in the North Central portion of the country.

Arenal: Terrifying, fire-spewing mountain dominates landscape

I got us lost almost immediately, so it took us about 4.5 hours to get to the place, when it should have taken 3 - 3.5. Sorry about that. Also, the road was wet, windy, and had me on my last nerve. We later learned, this was nowhere near the worst Costa Rica had to offer. But the sheer drop offs to 150 feet of lush, canopy covered doom kept me on my toes.

The next day we hiked in the jungle, observed wildlife and plantlife, and swam a bit in the pool. I also read a bit.

Jason at Waterfall. He did go swimming in the waters.

The Arenal Observatory Lodge was great. We were quite pleased.

Jason takes in some sun. Behind him is Lake Arenal, a warm lake, heated by MAGMA (I think). Anyway, its warm.

We drove out Saturday morning in nice sunshine. Costa Rica is relatively small, so we cut halfway across the country in a few hours.

The road out was scenic and much easier to drive

We encountered some minor obstacles

We arrived at Playa Samara around 1:00, and checked into the Hotel Las Brisas Del Pacifico. It's a really nice resort, and as we were there in the off-season, it seems we were two of only about twelve people at any time. That means we had a nice beach and pool mostly to ourselves.

The town of Samara sits on the beach and is full of friendly folks. We were on the beach for maybe half an hour when Jason said to me "I wonder if any of these people know how good they have it?"
As if on cue, within five minutes a gentleman rode up to us on a horse and introduced himself. He was a recent retiree from the Venezuelan petroleum concern. He had been educated at the University of Florida, worked as hard as he could, and had no found his piece of paradise. His life's duty was to now ride the beach and tell folks to live a good life.
So, yeah, some folks knew exactly how good they had it.

We also went into Samara for some meals and to look around.

Jason stands in the main road of Samara. Not very busy on 12:00 on Sunday.

Monday I read, and Jason swam in the ocean. We then drove into San Jose, which is a lovely city with absolutely no signage to tell you where you are. But after some major navigation issues (again, my fault), we found The Hotel Don Carlos.

A main walkway within the Hotel Don Carlos

The hotel was a former president's mansion in an historic and lovely part of San Jose. If you want to see it, I recommend taking a cab from the airport, lest you get as lost as I got us.

We ate at a nice place up the street and settled in for the night.

We returned, taking an all-day journey from San Jose, to the airport, through Houston, US Customs (which is a separate post for another day), and into Austin.

The hardest part of the trip, by far, was being away from Jamie for so long, and unable to speak with her for several days by phone or e-mail. I knew it would be difficult, but you don't really know until you're ankle deep in the jungle listening to howler monkeys.

Anyhoo, it was a great trip, and one day I'd love to return, with all the knowledge at my fingertips that I've picked up on this go-round.

Jason was a great travel companion, so no doubt I will enlist his aid once again someday.

For pics from Jason's POV, please click here

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The League Returns (from Costa Rica)

hey Leaguers. I'm back.

Well, it was a great trip. We had a great time, and saw a lot of the lovely island nation of Costa Rica, and saw a lot of ice and bears. Really, the whole place is just sort of a rock in some sort of icy waters. You can see the whole place from end to end, and there's, like, five buildings and a lot of rusty ships.

Honestly, I was surprised by the large numbers of penguins, and how much work they had me doing gutting fish in the hull of a ship for the first two or so days. But, you know, there's no sunlight down there, so after the first 36 hours, the best 20 or so just fly by.

Jason spent most of the week playing cards, dominoes and high stakes Russian Roulette with a bunch of sort of shady looking guys who kept thinking up little chores for me to do, like cleaning out the penguin pate masher and whatnot.

Interesting trip, but weird how those guys didn't want Jason to do work, but everytime I tried to get a little sleep they were barking at me in Inuit and shooting rounds off over my head...

More later. Hope everyone is well...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The League Returns

Sounds like an awesome movie, doesn't it?

The League and Steanso are scheduled to make their return flight this evening, landing around 8:30. Let's hope they are not detained in Houston trying to smuggle monkeys in their pants. I look forward to their many stories and hope they took lots of pictures.

Cassidy currently has Lucy in a neck hold, so I think it's time for doggie day camp to come to an end.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings, everyone - I hereby hand the LOM back over to its rightful owner. Bye!

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Too many puppies

It's the end of day four of my stint as dog pack leader. I haven't gotten a good night's sleep since Ryan left. This is not solely Cassidy's doing, I just think Lucy and Cassidy bring out the Space Madness in each other. Adding Jeff the Cat to the mix doesn't help. Cassidy loves Jeff and spends 90% of her time here trying to get to him. I've placed a barricade in front of the stairs to give him a safe haven, but Jeff just can't help himself. He tries to come downstairs when he knows she's around, so he's kind of asking for it.

On the whole though, the dogs have been pretty well behaved (although I reserve final judgement until Tuesday night, when the Steans Bros. return). Three dogs and a cat is just a handful.

I have to give thanks to Nicole, though, who watched the dogs yesterday while I was out, and the In-Laws, who took Mel and Lucy on a nice long walk this evening while I took Cassidy for a hop up and down the street.

And on a completely unrelated note:

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Parents, In-Laws, Lake Austin Spa: Super Awesome.

I have to give a big shout out to the McBrides and Steanses for their tremendous generosity today. This morning, KareBear, Ryan's cousin Susan, and I drove out to Lake Austin Spa where KareBear (and the Admiral) treated us to a day of R&R. I had a head and foot massage in the morning, a wonderful lunch, and a facial in the afternoon all within the gorgeous setting of Lake Austin wilderness. We also had time for some floating in the pool between appointments. A lovely day!

While we were gone, our storage closet (aka our garage) was visited by three helper elves and has magically changed back into an actual working garage. Cardboard Mountain was disassembled and whisked off to various recycling locations. Holiday decorations were neatly set off to the side. Countless dead bugs and spiders I'm sure were swept up and disposed of. It was a task not meant for mortal men and yet Team McBride and the Admiral came through with flying colors.

I knew things had gotten bad when I opened the garage door upon our return to the house and Karen exclaimed, "You have a sink in there!".

I can't say thank you enough to both sets of parents. You're the best!

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Friday, May 23, 2008


Confession time. I love the show So You Think You Can Dance, Fox's summertime replacement for American Idol. They started advertising for it about 2 months ago during Idol (yes, I still watch and you can ask me why till the cows come home and I'd still not be able to come up with a good answer). Just seeing the commercials made me excited. They used the song, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", which can be an awful or great song depending on the artist.

Now I thought this song was pure cheese when I was younger - mainly because it was in heavy rotation as one of 5 songs on VH1 (yes! they played videos once!) and was performed by Whitney Houston, who, ironically is one of the worst dancers I've ever seen. She spends the majority of the video either watching other people dance or mildly bouncing.

*I would be able to provide video here if I were a more talented blogger, but YouTube won't let me have it. If you're that curious, go look up Whitney Houston and the song.

I saw David Byrne do a brilliant cover of this song years ago in Austin and couldn't believe the difference. Stripped of the irritating synth noises and hand claps, this was a catchy song that ACTUALLY made you want to dance.

Early season (season 2?) American Idol contestant Jennifer Fuentes also attempted "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" with hilarious results. Accompanied by only a piano (yes, at one point American Idol had a budget), the song took on a very high school talent show vibe. My favorite part is where, instead of editing the song around the spoken portion, she looks off to the side and says "Dance!". Good stuff.

But I greatly digress. I didn't start watching So You Think You Can Dance until last season and even then not until the final 20 round, so this is my first season watching the auditions. It seems as if they are showing us more talent and less of the bad auditions than Idol does, which I greatly appreciate. I danced for 10 years when I was growing up (ballet, tap, jazz, and modern), so I love that there's a show on that has a wide variety of styles of dance. The talent I saw last year was incredible (far better than what you get on Idol if you ask me) so I'm eager to see what this year has in store. The judging is also better. Instead of sound bytes (Randy), random insults (Simon, although he is usually correct), and unicorns (Paula), Nigel, Mary, and the guest judge manage to offer constructive criticism that is interesting to the viewer. If you are at all interested in dance (all one of you), I highly recommend this show for summertime entertainment.

Don't worry, folks, if you're bored - the League should be back soon, and then you can find out what Superman has been up to.

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's all mine: muahaha!

Hi ya'll. As you may have heard, while the League is taking some vay-cay in Costa Rica, he has left his blog in my hands. Boy is he dumb.

Yes, the League and Steanso are currently on a short flight to Houston and will then jet down to the jungles of Central America where they will rendezvous with their tour Howler monkey, Senor Screechy. They will be staying here, here, and here, so don't feel too sorry for them. Their first hotel sits at the base of a large volcano, but hopefully Screechy will steer them to safety should it decide to erupt.

My posts won't be as long as the League's - I do have company coming this weekend so I don't know how often I'll be able to blog, but I'll try. Mel and Lucy's cousin Cassidy is also staying with us, so we'll see how much sleep I'll get with a gaggle of dogs running around.

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The League Goes on Vacation

Hey Leaguers.

As you may recall, I am going to be heading to Costa Rica for a few days. I don't want to leave you guys in a lurch, but as I have no idea what the story is with internet connectivity and the fact that I hope I have enough going on that blogging isn't really a priority, you're on your own until I get back.

Now, I'm a bit terrified of the traveling. After all, Costa Rica could be full of dinosaurs and tse-tse flies the size of a helicopter. So hopefully I'll survive this voyage into the unknown.

Jamie claims she's going to keep the blog up to date, so I leave this place in her capable hands until I return. So ya'll keep Jamie company. Give her a shot, and hopefull she'll be able to keep you amused in my absence.

I should be back and posting by next Thursday, at the latest.

I just hope my trip to the jungle will be this exciting:

New Comic Suggestion: Guardians of the Galaxy

Hey, Leaguers!

Last week a new title debuted from Marvel, and as the series is just starting, I thought I'd suggest "Guardians of the Galaxy".

The series is about a band of space-faring adventurers who, after a series of messy cosmic cataclysms decide to actually get organized and fight THREATS IN SPACE. In the classic action tradition, it's a band of rag-tag adventurers who have little in common other than that they have a mission.

Its entirely possible that the series is a bit too wrapped up in Marvel continuity for new readers, but I think series writers Abnett and Lanning do a pretty good job of making the first issue accessible (and, yeah, I think Marvel is actually far worse about continuity being an issue to new readers these days than DC).

The team includes a lot of familiar faces from the recent annihilation series, including Drax, Gamora, and the characters from the Star Lord mini-series. And that means ROCKET RACCOON (one of my favorite Marvel characters of all time). Nova makes an appearance, but is not on the team.

Mostly, the series seems like it will be fun. And The League is always looking for FUN IN SPACE. The dialog is sharp, the art is pretty nifty, and the characters just work very well together (some of whom suggest a certain light tough to the series). And, so far, it looks like the story is pointed in an interesting direction.

Apparently there was a previous series or two called Guardians of the Galaxy, which was dreamed up by the amazing Gene Colan. But, you know, I have a hard time keeping up with every darn comic that ever saw the light of day.

Anyhow, give it a shot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The League Watches: Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian

After the rush that was completing the 3 film cycle of "Lord of the Rings", getting through yet another adventure of Harry Potter (the boy wizard who collects doom like stamps), and wrapping up Lucas's 6 film Star Wars cycle... it didn't seem at all a bad idea that Disney produce the entire run of the well-loved CS Lewis children's novels, "The Chronicles of Narnia".

Before seeing "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", I actually bothered to read the book. In, like, an hour. It's a kids book, and its pretty short.

Also, for some reason I ate Arby's before going to the movie, and that was just a bad call. I go there, like, once a year, and I genuinely felt ill when I walked out the door.


I've never read Prince Caspian, and I didn't plow through it before Jamie and I headed off for the matinee today, so I didn't have much in the way of expectations. I'd given the previous movie a solid "B". It was entertaining, the effects were convincing enough, and I thought Tilda Swinton was good. The kids were typical kiddie actors, mostly going through the motions rather than seeming to have any internal combustion going to really convince you that they were doing much but going along for the ride.

"Prince Caspian" is a very different story, and the land of Narnia has had the magic sucked right out of it by some vaguely Spanish humans, and the whole place has become a subplot for a better movie. Perhaps "The Two Towers", which it shamelessly lifts from throughout.

The kids are older, but their acting chops haven't improved much. The gentleman cast as the titular Prince Caspian is the sort of non-threatening pretty boy you expect out of a movie series this Disneyfied, without resorting to CW-style casting.

The plot basically revolves around a very-Hamletish power grab by Prince Caspian's uncle, whose name I never caught... but, man... can that guy do Evil Movie Tyrant #2 with the best of 'em. No scenery was free of teeth marks. The power grab leads to Caspian ducking out of the castle, which looks quite a bit like a LOTR castle, and running away. Which will become a theme throughout the movie. Caspian and Co. run away at every available opportunity.

For some reason, Caspian's fleeing causes the Evil Uncle to declare war on woods he should believe are almost entirely empty. I'm not really clear on the story, and mentioned to Jamie about an hour in "I have no idea what's going on". So I'd hate to make any conjecture that isn't accurate. Caspian blows the horn of Gondor, which summons the four kids from the last movie back to Middle Earth. Or Gondor. Where they team-up with Peter Dinklage (the respectable little person actor), and discover its been some time since they were last in Gondor. And now they're stuck fighting with Spanish conquistadors.

I didn't particularly care for the movie. Jamie suggested I entitle the review "Prince Cat-Stain". But, I told her, I don't work blue. She had a few other suggestions, but none of them were any more flattering than "Prince Cat-Stain". But that'll give you an idea of how it went.

I am guessing that the novel of Prince Caspian, like LOTR was to The Hobbit, much more complicated than its predecessor. Thus, its all about cramming in everyone's favorite scenes, advancing the plot whether it makes sense or not, and getting to the fight scenes, already.

In case you missed the press around the last Narnia movie, we're to understand that there's some religious allegory going on here. And, indeed, the last movie must have seemed a bit too subtle for the audience. As much as the plot seems full of inferences and non-sequitirs from a narrative standpoint, each hint about the nature of faith comes down like a bag of hammers.

The movie comes in at a glacial 2+ hours. I'm not sure, exactly, where things went off the rails here, but once your audience is aware of the situation (or as informed as the filmmakers ever make us), spending an hour watching your heroes sort things out is simply cumbersome. And dragging out poorly choreographed fight scenes isn't good for anybody.

Probably due to the time constraints, and therefore rushed scripting and poor editing... the movie has a few scenes which just sort of happen and make no sense. Somehow the four Brit kids know all about prince Caspian and his plight, when nothing which occurs before that scene would lead the kids to know anything about Caspian or his plans. There's another odd scene in which there's some grafitti on a cart, and the Ming-like bad-guy uses this an excuse to get his general to kill three his men... and it... makes no sense. (Plus, wow... how is that going to help morale?)

Like I said, there were large portions of the movie I simply wasn't following. There's a pretty large assumption you know the first movie very well, as well as that you're going to make assumptions about royal lineage, military maneuvering, political fact-mashing for personal gain, etc... noen of which is really outright explained. It just sort of happens.

Also, Narnia kicks ass. It's full of talking bears, minotaurs, and looks like a Dokken album cover. The kids are given royal authority over all the animals, and get to live for, like, a hundred years and wear really neat armor. So why, on earth, do they head back at the ends of these movies? That's a sucker's game.

I continue to find the mix of pagan iconography within the Narnia movie a bit baffling. It seems odd that Harry Potter and Co. take a hit in the Bible Belt, but this mish mash is okie dokey.

Perhaps somewhat more bizarre is the Aslan death clause of the movies, which depicts the teenaged heroes dispatching soldier after soldier with no qualms, all in the name of Aslan. I guess the lion is supposed to be a cuddlier version of Jesus, so we're supposed to buy into the idea that we should be stabbing people who are browner than you (yeah, I found the ethnic casting of the baddies a bit... unnecessary) for our God-allegory. Which... wow.

Further, Aslan in this film sort of talks like a huge, toothy fortune cookie. Stating things like "Things don't happen the same way twice". Which he says twice. And, apparently he never really feels like he owes his long-suffering people an explanation as to why he (God) abandoned his people to the horrible Spanish people for 1300 years, only to return when it was absolutely necessary to the plot.

Was Aslan off in Gondor on some much needed vay-cay? Appearing in a tortilla on Endor? Apparently he's a capricious allegory.

The message of "faith" in the story, at least as framed by the makers of this film, is that it doesn't do anyone but the four little white kids a lick of good. Holding out for 1300 years for a break seems like an awfully long stretch, and one couldn't really blame the Narnians for maybe thinking Aslan had turned his back on them as he reportedly left Narnia right after the heads of state, and allowed a mass extermination of the happy talking animals.

In addition, there's a bit telling the viewer that not jumping off a cliff to certain doom is demonstrating a lack of faith. Which... what? What kind of crazy religious allegory is Aslan running here? Despite their faith in lion/ Jesus, our heroes also run away at every opportunity. I don't think at any point in the action do they stand their ground. They're quite cowardly. Apparently jumping to your death is expected by Aslan, but holding your ground in battle to protect Aslan's kingdom is a bit up in the air.

He moves in mysterious ways, indeed.

From a narrative standpoint, I'm not going to write the filmmakers a blank check because they're playing the religious allegory card. Either your allegory works, or it doesn't. And I thought this movie did a pretty poor job of doing much but dispensing mixed messages and reinforcing some not terribly Christ-like ideals, like killing folks. Putting religion out there doesn't make your narrative bullet-proof, and, honestly, I would expect more out of the film-makers as per a sense of responsibility to the viewer in maintaining a clear message.

All in all, whatever worked in the first movie just falls apart in Prince Caspian. And there seemed to be some commentary of the wisdom of pre-emptive military strikes not going the way you think they will, which I wondered if I was the only one noticing that...

I did not like the constant jokes about the little people/ dwarfs being short. Including a belabored scene between a mouse and poor, poor Peter Dinklage. And teh bad guys all wore 300-inspired masks which looked like their Ming-like leader and his "look, I'm evil" Satan-inspired chin slinky.

Add in items lifted from LOTR such as set design, story elements and sequences like the Ents... and, it was kind of embarassing. And the end dragged and dragged. And was, for reasons I can't put my finger on, unintentionally hilarious.


I want my afternoon back.

A Century of Jimmy Stewart

May 20th marks the 100th birthday of actor Jimmy Stewart.

The League has has his list of actors about whom he is a bit fannish, and Mr. Stewart is right at the top of that list. In fact, when we were in college and took "Acting for Non-Drama Majors", we were asked to name our favorite actor, and I named Jimmy Stewart (almost everyone else named Al Pacino, which I found hilarious).

Mr. Stewart not only acted in films and television for decades, he was also a decorated soldier during World War II where he served as a pilot of B-17's and B-24's in the Army Air Corps.

I will point you to the Jimmy Stewart Museum website for a biography. And to IMDB for a synopsis of his film roles.

The truth is that I've only seen a small fraction of Mr. Stewart's work.

Made for Each Other
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Destry Rides Again
The Philadelphia Story
It's a Wonderful Life
Winchester '73
Rear Window
The Spirit of St. Louis
Anatomy of a Murder
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

"Harvey" is still a favorite, and I highly recommend it. And, of course, I really dig "Vertigo". But if "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" doesn't fill you with a desire to dress in red, white and blue, you, sir, hate America. And, worse, if you don't get choked up a bit at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life" (and I don't care how many times you've seen it), your heart is made of stone.

So a special League thanks to day to Mr. Stewart.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back from Radiohead/ Houston

Jamie and I are back from a fun-filled weekend at the folks' in beautiful Spring, Texas.

We drove in Friday afternoon with Mel in tow. Jeff and Lucy stayed here with house-mate Nicole, whom, I believe, amused the pets all weekend with puppet shows and a song and dance routine to the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein.

Saturday, Steven and Lauren joined us at stately Steans Manor for swimming, burgers and Lauren getting mauled by Mel when she got between my swimming pal and a pool toy. Sorry about that, Lauren. You'll heal eventually. But it seems like Mel had fun swimming.

Jennifer K. and Jason showed up, The Admiral threw some burgers on the grill and KareBear outdid herself in the food prep and meal-time arrangements department. Well done, parental units!

The Radiohead show itself was great. It was two solid hours of Radioheadishness. Almost nothing in the way of banter (which, believe me, I appreciate), a great stage set up and light show. And the crowd was appreciative without fawning.

I should mention that Thom Yorke is an amazing dancer.

The brightly lit hues of Radiohead's stage show

If you look at the audience, I think you can also see a lot of little blue lights in the picture. I didn't realize that recording shows on your cell phone was now considered perfectly normal. And I don't recall any statements warning us NOT to record the show. I guess either Radiohead doesn't care, or the RIAA is really giving up.

We got back to my folks' house around 12:15 or so. Lauren and Steven stayed for a while, and we all ended up staying up too late.

This morning we all got up very, very late. Then headed out for breakfast. Unfortunately, this meant our schedule was screwed up and we didn't make the planned journey down to Shannon and Josh's house in Meyerland before heading out of town.

So, Josh and Shannon, I owe you one.

Anyway, home again, home again, jiggity jog. Now I've got to plan for the week ahead and getting myself off to Costa Rica.

Hope o