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|Tuesday, September 14th, 2010|
|The casting of Daredevil
I know the Daredevil film was pretty problematic. It's no masterpiece, sure. (Personally I don't think it's any worse than the Spider-Man movies, but to each their own.)
Still, a lot of comics fans talked about how egregious it was to cast Jennifer Garner as Elektra. I was one of them, based on her visualization by John Romita Jr. in the "Man Without Fear" miniseries.
But then I read Daredevil 174, which is the first appearance of Elektra, as drawn by her creator Frank Miller. (Edit: Actually maybe it's her second or third appearance. Still, an early appearance, is my point.)
And now ... I dunno ...
Just based on looks, the casting of Garner seems spot on.
Am I crazy? I am in love with Jennifer, so maybe I just see her everywhere. But honestly, that panel looks just like her to me.
Here's a side by side for comparison ....
|Tuesday, July 20th, 2010|
|Top Five Favorite Movies
Probably have done this before. Certainly have made many posts like it.
But I had a bout of insomnia recently and started thinking again about favorite movies, and what my current ones are.
So here we go ...
Back to the Future
School of Rock
I don't have a refined cinematic palate to be sure -- I'm sure David Fiore would vomit at this list -- I just like a nice simple story, well told and well acted. Also, I like something with a high rewatchability factor, and these are all movies I can watch over and over and still enjoy. And, I dig comedies. So these are my picks, and I'm stickin' with 'em.
|Friday, June 11th, 2010|
|Casting the 21st-century Clue Remake
put out the call, and was even kind enough to list the original cast and their ages during filming.
* Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan, 53)
* Wadsworth (Tim Curry, 39)
* Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn, 43)
* Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd, 47)
* Mr. Green (Michael McKean, 38)
* Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull, 42)
* Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren, 39)
* Yvette (Colleen Camp, 32)
* Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving, 35)
* The Cook (Kellye Nakahara, 35)
* The Motorist (Jeffrey Kramer, 40)
* The Singing Telegram Girl (Jane Wiedlin, 27)
* The Cop (Bill Henderson, 59)
and here are my choices, after a couple earlier drafts that are both up at her blog.
* Mrs. Peacock — Catherine O’Hara
"This is one of my favorite recipes!"
* Wadsworth — Alan Cumming
"I ... was in the hall. I know because I was there."
* Mrs. White — Julianne Moore
"I hated her ... SO MUCH, it -- flames FLAMES -- on the side of my face ..."
* Professor Plum — Steve Coogan
"It's what we call ... psychotic!"
* Mr. Green — Michael McDonald
"I TOLD you I didn't do it."
* Colonel Mustard — Enrico Colantoni
"This is WAR, Peacock!"
* Miss Scarlet — Jennifer Garner
"Practice makes perfect. I think most men NEED a little practice."
* Yvette — Diora Baird
"Non, merci. I am a lay-DEE."
* Mr. Boddy — Jay Mohr
"You too will be exposed and humiliated. I'll see to that in court."
* The Cook — Amy Hill
"Dinner will be ready at 7:30."
* The Motorist — David Pasquesi
"I'm sorry -- I didn't mean to disturb the entire household ..."
* The Singing Telegram Girl — Ashlee Simpson
"Da da, da da da DA -- I! AM! ... "
* The Cop — George Wallace
"... and MURDER!" ... "I just said that so you would open the door."
* The Chief — John C McGinley
"Have you ever given any thought to the Kingdom of Heaven ...?"
What'cha think ... ?
|Sunday, February 21st, 2010|
|Chris Claremont. CHRIS CLAREMONT!!!
So, it's been over a year since I blogged here.
I've been on a Claremont-buying kick lately. I just recently bought a bunch of Claremont's prose work (which is very sparse compared to the eight million comics books he's written), through amazon and some of the sellers they link you to.
I re-bought and re-read his "High Frontier" trilogy which I owned years ago but lent to a friend who never returned them. (Which is totally cool, because she lent me a book and I never returned hers either.)
Anyway, so I re-read FirstFlight, Grounded! and Sundowner. My memory was of liking FirstFlight the best, but on re-reading, I find that Grounded! showcases the most Claremont-ish Claremont ... very assured, very poetic, and very adept at juggling a lot of plot threads. Unlike with some of his serial work, the threads in Grounded! all pay off marvelously in a really impressively choreographed action climax. The book came out almost concurrently with his final issues of X-Men, back in summer of 1991, and I seem to recall some cross-promotion. (Grounded! has an add for the new X-Men #1 in the back, and I could swear there was an ad for Grounded! on some Marvel book at the time ... unless I am mixing it up with the Claremont-penned issues of WildCATs from 1994, which I know had a nice add for the concurrent Sundowner novel.)
Anyway, by the time of Sundowner, Claremont was getting more into his indulgent, overly-hallucinatory phase, but it's still a good book and an exciting end to the trilogy. Interestingly, its ending is almost more cliffhanger-esque than those of the first two books; there is very much a sense of "the adventure is just beginning," and yet it is done in a very conclusive way; similar to what Claremont did in his "Aliens/Predator" series (also from around the same time), which also ended with all the major characters flying off toward their next adventure at the end. (And that's also how Claremont ended his first X-Men run in '91, curiously.)
Anyway, it's a great little sci-fi trilogy, featuring one perfect novel bracketed by two rip-roaring ones that are flawed but still excellent.
Next up: The "Shadow War" trilogy plotted by George Lucas. Apparently after Lucas did "Willow" he decided he wanted to make that movie his own personal "The Hobbit," by following it up with an epic fantasy trilogy set in the same universe. His own personal "Lord of the Rings." Or maybe this was the plan all along. In any case, it sounds like he maybe had a screenplay for the first in this trilogy already done, and a basic idea of the plots of the next two installments. But then at some point decided it wouldn't be cost effective to do these films, especially since Star Wars prequels were much more certain money-makers. So he finds a novelist to take his ideas and turn them into three novels: Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn and Shadow Star.
And as luck would have it, the novel he picked out was Chris Claremont. I've never heard about how that came about -- would love to hear the story behind that one. Anyway, I've never read these books. The fact that Lucas did the plots was not a draw for me, plus I don't like the sword-and-sorcery genre. But, now that I am eat-sleep-breathing Claremont's work for Geoff's blogs, I find myself willing to pick up anything the guy writes, so -- what the hey. I bought all three books. What's kind of cool is that because the name "George Lucas" sits at the top of each cover, these books are still in print -- despite the fact that Claremont has no such cache (The "High Frontier" novels have been out of print for a decade at least.)
So I was able to get brand-spankin' new copies. They look quite nice on the makeshift "shelf" in my room, and I am glad I picked them up. We'll see whether I actually enjoy the books themselves. (Amazon reviews are mixed.)
But the *coolest* recent "get" came courtesy of Pat Cramer, bookseller: A copy of "Dragon Moon."
Dragon Moon is an odd one: Co-written by Claremont with his wife, Beth Fleisher, it is more a novella than a novel. And in terms of format, its dimensions are closer to a comic or graphic novel: 8 by 11 inches. It's also features maybe a dozen or two illustrations by John Bolton. So it's not a novel, not a comic ... it's sort of in between. And it's the only time I know of when Claremont wrote something in collaboration with his significant other, at least to the extent that she is co-credited.
I remember seeing this at Barnes and Noble fifteen years ago when it came out, and strongly considered buying it. Even then, Bolton was one of my favorite of Claremont's collaborators, though I don't think he occupied the very top slot as he does now. Now, having cast such a careful eye over all of Claremont's X-work, I can say definitively that Bolton is my favorite Claremont artist. I even like the stuff they did together for Epic ("Marada" and "Black Dragon") despite those both being yet more of that sword&sorcery stuff that so turns me off typically.
So, anyway, I was missing this particular Claremont/Bolton artifact, had never read it in my life, so I went online and found a copy being sold by Pat. (http://www.patbookman.net/
Here's the cool part, though:
It was the only copy I saw that was being sold in good, almost-new condition. The price was reasonable, so I just went ahead and clicked "Buy" with nary a second thought.
So the thing comes in the mail, and it turns out I bought a "deluxe edition" of the book, hardcover and with a nice black slipcase: A really attractive package, and true to his word, Pat got it to me in beautiful condition. I paged through it, was happy, and put it aside to read later.
Then I'm about to throw away the little packing slip that came with it, but as I look at it, I see this: "First Edition: Signed/Slipcased."
So I go back, re-open the thing and actually look at the very front page and sure enough: This thing is signed by Claremont, and his wife, and John Bolton.
It is the ONLY Claremont book I owned that is signed by him.
I am so jazzed!
I just today started reading the book itself, and so far am quite enjoying it. The milieu is bizarre (some sort of Renaissance Faire/D&D/role-playing camp where regular people can come and engage in actual combat ... does such a thing actually exist?). But the characterizations are vivid and attractive, and among some of Claremont's most down-to-earth (the influence of Beth Fleisher, perhaps?). It's very readable and given its brevity (112 pages), I probably could've finished it today but I kind of want to savor it a bit.
So, thanks again, Pat! What a thrill to buy an autographed Claremont book without even freakin' realizing it!
So hey, anyone looking for an out-of-print book, check Pat's site first. That address again is:http://www.patbookman.net/
|Wednesday, December 31st, 2008|
|Everything you thought you knew about 2008 was a lie.
For people on the east coast, the new year is already a-rung.
Here in Wisconsin (which presently is a God-forsaken wasteland of ice and snow, if anyone's interested), we're still about 45 minutes from 2009.
A time for reflection ...
Okay, not really. All I can say about this year is that it's the one in which I finally got the guts to just up and quit my job -- I'd been there for eight years, and actually for the first three -- maybe four -- of those, it wasn't even that bad. But it got progressively more monotonous, depressing and soul-killing as the years wore on. I'd complain about it to friends, but never had the gumption to just stop doing something that was making me so unhappy. Then in May of 2008, I finally did it. And while there is certainly a level on which the decision can be viewed as foolish, given how shaky the economy and job-market have gotten since then ... (and it was already getting rough back in May, so the writing was on the wall) ... from the standpoint of that ephemeral thing known as the soul, I simply cannot look at the decision as anything but awesome.
Okay, so there was a little reflection there.
For 2009, the goal is: Finish the Claremont blogs/book, finish this musical and get it on stage, and also get a day-job to handle those pesky bills. (Luckily, said bills have not been too problematic. I had money saved up before I quit my job, and I also had the canny li'l notion to pay all my bills months in advance as well. So at the moment I'm living *almost* for free, except for groceries, gas, and the occasional social endeavor.
Anyhoo ... enough New Year's reflections. Really I'm just posting because I found a copy of a message-board posting I made a while back. It kind of makes me grin, so I thought I'd drop it on the blog for cyber-posterity. It's borne out of a conversation some folks were having re: John Byrne's comment that the works of Alan Moore (whom Byrne can't stand, and whom I of course adore) are all variations on a single trick, that being: "Everything you thought you knew is a lie." Now of course, it's an exaggeration to say this is true of ALL Moore's works: It's mainly a trick that Moore brings to a character that existed before he came to it. The trick doesn't appear, for example, in "V for Vendetta" or "Watchmen" or "Tom Strong," though all of those do have twist or surprise endings. But they don't completely pull the rug out from under the reader's assumptions. So Byrne's claim is utterly laughable (like most of his claims, really).
Still, Moore DOES use the trick often, and I found myself moved to post a "defense" of Byrne's statement, compiling a list of evidence that really does paint Moore as a one-trick pony of a writer. What follows is no less than TEN examples of Moore using one of his favorite gimmicks:
Swamp Thing #21 -- Swamp Thing and we, the readers, were led to believe that Swamp Thing was Alec Holland turned into a monster. But actually Swamp Thing is a collection of sentient plant-life that *believes* he is Alec Holland. "He never WAS Alec Holland!" EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT SWAMP THING IS A LIE.
The Maxx #21 -- The Maxx and we, the readers, were led to believe that Sarah's father, Mr. Gone, was an evil/rapist murderer. But here Moore reveals that he was a harmless old magician who actually sent a magical projection of himself to find his daughter. His daughter, angry at having been abandoned by her father and thinking the worst of him, ended up shaping that projection through her perceptions, and he became an evil villain. "I'm sorry, honey," her father says when she finally meets him. "I'm sorry I was Gone." EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT MR. GONE WAS A LIE. (Maxx creator Sam Kieth overturned this one immediately when he took back the writing reins in the very next issue. He didn't like the idea of letting Gone off the hook this way.)
WildCATS #22 -- The WildCATS and we, the readers, were led to believe that Earth was the battleground of a galaxy spanning war between two races, the Kherans and the Daemonites. The WildCATS were the Earthbound Kherans, valiantly doing their part in a widespread war effort on behalf of good against evil. When the WildCATS return to planet Khera in issue 22, they learn that the war has been over for centuries. Nobody bothered to tell the Kherans or Daemonites on Earth because "Earth was too far away." EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT THE WILDCATS WAS A LIE.
Promethea #4 -- Promethea and we, the readers, believed that Promethea was created by her father as a way of saving the world. But in this issue, we learn that she is actually a curse her father placed on the world, designed not to save it, but to bring about the apocalypse. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT PROMETHEA IS A LIE!!! Issue 5 reveals the *real* truth, that yes, Promethea is designed to bring about the end of the world, but that in this case, that's actually a good thing, with "the world" being defined here as all the outmoded institutions and preconceived notions that now have a stranglehold on our existence and perceptions. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, War, Death, Famine and Pestilence, are not symbols of what the Apocalypse will bring. These things are already in the world, all over the place. The horsemen represent those things about the world that show us why we *need* an apocalypse. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE IS A LIE.
Captain Britain -- We learn that everything in Captain Britain's life was actually manipulated by Merlin. Nothing was the result of random chance, but it was all engineered to prepare Captain Britain for his greatest test. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT CAPTAIN BRITAIN WAS A LIE.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume II, #6 -- We readers believed that the Martians who invaded us in War of the Worlds were killed by Earth germs. In this issue, we learn that no, that was just a cover story by the government, who actually beat the aliens via germ warfare. Specifically, they contacted Dr. Moreau (fight one H.G. Wells monster with another, y'see), and had him ship over an anthrax hybrid, which was then deployed against the Martians. The germ killed not only the Martians but lots of civilians as well, but the official cover story was that any dead humans were killed by Martians, and the Martians were killed by the common cold. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT "THE WAR OF THE WORLDS" WAS A LIE.
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? -- Superman and we, the readers, always believed Mr. Mxyztplk to be a harmless imp. In fact, he was an ultra-powerful creature, who -- being from the fifth dimension -- actually possessed "Height, width, depth ... and a couple of OTHER things." And though he was always content just to be mischievous, he was actually a powder-keg waiting to blow, and to become murderously malicious. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT MR. MXYZTPLK WAS A LIE.
Supreme #41 -- We readers believed that Supreme was just another uninspired piece of hackwork created by Rob Liefeld. In fact, Liefeld's Supreme was only the latest "revision" of a being who's actually existed in countless forms since the 1940s. The universe is actually continuously revising itself to make us forget old versions of Supreme and believe that whichever one exists now is the only one that has ever existed. The Universe is constantly revising itself. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT SUPREME WAS A LIE.
Judgment Day -- Whoever actually was bothering to read Youngblood believed it was a team founded by a superhero named Sentinel. In fact, Sentinel was a smart but down-on-his-luck junkie kid who happened to come into possession of a book that controlled reality. He rewrote the book and made himself "the bestest superhero in the bestest team in the world." EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT SENTINEL WAS A LIE. Moreover, Sentinel is actually responsible for the entire "dark age" of superhero comics in the 1990s. It was Sentinel's twisted, dark sensibility that resulted in him using the book to make reality darker, grimmer, gritter and psuedo-post-apocalyptic. He is responsible for the entire landscape of superhero comics in the 1990s. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT THE 1990s WAS A LIE.
Miracleman -- Michael Moran, we thought, was just a guy who happened to be visited by a magical creature who gave him the power to become super-powered when he said the word "Kimota!" From there, he became Marvelman, and -- along with his kid sidekicks -- he had lots of crazy adventures. But in fact, Moran's adventures all took place inside a virtual reality environment designed to make his mind more pliable to control by government scientists, and his ability to change into a superhuman was the result of those scientists having reverse-engineered some found alien technology. EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT MARVELMAN WAS A LIE.
|Sunday, December 21st, 2008|
|The Movie Soundtrack Itunes meme ...
So, here's how it works:
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every section of the movie, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie and try to pretend your cool...
Opening Credits: “Select Bibliography” by Jason Powell (you’d think this would be at the end)
Waking Up: “Bella Maria De Mi Alma” by Los Lobos (I wouldn’t mind waking up to this)
First Day At School: “All I Ask of You” (Phantom-Elf-demo version) by Jason Powell
Falling In Love: “Pyscho Sexual” by Jason Powell (“I was like Oedipus, I wanted my mother, and this made me quite frightened of my own father …”)
Shower Scene: “Tapestry” by my as-yet-unnamed band. (Sweet!) (“Bathe in its emotion and emerge all nude and clean, and float away …”)
Fight Song: “Waiting for the 103” by Dan Hicks (Hmm … a very intense shower followed by a very mellow fight …)
Breaking Up: “Nothing Ever Ends” by Jason Powell
Prom: “The Arbiter’s Song” from CHESS: THE MUSICAL (awesome)
Life's OK: “Scream in Blue” by Midnight Oil (“I could kill for this one time, and not be caught.” Hmmmm … )
Mental Breakdown: “Alone” by Brendon Small (“He wants to be alone so he can process this, to a point of understanding-ness”)
Driving: “The Wolves Close In” by The Ghostwriters (“One night a runaway train will shake you from your sleep…”) This is working out rather well so far …
Sex Scene: “The Weaver and the Factory Maid” by Steeleye Span (Role-playing!)
Flashback: “Three Waves,” by John Kruth (“In the first wave, 1898 … and the next wave, 1959 … I want to know where people came from …”) This is rather amazing.
Getting Back Together: “Public Animal #9” by Alice Cooper. (Eh.)
Wedding: “Gouge Away” by the Pixies (Violent relationship, apparently.)
Birth of Child: “Spotted Cow” by Steeleye Span (I’m thinking of a scene in “City Slickers” for some reason …)
Final Battle: “La Pharmacie” by Yann Tiersen (no lyrics to quote, but trust me, I’m listening to this now and it would be a pretty cool song for the final battle of a movie.)
Death Scene: “The poet laureate of Australian rock ‘n’ roll songwriting …” -- interview clip from Midnight Oil (I guess maybe it would be one of those ironic-juxtaposition type things, where somebody dies while a television interview drones on unaffectedly in the background, and thus does the film illustrate the banality of death …)
Funeral Song: “Black Juju” by Alice Cooper (I don’t ever listen to this song, but … well, it’s got “black” in the title, and that is funereal. And it’s on an album called “Love it to Death.” Seems eminently appropriate… also it’s nine minutes long. And funerals are often too long.)
End Credits: “Singapore” by Tom Waits. Heh.
|Saturday, December 13th, 2008|
|Thursday, December 11th, 2008|
|Good 'n' bad
The good news, I just finished writing my first one-act play. It is called "Middling."
The bad news, I'm pretty sure it is not very good at all. Might be a few good bits of dialogue, but the overall thing ... hurm. (The title was the last piece of the puzzle, and is a direct result of my opinion of its quality.)
We'll see. It was written in a flurry/hurry to make the deadline for Pink Banana's upcoming one-act showcase (with the Broadway Theatre Center being the upscale case in which it would be shown). They were due by Jan. 1, so ... I dunno, I suppose I could've spent the rest of December revising and such -- maybe it will still come to that.
In the meantime, at least a *draft* of it is done. Good to say that, at least, since my other projects (the Claremont series and the musical) are still so frustratingly NOT done.
BUT I am getting back on the horse with those other projects too, starting this week. Oh yes.
And hey, who knows, maybe Pink Banana will adore "Middling," and it will be performed by some awesome actors in March of 2009. That would be ... something, right?
|Wednesday, December 10th, 2008|
“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate Batman”
It was a great feeling to realize recently that I don’t like Batman. It’s hard thing for a comic-book geek to come to terms with, since Batman is so emblematic of “cool” to the average comic geek. But it says something about the mentality of the comics fan who believes that the quintessence of cool is a guy in tights and a cape.
I know for years I would get annoyed when people would talk about how Batman was cooler than other superheroes because of his “dark” origin, and how he is so smart he can figure out way to beat up Superman. Blah blah blah … (As Peter David once pointed out, Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” may have made Batman cool again for the first time post-Adam West, but that work also permanently neutered the image of Superman.)
Since Dark Knight Returns, every incarnation of the relationship between Batman and Superman makes much of the idea that Batman is the more formidable of the pair, despite the fact that – going strictly by the stats – Superman should really be way ahead. It’s always struck me as juvenile and uncreative. When Miller did it, it was quite new and bold. Now it’s just like a cheap short-hand. (How can we show how great Batman is? Ah, let’s have him be more super than Superman!!!)
For whatever reason, despite my annoyance at the phenomenon, I felt like perhaps I still had to concede that “Batman is still pretty cool,” because I am a comic-book geek, and we are required by law to think that Batman is pretty awesome, even if he is not our favorite.
But three different observations cropped up in different places on the net – or, rather, they were there on the net and I happened upon them – that finally made me realize I can just relax and go ahead and hate Batman.
1.) A Grant Morrison interview. Over on Geoff’s blog, I get very testy about Morrison, because I think he’s overrated, and that a lot of his “crazy ideas” are about as substantive as the inside of a balloon. But I do like some of his observations about superhero comics, including one he made recently: That while Batman and Superman are both --- like all superheroes – power fantasies, they are different types. Batman is an adolescent fantasy: be a millionaire, kick ass, do whatever you want, have a bunch of toys, etc. Superman is an adult fantasy: Have a great job, marry a pretty and successful woman, be known for helping people. This is a rather lovely insight on Morrison’s part; I won’t deny it. And it completely flattens the ridiculous notion that Batman is more “mature” because his origin involves death by mugging. Morrison’s paradigm acknowledges that both characters are simply fantasies, but that Superman is the one that appeals to a more mature sensibility.
2) David Fiore, who noted on his blog that Batman just wants to ‘Keep the money in the hands of the people that are already ("legitimately") rich, and the underclass in its place. The only "systemic" critique this concept is capable of generating is a law n' order screed against legal loopholes that allow the criminals to go free.’ That’s also a great insight into the character and the concept that – now that I have seen it – I cannot un-see.
3) A poster on a message-board noted that DC’s desire to amp up Batman’s rogues gallery to make them seem super-ultra-badass and cool – presumably to amp up Batman’s own awesomeness – has had the opposite effect, if you really think through the premise logically. The comics now present a scenario in which any time one of Batman’s nutso villains escape, they invariably wreak absurd amounts of havoc and death upon the landscape. We are supposed to believe that Batman is the most efficacious superhero around (better than Superman, remember?), and yet Gotham City – the place that is under Batman’s “protection” – is the site of Holocaust-scale slaughter on a monthly basis. Pathetic.
So there you have it. Granted, I don’t deny the charm of the Batman milieu – and I do enjoy “The Killing Joke” a great deal (although it’s been pointed out that it is not really a good Batman story – so maybe that is why I like it). Aesthetically, he’s got the best villains around – creative names, imaginative concepts, tremendous visuals. But when you get down to the nuts and bolts of the concept, it makes for a crappy superhero.
So there you go. Batman sucks.
It feels good to be able to say that.
|Tuesday, November 18th, 2008|
|Friday, November 14th, 2008|
|Fringe, Episode ... 7, is it?
Finally watched a tape of Tuesday's "Fringe" ...
Some positive things.
Having complained the other day that Walter is constantly fouling up the plans of the conspirators, I was pleased to find that there were some tacit acknowledgements as to why Walter is still living.
First, there was Broyles (is that his name) suggesting that a lot of the "cases" that the team has come across so far were not actually examples of The Pattern trying to accomplish a task, but simply dry runs, or even just attempts to see what they could do. So, in fact, the Pattern's interest in a lot of these happenings actually ends at the point that -- for us viewers -- the episodes begin. A guy causes everybody's faces to melt? For us and for Olivia & co., that's the start of the mystery; for The Pattern, it's the end of the experiment. "Cool, we created a guy who can melt faces. We know we can do THAT. Check!"
Second, this is the first time we see how Olivia's team is actually useful to the bad guys; the fact that Walter always manages a way to save the day, and that Olivia always gets the answers, are both exploited here, when one of the conspirators (a traitorous Federal agent) infects himself deliberately (knowing Walter will save him), in order to motivate Olivia to get inside a prison and learn the location of "the gentleman." (I love those Baroque flourishes.)
This makes sense, and is a bit more exciting than the notion that Olivia's team might be endangered because they're constantly thwarting The Pattern. If there are people in play who are that formidable, why take them down? Why not integrate them into The Pattern and start having them do your job for you?
Quite cannily done. J.J. Abrams is a credited co-writer of the episode, and you could certainly see that characteristic Abrams touch -- there was more of a sense here of "wheels within wheels" than there has been in most of the previous installments.
The show still, somehow, is lacking in that addictive quality that "Alias" had (and which "Lost" has even more of, by all accounts). It's still an effort for me to force myself to find ways to see each episode. If I hadn't made my blog pledge (read by roughly four people in the first place) to keep current on this series, I'd have already given up, quite frankly.
But, I'm still keeping with it. The show is certainly improving. And I still look forward to what I think is inevitable -- the "turn everything on its ear" moment that will happen, at the latest, in Episode 13.
P.S. One thing that the show has got to lose is the bit where Olivia figures something out, she takes it to Broyles, and then Broyles says that "we've known about that for a while." The idea that Olivia is the point-person into Pattern investigations yet she hasn't been told everything that the FBI currently knows about it is absurd. It's a complete narrative cheat, and they need to jettison it quick. Just bite the bullet and have Broyles do a "full disclosure" montage with Olivia or something.
|Tuesday, November 4th, 2008|
|Monday, October 27th, 2008|
|Sunday, October 26th, 2008|
A topic sprang up on a message-board (which very few people actually replied to), asking about people's ideal musical "supergroups." I posted to it, and then -- realizing it wasn't quite right -- decided to fix it and put it here, on the blog (also known as the all-purpose wasteland for idle notions).
Rob Hirst on drums, John Gosling on piano, Mickey Bradley on bass, Michael Penn on guitar, Danny Elfman on vocals.
Performing songs with music by Ray Davies and lyrics by Stephen Merritt
Mick Avory on drums, Chris Abrahams on piano, John Avila on bass, John Kruth on mandolin, Kelli Rae Powell on ukulele, Yann Tiersen on accordion, Maddy Prior on vocals
Performing songs with music by David Byrne and lyrics by John Linnell
Either of these would be SO awesome, am I right?
|Friday, October 24th, 2008|
|Thursday, October 23rd, 2008|
|On the outskirts, and in the fringes ....
I realized I should be blogging every week about "Fringe," just as a show of faith and devotion.
And moreso to keep a log of all the puzzle pieces as they emerge, because frankly I'm having a hard time just remembering them on my own.
As Carrie commented after we watched last week's episode, the show lacks that amazingly addictive quality of J.J. Abrams' previous two television efforts.
So, in an attempt to cement the show in my mind (and of course in the BLOGOSPHERE) as my favorite show, here's an attempt to consolidate my feelings on the series. Going forward, I will try to blog immediately after each episode.
By far, the most intriguing element of the show currently is the bald "Observer" character. His introduction into the series was galvanizing, and I loved the way he was used in the episode immediately following his introduction (putting him in precisely one shot, walking quickly out of frame in a "blink-and-you-miss-it"-style cameo).
We know the Observer is reporting to someone else; we know he has some plan involving metal devices that are somewhere inside the Earth. We know he's either generally telepathic, or else has some telepathic connection only with Walter's son -- whose life he saved years ago in order to acquire a marker with Walter that he finally called in during the episode with the metal devices.
He obviously is interested in the Pattern, yet seems at odds with the more sinister element that is causing the pattern. We know that Massive Dynamic is affiliated with the villainous aspect of the Pattern, yet for whatever reason the government is working WITH M.D. rather than against it ... ? Why does the Massive Dynamic woman with the bionic arm (great visual, when we saw it in the pilot) have such high security clearances (higher even, we are told, than Olivia's), considering that she seems to be a villain, and not a particularly well-disguised one?
Also, what of the founder of Massive Dynamic? He was mentioned in the pilot as Walter's old partner. Since every Pattern incident is clearly derived from Walter's work, it's only natural to assume that Walter's partner is the mastermind. But that seems to obvious, and anyway, why haven't we seen him? Why has he not been mentioned since the pilot? Are Olivia and the FBI even looking for him?
In Tuesday's episode, Walter's son noted that all of the Pattern cases seem to have the common element of turning people into weapons. Meanwhile, it's very tempting to suspect that The Observer is an alien. So one possible scenario is that the purpose of the Pattern is to create biological weapon-people as a measure against a pending alien invasion. The Observer could, then, be an alien spy sent to prep for the invasion and also to track the progress of the Pattern's development of defensive measures.
(Or, that could be just what I am inclined to see, since I'm currently working on a musical about alien spies ... I hope "Fringe" doesn't end up stealing all my great plot ideas ...)
Walter Bishop himself is an anomalous character. He is rather convenient, writing-wise, in that it's invariably *him* who solves the case, and devises ways to save the day. Every single episode would've ended in tragedy with the good guys failing if not for Walter -- which cannot be said about any of the other characters, even Olivia, the putative star. Since most of the threats that Olivia and company are facing are derived from Walter's work, this makes sense. And yet, it makes you wonder ... if Walter was capable of foiling the Pattern at every turn, why did the mastermind behind the Pattern (whoever he or she is) allow Walter to live? Sure, he was locked away in an asylum, but it strikes me that it would've been smarter to kill him. Unless they think they can use him, I suppose.
Particularly now that the Pattern is being foiled on a semi-weekly basis, you'd think someone would say, "Okay, Walter seemed harmless before, but now he's screwing things up. We need to send agents to Harvard to sanction this guy, or he'll ruin everything."
Who knows, maybe such an episode is on the way ... ?
In the meantime, the show is continuing its "freak-of-the-week" structure, which is fine -- you have to establish a rhythm before you can really start messing with people. If "Fringe" goes the Alias route, it will continue to maintain a comfortingly familiar structure week after week, until around episode 12 or 13, which -- I hope, anyway -- will rip the lid off of everything and turn the series completely upside down.
Here's hoping ... !
|Uncanny X-Musings, redux
I learned recently that a good pal of mine has become a fan of my blog. (Hi, Jason!) He was very complimentary recently about how entertaining it is, which did my heart good. Sadly I reacted to the news by suddenly wondering whether I could keep up the quality for Mr. S, and so I now have gone for quite a while without updating.
However, I recently got another heart-swelling compliment, this time from another Mr. S (Hi, Neil!), so -- my confidence bolstered -- here I go, back into the fray.
Unfortunately, Jason, this one's about a comic book, so probably won't be as interesting to you as the movie or music posts. (I'll do another one of those soon, and hopefully you'll enjoy it. Man, the pressure's on now! But that's my fault, not yours. I really did appreciate the compliments.)
It's just a little comment about Uncanny X-Men #150. An exchange just earlier today between me and Neil ShyminskY about how even in the most effusive of my Klock-hosted Claremont appreciations, a moment of pure greatness might get by me. And that got me thinking about how I recently noticed something about Uncanny 150 that is really pretty neat, but which I didn't talk about.
Uncanny 150 is the fantastic issue that reveals Magneto to be a survivor of the Holocaust. Consider that, even in the broader scope beyond the comics, this is a hugely important reveal. Most of the population that is aware of the X-Men's existence is aware of it via Bryan Singer's films, the first of which OPENS during the Holocaust, with a young actor (playing a young Ian McKellan) dragged away to be placed in the camps. This is not only something that informs Magneto for every issue thereafter (and this was 1981, so we're talking going on 30 years), but it informs the entire tone and timbre of the first X-Men film (which I still say is the best).
Indeed, even now we are two issues into a brand new miniseries, "Magneto Testament," which aims to give us the definitive portrayal of Magneto's life during the years before and during the Holocaust.
So all on its own, that reveal -- which occurs during the final three pages of the issue -- is spectacular; striking; unbelievable.
Note also, the character had already existed for 18 years -- almost to the month, I believe-- before this point. For Claremont to do what he did was not necessarily unprecedented in other comics, but it certainly was in an X-Men comic, and it was boldly revisionist by any standard.
What I had missed on all my previous re-readings was how, on the level of pure story, Claremont set this reveal up in the very first few pages of the issue.
I don't mean Magneto's comment to Cyclops that he is the last person in his family. That, of course, I had noticed before, and pegged it simply as a little teaser for the major reveal at the end.
No, what had never occurred to me before was that Magneto says this just after Cyclops has told Magneto about the death of Phoenix.
(Jason, if you're reading, let me once again contextualize this in terms of the films ... the death of Phoenix was in X3 in the movies, but it played out much differently in the comics. In the comics, Cyclops didn't die, he actually watched Phoenix commit suicide. And Magneto was not involved in the Phoenix saga at all, far from it.)
So, Cyclops tells Magneto that Phoenix is dead. (It comes up because Cyclops is hanging out with his new gal-pal, Lee Forrester, when Magneto first finds him.) We get another reprise of the "SCOTT! JEAN!" panel from X-Men 138. And this is what really made my mind shut down on all the previous re-readings, because by this point we've seen re-hashed Jean's death umpteen times over the course of a single year, and this just seems like another gratuitous attempt by Claremont to milk that fantastic moment for a bit more drama.
But I realized this time ... no, no. It is quite significant for Magneto to learn about the death of Jean -- to hear the story related to him in excruciating detail. He is emotionally affected by it, perhaps unaccountably. Learning about the death of someone young and innocent, it's the first time he's had a reason to connect, in his mind, his present-day existence to his own tragedy-laden past.
He offers Cyclops sympathy, unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, and Cyclops accuses him of hypocrisy. Magneto then snaps back into antagonism. It is more in character with what we've seen from Magneto in earlier stories -- both Silver Age ones and earlier Claremont ones -- as he belittles Cyclops' pain and grief. Yet it is tinged with something a little different; this is when Magneto speaks of his own family. It comes so naturally, because the talk of Jean's death has brought it to the forefront of his mind. (Magneto also claims here that he "cared for" Jean, and there's an implication of a romantic attraction, but I'm not sure what to make of this. I don't recall any other Claremont or pre-Claremont issue that suggested this.)
Later, at the issue's climax, Magneto -- in a rage -- murders (or so he believes) Kitty Pryde, a thirteen year old girl. A thirteen-year-old JEWISH girl, no less, although we've no reason to believe Magneto would know this (on the other hand, we don't know for sure that he hasn't intuited her being Jewish; that's not impossible). He is immediately reminded of the death of his own daughter, and here is where the flood of new information about Magneto -- with Auschwitz mentioned by name, for the first time -- comes out.
I had *always*, for YEARS, read this as the result only of his shock at Kitty's seeming death. And while it seemed like a reasonable justification, I will confess it felt a little abrupt. For all the power of the moment, it was, I thought, perhaps TOO easy that Magneto at last opens up about his past for the first time here, at this moment.
Now I realize that Claremont was using the re-telling of Jean's death to subtly set this all up. THAT is the moment which inches open the psychological floodgates, so that they can come flying open at the end. It's quite ingenious, and I marvel now at its subtlety. (Or was it not subtle? Was it obvious and I just missed it?)
This is why I love Claremont's work so very much. I read it again and again and always discover new and surprising depths.
|Sunday, October 12th, 2008|
|So, I'm trying to write this musical ...
... It's not going too badly, really. I'm coming up with all the text first, both the book and the lyrics, before I get started on the music. Music will be the final step.
Right now I've got a draft of the first act complete except for three holes where songs need to go. BUT there are ten songs in Act One, so three incomplete means SEVEN that ARE COMPLETE (again, just the lyrics, not the music).
So that's not too bad, is it?
Oct. 15 is my goal-date to have the entire text of Act One drafted.
Then it'll be on to Act Two.
|Sunday, September 14th, 2008|
|With the Fringe on top ...
So I said earlier that I would adore "Fringe" no matter what Geoff and Neil said about it. I didn't actually know for sure that either of them would have anything to say about it, or even if they cared. But, obligingly, they both
blogged about it, practically *daring* me to stick to my guns.
So, Neil liked it but concedes that his affection for "Lost" may be blinding him to the show's flaws. Which I approve of, since my J.J. Abrams sycophancy is going to color my opinion of everything that guy does from now till doomsday.
Geoff says the show is well-shot and directed, but a little too pat and lacking in anything to really make it stand out.
I do admit that, as pilots go, "Fringe" has got nothing on "Alias," which is the perfect-est pilot it's ever been my pleasure to view. And the plot elements are indeed fairly perfunctory, assembled like a jigsaw puzzle -- with a veneer of complexity but also possessing a kind of pristine, factory-line precision.
I did still enjoy the dialogue, which I believe is a huge strength of Abrams'. He mostly steers clear of the self-conscious, self-aware dialogue that characterizes a lot of the other most noteworthy television writers of today. None of the Sorkin "Did you just say x? Because it sounded like you just said x, and I know you wouldn't say x because I told you I didn't want to talk about x". Or the Amy Sherman-Palladino pop-culture reference, i.e., "Well, how very [well-known film or classical novel or obscure author] of you." (Note that I like both those writers' work a lot.) Abrams' style is more sincere, and attempts genuine verisimilitude, which personally I think is much more difficult to pull off. A comfortable layer of irony can be nice, and fun, and sometimes irony can be pushed in such a way that it breaks through into a new level of sincerity.
But one of the things I love about "Alias" were its moments of emotional sincerity among characters. It's very risky, because you can end up seeming melodramatic and silly (and "Alias" sometimes did). But in a medium like television, the right actors and a good director can sell it. And the results can be spectacular.
So I can forgive "Fringe"'s lack of overly punchy dialogue. There are jokes in the pilot, but they are deliberately underplayed, and delivered without any wry self-awareness. A couple didn't come off, but oftentimes I thought it worked quite well. I love the bit with the son describing his father's plan -- "He wants to strip you naked, pump you full of LSD and shove you in a rusty metal box filled with water!" The scientist's reply: "I never said I *want* to. Just that I *can.*" The actor playing the scientist is so plaintive and sincere in that moment, it comes off marvelously. Classic Abrams. (Other directors would've had that actor drive that line into the ground.)
The pilot's visual style was rather compelling -- the "Massive Dynamic" sequence being a particular treat in terms of design . And I enjoyed the boldly three-dimensional font for the locations super-imposed upon establishing shots. Rode the line well between intense and intensely campy. (Great touch to have "BAGHDAD" writ large over the desert as a helicopter flies over it, then when we switch to a ground shot that looks up at the copter, we see part of the "B" in "Baghdad" from the other angle. I haven't seen that trick before. Made me laugh.)
I agree with Geoff that the actors weren't as compelling as they ought to've been. Abrams productions always have very striking performances from almost every member of their casts. This one felt a little flat, by Abrams' standards. I'm assuming it was a fluke, and that the cast will liven up over the next few episodes. I can't imagine it will ever equal the powerhouse that was the cast of "Alias", but I'm keeping an open mind.
All in all, though, I did enjoy the pilot. It's got the whole "spectacular-within-the-banal" aesthetic that I always love, the conspiracy/mystery is promising, and there's even a bit of superhero-ness in the whole notion that the team's secret headquarters is in the basement of Harvard. (A clip from an upcoming episode showed the creators having fun with that idea, with students knocking on the door of the lab and asking "Is this poly-sci 101?")
In short "Fringe" is my new favorite show!!!
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to miss the second episode on Tuesday because of a rehearsal. Anyone mind taping it for me?
|Thursday, September 11th, 2008|
|Comics for 9/10
It's pretty rare that I actually buy comics the day they come out, and then READ them later that same day. Since today I have, it seemed like I should take advantage of that fact and get to work blogging.
Two Claremont issues today, GeNext #5 (ending a five-issue miniseries) and Big Hero Six #1 (beginning a new five-issue miniseries, though it doesn't say that on the cover).
GeNext #5 ... sigh. Wow, this thing was a disaster. I had vowed in an earlier blog entry to give it a pass when I learned it was a sequel to Claremont's miserable "X-Men: The End." But then, there it was on the shelf, looking all bright and shiny and inviting. So I bought it, month after month for the last five months. And you know, it was certainly miles better than "The End." Indeed, the first issue seemed promising -- very much character driven, and quite economic in its scope (compared to "End," which was so disastrously bloated). By around the third issue, I was finding myself a little disconcerted at how little was happening. Still enjoying some of the character bits, but wondering what the actually *story* was. The fourth issue had the same pacing problems, and then suddenly, BANG, on the last three pages, a bunch of plot elements were introduced that made no sense whatsoever to me. I anticipated that I would end up closing the cover on the final issue asking, "What the hell just happened?"
I anticipated correctly. The final issue of GeNext made absolutely no sense to me. And as for the mysteries set up early in the story -- mainly, "What is the deal with No-Name?" -- we don't even get a hint of an answer. Just a perfunctory wrapping up of whatever the hell was going on followed by a "Coming Soon: GeNext II" page at the end.
It's just more proof that Claremont has nothing more to say or do when it comes to the X-franchise. I genuinely do think it would be different if it the mythos had not been steered in so many zany directions since Claremont's departure in 1991. But as it is, Claremont X-Men now makes for a strange spectacle, as we watch a writer dealing with characters that he, paradoxically, knows intimately yet simultaneously has no clue about.
And for further evidence that Claremont just needs to get away from the X-universe, we have ...
Big Hero Six #1 ... wow. Divest the palette of any X-characters and KA-BOOM, Claremont comes through. Right from the first page, I loved this. (Actually, the first page just made me like it. It took until the second page to start loving it.) The premise -- Big Hero Six is a team of superheroes/secret-agents working for the "Exotic Assets" division of Japan's homeland security. (I love the sound of "Exotic Assets" -- and the head of the division is a woman called "Furi," which is a cute allusion to Nick Fury.)
Part of what immediately grabbed me was not Claremont, but the artist, David Nakayama, whose work is really delightfully -- energetic, effervescent, kinetic and featuring creative character designs and canny little details. The cover is fantastic too, with the "Big Hero 6" stacked boldly onto a thick black stripe running the length of the cover. (Below that, in much smaller type, are the Japanese characters for "Big Hero 6," a fantastic touch.)
So, the art is part of it. But Claremont's writing is also really on point -- the protagonists introduced here are all immediately made very distinct. We get a strong sense of who they are, partly thanks to the first-person narration by the central character, Hiro, but mostly just through shrewd use of deft little dialogue touches. (I like Honey Lemon's calling the endangered children "schoolfolk" and telling them "I'm here to save your day!" (as opposed to THE day). Or Baymax (the giant robot of the group) complaining of someone calling him "Max" with the line, "For the last time, please refrain from using the diminutive form of my name." A third member of the eponymous team is a chef, and when the team is attacked while eating a meal *he* cooked, he takes it as a personal insult.
None of that is earth-shatteringly innovative, of course. (And Claremont may be importing some of his character touches from Scott Lobdell, who created these guys ten years ago.) Still, the end result that after only one issue, I find myself liking these guys a lot.
The plot/characterization imbalance that dogged GeNext from start to finish is also absent here. Claremont manages to give his group a solid sense of identity while also giving us a solid fight scene and introducing the mystery that will drive the remaining four issues. (The nature of the mystery is also clear and simple, as opposed to the opacity of the No-Name stuff.) There's a ticking clock, a sense of excitement, and a clear sense of something important going on. At the same time, we don't get a lot of exposition. Later issues will contain some, I'm sure, because it's a Claremont staple, but he wisely eschews any mumbo-jumbo for the sake of a clean, mean, straightforward Issue #1. The macguffin is also nicely designed to give the "secret agent" aspect of the premise some good play -- i.e., the characters have to go to New York to solve a problem that is Furi's fault. Presumably in order to avoid any backlash for the Japanese government, they have to go in and solve a very "superhero" type problem ... but covertly, without any of the New York-based superhero teams knowing what's going on. That's a nice, solid hook on which to hang the whole idea.
It's all really well done.
(As a side-note, the original version of Big Hero 6 from 1998 apparently counted in its roster both Sunfire and the Silver Samurai, both Japanese X-characters used with some frequency by Claremont back in the 1980s. Wisely, someone chose to eliminate both those characters from this incarnation -- and thank goodness, because it makes this team 100% "X" free.)
Props to Marvel for choosing as well to bolster this first issue with back-matter that reprints entries about Big Hero 6 from a recent edition of the Marvel Handbook. What a great idea. Granted, as noted, Claremont gave enough material about the characters in the story that the back-matter isn't necessary to follow the plot. (In point of fact, I have not as of this blog posting read through all the Handbook text.) But still, after reading this first issue, I DO find myself curious about these characters and their history leading up to this point. And obligingly, Marvel has supplied answers. I love that Marvel does that kind of thing now. (Their Agents of Atlas hardcover from a few years ago was similarly helpful, bolstering the lead story with reprints of a bunch of old material from the '50s featuring the lead characters.)
Since the characters are Japanese and artist Nakayama is doing a manga thing, I wonder if Marvel plan to reprint this as a digest (like they did with Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, among other things) when it's complete. I hope they do, because I can envision such a collection being quite an attractive package. I could even see it playing to the manga crowd just based on the visuals, which strike my eye as being fairly authentic. (It'd be cool if they actually went all-out, printing the digest in black and white and reversing the orientation of all the pages so that it would read back to front.) Claremont's authorial voice even has a kind of manga-tone to it. There are times I could almost believe his words were being transliterated from Japanese.
So, I've been won over on this one. Big Hero 6 are GO!