Archive for February, 2009

Well, that Facebook album-cover meme worked out rather well for me, didn’t it

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

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1 – Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random”

or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random

The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 – Go to Quotations Page and select “random quotations”

or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3

The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album.

3 – Go to Flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”

or click http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days

Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 – Use Photoshop or similar to put it all together.


Battlestar Galactica thoughts

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

SPOILERS BELOW

* Much, much, much stronger episode this time, even with the umpteenth imaginary-friend reveal (which to be fair was better than Romo Lampkin’s cat). I guess I didn’t realize how shaken I was by the lousiness of last week’s ep until I sat down to watch this one and discovered I was dreading it. It was entirely possible that with so few episodes to go, last week could have set a tone from which the show would never recover. Fortunately that wasn’t the case.

* Before I say anything else, my big “whoa” moment from this episode was Athena’s really wrenching and awful cry of despair toward the end of the episode. Holy shit but did Grace Park sell that. Even just watching her underfed form stumble into the briefing room in her underwear, beaten to a pulp–ugh, tough to watch and beautifully performed. Park was just as strong as Boomer, playing the character’s singular mix of longing and deceit like a slow-burning fire. I was really impressed with her, particularly considering she was arguably the ensemble’s weakest link early on.

* Whereas last week felt like a struggle just to string together a conversation that made sense from one sentence to the next between any two characters, this week felt masterfully controlled by the writers–each of the characters upon whom it focused left the episode with us having a clearer understanding of him or her when than when it started. For Chief, this mainly consisted of establishing a through-line for him that connected both his Herculean efforts to save the ship earlier in the half-season with his 180-degree decision to abandon the fleet last week: He’s just badly, badly shaken by the combined emotional assault of discovering he’s a Cylon, realizing he wasn’t super-in-love with Cally, losing Cally, discovering his kid isn’t really his kid, losing Earth, discovering he lived there thousands of years ago, and so on. Unlike, say, Tory, who was instantly gung-ho about being a Cylon, or Tigh, who decided just as instantly that his life as a member of the fleet was the paramount thing to him, the Chief never really had that moment of clarity regarding his life from here on out. This episode showed that in his way, he’s just as adrift as Dee or Kara or Gaeta have been shown to be this season.

* The next character we got more of a handle on was Boomer. In this case the ep was, seemingly at least, deceptive. For the longest time it seemed like she was genuinely contrite about her role in the attempted assassination of Adama, the regime on New Caprica, the betrayal of her fellow 8s in the Cylon Civil War and so forth. Not only had she changed her political tune, but on an emotional level she seemed to have come to grips with the fact that much of her behavior had been a reaction to feeling rejected by the Chief way back when. Even after she went buck-wild on Athena and frakked Helo, I figured this was just the behavior of someone who’s profoundly fucked up, maybe even crazy at this point, but not evil. And even once she kidnapped Hera, I thought it was some shared plot between her and the Chief to keep the kid safe from all the turmoil in the fleet lately or something. Maybe some of this will still turn out to be true–I feel like quite a bit of it might–but as it turns out, Boomer was once again an enemy agent, there to kidnap Hera for Cavil’s side; even freeing Ellen and bringing her to the fleet was a ruse. Suddenly Boomer’s behavior makes that much more sense.

* The final character we learned more about, of course, was Starbuck. I guessed that the piano player was all in her head during his first scene and almost had to admire the sheer chutzpah of this show to dip into that particular well yet again, but I thought all that material was so well acted, well lit, and well scored that I didn’t even mind. So the theory that Daniel the Missing Cylon was her dad turns out to be correct, making her, what, a Cylon-human hybrid like Hera? That would explain why the show’s staff could be so unequivocal in saying “Kara’s not a Cylon” despite the fact that doing so rules out all the previously established ways she could possibly have returned from the dead on this show–she’s a half-Cylon, and for all we know they can regenerate too. Katee Sackhoff, of course, is the show’s big discovery acting-wise; much of her work is simply taking advantage of how she looks on the screen. There’s something really physical and present about her big watery eyes, pillowy lips, and curvy body, and that physical presence enhances all three of Starbuck’s main personality poles–violent, horny, and melancholy (“drunk” rides shotgun with all three at varying times).

* Speaking of Starbuck’s physical presence, that was some shower scene, huh? And despite being glimpsed through the crack in the door of a bathroom stall and the blurry eyes of a concussion victim, the sex scene between Helo and Boomer was hot, surprisingly explicit stuff too. Battlestar Galactica love scenes tend to be pretty memorable, and I’m not sure they get enough credit for that.

* What with all the fine character work, the show was able to elegantly advance the plot to the next stage: Boomer’s deception devastated the Chief but it also brought Hera to the enemy and inflicted a terminal injury on the Galactica; the mystery of Kara’s situation is if not solved than pretty close to it; Roslin’s psychic connection to Hera rears its head again just in time for her cancer to knock her down to the mat for what I assume is the last time. Compare how smoothly all that happened to those weird, stilted conversations last week, or the bizarrely rushed death of Tigh and Caprica Six’s baby, or the forced feeling to Ellen’s attempts to break the couple up. If anything I’m guessing that the character stuff here was so deft that the plot-fans won’t even notice how far downfield the various balls in play got moved.

* Great effects shots toward the end there, as usual. The production value this show gets out of its effects budget is unequaled in television as best I can tell.


After everything I’ve done I hate myself for what I’ve become

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Nine Inch Nails – “Gave Up (Live)”

Note the presence of Marilyn Manson and Richard Patrick on guitars and vocals.


Comics Time: Owly Vol. 5: Tiny Tales

Friday, February 27th, 2009

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Owly Vol. 5: Tiny Tales

Andy Runton, writer/artist

Top Shelf, August 2008

144 pages

$10

Buy it from Top Shelf

Buy it from Amazon.com

This collection of Owly shorts features an eight-panel strip commissioned by Wizard for one of its periodical Wizard Edge indie-comics spotlight supplements back when I worked at the magazine. I remember being slightly amazed when it came in at how well Runton was able to boil down his usual themes–the need to be kind and share, obviously; more subtly, the notion that friendship, or just being a good person to others, frequently requires sacrifice, and that that’s not so bad; and just in terms of the visuals and basic set-ups, the interaction between “people” and nature–to a handful of panels. That’s the pleasure of this Owly book compared to the others: seeing Runton trot his characters and concepts through a succession of scenarios in short order. Maybe it’s just the presence of an appendix filled with early Owly sketches and a pair of the earliest Owly strips (in which Runton’s art is much more angular; the move to curvilinear forms was a smart one) that makes me think about the collection in this fashion, but it seems like practice would make perfect for a strip like this, and that’s what seeing one Owly story after another gives you the sense of–a talented craftsman riffing on a basic idea. The conclusions to several of the strips, like the one where Owly and Wormy meet a family of migrating geese out on a frozen pond, were so cute they made me chuckle and beam; the conclusion of another, about Owly and Wormy’s attempt to help a rabbit make a fancy flowerpot to replace the expensive one she’d gotten as a present for her grandpa but broken on the way to delivering it to him, was so sweet and unselfconsciously loving it actually made me tear up. Yep, that’s right: I laughed, I cried.


Carnival of souls

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

* This is so commonsensical I don’t know why I haven’t seen anyone else put it exactly like this, but here’s Tom Spurgeon on those pesky Bookscan numbers and the innumeracy of attempts to use them against the bookstore market:

Just the fact that a number for a book that came out in January is going to be different than for the same book had it come out in November should discredit these numbers’ use.

* Todd VanDerWerff refers to this week’s episode of Lost as “The Passion of [Character Redacted].” Meanwhile, fun stuff is discussed in the comment thread on my post.

* They’re remaking The Neverending Story and Total Recall. Also, SciFi Wire should really provide links to the trades when it takes stories from them; the fact that the trades never return the favor when stories are broken on the nerd sites is no excuse. And yes, I realize I’m being a fat hypocrite because I was too lazy to use Google News to track down the original articles. I may not get there with you, SciFi Wire, but I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the netiquette promised land.

* Jog reviews Supermen!, editor Greg Sadowski’s new collection of Fletcher Hanks-y supercomics from the Golden Age.

* Real-life horror: The New York Times presents a disturbing, heartbreaking video about the misogynist totalitarian barbarian nightmare the Taliban are turning Pakistan’s Swat Valley into. Via Spencer Ackerman, who notes “it’s important to see Swat as a prologue for what the Taliban wish to do with a nuclear-armed country.”

* Finally, I’ve long harbored what I’m sure some would consider a bizarre case of the hots for a young Patti Smith, who I think was basically sex in a t-shirt. Imagine my delight, then, to discover this picture of her emphatically not in a t-shirt. What she’s wearing here’s even better!

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(via Johnny Bacardi)


Quick Lost thoughts

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

SPOILER WARNING

* Fucking Ben.

* If I looked up and saw Locke and Lt. Daniels staring at me from across the street, I would not walk, I would RUN in the opposite direction. Those are two scary bald motherfuckers.

* It was wonderful to have an episode devoted almost entirely to putting Terry O’Quinn in front of various other actors and having him act toward them. Man is he good. The suicide scene was marvelously tough to endure.

* I thought it was fun how at first you think Ethnic Guy and Ethnic Lady are some kind of agents, but then it turns out they’re just the Jack and Kate of the new group of castaways. (Maybe.) Clever little turnarounds like that are one of the things Lost does so well–and are also a hallmark of season openers for the show, which makes sense because last week’s episode felt like a finale (and may have been intended to be one when it was first mapped out back before the strike shortened last season).

* I was hoping for a bwahaha evil smile on Locke’s face when he discovered injured Ben at his mercy on the Island. Oh well. “‘He’s the man who killed me’ – cut to black” is pretty awesome too.

* One thing Lost tests is one’s ability to read fiction, for want of a better way to put it. That is, when it advances several conflicting theories for what’s actually going on with a character, it will eventually depict that character in a way that confirms one of those theories without coming right out and saying it, but at the same time the show’s byzantine plots and secrets will make people ignore these obvious context clues in the performance, mise en scene, score, even dialogue, and hunt for what’s “really” going on. For example, for a long long time the question among some fans of my acquaintance was “Is Ben telling the truth when he says ‘We’re the good guys’?” It always seemed obvious to me that he and his cronies could only be “good guys” in the most relative sense of the term, since they were constantly busy with the shooting and the torturing and the kidnapping and the brainwashing and the noggins and the piggins and the frikins, but when you finally got to the episode that revealed Ben to be an actual mass murderer, complete with mass graves and everything, I thought it was beyond debate. Amazingly, even after the events of tonight’s episode, in which Ben cold-bloodedly murders the fan-favorite character at his most physically and emotionally helpless, some of these fans are still saying he’s probably the good guy. It reminds me a bit of when it became perfectly clear that Aaron was one of the Oceanic Six and yet people were still holding out for some other sixth member because he was still inside Claire when the ship crashed, as though the media would ignore the baby when coming up with a numerical nickname for the miraculous survivors of a plane crash and stint on a deserted island. It strikes me that part of being able to make heads or tails out of a story like Lost is being able to look at hoofprints and think “horse” rather than “zebra.”


Carnival of souls

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

* Reviews of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film are flooding in, mostly from nerd sites. So far the main line of criticism seems to be that Snyder’s reach exceeds his grasp in terms of fitting a 12-issue serialized story that bounces back and forth in time, incorporating multiple flashbacks and focalizing characters and voluminous background materials, into the framework of even a very long feature film. You can see a pretty thoughtfully expressed iteration of that general notion here, from comics writer Mark Millar, for example. That gives me some hope, since hey, if you’re gonna strike out, you may as well strike out swinging. I was far more concerned about whether the film was just gonna be cheesy, though admittedly the kinds of sources we’re seeing reviews from right now are unlikely to detect the sort of cheesiness I suspect Watchmen: The Movie would traffic in should it traffic in cheesiness, if that makes sense.

* Samuel L. Jackson has signed a nine-picture deal to play Nick Fury in sundry Marvel Movies. Hooray!

* The great Peggy Burns of Drawn & Quarterly takes my Savage Critic overlord Brian Hibbs’s much-debated Bookscan number-crunching to task, with numbers of her own to back it up. This apparently resulted in a lengthy phone conversation between the two of them that I’ve decided sounded a lot like the one between President Merkin Muffley and the Russian Premier in Dr. Strangelove. I have however not decided which one gets to say things like “I’m perfectly capable of being as sorry as you are” and which one has to turn the music down so the other can hear–you can vote in the comments if you are so inclined.

* They’re remaking Clue as “a global thriller and transmedia event” helmed by Gore Verbinski. Oh brother. Now, Verbinski directed one of the all-time great horror films and approximately two very good Pirates of the Caribbean movies spread over three Pirates of the Caribbean movies total, so this may be great. On the other hand, there’s something inspired about the how the original recreated a murder-mystery board game as a period piece about Red Scare paranoia and ’50s sexual morés. Moreover, it was the first of two Tim Curry vehicles set in a giant Victorian mansion on a rainy night that I’ve committed to memory during the course of my life, and the combined cleavage of Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren holds a special place in my, oh, let’s go with “heart,” so I’m pretty attached to it and I can’t say I’m super-excited about a do-over. (Via Vulture.)

* Delightful Tidbit of the Day: Here’s a great catch by Tim O’Neil about the genesis of the Talking Heads song “The Overload” from the Brian Eno-produced Remain in Light:

During the recording of Remain in Light, the Talking Heads came across a magazine review of a then-obscure late 70s British punk group and were utterly fascinated by the description of the music. They decided to record a song that represented what they thought the band might sound like.
… David’s contributions to this song were said to be influenced by things he had read about a British group called Joy Division. He had never actually heard their albums, but he had read about them. …*

That’s just wonderful. And I can hear it, too! (Best of all, Joy Division was originally named Warsaw, after the Eno/Bowie collaboration “Warszawa” from Low, and thus the circle is completed. Sadly, though, this makes me dream of an Eno/Joy Division collaboration that was never to be. Sigh.)

* Are Gitmo guards getting in their last licks? If so, what are the Obama administration and Gates defense department doing to stop it?

* Finally, in tribute to NeilAlien the First Comicsblogger’s astonishing NINTH blogiversary (congratulations!!!!), Tom Spurgeon runs down the reasons They should make a Dr. Strange movie. Johnny Depp, right?


Comics Time: Owly Vol. 4: A Time to Be Brave

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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Owly Vol. 4: A Time to Be Brave

Andy Runton, writer/artist

Top Shelf, December 2007

128 pages

$10

Buy it from Top Shelf

Buy it from Amazon.com

I’ve seen a bunch of critics say that the Owly books more or less defy review by adult critics, and perhaps even appreciation by adult readers. I’ve never really bought that, because I’ve always found Andy Runton’s line and character designs durable and warm, his use of rebus-like pictogram “dialogue” clever and engrossing, and his stories sweet and funny–that right there is good enough for this grown-up, even barring any other areas of interest. But in reading A Time to Be Brave–the plot: Owly’s friend Wormy believes a timid possum he encounters in the forest to be a dragon like the one he just read about in a storybook, while the possum believes Owly will eat him if he tries to join in on Owly & friends’ ballgame; emergency circumstances force everyone involved to put their fears aside–I realized that it actually does address two of my most grown-uppiest preoccupations in life and art. First, it’s about intellectually anthropomorphized animals, and through that lens it addresses issues of cruelty and predation that speak directly to some of my most deep-seated emotions and ideas on that score. Second, it’s about the need for people to intelligently, creatively cooperate in order to do the right thing, and the joy and satisfaction you get from doing so instead of falling back on competition, selfishness, and looking out for number one–a message I love seeing addressed here just as I did in, say, The Wire or Deadwood. So yes, it’s a great book for kids, but you’d have to pry it out of my hands first before you could give it to them.


Too good to leave in the comment thread

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I hear you’re buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record.

–me on Alan Moore, more or less

(Apologies to LCD Soundsystem. Again.)


Carnival of souls

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

* DID U KNOW: There’s a Cold Heat blog and a Cold Heat website? The site features all four issues published so far, plus a bunch of reviews including a few I wrote for Wizard’s Thursday Morning Quarterback and The Comics Journal. The blog contains awesome shit like this Jim Rugg pinup of Castle:

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Better still, Tom Spurgeon reports that print copies of the remaining individual issues of the series will be available on a print-to-order basis. YES.

* In the first of his Best of the 00s series and the second of our dueling Black Hole posts (here’s the first), Dick Hyacinth reviews Charles Burns’s teen-horror masterpiece. More to come from both of us.

* Adam Rogers’s Wired piece on how Watchmen got made functions both as a behind-the-scenes saga and a general examination of the unique pressures of making a movie version of a property that nerds love. As Zach Snyder puts it:

The literati were less hard on the Coen brothers for changes they made to No Country for Old Men than the geeks will be on me for changes I make to Watchmen.

* Speaking of Snyder, he says that the zombie epic he’s producing, Army of the Dead, will have to wait until director Matthijs van Heijninger finishes directing the Ron Moore-scripted prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Goddammit that is a crazy sentence I just wrote.

* Alex Proyas directing an adaptation of the lead book in John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy, The White Mountains? Sure, I’ll eat it.

* Michel “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Gondry directing a movie version of the Green Hornet, starring Seth “Superbad” Rogen as the Hornet and former Green Hornet director Stephen “Kung Fu Hustle” Chow as Kato? Are we sure marijuana is still illegal? (Via Vulture.)

* Equally bizarre and potentially awesome/awful: The Julie Taymor-directed, U2-scored Spider-Man Broadway musical is called Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark. Yes, the comma is part of the title, just like You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And based on the plot synopsis, I smell a Spider-Avatar in our future. This…this is going to be a nightmare, isn’t it?

* There have been so many Ghostbusters 3 rumors for so many years that I make a point of ignoring them. Also, it’d be a lot easier to get excited about Ghostbusters 3 if it weren’t for Ghostbusters 2. Nevertheless, I will dutifully pass on Dan Aykroyd’s assertion that the movie may start shooting as early as this fall. Why? Because I believe everything Dan Aykroyd says.

* Whitney Matheson’s weekly Best of the Lost Comment Thread post returns. There’s a cute Ulysses gag in there, as well as evidence that a lot of people, like me, are wondering why we spent all that time with Grandpa Shephard out of nowhere.

* This Adam McCauley piece is pretty cool. The moral of the story is that the monsters are everywhere.

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* Finally, I know what you’re thinking. “Does the creation of Bowie Loves Beyoncé mean you won’t be posting pictures of Bowie or Beyoncé over here anymore?” No it doesn’t. Stay tuned for The Best of Bowie Loves Beyoncé, a weekly series starting soon.


Alan Moore doesn’t read comics but here’s what he thinks are wrong with them

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I have to say that I haven’t seen a comic, much less a superhero comic, for a very, very long time now–years, probably almost a decade since I’ve really looked at one closely.

Alan Moore

Does any of this stop him from opining about them, negatively, for paragraph after paragraph? If your answer is “yes” then you haven’t been following Moore’s interviews over the past few years.

His blanket dismissal of superhero comics in this long, fascinating interview with Wired’s Adam Rogers echoes earlier comments he made about his distaste for the Hollywood mode of filmmaking; this time, however, he’s expanded his beef with Tinseltown cinema to include the use of CGI, and indeed the entire medium of film:

One of my big objections to film as a medium is that it’s much too immersive, and I think that it turns us into a population of lazy and unimaginative drones. The absurd lengths that modern cinema and its CGI capabilities will go in order to save the audience the bother of imagining anything themselves is probably having a crippling effect on the mass imagination. You don’t have to do anything. With a comic, you’re having to do quite a lot. Even though you’ve got pictures there for you, you’re having to fill in all the gaps between the panels, you’re having to imagine characters voices. You’re having to do quite a lot of work. Not quite as much work as with a straight unillustrated book, but you’re still going to do quite a lot of work.

I think the amount of work we contribute to our enjoyment of any piece of art is a huge component of that enjoyment. I think that we like the pieces that engage us, that enter into a kind of dialog with us, whereas with film you sit there in your seat and it washes over you. It tells you everything, and you really don’t need to do a great deal of thinking. There are some films that are very, very good and that can engage the viewer in their narrative, in its mysteries, in its kind of misdirections. You can sometimes get films where a lot of it is happening in your head. Those are probably good films, but they’re not made very much anymore.

There seems to be an audience that demands everything be explained to them, that everything be easy. And I don’t think that’s doing us any good as a culture. The ease with which we can accomplish or conjure any possible imaginable scenario through CGI is almost directly proportionate to how uninterested we’re becoming in all of this. I can remember Ray Harryhausen’s animated skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. I can remember Willis O’Brien’s King Kong. I can remember being awed at the artistry that had made those things possible. Yes, I knew how it was done. But it looked so wonderful. These days I can see half a million Orcs coming over a hill and I am bored. I am not impressed at all. Because, frankly, I could have gotten someone, a passerby on the street, who could have gotten the same effect if you’d given them half a million dollars to do it. It removes artistry and imagination and places money in the driver’s seat, and I think it’s a pretty straight equation—that there is an inverse relationship between money and imagination.

If you haven’t got any money, you’re going to need lots and lots of imagination. Which is why you’ll get brilliant movies by people working upon a shoestring, like the early John Waters movies. People are pushed into innovation by the restrictions of their budget. The opposite is true if they have $100 million, say, pulling a figure out of the air, to spend upon their film, then they somehow don’t see the need for giving it a decent story or decent storytelling. It seems like those values just go completely out the window. There’s an inverse relationship there.

I wish this weren’t so, but those statements are frankly embarrassing. If your dad started talking in this fashion at Thanksgiving dinner you’d get up to use the bathroom. If a fellow commuter started opining in this way on the train, you’d turn your iPod up. Moore has already copped to not watching much of this stuff–including the very adaptations of his comics that tend to set him off on these jeremiads, not that I think he’s missing much–but even if these statements were offered after he was handcuffed to Harry Knowles for a year, they’re still breathtakingly, willfully ignorant of and dismissive and insulting to everything from the skill required to pull off convincing computer effects, to their utility in telling an engaging and provocative story, to the intelligence or engagement level of the audience for film, to the ability of film to challenge and discomfit as well as dazzle and entertain. (As though the latter two are something to be ashamed of!)

This blog has already hosted some lively debate over Moore’s frequently expressed disdain for aspects of culture he admittedly knows little about anymore, from film to television to superheroes and superhero comics to, if what he says above is to be believed, comics in general. Then as now, I want to make it perfectly clear that not only does Moore have every right to be upset about his shoddy treatment at the hands of his publisher, and his work’s shoddy treatment at the hands of the studios and filmmakers who’ve adapted them, he is in fact right to be upset. I don’t begrudge him that at all–hell, I cheer him on! It’s when he uses this bitterness as a springboard for ill-considered write-offs of entire genres and methods and media that he comes across as a crank, even a fool.

That said, there’s a lot of great stuff in that interview about how he’s approaching the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and various other projects, so do read the whole thing.


Loveless

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Given that it’s a slasher movie set in the unlikely environment of mining, it’s appropriate that My Bloody Valentine 3D eventually collapses. Starts off pretty strong, though. You’d have to be pretty square to deny the pleasures of the newspaper-headline opening credits, the laugh-out-loud over-the-top grand guignol gore effects (which start almost right away), and of course the full-frontal nude 3D chase scene, which more than anything else is why I decided to see this movie in the theater. As a manly movie aficionado par excellence, how could I not? All that kind of stuff is what makes MBV3D the perfect manly movie in the early going–it’s designed to make you crack up and cheer at the screen, ogle the sessy ladies and guffaw at the carnage.

But before long it taps that vein of trashy gold dry, and starts alternating between increasingly monotonous chase scenes and kills (which occasionally cross some weird lines–killing a pregnant girl? reserving the worst corpse desecration for the completely innocent bit-part Latina housekeeper? menacing a kid for no good reason and never following up on it?) and gritted-teeth dramatic scenes that I promise you the audience is not there to see. Folks, I’ve sat through enough manly movies to know which ones will end up making a roomful of drunk dudes start nodding off, and after about the first third of this movie, enter sandman. Meanwhile, the film’s engaging whodunit storyline, which at first seemed like a promising crossbreeding of the silmilar elements from Scream with a straightforward, non-ironic modern slasher vibe, ends up resorting to a Jeph Loeb-style twist-cum-cheat that leaves you feeling like you wasted your time in trying to figure it out. And the less said about the sequel-whoring ending, the better. (Least scary psychopath ever?)

Finally, I suppose this goes without saying, but this movie in no way manages nor even attempts to truly frighten or horrify. I’m sure no one stumbled into My Bloody Valentine 3D expecting the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, let alone The Exorcist, but yeah, this is your basic amusement-park ride horror movie. And hey, there’s a place for that! It’s nothing to apologize for! Now, I may not be the target horror-fan audience for it necessarily–unless you count antecedents like Texas Chain Saw, Psycho, and Peeping Tom, which I don’t think you should, or things like Scream and American Psycho that are as much satires as slashers (slashtires?), this marks a grand total of four slasher films I’ve ever seen; the others were Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, neither of which did I care for or find terribly frightening, and Slumber Party Massacre 2 in a Manly Movie Mamajama-mandated, and that’s truly one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But I’m certainly open to wall-to-wall slayfests in an action movie format, like Doomsday or Crank or Invasion U.S.A., and I’ve watched that montage of all the kills from Friday the 13th enough to know that I’m open to the idea of slasher flicks as a rip-roarin’ good time at the movies, watching a masked killer hack his way through some naked kids and grizzled old dudes. The thing is that that’s what your movie has to deliver, from start to finish, and this one didn’t. Would it still be fun to watch in a big drunk group, even if it’s naptime after a while? Sure. I’m sure we’d all wake up for the next flick anyway. But I’d kind of like to be kept awake the whole time.


Comics Time: Black Hole

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

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Black Hole

Charles Burns, writer/artist

Pantheon, 2005

368 pages

$18.95, softcover

Buy it from Amazon.com

Originally written on June 23, 2005 for publication in Giant Magazine.

COMICS TIME SPECIAL: For another, much more recent, and much more traditionally “Comics Time”-y review of Black Hole, read today’s inaugural edition of my “Favorites” series at The Savage Critic(s).

Load up your beer bong and break out your Black Sabbath LPs: You’re about to enter the gravitational maw of being a teenager in the 1970s. And as the title of Charles Burns’s epic graphic novel suggests, it’s deep, it’s dark and there’s no escape.

Black Hole was originally released in 12 installments that took over a decade to produce. “It was insanely fucking labor intensive to do,” Burns says. “Each drawing was really designed and layered and labored over.” As a result, it nails the sights and sounds of being young, dumb and full of cum as well as any coming-of-age comic ever has–but with a skin-crawling sci-fi twist.

Black Hole‘s deeply creepy journey into the Seattle suburbs’ heart of darkness stars Chris, a stunning “popular girl,” and Keith, Chris’s secretly lovestruck lab partner. Amid the dead-on period details (you can practically hear Harvest and Aladdin Sane playing as you read) and gut-wrenching depictions of the high-school caste system, Burns sets loose a sexually transmitted disease that grotesquely mutates its teen sufferers. Chris and Keith catch the bug and are drawn into a community of plague-victim outcasts in the woods outside of town, where amid the Halloween-mask faces, lizard tails and extra orifices, someone’s begun killing the kids off.

Teen angst and teen horror may be familiar territory, but Burns’ genius lies in colliding these two subgenres in an explosion of drugs, sex, hallucinations and murder. It’s all transmitted through Burns’ nightmarishly vivid artwork, which is as close to immersing yourself in a blacklight poster as you can get without the use of a Schedule I controlled substance. Simply put, you’ve never seen a comic like this before.

Darkly funny, steamily erotic and scary as hell–you know, like junior year–Black Hole owns its genre(s) more than any other comic has since Watchmen dissected superheroes 20 years ago. Read it, and like the first time you listened to Led Zeppelin IV, you’ll know you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands. A+


Please donate to Bide-A-Wee

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

The Bide-A-Wee animal shelter in Wantagh, NY is where The Missus and I adopted our two cats, Lucy and Felix. Felix had actually been there for four years when we brought him home. The staff there were simply extraordinary–they really got to know both of those cats while they were there, and even years later when we would come by for one reason or another, they remembered them and their personalities. And as a no-kill shelter they would frequently rescue “unadoptable” animals from other facilities. It’s just a wonderful shelter, which is why I am so devastated that it’s closing on March 8th due to the terrible economy and a 30% drop in donations since October.

Please donate to Bide-A-Wee, a truly wonderful organization for people who care about animals. I have no idea if enough donations can stave off shuttering the Wantagh facility–I doubt it–but it’s worth a shot, and their other shelters could probably use the help too.


Battlestar Galactica thoughts

Friday, February 20th, 2009

SPOILER WARNING

* I thought that was a pretty bad episode.

* Do you think we had enough shots of Bill Adama looking up at the ailing bones of the Galactica with concern in his eyes, or should they have thrown in another dozen or so?

* I don’t even know how to describe the dropped ball that is having neither Saul nor Ellen discuss the fact that Saul killed Ellen.

* After crawling through vents for hours to keep the ship from jumping away from President Roslin and the loyalist ships, then singlehandedly saving the ship by discovering the systemic rot in its infrastructure, then accepting the job of Chief once more, Galen just up and decides to abandon it?

* And his step-baby?

* The problem with writing dialogue for mystics is that it’s really easy for them to simply sound stupid, which is exactly how Ellen sounded when she said that knocking Caprica Six up is proof that Saul loves her. These people are brilliant machines, but during this moment of crisis they suddenly sound like Chicken Soup for the Soul.

* I’m really unsatisfied with how the Baltar storyline is playing out. If you recall, last half-season we saw Head-Six miraculously manipulate Baltar’s physical body in order to prove the existence of God. Then for a while he sounded like a true believer, as one might expect. Then he had that one scene where he ranted about how God owed the people an apology for shitting on them, and were there any consequences from Head-Six? Doesn’t seem like it, as in this episode Baltar smarmily “agrees” that God may have abandoned his followers in order to get himself off the hook for doing the same, and then a few scenes later Head-Six is back, helping him reassert control of the group and arm them. So all those great, weird speeches he gave about how God loves us because we’re already perfect, and then how God owes us an apology–that was all just really convincing acting? He didn’t believe any of it? None of it was Head-Six instructing him in her sincere convictions? He’s still just a slightly more altruistic version of the old shifty Gaius? I don’t like that at all.

* There’s something un-pull-offable about Roslin offending Caprica Six by suggesting her baby only matters in a prophetic sense as opposed to a personal one–this is the same Caprica Six who shut down the defense system and is responsible for the murder of billions, not to mention that baby whose neck she snapped for no reason in the miniseries. I know all the rebel Cylons have grown and changed since then–and I actually think that aspect of the show works, because it stands to reason they’d only start changing their minds about how the world works when they begin meeting people who aren’t among the seven completely identical types they’ve spent their lives with up until that point, so they’d get new input–but has Roslin really changed that much? I mean, Boomer’s in the clink, but Caprica’s receiving apologies on behalf of the fleet from the President?

* I don’t buy Adama giving Gaius weapons, either. I’m not even sure what Gaius’s argument for why they need the weapons was.

* I wanna see Lee in a flight suit again.

* When Adama pulled a flask of booze out of his uniform I almost started to think that the show was making a point, but the rest of the episode just made it seem like “character drinks booze” is their fallback signifier for “character is upset,” as always.

* The whole tone of the ep was really awkward, don’t you think? Like, trying to be funny at times but not pulling it off, and thereby undercutting the serious stuff? And most of the dialogue about people’s feelings wasn’t clearly delineated enough for us to be able to understand where they were coming from, so combine that with the uncertain dramedy feel and scenes like Caprica’s miscarriage, which could have been knockouts, ended up weightless and incoherent.


Carnival of souls

Friday, February 20th, 2009

* STC news: I have a piece teasing developments in The Stand: American Nightmares, the second arc of Marvel’s big Stephen King adaptation, at Marvel.com.

* I think my favorite reaction to Bowie Loves Beyoncé thus far is Kiel Phegley’s: “Sean, you are going to cause such a disparate group of people to masturbate with this blog.” Here’s hopin’.

(via Loving the Alien: Never before seen pictures of David Bowie)

* They might make a Battlestar Galactica movie that has nothing to do with the Battlestar Galactica series? That is maybe the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

* Speaking of Kiel, he spoke to Bill Sienkiewicz four years ago, and the results have never been seen…until now!

* Vice speaks with Sammy Harkham, Jaime Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Rick Altergott, Johnny Ryan, Matt Furie, and Matthew Thurber about Kramers Ergot 7. In the interview, Clowes reveals he recently had open-heart surgery. Did everyone know this? Sheesh. I’m glad he’s still alive.

* CRwM wonders what we talk about when we talk about Friday the 13th.

* Stacie Ponder presents a quick and dirty guide to POV horror.

* Andrew Sullivan discusses kinder, gentler torture.

* Ain’t nothin’ wrong with Jeffrey Brown drawing Wolverine.

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* Finally, I’m putting it at the bottom here so you can avoid LOST SPOILERS if you need to: Todd Van Der Werff does his weekly Lost review thing. It’s interesting to hear his complaints about making Jack the focal character of the episode where the Oceanic Six Five return to the Island: He argues that since Jack has been dead-set in favor of this since the Season Three finale, it leeches some of the drama from the proceedings. But I think that centering the episode on someone who’s completely resigned to returning to the Island, to accepting his fate, is what helped give the episode an appealingly fatalistic air. I think it was a part of that weird, engrossing tonal dissonance I discussed; and though I still don’t swallow the idea that he’d ignore the disappearance of Aaron to get his bone on with Kate (I buy Kate using sex to forget, but Jack had nothing to forget yet!), I definitely recognized and appreciated the grim contentment of their breakfast conversation the next morning as the demeanor of people who’ve just accepted something awful. Focus this episode on someone else and you may have lost that very effective bit.


Comics Time: The Awake Field

Friday, February 20th, 2009

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The Awake Field

Ron Regé, Jr., writer/artist

Drawn & Quarterly, April 2006

48 pages

$7.95

Buy it from Drawn & Quarterly

Buy it from Amazon.com

Originally written on July 23, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal

Everything is magical to Ron Regé, Jr. This is his greatest strength as a cartoonist. His trademark line, equally weighted throughout the page and shot through with exclamatory dashes that radiate outward from nearly every character (even inanimate objects, in many cases), gives his work a vibrant, vibratory glow. Each page becomes a miniature epiphany, or at the very least an enjoyable semi-psychedelic experience, like an Ambien hallucination. Over the past few years Regé has employed this singular style to varying effect; its greatest exponent is his graphic novel Skibber Bee-Bye, wherein Regé uses it to elevate and enhance at first whimsy and then horror to almost rhapsodic levels. But in works like Yeast Hoist #11 (centering on a slideshow-esque series of depictions of Regé sleeping in other people’s apartments during a road trip) or Regé’s mini-comic contribution to McSweeney’s #13 (a painfully credulous account of a failed suicide bomber), it’s as though the power of his art enables Regé to coast, taking for granted that we too will see the beauty in all things, be they boring or bestial. In other words, everything is magical to Ron Regé, Jr., and this is his greatest weakness as a cartoonist as well.

Thankfully, it’s the strength that comes through in The Awake Field. And boy, does it ever. This slim, slick volume (I love its bendable, laminated cover) is perhaps the best argument yet for why Regé belongs at the forefront of the form. There’s the format, for starters: You’d have to turn to one of Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else issues to find a one-man anthology comic this exquisitely structured, with each strip or vignette leading perfectly to the next like a concept album. Right from the opening chapter, in which a series of bird’s-eye-view splash pages draw us through an open bedroom window to soar alongside a family of glowing spritelike beings through an explosion of vegetation and stony architecture beyond, Regé makes clear that his interest is in drawing you in and pushing you along. A handful of collaborations with his bandmate-slash-babymama Becky Stark, especially the perfectly touching “The Hazard Rocks” (adapted from a children’s poem by Stark called “The Stranger and the Mouse”) imbue the book with the hermetically-sealed, world-of-two joy that lovers who are truly on the same wavelength can produce. This blend of romance and mania is also present in “Finding Privacy in the Hypnotist’s Ballroom,” a rapturous “dance routine presented as 8 cartoon panels” that contains an unexpected belly laugh (a stand-alone shot of the dancer’s boyfriend standing there immobile after the dancer throws a towel on his head) and an homage to Magritte’s “Les Amants” (much less ambiguous in tone, of course).

The book draws to a close with a crescendoingly wordy succession of strips and panels centering on Regé and Stark’s belief in the imminent “invention” of peace on Earth. It’s genuinely moving–not because their recipe, involving as it does phrases like “impulses of consciousness in an infinite field of light,” stands much of a chance of success, but because for the duration of this comic Regé gives you a glimpse of what such a world looks like to him. It is, indeed, magical.


Quote of the day

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

“Nick,” she said, and smiled. She clasped one of his hands in both of hers. “I wanted to thank you again. No one wants to die all alone, do they?”

He shook his head violently, and she understood that this was not in agreement with her statement but rather in vehement contradiction of its premise.

“Yes I am,” she contradicted. “But never mind. There’s a dress in that closet, Nick. A white one. You’ll know it because of…” A fit of coughing interrupted her. When she had it under control, she finished, “…because of the lace. It’s the one I wore on the train when we left for our honeymoon. It still fits…or did. I suppose it will be a little big on me now–I’ve lost some weight–but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve always loved that dress. John and I went to Lanke Pontchartrain. It was the happiest two weeks of my life. John always made me happy. Will you remember the dress, Nick? It’s the one I want to be buried in. You wouldn’t be too embarrassed to…to dress me, would you?”

He swallowed hard and shook his head, looking at the coverlet. She must have sensed his mixture of sadness and discomfort, because she didn’t mention the dress again. She talked of other things instead–lightly, almost coquettishly. How she had won an elocution contest in high school, had gone on to the Arkansas state finals, and how her half-slip had fallen down and puddled around her shoes just as she reached the ringing climax of Shirley Jackson’s “The Daemon Lover.” About her sister, who had gone to Viet Nam as part of a Baptist mission group, and had come back with not one or two but three adopted children. About a camping trip she and John had taken three years ago, and how an ill-tempered moose in rut had forced them up a tree and kept them there all day.

“So we sat up there and spooned,” she said sleepily, “like a couple of high school kids in a balcony. My goodness, he was in a state when we got down. He was…we were…in love…very much in love…love is what moves the world, I’ve always thought…it is the only thing which allows men and women to stand in a world where gravity always seems to want to pull them down…bring them low…and make them crawl…we were…so much in love…”

She drowsed off and slept until he wakened her into fresh delirium by moving a curtain or perhaps just by treading on a squeaky board.

“John!” she screamed now, her voice choked with phlegm. “Oh, John, I’ll never get the hang of this dad-ratted stick shift! John, you got to help me! You got to help me…”

Her words trailed off in a long, rattling exhalation he could not hear but sensed all the same. A thin trickle of dark blood issued from one nostril. She fell back on the pillow, and her head snapped back and forth once, twice, there times, as if she had made some kind of vital decision and the answer was negative.

Then she was still.

–Stephen King, The Stand


Lost thoughts

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

SPOILERS ON THE MARCH

* The one-two punch of 9/11 and The DaVinci Code really did a number on my longstanding love of arcane conspiracy-theory stuff, but apparently that was nothing a crazy old British lady using a Foucault’s Pendulum to find a hidden magic island in a secret chamber beneath a church decorated with a painting of Doubting Thomas couldn’t fix.

* Speaking of: must be the season of the infodump.

* Recreating the opening of the pilot episode reminded me how brilliant the opening of the pilot episode was. I remember going to a screening of that thing at the San Diego Comic Con simply because Dominic Monaghan was going to be there and The Missus had a crush on him–we had no idea what to expect, and frankly we weren’t expecting much. (“From the creator of Alias“–whoopedy-dee). Then bam, a handsome man in a suit wakes up in the jungle, with no clue where he was or how he got there (at least at first). That, of course, is exactly how the audience felt. Sucked in from the get-go.

* Why do they keep having characters ask Ben questions? Nine times out of ten, he’s lying, as the show itself pointed out tonight. It’s not just a problem for his fellow characters, it’s a problem for the viewers, since every thirty-second q&a with Ben is a total waste of time beyond the “it’s fun to watch Michael Emerson act” factor (which I admit is pretty high).

* There’s something about this episode I can’t quite put my finger on, something about the pacing. I want to say…the pacing felt like a series premiere, but the the material felt like a season finale? Like, it was slightly laconic, easing you into what was going on the way an introductory episode was, but everything that was happening had been built up to for a couple years now the way a finale would be? It was an odd viewing experience. I liked it.

* Interesting color scheme at times, too–unusual for Lost. I really liked that blue light on Jack’s face in the airport bar, for example.

* There was something profoundly fucked up about all of these people, except Desmond, risking the lives of everyone else on that plane in order to save them and their friends, or give their lives a sense of purpose, or whatever. (Hurley at least tried, but dude, the stewardesses are fucked regardless. And Jack, seems like you asked about the other people on the plane a wee bit too late, considering you were already in the air, dickhead.) There’s two ways of looking at this, I suppose: One is that the writers ignored this and want you to ignore it too, except in the very broad “Hurley is good because he cares, Ben is bad because he doesn’t, Jack is basically good but kind of a dick because he only sort of cares” strokes they painted it with. The other is that the writers know it and want you to know it too, that they want to convey that all these people are profoundly damaged and selfish.

* Well, how about this, the show coughs up some mysteries we’ll have to learn about in flashbacks, Season One style! How did Hurley find out about the flight, why was Sayid under arrest, what happened to Ben down by the docks (okay, that one’s not so big a mystery, but they’ll still need to fill in the gap), what happened to Aaron, etc. I dig it.

* I also dig Evangeline Lily’s tore-up-from-the-floor-up performance in this episode. I definitely believed that whatever happened to her and Aaron was rough. That big open-mouthed kiss was sexy, too, though I kind of think the unexplained disappearance of a child would be a mood-killer for me.

* It’s a little wonky to cook up all this pseudoscience with electromagnetism and equations on the one hand, then insist upon something as manifestly unscientific as “recreating the conditions of the original trip to the Island” just by assembling five of the flight’s original 128 passengers, plus a dead guy in another dead guy’s shoes.

* Seems like the “next week on Lost” blew a little too much information, no? Too much for my tastes anyway.

* Also seems like we’re getting some new cast members in the form of Sayid’s handler and “my condolences” guy.

* I don’t care how easy it was to see Frank Lapidus’s return coming, it still put a mile-wide grin on my face.

* Indeed, I found myself chuckling throughout the episode, in honor of a job well done.