Saturday, July 3, 2010

...and the American Way!

Happy pre-Fourth of July!

editor's note: I started gathering these images a while back, but our good friend Ransom beat me to the Independence Day Superman post. So, yeah, you're going to see some of these same images twice. That Ransom... sometimes he comes up with great ideas, too...

It will surprise many that I don't especially identify Superman with Mom, Baseball and Apple Pie. The comics and movies of Superman have long been intergalactic/ pan-dimensional in scope. So its hard to imagine a guy with an astronaut's view of Earth deciding borders mean a whole lot when push comes to shove.

But... Superman is often held up as a Red Blooded American. Heck, both George Reeves' and Christopher Reeve's portrayals of Superman made no bones about Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Superman, by the way, has a really great international fanbase. I'm always impressed how many folks from all over the world wind up on the Superman Homepage, on Superman facebook pages, etc... Perhaps Superman's global/ pan-galactic view of assisting all of humanity is a reflection of what a flag waving American can and should be. And, at the end of the day, when we're doing things right, its the best we can do when we do set foot on the soil of other lands. Heck, The Signal Watch's own KareBear is set for another trip to Kenya to help distribute glasses to our friends on the far side of Spaceship Earth. That sounds like something maybe we should consider being a good American.

So let's hope us Americans can be as awesome of an American as Superman. Or KareBear.

Now, let's have a look at Superman doing a bit of jingoistic flag waving.

From the upcoming run on Superman

Seriously. This weird dude punched Superman so hard he wound up back in 1776. And it was awesome.

This looks like the start of the world's nuttiest musical.

You likely don't look quite this awesome with a flag.

Well, Cap might look exactly that awesome with a flag.

Even eagles want to hang out when Superman gets patriotic

Truth, Justice... all that stuff.

That eagle is back...

This is the first Superman comic I recall ever buying.

The Justice Society knows how to have a Fourth of July party...

Now he's just showing off.

There was a time when it seemed perfectly reasonable that Superman would share his secret identity with the President.

Of course, Kennedy was hanging out with a lot of comic characters back in the day.

Just be glad that rocket landed in Kansas and not Mother Russia.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Short Break

I have some stuff that needs doing, and so will disappear from blogging for a short while.

for example, this bottle is not going to empty itself

A pre-programmed post or two will appear during this down time. Please amuse yourself in my absence.

I could look so sweet...

Sometimes Jamie says I have too many things with the Superman shield emblazoned upon them. What Jamie doesn't really know is what a small percentage of the stuff I could be picking up. Especially when it comes to apparel.

But then one ponders what designers seem to want to do with the Superman logo when they can apply it to "street" or "urban" wear. Sometimes jackets make Superman cry.

But maybe I'm wrong... maybe a jacket like this could really turn things around for me...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Canada Day, Simon!

Yes, today marks the merging of the British colonies in 1867 to form the power we now know as CANADA!!! Happy Canada Day, ya'll!

Our own Signal Corps Captain, Simon, is a maple leaf loving son of a moose. He's nuts for hockey, is unfailingly polite, knows a whole lot about Terry Fox, and pays for everything in Loonies. He is distinctly Canadian.

So let's help him celebrate Canada Day with the finest things Canada has shared with their belligerent jerk neighbors to the south.

Before moving to Cleveland, Superman co-creator Joe Shuster was from Toronto, Ontario. That "American Way" bit was added 15-20 years after the character first appeared.

Real Life Catwoman Kind of Hilarious

Apparently there's a real life Catwoman running around New York. She's not exactly a criminal mastermind, but you have to appreciate her moxie. She walks into a store wearing a kitty mask, gives the clerk a note, they give her cash, she leaves.

Read here. But, mostly here.

Here's the video.

You kind of have to imagine how much having Batman around would escalate this whole situation. Here, the clerk is out $86. In Gotham, the windows would be smashed, the displays destroyed, and two bystanders somehow killed.

Batman is still kind of awesome, though.

What's Opera, Doc? - Live Action?

I consider it a great tragedy that Bugs Bunny is no longer part of the television landscape. Bugs represented the great tradition of the wiseacre, keenly aware of the absurdity of his own situation and the people/ water fowl who had created that situation, and who responded with intentional absurdity.

These kids today with their Pokemons and their Hannah Montanas... No love of mayhem in their funny business, and the subversion is mostly sly nods to the adults who might be watching. No appreciation for the well crafted gag, these kids.

Like everyone else born between, oh.... 1950 and 1985, my first exposure to opera came from Bugs Bunny. Primarily "What's Opera, Doc?" (the "I Killed the Wabbit" one), and the always classic "Rabbit of Seville".

Anyhow, I stumbled upon this live action take on "What's Opera, Doc?". It made me laugh.

The original, for comparison:

Dang, man. That's a heck of a great cartoon.

Signal Watch Watching: Adventure Time

I am beginning to notice a curious thread when I discuss shows that I like, and that's "to describe the show would not do it justice, nor would it explain the appeal".

I've caught a few episodes of Cartoon Network's new show, Adventure Time, and it's a new favorite.

No, I do not know why Finn wears the hat with ears.

I'm going to do this, anyway...

The show is about a kid named Finn who lives in a sort of all-purpose fantasy land with fairies, dragons, robots, talking mountains, burly men, penguins, etc... He's partnered with a talking dog named Jake who seems to be able to change shape and stretch. The pair often have to deal with an Ice King who really, really likes kidnapping princesses.

But, none of that is what makes the show entertaining. It's sort of the utter disregard for a straight narrative in each 10 minute chunk, or even a straight line of thought.

Anyhow, recommended.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mysterious M

For the wife of our own Randy, The Mysterious M: Happy Birthday. Today you are getting your favorite things.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wonder Woman's (temporary) New Costume

This week Wonder Woman will launch a new storyline, and, frankly, I think it sounds kind of interesting. It's a sort of alternate timeline thing, so Diana is getting a different costume.

Anyway, I don't love the new costume. It's... kinda 90's-ish (a jacket with the sleeves rolled up?). But I am looking forward to the story.

If they were going to think of something to actually put Wonder Woman in something more substantial than the classic swimsuit, I would think something a bit more Greek Armor-ish. But, you know, from what they're saying about the story, this isn't totally crazy. I just like WW in something a little more classic. Gimme some red boots, people.

Read more here.

edit update: DC is blowing some smoke about how this change is permanent, but... we'll see. I still think this is story related, and they can change back when they want.

Back in the 1970's, DC dropped her usual outfit for an Emma Peel (of the Brit spy show, The Avengers) style approach. They also stripped away her powers and turned her into a master of karate.

In some ways, seeing Diana Prince shooting down Reds in an airplane with a machine gun is totally awesome

The stories are kind of interesting, but its just not Wonder Woman. And its considered one of DC's most obvious missteps as a company. And they got called out by Gloria Steinem, herself, for the change.

But beating up Lois Lane? Hilarious. Also, Superman is an insufferable jerk.

She's clearly got her powers and usual gadgets in the new design, which will keep some happy, but I'd expect this isn't the last word on the outfit. And certainly the new continuity introduced doesn't seem like a permanent change.

Light Blogging Ahead: Searchers/ Strange Brew

Scheduled to go see "The Searchers" Tuesday night at 7:00 and might do "Shane" afterward. Thursday I'm headed to The Alamo on South Lamar to go see "Strange Brew". That's right. You heard me.

take off, you hosers

So, anyway, you're welcome to join me at any of the above if you're around.

But I don't want to hear any noise about a lack of posting.

The Curious Case of Tom Cruise and The Fall of the Star System

editor's note: First, I want to apologize to Jim Carrey. I didn't mean to make an example of him in so many cases.

An oddity of film school turns out that you can wind up sitting through lectures on stuff like "The Star System". It's kind of goofy to study something anyone who has ever had an Entertainment Weekly subscription basically gets, and you can point out a million logical fallacies around the concept, but you're talking about an industry that thinks the logical lesson to learn if a documentary about penguins is a surprise hit is to flood the market with penguin movies for two years because PENGUINS ARE HOT!!!

The Star System is basically what you might think: Hollywood believes that people will pay big money to see a particular actor, no matter what junk they put on screen. And, in the 1990's, this certainly seemed to be true. Sure, we were seeing the end of the Action Star era, where guys like myself didn't really care what the plot was to the latest Schwarzenegger movie, all we knew was that Arnie in a movie meant fireballs and mayhem, and that was worth $6.00.*

But the 90's also saw the rise of folks like Julia Roberts commanding vast salaries and Jim Carrey taking down a whole studio when they agreed to pay him $20 million for the less-than-hit, The Cable Guy.

Because the movie industry seems to base decisions upon fear and a train of logic that's a circular roller coaster, the studios loved the star system. No more guessing whether a story, effects, marketing or other factors would draw in an audience. Just point a camera at Jim Carrey mugging and flailing, and then print yourself some money.

The idea was, of course, horrendously flawed. It basically suggested that audiences were looking to see the same actor/ character in film after film. But, you also had stars taking on vanity projects that nobody wanted to see (any non-comedy project by Jim Carrey**), and Hollywood trying to create insta-stars (see: the tragic rise and fall of Alicia Silverstone).

By 2002, things were already starting to get a little shaky. Then, movies like Spider-Man, which featured semi-known actors like Tobey Maguire were suddenly raking in lots and lots of money and the star system started to give way to "what existing commodity can we adapt?" and who was actually playing The A-Team or Ghost Rider really didn't matter so much. Studios would rather try to sort out what's the next Spider-Man and keep the dough in their own pockets rather than give it to some unpredictable talent. That said, The Matrix caused some confusion and Keanu Reeves was considered for virtually any role he liked for a brief while there.

If I had to guess, kids under 18 might go see a movie based upon the talent, but these days, it seems they're mostly following Hannah Montana from TV to the movies (to paying thousands for live show tickets). But I'm guessing the older than high school set is far more likely to follow concepts, rather than "stars". After all, in the age where everyone is one good YouTube clip away from being semi-famous as "the guy who falls off the roof", how big of a deal can many of the "stars" really seem to be? Tom Cruise is the couch jumping guy. He's in the same category as the "Chocolate Rain" fellow. Why would you pay for that? And success in one film doesn't necessarily translate (see Kristen Stewart's box office in Twilight versus The Runaways).

So what the hell is going on that Hollywood can't seem to let go of Tom Cruise? And why do articles keep appearing with the writers fake-surprised that Cruise didn't have a boffo opening weekend in his 90's-looking, by the book action flick (Jesus, Tom. Give us a robot or something we can look at.)?***

From the amount of coverage Cruise and folks like Angelina Jolie get in the tabloids, you'd assume that the projects these people worked on had much higher viewership and ticket sales. But that certainly doesn't appear to be the case (name two people you know who are looking forward to Jolie's summer film, Salt.) These actors are in some bizarre twilight fame, where they can move tabloids, but nobody actually cares about their day job.

Fame is ephemeral. The stars of yesterday are rarely the same folks people line up to see today. And, honestly, unless you're one of a very select club (let's call it The Sean Connery Club), most stars weren't able to command box office until they chose to retire or wind things down. See: Sunset Boulevard. Does the machine need to believe it can control itself enough that it so desperately wants for Cruise to continue to reign the box office after doing so since I was in middle school?

At some point the gradual decline of popularity hits everyone in Hollywood. So why the ink over Cruise's flop?

And at what point do you quit writing articles asking why people aren't going to see a movie by a guy who people kind of quit going to see in movies before the whole couch incident? And maybe start asking why you'd spend money on a guy who hasn't had a big hit since Mission Impossible II in 2000?****

Like everyone else, I absolutely have actors I like. The presence of one of these trusted actors in a movie will help get me in the door much more than having no idea what to expect out of an actor I've never heard of, or seeing an actor who has built up a resume of work I'm no longer willing to take a chance on (Robin Williams). And I can sort of guess that a movie is less likely to suck if Catherine Keener is going to appear rather than, say, Paris Hilton. But I am not rushing to see a Keener movie just because she's in it. And I'd suspect that's largely true of how things operate for most folks these days.

Somehow, like all bubble economies, the star system bubble burst. And trying to put Tom Cruise back up on the wall seems like the scrambling of a part of the decaying Hollywood that (a) is unwilling to let go of a system that sorta used to work, and (b) has absolutely no idea why people go to the movies in 2010.***** But why can't the press quit asking questions to which we know the answer? Or is it that they really want to know: what happened to the star system?

It would seem that people just no longer care if they see a movie featuring Tom Cruise. There's nothing in the water. The guy had a good run. We saw his range. We even sort of laughed at his crazy movie producer schtick in Tropic Thunder (it was funny but... don't milk it, Tom). It's okay. At some point we quit caring much if all kinds of actors were in movies (have you seen what Harrison Ford is willing to do these days? Yeesh.). Go gracefully, sir. To a generation of people, you were cool in Top Gun, and then, you know, okay in other stuff, for, like, 20 years.

Hollywood: Please stop trying to save Tom Cruise's career. He is done. I'm sorry. That's how it is.****** And your little ads suggesting that everything else this summer was dumb kid stuff, but Tom Cruise doing that "let's win over the Moms" smile and riding on the hood of a car is for adults, suggesting this thing is classier than A-Team? It's not. And @#%$ you.

I am sure Tom Cruise a nice man when he isn't making a jack ass of himself to Matt Lauer, but if he can't live with what he has now, I can only shrug. Perhaps it is time for Mr. Cruise to live through the narrative of Top Gun/ Days of Thunder/ Cocktail. He was the best he was at what he did, but now he's fallen on hard times. Maybe hitting bottom will make him realize what's important and propel him into winning the big jet fight/ car race/ booze slinging that is making it in Hollywood.

*No, seriously. I saw everything I could starring Arnie until I had to admit that, despite the addition of Vanessa Williams, Eraser had broken me. (I have even seen Jingle All the Way, a movie so oddly awful it passes into that very special category of Christmas Movies of the Damned.)

** yes, Eternal Sunshine is good, but compare its take to Liar, Liar. People want to see the wacky.

***And is it just me, or do you get the same feeling looking at this movie that you did when you saw the trailer for Six Days, Seven Nights? Or, worse, this summer's Ashton Kutcher/ Katherine Heigel action vehicle, Killers. Both movies hoping that we really, really want to see these actors, when... not so much.

****Upon reflection, its not too hard to guess that Cruise was following some bad advice on how to rebuild his career when he went haywire on Oprah. It just went very, very badly.

*****to see crazy crap that TV shows can't afford to do.

******he was technically done about ten minutes into "The Last Samurai".

Monday, June 28, 2010

Point Blank vs. The Hunter

Because I think Darwyn Cooke is a good drawer, a while back I picked up his graphic novel adaptation of Richard Stark's (aka: Donald Westlake's) crime thriller The Hunter.

ironically, the cover image of the novel is stolen from a scene in the movie The Big Combo. Great movie, by the way.

I didn't know anything about The Hunter other than that people seemed pretty keen about Westlake's work, and I picked up on the fact that the Parker books seemed to have a cult following.

The first installment in the Parker series is a fairly slim pulp read, a form of book you don't see much anymore, but that used to be a fairly popular consumer product. A lot of books like this used to get published, and every once in a while something would work better than expected, and you could wind up with the next Doc Savage, The Shadow or other pulp favorite on your hands.

Anyway, long story short, I was blown away by Darwyn Cooke's adaptation, and convinced I'd need to read the actual book. Long story short, I did read the book, and it was just as good on a second read, even without the power of Cooke's illustrations.

It's also notable that Cooke stuck as close as possible to the actual novel as possible, meaning that the adaptation is certainly its own entity in a way, but it also had the approval of Westlake who had previously allowed the story of The Hunter to be sold and adapted at least twice before that I know of, but had required that Parker's name be changed in both instances.

You can read about the adaptation and see pages here.

I'd not seen either filmic adaptation, Mel Gibson's Payback or the Boorman directed, Lee Marvin starring Point Blank, and so decided to check out a Boorman movie before I broke my self-imposed Mel Gibson hiatus (excluding Mad Max films).

If you were going to cast Walker (as he's named in Point Blank), Marvin is as good a fit as you were likely to get in 1967. And, John Boorman as good a director. That's high praise, by the way.

I'm not clear on whether Westlake asked that Parker's name be changed before or after reading the script, but I'm sort of glad that Westlake did so. Parker can remain Parker, and Point Blank is not Parker's story from The Hunter. They changed just enough details, and the studio didn't know how to tell the story without adding in a girl and dialing down Parker's anti-social/ sociopathic character.

a scene from Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptation of The Hunter. I think Dickinson's character was an expansion on this character.

That said, Point Blank is a great piece of that span of cinema that lasted from the mid-60's to almost 1980. For a bit there, they were actually following the "show, don't tell" school of thought when it came to storytelling. That whole concept was pretty much chucked by the time Arnie was a major star and you had to hear about how awesome "Dutch" or "John McLargehuge" from his colleagues before Arnie had so much as an entrance.

This movie is about a hand, a gun, Lee Marvin's head , a tiny Angie Dickinson and the Doppler Effect.

In some ways, Marvin's portrayal of Walker must have been a bit of a surprise to audiences used to a hero rather than following a protagonist. As in the actual two Parker books I've read (waiting on the third, btw), Parker is more of a protagonist rather than anybody's ideal of a "hero". He's just the perspective we're following the story through. So, when we see Walker beat the holy hell out of a couple of guys, shoot before asking and accidentally send a key character to his doom... its not with any sense of moral vindication, false or otherwise. That's just what's going to happen with Walker.

While I'm a huge fan of characters like Superman and think part of what makes Superman nifty is his conviction to a higher moral ideal, its just as fascinating to see a character just as fully realized who has a completely different steering mechanism in place, and not one made of false bravado or BS machismo.

Anyhow, I actually highly recommend Point Blank as a movie, and am choosing to think of it as a separate entity from its source material. As a stand alone movie, Point Blank is a good, gritty crime drama.

An emotional and primitive man? They kinda did take a different direction from The Hunter.

I'm so out of the loop, I feel a bit awkward talking about direction, but I do like how the film hangs together, so I suppose Boorman did a pretty darn good job. The tension is right, and while I felt the urgency of Walker's hunt was a bit different from Parker's, it's pretty strong stuff. And you have to love some of the opening exposition, and how that's put together.

Also, Angie Dickinson.

Dickinson could have been just eye-candy (and how!), but her part, which is mostly made up for the movie and seems loosely based on a minor character in the book, is an interesting addition, and Dickinson is given some interesting scenes. It's an odd departure as it dilutes Parker's reflections on Lynne from the book, and gives him a new point of interest, which is one of those places where you realize the filmmakers were just going to make their own movie.

Dickinson and Marvin worry about crime during the swinging sixties

Anyhow, recommended. Check it out.