Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things I am up to that will ruin my Street Cred

1) This week, I watched The Princess and the Frog

and I really liked it. It was super cute and one of the best Disney animated movies in 10 years or so. That said, I haven't seen Tangled, but I think that Princess and the Frog made it look like Disney is back on trajectory to get somewhere near their 80's/90's hey-day that started with The Little Mermaid.

The music was catchy, they didn't depend on celebrity voices, and they didn't go for all the post-Robin Williams wackiness that eventually made Disney movies a real slog to get through. And whomever was responsible for the character of Charlotte deserves a slow clap. That was brilliant.

2) Jamie and I took her parents to see The Nutcracker

Not just going to a ballet, but to a family/ children's show with an audience at least 30% comprised of little girls in holiday dresses.

Look, the ballet was lovely, and I will fight you if you say otherwise. And I am pretty sure every one of the lead male dancers could beat me up with one leg tied behind their back.

The craziest part: the kids in the audience were so good. It was amazing. Kids can't sit through pretty much any movie, no matter how much ADHD-friendly fodder is thrown their way, but throw a tutu and slippers on some dancers and the kids, apparently, will totally will sit through a 2 hour ballet where nobody talks.

Who knew?

3) Responsibly done with my Christmas shopping

And I only did a small portion of it online. No, you aren't getting anything, so don't ask, Paul and/ or Randy.

4) Keep tuning into those sequel "Rudolph" things on ABC Family

To my credit, I never make it more than five minutes.

Trololololo! Chlidren's choir makes Christmas Magic/ Nightmare Fuel

People, I have no idea...

but I do like that V, Hilary Clinton and Superman are all in the choir.

This is some of what my brother does for a living

Hey!  I always like to trumpet the accomplishments of our SignalCorps.

It is with great pleasure that I point to this article in the Austin American-Statesman which is discussing the newly formed Veteran's Court for Travis County here in Texas.

Now, Jason isn't mentioned as the journalists seem to have interviewed the chief prosecutor for Travis County, but he's doing a lot of the day-to-day work for the prosecutor's office.  I very much like the idea behind a court centered around rehabilitation in general, but particularly for our veterans. 

So, yeah, good on Jason for being a part of this one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

So help me, this is the actual letter we sent out in cards to family this year

Merry Christmas to Our Friends and Family,

I hope 2010 has found you well. We’ve had a fine year, but an unremarkable year. Ryan is in the same job and continues to enjoy working at the Texas Digital Library, Jamie remains healthy and happy, and, frankly, if you check last year’s letter, there’s not much to update. Our two dogs mostly stick to dog-type activities, and Jeff the Cat remains, as always, Jeff the Cat.

None of that, of course, is terribly exciting. So, this year we’re providing a fictional accounting of 2010:

We were of course all thrilled when, this year, Jamie became the first woman alive to partake in a jet-pack powered flight across the length of the Ural Mountains. Many didn’t believe that Jamie had the spirit or determination, but those people didn’t know about all of the months of hard work that went into planning the flight, let alone the work she had done with her design team to perfect her “rocket wing”. 

Jamie is happy to keep the dream alive of the jetpack becoming as common as Hyundais. We’re currently considering test flights over the Grand Canyon or Mt. Fuji. Next steps will likely be determined by sponsorships and international laws regarding air space.

Early in July, Ryan was lucky enough to participate in a study at the University of Texas in which there was a terrible and unpredictable mishap that sent him spiraling through time and space. We’re glad to say that Ryan returned to the present, none the worse for wear. Legally, we’re not allowed to discuss much more, but we know the researchers are still working on their publications and we look forward to the article appearing in The Journal of Unreproducible Results. Ryan is mostly looking at his little mishap in the lab as one big summer adventure and hopes to volunteer again next year.

As the year draws to a close, we look back on all of our adventures, from the Gorilla issue we had in the yard, to the ghost of Benjamin Franklin appearing in our coat closet, and can be grateful for our friends, our family, stable livelihood, good health and the surprisingly flexible laws of physics.

Happy Holidays,

Ryan and Jamie

"Santa with Muscles" is one of the worst movies I've ever seen, holiday or otherwise

And, yes, I've seen it. Which is why The Dug and I are bad for each other.

I only ask that you watch the trailer and feel a small part of you die inside.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I plan to see True Grit

I suppose this should come as no surprise, but I'm quite excited to see the upcoming movie True Grit.

I have never seen the original, although I actually am a bit of a John Wayne movie fan.  I have seen about 80 - 90% of the Coen Bros. output, and only once have I really felt like I didn't get something out of the movie.  I'm a self-confessed Matt Damon fan, and I trust both Brolin and Bridges.

The Coens shot part of the movie in Central Texas (although from the terrain and snow seen in portions of the trailer, I can assure you, a good portion of the film was also most certainly not shot in these parts).  And while I understand some people say they don't like "westerns", its a genre that transcends itself every time someone decides not to settle for making a B-picture.

But I will go ahead and guess that I'm preaching to the choir talking to you guys.  I suspect that the same sized audience (or larger) that turned up for No Country for Old Men (one of my favorite movies of the past few years) is going to turn out for this one, too.  And I suspect a lot of you are planning to see this one.

It does remind me, though...  once again the distributors and studios are dumping movies I'd likely go see at a fairly busy time of the year.  I get that its closer to Oscar voting season, but... I kind of have stuff going on right now, and getting the family together to go see Black Swan doesn't sound like a scenario that's going to formulate in too many households (sure, I hope to make time to get out and see it - but, realistically, likely won't make it.).

The effect,  I have to assume, is that accountants look at the numbers for a "type" of movie and declare it can't be greenlit because it didn't do as well as, say, Bevery Hills Chihuahua might have in December.  Which means critics beat their breast and wag their finger at the public, and we get a trend where we see a lot more talking dog movies and a lot fewer movies that make a good case for getting out to the theater for people over 30.

That's a rant and a tangent, but it also points out that, heck yeah, I'm making time to go see True Grit.  And then I'm going to watch the original to see how they stack up.

Mr. Walls ate a lot of McRibs

For over two decades, I have had the terrific pleasure of having been acquainted with Mr. Trey Walls.  I do not say this lightly, but Trey is, possibly, one of the most fascinating people on Earth.  He built a wet bar in his bedroom (for convenience, one supposes), he is the proprietor of Texas' foremost Spice Girls fansite, and he never does anything in half-measures.

Today I received this email from Mr. Walls:

This season saw me reach a goal of 50 McRibs eaten.  I cannot say I have enjoyed the last 15, but I was set on reaching 50 and with that I am announcing my retirement from eating McRibs.  I have been to the promised land and I have seen the mountain top!  I feel that there is nothing left to accomplish with this sandwich.  I am not against doing guest eatings with my dear friends, but am leaving the competitive eating world after 3 straight championships with (name of Trey's workplace).
2008 - 37
2009 - 33 (short season)
2010 - 50
Eat well my friends! 
For those of you who do not know:  The McRib is a delicious sandwich sold at McDonald's that is not a permanent fixture on the menu.  It usually appears in Texas right around the start of the holiday season, and disappears immediately afterward.  You cannot take the McRib for granted.  And you must respect it, for it is unkind to the GI tract of most mortals.

As someone who has only ever eaten 5 of these delectable sandwiches in a year (and who swore off them after last year's 3-sandwiches-in-one-sitting debacle, but went ahead and got one this year, anyway), I can only tip my hat.

I plan to submit an email interview to Trey.  If you have any questions you'd like to ask, submit them now!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Old, Cranky Comics Fan 2: The Ambivalenting

I know I am getting old in the world of comic fans.  I'm passing through some veil that makes me the old guy wandering the aisles of the comic shop that the younger readers look at with an odd mix of pity and curiosity. 

There's a certain... dustiness to me as a comic reader.  I'm not as jazzed by particular artists or movements in comics as those 10 years my junior.  I'm as much or more interested in the nostalgia factor of the whole enterprise as I am with the latest, greatest storyline from the Big 2.  Heck, I've enough insight to trade-wait on DC's current big push with Brightest Day, knowing its okay if I miss out on the "real time" experience of keeping up.  Oh, I still pick up new issues of Superman series.  But... I mean, come on...  its SUPERMAN.

Even my nostalgia is getting old. 

There's been an interesting shift as the 20-somethings have done what they're supposed to do and replace the last batch of 20-somethings who woke up and found themselves 30 and 40-somethings.  These fans don't know a world without Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  They were kids when they saw The Matrix or The Phantom Menace.  They have nostalgia for things like MegaMan (which I guess was a popular video game) and ask questions like "when did Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers start to suck?" without a hint of irony, and which I can only stare at, goggle-eyed.  And they love Street Fighter.  Like...  they love the characters from that kind of idiot-simple video game, as if they did anything but punch and kick, and  which...  Street Fighter?*

In comics, they actually really have an affection for the 1990's.  They like the Spider-Man story of The Clone Saga, and really don't get why Vertigo might have been the big deal it was when DC created the imprint (for which I was 18 and not so sure about comics anymore, and then...  thank you, Karen Berger). 

Its a generation that can't visualize comics fandom as less than some sort of co-optive ownership.  And whether its reading manga or American comics, many read their comics for free online from illegal scans, which is considered a perfectly legitimate way of enjoying your favorite creators.**  Somedays the comics internet seems like an endless game of looking at images of superheroes redrawn as anything from dinosaurs to basic iconic components or colors.

Reviews and criticism are increasingly less a part of the landscape, and the self-deprecating admission of their internet forebears that they were just suckers for certain characters, etc... by insisting certain characters, etc...  were always "awesome" has come to take the place of anything resembling online discussion.  Writer Brian Michael Bendis wasn't actually wrong when he said that there isn't much out there for longform comics discussion.  The geeks got upset because, apparently, putting up tumblr posts declaring ironically cool hero of the week awesome isn't longform criticism, and they didn't quite get that.  And The Comics Journal guys got wound up because it means (a) no, really, nobody is reading us anymore so much that bendis forgot about us, and (b) if every article you publish for fifteen years is about how comics that actually sell suck and all this hip indie stuff or stuff that's impossibly hard to get due to age or limited availability or price is awesome...  sooner or later you've niched yourself into irrelevancy, then... 

yeah.  You know, I thought we had a shot at that back when I wrote at Comic Fodder, but I'll be honest.  (a) Its not so much fun tow rite term papers on superhero comics every week as you'd think, and (b) nobody cares, so you might as well have fun by scanning in images of the Avengers as dinosaurs.

The kids pick up old battles as new ones, because that's what you do.  And they assume nobody ever noticed the outrages of society, and that if you're not furious, too, you didn't notice...  because that's what you do.   I'm glad they're doing it, and I'm glad nothing is ever settled in comics, just as its never really settled in the world.  A fresh batch of female readers outraged at the depiction of women in comics is a good thing.  Readers demanding prices stabilize to whatever price they were when they started reading is also good (and voting with your wallet is even better, but be prepared for the return to quality of presentation on paper what it was when I started reading comics.  Don't worry, you'll barely notice it.). 

The thing is, I don't really care so much.  I click on a lot fewer things online these days, just as I pick up a lot fewer comics.  I'm 35, soon to be 36.  I think I've figured out what works for me and what doesn't.  I'm imminently more aware of my complete lack of relevance as a guy with a keyboard and an opinion on comics than I was 5 years ago. 

And in some ways I'm having more fun with comics than I have in a while.  In some ways, less.  The rush of "oh, gosh, Wednesday!" isn't a part of my life, the occasional and often invigorating bouts of internet-based debate have dried up, but I think that was something that almost distracted me from enjoying comics the way I did when I was a kid.

I don't know how many comic readers were kids like me, I've genuinely no idea.  I read and traded comics with friends for maybe two years, and that ended by high school.  Since then, its been a fairly solitary thing.  At 35, I still read a lot of stuff I don't talk about here, both comics and stuff about comics.  Its never been a terribly social experience no matter how much I've tried to make it so from this and other sites.  Certainly the friends I see in person here in town really don't care about comics at all (although they're keenly aware of both my love of comics and especially Superman, and occasionally get more of an answer than they bargained for when they ask a question).  And that's sort of a standard operating procedure with which I'm very comfortable because, heck, its always been that way. 

I simply do not expect anybody else to give a flip about musty, old Jimmy Olsen comics.

Sure, I'd like more longform comics discussion online.  Sure, I'd like to not feel ancient when I see somebody waxing rhapsodic about the MegaMan cartoon or video game rather than pondering health PSA's on the Super Friends, which is something I could understand. 

But mostly I'm just sort of trying to understand my position in this odd little hobby.  I guess in many ways, since I underwent a sea change in my comics buying and spending habits over the summer, the return of this blog, and, sincerely, my utter shock at seeing 20-somethings sort of shrug off The Dark Knight Returns this summer, I've been trying to sort things out.

Thank you for bearing with me on this post.  Its been a long time brewing, in many ways.

*and not the Jackie Chan movie of the same name
**I hear nightmare stories about Manga "scanlations" and how the audience doesn't understand that they're killing the American manga market while simultaneously being a vocal fanbase who likes to give publishers lots of grief

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I got nothin'

Ms. Hendricks and Ms. Moss will have to fill in for me.

Liu Xiaobo

Editor's note:  This post is a repost from Steve Harms' website, published with permission by the author.

We talk about comics, TV and movies a lot here, and in those media, the term "hero" is thrown around as if it means something.  Xiaobo is a reminder of what true heroism can look like, an image that bears all too little relation to dreams of revenge and glory that we usually use as our common image of "hero".

Like most Americans, prior to last week's Nobel Prize ceremony, I was unaware of Liu Xiaobo.  Like most Americans, as China has blazed a path into a position as a power player in the 21st Century, I often forget about the endemic human rights violations and extreme censorship that the Chinese government employs on a routine basis.

Below is Steven's post and Xiaobo's acceptance statement.

Liu Xiaobo, Chinese dissident and anti-party activist received the Nobel Peace Prize on the 10th of this month.

In his acceptance address, Liu espouses the usual high-minded views that one would associate with a Nobel-winning dissident: free expression is a right of all men, democratic reform is coming to China, social diversity is better than a master-planned autocracy, etc.

What was most surprising to me was the poetic description of his love for his wife:
I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.

ed.  You can read the full transcript here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Middle School Orchestra, Laff with The Dug, Lois Lane, Austin Superman!

Went to a show

So I have a new activity for you people, and I cannot recommend it enough:

Sixth grade beginning orchestra Christmas concerts.

So, this evening I went to my cousin's daughter's orchestra concert, and she's in the mid-tier orchestra (7th and 8th graders).  And, you know, bully for them.  They played a few songs as well as you'd expect a Middle School mid-tier orchestra to play.  They played a song called "Stonehenge" that is reportedly not part of the Conan movie soundtrack, but so help me...  I was waiting for the kids to crush their enemies, to drive them before you and to hear the lamentations of the women.

The sixth graders...  ah....  now there's a small bit of tragi-comedy right there.  There's truly something magical that happens when 80 kids who've never picked up an instrument play "Ode to Joy". 

Support The Dug, spend less than a buck, hear jokes.  Also, I had a joke in there, too

So, as you may know, Corpsman Dug, Jamie's brother, is part of Team Swizzlebeef, a Riff-Trax internet sensation!

Basically, some of the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 have an online gig, and in addition to them adding commentary tracks to movies (new movies!  and the only way to watch a Twilight movie), shorts, etc...  they support a community effort where their fans can send in videos.  So, The Dug and Co. formed Team Swizzlebeef.

If you have it in for Dug, and right now are thinking "but The League, what does this have to do with YOU?"  Rightly asked, I say.

Well, friends, I wrote a gag or two that appears on the video.  I won't tell you which ones, because, frankly, I only remembered one of them.  Booze and time have washed away the rest.  Twitter-Pal JenniferSF also contributed some gags.  Which makes me want to tell Dug:  Drop Fennelly.  He's dead weight.  Hire ME.

You can preview the video and download from this link.

There's a Twitter Campaign for a Lois Lane comic series

If DC cares, I would very much give a Lois Lane book a shot.  I think there's so much potential for a book about a hardcore Journalist in the DCU, in Metropolis and around the world...  Give Lois something to do that can let her live up to her status as household name.

Of course, the book can only be as good as the writer, but DC has a pretty good stable, and I imagine some of those folks would love to write a book that's not strictly about weirdos in capes fighting in space.

Chris Roberson, local Austin-guy, is taking over Superman comics in the near future

Apparently local Austin comic and sci-fi scribe Chris Roberson is taking over writing duties from JMS on Superman.  My comic reading is much less than it was, so I can't say I'm terribly familiar with Roberson's work, but he's got several novels out, and he's responsible for a few comics already at DC.  Big boots to fill, but the internet seems to think the guy has the chops.  I am very excited to hear that an Austinite is getting a shot at Big Blue!

So a few of my favorite Christmas Tunes - some of which Nathan didn't mention

Ah, the Holidays. I love the lights, the cold weather (when we can get it in Texas), the food and camaraderie. And, as we've discussed, the music.

The older I get, the more I realize its a time of year for dwelling a bit in the past, enjoying the same movies, songs, decorations, etc... over and over. That's a good thing. We need a chance to reflect on who we are, who we were and who we can be next year, and if it takes putting a fake tree in your living room and hanging gaudy baubles from the branches to do that, that's okay.

That doesn't mean every year is that same. Every Christmas is, of course, different. For some its the first year of a new romance. For others, its the first year alone. For some its Christmas with a new baby, while others may just see it as a day when they can get overtime during a shift at the toll booth. But so it seems appropriate that with all the ways we filter Christmas, so, too, should we have a wide variety of songs.

Here are some more favorites:

Miss Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:

Mr. Bing Crosby with White Christmas (which held the record for best-selling record for decades, btw):

I'm not sure Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earl Keene is popular outside of the Great State of Texas, but around here, its definitely got some traction. And, yes, people always sing along.  Apologies to those of you from outside Texas.

Ms. Darlene Love singing Baby, Please Come Home (this is a top 3 type favorite for me. Do not accept U2 covers):

The Pogues and Ms. Kirsty MacColl (RIP) on Fairytale of New York:

And there's no video of this track, recorded circa 1963 -  Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, The Bells of St. Mary's.  Its also not, technically, a Christmas song.  The movie "The Bells of St. Mary's" was released during the Holiday season (only a small part of it actually takes place during Christmas), but somehow its become a quasi-Christmas classic.  And its a really great movie, too.  I confess to getting a little weepy at the end.

Anyhow, Bob B. Soxx (I am guessing: not his real name), just kills on this song.

Special Bonus Tracks:

-From Mr. Mojo Nixon, a man who has made a career out of not really caring a whole lot/ not taking it all too seriously, Sleigh Ride.  In one take.  Without ever bothering to look up the lyrics.

-and this isn't a song.  I'm just posting this for Jamie.  It's the long-forgotten Stick Figure Theater's take on Its a Wonderful Life.