Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tura Satana Merges with the Infinite

Ah, man.  According to Roger Ebert, Tura Satana, star of Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! has passed.  Satana was apparently every bit the hot headed hellion as her character in the movie, but she's famous mostly for two big things:

she will be missed
A)  Her outsized attitude
B)  Her unwillingness to compromise

I don't know if you've ever seen Faster, Pussycat!, but its the crazy pulp books of the time brought to life on a budget and a vision.  A very particular vision we can all thank Russ Meyers for bringing to world.

And just as the dime store novels it emulates, Faster, Pussycat! is actually more interesting than you'd think, for any number of reasons that go well beyond the story and brazen storytelling.  I've only seen it once, but I can only imagine that when this movie hit the silver screen, it must have been pretty damn interesting.  Not least because of the contributions of Ms. Satana.

Ms. Satana has already found her place in the pantheon of women more famous than their roles or any single work they did, becoming a sort of icon appreciated by both men and women.  She's not entirely unlike Betty Page, Louise Brooks and others in this regard.

We'll miss you, Ms. Satana.

Snow Day in Austin (a short photo gallery)

Austin sits in kind of a funny place geographically, geologically and meteorologically.  Not that weird.  I've been to the Bay Area, and you people have different weather by neighborhood.  But the weather here changes fairly drastically during the mid-point of winter.  Last weekend, we were wearing shorts and running around town, then it became very, very cold, dropping into the high 10's, and now its lovely and sunny again and I'm wearing a t-shirt.

My understanding is that we get southerly fronts from the gulf, and we also get northers - the arctic air originating from around Alaska that pummels the western and middle states- coming through, so you kind of need to stay on your toes. So, you just keep your eye on the forecast a lot more in this part of Texas than folks do in, say, Arizona.

So when it does snow, we tend to take lots of pictures.  For Canadians, us getting snow is sort of like if you woke up and your yard was inexplicable covered in cactus that just disappeared after a day or two.  We get ice here, and sometimes snow will fall, but will not accumulate at all.  The ice storms are crazy and mean, and you generally don't want to go out in them.  This time, we actually got both ice and snow, I was told.  which made driving in town really dangerous.

Anyway, I woke Friday to about .9 inches of snowfall (thus losing my place on the office betting board where I'd guessed we'd get 1.0 - 1.5").

Babar the Happy Element found himself under a blanket of snow

League HQ held up well under the winter weather

The dogs were really excited to be out in the snow, so we took a walk

Scout was pleased to be out on patrol.  She must have detected a menace somewhere at the time of this photo.

If you know my street, you know this is not how it usually looks.

and here's one by a random Austin citizen that I saw making the rounds on Facebook.

Along Lady Bird Lake, Austin is lovely on an average day. Here, it looks kind of surreal:

Austin on the rocks

Friday, February 4, 2011

Superman, Masculinity and the American Actor as Action Star (in which I talk somewhat unapologetically about dudes being manly)

As mentioned, British actor (actually, Welsh, I hear) Henry Cavill has taken the role of Superman in the upcoming reboot of the Superman franchise. This is setting off some alarms as, after all... Superman is considered an American icon. How can we have a non-American playing Superman?

Colbert takes exception:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - British Superman & Big Flats Beer<a>
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

Heck, even Castro thinks Superman is an American icon. When political pawn Elian Gonzalez returned to Cuba, Castro had a statue created in which Gonzalez was depicted as a child hurling away a Superman figure to dispose of American gifts/ ideals. No, seriously.

Oh, Castro.  You so crazy.
Personally, I believe that since the 1960's, Superman has been an international figure not just in the comics, but in that the character's fanbase and the writers who have worked wonders with him are an international bunch of folks.

Some great Superman tales have been written by Scotsman Grant Morrison, Brits like Alan Moore and others. The Superman Homepage is managed out of Australia. And Superman enjoys a fanbase all over the planet, from Austin to Indonesia.  So the casting of a Brit doesn't really bother me so much, so long as he can pull off a convincing American accent and doesn't mistake calm confidence with smirky jack-assery.

But the casting is kicking up some unexpected dust.  The tone seems to not be one so much of "they can't do that!" so much as "man, what is the story with the lack of American male actors that we'd put in a cape?"

The LA Times ponders the casting of Brits as superheroes in the wake of the Superman casting.

The Onion AV Club is a bit harsh, drops some cultural hand grenades without serious consideration and gets out, but makes their case with the picture of Jessie Eisenberg

Even "Cole the Kid Critic" thinks Hollywood made a mistake

When Spielberg and Lucas announced the casting for the lost progeny of Indiana Jones in the recent Indiana Jones debacle, announcing that Shia LeBeouf (an actor who's very name should tell you this is a mistake) had the role, as well as claiming the lead in a Transformers movie...  I remember thinking: "wow, something really weird is happening here". 

I'm a product of the 1980's, a period in which the movie Commando was something literally every boy I knew had seen.  Our action stars were the 'roid ripped he-men of a post John Wayne/ Robert Mitchum/ Lawrence Tierney era, who had out-flexed out-punched or out kickboxed hundreds of others to land roles.  Heck, I remember thinking Seann @#$%ing Connery was a bit of a dandy in Goldfinger the first time I watched it.

In 1980's movie terms, this is a moment of quiet contemplation.  Note the lovely flowers.
I suspect that when the star of your movie is really the giant robot or Harrison Ford (who Spielberg and Lucas had cast only when they lost uber-macho-guyTom Selleck to Magnum PI), then casting Shia LeBeouf, a poor man's Ben Savage, has some internal logic somehow.  But, @#$%, man.  The phrase "men want to be him, women want to be with him" was created to apply the the leads in action films.  I can vouch that at least half of that statement does not apply.

In fact, this summer's The Expendables was a sort of interesting paean to exactly the sorts of actors one saw in the 1980's til the mid 1990's, more than than it was a tribute to the characters themselves.   Now, I'm not suggesting Stallone was an ideal Superman, so that's not where I'm going with this.  But when Shia LeBeouf is your action lead, we're pretty far gone from the days of Rambo.

For clarity, I'm not stating that I'm just discussing physique.  If anything, the 'roid freaks of the 1980's were the hyper-realization of the ultra-masculine concept.  The 1970's had no trouble buying Reeve in his spandex, Charlton Heston never needed to be all ripped for Planet of the Apes or Omega Man.   And Lord knows John Wayne got away with being kind of paunchy, bow legged and slow moving through a good chunk of his career.  The 1980's heroes never seemed to physically work for their physiques (except for Rocky), but just had them because they were bad dudes.

Certainly the focus on FX as the source of action seems to have been part of the change.  When the giant robot/ truck is doing your fighting for you, then it does seem like a pretty minor detail whether you can buy that your protagonist knows how to throw a punch.  Add in dubious ideas Hollywood trades in like "guns equalize any situation" and "karate is magical and means tiny children can kick the asses of gorilla-like thugs", and it really doesn't matter who gets cast as your leading man.

I'd also argue that the past decade or two has seen the rise of male body consciousness and unrealistic concepts of perfection, a sort of myopic lesson taken from a generation raised on Arnie and Stallone, once they figured out how one got those biceps (it is not, it turns out, just from being a bad dude).  Many of us have seen Zack Snyder's 300, a movie that trafficked largely in guys in helmets and diapers with spears.  If anyone was wondering, the actors more or less spent every minute not in front of the camera working out.  And, while it goes unspoken, I think there's something interestingly at odds with the gym-rat sort of sculpted masculinity and traditional masculinity in America that relied much more on not giving a damn, rabbit punching jerks, and the heaviest lifting you did all day was the size of the bottle you were pouring from. 

That said:  Superman's creators were actually really into the entire concept of body building, what with being skinny, wimpy kids wishing they were not skinny wimpy kids.  Apparently they were a bit into Charles Atlas and whatnot, if you're looking for the sort of other influences they had (wouldn't it be great to be all muscley?  But, gee, this working out is hard.  Maybe if I were from outerspace...).

In some ways, casting Superman sort of peels back what you can and can't do when it comes to replacing action heroes with FX.  Yes, a Superman movie should be a special FX wonderland.  But the key figure still has to be someone you'd see in blue tights and want to take seriously.  As Nicholas Cage's screen tests proved, no amount of makeup and special effects is going to just hand that over.  And why it worked for unknown actor Brandon Routh and Christopher Reeve, I have no idea.*  And that when Tom Welling finally puts on the tights and cape this (final) season on Smallville, I suspect a million TV viewers will jointly share a moment of clarity regarding Tom Welling and how they've portrayed Clark Kent for the past decade.

No doubt, Superman comes from a different era when ideals of masculinity in Boy's Own-style adventure stories were filled with lantern-jawed tough guys.  Superman's precursors include Doc Savage, Zorro, Tarzan and Hugo Danner of the novel Gladiator.  Applying that same sensibility was almost jokey in the trade press even back in 2001 when casting agents were trying to find someone to play a young Clark Kent in Hollywood and came up with nothing until they more or less settled on Tom Welling (a guy hitting his mid-20's hired to play a 14 year old).

It was almost as if the lesson of putting Michael Keaton in a batsuit or outfitting Kneau with Kung-Fu and machine guns had been that, somehow, Hollywood had decided that action heroes were much more about their toys than about the character themself.  

Is there really nobody in Hollywood of the appropriate age who could have taken on the role of Superman?  I have serious reservations believing that to be true, and simultaneously respect that Cavill may have just been the best man for the part for any number of reasons.  That what is valued for young male actors coming up in Hollywood in 2011 is not what a director needs...  that, I might also buy.  And I guess I'm basing that on what I see on TV and movies.  And the sorts of business decisions and screwed up attempts to criss-cross demographics and try to magically put butts in seats that can lead to some really bad choices.

For example:  if you bring up Ashton Kutcher when casting Superman - you should be fired.  Immediately.  You lack clarity of vision or sense of judgment.  Also, you just tried to make people look at Ashton Kutcher en route to see something they otherwise wanted to enjoy.  Do not bait and switch the audience.

For me,  the bottom line is:  something odd is going on.

Wolverine (a Canadian) - Australian
Green Lantern - Canadian
Batman - British (he is.  People forget that.)
Spider-Man - the new one is British
Thor - British, I believe

And you can't tell me you aren't looking at all-American Chris Evans in his Cap get-up a little cock-eyed.

This isn't a call to action or anything ridonkulous like that, but its worth noting that the movie that's coming to theaters with the most promised punches per frame this year is Sucker Punch, a movie starring a slate of 20-something women immersed in a CG, genre-laden world, draped with machineguns and wearing just their underthings.** I'm positively thrilled that women are now also the stars of action movies.  That took about 100 years too long.  But it would be nice to see Hollywood consider why it is that when they look to their 20-something talent pool, their biggest stars are supposedly the likes of Jessie Eisenberg, Shia LeBeouf and Michael Cera.***

Unlike Randy, I quite liked Inception.  I'm just not sure Hollywood knows this but:  Leonardo DiCaprio is not an action star.  He's a bankable actor, sure.  And he's got the chops you need to sell something like Inception without making it sound like the Late, Late Movie.  He can hold a gun and all that.  But the man became famous not because he's a good actor but because he's utterly non-threatening to the young girls who saw Titanic 35 times in the theater, propelling it to box office legend.  Now, he's 36 and I'm not sure he even needs to shave.

You know who was awesome?  Sterling Hayden.

We can usually talk about actors from by-gone eras without getting our politically correct hackles up****, but...  its hard to imagine Hayden letting someone like LeBeouf onto a set with him unless LeBeouf was delivering 3 pounds of raw steak for him to eat.

Sterling Hayden cannot believe we are even having this conversation.  Or that you are letting the communists sap your precious bodily fluids.
Frankly, Hollywood appears to be a town where a lot of people make a lot of casting decisions based on very much the wrong reasons.  It happens all the time, it has always happened, and likely will continue to happen*****

The desire of males of all ages to see dudes who look like they could punch them in the face without blinking hasn't disappeared, but I would argue that its been subsumed by actually letting adolescents fill those shoes in Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.  While those dollars might filter back ultimately to the corporate umbrella, its also not supporting the movie industry and its training 48+% of your population to look elsewhere for their entertainment.

Curiously, Clark Kent is the prototypical American nerd.  Its an act, of course, but if you go back to those early issues of Superman, Clark is nice enough, but he's a nebbish who is secretly a manly-man.  Perhaps the idea of the "hero within" has been transmorgified to say "the hero is within, even if you don't secretly look or act like Superman" to "oh, you're a special snowflake and you ARE a hero, you adorable, ineffectual guy.  Clark Kent is the real hero!".  I don't know.

Nobody likes feeling inadequate.  Superman debuted right around the same time as Walter Mitty, I might add.  But in beating the drum in Hollywood to make characters relatable, in insisting that heroes can be anyone, maybe we accidentally screwed this up. 

It won't end up being a business problem for Superman that their star isn't American.  But it does bring up some interesting questions about what sort of movies we're seeing, who is in them and why.  Do we need to associate traditional ideals of masculinity with our Americanness?  Is it an aspect of Americanness?  I suspect the answer may be a bit deeper, and would lead to conversations on how important nerds are these days.

So, that's probably enough on that.  I really encourage you to read the LA Times link and the Onion AV link.  Its interesting to hear industry folks kind of admitting what I sort of suspected, but doing it off the record because you really aren't supposed to even talk about things like "why the @$#% is Shia LeBeouf an action hero?"

*or George Reeves, who wore the suit remarkably well
**curiously, I'm still not sure that's an endorsement of the movie
***note to former high school nerds working in LA:  quit making movies about more charming version of your dorky @#$%ing selves.  For God's sake, you decided Seth Rogen was a reasonable choice for a superhero.
****John Wayne, our eternal exception
*****I actually do believe the internet has been a good sounding board for telling casting agents when they're going completely the wrong direction

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just to be clear

I was kidding. 

I am not actually writing an entire book about post-Apocalyptic vampires and the women who hunt them.

But that doesn't mean you will not see future segments from this book. People seemed to like it, so I think if we just post snippets from the imaginary book from time to time, in our collective imaginations, this will be the greatest sci-fi book that never happened.

Webcomic "The Rack" comes to an end

I don't know how or why I came to the webcomic "The Rack", but I know I've been reading it for what has to have been three years.  What's most remarkable about "The Rack" is that it maintained a rigorous production schedule of several installments per week over that entire period (and I came in late, it started 02/02/2007).

Yesterday, Agreeable Comics posted the surprise final installment.  Or what I assume is the last installment since that's exactly what they said it was.

The series followed the life behind the counter, and then outside walls, of a suburban comic shop.  The humor often came from how well you came to know the characters, recognized comic shop stereotypes, issues with comics and the fan community, lived in the web's geek-o-sphere, etc...  But, again, ultimately it came down to the characters.  I used to cackle that my "reviews" of comics sounded like junior versions of the pedantic Danny Levitz, and all of the characters had specific viewpoints on comics, matching their POV as a character.

Just as fellow fans can grate on you online, every so often a strip would rub me the wrong way, but it always came from a place of honesty, and even if I didn't laugh, I might at least pause to consider, and that's what some of the best humor manages to pull off.

I didn't hype the strip here because, tragically, I believed the jokes a little comics-insidery for, say, my dad.

In the end, I think you can say that writer Kevin Church and artist Benjamin Birdie put out not just a considerable product and body of work, but were pioneers in showing other folks how this webcomics thing should be done.

Its a hard place out there, and as I've often pointed out, the internet does not pay.  Cyberspace isn't even hard, its just empty and void except for the occasional flyby of someone giving you the thumbs up or the occasional jerk sitting on your stoop when you wake up in the morning telling you they think your birth was a mistake.   We can't all be Gary Trudeau, still cranking out "Doonesbury" two decades after the audience quit reading the paper, and still get paid.

I don't know why Church and Birdie ended it, but that's their business.  I respect it, and I wish them both the best.  But here's to 4 years of steady, good work.  May we all be so lucky to say we did anything half as well for a quarter as long.

Trailer for Rockstar's new game, "LA Noire", looks totally amazing

Apparently the game stars serious motion capture from actors, including Mad Men's Aaron "Ken Cosgrove" Staton as the protagonist. That's some inspired casting.

I don't get too excited about video games, but its Rockstar, and after the last few Grand Theft Auto games, Arkham, etc... games are really catching up with other media regarding storytelling ability. Heck, even DCU Online has compelling storylines.

It also looks like somebody knows their noir, including both James Ellroy inspired stuff and what looks like a reference to the unfortunately real-life Lipstick Killer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Excerpt from the Great American Novel Part 1

As mentioned, I'm on hiatus as I'm trying to do some other writing at the moment.  But since you guys often show up here to read what I write, I figured it might be fun to share some of my work with you guys.  Now, I don't want to give too much away, so I'm going to just share a little snippet, mostly context free. This is from Chapter three, so you're getting into the story a bit at this point, I hope. And the main protagonist has been established, and we're getting to know her world, a bit better after the initial conflict has been introduced.

Bear with me, because my tendency is to write quickly, get the thoughts down, and then come back later to clean up the language, grammar, fix pacing, etc... I'm a little sensitive, as this is really putting myself out there (you try sharing a work in progress sometime), but I am going to leave the comment section open, and I would, honestly, love your feedback. If you feel that you would rather the messaging be private, please feel free to email me.

So, without further adieu:

Chapter 3

   The wheels on her El Camino skidded in the dust, locked solid as the rubber slid over yellow dust into the road's edge.
   Elvis was twitchy, but when wasn't he twitchy? This much sunlight could play havoc on the gears of even the most expensive robot, and this model could have belonged to her grandmother when she'd been a girl in hydro-curls.
   "Clean your gears, Elvis," she said, removing her sunglasses to look out over the horizon.
   "Auto Clean commencing," the metal man droned tonelessly, the whir of pneumatic tubes humming gently. Dammit, she thought. Where am I going to find robot cleaner out here?
   The remains of Old Dallas rose on the horizon, a twisted mass of girders, a paean to an age drunk with its love of power, industry, wealth, celebrity and professional sports.  She's been lucky to be born in the years when people weren't into stupid stuff like American Idol and phoney music, but when the masses had begun to really appreciate deep and meaningful music from artists who'd been underrated in their age, like Pink and Ke$ha.
   All of that was now forgotten, lost in the haze of the third Darkness War.  The beauty of music had become a luxury few could afford.  Dance, all but forgotten.  After dark, when she needed the music most, she could only slip her earbuds into her pearly ears and let the music overtake her.  But if they heard the music, if the vampires heard the music, they would find her out here, and it didn't matter then if Elvis was functional or not.  And no matter how she felt about Ke$ha, that wasn't the last sound she wanted to hear.  Except, for, of course, the music would be drowned out by the gurgling of a vampire on her hot blood.
   The sun was already getting dangerously low, and as much as the broken city before her scared her, the idea of being out on the road, exposed like this, after dark, wasn't a good idea, either.  "We're going to have to go into the city, Elvis," she sighed, putting her Ray-Bans back on and tightening her fingerless-gloved hands around the leathery grip of the steering wheel.  "A-a-ffirmative, Kaya," the robot droned.
   Stupid robot.
   She put the car into stealth mode, the engine bursting silently and the wheels making no noise on the broken asphalt as she pointed the car toward the wrecked skyscrapers.  Inside the streets, the auto-car seemed to move like a panther, from shadow to shadow.  She knew of a couple of places she could be safe, none of them great options, but the sun was sinking, and soon, the vampires would be rising from their ultra-coffins.
   The door was almost invisible, buried in the wall of what had once been the arena for the Dallas Lonestars, Texas' favorite professional paintball team.  Long gone were the millionaires of the sport, and the whooping crowds that had thronged the stadium.  Now, it was all just a dusty memory.
   A blue light appeared from a narrow slit, cascading over her sweaty, nubile body, outlining the curves she never bothered to hide.  "Dammit, Bryan, let me in!" she seethed at the door.  "It's Kaya!"
   A whir of pneumatic pistons and a heavy iron clang, and the door slid open, Bryan on the other side, clutching a sledge hammer.  "Heya, Kaya," he said.  In long days and nights on the road, she had tried to forget.  He was big, broad shouldered, handsome and had a penchant for these ancient myths told in stories called "comic books" that she didn't quite understand.  Their affair had been torrid and satisfying, but she knew hoping for more with a dangerous man like that was simply hoping for too much.
    "Get your ass in here," he said, a mighty arm swinging the sledgehammer up onto his shoulder.  "It's almost sundown."  She padded into the room, Elvis trodding in just as the massive metal door shut behind her.
    "How bad is it?" she asked, once he'd sat her down, given her a mug of grog and put something resembling food down in front of her.
    He looked around, blazingly intelligent eyes looking for the right words.  "It's real bad out there."
    "We lose anybody I know?"
    "About a half dozen per week," he nodded solemnly.  "Those damned vampire bastards.  Ever since their scientists came up with the ultra-coffins-"
    "I know," she said, cutting him off.  "I know."  Her thoughts drifted to her father before she pushed those thoughts away.
    The green light of Elvis's motion sensor lit, and Kaya leapt to her feet, the katana in one hand, the Faze-Pistol gripped expertly in her shooting hand.  Bryan let out a belly laugh.
   "I think," he said, stepping away from the doorway, "I need to introduce you to a friend."
   From the shadows stepped a man, but not a man.  After countless years stealthily fighting on the front lines, she knew him immediately for what he was.  His skin was too pale, his eyes too dark, and his front teeth too pointy, revealing his true nature. 
   "Kaya, this is Drumicus," Bryan smiled.  "He's a friend.  And he may just help us win this thing."
   Dammit, Kaya frowned, lowering the katana and pistol.  Did he have to be so good looking?

So that's it for the scene for now. I hope I left you hungry for more, and I hope I didn't reveal too much. Thanks for reading, and I really look forward to your feedback.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Henry Cavill cast as Superman?

NathanC send along a link to an item in Variety stating that British actor Henry Cavill is cast as Superman in the upcoming movie directed by fast-slow-fast auteur Zack Snyder.

Here's the nigh-info-free post.

I have no idea who this person is, but according to IMDB, he's a full 6'1", which is a good start. And his credentials seem very good.

At first I thought this was the old rumor from pre-Superman Returns that actor James "Jesus" Caviezel had been cast as Superman, but he may be a bit long in the tooth for a new franchise.

I'll be honest, I'm a little sad that Brandon Routh didn't get a second shot. He was pretty much what I would want in a Clark Kent/ Superman, and had he been given less self-pitying to do in Superman Returns, I think he would have been pretty ideal.

That's not a dig at this new guy, who I am sure will be great. I just never thought Routh got a square deal.

oh, sure.  Why not.  He's going to need blue contacts.

If I seem a little...  unenthusiastic...  as I've said: I don't believe anything until I see the first publicity stills.  This could all be wrong or change if Snyder gets fired or quits.  A lot of things can happen.

On the plus side, nobody tried to cast Ashton Kutcher, and to this point, no Wayans are involved.

And lets hope that if they've hired Snyder, it was because they plan to put some actual action into this Superman movie.

editor's note:  by the time I finished this post, this story was everywhere in the geek-o-sphere, so I tend to believe its the real deal, unless something weird happens at WB.

And I'm going to say it:  I really hope they don't go too crazy "updating" Superman's costume.  There's a reason everyone in the geek-o-sphere has been laughing themselves silly over the "updating" Tim Burton planned to do to Superman for his take.