Saturday, April 16, 2011

Baby, You're My Angel

New York Times steps on geek culture landmine, triggers wrath of Geek Girls

Not long ago I made mention of the welcome change I think the influx of Geek Girls has had on comics (and I guess sci-fi, but that's less an area where I mentally hang out). 

It seems The New York Times published a review of the upcoming HBO series Game of Thrones, a fantasy/ sword & shield epic based upon a series of novels by favored fantasy writer George RR Martin.  Truthfully, I'm not much of a fantasy-novel guy, and thanks to a decade of bad SyFy movies, I don't even remember if I have an opinion on fantasy movies that doesn't come with snarky detachment.

Anyway, it seems the reviewer in the New York Times has really tweaked the Geek Girl audience with the following:
While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half. 
Well, here we go.  Ginia Bellafonte, you know not what you hath wrought.

Frankly, I'm a little shocked this is what passes for a review in the NYT, not because its clear Bellafante has mistaken her own tastes in genre fiction for critical criteria, but because the review reads a bit more like an undergrad who hasn't really thought through her arguments against something they didn't like, but they've had a glass or two of wine and they can't quite articulate what they're thinking.  Again, I am not a fan of Martin's work, nor am I particularly enthused about Game of Thrones, but, srsly, NYT?

Nerdybird of Has Boobs, Reads Comics (a popular comics blog) has gathered up some of the reactions online.  Through the red anger-haze, I'm not sure all of the columns actually read what Bellafante was saying accurately, but that one troublesome paragraph is hard to miss, and hard to read incorrectly.

Unconsciously, Bellafante just called out the hordes of female sci-fi, fantasy and comics fans and suggested that they weren't, you know, "real girls".

This, I am sure, will horrify her.  She's a NYT reviewer and no doubt prides herself on her feminist ideals.  But, instead, she decided to go snob high schooler, casting generalizations over both the entirety of the human species, and dismissed anyone who basically doesn't share the taste of she and her pals.  Kind of weird, that, in a NYT review.

In some ways, its a bitter reminder that despite the mainstream embracing of aspects of geek culture into popular, prime time worthy entertainment, most folks just shrug at sci-fi or fantasy and will consume it if it comes across their plate (sort of like, "I don't really love mushrooms on my pizza, but if that's what's left on the buffet, that's what I'm eatin'"), while others are still a little miffed that not only do people seem to just consume what's put in front of them, but can you believe this Star Wars Klingon crap?  Gawd.  It's clearly no Brothers and Sisters

The interesting bit is that while guy geeks of my generation and older took it for granted that somehow devoting oneself to watching professional sports and wearing the colors of a pro-sports franchise is seen as totally normal adult behavior, routinely watching Star Trek should mean you're justly denied the affections of a woman and deserve ridicule for reading this type of book versus that type of book.*   This, of course, made no damn sense to me as a kid, and it makes less sense to me now.   

Fortunately, the Geek Girl movement is anything but quiet within the geek-o-sphere, and this seems like an interesting salvo to move beyond even just the geek-o-sphere and not taking any of that crap, thank you.

Bellafante seems a bit puzzled that "oh, hey, sex" occurs in fantasy fiction and reacts with a sort of prudish disbelief. 

What's fascinating and telling is that, from her comments, Bellafante no doubt considers herself up on what constitutes mature and appropriately lurid television and movies, indicating there's a rubric that constitutes "adult depictions of sex" in modern fiction or polite society that she's pretty sure she can approve or disapprove.  And, of course, that quote above?  It actually starts off with the following sentence:
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.
Wow.  Just...  There's so many things wrong in that sentence and contradictory (oh, so now we're condemning perverted women for making the wrong kind of sex happen on TV...) that its just flat out amazing this thing saw print.  

On the plus side, you just rallied a whole lot of women who maybe weren't going to watch the show just to stick it to the NYT.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to seeing how Ms. Bellafante's weekend goes. 

*that isn't to say all books are just as good, but the cheerful ridicule of genre by someone ignorant of what they are reading and perhaps why its a useful read within the genre is probably one of the most damn irritating things I can think of.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I really don't know how I CAN'T go see the new "Apes" movie

My Apes obsession crescendoed in the days prior to any blogging or social media. Circa 1998 - 2001, I was all about Planet of the Apes and its sequels. Somewhere, I still have a Charlton Heston action figure and 12" dolls of Cornelius and Dr. Zaius.  Now that I think on it, once, when Jamie was in the hospital, I left her there to go catch a screening of POTA at the original location of the Alamo (with her permission).

My favorite of the series, of course, was the original, which Tim Burton remade into a mess of a surprisingly boring film about 10 years ago. My second favorite was always Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which you learn about the early days of the ape revolt, which had been hinted at in the previous films.  Its a sort of cautionary tale/ leninist fantasy of the beleagured apes rising up and striking back at their tormentors (us a-hole humans) who have basically been treating apes as slave labor in the context of the film.

@#$% is about to get real, yo
The trailer above is quite different from Conquest, so its a new story that seems to give a faux-scientific plausible explanation for how the ape revolt could have ever happened. In some ways, its a bit like introducing midichlorians, but after the goofy mutants of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, I'm not sure the franchise maintained the same credibility with even the fans that Star Wars carried for so long.

Everyone who comes to Planet of the Apes has a different perspective,  because (a) its not a series built on a cheery proposition and (b) my own wife just gets creeped out by the make-up, so she won't watch the films even when I can prove that Kim Hunter as Zira is just awesome (she appears in the first 3 Apes films).

see!  even Cheston loves Zira.  Maybe too much.
As a kid, I remember watching the Apes movies when WGN or our local UHF station would have "Ape Week" (5 Apes movies in 5 nights.  It was as good as "Godzilla Week".  Man, UHF ruled.), but unlike Tron or Star Wars I do remember having to work pretty hard to grok the Apes movies.  In a lot of ways, the social commentary and criticism of the movies that I thought pretty clever in 1998 just wasn't apparent to me as a kid.  But, you know, apes.  You had to watch.

The original novel of Planet of the Apes is actually quite a bit different from the 1960's version of the movie, and vastly different from the Mark Wahlberg-starring version, although there's a bit of the "suprise ending" in all three.   Its worth noting that Rod Serling, Mr. Twilight Zone himself was part of the brains behind the movie of Planet of the Apes (1968), which makes total sense if you've seen the movie. 

Anyhow, I'm up for an Apes movie.  This looks properly ridiculous.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dames to Watch Out For: Gloria Grahame

Its my birthday as I begin this post, so I'm going to indulge myself and return to that old standby of "Dames In the Media the League Once Dug", which at this URL, we call "Dames to Watch Out For".

In this edition: Ms. Gloria Grahame

You may think you don't know Gloria Grahame, but if you owned a TV in the 1980's and 90's in the month of December, it means you saw It's a Wonderful Life.  Grahame played Violet Bick, the woman who seems a lot more interesting than Donna Reed who George gives some money to so that she can leave town and start a new life (its also shown she had eyes for George Bailey, and he had no idea.  We think George may have missed the boat on that one.)

see, you know this person
She also appeared in Oklahoma! as Ado Annie, a sort of naive, man-crazy problem-child.  Grahame was in her 30's by the time the movie was released, but was playing someone around 17 or 18, I'd guess.  Go figure.

If you've seen Oklahoma!, she's the crazy one who is often seen in a terrible hat.

the hat alone should warn the farmers and the cow mans that she's 10 kinds of crazy
But that's not the Grahame we're here to talk about.  Today, we want to discuss the Noir-centric Gloria Grahame.

Grahame gives Ford a couple of things to think about
In doing my research I stumbled across a great post about Grahame at Bright Lights Film Journal, and I'd recommend it as a good read.

I haven't seen all that many films with Grahame, but its hard to ignore her in either Crossfire or The Big Heat.

It seems Grahame actually received accolades for her work in Crossfire, and its not hard to see why.  Its a heartbreaking role as a taxi dancer, caught up in the murder of a Jewish US Soldier.  Ginny's role isn't the focus, although pivotal, and Grahame breathes a lot of life into the character, worn out and tired, and rightfully certain she's barely counted as a person any more.

I'll discuss Crossfire at another point.  I've seen it twice, and while somewhat dated in its approach, its still a great, tight film and uses the genre to share messages that were on the mind of America in the wake of World War II.

Also like a loaded gun?  A loaded gun.
Grahame would receive an Academy Award nomination, but it wouldn't lead to her becoming part of the Hollywood Pantheon of stars best remembered from the eras she crossed, from Hayworth to Monroe, or their later peers.

I have discussed The Big Heat, which I'll reiterate here is just a terrific movie.

this fills so many check boxes for me on a great noir scene, my brain is kind of exploding
For me, the standout role for Grahame is likely in The Big Heat, which is the source of the image above.  This is a movie about tough/ righteous police, corrupt cops and their spouses, sociopathic henchmen, ruthless mobsters, etc...  and Grahame manages to go toe-to-toe with all of them.  Including Lee Marvin.  Lee.  Marvin.

Grahame's character (a bit like descriptions I've read of Grahame herself) is a particularly bright woman who also likes to have a pretty darn good time.  She may intellectually know she's hanging out with hoodlums, but it seems to be working out pretty well for her.  The character takes a drastic turn, and Grahame handles the metamorphosis terribly well for what could have been an awkwardly melodramatic performance in lesser hands.  It may not be a femme fatale role, but its also an interesting female role from the era (as many are once you head into the world of noir).

publicity still from "The Big Heat"
Unfortunately, as with her peers such as Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, Grahame's personal life seemed fit for its own big screen treatment if it hadn't featured a lot of material that likely wouldn't have met production codes back in the day.

Grahame had her fair share of romantic entanglements and married four times (including to Nicholas Ray and, later, Ray's son, so....  yeah, there's a story there), and died at the age of only 57.

For my birthday I received a film noir box set from Jamie featuring Human Desire from 1954.  Its one of the movies up next in my queue, so expect to see more Grahame in the near future.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taking the Night Off

Its my birthday.  Here's Cyd Charisse.

Today I am 36. Dammit.

No.  I don't want to talk about it.  As I did at League of Melbotis on each birthday, I shall share with you a song that sums up the annual rite.

"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" - Neutral Milk Hotel

What a beautiful face 
I have found in this place
That is circling all round the sun
What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me
Soft and sweet
Let me hold it close and keep it here with me

And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun 
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be 
In the arms of all I'm keeping here with me

Anna's ghost all around 
Hear her voice as it's rolling and ringing through me
Soft and sweet
How the notes all bend and reach above the trees   

Now how I remember you 
How I would push my fingers through
Your mouth to make those muscles move
That made your voice so smooth and sweet
And now we keep where we don't know
All secrets sleep in winter clothes
With one you loved so long ago
Now he don't even know his name 

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place 
That is circling all round the sun
And when we meet on a cloud
I'll be laughing out loud
I'll be laughing with everyone I see
Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all

Monday, April 11, 2011

Evidence that Girls No Longer Terrified By Nerds (Appear to ALSO be Nerds)

The past week, I've seen pics from two decidedly geeky romances.

Here, the starry-eyed suitor placed the engagement ring (s?) in a Pokeball.  Apparently, this (and placing an "I Choose You!" message in the ball) worked for the gent. I am not overly familiar with Pokemon, but I do know:  this sort of thing as recently as the 90's would have meant you were going to have to start over with an entirely new girl and become a cautionary tale. 

Comics Alliance also featured this story on a Vintage Superhero Themed Wedding

You know, when I was getting married, people laughed and said "are you going to dress up as Superman?" which...  honestly I thought was a weird question, but it was appropriate, I guess.  But it certainly never occurred to me to try to talk Jamie into anything but a pretty standard-issue wedding of tuxes, dresses, bouquets and a cake.  We did choose "Satellite of Love" for our wedding song, somewhat in tribute to MST3K, somewhat in tribute to Lou Reed, somewhat because...  seriously, who picks "Satellite of Love" for their wedding song?  We were kind of snickering our whole way through the wedding planning, I might add.

But there was no mention of capes.  I didn't even insist on a red and blue cummerbund set, which I would likely do these days. 

Its a nice side-effect, I think, of superhero movies going more mainstream and the influx of women into geek culture which seems to grow every year.  Already it seems that the era when women were hugely in the minority was some long ago age.  But, really, it was more like...  2003? 

I'm not suggesting there's parity, but its a different world out there now. 

Jamie may not have had a superhero-themed wedding, but she's been living a super-lifestyle since the say I unrolled a Superman poster in our first house and announced "this will look great in the living room".  In many ways, I like to think Jamie was a pioneer in the field of Not Fleeing when The Geek Lets His Freak Flag Fly.  In addition, she's more than embraced all of this superhero and comics jazz.  She very much has her own tastes and opinions, and has read far more comics than people know. 

But that likely does not mean she wants to spend our anniversary at a comic convention.  But she does have her own GL ring, and is prepped for the movie.

Signal Watch Reads: iZombie Volume 1 - Dead to the World

I'm not so much worn out on actual zombie movies and comics as I am on the "let us beat this meme into the ground until its an embarrassment" that has come along with the past five or six years in the geek-o-sphere. At the end of the day, I really liked Dawn of the Dead when I finally watched it last fall (it was also about 8x better than Snyder's remake, which people raved about, much to my confusion), I really liked TV's Walking Dead, and I only recently learned that CSPAN is not actually a network dedicated to showing the droning, rambling undead, but until that point, I'd been quite a fan.

So I was a bit skeptical of hopping onboard DC/ Vertigo's new series iZombie, despite the art being handled by Mike Allred, one of my favorite comic artists. Marvel kick started the whole zombie phenomenon with the one-note joke that was Marvel Zombies (and which was a funny good idea for, maybe, a one-shot, not 5 years worth of comics), and virtually every other publisher picked up on the fad, culminating in DC's Blackest Night series, which wasn't really zombies, but that's splitting hairs.

Still, the comics internets really seemed to LIKE iZombie, which means almost nothing on a typical day. I didn't know if this was more "oh, Zombies! He he he!" geekdom just leftover from the zombie craze, if this was one of those cases of the tastemakers seemingly randomly picking a comic or character to champion as seems to be SOP in the comics internets (ex: lets all suddenly love Thor!), or if there was something genuinely to the raves.

As I mentioned above, I really like Mike Allred's work, but I've not always been a fan of the comics he actually works on. I burnt out on X-Force pretty quickly, and I never could stick with Madman (which was weird, because it seemed like it should have been exactly in my wheelhouse). But the comic was written by Austin-local, Superman-scribe and much-buzzed-about Chris Roberson, and I figured that was at least worth a shot.

I'm happy to report that the money spent was well worth it. Yes, Allred seems to just get better, and he seems like he's having the same fun here I felt he was having on those early issues of X-Force. He and his wife, colorist Laura Allred, are hitting on all cylinders here. The body horror of the comic is toned down through the Allreds' style to keep the focus on the story, and to push the story along (one can imagine what this book would have looked like under, say, Juan Jose Ryp - who does what he does well, but it would have been a much different comic).

Of course an Allred-drawn female protagonist looks like a very pretty girl with a migraine, or perhaps working on two days without sleep.  In this case its "Gwen", our protagonist/ not-shambling-mess zombie of the title.

yes, brains will be consumed
Gwen is dead, yes.  But she can avoid becoming a Night of the Living Dead-style zombie by consuming a human brain every 4 weeks or so.  Inbetween...  she's just kind of pale and can eat whatever she pleases.  No, we don't see monstered-out Gwen in this book (spoiler!).

Roberson isn't out to create a horror anthology with iZombie, and he isn't exactly playing to the same tone as, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he is out to create a fun and and surpising book that manages to defy expectations in enough places that it does feel like Roberson is doing something new and different using very familiar tropes.  The first volume's true climax includes the imparting of essential knowledge to push the character (and, one imagines, the supporting cast) forward and out of what's become routine for the undead of the cast.

In many ways, I'm much more interested in the world Roberson puts on the page, and exploring how that world operates than I would be in building toward some big-boss fight.  If he can manage to make the concept of a zombie novel in the middle of 2011, then I've got high hopes.

Here be spoilers

I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm concerned about cliches appearing.  An ancient religious order dedicated to wiping out the paranormal has become so common, its now a standard down at SyFy Network original programming.  Let alone "the hunter and the hunted feel a mutual attraction" is a standard trope in any genre.

I'm not here to offer Roberson advice.  The man knows what he's doing, and for all I know, he's got some off-the-wall plans for what looks like a "been there, done that" storyline.

Endeth the spoilers

The Monster Squad
In a few issues, Roberson has created a memorable cast, and its going to be the "community" feel of the book that will see this title sink or swim.  From Gwen to her ghostly BFF to the hangdog "Scott" (an unfortunate were-Terrier), a clique of vampires and a mysterious, bandaged stranger...  its a good little group that Roberson and Allred have put together here.

There are plenty of seeds planted for at least two years' worth of stories, and I hope Roberson gets a chance to explore them all.

The book manages to pull off an interesting balancing act of bringing to life horror monsters in an almost "day in the life" approach, and makes them likeable without resorting to getting twee or overtly cutesy, defanging the concept utterly, or transporting the concept to another genre in order to make it "relatable" (see:  Monster High).  In short, it never gets turned into kiddy material just because its also not a horror book.

I'll definitely be picking up the next volume, and I'll put this on the "recommended list" if the next volume can maintain the spirit and style.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Michael Shannon to Play "General Zod" in new Superman Movie


Well, it sounds like Snyder is "re-imagining" Superman as, pretty much, Superman.  Actor Michael Shannon (who I know from Boardwalk Empire) will play rogue Kryptonian General Zod, who was condemned to the Phantom Zone (a sort of trandimensional prison) just prior to the destruction of Krypton.

Our villain

In the comics, Zod was a fairly minor villain, even for a Phantom Zone villain.

In the comics, Zod would go on to lead a pink-clad marching band
Nonetheless, Superman II turned General Zod into a crowd favorite.  After the relaunch of the Superman titles in the mid-1980's, several attempts were made to bring Zod into mainstream Superman lore.  Seriously.  Several.  None took, and if you want to see a map of a continuity mess prior to 2006's Infinite Crisis, I would point to DC's handling of Zod as Phantom Zone menace, pocket-world Kryptonian menace, alien symbiote-thing menace...

In 2007, Zod returned to the DCU, and despite the weakness of the conclusion to New Krypton and War of the Supermen, its safe to say that Johns' Last Son storyline brought the cinematic trio of Zod, Ursa and Non squarely into the comics, and have put Zod into continuity.

That's neither here nor there in relation to the movies, but as Zod is so tied in with Superman in the public's understanding of Superman, its good to have the comics and movies match up a bit better.

The 2009-2010 season of Smallville also featured a version of Zod, as well as a prior season (that I didn't watch.  Maybe 2005?), so TV has seen its fair share of Zod, too. 

I'm very pleased by the casting, if not the choice of villain (can a man get a Brianiac?).  Shannon was the most interesting part of Boardwalk Empire, and I think that's saying something.