Saturday, March 24, 2012

Report: Alamo Slaughter Lane is pretty great

The newest Austin location of The Alamo Drafthouse has opened very close to my house, and I am extremely impressed.  The tradition of service and experience continues, as well as the obvious differences at this location which reflect The Alamo's continual desire to improve their theaters.

It should be noted, the other Alamo locations are hampered a bit by the fact that all were built out of existing structures.

  • The Original Alamo - I have no idea, but it was an old space dowtown, and the fact that you climbed about 50 feet of stairs and the space was kind of flat never worked terribly well
  • Alamo South - a former Fiesta Grocery
  • The Alamo Ritz - the Ritz movie theater/ venue/ lousy club I used to go to in college
  • The Alamo Village - took over the old arthouse theater in town where I'd seen plenty of films from 4th grade through about 2001.  It was an old theater then and showed it.
  • The Alamo LakeCreek - took over the multiplex LakeCreek, which I think was an AMC, and never my favorite theater.  Its no doubt better as an Alamo, and used to be the only location with this great Turkey Sandwich.  But you can still feel the 90's movie-chain vibe.

The new space is laid out with ideas like audience management in mind.  The queues of the Alamo South don't exist.  Instead, it works almost exactly like Southwest Airlines' seating, with groups going in by letter and number (something I'm becoming pretty damned accustomed to of late).   My lesson on this:  get your tickets as early as possible.  Yeah, if you're a "let's go to the theater and see what's showing!" at 7:00 on a Friday kind of movie-goer, the Alamo may not be for you, but its probably not for you, anyway.  You're going to want to know up to five days in advance if you're going to take in a film.  Now, you're going to also want to organize your friends a day or two ahead of that, so you can all enter together.

The menu hasn't changed much from the other locations.  However, I'd note the following:

  • The coffee is now French Press and easily 10x better than their old coffee service, which was just never as good as I wanted it to be.
  • Thanks to their co-habitation with a new cocktail bar, they've added a Maker's Mark Milk Punch which was even better than it sounds. 

The Alamo South has had a great "UFO's Blowing Up Texas" theme since it opened.  The lobby is full of old-timey carnival ride parts suggesting an epic battle between airplanes and flying saucers, with a mural of a drive-in getting vaporized.

The new location has gone for a sort of "man-eating plant is out of control" theme.

nom nom nom

Panem et Circenses: Signal Watch sees "The Hunger Games" (2012)

When Survivor launched in 2001, I don't think Jamie understood my revulsion to the concept.*  But I'd grown up watching Arnie's 1987 blockbuster, The Running Man, based on a Steven King short story, and had internalized a bit of what the somewhat clunky (yet awesome) story had to say about us.

The idea of "bread and circuses" isn't anything new, and clearly The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins (no I did not read the books) was aware of this as she penned her book, naming her nation "Panem".  And, Signal Corps, do not take offense when I say I'm not sure that The Hunger Games (2012) brings anything new to the screen.  I don't think originality is where the film succeeds (and it does succeed), but in its excellent and unflinching execution (pun not intended) as well as the performances of young and mostly unknown talent.

In many ways, the movie carries the same story as everything from Gladiator to bits of John Carter, but in many ways it reminded me most of the unnoticed, entirely forgotten American Dreamz (2006).  American Dreamz played on the insane popularity of American Idol, a flailing leadership, the ties between celebrity and leadership and the machinations behind legitimate government, popularity and the madness of crowds and those who stand to benefit from managing all of it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

By the way, I am in New Orleans


Yes, I am in New Orleans for a work trip. Fortunately, my conference ended at 6:00. Kermit Ruffins started playing at Vaughan's at 8:00ish.

in some ways, I never travel alone
I was unable to round up anyone to go with me, and so I headed to Vaughan's where New Orleans musician Kermit Ruffins and his band play a regular Thursday night gig all on my lonesome.  I highly recommend you take it in, were you in The Crescent City.

Like most white people living in the suburbs outside of Louisiana, I first heard about Kermit Ruffins thanks to the power of HBO and their series Treme.*  And that was more or less who showed up for the Thursday night gig at Vaughan's, I'd hazard.  Me and a bunch of other 20-30something folks who wanted to see THE Kermit Ruffins.

Well, as it turns out, Kermit and Friends put on one of the best shows I've seen in years, and I had to leave at what I took to be the mid-point so I'd be in some condition to get to my conference tomorrow.

if you squint, that's Kermit there in the middle
I do not usually venture out from hotels while on work trips, but as it was a Thursday and I was in New Orleans, I figured nobody would forgive me if I didn't at least TRY to do something fun.  So I did.  And it worked out.

Now, I rest.

Have a good Friday, y'all.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Signal Reads: 2001 - A Space Odyssey

Because as a kid I liked SPACE, the old man took me to whatever movies were out that featured people slipping free of the bonds of Earth's gravity.  And so it came to pass that he said "We can go see 2010, but I don't think you'll like it.  I've seen the first movie, and this isn't going to be The Last Starfighter."

"Ok," I said.  "I still want to go."

And so it passed that I saw 2010 in the theater and had to have The Admiral explain 2001 to me on the way home.  No, it did not have the visceral thrill of the sci-fi adventures I adored, but I had already seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so slow moving sci-fi epics were not outside my scope.  

Perhaps tellingly, very few kids in my grade saw 2010, but all of us in the special nerd math class I was in during 4th grade had seen it and thought it keen.  We also all agreed that Star Trek wasn't properly appreciated, so, you know, there was precedent.  In short - kid nerds of the 1980's.

About two years after 2010, The Admiral and Jason rented 2001 and watched it while I was out of the house.  A bit peeved I'd been left out, I sat down the next day and watched the first half of 2001 by myself until Jason wandered back into the house and finished watching it with me.  

So, yeah, its been a long time in coming that I finally decided to get a bit more of my nerd bonafides and purchased the audiobook of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

According to Clarke's forward to the audiobook, done in 2000 as we neared the actual year 2001, the book was written basically for Stanley Kubrick so he'd have something to use when he made a sci-fi movie that wasn't, in the filmmaker's estimation, a whole lot of hoo-ha.  And it is interesting to compare and contrast Kubrick's film with the novel, which is written in the very literal terms of mid-20th Century Sci-Fi, and does not contain the ethereal feel or the explanation-by-implication that can leave some viewers feeling stranded in the film's last 20-30 minutes.  

Despite the fact that script and novel were co-developed, there are some differences, including Discovery's destination (Saturn in the novel) and an explicit explanation of HAL's malfunctioning.  

Frankly, I very much enjoyed the book and I'm glad I "read" it after all this time.   The themes of the novel and film reflect very much upon how I personally consider what it means for human beings to continue to look at space as a possibility, which is either because of Kubrick's influence or because I watched too much Trek as a kid.  

The audiobook, by the way, is extremely brief, running under 7 hours.  There's something to how long something like Stranger in a Strange Land runs, and how much information was shared, or how much story was necessary (that audiobook ran about 22 hours, I think), and the impact possible on the reader.  

In comparison to the Barsoom novels I'm also currently reading, well, its more or less two different ends of the spectrum from this genre we call "science fiction".  And with Clarke's scientific high mindedness, even the mystery of the cosmos that Kubrick puts forth gets a near unlimited omniscient narrator's explanation we'd never get from just the visuals of the film, draining away some of the mystery (or confirming what you thought Kubrick was suggesting).  

Its a wonderful novel, and if you can deal with some of the dated concepts and the deadpan characterization of David Bowman, Heywood Floyd and Frank Poole, there's a lot to like if you've never read the book.  Particularly HAL's characterization.  

I should mention, the HAL-related stuff is far less important to the book than the movie, and acts more as a fulcrum toward making a point about men, machines and the perils of both (especially a billion miles from home).

Anyone else read the book?  Thoughts?

Noir Watch: The Killers (1946)

Back in January in San Francisco I watched 1960's version of The Killers starring the lovely Angie Dickinson.

It had been a long time since I'd seen the 1946 version of The Killers, and maybe even longer since I read (and re-read and re-re-read) the Hemingway short story upon which both films are ostensibly based.

I bought the DVD of the film probably around 2004, and I've seen it a couple of times.  I still think large parts of it are phenomenal, even if watching it now, I realize how many amazing coincidences occur to help along Edmond O'Brien's good-natured insurance company gumshoe, Riordan, as he tries to find out what happened to Ole "Swede" Andreson (played by Burt Lancaster).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sacred Teenage Mutant Ninja Cows

Its been interesting to age out of being the target group for big budget treatment of nostalgia projects and watch the same approach now being taken to the folks who were in elementary school when I was in high school or college.

The first (and BEST) Transformers cartoon aired when I was in elementary school, and we've been through three feature films worth billions.  We've exploited the exploitable franchises by relaunching Thundercats (I guess it airs on Cartoon Network?), DC and Marvel superheroes, we're getting our second GI Joe movie this year (you disappoint me, America), and for some god forsaken reason My Little Pony is a thing right now.

Not to mention the relaunch of Star Trek and the last three Star Wars movies.

I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back.  I was reading Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a comic way back in middle school during the initial run after it had created the black & white indie comics explosion.  I didn't see the cartoon until it had been airing for a while, but I did shock the 9th grade basketball team by relating way, way more about the TMNT than they ever wanted to know prior to the schlocky 1989 feature film's release.

When they became ubiquitous enough to get mentioned in a David Byrne song*, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had become a fad along the lines of, well, Tranformers or GI Joe for a generation of kids.  Like those franchises, the shows/stories and toys had been the productized and infinitely accessible mythology which could be considered a shibboleth for the generation, just as the name Optimus Prime or Roadblock might have been for my own.

It seems that over the weekend Transformers director Michael Bay, the man who makes movies everybody hates but everybody still plays to go see, announced that he's producing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles big budget picture.  And then informed the audience that his turtles aren't mutants, but aliens (because, that's better, I guess).

And some folks aren't very happy about it.

We're aliens, 'cause, sure, why not?

TL; DR: On DC, Superman, Didio and Reboots

  • Infinite Crisis
  • One Year Later
  • Bart Allen as The Flash
  • Superman's Silver Age reboot
  • Wally West as The Flash
  • Final Crisis
  • Barry Allen as The Flash
  • Wonder Woman's soft reboot with pants
  • Flashpoint
  • New 52
  • Five Years Later

I would love to have heard the conversations that occurred between Dan Didio and Paul Levitz in the years before Levitz was shown the door and Didio and Lee became co-publishers.

At some point, I have to think Levitz was beginning to detect a pattern in Didio's planning and plotting.

What I'm getting at is that beginning in 2005, Dan Didio has more or less been playing the same card, over and over and over.  The one trick he has had up his sleeve has been the reboot (and I've guessed he was going to "reboot" Watchmen as well with prequels for a couple of years before they actually went ahead and did it).

Under Didio's supervision, DC was never particularly tied to continuity.  That was when we saw the rise of editors like Eddie Berganza who weren't even trying to maintain continuity in the Superman line of books, and were, instead, focusing on 6 issue arcs with new creative teams brought on every few issues, many of whom seemed baffled by their assignment in Newsarama interviews.  The interviews always read basically the same:  I'm a semi-hot writer, DC is offering me money, I don't know anything about Superman, but I am told he's the first and greatest.  And:  For Tomorrow.

At one point around 2005, it seemed the Superman books suffered from a near constant state of soft reboot as each creative team came and left.  All of that left the Superman books a mess, with the number of Superman titles tumbling from 4 to 2 on the stands.  And so it was that Infinite Crisis felt very welcome as it came along beginning in 2005 and ending in 2006.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The weekend was utterly uneventful

I am travelling this week for work, and as I was a little concerned about how much  money I've spent of late, this weekend, Jamie and I really didn't do anything.  It was...  what is the word?

Ah, yes:  relaxing.

Friday was uneventful.  I wound up staying up way, way past my bedtime watching about 1/3rd of Boogie Nights on HBO (then had to hit the hay).  I had forgotten what an amazing movie that was when it hit.  Its not for everyone, but from a scripting and technical standpoint, and from a performance standpoint (I'm looking at you, the fantastic Julianne Moore), there was a reason the movie received so many accolades when it hit theaters.

I still can't believe it played at just the plain 'ol Highland 10 back in the day.  America's movie-going habits have most certainly changed in a short amount of time.  Of course, that particular megaplex always had an interesting mix of Weinstein-branded stuff and then, say, The Pokemon Movie.*

Saturday I visited my "stylist" (she's not a barber, as she isn't a 56 year old guy in a white smock, but "stylist" makes it sound like I'm like Travolta dealing with his hair in Saturday Night Fever), and I am now freshly shorn. I tidied the house some, and later the Admiral and KareBear came over as The Admiral and I embarked on a minor home improvement project that led to some seriously iffy decision making and creation of a dozen drill holes in my garage wall.  The good news is that we have now hung hooks upon which our various mops and brooms can be stowed.

Today, for some reason we slept in very, very late.  And I really didn't get much done other than re-hanging some pictures in the house and watching part of the Cubs/ Rangers game on TV.

found the right spot for the Wonder Woman print.  yes, that is my office.

I also started re-watching The Killers (1946), but didn't finish.

I've been trying to do some writing outside the blog this weekend (I finished a chapter - No. 15.  Everybody celebrate.), so that accounts for some of the time, I suppose.

Hope your Monday is going swimmingly.

*which Jamie and I saw on a particularly goofy evening when there was nothing else playing we hadn't seen.  We used to see a LOT of movies.  I also saw the first Power Rangers movie in the theater as I'd seen literally everything else.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is this possibly the best book cover ever?

Not enough of you will see this if I bury it as a reblog on tumblr.  And I could not bear the thought that you would not see this, as it's the most amazing book cover we've seen since Carmen Miranda's Ghost is Haunting Space Station Three.  Because it is absolutely the one time we shall judge a book by its cover.

From tumblr.