Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movie Watch 2012: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

"Well," as Jamie said as we pulled away from the theater, "That was most definitely a Wes Anderson movie."

I have a hard time criticizing directors or musicians for continuing to employ some of their trademarks in their work.  Anderson's barely-there dialog direction, the same four or five shots he uses over and over in a rhythmic pattern (usually punctuated with a particularly lovely and well framed surprising shot: think the kid in the pool in Rushmore).

Nor can you hold the fact that none of his narratives ever really see closure against him.  His are not movies that end with a wedding (well, maybe Royal Tenenbaums) but suggest that this is a particularly important juncture in the lives of many people: now let us observe.

If any of Anderson's affectations irritate you, you've been put on notice by his prior work, and this film is not for you.*  This is most definitely not the movie where he changes things up and goes for a Dogma 95 verite style.  If you're familiar with his work and somehow still keep paying to see it, then this may be a movie for you.  I'm fond of Anderson's aesthetic, which may have overwhelmed The Life Aquatic and, to a degree, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I appreciate that he's got his own thing going on.

In some ways, much as I wanted to grab 15-year-old me and take him to see Rushmore, I would have loved to have had 12 year old me in tow for this one.  It definitely understands the inevitability of a Lord of the Flies scenario when dealing with boys of that age, of how confusing and useless adults can seem (and how they have their own messes) and even the passion you might have applied to reading X-Men comics or scouting skills that you might also turn to a girl who actually pays you heed at that awful stage in life.  Imagine were love requited at that age...

The cast is better than I'd heard by word of mouth, and Tilda Swinton was typically amazing even in her small part.  But Jason Schwartzman's small role, no doubt written specifically for him, is pure gold.  The herd of child actors, especially the two leads, are pretty great.  And the moment of decision for the Khaki Scouts in their treehouse was the sort of monumental scene for kids that felt true, even in its ludicrousness.

In short, I enjoyed it.  No real surprises, even down to <spoiler> the needless death of a pet </spoiler>.  But it was a lovely film, and a nice bit of counter-programming to all the sci-fi and superhero stuff of the past year.  This I say with tickets bough to see Dark Knight Rises next Saturday.

*seriously, if I hear any of you tell me you didn't like anything since Royal Tenenbaums but you still went to see this and you're complaining?  What are you doing?  Also, the people who trapped us so they could watch the credits?  Stop it.  You're not impressing anyone seeing who 3rd Best Boy was on the movie.  I assure you he'd already left the theater before his name rolled.

Book Watch: SuperGods by Grant Morrison

In some ways, I feel like I could send the dozen or so regular readers of this site a copy of SuperGods by Grant Morrison and call it a day with The Signal Watch.

The basic breakdown of the book is equal parts comic book history and Grant Morrison's personal journey and how it associated with comics, eventually becoming his career, which, he reports, is fairly lucrative.  If you read your fair share of comics history and Grant Morrison interviews (and I do), then there's not a whole lot new in the pages, but what Morrison manages to do is what he does so often in the comics he writes: takes an existing idea and takes it on a new journey with a new thesis statement.

The bits of bio about Morrison are what's been reported in comics press: working class Scottish upbringing, hippie anti-nuke parents, punk-era-living under Thatcher, bands, a really vocal attachment to his cats (man, I hear you), early comics he's still talking about, etc...  And if you've read your David Hajdu, Lee Daniels and Gerard Jones, the comics history stuff is mostly known.  However, it's interesting to hear about it through Morrison's filter, what grabbed him as a kid, what grabbed him as a young man, and as a guy at the tipping front end of Generation X (I consider myself the last, dying gasp of the X'ers before Y came along assuming the internet was a foregone conclusion), how we looks at Miller and Moore's books in relation to the industry.  And, of course, he gets to talk a bit about the guys he works with who have been making comics history for the past two decades and more.  

Austin, I am Returned

Well, that was most certainly a trip to Ohio and back.

Flew back this evening, fortunately experienced no delays, no shenanigans, etc...  I am really tired, I ate terribly today, and as always happens when I'm sort of watching Comic-Con news just tic by, I'm a little irritated that I've never gone.  But then I remember how I do in crowds and meeting new people and...  yeah.

Work today was interesting.  Got to do a little cheerleading, shoe on podium banging, and do a lot of listening.  And Columbus is a lovely town.  We recommend.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Columbus (Ohio) Day, Comic-Con Stuff and a few words on Music

Columbus, Ohio

Tomorrow I present in front of a bunch of folks from a consortium of libraries here in sunny Columbus, Ohio.  The trip had been rumored since I was in Boston, but I didn't get confirmation that they actually wanted me here until last week.  With the mad scramble to get paperwork done during a holiday week, it wasn't really all locked down til Tuesday that I was actually going.  

So here I sit in a Springhill Suites in Columbus, Ohio.  I've seen only two slivers of the town.  The route I came in on and then the route I took to a nearby comics shoppe, something I like to do when I'm a-travelling.  I have to give a thumbs-up to Laughing Ogre Comics, not just for the great name of the shop (it sounds like they really want to open a pub where people can play RPG's with no fear of wedgies), but to their shop itself, which was professional, friendly, well-stocked and well laid out.  If in Columbus, we recommend.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Movie Watch 2012 - Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

A recent episode of NPR radio documentary program This American Life featured bits of the story from the 2011 movie in telling its own version of the story of a gang of card counting Christians, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians.  It's currently streaming on Netflix, so you can check it out for yourselves.

The doc follows a group of young people, mostly under 30 I'd guess, who are a wide variety of youth ministers, parishioners, pastors of small congregations and then just friends and hangers-on who follow a few leaders in the group into the wacky world of card counting in order to try to beat the house at casinos all over the country.  They form a small business which actually raises investment capital from folks they know and within the group, and then redistributes the winnings back out among the investors, the management and the gamblers.

"Masks" coming from Chris Roberson and some up and comer named Alex Ross

Oh my gosh, you guys.

Coming soon from Dynamite Entertainment!

Pretty much everything I wanted DC's pulp books to be that they just totally and completely were not. If you haven't been watching Dynamite lately, you're missing out on some pretty decent stuff, by the way.

My Grandfather, Marvin Ross, Passes

My grandfather passed on Tuesday morning at the age of 93.

As my dad's parents had divorced when he was a kid, Marvin was my father's step father, and so while there's no blood relation, there's no question he was my grandfather if all the usual granddad criteria apply.

The family loves the above photo of a young Marvin Ross, partially because his service in the 82nd Airborne during World War II is household legend.  Africa.  Italy.  France.  All this for a farm kid from Kansas who worked in FDR's NYA farms to make ends meet.  With the end of World War II, he returned stateside, earned his degree and eventually worked for Eastern Airlines where he helped roll out the first computer systems for the company.

In many ways, his life often read to me as a Rosetta Stone for 20th Century America.

It can't go without saying that he was heavily involved with his local Legion post, serving as President, and active in the activities of the American Legion.

He and my grandmother visited often, hosted us in Florida (in Miami and then in Ocala), and my folks made certain we were as close as could be despite the geographic distance.

The more I learned of his days in the military and then his career in technology, the more questions I had, and he was always willing to share a story or two about dealing with punchcards or taking fire in a house in Italy.

In recent years, after the passing of my grandmother, he'd lived first in Houston near my folks, and more recently in Las Vegas with his son, Frank.  The last few years was hard of hearing, but no less sharp when he was chatting (and you were two feet away and shouting).

I spoke with Frank and he reported that my grandfather spent the Fourth with his family, reportedly just his usual self.

He'll be deeply missed by us all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Awkward Encounter with an Old Flame: Superman and a few other DC Comics Solicitations for October 2012

I've stopped trying to dwell on the end of my love affair with all things DC as nobody wants to hang out with the guy moping around after a break-up, but since DC Comics and I are still in the same neighborhood, I think we're feeling our way to try to be friends, even if we're not quite ready to spend a lot of time alone together right now as things would inevitably get awkward.  We're just a person and a comic company who have both grown, and that has meant we've grown apart.

Looking at DC's October solicitations does feel like the stormy part of the break-up is over with, and after all my pleading and their curt refusals to pay me heed, it's nice to see a few overtures of friendship in the making.  It'll never be what it was, but you have to learn to live with each other if you're going to see one another whether you like it or not.

We may disagree on Justice League, but I see things like the Joe Kubert Presents anthology on the list, and I can give a warm smile DC's direction.  Just out of nostalgia, they're playing our song.

And then, the announcements about trade collections almost feel like finding a sweater left behind that you hold for a second and wonder what you should so with it, even as you like the feel of it between your fingers.

Green Lantern: Sector 2814 by Len Wein?  Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth Volume 2 by Kirby?  The Wonder Woman Chronicles by Marston?  You can't just toss those memories out.

Reviewing the Super-Books is always where I hold my breath for an instant, watching to see what DC does, see how DC reacts as we bump into one another again on the street.

Monday, July 9, 2012

And of course I got distracted and decided Germanic/ Norse Mythology by way of Opera is Really, Really Important

Back in college my pal Bryan Manzo was a music major, and one night (I cannot remember why), he started telling me about Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle of operas.  Based on Germanic and Norse mythos, the 4 operas (usually performed over four separate nights) trace the fate of gods and mortals in pursuit of a ring that will lead to obtaining untold riches (enough to rule them all).   There are dwarves who live beneath the Earth, broken swords in need of reforging, dragons, etc...

Sound familiar?

It's no secret Tolkein was riffing on these ideas when he set out to build his own complete mythology in Lord of the Rings.  It's for someone else to say whether he expected audiences to understand his references when the book saw publication.

Characters in the opera include Wotan (Odin), Loge (Loki), Donner (Thor), Valkyries, dwarfs, dragons, nymphs and other magical and mystical folks you hear referenced in everything from Thor comics to album covers.

Thanks to Bryan, I've known about the idea of the operas and how Tolkein's work reflected mythic elements since, say, 1997.  But I'm also a pretty lazy fellow, so I kept a few facts in my back pocket, including the names of the operas and that they were a bit of a Rosetta Stone for a lot of modern mythology and cultural touchstones, be it pop-culture or otherwise.  It was always one of those "well, maybe one day I'll look into it" sort of things.

About two months ago, somehow, in a single day, The Ring Cycle was referenced multiple times in print and online.  I saw the trailer for an upcoming comic, I saw stills from a 1920's film about hero Siegfried (directed by Fritz Lang), and it popped up a few other places including Twitter and a conversation at work.

I am not one to ignore cosmic coincidence, and so I finally took a few steps.

Toys That Should Not Be: The Steve Jobs Statue

When I started blogging the collectibles market was just really taking off.  We quit doing Toys That Should Not Be as, really, what I'd advise is to just open the Diamond Previews Catalog and flip through the thing.  Every page or two, you'll find something that makes you die a little inside.

And I'm not even talking about the import Manga statues with the removable clothing.

If you're not done grieving Apple Overlord Steve Jobs, you can now make everyone who enters your home or office stop and ask the exact same question in under two minutes:  Is that Steve Jobs?

Indeed it is.

Syco Collectibles has introduced the Steve Jobs statue.  Only $100, this fantastic piece of artistry looks pretty much like a tiny Steve Jobs, complete with jeans, scrubby beard and black turtle neck and posed like Scorpio planning his attack on humanity from his undersea base.  Only, you know, tiny.  Standing on the edge of a MacBook in discount store sneakers.

I have to say, I think it's a hell of a conversation piece, and that conversation may just be your co-worker leaving your office and commenting to your colleagues about how you're still really hung up on losing the guy who yelled at people until the iPhone was cooler.

To their credit, Syco is sending part of the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and we find that admirable enough that we've ordered four of these, so Steve Jobs can look down upon us from every corner of the room.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Movie Watch 2012 - "Rio" (2011)


So, I wasn't particularly interested in seeing Rio (2011) when it was released in theaters.  Goodness knows I like going to see kids' movies, especially those by Pixar and Disney, but Rio struck me as the sort of movie that's become standard fare from Dreamworks and other animation companies, and which has plagued Disney animation itself since Aladdin scored huge bucks at the box office.  And, truthfully, I'm not sure the animation companies are exactly wrong in their assessment since they keep making money...

But the idea is this:

Anything said in a wacky voice = funny.
Wacky voices include: anything that doesn't sound like a standard non-regional American accent.  Thus, George Lopez is assured work in animation until he goes mute or dies.
The faster a line is delivered, the wackier and thus, funnier a line is.  Even if it's just "I'm going to wash the dishes".  Say it with zing and a hint of latino flavor and BAM.  Comedy.
Also:  characters must pop into a new pose every 2-5 seconds unless experiencing the pre-requisite pity party for all animated leads, in which case they must move extra slowly, and with terrific slouching.

Again, I blame Aladdin.   Somehow Robin Williams burned through the last of whatever appeal he'd had channeling through Genie, and every movie since has been struggling to replicate the (at the time) shocking appeal of a character that pushed the boundaries of what we expected in a Disney movie, breaking the fourth wall, indulging in anachronisms and basically acting as a chaos agent.

Movies like Shrek decided this was good fun, and basically made a whole movie that was Genie.

Because kids are always being made fresh, and they tend to laugh at things that go boom or squish, the idea that Walt Disney had that he was animating storybooks for an all-ages audience has been mostly forgotten and is now the domain of a way to kill 90 minutes where you can only half-focus on your kids as they half-focus on a screen, and to keep their little attention-deprived brains on the flickery, pretty lights, everything in every animated movie has become Genie.

You guys remember that Beauty and the Beast was up for an Academy Award as best picture?  It was.  It's a really beautiful, all-ages, film, still.

So, that's a lot of pre-amble to explain how I felt about Rio.

Rio is a technical masterpiece using a phenomenal palette, the Escher-esque ziggurat of Rio de Janeiro as the setting, deft 3D animated camera work, astounding character design and realization of bird and monkey characters...  to create a completely forgettable, derivative and in-no-way funny movie in which birds basically get mangled repeatedly as one of them attempts to unite with his owner.

It's not a bad movie, but it's not a good movie.  It's an incredibly poorly scripted movie that could have used someone with an actual sense of humor to touch up the script and make it relevant to an audience older than the age of 5 or 6 who has never seen this storyline before.  Or, you know, to add actual jokes to the movie that so, so badly wants to be funny but feels like that kid in your class in high school who just repeated impressions from Saturday Night Live and drew a low chuckle from people remembering Phil Hartman's skit rather than anything the kid actually did (and, of course, if you don't chuckle a little, you're going to break the little bastard's heart).

The whole movie, in this way, is sort of an echo of better movies with better plots, actual songs, comedy, etc...  and feels so utterly unnecessary.  Wordlwide, it made a half billion dollars, so I'm thinking nobody really gives a crap about any of that, but they do want to get the hell out of the house with the kids and remember what it was like going to the movies before the kids, with the hope that one day they will see one of these movies that isn't just a trainwreck.

It's made by some of the same folks who keep trotting out the really, really not good Ice Age movies (people, you do not have to keep seeing these movies.  The first one was awful.) if that gives you any idea of what you're in for.  Celebrity voices.  The occasional poopie joke.  And!   Lots!  of!  Quick!  Line!  Delivery! With!  Snap!!!!!

In other words, I may not have been the intended audience for this movie.

Ernest Borgnine Merges With The Infinite

Ernest Borgnine, a talented actor with an illustrious career, who I still think of as Dominic Santini from TV's Airwolf, has passed at the age of 95.

He also once married Ethel Merman for a month.  Go figure.

Movie Watch 2012: "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Godzilla: Final Wars"


It was Bond week this week at Austin's Paramount Theater.  Sadly, I was pre-occupied and unable to make it to the screening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which I really wanted to see.

One summer when I was in middle school, Jason and I would go to the video rental place, return the last Bond movie we'd rented and check out another.  In this manner, we watched every Bond movie but Thunderball, which I still haven't seen.  The problem with this method was that within two years, all of the movies had sort of bled together in my mind, so I could only remember specific set pieces and the occasional Bond girl.

Thanks to TBS and a few other sources, I've watched several Bond movies over since then, and I do like catching the movies over again now, but I make an effort to watch them pretty far apart so they don't blend together again.  And, for the record, Connery, of course.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) stars Roger Moore as Bond, and it's from the point where the Bond franchise became a bit too enamored with quippy one-liners and just took it for granted that women melted under Bond's icy gaze.  It's a fun movie, and it has some great Q gadgets, a phenomenally cool villain base, gadgets and private military (sherbet colored uniforms?  Where do I sign up?!).  The plan is pretty poorly sketched, but whatever.  It's post-Connery/ pre-Timothy Dalton Bond, and its not all that different from what we'd see with Pierce Brosnan later.

And, hey, this is the one with the Lotus that turns into a submarine.

The movie makes an attempt to give Bond a sexy female Russian counterpart, but, truthfully, the base misogyny of the Bond franchise hadn't quite sort through itself, leaving Barbara Bach mostly standing around beside Bond as he Bonds his way around.  I'm not sure Bach is also the most compelling Bond girl, but she does the job.

It's not my favorite Moore entry (For Your Eyes Only, probably), but it does feature "Nobody Does it Better" performed by Carly Simon, which is a pretty great Bond theme - and has a Bond opening sequence that well reminds you why they changed those for the Daniel Craig years, even if it's pretty brilliant.


Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) was Toho's "we can't top this" ending to production of Godzilla movies after 50 years.  I'd heard they'd planned to stop making them prior to the US produced Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick, but after that trainwreck, they felt like they needed to keep making their own films.

I will give Godzilla: Final Wars this:  you have no idea where this movie is going when the movie begins.  I can promise you:  mutants, aliens, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and a dozen other Kaiju, super ninja fights, matrix-style battles, sexy biologists and reporters, international/ interplanetary intrigue, the destruction of a half-dozen cities on at least four continents and a wildly out of control costuming department.  Oh, and a really amazing mustache.

I don't really know how to sell this movie other than to say: hold tight and leave expectation at the door.

And, f-yeah, Godzilla.