Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finally saw Iron Man 3

In Robert Downey Jr.'s fourth turn as Ol' Shell Head, we see what Marvel is going to need to wrestle with as its franchises become as familiar as James Bond or Santa Claus.  What now?  What's next?  What superhero trope are we going to check out from the library and use for this movie?

Well, this was the "strip him of everything he has" story/ "what is the hero without his powers?" angle.  And it works better than you'd think.  Sure, you get limited armor action, but writer/ director Shane Black makes sure to resolve any deficits you might be feeling with a big, explosive conclusion that should make you forget that for 90% of the movie, Tony Stark is not in the suit.

Like the first Iron Man film, this one reflects back the headlines of the modern era, with a mix of politics, elusive terrorists, media management, and a few other bits that I don't want to get into for spoilery reasons.  The gang is back together, from Paltrow as Pepper Potts, to Don Cheadle as Rhodey.  Tony might not be doing so well in the wake of the Avengers' first team-up as he wrestles with PTSD, meanwhile continuing to explore the limits of the man-machine combination he's become and continues to explore as he seeks to build a better suit of armor.



I'm not telling you kids anything you don't already know.

Supermarathon: Superman II - Theatrical Cut

Common wisdom states that Superman II is the better of the first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, and I'd posit that wisdom is based mostly upon half-remembered screenings by kids who last saw the movies sometime during the Reagan administration.  It's not that I don't like the movie, but I think from a storytelling and filmmaking perspective, the first of the two is vastly stronger.

Yes, Superman II is the Superman film where he fights Zod, Ursa and Non.  Yes, it is exciting, and a decent movie, but it back-pedals the Superman films into campy territory and gave the producers license to engage in the slow decline of the Superman franchise that would ultimately end in the half-assed Superboy TV show that was the capstone on the Salkind era of Superman filmed media.

I like Superman II, but knowing the history of the film explains so much about the uneven texture of the movie that watching the original theatrical cut - the post-Donner version - that you sort of want to cringe during many parts of the movie, and watching them in quick succession very much highlights the weaknesses in the sequel.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Your Humble Blogger and His Next Ride

P5041141 by thekgb2010

P5041141, a photo by thekgb2010 on Flickr.
from the Central Texas Toy and Comic Expo

Jason and I went to San Marcos on Saturday.  I don't collect much Batman stuff as there's so much stuff out there with the Bat logo on it.  But I have always been fascinated with the various iterations of the Batmobile, largely because of the Batman '66 version, the 1989 version and the various looks from Norm Breyfogle when I started reading comics.

You will never not get me to get excited over a well manufactured replica.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Supermarathon! Superman: Unbound

I watched the new DC Animation feature release, Superman: Unbound - roughly based on the pretty good Superman comic run by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, Superman: Brainiac.



The movie is unbound* by post-Crisis continuity and can do as it likes with the story.  Truthfully, I couldn't really recall the comics too much as the original story folded in on itself into the New Krypton comics that kind of, frankly ruined the good vibe left by Brainiac, which I recall really liking.  Now, that series pulled the various post-Crisis versions of Brainiac into a single version in an elegant and narrative driven manner, merging the ideas into a worthy version of the 1950's version of Brainiac that suddenly became Superman's deadliest enemy.  It was pretty keen.

In fact, one of the few "action" statues I have from DC Direct is the one where Superman is pulling apart Brainiac robots.

Jamie decided this was too action-packed and made me put it in my office
The story brings to the surface Superman's desire to protect Lois and a newly arrived Supergirl, and tries to be a bit grown-up storytelling rather than just focusing on retelling a story from the comics or leaning completely on the intricacies of superheroing.  There's a full cast at the Daily Planet, with Steve Lombard, Cat Grant, Jimmy Olsen, Ron Troupe and Perry, and it makes me long for the days when it seemed like DC was on the cusp of reinstating the human element to Superman comics, pre-JMS catastrophe and Nu-52 relaunch.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen Merges with the Infinite

I think I only checked out five books from the library at UT for pleasure reading while I was a student and, two of them were on Ray Harryhausen.  In college, I had dreams of becoming an animator- and then computers happened.  But until then, I really wanted to know how Harryhausen became the master he undoubtedly was when it came to creating fantastic imagery for the silver screen.

I was sad to hear of Harryhausen's passing when a tweet or two mentioned it and I saw the headline when I got back to my hotel room.


If you don't know Ray Harryhausen, he's easy enough to investigate.  He was one of the greatest FX artists in the world, spawning a world in which we eventually had movies with AT-ATs and Terminators, and his understanding of motion foretold what the CGI era would bring to the big pictures.  But he did it with tangible artistry in stop motion effects.

Harryhausen brought us Greek Titans, dinosaurs, Venusian aliens, angry skeleton armies and an endless stream of characters that mingled with live action players and fired the imagination.

I've only seen a handful of his movies (and I'm not even sure which Sinbad movies I have and haven't seen... I'd have to watch them again), but Clash of the Titans came out in 1981, and all we knew was that it was amazing.

If you've never tried to film animation by hand, it's a frame-by-frame feat of utter concentration and requires determination and love for what one is doing on a scale there whipper-snappers and their computers and whatnot from today probably get, but they do it at a monitor, not hunched over a table with lights, moving the neck of the monsters a tiny, tiny increment for every exposure - and every frame could be the last if something happens between clicks.

It's obsessive work, and craftsmanship that's fading from mainstream American film - especially as the

So long, Mr. Harryhausen.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

Possibly Otherwise Occupied

It's May, and that means I'm once again helping to run the conference my organization throws every year.

Really, tomorrow is sort of a Board of Directors meeting prior to the conference, and then from Tuesday morning until Wednesday night, I'm going to be participating in all sorts of conference malarkey.  This year I don't present (by choice), and I'm mostly lurking, hoping to actually enjoy the show.

It's a libraries conference, and you KNOW these people are going to want to party.

they're gonna get crazy and talk @#$% about the Dewey Decimal System

The reason I post here is:  I'm going to be out of commission for a few days.

You guys are on your own.  Try not to leave the place too much of a mess.

Weeks 4 and 5 of MOOC: Gender Through Comics

Attrition rates for online courses are fairly high.  In the years I worked in distance education and eLearning, we always knew that external incentives were a huge reason anyone signed up for a masters program online and why they would complete the program.  We didn't keep in-house stats when I was working at UT or ASU, as many students blended their learning between on-campus and online, but I believe in our cohort of 15 students to begin a unique program we designed, we only lost 3 of the 15 or so who started.

Massive Open Online Courses have an estimated retention rate of about 10%.

Depending on who you talk to, this is either a problem or it is nothing to worry about.  What's interesting is hearing the various excuses and pointing of fingers I've seen lobbed in my personal experience over the years - from "it doesn't matter that the students leave in droves, they came in to get what they needed and left" to "if the faculty can't hold the students' attention, that's really saying something about the faculty".

What nobody is apparently willing to say is that maybe we already have ample evidence that this isn't working as originally intended.  Moving the posts in the first quarter of the game turns it into Arena Football, it doesn't improve the NFL.

Look, if you have a TV show and if by week 10, you've lost 80 - 90% of your audience, your show is getting canceled. It doesn't really matter how great of a debut you had.  If your whole network loses 80-90% of every program it runs, everyone is getting fired and you're shutting down.  If you had a play, and by the time you closed the final curtain your formerly sold out house was left with 10% of the attendees wanly applauding, you'd figure maybe the place was on fire and nobody had told the cast and crew.

I find the idea that students are dipping into classes, getting what they need, and then exiting a naive and groundless assumption and, frankly, the sort of useless hand-waving that folks in higher ed are good at.  I suspect they know better, but it's something to say until they put together some actual data on what's happening.