Saturday, April 2, 2016

Western Watch: Shane (1953)



I hadn't watched Shane (1953) in more than a decade.  Even the DVD I have is clearly a relic from the beginning of the DVD era.  If I hadn't watched the movie in a while, it seems that Jamie does not care for Shane, and that's one of those things that you're going to have to endure if you want to stay married.

For my dollar, Shane is one of the great westerns, one of those stories of the expansion into the west and foretelling other great Western stories that explore the nature and fate of the gun-fighter like The Unforgiven,  Beyond the loose definition of the Western genre, it's also, simply, a great film.  Beautifully shot, well-acted, nuanced and better than you likely remember.

Contextually, the book the movie was based on and faithfully adapted from (and which JAL and I read in class in 7th grade if memory serves) was released in 1949, four years after the closing of WWII.  That the book was told in a first-person perspective from the eyes of a child and the movie mostly retains that POV, makes sense.  At it's heart, the story speaks to the naivete of what we see when we look at violence as an heroic act, of putting the gunman on a pedestal - as both writers of Western novels and Hollywood have always done.  In 1949 and 1953, one can imagine all the GI's returning from WWII who had to endure the questions of both the folks who had seen the war from newsreels and kids who saw it as a comic-book adventure against cartoonish Japs and Krauts.

Friday, April 1, 2016

BvS Watch: Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice (2016)



If you've been following this site for any length of time, you're aware that I was not a fan of Man of Steel, the 2013 Superman opus intended to return Superman to cinema splendor at the hands of name-brand producers and directors with good relations on the WB lot.

It's no secret that, in general, I am not a fan of director Zack Snyder.  I've stated previously I find him an interesting visual stylist, but challenged in both development/ understanding of character and the ability to successfully convey a story.  Man of Steel presented moment after moment that signaled either Snyder's utter lack of familiarity with Superman, an utter contempt with which he views the character, or, a certain contempt for decency.  Really, you had to lay the blame at the feet of both Snyder and, literally, everyone involved in the production.

I've seen the comments online, and I've spoken to some of you who've seen it.  I got it.

Despite this reaction, and my best intentions to not see the follow up to Man of Steel, last night I finally broke.

I had an opportunity to see the movie at no cost - and as I knew I would not be providing Warner Bros. with my hard earned monies and the overall growth of the box-office, I figured I was just a pair of eyes staring at a movie screen.

With the poor reviews and Earth-shattering approach to the proceedings, I confess to a certain morbid curiosity.  After all, I would get a chance to see Aquaman on the big screen.  Aquaman!

In truth, and this is hard to write - this movie greatly improved upon Man of Steel, and, indeed, provides a path forward for Superman in the 21st Century that no prior incarnation really grasped.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project: Jim D.

My very first memory of Jim D. is from an evening when I waiting for my Intro to Screenwriting class to start, and this guy behind me said "Hey!  Hey!  Are those comics?" about a pair of comics I had out on my desk.  No idea what they were.  Probably JLA, Invisibles or Preacher at the time.
"Yeah," I said, holding them up.  In film school, I was not much of a talker with people I didn't know.  UT is large, often impersonal and the film department could be competitive in the way everyone scrambling for scraps can be a bit un-fun.
"I used to read comics!" this guy said.  "Marvel!"  I think he mentioned Avengers by name.
This piqued my interest.
We began chatting and the guy was decidedly talkative in a breezy way, and decidedly not a blowhard film school jerk.
After that, we sat together in class, and pal'd around in the subsequent class, and then we both graduated.  He went to law school, I remained in Austin, being a non-lawyer.

As has been mentioned before, Jim and I kept up after graduation via email, and he got me started on all this blogging business.  After years of legal blogging, he's recently returned to blogging about pop culture, music, etc..., and we highly recommend his site.

This is a cross-post from Jim's blog, so if the formatting is a bit wonky, I'm tried of playing with the html he sent my way, but I'm glad he sent it.


elsons


A few years ago, I found myself wandering the streets of downtown Athens, Georgia on a lazy Saturday morning. After dutifully visiting the local record shoppes, I chanced across Bizarro Wuxtry, an old school comic book store located on College Avenue. A wonderful mess, the place offered its customers the opportunity to sift through immense piles of back issues, nostalgia drenched toys and collectibles, and other miscellaneous pop culture debris. As I strolled through the store that day, I suddenly caught sight of an issue of Elson's Presents Super Heroes Comics, the cover of which is depicted above. I was instantly taken aback, as I had been searching for this particular comic book for a number of years. This issue - apparently published in the very early 1980's when "Elson's Gift and News paid DC to repackage some of [its]√°comics" - was the very first comic book I owned. I don't recall very much about the circumstances surrounding its initial acquisition, but I suspect that my father purchased it for me as a gift during one of his business trips. Some Googling confirms that the Elson's franchises catered to business travelers during that time period. Somewhere along the way, my original copy of the issue was lost to the ages (likely misplaced during a move or otherwise purged from my possessions during some vainglorious effort to achieve a more minimalist existence). But three decades later, there it was again, sitting atop a pile of comic books and beckoning to me. Of course, I bought it and relived a few moments of my lost youth.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project: Jason C.

We are thrilled to have the participation of Jason C. here for the Gen-X Recollection Project.

Jason is a recently published author, a former co-worker, a former collaborator from my days at Comic Fodder, holds a PhD in English, a software developer and all around good guy.  Oddly, before I met Jason, I'd read part of his dissertation as it made the rounds in the geek-o-sphere as he discussed DC Comics as a collaborative shared universe through the lens of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  It was an odd moment when Jason and I were first chatting at work and I realized he was the guy who wrote that dissertation.*

Also, it turned out Jason was in grad school at the same time as my boss and they're pals.  Sometimes Austin, TX is a very small world.

Recently, Jason published his first novel, Old Green World. which is very reasonably priced at Amazon.

But, enough about me.  Here's Jason's narrative of how things went down.



I don't remember my first comic, but I'll tell you the first comics that I remember. A crisis happened every summer, late in the summer, around when the pool was getting routine. The Justice League would visit every year with the Justice Society. The Justice Society were the old heroes, the aunts and uncles and grandparents from World War II. It was a family reunion. The Justice League lived on Earth-1, and the Justice Society on Earth-2, but they would travel to see one another through a dimensional portal. When the portal went wrong, it was a crisis. The portal always went wrong. Every year.

ed. note:  Owl Man's original costume is insane


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

DC Comics details #DCRebirth, we look at Superman and... So many questions (not necessarily in a good way)

Thank Hera, WW is back in gold.  But what's with the blue boots on Supes?


Over the weekend at something called WonderCon, DC Comics used the Comic Convention platform to do what they used to do back before videogames and movies gentrified CCI/ San Diego - they actually delivered some fairly large comics news.

It's no secret to retailers or readers that DC Comics' line of titles has been in a creative hole of despair for going on 5 years, and sales have taken a related major nose-dive in the past two years despite incentive covers and as much Harley Quinn as DC could print.  The ill-conceived Convergence event of Summer 2015 gave anyone on the fence the opportunity to get the hell out of there, and, abandon DC they did.

It wasn't too hard to figure that after DC moved to the new West Coast offices many things would change, that the real-world stresses of moving would put any ability to react to sales issues on the back burner, but, once everyone was settled, they'd immediately begin planning.

The final product of a few months of brian-storming is now revealed:  DC Comics Rebirth.

So, what is Rebirth?

Monday, March 28, 2016

In Light of "Superman vs: Batman" - What is the Point of Film Criticism?


Batman ponders the Super Package


Although perhaps less so every year in a world of constantly sub-divided attention, movies and television are the modern cultural touchstones.  More than news, political figures or even war, there's nothing like a $400 million dollar movie to get everyone around the world doing the same thing on a Saturday.  International dominance of American cinema means that films transcend boundaries and political ideologies as Hollywood carefully crafts non-political films with standard "good v evil" tropes, without ever casting a particular point of view, aside from "evil menace" as the bad guy.

We aren't all just film viewers, we are all film reviewers.  We see a film, we consider that film against other films, source material and our particular perspective.  Sometimes we write that thought down.  The job requires no credentialing, and while some people are paid to look at movies, sum them up and say a few words about the relative merit of a film, others do this endlessly, fruitlessly on their own (cough), but it is something we all do mentally.  We are all ready to write a column for the local paper.  We all have the best, most nuanced of opinions.

Most of what you see in the press I think of as "reviewers" more than "critics".  Somehow, someway, those folks parlayed an interest in going to a bunch of movies every week into a job where they then must writer 1000 words about that movie.  A review contains a synopsis, who stars in a movie, and some sort of opinion about the movie.  Some make it colorful - and in this era of  anyone with a keyboard having the ability to publish, you gotta write some colorful stuff to get clicks.

How to separate a critic from a reviewer?

Well, a reviewer is a person with a local newspaper column or a website.  It's me.  It's you.  Your aunt who posts things to facebook.

There are two definitions of critic, I think.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sci-Fi Watch: Midnight Special (2016)

Well, you can't knock his reading material selection

The Alamo Drafthouse was really pushing Midnight Special (2016), and so I saw the trailers a few times over the past couple of months.  In general, they at least piqued my curiosity, and in a weekend when I wanted to get out of the house and I was opting out of superherodom, I decided to give this one a whirl.  A college pal I've mostly lost touch with did the score for this movie, so I had all the more incentive to see this one, I guess.

The movie is uncomplicated, and were it not for a few heart-stopping moments, I'd say it was completely safe as family fare.  But, really, I'd advise for kids 13 and up.  What violence does occur is handled with something like the shock of reality ( I assume.  I don't get wrapped up in gun-play as often as you think an IT manager would.), which works very, very well in the movie, but not something for the wee ones.

The movie begins in-media-res, Alton Meyer is the subject of Amber Alerts across Texas, local news stations are putting up pictures of his birth father, Roy (Michael Shannon), as the abductor.  We learn that Meyer was the adopted son of a charismatic preacher (Sam Shepard) in a small commune/ cult of religious fundamentalists - based on the very real folks you see sometimes coming into town in Austin in their colorful dresses out of the 19th Century (and sometimes bonnets).*  They aren't anti-technology, but they certainly keep to themselves.

An Easter Short Film For Your Enjoyment

For your Easter melancholy/ mirth - here's a film shot by our own Paul T (it's less than 5 minutes. You've got the time.)

Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project: Ryan (It is I! Your humble blogger!)

Howdy!  And welcome to a not terribly special edition of Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project.  Because, it's me.  Writing about me.  And, settle in, kids, because this entry is entirely TL; DR material.

Fair being fair, I thought I'd partake in my own memory-gathering exercise.

The questions I put out there reflect some of what I've pondered of late when it come to how the notion of nerd-dom has changed, and as we watch the world embrace the same culture we reveled in, the same geek-type-stuff that once left us hated and feared by the very world we sought to protect, what it was like in The Before Times.

In putting finger to keyboard, it's a bit hard to think back on the past with genuine honesty.  The period we're talking about - when we got into comics and the fog of raw emotion that dominates your world in middle and high school - is one with which we all grapple.  My primary emotion during those years was "confusion".   Any tertiary emotions stemmed from whether my confusion was increasing or decreasing.

There are folks who read this site who will quibble with my assessment of how things went down, but that's the way of history.  I have tried to adhere to reality, but I know the years have painted over some of the truths, wounds have healed as the memories recede and the decades in between has provided a barricade from the days when everything felt like an open wound.

This may be the longest I've ever worked on a single post in all my years of blogging.  Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, this has also turned out to be one of the longest posts I've ever written.  So, if you're going to read it, go get your coffee now.

And, without further ado...


Howdy, y'all.  It's me.  Your friendly blogger.



Your name: Ryan (yeah.  I'm doing this, too.)
Your current occupation:  I am an Assistant Director at a Digital Library consortium.  My job is essentially "make the things work/ run a team of devs and sys admins/ other duties as assigned"
Your current place of residence: Austin, TX
Your current personal family status: Married, no kids, two dogs, extended family up in my business (everyone lives in town these days)


What was ground zero for you getting into comics/ science-fiction/ fantasy? About what year was that? Do you remember what was going on in your life?


These are the raw materials we were working with

It's probably important to mention, first, that my earliest memories of superherodom are tied to Adam West in Batman, which I reportedly watched in reruns before I could even speak.  As per sci-fi/ fantasy - my parents bought into Star Wars lock, stock and barrel.  My dad took my brother and me to see the first movie during its original theatrical release (take that, parents who aren't sure their two-year-olds can take Uncle Ben's charred skeleton!).  My Mom, who still likes Star Wars, had us in Star Wars wallpaper, figures, bed spreads... all that.  

But, yeah, I suspect I was imprinting on all of that stuff like crazy.

The Admiral took me to see Superman during its initial run (1978), but that took much later.  I vaguely remember watching (and playing) Gatchaman/ G-Force, as well as Super Friends in the late 1970's, and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  We had lots of capes around and a few Batman and Spider-Man toys.

The first actual comic books I read included Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny, maybe circa 1981, and I didn't like them.  It felt like the rushed, cheap work it was.  At some point, I got a Clash of the Titans comic book, and I liked that a lot.  Between the funny pages and that comic, I now knew not all comics were necessarily as hacky as the knock-offs of animation.

But none of this was exactly nerdy.  Just a kid consuming nerd-adjacent juvenile pop culture detritus.  However, that was not to last.