Saturday, September 25, 2010

So I Liked "Boardwalk Empire"

At League HQ, all Nations are welcome except Carrie.

A while back I saw an ad for "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO. Maybe five years ago HBO had the stanglehold on TV shows with short seasons, high production values, glimpses of nudity and people using the f-bomb, but Showtime has had its own programming for a while (I guess, I've never seen Dexter or Weeds), then AMC (of all networks) and FX got in the game. And, I guess, to a smaller extent, Cartoon Network and others.

To someone who grew up basically not feeling as if TV had much to offer that didn't feature transforming robots or a highly specialized strike-force battling a serpent-themed terrorist organization, these days, if you really sift through the chaffe, there's some good stuff out there. For example: Christina Hendricks Mad Men.

I think longtime readers know I'm not a Scorsese nut*, but I like the guy's work. Frankly, I hope he is involved beyond putting his name on the show. The first episode was ostensibly directed by Marty S., but I didn't really feel it except for a few moments. That's okay. What I'm really interested in is seeing Scorsese's feel for the expanse of time and the epic read of a character arc played out episodically over a few seasons.

Steve Buscemi as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson is an interesting choice. The show is basing itself somewhat on true-life crooks, criminals, politicians, etc... And according to the documentary HBO is running in connection with the premiere, its not actually clear that Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, the fellow who is the inspiration for Buscemi's character, was a true gangster so much as a particularly enthusiastic member of the East Coast Republican Machine of the time (see: Tammany Hall) and wasn't above using his position for profit. I'd expect that gray area is where Nucky's character is going to get interesting, and the pilot suggests Buscemi is up to the task.

Nucky Thompson doesn't tip

I was surprised the show went immediately for including such real-life luminaries of the underworld as Rothstein, Luciano and Capone, but, hey, it sets a tone.

I've never actually been to Atlantic City, and I have no idea how and where they're filming this thing, but as a period piece in a very specific urban area, the set and backgrounds when the characters are in exteriors (which I assume are largely CGI) are amazing.

Sure, it's only been one episode, but its a promising pilot as far as these things go. The pilot welcomes in 1920 as the temperance movement came to a head with the beginning of Prohibition, and explores how those with a mind for profit saw the new status quo as a golden opportunity before the law went into affect. The first episode sets multiple balls in motion from this single event as organizations fall into place, relationships are forged and tested, and the political machine of Atlantic City takes a step toward the shadier side.

Episode 2 runs Sunday evening.

Loyal Leaguers will note I've a fondness for the very wide category of gangster movies. Generally, I haven't been too interested in TV shows about ganagsters like Wiseguy, and I never had HBO during the period when Sopranos was on.  While I don't know what they'll be doing with the show, I do find the entire exercise of Prohibition such an interesting experiment in our concept of freedom as Americans, and, of course, the allegories one can draw to other and modern vices, it makes the "crime" story that much more interesting.
Due to cost restrictions, I don't think they've tried too many period piece crime or gangster shows (the only one that comes immediately to mind is Crime Story).  Its a gamble, but I think if they can retain the same level of detail from set design and costuming (heck Mad Men does it every week on a smaller scale), then they should be okay.

Seriously, will you look at that thing?

*do not dislike, which is what some numbskull will assume in the comments and I'll spend five comments saying "no, I like him fine, I just don't know his stuff that well"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Signal Watch on Indefinite Hiatus

I apologize for the lack of forewarning, but I am shuttering The Signal Watch.

I confess, I do not feel that I ever embraced this project with the same gusto with which I tackled League of Melbotis. Different places. Different times. Different priorities.

We'll maintain the LoM spot on Facebook (for the time being).

You can continue to view our wacky links at Zee... Zee... Zee...

Its been fun! But we're moving on.

Adios, amoebas.

Oh, for @#$%s Sake

Apparently Senator Nancy King of Maryland is now campaigning on the platform that if we cut teachers, kids will turn to... superhero comics!!!


Here and here.

This particular ad insults me not because I thoroughly enjoyed that particular (and landmark) issue of Superman, but because they didn't even pick up any particular bad comics. Like "Hey, if your kids get a crappier education, they'll turn to Chromium Age holofoil covered comics, the new tulips of the investing world! NOOO!!!!"

The truth is, with superheroes a favored commodity among kids (and therefore, parents), this particular form of attack seems like a relic from 20 years ago, which kind of makes King look a little out of touch.

And as has been pointed out: at least these kids are reading. It might not be Silas Marner, but its not exactly these kids huffing paint, or even watching Scooby-Doo reruns because they're too lazy to fire up the XBox.

What King will expect least will be the onslaught of emails and letters to her campaign from adults all across the country who will insult her choice of campaign tactics.

And on the eve of "Read Comics in Public Day" and everything...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Saturday is International "Read Comics in Public Day"

Well, it seems that somebody has decided that on Saturday, those of us who read comics should make a special effort to be seen conspicuously reading comics in public.

here. But, really, here.

I have mixed feelings on this.

1) I'm lazy. The idea of going out in 100+ degree heat to read when I have at least two sofas and a lovely bed upon which I can read in relative peace seems unnecessary.

2) I can't shake the feeling this is going to wind up a little more embarrassing than interesting once the press notices people in Flash t-shirts reading comics. There's a certain ambassadorship you're taking on by participating, and I kind of wonder what a lot of readers will say when questioned.

3) It assumes that people will invade your privacy, even notice what you're doing, or feel its odd to be seen reading a comic.

4) I also already read comics in public, in the few instances when I read in public (which is usually when I'm on a work trip).

5) There was also a school of thought circa 2004 that what would really promote comics would be posters and commercials featuring known comic-loving celebrities reading their favorite titles, sort of like those library "READ" posters. This always seemed like a... bad idea. It always seemed a little like a desperate appeal for acceptance from nerds.

6) I'd think this will have a limited appeal to a certain segment of the population, as per generating interest. Maybe 13-25 year olds. I don't see my coworkers saying "gee, where IS the local comic shop?"


1) A lot of people don't even know that comic shops really exist in their neck of the woods or that they can buy comics online or buy eComics.

2) It also can't hurt to have adults seen reading comics who don't fit the stereotypes that, frankly, fit a pretty small sector of the comic audience.

3) If readers are out there with more than one type of comic with them, letting people see the diversity of content is a good idea.

It doesn't really matter if I'm reading a comic or a standard old book, its always interesting to see how many people will ask you "what are you reading?". I usually suspect that its far more to inform them about you than it is because they're looking for something new to read, but that doesn't mean it doesn't spark small conversations.

I still remember when I was reading a Jack Kirby "Losers" reprint and the hostess at the restaurant confessed her adoration for some pretty grim ultraviolent 90's era comics. It was kind of charming. And, by the way, people always are amazed to see someone actually reading a Superman comic. There's definitely an impression that Superman isn't really around anymore.

So while I have my reservations, I might be taking a comic along with me to the pool on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I saw 22 of 25 "classic" sci-fi films from the list on iO9

i09 posted a list of "25 classic science fiction movies that everybody must watch"

I had not seen:

1) Primer - never heard of it, so I'm calling shenanigans on "classic" here
2) Children of Men - came out at an awkward time, and I've meant to see it. Not sure anyone would call it "classic", though.
3) Moon - is really new and gets very mixed reviews (sorry, Jamie, its true). I think calling it classic is a stretch, but it is directed by Zowie Bowie (look it up), so that give sit extra sci-fi pedigree, I guess.

Mostly, the list doesn't feel very "classic". Firstly, its incredibly sparse on vintage film. Yes, "Forbidden Planet", "Metropolis" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" all still hold up remarkably well, and are instantly recognizable, but do we really need to jump from there to "Planet of the Apes"? You could fill the list with all kinds of stuff from the middle of the century. I mean: where the @#$% is Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, the most important sci-fi concepts of the 20th Century?

Not here, that's where.

And while I loved "District 9", its like time traveling to 1989 and declaring "Alien Nation" a sci-fi classic. And for goodness sake, Jamie is going to see "Inception" in the theater again this evening. Shouldn't something have had to make it to Blu-Ray before we declare it a "classic"? To use "classic", you need to point to more than classic tropes, you need to prove that the film endured and influenced other works.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I'd include:

1) Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein - Look, Frankenstein is straight up science fiction. It might be scary, but so is "Alien".

2) Fahrenheit 451 - if we're going dystopian future, why not include the one about the future that's rapidly becoming our present?

3) Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind - You included ET, but not Close Encounters? That's just wrong. Also, Richard Dreyfus + potatoes gave me ammunition for dinner table antics for years.

4) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Nuclear powered submarine in the 19th Century.

5) War of the Worlds - Steven Spielberg is an amazing guy, but his remake doesn't hold a candle to the 1950's original (or the terrifying radio drama that caused all that hubbub in 1938).

6) The Time Machine - I don't love this movie, but even I'll agree it should have been included

7) Things to Come - Straight up, if you want to use the words "science fiction" and "classic" and "list" in the title of your article, this has to be on it. The fact that this wasn't on the list tells me Charlie Jane Anders needs to get herself to a video store.

8) The Fantastic Voyage - If Raquel Welch in a white lycra suit cannot get you to watch a movie about people miniaturized and placed inside a dude to laser out a blocked artery... I cannot help you.

9) Godzilla (and its many sequels) - Man mucking with forces beyond his understanding creates 30-story, atomic flame spewing (yet adorable) bi-pedal engine of destruction. There is nothing not awesome or classic about our buddy Gojira.

10) About half of the Ray Harryhausen Catalog - When he wasn't making swashbuckling monster movies, he was making movies about giant monsters that would eat you alive in your car. 20 Million Miles to Earth is pretty darn good.

11) Omega Man - Seemingly missing the point of the original novel, which was remade with the novel's title but yet another ending, this riff on I am Legend is a wild ride of a post-catastrophe zombiefied world in which Charlton Heston is the last sane man on Earth. As it should be.

12) Marooned - This movie is totally depressing, but it is also fiction about actual science. And unlike Moon, it will be watched long after the last hipster has hung up their skinny pants and ironic sunglasses.

13) When Worlds Collide - This movie has been imitated so much, I have no idea if people even know about the original.

14) Them! - The original Atomic Age cautionary tale. Also: Aliens totally ripped this movie off.

15) A Clockwork Orange - This is technically sci-fi. It happens in the future and uses technology that does not yet exist.

16) Buck Rogers - There aren't any straight up Buck Rogers movies. I'm only aware of the serials.

17) Flash Gordon - The Star Wars to Buck Rogers' Star Trek, Flash Gordon is far more fantasy than sci-fi, but its impossible to ignore the influence of Flash Gordon.

18) Akira - Lately its become trendy to bag on Akira. @#$% those guys. Akira is @#$%ing amazing. I don't care if, like all anme from the era, it totally falls apart in the 3rd act.

Anyway, I could go on.

A very partial list of classics I haven't seen:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Destination Moon
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Rocketship X-M
Donovan's Brain

More recent sci-fi films that I think will endure?

Donnie Darko
28 Days Later
Total Recall (because I love Total Recall)
Jurassic Park
12 Monkeys
The Abyss

There are also films that are cinematic favorites that seem to have been ignored as they're not American:

La Jetee
City of Lost Children
Until the End of the World
Wings of Desire

So what do you think?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Waco?

Tomorrow I'm headed for Waco again. It seems I've not really explained why I'm going to Waco so often, or why I travel for business.

I work with a multi-university digital library consortium. All of our members provide different resources, and our friends at Baylor provide an excellent training facility at the edge of campus where we show staff from our member institutions how to use software provided by my group.

Its exactly that interesting. And when I'm traveling elsewhere, its to visit colleagues at various universities and see what they're up to and figure out how we can better support each other. So I might be visiting Texas A&M Kingsville one day, and then drive down to visit UT Brownsville the next.

I get to see a lot of Texas and listen to audio books. Its not bad. I just wind up drinking a lot of gas station coffee and eating in a lot of hotel restaurants.

And I wear a tie sometimes, which I still find funny at age 35. But ties inspire a lot more confidence than t-shirts with "The Flash" emblazoned on the front.

a staple of my work attire

Because I work in a basement in an office with a window whose blinds we keep closed, and I work amongst librarians, a people who seemingly have no dress code, the wide array of superhero t-shirts isn't really a big deal. Most people are polite and don't even ask about the superheroes poking out from behind my button down shirts. And when they do, it usually ends with "I'm sorry, you know... I don't really want to know."

Every area within a university is slightly different. Engineers sort of operate one way, liberal arts folks another, and while there are many stereotypes about librarians which I see confirmed, they are a varied bunch. But it is truly amazing that they can all agree that you should stop making that racket, because people are trying to read.

Library science is an interesting field. Its basically all about making sure as much information is available as possible, and as easy to find as possible. So your average employee at a research library is sort of like Google, only with glasses and sweater sets. My job falls into the twilight world of how universities are figuring out how to use technology to bring research data not just to other scholars, but to the world, leveraging the technologies that are out there, but managing information about those resources and insuring the integrity of that material. So... you know, wacky times.

We tend to keep our eyes on the eBook industry, the struggles of print journals, integrity of electronic publication, long-term storage concepts, and lots of things that people are still trying to figure out now that you can distribute anything you want via the internet. Its just a matter of making sure people find it.

Anyhow, that's why I'm going to Waco. Also, I might try to go to the Dr. Pepper Museum.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain


Monday, August 23, 2010

I once watched "Pump Up The Volume" and talked about it, and then Ransom talked about that

So, thanks to Ransom!

Two years ago I did a post on the 1990 movie "Pump Up the Volume" starring Christian Slater and Young-Ryan-Mind-Boggler: Samantha Mathis-circa-1990.

Anyhow, Sunday was the 20th Anniversary of "Pump Up the Volume" and Ransom wrote a very nice post pointing to my column. And now I'm linking back to ChronSnob, and the cycle is complete.