Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Moment of Pause: Modern Musical at the White House

A little insight into the Amazing World of The Signal Watch...

I was working out and in my bedroom (yes, I do workout.  Shut up.) and on our local PBS affiliate I was watching "A Tribute to Broadway at the White House" or some such.  Anyway, the President and First Lady (and First Kids) were sitting in a ballroom at the White House watching Broadway performers like Nathan Lane, Idina Menzel and Audra McDonald perform. 

My Signal Corps, The League is not afraid to admit he likes a good show tune, even out of context.  And the final song was part youth chorus/ part from-the-traveling-production-of Hairspray the Musical, "You Can't Stop the Beat".  And I stopped and pondered for a minute.

We live in a land where a guy like John Waters (a guy who was such an outsider to American culture that he made a career out of celebrating that fact) can, within twenty five years of the release of the original Hairspray, see a story he created transmorgified into a musical and performed in a ballroom of the White House.  This is the guy who made Divine a nationally known figure and made the best use of Debby Harry in a movie ever and gave us the best tribute to Don Knotts ever seen in a movie... 

That, people, is the America I celebrate.

Watch while the Superman Movie rumor mill churns and churns

I find myself stating repeatedly not to believe Superman movie rumors until you see the first production stills. 

Apparently a lot of people were looking at Armie Hammer in The Social Network and thought he'd make a swell Superman in the upcoming film.  The problem as I see it:  that was Hammer's head superimposed on someone else's body.  No kidding. 

From Cinemalogue:

The Social Network jumps back and forth between the origins of the now ubiquitous Facebook and two lawsuits brought against the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg—one by Cameron (Armie Hammer) and Tyler Winklevoss (Josh Pence’s body with Armie Hammer’s head) the Harvard Row Crew champions who allegedly seeded Zuckerberg with the idea of a social network, and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), an Economics major who later became Facebook’s former Chief Financial Officer.
Why this was necessary when Hammer reportedly stands 6'5" is a bit baffling, but that's what they did for the movie.  I guess he's too lean?

Anyway, within the past week we've also had reports that director Zack Snyder is saying he's doing an origin story, but then I read that they're looking to cast 35-40 for Superman.  Huh.  I don't see Superman waiting until he's in his mid-30's to suddenly get the brain drizzle that tells him to put on the cape.

I...  have no idea what is going on, but its not worth getting excited about at this point.

So long, June Cleaver... we're going to miss you

I failed to note this weekend's passing of Ms. Barbara Billingsley, most famous for her portrayal of June Cleaver in TV's Leave it to Beaver and later in The New Leave it to Beaver.  All in all, Billingsley played the iconic TV mom for more than ten years.

You may also remember her as the "jive translator" from Airplane! (one of the finest moments in cinema, if you ask me, thanks), and the voice of "Nanny" on Muppet Babies.

This fake family sure is swell

Sure, you can have an ironic appreciation for Leave it to Beaver, and June Cleaver has become both punching bag and icon in American culture as we've seen women's roles change over the years, but the reason we used June Cleaver as a touchstone was because if you had a TV growing up from the 50's to the 90's, its likely you found yourself watching Leave it to Beaver upon occasion.  Straight up, before there were 200 channels on the dial, who didn't watch this show, at least out of boredom?

Growing up I preferred Leave it to Beaver over Brady Bunch and found June Cleaver far less creepy (and less lazy) than Carol Brady.  Plus, you know, as a chubby kid constantly baffled by the world who had an older brother who liked to dispense suspect advice and a dad who also could be found reading the paper in the living room and who was prone to give a little lecture when you fudged up, it wasn't a stretch to see the connection.  Was the KareBear like June Cleaver?  Not so much.  She was angling for a "Maria from The Sound of Music" thing.  But she got stuck with two sons who were not playing ball.

Sure, I think reruns of this show have given a good chunk of America a pretty false idea of "an America we need to get back to".  The 50's were actually a pretty rough time for a lot of Americans.  But it does hold up an ideal of a fairly functional American family, even if the structure is outdated in a post-Betty Friedan era.

But you can't fault Barbara Billingsley for being one of the best TV moms out there.  Especially as she wasn't afraid to throw Ward in front of the bus when it came to the tasks of lecturing and setting The Beaver straight when he's once again killed a neighborhood hobo.  I assume June was downstairs having a cocktail and listening to jazz.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tom Bosley Merges with the Infinite

Tom "Howard Cunningham" Bosley, he of the long running series Happy Days, has passed at the age of 83. 

You can read more about it here.

Godspeed, Mr. C

Iconic Covers for DC Comics

I don't pick up all that many monthly 32 page comics these days.  Well, more than YOU most certainly, but less than I had been.

DC still very much wants to sell monthly comics, but its made the act of doing so somewhat frustrating of an experience, and a fairly expensive one, too.  Add in the fact that, frankly, I'm not crazy about some of the talent DC has put on some of the books (and the directions either the talent or DC have decided are a good idea).

So some books I haven't read and won't read for some time.  And others I likely won't read.

As I say, DC wants for me to read the monthly books because that's more or less their core business.  Its much easier and cheaper to put out a monthly comic than commit upfront to a trade paperback or graphic novel approach, and forget about getting stats off digital at this point.

In the just-released January previews, DC seems to have gone for this "iconic" approach to its covers and characters, and I quite like it.

I invite you to check out the covers here, at Newsarama.

Superboy!  and KRYPTO!!!
Not only has the artist rendered Superboy as a teenager, but the iconic image with Krypto right there next to him may not tell the story of the issue, but it does tell you "this is a comic about a Superboy and his super dog."  And, hey, I'm going to buy that comic.

No, I do not expect a comic about a Superboy and a Super Dog to be particularly "edgy", but I do expect it shall be awesome.

Blue Beetle on the cover of Justice League: Generation Lost
I am an unabashed fan of the latest iteration of Blue Beetle and am thrilled that DC has decided to continue on with the character.  Jamie's sci-fi powers are very cool in a Green Lantern-y sort of way (only with hardware instead of energy constructs).  But I'm trade-waiting on this actual series, and so far I only know the basic premise.

But, man, that cover gives BB a chance to look pretty rad.

And, yeah, I do miss Ted, too.  But I think he's the new Barry Allen.

I have a deep, dark secret about Steel.  Three years ago I found the entire run of the original series of Steel for sale for a fraction of the cover price, and I bought it.  But I've never read it.

Anyway, Steel here looks heroic and you get an idea of his shtick.   He's an armored guy who teams up with Superman and hits things with a hammer.  There you go.

John Henry Irons is the DCU's Iron Man, only without the ego issues and alcoholism.  He's not had a huge chance to develop in recent years, but when he was in Superman: Man of Steel and JLA, I thought he was a GREAT supporting character for the Superman titles.  He was like Superman's pal who could actually keep up with Kal-El without constantly asserting himself like a kid with low self-esteem, ala Batman.

This is the cover for a Steel one-shot, likely to test the waters for a Steel mini-series or series.  Personally, I think he could be built up in the pages of Action or Superman or a hypothetical and non-existent rebirth of the old Superman Family comic, but nobody asks me these things.

yurgh.  this is what DC is selling as JLA these days.

So this is one of those places DC just lost me.  I have a complete run of the last volume of JLA that started under Grant Morrison.  I will argue you into the ground that Brad Meltzer's take on the JLA was very, very correct when this volume started. I will even forgive Dwayne McDuffie for struggling with what was obvious and unfair editorial management of the team and comic.  But after Robinson's less-than-stellar run on Superman,  I wasn't excited at all about Robinson coming onto JLA.

There's just nothing that says JLA to me about this line-up, with Robinson on words and Bagley on pencils or not.  Maybe Morrison or Waid or Johns could pull off this line-up, but the point is almost moot.  While a Batman appears on the cover, the flagship title of DC Comics should not feature supporting the players from DC's flagship books.  I may even LIKE these characters (and in most cases, I do), but DC needs to work on branding.  Flat out, Justice League needs to always have at least 2 of the original 7 in the line-up (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter).  This line-up feels like "JLB" or "JLC".

If you're going for Iconic Covers, this just tells me this book will need a new direction before I'm likely to read JLA again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Green Lantern's lantern revealed

The guy who spent no small amount of change on a replica of the lantern so he could say he had the same lantern as John Stewart and Hal Jordan is a little befuddled by the redesign on the Lantern for the new Green lantern movie, but the movie fan in me thinks this will look really cool on the movie screen.

It looks like it tastes like sour apple.  Mmmm... sour apple.
More here.

After seeing "Identity Discs" from Tron that light up and make noise available in the toy aisle at Target this weekend, it just occurred to me that I'll likely be able to buy an official GL Lantern for, like, $39.99.  And so will little kids on my street.  That is so rad.  Anyway, I was sort of wondering how "toyetic" Green Lantern would be, and I mostly assume they're counting on kids collecting figures of various GL's. Now I can kind of see how this will play out.

So much cooler than the frisbees we chucked at one another in the early 80's
It seems that the movie's designers gave a little more thought to "other wordliness" than John Broome and Gil Kane did in designing the Silver Age Green Lantern and his world and gear.

Would I have preferred they keep it all very classic?  Sure.  But I can't complain when that is clearly green and a lantern, even if it lacks the usual "Coleman Lantern" look I'm used to.

It's Green.  It's a Lantern.  So they took it a bit literally.
Anyway, part of why I got back into this gig was to track the production of the various DC movies as they came to fruition. Its fun to see this stuff as they decide what to do translating it to a medium that doesn't require simplification as artists render and re-render the same objects.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Send in Your Favorite Monster, Get a Nifty Prize

Well, I think I buried my last reminder too far down in a previous post, but we're still looking for entries to the "My Favorite/ Least Favorite Monster" Signal Corp Interactivity. As of today, we've only had one entrant. The deadline is October 22nd, but we'll post responses if they come in afterward.

I assure you, its easy and fun to play.

I've seen this movie.  Its...  well, it's a movie.
Just send in some info on your favorite monster or your least favorite monster with a little blurb as to why you dig that monster (and a JPEG if you've got one).

Yup, this counts as a monster, too
I know many of you don't stay up until 2:30 AM watching The Brain that Wouldn't Die* immediately after watching Ghost of Frankenstein.  That's just not everybody's bag.  But sooner or later, everybody watches a movie, and many, many of these movies feature monsters.  From Star Wars (which...  Giant Worm?  Sarlac Pit?  Rancor?  Carrie Fischer's coke habit?) to Clayface in the Batman cartoons, to the ants of Them! to the sharks of Deep Blue Sea...  you don't need to stick to just Halloween monsters. 

And don't forget, its not just monsters you like, its also the ones who just leave you cold and/ or angry.

I think I went out with this dame my freshman year
Every entry will receive a nifty Signal Corps Fun Pack!  So there's your incentive, as if getting your name up in lights isn't enough.

So let's hear from you guys!  Click on over to the original post for the official, very loose rules. 

*This was Elvira's selection of the week, and one of the more watchable entrants, I am afraid.

Ghost of Frankenstein: Not Very Good

Oh, dear.

So, this evening I watched the fourth in the series of Frankenstein movies from Universal Studios.  Perhaps its fitting that this fourth and uninspired edition falls into the same category as many un-asked for fourth installments, like, say...  The Phantom Menace, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Whatzit, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and on and on.

By this installment, Karloff had bailed on the role and Universal had brought in Lon Chaney, Jr., the guy who played the Wolfman in the original, uh... The Wolfman and son of much more talented actor, Lon Chaney.  Much as how you really were surprised how much better Peter Weller was as Robocop than Robert Burke as the cyborg cop, so Karloff is to Chaney.  Chaney seems to believe just standing there or walking around stiffly is all that's required.

Lugosi and Chaney, Jr. are going to find a way to raise this child together
The plot...  well, the villagers in the village of, uhm, Frankenstein, decide to tear down the castle, and it turns out Lugosi/ Ygor is still living in the castle despite having been shot point blank in the chest in the previous movie.  The Monster sort of falls out of the wreckage of the castle (don't ask), and gets hit by lightning, and then they take him to see this brother of the son of Franken...

You know what?

This movie more or less marks the sure breaking point for the franchise into unintentional self-parody.  From here on out, it seems the Universal Pictures are mostly monster meet ups and team ups, and the sort of stuff that more or less slowly squeezed the life out of the characters and turned them from big screen draw to kid's matinee material.

In short, it wasn't very good.  Despite a plot that involved brain transplants and a weird subtext to the Karloff/ Lugosi rivalry when Lugosi's Ygor gets his brain put into the monster (thereby more or less killing Karloff's version of the monster), something just doesn't click.  Anyway, you can't fault it for either jumping through plot hoops to make sense and tie into the previous films or a shortage of wacky ideas.  Its just...  I dunno.

And, yeah, there's a ghost of Henry Frankenstein for, like, three seconds and...  it just doesn't really make any sense.  But he is still very definitely into SCIENCE.

This sort of creepier than anything in the actual movie

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Was Wrong: UT beats Nebraska in slow, hilarious game

Oh, man.

So, every week at my office we gather around the whiteboard and guess the outcome of the UT game.  This is particularly interesting as, while we're officed at UT and I'm a UT alum, most of my colleagues are Texas A&M graduates and don't have funny ideas about how a Just God wants for UT to win all of its games.  I confess, after the past few weeks of UT's lackluster play, this week I stood at the board and guessed that UT would lose by 12 to 14.

Well, when I'm wrong, I'm wrong.  And today being wrong meant that the Nebraska Corn Huskers, who had this summer left the Big 12 conference after losing the 2009 Big 12 Championship and who really, really hate the Longhorns for their quite-literal last second win, and who had managed to work their ranking up to #5 in the polls while UT fell out of the rankings altogether, and who had spent the past year doing nothing but planning to beat a very weak-looking Longhorn team...  that Nebraska wound up losing.

seriously, how am I supposed to empathize with this guy?
I get it.  I know why they were looking forward to kicking the crap out of UT on Nebraska's home field.  I'd be pretty kooky, too.  But, man...  as much joy as they planned to take at seeing a completely different team than the one that won last year?  You know, its still a game.  There's always a chance of losing.  And now UT fans are (a) in disbelief because we didn't expect to win, either, and (b) now how are not supposed to think that's just kind of funny?  It's tragi-hilarious. 

I'm sure there's a moral in here somewhere.

In the end, UT won, 20-13.  I think in no small part due to the UT defense, who looked like last year's defense for the first time this year.

That doesn't really forgive the play calling that led to that flubbed kick by UT and Nebraska's one touchdown.

The UT perspective here.

From CNN Sports Illustrated.

From the Statesman.

Rounding Up: Longhorns, Interactivity, Son of Frankenstein

1) Longhorns at Nebraska

I am not at all confident about Longhorns and Football going into today's game vs. Nebraska. Apparently the Huskers are still a bit peeved about UT's last-second win against them a while back and have done nothing but train for a year to figure out how to beat UT. And the UT team they planned to beat has graduated, leaving the "gosh, gee-willikers, it's a buildin' year!" Longhorns we're now watching. So... that's gonna be interesting. Right now our greatest hopes for success require a complete psychological breakdown for Nebraska, the 'Horns accidentally being bathed in Gamma Radiation*, and/or the spread of a nasty stomach virus this morning amongst UT's foes.

"I'm totally going to throw this ball 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  Because that is what I am awesome at."
Heap upon this the fact that Colt "Oh, My Arm Seems to Have Stopped Functioning" McCoy is starting for the Browns against the punishing Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday?

Ah, well.

2) Where are the entries for our Halloween Interactivity?

You've got several days, but we've only received ONE entry for the 2010 Halloween Monster Interactivity! People, this is going to be super-lame if we don't get more submissions, and I know you want your voice heard.

And don't forget: A submission means you receive an awesome Signal Corps Fun Pack!

3) Son of Frankenstein

Just look at these handsome devils.  That's Lugosi and Karloff, btw.
So last night I watched Son of Frankenstein, the third in the series of the Universal Studios-produced Frankenstein movies.  It's a bit embarrassing to admit that I had never made it past Bride of Frankenstein when I'm such a fan of the first two films, but in all fairness, there's no Elsa Lanchester after Bride of Frankenstein, so why go on? 

Son of Frankenstein stars Basil "Sherlock Holmes" Rathbone as Wolf Von Frankenstein, son of Heinrich Von Frankenstein, the creator of the monster in the movies.**  Bela "Dracula" Lugosi plays Ygor, Heinrich's old lab assistant, now a mad man living in the ruins of the laboratory, and Karloff returns as The Monster.

The story isn't as large in scope, nor as nail-bitingly over the top as the two James Whale directed Frankenstein films, and Whale's touch is sorely missed.  The fever-pitch madness of Bride is almost completely absent until about the third reel, when Rathbone's Wolf Von Frankenstein realizes he made have made a mistake that' causing a whole lot of problems.

You would not believe the paperwork you have to do for the FDA before experimenting with the reanimation of monsters
It does establish some of what's actually going on with the monster, and basically sets up The Monster as the original Jason Voorhees.  Basically, you find out that whatever Henry Frankenstein did to re-animate the Monster meant that the Monster no longer has the ability to die, in addition to being super-human.

The set design on the movie is pretty wild, and I have to give the film's creators credit where credit is due.  Where Whale's forest and castles were gothic and detailed, the castle and sets of this film seemed to go back to German Expressionism, with vast spaces punctuated with odd angles, and twisted pathways.  Which, of course, our Frankenstein just adores when he walks into the castle (because he's got the Frankenstein madness, see).

This is how the Frankensteins eat dinner.  No, seriously.
If you've never seen Young Frankenstein, I pity you.  Its one of my favorite comedies and has been since I saw the movie at the Dobie my freshmen year at UT.  One of the best comedic casts I can think of***.  Despite the fact I've seen Young Frankenstein a half-dozen times, Somehow it never occurred to me that the movie was actually referencing characters from movies beyond the first two Frankenstein movies, but Son of Frankenstein is somewhat the template for the movie, right down to the one-armed Burgomeister (who totally uses his wooden arm to hold his darts).

If you've seen the first two Frankenstein movies from Universal, its worth checking out this third in the series, but its sort of suffering from some of the sequel-of-a-sequel-without-the-original-director malaise that you'll see in movies like Jurassic Park III.  I'll let you know how the 4th movie in the series is:  Ghost of Frankenstein - the first film without Karloff as the Monster.

the terrifying "birthday cake" scene

*That's a Hulk reference, kids
** For reasons I can't fathom, Universal changed the name of the monster's creator in the movies to Henry Frankenstein from Victor, as it appears in the 1818 book.  
*** Mel brooks directed, starring: Gene Wilder, Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle and with Gene Hackman in a brief cameo role.