Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie RIP

I am completely shocked and cannot believe the reports, but it seems that television and comics writer Dwayne McDuffie has passed.

Details are sketchy, but reports are appearing in comics media that McDuffie has died the same week that his animated adaptation of All Star Superman was hitting wide release on home video. 

Since I learned of his past and current work in the mid00's, I've felt that McDuffie was an extraordinary talent.  He was only middle-aged, at best, and I was unaware of any health issues McDuffie may have suffered. 

he was the creator of the Milestone imprint and a key contributor to that universe, his most famous creation likely was Static (aka:  Static Shock).  I absolutely loved his work on the superlative Justice League Unlimited, his run on JLA when editorial wasn't mucking about, and other bits of his work.

I am very deeply saddened to hear this news. 

Christchurch Earthquake

We've been watching the tragedy unfold in Christchurch, New Zealand via news reports and social media. 

While we're also watching events unfold in Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere...  and we're trying to keep up with it all, in the morning please see if you can't send a few dollars to the Red Cross to assist with the situation unfolding in New Zealand.  Right now the NZ wing of the Red Cross site is down, but it may be up by the time you're up in the morning.

Click here

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rubbernecking 1947 Crime Scenes: "The Black Dahlia" book and movie

So, I'm not quite ghoulish enough to spend a lot of time watching shows about true life murder (unless I'm unemployed, then all bets are off.  City Confidential is aaaammmaaaaaaazing.).  For reasons I'm not quite sure of, I've been aware of the Black Dahlia murder since at least high school.  "The Black Dahlia"* was the name used in the LA press to describe torture and murder victim Elizabeth Short, found dead and terribly mutilated in an empty lot in January of 1947.  Short's murder has never been solved.

The crime has been endlessly revisited, much like the Jack the Ripper slayings, due to the unthinkable cruelty inflicted upon Short, the seeming calculated ruthlessness, the bizarre manner of public disposal, the odd follow ups from someone seemingly Short's killer, and the fact that the crime went unsolved despite a media frenzy and all-out effort by the LAPD.

I'm going to interrupt you now and say, I am totally not @#$%ing kidding:  DO NOT GOOGLE FOR IMAGES OF ELIZABETH SHORT.  Due to the nature of Google image search, you're likely to turn up autopsy and crime scene photos, and, I repeat:  her manner of her death was absolutely horrific.

She looked like this in life.  There.  You're done.
Back in the 1980's, crime novelist James Ellroy penned a fictional account of the investigation of Short's murder, and I think its safe to say that Ellroy stuck to some basic facts of the case, held close to historical accuracy for the time, but otherwise readers should consider the book a work of complete fiction (including characterization of Elizabeth Short).

I recently completed the book and watched the movie, The Black Dahlia.  Reading the book and watching the flick back-to-back is something I've been doing a lot of late, although I confess I gave up on the film of Slaughterhouse Five, deciding I wanted more time between the book and movie, but in this case...  I hadn't been completely sold on Ellroy's Black Dahlia.  Maybe I should have been, but parts of the book felt like they'd been cut too short or sold short, other parts seemed to linger on a bit longer than I felt necessary.


Some of the characters are fairly obvious, and, frankly, I felt that the minute the entirety of the Sprague clan showed up, and the way in which our narrator meets the family, this would be another tale in which the well-hidden perversions of the wealthy lead to victimhood for others.

As the book arrived in the 1980's, I can't be certain that it hasn't been imitated endlessly since, or if its carrying on the tradition of stories like Hammett's The Dain Curse or The Big Sleep by Chandler, and there's been enough repetition in crime and noir fiction that its almost inevitability of the genre.  It doesn't really matter, I suppose as I wasn't able to guess, exactly, who was responsible for the Dahlia until it was revealed in the novel, but it seemed as if rather than pursuing red herrings, the book could have tried to come to less of a dead end so early on.  The winding mess does obfuscate the mystery, but somehow the denouement just feels a bit too much like a "hoo-dunnit" by the time the final chapters put things into place.  Moreover, unlike the similar fictional reconstruction by Alan Moore in From Hell, the players selected are all entirely fictional, and it feels a little odd solving a very real, very tragic murder with fictional characters, motivations, etc...

Frankly, I couldn't ever shake the feeling that making Lee Blanchard the killer would have been a more logical and more interesting choice, even after pursuing the Sprague clan, but...  a lot of people who've read the book apparently thought otherwise.


I do like most of Ellroy's style, and its made me curious to check out some of his other work (this seems like a very good companion piece to what I remember of the film adaptation of LA Confidential, also by Ellroy). 
I've been looking at American Tabloid as an audio book, and I might have to do that.

The sprawling cast of the book feels right, especially in the multiple environments our narrator passes through, and Ellroy does a good job of knowing all of his characters well enough that you don't get lost.  He seems to fully realize the world of 1940's-era LA and Hollywood, refusing to romanticize any of it. And while he's not as razor quick as a Hammett, Chandler or Westlake, his more "novelistic" approach to traditionally pulp material does give the proceedings a welcome bit of gravitas.

What's terribly odd is how... off I found the recent adaptation to film by Brian DePalma.

these poor jerks thought they were in the next big movie
Released in 2006, the entire tone of the movie seems simply off.  DePalma seems to want to imbue the movie with same sweeping grandeur he captured in The Untouchables, which was a movie far more like a tale of larger than-life heroes and villains playing out morality tales against the marble and granite backdrops of Depression-era Chicago.  Its a strange tack to take with a story that is, flat out, crime-fiction-noir, the kind of story that relies on dingy apartments, bare light-bulbs, cheap-looking actors and a bottle in either foreground or background of every shot.

I knew things had missed the mark fairly early on, but almost groaned aloud when I saw DePalma had transformed the dank, intentionally dark and unobtrusive "lesbian bar", Laverne's, into a swank, deco dinner club complete with a KD Lang (plus dancers) floor show.

Casting for the movie could have been mostly on.  Josh Hartnett was likely okay to cast as narrator Bucky Bleichert, but a producer somewhere decided you can't hire Hartnett and give him prosthetic Buck teeth, no matter what the character is named, and so the teeth disappear before the end of the Act 1.  Scarlet Johansson, always welcome on the screen or in my home, is clearly cast about 10-15 years too young for her role, coming off as a co-ed playing grown up rather than the worldly Kay Lake of the novel.  Hilary Swank never captures the acute weirdness of Madeline Sprague...  the list just kind of goes on.  But, man, do the Sprague-scenes feel like actors chewing up the scenery...  Aaron Eckhardt and the character of Lee feel simply wasted in this adaptation.

you would think Ms. Johansson would make everything better
But even the directing and cutting feel weird.  Scenes are awkwardly shot, seemingly lacking B roll and inserts for close-ups.  Actors seems to know their lines, but haven't quite found the scene, but that's what's on the screen.  And the investigation into the life of Elizabeth Short gets dumbed down into a series of sort-of-goofy screen tests.  Bucky and Lee's absolute unraveling just doesn't make it into the movie, and that's unfortunate (for Ellroy and the viewer).  It was so much the point of the book, and here it just feels like plodding plot points.

All of the pieces are there, from big name actors to up and comers, to beautiful sets, a name director and a best-selling novel as the source...  Anyway, don't take my word for it.  The New York Times also watched the film.

On the whole, its a missed opportunity.  My personal feelings about how Ellroy wraps up the mystery aside, something really weird happened here, and I doubt that's a story Mr. DePalma will ever get to tell.  And because Short's death was very real, and because its not completely outside the window of memory, even while preserved in records and black and white photos, somehow it seems you need to do better when you're given the chance.

In interviews and elsewhere, its no mystery that Ellroy carried (or carries) his own low-level obsession with the Black Dahlia, and wanted some sort of justice for Elizabeth Short. 

As I understand it, Ellroy isn't alone, and a few folks hit the LAPD for the Short files on a routine basis, hoping to find some new clue, somewhere in the endless amount of paperwork created during the investigation.I find it unlikely that with 60 years turning to 70 since Elizabeth Short died, that anyone will ever know what truly happened, but she was real.  And so you hope that those who want to use her memory to tell their stories will do so with the care that I believe Ellroy genuinely employed, but which somehow got lost in the same Hollywood that killed Short the first time around.

*the name was coined after The Blue Dahlia, a popular movie of the era starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

Austin Books and Comics to be Crushed by Godzilla!

IDW has launched a new Godzilla series, and as an incentive to retailers, if the shop ordered a whole lotta copies of Godzilla #1, they could get copies with an image of the store getting destroyed by the rampaging toes of the King of Monsters.

I already had plans to read this series and am quietly very excited about getting a copy of this comic.  I find the idea of Godzilla rampaging his way down Lamar toward The Triangle, and into campus, then southward toward the Capitol...  appealing. 

when will the staff of ABC learn to live in balance with nature?

And I think Brandon at ABC would have wanted to go exactly this way, by the way.

Signal Watch President's Day Profile: Calvin Coolidge

Most of you know that when it comes to Presidents, I find Theodore Roosevelt to be up one of the most fascinating (somewhere next to the "now-slipped-into-the-territory-of-mythos", like Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, I guess).  But 'ol TR gets a lot of coverage, so I won't do that here until I actually read that third volume by Morris. 

The 20th Century saw a wide array of men (well, a wide array of moneyed white men) land in the White House. From Reagan to Kennedy to FDR to Nixon to "Wild" Bill Clinton, it was a wild ride, indeed.

But who talks about Calvin Coolidge? Nobody.

Coolidge was fortunate to land in the White House between World War I , and that little political hot potato we call The Great Depression.*  Coolidge managed a Bush-43 maneuver, saying good-bye to the White House just as the economy was going to holy hell and leaving Hoover in office to make a series of increasingly bad decisions, and shrug off responsibility.  Coolidge was part of a chain of Republican presidents that is mostly dull when history isn't making you want to slap both Harding and Hoover.  Somehow, Coolidge never feels very slappable.  But he doesn't seem much of anything, when you do a little Googling.

It may explain much that Coolidge took the Presidency only after the death of President Harding, who was on a "Tour of Understanding" or some such, which was not entirely unlike Superman walking across America to "get back to the people".  Coolidge served without much in the way of scandal or notoriety, and if you think about our record since Truman, that's kind of AMAZING.

Coolidge served from 1923-29 as President, and somehow William Henry Harrison gets more ink for managing to catch a cold during his inauguration and immediately die in office (which: hubris, people).

This guy.  6 years.
Why do we not write songs about Coolidge, insist on naming airports after him, and why have conservatives not lauded Coolidge as they do Reagan? From the White House's own website:
The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent for effectively doing nothing
Well, to his credit, the 1920's were a pretty good time in America, if you ignore Prohibition and how much that would have put a cramp in you getting your party started. We had movies by the 1920's, phonographs, a lack of war, gangsters livening stuff up with bathtub gin, and flappers were making wearing slinky dresses and dancing and drinking a welcome idea.

The White House also says:
But no President was kinder in permitting himself to be photographed in Indian war bonnets or cowboy dress, and in greeting a variety of delegations to the White House.
So, you know: he was screwing around with disguise kits for 6 years.  Was he the Jimmy Olsen of presidents?

Now largely forgotten, the raves in the Coolidge White House were, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, "Off the hook".
Even the White House seems to struggle to figure out what this guy was actually doing 40 hours per week other than hanging about, or even to have something positive to say about the dude, but its hard to say much negative either. The reason: Coolidge is most famous for not just doing nothing, but for basically refusing to talk during his Presidency. Including (or especially) at social functions and dinner parties. He was pretty keen on just answering with a simple "yes" or "no", leading this website to postulate that Coolidge was likely an early cyborg presidential replacement.

Clearly, this lack of "shooting one's mouth off when given the slightest provocation and when nobody can stop you" is where Coolidge and I would diverge, but I kind of like the idea of the person who runs their life and presidency by remembering the old adage about "better to remain silent and let them think you a fool than to speak and remove all doubt".

In some ways, he's the ideal Tea Party guy, in that his lack of desire to see the government (ie: himself) actually do anything fits in neatly with the "less government" idea.  He was no TR when it came to using the Presidency and, by extension, the entire US, as a blunt instrument.  Coolidge, sought not to rock the boat and to do what he could to promote Capitalist ideals.  After all, he was the guy who coined the idea that "the business of America is business". He may be the Ron Swanson of Presidents.

Without trying to throw too many political grenades, I'll mention that the Democrats of the Southern States during the 1920's were not always the most interested in concepts of social justice based upon racial, ethnic and other barriers.  Republican Coolidge was of the Abraham Lincoln school of 19th Century and early-20th Century Republicans and recognized the gallant participation of African-Americans in the first World War, and acted in support of black citizens, Catholics and others who had to put up with the bigoted nonsense Americans tend to cultivate (see:  Woodrow Wilson).

On a  final note:

I read somewhere long ago, and cannot find the source, that Coolidge also liked to sneak off and hide in the bushes from his security crew, then hop out and scare them when they came looking for him. If true, then Coolidge was exactly my kind of guy.

Hmmm.  You know, I probably should have covered Taft.  That guy was probably more interesting.

More reading on Coolidge:

Wikipedia is oddly complete
Calvin Coolidge's web site (Yup)

Well, that sort of covers it.  He's not exactly John Adams, people.

*If anyone wants a name for the Depression we're sinking into now, may I recommend "Great Depression 2:  Depression Forever!"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The League's old life in the footlights comes back to haunt him

I've mentioned before that I was not a jock in high school, although I was 2nd string for the 9th grade Westwood Warriors basketball team - where I came up with entirely new lyrics to "Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay" and changed it to the more appropriate "Sittin' on the Bench at the Game". Big and strong I may have been for my age, but athletically inclined? Not so much.

So in 10th Grade, I'd moved (back) to Spring, Texas, where I quit the basketball team after the fifth game of the season (and the 2nd in which I'd traveled with the team and not gotten 1 minute of playing time). Not having obligations on the team made the decision fairly easy, and the two guys on the team I was friendly with weren't pals with me because of my basketball prowess, so, you know... riding pine every game in what turned out to be a 1-21 season for the KOHS Junior Varsity team was not a thrilling prospect.

I was a fan of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and they were having auditions. I didn't get a roll, but I did get to understudy. There, I re-connected with the Jim Parsons, with whom, I was told, I had attended a TRS-80 camp years before (the idea of having a camp to interest kids in computers now seems so.... bizarre). Jim is now an Emmy-winning actor for his portrayal of Dr. Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.

Entertainment Tonight ran a bit this week where they interviewed Jim's mom (who I think is a pretty great lady), Julie (Jim's sister - who I knew much better than I knew Jim), and our shared former director/ teacher, Margaret Locher (who we all knew by her maiden name and just called her "V" back then). Its odd to see my old high school auditorium where I spent hundreds of hours over the years prepping for plays, building sets, hanging lights, painting, whatever... on TV. Although they have gotten rid of the absolutely horrendous "orange on orange" color scheme that once dominated the entire school.*

Locher, by the way, was college chums with Marcia Gay Harden. Howzabout that?

It certainly says something about Jim's stature in LA these days that they're now going back and doing these bits with his family and teachers. And I'm very pleased to see JulieP and V get a chance in front of the cameras.

Watch the video here.
(Sorry, the embedded video starts automatically, and that's a pain.)

The photos of plays you see there are Noises Off!, which I did not see as it was done the year before I arrived, and from the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, referred to above. Yes, I knew all those people. And its weird to see pictures you haven't seen since 1993 (but which were in the hallway of the auditorium, so you saw them every day) pop up online.

* No, nobody knew why.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Have a Friday

I'm doing other things. Have a good one.

As my birthday approaches, I am thinking I'd like to get my hands on a real typewriter. Its been at least since high school since I used one, but I'd just kind of like one for the shelf. Underwood? Corona? What do you think?

Hall of Inaccurate Presidents

this struck me as particularly great (and reminded me of Steven G. Harms)

found on twitter @Kevin_Church

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Adrianne Palicki is TV's Wonder Woman

Well, there you go.

ladies and germs, your Amazon Princess

NathanC sent along an article from Variety stating that Adrianne Palicki has been cast as Wonder Woman for the upcoming weekly drama on NBC. 

Late edit:  JimD sends along this article that echoes many of the thoughts you will see below.

It could be far worse.  In addition to being a fairly tall woman  (IMDB says she's an Amazon-appropriate 5'11"), if you've seen Friday Night Lights, she's actually a remarkably talented actor.  Her character (season 2 aside) had one of the more interesting story arcs, and you really did get to see a range there.  So, well done, TV people.

This also isn't her first run at a show based on a DC Property.  Way back in the day, she played a bad-guy in the never-aired pilot for an Aquaman TV show.  Yes, I've seen it.  Bought it on iTunes.  The show was just really poorly conceived and I'm not crying that it didn't make it.

She also appeared in a Smallville episode in 2004. 

Here's a picture from her days on Friday Night Lights (and that is what trees look like in Central Texas).

While hiring Palicki is a step in the right direction, you still have to worry a bit about the script reports that are coming out. They aren't very promising.

In fact, it sounds kind of terrible and as if David E. Kelley kind of missed the point/never bothered to read any actual Wonder Woman books, watch an episode of Justice League, etc... It just sounds like he took Ally McBeal and said "oh...  now she's a superhero!". 

At Comics Alliance
At iFanboy (this makes me want to sit in the dark and cry)
This is a new look at Wonder Woman that, while ringing familiar, will probably put off a lot of Wonder Woman traditionalists and, I’m assuming, most comic book fans. This is a Diana that likes to sing along -- loudly -- to the radio when she’s driving into work and eat a bunch of ice cream in her pajamas because she ran into her ex-boyfriend. Some people are going to find that endearing and some people will find it annoying.
I am kind of expecting nerd rage, but that the masses who don't know anything about the character will think this is really neat, which will, of course, drive me insane.  Which is something.  Its better than the pilot for Bionic Woman that couldn't fire a single neuron of any emotion, anger or sadness or joy or...  Or Nikita, which had me cracking up at its audacious, unironic awfulness.

I just really can't believe this is what DC is going with.  Not a great start for the Diane Nelson-era of DC Entertainment.  I suspect Ms. Nelson will take a while before she realizes what she actually has on her hands.