Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Captain America Trailer Hits

don't tell me this doesn't look like Cap, because this is more or less Cap as I understand him and for the past decade, this has been pretty much exactly Cap.

Still, its a little weird to see the Hydra stuff in the middle of a WWII movie.

Elizabeth Taylor Merges with the Infinite

Kids of my generation likely think of Elizabeth Taylor as the kooky lady from the White Diamonds commercials and a friend to Michael Jackson. Or, possibly, they know of her doomed romance with Richard Burton and her starring role in Cleopatra.

I suppose folks younger than myself really don't know much about her at all.

Frankly, I haven't seen a whole lot of Ms. Taylor's work (not even Lassie Come Home), but I'd hate to not mention the passing of a screen icon, entertainment royalty and a really good looking dame.

Seems like a good week to finally watch Giant.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Post Wednesday

Was in Waco today but came back. I bought a belt and socks, then had a lovely dinner with an old friend from days of yesteryear. He's doing fine.

I'm tired, and I don't know what I'd talk about if I had the energy.

Apropos of nothing, here is the lovely Myrna Loy:

So, I think I am going to see "The Big Bang"

A lot of what folks try to pass off as modern noir seems to either really translate into "plodding detective movie" or "we've mistaken showing the sex scenes/ making an 'erotic' thriller with what they were doing in noir, but we basically ended up making something they'll show on Cinemax after 12:01 AM".

Really, aside from "The Big Lebowski", its hard to think of much in the last few years that actually pulled it off.

I don't want to vouch for the flick until I've seen it, but I'm going to give the new Antonio Banderas movie a shot.  The trailer looks...  not terribly promising, but they cast Bill "Predator" Duke and put him in the trailer, so I'm in.

Language in the trailer is NSFW

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekend Movies: Laura, Gojira and Predator

So the last three movies I watched were
  • the 1944 noirish classic Laura featuring Dana Andrews and the lovely Gene Tierney
  • Gojira, the original Japanese version of Godzilla (1954) from before someone decided to cut in Raymond Burr to Americanize the flick
  • Predator, the 1987 action/ alien monster flick starring two actual Governors of actual States of the US and the now-under-utilized Carl Weathers
Of late, I've felt like there's so much perfectly good stuff out there that I haven't seen yet, or that I have seen but felt it needed another watching more than, say, Gnomeo + Juliet, that I haven't been out to see very many new movies the past year.  Not to say I don't go out to the movies.  Of course, Austin likes to cater to dorks my age with $10 burning a hole in their pocket, and so if you want to see a super-rare 35mm print of Predator, this is the town to do it in.  And just as TPR runs a terrific summer cinema series of classic and unusual film, so, too, will Austin's Paramount theater.

Sure, I feel bad I didn't see The King's Speech (not really, but I know it will make you feel better if I say so),  but in my experience, if a movie is worth watching, it will be worth watching at some indeterminate point in the future, perhaps more so than had I watched it as part of a media blitz and award season rampage.

That said, I wish the only true arthouse theater left in Austin were not a hike from my house.  And that they also served delicious red pepper hummus like The Alamo.  As it is far from my home and the best I can do is popcorn or Whoppers (which: gross), I don't even really look to see what's playing at the Arbor anymore.


This was my second viewing of Laura, and I realized I actually had forgotten "whodunnit" when it came to the murder, so it was actually quite a bit of fun to watch again and see a young Vincent Price playing The Handsome but Weak Young Man.  And, of course, the mid-movie twist is more or less now a cinema classic (it was fun to watch Jamie during that part).

Add a mustache, smoking jacket, and a razor sharp pendulum of death, and there's Mr. Price!
Its almost more of a drawing room mystery than a true noir, but the obsession with the murdered Laura and the various motives of our suspects certainly makes it a candidate for the ill-defined genre.  I like to think its a precursor to Vertigo, which is a much more complicated film and takes the obsession just that little bit crazier (thanks, Jimmy Stewart!),  but its hard to argue with success or Dana Andrews' as the no-BS-cop who falls hard for a dame who is pushing up daisies.


If you've only seen the American cut of the original Godzilla (which is a perfectly good movie, by the way), I really recommend checking out the original Japanese version, Gojira.  This is the first Godzilla flick, and its where the groundwork for Godzilla as big, physical manifestation of the psychic sins of humanity gets outlined, and in this version its pretty powerful stuff.  Especially when one considers this was about 9 years after Hiroshima, etc...

Gojira just cannot figure out where he dropped his keys
There's just so much to love in a Godzilla movie, whether you're watching it as an earnest albeit metaphorical cautionary tale, as high camp of Man in Suit or just to bask in the weirdness of the sequels.  Being the first, Gojira doesn't hint at the wink-and-a-nod-ness of the more self-aware Godzilla movies, and before technology had moved beyond Man in Suit (but it has become a point of pride to keep the Godzilla movies pure with puppetry and miniatures). 

In about a week, a new Godzilla comic hits, and that was really part of why I was reviewing the movie. Also, man, Godzilla is awesome, but...

Its an odd thing to be watching a Godzilla movie and be thinking "too soon?".  So, give to the Red Cross, won't you?


And, last but not least, SimonUK and I made it out to the Alamo to see Predator.  Its funny how you learn new things all the time, such as:  Director/ Writer Shane Black is actually IN this movie as Hawkins.

These guys really know how to wipe out defenseless trees
Predator is definitely a nostalgia trip for me as its representative of the movies I was watching once we had a VCR, a membership at the local video store and evenings to kill during the summer.  The unapologetically explosive flicks of the 1980's made up my movie viewing in those years between kid's shows and figuring out movies could be a nuanced form of storytelling, which i think started when my Uncle showed me Das Boot and Godfather in the same weekend when I was 15.  But I still like these movies.

Predator also represents one of the high points of a specific sort of genre that became relegated to direct-to-video when studios just quit trying.  In many ways, Predator is sort of a high point for a genre that came out of 50's B-movies and has since become a staple of SyFy original movies.  And in that, much like John Carpenter's The Thing, I was surprised to see that  Predator is actually a pretty darn good movie.

You don't see much of him since he went off to run Howard University's RTF department, but actor/ director Bill Duke makes a serious impression as the "going quickly crazy" Mac.  And I find it surprising you didn't see more of the Elpidia Carillo after this movie.

But the movie is also notable for other names associated with the picture.  Famous creature maker Stan Winston designed the Predator, Die Hard director John McTeirnan did this pic first, Joel Silver was a producer, Alan Silvestri wrote the score...

...and Arnie appeared as the kid who gets bullied
I like the "technology vs. primitive" aspects, especially as the humans realize they don't have any technological advantage (a bit like people versus, say, deer) and the technology the humans depends on becomes useless compared to mud and sticks.  I also think you have to admire how the movie conveys the odd, wordless expression of the Predator honor system that becomes a thread in the movie.  Sure, its got some hokey lines, irresponsible use of explosives and firearms, and seems to believe Native Americans are magical, but its still a fun flick in a sort of Jack London-ish way.  Only with exploding heads, chain guns, and laser missiles.

Your reminder that TR was 10x the man of anyone alive

that @#$% is real
Thanks to RHPT for the image

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chris Onstad offers the reason for the multi-month hiatus on "Achewood"

This should probably get posted at our links sister site, but I'm posting it here.  Chris Onstad, sole creator and creative force behind the popular online strip, Achewood, has offered up a bit of an explanation as to why the series slowed to a drip and then went on hiatus, which seemed to start in earnest last October.

You can read his explanation here.

Some will say Onstad owed no explanation, but I'm not sure that's accurate. We can make a guess as to what happened and theorize, but part of having an audience does, in fact, mean that one has a responsibility to at least let people know what's happening.   Not knowing is a bit like if your waiter goes back in the kitchen and never returns (I actually did have that happen once, and its totally freaky.  I waited half an hour before flagging down another waiter and figuring out what happened.  Apparently my waiter's shift was over and he forgot he'd never closed out the tab at table 5.)

Achewood's tone and poise is not set to the same audience as that of "Marmaduke"
Onstad's response is more than adequate, but will confuse the howling masses who have been trained to expect their every whim to be catered to if they believe a penny can be made from such a whim.

His explanation is, by the way, basically:  I got burnt out.  It's been ten years, and with all the stuff associated with that sort of production, maintaining quality and challenging myself became a bit of a drag.  And the constant two-way feed of communication with the public seemed to be getting him down.

In some small way, I can relate on an infinitely smaller scale.  When I shut down League of Melbotis for several months and brought it back up under The Signal Watch, it was the best thing I could have done for myself and for my willingness to continue blogging.  Those months away retrained me that I was more than the work I did to get paid and a race each evening to post lest my readership numbers dwindle (for which I did not get paid).

Back in the blogging day, we attempted a sort of collaborative pop-culture blogging experiment called "Nanostalgia" that didn't really get off the tarmac before we settled gently back into the sea and I found myself on a metaphorical yellow rubber raft paddling back to shore and unnecessarily eating the ration packs.  But at that site I did a column about how hard it was going to be for webcomics because they aren't set up with all the niceties of the corporate structure, and its all on the shoulders of the single creator.  And that meant, man, you'd best be ready to give over your life to nigh-daily content production.

That all got a tough response from a webcomic guru, but six years later, I can see I was mostly right.  Making money and getting support is hard to begin with.  And once you do self-build that empire, its not unlike being successful at, say, owning a hardware store that becomes the size of a box store.  Suddenly you have all these new duties that aren't just "man, I have to get the new hammers out for the spring hammering season".  You got staff, deals to close, etc...  and its a much bigger thing than selling bolts or whatever reason you got into the hardware business to begin with.

And, I think, people do not get into the business of comics to feel like they're on an assembly line, cranking out comics that meet exactly the same criteria every panel, every episode lest the readership get nervous when the artist tries something new.

And, in my own small way, I wrestled a bit with the expectations of the readership, as it were.  I have enjoyed the freedom of the sandbox that I've staked out as The Signal Watch, and in many ways, its easier having a much smaller readership of friends, family, strange Canadians, etc...  who aren't much more invested than sort of checking in and do not think of the content as a product to be delivered to their RSS feed daily.  And while it had little to do with why I quit (however briefly), man...  its much easier to get the "hey, is everything okay?  You haven't posted in a while" emails than the "where are you?  what's your problem?" comments showing up because you decided to do something else for three or four days.  And I never had to deal with the entitlement of a readership that one could see in the sprawling comment sections beneath each and every strip.

I hope Onstad finds his way out of whatever creative qicksand he's been caught in.  I salute the guy.  He created a fantastic strip for about a decade, producing hundreds of times better content in that time than some strips that run 365 days a year, have hit every day for decades and have become the ugly, comfy slippers of the newspaper strip world.  I'll be sure to try to follow him wherever he goes, and I am certain that whatever he does next will be better than even Achewood die-hards would expect.

Signal Watch Reads: Superman #709


For the record:  I suspect The Flash is quite a bit faster than Superman
One of my favorite comics is the original Superman/ Flash race, and I keep a copy of that issue in a frame on my wall.  You aren't going to get an objective review out of me when you add The Flash and Superman together.  And you will then see me suggesting you check out:
In this issue, Superman's trek takes him to Colorado where we find Superman wrapping things up after an off-panel team-up with Super-Chief.  And here I'd like to digress...

I'd love to see a new Superman Family book like we had back in the day, including the B-listers, supporting casts and to give creators a chance to work on characters like the aforementioned "Super-Chief" (and I find the idea that Green Bay has a super-hero pretty awesome/ hilarious).  Why DC hasn't launched anthology books for the Super and Bat-books is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery...

But if Roberson is wondering - yes, I'd pay money to see more of Super-Chief (but will not pay to see Supertramp).


Superman enters Boulder, Colorado where the world around him begins changing to a replica of Krypton.  Squinting, Superman's supervision detects that its Barry Allen/ Flash working at super-super-speed to construct costumes and replicas of Krypton's past so quickly, the full scale changes are happening in the blink of an eye, while Barry recites Kryptonian history at super-super-speed.

I'm not really interested in spoilers or rehashing the plot, but there is a bit of a Flash/ Superman race in the story, and that is a good thing.

I've commented before how Roberson's stories seem to harken back to the Elliot S! Maggin and Cary Bates stories I've only really become familiar with in the last four years or so (thanks, back-issue bins!), and the splash on page 4 of this issue just screams "Bronze Age" to me.  And that is a good thing.  

As I grew older, had a job, etc...  something I liked about the line of DC characters was that: where Marvel's books (especially X-Men) maintained the feeling of getting jammed together like high schoolers, DC's characters had an interesting collegiality about them, especially when Morrison and Waid were handling the JLA title.  Sitting at the JLA conference table with coffee while talking about how to deal with a crisis actually made complete sense to me, and seeing them call one another by their first name was always a reminder that these characters knew and trusted one another, but that they could be honest with each other (how many other people get to call Batman "Bruce" when he's in the mask?  There's something to that.).

A civil conversation between Flash and Superman is a welcome moment in the story, just old friends having a bite - even if its at superspeed.  Even if I felt that Marvel's characters were a bit high-school-ish, Marvel always understood that unless you have those character moments, the stories don't matter.  DC definitely tilts toward plot-driven tales, but if we can't see who Superman and The Flash are...  why would anyone care?  And isn't it easier to speak in the broad terms found on message boards and comment sections if you can't point to the specifics found in these sorts of scenes?

Its refreshing to see Flash just be up-front with Superman about his recent trauma, and how he's not surprised if Clark is a bit off.  As much as the JLA can be about bringing together a strategically superior fighting force (which... okay, that's every team book) it can also be a place to acknowledge the similarities and differences of these icons as characters.*  This was something Brad Meltzer was about to do with his JLA re-launch, but, man... did people not get what he was up to. 

The issue also gets bonus points for references to Barry's awakening to his own powers (the first use of his superspeed was catching a falling tray of food in a diner), but will likely be best known for the already-famous insertion of the internet meme "Lex Luthor took 40 cakes" directly into the story.  And that is terribly awesome.

Also, this issue may go down in history as being the one who's preview featuring a Superman/ Flash race got so heated in the comment section that DC finally killed the comments on their own blog.  Slow clap, comics fans.

Roberson does what he's done remarkably well since taking over the title:  he's repurposed the Grounded storyline and actually played off the weaknesses in JMS's original plan, addressing where JMS went wrong "in story" and made it part of the narrative. 

I suspect that this issue, which drops a few hints at the "and something is very wrong with Superman" is the breather en route to the conclusion of Grounded.  We don't have all that many issues left to go, and one would suspect that with the Doomsday storyline happening in Action and other titles, we're due for a big conclusion here. 

I mentioned in a previous column (not a Superman review) that I had written DC a letter asking that they consider keeping Chris Roberson on the Superman title after the conclusion of Grounded.  I'd reiterate that sentiment here.  Roberson gets the character of Superman as well as any I've seen handed the keys to the kingdom, and it would be a shame to see DC pull the plug on he and Paul Cornell in Action Comics when those books are as strong as they've been in decades.

*which is one of my primary reasons for believing JLA should always feature a team that includes a minimum of 4 of the original 7.  Otherwise its a band touring as The Beach Boys, but without a single founding member.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rebecca Black's "Friday" (or: in which I discuss exploiting starry-eyed teens and their parents for fun and profit)

So.  Rebecca Black.

Randy asked me to cover the rise of Rebecca Black, a girl I'd guess is a high school underclassman and who has become famous for a very bad song which is making the rounds.

If you have not seen the video that launched a meme, I'll go ahead and embed it below. I invite you to watch the video in order to inflate Rebecca's hit count and get some context here.

So, I'll be honest... yes, its vapid, pointless pop music, clearly cranked out quickly and cheaply.  It utilizes auto-tune to fix a non-professional's deficiencies, and to make it sound exactly like every other song that's on Top 40 radio. Sure, its hard to say much about the song other than "they really know how to repeat the same words over and over", and itts intended to appeal to an audience I'd guess is between the ages 5-15 (ie: children's music - which i doubt Black herself has grokked), but it is MOSTLY a song that Ms. Black's folks would feel completely comfortable to hear their child sing in front of a crowd (if one can ignore the poor grammar of "we so excited".  Which raises questions for me about the writer's intentions regarding who was supposed to sing this song, but let us not go there.)

The video and song have been mocked by folks online who know better* and believe themselves snarky.  Hey, that sounds sort of like what we do here, but let me be 100% honest with you:

I have absolutely no idea what is funny about this meme. This song sounds exactly in my head like what I hear when anyone from Hilary Duff to Miley Cyrus to Britney Spears to Ke$ha to (insert pop starlet using autotune who is the product of a producer looking to create a brand).  It sounds like bad pop, which is what it is.

Perspective, people.

Sure, its a stripped down version of the overproduced pop that's dominated kid's music since someone tried to make a go of making Tiffany a household name.  I salute Black's parents for not buying that she has to put on a skimpy faux-Catholic school girl Halloween costume ala Ms. Spears to get attention, nor that she should sing about wanting to be "rubbed the right way", as Aguilera insisted en route to making the Top 40.  She seems like a sweet kid, and if riding in a car is a big deal to her, more power.

But...  I am 35 and a dude, and this is not intended for me.  This is exactly what pop music sounds like right now no matter who is performing it and no matter how they're dressed.  The difference is that she's singing about the dumb stuff that I suppose most kids in middle-class and upper-class homes think about at her age. Honestly, isn't this her "Everybody's Working for the Weekend"** but for rich kids for whom Friday represents a chance to get a ride with her friend's mom to the Pizza place where that cute boy from Geometry might be hanging out?  At least she's singing about what she knows. 

The fact that she can't sing (thus: auto-tune) and the lyrics are asinine: I'm sorry, where were all you people when Will Smith decided his daughter needed to be a pop star and everyone talked about how great and catchy that @#$% was? 

In short, its silly, its badly written, it doesn't really work...  but that describes 95% of what gets generated out there that outsells all your favorite bands.  So let us all give poor Rebecca a brake.

And... did we just notice that there are cynical producers exploiting bright-eyed young people and their parents? Heck, I admire Ark for their brazen choice to put their label out front and announce to YouTube Nation exactly who was making mad bank off of this hack job. And who can say that this method hasn't worked for them?
  • Rebecca Black has a top-selling tune on iTunes.  
  • You have smug self-satisfaction and once entertained notions that Crash Test Dummies were a good band when you were trying to define your tastes as "alternative". 
It's the Disney Channel of music.  If we're going to bag on this, let's all tune into Wizards of Waverly Place and bag on that show for not being The Wire.

Now what I do love is that at 2:30 in the video, this random, much-older guy shows up and starts rapping about how he wants to echo Rebecca's sentiments regarding the awesomeness of Fridays and his joy at seeing a school bus.

Guy in car, I salute you.***

Also, at about 1:16 it seems Ms. Black was asked to invite her pals to join her in a video shoot, and, man...  her friend in the braces does just not know she is about to be an internet meme.

Now, I know what I was listening to by 7th grade, so I can say with confidence, this would have drawn the same blank stares from me that Ms. Debbie Gibson received during her reign (btw, is this really worse than Electric Youth?), but maybe in, like, 2nd grade I would have thought this would have been great to hear at Pizza Royale while plugging quarters into the Galaga machine.  Back then, this would have been right there in my wheelhouse. 

You aren't going to really convince me that this is a whole lot different from, say, Taylor Swift.  Teen singer, handled by agents and producers, singing repetitive, tuneless songs, not in control of her own destiny...  Actually, that's kind of how I feel about modern country in general, but I digress.  The difference seems to be just how much someone's parents were willing to spend on an investment and how much a producer thought they could make on a kid before they wised up and he moved on to the next kid.

I am also not convinced that this girl is any different from the 10's of 1000's of bright-eyed hopefuls who show up for American Idol, nor what becomes of the "winners" of that show.

Now, I am willing to embrace this video and song as silly, if you'll acknowledge that Avril Lavigne did far more damage to the music industry than a 1000 Rebecca Blacks could hope to accomplish.

*I've seen your record collection.  You don't know better, and you have some explaining to do.
**I would submit that "Working for the Weekend" and much of the Loverboy catalogue was weaker than this tune, but we still let that @#$% play over the PA at Red Robin three decades on.
***In the story I've written in my head to give the video a narrative, this is RB's aunt's boyfriend who is the only one who appreciates Ms. Black's auto-tuned talent.

Oh @#$%...  

Here she is going acoustic (thx, Randy!)

I think her friend in the braces is sitting there on the couch looking way more comfortable this time.