Saturday, June 30, 2012

Still in Chicago: Aquarium, Planetarium, Art, Comics, Improv and Gene!

Having a lovely time.

Yesterday was Texas Summer Hot, which was pretty rough.  We got through the Aquarium (which was pretty great) and made it through about 1/3rd of the Planetarium (well, we did maybe 1/2 the stuff adults are supposed to do) before we threw in the towel.

You know, I don't have kids, but I have mixed feelings for those of you who do.  Man, they just go nuts, don't they?  I mean, who can blame the little monsters when confronted with the amazing universe of our aquatic friends, but they certainly do go batshit given the slightest stimulus.  And for some reason the Aquarium was the hot ticket item for family fun, which seemed odd when the Planetarium was (a) awesome and (b) totally kid friendly.  Also, you think fish are really gonna hold your kid's attention after you've been playing Pixar movies and buying them iPads for the past 8 years?  Good luck with that.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey! It's Me in the University of Texas Library Newsletter! Talking Comics!

A while back I was hanging out in the office of the Communications Officer for the UT Library.  I like to go in there both because Travis is hilarious and also because he often let's me take promo items like pens and whatnot.  Anyway, I was hanging out and Travis asked if I'd be interested in participating in their usual feature for the official newsletter for the UT Library where they ask a librarian to talk about some books they like.

Well, I'm not a librarian, but it's not like I can't read, and lord knows I'm not going to not give my opinion if asked.  "Can you walk about comics?" asked Travis.

"How many thousand words?" I asked.

Apparently they keep asking librarians this question, and they tend to get a lot of the same sorts of columns.  The Hail mary desperation play: ask the guy with the Superman poster what he thinks folks could be reading.

So, this quarter it's yours truly on Page 10 of the UT Library Newsletter.  "Ryan Steans Recommends".

I tried to mix it up a bit by mentioning different kinds of comics: biography, memoir, sci-fi, superhero...  We'll see how I did.

And, yes, Longhorns, that's me in the stacks of the PCL where I work everyday.

Hey. How's it Going?

I'm in Chicago.  We're staying right off Millennium and Grant Park in a beautiful hotel.  I feel very, very lucky.

The hotel was built in the 19th Century and is next to the El, so you can hear the rumble of the trains very lightly every few minutes.  Also - the El is amazing.  Texas: get with it on public transit.

We're taking it easy as we go.  Today we walked around the park and Buckingham Fountain, and then walked to the Field Museum (home of Sue the T-Rex) where we spent several hours and saw maybe half of the place.  We walked back, rested, then went for dinner.   Feeling jolly, we walked over to Millennium Park where we saw The Bean, some fireworks and a live broadcast of the Chicago Ballet which, apparently on Wednesdays in the summer they show on a huge screen in the park.  For free.  The place was packed.  Wrap your head around that, Austin-which-likes-to-pat-itself-on-the-back.

Oh, and the stage and area where this was shown, designed by architect Frank Gehry.  Just because.

Tomorrow:  The Aquarium and Planetarium.

I appreciate the food suggestions, but we're somewhat limited by the fact that Chicago is absolutely enormous as a city, and we're mostly trying to walk.  Based on our location, we can walk many directions and have many options, and so far, so good.

You won't see us doing 20 things in a day because that's not really the plan and we're not trying to rush.  The goal of this vacation was to take a vacation, so we're in the Windy City to take it easy.

Plus, give Jamie a break.  Girlfriend is on dialysis.

Anyway, that's trip report 1, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Reminder: I am in Chicago

As of this evening I am in Chicago.

This is a pre-written post, so it's possible my plane exploded or I got lost and took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Anyway, low-post week is more than likely.  You guys have a great <indeterminate period until I post again> and we'll chat soon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Open Letter to NBC as The Olympics Draw Nigh

Dear NBC,

This evening I tuned into some pre-Olympics coverage.  Coverage of time trials as young Americans in Omaha, Nebraska who had been working their whole lives (or some short period of time between adolescence and now) to become world class athletes competed against their countrymen in very silly activities like seeing who can swim fastest for400 meters, but changing directions something like 8 times to do so (just imagine if we asked 400 meter runners to keep changing directions.  I'd watch that.)

I can almost sense the impending failure just from the official NBC logo.
As we do every four four years, I saw Andrea Kremer hopping about in a golf shirt (a sports-casting garment reserved just for the Olympics.  Why is that?), trying to interview hairless, genetic freak men with excellent musculature.  I can see why anyone for whom that's a thing would be as excited as Ms. Kremer.

I also noticed the color commentators relishing the opportunity afforded them for a few weeks every quadrennium to seem something like relevant, instead of finding themselves filling time on CNBC at 3:00 on a Saturday in February.  They seemed very interested in odd minutia about very specific individuals, talked about how the nation's hopes were pinned on this seventeen year old girl who is supposed to swim faster in a switchback fashion than other people, and then had very little nice to say about her once she was in the water and not breaking laws of space and time.

If I may:  Planning a meeting or a conference or even a party takes an incredible amount of work.  I get this.  I do stuff like that often.

You work and work and work to get to the event, you struggle through it, and then its over and all you want to do is celebrate.  The last thing you want to do is show up again on Monday and consider what maybe you could have done better.  I also get that when only do something once in a while, say, every two to four years, its hard to remember what worked and what didn't and get better at doing what you're doing.

So I am going to help you out.  You can skip the notes you misplaced after 2008.  I got you.

A Round-Up of New and Old Items

I wound up posting a lot over the weekend.  Partially because we mostly stayed home this weekend in an effort to save a few bucks before we hit the road.

Superman Vs. The Elite - DC Animation's latest offering.  The conversation spun way off from just talking about the film itself and got into some other contextual history and perspectives on heroism.
Desperate (1947) - we tried to get back on the noir wagon with this 1947 movie featuring a young, burly Raymond Burr.  We turned on the movie within 15 minutes and just clung on for dear life for the 1:15 running time.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - We caught the original teen picture for the first time in 20 years.  It holds up just swell.
Jimmy Stewart Double Bill:  Anatomy of a Murder and Harvey - Stewart in two terrific movies at opposite ends of the spectrum for audiences.

The Dug provided us with a picture of himself and Jamie meeting Donald Duck circa 1981.

We also read a lot of comics this weekend.  Axe Cop Volume 3, Captain America's latest Volume 1, Fantastic Four's latest Volume 1, The Shadow #3,  Adventure Time #5 and Memorial #6.

All good stuff.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Superman vs. The Elite (2012)

The latest release from DC Animation's feature group is an adaptation of the Joe Kelly penned, Doug Mahnke penciled issue of Superman, #775, actually somewhat known by the issue's tile of "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way".

For simplicity's sake, the movie has been retitled Superman vs. The Elite, more or less letting the casual observer that this was Superman in a super fight against a bunch of punky superheroes and that they're in for big Superman fights, if that's what they're looking for.  

Too much background

At the time of the release of the original story in the comics (a single, double-length issue), for a number of years Superman had been dwindling within the DC Universe as a featured player.  In an era of trying to make superheroes "realistic", the idea of a guy with incredible super powers, a flying dog and who disguised himself with a pair of glasses didn't fit with what the aging fans of comics, guys who were into Schwarzenegger movies, saw as the proper mode for an action hero.  The sort of Roy Rogers take on Superman that had been his primary mode of existence wasn't working very well for an audience that was turning to Reservoir Dogs as it's idea of an action film.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Noir Watch: Desperate (1947)


Desperate (1947) feels very much like a movie that was made because somebody needed a thriller and they needed one fast.

One of the things I like best about noir can be the the tightly woven plots that fit together like a Swiss timepiece.  Desperate is not an exemplar of this mode of noir-making.

The world's most illogical criminal gang, led by a pre-Godzilla Raymond Burr, decides that to make their heist run well, they should just hire a truck from a guy Raymond Burr knew when they were kids.  So, they hire the incredibly potent newlywed Steve Randall, played by Steve Brodie.

Steve is onto their scheme after showing up and letting the guys who announce "hey, we found some furs!" load their stuff onto his truck at a warehouse, but gets twitchy when one of them shows his pistol for absolutely no reason.  The gang decides to hold Steve in the truck, but in the cab of the truck where he signals a security officer with the lights.  Bullets fly and mayhem ensues.

Desperate to see the closing credits, maybe.

Little Jamie and Dug (with Donald Duck) are the cutest things

Just lookit little Jamie.  She is just the cutest thing ever.

She mentioned once or twice that she's had this character breakfast as a kid, but I didn't know what the heck she was talking about.  But there it is!

Jamie and The Dug plus Donald Duck?

This picture is my favorite thing, ever.

I like seeing pics of Lil' Jamie.  What a sweet little moppet of a kid she was.  We just got her old bike back from her folks that she rode when she was around this age, but Jamie being Jamie is refusing to ride it.

Signal Watch goes all Teen Angsty with "Rebel Without a Cause"!

Just FYI: I DVR'd this a while back and finally watched it Friday night. It's playing again Saturday on TCM as part of their Natalie Wood-a-thon if you're looking for a night in.

this is the part where I admit I cuffed my jeans in high school because I thought James Dean made it cool.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is one of those movies I suspect a lot of people know from the iconography of the poster and can probably tell you it stars James Dean and Natalie Wood, but I don't think most folks around my age have bothered to ever watch.

When I was in middle school a friend's dad who had been of age when the movie came out insisted we get sat down and watch the thing.  At the time I didn't find much of the movie terribly relatable, and I recall we kept having to stop the movie to basically explain the 1950's to us kids in a context that didn't involve Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.

I watched it again in high school, and it felt far more relevant at least in its depiction of the gulf between the world of parents and what's going on with their kids, but that was about 20 years ago.

Rewatching the film highlighted some of the excellent work by director Nicholas Ray, and to see the relationships between the characters through the eyes of an adult (physically, perhaps not emotionally) was most certainly interesting after all this time.  I don't think I really noticed how intensely compressed the timeline of the main action actually is during the film (the last two thirds occurs over basically one day, I believe).  I was far more acutely aware of the cues from Sal Mineo toward James Dean's Jim and that was some pretty bold stuff for a 1955 film.  And, most definitely the relationship between Jim and his parents feels less staged as a plotpoint and more as a condemnation of conflicting parenting styles.  Of course in 2012 a character enjoying having three adults in their household is probably considered excellent parenting above criticism, so, you know...  different times.

Some smaller details stuck out.  I realized that not only do you not really see smokers on the big screen anymore, you never see teenagers smoking, which was a staple of films when I was a kid and goes utterly unmentioned when Natalie Wood and Jimmy Dean light up (to mention it would be uncool, anyway).

Despite being the film he might be most associated with (I guess Giant is the other contender), the movie was released posthumously for Dean.  The fatal car wreck that took his life occurred just a month before the film's premier.  Still, Giant wouldn't hit the screen til after Rebel, and perhaps that's fitting, as the performance and film have greater scope, but it's tragic that Dean would never see the reaction to either.

Dean's performance is of the school that you can recognize from Brando and Newman and other contemporaries who had stepped away from the traditions of the stage actor and played to the intimacy of the camera.  In the mumbling world of the teenaged male, it seemed only too appropriate for the seeming prisoner within his own skin to need a camera snooping closeby when nobody is watching to see what's going on with Jim Stark.

I'm not sure sure that this is the first movie that moved beyond depicting teens as spunky, can-do mini-adults, but the film's impact and potency still resonate in even the goofier teen sex comedies as kids struggle to communicate with their folks and to gain their acceptance/ legitimize whatever the heck it is they're going through (see:  The Breakfast Club).

Because of the age of the characters, it's also a bit easier to understand the decisions made by the protagonists and antagonists in the film, their motives and stakes are worn on their sleeve.

One bit I always liked in the movie, that goes undiscussed, is that the guy who seemed ready to kill Jim early in the film extends a hand of friendship, adding to the tragedy that drives the rest of the movie.  Of course, it says nothing great about Natalie Wood's Judy that she seems to bounce from Buzz to Jim mostly because Buzz is no longer with us, but high school girls...  they're screwy.

Anyway, if you've not seen Dean's defining role and you'd like to see an extremely young Dennis Hopper playing a fellow named "Goon", this is your chance.