Monday, July 9, 2012

Toys That Should Not Be: The Steve Jobs Statue

When I started blogging the collectibles market was just really taking off.  We quit doing Toys That Should Not Be as, really, what I'd advise is to just open the Diamond Previews Catalog and flip through the thing.  Every page or two, you'll find something that makes you die a little inside.

And I'm not even talking about the import Manga statues with the removable clothing.

If you're not done grieving Apple Overlord Steve Jobs, you can now make everyone who enters your home or office stop and ask the exact same question in under two minutes:  Is that Steve Jobs?

Indeed it is.

Syco Collectibles has introduced the Steve Jobs statue.  Only $100, this fantastic piece of artistry looks pretty much like a tiny Steve Jobs, complete with jeans, scrubby beard and black turtle neck and posed like Scorpio planning his attack on humanity from his undersea base.  Only, you know, tiny.  Standing on the edge of a MacBook in discount store sneakers.

I have to say, I think it's a hell of a conversation piece, and that conversation may just be your co-worker leaving your office and commenting to your colleagues about how you're still really hung up on losing the guy who yelled at people until the iPhone was cooler.

To their credit, Syco is sending part of the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and we find that admirable enough that we've ordered four of these, so Steve Jobs can look down upon us from every corner of the room.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Movie Watch 2012 - "Rio" (2011)


So, I wasn't particularly interested in seeing Rio (2011) when it was released in theaters.  Goodness knows I like going to see kids' movies, especially those by Pixar and Disney, but Rio struck me as the sort of movie that's become standard fare from Dreamworks and other animation companies, and which has plagued Disney animation itself since Aladdin scored huge bucks at the box office.  And, truthfully, I'm not sure the animation companies are exactly wrong in their assessment since they keep making money...

But the idea is this:

Anything said in a wacky voice = funny.
Wacky voices include: anything that doesn't sound like a standard non-regional American accent.  Thus, George Lopez is assured work in animation until he goes mute or dies.
The faster a line is delivered, the wackier and thus, funnier a line is.  Even if it's just "I'm going to wash the dishes".  Say it with zing and a hint of latino flavor and BAM.  Comedy.
Also:  characters must pop into a new pose every 2-5 seconds unless experiencing the pre-requisite pity party for all animated leads, in which case they must move extra slowly, and with terrific slouching.

Again, I blame Aladdin.   Somehow Robin Williams burned through the last of whatever appeal he'd had channeling through Genie, and every movie since has been struggling to replicate the (at the time) shocking appeal of a character that pushed the boundaries of what we expected in a Disney movie, breaking the fourth wall, indulging in anachronisms and basically acting as a chaos agent.

Movies like Shrek decided this was good fun, and basically made a whole movie that was Genie.

Because kids are always being made fresh, and they tend to laugh at things that go boom or squish, the idea that Walt Disney had that he was animating storybooks for an all-ages audience has been mostly forgotten and is now the domain of a way to kill 90 minutes where you can only half-focus on your kids as they half-focus on a screen, and to keep their little attention-deprived brains on the flickery, pretty lights, everything in every animated movie has become Genie.

You guys remember that Beauty and the Beast was up for an Academy Award as best picture?  It was.  It's a really beautiful, all-ages, film, still.

So, that's a lot of pre-amble to explain how I felt about Rio.

Rio is a technical masterpiece using a phenomenal palette, the Escher-esque ziggurat of Rio de Janeiro as the setting, deft 3D animated camera work, astounding character design and realization of bird and monkey characters...  to create a completely forgettable, derivative and in-no-way funny movie in which birds basically get mangled repeatedly as one of them attempts to unite with his owner.

It's not a bad movie, but it's not a good movie.  It's an incredibly poorly scripted movie that could have used someone with an actual sense of humor to touch up the script and make it relevant to an audience older than the age of 5 or 6 who has never seen this storyline before.  Or, you know, to add actual jokes to the movie that so, so badly wants to be funny but feels like that kid in your class in high school who just repeated impressions from Saturday Night Live and drew a low chuckle from people remembering Phil Hartman's skit rather than anything the kid actually did (and, of course, if you don't chuckle a little, you're going to break the little bastard's heart).

The whole movie, in this way, is sort of an echo of better movies with better plots, actual songs, comedy, etc...  and feels so utterly unnecessary.  Wordlwide, it made a half billion dollars, so I'm thinking nobody really gives a crap about any of that, but they do want to get the hell out of the house with the kids and remember what it was like going to the movies before the kids, with the hope that one day they will see one of these movies that isn't just a trainwreck.

It's made by some of the same folks who keep trotting out the really, really not good Ice Age movies (people, you do not have to keep seeing these movies.  The first one was awful.) if that gives you any idea of what you're in for.  Celebrity voices.  The occasional poopie joke.  And!   Lots!  of!  Quick!  Line!  Delivery! With!  Snap!!!!!

In other words, I may not have been the intended audience for this movie.

Ernest Borgnine Merges With The Infinite

Ernest Borgnine, a talented actor with an illustrious career, who I still think of as Dominic Santini from TV's Airwolf, has passed at the age of 95.

He also once married Ethel Merman for a month.  Go figure.

Movie Watch 2012: "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Godzilla: Final Wars"


It was Bond week this week at Austin's Paramount Theater.  Sadly, I was pre-occupied and unable to make it to the screening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which I really wanted to see.

One summer when I was in middle school, Jason and I would go to the video rental place, return the last Bond movie we'd rented and check out another.  In this manner, we watched every Bond movie but Thunderball, which I still haven't seen.  The problem with this method was that within two years, all of the movies had sort of bled together in my mind, so I could only remember specific set pieces and the occasional Bond girl.

Thanks to TBS and a few other sources, I've watched several Bond movies over since then, and I do like catching the movies over again now, but I make an effort to watch them pretty far apart so they don't blend together again.  And, for the record, Connery, of course.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) stars Roger Moore as Bond, and it's from the point where the Bond franchise became a bit too enamored with quippy one-liners and just took it for granted that women melted under Bond's icy gaze.  It's a fun movie, and it has some great Q gadgets, a phenomenally cool villain base, gadgets and private military (sherbet colored uniforms?  Where do I sign up?!).  The plan is pretty poorly sketched, but whatever.  It's post-Connery/ pre-Timothy Dalton Bond, and its not all that different from what we'd see with Pierce Brosnan later.

And, hey, this is the one with the Lotus that turns into a submarine.

The movie makes an attempt to give Bond a sexy female Russian counterpart, but, truthfully, the base misogyny of the Bond franchise hadn't quite sort through itself, leaving Barbara Bach mostly standing around beside Bond as he Bonds his way around.  I'm not sure Bach is also the most compelling Bond girl, but she does the job.

It's not my favorite Moore entry (For Your Eyes Only, probably), but it does feature "Nobody Does it Better" performed by Carly Simon, which is a pretty great Bond theme - and has a Bond opening sequence that well reminds you why they changed those for the Daniel Craig years, even if it's pretty brilliant.


Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) was Toho's "we can't top this" ending to production of Godzilla movies after 50 years.  I'd heard they'd planned to stop making them prior to the US produced Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick, but after that trainwreck, they felt like they needed to keep making their own films.

I will give Godzilla: Final Wars this:  you have no idea where this movie is going when the movie begins.  I can promise you:  mutants, aliens, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and a dozen other Kaiju, super ninja fights, matrix-style battles, sexy biologists and reporters, international/ interplanetary intrigue, the destruction of a half-dozen cities on at least four continents and a wildly out of control costuming department.  Oh, and a really amazing mustache.

I don't really know how to sell this movie other than to say: hold tight and leave expectation at the door.

And, f-yeah, Godzilla.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

You Can Never Take Nolan's Superboy with Balloons Tattoo Away From Me

I had a pretty good couple of weeks.  While I feel badly that Jamie is currently suffering from allergies, I wrapped up my week by visiting the newly relaunched Austin Books Sidekick Store and then having a burger and beers with recent Houston-to-Austin transplant and high school pal Marshall, and, of course, Paul.  Turns out Marshall took a position at the place Paul already worked, so we're all chumming around.

I really dig the cast of characters at Austin Books and Comics, but I honestly can't remember the last time I saw Nolan around.  He's a swell fellow, and we share a mutual admiration for Superman, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane back issues.

But Nolan has taken it up a notch.  Maybe all the way to 11.

I saw a couple of Super-feet poking out from beneath his sleeve and asked to his his ink.

He produced this:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dark Knight Rises Can't get Here Soon Enough

It's no secret that I'm totally in the bag for Chris Nolan's take on Batman.  I believe he's a strong storyteller in his way, smart behind the lens, able to create great tension from both an action perspective and a character perspective.  And I like that he's pushed audiences using something like Batman that we've seen handled an infinite number of ways with various degrees of success.

Signal Watch Watches: The Amazing Spider-Man

I think it may have been Tom Spurgeon who commented that, to him, Spider-Man was this thing that occurred between 1962-1972 or so.  And if you've ever read early Spider-Man, it's not hard to see why that might be.  So much of what came afterward has been either retread or adding unnecessary baggage to the Peter Parker formula that seeing the story about the kid who puts on tights to fight crime and super-villains got lost somewhere with alien symbiote suits, clones, clones of clones, clones in symbiote suits, etc...

I've read probably the first 100 issues of Spider-Man in Marvel's phenomenal Essentials collections (and that artwork sings in black and white.  Trust me.).  I can't exactly remember when I first came to Spider-Man, because he was on The Electric Company, starred in TV movies, was in the paper, and was on Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.  I don't remember either the first Spidey comic I read, nor the last.  I do remember reading the wedding issue when it hit the newstand (it was such a big deal, guys).  But reading Kraven's Last Hunt totally wigged me out and made a bit of a Spider-Fan of me.*

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July from Cap and The Signal Watch!

What better superhero way to celebrate America than with the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America!

You guys know I'm in the bag for Marvel's answer to jingoistic, flag waving super-dudes.  If you haven't been reading Ed Brubaker's work the past few years, you've really been missing out.

Of course, thanks to this summer's The Avengers, many of you now know Cap as a movie character, and that's terrific!  He may not be the definitive movie Cap, but he's not bad, when you consider the company he's kept in previous attempts to put Cap on screen.

Point of Fact:  When people ask me which is my favorite Avengers movie, I cannot help but answer: Captain America. Where was the musical scene in The Incredible Hulk or Thor? Nowhere.

And, of course, there's the 1990's version of Cap...

But you're really missing out if you've not seen the 1970's version.

Or, if you prefer a 1940's matinee serial:

So Happy Birthday, America, from me and Captain America!  Here's to a pretty darn good run at Democracy!

Yes, that is Kirby!  He even provided Kirby Dots for what I assume was a Bi-Centennial issue of Cap.
and special Disney bonus round:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

For some reason we watched "Something Wild" (1986) and ponder a bit on "Manic Pixie Girls"

I dunno.  The other night it came on HBO and I was messing with uploading photos, etc...  And I did say "every movie in 2012".

The movie is probably most remarkable for the 1980's-ness of the idea and overall feel.

Of the sub-genre of movies now referred to as "The Manic Pixie Dreamgirl" movie, Something Wild (1986) follows the adventures that follow when a straightlaced stocks and bonds man (Jeff Daniels) gets hi-jacked by Melanie Griffith channeling Louise Brooks for 1/3rd of the movie (the character goes by "Lulu", among other names).  I've never really understood the appeal of Melanie Griffiths, and I'm not sure this movie did much to change that perception.  She's not a bad actress, but she seemed much more important in the 1980's than necessary, and while she's fine in the movie...

The idea behind the Manic Pixie Girl movies is that the right girl will find your poor, lost soul and save you from the comfort zone that you've spent decades building but which now, clearly, doesn't work anymore.  She's often an iconoclast, seemingly invulnerable and always sexually charged.  Sometimes the movies can be a bit creepy, if the Manic Pixie Girl is significantly younger than our hero, or even underage.

I'm not going to say the right girl can't shake things up for a guy in real life, but there's something odd about way these movies work that always feels a bit strained.

There's a certain weird high-school or undergrad take on women, a possessive object-oriented approach to character that I think calls back to how far away girls seem in younger days when you have absolutely no idea how to communicate with the object of your desire, especially someone who seems perfectly happy without you (ie: has no idea you exist).  And I guess I get it, I just sort of see characters skewing towards the one in this movie as "unstable, crazy people who you can enjoy in your personal life, but you have to know might explode at any minute".  But the idea vs. the reality of a person is, maybe, one of the best realizations is a worthy topic for movie making, I think.

Curiously, movies deal with this stock character differently.  Some stay manic pixie girls and dance out of frame mostly untouched by the lead character by movie's end, and in other cases they're Melanie Griffiths here, where their "growth" means abandoning the MPDG character and becomes...  sort of boring by films end.

But I mentioned the 80's-ness.

The movie begins in New York, I believe.   With a blond-haired stock broker on the make.  The soundtrack, including Paul Simon-friendly World Beat tunes and touching lightly on primordial but suburban friendly hip-hop.  Griffiths' lack of self-consciousness at wearing a huge Africa medallion for a chunk of the movie (we were still working some stuff out in 1986).  The utter mistrust and difference between city and country.  The movie devolves into this weird thing where Daniels and Griffiths have to fight a young and scrappy looking Ray Liotta to the death.  It was like the movie forgot what it was about somewhere at the hour mark or a near two-hour film.

There's a subplot about going to see Lulu's mom that doesn't really go anywhere except to set some baselines for who Lulu is that seem like they could have been better handled.  I dunno.

The movie was directed by the very talented Jonathan Demme,  The cast is fine, but the material feels oddly dated.  I dunno.

This is probably enough talk about a movie I was barely watching.

Signal Watch Reads: Edison Rex (from MonkeyBrain Comics)

The first batch of MonkeyBrain Comics is now available for about $6 for 5 comics.  I don't think I've seen that kind of value since I was in high school*, so I want to get that out of the way first and foremost.  Secondly, all of the books are worth at least checking out.  They all hit different beats and will find their specific readerships.  Of the five, three really hit a chord with me, but at that price, I'll still follow all five for a while because, seriously... a dollar.  That's gum money.

I'll probably talk about Aesop's Ark and Bandette later, but I thought that first I should cover the book by MonkeyBrain co-founder, Chris Roberson.

Roberson and artist Dennis Culver paired to bring to life Edison Rex, a sort of Silver Age Superman and Lex Luthor homage that takes a decidedly interesting turn in the first issue, setting up the nemesis of Earth's greatest hero as the protagonist of the book, but not in the way you might expect.

The book is pure gold for both Superman fans and fans of the broad concept of Silver Age superheroics, lantern jawed do-gooders and single-minded mad scientists intent on ruling the world.  It's not that other comics haven't explored some of this territory, be it Waid's Empire** or, now that I think on it, Waid's Incorruptible.  Roberson, however, takes a lighter touch, providing me with my favorite comics quote of the month:
Lord Edison!  Are you certain we should not be conquering, instead?
People, that's just good comics.

The tone is almost Atomic Robo in flavor, and that works well for me in my jaded old age of wanting to have fun reading my funny books, especially those about science villains with plans for world domination.  I've no doubt that by issue 2 or 3, the riff on Superman will be in the past and we'll be moving on to new pastures, but the twist in this makes the homage totally worth it.

The art style feels appropriate in a cartoony, animation-ready style, that totally fits modern sensibilities and is broad enough to handle what I think will be a world with giant robots, laser pistols and the occasional caped superhero.  Well done.

The comics weren't supposed to be out as early as they were released.  But released they are! I suppose with Comixology seeing MonkeyBrain Comics trending practically worldwide on Twitter, the idea of striking while the iron was hot meant that they did not want to make anybody wait any longer.  You can jump online and check out the full line at Comixology!

It's a dollar, for goodness sake.  Give it a shot.

*and given inflation, maybe not since Middle School when I could slip a copy of Batman on the conveyor belt with the family groceries and my mom didn't blink at the cover price.

**Man, now that was a hell of a comic.  Why don't I own that in trade?  That's just crazy.  A beautifully drawn, craftily written volume.