Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Maureen O'Hara

Friday was the birthday of Maureen O'Hara.  We missed it.  Oh, well.  Happy Birthday to Ms. Maureen O'Hara, one of Ireland's finest exports.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

35 Years Gone By, Elvis Aron Presley Merged with The Infinite

Eat it, every single other performer who ever fancied they had stage presence

Elvis gone 35 years ago, August the 16th, 1977.

I don't remember the death of Elvis.  I was two.  However, I grew up in a house where my mother played Elvis music on the turntable and hummed Elvis tunes while driving me to soccer practice.  A great gift once received was a bottle of "Elvis White Wine" which nobody ever drank, and eventually it got gross and was tossed away in 2010ish.

Like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean or Bogart, Elvis passed into the twilight realm of American Mythology, a demigod who didn't just sizzle in popularity for a short time after his death, but who attained legendary status once his life itself was no longer there to decry what could be and what could be believed.

Phyllis Thaxter (Superman: The Movie's Martha Kent) Merges with The Infinite

Actress Phyllis Thaxter, the actress who so wonderfully portrayed Martha Kent in Superman: The Movie, has passed at the age of 92.

She is preceded in death by actor Glen Ford who played Jonathan Kent, and Christopher Reeve, who played Superman.  However, Jeff East, who played a young Clark Kent is alive and well.

I have not seen much of Thaxter's work, but, oddly, last night I began watching Women's Prison with Ida Lupino and Audrey Totter, and the film's major character is played by none other than Phyllis Thaxter.  And she's really very good in what I'd seen so far.

Thaxter's portrayal of Martha Kent contained a stunning and instantly motherly quality that surpassed surprise at the strange manner in which she finds the boy, and his odd abilities, and cut straight to the need to love a little lost child when reason may have told her to do otherwise.  In the few lines and scenes she had in the movie, she and Richard Donner presented Martha Kent as a very real mother experiencing both the blessing and pain that comes with bringing a child into your life and then realizing you have to let him go.

Honestly, the wheat-field scene between East and Thaxter in the film was when I realized (way, way back in high school) what an extraordinary film Superman truly is.

Here, however, is that scene of discovery in a Kansas field.

The Comics Haul: 8.15.2012

So this is what I picked up after 2 weeks away from the shop.

2 issues of Atomic Robo (ongoing series and a mini), Popeye ongoing #1, a Daredevil Annual, Saga #6, the new Allred project - which is an old Allred project, It Girl!  I have no idea what It Girl! will be about, but I'm betting that at least I'll like the art.

And I came across Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #30 in pretty iffy condition, but it's a book I've been lacking from my Jimmy Olsen collection and one of my favorite Jimmy covers, so there you go.

The Phantom Eagle I picked up on a whim, but it's a Marvel war book from the 60's-era Marvel and obviously meant to grab some of that sweet, sweet Enemy Ace money.  Several years ago Garth Ennis used the character in his book War is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle.  I hadn't thought much about the character since, but the cover jumped out at me and I figured it was a good addition to my aviation comics.

Yes, I sort of buy and collect military aviation comics.

Shut up.

I also put a few sheckles down on my lay-away copy of Action Comics 101, a comic that I will one day actually have in my home.

Digitally, I've picked up the one-shot Busiek and Lieber comic, Thoughts on a Winter Morning, published here by MonkeyBrain Comics.   It's a lovely slice-of-life story, and makes you wonder what else Busiek would be writing about if he walked away from superheroes and whatnot for a bit.  It's a nice meditation on time and perspective, and uses the medium of comics beautifully.  At least, it seemed so on my laptop on guided view.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Lady In The Lake (1947)

Released about 3 months after 1947's Dark Passage*, this movie also employs the first-person-perspective camera-work that somebody must have been wanting to play with at the time.  Where Dark Passage abandons the conceit fairly early in the movie, Lady in the Lake (1947) uses the trick more or less for the duration of the film except during a few, brief framing sequences during which Robert Montgomery, as Philip Marlowe, addresses the audience before merging with them in a spot of cinematic magic during which the audience is given a sort of thrill-ride like experience of seeing the film from Marlowe's perspective.

It's an oddball stunt, one easier to pull that the matinee jazz of 3D pictures or smell-o-vision, but Montgomery's direction definitely gives the effort a sort of "check this out!" quality, drawing attention to itself with awkward use of mirror shots that don't accomplish much but remind the audience that we're all watching a movie here - and, boy, isn't THAT cool...?

Maintenance: Jamie's Mom's Health, The Olympics

Between the Olympics, travel and now Judy's health issues, we haven't been making much time for movies, comics, Superman or the usual malarkey.  When I have sat down with my computer, we've not had the usual to write on.

We'll see what the next few days and weeks look like, but, you know... priorities.

Judy Update:

Jamie's mom is improving bit by bit.  She's eaten a few bites, said a few words, stood up for a few seconds...  all pretty good for someone who had brain surgery on Thursday.  She's, of course, exhausted.  And she still has a greatly impaired ability to communicate, so we kind of guess what to do and not do for her by giving her options and seeing if she indicates a preference in any way.  She's not glassy-eyed and uncomprehending, but between the original issue, the surgery, and the meds, we're just glad she's waking up on a regular basis.

Jamie's  family has really done a great job, to the point where I'm not in my usual role of bed-side guy helping out, and have been taking over roles like laundry and house maintenance and whatnot.  All necessary, but not quite the crisis-side of this that I'm used to dealing with.  My own family and our pals have been terrific.  So, thanks to everyone.

The Olympics:

Once again the US dominated, enough so that the narrative should be getting dull.  But it's a lot of fun watching our teams win in Track & Field events, Beach Volleyball, and other sports.  Heck, I even enjoyed the inevitable victory by the US Men's Basketball team.  Not as much as hearing about the US Women's Soccer Team winning in a storybook finale.

I'll miss team May-Walsh in Beach Volleyball.  By 2008, we were over the bikinis and focusing on the sport and by 2012, it was all about the amazing feat of three-peating in an incredibly difficult sport.  And not just winning, but only losing one set in 3 Olympics.  Absolutely astounding.

Someone at NBC got the memo, I might add, and the interviews with athletes never turned accusatory, whether athletes placed or not.  And most certainly nobody was asked if they were disappointed at getting a Bronze or Silver.  Now, if the guy covering wee women's gymnastics could learn to dial it down about 11 notches, he might make the sport a lot more tolerable to watch.  Ie: It's weird that you're a grown man and unironically a total fanboy of these weird little 16 year old girls who don't go to school so they can do cartwheels all day.  I would be terrified to see your apartment.

The closing ceremonies were fine.  The usual mish-mash of good and bad ideas.  I understand that part of the theme was the passing of the torch, but don't have recent bands come on and sing standards for absolutely enormous artists.  I don't want to see a teen heart-throb covering Pink Floyd or Johnny Rocker Random cover The Who.  Especially when you have the The Who.  Or half the Who.

Special note:  I keep reading that Daltry and Townsend were there and played, but I somehow missed that as part of the telecast or else I left the room when Daltry was not the one who started with "Pinball Wizard".  Whatever.

And if you're not going to deliver Bowie, stop playing his music.  Bush league.

Anyway, we'll be watching again in 18 months when the Winter Games show up in Mother Russia.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joe Kubert Merges with The Infinite

Comics legend Joe Kubert has reportedly passed.

I point you to the obit run at The Onion AV club, as it's a pretty damned good summary of Kubert's bio and will hopefully explain to those of you who don't follow comics who the man was and how he stood in the pantheon of comics heroes.

Kubert was at DC Comics for most of his career, first arriving in 1943 and holding positions as a writer, editor and artist, depending on where the winds blew.  Today's fans like myself are mostly familiar with his co-creations like Sgt. Rock, or his own creation, Tor and the stunning artistry he brought to the page.  Where Kirby was volcanic energy in need of an outlet, Kubert was an illustrative master capturing the world-weary faces of Easy Company, battle-worn soldiers of Earth and beyond, but a master of perspective and detail.

...and I like his Iris West.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ronnie Spector!

Sorry for the last minute post, but we just noticed it's Ronnie Spector's birthday!

Happy birthday to an amazing vocalist.

Ronnie is/ was, of course, the centerpiece of the Wall of Sound project, The Ronettes.

And, of course, the ex-wife of producer/ zvengali and convicted murderer, Phil Spector.

We read more Parker: "The Seventh" and the graphic novel of "The Score"

The Seventh

The Seventh is, probably not-coincidentally, the seventh book in the Richard Stark (pen name of Donald Westlake) series of books about Parker, the tough guy master criminal who first appeared in The Hunter.

In this volume, following a particularly well-planned and executed heist that should have landed him a nice chunk of change (something sorely needed after the disastrous conclusion of The Jugger), Parker is hiding out and playing it cool when he comes back from a quick trip out for cigarettes and beer to find the girl he's been shacking up with stone cold dead in an apartment that's still locked and shows no signs of forced entry. And, of course, not just Parker's take (his seventh) is gone, but the whole take from the heist.

Stark never explains Parker, never spends time on much other than notes about characterization, and there's never a why.  All we see is Parker on the job, and it's not some writerly oversight.  Nobody gets insight into what makes Parker tic - be it his partners, the people he goes up against, or the reader.  We know he doesn't like small talk not just because the limited omniscience narrator tells us, but because Parker tells people rattling on at him to shut up, and he seems to appreciate the slain girl not just for her bedroom acrobatics, but for her agreement that they can sit in silence for hours if they've nothing to say.  But we never see a young Parker becoming Parker (at least by this seventh book).  Heck, we never even know his first name.

This book follows what happens not when a heist goes wrong, or a run in with the Outfit, but the unexpected occurring, and throwing Parker off his game.  We always get to see little pieces of Parker, and this book gives us an opportunity to see Parker wrestling a bit with making the smart move versus doing what he wants to do from a gut level once he's been shown up.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

As you may have heard, Jamie's mother is in the hospital

Rather than answer questions via email or text (thanks everyone for asking.  Jamie and I very much appreciate it), I thought I'd try a one-to-many approach to the communication loop.

Wednesday I was in Atlanta and got a message from Jamie that her mother was in the hospital.  I'd just finished presenting, and so as soon as the next presenter was done, I was up and moving, made my apologies and split.*

Judy is Jamie's mother.  About five years ago she had an issue with bleeding around her brain.  It came and went, and she hasn't had any issues in the interim.

Apparently sometime Tuesday evening  Judy developed a serious headache, bad enough that my father-in-law, Dick, took her to the ER in San Marcos.  The San Marcos ER transferred Judy to St. David's hospital here in Austin (about 30-odd minutes away if you're not a local).  She began losing the ability to speak, but her motor abilities all seemed largely unimpared.

The scans indicate that Judy had a patch of blood that had formed around the speech center of her brain.  It was also clearly making Judy terribly uncomfortable.  Fortunately, St. David's has some top-notch facilities, doctors and staff.  She was extremely well cared for Wednesday and Wednesday night, and in the morning on Thursday, she received one more scan that suggested it was time to operate.

This afternoon Judy had surgery.  The surgeon believes they've found the source of the bleeding, which was a clot, and that there are no immediate signs of a tumor, which was a possibility.

We still don't know everything, and obviously even a top-notch neurosurgeon has to be careful with what they choose to do, so we expect a long stay in the hospital with a lot of testing and observation ahead of us.  And, after that, I expect a significant amount of evaluation and recovery.

As many of you know, Jamie has a long history of health-related issues, and (for good or ill), it's basically made our extended families pretty good at dealing with hospitals, doctors, etc...   It's almost always been Jamie in the hospital bed, so it's been a change of pace for her to be on the care and maintenance portion of the equation, but she's moved into action-mode with the rest of us.  Those of you who've dealt with hospitals know what I mean, I think, by the "okay, what has to happen, and what's the best way to get this all done with the resources I've got" thinking take takes over in an emergency.

Doug, Jamie's brother, flew in this afternoon from Berkeley, and my office has been great about working with me on all this.  Co-Worker Kristi took over for me on a few details without skipping a beat, which is always appreciated.

So, anyway.  When I left Doug with Judy this evening, she was resting under sedation, and very stable.  She's under terrific care, and (so far) I feel very confident in her doctors.

I don't plan to turn the site into the Judy Medical Journal, but if you want to follow along, you can check for Twitter updates at:  @judyupdates

By the way, we do appreciate the outpouring of support we've received.  You guys are the best.

If you're local, please text me or Jamie before you try to swing by to visit.  Judy is in the ICU, and it's not exactly set up for receiving visitors  Nor do I know if Judy would want a parade of folks to come by right now.  But maybe in a few days.

We're still finding our footing with all this, so please understand if we can't immediately think of a way you can help.

Let me tell you what a world of difference it is today receiving messages from folks who want to help or come by from the very bleak time in Arizona where Jamie and I were terribly separated from folks who genuinely did want to help, but simply couldn't, due to distance and other factors.  I think I prefer living back in a city where I spend all afternoon and evening responding to texts, tweets, calls and emails from concerned friends offering beds nearby the hospital, food, support and seeing if they can just come by and entertain.

Friends and family, local and distant, you are the best.  Thank you.

*Delta Airlines gets a gold star.  Not only had they pulled me out of line on my outgoing flight to re-assign me to an exit row (I'm 6'5" if you've never met me, and airline travel is not my favorite thing due to leg space), but when I was moving my flight home, I wound up in a seat in first class.  And I'd been worried I'd have to sit in the middle.

Then, checking in, the guy at the counter and I had a conversation about worrying about your parents and in-laws.  It was an odd and entirely human moment that took me by complete surprise - given the usual experience I have at the airport.