Every year our local arts museum The Hockaday Museum of the Arts sponsors an arts festival in Depot Park. Depot is a small park on Main Street in Kalispell, but they cram it full of potters and statue makers, and crafts makers of all kinds, musicians, and artists... lots of artists. I usually don't go because the artists, while good, mostly concentrate on the local landscape and the local flora and fauna. I grew up here. I got local flora and fauna coming out my wazoo. If I want to see the local landscape all I have to do is look out the window.
The wife, however, thinks differently. Being the smashingly brilliant lady that she is and coming here from Illinois, she has a whole different level of appreciation for the local artists (not to mention art in general) than I do. So this year she dragged me to the thing, and imagine my surprise when I ran across this brilliant young lady from the Seattle Washington area.
Her name is Juli Adams and she's a brilliant painter. She also needs to be working in comics (which I gather she is currently not, too bad really.) Her stuff has a definite Slave Labor Graphics vibe to it, and it's just amazing.
Check out her website at Juli Adams.com.
She also has a blog at The Art of Juli Adams.
And if you have a yen to show some love for this wonderful painter, you can get her prints online at Ladieninscollectibles.com.
As the owners of five cats, we couldn't resist buying the print pictured at the top of the post. The print is called Showdown, and it captures perfectly that slow build to a hissy fit that all cats go through every so often.
So okay, I haven't really updated this thing in eons, but I haven't exactly been idle either. Case in point is the new review of the excellent new graphic novel from Big Head Press, The Architect. Written by the great Mike Baron and drawn by artist without peer, Andie Tong, it's a stellar read and I highly recommend picking up a copy at your earliest convenience.
The review is located here and I think it turned out well. I really like the new magazine style layout of Blogcritics. The site is much easier to navigate than it was.
As a special note to anyone who cares about things like this, yes... I know that's a picture of The Probability Broach that accompanies the article. I'm pretty sure what happened is that the dingbat BC editor who put the final touches on my review temporarily got all lost and confused when he couldn't find a product picture of The Architect on Amazon.com, and instead of use an outside source for a picture or maybe... oh, I dunno... NO PICTURE AT ALL!!! He instead used something from the same company. Ah well, irritating to be sure, but not the end of the world I expect.
If you haven't seen 300 yet, you should drop what you're doing, call Mr. Moviephone, go get tickets, or whatever it is you do, and go see it. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. This movie kicks ass on so many levels, it's hard to decide where to begin. First, a bit of back story I think.
In a nutshell, in 480 BC, Persia invaded Greece with what was at the time, the largest army ever assembled. What we know of the invasion, we get from several sources, but the most detailed account, and the one with the most interesting bits, is by the Greek Historian Herodotus. The great Persian God-King Xerxes made a play to conquer Greece by threat and bribery, and when the two great city-states of Athens and Sparta told him to get bent, he invaded. While Athens navy held off the bulk of the invading ships, Sparta, which was hamstrung by an outdated set of laws that required the King to get approval from their oracle before declaring war, did nothing.
In a desperate ploy, the Spartan King Leonidas hand picks 300 elite soldiers to accompany him to a mountain pass known as The Hot Gates near Thermopylae. The mountain pass acts as a natural funnel where the Greeks can make a stand against an army whose numbers suddenly count for little. The rest is history as 300 Spartans and about seven thousand other Greek soldiers hold off an army of at least 100,000 strong, for three days. On the third day, the Persians are told of an alternate route around The Hot Gates. About to be outflanked, Leonidas orders the remaining soldiers into a retreat. He stays behind with his remaining Spartans and about 1,000 Thespian soldiers to cover the withdrawal.
Later, Leonidas' martyrdom galvanizes Sparta into action, and together with their Athenian counterparts, they hand Xerxes a defeat that begins a downward spiral that will end 150 years later when Alexander the Great ends the Persian empire on a more permanent basis. And you all thought history wasn't fun!
In 1998 the great comics writer and artist Frank Miller created a masterful retelling of this historical account. Setting up the characters with fully fleshed personalities and rendering them in his highly stylized trademark drawing style, resulted in a modern classic of the comics art form.
Enter Zack Snyder, fresh off his success remaking George Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead, Zack dives into the 300 project headfirst.
The result is 117 minutes of fun, and one of the best movies ever made. Because the Grecian topography has changed radically in the 2,500 years since the battle, location shooting would prove impossible. Instead, Zack filmed the entire movie in front of a blue screen. The backgrounds and scenery were filled in later by CGI. While I'm not completely sold on this technique (previously used in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, as well as the Matrix movies,) in this case, as with the previous Miller adaptation Sin City, the CGI allows the cinematographers and the set designers the freedom to adapt the comic panel by panel. It's a perfect fit. Not only do the characters look and act true to Miller's work, but even the scenes that were added to pad the story for motion picture pacing, look and feel like they're right out of Miller's story.
Gerard Butler is absolutely perfect as King Leonidas. He looks the part as do all the actors playing the Spartans. There are more six packs in this movie than at a frat house on pledge night. Butler turns in an Oscar worthy performance that makes Russell Crowe's Gladiator look like a little girl in a pink frilly dress. Leonidas opposite number Xerxes is played to absolute perfection by an almost unrecognizable Rodrigo Santoro. When these two fine actors are on scene together they bring every acting skill they've ever learned to bear, resulting in some of the most intensely brilliant scenes ever filmed. It's like watching a precision practice run from the George C. Scott school of caffeine frenzied scenery chewing. You will believe these two actors are opposing battlefield generals.
The writing is dynamic and fluid, allowing plenty of breathing room for the battlefield action. Scriptwriters Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon, with an able assist from the director, should be commended for turning out an outstandingly tight script. It even has the requisite one-liners, several of which are right out of Herodotus. When the Persian field commander yelled, "Spartans, throw down your weapons and surrender." and King Leonidas retorted, "Persians, come and get them." The whole theater cheered. Of course, with source material this good, it's hard to go wrong.
Larry Fong turns out a feast for the eyes, bringing his cinematography skills honed on several seasons of the TV show Lost. The combat is period specific, so there's lots of spraying blood and flying heads, but Fong shoots it all so well, that it hardly matters. Every scene is altered to look like it came right out of the 300 graphic novel, so it has the effect of making the gore more tolerable.
300 is a violent story, so it's not for younger kids. There's a lot of on screen gore, but again, it's stylized so the effect is muted, and I would have no problem taking a teen to see this. Just make sure you're a good parent and you watch this with them in case you have to explain things. This movie earned its R rating so go see it with that in mind and you'll be fine. It's a terrific, grandiose spectacle of a movie, based on one of the most enduring stories ever told. It's destined to become classic fare, and it'll definitely be a must own when it finally comes out on DVD.
So the other day my wife Courtney and I were driving in the car before work, coming back from getting an early dinner, breakfast for me because I work night shift. I was carping like I always do about what I was going to write about that night on my down time. Jokingly, she said something to the effect of "Write about how awesome your wife is." A few days later, here's what I wrote over two nights. All in all, it was one of the easier things I've ever written. I could have done 1000.
1. I love the way she smiles.
2. I love her sardonic, dry wit.
3. I love her black sense of humor.
4. I love the little noise she makes when she's exasperated with me. I can't really describe it but our bird mimics it perfectly.
5. I love the fact that I can't take her to the animal shelter without an hour long discussion about why we can't have just one more.
6. I love the fact that she loves animals.
7. I love the fact that she wants to go to college.
8. I love the fact that she has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up.
9. I love her sense of style.
10. I love her sense of color, design, and placement.
11. I love the color of her eyes.
12. I love the fact that she's not afraid to dye her hair, or get a tattoo, or get pierced in odd places.
13. I love the fact that she can never decide what she wants to eat...
14. ...and I love that every so often she knows exactly what she wants to eat.
15. I love the fact that she gets so frustrated with video games that she will throw the controller.
16. I love that she likes music...
17. ...and that she likes different music than I do.
18. I also love the fact that she likes electronica, but doesn't like Moby.
19. I love the fact that she seems genuinely interested in what I'm rambling on about, even when she's not.
20. I love the fact that she's patient with me.
21. I love the fact that she steals the covers...
22. ...and cocoons herself in them so tightly that the only way to get them back is to wake her up.
23. I love that she'll stay up all night with me watching re-runs of Roseanne.
24. I love the fact that she's an obsessive compulsive collector.
25. I love the fact that she collects naughty nic-naks.
26. I love the fact that she'll snuggle with me even though she's not a "snuggler".
27. ...except with the cats, but everybody snuggles them.
28. I love the fact that she'll trade movie quotes with me.
29. I love the fact that she's a wizard with the computer.
30. I love the fact that she's an impressive researcher.
31. I love the fact that she reads.
32. ...and that her reading list is as large and as backlogged as mine.
33. I love the fact that she prefers to wear slip on tennis shoes with no backs and no laces.
34. I love the fact that she won't make me give her long foot rubs when she knows my hands are sore and tired.
35. I love that she loves McDonald's breakfasts.
36. I love that she has a favorite kind of pen.
37. I love that she's a talented artist, but doesn't think so.
38. I love that she's stunningly beautiful but doesn't think so.
39. I love that she will fall asleep with the TV on, but the computer monitor must be off.
40. I love the fact that she has Courtneyisms.
41. I love the fact that she always wants to drive over the river on the back road.
42. I love that she has pen pals.
43. I love that she tolerates my quirks, moods, and foibles well.
44. I love that it's easy to tell when she's upset...
45. ...and easy to tell when she's happy.
46. I love that I can talk to her about anything...
47. ...and that she'll even talk about stuff she doesn't want to talk about given enough time.
48. I love the fact that she likes movies...
49. ...and that she's willing to try any movie I throw at her.
50. I love the fact that she's found several comics she likes, even though she's not particularly interested in comics in general.
51. I love that she hates Star Trek.
52. I love that she loves Dr. Who.
53. I love that she's tiny but mighty.
54. I love that she can sleep through almost anything.
55. I love that she'll game with my friends and I even though she's not particularly interested in it.
56. I love the fact that she has a great butt, however she insists that some of her jeans make it look better than others.
57. I love the fact that she loves the ocean and marine life of all kinds.
58. I love the fact that she knows how to properly set up and maintain fishtanks of all kinds.
59. I love that she loves to take pictures of everything.
60. ...and that she's really good at it.
61. I love the fact that she loves a good horror movie.
62. I love that she's generous, and loving, and kind.
63. I love the fact that she loves insects of all kinds.
64. I love the fact that she drinks Dr. Pepper like water.
65. I love the fact that she's constantly tinkering with her blog.
66. I love the fact that she's an atheist.
67. I love that sometimes I can introduce her to new music.
68. I love the fact that she can listen to a song twenty times in a row without blinking.
69. I love the fact that she's a Libertarian.
70. ...and that she calls me a Communist because I'm a bleeding heartliberal.
71. I love that she has no fear of offending anybody, ever.
72. I love the fact that I always learn something new about her every day I'm with her.
73. I love the fact that she's extremely polite.
74. I love the fact that she can out belch any man...
75. ...and that she says, "Excuse me." after every one.
76. I love the fact that she can curse fluently in several languages, but usually doesn't.
77. I love the fact that her sneezes almost always come in twos.
78. I love the fact that she almost always needs help to stop the hiccups.
79. I love that she'll hit the snooze button twenty times before getting up, even when I have the clock across the room.
80. I love that she thinks that the bed must be made every day.
81. I love that she likes 80's music.
82. ...and cheezy 80's cartoons.
83. I love the fact that she's loyal.
84. I love that she will never answer the door when I'm there, not even for the pizza guy.
85. I love that she can spend twenty hours straight web surfing, then tell me that there's nothing good on the internet.
86. I love that she loves to watch boxing.
87. I love that she's a creative and talented cook.
88. I love the fact that her foods must never touch, unless they're supposed to.
89. I love the fact that her favorite jet fighter is the SR71 Blackbird, even though she can never remember what it's called.
90. I love the fact that plastic wrap is okay to seal refrigerated containers with, but aluminum foil is not.
91. I love that Beethoven's Fur Elise will make her purr like a kitten.
92. I love that she ranks the cats in order of preference, and tells them this often.
93. I love that she's an outstanding gardener.
94. I love that she stays in touch with current news.
95. I love that she's addicted to Jeopardy.
96. ...and that she hates Wheel of Fortune.
97. I love the fact that she reviles Microsoft.
98. I love that she's the first person I want to see when I wake up...
99. ...and the last person I want to talk to when I go to sleep.
100. I love the fact that she lets me spoil her rotten.
101. Most of all, I love the fact that she picked me to share her life with.
When you do enough online reviewing (assuming you have something nice to say) you'll eventually start seeing snippets of your reviews crop up on various printed works. While it's a good feeling to know that the subject of one of your essays liked what you wrote enough to use it, it's a kind of dubious honor at best. After all, we all know that a critic doesn't really create anything right?
There's a certain kind of poetry in a well crafted essay, and the best critical essayists from Michele de Montaigne to Hunter S. Thompson, to Lester Bangs, to Harlan Ellison can make what is basically just an essay that says, "I liked it." or "I didn't like it and here's why." nearly as entertaining as the work that was reviewed.
One of the fun things I do when I'm writing a critical essay is to include the literary equivalent of a DVD easter egg. These are sentences that I've specifically written, that I think would make great cover copy. The trick is to work these in well enough so that they don't really jump out at you unless you're specifically looking for something cool to put on the back cover of your new graphic novel.
There's an art to writing good cover copy that transcends even the art of the critical essay. It's much harder to tell people how cool something is in just a few sentences than it is to use an entire essay. I've gotten good enough at it that at this point, that when someone picks out a few lines from one of my reviews for cover copy, it's almost always exactly the lines I wanted. So I thought I'd share with you all some of the practice runs I do on a regular basis, just to flex those specific writing muscles. Some of these are better than others, but they were all good practice, and they at least give you all a rare peek at my non comics related reading list. These are five finger exercises for those of us poor souls, damned to that special hell reserved for the most despised of all writers, the critic.
Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
Bar none, the best vampire novel since Bram Stoker's original, and Ms. Brite can write circles around the old bard. Lost Souls is hip, relevant, and more than a little responsible for most modern teen-agers wanting to dress in pale and black.
The Store by Bentley Little
Have you ever got the feeling while walking through Wal Mart that there was something...wrong? The feeling that just under the surface was something seething and evil. Bentley Little captures the true horror of the big box store in this masterpiece of genre fiction.
Collected Fictions by Jorge Louis Borges
Andrew Hurley does a stellar job of translating the finest short fiction of this master storyteller. This volume is a treasure mound of stories, and a must have for anyone who loves to read.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Mrs. Madrigal is the landlord you always wanted but never got, and the stories are told through the eyes of her renters at 28 Barbary Lane. Classic coming of age fiction by an astounding writer. Maupin is a national treasure and his work should not be missed.
Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk had the unfortunate luck of having his first novel Fight Club stick firmly into the heart of the pop culture zeitgeist, guaranteeing his succeeding work would be ignored. This is a collection of some of his best short fiction. Smashing reads all around.
Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem
Lethem is the best living short story writer who isn't Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison. Although the three are a fair comparison, Lethem shines brightly enough all on his own. This is his most recent collection of short fiction, and it's absolutely excellent.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
A brilliant updating of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz, told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Turns out she was a lot deeper than we ever gave her credit for, and her side of the story makes for an excellent read.
Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
All the mysteries, myths and magics of life on planet Earth are revealed through the parable of a love story that takes place in a pack of Camel cigarettes. Still Life With Woodpecker is a work of pure genius by one of the best modern writers.
Slippage by Harlan Ellison
Often mis-classified as a science fiction writer, Harlan Ellison consistently transcends the limitations of genre. Slippage is a masterpiece of collected short stories by the most amazing writer on the planet!
Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison
Required reading for anyone who has ever lost someone they care about. Ellison brings forth all the pain of lost loved ones and channels it into an amazing collection of scalpel sharp short fiction.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Read the book before you go see the new Richard Linkletter movie. This book will make you think twice before going out to eat at any restauraunt that labels itself fast food.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Even though the pandas come across as jerks, this is still the best English lesson of the new millennium. Truss makes the mind-numbingly boring subjects of grammar and punctuation fun by injecting them with wit and humor.
Classic Feynman by Richard Feynman
A collection of hilarious essays by the amazing physicist who's tragic death shortly after his investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, keeps the conspiracy theory nuts in business to this day. Feynman makes Carl Sagan look like a piker when it comes to making advanced physics potable for the masses.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Meet the amazing people who make and serve food in some of the world's best eateries. Master chef and gonzo journalist Anthony Bourdain takes us on a tour of back kitchens and dark alleyways around the world.
Captain America is strictly bush league!
This is also the reason that when John Byrne left The Uncanny X-Men so did I. Okay except for the stellar run by Paul Smith, but I can assure you I didn't read them, just looked at the pretty pictures. Okay...okay, I did pick up the Grant Morrison issues too, and I did enjoy the Jim Lee stuff as well. Sigh! I need help.
Many many years ago in those halcyon days of early 2002, I happened across this great web site called, The Healing Power of Obnoxiousness, or HPOO for short. It was an online archive for the critical essays of Paul T. Riddell, who's work I knew well from his days as a freelancer for Sci-Fi Universe and Film Threat magazines. Unfortunately, a few months after I found it, the web site went away. The archives were closed, and I wasn't even left with a signpost saying, "Move along. Nothing to see here." I felt like that little kid at the end of Shane, watching what was left of his hero ride off into the sunset. "Come back Paul, come back!" I never even got the chance to subscribe to his newsletter, the oh-so-marvelously named Hell's Half-acre Herald.
With the scuttling of his web site, Paul T. Riddell was gone, leaving a gaping wound in the field of genre criticism. The man who introduced me to the works of John Shirley, and the absolute genius who coined the term Cat Piss Man, had disappeared into the luminiferous aether. There were remnants though, like the image that still clings tremulously to life when you shut off one of those old tube driven television sets. If you search for them, you can still find some of his comics related work at Popimage, and at The SAVANT graveyard. His science fiction related essays and some of his movie reviews can still be found at: The Spark, and over at Dark Echo (-Edit point- Paul pointed out to me that his John Shirley review that's currently posted at Dark Echo is unauthorized. He has asked that the "editor" Paula Guran take it down, but she has so far ignored him. Should any of you desire to e-mail her and let her know what you think of this situation, she can currently be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org ), and you can read a lot of the stuff he wrote as Edgar Z. Harris at this nifty archive site.
Then, about a year ago, just on a whim, I threw Paul Riddell through a Google search. I do that from time to time, checking up on former SAVANTeurs, and a host of other favorite Internet writers who don't bother to keep their own blogs. This particular day, the stars were properly aligned, and Google came up with a Livejournal blog called Sclerotic Rings. It was written by none other than the aforementioned prodigal son himself. Paul had changed up his writing style a bit to favor a more chatty, conversational atmosphere, but you could still see some of the old snark, as well as gleaming edges of that black sense of humor, especially in his responses to readers' comments. It quickly became one of my favorite places to frequent within this cacophony of electronically driven noise we call the world wide web.
Paul's been sick lately with a serious bout of bronchitis that really seems to want to morph into pneumonia, but in spite of all that he keeps updating. I have, however, noticed a disturbing trend in his posts lately. It seems to be bothering him that he's still writing, still sharing his black wit and razor keen insights with an audience. It really pisses me off when writers who actually know their craft and practice it well start referring to what they do as an addiction. Writing certainly seems like something you should be able to "quit anytime," like smoking crack or watching re-runs of Matlock, but it isn't. Writing is a state of being, and while an addiction may certainly seem that way, it is in fact something extraneous to your core. Simply put, you either are or are not a writer. To deny the fact that you write is to deny your own existence, and a true writer (and Paul is one in every good and noble way imaginable) will write, regardless of whether he ever gets anything published, or even if nobody other than long suffering friends and family ever sees it. Writers have no choice but to set pen to paper (so to speak.)
Paul and I share a mutual teacher in the great essayist and short story writer, Harlan Ellison. I've met Harlan on many occasions, and have even had several opportunities to chat with him. He once told me that, "a true writer will write, no matter what. They have no choice but to serve their muse. It is an incurable affliction of the soul." Confirming for me what I've always known. Writing isn't an addiction, it's an incurable genetic disease, like Tay-Sachs or neurofibromatosis. Criticism is the worst of these because, not only must you understand your own unconsciousness, but you've also got to understand the back brains of other writers as well, and what's worse, is that you have to be able to pull everything apart, put it back together, then be clear enough to demonstrate your work to the rest of the class.
The best critics make all this seem effortless. They can juggle four running chainsaws, pull the tablecloth without spilling the wine glasses, and steal your wristwatch all at the same time, without even blinking. Paul Riddell is definitely someone I count as one of the best of us, and he doesn't even work much with the critical essay anymore. There's hope for the future though. If you go here, you'll see why.
For now Paul is still writing, and hopefully it's just the bronchitis talking, and not a lead-up to another disappearance. In the meantime, if you have a yen for some of the most fun you can have while surfing the Internet, check out Sclerotic Rings. It's been re-named The Esoteric Science Resource Center, which is a little less obscure than sclerotic rings, as well as a little more appropriate. The site is a carnival, chock full of scientific weirdness, cool science related facts, useful information about reptiles, insects, carnivorous plants, dinosaurs, and the like. It contains pretty much every interesting morsel that falls across Paul's wide ranging information gathering tentacles.
Paul is what the folks back home call, "good people." His blog is fun, open, honest, and even though he's posting mostly science related McNuggets, he still writes with passion, fire and humor. You should stop by and say hi, and if you like what you read, throw the guy some money courtesy of his PayPal tip jar. If I'm not mistaken, all proceeds are currently going towards the construction of his dream greenhouse, which I believe he plans to fill with carnivorous plants. How he plans on feeding the little bastards is a place I don't want to go, at least until he suckers my wife into wanting one too.
I'll admit I was skeptical. I'd been burned by this whole Casino Royale thing before. The first Ian Fleming novel, and the worst Bond film ever made, (starring the painffully mis-cast David Niven) the original Casino Royale held the dubious honor of being the only utter failure of the entire James Bond franchise. (Though, that horrid re-make of Thunderball they called Never Say Never Again came awfully close.) Still and all, I'd read Casino Royale, and though it's one of Fleming's weakest novels, it's still brief enough and actiony enough to hold a film together. Hell, with the right scriptwriter Judith Krantz's Dazzle could be a decent movie. (No, not really. Pick your jaws up off the floor.)
This new Bond flick had me from the opening credits. It starts with a brief introductory piece just as they all do, except this time we get to see our man James qualifying for his 00 status, and it's an edge of your seat roller-coaster ride from there. Casino Royale boasts the best on foot chase sequence I've ever seen in any movie, and huge kudos to Daniel Craig for even being able to keep up with the stuntman who played his quarry.
Craig plays Bond like an experienced field agent who is just coming in to the next level of his spycraft. He's temperamental and brilliant, a bit impulsive and absolutely self assured. Craig layers it all on, creating the best and certainly most human James Bond ever. At its core though, the story of James Bond is the story of a superhero, and as believable as Craig makes his Bond, he never seems to loose sight of the fact that he's playing a super secret agent, and he's more than equal to the physical challenge that role demands.
That's the thing about Craig. He's not classically handsome like Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, or Timothy Dalton, and he's not cute like Roger Moore. Craig is a man who blends in fine in a crowd, and like the excellent actor he is, Craig plays James Bond as equally at home in the back streets of a third world country as he is in the power casinos of Montenegro. He's in superior shape (plenty of rippling abs for the ladies to be sure) and he moves like a hyperactive cat on amphetamines. You will believe this man is a secret agent.
The direction on this movie is stellar. Martin Campbell, who got superb mileage out of Brosnan in Goldeneye and had the good sense to cast Hallie Berry as the Bond girl, returns with a new cast. He proves unequivocally that he was the best choice to re-start the Bond franchise. Playing off of a letter perfect action script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Campbell shows us that he's become a superb cook, by serving up the tastiest Bond Film since Dr. No. The elements from the cinematography to the acting blend perfectly. This is a seamless action movie that gives us a Bond for the new millenium, while still working in all the classic bits that the franchise fans know and love.
The supporting cast is excellent as Dame Judi Dench reprises her letter perfect M. Jeffrey Wright is cast well as Felix Leiter, though he doesn't have much in the way of screen time, he does make the most of what he's given. Eva Green is spectactular as Vesper Lynd, and she proves she's every bit Bond's match, even up through her inevitable betrayal. Special props go to Mads Mikkelsen who gives us the best Bond villian since Joseph Wiseman first threatened Sean Connery. The absence of jump suited goons, a secret underground volcano lair and even orbital laser beam death traps is not missed. Mikkelson plays Le Chiffre as a walking time bomb, seething with rage and desperation. He's the perfect counterpart to Craig's ice cold Bond.
Ultimately Casino Royale succeeds as both a Bond film and as an action movie, and that's twice what I expected with this franchise re-start. If you go see this movie at the theater you will not be disappointed. When it comes out on DVD you might as well buy it, because you will want to watch it again and again. See this movie, you will not be disappointed.
I don't care what anybody says, even if the rest of the movie isn't a tenth this cool, it still rates a must see.
In order to balance out my Karma a bit for that last post, I thought I'd put up a list of my favorite female role models. They are an eclectic mix to be sure.
Gail Simone - Arguably the best writer working in the field of comics today, Gail maintains a consistently excellent body of work. She uses humor to fuel solid action scripts that are packed full of modern pop culture references and snappy, intelligent dialogue. Unlike many of her peers, Gail takes great pains to maintain an active voice on the internet with her blog and by frequently contributing to relevant discussion boards. I also have it on good authority that in her free time she enjoys feeding live kittens and uppity internet journalists to her pet Sasquatch. Currently she is writing The All New Atom and Birds of Prey for DC.
Camille Paglia - A teacher, author and social critic, Camille is the advocate for rational feminism, and one hell of a lunch date. Since her breakout novel, Sexual Personae in 1990, Camille has written for Salon.com and is a managing editor for Interview magazine. Though she is most certainly a feminist, Camille has always been an outspoken advocate of fetishism, pornography, prostitution, and male homosexuality, which tends to get her in hot water with just about every conservative advocacy group on the planet. The author of two books of essays on the subject of modern feminism, she is currently working on her third.
J.K. Rowling - Recently voted the greatest living British writer by the readers of The Book Magazine, Rowling is the first author to become a Billionare by writing books. She earned 75 million dollars in 2005 just off the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and there's no end in sight with her upcoming release of the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows projected to top the 100 million mark by year's end. With all this fame and fortune, Rowling remains grounded by keeping up solid communication with her fan base via the internet, and numerous public appearances. She's an amazing writer that will hopefully continue to enjoy many years of continued success even after the Harry Potter craze has long since run its course.
Colleen Doran - Colleen has been a professional comics artist since she was a teenager. To date she has completed hundreds of graphic novels and monthly comics, with no signs of slowing down. Colleen has always been an outspoken defender of artists rights and an advocate for women in the comics industry. She has worked with superstar writers from Warren Ellis to Neil Gaiman, the later of whom even based one of the characters in his Sandman series on her. Colleen was one of the first American artists to appreciate the Manga artists coming from Japan, and has been instrumental in opening up the American comics market for Manga, and a host of talented Japanese creators. Currently, Colleen continues work on her creator owned project A Distant Soil, as well as providing the stunning artwork for J. Michael Straczynski's Book of Lost Souls project for Marvel Comics.
Ann Marie Lipinski - Anne Marie is currently the Senior Vice President and Editor of The Chicago Tribune, one of the world's most powerful daily newspapers. In 1988 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for her series of articles detailing corruption in the Chicago City Council. She has since served on the Pulitzer jury twice. Currently, in addition to her day job, she is also serving on the board of visitors for the Poynter institute, the University of Michigan Journalism Fellows program, and the Stanford University Journalism Fellows program. She is a really busy person.
Dame Julie Andrews - What's not to love? During her career she's won the Emmy, The Grammy, and The Academy Award. She made the role of Eliza Doolittle famous enough on Broadway to get it optioned as a movie, only to get snubbed for the movie role by Warner Brothers. She gave us iconic performances as Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp, she's been knighted as a Dame Commander of the British Empire, and she has a 5 octave singing voice. Say what you will about Dame Julie's typecasting as sugary sweet bits of fluff, but you're not looking at her entire career, nor are you appreciating the subtlety that this master thespian brings to every role she plays. She's a wonderful actress and a true class act.
Gale Anne Hurd - Gale has done more singlehandedly to popularize science fiction and comics than just about anyone. As a motion picture producer, with her own Production company Pacific Western Productions, she's made a string of super films, including; The Terminator, Aliens, The Hulk, The Punisher, Aeon Flux, Armageddon, the list goes on. She has excellent taste in subject matter, even if the execution sometimes falls flat, and she's one of the most successful producers in Hollywood. She is also one of the most patient and understanding people on the planet, having been married to director James Cameron for four years. Currently, Gale is producing a new project for Howie Mandel, as well as the sequal to The Incredible Hulk.
Jane Pauley - From 1976 to 1979, the Today show was not to be missed. There was one reason for this and one reason only. It was the same reason, in fact, that put Dateline NBC on the map as well. Jane Pauley has been a Journalist and News Reporter in some capacity for most of my life, and she will always hold a special place in my heart. She has retired from television now, preferring to live the quiet life with her husband, cartoonist Gary Trudeau, but you never know. As modern television becomes less and less ageist (unless of course you're Barbara Walters), perhaps one of these days we'll see Jane Pauley taking over for Barbara Walters on The View, much as she did years ago with the Today show.
Dr. Sally Ride - This one's a no-brainer for any 10 coolest people list, but there's a good reason for that. Astrophysicist, Dr. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was also the first female astronaut to complete two space missions. When the training for what was to be her third space mission was disrupted by the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Dr. Ride was asked to serve on the board of inquiry. She would also serve later as an investigator for the board, in the wake of the Shuttle Columbia disaster. Dr. Ride is currently the founder and CEO of of Sally Ride Science, her company creates science programs written with an eye towards entertainment, as well as other science based publications for upper elementary and middle school students.
USAF Major Nicole Malachowski - Callsign "Fifi" tops my current list of the coolest, and she'd definitely the most badass. Major Malachowski cut her piloting teeth on the F-15 Eagle, clocking more than 1000 hours of flight time with it, including a combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In March of 2006 she switched to the smaller, more manuverable F-16 when she was selected as the newest member of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Thunderbirds. To date she is the only female to ever serve as part of any armed forces air demonstration team, though The Navy's Blue Angels squadron has had females fly several solo missions in support of the main show. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend that will see more female pilots in these high profile military roles.
***Note*** Yes, I know the picture says she's a Captain. She got promoted, it happens.
I absolutely love parody commercials, and parodies of parodies are even better, so here's mMy very first YouTube post. Special thanks to Laura for the find.
I know it's part of the whole online writing gig, that invariably my work is gonna show up on other sites or get linked to from others pages. But it still thrills me to no end when it happens. The idea that someone out there read my stuff and liked it enough to link to it is just the coolest thing on the planet. Check out this Wikki. Where's It At Sugar Kat! Wikki Page
I've been a fan of Ian and Woodrow's work for a long time. It's nice to see someone took the time to put this page together for them.
I've really never been much of a fan of Bob Geldof, so it was kind of a suprise to me the other day when I heard this song on the radio and I actually liked it. It's one of the few Boomtown Rats songs that comes off more like something Queen would do. It also frightens me a little that I certainly understand the sentiment behind the song. Mind you, I'm not advocating mass murder at a schoolyard by any means... but every once in a while, something happens that makes me just see red.
I found this through Jeff Chon's excellent Shrillmatic blog, and it's an amazing piece of autobiography. I've spoken about the state of the comics industry several times with online friends Gail and Johanna, and though I don't comment on her blog a lot, I think Lea Hernandez is dead on accurate when she's ranted about the "frat house" mentality that exists at the big dinosaur publishers Marvel and DC.
Anyway, here's the link... We Need a Rape
Dave Cockrum was the chief architect in a microcosm of dreams set to four color harmony. His comics covers were bar-none the coolest around, and he had the distinction of being the only artist to ever sell me on an issue of Rawhide Kid (issue 151 still got it.) In his lifetime he designed some of the coolest costumes and drew some of the most fantastic comics stories I'd ever read. He was always one of my favorite artists, and one of the nicest guys on the planet to talk to at convention. Goodbye Dave, you will be sorely missed.
A Review of the graphic novel Shatter, a brief discussion of the universal forces, and some more pot shots at Michael Bay!
Most scientists agree that there are four universal forces. These are the most powerful forces in the universe, starting with strong nuclear force which is the most powerful but affects things over the smallest distance. The middle two are weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force, and these are followed by gravitational force, which is the weakest of the four, but affects things over the longest distance. Coming in just under gravitational force, however, is an unspoken fifth universal force that is the true glue that binds the universe together. Gravity be damned, that force is nostalgia. Anyone who doubts this can go find out about Michael Bay's newest project, then get back to me.
Writers as varied as Garrison Kellior and Michael Chabon have built their careers on nostalgia. Artists like Alex Ross and Steve Rude have careers steeped in it, and let's not even get into the careers of Norman Rockwell, Stan Lynde, or Charles M. Russell.
Nostalgia is everywhere. Sometimes it's a force for good, like Pallisades Toys re-introducing Micronauts, and sometimes it's pure evil, like the aforementioned Michael Bay project. In comics, that unrelenting need to recapture a bit of history is obvious in works like; The Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Maus, The Sandman, Acme Novelty Library... I could do this list forever.
Back in the 80's there were several comics that I followed with the fervor of a hyper-motivated religious zealot. I tried never to miss an issue. For the record they were; American Flagg, Badger, Nexus, Grimjack, Mage, Cerebus, Starslayer, Miracle Man, and of course The Legion of Super Heroes. I'm sure there were others... The Rocketeer when it came out, Mars was periodically entertaining, occasionally Dynamo Joe and The Elementals. I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about them.
Then there was Shatter. My best friend Will followed this thing devotedly. He bought every issue, and even followed Mike Saenz onto Donna Matrix. It took nearly a year of his browbeating me with this series before I finally gave it a chance. It was good. It didn't exactly blow my socks off or anything, but I liked it well enough. Peter Gillis' plot was a bit pedestrian, a futuristic crime noir complete with the cliche hard boiled hero, and the femme fatale. It was obvious that Gillis was a Blade Runner fan, and that was just fine by me.
From a story standpoint, Shatter didn't exactly set my world on fire, but the artwork was a different story. Working with an Apple MacIntosh and a dot matrix printer, Mike Saenz made magic. He pulled light, depth and shadow from a device that only a few years before could barely repeat the word "run" on an endless loop until you hit the escape button. This was something new, exciting, and endlessly interesting. It was the first time a comic had ever been produced using a tool that twenty-two years later is an integral part of the art form.
I liked Shatter. It was unique for its time. Over the years I've gone back and re-read those issues several times. It has always held up as a nostalgic reminder of one of my favorite eras in the history of comics.
And that's why I was happy to see AiT/Planet Lar publish Shatter as a graphic novel. It had been several years since I'd read the comic, and seeing it on the shelf at my local Borders was like welcoming back an old friend. Larry Young and Mimi Rosenheim understand all to well that fifth universal force, and they definitely know quality work when they see it. The new Shatter package is excellent. It's faithfully reproduced from the original black and white art, and the modern color process on the covers takes the artwork to whole new levels of excellence. It's got essays by the writer Peter Gillis, and by Mike Gold (the genius responsible for most of what was good from First Comics, Shatter's original publishing house.) There's a couple of other essays by luminaries who are fans of Shatter, and only Mike Saenz is conspicuous by his absence. It's a nice package, and a fine addition to the AiT/Planet Lar cannon.
Looking back at 1984, the year Shatter was published, it was a watershed year for science fiction. Blade Runner was only two years old, and everyone was still on the fence about its importance to the genre. Howard Chaykin was working on his science fiction magnum opus American Flagg. Later that same year, a little book called Neuromancer would plow into the metaphorical forearm of the genre like a cybernetic heroin overdose, leaving us with permanent track mark scars of chrome and neon.
Taken in that context, Shatter becomes all the more important for what Peter Gillis accomplished with his story. To swipe a turn of phrase from Larry Young, like fine sippin' whiskey, Shatter just gets better with age. The artwork suffers a bit with the passing of time, especially considering what we're used to in these latter days of 2006, but it still rocks. Hopefully one of these days Mike Saenz will revisit this project and apply some of our modern coloring techniques. Shater's artwork almost begs for it, and the addition of color would definitely alleviate some of the "dated" feel it has for today's comics readers, spoiled on a diet of digital processing.
For now though, Shatter works just fine the way it's presented. It's a nostalgic trip back to a fun time in comics. It was a time when a comics company that was neither Marvel or DC would take a chance on something that had never been done before. It was an era where that same upstart publisher took on the big two with a murder's row of indy titles, and actually managed to shake the pillars of heaven, for a time.
When you make your living cutting brand new worlds whole cloth from your personal mental firmament, it takes a special kind of writer to splatter those brain children over twenty-odd pages of cheap newsprint on a regular basis. For those few writers that have the talent and the creativity, the rewards are minimal, so you'd better love what you're doing. In the minuscule litany of those who love writing comics, there are even fewer who stand out as supernova bright as Brian K. Vaughn.
Brian is the scribe responsible for Ex-Machina, which blows the doors off The Watchmen as an attempt to portray superheroes in a real world setting. His teen superhero series Runaways, offers a fresh and infinitely interesting spin on what it takes to be a hero, even as it blurs the lines between good guys and bad guys. His science fiction series Y The Last Man is a twisting journey of self discovery that pulls equal bits from Stephen King's The Stand and James Tiptree Jr.'s The Screwfly Solution, and beats them both in the grand smackdown of post apocalyptic speculative fiction.
So, it's no wonder that his stand alone graphic novel Pride Of Baghdad, which seemed like kind of a stupid idea on the surface, turned out so remarkably good. The high concept genesis of this little gem started its life as a news report about a quartet of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the U.S.'s 2003 bombing of Iraq. Starving, frightened out of their minds, and half dead from exhaustion and exposure, the U.S. Army mercifully put them down. The twist on this is that the story is told from the lions' points of view.
I'm always wary of anthropomorphising animals. If taken too far you get extremist terrorist organizations like P.E.T.A. and its hyperviolent sock puppet A.L.F., or you get regurgitated pablum like Barney the dinosaur, and stupid people with too much money and way too much time on their hands who like to dress their pets up in leather bomber jackets and Harley Davidson paraphernalia. If done right though, you get fine religious allegory like Richard Adams' Watership Down and Neil Gaiman's Dream of a Thousand Cats, or a masterful deconstruction of the nature of revolution like George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Under less skilled hands this story could easily have turned into just another political screed about how bad the United States is and how the evil American Military cold-bloodedly gunned down four poor defenseless animals. It's not. Instead, Pride of Baghdad is a well crafted, impeccably told tale that is entertaining, poignant and tragic.
As a story, Pride of Baghdad works and works well. Brian walks the lions through the wreckage of Baghdad, and the Pride keeps a running commentary that explores heavy ideas like what happens to the civilians during a war, what is the price of freedom, and what happens when your caregivers suddenly go away.
The part that resonated most with me, was a scene where the lions come across a turtle and he recounts the ecological disaster that the Hussien government unleashed during Operation Desert Storm. I was in Saudi Arabia as part of that operation, and I can tell you that the turtle in this story doesn't even scratch the surface of the devastation that occurred outside the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields.
But that's what I like about this story. Brian doesn't browbeat you with the obvious, nor does he ever give in to what was quite possibly the overwhelming urge to preach about how bad war is. We're reading the story, we get it, war is bad. He leaves it at that, preferring instead to concentrate on giving us believable characters and a great story.
The other half of Pride's creative team, Nico Henricson is relatively new to American comics. His first graphic novel, Barnum, was well drafted, if a bit stiff. With Pride of Bagdhad he pulls out all the stops. There are no humans to speak of in this tale, but they're not missed. Nico gives each of the animal characters a wide range of expression and movement that does bring out human qualities in them. This would detract from the realistic feel of the story, but Nico keeps the lions true enough to the source material that they are still believable as animals.
The backgrounds and landscape of Pride are phenomenal. Nico is a master of stylized detail and it's on full display in these pages. He gives us a guided tour of a little slice of hell on earth, and we come away the better for it.
There's no colorist credited, so it's a pretty safe bet that the color choices are Nico's. He applies a bit of a fade to the dull browns and oranges in the outside scenes, which gives the story an effect that recalls some of Ridley Scott's lensing choices during Black Hawk Down. It's a great effect that applies a sort of haze of war. It evokes a feeling of unease that keeps the idea that there is danger around every corner, just at the back of your mind where it should be for this type of story.
Pride of Bagdhad is solid work by a team that meshes well. It's an intense, sad story that is intelligent, relevant, and superbly drawn. It's a short film on paper that's worthy of an Oscar, or in this case an Eisner. Pick it up and give it a try. You will absolutely not be disappointed.
I'll admit this right up front. Roy Lichtenstein was not my favorite artist. It never set right with me that he didn't credit the original artists whose work he was using, and I always found his line work far inferior to the original comics panels he was using. Still and all, his artwork was unique and over the years, I have found several of his pieces that I quite like. I do know that I appreciate the statement he was making with his reproductions, and I really enjoy the controversy over his work that goes on even today, seven years after his death.
So, it strikes me as kind of funny that David Barsalou should obsess about Lichtenstein's paintings to the point that he would put up a web site devoted to pairing blow ups of the original comics panels with poorly reproduced, micronized pictures of the original Lichtenstein paintings. The site is badly put together, but as the main point of this article, you can take a look at it at Deconstructing Lichtenstein.
See, here's the thing... if you're going to deconstruct the work of an artist, any artist, you make a much better argument if you're fair about your criticism. The very act of blowing up these comics panels, and drastically reducing the size of the Lichtenstein paintings has the effect of completely screwing up the artwork for comparison contrast.
In the case of the comics panels, the size change muddies the line work by taking it from its original published size to something approximating the size at which it was originally drawn. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but here's the thing. Comic Books are a completely collaborative medium. When you show a comics panel, you are showing work by not only the artist that pencilled the panel, but also from the artist that inked it, the colorist, the letterer, and dare I say it, the writer who came up with the scene in the first place. If you're going to do a true comparison, perhaps a reproduction of the original art would be a bit closer to fair.
In the case of the Lichtenstein paintings, you run into some different problems. I've seen Roy Lichtenstein's comics reproduction work in person, and the first thing that hits you about them is their sheer size. By altering that size, you completely change the meaning of the work. What was once a celebration of the comics medium, and a scathing social commentary, is reduced to nothing more than a swipe. I submit that it's completely disingenuous to compare and contrast altered artwork. A person coming to Roy Lichtenstein's art for the first time via Barsalou's website could easily mistake Lichtenstein for a comics artist. He isn't, and never in his life did he claim to be.
Another thing that's really annoying about the Deconstructing Lichtenstein site is the watermarks that Barsalou plasters all over his scans of the comics panels. It's distracting, it's annoying, and it makes you wonder why he was so quick to deface those comics panels, but not the Lichtenstein scans. This shouldn't surprise me really, but it does. Does Barsalou have so little respect for the comics artwork he's showing? If that's the case, then the logical conclusion would be that this is merely an attack on Roy Lichtenstein's legacy, and not in fact a deconstruction. Of course since Barsalou credits none of the original artists on his site, I'm thinking either this is an attack, or he's just not finished building the site.
When John Byrne draws his twentieth (or whatever) re-interpretation of the cover to Fantastic Four #1, we call it homage. When Lichtenstein re-interpreted the comics panels for his series of paintings, he called it homage too. It's one thing to call out a comic book artist for swiping other artist's works. Peter David has been doing this to Rob Liefeld for years. It's quite another matter, however, to exhibit drastically altered scans of painted, stylized reproduction art next to comic book art, and call it a critical deconstruction. You might as well vilify a movie for copying the book it was based on.
During his lifetime, Roy Lichtenstein made it very clear that this series of paintings were reproduced from the comics that he loved. If he made one mistake, it was that he never really went out of his way to credit his source material. So, If you're Russ Heath, Curt Swan, or any of the other artists whose work Lichtenstein used, but almost never credited, you definitely have a legitimate complaint. If you're going to go to bat for credit where credit is due, I'll be first on the bandwagon. Just don't compare apples to Lasagna and call it a critical deconstruction.
The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation has an excellent website, dedicated to the man's life and works. In the cases where the Lichtenstein painting is a reproduced project, they have gone so far as to credit the source material. If you want to see what Roy Lichtenstein was all about, this is an excellent place to start.
It's part one, because there are definitely more of these posts to come. I've been focusing a lot on comics lately, and I figured I'd break it up a bit. Besides this is an easy type of post to do, and I feel more like a real blogger when I post more frequently, sooo....
I have an absolutely massive toy collection that is currently residing in our storage while we (that is my wife and I) get our shit together enough to find a place to live that doesn't involve packing us and our six cats into my parents' back bedroom. I've been collecting toys for as long as I can remember (at least as long as comics) and I just love 'em. This series of posts will cover some of the neatest, coolest, most unusual toys I've run across in my travels, and where to get them.
First up is the flat out best idea for a line of plush toys I've ever seen. The toys are from a company called Giant Microbes . You can still purchase these babies directly from the source, or from Think Geek which is a very cool online website, as well as the place from which all these images were kiped. Hopefully these guys will be around for a long time to come, and considering their source material, they could potentially have a larger variety of critters than TY.
There's lots more available. Check out the web sites I mentioned for the full line. Each microbe comes with its own little info card that shows you a picture of the actual microbe, and gives you all sorts of fun facts about it. These definitely qualify as some of the coolest toys on the planet.