Harry Potter and the Joys of Adaptation

Posted by Dan Saturday, November 26, 2005 0 comments

I don't mean to start this off all chipper here, but I really did like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I didn't think I would, but I did, and I'm pretty sure I've figured out why. It's all the scriptwriter, Steven Kloves' fault, and I'm starting to fear for Order of the Phoenix, which he's not adapting.

The thing about movies that are crafted around a much beloved series of books is that rarely do they live up to expectations. Generally speaking, it doesn't matter if the movie is good, or if it holds up as entertaining. The main criteria always seems to be how close it is to the source material, and that's not fair. It's impossible to cram every ounce of detail in a 1000+ page novel into two hours of movie. The best adaptations have always been written by people who excell at editing. It's a unique skill to take a novel and pare it down into a script that flows well enough to drive the action, keep everybody entertained, and capture the salient points of the source material. Obviously, the more detailed and fully realized the novel, the harder that scriptwriter's job.

Fortunately for the Harry Potter series, Steven Kloves excells at his job. To date, he has done a masterful job of editing J.K. Rowling's work into fine movie script form. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is no exception. Yes, it's missing quite a lot of information, and Kloves takes a big risk in relying on what we already know about the Potterverse to bring in new characters, but it works. Goblet of Fire snaps along at a breakneck pace in a masterful attempt to cram as much information into two and a half hours of movie as it possibly can. The end result is that by the time you get situated with your soda and popcorn, switch seats out from in front of the nine year old brat that's kicking the back of your chair, shuffle through a half hour of badly produced commercials and mostly uninteresting previews, you find yourself getting up to leave the theater with the stunning impression that you have just been well entertained for the last few minutes. It's a shocker to find out you've been there over two hours. Any movie that can do that rates an A+ and multiple viewings in my book.

Mike Newell is a director who has always excelled at making movies that sound horrible in concept work extremely well, and I would never have thought to associate him with the Harry Potter series. His track record to date consists of an eclectic mix of non genre work including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pushing Tin, Donnie Brasco and the chick flick to end all chick flicks, Mona Lisa Smile. There's a real mad genius at work behind the scenes of the Potter franchise, and it makes me think that maybe someone like Anthony Minghella should tackel a Steven King novel or two. The combination works and works well. Newell draws outstanding performances out of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint who under a lesser director would be sleepwalking through their parts by now.

Principles aside, the secondary characters in this movie seem to be having fun too. David Tennant has a blast playing Barty Crouch Jr. and masterfully steals every scene he's in. Brendan Gleeson, the great character actor that tends to get cast in at least as many "We need someone Irish" roles as Colm Meaney, is outstanding as the new defense against the dark arts teacher Mad Eye Moody, and Ralph Finnes chews scenerey like Al Pacino on a two day crack bender, bringing exactly the type of insane, calculated menace that Lord Voldemort should have. Alan Rickman doesn't have a lot to do in this one. Snape really could have been completely written out of this movie, but we'll need him for The Order of the Phoenix. However, Rickman squeezes every ounce out of his limited screen time, and ends up presenting one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire doesn't beat Prisoner of Azkaban for drama and sense of wonder, but it's very nearly as entertaining. You know you'll go see it anyway, so just relax and enjoy it. It's solidly entertaing, and a whole lot of fun, two and a half hours well spent.

The Unsung Hero of Genre Fiction

Posted by Dan Friday, November 18, 2005 0 comments

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There are few people working in the world of genre fiction in Hollywood who truly understand what they're doing. Typically a genre movie, especially a science fiction movie is pretty stupid, all things considered. Either its science is wonky, or there's no character development, or both, and it quickly degenerates into a messy spectacle of overgrown post adolescents blowing up models.The sad fact is that there is usually very little thought behind your average Sci Fi flick. The one genre that has the greatest potential to make its audience think without realizing that they're thinking, is invariably dumbed down into pre-digested crap. Mind you, I think it's important that the audience not realize they're thinking, after all, if you're too busy thinking, you just won't be able to enjoy your nastified butter-flavored slime covered popcorn, and your watered-down, mold flavored death tub of soda-esque fizzy liquid. When you want to think, you go see movies like The English Patient, or Magnolia, or Mr. Holland's Opus. You don't go to films like A.I., Minority Report, Gattaca, or Dark City. So, it's a rare and precious gem of a movie that can get its audience to think, without making them realize that they're thinking, and that's just what Joss Wheedon has done here.

Spinning out of his criminally short lived T.V. series, Firefly, Joss has created a larger than life fantasy world with a deep, well thought out backstory, and vivid, brilliantly realized characters. Admittedly, I'm biased in favor of this movie from the start, because I actually got to enjoy Firefly when it was first released to DVD, but I'm told by several people who went into Serenity cold, that it's completely enjoyable without the backstory that the T.V. series gives you. Serenity lifts the series characters into a bit more of a grand spectacle than what we saw on the small screen. The characters' backstories are truncated a bit, relationships are tweaked slightly, and Joss kills off three of the story's major characters, but its still a lot of fun.

The core story of Serenity is about the youngest character River, a brilliant teenager turned into a psychotic killing machine by the powers that be. She's set off on a rampage by a post hypnotic suggestion, that drags the Serenity crew to the edge of known space. It culminates in a toe to toe battle between the powers that be and the savage hordes they created. Serenity is a wild, fun ride with scads of interesting background story and a great central driving plot. It careens from planet to planet, and ends with a donnybrook that would make Cecil B. Demille weep. It's well worth your time to see at least once, and in the tradition of some of the best science fiction, there's so much going on in the background that it rates at least a second and third viewing.

Serenity, just like the ship that bears its name, is dirty and grimy and well lived in. The people we meet while traveling through Serenity's galaxy range from the sterile, antiseptic Star Trek worlds of the core systems, to the gritty frontier world pioneers, that have more in common with the desperados of a Sergio Leone western. This movie reflects the best and the worst of humanity in a world that has become a kaleidoscope of cultures.

Joss Wheedon, the show's writer and director is the unsung hero of the science fiction genre. He writes with an enthusiasm and a love for his material that is sadly lacking in most of today's science fiction movies. With Serenity, every ounce of this love is reflected up on the screen, from the excellence of his ensemble cast, to the gritty hyperrealism of the special effects, through all points in between. Go see Serenity, you won't be disappointed.

100 Factoids About Me!!!

Posted by Dan Thursday, September 01, 2005 1 comments

Being a bit of an overreactive response, and a five finger exercise in getting it out of my system.

It's no secret to my significant other or any of my friends that I kinda despise blogs and blogging in general. I don't really get in to the whole "telling people about my life" thing, nor do I really enjoy writing about politics or posting pictures, or prattling on about subjects that I don't know anything about. There are, however exceptions to every rule. The bloggers Courtney and I read on a repeating, if not always regular basis are each phenomenal in their own respects, and I have to admit, blogging is a great way to practice writing without destroying acres of prime timberland.

So anyways, I've seen a few bloggers do this meme and pin it to their sidebar, and I think this is a really good way to get to know a writer a bit better. The challenge was trying to come up with 100 interesting things about me while realizing tha fact that, just because it's about me, doesn't necessarily make it interesting. A lesson that many bloggers out there could stand to learn I think.

1. I do best on 4 to 5 hours of sleep per day.
2. My favorite movie is Citizen Kane.
3. Now thak Katie Couric is gone, I am no longer addicted to NBC's Today Show.
4. I absolutely hate to fly.
5. I've been skydiving several times.
6. I was once fired from Sub Pop records.
7. I am a total X-Box junkie.
8. I absolutely hate "reality" T.V.
9. I think that Alex Proyas and David Fincher are absolutely brilliant.
10. I am a recovering alcoholic.
11. I have a bachelors degree in English.
12. I minored in Theology.
13. One of my lifelong goals is to write and publish my own comic book.
14. My favorite writer is Harlan Ellison.
15. I play guitar, but not well.
16. I love DVDs with lots of bonus features.
17. I like graphic novels better than comics.
18. I love minicomics.
19. I hate country music.
20. I'm divorced.
21. I love toys, especially Legos and action figures.
22. Micronauts are my favorite toys.
23. One of my oldest and dearest friends is militantly gay.
24. Many years ago I gave up Rush, Van Halen, and Aerosmith for The Pixies, Radiohead, and Wilco.
25. I think that Pat Robertson is probably the Antichrist.
26. I think the new pope is a dangerous man.
27. I have a scar through the middle of my right hand.
28. I've been to every state in the U.S. except Alaska.
29. I have been swimming in the Red Sea.
30. I've been to Japan, Korea, Okinawa, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Israel, Egypt, India, Turkey, Iraq, Tibet, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Nicaragua, Brazil, and many, many others.
31. I had a top secret security clearence for many years.
32. I was in the Air Force for six years.
33. I fought in the first Gulf War.
34. I speak pretty fluent German, though I'm rusty.
35. I have a working conversational knowledge of French and Arabic, though I'm rusty.
36. I worked on the Stealth Fighter project while it was still classified.
37. I have actually been inside Area 51.
38. I have dated a stripper...
39. That stole a lot of money from me...
40. And ended up stabbed to death outside some bar in Texas.
41. I love Rocky Road ice cream.
42. Tetras are my favorite aquarium fish.
43. My favorite web site is www.disinfo.com
44. My dream fling is Hallie Berry.
45. All of our cats are named after comic book or cartoon characters.
46. All of my favorite Aunt's cats are named after federal prisons.
47. One of my favorite girlfriends was a street musician in San Francisco.
48. I am deathly allergic to bananas.
49. I think that Gail Simone is probably the best writer working in comics today.
50. John Cassaday is definitely the best artist working in comics today.
51. I have a birthmark shaped like New Jersey on my left forearm.
52. I love making lists.
53. I am a closet poet.
54. I love my girlfriend Courtney more than anyone I have ever loved in my life.
55. I'm a sucker for 80s pop tunes.
56. I have eaten snake and chocolate covered cricket.
57. I recently discovered that I no longer despise asparagus.
58. I miss my black leather bomber jacket.
59. I hate buying new clothes.
60. I think Matthew Lesko needs a new hobby.
61. My favorite cartoon series is Underdog.
62. Followed closely by Space Ghost.
63. Followed closely by any Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny.
64. I love good coffee.
65. I hate decaff.
66. I have never been lost.
67. I love water skiing and snow skiing.
68. I'm a pretty decent ice skater.
69. I love palindromes.
70. I never feel truely comfortable unless surrounded by books.
71. I once got to drive an Army tank, but they wouldn't let me shoot the big gun.
72. I think the Mafia is preferable to open gang warfare.
73. In a perfect world I would be the new Pope...
74. Though I'm not Catholic.
75. I love cats.
76. I can ride a horse, well.
77. I've been bungie jumping twice.
78. I love independant animated short films.
79. Someday I want to go to Australia...
80. and New Zealand...
81. and Madagascar.
82. Three of my friends have comitted suicide.
83. Two of my friends have drowned.
84. One was shot by the Police.
85. One of my old girlfriends was killed by a drunk driver.
86. I am inordinately overprotective of my friends.
87. I am addicted to Diet Coke.
88. I sing in the shower.
89. Getting me to wear anything other than Jeans, T-Shirts and sneakers is like trying to give a cat a bath.
90. I can't seem to keep a pair of sneakers intact more than six months.
91. E-Books annoy the bejeesus out of me. They're just unnatural.
92. I still own the stuffed panda that I had as a child.
93. I've had seven of my permanent teeth pulled.
94. I don't have any tonsils or adenoids.
95. I am a bleeding heart liberal.
96. I think that Americans as a whole are frighteningly overreactive.
97. I am deathly afraid of loud, sudden noises, especially thunder.
98. I like Star Wars way better than Star Trek.
99. I hate fans at comic book conventions, but I don't mind fans at science fiction conventions.
100. I hate, hate, hated the Lord of the Rings books.

Cover it With Chocolate and a Miracle or Two

Posted by Dan Friday, August 26, 2005 0 comments

Being a review of the movie
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

After the whole Planet of the Apes debacle, I swore to myself that I was done going to Tim Burton movies. I boycotted Big Fish when it came out, even though I like both Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney, and the story did look interesting. Fortunately, enough time had passed that when it finally came out on DVD, I caved in to the impressive media blitz that they somehow forgot to give it when it showed in theaters, I rented it, and it was really good. So, thinking maybe Tim Burton had finally learned a modicum of self restraint, I decided to give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a chance.

This movie had a lot going against it with me. I love the original Roald Dahl story, and while I'm not a huge fan of the changes they made to the story for the original film, I am a huge fan of Gene Wilder, so I have a tendency to remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with a bit more fondness than it probably deserves. But, ultimately, I went, and I saw it, and I wasn't disappointed. It's quite possible that I even enjoyed it.

Sure, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has its flaws. Having one actor play all of the Oompa Loompas was a questionable move at best. (Even if it was the always excellent character actor Deep Roy.) Setting the songs from the novel to ridiculous modern bubblegum pop music was annoying, yet somehow fitting. I would gripe more about the added backstory about Willy Wonka's father, but it put Christopher Lee up on the screen, and that in and of itself earns the movie a whole lot of slack.

All in all it works as a fitting tribute to Roald Dahl's story. It adheres much more closely to the story of Charlie Bucket and his family. Freddie Highmore is appropriately precious as the superhumanly noble Charlie. The Bucket family gets a lot more screen time this time around. The Chocolate Factory is appropriately two parts charming, one part creepy, likewise Willy Wonka. Johnny Depp plays him marvelously well, and though I'd still rather see Alan Cummings in the role, (If you doubt me, check him out in Spy Kids... tell me he's not a perfect Willy Wonka.) Depp still pulls this off with charm, grace, and just a little bit of subdermal menace.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a kalideoscope of sound, light, and colors. Its' most intense scene is a conglomeration of burning dolls, but any kid who's had to suffer through the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland will completely understand, and they do recieve medical attention, so it's all good. The movie is appropriate for all ages, just as it should be. It has just the right amount of tolerable terror to keep any child enthralled. I didn't fidgett once. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory definitely marks a return to form for Tim Burton. It recaptures some of the magic that he'd lost in recent years, and serves up a scrumpdillyumptious spritzer of restrained manic energy, bottled up and served with sugar and fizz.

Remix, Rinse, Repeat!

Posted by Dan Friday, July 08, 2005 1 comments

Don Simpson, the singular talent behind the non-pariel Megaton Man, and the outstanding, Bizarre Heroes comics, has his own blog here on Blogger. Recently, he wrote an essay reviling the paper tiger state of creators' rights, currently running rampant through the comic book industry, and calling the fans out for perpetuating a vicious buying cycle of pre-digested, regurgitated crap. It's a great essay by one of the most enduring independent creators in the industry, and it's definitely worth a read, if for no other reason than to see the bitter resolve that can fester from a lifetime spent railing against the large comics publishing houses.

If you are going to write for comics today, there are three publishers that make up the majority of the market. From a purely economic standard, everything else is small change. The big three: Marvel, D.C., and Image, have a bad set of business practices that have been beaten into creators since the beginning of the art form, called work for hire. A work made for hire is any work that becomes the property of the employer when it is specially ordered or commissioned from one or more of their employees. It's generally used to simplify copyright law concerning technical manuals, user guides, and things that are compiled by a group, like computer programs. The problem is that in the case of comic books, they really don't fall into the group created category. They are in fact cut whole cloth from the imaginations of two creators, a writer, and an artist.

Many of the original writers and artists who created the works we all know and love today were never told they were making work for hire product. They were, for the most part, depression era teenagers that were duped by the publishers into signing their creations away for pennies per page, sometimes not even receiving credit for what they had created. Many of the artists were never given back their original artwork, and nobody but the company ever made any money from licensing or reprints.

Today, creators have made some inroads against the work for hire mentality, largely due to the efforts of stalwart creators like Don Simpson. Some creators are now paid a reprint royalty, and all of the big three publishers have created umbrella imprints with provisions for creator owned properties. However, the damage was done a long time ago. Superman is wholly owned by AOL/Time Warner, and its subsidiary D.C. Comics, not Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the two men who created him. Spider-Man is owned by Marvel Comics Inc., not by his creators, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Stan Lee recently won a court case against Marvel Comics that entitled him to an undisclosed slice of the multi-million dollar Spider-Man franchise pie. Good on ya' Stan, but too little to late Marvel. Still and all, Marvel's settlement with Stan was a good bit of P.R. spin for a company that used to print its work for hire contracts on the back of its payroll checks.

Today, any writer or artist who wants to play with icons like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain America, or the X-Men will find himself generating revenue for the corporation, while the pockets of the original creators remain empty. Work made for hire that allows corporations the ownership of what is clearly the intellectual property of these creators is underhanded at best, and downright criminal at its worst.

The side effect of having corporate control over the most popular and instantly recognizable comic book heroes is that it has bred a culture of re-interpretation, and recycling. If the creators of an intellectual property like The Fantastic Four actually live long enough, they will get to see their ideas periodically redesigned by different artists, and re-interpreted by different writers. For comic books, this actually works, to a point. Just like with an original work, sometimes creative teams succeed, and sometimes they don't.

This brings me back around to Don Simpson's essay, Counterfeit Comics. In it, he proposes the thesis that, "any [comic] title produced by anyone other than the strip's original creator is counterfeit. "He goes on further to state that, "Fans have actually been conditioned to be intrigued by the announcement of new creative line-ups, new storyline tangents, renumbered series, etc."My problem with this isn't necessarily the message. However, it's more than a little disingenuous to single out the comic book industry and comics fandom as a whole for this, especially when his initial analogy is the music industry, which is just as guilty as the comic book publishers of stepping all over creator's rights.

The most galling thing about this essay, though, is that Simpson holds up music fans as a savvier buying public. He continues, "...the music industry (who occasionally experiments with things like The New Monkees and Broadway shows of old rock albums, but by an (sic.) large respects the integrity of their product and the intelligence of consumers.)"

This is the industry that created the terms remix and music sampling. The same industry that constantly buries the names of its songwriters in tiny, often hard to read liner notes, and promotes name branding and packaging above talent. This industry regularly and quite successfully dupes its audience into believing that talentless drudges like Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Vanilla Ice are artists, worthy of their money and attention. This industry regularly allows the re-interpretation and recycling of music in the form of the cover song.

Even Simpson's initial analogy doesn't hold water. The Beatles had ten albums under their fab belts before they finally released one that didn't contain music written by someone other than John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Cover tunes are a regurgitated staple to music fans. Case in point, The Ataris. This band has been around since the early 90s, but they didn't actually gain any sort of popular acceptance until they covered Don Henley's ode to mid 80s melancholia, Boys of Summer. The music industry is rife with this type of regurgitation. Countless bands made it by recycling old standbys.

Songwriters are as abused by the work for hire system as comics writers and artists, and the music buying public is more than willing to shell out good money after bad for prefabricated, unoriginal crap. I'm not saying comics fans are much better. After all, we did make superstars out of Joe Staton, Carmine Infantino, and Rob Liefeld, not to mention the incomprehensible love affair with Chris Clairmont.

However, having said all that, I will submit that re-interpretation is not always a bad thing. Henry Rollins and Bad Brains cover of The MC5's Kick Out The Jams, rocks way beyond the reach of the original. Concrete Blonde's moody, black within black version of Wave of Mutilation is far superior to the original Pixies tune (for me, that's blasphemy), and if you've never heard Shakira's cover of Back in Black or No Doubt's SKAed up version of Come on Eileen, you're really missing out.

My point here is that, to dismiss any re-interpretation or re-working as invalid because it wasn't done by the original creators is just ludicrous, especially with comics. This statement dismisses Alan Moore and Rick Veitch's Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, not to mention Moore and Gaiman's remake of Miracleman. It invalidates large portions of the careers of Frank Miller, Warren Ellis, Steven Grant, Kurt Busiek, George Perez, Jim Lee, Neil Adams, and Alex Ross.

The message is sound. Creators should strive for originality in everything they do, but they should also feel free to build on what other creators have left behind. I'll stop short of quoting Ecclesiastes here. Suffice it to say that there are very few original ideas left in this world. The act of creation is tantamount to beating dead men at their own game. It's terribly naive to think that one mass market is any more perceptive than another. The buying public is the buying public, no matter what, and big corporations will always go out of their way to leech away the buyers' money. The trick is cutting through the dross to get to the good stuff. Originality is in the eye of the beholder.

Director's Commentary - LWM Review

Posted by Dan Wednesday, July 06, 2005 0 comments

This essay was another SAVANT child. It's a bit dated now, but it suddenly has a strange new relevance. A week or so ago, Paul Sizer contacted me and asked if I would be a beta reader for his new graphic novel Moped Army. Of course I said yes, and though I can't tell you all about it yet, I will say that anyone who buys this is in for a treat.

Paul now has his own publishing imprint called Cafe Digital, and you can get the Little White Mouse collections from there. He will also be soliciting them through Diamond Distributing (Hmmmm... maybe I'd better get him together with Khepri.com ), so your local comics store might carry them too. If they're savvy that is.

Paul is one of the coolest guys on the planet, and his work is criminally overlooked by comics readers. Little White Mouse is suitable for all ages, and it's a fantastic read. Buy yourself an early Christmas present. Hell, buy your best friend one too. They'll thank you for it, trust me.

Riding the stars with the Little White Mouse

Posted by Dan Friday, July 01, 2005 0 comments

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Little White Mouse- Perfect Collection 1&2
By Paul Sizer
$14.95 Blue Line Pro Comics

Little White Mouse is the best comic book you're not reading. It's your fault Paul Sizer has to sling hash at the local McPerkins, (the midnight shift t... for shame you people.) And it's your fault I can't find this book on the rack at my local comic shop. Every month I have to pour over every page of until my eyes bleed, in the futile hope that I'll catch this little mag before it disappears into the miasma of reorder hell. It sucks trying to track this comic down on a monthly basis. It seems nobody but me (and possibly the gals over at Sequential Tart) reads the damned thing, and worse, it has a microscopic publisher better suited to churning out Bristol board pages and sketchpads than putting out a regular comic book.

Fortunately for all of us, somebody at thought it might be a good idea to let Paul Sizer work his magic on two of the best graphic collections to grace the comics reading public since Bendis' last spined edition of Powers. Not only that, but (gasp) they're keeping it in print. Now you have no excuse. Go out and buy this comic! Buy two and give one to your indigent friend who always borrows your mags, but never seems to have enough money to get his own. Read this comic. It will clear up your acne, babes will suddenly find you interesting, and people will start taking you seriously. Well, probably not, but you'll get a damned fine read out of the deal. And your indigent friend will definitely be interested enough to pick up the next collection for himself. Though he probably won't get one for you.

I discovered Paul Sizer and his creation Loo (the title character) at the 2001 Wizard Convention in Chicago. He was crammed into the artists' ghetto at the back of the Con with the other forgotten creators. You've seen them, the artists and writers published by small independent companies (and the even lower creatures who eke out their meager existence self publishing.) They're the ones who stare at you with haunted eyes as you breeze by them in your blissful shopping frenzy. If you look at them you'll see faces painted with equal parts quiet desperation and hope (It helps if you wear sunglasses and look down as you pass their tables.) Blue Line Pro had just collected his first Little White Mouse mini series into their inaugural Perfect Collection, and they'd obviously spent enough money on the man to set him up with a giant velveteen display screen. Nobody else had a divider that big, so it was enough to draw me in.

On approach, I was met by an oversized poster of a little Japanese girl. I could tell she was Japanese by her huge wide eyes and her spiky black hair haphazardly tucked through a backwards baseball cap. (Ah, the benefits of a classic Manga education.) Standing there, looking up at her, three things struck me about this girl. First, she was irreverently chewing bubble gum, (cheeky, but not necessarily off-putting) second, she had a prominent band-aid on her right forearm, and finally, she was cocked, locked, and loaded with a classic science fiction BFG. (That's Big Fucking Gun for those of you who still retain luddite tendencies.) Even though we hadn't yet been properly introduced, I just knew this girl was going to be trouble.

I talked to Mr. Sizer for a bit, asking him the usual ignorant fanboy convention questions; "Who are you?", "What is this Mouse thing?", "What's so special about you that you rate this massive display screen when Carla Speed McNeil is over there making due with a lousy cork board?" He answered me politely, with an air of humility that I'd rarely seen in an artist who was obviously so talented. He gave me a brief outline of Little White Mouse and when I asked to see a copy, he wearily explained that his publisher had dropped the ball and hadn't yet brought the books in from the vans, so he really didn't have anything other than the promo art to show me. I was just about to move on when he did the weirdest thing. He stood up, shook my hand, and thanked me for stopping by his booth.

When I snapped out of the shock trauma of receiving genuine human contact within a feeding frenzy of corporate shilling and pushy consumers, it was the next day, and I was once again standing in front of the Blue Line Pro booth. I shelled out my fifteen bucks for the graphic novel to one of the BLP guys, and was about to grab one off the table, when Mr. Sizer twisted himself free from a group of chatty fans and personally delivered my book. I thanked him and moved on, not wanting to suck up any more of his time than I already had. The day after the con, I opened up Little White Mouse for the first time. Not only had Paul Sizer handed me a head sketch of Loo with the words "thanks Dan" scrawled under his signature, but he'd also given me one of the best graphic stories I'd ever read.

Sizer works magic with his prodigious array of penciling and inking skills, taking full advantage of the book's black and white format. From cover to closing, Little White Mouse looks like something laid out by a graphic design major with a penchant for breaking the bell curve. He uses broken panel borders to convey heightened emotion, smaller panels to speed up action, larger panels and splashes to slow down and freeze time. The Fever Dream section of the second collection particularly stands out as he uses a comical Manga format (a la Ben Dunn) cut with his own drawing style to highlight the difference between dream and reality. He takes a minimalist approach to backgrounds which serves to focus your attention on the characters and the story they are telling. Sizer's art style is unique, blending Geof Darrow's exacting line work with Masamune Shirow's sense of layout and design. The result is a melding of Japanese and American graphic sensibilities that is a delight to the eyes

The artwork is amazing, but what makes Little White Mouse great is its narrative. Like the first line of any good story, the art is the "hook" that draws you in, but it's the story's job to keep you there, and this tale will keep you turning pages well past your bedtime. Sizer takes one of the most overused tropes in science fiction, Robinson Crusoe in space", filters it through the eyes of an impossibly brilliant teenage girl, and succeeds in telling a tale that is unique in its vision and well stocked with vibrant, interesting characters.

The primary narrative is told by Loo Th'eng, affectionately nicknamed Little White Mouse by her grandfather (hence the title.) She and her sister escape from a transport ship shortly before it explodes, only to crash land on a mysteriously deserted mining asteroid. The station is still operating under the control of the central computer system which doesn't seem to realize that its human crew is dead. Loo's sister is killed on impact, leaving her stranded and alone. Her basic needs of food and shelter are provided, and Loo soon realizes that there may be hope of resurrecting her sister into a robot body from scraps of her personality that were imprinted onto the main hard drive of her shuttle's wrecked computer. It's a Herculean task that becomes an obsession for Loo that often overrides her driving need to escape her situation.

Loo's already been aboard the asteroid for a month as we pick up the story. Her only companions are two robots programmed to serve the station's long dead human crew, the ghost of one of the station's engineers, and her ever present journal. The journal serves as a convenient flashback device wherein we are introduced to Loo's family, and the circumstances which led up to her current situation. It quickly becomes apparent that the journal is Loo's main touchstone to sanity in the face of her overwhelming isolation. The story continues as Loo fills up her days by matching wits with the station's main computer which sees her as a disruptive threat as she goes about scrounging desperately needed parts from the station to rebuild her sister.

Sizer does a masterful job of thrusting us into the role of voyeur as he makes us privy to all the inner workings of his characters. At its core, Little White Mouse is a story about desperation and loneliness, and how we as human beings deal with those two personal demons. It is a tale filled with ingenuity, personal courage, and most of all hope. It's pretty much the entire human equation wrapped up in just over 200 pages of science fiction trappings. It's pure magic. Just read it, you'll love it.

The Little White Mouse Perfect Collections 1 and 2 are both currently available directly from Blue Line Pro Press, and every three months or so Previews solicits them again, so your local comic shop should be able to get them for you. It's well worth the hunt. The story is the showpiece, but these two books are also packed full of extra goodies. They have production sketches, fan art by other pros savvy enough to follow Sizer's work (including Geof Darrow), and promo artwork, all in glorious black and white.
Find these graphic gems and buy them. Paul Sizer is a genius and his work is criminally overlooked. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Director's Commentary - The Star Wars Essay

Posted by Dan Monday, June 20, 2005 0 comments

While it's true that my Courtney is an evil taskmistress, it's also true that she's got a soft streak. Sometimes she'll take pity on me and let me slide. Case in point, my review for Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

The deal was, one review for each movie we go to, and I have to actually post the review before we go see another one. After reading a literal googleplex of blog reviews of the thing, I got kind of disenchanted with adding another post-it to the Star Wars pile. So, I begged and pleaded, but it really wasn't necessary. She let me off the hook in trade for a short jog down memory lane.

I know Star Wars will never truly go away, and I know the second trilogy is just as important to a whole new generation of kids. But it sure seems like the passing of an era.

The End of the Shaping of Dreams

Posted by Dan Saturday, June 18, 2005 0 comments

Being nothing even close to a review of the movie
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I was seven years old when Star Wars came to the Fox Multiplex in Great Falls Montana. It debuted there on a Friday, and that was our family movie night. The evening in question will always be transcendent in my memory, but not for the obvious reason. For the first time ever, my little brother and I were turned loose on our own to go see a movie. We got to see Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo all by ourselves while Mom and Dad went to see an R rated feature we had never heard anything about. It was some space movie called Star Wars and Dad, being a longtime Star Trek and Twilight Zone fan, wanted to check it out. Back in the day you didn't usually take your five and seven year olds to an R rated movie. It just wasn't done.

I can still remember the look on my parents faces as they shuffled out of the crowded movie theater. Years later while serving in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm, I would become intimately familiar with the term "shock and awe." We used it to describe the affect an initial bomb strike has on the populace of the designated city. That was what I saw on the faces of my parents that evening as they walked out of Star Wars for the first time... shock and awe. They said three words to us that night, "We're going again!" and after a quick stop to get tickets and snacks, we were seated into the second half of an impromptu double feature.

We went the next day too, twice. And the next day. Then twice the following weekend. We saw Star Wars about eight times during its first release, and probably ten times the following year when it was re-released. We had never seen anything like it. Star Wars was unique in its presentation, and pure in its vision. It changed everything about how films are made, how they're distributed, and how they're marketed.

It changed me too. Star Wars altered the course of my life by opening me up to the possibilities that the future could bring. I became a futurist, and a science fiction fan as a direct result of my initial exposure to Star Wars. For the past twenty-eight years, Star Wars has been an everpresent force in my life.

With the successive release of each new movie, George Lucas has built his movie franchise into an international pop culture treasure. The relative merits of the individual movies have been hotly debated over the years. While it's true that I have my favorites, just like everyone else, as a whole I love them all. I have, ever since the day that seven year old kid first stumbled out of the darkened theater, eyes full of shock and awe, with only one phrase on his lips and heart, "Let's go see that again!"

Now, twenty-eight years later, the seven year old kid is faced with the prospect that there won't be any new Star Wars movies. I think I'm okay with that, but it's heartbreaking in a way. I think this finally hit home for me during the scene in Revenge of the Sith where Anakin finally makes that last heart-rending decision to fully commit to the dark side of the force. I had tears in my eyes during that scene because I knew deep down that the Star Wars Saga that I grew up with was going away forever. From now on it will be transmogrified from a larger than life communal experience, to a mere nostalgia trip that we get to watch whenever we want on T.V. While as an adult I understand completely that George Lucas wants to move on to other things, but the seven year old kid in me feels like he's lost his best friend, his puppy, and his favorite toy, all on the same day.

So, here's to George Lucas, who gave us a lifetime of light and magic. Here's to the cast of the entire Star Wars Saga, the large group of friends that have been with us most of our lives to entertain and comfort us. Here's to the future and the infinite possibilities that it brings.

And as far as our collective inner seven year olds go, they're young. They'll get over it I suspect... in time.

I was sitting here thinking that I hadn't posted to this thing in a while. So in a half-assed attempt to keep up some fresh content I give you my top 25 horror/monster movies. There really are a few posts in the works; one on why I hate blog memes, one on disinfo.com... and my long delayed review of Revenge of the Sith. They're coming.

Look at it this way, at least I haven't resorted to putting up my poetry...yet. :)

25. Videodrome David Cronenberg's very first mind scrambler, and a casting coup with Deborah Harry and James Woods in the lead roles. This movie is scary and just too weird. Do not watch this while high.

24. Lair of the White Worm Like all Ken Russell films it has a tendency to go for the gross-out, but it's made that much more palatable by his excellent direction, and his superb taste in cinematographers, the incomparable Dick Bush.

23. Innocent Blood Not the best horror movie John Landis ever turned out, but it rates right up there. Anne Parillaud, sexiest... vampire... ever.

22. Halloween III Season of the Witch I don't care what anybody says about this movie, I thought it was brilliant. It didn't belong anywhere near the Halloween franchise, but it was undeniably scary and good.

21. Bram Stoker's Dracula I disliked this movie until I bought the thing on DVD and gave it a really close look. It has so much background detail that it's almost overwhelming. Francis Ford Coppola does things with shadows and light in this movie that defy imagination.

20. Hellraiser This film is a sensual and frightening study of obsession, and it's just grand. Clive Barker has yet to write a story that translates well to the screen, but this one comes closest. Doug Bradley carries this movie with the scariest performance of his career.

19. The People Under the Stairs The best haunted house movie ever made without a haunted house. It's a funny and brilliant story, and Wes Craven pulls some outstanding performances out of everyone involved.

18. Dracula In 1931, Tod Browning created a 75 minute masterpiece, and star Bela Lugosi found the role of his lifetime. It's creepy and excellent, and Lugosi can chew scenery with the best of them.

17. Night of the Living Dead George A. Romero's zombie tour-de-force. This movie is a no budget classic. It's claustrophobic and relentless, and it still gives me the creeps to this day.

16. The Mummy The year after Tod Browning came out with Dracula, his cinematographer Karl Freund, directed The Mummy for Universal Studios. Who knew he'd turn out a cinematic masterpiece.

15. Poltergeist Even though it sported the most obnoxious tag line ever (and arguably one of the most memorable), Tobe Hooper created a scary fright fest, while persevering through rumors of producer Steven Spielberg having completed most of the direction. I don't buy it. The camera work and the actors performances don't feel like a Spielberg film.

14. The Amityville Horror Bar none, the most frightening haunted house movie ever made. Disregard the silly notion that it's "based on a true story." (I've been to the house, it's so not.) It's just a plain good story.

13. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Tobe Hooper's second foray into moviemaking. With a story based very loosely on the Ed Gein murders, and a tweaked out William Shatner Halloween mask, Hooper created the slasher film sub genre.

12. Halloween If Tobe Hooper created the slasher film, John Carpenter certainly refined it with this movie. Sleek and eerie, Halloween is edge-of-your-seat tense. Jamie Lee Curtis is stellar as the beleaguered Laurie.

11. King Kong Forget the stupid 1976 remake, the original 1933 Kong is the one to watch. The biggest and best monkey of them all.

10. An American Werewolf in London This was the first John Landis movie I ever went to at the theater, and what an introduction. This movie is by turns funny and horrific, and the combination makes this the best werewolf movie ever made. That and Rob Bottin's groundbreaking special effects work.

9. The Scream Trilogy These three movies stand as the current pinnacle of both Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's careers. A set of brilliantly written films that stand the slasher film on it's ear. All three films are must-sees for any fan of the horror film genre.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street Here's Wes Craven again giving us the only movie that still occasionally gives me nightmares. The Scream Trilogy is technically better, but I like this one best, because of the dead on killer, way over the top performance by star Robert Englund.

7. Phantasm What can I say. There's just something about a movie set in a morturary, and starring a little flying spiky ball that appeals to me. There's really no stand out performances here. The acting is universally bad, and so is the directing, but the cinematography is pretty, it's fast paced, and a whole lot of fun. And fun is what it's all about.

6. Dawn of the Dead I know, heresy right? No way. This version blows the socks off George A. Romero's 1978 original. Team Troma alum, James Gunn (The man responsible for introducing Tromeo and Juliet to thousands of unsuspecting Shakespeare fans), and first time director Zack Snyder, crafted a labor of love with this movie. Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer are the standouts here, though props should be given to Inna Korobkina for going along with the zombie baby birthing scene.

5. The Creature From the Black Lagoon I have a soft spot for gill men and evil sea creatures. With one exception, this is the best of the best. I love this movie for no other reason.

4. The Exorcist The most flat-out terrifying movie ever made. It messed me up as a kid, and I still get the uncontrollable shivers every time I see it. I still can't look at Linda Blair without seeing Regan's full on possessed face superimposed over the top of it. *brrrrrrrr* Let's move on.

3. Underworld Kate Beckinsale as a killer uber vampire in a world where Werewolves and Vampires are locked in an eternal struggle. The visuals and special effects in this movie are just phenomenal, and the story is mythic.

2. The Bride of Frankenstein There are few horror fans familiar with the works of James Whale that would argue that this film is not his masterpiece. It was the first horror movie I ever saw, and I will always love it. It's a well acted, brilliantly directed, love story wrapped up in a classic horror narrative.

1. Jaws I will always consider this the best horror film ever made. This movie is groundbreaking on so many levels, and a tribute to what a brilliant filmmaker can do when he's hemmed in by production problems and forced to improvise on the fly. Jaws remains one of the few movies that I consider a masterpiece, and it's definitely the best of its genre.

Greg and Bill over at SciFiDaily have inspired me to make a list, and I love making lists. So, without further hooplah, here's my 25 favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy films (in order even) and a bit of why.

25. The Matrix Trilogy I love it when movies show me things I've never seen before. Even though the movies are derivative, liberally borrowed from the works of Harlan Ellison, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, pick your cyberpunk author, the trick with any derivative work is to become something more than the sum total of its parts. When you add in the stunning visuals, the groundbreaking camera work, and the jaw dropping special effects, you get something really special.

24. The Back to the Future Trilogy I had absolutely no interest in this movie when it came out, but I ended up going to see it anyway because my girlfriend at the time thought Michael J. Fox was, "just so hot." Cut to several years later, and Robert Zemeckis had just finished filming the two sequals back to back, something unprecedented in Hollywood. With the added information from BTTF II and III, a convoluted mess of a plot becomes something intriguing, and fairly unique.

23. Mad Max 2 The Road Warrior Easily my favorite of the Mad Max Trilogy, and the first one I saw. Back before Mel Gibson got all pretentious, he was actually an actor that gave his all to a part. This was the first time I began to notice acting as a craft. I'd already read Along the Scenic Route by Harlan Ellison by then, and I wasn't terribly offended by the fact that they borrowed liberally from that story, which says something about its quality. I still wish H.E. had gotten some sort of nod though.

22. The Fifth Element Luc Besson's unique vision of the future was a study in set dressing and not so subtle social commentary. If I hadn't been a bit older when I first saw this movie, I doubt I would have liked it as much as I did. Everything about this future is a logical projection of modern society from the bizarre clothing, to the way media has been reduced to rapid fire sound bites, to the fact that big corporations dominate everything. It succeeds on so many levels for me, that I doubt I'll ever get tired of watching it.

21. Strange Days Oh what wonders we could have had if Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron had stayed together. This movie gave me hope that William Gibson's Neuromancer might one day make it to the big screen. And, you know seeing Angela Bassett running around in skin tight leather didn't hurt any either.

20. Legend Ridley Scott did for fantasy what he did for science fiction with Alien and Blade Runner (No hyperlinks, they're both on the list.) He raised the bar by ramping up production values, and adding his unique camera perspective. Legend still stands out as the only movie where I didn't find Tom Cruise utterly offensive. This movie has everything I could ever ask from a fantasy film, without the benefit of CGI.

19. Kaiju soshingeki Or as I first saw it in the US, Destroy All Monsters. This was supposed to be the end of the Godzilla series, and it was certainly the end of the good ones. As a lifelong Godzilla fan, Destroy All Monsters had all my favorite giant monsters in one place, stomping the bejeebus out of poor Tokyo. I couldn't ask for better.

18. Time After Time Yeah, I know the script was terrible, but I still adore the idea of H.G. Wells using the Argo to chase Jack The Ripper through time. This was the first movie where I'd seen Malcom McDowell play a good guy, and David Warner was inspired as Jack. These actors chew scenery better than Al Pachino coming off a five day crack bender, and whoever had the brilliant idea to pair them was either certifiable, or a genius.

17. Brazil If Terry Gilliam isn't the Orson Welles of our generation, I don't know who is. From his stubborn ability to tank a movie before he'll play ball with the studios, to his unparalleled screen vision when he does complete a movie, Terry will never have a massive catalog of films, but what he does have will always be high quality. Brazil was breathtaking and heartbreaking all in the same breath.

16. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy I've never made it a secret that I absolutely loathe the books. I appreciate the fact that they were groundbreaking, and scholarly, and that they legitamized the genre, blah, blah, blah... but they were boring, dry, and way too pretentious. The movies, however, were anything but. It seems that all I needed to make me actually like the Lord of the Rings story were lush visuals, and the excision of a lot of extraneous crap.

15. Spider Man2 Sam Raimi made the perfect comic book to film adaptation and I will always love him for that. By the time Spider Man 2 came out, I had finally let go of my "James Cameron or nobody" stigma with these films, and I was actually able to enjoy myself.

14. Aliens The first James Cameron film I ever saw was Piranah 2 The Spawning, and I've been hooked ever since. For me, Aliens was the epitome of action adventure films, and it (and Die Hard) are the two standards by which I hold all others.

13. La Cite des Enfants Perdus I know artists have an innate need to explore lots of genres, but I really wish that Jean-Piere Jeunet would make a straight up action adventure Sci Fi flick. I think it'd be mind blowing. Maybe something like Alan Moore's Halo Jones story. Anyway, this movie makes the list for the Jeunet visuals, the creepy/cool story, and of course Ron Perlman.

12. The Incredibles In my opinion, Brad Bird has achieved the current pinnacle of animated films. This is the best original superhero fantasy story on film to date.

11. Jurassic Park The most realistic dinosaurs ever. I still jump out of my seat at the velociraptor jump scene.

10. Superman This movie really did make me believe a man could fly. So much so that I immediately went out, tied a bath towel around my neck and jumpped off the roof of our trailer house. Didn't even break anything, but I didn't to it again. Though it was a lot of fun when I convinced my little brother to try it. We won't go into what happened to him.

9. Big Trouble In Little China Don't get me wrong, I love Escape From New York but for sheer joy of watching a movie, I'll go for Big Trouble any day. I totally wanted to be Jack Burton when I grew up. Then I grew up and realized that I actually wanted to be Kurt Russel. (You know minus the embarassing Disney Kid past) And I still think Kim Cattrall was a waaaaaay better Savik, (oh sorry, wrong movie.)

8. Wo Hu Cang Long Or Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon if you prefer. One of the prettiest fantasy movies ever made, and probably the closest thing to a blockbuster Ninja action flick that I'll ever get. *sigh*

7. The Valley of Gwangi What can I say. I love Dinosaurs, I love cowboys. I love this movie. It has been and always will be one of my favorites, and it's resisted the Hollywood remake bug for a good long time now. Surprising, considering how many best and favorites lists this movie inhabits.

6. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai A lot of my friends revile this movie because it's a direct riff on Doc Savage. I love the Doc Savage novels, and I've always thought of Bucckaroo as a modern updating. It's amazing to me how many actors in this movie actually went on to have decent careers.

5. Dark City Alex Proyas just wowed me with cool noir visuals and his script that combines the best tropes from hardboiled detective fiction, wierd science fiction, and outright horror. Depending on my mood or what I've watched most recently, this movie sometimes rates higher. But it will always be one of my favorites.

4. The Thief of Bagdad This one has my vote for best fantasy movie of all time. It always makes my top 10 best films ever made. The movie is a true delight to the senses every step of the way. The Douglas Fairbanks version can go take a flying carpet ride. For my money give me the Sabu version any day.

3. Alien 'In space, no one can hear you scream,' still send chills down my spine. I've loved this movie since I first saw it in the theater in 1979 and to this day, I still get facehugger nightmares. Ridley Scott was going to be the John Ford of Science Fiction, what happened?

2. Blade Runner 'Heem say you Brade Runnah. You go weed heem.' and pick your Roy Batty line, are still the most quoted movie lines around my group of indigent friends. It's too bad that Rutger Hauer decided that Marlon Brando's career was a good path to follow. Also too bad that Ridley Scott has stopped directing science fiction.

1. The Classic Star Wars Trilogy Don't get me wrong, even though they didn't make my top 25, I love the second trilogy too, especially Revenge of the Sith, but I was 7 years old when I first saw Star Wars, the perfect age to see it. Everytime I hear the John Williams signature and see those words 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...' that seven year old kid in me comes back and sits down for a couple hours to watch his favorite movie. I have so many good memories associated with the Star Wars films. I think that no matter what comes along next for Science Fiction and Fantasy, I will always compare it with the way Star Wars made me feel when I was a kid. George Lucas raised our generation now its time for him to step back and do something for himself. Amen.

I know, I cheated a bit by listing Trilogies as one film. Eh, sue me, it's my list. Where I've listed a Trilogy, I feel that though the individual movies within may be spectactular, combined with the other two, the whole becomes something transcendent. Oh, by the way...

*Special Runner Up Goes to: Pirates of the Caribbean See, I have this working theory that goes like this;

All movies are better with pirates.
All Movies are better with zombies.
All movies are better with monkeys.
Pirates of the Caribbean:Curse of the Black Pearl, would therefore follow as the perfect movie. Huh... well, like I said, it's just a theory at this point.

Unleashing Your Inner Funwrecker!

Posted by Dan Wednesday, May 25, 2005 0 comments

Being a review of Dennis Culver's excellent mini-comic, Funwrecker.

The incomparable Dennis Culver has created an all-inclusive term that defines what it means to go through life with a penchant for social guerilla warfare. The term is funwrecker, and it's an important state of mind for anyone who takes it upon themselves to go out into the world to spread the message that comics are cool. As a raw concept, the funwrecker is firmly rooted in the absolute truth once stated by the late poet William Carlos Williams, "There's a lot of bastards out there."

Here's a simple and frightening truism for you all. There are people in this world who despise comics and will by association despise you too. Obviously this isn't news to anyone still reading comics past the age of say... 13. The funwreckers of the world will always stick up for themselves, calling out ignorance when they see it. They will slap down the people who decide to drop a slop bucket of stupidity on their day, and force feed it back to them in fun and creative ways. Funwreckers can define those moments in life where you decide to stand up and say, "Hey, you're an asshole, and here's why!"

Any person who goes out into the big scary world with the intention of spreading the good word about comics will eventually become a funwrecker, or that person will be summarily killed and eaten. Comics fans are vastly outnumbered, and the other side has a lot more in the way of social armament than we do. As a comics activist you have to be smarter, hipper, funnier, and way more informed than your audience. You also have to be willing to call out the hecklers and embarrass the hell out of them so they will stop fucking with your act.

Though I hadn't yet found a label for what I was doing, there was a defining moment when I realized that the good word "comics are cool" needed to be spread. It was the same moment that it first dawned on me that the stupid and the ignorant needed someone around to help reorganize the social gene pool. I became a funwrecker my freshman year in college.

Like a lot of beginning writers, I made the mistake of caving in to the bowel-shaking reptile brain thought that I hadn't clue one about how to write. In a flash of panic stupidity, I signed up for a two semester creative writing round table, with a stable, well tenured professor who actually had a few books under his belt. I would learn from this maestro who was secure in his talent and his creativity, and actually capable of passing this arcane knowledge on to the bubbling protomass of writer hopefuls.

I lasted about four weeks. The teacher turned out to be a mostly failed novelist with a passion for trying to assassinate the aspirations of anyone who had the misfortune to get themselves trapped in his classroom. They were four weeks of living Hell, much akin to being sunk up to my chin in a lake of boiling yak vomit, while fat imps practiced the cannonball around my head.

"Stories with first person narration are inherently bad and are therefore invalid." Off went the first imp. Sploosh!

"Any story under 1500 words in length is incomplete and therefore inherently bad." Kersplash!

He told a sixty year old lady who was auditing the class that she was "...too old to make any significant contribution with her writing." Most of us agreed she was the only one of us who had a clue as to what she was doing. Splosh!

Several of our first week's writing assignments were flunked, mine included, because when given the first line, "The apartment was a mess." we either punched up the language, or we simply didn't use that sentence as the first line of the story. (I was guilty on both counts.) "Kowabunga!" Sploosh!

The big assignment for our second week was a deconstruction and critique essay, to be presented orally to the class. We could choose any novel we wanted, talk as long as we wanted, as long as the final essay was over 1500 words in length. In my usual slacker fashion, I doped out the professor's routine, 2 to 4 students per day in alphabetical order. Naturally, I decided to blow off the assignment until the last second. As usual, events conspired to deprive me of slack time.

The fifth presentation was an outstanding, brilliant critique of Bernie Wrightson's excellently illustrated adaptation of the classic novel, Frankenstein. The man who gave it was a well established member of Las Vegas' underground 'zine scene, a longtime comics reader like myself, and a damn fine artist in his own right. He absolutely knew what he was talking about. He gave a great presentation, witty, insightful, and risky, considering the instructor.

True to form, our professor rejected his presentation outright. Didn't even criticize it, just casually flipped out, "and that's an F for you." The whole class was stunned, but after watching the professor pick his fingernails and generally do his level best to look overtly bored through my friend's presentation, I suddenly had a slow, boiling mad on that needed to be placated with an explanation. I jumped up out of my seat and calmly, through clenched teeth, growled, "Would you please explain to us exactly why you are flunking this presentation?"

He stared at me like I was an impetuous child, and sneered in his patronizing, matter-of-fact drone, "Comics are trash media and have no place in the classroom, let alone everyday life." I sat back down, shell shocked. At this point I decided, "Fuck these imp bastards. I'm getting out of here. I will not drink another gallon of yak vomit."

Our professor had two sources of pride in his weak, nasty little life. One was his fire engine red Fiat. I seriously considered bashing in his headlights and windshield, before I finally decided that driving a Fiat was its own reward. The other thing he always droned on about was his, "gothic horror masterpiece," The Mist. To my mind, this was an open invitation, the equivalent of, "I double dog dare you to ask the head cheerleader out on a date with her jock boyfriend standing right beside her." My sense of balance, Karma, call it what you will, snapped back into place a bit, when a quick search of the campus library turned up a pristine paperback copy that had been checked out exactly never.

The Mist took me two days to read. It was god-awful, as in, I'd read better from Judith Krantz god-awful. It was a horrible, smarmy little potboiler of a screed, with no drama, paper flat characters, and an ending that left you begging for the last few hours of your life back.
It was the perfect opportunity to see if our professor could take it as well as he dished it out. I completed my critique in two nights, and I bided my time. If this didn't work, I could still introduce the front of his car to my baseball bat, Fiat or no.

When the time came to make my presentation, I stood up in front of forty people and for about thirty minutes, I systematically shredded his, "gothic horror masterpiece." I was harsh, but I'd say I was as objective with it as I could be. I think I was more than fair when I ended with, "... In short, The Mist is an uninteresting bit of fluff derived mostly from the cast-off ideas long ago discarded by the worst forms of trash media." I walked back up to my seat through a standing ovation. Later that day, I was called into the Dean's office where I was politely asked to drop creative writing, and offered a place in a two semester comp/rhet class in trade.

It occurs to me that there are several interesting codas to this anecdote. My artist friend who critiqued the Wrightson book now works as a graphic designer in San Diego, and does side work as a storyboard artist for Disney. Not bad for a guy with purple spiky hair and more piercings than a well-used dartboard. The professor in question left UNLV the next year to concentrate on his new novel. As far as I know it has yet to materialize, and I can't help but feel that the world is a much better place for it. Several weeks after I "dropped" creative writing, the Fiat ended up with busted out headlights and four slashed tires. I swear I never went anywhere near the thing.

Dennis Culver has tapped into a stark truth with this minicomic. He takes us to a place that is sometimes uncomfortable, but always entertaining. Funwrecker serves as an inoculation for people who have been exposed to noxious infections like, "Comics are trash media and have no place in the classroom, let alone everyday life." If you want to learn how to go after the source of the infection, check out Dennis Culver .com His online journal will make you laugh your ass off, while shouting, "Oh Hell yeah! Been there!" While you're at it, show the man some love and order some of his minicomics too. He's the directing editor of The Black Label imprint from Absence of Ink Comics, and you can get all his stuff from their website.You won't be disappointed.

In lieu of a director's commentary...

Posted by Dan Monday, May 23, 2005 0 comments

So, I was fishing around on Blogger the other day, mostly looking for other movie review blogs, just to see what was out there. In my meandering, I stumbled across one of the best online reviewers I've seen, and trust me, I've seen quite a few. So, anyone in need of some sharp, insightfull, witty commentary on what's new on the whole movie scene, go check out Courtney's Blog: Movie Reviews.

And if you want to see more from this marvelous movie reviewer, you can also go check out her main blog Courtney's Blog: My thoughts... or lack there of.

Oh and while you're at it... if you're curious about where she gets her prodigious writing talent, go check out her mom's blog Jamie Dawn's Mindless Blather.

Trust me, I will not steer you wrong here.

Don't Panic! It's not that bad

Posted by Dan Saturday, May 21, 2005 0 comments

Being a review of the movie The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I can't begin to tell you how much I really wanted to love this movie. Like most American kids, my first exposure to The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy came in the form of a wholly remarkable book that was expanded by its' author, Douglas Adams, from his original radio play. To say that the book and its' subsequent sequels changed my life would be somewhat of an overstatement, but it did open my eyes to a whole lot of new things.

To my 14 year old brain, this book was a mind blowing experience. Filled to bursting with intergalactic travel, impossibly clever devices and bizarre comedy shtick, it was the first time I'd read comedy mixed with my beloved science fiction. I was hooked.

Over the years, the Hitchiker's series has been one of the few I've read and re-read, and enjoyed multiple times. I can blame Douglas Adams for my first exposure to Monty Python, Black Adder, Dr. Who, The Prisoner, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett, just to name a few. His novels opened up whole new vistas for me. I even went so far as to send him a fan letter one time, thanking him for that.

In 1981, Douglas Adams transformed the Hitchiker's series into a mini series for the BBC. It debuted complete with sub standard special effects and a cruddy time slot (at least in the United States,) but it was well acted with sharp, witty dialogue, and in general, absolutely fabulous. So, with all this wonderful history behind the franchise, when the Hitchiker's movie was finally announced, it had a lot to live up to.

And on that note, it failed. I know, I know, I had unreasonably high expectations. But can you blame me? As a movie, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy isn't bad. It's just not spectacular. With each incarnation of the Hitchiker's series, be it radio, print, or TV, the main constant in Adams' reworkings has been change. The core story and characters remain the same, but the details get fiddled with. Rather than re-work the series in its existing medium like George Lucas did with Star Wars, Adams has always chosen to tweak the details as he transferred the story into different media. So, it was no surprise to me that the story was slightly different than what had gone before. I'm not prone to chronological snobbery, so I could handle the story being different. What I couldn't handle was the absence of Douglas Adams' razor keen wit, and his sharp eye for satire.

Is it funny? It has its moments, but it's not laugh-out-loud funny. Is it interesting? To a point, yes. I think the main problem is that it's just not what I wanted to see up on the screen. Am I suffering from, "I could have done it better," syndrome? Probably.

Martin Freeman is adequate as Arthur Dent, though he's a bit too competent in the clutch to really ring true to the source material. (Arthur was always a character who succeeded in spite of himself... In a Forrest Gumpian kind of way.) Mos Def is passable as Ford Prefect. There's been much ballyhooing about the casting of an African American in a role established by a British White Guy, but I hold with Douglas Adams' admonition that, "Arthur Dent should be British, everyone else should be cast based on merit." Sam Rockwell is horribly annoying as Zaphod, but considering I've always found Zaphod Beeblebrox a fairly annoying character anyway, he probably turned in the most dead on performance in the film. Even Zooey Deschanel, who was stellar as the big sister in Almost Famous, is only adequate as Trillian. The story's plot is just, okay. The performances are all just okay. The entire movie (except for a few absolutely jaw-dropping special effects) amounts to an amazing five finger exercise in mediocrity.

There are a few instances that stand out though. John Malkovich is inspired as Humma Kavula, a sinister cult leader. Anna Chancellor is great as Questular, Zaphod's vice president with a crush. These two characters were created specifically for the movie and they brought it a much needed sense of newness for me. The casting of Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin is inspired, but he's given little to do, and his innate paranoia has been written out so that he's now Marvin the manically depressed android.

As a whole, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy is simply adequate. It's not spectacular, and it's bursting with lots of missed opportunities to bring in Adam's razor keen eye for satire. It should have been a lot more than it was. Seeing this movie should have been similar to being hit over the back of your head with a very large brick, wrapped in a slice of lemon. It's not, but it's still worth a Saturday matinee. It will definitely be worth a rental, which is, I guess, better than most movie fare we're going to get this summer.

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Im an essayist, critic, online blogger, short story writer and to borrow a descriptor from Peter David, "Writer of stuff." I love all things pop culture related: Music, Movies, Comics, Books, Politics... if you can label it I probably have an opinion about it, and I love to argue. All informed opinions are welcome here.
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