Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A few words in praise of Men At Work. There's certain songs I can listen to a zillion times and they never get old -- Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." Sebadoh's "Ocean." Tom Waits' "Downtown Train." And right up there is Men At Work's "Down Under." Sure, it's a silly song about life in wacky ol' Australia, where the women glow and men plunder, but for some reason its goofy flute-laden choruses and pub singalong vocals never get old to me. I guess it's the thing about hearing something when you're young -- Men At Work's "Business As Usual" is as far as I recall the very first album I ever bought, back in 1983 or so.

There's a lot of great songs on that one-hit wonder album, from "Who Can It Be Now?" to lesser gems like "I Can See It In Your Eyes" and "Down By The Sea." But "Down Under" is the one I return to again and again. It sums up mysterious worlds -- I wanted to go "Down Under." (And I sort of did, when I met and married my kiwi wife, if you count New Zealand as part of "Down Under.")

But best of all is those lyrics, which I spent hours listening to to try and decipher. What the heck was "vegemite"? What's a "combie"? Did the guy really sing "flying in a tent of clay?" (No, "lying in a den in Bombay) (Digression: There's a whole art form to misheard lyrics, also called 'mondegreens,' and an awesome web site about them is www.kissthisguy.com)

The real words for this groovy little song may not be poetry, but somehow, they always get me humming along...

Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said,
Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.
Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, Do you speak-a my language?
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said,
I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.
Lying in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and not much to say
I said to the man, Are you trying to tempt me
Because I come from the land of plenty?
And he said,
Oh! Do you come from a land down under? (oh yeah yeah)
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.
Awesome news to start a Monday off: Kevin Smith will do a sequel to "Clerks"!
This is one of the few movies I think really could use a sequel and hopefully it'll be decent. I wouldn't mind seeing what these characters are up to 10 years later.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Geez, pop singer Laura Branigan has died!! She was only 47. If you don't remember her, she was kind of an 1980s one-hit wonder best known for her 1982 platinum hit "Gloria."

According to the AP, Branigan died of a brain aneurysm Thursday in her sleep at her home in East Quogue, said her brother Mark Branigan. "Gloria," a signature song from her debut album "Branigan," stayed atop the pop charts for 36 weeks and earned her a Grammy nomination for best female pop vocalist, the first of four nominations in her career.

She was big when I was a wee lad for about ten minutes there, and circa 1983 I had a bit of a crush on her -- I didn't like the song "Gloria" which was her big hit as much as I did "Self Control," a follow-up single that I can still geekishly remember the words to. It was way cool. It had a video which seemed really sexy to me at the time although I saw it years later on some VH1 program and couldn't believe how melodramatic and cheesy it was. She's someone whose career I never really followed past the age of 14 or so, but she sang a few songs that made me smile once. Man, a tragic thing to drop dead at only 47 like that. RIP, Ms. Branigan.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Here's a Friday video review. Have a groovy weekend!
‘13 Going On 30’
Ah, to be 13 again. To be carefree, no responsibilities, nothing but fun.
Of course, most people who think that have forgotten what it actually felt like to be 13. Young Jenna is sick of being a kid, and she gets her wish to be “30, flirty and thriving.” Best of all, she grows up to look like Jennifer Garner!
Despite a rather shopworn premise, “13 Going On 30” is a good-natured romantic fairy tale. Even if it’s just basically a feminine riff on “Big” and other body-swapping flicks like “Freaky Friday,” it’s fluffy fun.
Thanks to some preposterous magical “Wishing Dust” (apparently from the same factory that made the “Wishing Machine” in “Big”), Jenna (Garner) has miraculously catapulted from being a kid in 1987 to being a high-powered 30-year-old fashion magazine editor in 2004.
In comic ways, her 13-year-old mind tries to adapt to an adult world, where she sees nothing wrong with leading a dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at a fancy magazine party, or sucking on lollipops at editors’ meetings. But being adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Jenna finds.
“Going On 30” is silly, but sweet at its core. Garner really gives a winning performance, making you believe she’s 13 at heart with a loose, slapstick turn. As her childhood boyfriend all grown up, Mark Ruffalo is superb, and has terrific chemistry with Garner.
The predictable magazine-in-peril subplot isn’t half as interesting as Jenna’s new life and how she adjusts to it. Like most movies set at magazines and newspapers, it’s nothing like reality.
I still think “Big” was a more heartfelt and powerful movie in the end — there was something profound about young Josh, played by Tom Hanks, having to find his place in an adult world, rather than just waking up with an adult job and apartment — but “Going On 30” is a decent addition to the body-swapping genre.
It won’t change the world, but it’ll leave a smile on your face.
*** of four

Friday, August 27, 2004

Quick comic reviews!
Ultimate Fantastic Four #10 Warren Ellis' slowly paced "decompression" storytelling is starting to wear a little thin now, in part four of six of the "Doctor Doom" story arc. Last issue, the Fantastic Four began getting ready to leave for Denmark to battle Doom. This issue... they continue getting ready, they borrow a plane and we see a little more of the deformed and creepily alien Doom. It's all done with skill, but it's a poster child for a story told in 6 parts that could've been done in three, easily. It shouldn't take four issues to build up to the battle that (I hope) finally starts next issue. Still has me interested to see the fireworks, but I'm unsure about following it past the end of this arc. Grade: B-

Astonishing X-Men #4
On the other hand, this book just keeps getting better and better. It's X-Men stripped down to the basics, without the crippling continuity and cast of thousands of most of the other X-books. "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon is telling a fairly basic story but with such style and wit it comes close to giving me the same charge those vintage Claremont issues I read back in 1983 or so did. The X-Men continue their investigation into the mysterious "cure" for mutantism, breaking into the headquarters of Benetech, the company creating it, only to find captive mutants are being used to create the "cure." Meanwhile, spooky villain Ord makes a visit to the X-Mansion. This series keeps building in craft and skill to me, with John Cassaday's utterly gorgeous art and Whedon's snappy writing. Best of all, this issue features the rare "twist" that actually surprised me (I studiously avoided Internet spoilers), and the return of one of my favorite X-characters. This is pretty close to superhero comics at the top of their game, and by far the best "X-Men" comic going these days. Grade: A

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Happy 50th Birthday, Elvis Costello!

I am an unabashed fanboy of far too many musicians, but Elvis Costello ranks right near the top for me (on any given day my top five musicians slide around, but Costello, the Beatles, and David Bowie are pretty constant elements no matter what).

I first discovered EC back around 1989 or so with his excellent underrated CD "Spike", picked up a greatest hits CD not long after that and have been a geekish admirer ever since of this most multi-faceted of talents. His raw intelligence and never-ending lyrical depth and musical variety always astound me, keeping him new every time I tune in. Avril and I saw him put on what remains one of the best concerts I've ever seen in my life, at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene in September 2002, and despite his occasional lapses (last year's narcolepsy-inducing "North") he remains an undeniable creative force.

By odd coincidence, just Monday I got in the mail the latest three Elvis Costello reissues in Rhino Records' amazing masters collection. These ultra-sweet packages for the obsessive remaster each of Elvis's albums with an entire bonus disc of rare tracks and a lengthy essay by the man as well. I've been getting every disc despite the wallet damage and now the program is almost through, just a few discs to go. The newest three discs aren't quite representing Costello's finest work — the country album "Almost Blue", the eclectic covers collection "Kojak Variety" and the album Elvis himself once called his "worst," 1984's "Goodbye Cruel World." Yet subpar Elvis is better than most artists' A-games, and so far I'm enjoying these discs, an added pleasure being that all three of them are new to me as I've held off buying them until these re-releases. So far "Almost Blue" is a pleasant surprise, a twangy alt-country gem that doesn't seem quite as shocking coming from Elvis now as it did upon initial release in 1981. "Cruel World's" tinkly synthesizer beats may be dated, but there's still some decent tracks on there, such as one of my faves, "The Comedians." Haven't really cracked into "Kojak Variety" yet, but with around 100 tracks between all three double-CD sets, you'll understand.

Anyway, happy birthday to the man and may he live another 50 years!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Olympics are great fun, but my personal favorite sport this year has to be women's beach volleyball. Why, no, it's not just because the competitors all wear skimpy bikinis, nor is it because Walsh and May are just really really good, but the best part?

Everybody hugs at the end! And this is why football is dull.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Quick Comics Reviews!
Doom Patrol #1, 2
I'm an optimist at heart. So despite terrible buzz I figured I'd try out a few issues of John Byrne's relaunch of DC Comics' venerable super-freak hero team, "The Doom Patrol." I've been a big Doom Patrol fan for years; they popped up in the mid-60s about the same time the X-Men did, but never quite became as popular, with oddball outcast characters like Robotman, Elastic Girl and Negative Man. The original '60s stories collected in DC's spiffy hardback "Archives" series have a fun, anything-goes wackiness as the team fights such menaces as The Brain and Monsieur Mallah (a talking gorilla), or the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (could I make that up?). The Doom Patrol returned in the 80s, and when writer Grant Morrison took them on he created one of the weirdest, finest superhero comics ever, a 40-issue or so run of stylish dadaism, surrealism, humor and parody and insanity that was a trial run for a lot of his later groundbreaking work. The Doom Patrol has since returned a few times since then as standard superhero comics, nothing remarkable, nothing new.

Still, I had some hope for the new version - it's written and drawn by John Byrne, who I've got some sentimental attachment to for his sturdy, epic work in the 1980s on everyone from the Fantastic Four to Superman. Unfortunately, as most comics fans know, Byrne hasn't done much remarkable in the past decade, turning into a bitter crank and leaving his storytelling style firmly stuck in 1987 or so. Byrne and The Doom Patrol could've been a fun-filled classic at one point in his career, but this 2004 version is lame-duck clichés all the way, if the first two issues are any indication. Byrne and writer Chris Claremont reintroduced the Doom Patrol in a recent appallingly dull JLA storyline. Apparently Byrne has decided none of the other Doom Patrol stories "count" and has reinvented them from scratch; thus alienating all the existing Doom Patrol fans out there in one fell swoop. That might work if his reinvention had any charm or style, but it's strictly C-grade comics. The first two issues of Doom Patrol '04 continue the story straight from JLA, with the Doom Patrol and a bunch of generic young heroes fighting vampires who've taken over the bodies of supervillains. Technically, it's competent work, but oh-so boilerplate. It's paint-by-numbers comics.

Like I said before, it seems Byrne is stuck in the '80s -- compared to the fresher, vibrant work contemporaries from Brian Bendis to Morrison to even Mark Millar are doing, Byrne is just boring. Dull, clunky exposition, rote plots, characters uttering played-out "comics-speak" left and right ("The power in this form is almost beyond measure!"), and even Byrne's art lacks the freshness and power it once had. And even though these are the first two issues, Byrne assumed everyone read the JLA story preceding it, jumping into the action with little or no recapping. I came into Doom Patrol '04 with low expectations, and certainly had them met. I suppose I could summon up some mild outrage on Byrne's toothless, retro-blahh take on my beloved Doom Patrol -- but frankly, I don't expect it to last a dozen issues anyway and one day it'll be replaced by the next reboot. The old stories still exist, and seeking out any of the 1960s Doom Patrol or Grant Morrison's version (about to be reprinted in two new trade paperback, by the way) is a far better use of your money. Grade: C-

Saturday, August 21, 2004

I tell you the new little Blogger bar at the top of this page and all blogger blogs is pretty cool, at least as a way to while away some time on an extremely hot and boring Friday afternoon at the paper (I worked hard all week, honest!). I love the "next blog" button up there at the top because it's like the "Way back" machine and transfers you anywhere instantly. In a few minutes of "nextblogging" I wound up at a Malaysian woman's web site, a very interesting blog by "Susie" who is a soldier about to head to Iraq, a Star Wars fanboy site (duh!), a few foreign language sites and one apparently written entirely in Ebonics ("I dont know yo, it seems like dat nigga is on some whole otha' type of shit"; and that's the first line on the blog). It's all quite addictive to keep seeing where you end up next.

I've been getting some odd referrals in my posts lately too so obviously everyone's experimenting with the ever-expanding blogoverse. It's amazing how many of "us" there are now; I only started 4 1/2 months ago but already I feel like an old hand, many of these blogs I've been seeing are only a month or less old. It's a great world though, and frankly this is the kind of random human babble the Internet has always had the potential to be. Keep on bloggin'!
Babies, babies, babies.... One of the fun things about our recent vacation was getting a chance to see old friends' children, for the first time having one of our own to lug around like a sack of wriggly potatoes. The ol' cliché is that "everything in your life changes," and it is true, but what's surprising is that it's a gradual change. I know I didn't wake up the day after Peter was born feeling reminted and rebooted (I was absurdly exhausted, though). But now 6 months on I do feel different, and the process continues all the time. You adjust your life to being on "baby time" and not your own time. It teaches you selflessness or in worse cases brings out the sides of yourself you'd rather not acknowledge. I just sent a few e-mails to old friends from the wild 'n' single dating days of yore and realizes that most of my message was (a. about my boy or (b. inquiring about their kids. It could make you feel old if you let it but I'd rather look at it just as a different phase in life underway.

One of my favorite lines in a movie last year was from "Lost In Translation," and Bill Murray's monologue about having kids. It made me weepy-eyed a bit at the time (and that's not easy, honest) knowing our kid was on the way but now having one of our own it rings even more true:
Bob:"Your life, as you know it... is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk... and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life."

Friday, August 20, 2004

Warning: I hate to contribute to the influx of Internet spam in the world, but when it comes to possible free stuff, let's do it. David over at largeheartedboy is a fellow whose blog I like and trust, so when he mentioned "free iPods dot com" I was intrigued. I have no idea if this will actually work but this article in Wired magazine makes it at least sound plausible.

If you want to check it out go here. And I'll update here as to whether or not I actually get an iPod out of this. You have to try a "special offer" through a handful of various well-known businesses like Columbia House and AOL (I ended up ordering cat flea medicine from pet rx.com which we were out of anyway) and sign up a few other people to try the deal (hence this post) but I figure the worst that could happen is I get more spam at the hotmail account. Mmm, spam.....
Watched the documentary "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" last night, an interesting deconstruction of FOX News and its claims to be "Fair and Balanced" and "America's Network." Available through their web site and being shown and distributed in various places, it's an unapologetic attack on a very deserving Fox empire. I can't watch Fox for more than five minutes these days (and the same goes for most cable news channels), with all the shouting, shameless flag-waving, pundit speculation and general circus that takes the place of actual thoughtful news dissemination. This doc shows how Fox's works are ordered from the top man Rupert Murdoch right on down. Perhaps you didn't know Fox News' Chairman Roger Ailes helped run George H. W. Bush's campaign in 1988, or the company directive memos shown here ordering Bush to be shown in a good light and Kerry and the Democrats poorly whenever possible. "Unfoxed" shows us how snazzy graphics, selective interviewing and slogans that are untrue but repeated so often they become true to unsuspecting viewers all add up to make Fox a propaganda machine the Soviet Union would've been proud of. You've got to love the excerpts shown in "Unfoxed" of conservative shouter supreme Bill O'Reilly ripping the head off of the son of a 9/11 victim who dares to disagree with him, and brings up the U.S. complicity in arming many of the terrorists we're now fighting. "Shut up! Shut up!" O'Reilly tells the lad, in a shining moment for the Journalism Hall of Infamy.

As a journalist myself, the popularity of Fox News and the poor quality of most other TV journalism dismays me to no end, but I don't really have any solutions to it all. What's particularly sad is all the "Fox-heads" out there who bitch about the so-called "liberal media" telling them what to think, and not realizing they've been brainwashed themselves by Fox's machine.
Take for instance this comment one of our reporters here at the paper overheard at a local restaurant recently: “That’s the thing about Rush Limbaugh, he gives us the news the way we want to hear it.” Ye gods. Journalism molded and catered to bend to your existing beliefs and biases isn't journalism at all — it's propaganda, whether it comes from the left or right. Journalism is about questioning, not cowtowing. "Unfoxed" isn't the best documentary in the world, with low-rent graphics and too many talking heads, but it's a nice companion to Michael Moore's work and others. It's about time more media critics stopped suckling whatever the White House teat feeds them and starts examining the muddy mess that passes for too much TV journalism. The problem is, most Fox worshippers not only wouldn't watch "Unfoxed," they'd be convinced it's another "lib'ral media conspiracy" to boot. Sad for all of us in the end.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Quick comics reviews!
Man, there are some controversial superhero comics out there these days. From DC, we have Identity Crisis, mystery novel writer Brad Meltzer's grim 'n' gritty take on the classic DC heroes. From Marvel, Brian Bendis is "disassembling" The Avengers in a multi-issue storyline that will take the team of heroes apart and rebuild them (apparently, in a new lineup that includes Luke Cage (woo!), Spider-Man (!) and Wolverine (?!?)).

Avengers #500
I dig Brian Michael Bendis, and think he's among the better writers these days, but one criticism frequently weighed against him is his "decompressing" stories -- long, drawn-out tales that could've been told in one or two issues in the ol' days becoming five or six issues. But while I agree somewhat, Bendis' snappy dialogue, solid plots and firm grasp of his characters makes it all work. The super-team concept of "Avengers" isn't geared to his strengths, though, so I'll be curious to see how he does in the long run. This first issue of his thunderous arc -- called "Chaos" to give you an idea -- is basically a double-sized blast of terrible rotten things happening to the Avengers. At least one teammate is killed, one goes nuts, the Vision gets some impromptu detailing work, Iron Man goes wacky at the United Nations -- oy vey, a bad day to be an Avenger. That's pretty much it for this issue, all set-up with no resolution, to be expected in part one of four I guess. This isn't bad, but it does feel somewhat melodramatic -- the way the Avengers are so shocked and disorganized by what happens, you'd think they'd never been attacked in the past 40 years or so. I don't buy the freaking out so much. Besides, being comics, I have a hard time thinking any of these changes will last. Gorgeous art by David Finch, who brings a realistic, crisp look to the destruction, certainly helps, and I'm definitely curious to see what happens next. I just hope all this sound and fury adds up to something more than another "big event" that'll be forgotten in a few months. Grade: B-

Identity Crisis #3
This'll be vague, because I really am trying to reserve judgment on this series until it's all done with #7. "Identity Crisis" basically features a serial killer on the loose in the DC Universe, in #1 killing Elongated Man's wife, and this issue, another hero's loved one. There's also a nasty conspiracy by the heroes involving mental adjustments to ne'er-do-well villains, a kind of "big brother" hero intervention that leaves a bad taste in many peoples' mouths. Like others have said, technically this is a great, gorgeous comic, with gripping writing by Meltzer and picture-perfect art by Rags Morales. This issue features a fantastic fight sequence with Deathstroke the one-man army taking on the entire Justice League in a bout that leaps off the page. It's almost worth the $3 right there. But "Identity Crisis" is also kind of a morally unsettling book, one I like to read but which leaves me feeling dirty afterward. The murder at the end of this issue just left me feeling bad. It feels unclean, somehow, and is far nastier in tone and subtext than I'd imagined it would be. (Many critics have also accused the book of misogyny, but I'm not quite with them on that.) It certainly takes a hard, über-realist look at what it'd really be like in a world of superheroes who conceal their identities and what would happen if their enemies found out. The word "controversial" gets bantered about a lot without merit but this series certainly deserves it. So far, I give it an B+ but I have reservations about it.
The boy is six months old today! How fast it has all gone. I feel sometimes as if we're failing to fully appreciate him as he changes so quickly. He's a smiling, spitting, babbling, grabbing, squawking, screeching, eating, napping little wonder. Not to get all sappy and all but sometimes looking at him it's as if my chest can't contain all the joy I feel looking at his grinning face. It was all worth it, in other words, and I can't wait to see what happens in the next six months.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Comic Creators on Spider-Man
I'm a big web-spinning Spider-Man fanboy, no doubt about it. And to that geek, this book rocks hard. Published by England's Titan Books, it's a 200-page series of interviews with some of the biggest creators of Spider-Man comic books over the past 40 years, from Stan Lee to Todd McFarlane to Brian Bendis. And it's just packed full of trivia, insight and critiques. I really get into these "behind the scenes" comic tomes, and this one's a winner, decently edited and well designed. There's great comments by Lee on the creation of Spidey, as well as really thorough interviews with the writers I grew up on -- Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and the underrated Roger Stern, who for my money wrote the best Spider-Man stories of all in the mid-1980s. We learn what went on behind the scenes with some classic stories and get each writer and artist's thoughts on what makes Spidey tick. I was humbled to learn that Gerry Conway was barely 20 years old when he wrote the famous "Death of Gwen Stacy" storyline back in 1972.

I particularly enjoyed how "Comic Creators" isn't some glossy tribute that overlooked the bad. It's compiled and the interviews are conducted by longtime "Spidey" writer Tom DeFalco, who comes at the subject with an insider's eye. Creators are pretty free with thoughts here on stories that didn't work, and the late 1990s nadir for Spider-Man comics, the bloated, bleak "Clone saga" and "Maximum Carnage" eras, come in for a well-deserved beating. Everyone involved seems to blame the disaster on Marvel editorial dictates. For instance, David Micheline, writer of "Amazing Spider-Man" at the time when there was a rather lousy storyline involving the possible return of Peter Parker's long-dead parents, reveals that he was forced to bring them back by an editor who apparently didn't even know how to end the storyline himself. The book does a good job showing how Spidey's appeal has kept up through the years, and gives you an insight into the creative process.

Go get it, right now, if you're any kind of Spider-Man fan at all you'll have a full-on geekgasm. I'm hoping it does well enough to merit a sequel with the creators that aren't included here (I find it rather irksome that current Amazing Spider-Man creator J. Michael Straczynski apparently was too busy to be involved, according to an editor's note, despite the fact that Stan Lee, Todd McFarlane and Bendis, who's writing 42 Marvel titles a month, could find that time). You can find it at Amazon and over at www.titanbooks.com. At $12 or so, it's a big bargain.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Vacation reading review! Spent my so-called free time on break reading Peter Biskind's "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film". A decade or so back, Biskind also wrote "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," a study of the late '60s/early 1970s Hollywood film scene as bloated blockbusters like "Sound of Music" gave way to experimental, youthful film in a time many still regard as Hollywood's finest era, which birthed to everything from "The Godfather" to "Annie Hall" to "Star Wars." This semi-sequel isn't quite as good as "Easy Riders," but it's still a fun, gossip-packed book that gives an inside look at the Hollywood process. Independent film really broke through in the 1990s, and Biskind takes us behind the scenes of such influential flicks as "Pulp Fiction," "The Piano," "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and many others.

The book could be subtitled, "Harvey Weinstein is a Big Fat Jerk!" I don't doubt the truthfulness of Biskind's heavily annotated reporting, where Miramax Films co-founder Harvey Weinstein comes off as a grade-A asshole, but I do feel he rubs it in a bit thick. Harvey throws a tantrum, Harvey throws another tantrum. Harvey threatens to beat up this director, Harvey puts a reporter in a headlock. Biskind's antipathy for Harvey's style is understandable, but it blurs his objectivity. The book would have you believe it's a study of Miramax and Sundance, but Robert Redford and his Utah film festival get far less ink and while Redford comes off as a dreamy, manipulative flake, he doesn't seem like the spawn of Satan Weinstein nearly turns into. The focus seems narrowed compared to "Easy Riders," where the whole panorama of 1970s filmmakers from Coppola to Beatty to Lucas came under Biskind's analytical, thoughtful microscope. It was an even-handed book, judgmental but not preachy. I heard Biskind's voice a lot more in this book; perhaps because the period of time he's covering is more recent, but it's ultimately a flaw.

To be fair, Miramax did dominate the world of independent film in the 1980s -- one could argue that indies would never have "broken through" without Weinstein's unique mix of bullying, begging and bragging. So perhaps it's only proper Harvey and his less visible brother, Bob, dominate "Down and Dirty Pictures." They're outsize personalities for an outsize business. It says something about your subjects when they overshadow a talkative film geek like Quentin Tarantino. Biskind still has an eye for killer anecdotes -- you won't believe the chapter where he details the frantic race by studios to acquire Robert Duvall's "The Apostle," as agents and studio heads literally chase each other down hotel halls to "get the flick." As a lover of 1990s film, I really dug the detail and insight Biskind pulled forth from folks like Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Steven Soderbergh and more. Ultimately "Down and Dirty Pictures" takes a pretty sober view of the "indie revolution," showing how Miramax went from the studio that did "Pulp Fiction" and “Clerks” went to more mainstream epics like “Chicago” and “Cold Mountain.” Miramax forged a path for indie film, but left that path as soon as it could in search of higher prestige and Oscar bait.

For anyone interested in the world of film in the last decade, “Down and Dirty Pictures” will grab you hard. It’ll leave you thinking more about the movies you see on the big screen and how they ended up there in the first place.
And lo … there was a return to bloggery!
Back from a very nice week off in sunny Northern California visiting my folks, and wrapping up the visit from my New Zealand in-laws all in one fell swoop. Had an excellent time introducing baby Peter to where I grew up, and traveling a 450-mile car trip with a 6-month-old wasn’t totally horrific, although there were a few moments where we were already planning my vasectomy... The boy was excellent for the most part though, and everyone kept telling us what we already know, that he’s the cutest baby that ever was and ever shall be.

Hung out with my old high school pals Nathaniel and Lenka and their own children, connected with my newspaper buddies Keith and Rob, showed my in-laws the Gold Country and got to spend a lovely morning hiking solo along one of my favorite youthful haunts, the South Yuba River, going for a fine swim in those smooth, granite-boulder-laden pools.

It was a kind of antic 2 1/2 weeks or so after my in-laws arrived here in Oregon July 28, but we all had a great time. Living up here in Oregon far from both our families, Avril and I kind of appreciate the time we do get to spend with them, particularly now that we have baby Peter. Weird now to get back to “normal” life with work, smelly cats and wee, stuffy house after a week in my parents’ cavernous abode. But came back Saturday night to a pile of mail, comics and newspapers to read and best of all, Avril won’t have to wait too long to see her family again -- she and Peter get to fly over to New Zealand for a visit in January. Breadwinner dad has to stay home and work. :(

Friday, August 6, 2004

A comic list-o-blog making its way around the blogosphere courtesy of Steve Lieber and Tegan's Bloggity-blog-blog, who are challenging other bloggers to come up with their own list of eleven graphic novel titles that libraries should shelve. Fortunately, I must say, our local library has a GREAT selection of graphic novels already - got to read Craig Thompson's Blankets and Warren Ellis' Orbiter through there, neither of which I could afford to buy right now.

But assuming my library had jack squat in the way of sequential art, here's 10 titles I'd say are must-haves to introduce any kid OR adult to graphic novel pleasures:
1. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Start with the heavy lifting, but this remains the best examination of the comics medium and what it means and is possible of, told in a friendly, thoughtful way.
2. Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1, etc. by Marvel Comics. There's tons of classic Silver Age Marvels that are worth reading, but for my money those early Ditko/Lee Spidey tales are the place to start. I first read 'em in Marvel Tales reprints back in the early '80s and fell hard for the whole goshdarn medium.
3. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 'Nuff said. I'd pick this over Dark Knight Returns for a representation of the best of "superhero" comics.
4. American Splendor by Harvey Pekar Thanks to the indie movie, more folks might know who this is. A great way to show how diverse comics can get.
5. Like A Velvet Glove In Iron or pretty much anything else by Dan Clowes The Superman of indie comics. I bought my first issue of Eightball, #5, years ago and realized there was more to comics than men in tights.
6. Hate by Peter Bagge The flip side to Clowes, a fond reminder of the mid-1990s indie comics explosion. Funny and true and appealing to mature teens I'd think.
7. Superman from the '30s to the '70s A pipe dream, this huge tome is out of print now and hard to find on eBay, but my library had this back in the day and I took it out so many times I felt like it was tattooed on my brain. A great survey of the Man of Steel from the crude beginnings to the flashy 70s. Any of the modern-day "Best of Superman" collections might work, too.
8. Stray Bullets by David Lapham, vols. 1-7 For lovers of hardcore crime fiction, a graphic novel equivalent. The "Pulp Fiction" of comics.
9. The complete Neil Gaiman Sandman libraryAs epic, dense and fantastic as Tolkien in my mind, one of the best fantasy epics comics have produced.
10. Bone by Jeff Smith Good for kids and fun for adults, another epic fantasy only comics could produce.

There's literally dozens more tied for #11, from Love & Rockets to V for Vendetta to Batman to Cerebus to the Freak Brothers, but that's off the top of my head as good a list as any. Libraries actually helped get me into comics years ago courtesy of that Superman 30s-70s book, and more libraries today could be as good as my local one about carrying the best of the genre.

Anyway, this big ol' post is my hail and farewell from the world of blogging for a little while; we're off to California with the in-laws for a week's vacation from newspapering to visit with my own parents, have a mini-family reunion and introduce little Peter to as many friends and relatives as possible to blow his puny brain. I might check in or I might stay far away from the Internet for a change of pace, but in any case, cheers!
Bush insists his administration seeking ’new ways to harm our country’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush offered up a new entry for his catalog of “Bushisms” on Thursday, declaring that his administration will “never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people.”
Bush misspoke as he delivered a speech at the signing ceremony for a $417 billion defense spending bill.
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we,” Bush said. “They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
No one in Bush’s audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefs reacted.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Happy Birthday to my Dad, who's 64 years young today. In honor here's a verse from the Beatles:
When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out 'till quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Happy Birthday!

Been mucho busy this week, my in-laws are still in town from New Zealand and of course because the laws of space and time demand it, it's also one of my busiest weeks of the year at work. Am editing and assembling our massive 48-page annual edition of reader essays, which is fun work except that on Monday, the final day to submit essays, I had nearly 20 plummet onto my desk with a resounding thud, all demanding my attention. Only 2 1/2 days 'till vacation, must keep thinking...

Have had a great time with the in-laws, though, visiting Crater Lake, the coast, Eugene, Portland, all the sundry sights and sounds of our corner of Oregon. I imagine the finest sight that will forever be imprinted on their eyes is that of Wal-Mart on a hot, sunny afternoon. More bloated, pasty manflesh than the naked eye can handle.

Finally resolved the great car stereo crisis of summer '04 yesterday by ponying up to buy a new one. It's a shiny spiffy beast, a Blaupunkt with silver dials and glowing lights. It sounds nifty, too. But best of all is the name. Blaupunkt, blaupunkt, it sounds like a lost subgenre of German techno rock or perhaps a brand of grape kool-aid from Hamburg. Blaupunkt, blaupunkt, blaupunkt! It's even fun to type! In my last few months without a car CD player, I've discovered that I listen to a LOT of my music in the car. NPR is an OK replacement but even the radio part of the stereo died after a while leaving me with nothing but the clanking and hissing of my own thoughts for company. With my luck, the stereo will be stolen within a week. Please don't steal my stereo.
Wow, hits plummet when I don't post for a few days, who'da thought? Here's a speedy video review, more posting later today hopefully....

‘Starsky and Hutch’
Hey, groovy! Those way-out cops from the ’70s, Starsky and Hutch, are back on the scene, man!
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson dig up a moldy TV show for a satirical spin in last spring’s modest box-office success. Unfortunately, the big-screen “Starsky & Hutch” is equal parts hit and miss, with appealing performances but some clumsy plotting and far too many lame jokes.
You know the drill — Starsky (Stiller) is the uptight cop, Hutch (Wilson) is the loose and fun hip cop. The two are forced to team up by their grumpy superior and dig up the truth on a drug ring run by a sleazy crime lord (Vince Vaughn).
There are some funny moments, including Will Ferrell as a perverted inmate who nearly steals the movie, but “Starsky & Hutch” coasts too much on the lazy notion that anything to do with the 1970s is intrinsically hilarious. Bell-bottoms and disco alone do not a sharp comedy make.
And can we please put a moratorium in scenes of Ben Stiller doing goofy dancing? He’s done it in this year’s “Along came Polly,” and in “Zoolander,” and it ain’t that funny to watch a white man dance badly.
But still, I like Stiller and Wilson, and they bring a grinning amiability to this project it probably doesn’t deserve. Rapper Snoop Dogg is also funny as the laconic pimp informant Huggy Bear.
The routine cops-versus-drug dealers plot is so forgettable it evaporates as you’re watching the flick, while Stiller and Wilson riff off their familiar stereotypes and those oh-so-original gay jokes.
Director Todd Phillips was surprisingly witty with last year’s “Old School,” but this unimaginative retread feels like a movie done for the paycheck, cooked up at a boardroom table and done with little flair. It never really cuts loose.
If it weren’t for Stiller and Wilson, “Starsky & Hutch” would easily be another forgettable TV adaptation like “The Beverly Hillbillies” movie. As it is, it’s diverting fun, but about as essential as a pet rock or a new pair of bell-bottoms.
**1/2 of four

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

It's Monday, let's do some Quick Comics Reviews!

Army of Darkness: Ashes To Ashes #1
I'm a fan of the "Evil Dead" wacko zombie series, and it seems natural that Sam Raimi's cult classic movies could make the move to comic books. But this "Ashes to Ashes" tries too hard. It picks up right after the third "Evil Dead" movie "Army of Darkness," with the intrepid Ash (played by Bruce Campbell in the flicks) returning to the present day after a sojourn to the medieval past, where he battled zombies galore. This story, written by Andy Hartnell, imagines that Ash's time travels got scrambled and sent him back into the past too far, far enough that he is in the position to reverse the carnage that happened in the very first "Evil Dead" movie in that nasty 'cabin in the woods.' So basically you've got the Ash from "Army of Darkness" going through yet another "Evil Dead" remake. I picked this up out of curiosity, but it's no great shakes. The story lacks imagination, basically sending Ash to hack up zombies again (zombie wildlife, this time). The character comes across as a grating smart-ass without Bruce Campbell's screen delivery, and the artwork is far too cartoony and frantic for the book. It's kind of trying to channel the bizarre gory feel of the "Dead" movies, but this comic never really makes it out of the graveyard. No #2 for me. Grade: C

Astonishing X-Men #3
It started off good, and it's getting better. Joss "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" Whedon and John "Planetary" Cassaday are firing on all cylinders with their take on the X-Men. The plot so far revolves around a proposed cure for mutant behavior and the effect it has on the world and on the X-Men. While the story isn't the freshest, Whedon gives it a kick, with an easygoing, quotable writing style that combines the best elements of Chris Claremont with the space-age hipness of Grant Morrison. This issue features X-Men against X-Men, that tired warhorse, but the idea that one X-Man might WANT to be rid of his powers while another doesn't is a compelling cause for brawling. But what really takes this book to the next level is the photorealistic, painstakingly beautiful art of Cassaday. It's the best work he's ever done, and this book, which I admit I wasn't really planning to pick up regularly, is the best X-Men comic on the stands. Grade: A-

Ultimate Fantastic Four #9
A decent issue from Warren Ellis of this "re-imagined" Fantastic Four title. It's got solid art, sparkling dialogue, and a sense of freshness the first story arc by Bendis and Millar lacked. (I picked up the trade paperback for volume 1 last week, and came away pretty unimpressed; not terrible, but the Ultimate line's first real misfire for me.) This arc continues the first appearance of the "new" Dr. Doom, although he's barely made a debut so far. This issue basically features the FF battling little digital "bugs" Doom sends to the Baxter Building, and realizing Doom's after them. Definitely could've packed more forward plot motion in, and the threat here never really seems that big. I also have to admit as an old-style Fantastic Four fan going back to the Byrne years, it just seems wrong somehow to hear Reed Richards and Ben Grimm saying things like "dude" and "oh, man." The hipness feels a little forced here in a way it hasn't in "Ultimate Spider-Man," say. Still, the last few issues have been lively and I'm curious to see where this story goes. This comic hasn't quite found its legs though. Grade: B