Saturday, December 31, 2005

YEAR IN REVIEW: Great comics of 2005

OK, one more post in this "year in review" business. I have to admit, 2005 wasn't a great year in comics from my perspective. Some very good stuff, but as a meat-and-potatoes superhero fan, I became increasingly disillusioned by the grab-my-money crossovers the "big two" Marvel and DC indulged in to excess. Some of these weren't bad – "Infinite Crisis" I am enjoying so far – but it does all seem a bit narcissistic, and in their incestuous self-absorbed detail these events certainly don't do much to bring new fans to the medium.

I just likes me a good self-contained superhero story that doesn't try to be the BIGGEST!! EVENT!!! EVER!!!!, but those are hard to find. Fortunately, some great indie comics also came my way this year and provided a bit more filling sustenance. Here's my tops of the year that was:

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: Coming in at the last minute – I just bought a copy over Christmas — is the astounding, groundbreaking French graphic novel "Epileptic" by David B. This hefty 300-plus page black and white tome collects years of work by the French cartoonist, now in a handsome edition translated into English for the first time. It's as far from "Bam! Zap! Pow!" as you can get, a sprawling, mythic family history by David of his life and his older brother's struggles with epilepsy. His brother's illness defines an entire family, as David's parents struggle to find a cure — through science, mysticism, religion, cults and more.

Image hosted by"Epileptic" defies easy description. It's a coming-of-age tale, an artist's awakening, a family memoir and a meditation on storytelling itself. David's art is deceptive. On first glance, it's primitive and simple. But then you realize the sheer craft that's gone into it. David shifts styles, from thin, sketchy intricate linework, to thick, impressionistic landscapes, each panel with the crisp clarity and strangeness of a woodcut. Reality and imagination flow and shift within each other, as David gives literal form to the illnesses and fears dominating his family's thoughts. It's full of symbolism, yet not in an overly intrusive way. David is open and honest about his own flaws and failures in dealing with his brother. The art is far more than a tool for telling the story – in a lot of ways, it IS the story, shifting and mutating as David's own perspectives change. This may make "Epileptic" sound like a cold exercise, but it's hard to convey the warmth and passion of it, and it has a conclusion that will gently break your heart. Not to get all hyperbolic, but like "Watchmen," like "Maus," like "Jimmy Corrigan," "Epileptic" advances the very medium, changing the way I think about comics and their potential. It's a book that contains endless layers, and it's utterly remarkable. I'm already planning to read it again.

Runner-up: I really liked Alan Moore and Gene Ha's "Top Ten: The 49'ers," but I have to admit I wasn't quite as knocked off my feet by it like I was by the original miniseries. I'll have to read it again and give it another chance; regardless of my opinion, it's top-quality work, though. As was Alex Robinson's "Tricked," an epic tale of six separate lives coming together in one violent moment.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBEST MINISERIES: "Spider-Man/Human Torch" by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton. I never would have imagined this would be my favorite miniseries of the year – another Spider-Man spinoff? — but damn if Dan Slott didn't craft a loving, hilarious ode to all the things that made Spider-Man my favorite comic character growing up. Over five issues, he traces the rivalry and budding friendship between Spidey and the Fantastic Four's Human Torch, using old stories as building blocks for great "untold tales." Top it all off with an ending that is just perfect and warmed the cockles of this old fanboy's heart, and you've got a classic valentine to the superhero comics of the '60s, '70s and '80s.
Runner-up: "Villains United," the tale of a band of villains working to overthrow an even worse band of villains. Funny, surprising and action-packed, and even if it was part of a big company-wide crossover it actually stood pretty well on its own.

FAVORITE SINGLE ISSUE: "Concrete: The Human Dilemma" #2 by Paul Chadwick. As a follower of Paul Chadwick's saga since it started in 1987, I've grown to really enjoy the characters of Concrete, philosopher-trapped-in-a-stone-body, and his friends as he ambles through a strange life. But this issue blew me away in its surprising change to the status quo, and genuine changes to the character's relationships. By equal turns sad, sexy and thoughtful, it's a remarkable turning point for Concrete. Chadwick's writing is eloquent without being pretentious, and his art continues to be dreamlike and crisp. The rest of this miniseries was nearly as high quality; the only down side for me is the long wait before Chadwick does another one.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBEST ONGOING SERIES: A tie between Brian K. Vaughn's two great ongoing titles, "Ex Machina" and "Y: The Last Man." Both have "wow, that's a hook" topics – a superhero mayor of New York who intervened on 9-11, saving one of the twin towers; the last man on earth after a plague kills all males – and are handled with a breezy, surprise-filled hand by writer Vaughn. Some argue that "Y," approaching its 50th issue, has gotten stale, but read as a whole it's still a great blockbuster epic about a man in a world of women struggling to survive. "Ex Machina" is less sure-footed sometimes – I find the stories tend to end on flat notes — but boasts great characters and remains hip, topical reading as Vaughn juggles politics, heroics and menace.

BEST NEW SERIES: Sure, "Young Avengers" just sounded godawful, but it's been a pleasant surprise, fizzy teen superheroics with wit, originality and suspense. A throwback to Wolfman and Perez' "Teen Titans" or when "X-Men" comics were actually good, it's solid escapism, not groundbreaking, but rewarding fun.
Runners-up: Dan Slott's "She-Hulk" and "Thing" are a lot of fun too, and "All-Star Superman" by Grant Morrison is wonderful — but none of these books have made it past #2 yet, so I don't want to judge them entirely yet. Also heavily enjoying Brian Wood's "Local" #1-2.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBEST SUPERHERO BOOK: "Ultimates 2" might be amoral and gleefully cynical, but the gorgeous art by Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar's building sense of apocalypse in the writing give it the weight and kick of a top-notch Hollywood blockbuster. What began as a kind of "realistic" take on the Avengers has turned into a tangled, mean superhero conspiracy, and all the pieces began coming together this year in a series of betrayals and bloodshed. I've always admired "The Ultimates" more than I've loved it, but this year I began to regard this gorgeous, twisted series with some real affection. Looking forward to seeing how it all wraps up in 2006.

BEST REPRINTS: Marvel's Essential line of thick, black-and-white phone books collecting hundreds of pages of classic comics for less than $20 still rocked my world in 2005, with new acquisitions like "Essential Defenders," "Essential Luke Cage" (Sweet Christmas!) and "Essential Marvel Two-In-One." Even better, DC Comics jumped in the game with their own phone books, and the "DC Showcase Superman" and "DC Showcase Jonah Hex" books are great reading (and even better reproduction than the Marvel volumes). Pound-for-pound, these books are the best value in comics today.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: "Black Panther" by Reginald Hudlin. Wow, this was bad. The Black Panther, Marvel's first black superhero, is one of those characters I've always liked, and the idea of a revival with a modern edge appealed to me. But Hollywood writer (he did "House Party," which surely means something to someone) Hudlin honestly can barely write a coherent comic book, ignoring any continuity, giving out-of-character portrayals, nonsensical plots and nowhere near a consistent authorial voice or tone. It doesn't feel like the man's written a comic in his life. Attempts at being "hip" and topical were awkward as watching your dad rap. Despite gorgeous art by John Romita Jr., this relaunch was a dismal misfire, not half as good as the previous "Black Panther" series by Priest. I bailed out with #6 and won't return to the Panther until Hudlin's off the book.
Runner-up: The current crossover "The Other" running through the "Spider-Man" titles boasted some intriguing promise, but more than halfway through, it's a stretttttched out, morbid and depressive slog, with only a few glimmers of invention. The plot: Spider-Man gets sick, is beaten up and, well, then he dies. Gee, you think he'll come back, with some radical new changes that'll be undone within a year? If I weren't addicted to Spider-Man like a crack whore, I'd avoid this crossover for sure. Yeah, I'm that sad a fanboy.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBEST BOOK I DISCOVERED AFTER EVERYONE ELSE DID: The rest of the comics world had been raving about "Street Angel," but it took the collected edition coming out for me to discover it. One of a kind, skateboarding, ninja-kicking, space-pirating, afro-wearing fun. Jesse Sanchez is "Street Angel," a homeless orphan eighth grader and avid skater living in the squalor of the inner city. She's also a butt-kicking superheroine who battles the forces of evil wherever they occur, even if it means she might have to ditch class. With equal amounts wacky humor, high action, pathos and occasionally startling violence, creators Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca tell freewheeling tales of Jesse's adventures. The collection is well worth seeking out, and I hope for more tales soon. (Original review here).

BEST COMIC MOVIE: A tie between "Batman Begins" and "Sin City," each of which were far better and more faithful to their origins than I would've imagined possible.

WORST COMIC MOVIE: I wasted 90 minutes of my life on the bomb "Elektra," which took everything interesting about Frank Miller's character and turned it into Generic Troubled Violent Girl Movie starring a comatose Jennifer Garner. (Full review.)

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBEST CROSSOVER: Yeah, you have mega-crossovers like "House of M" and "Infinite Crisis," but the one this year that's been most fascinating to watch is Grant Morrison's revolutionary "Seven Soldiers," a series of seven (!) four-part miniseries bookended by two specials, loosely interlocking heroic tales all tied together by a vast threatening invasion of Earth. Reviving or reimagining dormant characters like the Manhattan Guardian, Zatanna, The Bulleteer and even the Frankenstein Monster, this stuff has been a blast, packed with Morrison's quantum-sized imagination and scope, full of wondrous little details. The last few parts of the saga finish up in early 2006. It's hard to take it all in, but despite a few missteps here and there, this 30-issue epic is a lolapalooza that puts all other "event comics" to shame.

Happy New Year, all!

Friday, December 30, 2005

LIFE: The Meme of Four

Saw this meme at both Will and ADD's blogs and thought I'd give it a spin:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: McDonald's cashier monkey for all of 6 weeks, sophomore year of high school (and yes, I got fired, and yes, I'll tell you all about it some time); a drug store prescription delivery driver; copy shop drone (c'mon Lain! let's reminisce about Raouf!); newspaper editor and writer at far too many places to count.

Four movies you could watch over and over: The very first "Star Wars," of course; "Annie Hall"; "Almost Famous"; "The Royal Tenenbaums." Could easily add a dozen more, but those spring to mind first.

Four places you’ve lived: Fairbanks, Alaska; Oxford, Mississippi; New York City; Grass Valley, California

Four TV shows you love to watch:
"Lost"; "Arrested Development"; my DVDs of "Firefly" and "The Young Ones"

Four places you’ve been on vacation:
Europe; the Bahamas; New Zealand; Mexico

Four websites you visit daily: Besides my own blog, he said vainly, I always go to ComicBloggotron3000, your one-stop comic-blogging headquarters, DVDTalk, which boasts a good movie-centric message board, Technorati, the fun PopWatch at Entertainment Weekly.

Four of your favorite foods: Nothing beats peanut butter sammiches; pad thai; albacore tuna; pizza. I am a man of simple and relatively unhealthy tastes.

Four places you’d rather be:
I'm cool with where I'm at today, but in 2006, I predict there will be some changes... (ominious music, theatrical cackle)

Any bloggers reading this, tag, you're it!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

YEAR IN REVIEW: The Top 10 Movies of 2005
(and three that sucked hard)

Let's get back to recapping the year that nearly was, with a look at some of the movie goodness of 2005 from the 50 or so movies I've seen this year (and yes, I have no life).

As always, a caveat — out here in the hinterlands, I haven’t had a chance to see some of the year’s most acclaimed movies yet, so no “Brokeback Mountain,” “Munich” or “Capote” on my list. Here’s my top 10 of what came through our town this year, presented in alphabetical order:

Image hosted by‘Batman Begins’
Lean, mean and serious as the night itself, this latest revival of the “Batman” franchise was a rare gem in a summer of overblown corn. Kudos to director Chris Nolan for focusing on making us see why a man would dress up as a giant bat and fight crime. In the process, he made Bruce Wayne a believable figure of a boy touched by tragedy who grows up into a man with a whopping case of rage and vengeance. With great work by Christian Bale as a hard-as-nails Batman, and superb supporting turns by a cast of all-stars including Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Smart superheroics never seemed so good. (Here's my original post on the movie.)

Image hosted by‘Crash’
This movie will make you angry. Writer/director Paul Haggis’ sprawling, melodramatic epic follows the lives of a racial panorama of several different people in Los Angeles over 36 hours. It weaves together many story threads, including a racist white cop, an affluent black TV producer, a frustrated Arab store owner and more. We see them at their worst and sometimes, at their best. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and America’s ongoing racial divisions, it’s a true movie for our times. Featuring the best performances I’ve ever seen from some of its cast, especially Matt Dillion and Sandra Bullock. It’s a love-it or hate-it movie, intended to fire you up, and it’s unforgettable. (Here's my original post on the movie.)

Image hosted by‘Elizabethtown’
Flawed and messy and yet sincere as all get-out, “Elizabethtown” was a fairly big critical and commercial flop for director Cameron Crowe. Yet ignore the haters – I think it’s a sweet, heartfelt tale about a young man (Orlando Bloom) battered by failure and death who discovers new life thanks to a quirky, irrepressible girl (Kirsten Dunst). It's Crowe, so it boasts a great pop soundtrack, and isn't afraid to wear its emotions on its sleeve. Not up there with Crowe’s best like “Almost Famous” or “Jerry Maguire,” but if you’re willing to be idealistic, a bit sentimental and ramble along with it, “Elizabethtown” is worth visiting. (Here's my original post on the movie.)

Image hosted by‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’
Raunchy sex comedy meets old-fashioned romance, and it’s a match made in heaven. “The Office” star Steve Carell shows strong acting chops as Andy, a socially withdrawn fellow approaching middle age who also turns out to be a virgin. His co-workers make it their mission in life to change that status. Writer/director Judd Apatow walks the line between silly and smart in a rare sex comedy that doesn’t treat its characters with contempt. It's gross, profane and over the top, but it's also a pretty touching romance at the same time. A future classic of its kind.

Image hosted by‘A History of Violence’
David Cronenberg likes to make viewers uncomfortable. Strange, then, that this one from the director of “The Fly” and “Dead Ringers” might be his most accessible, yet it’s just as unsettling as his other movies. Viggo Mortensen gives an astounding performance as a genial family man and diner owner in small-town Indiana. Tom’s quiet life changes forever when two crazed gunmen stumble into his world, forcing him to make a fateful choice. While on the surface it’s a pulpy, satisfying yarn, Cronenberg also genuinely disturbs you by making you realize that we never truly know what’s inside anybody else’s heart in this life.

Image hosted by‘King Kong’
Yeah, yeah, it’s three hours long. But don’t let that stop you. Peter Jackson follows up his “Lord of the Rings” triumph with a fanboy’s ode to the 1933 monster movie classic. Few remakes are truly essential, but this one is a loving tribute that combines pulse-pounding action with some truly heartfelt moments. The initial 45 minutes may be slow, but once the movie hits Skull Island, it rockets into overdrive and never lets up. Kong is an astounding creation, as realistic as a 25-foot ape can be, right down to the hairs in his eyelashes. The oddball love between Kong and a radiant Naomi Watts might just be the year’s best love story.

Image hosted by‘Murderball’
The best documentary of the year. Ever heard of “wheelchair rugby”? It’s a serious sport, played by paraplegic athletes in serious, hardcore competition with souped-up wheelchairs that look like “Mad Max” tanks. This amazing film follows several competitors of the sport as they battle their way to Paralympics gold, and it takes us inside their lives. I’ve never seen a movie more genuine or empathetic toward the handicapped, yet one that treats them with humor and respect. Heartbreaking and intense, it’s the year’s most inspirational movie.

Image hosted by‘Serenity’
Sure, “Star Wars: Episode III” was pretty good, but for the year’s most thrilling science-fiction adventure, take a gander at this future cult classic by “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon. Based on his short-lived 2002 TV series “Firefly,” it’s a sprawling saga about a crew of space mercenaries that become embroiled in a galactic conspiracy. Filled with action, imagination, grit and wit, “Serenity” soars above the mossy clichés that dominate science fiction, and it’s the best of its kind since the first “Matrix.” For fans of the TV series, “Serenity” was nirvana, but Whedon also makes it all fully accessible to newcomers. Whedon never forgets what George Lucas did with his “Star Wars” prequels — it’s the characters, not the flashy effects, that make a sci-fi epic truly great.

Image hosted by‘Sin City’
Stylish, shocking and utterly immoral, “Sin City” is a triumph of sheer filmmaking power, and also one of the most intense movies of the year. Based on the dark, brutal comic books by Frank Miller, it's the most spot-on comics adaptation ever. Co-directed by Miller with Robert Rodriguez, it’s a movie that looks like no other – in knife-sharp black and white, with splashes of vivid color, and mean, cruel characters in a world where every man’s a crook and every woman a whore. It’s bleak and incredibly nasty, true, but it’s got raw power and a unique vision behind it.

Image hosted by‘Walk the Line’
A love story, a rousing musical and an icon’s journey, “Walk The Line” gets at the heart of the late Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash. Joaquin Phoenix evokes cash without just impersonating him, and Reese Witherspoon has the role of her career as the spunky, sturdy June Carter. The basic structure here comes perilously close to biographical cliché — rags to riches to rags to riches again — but Phoenix and Witherspoon’s powerhouse acting sells it. It’s a worthy tribute to the Man in Black. (Here's my original post on the movie.)

Honorable mentions: "Cinderella Man," "Kung Fu Hustle," "Good Night, And Good Luck," "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," "Oldboy"

And three of the worst:
‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’
There were worse movies this year, but few as disappointing. A pale, limp attempt to capture the wit and snark of Douglas Adams’ sci-fi parody novels. It starts out OK but gradually gets worse and worse, descending into a parade of computer-generated effects and turning into an inane chase movie. It has the moldy feel of a failed “Saturday Night Live” parody from 1987. (Here's my original post on the movie.)

‘Dukes of Hazzard’
Lord, I tried. But I couldn’t even watch the entire movie of this misbegotten TV remake, starring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott, and a bizarrely miscast Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg. Also featuring Jessica Simpson, who looks nice but is upstaged in acting skills even by the General Lee automobile. The original TV show was trash, too, but in a corny, amiable way. This one piles on the vulgarities and is like watching a truck full of rednecks crash into a manure pile — an ugly, smelly sight.

You may notice a theme here. I’m not filled with hope for the “CHiPS” remake heading to the big screen. This one had the talent — gorgeous Nicole Kidman, funnyman Will Ferrell — but was saddled with a ridiculously self-referential, strained plot. See, it’s a movie about the remake of the TV series “Bewitched,” starring a real witch who doesn’t want to be a witch anymore but she ends up playing a fake witch for “Betwitched.” Get it? Don’t bother.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

LIFE: My two front teeth

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhat I got for Christmas:

• Lots of nice new shirts and socks, because I must look respectable.
"Sin City: Recut, Extended Unrated" DVD. Because I was clever/lazy enough to not buy the no-features original DVD released back in August. And because what says Christmas more than multiple decapitations?
"Fantastic Four" DVD. Because I liked it, darn it.
"Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds-On the Track of Unknown Mammals in Wildest New Guinea" by Tim Flannery. This is the sort of book my wife gets me. It's actually pretty cool, New Guinea's a strange place.
Eminem, "Curtain Call: Greatest Hits." Because I am gangsta.
• New slippers!
"Guided By Voices: The Electrifying Conclusion" DVD courtesy of NZ in-laws, hurray, commemorating the farewell tour I saw most of a show from with a four-hour (urk) concert bacchalanian memento.
• New luggage, courtesy of great parents, especially handy for February's New Zealand jaunt.
• Far, far too much candy for my own good.

Oh yeah, wife Avril and Toddler Peter got lots of stuff, too. And Peter got to ride on grandma's rocking horse! (Estimated time between photo taken and Peter falling off said horse: .000012 second.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

...So Christmas cards are kind of a thing of the past, aren't they? I've only gotten two or three this year, and I haven't done one myself in several years. I used to go all out, do these elaborate, hand-drawn or photo-collage cards, trying to top myself every year, but that got old kind of quickly. The thing is, too, these days half my friends I only have their e-mail addresses. We're all too hip to do cards anymore, by gum. When was the last time I actually mailed someone a letter?

But I did want to do something for the faithful Spatula Forum readers as I prepare to leave for a holiday sabbatical until next week. In trolling the Internet, I found this image, which I offer up to you as I bid you a Merry Ho-Ho and all that jazz:
Image hosted by

I'm so sorry.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

YEAR IN REVIEW: My 5 Top CDs of 2005

Oh yes, we're in that time of year again, when all the hipsters and hoodaddies talk about what all they grooved to in the year that's winding down. Over the next couple weeks I'll toss my two cents into the conversation, starting today with a brief look at five CDs I humbly submit as pretty darned good tunes that came out in 2005.

Beck, ‘Guero’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe mockingbird is at it again. Pop chamelon Beck has been a hipster, an acoustic tunesmith, a disco diva. Now he’s all of the above and more in this collection of diverse tunes, perfect for riding down the road with the top down in your El Camino. Funky, eclectic and surreal, it combines the best of Beck’s previous record personas to create an anthemic, danceable manifesto. Special bonus, a track-by-track remix companion CD, “Guerolito,” was just released, nearly as good as the original.

Fiona Apple, ‘Extraordinary Machine’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comFiona’s debut back in the mid-1990s was piano-laced angry girl rock. Call this a mature comeback. Her third album got held up by the record company and endless delays, but it was worth the wait. At 28, she’s writing a far more thoughtful, wizened sound, without the pretentious edge that snuck into her earlier work. Her lyrics are cutting, introspective and sharp. These 12 tracks are detailed, piano-driven ruminations on love and self-respect, with Apple’s dark, smoky voice holding sway over it all.

New Pornographers, ‘Twin Cinema’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comDon’t freak out about the name. Despite the dangerous-sounding moniker, this Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada band is a fairly clean-minded, multiple-voiced pop band with sparkling invention and great, cheerfuly caffeinated choruses. Few bands these days let more than one singer have the spotlight, but this band’s got at least three, each with their own spin on the songs — frontman Carl Newman, the country-fied twang of Neko Case, the glam-rock drama of Dan Bejar. Hunt this little-known band down if you’re a fan of inventive, energetic catchy pop tunes.

Spoon, ‘Gimme Fiction’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis Austin, Texas, band specializes in smart, poppy rock tunes, and “Gimme Fiction” is their masterpiece to date. You’ve got the Who pop joy of “Sister Jack,” the funky, staccato Prince rhythms of “I Turn My Camera On,” the slinky Echo and the Bunnymen feel of “Monsieur Valentine.” Spoon manages to combine quirky pop sensibilities with a jam band’s love for sheer music nicely, and frontman Britt Daniel has a great swaggering presence, authoritative and yet not too egotistical. A confident, hook-filled treat.

The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe punk rock blues of the White Stripes’ first few albums undergoes a big shift in this strange, experimental and often brilliant album, which mostly gives up roaring guitar solos for piano-driven juke joint rambles. It’s rough and almost unfinished sounding, yet frontman Jack White’s talent for a melody rings loudly on tunes like the Jackson Five-ish “My Doorbell,” the hoedown “Little Ghost,” or the groovy “Denial Twist.” Perhaps the raw sound is the point. A stripped-down gem from the most interesting two-person band in rock ’n’ roll.

Honorable mention: Franz Ferdinand, “You Could Have It So Much Better”; Wilco, “Kicking Television: Live In Chicago”; The Mountain Goats, “The Sunset Tree”; LCD Soundsystem, “LCD Soundsystem.”

Saturday, December 17, 2005

ETC.: Virgins, sticky tape and the Pitts

• Can I vent? High on my hate list are those little security stickers they put on CDs, now apparently amped up with extra glue. The last several of these I've removed have come to pieces as I try peeling them off the case, and inevitably leave this sticky, unremovable residue that manages to stick your CD case to everything else in sight. Which is why you might find me scrubbing away at a CD case with a rag and a dash of 409 cleaner. Don't look at me like I'm a freak. Damn you, CD companies! And they wonder why we download.

ITEM! Watching it for the second time, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" still holds up great on DVD. This one will definitely make my list of top 10 movies of the year (coming, um, sometime this month). I was once again taken by how great and unexpected Steve Carell is in this movie. It's not the kind of role that will get nominated for an Oscar or anything, but Carell really acts his pants off (um, literally) as Andy, giving real soul to what could've been a freak-show geek in another actor's hands. It's subtle and impressive work. And the DVD is great fun, with tons of deleted and extended scenes. I'm a big fan of the improv comedy, and it's a lot of fun watching Carrell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and others just go to town.
One caveat -- the "Unrated" cut, the big DVD marketing scam of our time, is actually not quite as good a movie as the original movie. The added scenes are sometimes funny, but other parts just slow the momentum and none of it really adds to the movie. And of course, the "Unrated" cut the easiest one to find, and the only version of the DVD available in widescreen. The studios love to plaster "Unrated!" all over the DVDs lately, but I've rarely seen an "unrated" cut that's actually a better movie.

ITEM! The best newspaper columnist in America right now has to be the Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts, who consistently delivers strong, fascinating material in a sincere, passionate voice. Pitts weighed in on this whole notion that Christmas is being persecuted by some sinister left-wing cabal, as FOX News would have all us believe this year, and it's another of his typically fine pieces, which you can read here. Pitts does what the best columnists do - cuts through the hysteria and demagoguery that passes for debate in much of America and delivers thoughtful appraisals. You can read a bunch of his other pieces here. I'm bummed there hasn't been a decent book collection of this Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's work yet, but I hope there will be eventually.

ITEM! And finally, three cute things Toddler Peter has begun doing this week:
- Playing "Follow the Leader." Wherever he goes, we must follow.
- Wanting to take his big rubber bouncy ball, which is bigger than his head, into bed with him.
- Because we're geeks, we like to watch "The Simpsons" a lot. Peter doesn't actively watch a lot of "adult" TV with us, but for some reason he digs "The Simpsons." What does he call it? "Homer! Homer!" And when there's commercial breaks, he's very said, with a plaintive, "Homer? Homer?" Matt Groening claims another victim.

Friday, December 16, 2005

COMICS: At last, the return of Quick Comics Reviews

Here's a roundup of some good new comics that have premiered lately...

Local #1, 2

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWriter Brian Wood and artist Ryan Kelly are the talents behind this novel 12-part series, which is a series of loosely-related slice-of-life stories, each issue taking place in a different part of the country, all somehow relating to one girl's life. I'm one of the few who haven't read Wood's DEMO, the toast of the blogosphere last year (although I've got the collection on order right now, hurray!). But "Local" doesn't require any sort of introduction — you just dive right in and enjoy the tale. #1's bittersweet script features a girl named Megan at a crossroads in her life, and her lightning-quick thoughts about which ways she might go. #2 catches up with Megan, now in Minneapolis, and her strange flirtations with a mystery man. Each story is light on plot, but big on honest, real moments and details.

Wood's script is given life by great, weighty art by Ryan Kelly, whose thick and fluid, detailed style is a thing of beauty. Many comic artists can't draw anything not in spandex or exploding, but Kelly handles the many little permutations of real life. Panels are packed with tiny, telling fragments of the characters' lives. The setting in a different city each issue is a nice touch -- the first issue was Portland, Oregon, which I'm pretty familiar with, and the second, Minneapolis, where I've never been, but in both issues Kelly's art makes you feel like you've visited the city. #2 includes a cool page of hip "factoids" on Minneapolis written by a local (I wish #1 had done the same for Portland and hope this feature continues). I'm curious to see where "Local" is going, if there's a giant overarching story or more a series of moments, but either way, it's shaping up to be one of the best independent comics on the market. I can't wait to read my copy of "DEMO" and catch up with the Wood bandwagon. Search this one out if you're interested in something new — and go check out the creators' blog, here. Grade: A-

Jonah Hex #1, 2

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWesterns are one of those genres like romance and war comics that used to be everywhere, but are now rare species. Jonah Hex is one of the great Western heroes, a scarred lone gunman wandering through the dangerous West having grim adventures. (The recent big thick DC Showcase: Jonah Hex book is a fab collection of his early '70s tales.) Now, a new series starring the dark gunslinger is out, and it's solid, if not quite revolutionary fun, worth checking out if you're a fan of westerns. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray take a refreshing tactic by having the first two issues be self-contained stories rather than sprawling epics, down 'n' dirty tales of Hex wandering into town and, well, people usally end up dying. This series boasts absolutely gorgeous, near-photorealistic art by Luke Ross (who draws Hex as a dead ringer for Clint Eastwood). The only thing about it is that it can all seem a bit formulaic (Hex + bad guys = corpses) and runs the risk of getting stale without some innovation. But it's executed with marvelous skill, and worth supporting. Grade: B+

X-Factor #1

Image hosted by Photobucket.comHey, what we need is more mutants! OK, while I don't read 90% of Marvel's overwrought X-Men spinoff books, I quite like Peter David's writing, and last year, his "Madrox" miniseries was a highlight. This ongoing series spins off of "Madrox," which featured Jamie Madrox, whose mutant power is to create duplicates of himself. Madrox has now opened a detective agency together with several other oddball second-banana mutants. What makes "X-Factor" click is David's witty, self-aware stories, which have been a fascinating examination of what life would be like if you could duplicate yourself - particularly if the "dupes" have different aspects of your personality. This first issue of the ongoing series is mostly set-up, introducing the players. Somewhat obnoxiously, though, it does spin out of Marvel's latest endless crossover "House Of M." David does a nice job establishing the status quo for those of us (um, like me) who passed that latest "must-have" up. Good, clean art by Ryan Sook and David's fine writing, combined with a novel take on the mutant idea, make this above-par superhero comix. I'll check it out for a few more issues and see if it lives up to its potential. Grade: B

Thursday, December 15, 2005

...Having trouble wrapping my head around any new posts right now. Swamped at work getting ready for a bunch of projects and being off most of next week as we head south to California for the holidays (...I'm sorry, Bill O'Reilly informs me I must call it "Christmas" or else I'll be beaten senseless by the FOX News jihad on those who don't toe the party line.)

Anyway, a random link to amuse all three of you constant readers until I get my mojo back:
The Year In Media Errors and Corrections. See how we media folk screwed up! The winner, in case you're too lazy to click this link, is this gem:
The Denver Daily News would like to offer a sincere apology for a typo in Wednesday's Town Talk regarding New Jersey's proposal to ban smoking in automobiles. It was not the author's intention to call New Jersey 'Jew Jersey.'
To quote Homer Simpson:
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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

LIFE: Kiwi photo album

Did I mention we're heading to New Zealand again to visit my wife's family in February? At this point, going to the Southern Hemisphere for a taste of summer (the seasons are reversed there) sounds mighty fine, it's been near-freezing in Oregon for weeks. Going down under is always a blast. This will be my third trip (Avril and P went last year as some might recall but I had to stay in America).

Anyway, we're going in just over two months, partly for family reasons I cannot divulge right now, but I thought I would use this chance to do an impromptu New Zealand photo album of Avril and I's first two trips together, in 2000 and 2003. We managed to cover a lot of ground from Auckland south in 2000, and in 2003 we headed up to the far Northland. Photos, ahoy!

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Among highlights in 2000 was a trip all the way to the bottom of South Island and back with my in-laws, where we visited Milford Sound, which is kind of like Yosemite at the seaside, an amazing place full of soaring peaks rising right out of the water, gigantic waterfalls and more.

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We also saw Fox Glacier which is huge (you can't quite get the scale in this picture), and very "Lord of the Rings"-esque. Just a few miles from here is rain forest and the ocean.

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And Avril and I visited several impressive Maori meeting houses, with their distinctive red color and amazingly ornate carvings.

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In our trip in 2003, we stuck mostly to Auckland, NZ's largest city, and parts north of there. Here's a pretty shot of the harbor.

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On Coromandel, a peninsula which sticks out like a thumb on the east side of NZ, we visited amazing beaches including Cathedral Cove with these great rock formations.

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And then Avril and I took the long, lonely trek to the very tip of NZ north, Cape Reinga, a strange, lonesome spot that feels like the end of the earth.

But perhaps my favorite photo from our Northland trek was this sign, all by itself out in a lonely picturesque field:
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In case you can't read it:
"The Bastard who stole the blue canvass covers Return them they were not mine." I swear I did not take them.

More NZ photos some other time, if you like these!

Monday, December 12, 2005

MOVIES: 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe'

Image hosted by Photobucket.comLike many dreamy kids, I grew up reading C.S. Lewis' Narnia books. They were part of my steady diet, along with the original "Oz" series, Herge's "Tintin" and Hugh Lofting's "Dr. Dolittle" adventures. I liked them for what they were -- smashing epic stories in a strange land filled with amazing characters.

But I approach the movie with anticipation, and a bit of caution. I've seen movies bomb out with books I've loved before, most recently last summer's misbegotten "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" remake. How does Narnia fare?

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe" (deep breath) leaps to the big screen with an armload of digital effects, a blockbuster director (Andrew Adamson of "Shrek") and a whole lot of marketing. (Contrary to how some are pushing it, I never particularly read the "Narnia" series as a Christian propaganda manual and am a bit put off by Disney's overselling of it as that, but that's a whole other blogpost, I think.) From a fan's perspective, I found "Narnia" fulfilling, but not quite inspiring. It reminds me a bit of the first two "Harry Potter" movies -- dutiful, nice to look at, but it doesn't stick with you like it could.

"Wardrobe," the first in seven Narnia books written by Lewis, is the tale of four stalwart WWII-era young British children who wander through a wardrobe into a magical world. The land of Narnia is under the spell of an evil White Witch (played superbly here by Tilda Swinton, all glam-rock menace and slightly sexy allure), who has kept the land in winter for a hundred years. The good animals and beasts of Narnia await the return of the true lord of the land, the lion Aslan, who it is said will defeat the witch with the aid of four young human children. When Peter, Lucy, Susan and Edmund stumble into Narnia, it looks like the prophecy is coming true.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comDirector Adamson has one of the great stories as fertile material for his movie, and in the first half of the movie, he does a fine job evoking Narnia's wintry charm. The special effects are solid, and for once a movie has made talking animals seem somewhat realistic. The child actors, all unknowns, have to carry the bulk of the tale, with Skandar Keynes as the treacherous Edmund the best of them, all dark-eyed envy and fear. The older two children are sometimes a bit too stoic and stiff, particularly William Moseley as the eldest, Peter.

Oddly, it's once the heroic Aslan (voiced by a regal Liam Neeson) appears in the movie that it starts to go a bit soft. Having taken its time, the movie begins to rush along too quickly – the relationship between Aslan and the children seems forced, and a gigantic battle between armies of dueling beasties at the end doesn't have the impact it should. Peter Jackson did this kind of thing pretty definitively with "Lord of the Rings," and Adamson doesn't have the masterful sense of pacing or drama to make this material soar.

"Narnia" is best in the smaller moments, such as a gentle tea between Lucy and the faun Mr. Tumnus, or in Edmund's smooth seduction by the evil White Witch. When "Narnia" tries too hard to be an epic for the ages, it loses the prim British charm that made the novels so memorable. From the looks of the box office, it'll do well enough to have a few sequels. (I'm particularly interested in them tackling the third book, "Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which has always been my favorite.)

Lewis' style is notably minimalist and spare, especially obvious when reading the books again as an adult. He evokes more than he describes, which is great when you're a kid. But a movie has to fill in the gaps and throw in the action, and in a world crowded with Harry Potters and hobbits, "Narnia" never quite makes the leap from a good adaptation into a truly great work of art all on its own.

The verdict: *** of four

Saturday, December 10, 2005

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Peter loves our cat Kudzu so very much. (His first real word, as reported here a while back, was "tat" or "cat.") His new trick is trying to pick her up and toddler off with her. The 11-year-old cat is not so amused by all this tomfoolery. But look at the sheer joy in the boy's eyes, darn it!

Friday, December 9, 2005

COMICS: I hate Gambit

I have to vent in a nerdy comic-book fashion here. So I watched the trailer for "X-Men 3" the other day, and think it's pretty way cool, even if Brett "Rush Hour 2" Ratner is directing rather than the superb Bryan Singer, it's got a great, apocalyptic feel to it, introduces some new mutants (Kelsey Grammer is … the Beast? Well, it actually seems to work) and promises death, destruction and mayhem galore. That final shot where we see Magneto destroying the Golden Gate Bridge? Geek orgasm, right there. I'll be at the head of the line in May 2006 when "X3" opens.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBut one thing that cracks me up on the various Internet forums I frequent (far too many) is the strange amount of people bitching about one thing and one thing only -- why isn't GAMBIT in the movie? Gambit. Ye gods. Gambit, quite possibly the lamest X-Men character ever invented, everything rotten and awful and overblown about comic books in the bloated 1990s wrapped into one stupifying character. I loathe Gambit. I don't get the appeal. I certainly don't get why anybody would think this goofball character would be good in an X-Men movie.

There are all sorts of nifty mutant powers out there -- men who fly, teleport, blast laser-beams from their eyes. What does Gambit do? Basically, he throws playing cards that explode. Egad. Oh, and he's Cajun, so he talks in a cheesy accent and says "mon chere" a lot. And he's a thief/assassin with a mysterious past, which makes him interesting to those who favor clichés over actual character. He wears a trenchcoat and a "half-helmet" type thing that lets his hair flow free. He's often drawn by Jim Lee. He's a relic of the time when foil covers, gimmicks and hologram variant editions held sway over comics, a time which thankfully is mostly behind the medium. I'm sure there have been semi-decent stories out there somewhere that may have involved Gambit, but at his core the character brings nothing new or exciting to the saga. He's Wolverine with a Louisiana twist, one of those good guys who's kind of bad but might be really bad but maybe is actually kind of good -- you know, the kind of drawn-out, ridiculously belabored storytelling that drove me away from regularly reading most "X-Men" comic books a good 15 years ago.

The "X-Men" movies have been pretty darned good so far, mostly because they abandon the impossibly labyrinthine continuity of the comic books and the dozens of lesser characters to focus on what made "X-Men" great in the first place. Can't say based on this 2-minute preview if "X3" will work or not, but not having deadwood like Gambit cluttering up the scenery certainly is a point in its favor for me.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

MUSIC: The Perfect Songs, Part II

More songs that make the world a finer place! Here was part one, and now for part two. Disclaimer: Perfection is subjective; your ears are different than mine, et cetera. Here's three of my Perfect Songs, in no particular order --

Image hosted by Photobucket.com4. "You Ain't Going Nowhere" by Bob Dylan. Totally mixed up in my head with real life. Back in the mid 1990s there was a great little vegetarian type restaurant in Oxford, Miss., where I went to college called the Harvest Cafe that all my friends and I often ate at. They closed in 1996, and had a big ol' throwdown blast to bid farewell. A bunch of local musician friends and guests all had an impromptu jam session at the end of the evening, and the final song of the night was this Dylan gem, which I don't think I'd ever even heard before. About saying goodbye to things familiar, the company of friends on a fine evening, music on the front porch and sweet Southern summer nights. Every time I hear this song I'm back in that restaurant, and everyone is young forevermore. "Whoo-ee! Ride me high / Tomorrow's the day / My bride's gonna come."

Image hosted by Photobucket.com5. "Station to Station," by David Bowie. At ten minutes long, it's the longest track Bowie's ever recorded, from the 1976 album of the same name. Written in the depths of his cocaine addiction, it's a frenzied, soaring epic of a song, one that takes you from crisis to apocalypse to redemption again. It's the sound of a man finding his way out. It starts slow and chugging, with the noise of a train, a rhythmic bounce. There's not even a vocal until three minutes in, as Bowie's Thin White Duke croons, whispers and shouts his way along the path of discovery. For anyone who's been down and out and trying to escape the cycle, here's the soundtrack. From an artist who frankly could take up half the songs of my personal Perfect Songs roster, this might be Bowie's crowning statement, dancing in the ashes. "The return of the thin white duke, throwing darts in lovers’ eyes."

Image hosted by Photobucket.com6. "Positive Bleeding," by Urge Overkill. One-hit wonder time! This mid-1990s power-pop stylish band never really amounted to much -- their biggest hit was a Neil Diamond cover turned ironic in "Pulp Fiction," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon." They had a couple gems on their 1994 mild hit "Saturation," none better than this gloriously upbeat, bouncy anthem to getting over it. "It" being of course, whatever knocked you down this time. Anchored by a gritty power chord guitar hook, a chorus full of "woo hoo hoo's" and "yeah yeahs" (no song ever went wrong with the woo hoo and yeah yeahs), and singer Nash Kato Elvis-meets-KISS voice, it's silly yet oddly invigorating, and a song that never fails to cheer me up a bit in its optimistic nihilism. You hurt? Everyody does, get up and move on. "Cause I can bleed when I want to bleed."

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

ETC.: Un doo tee vour, Ah-ha-ah-ah-ah!

Well, the blogosphere appears broken, I've been having problems with Blogger and' ping service for two days. Let's see if this finally works...
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• Peter's weekend milestone; counting! Well, kind of -- he's not ready to do higher trigonometry or anything, but he does like to imitate when we count for him, and goes "un doo tee vour..." On "Sesame Street" today Ernie was playing a counting game and after he counted the things, Peter touched the things on the screen and counted them too. This is why "Sesame Street" is still the gold standard after all these years. Although the Count on there has always vaguely freaked me out.

Today was Christmas shopping day (I had today off because I worked Saturday night). It's far easier to tackle the remainders of the shopping when it's not the weekend. I went to the Devil Wal-Mart today for a couple things (because the Devil has low low prices, dammit), and it was still jam-packed with a variety of obese and odd people. I have the day off, OK, but what's with all these other people? Why are they all at Wal-Mart at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning? Why?

And finally, a random link to disguise my lack of having anything meaningful to blather about today! The religious affiliation of comic book characters. Batman is Roman Catholic? I guess I can see that. Would that make Robin an altar boy? (Note to DC Comics: don't sue me.)

Sunday, December 4, 2005

BOOKS: What I Read, November

The year, it draws slowly to a close. Great Scott, it's nearly 2006. And we have two more installments of Books I Read to come, starting with this one for November. Read 8 books for the month, bringing the year's total to an even 80 to date.* Onwards! With pictures, even, now that I'm getting nearly to the proficiency level of an 8-year-old computer whiz with this coding stuff.

November's books:
Image hosted by"Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I've Learned,” by Alan Alda. I was a big fan of "M*A*S*H" back in the day and have always liked Alda as an actor, and ended up picking up his biography at the library on a whim to read. It's several notches above your typical celebrity autobio -- for one thing, it's clearly written by Alda alone, in a friendly, philosophical voice. He's led a most interesting life entirely apart from "M*A*S*H," raised by a family of quirky vaudevillian actors traveling about the country in burlesque shows. The vagabond life and his actor father led Alda into acting himself, and he also dealt with a mentally ill mother. I really enjoyed this breezy book, even if it didn't end up being much about "M*A*S*H" it just gives you an inside perspective into a likable actor and his life.

Image hosted by“Anansi Boys,” by Neil Gaiman. An engaging but somehow minor novel by Gaiman, combining the magic and mystery he excels at into a fun yarn about competing brothers who happen to be the sons of an ancient trickster god. It's a quick read, as one bumbling, loser brother gets upstaged by his cocky sibling, and searches for revenge among the myths. Quite enjoyable, but it never kicked into first gear for me like some of Gaiman's other books or his epic, mesmerizing "Sandman" graphic novels. "Anansi Boys" ambles along at a fine simmer with Gaiman's snappy characters and grand imagination, though, and that's probably enough.

“David Bowie's Low (33 1/3)” by Hugo Wicken. Reviewed back here.

Image hosted by“A Crack in the Edge of the World : America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906” by Simon Winchester. The giant San Francisco earthquake 99 years ago woke Americans up to the dangers of earthquakes, and with the centennial nearing, lots of authors are giving us their takes on it. Winchester, who's written entertaining histories such as "Krakatoa" and "The Professor and the Madman," gives us a good but rather meandering account of the ’06 quake that bogs down a little in geological lectures. I like that he doesn't just tell us what happened in 1906, but a good 2/3 of this book is about matters like plate tectonics and global earthquake theory, informative but a bit on the dry side. I learned a fair amount, but felt like it was a little too much lecture and not quite as entertaining as Winchester's other works.

Image hosted by"Guided by Voices: A Brief History : Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll," by Jim Greer. If you don't know anything about Guided By Voices, that cult indie pop band that blazed like a comet through the 1990s until their breakup last year, then you aren't the target audience for this intensely fanboy, enjoyably adoring book. It purports to be a "history" of GBV, which it is, but it's history as seen through a fan's eyes, not a truly objective historian. Writer Greer - who was a member of GBV himself for a brief period - gives us a boozy, witty and semi-serious account of the rise of frontman and main "Voice" Bob Pollard and his rotating cast of bandmates. It's a great look at life as a "sort of" famous cult star, Pollard, the former schoolteacher who didn't become "famous" until his mid-30s and who still lives in humble Dayton. GBV released an astounding number of albums over the years, many of them gems of gorgeous pop songs that shoulda been hits — and the book includes an amazing 80-PAGE discography tracking every one of them. For the fans, by a fan, but if you're one of them you'll love this book.

Image hosted by“Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," by Jon Krakauer. Man, religion can be scary. That's my main thought taken away from this nonfiction account of a brutal, horrible double murder by two fundamentalist Mormons in Utah, which Krakauer wraps into a stirring, fascinating account of Mormonism in general. I've known a lot of Mormons but never really knew anything about their history, and it's strange, tragic and blood-soaked stuff. Krakauer tracks the schisms in the movement that led to Mormon Fundamentalist wack-jobs like the murdering Laffertys, who preach polygamy, absolute obedience and disdain for non-heavenly authority. It's amazing and scary to realize there's people like this out there (and Krakauer does a decent job at not bashing the entire Mormon Church over a splinter group of freaks). A must-read, showing that extreme religious fundamentalism isn't confined just to the Middle East.

Image hosted by"The Beatles' Let It Be (33 1/3)," by Steve Matteo. Another one of these bite-size "33 1/3" books I've written about before, this one takes on the Beatles' most grueling album to record. Matteo takes the interesting tactic of writing about "Let It Be" from the eyes of peripheral players like recording engineers and studio sideman, which gives a different view of the Beatles' gradual break-up than what I've read. While it bogs down in techie details sometimes (you want to know what instruments were played where? here you go), it's a short, interesting dissection of the Beatles' most troubled record.

Image hosted by"Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson, 1960-1973," by Robert Dallek. I sped through last year reading all three mammoth books in Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning LBJ biography series, and found them an incredibly readable, detailed portrayal of a man who was half megalomaniac, half incredibly gifted politician, a complex American Shakespearean character whose presidency crumbled into self-induced tragedy. Caro hasn't written the final book in his series yet concentrating on LBJ's presidency, so I decided to check out a competing LBJ biography by Dallek focusing on those years. And it's solid history, with great insight into LBJ's character and the disastrous decisions he made in Vietnam that undermined all the powerful social changes he achieved in civil rights and Medicare. Yet "Flawed Giant" is also kind of a slog, which Caro's books weren't. I can't quite put my finger on it, but Dallek lacks the fluid prose, deft research into place and era, and storytelling talent that Caro brought to LBJ — I was able to read hundreds of pages about dry as toast subjects like congressional redistricting and vote tallies and found them compelling reading under Caro. Yet here, I ended up getting bored silly by Dallek's bland recitation of the ups and downs of Vietnam, which you think would be interesting stuff. Dallek is a bit more even-handed in his appreciation of LBJ than Caro, but it just all felt a little too much like work. Guess it goes to show that it's as much in the storyteller as it is in the story. I'll be eagerly awaiting Caro's take on this same era, whenever it comes out.

*[Fine print: The year to date posts: January, February, March, April, May , June, July, August, September. and finally, oh finally, October.]