Monday, May 31, 2004

Finally got around to going through the stacks 'n' stacks of baby photos we've taken since Peter was born back in February. The changes sneak up on you like the wind! I kind of felt like he was the same baby he was upon purchase but he's already changed so much. He was a tiny little bug of a thing, swimming in all his baby clothes and not doing much besides sleeping/eating/pooping. Three months on, he's developed a personality, laughing and sucking on his hands and making funny little gurgles and sputters and squawks. Heavier to pick up and ever so curious with his big bulging eyes about all the world he's in. Although we knew he was changing it sort of hits home when you look back at just a short time ago to see how far he's come.

Avril is a big fan of checking him against all these "developmental checklists" although we do take them with a grain of salt and he seems to be well in line with them. He's a happy baby, really, who doesn't spend hours on end screaming, so far, thankfully. We already kind of miss the tiny sleepy gnome we brought home from the hospital although the more demanding midget we have now is equally great; it's just kind of sad in a way to realize that with every passing day he will never be this way again, even though we know how much we still have to look forward to with him.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

So I had a flak (short for public-relations pest) call me earlier this week trying to badger us into taking part in a 'teleconference' to deal with the 'important issues' raised by the brain-dead new disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow." I declined, needless to say, since I've got several zillion other things more important at work to do than participate in some special interest press event.

It's funny, though, how a movie like this, which is getting pretty critically panned and comes from the brilliant directors who brought you the philosophical masterpieces "Godzilla" and "Independence Day", has been appropriated by both the right and left as a "hot issue" movie. The movie loosely uses the idea of global warming as a setup for its disaster-movie clichés, but few scientists would say the portrayal here is entirely accurate. To the left, it's a rallying cry even if the movie itself is hokey by-the-numbers garbage, and to the right, it's another one of them "lib'rul conspiracies."

Of course it's entirely possible that all the "hot issue" debates in this movie are actually being force-fed to willing ears through the action of endless flaks whose bottom line is making sure the movie opens to a gazillion dollars this weekend. If the flaks are calling admittedly lower-level newspaper editors in podunk Oregon like me, you know it's a serious campaign. The flaks don't really care about global warming. They care about selling tickets. Unfortunately all the carefully orchestrated press coverage, pro and con, you're seeing of "The Day After Tomorrow" is much more about making money than it is any serious debate. It's public relations masquerading as public information. And that's why I won't waste my time seeing it this weekend.

Friday, May 28, 2004

A couple quick comic reviews:
Astonishing X-Men #1
So here's the 4,325th in the "X-Men" comic family of titles, this newest launch timed to welcome "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" write Joss Whedon on board along with "Planetary" artist John Cassaday. It's not a bad launch, but neither is it really all that "astonishing." Whedon has been picked to be the "hip" X-Men writer following Grant Morrison's groundbreaking but inconsistent tenure on "New X-Men," but he lacks Morrison's bizarro, utterly unique sensibility. He's more in the Kevin Smith school of comic writing, using sharp dialogue and witty pop culture asides to keep things snappy. This issue is basically all set-up -- following assorted disasters, The X-Men are regrouping and team leader Cyclops wants to make them "heroic" again instead of feared by the world at large. His solution? Wear spandex costumes.
And that's pretty much it for this issue, aside from some plot foreshadowings and a nice little Cyclops/Wolverine brawl. Whedon isn't terrible, and he understands the characters, but the story is still pretty much X-Men 101 except for the flourishes, and doesn't move the entire concept into new areas like Grant Morrison did. But the one thing that is astonishing about this comic is Cassaday's artwork. Clean, dynamic and photorealistic, it's a marvel, echoing classic X-artists like Paul Smith but at the same time utterly new. It's crisp and free of artsy clutter, and his take on longtime X-Man Kitty Pryde (who's finally back in the spotlight after so many years shuffled off to side titles) actually makes her look like a girl again instead of a dominatrix. I don't know if I'll pick up #2 or wait for the trade paperback -- this book has yet to really stand out, and the "conflict" in this issue of to wear spandex or not is really a bit ridiculously melodramatic and meta for a book about science-fiction mutants. Grade: B-

The Punisher #6
Man, this is bleak. I've been reading this first storyline in the 52nd relaunch of The Punisher by Garth Ennis (in case you haven't figured it out yet, Marvel has an unhealthy obsession with relaunches), and it's been "The Punisher Extreme" for most of the way. Yet it all becomes a bit too much this issue for my tastes. The six-part storyline "In The Beginning" avoids the parody and over-the-top action of Ennis' earlier Punisher work for a straight-ahead ultra-violent tale where the Punisher is finally captured by the government, and then various mafia, federal agents and former allies all try to do him in. This issue is the explosive climax, basically the Punisher killing everyone in sight in various gory fashions (I'm not giving anything away here -- he's not called "The Mild Injurer"). It's been a fun if rather empty ride, with a few nice insights on the Punisher's psychopathic character as friends and foes try to tell him his war on crime is basically an excuse to kill folks -- but for some reason, the story lost steam for me after the first few parts, as the startling opening act devolved into standard Punisher killing, only with more swearing and gore as this is a "Mature Readers" title. Most of #5 and #6's dialogue consists of various configurations of the word 'fuck' and somehow, by the end of this issue, all I felt was depressed for the character and the universe in general. Where do you go from here? Ennis takes so nihilistic a view of the Punisher both here and in the recent "The End' comic that it's almost as if he's written himself into a corner. Not his fault, really -- the Punisher isn't that deep of a character. Maybe Ennis' mistake has been trying to make us think the Punisher is. Grade: C+
Thursday movie reviews!
‘The Last Samurai’
Can a warrior, a man who kills others for a living, have honor? That’s the question at the core of “The Last Samurai.”
The samurai, Japan’s warrior class, were called the epitome of the honorable warrior. “The Last Samurai” takes us in for a look at the final days of these warriors, and it’s a compelling epic, until it succumbs to its own mythmaking pretensions.
The movie was sold as a Tom Cruise action flick, but it’s really a slowly paced meditation on modern life versus the ways of the past, of guns versus swords and anonymous armies versus highly trained, philosophical samurai.
It’s basically “Dances With Wolves” in Japan — a beautiful looking movie, richly designed and well-acted, but yet, a little derivative and troubling at the core.
Cruise is Nathan Algren, a Civil War veteran haunted by the atrocities he witnessed in war and suppressing American Indian rebellions. When he’s offered a job in Japan training the Emperor’s army, he takes it, but he’s really simply waiting for the death he feels he deserves.
When he arrives in Japan, Algren learns the army he’s training is meant to put down a rebellion by Japan’s obsolete samurai warriors. A band of them, led by the legendary Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), are fighting against Japan’s modernization. Alger is hired to destroy the samurai, but when he’s captured by them, he finds himself slowly starting to agree with their view of the world, as the clash between the ancient samurai and modern Japan draws to an explosive climax.
Cruise is good, but feels miscast. He’s so modern in appearance and attitude that he doesn’t work in a period film. (Remember “Far And Away”?) Cruise’s main emotion in “Samurai” is staring off into the distance looking vaguely haunted.
He’s blown off the screen by Watanabe, giving an Oscar-nominated performance as Katsumoto. Watanabe creates a charming, majestic leader for the samurai, combining dignity with a dash of the good humor Cruise’s performance sorely lacks.
Director Edward Zwick’s movie is never less than professional, with the swelling music, painstaking historical detail and gorgeous cinematography all well-meaning epics have. It’s a movie that screams, “Take this seriously!”
Yet it glorifies the samurai as noble heroes, without questioning the brutality their code also included. Suicide warriors are heroic martyrs here, a particularly disturbing claim in today’s fanatical reality.
It becomes one of those movies where a bad white man is “redeemed” by another culture. That’s far too simplistic.
There are lots of people who will watch this without factoring in all the cultural and historical baggage it carries. Am I overthinking it? Possibly. It is solid entertainment. But it’s a movie that also leaves an unsettling aftertaste.
**1/2 of four.

Hey, I’ll admit it. I’m not a big sports guy. But for some reason I’ve always been a sucker for good sports movies, come-from-behind underdog tales from “Rocky” to “The Rookie.” A good sports movie doesn’t just appeal to sports fans. It appeals to anyone who loves tales of triumph.
You can add “Miracle” to the list of good sports movies. Based on the true story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team’s shocking victory over the heavily favored Soviets, it’s a rousing, heartwarming tale that is grounded with a superb performance by Kurt Russell as the team’s coach, the late Herb Brooks.
They weren’t supposed to win. Brooks assembled a team of young college players to take on the top-ranked Soviets, Swedes, Czechs and other heavyweights at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Nobody paid any attention to Brooks, or his attempts to forge a cohesive team instead of a band of egotistic individuals — until they began to win.
“Miracle” became better than just another sports movie for me because of Russell’s fine turn. He doesn’t try to make Brooks likable — a hard-driving taskmaster, Brooks worked his team of college hockey players to the bone, pushing them to their limits and beyond.
Russell, an excellent actor who’s perennially underrated, shows us a man working at an impossible goal, and not caring about the consequences. The truth in his performance, which avoids making Brooks a huggable cheerleader, grounds this “Miracle” in reality.
One flaw in “Miracle” is that Russell is so good, he overshadows his team. The players are shown as mostly interchangeable good-looking guys with long brown hair, and it’s hard to find any who stick out. Eddie Cahill, best known from a guest stint on TV’s “Friends,” is the most memorable as the team’s goalie Jim Craig.
The movie balances high-octane hockey footage and sharp character moments well. Director Gavin O’Connor knows a good sports movie has to have plenty of heart, but he avoids wallowing in sentiment. He does make the movie a little long-winded, though.
We all know going in how “Miracle” will end. It’s a mark of the movie’s skill that you don’t mind knowing. If you don’t feel a tug at the heartstrings a bit with that final rousing victory and the triumph on the ice, then you probably don’t believe in miracles either.
*** of four
(Rated PG for language and intense hockey action.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Parents! Tired of changing diapers? Wish there were an easier way? Then welcome to Natural Infant Hygiene! Diapers are a way of the past with this innovative science. What does it take, you ask? Simple! You simply take your baby and hold him/her over the toilet bucket every single time they need to, um, do their business. Away from the toilet? Just carry a handy bucket with you!

No joke: Natural Infant Hygiene. Avril pointed out this site to me today and it was the subject of much gawking. And I quote: When the baby has to go, the parent holds him or her in a comfortable position over an appropriate toilet place and makes a cueing sound (perhaps a gentle "sss").

I know there's as many ways to parent out there as there are kids, and hey, if this works for someone, groovy. But having been a parent for all of three months, I can tell you there's no way in hell we could do this without diapers. Just doing cloth diapers like we've been is a fairly radical step to many in our Wal-Mart society. But for me, I think the "natural infant hygiene" method takes things a little further than I'm willing to take them. Yeesh.
It's the land of the brave and the home of the free -- unless you're a Muslim, apparently. This story out of our state of Oregon is just dumbfounding to me, and another harrowing sign that Big Brother is running the shop in D.C. these days:

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The FBI admitted its mistake in linking the fingerprint of a suburban attorney to a series of deadly train bombings in Spain Monday, and issued a rare written apology for arresting Brandon Mayfield under a material witness warrant.
In a written statement the agency said: “The FBI apologizes to Mr. Mayfield and his family for the hardship that this matter has caused.”
Robert Jordan, the FBI agent in charge in Oregon, spoke just hours after a judge dismissed the case against Mayfield, the 37-year-old lawyer from the Portland suburb of Aloha who had been held as a “material witness” since May 6 in the Madrid bombing cases, which killed 191 people and injured about 2,000 others.
Mayfield, a former Army lieutenant, was released from custody last week. But he was not altogether cleared of suspicion; the government said he remained a material witness and put restrictions on his movements.
Those restrictions were lifted Monday.
Mayfield’s attorney, Public Defender Steven Wax, said the FBI had told him the error was the first ever by the agency’s fingerprint analysis group.
Jordan said that the FBI’s initial determination that Brandon Mayfield’s fingerprint was on a bag of detonators found near the Madrid train station was “based on an image of substandard quality.”
Court documents released Monday suggested the mistake first sprang from an error by the FBI’s supercomputer for matching fingerprints, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

Full story can be found here. It's scary, is what it is, and I don't care if you're "right wing" or "left wing" you have to be worried about tactics like this that can have a man locked up for two weeks, have his home searched without being told, his career and reputation smeared, and all this on the basis of one fingerprint and, quite possibly, because he's a Muslim. Watch your back.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

...So during 'The Simpsons' last night the wife and I had the misfortune to catch the 'Catwoman' trailer, this summer's would-be spandex hit starring Halle Berry. Now I know the fanboy buzz on this has been poisonous, so I certainly wasn't expecting Fellini, but -- Good. Lord. This looks so awful that the very word awful may have to be scoured from the dictionary to make up for it. It actually makes the fanboys at geekfests like Ain't It Cool News seem reasonable in their fiery disdain: "Milk. Straight, no chaser." Halle Berry in a shredded cheeseball 'costume' that defies belief. And the sign of every good movie, it co-stars Sharon Stone. Holy mother of moses.
If "The Hulk" and "The Punisher" didn't kill the comic book movie boom dead then this one certainly will give it a solid whack in the beejoobies. At least there's "Spider-Man 2" to look forward to....
Continuing the all-Beatles, all the time theme I've got going here lately, and also because I'm too darned lazy to write something new today, here's a column from the vaults: My Dec. 6, 2001 column back when I was editor of the Sierra Sun in Truckee, Calif., with my memories of George Harrison.

Our Sweet George; 1943-2001
I was a few years away from being born when the Beatles broke up.
So one wouldn't have pegged me as being in their target audience, perhaps, but in a backwards kind of way, it was actually the late George Harrison who pointed me toward the majesty of the Beatles.
Back in 1987, I was a fidgety high school freshman bombarded by synth-pop music such as Wham!, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode. Then, for some weird reason, MTV and the radio started playing this weird tune by this OLD guy named George Harrison, "Got My Mind Set On You." The so-lame-it's-cool video, with Harrison sitting in a country lodge hunting den strumming a guitar, was in heavy rotation.
"Got My Mind Set On You" was an oddly catchy ditty, and I ended up getting a copy of the cassette (yep, it was the '80s) somewhere along the way. That latest Harrison album, "Cloud Nine," was a lush and elegant collection of catchy pop tunes.
I vaguely knew that he was a "Beatle" once, but while I was of course aware of the Beatles in the way that any semi-sentient life form would be, I didn't know too much about them. After listening to "Cloud Nine" over and over with increasing appreciation, I figured it might be good to find out more about this guy Harrison and his history.
The first Beatles album I bought was the one everyone tells you to get, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." From there it was off to the races, and today I own pretty much every Beatles CD and a great deal of their solo albums. In my own conceited little way, I've always felt that if you can't appreciate the Beatles, you're missing something fine and wonderful in your life. The Beatles helped crack open a world of music to me, and paved the way for me to discover artists from Peter Gabriel to Guided By Voices, from R.E.M. to the Velvet Underground.
And I wasn't even born when they broke up.
Harrison always came in third behind Lennon and McCartney in the Beatles' popularity race, and even goofy ol' Ringo tended to get more press than George did. But Harrison arguably was the backbone to the Beatles sound – as their lead guitarist, he put the "pop" into some of Lennon and McCartney's finest songs, unifying their very disparate lyrical visions with one voice, and even throwing in some classics of his own along the way.
George was less the "quiet" Beatle than he was the inscrutable one. A deeply religious man, he chose to get off the fame merry-go-round after the Beatles broke up, only releasing a dozen or so albums in the 30-plus years since – and what would be his last major release, "Cloud Nine," came out in 1987, 14 years ago now.
George Harrison's death isn't as savage and shocking as John Lennon's assassination, and thank God for that because we've all had enough tragedy lately on this earth, haven't we?
I'm a little bit sad that George Harrison is no longer with us, but if anyone was prepared for death, he was. He wrote a song back in the '70s from "All Things Must Pass" called "The Art Of Dying," where he wrote this fine little line:
"…As nothing in this life that I've been trying
Can equal or surpass the art of dying
Do you believe me?"
Fifty-eight is neither quite old enough or too young to die at, but even if he was cheated out of his later years by cancer, by any measure George Harrison led a fine, full life, and one we can all be grateful for.

Here's a primer of some of George Harrison's best, if you happen to not know what all the fuss is about:
Ten of George's finest moments, chronologically
1. "Norwegian Wood" - Although Lennon sang the lead, it's the eye-opening twang of George's sitar in this song from "Rubber Soul" that really marked the Beatles' metamorphosis from teen pop stars to something far more.
2. "Taxman" - This angry, bleak song Harrison penned for "Revolver" was one of the Beatles' only "socially relevant" tunes, taking on England's stratospherically high tax rates.
3. "Within You, Without You" - Probably the best example of George's trippy Hindu mysticism as he brought it to the Beatles, sacred and secular at the same time.
4. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - You saw versions of this title used in countless headlines last week mourning Harrison's death; that's because it's probably the finest song he ever wrote, and one of the best Beatles tunes ever.
5. "Here Comes The Sun" - Charming as a child's lullaby, this song from "Abbey Road" pulls off the tricky business of being sweet and innocent without seeming cloying.
6. "My Sweet Lord" - Forget the misguided plagiarism lawsuit this song inspired, claiming Harrison "unconsciously plagiarized" the melody from the cheesy Chiffons hit "He's So Fine." Just relax and listen to one of the most forthrightly religious mainstream rock songs ever recorded, a tune that works for almost any faith.
7. "Got My Mind Set On You" - Harrison's remake of a '50s rockabilly song is catchy and fun, with no higher goal than just making you tap your toes and hum along.
8. "That's What It Takes" - This sweet tune from "Cloud Nine" has always summed up to me what Harrison was – a man full of faith and optimism, always struggling with his inner cynic and trying to reach a higher plane.
9. "Handle Me With Care" - Harrison's 1989 collaboration with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne as the Traveling Wilburys is an underrated treasure. This song really captures Harrison's sheer joy of music-making and, you'd be hard-pressed to find more music legends cutting loose on one record.
10. "Free As A Bird" - From the 1995 Beatles anthology, this tune fusing a lost Lennon demo with new input from the surviving Beatles is a little eerie, a lot nostalgic, but hardly the Beatles at their best. Yet the sweet chime of Harrison's guitar at the very beginning and throughout the song is a perfect example of how a few chords can sum up an entire band – that sound "is" The Beatles. How sweet it was.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Because it is Sunday and I had the weekend shift 'til 1 a.m. today, it was a lazy kind of day. Besides weeding the back yard and making funny faces at baby Peter to see his reaction, the most arduous thing I did was play with our groovy Christmas-gift CD burner, and tossed together an entire CD of Beatles song covers culled from the CD collection and various mp3s. The Beatles have the distinction I would think of being "covered" more than probably anyone else in history -- there's more Beatles covers out there than Beatles songs I imagine.

One of the things that has made the Beatles so durable is the timeless quality of their work, and how pliable it can be. It's been covered and reimagined by everyone from hardcore punk bands to bluegrass singers. Here's 22 tracks I found to make a Beatle-esque mix CD:
1. Because (By the late, bittersweet voice of Elliott Smith)
2. Two Of Us (By Aimee Mann and her husband, the underappreciated Michael Penn)
3. Penny Lane (By David Bowie, a curious cover from 1967 before he was really known)
4. And I Love Her (The King's Singers -- from an entire CD of Beatles covers done a capella called "The Beatles Connection." This kind of thing could be horrible -- and often is -- but the King's Singers manage some breathtakingly beautiful, almost hymn-like reinterpretations of pop classics. I was turned on to this CD in high school and it's still one of my favorites)
5. Strawberry Fields Forever (Peter Gabriel)
6. In My Life (Dave Matthews Band, a live concert bootleg)
7. Blackbird (Foo Fighters, another live song and a rather short one)
8. She's Leaving Home (Billy Bragg puts his unique stamp on this one)
9. A Day In The Life (an instrumental, by Beck of all people)
10. Across The Universe (David Bowie from "Young Americans," one of the top 5 Beatles covers ever IMHO)
11. Here Comes The Sun (Belle and Sebastian, live)
12. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Breeders, with Kim Deal wrapping her sexy voice around one of the Beatles' most disturbing tracks)
13. Ticket To Ride (Hüsker Dü)
14. Dear Prudence (Siouxsie and the Banshees)
15. Hey, You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Pearl Jam, with Eddie Vedder doing a great vocal)
16. I Am The Walrus (A completely wacked-out live concert version by Frank Zappa)
17. Within You Without You (Sonic Youth puts their spin to this trippy song)
18. Wild Honey Pie (Probably one of the worst Beatles songs, but given an unforgettable death-punk/pop treatment by The Pixies)
19. Got To Get You Into My Life (Another King's Singers track -- you wont believe the a capella noises they make to recreate this song)
20. Tomorrow Never Knows (a live version with Cornershop and Oasis singer Noel Gallagher)
21. With A Little Help From My Friends (By Joe Cocker, best known as the "Wonder Years" version, and possibly one of the few Beatles covers that may be better than the original)
22. Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da (No Doubt, not one of my favorite bands but a magnificent live cover version nonetheless)

Anyone else out there recommend favorite Beatles covers not mentioned here? (I would've included Johnny Cash's "In My Life" but didn't want the same song twice)

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Ladies and gentlemen, the dullest blog in the world.
Some quick comic reviews, this time an all-Spider-Man theme:
Ultimate Spider-Man #58; “Hollywood, Part 5”
Man, this is funny stuff. “Hollywood,” a storyline about the making of a “real” Spider-Man movie and how it draws the attention of the comic book Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, may not have been the most consistent arc in this otherwise outstanding series by writer Brian Bendis about the reimagining of teen Spider-Man’s adventures. But this part is as funny as any Spidey story I’ve read. We pick up with last issue’s cliffhanger where Dr. Octopus has kidnapped Spider-Man and taken him to Brazil. There’s the usual fisticuffs and a rather perfunctory climax to all that, but the meat of this issue is how teen Spider-Man can figure out how to get home from Brazil to New York, all without getting grounded. There’s some great one-liners as Spidey hitchhikes in plane cargo holds in this age of Homeland Security, and some just plain wacky gags that would only happen to hapless Spidey. “I bet when I write my autobiography -- I bet I skip over just about all of this,” Spidey thinks at one point. Not the most earthshaking of issues and it doesn’t move the plot forward a lot (except for a sharp cliffhanger ending), but that Bendis sure knows how to bring the Spidey funny back after too many years of “grim” Spidey tales. Grade: A-

Amazing Spider-Man #506
“The Book of Ezekiel” storyline kicks off here in this oldest of Spider-Man comics. I’ve been a fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s writing on this for the past few years -- he helped lead the “revival” of Spidey from several years of awful comics -- but I’ll have to lean with the naysayers who say his schtick is starting to get a bit stale now. Stracyznski has almost totally ignored the old rogue’s galley of villains in favor of many dull magical menaces for Spidey to fight. This issue features the return of the character of Ezekiel, an older man who appears to have the exact powers of Spider-Man and who has acted as a kind of mentor to him, hinting ominously about Spidey’s links to age-old legacy of “Spider-Men.” Ezekiel was interesting the first time he appeared, but frankly, the “Yoda” aspect of him wears thin, and when you get down to it, Spider-Man is best fighting cat burglars and Green Goblins, not mystical menaces and supernatural demons. This storyline appears to be moving toward a climax for this interminable direction -- Ezekiel warns here of the “Gatekeeper” coming for Spider-Man and “the most dangerous of all” evils. This isn’t bad stuff -- a bit overblown, maybe -- but it just isn’t the right tone for Spider-Man. Stracyznski still goes great, loose dialogue, and John Romita Jr. is the most consistent Spider-Man artist out there, so I’m still on board this title, but I’d sure like to see the last of these misguided attempts by Straczynski to turn Spidey into “Sir Spider-Man, demon-slayer.” Grade: C+

Marvel Knights Spider-Man #2
Ultra-hot, ultra-cocky hip writer Mark Millar’s new Spider-Man title (because there is a shortage of them, obviously) has been touted as an “ultra-realistic,” violent and sexier take on Spider-Man. It’s styled as a 12-part mystery where an unseen menace has apparently learned Spider-Man’s identity and is using the knowledge to slowly destroy him. At the end of #1, Spidey’s doddering Aunt May was apparently kidnapped. This issue, Spidey goes nuts looking for answers. He seeks the aid of the Avengers but, as is typical in so many superhero comics, there’s a misunderstanding, a little brawling and Spidey leaves in a huff. He then turns to the criminal underworld to find out more about what’s happening. ...I haven’t quite made a verdict on this newest “Spider-Man” series yet. Randy Lander at the Fourth Rail hated this issue and its apparent disregard for established character and years of continuity such as with Spidey’s clumsy fumbling with the Avengers (Millar acts like the characters haven’t known each other and fought together for years). But Millar and the editor’s sloppiness aside, there are still some cool moments here -- the mystery is compelling, a scene with jailbird Norman Osborn is fittingly spooky, and there’s a nifty little bit at the end involving old villain Electro, although once again Millar’s attempts to be “hip” come off a bit like showing Superman chugging back a case of Miller Lite. The beautiful, crisp art by Terry and Rachel Dodson helps make what is a flawed but hook-filled book a little better than Millar’s writing makes it. I’ll stick around, but I’d like Millar to settle down and concentrate on a story rather than being “edgy.” Grade: B

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Hey, I broke 1,000 -- visits, that is! Thanks to everyone who's popped by here in the last 6 weeks or so, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
As a newspaper editor and a cartoon lover, it saddens me to see someone in my profession who still thinks newspaper comics shouldn't be any more challenging than "Family Circus" or "Cathy." Doug Clifton, editor of the Cleveland Ohio Plain Dealer, writes in his web blog this week about his distaste for recent controversial "Doonesbury" strips. Trudeau has been firing hard at the war lately, with his excellent series about longtime character B.D.'s war injury and his upcoming plans to list all the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, "Nightline"-style. He's riled some editors while others are backing him. He's screwed up some -- his strip for this Sunday, done weeks ago and already printed for many papers due to production schedules, has the bad timing of featuring a severed head as a punchline. But while an editor has to acknowledge a strip may raise hackles, I was disturbed to see Clifton back down so much from an editor's duty of supporting all non-libelous viewpoints in his paper, and his insistence to stick comic strips in a ghetto they don't need to be in.

At one point he writes: "We inflict enough pain just by covering the ugly realities of today's world. The funnies ought to be the one refuge from those realities. If Trudeau insists on competing with the front page, he may find himself missing from The PD's comics page." See, to me, the comics can reflect all of reality, the good, the bad, the ugly, and a talent like Trudeau can sometimes even manage to write about something as horrible as war with humor and insight. Cleveland will be the poorer if their paper's editor decides to dump "Doonesbury" because he can't handle a strip that pushes a few buttons.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Because my corner of Oregon is the nexus of all that's weird in the world:
Woman accused of attack with boiling oil in Bible dispute
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A Eugene woman is held on $250,000 bail after allegedly pouring boiling oil on her boyfriend’s face in an argument over a Bible verse.
Angela S. Morris, 19, is charged with domestic violence assault. Her 31-year-old boyfriend, whose name was not released, was taken to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland with severe burns to his face, neck and chest.
The two were reading the Bible at the boyfriend’s apartment May 13 when Morris went to the kitchen to prepare french fries, police said.
Morris told police they continued to argue and that he grabbed her from behind.
Police say he then went to his bedroom to lie down. Morris followed and threw the oil on him, they said.

I'm not sure what commandment that breaks, but it's gotta be one of them...
What's a vacation without a few vacation snaps?

The gorgeous Multnomah Falls

Baby's first waterfall

The jaded world traveler baby
...And we're back. A fine week's vacation, too short like most getaways are, but we had a swell time with Baby Peter and my parents and brother at a condo near Mount Hood. Lots of gallivanting around Portland and Columbia Gorge and the required visit to Powell's, finest and largest bookstore in the known universe.

It was our first major getaway with Baby Peter in tow, and it was mostly successful. He turned 3 months old Tuesday so he isn't quite as hard to handle as he'll surely be when he achieves full mobility and the ability to be contrary (as my parents gleefully reminded us). But he is high-maintenance, needing feeding every hour or two, diaper changes, naps, and the whole gamut. We're definitely on "baby time" now rather than adult time, so everything we tried to do took a little longer.

But Baby Peter had lots of most excellent novel experiences, including his first restaurant meal (as a spectator, and he only had to be taken from the table twice), his first visit to a waterfall, his first experience of being exposed to snow flurries and extreme cold (a miscalculation which resulted in much howling), his first visit to a bookstore, his first street fair at Portland's Saturday Market (and an annoying loud band which also resulted in much howling), his first visit with his Uncle Chas, and much more. We really wanted to try and make it to a joint rally by John Kerry and Howard Dean in Portland's Pioneer Square Monday night, but the hourlong drive downtown, the baby and dealing with crowds and security convinced us not to push our luck.

While definitely not as relaxing as pre-baby vacations, it reassured us it is possible and we'll get another test in August when we take a week's trip to visit everyone in California... Anyway, now that's it's back to work and daily deadlines and all the news that's fit to print, I'll ease back in to bloggery here, several comics reviews I've been meaning to write and other blathering to continue as before...

Friday, May 14, 2004

Good night, John-boy ---
OK, and now for a break in our regularly scheduled blogathon. The wife and the wee boy and I are off for a week's vacation near scenic Mount Hood with the rest of my family, where I shall stay far away from newspapers and Internet and such for a blissful break. I did get a huge box o' comics goodness in the mail yesterday so I should have a mountain of new reviews to blather on about when I get back in a week or so.
It's Thursday so here's a video review, of Tim Burton's superlative "Big Fish" --

‘Big Fish’ a magical treat of a movie
It’s one of the clichés of movie criticism to call a film “magical.” But there’s no better word to describe Tim Burton’s wonderful “Big Fish.”
A stirring flight of fancy and giddy romance, “Big Fish” is a movie that any dreamer will love. It’s Burton’s best movie since “Ed Wood,” and maybe his best of all. Burton has made a lot of visually amazing films with terrible plots or scripts, like the “Planet of the Apes” remake or “Batman Returns.”
But “Big Fish,” adapted from a novel by Daniel Wallace, is perfect for Burton — a sprawling, scattered tale of fathers and sons, truth and fiction, and a plucky young man’s epic journey.
It’s the tale of the life of Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor as a young man, Albert Finney as an old man), who either was the biggest hero in Alabama’s history or the biggest liar of all time. Now, Bloom, fighting a losing battle with illness, has a rocky relationship with his son Will (a subdued Billy Crudup).
Will has listened to his father’s broad stories for all his life, like how he caught the biggest catfish in Alabama on the day Will was born and that’s why he couldn’t be there. He’s bitter at his father, but now that the older Bloom is dying, Will wants to connect.
The movie flashes back and forth between Bloom’s fantasy-filled adventures as a young man — joining a circus, finding secret societies, road trips with giants — and his son’s attempts to find out the “truth.” In the end, however, we learn that maybe the difference isn’t all that important after all.
McGregor is his usual winning self as the can-do Bloom, filled with a jaunty confidence and sense of wonder. He’s an eternal optimist, always chipper but never annoying. Finney is more realistic yet hopeful as the older Bloom, while Jessica Lange and Alison Lohman are glowing as older and younger versions of Bloom’s beloved wife. Supporting work from Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi and Helena Bonham Carter is also superb.
Burton piles on everything from witches to circus freaks to war heroics in this movie, and it all somehow worked for me. Plots have always been Burton’s weak point, so a movie where the lines between fact and fiction constantly blur works to his strength.
“Big Fish” is like a slightly grown-up version of “Alice In Wonderland,” blended with glimpses of the real world. It’s also, like all Burton’s movies, a visual marvel. It’s full of light and color, and quirky details abound.
Cynics need not apply — flush with the power of storytelling and the glories of imagination, it’s a movie incapable of irony. But once you’re swept up in its spell, “Big Fish” is a catch worth savoring.

**** of four
One more Google search that brought someone here recently:

quick landscapes paintings with spatula

Both my in-laws are painters in New Zealand, but have they ever tried the joys of painting with a spatula?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

....I'm too depressed to even comment about the news these days, since I spend my "day job" looking at it in all its ugly permutations lately. One day we've got pictures of all the horrible things a few twisted Americans are doing to Iraqi prisoners, the next day we've got wall-to-wall video of some poor telecommunications worker getting his head whacked off on camera by some fundamentalist maniacs. Civilization, ain't it grand?

Which is why, in an entirely lighter mode, it's wonderful to have silly blogs like Beatles & Bizarros out there in the world. It's a blog entirely devoted to comic book appearances by the Beatles -- who knew the Beatles appeared in so many comic books? -- and Bizarro, the wacky "reverse Superman" character who's starred in some of the goofiest comics of all time. David does a nifty job of recapping the earliest Bizarro appearances, when the "reverse Superman" was created in a "duplicator machine" accident (what else?). To Bizarro, "good" is "bad" and "ugly" is beautiful.

The Bizarro Superman eventually married a Bizarro Lois Lane and they all went off to form their own "Bizarro World," a square planet floating in outer space where everything is back-asswards
and proud of it. As the series got even stranger, we had Bizarro duplicates of everyone from Batman to Titano, a 60-foot-tall "super gorilla" with kryptonite vision. (I swear I am not making this up.) Everyone talked in pidgin English like "Me hate you" for "I love you" and so forth. It got quite twisted and arcane after a while.

One of my favorite books in my collection is the "Tales of Bizarro World" paperback, which reprints dozens of Bizarro stories in the most oddball '60s comics you'll ever see in one handy package. These stories defy belief, with plots so absurd and characters so goofy they nearly leapfrog straight into a whole new genre.

I mean, Abraham Lincoln?? There's something so nakedly insane about so many of these Silver Age
Superman comics like Bizarro and "Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane", it's hard not to crack a smile. Many of them read like the entire DC Comics staff was tripping on acid when they were written. There were none of the "rules" that tie down comics today into being relevant and grim and gritty. Many of today's comics are still great, but there's something gleefully anarchic about this Bizarro stuff. Sometimes these days it feels like the real world has turned into "Bizarro World." It's nice sometimes to visit a place where things are Bizarro on purpose. Me am hate these comics.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Ah, "Googling." It's always fun to google your name and see what comes up. But with the little site counter I have on this site, I can backtrack and see what brings some people to this blog by looking at the referral links. Lots come from other blogs or blog directories, which is the beauty of the blogosphere, but some also end up at this site through Google searches that for some reason, cull me in there through a few random words included in this blog.

A sample of searches that brought people here recently:
• "Frodo fairbanks smoke." (Alaskan hobbit stoners?)
• the shins zach braff garden state
• "lawn mower blades" dull blades with pictures (lawnmower porn?)
• jay-z misogynist
• smax toybox relationship incest (I don't even want to know)

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Watched the gorgeous little French animated feature The Triplets of Belleville yesterday, and was wowed by this beautiful, Oscar-nominated toon. Visually, it's a marvel of animation, with the kind of vivid style and imagination rare in most American cartoons these days. The plot is fairly basic, but it's the quirky flourishes and characters that really make the movie memorable. Boiled down, it's about a lonely boy who grows up to compete in the Tour De France with help from his ever-doting grandmother, but when he comes to the big race, the boy is kidnapped by mysterious gangsters and the grandmother has to journey to the sprawling megalopolis of "Belleville" to find him. It's a short (80 min.), nearly silent film, with some scattered French dialogue, but filled with images that dance in your head, like ships as tall as mountains and twisted, nearly surreal figures bopping around detailed, infinite cities that look like they stepped out of a Winsor McKay cartoon.

Made me wonder, though, why is it that mainstream American animation is so static for the most part these days? Or has it always been that way? The "house Disney" style is predominant in pretty much all animated films, with the "Pixar/Disney" style close behind. Sometimes it can be beautiful, but other times it's corporate product lacking in any real imagination. To find thought-provoking animation these days it seems you either have to dig into the cult and festival film circuit, like the "Spike and Mike" anthologies which are always interesting, or look overseas to French films like "Belleville" or the huge anime world (which I'm not really a fan of myself, except for the dreamlike works of Hayao Miyazaki such as "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke").

When you think about the limitless potential of animation, you have to wonder why it isn't exploited more. A blank page and a pen or mouse can create pretty much anything, anything at all.
OK, after fiddling with it I decided I don't like Blogger's new comment system at all, as it makes it a lot harder to post comments if you're just stopping by. So, back to Haloscan, let's all move on, nothing to see here.... :D
Today's song running obsessively through my head: Cheap Trick's "Surrender." And I don't care that my wife doesn't like them.

Mother told me, yes, she told me I'd meet girls like you.
She also told me, "Stay away, you'll never know what you'll catch."
Just the other day I heard a soldier falling off some Indonesian junk that's going round.
Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird.
Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away, ay, ay, ay.
Father says, "Your mother's right, she's really up on things."
"Before we married, Mommy served in the WACS in the Philippines."
Now, I had heard the WACS recruited old maids for the war.
But mommy isn't one of those, I've known her all these years.
Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird.
Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away, ay, ay, ay.
Whatever happened to all this season's losers of the year?
Ev'ry time I got to thinking, where'd they disappear?
When I woke up, Mom and Dad are rolling on the couch.
Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out.
Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird.
Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away, ay, ay, ay.

How can you not dig it?
Soulful 'Survivor'

Oh, blast that 'Survivor.' We watched the first two seasons a few years back when they became a TV sensation, but after "Australia" it got predictable and we didn't follow the various "Survivor: Africa" and "Survivor: Alabama"-type configurations. But "Survivor: All-Stars," featuring 18 players from the past 7 seasons, sounded intriguing and so we started watching and got sucked right in, all the way to last night's so-cheeseball-it-hurt climax.

Last night summed up everything that makes "Survivor" such a wince-inducingly fun diversion. It had everything -- betrayal, wedding engagements, near-brawls at the tribal councils, Lex in a mohawk and then blue hair, a bizarro "Jerry Springer" show-style hooting audience at the reunion show, Jerri getting booed offstage and Rupert in tie-dye.

It was so obscenely, hiariously over the top at some points it neared the surreal. My favorite moment had to be the montage of Jeff Probst "helicoptering" into New York with the prized vote results clutched in his hand, clinging to the helicopter with his other hand, as the whirlybird panned past the Statue of Liberty: "Survivor: It's about freedom, dammit!"
I think Probst is the best actor on television, able to keep a straight face with some of the inane stuff they have him saying.

There wasn't much socially redeeming to "All-Stars," but boy was it fun to watch. I was pulling for Rupert to win but knew it would be one of the Rob 'n' Amber axis to take it in the end. Even though Rob was a scoundrel and a half, I felt somewhat pleased for the lunkhead in the end, after he'd been called everything from soulless to a castrated farm animal (!) at tribal council, but still walked away with the girl. (Although, wouldn't it have been a great "Dynasty"-style moment if, at the very end, Amber had turned to Rob after winning the million bucks and said, "Engagement's off, sucker!"

Despite the angry emotions and back-stabbing, "Survivor" never seems truly mean-spirited to me, like too many other reality shows. Just as a sampling on the tube today, you've got "The Swan," where women society deems unattractive line up for corrective plastic surgery, or "The Littlest Bachelor," because midgets can be shamed on reality dating shows too. "Survivor" is cutthroat and hardball, but it doesn't really wallow in the muck. (Well, it does sometimes literally.) You even get a nifty little discourse on ethics through it - what is acceptable behavior if it's all a game? While it's a guilty pleasure like most television, "All Stars" was one I couldn't turn away from.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Sweet mother of molasses, the good people at Blogger went nuts and added a ton of swell new features to their services, so there's a new look for Spatula Forum today. I'd actually been toying around a bit with the coding because I wasn't entirely satisfied with the look of things, but me trying to understand CSS and HTML is a bit like a blind monkey trying to write the works of Shakespeare (which explains why mysterious lines, boxes and obscure Swahili curses came and went on this blog the past few days). Thanks also to the nice peoples over at bloggerforum for their kind comments and input, especially thecat and flipflop (sound like Dick Tracy villains, don't they) for enjoying the so-called content I try to provide.

Now thanks to Blogger, I don't have to fiddle with that techy stuff and here she is, a little shinier around the edges I think. Hope you like. I haven't quite figured out if I have the comments system up and running correctly yet but please stay tuned, all systems will go sooner or later...

Sunday, May 9, 2004

A sad farewell yesterday to my colleague Chris Casey, who abdicated his assistant city editor/business position here at the paper to, the poor soul, take on a full-time music writer position at the Colorado Springs Gazette. It's a rotten thing, I imagine, to have to go from whipping the newsdesk into shape to having to write stories about musicians and music all the time, but it's a challenge I'm sure the respectable Mr. Casey will endure. I will miss swapping CDs with him and his wife. And I swear I'm not that jealous of him, honest. Colorado's too far from the ocean, after all. Good luck, Mr. C.

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Constants in life. The sun comes up every day, puppies wag their tails, grass is growing, and pill-popping right wing blowhard wacko Rush Limbaugh can be counted on to say something really, really stupid. Here's his thoughts on the prisoner abuse scandal:

From the May 4 Rush Limbaugh Show, titled "It's Not About Us; This Is War!":
CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men --

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?

The day before, on his May 3 show, Limbaugh observed that the American troops who mistreated Iraqi prisoners of war were "babes" and that the pictures of the alleged abuse were no worse than "anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage."

LIMBAUGH: And these American prisoners of war -- have you people noticed who the torturers are? Women! The babes! The babes are meting out the torture.

LIMBAUGH: You know, if you look at -- if you, really, if you look at these pictures, I mean, I don't know if it's just me, but it looks just like anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe I'm -- yeah. And get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean, this is something that you can see on stage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City -- the movie. I mean, I don't -- it's just me.

Thanks to Media Matters for the link.
So I watched the "Friends" series finale last night, like gazillions of others. Admittedly Avril and I don't watch a lot of TV programs religiously -- less than you can count on one hand I think -- but "Friends," with its goofy amicability and snappy dialogue, was usually fun to watch. It was basically a soap opera with more laughs, but I started watching in back in 1994 and got addicted to the silly show.

The finale was, like most overhyped and overanalyzed climaxes, a bit on the mediocre side. I was so sick of the finale before it even aired it would've been hard to meet expectations, but, spoilers following: Did we really need to drag the excruciating Ross 'n' Rachel thing out yet AGAIN, as if anyone with an IQ over 10 didn't think they'd end up together? The endless false starts, sappy chases and declarations really drained my enthusiasm for this episode, which became the "Ross 'n' Rachel" show to, I felt, the exclusion of the other characters. Joey and Phoebe, in particular, didn't get much closure at all. Also, "Friends" has never been that logical a show, being in sitcom-land and all, but dubious things like a woman not knowing she's carrying twins really stretched the old plausibility factor on this one. The best moments of the show for me were the ones that didn't try so hard, like Joey and Chandler's scenes at the foosball table or Gunther's little moment in the sun. But it wasn't terrible — just a bit overwrought for what was, in the end, a very lightweight show and happy to be one.

Frankly, I've been thinking about it lately and of the several TV shows leaving the air this year the one I think I'll miss more and the one that time will show to be the better comedy is "Frasier,", which, ending after 11 years, hasn't gotten a fraction of the hype "Friends" did. But even if it aired a year or two too long, "Frasier" at its best has captured the kind of wacky farce comedy few shows have managed -- it has more in common with a "Fawlty Towers" than a "Friends." It balanced smart and dumb like few comedies have successfully done. Like many others I drifted away from "Frasier" in recent years but this season has been firing on all cylinders creatively. A few episodes -- the one that featured the return of Frasier's first wife, TV kid's show host Nanny G, Tuesday's episode with its nifty backwards flashback chronological structure -- rank with the classics. The characters have achieved a richness on "Frasier" that few shows managed -- Kelsey Grammer has been playing the good doctor for 20 years now, since "Cheers." And unlike "Friends," to my mind "Frasier" blended sentiment and comedy far more smoothly, without relying on soap-opera dramatics quite so much.

"Frasier" ends to less hype and less ink spilled next Thursday night, but in the end, I think I'll miss "Frasier" more than "Friends."
Hey, it's my one-month anniversary of blogging! Thanks to everyone who's paid attention to my meager words. It's been fun, and I've actually been posting a lot more than I thought I would. That's the problem when you make your living from words, you tend to have too many of them.

Friday, May 7, 2004

...I try to stay far away from politics in this blog o' mine, mainly because whenever I start to type about our Crusader-in-chief I see funny red spots pop up in my eyes, and besides these days everyone is either on one "side" or another and there's very little room in between for debate. And besides, there's already a hell of a lot of blowhards babbling on these days anyway.

But the prisoner abuse story breaking out these days is one that should make all Americans, right or left, feel the twinge of shame and confusion. The New Yorker magazine this week is supposed to have a lengthy report by veteran writer Seymour Hersh, which I both look forward to and dread reading if it's anything as gruesome as some of the reports I've seen. While the vast majority of our servicemen and women are decent folk, it's clear that there's a few loathsome psychopaths lurking in the fatigues out there.

I think it's pretty clear Donald Rumsfeld is being set up to take a fall over it, and while he might ooze his way out of it, if he goes, I can't say there'll be any tears shed for the man. The dance we're seeing going on right now between GW 'standing behind' his defense secretary and what's going on behind closed doors is usually a pretty good indication someone's about to go down. Frankly, when I think about some of Rumsfeld's unstinting arrogance and boneheaded failures to provide enough troops or support for the troops already serving — losing his job couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

End of political rant. Go read some comic books.
It’s Thursday, so here I’m posting my video reviews column from this week’s newspaper:

‘Master And Commander:
The Far Side Of The World’

“Master And Commander: The Far Side of the World’s” mouthful of a title and all-male cast proudly trumpet its vision. This is a manly movie, but not in the sense of loud, splashy entertainment for overgrown boys.
It’s about real men making hard decisions, fighting brutal battles and still having time at the end of the day for a glass of wine with a friend.
While billed as a rousing action film, “Master” is much more of a historical drama punctuated by bursts of combat. Director Peter Weir (“Dead Poets Society,” “Witness,” “The Truman Show”) has made his share of fine movies, and many are characterized by a fixation on honor and friendship.
Capt. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) commands the HMS Surprise for the British Navy, circa the year 1800. With his crew, Aubrey is patrolling the Atlantic Ocean for French privateers — pirates by any other name. But when his ship is ambushed, Aubrey is driven by the desire for revenge — even if it takes him to “the far side of the world.”
A globetrotting tale of war and life at sea, “Master” is like the more realistic side of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Crowe steps right into Aubrey’s boots, giving a masterful portrait of a dashing man both blessed and burdened by the power of command. It’s another award-worthy performance by Crowe, who thoroughly sinks into Aubrey’s character. He even learned to play the violin for this role.
As ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin, Paul Bettany ably backs Crowe, playing the “Mr. Spock” to Crowe’s “Captain Kirk” on the Surprise. It’s with Maturin’s gentle character, and his love for the natural wonders found at sea, that some of the most human moments of “Master” come.
“Master” feels like it was made firmly for fans of author Patrick O’Brian, whose best-selling series of 20 novels it’s based on. It isn’t always accessible to novices, and could bore those with short attention spans. I found its rhythms sucked me in, but those expecting wall-to-wall action may want to grab a lifeboat.
The battle scenes are all shot with gritty reality and intensity, but a few are poorly presented. A stormy sea crossing is particularly hard to follow — the dialogue is inaudible and the sea tactics incomprehensible if you’re not a naval expert. At one point, a character is killed, and from the murky way it was shot, I’m still not sure who it was.
Another curious move is to de-personalize the French villains so thoroughly that they remain faceless.
“Master’s” finest achievement is its sturdy sense of place. Weir truly makes you feel like you’re on board a ship 200 years ago, from the creaks of the sails to the cramped quarters below decks. For any man who ever wanted to be a sailor, “Master” offers a vivid taste of it.
While the action is gripping, it’s the character moments that linger in “Master And Commander,” and what ultimately make it a successful voyage.
*** of ****

‘The Matrix Revolutions’
And so it ends — not with a bang or a whimper, but a little bit of both.
Consider the “Matrix” trilogy a classic portrait in high expectations crashing to earth.
For the conclusion, “The Matrix Revolutions,” we pick right up where “The Matrix Reloaded” left off. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his girlfriend Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are part of a ragtag army of humans left in a computer-dominated future. The war between man and machines is finally here, and humanity appears lost — unless Neo can fulfill his destiny as “The One,” the man who will defeat the enemy once and for all.
“Revolutions” is a pretty disappointing ending to the trilogy no matter how you slice it. There’s a lot of computer-generated bombast, but precious little to move you. We get battles galore, but the climax is very unfulfilling and drawn out until it’s ludicrous. Attempts to draw emotion bring rolled eyes instead.
There’s a battle scene that literally lasts an hour, and it pummels the viewer into submission. It’s impressive for 15 minutes, but after a while how much of machines shooting machines can you watch?
Poor Neo, given a lunkheaded kind of heart and soul by Reeves in parts one and two, is just left out in the cold here. He feels like a supporting player in his own story, and you just don’t care at the end when he finally gets his moment in the sun.
On a second viewing, the maligned “Matrix Reloaded” actually improved some to me, despite the pseudo-intellectual pomposity of it all. The plot seemed to be going somewhere. But “Revolutions” is all tease and little payoff.
In all the “Matrix” movies, the transitions between the lighting-fast action and the slow, ponderous talk by people with geeky names like “Merovingian” and “Architect” have been so clumsy, you can feel the lurch. You can have smart action — take a look at the “Lord of The Rings” movies for a seamless blend of thought and butt-kicking — but the “Matrix” makers can’t manage that mix.
There’s still some moments in “Revolutions” that evoke what made the first “Matrix” soar. I particularly enjoyed Neo’s final face-off with the devilish Agent Smith, a rain-soaked smackdown that may be one of the best “superhero” battles ever filmed.
But it doesn’t add up to enough to cover “Revolutions” numerous defects. Has there ever been a movie trilogy with so much hype that fell so far from part one? Even the disdained new “Star Wars” trilogy manages a clearer vision than this muddled misfire. I think the director and writer Wachowski brothers made the movie they wanted to make, but it’s not the movie America wanted to see.
Perhaps it might have just been better off to leave “The Matrix” at one movie. The first was a smart, stylish ride that flowed smoothly, unlike its self-impressed sequels.
Write your own ending to Neo’s saga. It’s hard to see how it could be much more deflating than this one.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Is there anything more styling than a baby in a beret?

Part of a shipment received today in the mail from the New Zealand family.
Tops on my stereo lately has been the debut album by TV on the Radio , "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes," a New York-based trio. Their sound is hard to describe, but it's almost like a kind of industrial doo-wop, or a clash between Radiohead and an a capella act. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe channels Peter Gabriel in his stretching, yearning soul vocals, and the band's sound is heavy -- deep, throbbing guitars, bass and looping noises combine in a wall of rising sound, overlaid by the sweet, soulful singing.

I've been having the propulsive end-of-love anthem "Dreams" run through my head the last two days. It's a catapult of noise, with an addictive chorus, swelling guitar solos out of some great lost U2 track, and scat singing you feel compelling to join in. It's the best track on the CD for me so far, and a marvel. Also noteworthy are the opening track "The Wrong Way," a grind of beats overlaid with falsetto singing and hints of horns that reminded me of the band Morphine. "Staring At The Sun" is another winner, a moody, meditative ode to doomsday.

I'm also getting into the peppier "Ambulance," the only straight a capella track on the disc, with a witty chorus -- "I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance / and I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast." And "Poppy" is a straight synthesis of all the band's sound, thumping beats, vocal solos and symphonic interludes crashing in a heap. The lyrics are often fascinating -- as a band that's 2/3 African-American but that doesn't fit into most "traditional" images of modern black music, TV on the Radio has a questing, thoughtful feel, shot through with musical confidence.

The band are also conceptual artists, and there's a lot of visual imagery in their songs. A few tunes skirt the edge of pretentiousness. I do think the album falls down some in the second half, with the songs good but lacking the drama and pulse of the first numbers. Still, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes" " is addictive listening, and well worth seeking out.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Blogger Bill Sherman turns in a nice review of the first volume in Fantagraphics' phantasmagoric "The Complete Peanuts," the long-awaited reprinting in 25 twice-a-year volumes of the entire 50-year-run of what, I think I can fairly say, was probably the greatest comic strip of them all. The online reviews are glowing and just kill me as I still have to wait another week or so for my copy to arrive in my monthly shipment o' comics goodness. I'll definitely post my thoughts when I get it, but without a doubt, Fantagraphics' project is the best thing to happen in comics for a long time. When I was younger and a reader of the piecemeal, non-chronological and scattered collection of Schulz' cartoon, I would have idle dreams that one fine day, it could all be collected in order from start to finish (I know, I had very geeky idle dreams as a lad). It's the year 2004, and it's finally happening. I do believe in the Great Pumpkin, I truly do!
Well of course if both my wife and I like a comic, it will be cancelled. Mike Allred has announced that Marvel's X-Statix will be ending later this year in this interview.

Damn. As I think I'd posted before, X-Statix is the only "X-Men" book of the gazillions they publish I actually read. With writer Peter Milligan it's been a witty, vicious and subversive satire of celebrity, pop culture and comic books for the last few years. It's gone up and down in quality but when it's been on it's been a giddy pop thrill. I think the end was signified when Marvel developed cold feet about the creators' planned storyline that would return Princess Di from the dead and make her a member of the team (I am not making this up). The storyline eventually appeared but all references to Di were removed and a generic European pop singer was put in her place. That editorial mucking about kinda took the air out of "X-Statix," but I'll still be sad to see it go.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

...So I "acquired" recently a copy of the illegal album by DJ Danger Mouse, 'The Grey Album,' his art-collage mix of the Beatles and rapper Jay-Z. Curiosity drove me to check out this disc, which has been one of the more controversial releases of the year - even if you can't actually buy it anywhere. EMI, the Beatles' label, clamped down hard on Danger Mouse's unauthorized release and it's only available by searching the digital world.

Producer Dangermouse took the vocals from Jay-Z's "The Black Album" and mixed them with fragments and shards of music and vocals from The Beatles' "The White Album." The result is a trainwreck of styles -- the familiar tones of Beatles numbers like "Helter Skelter," "Glass Onion" and "Julia" turned into glittering beats and riffs for Jay-Z's authoritative rapping. It shouldn't work, yet it does, in a twisted kind of way.

I say this as someone who's not a big rap fan -- Eminem and Outkast are about all the recent hip-hop acts I listen to -- and who'd never heard a Jay-Z album. So I'm coming in with half the information -- I'm a certified Beatlemaniac, and can dig what Danger Mouse did to their tunes, but I haven't heard Jay-Z's "Black Album." Particular highlights of the "Grey Album" include "Encore," which takes "Glass Onion" and recasts it as the stuttering backdrop for Jay-Z's tale of thug life, or the winkingly romantic "My 1st Song," using Paul McCartney's disembodied voice from "Take Me Back" as a floating pulse. Another highlight is the anti-violent anthem "Justify My Thug," which takes a pounding beat and manages to name-check Madonna, "Rock Around The Clock," and the harmonica beat from "Rocky Raccoon." Jay-Z is less misogynist or violent than some rappers, and his booming voice makes a riveting counterpoint to the mellow Beatles sounds.

But is it art or a novelty act? You can make something new out of combining together two different things -- it's been done everywhere from collage to Andy Warhol's soup can art. Some critics have raved. Enjoyable as some of the alchemy is, I can't see "The Grey Album" replacing "The White Album" as a musical journey for me. There's the whole copyright angle to consider behind a work like this -- it's hard to ignore the valid concerns Paul McCartney might have about his work being sliced-and-diced like this. But does the work no longer belong to him, but to the culture, regardless of the law? Should art remain the artist's property forever? How would you feel if it was your work Danger Mouse sliced up?

One thing's for certain -- with the Internet and the ability to create, burn and remix music with the click of a mouse, this is just the beginning of a whole new way of thinking about music. There are many other "Grey Album" variations out there already (mixed with Pavement? "The Slack Album". Mix with AC/DC? The "Double-Black" album). The tiger is out of the cage, and it's doubtful all the record label lawyers in the world can stuff it back in.

Monday, May 3, 2004

In the spirit of last week's Pixie concerts and the live music thrills it inspired, here's a "classic" (if anything old is automatically classic) column from October 12, 2000's Sierra Sun newspaper. The postscript, sadly, is that Blue Mountain broke up not long after I saw them for that San Francisco show.

I confess: while I have been editor of two arts and entertainment papers, interviewed dozens of bands and written zillions of album reviews in my short career, I have never really been the music groupie type.
There are some people who follow certain bands around the country fanatically, catching every single show, analyzing every slight variation in guitar chords and lyrics with a scholar’s eye.
But I’ve never really been one of those folks. I’m an armchair music fan, liking the music best in the privacy of my own home where nobody can see my geeky white boy dance moves.
Still, there’s one band out there that I have seen at least two dozen times live – a band few outside of Mississippi have ever heard of, a rural rock trio called Blue Mountain.
Blue Mountain are mostly Cary Hudson and his partner Laurie Stirratt, and a rotating cast of drummers. They’re a Mississippi band all the way, with rich music that draws on both the Delta blues’ grit and rock-and-roll’s fire to make a gorgeously heartfelt sonic stew.
Cary and Laurie have been playing together for a good decade or so now, and when I went to college in Oxford, Mississippi, their frequent shows served as the soundtrack to the early ‘90s for me. I cannot count the number of times my friends and I saw them at bars with Southern college-town names like Proud Larry’s, Lafayette’s and The Gin.
Best of all, over the seven or so years I called Mississippi home I got to watch Blue Mountain grow and mature, to see their phrasing and playing become more accomplished.
We also all became friends off the stage – my pals and I were such a constant sight at their shows that they couldn’t help knowing who we were, but I was glad that Cary and Laurie and our little circle developed a relationship beyond just the music. They came to parties we held, we had damned fine venison for dinner at their country house, and we hung out with their big black dog Willie.
Often, Cary and Laurie would informally jam with other musical friends of ours. One of my signature memories of my days in Mississippi is of sitting on our front porch, full of beer and good food, and watching Cary and our friend Noah plucking out traditional folk tunes as the fireflies flitted in the night. Crickets accompanied the music, the evening had that velvety humid kiss of a Southern summer, and for a song or two, all seemed absolutely right with the world.
In my journalistic capacity, I admit I blurred the ethical lines a little and helped give Blue Mountain press whenever I could - one of my favorite moments was when I got to do a short profile on them for Billboard magazine during a summer internship in New York City.
But eventually, in college towns, the “scene” you’ve called your own drifts apart. People move on and go off into the real world, they stop renting and start buying and people start getting married. I decided to move back out to the West Coast in summer 1997, and one of the final things I did in Oxford was catch Blue Mountain live one last time.
It was a fine show, full of fire and grit, and I stood there right next to the amp, every hair on my body throbbing with the beat, and I sipped a beer and listened to my pals play for the crowd.
Blue Mountain’s career has continued on a gentle upward slope in the last few years, and their CDs are selling better and better and they’re touring more and more of the country.
Finally, the other weekend, their tour bus came into my neck of the woods. I drove 400 miles or so round-trip to catch Blue Mountain in San Francisco at Slim’s, the first time I’d seen my old friends in more than three years. I didn’t get back up to Truckee until 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, but man, was it worth it.
I surprised Cary and Laurie at their show and hung out backstage with them for an hour or so before they played. We talked about their career, gossiped about old friends and caught up with the last three years of living.
Then it was time for them to play, and I took a spot as close to the stage as I could get. Seeing Blue Mountain so far from their Southern digs might have been odd, but their homespun music has won them fans even in urban San Francisco – to my shock, there were several other obvious longtime fans in the audience calling out favorite songs for the band to play.
The hometown college bar band I selfishly like to call “mine” has come a long way, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
And for that one night at Slim’s, mouthing each and every lyric with a fanboy’s passion, feeling the thrum of the guitar and drums skittering throughout my nervous system, seven years’ worth of memories of Mississippi unspooled in my head.
I can’t pack up my life and follow Blue Mountain all around the country like I might have when I was 22, but so long as the band comes within driving distance, I’ll be there front and center, watching them play and admiring my friends. Blue Mountain are good folks in a kind of strange business, playing honest songs about living life and the things we all feel to be true.
And in the end, that’s all any band can aspire to be.

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Quick review: Superman #204
There've been some great Superman stories and many more bad ones. The last time I regularly read Superman comics was probably a decade ago. Supes is a character with infinite potential -- the first and still most resonant of superheroes -- but too often his comics are lame and uninspired. The monthly comics get "rebooted" every other year or so, nearly as often as Superman leaps over tall buildings, but usually they don't make much of an impact. The latest "reboot" is going on right now, and the title drawing the most hype is writer Brian Azzarello and artist Jim Lee's 12-issue run on "Superman." I picked up the first ish out of mild curiosity this week -- I admire Lee's dynamic art, but don't love it, and Azzarello is one of those acclaimed comic writers I just haven't gotten into, although I can see his appeal. His gritty, gory crime and horror work in titles like "Hellblazer" and "100 Bullets" would seem an odd fit for Superman, on the face of it.

However, reservations aside, I actually kind of enjoyed this first part of "For Tomorrow," even if it's more tease than meaty storytelling. Azzarello creates a classic mystery hook. It's been one year since a terrible "Vanishing" event in which a million people worldwide apparently disappeared. Superman failed to prevent it, and he's feeling guilty. That's really the "plot" of this issue, clearly geared to drag the reader into the next part. But it's handled quite well -- a moody, evocative issue, with Superman visiting a Metropolis priest for advice. Occasionally the dialogue is a bit stilted, but not painfully so. And some good quotes: Superman to the priest -- "My sin? Was to save the world." Lee's art is highly detailed and spectacular here, showing soaring architecture, great space landscapes and a perfectly iconic Superman. Azzarello uses a muted, restrained tone here, filling in the gaps in the story slowly. It's all kind of elementary "Chapter One" mystery storytelling and could easily fall to bits, but it does the trick for me this issue -- I'm sold on picking up part two to see if the solid aura of Gothic grandeur and mystery continues. This just might be proof a good Superman story can still be told. Grade: 4/5

Peter got to see the ocean for the first time today! He was told he couldn't swim in it until he was a little older than 10 weeks though.

Saturday, May 1, 2004

Quotes like this are why we love Tom Waits, as he talks on Anti Records' web site about his new album due this fall (hurray!):

"I'm feelin' good about it all. Songs about politics, rats, war, hanging, dancing, automobiles, pirates, farms, the carnival and sinning. Mama, liquor, trains and death. In other words, the same ol' dirty business!"
Ooooo... Entertainment Weekly's new issue has this first look at the new Batman, Christian Bale, in 2005's "Batman Begins." (Link courtesy of Newsarama). I've had my heart broken before by terrible comics movies ("Batman & Robin," I'm looking at you) but this one sure has the stuff to be good -- excellent casting including Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe and Liam Neeson, and a grittier, more realistic premise that gets away from special effects gimmickry and focuses on the young Batman just starting his career. Best of all, it's directed by Chris Nolan, the guy behind "Memento" and "Insomnia." Crossed fingers -- the costume looks good...