Tuesday, September 28, 2004


SEATTLE (AP) — Small earthquakes at the rate of one or two a minute on Monday had seismologists keeping a close watch on Mount St. Helens.
Scientists were not sure what was going on beneath the southwest Washington volcano and planned a full day of investigations.
Seth Moran, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, said that while a major blast was unlikely, there was potential for explosions within the crater that could throw rocks as far as the rim.
The earthquake swarms began Thursday and on Sunday the Geological Survey issued a notice of volcanic unrest, saying there was “an increased likelihood of a hazardous event.”

Glad we don't live any closer than 3 1/2 hours away!
Do the Monday shuffle!

Item!Finally got around to seeing Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow Saturday afternoon, and it's definitely one of those movies best experienced on the big screen. I enjoyed it, but it's more flash than substance in the end. Beautiful faux-1940s-style filmmaking that shimmers and glows on the big screen, giant robots, daring air pilots, dinosaurs and more make it a pulpy blast. However, the script was a little weak, and the character verged on so thin as to be transparent. Some would argue that was a homage to classic serial flicks, which weren't exactly Dostoyevsky themselves, but it didn't quite have the emotional heft of say, "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." Best to me was Angelina Jolie, all pouting lips and skin-tight leather, as a sexed-up air commando. The movie gets more fun as it goes along, and you get used to the highly stylized cinematography -- which is a little distracting at first . Technically, it's almost flawless - I completely forgot 99% of the backgrounds were computer-generated, which made it even more seamless than a "Lord Of The Rings" movie. It's good fun, and worth checking out before it leaves the big screen.

Item! Spent much of yesterday, unfortunately my only day off in a 12-day stretch, enjoying leisurely baby time and tearing my way through the final 500 pages of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" Book 7. Still sorting out my impressions of this powerful, incredibly labyrinthine book and the entire series, which really add up to King's "Lord Of the Rings" or "Narnia" saga. It sucks in elements from many of his previous novels, and I've really enjoyed the saga of the last gunslinger, Roland, and his companions in his "ka-tet" as they search for the mysterious Dark Tower over 7 books adding up to a staggering 4,000 pages of reading. (Which makes me realize I really need to get out more.) This final volume is the sum of all that came before, and it's got a tremendous impact if you've been reading all along. The ending is sure to be controversial and probably even seen as a slap in the face to some. It really knocked me for a loop as I'm still processing it all, but overall I feel like "The Dark Tower" was a pretty big success and probably even the highlight of King's career. I know King gets looked at a lot as a "junk food writer" but the power and craft that goes into his stories is undeniable. For those who only think "The Shining" when they think King, "The Dark Tower" saga is a good way to broaden your horizons -- if you've got a spare week or three to read 4,000 pages.

Item! Ye gods, FINALLY, today, we got our Star Wars DVD set from Amazon, like a week after everybody I know on various Net message boards already got theirs. I must've angered the gods somehow. Anyway, the set's all shiny and silver and I can't wait to dig into it in coming weeks. Must introduce Baby Peter to the ways of the Jedi!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Quick comic review!

Sweet Christmas — 17 bucks for 600 pages of swingin' '70s kung-fu superhero goodness? That's what you get in Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1, one of the latest in Marvel's hefty "phone book" series of black-and-white classic reprints. This sucker collects more than 30 comics starring Marvel's kung fu white boy, Iron Fist, from his first appearances in Marvel Premiere to his own 15-issue solo run to the first issues of the team-up with jive-talking bulletproof Luke Cage in "Power Man and Iron Fist." It's a blast of a book, vintage Marvel '70s style and kookiness with a compelling, coherent plot running throughout. Unlike some of the other "Essential" volumes, I'd never read any of these comics, but this stuff holds up pretty well. We meet Danny Rand, who is taken in by one of those mysterious Himalayan secret kung-fu cults that seem to be so commonplace in the 1970s after his parents are murdered. Rand is trained by the masters of "K'un L'un" to learn kick-ass kung fu, including the mysterious "Iron Fist," which turns him into a living weapon. When Iron Fist decides to return to human society to revenge himself upon his parents' killers, he finds a world far different than the sheltered society of K'un L'un.

The stories in "Essential" take a little while to build up steam -- the early issues feature a rotating cast of writers and artists, some pretty darned poor, before it settles into Chris Claremont on words and John Byrne on art. Both were younger and IMHO far better than they are now, and the work shows the same spark as their more famous "X-Men" work. Byrne has innovative, dynamic panel layouts that really pop in black-and-white, and there's a sense of fun to it all the Claremont and Byrne work-for-hire lacks today. I think what I liked most about "Essential Iron Fist" is we really see Danny Rand change during his adventures as Iron Fist, learning revenge ain't fulfilling and forming bonds with kung-fu vixens like Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. He's a likeable, naive character and plays well off the more outrageous villains and companions. There's also cameos by all kinds of Marvel heroes in unforced ways, from Iron Man (how fitting!) to Spider-Man to the X-Men back before they took over comic books. "Essential Iron Fist" is a hefty block of reading at a decent price, and although a couple issues here suffer the poor quality reproduction that pops up in some of these "Essential" books, most are great, and you can't complain too much considering what a mountain o' comics this is. Grade: B+

Saturday, September 25, 2004

'Tis Friday and we must have video reviews forthwhiff!

‘The Punisher’
Latest in the comic-book movie roundup is “The Punisher,” based on the venerable Marvel comic about a former cop who turns into a gun-toting vigilante when his family is murdered.
Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is about to retire when his police work draws the rage of Miami crime lord Howard Saint (John Travolta). When Saint exacts his awful revenge, Castle transforms himself into a skull-wearing antihero, The Punisher.
Ultimately, “The Punisher” is a glum, sadistic movie about brutal men. The movie takes us through Castle’s tragic origin, really wallowing in the gory circumstances that lead to his transformation. It’s unpleasant and as far from the more optimistic “Spider-Man” as you can get.
The problem is that the Punisher is not really heroic. He takes the crimefighting mentality of Batman or Superman to its extreme — kill the bad guys. But basically he’s a wacko with a gun, and “The Punisher” is really just “Death Wish Part XVII.”
The Punisher character really works best as over-the-top parody. Recent comics by writer Garth Ennis have made the Punisher a hard-boiled lunatic, and the movie steals a few ideas from Ennis, including the best scene, a wrestling match with an unstoppable Russian assassin. The loveably eccentric housemates Castle befriends here are all straight from the comic books, but on film they become insufferably annoying. Castle’s revenge plan is needlessly complicated, and it feels like a setup for the inevitable sequel.
Throw in an absolutely awful John Travolta hamming it up to Timbuktu and back as the villain, and you’ve got a half-baked cheese sandwich of a movie.
The movie, despite flashes of talent — notably Jane’s steely, solid performance in the lead role — fails to become anything more than a by-the-numbers, illogical vengeance potboiler. It’s got shooting and car crashes galore for those who dig that, but there’s very little heart and soul. It’s just punishing.
*1/2 of four

‘The Ladykillers’

A Southern-fried mix of heist movie, comedy and gospel musical, “The Ladykillers” is the newest oddball extravaganza from the Coen brothers.
This time, Tom Hanks is the star, as the verbose Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, Ph.D., an educated, white-suit wearing dandy who plans a big theft under the nose of his unsuspecting landlady, burbling quotable lines like “We must have waffles, forthwhiff!”
Dorr assembles a crew of like-minded criminals and plans his crime, involving dynamited tunnels, extortion, bloody revenge and more.
Fans of the Coen brothers’ quirky, unique world from “Fargo” to “Intolerable Cruelty” will find something here to like, but non-fans expecting a typical Tom Hanks movie will probably be turned off.
A remake of a 1950s film, “The Ladykillers” is a crazy-quilt of a movie, patched together from many parts. It wants to be a wacky cartoon, but there’s a reason those Bugs Bunny shorts only lasted five minutes or so each. It’s amusing in fits, but in the end not very filling.
Don’t look to “The Ladykillers” for realism. None of the characters are much more than broad stereotypes, and their effectiveness is based purely on the shoulders of the actors involved.
Marlon Wayans’ obnoxious, profanity-spouting “gangsta” thief seems to have wandered in from another movie altogether, and jars you right out of watching every time he’s unleashed. Irma Hall, on the other hand, is wonderful as the proud, deeply religious widow at the heart of the story.
But the highlight here is definitely Hanks’ Foghorn Leghorn-meets-George Plimpton thief, who uses pretentious language and sniggering mannerisms to create an unforgettably odd character. He’s a hammy delight, and it’s the most fun Hanks has had on screen since the “Toy Story” movies.
There’s a rambling sense of play to “The Ladykillers,” as in most of the Coens’ work. It’s not meant to be a serious life-and-death epic, and it’s definitely on the more disposable end of the Coen brothers’ resume. But Hanks’ amusing performance makes it worth seeing for the spectacle at least.
**1/2 of four

Friday, September 24, 2004

...Went to the ear/nose/throat doc to have him check out my poor ear (see previous post). Turns out I have an actual ear infection (it's never promising when the doctor sticks the thingie in your ear and goes, "Oh, that doesn't look good). Never had one before and no clue what caused it as I felt fine just a week ago. Fortunately there's no serious damage and it can apparently be treated with antibiotic drops, so hopefully I'll regain my hearing in that ear again soon. The way my luck with doctors has gone lately I figured they'd say I had an impacted ear mite or something requiring painful surgery and ugly consequences.

Finally found the new Elvis Costello CD as well as the swell new Green Day album, both of which I'll hopefully post about sooner or later. Burgeoning pile of stuff to read and things to hear but somehow when I'm at home it's all subverted to the drive to play with baby.

Watched the premiere of ABC's new TV show "Lost" last night, and was pretty caught up by this intense experience. Kind of a twist between "Survivor," "Gilligan's Island" and "The Twilight Zone," a drama about a plane full of passengers that crashes on a mysterious South Pacific island. The survivors have to deal with the usual stranded-on-a-desert-island business, but there's also some kind of strange, malicious beast or force in the island woods threatening to kill everyone.

Now, that doesn't sound like the most lofty of premises, but creator J.J. Abrams, the guy behind "Alias," pulled off episode 1 at least with style and great dread. The opening sequence, where we meet a doctor named Jack (Matthew Fox, giving a great performance) as he awakens in the jungle with no idea what's happened to him and gradually stumbles into the chaotic scene of the airplane crash, was incredibly powerful. A cast of more than 40 survivors of the plane crash, from a druggie rock star to a pregnant woman to a mysterious grinning man, all offer plenty of story potential in the weeks ahead as they try to survive their exile. It's hard to tell if "Lost" will live up to this great first episode in future installments -- the mysterious beast parts came a little close to cliched "Jurassic Park" territory -- but you definitely want to know what's happening next. The potential is near limitless for "Lost," and it's worth checking out.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Well, I still don't have my Star Wars DVD set from Amazon yet -- cursed doghumpers haven't even shipped it yet, alas. But despite my agitation I can handle waiting a few more days for it. What's truly funny to me though in the wide weird world of the Internet is the burbling babble of outrage that fanboys continue to direct at George Lucas, who apparently has been crowned the Antichrist without my knowing it. You know the drill -- ever since the "Special Editions" changes and then the mediocrities of the two prequels so far, Lucas' name has changed from gold to mud in the fanboy realm. Or perhaps you didn't realize that by changing the trilogies George Lucas raped our childhoods?

For some reason, I just can't get that worked up about the things many of these other people are worked up about. I fell in love with "Star Wars" at age 8, fondly remember seeing the original movie in its original run, and had a nigh-complete collection of action figures before foolishly selling them at a yard sale years ago. The original trilogy are still great fun for me, perhaps clinically not the best movies I ever saw but certainly the most influential. I know who IG-88 and Dengar are and have a complete set of the Marvel comic book series. I played with plastic lightsabers and saw "The Phantom Menace" the first day.

And I'll admit I'm not nuts about many of Lucas' changes to the original trilogy, the silly added Jabba the Hutt meets Han Solo scene or the gibbering scampering CGI distractions added to Tattoonie's hot, dry streetscapes. Creatively, I don't think they're needed, and they certainly add very little. But despite my distaste for the changes I have to fall firmly on the side of the debate that says George Lucas can do whatever the heck he wants to the movies, up to erasing Harrison Ford and replacing him with Pauly Shore if he wanted. If I don't like the changes, I won't buy the work. The unbridled hubris of many fanboys out there who think they are OWED something by Lucas just cracks me up. George Lucas is a creator, not the best creator of all by any means, but through the act of creation he lays all claim to Star Wars, while disgruntled Ain't It Cool News poster #3210 has exactly no credence or right to tell Lucas what he should do. When it comes to "Star Wars," we are patrons, consumers -- we vote with the wallet. That's where our say ends, and that's where it should end. Hey, I bought the DVDs, and they're how George Lucas wanted them, so it's the creator's vision. If 1/10th of the fanboys who are so outraged about the SEs actually refuse to buy the DVDs I'll be shocked.

(Of course, I say this as someone who still hangs on to his VHS set of the original, pre-Special Edition Star Wars Trilogy. Hey, you have to hedge your bets.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Hey, Happy Birthday to two of my personal creative heroes, Stephen King and Bill Murray, each of whom are 50-something today (King 57, Murray 54). "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time."

Speaking of King, just picked up The Dark Tower Book 7: The Dark Tower today at lunch. A hefty monster of a tome, 700 pages or so, but I can't wait to tear into it and see how the whole goshdarned saga ends. Unfortunately, I live in such a hick town that I couldn't find the new Elvis Costello CD anywhere today, which irked this gotta-get-it-the-day-it-comes-out geek to no end. Will look for it again later. Also saw plenty of copies of the new Star Wars DVD which I'm still waiting on Amazon to even ship to me... Arrghghghgh....

Dealing with an annoying ear problem/infection of some type the last two days. Not sure what's causing it but my right ear is very painful and I keep feeling like there's a "bubble" in there of some kind that won't quite pop. Kind of like perpetually waiting for a plane to land. I've had problems with that ear on and off since my surgery for a deviated septum a couple years ago but this is by far the most painful outbreak. I kind of think there's a little boil or something in there and am hoping it will just heal up without having to go to the freakin' doctor again, the last thing we can afford right now. Remedies welcome. Can't really hear out of my right ear either which is fun because it makes people on the right of me think I'm ignoring them. Gah. Now that I've delighted you with the travails of my inner ear, I'll get back to work for a while...

Monday, September 20, 2004

Arr! Blistering barnacles, ye scurvy dogs! Captain Haddock from Tintin here for today's post in celebration of the joys of plundering, pillaging and Talk Like A Pirate Day today! (Admittedly I be not a pirate but I talk kind of like one!) In celebration hop over here to this bedraggled web site and learn your secret pirate name! Nik's be "Dirty Sam Kidd," the filthy landlubber. Arr! Avast ye!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

So Peter is 7 months old today. Because he's now an adult, he received his first credit card application in the mail. Huzzah!

They're offering him up to a $25,000 credit limit, which I must say would pay for a lot of things to chew on.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Shameless namedropping and friend-pimping post! Way back in the old days, circa 1990-1998, I wrote and about half the time drew a self-published comic book called Amoeba Adventures, which has since sunk into a well-deserved obscurity. One of the cooler things about my comics years, though, is the number of incredibly talented friends I made. Lately I've been super psyched to see how many of these old buds have started to "break through" and get real recognition for their efforts. Seems like I can't flip past an Internet page without seeing one of these bums. Just look at this motley crew:

Joe Meyer is the subject of a great new interview up over at Newsarama -- all about his autobiographic comix published in "365 Joe." Joe's an outrageous talent who deserves to be world-famous and his daily strips can be read over at his web site.

Then there's Will Pfeifer who did the funky and hilarious "Mad" magazine-esque satire "Violentman" back in the day for small press, and even had the gumption to actually collaborate with yours truly on a couple things. Both of us are newspaper features editors who write video review columns, but I think I have the sexier mug shot. Sadly Will has barely made his mark in life -- he's only been writing comics for the home of Superman and Batman, DC Comics, for the past few years. Recent work includes "H-E-R-O," "Aquaman" and "Swamp Thing", all worth checking out. Will also recently kicked off a blog -- like the copycat he is.

Shoot, I can't forget the inimitable Troy Hickman, whose "Common Grounds" miniseries from Image Comics got all kinds of accolades earlier this year, great realistic and warm superhero comics with flair and a jealousy-inspiring roster of amazing artists helping out. A trade paperback is on the way for early next year of the 6-issue series and well worth seeking out. Troy never returns my e-mails and apparently only uses the Internet for surfing porn, but still, he's a good egg.

Another old chum is Bob Elinskas, who with fellow talent Dave Hedgecock has just kicked off a new comic series for Slave Labor, "15 Minutes." Check it out at their web site -- it's good stuff. There's a good interview with Bobby here

And of course one of my best pals is jumpin' Jay Marcy whose "365 Jay" daily strips are great online fun. His third (!!) book of autobiographical comix, Jays Days 3, is now available over at Landwaster Books.

Why, knowing all these cool comix kids makes me wish I had the time or drive to do comics myself anymore. One of these days...
Let's end the week with a few video reviews...

‘Jersey Girl’
Being a new father myself, I’m still learning how much having a kid changes your world. So is filmmaker Kevin Smith, whose “Jersey Girl” is his ode to fathers and fatherhood.
Ollie (Ben Affleck) is recently widowed, a high-powered public relations executive in New York City who now has to raise his late wife’s daughter. But Ollie discovers his fast-paced professional life and being a single father don’t go together, and ends up moving back in with his dad (George Carlin) in New Jersey for what he thinks is a temporary spell. Will Ollie learn to become the father he needs to be?
Smith’s biggest strength as a filmmaker has always been his scriptwriting. His movies such as “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” have the gift of gab, with characters who love to talk and do so in honest, disarmingly profane ways about life, love and sex. In glimmers, “Jersey Girl” has something sharp to say about the commitments of being a dad.
But mostly, the distinctive voice of Smith that made “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” so compelling is missing here. “Jersey Girl” is formulaic and sentimental in a way Smith’s other movies never were. It’s as if he sat down and said, “Now I’m going to go Hollywood,” which he does, complete with a cameo from Will Smith.
That said, “Jersey Girl” is often a passable time-waster. Affleck is charming and decent, except in a few scenes where he appallingly overacts. Liv Tyler, as a cute video store clerk Ollie falls for, is a perky scene-stealer, as is young Raquel Castro as Ollie’s daughter.
There’s some amusing belly laughs here, but you can practically feel the edges smoothed off Smith’s raw dialogue where the movie was cut from an “R” to a “PG-13.”
“Girl” does look a lot better than Smith’s other movies. Professional cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond gives New Jersey suburbia a glossy beauty. But all that prettiness doesn’t make it feel sincere.
Too many scenes don’t really work, including an extended homage to Broadway’s macabre play “Sweeney Todd.” It’s hard not to feel you’ve seen it all before, right down to the climactic scene staged at a school play, where the big drama is whether or not the dad will show up in time. Gosh, do you think Dad will make it?
Hopefully “Jersey Girl” will prove to be a minor misstep in Smith’s interesting career. It says something that after “Girl’s” mediocre box office his next movie is a sequel to his first, “Clerks.” Back to the drawing board?
**1/2 of four

‘The Girl Next Door’
Truth in advertising: If you watch commercials for “The Girl Next Door,” it looks like a disposable, clichéd horny teen-movie-of the week.
But it’s actually a somewhat brainy, sweet-natured glimpse at the craziness of life in your senior year of high school, when impulsive passions and big dreams for the future battle for dominance.
It also had the most misleading marketing campaign I’ve seen in a long time, making it look like “American Pie Part XVI,” when it’s far closer in spirit to those great 1980s John Hughes comedies.
Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is an overachieving high school senior, about to graduate but still a virgin, with the nagging feeling he hasn’t done anything exciting in his life. He and his buddies talk about sex all the time, but nothing happens. That is, until the stunning, kind Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door to Matthew. She and Matthew become friends, and then something more. Everything’s going great, until Matthew learns Danielle is also an adult-movie star. Can they possibly stay together?
Charming actors and a genial sense of fun makes “The Girl Next Door,” basically a 2004 remix of “Risky Business,” feel fresh and fun, despite the sleazy subject matter.
It’s still a typical teen movie, full of sex jokes, near-nudity (more in the unrated version) and clueless kids, but “The Girl Next Door” has a thoughtful heart most of its cousins lack. If it were made 20 years ago, it probably would’ve starred John Cusack (and been a lot less raunchy, of course).
Hirsch and Cuthbert bring an unforced, easy chemistry to their roles. “Door” also has some scene-stealing supporting actors, including a wild-eyed, frantic Timothy Olyphant as Danielle’s psychotic pimp/manager, Kelly. His character is that rarity in this kind of movie — completely unpredictable, hard to take your eyes off of.
Unfortunately, “Door’s” good energy all starts to flag in the final half-hour, where the plot becomes rather ridiculous, leaping into the adult-film industry and all kinds of implausible nonsense. But for the most part, “Girl Next Door” is a pretty good time in the mostly dismal world of teen movies.
*** of four

Friday, September 17, 2004

Calm in between storms, time for some Quick Comics Reviews

Madrox #1 (of 5)
Probably one of the least likely minor characters from the X-Men universe to get his own book, Madrox ("the Multiple Man") has the ability to form duplicates of himself whenever he likes. As you can imagine, this gives him a kind of fractured personality — there's no "there" there. Peter David wrote Madrox years ago when he was a member of the X-Men spinoff "X-Factor," and comes back for this fun miniseries. It basically takes Madrox and other X-castaways Wolfsbane and "Strong Guy" and puts them into a detective story, as one of Madrox's duplicates of himself is killed and he has to solve the crime. A fun first issue, not as 'decompressed' as the majority of Marvel titles lately are and with nice stylish noir art by Pablo Raimondi. What shines here is David's take on a man who's never really "himself", and his place in the world. Promising beginning. Grade: B+

Identity Crisis #4 (of 7)
The controversial DC Universe serial killer murder mystery continues, with a rather light issue that basically consists of lots of talk and speculation among DC killers about who the mystery madman might be. Not a lot moves the plot forward here, but it's still well written by Brad Meltzer with excellent art by Rags Morales. Besides, I have to give it a big thumbs-up for the opening sequence, where last issue's grim cliffhanger is resolved in a refreshingly upbeat way (especially for this dark series). Besides, I have a soft spot for the littlest superhero who gets the spotlight here. Less "offensive" and more thoughtful than previous issues, but also less gripping. Still, halfway through a 7-issue miniseries, we're spinning the wheels a bit. Grade:B

Did you know that even babies need U.S. passports? Yes, with Avril and Baby Peter planning a solo trip back to New Zealand for early next year, we've had to arrange for the young 'un to get his first passport. Particularly interesting was getting the passport photo, final version of which is seen above. As they are in most things, the U.S. government is very picky about what they will and will not accept. The photo must be exactly 2 inches by 2 inches, must be straight-on head shot, must be properly lit, etc. etc. Not a problem for adults but you try getting a perfectly posed head shot of a very wriggly 7-month-old. Thank god for high-resolution digital cameras. It only took about 25 pictures to get the one suitable one. Now we just have to wait 4 to 6 weeks to get the actual baby passport in the mail. It's good for several years. Don't you think young Peter will look a little silly with the above photo on his passport when he's 5 or 6 years old? That's the gummint for you...
Well, crap. Johnny Ramone is dead -- the third of the original Ramones to die in the last few years. First Joey, then Dee Dee, now Johnny. Damn.

Ten reasons Johnny Ramone rocked. I really didn't get into the Ramones until six or seven years ago, late as usual to most things. But their rapidfire comic-book punk rock has an energy and style that refuses to date, 30 years on. They were always more of a "singles" band than an album band, so picking up something like one of their best-of collections will do you. But unlike most bands, when you get a Ramones "best of," I think pretty much every song you get is a winner.

Sorry about not posting much this week, but work's been a maelstrom of craziness. Hopefully I'll get back in the swing soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Awesome news of the day: Peter David returns to writing The Hulk -- well, sort of. Well, according to his blog, David is going to write a 6-issue run of the green guy starting in January. If sales warrant, he'll then become the regular writer again. David put on an awesome 12-year (!!) stint on the Hulk back in the '80s and '90s, marking the only time I've regularly bought a "Hulk" comic book (an excellent character who's been the victim of some terrible writers over the years, IMHO). I hope this new run is as successful as it deserves -- so head on out and buy it in January!

Art Spiegelman is traumatized. His autobiographical account of the 9/11 attacks, 'In The Shadow Of No Towers,' is the work of a man still coming to grips with what happened. His first graphic novel since the Pulitzer-prize winning "Maus" in the 1980s, it's an uneven book with flashes of greatness. In 10 giant-format cartoon strips, Spiegelman retraces the events of 9/11, from his vantage point as a neurotic Manhattan cartoonist. "I tend to be easily unhinged," he writes in the introduction, as he recollects those panicky days -- he and his wife were horribly worried about the fate of their daughter, a student at a school near the towers. In the strips, Spiegelman morphs styles and vantage points, using old cartoon characters as stand-ins for himself, drawing and painting with a gorgeous versatility. But in the end it's kind of a formless rant and rage -- perhaps the only sane reaction to 9/11 there could be, I guess.

It's a work of profound fear and panic, and unrelenting rage at the Bush administration's actions since 9/11. (We see Bush portrayed as a dangerous cowboy, Cheney as a cackling gargoyle slashing an eagle's throat with a box-cutter.) The politics (at one point Spiegelman writes he feels "equally terrorized by al-Qaeda and by his own government") don't mix well with the more human, personal coverage of the disaster. I'm far more interested in the fear and horror of that day in September, and the shattered trauma Spiegelman feels. It seems like Spiegelman would've done better to focus more on the raw impact of 9/11 and less Bush-bashing, and I say this someone who's as far as you can get from a Bush fan.

One big caveat for me: The book is a gorgeous piece of work, oversized with pages as thick as cardboard, beautiful reproduction and color, and Spiegelman's work is technically fantastic. But man, this thing is absurdly overpriced, at $20.00 for what is basically 10 pages of comix and a few essays and extras (including several pages of vintage comic strips such as "Little Nemo" that, while magnificent, feel like off-topic padding here). I managed to borrow a library copy for which I'm grateful, because I would feel sorely ripped off paying $20 for this very thin package. At half the price, it'd be worth it. As it is, "Towers" feels more like sketches pointing toward a longer, more insightful work.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

So, about that new Björk album, "Medulla": It's a wowzer. Björk steps back from the electronica trip-hop feel of much her earlier work, and unveils an album of sounds almost entirely created by the human voice. It's like Ladysmith Black Mambazo meets Sigur Ros meets Radiohead, but really, since it's Björk, it's pretty much impossible to compare to anyone else. The Icelandic pixie isn't for everyone, and if you're not already a fan of her poignant Nordic wail, you probably won't dig "Medulla." But I love it so far, and think it's one of the best, boldest records of the year.

You hear a variety of sounds here -- ulating cries, looming choirs, bizarre "beat box" grunts and bass beats, even a "human trombone" in one song -- all mixed with Björk's floating croon. It's utterly alien, not the kind of tunes you want to crank up at a party, but this experiment really works at creating a whole new world of music. There are a few ghostly hints of instruments here, a dash of piano or an occasional drumbeat, but it's as close to an a capella album as you can get. It also has an eerie, fragile warmth that makes it feel more emotional and honest to me than earlier Björk albums like "Post" or "Debut." I've seen reviews calling it "challenging," but it's more rewarding than work.

Highlights abound, such as the fantastic "Where Is The Line," where Björk is joined in the infectious chorus by the Icelandic Choir, former "Faith No More" singer Mike Patton and more as noise builds up into an apocalpytic kind of release. Or there's "Who Is It" or "Oceania," more traditional song structures livened up by dashes of odd sound. Björk also moves between singing in English and Icelandic throughout "Medulla." "Ancestors" feels like a seance between the dead and the living, with bizarre grunting "throat singing," moans and croaks as the song breaks down, reforms itself and breaks down again. The final song, "Triumph of the Heart," has a joyful release that sums up the sheer happiness most of this record has. "Medulla" is an album of layers, rewarding repeat lisening with new textures and tones. I think Björk's work has been all about combining a tribal beat-pounding passion with a celestial awe, and "Medulla" does her best job yet of achieving that. It's a little marvel.

(Addendum: A really fascinating profile of Björk's recording of "Medulla" in Iceland appeared in The New Yorker magazine by Alex Ross a few weeks back. Can't find a link to it online but it's definitely worth seeking out.)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Here's a Thursday video review!
Rarely have I seen a movie more cynical about human nature than “Dogville.”
Directed and written by the controversial Danish director Lars Von Trier, “Dogville” is the kind of intellectual art film that polarizes viewers. It’s full of ideas and allegory, philosophy and pain.
It tells the tale of Dogville, a tiny isolated Rocky Mountain town with a community of proud but struggling “humble folk.” When the stranger, Grace (Nicole Kidman), wanders into town, on the run from mysterious men, she is at first feared by the wary townspeople.
But young writer Tom (Paul Bettany) befriends her, and eventually Grace is accepted by the people of Dogville. She begins doing part-time work for the citizens to thank them for their kindness. But the charity soon turns into slavery, as Dogville is revealed to have a bitter side for the unsuspecting Grace.
Despite being a slow-moving three hours long, “Dogville” still sucks you in, because you want to see what happens next, but then slaps you in the face for daring to care about the characters.
It betrays the viewer, and in that way is ultimately far more disappointing that your standard subpar Hollywood clunker.
“Dogville” takes the not exactly fresh idea that small-town life has a seamy, corrupt side, and drives that topic into the ground. Overblown, sarcastic “Our Town”-style narration by John Hurt rapidly becomes intrusive and finally excruciatingly smug.
Kidman gives a great performance as the wounded, pained Grace, perhaps one of her finest roles yet. In truth, she gives Grace more weight than the movie deserves, and she’s the main reason the movie is worth seeing. She’s the beating heart of this cold film, and too many of the other actors are playing one-note caricatures.
What throws the viewer at first glance is the look of “Dogville.” Von Trier sets it on a nearly bare soundstage, with chalk lines representing homes and walls. He shoots with a stark digital film lighting, giving the movie a hyper-real feel. The closest comparison I can make is to watching a filmed play, and it’s a stark, eye-catching vision.
Bettany as the dithering, head-in-the-clouds philosopher, Tom, becomes incredibly annoying over three hours. Even the great Lauren Bacall is wasted in a nothing role.
I appreciate “Dogville’s” technical experimental feel and the solid acting talent involved. But the arrogance of Von Trier’s thesis overwhelms the depth of his talent.
A climactic speech by a character played by James Caan argues a nearly fascist viewpoint that the strong should destroy the weak. Perhaps Von Trier means it as satire. But it sure doesn’t feel like it.
Some critics have called the movie “anti-American.” Indeed, Von Trier really goes over the top with a ironic use of David Bowie’s classic “Young Americans” over the closing credits. But I’d argue it’s “anti,” period.
Von Trier has always been an edgy filmmaker. His “Dancer In The Dark,” starring Björk, was equally vivid, but had a sense of joyful possibility that “Dogville” lacks. “Dogville” is thought-provoking, and for the right audience it might play better than it did with me.
But ultimately it’s a movie with no hope, and while I don’t regret seeing it, it’s one I cannot recommend.
*1/2 of four.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Five Things That Are Cool
1. Björk's fabulous new CD "Medulla." Voices unleashed! Full review to follow whenever I get off my butt and do so.

2. Finally watching Richard Linklater's 1995 film "Before Sunrise." Intimate, witty and verbose romance with a great Viennese backdrop, as strangers meet and fall for each other in a whirlwind 24-hour romance. More authentic than 99% of Hollywood's romantic comedies, and excellent performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

3. The first "Thursday Next" novel by Jasper Fforde, "The Eyre Affair." A lighthearted sci-fi time travel detective tale that takes place in a world where the lines between fiction and reality are blurry. Creative as all get-out, full of literary references and cunning characters. Look forward to reading more of the series.

4. Richard Thompson's cover of Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again." Teen pop undergoes soulful guitar-wizard alchemy, becomes amazingly poignant and sassy tune.

5. Babies who are starting to grow teeth! (Teeth not shown due to extreme wriggliness.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The comics blogosphere is full of the snark. But nobody does it quite like Tim at The Hurting, whose snarkarama "Comic Remixes" will either make you laugh until the beverage of choice comes shooting out of your nose. Or they'll get Tim sued. Not quite sure which.

Check out his "remix" of Avengers #500 here, of Astonishing X-Men #4 here and his "Identity Crisis #3" remix here. (Hint: they're funnier if you read the actual comix, but not always.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

This 'n' that:
• Had a fine Labor Day trip over to the coast, where we went to our favorite seaside haunt of Bandon. We visited the really fun West Coast Game Park, a 'walk-through safari' like a combination between a zoo and a petting zoo. Lots of fun because they had huge herds of tame llamas, deer, goats, Barbary sheep and more just wandering around and you could pet them all freely. Peter was quite google-eyed. The goats tried to nibble on the stroller but didn't like it. I got to pick up a baby leopard and hold it which was groovy indeed. A nice outing and we had a brief walk on the windy beach and I ate seafood.

• Finally got to watch some episodes of the new Justice League Unlimited cartoon on the Cartoon Network this weekend. So far I'm liking it; unlike the previous "Justice League" series this one features a rotating cast of characters. A nifty "variety show" of superhero action; who would ever have imagined you could see such C-list superfolk like The Question and B'wana Beast on a cartoon? And it's a charge to see the Green Arrow get animated. Fun stuff!

• Man, September is the cruelest month for those of us looking to save a little cash. After 50 years of waiting or so, the first three Star Wars movies worth a damn come out on DVD Sept. 21 (yeah, I know they're not quite the "originals," but hey, I still own those on VHS if I want to see a version where Greedo doesn't shoot first). The geekgasm comprehensive "Clerks X" three-disc anniversary DVD comes out Tuesday. Then Elvis Costello's groovy new album "The Delivery Man" follows. Finally, after nearly 20 years, the seventh and final book in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series (fittingly called "The Dark Tower") arrives Sept. 21. Urk! What a month!

• Get well soon, President Clinton.

Saturday, September 4, 2004

Went ahead and signed up for the fall session of yoga class the other day. I started taking yoga back in January, but the class has been on summer break for a couple months. Unfortunately, my much-vaunted plans to actually practice my yoga "skills" during hiatus came to naught, between work, vacations, sheer laziness and dealing with the baby. So I need to work myself back into the game before Sept. 20.

I do really enjoy yoga, though. I have always been a flexible guy but as I enter my mid-thirties some of the get-up-and-go has got up and went, and I'd rather keep in shape now than have to start from scatch later. I've got a good instructor, who doesn't get too hippie-dippie about it all, and I think the structure of having the weekly class to go to is a good way to keep me into it. It's fun, a chance to test your physical abilities and get more in touch with your body's quirks. I've done better than I thought I might, although it helped that half the class I've been in were elderly ladies. Now that I've taken "beginning yoga" twice, I'm going to attempt "intermediate" and see if I can hack it. Twists and turns lie ahead...

Friday, September 3, 2004

'Tis Thursday, and we must have some video reviews posthaste!
‘The Human Stain’
Coleman Silk has a secret. It’s one he can’t reveal, and it’s cost him his career and his marriage.
In “The Human Stain,” based on the novel by Philip Roth, we’re surrounded by damaged characters. Silk (Anthony Hopkins), an honored professor at an eastern university, is fired over accusations of racism. Alone and shattered, he finds himself in an unlikely relationship with a cleaning lady, Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman). Faunia has her own secrets, including an ex-husband (Ed Harris) who may be trying to kill her.
Silk’s friend Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) tries to act as his conscience and friend, but in the end Coleman must face his inner demons alone.
The central dilemma at the heart of “Stain” is, how important are our own identities? Will we sacrifice a crucial part of ourselves to get ahead, or abandon our dreams for a loved one? Both Coleman and Faunia have done that, and pay the price here.
“Human Stain” has a great story at its core, and the novel is a thought-provoking, gripping look at the nature of identities and the burden of guilt. But the movie fumbles it, draining away the layers and depth to give it a movie-of-the-week feel.
It’s a curiously lifeless film, with the actors playing stereotypes rather than people. Beautiful to look at, with rich wintry tones and everyone looking gorgeous, “The Human Stain” just fails to engage the audience emotionally.
Kidman, usually excellent, tries mightily, but you just can’t buy her as a shattered, drunken janitor. She’s the most beautiful alcoholic cleaning lady you’ve ever seen, and that works against the story. A scenery-chewing Hopkins is even more badly miscast, lacking in subtlety and unbelievable as the man he’s supposed to be.
However, as a younger version of his character shown in flashbacks, Wentworth Miller is excellent, giving real emotional heft to the choices Silk makes.
The movie “The Human Stain” seems to race through the plot, making the ending incredibly abrupt and unsatisfying. It’s a surface look at complicated problems. The novel also has a pivotal twist that just doesn’t translate to the screen with the impact it should have.
“The Human Stain” had the potential to be a good movie, but typical Hollywood bloat sinks it into the realm of forgettable. When all else fails, the time-honored cliché holds true: Read the book, and skip the movie.
(Rated R for sexuality, adult language)
** of four

‘Secret Window’
Mort Rainey is a successful author going through a bad time. His wife’s divorcing him, and a drawling stranger has just shown up at his front door, accusing him of “stealing my story.”
When Shooter (John Turturro) bangs on the door of Mort (Depp), he seems like a kook. But it becomes apparent Shooter is much more dangerous than that, as Mort’s life begins to fall apart in the face of Shooter’s escalating threats. Can Mort prove he’s innocent of stealing Shooter’s story? More importantly, is he?
Based on a short story by Stephen King, “Secret Window” shows flashes of promise before it disintegrates with a dismal ending.
It’s reheated King, strongly reminiscent of his other, better works like “The Shining,” “Misery” and “The Dark Half.” More of a thriller than a horror movie, “Window” has a few bright spots but not enough to make it gleam.
A mildly mediocre movie is partially salvaged by the talents of Johnny Depp. Depp carries huge chunks of the movie by himself, and makes the mental frustrations of a struggling writer gripping drama. It’s a good turn in a lazy story. Turturro is also menacing fun as the hillbilly Shooter, a creepy joke of a character who gradually grows in significance.
Writer and director David Koepp, who wrote the screenplay to 2002’s chilling “Panic Room,” has a firm grip on mood and tone. It’s a beautiful-looking movie, staged with flair.
But “Secret Window” is a classic case of solid build-up, poor follow-through. It’s hard to imagine the climax not coming as a limp disappointment to many viewers.
It’s a story filled with red herrings, twists for the sake of twists, and story threads that lead nowhere. If someone really did steal this “Secret Window’s” story, it wouldn’t be much of a crime.
(Rated PG-13 for violence, scary situations.)
** of four

Thursday, September 2, 2004

As the last gasp of summer blockbuster stragglers such as “Alien Vs. Predator” and “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2” stumble through the multiplex, it’s time to start looking ahead.
Autumn is when movies supposedly get “serious” and start polishing up their Oscar bait. But in reality, fall’s movies are like any other time of year — a mixed bag, with a fair amount of clunkers and some great gems lurking ahead.
As I look at the Associated Press’s list of fall films, here’s the top five that I’m most anticipating. (Keeping in mind, of course, that not all movies turn out like you’d think.)
1. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou — It’s by Wes Anderson, the mind behind “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” it’s about an eccentric undersea explorer, and it stars Bill Murray. It may not be a mainstream hit, but I’m looking forward to it more than anything else this fall.
2. Ocean’s 12 — The sequel to “Ocean’s 11,” this promises to be another snappy action flick for adults like its predecessor.
3. The Incredibles — Combining the Pixar animation team behind “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” with a great concept about outcast superheroes, this will be one of the fall’s biggest hits. It should also be terrific fun for kids and adults.
4. The Aviator — Big-time Oscar bait from Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the young Howard Hughes. Sounds more focused than Scorsese’s troubled “Gangs Of New York” was.
5. Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow — Another big question mark. Featuring cutting-edge computer animation and real-life actors Jude Law, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow in a pulpy tale of mad geniuses and killer robots. Hard to tell from the previews if this will be a big hit, a cult classic or a massive belly-flop.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

This is Peter Nicholas' latest trick. He's not really able to do it alone, hence the supervision from Mom, but it's still a nice little milestone for a 6.5-month-old. Peter has been all about the walking since Day 1, nearly, and we're starting to think he might just skip crawling entirely. His nickname is "Thumper" as he likes to work his little legs out by repeatedly whacking them against whatever surface is nearby, causing little "thump thump thump" sounds to be heard throughout the house. This weekend we're finally getting off our keisters and doing some much-needed babyproofing, as it's only a matter of time now before the rolling and thumping becomes skittering and crashing. Wheee!
Token Republican convention blogging -- I'll admit it, I'm not planning to watch minute one of the GOP convention. I can get the gist of it from the AP Wire stories and Internet coverage. Besides, it's true what "they" say, most of us have made up our mind already and no amount of 9/11-evoking (or perhaps shameless opportunism) is going to make a difference at this point. So this is probably my sole post on the subject of the Bush orgy going on in Democratic stronghold NYC this week.

But I do love this: So President Bush says Saturday in one interview that he didn't "think you can win" the war on terror. Today, he's saying that in fact "we will win" that war. And they call Kerry a flip-flopper?

(Like more "Bush-flopping" ammo? Go here. Want something even goofier and an antidote to all that repulsive Kerry-is-a-traitor bashing? Go here. It's got monkeys!)