Wednesday, April 29, 2009


While driving home from chorus rehearsal, I admired — while keeping one eye firmly fixated on the road ahead at all times — the transcendent beauty of the crescent moon low in the night sky, colored a dusky reddish hue by atmospheric debris.

And I thought to myself...

What a marvel it is to realize that there's another world right up there, so near that you could fly there in a day's time if you had the technology at your disposal.

I'm terrified of high places. But I'd go to the moon if I had the chance.

I hope I live long enough to see human beings exploring the moon's surface again.

Mars would be even more awesome.

Sweet dreams.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

April showers (part four of four)

As the month of April begins its gradual fade into May, we conclude our month of Comic Art Fridays dedicated to our — and, let's be honest, everyone's — favorite weather-marshaling X-Man, Ororo Munroe: Storm, as she's known to friend and foe alike.

Last week, we showcased a Storm image penciled by Mark Beachum and inked by my good friend and comics industry stalwart, Bob Almond.

Here's another one.

When I purchased the original pencils of last week's featured piece from Mark Beachum, Mark included in the package an additional sketch with a brief note of thanks. This sketch, presenting a strikingly different version of Ororo than the drawing I bought, was simply but deftly drawn, and quite beautiful.

It was also a nude. Not surprising, given that much of Mark's artistic output these days falls under the banner of erotica.

Those of you who've visited here on Comic Art Fridays for any length of time, or have browsed my online gallery at Comic Art Fans, have probably sussed out that I don't collect nude art. I wouldn't consider myself a prude, nor am I in any manner opposed to the creation, ownership, or display of nude art in general. It's merely an area of artistic expression that my collection isn't intended to represent.

It seemed a pity, though, to completely hide Mark's lovely sketch from the world, just because I wouldn't have a place for it in my gallery in its original form. So, Bob Almond and I put our heads together, and decided that Bob would create an inked version of Mark's sketch that incorporated some minimal costuming. Bob drew his inspiration from a design that Geof Isherwood developed for this Common Elements commission entitled "Stormbringers," featuring Ororo alongside Michael Moorcock's epic fantasy antihero, Elric of Melniboné.

Geof's original model for his Storm was Adastra, a character created by the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith. At one time, BWS (as his fans call him) had been assigned by Marvel Comics to write and draw a miniseries featuring a youthful Storm in her native African environs. Due to the time-honored "creative differences," Marvel decided not to publish the story Windsor-Smith came up with, so the artist changed the character's name to Adastra and published the book (retitled Adastra in Africa) himself.

Isherwood, who counts BWS as one of his key influences, retconned Windsor-Smith's Adastra back to her Ororo origins for the drawing above. Bob Almond incorporated the basic elements of Geof's design into his embellished version of Mark Beachum's sketch.

Ideas... the gifts that keep on giving.

And that's your Comic Art Friday "Storm front" for April.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's getting Earthy up in here

In honor of Earth Day, I am committing to spending the entirety of today on Earth.

Furthermore, I vow to use only products that have been grown and/or manufactured on Earth.

I will also watch only those TV programs that originate on Earth.

I encourage all of my Earth-based readers to join me in this celebration.

Those of you from other celestial bodies, I'll check back with you tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Selling Wolf tickets

Although I wasn't a regular customer, I'm still a little sad to see Wolf Coffee, a local chain of coffeehouses, go the way of the passenger pigeon.

At one time, Wolf Coffee — whose home office was here in Rohnert Park — had eight locations in Sonoma County. But they could never really compete with Starbucks, which has, at last count, 42 outlets in the county. (That's a lot of coffee, when you stop and think about it.) Wolf began trimming back its operations a couple of years ago, and recently sold its last remaining store in Coddingtown Mall.

It's unfortunate to see locally owned businesses fail, but there are a lot of factors to consider. Wolf's coffee was expensive, even more so than Starbucks — my cup of choice, a king-sized vanilla latte, cost about a quarter more at Wolf than at the Sign of the Naked Fish-Tailed Lady. Wolf's locations were not, at least for me, as convenient as the plethora of Starbucks.

And, most frustratingly, Wolf's service, while unfailingly friendly, was often slower than molasses in Antarctica. I never dropped into a Wolf Coffee if I was in any kind of hurry. Or if I simply had plans for the rest of my day. Although the laid-back vibe was, for some customers, a selling point in Wolf's favor over the lickety-split corporate rush at the 'Bucks, when I want a cup of coffee, I want it now, not 15 minutes from now. I've got stuff to do.

To my taste, the coffee at Wolf wasn't significantly spectacular to offset these drawbacks. It was pretty good, but not better, than the java at the Green Monster across the street.

Here's where I lose patience with people who bemoan overmuch the passing of locally owned businesses. Ultimately, it's a business. If you can't compete, you'll get crushed. It's not my job to support a local outfit even if they charge me more for the same or similar product, send me out of my way to buy it, and keep me waiting longer than the big chain outfit. It's my money, my gasoline, my time.

All things being equal, then yes, I'd rather buy from a neighbor than some megacorporation in a distant land. But when all things aren't equal, I've got to serve Customer #1 first. That, or my neighbor has to deliver something sufficiently superior to the other guy that I'll spend a bit more, drive a bit farther, and wait a bit longer.

When it comes to a relatively generic commodity like coffee, that's a tough challenge. Sadly, it's a challenge that Wold Coffee couldn't — or, perhaps, wouldn't — meet.

Now, they've paid the ultimate price.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Do I look like Buster Poindexter to you?

Today, we came within shouting distance of a new record temperature for this date.

The mercury climbed to 93 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, for the benefit of those in other localities not tethered to our arcane system of weights and measures) at its peak, just two degrees shy of a mark set in 1931.

It was hot all over the region. Even in perpetually cool San Francisco, they were looking at 92.

Ironically, exactly one year ago, we set a record for low temperatures on April 20, bottoming out at a chilly 32. The high that day was a still-brisk 58.

A lot can change in a single orbit around the sun.

The average high for this date is 70. We usually don't see weather this toasty until at least mid-May.

Stupid global warming.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

April showers (part three of four)

We're having a month of Storms this April on Comic Art Friday. Ironic, this, because it's supposed to be sunny and in the mid-80s here this weekend.

Still, we press on.

The third manifestation in our Storm front is this striking take on Ororo, penciled by Mark Beachum and inked by Bob Almond.

Mark Beachum began his career in mainstream comics in the early 1980s, when he drew several issues of Wonder Woman for DC, then moved over to Marvel to draw mostly covers on the various Spider-Man titles. My interest, however, in Beachum's work stems from a single cover he penciled for one of my all-time favorite non-superhero comic books: Thriller.

Beachum landed the cover assignment for Thriller #7, I suspect because he was a hungry young artist who just happened to be available, and DC editorial needed a cover in a hurry. Thriller #7 was the final issue of the short-lived series to be produced by the original creative team, scripter Robert Loren Fleming and illustrator Trevor Von Eeden.

For a variety of reasons, many of which remain shrouded in mystery nearly a quarter-century later, Fleming and Von Eeden both quit (or were dumped from, depending on who's telling the story) Thriller abruptly. Fleming was supplanted as writer by former Vampirella scribe Bill DuBay, beginning with issue #8. The incomparable stylist Alex Niño took over the art chores from Von Eeden in issue #9.

Thriller, an idiosyncratic tale under the best of circumstances — that is to say, in the hands of the only two people on the planet who truly understood what it was supposed to be about, and where the narrative was intended to go — limped along under the new creative team until issue #12, by which time anyone still reading the book gave up trying to follow the increasingly bizarre storyline. DC, long since ready to cut its losses, canceled the troublesome title.

None of which has anything at all to do with Storm, aside from the fact that the artist who drew the Storm seen above is the same guy who drew the only Thriller cover not drawn by either Von Eeden or Niño.

That, and the fact that I'm one of the infinitesimally puny number of comics fans who not only still remember Thriller fondly — or indeed remember it at all — but actually own all twelve issues.

Of course, that doesn't have anything to do with Storm, either.

I was going somewhere with this, but I'm not certain exactly where. Kind of like Thriller.

One more Storm next week.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Madden cruises

No news is bigger around these parts today than the surprise announcement that John Madden — a national pop culture figure, but a Bay Area icon — is retiring after 30 years as America's most recognizable pro football broadcaster.

I was just scratching the crust out of my eyelids as the story broke on KCBS, San Francisco's all-news radio station, where Madden contributes a live interview segment every weekday morning. And, like many fans around the Bay Area and nationally, I found myself stunned by Madden's announcement, broadcast live.

Although my affection for the NFL product begins and pretty much ends with the 49ers — I don't often watch a regular-season game on TV unless the Niners (or, on occasion, the Raiders) are playing — I can't help but acknowledge the impact that Madden has had on the popularity of football. Or, for that matter, on the popularity of football in general — witness the continued success of Madden NFL, by all accounts the best-selling video game ever created. The former Oakland coach's bombastic personality and easy-to-imitate shtick has become ubiquitous in American culture. (Don't you just know that Frank Caliendo is weeping into his Miller Lite today?)

Mostly, though, I've come to know Madden through his long-running daily spot on local radio. For years, Madden joined legendary morning man Frank Dill's show on KNBR — well before that station transmogrified into "The Sports Leader" — for a spot of chat, usually about sports but often just about whatever Madden felt moved to yak about. During the season, Madden would check in from wherever he happened to be, often from the famed Maddencruiser, the tricked-out bus in which the airplane-averse commentator traveled from game to game.

When Dill retired, Madden couldn't stand Steve McPartlin, the former happy-talk TV host who replaced Frank on KNBR's morning drive. So, Big John took his act across the dial to KCBS, where he interfaced with venerable news anchor Al Hart. Even after Hart stepped down from the daily grind, he'd still pop up every Wednesday to bat things around with his old pal "Coach," whose morning foils now are anchors Stan Bunger and Susan Leigh Taylor and sports reporter Steve Bitker.

The hot rumor now is that Madden will go back to work for Al Davis's Raiders, possibly as general manager or director of football operations. I'd like to think that Madden has too much sense to subject himself to Al's senile shenanigans, but the two have remained close over the years. Anything's possible.

For public consumption, Madden is saying that he just wants to spend more time with his family. He and his wife are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and Madden's five grandchildren are at the ages where, as the Hall of Fame coach noted, they know when he's gone.

After 42 years in the NFL, and at 73 years of age (his birthday was last Friday), I think the big guy's earned the right to do whatever he pleases.

Happy trails, Coach.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

Every player, manager, and coach in Major League Baseball will wear a uniform number 42 during today's games, in commemoration of the Brooklyn Dodgers' Hall of Fame infielder's breaking of baseball's racial barrier 62 years ago.

Robinson's number was permanently retired from active use by all MLB teams during the inaugural Jackie Robinson Day festivities in 2004.

For whatever reason, Jackie Robinson Day always reminds me of that classic episode of Sanford and Son, in which the always-scheming Rollo gives Fred a special birthday present: a baseball autographed by Jackie Robinson.

Upon examining his gift, Fred asks his friend, "Rollo, how do you spell 'Jackie'?"

replies a confident Rollo.

"That's right," says Fred. "That's how you spell 'Jackie.' But that's not how Jackie Robinson spelled 'Jackie...' you dummy."

The moral of this story: If someone gives you an autographed baseball for Jackie Robinson Day — or tries to sell you one on eBay — be sure you authenticate the signature.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

This Bird has flown

Another chunk of my childhood passed away today.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych has died this afternoon in an apparent accident, at the age of 54.

Fidrych was the wunderkind Detroit Tigers pitcher who took baseball by storm in the summer of 1976. Fidrych — nicknamed "The Bird" because of his striking resemblance to Big Bird, the towering Muppet from Sesame Street — became a household name as much for his antics on the mound as for his prodigious pitching prowess.

A frenetic bundle of nervous energy, Fidrych talked aloud to himself — and occasionally, to the baseball — while pitching. He would kneel on the mound between pitches and groom the dirt with his hands. He'd run over to his teammates and congratulate them with high-fives for making successful infield plays. His infectious enthusiasm made The Bird an overnight superstar.

After starting the year with a 7-1 record, the rookie phenom received the starting assignment for the American League in the 1976 All-Star Game. Fidrych finished the season with a 19-9 record and a 2.34 earned run average. Named the American League Rookie of the Year, he also came in second in the voting for the Cy Young Award.

He was never the same again.

Plagued by injuries beginning in his sophomore campaign, Fidrych would pitch sporadically with the Tigers over the next four seasons. He won only 10 more games after that legendary rookie year. He pitched his last game for the Tigers in 1980, and when Detroit released him at the end of the 1981 season, The Bird was out of the game.

He attempted an unsuccessful minor-league comeback in the Boston Red Sox organization in 1983, but he never got back to The Show.

I had the privilege of seeing The Bird best the Oakland Athletics in a game at the Coliseum during that shining Bicentennial summer. That memory remains one of my all-time favorite baseball moments.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was truly one of a kind.

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Super freak

I'm not sure why I'd be surprised by this revelation, but...

According to a recently published book by comics historian Craig Yoe, Joe Shuster — the artist half of the creative team who dreamed up Superman — spent a portion of his career in the 1950s drawing sadomasochistic fetish comics featuring characters who look suspiciously like Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

Apparently, it wasn't only kryptonite that made the Man of Steel weak in the knees. Whips and chains did the trick as well.

Yoe's book Secret Identity uncovers (no pun intended) the lurid art Shuster drew for an underground magazine entitled Nights of Horror. An article in USA Today quotes Yoe's observation:
Joe obviously had some very dark fantasies. There's a panel in an early Superman comic book where he has Lois over his knee and is spanking her. But certainly nothing of this depth or extremeness.
As I said, this really doesn't shock me. Plenty of artists from mainstream comics sidelined in erotica, especially back in the days when mainstream comics habitually paid their creators in chicken feed and shoeshines.

To cite a few examples:
  • Wally Wood — one of comics' most talented artists ever, in my (and many other knowledgeable people's) opinion — was a one-man cottage porn industry in his later years.
  • Will Elder, one of the artists who helped make MAD Magazine a household name, drew Little Annie Fanny for Playboy for more than a quarter-century.
  • Bill Ward, who started his career drawing Captain Marvel and Blackhawk before creating the classic "good girl" character Torchy, cranked out hundreds of sexy strips for men's magazines.
  • Adam Hughes, perhaps comics' preeminent present-day "good girl" artist, used to freelance for Penthouse.
I'm sure, though, that more than a few folks will find the blood draining from their faces when they see Superman (or a guy who could be his identical twin brother) letting his freak flag fly.

Great Caesar's ghost, indeed.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

April showers (part two of four)

As noted last week, April is Storm Month here on Comic Art Friday.

Apparently, it's working, because it's been rainy here for the past several days.

Today's paean to the mighty Ororo — Queen of Wakanda and most powerful of the legendary X-Men — leaps from the pencil of Edgar Tadeo, a talented artist from the Philippines. Ed is perfectly suited to render our weather-warping heroine, given that his most recent comics assignment was inking Marvel's X-Men: Worlds Apart (over the pencil art of Diogenes Neves), a miniseries starring the scintillating Storm herself.

Ed's take on Ororo synthesizes the work of the two artists most closely associated with Storm: the late, great Dave Cockrum, who co-created the character (as well as several other 1970s-vintage X-Men) with writer Len Wein; and John Byrne, the Canadian superstar who first came to prominence when he followed Cockrum as the regular artist on X-Men.

Tadeo blends these influences through the filter of the storied Filipino comics (or komiks, as they spell it in the P.I.) tradition, and comes up with a beautiful style uniquely his own. Although Ed is best known on these shores as an inker, I admire his pencil work very much. You'll be seeing his addition to my Common Elements gallery one of these Fridays soon.

Speaking of Storm's co-creator Len Wein: Len and his wife, photographer Chris Valada, lost their home, their beloved dog Sheba, and many of their possessions in a house fire earlier this week. Our thoughts are with Len and Chris for a speedy return to normality.

More Storm in seven.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Fallen Angel

It's a gray and gloomy day for baseball here in the Golden State.

Appropriate, given the tragic news about the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, killed last night in a hit-and-run accident caused by a suspected drunken driver.

Less than 24 hours ago, 22-year-old Adenhart had the world on a string. In his fourth major league start, he pitched six innings of shutout ball against the Oakland Athletics.

Today, he's gone.

I'll say here what I've said numerous times before: There is no punishment severe enough for drunk driving.

I believe that driving under the influence should receive mandatory prison time. No probation. No suspended license. No enforced rehab. No 36 hours in the county slammer. A minimum of one year hard time in the state penitentiary. No plea bargains, no questions asked.

Second-time offenders should be sentenced to a minimum of five years. Third-timers get twenty.

Drunk drivers who kill? Automatic life sentence.

And if someone wanted to argue for making the latter a capital crime, they'd get no protest from me.

Andrew Gallo, the knucklehead who snuffed out the lives of Nick Adenhart and his two friends, Henry Pearson and Courtney Stewart — and who was himself uninjured in the crash — was driving under a suspended license due to a prior drunk driving conviction. If Gallo had been in San Quentin where he belonged — in my opinion, if not the State of California's — three young people with bright futures would be alive today.

My sincere condolences, as well as my deepest empathy as a father, go out to the families of the deceased.

I bear-hugged my daughter when she came home from her college classes today. She thought I was crazy. Perhaps I am.

But life is fragile.

Even when you're 22 years old, and have a million-dollar arm.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

It's what's for dinner


What other power on earth could unite:
  • Jewish folks...
  • Irish folks...
  • Vietnamese folks...
  • and redneck Texan folks... one big, fat, happy, circle of sloppy carnivorous love?

It's enough to make a grown man sniffle.

We are the world, people.

And to all of my Jewish friends enjoying their Seder brisket this Passover evening, Chag Pesach Sameach! (Save your goyische Uncle Swan a slice, yeah?)

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let's play!

As Thomas Boswell, the legendary sports columnist for the Washington Post, once wrote...

Time begins on Opening Day.

At the moment that my fingers hit the keyboard, the San Francisco Giants are about to begin their first game of the 2009 baseball season, on a gray and stormy Tuesday here in the Bay Area.

The Giants are coming off their fourth consecutive sub-.500 season. The franchise has never endured five straight losing campaigns. Giants fans hope that history holds up, and the Orange and Black can get off the schneid this year.

Whether that will happen is anyone's guess.

San Francisco's brightest ray of sunshine is its pitching staff. The Giants' starting rotation boasts three — count 'em, three — pitchers who have won the Cy Young Award, including the National League incumbent, Tim "The Freak" Lincecum. Following Lincecum is baseball's leading active Cy Young winner, 45-year-old Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson, who has five of the awards in his trophy case. Barry Zito hopes to regain a flash of his former glory after a couple of difficult years. The rotation rounds out with two young pitchers with future Cy Young potential, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sánchez.

One of the game's premier closers, Brian Wilson, anchors the Giants' bullpen. The rest of the relief corps — an inconsistent mess in 2008 — should be bolstered by the additions of veterans Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry.

The G-Men fell shortest last year on offense, fielding the most impotent lineup seen in these parts since the miserable 100-loss 1985 Giants. Key to improvement at the plate will be the development of third baseman (and backup catcher) Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, who dazzled fans with his aggressive hitting in the closing months of the '08 season, and rookie first baseman Travis Ishikawa, one of the stars of the just-concluded spring training exercise.

The Giants' offense will also hinge on another big year from catcher Bengie "Big Money" Molina, San Francisco's RBI leader (and the top RBI man among all major league catchers) last season, and sustained production from the outfielders, veterans Randy Winn (a .306 hitter last year, seventh in the National League) and Aaron Rowand (disappointing both at the plate and in the field in his first campaign as a Giant), and speedy youngster Fred Lewis.

If everything comes together for the Gyros, they could contend in the National League West, given baseball's weakest division and the fact that neither of the top teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, look any stronger than they were last season.

If the Giants hit the way they did in 2008... well, it'll be a long summer in San Francisco.

Here's wishing good health and good luck to manager Bruce Bochy and his boys.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

10 films for the Aughts

Two of the film writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle and Peter Hartlaub, have published dueling "10 best films of the decade" lists.

To my way of thinking, it's a mite early for this. After all, the decade isn't over yet.

Then again, people get all squishy over lists, don't they? So, anytime is list time.

I use the word "dueling" above, not because Hartlaub and LaSalle hate each other (they may, but I don't think so — it's more an Ebert-Siskel rivalry), but because their lists have nothing in common. That's right: Two major film critics compiled lists of the best 10 films from the past decade, and not a single film appears on both lists.

(For your reference, here's Mick LaSalle's list, and then Peter Hartlaub's list.)

As a former professional film critic myself, I couldn't resist taking up this challenge, premature though it may be. I always preface these things with the caveat that "best" is a subjective and ultimately ridiculous concept when applied to the creative arts. So, let's call this...

My 10 Favorite Films from the "200x" Decade

1. Sideways

Funny, vulgar, touching, winsome, outrageous... I could keep stacking the adjectives, but none of them can completely express my affection for this film. Paul Giamatti's Miles is the person I would probably be if I drank. (Which is yet another good reason why I don't.) Virginia Madsen's soliloquy about the deeper meaning of wine may be the sexiest sequence in any film this decade — and she delivers it while vertical and fully dressed.

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Peter Jackson's three-part cinematic thunderbolt may never be equaled, in terms of its sheer size, scope, and groundbreaking spectacle. As a longtime fan of Tolkien's magnum opus, I don't see how The Lord of the Rings could have been delivered to the screen any better or more faithfully — in spirit, if not in minute detail. (See: Bakshi, Ralph.) Perfect? Perhaps not. Seven levels of awesome? Heck, yeah.

3. Children of Men

No film I've seen in the past ten years moved me as powerfully as this darkly haunting slice of science fiction by Alfonso Cuarón. Children of Men strikes some of the same notes as Minority Report (another film I liked very much; surprising, since I'm not a fan of either director Steven Spielberg or star Tom Cruise), but it strikes them with more genuine emotion, and less hyperslick flash.

4. Memento

The first truly great film of the decade, Memento is noteworthy both as a dazzling achievement in cinematic storytelling (often imitated, but never approached) and as the revelation of one of the period's signature filmmakers: Christopher Nolan, who went on to direct Insomnia (an underrated flick, spoiled only by too hefty a dose of Robin Williams), Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight.

5. Spirited Away

Not only the best animated feature of the decade, but one of the finest animated films of all time. Hayao Miyazaki is sometimes referred to as "the Walt Disney of Japan," but this astounding, heart-wrenching film demonstrates just how inadequate that label is. It's not as much fun as many of Miyazaki's other pictures (it's hard to top Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, or the masterful Princess Mononoke in that department), but not every animated film has to be fun.

6. Best in Show

The funniest comedy of the decade, hands down. Will Christopher Guest ever make another movie this good?

7. Lost in Translation

I fully expected to hate this movie. I detested Sofia Coppola's pathetic attempts at acting, and her previous directing turn (The Virgin Suicides) left me cold. Plus, Bill Murray wore out his welcome with me way back around Ghostbusters. But its existential charm won me over.

8. Pan's Labyrinth

Like Jackson's LOTR, Guillermo del Toro's film sets a new high-water mark for technical achievement. More than that, however, it's an engaging and compelling journey into a world unlike any other. Many filmmakers are content to simply repeat the tried and true. Instead, del Toro chose to reinvent the fantasy film. Pan's Labyrinth defines the word "unforgettable."

9. Inside Man

I had a choice between two Spike Lee films here, Inside Man and 25th Hour. When in doubt, choose the movie with Denzel Washington in it. Especially if Jodie Foster and Clive Owen are in it, too.

10. Ocean's Eleven

Okay, okay. I'm allowed one low-brow selection. The true testament to Ocean's Eleven's greatness is that I've watched it more frequently than any other movie on this list, with the possible exception of Best in Show. I wish Steven Soderbergh hadn't followed it with two lackluster sequels (the middle film in the trilogy flat-out reeks), but that doesn't make the first one any less cool. Vegas, baby.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

What's Up With That? #74: Why do you think they call it "dope"?

You could get more idiotic than this, but not much.

At the same time that this story is being reported:
Farrah Fawcett hospitalized; family gathers at bedside
This story is only one headline away:
Son of Ryan O'Neal arrested in LA on drug charge
In case you don't immediately tumble to the connection, Ryan O'Neal's son Redmond is also the son of Farrah Fawcett.

According to the Associated Press, the younger O'Neal — who just last week was kicked out of a rehab facility after failing a drug test — was visiting an incarcerated friend at a county jail in Castaic (northern Los Angeles County) when he admitted during a routine search that he was carrying methamphetamine. Redmond is currently being held on $25,000 bail.

Dude... your mom is in the hospital dying of cancer, and you're busted smuggling dope into a jail?

I believe Mr. T. said it best... I pity the fool.

And I hope that Ms. Fawcett, who's been battling the Big C for several years, survives this latest setback — at the very least, long enough for her son the moron to get out of the hoosegow to say goodbye.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

April showers (part one of four)

I'm declaring April a Comic Art Friday theme month. Why? Because I can!


We're going to spend today and each of the next three Comic Art Fridays looking at four strikingly different representations of one of my favorite heroines: Ororo Munroe, the weather-manipulating X-Man code-named Storm, now also the queen consort of King T'Challa of Wakanda, better known as the Black Panther.

The first in our quartet of Storms comes from the pen of a living legend in the comics industry: Ernie Chan. The amazing Chan burst onto the scene in the early 1970s, following his arrival from the Philippines, one of a host of talented artists from that island nation who made their collective mark in American comics during that period.

Chan is best remembered for his powerful work on Marvel's myriad Conan the Barbarian titles, first as an inker over the great John Buscema, then later as a penciler and cover artist as well. Prolific throughout his long career, Chan's distinctive and detailed art graced literally hundreds of comics, from horror stories (DC's Ghosts and House of Secrets) and superhero fare (Wonder Woman, Justice League of America, and the Batman feature in Detective Comics for DC; The Incredible Hulk and Power Man and Iron Fist for Marvel) to martial arts action (Master of Kung Fu) and his beloved barbarians (in addition to a plethora of Conan books, Chan also illustrated the adventures of Kull the Destroyer).

The Storm solo pinup above marks the second time that Mr. Chan has drawn Ororo for my gallery. Previously, he paired the Wizardress of Weather with Beta Ray Bill in this Common Elements tableau entitled "Stormbreakers."

In addition to being a superlative artist, Ernie's also one heck of a nice guy. I always look forward to reconnecting with him at our local comics conventions.

Another Storm's a-brewing in seven days. Be here.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The literate souls among you know, of course, that it was Juvenal, the Roman poet, who posed the infamous question above. Although the words can be variously translated from the Latin, the most familiar English rendering is...

"Who watches the watchmen?"

In the case of the film of that latter name, the answer, apparently, is...

"I do."

This afternoon, I spent nearly three hours alone in a darkened theater (I was literally the only patron) viewing director Zach Snyder's Watchmen, the cinematic iteration of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's seminal 1985 graphic novel. At least, of Dave Gibbons's work — he's recognized in the film's opening credits as the book's "co-creator and illustrator" — as Moore, in a characteristic fit of auteurist pique, refused to allow his name to be mentioned in connection with Snyder's movie.

Although I avoided reading any in-depth reviews before seeing the film for myself, I'm aware from the chatter on various comic-related forums I frequent that comic fandom is of divided mind about Snyder's work. Some diehard Watchmen loyalists decried the liberties Snyder took in bringing the graphic novel to the screen. Others enjoyed — or didn't enjoy — the movie on its own merits.

For myself, I wasn't a fan of the original work back when it first appeared, and I haven't reread it in the 24 years since. (I own a copy of the trade paperback that I'm going to get around to eventually. I promise.) Thus, I was able to approach the film with no ax to grind.

And I kind of liked it.

Given that he was working from a byzantine story told in static visuals that had been widely believed unfilmable, I think Snyder delivered about as good a Watchmen movie as it's possible to make. He managed to be remarkably faithful to the book (to the degree that I remember it), while at the same time incorporating elements that lent themselves to more effective cinematic presentation. Watchmen has, in that respect, a great deal in common with Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which does an outstanding job at bringing Tolkien's story and characters alive, while also being savvy about where to deviate for the sake of good filmmaking.

I'm not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that Watchmen is the equal of The Lord of the Rings. That would be like comparing an In-N-Out Burger with a sirloin of Kobe beef. One is clearly superior to the other, but they're cut from similar cows.

One of the key evaluative measures for me with any movie is what I call "the watch test." That is to say: Does the film hold my difficult-to-corral attention, or do I find myself glancing at my watch, wondering how soon the agony will end? Watchmen (no pun intended) passes the watch test — despite its daunting length, I only needed a single peek at the time (during a slow stretch about halfway through). Any film that keeps chronically distracted me engaged for two hours and 42 minutes with only a single momentary hiccup is doing a lot of things well.

Is Watchmen a perfect movie? Well, no. Some of the same elements that turned me off to Moore and Gibbons's original bugged me here — the intense, often graphic violence; the nihilistic worldview; the illogical (dare I say ridiculous?) behavior of many of the characters. And while I, unlike the hardcore aficionados, found the film's version of the story's dénouement an improvement over the book, it's still painfully silly. I also question several of Snyder's casting choices, especially the vapid Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre the younger (I'm sure she's a nice girl, but she can't act a lick), and Matthew Goode as an embarrassingly effete Ozymandias (about as imposing as Jonathan Pryce's media-mogul Bond villain in Tomorrow Never Dies, which is to say, not).

Those quibbles aside, a lot of the film works.

Jackie Earle Haley is brilliant as Rorschach, the most haunted of the Watchmen. Indeed, Haley's work here is every inch as strong as the late Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight, only Haley's performance has the added benefit of subtlety. (Not to mention the fact that he spends most of the film behind a CGI-enhanced mask.) I also very much enjoyed Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl — the only truly likable character in the main cast — and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the vicious Comedian. Billy Crudup does what he can with the central, but ultimately thankless, role of the emotionless superbeing Dr. Manhattan.

In smaller roles, it was a treat to see the underused, underappreciated Matt "Max Headroom" Frewer as a former bad guy trying to go straight, and of course, I'd watch Carla Gugino (who plays the senior Silk Spectre, mostly under cover of old-age makeup) read the phone book.

The special effects are good, if not magnificent, throughout the movie. (One key annoyance: The CGI Dr. Manhattan, performed by Crudup with the aid of motion capture, never looks quite right. I never for a moment believed that he was actually in the frame with the other actors.) The costume and set designs, on the other hand, are outstanding, conveying the sensibility of the comic while adapting beautifully to realistic live-action.

And, in case the R rating wasn't a ginormous tip-off, Watchmen is most emphatically not a film for children. It comes replete with several scenes of close-up, grisly violence, one fairly explicit sex scene (albeit one that seems essential to the development of the two characters involved), and an abundance of full-frontal male nudity in the form of the naked, blue, and prodigiously endowed (albeit by way of CGI) Dr. Manhattan. Don't say I didn't warn you.

If you're a Watchmen fanatic, you've probably already seen Watchmen, or decided to stay home and page through your sweat-stained comics instead. I can't help you in either case. If, on the other hand, you're up for a dark superhero action flick that won't short you on your ten-buck admission, you just might dig it.

Uncle Swan gives Watchmen three-and-a-half tailfeathers out of a possible five.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Maybe you.

Oh, yeah... one tiny continuity error in Watchmen drove me positively bonkers. In the novel, the junior Silk Spectre's real name is Laurie Juspeczyk. Throughout the movie, as well as in the closing credits, the character is referred to as Laurie Jupiter, suggesting that she adopted the pseudonym used by her mother and predecessor, who was known as Sally Jupiter. However, there's a scene in which Laurie tries on Nite Owl's high-tech goggles, which employ fingerprint-recognition software to identify anyone viewed through their lenses. When she looks at her own hand, the readout displays, "Laurie Juspeczyk."

Darn hear ruined the movie for me.

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