Sunday, June 29, 2008
Odd trivia fact: The tuxedo selection at my 1997 wedding was influenced by the stylish gambling garb of Mel Gibson and James Garner in the 1994 MAVERICK movie.
Comic-Con International:San Diego (which those of us who've been going to it for a few decades just call the San Diego Comic-Con) has featured many musical noteables over the years as guests. The latest is going to be Tori Amos, who will be there to sign her anthology, COMIC BOOK TATTOO. She'll also do a panel about the anthology.
There's been a connection between Amos and comics since at least the early nineties, when her album LITTLE EARTHQUAKES featured song lyrics about Neil Gaiman's comic SANDMAN. Gaiman patterned a tree in his illustrated novel STARDUST after Amos (something that was, alas, left out of the recent movie adaptation); and Amos sang about that on another album.
The news come from the blog of graphic novelist Colleen Doran, who is illustrating one of the stories in COMIC BOOK TATTOO.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Remember, kids: Use your Kung-Fu Grip only for self-defense -- never in anger.
After watching this commercial again, I noticed a dimension I missed at first. This was an era where G.I.Joe came in a myriad of different hair colors and complexions, and had a dizzying array of outfits. Yet the two Joes who grapple in the commercial are identical. Same hair. Same face. Same camos. Same mastery of the dreaded Kung-Fu Grip.
This is not a mere battle with a common foe. This is Joe acheiving a higher level of spirituality by fighting -- and mastering -- himself.
Or maybe it's just his evil twin.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
When I collected G.I. Joes as a kid, I can honestly say that I had no idea that 35 years later a director like Stephen Sommers would be making a live-action G.I. Joe movie -- nor even the wildest speculation that he would require an actress like Sienna Miller to wear some, er, extra body armor while portraying one of the Joes' nemeses, the bespectacled Baroness.
"They gave me these things that looked like chicken fillets," confessed the "mildly offended" actress.
Wherever there's trouble, G.I. Joe is there . . . .
There is potentially a great popcorn movie to be made about a rich guy who infiltrates the underworld by posing as a master gangster, and who tears around the midnight streets in a souped-up gas guzzler with a martial-arts master by his side. Whether this is going to be that movie remains to be seen.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
You simply can't find that level of elegant escapism in action movies after the sixties; the combination of '70's realism and the Lucas/Spielberg canon did them in. Of course, in the sixties, people were bemoaning the death of the elegant movies of the '30's and the '40's. And in the '30's, people were likely kvetching about the death of the visual artistry that was the silent film.
Someday, people will regret the passing of the dawn of computer generated, breakneck-edited, artificially-lighted action films of the '00's.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Geoffrey Boucher reviews "Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko" for the LA Times. He is dissatisfied with the book for raising more questions about the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange than it answers. Or perhap's he's unhappy because it's not the Ditko biography that Boucher would write.
Here's an astounding and incredible (although not invincible) story of Hollywood hubris. According to the article, former New Line exec Bob Shaye did not follow through on an option to make an Iron Man movie, because he was convinced Iron Man should not fly. The option expired, and Marvel Studios announced its Iron Man movie. Shaye was so convinced that the movie (which would feature a flying Iron Man) would fail that he shorted Marvel stock. Well, not only did Iron Man soar, but so did the film's box office and Marvel's stock. Shaye nevertheless told friends he would continue to short the stock, because he was convinced the Hulk movie that came out last week would fail. Didn't happen either.
This illustrates one of my mantras: Never make business decisions out of spite.
According to this article:
1. Paparazzi photog shoots a photo of the Iron Man armor while the movie is filming; and the photo is posted online as a leak from the set.
2. Studios force the site running the photo to shut down.
3. Scene near the end of the Iron Man movie features Tony Stark reading a newspaper. The posing and background of a photo on the front page of the paper resemble the picture the photographer took.
4. Photog sues Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment and demands damages for the "use" of his photo. He also asks that the photo be removed from future DVDs or videogames related to Iron Man.
Regardless of the legal considerations (which I haven't researched, and really don't intend to), it's hard to see a judge or jury caring about this tempest.
Unfortunately, some of the deals hotels have cut with litigation teams are making headlines -- in not-so-favorable ways.
The LA Times recently ran this story about the Westin Bonaventure's suit against Phil Spector. According to the article, the futuristic-looking hotel rented Spector, his legal team, and assorted well-wishers four luxury suites; gave the lawyers free workouts; and offered a secured "war room." The deal was that Spector was to pay in advance every two weeks, which seems like a smart financial move. Yet somehow Spector ran up a $110,000 tab, for which the chain is suing Spector. (The unanswered question is how this happened. Why did the hotel continue to let Spector stay there if he wasn't paying the bills in advance? Or was the tab is for additional expenses?)
Another litigation related hotel story recently emerged from Riverside, where Mattel and MGA toys are locked in a struggle in federal district court over the rights to the BRATZ dolls that are outselling Barbie. According to this LA Times story (and another in the LA Daily Journal that went into more depth), the MGA legal team signed a contract with the historic Mission Inn, within walking distance of Riverside's many courthouses, that provided Mattel's legal team would not be allowed to rent rooms there. The official explanation was concern over confidential materials being misdelivered and ending up in the wrong legal team's hands. Mattel's team asked the judge presiding over the trial to throw out the contract. The judge replied that the matter wasn't within his jurisdiction. Mattel's team then took up residence at the Riverside Marriott -- where they likely have a war room.
I snapped this with my cell phone camera on Venice beach around 10 am, after I had pedaled up to the beach, had breakfast at the Sidewalk Cafe, and biked up the beach path to north Santa Monica and back.
When I first got to the beach (about 8:50 am), it was sparsely populated. The users increased as the morning went on and the weather got hotter -- although there were still plenty of empty parking spots in the lot next to the SM pier. I suspect gas prices are making folks more reluctant to head to the beach.
As on previous trips, I marveled at the number of people, foreign and domestic, who are unable to read the "BIKES ONLY" markings on the path. Perhaps they read the markings as saying, "BIKES, ROLLERBLADES, SKATEBOARDS, PEDESTRIANS, STROLLERS, TODDLERS, AND FAMILIES STOPPING TO TAKE PHOTOS ONLY."
Most absurd moment: the southbound lane on the bike path was blocked by an SM police officer in a dune buggy, who was explaining to two guys that only bicycles were allowed on the path.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Those who are familiar with Hulk co-creator Jack Kirby's work know that one of Kirby's specialties was designing fantastic futuristic weapons and other devices in his comics -- stuff that looked like nothing that existed on earth, but which was so well-designed that you could devine its purpose with a single glance.
Unfortunately, the movie versions of Kirby's creations, such as the FANTASTIC FOUR flicks, have not yet duplicated that look in their set design (although the second FF movie was noticeably Kirby-esque in its depiction of the Silver Surfer, and its reproduction of the comic-book sequence in which Doctor Doom acquires the Surfer's powers). Nevertheless, there's at least one scene in the current INCREDIBLE HULK movie that I think Kirby would have appreciated.
Kirby kept up with modern technology, particularly military technology -- likely part of his roots as a science-fiction fan. At one convention, I overheard him relate the story of a sonic weapon that the U.S. Army once tested. He said that the operator of the prototype weapon had been killed in the test.
In one scene in the Hulk movie, the army rolls out a bunch of -- yes -- sonic weapons, which they triangulate upon the Hulk; and which do some damage to the Jade Giant. As one fan pointed out, the sonic cannons look big, clunky, and at heart very much like something Jack Kirby would draw.
Comics editor Mike Gold reproduces some panels of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko's mid-sixties comics adaptation of GET SMART! Ditko's only other live-action-TV adaptation was of another sitcom from the sixties: HOGAN'S HEROES.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
In his blog, novelist and comics writer Duane Swierczynski writes about opening a new edition of HARLAN ELLISON'S WATCHING, and finding a reference to my cousin Lee Goldberg.
In his blog, Lee Goldberg writes that he is disappointed with Duane Swierczynski's latest novel, and hopes that DS's next novel meets his expectations of the writer. This triggers a storm of comments about how and when writers (particularly those who do not yet have a reputation) are willing to give negative reviews to other writers -- one in which Swierczynski joins.
All we need is for Colleen to write about Duane, and (to paraphrase Darth Vader) the circle will be complete.
I'm proud of my cousin, Stanley Barer, a Seattle lawyer, and his wife Alta, who have pledged $4 million to the University of Washington Law School to establish the Barer Institute for Law and Global Human Services. The Institute aims to use binding legal agreements to coordinate efforts to address social problems. That's a lasting contribution to making the world a better place. Thanks to my brother Mike for pointing this article out on his blog.
The Hulk has had one of the strangest commercial histories of any Marvel superhero. His debut in his own title was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's follow up to the first modern Marvel superhero comic, the Fantastic Four; and his first series was an apparent fiasco. It lasted only six issues, and changed story approaches almost every issue. (At one point, Bruce Banner's teenage pal Rick Jones could control a zombie-like Hulk as if the Hulk were a robot). Yet rather than scuttling the concept, Lee kept him around in the former monster anthology comic TALES TO ASTONISH, and stuck him in other comics like THE AVENGERS (where he became an Avenger in issue one, and quit in issue two), SPIDER-MAN, and the FF. By the late sixties, Hulk had graduated to his own title again; and about ten years later, he'd become a household word due to the success of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series.
Notwithstanding, the fledgling Marvel Studios has followed up its smash hit IRON MAN film with a d0-over version of the Hulk that ignores the previous effort, and strikes out on its own.
Also imported into the story are Hulk adversary Emil Blonsky/Abomination (in the cold-war era, a spy who used Banner's equipment to turn himself into another gamma-ray monstrosity; here, a commando who, like many of the characters in the movie, is power-hungry), and such Marvel Universe background staples as SHIELD and the Super-Soldier Serum (which sets up a future Marvel
The result of this mix is a stronger movie than the Ang Lee version, mainly because of the more straightforward narrative and the more plentiful action scenes, not to mention the acting chops of folks like Norton, Tim Roth as Blonsky, William Hurt as General Ross, and Liv Tylor as Betty (when she's assertive rather than dewy-eyed).
But it's not as good as IRON MAN or the better parts of the SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN trilogies. One problem is the ill-fit between the scenes with Norton and Tyler, which explore the emotional impact of Banner's problems and his essential nature as a hero (which nature filters through to the Hulk, and makes him something better than a mindless rampaging monster from the Id); and the action sequences, which while fun to watch ultimately devolve into who can beat on whom better.
I'm not sure how the movie could have been improved; the limitations may be inherent in the Hulk's character, which may be why the formula for the Hulk's comic series has been changed so many times in the character's history.
Is the Hulk a smash? We'll see. What's the future for the movie series? Well, if there is any consistent rule in the Hulk stories, it's that the Hulk only keeps getting stronger.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Monday, June 09, 2008
Freakazoid -- at least the first season, before The Man imposed a story structure on the episodes -- was like one of those free-form blackout-gag-filled '60's sitcoms, such as the Monkees or its ilk, albeit amped up like a four-year-old stuffed full of sugar-snacks. It had one of those insanely catchy opening themes, a blue hero with few discernable powers who (as the theme song put it) "runs around in underwear," painfully hip writing, and a general sense of fin de siecle exhaustion with the pop-culture detritus of the 20th Century. Really. I mean, where else can you find a Saturday morning show with George Takei, Mark Hamill, Stan Lee and Harlan Ellison stuffed into one episode?
My friend John McCann was one of the writers and producers on the show. He also wrote for such other standout '90's animated shows as Animaniacs, Pinky & the Brain, and Batman Beyond (for which he wrote the memorable episode, "Terry's Friend Dates a Robot".) One hopes he'll see a few bucks in royalties when folks buy this upcoming DVD set of the first season, as they likely will in relative droves.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
One of the wrestlers throws out the symbolic first pitch at a Dodgers game.
Another squares off playfully with one of the costumed performers outside Grauman's Chinese in Hollywood.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Of course, black does go with everything . . . .
Friday, June 06, 2008
The one piece of merchandising the store didn't have that related to this comic book character:
Yes, the old spinner rack, center of many fond childhood memories, has been cast onto the junkheap of obsolescence. The 7-11's inventory of comics has been reduced to a few desultory scattered titles stuck onto the lowest shelf of the magazine rack.
7-11 forbid that they should actually feature comics starring the Hulk or Iron Man in a prominent place in the store. I mean, they might actually sell some and make some money. Who knows, they might trigger an ephiphany in some young Slurpee-slugger who realizes that there is such a thing as comic books; and that they are fun. They they might sell more comics, and make more money.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
This year, for the first time, Comic-Con International:San Diego announced that it would not sell any memberships on-site; all members would have to pre-register. Now comes the news that the four-day memberships for the con have sold out. One-day memberships are still available, but I'm betting that those sell out by the end of this month.
That, of course, means that this year's con is going to be mind-bogglingly BIG. Last year the attendance was around 125,000. This year may dwarf that.
Ever since I began traveling by air, which has been about 32 years, I've been warned that the security folks at the airport take any jokes about bombs and guns seriously. Apparently, I should have warned that they take T-shirts of giant transforming robots seriously.
Yes, this IT-guru gent got stopped by security at Heathrow because he was wearing a French Connection UK Optimus Prime shirt. (Not only a Transformers shirt, but a fashionable one.) Scandalized by the two-dimensional firearm the transformed semi was toting, security forced the wearer to change into another shirt. The above link is to the wearer's blog; but the story was also picked up by the news, including the Beeb.
In my opinion, if mecha-loving folks cannot wear their favorite robots proudly on their chests, then the terrorists have won.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Apparently I'm not the only one concerned. In his blog, Frank Miller responds to fan concerns about the trailer and movie. He emphasizes that the film won't duplicate SIN CITY, the adaptation of Miller's comics miniseries that he co-directed. Despite what the trailer suggests, he states the film will be full-color (as the Spirit comics were). He explains the cinematic Spirit's change in wardrobe from a blue hat, suit and mask to basic black. (Think Superman's "blue" hair.) And he comments:
"And THE SPIRIT as some sort of SIN CITY REDUX? No, SIN CITY, that one's my own baby, folks, and it looks the way it does for its own reasons. THE SPIRIT is, and will always be, Eisner's SPIRIT. Anybody watching me on the set could attest that I very frequently drew a storyboard for a given shot first as I saw it, then as Will might’ve seen in—and, in every case, went with what I saw as Will's version."
I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
The first installment of the Indy saga, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, was born of nostalgia for the unbridled adventures that were standard fare in feature films, serials, comic books and strips, and pulps from the thirties through the forties. This one embodies nostalgia not only for the storytelling of that time, but also of the more immediate past -- RAIDERS came out a full 27 years ago, and movies have changed since then.
We had a terrific time with the movie. It managed to juggle several balls quite well: It worked as a sequel to the previous Indy adventures (even managing a reference to an episode of the YOUNG INDIANA JONES TV series of 15 years ago); it delivered the trademark breathtaking stunts and set pieces; it did not whitewash the main character's age, but nevertheless depicted him as vital (and rubber-limbed -- he and the other characters walk away from impacts that would shatter every bone in the body of a non-cinematic citizen); and managed to hit every b-movie and TV cultural reference point of the '50's, up to and including Howdy Doody (with the exception of Davy Crockett).
The only element of the past movies that I missed was the cinematography of Douglas Slocombe, who made every scene of RAIDERS glow with intense golden-time colors that rarely appear outside the imaginations of readers and movie storytellers. The cinematographer of CRYSTAL SKULL reportedly studied Slocombe's cinematography, trying to replicate the look; but the film still reflects the more naturalistic (and sometimes muddy) lighting of Spielberg's recent movies, like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MINORITY REPORT, and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Just as Indy's adventures are larger than life, his adventures should be brighter than life.
Because Marvel's heroes are a prickly bunch, the standard formula was that (1) characters would meet in a situation that made one or both believe the other was a crook or assailant; (2) the characters would brawl; and (3) realizing the mistake, the characters would, yes, team up and defeat the true evildoer.
Today's blogs feature a team-up of bloggers whose sites I frequent. My cousin Lee Goldberg blogs about the Book Expo which is being held at the LA Convention Center (site of next month's Anime Expo). Meanwhile, TV/animation/comics/everything writer Mark Evanier -- who has written some superhero team-ups in his time -- not only blogs about the same book expo, but talks about seeing Lee there. Contrary to formula, the two titans of the typewriter did not brawl when they encountered each other. To the contrary, Mark praises Lee as a "champion" because of Lee's campaign to alert beginning writers to the perils of vanity presses that market themselves as publishers.
Mark and Lee (and about 125,000 others, including Amy and me) will be at Comic-con International: San Diego next month. I've no doubt that if they meet there, they will continue to flout formula, and proceed straight to the team-up.