Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Guy Is Afoot!

As someone who has read a good portion of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories -- and who started reading them 30 years ago -- I'm glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Guy Ritchie's new SHERLOCK HOLMES movie, with Robert Downey, Jr. as the master sleuth and Jude Law as an extremely impressive Dr. Watson.  I still think the best adaptation of the Holmes stories was the BBC series starring the steely-eyed Jeremy Brett; but Holmes, like Tarzan (another literary Englishman created during the time Holmes stories were originally being released) and Robin Hood, Holmes has become a staple of Western popular culture whom every generation must enact anew.  Just as there will likely always be revivals of Shakespeare plays, there will always be reinterpretations of Holmes -- whether he's battling Moriarty, Nazis (as he did in the '40's Basil Rathbone flicks), Jack the Ripper, or the menacing conspirators in this film.

Some may be annoyed by Ritchie's hyper-stylization of reality, or the pumped-up action sequences, or the focus on Holmes's manic-depressive personality (though there's little-to-no mention of Holmes's cocaine habit -- perhaps to avoid a harder rating).  Others may grumble about giving Holmes and Watson a cute dog.

But the fact remains that this Holmes is woven from threads taken from the actual stories.  Further, the movie benefits greatly from taking one of the most memorable supporting characters -- Irene Adler, the American con woman from "A Scandal in Bohemia," who to Holmes will always be the  woman -- and building up her role, so that she is an adventuress who stands on equal footing with Holmes and Watson, albeit on the other side of the law.  Holmes's Catwoman, if you will.

It's always a delight to enjoy a couple of hours of pure cinematic entertainment.  SHERLOCK HOLMES shows that there's quite a bit of life in the old sleuth -- enough to fuel reinterpretations for generations to come.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Panels: Ssssteam Heat

If you attend the Anime Los Angeles convention ( the weekend of January 8-10, and check out the Steampunk panels Sunday afternoon, you'll find me joining a few other steam-pressed folks up at the front of the room.

Here's the tentative sched:

Sunday 1:00 PM: Steampunk on a Budget
LP 2/Suite B
     Danny Barer
     Jo Celso
     Mercades Victoria
     Michael Pao
     Rebecca Majoros

Sunday 2:00 PM: Steampunk 101: Beginners panel
LP 2/Suite B
     Danny Barer
     Eric Chamberlin
     Michael Pao

The con will be at the Marriott Los Angeles Airport, 5855 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045.  Thanks to Michael Pao of The Manticore Society  ( for hooking me up.

Plus, if you're in Southern Utah March 5-6, 2010 (if you've never been, you should go -- it's gorgeous), and you're attending the Fannitiku Fest con (, I'll be doing yet another Steampunk panel,  on March 6, this time by my lonesome.   Thanks to Natalie Daniel for arranging this.

Now, to figure out what to talk about . . . .

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Bryan Singer on 'X-Men: First Class,' 'Avatar' and more

The Hollywood Reporter | Heat Vision | Comics | Movie News: Heat Vision Q&A: Bryan Singer on 'X-Men: First Class,' 'Avatar' and more

The Hollywood Reporter's "Heat Vision" blog has an interview with Bryan Singer about his plans to direct another "X-Men" film, along with why he's fond of working in a wi-fi watering hole (a Coffee Bean, no less) in Oahu.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Adventure of the Mysterious Taquito in the Night

I stopped by one of the myriad 7-11 stores in the vicinity to see if it had Sherlock Holmes slurpie cups.  It didn't, but it did have Sherlock Holmes hot dogs (perhaps understandable -- sausages were a staple in Victorian London) and taquitos (uh . . . .)  Along with "Domo" flash drives and Big Gulp cups in the shape of big electric guitars.

As much as a spectacle as the relentless marketing of the Downey/Law "Sherlock Holmes" movie is, I have no problem with it -- particularly if it leads young people to read the original stories.
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Avatar: A Blue Christmas

We saw AVATAR last night in Imax 3-D, and had a great time.  It was bravura filmmaking, and a visual spectacle.  It looked like a bunch of Michael Whelan and Roger Dean paintings come to life.  It made efforts toward scientific extrapolation and credible science fiction (even though it often took dramatic license with science), and managed to wedge in convincing dialogue and acting.

But . . . (and there's SPOILERS here)


I couldn't help feeling unsatisfied at the plotline, which followed not only  the tropes of earlier Cameron work (did anyone think the one-dimensional corporate shill in the plot would turn out to be any better than Paul Rieser in ALIENS?) but, well, DANCES WITH WOLVES, and lots of war movies and comics.  (I remember a few weeks ago I blogged about the stereotypical DC war comic story, in which a soldier separate from his unit takes out superior forces with a few well-placed grenades.  Uh . . . .)  I kept hoping that the storyline would have some kind of twist, travel 90 degrees from what you'd expect; but it still followed its designated path.

In particular, I thought Cameron might have been building toward an interesting twist with the Na'Vi's motives for revealing their secrets to Sully.  After all, the Na'vi are smart, and they know from the outset that Sully is (a) a warrior (b) of a people that they have had skirmishes with and (c) that he returns to his people whenever he sleeps (they call him a "dreamwalker").  Wouldn't they know that he was reporting to his people everything he saw?  Wouldn't they think that was his duty?  Wouldn't they do the same?  I thought that they might be revealing this information despite their awareness that he was betraying them, to work toward some larger purpose of diplomacy based on shared knowledge -- he would learn both sides' secrets and so be a go-between.  But instead, the Na'Vi are startled that Sully has been reporting on them.

Perhaps Cameron felt that moviegoers couldn't be pulled into this incredible world without being given a storyline that followed only familiar tropes.  Perhaps I'm expecting novel-type plotting in a movie that is jammed so full of visual spectacle and action that plot twists won't fit. 

I don't want to give the impression that AVATAR is a bad movie, or that I didn't enjoy it.  But I think that it's building a base for a new kind of SF movie -- one that actually brings to life the visions that could only be written about before -- and I'd like to see its potential used to full advantage.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Surfing the Spectacular

Last night, Amy and I saw the Brian Setzer Orchestra's Holiday Spectacular concert at the Gibson Amphitheater on Universal Citywalk. (The Gibson is filled with ads for Verizon -- which makes me wonder whether the Verizon Amphitheater is festooned with Gibson guitars.) Incidentally, the Amphitheater -- back when it was an open-air venue, and was known as the Universal Amphitheater -- was the first place I ever saw a big-name rock concert: While the family was vacationing in SoCal in 1980, I saw Jefferson Starship (sans Grace Slick) there.

As wonderful as Mr. Setzer's set was (and it was quite wonderful -- he's an amazing showman as well as an amazing guitarist), it was almost eclipsed by one of his opening acts: The Ventures, the kings of instrumental surf music and the best-selling instrumental band of all time. The lineup included two original members, Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards. They're getting up in years -- the band was formed in Tacoma, Washington in 1958 -- but they still play with the same tightly-controlled virtuosity you hear on their '60's recordings. For anyone who spent any time in the '60's (or has seen movies or TV from that era), the expressive guitars and the fast drum work conjure of images of surfers, drag racers, spies, and everything cool about that era. If The Ventures played the soundtrack for your life, what an exciting life you'd lead.

Oh, Doctor, Doctor . . .

The L.A. Times interviews David Tennant about the end of his portrayal of The Doctor on DOCTOR WHO, and the pilot he's filmed for NBC.,0,2333000.story

I haven't yet caught up on all of Tennant's episodes (I need to start Season 3), but I do note that both he and Christopher Eccleston, his predecessor, are younger than me. Eep.

Dan O'Bannon, R.I.P.

One of those who, for better or worse, helped shape the '80's science fiction movie -- and the movies of today.,0,4358785.story

First things in the Last Year

My cousin Tod Goldberg blogs about things that happened to him for the first time in 2009. It involves the Poet Laureate, the inaguration, Jane's Addiction, and a gray hair.

Is This the Droid You're Looking for?

I'm writing this post on the Droid phone I got last week.  In part, the post is a training exercise in typing with the physical keyboard-- which is either unfamiliar (which would explain my current awkwardness with it) or unwieldy (which would explain future awkwardness in using it).

Overall, I'm delighted with Droid.  It's much more reliable than my kludgy Treo 755P.  It synchs with my work email like a dream, the display is stunning, the web browsing works great, the apps are fun, and the camera is quite nice (ever since an update was pushed to the phone that fixed a focusing bug).

There are some annoyances.  As noted, the physical keyboard takes getting used to - sometime the onscreen keyboard's just quicker to use.  The built in apps have quirks -- for instance, the email client won't do signature lines, and the calendar won't let you swipe from month to month.  But overall I like my lil' Droid.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Last 30 Years -- and the 30 Years Before That

I'm reading a James MacDonald novel from 1978 -- THE EMPTY COPPER SEA -- and it's leaving me with the distinct impression that much less has changed in American culture in the last 30 years than in the 30 years preceding them.

In this private-eye novel (actually, Travis McGee is not a private eye -- he's a salvage expert -- but he performs the functions of a PI), there are shopping malls and crystal meth addicts. Kids line up to see STAR WARS (the original, but who could imagine that 30 years later STAR WARS would still be a marketable commodity). The language is contemporary. The clothing brands and even the sporting goods makes are recognizable. The description of life in a Florida coastal town, the rondole of seafood houses and cheesy bars, is readily recognizable.

By comparison, a novel from 1948 would not sound at all contemporary in 1978 (and certainly not in 2009). The slang, cars, clothes, and description of everyday life would seem foreign.

Has time flattened out? Or just the time that has passed in my own lifetime?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Face Palm

After using Palm pdas and phones for the past 10 years, I regret wielding one of the hammers driving yet another nail into Palm Inc.'s corporate coffin. But my Treo 755p is glitchy, and the Palm Pre just doesn't look appealing enough. So I've ordered a Motorola Droid phone. Hopefully the Force is with it.

"Nickels Nickels Nickels!"

I watched A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, which debuted the same year I did.

Does the little Christmas tree represent a lost soul?