31 May 2012

Blog Milestone: 10,000 Page Views in May!

Blogger statistics are kind of confusing, but earlier today I signed in and I saw the following:

The table on the top right shows 9,698 page views during the last month, but the chart clearly shows 10,029 and that's good enough for me and Bobby McGee.

Admittedly, many of you who found my blog in the month of May were probably searching for pics to swipe for your own blogs or you came here in hopes of finding pirated material. You're welcome to the former, and I won't offer the latter. Here's a look at May's stats:

I confess, I'm pretty surprised that The Sopranos Season Six, Part II was the month's most viewed post since I wrote that back in October and it's been pretty dormant since then. I suppose someone out there has gone on a Sopranos kick? I'm less surprised that "Batman Returns & Rises: Comics Then & Now" was second, since anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises is starting to really escalate.

I'm very pleased, though, that the remainder of the Top 5 are more of my personal posts. "It's Not Me, It's Me" is an admittedly imperfect and bitter post on the frustrations I've had with relationships. "My Hate/Hate Relationship with Crohn's" is exactly that, and it's the first time I've told the complete story of my experiences with Crohn's to date. Lastly, "How to Be a Patient - Depression Edition" is part of my series on depression and while I'm sad that it's finding an audience, I'm also hopeful this means someone out there might find something helpful in what I've written. I'm also gratified that my second-most viewed blog post overall to date is "On Depression." That's the whole point of that series.

Anyway, I just want to thank you for reading and to again invite you to comment on any post that you find interesting. Come for the pics, stay for the discourse!

U.S. Statistics as Depicted with Action Figures

We've heard quite a lot about the One Percenters who own everything, The 99, The 56, etc. but I wonder how many of us really have a concept what that really looks like. To help, I filled a table with 100 action figures. Based upon recent census information, the current United States population stands around 314.5 million people. Ergo, the scale of this depiction is 1 action figure = 3.145 million people.

1 figure = 3.145 million people. Click to enlarge. Can you spot the One Percenter?
Just what does this signify, you ask? Well...

Want to know how many figures represent the totality of our active and reserved military personnel? You might be tempted to look at all those G.I. Joes on the left, or the clone troopers on the right and guess either group. You'd be overestimating by quite a lot. In point of fact, current personnel number around 3 million men and women, so...one figure. Go ahead, pick one. We'll let it be Chewbacca because not only is he a total badass, but a dependable total badass.

Panic-stricken evangelicals fear that the LGBT community is "taking over." Take a look at the table and guess how many figures are gay. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA...three and a half. Assume those are the hologram figures (they're the three that are deep blue figures; two up front and one in the middle). The other half figure, we'll assume is also represented by Chewbacca because we know there are LGBT soldiers who can finally begin serving our country without suppressing their identities.

How many action figures are presently looking for work? As of April, there were 12.5 unemployed persons, constituting 8.1% of the labor market. That's four and a half figures. We'll round up and say that the Cantina Band represents those looking for work.

Health Care
Want to know how many action figures don't have health care coverage? Per the 2010 Census, 16.3 figures. You show me a Jedi, and I'll show you 3.15 million Americans who need health coverage.

This one's a bit tricky, because it's possible that a woman may have aborted multiple fetuses, but it doesn't really make much difference in this illustration because according to 2008 statistics, "1.21 million abortions took place in the United States." Assuming each abortion was performed on one woman, that's...half of an action figure. I understand that for many, even one abortion is too many and that's not an argument I'm trying to make. Rather, I think it's important to recognize that this is not presently an epidemic. There are some who would have you believe that all kinds of women are out there aborting babies left and right, and it's just not true. Even if you assume every one of those abortions was from a woman in the lowest economic bracket (and they most certainly were not), that still doesn't represent any kind of majority trend.

The One Percent
According to statistics cited by Professor Deborah Jacobs in an article for Forbes published last November:
The well known facts are worth reciting again: the top one percent of the country owns 34.6% of the wealth in total net worth; the next 19% owns 50.5%; the bottom 80% owns 15%.
One figure owns 34.6% of the wealth. Naturally, that One Percenter is Palpatine. You can't miss him; he's the old white guy in the middle of the table in red clothes, waving and smiling.  Combine him with the clone toopers, and those twenty figures own 85% of all the wealth. If you're not Palpatine and you're not a clone trooper, you get to divvy up 15% of what everyone has.

Of course, this isn't exact. There are overlaps among statistics. Surely, there are unemployed and uninsured members of the LGBT community. Even at least one clone trooper is probably gay, and Palpatine's left arm, too. Obviously, we expect the number of unemployed and uninsured to overlap tremendously, so you can probably assume not all Jedi are looking for health coverage because the Cantina Band is also looking for it.

Still, I hope this helps to put in perspective just how out of whack all our social crises are. We've got all those Jedi without health care coverage, the whole Cantina Band looking for work...and yet an entire political party cares about guarding Palpatine's money for him and freaking out over what three holograms want to do behind closed doors.

Here's what it looks like, with each of the above demographics identified.
Click to enlarge.

30 May 2012

"Star Trek VI" & "First Contact" Soundtracks

The first album I ever owned that was mine outright was The Transformers: The Movie soundtrack on cassette. I was seven years old. Soundtracks have interested me ever since. It's almost impossible to be a Trekkie and not have an interest in the rich musical canon of that franchise. My love for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is well documented, so it should be no surprise that its score is among my all-time favorites. I can still remember buying it at a Camelot Music store. I can't be certain, but I think it was in Bashford Manor Mall. What I recall was balking at the mall store price, but knowing that it was really my only chance to own it so I ponied up two weeks' allowance.

I couldn't get over Cliff Eidelman's haunting score. The moody overture, the militant Klingon motif, the somber theme for Spock...and, of course, the rousing "Sign Off" and "Star Trek VI Suite" at the end were instant favorites. It stands out even now for how dissimilar it is from all other Star Trek scores. It's the least reliant on cheery sounding marches and I think that's why I love it so much. Maybe it's just because of years of listening to it as an album, outside the context of the film, but I find it stands as a very solid body of music. Director Nicholas Meyer famously wanted to license Holst's symphony, The Planets, but his music budget wouldn't allow for it. I'm well out of my depth discussing things like symphonies, but as best I understand them, Eidelman's score functions as one.

I decided earlier this year that for managing my depression in the face of divorce, I deserved to treat myself to La-La Land Records's 2-disc Batman score by Danny Elfman (another favorite movie and score). Shortly after I bought that, I learned that Intrada was going to issue a 2-disc, complete Star Trek VI. I had to have that, but it had to wait because I was broke when it went on sale.

Cut to March, when GNP Crescendo released with little advance warning that they were issuing the complete Star Trek: First Contact. It's hard to rank the Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek scores, but I feel confident saying that this one is up there with The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier. It's easily my favorite of his Next Generation movie scores, and I also wanted this. They're really the only two Trek scores I want badly enough that I would spring for the complete package (though I could be tempted into the two others I just mentioned).
The main title from First Contact stands as one of the most beautiful compositions in the canon. It's full of wonder and sophisticated in its way, too. "How Many Ships" is a brief cue I've wanted since 1996; it's the brief quote from Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme that plays in the first appearance of the Enterprise-E. Most of the Borg music was farmed out to Joel Goldsmith, the composer's son. It's solid stuff, but it clearly bears his signature and not his father's. Both are now deceased, so I feel kind of bad saying so but Joel's music was always more of a low-budget TV aesthetic, inferior to the full orchestra sensibilities of Jerry.

Between the two, I preferred The Undiscovered Country, but GNP's First Contact score was limited to 10,000 units. That seemed high at first, but then I remembered that La-La Land's Star Trek V had a print run of 5,000 units and it sold out. I was afraid the higher popularity of First Contact would translate into me having to act quickly. That meant Star Trek VI would have to wait a while longer. At least, that's what I thought until I discovered I could order both through Amazon. I've accrued a modest amount of credit, partly through Swagbucks and partly through an act of generosity I have yet to discuss in this blog. Amazon had a sale price on First Contact ($15 instead of $20), plus by ordering from them I could avoid shipping costs (saving me another combined $8). I didn't want to dip into my Amazon credit for $40, but it was a nice way to snag both these scores without paying a penny out of pocket!

I've played both several times apiece since receiving them (VI had a head start because GNP refused to ship Amazon orders until Amazon stopped under-selling the CD). I'm quite happy to have both in my library, but I have to say I think Intrada did a better job with their release.

For starters, Intrada's Star Trek VI is a two-disc set. Disc 1 features every note of music from the film, along with some bonus tracks (including two takes of the music Eidelman composed for the theatrical trailer!). Disc 2 presents the original soundtrack album in its entirety, as released in 1991. The music was edited in several cases for the album release, to present a more cohesive listening experience. Inside the jewel case is a thick booklet with comprehensive liner notes about the film, its score and a track-by-track commentary. It's so thorough that the name of every musician is printed on the insert under the disc tray! GNP elected to feature only a still image of the Enterprise under the disc tray, with the musician roster published across two pages of their booklet (more on that in a moment).

Meanwhile, GNP's single-disc First Contact release isn't as "complete" as advertised. The original soundtrack album included Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" and Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." Sure, they're not part of the score, so I can begrudgingly give them a pass on their absences. Still, I would point out that La-La Land's complete Star Trek V includes its original soundtrack album on Disc 2, complete with Hiroshima's "The Moon's a Window to Heaven." There is precedent for including that kind of song on a complete Star Trek score release. Also omitted from both the original album and this complete version is "Moonlight Becomes You," performed by Julie Morgan in the Dixon Hill holodeck scene. It would have been nice to finally get that. Again, though, not part of the score so...whatever.

The booklet is a bit of a letdown, too. While there is admittedly a fine essay by Jeff Bond and John Takis, GNP elected to make their track-by-track commentary a PDF supplement on the web, which you can download here. When I buy the definitive, comprehensive soundtrack, I don't want to have to retrieve part of it from the web. Intrada devoted 28 pages to their booklet for VI versus just 16 pages from GNP. Their booklet includes a thorough essay also by Bond, track-by-track commentary and even the original album liner notes by Nicholas Meyer!

Intrada also bested GNP for album art. Their booklet for Star Trek VI includes an alternate cover printed on the back page, so you can reverse the booklet if you want. The alternate design features the original teaser poster artwork that I love so dearly. Conversely, GNP saw fit to bathe the First Contact album art with a green hue that became part of the Borg color scheme after this film, in Star Trek: Voyager. It's an unnecessary bit of tinkering. Intrada's text is also more elegant in its simplicity, whereas GNP's First Contact album is pretty cluttered.
Alternate cover
I don't mean to bash GNP's First Contact. It's a favorite score of mine, which I love enough that I ordered this edition of it. I don't know what difference it would have made to cost had GNP included all their liner notes in the booklet, or thrown in a second disc with the additional pop songs, but I can't imagine it would have bloated the cost beyond the $24.95 that other boutique labels have charged for their complete Star Trek soundtrack releases. They could have included the original album version on a second disc, and added "Moonlight Becomes You" to that. For that matter, I'd have been content with a bonus disc just containing the three non-score tracks! Alas, GNP elected to keep their costs down and their corner-cutting resulted in a few blemishes on what should have been an amazing CD.

Hats off to Intrada, though, for showing how it's done. Their release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is the CD soundtrack I didn't realize I wanted in 1991. My 13 year old self couldn't be happier.

28 May 2012

It's Not Me, It's Me

So remember when I was "Still Winning" and I was all casual about having met someone? Yeah, this is the "Never mind" retraction. Despite how candid I can be about most things, I'm not the type to embarrass someone else in my blog so I won't elaborate. I'll merely say that, so far as I'm aware, I did nothing wrong and this was just one of those things where her feelings, expectations and hopes, etc. all kinda changed for whatever reason. C'est la vie.

Except, it's not just that that's life. It's my life.

Outside of my marriage, I have never been in a romantic relationship that ever saw a fourth month. Ever. To the best of my knowledge, I've never done anything to ruin anything. Perhaps if any of my ex's are reading this, they'd see fit to enlighten me about their side of things, but as near as I can tell what happens is this: I'm not actually like most guys. At first, that's a positive thing. But then what happens is that most girls/women discover they're not wired to actually be involved with me because I don't say or do the same things they're conditioned to expect. I'm very opinionated about many things, but I'm also very committed to civility. Consequently, while I'm not afraid at all of disagreeing with someone, I rarely have an actual argument with anyone. Women who are accustomed to the exhausting cycle of fighting and making up are very prone to finding me boring and leaving quickly.

Believe me, I'll stand up for myself. What I won't do, however, is make a big deal out of something that really isn't worth that kind of energy. I much prefer harmony and peace in my life, and unfortunately so many people are accustomed to frequently getting angry and then experience equally over-the-top phases of making up that they really just don't know how to acclimate to an emotionally stable relationship.

I am not at all the kind of person who will take it on the chin solely to avoid confrontation. In my old age, I've become more selective about when to speak up, certainly, but mostly I've just learned how to speak up without ranting and raving. I can still pitch an absolute fit on occasion, of course, and anyone who has ever watched me play Mario Kart Wii can attest to this. I'm comfortable yelling about the unfairness of game hackers ruining my race.
I am guaranteed to cuss and yell while playing this @#$%ing game.
Looking back, one thing I recall several of my ex's all mentioning ad nauseam when we first got together was how stupid each of them felt for how long they had stayed with guys who were unkind to them. My wife's first husband was emotionally abusive, unfaithful and a grade A jerk. She stayed with him for years. I readily admit that I was not my affectionate self during my Year of Hell with severe depression, and I know my withdrawal was hurtful for her. However, I was never actively unkind to her and never once was I unfaithful in any capacity. Why was it so much easier for her to bail on me than it was for her to leave him? I built her up emotionally, even when it was her own blood family tearing her down, but I'm the one she can just up and leave?

One of the few blogs I continue to read is Nikol Hasler's. In a recent post ("Some of Us Would Like to Hear We're Beautiful"), she states:
Some guys believe that a woman would get sick of being treated well. They believe that I would lose interest if they were good and kind and adored me. Those guys are wrong. I like to be told I’m beautiful with such sincerity. Maybe I should give up on dating and just get a parrot.
That led to the following back-and-forth between her and me in the comments section.
Me All I know is that every girl/woman I’ve ever gone out with has complained of how much they put up with from the guys who mistreated them, but they didn’t hesitate to lose interest in me. I’ve been complimentary, encouraging, patient, faithful…all the things my predecessors weren’t. I’m not qualified to draw any final conclusions from this, but I do know that just being those things is apparently insufficient to satisfy Jane Q. Public.
NH The misconception is that we lose interest BECAUSE you’re nice to us. Are we still with the guys who treated us like shit? Nope. Because they treated us like shit. The reason we’re not with a guy who didn’t treat us like shit isn’t because he was nice to us. There’s just more to it than that.
Me I readily concede that there’s a lot more to it than “leave the nice guy.” But I definitely feel that women have been much quicker to leave me than they were to leave the guys who were jerks. “My ex cheated on me several times, put me down, wasn’t there for me, etc.” I do the exact opposite, but there doesn’t even seem to be any hesitation or struggle about leaving me. Why are women so much more reluctant to leave the jerks?
NH I may be the exception, but I stick it out with nice guys. I would stay with them forever.
Except (not pointing any fingers), I do know that a few of the guys I dated who harped on the whole “Woman don’t want NICE guys! I’m such a nice guy.” song were actually the biggest jerks I ever dated.
And as for choosing jerks in the first place, that’s not my MO. The last “asshole” I dated seemed really nice for about a month. Then he got mean and I’d break up with him, he’d apologize, do a bunch of really nice things, I’d take him back… It wasn’t his asshole behavior that appealed to me.
It's certainly not an issue so simplistic that all women are bored by nice guys, and just as certainly that most jerks don't come across as such up front. Still, I maintain my point about my own anecdotal experiences. Every ex I've ever had complained extensively about how stupid they felt for what they had tolerated and put up with from my predecessors, and every one of them lost interest in me and bailed after just a couple of months without my having committed any of those offenses.
Also, in case Nikol or any of her readers happen to be here, now is as good a time as any to shamelessly promote my own previous blog post, "On Appreciating the Beauty of Women."
Another reader left the following comment:
I agree fully, Nikol. I think that there’s some sort of mass-hypnosis going on that allows guys to think that women “don’t like nice guys” when, NO….it’s that we just don’t like THEM. Telling themselves that women “only want assholes” let’s them off the hook so that they don’t have to face what it REALLY was that made us lose interest.
I'm sure there are some guys who are disingenuous about the "I'm a nice guy" thing, but I am certain I'm not among them. Not because I'm so full of myself that I'm sure I'm a nice guy because I'm afraid of introspection, but rather the reverse. I'm so self-critical that I'm aware of every flaw I have - even ones that go unnoticed by my (admittedly few) romantic partners. I can't account for what it is that I've done wrong that "REALLY" made them lose interest. I honestly cannot answer that question, and I cannot answer it for any of my past relationships. None of my friends can (or will) explain it, either, and there are no sycophants in my inner circle. They'll kick me in the teeth about everything else, so I cannot fathom that on this one subject they've all conspired to keep from telling me about an obvious flaw.

I also follow a few adult bloggers as well, and I recently discussed my woes with one of them (no links to this one). She suggested that I "get the rope out" and look into purchasing a ball-gag and whip, as well as a Sybian. "They may stick around a little longer," she offered. Her perspective, then, was that women lose interest in me because I'm not sufficiently aggressive or dominant. Now we're back to the struggle between my peaceable nature, and the interests of women. All I can conclude is that women are not interested in a peaceable guy like me.

I would love to know just what it is that I have (or haven't) done that has led every girl/woman I've ever gone out with to lose interest in me after just a couple of months. I would very happily work to change that. At present, though, my understanding of my relationships, the girls/women themselves and human nature in general leads me to just one conclusion: I don't behave like most guys, and no matter how frustrated they may get with Joe Sixpack, he's familiar. They may hate all the arguing and insensitivity, but they're used to it enough that when they're with a guy like me where things are peaceful, it's confusing. It lacks the kinetic thrills they associate with being in a relationship, and the truth is that entirely too many people - of any gender - don't really want companionship nearly as much as they really just want the game playing and charades of courtship.

Feedback is always welcome on this blog, and particularly on this post. Some of you know me and my previous experiences well enough to have keen insights. Some of you may simply wish to relate to the broad themes I've outlined here. Whatever it is, I'd love to hear it!
(While I'm thinking about it, Nikol Hasler is made of awesomesauce and you should definitely follow her blogTwitter feed and Facebook page, Nikol Hasler Loves Your Shoes.)

23 May 2012

My Hate/Hate Relationship with Crohn's

I have been very candid in this blog about my experiences with depression, but it occurs to me that I haven't elaborated much about my experiences with Crohn's disease. What follows is what I wrote for a private Crohn's support group. I was reluctant to share it, but eventually I concluded that this belongs here.

As a child, I avoided lots of foods high in acid content, high in dairy content and things that were likely to lead to scar tissue. It was an instinctual thing, I think, though at the time I was interpreted to be "picky." In my teens and early 20s, it became more obvious that I had to run to the bathroom within minutes of eating. Coworkers once accused me of being bulemic, and only half in jest. It became worse, though like most Crohnies I downplayed it for a while. Where I'm from, that's "bellyaching" and griping about it just invites scorn. "Suck it up and quit your whining," the voices would say.

I was certain it was just routine psychosomatic stress from being in college, working at my family's shop and the flurry of activity that went along with having a new girlfriend. Once school let out for summer, I was certain things would calm down. Eventually, though, it reached a point where I decided I'd rather be teased for making too much out of my discomfort if it meant actually making it go away. I went to my doctor, her new physician's assistant ran some tests and diagnosed me with GERD and prescribed some Protonix for the heartburn. It helped for a very short time, but then that seemed to make no discernible difference in how I felt. I gave up taking the Protonix (my family couldn't afford insurance through our shop) and consigned myself to being miserable.

Then in the middle of the night, as my then-girlfriend was preparing to go to work (her shift started at 5 AM), I was in excruciating pain. I was curled up in the fetal position, shaking uncontrollably and incapable of making the pain even subside, much less go away. She called into work and took me to the emergency room. Eventually, the E.R. doc came in to tell me it looked like Crohn's, but that it would have to be a gastroenterologist to make the final determination. I was treated with IV fluids, steroids and antibiotics and eventually released to follow up with a gastro. who did, of course, confirm that it was Crohn's. I learned almost two years after my colonoscopy that they couldn't even finish that test because of the damage. The camera simply couldn't get through.

Life with Crohn's
I tried to manage to carry on with my daily life as best I could, allowing that Crohn's could and would be an interruption. I was, of course, hopelessly naive. I was only able to even complete my final year at the University of Louisville because my professors were all very understanding and supportive and elected to not hold me to their respective attendance policies. Had any of them wished to have me removed from the class roster and assign me a failing grade, they would have all been well within their rights to do so. I often came to class late and left early. Some sessions, I was there on time but spent the majority of class in the bathroom. More often than that, though, I was outright absent as I was incapable of even making the drive to campus.

As frustrating as that was, it was worse at work. As with school, I was often tardy, in the bathroom or outright absent. The only reason I wasn't fired was because I worked for my own family. Even then, though, they frequently complained about the short notice when I called to say I couldn't make it, 20 minutes before we opened. I couldn't know in advance when I would feel miserable or how badly. That uncertainty came to dominate my daily life.

Every bite of food became a game of roulette. Would this be the bite that put me in the hospital? Every visit to the bathroom was filled with anxiety. What if I saw a lot of blood? What if I had a blockage? It wasn't just that it was inconvenient and often painful. It became the bogeyman. Despite all this, my girlfriend was unfazed and we married 7 January 2006, between semesters of my final year.

Eventually, my family realized that it was impractical (if not outright impossible) to continue to operate the business. My mother's health had already forced her out of it and my grandmother was nearing her 70s. My uncle "worked" there, but he was the epitome of a useless employee. (I know for a fact he often closed the place down and left just because he got bored on the days when he was supposed to work alone.) Without me being 100% reliable, or even 90%, it just couldn't be done. So it came to be that our 20th anniversary year was also our final year. I still feel badly about that.

I tried to find ways to carry on in a worthwhile capacity, but the unpredictability continued to cause problems every step of the way. I missed at least three job interviews because of Crohn's. Before I even graduated with my bachelor of arts degree, I met with someone in the admissions office at the graduate school. I explained my medical situation and she told me pointblank that it was foolish for me to even bother trying to get my master of arts in education and go into teaching as I had planned. I would be lucky to even function as a student, much less could I handle the logistics of being a teacher. So much for the dream I'd been working on for several years.

Being a non-contributor was more than just a financial drain on my marriage. I had dealt with depression issues off and on since my youth, and eventually they overwhelmed me. This time, all the self-doubts and self-criticisms had their evidence to win their case. I really was worthless. I came to resent every day that I woke up. I came to my wife about all this in January, 2011 and we went to see my doctor. Over the next few months, we experimented with anti-depressants, but nothing worked. Each failure felt like one more door closing on me, pushing me down a hallway toward the inevitable.

I have always been interested in social events and politics, and the open hostility towards people like me vis a vis health care became another bogeyman in my life. I had no right to expect any help from anyone, it was selfish of me to even exist and the only decent thing for me to do was either suffer alone or go off and decrease the surplus population. I resented being alive and so too did my fellow Americans. Wolf Blitzer, moderating a debate of Republican candidates, asked Ron Paul what to do about a hypothetically uninsured patient. "Let him die!" yelled someone in the audience. The outburst garnered applause, but not one admonition from a single candidate. The message was clear: I should die.

Ultimately, my wife insisted I check into a mental health facility after my third near-attempt. It was tremendously helpful, but the morning I was discharged I learned that my wife was leaving.
For more on my hospitalization, see "Confessions of a Therapy Patient."
Since being discharged, I've made a point to speak out about my experiences because I know firsthand how troubling it is to feel isolated by these conditions. I can't treat anyone or help with the research or anything like that, but I can hopefully help people just not feel so alone, and maybe even demonstrate to them that there really is more to our lives than prescriptions, missed appointments and unpayable medical bills.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie"

Among the handful of blogs I follow is The Frame. It's written by a fellow Flickcharter, Jandy. She has a sub-series called, "He Says, She Says" in which she and her husband Jonathan alternate introducing the other to a favorite movie. He previously selected Wayne's World, so he's very much my kinda guy. Anyway, today she posted about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie and it drew out of me such a comprehensive reply that, when I discovered I hadn't actually discussed it here, I decided my response was worthy of being its own post on my own blog. Go read their discussion first, though, and be sure to comment there, too. It's okay, I'll wait.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Starring Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas
Based on Characters Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Story by Bobby Herbeck
Screenplay by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck
Directed by Steve Barron

I still recall very clearly my mom taking my brother and me to see this at the now-defunct Showcase Cinemas in Louisville when it opened. That was a big deal in itself, because we didn't go to see very many movies at that point in our lives, and when we did, it was almost always at the second run theaters. We got there, though, to discover it was actually sold out! The corridors were packed with kids in TMNT T-shirts and I can even recall someone being in a Turtle costume. Maybe it was something the theater arranged, maybe it was an overly zealous fan; I can't say. Mom bought tickets for the next showing and we screwed off for an hour or so before returning. I think we went to have dinner. We got mini-posters from that screening, and I had mine for quite a while. I can't now account for its fate, though.

What struck me most in the movie was how little it resembled the animated series with which I was acquainted. This story was much less slapstick-y and clearly wanted to exist in the "real" world. There were no inter-dimensional beings, for instance, and Donatello didn't have a ton of outrageous gadgets. There is a skateboard in the movie, but it's just a regular skateboard. When you're 10, these kinds of things constitute "realism." I also wondered why they didn't cast the voice actors from the cartoon for the movie, since their voices were familiar to the kids in the theater and it was obvious that the actors in the suits weren't providing their own voices.

Somewhere along the line, though, I got past my milieu prejudices and was able to acclimate to the movie for what it was. By the time we left the theater, I had happily accepted it. I bought the soundtrack on cassette, which was awesome because it included Partners in Kryme's "T-U-R-T-L-E Power" from the end credits as well as an M.C. Hammer song not found on any of his own albums ("This Is What We Do"). When I recently made a Hammer playlist, that song had to go on it. I was given the movie on VHS for either my birthday or Christmas that year (having a December birthday, I can't always recall which occasion) at both my mom's and my dad's, meaning wherever I was on any given weekend, I had access to it. I couldn't guess how many times I watched it on tape.

Years later, a friend of mine and I would often ride around in her car singing along with "T-U-R-T-L-E Power." That occasioned one of my numerous misheard lyrics discussions. I could have sworn the line is, "Step on the Foot, now they're going into retraction." (Why that made sense, I can't say.) It is, in fact, "Step on the Foot, now they're gonna lose traction."

We spent a lot of Sundays with mom at malls, because they involved a lot of walking and window shopping - a cheap way to kill a day. We were almost always given a few bucks to spend at the ubiquitous dollar stores, and one day I found the First Comics collected edition of the first four issues of the original Eastman & Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book. For a dollar, hell yeah I bought it! Very quickly, I understood that this was what the movie was based on, and it all made much more sense to me why they had made no effort to resemble the animated series. That changed with the sequels, which were much more in the vain of silliness of the TV version and after reading the first four comics I began to resent the things that weren't properly adapted.

Later, I happily bought the movie on DVD and it was the first time I watched a movie with the dubbed foreign language track. Seriously, you haven't lived until you've watched this with the French audio track. Don't even bother with the English subtitles. If you can combine this with drinking, it's even better.

In 2009, Baxter Avenue Theater hosted a midnight screening of it and my wife and I (both big fans) took my younger cousin to see it. She didn't have the same enthusiasm we had, but she seemed to like it. Like Jonathan, I was prepared to apologize for it but discovered instead it had held up quite well. I credit that to the very thing that I initially resisted: its basis on the original comic book material.

I did write about that screening (I couldn't find it initially, because apparently I didn't apply the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" label for some reason).

22 May 2012

"Ghost World"

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro with Illeana Douglas and Steve Busemi
Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes
Written by Daniel Clowes & Terry Zwigoff
Directed by Terry Zwigoff

The first I heard of Ghost World (that I recall, anyway) was some brief coverage of the movie in Wizard. There may or may not have been a synopsis; all I can say for certain is that I was captivated by the image of Thora Birch wearing the latex mask. I always assumed it was a pseudo-Catwoman mask, but I learned recently that it is instead "a rubber bondage mask with devil horns." Regardless, I was aware that it was based on an underground comic and held in high esteem by people who knew about such things. Like so many things that cross my path, though, it remained relegated to a file in the back of my mind for several years.
In March, 2009, Howard the Duck finally came out on DVD and I had to have it so my wife and I went to Best Buy (since Walmart didn't have the decency to stock it). I came across Ghost World for $4.44 and took a chance on it as a blind buy. To show you how bad I am about actually getting around to things, I didn't finally watch the movie until 1 May 2010, when I selected it to begin that month's DVD Talk viewing challenge. I fell completely in love with the meandering coming-of-age tale.

It's been quite a while since I've thrown myself wholly into exploring a movie as thoroughly as I have with Ghost World; the last was probably Eyes Wide Shut. At Half Price Books, I picked up the soundtrack on CD and later the published screenplay. Then, a week ago, I finally bought the graphic novel at The Great Escape.

The Story

Enid (Birch) is somewhere between a precocious slacker and a lazy hipster. She's a misfit in her quiet suburban town, bored and disinterested. Growing up in LaGrange, KY, I felt like that a lot. Still do, if I'm being honest. There's that tug at 18 of having the door of youth closed on you, and while everyone has ideas of what you should or shouldn't do from that point forward, it's extremely rare that anyone actually knows what to do or how to go about it. Most people latch onto some generic outline of how to be an adult and they wing it from there. Either college or work usually offer the kind of structure that helps someone begin to figure out their direction.

I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, and I knew that if I tried to go to college directly out of high school that I would simply screw off and waste time and money. Instead, I went to work for Walmart, taking a job unloading trucks on third shift. (I also snagged a sweet gig as "night security" I'll discuss in another post sometime.) It took just a few months of that for me to get a sense of what I didn't want to do with my life, but that's not the same as knowing what you do want to do. That took a while longer. Still, I vividly recall those first several months after graduating high school and I recognized the universal truth of Enid's plight.

Rebecca, of course, is the friend who ultimately will default to the same tried and true paradigm for life that everyone else has used. This alienates Enid, partly because she sees her friend as "selling out" the scornful values upon which their relationship has been built. Rebecca has a much easier time of it, too, finding a job and adapting to it with plans for an apartment and functioning as a real grown-up. Enid, conversely, simply cannot make herself adapt. Enter: Seymour, who comes to effectively personify for Enid that there is another way besides the soulless path down which Rebecca is choosing to follow.

On the other end of the spectrum, of course, is Seymour. He embodies the self-loathing of Clowes and the niche obsessions of Zwigoff, and both are familiar traits to I suspect most of us who identify as comic book readers, movie aficionados and other such "collector" types. The best microcosm for him is on page 54 of the script:
Yeah, well it's simple for everybody else--give 'em a Big Mac and a sport utility vehicle and they're happy! I just can't relate to 99.9% of humanity.
Yeah, well, I can't relate to humanity either, but I don't think it's totally hopeless...
But it's not totally hopeless for you... I've had it. I don't even have the energy to try anymore. You should make sure you do the exact opposite of everything I do so you don't end up like me...
I'd rather end up like you than those people at that stupid bar... At least you're an interesting person... at least you're not exactly like everybody else...
Hooray for me.
I've found myself identifying as much with Seymour as with Enid, of course, though I have to say my perspective has somewhat changed recently. I've got a new friend I met in October and we relate to one another in a way not terribly dissimilar to the way Enid and Seymour relate to one another (though without the sexual attraction). I know now what it's like to have someone younger want to live in a world where guys like Seymour and me have a fighting chance at happiness, even when guys like he and I have a hard time caring ourselves.

Perhaps nothing in this world is as moving as someone with more potential than you, taking the time to care about whether you're living up to yours. That, I believe, is the true root of Seymour's feelings for Enid. She doesn't have to care at all, yet she does. She sees more in him than he's allowed himself to see in years, and it's a reminder that he has more to give than trivia about old 78s. That's why he's willing to end his budding relationship with Dana; Enid touches a part of him that she doesn't. He could contentedly go through the motions with Dana and tell himself he's happy with a woman who doesn't really "get" him, but is happy to think she does, but he needs more than that. We all do.


Ghost World
DVD Release Date: 2 February 2002
List Price: $14.98

Unfortunately for someone like me, the DVD is very light on bonus content. There's no commentary track. Worse yet, it's non-anamorphic, meaning that all bonus content appears pillar-boxed on my TV screen. (Yes, this is a first world problem.) What is included consists of a handful of deleted and alternate scenes, a brief making-of featurette and a clip from the movie, Gumnaan of the performance of "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" that opens Ghost World. It's like if Eyes Wide Shut had been directed by Quentin Tarantino instead of Stanley Kubrick. The highlight, I suppose, is director/co-writer Terry Zwigoff talking about how his wife informed him that the one guy he should worry about leaving her alone with was Steve Buscemi.

The CD

Ghost World Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Date of Release: 14 August 2001
List Price: $14.14

One of the most important elements of Ghost World is the music. IMDb's soundtrack listing shows 36 songs appear throughout the movie. There are 20 songs on the soundtrack album, but only 14 of those appear in the film. Zwigoff added six songs from his personal library of 78s (tracks 14-19), all from the 1920s, that he felt suited the aesthetic of the film and the album. In his liner notes, Zwigoff notes that "The [Lionel] Belasco tunes chosen for the film...are taken from extremely rare original 78rpm recordings that are among the few known copies to exist." Put simply, the character of Seymour exists in many ways as a manifestation of Zwigoff himself.

As in the film, I find the two standouts to be "Jaan Pehachaan Ho" by Mohammed Rafi and "Devil Got My Woman" by Skip James. The former is punchy and fun (see the video clip above), and the latter is achingly raw. It's the kind of song that you write or sing when you have the kind of pain that can't be expressed or soothed any other way. Every time I hear it, it puts me in the mood for the humidity of Black Snake Moan. This is the kind of album you throw on after dinner, having a beer by yourself or playing Yahtzee with a friend and thinking of when you used to be impatient with the world.

The CD booklet includes a six-panel strip by Daniel Clowes, featuring Seymour giving Enid a mix tape of some of his 78s, and her listening to them with Rebecca.

The Graphic Novel

Ghost World
by Daniel Clowes
Seventeenth Softcover Edition
Designed by Daniel Clowes
Published by Thompson & Groth
Color Separations by Daniel Clowes
Date of Publication: 21 March 2003
Cover Price: $11.95
80 Pages

What I discovered when I finally read the source material was that this is one of those rare adaptations that dramatically overhauls the source material to create two distinct bodies of work. Clowes's original story was serialized in Eightball, and even in collected form it's unclear that it was ever intended to tell the kind of focused, singular narrative found in the film. Instead, each segment reads as its own episode. It calls to mind Beavis and Butt-Head, really, partly because Enid and Rebecca are presented less as sympathetic figures experiencing universal rites of passage and more as snarky, raunchy, instigating brats. Viewers of the film will still find many of the same plot points, but they're scattered and much less interconnected the way they are in the film.

Incidentally, the official movie website is still active. There is a list of F.A.Q. in the Production Notes section. One question is, "How is the movie different from the comic?"
A. For one thing, the comic is made up of bound pieces of parchment on which reproductions of hand-drawn pictographs have been imprinted, while the movie is actually made up of thousands and thousands of tiny transparent photographs.
For those more interested in content differences, I found the biggest difference to be that there's no Seymour, at least not as he appears in the film. The girls still prank the guy whose classified personals ad catches their attention, but that's near the end. Instead, the comic is dominated by an emerging love triangle of Enid, Rebecca and Josh (who is almost peripheral in the film).

As for the comic itself, Clowes's original characters live more removed from the fun stuff. They're more clearly established on the outskirts of town, constantly needing to figure out who can give them a ride somewhere. (Yes, in the film they prevail on Josh to give them a ride, but he points out while driving that they could have just walked.) The use of light cyan colored shading/coloring creates a very distinctive look throughout the otherwise black-and-white comic. The screenplay (discussed next) emphasizes that there's a noticeable blue light cast on the streets by all the TVs being watched, and I wonder if that's what the cyan here signifies.

The Screenplay

Ghost World, a Screenplay by Daniel Clowes & Terry Zwigoff
Designer - Daniel Clowes
First Assistant Designer - Dan Raeburn
Production by Dan Raeburn
Publisher - Fantagraphics Books
Date of Publication:
Cover Price: $16.95

A ten-panel strip by Clowes introduces us to Enid and Rebecca, now poised in the Hollywood scene riding high on the success of the movie. Zwigoff and Clowes each penned an introduction, commenting on the genesis of the film and how difficult it was to convince anyone to make it, etc. The draft presented is the final shooting draft, dated 25 February 2000 (revised: 7 March).

I've often heard actors say they were drawn to a movie because the script was so funny. Reading Ghost World, I got a strong sense of what that's like. Even having heard this dialog spoken in the film (and some of it originally appeared verbatim in the comic), I came across some of the driest, most deadpan quips and caught myself chuckling. There were still some changes between even the final draft and the final film. Just a little thing, but when Enid and Rebecca go to the fake-50s diner, Rebecca asks the waiter, Al, if they can call him, "'Weird' Al." This is in the comic. There, as in the screenplay, he responds, "Heh heh" and proceeds to offer the day's specials. In the film, though, Ezra Buzzington pauses and after thinking it over for a moment, says, "I'd imagine so."

Also excised from the final film is a dream sequence in which Josh gets into the shower with Enid. That, in turn, is an alteration from an entire subplot in the comic book.

What all four works have in common is the creation of a specific atmosphere that feels instantly familiar yet original. That's no small feat to accomplish. If it was, every story would feel that way. Daniel Clowes's characters are recognizable as who we used to be, facing the first real crossroads of life. What Terry Zwigoff contributed perhaps more than anything else was the reminder to make sure we listen to music not as obligatory background noise, but as works of art. In this, Ghost World is as much a paean to the budding artist as it is to the waning days of youth.
Front Row: DVD. Middle row (l to r): graphic novel, screenplay, CD. Back row: Ramona.

16 May 2012

Midnights at the Baxter Summer 2012 Lineup

It's that time of year again! As always, the summer lineup was decided by vote. Here's what Louisvillians can go see at Baxter Avenue Theaters this year.
  • 2 June RoboCop
  • 16 June Hobo with a Shotgun
  • 30 June Rollerball
  • 14 July Army of Darkness
  • 28 July Darkman
  • 11 August Tombstone
  • 25 August Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • 8 September Back to the Future
Don't forget to join the Fans of Midnights at the Baxter Movie Series Facebook group for up to date announcements about screenings, to make your requests and to join in the discussions about the movies screened.

Here's an IMDb list of the movies that have already played or are scheduled to play. For those of you who use ICheckMovies.com, there is also a list there of the series. The important thing is that, after nearly four years of lobbying, I finally get my crack at seeing Tombstone on the big screen! Woo hoo!

14 May 2012

My First Ever Illustrated Comic Book Storage Short Box

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to illustrate a comic book box. I never did, though. Mostly, it was because I was entirely too self-conscious of how bad an artist I was. I'm still aware I haven't put in the time or effort to become nearly as good as I maybe could, but I'm a lot less self-conscious about it today. No one will ever mistake me for anything other than what I am, of course; a crude, amateurish imitator. You know what? I'm fine with that. It's not like I'm trying to pass myself off as a pro or anything. I sketch because I enjoy it. I want to get better, sure, but I'm not worried about other people seeing what I've done and reacting with disdain. That's why not only have I finally attempted to appease my inner child, but I'm sharing the results with you now, Dear Reader.

You'll note an absence of superheroes save one. That was very deliberate. I could have done an entire Bat-box, for instance, and I was very tempted to do that. I may do one in the future, but I decided that I really wanted this first illustrated box to represent a look at the diversity of the medium. The only character on this entire box I have ever attempted to sketch before is the lone superhero, The Tick. I never did many Tick sketches, though, probably only three or four ever, and none in the last decade that I can recall. It was pretty ambitious to do an entire box of characters I had never sketched before, but what fun!

Comic Book Storage Short Box ($3.75 on sale from $5.00 at The Great Escape)
General Pencil - Sketch & Wash #588BP ($2.99 at Michael's)
Craft Smart Paint Pen - black, broad line ($2.29 at Michael's)
I dashed off just a little red using an old felt tip pen I had lying around.

Side A - pencils and inks 12 May


  • The Tick - The Tick: Luny Bin Trilogy #1 cover by Eli Stone
  • Abbey Chase - Danger Girl: The Dangerous Collection #1 by J. Scott Campbell
  • Marv silhouette on a wall - Sin City: Just Another Saturday Night #1/2 by Frank Miller

Abbey was the character who intimidated me the most, without question. I resolved going into this, though, that my goal was to evoke the characters and not the work of specific artists. That is to say, I wasn't trying to duplicate J. Scott Campbell. I was just trying to put Abbey Chase onto the box. Her legs disappeared in the inking process and I'm not very happy with her hands and gun, but otherwise I'm pretty content with the way she turned out.

Side B - pencils and inks 13 May (Fone Bone, Betty & Veronica) and 14 May (Enid)


  • Fone Bone - Bone: Out from Boneville Scholastic trade paperback, art by Jeff Smith
  • Betty & Veronica - Pep Comics featuring Betty & Veronica Free Comic Book Day 2011, art by Dan Parent
  • Enid - Ghost World Seventeenth edition softcover, art by Daniel Clowes

Bone was originally blocked out for Side A, but once I actually began to sketch Abbey Chase, it became apparent that he would work better somewhere else. It was just as well, because all I had for sure for Side B were Betty & Veronica! I eventually decided that the remaining space would be a good place for Enid. It seemed appropriate to her character, too, to be on the side with the all-ages characters, but looking away.

Side C - pencils and inks 14 May and 18 June
  • Deena Pilgrim - sketch by Michael Avon Oeming (14 May)
  • Wendy Watson - The Middleman vol. 2., art by Les McClaine [I'm not sure which specific issue; I checked out The Middleman: The Complete Series Indispensability! from the library.] (18 June)
  • Marjane Satrapi - cover of The Complete Persepolis, art by Marjane Satrapi (18 June)
Deena Pilgrim had to go on this box, partly to represent Powers and partly because I love her. I looked at the covers to the second volume's #9, #12 and #20 and some promotional images before finding that sketch by Oeming. It was perfect for what I wanted. I'm very happy with the way she turned out, though I admit I feel like there's something somewhat reminiscent of Huey Freeman to her.

Side D - pencils and inks 14 May


  • Francine & Katchoo - Strangers in Paradise: It's a Good Life, art by Terry Moore
As with Deena Pilgrim, I searched for quite a while before finding the image to use for Francine & Katchoo. At one point, it was just going to be Katchoo. For a while, I wanted to use issue #11. I even had it in mind to incorporate Batwoman into that side, taken from Amy Reeder's cover to Batwoman #8. She was going to be perched atop the lid, with her cape flowing down into the side of the box in front of the moon from the Strangers in Paradise cover. At the last minute, though, I settled on the cover to the third trade paperback collection. Why did I omit David? I'm not really sure. He just didn't feel right to me for this box, though I confess that open space on the side is awfully conspicuous and I think I may add him at some point in the future.

I'm pretty sure Young Travis is happy with the way this turned out, though I know part of him wants to yell, "BUT THERE'S NO BATMAN!" I'm strongly considering doing a Bat-box next, though, so that should mollify him.

10 May 2012

Review: The Castaways

The Castaways
Written by Rob Vollmar
Art by Pablo G. Callejo
Date of Publication: 12 March 2007
Cover Price: $17.95
74 pages

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I returned Blackest Night to the library and browsed around, and this caught my eye. I flaked out in a very comfortable chair for about 40 minutes or so and read it on the spot. The back of the book text suggests it owes its literary roots to Twain among others and it's easy to see why. In a lot of ways, The Castaways is a redressed telling of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Pablo G. Callejo's artwork is responsible for a lot of what works best in The Castaways, from establishing its environment to creating sympathetic characters in Tucker and, to a lesser extent, Elijah. It's a pretty obvious story, right down to its feel-good ending, but when we see Tucker's heart breaking it's nearly impossible to not want to reach through the page and just hold that little boy and console him somehow.

The Widow is a powerful antagonist, and she works particularly well as a study in self-righteous hypocrisy masquerading as piety. My lot in life has been better than some, but certainly less advantageous than many. I found her harsh words about worthlessness stung me quite harshly. Rarely have I felt such animosity toward a fictitious character, so kudos to writer Rob Vollmar for getting under my skin that way.

Also, I appreciated the distinctions made between a hobo, tramp and bum. They tend to all be treated as synonymous words today, but it was nice to be reminded that there were (and, I suppose, are) differences between the three and their ambitious and attitudes. It was a nice attention to detail that I appreciated.

Still, the story is rather predictable and its treatment of racial issues - while admirable - is similarly simplistic. Callejo's artwork benefits tremendously from the high quality paper of this volume, and it's certainly a handsome work, but I cringed when I discovered its cover price is a staggering $17.95! I could not honestly say I feel the story lives up to that price tag.

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09 May 2012

Review: Blackest Night

Blackest Night
Geoff Johns - Writer
Ivan Reis - Penciller
Oclair Albert - Inker
Rob Hunter (Prologue), Julio Ferreira (Part Two), Joe Prado (Parts Three-Eight) - Additional Inks
Alex Sinclair - Colorist
Nick J. Napolitano - Letterer
Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert with Alex Sinclair - Covers
Date of Publication: 13 July 2010 (hardcover collected edition)
Cover Price: $29.99
304 pages

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was a regular reader of DC Comics from 1989 through 1994. By the end of those five years, I was simply exhausted from having to buy upwards of ten comics monthly just to keep up with Batman and Superman. Then came the "Zero Hour" event, marketed as a jumping-on point for new readers. I instead jumped off. I had become interested in Green Lantern right around that time, though, and there was just the one book to read. Plus, the story arc at the time was "Emerald Twilight," in which Hal Jordan snapped and killed all the other Green Lanterns to use their rings to kill Sinestro, and that set up newbie Kyle Rayner as the lone Lantern. It was accessible to me, so I kept reading. Eventually, though, I bailed on that, too, around 2000.

Since then, DC decided that they didn't really want Kyle to be the only Lantern so Geoff Johns was tasked with resurrecting not just Hal Jordan, but everyone. This kicked off a sort of sprawling space opera in the GL mythology the last several years and I kept hearing about it but, just like the 90s, there didn't seem to be an easy jumping on point. Last year, I picked up DC's Free Comic Book Day offering, presenting Johns's update of the origin of Hal Jordan. There was an ad in the comic for an assortment of recent collected editions of all that has taken place in the comics since those mass resurrections. I was briefly interested, but then I realized I would have to start at the beginning and work my way through eight volumes just to know what was happening and why. I passed.

Yesterday, though, I happened to find the Blackest Night hardcover at my local library. I decided to just read it and see what made sense. I was able to keep up just fine, but what I couldn't find was a reason to care. The plot amounts to "ZOMG! You know what would be awesome? If the whole DC Universe had to fight zombies with the Care Bear stare!" It's not without potential, but at no point did I ever feel this needed to be a DCU event. It could very easily have been confined to the Lanterns, and if they had gone that route, enough attention might have been paid to enough characters that I would have cared about them.

I did read the Identity Crisis mini-series when it was first published, so I got the subplot about Ray Palmer, Sue Dibney, et al but for casual or new readers, that's all treated as assumed knowledge. It's a microcosm of everything that has alienated me from mainstream superhero monthlies for about 17 years: The storytellers have often been so far down the rabbit hole that they forget not everyone is down there with them. There's a promotional piece for this story on the Green Lantern: First Flight Blu-ray, and Dan DiDio just gushes over what he got Geoff Johns to do with this. Both that promotional piece and the work itself smack of glorified fanfic. There should be a better reason for a sprawling storyline besides, "Wouldn't it be really cool to have lots of splash pages with all these characters?!" (Admittedly, Ivan Reis's art is gorgeous and the guy has a terrific talent for such large scale imagery.)

Johns does imbue the story with some nice character moments, most of which take place between Hal and then-recently-resurrected pal Barry Allen (The Flash). There's some nice stuff with Mera, Aquaman's wife; Ray Palmer (The Atom) and a small flicker of stuff with Hawkman and Hawkgirl. There's some nice humor, too; the Firestorm zombie genuinely made me chuckle a few times. But, much like the Star Wars prequels, all the reasons I was supposed to have for actually caring about the fate of most of the characters was outsourced or assumed and not in the story itself.

Maybe it played different in the frenzy of so many issues in so little time, especially since there were concurrent Blackest Night stories woven in the pages of other comics not included in this volume. I don't know. But this collected edition just felt obvious and uninspired, and rather than leaving me excited for more, I was more or less just grateful to have finished slogging through it.

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07 May 2012

"Marvel's 'The Avengers'"

Marvel's The Avengers
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tim Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders with Stellan Skarsgard and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Story by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon
Screenplay by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
Date of Release: 4 May 2012
Date of Screening: 6 May 2012

Believe it or not, but until 19 April, I hadn't seen any of the Avengers solo movies except 2003's Hulk, which I count as the single most dissatisfying movie-going experience I've had yet. Anyway, 2008's The Incredible Hulk more or less functions as much as a reboot as it does as a sequel so that earlier movie isn't even particularly important. Still, by hitting Redbox, the Oldham County Public Library and using a $3.00 promotional credit for Amazon Instant Video, I was able to get caught up in time for "Marvel's The Avengers." It turns out that I would have still been perfectly capable of following the story without any homework, thanks partly to some context clues and largely to selective exposition. I cringe at the notion of anyone being lost throughout this movie.

It was fun, and the sense of humor on display was particularly solid. Our theater laughed from start to finish, with a spattering of applause throughout (nearly all of which was for The Hulk). The main cast had nice chemistry with one another, and it was a reminder just how perfect was the casting of Robert Downey, Jr. as the abrasive Tony Stark. I would be stunned if the Blu-ray bonus content isn't full of the rest of the cast praising his leadership on and off the set, because I really had the sense that they took their cues as much from him as from Joss Whedon's screenplay.

I came into the movie most excited to see ScarJo cut loose as Black Widow, and I was particularly hopeful about her role in this because of Whedon's reputation for writing strong women protagonists. I was very happy with both the character and actress. She was the linchpin of the whole operation in a lot of ways, though more understated than the fellas. My only qualm with her was in Act III, when she quips to Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) that, "This is just like Budapest." A former Russian would very likely have pronounced it, "Boo-ta-pesht," but after seeing Loki (Tom Hittleston) address a crowd of Germans in English, that kind of detail was obviously important only to me. Also, that just felt like a very cliche spy movie line to me. Maybe because Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol both take place (at least briefly) there, or maybe because I've heard that line and some variations on it often in Burn Notice. Maybe it was some kind of in-joke, since Renner was in Ghost Protocol?

Still, I confess that for all the fun I had, I wasn't really able to just get into the movie. It started with the release poster (shown above), which I likened to the movie poster equivalent of playing with Colorforms. Each Avenger appears in some peculiar pose and they were all just kind of thrown against a generic background. There's no consistency to the lighting and the spatial orientation only seems to invite disbelieving scrutiny. I saw a massive banner version of it at C2E2 and it played better there because of the scale, but I still have one chief problem with it: Both Iron Man and Captain America are unmasked. Story-wise, that makes absolutely no sense for either to be unmasked (especially Iron Man) in the middle of what is clearly a battle scene. But it makes perfect Hollywood sense, because the agents representing Downey and Chris Evans both want to make sure their clients are visible to audiences. That poster is a perfect microcosm of my complaints with The Avengers.

Much of the first act is merely perfunctory, which is fine but there's one sequence that just didn't set right with me. The Avengers have just captured Loki, when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appears out of nowhere to take custody of his brother. Bickering and fighting ensues, with Iron Man and Thor duking it out in a forest before Cap intervenes. It's a typical alpha male clash meant for just one purpose: To show us Thor striking Cap's shield. It's an iconic image and moment in the comic book lore and it was something I'm sure a lot of fans have wanted to see in a movie for decades, but it just felt shoehorned into the story for me. It didn't help that throughout that entire sequence, nobody is actually watching Loki, who appears to loiter around just waiting for his captors to work out who's taking him in. Later, it's revealed why he was so cooperative but during that scene it just felt carelessly self-indulgent.

In Act III, true to the poster, Cap is clawed at by some of the invading bad guys and they unmask him. Now, it's just a hoodie. He could easily have pulled it back on. But that's not the point. Evans is supposed to be visible to the audience, whether Cap would be or not. It was a reminder what's wrong with so many superhero movies: Actors become movie stars by being prominently visible to the audience, and superheroes design costumes for anonymity. That translates into a lot of story time written to put the movie star's mug in front of us, which often detracts from the alter ego for whom we've really shown up to see.

There were six trailers before the screening, and the first three represent my other complaint with the movie. Before I even got a chance to see the Paramount mountain, I had spent 7:49 minutes watching trailers for Battleship (2:29), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2:42) and The Expendables 2 (2:38). I'm not even sure they're actually different movies. As near as I can tell, they're just three different cuts of one movie. Nothing in The Avengers felt different from those three trailers, and I felt it was heavily recycled from other recent blockbusters.

Mark Ruffalo was a fine Bruce Banner, but I kept thinking of how he was in the role Karl Urban had as Dr. McCoy in 2009's Star Trek, caught between Iron Man and Captain America the way McCoy was caught between Kirk and Spock. Then there's the invasion of New York City, which was nothing more than a redressing of the Decepticon invasion of Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I kept waiting for Optimus Prime to show up with reinforcements. I didn't need to bother with Iron ManIron Man 2Captain America: The First AvengerThor or The Incredible Hulk. I had already seen The Avengers.

Ultimately, "Marvel's The Avengers" delivers exactly what it advertised. For casual fans who just want to gawk at these mythical figures interacting and doing their thing, there's plenty to like. For viewers who are a little more astute about such things as Hollywood formulas, though, unfortunately, the movie's ad campaign has already told you what to expect, too.

The last I saw, it was already at #11 on the global list at Flickchart. It entered mine at #342. Clearly, I'm the stick in the mud who over-thought things. Whatever. I'm just happy to know that there's apparently talk now of a Black Widow solo movie. I'll go see that.

06 May 2012

Cinemark Classic Series 2012

While checking for matinee show times and prices for The Avengers just now, I happened upon a page promoting a forthcoming Cinemark Classic Series. Every Wednesday in June and July, Cinemark will screen a specific classic film in all its digitally restored glory. Fans of 35mm film prints need not bother, but for those who can accept the newfangled digital projections, here's the lineup.
  • 6/6 The Exorcist
  • 6/13 Citizen Kane
  • 6/20 Cool Hand Luke
  • 6/27 The Searchers
  • 7/4 That's Entertainment
  • 7/11 A Clockwork Orange
  • 7/18 North by Northwest
  • 7/25 Cabaret
Note: Each show plays at 2:00 and again at 7:00 and special event ticketing prices apply to either show.

05 May 2012


Today, incidentally, is the early May Trifecta. The first Saturday in May is always the Kentucky Derby as well as Free Comic Book Day, and this year it also falls on Cinco de Mayo. Clearly, there's only one thing to do: Go to The Great Escape for some free comics and then flake out at a Derby party knocking back margaritas the rest of the day. I'm wiped out from a rough last couple of days of not sleeping, though, so I won't be doing any of that, but you should!

Speaking of Free Comic Book Day; I already posted a list of this year's free issues, but Ty Templeton created a really nice primer cartoon for those of you who might be going to your first FCBD. Take a moment and enjoy "Free Bun Toons! YAY!" and then go ahead and explore Art Land. It's one of the few blogs I've kept reading since I discovered it. (I admit: I'm a fickle blog reader.)

We had some pretty bodacious storms last night and this morning, but I was so exhausted I slept through most of them. I woke up around 5:30 this morning, though, and decided to finally tackle a sketch idea I've had for months: The Breaking of the Batman from Batman #497, but redressed as Bane and Batman will appear in The Dark Knight Rises. It took me about an hour, using promotional images for some DC Collectibles statues for reference. I'm pretty happy with how Bane turned out, and all things considered, I'm content with Batman. That arm gave me fits and I'm still not in love with it. I've never drawn the Christian Bale Batman before, so I thought it turned out okay given the awkwardness of that pose.

The Breaking of the Dark Knight by ~minlshaw on deviantART

I've also done quite a lot of writing in the last week, though much of it hasn't been for this blog. I've penned a few blog posts for Flickchart, most of which are already live. I'd appreciate if you would take a moment and look at these, and if you thought to share them or comment on them, that wouldn't hurt my feelings. (Unless, of course, you wrote hurtful comments.)

Soundtracks of Significance: Pure Country

Okay, this one went live a week ago and I actually wrote it a couple of weeks ago, but I still want to draw attention to it because I'm shameless like that. Believe it or not, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of George Strait's feature film debut (excluding, of course, a bit part he and his band had in 1982's The Soldier). In this piece, I take a look at the soundtrack album.

Flickcharting with The Avengers

I use The Avengers to help illustrate some of the different things you can do with Flickchart. If you've been curious about Flickchart but haven't explored the site yet, this primer is for you!

Is What You Like, Good? Anthony O. Scott, Samuel L. Jackson & the Debate over Quality

My take on the recent Twitter feud between film critic Anthony O. Scott and actor Samuel L. Jackson.

In addition to those posts (and a couple yet to be published), I participated in a Facebook conversation with a fellow Flickcharter about a peculiar topic that came up during dinner with her boyfriend: "What would it be like if your mouth could reverse time?" Whatever you put in your mouth would go through a sort of Benjamin Button effect, basically. It was just the kind of bizarre absurdity that I dig, and she archived that conversation in a blog post of hers yesterday. This is her personal blog, which I find engaging and very accessible and I encourage you to look around there. I know not all of my readers are very big on Christianity, which is a strong theme of Hannah's, but I would hope you're enough of a grownup to set aside your ambivalence toward religion because she's got some terrific stories and some very thoughtful perspectives on her faith. She also maintains Hannah and Her Movies, a sort of diary of the movies she watches. She's spoiler-free (or, at least, very spoiler-light) and extremely concise.

The big news, though, is something I wasn't sure about sharing yet but...

ForCrohns.org is compiling writings from a very diverse cross-section of people with the purpose of publishing a book that will take a very holistic view of what life with Crohn's really is. Topics will range from diet, medication and surgery to impact on work, school, dating and everything else. This call for submissions came to my attention via a fellow Crohnie on Twitter, and while I don't want to either brag or jinx myself, I've currently got two pieces before the committee! It'll be a while yet before I know whether either of them makes the final cut, of course, and it's entirely possible neither will, but it's exciting all the same just to be in the mix!