Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Comic Day 3.31.2010

After a couple of "deeper" blogs, it's back to the ennui....

Medium week this time around, 4 titles.

Blackest Night #8

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and Cover by IVAN REIS
1:25 Variant Cover by RODOLFO MIGLIARI
1:100 Sketch variant Cover by IVAN REIS

The extra-sized conclusion to the most talked-about event in comics is here, and the results will change the course of the DC Universe for years to come. Earth has become the final battleground for life versus death, but how will our heroes fight back against the darkness of sentient space itself? And what does the future hold for Green Lantern, The Flash and the rest of the world's greatest heroes and villains? Find out here as the stage is set for the next epic era of DC Comics!

Well, I think Blackest Night, as a crossover event, was a pretty successful project. It didn't get too sprawling for it's own good, and it also didn't feel like an apology for 10 years of bad choices. **cough**Siege**cough** that said, I'm really to move on and see what Brightest Day will bring us. Particularly because it feel like a whole-line effort, and that means far more self-contained stories tying to the larger tapestry. Much easier to follow.

OHHHH...More variant covers!! **FACEPALM**

Didn't we learn anything from the 90's?

Detective Comics #863

Written by GREG RUCKA
Art by JOCK
Co-feature Art by CULLY HAMNER

When Batman and Batwoman each face off against a knife-wielding killer, they soon find themselves working different sides of the same case. But will they arrive in time to rescue the missing girl and stop the killer from claiming another victim? Things do not end well in "Cutter" Part 3.

And in The Question, the mastermind behind the human trafficking ring and the gunrunning scheme is finally revealed, and The Question and the Huntress find themselves in the fight of their lives.

Rucka is really kicking it with this title, he's been waiting a long time to do an ongoing with Batwoman, and he's really hitting all the right notes. I'm really hoping DC continues to find a place for a Rucka-penned Batwoman title once we hit "The Return of Bruce Wayne" this summer.

Gotham City Sirens #10

Written by PAUL DINI
Art and Cover by GUILLEM MARCH

Is The Riddler friend or foe? One thing's for sure – he definitely isn't making life easy for Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn!

Ok, I keep saying it, but this time I mean it...I AM DROPPING THIS TITLE. I will probably not even pick up this issue. I kept waiting for Dini to really kick it in and get me wrapped up in the girl's story...He's certainly been on the ball over on Batman: Streets of Gotham. Alas, I can't wait anymore. The new Flash series is starting soon, and I need to clear some slots in the pull list. This and Power Girl, once Palmiotti, Gray and Amanda Conner move on, are the obvious choices.

Justice League of America #43

1:25 Variant Cover by MIKE MAYHEW

Following the decision that occurred in JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE and the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE RISE AND FALL SPECIAL #1, the World's Greatest Heroes must come to terms with who they are and what they represent. Meanwhile, an all-new danger threatens the existence of everything past and present in the exciting finale of "Team History."

I'm buying this for Bagley's art, as I think I've said before. It's worth my money for that, but man...Between the Cry For Justice stillbirth, and what they're trying to do with Green Arrow, Robinson has pretty much written himself into a place where I'm only concerned for the art.

Come on, guys, this ought to be a flagship title, why does it feel like sloppy seconds?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It ain't art...but I like it

So, wow...two blogs in one day.

I was thinking about something over the last couple of days, and it might bear some discussion on my part;

One of the things that I believe in, regarding theatre, is that we, as the purveyors of such, have forgotten that our form is at it's height when we entertain. Now, I don't mean solely entertain, or only aim for the lowest common denominator, but to leave the audience with a sense that they enjoyed their time with our story. We can strive for any number of higher goals if we keep that function squarely in our sights.

Shakespeare was an entertainer, he wrote what he thought would sell. He wrote for the groundlings. He wrote dick and fart jokes, for God's sake. Now, he also spoke (wrote) many, many truths about the human condition, but he understood that the audience would remember that they enjoyed themselves more than anything else.

Anthony Neilson is absolutely correct in this piece from The Guardian.

Our audiences should never, ever feel like they "should" go to the theatre, they should get excited. The same way I get excited to go to a new movie. They are two forms that are linked in many, many ways. Sure, we don't have special effects and CGI, but we share almost every other storytelling technique. Why is it people enjoy going to the movies, but feel theatre is a civic duty?

Because my friends, we have failed. We have bought into the idea that we are creating something "more important" than what's playing at the local cinema. The public labeled us "elitist," and, frankly, we embraced it. We liked the idea we were doing something "important," and that the mass audience would simply be confused or turned off by it.

I had a discussion not long ago, in which I said, in reference to a play I was reading, "it's got no climax." The response I got from a fellow theatre professional was, "I like that it has no climax." I am still agog at this. It's the kind of response that favors some sort of theatrical inventiveness over an audience's experience. An audience's desire to have the story resolve in a definable way.

Basic story structure is universal because it works. I'm not saying you can't muck about with it, or disregard rules, but, ultimately, the climax is where your audience sees how your story has impacted and changed the world of the play. It's the place where they are rewarded for watching your story. It's one thing to have the ultimate meaning and impact of your climax murky, to leave your audience with questions, it's another to say, "well, it's over. GOODNIGHT!"

In a lot of ways, I think our problem comes down to this idea that we are creating ART, instead of creating theatre. Honestly, here's my take, "art" is a descriptor that is solely the purview of your audience. I create, or help create, a show, and then I turn it over to the audience and they decide if it's "art." This doesn't let us off the hook to create intelligent drama, but it puts the needs of the audience over ours. if we spent more time thinking about what someone who's looking for a compelling night out needs, instead of how to impress the folks over at, say, Halcyon (Hi Jen and Tony!) with how "challenging" our latest show is, we might reach out to a larger audience.

We've been playing to ourselves for so long, we don't even know what a general audience is, anymore. When I lived in Omaha, there were something like 30 operating theatre companies in the metro area. Y'know who the audiences were, outside of the Community Playhouse, who actually draws the general public?

Other. Theatre. People.

Which is largely the problem in Chicago right now. We send show notices to our friends, who are other actors, actresses, directors, designers, stage managers, whathaveyou. We don't even know how to reach the general public anymore. I couldn't tell you how to do it, I'm just as much at a loss as anyone else. Even if we could get them to come, what are we giving them? What are we putting on the stage to get people involved with our stories? We've grown to distrust simple human drama, the kind of storytelling that draws in an audience and binds them to the characters. We're too busy trying flashy narrative devices and odd staging to understand that 90% of the human race (if not more) doesn't give a shit.

Tell a good story with truth and conviction, and people will be moved. Far, far too often I see plays bogged down in trying to make some sort of important point, or worse, trying to fit every, single facet of some point into a script that can't support it, losing the audience because the emotional drive is lost. The connection to the characters is lost. Your story can touch on political topics, social injustice, macroeconomics, whatever you want, but the STORY is what touches an audience and will make them understand the point you are making.

Now, there's a opposite to this viewpoint, and that's a world with nothing but Oklahoma! and Bye, Bye Birdie! revivals. No one wants that. However, there is a way to tell powerful, moving stories that still grip an audience with great storytelling. Make your point as simply as possible, tie it to your characters, and your audience will understand. Create theatre that informs or critiques our society, and still sends the audience out of the theatre saying "God damn that was a great story."

The future of our craft is in our own hands.

A Day Like Any Other

Like most people, my day-to-day life consists of a routine. I get up about the same time every day, I work out, I go to work. I come home.

If I'm in a show, I usually go to rehearsal. If not, most often I go home and watch some TV (maybe too often), or I'll play my guitar. Work on a script....

I REALLY need to put some time in on that play I'm trying to hack out a first draft on. I've got the time right now. The comic script is done and off to the artist, but we've already discussed an arc for the first four issues of a regular run. So, I'll have to start on an outline and such for that sooner or later.

Recently, I've become extremely aware of that idea that time seems to move faster and faster as you grow older. (Although, the 4 months between right now and my trip to SDCC will, of course drag like nothing else in life) I mean, I'm almost 40...I can say "pushing 40" now, I think...and sometimes I'll be looking in the mirror, shaving or something, and think, "I was twenty just yesterday, what the hell happened?"

I had lots and lots of dreams as a teenager and in my early twenties. Filmmaker, actor, movie star...The world was my oyster, and I would work my ass off to get where I wanted to go. with many things, you don't get it all. The way I see it, you can keep fighting, or get bitter about everything. The sad thing is, I think far too many people around me just got bitter, and frankly, it's got everything to do with jealousy.

Y'know, I never became a movie star, and odds are I never will. The odds are actually quite slim that I'll ever be able to make a living doing what I truly love to do. That hurts some days, but the last thing I'm going to do is take it out on people who've had the strength and will to achieve their goals.

Y'know what I'm talking about, the people who hate famous people just because they are famous. Who continually bitch about having certain actors or actresses "shoved in their face." I listen to these rants, which usually come so often that I wonder if they aren't shoving these hated celebrities into their own face, just to continue complaining.

Every. Single. Time. I can't help but feel that what's really being bitched about is this person's own lot in life. Their own fear about their own accomplishments, and the worth of same. Who gives a crap if Kristen Stewart's face is on ten billion Twilight t-shirts? Doesn't change the fact that's she's quite good in Adventureland and The Runaways.

It's jealousy. If you're honest with yourself, that's exactly what it is. The reality-series culture that's convinced all of us (yes even the actors, who bitch about "losing work" to reality TV) that somehow we all deserve to be famous. I feel it myself, I won't lie. I see Sam Worthington becoming the new "it boy," and how I find his performances to be less than charismatic, and wonder why it can't be me. I see John Hamm on Mad Men, and think...well, I think he's astonishing, frankly, but also...that I could do that, too.

But here's a lesson we could all learn....

No one "deserves" anything. You make your own future, and you unmake it. The best you can do, in all things, is be comfortable with all the choices you've made in your life, and try to keep your creative soul lit and burning. I'm starting a show next week for which I will get paid exactly nothing, but the role is exciting in a number of ways. That's gonna have to be the payment, and I've grown to accept that as enough.

Most of the time. Some days it's very, very hard.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife

A couple of years ago, on the recommendations of several friends, and CByrd, I read Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. It's a really, really great book. It's an unabashed romance, but it also contains enough high-concept sci-fi (but not hard sci-fi), that it really sparked my imagination. Niffenegger also was smart enough to set good rules for Henry's time displacement, and follow logically how that would impact his life, and the lives of those around him.

I really liked the book. It was also a bit of a sensation, so a movie deal was inevitable.

When the film came out last August, I did, actually want to see it. (Yes, I occasionally like a good "chick flick.") However, the delicate way in which Niffenegger crafted her novel, the mental gymnastics of where and when Henry (Eric Bana) is, and which Henry he is, as well as Claire's (Rachel McAdams) inner life while she waits for him to reappear, seemed like something difficult to translate. What a book can take pages and pages to get across, a movie must do with a look or a single line.

Every novel-to-film adaptation faces these same challenges. Some fly to something far greater than the origins (The Godfather), and some just crash and burn (there's a hundred examples). as I read The Time Traveler's Wife, I was just struck, over and over again, by how difficult this adaptation would be.

Well, let me say this....It's not as good as the book.

It's also not, however, a bastardization of it, either. The story is identifiable, the film changes a few elements, but maintains a sense of inevitability. That was one of the most interesting things about the book for me, I was terribly worried that the film would soft-pedal some of the more intense elements of the novel. It doesn't, not enough to change the story, anyway.

I like Bana and McAdams quite a bit as Henry and Claire, they shared some real chemistry. I keep waiting for Bana to really let loose the kind of charisma he has in his early Australian films, like Chopper, but he seems held back. Perhaps it's maintaining an American accent. He's fine, not amazing, but he more than fulfills the needs of this film.

McAdams is a fine romantic lead. Again, it's not like she's jaw-droppingly good, but she does what she needs to do. Not hard to look at, either.

If you're a fan of the book, you'll find things to quibble over. I sure did, but at the same time...a book is a book, and a movie is a movie. I fond this a perfectly acceptable adaptation of a book I quite loved.

I give it 3 of 5 stars.

However, go read the book. It's so, so worth it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Fixations...

There's been some concern within the peer group about my headspace lately. I guess I'm coming off grumpy and unhappy all the time. Strange to me. I am a curmudgeon, after all.

There are a lot of frustrations right now, I admit.

My music seems to have come down to working and re-working the same tune until my hands actually rebel. I'm serious, there just comes a moment when my hands seem to simply stop taking directions from the brain. I know what I want to play, I know where I need to fret and when to strum, but my hands seem to just look at me with a dead glare. "Do you know how many times we've played this stupid riff?" They seem to say.

Theatre, I have high hopes, will turn around when I start rehearsals for Sun, Stand Thou Still on the 6th. It's clear to me that not having anything outside of Stage Left to worry about, in this area, is not good. I start to fixate and worry too much about, well, pretty much everything within the company. It turns me edgy and impatient.

I'm not going to apologize for it, because I mean what I say, and what I believe is what I believe. That being said, I know I shouldn't take it all so personally. That doesn't do anybody any good.

Money, No, there's no danger of any sort of hardship. CByrd and I are good, but I am intensely aware of the coming expenses of my San Diego Comic-Con trip. We're staying over an extra night this year, because I have had enough of flying into Midway at midnight, thinking I'm going to get up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work the next day. So, we're staying over Sunday night and flying back on Monday.

Of course, we ended up with a nicer, and little more expensive hotel, this time as well. Which is exciting, as far as I'm concerned. It's less than a block from the convention center, and that's gonna make everything a lot easier, as far as I'm concerned. So, I'm really happy about all that. Heck, I'm ready to go tomorrow.

However, I am a bit behind on my savings for the trip. I usually have a lot more in the kitty for this trip, by this point. I'm not freaking out, or anything, but it's something I have to focus on. My goal is always "have enough money saved so I don't have to think about money the whole time." Plus, I've made it a goal on every trip to acquire a bit of original artwork. In 2008, I got this piece by Tim Sale, from the Batman: Dark Victory mini-series;

The original inked artwork is on the left, and the page, as published, is on the right.

It's a nice page, features Two-Face, my favorite Batman villain, but man I'd like to have a nice piece that actually features Batman, or The Flash, or Spider-Man. A Mark Bagley original would be fantastic:

I just love his work, and I have a quick headshot sketch he did of Spider-Man for me, as well as a nice inked sketch. They're both framed on my wall, but I'd LOVE an actual page of his sequential work. Or Norm Breyfogle's, who's another of my favorites:

But, as you may expect, original artwork isn't the cheapest thing to collect. So, yeah...I like to have enough saved so I can drop a couple hundred on a good page without worry.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review roundup: "Kick-Ass" and "La Raza"

Two blogs in one day? Mind. Blown.

Thanks to the generosity of Capone at Ain't It Cool News and Lionsgate films, Last night I saw Kick-Ass. The film is an adaptation of the comic book series by Mark millar and John Romita, Jr. It's set for release on April 16th.

Let's start by saying this: I'm not a HUGE fan of the comic series. I find, generally, with creator-owned comic projects by Mark Millar, it always feels like the comics are there simply to get a movie deal. Worked wonders in this case, as the storyline presented in the film just wrapped up last month with Kick-Ass #8, I think it was. I can say that John Romita Jr's art was worth every penny. Like his father, Romita is a legend in his own time.

But here we have the movie. Long story short, there are parts I like much better than the comic, and parts I liked less. Generally speaking, the film has much more of a sense of humor about itself than the book did, which helps a lot. The performances, with Chloe Moretz and Nick Cage being standouts, are all pretty solid. Cage does this incredibly odd Adam West voice while in costume as Big Daddy, and it's one of those things that reminds you of how wonderful his odd choices could be in the past. Moretz will be a fanboy favorite as Hit Girl, and is the centerpiece of pretty much all the major action sequences. Her physical work alone is as impressive as any adult, and the fact is she brings it emotionally, too. The final scene between Big Daddy and Hit Girl left me more than a little choked up.

(Note here: If you're uncomfortable watching a 10-11 year old girl kill 30-40 people in pretty brutal fashion, Kick-Ass is not the movie for you.)

The film itself centers on Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), and this is where things kinda fall down. The comics presented Dave as a uber-nerdy kid in the "real world" who decides to become a superhero. Being a movie/comic book, this, of course, leads him in to conflict with real-live bad guys far beyond his ability to deal with, as well as Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who are the closest thing to "real" superheros in this story.

The Dave of the comics was a true believer in comic book ethics, he is truly disturbed by Big Daddy and Hit Girl's body count. The film backs off this, and leaves up with Dave wielding the heavy artillery like everyone else. That saddened me. What also saddened me was the resolution of Dave's "love story," which changed from a pretty powerful (and realistic) denouement in the comic, to a extremely formulaic "Hollywood" resolution in the film. If anything the move really upset me, as far as changes, that was it.

Just to note, for the sake of noting it, yes...this movie also features McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as a superhero.

Bottom line, I found the film entertaining. It drags a bit in the middle, but ends with a bang. I give it 3 out of 5 stars, with the caveat that I was no huge fan of the source material.

I also downloaded La Raza, the first album in ten years by Armored Saint.

I became aware of Armored Saint, really, because vocalist John Bush had joined Anthrax in the early 90's. I picked up a copy of Symbol of Salvation, which, in my humble opinion, is not only their best album, but one of the best metal albums, ever.

I am a big John Bush fan. I love the qualities of his delivery and attack when he sings, and the line-up of the whole band backs him with equal skill. Jeff Duncan (guitar), Phil Sandoval (guitar), Joey Vera (bass), and Gonzo (drums) all seem more than happy to be back together and making music.

The album starts strong with "Loose Cannon," but then gets even more solid for the next two tracks, "Head On" and "Left Hook From Right Field." these two tracks represent the high water mark of the record. Powerful numbers with great musicianship and vocals. We slip back a bit on "Get off the Fence," but then "Chilled" slows things down in a nice, moody number. Probably Bush's bet performance on the record.

The title track, "La Raza," is next, and I think it suffers a bit from "Chinese Democracy syndrome," wherein the band seems to try to do everything they can do in one track, instead of pushing through on one cohesive idea. It's good, but a little long and sprawling. "Black Feet" is a rugged little bluesy number, I like it a lot. "Little Monkey" comes off as a bit of a joke, with goofy wordplay and silliness, but it doesn't overstay it's welcome. The final two tracks are a bit weak, "Blues" and "Bandit Country," so the album kinda fades away rather than ending on a powerful note.

La Raza is not Armored Saint's best album ever, but having Symbol of Salvation on your discography kinda skews things. This is a really, really solid hard rock/metal album. It's enjoying heavy, heavy rotation on my zune right now, and I expect it to be there for a while.

Four out of five stars, and a big recommendation if you like this style of music.

Also of note: I am so very excited that Them Crooked Vultures are coming back to Chicago in May. I am waiting with baited breath to get my ticket.

"I am looking for a dare to be great situation. "

My wife invoked this quote from Say Anything the other night, and I kinda chuckled. That film's become such a touchstone for my generation, it's just silly.

But as I thought about it over the last few days, I realized it's not silly at all. It's just become lost in our cynical, self-centered world. It all came home this morning when, as I was working out, I watched a remarkable documentary, Man on Wire.

Here's the synopsis from;
On August 7, 1974, a 24-year-old French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit committed one of the most astonishing performance stunts of the late 20th century: he strung a thin cable in between the two towers of the World Trade Center and not only walked across, from one building to another, but did a nerve-wracking series of knee-bends and acrobatic movements on the cable, some 1,350 feet above the ground, before turning himself in. This occurred to the consternation and chagrin of Port Authority policemen, who immediately arrested Petit for the act -- prompting many to dub Petit's stunt "the artistic crime of the century." James Marsh's documentary Man on Wire revisits and recounts this chain of events some 34 years after they occurred. ~ Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide

I suppose it ties to how much I love the Apollo Space Program. The idea that there are things in the human experience that are done for the sheer joy and adventure of it, and not because of some intellectual program. Sure, Apollo was a race to beat the Russians, but when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the Sea of Tranquility, it was a moment that reached far beyond political or geographical borders.

It was humanity stepping out and doing something beautiful, for the sake of it's own beauty. For the sake of man's own place in the universe. As Mr. Armstrong said, "One giant leap for all mankind."

As I watched the footage of Mr. Petit out on that wire, dancing a quarter mile above the earth, I began to weep. His girlfriend, describing how she watched from the street below, put it best;

"It was beautiful."

His moments were graceful, his mastery of the wire breathtaking, but it was more than that. It was the drive to mount an operation not unlike a bank heist to gain access to the roof of the World Trade Center, install the thousands of dollars of equipment needed, and risk your very life just because you feel compelled to do something amazing. My heart leapt at the thought of it.

I suppose you don't go into the work I do without aspiring to something more than the mundane.

I grow so weary of selfishness. I see people motivated solely by their own selfish needs and beliefs. I fear there is no longer anyone who would see the wonder in Petit's act, as there are certainly few who see the grandness of NASA's work, let alone those who would take such wonderful steps into the unknown.

I guess I don't care about status right now, if I'm working with a playwright deemed "hot" by the powers that be, or about playing nice about my feelings. I want challenges put before me that I have earned. I want something that ignites a fire in my belly that drive me forward with purpose, that makes it impossible for me to not give 110%. I want to dare to be great, and not worry about how it's taken.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Comic Day 3.24.2010

Extremely light week last week, with only 2 titles, so, of course, bigger hit to the wallet this week.

as a new "feature" I'll be including the official solicitation copy for each of these issues, as well. This will be in Red.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #10

Written by PAUL DINI
Co-feature written by MARC ANDREYKO
Co-feature Art by JEREMY HAUN

It's Batman, Robin and Abuse struggling against the deadly clutches of Mr. Zsasz. With the lives of kidnapped children at stake, it's up to Gotham City's finest heroes to save the day. And in the Manhunter co-feature, Two-Face's trial comes to a surprising end as a new trial starts! Can Kate balance all of that with her need to spend time as Manhunter? And what's Kate's son Ramsey doing in Gotham?!

Likely another solid issue of a solid book. Dini's work is shining here, I just really wish we'd see some of this over on Gotham City Sirens. (I REALLY need to drop that book.)

Green Lantern #52

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
1:25 Variant Cover by SHANE DAVIS and SANDRA HOPE

BLACKEST NIGHT'S penultimate chapter is here, and you do not want to miss this issue. Trust us on this one.

Penultimate, huh? This is a classic example of the solicit that tells you nothing, because you're buying the book anyway.
I'm more excited to see what happens AFTER Blackest Night, at this point.

Power Girl #10

Art and Cover by AMANDA CONNER

Power Girl squares off against Satanna and her Animal Army just as Terra enters the fray! This should be a good thing, but somehow it looks like Power Girl's got a new enemy!

This issues strikes me as a bit bittersweet, because it was recently announced that the creative team will be leaving with issue #12. I'll be honest, one year with Palmiotti, Gray and Conner's Power Girl is not enough. Not by a long shot...

However, when Palmiotti and Gray eventually leave Jonah Hex, I'll proclaim a day of mourning.

Captain America #604

COVER BY: Gerald Parel
WRITER: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
PENCILS: David Baldeon & Luke Ross
INKS: MK - Andy Kubert & James Raiz
COLORED BY: Jeff Parker & James Raiz

The penultimate chapter of TWO AMERICAS! As two Captain Americas clash in the heartland, the Falcon fights to stop a terrorist attack on American soil by the new Watchdogs! Plus, Nomad: Girl Without A World back-up by SEAN MCKEEVER and DAVID BALDEON.

This series is trying my patience. Steve Rogers is back, and I want Steve Rogers as Captain America, not Bucky Barnes. Brubaker is still telling snappy espionage tales, but...I dunno, I want some of that rah-rah-sis-boom-bah Steve Rogers speechifying. Cap is supposed to be the best of all the things that make up America, not a skulking cold warrior.

Maybe it's just me.

The Stand - Soul Survivors #5

COVER BY: Mike Perkins
WRITER: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
PENCILS: Mike Perkins

Somehow, by luck and by pluck, Nick Andros led his group through the wilderness to Hemmingford House, the home of Mother Abagail. But they can't stay long, and an even more dangerous task awaits them: Seeking out and facing down Randall Flagg. In the midst of a crisis of faith, Nick makes a fateful choice that will forever change his life. Also: In a world without doctors, what happens when a member of Stu and Frannie's group requires an operation? Pick up a scalpel and say your prayers, True Believers, as the third volume of Stephen King's horror epic concludes!

I've grown to really enjoy this series or mini-series, adding up to a 30-issue adaptation of King's novel. It's very faithful to the source, so there are no surprises, but the art is beautiful. Plus, hey...Bruce Springsteen as Larry Underwood.

I say that with every issue, don't I?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Runaways

Saw The Runaways last night.

Good movie, not great. The script, by Floria Sigismondi, was pretty much a by-the-numbers rock biopic, or, hell, rock movie, in general. The direction, also by Sigismondi, is stylish and evocative of the era. The film has a "raw" quality that made me think of 70's Grindhouse pictures. Performances, anchored by Kristin Stewart as Joan Jett, Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, and Michael Shannon in a balls-out run as flamboyant producer Kim Fowley, are all pretty good.

I went into this film knowing something about The Runaways. I knew their music a bit, which runs the gamut from Great straight-ahead rock 'n roll to pretty awful stuff, and I'd seen a really nice little documentary about the band called Edgeplay. In all honesty, if you really want to know about the band, I'd recommend the documentary. It's directed by Victory Tischler-Blue, who was actually one of the bass players for the band (the film combines them into a single character played by Alia Shawkat), and includes all of the members except Joan Jett.

The film itself is a little unhinged by Jett's ultimate fame. It's based on Currie's autobiography Neon Angel, and her decent into drugs and sex as a 15-year-old jailbait sex symbol is certainly the most dramatic element of The Runaways' story. However, you sit there, the whole time knowing that Joan Jett is going to become JOAN JETT, and that unmistakable "I Love Rock and Roll" riff would sound out. Stewart does fulfill that "star about explode" element. I like her work, in general, stupid teenybopper vampire movies be damned.

Fanning works the soiled lamb bit pretty well, and perfectly captures the element that Cherie also had, in that she's dead sexy, womanly, and you feel dirty because she's 15 years old. Her singing voice isn't quite as low as Currie's, and feels very untrained. The fact is, Cherie Currie was not anyone's idea of a great singer, so Fanning's work seems right.

Shannon just goes all the way as Fowley, who, based on this film and what's said in Edgeplay, was probably insane, and certainly out to milk every dollar out of these girls. (I should say "is," as the man apparently still wanders the Sunset Strip.) The performance is pretty brave, but it also feels a little affected. Just a tad beyond real, of course, it jibes with the stories in the documentary, so maybe Fowley just like to present himself as beyond real.

There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in the movie, but it's a case where I think maybe a there's a bit too much compression of the story. Things happen so fast, I know they actually did, with Fowley pushing his contacts to take the girls as far and as fast as he could, but it seems so rapid. I'd have like some time to see the characters develop. There's incredibly interesting stuff about Jett being the one who just wanted, passionately, to be in a rock and roll band, while Curie just kinda stumbled into it, that points to how their stories eventually play out. Or, with Cherie's twin sister, Marie, starting to dress and bleach her hair like her sister, even signing autographs. This is stuff that comes and goes without enough depth.

Bottom line, it's an entertaining movie, and I wasn't bored. I like the music, it's well acted, stylishly shot, but pretty formulaic. Three stars out of five, I'd say. Nothing to run out to, but worth seeing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday, it is...

It was a strangely busy-feeling weekend.

The center piece of the weekend was the Alice in Chains show on Saturday night, of course. Great show, truly kicked ass. Of course, as with any band of that nature that EVERYONE seemed to like at some point, the meathead brigade was out in force.

For example: Meathead in your Sox hat and carrying a cigarette and a 5th of Jim Beam around the floor. Security is not going to climb all the way out there to eject you for smoking. They just won't. I know it says "No Smoking" on just about every exposed surface of the Aragon, but you will get away with it. However, I know it's just there to make you look "cool," and the booze just to give to underage girls.

Second example: Dear Mr. over 60 and wearing a brand-spanking-new, hot off the rack, Metallica COVER BAND t-shirt. One, concert shirts are only cool once they're worn in a bit. Two, farting in a crowded space, especially the raunchy gas you were spreading, just makes me wonder if you have Depends on. Three, you blocked my wife's view for pretty much the entire show, which is fine, it's par for the course, but then offering to move so the two 16/17 year old girls could see just exposes you as a closet pederast.

This might make it sound like a crappy experience, not so.

The band was in top form, and the opener (who's name was something that involved the words "Middle Class") played a concise set, and gleefully antagonized the crowd. I was really impressed with the show itself. William DuVall ably took the forntman position, and frankly I love the chemistry he has with Jerry Cantrell and the rest of the band. They seemed to be really having fun playing together again, and, I can say, there's not a hint of opportunism in this reunion.

Yes, Layne Staley has passed away, and if this new line-up had come shortly after his passing, or if there was a sense of musical chairs in the rest of the group, I might have felt different. They waited a respectful amount of time, and they wanted to play together. Really, the truth is, Alice in Chains is Jerry Cantrell's band. He's the driving force, and the creative source. It's obvious on stage, and when you really think about how many of the lead vocals he's handled over the course of their career, as well as being the guitarist and songwriter.

The new album is quite amazing, and the show lived up to it. Honestly, I have rather heard a few more new tracks, and less of the classic numbers. Still watching the crowd go nuts when they whipped into "Man in the Box," or "Would?" was worth it.

The rest of the weekend...

Went to a birthday party for a short while on Friday (Happy Birthday, Ian!), and Saturday did the usual errands. New Belt that I like quite a bit. New Microwave I like even more. The old one had to be almost 30 years old. I cooked a couple of hot dogs in it, and damn near blew them up, because this just has so much more power.

Sunday laundry, as usual, then I broke the vacuum, and we had to run back to Target to replace it. Again, kinda blown away by how much better the new one worked.

I did manage to work on music. (Yep. Still working on that same track...) I felt pretty good about it last night, but on the train this AM, I started thinking about things to do differently, and...well, I think the guitar track will get re-worked again. I keep thinking, if I can just get this track right, then the project as a whole will start falling into place.

I really do wish I had a band to work off of, I really do.

(214 BILLIONTH time I've whined about that...)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Experience Hendrix 3.18.2010/Friday Randomness

So, last night CByrd and I saw the Experience Hendrix show at the Chicago Theatre. Our seats weren't the best, in the balcony, second row, extreme stage left, but, hey, they were free.

I'm sharing my memories, but with a show like this, so many people on and off for 3 hours, I can't remember everything. If I don't mention someone on the performer list, I forgot what they did...take that as you will.

Shows like this tend to be a grab-bag. I mean, yeah you're seeing some of the greatest guitarists in the world play Hendrix music, but some of the performances hit home more than others. Add to that the quick in and out of the performers, and the sheer numbers, making sound a difficult balancing act. I'll just say this; the sound was VERY muddy, I don't know if that was because of where we were sitting, or the general mix, but I would guess both played a part. The bass tended to drown out everything, the vocals especially.

We started out with Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble), who handled the drums for most of the night, Billy Cox (Band of Gypsies, Jimi Hendrix Experience) on bass, and Ernie Isley on guitar. They started with "Stone Free," Cox handling vocals. Generally good, but I will fault Isley for this...whereas most of the guitarists on stage honored Hendrix by being themselves...Isley seemed to be trying to BE Hendrix. Right down to the outfit and the "tricks," (behind the head, between the legs, with the teeth, etc.) and it seemed to be a little...well, precious.

After that Living Colour took the stage, and they were fantastic, but, man, the crowd sucked. An attempt at a call-and-response for "Crosstown Traffic" just became sad. Corey Glover (vocals) and Doug Wimbush (bass) went WAY out into the audience to try to get people on their feet and singing along, but the old hippies weren't having it. Look, I know they went into a slightly different direction with the songs, folks, but they sounded like Living Colour, and that is exactly the way it ought to be, in my book.

The artists came and went pretty quick, no more than 3 songs each. Eric Johnson played exquisitely, as usual, but, being a guy known for his beautiful tone, the sound issues hit him hard. I couldn't even understand what he was saying between songs (granted, he is a mumbler). Susan Tedeschi joined him for a number on vocals, and that was nice. Johnson is such a genius, but so unassuming and kind of withdrawn on stage, he doesn't really come off as "dynamic." A missed opportunity, in my book.

Johnny Lang and Brad Whitford (Areosmith) came out and started off with "Fire" (the entirety of Living Colour and Tedeschi providing the "Let me stand next to your fire" back-up vocals), and, if I remember correctly, "Castles Made of Sand" with Tedeschi, again. Things started picking up. Nice set, with an appropriate amount of, well, fire. Lang's got a nice voice, can play well, and Whitford stepped out from his sideman image and really laid it down.

Then, the bomb dropped.

...And I mean that in the absolute best way.

I had thought Kenny Wayne Shepherd was a decent enough guitarist in the Stevie Ray Vaughan mold, but I always thought he had a way to go. Well, he's gone it. His set, with his regular vocalist, Noah Hunt, was THE moment of this show. Especially their set-closer "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" it was breathtaking. Shepherd and Hunt went after the audience, much like Living Colour did, but from an idiom, straight-ahead blues-rock, that the crowd was much more responsive to. Very few of the other performers threw out that much energy.

I felt very sorry for whoever had to follow that...And Cesar Rosas (Los Lobos - David Hidalgo was on the performer list that night, as well, but never appeared) didn't buck the feeling. Nice, pleasant, and utterly underwhelming from what we'd just seen. Hubert Sumlin (Howlin' Wolf) and Tedeschi joined in for a second number, and Sumlin, frankly, didn't come off well. The number seemed sloppy.

Rosas stayed on to play drums (with Layton) for Sacred Steel featuring Robert Randolph. Wow. Three pedal steel guitar, two drummers..."Purple Haze." Quite amazing. Randolph is quite a showman, and plays brilliantly. I'll have to try to find some of their stuff.

Joe Satriani played last, backed by Living Colour. Nice set, Joe is a great ambassador of guitar, and he's eloquent about Hendrix. The playing was up to his high standards, but didn't upset Shepherd as the night's MVP, for me. They wrapped up the "main set" with "All Along the Watchtower." Then Whitford, Randolph, Cox and Layton returned, along with a local 14-year-old guitar student (didn't catch the name...he was great, honestly), and did a jam on "Red House." Cox handled vocals.

It was a nice enough wrap-up, but I had expected a few more people to join in. They were there, as the entire company took a bow after the number...why not a few more people playing. I'd love to see Johnson and Satriani play off each other live. I also, to be honest, find "Red House" a pretty dull number to end such an evening on. I know it was a favorite of Hendrix, but it's just not very exciting for me, personally...

So that was a brief (?) rundown of the show. All in all, a great time, and well worth the effort to see. My question is...where was Doyle Bramhall II? He was on the roster to play last night, not a peep....Hmmm.

Tomorrow night...Alice in Chains at the Aragon. Looking forward to it, the new album is pretty fantastic. Ought to be a good time, and it's walkable from our apartment. Of course with the rain and snow coming, I don't know if that'll happen, actually.

The SDCC hotel experience is pretty much settled, we got a headquarters hotel this time! Just about 1 block from the convention center. This is exciting to me. It'll be nice to have our room so easy to get to before we go to dinner, or drinks, or whatever. Bottom line, this trip is starting to feel real and immediate now, and I cannot wait to get rolling...

I just need to save, save, save...I am a little behind on my "Convention Savings Plan." Nothing disastrous, but I always like to have, as I call it, "enough money so I don't ever have to worry about money" while I'm in San Diego. It just makes the trip easier and less stressful.

Let's see....what else to end the week?

I really need to get rolling, not only on learning lines for my new show, but continuing to read scripts for Stage Left season selection. More scripts have been added to the mix, and, while I'd rather see more eliminated completely as we do that, I've seen a few bright spots in the ones that have been added.

I plan to finish "Reason" this least musically. Like I said, vocals are going to be a much longer process than they have been. I want to finish all the other tracks, and just LISTEN to them for a while, until lyrics and vocal lines organically start to emerge.

I also really want to try to see The Runaways this weekend. The movie may end up silly, but the reviews have been pretty good so far, and I've always liked that band. I really don't know if there will be time to see it, but I may scuttle out for a matinee at some point.

So, good weekend, everyone.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lots Happening Today

Today is/was "hotel day" for the San Diego Comic-Con. This is, traditionally, a cluster of epic proportions. thousands of fanboys all trying to grab hotels within the same 5 minute span. Server crashes have become a regular occurrence.

Well, they changed the process this year, and while, on the technology side, things went much smoother, I cannot say my stress levels are any lower. This is mainly because I tend to have a problem with feeling like I'm not in control of a situation.

I should give a few details. I have a hotel reservation in San Diego for that weekend already, but it was quite expensive. The idea was to have something in place, ready to go, that would be significantly closer to the convention center than we have been. Our traditional hotel, the Doubletree Downtown, is a nice place, but about a mile from the convention center, and the Gaslamp district, which is the "nightlife" area.

I actually love the Doubletree, aside from a REALLY annoying room key problem in '08. The views are amazing, and it's clean. I don't even mind the mile walk to the convention. It was nice in the mornings, stop for coffee, feel the sun and stretch your legs before getting into the sardine can that is the convention center on SDCC weekend.

However, at the end of the day, having to walk, or take the shuttle (which ended up taking longer in most cases), back to the hotel, drop off our bags of convention swag, and then turn around and head back to the Gaslamp for dinner and drinks...well, I have to admit the back and forth got to me. Wore me out too. You're walking miles and miles in the convention to begin with. The idea of having a hotel a block or two away became really appealing.

ANYWAY, if we can get a decent place with the convention discount (which my initial reservation certainly did not include), it would save our group a significant amount. This is especially true in the fact our numbers have dwindled a bit.

Long story short (TOO LATE!), the new system is as such;

You send an e-mail to the hotel booking company, listing your top 12 hotels, in order of preference, and then wait "3-5 hours" for a response. Then you have 5 days to put down your deposit, with the rest due later on.

This is a great system on a lot of levels. In '06 and '08, I took it upon myself to book the room, and sit on the website trying to make things work. Drove me batty. However, I might prefer that to sitting here for hours not knowing where we're staying, or what the situation is.

I guess I'm a control freak.

I'm trying to put it out of my mind.

In that vein, I am trying to focus on this evening's festivities. CByrd and I are attending the Experience Hendrix concert at the Chicago Theatre. I'm fairly excited, as there are a lot of guitar players involved that I am very much in awe of, including Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II and Susan Tedeschi. As well artists that really intrigue me like Sacred Steel featuring Robert Randolph.

Now, the fact is, I'm not a HUGE Hendrix fan. I respect him, certainly, I understand his importance, but I can't say that I'm one to bring up Axis Bold As Love and listen to it all the way through. In fact, the only Hendrix I own is a greatest hits package from a few years back. I guess it's all just a bit to "psychedelic" for me. I much prefer the "meat and potatoes" blues-based playing of, say Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, or even Jimmy Page.

Still it's a chance to see world-class guitarists essay some of the greatest guitar songs of all time. I'm fairly excited.

And, CByrd, I'm 100% sure there will be singing, too...It won't all be instrumental.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Selfish Post

I started this blog over on MySpace..

(What? What the hell is MySpace? Is that some sort of caveman thing? Did my mother use that?)

Their blog interface kinda sucked, and made looking for older entries a pain in the ass. I have no qualms about ditching it. I do, however, maintain my MySpace page...meaning I check it occasionally...and those posts, about 3 years worth, are there if you want to go looking.

It did have one thing that blogger apparently doesn't...a way to track the number of visitors to your blog. I have absolutely no clue if this is a feature I'm just annoyingly unaware of, or if it just simply doesn't exist. I'm also not excited about setting up the "monetize" stuff, just so I can know there's only 4 people reading.

Yes, I am curious about who, and how many people, are reading this...I guess it's a vanity thing.

So, I guess I'm begging for one of two things...Either somebody show me how to see site visit numbers, or, hey...sign up as a "follower."

New Comic Day 3.17.2010

A gloriously light week, as I kinda overspent this past weekend.

Batman #697

Written by TONY DANIEL

Tony Daniel wraps up his 6-issue storyline by, apparently, revealing the identity of Gotham City crime boss/lord Black Mask. As I've said before, Daniel has been holding down this title very well, but I don't jump at reading it each month. It's the sad fact he's competing with the likes of Grant Morrison and Paul Dini, who are flat-out great writers. (I may quibble with Morrison's suitability with Batman, in general, but I can't argue that his Batman and Robin has been top-notch stuff.) Daniel has always been a great artist, but I think this run has cemented his skills as a writer.

The Brave and The Bold #32

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art and cover by Jesus Saiz

This is a kind of book that I wish the "Big Two" would do more of, a good, old-fashioned, team-up book. Looks like Aquaman and The Demon this month. When I was growing up, both DC and Marvel would publish several, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, and the original The Brave and The Bold run. The formula, back then, was simple, take a popular character (Spider-Man, The Thing and Batman, respectively), and team them up with lesser-known characters. I can't tell you how much of both companies stables were introduced to me via these types of stories.

Straczynski has dropped the recurring character, and, while I don't think it works as well, it allows new, and old, readers to be exposed to characters they might not know off the bat. Simple, done-in-one stories that you won't have to follow for 6 to 12 months also help. I, more often than not, know I'm going to get a fast-paced, fun adventure tale. If I don't like the team-up this month, well, next is a new opportunity.

You want more people to know your characters? This works wonders, I think.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I hope you'll forgive...

The lack of a Monday edition. I was off work, and, frankly, not really focused. I was trying to get a few things done at home.

The good news is that I moved forward on "Reason." Drum track is set, I finished a basic rhythm guitar track, and then laid down a bassline. I'm pretty happy with it, at this point. I am still tweaking guitar tones, and that's another area where I can get kinda lost in the minutia.

Somewhere, there's a guitar tone that's raunchy and crunchy, but still clear enough to carry over the bass and rhythm. I haven't found it yet, but it's out there. I've been experimenting with stomp boxes, and pretty much put the effects processor behind me. That might make the work harder, especially if I EVER play live again, but there's something about simplicity that's really compelling for me.

It's kinda pathetic, in a way. I continually look at these tracks I'm doing with this misguided idea of, "oh, when I play it live, I can make it work like this." All the while knowing that the chances of me playing this stuff live are somewhere below slim and none.

Oh, well....

This cycle of tracks is definitely skewing to a harder, more metal sound. Of course, that makes it that much more difficult to not let things get muddy, especially with my recording equipment. I want a big sound, but I don't want a big swath of sludge.

All that said, things are sounding pretty good right now.

Rented GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Inglorious Basterds last night. Managed to get through both of them, even with a side trip to the Stage Left office (that turned out to be unneeded, but that's another story.) Here's the story of the day...I found the Joes vastly more entertaining than Tarantino's latest...indulgence.

GI Joe is by no means a great movie, oh, far from it. It's kinda awful. However, it has, to my ears, the exact amount of cheese and genuine morality that a movie based on a toy line and cartoon ought to have. Put that against Transformers 2, which was cheesy, and also morally repellent. I'll take tin-eared dialogue and bad jokes over a robotic stepin fetchit routine any day. Plus, the film...kinda gloriously...seemed to know it was junk.

It took me back to seeing Pearl Harbor, and just cringing at the awfulness. Then Alec Baldwin marched on screen as General Doolittle, and (as my buddy KenG would say) with the aroma of Aqua-Velva almost literally pouring from the screen, you realized he got it. Baldwin seemed to just understand he was in the middle of a huge piece of trash, and by playing Doolittle with that sideways glance that let you know that he knew, instead of the cloying earnestness of the lead cast, the film became entertaining.

I felt everyone in GI Joe was in on the joke, without playing camp and tearing the guts out of the stakes. It doesn't make it a better movie, and I can't really 'defend" it, per se. I can only say that I chuckled out loud at things like the undersea military base and the fast attack subs that "flew" like jets. It's preposterous, and just runs with it.

I had a good time. No more, no less. For a movie called GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, you can't expect much more.

Inglorious Basterds. I'm sure to get hate mail for this, but I cannot for the life of me fathom why this got a Best Screenplay nomination. It's plodding, too long, and, in it's own way just as cheesy and ham-handed as GI Joe. The parts are good enough, I suppose. The story of Shosanna and her movie theatre is truly compelling, yet we keep spinning back to Aldo the Apache and the Basterds, who, for being the title characters, are ultimate just empty husks.

I mean, seriously, if you've seen it...can you tell me ANYTHING about any of the Basterds other than Aldo and Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz? OK, I'll grant you Hugo Stiglitz, but only because he gets a "mini-movie" to explain himself. B.J. Novak's Utivich? Who is he? I shouldn't even mention Samm Levine's Hirschberg, who doesn't even register as a presence in the film.

What do we know about any of these men? That they're Jewish and like to kill Nazis. Those that get the most "character" are those that do this in extremely gruesome or brutal ways, such as Donowitz beating them to death with baseball bats, or are played by Brad Pitt.

There are exceptions, of course, Christoph Waltz is truly amazing as Hanz Landa, which is a character Tarantino manages to actually give something to play. Also Melanie Laurent as the aforementioned Shosanna Dreyfuss is the absolute bright spot of the film, her work with Jacky Ido is just gorgeous and worthy of a better movie around it.

I'm sure there's folks out there sharpening their knives and thinking I'm an asshole for pointing out fault with Quentin Tarantino's work (I know you people are out there), but, here's the deal...Tarantino came on the scene and promised something new and exciting. Yeah, it was a little overly-ironic and arms-length for me, but you felt like he was taking these genres he loves and pushing them forward with a new energy and vitality.

Well, I don't feel that vitality anymore. I feel a guy grinding out re-hashes of other, better films, and dropping in wordy, irony-laced passages that fly in the face of the very genres he's supposedly honoring. I mean look at Death Proof, his portion of the Grindhouse's just plain awful.

I can see what he's trying to do with Inglorious Basterds, he gives it away, in a more-than-obvious way, with the first "chapter." He's trying to make a Sergio Leone film set in WWII. That's a fine enough goal, and one that could produce an amazing film. However, Tarantino isn't Leone. Every character in a Leone film becomes interesting to me, either with the writing, or with how Leone cast and shot them.

Tarantino only manages two, really.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It's late Friday, weekend pending...

But I managed to post every day this week. Which is good for my sense of accomplishment, if nothing else.

However, as we wrap up the week, I find myself looking toward a weekend with a lot of activity.

Let's get caught up;

First, I managed to get cast in something this week, Sun, Stand Thou Still with Ka-Tet theatre. It's a smaller part, but pretty juicy and fun. I've never really cared about the size of the role, as long as it had fun, challenging things for me. I think this one fits the bill.

Plus, I'm just happy as hell to have a show again. We start the first week in April, so I have a little time to myself before then.

Well, not really...

I'm working on a little project with my buddy, Zach Bosteel, and I'm fairly excited about it. We've got a first-draft script, and I'm going to be making some changes, expanding and correcting, well, tonight, actually. I'm planning to head home, hit the exercise bike for a little bit, and then go find a nice diner to eat and write. If I feel I'm wearing out my welcome, I'll be packing off to a coffee shop, or something.

I've been hesitant to talk about this project at all, because, in the past, I've seen things like this ALMOST happen, and then get scuttled, for any number of reasons. However, I grow more confident about this with every passing day. Zach and I seem to be very much on the same page at this point, and...hell...the script is actually "finished."

(meaning, it exists....revisions pending.)

If I can get this done tonight, which I don't think will be a problem, then tomorrow becomes about 2 things...Laundry and music. I've got the drum track sitting there, new strings on the Les Paul, and I'm ready to see what I can make happen. The laundry has to be done tomorrow, because I'm working box office for Here Where It's Safe on Saturday night, and then more season selection hi-jinxs on Sunday morning.

Laundry is usually a Sunday morning thing...but I'll be in a room talking about what we're going to do for the next nine months.

(Wow. I'm starting to ramble.)

I decided today that I needed a break from my day job, so I took one of my precious floater holidays and am using it on Monday. So, three-day weekend for me. It's gonna be nice to have an extra day, and I expect I'll be working on music a lot that day.

also have some movies I've wanted to see...I'm hoping I can find time for that, too. Maybe Sunday night?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Crush the Groupthink"

A friend on facebook put up this quote, and I love it. The Blog title is from the comments on said quote.

"We not only need to use our terror of differentiation but also our terror of conflict. Americans are plagued with the disease of agreement. In the theatre, we often presume that collaboration means agreement. I believe that too much agreement creates productions with no vitality, no dialectic, no truth. Unreflecte...d agreement deadens the energy in a rehearsal. Without resistance, there is no fire." - Anne Bogart

Love it. Thanks, Kyra

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Comic Day 3.10.2010

I've been slack on this little feature for the last few weeks. Yeah...I suck.

Here's what we're looking at in stores for Mark today...

Batman and Robin #10

1:25 variant Cover by ANDY CLARKE

Ok, so APPARENTLY this arc is going to involve actual conflict, well, physical conflict, between Bruce Wayne's adopted son, Dick Grayson (the new Batman), and his biological son, Damian (the new Robin [IV, no, wait, V, or maybe VI, if you count The Dark Knight Returns].) Of course, we all know COMIC BOOK COVERS LIE LIKE DOGS.

Still a top-notch, fun read. Top that off with the fact it feels like it's been bi-weekly for the last 3-4 issues. Well done, team.

Red Robin #10

Art and Cover by MARCUS TO and RAY MCCARTHY

Bruce Wayne's OTHER adopted son, Tim Drake (Robin III), now having taken on his new identitiy as Red Robin, (Why not "Red Rover," he could yell "COME ON OVER!!" when he rushes into battle.) has encountered his former, thought dead, girlfriend Stephanie Brown, who used to be called The Spoiler, was also a Robin (IV, or V...That pesky Dark Knight Returns thing, again), but is now the new Batgirl (IV, for those keeping track at home). She also happens to be the daughter of Batman foe The Cluemaster (who was sort of a Riddler rip-off), and was responsible for instigating a massive gang war among the criminal organizations of Gotham City. That, as you might expect, caused some turmoil in the relationship. Will they get back Together? Will this squash Tim's burgeoning relationship with Tam Fox, daughter of Wayne Foundation bigwig Lucius Fox?

Who says comic books are complicated?

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #8

WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILS: Takeshi Miyazawa
COVER BY: David LaFuente

I love this series, but there's a part of me that wishes they'd own up to the actual thrust of this new direction. Just call it Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Ok? Aunt May has taken in a whole passel of teenagers, and they're all living in the Parker residence, out there in Queens. The Human Torch and Iceman are living there, along with the possibly symbiot-infected Gwen Stacy, and Kity Pryde (of X-Men fame) lives down the street. Last issue we found out Rick Jones (who is all over Marvel Comics lore, and it's WAY too much to go into here) also lives down the street, and is manifesting powers. So, May sent the boys over to try to help the new kid figure out this new super-power trip.

See? Easy, anybody can follow this.

...And on the "Maybe" list:

Justice League Rise and Fall Special #1

Art and 1:25 variant Cover by MIKE MAYHEW

This is a total toss-up for me. It's a direct continuation from Robinson's Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series that, quite frankly, sucked. He's also writing the regular Justice League of America title, and...let's just say I read it for the art. However, it's a big story for Green Arrow, as anybody who actually made it through Cry for Justice (God help you, and me) can attest, and I have a soft spot for the Emerald Archer.

That's pretty much the most insidious thing about comics as a hobby. You get invested in characters, and it'll lead you to read stuff that you just know isn't going to be very good, just because you know something "important" might happen. I gotta decide if I'm gonna break the chain here, or not.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The noises in my head.

I've been hard at work (HA!) on a song called "Reason" for about 3 months now.


When I settled on this latest musical direction, which was to take the ultimate results away from myself, trying to forge a musical identity that wasn't so much "Mark Pracht," but something less personal, I managed to crank out a track quite quickly. I was even pretty happy with it...

Until I listened to it again, with some distance.

I'm fairly resigned to the fact that my stuff is going to sound like me, no matter what I do. Especially when I'm working in a vacuum. The idea was to take myself to a darker, heavier place, and I think I've made gains in that area. It was also to play against the rhythms that my drum machine immediately suggested to me.

I felt I was in a rut. The idea was to break out. I don't know that, ultimately, I'll go as far as I wanted to, but I think I've moved in the right direction.

However, I think I'm becoming a perfectionist.

This may end up my own, personal Chinese Democracy. I've found myself guessing and second-guessing every choice I make. Yes, this has been kicking around for three months. Any ideas about how far I've gotten on it?

Drum track. That's it, drum track. A new one I just put together this morning before work. (and I found myself listening to it and thinking, "I could switch those two elements, and it would be cooler," so I think we're not done yet.)

I guess that makes sense on a certain level. The drum tracks have become sort of the bane of my existence, they sound good until the guitar goes down, then they get muddy. Or, I find I've attempted to mix up several beats and left myself a drum track I can't figure out how to play over. I've gotten to the point of laying down guitars about 9 times, and even bass twice, only to find myself thinking, "the drums need something else."

AND....back to square one.

It can be infuriating. I have a couple of really good riffs on line for this thing, and I've massaged them to where they SEEM to go together well. I'm actually ready to do the guitar line, I just need the damn drum track to feel right. Bass? That'll work itself out, it's not a funk or R&B track, it's hard rock. Then, the vocals....


I have completely given up trying to figure out vocals, except in the broadest terms, before the track is relatively "finished." I'll wrap up everything but the vocals, make an mp3, and listen to it until I start hearing what and where to sing. I've spent too much time trying to jam pre-written lyric ideas into the tracks I get together, I think I need to take a new approach.

Long story short...We're calling this ground zero on the new project, all over again.

Monday, March 8, 2010

So, We're Post-Oscar.

Generally speaking, very, very few surprises last night.

And, no matter how many people get pissed at me (and they have), I still think Bullock winning is ridiculous. Not when Carey Mulligan was just absolutely exquisite in An Education. Yes, I know I haven't seen The Blind Side, and I really don't think I care to. Sorry, folks.

Jeff Bridges taking it home makes up for Matt Damon not getting a deserved nomination for The Informant!

Of course, the big story is the amazing Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win Best Director. I'm a fan of her work for many years, and what I find most inspiring about this is that she made the best movie of the year (No, The Hurt Locker was not on my 2009 Top Ten. It would've been, had I seen it before I wrote that list. I finally saw it on home video, and I am DYING to see it on the big screen.), and it's, frankly, just a very thoughtful action movie.

It's not a speechifying morass of "good for you" proselytizing about the horrors of war, or the virtue of military service and the American agenda. It's a story of three men in what has to be the most intense and stressful environment imaginable. It's a film of technical achievement that never loses sight of the idea that people are what make stories interesting.

Which is exactly what's she always made.

Her filmography is full of tough but intelligent action pictures. She made Point Break, for God's sake! I first caught wind of her with her absolutely classic vampire western Near Dark, and my personal favorites would be Blue Steel, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker. She's skilled with the camera and with storytelling, and she's paid her dues.

Exactly the sort of director who's earned the right to be recognized.

Notice I said "director," not "female director." See, while I think it is fantastic that a woman has achieved this honor, I think it's much more powerful that a woman flat-out earned it. No one can say Kathryn didn't grasp that little gold man on her own merits, not because the tides of political correctness swept her way.

And how much sweeter the victory is for it.

Bigelow's win doesn't have anything to do with her sex. It has to do with the fact she shot a brilliant fucking film. That she won it for exactly the kind of work she's always done. She didn't have to curry favor with anyone to do it. She never, ever played the sex card. You never heard her talk about it. She talked about her film, her collaborators, her team. She kept her focus on THE WORK, not on the politics of the situation.

You see, I believe, very fiercely, in equality. No one should be held back from anything because of their skin tone, sex, or sexual orientation. I strive to live my life by that ideal. No artist should be dismissed for these factors, but neither should the be elevated, either.

If we all are equal, then are we not to be judged solely on the merits of our work? I see a movie, read a book, watch a TV show, and I like or dislike it, the sex of the creator never crosses my mind. Maybe it does for some people, but this blog is about me. I can't answer for them. I can't, and I won't.

Much like when the uproar happened over Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2009 List, I find myself wondering when artistic merit had to pass through some crucible of political correctness. If I, Publisher's Weekly, or the Members of the Academy pick our "best," that's just that, their opinion. All awards, best-of lists, or other rankings function best as a way to encourage discussion.

Taking the Publisher’s Weekly situation, for example…Why should it be expected that women writers MUST be represented? In my mind, only the ten best books (in their opinion) MUST be included. Publisher's Weekly found their top ten books of 2009 included no female writers.

The people who put together the list (including women) liked 10 other books more. Go figure. They say it themselves, "We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male." So, they're basically saying they picked the books they liked most, and were surprised as anyone else that all the authors were male.

Yet, this is considered some kind of wrong on women.

This led various feminist organizations to list off the female writers who had published works in 2009, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker….

Well, so what?

This is one of those situations where I'm sitting here, a straight, white male, and wondering if I should even say anything. If I should even mention that this smacks of saying that, well, we know you thought this work was better, but you should really honor this work, simply because it was created by a woman. Women In Letters And Literary Arts (WILLA) even created their own top ten list, with no men allowed.

Isn't that exactly what they were accusing Publisher's Weekly of?

We all want a world of equality, but equality, by it's very nature, is not a one-way street. Yes, there are plenty of examples of crimes of omission in the past, but, if you really want a better world, the time has come to look forward. To strive to acknowledge that artistic achievement is a matter of opinion in almost every sense, and that no one deserves special treatment.

Friday, March 5, 2010

So, hi there...

Been a while.

I've slacked off too much on this blog over the last two weeks. I'm leaving it at that, as, I think, my last two entries were about my slacking.

It's Oscar weekend, and that's always a bit of a deal around our place. A few friends over, some grub, a pool, y'know, the usual. I can't say it's a huge year for me. I think the ultimate winners are fairly obvious, and some of them are really not exciting. However, a year where Jeff Bridges is pretty much guaranteed a little gold man is a good year in my book.

The other thing that's going on in Mark-world is beginning the process to select next season for the theatre company I'm involved with, Stage Left.

Which means scripts. Lots and lots of scripts. Then you sit in a room, and you talk about these scripts. Some people like them, and some people don't.

I've come to a point in my life where I'm not going to sit and try to be "nice" in these situations. I've come to the point where I hope the people in that room understand that if I didn't appreciate their talent and taste, I wouldn't be in the room with them. When the time comes that I don't appreciate those things about those people, I know that is the time for me to pack my things and get out.

If I don't like a play, I'm gonna say so. Sometimes, it's an intellectual reaction, and I can list off all the reasons I don't. Sometimes it's a gut-level thing, and I couldn't verbalize my reaction without resorting to unintelligible grunting. It's art, it's supposed to work on many levels, and, therefore, the reactions are on those many levels.

The end point is job in that room is to be honest. It's not to agree for the sake of avoiding conflict. I've committed to this company, and it physically hurts me when I don't feel potential is reached.

Things do not have to be "my way"...

Let me say that again;

Things do not have to be "my way," I do not expect to win every argument, or get the things I want every time, but I am no longer at a place in my life where I will accept "good enough." I commit a lot of time, energy, and belief to the projects I commit to, and I take a lot of ownership upon myself. My self-image is tied to any project, and in this case, the company. My name is on it, in one way or another.

It hurts me. I know that's silly, but it does. I get headaches, stomach aches, I lose sleep, I have nightmares and wake up sleepwalking. I begin to berate myself for not pushing harder, I get depressed. It really does start to seep into all the facets of my life.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking...DRAMA FUCKING QUEEN.

Thank God I have a wife that's just this side of a Saint.

It makes me wonder about my tastes when put alongside those of the company. My "good enough" is probably somebody else's "genius." Again; this is not a question of who's "right" or "wrong," because there is no such thing in this business. It's a question of the way I know myself to react, a question of how do I balance the ownership I will invariably feel (and want to...because it makes me work harder), with choices that maybe I can't see the way everyone else does.

Not to backpedal all the way, but I should really pound home another thing. I am completely willing to accept that I very well might be 100% wrong about anything involving issues of taste. I would be overjoyed to see the company's choices be the toast of the town, and and any problems I may have be seen as the rantings of the curmudgeonly guy that, for some strange reason, still thinks Mamet is the shit.

The question that haunts me, that I keep asking myself, is, if my tastes get that far out of step with the rest of the ensemble, do I belong there? My belief is that the company comes first, before my aspirations as an actor, writer, or director, before my ego, before all of that. Within the company, I serve the company.

It's a fine line to walk, and I guess I just wonder, sometimes, if I can.