Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Comic Day 6.30.2010

Hello, Kids...What do we have this week?

The Flash #3

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
1:10 variant cover by GREG HORN

It may be BRIGHTEST DAY, but when a mysterious group of so-called heroes turns up, another Rogue ends up dead. Plus, the mystery deepends as The Flash witness another murder — his own!

The flash is my 3rd favorite superhero, right behind Batman and Spider-Man. It's also a character that's been a victim of mishandling more often in the last few years than I can count. I love Geoff Johns as a writer, and Manapul is obviously a talented artist.

So why am I already bored?

I'll tell you why. No matter how much nostalgia you wrap him in, Barry Allen just isn't as dynamic a character as former Kid Flash/former Flash Wally West. Look, DC, it's not like I'm gonna stop buying it, I have a full run going back many years. I even bought the crappy run where Bart (Impulse/Kid Flash) Allen was promoted to the top tier. Wally, however, was the character that made me love the Flash.

Wally got ran into the ground himself, with the perfect wife and kiddies, but the classic version of Wally, the young man who wasn't nearly as heroic as he was supposed to be. The Flash who was always contending with the memory of his mentor, Barry. That was dynamic, and it gave a lot of us a real psychological hook to bond us to him as a character. Compared to the "feet of clay" Wally, Barry just seems stiff and dull. The problem is, you've had the entire Flash: Rebirth mini-series and three issues of the regular series to get me invested, and you haven't.

I love this concept, I believe in Geoff Johns. Please get things turned around.

Green Lantern #55

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE & CHRISTIAN ALAMY

BRIGHTEST DAY marches on as the Main Man, Lobo, goes head-to-head with Red Lantern Atrocitus – with Hal Jordan caught in the middle! It doesn't get more brutal than this! Plus, Hector Hammond returns . . . to join the new Guardians?

On the other hand, everything's snapping right along with Green Lantern. Now we have a guest shot by...Lobo?

*sigh* couldn't we have left him in the 90's?

Justice League of America #46

Written by JAMES ROBINSON
Art by MARK BAGLEY & ROB HUNTER
Cover by MARK BAGLEY & JESUS MERINO

BRIGHTEST DAY continues with the start of an all-new, 5-part JLA/JSA crossover! The return of one hero heralds the release of the powerful Starheart that empowers Green Lantern Alan Scott. Now this chaotic force is unleashed on Earth, causing magic to go wild – and new metahumans to emerge! It's more than one super-team can handle, but can even the combined efforts of the Justice League and the Justice Society contain the light and dark power wielded by one of their own? Witness the transformation of the moon and a journey into the Shadow Lands that will corrupt a hero!


Continued in next month's JSA #41, this epic event features a 5-part connected cover spotlighting both teams in glorious action illustrated by Mark Bagley with inks by Jesus Merino!

This is the moment of truth with this series, for me. I dearly, dearly love Mark Bagley's art, but I'm giving Robinson this crossover (buying 2 issues of Justice Society of America, to boot) to snap things into shape. If it doesn't happen, I'm facing the real prospect of dropping a series drawn by Bagley, for the first time ever.

Captain America #607

COVER BY: Marko Djurdjevic
WRITER: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
PENCILS: David Baldeon & Butch Guice

THE HEROIC AGE IS HERE! Zemo and Bucky -- two characters linked through history whether they like it or not. And now Zemo has set his sights on Bucky and plans to destroy our new Captain America one step at a time. Part 2 of the senses-shattering "No Escape" arc will rock Bucky's world to the core!


Waiting...waiting...waiting...for Steve Rogers to be Captain America again. You can be damn sure it'll happen by next summer, when the movie comes out..."THE HEROIC AGE" is also continuing to be a non-starter, as far as making me care to pick up any more Marvel books.

Also, once again, I'm directing you to check out the free digital issue #0 of Steel City Serenade, which I scripted. I'd love to hear feedback.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Steel City Serendae #0 - FOR FREE.

Hello friends and readers.

One of my dreams has been to write a comic book.

Well, with a little help from my friends, as Ringo said, I did it.

Sure, it's not DC or Marvel, it's self published. Hard copies will be available in a shortly, but for the artist I've been working with, Zach Bosteel, and myself, digital publishing has always been a big part of our plan. Well, our introductory 12-page issue #0 is now up at Zach's website.

Just click thru on the cover below.



All comments and criticism, on the writing, anyway, and even praise, can be left in the comments section.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Morning With The Boss: Part 1 - Welcome to Asbury Park, New Jersey

So, in the last few months, I've been drifting away from my beloved Bruce a bit. I tend to chalk it up to my attempting to get immersed in a more guitar-oriented style of rock, think Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell, and my usual suspects in that vein, Rush and King's X, while working on the new music project. I felt like I had gone too far in reaching for a Springsteen-esque sound on the first two CDs, when I simply didn't have the instruments (Piano/Saxophone) to reach it. I wanted something different, more classic hard rock, than what we usually get from Springsteen.

Now, that doesn't mean I'd given up on The Boss, no sir. I fully expect, when the time comes to really start working on melody and lyric lines, I'll be bringing my Springsteen influence back to bear.

However, over the weekend I was watching my new London Calling: Live in Hyde Park Blu-Ray, and I was sucked back into the orbit. So, I hatched this idea, I'm going to write about each Springsteen album, in order, on Mondays. I may miss a few Mondays, here and there. I have vacations and such coming up, but I will get through all 16 studio albums, sooner or later.

I'm still not sure about live disks. It may end up being too much. If I do them, it'll be after the studio records.

First out, is Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey. Originally released January 5th, 1973.



Now, I suppose it ought to be said that I think Springsteen is a genius, so when I criticize something he does, it is only in relation to his other work. When I say a song is "weak," read that only in that most of the rest of the catalog is stronger. You're rarely going to hear me say something he does "sucks."

Greetings is a first album, it's practically written all over it. The credited producers are then-Springsteen Manager Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos. There was some tension behind the scenes in that John Hammond singed Bruce to Columbia Records with the intention of gaining a new Folk act like Dylan.

Of course, Springsteen had other ideas, a full-band rock sound. Then, after Hammond heard the finished album, he indicated more "singles" were needed. This prompted the addition of "Blinded By the Light" and "Spirit in the Night," which also happen to be the only two tracks on which saxophonist and E-Street Band mainstay Clarence Clemons plays.

Generally, the album sounds like an artist finding his voice. The Dylan influence is extremely clear, and it can overwhelm the unique voice that Springsteen would find, and perfect on subsequent albums. The simple addition of the Sax on the aforementioned tracks makes a world of difference, as it gells what would become the clear E-Street sound, even if the ultimate, time-honored version of the band wouldn't arrive for two more records.

The Springsteen word-play is almost out of control on this album, and sometimes it gets in the way. He hadn't yet found the sweet spot between evocative language and big emotional ideas.
Greetings feels more about details than emotions. The words dazzle, the songs are never less than entertaining, but it doesn't have the pointed emotional impact you'll find on subsequent projects. The HUGE exceptions, for me, is "Growin' Up," which is, probably, my favorite Springsteen song, ever. That, and "Lost in the Flood," which feels like a song that leapt forward in time from the Born to Run sessions.

The two added hits, "Blinded By the Light" and "Spirits in the Night," contain at spirit and freewheeling energy that leads me o think Bruce does well when he's asked to create something for a specific purpose. They both have a drive that compliments the swirling lyrics. Not to mention a fantastic riff/hook on "Spirits."

"Mary, Queen of Arkansas" is much-maligned, and, frankly, I don't get it. The music is a little bogged down, but the lyrics do evoke a specific person and situation rather effectively. "Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" is also good fun, propulsive and urgent. "For You" pre-dates "Dancing in the Dark" for Springsteen's ability to take a rather dark lyric, and wrap it in an upbeat tune. "The Angel" and "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City" both show Springsteen's eye for detail was sharp from day one.

It's a lovely set of songs, without a doubt. The only weakness is that, compared to later work, Bruce had not yet learned how to powefully hook into the basic, universal emotions he would so richly display mere months later. He was learning, but watching such a talented musician learn can be just as enthralling.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Working for the Weekend...

Hey, look...ANOTHER busy weekend.

I'll be at Stage Left all day tomorrow. We have a work call preparing for our move out of our current space at the end of the summer, then I'll be doing my staged reading for Leapfest.

You only have two more chances to catch this reading of The Meaning of Lunch, this Saturday (June 26th) at 7:30 PM, or this coming Wednesday (June 30th), also at 7:30 PM. I'm really proud of this one, it's a great script, and the more reactions and responses we can pass on to playwright Dan Aibel, the better. So, if you're free, please make an effort to see us.

Some folks over at New Millennium Theatre Company also contacted me about a private reading of some new scripts they have. I'll be doing that on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully, I can keep Sunday night free to go to a movie, or work on some music, or maybe just relax.

Or watch this;



My Blu-Ray just came today. I am ready to crack this thing open. Of course, by now, anybody who reads this blog ought to be aware of my deep, almost psychotic love of Bruce Springsteen. I'm excited to give this a whirl, as I've never seen, or even seen footage of, Bruce work a massive outdoor crowd like this. There's the Super Bowl, of course, but I don't think that counts.

I have the Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage Blu-Ray coming next week, and these are, really, my last two splurges before I head to San Diego for Comic-Con. I have to admit, London Calling has the "newness" factor, since I haven't seen any of it, but I'm probably just a bit more stoked to see the Rush documentary again. It was just so fun to watch and interesting.

Track 5 is in progress, tentatively titled "We've Got Forever For This To Be Over." I stole that title from a comment Josh Homme made during the Them Crooked Vultures show. I had the drum tracks down, as well as the bass and two guitar tracks, but I just didn't like the way the two guitar tracks were mixing. Plus, the track was clocking in under three minutes. I was aiming for a shorter track, so it seemed ok, but in the end I thought I would try to figure out a bridge that would work.

I re-sequenced the drum track, and laid down a slop guitar track on the new version. Now I just need to find the time to flesh it all out. I've got a really good idea how the bassline will go, then I can delete the slop guitar track, and start building back up.

I re-listened to the first four tracks the other day, and I gotta say, I'm really pretty happy with how these instrumental tracks sound. It's almost a shame to lay my crappy-ass voice over them. I find myself wondering if I could find somebody to really sing, and help work out the melody lines and lyrics.

Although, that's not new, is it? I whine about finding collaborators every, single time I talk about the music projects, don't I?

I hesitate to even invoke the name, but the tracks feel much more toward a Led Zeppelin feel than anything I've done before. I've found the groove a lot more here, I think, and not been so trapped by the drums. It's definately more of a hard rock/classic rock feel, and I think I've found some good riffs to play around with.

I have a couple of leftover, totally finished tracks that might end up going on this disk (which would bring me up to 7, the goal, as usual, being 12), but they're awfully raw. One, in particular, is just me and an acoustic, and it's very angry and raw. I listen to it, and feel like it might be one of the best things I've ever done, but I'm also kind of afraid of it. It doesn't really sound good. I recorded it live, so they're no "fixing" anything.

I don't know why that frightens me, but it does.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

One of those days...

Last night was great.

Had my first read/rehearsal for Protected with Kate B. and Cory K. Really, really happy with how far we got. The show is blocked, and both Kate and Cory are already well on their way to finding their way through it. I've got pretty much all the props secured, and we're looking good.

There.

Happy.

Today?

Not so much.

I dunno, I've been hit with another attack of irrelevancy, I guess. Today I've been playing and replaying a lot of the recent acting work I've done. Thinking about how little I've actually accomplished in the past couple of years.

I should be doing more film work, student films, independent shorts, whatever. I should be on my agent's ass to get me more auditions. I should be...I dunno...DOING SOMETHING.

Which, on one level, is absolutely silly. I'm, literally, not at home any night this week. In fact, looks like I don't have a single night off next week, either. Work call at Stage Left on Saturday....Leapfest Reading on Saturday night; The Meaning of Lunch, it's great, please come. Looks like I just got an offer for a private reading on Sunday, too.

So, yeah. Busy. I'm happy to have work, great work, in the case of Lunch, to have people who want me to work with them. It's always an honor when I'm asked to do things.

But...Why does it seem it's always at the same level? I suppose it's the self-reflective conversation 99.99% of actors have to have, the "you know you won't ever make a living doing this" conversation. It's just the facts. Most of us will never make enough to live on.

I guess I'm just stuck in a rut. If I can't make a living, I want work that pulls me in different directions. I want something exciting, something that really is a challenge. I've got things lined up, they're definitely good shows, good scripts, but they're not really outside my "comfort zone" as far as performance goes. Outside of that, the opportunities feel slim. There's very little that looks good or interesting out there to audition for, that I can actually do, schedule-wise. Not to mention could I even get cast?

Feels very much, to me, that theatre companies are "circling the wagons" right now. Looking only to those actors in their ensembles, or that they personally know, for casting. Nothing wrong with that. I understand the reasoning. You trust these people, they're committed to you, and will work hard.

Still, I feel...limited options. It reminds be a lot of being in College.

In College, I was not considered a "go to" guy for anything. In fact, I'd have to guess that most of our faculty and students felt I was pretty untalented, or, at least, highly unfocused. (I'd probably agree, looking back) I was "the big guy," and I was competent enough to play, oh, the Boatswain in The Tempest, or the Innkeeper in Knight of the Burning Pestle.

In the years I spent at Kearney, I only once felt challenged by a role. That was Valere in Tartuffe, and frankly my director, Jeff Green (again), had to pound me into submission to get it right. Long story, but I was a hardheaded, Method, "I gotta FEEL it" actor. It isn't that kind of show. The birth pains were awful, but, in the end, I knew I'd done something good, the performance was something I could be proud of.

Hell, Valere's only in two scenes, probably 15 minutes total. Not like I was carrying the show, or anything, but, man...there was so much to play in the scene with Mariane. Then...back to the chorus. I was really, really depressed a lot during College, for this exact reason. I could do shows, but I was never asked to push myself, to try something I could really fail at.

Yeah, yeah, I know..."no small parts, just small actors." I get that, I do. I've never, and will never, turn down a role because it's too small. However, when you're playing the Boatswain, you're there to do one thing...give that stupid expositional monologue in the last act. I tend to start all my characters based on what function they serve in the story, but...sometimes that's all there is, y'know?

Hell, I had to leave the College and go do shows at the "dreaded" Kearney Community Theatre in order to finally do something that I felt lifted me a bit. A Few Good Men, playing Lt. Kendrick. I was vying for Lt. Kaffee, and, still, to this day, felt I read the best of anyone that night.

I didn't get it...Ahh, theatre politics. Never changes, no matter how high you get up that ladder.

Anyway, when I stepped out of the Theatre Program, and all the reputation, or lack thereof, I had there, I could actually fly. A Few Good Men was, ultimately, a fantastic experience. Sure, every, single time I looked at that pretty-boy they cast as Kaffee, I got angry, but Kendrick hated Kaffee, so I could use it. (I really don't remember that actor's name at all, he was an overall pleasant guy, but he had what I wanted. I was pissed.)

Anyway...the point of the matter is I spent a lot of years feeling inferior. Feeling like I could only do one thing, and it was a functional sort of thing, rather than something that could come from deeper inside. Even Kendrick was still mainly a thug, but I had room to play different things and make choices. It took me a long, long time to get over that, and every time I get offered a role that feels a lot like things I've done before, I slip a little further back.

I know it's silly, I really do. The Meaning of Lunch is very different from things I've played recently, and Todd is a role that very much speaks to me. I had a tremendous run of luck, and performances I felt very good about, a couple of years ago. I'm 99% sure no one at UNK theatre would've ever thought I would play McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and successfully, to boot. I think about compliments Mike Nussbaum gave me on the set of Dashiell Hamlet, which I treasure, and I'm reminded that I can be good at this stuff.

Still, at the end of the day, I want to play characters that I connect to. The day I play a role and I can't feel it, even the tiniest bit, is the day I need to retire.

A bit of a ramble today, I know. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Comic Day 6.23.2010

Well, I'm caught up on books waiting to be picked up, and I even managed to bag and box the about 3 months worth of assembled issues I had laying around over the weekend. Of course, this action also filled my storage boxes to the point of bursting. So, I guess a new short box is in the offing. Where I'm gonna find room for it is a whole 'nother matter.

Ah, comic book collecting.

I gotta tell ya, the idea of dropping all my monthly books, and completely switching over to a "waiting for the trade" tactic is looking better and better. Sure, a Trade Paperback collection might be more pricey, short term, but...

Issue of Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne: $3.99
All six issues of this mini-series: $23.94
Esitimated cost of Trade Paperback: $19.95 + tax = $21.95

Plus, many more trade paperbacks will fit into a short box than will single issues.

I mean, I have series I follow exclusively in Trades; Powers and Invincible. I got on board so late, it was the only way to amass the entire stories reasonably. Sure, I'm behind on them, but I also wait for the Blu-Ray release of Mad Men, so I see that almost a year after the rest of you. I do enjoy reading those series in that format immensely. There's something about getting huge swaths of story in one fell swoop, especially in the current "decompressed storytelling" environment, where stories that would've been told in 1-2 issues in, say, 1984, now take 6-8.

Anyway, I have to say I think I've added to my list of series I follow in trades.

For the last couple of years, I've had several people suggest I read Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead series. I've always resisted. I love Kirkman's Invincible, which is some of the best superhero storytelling going on right now, but I just don't really grok zombie stories, and Horror, as a genre, holds very, very little appeal to me. So, I'd look at the covers, with the zombie hordes, and the title, and it just turned me off.

These folks persisted, however. "It's not really horror," I was told, "it's more of a survival story." "More of a post-apocalyptic road tale," I was told, which held some sway, as I've always love the post-apocalypse sub-genre. So, when I went into Borders to get the next Scott Pilgrim book I need to read (Vol. 4), and found they were out of stock, I grabbed the entry-priced first trade collection of The Walking Dead, Titled Days Gone Bye.



"What the hell," I thought. I don't have to buy any more if I hate it, and I can say, "tried it, didn't take" if it's bad.

Well, it's not bad. In fact, I loved the first arc immensely. Here's a little something I'd offer to anyone trying to describe this series in a pop-culture shorthand, this series reminds me intensely of Stephen King's The Stand, which happens to be a book I admire greatly. Yes, there are horror elements, shocking and unsettling moments (not for young readers, is my point), but that's clearly, extremely clearly, not the point.

In his introduction to this collection Kirkman says, flat-out, he doesn't care if the series scares anybody, or not.

The fact the series is black and white only further mutes the horror, or at the very least the gore. Where many other series with this sort of concept try to get in your face with heavily detailed depictions of violence, in an attempt to frighten, or at least gross you out, The Walking Dead stays clear of that. Tony Moore's light, almost cartoony artwork, and the absence of color, always brings you back to the distinctive faces he's created. Oh, he's telling a zombie story, all right, and that means some gore and violence, but the intent stays solidly away from lurid for it's own sake. In other words, the focus is always on the characters.

Kirkman's point here is holding a mirror up to humanity, and exposing it's foibles in an extremely intense setting. King used a superflu in The Stand, Kirkman uses zombies, but the result is the same. In the survivors, we see a microcosm of society, humanity in both it's most noble and petty.

So, yes, you were all right. Highly recommended. I'll be picking up some more trades soon.

With that, on to this week's pull list. Only four titles, but really heavy on the Batman this week.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (of 6)

Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art by YANICK PAQUETTE
Cover by ANDY KUBERT
1:25 Variant cover by YANICK PAQUETTE

The most anticipated miniseries of 2010 continues! As Bruce Wayne's astonishing journey through time continues in this 6-issue miniseries, The Dark Knight travels to the eras of high seas thievery! Mastermind writer Grant Morrison's most ambitious project to date continues to chronicle the return of the original man behind the cape and cowl – Bruce Wayne! Featuring the dynamic artwork of YANICK PAQUETTE.

I've heard a lot of complaints about this series. How it makes no sense, and that Morrison is just high again. Well, I can't fully agree. I think this series makes a hell of a lot more sense than that Captain America: Reborn abortion that Marvel brought out last year. Morrison can go all the way off the rails (See Final Crisis), but I think he's pulling this off fine, so far.

I still say he's absolutely the wrong writer for BRUCE WAYNE as Batman (I love how he handles DICK GRAYSON as Batman), but that's also because I feel like "regular" Batman adventures work best as tough, urban neo-noir street drama, and Morrison likes to go straight for the Silver Age "costume of the week" style. It's a matter of taste, I know, but I really kind of hope Grant moves on after he wraps this up.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #13

Written by PAUL DINI
Co-feature written by MARC ANDREYKO
Art by DUSTIN NGUYEN & DEREK FRIDOLFS
Co-feature art by JEREMY HAUN
Cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN

Hush finally breaks his silence and decides to make life difficult for Batman. What is Tommy Elliot's gameplan? And what will Bruce Wayne's return mean for the man who's been masquerading as Bruce all these months?

Also, the final, thrilling installment of the Manhunter co-feature is here! Kate confronts a vicious enemy who has infiltrated her personal life. Everyone she cares about is in danger, and so is her secret identity! Can she protect her loved ones? And when it's all said and done, will she decide to stay in Gotham City – or return to the relative peace of Los Angeles?

Y'know, I had almost forgotten that Hush was surgically-altered to look like Bruce Wayne, and "hiding in plain sight" as Dick kicked around in the Cape and Cowl. It was a clever enough trick, plot wise, to keep Bruce and Batman alive in the public eye. However, it's been simmering for so long...Who knows? I have faith in Dini with these kinds of stories.

I'll be sad to see Manhunter go...again. Hopefully, she'll get another back-up feature, or her own series, again soon.

Detective Comics #866

Written by DENNIS O'NEIL
Art and cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
1:25 "DC 75 Anniversary" Variant cover by WALTER SIMONSON

Continuing the spirit of celebration from BATMAN #700, comics legend Dennis O'Neil's returns to the Batcave in this stand-alone, 40-page issue! O'Neil spins a tale of the Dick Grayson Batman intertwined with those classic days when Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, patrolled the mean streets of Gotham City!

And come back next month for the return of The Question and Batwoman!

Ahh, Dennis O'Neil is going to write Batman again!! That makes me very happy. (I'm also very happy he'll be at SDCC this year, along with Neal Adams. May warrant buying a hardcover of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series for signing.) It's exactly the kind of thing I like to see with this anniversary promotional stuff. Bringing in an old pro to do a quick one-shot that invokes the old days. O'Neil's picture is in the dictionary when you look up "Pro," so I expect it'll be good.

Also happy to see Batwoman coming back next issue.

Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #4

COVER BY: Leinil Francis Yu
WRITER: Mark Millar
PENCILS: Leinil Francis Yu
INKS: Gerry Alanguilan
COLORED BY: Laura Martin
LETTERED BY: VC - Cory Petit

Nick Fury’s Avengers have assembled: Black Widow, The Punisher, a new Hulk, War Machine and Hawkeye are souped-up and ready to face Hell…literally. Evil’s emissary comes in the form of The Ghostrider, a mysterious new villain sent to collect Satan’s debts: human lives. But how do you fight the devil and his men? With big guns and even bigger cojones. Who lives, who survives? Who knows? But it’ll be one hellish ride!! Join superstars MARK MILLAR and LEINIL FRANCIS YU in another heart-pumping adventure!

Well, thank God this is over. "Overrated," thy name is "Mark Millar."

Seriously, this series, mini-series, whatever the hell it is, has been nothing but a mess. I don't care about a single one of these characters they've introduced. The first Ultimate Comics Avengers series at least had the revelation that "Ultimate" Captain America's son had turned himself into an "Ultimate" version of the Red Skull. I cared about Cap from past stories, so I cared about HIM. Now he's gone, and we're left with a bunch of characters I couldn't give two whits about.

I mean, look at these characters...The "Original" Hulk (which makes sense in context, but is just stupid), which is nothing more than an ugly racial stereotype, because OF COURSE a respected, highly educated black scientist, if given Hulk-like power, would immediately just become a drug-dealing, bling-covered "Gansta." "Ultimate" War Machine, who's nothing but a macho gun-nut in a generic suit of armor. "Ultimate" Punisher, who's, well, exactly like the regular Punisher, meaning a one-note muscleman with big guns. "Ultimate" Hawkeye is the only character with even a remotely interesting background, but he's just been turned into a Punisher clone. Yet another version of Black Widow who's made less impact than Scarlett Johanssen did in Iron Man 2?

It's ridiculous. Not to mention, and this is a killer...THESE are the characters Nick Fury recruits to take on a literal demon from hell? Two musclebound guys with guns? Another musclebound guy in an armor suit? A super-musclebound guy who's more interested in "Bitches and Money?" The girl Millar can't even bother to give a real personality to? Don't ya think you would want someone a little higher on the "supernatural" meter?

Millar writes killer "moments." Last issue featured Ghost Rider jumping his bike through a landing jetliner, ripping a passenger out of it. That was a great moment, but it didn't connect to anything. It's like the opposite of The Walking Dead. I don't care because Mark Millar doesn't give me even the slightest reason to do so. Frankly, it's the problem with most of his work.

I've gotten this far, I'll read how it ends. That said, when Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 appears, it's gonna be a tough sell to this guy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A couple of good ones.

It's been a pretty poor movie summer, yeah? I've gone to the movies less this year than any on record. Of course, I'm busy, which is a factor, but I also find myself just not excited by what's out. I have seen a couple, recently.

A Solitary Man


Walking into this film was interesting. CByrd and I were the youngest people in the theatre by at least a decade. The other option was The A-Team, which was really "too actiony" for CByrd to get excited about, and frankly I was too on the fence about to push for. This was an option that was supposed to be a good movie.

...And it certainly is. It's just odd to go into a theatre when you feel that out of place with the audience. However, I found lots to love about this film.

When Crazy Heart came out last year, there was a lot of comparisons to The Wrestler. I never bought that, other than in the broad strokes of being films that really hung on astonishing lead performances. However, Crazy Heart never feels like a direct commentary on Jeff Bridges life, the way The Wrestler does about Mickey Rourke. To put it another way, as much as I like what Bridges does in Crazy Heart, I could imagine the film made with several other actors. Could you imagine anyone other than Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler?

A Solitary Man is Michael Douglas' The Wrestler.

We all know about his off-screen problems, his sex addiction, his self-destructive behavior. Of course, he's also known for playing the exact sort of character that Ben Kalman is in this film. A wheeler-dealer, a man of compromised moral values. It's something that Douglas can just tap into about himself, his weakness. With A Solitary Man, Douglas brings that all to a head.

Kalman is a reflection of many men you probably know,or have seen. Men have an astonishing ability to make knowingly stupid choices for immediate gratification. That ability seems to only magnify when the specter of mortality looms large. Kalman is having a massive mid-life crisis (well, probably more like end-life), but what's great about Douglas is that he plays it truthfully. The threat of impending death is only an excuse, a way to justify choices that range from mildly scummy to blindly shallow, and on to acts apocalyptic in their selfishness.

There's an honesty in that Douglas, much like Rourke, knows his own failures are in the public record, yet he still plays every moment with unflinching honestly. Lesser actors would've shied away, tried to massage the script until Ben came off looking better, or just flat turned it down. Douglas walks in, and just does it. It's brave, honest, and I loved it.

The whole cast is great, honestly. With characters that ranges from, I'd say, even more shallow than Kalman himself, long-suffering family trying to explain how much he hurts them, and even a near-saintly performance from Danny DeVito. (He's fantastic)

Also like The Wrestler, and not like Crazy Heart, A Solitary Man doesn't let Ban Kalman off the hook for the choices he's made and the man he's become. There's a sense of redemption, but with a single glance, Douglas lets us know that, perhaps, it's only delaying the inevitable.

Wonderful, interesting movie. So, so worth seeing.

Toy Story 3



Just go buy a ticket, OK?

Sequels are hard, especially third chapters. thing is, I'm now more convinced than ever that Pixar simply can do no wrong. If you loved the first two, you'll be completely satisfied by how this film wraps it all up. Rest assured, it does wrap up. The story of Andy's beloved toys is over. There's talk that we'll see a short with these characters before next year's Pixar offering...

Please don't.

You've set everything off on exactly the right note here. You've tackled all the existential questions that other "children's" or "family" films never even think about touching upon, many "adult" films just botch completely, and done it with oodles of style and wit. Leave it be. I know the Disney suits would love a seemingly unending franchise cash cow like those crap Shrek movies, but don't give in.

Yes, yes...I was in tears by the final frame. The Pixar team found the PERFECT happy/sad ending that feels triumphant, yet also feels real. At earlier moments I cried because of sadness, but the ending let us, and the toys free. Change happens, time passes, old friends fall behind. (The "Bo Peep" moment is pretty astonishing for an animated film.) However, endings let us pass on to something new, and love is a constant.

It's just terrific. I reccommend it heartily...

But Toy Story 2 is still the best one.

The 3D is really nice, lots of depth and interesting uses of it. However, I don't think Toy Story 3 absolutely depends on seeing it in 3D. It's not Avatar. That said, the new Pixar short that precedes the movie, Night and Day? This awesome little short DEMANDS you see it in 3D, it's just that good, and that clever, in the use of the technology. Fantastic.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Do you know where my Pixar?

I love Pixar.

No, no, wait...Maybe I'm not being clear. I LOVE PIXAR.

I mean, I'm so excited to see Toy Story 3 tonight, even if I know that by the time we reach the final reel, I'll be curled up in a fetal ball sobbing quietly to myself. I mean, I can't even read the damn reviews of this moving without wiping away a tear. Look at those reviews I linked to, 100% on the Tomatometer does not happen often, kids.

Pixar, once only a subsidiary of Lucasfilm, Ltd., has become, hands down, the most consistent studio in film. They have never made a bad feature. Never. Oh, sure, there's some films I like less than others, like A Bug's Life or Cars. Those films, however, can't be called "bad" in any stretch of the imagination. Anybody who tries to tell you they are is playing some sort of "I'm so hip I hate what everyone else loves" game.

Simply, there's a level of craftsmanship and care that the Pixar team lavishes on each and every project. A sense that it's more than just "pushing product," but a company-wide sense that every film, EVERY SINGLE FILM, ought to be the best they can put out. It's a work ethic and commitment to something more than commerce that all of Hollywood could learn from.

Pixar never, ever gives you the sense that the opening weekend box office is the end goal, but crafting an experience that kids and adults will still want to return to years down the road. Toy Story came out fourteen years ago, and it still plays brilliantly. Knowing what will happen takes away not one iota of the joy in watching it happen. Every. Single. Time.

So, In celebration of the opening of Toy Story 3, I offer my top five Pixar films.

5: Toy Story 2


While the first Toy Story is a winning romp about friendship and tolerance, it's really with the sequel that the makers found the magic, and depth, that could be mined from having your protagonists be playthings. The "buddy" relationship between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) is firmly established, and from there we get to really dig into what it means to be a toy. From the heart breaking abandonment of Jessie (Joan Cusack) by the little girl who owned her, to the idea that a toy kept sealed in it's package, never to be played with, is an abandonment in it's own way. The film tackles existential issues that many, more "adult," productions have stumbled and fumbled. This is all wrapped in a "rescue and escape" storyline that never fails to thrill and amuse.

4: Wal-E


It's Art, with a capital "A." The first half hour of this film is among the most beautiful and breathtaking sequences put on film, and without a single human voice. Wal-E really does mark the high point of Pixar's ability to use it's characters features, be they electronic, mechanical, or humanoid, in every manner of expression. The love story between Wal-E and EVE (both "voiced" by sound design genius Ben Burtt) is exquisite, and, even if the film moves more to the pedestrian in the second half, it's truly an effective comment on conservation and human self-sufficiency.

3: Ratatouille


There's a moment when I fell in love with Brad Bird's second Pixar work. Our hero, Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat who wants nothing more than to be a chef, takes a bite of food, and the "flavors" actually fly about him as multicolored swirls. It's a unbridled expression of sensory experience and creation, as Remy mixes ingredients, the flavors swirl and mix together. It's a wonderful, pure film sequence. The movie has such a pure and noble view of creation, and criticism. I will never forget Anton Ego's (Peter O'Toole) final monologue, it's a breathtaking statement of purpose, and something anyone who creates, or critiques, should listen to very, very carefully.

2: Up


I defy anyone, ANYONE, to watch the opening sequence of this film and not shed a tear. Yet again, the folks at Pixar use what's, ostensibly, a children's story to tell a deeply felt tale of aging and finding the strength within yourself to follow your dreams. Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner - amazing) starts out on his adventure for his late wife, but he finishes it for the best of all reasons, himself. His journey is a tribute to his beloved Ellie, but the greatest tribute is experiencing life to it's fullest, while she lives on in his heart.

1: The Incredibles


Yeah, yeah...I love superheroes. I love them with every fiber of my being. What Brad Bird does here is to pinpoint exactly why superheroes are important, and tie it back to our own fragile, human hearts. The superheroes of Bird's world are shackled and forced into hiding, because they remind the general populace of their own inferiority. Yet, what this film understands deep in it's soul, and as I've mentioned in previous blogs, is that superheroes, in all their greatness, stand as examples to us all. The best of them inspire, and encourage us to ask how much more we can do, how far can we push ourselves. What is the best we can be? Watch the moment when Dash (Spencer Fox) rushes out of the jungle and finds he can run so fast, he can run on water. It's joy, and pride, and excitement. He reaches the fullness of his potential in that moment, and the battle turns decisively in his direction from that moment forward. It's one of the greatest superhero moments ever put on film.

Add to all that the uber-cool, retro 60's James Bond design scheme. This movie just looks sleek and built for fun. It also never backs down from the peril on display, there's no softening "for the kids." The Parr family is in danger, and no one backs off from it. So wonderful, though, I admit, my own interests almost demand this be my favorite Pixar film.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I need to get more sleep

I'm trying not to zone out completely today.

Had final dress for The Meaning of Lunch last night, and it went pretty darn well, I think. Found some new stuff, nice moments. It's a reading, which is kind of a double-edged sword. It takes a lot of pressure off when you have the script in hand, but it also limits you. You're not just juggling the props and the blocking and the emotions, but also this damn script, as well.

Still, yeah, I was pretty happy. Found some new moments of assertiveness, which is great, as the character is, generally, kind of weak.

But, yeah, ended up being a late night.

Usually I'm so happy to be in a city with a real public transportation system. Oh, I can hear you Chicagoites bitching about the CTA already. I getcha, I getcha, but let me say this; you have no worldly idea about how good we have it here. I lived in Omaha, I know from bad public transportation. (Or at least limited...)

That said, when you're leaving the theatre at 11:30 on a weeknight, and you know you have a 10-15 minute wait for the train, followed by a 15-20 minute train ride, there's a part of you that thinks, "I wish I had my car." It's just a weakness of spirit, and I know it. Would I get home any faster with a car? Likely not.

This is compounded with the 5:30 AM wake up (or at least the ATTEMPTED 5:30 wake up) to work out. I'm trying to stay really focused on getting my workouts done, because I've seen some (limited) results. My renewed focus on core work has helped. I can feel the muscles, anyway, through the bag of fat still hanging over them.

These days I'm lifting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Just limited work, dumbells and lots of reps, then using the exercise bike every morning. I do an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a half hour on M-W-F. I also try to do 20 minutes at night, three days a week. So, generally about four and a half hours on the bike every week. Top that off with a series of core/ab things I do every weekday.

This with trying to be much more on top of what I eat, and when. That said, I am a HORRIBLE late-night eater. when I get home from a rehearsal or a show, I just want to eat something. Need to get better about that.

It's not like I'm overweight. Well, according to the charts, I probably am, but I'm pretty fit. I don't care to be "ripped," and I'm big enough. I just want a flat stomach, not a 6-pack, or anything, just flat. The fact is, I'll be 40 in a little over a year, and odds are, if I don't get it now, I never will.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Public Service Announcement

I am a member of Stage Left Theatre Company, and, as with all small theatre companies, we are always in need of funding.

Chase Community Giving is a program from Chase bank, giving away $250,000 to local not-for-profit organizations. The money is awarded based on public voting. This costs you nothing, and could mean an awful lot for Stage Left. Please click through and vote for us.

New Comic Day 6.16.2010

Hey! Another edition of my least-read weekly feature!

A blissfully light week. Which is very nice, since I had to hold over a couple of titles from last week, just because of sheer volume.

Brightest Day #4

Written by GEOFF JOHNS & PETER J. TOMASI
Art by IVAN REIS, PAT GLEASON, ARDIAN SYAF,
SCOTT CLARK & JOE PRADO
Covers by DAVID FINCH
1:25 variant covers by IVAN REIS & OCLAIR ALBERT

If this is the BRIGHTEST DAY then what is Black Lantern Firestorm doing on our cover?!


This is the same blurb you had for your last issue! At least this time it's correct.

Y'know....I gotta get down to brass tacks, here. This series/event isn't working anywhere near as well as Blackest Night did. It's not "bad," with Geoff Johns at the helm, you know it's always going to be readable. The trouble is, there's no intensity. Nothing seems to be pushing the storyline forward, it's just meandering. We're four issues in, and I'm kinda tired of the mysteries piling up with no real forward momentum. I'm not a decompressed storytelling hater, but, man! I think it's time for some major events to kick in, rather than just setting up, and setting up , and setting up.

The Spirit #3

Written by MARK SCHULTZ
Co-feature written by MICHAEL USLAN & F.J. DESANTO
Art by MORITAT
Co-feature art by JUSTINIANO
Cover by LADRĂ–NN

FIRST WAVE takes a break this month but THE SPIRIT marches on! Angel Smerti has delivered The Spirit into the deadly grasp of the Octopus, and the only one who can save him is… Angel Smerti?! Can The Spirit possibly warm her icy heart with a knife pressed against his throat?

And in THE SPIRIT: BLACK & WHITE co-feature, Michael Uslan and F.J. DeSanto deliver a tale of treason on the airwaves, stunningly illustrated in rich graytones by Justiniano!


Generally speaking, this series is on track. Which is nice to see, since the Doc Savage book was, and is, just an abortion. There's a nice sense that Mark Schultz understands the feel of the world Will Eisner created, and that give him the leeway to play around with details. I love the new seedier version of Commissioner Dolan, it's a noir trapping that feels very, very right.

The changes to Ebony White, once the epitome of ugly racial stereotypes, are welcome, but changing a black boy to a lilly-white girl doesn't exactly feel like a step forward. Darwyn Cooke, in the prior DC series, managed to just make him a streetwise, stand-up kid, and that settled it in my mind. Now the regular cast seems a bit...monochrome.

This particular "Black & White" selection is hard to call. Uslan was a producer on that God-awful Spirit movie, where Frank Miller just took a hatchet to the whole thing. Just awful.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I used to be so good at this...

I'm rarely stressed during performances. At least I used to be rarely stressed, but recently I've gotten more uptight. I figure it's just a bit of rust on the equipment. I mean I did have a long dry spell, there.

Last night we ran the show for our playwright for the first time. Overall, I felt it went pretty well, but man, as we came out of the gate, I got all kinds of self-conscious.

Flop sweat. I kid you not, literal flop sweat. I couldn't believe it.

Things kinda spiraled from there. I think everyone was feeling some pressure, and a number of things got rushed, or forgotten. Oh, trust me, I know on an intellectual level that this is to be expected. Even when you're performing, the show will ebb and flow, there will be good nights and bad nights, and you have to aim for more good than bad.

Of course, I'm one of those people who beats themselves up a lot after the fact. I go over every little mistake again and again in my mind. Usually that's a good thing, a part of the process. I can say that making the same mistake twice is rare for me. If I go up on a line, for example, you can bet I'll be going over that moment in my head again, and again, and again, usually with a chorus of "how could you be so STUPID!!?!?"

For those of you not "in the business," this is usual. Actors are usually on a spiral of egotism and self-loathing, back and forth, back and forth. It makes sense, because, I guarantee you, the second you start thinking, "hey, I'm kicking ass here," the acting gods are gonna start having their way with you. They'll pull a line right out of your head, and make sure it's the most embarrassing one possible. (Right in the middle of your centerpiece monologue, for example)

Of course the insidious thing is that those same acting gods will exploit moments of insecurity in the EXACT SAME MANNER. The moment you start to worry, oh, lord, it is all over.

The trick is, of course, focus. In both of those cases, you're not thinking about what you're doing.

My undergrad acting instructor was a man named Jeff Green, and he was really, really instrumental in getting me from the dumb-ass kid I was in college to the pseudo-professional actor I am now. I'll never forget when he called acting "juggling oranges."


This is not Jeff Green, merely an amusing photo I found on line.

I mention this concept in rehearsals sometimes, and usually get a blank look, or a "huh?" However, I always find it an elegant simile. As an actor on stage, you always have multiple factors to keep track of, to keep "in the air." I say "in the air" because none of these issues is a solid, concrete "you do it this way" concept.

Examples of oranges:

  • Your lines (well, duh)
  • Your blocking (don't want to be walking into furniture)
  • The physical traits you've given the character (limp? Military with perfect posture? etc)
  • The emotional content of the scene
  • Your character's given circumstances (be it what's happened earlier in the play, or your backstory, if you're into that sort of thing)
  • Your character's objectives in this particular scene (what does he/she want from the other characters in this scene?)
  • Your character's super-objectives for the play as a whole (what does he/she want in terms of our overall story? - could be same as above)
  • Your character's textual through-line (what's the spoken tactics he/she's using?)
  • Your character's subtextual through-line (what's he/she REALLY thinking?)
  • Listening to the other actors/characters (It's what it's all about)
  • Your diction/projection (it's all pointless if the audience can't hear you)
  • Your physical relation to the audience (it's all pointless if the audience can't see you)
  • Finding your light (see above)
  • Creating a compelling emotional environment for your audience (because, again, what's the point if the audience doesn't care? - Do not confuse with "pandering")
That's a long list, but, frankly, it's an illusion. In most cases, all of those different elements feed each other as you work the process. Your character's history feeds their super-objective, which feeds the objective for the immediate scene, for example. Your placement on stage, and listening to what's being said to you will feed the recall of your lines. It's a dance, a trick of coordination, although it's mental, rather than physical.

What's not on there? "How am I doing?"

The second you start trying to judge your success or failure while you're on the stage, in front of an audience, you've dropped your oranges, and you've failed. I don't mean to elevate myself with that statement, we've all failed, and I've failed as hard and spectacularly as anyone. I've had shows where I wanted the audience to "like me," and that was my goal.

Do you see what happens there? My super-objective is now "for the audience to like me," which doesn't have a damn thing to do with the character or the play. FAIL.

Again, the real key is focus. To shut out everything but the moment your character is living in, yet not so much that you lose the technical needs that make your work readable to the audience. (To all you "uber-Method," "don't constrain my art" folks, no, "feeling it" doesn't excuse being sloppy on stage. Brando "felt" the shit out of Stanley Kowalski, but he still found his damn light) You've got to watch those damn oranges go around, and keep them in the air.

Simply, there should be no time on stage to judge yourself. Play through! Hit the ground running and aim for the curtain call. Stop undermining yourself with worries that will only compound if you dwell on them. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Likewise, stop patting yourself on the back before you've completed the task.

After the fact? Oh you bet! (You could even say this entire blog is about me judging my work from last night after the fact.) Everyone can benefit from an honest "post-mortem" of a performance, but the key there is the word "honest." I find that actors are rarely fully honest with themselves, we're hardly ever as good, or as bad, as we think we are.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Van Halen III

I was reading one of the blogs I follow recently, and the discussion was about how the author tries, on regular occasions, to listen to The Clash's Sandinista, and like it. No matter how many times he does, he can't. He also asked about what albums his readers don't like, but feel they're supposed to. Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind was offered as an example.

This started me thinking about the albums I'm not supposed to like, but I do. Yeah, Chinese Democracy sprung immediately to mind, but I really think the king of this particular hill, for me, is Van Halen III.


Now, I'm not going to sit here and try to claim this is a perfect album, because it most certainly isn't. However, this one an only outing with the third version of Van Halen really is a blueprint for what could've been a rather interesting new direction for the band. Certainly more interesting than where it actually went. This 1998 album is the last original recording the bad has ever released. Last full-length record, anyway...Yes, there were a couple of new tracks on the Best of Both Worlds greatest hits collection in 2004, but, as far as an actual, honest-to-God, album, nada.

That's really pathetic. I'm sorry, but it is. The band has toured three times since the release of this album, with each of their lead singers, and grown more depressingly into a nostalgia act with each go-around.

That, however, is another rant.

The sad fact is that this record has been completely washed out of the Van Halen history. It looks like it's still in print, but, like anything not involving David Lee Roth, it's been completely scrubbed from the official Van Halen website. Which doesn't even feature an official discography, at all, or any other features you'd expect from a band's official website...it's a glorified sales gateway for "official EVH products."

Anyway...the album.

This album was released at a very tumultuous time for Van Halen. Sammy Hagar had left the band under a swirl of nasty comments in 1996, leading to a first "Best of" greatest hits album in that same year, which included two new tracks with original singer David Lee Roth. MTV arranged for the band, with Roth, to appear on the Video Music Awards show, and hyped the event with commercials using the Welcome Back Kotter theme over images of Roth in his VH-heyday.

Well, things didn't work out. Almost coming to blows backstage at the VMAs. Whatever plans were brewing for Roth to return, they were scuttled. The sense of disappointment, and anger, with many Van Halen fans was palpable.

I'm still convinced that no singer could've come into this situation and succeeded. Also that any Van Halen album without one of the original vocalists, and probably without Roth, period, was doomed. I was on the internet at the time, and there was a general sense from many people that they had been "ripped off" with some sort of bait-and-switch with Roth.

Which is just about one of the silliest, stupidest, things I've ever heard. This whole situation is a nasty glimpse into the mind of a hard core fan. The sense of entitlement, the feeling that Van Halen "owed" their fans something was really ugly to behold. The nascent internet community was a really difficult place to be rational in back in those days.

In the middle of all this is the actual album, and new vocalist Gary Cherone, who had been with the funk/rock band Extreme (and would again.) There have been rumors of other vocalists in contention, but that's never really been officially confirmed. I was very excited about the record at the time of release. I'd liked Cherone a great deal in Extreme, and I was hungry for new Van Halen. I was open to a new sound from the band, and perhaps most of the record-buying public wasn't.

Even now, when I listen to the album, I am struck by an adventurousness in the songs. I tend to believe that this was Eddie Van Halen at his most free. Roth and Hagar were both very much "hit singles" guys, while Cherone, in Extreme, had been more adventurous in the styles and genres he's worked with. Plus, without a doubt, Cherone was not a "name player" like Hagar, or a founding band member like Roth, so perhaps Eddie was able to force things on him more. Either way, I can't imagine Hagar or Roth going for a torchy number like "A Year to the Day," or a delicate song like "Josephina."

There are a LOT of good songs on Van Halen III. Maybe not the fist-pumping cock-rock that was expected from the band, but in it's place was adventurous arrangements and interesting lyrical compositions from Cherone. For myself, I can listen to "Without You," "One I Want," or "Fire in the Hole" an enjoy the hell out of them. "Dirty Water Dog" is, flat out, one of my favorite VH songs, ever. They function in a way that Hagar's straight-ahead pop/rock sensibilities, and Roth's scat-attack rantings never did. They're rather personal, and open up with meaning if you want to think about them. There are some stinkers, of course. "Once" just kind of plods along, and the less said of "How Many Say I," with Eddie on vocals, the better.

There are some big, big downsides to this record. First and foremost, Cherone is kinda trapped by the specter of Hagar. I tend to feel like Eddie was so used to writing for Hagar's voice at that time, he had some trouble shifting gears. More often than not, Gary isn't allowed to sing like Gary, but more in the Hagar mode. It's not bad, but you can tell he's straining at points. This is one area where I really love this record more for the potential is represented, rather than what was on the CD. I feel like the band would've become more and more comfortable with what Cherone could do well, and vice-versa. That stuff takes time, and one album ain't always gonna do it.

Second, the production is horrendous. The whole thing feels so muddy and Cherone's vocals feel way too hot and jarring on the final mix. He seems like he's screaming all the time, when I know he isn't. When I saw this lineup live, he sounded fantastic. The vocals could've done with some treble taken from the mix. No doubt that specter of Hagar influenced this as well, with the straining I mentioned above. Eddie does some of his best playing in years on this album, and it just feels sludgy. I don't know how much of this to lay on Producer Mike Post (he of dozens of TV themes) and how much to put on Eddie himself, playing with the knobs. Somebody dropped the ball, I would guess in mixing or mastering, and it hurts, a lot.

The popular perception is that the album was an utter failure upon release, and certainly it wasn't as financially successful as other Van Halen albums, especially in the Hagar era. It did, however, reach Gold certification, and "Without You" was the #1 rock single for 6 weeks. The tour also proved to be less than triumphant. Which is a damn shame, I saw this lineup at Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, Kansas, and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. With Gary they could mine the entire Van Halen catalog and do it well. Cherone also has stage presence and physical agility to spare.

Cherone eventually left the band in 1999, after they had worked on a number of songs for a follow-up. At least one track, or the lyrics, anyway, "Left For Dead," ended up on Cherone's follow-up project Tribe of Judah. I'm pretty well convinced that this stuff will never see the light of day, as the era has been scrubbed out of the band's history.

A couple of interesting postscripts to this are in the fact that Eddie Van Halen went into an utter tailspin after this lineup dissolved. He virtually disappeared, with a cancer battle and divorce providing a major explanation, but he's also alluded to the idea that Warner Brothers Records (their label at the time) basically demanded they eject Cherone. The inference being that one of the two popular vocalists had to return. I sometimes wonder about that event, and Eddie's subsequent lack of interest in original material are connected. If, in fact, Van Halen III is an Eddie Van Halen freed to produce the music he wanted without restrictions, maybe going back has little interest for him. That's utter and complete supposition on my part, of course.

Also, though Gary Cherone was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the band, leave it to the always class-act, bassist Michael Anthony (himself ejected for Eddie's son in 2006) to mention him warmly in his acceptance speech.

At the end of the day, Van Halen III has a lot of problems, and I'm not trying to hold it up as a "lost masterpiece," or anything of the kind. I do, however, think of it as an underappreciated part of Van Halen history. An album that could've been a doorway to something a hell of a lot better than what we ended up getting. Plus, I really dig a lot of the tunes.

So, when I hear people talking about how terrible it was/is, I just can't agree.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage



I love that poster. It encapsulates a lot of what I love about this band in one image. The history, the fanbase, and the sheer goofy goodwill and chemistry of the three band members are all on display here.

In that sense, the poster is a perfect representation of what you'll find in the film. Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen (Iron Maiden: Flight 666) have done a fine job of distilling the almost 40 year history of the band to a concise and entertaining two hours. The film isn't a dirt-digging exercise, obviously, but it's gleefully aware of the reputation of both the band and it's fans.

Put it this way, one of the biggest laughs in the film (and there are many) is when guitarist Alex Lifeson, upon first meeting drummer Neil Peart, thought he wasn't "cool enough" for this band.

Yeah, HUGE laugh.

I mean, we start out with Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee growing up together in Toronto. We get a lot of material with the band's surviving parents. Peart's mother comments she thought of him as, "weird, was what we called it back then." At this point, the geekiness of Rush is almost part of the mythology, the inherent coolness, of the band. There are many big laughs in this early section.

We travel through the release of the self-titled first album, with drummer John Rutsey, his dismissal for health and musical reasons, and the joining of Peart. This is, let's be honest, when the band really comes together. Lots of stories of tours and gigs with artists such as Uriah Heap, Ted Nugent and Kiss.

I knew Rush had opened for Kiss, but I was really unaware of how much they had toured together. It seems, in the film, to be pretty extensive. Lots of comments in this section about the different personalities of these bands. Kiss were well known as a carnival of debauchery, while the guys in Rush...read books in their hotel rooms. Gene Simmons even comments, "what the hell are you doing in your hotel room!?!?!"

So, yeah..."nerd band" is pounded home pretty solidly. Not that that's a problem. The guys know who they are, and how they're perceived, and it's quite obvious they don't care. Or, they certainly aren't offended. It's funny how, as you get older, it just becomes easier and easier to accept yourself as who you are, and how silly you feel looking back at how much you worried about it when you were younger.

(the movie actually made me think about a play I read recently that's all about the perception of "manhood," and how I found the script all very silly. I'm a comic book-reading, sci-fi-loving, Movie geek and music dork. I'm also over six feet tall, work out and am fairly muscular. I used to be fat and picked on all the time. I just don't care anymore. I am who I am, and if you don't like it...so what? I find it an utter waste of time to expend energy agonizing over that anymore.)

Anyway...odd tangent there.

You have a lot of standard music documentary fare, talking head interviews from a lot of musicians. I do wish Billy Corgan would shut the hell up, even if I agreed with pretty much everything he said. It was just the almost palpable desire to connect Himself with the greatness. On the opposite end, Sebastian Bach just came off as a great, big (seriously...he's puffed up) goofy Rush fanatic, and it was incredibly endearing.

The celebrity winner, however, was Jack Black and his "jar of rocket sauce" analogy for Rush's longevity. Full of win, that.

There's interesting discussion of all phases of the band's career, from the early "Canadian Zeppelin" days, through the "Prog era," the 80's "keyboard and electronic drum" era (complete with a truly horrendous video clip co-featuring Amiee Mann that I must've scrubbed away from my memory), then back to a more traditional rock sound in the 90's. Lots of great, honest commentary, with various people making it very clear how little they cared for the Synth period.

I was also really surprised they actually got Neil Peart to talk about the late-90's passing of his daughter (in a car crash) and wife (from cancer) within about 6 months of each other. He's been super-private since then, but written a fantastic book, Ghost Rider, about that time. They spend some time on Peart's shyness and how he's uncomfortable around admirers. (with Rage Against The Machine's Tim Commerford relating a story of being removed from a meet and greet for being too open with his admiration)

You do get a vivid sense of the personalities. There is a feeling that, while they all are close, Lee and Lifeson share a connection that Peart is outside of. We see Lee and Lifeson together throughout the film, with Peart interviewed on his own. Peart, as band mythology holds, comes off as the fiercely independent loner, with Lee and Lifeson as a two-man comedy team. Geddy being the straight man to Alex's quick wit. It's only over the end credits we see the three men having dinner and wine together, and it's a joy. You can see the way the goofiness and camaraderie explodes when they're all together. It's a perfect way to end the film, as it comments clearly on how and why this band can be content and creative after all these years together.

Can't wait to get the Blu-Ray at the end of the month.

One final note...Watch for the scene with Geddy and Alex in the diner. The waitress wants Geddy's autograph, and damn near pushes Alex to the floor to get it. Lifeson's expressions in this moment were truly worth all the time and money I spent seeing this film. It made me long for a Hard Day's Night-type movie starring the guys. Though I doubt Neil would ever do it.

As if any studio would make it...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Well, at least I got that going for me.

I accomplished something today.

If I hadn't said so before, my short play, Protected, has been chosen to be a part of Strangeloop Theatre's "Loopshop" festival. I wrote it about 5 years ago, for one of the Brown Couch 10-Minute Play festivals. It wasn't chosen for that, and went in a drawer.

Well, through a series of events, Dustin Spence, a member of Strangeloop, read this script, and they asked me to direct it myself for their festival.

All well and good. I'm the only person directing their own piece, which I didn't ask to do. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was done because my script calls for (literally) a whole bag full of odd and specific props. "He wrote this crap, let him figure it out!"

LOL. Just kidding, really. I'm blissfully unaware of why they asked me to direct it. I'm happy to do so, don't get me wrong, but I, frankly, don't have time to figure the "why" of it all out.

Casting was a bit of a merry-go-round of craziness. I'd find the right person, then I'd be stuck on finding the other. It's a two-person show, FYI. I'd find the other, and my first would jump ship. This went on for a while. I was starting to get nervous. Finally, somebody mentioned a name to me, and I almost slapped myself, it was just an obviously good casting choice.

Thank God I got two people I trust and respect, and, I think, feel the same in return. So, good job there. Then scheduling, looking for aforementioned odd and specific props...

It's just a lot, when I had Sun, Stand thou Still going on, with Leapfest and The Meaning of Lunch hard on it's tail. The festival is July 13th and 14th, which isn't too far off, honestly, and I've got a family reunion trip between now and then. I'm just feeling the pressure right now.

I'm totally in "head down until I get off the plane in San Diego" mode. Comic-Con is, officially, five weeks and six days away. Between now and then I have 8 rehearsals, 2 tech rehearsals, 5 performances, 1 box office shift, 1 special cinema event, 1 concert, 24 day job work days, 3 ensemble meetings, 1 "Stage Left work day," 2 set strikes, 2 airline flights, 4 days in Arizona seeing my family, 4 other Leapfest shows to see, not to mention the release of Toy Story 3, fixing my laptop and getting the comic book Zach B. and I are working on printed.

But, y'know...I got my rehearsal schedule for Protected finalized today, and I found rehearsal spaces for every rehearsal. And tonight is my Rush "special cinema event."

So, I got that going for me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Comic Day 6.9.2010

Oh, my aching wallet.

In an act of an idiot nature, I did not manage to get to my Local Comics Shop (LCS) ast week to pick up the (reasonable week of) 4 title. So, now I'm on the hook for those 4, plus the 6 from this week (including a rather expensive anniversary title.)

Batman #700

Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art by TONY DANIEL, ANDY KUBERT,
FRANK QUITELY, DAVID FINCH & RICHARD FRIEND
Cover by DAVID FINCH
1:25 "DC 75th Anniversary" variant cover by MIKE MIGNOLA
1:75 "DC 75th Anniversary" variant black and white cover by MIKE MIGNOLA

Grant Morrison returns to BATMAN with this oversized special! And he's brought an all-star roster of artists along with him including Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel and Frank Quitely to celebrate this milestone 700th issue featuring stories spotlighting each of the Batmen from different eras – Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. You won't want to miss this blockbuster story that paves the way for the return of Bruce Wayne and sports mind-boggling covers by superstars David Finch (BRIGHTEST DAY) and Mike Mignola (BATMAN: GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT, Hellboy)!

So, with Dick Grayson-as-Batman and The Return of Bruce Wayne in full swing, Grant Morrison returns to the eponymous Batman title to celebrate it's 700th issue. Promotion art indicates that the story will involve a case across time. With Bruce, Dick and Bruce's bastard son, Damian, all in the Batman costume, and making their way toward a solution. Could be interesting, or Morrison might spin out into some sort of retro-Silver Age weirdness. We shall see. Actually excited about this.

Booster Gold #33

Written by KEITH GIFFEN & J.M. DEMATTEIS
Art by CHRIS BATISTA
Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE

The shocking events of JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST leave Booster Gold bloody and beaten, and the only way for him to put right what went wrong and save the people he loves is to travel back into the past. But what happens when Booster comes face-to-face with himself and Justice League International?

OK, so...Looking for that good old-timey Justice League International "BWA-HA-HA-HA!!" fix? Do not, under any circumstances, pick up Justice League: Generation Lost. Get this book instead. I'm really just putting my toe in the water with this issue, and the last, but Giffen and Dematteis did not let me down. I'll figure I'll stick with this as long as they do.

Jonah Hex #56

Written by JUSTIN GRAY & JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art by PHIL WINSLADE & OTHERS
Cover by DARWYN COOKE

Timed to coincide with the upcoming JONAH HEX movie starring Josh Brolin and Megan Fox from Warner Bros., this issue is a special jumping-on point for new and old HEX fans alike! Learn Hex's savage origin and how love played a crucial hand in forming the hard-edged man he is today! And when an old Native American woman hires Hex to save her life, he assumes it's just a normal job – but it turns out to be one that will affect the course of American history! All this, plus a cover by the one and only Darwyn Cooke (NEW FRONTIER)!

OK, forget all the movie-hype here. (It's opening opposite Toy Story 3 anyway, the writing is on the wall.) Look at that awesome Darwyn Cooke cover, and revel in the best western comic on the market. Over and over I'll say it, this is the most consistently great regular series either of the "Big Two" are putting out, and I might even say "any company, period." It's that good.

Captain America #606

COVER BY: Butch Guice
WRITER: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
PENCILS: David Baldeon & Butch Guice

THE HEROIC AGE IS HERE! Acclaimed artist Butch Guice joins award-winning writer Ed Brubaker as the summer begins with a blast from the past! Zemo returns to finish the job his father started -- Killing Bucky!


Wanna know how to alienate this reader? Have the shipping schedule be as weird as it has been for this title. Then pull a "bait-and-switch" with the rebirth of the title character. I'm sticking it out, for now, because Brubaker is telling good stories, but, man...Steve Rogers is back from the dead. Why isn't he in the suit?

Oh, and blah, blah, HEROIC AGE, blah, blah...

Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #3

COVER BY: Leinil Francis Yu
WRITER: Mark Millar
PENCILS: Leinil Francis Yu
INKS: Gerry Alanguilan
COLORED BY: Laura Martin
LETTERED BY: VC - Cory Petit

Nick Fury’s Avengers have assembled: Black Widow, The Punisher, a new Hulk, War Machine and Hawkeye are souped-up and ready to face Hell…literally. Evil’s emissary comes in the form of The Ghostrider, a mysterious new villain sent to collect Satan’s debts: human lives. But how do you fight the devil and his men? With big guns and even bigger cojones. Who lives, who survives? Who knows? But it’ll be one hellish ride!! Join superstars MARK MILLAR and LEINIL FRANCIS YU in another heart-pumping adventure!

**YAWN**

I am so tempted to drop this. They're hunting Ghost Rider? Big friggin' whoop.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #11

COVER BY: DAVID LAFUENTE
WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILS: DAVID LAFUENTE
INKS: David Lafuente Garcia
COLORED BY: Justin Ponsor
LETTERED BY: VC - Cory Petit

After the shocking drama surrounding Kitty Pryde is exposed, an edict is made: “No more super heroes!!” Will Peter and his friends be able to keep the costumes off?? Especially when J. Jonah Jameson reveals himself to be the biggest threat Spidey has faced in years? Looking for a Spidey adventure you’ve never seen before? Look no further as Eisner-nominated writer Brian Michael Bendis and fan-favorite artist David Lafuente, bring you another blockbuster story!

I have total faith in Brian Michael Bendis on this title. Total. Faith. This is the jewel in Marvel's crown right now. I do, however, still miss Mark Bagley on this title.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A moment...

Last night, in rehearsal for The Meaning of Lunch, I had one of those "moments" that happen in theatre every so often.

I was off-stage, and watching Sandy Elias and Melissa DiLeonardo work a scene. I was having such a good time watching them work, and admiring the way they were playing off each other. It's always hard to picture how a show is going to go over when you're rehearsing. Shows that I've enjoyed every moment of during rehearsals have fallen flat as a pancake once the audience stepped into the room.

But, sometimes...You just see things working, right in front of you, and you feel blessed to be in such company. Sandy, Melissa and Gabe Estrada are in this show with me, and each and every one of them have great moments. That's a testament to their talent, of course, but it's also about the whole thing coming together in the right way.

It all starts with Dan Aibel's script, of course. It's no exaggeration to say that I have loved this play from the moment I started reading it. I got so excited when I finished, I had to blog about it. Yeah, sure, it's a style that is exactly in line with my sensibilities, and I'm sure lots of other people would be less than enthralled with it. Doesn't matter. I, frankly, don't care what anyone else thinks. I loved it from day one.

Mr. Aibel has the great gift of being able to say something with his play, without SAYING SOMETHING. The Meaning of Lunch is about people, their lives, and those lives happen to shed light on a larger social issue. His work displays something that I very strongly believe, that audiences don't care about issues, they care about people. They don't care about intellectual ideas, they care about emotions. You can comment on issues and ideas, but you MUST do it in an entertaining, emotionally honest way.

Dan (who I don't get to meet until next Monday - hope it's not presumptuous to go to "first name basis") writes dialogue that I find endlessly entertaining. Witty, fast paced, inventive, and not easy. Such a joy to perform.

Mix that with our directing team, Jason Fleece (also a Stage Left Ensemble Member) directing and Lorenzo Blackett assisting. Jason has really approached Dan's script with exactly the right intent from day one, and Lorenzo has ably supported that vision. From the first reading, I was really happy with how Jason saw this script and these characters, because there were a number of voices that saw it as a much darker and seedy story. Jason's clear sense of the play, and ability to make that vision clear to everyone, has made bringing Dan's script to life a really fun task.

It's funny. I loved this play so much, and I think I'm being truthful when I say I believe that my overwhelmingly positive reaction to it was what brought it to the attention of our Artistic Director, Vance Smith, and the rest of the Ensemble. I just thought it was a great play, but I also didn't really see myself acting in it. Sure, I kinda envisioned myself while reading, but every actor does that.

Todd, the role I'm playing, is not exactly the kind of part you'd immediately think of a six-foot-three, 200-mumble-pound actor for. Yet, as we play with the script, I realize, over and over, how much I identify with him. There are many things about Todd, his social skills, his relationship with his father, that might be said about me as well. I'm very thankful that Jason asked me to do it.

Really, I'm just thankful for the whole process, and that moment last night just crystallized it all for me.

Honestly, the only thing I can really wish for is that we were doing a full production, rather than just a reading. Hopefully, we'll get to that, sooner, rather than later. Not to turn this into naked promotion, but please come see us.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Putting that one to bed.

Sun, Stand Thou Still wrapped up on Saturday night. I think I can safely say that the final weekend was my strongest of the run. Which, is good on some levels, in that, as usual, all of my friends that came did so at the last possible moment, so at least they saw me at my best.

It really amuses me how the final weekend of a run always, and I mean ALWAYS, becomes a mad dash for everyone who's "meant" to come to the show, actually makes it. I always get the calls and e-mails...Can I get comps? Do you need reservations?

Now, why was it the strongest of the run? Pretty simply, I finally relaxed. This show was a tough one for me. Just because it demanded a lot, and I had to figure out how to deliver and connect the emotional dots. I can't say I always did it successfully, and, frankly, this show has become the champion "screw-up" show for me. I've never had as many brain-farts and general "off the rails" moments as I had during this run. It took me all four weeks to take what we had rehearsed and really make it my own.

Which, frankly, doesn't speak well for me.

Maybe I'm too hard on myself, but I really do feel like I could've done better. Of course, I ALWAYS feel like I could do better. God help me when I finish a show and think, "well, I was just perfect, there."

Long story short, Ka-Tet is a good group of people and, I'm happy to have worked with them and director David Fehr. Hopefully, there will be a second time.

Had an audition on Saturday for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, reading for Brick. Long story short, schedules made the entire thing a waste of time. I'm not the kind of person who can drop out of something just because I think there's a "better deal" being offered.

It does kind of kill me, however.

I don't know how many times I heard in undergrad, "oh, you are such a Tennessee Williams actor, you look like a Williams character, you're gonna end up doing tons of Williams plays." Which was great with me, along with Mamet and Miller, Williams is one of the playwrights I really FEEL. I don't know if that makes any sense, but I can hear the rhythms which I read the plays. I can hear the dialogue in my head.

...And, of course, I've never, not once, played a Williams character.

(Well, aside from running on and off as Stanley Kowalski in Woody Allen's God: A Play.)

Anyway, this is the second time in as many years that I've had a chance at a favorite Williams' show, and had it go south. (Last year was Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, which, honestly, hurt even more.)

Frankly, audition opportunities recently have been S-L-I-M. I went through 3 weeks of notices today, and found only one that I'd be interested in. Unfortunately, it's a show I've already agreed to do. So, that's a no-lose situation, but I'd still like to find something for October-November, since I'm not doing the Fall show for Stage Left, Kingsville. I'm hoping (fingers crossed) that I'll be doing the Stage Left Spring Show...

Speaking of which, Stage Left (as you may have guessed, since I'm talking about it) has officially announced their 2010-2011 season. Go, check it out, and, if you're in Chicago, Leapfest is right around the corner. Come see me in The Meaning of Lunch by Dan Aibel, as well as all the great workshop shows.