Saturday, June 18, 2011

Goodbye Clarence

Clarence Clemons
"The Big Man"
"The Minister of Soul,
The Secretary of the Brotherhood"
January 11th, 1942 - June 18th, 2011

Let's be honest, no one on God's green Earth is gonna be able to put this any better than Bruce, himself.

It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.

Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stuck in My Head 6.16.2011

This is a wonderful little spoken word piece from Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space. It's a spoken interpretation of a poem by Max Ehamann.

It came up on my MP3 player shuffle this morning as I walked to the train, and I was struck not only by the beauty of the sentiment, but, yes, how it does quite apply to everyone's favorite Vulcan. I also couldn't help but feel how, yes...these are the values I try to aspire to in my own life.

Although, I know I don't reach them the vast majority of the time.


(D E S I D E R A T A)
Written in 1927 by
Max Ehamann (1872-1945)

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
And remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly
and listen to others,
even the dull and ignorant
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing future of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars
you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

Be careful.

Strive to be happy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Comic Book Day 6.15.2011

With only one new title this week, perhaps I'll be able to get my 3-4 month backlog bagged and filed.

Batman #711 $2.99
Written by TONY DANIEL

Batman acts on his suspicions of a newly elected political figure in Gotham City and finds himself in deep water. With piranhas. Meanwhile, Two-Face fights his way back from the brink of death to find an unlikely ally who will show him that there are two sides to every story.

I gotta say, I'm happy to see that Tony Daniel will still be writing Batman when the dust settles in September. I'm also happy for a Two-Face storyline...

God, I love Two-Face.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Super 8

Caught Super 8 last night.

It's fair to say that I am a huge target for this film. I was mightily inspired by the Amblin'/Spielberg films of the 70's and 80's that J.J. Abrams is keen to invoke with this project. Hell, I remember after the triple combo of Jaws, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, every kid I knew had dug out their family old super-8 movie camera with the idea of becoming the next weaver of celluloid glory.

We all new the stories of young Spielberg crafting epics in his back yard, and it seemed so easy. Turns out it wasn't...even in the early 80's developing, or even buying, super-8 film was almost a thing of the past. Then video cameras...but editing on them was a nightmare.

Either way, what I can say is that I understand the kids of the small Ohio town of this movie. I was there, I get it. They're not only evocative of the kids that were The Goonies or Stand By Me, but the kids who loved those movies, as well. It isn't a small joy to revisit a film aiming so nakedly for the same kind of thrills that I experienced in movie theaters some thirty years ago.

The fact that Abrams is abetted by The Beard himself, as a producer, is interesting. I wonder how Spielberg feels about trading in nostalgia about his own work?

The good news is, on the whole, the enterprise succeeds. There are scenes scattered all through the film that immediately, and viscerally,  bring memories of Jaws, E.T., or Close Encounters. What's nice is that they make that connection, but without feeling like they're just mimicking. Abrams has done a terrific job of capturing a feel, without losing himself in detail. He's not stamping out cookie-cutter reproductions of things Steven shot better than anyone else ever could.

That said, it all doesn't work. Mainly these are in the moments where the film seems to leave the grounding that it has for most of it's running time, and that Spielberg's early filmography always had. The train crash that sets off the events of the film is so blindingly over the top that it doesn't even make sense within the script. Simply put, if the wreck is THAT bad, the subsequent events in the script make no sense.

What I go into next is probably *SPOILER* territory, but I also think it's blindingly obvious in the marketing materials that the film is about an alien, that I find it ridiculous that some people find the confirmation of that to be terrible.

Yes, there's an alien.

It looks like shit.

OK, that's not fair. It doesn't look like shit, per se, as much as it looks far to similar to the "big beasties" that appear in every, single film J.J. Abrams has been involved with. Wanna know what the creature in Super 8 looks like? Take a look at the creature in Cloverfield, which Abrams produced, and the ice planet monster from Star Trek, which he directed. Then squint a bit.

Mr. Abrams, please make an effort to find some new and different conceptual ideas next time.

So, that annoyed me, but it didn't ruin the film. On a whole it was an incredibly good time at the movies, that bumped into an awesome time at the movies with the ending credits, when Abrams runs the actual super-8 movie the kids have made.

Good times.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Comic Day - 6.8.2011

I can't even tell you how behind on bagging and filing I am...maybe 4 months. It's embarrassing.

Here we go.

Batman & Robin #24 $2.99
Written by JUDD WINICK
Art and cover by GUILLEM MARCH

The Red Hood is out! But the bigger mystery is who broke him out of prison – and why? His liberators seem to have plans for him. Plans that Jason wants no part of. It's a street brawl, and unlikely allies come together! Batman, Robin and The Red Hood must fight alongside one another in a knockdown, drag-out battle, taking on the people who sprung Jason Todd. 

It's Batman and Robin....It's Jud Winick! Personally, I'd like him to write a series about the JLA living in a beach house together and "getting real."

I kid, I kid. Winick is horribly uneven, but I've usually liked his Batman stuff.

Booster Gold #45 $2.99
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art and cover by DAN JURGENS and NORM RAPMUND

Booster knows that the Flashpoint world isn't his own. But how does he get back? How does he make things right?

I'm a Dan Jurgens fan, but I am REALLY missing Giffen and DeMatteis on this title. I'm picking this up because I was reading it before, not because of Flashpoint. Of course, now that we all know what the end result of Flashpoint will be, I'm really just itching to get it all over with.

Red Robin #24 $2.99
Art and cover by MARCUS TO

To survive the Assassination Tournament, Red Robin must survive an attack from Scarab's Covenant of Ka, make it to Russia in time to rescue a critically injured oligarch, track the mercenary Promise and come to an unexpected confrontation with the mysterious sister of Ra's al Ghul! 

I have really become a fan of this book, and it's odd that the cover for the new, revamped Teen Titans book hit today, with the new look for Red Robin. I do like the new look, but I'm also sad that it SEEMS like this title, and Tim Drake's solo adventures will be ending in August. That's a damn shame, because Nicieza has really done some fantastic work with this character.

The Stand: No Man's Land #5 $3.99
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Mike Perkins

After the horrific fruition of Harold and Nadine's plans last issue, everything in the Free Zone hangs in the balance. Newly returned from the wilderness, Mother Abagail clings to life, just barely, prompting city-wide fear and unrest. Meanwhile, the surviving members of the Committee keep vigil by her bedside, unprepared for her latest revelation: That the time has come for the forces of good to make a stand against Flagg's armies of darkness in the west... The stage is set, True Believers, the die is cast, and it's time to choose sides, as this shattering arc concludes!

My comments on this series are always the's a very good adaptation of the novel. You like the novel? You'll likely like this series of mini-series.We are getting pretty close to wrapping this up, which my wallet is thankful for.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #159 $3.99
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art & Cover by Mark Bagley
Variant Cover by Frank Cho

Spider-Man has been horribly wounded and hangs to life by the thinnest of threads. And when the Sinister Six come for the young hero in his hometown, Spider-Man will truly be in for the fight of his life! Prepare for a rumble in Queens like you’ve never seen before. Prepare for the end!

Ok, I don't think they're going to kill Peter, but I think they'll make the world think he's dead. It's just fantastic to have Bagley back, even for just a few issues. This is certainly the most consistently good series Marvel has, and maybe for both of the big two (although Jonah Hex is REAL close...)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

London Theatre 2011 - Part 3 - Pygmalion

The third evening of theatre we took in was Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre.

I have fond memories of The Garrick, as this is the theatre where I saw my first West End production in 2007, Treats with Billie Piper. That show knocked my socks off, mainly because I knew nothing about what I was going to see before I sat down. I would still love to work on that script, in some capacity.


Pygmalion was a bit of a similar situation. Of course, I know the play, but I confess I have never seen a production. I've also not read the script since college. I, like most people, am probably far more familiar with the musical version My Fair Lady.

That's a damn shame, but we'll get to that in a minute.

The idea of Everett as Henry Higgins was intriguing, as was seeing Dame Diana Rigg live and in person. Yes, I'm one of the generation at least partially led to sexual awakening by Emma Peel on The Avengers. Otherwise, I went in with a bit of a blank slate.

What I got was a nice black comedy with a bit of a mean streak. A much more interesting take on the subject that My Fair Lady will ever provide. I can't help it, people start singing, and I start to zone out on character and relationships. It becomes pretty things being paraded around the stage, and I think My Fair Lady is exceptionally guilty, especially when this source material is so rich.

Again, I think most people who might take the time to read this probably know the plot of this play, so I'm not going to trudge back over it. Suffice to say that I think the questions this play raises about women, men and identity are still very, very valid. The show felt very fresh.

Everett is perhaps a bit too dour. I've just read a review that compared his first interest to the appearance of Jack the Ripper. I wouldn't go that far, but I think that he might've allowed Higgins to enjoy his experiment, and the presence of Eliza, a bit more. The show seems to want to spin Higgins as an overgrown man-child, and that's as valid a take as any, but I think a man-child would enjoy things a bit more.

That said, the man is wonderful with the turn of a phrase, and enjoyed great chemistry with Peter Eyre as Colonel Pickering.

Dame Rigg, however was able to tap into that childish joy and glee with Mrs. Higgins. the show took an upswing every time she entered the scene. A wonderful character, well rendered.

But, really, I will save my highest praise for Kara Tointon, a British soap star (EastEnders) making her West End debut. For an actress with very few listed stage credits, she KILLED as Eliza Doolittle. She hits all of the comic beats, from the street urchin flower girl, to the almost robotic "trained" Eliza that first appears, and then nails the emotional wallop of the ending. I have her to thank for the fact I may not be able to hear someone say "how do you do" again, without laughing. Kudos for an excellent performance from a stage newcomer.

It was also nice, as we moved toward the climax of the show, my mind sticking in elements form My fair Lady, that Pygmalion takes a much darker, and interesting turn. I loved it, and I think I may be outright annoyed with the changes made for the musical. What Bernard Shaw gives us is a story about the true dangers of reshaping and playing with human beings, instead of a simple romantic comedy. When Eliza takes her life into her own hands, and asserts herself, it's an ending that brings the point home, rather than undercutting it with a weakened romantic denouement.

Nice production of a show that I should've paid more attention to before now.

Friday, June 3, 2011

London Theatre 2011 - Part 2 - Much Ado About Nothing

So, before we ever left on the trip, I found out that David Tennant and Catherine Tate would be opening a new production of Much Ado About Nothing in the West End. Being large Doctor Who fans, especially of the 4th season of the revived version of the show, which co-starred Tennant and Tate, we actually booked seats for a preview before we even left. I want to make it very clear, we saw a preview performance.

One of the things that I really admire about Brits, in terms of their approach to Shakespeare, is that they seem to remember that The Bard was a populist playwright. He wrote for the masses, and was never, ever afraid to go for the lowest-common-denominator. It's especially true of his comedies.

For me, too many American productions just get mired in their own importance. Tied up in the literary aspects, instead of just putting on a good show. Hell, the Shakespeare comedies are filled with asides to the audience that border on stand-up.

This production grabs hold of that element fiercely. The script is edited pretty severely, and the staging and production decisions are all pretty broad. The show wants you to leave feeling entertained, and will go to great lengths to get there.

The show is set in the 80's, with the soldiers under Don Pedro stopping off at Gibraltar on their way back from combat in the Falklands. I found the copious notes in the program about both the 80's and Gibraltar kinda ridiculous. It was plainly clear the time period was chosen because of the amusing costuming possibilities, both during the costume party (Darth Vader, Indy Jones, Werewolf Michael Jackson, and Princess Leia all appear), and the rest of the show. It's a fair choice to make, amusing almost to a fault, but really...trying to say that something organic within the text brought director Josie Rourke to say, "this MUST be set in the 80's!!" is pushing it.

It's a star-casting show. That's just fact. This production likely exists because Tennant and Tate wanted to do it. (Although, I was also amused that in the rehearsal photos in the program, Tennant is nowhere to be found.) The cast, the whole show, is built around these two actors.

Tennant is the more experienced stage actor. I don't think that's any secret, and it shows. The show trades mightily on slapstick (which is more than appropriate within Shakespeare, as far as I'm concerned). There is a sharpness and cleanness to how Tennant executed all of these gags that is just awesomely winning. Act II, Scene 3, where Benedick eavesdrops on Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio, who feed him false information about Beatrice's love for him, was a showstopping ballet of slapstick. With a rotating stage, buckets of paint (which ends up smeared all over Tennant), and a can of beer with cigarettes in it (oh, ho! SPIT TAKE!!). All while wearing a Superman shirt, less we forget who the MVP here is.

He then whips into the soliloquy that (nearly) ends that scene, and the full-on hambone that we all knew lurked within Tennant erupts. I'd guess the speech played at least twice as long than as written, simply due to David (I'm tired of writing "Tennant") playing the crowd. Oh yeah, he mugged, he pandered for laughs, and generally turned on the charm that's made him beloved by Who fans. Again, I wasn't bothered by this, as it seems to me to be well within the realms of what Shakespeare's comedies are, and playing to the groundlings. I've described the scene to others, who have been horrified at the whole idea. Your mileage may vary.

Not to say that I was completely bowled over by Mr. Tennant. I felt a bit short changed by the moment when Benedict asserts his intention to kill Claudio. (I'm writing this with the belief that most of my readership knows the story of Much Ado About Nothing...if you don't, maybe try here.) The moment fell a bit flat because I just didn't really feel Benedict was all that dangerous. I mean, in my mind, this character works best when his soldier (they all are), can act like such a lout, and be flippant about everything, because he's got nothing to prove. He can become the warrior the moment it's needed. Tennant doesn't quite get there.

Then there's Catherine Tate. Alas, she's just not as comfortable on stage as David. Her timing is impeccable, but I never quite felt her make the connection to the deeper parts of Beatrice. She wasn't bad, or terrible, or anything so apocalyptic. There were moments that worked quite wonderfully, but the entire performance didn't gel in the way Tennant's did. It's really something I chalk up to experience. Tate simply hasn't been on stage as much, and there's no shame in being as good as she is, in the face of that.

There's another slapstick piece for the companion scene with Benedict, with flying harnesses and other shenanigans. It's just not as funny, and even a bit labored. Certainly not as sharply executed, which is really stunning because the Benedict scene is much, much more physically complicated. It also just wasn't as logical, with certain gags just drawing attention to themselves as gags, instead of feeling like an action any rational person would really take.

All that said, the scene where Beatrice and Benedict actually come together and profess (...kinda) their love for each other is pretty cracking. They play off each other so well, how could it not be. And Tate may not hit the bullseye directly, as other performances I've seen, but the moment when she asks him to kill Claudio did land effectively. The scene is very well paced to make the line drop like a bomb.

No one's going to call this a transcendent production of Much Ado About Nothing. It's not a show that's going to take your breath away. (Although it certainly did for the teenage girl two seats down from me, who kept muttering "I love him, I love him" from the moment David Tennant walked on stage.) However, as a fan of both these actors, it was well worth the time and money. It's a highly energized, fast paced, entertaining version of the show. It's lightweight, and, let's be honest, Much Ado is a pretty lightweight show.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

London Theatre 2011 - Part 1 - War Horse

Man, it's been a while since my regular blogging, huh? A lot has happened, not the least being a trip to Europe.

Saw three shows this trip, War Horse, Much Ado About Nothing, and Pygmalion. Comparing this run to the other two trips across the pond, it wasn't nearly as good as the Treats/Glass Menagerie/Equus year, but miles beyond the Waiting for Godot/Spring Awakening year.

We saw War Horse on Thursday night. Had to pay full price, as the show's selling so well that the TKTS booth wasn't getting tickets. So, it was a little pricey, but, get what you pay for.

I've spent a lot of time telling people about this vision of theatre that I've had. I have this idea that we can do big, expansive, epic productions if we simply allow ourselves to have faith in the imagination of our audience. That the money we spend on detailed sets and frippery is, at the end of the day, wasted. We should invest in design, and make it precise, and execute it just as precisely, but that doesn't mean we have to fill the stage with garbage that's only there to look impressive.

I love black box shows, where settings are suggested by a few well-selected set pieces. Lighting and performance encourage the audience to fill in the rest. It's pure theatre, in my mind, but it requires discipline. You have to work and think about what your show is, tear it apart, see what's absolutely necessary, and be brave enough to admit you don't need the rest.

What it does is drive your entire design process, and your choices, away from "what will impress the audience," (or, let's be honest, "the other theatre people who see the show") and to "what do we need to tell this story." If you start there, you can get as grandiose, as creative, as possible, and it won't be extraneous. It'll be a choice about the show, for the show.

I also am a big believer in focusing your script, your concept. Simplify, and not just in terms of action and character, but with emotion. I think we spend far too much fucking time trying to get the audience to think, when we can make our points far more strongly, and effectively, if we just make them feel. If you know what you want the audience to feel, you'll find that more and more of the details are just, frankly, jerking off. as I've said so many times before, theatre is entertainment, not a lecture. You'll reach your audience, interest them, if they can "feel along with" (as Harrison Ford said) the characters.

Once they care, and not on an intellectual, rational level, but in a deep-seated, primal, emotional place, your points? Your deeper mission, and the "high fiber" part of's gonna come through. It's gonna be there, and in a way that make the point personal. Your audience will fucking care about it, not because they think they ought to, but because they CARE.

This is all preamble to say that War Horse, in it's amazing glory, embodies everything I'm talking about here. It's probably the best major theatre piece I've ever seen.

Let's start with the design. Everything was functional, bits and pieces that the actors would make solid. Very early in the show, the young foal, Joey, is in a corral, with men standing around the edges as he is auctioned. The corral was there, I saw it, the men leaned on it, and it was just a bunch of sticks the actors were holding in the air. Yet the committed to it, it was a fence, a corral, and we, the audience accept that.

A door against a black area of the stage was a house.  A plow could quickly become part of the battlements. This all happened because the actors believed it, and they asked us to come along. It's so damn simple, and so few people working in this medium get it.

As the show went on, it made such wonderful use of technology I've seen elsewhere, but executed in utterly halfassed ways. Yeah, yeah, my tech instructor in college believed projections were the future of theatre, but a slide projector against a wall is just...nothing. Here we had a huge, jagged screen, mirroring a sheet ripped from a sketchpad in the show, with multiple projections and a true synch with the action of the play.

Then, of course, the puppets.

It's hard to describe how effective the puppetry was.

But again, look at the horses. There's no effort made to make them seem realistic. They are fabric and visible wood framing, the expectation is that the talent on stage, and the imagination in the audience will come together to make them alive.

I have to tell you, within 20 seconds of the foal puppet entering the stage, it sneezed while grazing, and from that moment forward, I was watching living, breathing animals on stage. It was an illusion, but one that, with some effort, and precise execution and design, is within the grasp of any level theatre with a talented, inventive team.

I won't even get into the ravens, the swallows, the Goose (which may be my favorite comedy relief character in any play, ever), or the Tank...

Oh shit...the tank was terrifying, amazing.

Then there's the story. The play is based on, yes, a children's book by Michael Morpurgo. I'm sure some will scoff at such an effort for a silly story about a boy and his horse. Here's what those dullards are missing, however; this play says more, and hits harder, in terms of making you think about what going to war actually means, the why and how that puts the men (and animals) into the middle of truly terrifying battles.

Really, the choice of World War I as the setting here is so excellent. Watching the armies trying to adapt from battles where cavalry were considered unstoppable, to a war that introduced machine guns, tanks, and poison gas, is really heartbreaking.

We wrap all of this in the tale of a boy willing to give his live for that of the horse he had raised. we follow the horse, Joey, the boy, Albert, as well as a German soldier that becomes the caretaker of the animal. Each, in turn dreams of returning home, but not all will make it. It's a tale that is simple enough to enthrall, and true enough to break your heart.

I know I was weeping though much of the show.

It does my heart proud to see this show, now open in New York, as well, and selling out on a regular basis. This is great theatre, and it represents something more than the umpteenth remount of How to Succeed in Business, or the empty calories of The Addams Family, or some other such bullshit. Not only is it great theatre, but I think it's showing us the way to how to reinvent the medium and reach out to not just ourselves, but to the general audience, without selling our souls.

I want to be in a show this good. I want to direct a show this good. If you can see it, do not hesitate.

The video? Doesn't do it justice at all.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Comic Day 6.1.2011

Well, after yesterday's universe-shaking news...well, that's true, it's just not a real universe...I was surprised to have such a small pull list this week. Of course, this doesn't include the books from last week I haven't gotten to pick up yet.

Flashpoint #2 $3.99

Huh. Funny. This was listed as out this week at, but shows it next week. We shall see.

Jonah Hex #68 $2.99
Art and cover by RAFA GARRES

When a man in a small town turns up dead, all evidence points to Jonah Hex as the shooter! On trial for his life in the backroom of a saloon, Hex must play detective if he's to prove his innocence. Artist Rafa Garres returns to illustrate this stand-alone potboiler!

I swear to God, if this title gets screwed up come RebootSeptember, there will be Hell to pay.