Friday, September 30, 2011

Stuck in My Head 9.30.2011

Creature Lives
By Mastodon

I saw the creature fall
Into the swamp from which he spawned
I heard them laugh and say
They never liked him anyway

I tried to talk to them
To help you on your feet again
They laughed and said to me
The swamp is right where I should be

The creature lives
The creature lives
The creature lives
The creature lives

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Chickenfoot and Mastodon Albums

On this past Thursday, Chickenfoot and Mastodon unleashed new music on the world.

Being a Van Halen fan through many years and many lineups (I even can find cool things in the Cherone era), of course I'm interested in a band that includes what's increasingly looking like the most rational (former) members of that band. I enjoyed the first Chickenfoot album, it was fun, it sounded like a bunch of friends getting together to jam. However, if this band is now a going concern, they needed to go beyond that.

Mastodon came onto my radar with Crack the Skye, which I thought was an amazing album. I can't say I was engrossed by their previous records, which seemed to embrace the "cookie monster hacks up a lung" vocal style that just bores me. Skye, however indicated a move toward more melodic vocals, and truly inspiring, progressive musicianship. I became a big fan of that record.

So, with that history, you understand that I was excited about both these releases, and downloaded them first thing on Tuesday. (That they were pretty cheap on Amazon helped a lot).

Chickenfoot - Chickenfoot III
The first thing to understand is that the sound of this band has not changed dramatically. It's still the same four guys, Satriani shredding, Hagar singing, and Chad Smith bringing the same incredibly powerful drumming he brought the first time around (I'm actually very sad he'll be missing at least the first leg of any tour for the record, due to Red Hot Chili Peppers commitments). Michael Anthony is a revelation on bass here, totally unleashed from the Van Halen 8th/16th notes shackles, even beyond the freedom he enjoyed on the first album. It still sounds like Chickenfoot, but the band, apparently more comfortable with each other, finds places to jump around the map style-wise. Sure, you have the foot-stomping rockers (Big Foot), but you also have a bluesy acoustic number (Something Gone Wrong) and a couple of tracks that inject some real funk (Up Next). It's still radio-friendly rock, but these guys are masters of the form, finding ways to inject surprising elements.

It was also nice hearing Sammy Hagar embrace some lyrical content that feels truly personal, instead of the Cabo Wabo-centered "lifestyle rock" that seems to have dominated the last decade of solo work. Not that I don't enjoy having my feet in the sand with a margarita, but I did reach a "come on Sam" point with that material. Satriani also truly cuts loose on the solos here, which are much wilder and inventive than on the first record, where he seemed a little too concerned with being a team player.

I don't know that Chickenfoot will ever be considered a "great" band, I think they'll always be connected and compared to Van Halen, and there's just not enough time left, for any of these guys, to take a run at that kind of legacy. However, that said, my guess is that these Chickenfoot records will end up being far better than whatever Van Halen manages to get released in the next few years (and I am very skeptical that will ever happen, honestly).

Favorite Tracks: Last Temptation, Up Next, Different Devil

Mastodon - The Hunter
God damn what an album.

What Mastodon have done here is take that more melodic style from Crack the Skye, ejected the concept album trappings, streamlined the songs, and embraced basically whatever the hell they wanted to do. There's tracks of hard-core progressive riffing (The Hunter, Black Tongue), almost 70's-style arena stop (Curl of the Burl), and staggering, unexpected beauty (Creature Lives). The record is just a slap in the face for the metal community, it's pure rock, no nu-metal MC bullshit, with impeccable musicianship. It's so good to hear a "new" act with a serious hunger to play the crap out of their instruments, while still embracing the idea that the song is the point.

The shorter, punchier songs are also a strength. While I was enamored with Crack the Skye, I've had a few people tell me they "got lost " in the album, where several tracks neared, or passed ten minutes. Here, it's get in, rock, and get out. Take no prisoners. Nothing over six minutes, and nothing that overstays it's welcome.

While I hate to come off as someone jumping on the bandwagon of "the metal band even hipsters like," talent and execution are so high with this album, I can't help but fall in love with it. Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds up their game on vocals, while Hinds and Bill Kelliher (how can I not dig a guy covered in Star Wars tattoos?) just crush the guitars. Sanders also really fills out the sound on bass, something that too many metal bands just don't get. Brann Dailor's drumming is tight, and improvisational enough to avoid the "bam, bam, bam" metal monotony.

This is a great band, and I get the impression they're just getting warmed up. I mean, this is, essentially, a "leftovers" album, and I think it might be better than the record it was leftover from. Which is also a strength, they knew what needed to be on Crack the Skye, to fulfill the concept, and what could be filed for later. That we got a second monster album out of it is gravy.

Favorite Tracks: Curl of the Burl, Blasteroid, Dry Bone Valley, Creature Lives

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Welcome to the World That I Create for Myself

First, I'll direct you to read this article.

Then, to read this response.

Now, you may find yourself just laughing, or making a few moron jokes about Sarah Grunfeld.

How short-sighted of you.

What we have, clearly, is a young woman who apparently can't decode basic English, and is dead certain that is not her problem. A girl who entered a institution of higher learning, apparently with an attitude that the assumptions she makes are just as valid, if not more so, than the data being provided by her instructors. A girl who chose to hear what she wanted to hear, formulated outrage based on incomplete data and personal opinion, and then held unshakably firm to her interpretation of the facts. Miss Grunfeld has created for herself a world where there is right, a.k.a what she believes, and wrong, a.k.a. any other opinion.

In other words, a shining example of an internet-age human being. Her reasoning and attitude mirrors almost any internet posting, on any subject, you will find. Kudos to Miss Grunfeld for having the courage to bravely flaunt her ignorance outside of cyberspace, without hiding behind an internet "handle" or some other such hogwash. I hope she moves forward to tackle politics, or maybe internet piracy next.

I think we have our first candidate for the Nobel Prize.

Monday, September 26, 2011

DC Comics' New 52 - Week 4

I did not stray out of my regular pull list this past week, because even with that I had over $20 in books, so the only New 52 book I picked up was...

Batman #1 - $2.99
Variant cover by ETHAN VAN SCIVER

Be here for the start of a new era for The Dark Knight from writer Scott Snyder (AMERICAN VAMPIRE, BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM) and artist Greg Capullo (Spawn)! A series of brutal killings hints at an ancient conspiracy, and Batman learns that Gotham City is deadlier than he knew.

It's real clear to me that Scott Snyder is the best Batman writer working on a monthly right now. His Detective Comics run, prior to the reboot was fantastic, and, for my money, this is the guy who should be guiding the Batman titles, rather than Grant Morrison. I'm honestly hoping that, with Morrison on Action Comics, and helping re-define Superman, we'll see Batman, Inc., and that whole concept slide into obscurity.  Of course, with that being the basis of a number of the New 52 titles, I'm not going to hold my breath. I, unlike Morrison, don't equate Batman with James Bond, the "hairy-chested love-god."

What's lovely is that I don't think any of the writers on the core Bruce Wayne-centric Batman titles see him that way, either. Snyder, Tony Daniel, and David Finch (Oh, God...**SHUDDER**) all seem to really gravitate toward the urban vigilante that's been the bread and butter of the character since Denny O'Neil and Neil Adams put things right in the 70's. Morrison's unending obsession with the most ultra-bizarre (and, admittedly, ultra-creative) antics of the Silver Age feels right with Superman, but falls down when I see them applied to the Dark Knight.

All that said, Batman, Inc. is in line to be revived within months...

Anyway, Snyder accepts the status quo and shows Bruce Wayne putting forth a rather Batman, Inc.-style plan, but it's also centered on reviving Gotham City. I find this fine, because it reinforces Bruce's iron-clad connection to, and obsession with, his city. Plus, Snyder can write mystery/crime/noir style with flash and panache. It's great stuff, not quite as dark as his final Detective Comics arc, but...I really enjoyed it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen turns sixty-two today. In honor of that, I post one of the most electrifying performances I've ever seen. Twenty minutes of genius.

Happy Birthday, Boss.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I am a huge fan of Miracle, a 2004 film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. It was headlined by Kurt Russell, in one of those Oscar-worthy performances that no one ever sees until the thing's on home video, and directed by Gavin O'Connor. It's a sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve movie about a team coming together to try to do the impossible. The fact that they actually do it would seem the worst sort of Hollywood hokum, except that it's all true.

I admired O'Connor's non-flashy direction, and the eye for detail he brought to the games. The performances he elicited from a cast made up of, mainly, real hockey players. He told the story and got out...hell, he even made a montage palateable.

When I saw that he'd made a film about the world of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting, staring two up-and-coming actors I've admired, and Nick Nolte, I was excited. Boxing/fighting movies have always been a favorite of mine, as I truly do believe these are sports that hew tightly to the core of why humans compete. Two men (or women), in a confined space, set against each other with only their own strength, skill and will to reach for victory. It smacks of gladiatorial combat, survival of the fittest, a will to survive, that few other types of sports get near.

And, let's be honest, MMA is the extreme end of the scale. A brutal combination of boxing, wrestling, full-contact karate, and just about any other form of fighting sport you can imagine. With extremely limited padding. These guys beat the hell out of each other.

Of course, being a movie, it couldn't just be a MMA tournament. No, O'Connor and his team merged a family drama to it, with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton playing estranged brothers, and Nick Nolte their estranged father. Everyone's estranged in this film. Brendan (Edgerton) and Tommy (Hardy) Conlon haven't seen each other since their mother ran away from their abusive father. Tommy went with her, while Brendan stayed, because he was in love with Tess (Jennifer Morrison), whom he eventually married, with two daughters.

The film smartly keeps Tommy and Brendan away from each other for most of the running time. The two men don't speak or interact until almost two-thirds of the way through the running time. What this does is allow us to understand each man, not as a reflection of each other, but as individuals. Tommy is an Iraq vet with a simmering anger over the ugly death of his mother. Brendan is a physics teacher with money problems. Both of them have a history of fighting, Tommy having been a top-seat wrestler, and Brendan a former low-level MMA fighter.

We're given a reason for each to want to enter "Sparta" a MMA tournament with a five million dollar purse. Tommy's reasoning is more nebulous, but we know he's driven, and serious, when he asks his father to train him, just as he did in high school. There's great moments from Nolte as father Paddy, 1,000 days sober when Tommy returns home, as he realizes this is not an opportunity to re-connect, or make amends, with his son, but only a straight business transaction. Brendan, suspended from his job for entering parking lot MMA bouts, is on the verge of losing his house.

The point is, each character gives you a reason to root for them. As the plot unfolds, and more an more of Tommy's motivations become clear, this only intensifies. What it sets up is a series of events where you truly wonder who will actually be the victor in the tournament. Tommy? Brendan? Will they both lose? Now, it is a populist film, so...yeah, you can probably guess who's fighting in the final, but you still wonder who'll come out on top.

I loved the performances in this film, I love the fight direction as well. You can see the personalities of the two brothers in how they fight. Tommy, in particular, made me laugh out loud with each victory. He's simply a monster, driven, and with no time for social graces. He has a mission to fulfill. Brendan, the teacher, the thinker, works the bouts more like a chess game. Looking for weaknesses and an opening to exploit.

Which isn't to say that Hardy and Edgerton only shine in the ring. No, both guys (both from Australia - they must but "acting juice" in the water down there) are good in all facets of their roles. Likewise Nolte and Morrison are fantastic. In what is becoming an O'Connor staple, we also see Brendan's co-workers and students watching the fights from home in really well-done vignettes.

I really loved this film, and I'm so glad I made the time to see it in the theatre. It's a bit cliche, and there are moments of "you're kidding me." That said, when these two brothers step into the ring against each other there's more than just a prize purse, or a championship on the line, and that's because O'Connor, his cast, and his crew made the fighting part of what was going on outside of the ring, rather than the reason for it. The final moments had me on the edge of my seat.

Sadly, it hasn't been tearing up the box office, despite lots of great reviews. I encourage you to go see it, it's worth your time. I can't wait to own this on Blu-Ray.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stuck in My Head 9.20.2011

Been listening to Mastodon's The Hunter (out next week) streaming, and this one is seriously lodged in there...

Curl of the Burl 
by Mastodon

I killed a man 'cause he killed my goat
I put my hands around his throat
He tried to reason with the sky and the clouds
But it didn't matter, 'cause they can't hear a sound

Oh oh, oh oh
Oh oh, oh oh oh

It's just the curl of the burl
It's just the curl of the burl
That's just the way of the world
It's just the curl of the burl

Splinters in my skin just like needles and pins
I cut through the pine, love the feeling it gives
But I'll never die, running through these streets
I'm using my hands, cutting through the disease

Oh oh, oh oh
Oh oh, oh oh oh

It's just the curl of the burl
It's just the curl of the burl
That's just the way of the world
It's just the curl of the burl

I feel powerless
Chew it up, spit the rest
I feel powerless
Chew it up, spit the rest

It's just the curl of the burl
It's just the curl of the burl
That's just the way of the world
It's just the curl of the burl

Oh oh, oh oh
Oh oh, oh oh oh
Oh oh, oh oh
Oh oh, oh oh oh

New Music From Anthrax and Dream Theater

Last week had the release of two new albums that I was curious about, Anthrax's long-gestating Worship Music, marking the return of vocalist Joey Belladonna, and Dream Theater's A Dramatic Turn of Events, the first album without drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy, which has even, apparently, sparked a lawsuit. Or maybe it didn't. Who knows anymore?

I am an Anthrax fan, but, if the truth be known, I'm far more drawn to the albums they did with former Armored Saint vocalist John Bush. While I appreciate the albums of what's widely considered the classic line-up, with Joey Belladonna fronting the band, I always found his delivery somewhat grating. Belladonna can obviously sing, that's not the issue, he's likely a better technical singer than 99% of thrash metal vocalists, but there were certain "look how high I can sing!" moments on every album that just knocked me out of the song. Bush was earthy, guttural, without entering "Cookie Monster zone," and his voice, to me, fit the music the band was making.

Worship Music is Anthrax's first in...6 years, I think? They had recorded it once with yet another vocalist by the name of Dan Nelson. That pairing, for whatever reason (and the internet is filled with gross suppositions), didn't fly, and the band, after trying to recruit Bush (which is a long story, in itself), brought Belladonna back to the fold. I had little hope, after all the strife, that the album would feel like a coherent whole, let alone be much good. To my surprise, Anthrax has managed to put out an album that I quite like.

Perhaps it's that Belladonna is older, his voice more "seasoned," and less flexible. There's very little vocal histrionics here. He's not all over the place with high notes for their own sake. Joey falls into the pocket and sings, and this merges with the music in a very similar way to how I felt Bush did. The riffs are catchy, as are the chorus hooks. Some of the lyrics are dumb, I mean, I could do without any media, of any sort, playing out a zombie apocalypse ever again, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

Best Tracks: "The Devil You Know," "I'm Alive"

Dream Theater has always been a tough nut for me. As a bit of a musician myself, I admire the skill and talent on display, but many of their songs tend to go on too long, and get bogged down in overbaked noodling. Their reputation as a band for musicians is not unearned.

In my opinion, their best album was 1997's Falling Into Infinity, where the band embraced shorter, less musically sprawling tracks. The result was an album with much more drive and power. As well as outright listenability.

A Dramatic Turn of Events is very much not in that vein.

Which should not be construed as my saying it's bad. It's Prog Rock, and Dream Theater are monster players. However, they do not bring the warmth and quirky humor to the genre that Rush always does. Music is serious business for this band, and it shows in the results. However, it's not something you can just put on and tap your foot to, it requires attention. There are times when I'm into that, and times when I am not. Your mileage may vary.

This is a good Dream Theater album. It's got everything the band's fans will want, the band is playing superbly, as always, and the song construction is complex and adventurous. Frankly, Portnoy's absence is a non-issue, replacement Mike Mangini is a monster player in his own right, and I'd wager that, if I didn't know there had been a change behind the drum kit, I'd never have noticed. Drummers and hard-core fans are likely scoffing at me for that, but it's my honest opinion.

I'm glad I own it, but if you're not a fan, and looking for a hard rock/metal album, I'd probably steer you to the Anthrax release.

Best Tracks:  "Build Me Up, Break Me Down," "This Is the Life"

Looking forward to Mastodon's The Hunter and Chickenfoot III next week. It's a busy Fall for hard rock...

DC Comics' New 52 - Week 3 and a couple other things

So, week three, and here's what I picked up:

Batman and Robin #1 - $2.99
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON

Battling evil with his son, Damian, at his side, Batman now realizes that the hardest part of the job may be trying to work together!

As Batman and Robin try to adjust to their new partnership, a figure emerges from Bruce Wayne's past: His name is NoBody, and he's not happy that Batman Incorporated is shining a light on his own shadowy war against evil...

Decent enough "restart." We get a bit of Bat-history, and then the Dynamic Duo into the breach with some sort of gyroscopic sewer-vehicle. Setting up a big bad who's taking out Batman, Inc. agents. I'm no fan of the Batman, Inc. concept, but the villain seems genuinely creepy.

What I did really like was finally seeing Bruce and Damian work together. Amusing, to me. They're both fallen from the same branch, no doubt. Headstrong, and certain of themselves over all others. I just hope it doesn't turn into a father and son trying to out a-hole each other.

Green Lantern #1 - $2.99
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Variant cover by GREG CAPULLO

The red-hot GREEN LANTERN team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Doug Mahnke introduce an unexpected new Lantern.

Sound like the copy you'd have read before the "New 52?"

It is. Literally, NOTHING has changed here, at all, and it kinda bugs me. I realize that Green Lantern is DC's best selling title right now, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is always a smart strategy. That said...I mean, they might as well have kept the original numbering.

And Sinestro's a Green Lantern again. Whoop-de-do. You've already set up Jordan coming back on the last page...

Resurrection Man #1 - $2.99

It's the return of Mitch Shelly – and he's still dead.

Resurrection Man can't stay dead for long, though – and with each rebirth comes new and unexpected powers. But his many returns have not gone unnoticed, and forces are gathering to learn what's so special about him – and to see which of them will finally stop Resurrection Man dead.

So, a LOT of people told me I should read Resurrection Man, who's a cult favorite from DC history, brought back as part of the New 52. Decent book, fairly exciting, well-written and drawn, but I'm not seeing the jump-up-and-down awesomeness here.

The way it seems to me is that Mitch Shelly is pretty damn close to a character called "The Sleeper" from the Wild Cards series of mosaic novels edited by George R.R. Martin (yeah, the Game of Thrones guy). The Sleeper would hibernate, and awake with a new power (and appearance), rather than die, but the idea is pretty similar.

The book is well done enough, so I'll likely give it another issue or two to wow me, but...I got a budget, man.

Also out this week was:

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 - $3.99
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Sara Pichelli

A good book, by any way of looking at it. The writing is top-notch Bendis, and I love Pichelli's art.

However, I have a few nits to pick. One, we saw Miles Morales in action as Spider-Man months ago, why are we back to square one. Square one in "plotting-for-the-trade" terms, too. Meaning, no real superhero action, at all.

Two, invisibility? How would you gain that ability from a radioactive (or whatever) spider? Hopefully Bendis will have a garbage science explanation there.

Three, and this is the big one...I really, really don't want Miles to come off as "Peter Parker, but ethnic." Some of the elements on display here felt a little too close to Peter Parker plot elements. I want him to be his own character, and not feel like he's just in the shadow of the "real" Spider-Man. I'm 100% in favor of this move on Marvel's part, but only if they truly create a new character. I'm not saying they've failed yet, but there's a couple of red flags, for me, in this issue.

And just a pitch for a book I've really been enjoying, and I think you might, as well...

Daredevil #3 - $2.99
Written by: Mark Waid
Art by: Paolo Rivera

Good, old fashioned Marvel comic booking here. Waid has done a tremendous job of just gleefully accepting the rather dark turn things had been on for Matt Murdock and his alter-ego, then moving on. This is a fun book, and it reminds me of the Marvel comics I read as a kid. Great stuff.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stuck in My Head 9.16.2011

Almost Honest
by Megadeth

I lied just a little
When I said I need you
You stretched the truth
When you said that you knew
Just can't believe it
There's nothing to say
I was almost honest, almost

Living alone, can't stand this place
It's four in the morning and I still see your face

I was nearly pure
When I said I loved you
You were semi-sincere
You said I'd bleed for you
We were kind of candid
Now you're gone away
You were almost honest, almost

Living alone, falling from grace
I want to atone but there's just empty space
I can't face tomorrow, now you're not coming back
Walked off in the night and just left me the tracks

I question your call by the tone of your voice
I know I should hang up but I don't have a choice
It happened that night when you told me to go
Don't ask who's to blame, I don't know

Almost, almost honest
Almost, I was almost honest

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Whither Riker?

This poster was the first TNG memorabilia I owned.
With the Star Trek: The Next Generation series now being available on Netflix instant view, I've been revisiting the show that was, in a lot of ways, "my" Star Trek. Yes I love the original series with a passion, and probably more than TNG. That said, when the Enterprise-D and her crew hit the airwaves in 1987, it was the very first time I could see Star Trek, of any kind, in first run. I was sharing these episodes with the whole world as they aired, and that gives it a special place in my heart.

Like, well, pretty much everyone, right off the bat, I quickly became enamored with two characters, in particular. I'm speaking of Lt. Commander Data and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of course.

Data had a certain fragility and innocence that was simply palpable when Brent Spiner brought his considerable talents to bear on it. Data had no emotions, he couldn't feel anything, but Spiner always made the audience feel those things that Data could not. It bound us to him in much the same way our empathy with Spock's desire to control his emotions did with that character. I should also say that I've long believe that Brent Spiner was simply the best actor on the show.

Then there was the Captain. Even at 16, I immediately embraced the smart choice of making Picard not feel like a clone of James T. Kirk. Patrick Stewart brought a gravitas and authority that, while equal to William Shatner's work in that area, stayed grounded and centered, less effusive. Stewart had a regal command on the bridge, a sense of classic authority. The kind of man men what to be, and women what to be with, as they say.

I owned the "bible" for the show that had been showing up, in photocopied form, at convention dealer tables from almost the minute the show was announced. I remember reading that the show would have "co-leads" in Picard and first officer Commander William Riker, ultimately played by Jonathan Frakes. When the show actually aired, I was somewhat bewildered by this. Riker seemed just...dull.

It didn't help that Picard and Data became so very popular so very quickly. They seemed so easily to represent a new spin on the same sort of command dynamic we enjoyed between Kirk and Spock. To borrow from the parlance of the show, Riker seemed rather quickly to become "Commander Dunsel." So often, Riker feel into a role of facilitating, rather than driving action. Far too often, Riker's duties seemed to simply be to check in on the other characters working to save the ship. He'd have a few lines to reiterate the danger the ship faced, then send Gordi and Data back to work on the warp core.

Frankly, during the first run of this series, I never thought much about Riker, or Frakes. The performances weren't bad, but the character did, especially as time went on, seem to become a sacrifice to giving Picard more to do. The original idea, where Riker would lead planet-side away teams, and Picard would deal with ship-board threats, slowly eroded, and Riker became more and more of a third wheel.

As I've re-watched the series, however, I have to tell you, I've fallen in love with Frakes' performance, and the sly wit he seems to inject into Riker every chance he gets. I think that the general tenor of TNG was always somewhat more austere, with creator Gene Roddenberry seeming to leave the bare-knuckle idealism of the original series behind. Something he was obviously trying to do with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well (Spend a few minutes sometime checking off how many elements from TMP show up in's pretty eye-opening).

Riker, and, I think, by extension, Frakes, look like they're having the time of their lives in even the most dire situations. The sly grin, the twinkle in the eye, and a general sense of, "OK, hell, if I'm about to die, I'm going to do it with a good attitude."

Frakes, and Riker, were let down by the writing staff at almost every turn. Except when they needed him, as in "Best of Both Worlds, Part 1," where everyone suddenly realized that, if Stewart really didn't sign another contract, it was gonna be the Captain Riker show. Suddenly Frakes had solid, dramatic material. He had it, and he knocked it out of the friggin' park. In fact, almost every time they did turn to him to carry a show, he just nails it.

Then it's back to, "Geordi, is the warp core back in alignment?"

"Not yet, Commander."

"I'll inform the Captain." (Riker exits)

You can almost see Frakes marching off the set right to watching the director, because, as we all know, Frakes also proved himself to be THE Director for The Next Generation. Solid episodes, one fantastic film (Star Trek: First Contact), and one bad one, that was truly just hobbled by a terrible, terrible script (Star Trek: Insurrection).

Jonathan Frakes, good actor, great presence, and I think the one member of the TNG cast that should've gotten a better shake. I still long to see what a TNG that lived up to the "dual leads" concept would've been like. I'm all but certain that Frakes could've blossomed in that situation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stuck in My Head 9.14.2011

We Hold On
by Rush

How many times
Do we tire of all the little battles
Threaten to call it quits
Tempted to cut and run
How many times
Do we weather out the stormy evenings
Long to slam the front door
Drive away into the setting sun

Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn
We could be down and gone
But we hold on

How many times
Do we chaff against the repetition
Straining against the faith
Measured out in coffee breaks
How many times
Do we swallow our ambition
Long to give up the same old way
Find another road to take

Keep holding on so long
Cause theres a chance that we might not be so wrong
We could be down and gone
But we hold on

How many times
Do we wonder if it's even worth it
Theres got to be some other way
Way to get me through the day

Keep going on till dawn
How many times must another line be drawn
We could be down and gone
But we hold on

Monday, September 12, 2011

DC Comics' New 52 - Week 2

Now, first off....I am not buying all the "New 52" number one issues. I can't afford it, and, frankly, I have little interest in many of the titles. Long ago, I made a vow that I would not buy comics just because "I should," or "I need to." This is why, with most crossover events, I'll only buy the core series, period. DC's recent Flashpoint being a good example.

Of course, that series was rendered almost incomprehensible unless you read the 14 (Yes, FOURTEEN) limited series that tied into the story. It's ridiculous, annoying and alienating to new readers, so can we stop that crap right now? Please?

So, I buy what I like...I also, long ago, realized that no comic published after 1985 is ever going to be worth any sort of spectacular amount of money. So, the "collectability factor" is nil for me, other than in the "I've followed this character for years, and enjoy the stories" sense.

So, DC marketing, no matter what you do, I won't be buying all this stuff. I will buy what's interesting. I will buy the new versions of the series I was already following, and...that's it. So, last week, DC released fifteen titles, and of those fifteen, I bought three.

Action Comics #1 $3.99

Variant cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS

The one and only Grant Morrison (ALL-STAR SUPERMAN) returns to Superman, joined by sensational artist Rags Morales (IDENTITY CRISIS), to bring you tales of The Man of Steel unlike any you've ever read! This extra-sized debut issue is the cornerstone of the entire DC Universe!

This was a book that the reboot actually did inspire me to pick up. I've never been a huge Superman fan, but I want to be. I want someone to write truly inspiring and interesting stories for the greatest of all comic book icons. The sad fact is, outside of a few shining moments, no one has been able to consistently do that for years. It's a crime.

I have to admit, Grant Morrison is very, very hit-or-miss with me. Like any other writer, he has strong material, and poor material. The problem with Morrison is that, when he misses, the whole thing becomes pretty much incomprehensible (See: Final Crisis). I was not as enamored with his All-Star Superman as the rest of the known universe seemed to be, and, frankly, what I did like about that book, the sheer silver-age whimsy of it, isn't on display here.

What Grant is obviously doing is heading straight for the golden age origins of Superman, and, hell, that's appropriate, it is a reboot, after all. this is another of the books that takes place "five years ago" (or thereabouts), but I don;t think Morrison, or the editors, actually tell us that at any point here. That's annoying. One of the major indicated goals here was to make DC comics new-reader-friendly, and when you have a "contemporary" Superman title coming out within weeks, and the character is sporting completely different outfits in each book....You should maybe point that out. Geoff Johns did so in Justice League #1.

The core of Morrison's hook for Superman, here, is...back to the golden age roots as a social crusader and force against the status quo of financial and status inequality. It's supported by Simon and Schuster's original books, and it certainly plays to current events in America. It's a completely valid and rather smart way to try to re-assess and reset the character. The trouble is, I felt it was a bit too self-aware.

Comic books certainly aren't supposed to be subtle forms of art, but I feel like Morrison could've dialed it back a notch. When Superman is holding an investment banker over his head, threatening to toss him off a building, railing about his privileged lifestyle, and forcing him to admit his exploitation, I was taken out of the story a bit. It is in character, but it's also just rather "throw the whole can of paint at the wall" relevance. We get it, Grant, we really do. You don't have to spell it out.

That aside, what we have here is a highly energized Superman story that's surprising in how it re-casts the usual suspects. Clark works at a rival newspaper from Lois and Jimmy, the costume (obviously) is evolving. I'm certain by the end of this first arc, we'll have Clark working at the Daily Planet, in some sort of romantic tension with Lois, and generally much closer to the status quo, as we knew it. So, I guess my worry is that this first arc may end up feeling like some kind of long-form Elseworlds tale.

Detective Comics #1 $2.99
Written by TONY S. DANIEL

DC's flagship title is relaunched for the first time ever, with new Batman adventures from acclaimed writer/ artist Tony S. Daniel!

A killer called The Gotham Ripper is on the loose on Batman's home turf – leading The Dark Knight on a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Unlike Action Comics, the Batman titles have really changed very, very little. They, like the Green Lantern titles, apparently received a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" pass from DC editorial. The only signifigant change was bringing Bruce Wayne back to the status as the one-and-only Batman. Which, I have to admit, I prefer.

Tony Daniel was on Batman before the restart, and now he's on Detective Comics. I know a lot of people were not fond of Daniel on Batman, but I felt like he was cranking out solid, if not remarkable, Batman tales, and doing it on deadline. You could rely on Daniel's Batman getting to you in a timely manner.

Well, he certainly upped the stakes with this Detective relaunch. The story is downright disturbing and, at times, gross. It's also got a hell of a cliffhanger that may mean a drastically different status quo for the Joker. Now, if that will stick, or not, is up in the air.

Daniel will likely be over shadowed by Scott Snyder, who was writing Detective Comics, but is now on Batman. Frankly, Snyder's last Detective arc, exploring Commissioner Gordon's psychopathic son, was one of the best Batman stories I've read in a long while. Daniel just hasn't shown us that kind of work, yet.

It's clean, solid storytelling, neither fantastic or awful. Sometimes that's fine.

Men of War #1 $3.99

On the ground and on the front lines, a young, headstrong soldier known as Joe Rock assumes command of Easy Company – a team of ex-military men turned contractors. Will they survive the battle-scarred landscape carved by the DCU's Super-Villains? Find out in this explosive new series from Ivan Brandon (Viking, DOC SAVAGE) and Tom Derenick (JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA)!

I love it when one of the majors really comes out swinging with a non-superhero book.  One of my most anticipated "New 52" titles is All-Star Western, and not just because it's carrying on from my now-cancelled, beloved Jonah Hex, which was the most consistently good book DC had (Same writers, so...I am expecting the quality to continue).

I'm also a fan of the old WWII-era war comic Sgt. Rock. Well, the lead feature in Men of War is about Joseph Rock, Sgt. Frank Rock's grandson, and (bit of a spoiler, here) Joseph is a Sergeant by the end of this issue. I had hoped for a pure military comic, but this title is firmly within the DC Universe, and super-powered beings are part and parcel of what this unit deals with.

I was on the fence about this one, until I spoke with a few people who thought it was very good, so I thought I'd throw my $4 out there, and take a chance. I'm glad I did.

I think this could develop into a really solid "average joe" viewpoint on the world of DC. We have soldiers trying to hold it together as, hell...GODS fly over their heads, smashing the ground into gravel. I was also really happy to see that this title will apparently feature back-up military stories. The first issue featured a Navy Seal team trying to deal with adversaries using human shields. I think back-up stores really need to make a come-back...but I'd also like to see this title kept to $2.99, rather than $3.99.  So, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Also...what a striking cover. Clean, simple, but also very evocative. Well done.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stuck In My Head 9.9.2011

There are a ton of great tracks on Appetite for Destruction, but I really think this is the best song from that album. Epic, with a insistent groove, and that change in the middle is cool.

Rocket Queen 
Guns N' Roses

If I say I don't need anyone
I can say these things to you
I can turn on anyone
Just like I've turned on you
I've got a tongue like a razor
A sweet switchblade knife
And I can do you favors
But then you'll do whatever I like

Here I am
And you're a Rocket Queen
I might be a little young
But Honey I ain't naive
Here I am
And you're a Rocket Queen oh yeah
I might be too much
But honey you're a bit obscene

I've seen everything imaginable
Pass before these eyes
I've had everything that's tangible
Honey you'd be suprised
I'm a sexual innuendo
In this burned out paradise
If you turn me on to anything
You better turn me on tonight

Here I am
And you're a Rocket Queen
I might be a little young
But Honey I ain't naive
Here I am
And you're a Rocket Queen oh yeah
I might be too much
But honey you're a bit obscene

I see you standin'
Standin' on your own
It's such a lonely place for you
For you to be
If you need a shoulder
Or if you need a friend
I'll be here standing
Until the bitter end
No one needs the sorrow
No one needs the pain
I hate to see you
Walking out there
Out in the rain
So don't chastise me
Or think I, I mean you harm
Of those that take you
Leave you strung out
Much too far

Don't ever leave me
Say you'll always be there
All I ever wanted
Was for you
To know that I care

Thursday, September 8, 2011

45 Years Ago Today

NBC viewers at 8:30 saw this...

And something was born that is still a part of our human consciousness.

My earliest memory of Star Trek was the animated series, which ran on NBC Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1974. This would make me 2-3 years old. I can clearly remember the TV in my grandparents living room on, and the episode was "Yesteryear" (yes, I can identify the episode in hindsight). I can't say it made much of an impact, other than I can remember it.

After Star Wars, however, I was rabid for anything sci-fi, and Star Trek became an ongoing favorite. I was absolutely rabid for the movie series. I was over the moon out of my head when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. The subsequent series have all held some place in my heart.

Why? Well, I think that the whole concept of the series works for people like myself in two ways. In the first part, it presents a society where everyone has a place. As a chubby, weird outcast for most of my adolescence, it was wonderful to see a world where everyone was valued on their ideals, rather than how they looked. In the second was a world where human achievement held the highest regard. Where every barrier to advancement was seen as a challenge, a temporary hurdle on the way to the fullest of human potential.

In other words, I think we were born to touch the stars.

I see Star Trek as the propaganda arm for NASA, in a lot of ways. It's the ultimate ideal that we ought to reach for. Ah, hell.. it represents everything Neil Degradsse Tyson is talking about in this clip, and he says it so much better than I ever could...

Or, let's hear it from Captain James Tiberius Kirk, himself...

God bless progress. God bless Star Trek.

You have no idea how glad I am you were there for me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sometimes I Think I Want to Write a Book

A book about acting. Which probably is horribly, horribly egotistical of me. I mean, who the hell am I? I'm a 40-year-old guy, with an undergrad degree from a school no one's heard of, and I've hardly achieved any sort of "success," in terms of making a living, from my work.

Yet, I feel like I might have something to say. Something to say about the type of work that (statistics say) the vast majority of "working" actors out there are doing. The "$400 for the run" gigs that aren't paying the bills, or the "for the experience" gigs just because you liked the script. Something about living a life where you come to understand that those dreams you had, aren't going to happen, and that doing the work becomes more and more important.

Because, what I can say is, as far as I know, out of everyone I studied with, only one or two others are still in the game. The rest fell by the wayside at some point, or another. I don't consider that anything special, honestly, I just realized that this acting thing was what I was best at, and, the more I did it, the less I could imagine living without it. The way it fed my soul became more important than how it fed my wallet.

Not that I don't wrestle with the guilt of being away from CByrd so much, and not really bringing anything back to the nest for it. The worst part is that I feel she makes sacrifices for me, and my "career," such as it is. I worry about the "two-way street" all the time.

Thing is, I never, ever saw a book about how my life turned out. About the...I guess you'd have to call it the lowered expectations...of juggling trying to be a "semi-professional" actor (which is the best description I know, I do get paid, but I also can't rely on it), with a day job, and some kind of home life, etc, etc. Not like I have it figured out myself, but that is the reality I see, that I live. The reality of just about every, single actor I know in Chicago. Things that no acting book I've ever picked up and read has ever, ever touched upon.

I don't really get much out of trying to tell someone HOW to act (or someone telling me how to), that's such a personal thing. I mean, I felt like Mamet's True and False opened my eyes completely, but others think it's garbage. I'm not talking about "how do I get an agent," or any other such "expert" advice that really doesn't help all that much. 

I'm sure someone will tell me this book has already been written.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Learning Lines and Other Nonsense

Currently, I'm trying to get off book for my next show, while still keeping the dialogue for my current show in my head.

This can, at times, be a little tricky. It's especially tricky when, personally, I feel like I'm being pushed to get off book faster than is really necessary for the show in rehearsals. I mean, I'm all for getting off book ASAP, but...the pressure is getting to me.

I also have to learn/figure out three songs on the guitar for this show. Songs in styles that I'm not overly familiar/comfortable in. Nothing too hard, at least at this point, but...another stress.

What's really amusing me is...we JUST started. I mean, we're not even two weeks in, and we don't open/preview for over a month. I shouldn't be this cinched up about things at thins point. I shouldn't. I should still be having fun, and playing with things.

Hey, what are ya gonna do, right? You have a job, and this is what is required. I just can't seem to catch my breath. Fact is, with my schedule, I'm not gonna be catching my breath for a while.

Doesn't help that the humid Chicago summer picked yesterday to revisit, with a vengeance. Last night, the final fight scene just..came apart at the seams, for me. The lights were blinding me, I couldn't think, I was just out of my head (or in it, as we say) completely. Then, this morning, working out, the heat was just overwhelming.

Lord, I hate humidity.

Holiday weekend coming up, I suppose that's something. A day off.

My agent e-mailed with an audition on Tuesday, and I wrote back with some response. It's funny, I've been tryign to find a new agent for a while, got a couple of auditions, all luck. I just feel like...I'm not getting the support with my "team" that I should. I know I'm not a big earner, or anything, but...come on.

Otherwise. I dunno. I have a ply I have to read for another audition next Thursday. Have NO IDEA when that's going to get done. I suppose I could lay off the Kindle for a while, and read on the train, but, damn it, Hunger Games is rocking my world. What an awesome book. I'm anticipating ripping through all three fairly quickly.

Completely worth reading, if you haven't already. Ms. Collins is a good writer, and, frankly, I'm enjoying this FAR, FAR more than any of the Potter books I checked out. Characters are sharp, and the concept is very compelling. Love it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stuck in My Head 9.1.2011

Somewhat cliche, with me going back into performance for the weekend tonight

By Rush

Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage.

Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act,
With insufficient tact,
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact.

Living in the Limelight,
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem.
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation,
Get on with the fascination,
The real relation,
The underlying theme.

Living in a fisheye lens,
Caught in the camera eye.
I have no heart to lie,
I can't pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend.

All the world's indeed a stage,
And we are merely players,
Performers and portrayers,
Each another's audience
Outside the gilded cage.

DC's "New 52" Justice League #1

So I picked up my books yesterday, instead of waiting for the weekend, as usual. Yesterday was ground-zero of the "New DC Universe" with the release of Justice League #1, written by Geoff Johns, and art by Jim Lee.


I really liked it.

I mean, it's got a lot of things about it that just are what the comic format is these days, that I'm not fond of (trade pacing, etc), but, as a starting point, it makes lots of sense, from using your two best selling characters (Batman and Green Lantern) on out. I think it's a little weird to set the book "five years ago," but it does provide a way to show this group of characters first meetings without many story contortions.

I thought the "first meeting aspect was handled well. I really liked the characterizations of both Hal and Bruce. I disagree with people who say that Bruce is still a Dick in the new DC Universe. Judgmental, impatient, sure...but he also joins right in with Hal, as an equal....while also gathering data (I LOVED the taking the ring scene).

The Pre-Cyborg stuff...*YAWN*. Not that it was bad, but it just didn't really add to the drive of the story.

I loved how Superman appeared. I like that idea that trust is something the heroes have to earn from the rest of humanity. The tease of Darkseid didn't bother me at all, either as a established fan, or *trying* to put myself in the mindset of a new reader, it was a mystery to be unfolded.

Lots of energy and, even with the trade pacing, things happened. It didn't feel like all set-up. It was fun, and it was new-reader friendly, taking what a civilian might know from movies/childhood memories, and then just jumping into the story. Notice you really spend no time going into detail about Batman...because everyone knows the basics...but we do spend a bit of time setting up who and what Green Lantern is.

I still say Lee will be 4 issues behind by January. I've kinda grown to hate that guy, from his deadline destruction (not just blowing, but completely smashing), to his less than attentive attitude at conventions where I've seen him,  but the art is good, you can't say otherwise. I just feel like he's got to prove somethign to me, at this point...Johns, I'll give him a lot of leeway.

I think, while I wasn't thinking "over the moon GENIUS!!," this is a good, solid start to our new continuity, and I'm kinda finding myself really taken with the idea of starting fresh. We'll see how the rest of the line goes.