Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ender's Game

For years I'd been hearing that I should read Ender's Game. For years it was sold to me as a classic sci-fi novel that you MUST read to be a fan of the genre, with Hugo and Nebula awards to back the claim up. It shames me a bit that what really kicked me int he pants was the impending film version, directed by Gavin Hood and starring Asa Butterfield (Hugo), as Ender, Harrsion Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley.

I also found a Kindle version, and that helped.

I have to say I was a little underwhelmed. I found much of the middle section of the book, the endless training routines for the kids at the combat school, to be rather a slog. I enjoyed the character of Ender, and most of the rest of the cast, but the events just seemed to go into a cycle. I found Ender's unheard of strategy of re-orienting his concepts of "up and down" in a zero-G environment to be a little "well, duh."  Of course, that's probably because I've read and seen so much sci-fi in the years since this book was published. I can't fault Orson Scott Card for that, but I can say I found it a little tedious, and returned to quite often.

The book did pick up nicely once Ender was moved to command school, the final three chapters worked for me. Yeah, I did feel like that section of the book was a little rushed. we could've spent a little less time at combat school, and more at command. The final chapter also got a little metaphysical and 2001: A Space Odyssey, for me, as well. Again, I remember that as a hallmark of that period, one that was overused.

The writing is not bad, and much, much better than many other books in this genre. The characters well defined. I really loved Colonel Gaff, and I'm looking forward to what Harrsion Ford does with that role. Bean, who moves to the central figure of Ender's Shadow, I'm told, was also quite fun. The ideas were also interesting, and I understand why the book received many accolades. I think I'd have probably been head-over-heels for this book, if I'd gotten off my ass and read it in High School. That's my fault, not the books.

Note: I understand that there are people out there who have personal problems with Mr. Card's politics and beliefs. I confess I'm pretty ignorant of that subject, and for the purposes of this review, I don't care. A good book is a good book, and, while I was not blown away by Ender's Game, I do think it's a good book.

Three stars. Worth your time, if you have interest. Work through the middle section, and it picks up steam again for the climax.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You Should Appreciate King's X While They're Here

Jerry Gaskill had a heart attack.

You're probably asking, "who's Jerry Gaskill?" The fact that you're asking that question kind of upsets me. It upsets me when extremely talented musicians have to labor on the hardest circuits, and no-talent hacks scoop up Grammys and millions of dollars.

Gaskill is the drummer for, in my book, THE underrated American band, King's X. They were just about to embark on a US tour, but that's had to be scuttled, for obvious reasons. Now, more than anything, I wish Jerry a quick and full recovery. That's more important than anything.

However, this has just reminded me how fragile this band is, and has been. There's been rumors of a break-up at the release of every album since 1996's Ear Candy. That album even had the lyric "last time aboard the train that goes around the world," and fans feared the worst.

We feared, even though we understood. The band has faced an uphill climb from almost day one. They were older than your average "rock star" (Bassist/primary singer Dug Pinnick was 38 when their first major label album was released - he's 61 now). They were lumped into the fading "hair metal" movement when their first album, Out of the Silent Planet, was released in 1988. They were also lumped into the "Christian Rock" genre by their original producer/manager, with the double problem of the assumptions made by the public based on that label, and that the band's subject matter was never that cut and dried.

Yes...the band has affirmed Christian beliefs over the years, but their music has constantly represented more of the core, loving nature of Christianity, rather than the oftentimes divisive dogma of organized religion. Oftentimes questioning faith within their lyrics. As time passed, their music moved further and further from the normal tropes of "Christian Rock," sometimes alienating their fanbase. This evolution came to a head when Pinnick announced that he was gay in 1998, leading to the band's albums being pulled pulled by Christian bookstore distributors.

Honestly, I am not overly religious, but the subject matter of the bands music, in any phase of their career, has never phased me. I was comfortable because the band has never, ever felt like preachers for anything other than Rock and Roll. Even tracks that were rather overtly pro-life never felt like more than a personal sadness over the procedures taking place, at all, rather than a condemnation (Plus, it's just a beautiful song, and I'm not one to let my political beliefs override a lovely work of art). Whereas, with one-note bands like Petra, the music seemed an excuse for preaching, King's X made it very clear that the music was far more important than any religious agenda. I also appreciate that, when the religious material did appear, it was all, in the main, positive. Much like my early years in the Methodist Church, I enjoy the idea that the gospel is "the Good News" rather than some hellfire and brimstone terror story.

So, anyway...yes, King's X is a band that has a history as a contemporary Christian act. A history that has been left pretty far behind. What was left was expert musicianship from Gaskill on drums, Pinnick on bass, and Ty Tabor on guitar, and a sound that preceded the heavy and melodic revolution that we know as "grunge." King's X was vastly heavy, with Pinnick even using a 12-string bass at times, full of bottom end and groove, layered with very melodic vocals, punctuated with almost Beatle-esque harmonies. They've been sited as influences to many of those Seattle bands that made it so huge (Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam is a huge fan).

The band has struggled, touring in vans and buses for more than 20 years. Consistently putting out albums, 15 studio albums, to date, with various live albums, as well, but never really reaching the level of stardom, I think, and have thought for a long while, they deserved. The band has been a "pet project" for me, I drag people to shows, give them mix CD, to try to spread the word...

Like the band says, if you like what you hear...go tell somebody.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Rambling

Sorry for the general lack of posts this week. I've been off my game. It happens.

I have been enjoying the previews of tracks from Wrecking Ball that have been showing up around the internet for 24 hour periods. At this point, we've heard the first single "We Take Care of Our Own" (already a victim of political miss-analysis, some things never change), "Easy Money," "Shackled and Drawn," "Jack of All Trades," "Death to My Hometown," and "This Depression." That, more or less, gives us the first side of the album.

"We Take Care of Our Own" has really grown on me. I have also loved, dearly, every track since. Although "This Depression" plods a little, for my tastes.

There's experimentation here, with Bruce using samples and such, but the core is the same sort of powerful storytelling he built his career on. After these tracks, I am extremely excited to hear the full album. I can't hope for it to be a late-era masterpiece like Magic, or The Rising, were, but Springsteen seems to come alive when he's mad. The Boss seems mad, and ready to make his point.

Cannot wait for the tour. Can. Not. Wait.

I am a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp work. Love the Tarzan novels, and I hold a special place for the John Carter works, or the Barsoom series. Burroughs can never be accused of writing "hard" sci-fi, but his fantasy work is tremendous, full of energy and vast ideas. I've long wanted to see John Carter and Barsoom in a big-budget movie.

Well, Disney answered that call, with Andrew Stanton, of PIXAR fame, director of the utterly brilliant Wal-E, stepping into live-action features. I have no idea if this film will do justice to Burroughs' Martian adventures, and I do not intend to critique it  before I've seen it...


Man, who titled this film? Who's running this marketing campaign?

Look, the Barsoom stories aren't nearly as well-known as the Tarzan books. You say "Tarzan," and EVERYONE knows who that character is. Unfortunately, "John Carter" doesn't inspire the same recognition. Hell, Disney doesn't even deign to put Edgar Burroughs name, which might be a selling point, on the marketing materials.

The name of the first book is A Princess of Mars, and, come on, how could you pass up that title for John Carter? A silly as the original title is, it literally drips with a pulp adventure feel. Which should be what this film aims to deliver. Marvel Comics, back in the 70's, did well (title-wise) with their series John Carter: Warlord of Mars, and Disney owns Marvel, now...use that

Then, the poster...OK, that must be John a sea of red, which might make me think of Mars, and some indistinct figures in the background. Huh?

Look, I think they were going for "mysterious," which, I suppose is fine, but that usually works when there's some iconography you can hint at. A Superman poster with a blue, yellow and red streak into the air...that's cool. We get it, and it's powerful because...we all know Superman. There's an element of "can they make that work? Will the suit look silly?" but we know that image. Look, up in the sky! We know those colors.

John Carter? Who the fuck is that?

I still have hopes this will be a kick-ass, fun movie. I, however, am not positive on it's box office potential. I hope I'm wrong, as I'd like to see more of Burroughs work on film. Maybe somebody will do Tarzan right.

Yeah, yeah. Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle was definitely in the right direction. That said, Burroughs is not Jane Austin, and that film hedged a bit too much toward the Merchant Ivory side of things. Burroughs was a pulp writer, and you shouldn't try to wash that away.

I've been in tech all week, and barely touched the guitar. The worst part of this is that I'm really feeling inspired again. I managed to write a song during last weekend's long tech days that I think is really good. I've also gone back to lighter strings on the guitar, and my playing feels much more fluid again. I don't regret, at all, the heavier string experiment, but everything works better with the lighter strings (it ought to, I had the thing set up that way). I want/need to find the time to get rocking on my "one song at a time, until it's finished" plan. I feel like I can see the path forward, now. I just need to get walking on it.

Hopefully that'll happen this weekend.

Of course, I'm also back in class starting tomorrow. Meisner 2 at The Artistic Home. That's also exciting. I think my last few months in Meisner 1 have helped me keep sane, in terms of my acting career. It was hard, very hard, at times, but there's a challenge that class presents, which I'm enjoying wrestling with.

Sometimes I suck, sometimes I don't. Which, honestly, should be the motto for any actor.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to Sit Around

I'll be opening a new show this week. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a difficult process for me. I don't mean the show is bad, or the people were assholes. Not at all, in fact the truth is quite the opposite. Great company, professional, friendly cast, good script and a good director.

It's just that I don't have much to do. I have a....Honestly, I think "miniscule" isn't a strong enough word...part. It's "blink and you'll miss it" stuff, and it's been a very, very long time since I've had a role like that. I have to go back to college, I think, where the general consensus was that those kind of roles were all I would ever be good for.

It's pretty clear to me, with my 20/20 hindsight, that I let that situation get the better of me. I believed it, then, and it weighed on me. It made me depressed, and question my own value. Almost 20 years later, I've risen to a certain level of my craft, I am respected in certain circles, and I am still working in theatre, which is not true for most of the people I was in school with. So, I've exceeded the expectations of my instructors. Yay for endurance.

Now, the purpose of this blog isn't to bitch about the size of my part. It's just to explore the fact of life in roles like this, you have a lot of down time. It's a two-hour show (approximately), and I spend 117 minutes (approximately) of that time waiting backstage. I do wish I had more to do in the show, if I said anything other than that, I'd be lying, but I don't feel bitter about it.

OK, maybe a little..but that's just my weakness on display.

You, you...
Still, what the hell am I supposed to do with all this time? On Saturday, we had a 12 hour tech call, and I worked for about an hour and a half. I brought my guitar, restrung it, then wrote some songs, drew a bit, tried to read. Sunday, same deal. This time I brought my laptop, tried to work on a script (epic fail, there), and ended up playing Starcraft and watching Netflix most of the day.

I try to read, and sometimes I just can't. My brain just stops wanting to deal with trying to focus in a green room full of people. I keep trying to find dark corners, but the cast is so large it's hard to find private space. Putting on my headphones just gets me distracted by the music.

...Thank God for you
Now, I'm more than aware that these are meager complaints, and that most of them come right back to me being vaguely ADD. I just can't help it, man. I find myself trying to fill time, and getting bored far too quickly.

The other thing this brings up truly lucky I've been with casting in Chicago. I've played a lot of great roles, and a lot of lead roles in my times here. I'm proud of that, especially when I think back to college. I was kicked out of the BFA track, for God's sake! In your FACE, University of Nebraska at Kearney Theatre faculty!!!

(Not you, were great)

Yes, I have issues about my college experience.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stuck In My Head 2.20.2012

This is likely because I feel VERY old, and VERY tired this morning...

Slit Skirts
by Pete Townshend

I was just thirty-four years old and I was still wandering in a haze
I was wondering why everyone I met seemed like they were
Lost in a maze

I don't know why I thought I should have some kind of
Divine right to the blues
It's sympathy not tears people need when they're the
Front page sad news.

The incense burned away and the stench began to rise
And lovers now estranged avoided catching each others' eyes

And girls who lost their children cursed the men who fit the coil
And men not fit for marriage took their refuge in the oil
No one respects the flame quite like the fool who's badly burned
From all this you'd imagine that there must be something learned

Slit skirts, Jeanie never wears those slit skirts
I don't ever wear no ripped shirts
Can't pretend that growing older never hurts.
Knee pants, Jeanie never wears no knee pants
Have to be so drunk to try a new dance
So afraid of every new romance

Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn't wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn't dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn't be seen dead in no slit skirt

Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn't wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn't dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn't be seen dead in no slit skirt

Romance, romance, why aren't we thinking up romance?
Why can't we drink it up true heart romance
Just need a brief new romance

Let me tell you some more about myself, you know I'm sitting at home just now.
The big events of the day are passed and the late TV shows have come around.
I'm number one in the home team, but I still feel unfulfilled.
A silent voice in her broken heart complaining that I'm unskilled.

And I know that when she thinks of me, she thinks of me as him,
But, unlike me, she don't work off her frustration in the gym.

Recriminations fester and the past can never change
A woman's expectations run from both ends of the range

Once she walked with untamed lovers' face between her legs
Now he's cooled and stifled and it's she who has to beg

Slit skirts, Jeanie never wears those slit skirts
And I don't ever wear no ripped shirts
Can't pretend that growing older never hurts

Knee pants, Jeanie never wears no knee pants
We have to be so drunk to try a new dance
So afraid of every new romance

Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn't wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn't dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn't be seen dead in no slit skirt

Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn't wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn't dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn't be seen dead in no slit skirt

Romance, romance, why aren't we thinking up romance?
Why can't we drink it up true heart romance
Just need a brief new romance

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stuck In My Head 2.17.2012

Heat of the Moment
by Asia

I never meant to be so bad to you
One thing I said that I would never do
A look from you and I would fall from grace
And that would wipe the smile right from my face

Do you remember when we used to dance
And incidents arose from circumstance
One thing led to another we were young
And we would scream together songs unsung

It was the heat of the moment
Telling me what my heart meant
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

And now you find yourself in '82
The disco hot spots hold no charm for you
You can concern yourself with bigger things
You catch a pearl and ride the dragon's wings

'Cause it's the heat of the moment
The heat of the moment
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

And when your looks are gone and you're alone
How many nights you sit beside the phone
What were the things you wanted for yourself
Teenage ambitions you remember well

It was the heat of the moment
Telling me what your heart meant
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

It was the heat of the moment
The heat of the moment
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

Heat of the moment
Heat of the moment
Heat of the moment
Heat of the moment...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More on "A Different Kind of Truth"

Sometimes an album does grow on you.

When I first listened to A Different Kind of Truth, I was fairly underwhelmed. The elements were all in place, but I also felt like the songs were lacking. I still stand by that assessment, and I think the album is getting a lot of praise, not for being a great album, but for not being a terrible one. The most rational and clear-headed review I've read so far is Chuck Klosterman's. I think he's smart enough to have figured out how to process the fan's excitement that this album exists at all, and the facts of what the record actually is.

It is not perfect, and it's not a "return to form." Anybody who says that is too caught up in their own, personal, need for it to be a return to form. However, what it does present is what Van Halen is right now. Dave can't be the Diamond Dave of 1984, his solo career represents a, slowly sliding downhill, embarrassing testament to that fact. Eddie spent too many years crafting less jaggedly adventurous rock with Sammy Hagar (not a criticism - I am a fan of all eras of Van Halen, but Sammy was more of a classic songsmith than Roth will ever be). They can't just put all that away and be 20 again, and to want or expect them to is unfair to them, and yourself as a fan.

The problem, I think, is that they try to do just that, at points. I am still disappointed at the re-use of demo songs from the late 70's. I am. I'm far more interested in what the band can create today than how they can re-purpose songs and riffs that weren't good enough (for whatever reason) to get on an album more than a quarter of a century ago. I also can't shake the real feeling that the need to re-use old material speaks to a deep fissure in the band. Of course, it's Van Halen, there's always deep fissures and drama, but...even for all the cash you're gonna rake in, you can't get in a room and hack out some songs together?

All that is prelude to saying that I do like the album more than when I posted my first impressions. I don't love it, and there's a very long swath of songs at the midpoint that really drag, but I've reassessed by initial feeling that there were no hooks here. Sometimes I feel like Eddie would like to have some of those big, sweeping choruses that Hagar did so well, and Roth is simply uninterested, as well as just not having the voice for that kind of thing. The music and vocals sound a little at odds, but that tension can be interesting. Again, it's Van Halen right now, artists who's grown and evolved. When that's acknowledged, cool stuff happens.

There are several really good tracks, and at least one excellent one. "Tattoo" is still a really poor choice for a first single, but it's grown on me. "She's the Woman" maintains the energy and drive, which leads into "You and Your Blues," which is the first really good track on the record. "China Town" works for the most part, and "Blood and Fire" kicks some ass.

Then we get into the stretch where they lose me. "Bullethead" is just awful (I stand behind my initial assesment "Van Halen for idiots"), "As Is" kinda rocks, but also has this sense of meandering, "Honeybabysweetiedoll" is dull, "The Trouble With Never" (I agree with a critic I read...somewhere - a much better album title) feels like leftovers, and "Outta Space" has one of those "clever" lyrics that just pains you the more you listen to it. Let me be clear, these are NOT bad tracks, but neither are they exciting. I think Klosterman hits the nail on the head when he says some stuff here (especially this section, for me)  feels like a conscious reproduction of what used to be organic.

Things get back on track with "Stay Frosty," which is clearly one of Chuck K's "conscious replications." It's the "Ice Cream Man" track, in tone and execution. It's also highly energized and fun, so I'm OK with it. The real keeper on the record, however, is the following track, "Big River," which is just epic. It's the one point you can hear, then point to and say, "they still can do it, and make it feel fresh." Sadly, after that track, "Beats Workin'" is really anti-climactic.

There's general things I can go into a well. There are tracks that feel like Roth solo material, and I think that can go right back to the fact (that many people have run into the ground) that Michael Anthony's backing vocals are sorely missed here. Other than that, Wolfgang Van Halen acquits himself well. Eddie is on fire on most tracks, and Alex is as solid as ever. The problems that I have with the album have nothing to do with musicianship.

I'm sure I'll get hate mail for this review. That's fine. As I've blogged about before, I point out a few weaknesses, and suddenly I "hate" the album, or movie, or whatever. I don't. I certainly don't hate A Different Kind of Truth, I quite like it, but I think the people spouting off with "it's like 24 years never happened" are deluding themselves. This is a solid album, which, if we're honest, is probably more than we could ever have expected. I'm just used to more than solid from Van Halen.

Top Tracks:
  • Big River
  • You and Your Blues
  • Blood and Fire
  • She's the Woman

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Now, Why is He Cool and Metallica Sucks?

Dave Mustaine, frontman of Megadeth....

Just endorsed Rick Santorum for President.

People should forgive Lulu on this factor alone. That's just an ill-considered artistic move.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Specter of the Receding Hairline

Always asserts itself after a haircut.


Now, I am not vapid enough to think this is some sort of disaster. No, not completely. It will be if I ever get to that "island of hair floating in the middle of my forehead" stage. THAT would be too much. Far, far too much. Me, I'm aiming for the "gliding in gracefully" method of Bruce Willis.

Still, it is an adjustment. I've always harbored the idea of growing my hair long again. The slight, but insistent, retreat of my follicles makes that problematic, at best, and totally ill-advised at worst. All the advice says to go shorter when dealing with this issue. It's advice I think I'm going to have to heed.

At least I know other people have dealt with it....And Neil Peart still has his hair...

I Think I'm Going Bald
by Rush

I looked in the mirror today
My eyes just didn't seem so bright
I've lost a few more hairs
I think I'm going bald

I think I'm going bald

Seems like only yesterday
We would sit and talk of dreams all night
Dreams of youth
And simple truths
Now we're so involved
So involved with life

Walk down vanity fair
Memory lane everywhere
Wall Street shuffles there
Dressed in flowing hair

Once we loved the flowers
Now we ask the price of the land
Once we would take water
But now it must be wine
Now we've been
And now we've seen
What price peace of mind

Take a piece of my mind

My life is slipping away
I'm aging every day
But even when I'm grey
I'll still be grey my way

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gigantour 2.10.2012

A few weeks ago I noticed that Megadeth's package tour, "Gigantour" was set to play the Aragon this past Friday night. The line-up was intriguing, with Megadeth headlining, of course, Lacuna Coil and Volbeat were on the bill. The band that really sparked some interest, however, was Motorhead.

I've seen Megadeth up close and personal, same with Volbeat, and Lacuna Coil was a non-starter, as far as I was concerned. However, I had never seen Motorhead, and, while the band tours constantly, I know Lemmy was in his 60's. How many more chances will I get?

Probably a few. The guy seems to have Keith Richards-level survival skills.

Anyway, going to the show was a relatively last-minute decision. The tickets weren't terrible, coming out to less than $20 for each band, and that seemed reasonable. The show was, overall, a good time, even if there were some major disappointments.

First up was Lacuna Coil. I had very little experience with this band, other than knowing they were in the Evanescence realm. Which is fair, same sort of vibe, female singer for the soaring melodic parts, and a guy for the more metal/rhythmic stuff. Either their set was amazingly short, or my tickets were wrong as to when the doors opened. My understanding was that doors were at 6:30, and when we got inside, maybe about 6:40, they were already playing, and wrapped up about 7:00.

Not a terrible band, but also not very distinctive. One of those groups who's technically pretty solid, but I didn't get a lot of energy or passion from. Of course, opening acts almost always get the shit end of the stick, and I often catch a whiff of desperation. No one is here to see you, probably, and you have to try to make the best of it. Lacuna Coil didn't impress, but they certainly didn't embarrass themselves.

The next act, Volbeat, I had seen before. My friend Shea is a booster of the group, introduced me to them, and took me to a show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago's West Loop. I'm fond of the group, and each time I see them, I become more of a fan.

Their sound is a mash-up of metal and rockabilly, and was once described to me as "Johnny Cash fronting Metallica." That's REALLY simplistic, but not wholly inaccurate. It's cool that their songs can go from true downstroke metal riffage to something not wholly alien to a country tune. They're a band I could never call "one note," and somehow they also keep it all sounding unified. I'm also quite taken with Michael Poulsen's vocals, which are in that Cash-Baritone range. I like the way he attacks a vocal line, and there's a true sense of joy in their performances. They give a lot, in terms of energy, and pure positive attitude. A high point.

Next up was Motorhead, and their frontman, who has actually earned the right to be called "legendary," Lemmy Kilmister. Motorhead is no-frills rock. There was little on stage except large amplifier stacks, and some flashing lights. A couple of smokestacks erupted a couple times later in the show, but the band seemed unconcerned with flash, and more with volume.

Frankly, it was almost impossible to understand what Lemmy was saying most of the time, with his permanent rasp and deep accent. Guitarist Phil Campbell (who's been with the band 28 years) took turns with Lemmy thanking and encouraging the audience. The setlist was tight, with pretty much every song I wanted to hear, with the exception of "Deaf Forever," a personal favorite. In short it was a set very much like the band itself, concise, exciting and powerful. The only stumble I can point to is a drum solo that was ill-advised for a fairly short set (an hour and a half, at most).

As Motorhead left the stage, there was some sense we were waiting for the "main event." A large drape was pulled across the stage, and set up for the headliner was underway. I've seen Megadeth a couple times before, and they tend to give an impressive show.

Unfortunately, Friday night was not.

There were apparently some sort technical problems, which were obviously upsetting frontman Dave Mustaine, and maybe that was the undoing. Still, I found it extremely frustrating that the show stopped dead between each song. The stage would go dark, and the entire band would exit, regroup (I guess), then return to the stage for the next song. It left the evening with a hurkey-jerky sense of pacing. I'd get up to speed on a song, and then end up waiting for the next to start. A frustrating experience for an audience, and maybe for the band, as well.

It was for Mustaine, anyway. The rest of the group, Bassist Dave Ellefson, Drummer Shawn Drover, and Guitarist Chris Broderick, seemed to be in top form, and handling whatever was going on with aplomb. I have to guess it was a vocals issue, because Mustaine's vocals were almost nonexistent in the mix. That's a major pet peeve for me. No, live vocals are almost never clear and pristine (especially with this type of intense music), but I hate it when you can't really even tell if the guy is singing, or not. It was that bad.

Not to mention the REALLY ill-considered idea to bring Cristina Scabbia, from Lacuna Coil, up to duet with Mustaine on "La Tout Le Monde," a song I love, that ended up being a disaster. Bad idea, badly executed.

What's frustrating about this is that the band was tight and executed a really great setlist. I have to chalk this up to a tech issue, I saw them in a much crappier venue, Sokol Hall in Omaha way back in the mid-90's, and they killed it. Sound was terrific, and the show cooked. I have to assume that something was just completely FUBAR'd on Friday.

Overall, a great night of metal. At the very least, I can now say I've seen Motorhead. On the flip side, I have to say I saw Lacuna Coil.

Lacuna Coil:
  • Our Truth
  • Upsidedown
  • Fragile
  • Kill the Light
  • Trip the Darkness
  • Spellbound 
  • A Warrior's Call
  • Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood
  • The Human Instrument
  • Sad Man's Tongue
  • Hallelujah Goat
  • Who They Are
  • Fallen
  • The Mirror and the Ripper
  • Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza
  • Still Counting
  • Raining Blood (Slayer Cover - snippit, Intro Only)
  • Bomber
  • Damage Case
  • I know How to Die
  • Stay Clean
  • Over the Top
  • The Chase is Better Than the Catch
  • The One to Sing the Blues (Drum Solo)
  • Going to Brazil
  • Killed by Death
  • Ace of Spades
  • Overkill
  • Trust
  • Wake Up Dead
  • Hanger 18
  • She-Wolf
  • Foreclosure of a Dream
  • Dawn Patrol
  • Poison Was the Cure
  • Head Crusher
  • A Tout Le Monde (with Cristina Scabbia)
  • Public Enemy No. 1
  • Who's Life (Is it Anyways?)
  • Guns, Drugs & Money
  • Symphony of Destruction
  • Peace Sells
  • Holy Wars...The Punishment Due

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stuck in My Head 2.10.2012

In honor of the show tonight, one of my favorite Megadeth tracks...Even if I think it's a "Stuck in My Head" repeat.

Even if I must admit being more excited about seeing Motorhead.

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 alone 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

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The New Motto for the Hayoth Project

Progress is being made. Ideas are percolating. I wish I could just go home and play guitar tonight.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Every Dirty Job That Comes Along"

There's talk of re-making Death Wish. The film's never been a personal favorite, and, honestly, the moral stance the film takes is so extreme that not even Charles Bronson's personal charisma can take my mind off the fact that Paul Kersey is a stone murderer. Not a killer, mind you, a MURDERER. There is a difference, and Kersey is as much scum as the criminals he targets and eliminates.

Which is not to say that I think it shouldn't be re-made. Joe Carnahan is attached to direct. In both Narc and, reportedly (I'm seeing it tonight), The Grey, he's shown a real talent for taking "macho" subject matter, and peeling back the layers. It's that kind of mindset that could make Death Wish into something interesting, an exciting film that also doesn't become "violence porn." It's the same problem that continually bubbles up when people try to adapt The Punisher. The main character is insane, horribly violent, and, in my opinion, works better as an antagonist.

Some friends and I were discussing the implications of remaking Death Wish, and I began to think about the film that, in my mind, is the true masterpiece of  "victim's rights" from the 1970's. A film that takes the ideas that Death Wish smothers under a moral quagmire, and presents them in a much clearer light. A film that presents a powerful lead character who is anything but insane.

I'm talking, of course, about Dirty Harry.

The 1971 film has long been held up as an example of right-wing/fascist propaganda and fantasy. Now, I'm not stupid enough to try to argue that Harry Callahan is some sort of flower-waving liberal, but to try to boil down the character in those terms is ignoring what is actually presented in the film. (I'm going to limit my comments to the '71 original, the sequels, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool, all have their charms, but lack the complexity of our first meeting with Harry) Sure, Eastwood presents a character who is very much in the "alpha male, get things done" range, with no time or patience for political correctness, but he is not a fascist, nor is he a man who revels in violence...

...But he is very good at it.

Filmmaker John Milius (who worked on the script for Magnum Force) describes Harry Callahan as "a hunter," as evidence (being a gun enthusiast) he points to Harry's chosen weapon, the .44 Magnum. The Magnum is a hunting firearm, and, like most hunting weapons, is designed to cause massive damage. The target goes down, and does not get up. Proficient, skilled, hunters are not interested in cruelty, or prolonging the process, but in ending the hunt.

Harry's first response is also not to kill, if given the opportunity. He enters situations with the goal to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, with the minimum damage to life and property. No question that Harry puts more value in minimum damage to innocent life first, but, especially when we first meet him, his is not bloodthirsty in the slightest. Take the opening bank robbery sequence where we truly first see who Harry Callahan is:

It's important to note a a few things about this scene. First, Harry does not fire first, and does not fire until after shouting "halt," and being fired upon by one of the gunmen. Second, once a gunman is incapacitated, he feels no need for further violence, and bluntly makes it clear to the injured gunman that any further violence is HIS choice. The entire "do you feel lucky?" speech is Harry's tongue-in-cheek "drop the weapon, and you don't have to go out of here on a slab," because, again, against popular perception, Dirty Harry does have a sense of humor.

No one else on Earth could make a sweater vest look cool.
Then, of course, you get the clicking of the hammer on the empty cylinder. Harry is an excellent hunter. He knows his weapon. He knows it's empty, and the gunman's weapon is in his own hand. The situation is resolved, the danger is past. Our perpetrator has made the choice to not escalate the violence, and Harry is absolutely fine with that. So much so that he indulges in a bit of dark humor. There's even a sense of camaraderie, a "hey, pal, nice try, but I'm just better than you."

The other interesting element, which unfortunately comes before this clip, is watching Harry enter into this situation. He's eating lunch. He sees the robbery begin, and asks the guy running the place to call the police and report a robbery in progress. He then, flat out, hopes that "the cavalry will get here in time." Which, of course, they don't.

What's amusing about this scene is how all of the fascist fantasy theories about Harry Callahan inherently use evidence of his enjoying, being drunk with, his power as an authority figure. In fact, Harry resists acting in almost every case (In fact, all five Dirty Harry films open in a similar manner). He just wants to eat his goddman hot dog! Eastwood, and director Don Siegel (who I must not forget, as he does fantastic work, here), continually place Callahan as the everyman, with a particular set of skills that are useful in certain situations.

There's a running gag in the film about why people call him "Dirty" Harry. Ultimately, Harry himself says it's because he "get's every dirty job that comes along." There's an online review I read, where the writer says he always thinks of Harry as a plumber. An average joe who ends up doing crappy jobs that other "regular" people don't want to deal with.

"The face of a choir boy"
Now, like all good drama, there is a change in Harry, a change that hardens him. The change is instigated by the Scorpio Killer, played with much relish by Andrew Robinson. Scorpio, it's worth noting, is obviously inspired by the Zodiac killer (still an active investigation in San Fransisco while the film was being shot in the same city), and the Manson family, and I always find it interesting that, even with Robinson going for broke in his performance, Scorpio is arguably less flamboyant than the real-life killers he's based on.

Robinson, as an actor, was really an inspired choice. Siegel reportedly chose him because he had an innocent, "choir boy" face, building in a dichotomy right from the get-go. That dichotomy is also reflected in the costuming choices, military boots with a peace symbol belt buckle.  There's a lot of material that suggests Scorpio might be an unhinged Vietnam vet. While that creates an interesting depth to the character, the real point is how he impacts, and reflects, Harry.

Scorpio drives Harry over the edge. Scorpio is so sadistic and sociopathic, that Harry cannot help but be affected by him. His callow regard for human life, and the system's inability to move quickly an decisively enough to contain his rampage, is too much for Callahan. We're treated to several scenes of Harry visiting his superiors, or the Mayor, to give reports, and delivering bon mots like the following:
The Mayor: All right. Let's have it. 
Harry Callahan: Have what?  
The Mayor: A report! What have you been doing? 
Harry Callahan: Well, for the past three quarters of an hour I've been sitting on my ass in your outer office waiting on you!
The case comes to a head for Callahan when Scorpio takes a teenaged girl hostage, and buries her alive. He taunts the authorities with a deadline before her oxygen supply runs out, and she dies. Harry is chosen to deliver a ransom (another "dirty" job), and he's viciously attached by Scorpio.
Scorpio: No, don't pass out on me now cop! No, no, no, no, no. Don't pass out on me yet, you dirty, rotten oinker! Do we understand each other? You better answer me, if you want to know where the girl is. Okay? Now listen... I've changed my mind. I'm going to let her die! I just wanted you to know that. You hear me? I just wanted you to know that before I killed you!
Harry, with some fast action by his partner, gets away, but now knows that Scorpio operates on such a level that no payoff is going to pacify him. Callahan tracks the killer to his workplace, a football stadium, where he intends to get the girl's location from Scorpio.

The case pushes him to actions that the film itself, in the cinematography, will not ally itself with. You can find the scene on YouTube HERE (I am not able to embed it). As you watch that scene, notice that Harry is as far gone as Scorpio. The taking of the girl has completely driven him over the edge, and he cares about nothing but attempting to save her live.

Harry beyond reason
One of my favorite camera moves of all times occurs when Harry steps on Scorpio's wounded leg, and begins, yes, torturing him for the girl's location. A helicopter shot, the camera moves up and back, further and further away from Harry and his victim. We side with Harry, we want him to save the girl, but we don't want to see what it takes to get that "dirty" job done. The audience, as society, is uncomfortable with the idea that, in these extreme circumstances, Harry deemed Scorpio's rights unimportant when placed against the life of an innocent girl.

What drives that point home is the committed performances on display, and the sharp writing. Watch the scene. Harry says almost nothing save, "where's the girl?" We see Scorpio wailing about his rights. Literally saying, "I have a right to life," while the girl he kidnapped slowly loses hers.

Then? Smash cut to the girl's lifeless form being lifted out of the ground. Bruised and naked, she is hauled out of a dirty hole.

So the film unspools a real moral quagmire. Harry has gone over the line, in hopes of saving an innocent life, but failed. Does an innocent life justify torture? Does the fact that the victim was not saved change how you feel about the act? The whole structure of the editing, and how Don Siegel directed the scenes, asks these questions. Harry and Scorpio are both held at arms length by the film. They are both unsettling.

Yet, also consider that the character the audience shares viewpoints with most often is, in fact, Scorpio. Not only sharing viewpoints, but staring down the barrel of a gun with him. We target innocent people along with Scorpio, and even witness one of his murders from that viewpoint.

The film operates on two levels, on one it's an entertaining crime/detective picture, executed with precision and power by Siegel and Eastwood, on another it's questioning, or at least uncomfortable, with it's protagonist's actions. Harry does what needs to be done, without question. Scorpio is such a dangerous, sociopathic, nihilistic villain that virtually no argument can be made for allowing him free. Even as Harry goes father than we expect him to, or can fully condone, and certainly farther than the more staid, pure authority-figure action heroes of John Wayne, for example.

However, by basing the character on such high-profile, and very recent at the time, true-life criminals, the film doesn't give you the "oh, that could never happen" easy out. Zodiac was threatening specific races, and claiming to target school buses full of children. The Manson family had slaughtered a house full of innocent people. In the face of such horrible, utterly random, acts of violence, the questions posed by Dirty Harry can't easily be ignored.

Ultimately, Callahan's treatment of Scorpio backfires. The girl is dead, and because of his brutality, evidence is ruled inadmissible, and Scorpio is set free. Harry is called on the carpet for his actions, and stymied by his superiors and the District Attorney. They all know this man is a killer, and will kill again. The system has to let him go. The unspoken truth is that it's not just "the system," but Harry's own actions that have brought us to this place.

I like to think that some of the pure rage that flows out of Callahan during the final act of the film is guilt, as well. It's certainly directed at Scorpio, and the system in general. Harry, I think has to be aware that what he did contributed. Maybe deep down, but I think he does. He doesn't regret it, as a life was on the line, but that guilt is there.

Scorpio kidnaps a school bus full of children. The Mayor falls back on paying the ransom, but Harry, of course, has other plans. The climax, as the entire film, is taut and exciting, with Harry separating Scorpio from his hostages, then pursuing him through a gravel pit. Eventually, the two square off, and Harry intones a familiar speech...

One of my favorite things about Eastwood's performance is how we get to revisit that speech, and see how the Scorpio case has changed Harry Callahan. If you watch the two deliveries back to back, you see a man who's had his faith burned out of him. He can't trust the system, and the self-reliance he's always had has proven to be the one thing he can rely on.

Even with that, again, Harry gives Scorpio the out. He's removed the young hostage from danger, and Scorpio is separated from his weapon. The message is the same as the first time we heard the speech, "you can walk out of here, if you want." The difference is, it's no longer a game.

The loss of faith is driven home by the final shots of Harry trowing away his badge. The system which he had been part of is proven to be flawed, and Harry is left without much to believe in, but himself.

Now, listen, Harry Callahan is a fictional character, and no one here is suggesting that the Bill of Rights ought to be tossed out. I, personally, feel it's doubtful that would be Inspector Callahan's stance, either, if he were a real guy. Harry, in a moral sense, hews very closely to the film noir characters that have been around this entire century. Yes, he makes decisions that are questionable, but the film more than acknowledges this fact. However, what Dirty Harry, and many detective/crime films dramatize, in a manner with a primary goal of entertainment, is that every cop in the world must struggle with the same questions Harry does.

Police, for all intents and purposes, a public servants there to do the "dirty jobs" that most of us don't want to deal with. Hell, most of us balk at jury duty. Yet, here is a whole group of people asked to make extremely difficult decisions on a daily basis, and, yes, risk their lives doing it. Harry mentions many times that  Scorpio enjoys killing, but, in the final moments, Harry himself does enjoy putting an end to the serial killer. Both men, a policeman and a soldier, impacted by the "dirty jobs" they do for our society, and damaged by them.

Van Halen - "A Different Kind of Truth" First Impressions

So, I got up this morning and, first thing, downloaded the new Van Halen album A Different Kind of Truth.

Now, you may wonder why I would do this, as I've been pretty vocal about my fears for this "reunion" and album. I've also been up front about my lack of enthusiasm for the material that's been released so far. Frankly, the reason I've been disappointed is that I hold Van Halen to a pretty high level. I am a fan, and have been a fan of every version of this band. I don't indulge the Hagar/Roth/Cherone bitchfest/battle, because I feel like all the version of the band brought interesting things to the table. Yes, I have personal preferences, but I certainly don't think that my favorite era should be everyone's, or that it makes the other eras irrelevant.

So, when I began my trek to work this morning, I cranked up A Different Kind of Truth on the headphones for a first listen. What I'm presenting here shouldn't be considered an in-depth review, but my basic reactions. I'm sure to listen to this album a lot more, have further thoughts, but right now, this is where I'm at.

First, the good. The band sounds good, production is crisp, and everybody's pulling their weight. Assuming Wolfgang actually played bass, and Eddie didn't pull a Mike Anthony on him and do the parts himself, he acquits himself very well. Alex, for all of his medical problems, sounds just as powerful as ever.

Eddie delivers on 15 years of waiting. The guitar is on fire, and he's playing his ass off. Roth's abilities have slid, the voice ain't what it used to be, I don't think anyone can claim otherwise, but he amps the charm and the attitude and pulls it off. It's clear this is a group of musicians that can do what they want, when they want...

Which leads us right to the bad. The material. I can't think of a single track on this album that even approaches a "great song." OK? High-energy? Moments of greatness? They're all there, but they don't coalesce into a powerful whole. Trying to look at it objectively, "Tattoo" probably comes the closest, and, to my ears, it's just on the dull side. "Bullethead," in particular, sounds like "Van Halen for Morons."

At this point, it seems the band is all but admitting these tracks represent re-workings of demos and discarded tracks from the early 80's/late 70's. I can't help but feel this was a huge mistake, and I also can't help but wonder if the band couldn't stand to be around each other long enough to actually write new songs. Almost every track feels more-or-less like a half-baked version of one of their classics, making the entire affair feel like the worst kind of reunion project. All the parts are there, but the spark? The magic? I haven't found it yet.

I will keep looking for a while. My opinion has been know to change, sometimes radically, as I spend more time with an album.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Real Steel - Blu-Ray Review

Real Steel is a film that I wanted to see, but slipped through the cracks this past Fall. I generally like Sci-Fi and Boxing movies, and I find Hugh Jackman in really engaging presence. The film has all three, and there were generally good reviews from critics I respect, so I thought it was worth a chance.

The thing you always have to bear in mind about films like this is that they are derivative. Hell, Richard Matheson's short story, Steel, that was the basis of this movie, was already adapted as a Twilight Zone episode. Real Steel liberally lifts from any of a dozen boxing films, from The Champ to Rocky. Hell, the last 2-3 minutes of the movie feels, if it isn't outright, like a shot-for-shot "homage" to the final moments of Stallone's 1976 masterpiece.

So, often, and maybe this is copping out on my part, I approach films like this mainly wanting to see if the tropes are executed well. When a film is pretty up front about what it is, and I think Real Steel is VERY up-front about it, saying "it's silly" is a non-criticism. It's a movie about robots boxing. There's more than a few silly bits, and it operates on broad emotional levels. That's by design, and if you don't like that sort of thing, stay away.

It's like when you watch a play or film which is clearly and unapologetically melodramatic (which certainly applies here, as well). If the cast or director apologizes for, or seems embarrassed by, that for even a second, the project is doomed. You have to play it full-out, and with total conviction. Otherwise, you're giving the audience license to dismiss your story, because you already have.

For the most part, Real Steel rides the line very well. Jackman is great, as is Dakota Goyo, as his estranged son, Max. It's really Max's film, and Goyo carries important scenes with grace and wit. I felt for both characters, and I was rooting for them to come to understand each other.

The effects are, well, effective, with a mix of CGI and real, on-set anamatronics. Director Shawn Levy handles everything with a lot of grace and style. The robot fights, for example, put the Transformers movies to shame. Mainly because Levy pulls back enough so that the fights don't just become machinery slamming into each other. There's a strong sense of tactics, and, even, more important, a feeling that actual damage is being done (Sugar Ray Leonard was a consultant on the film, and I believe did some motion capture work - it shows). The film never strays very far into making the 'bots more than tools, but you get a strong sense of exactly how much damage these things take.

Atom, our star fighting robot, is a bit of wonderful design work, nowhere near as anthropomorphized as some of the other robots we see, but the featureless face allows us to project many emotions. It's the same sort of response I've seen in neutral mask acting exercises. While the film doesn't really go there, there are a few quiet scenes where you wonder what might be going on behind those glowing, blue eyes.

I should also mention that I'm a near complete sucker for stories where men who feel they've lost some elemental part of themselves find the courage and strength to reach for it again. That element comes into play quite heavily in the last act of the film, and I have to admit it got me. Yeah, I wiped away a couple of tears. Jackman plays it beautifully, as do Goyo and Evangilene Lilly. A less assured film might've replayed a line of dialogue from earlier, but the performances say it all. It was a nice moment.

I'm not going to sit here and make a case for Real Steel as a "great" movie, but I will make a case for it as a very entertaining one. It's sweet-natured, exciting, and well-executed family film.You could do much, much worse on a rental.

I do have to say, when we see Charlie's (Jackman) first fighting 'bot, early in the film, it bears such a striking resemblance to a Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robot, I had to laugh. Yeah, the film could've been a movie version of the game, and maybe at some point, it was, but who cares. I had a good time with it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Live Or Die On This Day"

The Grey is, without question, the first great film of 2012. It is terrifying, compelling, thoughtful and exciting in equal measure, and features a lead performance by Liam Neeson that ranks with his best work, ever. It's also a real return to form for Joe Carnahan, who's surpassed his first, brilliant, feature, Narc, with this one.

John Ottway (Neeson) is a sharpshooter for an Alaskan oil company. His job is to bring down any wolves who might threaten the workers as they service the rig. Of course, he's good at his job (naturally), but Carnahan makes a point to show us that, even as he ends these animals, he does feel some bond with them.

It's a bond he doesn't seem to share with any other human soul. We see him enter a company bar, a voice over setting up a rather dark view of the men who would take such a God-forsaken job, in such a God-forsaken place. He's also haunted by visions of  his wife, who has left him, and will never be returning. Ottway is in suicidal despair, a state of mind the film makes vividly clear. He struggles to find a reason to live.

Carnahan, as a born action director, knows exactly how to set up this man in broad strokes very, very quickly. We understand Ottway within 5 minutes of the film beginning. I am reluctant to describe Carnahan that way, however, because The Grey is not an action film. It is a meditation on manhood, and mortality, and that facet of the film asserts itself with a bravura plane crash sequence, where Ottway and a group of riggers go down in the Alaskan wilderness. The crash is entirely though Ottway's eyes, and it's terrifying. When the fact that any of the men survived the crash, "slamming into the ground at 400 miles per hour," is described as a miracle, you cannot question it.

What follows is a survival thriller the likes of which we really don't see anymore, as a aggressive pack of wolves begin to prey on the crash survivors, and Ottway attempts to lead them to some sort of safety. Scanning the internet, I've seen much hay made of the "realism" of the wolf pack we see here. Here's the way I look at it, the wolves (accomplished via anamatronic puppetry and CGI) are as real, terrifying, and as effectively utilized within the framework of the film, as the shark in Jaws. You never question them, because the film is just too fucking good. What you think after the fact, is irrelevant.

Caranahan shoots the wolf attacks like a horror film, and in several cases left me gasping for air. The direction is so effective, makes the deaths so visceral, combined with the fact that Carnahan, as a screenwriter (along with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, upon who's short story Ghost Walkers, the film is based) understands that if we know the men before somethign happens to them, it will hurt more. It's no slight praise to say that every man who goes down in The Grey, it hurts.

Which is not to say the secondary characters are completely three-dimensional, they're not, but they're also there to reflect on Ottway. It's Ottway's story, Ottway's journey, and the best thing that happened to this film was when Liam Neeson stepped in for Bradley Cooper, who was originally cast as Ottway. Note: I have no problem with Bradley Cooper, per se, but this role needed something that he doesn't have, but Neeson does. Neeson looks, immediately, like you would imagine Ottway to look, and carries himself in a way you'd imagine that man would. He's a man who's traveled hard, long roads, lived to tell the tale, but come to a place where he doesn't want to go on.

I can't tell you how much I loved Neeson in this. He hits every note perfectly, and carries the ball all the way home. I can speculate, as an actor, how much of his own life he drew upon, but, whatever he did, the flashback sequences with his wife are particularly powerful. If that's Neeson drawing on something, or me projecting what I know about him, I do not know, and, frankly, it doesn't matter. It works, beautifully.

At this point, I do have to discuss the ending, because I think, thematically, it's astounding, and extremely moving. I do not want to give spoilers, so I'll just make this a clear as I can...

Anyone who wasn't satisfied with the ending of this film was, and is, a goddamn moron, and apparently utterly oblivious to the well executed thematic content. The way this story is told, the questions it asks, the important conflicts that Ottway is grappling with, are all answered and resolved in the final moments. Powerfully resolved. I had tears rolling down my cheeks. The answers are all in the poem that Ottway's father wrote:

Once more into the fray
Into the last great fight I'll ever know
Live or die on this day
Live or die on this day

That said, the marketing of this film could've been better. It sold the film on imagery that represents about 1% of what happens in the film. It's an exciting, suspenseful movie, but (even bearing in mind my own jokes about this) it is NOT a film about "Liam Neeson punching wolves." It's also been lumped, very unfairly, into the string of action thrillers that Neeson has recently been involved with. Again, the ad campaign didn't help, but be prepared for a film much more meditative, and much more disturbing and cathartic than you might expect.

It's a LONG way to the end of the year, but I expect The Grey will find a place on my 2012 top ten list.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stuck in My Head 2.2.2012

I was on the train this morning, and my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of my professional future. Where I'm trying to go, what I'm trying to do, and who I want to rely on for those things. It's been weighing on me, and anybody who knows me knows that, when something weighs on me, it can be like carrying the weight of the world. I drive people nuts with it.

Thing is, I've been asked, repeatedly, about my professional life, "when was the last time it made you happy?" The truth is...talking about on a consistent basis...It's been so long ago I can't remember it. It's been "one step forward, two steps back" for so long, and I feel I have to work so damn hard for something exciting to happen for me, that I'm just tired.

I was listening to the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Raising Sand album, mainly because I wanted something soothing, and this track started. It was one of those "Springsteen moments," as I call them (because it happens extremely often with The Boss, in my case), where a song just encapsulated everything I was thinking and feeling.

Plus, the video is really cool, and T-Bone Burnett is actually in it.

Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)
Performed by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Written by Don Everly and Phil Everly

Some sunny day-hay baby
When everything seems okay, baby
Youll wake up and find out youre alone
Cause Ill be gone
Gone, gone, gone really gone
Gone, ga-gone, cause you done me wrong

Everyone that you meet baby
As you walk down the street baby
Will ask you why youre walkin all alone
Why youre on your own
Just say Im gone
Gone, gone, gone
Gone, ga-gone, cause you done me wrong

If you change your way baby
You might get me to stay baby
Ya better hurry up if ya dont wanna be alone
Or Ill be gone
Gone, gone, gone
Really gone
Gone, Ga-gone
Cause you done me wrong

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Watchmen

Apologies to anyone who doesn't know anything about the 1986-1987 comic book mini-series/graphic novel Watchmen. It's a seminal comic book work by writer Alan Moore, and artist Dave Gibbons. Along with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, it heralded a new, more adult, comic book style and readership. The characters and concepts of the series have never been revisted.

So, after a whole hell of a lot of rumors, the other shoe has dropped.

I'm sure there's going to be a ton of teeth-gnashing over this. "How DARE they do that to Alan Moore," and all that shit. The fanboy desire and ability to be offended by something is powerful and deep. I mean, even if we acknowledge that it's the "greatest graphic novel of all time..."

(which, personally, I think was bestowed mainly because it falls into the superhero genre that Fanboys are comfortable with - I'd probably pick A Contract With God, or some other Will Eisner work, Jeff Smith's Bone, or even David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, but that's me)'s just a comic book.

I mean, we think nothing of Superman or Spider-Man being re-interpreted. We expect Batman to have continuous adventures, at varying levels of quality, and, in fact, I'd argue it's completely out of character for Batman to just quit fighting crime. These characters, superheroes, are from the pulp, serialized fiction tradition, a tradition that Moore lifted from liberally in crafting the original story. Hell, almost every, single Watchmen character has elements taken from the characters DC Comics bought from Charlton Comics, and were intended to be the original stars of the series. Moore didn't create in a vacuum.

All that said, you are dicking around with what is widely regarded as the greatest superhero story of all time. It's almost a no-win situation for everyone working on this project, except DC Comics, as a publisher. The books will sell, without a doubt, even if it's just so the fanboys can grouse about "spending $3.99 for that!"

(Oh, for damn sure these will be at the highest possible price point.)

The creators involved, however? Man, even if they have a good idea, and it's executed perfectly, it'll read as a disappointment. Even a "great" comic will be going up against an original that's "genius." If they ape the style of the original, they'll be crucified for not being original. If they aggressively set out on a different path, they'll be crucified for not respecting the original work. That's a shitstorm of expectations and fears to navigate.

The good news is that DC came up with a pretty damn fine team to take a stab at it. There are people involved who's work I will ALWAYS buy.
  • Rorschach by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
  • The Comedian by Brian Azzarello and JG Jones
  • Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke 
  • Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner 
  • Doctor Manhattan by J Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes 
  • Nite Owl by Joe Michael Strazynski, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert
  • Ozymandias by Len Wein and Jae Lee.
  • There will also be a single issue, Before Watchmen: Epilogue, featuring the work of various writers and artists, and a Crimson Corsair (a Pirate tale that will also be a back-up feature in the other titles) story by Len Wein and John Higgins.
Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner are on my "favorite comics artists working right now" list. So, Minutemen and Silk Spectre will be must-reads. J Michael Straczynski runs hot and cold, for me, I'll buy Nite Owl, because I love the character, but Doctor Manhattan is a maybe, despite how much I like Adam Hughes art. Azzarello has proven to be consistently interesting, and I love both characters, so Rorschach and The Comedian will be likely. Ozymandias? *shrug* The Crimson Corsair stuff I could also care less about.

Ultimately, one can only speculate about what we're going to get, and how good it might be. I will say, it's a smart move to do prequels, as trying to follow Moore's original story's ending would be ridiculous, and in some cases impossible. They've also tapped the right people, I think. Cooke's sensibilities seem tailor-made for a Minutemen Story. Azzarello's dark, noir sensibilities are right in the track for Rorschach and The Comedian.

Of course, Alan Moore is not happy. Alan Moore hasn't been happy with anything involving DC comics for a very long time. Which is his right, but I begin to tire of his continual objections, which flare up, understandably, every time DC or Warner Brothers try to exploit the properties he created and published via their company. He's refused to accept payment, or credit, on the film adaptations of V for Vendetta and Watchmen.

He has a principle, and I get that. More power to him, but I also feel like his hyperbole about "draconian contracts" is a little stale. My understanding is, if DC stops printing Watchmen, it reverts to Moore and Gibbons. VERY few creators could get that kind of deal in the 80's. I'd bet a lot of creators would've loved that deal in the 80's.

At that time, the idea that a comic book would still be in print 25, or even 5, years later was unheard of. Nobody thought Watchmen would be as big as it is, they took a risk in publishing it, and, apparently, Moore's mad it wasn't JUST successful enough so that he could exploit the characters himself (even if that's just reprinting the original book), but DC wouldn't want to continue to publish it?

They paid Moore for the work, and (I believe) continue to pay him residuals, because the book was a success. They try, every time, to give Moore credit, and pay him, when the properties are exploited in other mediums, but Moore refuses. Alan Moore is not Siegal and Schuster, here.

That said, I'm not 100% sure I don't agree with Moore that this Before Watchmen project just simply shouldn't exist. Even if Cooke, JMS, and Azarello have cooked up something spectacular (I have faith that Darwyn Cooke, in particular, would not put his name on something he didn't believe in), it's highly unlikely to ever be a classic. Much like Scarlett is often nothing more than a curiosity read for fans of Gone With the Wind, Before Watchmen will probably always been seen as an attempt to exploit a property. To make more money by putting more product on the market. It makes sense, and I'm not one to begrudge anyone making a living.

However, I'm always ready to be proved wrong. I guess we'll all find out in the summer.