Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Audio Commentary Cliché

I've been listening to a lot of audio commentaries since I started working from home (I'm listening to Undeclared commentaries as I write this) and something I've really come to hate is when the commentators introduce themselves as the other person. I'm sure it's sometimes awkward for people to sit in a room and talk about an episode of a show or a feature film but, man alive, if I hear that stupid ass joke one more time I think I'm going to shoot someone, or possibly myself.

Another thing that bugs me about the aforementioned style of commentary is that it is most often a room full of actors who will do it. Sometimes it'll be a director and actor, or writer and actor, but if it's a room full of crew, you never hear that. Directors, DPs, writers, producers, they all say their names and start talking about the process, the story, the lighting, the film. Actors (not all of them, I know) make the funny ha-ha I'm you and you're me gag then giggle to themselves like they're the first people to ever think of that joke.


I think I've hit my rant quota for the week.



Friday, September 26, 2008

Lucas Centric Post

This post is going to cover a few George Lucas related topics from Indy to Red Tails, so if you're just not in the mood, skim this one or pass it over.

Everyone else, read on...

I went out and saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on its last night at the second run theatre in town and it got me in a bit of an Indy mood (surprise, surprise). I enjoyed the film immensely on opening night but found that I liked it even better the second time around. Little details I didn't absorb on my initial viewing popped up, enriching the experience somewhat, and things I may not have liked before were greeted with a little less irritation this time around. It's amazing how knowing what will happen will take the edge off of what may have previously been perceived as "bad scenes".

Still on my Indy buzz after leaving the theatre, I got home and hit the web looking for more info, interviews, and behind the scenes stuff on the film and the expanded universe but found myself running into the same brick wall I've been hitting for years; a lame, uninformative official website. Yeah, I know there are a few decent Indy fan sites out there that pull their respective weight (TheRaider.net, IndianaJones.de and IndyFan.com being a few of the best) but there is so much information and cool stuff that the official site could have, it's really, really disappointing to see the few videos and factoids that reside there.

When the Star Wars prequels started production, the Star Wars site ran web diaries, weekly teaser/set images, and other cool behind-the-scenes stuff. By the prequel trilogy's end, the site launched the Hyperspace fan club, exclusive material like deleted scenes and animatics, the ability to watch the original Clone Wars cartoon before they aired on Cartoon Network, newsletters, DVD ROM features, fiction, videos, web strips...I could go on. It was a website that I enjoyed visiting regularly until they changed it a few months ago, but that's another story.

The Indiana Jones site briefly tried to be as informative a resource as the Star Wars site back when they released the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and the Indy trilogy on VHS. There were many similar features started but not very much of the extras ever materialized. Then, with the anticipated release of the new film, they shut the old site down and we had to wait until they relaunched it as the Crystal Skull site. I always thought that was a bad idea since, as a series, they should have one big umbrella site with mini sites for each film, but what do I know, right? It's not like it didn't service the Galaxy Far, Far Away's site for a decade.

I mean, where are the interviews with cast and crew? Where are the web diaries (one Frank Marshall clip does not count, guys), the development extras, the exclusive web features, the continuing news updates, the archival material, the depth text commentaries, the production blog?

In my desperation I turned to the Indy-Cast, a fan produced podcast on all things Indy. Some of the news bits are interesting (although I can't say as I heard anything on the Indy-Cast that I hadn't already gleaned from other sources), but most of the show is an hour-long marathon of the host reading peoples press releases and e-mails talking about what they think the fifth movie should be about, what the best Indy fist-fight was, random ramblings and what Indy related foodstuffs they had for breakfast. All to a looping backdrop of the John Williams score.


What I wouldn't give to be a content developer (or one of the schmoes producing it) for an Indy site, particularly the official one, which should be the ultimate resource, in my opinion. Lucas Online, you listenin'? One dedicated content droid sitting idle and looking for work. Call me.

Anyway, the DVD will be coming out on October 13th, so maybe I'll get my Kumba-ya-yas out in a few weeks (although, I'm cheesed off that the Blu-Ray has exclusive content not available on the standard definition disc...grrrr).

Update: I picked up an issue of the official Indiana Jones magazine this evening and one of the features inside was a storyboarded, but unused, sequence from Temple of Doom. I seem to recall seeing this stuff up on the old website before it went the way of the dodo and I can't help but theorize that all the really fun content was pulled in favour of showcasing it in something like the magazine for $7 rather than on the web for free. It's a cynical viewpoint, especially when you consider there's a Star Wars magazine that's been running forever and it never impacted the website, but I can't think of anything that makes more sense.

In other Indy related news, I just found out that they will be producing a new set of expanded universe books, which has me all aflutter. I really enjoyed the original series (not quite done all twelve but almost there) and anxiously await the first of the new batch, Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead written by Steve Perry. More good news on the novel front is that Rob McGregor, writer of the Last Crusade novelisation and the first six books of the first set, will return to the character. His book should be the next up after Perry's so we'll see how that works out. The first one should hit bookstores in May of 2009, so there's still a few months to wait. Still, good news for an Indy fan, overall.

By the way, does anybody know if there is going to be a volume two to the Indiana Jones Adventures series? This digest sized gem was one of the best Indy stories I have read in some time. I thought I posted about it a while back but it doesn't appear that I have, so I'll have to post a review of it sometime soon. I'm working on my next Indy Comic Revue so I might slip it in at the same time. Back to the point, though, I haven't seen any news regarding a #2 on the DHC site or in the press, so I'm throwing it out there in case one of y'all happen to know anything. I want to see more of this stuff.

I was going to talk a bit about Clone Wars, but I'm going to pass on it for now and just finish off with the good news I've just heard regarding Lucas' pet project on the Tuskeegee Airmen, Red Tails. It has a writer, John Ridley, and a director, Anthony Hemingway, so we just might be seeing a non-sequel Lucas project in cinemas sometime in the next few years. To be honest, I've been waiting for a non-Star Wars or Indy project from George for almost as long as everyone else wanted the prequel trilogy. I still love Tucker and Radioland Murders remains a guilty pleasure of mine, so I'm really looking forward to RT. You could do a lot worse than John Ridley on script-chores, too.

I gotta run, so I'm going to end the post there. I'll be back to add some images if you happen to be reading this sucker bare and if you are, I commend you.



Monday, September 22, 2008

Size Does Matter

Hmmmm. I'm thinking I need to get PhotoShop up and running so I can shrink that header image, there. As much as I think people should be watching Burn Notice, I think the size of that image may be just a bit much.

Oh well, click through to check out clips and stuff from the official site. It's good stuff.



Monday, September 15, 2008

Did My Homework

After posting my review last night of the two trades I read recently, I did some online research to answer the questions I posed regarding the contributing artists and the duration of their contributions.

As far as I can guess, Byrne was slated to be on The All-New Atom for six issues and likely left due to creative conflicts. Everyone knows that Byrne has had some rocky assignments and lacking a better explanation, I will assume Eddy Barrows was brought in to pick up the slack when Byrne exited a little early.

Also, the Atom series concluded with issue #25, so even if I did like it immensely, I wouldn't be finding it on the shelves of my LCS.

With Pacheco on Green Lantern, if issue seven was included in the collection I would have realized that he and alternate artist Ethan van Sciver traded off art chores every three issues to accomodate the monthly schedule.

This one, perhaps, may require further exploration. Any comments or opinions regarding the series post "No Fear" would be appreciated.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lanterns and Atoms

Two of my most recent TPB selections have been the first collection of the All-New Atom series, reprinting the first six issues and a story from a Secret Files & Origins issue, and Green Lantern: No Fear, a collection reprinting the first 6 issues of that series with a Secret Files & Origins issue thrown in for good measure.

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I was never all that interested in The All-New Atom when it debuted despite having an interest in the character. The artwork by John Byrne piqued my curiosity, and the fact that it was based on concepts developed by Grant Morrison got it onto my radar, but the writing of Gail Simone has absolutely never drawn me in. Regardless of what she is writing, I just can't get sucked in like so many people I know can. I feel like she's missing something narratively. Every time I pick up something she's written, I feel like the connective tissue was left out, for some reason I can't quite put together.

So, I can't say as I was surprised by my reaction to these issues. So much of it seemed derivative, tired, and trying too damn hard to be clever. The basic concepts are there, and under the guidance of another writer it's possible they would have played out more effectively, but the whole magic vs. science war fell pretty flat for me. Oddly enough, I did like the artwork by Byrne quite a bit. I think this is probably the best work that he's done in years. The last time I enjoyed his work quite this much was when he was writing and drawing Jack Kirby's New Gods. The only Byrne-related disappointment was the fact that he only drew three issues and the Secret Files story. What's up with that? Was his assignment on this book stunt casting or did he get tired and want to move on? I'd be curious to find out.

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Next on the list is the relaunch, post-Rebirth, of the Hal Jordan Green Lantern series. This is another book that I passed on when it debuted, mostly because I wasn't too terribly interested in seeing Hal Jordan reintegrated into the DC Continuity. Granted, Geoff Johns is a competent writer, and I've always loved the work of Carlos Pacheco, but it still wasn't enough of a draw until I could read it from a library copy with only an investment of time to lose.

Since I've mentioned my love for Pacheco's work already I'll start this review off with another "what the hell?" to basically echo the sentiments in my Atom review regarding Byrne's departure after three issues. Same deal here. Pacheco is around to bring back the Manhunters and then bails to let Ethan van Sciver take over as penciller. Now, van Sciver is a competent artist but not what I signed on for when I decided to read this trade. Seeing as how he was the artist on the Rebirth mini that reintroduced Hal, I'm guessing the Pacheco gig was another bit of stunt casting to get the book out of the gate, but I'm still feeling totally ripped off by both of these series and they are not even my regular schtick. There is a Darwyn Cooke illustrated prologue, which was originally published in a Secret Files issue, and it's a joy to look at. Especially seeing him adding a little Gil Kane flare in the earlier parts of his story. A nice little story, too, giving you some background on the Jordan character.

That's a good segue to talking about Geoff Johns, I guess, seeing as he's probably the strongest thing about these issues. I wasn't totally engaged by the whole story with the Manhunters coming back and then Hector Hammond, The Shark, and some Gremlins drop by to make Hal's life miserable, but I did like the quieter character moments with Hal, the new lady pilot whose name I forget, the other Lanterns and his Air Force subplot. Not enough to actively go out and seek this book on my local comic shop's rack, but I can't say I regret reading them. I think the main problem with these issues is clarity. After issue three, for example, the Manhunters essentially disappear without any reasonable sort of resolution until you find out in issue six that they're being packed away in a hanger by the Air Force with the rest of the characters and artifacts of the story. A little rushed, perhaps, for my tastes, or maybe I just need to be reading the other GL related titles to really clue in to the pacing and vibe of the whole thing. Either way, I probably won't be looking in on this series again for the forseeable future.

And with that, I take my leave.



Saturday, September 13, 2008

"It's like a bad Disney movie."

I browsed over to Cartoon Brew, one of my favourite stops on the internets for animated news and fun, and saw this video posted there. Clearly, it has little to do with animation short of a quick Disney reference about half way through, but I found it an interesting little sound bite from Matt Damon. It's clear, too, how uncomfortable he is with the thought of Palin becoming POTUS at some point in the future. There's visible agitation, not unlike the agitation I felt while watching 10 minutes of the Republican convention when I was over at my parents the other day.

Now, I've never thought of Damon as the next Noam Chomsky or anything like that, but he does make a valid point about Palin and, to be honest, anybody with half a brain should be thinking like this regarding the Republican VP candidate because it could very well be a reality and I can't help feeling like they're selling the American people Palin the way you would sell someone a used car. It's so transparent I find it unsettling.

Anyway, here's the vid:

Curious what anybody else thinks.

And, since I'm being uncharacteristically political, here's a fun monologue by Craig Ferguson:



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Whatever Happened to the Wave?

I know this will probably come off whiny, but I was out and about with the wife in the car today and couldn't help but get enraged when she let another car into her lane and the other driver never gave her the obligatory thank you wave. Now, I don't know if it's just not cool anymore to give some form of appreciation when another driver goes out of their way to make your commuting life/day a little bit easier, but I was raised to give visible thanks. It just seems proper, you know? Especially with all the road raging and hellish traffic experiences you always hear about. You all have your own stories, I'm sure.

My wife always gets amused when she sees how much it bothers me. I try to tell her that I'm not at all surprised that it doesn't phase her because 80% of all drivers that I personally let in who don't wave tend to be women. I'm not sure why, it just seems to be the case. I asked her if she extends the same courtesy when she's let it and she replied, "sometimes".


On a positive note, the next two vehicles that we encountered in a similar situation did give a little wave when they merged so it hasn't all gone to hell in a handbasket yet. And for those of you who are grousing because of my woman comment, one of them was a woman, so you're not all bad.

Anyway, I'm always wanting to post on the blog after some driving experience drives me mad (don't get me started on four-way stops and the greatest evil known to motorists, the uncontrolled intersection) but I always forget to do it by the time I'm home or don't feel equally enraged by the event. As it is, I figured I'd rant it up a bit and save the non-pop culture freaks out there another review of whatever anime I happen to be watching and give them something a bit more relatable.



Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Catching Some Shows

I've been catching up on some TV that I've fallen behind on and, while some of it is surprising me with how good it is, others are falling dreadfully short of what I would deem passable entertainment.

For example, while doing work at home I've been listening to the audio commentaries for Heroes, something I attempted back when I bought the Season 1 set but never really kept up with and eventually abandoned. If you know anything about me, you know what a features whore I am, particularly for audio commentaries, so it was unusual for me to give up on them. Listening to them now, I do find a few of them to be senseless and lacking in any interesting information (that often happens when it's just a bunch of actors in a room) but there have been a couple of exceptional commentaries, the main stand-out being the one for "Company Man" which features the director, Allan Arkush, writer, Bryan Fuller, and actor, Jack Coleman, otherwise known as HRG. I generally like listening to anything Bryan Fuller has to say, so I'm sure that influenced the experience somewhat, but it was also neat to see what you got when you mixed one of the actors with behind-the-camera crew. In earlier commentaries, Coleman would joke around and talk about how cool everything was on the show, but when sitting next to the writer and director, suddenly he's talking about composition, narrative, lighting, themes, character and acting. It just brought the whole quality level up, like, 110%.

An interesting side effect of listening to the commentaries is that it's given me a bit of a refresher course on the show. I'm not seeing every episode, but I'm getting a nice cross-section of season 1 and I'm being reminded constantly why I liked the show so much in the first place. It's doing a stellar job of getting me primed for season 3 which premieres at the end of the month, if I'm not mistaken. The 22nd, or something like that.

I suppose it also helps that I read the Heroes graphic novel in the last week, but that's another post.

Next up is a show that has never impressed me much, but I just got it in my head at some point that I was going to watch it, in its entirety, no matter how much pain it causes or how long it takes. That show would be Highlander: The Series and I don't think I'm understating things when I say that the first season is a perfect example of everything that was wrong with syndicated television in the early to mid '90s. You could put virtually anything out there on the market as long as you did it cheap enough, there was always someone who wanted to fill up their broadcasting slate. Having the Highlander brand probably helped put this one on the air and keep it there beyond season 1, but it's still no excuse for the quality of some of these episodes.

There's an awkwardness to just about everything on the show. The lead, Adrian Paul, is decent enough as the new Highlander, Duncan MacLeod, but he's still not very adept with the swordplay (not that their stunt coordinator was doing much in the way of fight choreography), his love interest, Tessa, seems like she'll add some nice international flavour but ends up pretty flat and useless, and the sidekick, Richie, is petulant, annoying and viewers are supposed to buy into the idea that this very clean-cut looking 'kid' is supposed to be a rough and tumble street tough from the old neighbourhood. And don't even get me started on the clothes!

Two good things about the show are the flashbacks which are often interesting and well put together, and the fact that Thomas J. Wright (who later went on to be the director for the Chris Carter series Millennium) directs just about every second episode. His style is still pretty rough but these were apparently shot fast and cheap so I'm willing to give him a small amount of leeway here since I know how smoking awesome his stuff eventually got a few years later.

I'm hoping that things improve when I hit season 2, but for now, I'm stuck in a morass of bad acting, cheesy guest-stars (I never knew Joe Pantoliano could give a bad performance, to be honest), and a show that's hanging on by the hairs of the franchise's chinny-chin-chin.

A big surprise for me was getting the original Twilight Zone DVDs from the library. I knew I'd enjoy them, I knew I was picking up something that was timeless and fun, but I didn't anticipate just how much I am loving these shows. My memories of the shows consisted only of the stories and how they made me feel and not how well shot and written they were. Looking at these episodes on DVD, they look fantastic. The lighting is amazing, the acting, surprisingly good. The direction classic but brave enough to shed traditional angles and techniques when necessary. And although the writing is not always perfect, there's an energy there you can feel. A young Rod Serling (who wrote, like, every episode) pouring his heart out on the page week after week and giving us stories that still resonate to this day with the occasional genuinely creepy moment thrown in for good measure.

I'm even showing them to my oldest daughter now. I figured she'd like the format of the show and with different stories and actors, she wouldn't have to commit to watching every one, just the ones that catch her eye. So far, she's seen two or three and enjoyed them. She said she'd be willing to explore them further which may just be her trying to make Dad happy, but if there's a chance they're actually connecting with her, I'm willing to delude myself.

Finally, I've re-immersed myself into the world of Steed and Mrs. Peel. Last year, for my birthday, my mother gave me the Complete Emma Peel Avengers set. A 17 disc treasure trove of Avengers episodes featuring my ultimate feminine ideal, Mrs. Emma Peel, played by the inimitable Diana Rigg. I've always loved the show, but I'm always reminded how great these were every time I go back to the show after a long absence. They're so witty, offbeat and damn sexy. I can see how scores of pubescent young boys' lives were forever changed by watching this show.

I've taken a particular shine to the episodes of Brian Clemens, and associate producer on the show. titles are escaping me at the moment, but there's one that takes place in a department store that I defy anyone not to enjoy on some level, and some of the last black-and-white episodes are really starting to show that quirky spy-fi look and feel that they explored further in the colour shows. You know, when I'm done posting this I wouldn't be surprised if I go back to the DVD player for one more episode before bed.

Other shows that I've been dabbling in but will save comment for now include Supernatural, Blood+, Burn Notice, Fullmetal Alchemist and I have the discs for Kolchak: The Night Stalker sitting on deck. Hopefully there'll be another post there when I get further into those shows.

Until then...


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Back Into Planetes

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A little while ago I discovered through a review over at Johnny Bacardi's blog the manga series, Planetes, by Makoto Yukimura. I was never much of a manga or anime fan, but I remember JB being fairly positive in his reaction to the book and being the trusting fellow that I am, I decided to seek out the series whenever the opportunity presented itself. That opportunity came a short while later when I ran into the second volume at my local library and devoured it in a sitting or two. I susequently tracked down the first and posted about the experience on the blog in March of '05.

Well, three-and-a-half years later, I started reading it again. I found the first issue at McNally Robinson for, like, $5 and picked it up. I'm also wanting to finally check out the anime which I have sitting around, so if I can finally finish the series (I never read the third or fourth installments, for some reason) I can get the double whammy experience. I might have to grab the remaining installments from the library again, though, since the comic budget has taken a bit of a dip in the last month.

I'll probably post a review of the whole series when I've completed it.

Anyway, just wanted to 'vocalize' that tidbit.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Haven't Posted About Sloan in a While

About a month and a half ago, one of my favourite bands, Sloan, released a new album called Parallel Play. Normally, this would be great news in the Jozic household but I found this new effort a little lackluster in early listenings, a little less cohesive than some of their earlier releases and not quite eclectic enough to attain the status of their last album, Never Hear the End of It. Not a complete throwaway of a CD, just not what I was looking for, hence no CD review or comment about it one way or another (in all fairness, I did link to it at Amazon in the sidebar).

Sometimes you don't really know what your looking for, though, and having since sat down and given the thing a proper listening to, a whole new appreciation has emerged. Songs that seemed trite now have an added depth or whimsy. Tired radio friendly licks show previously unheard layers that now seem to pop. This is by no means their best album to date, but it is far more entertaining than I first gave it credit for. Add to that the fact that I just got word that the band will be hitting town on the 22nd for a show at the University pub and you have one excited Space Monkey. Possibly a birthday treat? We'll see.

Considering the band doesn't get much attention in Canada, never mind the states, I was surprised and interested in this article on the new album courtesy of NPR. Some of what he says is misguided (Sloan has not really been a top 20 band in Canada for 10 years or more) but I can't fault him for thinking Americans are missing out on a truly great band. Give it a listen if you're musically curious.