George R.R. Martin has something to say to people who, in the hoopla surrounding the Star Wars 30th anniversary, are calling George Lucas's opus, "the best science fiction film of all time." And that something is, "Nuh-uh."
And he's right - though I disagree as to the reasons why. In my opinion, it's hard to compare Star Wars to other science fiction movies as it's essentially a mythological/fantasy story dressed up in sci-fi trappings. It's got at least as much, if not more, in common with The Lord of the Rings than with 2001.
So, what is the best science fiction film of all time? So glad you asked - it's time for another Great Big Nerd Top Five.
Honorable Mentions go to Contact, which would probably rank higher if Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey had shown even the slightest spark with one another and which has what remains, ten years later, one of the best and most stunning opening scenes in any movie I've ever seen; to The Day the Earth Stood Still, the iconic Cold War sci-fi movie; finally, to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, because it's still the best Star Trek movie, and because "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!"
5. Minority Report: This movie may age badly. But right now, it feels like the future. Other than the more out-there premise of the Precogs, everything in this movie seems totally plausible. The giant computer on which Tom Cruise conducts his searches for the not-yet-murderers identified by the Precogs seems exactly like the computer we'll all be using in thirty years. The retinal scanning technology, the intrusive personally-targeted advertising, the self-driving cars on giant super-superhighways, it all seems like what's really going to happen. Throw in some crackerjack action and chase scenes - Anderton's escape from his former colleagues, the spider-bots' search of the building where he's hiding out after his eye transplant, the flight through the mall guided by Agatha's precog abilities - and you've got a heck of a movie.
I do get tired of hearing people say, "If Spielberg had just ended it twenty minutes earlier, it would have been great." No, if Spielberg had ended it twenty minutes earlier, it would have been incomplete and entirely unsatisfying. The key mystery would go unsolved and the movie would have a downer ending just for the sake of not having a happy one.
4. Forbidden Planet: This one is Martin's choice for the Best Science Fiction Movie Ever, and I think he's not too far off. Okay, it's a little jarring after nearly-religious watchings of Airplane! and The Naked Gun as a kid to see a young Leslie Nielsen as the square-jawed hero. But the whole thing is just tremendous, and holds up amazingly well fifty years later. Robbie the Robot remains cool as hell, first of all. The special effects are dated, but not really cheezey or even unconvincing. Walter Pidgeon is just terrific as Dr. Morbius, creepy, villainous and ultimately tragic. I love that it's a sci-fi version of Shakespeare, but it has interesting and original ideas of its own, so it doesn't just play as "The Tempest...in Spaaaaaaaace!" I love the way the ship functions sort of like a spacefaring submarine - something we see far too little of in spaceship movies - cramped and unpleasant, and the reaction of the ship's crew when they encounter the first girl they've seen in nearly a year. And did I mention that Robbie the Robot is cool as hell?
3. 2001 - A Space Odyssey: One of the great things about this movie is the way it illustrates the perils of creating science fiction: the all-too-easy possibility of hopelessly dating the movie by your choices. We're well past 2001, and we have no permanent moon colony, and no manned mission to Jupiter. Nor did a self-aware (and potentially psychotic) computer go on-line on 12 January 1992 (or 1997, depending on whether you go by the book or the movie). And even had we a moon colony, it would be impossible to fly Pan-Am to get there, as it went out of business in 1991. Certainly, all of these things must have seemed eminently plausible in 1968, a year before Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. And even with its now-anachronistic elements, 2001 remains one of the greatest science fiction movies ever, without a doubt. It's mysterious and thought-provoking, and in refusing to spell out every detail (or, for that matter, any detail) for the audience, remains one of the supreme cinematic mindfucks of all time. The movie's last act is confusing enough sober; I can't imagine what it must have been like for the '60s audiences who went to see it stoned or tripping or both. I also think its reputation for being slow and ponderous is somewhat ill-deserved. The entire sequence wherein Dave Bowman attempts to rescue Frank Poole after HAL goes nuts and then figure out how to get back aboard the ship is suspenseful and exciting. The following scene, the famous scene of Dave dismantling HAL, is both moving and deeply disturbing.
Also, it has ape-men beating the crap out of each other, which is always a good thing.
2. (tie)Alien/Aliens: Extra-terrestrial life has been a key component of science fiction since Giovanni Schiaparelli's observations of the Martian "canals" and H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. The question of "What else is out there?" has always been a compelling one. Of course, as often as not, the answer science fiction writers and filmmakers have come up with is, "Something nasty." The best cinematic take on this is the first two movies in the Alien series. "In space," the first film's tagline reminds us, "no one can hear you scream." Damn, that's a great line. The first movie turns science fiction convention on its ear in many ways. Rather than the heroic Flash Gordon or Captain Kirk type we're used to, the main characters of the film are basically space truckers. Perhaps space merchant marines, but the point remains the same - these aren't heroes, they're just blue-collar folks doing what they think is a routine job. When they encounter alien life, it isn't technologically or intellectually superior. It's a great big space insect, killing them off one by one for no other reason than that's what it does, without remorse or conscience. Alien presents the same primal, existential dread we feel when we watch Jaws, or hear on the news about someone being attacked and killed by a mountain lion or a bear. It's about fear of the unknown, and fear of that with which we cannot reason. The sequel ups the ante. Here, the heroes face the unknown without a trace of trepidation, but instead with swaggering bravado, with no better result. The only way the humans can relate to the aliens is on primal terms - life and death, the need to survive and to perpetuate the species. It's deep and heady stuff for a movie filled wall-to-wall with machine-guns and explosions.
1. Blade Runner: "What else is out there?" is a question unique to science fiction. By contrast, "What does it mean to be human?" is sort of the basic question of all narrative, be it cinematic or literary, and indeed of essentially all artistic endeavors. However, it is a question that science fiction is particularly well-equipped to deal with on fairly direct terms. With Blade Runner, Ridley Scott tackles this bull directly by the horns. The title of the Philip K. Dick novel upon which it is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is far more evocative than the movie's fairly generic title, but probably doesn't really fit on a theater marquee. Fortunately, the title is one of the few places where Scott doesn't match or even outdo Dick (I know, saying a movie adaptation might in some ways be superior to a Philip Dick novel is nerd heresy; so be it). With the villains, who are most certainly robots, acting more human than the hero, who is ostensibly human, one can't help but wonder about the definition of humanity. The "sci-fi-meets-film-noir" atmosphere is nailed perfectly, with or without the voiceover narration. Like Minority Report, Blade Runner feels quite plausible in the little details. "Cityspeak," the mashup language of English, Spanish, Japanese and others that Gaff speaks, the strong influence of Asian culture, the enormous advertising billboards (including one, once again, for Pan-Am), the state of decay and dystopia in the city...it all feels real. And, as with the dismantling of HAL in 2001, Roy Batty's death is moving and disturbing. As near to perfect as any science fiction film has ever come.
Of course, there are dozens of great science fiction movies, and it was a real effort to whittle the list of ones I love down to five plus a few extras. I could go on at great length about many more - but I think it's worth noting that all of the movies I've named - even Star Trek II - are at least as much about ideas as they are about action and cool special effects. Great science fiction doesn't always need special effects - Primer, the 2004 ultra-low-budget time-travel mindbender is Exhibit A. None of the movies I've listed are about kung-fu and cool sunglasses, or Will Smith cracking wise. The one of the great things about science fiction literature is that it is more often than not about ideas and big themes. The movies listed here prove that science fiction cinema can be the same thing, if only the filmmakers are willing to try.
George R.R. Martin has something to say to people who, in the hoopla surrounding the Star Wars 30th anniversary, are calling George Lucas's opus, "the best science fiction film of all time." And that something is, "Nuh-uh."
Another comics meme, once again via Chris's Invincible Super-Blog.
And as far as I know, I'm now done posting creepy and/or disgusting images for the day.
Timestamp: 5/30/2007 09:38:00 AM
Friends, the moment I've dreamed of has finally occurred. "A Great Big Nerd" has become the #1 hit on a Google search. According to my Sitemeter, not just one but TWO people were directed to my nerdy little corner of the Internets recently - more precisely, to my foray into commentary on the Mary Jane Statue idiocy - when they Googled...
"Lois Lane's Boobs"
Man, that makes me proud. My site is the first thing horny fanboys see when they're searching for naked pictures of Superman's main squeeze.
If I know anything about blogging, I know that the first rule is: give the people what they want. So, all you fanboys out there searching for some Lois Lane-oriented wank material, here ya go:
As we were driving through the Bonneville Salt Flats a couple of weeks ago, I was pondering how it looked like an alien landscape, and what a great setting it would be for a science-fiction movie. Today we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End and, lo and behold, Captain Jack Sparrow's own private hell is the Bonneville Salt Flats. Utah as a land of eternal torment and punishment - I don't think that's too far off. It's not actually hell, of course - as Pirates fans will recall, at the end of Dead Man's Chest, Jack was being taken to Davy Jones's Locker. I find an amusing irony in Utah, quite thoroughly land-locked, being used as the final resting place of doomed sailors.
A lot of critics are blasting Pirates 3 for the same reason they did Pirates 2 - it's too complex, they whine, there's too many characters and too much going on. As if complexity in narrative is a bad thing. If you can follow Lost or Heroes, you shouldn't have much trouble with this. I mean, it's not exactly Finnegans Wake we're talking about here. Despite the critics' whining, the plot and characters can really be summed up in a nutshell - Johnny Depp is gay pirate, Orlando Bloom is just a few clicks shy of having all the personality of a Ken doll, there's a villain in a powdered wig and a villain who looks like the Admiral's Combination Platter at Red Lobster with a seriously creepy blowhole on the side of his face, Chow Yun Fat and Geoffrey Rush take turns chewing the scenery, and all sixty pounds of Keira Knightley are given the utterly bizarre opportunity to deliver what is perhaps the least rousing St. Crispian's Day speech in the history of cinema. There's swordfights and raking broadsides and explosions and the Asshole Math Professor from Good Will Hunting dressed in a costume made of aquarium decorations and the long-awaited cameo by the corpse of Keith Richards and everybody double-crosses everybody else at least once.
Okay, I'll admit it's a little busy. It does suffer a bit from Powdered Wig Syndrome, wherein the viewer's ability to keep the characters straight is inversely proportional to the number of characters in cravats and powdered wigs. But really, it's not nearly as complicated as many critics are making it sound. It's a little overlong - just like its predecessor, it could easily have been trimmed by a good half-hour - but that's not the same thing as being too complicated. Critics complain endlessly about summer blockbusters that have no plot, and then when they're presented with one that does, it's too complicated.
I can't say this movie blew me away, and the original Pirates is still far-and-away the best of the lot, but there's a lot to like here. There's a scene that shows us what Being John Malkovich would have looked like if it were a pirate movie, first off. And while there's plenty of action, it's not an overload and it's rarely the same old predictable stuff - one of the major early set-pieces involves the characters' attempt to capsize a ship they're on.
And in the end, the real question is this - how can you possibly hate a movie that features Keith Richards as a guitar-playing pirate?
Some of you may have noticed that I've changed my name. Where once I was "Hulkster," now I am "Doola." I know this is jarring to many of you, who have known me for years as the Hulkster - and don't get me wrong, I love you all, and still think of you as all the li'l Hulkamaniacs out there, sayin' their prayers and takin' their vitamins - but the fact is, I haven't really gone by the "CredibleHulk" moniker online in many years now, and haven't even had the crediblehulk Yahoo address for even longer than that. So it was time for a change.
As to the change, "What's a Doola?" you may ask, and you'd be quite right to do so. So let's see...
Main Entry: dou·la
Etymology: Modern Greek, female helper, maidservant, from Greek doulE female slave
: a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth
Well, that's not me, and I'm Doola, not Doula. So...
It's the summer of 2000, and I've just begun my career as a Papa John's pizza slinger. I'm wearing an old pair of white Chuck Taylors as my work shoes, with bright green shoelaces.
One of my new co-workers needs to get my attention, but he doesn't yet know my name. He knows me as "the new guy with the green shoelaces," so he calls out, "Hey, you, Shoelace!" Assistant Manager Toph finds this hilarious and picks up on it. Soon, to everyone in the store, I'm "Shoelace." Toph, who is world renowned for being loud and weird, starts shouting out, "Shoelace!" every time I depart on a delivery or return from one. In his loudness and weirdness, he continues shouting it, louder and faster, until after a couple of months, "Shoelace!" has become "Doola!"
Later, Toph and fellow co-worker/Toph's girlfriend Amber would become roommates and friends, and the name stuck - to the point that basically everyone I know through Toph and Amber knows me pretty much only as Doola. To the point that, on the website for Toph and Amber's upcoming wedding, I am listed as "Best Man: Doola Stokes."
And there you have it. I am Doola, hear me roar.
A month ago, I turned 30. Today is another 30th birthday. On May 25, 1977, Star Wars (just plain Star Wars, as it was known at the time, no Episode IV: A New Hope) was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. For a certain generation (older than mine), being in line at what was then Mann's Chinese Theatre on that day is a sort of Nerd Woodstock - "Dorkstock," if you will: a huge event, a cultural milestone, and far more people claim to have been there than actually were. Regardless of who was there and who wasn't, it is a fact that Star Wars went on to become a fairly popular movie, selling a few tickets and all but inventing the modern concept of movie merchandising. The Shrek the Third "collector's item" glasses at McDonald's? The unholy gobs of Spider-Man 3 toys and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End t-shirts and beach towels taking up every inch of floor space at your local Target store? All a direct result of Star Wars.
How popular was Star Wars? Put it this way: the poster pictured here (a true collector's item, by the way, highly sought after and prized by Star Wars nuts) was issued to theaters that were still showing the movie on May 25, 1978. Its first run lasted an entire year in some places. That's just stunning. Admittedly, in the era of cable TV and home video, things are different, but still...can you imagine Titanic or even the Lord of the Rings movies running for a year? Can you imagine what those theaters' prints of the movie must have looked like after a year? Yeesh.
Obviously, I wasn't old enough to see it in its first run, even as long as it was. But in 1982, the original was re-released in anticipation of the following year's Return of the Jedi. My Dad took me and my best friend Jonathan to see it. It's my earliest clear memory of going to the movies, and it's fair to say that it pretty much set the tone for all of my favorite bits of pop culture. For many years, I watched the entire trilogy on video at least once a month, if not more. In the mid-'90s, Lucas released a re-mastered box set of all three movies. When I bought it and brought it home, my Mom was confused about why I was wasting my money. I already had all three movies on video, why would I need to buy a new set? Well, first off, my copies of Empire and Jedi had been taped off of HBO in 1985, and the first three minutes of Jedi had been cut off. So the video quality was much higher, which was important. The boxes had a little "THX" logo on 'em and everything. I tried to explain, but I don't think she understood. I never told her that a year later, working at Ballbuster Video, I discovered that there was a letterboxed set, and bought that one, too. At least I got an employee discount on that one...
I bought yet another trilogy box set a couple of years later when the "Special Editions" were released on VHS (after seeing all three movies in the theater at least twice), and still another when they were released on DVD. That makes...five...complete sets of the Star Wars trilogy I've owned. My nerdiness doesn't usually embarrass me, but Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, that's a lot of dough I've forked over to George Lucas over the years. I guess I should consider myself fortunate that I never got into laserdisc before the format died, or that would be a sixth. I guess it is six if you include the complete set of prequel trilogy DVDs. Add to that the books (mercifully, only a very few of the hundreds that have been published), the toys (some of which are currently proudly on display in the bedroom that I, a grown-up 30-year-old man, share with my fiancee), the comics (there are no words for how excited I was when I discovered all six issues of the original Marvel Comics movie adaptation in the quarter bin at my favorite comic book store in Ft. Collins one snowy afternoon), the role-playing games (four different editions to date and, God help me, eagerly anticipating the forthcoming fifth), the t-shirts, and that's a good, healthy crop of wallet lettuce I've spent on Star Wars over the years, and I'm not sure but I think I may at one point have agreed to give George Lucas my first-born son...
So what's the appeal? Why am I not just not alone but one of hundreds, thousands of fervent Star Wars fans out there? Why does this one movie inspire such devotion and love to the point that my own fandom is, in fact, pretty darn tame by comparison? Hell, I don't know. I could go on at great length about the connection between Luke Skywalker and Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces and the primal power of myth (and truly, the only other piece of modern popular fiction I can think of that is also a nearly-perfect distillation of Campbell's ideas is the also-phenomenally-popular Harry Potter series and to a lesser degree, The Lord of the Rings), but you probably don't care. The truth is, I don't really know why Star Wars has endured and only very briefly flagged in popularity over the last 30 years.
It will have to suffice to say that Star Wars has meant a lot to me, that, much like I said of The Prydain Chronicles in my previous post, it has been cinematic comfort food full of old friends, that it never fails to thrill me when Luke turns off his targeting computer and trusts to the Force to destroy the Death Star or when Darth Vader toys with Luke during their duel in Cloud City, leading up to the ultimate "Who's your Daddy?" taunt, that I think it's kinda cool in an exceptionally nerdy way that I can listen to a Star Wars soundtrack album and identify precisely what would be happening on-screen from just a few seconds' worth of music, that working "That's no moon, that's a space station!" into everyday conversation makes me happy, that naming a real child "Anakin" is just cruel, naming a child "Luke" is played-out, but that maybe naming a child "Chewbacca" could work, that despite the shittiness of Jake Lloyd and Jar-Jar Binks and the incredible feat of making Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman look like terrible actors, I absolutely love Star Wars and I always will.
And yes, goddamnit, Han shot first...but does it really matter all that much?
Author Lloyd Alexander died at his home in Pennsylvania on May 17. The Washington Post offers a lovely obituary here.
When I was eight years old, Disney released The Black Cauldron. At the time, I liked it well enough, but a fairly recent viewing has revealed it to be, well, not very good. A year or so later, my brother received The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander for his birthday. The cover featured a character that was unmistakably the Horned King, the villain of the Disney film. I was curious, wondering if maybe this was something akin to the Star Wars and Disney "illustrated storybooks" with which I had learned to read, but didn't think much about it. As I learned later, Disney's Black Cauldron was a thoroughly botched adaptation of bits and pieces from several of Alexander's books.
A couple of years later, when I was in fifth grade, I was looking for something to read and borrowed The Book of Three. It was (and remains) one of the greatest reading experiences of my life. I'd read The Hobbit, had a go at The Lord of the Rings and found it far too dense for my ten-year-old brain. The Book of Three was perfect - full of adventure, magic, noble heroes and despicable villains, and everything else that makes a fantasy story great. After that, I voraciously read The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King, all of which came from the library. When I was done, I went right back and started at the beginning of The Book of Three again. Alexander's Prydain Chronicles were reliable standbys. I read the whole series through at least once a year. Taran, Eilonwy, Fflewdur Fflam, Prince Gwydion and Doli were good friends, and their adventures were the literary equivalent of comfort food. Eventually, my reading level caught up to The Lord of the Rings, and I loved Middle-Earth and Frodo and Aragorn with a great, nerdy fervor, but nothing ever displaced Prydain as my favorite fantasy world.
Alexander is often cited alongside Terry Brooks by fantasy readers on lists of early and blatant imitators of Tolkien. My memories of The Sword of Shanarra are dim, but I can't really defend Brooks. I will say that I find the accusation against Alexander to be unfair. First off, while Tolkien was writing for a more mature audience, Alexander was aiming squarely at children with his work. Secondly, it should be clear that it is not so much that Alexander was imitating (or "ripping off" if you're inclined to less kind terminology) the great Professor Tolkien as that both were dipping from the same well. Just as Tolkien was inspired by ancient Norse mythology in his work, so too did Alexander take inspiration from the Mabinogion and Welsh mythology. To say that Alexander was imitating Tolkien misses the point that both took inspiration from Beowulf.
When I first joined the Science Fiction Book Club in junior high, one of the "Six Books for $1" I chose was their very nice omnibus edition of The Prydain Chronicles. All five books, plus the short story collection The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydain, all in one handy package - can't beat that. Don't have to check them out from the library all the time, right? Neil Gaiman occasionally talks about the copies of Good Omens (another of my 6-for-$1 books) he sees at signings which are "held together with tape and dried soup." That's a good description of my copy of The Prydain Chronicles, too. It still sits on my bookshelf, and if I don't pull it down once every year to read it cover-to-cover anymore, it's only because I know it by heart.
So long, Lloyd. Thanks for the memories.
Some months ago, we made friends with the eponymous Girl and Boy of a A Girl and a Boy, Leah and Simon. Last night at the Pub, they proposed the idea of participating in one of San Francisco's many annual expressions of public madness and weirditude, Bay to Breakers. Ostensibly a footrace, Bay to Breakers is mostly an excuse for San Frantasticans to dress in silly costumes, parade through the City and drink heavily (as if they need one). So we were BARTing across the Bay bright and early, and met up with Leah and Simon for a day of doing stuff. I didn't get all the pictures I wanted to get, but I got some good ones.
And a word to all you idiot frat boys out there preparing for Halloween and other costumey-type events: The "Dick in a Box" costume is already completely played out. The first one we saw today was funny. The second, less so. The hundredth one we saw was not only not funny but actively annoying.
As themed group costumes go, it is an undeniable fact that public costumed events that there will be a Crowd of Elvi. Here we see a Stoopfull of Elvi dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock.
Also, there will be plenty of guys who think it's really clever to dress in womens' clothing, especially schoolgirl uniforms.
Here, the entire crowd began spontaneously singing along to the Whitesnake classic, "Here I Go Again", which was just fucking awesome.
There was a Guinness amongst this crew of people in beer bottle outfits, and the first time I saw her, she was drinking an MGD. Later, I saw her again and she was drinking a Guinness. I'm not sure whether a Guinness drinking inferior and shitty beer or Recursive Guinness was more disturbing...
Here's one for any fans of Venture Brothers who may be reading...
And here's one for fans of Arrested Development.
The crowd got pretty intense at times, and the drinking was quite heavy, and basically the whole city turned out to watch.
And of course, as B2B is famous for, there was plenty of nudity, so that's alright.
Timestamp: 5/20/2007 10:46:00 PM
I try not to be a petty or small person. I try to avoid schadenfreude - taking joy in the miseries of others - as a general rule.
But upon hearing of the death of Moral Majority founder, pseudo-Christian blowhard and all-around general purpose asshole Jerry Falwell, the first thing that popped into my head was that ballpark classic tune...
Na na...na na na...
Seriously, I know the guy had friends and family who are grieving right now, and "Send not for whom the bell tolls..." and all that jazz. But I gotta say it - Jerry, on behalf of that segment of the population, far more substantial than you ever could wrap your tiny little mind around, who truly believe in equality, in justice for all, in the basic dignity of all human beings regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion, in the sound philosophy of separation of church and state, in the First Amendment: Jerry, you won't be missed.
Falwell believed he would go to Heaven when he died. Many people are making cracks right now about how surprised he must be to find himself in Hell. I believe in neither Heaven nor Hell, so I can't go there. As an agnostic-type-person (verging on atheism), I believe that we must live our lives and create our social constructs based not on nebulous concepts of future reward or punishment, but on making the best of the real world in which we all live. To that end, I'm...well, I was going to say "pleased," but that's not right, so instead I'll say I'm not at all saddened by the news that there's one less arrogant, small-minded, judgmental bigot in the world today. I want to be "involved in mankind" and to feel that "each man's death diminishes me," but in this case, I just can't. I can't feel diminished by the passing of someone who blamed feminists, gay rights activists and the ACLU for 9/11. I can't mourn someone who wanted to run a modern society based on Bronze Age mythology. I can't feel that we've lost anything substantial in losing someone who saw "gay agenda" conspiracies behind everything that didn't conform to his narrow worldview, even bizzarre acid-trip children's television. In short, though I feel there is great truth and power in John Donne's words, I also believe that a man's passing diminishes mankind only by as much as he added while living - and Falwell added very little, indeed.
Of course, the problem with arrogant, small-minded, judgmental bigots is that they're sort of like the heads of the Hydra. It seems that every time one is lost, two more spring up to take its place. It's not as though Falwell had a monopoly on pseudo-Christian-wackjob nuttiness, not when there's still James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps and plenty of others out there using the Bible to justify their prejudice and hatred. Even so, another song is also running through my head at the moment...
Ding, dong, the witch is dead!
Which old witch? The wicked witch!
Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead!
Timestamp: 5/15/2007 01:21:00 PM
I figured the whole "Appalling Mary Jane Maquette" thing would be the usual over-in-a-day tempest in a teacup of the comics blogging world. But Dirk Deppey at Journalista has weighed in, and he's supremely annoying about the whole thing.
He begins by using what I call the Limbaugh Technique: writing off the group you are arguing against as crackpots and wackos rather than dealing with their arguments in any substantive way. He describes the controversy as "the fangirls freaking out" and characterizes the response as "reactionary herdthink." I'm a little astounded he was able to restrain himself from actually using the term "Feminazi" anywhere in there. The effect is the same, though - he lumps everyone who is offended by the statue into a hivemind category, offended not because the piece can easily be seen as offensive but because overreacting with "an inflated sense of entitlement" is just what "fangirls" do. I can say I find the thing to be pretty offensive, and I'm either not a fangirl, or I'm an exceptionally broad-shouldered, hairy-faced, deep-voiced fangirl with a seriously misshapen vagina. Nope, turns out that you can be offended by garbage even if you're male. What people like Deppey (and Limbaugh) don't seem to understand is that you can be a feminist - a believer in complete equality of the sexes - and not be female. There is also a big, big difference between "this statue is sexist and offensive" and the admittedly somewhat bizarre efforts of "Project Girl Wonder," but Deppey makes no distinction. To him, anyone who has anything to say with gender issues in superhero comics is just a crackpot.
He says there's nothing wrong with cheesecake - and I'm in complete agreement. I'm a big fan and admirer of female flesh. Most straight men are. But there's a difference between the "Sports Illustrated" Swimsuit issue or "Maxim" and the Mary Jane statue. The lad mags are in their niche, and marketing directly to men. Sure, they're perfectly happy if a woman decides to pick up an issue, but they have no particular interest in acquiring new female readers. The Big Two comics publishers, on the other hand, have an enormous interest in acquiring new female readers. DC and Marvel would love nothing more than for all those "teenage girls sitting in bookstore aisles reading shoujo manga" to cross that aisle and pick up some American comics, too. They've said as much, and DC is in the midst of launching a new imprint, Minx, to target those shoujo readers. What neither seems to realize is that attracting female readers is a lot easier if those females aren't bombarded with blatant sexism every time they open a comic.
Deppey says the solution is for women to "make the fucking comics," which also isn't really a bad point. African-American life was rarely depicted with any accuracy or honesty in the cinema until Melvin van Peebles came along to inspire a whole generation of black filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton. Likewise, women won't really get a fair shake in comics, superhero or otherwise, unless women are making comics. The thing is, the small and independent publishers are a lot more open to women. There's a fair number of women represented in the Flight anthologies, for example. But the list of women working for Marvel and/or DC pretty much begins and ends with Gail Simone. Deppey lays this charge - "make the fucking comics" - at the feet of "fangirls" as a better alternative to "whin[ing]" and "demand[ing] that people do what you want them to do," and by implication absolves Marvel and DC of any responsibility for the matter. But the fact is, they do have to be active participants in the process if women are going to "make the fucking comics." If they really want girls to read their comics in any substantial numbers, Marvel has to shed its boys-club "No Gurlz Allowed" mentality. If DC's Minx line is going to succeed, they need to support it, promote it, and actively try to make it succeed, not just throw it out there and let it sink or swim the way they did fifteen years ago with the Milestone line. When it comes to the Big Two, women can't "make the fucking comics" unless they are given opportunities to do so, and that can't happen as long as Quesada, DiDio, Levitz and Buckley are climbing into the treehouse, putting on their newspaper hats and calling to order meetings of the G.R.O.S.S. Club.
He also misses the point, as so many do, that what worked in Japan (either in the '70s or today) isn't automatically a solution for the problems in the American comics industry. The Japanese manga industry is interesting, and there are probably a lot of things American publishers can learn by studying it. But "women stormed the Manga industry in the early 1970s" has no real relevance to the rampant sexism at Marvel and DC in 2007.
Deppey concludes by comparing "fangirls" to the John Byrne Forum, and that's just low, man. I propose a comics-blogging version of the Godwin's Law principle to be applied forthwith: the first side in any comics-related argument to compare the other to the John Byrne Forum automatically loses.
Timestamp: 5/14/2007 09:25:00 AM
When people ask what I do, I tell them I'm a student. The invariable question after that is, "What's your major?" I say, "Art." The invariable question after that is, "What will you do with an art degree?" The sarcastic-but-true answer is my previous answer repeated: "Art." If I get my way, what will I do with an art degree? I want to do what Craig Thompson does. I've heaped praise upon Blankets before, and his travel journal/sketchbook/comic Carnet de Voyage was the major inspiration for my own "wildly popular" China journal/sketchbook/comic.
I think it's just the coolest fucking thing ever that Thompson actually makes books. He's not doing monthly magazines like most comics artists - he's doing books. Big, blocky things with spines and extended page counts, y'know? Call them "graphic novels" if you must. I call them comic books. He is not a slave to the demanding structure of a serialized story. Nor is he a navel-gazer. Blankets is autobiographical, but it's a story, one with a beginning, middle and end, complex themes and symbology, the whole nine yards, not the shambling, self-absorbed, "I'm poor, I have lots of weird friends, isn't my life so interesting" bullshit that so many "alternative" comics artists put out there.
I'm not saying that Thompson is the greatest and all others suck. There's plenty of autobiography that's really well-done - Raina Telgemeier's thoroughly charming Smile is one of my very favorite webcomics, for example. What I'm trying to get at is that I admire Thompson's ambition. He's dedicated to the idea of using comics to tell long and complex stories. He's hard at work on his next book, Habibi, and says that he'll have it ready for a 2009 release if he works on it every day. If you click that link, you'll see that the art is characteristically gorgeous. I think it's a safe bet that the final product will be well worth the wait.
Timestamp: 5/13/2007 10:50:00 PM
I should have known right from the start. For God's sake, the movie's poster features Spider-man dressed all in black, crying in the rain. The only way Spidey could be more emo is if he were listening to Death Cab while crying in the rain. Okay, so he's in a full facemask, so you can't really tell if he's crying, but he cries something like seventeen times in this movie, so it's a safe bet that he is. Ultimately, I'm not really disappointed in Spider-man 3. It wasn't good. It had good parts, but it wasn't good. But really, it was about what I expected. It was pretty dumb and thoroughly silly. Some cool fight scenes, some good special effects, far too much stuff crammed into it, and a story that didn't make a lick of sense.
So Spider-man starts wearing a black suit which boosts his power because it's actually an alien that came to Earth in a meteor that crashes in Central Park not twenty feet from Spidey, but he doesn't notice it since he's too busy making out with Mary Jane in a giant web, and hitches a ride on his scooter and hangs out in his apartment until a dramatically appropriate moment and then decides to become his costume. Spidey's new black suit makes him evil and aggressive and stuff, and we know this because Peter Parker starts wearing shaggy emo-hair. This is in the grand tradition of the "Star Trek" Mirror Universe, but it would be perhaps just a bit too implausible for Evil Peter to start rocking the Evil Spock Goatee. So emo-hair it is. And when Evil Peter Parker is out on the town, watch out, because Evil Peter Parker saw Saturday Night Fever four times, and Staying Alive twice, and he knows all of Travolta's moves. Evil Peter shows off his dance moves while on a date with Gwen Stacy, who is in this movie for no particular reason. Spidey, ever the smooth pimp, for no discernable reason lets Gwen french kiss him while Mary Jane, the women to whom he is planning to propose marriage in the very next scene, is standing ten feet away. Good thinking, Web-head. Peter says a bunch of dickish things to MJ and Aunt May pops up every once in a while to offer sage advice. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn, who you will recall has sworn to destroy Spider-man, actually gets Hollywood-style amnesia from a bump on the noggin and becomes Peter's friend again and spends a great deal of screen time grinning like a goofball. Also meanwhile, Peter has a professional rival who wants his job at the Daily Bugle, but Evil (emo-hair) Peter points out that he totally faked his photos and humiliates him in front of like, everybody, and then the rival just happens to be standing around nearby when Spidey decides to rid himself of the alien symbiote/evil costume thingy, which he then just sorta drops like it was a cigarette butt. Guess who's there to pick it up. Also also meanwhile, classic Spider-man foe Sandman runs around and does some stuff for some reason. And then everybody fights.
It's not a terrible movie. Sizeable chunks of it are quite entertaining. The FX guys are getting better and better at creating footage of Spider-man swinging around and fighting evil villains. The fight between Spidey and Sandman in Manhattan's apparently vast and cavernous subway tunnels is great, as is the initial fight between an out-of-costume Peter and Harry in his "New Goblin" guise. The climactic battle between, well, everybody, is well-staged, though I didn't really understand why Sandman turned into the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. The obligatory Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell cameos are both well-done and quite amusing. Nice to see Stan get to use one of his trademark phrases - though how they're going to make it make sense for him to say, "Excelsior!" in the inevitable Spider-man 4 is beyond me.
And because this movie has already made all the money there is, Spidey 4 is indeed inevitable. I just don't know what they can possibly do with it. They tried to cram far too much into this one.
It's funny - Venom is far from my favorite of Spidey's colorful villains. In fact, I think he's a pretty dull character, overall. But the Eddie Brock/Venom stuff is what works best here. I think the movie would have been far better overall if they hadn't tried to include the Sandman stuff. Complete the "Harry hates Spider-man" storyline they've been building since the first movie, sure. Give Venom more to do and more screen time, great. That's a pretty solid movie there. But cramming an extra villain in just made the whole thing too absurd.
I think my favorite part of the movie, though, is actually from the "Sandman origin story" scene, just because it really captures the flavor of the original '60s Marvel Comics. I loved it - as Flint Marko flees the police, he climbs a chain link fence with a sign on it that reads: "Keep Out: Particle Physics Testing Area." Lovely - just as though it came from the mind of Stan Lee via the pen of Steve Ditko. If only the rest of the movie could have had the same sense of humor.
Timestamp: 5/13/2007 01:07:00 AM
In general, I object to the common stereotype of the average comics reader as a parents'-basement-dwelling, socially inept loser who can't get a date, let alone get laid. It's not really fair, and as often as not holds no truth. Okay, I'll admit I've met some nerds who make Andy Stitzer look like a manslut. Still, for every Catpiss Man out there, there's probably five or ten normal, socially well-adjusted folks who have probably even touched a real live boob before. But the mainstream comics publishers certainly aren't doing themselves or their readers any favors in terms of the image they present to the public by greenlighting merchandise like this.
That's Mary Jane washing Peter Parker's Spider-man costume there, as depicted in a maquette created and sold by Sideshow Collectibles. Yes, Mary Jane apparently rolls June Cleaver-style, doing housework in a pearl necklace. Yes, she arches her back like a Playboy model while she's doing laundry. Yes, she wears low-rise jeans to show off her thong and her most cleavage-baring top while she's doing laundry.
I'm not opposed to cheesecake by any means. But this is just vile. I don't suppose it's all that bad in and of itself, but it's emblematic of the general treatment of women in mainstream (read: superhero) comics. A statue of Mary Jane looking sexy? Okay, I don't see why not. A statue in which one of comics' most prominent female characters is not only overtly sexually objectified, but also depicted doing the hero's goddamn laundry? This is a joke, right?
Geek culture has a definite problem with the way it depicts women. Comics artists draw breasts with compasses and often have very little idea how a woman is actually put together. Comics writers (even the most popular and acclaimed writers in the biz) write things like this. Popular video games (e.g. the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda series) revolve around "rescuing the princess." Genre TV shows struggle when they feature an intelligent and capable female lead character, then take off when the focus of the show switches to the chick with big boobs in a spandex unitard.
Maybe my objection to the stereotype gives your average nerd too much credit. After all, the Mary Jane maquette is sold out. The "comments" section of Sideshow's website is filled with slack-jawed morons saying, "WOW!!! Hot stuff!!! Pink G-string!!!" and "Perhaps the exclusive version could be topless." Maybe comics fanboys really do deserve their reputation as losers who can't relate to women on a real, human level. Maybe the idea that "comics aren't for girls" persists solely because the vast majority of potential comics-reading girls are scared off by shit like this whenever they get within a mile of a comic book store. There's nothing inherent about the superhero genre that makes it unsuitable for girls, but there's a heck of a lot of people in the comics (and comics merchandising) industry who only want to play to the "core" male audience and don't care if they frighten and/or disgust every bearer of a double X chromosome who encounters their work.
And for God's sake, fanboys (and for your own sake, and the sake of your poor, neglected penis), if by some miracle you actually get a real live girl to come over to your house, put your creepy, pervy Mary Jane statue in the deepest, darkest corner of your closet alongside your three-foot-high stack of porn mags before she arrives.
Better, uh, put this one back there, too. And this one. And this one, too. Also, this one. Look, if you actually get a date, you should meet her at the restaurant and if things go well, go back to her place instead of yours, okay?
Timestamp: 5/11/2007 04:17:00 PM
Inspired by Todd's example (and, like him, by my own disappointment at not being tagged), I'm tagging my own damn self and doing the Restaurant Meme. Because I like eating, and I like telling people where to eat.
So...here's The List So Far:
Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Todd (Louisville, Kentucky, United States)
Doola (Denver, Colorado, USA)
And here's my favorite places to eat:
1. The Cherry Cricket
A fairly wretched place called CityGrille, on Colfax just a block from the Capitol, trumpets a many-years-old award from the Rocky Mountain News, claiming "The Best Burger in Denver." This is very, very far from the truth. Anyone who tells you that CityGrille is the place to go in the Mile High City for burgers should be beaten with a sock full of quarters. Real burger aficionados know that the Cherry Cricket, in the snooty Cherry Creek North neighborhood but without any of the snooty Cherry Creek North pretension, is the place to go for killer burgers. You order the basic Cricket Burger, then choose from a long-as-your-arm list of cheeses and condiments to build your own perfect burger. And the cooks actually know the difference between medium and well-done, which is always appreciated. Good selection of beers, too, because if you're not drinking a beer with your burger, what's the point?
2. Little India
The best Indian food you're going to find in Denver, bar none. Absolutely perfect chicken tikka masala, fabulously fiery vindaloo, spicy (but not too spicy) vegetable curries, terrific samosas, great naan. I've never been let down by anything I've tried there.
3. The Denver ChopHouse
Okay, this one's a bit of a sentimental favorite, but there's a reason I took Emily there for the Big Night. A great wine list, for starters. Great steaks - and, as with the Cherry Cricket, cooks who really understand what I mean when I say I want my steak medium-rare. Perfect for as casual or as dressy as you care to be. Not much on vegetarian fare, but also fine for folks (like Emily) who aren't fans of red meat. Plenty of seafood on the menu, including some really terrific crabcakes.
4. Two-Fisted Mario's
I'm in complete agreement with Todd that no list of a city's best/favorite restaurants can be complete without mentioning where to get the best pizza. I'm in complete disagreement with Todd that that deep-dish Chicago-style casserole is the pinnacle of the pizza-maker's art. Mario's gives you as good a thin-crust pie as you're likely to find outside of New York. If you like a thicker crust, Beau Jo's, billing itself as "Colorado Style Pizza," is pretty damn good.
5. U.S. Thai
Emily moved here from the East Bay, where there's an embarrassment of riches as far as Thai food is concerned. We've searched long and hard for a really great Thai place here in Denver, and a month or so ago, we finally found it. Their spring rolls weren't great, but everything else we had was. Perfectly spiced noodle dishes and curries, with a great balance of vegetables and meat. The service was a little slow, but the food was worth the wait.
I know I'm supposed to tag five people but...well...I don't really know five people. So I'm tagging QIR (if she's got the time) and Leah (and Simon, too, if they feel like it), who are East Bay folks, and I want to hear what they have to say.
The title of this post has nothing in particular to do with anything, by the way. But if you're looking for good donuts in Denver, LaMar's is the place to go.
It was the summer of 1990. I was at "camp," which wasn't Camp Winnepesaukah or some other thing with a made-up vaguely Indian-sounding name where you went to the mountains to paddle canoes and make hideously ugly hand-tooled leather wallets for two weeks. It was the sort of thing where GATE-type kids like me went to the University of Northern Colorado dorms and played improv games and made hideously ugly Hypercard stacks for two weeks. The great thing about this camp is that it was just swimming in nerds. Nerds just like me.
One of these nerds had with him the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game. I had a set just like it at home, but I had never found enough people to play with me to make the game any good. I also had a Star Wars role-playing game with which I'd encountered the same difficulty. I'd bugged my brother enough to let me play some Middle-Earth Role Playing with him and his friends previously, but like any group of junior high kids saddled with an annoying younger brother, they got rid of me as quickly as possible. But here was a fellow nerd, with a game I desperately wanted to play, actually asking me to join his group. I readily agreed, and during that first session, I even got to play Wolverine. What nerdy seventh-grader wouldn't want to be Wolverine? For several evenings over the next two weeks in a quiet-study room at James A. Michener Library, Wolverine, Spider-man, Captain America and the Silver Surfer battled the nefarious machinations of Dr. Doom and his minions. Later on, one of the counselors also got a Star Frontiers campaign going. I was in nerd heaven.
The next year, I brought my Star Wars game along when I went to camp, and led a group of heroic Rebel soldiers in a campaign to rescue an important scientist (whose name, in a titanic feat of uncreativity, turned out to be "Dr. Pepper") from the clutches of the evil Empire. I was hooked. I played a ton of the late, lamented West End Games D6 Star Wars all through junior high and had a blast doing it, even though several of my friends tried way, way too hard to be Luke Skywalker (giving themselves names like "Jeff Windrider"), no matter how I tried to dissuade them from it.
In high school, I got into theater and forensics and had to seriously devote myself to shirking my homework, so I didn't have much time for gaming. A few years later, I got back into it in a big way. One of my roommates had a huge stack of old Iron Crown Middle-Earth RPG books, just like the ones my brother and his friends had used years before. We got a game going, and it turned out to be every bit as much fun as I remembered it being.
I think it is nothing less than a tragedy that adults are expected to suppress their imaginations and never venture into the realm of make-believe. When we're kids, we spend a tremendous portion of our time in fantasy worlds. Playground jungle gyms become castles to be defended or besieged. Swings become jet fighters or spaceships. Anything is possible as a child - you can go around telling people that you're Batman or a knight or a cowboy or anything else and no one bats an eye. Grownups are supposed to be "above" that. But why?
I'll readily admit, I get an enormous kick out of getting together with some friends and spending a few hours pretending to be a Jedi Knight, a superhero, a barbarian warrior, a wizard, or whatever else I can imagine. It's play. You remember play, don't you? Fun, merriment, that sort of thing? It's something we're apparently supposed to grow out of, but for the life of me I can't figure out why.
Here's what I really don't get. When my friends and I play Dungeons and Dragons, that makes us nerds of the highest order. People can't understand why grown men (and women) could possibly want to do something like that. But when a bunch of guys "draft" football players, obsess more than usual about "their" players' statistics, and in general spend months at a time pretending to own and run a football team, this is considered normal adult behavior. And what's the difference? None at all. Well, that's not true. Fantasy football is, at its core, about watching other people do something. Role-playing games are ultimately about personal imagination and creativity. But other than that, I defy anyone out there to really explain to me why fantasy football (which I do enjoy) is any different than D&D. How is the former a valid adult activity and the latter something infantile and silly that people waste their time with?
I loved playing at being Wolverine when I was 12. I don't think anything's really changed. It's still absorbing and entertaining to put myself in the place of a larger-than-life figure whose life is full of action and danger, who can't be hurt, who always has a cool, witty response to every smartass out there. What's not to love?
Best of all, now that I'm an adult, the gaming sessions involve beer instead of soda. The new edition of the Star Wars RPG is coming out next month. I may have to see if my friends are interested in tracking down that noted Rebellion scientist, Samuel Adams...
With the arrival of Spider-man 3 today, it's officially the Big Blockbuster Summer Movie Season. At some point this weekend, we're going to go see Spidey, probably on the IMAX screen.
After that, there are plenty more things to see all summer long. I know they're almost always bad, but I always get a wee bit excited about the summer movies. And hey, I'll take summer-movie-hype ads over election-season ads every time. So, what to see during the glorious sunny season? Here's my list:
Spider-man 3 - I don't expect it to reach the dizzying highs of the previous Spidey flicks, and it features one of my least favorite Spidey villains...but still, wild horses couldn't keep me away.
Pirates of the Carribbean: At World's End - Pirates, monsters, swordfights, Keira Knightley, Chow Yun Fat, Keith Richards...sometimes they say "This movie's got everything," but in this case, I think it's literally true.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - I liked the first FF movie quite a bit more than the average nerd. It was goofy fun, the perfect way to spend a blazing hot July afternoon, and while Jessica Alba was miscast, Michael Chiklis, Ioan Gruffudd and Chris Evans were all dead-on. The trailers for this sequel make it look pretty awesome, and the original Lee/Kirby Silver Surfer/Galactus saga is justly regarded as one of the best superhero stories ever.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - This is maybe my least favorite of the Potter books so far, but it seems like the kind of story maybe more suited for the movie adaptation. The movie will necessarily edit out the book's interminable Quidditch scenes, which will help quite a lot. As usual, the guest-casting is perfect, with Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge and Helena Bonham-Carter (who you just knew was going to show up in one of these movies at some point) as Bellatrix LeStrange. Should be pretty good.
Knocked Up - Seth Rogen - one of Em's Secret Boyfriends and immortal as Ken Miller on "Freaks & Geeks" - in a Judd Apatow comedy. What's not to love?
Stardust - I waxed rhapsodic about the trailer for this one a few weeks ago. Need I say more?
Ocean's 13 - If the reviews are saying it's more Ocean's 11, I'll probably want to see it. If the reviews are saying it's more Ocean's 12, I'll pass.
Ratatouille - Pixar has done very little wrong in the past, though I could never develop the interest to see Cars. I'm not terribly intrigued by this one, either, but it's written and directed by Brad Bird, who was responsible for The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, two of my favorite animated movies ever, and who was a producer for "The Simpsons" back when it was funny...so it might turn out to be worth a looksee.
Live Free or Die Hard - I know, I know. But I gotta see at least one matinee of a truly awful but potentially amusing movie every summer, and this is the most likely candidate. It can't be any worse than Lethal Weapon 4 or Alien vs. Predator, right?
Unlikely, But Still Maybe:
Evan Almighty - Steve Carrell's pretty funny, which just barely squeaks this into the "maybe" category.
The Bourne Ultimatum - This one's sort of in the Ocean's 13 category. If it leans ...Identity, yes; if it leans ...Supremacy, no.
The Simpsons Movie - I'm pretty sure it's going to suck as hard as "The Simpsons" has sucked for lo these many years now. But I can't rule it out entirely.
Not Even Clockwork Orange Style:
Transformers - I don't know why, but I actually paid to see Pearl Harbor (and that after I actually paid to see Armageddon), and I will never again pay money to see a Michael Bay movie. Especially not a Michael Bay-directed two-hour toy commercial.
Shrek the Third - I may have been the only one, but I loathed Shrek 2, and have seen nothing to make me think this will be an improvement.
Hairspray - Why in the name of Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ would anyone want to see two hours of John Travolta in drag? Who thought this was a good idea?
Surf's Up - Hey, look, more talking penguins with celebrity voices. My lack of interest is palpable.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry - Hey, what's funnier than the Fat Schlubb from "The King of Queens" and Adam Sandler making gay-panic jokes for two hours? Root canals, leprosy, dead puppies...the list could really go on for hours, couldn't it?
Rush Hour 3 - I've made it this far in life without seeing a Rush Hour movie. Why start now?