Saturday, June 30, 2007

Children's Television Workshop

Saw this on "CNN, and I had to share:

GAZA CITY (AP) -- A Mickey Mouse lookalike who preached Islamic domination on a Hamas-affiliated children's television program was the victim of a pretend beating death in the show's final episode Friday.

In the final skit, the "Farfour" character was killed by an actor posing as an Israeli official trying to buy Farfour's land. At one point, the mouse called the Israeli a "terrorist."

"Farfour was martyred while defending his land," said Sara, the teen presenter. He was killed "by the killers of children," she added.

The weekly show, featuring a giant black-and-white rodent with a high-pitched voice, had attracted worldwide attention because the character urged Palestinian children to fight Israel. It was broadcast on Hamas-affiliated Al Aqsa TV.

Station officials said Friday that Farfour was taken off the air to make room for new programs. Station manager Mohammed Bilal said he did not know what would be shown instead.

Israeli officials have denounced the program, "Tomorrow's Pioneers," as incendiary and outrageous. The program was also opposed by the state-run Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., which is controlled by Fatah, Hamas' rival.

To which I can only add: man, I only wish there'd been an episode of Barney where they sprayed flaming napalm on him.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer Vacation

Well, I'm kind of breaking through the logjam, which is good. I'm looking forward to clearing some time and actually taking a vacation for the end of July - heading North. Various friends are involved in theatrical art, and it seems like a short trip through NEw England to view will be nice. Of course, this is the vacation second prize, since Yesenia has eaten through her vacation days for the year. I want nothing more than to take a vacation with my wife, my favorite person. She can't, and I still need to vacate, badly.

Seems when late June rolls around, I always feel this way. Trapped and unable to get away, or able to go - but go alone. Allow me to quote myself, here:

We should drive far away for the summer.
Where the sun meets the waves…
That’s where I think we should stay.
But I’m so good at tying down,
I don’t get up, now.
So the rays start to fade
Maybe next year, holiday…

I can’t deny, I still worry, still worry.
But you rely on knowing that it all will be alright.
And you say, “Why? Don’t worry, don’t worry…
You get beside yourself, but, no, it doesn’t change a thing.”
So I calm down, down, down…

See the sky roll away, with the summer.
Over hills, glowing green,
For somebody else to see.
So it has come to pass: exchanging pleasantries.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007


After a long, long time - when did it first air? - I finally saw The Stand miniseries. It came on when I was in college, and although I recall seeing bits of it, I never did catch the whole thing. And... it was good. On balance. I mean, there were some parts that were great, and some prats that were lousy, so it averaged out. One thing's for sure: it's about the most faithful book-to-screen adaptation I think I've ever seen, and it was the adherence to the pretty flawless story of the novel that made the film work.

I did have greater hopes for it at the very beginning - the opening sequence was particularly excellent (the camera tours the carnage in a military research lab to the tune of Don't Fear the Reaper), but nothing else ever got quite there. The direction, of course. Always the directing. Some scenes seem off. Some roles are miscast. Some people really act as if it were the end of the world, and some seem as though they woke up on set, were told they had a role in this film, and went to work without benefit of script (I'm looking at you, Molly Ringwald).

So, again: the directing. Mick Garris, who is a cottage industry of Stephen King on television and film, always approaching the target but not quite hitting it - even when the constraints of television censorship are off. I can't work out what the problem is. It's not that he's too literal, or too dry - there are definite attempts at actual directing, here - but.

Here's a topic for discussion: how hard is it to make a good Stephen King movie? Well-established stylists seem to have a problem wrestling with the themes: Kubrick certainly got a mood of foreboding that hasn't yet been topped, but we completely lose any attachment to the story or characters, leaving The Shining a beautiful exercise in cinematic abstraction. Cronenberg picked the wrong time to play it straight, choosing to amp up the weirdness of the Johnny Smith character but leaving the film around him dull and unimaginative.

The ones that really work are Carrie, and Misery. I'll grant The Shawshank Redemption, but it's a lot easier to make a period prison film than to make one of King's patented fucked-up-supernatural-shit-with real-people numbers. Also, I think Shawshank is pretty dull and moralizing, but that's beside the point.

And if someone could make a digital mash-up of the cinematic Shining and the miniseries version, that would be right. Take Kubrick's tone, pacing and cinematography, and swap out the leads. Except Scatman Crothers, who did a better job than (WTF?) Melvin Van Peebles. Also, as grotesque as it would no doubt be to finally see, please put in the bit where Torrance (played now by Stephen Webber) smashes his own face to bits with the mallet in front of his son.

To date, the best King in a visual medium award has to go to The Storm of the Century, a really, really well-cast miniseries (starring Tim Daly) that sticks to its premise and delivers at the home stretch. Thinking I might need to watch that one again.

BTW: What's with the cast of Wings turning in these great performances in King adaptations? What odd cultural signifier is that?


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Our Diamond Jubilee!

Sixty whole posts! Sure feels like longer.

Anyhow, only got four hours sleep last night, spent most of the day tending to Yesenia, doing repairs and shuttling my illustration portfolio around North Bergen (more on this later). So it looks like we'll be celebrating this monumental achievement by writing nothing.

Anyone interested in the ongoing film debate, check yesterday's comments section for John's opinion, RE: James Cameron. I probably should've taken John's advice and just made that tonight's Rambler - some content is better than none, after all - but...


Monday, June 25, 2007

That Ol' Devil Consequence

The trailer to Cabin in the Sky, which we watched today. It's what they called a "Race Movie," back in 1943, and by that, they didn't mean that a horde of d-list actors would be put through the lamest paces possible by Hal Needham. This is the type of race film that never played south of the Mason/Dixon, much to the disappointment of those who were either proto-NASCAR fans, or, y'know, race.

Quite good, although it gave Ethel Waters too many songs to sing and Rochester and Lena Horne not nearly enough. Round that out with what amounted to cameos for Duke Ellington (as himself) and Louis Armstrong (as a trumpet-playing demon in a checkered bathrobe), and the film had too much talent to burn. One of those films that you're supposed to feel bad for liking, I guess - or at least the film company should be ashamed for making. And they assured us they were in a 'you hadda be there' kind of disclaimer at the beginning.

Anyway, the film doesn't really get aggressive enough in its stereotyping to offend anyone (unless they want to be offended), and the skill of the performers rises above any of the more cringe-worthy moments and characterizations. Could've used more uptempo numbers, though. The last twenty minutes has a big set piece backed by Ellington with a stripped-down version of his orchestra, so at least it goes out with a bang.

My advice? Rent the DVD and start at chapter 17, which is both where a very young and very hot Lena Horne enters the picture, and is the film's best song, "Life's Full of Consequence." A really great short and punchy song sung by Rochester in a remarkable state of shock and revelation, and Lena Horne as a pretty convincing argument for damning whatever torpedos you happen to have handy.

The funny bit is, I'm not even sure how we ended up with this film. It turned up from Blockbuster Online one day, and neither Yesenia nor I could remember placing on the queue. I wouldn't put it past me to have put it on there and forgotten - maybe as something to chase Idlewild out of my system. It's also possible that I accidentally put it on there when searching for Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, but apart from very similar titles, the two films couldn't have less in common.

Oh, well - a mystery for the ages.

Also, I finally saw all of:

And, well. It's a very good movie, but perhaps its legend has outstripped its reality? Edz came over to visit Yesenia, and I spouted off a bunch of stuff I had problems with, but what it boils down to is that it's a little unfocused. Is that really a problem? Not really. Clearly, the story isn't the most important thing - at least it's clear that it's not what Coppola was interested in.

What I was most amazed by watching it was how one of the most popular films of all time would have tanked at the theater, today. Could modern audiences tolerate things like the extended Sicily sequence? Doubtful. How about a crime film that takes a twenty-minute opening sequence set a a wedding just to establish a few characters? Also doubtful.

Anyway, it's one half of Yesenia's favorite movie, and it was nice to sit in bed with her and watch it.

And now, to work.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Doris Gets Her Oats

Yesenia was discharged today, around 1:30 PM. She's incredibly cranky and tried, but happy to be home. The surgery was performed Laparoscopically, which is a word I had to look up again just now and I'm sure I'll forget again just as soon as I post this entry. What it boils down to is four tiny incisions, a shrinking of the gall bladder, and then removing it through the largest of the four holes (the belly button, I believe, but don't rely on me for accurate medical information.

We had a couple of visitors today, but most of my job was - gently - kicking people out, because Yesenia wanted to be left alone. I picked up a few DVDs, and we watched Night at the Museum.

Which means: mini-review!

I'm sure you already could guess this, but don't bother to seek this out, unless you have children you wish to divert for about an hour. The film itself is about 30 minutes longer than that, so even put to its most effective use as a pacifier, it doesn't quite measure up. A few bulleted comments:

• I've never seen a film that took the concept of a three-act structure so literally. It's the same film, three times in a row, with minute changes.
• I actually like Ben Stiller - the goodwill he generated in me with his great Fox sketch show, and a few really solid film comedies, and of course, his willingness to do things like The H is O, keep my feelings towards him warm - but Director Shawn Levy really did him a disservice by encouraging him to 'riff.' Odd to see a comedy where Robin Williams sticks to the script but Ben Stiller vamps, and vamps poorly. There was almost a Golden Child level of weird comedic disconnect going on at some point. I half expected him to start chanting "N-E-P-A-L!" at some point.
• Carla Gugino is cute but useless, here.
• Ricky Gervais sucked the life out of every scene he was in.
• Nice to see Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney get up to some stuff.
• The effects were meh.

Okay. Still much, much work to do by morning. Gotta go.

If anyone wishes to send Yesenia a get well card or a visit, she'll be house- and bed-bound for this week, and I'm sure she'd appreciate the gesture.


Part II

So, Yesenia went in for surgery at around 3 PM Saturday afternoon, and came perfectly healthy - minus a gall bladder, of course - about 4:30. Totally knocked out, unable to keep anything down, and full of the gas they injected as part of the surgery. She was pretty sleepy the rest of the day - asking me repeatedly if I'd called her sister or her dad.

Thank God for making this go well.

I myself - after having spent two straight days at the hospital - have fallen so far behind on my work schedule that its not-funniness isn't even funny. So I'm going to work. Enjoy your Sunday(s).


Friday, June 22, 2007

The Waiting Game

What a fucked up day, can I tell you? I woke at 5 AM to note Yesenia was absent. Turned out she was having abdominal pains, and was taking a bath. That's not entirely uncommon, so I went back to bed. About half an hour later, I awoke to hear her crying in bed next to me. It was pretty bad, so we went to the emergency room.

To cut a long story short - and bear in mind, we arrived at the hospital at 6 AM but didn't get the final diagnosis until 3 PM, so I'm really compressing this narrative for you - she has gall stones, it's acute, and she's in the hospital tonight to have her gall bladder removed Saturday afternoon.


I'm home now - been up since 5:30 or so, was at the hospital most of the day (about 14 hours or so). I'm totally beat and should be able to sleep. Surprisingly, fighting off that voice of anxiety shouldn't even be so hard, given my current level of exhaustion.

Anyway, anyone who reads this this weekend, Yesenia would be more than happy to hear from you. She'll be home and bedridden this coming week, so cards and flowers would be appreciated, as well.


Not Tonight...

I've got a headache. DeSk got together for the first time in seven months, and it sounded great. But in the new space - Karl's loft apartment in Port Chester - we're even louder. That's okay, we'll get a handle on the sound. But for now, my temples throb.

My grandiose expectations for this project have risen again. What can I say, I'm an eternal optimist. But I know good music when I hear it, and this is the best stuff I've ever had a hand in producing, bar none. The final product - God, I hope we get to get it to that level - will be a classic album. Let me go on record as saying that in 2017, when you find yourself absent-mindedly flipping through the cable channels on insomniac night (whatever form cable and television takes ten years from now), and you stumble across an episode from VH1's new season of Retro Classics Eviscerated, don't be surprised when you see my talking head discussing just how I got that weird Rhodes sound. Because everyone will want to know!

Beforehand, we all grabbed the 1/2 Pollo Saltado from MIsti's Pollo a la Brassa, a Peruvian restaurant up the street. The Pollo Saltado is small slivers of chicken sauteed with tomatoes and onions, dumped on top of a bed of rice, which is then in turn laid on a foundation of french fries. Apparently, a lot of starch is what keeps your blood oxygenated at the high Andean altitudes. Little known fact: it was during the potato famine of 1542 that Machu Picchu was finally abandoned. Climbing all those laid stone steps was too much for even the hardiest Incan to take, leaving them gasping and blue in the face, all for want of a simple carbohydrate.

We experienced something like that as well, because Karl's apartment is at the top of two very tall flights of stairs. I'd be ready to give up an empire, too.

Anyway, it's only been one practice - one very, very promising practice - so I won't go on. But remember: 2017. VH-1. Be there to learn the secret of my keyboard sounds. Oh, and:

That's our new mascot.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer Time

So, the first day of Summer, huh?

Yesenia and I drove to the gym, this evening. We've worked it out that you have to get there pretty much after 9 PM if you want to have access to any of the machines. When I worked from home, I liked to go in the late morning and early afternoon, because it was pretty empty and you had the run of the place. Of course, everyone else who went at that time was a middle-aged (or older) housewife, so the view wasn't great.

The trade-off for going to the gym at 9 PM turns out to be that's when all the strippers do their workouts, so the view is much, much better.

Anyway, on the way to the gym tonight, the sky was a cloudless, elegant glowing royal blue, with hints of burgundy at the horizon. All of the trees and houses were stark black cutouts against it. Really a beautiful and rare view. A view without sound, if that makes any sense? Possibly not, but that's how it felt.

All of my artist friends are heading into their exciting Summer projects, and what remains of my own ragged artists' soul is raring to go, too. I can feel that feeling that always comes with the last days of Spring. It's impossible to give a name to - I've never seen it described anywhere else, but I can't imagine I'm the only one to ever be struck so. I've taken to calling it 'the feeling of seven,' because the closest I can describe is being in a canoe on a New England lake in high Summer, as a child. Maybe it's something like the feeling of endless possibility? Unbound joy? Much sadness in there, too. I've gotten this feeling so rarely, and been unable to hold onto it for more than a moment at a time.

Mostly, it's an elusive feeling about elusive feelings. It's the opposite side of the safe areas of wry melancholy I usually travek around in. It's far, far more elemental than that.

What is it?


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

THe H is O

This week's going to be a little short on entries - rather than a full ramble, this is going to be like taking the train about four blocks. Don't even bother taking a seat - just grab the rail near the door (and remember to use your hand wipes after).

Two reasons:

1) Too much work
2) I want to spare my writing juice for an essay contest with a deadline this Friday.
3) DeSk - the current band that I consider the band - is finally reconvening after a 7 month hiatus this Thursday night, and I really want to direct my other energies towards that. We have a sizable pile of really, really excellent songs that we need to resuscitate and record, so the summer hopefully will conclude with a really excellent record swinging your way.

So, with that, I turn back to the sweltering night. These Chicken Pot Pie cartons need designin', and I'm just the man to avoid doing it.


Monday, June 18, 2007

The Eternal Struggle

Friday, when I wrote:

"...a Twin Peaks movie that not only didn't resolve the cliffhanger of the show - it was a flashback to events before the series - it mostly just planted in my mind the idea that David Lynch is really a dirty old man in indie auteur's clothing. All that cool back story to explore, and we just see a lot of footage of Moira Kelly ... getting skanky.
[Lynch] really does have a thing for putting his story on hold and having his lead actresses be nude in publicly humiliating ways. I'm just saying."

Knowing that John is a huge Lynch fan (apologist), I suspected it wouldn't be long before I got a lashing about that, and it came this morning. I now share with you the comments that lead to tonight's Rambler.

John: "You're wrong, man. The film could never have been the Twin Peaks Season Three 2-hour premiere. That's not a film. That's a marketing gimmick. It had to involve Laura Palmer, as she was the paradigm of what the show was (the corruption of purity, the lure of evil, all that David Lynch as Boy Scout stuff); but it had to be separate in form and substance from the series, i.e. it is a film, not a tv show, and a David Lynch film at that."

To which I replied:

"Well, if you're going to argue FWWM, at least argue what I wrote. Did I say anything about whether it should or should not have focused on Laura Palmer? No. You're having an argument with something in your head, not me.
I wasn't aware that opinions about works of art could be 'wrong,' but thanks for setting me straight"

So, John said: "Well, you did fault it for not resolving the Season Two cliffhanger.

And when you fault it for featuring too much (skanky) Donna you are by association faulting it for too much Laura.

And well, hey, you're not "wrong." You're just part of the critical consensus on this one, which I always disagreed with (at the time, to the point of despair)."

(At which point I started to write some crap that just got so long, I figured I'd make it front page meterial.)

On the issue of it being solely a David Lynch film, and not the T.V. show:

See, here's the thing: the television series was a three-way artistic collaboration between Lynch, Mark Frost and Kyle MacLachlan. Frost was entirely absent from the film and MacLachlan really didn't want to appear, so he has about - what? - fifteen minutes of screen time?

Given that Frost was the guy who gave the series its brain, and MacLachlan its heart and soul, Lynch could only go ahead with a film that lacks a brain, heart and soul. Which just leaves vision. And don't get me wrong - there are some magnificent scenes (the slow-motion Bobby walk across the campus, the above-hinted at club scene with the Moira Kelly/Donna and the subtitles, the visitation from David Bowie's displaced agent) - all of which add up to not much.

It was very much a forerunner of Lynch's later films in that way - films that start with a shaky sense of reality and just keep pulling rug after rug away from the viewer - but for anything to bear the name of Twin Peaks and not feature the presence of Lynch's primary collaborators was a huge mistake, and it hurt the film. Badly.

And, yes: it deserves every faulting for not resolving the themes- if not the plot - of the series. Because the mechanics of the plot (from Frost) were still in place, and the film fails to resolve them even on its own terms. It's an unsatisfying enterprise whether you're a stone TP fan or if the film is your first exposure, because it does introduce all of the supernatural elements, it does weave hints of the show's deepening mystery and the pre-X-Files mystical FBI agents.

All for naught. If you show Agent Cooper in the lodge as part of your 'climactic' sequence, well, if the film doesn't extend the show, why even have that in there? The audience of the film hasn't spent more than a few minutes with the character of the... what, fourth FBI agent they've met? Why should his appearance with Laura in the Lodge at the end mean anything more to us than if it were Chris Isaak, or David Bowie, or Kiefer Sutherland? I'm just saying, that's bad filmmaking on the order of many film sequels, that just assume that you know the characters because you watched the show, and that's why you should care about them.

Moving onto my second and deeper issue with Lynch films in general is his constant reuse of the abuse and degradation of women as a recurring motiff.

A... well, THE central problem is that Lynch - as you note - likes one story and one story only: innocent young girls being driven insane through sexual debauchery. Which points to a very, very strange and kind of sad spectacle of a lot of talented - and not so talented - young actresses streaking around and crying through white-out snap cuts in film after film. After film.

It's distasteful and kind of creepy, sort of like looking back at Woody Allen's old comedies and noting with slight nausea the clockwork recurrence of the child molestation jokes in every film. I guess Lynch's sexual hang-ups are more socially acceptable, but - alright, already.

On the issue of Laura Palmer:

The problem I have isn't with the story of Laura Palmer. If it were told well, it would be a film of interest. The problem is in trading a truly iconic character and actor (Cooper/MacLachlan) for a total cypher (Palmer/Sheryl Lee). Kyle MacLachlan radiated charm and watchability, and inhabited his role perfectly. Sheryl Lee radiated somnolence and sounds as though she learned her lines phonetically.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the grand tradition of adapting beloved cult sci-fi T.V. series into feature films, that's like trading back to Jeffrey Hunter from William Shatner for Star Trek:The Motion Picture.*

Finally, to dissect the theme of seduction/destruction:

Twin Peaks, the movie, may have been about the corruption of the innocent. In which case, why even throw in any of the other elements? Window dressing? Twin Peaks, the series, was about the quest for knowledge. It was a religious quest, wherein the central character - Agent Cooper, not Laura Palmer - eventually pays the price of transcendental knowledge. The entirety of the series taken together documents the rite of purification that Cooper - perhaps - ultimately fails.

To make a film with the central plot in place but without the implied spiritual quest leaves the film - the film, mind you - without any structure. Sure, Lynch's gifts as a director are on display, but what (really) is the point? It got away from him, and no amount of foreign funding could bring it back. He was able to use it as a springboard to divide his early, more narrative films from his later, more melodic ones, and every director is certainly allowed to have their growing pains on film.

But, I gotta say: when people defend this film, they sound a lot like me when I mount a defense of The Phantom Menace. That's just basic geekery for you - we're unable to separate the wheat from the chaff when we love too well.


*Which would have been especially impressive when you consider that Hunter died in 1969.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

King Ralph

Had my father and stepmother to the house for a Father's Day barbecue today. Of course, I'd forgotten my father's birthday back in February, and now that I think on it, my father quietly turned 65 this year. And since Ralph Kopperman does almost nothing quietly - he does love to have his opinion known - it's interesting that he allows his birthday and all markings of his passage to go by unnoticed.

And he's done his level best to discourage celebrating for him over the years. The way he does this primarily is by being impossible to shop for.

Firstly, at his core is the belief that spending money on anything - especially him - is a moral wrong on the order of genocide. Which means that the nicer the gift is, the less he'll like it. But pick him up a multi-pack of 3M Post-It notes on sale from Office Depot and he'll be thrilled. Never mind that he doesn't use Post-Its. It's the lack of spending that counts.

Secondly, if you do really put thought into it, he almost always comes away - what? I'd say 'insulted,' but he's a hard man to insult. (Believe me, I've tried very hard over the years, and I'd swear he's made out of 100% duck's back, given how verbal assaults roll right off him. 'Ungrateful' also isn't quite right, because if you're buying gifts just so that others will appreciate you, maybe you need to take that gift money and spend it on a good therapist, instead.

Is there a word in English for the perturbed state that comes from a gift that someone clearly spent a lot of time selecting, but you regard as a waste of money and a needless replacement for that other thing you bought in 1972 that still works just fine, provided you stand well back when you pull the cord that starts it? Probably not. But I can tell you the word that describes the person who bought the gift: exhausted.

But my father is a man well-worth celebrating. He's kind, generous, brilliant, ethical, and storied. Anyone who knows him only slightly might miss the brilliance, but this is a man who's lived in his head and made that life valuable enough to send five kids to college. This is a man who got a perfect SAT score, graduated from Columbia in three years, and did Grad School at M.I.T. A man who tired of his first discipline, Logic, and switched to Topology after fifteen years teaching and publishing. A man with terrible handwriting who, nevertheless, can make enough sense out of the endless scribbled notes (on back of envelopes, receipts, any paper that's handy) to write complete papers on the subject. A man, when left alone for 60 hours on a bus in the Australian Outback, solved a century-old math problem. A man who has spoken at Oxford. Well, a man who was invited to speak at Oxford, and then did so, which is a different thing altogether.

Not to mention Ralph Kopperman, the astronomy nut, the autodidact, the bicycler, the movie critic, the fastidious eater with the oddest tastes known to man, the Jew from Queens, the terror of Colombia, the camper, 70's edition Ralph Kopperman wildman, the home repair guru, the mechanic, etc.

And of course, not to mention Ralph Kopperman, the father. A hard act to follow, to be sure.


Post-Game Roundup

Well, we ended up doing something like 25 songs altogether, many of which had never been played my some members of the band before. Myself included, at least on bass. We threw a few things together on the fly, and it mostly didn't suck. Since it rained earlier in the day, our original plan of playing outdoors was scrapped in favor of playing at the back of Jim's basement viewing room - pull down screen and digital projector, of course. I'd say the majority of guests avoided that room full of rock while it was rockin', but at least those who came in seemed to enjoy themselves, and that's what we aim for.

Since I'm full of BBQ, jello shots, beer, chips and (one) Smirnoff's Iced Tea, I have very little actual writing in me, this evening. Tomorrow looks like it's going to be a little sucky, because after we have my father and stepmother over for Father's Day lunch (that's not the sucky part), I have a full day of office work to do. That's the aspect of this two jobs bullshit I hate the most, but I'm such a money whore. Please, more cash pounded in my hole, please.

I don't even have a concluding statement for you this evening. So have a good night, moon.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

How's Annie?

Okay. We finally got around to seeing the final episode of The Sopranos that everyone's been talking about. Okay, that everyone's been bitching and moaning about, because it ends without 'closure.' That the end was a deliberate mind-fuck by David Chase, a diner scene with Tony and family, with cutaways to suspicious-looking characters, to the tune of "Don't Stop Believing." And then it just cuts off, black and silent.

People are genuinely angry about it, they're feeling betrayed.

And all I have to say is: you pussies. You want a show that sucks you in and then leaves you truly kicked in the spiritual and emotional nuts? Try the unresolved cliffhanger ending of Twin Peaks, with Annie lost in the Black Lodge, and Cooper possessed by the spirit of Evil Bob, cackling in the mirror, repeating "How's Annie" over and over, wasting toothpaste. And we even got a Twin Peaks movie that not only didn't resolve the cliffhanger of the show - it was a flashback to events before the series - it mostly just planted in my mind the idea that David Lynch is really a dirty old man in indie auteur's clothing. All that cool back story to explore, and we just see a lot of footage of Moira Kelly (remember her? Think WInona Ryder with a head cold) getting skanky.

Don't get me wrong: there's a time and place for footage of a skanky Moira Kelly, and I'll happily view it all. But not when we still don't know what's the deal with the damn kid and his grandma and their Garmonbozia! Jesus, get your priorities straight, Lynch. He really does have a thing for putting his story on hold and having his lead actresses be nude in publicly humiliating ways. I'm just saying.

So: stop your whining about whether Tony Soprano got whacked. It was a great ending to a well-done show, and we got what we deserved - a huge spoonful of cool ambiguity. Just be thankful that HBO didn't pull it on a major cliffhanger like they did with Carnivalé. Oy, don't even get me started on that. I cancelled my cable because of that lame shit.

But: they've given the Flight of the Conchords their own show, so all is forgiven.


Friday, June 15, 2007

50 Million TranzPhat Fans Can't Be Wrong

Spent the evening literally hurtling through a rehearsal for a party my cover band/bridge club is playing. The traditional line-up featured me on drums, with Jim McD on Bass, Jim $ on Vocals, Karl on guitar and Sean on percussion. McD and his wife just had their first child, so he's on maternity leave, and I've been 'promoted' to bass, with Sean moving to drums.

For this party, however, there was some question as to Sean's availability - he might have been going to see Leo Kottke noodle at the Burning Rome Festival (or something). So I scared up stalwart Edz, who learned something like 20 songs in the time it took to play them, with time out for me and Karl shouting arrangements to him on the fly. Of course, at the last minute, Shaun decided to skip Kottke, so we're back to a five-piece for the party. Bring on the noise, indeed. I'd say 'bring on the funk' as well, but we're a fairly funkless unit.

The final set-list, chosen from our larger pile, is as follows (order not set):

Celebrity Skin
Do it Again
Feel Like Makin' Love
Heat of the Moment
Here Comes Your Man
I Think I Love You
I'm Like a Bird
Italian Leather Sofa
Summer Breeze
Sweet Surrender
Time is Running Out
Wave of Mutilation
Your Wildest Dreams

That set was mostly chosen by Jim $'s wife Danielle, whose party it is, so it's comprised of our least eclectic material. We do have some seriously weird songs in the larger pile. I still haven't worked out exactly why Danielle wants us to play her birthday party, since she's shown nothing but disdain and/or disinterest in the band in the entire time I've known her. Perhaps this is going to be something like the end of Carrie, and we're being set up for a prank involving a bucket of pig's blood.

Anyway, I confess to missing playing the drums, which was my whole point for joining this band in the first place. And over the years - a surprising number of years playing together, at this point - I got to be a fairly solid drummer. Of course, since I don't play bass anymore, it's nice to have this outlet for it, so it's all good.

Eventually, I'll be reduced to playing tambourine for a Frampton tribute band called "The Way." And I'll be happy to do it, no doubt.

So, we'll probably fuck up left and right on Saturday, but we'll be drunk, and the audience will be drunk, and no-one will care. Now that's Rock and Roll.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Slow News Day

Work, home, mall, home, work, bath, work, bed.

If this were a song, it would be verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, verse, guitar solo, verse, coda. It's got a great beat and you can dance to it! But you sure as hell can't write anything about it.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Shining Star

Puerto Rico. Yesenia's been missing her island since her return, and she copes with it in many ways. One is the 90-minute baths she takes. Another is the appointment to have highlights put in at the local salon, for the princessly sum of $150. Thirdly, she cooks her Puerto Rican food, which meant that dinner tonight was fried pork chops and rice and beans.

It's quite good, of course.

Still, I'm always vaguely surprised that I can digest pork. I grew up in a non-pork house. Not that we were kosher - there was always ham and bacon and sausage around. In fact, any way that you could render a swine carcass into foodstuffs short of pickled pig's feet and the aforementioned chops. But, with the exception of the sausage links (not kilbassa, just the dinky frozen breakfast variety), I didn't like any of it. The bacon that my stepsisters loved seemed to me just like crispy slices of pan-fried salt lick. The sliced ham that turned up - always the pre-packaged kind, since my dad never visited a deli counter in his life - was gelatinous and had a sickly rainbow shine to the grain when you held it to the light in a certain way.

But pork? Never even saw the stuff. Maybe it was out of style in the 1970's. I have heard reference to "The Great Pork Famine," but I think they were probably made jokingly.

The rice is the good yellow rice, made the real way. Not with saffron, the other real way: she heats up a deep pan full of tomato sauce, with olives, kidney beans and sofrito, then drop in the white rice a handful at a time. Eventually, all the liquid boils away and the rice remains, nice and fluffy on top and with some great crusty stuff on the bottom. We have some differences about how to make white rice, but her yellow rice is killer stuff.

Still, the food isn't quite enough for her to keep from thinking about "home," and as I'm the reason she isn't there now, there's little help I can offer. All I can do is keep plugging away at home repairs, trying to make this - her second home - at least a pleasant enough place to spend the rest of her life with me.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Everything old seems even older, now

So I finally started to see some of Berke Breathed's most recent resuscitation of his comic strip franchise, this time just called Opus. Not because I managed to pick up a Sunday paper that was running it (like Outland, it's Sunday's only), but because they've started to post it on Salon, which I frequent as a non-paying reader.

Sort of an odd pairing, because Salon is comfortably left, and Breathed has always seemed more of a middle-America style Libertarian to me, but there it is.

Thing is, the strip is kind of lame.

I mean, don't get me wrong; I really like Breathed's drawing, and I always liked those Outland strips specifically because he tore away all of the lame soap-opera and comic page political 'satire' from Bloom County, and focused solely on drawing. You could see it was freeing for him - the art was genuinely fun to look at, and freed from the baggage of Bloom County (which was all ripped off from Doonesbury, anyhow), Breathed finally became his own artist.

Well, yes. He went from doing Garry Trudeau to doing George Herriman, but in this case, he made it his own - the edge of the 'Mortimer Mouse' character and Ronald-Ann gave the formalist humor some gravity. Of course, people don't like things that are different, so, before long, all the Bloom County cast crept back in, and the visual playfulness receded into boring, static layouts. His line was always nice, and the animation to the characters wasn't lost, but it was just more sub-Trudeau.

Ditto with Opus. And the tone of his humor hasn't changed at all in the twenty years since Bloom County ended. In fact, you can pick up any collection of late Bloom County strips, and I'm sure they'd read exactly the same as Opus. Same half-assed political observations, same fizzled broadsides on the character of the American male. Even the drawing has fallen back into boring-land, which I find especially odd, because Breathed's spent the last fifteen years writing and illustrating children's books. And if there were a last place in the world for completely free-wheeling illustration, it's in children's books. (I don't believe they have a category in the Caldecott's for "Best Illustrated Edition - Russian Literature.")

Of course, a lot of my complaint is based on the truth that I think Bloom County is terribly dated. Certainly, it hasn't held us nearly as well (in my estimation) as 80's newspaper comics Renaissance/Last Hurrah cohorts The Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes. Nor does it live up to the standard set by Doonesbury, which I'll admit to admiring more than actually liking. No, Breathed's Bloom County has turned out to be a curse for him - the juvenile work of a talented artist increasingly working against his strengths, forever held up as his masterpiece as he tries to leave it buried.

Certainly, I can't fault him for trying, and I'm even grateful that one of newspaper comic's latter-day stars has come back to the form that made him famous. Can you imagine either Gary Larson or Bill Watterson coming back? Given that they both seem to disdain what modern newspaper comics are (either out of genuine insight or just false nostalgia), and that they've both disappeared into their post-comics careers (as Jazz musician hobbyist and landscape painter hobbyist, respectively), I'd say the answer is a resounding "No."

But without trying to break beyond the toothless social and political commentary of the type that eventually sank Bloom County, the whole prodigal comic's son routine rings kind of hollow. I won't deny that the comics page could stand to have a left-leaning satirist with a wider range than Aaron McGruder and a greater populist's touch than Garry Trudeau, but Breathed isn't up to the task. And I guess the 'heir to Krazy Kat crown that he was angling for with Outland has been won by Patrick McDonnell with Mutts, (which I admit to finding really synthetic and charmless).

Really, he shouldn't even try. It's obvious that what the funnies really need is the return of Walt Kelley. And that's what Breathed could do with his eyes shut.

Let's see if he works it out.


Note: I keep wanting to shorten Bloom County to just B.C., but I'm afraid you'd think I was talking about Johnny Hart, instead.

Midnight Oil

Well, I'm, running behind on a presentation for a new Toyota dealer, and I should be doing that, now. "Now" being 1 A.M. But I've already written the radio and TV spots for both the new and used (they like to call it 'certified pre-owned'), and I'm as bored by it as you can imagine I'd be. All that's left are the two print ads, but I've got to gear myself up for them. Perhaps writing this will help? No.

Finally, finally, finally got the old dining room table gone. It's been sitting on the porch since March, when my mom upgraded her table and gave us her old one. I couldn't quite bring myself to just trash our old one, because 1) it's still a good solid piece of furniture, and 2) what can I say, I'm a sentimental guy. Considering that this is the table that's been in the house since I was born, I think you can meet me halfway on this?

I know it's just a hunk of wood, but a close look at the surface will reveal the tracings of endless homework assignments, comics drawn, SAT's prepared for, math lectures prepared, etc. Yesenia and I even signed the mortgage papers for the house on it, so it's got a lot of historical significance for me. Over the last 36 years, I've done everything you can do on a table on that table, save giving birth.

But in my memoirs, I intend to lie and say I was both conceived and born on that table. Back me up, okay?

So I listed it for free on Craig's List, and a young guy and his father came to take it to Jersey City, today. They seemed very happy, and the younger guy (the new owner) seemed to be thrilled with it - even the various discolorations and the overlapping handwriting marks from where someone (probably me) pressed too hard, too often.

Then it was gone, along with the six chairs. Table on top of the red Chevy Blazer, leg up, chairs in back.

Table, we salute you!


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Daytime/Nighttime Suffering

Well, so I listened to Memory Almost Full again, today - while putting up the dining room ceiling, and you'll have to discount a good portion of my griping, yesterday. Turns out there's a good number of good songs on it. A couple of clunkers, to be sure, and the lyrics are a little lamer than usual, but there's some real Paul Goodness on it. SO, if you were planning on getting it, don't listen to me yesterday. Listen to me today.

It sounds like I'm turing into either Kevin Nealon or Dana Carvey. But you know what I mean.

Beyond that, the day was taken up with mostly house stuff - basement, the aforementioned dining room, and lawning. "Lawning" (coined by me, here) meaning the combined acts of weeding, mowing and seeding/fertilizing/watering. There was also a lot of sneezing in there, as most of my lawning tends to be. Meanwhile, Yesenia dd some cleaning and then cleared out fro a toddler's birthday party for most of the day.

Later on, I joined her at a friend's house, and we played thee Trivial Pursuit "Pop Culture DVD Edition." Me versus the three of them and it was one of my nights where even what I thought were wrong guesses turned out to be right. For example, did you know that Calvin Trillin wanted to have Spaghetti Carbonara replace the Thanksgiving Turkey? Neither did I, but I guessed him anyway, because I couldn't remember the name of the journalist I was thinking of. So, is that winning on fair or foul terms? I guess that depends if you play pool so strict that you have to call every shot and those you don't make are a scratch.

Anyway, reading between the lines, you can see it was pretty much a productive day. Somewhere in tomorrow's schedule of events, I have a small mountain of work for the agency to get to, so we'll see just how cheery the next Rambler is. But for now, it's Saturday night, and I'm ready for bed.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with an odd article by the great cartoonist Tim Kreider. Not odd because the article itself is odd, but because it seems to be a non-sequitur from the rest of his work. It's a critical analysis - and a favorable one, at that - of one of my favorite dark horse films, A.I. Might not be anything anyone wants to read, but I was happy to read it.

If nothing else, take a moment to look around the site at Kreider's cartoons. Even though his subjects are always "torn from the latest headlines" in the best sense, his work seems to have a timeless quality that makes it seem like Tenniel cartoons from Victorian-era Punch magazine, or something. And take a moment to read the comments for each cartoon (particularly his entry in the Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest).


Friday, June 8, 2007

Don't Type Drunk

A little sloshed from hitting two bottles of wine, a Don Q Limon & Cranberry and a Stella Artois with dinner, so please forgive whatever connective tissue is missing from tonight's Rambler. I'm not sure where the romantic myth of the drunken glory of the Beats comes from. Hell, if they could find some way to type or hold a pen while drunk, I'm fucking impressed. I can barely see the screen, so it's a bit questionable whether I can write a coherent sentence tonight, much less change the course of American letters.

After four days, it looks like I'm not going to get around to giving the new McCartney album a full review - I haven't even had time to go back and listen - so here's a capsule review that will have to suffice. Some of this comes directly from a Macca thread over on the John Byrne Forum, where I participate occasionally when I'm in the mood to be ostracized by my fellow geeks.

This was spurred when someone wondered what everyone's top five/bottom five Paul albums were. That kind of listing happens a lot on these forums; it helps to pass the time.

I was going to do a list, and then I realized that I don't even OWN the McC albums I consider not very good - "Speed of Sound," "London Town," "McC II," "Press to Play," and "Pipes of Peace." And each of those albums has at the very least a kick-ass single on it (yes, you heard me: "Listen to What the Man Said" kicks my ass. Now you know how I roll), so it's so hard to place them in any kind of hierarchical order.

The problem with Paul - if it is indeed a problem - is that he's a guy who loves what he does so much that he thinks that anything that he comes up with is worth putting on vinyl/cd/drm-mp3. I mean, anyone who could putWaterfalls on the same album as Temporary Secretary obviously has issues with self-editing. And what the hell. I'd be lying if I said a part of me didn't enjoy the act of peeling out the good from the bad with every Paul album, but I do wish he'd let himself be produced by a strong producer for every other album. Nigel Godrich got great material out of him.

Anyone else but me want to hear a Paul album produced by Sean Lennon? Sean's not so great a songwriter (he has Paul's same weakness: often inconsequential lyrics), but his albumssound great, and Paul's albums have lost their ear-candy quality in the last two decades. It could be a good combination.

Instead, we get albums with straw producers, hired men that Paul can push around - such as Memory Almost Full. Just the fact that a good portion of this stuff was recorded and then set aside before Paul went into the studio with Godrich for Chaos and Creation in the Backyard should be a loud and clear advertisement of the general tone and quality of this new album: It's Paul Farting Around.

Now, Paul McCartney is an expert farter. In fact, were it not for the Grateful Dead, I think that he'd be known as the big stoner artist. A good portion of his post-Beatles catalog is clearly just some shit that came to him while haloed in a cloud of blue smoke. But Paul is enough of a musical genius that even his most half-baked ideas have a kernel of pure diamond, so we can forgive him a lot. Just the fact that the world's richest musician is still driven to record a new album every couple of years or so is pretty impressive to me. I mean, you don't see BIll Gates getting down in the trenches and debugging Vista by hand, do you?

But it would be nice - and I'll lament this until I'm blue in the fingers - if Paul'd just take his time every now and then. It's obvious that Godrich made him put in the extra five minutes per song for Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, and it paid off. Now Starbucks is ponying up the dough, and Paul responds to his biggest promotional synergy in three decades with an album of outtakes.

Oh well. At least we can't say that he isn't consistent.

Not to say that there aren't good tunes on Memory..., but they're underdeveloped, and further between.

The bass playing, as usual, is mind-fuckingly grand. Even where he makes the drum, guitar and piano as straight and bland as possible, he can't quite dampen his bassman's spirit. The basslines on Memory... are an elegant, drunken, arching, oil-spill of a sexy mess; beautifully counterpointing the melody and adding energy and drive while effortlessly weaving through the arrangements. What's extra scary is that you know he did those lines - those perfect, glorious lines - in one take. The bastard.

Anyway, the singles (Ever-Present Past and Dance Tonight) are good, and that's the most we can hope for under the circumstances. And I confess that the video for Dance Tonight, by Michel Gondry, has grown on me quite a bit. What the hell, let's close out on that. Natalie Portman is cute, and the song is catchy. I can think of worse ways to blow three-and-a-half minutes on YouTube.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Purchases of the Geek Elite

Went to the mall tonight and purchased:

1) An Apple Wireless Mighty Mouse,
2) Yet another book from the 33 1/3 series, this one on Steely Dan's Aja, and
3) A Star Trek: Deep Space Nine omnibus, collecting FIVE (count 'em) FIVE serialized DS9 novels.

I think those purchases right there pretty much outline what a lifelong geek I really am. I mean, I have a pretty mild case, as far as such things go. If I were really a hardcore geek, my purchases would have been:

1) Neon-lit coolant tubes for my maxed-out gaming PC (running Red Hat Linux with a Vista Emulator in a Firewall Shell),
2) A chart-sheet from the recording sessions for the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, and
3) The original Japanese version of Chobits, because available scanlations are too low-res for my tastes, and the official english translations cut out the nudity.

See? There are fine shadings to the geek world.

Case in point: Jim wants me to go with him to this year's Baltimore Comic Con. We went three years ago, with Pete and John, and I went and watched a couple of panels. BIlly West riffing for a half-hour, and Mark Waid and Kurst Busiek engaged in a trivia contest. What can I say? That was a lot of fun! I'd love to go again!


But I was alone the entire time, which is lame. The problem is that my idea of a good time was diametrically opposed to Jim, Pete and John's idea of a good time. They go to consume and spend, usually waiting on line all day for a 'convention sketch' or a completed page by someone on their list of top 200 favorite artists. I went to just breathe comics for a while.

I know I was the only person at the con that feels this way, but I don't really regard a page of comic production art as being much of anything. I only own two: a Joe Staton from some random issue of the Green Lantern
Corps that I bought when I was 15 or so (I think he was selling them for $25 or something - I hope he gets way more than that, now), and a page from Finder that I got at the convention as a deal when I bought a stack of trades.

The reason for this is pretty simple. While I worship comics as an art form - and a HIGH art form, at that - to me, the published book itself is the work, not the original page of production art. Moreso, now that the lettering isn't even on the page, anymore. Owning a page of art to me, while neat, doesn't really go to where I appreciate comics - as a storytelling art. Owning one page of a 24 page comic is like if someone took a Vermeer and chopped it up into little segments and sold them off as drink coasters.

Of course, I don't begrudge artists selling their pages (for some, it brings much needed income), and I'm thrilled that the major companies no longer indulge in the obnoxious practice of keeping the art. It's just that, well, I've blown some income, and now it's on my wall... and? Making note of little pencilled doodles or margin notes and their interesting histories aside, I've learned nothing more about the process of making comics, and I now can afford several dozen fewer comics as a result of having bought one single page.

Jim has an original page of Powers, by Michael Avon Oeming, and it's got two blank panels, becuase those were reproduced in a later stage to have 'beats.' Weird thing to have on your wall. A piece of Bristol board with big white spaces containing hastily scrawled notes saying 'repro. panel here.'

About the only argument for page buying to me is that it supports the artist instead of the corporation, but... anyway. Don't even ask where I place the 'convention sketch' in the order of things.

What it really boils down to is that I want to go to a Comicon and geek out with friends all day and have a good time hanging out and just existing in a fun little geek-world for a few hours. Instead, I'm reminded how alone and different I often am, even in the places and with the people where I should be most at home.

Is there a sadder image than a 33 (at the time) year old man sitting in a folding chair by himself in a crowd in an upstairs room at a city five hours drive from his home, listening to two grown men guess in what issue of All-Planet Adventure Funnies "Tin" from the Metal Men first was drawn with arm rivets?

I don't know. But I did feel pretty superior to those Giants fans lined up in costume outside Giants Stadium we passed on the way back home, Sunday afternoon. Now, those were some geeks.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Things that go bump in the night

It's a quarter to midnight as I write this - in the dark, in bed, Yesenia asleep at my side - and something just went 'wham' a little ways outside my window. Followed shortly after by what sounded like someone sucking agressively on a Jolly Rancher. Not the candy - a real rancher.

I suppose I'll get up to check it out at some point, but unless something repeats crashing, I tend to put it in the 'problem to be dealt with later' category, and go on blithely ignoring it.

I'll admit this policy hasn't been the most successful one in practice, but if there is something going on outside that requires me to get out of bed, get dreessed, grab a flashlight and go both downstairs and outside to deal with - well, it's just begging to not be dealt with, becuase there's not one of those steps I'm willing to take right now.

The McCartney album will go unreviewed for another day. Turns out the copy I bought was defective, and skipped on a couple of tracks. So I've heard about 85% of it. Still, from what I've heard, unless that missing fifteen percent is pure gold genius, I think I can say that Memory Almost Full ain't so great.

Unlike Driving Rain - which had some good tunes but a lot of filler, but turned out to be a great album becuase the band rocked it out - or Chaos and Creation in the Backyard - which was chock full of great tunes but lacked energy becuase Paul played all the instruments himself, Memory Almost Full is mostly full of filler and has Paul playing most of the instruments, so there's not a lot to grab on to.

In other entertainment news:

Felt the need to watch Star Trek III: The Search for Spock to follow-up my enjoyment of Khan, so I picked that up this afternoon - along with First Contact again, because I'd returned it on Sunday, and it turns out that Yesenia wanted to watch it. So, she watched that this afternoon for the first time (and loved it), and I watched Spock this evening (and thought it was still okay). I still can't quite get over Doc Brown as a Klingon, but what the hell - Christopher Lloyd has to eat, too.

Anyway, I'm going to kill this one early. Yesenia came home from Puerto Rico with pink eye and laryngitis, and I'm starting to feel a little crusty and hoarse, myself.



Picked her up at Newark after her flight was delayed an hour. Didn't get home 'til 1 AM, and sat at the kitchen table eating our McDonald's drive-thru meals. She had the Quarter Pounder; I'm a Big Mac Man.

Anyway, you'll forgive no entry today? Good. Tomorrow, I'll review the new Paul McCartney CD, which I picked up at Starbucks and listened to on the drive to Newark.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Proustian Slog

I suspect that my current Star Trek renaissance will end soon, which means that the Rambler won't be so suffocating in subject matter - I'll admit that it seems like I'm either talking about Star Trek, my crumbling home, or the content and direction of the blog itself (and there I go again!), but for now, that's what I've got a huge hard-on to watch, and therefore:

Back-to-Back ST:TNG Movie Reviews!

Please contain your excitement.

Star Trek: First Contact
Generally regarded by most as "The second best Trek movie, after The Wrath of Khan," and, you know, that's about right. Where Khan is a model of entertainment efficiency, First Contact meanders around its plot with a little less purpose. It opens big (that whole Syd Field grabber opening), although I give it major points for actually having a little bit of character quiet before the first action scene. Nicely done. And I also give it points for having all of the space battles out of the way in the first fifteen minutes, with the rest of the action in the film mostly being sort of a Fort Apache siege, with the Borg invading the Enterprise and taking it and the crew over deck by deck.

The only real flaw in the structure is the sort of soft middle section, which works very well as a set up for the excellent ending, but you can tell they knew it was probably too "Trekish" for mainstream audiences, so they threw in a pretty pointless action scene where Picard, Worf and the Red Shirt (named "Hawk") do an EVA to stop the Borg from building a "Housing Beacon" (apologies to Spalding Grey) on the deflector dish. The whole thing is fun while it lasts, but there's no denying that it takes away from some character development that would have been better.

The companion scene to the deflector battle is the extra-extra pointless Holodeck scene, which is totally random in its placement and plot function, and not nearly long enough to even give good nostalgia for fans of the show. It's almost a blink-and-you'll-miss-it "Look! Dixon Hill!" thing, minus all the bits that made the Holodeck episodes super-fun TV. I mean, let's face it: the Holodeck concept was just created so that it wouldn't seem odd that the Enterprise crew keeps ending up on the Paramount backlot, on Chicago Mobster planets and the like. So just randomly throwing it into the middle of the film where they have to pay money to build the extra ballroom set and not even making it a good Holodeck moment is assed-up logic, and it's the one part of the film that Frakes' really excellent direction can't make work.

I should note that the deflector battle has one very fun moment: I'm always a fan of moments of Worf bad-assery, and having him first chop up a Borg Drone and then use the Borg's own hand/cable assembly to tie-off a leak in his own spacesuit is right cool. Probably Ron Moore, who was writing the best Worf ever over at Deep Space Nine simultaneously. I also appreciated the appearances of the Defiant and EMH. What of it?

Anyway, really good performances all around from the regulars, and excellent casting for Woodard, Cromwell and Krige (As Lily, Cochrane and the Borg Queen, respectively). Frakes really kicked ass directing it, and it's a shame that his directing career kind of stalled, because it's still got some of the best sci-fi action sequences I've seen on film. I could do with more of that kind of thing.

Also: great score. I neglected to mention how great James Horner's score is for Khan, so I'll note it here.

Star Trek: Nemesis
The follow up to First Contact was Insurrection, a total muddle of a film. For Nemesis they took the directing chair away from Frakes and gave it to some Brit named Stuart Baird. A shame, because that's transporting the baby out with the bathwater. In fact, the only thing Insurrection had going for it was the strength of the direction, with some nice action scenes and character moments in a story that really sets out to prove that the odd-number Trek rule is unbreakable. Lousy, stupid story, one in which not only do you not agree with the motivation of the protagonists, but the stakes are so low and the playout so diffuse that it's hard to give a shit at all.

Lord knows why they never worked out that when they pick up threats directly from the show - Khan and the Borg - they make excellent movies, and when they come up with plots out of whole cloth for the films, things go south. V'ger and Sybok? Pfft. Why they couldn't just make a film with Q and get the big cosmic crazy Trek film that I've always wanted is a mystery to me.

Anyway, I guess they sort of figured it out and brought in the Romulans for Nemesis, but instead of having the Romulans be the bad guys, they make up 1) a clone of Picard named Shinzon, with a vinyl fetish and 2) some sort of Romulan/Mexican Fruit Bat hybrids called the Remans, whose big trick is mind-raping, which I guess is a twist on the mind-meld, but not a particularly interesting one.

In fact, Shinzon and the Remans (sounds like some obscure band from the old Nuggets compilation) first overthrow the Romulan government and take over the military, which means that the only action any Romulans see in the film is a lot of policy planning in the Senate chamber. Exciting! So the opportunity to use the Romulans as the anti-Vulcans is pretty much wasted.

Another 'oops, almost got it' is to bring Data's evil twin Lore back, only not have it be Data's evil twin (more like Data's Slow Cousin), and then never even bring up Lore's existence. Maybe it's just me, but having Data's opposite be more assertive would have made for better conflict.

Still, Nemesis has a lot of good action, even if it has to rip-off Khan to do so. It suffers from the fact that Shinzon is neither as bad-ass or as compelling as the filmmakers obviously think he is - they clearly know that the better the villain, the better the film, but they can't quite work out what said villain is supposed to be all about, so he just sort of putters around and be's all evil 'n stuff, without having much of a point.

All that aside, the regulars do good, the action is very well done, the dialogue is as a good as a good episode of the show (which is to say, better than most movies), and the final big battle is final, and big, and has the "Data Leap," which is so boss that it makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of the film just in that one moment.

One more quibble: the production design on Nemesis is terrible, and the effects aren't quite ILM sharp (no-one else ever is). The Reman warship looks like an accident with some crazy glue and about 12 Swiss Army Knives in full bloom, and its bridge looks more like the set for the color commentary team for Ultimate Fighting than the command center of a warship. The Romulan senate is also a really dull place, which only adds to the dullness of the scenes that take place there - including the opening scene, which was a major pacing error on someone's part.

I do like all the green in the last part of the movie. Glowing green nebulas are always cool places to have your grudge matches.

All right. I'll make a point to watch something non-Trek in the next few days so that I can get off the Trek subject. Maybe... Buck Rogers? I could go on for hours about the chunky grace of Gil Gerard...


Sunday, June 3, 2007

What's that in the sky? A head?*

I promised some art, didn't I?

Well, there's something, at least. That's an old animation loop done for a college class. The old fashioned kind, too: watercolor background and acetate cells. In the original film, done on a rather nice animation stand in the RISD Illustration department, I had the HeadBird flying across the screen. THis time, I just scanned in the cells and looped it in ImageReady. A couple of frames are missing, but it doesn't seem to have hurt it at all - but I do note that with the head staying in one place, you can see how much the shape of the head burbles over the 15 or so frames.

I know I mentioned this earlier, but my first big thing, my big ambition as a young artist, was to be an animator. Dozens of pristine pads were sacrificed to this end - I had specific requirements for their ease of thumbing. When I stared, I did front-to-back, but then I learned that real animators did back-to-front. For a lowly flipbook, all this meant was making it a little easier to flip and see the action. For traditional animation, back-to-front made a lot more sense, because a good animator's desk features a built in light box, with pegs on top to hold the specially-holed paper in place. Obviously, it's a lot easier to do the next frame when you can always see what the previous frames were.

I can't tell you how juiced I used to get as a kid, when The Wonderful World of Disney would show a rare behind the scenes moment of a lead animator at his desk, flipping through the loosely pencilled pages of some character doing their thing. Wow. Now that these things are a dime-a-dozen on any number of DVD extras, they've lost their potency, but at the time, these glimpses of the technique behind animation were so rare that it was really magic to see.

Sure, from one perspective, it's just a middle-aged guy sitting at a desk all day doing minimal variations on the same drawing over and over and OVER again. And given the factory method that Disney had, the animator in question wasn't one person but a team, for each character. The key animator drew every sixth or twelfth frame, and then his team of in-betweeners would fill in the rest of the action. Then they'd do the pencil test - actually filming the pencils to see if they lined up with the vocal track, if the animation flowed properly, etc.

Once everything was approved, it went to ink and paint. Up until 101 Dalmatians (I think), the pencil art was hand-inked onto acetate, then painted from behind. At some point, they experimented with Xeroxing the pencils directly on to the cels, which is why a lot of the 50's- 70's Disney films have that ragged look, compared to the smooth lines of the early features. I'm not sure which I prefer, aesthetically - the look of the later films is more dynamic, but the earlier films are superior in just about every way.

Sorry. I don't mean to go so much into the minutiae of it all (most of which I'm sure you already know), but it's just to illustrate how damn sure I was of my life's calling at a very young age. I like to think I was refreshing. Everyone else wanted to be a fireman, astronaut, Yankee, and I wanted to make animated cartoons.

I moved away from animation after I discovered comics in my very, very early teens, but both comics and animation got a lot out of me for the next few years. I was sort of scared away from animation pretty deliberately one day by an old man I met. I can't exactly remember the circumstances, or who he might have been, but as I recall:

A trip with my mother and her then-boyfriend, an Art Director from some big NYC ad agency, Harvey. Not to put to fine a point on in, but Harvey was the gayest straight man I've ever met in my life. He was also an incredibly self-absorbed and egotistical pompous twit with a really skewed sense of what constituted 'culture', but that's a subject I'll either get into another time or never at all. At any rate, we all ended up at a house somewhere in (again, I think) suburban Connecticut, the home of an elderly couple. For all I know, they could have been Harvey's parents.**

There followed an interminable day, but one thing that came up was my interest in animation. I recall that the old man was perhaps a designer or illustrator of some kind. He told me a warning story - one of the kind that I think adults tell kids to 'help' them - about the time he applied for a job as a Disney animator. Given his advanced age and the fact that this conversation took place no later than 1983, he'd either gone to Disney while in his 40's or tried out for Disney's first studio in Kansas City, but I digress. The old man told me a horror story of the test they gave him, having to duplicate drawings with a clock running, someone watching through a two-way mirror, etc. He made it sound more like a CIA interrogation than the place where Mickey Mouse lived. But what he kept hammering home was how hard it was, and how unlikely it was that I'd get a job there. He hadn't, after all.

That may have been the real turning point in my desired to become an animator. Certainly, there were a lot of other factors, not least of which the more immediate rush I got from comics and the fact that I could be more social with them (there's an odd concept, but I didn't have many friends as a kid and comics helped me find some), but having a guy who looked like a WWI veteran outright state that I wouldn't have what it takes to be one of the Disney team was a pretty definitive moment for me.

Weird, the moments that shape us. I mean, look at the above: I'd spent half of my life up to that point doggedly pursuing animation, but some old crank whose name and circumstance I can't recall - and yet, he put me off of my chosen path more than an entire phalanx of Guidance Counsellors ever could. And when I say 'put me off,' I mean put me off. While I can easily imagine returning to comics with full force, and have even taken major steps in that direction, I will never, ever sit down and make a flipbook again, and Dave the Animator is dead and gone.

That's all right. I mean, so is traditional animation, at least for now. Let's see what happens in 2009 when Disney's The Princess and the Frog hits theaters. Maybe it'll hit me, too.


*Old Benny HIll joke.
** One problem regular readers may discover is my unbelievably poor memory of my childhood. I've retained almost none of it, and I'm not making an exaggeration. All details, circumstances, names, dates should therefore be regarded as highly suspect.

Get on board the Nightmare Plane

Uch. I'm not sure exactly what switch was flipped where, or by whom, but right after dinner (a 'spaghetti supper' fundraiser at the local church with friends), the rest of my day became a seemingly non-stop meditation on death, religion, Hello Kitty and other existential terrors.

The shift in tone from home repair to confronting the great unknown began quite literally as Jim - who works (on his summers off from teaching physics) on the cemetery crew for the church - took us on a tour of the interesting parts of the graveyard. Since the town I live in was established back in the 1600's, the interesting parts of it were interesting, indeed. Jim's favorite: a stone from the 1880's which list not only the deceased and his mourners, but also the man who murdered him. What was the story there? Lord only knows, and he's not saying.

From there, I went for beers - well, beer, since we each only had one - with Chris and Finona, where all manner of soul-searing topics were broached. Now, home, alone, at 1:30 AM and preparing to sleep alone, I can only imagine what sort of god-awful mindfuck nightmares I'm going to end up with. If I get anything good, I'll report tomorrow.

For now, I'm going to try to distract my brain with a Ramble into a different subject. Funny, because at one point, we started to discuss blogging (that was obviously not such a soul-searing topic), and I noted a weakness of the Rambler is that I have a tendency to suddenly shift subjects at random. I likened it to The Simpsons; every episode begins with one story then (usually in a almost complete non-sequitur), shifts gears entirely and ends up somewhere else. That's their formula: say an episode begins with Maggie winning the state lottery. That will run for about three minutes, then suddenly the story goes off on a seeming tangent about Mister Burns trying to have a statue of himself erected in the town square. Often, the first storyline will never be referred to again.

These Ramblers follow that pattern: it takes me about three paragraphs to get my brain running. The Rambler often seems to me like an old barnstormer bouncing down a country dirt runway. It's getting up speed, but we're not sure if sometimes we're going to clear the copse of tall maples lurking at the fast approaching edge of the meadow. I like to think that I've gotten us off the ground safely more often than not, but I'll admit that a few of these have ended with the plane upside down in the thicket, acrid smoke billowing from all available sources, as we crawl from the wreckage and I wonder aloud if there was just too much ballast aboard.

Maintaining interest for both writer and reader is a pretty delicate balance. I've been thinking more about writing lately, simply because the Subway Rambler is my only current avenue of expression - everything else being currently on hold in the face of collaborator difficulties and schedules, the sheer demanding weight of (currently) two jobs and the pressing concerns of the house. And I should clarify that by saying 'thinking more about writing,' I don't mean that I'm suddenly going to up and focus on novels. I've tried that in the past and found that the curse of the unfinished overlong ambitious project that plagues me in both music and comics also holds fast in prose. I have two unfinished novels from the mid-90's and one screenplay with several hundred pages of beginnings and middles, but no ending in sight.

My main goal here is not to bore you, while at the same time keeping myself engaged. I know full well that whatever little bug that's crawled up my ass is highly unlikely to be of universal concern. Conversely, I'm presuming that anyone who rides the Rambler on a regular basis isn't showing up for my sterling prose stylings and sage observations on the human condition. It's the very Daveness of this place that makes or breaks it.

So what about times like these in my life, when I've been mostly erased and replaced by a hazy outline with some Dave-like shapes inside? Can I still hope to get the Rambler off the ground, over those maples, and humming securely and entertainingly over the countryside, sometimes low altitude, sometimes high above pointing out neat little landmarks for the passengers?

We shall see. In the meantime, I'll shift over to a couple of art blogs for the next couple of days. Heck, maybe I'll even do a music blog, but I've become convinced in the last month or so that this might not be the proper forum for music.

I do tire myself out with these blogs about blogging - one of the real pitfalls of doing this on a daily basis, I suppose. But, if nothing else, I think it says something about me to witness my ever-changing relationship to the Rambler. Finona said that when she blogs, she ends up putting up so much negative stuff as a catharsis that she's afraid that anyone who reads it is only going to be getting that part of her, and might mistake it for the whole of her.

I assure you that the whole of me is not a man who frets endlessly, does nothing but work and home repair, and views his art solely through the lens of his anxieties. Now I suppose it's up to me to give you evidence to the contrary.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Ripping Yawns

There's a lesson that I learned from watching an episode of Ripping Yarns, Palin & Jones' follow-up to Python: if you make a show where the joke is that the central character is so boring that all the other characters get away from him as fast as possible, the show will, by extension, also be terminally boring.

Still, I'm about to violate that lesson. I've been shit-bored all day, and I'm even more bored now, if that's possible. And yet, I'm still going to write this Rambler. Take the above Ripping Yarns warning to heart: although I'm not going to go on and on about the comparative qualities of different shovels I've used (like the Palin character), you may wish I had by the end of this.

The highlight of my day was a late-afternoon nap that left me feeling almost paralytically enervated. I'd borrowed my dad's truck and made a couple of runs to the town dump - at least I got rid of the old refrigerator, finally - but since I only got the truck here at 2:30, and the dump closes at 4:00, well, that was only enough time for the two trips. Still plenty to do around the house, but I'll confess I wasn't in the mood for any of that.

So I got into bed and watched some of the extras on the 2002 Wrath of Khan "Director's Edition." And the extras were pretty feh. There's a toothless talking heads-based 'making of' retrospective - presumably filmed in early 2002, as Harve Bennett made an al Qaeda reference - that was kind of diverting but really bottom of the barrel as far as such things go. The only thing that was really fascinating about it was how old Shatner (filmed in front of a bookcase curiously filled solely with multiple copies of the same book) and Nimoy looked, and how extremely young director Nick Meyers looked. Seriously - if he was the 35 years he looked in 2002, does that mean he directed Khan when he was a high school sophomore?

The other promising 'featurette' (oh, how I hate that word) was the obligatory F/X making of. And it was pretty much a wash. Some of the stuff was interesting, but, hey: what's the one Khan effect that made everyone shit their pants in 1982? If you said "The Genesis Simulation," get the fuck out, you geek, you. Right. So, shouldn't a proper in-depth featurette on the F/X of Khan really get almost fetishistic in detail about the making of, as one talking head puts it, "the first CGI sequence in a major Hollywood film?" Well, this wasn't a proper making of. Nothing about it, save to note that ILM walked across the street to ask the CG house to give it a whirl when practical F/X couldn't cut it.

Really? That's it? Surely, these people knew there was something revolutionary going on at the time. No-one saved any storyboards, animatics, wire-frame tests? What was the process at the point when this team was pioneering - from whole cloth - the technology that would come to completely dominate all film work within the next decade and a half? Note, too, that Tron also came out in 1982, and even though Tron is one of my favorite films, I'll be the first to admit that the Genesis sequence blows all of the animation in Tron out of the water handily, in terms of sophistication, verisimilitude, detail and dramatic effect. How did they do it? Fucked if I know, because the 'featurette' refuses to give any detail.

Now there could be two reasons for this:
1) I could be right that no-one saved any of the prep materials, in which case, maybe they should have had someone bemoan this fact in the featurette, or
2) They thought we wouldn't be interested.

Reason one is bothersome enough (Idiots!), but reason two would be amazingly frustrating to me if I'd been the one to buy this DVD. For starters, the featurette is full of shots of the original practical models, model photography, matte plates, etc., complete with a semi-detailed explanation of the thinking behind the designs and implementation of quite a bit of the work. And as far as 'being interested': can you imagine a crowd more stoked for a technical retrospective of the dawning days of CGI than the people who bought a special edition of a Star Trek DVD?

Heck, maybe they held it off to put on either The Search for Spock or Voyage Home special editions, because the sequence was reused in full in both films. Way to get your money's worth, Paramount. While you were at it, why didn't you shoehorn it into The Final Frontier, too? At least that would mean there'd be something worth watching in that film, then.

Anyway, once I exhausted that, I moved onto a very odd featurette that consisted of two very nerdy Trek novel writers talk about their books at excruciating length. After about 20 minutes with no end in site, I started getting that sensation where the sound of the TV would suddenly boom, and I realized I was falling asleep.

When I woke up from my intermission, I couldn't move. No shit. My hands were laid across my chest and it took a couple of minutes of willed concentration to lift them off. It wasn't even so much like I was still beat (though I was), but like my brain had shut down and couldn't find my arms or legs, like a PC failing to locate the printer or wireless network after you first wake it up.

Took a very brief stroll, came back and realized there was nothing for it but to watch the movie itself.

And, yes: it's a damn great movie, and the years have been very, very kind. Great plot, dialogue, effects, action, etc. Only one thing bugs me on a dramatic level: At a few points in the film, we are shown how the young (and surprisingly hot Kirstie Alley) Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik is very bound by regulations, often quoting specific policies by number. Later, there's an extended sequence where the Enterprise has ben disabled in a firefight. Kirk and his team beam away to investigate the interior of a moon that's been 'Genesised,' only to get trapped there by Khan. Via a communication that they (and the audience) know is being monitored by Khan, Spock makes mulitple references to doing things 'by the book, like our Mr. Saavik - hours would seem like days' before (hint-hint) saying that it will take two days to reconfigure the doohickey and get the Eneterprise swinging again. "By the book, Captain," Spock says, one last time, just in case the nursing infant in the back row didn't get the implication.

Okay. Now, not only am I bugged by just how underlined, bold-faced, italicized and highlighted that whole thing is just as an audience member (let's have a little suspense, okay?), and the fact that if Khan is supposed to be a genetically engineered supersmart superdude who has already shown multiple times that he's the king of subterfuge (and fine Corinthian Leather), did it not occur to the scriptwriters that since Khan has no idea who the fuck Saavik is and therefore no idea about her predilection for quoting regulations, wouldn't that be, like an extra tip-off to Khan that something was up? I mean, if Spock's code-speak was meant to be understood by Kirk and Kirk alone, maybe the filmmakers shouldn't have pitched it at the level of a construction worker paying for a weekday matinee showing with his earnings from faking disability.

All right. That might seem like minor quibbles, but it seemed like a pretty sore thumb when I watched it this time around, and I recall it bugging me even at the age of 11.

Anyway, here's a minor quibble for you: when Carol Marcus - Kirk's ex and the mother of his son - is shown introducing the Genesis pitchreel for Starfleet, she refers to securing Starfleet 'funds.' Uh, okay. Which means that the Federation Farthing must have been phased out in the 75 years between Khan and Picard's first season lecture to some thawed out 20th Century stockbroker that mankind in the 24th Century has moved beyond the need for money and is motivated now by the quest for self-improvement, which sort of makes Starfleet sound like EST in space. And I guess the writers thought that lecture was so great that they had him repeat it to Alfre Woodard in First Contact. Right, we get it. Money is bad. And how much of the evil green did these two movies gross between their original releases and the many, many video, laser, DVD, PSP and by now Blu-Ray/HD bare-bones, special editions and directors editions?

Cut to Kirk angrily shouting into a communicator. I wonder how much profit participation Shatner gets in all of this?


Statute of Limitations

All right. Yesenia's been gone for a week, and that's long enough. I'm functioning fine - mostly because I have so much on my plate that I can keep myself occupied during all waking hours - but we're about to head into the weekend and that's when I'll really start to feel it.

I've never been particularly good on my own, but I've gotten better in recent years. Looks like about ten days is my limit. Lord knows how I'll handle it if Yesenia ever decides to take an extended trip, to Puerto Rico or elsewhere. I'll have to prep in advance and order the entire run of some show I missed the first time around. Enterprise? As a rule, I like all things Star Trek, and I've liked Scott Bakula since Quantum Leap, so you'd think it'd be a done deal, but somehow, I only caught a few episodes of this during the original run.

In the interim, I've gotten a few movies on deck - rewatched Nemesis, and felt (as I did when I saw it in the theater) that it's unjustly maligned. Perfectly entertaining Trek, although I'll admit that the Romulans were an odd choice for a center stage villain. The "Data Leap" is up there with my favorite film moments, and I wish they hadn't given that one away in the trailer, because seeing it cold would have been pretty neat. I also rented First Contact, which I'll get to sometime this weekend. And I just borrowed the Wrath of Kahn Director's 'Edition' (whatever that means) from Karl, so I'll have me a mini-Trekathon this weekend.

Watched Tenacious D: Pick of Destiny last night. Really slow opening, but once the duo is joined, there's some very funny moments. Dave Grohl's Satan steals the show, though. After I dropped the DVD back in the mail to BB Online, I regretted not watching the "Rock-Off" sequence again, which was a pretty masterful bit of editing for effect. Don't know why, but given all of the cameos in the film (Stiller as a burned out music store guru, Tim Robbins as - well, some kind of Eastern European bum with one leg), Will Ferrell was nowhere to be found. And no-one does burned out music industry relic better than Will Ferrell. Four SNL cases in point (which I'd Google and link to if I weren't so beat right now) being the " Glenn Frey Seduction Video, (with Ben Stiller) " the "Bass off (with Jack Black)," the "Neil Diamond Storyteller's Special (with John Goodman)," and, of course, "Don't Fear the Reaper." I mean, Ferrell practically invented the visual of the pudgy, burned out rocker, so...? I was disappointed, but he doesn't seem to do too many cameos anymore.

Ah, what the hell. They're all linked above, except for that bass-off sketch, which doesn't seem to rate even much of a mention on-line. Oddly, a Google video search for 'SNL bass-off Black Ferrell' turned up about 12 amateur soft-core lesbian slips, and that's it. What's that about.

So, in lieu of the lost "Bass-Off," here's another classic bass sketch for you: "The Mother, the Father, the Serpent, the Priest."