Monthly ArchiveDecember 2008



Commentary 31 Dec 2008 03:45 pm

Don’t call them resolutions

Here is my last print column of 2008, published Dec. 31 in The Alliance Review.

Change is hard, which is why we wait until the end of the year to think about making it.

When U.S. citizens consider change, too often we look to elected leaders when we should instead look in the mirror. It sounds as trite as a Michael Jackson song, but it’s true.

As we ring down the curtain on ‘08 and prepare to bring it up on ‘09, here are five things we need to stop and five things we need to start. I don’t like calling them resolutions, which has become code for something we abandon Jan. 5.
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Movies 30 Dec 2008 05:36 pm

Now you see him…

 

Most news reports about the 25 films announced today for inclusion in the National Film Registry focused on The Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature “I’ll be back” line. I remember seeing the film in theaters twice (a rarity for me) when it was first released in 1984. I liked — and like — it a lot, more than either sequel. Word on the street is that Christian Bale of Dark Knight fame will star in a new Terminator sequel in 2009. The beauty of time travel in movies is it can create any number of paradoxes and endless sequel-milking.

But the movie on the newest Registry list that I’m most excited about isn’t Terminator. Instead, it’s the one starring the gentleman seen (or not seen) above: The Invisible Man. Made by Universal Studios in 1933, it starred Claude Rains (later of Casablanca fame) and was directed by James Whale, who had done the honors on Universal’s Frankenstein. It’s a great movie, and having it named to the latest Library of Congress list gives me an excuse to put it into rotation on my ever-growing list of movies I plan to watch again.

Media 29 Dec 2008 02:44 pm

Spa-a-a-a-ce Ghost!

 

Space Ghost & Dino Boy is a two-disc collection of the classic 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons, airing long before Space Ghost became a joke of sorts on Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost Coast To Coast and before DC Comics attempted to revive the character by making him super serious and relevant.

No, this is the original Space Ghost, who turns invisible, flies around in his Phantom Cruiser, and spends most of his time rescuing youthful companions Jan and Jace and their pet monkey, Blip. The character designs by comic-book legend Alex Toth (whose name rhymes with “both” and not “Roth”) stand the test of time; the character looks cool as hell, sailing about in all his transparent glory and shouting “Spa-a-a-a-ce Gho-o-o-ost” as he swoops down on the bad guys.
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Comic books & Media 28 Dec 2008 06:21 pm

Braver and bolder

 

Somewhere between the ultra-campy Batman TV series of the 1960s and the super-serious Caped Crusader from this year’s Dark Knight film is the hero portrayed in the new Cartoon Network Series, Brave and the Bold. This isn’t the jokey Adam West version, and it’s not the emo, self-tortured Christian Bale version either. Instead, it’s more like the Batman I grew up — serious, but not so much that he can’t smile occasionally. The character design looks like it was lifted from Dick Sprang, an incredible artist who drafted a highly stylized Batman and emphasized props like giant pennies, dinosaurs, and the like.

Like the old Brave and the Bold comic book, the new animated series teams Batman with a different guest star for each installment. This week, it was Plastic Man. The writers tweaked Plas’s origin a bit to fit him in the Batman continuity, but otherwise this is Jack Cole’s rubbery creation brought to life via animation. The show gave Plas a good character arc, too, taking him from greedy criminal to selfless savior in just thirty minutes, less if you don’t count the commercials. The villain of the week was Gorilla Grodd, whose secret base was on an island of dinosaurs, giving Batman and Plastic Man plenty to keep them occupied.

I liked the episode well enough to have the DVR record future installments. This is a Batman that we don’t see much these days — certainly not in the latest big-budget motion picture and almost never in the monthly comics — but one that is just as valid as the tortured, driven version that has supplanted all other interpretations.

Movies 27 Dec 2008 11:35 am

Everybody was kung-fu fightin’

 

Santa dropped a copy of Kung Fu Panda in my daughter’s stocking. This is a movie that looked uninspired in its previews, especially when I saw that Jack Black voiced the lead character. (He was miscast in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which wasn’t his fault but is something I still hold against him.) So I stayed away.

I shouldn’t have. Turns out it’s a good little movie. Black is great as the titular hero, an overweight bear working in his father’s noodle shop who dreams of being a kung-fu superstar. Dustin Hoffman voices the Master, a diminutive rat who doesn’t want to train the panda in the martial arts. While I miss traditional, hand-drawn animation, the computerized art here is breathtaking in its clarity, and it suits the story well. (I wonder if we’ll ever see another “classic” animated theatrical effort from any studio again. Probably not.)

The movie was a pleasant surprise. I give it two panda paws up.

Movies 26 Dec 2008 05:38 pm

Wild, horny gorilla

 

It’s hard to work up too much distaste for a movie that runs only 61 minutes. Unlike two and two-and-a-half hour films, these quickies don’t waste too much of one’s time, and are actually only about fifteen minutes longer than an episode of your average television drama if you subtract the commercials.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I kinda/sorta like Captive Wild Woman (1943), a Universal horror entry I watched for the first time this week. John Carradine plays a doctor who puts the glands of a woman into the body of a female ape, causing the creature to change into a dark-complexioned beauty played by Aquanetta. The poster above shows both the ape and Aquanetta, which is impossible as they are one and the same. (The name Aquanetta reminds me of hairspray. Do they still make Aquanet?)
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Commentary 24 Dec 2008 09:10 am

Taking out the fat guy

Here is my print column from Dec. 24, 2008. Merry Christmas, everybody!

To: President George W. Bush

From: Homeland Security

Re: Operation Fat Man

This Christmas, the U.S. intelligence community has the opportunity to capture and/or neutralize alleged terrorist “S. Claus.”

To avoid negative publicity associated with previous intelligence debacles, we have thoroughly vetted said dissident — invoking, as the Brothers Marx call it, the “Sanity Clause” — and found his activities highly suspicious. Working with a diminutive faction known as elves, he is said to create knock-off versions of brand-name toys, electronics and clothing for delivery through a system that circumvents traditional retailing. Need we remind you of the importance of retailing money to Republican campaigns and the influence of the retailers’ lobby?
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Comic books & Media 23 Dec 2008 12:40 pm

Fortified with spinach and extras

 

If you grew up watching Popeye cartoons in half-hour chunks on TV like I did, the 60 theatrical shorts on Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938 will come as a surprise. The episodes that made it to television were often later works made by Paramount after the studio bought out the Max Fleischer Cartoon Studio, the original makers of the sailor’s cartoon adventures. Those later installments are all of a piece: Popeye and Bluto compete for Olive Oyl’s attention, Popeye gets the *@#! kicked out of him by Bluto, eats a little spinach, and emerges victorious.

The shorts on this four-DVD set are the earlier Fleischer canon, and they are as lively, varied and inventive as any cartoons of the ’30s, including the seminal Disney work. While they adhere to a basic formula, calling that a shortcoming is like saying Shakespeare’s tragedies are similar because they all end with a death. In these cartoons, viewers will see Popeye on safari, working as a barker on Coney Island, recovering treasure as a deep-sea diver, and babysitting little Swee’pea, who may or may not be his and Olive’s love child. (The comic strip has Popeye “finding” Swee’pea, but the cartoons has the baby living with Olive and looking a lot like the one-eyed sailor.)
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Books 22 Dec 2008 05:43 pm

Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.

 

“Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.” is one strange short story, just one tale of many in Harlan Ellison’s Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, originally published in 1969.

Equal part pulp magazine pastiche, spy parody, and political satire, the story casts Santa as a member of a top-secret organization dedicated to wiping out evil. In this case, the evil emanates from S.P.I.D.E.R., an alien menace with an appropriately eight-pronged plan to destroy humanity. That plan involves taking over the minds and bodies of various ’60s politicians, including Ronald Reagan, George Wallace, and Richard Daley, all of whom must face the svelte Santa. (He’s only fat because his red suit contains super-sophisticated weaponry and tracking devices.) Santa’s means of destroying the final agent of S.P.I.D.E.R., however, has nothing to do with wearing a suit, or much of anything.

Beast is sadly out of print, but can be found easily at online retailers (and in brick-and-mortar used-book stores too). Recommended, with reservations, to those who want a dose of non-traditional holiday cheer.

Books 21 Dec 2008 10:36 pm

Disturbing ‘Country’

 

In an article called “Stitching up bullet wounds in Mexico’s drug war,” Time magazine writer Ioan Grillo reports on how Red Cross volunteers put themselves in harm’s way to help people caught in the crossfire of Mexico’s drug wars. One of the medics interviewed said, “Some years ago, the gangsters would say, ‘It’s the Red Cross, leave them alone,’ but now they’re like, ‘We’ll hurt you too.’” That lack of common decency and respect — in essence, a new kind of criminal, part of a new culture — is at the center of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.

The book is a briskly written thriller — part police procedural, part literary dissection on the state of our
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