Monday, October 31, 2011

Movies Movies MOVIES

For what it's worth, there may be SOME SPOILERS below!

RED STATE: Kevin Smith's latest revolves around a controversial ultra-convervative religious group that has taken their hatred of all things homosexual to a whole new level. Led by a charismatic Michael Parks, the group lures/kidnaps and then murders assorted "sinners" who cross their path. When three teenagers are lured into the woods looking for (straight) sex, they land in the Preacher's clutches. You can kind of see the wheels turning in Smith's story, which starts off like some twisted "Hostel" riff but then suddenly left-turns into a bloody Waco-esque stand-off managed by ATF Agent John Goodman. As the "Waco" reference suggests, things don't go all that well, and then there's a truly weird "twist." Revealing the "twist" is definitely a spoiler, and for a minute I thought Smith was REALLY taking this to a truly unique and jaw-dropping place. Alas, things get (over) explained... all that said, I liked this. There are some genuinely creepy moments, and Parks is pretty convincing as the Preacher.

One thing that surprised me, watching the "Making of" documentary, is that some members of the cast thought the movie was actually quite funny. I'm not sure which cut they saw, but except for some early teenager banter between our future victims, I'm not seeing the humor...

KILL THE IRISHMAN: Any movie with Christopher Walken, Vincent D'Onofrio and Val Kilmer in supporting roles has to have something going for it, but this is really a little gem. Ray Stevenson (who's great) plays Danny Greene, a real life Irish gangster who went to war with the Cleveland-based Italian mob in the 70's. The weapon of choice for these sociopaths was the car bomb, and goon after goon was blown to bits when things reached a boil. I have zero sympathy for gangsters and was grateful that while the movie tries to understand Greene, it doesn't excuse his violence. What I liked best is how this felt like a classic 70's gritty gangster movie, but totally modern too. The blu-ray comes with an interesting documentary on Greene that vividly shows what happens when you detonate bombs next to people; as in, pieces of them fly everywhere. Anyway, I think this is an under-appreciated effort and well worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Best Laid Plans

So there I was, planning all sorts of daily updates on the start of shooting for Falling Skies season two... it would have been GLORIOUS! And I can attest that the first day went great. It was great to see so many familiar faces (cast of course and also crew from season one, but also old friends from Battlestar Galactica) and it felt like a year had passed like nothing.

Then... after day one...


For me, not the show. When a tummy ache turned really really nasty, I made the classic 4AM pilgrimage to the nearest E.R. and was in surgery eight hours later. As I write this, I've just been released after seven fun filled days in the G.I. ward. Sporting an incision that makes our creepy skitters look like (find topical reference, Mark, think, man, think!), oh hell, it makes them look pretty.

I could write about the experience, but "day three, it hurts!" and "morphine is my friend!" would be pretty much the sum total of my take away. That, and to remind everyone that if you start feeling really really bad, don't wait or hope it blows over -- get to the Doctor.

I'm just glad it happened in Canada and I can enjoy their free health care... wait? That's just for Canadians?! I have to pay?! NOW it really hurts...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Off To Watch The Skies Fall...

In a few hours I'll be taking off for Vancouver B.C. and the start of season two production on Falling Skies. Episode #1 was written by yours truly and will be lovingly directed by Mr. Greg Beeman. Episode #2 was written by my Battlestar buddies Bradley Thompson and David Weddle and will also be directed by the self same Mr. Beeman. And so it begins!

Meanwhile, it's been great being back in the writer's room with EP Remi Aubuchon, Brad, David, Joe Weisberg and fresh-faced Falling Skies scribes Bryan Oh and Heather Regnier. The group is hatching all sorts of new bedevilment for the 2nd Mass and the people of Earth. No spoilers, but suffice to say the aliens haven't surrendered to us. Though that WOULD be a different way to start season two!

Oh, and casinos of Vancouver, beware! I may find time to purge you of your looneys and other strange Canadian monies.

More data as it comes available...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve Ditko and Frank Miller Have New Books!

A Ditko #14 (that's the title) is fresh off the presses and offers another collection of brand new stories and meanderings from the co-creator of Spider-Man. These books are almost certainly an acquired taste, but I love all things Ditko and enjoyed this issue more than most. Ditko's artwork seems a bit tighter and more finished, and we get some classic Ditko polemics along with a dose of crime/superhero-ish stories. In fact, here's exactly what you get (from publisher Robin Snyder's web site):

- ditko cover
- inside front cover: "previously" reprints the cover of ACT 8 making lucky 13 thirteen ditko 32s
- inside front cover: "coming attraction" A DITKO #15
- 8-page "miss eerie"
- 10-page HERO story "faith and force"
- 6-page "the cape"
- 4-page "the distorter"
- 4-page "the complainers"
- inside back cover: "have mercy on poor me..."
- back cover: "not my fault"

My two favorites? The "10 page HERO story" is a series of full page pin-ups distilling Ditko's philosophy, mostly via a monster looming over (hell? The Earth?). Sample captioning from page four, over and under a monster clutching clubs marked "Faith!" and "Force": "It's so easy to dominate, rule with so many, so willing to sell out, sacrifice their best for the unearned and undeserved. Ah, Ha! HA! Created by two powerless weapons on their own by self-deceivers and self-destroyers. HA! HA! Ha! Ha!"

This issue also features my new favorite piece of comic book dialogue. In the "Miss Eerie" story, a couple of 30's cops are mulling a criminal's sudden absence, and one of them isn't buying that the crook is gone for good, because "he came back for some CRIME."

Those examples either left you scratching your head in disbelief, or (if you're like me) desperate to order the entire self-published Ditko series. Here's the thing: I don't agree with any of Steve Ditko's Ayn Rand-ian philosophical beliefs. But I love that at (82? 83?) Steve Ditko is still writing and drawing comics. And I love that he's doing exactly what he feels like doing, critics/sales be damned.

For ordering info (I don't think I've seen one of Ditko's books in a comic book shop in years) go to:

Frank Miller's new title has a somewhat higher profile, but there are similarities between Holy Terror and A Ditko #14. Holy Terror started life as a Miller passion project post 9/11 that was basically "Batman VS Osama." Not quite sure what editorial futzing happened after that, but suddenly it's not with DC Comics or featuring Batman. Miller's turned Batman into "The Fixer", the Catwoman character into "Nellie Stack, Cat Burglar," Gotham City into "Empire City", and we're off!

So Batman (sorry, "The Fixer") and Catwoman (sorry, "Nellie") are romping around the city (I think she's stealing diamonds) when terrorists blow up a building. After our heroes tumble around in the blast, The Fixer says "No. Not on my watch." Nellie says "Not on my turf." and they go after the terrorists. There is a very Ditko-esque multi-page wordless spread showing (I think) a terrorist woman with a missile launcher, Michael Moore, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, Condi Rice, a suicide-bomber's vest, an Arab woman with a machine gun, a (I think) helicopter crashing, and finally someone holding a silhouetted severed head.

The Fixer exclaims that he is "at war," calls his friends in the police department for clues, muses over how he can never fall in love with Nellie, then goes on a rampage against the generic terrorists while trading some of the lamest superhero quips ever committed to paper, like "let's get some killing done."

The Fixer tortures a terrorist by snapping his spine and threatening to gouge out his eyes. He wades into a handy gathering of terrorists guns blazing, snapping all THEIR necks with brutal kicks (caption: "We engage in postmodern diplomacy."). He takes care of a terrorist yelling "JIHAD!" by kicking him in the gut and sending him flying across the room, etc., etc. It makes Team America looks like a John Le Carre novel... and closely resembles the 80's Missing In Action movie series with Chuck Norris, or the second Rambo movie, where studly American heroes got to kick Vietnamese ass in a little post-war revisionism.

The art-style shifts half way through the story, going from relatively finished to something looser... sort of the way Ditko's art has gone from a more finished style to something much looser. A cynic might think that the looser style is quicker and faster to produce, but thank goodness I am not that cynical!

Anyhow, Holy Terror is less a superhero book than a crazed polemic on terrorism and Miller's visceral reaction to 9/11. I can't tell if it's meant to be taken seriously or as some looney satire (it more or less works on both levels). Like with Ditko, I don't agree with Miller's world view and frankly I think Holy Terror is a mess on all sorts of fronts -- but there's still something glorious about a world where he has a venue to produce his own unvarnished work. This one was a king-sized miss in my book, but I'll buy his next one!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Things I Learned From The Movie "Drive"...

WARNING - minor spoilers ahead.

I really liked Drive -- seriously, it's very well made and exciting and I loved the Euro-silences between the action. I also like movies set in L.A. that take advantage of the less traveled areas. However, as always, I gleaned some valuable information that should be helpful going forward (SECOND WARNING -- minor spoilers ahead) --

Remember that really nasty guy who got mad over an unpaid debt and beat you until you were left permanently handicapped? It's probably not a good idea to get into business with his partner.

Ladies like the strong, silent types.

Those same ladies can react poorly when you stomp someone's head into jelly. But they usually get over it.

It's okay to be a helpful neighbor, but robbery and murder are big BIG favors, way beyond the proverbial "cup of sugar."

Good news, commuters -- there is rarely any traffic on Los Angeles roads and freeways, especially during those critical times when you need to evade police and/or bad guys via a daring high speed car chase.

This is especially true in the vicinity of the Staples Center as a Clippers game ends. (I had no idea attendance was THAT bad!)

When threatened with imminent murder, lingering to pack a (shabby) suitcase in a place where the bad guy can find you probably isn't the best use of your time.

Topless strippers are remarkably composed, even when you're taking a hammer to their boss in the middle of their dressing room.

There's never a laundromat handy when your favorite white leather jacket gets drenched in blood.

Clearly some knife wounds are worse than others.

And finally -- when you threaten someone with certain death and then follow them outside, alone, for further discussion -- buddy, you're just asking for trouble.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Seen, Heard, Read...

LIVE: NICK LOWE, Oct. 8 2011, Largo in Los Angeles: Mr. Lowe did not disappoint, performing 80 minutes of wry solo acoustic gems from his new CD ("The Old Magic") and pulling oldies but goodies from the rest of his lengthy career. Some of his songs seem rather dark on the CD, but in performance, Lowe's almost continuous smile make it clear there is always a wry humor at work. Opener J.D. McPherson was also excellent, and their reggae-esque duet on Bread's "Everything I Own" (!) was a lot of fun. Mr. Lowe is touring with Wilco and doing solo sets along the way so if you get a chance to catch either, take it!

CD: By sheer coincidence, the same day I saw the elder Lowe in concert, I received a new remastered Kippington Lodge CD, "Sky Boy The Complete Recordings 1967-1969." These are some of Mr. Lowe's very earliest recorded efforts (working alongside Brinsley Schwarz and Bob Andrews, both later with The Rumour), and... well, it's interesting. Let's just say I don't believe any of this catalog made it into Saturday's show. I wish I could offer a more rousing appraisal... I like bright and sunny pop as much as the next guy, but this is pretty saccharin stuff. And proves we all gotta start somewhere!

BLU-RAY FUN: Brian DePalma's Scarface has been released on high def blu-ray, and to these sad blurry eyes it is an amazing transfer. Colors are bright and sharp and the movie has never looked better. I don't have earlier editions so I'm not sure if the extended features were available on DVD before, but you get a selection of outtakes, numerous "making of" documentaries, and in the metal box set, a DVD of the original Scarface with Paul Muni and Geo. Raft from 1932. I had never seen the original and sure enough, the Al Pacino version is pretty much a remake in terms of story. Tone, that's a different kettle o' fish. There isn't a single chainsaw in the original Scarface, though there is endless machine gun violence...

DOWNLOAD FUN: One of the Scarface making-of tracks mentioned a documentary on the coke trade in Miami circa the 80's, Cocaine Cowboys, available via Amazon download. Cowboys features extensive interviews with four or five surviving "entrepreneurs" from that era as well as several law enforcement officials. From the crime side, we hear from three folks involved in transporting coke from Colombia to the U.S. (making millions in the process) and a hit man serving consecutive life terms for over a dozen murders. What I drew from the documentary is that Scarface was a bit over-designed in terms of Tony Montana's life-style (most of the houses the actual gangsters lived in looked like middle class tract homes). But the violence in the DePalma Scarface was actually scaled down from reality. Real chopped up dead bodies (and the documentary does not spare the viewer from these ugly realities) are not particularly photogenic. Perhaps most disturbing was learning that the woman mastermind behind hundreds of drug murders got off with a light sentence because of troubles in the Miami prosecutor's office, and she was released in 2004. Actually, I take that back. Most disturbing is a lengthy coda that attributes a huge building boom in Miami back in the 80's/90's to the insane amounts of cash lying around from the coke trade. Miami's skyline wouldn't exist without all that drug money. That's kind of depressing...

OVER ON HBO, Martin Scorsese's 3 1/2 hour documentary on George Harrison ("Living In The Material World") is absolutely worth the time. I'm a fairly well read Beatles fan, so there weren't a lot of surprises per se, but watching the progression of Harrison's professional and personal career, with all the spiritual twists and turns, was involving and ultimately quite emotional. The Beatles material was fun (though the documentary skims over the actual break-up pretty quickly), Harrison's later collaborations with the amazing Ravi Shankar were explored in depth... and Ringo Starr tells some of the best anecdotes. There's a Ringo moment toward the end of the film that drew a tear from even this viewer's jaundiced eye. Highly recommended!

READ IN ACTUAL BOOK FORM: Torpedo Vol. 3, by Sanchez Abuli and Jordi Bernet. IDW's hardcover series, reprinting these insanely hardboiled gangster adventures, continues with Volume Three. Bernet's artwork is superb and the morally corrupt world of "Torpedo" never ceases to offer surprises. I think what I like best about these stories is that the lead character (the reprehensible hitman Torpedo) is screwed over and abused almost as much as the characters he's out to rough up and/or kill. There's a lot of (very dark) humor in these short pieces. These aren't for everyone but I like 'em...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

That Funny Tingle...

We'll be seeing singer/songwriter Nick Lowe in concert this weekend, probably the sixth or seventh time I've seen him perform over the last (gulp) 30+ years... and it got me to thinking about what makes seeing folks live so much fun. For me, it's those "tingle up your spine" moments where you know you're seeing something amazing and totally unique to that singular moment in time. It got me to mulling over past concert experiences, and that tingle feeling... and thought I'd kick it off with two performances 33 years apart

6/24/78 - Bruce Springsteen, Portland, Or. My first Springsteen concert and the one that cemented my infatuation with his music for the next three plus decades. The whole show qualified for "the tingle", but it was the first time I'd seen and heard the extended "Prove It All Night" and... well, wow. Saw him again 12/17/78, heard the full blown "Detroit Medley" for the first time, and the fish, already hooked, was now in the bucket.

5/11/11 - Elvis Costello, Los Angeles. I've seen virtually every Costello tour since 1979, and this show ranks up in the top five of the 25 - 30 concerts I've enjoyed. The tingle moment in this show came mid way, when Costello performed "A Slow Drag With Josephine", a quiet 30's-esque song from his National Ransom album. That was swell enough, but as the song closed, Costello dropped the mic and closed the number with an un-amplified rendering of the first couple lines from "Brother Can You Spare A Dime." Big room, lots of people, and except for the yayhoo who had to yelp, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Second place award goes to the piano-only version of "All Grown Up", one of Costello's more beautiful melodies, exquisitely sung on this fine evening.

More tingles to come...

Rick Perry And Michele Bachmann Explain It All

Rick Perry discusses his "Princess In A Mustache" and loaning out his Kwanza CDs...

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann explains why it's better to bring milk as opposed to backyard meth to her prison party...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Meager Round-Up Of TV Thoughts...

Episode one/season two of Falling Skies (written by yours truly) is now in pre-production so it's been a busy few weeks, but today the latest drafts are in, the sun is out, the Yayhoos are playing and all is more or less well...

Television-wise, I've managed to keep up with the new season of Boardwalk Empire, which is still enthralling but definitely moving at a slower pace as events (and friends) conspire against Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson. It's great to see Dabney Coleman back with a vengeance ("he dyes his hair!!") and Michael Kenneth Williams as "Chalky White" has become a much more complex character with the introduction of his wife and kids. The production design of this show is as much a draw as the story-telling, I continue to be impressed by the amazing attention to detail.

And Showtime's Homeland is off to an intriguing start, an updated Manchurian Candidate riff with great performances by Claire Danes and Damien Lewis. Be curious to see where this goes... it feels somewhat close-ended, but I guess that all depends on what the Manchurian Candidate fellow is planning. There is a wildly uncomfortable moment in the pilot episode between Claire Danes' character and Mandy Patinkin as her older CIA mentor/boss that sold me... Claire is one flawed heroine.

It's not new, but my other fave show at the moment is American Restoration, a Pawn Stars spin-off featuring master restorer Rick Dale and his shop of eccentrics. Basically, customers brings in beat-up old stuff (Coke machines, slot machines, old motorcycles, etc., etc.) and Rick's crew fixes 'em up like new. The "story lines" for each episode are a little silly (Brettly screws up Rick's car wash!) but I am fascinated watching these guys pull apart old, complicated mechanisms and then figure out how to make them work again. The fact that most of the machines ARE fixable is a testament to old school mechanical engineering... the complexity of a pre-electronic slot machine is something else.