Friday, September 30, 2011

Now THAT'S Realism!

This month DC Comics began a company-wide relaunch of all their titles, updating the look of their characters for a new generation of readers. This is nothing new; they did the same thing back in the 1960s when they changed the Flash (among others) from a guy wearing a Mercury helmet to a guy in an all-red suit.

Here's an image of the all new Justice League. Look closely and you'll see that most of the characters seem to be wearing some sort of form-fitting armor rather than spandex. You also might notice they're no longer wearing briefs on the outside of their costumes. DC says that from now on they have a strict "no underwear on the outside" policy. They actually felt the need to announce that to the public. According to DC, the underwear look was silly, outdated and most of all, unrealistic.

Because as we all know, a man who can fly and shoot heat rays from his eyes is the ultimate in realism. A man who wears his underwear over his pants? Well that's just ridiculous. Who could believe such a thing?

I may be missing something, but when was it decided that comics are supposed to be realistic? Isn't the whole point of them to as unrealistic as possible? You know, escapist fantasy literature and all that? If you're going to make them realistic, then aren't they just... novels?

I just don't understand how one can demand realism from a book about a man who squirts spiderwebs from his wrists. That seems like a heaping helping of industrial grade schizophrenia to me.

Today's Timely Tip

I saw this incredibly timely article on Yahoo this morning. Apparently at some point during the night I must have slipped into a parallel universe where it's still 1980 but we have the internet.

Stay relevant, Yahoo!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Return Of The Headline

I saw this New York Times headline online today.

And of course this is the first image that entered my mind.

Don't try to tell me you didn't think the same thing!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Use The Senior Citizen Discount, Luke!

This can't possibly be true. Actor Mark Hamill turned 60 today. That's right, Luke Skywalker is now five short years away from retirement and Medicare.

I vividly remember sitting in the movie theater back in 1977, watching young Luke whine about going into Tochi Station to pick up some power converters.

Sigh... I need to go sit down before I fall and break a hip.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Summer Movie Wrap-up

It's been a long time since I've posted any movie reviews, mainly because I've been working a lot lately and just haven't had time to see many films. There was also a lot of crap in the theaters too, and some weekends there just wasn't anything out there that compelled me to leave the house.

Since I know the world is waiting with baited breath to see what I think, here are my thoughts on the precious few movies I saw this summer. 

Super 8
A big wet mushy love letter from J.J. Abrams to the kind of movies Steven Spielberg made in the 1980s (in fact, Spielberg himself produced the movie!) Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of a group of suburban kids who witness a spectacular train crash while filming a home-made monster movie. Soon afterward, strange things start to happen in their town, causing the kids begin their own investigation, leading to an unexpected discovery.

The movie is crammed full of Spielbergian influences (not that that's a bad thing), recalling elements of  E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies and more.

I loved pretty much everything about this movie. It's a welcome throwback to the sort of films I enjoyed as a kid, in style, pacing and overall look. It just feels like a movie from the 1980s that was lost and just recently unearthed.

The film makers also captured the look and feel of the era perfectly, which may also help explain why the movie appealed to me so.

The young stars are all perfect in their roles and seem to have been plucked from the 1980s just to star in this film. As for the adults, Kyle Chandler plays the town sheriff, and I really do not understand why he's not a bigger star than he is.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The cause of all the strange happenings in town is, not surprisingly, an extraterrestrial that's being held prisoner by the military, that just wants to get back to its planet. If I have one complaint about the movie, it's with the look of said alien creature. 

The alien is of course brought to life with somewhat less than convincing CGI. The filmmakers went to great lengths to make everything else in this movie look like it's from the 1980s, and then they give us a smoothly animated but ultimately dodgy looking computer generated creature. I would have liked to have seen the alien realized with special effects technology from that time-- with a Rancor-like puppet or stop-motion model. Yes, a puppet would no doubt have looked fake as well, but it would look true to the period. It was jarring to watch what appeared to be a vintage movie with a modern effect stuck into it.

One major question I had about the ending: The army deliberately starts a forest fire near the town to convince the residents to evacuate, so that they can secretly deal with the alien threat (!). A bit overkill, but what do I know, I'm not a colonel. This isn't just a little blaze; several scenes show a huge wall of flames in the distance, bearing down on the town. The alien, which just wants to return to its planet, uses its magic ET powers to build a makeshift spaceship out of bits and pieces of metal from the immediate area. It then blasts off into space, as the cast looks on in rapt amazement and wonder. The End. Except for one thing-- what about the forest fire? Everyone (including J.J. Abrams) seems to have forgotten that there's a massive inferno surrounding the town. Hopefully the army can put it out before it incinerates the populace.

Those quibbles aside, I highly recommend Super 8. Great job, J.J.! Now hurry up and make some more Star Trek movies. I give Super 8 a B+.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Director Joe Johnston makes up for 2010's lackluster Wolfman remake with the best superhero movie of the summer.

Captain America tells the story of Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid from the Bronx (who inexplicably doesn't have a New Yawk accent) who more than anything wants to go fight Nazis in WWII. He gets his wish when he's chosen for a top secret experiment, is pumped full of steroids, er, I mean the Super Solider Serum, and becomes Captain America. It's a fun, fast paced adventure story set in a time when heroes were still possible.

I have to confess I was never a huge fan of Captain America comics; mainly because he's just a guy. Sure, he's as perfect a specimen as a human can hope to be, but he's still just a regular person. Same reason I never liked Batman all that much. When I read comics, I liked to read about SUPER heroes. Superman, Mr. Fantastic, Spider-Man, The Thing-- characters that can do things I can't.

Despite that, this is the best superhero movie I've seen since the first Iron Man, and probably the best time I had at the theater all summer. Director Johnston seems to excel at directing 1940s period pieces, and also directed the criminally under-appreciated The Rocketeer. I've always been a fan of the whole 1940s "future tech" thing, which features "futuristic" technology with rivets and fins.

Chris Evans does an admirable job of bringing Captain America to life. I've never been much impressed by his acting before, but he seemed greatly improved in this role. Tommy Lee Jones shines as Colonel Chester Philips, and Hugo Weaving is great as always as the Red Skull.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of the Howling Commandos, another group pulled straight from the comics. Cap's sidekick Bucky even makes an appearance, sort of. In the comics, Bucky was Captain America's teen sidekick, ala Batman's Robin. Here Bucky is a contemporary of Cap, and more of a brother figure. He also meets a seemingly untimely end, but like pretty much every comic book character who's ever died, I have a feeling he'll be back in a sequel.

The film makers seem to have ramped up Cap's powers a bit. In the comic he was always portrayed as the ultimate human; as strong as a person can possibly be, but no more. Here Cap and Red Skull both are throwing one another across rooms with the strength of ten men. This power increase didn't really bother me, mainly because it probably wouldn't have been as interesting to show the hero and villain simply punching one another like normal people. I just thought I'd mention it as a change from the comic.

Cap's uniform is very similar to the Captain America in Marvel's "Ultimates Universe." The Ultimates comics are supposed to be more adult and "realistic," hence they feature a version of Cap who wears an army helmet and modified fatigues. The classic Captain America comic book costume does show up however, in the scenes in which Cap tours with the USO, hawking war bonds.

I'm really enjoying this "shared universe" thing that's going on with all the Marvel Studios movies. That's how things were in Marvel comics back in the day, and it's great to see it happening onscreen. I especially liked the inclusion of Howard Stark, our pal Iron Man's dad. He's obviously a thinly veiled version of Howard Hughes, and steals every scene he's in. One quibble: the Stark family timeline doesn't seem to add up. Howard Stark appears to be in his 30s in this movie (possibly even 40), which is set in 1942. His son Tony Stark appears to be in around 40 in Iron Man, which is set in the present day. That means Tony Stark would have been born around 1970. Therefore Howard Stark would have been in his 60s when Tony was born. It's possible I guess, but it seems like a stretch. It would have worked out better if they'd made Howard Stark Tony's grandpappy.

Another minor thing: the Red Skull made a good villain, but to my eyes his face had an almost plastic sheen to it. It didn't look like skin at all, not even ravaged pulled-taut skin. The prosthetic makeup  looked very artificial to me. Maybe it's just not possible to make a guy with a red skull head look realistic.


I kind of wish they hadn't yanked Cap from the 1940s and into our time at the end of the movie. There will no doubt be sequels, and I'd like to see them set in WWII as well. There is a bit of wiggle room for them to do this: there's a montage in the middle of the movie where Captain America and the Howling Commandos liberate European targets from the Red Skull's control. They could easily set some more 1940s adventures within that montage period.

A fun period adventure and comic book story, I give Captain America a resounding A.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Part prequel, part reboot. A preboot? A requel? Whatever you call it, despite the fact that it didn't need to be made, it's one of the very few bright spots in this year's summer movie quagmire.

If you can accept James Franco as a scientist, then you should have no trouble accepting the story of a genetically altered intelligent chimp who leads his fellow apes in a rebellion against mankind.

Andy Serkis, Lord of the Ring's Gollum, plays (or I guess "motion captures") the all CGI chimp Caesar. He does a remarkable job bringing Caesar to life and making him sympathetic, and some have declared that he deserves an Oscar nomination. I think that's going a bit far-- I mean he is playing an ape after all-- but it is a moving performance.

Personally I miss the old school prosthetic ape makeup of days gone by, but since this story concerns real apes rather than man-sized talking ape-like creatures, I understand why they went the route they did. There are a few scenes in which the CGI apes just don't look quite right, but by an large they look and act realistically.

The viral and neurobiology science in the movie is a bit wonky, but overall the story is well-written, believable and intelligently told. It even ties into the previous films and sets up a sequel at the same time.

There are a boat load of shout outs and references to the previous films in this movie. Here are the ones I caught (um, spoilers, I guess):

• Caesar's mom was nicknamed "Bright Eyes" by the lab technicians. "Bright Eyes" was the nickname given to the human Taylor by chimpanzee Zira in the original Planet of the Apes.

• Tom Felton plays Dodge Landon, one of the evil caretakers in the ape house in which Caesar is housed. In Planet of the Apes, Taylor's two fellow astronauts were named Dodge and Landon.

• Dodge Landon also repeats two of Taylor's most famous and oft-quoted lines from Planet of the Apes: "It's a madhouse" and "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

• In the ape house, one of Caesar's fellow inmates is a large orangutan named Maurice. Actor Maurice Evans played Dr. Zaius (also an orangutan) in Planet of the Apes.

• A chimp in the ape house is named "Cornellia." Similar to Cornelius, from Planet of the Apes.

• In the ape house, Dodge Landon uses a fire hose on Caesar, much like the apes did to Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes.

• At James Franco's house, Caesar is playing with a model of the Statue of Liberty. Surely you know why that's a shout out.

• James Franco's boss at the drug company is named Jacobs. There's no reason I should know this, but Arthur P. Jacobs produced the five old school Apes movies.

• The poster and opening credits use the same font as the old movies.

• In one scene we see a TV news report about the first manned flight to Mars. The ship is called the Icarus. That's the name of Taylor's ship in Planet of the Apes.

• In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the first word an ape says is "No." That's the first word Caesar says in this one too.

A totally unnecessary remake/reboot/prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to win me over with an surprisingly intelligent story. I give it an

Fright Night
Sigh... Hollywood pumps out yet another totally unnecessary remake that no one wanted nor asked for. Fans of the original will no doubt be put off by the very idea of a remake, and those unfamiliar with the previous version are unlikely to be compelled to see it.

The filmmakers do a decent job of updating the story for a modern audience, but the film just feels choppy, like large sequences are missing. For example, as soon as the idea that our hero Charlie Brewster's neighbor might be a vampire is brought up, it only takes about two minutes of screen time before all the other characters believe it as well. The Evil Ed character suffers from this choppiness too. He's introduced at the beginning of the movie, then he's bitten (I'm not issuing spoiler warnings to a remake of a 30 year old movie), then he drops out of sight as the script apparently forgets about him for the majority of the movie.

There are some odd leaps of logic in the film as well. The movie would have us believe that a Las Vegas suburb is the perfect breeding ground for vampires, due to the city's non-stop night life and because the transitory nature of its residents prevents suspicion when they inexplicably disappear. There's a scene at the beginning of the movie in which half the students in one of Charlie's classes are missing. Apparently the school officials aren't alarmed in the slightest at this occurrence because they assume the students and their families moved away in the middle of the night. That's all well and good for the school system, but what about the student's parents? Their children disappeared. Do they not wonder where their progeny have gone? Does no one ever contact the authorities about their missing children? Are they too addicted to the slots to care?

Much has been made of Colin Farrel's portrayal of a vampire, but personally I was underwhelmed. In my opinion he seemed to be playing himself for much of the movie (or what I assume he's like in real life).

The one bright spot in the film is Doctor Who's David Tennant, who puts in an awesome performance (as he always does) as a Criss Angel-like Vegas magician. He steals every scene he's in, and the movie needed much more of him. In fact I'm gonna say right now that his character deserves his own spin-off movie. Actor Chris Sarandon (who played the vampire in the original Fright Night) puts in a welcome cameo appearance and reminds us of how much better the original film was.
Unnecessary as are all remakes, I give Fright Night an anemic C.

Apollo 18
A "found footage" faux documentary in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Although Apollo 17 was NASA's last official mission to the moon, the movie would have us believe there was a top secret Apollo 18 project, sanctioned by the Department of Defense. Once the American astronauts land on the moon they soon discover that they're not alone. They encounter an abandoned Russian landing site, complete with dead cosmonauts, proving Russian secretly made it to the moon. They also find that the moon is not quite as lifeless as previously thought.

The found footage style lends a certain credibility to the goings on and grounds the plot in reality (somewhat), so don't expect any Transformers-like action sequences. On the other hand, the realistic tone means that nothing very exciting is going to happen.

Using relatively unknown actors adds to the air of authenticity as well. The movie has a slow buildup of tension that I liked, but it'll probably bore younger audiences who are used to rapid-fire editing and storytelling.


The moon turns out to be inhabited by crab-like creatures that look just like moon rocks. That's a fairly cool idea and explains why the moon looks lifeless to us.

At the end of the movie there's an ominous caption that states the Apollo missions brought back several tons of moon rocks to Earth. This is supposed to give the audience an uneasy feeling and make us exclaim "Oh no! The aliens are already here!" This might have been more effective if the last moon landing hadn't been 40 freakin' years ago. Seems like if there was any danger of alien contamination, we might have heard something about it by now.

Apollo 18 offers a few genuine scares but ultimately just doesn't go anywhere. I give it a C-.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lava Surfer

Kamoona's pretty laid back while surfing some bodacious waves, but don't rile him up-- he might blow his top.

I tried hard to make it look like there's lava running down his body, and not like he's bleeding to death. Hopefully I succeeded. An example of my illustration dumb luck: I wanted his surfboard to have a pattern on it, so without even thinking I started drawing Von Dutch-style flames on it. When I was done and stepped back to take a good look at it, it occurred to me that what else would a volcano monster have on his board? See? Dumb luck!

The background was originally all-encompassing (meaning the monster fit inside it), but toward the end I shrunk it down considerably for more visual interest. It went through a multitude of color changes as well, before I settled on pea green.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the original rough sketch. Looks like his legs got cut off in the scanner.
Here's the somewhat tighter second sketch, which shows the beginnings of the idea of having lava run down his body.

Finally here's a quick color study I did to help me get the colors just right. I don't do this very often, but now and then it comes in handy.

Entertainment For The Whole Family!

I saw this recently at my neighborhood Target (Please excuse the horrible cell phone photo). They have an endcap full of kid's DVDs right next to the towel section. On the shelf right smack between Matilda and The Muppets Take Manhattan is the fun family movie Million Dollar Baby.

CAUTION! SPOILERS AHEAD! Yes, what child doesn't love the timeless story of a female boxer with nothing to lose who works her way to the top, only to be paralyzed from the neck down during the championship fight, ending up in a hospital where she suffers bedsores and amputation and finally begs her beloved trainer to kill her, putting an end to her misery. Your kids will want to watch it again and again. It's heartwarming fun for the whole family!

Lest you think this is just a case of a movie being mis-shelved, I would point out that although you can't read it in this photo, the tag beneath the DVD clearly says Million Dollar Baby. Somebody at Target either wasn't paying attention or hasn't seen the movie.

Be sure and check Target's kid section next week for DVDs of Henry, Portrait Of A Serial Killer, Irreversible, and The Human Centipede!

THIS Is Why al-Qaeda Hates America: Gourmet Dog Food

You know how when you watch the news and see a story about al-Qaeda and they're always out in the streets chanting, "Death to America?" Did you ever wonder, "Gosh, what's their problem? Why do they hate us so much?"

It's because of things like this.

This is a cooler full of upscale gourmet dog foods located in the pet food aisle of my local grocery store (Please excuse the horrible cell phone photo). You won't find any "Ol' Roy" brand dog food in this cooler! Only the finest choice cuts of meat are stored here, chilled to perfection in the temperature controlled display case.

I love dogs as much or more than the next person, but even I have to admit this seems a little much. Especially in an economy where some estimates place the number of Americans using Food Stamps at 20%. I'd normally make a joke at this point, but that statistic is just too depressing.

By the way, it appeared that this cooler contains only high-end dog foods. I didn't see any cat food in it, nor did I see a corresponding gourmet cat food cooler, so as far as this store is concerned, all you cat lovers can go screw yourselves.

Smells Like Senior Spirit

Here's something guaranteed to make you feel old: Nirvana's Nevermind album and Ren & Stimpy both turn 20 this year. Oy gevalt!

That can't possibly be right, can it? It seems like just a couple of years ago that I was listening to Nevermind over and over again, trying to figure out what the hell they were singing in Smells Like Teen Spirit. And I'd swear it was just yesterday that I was watching Ren & Stimpy and trying to figure out why the rest of the world was going gaga for them, while their antics failed to elicit any response whatsoever in me. How time flies.

Please excuse me while I go take my rheumatiz medicine and yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moving Day

I was looking through a folder of old sketches and unfinished drawings and found this, so I dusted it off and finished it up.

I tend to draw a lot of birds. I guess because they're often weird looking and fun to draw.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the original quick pen & ink sketch (why do we still say "pen & ink? Is it because of fountain pens? We're a hundred years past the days when people used those, shouldn't the "ink" part of that saying be implied now?).

Here's the tighter digital sketch I did.


I drew this illustration many years ago, circa 1996, for an ad agency I worked for at the time. It was for a school brochure or newsletter; how they took the raw material of their students and chiseled them into bright young citizens or some such hooey.

What I find unusual about it is that I didn't normally draw like this at the time. If you could see my work back then, it looked nothing like this. At the time I was in this ill-advised cross-hatching phase, where everything I drew was covered in a dense forest of criss-crossing lines. My characters also tended to look quite stiff back then as well; nothing like the rubbery and expressive poses seen here. This looks more like something I drew yesterday rather than 15 years ago. It's like I was somehow channeling my future style.

It was drawn the Old School way in colored pencil on paper, then scanned into Photoshop.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

45 Years Ago Today...

It seems impossible, but 45 years ago today, on September 8, 1966, Star Trek premiered on NBC. No one at the network could have possibly foreseen the impact and cultural importance the show would have.

It's possible I may have seen the premiere episode, but if I did, I'm too young to remember it. Honestly I doubt if I saw it, due to my Dad's viewing tastes. Back in those days, most families only had one TV set. Our TV was dominated by my Dad, who would consult the Holy TV Guide each night and plan the family's viewing for the evening. Dad's viewing tastes tended toward Combat and Rat Patrol. Back then he thought science fiction was "stupid," so I never got to watch anything like Trek when he was home.

Dad sometimes worked evenings, leaving control of the set to me and my Mom, so I do have a few vague memories of watching a couple of Star Trek episodes in their original run. I sort of remember liking it when they featured monsters and aliens, and I liked watching the Enterprise blast things with its phasers. Many of the episodes were just about people standing around talking though, which was of no interest to my young mind. My most vivid memory of the show: Two guys were always walking into some room and disappearing. I didn't understand what the transporter was back then.

My true memories of the show begin a few years later, circa 1974. That's when the local UHF station began airing the show in syndication and I saw the episodes for what I consider the first time. That's when I officially became a fan. Star Trek aired each weeknight after the local news, and I watched it every chance I got on my tiny black and white TV.

Someone at our local TV station was obviously a fan. At the end of each local newscast, they'd show a wide shot of the whole news team sitting behind the large desk. The anchorman would bid the audience goodnight, and then you'd hear the transporter sound effect as the entire news team was dematerialized and Star Trek would begin. Yes, my local news team beamed up to the Enterprise each night. Kind of negates the whole "trusted journalism" concept they were no doubt cultivating. I wish I had a tape of it for proof.

Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry often claimed that the show's lasting success was due to the fact that it showed us that humanity can overcome its problems, nations can work together and that there's hope for the future. It's a noble sentiment, but it's also hopelessly naive. The human race has been killing one another from the minute we climbed down out of the trees and started walking on two legs, and I honestly don't see that changing much in the next 200 years. Don't get me wrong; it would be great if our species finally grew up and acted like the noble crew of the Enterprise, but... I just don't see it ever happening.

On the other hand, the show has definitely had a positive influence on our technology. Many of the gadgets in the series have already become a reality, most notably the communicators, which heavily influenced out cell phones. Too bad it hasn't affected our society as intently as it has our technology.

Anyway, sit back with a glass of Romulan Ale and wish Star Trek a happy 45th birthday!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Earth Invasion 2099

Don't let their doughy, middle-aged appearance fool you. The LAST thing you want is a squadron of Flarparian Shock Troopers overrunning your planet.

I wonder if anyone's ever written a story like that? A story about a race of brutal, bloodthirsty soldiers, but they look as unintimidating as possible to everyone else in the galaxy, and thus are never taken seriously. That'd make an interesting story, right? Wait, that's really similar to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Never mind. Forget I brought it up.

I'm sort of breaking my personal rule about science fiction dates here. I believe that you should always have your futuristic sci-fi stories take place well after the present audience will be dead. That way you won't look stupid (to anyone currently living) when your predictions don't come to pass.

For example, in the Star Trek episode Space Seed we learn that the genetic superman Khan was overthrown, placed aboard a sleeper ship and exiled from Earth in the year 1996. I'm sure that when the episode was made in 1966, the writer thought that the 90s seemed impossibly far away, but even as a kid watching the show I knew that nothing like that was ever going to happen so soon.

Same goes for Space:1999. It was set on a moonbase full of advanced technology that we still don't have. What was the point of setting the series so close to the present? Would it have killed them to have called it Space: 2199?

As always, this drawing took a lot longer than I expected. Part of that was due to my schedule, of course. The aliens were drawn and colored pretty quickly, but I spent a lot of time futzing around with the background, trying to make it detailed without being too complex and distracting.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the original sketch of the Flarparian Shock Troopers. I guess I was too busy to finish the second guy.

Here's the second, more detailed digital sketch.
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