Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 10, 2006
      ( 6/10/2006 12:17:00 PM ) Bill S.  

JAXON – Just read that Jack ("Jaxon") Jackson, one of the earliest and most accomplished of the underground comix artists died under circumstances that are still being investigated. I interviewed Jack years ago for The Comics Journal, back when he was casting off his free-wheeling underground storytelling style (best seen in the horror and s-f comix titles, Skull and Slow Death) for a more disciplined type of historical graphic storytelling (Comanche Moon, Los Tejanos, El Alamo). Perhaps the thing that sticks with me most from that interview was the fact that he was already distancing himself from his youthful work – which he saw as growing excessively cynical as the sixties devolved into the seventies. Me, I was a fan of both periods of his work. His wonderful art style – which built from EC greats like Jack Davis, John Severin and Reed Crandall – was entirely his own, and his heartfelt historical comix are unsurpassed. R.I.P. Jaxon . . .

NOTE: A thread on the TCJ Message Board features some fine tributes by several folk who knew him, including Fantagraphics' publishers Groth & Thompson, who published Los Tejanos.
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      ( 6/10/2006 11:01:00 AM ) Bill S.  

IT'S IN THE WATER – Don't know why, but for some reason the "unrated" version of the Americanized Dark Water remake is two minutes shorter than the PG-13 version that Touchstone Pictures released to the theatres. Watching this version on Starz last night, I'm hard-pressed to see what justifies the unrated classification (unless it's the simple fact that this version was just never submitted for rating); there are no over-the-top fx or explicit sexual moments. Rather, the movie primarily strives to attain a more subtly unsettling tone.

Based on a short novel by Ring author Koji Suzuki (which was also adapted and included in a manga collection that was released in America by Dark Horse to capitalize on the movie), Water concerns Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly, looking suitably marginalized), a newly divorced New York mother who is still in the midst of a custody battle with her bitter ex over daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). In part to put some drive time between her and her ex, she moves into an apartment building on Roosevelt Island, but as soon as we see the place, we've gotta wonder what the woman is thinking. The building, which we're shown in a comic walk-through led by John C. Reilly, is a pit, while Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite), the super, looks threateningly surly. But Dahlia takes the place, of course: it's a given in haunted house stories (think Jack Torrence in The Shining or Eleanor Lance in The Haunting) that the most precariously stable characters are drawn to such sites.

And Dahlia, we quickly learn, has plenty of problems of her own. The product of an abusive, alcoholic home, she herself is subject to migraines and (perhaps – we're not quite sure since her not-unbiased ex tells us this) fits of paranoia. Not the ideal state of mind to be in when you've just moved into a building haunted by the ghost of a young girl who herself died as the result of parental neglect. As in The Ring, the details of this supernatural visitation revolve around water: the apartment just above Dahlia's is repeatedly flooded with brackish water, a growing leak in the ceiling looks freakishly moldy, a spigot in the basement laundry room sputters and sprays out more of this yucky black liquid. We know where all this will lead since director Walter Salles keeps obsessively circling around it whenever he zooms in the building: to an large wooden water tank on the roof.

Director Salles and screen adapter Rafael Yglesius are more interested in giving us a moody character study than they are a full-throttle fright film, though whoever told them this had to be an either/or proposition was giving 'em bad advise. (I'd recommend repeated forced viewings of Roman Polanski's Repulsion as an example of how this kind of exercise can be properly done. Or Alejandro Amenábar's fairly recent The Others with Nicole Kidman.) It's all well acted, of course – I was especially enamored with Tim Roth's appealingly ambiguous lawyer – but the apparitional specifics quickly become repetitive and largely unmoving. Too, the moviemakers make a mish-mash of the ending with a final "three weeks later" epilog that tries to add an extra layer on top of everything we've seen but just seems misapplied. (If the manga is anything to go by, it was not a part of the original story.) In something as delicate as a movie ghost story, sometimes you've just gotta know when to stop. Perhaps the unrated version would've been better eight minutes shorter?
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      ( 6/10/2006 11:00:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – Becky's got the videocam this week, so here's a two-week-old shot of Dusty and Kyan in the backyard.

YOU KNOW THE DRILL: If (like me) you wanna see more dogg blogging, check out the weekly "Carnival of the Dogs" at Mickey's Musings. And for a broader array of companion animals, there's Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Friday, June 09, 2006
      ( 6/09/2006 06:52:00 PM ) Bill S.  

HANGIN' AT THE AIRPORT – Took the Missus to the Greater Peoria Regional Airport this afternoon: she's going (with an old college roommate) on a six-day scouting trip to Las Cruces, New Mexico, while yours truly stays at home, bachin' it with the menagerie. Been a long time since either of us have flown anywhere – our last flight predates 9/11 – so we were unsure how much time to allot before departure. Got there about an hour-and-a-half ahead of time: first thing we saw on the sliding door terminal entrance was a notice telling us that we're on yellow alert, but since neither Becky nor myself could remember how serious that's supposed to be, it didn't mean much.

Turned out we had plenty of time to spare, of course, so we headed for the airport restaurant to find a dessert to split. Only thing that appealed to both of us was a Mega-Sized oatmeal-raisin cookie, so we went for it. Then we returned to the waiting area and made fun of disembarking passengers ("Look! It's Jarred from Subway! And he got fat again!") and their families. When we (which is to say, I) grew tired of that Annie Hallish activity, we reviewed a document from the Transportation Security Administration telling us which items were permitted and prohibited to take on the plane. Turns out they make a distinction between items you can carry on yourself or have checked. You cannot carry on a meat cleaver or a cattle prod, but they can be checked in your luggage. (But wouldn't you want to be able to freely brandish your cattle prod in a particularly crowded O'Hare?) Gotta admit I wouldn't feel too relaxed if the passenger sitting next to me on the puddle-jumper up to Chicago had a cordless power drill on his lap, but, then, I've seen Driller Killer.

To help keep us all from feeling too agitated in these troubled times, the airport helpfully plays soft-rock (107-FM) over the intercom at a volume that is low enough to get you occasionally perking up your ears during the chorus ("Hey, that's Eric Carmen in his Barry Manilow Phase!") but is otherwise ignorable. This being Peoria, you're guaranteed to hear at least one Dan Fogelberg number, and "Lite 107" didn't disappoint. Yeah, that's what I wanna hear when I'm nervous about an impending flight: some lame-ass Fogelberg track. Maybe that's why they play this crap so low – any louder and someone like me is liable to go berserk with the chain saw they've been carrying on their lap . . .

Becky didn't mind, but, then, she went through the mandatory Midwestern young girl Fogelberg Infatuation Phase back when she was in college. She got on the plane without incident, and it's probably her status as a former fan that helped her pass without any hassle. ("You own a CD copy of Home Free? You must be harmless!") I stood and watched her pass through inspection, then headed back to the PT Cruiser, blasting the Foo Fighters' There Is Nothing Left to Lose as I drove back home. Have a great time in New Mexico, sweetie! I miss you already . . .
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Thursday, June 08, 2006
      ( 6/08/2006 12:15:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THE WORST THING YOU CAN BE IN A HOSPITAL IS 'INTERESTING'" – Mitch is not having a good day. In the midst of an awkward break-up with his girlfriend Izumi, a cadaverous derelict pops up on the street to "tag" him. Next panel, said derelict looks hale and hearty – even if the words he's speaking don't exactly sound sane – and Mitch is passing out amidst a series of mysterious visions. He wakes in a hospital bed, a living dead man. Full walking zombification, we realize, is not far behind.

As he did with 10, scripter Keith Giffen once more presents us with a dark tale of random Really Bad Luck. Story narrator Mitch may be a self-centered jerk (though, perhaps this is mitigated by the fact that we're seeing him on a really crappy day), but does he deserve to be turned into a decaying zombie? Probably about as much as poor Larry Talbot deserved to get bitten by that werewolf, but perhaps Giffen is keeping something from us in the first issue of this Boom! Studios three-part horror series. First good clue as to the forces behind our hero's inconvenient transformation doesn't come until the final page of the first issue (Comics Blogospherians will chuckle), though I suspect Mitch'll discover much more of the Rules of the Game in ish #2.

The focus in the opening issue is as much on Mitch's decaying relationship as it is his body, though it's the latter that provides all the mordant kicks. After he's been tagged, we learn how physically inconvenient it can be as a newly dead guy: "If I forget to shift my weight regularly," Mitch notes at one point, "I lock up." It's the kind of detail you just know the EC boys would've relished – as is a moment when Izumi and Mitch compare and contrast his growing smell with the stench of a dead animal they both once happened upon in the park. Bad taste and horror comics go together – just like crunchy dead frogs and milk chocolate.

Kody Chamberlain's hemmed in art hits the properly trapped tone. There are plenty of Bendis-influenced close-ups, shots of hospital ceilings and apartment corners – all of which are calculated to provide an appropriate sense of desperateness. At times, you can see the artist fumbling his figures (there's a panel late in the first book where you'd swear the heroine's head had suddenly become detached from her neck), but it generally works. Wish he'd given us a bigger close-up of the mysterious web log that we're shown in #1's final full-page panel, though, just so I could see what was on the blogroll . . .
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      ( 6/08/2006 07:01:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"MOVE OVER ONCE; MOVE OVER TWICE!" – Played Let It Be . . .Naked this a.m., primarily to hear the late Billy Preston's keyb work. Was never a big fan of the man's own solo work (though "Nothing from Nothing" is an undeniably catchy single). To my ears, he was a talented session man whose greatest achievement was to be a part of some damn fine sessions, but, oh, what sessions they were: Blood on the Tracks; Sticky Fingers; Young, Gifted and Black – the man was definitely part of the Gadabout's personal soundtrack . . .
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Wednesday, June 07, 2006
      ( 6/07/2006 10:31:00 AM ) Bill S.  

A QUICK POLI-SNIPE – Y'know, I don't care how many times reporters reassured me that an anti-gay marriage amendment wouldn't pass; every time I read or heard about it, I wound up gritting my teeth. It may've been a transparent ploy for Bush and his party to appease their core social conservative base, but for many of us outside the base, it's like having a homeless schizophrenic regularly accost you on the street to rant about the how the Elders of Zion have been secretly bombarding 'em with brain waves. They might be mostly harmless* and you may feel sorry for 'em, but after a while, you still wish they'd shut the hell up . . .

*Which doesn't preclude the possibility of them suddenly hitting you on the head with a beer bottle for no apparent reason, of course.
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      ( 6/07/2006 09:33:00 AM ) Bill S.  

DEFINITELY MAYBE NOT! – Okay, I can get behind a little Oasis luv (especially for What's the Story?), but Greatest Album of All Time?!?!?! That's just perverse. (We all know the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World is deserving of that particular title!)
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006
      ( 6/06/2006 12:03:00 PM ) Bill S.  

ALL FOR YOU, DAMIEN! – A few scattered (all I seem to muster lately) thoughts on the original 1976 version of The Omen, sparked by today's release of this remake:
  • I saw the movie the weekend it was first released, and at the time my then-wife and I didn't have a clue as to what the movie was about, thanx to a profoundly teasing ad campaign. About halfway into the flick – when we realized it was basically a patriarchal spin on the much more disturbing Rosemary's Baby – I suspect we both felt more than a little disappointed, even if the plight of Gregory Peck's distraught daddy had us in its grip. Nowadays, with trailers giving away half the storyline, I don't think anybody would be caught unawares by the movie's subject matter.

  • In its day, the flick's state-of-the-art killing fx were considered big stuff. Today, the deaths look fairly tame, but I remember Harlan Ellison once railing against 'em in TCJ back when Omen director Richard Donner'd been announced as the director of Superman – The Movie. Describing the flick's most memorable death – David Warner's beheading by a large plate glass window – Ellison made the effect sound even more explicit than it actually was: demonstrating the imagination's capacity to remake even a visual medium in one's mental movie screen.

  • Lead Gregory Peck, playing the American ambassador who discovers that his young son may indeed be the Anti-Christ, was an inspired choice in the original. I'm not sure many actors of either his or the current generation could've pulled off the final scene with the same blend of modernity and Old Testament intensity. (He's killing the monster! He's Abraham killing Isaac!) I've really gotta wonder whether new lead Liev Schrieber possesses enough gravitas to pull this off . . .
Ah, hell, I won't be seeing this 'til it shows on cable, anyway, even if it does mean missing out on a 06/06/06 showing . . .
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Monday, June 05, 2006
      ( 6/05/2006 04:57:00 AM ) Bill S.  

A TRULY SHOCKING SOPRANOS MOMENT – A.J. getting' laid? Now I know the world's gone topsy-turvy . . .
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      ( 6/05/2006 04:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"AND LOOK AT ALL THE BUGS WE FOUND" – Three things I learned while hanging out in Napoleon Dynamite's so-so private Idaho this Sunday:
  • Doesn't matter if you're an uber-nerd or even (as in Hairspray) if you're fat. If you kin dance, the world is yours to own. Tough beans, if you've got two left feet, tho . . .

  • Tina (Veronica Mars, Big Love) Majorina has the cute geek thing nailed!

  • Taken away from its album, Jack White's "We're Going to Be Friends" sounds even more McCartney-ish . . .
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Sunday, June 04, 2006
      ( 6/04/2006 07:32:00 AM ) Bill S.  

LOOSIANA HOLD 'EM – Watched the weekend rerun of Celebrity Poker Showdown's first New Orleans show yesterday. This season, the tourney is focusing all of its charity winnings on organizations helping the Big Easy in the aftermath of Katrina, a smart idea made even more personal for the audience by flashing the numbers to donate to each of these charities on the screen as the game progresses. (For the record, we've made several donations to the Humane Society.)

Of course, the big question for regular viewers is how new poker commentator Phil Hellmuth interacts with the series' show biz smart-ass Dave Foley (who, thankfully, has shaved himself for this round and looks much less dissolute as a result). Well, the opening outing wasn't as casual on the give-and-take as Foley and first expert Phil Gordon became after six tourneys, but it wasn't bad. I miss Gordon's seemingly near-instantaneous dispersal of statistical probabilities as the game progresses, though. (That Gordon did it so insistently, while Hellmuth doesn't bother, probably is a clue as to how each plays their own game.) A decent batch of players in this first volley (once Kevin Sorbo very quickly eliminated himself, that is), even if the probability that Jason Alexander and Bryan Cranston would be the final two was so strong that Foley and Hellmuth picked 'em at the beginning of the game to be the head-to-headers . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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