Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, October 06, 2006
      ( 10/06/2006 07:37:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – Kyan eyes a leather chew stick. We go through these babies by the truckload: fortunately, you can get 'em cheap at Dollar Tree.

(The arm belongs to spouse Becky, incidentally. I don't especially look good in pink.)

THE (BELATED) USUAL NOTE: If 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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      ( 10/06/2006 05:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

A LINK IS AS GOOD AS A NOD – Heading off for the weekend to visit some friends in Ohio (cue CSN&Y song), so it looks as if blogging will be scanter than usual 'til Monday. In the meantime, here's a coupla links that you probably already know about:
  • Haven't a had a chance to watch the season premiere of Lost yet, but Sean Collins and a few of his Wizard colleagues are engaging in some water cooler talk about what they saw. I'm holding my fingers in my ears until after I can set down on the Lay-Z-Boy love seat and catch up on Jack and the rest. But if you've already watched it, why not go eavesdrop on the conversation?

  • Over at the Comic Book Galaxy, Alan David Doane and Houghton Mifflin are giving away a copy of Harvey Pekar's new anthology, The Best American Comics 2006. Haven't seen this collection yet either, though many of the contributors – Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco & Kim Deitch, to name five – have me itching to check it out. And you could mebbe win a copy with just a single email!
Catch ya later . . .

UPDATE: I've since watched the opener and read the roundtable discussion: leave it to Sean to recognize that the song used to open the season is yet another sixties era pop hit, Pet Clark's "Downtown." Me, I have to wonder what it is with this show and swingin' sixties pop divas . . .
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Thursday, October 05, 2006
      ( 10/05/2006 02:45:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"WHAT MAKES YOUR BIG HEAD SO HARD?" – Retooling a Louis Jordan appreciation for Blogcritics, I was inspired to check out Jordan videos on YouTube and found this movie short performance of LJ & His Tympany Five doin' "Caldonia." The leggy lady on the piano shows up in at least one other Jordan video.

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      ( 10/05/2006 07:18:00 AM ) Bill S.  

TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPIN/SLIPPIN/SLIPPIN . . . – My, how quickly things age in the 21st Century: today, spouse Becky passed along this eBay item for a "vintage" Adam Brody clock.
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Wednesday, October 04, 2006
      ( 10/04/2006 02:15:00 PM ) Bill S.  

SIXTY MINUTE MANGA – This Week's Episode: "I saw his picture once in a security journal."

Hand it to the editors at Viz Signature when it came to premiering the first of its collections of Takao Saito's long-running super-hitman series, Golgo 13: they've definitely got their eyes on the times. First book of this 13-volume series of "Golgo 13's Greatest Hits" finds our master marksman-for-hire in 1997, taking on Iraqi boogeyman Saddam Hussein and his Supergun, an irrefutable Weapon of Mass Destruction set to fire a rocket filled with deadly virus onto Washington D.C. Yup, right here in the pages of Golgo 13 is incontrovertible proof that the Iraqis were developing WMDs. I'd make a joke that this was probably the document our current president read to justify our going to war, but I'm fairly certain the guy would've been stymied by the reading back-to-front thing.

Golgo 13 is a lonnnnng-running adult manga action series centered around Duke Togo, an impeccable marksman who has a knack for showing up at various hotspots in modern history – unchanged despite the passage of decades. In Volume One of Viz's new reprint series, our taciturn mercenary appears in Iraq in the mid-nineties, but, in a second story set in 1979, he's also established as a hitman with a major rep. Volume Two's two episodes are set in Tianamen Square, 1989, and Tijuana back in '74. Through all four adventures, our protagonist has the same long sideburns and thick black hair: obviously, the man's found a look he intends to keep. Per the "dossier" included at the end of each volume, our hero's recorded exploits as an assassin began in 1968, but like any good comic hero away from Gasoline Alley, Golgo 13 doesn't age.

What he does do is shoot, screw (he has, his dossier helpfully tells us, "an amazing penis") and mainly keep his thoughts to himself: the kind of hard-boiled character who's defined as much by what he doesn't show us than what he does. In "Supergun," Duke Togo doesn't even make an appearance 'til the fortieth page – and then it's only in a short snippet showing him crossing the Iraqi border. In another story, we never even see the gunman, though his presence is felt by all the other characters. As a story center, Golgo 13 brings to mind Jules Feiffer's memorable description of Will Eisner's Spirit as a "masked Mary Worth," coming in at the last to neatly tie things up.

Thus, both the Supergun and Tienamen Square stories devote considerable expository space to the politics behind each event before we get to any real tough-guy action. In "Supergun," we're treated to scenes of Bill Clinton and his advisors discussing U.N. inspector reports about mysterious shipments of titanium tubes to a dam at Am Shara ("I thought we were through with that mad dog," Clinton moans about Hussein) and learn the back-story of the fanatical armament pioneer responsible for the threatening Supergun before one of the government's nameless bureaucrats pulls in Golgo 13.

Pure superspy hokum, in other words, set in a world where intelligence reports are always accurate, centered around a marksman so infallible he only needs one shot to ever get the job done. Saito (or more accurately: Saito's writers and artists, since the series creator reportedly has about as much to do with his creation these days as Stan Lee has with the Marvel Universe) tells his tales in the straightforward manner of pre-winking James Bond (cf., Dr. No), though at times I found myself thinking of even cheesier sixties paperback spy series like Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm (not the awful Dean Martin movie version) or Killmaster Nick Carter instead.

The Saito Shop art is serviceable, even if the series' bland Clinton caricature doesn't always hold up and the otherwise indistinguishable women our hero beds have some genuinely scary noses. Befitting this type of story, hardware and setting frequently take center stage – and are often afforded more visual care than the people within – but the art generally pulls you along like the crisply efficient comic book panels of Silver Age superhero comics or an overlit B-picture. At times (as with a panel showing Saddam demonically grinning down at his watch as he waits for the countdown to begin), Saito's artists provide more cartoonish moments, though not as often as I'd like: lotsa good shots of folks sitting around and anxiously sweating, of course.

As for our heavy-browed hero, he remains cool throughout – whether calmly striding through the riots in Tianeman or bedding a big-breasted drug queenpin. Those seeking even a hint of fallibility in their action heroes are hereby advised to look elsewhere. This is Golgo 13: His Dick is Amazing!
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006
      ( 10/03/2006 03:14:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"BE AN INNOVATOR/LAUGH A LITTLE LOUDER" – You know, I didn't quite believe the joke on last night's Heroes that told us Japanese fanboy Hiro was a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, but I still chuckled at it . . .
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      ( 10/03/2006 01:53:00 PM ) Bill S.  

DEANLESS – Late to the news, I just read today that Robert Christgau, overseer of the invaluable rock 'n' pop Consumer Guide, has been let go by The Village Voice. I've been reading the man's pithy reviews and columns for decades now (first recall following his "Guide" as a monthly feature in Creem magazine). His presence at the Voice was the primary reason I chose to regularly visit that paper's online site; it's impossible for me to estimate the amount of good to great music that the man first introduced me to over all these years. Very very disappointing news.
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      ( 10/03/2006 10:31:00 AM ) Bill S.  

NUTHIN' TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG . . . – Biggest laff-out-loud moment for me on last night's Studio 60: when Bradley Whitford's producer asks, "Can we have this conversation moving?" Perhaps I found it funnier than I should've because my left knee is still bothering me – and the idea of speed walkin' down the hall in the service of a Sorkin-esque dialog is even more unlikely in my own little world . . .
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      ( 10/03/2006 07:25:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"A WORLD OF SECRET HUNGERS/PERVERTING THE MEN WHO MAKE YOUR LAWS" (ALTERNATE TITLE: "THE HEART KNOWS WHAT IT WANTS") – Figures it'd come down to sex. In a month packed with creepy political developments, it's not surprising that the one that's garnered the most news time is the Mark Foley Story. We Americans shore do like to be shocked and appalled by sex talk.

Me, I'm hopin' fellow Illinoisian Dennis Hastert gets slapped and slapped hard.
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Monday, October 02, 2006
      ( 10/02/2006 02:55:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"I'M FEELING SORRY FOR US NOW, BUT MOSTLY ME" – The opening title track to Roger Joseph Manning Jr.'s first made-it-in-my-home-studio release, The Land of Pure Imagination (Cordless Recordings), works to establish both the scope and limitations of this former Jellyfish songsmith's solo disc. A collection of sonic fantasies ranging from pristine power-pop heartache ("Too Late for Us Now") to faux spy thriller theme songs (bosa nova track "Dragonfly") to a vaguely creepy children's lullaby ("Sandman") to a Jon Brion-styled slice of psychedelic waltz tempo baroqueness ("Appleby"), Imagination shows Manning to be as surefooted a songwriter as he was collaborating with presentday Puffy AmiYumi svengali Andy Sturmer – even if this Jellyfish fan still misses the full-bodied sound a band would've brought to the party. If nuthin' else, the input of some groupmates might've discouraged the inclusion of an Eric Carmen-esque yawner like "In the Name of Romance."

But if RJMJr.'s (full name plastered on the disc presumably to keep the singer from being confused with NYC folkie Roger Manning) disc falls a degree or two below the sublime pop-rock releases his group of origin produced way back in the nineties (Bellybutton and Spilt Milk), it still stands up purty well. Primo cuts include the aforementioned zipper, "Too Late," with its hard-to-shake chorus, growing sense of urgency and insertion of both sitar & banjo; "Wish It Would Rain," which opens with a Spilt Milk recollection of early childhood and slides into as smooth an old-fashioned stroll this side of Brother Era Beach Boys; "The Loser," which fakes you out with a Yes-styled opener than moves into pure joyous rockery; and "You Were Right," one of those if-only-Supertramp-sounded-this-good tracks that Manning's old band produced with devastating ease. Emphasis is on keyboards, of course, but like current Britpop darlings Keene, Manning is skilled at making 'em sound like more than they are (points to opening track "Imagination" for layering on the pure moog cheese, though). And, unlike Keene, Manning clearly has a welcome sensa humor. If some of Manning’s lyrics sound too sure of themselves, the songs-as-songs provide plenty of pure pop pleasure.

So . . . if we must live in a world without Jellyfish (as I suppose we must, given Sturmer's seemingly comfortable niche in Cartoon Networkville), then let's all hope Manning's inspired to produce more than one solo disc per decade. But, Rog', next solo disc, let's get someone else to design the cover, okay? That's gotta be the dorkiest album cover since Bellybutton . . .
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Sunday, October 01, 2006
      ( 10/01/2006 01:21:00 PM ) Bill S.  

SILENT BOB'S THUMB – Don't watch Ebert & Roeper these days – the two-man review show just hasn't been the same since Gene Siskel died – but I happened on this week's outing today and was surprised to see Kevin Smith filling in for the recuperating Roger. The man obviously knows and loves all kinds of movies, but by the end of the half hour I found myself wondering if the man was brought in to make Roeper look like a critical heavyweight: five movies and not a single thumb's down from Smith. He even gave a pass to The Guardian, calling it "great cheese." I'm sorry, but that's just wrong . . .
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      ( 10/01/2006 06:51:00 AM ) Bill S.  

LET'S LOOK AT THE TAPES – The teevee season is just about to begin in earnest this week (with new eps of Lost and Veronica Mars among 'em), and already we've found ourselves doing a decent amount of recording to watch things on the weekend. In a few weeks, some of these shows'll most likely drop off our viewing list (I've already got doubts about Six Degrees and Jericho), but let's take a quick look at the three we watched last night:
  • Heroes: I should really just direct you to Tom the Dog's review, since he captured most of my reactions to this show's pilot. I will note that part of the debut had a decent little X-Files vibe going for it – most specifically in the scenes featuring Ali Larter and her rascally mirror doppelganger – but even that wasn't as effectively handled as the undeservedly short-lived series The Others. I'm thinking that this 'un will be the season's Surface for NBC: a middling little sci-fi series with an occasional inspired moment, mirrored reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel and a too-small audience to justify its expense for a second season. Prove me wrong, guys!

  • PlayhouseStudio 9060: I'm encouraged by the news that former Kid in the Hall Mark McKinney will be writing sketches for this series' faux Saturday Night Live since faux Gilbert & Sullivan (didn't G&S show up as a plot point in an Ainsley ep of The West Wing?) ain't exactly gonna keep 'em rolling in the aisles. (Are we to assume that much of the show's audience is so privy to its backstage stories that they can make a joke about one cast member’s Christianity and folks in flyover country will get it? Lest we forget, until Matt Perry & Brad Whitford's writer/producers showed up, Studio 60 was considered to be a pale shadow of what it once was.) And while I'm here, I might as well make a comment about writer Sorkin's dated blogger bitchslap: hey, Aaron, when you got conserva-bloggers ironically calling their groupthink blog, Pajamas Media, simply slamming Internet writers for writing in their p.j.s is pretty damn tepid. (I do it my bathrobe, personally.) I know you've had a thing for bloggers ever since Josh Lyman got into an email fight with one, but surely you can do better than that. Or are we to believe that D.L. Hughley's character is an Internet naïf?

    Oh, yeah, and did the controversial "Crazy Christians" sketch actually air or not? Not sure the show made that little detail clear.

  • Jericho: Well, they sure dispensed with that escaped prisoner subplot pretty fast . . .
A new season of Wire in the Blood (arguably, the best profiler mystery series on television) is debuting on BBC America this Monday – when the hell will I be able to fit in that one?
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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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