Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Terra Nova in retrospect

Terra Nova wraps up what is probably it's only season, which is a bummer because the show is actually not half bad. Sometimes slow, sometimes cheesy, at least it always had it's high concept and good production values. With it Amblin delivers another solid sci-fi series that the marketing department at FOX had no idea what to do with. I'm not saying Terra Nova was another Firefly, just that it was better than the way it was presented to us.

While some people complain about Terra Nova's snails pace and cheezy dinosaur effects, the only complaint I had was the world series disrupting it's broadcast schedule. As with all other science fiction on FOX, Terra Nova got bounced around to much, airing on Monday most of the time, but also airing on the occasional weekend or other preemption date. All of these shows were at least good, if not better than average sci-fi adventure series that got handed to a programming philosophy that defies what the genre is all about; in other words, they move these shows to help them find their audience, when it reality these are the types of shows that the audience needs to find.

It's audience will find Terra Nova on it's second run as on-demand content. I might even suggest that Terra Nova will also be continued in a series of paperback novels, if it weren't for the fact that it's not 1989 anymore. Hopefully we have not seen the last of the show, which ever way it returns.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The George Lucas Hate

Okay, initially, this made me taste my own bile. Why? Because I'm an old school fan, just like you are. Then a funny thing happened, and the realization dawned on me that I'm actually probably an older schooler fanner than you are, and THAT is why I'm okay with YET ANOTHER CHANGE TO STAR WARS.


Indeed, the 1979 television debut of the theatrical presentation had even more alterations beyond "Episode IV: A New Hope" be it the casual Cantina alien or TIE-Fighter. We didn't mind it so much back then,in fact we were fascinated. Each new iteration of the saga, be it World Television Premiere, Laser Disc, or THX Remastered gave fans something new to savor. The diabolical flip-side is that it was also something for Lucasfilm Ltd.'s marketing department to consider as well.

As a matter of fact, the Star Wars franchise "nuked the fridge" (over-used) when George Lucas himself wiped his hands of Shadows of the Empire. There is no excuse for holding either the original trilogy, or the prequel trilogy for some kind of philosophical ransom in light of the fact that good ol' GL would be willing to let the yuppie marketing reps take the reigns. And really, you'll no doubt be able to recall how by the time Shadows surfaced, common Star Wars fandom had already acknowledged that the Ewoks were teddy bear bullshit. Wicket R. Warrick prancing around holding Princess Liea's hand is total nonsense after her being subjected to Jabba's will, the icing on the preposterous Star Wars merchandising machine's cake.

So, the let down? As long as you insist that we're watching "The God Father" the let down will never end. But I have a different view, one that incorporates the same continuous understanding of the mind-set that lead to the mid ninties Star Wars Revivial in the first place. That is the belief that Star Wars is great, even if its story is extremely silly and perhaps not too well executed. That the film is also a continuous work in progress, an aspect that at one time we all cherished, but now is perhaps a little too played out for it's own good. It is also an understanding that the audience for Star Wars is aging, and that kids today don't play with action figures and grow out of Star Wars by the time they are eight or nine, and that being forty years old and not able to enjoy a kids film is no crime until you decide to make an issue of it. At this stage in the game, the vulgar "George Lucas raped my childhood" crowd needs to take a closer look at itself and figure out what's really important.

Going after pop culture with religious zeal is never cool.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The New 52

DC comics has been kicking up a lot of dust over the forthcoming complete overhaul of their entire comic book universe. Every DC superhero you know is getting a fresh start, complete with 52 first issues (of comics that have been in publication for multiple decades)

Today in comic shops everywhere, anyone can grab a free copy of the promo book "DC Comics The New 52" I got mine and just finished reading, and here's what I think:

The promo book itself is a thoroughly enjoyable read, featuring a six page preview of the new Justice League #1 (which looks fun) and then goes page after page outlining what the new books are all about. Plot summaries, creative team rosters, and tons of visual info, DC Comics, The New 52 does the job selling the biggest multi-series crossover in comic book history.

Yes, I do think it's bullcrap to be renumbering giants like Action Comics and Detective Comics. Completely unnecessary and kind of insulting to long-time readership, although we can't expect to enjoy comics forever, not in the age of video games. So I'll let the vulgarity of renumbering slide for now, seeing it instead as throwing a bone to anyone who ever thought of picking up a comic book, but didn't.

I have mixed feelings about the new roster of title characters. While I have nothing against yet another revamp of Fire Star, I find it odd that fan-fave Power Girl is a no-show. Perhaps that suggests the lengths to which DC has gone in revamping their universe. Reintroducing PG clears the clutter of one of the most complicated origin stories, even as it simultaneously adds yet another origin story to her tale. Classic! Barbara Gordon? The Justive League preview begins "Five years ago" so Batgirl is possible, if they took the entire DCU back in time as well. Scratch that, Damien Wayne is also on hand. Morrison on Supes is great news, I wish they would stop messing around with WW's costume, as the latest version is actually very effective, and why in the hell would you hire Liefeld?

I'm going in on a few of these books, probably more than I should. At least they're all still a reasonable (not actually) $2.99 cover price. I can't believe the way Marvel bleeds it's audience, it's really a disgrace. DC coming back with this insane stunt is really very clever, but also a touch desperate. Keeping in mind that kids today do not read anything except video game manuals, The New 52 looks less like a fanboy inconvenience, and more like an absolute necessity.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Architects of Air, Amacoco

Architects of Air have been producing large scale, immersive art installations since 1992. Essentially giant inflated objects, their fantastic creations have delighted audience throughout the world.

The luminarium known as Amacoco made a recent stop in Pittsburgh. Here are some images accompanied by thoughts.

It's a feast for the sense. The maze-like environment, colored natural lighting, and slight pressurization combine to create a mild disorientation.

Little kids go nuts running around in this place. One can only imagine how youthful enthusiasm and optimism react in such a place of wonderment.

A groovy, barefoot hippy chick divulged that she was actually getting paid to work there for the duration of it's appearance.

Finally, a souvenir map. It's functional, but the whole point of visiting an installation like this is getting lost.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The DC Newniverse!

Wowee! That's a bombshell! Revamping an entire universe? Only at DC...

It will be interesting to see how this occurs, and where it's all headed. I myself have always been a fan of constantly evolving storytelling, but a big slap in the face of DC continuity might be welcome. It is definitely a bold move and something no one would have expected.

It's a little frustrating, since there are some titles that are really clicking right now. The Bat books in particular are pulling me back into the DCU proper. What about Zatanna and JSA All-Stars? Wonder Woman would be an example of a title that could use this type of drastic measure. The editors say they're going to leave the successful creative teams alone, but that seems a little subjective in a lot of cases.

For now, my only prediction will be a gradual return to legacy numbering (ala Wonder Woman #600) for all titles.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Big Box goes under: Goodbye Border's Monroeville

Border's Books and Music made a splash in the retail (and Zombie) mecha of Monroeville, PA in the mid 90's when it introduced it's all-in-one formula of media for sale, cafe, and live music/ gathering place. In it's time it was a solid enough concept to force the retreat of all local independent bookstores, and even the non-affiliated mall book stores.

Times have changed.

Border's stood out against the urban sprawl of big box retail by enlisting the aid of the local community in it's public outreach and programming efforts. Giving the knitting club a few tables in the cafe on one evening, and presenting a performance by the singer songwriter duo the next had a transformative effect on the stores environment. It became a center of activity whereby local intellectuals, weirdos, and average joes could meet and exchange ideas. Having a cafe didn't hurt either, and meeting someone new at Border's could turn into several hours of conversation over coffee before you knew it. Border's became so ingrained in the local culture that it's not uncommon to learn your friends were bumming around the store on the same weekends you were, years before you met them.

What happened? No doubt, electronic media happened, but that's not all. Barnes and Noble swayed some of the Border's crowd with it's newness, proximity to the mall (I guess,) and actual Starbucks Coffee. Half-Priced Books certainly flanked the aging juggernaut with stacks upon stacks of remainders and genuine rarities. Two opposing forces crushed the once retail giant in it's moment of vulnerability. Amusingly, a parade of former Border's employees can now be found working at either competitor.

As for the Border's employees who stuck around til the end? Screwed. Cast aside along with brick and morter and inventory, and under thralldom to the third party liquidator. Benefits stripped, salaries cut, seniority tossed out the window, not even the other local Border's locations acknowledged these poor souls. Helpful to the last, they cheerily waved on anyone setting off the sensor tag alarm. "That's okay! Don't worry!" You could sense the resentment.

Soul Boy, a store fixture, clears a store fixture

Border's Books and Music was also a personal experience, as I worked there part-time for two years. It was the end of an era, when a young(ish) bohemian with no clear intentions could work 18 hours an week and still afford a cheap apartment. There was an energy level, a camaraderie, and an ever present potential for romance that made the place worth being at, even during Christmas. Escaping to the break room my first holiday season was a revelation of microwavable meals and piles of printed materials. Filing books and cds was something I was born to do, or so I had thought.

The following year it became obvious that we had existed inside a bubble. New management brought new strategies, including smaller staff, disgruntled secret shoppers, and higher prices. Border's had a great selection of music, but it was always over-priced. After a frazzled friday night during the holiday rush I was advised that I should be able to roll a coin across the books as they were displayed on the table. That would be my last night, although several weeks later I did get called about coming in for a few extra hours. I've often wondered what would have happened if I showed up. Were they even aware that I hadn't been reporting to work? It seemed that the management was on auto pilot, and as with all big box stores, there wasn't enough help available to the customers. I quit, but I still popped in from time to time, just as I did before. Like I said, the place was a community focal point.

In the clearance sale's final days I could not bring myself to lift a bunch of stuff and set off the alarm. I did manage to snap of few shots of the sad, last gasp of what should have been a prouder legacy. Even in the weeks following the closing, while parked in the lot contemplating this eulogy, I witnessed the stores continuos impact by way of the several vehicles pulling up to a spot like nothing was wrong, each driver taking turns arriving at and walking dejectedly away from it's shuttered doors. It made me sad. The place was good, in an anachronistic sort of way; like, as the evil corporate entity that inadvertently did some good. For a while.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Yes, the SMALLVILLE series finale is an event

The great WB/CW series Smallville came to a close tonight in a two hour installment that actually did feel a little like saying goodbye to a friend. An old friend. I mean, almost ten years, right? The passage of time can be seen in the lines on the actors faces, as well as in the life changes it's audience members went through. The truth is we're all getting too old for this and it's time to move on. Thankfully the show goes out hitting most of the right notes.

I myself fondly recall a lonely night in my new, sparsely furnished apartment on the other side of town, sitting down (on the floor) to watch what turned out to be a decent pilot episode. That healthy dose of whimsy led to my watching the entire goofy first season and beyond. Over the course of the next three years Smallville would be regular geek water cooler talk, building on word of mouth with consistantly better episodes each week. I would guess that season four is where it jumps the shark, but a new revamped version with a new cast, and a willingness to exploit DC comics character archives eventually brought back the clientele. Here in the finale we get a smattering of the first few seasons, and some really terrific send-off moments from the current storyline, as well as some decent special effects and, last but not least, Tom Welling in the suit, flying.

Like I said, I couldn't get past the fourth or fifth season, but I've always admired the X-Files meets 90210 take on the Super Man mythos, and dropping in on Smallville had become something I was willing to do more frequently in recent years. I never knew exactly what was going on, but it wasn't hard to imagine why the exact same scenario was playing out again for the twentieth time. It didn't matter. Maybe the time away allowed for it to seem like the kind of fun it once was. The program went as far as it could go, and then a few steps past that, and came out a winner.

With Wonder Woman getting axed, it's looking like a less colorful hero landscape on tv these days.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dr. Dog @ Mr. Small's Theatre 2-17-11

The great Philly band Dr. Dog marks their return to Mr. Smalls as a headlining act at a sold out show, and during a rare Pittsburgh February Indian Summer. This is weather that hasn't happened in decades, so what better band to celebrate it to than one from the region where the phrase was coined?

Dr. Dog gets props for representing that part of Philadelphia that is classy. This would be the young gutsy art rock crowd that has nothing in coming with that which is going on in the 'Burgh. Here it's all darkness, but back east they get more sunshine or something, thereby allowing music by the likes of Dr. Dog to easily displace you from your current state of mind and more fully into the moment. They don't do this by doing anything "jam," they are merely a solid unit tracing it's evolutions to somebodies basement or porch.

Dr. Dog's appeal lies in the worn out cliches they continue to somehow be able to reinvigorate. Whereas locally we can claim a mash-up superstar in Girl Talk, back east Dr. Dog are operating more like accomplished collage artists. Beatles comparisons are, indeed, tired, since Dr. Dog continues to move farther from Enuf 'Znuf and closer to Badfinger or Big Star. If you are an audiophile, you will understand that Dr. Dog are audiophiles.

At some point in the future Dr. Dog will release a definitive live album, and it will achieve it's own Frampton-like status. It may be culled from multiple shows, but you won't care.

Here are some observations from tonight's show itself:

-Dr. Dog has to deal with the hippy element, whether they like it or not. Also, today's hippies dress and cut their hair like I did ten years ago, when I didn't know what I wanted to do with my image, except that I didn't want to be associated with anything "hippy." Dr. Dog are famous for a strong bearded presence.

-Their crowd is legit, in other words, unique and unto itself. Lot's of different types of folk are catching onto this band, obviously predominantly hipsters, but also including famous old weirdos and scenesters. Lot's of "Dad's Money" being spent. That said, the frat infusion is well under way, so watch out for beer muscles at future shows. On my way out I overheard many friendly exchanges from out of towners.

-Starting halfway through the set and then over the course of the evening the band played it's landmark album "easy beat" out of order, but in it's entirety."easy beat" is an instant classic, the likes of which buys it's creators years of creative stagnancy. That is not the case with this band, and they continue to explores the corners of one of the strongest recorded efforts of the decade. Live "easy beat" has a life of it's own.

-Bad posture is the best method for feeling up all the young breasts in your general vicinity, while not appearing as a total lech.

-Dr. Dog is a drinking man's rock band. When a person listens to Dr. Dog in the comfort of their own home, drinking is usually somehow involved. At the bar ordering drinks while this band is playing, it becomes difficult to resist ordering a round of shots just for the sake of it. Also, light weights get scared when you start to drink around them, even at a Dr. Dog show.

-The band rides around in a bus these days, and there were enough roadies to lay down that Philly b.o. stink deep into the heart of Millvale. Millvale can handle it. All that shit is necessary because the star is on the rise. Six years ago I got 80 people out to see these guys in Pittsburgh on a weekday, now they're selling out. In Pittsburgh, ya'all. They are the new "Black Keys"

-They added a new, sixth member who plays percussion and circuit bending (?) and who looks like one of the Geico Caveman, god bless him.

- Selling swag is the key to staying on tour. I finally picked up a copy of "Toothbrush" as well as a Dr. Dog beer kuzie for my Hartwood excursions (where I will probably listen to "easy beat".) My friend picked up "easy beat" on vinyl. They were selling a tempting Philly themed tossel cap for twenty bucks. It was probably worth it. I didn't get the details, but it appears that somebody is crocheting hats and mittens for the band. God only knows how much that would cost, but it's damn cool. I remember looking at these guy's merch table when it was all recycled Good Will findings. Ugh! Hipsters can suck so much ass! Yet, Dr. Dog had their signature style intact even way back then, and the product has always reflected it.

At the end of the night, this was a noteworthy production. The band is doing great, the venue is as chill as ever, and the warm February air in the region has a delightful strangeness to it. Despite seemingly every obstacle set up in the way to get to the place, it was worth the trip.
Dr. Dog can still be claimed as your own discovery, but not for much longer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Johnny Storm returns?

Looks like it's The Human Torch's turn to get snuffed out in the pages of The Fantastic Four, all a part of Marvel's latest bid for market place supremacy. Nothing like a big event, and there is no event bigger than killing a signature character. The thing is, nobody ever really dies in superhero comics, especially when you're talking about a Marvel comic. They all come back. We saw Kraven The Hunter's body, but he still came back. So the only question is, how will Johnny make his return?

Since Marvel is in the midst of updating it's universe in the manner of the classic late silver/ bronze age mode, and considering that the FF hasn't seen the guy in a while, I predict that The Human Torch will make his return as Galactus' newest herald, Dark Phoenix-style. He will do battle with his comrades and disappear again, thus stringing readership along that much further. The Johnny Storm we know and love will return only after the necessary sales slump, and requisite third major tent pole event. This will also mark the end of paper comics and the beginning of the retelling of the entire FF mythos , in the broadest common denominator, on whatever contrived new media being peddled at that time.

This is your next ten years FF fans. Enjoy!