Would You Like to Have a Cow?

Yeah, I haven't been able to post for a week now.

Here's a quickie. Until last week, I'd never seen a book trailer. No, I don't mean some long, inventory-laden mobile library; I mean a promo piece, like a movie trailer, but, well, for a book.

The Entertainment Weekly website recently overhauled its blog section and added blogs on music, film, and books to the PopWatch column, news blog, and Ken Tucker's Watching TV. Via the book blog, Shelf Life, I direct you to... uh... look, just check it out.

Out of This World

District 9 is one hell of a movie.

I knew even less about it going into a screening the other night than I did about
Moon before seeing that thoughtful piece of science-fiction cinema, which I reviewed last month. A very broad synopsis of and general thoughts on the film come after the graphic, but those who want to enter the experience totally blind (or at least with no spoilage on my part) should bail out now. The bottom line is that, yes, I'd recommend it, with the caveats that it dragged a bit in the middle, still impressive but not gripping until it re-engaged me in its final act, and that anyone who has difficulty seeing vomiting or viscera will have to avert their eyes on occasion.

Still from District 9 © 2009 District 9 Ltd.

District 9 flew under the radar — an irony, given the massive spacecraft that looms over Johannesburg in the movie — as director Neill Blomkamp shot on location in South Africa with a cast of largely first-time actors asked to improvise much of their dialogue. While produced by celebrated filmmaker Peter Jackson, best known for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there was little mainstream buzz about D9 until Entertainment Weekly
devoted a cover story to what it called "the must-see movie of the summer" in its Aug. 14th issue (out the week before). I decided not to remind myself of anything I might've heard about the movie or learn anything new before I saw it.

Like Moon, the film immerses the audience in its fiction right away, with documentary-style footage that establishes the premise matter-of-factly through voice-overs and characters speaking directly to the camera: The aforementioned spacecraft parked itself over Johannesburg more than two decades ago. After some time spent waiting anxiously but in vain for any sign of communication from the ship, government forces boarded it and discovered over a million aliens — aimless, living in pitiful conditions, apparently cut off from or abandoned by others of their race. They were relocated to a camp called District 9 in a humanitarian gesture, and twenty years later, when the bulk of the film's action takes place, the "prawns" are still there, so called because they resemble giant crustaceans in vaguely humanoid form. Everyone from sociologists to the good ol' military-industrial complex is interested in the aliens, their habits, and their technology, of course, but the overriding public concern a generation after the ship appeared is the aliens' population growth and drain on the state's resources.

District 9 also shares with Moon a mature approach to SF where some situation that's entirely plausible but as yet technologically unattained (in the case of Moon) and/or simply thus far unencountered (D9) is posited as fact, with the question asked, "What might believably happen next?" Moon is, however, on the whole contemplative, though not without without its moments of suspense, whereas D9 is, though not without its moments of reflection, largely kinetic, not to mention possessed of a cast larger than Moon's to the umpteenth degree.

Given its titular setting in a South African ghetto, it's impossible not to see District 9 through the lens of apartheid, but science fiction has dealt with thinly veiled allegory since before Star Trek. The movie needn't be interpreted to be enjoyed as part of a long tradition of alien-encounter flicks, albeit with vastly higher quality acting, writing, and effects work than the creature features that have become a staple of The Sci-Fi Channel, which recently, infamously, awkwardly renamed itself Syfy. For reasons that will be clear to those who've seen it, D9 reminded me in some ways of The Host, a Korean film from a few years back that — while often jarring in its mix of drama and camp (or at least what someone from my perspective, having seen next to zero Korean cinema, interpreted as camp) — provided an innovative spin on the mass-hysteria movie. There's next to no overt comedy in D9, but plenty of found humor in the human, or inhuman, condition.

While my viewing party on the whole gave it raves and one fellow in our row spent almost the entire film literally on the edge of his seat, the movie lost me for a while. I began to admire the fiercely committed performance of the lead actor, the impressive logistics, and the utterly seamless special effects even as I wondered if this wasn't a sort of pulpy genre equivalent to one of those period dramas that I know have impeccable clockwork yet lack actual thrill. Then the somewhat surprising potential endgame emerged and D9 revved up again, not just in terms of actual action but audience investment, even as it went through some predictable generic motions. I haven't actually seen GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra or Transformers: Rise of the Machines, but if you're looking for a rise in the quality of your summer escapism, head to District 9. You'll find awesome weapons, ass-kicking, and insightful alien interaction of the highest order. [There's an update/correction on all this rising in the comments.]

Mad/e Men

I hadn't tried it yet when writing about
Mad Men the other day, but now that I've done so I cheerfully direct you to "Mad Men Yourself" on the show's official website. Here's me:

You get just enough choices at each stage that the process doesn't become a chore yet, at least in my case, manages to produce a surprising likeness. I did think it was strange, though, that the options for facial hair included a full beard and a goatee but not a mustache-&-goatee combination (what I currently sport, and which I've learned from an unsourced but convincing Wikipedia page — just confirmed via a search that led to an LA Times article on the subject — is called a "circle beard" or "moutee"; you may have heard this referred to as a Van Dyke, but that term is reserved for beards and mustaches that are unconnected, with the latter typically upturned at the corners).

The artwork for "Mad Men Yourself" was done by the illustrator and designer Dyna Moe, whose portfolio is an absolute delight. Also on the Mad Men website are a cocktail guide to era-appropriate libations, a four-minute video recap of Season Two, a stunning photo gallery of the cast as they'll look in Season Three, and, in case you're curious about how the actors dress up offscreen, another gallery from the recent Season Three premiere party.

Given the series' return on AMC Sunday at 10 p.m. (for slightly over an hour, remember), tonight NBC is repeating Jon Hamm's hosting turn on Saturday Night Live, which featured "Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women". Following Mad Men each Sunday is an encore presentation of Season Two of Breaking Bad, which I've been awaiting eagerly since falling hopelessly behind several weeks after recommending the show. While almost difficult to watch at times due to its raw emotion, it's easily one of the best series on TV. [Update: Mad Men is actually repeated right away on Sunday nights and via On Demand; Breaking Bad airs from about 12 to 1 a.m.]

Joe: Cool?

The GI Joe movie opened last weekend.

I didn't care. What
is on my list? Funny People, Julie and Julia, (500) Days of Summer, In the Loop, District 9, and The Hurt Locker. But GI Joe... Meh.

GI Joe logos through the years are trademarks of Hasbro.

Now the salient point here isn't that the trailers for
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, like those for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, might as well have advertised CGI Joe: Attack of the Effects-Driven Spectacle, although that's also true. The curious part, for me, was how utterly devoid of nostalgia I've felt about these films since they were greenlit, because — while not always in terms of the aching wistfulness associated with nostalgia (a word that comes from the Greek roots nostos "returning home" and algos "pain") — I'm a pretty easy guy to send back to yesterday. A sight, a sound, or a smell can bring such vivid, immediate memories that I feel one short nudge away from actually stepping back into my past like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five or Christopher Reeve's character in the film Somewhere in Time.

Maybe it's that I was just a
sliver too old to fit into the Transformers-era demographic. I was a child in the 1970s; I grew up in the 1980s, and it's a crucial distinction. The Hasbro action-figure lines, animated TV series, and Marvel comic books upon which the current movies are based were huge successes, but I never sampled any of them. When I think of GI Joe, I think not of of the small, super-accessorized Real American Hero figures on the scale of Kenner's Star Wars line but of (A) the original 12" figures that died out just as I discovered them, their last gasp being the sci-fi Adventure Team incarnation that included Bulletman the Human Bullet, and (B) the 8" figures with not only "kung-fu grip" but "1-2 punch" that stood at about the same height as the popular Mego superhero dolls (no, I never had a problem calling them dolls).

Likewise, I don't have the same attachment to cultural icons that
precede my childhood, even by a little. Unlike the newer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (cartoon and action figures, that is; I appreciated the older-skewing, independently published comic books), I've always thought that the Captain Action doll was awesome, but since I didn't have a hand-me-down it never made the visceral imprint of my beloved Megos, or the 12" Steve Austin and his arch-nemesis Maskatron, or GI Joe with kung-fu grip and his arch-nemesis, uh, evil green GI Joe — actually named Darkon, I discover as some far too time-intensive Googling reveals that this version of the franchise was dubbed Super Joe and gives me serious flashbacks.

I'd meant to write more broadly about nostalgia, but time is up for now. So what Joe, if any, was
your GI Joe? Did you see the movie? And what do you want to see this weekend?

Screen Savor: Newsy Bits

Mad Men returns for its third season this coming Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC. In June, Variety reported that the show will be running a few minutes past the hour each week, so set your VCRs and DVRs accordingly — unless you have a service like TiVo that gets programming signals and should be "aware" of this.

If you like such reference works as Nikki Stafford's excellent
Lost companions and are among Mad Men's discerning viewers, by the way, Nikki herself recommends Jesse McLean's Kings of Madison Avenue, out any day now, offering episode analysis, cast bios, and supplementary material on the show's milieu.

The creator and showrunner of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, is notoriously averse to spoilers, so we don't know much of anything about what's coming up in Season Three. I'm okay with that.

Fans of
CSI have been abuzz about a departure, a return, and an adjustment on the original series. I've only seen the stories on the EW and TV Guide websites (that's TV Guide Magazine, actually, which split off from the now purely online tvguide.com a while back even though they still share a logo), but a quick Google reveals that reportage and discussion are heated. Me, I don't really care what led to Jorja Fox's decision to leave or to return; that's her business, and I'm just glad that Sara Sidle's back for a while as long as it doesn't mean her relationship with Grissom went south — or further south, since last we saw they hooked up in Costa Rica.

What bums me up is the departure of Lauren Lee Smith, whose Riley Adams apparently suffered from viewer backlash as Sidle's replacement and from lack of attention creatively when Laurence Fishburne joined the cast. I liked the understated strength and snarkitude that we saw before she was back-burnered. There are also plans to portray Fishburne's Ray Langston as more of a veteran, which to an extent makes sense as character development, but I liked that he stuck out as a bit of an odd duck, older than most of his colleagues yet a rookie after his career change; hopefully his professorial bent won't disappear completely.

reported the other day was that Langston will be crossing over to the other editions of CSI for November sweeps. I don't think I ever caught CSI: New York beyond the first episode, mostly 'cause I was already watching the other two plus the procedural Without a Trace. I've since given up on CSI: Miami (in my defense, the series debuted at a time when my apartment didn't have cable, and the colors were fun), but as mentioned back in March CSI: Las Vegas has stayed fresh to me and I'll probably give in to this gimmick out of curiosity.

Lost doesn't return for its sixth and final season until early next year, but ABC and the producers have been doling out some tantalizing teasers. In one of the promo spots that pretend the network's characters all know one another, Dominic Monaghan is seen playing foosball with Grey's Anatomy's Patrick Dempsey, An American Family's Ed O'Neill, and Cougar Town's Courtney Cox when he refers to himself as having been dead. The video debuted not long after Lost's potentially game-changing season finale, when either the mysterious Jacob, the detonation of a hydrogen bomb near the Island's magnetic lode, or both may have reset the characters' timelines — leaving viewers to wonder whether Monaghan was indeed speaking as Charlie Pace, especially since Dempsey is called Derek, not Patrick. Consensus seemed to be that Monaghan's line referred to his death on Lost and his "revival" as another character on ABC's upcoming Flash Forward, which despite its title has no relation to Lost.

It's been known since last year that Emilie De Ravin would be absent as Claire during Season Five yet return for Season Six in 2010, however, and the one relationship on the series that doesn't seem to either bore or bitterly divide the fan base, besides Rose and Bernard's, is Charlie and Claire's. Then producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse revealed at San Diego's Comic-Con International that Ian Somerhalder would be returning to Lost as Boone, who died in the first season, for an unspecified number of episodes — although probably not in any great capacity, given his commitment to new CW series The Vampire Diaries — after confirmation that Elizabeth Mitchell's Juliet and even Jeremy Davies' Faraday would be seen again, too, despite Mitchell's participation in ABC's series remake of V.

That all fueled new speculation over the reality-altering plotline and new hope that we'd see Charlie again as more than just another brief vision of Hurley's, even before Monaghan's surprise appearance at the end of a Lost panel at Comic-Con. I'd like to see Charlie and Claire reunite in some fashion, but with Lost getting what you wish for may not always turn out to be a good thing.

Eyes Captured by Castle

"She's a reader of rights. He's a writer of wrongs. They're New York's most unlikely partners in crime."

I was thinking of that kind of grand old trope even before it showed up in a promo for ABC's Castle. The series, created by Andrew Marlowe, wears it well — although they're actually partners in crimefighting.

The he is Richard Castle, best-selling mystery novelist, divorced with a child and a playboy reputation, struggling with writer's block. The she is homicide detective Kate Beckett, single, stoic, slightly star-struck over meeting Castle but determined not to show it. After Castle's insights help her unit crack a spate of murders based on his books, arrangements are made for him to shadow Beckett as inspiration for his next novel — to her consternation, when procedural friction and romantic tension ensue.

You may recall Fillion from his stint as husband to Dana Delaney's Katherine on Desperate Housewives a year or so back, and he achieved cult fame as a starship captain in the Han Solo mold with the 2002 Fox series Firefly (short-lived, but brought to the big screen in 2005 as Serenity). I first encountered him as evil incarnate in the final season of Firefly creator Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so it was strange to see him playing a good-natured gynecologist both on Housewives and in the charming 2007 indie film Waitress (highly recommended, with a delicious turn by Keri Russell in the title role, though terribly bittersweet due to the loss of writer/director Adrienne Shelly before its release).

From interviews it's clear that the latter roles are closest to Fillion himself, but he pulls off roguish charisma effortlessly. He has real chemistry with all three of the series' leading ladies: Susan Sullivan, the TV and theatrical veteran who plays Castle's fluttery diva of a live-in mother; Molly Quinn as his grounded, insightful 15-year-old daughter Alexis; and most crucially Stana Katic, a relative unknown who's absolutely riveting as Beckett. Beckett's boss and co-workers are far less vividly drawn, but they'll likely get their turns in the spotlight in the coming season.

Castle only began in March and will return in September along with a DVD release of the brief Season One. Networks air far fewer repeats in the summer than they used to, but ABC is showcasing this series — Saturday on some weeks, Monday on others — and I'm grateful as I only got to see a few episodes the first time around. The pilot had Castle playing poker with author James Patterson and, even more aptly on a meta level, Stephen J. Cannell, writer/producer of such bygone fare as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street (all of which, naturally, are in the Hollywood queue of properties to be "reimagined"). Castle is the perfect summer diversion, a throwback in many ways to when dependable television entertainment was accessible on an episode-by-episode basis; these days, almost everything I watch is laden with backstory, for good or ill.

Jaunty dialogue is as important to series like Castle as are the mysteries themselves, especially when a dysfunctional buddy-cop drama is fused with the "Will they or won't they?" motif. And you get flirtatious, exasperated exchanges delivered expertly by Fillion and Katic, but you also get throwaway lines like this from last night's episode, after Castle asks his daughter how exams are going and she mentions The Scarlet Letter: "The irony is, for you, not getting an A would be a badge of shame." When a show brings back a lead's old-flame former partner for a case like the one that helped drive them apart, yet barely registers any guilt on the pleasure scale, witty writing like that is just icing on the cake.

Yesterday Once More

Well, I've just finished re-assembling and posting the last of my vanished entries — or at least all of those that I plan to put back up for the foreseeable future. If you've been reading the blog for a while, or visiting and exploring older posts (I'm flattered), you know that everything vanished in mid-April and that I've had similar but different problems since then. I still haven't given up on an alternate platform, but there are only so many hours in the day and, sad to say, most of mine aren't that productive.

To celebrate my semi-anniversary here, I thought I'd offer the ten posts to date I consider most worthwhile — especially since some of them were AWOL for months — with a pair of labels thrown in to bring the self-serving recommendations to an even dozen.

"A Curious Case of Bedrooms and Buttons", my Coraline review, was the third post on the blog. I look forward to revisiting the film on DVD, particularly for the commentary from director Henry Selick and composer Bruno Coulais.

I hope to write more posts like "Bing!".

"Rhymes with Childhood" was the first post in my now-too-infrequent Empaneled series, one of the reasons this blog was created. It got a nice compliment from my dad.

Losing the March of Comics 2009 posts, a few of them twice, was a real blow. Some of them were only just republished in the last week, and I mention the label here for that reason. [Update: I got rid of that label, but you can find the pieces within the general Comics or jump to the archive of March 2009 posts.]

"The Dr. Manhattan Transfer" brought some very positive E-mail. It's still an almost surreal feeling to have an actual Watchmen movie out there, my feelings about its success aside.

I finally reposted "Foyer, Guns, and Honeys", my review of Dark Horse's replica edition of the early graphic novel It Rhymes with Lust, the other day. Not all of my post titles are specific puns, but of those I am perhaps proudest of this one.

Harry Kalas was inducted into the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park, home of my Philadelphia Phillies, a couple of days ago. "The Voice" was my mash note to him, and baseball, on the occasion of his passing.

The double-post of "The Lore of Association" and "Norse Code" may be the strangest, most time-consuming, and most enjoyable thing here — from my perspective, I hasten to add. I hope you'll check out the latter part even if you don't watch Lost.

I followed up my brief review of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek film with "Star Trek Too: What's Future Is Prologue", a think piece that's probably for fans only.

"Bedtimes and Broomsticks" is mentioned largely because I really like plugging Magic Trixie.

And similarly, for the linked content and not my own commentary on it, I recommend "What About Naomi?", bizarre stuff from the old Electric Company.

Except for that last one, most of the entries cited are on the long side, so to balance things out I point you to posts now labled Funny Stuff. The label is only given to outside content that makes me laugh, not my own attempts at humor.

When this blog began in February, I posted on average four times a week and stepped that up considerably in March. The aforementioned vanishing posts accounted in part for the drop-off after that, thanks to both the time it took to deal with the issue and the discouragement wrought by the affair, not to mention our lousy cable connection. Also coming into play were plans for another, comics-specific blog and related work on two projects: One is a possible revival of my magazine, Comicology, still in the very early planning stages; the other, a multi-pronged endeavor, I hope to announce shortly. They've taken time and focus away not only from updating this blog but from reading other folks' blogs, an enjoyable pursuit that, when curtailed, inevitably leads to fewer quick, link-oriented posts back on this blog.

My thanks to everyone who's read, commented on, or written privately about Blam's Blog so far... I know it's just a tiny, tiny, tiny little corner of the Internet, but it's mine.

Here's to tomorrow.

See linked posts for trademark and copyright attribution of relevant images.

Process Junk

I just corrected the misspelling of a writer's name in an earlier post, and doing so convinced me to republish the following from March — with the current date instead of the original (as I'm doing with most of my past disappearing posts).

I know I'm tempting fate by posting on Friday the 13th [Ha!], because the blog has already hit some snags recently. Anyone who subscribes to the RSS feed will have seen different versions of the past few days' posts in their mailbox. I've made the mistake of posting unfinished material on occasion to see how it looks, and a couple of times I just plain thought better about something.

Blogs are a funny mix of the ephemeral and the permanent, because while the norm for an active blog is weekly if not daily material, often quick and dirty, the material is still there whether you're 1,000 posts further down the road or have abandoned the blog entirely.

I'm trying not to be too precious about what I post — especially since toying with past posts is seen by some in the "blogosphere" as counter to the culture at best and dishonest at worst — but I admit I'm unavoidably particular about what I write. This has always been the case, and my health issues make it much more frustrating to write substantively, let alone feel confident in a final polish. Polish is not necessarily expected in blogging (nor is Polish, depending on where you're from), and quick, casual, pithy reads are welcome, but I still have a hard time letting something go live without feeling like I grasped it all before hitting publish.

The gorillas-in-comics post that I finally put up yesterday got longer and more unmanageable in the writing, not so much too lengthy in theory as too big for me to wrap up when my concentration flagged, compounded by connection problems. So I cut it at the point where it pivoted, and hopefully the rest of the material will go up today. With the short post about The Daily Show the opposite happened; I excerpted it from a general survey post on television into its own thing, and then decided to incorporate previous, "think-piece" material that I'd been working on, but promptly decided that that was a bad idea and cut it back down to size to focus on this week's Cramer-vs.-Stewart feud.

I promise to explicitly note changes that go beyond fixing egregious typos if they occur more than ten minutes or so after originally posting; even if nobody else cares, I'd rather not feel like I'm manipulating things, and besides the RSS feeds start looking embarrassingly dithery. Favorite blogs of mine run the gamut from those that offer mostly quick, pithy news or humor items and those that serve up lengthier reviews or commentary; I'm curious what you who are reading this think, whether you're checking this out on a lark or as a friend or whether you're an inveterate blog-reader or fellow blog-writer. I'll hopefully have a sort of Blogging 101 post up soon, too, for those of you who needed the link to Wikipedia above for an explanation of RSS. I'm still pretty new at this myself, but it's great exercise for the writing and publishing muscles, and for reuniting with folks who were old chatting-comics-on-the-computer acquaintances in days gone by.

The main reason why I've republished the above actually has less to do with the brief appearances of posts in rough form and more with the realization that whenever a post is emended — even to fix the typo of a single proper name and sometimes simply due to the addition of a label — my RSS feed marks it as updated on the date of emendation. Any substantive changes will consist of, or be explained in, bracketed or italicized remarks like this so that they're easy to spot, usually with the word "update" in bold; if you don't see such a thing then there's nothing new to read, although I sure as heck appreciate that you cared enough to look. The posts look much better in website view than via RSS feed anyway. 8^)

Hey! We Got a Live One Here!

So a little while back I finished reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, over 300 pages of prose with chapter-break illustrations from Dave McKean. It was released last year by HarperCollins in the US.

Front cover to main HarperCollins edition of 'The Graveyard Book' in shades of blue with some kind of winged stone marker on grass

The high-concept pitch for the novel would probably be "What if Harry Potter were raised by ghosts in an English graveyard?"

And it would be silly for a number of reasons, the least of which are that the book's central character, Bod, isn't a wizard, and that the book was awarded the 2009 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children, which to some is recommendation enough.

Solo Project

I made a comment about this video to my cousin the other night, and then realized that it never got shared here on the blog. It's called
"Star Wars Retold (by Someone Who Hasn't Seen It)" and it's pretty much what the title says except that, of course, she's seen pieces and/or absorbed enough of it through osmosis to get things amusingly close but wrong.