Thursday, June 29, 2006

I thought it was Superman Week...

Not The Invisible Man Week.

Yeah, about that. I know I've been a bad, bad blogger. Surely, Superman would shake his head at me in disgust, with arms folded, before leaving me to my fate.

Then I would hand the Man of Steel a copy of Motor City Sports Magazine, showing him why I've been in virtual blog silence this week. It's a classic case of "the writing gig giveth and taketh away." (And just as The Film Geek generously plugged me, in anticipation of Superman Week. Sorry, TFG.) So now, I can really say I've been away "on assignment." (How cool is that?!)

Thanks to the aforementioned writing gig, I was a credentialed member of the media at Comerica Park on Monday for a Tigers-Astros baseball game. I'd love to write all about it - and if I get a chance, I hope to - because it was honestly one of the coolest, and most informative, experiences of my life. And yes, here comes the plug: my article can be seen in the August issue of MCSM, set to hit shelves in, well, August.

I hope to have some Superman-related material posted tomorrow. I don't know if that will include a review of Superman Returns, however. I have seen it, of course. (Is the Pope Catholic?) But I really want to see it again, because there were some things I just wasn't expecting. Please feel free to consider two viewings in four days when wondering how I felt about the film.

As always, thank you for stopping by.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's a blog! It's a post! It's... Superman Week!

As mentioned on Friday, the decree has been passed down from the K-Dog, thus naming this week "Superman Week," for the epic contribution to cinema and comic book culture set to hit theaters on Wednesday. (So close... ooooh... so close.) Check out the fresh coat of paint and tchotckes Mr. and Mrs. Antcliff have broken out for the occasion. I'm quite envious of that banner. Just look at the size of that bobblehead.

The best I can do is my little Superman action figure. After shearing my hair off, I can't manage a decent spit-curl, so that's out. I tried my best to deck myself out in some old Superman Underoos, but Kal-El can't get into the Fortress of Solitude, if you know what I mean. (And I think you do.)

If I have the time this week, maybe I'll go through some old photo albums for pictures of the Superman pajamas and Halloween costumes I rocked out as a kid. Or the pillowcases and sheets that stayed on my bed just a little too close to adulthood.

Meanwhile, Batman and Spider-Man are looking on with some jealousy, because they were my favorite comic book superheroes growing up. Really, guys - you were.

However, neither of them had a movie to show Young Ian as an impressionable five-year-old geek-in-training. No matter how many times I watch Superman: The Movie, I still get that same feeling in my chest when Christopher Reeve cycles through that revolving door to change from Clark Kent into Superman. And the hairs on my neck have very Pavlovian reactions to John Williams' original score. Just the first few notes of his Superman theme raise my ears and get me sitting on my hind legs.

But I doubt it'll be all-Superman all week here. As much as I'd love to devote an entry to my favorite Superman comic book stories (which actually aren't many), or post the term papers I wrote about Superman as Christ figure and Jewish mythological hero, there's other stuff going on. Like the new Blade TV series, also starting on Wednesday, and starring The Future Mrs. Casselberry. Mrs. C (known in civilian life as Jill Wagner) won't be happy if I don't tune in. And considering all the hits this blog still gets every day, thanks to her and the other guys drooling after her, I probably owe her that.

Or maybe I'll just save that for next week. After all, this is Superman Week.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Do not underestimate the passion of a geek

Hey, I know I'm a geek. You're going to see that all too well next week, as the days lead up to the release of Superman Returns.

Kevin Antcliff (who's declared next week "Superman Week," by the way) and I will probably be insufferable over the next five days, as we see whose geek flag flies higher. (His flag's always going to look far superior to mine, however, thanks to the brilliant designer he's married to. I'll probably just draw a "S" on something with a red Sharpie. Or just walk around all next week with a red towel safety-pinned to my shirt.)

But no matter how much of a geek I am, I will still stand tall, with chin up and hands on hips. Why? Because I know that I'm not out in the woods with my digital video camera, making "Star Trek" fan films. No way I'm as geeky as these guys, profiled in last Sunday's New York Times. I'm not running outside in a homemade Starfleet uniform, or pointing a phaser at someone.

The last time I pretended to shoot a laser gun was when I was 10 years old. And you know what? I got in trouble for it. Someone in our townhouse complex complained to management about kids running around the buildings, hiding behind fences, and screaming laser noises at each other. So the manager told us to break it up, scolded us, and dragged us back to our parents. And really, that just pissed my mother off because I had to make all my laser gun noises in the house from then on.

Though I point and laugh, there's an ethos among these fans that I kind of admire. The writer and director of one of the fan films is quoted in the NY Times article as saying he and his peers do this because networks and studios aren't giving them the "Star Trek" they want. So if they can't get it, they'll just make it themselves. Now that, I can get behind. Such a sentiment reminded me of the blogger's "manifesto" I posted last week at my sports stepblog, Sweaty Men Endeavors.

So I can't make too much fun of these guys. Besides, if people run around re-enacting Civil War battles, why can't "Star Trek" fans dress up as Klingons on a Saturday afternoon? Maybe we Superman fans should do the same thing.

But I'm warning you right now, Antcliff: I ain't playin' Lois Lane.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

O Coffee Cup! My Coffee Cup!

It's been a rough day at the Casselbloggy workspace. I knew this moment would arrive. It was inevitable. There were simply too many cracks and fissures for this relationship - this love affair - to continue successfully. I'm just glad the end didn't result in scalding burns or short-outs.

My beloved Spider-Man coffee mug finally shattered this morning.

Well, "shatter" is too strong a word. It just... broke. As I was pouring my morning dose of wake-up juice, I heard the ceramic splinter, and coffee began to bleed out onto the countertop.

As you can see, the mug hasn't fallen apart yet. But there's a considerable crack running down the inside of the cup. Like the rift that now runs across my heart. Oh, if only it was just the cup that was broken.

My Spidey mug and I have been through so much together. So many late-night cram sessions, writing papers and reading novels. Countless early morning flights of inspiration and determination. Bad writing, good writing, and sometimes just typing. Giving me the fuel I need to begin the day and get through it. Spurring me on to make something of myself, creatively and financially. And of course, staving off the forehead-crushing aches of caffeine withdrawal.

Another coffee cup is already waiting, of course, and it's a good one. Mis Hooz gave me a "Get Fuzzy" mug for my birthday last year, decorated with one of my all-time favorite strips. I've wanted to drink from it, but I just couldn't quit Spider-Man. So my Fuzzy cup just sat, waiting. No tea. No cocoa. No liquor. I didn't want to taint it. Only coffee would be poured into it. But not before its time. That time has finally arrived.

With apologies to Walt Whitman, I've composed an ode to my Spider-Man mug. Farewell, dear friend. Maybe I can still use you for pens and markers. But you will be missed.

O Coffee Cup! my Coffee Cup! our blissful sip is done;
The mug has weather'd every crack, the java we drank is gone;
The trash is near, the end I fear, my forehead all pounding,
While hot brown water the steady drip, the chalice chipped and breaking:
But O brew! brew! brew!
O the sustaining drops of caffeine,
Where on the desk my Coffee Cup lies,
Fallen split and fractured.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The return of Four-Sentence Movie Reviews!

Long, long overdue for some (non X-Men or Superman) movie thoughts up in these here Fried Rice Thoughts. Here's I've eaten eating popcorn to lately...

The Lake House: This is what happens when I spend a Saturday afternoon with my mother, or more specifically, what happens when I say, "What movie would you like to see, Mom?" I almost fooled Mama Cass into seeing Nacho Libre - describing the plot as "a monk who wrestles to raise money for a monastery and win the love of a nun" - until she saw a poster of Jack Black's physique squeezed into lucha libre tights. Back to Keanu and Sandra part deux, the words "magical realism" came to mind as I watched this, but literary pretentions don't really apply - especially when I kept wondering how bad a case of blue balls Keanu must've had. But it's touching, it's intriguing, it's funny in places, it's stupid in others, and it's... probably a rental.

Hostel: Speaking of rentals, I was so ready for this to be "horror porn" awful that it actually didn't seem so bad. Sure, there were scenes that made my testicles ascend into my stomach (what would the female equivalent be?), but most of the grislier violence takes place off camera and left to your imagination - which is the way it should be. But Teenage Ian (who I'm still quite in touch with) would've loved all the naked women and bloody carnage. And I don't think I've ever rooted more for the "good guys" to be sliced, sawed, snipped, torched, tortured, eviscerated, and killed by the "bad guys."

The Break-Up: The biggest surprise to me is that Jennifer Aniston wasn't funny at all. Yet this is Vince Vaughn's show; she just plays the uptight, high-maintenance straight girl. If you like seeing couples who shouldn't be together argue, but would rather not hang out in front of the fitting rooms at The Limited, this could be your movie. But even if you like Vaughn (which I do), his chatterbox charm is much more enjoyable (and tolerable) when he's paired with someone (Owen Wilson? Jon Favreau?) who can match him joke-for-joke.

Underworld: Evolution: A much-appreciated birthday gift from Mis Hooz, full of vampires, werewolves, slashes, fangs, decapitations, and Kate Beckinsale in tight, tight, pleather pants. Much less cheesy than the original, but mostly because the terrible, execrable actors in that movie have been wiped out. And the special effects are really cool, especially the wings and talons that the big baddie gets to stab, throw, and pull everyone with. Did I mention that Kate Beckinsale's in tight pleather pants (and finds herself out of them, at one point)?

Poseidon: Of all the movies I've seen so far this summer, this is the one I enjoyed the most. I know - it looks like a floating (sinking? capsizing?) turd in a swimming pool, but it was actually mindless fun with impressive special effects and set design, and I enjoyed how ruthlessly the script treated the characters. I must've been in a bloodthirsty mood that afternoon, because I wanted to see more people drown and die. But I'd like to say one thing to Hollywood: Josh Lucas won't become a movie star just because you keep shoving him in my face and telling me he'll be one.

Water: Not the alternate title for Poseidon, as I originally believed. If you're not familiar with this, the movie takes place in 1930s India where widows are expected to join their husbands on their funeral pyres, marry the brothers of their lost spouses, or spend the rest of their lives exiled in ashrams. The main character is relegated to a "widow house" at eight years old, without ever having met the much older man she was betrothed to. I'm not sure if the backstory of the director's struggles to make this project is more interesting (and troubling) than the film itself, but it's heartbreaking to see how women were (and still are) treated in other parts of the world - largely under the pretense of religion.

Mission: Impossible III: I really wish I could've watched this film untainted by my perceptions of Batshit Crazy Scientology Boy. Because I think this may have been a good movie, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching Tom Cruise's public image reclamation project. I don't give one single $#!+ about Ethan Hunt's personal life; I want to see him use cool gadgets and shoot people. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is such a good villain, and probably had a lot of fun spouting J.J. Abrams dialogue, until he has to play Cruise's punching bag.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!

After the recent anniversary of my father's death, I told myself I probably wouldn't write about it much anymore. At least not here. Because I've said most everything I have to say on the subject. And for the most part, I'd prefer to keep things fun here.

Of course, it is my blog and I can write about whatever I want. But it's so much more fun when it's an interactive experience with you guys. I'm sure I'll be compelled to write more about my father in the future. But for now, I just wanted to get this one out of my head. And I suppose there's a darkly funny side to it that you might appreciate.

Look, I know people mean well. At least most of them do. And I believe that there's not really a wrong thing to say when trying to console someone in grief. Yes, there are obvious exceptions. But it's a tough situation, one some people just aren't accustomed to dealing with. And if someone feels compelled to say something, just to express a kindness, you have to respect that. You have to be grateful. And I am.

But there's something that's come up over the past couple of weeks that makes me want to scream. And it upsets the hell out of my mother, which is what ultimately pisses me off.

To those whom it may concern: Stop asking her if she's ready to start looking for someone else. Stop acting like the one-year mark means she should be ready to turn some kind of switch and find another partner. Maybe it did for you. If you've lost a spouse yourself, and are fortunate enough to have gotten to a place where you feel comfortable with someone new, that's great. I really am happy for you. And my mother is, too. But please - keep it to yourself.

I understand; you don't know unless you ask. But once it's become obvious that the subject upsets her - which is usually immediately - move on. Just like you apparently think my mother should. For Christ's sake, don't push the matter. Don't justify your thinking or feelings on it. Leave it be. Because it's honestly fucking irrelevant how you feel. Respect how she feels.

How many times has this come up? Let's just say enough times that I felt the need to vent about it here. Which is too many.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Listening under the covers

Over the weekend, it occurred to me that I've been listening to a lot of cover songs lately. One CD I've been playing a lot is "Under the Covers, Vol. 1" by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. (Or is it Sid 'n Susie? I can't keep up with these things.) I'm still not sure if it's good, but I'm warming up to it. (Ah, remember the days when you'd let an album grow on you, like a wine that needs to air out before you drink it?)

And judging by how often I replay it, my favorite track on "Rabbit Fur Coat" by Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins is apparently "Handle With Care," a redux of a beloved Traveling Wilburys tune.

I also like Gnarls Barkley's cover of the Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone."

But the moment of clarity that I experienced regarding my recent listening habits hit me in the bathroom at Mongolian Barbeque. The Power Station's version of "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" was playing over the loudspeakers. That song is an invitation to air guitar. And that's not necessarily a good thing while standing at a urinal, where (at least one of) your hands should be concerned with pressing matters. But to me, it's so much better than the original T-Rex song, which sounds feeble in comparison. And it just might be my favorite cover tune.

I forget whether Donutbuzz or Pop Candy had a post on this already, but if you're up for it, I'm hoping you'll chime in on which cover tunes you love. Are there any you consider far better than the originals?

Or for that matter, which ones do you hate? I'll start off with Soul Asylum's rear-end violation of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." They totally destroyed that song. Dave Pirner's wailing brings tears to my eyes - and very much not in a good way.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Smooth of face, empty of heart

So I did it. It's gone. My birthday seemed like a good time for a new look and a fresh start, and after spending one last night rubbing my fingers through it and saying my proper goodbyes in the morning, I shaved off my beard.

It's something I told myself I'd do as soon as the weather got warm. Unfortunately for those I talk with on the phone regularly, I told them about it, too. Frequently.

"I don't know; I'm getting attached to it. I look at pictures of myself without a beard now, and think they look funny. Maybe I won't do it. But I should. I won't be able to stand that thing when it's 90 and humid. Plus, it's looking sort of scuzzy. And it's starting to grow long under my chin, which itches like hell. Maybe I could go with a goatee. That seems like a nice compromise. Or just a mustache. I could pull off the porn star look. At least from the neck up. No, I shouldn't have said that. You're right. What about a Fu Manchu? No? Hey, you know what I should do? I should grow mutton chops! I could rock the chops like Wolverine! You think I'd look good with those?"

My sister was so bored from me talking about it that she hung up on me. My own flesh and blood - for whom I've always been available in moments of emotional and existential crisis - yawned long and loud, and got off the phone during a conversation about a month ago. She had all she could stands, and could stands no more.

Or she was sleepy because she was on her period. I'm not sure. See if I help her the next time she has dating problems. Oh, and I lied, Lil' Sis - that t-shirt you bought while you were home doesn't look good on you.

It probably would've been okay if I'd stopped with the beard. But the longer hair that went so well with the beard - the lush, flowing ebony mane that I thought made me look like Pacino in Serpico - didn't work without it. I looked like Meat Loaf. Or a butch Rosie O'Donnell. So I decided it was all coming off. Well, not all. I'm not bald. But I do look much like the picture of Sluggo up there with my profile.

And now I'm beginning to wonder if I made a huge mistake. I stared at myself in the mirror for a long time (even longer than I usually do) after my beard was gone. I almost didn't recognize the face looking back at me. Where was the ruggedly handsome sex bomb? Were those cheeks always underneath that hair? Are those... jowls developing? It was a face I didn't really remember. And I'd only had the beard for six months. I thought I looked sad, but maybe that was just lamentation for my lost facial hair. Or maybe the lower half of my face just needed a little sun.

Anyway, I can grow it all back. And plan to. Because I think I looked damn sexy. Here's hoping that a blog entry about the beard wasn't as boring to read as hearing about it over the phone apparently was.

And now, the blog equivalent of a montage, set to music, for an old friend whom I hope to see again someday soon. My beard's greatest hits. If you browse through these, sing some James Blunt to yourself while you're reading. It helps. Actually, no it doesn't. I want to stick knitting needles in my ears now.

▪▪ "Getting Fuzzy?"

▪▪ "Hey man, what's on your face?"

▪▪ "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y! Night!"

▪▪ "B For Beard-etta!"

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Me and Kanye down by the schoolyard

It often seems like everyone else except me shares a birthday with a cool celebrity, but I'm tossing that inferiority complex out the window. This year, I'm struttin' loud and proud!

Kanye West, Boz Scaggs, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Nancy Sinatra, and I will be rockin' it out - birthday style - today. I don't know what those guys have in mind. Me, I'll be cruising the town looking for the finest (free) birthday meats and cheeses to shovel into my mouth. Who's going to have more fun? I mean, really?

And maybe I'll hope - once again - for a Superman birthday cake.

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm feeling thankful for the small things today.

(And good meals to come. Along with the sweet-ass package of goodies the mailman dropped off earlier this morning from Mis Hooz. You, my dear friend, are a pillar of sheer beauty and vast awesomeness. King Kong ain't got nuthin' on you!)

Remember, be good to each other. Danny Donkey loves you.

Childhood drifts ever further away

I just found out yesterday that cartoonist Alex Toth passed away last week at the age of 77. If I'd been paying attention, I suppose I'd have seen the news right when it happened. As it is, I didn't find out until the big news sources ran obituaries on Toth.

If you're not familiar with Toth, you might recognize his designs and work from the "Super Friends" and "Space Ghost" cartoons. (I wonder how he felt about "Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast"? Was Toth ever a guest on the show? How "meta" would that have been?)

And before doing animation, he was a terrific comic book illustrator - especially when it came to one of my favorites, Zorro. When Image Comics released a collection of his Zorro comic books, I had to think about buying it for approximately two seconds.

As an aspiring kid cartoonist, Toth was one of the guys whose work I tried to emulate. George Perez was my absolute favorite comic book artist, and I loved his heavily detailed artwork. Toth could put a lot of detail into his comics stuff, too, but the "cleanness" of his animated work taught me something about simplicity, and definitely influenced my later doodles.

Sometimes, I really miss the days when all I needed to fill the day and make me happy were a pencil, eraser, pen, and sketch pad. And when discovering an artist like Toth was like finding a whole new world of possibility.

▪▪ Here's Alex Toth's official site. (I don't know about you, but I could spend all day looking through the gallery.)

▪▪ And an interview with him from Comic Book Artist magazine.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

On the (socio)path to happiness

After yesterday's post, it's been brought to my attention by concerned friends and family that I could be on the cusp of becoming a raging young (emphasis on young, since I'm occasionally sensitive about my age) sociopath.

Lil' Sis, the pharmacist who sweetly doesn't insist I call her "Doctor," is worried about my blood pressure.

I have listened, and will act accordingly. Here is the life change I have decided upon, in response to concerns for my mental and physical health:

I will begin to drink more. You know, take off the edge. Smooth out a bit. I think it'll work great. I might fall asleep in front of the TV more often, but hey, that means I won't have to make the bed the next morning - which I hate.

Peaches, flowers, and sunshine. Every day is a gift, people. Love each other as you would love yourself.

Speaking of loving one's self, it's almost lunch time, which means... Never mind. I like to read the newspaper at lunch. Be good to each other. Danny Donkey loves you.

(Image from "Pearls Before Swine" ©2006 Stephen Pastis/ Dist. by UFS, Inc.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The dumbfound and the fury

On this "Day of the Devil," I should probably think about compassion and generosity toward my fellow man. Walk out of the house and smile. Kill the beast with kindness, right?

First of all, I don't plan on leaving the house. I'm not going to see the remake of The Omen. (Nice job on the release date, though.) Once you've gone Peck, you never go back. And after I'm done typing this, I'm going back into the corner of my bedroom, where I'll curl up in white sheets and listen to Gordon Lightfoot all day. Surely, Gordon's wistful folk stylings will hold off damnation.

But rather than think about the good in people today, I'm more focused on how much they bug the $#!+ out of me. Susannah covered this a bit yesterday at Pub of Knowledge, but I'd like to explore the issue further because there are other reasons I don't want to leave the house.

For instance, the assclown who held up traffic yesterday on a busy Ann Arbor street, not only by pulling over, turning on his hazard lights, and running out of the car to drop something off or make some kind of delivery - WHEN THERE WAS A DRIVEWAY TO PULL INTO - but also by not shutting his door and letting it swing all the way open, thus ensuring that no one could drive around him, lest they veer into the other lane and smash directly into oncoming traffic.

So this total dip$#!+ held up an entire lane of traffic - again, on a pretty damn busy road - because he wanted to play UPS driver. WHEN THERE WAS A DRIVEWAY TO PULL INTO. Everyone being held up should've gotten out of our cars with baseball bats and tire irons and pounded this chump like a veal cutlet.

Or the idiot in our neighborhood whose car alarm regularly goes off on Saturday mornings. Early. Like 7 a.m. If it happened once or twice, fine. Car alarms go off once in a while. A squirrel jumps on the car, a jogger bumps into it - whatever. It happens. And I'm an early riser most days, so waking up on 7 a.m. isn't the worst thing in the world - even on a Saturday. But this happens every three out of four Saturdays a month. And it goes on and on. And on. And on, while this butthole is roused from his sleep, figures out that - yes - that is his car, and maybe he should turn it off because an entire neighborhood has now been woken up by a shrieking siren that was probably set off for no good reason whatsoever.

Baseball bats and tire irons, dude. Last Saturday was the worst. After a half hour, I was ready to find the car and smash the living hell out of it until it stopped wailing. And I would've done so while barefoot in my underwear, which no one wants to see. Or I would've tried to find the wires for the alarm and yanked them. And since I don't know anything about cars, that means I would've torn out everything. I'm not kidding; I was stepping out of my door when the damn alarm finally stopped. I would've found the house and pounded on the front door until someone answered. Or taken a $#!+ on the porch. Whichever would've made my point better.

And if someone's trying to steal this car, get better at grand theft auto, okay? Just #@$%ing take it already! Go find out how to disconnect a car alarm. Believe me, you'll have plenty of time because no one cares if the car's being stolen. They just want the damn alarm shut off. Hell, some of us will probably help you. We'll bring wire hangers and rocks. Whatever you need to get in the car.

Then there's the tightass who felt the need to chirp at me while we were both waiting to be helped at the deli counter. She thought I was trying to cut in front of her, when I was really just trying to get a better look at the meats and cheeses - which I had trouble doing from a distance, because she was leaning right against the counter - and practically over it, with elbows propped on the top - yelling at the guy to make sure that prosciutto was sliced thin, because last time it was too thick and whatever she was serving didn't turn out right.

So I couldn't see the display. And when I tried to look around her - because my number had been called, yet I hadn't been able to see what I wanted - this blue-blooded ice &!+@# turned to me and said, "You have to pick a number!"

Oh man, I'm amazed my shirt didn't rip down the middle of my back like Bill Bixby's. "Lady," I said, "I did pick a number and have waited in line, just like you did. But I can't see what I want to buy because you're leaning on the counter!"

She snorted at me, and stepped back from the counter. But I couldn't let it go there.

"Is it okay if I tell this gentleman what I want now?" I said. "Because I'd like to get some turkey and cheese, but not if everyone else was supposed to help you first. This is only maybe the 200th time I've bought something here at the deli, so I'm not sure how things run here. Is it okay if I go now?"

Awwww, snap? Maybe not, but in my mind, I heard thunderous applause. Most days, I wouldn't have thought of something to say until I was back in my car. And who knows, maybe I never will again. Fortunately - finally - this wasn't one of those days.

She stood back with arms folded, giving terse, one-word answers to the clerk for the rest of her order. I had my hands in my pockets, trying really hard to suppress a laugh and the urge to stand up on her cart, rip off my shirt, and yell, "BRING ME YOUR FINEST MEATS AND CHEESES AS I CRUSH MY ENEMIES, SEE THEM DRIVEN BEFORE ME, AND HEAR THE LAMENTATIONS OF THEIR WOMEN!" But no one really wants to see that.

Still couldn't let it go, though. After I got my finest meats and cheeses, I asked this shrew if I was supposed to pay for my groceries at the cash registers up front. She just ignored me and stared straight ahead. You have to pick a number. Baseball bats and tire irons, lady. I was just trying to get some lunch meat.

Though I briefly considered riding a bicycle everywhere and getting groceries delivered to my house so I don't have to deal with morons anymore, there will be no great vengeance and furious anger today, even though it's 06-06-06. It seems more like a day of wearing white linen clothing, frolicking through a field of dandelions, spinning around, and smiling up at the sky. I could use the breather.

(Image from "Pearls Before Swine" ©2006 Stephen Pastis/ Dist. by UFS, Inc.)

Friday, June 02, 2006

How do you spell E-N-V-Y?

I don't suppose anyone else spent the better part of last night watching the National Spelling Bee on ABC?

No? Just me? I'm the only N-E-R-D?

The only reason I was watching is because the Yankees took a 5-0 lead on the Tigers in the second inning. (The men of the Olde English D managed to come back, however, and defeat those Bronx Bombers, 6-5. All is right with the world today.)

Spelling bees are the bees' knees, man. The drama! The humanity! The grammar! Didn't you see Spellbound? Or Bee Season? Maybe you read the book instead? How about Akeelah and the Bee? (I meant to catch that, but I think it's gone from local theaters.)

Anyway, I love watching the "twitching little freaks," as Tony Kornheiser calls them, work their way through words like "pathognomonic" and "icteritious," while breathing heavily into the microphone, eyes clenched shut, repeating the word in question in tandem with the pronouncer - "Septentrional... ?" "Septentrional." "Septentrional?" "Septentrional." - and using every tool (etymology of the word, its definition, and use of it in a sentence) available to them.

Witnessing their anxiety seems worth it, however, when the stress leaves their faces after spelling the word correctly. The walk of shame back to the parents after missing a word? Not so much. (Fortunately, each of the parents looked supportive in defeat.)

At least that's why I tell myself I watched the National Spelling Bee. The truth is I envy the hell out of those kids. I've never even heard of 95% of the words they're given in competition, yet after some fishing around, the kids find it somewhere in their brains.

I've always fancied myself a good speller, much to the annoyance of some of my friends, but to the benefit of many. You want me around when you're doing that crossword puzzle, my friend. And I've taken pride in that. Spell check is for pussies, man. (You're damn right I'm checking this post for typos!)

Okay, I'm totally frontin'. I lost in the finals of my class spelling bee in fourth grade. It was shocking, devastating, I've probably never gotten over it, and have only been able to share this with a select few people. It feels even worse when I think about the word that flummoxed me. It wasn't "strychnine," "loxodromically," or "redivivus." It was "forth." And at the time, I had never heard that word, under that definition. I know - it's embarrassing. I totally blew any chance with the fourth grade chicks in that moment. So I watch these kids spell to console myself vicariously.

Anyway, congratulations to the Last Girl Spelling, Katharine Close. Her winning word was "ursprache," yet another word I've never heard of ("lost language of paradise"?) and will surely never use in regular conversation.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

X-Men : The Last Bells and Whistles

It was bittersweet news for comic book movie fans (and movie fans, in general) when Bryan Singer decided to skip out on making the third X-Men movie, in favor of Superman Returns. Finally, a Superman movie was going to be made, and with Singer directing, it was probably going to be a good one. But the X-Men were getting screwed over in the process.

I'm not someone who thinks Brett Ratner is the filmmaking anti-christ, though I wasn't thrilled to see him take over (after Matthew Vaughn bolted, as well) because Singer seemed to "get" the X-Men so well. I was really impressed by his vision for them and wanted to see where he'd go next. But hey, the first two movies established the characters and their universe well enough, so maybe Ratner wouldn't (couldn't) #@$% things up.


(First, let me get the gratuitous Hugh Jackman-in-a-tank-top picture up there for Mis Hooz. She's a big fan.)

Okay, Ratner didn't #@$% things up. But that's actually one of the problems I had with X-Men: The Last Stand. Let me try to make sense of that. See, it felt like he tried too hard not to mess with the winning formula. And that was probably smart on his part. But to me, it gave the whole film kind of a flat, cautious tone. There wasn't the same passion or creativity that made the first two X-Men flicks so exciting.

I can't usually point at a film and confidently say "That's where the director is messing up," but Ratner (or his cinematographer - whatever) seemed to do nothing with the camera. It wasn't moving. All the shots were static. Nothing was from an interesting angle. And I often hate it when wacky shots or funky angles are used for no discernable reason (let's use another comic book movie, Daredevil, as an example). To me, that's just the director trying to make it look like he's doing something.

But these types of films are so much better when the camera adds to the action. If you saw X2, think about the opening scene with Nightcrawler jumping and teleporting all over the White House, trying to assassinate the President. Right away, you were pushed back in your seat and knew you were watching something cool. To me, there's nothing like that in the new movie.

It's also missing - for lack of a better word - "soul." There's no depth to this thing. I'm not expecting an Arthur Miller play, but the first two X-flicks were so compelling because of the attention paid to the characters and their conflicts. 'Last Stand' relies far too much on two things: 1) the other X-Men movies, and 2) special effects.

Continue reading "X-Men: The Last Bells and Whistles" (and pardon me while I geek out):

The filmmakers apparently decided that all the character stuff you need is in the previous movies, so go back and watch those if you want to see why Wolverine lusts after Jean Grey, and vice versa. Why do Professor Xavier and Magneto have such an ideological clash in philosophies? Is there a reason these heroes or villains choose their sides, besides "I'm a good guy" and "I'm a bad guy"?

And as I see it, these are the central themes of the film: Whether or not mutants should be "cured" and should someone's mind be messed with for the greater good of the world? Singer would've taken the time to address those themes. Again, look at X2 and the scene where Bobby tells his parents he's a mutant. This time around, however, the themes are only addressed with heavy-handed dialogue, extraneous scenes, and obvious character motivations - i.e., Rogue wants to be cured so she can touch people.

But Ratner & Co. seem more interested in showing Colossus' metal skin, Storm fly through the air, Jean Grey's evil "Dark Phoenix" face and hissy-fits, and Pyro and Iceman shoot fire and ice at each other, rather than showing you why it all happens. Of course, some of that stuff - such as what Magneto does to the Golden Gate bridge - is really cool. But for a film that relies so heavily on special effects, I thought they looked surprisingly chintzy in some scenes. (I can't really mention them without giving away some spoilers.)


Also, when it comes to these types of movies, I think there's a very fine line between giving the geeks what they want ("More mutants from the comics!") and pandering to them to curry favor ("If we give 'em more mutants, they'll be too geeked out to complain"). 'Last Stand' does it both ways, I suppose.

My not-so-inner geek was thrilled to see the blue, furry, and articulate Hank McCoy (Beast) on the big screen. And Kelsey Grammer does a great job. He's not just Frasier Crane under a bunch of make-up. Along with Kitty Pryde, they're the best parts of the movie. But another new character, Angel, gets virtually no screen time, despite his involvement with an very important storyline. It's pretty much "Look, he has wings!" and they're done with him. Such a waste of a good character and juicy story conflicts.

The previous X-flicks did a nice job of nodding to the geeks, which probably resulted in plenty of knowing winks, whispers, and nudges in the theater, but left it at that. This time, wave after wave of fresh new mutant and comic book reference is thrown at you throughout the movie. ("Yes! They're in the Danger Room! Wait - is that a Sentinel? Hey, there's the Multiple Man! Oooh, look at Juggernaut! Hang on - is that Callisto? And wasn't Dr. Rao in the comic books? Excelsior!")

Ultimately, however, it comes down to the same characters we've followed for three movies. So aren't all the other bells and whistles kind of unnecessary? I certainly thought so.

With the "Last Stand" title, it's been assumed that this will probably be the last time we see all the X-Men gallavanting around on the big screen. Next time, we'll probably just get more Wolverine. But with the all the money that it's bringing in, isn't it more than likely we'll get more Marvel mutants? And there are so many more stories to tell. Bryan Singer's long since moved on with the guy in the big "S" and red cape, and he probably doesn't want the X-Men back after Brett Ratner had his way with them. But if more of these movies are made, I hope the producers find someone who will take proper time and care with these characters, rather than just working on them as his or her next project.