Friday, May 06, 2005

News!! Cont...

As I noted previously, Chicago is the rare burg that still has two major newspapers, the Tribune and the Sun-Times. I've always been a Tribune man, although I must admit that I rely almost entirely on the Interest to gather news. I basically pick up the Trib only during baseball season to further my masochistic love of the Cubs, and to do the daily crossword puzzle.

However, even if I'm a Trib fan more in spirit than in the breach, comparing the front pages of both papers has reassured me that for all the Tribune's faults, I'm more than justified being in their corner.

Tribune Front Page, 05/06/05:

Top of page advertises the new array of Friday sections the Tribune has lately introduced. Not news, but an understandable attempt to market themselves. In contrast, the Sun-Times has a banner at the bottom of their front page, pushing a contest in which you can win a vacation.

Tribune Headlines:

[Illinois Governor] "Blagojecvich kills contract he defended"

"Till relatives argue over exuming body"

"This Sept 8, NO BEAN FOR YOU" (Story on Toyota renting Chicago's Millinnium for private function)

"Bush opens U.S. Forests"

"Big Smile, but not such a big win for Blair" (Story on the British general elections)

"GM, Ford bonds are driven to junk yard"

INSIDE: Small pointer section, featuring columnist John Kass' take on mob ties relating to the local Rosemont Casino Hearings, and to a Business section story enitled "Nicor [gas company] sued over fee".

The two pictures on the cover feature Tony Blair (the British elections) and Jesse Jackson (the Emmett Till exumation).

That's a pretty decent mix of hard news stories, ranging from international to national to state to city. Not one of them is fluff.

Now let's contrast that with the Sun-Times front page [The Sun-Times isn't a full-sized paper like the Tribune, so you don't get actually stories on the front page, just headlines and subheads]:

There's two hard news headlines, although the first is a bit flamboyant: "POLICE COMMISSIONER STOLE FROM HERO COPS". Then there's "[Jesse] Jackson, [Congressman Bobby] Rush still at odds [on the Emmett Till exumation].

Those are tucked off to the right hand side of the front page, along with the somewhat less hard-newsy: "Feds probe zoo camel death" and "Hitless Wonders", a headline about the surging Chicago White Sox. The latter is accompanied by a small photo of Sox player Shingo Takatsu.

However, the first thing you see when glancing at the paper is the column-spanning banner at the top of the page, headlined "MOVIES-PA-LOOZA Stars return to the box office" To the right of this assertion (which is hilarious exagerated) are thumbnail photos of said 'stars' captioned of "Paris in ‘Wax’", "Ludacris in ‘Crash’" and "Orlando in Kingdom". Yeah, that's some huuuge star power there. Also, this marks the second Friday in a row that a picture of Paris Hilton has adorned the front page of the Sun-Times.

Finally, taking up a good 40% of the front page is a color picture of Angelina Jolie in a hooded robe as she tours Pakistan. The headline over this reads ": Is Brad in Pakistan, too?" The subhead then notes: "No word yet on whether her rumored new beau, Brad Pitt, came along on the four-day trip."

Again, I have to think the Tribune is worth that extra 15 cents.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Paramount downsizes mountain...

Weekly Variety (April 25th) reports that Paramount has a derth of only eight (!) films in the pipeline for the coming year. 2006's skimpy schedule, moreover, includes such sure-fire fare as a live-action Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay (seriously) and a fairly pointless remake of Charlotte's Web. But Julia Roberts is voicing Charlotte, so I'm sure it will do gangbusters. (If you're going to do an E. B. White book, why not Trumpet of the Swan?)

The only obvious gangbuster is Mission: Impossible 3, unless there's a lot more hunger out there for a romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker than I think there is. Meanwhile, Transformers and Zodiac, about the Zodiac killer, are even being co-financed with other studios.

The studio will no doubt add to that roster in time to release more movies in 2006, but still, that's remarkably inactive.

I don't think that word means what you think it means...

Weekly Variety New Brief Headline:

"STARS ALIGN FOR 'ZODIAC'"

However, here's what follows: "Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo will topline..."

Yeah, wow, that's some major 'star' power there.

Things I believe in the core of my being...

You don't put ketchup on a hot dog. One of the most depressing indications of the decline of Western Civilization isn't just that more people, even here in Chicago, are asking for ketchup on their dogs, but that so many formerly pure hot dog joints are fulfilling this request. A real hot dog place will refuse to pollute a fine all-beef wiener like that, and I honor places like Gene & Jude's that uphold that noble tradition.

Second, I literally can't believe any sane person supports the abomination known as the Designated Hitter rule. The American League can win every single championship from here to eternity, and I will still never think they are playing actual baseball. It's like the difference between football and arena football. A White Sox fan accused me of hiding behind this "old argument" to cover my bitterness that the White Sox are playing great ball and the Cubs just completely and utterly suck.

Well, believe me, it does stick in my craw, and if the Sox do to the World Series this year I will feel a burning shame like nothing I have ever experienced. Such a horrible thing could not happen. Surely the Universe would not allow it. (And on a side issue, I have nothing but contempt for people who aver to be "fans of both teams." Shut up, you unclean loser.)

However, the fact remains that the White Sox play in a false league. As an analogue, us Protestants also still advance "old arguments" about the validity of the Catholic Church, too (and vice versa), but that doesn't invalidate them.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

New on DVD/May 3, 2005

Here're some new DVDs that should be hitting retailers today:

Chupacabra Terror is this week's bad looking DTV horror flick.

Return of Daimajin is coming out as a separate title, but you're better off getting all three of the Toho "Giant Statue runs amok" movies in the long available box set.

The Entity
, the long controversial movie featuring Barbars Hershey repeatedly raped by a poltergiest.

The Grudge extended cut.

King of the Hill Season 4, one of TV's most underrated shows.

Licence to Drive: A new special edition (!!) of the Corey Haim/Corey Feldman pic.

John Wayne turned down Dirty Harry, and then made the "American hardhead cop in London" movie McQ instead, sort of a precurser to Keen Eddie. Silly flick, but it has its moments. Several other obscure Duke movies come out today as well, including Sea Chase, The Train Robbers and Blood Alley.

Patridge Family Season One Set. There's a song that they're singing.

Spaceballs: Collector's Edition. I think I'd rather buy that Licence to Drive set.

That Darn Cat! The original Disney...well, not classic, but you know.

Timothy Hutton's worst movie, Turk 182, hits the shelves.

Today's DVD bargains...

Bestbuy.com is making your day if you are a fan of mediocre sci-fi shows. Andromida Seasons 2 and 4 are available for only $10, a whopping 80% off list. Similarly priced is the first season of Mutant X. I can't imagine wanting to own those shows, or even to watch a whole season of them, but different strokes, and hey, the sets make cheap stocking stuffers.

A far better deal, although more expensive, is their offer of Farscape Season One($29/81% off) and Season Two ($58/67% off).

Meanwhile, DeepdiscountDVD.com offers the first and second seasons of Rocky & Bullwinkle, along with the more obscure Roger Ramjet collection, for an attractive $18 each, 55% off list. A three disc collection of the essential Underdog is similarly priced. Finally, they are offering the Ultimate Godzilla Collection, which isn't, for the same deal. The set includes OK, fullscreen presentations of Godzilla, King of the Monsters (the first G film), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964; aka Godzilla vs. the Thing), Godzilla's Revenge (blech), Terror of Mechagodzilla and Rodan.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Decent but not spectacular ratings for Locusts...

Locusts, the second of CBS' campy killer animal flicks, drew decent ratings for the Eye network, although whether they were high enough to inspire the productions of further fare is an open question.

Locusts came in at number 17 for the week, drawing less than half the number of viewers (12.7 against 27 millions) of the week's top-rated show, CBS' CSI. It also fared poorly against the hit Sunday program Desperate Housewives, the #3 show of the week, which garnered nearly 24 million viewers. Helping ABC handily win the evening was the 17 million plus viewers drawn by the number 10 program, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

It Came From the Longbox! The Champions #11 February 1976

Example

[Image stolen from this fine site.]

The Champions was a short-lived superhero team book that I was basically interested in because one of my favorite characters, Ghost Rider, was a member. (I remember being excited that the team was going to guest in--I think--the third issue of Marvel's Godzilla book, and how bitterly disappointed I was that Ghost Rider was not among them when the issue came out.)

However, the odd roster of team members, ex-X-men Angel and Iceman (mutants), Hercules (a god), the Black Widow (an ex-Russian spy) and GR (a man uneasily co-existing with a demon), never caught on with the fans. The book was cancelled after 17 issues in mid-stride, and it wasn't til like a year or two later, in a one-page flashback in Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man, that puzzled Marvelites learned the story behind the team's dissolution.

This is actually sort of a 'historical' issue, in that it's the first book penciled by John Byrne, who soon moved onto the X-Men and became comicdom's premiere artist. Here his pencils aren't quite as sure as they would become--obviously--and inker Bob Layton laid over them in such a way that the art smacks as much of his stuff as Byrne's. Even so, much of the stuff is eye-popping.

We enter in mid-action, as Hercules, BW, Angel and Iceman plummet towards the ground in their malfunctioning jet Sky-Car. They manage to pull up, but still look to crash until the handy appearance of guest star Black Goliath, who grows to giant proportions and stops the Sky-Card by grabbing it. BG almost falls off the roof of the Champions building due to the momentum, but Iceman creates an ice platform extension under him and he's saved. Funny how nobody ever slips off those, since, you know, they're ice.

Even here we got a sense that Byrne was a surprisingly gifted artist. He was one of the first comic book pencilers whose black characters actually looked black because of their features, and not merely because they were colored that way.

Soon we cut out to the "deserts of Arizona" where motorcyclist Johnny Blaze is enjoying some solitude. At this point he changed to Ghost Rider whenever there was danger about, and so is shocked when he begins transforming. This is a great issue for GR, who seldom was graced by the better writers and artists. I feel in love with Byrne when I saw his GR, who really looks cool. He went with the burning skull that still had eyes, and Ghost Rider looks quite spooky here. As well, he gets a lot of play in this story, and frankly, the next several issues of the Champions book were among the best Ghost Rider appearances in his long history.

After nearly being crushed by a cattle stampede, GR whips up his hellfire bike and rides out of danger's way by racing up and horizontally along the wall of a canyon, one of his niftier skills. Soon the stampede is cut off by the efforts of arrow-slinger Hawkeye of the Avengers, along with his then sidekick The Two-Gun Kid, who traveled in time from...oh, never mind. Anyway, the trio soon spot a flying saucer (!!) hovering over (bum bum bum) The Mesa of Lost Souls. This stuff is a lot easier to swallow when the art's so good.

Seeing a newscast, the rest of the Champions climb back into their freshly repaired Sky-Car and jet off to join their errant member. It's a good thing, too, for they face the Warlord Kaa, an alien shadow being who with his underlings can take over a human's mind by merging with his shadow.

Several pretty decent pages of superhero antics follow, with Kaa being disposed of in a fairly nifty fashion, before Ghost Rider hellfires up an arrow that Hawkeye uses to get rid of the rest of Kaa's crew. However, the triumphant heroes can't rest long, for they get a telecast message from Black Goliath back at their headquarters, which is under attack by the venerable (if somewhat goofy) villain Stiltman.

It's with Byrne's introduction that the book really started to come together, but sadly, it was too late. This is a good issue, and certainly a nice change of pace from the last few comic books I've looked at here. The action is plentiful and exciting, and under the pen of writer Bill Mantlo, the various characters are all comparatively well written and given distinct personalities and motivations. We're not talking Alan Moore here, but it's good, clean scripting.

Ghost Rider especially had some nice moments in upcoming issues, such as the reason behind his hostility towards fledgling teammember Darkstar, and running feud with Iceman. While the team's fans were apparently few, I doubt I was the only one who was sorry that we never got to see the promised squareoff between the two.

I used to have a dream storyline for bringing the group together, although eventually other stories interfered with my ideas. Still, if you're looking for some decent superhero stuff, you could do a lot worse than to spend a couple of bucks on eBay and pick up the last eight or nine issues of this book.

One paragraph book review: Schock Value-Hollywood at Its Worst by Richard Roeper

Richard Roeper was merely a horrible columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times until picked to replace the late Gene Siskel as Roger Ebert's TV reviewing partner. By making this selection, Ebert successfully made sure he'd never be again challenged as the show's top dog.

Still, it was a fortuitous moment for Roeper, who instantly became one of the nation's most prominent (if not worthy) film critics. Now he has further cashed in by writing one of those teeny books that will make sure public libraries never go out of business. You think people really want to spend $17 (or even a discounted portion of that sum) to read Roeper's lame brand of snark?

I was expecting the worst (and with all due respect to Mr. Roeper, Hollywood Schlock is something I know a little about), and I got it. In fact, I got it in the first paragraph of the book's introduction, which reads as follows:

"Every movie fan knows these truths to be self-evident: Chris Rock and Vin Diesel are movie stars. The most successful movie of all time was Titantic. Every critic in the nation panned Gigli. Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek have never made a movie together. Winning the Golden Globe is the next best thing to taking home an Academy Award. Pretty Woman made far more money than The Graduate. Accepting Best Actor honors for Philidelphia Tom Hanks made one of the greatest Oscar speeches of all time."

Unsurprisingly, Roeper then proceeds to show his superiority by proving these apparently universal precepts incorrect.

The problem, of course, is that the list seems false to start with. Chris Rock is not much of a movie star and never has been, Vin Diesel is hanging on to that superlative by his fingernails. Titanic is the most successful movie of all time in terms of money made, but anyone who knows anything knows that something like, say, Gone With the Wind has sold many more tickets. 'Everybody' panned Gigli would be acknowledged by most people as an exaggeration, as generally nothing is hated by each and every person who sees it. The Golden Globes are generally viewed as a joke except for the people who give them out and those who get them. I doubt if most "movie fans," much less "all," feel so conversant with Crowe and (especially) Hayek's filmographies to make such a weirdly specific claim. For Pretty Woman as compared to The Graduate, as with Titanic, yes, inflation must be taken into account. Finally, does anyone anywhere really care enough about the Oscars to make a claim about 'best' speeches?

Anyway, Roeper proceeds to blow our minds by debunking these universally help precepts. Wow! And the manner in which he does this is as bad as the list is to start with.

Neither Rock nor Diesel, he argues, "has turned in a single performance worthy of the "movie star" tag." Well, that's not what most people mean by the term 'movie star.' If Rock and Diesel are not movie stars, its because at this point they don't draw large audiences to films they star in.

Crowe and Hayek "actually did make a movie together. It's just that nobody saw it." I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed when Richard Roeper pointed out that these two did make a movie together. Wow.

Titanic and Pretty Woman: Inflation, blah blah.

Gigli: "...a few critics actually praised the film." Wow, another mind-blower.

"The Golden Globes? A golden crock." That 'joke' alone would have had me punching Roeper in the nose on sight had I actually bought his book with my own money. Besides, this one is probably true, although I guess Roeper doesn't get that the Oscars are just as much of a 'crock' as the Golden Globes.

"...read the transcript [of Hanks' Oscar speech] and you'll realize the man was...babbling." So? If people remember his speech (and that's Roeper's assertion in the first place) and were affected by it, then you could easily argue it was one of the "greatest" Oscar Speeches. Which isn't saying that much.

Anyway, that still leaves 200+ (small) pages of the wit & wisdom of Richard Roeper, so don't blame me for ruining the book.

It Came From Netflix! F For Fake

Orson Welles’ last finished film was this extremely fun, typically puckish and brilliant sorta-documentary—director/film historian Peter Bogdonivich refers to it as an essay in the interview included with the movie—recently released as part of the invaluable Criterion Collection.
Basically, it’s a stitched together creation made of pieces of other, uncompleted films. Welles tragically had trouble gaining enough funds to complete projects, going back to a version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that would have been his third movie. While he was in South America starting the film, RKO hacked up his masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons, and consigned the removed footage to the furnace, so that Welles couldn’t try to do anything about it. The movie still failed at the box office.

(The second disc in the F For Fake DVD set features a 90 minute film on Welles’ unfinished works. I haven’t rented that disc yet.)

Welles had been working on a documentary about a real-life art forger and the author, Clifford Irving, who wrote a book exposing him. However, things then took a bizarre turn when Irving himself subsequently was guilty of forging a faked ‘autobiography’ of then nutty recluse Howard Hughes. This was a huge story for a while.

In the end, Welles decided to incorporate the shot footage into a longer work about charlatans, mountebanks and fakers, in which group he definitely includes himself. Welles narrates and appears throughout the film, often performing magic. (He was, among many talents, a successful stage magician.) This is the later Welles, hugely fat, striding around in his trademark black fedora and cape (!), puffing on a cigar the size of a piano leg and obviously having a blast. You can tell the man loved making films, and much of the pleasure the film affords the viewer is knowing that its making brought the often-disappointed Welles so much joy.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

It Came From the Longbox! The Defenders #95 May 1981

[See the cover here.]

Hmm, this random thing doesn't seem to be working out. The first comic I randomly picked was an Avengers comic with a lot of magic, and I noted that I never really liked mixing magic and superheroes. So I dip into another box and pull an issue of The Defenders and...the cover features Dr. Strange, Valkyrie, the Son of Satan, Gargoyle the Demon and Hellcat (the latter non-magical) confronting Dracula. (Marvel's Dracula, from The Tomb of Dracula series.) Hence the story title, "The Vampire Strikes Back". OK, I want my 50 cents back right now.

We open with the supernatural superheroes returning to Strange's funky pad in Greenwich Village to find the front door ajar. "My Mystical defenses would prevent a common thief from easy egress," the world's most powerful sorceror notes. Well, that's good to know.

Sensing no evil, Strange ushers the others in, when they are jeered at by "A mocking voice!" They are divebombed in the dark, but it's only team regular Nighthawk, a knockoff of DC's Batman. Apparently he has been crippled and in a coma prior to this, but is now well. Then we get a bunch of backstory flashback stuff, and then the sun rises and Nighthawk collapses to the floor. See, he's stronger at night--that's his superhero gimmick, along with flight--and during the day loses his renewed health.

More flashback stuff, with a strong magical content (zzzzz) and then Dracula smashes through Strange's mystical defenses--he really should just look into a home security system--and starts kicking some Defender ass. However, something's wrong with the Count, and the SoS conducts a quick exorcism and Dracula is freed from demonic possession (!!!) and mightily pissed off.

So now they team up with Dracula (!) and teleport to some distant realm to battle some mystic foe and its "legions of the undead." They appear to be outmatched, but Son of Satan (who, yes, is the Son of Satan) pushes time forward, or some damn thing, and (having warned Dracula to leave) brings the morning early and destroys all the undead.

Not great stuff. Again, the content isn't really up my alley, and the scripting by J. M. DeMatteis is pretty lame in that trademark '80s way, while the art by Don Perlin and Joe Sinnott is at best stolid. Dracula in particular looks cartoony and suffers from a complete absence of the dignity lent him by Gene Colon's atmospheric pencils in Tomb of Dracula. He does come off better on the cover, provided by Pat Broderick and Al Milgrom.

One of my favorite superheroes, Ghost Rider, is proclaimed to appear in the next issue, "The Rock And Roll Conspiracy" (oh, brother), so I guess I should have dug that one out.