Casting Internets

I’m actually surprised how long I’ve been sitting on some of these links. Seems like I read a few of these months ago. And awaaaaaaaay we go.

Interviewing pals-turned-cowriters Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft for CBR about their new Image book Severed got me really excited about that book. I also wrote about Epoch and Rodd Racer.

I also wrote about Black Knight’s wonderful wardrobe for Marvel.com.

This isn’t so much of a link, but I discovered while doing some research for that Marvel.com freelance piece that not only did a comic called Hulk Comic exist in the UK, but it also featured Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories drawn by Steve Dillon. That’s one of my all time favorite characters drawn by one of my all time favorite artists. How do I now have a collection/issues of this?

Also not a link, but once my daughter starts walking, I kind of want to make her a Godzilla costume and build a tiny city for her to smash. Is that weird or ingenious?

The Beat tells me that the sixth Diary of a Wimpy Kid volume is coming out in November. I think I’m more excited about this than any other comic announcement I’ve heard in a while.

I really liked this Topless Robot list of the 6 best and lamest Planet of the Apes toys.

I’m not much of a risk taker, especially when it comes to potentially getting hurt, but I would absolutely try riding this hoverbike. Just not through a wooded area…at least not on the first try. (via Wired)

According to Rolling Stone, the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album will be rather dark. I’m not really sure how to take that, I’m just hoping it’s got a little more speed behind it than their last few more proggy records.

Speaking of new, dark records from bands I love, apparently Fountains of Wayne will also be less upbeat than previous offerings. They’ve never disappointed me before, so I don’t expect them to now. (via Rolling Stone)

My buddy Chris sent this Video Games vs. Real Life post from Behance to a few friends in an email. It is fantastic.

I’m excited about the possibility of a 100 Bullets TV show, but David Goyer’s involvement is iffy. He was involved with Christopher Nolan’s Batman flicks which is a plus, but the movies he directed himself are not so good. (via /Film)

After reading Brian Hibbs’ most recent Tilting At Windmills where he explains some of the math behind the direct market and considering the crappy financial climate we currently find ourselves in, I’m shocked that the comic book industry hasn’t scaled back more. He makes the point that it’s better to sell lots of copies of a few books instead of a few copies of a lot of books. That makes a lot of sense and you’d think trimming down the number of comics sold each month would not only save you in production costs but also give readers the sense that they can actually keep up on an entire universe if they’re so inclined. Does anyone think that way now? I sure don’t.

The Challenge Rivals Episode 2 “Through The Looking Glass”

I had some problems with tonight’s episode of The Challenge: Rivals and I’m not talking about people playing the game stupidly, pointless fights or them cheering for friends instead of people they should want to be sent home. I’m peeved because MTV has been really sloppy with a lot of the editing and previews they’ve created and how spoiler filled they have been. It’s frustrating. To find out what I’m talking about and what the above picture is, hit the jump! Continue reading The Challenge Rivals Episode 2 “Through The Looking Glass”

Ad It Up: Masters Of The Universe Video Game

It boggles my mind that He-Man hasn’t been more widely exploited by Mattel. The Masters of the Universe Classics figures are fantastic and do a great job of updating the character in figure form for modern consumers and fans, but why isn’t there more? There’s no real reason there shouldn’t be as many versions of the Masters as there are of Transformers out there. It’s a great basic concept with lots of room to grow and expand with an audience that’s always looking for new entertainment. I can see a cartoon being too expensive or risky to produce, but why not a comic book (or at least a digital one) based on the bios on the back of the MOTUC figures or a video game? Consider how epic a He-Man video game could be. Heck, even if it was a fighting game where you chose different Masters to fight! Anyway, all of this is a long winded way of saying that back in 1983 Mattel tried doing a Masters video game. I have no idea how good or bad it was, but it makes me wish that they’ve give it another shot. Anyway, this ad was scanned from 1984’s Hercules #1.

Trade Post: Final Crisis Rogues’ Revenge

FINAL CRISIS: ROGUES’ REVENGE (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge #1-3, Flash #182, 197

To say that Final Crisis was a confusing event would probably be putting it lightly. I was still reading comics on a weekly basis as it rolled on and I had very little clue what was happening. However, after reading all of the Morrison-written stuff together in the FC collection, I actually really enjoyed the story. I don’t think I understand it 100%, but I had a great experience reading it and want to revisit it and hopefully gain a little more insight. I think one of the stumbling blocks for DC was taking a Grant Morrison story–which tend to be weird and wild–and turning it into an event. It probably should have just been it’s own thing, but considering how huge of a story it was, it would have been strange for it to not be referenced anywhere else. Adding the “Final Crisis” tag to books like Rage Of The Red Lanterns which had little-to-nothing to do with it didn’t help.

Anyway, Rogues’ Revenge is kind of one of those books as well, but it does feature Libra one of the big bads in FC, so I guess it makes sense. Johns and Kolins return to the characters they made awesome during their run of Flash and do a pretty damn good job which is saying a lot considering the Rogues just got done murdering a grown-up Bart Allen in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, a book I didn’t even read for free. There’s also some vague references to Countdown that aren’t that important. But, I think Rogues’ Revenge works really well on its own, but you do need to know a few things. Inertia tricked the Rogues into killing Bart Allen, Libra has killed Martian Manhunter and turned most of the villains of the DCU into an army, but the Rogues want nothing to do with him, which makes him angry. Also, Pied Piper was tied to the original Trickster for a while after the death of Bart Allen, which seems to have messed Piper up. They were both trying to infiltrate the Rogues when Bart got killed. Most of these details are included in the story as it progresses, but I figured I’d throw it out there because the book doesn’t have an intro (which it really should).

Anyway, this book, while it might have a few continuity questions for folks, acts as this awesome revenge action story. Think something like Payback or Crank but with supervillains instead of Mel Gibson or Jason Statham. The Rogues are looking to get out of the villain game because they broke one of their own rules by killing the Flash, but they want to pull one last job: kill Inertia. Captain Cold takes the lead for the most part, but Mirror Master, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard and the kid Trickster all have cool moments as they tear through imposters (originally seen in Batman: Gotham Underground which I thought I reviewed, but apparently not) and deal with an Inertia trained by Zoom as well as Libra himself. These are very bad men doing very bad things very well.

With all the violence, death and rain, the book takes on a kind of noire feel to it, but Kolins’ artwork is as bright and vibrant as ever. The rain is really serious in the book and Kolins makes them look soaked without getting sloppy. It really is a great collaboration between two creators who have great chemistry together. Giving the Rogues the spotlight was a cool move that could have been done at any time and not tied in to Final Crisis, but the elements of that story that are included make sense and actually make them look even more badass. Telling Libra to kiss off more than once is pretty epic, but would have been more so if I could remember what the deal with that character was. Anyone remember?

If you like revenge movies, the Rogues or high quality stories that give villains the spotlight, the this book is definitely up your alley. By not dealing with heroes (Flash only appears in flashbacks and at the very end) the Rogues get to show how dangerous they really are and it’s a wild ride to keep up with.

The Challenge Rivals Episode 1 “Welcome To The Jungle”

Oh man, I’ve been looking forward to The Challenge: Rivals for a while now. In case you were unaware, this season pairs people up who have had a tumultuous history on previous Challenges or Real World seasons. Some of them are pretty dead-on while others seem pretty flimsy, but if you’re not sure why some of these folks dislike each other, they not only run down the history of Challenges past, but also get specific with what happened. A few still left me scratching my head, but everyone can’t be Evan or Paula, am I right? We’re tossed into the beginning of the episode with sound bites of the various contestants dumping on one another with Robin having the best: “You couldn’t pick a bigger cast of assholes.” True enough. Hit the jump to see who the biggest of the bunch is. Continue reading The Challenge Rivals Episode 1 “Welcome To The Jungle”

Ad It Up: Morning Funnies Cereal

My favorite comic ads are the ones that bring back a flood of memories. My second favorite ones seem incredibly inappropriate given the subject matter of the comic they are found in. This one counts for both. Not only do I remember eating Morning Funnies Cereal a few times (the box actually folded open and had comic strips you could read!), but I got a kick out of flipping through an old Punisher issue (#20 from 1989) and coming across the full color visages of Hagar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace, Luann, Beetle Bailey and the rest. Does anyone remember what the actual cereal looked like? The art makes them look like tortured souls screaming out of the comic strip graveyard. Or goofy faces. Whichever you like

Mini Trade Post: Batman Dark Knight, Dark City & Legion 100-Page Spectaculars

DC COMICS PRESENTS BATMAN DARK KNIGHT, DARK CITY 100-PAGE SPECTACULAR (DC)
Written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Kieron Dwyer & Tom Mandrake
Collects Batman #452-454 & Detective Comics #633

Wow, that is one heck of a title, isn’t it? Seems to me you could either ditch “DC Comics Presents” or “100-Page Spectacular” or possibly both. Also, does it really need a #1 on the cover? Anyway, it seems to me this tiny, cheaper collection format was designed to put out random Batman storyarcs from the two core Bat-books, Shadow of the Bat, Legends of the Dark Knight and the myriad minis starring our hero. I would imagine that, for the most part, many of them will land with me how this one did: just alright. It’s a clever tale that features the Riddler finding some old Gothamite cultist’s journal and getting possessed by a demon. Demon Riddler puts Batman through this series of paces that SPOILER winds up putting him through the motions to prepare him for a dark ritual.Well played Eddie.

As you can imagine, the book is pretty dark, darker than I thought for some reason even though this was well into the grim and gritty period. Seeing Batman stab a dog with a knife is pretty intense. Anyway, the story was a little slow and felt familiar to this long-time Bat-reader, though I can’t pinpoint why. The Riddler reveal is pretty interesting, but it’s kind of like watching a movie you’re not that absorbed by with an interesting twist. Oh okay, cool. What’s next?

Meanwhile, the Detective Comics issue which was also written by Milligan with Tom Mandrake art was just the opposite for me: an interesting story about Bruce Wayne trying to figure out why he wasn’t Batman/where the Batcave had gone, but with an ending that made me not care about what I had just read. This collection’s biggest fault, to me, though is not reprinting the Mike Mignola covers between issues. For the record, there are 88 pages of story in this book, some ads, a 4 page The Search For Swamp Thing preview and a DC Nation column which means there was plenty of room to run the covers. But, if you maybe haven’t read a ton of Batman comics and want to read a darker tale that actually does something interesting with the Riddler, you probably will be okay spending $8 on these four issues.

DC COMICS PRESENTS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 100-PAGE SPECTACULAR (DC)
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Oliver Coipel
Collects Legion Of Super-Heroes #122-123, Legionnaires #79-80

Since I complained about the overly-long Dark Knight, Dark City title, I’ll take a moment to complain about this title as well. I actually think this one should have had an additional subtitle, like Legion Of The Damned. I’m guessing that would not fit on the spine, though. Again, not a big deal, just something that popped into my head.

I moved this mini-trade to the top of my “to-read” pile after reading the first adventures of this incarnation of the Legion. I completely forgot to mention this collection in that post, which was funny because I was literally staring at it while I wrote the post. As it turns out, this bad boy practically ends both the regular LoSH book and Legionnaires. There’s one more issue of each book which leads into the epic and well-received Legion Lost (anyone know if those last two issues are collected in the Legion Lost hardcover?).

Okay, enough about the book itself, how about the content? I really dug this story and it makes me want to keep an eye out for single issues of the previous books and the DnA-written Legion book that followed at cons. I have no idea what went on before this, but the first issue opens with Earth being overrun by the Blight a kind of organic Borg that has overrun the planet and even possessed most of the Legionnaires. Just when Chameleon thinks he’s the last of the bunch, Cosmic Boy, Brainiac 5, Monstress and Apparition return from a wild trip in space that kept them out of this mess as it was going on. Now it’s up to them and a few others–who I won’t spoil, but are on the cover, so I guess it’s not spoiling–to defeat the Blight and save the day. It’s a pretty fun, tight story that really screwed up the Earth and Metropolis, something you don’t really see in comics much without some kind of loophole or get-out. By the end of this book, the Blight have been defeated, but it’s not like Earth and Metropolis are back to normal.

It should also be said, that I wasn’t too confused by what was going on, even though there was a pretty huge gap between my reading of this series. Sure, there’s some characters I didn’t know (Monstress) but it’s not hard to jump into the story because the good guys and bad guys are pretty well defined, so even if I don’t know which Legionnaire Monstress has a crush on or whatever, I know she’s a hero fighting the villains. Nuff said. I was also impressed with Coipel’s artwork. It might not be what you think of when you think of him now because it’s a little sketchier and looser, but still really detailed and stylized. I also appreciated how he drew some of the Legionnaires as if they were actual teenagers. I never for a minute thought that any of the kids in the first trade were younger than 17, so it was good to get the feeling some of them actually looked like their younger age. All in all, this was a great book, definitely worth the price of admission for me and a great precursor to get me excited about the Legion Lost collection.

I mentioned this when I talked about Finals, but I really appreciate that DC has created this new format for collecting their comic books. Purists might not refer to them as trades because they have ads and issue numbers on the cover, but I don’t care about that stuff. In fact, it might be kind of fun to look back and see what was being advertised back in the day. Finals is sitting on my trade shelf between Fallen Angel and The Five Fists Of Science, sure there’s a few more inches of gobbledegook than need be on the spine, but that’s no big deal. My only real complaint (that title stuff is mostly grousing) is that they’re not including the covers in these things. I hope DC keeps doing these even with the relaunch.

Music Musings: Bonnaroo 2002

My actual ticket stub.

I originally wanted to write this post the week leading up to this year’s Bonnaroo, but I got busy. As it turns out, though, I’m writing this on the 9 year anniversary of the first day of the very first Bonnaroo. Yeah, I went to there. It was the summer after my first year of college and earlier in the year, while I was home on break, my buddy Toth told me about this new festival in Tennessee. It was three days, tickets were $100 and that included camping spots. I wasn’t the biggest jam band fan in the world, but the line up seemed interested enough and I liked the idea of being able to tell people I went to the first of something I figured would wind up being a pretty big deal (I guess I was right on that point). To make matters better, Toth figured we could head down to Nashville for a few days and then drive the next hour to Manchester and watch the show. Seemed like a good plan to me.

Our days in Nashville were pretty fun, though would have been even better had we been 21. I have a very distinct memory of walking down the main street wherever we were and hearing all this different music coming out of the bars and clubs that we couldn’t get into. We did however find a Charlie Daniels museum (I love the Charlies Daniels Band), ate at a Hard Rock Cafe, went to a few record stores and also got some “rock star clothes” as Toth called them. I still have the redish pink 70s pants and bright green button down shirt I bought there. I also remember having a conversation about this new show called American Idol. Toth thought it was a big deal and I thought it was BS. Guess I was wrong about that one.

Our Nashville Hotel Room

On the morning of June 21st, 2002 we packed our crap up, stocked up on food at a grocery store and then went to make the hour-or-so drive down to Bonnaroo. Seems pretty simple, right? Heh. No way. Instead of taking the hour that Mapquest told us it would, we wound up being stuck in traffic for 7 or 8 hours. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember the exact amount of time because it’s been so long and I was kind of losing it at the time. I don’t know if it was the wide open space, the insane gridlock or the fact that no one else seemed to think this was a big deal, but I was starting to have a serious panic attack as traffic all but stopped. I was very seriously doing the math in my head, trying to figure out how long it would take us to get home if I just turned around and started driving. How mad would Toth be? How would I pay him back? My better judgement won over and I wound up just sitting it out. To give you an idea of how slow the traffic was moving, people were getting out of their cars and tossing the frisbee around for 15-20 minutes spurts and only had to move a few feet to catch up to their car. It was insane.

Toth, The Camp Site & My Old Van

Eventually we got in, though and went to our camp site. As you can see from the pic, they were basically as wide as a car and twice as long. Toth had a ton of camping equipment like the tent, chairs, a grill, the awning, the whole works, plus he knew how to cook on the camp stove, so we were pretty set. We had a pretty good set up across from some older biker-looking people from Chicago who I remember talking about quitting heroin,or “H” as they called it. That kind of freaked me out, but they seemed nice enough. Again, I’m relying on memories that are a decade old that were probably fuzzy to begin with thanks to poor sleep, a lack of showers and (I assume) some kind of contact high. While I didn’t partake in anything while there, there was plenty around being imbibed freely. I even saw a guy with two different colored eyes. I guess they could have been contacts, but he looked REALLY messed up.When we got to the actual gate, we were given a schedule and a map to help us find our way around. I don’t have it here in NY otherwise I would scan it. I believe the camping areas essentially surrounded the concert area which was split between four stages of increasing size. At least one–and I think two–were under huge tents while the larger two were just gigantic, open air venues. I remember having a general feeling of calm and ease while there even though it was beastly hot and really big. Everyone seemed cool and I saw all kinds of things I had never seen before, from the guy with the crazy eyes to some of the wildest frisbee catches I’ve ever seen. And that’s not even taking the music into account.

The Stadium, Bonnaroo's largest venue that year

Thankfully, I wrote about my experiences at the show on my old website which is still around thanks to Angelfire (that’s also where I swiped all these pictures from). According to that, these are the bands I saw along with some modern day commentary.

Friday

Big Wu
Jim White
Umphrey’s McGee
Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade
Gov’t Mule
Widespread Panic (the first set)
Keller Williams Incident (kinda)
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (for a few minutes)

I couldn’t tell you thing one about Big Wu or Jim White. You’ll see me writing that a lot in the next few paragraphs, but I think it’s because I wasn’t familiar with most of the music going in, so there aren’t a lot of touchstones. However Umphrey’s McGee made a big impact on me. They really impressed me and I still remember their show as being my favorite. It was in one of the smaller venues and I think we got pretty close to the stage. We saw Frog Brigade from way back, but it was rad seeing Buckethead play. Gov’t Mule and Panic are mysteries, but I do remember sitting on the side of the tent for Keller’s show and peeking under to see what we could see. I actually really regret not sticking around for Karl Denson’s set. It was one of the late night ones and I actually had listened to one of his records, but I think I didn’t want to be on my own that late. Such a wuss…

Saturday

Ben Harper (solo)
Jack Johnson
String Cheese Incident (I think)
Jurassic 5
Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains
moe (the first set)

Harper played the largest stage they had all by himself. I wasn’t really familiar with his music at the time, but that really impressed me. I don’t believe Jack Johnson was a big deal at the time I saw him, but I do remember him bringing out a 6 or 7 year old Australian girl named Scarlet to play drums at one point. I have no recollection of String Cheese Incident, but Jurassic 5 was awesome. That was my first and only hip hop live show experience. Maybe I was thinking of Bucket of Bernie Brains when it came to seeing Buckethead? moe was the late night show that night and it was pretty cool. Toth and I met some nice people while waiting for them to go on. I think the band was an hour or so late (which anal retentive me did not appreciate), but we all wound up talking bootlegs for a while which was cool. I think Toth stuck around for the second set, but I was exhausted and headed back to the camp site.

Sunday

Ween
Bela Flech & Edgar Meyer
Phil & Friends with Bob Weir
Superjam
Trey Anastasio

Ween is another one I have zero memory of, though I know I was interested in checking them out because some dudes I worked with in high school were HUGE Ween fans. I remember being in the thick of things for Phil & Friends, but am not a Dead fan, so it was another “I have to say I was there” kind of a thing. I wandered away from all that craziness and hung out towards the back of the second biggest stage to check out the Superjam which I remember being really sick. The last show of the night was Phish’s Trey Anastasio playing with his then-new band. At the time, Phish had “broken up” and word around the festival was that Phish would be reuniting. That wasn’t the case, of course as Trey went on and played with his big band. I wasn’t all that interested in this particular show and really didn’t feel like wading through a literal sea of people, so I hung back at the camp site while Toth went and watched. I was able to get one of the camping chairs up on the roof of the van and wound up watching from there. It was actually a pretty awesome moment. I’d love to watch more concerts that way.

The Arena, Bonnaroo's second largest stage

By Sunday, I was more than ready to get the hell out of Tennessee. I had had a good time, but that was a completely different kind of living than I was used to. I had spent the whole time in a uniform of cargo shorts (the same pair I believe) and white under shirts. The cargo shorts were important because I could put water bottles in the extra pockets. Man was it hot. Oh and showerless. There were a few rigged-up sinks that helped a little, but I had never been that sweaty and gross for so long.

Phil & Friends with Bob Weir on stage

We had decided–thanks to my prodding, I’m sure–to head home right after Trey’s set. My plan was to get out of there and drive for as long as I could before needing to get a hotel room and sleep.That’s not how it actually went down, though. It took Toth a while to get back because of all the people, but then it took three hours just to get out. My figuring was that that was still better than what it would have been like the next day. I only got an hour away from Manchester before needing to stop. The hotel we wound up stopping at must have made a killing that night because they charged us for a full night even though it was late and we had to be out by 10 or 11 the next morning and we were definitely not the only Bonnaroo attendees staying there. At the end of the day, though, we didn’t care because we got to sleep in an actual bed and even got to take showers. I’m fairly certain that was the best shower I’ve ever had. I also had the best chicken sandwich of my life the next morning at a nearby Cracker Barrel.

Looking back, I’m really glad I stuck with it and didn’t let my craziness get in the way of a really interesting and fun experience that left me with a lot of memories, even if most of them don’t have much to do with the music itself. Toth went back to Bonnaroo a few times after that, but I bowed out. I spent a ridiculous amount of money that summer between the Tennessee trip, visiting the future-missus in New Hampshire for a few weeks and buying a guitar (the last one I bought now that I think about it). Would I go back again? Yes. But only if I was taken in via helicopter or didn’t have to deal with all that traffic thanks to a parachute drop or some such.

Halloween Scene: Planet Terror (2007)

In my post about the exceptionally disappointing Death Proof, I talked about how excited I was about Grindhouse, the combined efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to recreate the feeling of going to a 70s drive-in complete with double bill and even trailers for movies that didn’t–at the time–exist. What I forgot to mention was how inundated we were with Grindhouse stuff at the time for Wizard. I was working in the research department at the time, which meant it was my job to find images to go along with features and news stories. As you might expect, there was a good deal of Grindhouse coverage leading up to the movies, but not a lot of images released. While watching Planet Terror again last night I kept having these weird flashes when particular scenes came on. At first I thought I was just remembering the movie from the first time I watched it a few years ago, but then I realized that they were the stills we kept running over and over in the mag.

Anyway, I was flipping through my DVDs last night to see if there was anything I wanted to watch more than the intended night’s flick X2 and stopped as soon as I saw Planet Terror. I had completely forgotten that I had picked the movie up on one of my many trips through the sale racks of my nearby Blockbuster before it closed down. Bonus! Aside from the freeze frames I mentioned above, I didn’t remember much of the movie other than it had zombie-esque people attacking a girl with a gun leg and a guy who owns a barbecue joint.

Unlike Death Proof, I had a delightful time watching Planet Terror. I think the difference between those two movies is that Rodriguez had a much better understanding of what makes the kinds of movies he was paying homage to work than Tarantino did, which is strange because Quentin has made a whole career based on taking a genre and updating it while also making callbacks to other movies. As far as I’m concerned, Rodriguez completely nailed the zombie outbreak story. He dealt with elements we’ve seen since Night Of The Living Dead but also turned a lot of them on their ears (what happens to Dakota’s son, what happens to Naveen Andrew, etc.). He did a great job of presenting the characters and getting me interested in them–even if it is because of the very B-movie idea that they’re just cool looking so I want to know what happens to them–before getting into the zombie goodness.

And once we do get into the zombie goodness, it’s SOOO good. It looks like some of the blood might have been added with CGI, but for the most part it looks so real and good and gross and bloody that those little bits of computer generated saturation didn’t bother me. The gore is fantastic and something that I’ve missed a lot from most of the modern horror movies I’ve seen lately (maybe I’m just watching the wrong ones, but I felt like I hadn’t seen this kind of big budget feel in a gore-filled horror flick in a while). I also really loved the ending which didn’t just leave our heroes wondering what was happening with the rest of the world, but showing a bit of it. There was something very 70s feeling about it, which was the whole point.

While watching the movie, I came to the realization that Robert Rodriguez might be the most consistent of the directors I like. Quentin really faltered with Death Proof, but I also tried to watch Jackie Brown in the past year or two and was bored to tears. I like the rest of his movies, but those are two pretty big strikes. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith seems to have gone down in quality over the past few years, especially with Cop Out. However, I’m excited about Red State, so he’s in a little better shape in my book. Then you’ve got Rodriguez who has never disappointed me. I’ve watched El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Sin City, Planet Terror and Machete and have never once been less than impressed. I’m actually excited about delving into his kid friendly flicks like the Spy Kids movies, Shorts and Shark Boy & Lava Girl because I bet they have as much fun with the tropes of those genres as he does with the ones he’s played with in his more grown up flicks.

American Ninja Warrior’s Pretty Cool

Back when I was doing my weekly TV column for Maxim.com, I remember reading about a show called American Ninja Warrior. I did a little research and found out it was this obstacle course originally built in Japan for a show called Sasuke that only a couple of people had ever actually completed. American Ninja Warrior has an open call in Venice, California that anyone can try their hand at a version of the course. From there, the top 15 move on to a boot camp where they get to train while also competing in reality show-like competitions and then the final 10 get sent to Japan to compete. So far, no American has ever conquered the final stage of Sasuke called Mount Midoriyama. The show airs on G4, a network we don’t have, so after reading and writing about it, I forgot about the show altogether.

Then, yesterday, I caught several episodes thanks to a marathon on Syfy and I enjoyed the show, especially for it’s variety. The first section, where contestants go through a series of heats in Venice is like a more serious version of Wipeout. Then, the middle section of the season is more of a reality show competition in the vein of History Channel’s Top Shot (another show I had fun watching), then the final bit is a really intense version of the first part over in Japan. The only problem I had was that I can’t imagine watching ANW on a weekly basis, especially the first section. Seeing lots of people succeed or fail on the exact same course and then moving on to a similar but different course isn’t the most thrilling television in the world. It would be like if the first few episodes of American Idol only had people singing “Sweet Emotion” or something but without the judging. Some would do really well and others would suck, but after a while, you just want to see what happens next. It makes me understand why the Wipeout folks gloss over most of the first round.

The appeal of the show is two fold as it progresses: you want to see if anyone will be able to beat all four courses in Japan, but you also want to see all the crazy obstacles these guys have to attempt. For instance, the third stage in Japan required them to use regular looking doorknobs suspended several yards over a pool of water like monkey bars. Oh, the knobs also turned. And this was the second obstacle on the course. Pure insanity. The people that can do these things are amazing and should be hired into some kind of elite fighting force ala S.H.I.E.L.D. or G.I. Joe. Maybe this is where Seal Team 6 got it’s members?

So, while I can’t imagine myself watching American Ninja Warrior week in and week out, I do look forward to the new season (which starts soon on G4) winding up on Syfy several months from now. I should also note for people who haven’t seen the show, ANW doesn’t actually contain any fighting, but tests contestants on their strength, speed, durability and stamina. Think of the training scenes from Kill Bill if they were being administered by whoever built those traps Batman always found himself in in the old comics.