Real World Watcher Portland Episode 1

MTV Real World 28 PortlandIt’s been a while since I’ve done one of these lengthy TV write-ups, but what can I say, Real World brings out the blogger in me. I did a lot of writing earlier today about older, classic seasons of the perennial reality TV series, but now it’s time to start talking about the latest batch of kids agreeing to let their lives be taped while living in a loft — their words, not mine — and whatnot. For what it’s worth, I know absolutely nothing about Portland aside from what I’ve seen in Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s Portlandia, so if I wind up not liking this season, I’m going to re-write it in my brain as one big, extended sketch.

Alright, let’s break this down. We’re first introduced to Averey who seems pretty pleasant aside from the extra “e” in her name which makes me misspell it nearly every time I type her name. She lives in Arizona with her dog Daisy, but is actually from Ann Arbor which is about 45 minutes away from my home town. Daisy comes along with her to the house because she has no other family. She works at Hooters and loves it because it gives her the opportunity to provide for herself and not live off her parents. She’s the first one at the house.

Meanwhile, Jessica who’s 21, from North Carolina and lives with her parents. She admits to being sheltered and doesn’t seem to make much of an impact overall on the episode aside from wearing a g-string bathing suit and being a little more surprised than the others when they go to a burlesque club. She meets Boston-ish boy Johnny who has a bit of a cocky exterior but freely admits to being wildly insecure about what other people are thinking about him. When he gets to the house and sees Daisy he’s happy because, even if all the other roommates dislike him, the dog will probably still dig him.

You’ve also got Joi from Seattle who’s a big fan of her own body and shows it off at seemingly every turn. Marlon, who’se 24 and an Army brat from Texas who played football for Texas Tech picks her up in one of those bike taxis before heading towards the house. You’d think they’d be next there, but it’s all a ruse!

Instead, we meet Jordan who gets to the house by himself. He’s from Oklahoma, has several fingers missing from his left hand (he was born that way) and is super competitive which seems to stem from a dad who pushed him ultra hard at everything, possibly because of his hand.

The next roommate to reach the house is Anastasia, a model who hails from Detroit where she was raised by her mom and grandma. Within moments it seems like she and Averey are talking about how their alcoholic dads were never around, something Jordan says he can’t relate to, though he does reiterate that his pops is a hardass.

After that Johnny and Jessica get there next. They start hanging out and we discover that Anastasia has a boyfriend, something that Jordan does not think will last, mostly because he’s got a thing for her. Finally Joi and Marlon get there and everyone’s all together. “But wait!” you say, where’s this Nia person I’ve been seeing on all the commercials and promos? Isn’t she supposed to show up? Well, it doesn’t look like it. This first episode seems to cover several days and she has yet to show up which either means that MTV really wants to throw the cast members a curve ball or she comes in to replace someone who leaves or gets kicked out. From the clips they showed at the end in the “this season on the Real World” thing, it could definitely be for fighting, though it certainly looks like Nia does her fair share of it.

Here’s something interesting that popped into my head while watching these kids all get to the house: I wonder how much of day one is actually reacting in the moment and how much is reacting how you think you’re supposed to react in the situation. By this point there have been 27 seasons of this show and, for the most part, the first episode seems pretty formulaic. The people show up either on their own or with a roommate and either take a moment to get to know each other or run around like crazy trying to figure out rooms. I was actually a little surprised that they didn’t make a big deal out of that old chestnut this time around. In fact, we’re not even directly told who’s living with who throughout this whole episode!

Anyway, after everyone (but Nia) gets to the house, they decide to have a cook out which is actually kind of cool. We see Marlon ask Jordan about his hand and Jordan give a fake answer before telling the truth and explaining that his dad told him when he was a kid to make up a story whenever he saw fit. There’s a lot of subtext there, but I won’t get into it just yet. So there’s eating, Johnny makes a burger for Daisy, the girls talk about the guys, the guys talk about the girls (as far as we know at this point, everyone in the house is straight) and things seem to go pretty well.

They head out to a club the next night which makes me wonder when that became a thing for the casts. They used to usually have at least one person under 21 so they either weren’t interested in going to the club, MTV couldn’t get clearance to shoot at one or the cast decided to skip it so their fellow could hang out with the group. Even though I’m programmed to expect it, nothing bad happens at the club. Johnny makes a bit of an ass of himself in front of Averey, but nothing too severe. At the halfway point of the episode I wondered to myself if they would get along for the whole thing.

The next day, the guys play some basketball and Johnny runs into Jordan (or vice versa) and Johnny comes away with a lump on his face. They decide to play a joke on the girls and tell them that Jordan punched him. The girls are shocked and Anastasia is particularly displeased with the news because it’s an obvious sign of violence and who wants to live with that? It’s interesting to me that the guy who seems like one of the more angry people in the house decided to joke about violence. It’s almost like a precursor to what looks like is coming up this season.

The first cracks in the happy new family start to form when Marlon and Jordan are evaluating and ranking the girls’ hind quarters in front of the girls. Anastasia is really unimpressed by this and thinks the whole thing is just mean, which I can understand. Unperturbed, Marlon and Jordan head to a club and bring some women back to the house for some hot tub action, but once they get them there, they realized these are not the caliber of ladies they hoped to meet. At this point Marlon tries to devise a plan, but he’s pretty drunk, so Jordan just tells them they need to get out which upsets Anastasia and either Joi or Averey (I looked away for a second to take notes and missed the offended parties) who actually invited the girls to hang out with them at some point in the future. The bar girls just left.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The offended roommates went back to the boys and told them they should have manned up and handled the situation better. It basically turns into Jordan and Anastasia yelling at each other and Jordan spilling wine in the general direction of her feet. They did this right before a commercial break and I looked away again, so I thought something a lot more intense happened, but I think that was it. After the break there’s more shouting which devolves into Jordan saying he doesn’t respect Anastasia because he just met her and her saying she doesn’t want to deal with that kind of nonsense. Can’t say I blame her, he’s acting like a child who gets told what to do. Huh, Jordan doesn’t like being told what to do, wonder why…

And that’s that. We end the episode on a bit of a down note followed by the aforementioned “this season on” montage which makes this season look insane. This Nia woman describes herself as a snake in the grass and loves to cause trouble so why not put her on a show that’s ostensibly about people from different places coming together and learning from one another. It actually makes me wonder if there’s an legal recourse for cast members who get put in situations with obviously unstable people like this (she talks like a super villainess and appears to hit at least two people just in this one clip) who cause either physical or emotional harm. From what I’ve heard, those contracts are incredibly tight, so I’m guessing not, but it’s definitely something you’ve got tot think about when deciding if you want to go on The Real World these days. The again, Puck wasn’t exactly the best roommate, so maybe things haven’t changed all that much.

Real World Watcher: New York, Las Vegas & San Francisco

real world logoI’m a big fan of weekends spent without too much on the schedule. I like going out and doing things, of course, but I also very much enjoy just hanging around the house with no responsibilities. As it happened, this past weekend was one of those weekends and it thankfully coincided with a Real World weekend on MTV. Instead of doing what you might think they would leading up to the launch of the 28th season of the reality TV frontrunner, the network decided to feature classic seasons like New York (the very first season), the game changing first Las Vegas (which set many of the precedents not only seen on The Real World to this day, but also at least half of all other reality shows) and the epic, heartbreaking and concept-proving San Francisco. I’ve heard here and there that the network doesn’t actually like this dinosaur of a show (28 seasons?!) so I was surprised when I hear about this.

I caught huge chunks of all three marathons. I didn’t get into the show until about 1996 with the Miami season and was hooked from there, so I only really saw the first four seasons when MTV would run marathons. It was cool sitting down and looking back at what had come before with the series.

real world new york

While watching 1992’s Real World New York I was mostly taken with how driven Heather, Kevin, Eric, Norman and Andre were. Becky and Julie had their moments, but the others really seemed to know what they were going for and doing what they could to do it. A big part of this seems to be the fact that MTV and the production company probably did most of their casting in NYC with just a few other places, hence Julie coming from the south. I’m not one of those people who’s constantly saying that Real World has changed over the years — I mean it has, but is that the show, what they’re now comfortable showing and/or a shift in youth culture? — but it was interesting seeing so many people going out and doing their own thing while still trying to show their roommates what they were all about and reacting to what they thought they were all about.

You know what tickled me the most though? How low rent the house was. I mean, it looks like an apartment in New York. I’m sure it’s even a fairly large one by today’s standards, but look how bland it was. Heck, the ironing board and iron feature prominently in several key scenes! There’s a lot of that kind of charm in this season, but we also get a lot of the stuff that made this show famous: discussions about race, homosexuality, breaking away from parental ideals, politics, education, homelessness and more. I didn’t mention Julie above as being creatively driven, but holy crap, I was incredibly impressed with not only her desire to learn about her roommates, but going even further and trying to experience life as a homeless person. If this season came out today, she would not only be offered all kinds of freelance writing work — she’s a better, more natural interviewer at 19 than I am at 30 — but also probably her own show called Julie’s World where she travels around making connections with people. Yes, she comes off as ignorant at time — something Heather raged against, though I think she was more specifically talking about willful ignorance and plain old stupidity — but she also perfectly encapsulates what I want this show to be about: people coming from different backgrounds to live with and learn about one another. That’s one of the reasons I had such a problem with Zach and Ashley from the second San Diego season, they basically glommed on to one another, shielded themselves off from everyone else and didn’t do or learn anything (or at least that’s how they were presented on the show).

real world las vegas

From the innaugural season of one of the most famous reality shows of all time, Real World decided to jump ahead a decade to the first season of Real World Las Vegas which many claim changed the face of the show permanently. This new batch of kids — Trishelle, Steven, Alton, Arissa, Irulan, Brynn and Frank — seemed a lot less focused on going for their creative or career goals and instead just wanted to party. But, what else do you expect from a bunch of 20-somethings sent to live in freaking Vegas? These kids lived and worked in the Palms and the glossy, partially remembered milestones for the show seem to revolve around Steven and Trishelle hooking up on day one, a three way hot tub hook up between those two and Brynn, Frank getting jealous and grossed out by a lot of this and Brynn almost getting kicked off the show for throwing a fork at Steven.

Those are the bits that I remembered, at least. This cast has also been pretty present on The Challenge, so there’s some added baggage there as well because Alton seems completely crazy these days. But even though this is considered the sex-drenched season that changed the series for the worse, there’s also a lot of emotional stuff going on that gets passed over for the more salacious bits. Cast members talk about dealing with sexual assault, Brynn has a mountain of trust and love issues, so does Trishelle and there’s the so-gross-it-made-me-want-to-punch-him dealings with their boss, a guy named Marc who was clearly using his work-related power over them to try and hook up with Irulan and Arissa. I don’t remember what I thought of all that at the time, but I was outraged this time around and hope that things like this being on TV helped people understand what was over the line and that they didn’t have to take that kind of crap from dorks who get the tiniest bit of power and use it to get what they want from the girls who used to make fun of them in high school.

I missed most of the end of this season because, just like the first New York, it’s actually on DVD. I also realized something while watching this particular marathon: these seasons can be tough to watch in big chunks like this. I’m a lot more attuned to emotional states now than I used to be and watched some really troubled people either struggle to deal with their issues or do their best to ignore them with sex and booze hits me in the gut a lot harder these days. Watching something like 14 hours of that in a row is just too much.

real world san francisco

 

Which both thematically and chronologically brings me to Real World San Francisco from 1994. This might have been one of the first seasons I watched, but I remember it more from latter day marathons. I caught it off and on on Sunday as I had a lot of errands to run both on my own and with my wife and unfortunately/fortunately missed the last episodes. Like with all the other seasons from so long ago, I remembered highlights like Pedro’s battle with AIDS, Puck’s bad behavior and subsequent ousting and Cory really not knowing herself, but there’s so much more going on. I also know, of course, that Judd and Pam get together and are married to this day, but I’m not sure if they actually got together on the season or later. I was actually surprised to see both of them with other people. They’re supposed to be together, how can he kiss that other girl?!

The main thing everyone remembers about this season, though, is Pedro and his heroic and inspirational nature. He’s not only a gay man who finds love on this show, but also one whose health deteriorates significantly. To their credit, MTV didn’t shy too much away from all this and put it out there for the world to see. Would they do that these days? I tend to think not, but who knows? They seem to go for more mental disorders these days (I’m looking specifically at you Ryan from New Orleans 2010). What I think the show lacks these days is people who are truly inspirational like Pedro and like Julie, people who put themselves out in the world as much as possible, take in everything they can and try to make things better. I made a similar point on Twitter to which my wife very pointedly reminded me of Ryan from Real World Brooklyn. Very true, maybe I’m letting myself forget the smaller moments and quieter characters.

It’s so easy to boil these seasons down to just a few headlines, but the reason I keep coming back to the Real World — and will be watching and possibly blogging about tonight’s premiere of Real World Portland — is that, no matter how much you don’t like the people involved, they’re still people with all kinds of quirks, damage and weirdness. The show might not be the place that weird kids try to go to show the world how unique anymore — we’ve got YouTube and podcasts for that now — but it’s still an excellent source of humanity in all its weird and wonderful forms. Let’s see what Portland has to offer!

One more quick thing while I’m on the subject of this show and its long history. I mentioned New York and Las Vegas being on DVD, but they’re the only ones to ever be put out in the format. I’ve heard some of the earlier seasons are on Hulu Plus, but I don’t have that service and I believe you can download some on iTunes, but I have a proposal for MTV: take one half hour or hour out of your daily programming and show an episode of Real World. Start at the beginning and go through chronologically and just see what kind of reaction you get from live viewings, social media and DVRers. I bet people will get into it because no matter how funny the clothes might look and crappy the footage might look (yes, your phone shoots better video than the entire first decade of the show) the real worries of 20-somethings haven’t changed all that much over the years and there’s still plenty to learn from the older episodes. Either that or get these things on Netflix Instant already!

 

Indie Trade Post: BOP! More Box Office Poison, Comic Diorama, Good-Bye Chunky Rice & Mephisto & The Empty Box

bop! more box office poison BOP! [More Box Office Poison] (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Alex Robinson

One of the first larger indie works I ever read was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. I remember reading about it in Wizard way back, so when I got to the company and saw a big huge book collecting most of the material, I jumped at the chance to give it a read.  It’s been a long time and I owe it to the work and myself to get my hands on a copy of that collection. Anyway, the series follows a group of NYC-dwelling 20 somethings as they navigate life, oftentimes balancing a desire to create art and pay their bills. It’s the kind of subject matter that wound up being the focus of most of the indie books I read around that time like Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage.

Anyway, somewhere along the way I happened across a copy of BOP! which collects all the Box Office Poison material not collected in that big ol’ book. I’ll admit, my memory’s kind of dumpy and I probably should have held off on reading this book until after I got my hands on the main collection, but it was actually kind of fun going back to these characters, being thrown right in and enjoying these smaller vignettes.

This collection includes a few shorter stories from some of the more peripherally characters as well as some of the one-page strips where several characters would answer questions. I wouldn’t recommend this book to BOP newbies, though it might give you a taste of Robinson’s style. After digging BOP I would go on to check out Too Cool To Be Forgotten which I really dug as well as Tricked which is also sitting in my to-read pile.

comic diorama Comic Diorama (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Grant Reynolds

I’ve said this before, but I’m not super plugged into the world of indie comics. I like them, but they’re not the kind of comics I read growing up which is kind of funny considering how much I got into weird movies in high school. Anyway, I keep an eye on companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, specifically for their store sales. I picked up Grant Reynolds’ Comic Diorama during one of those Top Shelf sales, not because I had heard anything about it, but because I was already buying some stuff, it was only a buck or so and it had a creepy-cool cover.

The book itself is a pretty crazy collection of graphic storytelling. In just 48 pages, Reynolds goes from drawn journal entries and a one-armed, no-headed humanoid creature to a pair of water based stories that really show off the artists ability to use that element to tell a story.

I’m not going to posture and act like I completely understood the contents of this mini-comic. It’s super weird, but I didn’t get the vibe that it was doing it just for the sake of weirdness. I get the impression that there’s a heart and a purpose behind these stories that maybe I don’t fully understand at this point, but am happy to keep in my collection to return to later on down the road. I’ll also admit that I’m not familiar with Reynolds’ other work, what else of his should I check out?

good-bye chunky rice Good-Bye, Chunky Rice (Pantheon)
Written & drawn by Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson’s one of those guys who I’ve heard a lot of good things about but haven’t gotten around to actually reading until recently. I have a copy of Blankets in the to-read pile that I got for about a dollar at a closing Borders a few years back, but haven’t felt prepared to jump in just yet. I recently got a copy of Chunky Rice, though, via Sequential Swap and decided to sit down and read it while I was going through all these other smaller indie books.

Chunky Rice is a turtle who leaves his mouse girlfriend to go on a boat to an undisclosed location to start a new life. Most of the story takes place on the boat with the sneaky captain, his loud wife and Siamese twin women. The captain’s brother happens to be an incredibly sad man who was also Chunky Rice’s roommate back home.

That’s what the book is about, but it’s not what it’s ABOUT, you know? Honestly, though, I don’t really know what it’s ABOUT. Chunky wants the mouse to go with him, but she won’t because she says she belongs in the town. Why? No idea. Is the book about forcing change on yourself to experience the larger world? If so, it’s mostly countermanded by the fact that everyone Chunky meets is kind of a jerk and this journey sucks. Is that supposed to be a metaphor for life? If so, it’s not one I’m super interested. Then again, had I read this at 20 instead of 30, it might have been the kind of thing I really associated with.

Another aspect of the book that got a little under my skin was a perceived intent by the author to subvert expectations by telling this story with cartoony animals and humans as a way to make the reader think they’re looking at a comic strip type story, but instead it’s this heavy thing where young kids have to drown puppies. It felt like my emotions were being purposefully toyed with which is not a feeling I like. I have done absolutely no research about this book so all of this is just what I was left with after reading and might be completely off base. People who love this book, tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.

mephisto and the empty box Pistolwhip Presents: Mephisto And The Empty Box (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by Justin Hall & Matt Kindt

After reading and really enjoying Matt Kindt’s Super Spy, I put his name on my “check out more of this guy’s work” list which is why I was so excited to see him do Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.. It’s also why I snatched up three Pistolwhip books when I saw them on the cheap during another Top Shelf sale. I’ve been holding off on reading them, but after going through the above three books, I figured it’d be a good time to dive into the pool.

This is a 24 page, magazine-sized issue featuring a magician named Mephisto who we learn became a performer after his wife was called up on stage to play another magician’s assistant and never returned from a magic box. He’s been trying his damndest to get her back all these years, but to no avail.

I really had no idea what this book was about when I bought it so everything was a surprise. I especially liked the completeness of the story which, now that I think about it a little more, reminds me a lot of a really good Twilight Zone episode. I was really taken with the Mephisto’s sadness and how much he clearly still loved his wife. Unlike Chunky which was focused on finding oneself as a younger person, Mephisto is more about trying to get back what you had, something I can relate to a lot more at this point in my life. Of all four books I read on my quick indie spree, this is the one I liked the best because it’s a clear story, it had the most emotional impact and worked so well as a showcase of the creators’ talent.

Casting Internets

I haven’t read the Panels on Pages Wizard Alumni Where Are They Now interviews featuring Ben Morse, Chris Ward, Jim Gibbons, Brian Cunningham and Rick Marshall just yet because it looks pretty long, but I did skim it and yes, I did get mentioned and do appear in a photo or two, so it’s worth looking at.

Speaking of Wizard buddies, Josh Wigler has loosed himself upon the world of freelance again! I assume this will mean fewer jobs for myself, but he’s a good dude, so that’s okay.

One last plug for my friends, but world renowned toy animator and my number one walking-around-NYC-post-NYCC companion Alex Kropinak now has a blog. Go read it, fool!

There’s an “Avengers of horror” in the works starring Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde and  seven other horror icons. Could be interesting. (via THR)

Justin Timberlake’s records have never been as appealing to me as his SNL hosting gigs, but Jody Rosen’s Rolling Stone review of his new album The 20/20 Experience sounds more up my alley.

BTM-Budget-Travel-Mag-10t

I love me some eboy. His cityscapes are amazing and somewhere in the depths of my ToyFare-acquired toy collection I have a Hugh Hefner figure based on his artwork as well as a poster. I literally said, “Whoooaaaa,” when I saw this cruise ship image of his. Super neat!

Jack White talked to Rolling Stone about new solo tracks, new Dead Weather and the rad sounding blue Reissue series from Third Man Records. Give it a look.

THR says that Kurt Sutter of Sons of Anarchy fame is creating a horror/timetravel series at FX called Lucas Stand. I haven’t seen SOA yet, but have only heard good things. This sounds like an interesting concept and FX hasn’t steered my wrong yet, so I’ll give it a watch if it actually happens.

THR also made a list of 15 interesting bits of information discussed by the Big Bang Theory cast and creators at Paley Fest. There’s some fun stuff in there for fans.

beetlejuicevarlayered

I’m actually kind of happy these days when I see Mondo posters I’m not into because I know I probably wouldn’t be able to get one and don’t have the scratch to spend on one anyway. However, this Beetlejuice one by Ken Taylor as shown over on Bad Ass Digest is spectacular.

Sylvester Stallone tweeted that he wants more humor in Expendables 3. Not sure how I feel about that considering the hackie jokes were the worst part of 2. I’m still in, though, even more so if Jackie Chan’s involved. (via Collider)

Have you tried Nicolas Cage Roulette? It’s a website you can go to with many Nic Cage faces. You click whether you want it to chose any movie from the actor’s filmography (at least what’s on Netflix Instant) or just the action movies. I tried “All” four times and got Face/Off twice, Season of the Witch and  Adaptation. Fun stuff!

An album of Elvis Costello recording with The Roots sounds rad. Maybe THAT record will get me to finally get back to writing Supergroup Showcases. (via Rolling Stone)

superman silver age dailies

IDW’s collection of Silver Age Superman comic strips looks pretty neat. Looks like they’re also doing Batman and Wonder Woman strips. I didn’t even know there WAS a WW comic strip! (via Robot 6)

I’ve had this Boing Boing link about 22 Pixar storytelling rules saved for a while, but only recently read through them. It’s interesting how many of them I wound up following in my recent comic script.

This Toledo Blade article about some of the fancier restaurants from my home town’s past was incredibly interesting.

Esquire‘s right, Dubai’s weird you guys.

Ron Marz’s latest Shelf Life column over on CBR is about his one experience with comic writing stage fright, but he also talks about some behind the scenes stuff when it came to DC Versus Marvel and Amalgam, two ideas that captured my imagination when I was kid.

mignola tusken raider

My buddy Jim Gibbons reposted this rad piece of Star Wars Mike Mignola art over on his Pizza Party! Tumblr. So rad.

Blu Review: Futureworld (1976)

futureworld blu-ray I realized while watching the copy of Futureworld on Blu-ray that Shout Factory sent me for review that I’ve actually seen this sequel to Westworld more times in the past few years than the original Yul Brynner robot film. As I said when I briefly reviewed Westworld back in 2008 (can’t believe I’ve been blogging that long!) the original film has a special place in my heart because I remember my dad getting really excited about renting it when I was younger and it being a crazy cool movie.

The follow-up doesn’t necessarily have that same emotional resonance with me, but I’ve got to admit, I really enjoyed this film as well. Taking place after the events of the first film, this movie features reporters Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner going back to the re-opened theme park Davos and trying to figure out if they’ve worked out all the bugs or the place and its robots still hold a danger for humanity. You might expect the movie to get back into “killer robot” territory like WestWorld, but it actually goes a really interesting route by using their technology in an effort to make robotic copies of world leaders and other important people in an effort to secure the company’s interests. I thought it was a clever way to go about the story that didn’t feel like just a rehash of the original (in fact, the dream sequence where Brynner returns feels really odd and a little shoe-horned), but I guess viewers and critics weren’t interested in that and the film is only considered a cult classic which is too bad because I thought it was well done.

An aspect of this movie that I really fell in love with — and one I find myself falling for in a lot of well made movies from this time period like At The Earth’s Core which came out the same year — is how cleverly some of the special effects-heavy ideas were cleverly portrayed. This film has holographic chess which cuts between a board of static figures and people dressed up like said figures on a giant board game fighting one another. There’s also a whole bit about skiing in space where they simply shot people skiing in space suits and tinted the whole thing red! These are pretty simple ways of getting around ideas that modern filmmakers might use CGI for or simply excise from the script for an easier shoot. I appreciate that level of skill and ingenuity being put into a film. I’ve said it plenty of times, but I’d rather see a practical effect that doesn’t look so great 20 years later instead of a bad CGI one that never looked good.

Which brings me around to the look fo the film. I’m still fairly new to this whole Blu-ray thing and have a basic understanding that modern movies shot digitally look best on BR, but am not quite sure what to make of older movies presented in the format. I know some companies go through and remaster everything to utilize Blu-ray’s better visuals and Shout is definitely one of those companies as this movie looks fantastic. I don’t remember having any complaints when I watched the DVD version I got through Netlflix when I saw the movie the first time, but everything looks so crisp and bright that you can tell they really put a lot of effort into updating these movies. It helps, of course, that the original film was well shot by director Richard T. Heffron and company. I’ve seen a few Blu-rays that look really bad when there’s a lot of black on screen, but they’re mostly 80s horror movies that probably didn’t start their lives on the best of terms. There’s a few instances of graininess, but I don’t really know how much that can be avoided from a technical standpoint. The general brightness of the film takes over pretty quickly in most of those cases.

I will also note that Shout didn’t go into full-on special features mode with this disc. It’s pretty bare bones in that regard, featuring only the trailer, some radio spots and a still gallery. At the same time, the MSRP is around $20 — $16.98 if you want to buy directly from Shout in time for the March 26th release — so it’s not like you’re paying what you would for one of their more robust offerings.

I’m giving Shout Factory’s Blu-ray presentation of Futureworld a big old double thumbs up not only for unearthing a classic film and cleaning it up, but also for presenting it in such a way that doesn’t feel like it will break the bank to check out.

Somewhat Quick Movie Review: Capote (2005)

Capote_poster A few years ago I came across a copy of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood at a garage sale and decided to pick it up. I think this was sometime after the 2005 release of the film Capote which chronicles the writer’s experience while writing about the murder of a Kansas family by a pair of would-be burglars. The book was a moving, chilling account that not only got into the minds of a pair of killers and explained how and why they committed such a crime, but also humanized them in a way that can be very offputting. We don’t like thinking of our villains as people with real problems, we just want them to be one note movie  baddies twirling their moustaches while tying defenseless barmaids to the train tracks, but that’s not usually how these things work out.

The other night I was looking around for something to watch on Netflix and found myself just about to push play on the John Candy comedy Summer Rental when I clicked over a few pages and saw Capote. I felt like a comedy, but something drew me to this film. Since I already knew the gist of the story, I figured I could handle the grislier aspects of the film and I’m glad I did because this is an incredibly well put together film.

Director Bennett Miller really did something amazing here. Without being too in your face about it, he clearly had some very specific ways he wanted to show the audience this film. He’s got a lot of scenes that start with long shots of landscape. Sometimes this feels like pointless padding, but in this case, I found the cold Kansas landscapes to not only help in nailing down the physical setting of the film, but also the emotional one. Capote goes from looking at all this as just another story to write about for the newspaper, but winds up getting absorbed not only by the townspeople who live with the crime against their own, but the men who committed the crime itself.

I was also impressed with how he waited to get to the actual crime. It follows the reality of Capote’s interaction with the criminals Perry Smith and Dick Hickock (mostly Smith) who didn’t actually recount the events of the break-in and murders until much closer to the end of the movie. This makes for an interesting companion piece to the book which gets into that right away followed by the criminals’ experience after the crime until they were caught and tried several times. Clearly Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman who was working based on Gerald Clarke’s book were making an effort to tell the story of Capote’s experience with these people and not the story already told in the true crime novel.

Of course, you can’t talk about Capote without talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman who really seemed to just dive full form into the role. I don’t actually know what Capote sounded or even really looked like, but you get the sense that Hoffman’s doing the character justice. He’s a broken man who wields truth and lies like weapons when he deems them appropriate. He enjoys his raconteurish lifestyle, but he’s also clearly been changed by having Smith in his life. He eventually got deep into drugs and alcohol and never finished another book which makes me wonder how much Perry’s death had to do with it. Capote himself explains a theory held by some, including his live-in boyfriend, that Capote actually fell in love with Smith during their talks. It’s an interesting take on things that I hadn’t picked up on from reading the book, there’s also enough there on screen from both actors to support it if you want to go down that road. Hell, the casting was so good all around in this movie. Chris Cooper as the small town sheriff, Catherine Keener as Capote’s take-no-BS friend and fellow writer Nelle Harper Lee, Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith, Mark Pellegrino as Dick. Everyone brought their A-games and seemed to lose themselves in their characters that I must admit that I half expected Cooper to break out into the Tex Richman rap from The Muppets.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this look into a life, especially a writer’s life. It really felt like Miller not only understood the characters and their motivations, but also the best possible way to convey those things to the reader. Top notch stuff.

Superman Trade Post: Up, Up & Away, Last Son & Escape From Bizarro World

superman up up and away Superman: Up, Up & Away (DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods & Renato Guedes
Collects Action Comics #837-840, Superman #650-653

I’ve said time and time again here on the blog when talking about comics, especially DC Comics, that I was a hardcore continuity guy, especially when it came to Superman. Those are the books that got me into comics and taught me the most about the Man of Steel and the greater DC Universe. So, when Infinite Crisis went down and did some vague continuity edits that didn’t seem that well conveyed and I started reading Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics, I was confused and angrier than I should have been. I was being over-reactionary and not really fair partly because of my bias, but also because I was so dedicated to the version of that character that I was so familiar with.

Since then, I’ve done more thinking about all this than I probably should have, but I go back to what I call the Puzzle Theory Of Corporate Comic Characters. The way I see it, every single existing Superman story is a puzzle piece that a new writer can come in and use. Take Batman for example. That character can work as the ultra-dark version seen in the Christopher Nolan movies or as the fun, upbeat version seen in the Brave and the Bold cartoon. It’s the same character with different past aspects highlighted by the creators. That’s the lens through which I checked out Johns run on Action Comics when I went back and re-read it recently. He’s more a fan of the Silver Age stuff than the books I read, so that’s what he highlighted. I’m doing the first three books here and will do the final two next week, then maybe get into the New Krypton stuff which he set up and then handed off to James Robinson, Greg Rucka and Sterling Gates.

So, Infinite Crisis changed the DCU a bit by making Clark Kent Superboy when he was a kid. That was the major difference for Supes, but they also took away his powers for a year leading into One Year Later and 52. Up, Up & Away is a crossover between Action Comics and Superman with Johns and Kurt Busiek trading off issues in an effort to set up the new world without a Superman and, of course, gradually bring him back. In the year since he lost his powers helping bring down Superboy Prime, Clark has been able to enjoy the finer aspects of being a regular person: getting really good at his job, being more present with his wife and savoring his more limited senses. But of course, it’s not meant to last. While Clark had most of his bases covered with Supergirl and other heroes watching over Metropolis, he didn’t account for Lex Luthor getting out of jail and going back to his mad scientist roots, gathering villains and wielding them as weapons against Metropolis and Superman once he does return.

I can’t say for sure, but I think I really liked these books when they came out and I liked it a lot on this read through. It seemed like both writers really got a good grasp of the character and did a few things that I really enjoyed, most of which had to do with Lex Luthor. When I started reading Superman books, he was the quintessential industrial bad guy, but I’m also a big fan of mad scientist Lex. Better than that, though, the book asked a question that I had never thought of until these issues: Why didn’t Lex put his genius to use curing cancer instead of going after Superman? I tended to think of Luthor in the sense that he was portrayed in the Lex Luthor: Man of Steel series as a good man trying to defend his people from what he saw as a threat, but that ignores the irresponsible and crazy aspects of the character that are also there. Why DIDN’T he cure cancer?! Cause he’s nuts. There are also stellar moments between Lois and Clark where she explains that, while she enjoyed her time with powerless Clark Kent, she knows he needs to be Superman for the world’s sake. This is my favorite relationship in comics.

The book ends and Superman’s back in the suit with the bad guys are vanquished. He’s even helping rebuild parts of the city and handing over the signal watch to Jimmy Olsen. It’s a cool ending that doesn’t really establish the new status quo of Superman or Clark Kent, but did give a cool feel for both before moving into the separate books.

SUPERMAN LAST SON Superman: The Last Son (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert
Collects Action Comics #844-846, 851 & Action Comics Annual #11

I hope there’s a point in my comic reading career when I can completely separate my reading of a trade from the knowledge I have about how that series came out in a monthly format. It’s not much of a problem anymore because I don’t read many single issues anymore so lateness has very little meaning to me. If you don’t remember or weren’t around, the books in this collection were widely spread out, had fill-ins by completely different creative teams and didn’t actually get finalized until much later when the annual came out, allowing DC’s flagship title to continue on without as much interference. It was frustrating.

There was actually a lot that frustrated me about this book the first time around. It was assumed that the lateness came from then-new DC acquisition Adam Kubert. I don’t have much tolerance artist lateness, especially if it’s an artist I’m not into. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about and therefore wasn’t very forgiving when month after month passed and the story still hadn’t wrapped up. There were also a pair of story elements that bothered me. First, the book features Superman meeting the Phantom Zone villains for presumably the first time which I thought had already happened in the previous continuity. Second, I didn’t want Superman to have a kid.

However, this time, I was able to just take it all in at once. And you know what? I liked most of the story. I did my best to ignore the lateness and my continuity bias, instead just letting myself focus on this new story and it’s pretty good, though I’m still not a great big fan of Adam Kubert’s. Aside from some poorly constructed figures when zoomed out, my main problem with the art was that it looked like the figures were being photoshopped onto painted backgrounds. When artists do that kind of thing, it looks inorganic and distracts from the implication that you’re looking at a whole broken up into many panels.

As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. This story kicks off with a young Kryptonian landing on Earth. He’s soon followed by Zod, Ursa and Non (better known as the bad guys from Superman II) who are actually using their son as a tether allowing them to escape the Negative Zone. Now Superman has to fight for the very survival of his adoptive planet and his new foster son in the face of overwhelming odds.

I dug the ins and outs of this story from the explanation of how Lor-Zod was conceived to Mon-El’s appearance and the Bizarro fight to the people Superman turns to for help in defeating his enemies. My only real problems this time around were still related to other comics, but not the ones I read as a kid, but instead Up, Up & Away. Somehow Clark Kent went from a confident guy wearing a Smallville jacket to a suit and tie-wearing doofus who felt the need to act as such to hide his secret identity. Doesn’t that seem weird? Wouldn’t that kind of big character change cause a lot of people to wonder what’s going on? However, as its own thing and the beginning of Johns’ solo run (he recently said on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man On Batman podcast that he basically hammered out the beats with his one-time boss Richard Donner and then scripted it himself), it works a lot better than it did as a monthly comic. One of the major negatives at the time was that Lor-Zod wound up spending months and months with Clark and Lois, basically spinning his wheels until everyone got their stuff together and gave him the proper send off which wound up being really emotional and well done.

superman escape from bizarro world Superman: Escape From Bizarro World (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner, drawn by Eric Powell
Collects Action Comics #855-857, Superman #140, DC Comics Presents #71 & The Man of Steel #5

While I might want to forget some elements of the previous books, I have only good memories and experiences with Escape From Bizarro World, which is a three issue story drawn by The Goon‘s Eric Powell. While working at Wizard, I was given the assignment of interviewing Powell for a sketchbook feature. You can actually see the sketches in the intro written by Brian K. Vaughan, but the amazing Darkseid one he did wasn’t included because he has nothing to do with the story. That image of Darkseid has become second only to Jack Kirby’s in my mind for iconic interpretations of the character. Powell was also a super nice guy to interview. He had a death in the family at the time and still took the time to help me with the article, something I don’t know if I could have focused on in his shoes. Good guy that Powell.

This story completely plays to Powell’s strengths as it takes place mostly on a planet that Bizarro smashed together and happens to be under a blue sun which has given him “Bizarro Vision,” the ability to create Bizarro clones. The downside? They hate him. Bizarro needs advice so he kidnaps Jonathan Kent which eventually brings Supes to the planet. Superman actually wants to just get out of there and leave Biz to his problems, but his dad is there to play moral compass and help the two figure out a way to change the status quo. It’s a great series of moments, but doesn’t hold a candle to the few scenes of Superman’s dad getting his son’s powers and understanding for a little while what that’s like. Better yet? The gift Bizarro gave him at the end. Man, that gave me a little lump in my throat!

It’s a quick story with all kinds of goodness on both ends of the comic spectrum. Johns and Donner weaved a wonderful story that ranks up there with some of my favorites. At the same time, Powell not only gets to draw backwards zombie-ish versions of the Justice League and Superman’s supporting cast, but also does a Superman so iconic I almost can’t stand that there’s only three issues.

To beef up the trade, DC did something pretty fun by including three different Bizarro issues from years’ past. Better than just including some basic stuff, though, they actually got Johns to pick issues that inspired him when writing the character. The writer even writes mini essays about why he included each issue which is pretty great.  So, instead of reprinting Bizarro’s first appearance, he went with the one where Bizarro and Bizarro Lois Lane have a kid who’s normal and therefore a weirdo on their planet. This plays up on the themes of alienation that Johns used throughout all of his Superman stories.

Alright, I want to say one more thing while on the subject of how these books are collected. I understand it makes sense to collect the books by artist, but there are a few issues here and there from Johns’ run that weren’t collected in these books. I don’t have the exact issue numbers on hand, but I know there was a Toyman issue that got passed over for collection. I’m sure I’m not the only one to suggest this, but it would be nice to have a Geoff Johns Action Comics Omnibus. They’ve done that with his Teen Titans and Flash runs, so maybe we’re not far off from that with Superman.

80s Odyssey: Black Moon Rising (1986)

black moon rising It doesn’t take much to draw me towards a movie. If you’ve got a flick, especially one from the 80s, starring a few people I already like and don’t take more than 100 minutes of my time, I’ll probably watch you on Netflix Instant. That was the case with Black Moon Rising, a movie I’d never heard of but featured Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Bubba Smith and Robert Vaughn as well as a futuristic super-car. I’m in, let’s do this.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a thief who steals some financial records and winds up getting followed. To avoid his would-be captors, he hides the information in the aforementioned super car which happens to be parked outside a restaurant. While he’s inside, Linda Hamilton and her crew of car thieves lock the door of the place and drive off with lots of expensive cars. Jones follows and discovers that Hamilton works for Vaughn, a big time, evil corporate guy. Jones then starts working on Hamilton to get on her good side while also trying to find out more about the car from its creators who are skittish of the whole thing at first. Of course, he gets everyone on board and leads a pretty exciting assault on a high rise to get both the car and the information back.

I realized while watching this movie that it was probably the youngest I’ve ever seen TLJ on film. It’s not that he looks so much different than he did in the 90s or even now, just fresher. It was cool seeing him running around, fighting guys and getting to wear the cool looking black leather suits instead of playing the jaded veteran. Meanwhile, Hamilton plays a very similar role to the one she did in the Terminator movies. She’s tough and bruised on the inside but keeps a hard exterior to the world that’s knocked her around. For his part, Vaughn really nails his role as the business bad guy. He really reminded me of 80s and 90s Lex Luthor from the Superman comics. He basically plucked Hamilton off the street and formed her into who she is today for good and ill solely to have someone who would absolutely follow his orders. He also tends to monitor and record nearly everything which is kind of an interesting aspect back then. He basically uses all the technology available no matter how expensive to keep his criminal empire in check.

I’ve already writen about Black Moon Rising for three paragraphs now and haven’t mentioned the most interesting part: John Carpenter wrote the movie. I haven’t been able to dig up exactly why he didn’t want to direct it, though it looks like Big Trouble In Little China which came out the same year and Prince Of Darkness which came out the following might have taken up his time. Instead, Harley Cokeliss jumped into the director’s chair. I’m not very familiar with his other works, but do believe I have Battletruck somewhere in my pile of to-be-watched DVDs and think I might have come across Malone starring Burt Reynolds at some point. It’s interesting comparing this movie to some of Carpenter’s others, especially Christine which also focused on a special car, though a far more supernatural one and also stars a real bad ass as the lead just like Big Trouble, Escape From New York and They Live. On the other hand, this is a much more real-world and technology-based film than you might expect from the creator of those other stories. It would have been really cool to see what he would have done with the movie had he actually directed.

black moon rising german poster

Before closing out I wanted to say one last thing about this film, I think it’s ripe for the remake mill. I think this one has a lot of potential and would piss off almost no one. Of course, you’re also dealing with a movie that doesn’t have nearly the existing audience, fanbase and name recognition that some of Carpenter’s other movies do. On the other hand, you’re dealing with a really solid, yet open framework for a story that can easily be transferred to the current day. I’m not saying this would be a multibillion dollar blockbuster, but a pretty good vehicle (heh, puns!) for an action movie that has room for improvement and modernization. This could be something like the Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic which worked out pretty well if you ask me. As it happens, I’d also like to see Statham in this one. Heck, the dude already has experience with driving fast cars. Let’s make this happen Hollywood!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Spiral Zone

Do you guys remember Spiral Zone? I want to say that I do, but I don’t have a clear, distinct memory of this ad or ones like it and I’m almost certain I don’t have any of the toys in my collection. This seems to also be one of the rare 80s toy lines that didn’t come up in my days at Wizard and ToyFare when I was either getting art for or editing ToyFare’s vintage toy features. Heck, I don’t remember it even being mentioned back when I was asking friends and colleagues for possible toy lines to mention in the list of the 50 greatest action features of all time I wrote the magazine back in 2009. And yet, part of my brain thinks it remembers knowing about them.

Thanks to the least in-depth amount of research possible, I discovered that Spiral Zone was a Bandai property purchased by Tonka and refitted for American audiences as both a cartoon and toy line. The fairly dark tone of the series went through all 65 episodes, but only lasted the one season. Maybe that’s why I have such vague memories of the property. Anyone have more solid ones?

Halloween Scene: Bates Motel Episode 1 “First You Dream, Then You Die”

bates motel

I gave up watching a show I actively enjoy — yes, The Devil’s Ride, even though I complained about it’s realness recently — in favor of checking out Bates Motel on A&E. I’ve been writing about this series for what seems like forever over on Spinoff Online and yet I was still curious to see the results. A big part of that comes from the source material, just last year I watched all four of the Psycho films and got a weird, giddy thrill not only when Norman and Norma pulled up to the hotel, but even more so when they went inside and it looked perfect. I was also curious to see Carlton Cuse’s next offering. He was one of the driving forces behind Lost, a show I still hold in high esteem, so I wanted to see what he’d do next.

Bates Motel takes a Year One approach to the world of Psycho, showing how Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) made their way to the infamous Bates Motel. SPOILERS FOLLOW. The show literally starts with death, that of Norman’s dad and then jumps six months into the future as she surprises him with the purchase of the motel. Norman’s a bit odd, but we discover that he tends not to make connections with people because his mom moves him around so much. He meets a group of girls who seem to like him right off the bat and even invite him to study with them. His mom says no, so he sneaks out  and meets up with them, but they really take him to a weird house party. While he’s gone, the man whose family the motel used to belong to breaks into the house, attacks Norma and rapes her. Norman comes home just in time and knocks the guy out. When he leaves the room, Norma stabs the crap out of her attacker. The rest of the episode revolves around moving the body to one of the motel rooms, ripping up carpet, talking to cops, Norman dealing with all this at school, the disposal of the body and a super-weird talk between mother and son where he tells her that she’s his entire world. You get the idea pretty quickly about exactly who you’re dealing with in these characters. The looming mysteries revolve more around how those characters will interact with the people of the town, the mysterious and dangerous sounding older son who we only hear on the phone and why a young girl is being kept chained up in a mysterious locale by unknown forces.

Having watched the first episode, I’m not really sure how I feel. I’m thrown off balance and not just because of the graphic content of the show. I think the main problem I had with the episode, or possibly the main problem of the series as a whole, is that it lacks a consistent tone. For one thing, the time period feels all-over-the-place. The Bates’ dress as if they’re straight out of the 50s, they only talk about or watch old movies and the setting is so firmly entrenched in that time period that you get thrown off a bit when Norman is shown listening to an iPod and meets other kids who are more of the modern times. I knew from writing about the series that it was set in the present, but the show didn’t convey that until well into the first episode, something that probably threw more people off than it needed to. The real question here, though, is why they went with that vibe and that reveal. Was there a point beyond homage? If so, I’m not sure what it was. It doesn’t seem wise to throw your new audience so many random curve balls this early in a series, especially if there isn’t a clear payoff for them. I already get that we’re dealing with weirdness, it’s written on every single character’s face.

I also felt like some things were presented in such a way — like the teen party scene — that look over-the-top and kind of crazy. But then a few moments later you have a very real, visceral and mostly on-camera attack on Norma that doesn’t flinch or look away. That moment was uncomfortable enough as it was for obvious reasons, but even more so if your brain let you think, “… but, two minutes ago I saw a girls in neon clothes jumping on a bed under a backlight, now…this?” I haven’t watched much horror based television but this show does seem to be taking some cues from Twin Peaks which really is its own beast. While that series kept a very consistent tone all around — one that allowed for all kinds of weirdness, but all presented in a serious manner when necessary — this one seems to go from wacky to ultra-real and serious without much grace, almost looking like scenes from different movies cut together.

Before moving on to one of the show’s other problems, I want to talk a little bit more about the rape scene. I was as uncomfortable watching that scene as everyone else, but while it was playing out I also found myself wondering how the plus/minus evaluation for it played out in the writers room. You could have had the exact same scene with the same outcome had he only been there to attack her and not sexually assault her. I could see them arguing that you’ve got to have a more serious violation going on to make this man’s murder more palatable for young Norman, especially Norma’s argument that they can’t go to the cops because she’ll be  a laughingstock (she’s counting on his desire to protect her). I think you could have gotten there if Norman had walked in on this guy just about to stab his mom. There’s three reasons I didn’t like the scene. First off, it’s just plain uncomfortable to watch in a way that I don’t want to be uncomfortable while watching horror (I do not watch rape revenge movies,generally speaking). Second, it felt like lazy writing, as if they couldn’t think of a different way to justify murder and manipulation. We’re talking parents and children here, wanting to protect one another is built-in. And third, I think that scene might have turned a lot of people off the show as a whole, including my wife who watched along with me even though she does not like horror or have any special affinity for Psycho.

Another huge problem and an element that contributes to the show’s odd tone is Freddie Highmore’s inability to hide his British accent consistently. There’s times where he hides it well and just sounds like a soft spoken young man, but other times, usually when he’s angry, he sounds like a pub-drunk Brit. I think he does a good job of capturing the confused sexuality and overall repressed nature of Norman Bates, but the kid can’t sound like he’s his mother’s son. That’s a huge problem, one that can break the show for a lot of people. As with the time trickery and the weird tone, these are the kinds of things that can knock people out of the story. They might be small annoyances for some, but they can easily add up to become a too-distracting aspect of the show for some people to get involved in.

I was talking to my wife earlier today about the show and she said she wasn’t int it. She summed it up pretty well: she’s crazy, he’ll do anything for her, I know where this winds up, do I care how it gets there? That’s a really good question. As I mentioned above, it looks like they’re throwing a whole town of crazy at the Bates’ to see what happens. I’m not sure if that’s a set-up I’m super interested in. With something like Dexter, I can be into the overarching stories of the series as well as the murder-of-the-week stuff, but as of right now, it doesn’t seem like Bates has as much that makes me want to come back for more especially if it continues to wallow in such terrible human behavior.

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure about how I feel about the show. I’m still an old school, DVR-less viewer which means I’ve got to actually pick and choose which shows I want to watch. I might give Bates Motel another episode or two, but if it continues to feel wobbly, I might just hop back on over to The Devil’s Ride. If people like it I might catch up down the line. I also feel a little wary of A&E, though, because they really sucked me in with Breakout Kings and then left me hanging. Do I want to get into another one of their shows only to have the same thing happen?