I’ve had Bond on the brain lately. First there was the news that all things Bond were back under one umbrella legally speaking which means SPECTRE and Blofeld can return to the series. Then I discovered a relatively new podcast called James Bonding. Plus, this year does mark the 50th anniversary of the film franchise, so I’ve been going back and putting my James Bond DVD box set to good use (which of course kind of makes me want to get the Blu-rays).
Over the past few years I’ve done a good number of Digging Double Oh Seven posts, but figured it would be somewhat useful to create a list of all the films and original Ian Fleming books with links to my reviews. For what it’s worth I have seen Die Another Day and Skyfall, but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews for them. In addition to the Fleming books, most of which I have in one form or another, I also have the Fleming-written, John McClusky-drawn comic strips collected in The James Bond Omnibus Volume 1 which I’m slowly making my way through.
Casino Royale (1953) Live and Let Die (1954) Moonraker (1955) Diamonds are Forever (1956) From Russia, With Love (1957) Dr. No (1958) Goldfinger (1959) For Your Eyes Only (1960) – short story collection featuring “From a View to a Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Risico” and “The Hildebrand Rarity” Thunderball (1961) The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) You Only Live Twice (1964) The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) Octopussy and The Living Daylights (1966) – short story collection featuring “Octopussy,” “The Property of a Lady,” “The Living Daylights” and “007 in New York”
I found myself in an interesting mood this morning. Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to skip the usual morning podcast-listening session in favor of the recently purchased Mulligan Meets Monk record, a Thelonious Monk disc that found the master pianist teaming up with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.
The experience got me thinking about jazz and my relationship with that musical art form. Growing up, I didn’t hear much of it aside from pieces in commercials, TV shows and movies here and there. It wasn’t until high school that I had my first real exposure to one of the few, truly American art forms.
At the time I had a website — I was very intent on calling it a site and not a blog because I thought the word was silly (it is) — where I would trade bootleg recordings with people. Actually, it’s still up because apparently Angelfire is still a thing. Anyway, out of nowhere I got an email asking if I would be interested in putting a banner ad up on the bootleg trading page in exchange for some swag. I said sure, popped in some code and eventually got a package in the mail from this company I’d never heard of.
It was Blue Note, the biggest jazz label around. I had no idea. Anyway, this happened twice and I wound up getting some records that might not have made it into my regular rotation, but definitely primed the pump for my later love of the genre. I remember getting Soulive’s Doin’ Something, Karl Denson’s Dance Lesson #2 and Charlie Hunter’s Songs From An Analog Playground.
I still listen to these records and am glad that they were the first ones I came across because they opened me up to the idea of new jazz. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a genre of music that is perceived to be mostly ruled by dead musicians. This is still a vast, evolving art form that new people are doing amazing things with.
I remember being blown away by the way Denson incorporated a DJ (DJ Logic to be specific) into his compositions, Soulive kept things fun and funky and Hunter brought in singers like Mos Def and a pre-fame Norah Jones to help bring his songs to life. There’s a vibrancy to those records that make them worth listening to and also built an interesting foundation for what jazz could be in my mind. This is not a stagnant form and it should not stay static. Art doesn’t work that way, museums do.
The first classic jazz record I ever picked up was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. That jazz/rock fusion album probably wasn’t the best place to dip my toe in for either the genre or Davis’ fantastic catalog, but one of my favorite magazines at the time Guitar World, did a huge feature on it and I was interested. Unfortunately, the acid washed improvisation wasn’t something I was quite ready for yet so I only listened to the full double album a few times before shelving it.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan that I really continued my jazz journey. I’d pretty much nailed down all my required classes to graduate and decided to take it easy on myself both class and schedule wise. That translated into a very relaxed schedule that included Jazz 110 at the music building, a place I’d only been a handful of times in my college career (it was in a completely part of the campus).
The class seemed split between people like myself looking to get an easy credit and others who were legitimately into this kind of music. And, honestly, it was a pretty easy class. The hardest part came when we were played various instruments and had to write down what they were. That’s not my strong suit and I think I bombed that quiz pretty hard. But the rest of it was pretty basic stuff with a mix of history — tracing the music back to New Orleans — and memorization. For the final I remember listening to a long list of songs because we’d have to name them on the test after hearing a snippet. I’ve always been bad at remembering non-obvious song names, so that was tough too.
The songs themselves all came from the Ken Burns Jazz box set, which we had to buy for class. A lot of kids burned or downloaded it, but I got one (well, my parents got me one along with my other text books which I did feel a bit bad about because I was actually excited about the purchase. Still, I got a good deal on a used one). If you’re even remotely interested in jazz, that box is a great place to start because it takes a chronological look at the form going from old school New Orleans brass band stuff all the way up through Weather Report. In other words, it’s a great sampler.
One of the big things I learned from that class were the different subgeneres of jazz. You’ve got everything from New Orleans and bop to blue, swing, acid, fusion and even jazz-rap. There is a ridiculous amount of music out there that, but the nice thing about the Ken Burns set and the Jazz: The First 100 Years textbook we used is that I got an idea of the form’s spectrum. From there I was able to zero in on the elements and subgenres that interested me most. For instance, I remember reading about Cecil Taylor’s crazy piano playing and then gave him a listen on the box set and realized I wanted to listen to more of that. You can do a lot of this with various websites and YouTube these days, but that’s not where my musical journey took me.
From there, I started exploring the greats. I picked up a couple Benny Goodman records — including one that’s a two disc full concert — got more into the biggies like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and Charles Mingus. I’ve also branched out into some of the odder stuff like Us3, a hip hop group that only sang over sampled jazz licks.
One aspect of jazz that I fell in love with pretty quickly was how dramatic and comic book-like the whole scene was for a while. When I got into comics, I just dove in and started learning all I could about these characters. Eventually I built up a pretty solid mental database of who did what and when various characters teamed up. There’s a lot of that in jazz too. All of these people had these big personalities and crazy backstories. They were part of a band (team) for a period of time and then either moved on to another one or started their own. There’s also all kinds of team-ups all over the place. There’s a drama to the whole thing that sparked my imagination and helped me get interested in not just the music, but the people as well. Projects like The Quintet or Duke Ellington recording with Louis Armstrong hold a lot of appeal for me.
Another aspect of the form — at least the stuff I seem to be drawn to — is that it can be listened to on various levels. I can put something like Monk’s Alone In San Francisco and flow in and out of it while I do work or get some writing done. But, I can also sit and really explore these records, noting how they twist, turn and play with the form. I’m not nearly musical enough to get too in depth with this stuff, but I like a record that you could potentially sit in a dark room with and just experience. A lot of the jazz records I’ve listened to can be that.
While I still check out the jazz section of any used record store I find myself at, the main source of recently purchased records comes from Amazon’s MP3 store. Every month they put 100 albums on sale for $5 each and there’s usually a jazz album or two in there. That’s where I got Mulligan Meets Monk and a few others like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Cannonaball’s Bossa Nova, Miles Davis’ seminal Kind Of Blue and even the Willie Nelson, Winton Marsalis and Norah Jones Ray Charles tribute called Here We Go Again.
It’s kind of wild to think that I’ve only been into this form of music for 8 years or so. Sure there were those first few Blue Note records, but those could have easily turned into outliers in the statistical equation of my music collection, a funny story to tell from my online past. What’s even stranger to think about is how separated this kind of music tends to be in the world of pop culture. Jazz just isn’t out there in the pop world as much as other forms, so it’s possible to completely miss it if you’re not looking for something new and different. Now that I think about it, that’s another common theme between jazz and comic books. Anyway, I’m hoping to remedy that a bit with my kid and expose her to this stuff at an early age. I hope she digs that swing!
While watching an episode of Toy Hunter on Travel Channel — a show that has grown on me since it debuted — I saw an old school commercial for Ghostbusters toys that made me slap my forehead. Had I really never done a Ghostbusters commercial for TCT? After a bit of searching I was shocked to find out that was the case. To remedy that, I’m going to do one a week for the rest of December.
The beauty of these toys is just how terrified the Ghostbusters and their pals get while doing their jobs. That would be like my eyes bugging out of my head every time I had a deadline. Actually…that’s not too far off from the truth. Anyway, here you’ve got a Spangler and Venkman facing off against the Full Speed Ahead Ghost which drives them towards Highway Haunter, a Volkswagen Beetle that transformers into an armored praying mantis. Then there’s the airplane ghost.
This commercial was a nice trip down memory lane because I remember that crazy bit of animation at the very beginning of the video that used to run on USA and I actually have the Highway Haunter. I don’t remember how or why I got my hands on it, but it was a ridiculously fun toy. I can only imagine how much fun the toymakers had while coming up with more and more insane action features and kooky ghosts.
Of all the big action stars of the 80s and 90s, Wesley Snipes is one whose films I’m almost completely unfamiliar with. Sure, I’ve seen Blade — what comic fan my age didn’t see it? — and a few other of his more recent films, but I’m still something of a novice when it comes to his filmography. So, when I came across 1994’s Drop Zone, a skydiving action movie directed by John Badham (Short Circuit, WarGames) I figured it would be worth checking out.
And it was. Kind of. While this movie certainly doesn’t abide by the laws of physics and the acting isn’t the best, I still had fun watching it, thanks mostly to the game, if not overly talented cast. Snipes is all over the place in this film. You’d think he’d be more upset after his brother got killed, but you can’t tell as the movie rolls on. Plus, not for nothing, but he’s not the most natural actor of all time. Then you’ve also got Yancy Butler as the head of the skydiving group. She’s super into this role and has a lot of cool moments. I also liked that she was a complicated female character in an action movie which doesn’t happen all too often.
Meanwhile, Gary Busey plays the bad guy. On the Busey-Crazy Scale he’s somewhere between Lethal Weapon and The Rage. This time around he’s running a gang of skydiving thieves who sprung Michael Jeter’s character — a hacker — from prison to help with their next job. They’re trying to get involved with a Washington, D.C. Fourth of July so they can dive in and rob the DEA. The rest of the cast is rounded out with tons of That Guy and That Woman actors and actresses who have mile-long IMDb pages who, on the whole, nail their parts.
Silly as some of the action scenes can be — one parachuter somehow flies right through the window of a truck that should supposedly be driving away from the scene — I will say that the practically shot skydiving scenes are pretty thrilling. In that regard, it reminded me of Cliffhanger where the reality of the subject trumps my brain telling me that I’m watching a fictional film. Not being a thrill seeker myself, I always get a little antsy when I see people way high up with the potential to come down quick, fast and messily.
Snipes’ aforementioned brother is played by Cosby Show alum Malcolm-Jamal Warner. I realized while explaining part of this story to someone over the weekend that this movie would have been infinitely better if Warner had starred. He’s a far better actor and most of the fight scenes felt pretty tacked on, so they either could have been dropped or Warner probably could have pulled them off.
So, while Drop Zone isn’t exactly a classic action film for the ages, it does have some fun moments that make it the perfect kind of movie to watch with a group of friends while drinking beer and eating pizza. Man, I miss watching movies with my friends!
I have a few distinct memories of Twilight Zone: The Movie. When I was a kid, I have a very clear memory of watching the beginning of this movie with my dad, who does not like scary movies by the way, and being completely freaked out by that Dan Akyroyd bit in the beginning between him and Albert Brooks. That was well before I got into horror movies myself and I must say it stuck with me.
The other memory is that it’s not very good. My memory didn’t go much further beyond that, but I think it had something to do with the fact that, aside from the initial segment by John Landis, the movie didn’t do too much in the way of newness. But upon watching the full thing again recently in my attempt to go through all of Steven Spielberg’s major film efforts, I didn’t have that same problem.
In fact, the only segment of the film — four parts each directed by Landis, Spielberg, Joe Dante (who I recently realized I’m a huge fan of) and George Miller of Mad Max fame — that I didn’t like is the one by Spielberg which was pretty disappointing.
Called “Kick The Can,” the second part of the film finds The Shining‘s Scatman Crothers playing Mr. Bloom, a recent addition to a nursing home who riles up all the other old folks with talk of youth. That night, they all go out to play and actually become young again. I’m not nearly as familiar with this episode from the original TV series — which I absolutely love watching in marathon mode every New Year’s — but I can’t imagine that one is as schmaltzy and sappy as this one. Spielberg just goes overboard with the cutesy stuff and winds up undercutting his own fairly poignant story about not wanting to lose yourself to age. It’s too bad considering the other filmmakers created much more balanced offerings and Spielberg had just nailed well crafted, earned sentimentality with E.T. the year before.
Since I’m probably not going to circle round back to this movie for a while, I might as well review the other three segments. Landis’ piece about a bigot who winds up surviving violent encounters while looking like the various groups he hates was a really solid piece of craftsmanship unfortunately tainted by the real life tragedy that went on while filming. Still, I thought the whole film should have been more in line with this part which deftly recreated the feel of the old series while telling an all new story.
Dante did a lot with his part, “It’s A Good Life” about a little boy with intense reality warping powers who brings a traveling teacher into his incredibly strange house. He does a great job of slowly revealing what’s going on and also lacing the entire thing with cartoons to not only explain what’s going on without smashing you over the head with it, but then become much more a part of the proceedings as the segment progresses (poor Cousin Ethel). There’s something awesomely grotesque about how the toons look when they come into the real world. Since we’re inundated with cartoons, it makes all the more sense that some of the house’s hallways and rooms look like they’re straight out of Tom and Jerry or one of the Warners cartoons seen in the film. Actually, the set design of this movie reminded me quite a bit of what Dante did once the kid went in the deep, dark pit in The Hole.
This segment is also the one I want more of after it’s over. All four portions feel like complete short stories, but there’s clearly a lot more going on here that could be explored more fully in a longer form story. Plus, damn that kid and the mutant bunny are creep-city. Oh and it’s pretty crazy seeing Nancy Cartwright as Cousin Ethel because you can hear her Bart Simpson voice even back then.
Finally you’ve got Miller’s take on “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” starring John Lithgow in the William Shatner role. Of all three recreated episodes, this is the original I’ve seen the most. This is the one where an airplane passenger is convinced that a gremlin is on the wing of the place tearing it apart. Everyone around him thinks he’s nuts, but, being the Twilight Zone, we know that’s not what’s up. The key to this one is Lithgow’s excellent performance as the flier who starts off already terrified and then skyrockets into anxiety when he starts seeing things that shouldn’t be there. Since he nails it, the whole thing comes off as a more intense journey than you might expect. Of course, it helps that the gremlin looks a lot better than a dude in a carpet suit.
Oddly, as far as anthology films go, I’d give this one a thumb’s up, something I rarely do. Overall the quality’s solid, with great storytelling, acting and direction. As a Spielberg offering, though, it leaves much to be desired. With Twilight Zone out of the way, I’m moving on to Temple Of Doom, which I love, and then a few episodes of Amazing Stories that I believe are on Netflix Instant. After that I’m getting into some pretty new territory with his more dramatic efforts of the 80s and 90s starting with The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun. I’m hoping to stay a bit more up to date on these posts. Looking back I only did two all year, this being the second. Hopefully I can at least get up to Purple by year’s end, but it would probably be foolish to make any promises.
The concept of Jedi Junkies is fairly simple, its a documentary about the many aspects of Star Wars fandom from people who dress up in costume for conventions and obsessive toy collectors to fan film and lightsaber makers. Fun side note: the lightsaber maker lives pretty close to us! Anyway, the problem with the film is that Star Wars fandom is just too damn big for one 75 minute doc.
In addition to the four subjects I mentioned above this documentary, directed by Mark Edlitz, also interviews a few actors who appeared in the films as well as celebrity fans, goes behind the scenes of the New York Jedi and attacks hard hitting questions like “Who shot first?” That’s just way too much to tackle in such a short amount of time.
I get that Edlitz and company wanted to cover as much of the Jedi loving-community as possible, but a bit more focus would have been appreciated. Another option would be to break this up into more focused segments, but it’s not like Netflix was doing its original series thing back in 2010.
Personally, I would have been interested in diving deeper into the collecting side of things. That’s something that I got into a bit myself, but never to the extreme levels as some of the people in the film who have multiple copies of so many toys I want! There was one guy in particular who I could watch for much longer who was married with two kids and slept on the floor because his collection took up an entire room in their small apartment. Making matters even more interesting, he knew that he had some kind of problem, but also didn’t seem like he was in a place to actually fix it. I also appreciated that they got not one but two psychologists to talk about the collecting mentality. That was a nice layer, but it was yet another aspect that made me wish this was a larger project all around.
At the end of the day, Jedi Junkiues seems to revel in Star Wars geekery which is great. It’s even well put together and, aside from the “Original vs. Prequels” and “Who shot first?” sections, it gets into some really clever and unique territory (can we stop asking those pointless questions, already?), but it’s just too ambitious of an undertaking to cover the width and breadth of Star Wars fandom with one 90 minute movie. Good effort, though!
Batman: Gates Of Gotham (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins & Ryan Parrott, drawn by Trevor McCarthy, Graham Nolan, Dustin Nguyen & Derec Donovan
Collects Batman: Gates Of Gotham #1-5, Detective Comics Annual #12 & Batman Annual #28
One my favorite parts of going to any comic convention is digging through $5 trade boxes. I scored a number of Exiles Ultimate Collection volumes at this year’s NYCC, but was also incredibly excited to get my hands on a copy of Batman: Gates Of Gotham. I’d read a few of these issues here and there, but lost track of it. At the time, I didn’t know about Scott Snyder, but have since become a huge fan of his after reading Severed, American Vampire Volumes One and Twoand the first book of his New 52 Batman stuff. He plotted this miniseries along with New 52 Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins who also teamed up with Ryan Parrott for dialog. Between that general appreciation and the fact that I also recently came into a copy of Batman Volume 2: City Of Owls, it seemed like a good time to go on a mini-Batman reading spree.
The miniseries bounces back and forth between the early days of Gotham as we know it, when the city was being built up by a pair of architect brothers known as the Gates of Gotham. They worked for the Waynes, Cobblepots, Elliots and Kanes, the four richest families in town at the time who funded many of the biggest construction efforts in the late 1800s. Meanwhile, in the present, Batman (Dick Grayson) is trying to figure out who is blowing up some of those older structures and what the two have to do with one another. Luckily for him, he’s got Robin (Damien Wayne), Red Robin (Tim Drake) and Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) to help him out.
Much like American Vampire, I dug how Snyder, Higgins and company were able to make this history lesson not only interesting, but intriguing. That story itself could have supported its own miniseries, but you’ve also got all the action in the present and the mystery of how the two are connected. Plus, there’s a great little twist at the end that was clever and fun. This is a great, fun miniseries that I really enjoyed and will happily add to my collection, but I really do wish that they would have been able to stick with Trevor McCarthy for the whole series. I really dug his angular, animation-ish style and while the other guys aren’t bad, they do have different styles that can bring you out of the story because it’s so obvious that you’re dealing with a different person behind the pencil.
There was one interesting aspect of this book that actually had nothing to do with the writing, but more of the setting. This is, I believe, one of the last pre-New 52 Batman stories out there. I’ve been reading a TON of New 52 books lately and have a lot of mixed feelings, so it was fun to go back to “my” DCU and enjoy a newer story with characters I actually know and understand deeply. Plus, the only big continuity thing you need to know is that this story comes after Bruce returned from his post-Final Crisis journey through history in The Return Of Bruce Wayne and that he’s launched Batman Incorporated. That’s still kind of a lot to remember as time goes on (once again, a recap page would have been nice), but all-in-all, I think I’ll be able to handle it, especially after I get all of Grant Morrison’s run on my shelf.
Batman Volume 2: The City Of Owls (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder with James Tynion IV, drawn by Greg Capullo with Jonathan Glapion, Rafael Albuquerque, Jason Fabok, Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke & Sandu Florea
Collects Batman (New 52) #8-12, Annual #1
After all the craziness of the first volume, Snyder didn’t give Batman much of a breather. Battered and nearly broken, Bruce is in rough shape when all of the previously frozen Talons decide to kill him and several other prominent members of Gotham society all on the same night. Of course, they came at Bruce a lot harder than everyone else. Since he was pretty banged up already, Bats donned a pretty killer suit of armor to take them on. I love when characters put on armor, you guys. Love it.
From there, Batman tracks down the Court of Owls only to find a much more prominent villain who thinks he has direct ties to the Wayne family that rounds out Bruce and his parents’ history in this new universe even more. This collection also contains the introduction of a new ally for Batman’s called Harper Row and a really great story that explains this new version of Mr. Freeze that plays off some of the known aspects of the character and goes in a few different directions. Also, for what it’s worth, this book does have a text opener letting readers know what happened in the previous volume. Kudos for that , DC!
I’ve listened to twodifferent Fat Man On Batman podcasts with host Kevin Smith interviewing Snyder and I’ve got to say, this guy thinks about story on levels that I don’t hear about much and I talk to a fair amount of writers for my day job. He’s not just in Batman’s head, but he’s in every character’s head going back a few generations and, from what I hear of the current/upcoming stuff, into the future. I’ve become a huge fan of his writing and hope to score a few more of his books from my Amazon Wish List in the near future. Hinthinthint.