Casting Internets

You might have noticed a lack of Casting Internets posts lately. That’s less because I kept forgetting to do them and more because I haven’t been going through my Pocket app for ,well, most of this year. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stories from the past few months that tickled my fancy. manziel browns draft

I’m pretty excited about Johnny Manziel heading to the Browns. They’re not my main team, but I have a special place in my heart for them because my mom’s from there and my grandma was a fan her whole life. (via ESPN)

Rivers Cuomo called Rolling Stone to talk about his love of Nirvana and how the band changed his brain. Fun read for Weezer fans, especially the ones who’ve been hearing for years that he converted Kurt Cobain’s songs into an equation and then wrote his own songs with that formula.

I’m not much of a Buzz Feed fan, but I really dug Kate Aurthur’s interview with Real World San Francisco‘s Rachel about her time on the show.

08-MosEisley

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to go through this entire post of on StarWars.com about Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars art, but maybe you will!schleprock america's dirty little secret

My buddy Jesse sent me this link to Jason Heller’s AV Club piece on punk in the 90s because he talks about that band Schleprock I reviewed a while back. Even without that, it’s a really solid read on a subgenera of music I still love.

Esquire‘s Jennifer M. Wood talked to director Walter Hill about his classic The Warriors. As you might expect, this is a thing I love.

I’m a big fan of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain, so when the former interviewed the latter about modern chefs on his blog, I was interested. Personally, I like how conflicted Bourdain is about things like authenticity. It points to the fact that these issues are trickier than some might otherwise present.

Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that he’s going to start working on his second-ever solo album. Also, I fully support the idea of a Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck tour. Yardbirds Revisited?

Riding Wth The King: The Dead Zone By Stephen King (1979)

The Dead Zone book In the past few years, I’ve developed a new respect for Stephen King and his body of work. When I was a kid I read The Shining and part of It, but soon moved on to other authors. Lately, though, I’ve found myself on the hunt for King’s books wherever I can find them which has resulted in a pretty substantial number of them hiding out under my side of the bed in unkempt to-read piles. Even though I’m partway through about four books at the moment, I decided to start something new when our boy Jack was born 7 weeks early. After looking under the bed for a while, I came out with The Dead Zone and just dove right in without knowing much about the story.

King’s fifth novel, Dead Zone follows the misadventures of Johnny Smith, a young man in a budding relationship with a woman named Sarah who gets in a car accident that puts him in a coma for four and a half years. Once he wakes up, Johnny finds that he has a strange power that allows him to experience a person’s past, present or future with a single touch. While much of the book is spent with Johnny dealing with these new abilities and trying to help out when and where he can (even if that results in media scrutiny and more public attention than he’d like) the actual thrust of the book comes in the last quarter when Johnny touches the book’s other main character Greg Stillson and discovers that he will be responsible for some kind of terrible, potentially apocalyptic disaster after getting elected president in the not too distant future. How Johnny deals with that eventually seals his fate.

The great trick of this book that I only realized towards the end is that King took an assassin who claims to have some kind of extra-sensory skills and put the reader on his side. King puts you so much in Johnny’s corner that you come to think of him as the hero of the book, which he is, but to many people on the outside, he was a looney tune nut case who tried to kill a low level politician in a very public place. We just happen to know that his powers were real and we’re involved in all the scenes of him doing good works for people that of course we’re on his side. It reminded me of that great line about villains where they never think they’re doing anything bad because they have good intentions.

Since we’re already on Johnny’s side, that leaves Stillson in the villain role and, let’s be honest, he doesn’t really fit in the above description. You get the impression that he knows he’s bad and just doesn’t care. He wants to grab for power and will do whatever it takes — from enlisting bikers for protection to threatening the press — to hold on to it. He’s a ruthless snake that reminded me a lot of “Big Jim” Rennie, the bad guy from Under The Dome. These are the kind of villains that actually scare me because they can and do exist in the real world. People who crave power often shouldn’t have it, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get it and wield it however they can, usually in a weapon-like manner. Stillson’s as ruthless as they come and steamrolls over just about everyone while putting on whatever exterior he needs to to keep on rolling.

My only real problem with the book is that Johnny’s powers aren’t very well defined. This is part of my longtime superhero fandom, but it seems like King plays a bit fast and loose with exactly what Johnny can do. I get that this adds to the mystery of what’s going on with him, but it seemed a little too loose. He touches a photo of someone from WWII and knows her entire history leading up to the present. He touches a woman and knows her house is on fire. He touches a kid and knows that the restaurant he and his friends want to go to will catch on fire. That’s a whole lot of power that doesn’t seem very consistent, especially the first one. Still, this isn’t a story about powers, it’s about a person with powers and how they respond to them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I even felt some chills during the last time we see Sarah even though I don’t believe in such things. I think I reacted that way because of the tragic romance between Johnny and Sarah. Had one thing in life changed, they would have probably been together, gotten married and lived a love-filled life. Sure, they would have had their problems, like everyone, but the accident separated the two and eventually pushed Sarah into the arms of another man who she married and had kids with. The scene where Sarah and her son come and visit Johnny and his dad really hit me because, as King points out, this was basically a day where they all got to experience what could have been. Still, it wasn’t built to last and they all went on with their own lives and that’s how the world works.

If you’re curious to read my reviews of other King books (aside from The Shining and Under The Dome, linked above) check out my thoughts on  Misery and  The Running Man.

Vertigo Trade Post: Global Frequency & Joe The Barbarian

global frequency Global Frequency (Wildstorm/Vertigo/DC)
Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Garry Leach, Glenn Fabry, Liam Sharp, Roy Allan Martinez, Jon J. Muth, David Lloyd, Simon Bisley, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Lee Bermejo, Tomm Coker, Jason Pearson & Gene Ha
Collects Global Frequency #1-12

I don’t often read Warren Ellis comics. Aside from Planetary and his Stormwatch-intoAuthority stuff, I just haven’t been able to plug into his work and enjoyed myself on a regular basis. In my mind he’s similar to a writer like Garth Ennis where he really likes to work within a certain type of story with a group of familiar characters. With Ennis, the broad idea seems to be crazy people overcoming their craziness to defeat far more evil people, most often with copious amounts of violence. Meanwhile, Ellis seems to feature people who might be evil doing good things for reasons we don’t quite know or understand, often (in my experience) because they think they know better than other people. There’s a cynicism and negativity to a lot of his characters that I can’t always get into.

Even so, I’m always interested in proving my pre-conceived notions wrong (well, almost always, there’s a writer or two and a small group of artists who I don’t spend my time on anymore) and decided to give Global Frequency a read. Though the cover of the collection claims this as a Vertigo series, it was originally published by WildStorm. Each of the dozen issues features a story written by Ellis with a different artist focuses on a case handled by Global Frequency, a citizen-run organization that consists of a network of experts who can help out in various kinds of crises. When you’re in the club, you get a special phone (basically a smart phone by today’s standards) and can get called up and expected to serve either in the field or by supplying information at the ring of a cell.

While I like the one-off nature of the series, I was left wanting by most of these stories. Sure, it’s cool to see people who are really good at their jobs solving mysteries and saving people, but it didn’t feel like there was much else to grab onto. Though it was more well-constructed, it had kind of a procedural feeling which is a kind of story I’m growing less and less in like with.

That’s not to say these are bad stories. In fact, there’s some incredibly creative stuff going on in here. I still don’t fully understand the one about the town that seemed to experience the same hallucination all at the same time, but I dug it. There’s definitely enough interesting details, impressive action scenes and varying degrees of artistic genius in here which I enjoyed, but I like a little more personal stuff in there. To be fair, Ellis was working with 22 pages per issue with new characters in each issue. It’s not like the characters are flat, you’re just left with more of what they can do than who they are or why they do what they do.

While reading, I remember thinking that this would make a really great television series. A few days later I was looking up a particular actress for something over on Spinoff only to discover that it had a pilot a few years back. Sounds kinda like it could have been a precursor for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had it gone to series.

joe the barbarian Joe The Barbarian (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Sean Murphy
Collects Joe The Barbarian #1-6

On the other hand, I was completely able to latch onto Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe The Barbarian. As you might expect from a Morrison comic, the concept isn’t super simple to explain. A kid named Joe who has low blood sugar is in his three story house alone when he starts experiencing both this world and another more fantastical one populated with his pet rat, talking versions of his action figures, all kinds of interesting characters and even a few analogs for people in his real life. Joe walks in both worlds, trying to reach his goals simultaneously (getting some soda in the real world and helping defeat King Death in the other). As he goes we learn more about Joe as he learns more about himself as he interacts with the fantasy characters around him and grows as a hero.

Story-wise, this one hits a lot of the same buttons for me as something like The Goonies or The Return Of King Doug. It’s about a young man finding his heroic side when faced with mountains of adversity. I think that’s the type of tale I’ll always be able to get behind, especially when there are so many extra elements wrapped around the basic package.

Speaking of which, a huge aspect of my enjoyment of this book comes thanks to Murphy’s artwork. He’s got a style that seems loose and yet doesn’t lose definition. Everything from the normal house setting to the flying manta rays feel cut from the same cloth even when two different realities are shown within panels or pages of each other. Plus, he and Morrison filled this world with so many familiar faces and characters who show up in the other world looking like action figures, something I absolutely love. You’ve got actual Superman, Batman, Robin and Lobo hanging out with characters that look an awful lot like Transformers, G.I. Joes, U.S.S. Enterprise personnel and plenty of other guys who might remember from your childhood toybox. Mind you, those aren’t the main characters of the book, those are just background folks who show up in huge action scenes, each one of which is wallpaper and poster-worthy in my opinion.

Even though I clearly enjoyed one of these books more than the other and will be keeping one in my collection while passing the other on to someone else, I love that both of these kinds of comics exist. Neither are what you’d expect form corporate superhero comics even though both Ellis and Morrison do plenty of that as well. These are stories these creators had a burning desire to tell and made happen. I give them both a lot of credit for that. Sure, it’s easier when you’re both pretty huge names in the industry, but it would be just as easy to forget about creator owned stuff and keep working within the corporate superhero system. Kudos, gents.

Casting Internets

Pretty sure my buddy Sean T. Collins perfectly encapsulated what made me love He-Man as a kid and look at it sideways as an adult over on Vorpalizer.

I think I plugged Alex Kropinak’s excellent new blog already, but I’ve actually had time to read it. Dig his posts about What The?!, Twisted ToyFare Theater and his love of Marvel Legends.

 

I can’t accurately describe how freaking excited and nostalgic I was when I saw this trailer for Capcom’s upcoming DuckTales Remastered. I adored that game as a kid — it’s easily in my all time top ten — and have had a blast playing it here and there as an adult too. Adding to the excitement is that fact that my daughter is an in-the-works DuckTales fan!

That Patton Oswalt has a lot of interesting stuff to say, as he did in this Esquire interview with Scott Raab.

Not a fan of his movies, but I love that Rob Zombie plays and headlines giant music festivals just to hang out with his musician friends. That’s why I go to NYCC. Well, that and the freelance. (via Rolling Stone)

I still have no idea what Dub Step is supposed to be, but I was a big fan of Fatboy Slim/Norman Cook/Pizza Man back in the day, so it’s cool to see him getting some recognition for being at the forefront of electronic dance music by way of this Rolling Stone interview. I’m glad they stopped calling it electronica, but all the other names are dumb too.

Recalling 1993 sounds like a really interesting project. Head to any pay phone in NYC, dial 1-855-FOR-1993 and hear someone specific to that area telling you about the place you’re standing back in 1993.

Here’s hoping they can get Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo back for the new Vacation movie. They don’t need to have huge roles, but it would be nice to see them together in something other than a commercial for pants. (via THR)

Audiobook Review: The Inner Circle By Brad Meltzer, Read By Scott Brick

brad meltzer the inner circle audiobook Every time we go on a road trip of any real length, my wife and I run over to the library and get an audiobook or two. Before leaving to visit her folks for Christmas, I picked up Brad Metlzer’s The Inner Circle which wound up serving us for two separate trips. I actually had no idea what the book was about, I just saw Meltzer’s name and grabbed it. It turns out, however, that it’s actually a kind of sequel or follow-up to the last of his books we listened to in audiobook form: The Book of Fate.

This time around, the story revolves around normal guy Beecher who uncovers a potential secret spy ring built around the president while trying to impress a woman from his past. As things tend to go in Meltzer novels, the ensuing 12 discs revolve around healthy doses of mistrust, misinformation and misunderstandings all while conveying action and drama the never fails to keep me interested. I should note that I actually forgot very little of the plot in the nearly three months between starting the audiobook and finishing it, which is a testament to the story.

The character who carries over from Book of Fate, though, is the one who really steals the show: Nica Hadrian, the man who tried to kill the president in that book. I had no idea he would appear in this book and would love to talk to Meltzer about why he decided to bring him back, but I think I have a pretty good idea. This guy’s just a super compelling character. He’s belfry-level crazy thinking his last victim still talks to him and also believing in ages old historical conspiracies that continue through reincarnation. But he’s also incredibly smart and has his own set of physical skills that made him such an effective killing machine. He’s basically Batman, but crazier and convinced that the world has an order to it, something I’m not so sure can be said about the Caped Crusader.

Something else I didn’t realize when I picked this book up from the library is that Beecher’s story actually continues on in Metlzer’s most recent book The Fifth Assassin. But don’t worry about this being an Empire Strikes Back kind of situation where you get to the end of this book and feel like you’ve been given part of a whole rather than a whole story. Inner Circle definitely has a solid ending, but also goes on to set up some real potential I’m excited to see explored when we get around to listening to Assassin.

Once again, I was super pleased with my experience listening to or reading a Brad Meltzer book. That guy really writes the kinds of stories I enjoy, constantly keeping the wheels on his “regular guy put into extraordinary situations” thrillers. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m interested in checking out the sequel. Beecher fit a similar model that I’ve seen in other Meltzer lead characters, but he’s presumably more trained and confident in Assassin, so I’m definitely curious to see how that plays out.

Celebrity OGN Trade Post: Get Jiro & Greendale

get jiro Get Jiro! (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, drawn by Langdon Foss
Original Graphic Novel

Call me crazy but I’m one of those people who gets a little peeved when general news outlets refer to comics or trade paperbacks as graphic novels. Aside from simply being the wrong term, it also carries with it a sense that the writer is trying to make comics sound more mature, a distinction that’s unnecessary to anyone even remotely familiar with the adult-oriented medium. What’s the difference? Well, a trade paperback is a collection of single issues brought together for an easier read while a graphic novel was created all at one time. It’s basically the difference between calling a short story collection exactly that versus a novel (well, not exactly because the issues are serializing one big story usually, but you get the idea).

The two books I’m writing about today actually are graphic novels, though and they also both happen to have been written or inspired by well known people. How much involvement said celebs actually had in the creation of the book itself, I have no idea, but that’s not really important.

I started off with Get Jiro because I needed a tonal shift after finishing another book of Y: The Last Man and this certainly gave it to me. As regular readers of UnitedMonkee and Monkeying Around The Kitchen know, I’m a pretty big fan of Anthony Bourdain having read both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw and regularly watched No Reservations. One of the interesting aspects of reading through Jiro was that he and Rose put in a good deal of elements seen on various episodes of Reservations. You’ve got the little eels from Spain that only exist for a few weeks cooked simply over fire and the little birds you eat whole (except for the head) while wearing a towel over your head, plus others. This was an interesting experience because, while the thing being done was more described than shown, I had the images already in my head from watching the series.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, what’s the book about? Set in a future version of Las Angeles, Get Jiro takes place in a city completely obsessed with food and nothing else. LA has become a zoned area where only the privileged can live on the inside eating amazing food made by one of two camps: money hungry Bob or ultra-hippie Rose. Niether are particularly likable  but that’s okay because they’re the bad guys. Our hero is Jiro, a sushi chef on the outer rim who garners the attention of both who want him in their camps, but more so don’t want him to join the other guys. All in all it’s a hyper-real, satire with healthy doses of blood and violence. The book really felt like a more light-hearted Frank Miller/Geoff Darrow book in both look and feel which is by no means a bad thing.

But, it’s not perfect. I thought the world-building was pretty light. I didn’t need everything completely laid out for and actually enjoyed the opening text the succinctly explained the world’s super foodie culture, but wish they would have explained the set up of the city in a little more detail or maybe just showed a map, that would have done it. It also felt like a lot of set up for a relatively quick payoff, I could have done with more of the big battle at the end, but I guess that wasn’t the story they were going for which is fine.

For his part, Foss is a delight to read. He packs so much into panels that he really is Darrow-like, a trait that more comic artists should aspire to and a trait that fits in really well with the graphic novel idea because guys like this tend not to be able to hit monthly deadlines. Still, I’d rather get larger doses of these kinds of artists a few times a year than one issue every year. There are times, though, when Foss lets his background characters look a little dead in the eyes which can be a little off-putting, but that’s a minor complaint.

I’m not sure how well this book would go over with people who aren’t fans of Bourdains because of all the cooking stuff, but it felt like there was enough explanation to bring in new readers (though the big blocks of text explaining such things might turn some people off) but if you are a fan or just like the gonzo craziness of something along the lines of Crank, then give this movie a watch. I just realized how insane a Neveldine and Taylor adaptation of this movie would be and now I want to see it!

Greendale Neil Young’s Greendale (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Joshua Dysart, drawn by Cliff Chiang
Original Graphic Novel

Greendale was pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum in every way from Jiro both as a piece of fiction and as a story that I interacted with. Neil Young’s name is on this book, but it’s basically based on his concept album-turned-movie from earlier in the 00s, neither of which I have any experience with. It’s also tonally and artistically different from the kinetic, hyper-real portrayal of reality seen in the other book. This is a much more grounded fantasy done in a softer artistic style. This is pure Cliff Chiang and looks exactly like anything else you’ve seen of his, but there seems to be a strange softening effect added to every single page, which was kind of a bummer because these pages really sing and could have used some brightness even given the darker elements of the story.

Speaking of the story, this one focuses on Sun Green who lives in the fictional West Coast town of Greendale. She’s a teenager trying to figure out who she is, how she fits into the grand scheme of things and how she really feels about all of the war and environment issues that went on during the Bush Administration (and still do, this story’s just set in that time period). She also comes from a family of women who tend to display supernatural abilities tied to nature and disappear when they feel like it. Sun meets a boy and starts thinking about heading to Alaska to try and stop off shore drilling when a mysterious man (who looked a like like Neil Young to me) shows up and starts messing with her cousin and brother.

After reading this book, I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. I think I liked it, though it was a little heavy handed at times. On the other hand, I like how it kind of presented the weirdness of this world as the story progressed and didn’t feel the need to front load everything. You’re just kind of thrown in, given a little information and figure things out as you go. I like that, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about that journey itself. It’s got a good “we can do it” message, but, at the end of the day, so does every high school/college movie pitting a bunch of kids against a corporation like Step Up Revolution. Does the way a message is conveyed make it any more or less meaningful? Maybe when it’s presented so many times that it becomes noise. On the other hand, it sure is a pretty looking book and did make me feel something, so I think I’ll keep it around for at least one more read.

First Blood (1982) Is Awesome

first blood poster Before talking about how much I enjoyed First Blood, I want to talk a little bit about my history with the character of Rambo. As a kid growing up in the 80s, you could not escape this huge idea of the character. I don’t remember when I saw the movies, but I knew there was this bandana-wearing dude running around shirtless shooting people and wielding a big knife. He. Was. Awesome.

Part of the reason I knew about the character, aside from just living in the world at that time, because they heavily marketed this guy for kids, which is funny when you think about the fact that the violent franchise is built around a Vietnam vet with PTSD. There was a 65 episode cartoon called Rambo: The Force Of Freedom. That series also spawned a line of action figures which I will feature in next week’s Toy Commercial Tuesday (plug!).  I definitely had one of the shirtless, black pants action figures, but think I lost it or someone swiped it. I should have gone on a Rambo-like rampage until I got it back, but that’s tough to do when your 7 or whatever.

I mention all of that because the version of Rambo that lived in my head for so long doesn’t really match up to the character seen in the first film. When I finally got around to watching First Blood for the first time in high school, I was confused and lost interest. “Why’s Rambo just walking around like a guy? Why isn’t he blowing anything up? Eh, what’s on the internet.” A week or so back I got a hankering to watch the movie again, but it wasn’t on Netflix Instant so I scoped it out on Amazon and discovered they were having a big sale on the box set, so I got myself a little birthday present.

While I’m not sure how great the BR conversion is (some of the blacks looked pretty spotty), this movie really is beautiful. Director Ted Kotcheff really took advantage of the Washington setting and made sure to grab wide sweeping shots of the landscape. I don’t know if it was his intent, but I got the feeling that part of the emotional heart of this story was to juxtapose the beauty of the location with the ugliness of assumption and violence that it winds up being the backdrop for.

And really, this is an emotional movie on many levels. You’ve obviously got the emotional states and responses by the main characters the fuel the thing: Brian Dennehy’s assumptions about the kind of person Rambo is leads to a lot of the trouble, while the combined crap of Rambo’s life lead him to head back into town instead of just leaving like he easily could have. More than that, though, you really feel what Rambo went through (as much as anyone who hasn’t gone through a war can do so). I’ve seen plenty of movies revolving around the Vietnam War and every time I do, I’m reminded of how terrible people were to the returning soldiers. These are guys who either by their own choice or thanks to the draft were put into a system that’s designed to turn you into a killer (or at the very least, a person with the skills to kill), sent to a faraway place with little to no support, immersed in death and killing and then expected to come back home and integrate into society? That’s the plight of every soldier, but it was rougher for the Vietnam vets because, unlike their WWII brethren, they didn’t get parades or cheers, but instead angry protesters and jeers. I’m amazed that any of those guys were able to come back and be productive — or at the very least non-destructive — members of society.

So there’s a lot of that in this film; a lot of heart and a lot of anger. But the action scenes are also really solid. You’ve got everything from the car/motorcycle chase into the woods and the helicopter coming after Rambo to Rambo’s town-centric rampage. This dude’s not messing around and has certainly been pushed too far.

One of the interesting aspects of this film is that it’s very gray when it comes to morality. You want to root for Rambo because he’s been through so much, but does he really need to take his war into town where civilians can be hurt? No, not really. And, at the heart of things, Dennehy’s character really does have the town’s best interested at heart even if this all started because he couldn’t get past a guy’s long hair and general scruffiness. If memory serves, the three other Rambo films don’t have much of this in that Rambo’s sent into a place where his mission is to kill the bad guys — and they’re often really, really bad guys as is the case in 2008’s Rambo — but in this original film, he’s up against a bunch of townspeople who are just trying to keep their home safe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that even if their motivations are based on misinformation.

It’s not often that I come away from an action movie both pumped up from the action scenes and thinking about something. I like when that happens, just not all the time. Too much thinking about these things tends to lead to feeling bad about the usually catastrophic level of death and violence featured in these movies.