Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/29/10

Even evil bunnies like Metropolis, especially at such a classic theater as the Music Box.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/26/10

Tonight's dinner will look something like this.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/25/10

See that arrow? That's where I'm headed. Have a good weekend, all y'all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One More Thing About Jonah Hex

In my review of Jonah Hex yesterday, I neglected to mention that I saw the movie at the Norridge, the same suburban theater where, nearly 24 years ago (sweet Baby Jesus, has it been that long?), I saw Howard the Duck, another big-screen adaptation of a comic book that didn't quite get it right.

In the case of Howard, the filmmakers stripped away most of the character's distinguishing traits--in the comics, he was a foul-mouthed (or would that be fowl-mouthed?), cigar-chomping misanthrope, whereas the movie version was so bland that he could have been any character in any generic summer action flick.

Still, given the choice between seeing Howard the Duck or Jonah Hex again, I'd opt for Howard--at least he wasn't stuck with inexplicable mystical powers or Gatling guns mounted on his horse.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/23/10

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Jonah Hex (2010)

Jonah Hex is based on a long-standing DC comics who, after having served the Confederacy in the Civil War and suffered many personal tragedies (one of which cost him roughly half his face), rides the Old West as a bounty hunter/mercenary. He's tough. He's mean. He's really good with a gun, knife or ax. And woe be unto him who tries to get around paying Jonah Hex his fee.

With decades of material to work with--especially the most recent "Jonah Hex" series written by Jimmy Palmotti and Justin Gray--making a "Jonah Hex" movie seems like a pretty good idea.

Just not this "Jonah Hex" movie.

The film is well cast, with a suitably snarly Josh Brolin as Hex; Megan Fox brings the pretty as Hex's prostitute girlfriend, Lilah; and John Malkovich as Quentin Turnbull, a former Confederate general with a hate-on for Hex, and the feeling is mutual. (Hex betrayed Turnbull's son to the yankees for targeting civilian;, Turnbull in turn executed Hex's wife and child). The costumes and cinematography look about right, and the heavy-metal soundtrack by Marco Beltrami and Mastodon is oddly effective.

Why, then, does this whole movie seem off?

As with most bad movies, the problems begin with the screenplay, which reads like a rejected episode of the '60s TV series The Wild Wild West (itself the victim of a bad big-screen adaptation). Turnbull has faked his own death (to get Hex off of his trail) is leading a renegade army around the country, killing loads of innocent people and assembling a super-weapon designed by Eli Whitney, but never fully constructed...until now. President Ulysses S. Grant calls in Hex to hunt down Turnbull, interrupting the bounty hunter's me-time with Leila and leading eventually to a literally explosive confrontation.

Unlike his comic-book counterpart, though, this big-screen Jonah Hex has mystical powers, like the ability to bring the dead back to life briefly for conversation. He also has a penchant for gadgets, like Gatling guns mounted on his horse. (If that poor horse turns its head the wrong way. Jonah's gonna have to find a new ride.)

The plot raises a lot more questions than it answers, like...How does Turnbull know about the super-weapon? How does Grant know about Hex and his animosity toward Turnbull? How does Turnbull know about Leila? How does Turnbull's psychotic, heavily tattooed henchman (Michael Fassbender) get all the way to the Southwest, kidnap Lilah and get all the way back so quickly? (Maybe Eli Whitney also invented the airplane?) Why do Jonah and Lilah love each other? (Maybe the sex is really good?) What's up with the super-weapon's golden glowing balls? Where did Jonah Hex's mystical abilities come from?

A rewrite (or two) on the screenplay could have fixed a lot of these problems. Throw in CGI effects that would be embarrassingly bad in a SyFy Original movie and an ending so ragged and blatantly tacked on that the editors would have been tossed out of film school if they'd submitted it as a class project, though, and you've got a movie that feels a good deal more like a work print than a finished product.

the character--and the moviegoing audience--deserved better.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/22/10

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)

I've probably told this story here before, but in the context of this review, it bears repeating:

When I was about 15, my mother decided that my toys should be donated to the family next door, which had several children and little money for toys. To this day, Mom maintains that I went along with this plan willingly. To this day, I maintain that I did not.

Maybe that was selfish of me. Maybe I should have recognized that I was too old to be playing with G.I. Joe or Mego Spider-Man and willingly handed them over to kids who had far less than I did, even though my family was far from affluent.

Still, the memory of that moment--and my subsequent extensive interest in collecting action figures in general, and replacements for the toys that Mom had given away that day in particular--made me fear Toy Story 3.

It's not that I expected a bad movie. Quite the contrary--the folks at Pixar rarely let me down, and I loved the first two Toy Story movies. But this one, with its story of the plaything of youth being given away because their longtime owner, Andy, is headed off to college and is way too old to be romping around his dorm room with Buzz Lightyear, Rex or Slinky Dog (only the ever-loyal Woody makes the cut to accompany Andy to campus), seemed designed to make me cry.

The rest of the toys are pitched in a trash bag and designated for the attic, but Andy's mom mistakes the trash bag for, well, trash and pitches them to the curb. Woody takes off after them, and everybody (including all of the aforementioned, plus Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Jessie, Bullseye, Barbie, Hamm and those weird little alien dudes) winds up being donated to a daycare center, where the toy in charge--a strawberry-scented, seemingly benevolent plush bear named Lotso Huggin'--assures the new arrivals that they'll be played with in their new home.

Woody, however, is determined to get back to Andy and makes his way out of the daycare center, only to wind up in the backpack of a sweet little girl named Bonnie and added to her collection of toys, including an Internet-savvy triceratops named Trixie, a husky-voiced unicorn, a hedgehog who thinks he's performing Shakespeare and a dolly named, well, Dolly. Woody still wants to get back to Andy before his owner heads off to college, but when his new toy friends tell him all is not as it appears at the daycare center, Woody has to decide: Stay with his new friends? rescue his old pals? Or give up what may be his last shot at being loved by the child who's loved him for so long?

This may sound like grim material--and, at times, it is--but there are lots of laughs and thrills along the way, as well as messages regarding loyalty to one's friends and knowing when, as painful as it might be, letting go is the best, healthiest thing to do.

So, was I right to fear Toy Story 3? Did it make me cry? Sure did. I was hardly alone, though--when the lights came up, more than a few theater patrons were using their popcorn napkins to dab away tears. Whether that was caused dredged-up memories, top-notch, emotionally charged filmmaking or, most likely, a combination of the two, only the individual filmgoers could say.

Happy Summer!

The Solstice took place at 6:38 this morning. I hope you all took the chance to dance and sing and celebrate...then went back to bed. me? No such luck. That's about when I got up, brushed my face and stumbled out the door.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/21/10

It's Monday morning. You need some flowers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/14/10

Can you spot the birthday girl in this photo?

Now, please excuse me--there's a pint of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream in my freezer to be eaten in honor of the birthday girl. (OK, so I likely would have eaten the pint of ice cream anyway--your point?)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

There Go the Hawks, the Mighty Blaaaackhawks!

As I grew up in Chicago in the 1970s, I didn't have much interest in most professional sports. Baseball stoked passion, but it was more for the poetry and almost religious framework of the sport than for our specific teams, both of which spent much of the decade in obscurity. (The Cubs' amazing but aging lineup--Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Fergie Jenkins--broke up, and the White Sox peaked with "The South Side Hit Men" of 1977, ultimately winning nothing but the hearts of diehard dreamers.)

The Bears were pretty awful as well, even after they added Walter Payton. The Bulls were nearly a nonentity, even with great players like Jerry Sloan, Bob Love, Norm Van Lear and Artis Gilmore. And soccer? Forget about it.

But Hockey? That was the sport we all knew and loved.

Maybe it was because we lived in a cold-weather climate during one of the most brutal run of winters--we could, after all, play hockey well after our baseball mitts and basketballs had been put away--or maybe it was because our NHL franchise, the Blackhawks, made the playoffs every year, even if they hadn't taken home the Stanley Cup since 1961. Still, they actually made the finals--more than you could say for any of the other sports franchises in town.

Hockey was the sport we all played--on rough and bumpy ice rinks poured on playgrounds or empty lots with garden hoses, or in narrow alleys with "puck balls" that, in the depths of the January chill, hardened to the consistency of lead. I usually played goalie, wearing my brother's gear (including professional-level pads and a glove that could easily cradle a small child) and stopping many more puck bulls than I missed. We knew the players' names--Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Keith Magnuson--and collected their trading cards. We watched their games on TV. We loved them.

Sometimes, love fades. Sometimes, it even dies--or is killed. While the other sports teams in Chicago progressed and improved--the Bears won the Super Bowl, the Bulls went on a championship run led by Michael Jordan, and even the Cubs and Sox made it to the playoffs, at least--the Blackshawks seemed to be skating around in the same increasingly worn-looking circle. They still made the playoffs with regularity--even made it to the finals again in 1992--and had great players like jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek who were well worth our attention.

The team--and the sport--nonetheless faded into obscurity in Chicago, mostly because the team's owner, William Wirtz, seemed to actively work at alienating his fanbase. He moved the team's telecasts to cable--which, for many years, most Chicagoan's not only didn't have, but couldn't get even if they wanted it--and steadfastly refused to show home games. He joined with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to build the United Center, which replaced the historic, more intimate Chicago Stadium. Worst of all, he refused to play the Hawks' quality starters what they were worth--or anything close to it--and those players went to other teams and won championships there instead of here. (Chelios, a native of Chicago suburb Evergreen Park, wound up hoisting the Stanley Cup a couple of times for the Hawks most-hated rivals, the Detroit Red Wings.) Wirtz didn't seem to care that he was pissing off the fans. The team turned a profit, year in and year out, and nothing beyond that bottom line mattered.

When Wirtz died in 2007, he wasn't exactly mourned by the Hawks fans that remained--they actually booed Wirtz during a memorial ceremony at the United Center.

Wirtz's son, Rocky, took over ownership of the team, though, and it was apparent from the get-go that Rocky actually understood the deep anger and mistrust that had built up over the years--he actually got it. And he set about changing the way things were done, lifting the ban on televising home games, bringing in fresh quality players while also drafting talented youngsters, and even reaching out to former players wronged by the team and recruiting them as "ambassadors" to the fanbase. (Hull, Mikita and Esposito all spoke at length about this on a recent episode the locally televised, PBS-produced Friday Night Show.) Rocky and his new management team were working overtime to reignite the fanbase

He succeeded.

Fans came back to the United Center. TV ratings rose. The local newspapers and sports talk shows started paying attention again. And with good reason: This younger, faster, more aggressive team was not only more entertaining to watch, it appeared to be built to last. Last night, that hard work paid off big-time. The Blackhawks won game six of the finals from the Philadelphia Flyers, taking home their first Stanley Cup since 1961. The game, which went into overtime, ended oddly, with a goal scored by Patrick Kane from an extreme angle--so extreme that, for a minute or so, it seemed like the only ones who knew the game was over were the Hawks players, who dropped their sticks, tossed their gloves and started hugging as the fans booed loudly and the Flyers milled about in confusion on the ice.

It was a hard-fought series, with its share of heroes like Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, who seemed to literally fly from the net at times to stop the puck, and villains like Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, a tough and charismatic player who proved to also be classless when he swiped the pucks off the ice after the first two games in the series (both Hawks wins)--game pucks that should, by long-standing tradition, have been given to the Hawks.

That's OK, Mr. Pronger. You're welcome to keep the pucks. The Blackhawks, their fans and the city of Chicago will gladly take the Stanley Cup instead.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/10/10

This lovely lady overlooks the corner of Harrison and Wabash, where I spent many a day traipsing to and from class at Columbia College.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Spirit Is Willing

On this day 70 years ago, a new super hero made his first appearance.

He had no powers, per se--couldn't "cloud men's minds" or "leap tall buildings in a single bound"--beyond the ability to throw a mean punch and to take one (or several) in kind. He wasn't a wealthy playboy with a tricked-out car and a huge cave full of gadgets. he wasn't even super-smart, though he was usually smarter than the crooks he was chasing. He was "just" a cop, presumed dead (hence his appropriate non de plume), who hid out in an abandoned crypt beneath Wildwood Cemetery (also appropriate).

His name, when he was "alive," was Denny Colt. Now? He was "The Spirit."

Will Eisner was 23 years old when he created The Spirit for a 16-page Sunday newspaper supplement (eight pages were devoted to The Spirit, the other eight to one or two other characters/stories)--something like a weekly comic book crossed with the Sunday funnies--but was already a veteran of the fledgling comics field. He started off writing and drawing the strip himself, but was drafted into the army after about a year and a half and had to hand those duties over to others while he served. (He still wrote and drew as much as he could, but his duties soon made such contributions impossible.)

When Eisner returned from the army in 1945, he resumed writing and pencilling duties, but with a completely different perspective and energy. His layouts were more experimental, his storytelling more mature and varied. Sometimes the stories were action-packed, sometimes more comical. Sometimes The Spirit was a supporting character in his own strip, with the lead given over to either the regular supporting cast or to one-time-only characters. Always, Eisner's pages looked and felt different--in hindsight, more advanced--than much of the work of his contemporaries.

The Spirit, as a character, was more tenacious than most most super heroes, and often took a beating in the service of justice. (Most men in masks didn't sport nearly as many bruises and abrasions as Denny Colt.) As a comic, The Spirit was more tenacious than most as well, hanging on until October 1952--or, two or three years after most super hero comics had either been cancelled or converted into horror comics (example: Captain America's Weird Tales, which didn't even include a Captain America story in its last issue).

Eisner went on to other pursuits, most significantly becoming a pioneer of the "graphic novel" format in the 1970s, with many stories based on Eisner's own life (his Jewish upbringing, life in the tenements of Brooklyn, his army experiences, etc.). However, The Spirit, true to his name, continued to haunt and fade in and out, popping up in short stories (by Eisner) in various publications, reprints of issues of the original run, and attempted revivals.

There were even a couple of movies based on Eisner's creation--a now-obscure made-for-TV effort starring Sam Jones (from the much-loved 1980 Flash Gordon remake) and a much-reviled big-screen attempt by (previously) much-respected comic-book writer/artist Frank Miller.

It's the comic-book version of The Spirit that still prevails, though, especially now that the complete original run of the comic (plus the short-lived daily Spirit comic strip and various latter-day stories) has been collected in hardcover by DC Comics (which also published a monthly Spirit comic). Eisner gave his blessing to this long-term project (in wound up as a mammoth 26-volume set) and continued to produce graphic novels until his death in January 2005 at the age of 87.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 6/1/10

Don't ask me how the muffin came to be there. I did not place it on the post. And I did not eat it.