Friday, June 30, 2006


So last night I saw Superman Returns ...

And man, I have been going back and forth on what I think of it. I think I'm suffering through a little bit of Star Wars: Episode I syndrome, where just the sheer spectacle of my first ever all-new Superman movie on the big screen made me want to love this movie so badly. When the movie began, when the DC Comics logo flashed on-screen, when the old-school opening credits rolled as John Williams' majestic score blared in the IMAX theater - I had chills, I was more pumped than I'd been in a long time at the movies. I forgot all about every reservation and bit of anxiety I had about the movie going in. Bryan Singer had me in the palm of his hand and I was freaking ready to have my mind blown. This was IT. This was something I've literally thought and dreamed about my entire life - a concept whose very potential has probably been a driving force in getting me to where I am today professionally - a Superman movie on the big screen.

At least with Star Wars Episode I, the process of coming down from that initial high took me days, even weeks. With that movie, only on second viewing was I really able to shut off the geek-out center of my brain and look at the movie objectively in any way and kind of sober up so to speak from the drunken euphoria of seeing a new Star Wars movie.

With Superman Returns though, all it took was that first scene.

The credits end, I'm pumped, the adrenaline is flowing - bring on Superman! We get a little opening title card explaining Superman's absence from Earth for five years. He heard Krypton might still be around or something. Okay, kind of lame, but whatever. Bring on Superman.

Cut to a gothic mansion. Lex Luthor, wearing a wig for some unfathomable reason, is forcing an elderly woman on her deathbed to sign away her fortune to her lover, Lex Luthor, who had apparently "shown her pleasures she'd never known," in a bit of reverse Anna-Nicole Smith-ery.

What. The. Hell. Is. This Crap?

Okay, okay, so the movie opened with a weird sort of gothic camp. Odd, okay, but whatever. Bring on Superman.

Things started to get a little better. We're in Smallville, Kansas. Sweet. Ma Kent does Ma Kent-like things, when a rocket crashes. She runs out to see what happened ... and there's her son! Clark! In the black Kryptonian regeneration suit from the comics! Very nice, cool imagery. I love the whole idea of Superman REALLY just being a down-home farmboy from Smallville who is who he is because of two adoptive parents who raised him right and made Clark, an alien, more human than most regular people, despite not exactly being from around here.

But sadly, this was all we saw of Smallville, or of the real Clark Kent - the real guy who isn't a bumbling idiot but who isn't quite Superman. I guess the only place to find THAT guy is on TV's Smallville, which can be very hit and hit and miss quality-wise, but provides a great overall take on the Superman mythos that Bryan Singer sadly never really acknowledged.

What we got from this point on in the movie was an odd sort of homage to the original Richard Donner movie, mixed with a number of strange and conflicting elements and tonalities. And strangely, I actually kind of agree with Roger Ebert's review in some respects - it seems like Bryan Singer had a very specific movie that he wanted to make - a tragic romance between Superman and Lois Lane with the central theme of Superman as being alone and an outsider - and that everything else seemed mostly tacked on and workman-like, in what amounted to an overly serious and mostly joyless affair.

Before I commence the bashing though - let me first say this: Superman Returns, as many have pointed out, is a beautifully filmed movie, with a number of epic shots that are pretty breathtaking. In fact, I think that where this movie most succeeded was in an area in which I worried it might fail - its visual representation of Superman. Brandon Routh, mostly, looked the part. And the action and flying shots in particular looked spectacular - this was simply the best, most seamless, and most visceral depiction of superheroic flight that we've seen captured on screen. Some of the shots were suitably iconic and memorable -- Superman floating in space looking down on earth, Superman literally doing his best Atlas impersonation and carrying the Daily Planet globe on his shoulders, Superman flying into the Sun to absorb its energies and recharge, Superman falling from the heavens ... all of these were beautifully-filmed, grand, sweeping shots worthy of an Alex Ross painting. They even included a very nice representation of the classic, Superman-lifting-a-car pose from the famous cover of Superman's first ever appearance in 1938, Action Comics #1.

The problem is that all of these amazingly-done pieces of cinematography were ultimately about all that the film had to offer. For a hero who appears in Action Comics, there was precious little action in Superman Returns. Superman barely DID anything except for lift a lot of really heavy stuff, which to me kind of negates the whole point of Superman. To me Superman is all about the "never-ending battle." He's about taking the worst that the world can throw at him and coming back for more. Here, he was by no means the man of action that I was expecting. I mean, the Man of Steel does not throw a single punch the entire movie!


This lack of action is taken to almost absurd levels, to the point where it really detracts from the story-structure. There is a pretty intense scene about 3/4 of the way through the movie where Superman, weakened by Kryptonite, is beaten silly by Luthor's thugs to the point where you as an audience member are almost gasping in disbelief at the sight of seeing this group of muscleheads kicking the crap out of the World's Greatest Superhero. One of the best, most effective dramatic scenes in the movie. But then, what the hell happened? Superman is thrown to the ocean, saved by Lois, and does ... NOTHING?!?! The Superman I know would save as many people as he could and then promptly return to give Lex Luthor some payback, or at THE LEAST, to take him into custody. Just this week, I read the great conclusion to Geoff Johns' and Kurt Busiek's latest Superman storyline, where a powerless Superman goes mano e mano with Lex - no powers, no tricks, just two rivals duking it out after a long and drawn out battle. In the comic, this scene was great. Why? Because it showed that the powers are NOT what make Superman a hero - it's his never-say-die attitude, his sheer willpower, and his overwhelming selflessness and dedication to fight the good fight.

Here, we had the perfect setup to an amazing scene. Superman is weakened, beaten to a pulp, maybe even near death. BUT HE KEEPS ON FIGHTING. But wait, that's not what happened. He is a total pushover, a wuss, a nobody. Bryan Singer's Superman is, apparently, able to get soundly thrashed by a group of hired muscle without even getting in a decent punch. Singer never gave us what we were all waiting for - he never gave us the big comeback or the climactic confrontation - he never gave us a reason to stand up and cheer.

And that kind of touches on a larger problem with this movie. Tonally, it was just, well, OFF. It was dark in all the wrong ways and light and campy in all the wrong ways. I appreciate that Singer tried to bring a real sense of gravitas and almost biblical grandness to the movie, and the film's sweeping, epic cinematography that I just mentioned earlier helped give it that sense of bigness. But almost never did Superman Returns look or feel like a SUPERMAN MOVIE. Instead, the whole thing looked and felt like a BRYAN SINGER MOVIE. It was dark, gloomy, shadowy, and it just felt wrong. Look at what Sam Raimi has done with the Spiderman movies - he's perfectly captured the look, the feel, the essence of the old Stan Lee and Steve Ditko universe. It feels like those movies take place in the bright, colorful, crazy world of Marvel Comics. Superman Returns just feels cold and bland. Metropolis has no real character as Gotham did in Batman Begins. Smallville is only briefly glimpsed. The one scene that gets it most right is the semi-spectacular airplane / baseball stadium scene, which offered an all too brief promise of bigger and better things that never quite materialized.

But even as the movie FELT too dark and grim and cold and bland, it inexplicably kept the ONE element of the movie that SHOULD have been dark and cold light and campy and well, LAME. Because I'm sorry to say it, but ...

... Kevin Spacey is terrible as Lex Luthor in Superman Returns.

Sure, those merely expecting a reprieve of the Gene Hackman, used-car-salesman Lex Luthor will be amused by Spacey's antics. But anyone who knows how evil, manipulative, cunning, and BADASS Lex Luthor is and has been in the comics, cartoons, or on Smallville, where he is expertly played by Michael Rosenbaum - hell, anyone who wanted Superman to have a decent, formidable nemesis in this movie, is going to be supremely disappointed in Spacey's Lex Luthor. I mean, think about it: Lex Luthor is just a human being, yet he is the ONE guy on the whole planet who isn't a monster, alien, or Batman who can really pose a threat to Superman. And so you'd think that this one guy must be one hell of a smart, evil, cunning bastard to be Superman's greatest enemy. Look at the animated JLU to see a version of Lex that IS that guy. Look to Superman Returns for a version of Lex that is a total joke. In a way, it's almost worse than Hackman in the originals, because at least Hackman you knew upfront was a joke character played for camp value. Singer's vision of Lex is totally schitzofrenic, alternatively hammy and over the top one minute, yet cold and sadistic another minute. But mostly, this Lex is just goofy, and it's clear that little to no effort was made into building him up as a proper villan. We never get any real sense of rivalry or hatred between Superman and Lex, it rarely feels personal between them. And Lex's scheme? Absolutely stupid. Makes no logical sense, is lightweight, and by no means worthy of a Superman movie, let alone of Lex friggin' Luthor. While a few moments of sadism HINT at an attempt to make this Lex darker than Hackman's version, this Lex is still rather pathetic. He wears wigs, he lives on a boat, he is a known criminal, he has a crew of two-dimensional, worthless flunkies, and his evil schemes involve freaking REAL ESTATE. This Lex utterly pales in comparison to nearly EVERY OTHER INCARNATION. The John Byrne businessman-as-villain from the comics, the young heir to Lexcorp of Smallville, the former President of the United States and hero-to-the-public Lex of current comic book continuity, and the cold, driven supervillain of the seminal JLU animated series.

Yes, Lex Luthor was the single worst thing about this movie, which is amazing because fanboys everywhere were excited about Keyser Soze himself taking a stab at Lex Luthor. But let's be real here (SPOILERS FOR USUAL SUSPECTS) - Kevin Spacey didn't PLAY Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects - he PLAYED Verbal Kint. All of his horrible deeds as Keyser were merely implied. Spacey does sniveling, creepy, meek well (see Usual Suspects and Glengary Glenn Ross). But has he ever done evil genious badass? Can he effectively do evil genious badass? My impression from this movie is no, he can't. Spacey has a rep as a great actor, but this movie needed its own equivalent of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in X-Men, who brought that classical and powerful sense of gravitas to every scene they were in.

Bottom line: the writers totally missed the boat with Lex Luthor in this movie, and Kevin Spacey was not the right actor for the job.

And just a quick mention of how useless and derivative Lex's flunkies are in this movie. Two great comedic actors, Parker Posey and Kal Penn - both utterly wasted and pointless, serving only to detract from Lex's character. At the least they could have been funny comic relief, but they are pretty much just THERE as some kind of weird homage to the campy Lex of the original Donner movies.

Otherwise, I thought the casting was okay. I was surprised that I didn't mind Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, overall. But she lacked that certain something, that sense of spunk and moxy that Margot Kidder kind of had, that Teri Hatcher had on Lois and Clark, and even Erica Durance on Smallville kind of has going for her. Her Lois was decent, but just not all that likable - it is hard to see why of all people Superman loved HER. Which lead me to another problem ...

... the movie's whole outlook on Superman / Clark Kent is just wrong, and kind of makes you wonder how Clark could really be in love with Lois. Because essentially, Superman IS Clark Kent - he grew up as Clark, was raised as Clark, and in the comics, he always wanted Lois to fall in love not with Superman, but with Clark. How can Superman in this movie pine for Lois when she essentially ignores his REAL self? In the first movies, it was okay - that was the early stage of their relationship, Clark was the oddball new guy who was easy to brush off. But now, after all this time, Lois refers to Clark as "just some guy she works with?" If that's the case, how can she have any real, deep connection with Superman if she still has no clue that he is Clark and that, in all likelihood, Clark is closest to his real personality? This in my view is a fatal flaw in the movie, and really undermines the believability of the Clark-Lois romance in the film. In the modern comics, John Byrne and his successors in the 80's and 90's got this essential point - that for the romance to work Lois has to fall in love with Clark Kent, not Superman. Even Lois and Clark got this right. So it's just odd to have a movie that is basically telling us that Lois is in love with a guy who she knows nothing about to the point that she is oblivious to his alter ego, and not only that, but she had a kid with the guy.

So basically, the entire movie is centered around a romantic plot makes little sense, and gives no real reason for us to believe that Lois ever really legitimately loved Superman beyond the level of a schoolgirl crush.

As far as Brandon Routh goes, he was in a way a pleasant surprise because he was, I think, pretty good as Superman and Clark Kent. I say pretty good because he had very little to do here. I was able to transplant my own ideas of who Clark and Superman are onto his portrayal, but for a newcomer, I don't know if they ever get a real sense of Clark's true personality here. At one point Perry White asks his reporters if Superman still stands for Truth, Justice, All That Stuff (conspicuously leaving out "The American Way .."). And I found myself wondering the same thing. Does he? I never really got an answer - instead I got the most emo version of Superman ever - a brooding, mostly silent, celestial figure whose dialogue mostly consisted of recycled lines from the first movie. And watching those original movies, Christopher Reeve really did an absolutely remarkable job of shifting his whole demeanor when he transitioned between Clark Kent and Superman. Routh never really gives us those same seamless yet jarring transitions in his performance. Routh SEEMS like a decent actor, and looks the part (though he still looks kind of lanky and effeminate from some angles) ... I just got no real sense of his range of acting skill from this movie, since he was mostly stoic and expressionless. Singer played him up as being distant, alien. Again, that's too bad because it contradicts the recent and best and most relatable interpretations of Clark vs. Superman - that Clark is the reality and Superman a role that Clark had to reluctantly grow into and accept as his destiny - a theme that Smallville has been steadily exploring throughout its run on television.

Again, the supporting cast was pretty good, but rarely given anything fun or substantial to do. One of the best aspects of Batman Begins was the way in which every side character had their moment to shine. In Superman Returns, there's never, for example, that one Jimmy Olsen moment that makes you think "sweet, Jimmy Olsen rocks!" No signal watch, no unlikely acts of heroism, nothing except a few comic-relief lines of dialogue from Superman's Pal. Perry White is not given much substance either, except an utterance of "Great Ceaser's Ghost" that had my audience cheering at the Daily Planet editor's classic catchphrase. On a sidenote, I was pleasantly surprised to see Peta Wilson of La Femme Nikita show up, only to do approximately jack #$%& in her small cameo.

And then there's the addition of some new characters to the Superman mythos - a controversial move on principle alone, but something I was willing to accept if done right. Unfortunately, nothing about Richard White as played by James Marsden or Lois' young son was so great as to justify the tough narrative corners that their existence paints this franchise into. I've heard reviews that call James Marsden as Richard the standout character in the movie, but frankly I don't see it. He comes off as the same semi-annoying, alpha-male type as he did as Cyclops in X-Men, and he again was just kind of there - once again, no real chemistry between him and Lois, and no real sense of rivalry between him and Clark.

As for the kid ... the child actor was mostly fine, but I just don't see the real narrative value of placing this kid into the mythos. I could see it as something that happens later on down the line -- the logical conclusion of the Lois-Clark romance is that they have a kid. But a kid, now, when realunching a franchise? Raise your hand, folks, who is looking forward to the further adventures of Papa Superman and his nuclear family in parts 2 and 3? And if you're going to have the kid in this movie, at least give him something to do - give him his big moment, put him in danger, something. As it stood, he was, again, just kind of there.

Which is why, structurally, this movie had problems. Way too long by at least a half-hour, and shoddilly edited, this film made a number of baffling narrative choices. Why start on that weird scene of Lex and the old woman? Why have the best set-piece action scene by far (the airplane rescue scene) so early in the movie, and then have nothing in the second half that could come close to topping it? Why insert a number of overly long, visually bland, been-there-done-that scenes of Superman stopping rather ordinary crimes? Why end with Luthor stranded on an island, with Superman happily flying into space and not even giving a damn that his supposedly greatest enemy, who just gave him the beatdown of his life, was never brought to justice? So much of this movie was simply Superman flying around, brooding and floating like some kind of super-powered voyeur. Cool to look at sure - as I said the cinematography was often spectacular. But ultimately, the story, what little there was, moved forward at a snail's pace.

Where Singer excelled, again, was in the visual imagery and iconography. The arc of Superman returning and the public's reaction was done well. The crowd scenes captured the feeling of awe that seeing a Superman in real life would evoke. The sense of scale and motion and power and grandeur of Superman's various feats of strength made for some captivating scenes. But the plot that tied all of these scenes together, ultimately, was weak. This was not a well-scripted movie by any means. And tonally, it was too glum, too self-serious, and too tied down by the outdated representation of the Superman mythos as presented in the Christopher Reeve movies. In addition, Singer really missed an opportunity to revamp Lex Luthor from the earlier movies, instead, sadly, sticking to the lame, cheesy version that Gene Hackman portrayed. Finally, the whole movie is centered on the Superman (not Clark) and Lois romance, which never felt convincing enough to really make you believe in it beyond the power and iconography of the characters themselves. To that same point, I think most of the legitimate thrills that I did get from this movie had to do with the power of simply seeing Superman on the big screen. Take away the Superman character from this movie, and you have nothing. But give Brandon Routh those red and blue tights, play that classic John Williams score (nicely arranged by John Ottoman), and you have yourself something that has weight and symbolism and pathos - a character who embodies our hopes and dreams and ideals. Superman is the best, the original. Now Singer - give him something to do! Challenge him! Put him in the fight of his life! Show us something we've never seen before! Make us care!

I came away from this movie with an overflow of conflicted emotions. I was excited but dissapointed, hyped yet already anxious about future sequels. I mean how do they do the Superman movies we all really want with this Richard character running around and a kid for Superman to watch over who may or may not be developing super powers? I say bring on Darkseid, Doomsday, Brainiac, Bizarro, bring on Superman vs. Batman (for the first time DC has both in viable movie franchises) -- but now I don't know if I trust this franchise to deliver on the promise of those storylines. I don't know if Singer is the right guy for these movies, and I am pretty confident that screenwriters Dougherty and Harris are completely wrong - they clearly are not big on the source material and are reluctant to draw on any interpretation of Superman other than the original movies. Spacey as Luthor shocked me in terms of how much I disliked his interpretation of the character. You have a solid Superman in Routh, a solid Lois in Bosworth, a solid Jimmy and Perry. Now get these beloved characters a story befitting them, and get Superman a villain that does him justice, whether its Lex with an attitude adjustment or someone else. Man, I kind of wish DC had stolen away Sam Raimi from Marvel rather than Singer. I know that Raimi could do Superman right - the fun, dynamism, and depth that he brings to the Spiderman movies would be perfect for Superman.

What we have with Singer at the helm though, is a visually stunning but ultimately unfulfilling movie. Singer chose to focus on his central theme of alienation at the expense of all other aspects of the movie, to the point where the action, characters, and plot seem tacked on and forced - an afterthought, for the most part. Some of the action scenes are indeed quite spectacular, noticeably that one plane-crash, made all the more visceral in IMAX-3D ... but I was left wanting more, left asking "is that all you've got?" The power of Superman is that I am still buzzing from those opening credits alone, and I still feel like I'm sitting here, waiting for the REAL Superman to return after the infinite promise of those opening credits, those credits that promise a bright world of super-powered heroism and idealism, of dastardly villainy, of monsters, aliens, spaceships, romance, and great adventure - a world where you can believe in truth and justice and the American Way, where you can believe that a Man Can Fly. I wanted THAT movie so badly, and what I was left with had its moments, but was weighed down by too many glaring flaws to overlook. Don't believe the hype - this is not quite the Superman we've been waiting for.

My Grade: C+

NEXT: What I would do for Superman Returns: The Sequels ...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Blog of Steel: The Best Ever Superman Writers and Artists, as Superman Week Continues

Man, finally, a day to just come home and chill after a long day of work. Gotta rest up, because tommorow is gonna be huge. Work, dinner with the visiting Yanofsky family from CT, and then over to Universal Citywalk, to take in Superman Returns in full-on IMAX 3-D, baby.

The reviews for Superman have been pretty interesting. I notice that those who hold Donner's movies in the highest regard - aka those who were between 5 and 15 when the first Superman was released in theaters - have almost always given Bryan Singer's latest effort excellent reviews, often invoking nostalgic feelings for those old films that the new one evoked. Roger Ebert today gave the movie a fairly mediocre review, although at this point, Ebert's opinion is almost hard to take at face value - the guy seems to just be kind of marching to the beat of his own drummer at this point, and I don't mean that in a good way. Harry Knowle's hyperbolic review on Ain't It Cool was predictably laced with over the top fanboyish love for Superman Returns. His reviews are always fun reads, especially as a way of getting hyped up for a movie, but Harry's reviews are often totally written within such a specific context - in line with his own unique fetishes and sensibilities - that rarely on a movie like this one do you get a balanced review. Which is, often, great. I wish more reviewers would allow themselves to geek out on occasion and just rave about the utter coolness of a movie when appropriate. But with Superman Returns, I knew right away that Harry Knowle's love for the Donner movies would put his sensibilities in conflict with my own desire to see a reimagined Superman for the big screen that reflects the post-John Bryne/Man of Steel comic book era - the era that I've grown up reading and the one that taught me to love all things Superman.

So I have a pretty strong feeling that my own opinion will line up more with that of Aint It Cool's most balanced and sensible reviewer, Moriarity, who liked the movie but found a number of issues with its plot and overall direction that it set up for the relaunched franchise. I doubt I will dislike it as much as Ebert, but I already have enough issues with the characters and plot (Lex Luthor played for camp, the son, ties to the Donner movies, Bosworth as Lois, lack of action / superheroics, etc) that it will take a lot to win me over completely.

But dammit all, it IS Superman. When I hear that iconic John Williams score and suddenly believe again that a Man Can Fly, in 3-D IMAX no less ... well, that alone is gonna freakin' rock.

So anyways, as I did with Batman last year in honor of the seminal Batman Begins, I wanted to run down some of the best ever Superman writers and artists - pay tribute to the men who kept the Superman legacy going strong all these years. Unlike Batman, may of Superman's most memorable stories were published well before I was born, and many have a particular fondness for the strange and often surreal Superman stories of the 50's, 60's, and 70's (see Grant Morrison's current All-Star Superman for a modern spin on this era). So this list will definitely have more of a modern slant to it, though I will try to acknowledge some of the greats of the past whom I am familiar with.


10. Joe Kelly - While Joe Kelly's early 00's run on Superman could almost be said to be more miss than hit, Kelly skyrocketed to the top of the Superman canon with the insta-classic Action Comics 775, one of the Best Superman stories -- ever. Kelly is a global thinker, interested in politics almost to a fault, but he created Manchester Black, the best new Superman villain of the last decade, and a worthy ideological opponent for the Man of Steal. With Action 775, he singlehandedly reminded us why we should give a damn about Superman in a post-9/11 world.

9. Mark Waid - Waid hasn't written much Superman - he is better known for his lengthy, acclaimed run on The Flash. But Waid went from cult fave to bonafide superstar with his work on Kingdom Come - the best Superman story ever, in my opinion. Waid wrote Superman as conflicted, losing touch with the times, but ready to reassert himself and reclaim his greatness. His Superman was, simply, awe-inspiring.

8. Jeph Loeb - After writing one of the best modern Batman stories in The Long Halloween, Loeb did the same for Superman with For All Season, one of the most heart-filled, character-driven, simple-yet-powerful Superman stories ever. While Loeb's widescreen, action-packed run on the mainline Superman titles had its ups and downs, his For All Seasons was a testament to his full potential as a writer able to humanize a character as iconic as Superman.

7. Karl Kessell - Kessell on Superman was simply rock solid. For years in the 90's, Karl Kessell was the most consistent, the most imaginative, the most fun to read of any of the many Superman writers of the era. With a love for the old Kirby-created characters, Kessell embraced Superman's crazier elements and ran with them. His ability to reinvigorate old characters like Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, while creating fan-fave new ones, like the cloned Kon-El, the latest version of Superboy, was unmatched. And in his great Final Night series, Kessell did one of the best ever depictions of a powerless Superman who was a hero with or without superpowers.

6. Dan Jurgens - Say what you will about Jurgens - his clunky dialogue, his participation as writer of a number of lackluster, event-driven "events," but the man knew what made Superman, and us as Super-fans, tick. Few others could have driven the Death of Superman and made it as epic, as attention-grabbing, and as, well, huge, as it was. It's funny though, because soe of Jurgens best work was in his smaller-scale, one-off stories. But he'll be remembered as the man behind the revival in Superman's popularity for the modern age.

5. Roger Stern - Like Kessell, Stern was simply a rock-solid writer. He was the lead writer of Superman comics for much of the 80's and 90's, and after John Bryne's departure he basically shaped the modern Superman canon. The modern takes on the Eradicator, Supergirl, Superman's first forays with time travel ... hell, Superman's relationship with Lois Lane and eventual engagement / marriage -- all stemmed from Stern's steady guidance of the superman mythos. For an excellent non-comics look at Stern's grasp of Superman, check out his great novelization of the Death and Return of Superman - the man knows his Superman, plain and simple, and knows how to make modern mythology in comics form.

4. Elliot S! Maggin - I admit that I haven't read a great deal of Maggin's work. But what I know of him tells me that he is one of the great writers of Superman from the 70's and 80's, a guy who wrote the kind of simple, iconic tales that kids will forever remember as being their favorites long into adulthood. Maggin was a real story guy, a guy who for years put Superman in new situations, introduced him to new and strange characters, and was a real creative force that elevated Superman stories to an as-of-then unprecedented quality and sophistication.

3. Jerry Siegal - What can one say about one half of the team who started it all? The writer of the Siegal-Schuster duo, Jerry Siegal crafted one of the most enduring characters of all time, up there with Odysseus, Zorro, and Moses himself.

2. Alan Moore - Again, what can one say about Alan Moore? The man is bar none one of the best WRITERS of the 20th century, and we as Superman fans are lucky to have his contributions to Superman. Moore simply understands good storytelling - how to conjure emotion, to draw on nostalgia, and yet how to give us something we've never, ever seen before. Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tommorow?" is an amazing piece of storytelling - for many the best Superman story ever told. In fact, the handful of Superman stories Moore has written are all among the character's best and most memorable. If you've never read "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tommorow" or "For the Man Who Has Everything," go to a bookstore, buy the Best of Alan Moore DC Universe collection, and enjoy.

1. John Byrne - Byrne is a controversial guy of late. But in the 80's, the man could do no wrong. As a writer and artist, he came off of the definitive run on X-Men and then made it his mission to reinvent Superman in 1986. And twenty years later, John Byrne's Man of Steel miniseries is still THE definitive template for the modern day incarnation of Superman. Who is Superman vs. Clark Kent? Lois Lane? Lex Luthor? Lana Lang? Jonathan and Martha Kent? How does Superman feel about Batman? Byrne gave new answers to these questions and totally reshaped Superman ... for the better, giving us a more relatable, cooler, Superman - where Clark Kent was the real guy and Superman the facade. Where Lex Luthor was a power-hungry businessman. Where Lois was a modern woman who could hold her own. Without John Byrne's Man of Steel, there'd be no Lois and Clark, no Smallville, and Superman would still be stuck in the 1930's.

Honorable Mentions: Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Marv Wolfman


10. Stuart Immonen - In the 90's on Action Comics and to this day, in works like Superman: Secret Identity, Stuart Immonen presented an almost photo-realistic Man of Steel with a hint of painterliness. With realistic forms yet almost etheral textures, Immonen is one of the defining modern artists when it comes to Superman.

9. Ed McGuinness - Combining traditional American comicbook style with the exaggerated proportions and kinetic energy of Japanese manga, McGuinness has been a breath of fresh air to Superman in te last several years. Often teaming with writer Jeph Loeb, Ed's over the top style suits Loeb's blockbuster action-movie storylines to a T.

8. George Perez - As penciller of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, Perez drew hundereds of characters with an unprecedented, almost insane level of detail. But he also got to draw some of the all-time iconic and memorable Superman scenes and covers. His Crisis cover with Superman holding a slain Supergirl, as tears roll down his eyes, is one of the greatest and most imitated comic covers of all time. And his depictions of Supermen of multiple earths are classic. Perez's classical, quintissential comicbook style is perfectly suited for the quintessential comicbook character in Superman.

7. Max Fleischer - not a comicbook artist, but one of the artists responsible for some of the most amazing Superman art of all time - the original Superman animated series from the 1940's. using ahead-of-its-time rotoscoping techniques, Fleischer gave his Superman ultra-realistic animation, but infused his cartoons with an ultra-stylized, art-deco aesthetic that to this day, is simply mesmerizing to behold.

6. Joe Schuster - Again, what can you say? The man created one of the most iconic images of our time - the classic red and blue costume, the spit-curl, the origin, the green planet krypton with its red sun. Superman was the artistic template by which countless other heroes come. Visually, Schuster pretty much invented the modern superhero - one of the great American artistic creations of all time. Though his art could be crude and simple, Schuster's skill as a cretor and artistic visionary is indisputable.

5. Tom Grummett - Grummett, in my opinion, is one of the great underrated artists. Perhaps it's because his style isn't particularly flashy, almost a throwback to an earlier era - but for my money, this guy along with Dan Jurgens is perhaps not only the definitive Superman artist of the 90's, but maybe the definitive DC Comics artist. Look at his work. It's so smooth, so seamless - with the pristine qulaity of a Disney animation cell, yet the detail and cool factor of the best modern comic artists. His Superman is just right - traditional yet modern, realistic yet perfectly cartoony. During the 90's, Grummet had to draw all kinds of crazy stuff, yet always brought a workmanlike consistency and quality. It's a testament to how good the guy is that he was literally the ONLY artist who could actually make the electro-blue Superman suit look cool, and THAT is quite the achievement.

4. Dan Jurgens - Like Grummett, Jurgens was consistent as hell in the 90's. But Jurgens gave his superman that little extra oomph that Grummet lacked - a little more muscle, a little more energy, and a real sense of kick-ass coolness. Superman never looked cooler than when Jurgens drew him in the 90's. Jurgens made Supes' fight to the death with Doomsday a truly epic event, all because of the larger than life art and sense of scope it brought to the story. Jurgens' art was just crackling with power. When he drew Darkseid preparing to fight Doomsday in Superman / Doomsday, Hunter / Prey - it was a real holy $#&% moment. And Dan Jurgens did those huge, intense moments better than anyone.

3. Alex Ross - At this point, for me, THE definitive image of Superman is Superman as painted by Alex Ross. Ross' dramatic, iconic style is perfect for the Man of Steel, and his paintings of Superman in works like Kingdom Come and Peace on Earth are simply awe-inspiring. PErhaps my all-time favorite Superman comic book panel was the Alex Ross painting on the last page of Kingdom Come # 1. Talk about Superman Returns - if there was ever a moment in a comic that gave me chills from the ART ALONE - this may have been it. Nobody does Superman like Alex Ross - he paints Superman with the same reverence and gravitas that the great renaissance painters reserved for any of their subjects.

2. John Byrne - Yup, not only was Byrne the reshaper of Superman's mythos as a writer, he also drew those same stories himself and was one hell of an artist. For many, Byrne's cleanly drawn, dynamic version of Superman from the 1980's is THE definitive rendition. Byrne redefined Superman, Lex, Lois, Smallville, and Metropolis not only as a writer but as an artist - putting a modern, yet timeless, sheen on the classic characters. Take a look at the Man of Steel by Byrne ... the bold design, the iconic character designs, the clean lines, the personality inherent in the characters -- this is a canonical version of Superman, no question - an artistic template that would stand for years and stands to this day.

1. Curt Swan - Think Superman. Think classic. Think of Superman talkign with Jerry Seinfeld in that TV commercial from a few years back. More than likely, you're now thinking of Superman as drawn by the late, great Curt Swan. Swan just had that classic sense of dynamism and motion - that simple, elegant, yet instantly identifiable take on Superman that became closely associated with Superman to the point of practically being THE artistic depiction most recognized around the world. Before I discovered Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tommorow," I mostly though of Swan as an old-school penciller whose Superman was dated and not for me. But after seeing how amazingly Swan's art fit Moore's dark yet nostalgic, hopeful yet melancholy epic, I changed my tune ... this guy was the real deal, then or now - THE Superman artist of the 70's, 80's, or any age for that matter. Curt Swan's Superman is a classic that will forever be associated with the world's original superhero.

Honorable Mentions: Dick Giordano, Jerry Ordway, Jim Lee, Bruce Timm




Alright - good times. Tommorow is the day, Superman Returns.

Can't wait.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Man of Tommorow and Tommorowland: Return to Disney and Superman Returns - Superman Countdown Special!

I have returned - fresh from a big weekend and ready for the week ahead. Okay, scratch that. What I mean is, totally exhausted from a big weekend and ready to collapse on my bed and shrivel into a ball of protoplasm. This week marks the long, Long, LONG awaited premiere of Superman Returns, and despite all of my skepticism, frustration, and disagreement with the direction that this franchise seems to be taking, I am at the point now where I am simply putting all of that cynicism aside and just letting myself be enveloped by the sheer hype of THE FIRST LEGIT SUPERMAN MOVIE OF MY LIFETIME. What can I say - I'm a fanboy, through and through. We live for this stuff, and all we really want is to just get swept away in the hype and believe that a man can fly. So I'm doing my best right now to suppress whatever prejudices I have about the direction of the movie and just let my inner ten year old be in control from this point until Thursday night. The best part is that my tix are locked and loaded to see the movie in 3-D IMAX, so no matter what, there are bound to be action sequences that simply amaze and dazzle due to the sheer sensory overload of being assaulted from all sides by Superman doing super stuff in full IMAX 3-D. Yeah, it's game time baby.

But before I get to the Superman stuff ...

- This weekend, yesterday in fact, myself and six others decided to put aside other obligations and spend our Sunday immersed in Walt Disney-approved fun - that's right, day at Disneyland~! Although a large part of my brain told me not to wake up so early on a Sunday, I somehow did and the day was a go. All of us had a great time. We hit up all the big rides - Splash, Big Thunder, and (WHOOO!) Space Mountain - The Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn, Indiana Jones, and darn it all, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Buzz Lightyear, Star Tours, Honey I Shrunk The Audience, and the Jungle Cruise. The only missing piece of the equation was Pirates of the Carribean, still closed for one more day until it reopened with incorporated bits of movie-inspired animatronic action. It would have been cool to check out the newly refurbished Pirates - but alas (and ahoy!) it wasn't meant to be. They actually did open the ride up briefly for a test run or two, but the line was so long that we went elsewhere, not realizing that it was only open temporarily. Oh well - Pirates or not, we still had an awesome time, even in spite of the suffocating heat. I know that I for one, while not quite the hardcore Disneyland afficionado like some of my NBC colleagues, am a huge fan of the artistry that spills forth from every crack and corner of the Disney theme parks, and enjoy just going to Disney and soaking in the atmosphere and appreciating the craftsmanship. As I've said before on this blog, rides like the Haunted Mansion truly are akin to four-dimensional works of art, and the effects on even an aging ride like the Mansion still invoke awe and wonder for their sheer artistry and "how-did-they-do-that" factor. I will say though that even as the classics like the Haunted Mansion and Pirates remain ageless, some of the "newer" stuff is very dated. Star Tours, for example, sorely needs an upgrade, and its noticably outdated technology really stands out to all but the youngest and undiscerning of Star Wars fans.

In any case though, I love what Disney stands for and I am almost always up for a trip to a Disney Park. Well, at least generously spaced-out trips - a day at Disney is friggin' exhausting! I barely made it through work today and was counting the minutes until I could head out and head home. But Disney was good times -- Thunder Mountain, hoooo!

- Speaking of work, whoever stocks our fridge needs to fill er up with some cans of Diet Coke asap! When I was paging it up in development, a poorly-stocked fridge would have meant certain doom.

- Also, it was good times this weekend partying at a Adam Blumenfeld-sponsored event. Adam's friend hosted a huge-ass party in West LA, and after so frequently reading Adam's hyperbole-laced away-messages describing the events he's attending on any given night (the man never rests), it was a thrill to finally be a part of one of Adam's trademark insane events, where pages old and new let off steam and brought the party to the party.

- Anyways, let's talk SUPERMAN:

- The Superman festivities kick off TOMMOROW - as I will be personally hosting my inaugural Summer Movie Night of the Week with a double-feature of the classic Superman and Superman II. Kneel before Zod, indeed. While I have my issues with those movies (can you say turning back time by reversing the planet's rotation?!?!), watching them again should be an excellent primer for Thursday's 3-D IMAX big-screen quasi-sequal.

- Now, a few weeks back I did my Best Superman Stories of All-Time mega-post. But what I DIDN'T talk about in that post was the high quality of Superman material being published RIGHT NOW. So for anyone riding the wave of Superman hype and looking for some quality ongoing Superman reading, you are in luck, because the ongoing adventures of the Man of Steel are currently more exciting than they've been in a while. Let me fill the uninitiated in:

As of now, there are two mainline in-continuity Superman comics. You have your Superman, and your Action Comics. Yep - Action Comics, where Superman made his first appearance back in 1938. Right now, one giant storyline is running through both comics - "Up, Up, and Away," an epic tale of a Superman who has lost his powers in the midst of an earth-shattering crisis. A year passes, and Superman has disappeared. The world doesn't know it, but Superman has actually become content with just being plain old Clark Kent, spending time with Lois and doing good not by superheroics but by the noble power of crusading jounalism. But when Lex Luthor resurfaces, so too do Superman's lantent powers, and Superman must return whether he want to or not because only he can stop Lex's latest deadly plot. Written by uber-scribe Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek (writer of Superman: Secret Identity - one of my Top Superman stories EVER), and expertly pencilled by rising star Pete Woods - this is a great jumpin on point for Super fans. And when this story arc is over, never fear - Busiek continues as writer of both Action Comics and Superman, where in one book he is joined by one of the best artists in the biz - Carlos Pacheco, and on the other, a legend in his own right and member of the most respected family of comics -- Adam Kubert. This is gonna be good stuff.

But forgetting the mainline Superman comics, there's something else going on now that is must-read for ANY fan of Supes. I'm talking about the bi-monthly ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by mad genious Grant Morrison with art by the insanely talented and unique Frank Quietly. Anyone who knows comics knows that Morrison is the real deal - a writer who brings a Kirby-like imagination and an almost overwhelming density of ideas to everything he writes. And man, Morrison is bringing his magic touch to ALL-STAR - essentially a reinterpretation of the Superman mythos that draws upon all of the classic elements of the past. But it's no secret what era Morrison loves most - his Superman is like reading a modern update on all the trippiest, craziest, most completely whacked-out Superman sci-fi stories from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. The recent All Star # 4, featuring Jimmy Olsen, was a kind of tribute to Jack Kirby's psychelic Jimmy Olsen stories mixed with 50's science fiction and modern fan-favorites like Doomsday. Quietly's art is suitably stylized, yet ultra-detailed and brimming with little touches that make every scene overlfow with motion. All-Star Superman is out now, and it's fun as all hell. Check it out.

And now ...

While the reviews have been good thus far for Returns, even if it tanks, it still can't be worse than THESE all time low moments for the Man of Tommorow ...


5.) Electro-Superman - Following the runaway sales success of The Death of Superman, DC in the 90's kept looking for outrageous, publicity-grabbing storylines to put Superman through. While some of the event-driven stories were fun, others were just godawful. Take for example the time when DC, to much fanfare, CHANGED SUPERMAN'S COSTUME from the classic suit to an Image Comics-style electric blue leotard. Superman's powers were changed as well - he now had no powers as Clark Kent, but could "turn on" his Superman powers - where, as the blue-skinned Superman, he could , wait for it .. manipulate the electro-magnetic field. Aside from a few good self-contained stories and one great issue of Grant-Morrison penned JLA, this whole ill-conceived concept was an electric-blue bomb.

4.) Supergirl: The Movie - After the success of the Donner Superman movies came this bomb - starring Helen Slater as the Girl of Steel. Lacking any of the quality of the first two Superman movies, Supergirl went down in history as a big-screen bomb that is now something of a B-movie cult classic, a high-profile low-point in Superman's big-screen legacy.

3.) The Superman Movies that Almost-Were: Nicolas Cage As Superman?!?! - Whatever reservations fans may have about Superman Returns, these fears are nothing compared to the sheer horror that might have been had Tim Burton's odd vision, or later, those of other Warner Bros. producers and directors of a possible Superman movie, ever come to light. There were many almosts in the storied history of preproduction on this latest Superman movie, but none, even McG and Brett Ratner as possible directors, were as terrifying as the prospect of Nicolas Cage as Superman, a gay Jimmy Olsen, a see-through, translucent Super-suit, a Kryptonian Lex Luthor, or any of the other misguided attempts at modernizing an icon. Luckily we were spared these abominations, but the ten year period in which fans could do nothing but cringe at each new news bit about the upcoming Superman movie was a low point in and of itself.

2.) The Milking of Doomsday: Like I said in my Greatest Superman Stories Ever post, the Death of Superman, in my mind, was a classic tale. And even its followup, Hunter / Prey, was pretty cool in its own right. But then what happened - Doomsday, the most effective villain introduced into the Superman mythos in years - became a joke. Every other month after the Death, Doomsday seemed to retuen, each time less effective and more of a joke than before. In countless stories - the Doomsday Wars, Day of Doom, Our World's at War, The Last Laugh ... every time you turned around Doomsday was back ad infinitum ... and each time fewer people actually cared. Kind of sad, really.

1.) Superman IV: The Quest For Peace: While not QUITE on the level of the Joel Schumaker Batman films in sheer craptitude, Superman IV was close. Vindicated to a degree only by Christopher Reeve's still-iconic portrayal of Supes, this movie nonetheless remained a campy franchise-killer, pitting Superman against, wait for it ... Nuclear Man, in what amounted to a heavy-handed and just plain bad anti-nuke message-movie. After this movie, it would be two decades before the Superman franchise could return to the screen. And it truly takes somethin' awful to kill the Man of Steel.


5.) Justice League Unlimited - Season 2: Maybe the overall coolest TV adaptation of Superman ever, the second season of Cartoon Network's JLU series showed a Superman who kicked so much ass that he was clearly the top dawg even when in the midst of a literal batallion of hundereds of fellow heroes. This season saw Superman duke it out with Captain Marvel, fight the U.S. government, and even driven to madness in a sweet adaptation of Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything."

4.) The Kents: Superman in a Western ...? Well, not exactly. But in this 12-part epic written by John Ostrander, we follow the lineage of the Kent family as they live through the Civil War, the wild West, and the turn of the century. Structured as a series of letters written by Jonathan Kent to Clark, this is a gripping, dense, and yes, even educational look at the American West, with a slight nod to the Superman mythos and the DC Universe at large. Mixing historical figures like Buffallo Bill with DC Western characters like Jonah Hex, the Kents is a great read that tells us something about the West, the Kents, and Superman himself.

3.) Superman: The Animated Series - Season 2: Superman vs. Darkseid, an alternate reality where Supes is an evil dicator, fun, action, great voice acting? Yep, Season 2 of Dini and Timm's spinoff of Batman: The Animated Series was huge improvement over Season 1, and contained some of the best Superman stories ever put to screen.

2.) Superman fan films - Grayson and World's Finest: Go to, and look up Grayson and World's Finest, respectively -- two Superman fan film trailers that will make any fanboy salivate with the possibilities that these brief trailers put forth. Imagine a world where Robin seeks to avenge Batman's murder, and ocmes face to face with a government-agent hellbent on concealing the truth - an agent by the name of Superman! Imagine a Batman-Superman movie. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, The Joker, Two Face, Catwoman, Lois Lane ... man, this trailer wil lget your adrenaline pumping. These are only trailers for fake movies, but the tantalizing promise of the ultimate fan-friendly Superman films makes them must-sees for any fans of superman.

1.) Karl Kessel and Tom Grummett on SUPERBOY: Right now, nobody by the name of Superboy lives in the DC Universe, or in any other universe, for that matter. Lawsuits by the estates of Siegal and Shuster are currently preventing DC or WB from using the name or likeness of Superboy. But back in the 90's and early 00's, the new version of Superboy - a teenaged clone of Superman introduced during the Death of Superman storyline, had his own series that was an awesome mix of humor, action, and imagination. Writer Karl Kessell made no secret of his love for all things Jack Kirby-created, and every issue of Superboy deliberately channelled the infectiously whimsical and imaginative spirit of Kirby with a modern twist. Superboy was surrounded by Kirby-created characters like Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, Project Cadmus and the Hairies, Dubbilex, Dabney Donovan, Darkseid, and the Zoomway. New characters like Tana Moon, Roxy, Knockout, and a great new villain in Black Zero won the series a cult following. And Tom Grummet's ultra-smooth, always consistent, Disney-like art made the series pop off the page like a classic cartoon series come to life. The series' high point was probably the multi-part Hyper-Crisis story, where Superboy breached the dimensional barrier and went on a twisting adventure though hypertime. Superboy, or Kon-El as Kessel eventually named him, became a fan-favorite character thanks to this great series (he even had his oen brief spinoff, Superboy and the Ravers) , which made fans all the more saddened by his recent death in the Infinite Crisis series. But while SUPERBOY never achieved huge sales, it was an awesomely-illustrated, imaginatively written, and highly underrated series.

Alright - that's it for now - back later this week with more. Until next time ...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Life is a Highway: CARS review, NBA Finals, and MORE

All right ... what do we have on the table for today?

- Well, I feel like I accomplished something this week in that I got applications out in the nick of time for two writing contests that had their deadlines over the last few days. Early this week I submitted a newly-streamlined draft of IBA: The Movie to the Final Draft Big Break screenwriting contest, and just yesterday I sent out my application to ABC / Disney's Writing Fellowship Program. That one was quite a process to apply to. I submitted a spec script of The Simpsons, a resume, one page biography, and an application form that had to be notarized with an official seal. Luckily I found someone to help me out with that at NBC, for a while there I had no idea where to go to find a notary. But yeah, who knows what, if any, chance I have of success with these applications, but I'm just glad I got my materials in on time and am now in the running.

- Otherwise, work is slowing down as the week wraps up. Both of the guys I report to are in NYC until Monday for a conference, so I'm in a weird limbo phase where I am kind of holding down the fort with I-Tunes, but can't really give anyone definitive answers on things since I don't want to make decisions without first getting approval. I have people calling and emailing me from Bravo, SciFi, USA, and NBC, all curious about the status of their shows on I-Tunes. So it's a delicate balancing act.


- So congrats to the Miami Heat on their first NBA championship. I have to say I'm pretty shocked that they won in 6 after being down 2-0 ... Dallas really fell apart in many ways and I think they have to get a lot more tough if they want to win a championship. Dirk Nowitzki is unquestionably a great player, but he just seems to disappear at the most inopportune moments. His fourth quarter in game 6 was just unbelievably nonexistent. The true greats own fourth quarters in big games, and we are starting to see D. Wade get to that level where he is just magic when it counts the most. But man, the Heat sure does have its share of annoying players. What's with Antoine Walker getting a cheap foul called against him, flopping, and then shimmying for the camera like he had just done something spectacular? And how about Gary Payton ... mouthing off to the refs to the point where he lost the ball to a steal at a crucial juncture of the game? Walker played pretty well in Game 6, but I have to think that the Heat, for the most part, got to the Finals in spite of and not because of the constant posturing, ill-advised shot-selection, and other "contributions" of Walker and Payton. One guy I am happy for on the other hand is Alonzo Mourning. While his "I-am-Warrior" attitude can be annoying, he has undeniably suffered through a lot, and he deserves to win a championship with the Heat - a team he carried in the playoffs for many years along with his running buddy Tim Hardaway. Man, I used to love that Zo-Hardaway-led Heat team - a squad that even pushed the Jordan-led Bulls to the brink a few times. I only wish T. Hardaway could have been a part of this championship run rather than coattail-riding Payton. As for Shaq and Wade ... these playoffs showed that Shaq is now firmly in the latter stages of his career, where he isn't always going to dominate like he used to. But he's paired with one of the top 5 guys in the league, Wade, so the combo works.

If nothing else, this Finals was a return to the fun, personality-driven matchups of years past. Unlike the endlessly bland series of Detroit vs. San Antonio, this Finals had all the bigtime matchups and built-in drama you could want. While only the last two games were classics, as a whole it was a lot of fun to watch, even if (aside from their odd yet cool use of Tom Petty music), I still find ABC's coverage kind of lacking. The commentary is passable, but the halftime shows are near unwatchable and the presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, it's been a good NBA season, despite the league now being totally different from the on I grew up watching. It's funny though how there's like a whole lost generation of superstars - the guys who should have been leading the league into its next great era over the last few years, who for various reasons just fell by the wayside. Penny Hardaway was totally hobbled by injury, even though he was at one time one of the best in the league. Grant Hill's various ailments have all but ended his career as well. Alonzo Mourning was forced into a reduced role because of illness, Kevin Garnett is wallowing away on the Timberwolves, out of the spotlight, and other players like Jermaine O'Neal, Baron Davis, and others never really stepped up and took their games to the next level. So now it's as if we've skipped a generation, and it's the under-25 crowd that is dominating the league - exhibit A: Dwayne Wade - unofficial leader of the New NBA Generation.

CARS review:

I freaking love Pixar. I know, so does everyone else, but what can I say -- these guys are the Walt Disney Animation Studios of the 21st century, both figuratively and literally. They are churning out movies that are of such high quality that they are almost instant classics. I think the only thing that really limits the perception of their movies is that they come so frequently, unlike the old Disney movies that were years apart in release. But give Pixar credit - while Disney's animated classics mostly had the advantage of being adapted from already-classic stories, Pixar is going out there and coming up with NEW MATERIAL. Amazing, isn't it? In this day and age, where seemingly every high-concept movie is an adaptation of some kind, here is Pixar, creating all-new stories that nonetheless have nearly the power and timelessness of the old Disney classics.

Do I wish that the Disney animation studios were still going strong, producing a steady stream of hand-drawn, traditionally-animated movies? Hells yes - the fall of traditional 2-D animation, especially at Disney where the artform had truly been mastered, is one of the biggest tragedies of modern cinema. And there's no doubt about it - there is an absolute glut right now of computer-animated movies, most of which are crap. During the previews for Cars alone, I saw at least three or four previews for upcoming CGI releases (nearly all featuring talking animals), that had generic art styles, lame pop-culture refernces, and a grating need to be cool and hip, something that the classics were never concerned with.

But amidst that glut of CGI garbage, there is Pixar. Their quality of animation, of voice-acting, and above all story-telling is just amazingly and consistently good. While it can be argued which of their movies are better than others (Monsters, Inc. = underrated, The Incredibles = overrated), all of their movies have that special quality that elevates them above most.

And Cars is no exception.

To be honest, I was never all that excited about Cars. I'm not really a car afficionado, and I have zero interest in NASCAR or any kind of racing. And I'm generally resentful of American car culture and how we insist on these big, polluting vehicles that damage the environment and turn our country into a giant series of highways. But Cars instantly accomplished something that changed my tune. Like walking through the gates of Disneyland, Cars took everything that was fun, cool, nostalgic, and by-God American about cars and presented a whole world that was like some crazy 1950's-tinged themepark ride that could have come right out of the mind of Walt Disney himself. The retro-futuristic neon signs, the utopian visions of the ultra-sleek racetrack - this wasn't a reflection of the world we live in at all. No, Cars is a nostalgic look at a time when cars represented the Great American Ideals of progress, futurism, and good old-fashioned innovation. And suddenly, as I watched the movie, nearly every once of cynicism I had about the movie's premise, the automotive industry, or anything else vanished, and I felt like a little kid visiting Tommorowland. Damn, Pixar is good.

The voice cast of Cars is awesome. Owen Wilson is great as the fittingly named Lightning McQueen - he does his usual Owen Wilson cocky drawl but it fits the character to a T, and Lightning's gradual progression from self-centered racing star to compassionate hero is pretty seamless. Paul Newman - what can I say, he's a legend playing a legend, and he's basically perfect for the part of the old speedster who chose to finally slow down. All the other voices are excellent, even Larry the Cable Guy who provides both the comic relief and the heart and soul of the movie.

My one character complaint: It was a little bit wrong, in my mind, to have so many of the supporting characters be simple caricatures of cultural stereotypes. You had the hippie car, the Hispanic lowrider car, the sassy black woman car, and the over the top Italian car. I wish these supporting characters were a little bit more well-rounded, so to speak. But hey, if you're going to have Mexican and Hippie stock characters, you may as well go all out and get Cheech Marin and George Carlin to voice them. See, even when Pixar does somewhat lame, stock cultural stereotype characters, they do them better than the competition.

Otherwise, Cars was just magic, baby. The racing scenes were some of the most dynamically-directed action I've seen this summer. The visuals were brimming with detail and character. I mean, think about it - they got us as emotionally invested in TALKING CARS as if they were real people. That's no easy feat.

Thematically, I loved this movie's message. I've always been interested in the notion of small-town America, and some of my favorite stories (many by the great Ray Bradbury) deal with this same theme - the nostalgia for the idyllic, small-town America of yesteryear. Being here in the fast-moving world of Hollywood, I definitely felt some parellels with the plight of Lighting McQueen - the conflict between big city livin' and the simple life that lies in some quiet 'burg just off the beaten track. Cars just had this great sense of retro-nostalgia-futurism that brought out the little kid in me. I was legitimately sad when Lightning sees the town of Radiator Springs as it was in its 1950's heydey, and wishes he could have seen it in its prime. I think we, as a country, all feel that nostalgia for the golden age of post-war America, where the future seemed bright as sterling silver and idealism reigned supreme, before the realities and harsh toll of progress and modernity set in. And that's why the Car is so appropriate a metaphor for these characters -- the great symbol of innovation and invention, now a symbol of traffic jams and commutes to work and smog and greenhouse gasses and greedy oil companies. Cars is all about these contradictions, and amazingly is more thematically rich than most live action, "adult" movies I've seen.

Again, few complaints from me. The running time was a little long, and there were some sections that dragged a bit towards the middle of the movie. As I mentioned, some of the characters seemed a little two-dimensional (no pun intended).

But in the end, I came out of Cars thoroughly wowed and impressed -- Pixar had done it again. Cars made me think, it captivated me with its visual spectacle, and invested me in its characters. It had me dreaming of neon signs and small towns and big races - and that's what movies like this are all about, right?

My grade: A -


- The weekend approaches once again. The last few days have been quiet, but I stil lfell like I'm recovering from last weekend combined with the crazy Monday and Tuesday of this week, and the mild trauma of moving into new surroundings at work ... so I am more than ready to relax and recharge this weekend.

- I've had some requests to do an advice column on the blog. I think I probably need my own personal advice columnist and don't know if I'm qualified to be the one dispensing advice. So I don't forsee that happening any time soon.

- Superman's Return is imminent! I'm going to try to do at least one or two more Superman-related columns in the next week. Someone asked me today if Superman comics are even still being published. A fact for those not in the know - Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are the only three charactars that have been continually published in monthly comic format for more that 50 years!

- As for the movie itself though, I am getting a pretty good idea of what to expect, and I just feel kind of letdown at this point. I'm excited sure, but I just feel like they are going in the wrong direction with the franchise on so many levels. Pixar should be commissioned to do an animated Supes movie -- get Brad Bird and co. on that ASAP.

- Alright, it's time to call it a day, blog-writing-wise. As always leave your comments, share your opinions, and DON'T HATE THE PLAYA, HATE THE GAME. Indeed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nacho' Blog: New Office, Nacho Libre Review, and MORE

So here I am in my brand spankin' new office.

And as I peruse one of my new favorite blogs,, I wonder what is going on. Here I am, coming to work wearing khaki pants and a button down shirt, sitting in an office staring at a computer, "managing" things for a large corporation, doing such tasks as making Excel charts, cc'ing people on emails, and trying to figure out the best position for my computer monitor.

Nevertheless, I can't complain too much right now. In a way this could be just the interim position I need to be in before I take some as of yet unknown next step into the Hollywood wilderness. I'm not really doing typical assistant tasks, like rolling calls or anything like that, which is great, as I really can't say I'm a fan of, or particularly skilled at, handling high volumes of phone traffic, especially when the people on the other end are the typical, you know, showbiz types.

This office really is kinda funny though. It's an odd mix of buttoned-up new media people (weird as I think of new media people in the silicon-valley, let's-have-fun with Google! in our funky new-agey office-spaces stereotype), along with the crew from Bravo. 'Nuff said. Not that there's anything wrong with that ...

Anyways, it is what it is. It's too early to really comment, I guess. Today is already much better than yesterday, where I had to arrive at Universal at 8 am to give the movers the go-ahead to move my stuff to Pinnacle. I was totally wiped out from Sunday's NBC Page Bonfire. Even if I hadn't had to wake up so early, I would have been out of it. The early start time combined with the usual weariness that comes with starting in new surroundings made yesterday the longest day ever. I could not wait to bolt out of work and rush home to collapse on my bed and seize all physical / mental function.

On one random note ... I saw JOAN RIVERS, followed by a small crew of assistants, entering the Pinnacle building yesterday, on my first day at work there. OH! OH! Haha, very odd. By all acouunts - the way she walked, moved, her posture - she was every bit the 70-something elderly Jewish woman she actually is. Just one who happens to have a freakishly smooth face. Presumably she was there to meet with Bravo or something, but who knows.

But getting away from all this work crap ...


What does this mean for YOU?!?! Well, it means that, as an added stipulation to our wager, ou will soon see a special edition of the blog that is written by special-guest contributor Abby! I know, I know, it should be interesting ...

But, about Nacho:

Nacho still took in a nifty 27 million or so, but I admit that 40 mil was a bit of a bold prediction on my part. With something that attracts a cult audience, it's really hard to tell just how big that audience actually is, because all the internet chatter, t-shirt sales, etc can at times lead one to overestimate something's actual fanbase. I think Nacho probably did perform VERY well in its targeted demo of kids and teens. It's problem was that unlike, say, the Wedding Crashers, most people over 35 probably have no clue why Jack Black in a lucha libre mask is supposed to be funny. Napoleon Dynamite launched with little fanfare and soon became a cult, near-mainstream hit. Nacho had all the expectations of a post-Napoleon landscape riding on its shoulders, and the starpower of Jack Black to boot, so it definitely carried with it a lot of hype. The funny thing is that critics and even audiences seemed surprised to find not a "Jack Black movie" (whatever that is) but a Jared Hess movie -- quirky and simplistic, anything but conventional, and unique in its deadpan style of humor.

So yes, I lost the bet, but I think that Nacho is a great second effort from Hess that will have pretty good legs at the box office and do great on DVD as well.

And now, on to the REVIEW ...

But first off, a word on critics.

Every critic has moments where they win or lose you. Of course, you can't agree with a particular critic 100 % of the time, but sometimes a critic's particular review is either so in line with your own sensibilities, or so out of whack, that you look at them in a whole new light. For years growing up, I would read the Hartford Courant's movie reviews and HATE what I saw. The hack critic at the Courant, I believe he was named Malcolm Johnson, was TERRIBLE. He basically hated everything unless it was a classic, Oscar-baiting white-collar piece of cinema. He gave all action, sci-fi, horror, and kids movies bad reviews. Of course, he didn't like most comedies either. And his reviews spent three quarters of the allotted space detailing the movie's plot, even if it was, say, Judge Dread. He never placed movies within the context of their genre, and never really explained why he did or didn't like a movie except in brief sentances praising the acting or direction. So yeah, Malcolm whatever-his-name-was lost me at a very young age.

But then I discovered Gene Siskel. Yes, of Siskel and Ebert. Siskel gave a little known movie that I loved called Dark City a great review - one of the only critics to do so at its release. At that moment, I was a Siskel fan.

Ain't It Cool News had my loyalty from the moment I discovered where it was coming from. A bunch of geeks who got so mad with the atrocities that Joel Schumaker committed to the Batman franchise that they vowed to scrutinize all genre films to the Nth degree.

Anyways, I have always been an Owen Glieberman fan from EW. He seems to be a real "pop culture" reviewer, recognizing when something is cool, new, different, or just plain exciting in terms of filmmaking. He is one of my go-to reviewers for mainstream drama, action, or scifi movies because his assessments are usually fair and well-explained. But now, I think Owen has lost me. Just as I don't know if I can look at Roger Ebert quite the same way after his recent, totally insane, in-character-as-Garfield review of Garfield 2, I don't know if I can trust Glieberman on comedies anymore.

His review of Nacho Libre was just terrible. He gave the movie a D+. What?!?! On what grading scale is Nacho Libre a D+ ? And his reasons for disliking it were completely inane. He compared it to movies like Tommy Boy that he disliked but then went on to appreciate once he caught them on late-night cable. Except he predicted that even repeated late night cable viewings of Nacho would not change his opinion. Owen came at his review from the completely wrong angle, and it leads me to believe that his comedic sensibilities are just not very good.

Just one more elaboration on why you can rarely trust critics when it comes to certain types of comedies.

- Now, SUPERMAN RETURNS ... it's getting stellar reviews from numerous sources, which in a way is getting me more excited to see it. BUT. Here's the thing with superhero movies. Most mainstream critics want their superhero movies to be as un-superhero-y as possible. They don't care about the source material, or the expectations of the fanbase (action! actual superheroics! a great villain! kickass-ness!). Still, recent superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, and Batman Begins, have been able to please both fans and mainstream critics by working as mainstream films AND being true to their source material. It's been a while since there's been a GOOD superhero movie that was a GOOD MOVIE but NOT in line with fan expectations. The Hulk might be an example. Or Tim Burton's Batman. Or yes, Richard Donner's SUPERMAN films.

So that's what Superman Returns is shaping up to be -- a good, maybe great movie in and of itself, that still, is not even close to what I want a Superman movie to be.

Right, back to Nacho ....


I honestly thought that Nacho was a great comedy. Was it perfect? No. Was it the same blast of new-style comedy that Napoleon Dynamite was in the summer of 2004? Nope. But was it a funny, heart-filled, enjoyable comedy from start to finish? Hells yes.

I love this style of comedy. It's light-hearted, kid-appropriate, and innocent without losing its bite. Some have called Jared Hess' pension for oddball characters condescending, but I don't think that's the case at all. I think Hess' affection for his characters always shines through. And as one review I read puts it, what Hess does, in a way, is that he creates offbeat, slightly surreal worlds for his characters to inhabit that are probably not too far off from how the characters themselves see things through their eyes. In Napoleon Dynamite, the entire movie takes on the cartoony nature of one of Napoleon's quirky notebook doodles. In Nacho Libre, the entire movie, similarly, feels like a storybook that Nacho himself may have cobbled together for the orphans that he looks after. And I don't think that's condescending, just having a unique, funny, quirky vision for your movie's universe and characters.

Like Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho is filled with lines that are funny just because of how they are said. Jack Black's eyebrow-raising as he tells his nun friend about "lucha libre." His mopey angst at having no good "duties." You want to repeat every line after it is said just because the actors are having so much fun with what they are saying.

"I believe in Science."

"It is true ... I am Nacho."

"I was in ... the wilderness."

Just the way that Hess, writer Mike White, and the actors have so much fun playing around with words and ways of speaking is great. It makes dialogue that looks flimsy on paper instantly quotable, and every line infinitely memorable. The simplicity with which Hess and co create comedy is really pretty amazing.

Now so many critics say Napoleon Dynamite had no heart, which I don't see at all. I think that movie is full of heart, in its own way. But Nacho wears its heart on its sleeve. This movie is all heart, but not in a way that is disagreeable. It's all heart in the manner of Doug, or Pete and Pete, or the other classic Nickelodeon shows (this is a Nickelodeon film, after all), where its quirkiness and simplistic, kid-friendly charm wins you over and you begin to unapologetically root for the hero as if you've never seen another underdog-does-good movie before.

Jack Black is very funny as Nacho - his bombastic, flashy ring persona is constantly pushing to escape his subdued, restrained humble orphanage cook persona. Like all of us, he dreams of a better life of fame and fortune, not by being a movie star, but as a luchador - a participant in the high-flying, free-form style of Mexican wrestling known as Lucha Libre.

I love the absurdity of Lucha Libre. In Mexico, there is a real air of legitimacy around wrestling in that it's stars are treated as real-life superheroes, and the identities of masked wrestlers are kept completely secret. Losing one's mask is considered as being shamed, and so masked luchadors never remove heir masks when in public. Nacho plays up the absurdities of lucha libre, but revels in its fun. Obviously, Jared Hess has a real passion for the strange world of lucha libre, and that passion comes through throughout the movie. Like with Napoleon, he is pointing out the inherent absurdities of this world, but in a way that is so filled with passion so as to negate any perceived meanness.

Again, this movie was not perfect. The build-up to Nacho's climactic wrestling match was pretty short, and his archrival Ramses was not given much personality except as Stock Badguy #1. Some of the scenes fell a little flat, but that's to be expected in a movie where practically every word or twitch of Jack Black's eyebrow is a potential punchline. Also, Nacho's lust for his long-lashed nun friend seemed almost tragic -- we are happy for their friendship but the lack of possibility for romance is kind of an odd way to setup these two characters. I guess it's the mormon version of a romantic subplot ...?

Anyways, I had a ton of fun with this movie, and look forward to seeing it again and reliving all the funny lines and moments. I hope that more of these comedies come down the pipeline, as they are a great alternative to the latest Obnoxious Guy-Woos-Woman-And-Wins-Us-Over frat pack comedy. I'm happy that kids have movies like these to enjoy, that inspire and excite without the usual endless stream of PG-13 sex jokes.

D+? No way. Gliberman, come out of your cynical cave of poor comedic taste and embrace your inner luchador. I know I have.

My Grade: A -


- This past weekend was good times all around. KC, Whitney, and Megan's party on Saturday was most excellent, and the 2nd Annual NBC Page Bonfire (my first as a former page) was great times, even if the traffic to and from Dockweiller Beach near LAX was horrendous. Still, it was great to see all the old-school NBC peeps this weekend, as well as to meet the new class of NBC Pages (by new class I mean anyone who started after I finished). Footballs were thrown, sandwiches were eaten, stories told 'round the bonfire, and good times for all. Have I mentioned it was good times?

- NBA FINALS tonight .... daaaaaaaaamn. It's on now.

- Long entry, I know. I've got more to say but no more time to say it. Peace out for now.

NACHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooo ..........

Friday, June 16, 2006

Live From Universal Studios Hollywood: One Last Time!

And so, once more, change is coming.

Today marks my last day over at Universal Studios. While I'll basically be continuing with the same job, at least for now, starting Monday, I'll be in the Pinnacle building in Burbank where NBC has offices. Very nice, swanky offices I might add.

And, oh yeah ... did I mention I will have my OWN office?!?!

Oh yes, you read that right, humanoids (note how i'm already more condescending now that I have my own office).

Seriously though, this move will be interesting. I'll be sharing office space with NBC's new media group as well as the folks at Bravo. Yes, Bravo, home of Project Runway and Inside the Actor's Studio. Look out.

I will be continuing, basically, with the same I-Tunes job as usual, though with some added responsibility since former I-Tunes guru Lloyd Scott is now over at MGM. Again, this should be interesting ...

They do seem to run a tight ship over at the Pinnacle building though. The office manager there made it pretty clear that there's to be no jeans worn to work, and implied that i had best be in by 9 am every day. I know, I know, no jeans and 9 am is par for the course for most, but I guess I've just been spoiled over here in the wild wild west of the 2160 Building on the Universal Lot.

And even though I don't think I've had a chance to REALLY take advantage of my time at Universal, it's still been cool. Universal - the home of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolfman. King Kong, E.T., and Jurassic Park. Back to the Future, Jaws, and dammit all, Van Helsing. It's been fun. Right now I can walk out of my office and peak into a giant soundstage and see an army of workers constructing a giant replica of Noah's freakin' Ark for the new movie Evan Almighty with Steve Carell. I work in a lot that is connected to friggin' theme park. How cool is that? I'll miss eating outside in the Backlot Cafe and pretending I was famous as the tram tours rolled by. I'll miss the commisary, with its elaborate wall-collage of classic movie posters from the golden age of cinema. I'll miss my occasional lunch-runs to Citywalk. It was cool to work on a movie lot, no doubt about it.

I do wish I had had a few more laid back days here where friends and I could have blown off work and gone to the park to ride Jurrasic Park and The Mummy. And I never really felt like I saw anything REALLY cool going on here that would have been the quintissential working-on-a-movie-lot experience. And yeah, as I've mentioned many times, being on this crazy-empty 7th floor had its perks, sure, but being so isolated was kind of maddening at times as well. Although ... as I sit here, writing on my blog, watching a tape of last week's MTV Movie Awards, and multi-tasking like nobody's business ... man, I don't think I'm going to be in this position again anytime soon. I've had it pretty good, folks. Now, onto the next phase. Bring it on ( I think ...?).


- Nachoooooooooooo! Tonight I venture out with a band of lucha-libre faithful to see Jack Black don the sacred mask of the luchador. Should be good times, and I personally am standing by my prediction of a $40 Million + opening weekend. Remember folks, there's a lunch riding on this, so a lot is at stake here! What do you think? Post your predictions NOW.

Nacho Libre - over or under $40 mil opening weekend? What do YOU think?

But come on people, I've heard the critics, and obviously I won't know what to think of the movie until I've seen it for myself. But can any fan of movie comedy honestly trust the critics when it comes to movies like this? Hells no, I say. Now I am always curious what the critics say about movies. EW, Ain't It Cool, Ebert, whoever. But I remember EW calling Napoleon Dynamite one of the worst movies of the year it was released! Now yes, different strokes for different folks, but that's why you can't trust reviewers when it comes to comedy, especially the quirkier ones that don't fall into one specific subgenre (ie sports comedy, romantic comedy, buddy comedy, action-comedy, etc.) where there is an already-established canon of great movies to make for ease of comparison.

I mean, let's look at some of my favorite comedies, most of which have big followings. Many not only did poor box office, but got poor reviews upon release. Wet Hot American Summer - one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, yet most critics either panned it or misguidedly praised it as a satire of 80's summer camp movies, which it wasn't really. Big Lebowski - John Goodman should have won a freaking Oscar for this, yet upon its release the movie was totally misunderstood by most critics. Yet it reamins one of the best movies of all time, period. Mallrats - in it's own way, as funny as Clerks, yet critics HATED it even as it established the cult of Kevin Smith. Napoleon Dynamite - one of the most unique comedies ever, and deserving of its huge following, yet critics panned it as condescending and lacking heart which I think is anything but the truth.

So yeah, screw the critics when it comes to most comedies. Just about the only modern comedies I can think of that receive universal praise from fans and critics are the Christopher Guest mockumentaries (Best in Show, Waiting For Guffman, A Mighty Wind), and I think that's partly due to those movies wearing their intelligence on their sleeve rather than hiding it beneath the layers of lower-brow (but still gut-bustingly funny) comedy that movies like Lebowski have.

I mean, I don't think most movie lovers are going to protest the poor reviews for the latest Rob Schneider vehicle, but ... critics are always WAY behind the curve when it comes to cult comedy.

Look at the Simpsons ... what critics were hailing it as one of the best shows ever when it was actually in it's prime in the 90's? People were too busy calling it subversive and a poor influence on kids to recognize its brilliance. Only much later did the mainstream press look back and say "oh yeah, it WAS pretty good."

Get my point? Good.



Wow, Miami is back. Ladies and gentleman, we have ourselves a series. At some points in this series, with Shaq, 'Zo, and Payton on its roster, Miami has reminded me of the ill-fated Houston Rockets dream team of the late 90's with aging stars Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwuan, and Scottie Pippen. Each star seemed to alternatively relive their glory days on given nights, but it was rare that the team was firing on all cylinders. Of course, Shaq is probably more effective now that Hakeem was at the time, and then there's Dwayne Wade. The team will go as far as Wade can carry them, so it's definitely anyone's game right now. Things just got a lot more interesting.


Remember when the MTV Awards shows were like THE must-see programs on TV, filled with hilarious sketches populated by the likes of Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, and the like? I do. At least to me, as a kid, I waited in anticipation for the MTV Movie Awards each year as well as the Video Music Awards. just finished watchign this year's movie show on tape. A few funny moments from Steve Carell, Topher Grace, and Jim Carrey, but dayum, this was mostly weak sauce. Not exactly a shocker, I know. But come on, Wedding Crashers as Best Movie? Wasn't even Best Comedy of the year, let alone best movie.

- According to my friend Adriana, who is keeping a cool diary detailing her adventures studying overseas in Hong Kong ... my blog is BANNED BY THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT~! I had a feeling that this blog was an international incident waiting to happen!

Check it out:


Lots of stuff going on, including Nacho, and the 2nd annual Page (and former Page) beach bonfire. If only i played the guitar ...

Alright, signing off one last time from the 'lot. (Pretend Back to the Future theme is playing in the background). Great Scott!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Impact Player

So, for those breathlessly awaiting the follow-up to yesterday's job related news ...

Well, my meeting yesterday went really well, and it looks like I may be able to continue with my current job for a while, at least for the near future. However, I will be leaving the spacious isolation of my current digs and will be heading over to the Pinnacle building by NBC in Burbank. Of course, this is already turning out to be quite the process, as the fact that I am moving away from the Universal Lot presents the inevitable issues with upgrading my security clearances, getting parking, moving my computer and other stuff, changing my work phone number, and all that oh-so-fun corporate stuff.

It's almost like moving into new offices is my full-time job or something ...

Anyways, hopefully this move goes down smoothly and all of these headaches will soon be over and done with.

But as for my job itself, these last few days have been nuts. And here I was hoping that this week would be laid back. I am getting tons of calls and emails from people about all things I-Tunes related, as everyone is wondering what's going on with their particular projects as we make the personell transition.

So basically, I'm the man.

And to be the man, you've gotta beat the man. So who wants some?

I digress ...

But yeah, I just hope that the Pinnacle is a good work environment, because as much as being on a floor pretty much all by yourself has its perks, it can also be pretty maddening. Not to say that being in an Office-style office filled with annoying personalities is any better, but hopefully, that will not be the case.

In any case ...


Man, what a game last night! It was funny, because I was really rooting for Miami to make a come back just for the sake of it becoming a good game. Then, once it became close, I once again began rooting for Dallas to pull it out. I've been a mild fan of both Dallas and Miami, but some of the personalities on Miami, mostly Gary Payton and Antoine Walker, really annoy me lately. Gary Payton has been playing terribly of late, making poor decisions and halting play with his ineffectual attempts at posting up his defender. But of course, the guy is so full of himself that you know that ONE shot at the end of the game last night more than restored any loss of confidence he had been suffering. Same goes for Walker. Whenever he makes ONE shot, he reassures himself that he can shoot. I'm curious what his three-point percentage is though, because he seems to take and miss dozens of ill-advised three pointers per game. The guy has talent but he kills his team in the clutch by making so many bad decisions. Luckily for Miami, Dwayne Wade had a Jordan-esque performance last night and negated all of Miami's mistakes with his amazing play. As for Dallas, they had better stay strong or they'll be in trouble. They have a tendency to go soft at the worst times, and I hope that they come out on Thursday with some good D and lots of firepower.

- MOVIES: Okay, so I have a standing bet with my friend (and bigtime Hollywood playa) Abby, concerning this weekend's release of NACHO LIBRE. I say it will make over $40 million opening weekend, she says it won't. I really hope this movie does do well, and I think it will. I hope it succeeds because it looks to be a quirky but heart-filled comedy in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite, which I would love to see more of. How many more mean-spirited frat-pack comedies starring obnoxious guys trying to get laid do we really need? Bring on the Mighty Winds, the Napoleon Dynamites, the Waynes Worlds, and yes, the NACHO LIBRES of the film world - the comedies that will truly be considered classics in years to come. I think Nacho will be huge - everywhere I go I see the T-shirts and paraphanalia, and I think that pretty much every kid and teen is going to want to see this, as well as anyone who has a shred of childlike sense of humor in them. It's the modern day Theater of the Absurd, and I can't wait. Nachooooooooooo!

- And, dammit, I still haven't seen CARS. Why won't anyone freaking go with me to see it?!?! Any takers?!?!

ART: I'd like to take a second to say RIP to one half of the great art duos, Tim Hildebrandt, who passed away this week. The Brothers Hildebrandt created some of the most awe-inspiring pieces of pop cultural art of the 20th Century. Famed for their striking depictions of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings characters, brothers Greg and Tim dabbled in calendars, comics, and more. But it was their movie posters that really stand out in my mind. One in particular that is probably one of the coolest images ever created. Close your eyes. Think STAR WARS. What do you see? I don't know about you, but I see this:

Man, that has got to be one of the all-time iconic sci-fi images right there - the original movie poster to Star Wars: A New Hope. Just the pure imagination and iconography that that image inspires is simply amazing. Like Alex Toth, who passed away not too long ago, the bold, elegant work of the Hildebrandts has influenced generations of young dreamers, this one included.

- Speaking of Dreamers, I recently finished up Volume 2 of Neil Gaiman's THE SANDMAN series, which I am onnly now reading for the first time (I can feel my geek cred dropping as I type this). Pretty good stuff, and one chapter in volume 2 in particular, about a convention of outwardly unremarkable serial killers, was one of the most profoundly disturbing things I've ever read or seen, definitely the highlight of my Sandman reading thus far. I hear that volume 3 is excellent though, so I'll withhold my initial reaction that, while pretty good, I'm not yet quite sure what all hype about Sandman is about.

- Oh yeah, I think I mentioned it in my deleted blog post from last week, but a while back my work with I-Tunes finally yielded what in the back of my mind I had long hoped for: a free I-POD! So I am now the semi-proud owner of an I-pod Nano. Semi-proud because man, as nifty as the thing is, I can't see myself selling out $200 bucks for what is basically a glorified Walkman. The best part about the I-pod is it's tiny size, making it a great incentive for me to do some excercise while listening to some tunes. But the pricepoint is still ridiculous for what you're getting, in my book, and Apple is totally coasting on the perception that the I-POD is a must-have item. I mean, for only $120, I bought a Nintendo DS which is a dedicated games player that has Mario and Zelda! For $200, I could buy a Sony PSP that plays movies, music, and exclusive games. How then is an IPOD Nano worth $200? And how are so many people affording these? But anyways, since my home computer is a relic from my freshman year of college and still runs (gasp!) Windows 98, I am unable to run I-Tunes or the I-POD software from home. So I took the drastic step of burning all of my 4,000 or so ( I thought that was a lot, until my old boss Lloyd informed me that he had 50,000 downloaded songs!!!) mp3's to CD in data form, and then bringing those CD's into work and, from there, selecting a few hundred songs to go on the ol' IPOD. Pretty hardcore, eh?

- Ann Coulter debates George Carlin on Leno tonight. Could be interesting, but my guess is Coulter will eat Carlin alive in a debate. Sure, George is an impassioned individual, but that won't do him any good in a debate against Coulter, who has mastered the art of ignoring all opposing viewpoints in order to continually spew her unique brand of ridulousness. I am increasingly convinced that Coulter's whole persona is mostly a well-honed act used to sell books. But even if it is an act, it doesn't make her any less despicable or borderline-psychotic. To accuse 911 widows of enjoying their husbands' deaths? What?!?! Quite a generalization, wouldn't you say? In a way, it's not even worth talking about Coulter, because she obviously wants the publicity. On the other hand, her words are often so filled with misguided venom that one can't help but fall into the trap of playing Coulter's game.

- And that's about it for now. My work-related insanity continues throughout the week and into the next, so I guess all I can do is sit back, relax, and see what happens. Keep reading ...