Archive for March, 2009

Do What You Wish

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

neverendingstory.jpgMichael Ende’s The Neverending Story

I’ve been told not to re-watch The Neverending Story as an adult since they are dated so badly it strips the magic out of them; but I have to say the book made me want to give them another go.

As far as plots go, it’s not the most exciting — at no point was I gnawing my nails, worried about whether Bastian was going to survive, get home or stop hurting his friends — and the story maker in me did a mental eye-roll every time a new character knew who Bastian was, was familiar with his life story and knew what he needed to do in order to get him to the next stage of his adventure. When things finally did start to get good, the climax was grazed over and we went back to traveling with Bastian who was, let’s face it, not a strong and/or weak enough protagonist.

Despite its flaws, however, it was a nice little read. It was very imaginative, and had the feel of several fairy tales all strung together. The bountiful characters were all wonderfully vivid: Morla, the giant mountain turtle; the lion Grograman, the Colorful Walking Death, who turned to stone each night so that the glowing night forest of Perilin could be born out of his desert; clever Xayide, who animated her empty armored trolls to do her bidding; the Silver City of Armaganth, which floated on a lake of tears and was constructed of the most precious silver filigree; Yor, the blind and silent picture miner; Dame Eyola, who continually produced delicious fruit from her person from within the Change House; and of course the adventurer Atreyu and the luckdragon, Falkor.

In the end, I was happy for young Bastian Balthazar Bux and his transformation, especially since I’ve got a special place in my heart for the modern-child-goes-to-fantasy-realm tale anyway. It’s not a crazy emotional investment, but all in all, worth the read.

“I’d like to introduce you to…”

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

ill_09b.jpgI can’t tell you how delighted was I when, several weeks ago over some delicious diner pie, I was reminded of the existence of a Jimmy Stewart film called “Harvey”.

Harvey was filmed in 1950 and is still absolutely delightful, 59 years later.

Elwood P. Dowd drives his sister Veta and niece Myrtle Mae crazy because of his friendship with Harvey the pooka — a 6′11″ mischievious spirit that no one else can see. His family is pushed over the edge when Uncle Elwood unintentionally crashes a brunch Veta puts on in the hopes of finding her anxious daughter a husband. Elwood, being the friendly sort, introduces everyone to Harvey, but of course no one can see him and they all flee, terrified of his obvious madness. Veta decides to commit him — for his own good! — and things get hairy from there on.

It’s a wonderful little movie, and Jimmy Stewart plays what I think is his most endearing, pleasantly stuttering role.

“You can be oh-so-smart, or oh-so-pleasant. Well, for years I was smart; I recommend pleasant.” - Elwood P. Dowd

Me and Andy Warhol

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

vader-warhol.jpgThe Andy Warhol Museum is the largest, single-artist museum in the world. The first time I visited I was 20 years old, attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and I hated the museum — I mean hated it. My degree was in graphic design and here was this shrine to a jerk that repainted some other person’s soup can and got fame and recognition for something he didn’t even make up? I was furious.

It took me eight years and a really smokin’ awesome exhibit to get me back in that building; when I did go back, I was pleasantly surprised.

One hundred Darth Vader masks, customized by an international array of illustrators and toy makers? Um, YES PLEASE. Where do I pay?

Oh, yum. There were helmets that simply served as wicked canvases for acrylic, marker, collage and airbrushing. Others had additions like golden deer antlers, enough bling to make P Diddy proud, and a towering headpiece of artificial fruit. Still more had been modified in varying degrees — one was covered with felt, the top removed to reveal a pink plush brain (I wanted so badly to poke it!); one was turned into a gas mask; there was a giant beetle-like horn on one and a very spiky Statue of Liberty. They were original and fun.

Fine pictures of many of them can be found here.

The other seven floors…
Okay, here’s the thing: I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it, but I respected it. Sort of. A little.

Andy Warhol recorded everything that happened around him, in all it’s superficial, underground, sometimes-honest glory. As far as artwork goes, I liked his illustration far better than his famous screen prints. The silver balloon room was neat, his urine oxidation exhibit (heart-felt eye roll here) was closed, and a room of giant skull paintings with a little emaciated man — playing with his dong, of course playing with his dong — was actually pretty cool.

The thing I really enjoyed, however, was the extent of his Time Capsules. He saved everything. He apparently kept a box by his desk that he filled with day-to-day items until it was full, at which time he’d close it up, label it and stick with the others. When he died in 1987, there were 612 completed Time Capsules, and now the museum is slowly, carefully opening each one and cataloging the contents. There’s church programs, pictures, correspondence, gifts, etc. I’d be interested in that sort of glimpse for anyone, but considering he was so flamboyant and out there, it makes it all the more interesting.

I left feeling wholly delighted by the Vaders. And what about Warhol’s work? I felt somewhat enlightened, certainly stimulated by images beyond of my normal limits of enjoyment, but admittedly… kind of like I’d been had.

…which was totally worth $7.50.

The difference between going back and going home

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

It’s funny.

So much time and effort goes into writing a novel. I will go through the cycle of loving and hating the process over the next two years as I finish up the David trilogy. Writing affects my social life, my wallet, and I’m not published, so what’s the incentive? I’m not always sure.

A couple weeks ago, I was looking forward to the break, and possibly The End of me writing long format stories. I was just plain out of ideas and that felt… strangely okay.

So that’s it, right?

Apparently not. A little seed of a story was born Saturday morning. It’ll stew in the brain for the next 24 months until it’s ripe.  I’ll store little notes in that mental drawer and then I’ll probably do this all over again. A tiny part of me is disappointed.

“Let’s take a break!” it shouts.

“Let’s enjoy the world and not spend our life in a freakin’ cafe!” it cries.

“At least not in the summer, so we can maybe go to the pool? Please?” it begs.

It’s genuinely bummed, the poor thing. But most of me? Absolutely elated.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Monday, March 9th, 2009

watchmen_teaser_movie_poster.jpgI have to say I was poised for disappointment. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is an icon in the graphic medium for good reason, and there are many aspects that present problems in translating it to the screen. First off, there’s just so much of it. It’s a dense piece of work that twists and winds and flashes back. There’s heaps of supplemental material to help you to better understand the (sometimes very) flawed characters, and an internal pirate comic that parallels the graphic novel you’ve got in your hands. I really didn’t think they could pull it off.

I was wrong.

The movie begins when the aging Comedian is mysteriously killed, years after a law in Congress is passed outlawing masked vigilantes. Despite being a generally horrible human being, his old Watchmen teammates from the good old days slowly begin looking into his murder, spurred on by the paranoid and clinically unbalanced Rorschach. Set against an alternate 1985 that is poised on the brink of WWIII, they find themselves pulled into a master plot that will either save or condemn the planet.

One of the things that makes the story work so well — on film and on paper — is the characters. It’s plausible. Only one of the five main characters has genuine “super” powers, and all are flawed to the extreme. At the time of the Comedien’s murder, they are aged heroes, complete with receding hairlines and spare tires. Old habits die hard, however, and they find comfort and life in their old personas, especially in light of the global situation that is quickly crumbling around them.

They could have updated the movie to be set in the present day, but I liked that they didn’t; I felt the Vietnam War was an important part of the story line, and do not believe another conflict would have sufficed as satisfactorily. The use of pop music in the soundtrack could have been corny or jarring, but it wasn’t, and is another nod to its original form.

The casting was wonderfully solid: there were no big names to create over-inflated expectations, and the actors were absolutely true to the characters. Rorschach and Nite Owl were my personal favorites.

They stayed very close to the comic, almost to a fault. Almost. I loved the respect that was apparent for the original form, and the novel was strong enough that it didn’t need much editing — what they trimmed was just perfect. The updates they did make were excellent — the costumes were great: real enough, practical enough. The special effects were good: I don’t recall any points when my brain cried “not real!” at any CGI.

It wasn’t without flaws, of course. Some of the make-up was not convincing — the first Silk Spectre’s aging and Nixon in particular were not good; and I guarantee there were some eyerolls at the “Hallelujah” love scene (I liked it, but I’m a sucker for some sexy sexin’). It is a solid R rating, which is refreshing and uncompromising. Also, there is some blue wang, so brace yourself if you’re squeamish about a man’s dangly bits, but let’s be realistic: if you’re an embodiment of unimaginable cosmic power, you really don’t concern yourself with pants. Some dialogue felt wooden or cliche, but as Justin Kownacki accurately points out, it wasn’t really meant to be spoken out loud.

Watchmen was a win as far as I’m concerned, but I can only speak as someone who also appreciated the original work. I will say Josh liked it quite a bit, however, and he’s never read the novel. The figures I saw Monday night gave $56 million for the opening weekend; I hope it recoups its initial cost and then plenty more once the public realizes it’s not supposed to be Batman or Spiderman.