Monday, October 31, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 1: "Dr. No"

Through various top-secret means I have obtained the complete collection of James Bond movies, and I plan to watch them all, in order, over the next few months. As I do, I'll share my thoughts here. First up, obviously, is Dr. No.

This is the first Bond movie. It doesn't have a pop song theme, as all the others do. This one uses the classic spy/surf guitar theme as its opener, as well as some Caribbean music which was all the rage in 1962.

In this we see touches of the Bond of the books. Of course, it's Sean Connery, which most people would pick as "the best Bond," I'm sure. He's got a mean streak in this one - fewer witticisms and more bullets. At one point he simply shoots a guy in cold blood, very calmly, when he realizes the bad guy is out of bullets: "That's a Smith & Wesson...and you've had your six."

The movie is also noteworthy in that it lacks an appearance from Q. No "pay attention, 007," followed by a breakdown of that movie's special spy gear. Instead, a nameless operative brings Bond a Walther PPK and M orders him to use it from now on (it seems Bond's previous gun jammed in an un-filmed adventure prior to this one).

Ursula Andress is the Bond girl in this one, and as the first, she sets the tone for all the rest (nice and curvy, until the 1970s, that is). She also set the tone for ridiculous names (Honey Ryder). Apparently she spoke very bad English and her voice is dubbed in. She did win a Golden Globe for this one.

Dr. No is a nice bad guy - no hands, psychopathic - and is supposedly Chinese but the actor is obviously a Caucasian, a fact they explain away by talking about how his father is German. We get our first mention of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the fictional terrorist organization that would be Bond's nemesis throughout the early films.

Bond's sometime CIA ally Felix is played by Jack Lord from the original Hawaii Five-0, and Felix gets a bigger part in this than almost any other movie (over the years that guy has been skinny, fat, black, white, old, young...he's by far the most inconsistently portrayed recurring character in all of Bondage).

This is not my favorite Bond movie by any means, but it definitely sets the tone for all the rest. In some ways it's my least favorite of the Connery era, but that's only because all the other ones are so good. This one is still way up at the top of the Sixties spy movies list.

Next up, of course, is From Russia, With Love.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Catching Up With Comics

I've been reconnecting with my love for comic books recently. I used to read them all the time in the Eighties...mostly Iron Man, X-Men, and (for some reason) West Coast Avengers. I also read the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns back then, which were big influences on me.

A month or so ago I started getting back into comics - not collecting individual issues, but reading trade paperback versions of cool stuff I've missed. I should point out that all of these books are ones that comics people already know all about...so they're old news for some folks, but great new discoveries for me. Might I suggest the following:

All-Star Superman - This is just about the best comic I've ever read, period, and certainly the best Superman story I've come across. The art by Frank Quitely is beautiful, and the stories, by Grant Morrison, take advantage of Superman's nearly godlike power. These are all familiar characters - Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Luthor...and they are everything they're supposed to be, but done in a way that's both new and original AND true to the roots of the Superman mythos. The end is both heartbreaking and hopeful. You can read more about it here, but there are some spoilers if you scroll down too far. I highly recommend this. I also just discovered that they're doing a cartoon movie version. I have owned this book for about a month and a half and I've read it six times. I cried the first two times - it's the only comic that's ever made me do that...!

Identity Crisis - This one is a classic murder mystery featuring the Justice League, so it's got a lot of different heroes in it and lots of interpersonal conflict between the members. One of the spouses of a JLA member is murdered, and it may be because of some past misdeeds by the heroes themselves. Very interesting book, although there is a lot going on and I had to read a few chapters twice to make sure I got it. Otherwise this is great stuff, and shows that a superhero story can go in directions other than fist-fights and world domination plots. This one suffers in comparison to the others on this list, perhaps, in terms of how much I liked it. But it's still A-level work. It was written by Brad Meltzer, who is primarily a traditional novelist and also hosts this interesting show on the History channel.

Kingdom Come - This book's art is by Alex Ross whose style I really like. He also worked on the story with writer Mark Waid. The story takes place in the future, with most of the heroes we're used to from the JLA aging. Even Superman sports Nick Fury-style graying temples. Several decades from now, a younger, brasher, less respectful generation of "superheroes" rises to prominence and eclipses the old-fashioned heroes of yesteryear (our time). They fight each other all the time, causing a lot of civilian casualties and losing sight of what heroes are supposed to do (save people). Superman comes out of self-imposed exile to set things straight, collecting an aged bunch of ex-JLA types to help out. But Batman, Green Arrow and some others don't appreciate Superman and Wonder Woman's ultra-conservative approach (Batman is especially offended by a prison Clark builds out in Kansas) and work against their old comrades. This is extremely compelling storytelling. I need to read it again but I'm pretty sure it's right up there with Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, as far as I'm concerned.

Astro City - I've only read the first collection of this (issues 1-6) but I'm pretty blown away by it. The setting is completely original - that is, not in the DC or Marvel universe - and the superhero stories here aren't like others I've read. For example, my favorite is about a small-time hood who accidentally sees a superhero's real face and spends the rest of the story trying to decide whether to sell the hero's identity to a villain, or to get out of town before the superhero can stop him. Another one is just about a date between Samaritan (a Superman analogue) and Winged Victory, and another is told from the point of view of a reporter who gets the story of the century and then can't print it. I can't wait to read the rest of these, but my local comics store only had the first collection. It's certainly true that you can do a new and compelling series about heroes. I also like the art in this one, which is kind of retro-looking. Reminds me of how comics used to look in the Seventies. Kurt Busiek is a fine writer!

Astonishing X-Men 1-24 - This is Joss Whedon's run on what would become DC's flagship X-Men book (there are so many X-Teams I can't even be bothered to keep up any more). I watched to motion comic version of this and went right out and got every issue Whedon wrote. There's more about this here.

You'll see that DC Comics weighs pretty heavily on this list. That's funny, because in high school, for some reason, my friend Jeff and I used to argue over which company was "better." I always took Marvel's side. Now, I'm not so sure there's an important difference. I do know that DC is much better at "branding" their characters. Everyone in the world knows who Superman is. I'm not sure you could say the same for Iron Man or Daredevil.

Comics make me happy. I'm not sure I could ever explain why and have someone really understand...unless they were also into comics.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"We Are All Geeks Now"

This video is worth watching, although it's about 40 minutes long and it's something you'll want to settle in for. Author Neal Stephenson discusses science fiction at a seminar at Gresham College, touching on everything from the Death of the Western to Lucy Lawless. Pretty interesting observations. He's one of my favorite writers but I think this would be interesting to anyone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wise Words

"There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving - and that is your own self." - Aldous Huxley

Friday, October 7, 2011

Motion Comics

At the urging of my friend Colin, I finally watched this motion comic. It's a six-episode adaptation of the first part of nerd-god Joss Whedon's take on the X-Men (he wrote 24 issues of the comic, I think, and the first storyline, "Gifted" is adapted here).

I used to read the X-Men back in the 1980s and this reminds me very much of those days (Whedon probably used to read them back then, too). The writing is as good as any storyline on any current television show, and while it is full of Whedonisms ("Now I've got cloud hair," for example) it's very much a traditional X-Men tale.

His take on the super team, specifically all the conflict between the main characters, gives me high hopes for the Avengers movie he's directing.

Art-wise, it only took me about three minutes to get used to motion comics. It's not quite full-bore animation, but it's not just a flat comics panel, either. I also saw part of the Spider Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.) episode and thought the art was MUCH better (I think it's best for them not to bother to try to animate the mouths...watch one of the X-Men episodes then watch a Spider Woman episode and tell me which looks better).

One thing I know - I'll definitely look to pick up Whedon's whole run of this book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Free Advertising

I decided to put up some free advertising to support two things I really like.

The first is Radio Rivendell, a 24/7 streaming internet radio station that plays "fantasy music" - that is, soundtracks from fantasy/historical movies and video games. I listen to it all the time these days. It's perfect background music for working, I think. Gives a nice heroic backdrop to the mundane stuff I have to do, and I often find it inspiring if I'm working on a game or something. One thing about it that is really cool is they feature a lot of unsigned "bands" - which mostly seem to be gamers like us with nice keyboards. There is some really impressive, pro-quality music out there from do-it-yourself types who have no record label or distribution other than Radio Rivendell.

The next is Pulp Fiction Comics & Games, in Lee's Summit, MO. I have been shopping there since it opened, and continue to do so even though my discretionary income has dropped significantly over the last few years. I can always find something cool here, even in the $10-$20 range. The staff is very knowledgeable and helpful, both about comics and games. Check them out if you never have.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Random Pictures

These are some photos I took for work recently. Not only do I like them, they save me from having to think of anything else to post this week. Enjoy.