Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hrudaya Ra Ei Sunyata

Is the void something? Is my metaphoric heart a void, and if it is, does it provide a space for a thing or nothing? Should I treasure it still? Should I focus upon it or forsake such thoughts? What of those who seek to fill it, assuming it empty? What of those who believe themselves to inhabit it? Will they become lost?

I'm submerged in odd questions this evening as I contemplate the ontological aspects of everything in and about me. Deep nights are restless nights. Questions never cease.

Tomorrow will bring a new kind of beast to the door and I'll have to discern its nature and avoid its predations if it reveals itself to be my doom. Will it devour me and my nothing, or will I fill it beyond capacity with my mysterious, incomprehensible vastness? Can I bring myself to rally the strength to defend a potential emptiness, or should I foolishly surrender my invisible, considerable internal universe?

Questions never cease.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Quest for Moebius

For years now I've possessed the ability to study, interpret, and understand works of art without issue. I first became aware of it through various high school art classes. This is not an exceptional ability, nor is it something by which I define myself. I just find that I am able to look at a piece of visual art and expeditiously develop an understanding of it. This ability seemed to be at its most effective when I first beheld a piece of illustration created by the great Jean "Moebius" Giraud. My understanding of and feelings towards his work along with the years since I first glimpsed any of his illustrations have made me a disciple of the man and an avid fanatic for his work.

Since his passing in October of 2012 I've been desperately trying to seek out and acquire pieces of his graphic storytelling from the many years of his wonderful creative life. I feel that I owe it to myself and that it would best honor the great artist if I directed my drives towards the in-depth study of his complete works, if and when I find them all. As of this day I only own a tiny fraction of his art, but as time goes on I find more and more and make every effort I can to acquire what I find.

The first Moebius piece I viewed was in a pin-up collection for Mike Allred's Madman. The simple look of Moebius' version of Allred's character along with the curiosity his moniker inspired drove me to research. I discovered and pored over various illustrations from his career. I watched all the videos and documentaries I could find of the man as he worked and as he explained his work. Ever since I started down this path my mind has in some way maintained some sort of connection to the powerfully inspiring art and style of Giraud.

I've been attempting to draw or at least cartoon for most of my life (feel free to browse some of my attempts at Jonathan Sample Comics). From early on I would fill notebooks and sketchpads with my scribbles and expressions. As I would review my own work, with no small tinge of revulsion, I would then flee to my inspirations, artists whose work drove me to better my own. When I discovered Moebius I felt something fall into place and I went forth a better artist, if I can dare refer to myself as such. Jean Giraud saved me from a great depression in which my hope for improving my art languished. I feel more confident about my attempts now, and I feel as if, in some little way, I understand the creation of art and the treasure of personal style better now than I ever had before.

So, I'll continue to hunt down inspirational pieces from the oeuvre of Jean Giraud, and I'll keep making attempts to become a better illustrator. Maybe some day I'll have the opportunity to make my work widely available and inspire some future artists. I can only hope.

My greatest, deepest thanks go to Jean "Moebius" Giraud. The world was made tremendously better because of his existence. I hope that his afterlife is exactly as he would have it. Maybe he's inspiring other beings of other planes in other ways even at this very moment. Reposer en paix, Gir.

*For more information on Moebius check out these links:
Moebius Bio
Site Officiel de Jean Giraud Moebius
Wikipedia - Jean Giraud

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - A Fan's Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a film (well, actually part of a greater film) that I've been waiting for since I was a kid. Ever since Seventh Grade when I was given a book report assignment and the choice of something called The Hobbit by someone named J.R.R. Tolkien I've been a fan of all things related to Middle Earth. Finally today, Sunday, December 16, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film with my wife.

I had been following the Production Video Blog Series and inflating my excitement for the film proportionately along with the build up for the release. I had full faith in Wingnut Films' ability to deliver a delightful Tolkien film, obviously because of their exceptional production of The Lord of the Rings, and I was certain that I would not be disappointed based on the filmmaking efforts I witnessed through the postings to The Hobbit Blog. I disregarded the reviews to which I was exposed, avoided all the rest, and I went in to the theater expecting nothing more than what Peter Jackson and company had already given us, the Tolkien fan community, in their previous Tolkien-inspired filmic efforts. So, before I go into my review, in which there might be possible spoilers, I just want to say thank you to Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, Weta Workshop, and all of the fine actors and outstanding crew who made this film and the subsequent ones possible. You're all cinematic titans in my book. (Also, yes, this means that there's more than likely a bias in favor of the film throughout this review)

From beginning to end I found the varied aspects of this movie to be terrifically enchanting. Its story, its design, its characterizations, and its score delighted me. From Bilbo's introduction to the dwarves of Erebor and the tale of the great defeat dealt them by Smaug (which leads into the events of the greater story of The Hobbit), to the flashback that is the main story, up till the very end at the eyrie of the Lord of the Eagles I was completely invested. I was delighted to see the familiar faces from The Lord of the Rings in the film's opening, but I was stunned even more by the portrayals of characters that, till now, had only existed in my imagination. After the credits rolled I reflected upon my feelings towards the film and found myself completely satisfied and more than overjoyed at the incredibly entertaining experience.

Specifically, I felt that the history and backstory of the dwarven culture was the most appealing and fantastic thing about this movie. Seeing the halls of Erebor and the earlier glory days of Dwarvendom was incredible. Out of all the fantasy races which exist I would have to say that I am above all else a fan of dwarves, specifically those of this literary universe. In Tolkien's literature the dwarves are the creation of the Valar Aulë (a god-like, craft-focused being sent to Earth with his other deific kin by the one god), carved from the rock of the world before any of the other peoples existed, in spite of the plans of the being which created the universe. Eru Ilúvatar, the one god who created the demigod-like Valar, commanded Aulë to put the fathers of the dwarves to rest after they were given life because he had designed the Elves to be the firstborn race instead, but the dwarves were granted the privilege to continue their existence alongside the other peoples, regardless of the nature of their creation, because of the love their creator showed for them. From the start they were a flawed people set apart from the world and the others within it. I think that this is a large part of what endeared them to me, but I digress.

There were a couple of issues I had with the film which nagged at me as I watched it. Bear in mind that these are based on my opinion and hold no more validity or importance than that. One issue I had was with the choices made for the character of Radagast. They made him out to be a clownish type of character with strange quirks created as apparent nods to the counter culture. Also, the production designers chose, for some reason, to smear half of his face with bird feces, as he tends to keep birds under his hat. I guess that this was an attempt to show how "One" he was with nature. I always imagined the character to be a quiet, earthy, eccentric type of wizard, something like a cross between Gandalf and the Merlin portrayed by Sam Neill in the NBC series of the same name. Another issue I had was with the use of Azog and his warg-riders. Azog was not a part of The Hobbit. Actually, he died before the events of the tale took place and it was not by the hand of Thorin, his father, or his grandfather. In the film he's used as a main, story-driving, action-injecting antagonist. He shows up spewing orcish about his quest for vengeance against Thorin Oakenshield and driving an attack against the protagonists whenever the story's energy winds down. I guess I understand why he was written in this manner, but I don't like the choices that were made. Regardless of these issues, I feel that the majority of the exceptional aspects of the film outweigh my few gripes.

With plenty of foreshadowing and toying with character's motivations and behaviors the filmmakers have prepared us for the next two films. In "An Unexpected Journey" we see Thorin move back and forth between regretting Bilbo's presence on the quest to then become an overly thankful chum to the Hobbit, giving us a glimpse into possible future conflict (not as much possible as actual, if you've read the novel). We also see the development of Bilbo Baggins, and the rise of a greater evil, which we know will eventually grow to become the Lord of the Rings himself. I anxiously look forward to next December when I'll be able to take in another dose of Tolkien-inspired cinema magic. Until then I'll feel slightly bitter about the extension of the story into a trilogy and pay another visit or two to the local movie theater to watch the Hobbit's adventure again and again.

I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a five out of five.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Influences - A Taking of Inventory

Every once in a while I like to think through my list of influences and take a moment to remember them. It's like taking an inventory of my creative constitution. Perhaps it's a way of touching base and preparing myself for new personal efforts.

I find inspiration in several mediums, across many genres. A switch might get flipped for me while I'm reading a passage or watching a film or listening to a song or studying an image or just hearing someone speak. So, basically I'm inspired in the same ways other people are inspired, but of course I find inspiration in things which appeal to my individual tastes and eccentricities. The device is the same but the effects of its use differ.

Here's the list, as I can recall it at this time. There are probably more than what I've listed here, and this also includes things I simply find to be cool. If I dig something it will probably end up working its way into my creative mind at some point.

-Robert E. Howard - writer
-Theodore Sturgeon - writer
-Philip K. Dick - writer
-Kurt Vonnegut - writer
-Isaac Asimov - writer
-Ray Bradbury - writer
-J.R.R. Tolkien - writer
-C.S. Lewis - writer
-Michael Chabon - writer
-Douglas Adams - writer
-Terry Pratchett - writer
-Frank Herbert - writer
-Harlan Ellison - writer
-Hunter S. Thompson - writer
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - writer
-H.G. Wells - writer
-Edgar Allen Poe - writer
-H.P. Lovecraft - writer
-Edgar Rice Burroughs - writer
-F. Scott Fitzgerald - writer
-Sinclair Lewis - writer
-Ernest Hemingway - writer
-Mark Twain - writer
-Dashiell Hammett - writer
-Philip Marlowe - writer
-Brian Jacques - writer
-Lloyd Alexander - writer
-James Joyce - writer
-Arthur Machen - writer
-Lord Dunsany - writer
-Algernon Blackwood - writer
-Charles Dickens - writer
-William Shakespeare - writer/poet/playwright
-Christopher Marlowe - writer/playwright
-John Donne - poet
-Seamus Heaney - poet
-Jean "Moebius" Giraud - artist
-Max Andersson - artist
-Bob Burden - artist
-Craig Thompson - artist
-Mike Allred - artist
-Mike Mignola - artist
-Jason - artist
-Eddie Campbell - artist
-Carlos Ezquerra - artist
-Jaime Hernandez - artist
-Gilbert Hernandez - artist
-Chris Wisnia - artist
-Simon Bisley - artist
-Jack Kirby - artist
-John Romita - artist
-Steve Ditko - artist
-Joy Division - music group
-Jonathan Richman - musician
-Jonathan Coulton - musician
-Tom Waits - musician
-Nick Cave - musician
-Beirut - music group
-The Modern Lovers - music group
-Isao Tomita - musician
-The Pixies - music group
-The Smiths - music group
-Gene Roddenberry - writer/producer/philosopher
-Star Trek - television and film series
-Blade Runner - film
-The Lord of the Rings - novel series and film series
-Star Wars IV-VI - film trilogy
-2001 A Space Odyssey - film
-Gattaca - film
-Bicentennial Man - film
-AI - film
-Minority Report - film
-Conan the Barbarian 2011 - film
-Legend - film
-Indiana Jones - film series
-Silent Running - film
-Les Maîtres du Temps - film
-The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) - television series
-Night Gallery - television series

Friday, November 30, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Back for the Season Two BluRay Celebration

I met my friend Joe in the lobby of our local Celebration Cinema with a pair of pre-purchased tickets in hand. We greeted one another and then made our way over to cushy Theater One for show time as I called attention to my Star Trek: The Next Generation communicator badge, which hung from my t-shirt. There we were two Trek fans on their way to bask in the glow of the big screen upon which the beloved science-fiction wonder show of our youth would be projected in marvelously remastered, high definition. It was time to take part in welcoming the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Two to the BluRay format.

After attending Fathom Event's July special for Season One (TNG Season 1 Event Blog) I knew that I would eventually have to make my way back. The chance to sit with fellow Trek fans and watch the care with which CBS Digital and the incredible Michael and Denise Okuda restored and updated our beloved television show could not be ignored. Star Trek, in my opinion, is one of those things in life that deserves one's attention. It's like the friend who's always given you the time of day or supported you during a rough patch. Basically, I owe it to Star Trek to always be a fan because it's meant so much to me for so long and I'm glad to bear that in mind. Also, I go to show my appreciation for all the efforts made to keep The Next Generation alive and well for the future.

There were several fans in attendance, though the event was far from being sold out. As Trek trivia questions boomed on to the screen, backed by the glorious, familiar theme music, I could hear folks all over the room discussing them. It was through and through a Trek event for Trek fans by, from what I could tell from the restoration documentaries and what I've experienced from Michael and Denise Okuda, Trek fans. As I stated in my review of the previous event, it was as good and as close to a micro-Trek Con as I'll ever get where I'm located.

Before the first episode, which was "Q Who?," we were shown restoration comparisons which, I must admit, surprised me. "Q Who?" was introduced by some folks at CBS Digital, Michael and Denise Okuda, and director Rob Bowman (Star Trek, The X-Files, The X-Files: Fight the Future). The first appearance of The Borg was as great to watch as ever. Remastered, it looked crisp, and as with the First Season episodes, the new and enhanced special effects were very much faithful to the originals.

Between the first and second episode we were given a chance to see some hilarious bloopers, mostly those displaying Michael Dorn's inability to keep a straight face during another actor's lines. Following the bloopers we had a long-awaited cast reunion, the reason I was most looking forward to this event. The gang was all there and their discussions, had they not been edited down for the time restraints of the event, could have kept me engaged and entertained for hours.

The final episode of the evening, preceding the Season Three preview which concluded the night, was a showing of an extended cut of the episode "The Measure of a Man," written by television scribe Melinda M. Snodgrass. This version featured thirteen extra minutes, all of them necessary as far as I'm concerned. What was most amazing about this version of the episode, beyond its thoughtful plot and all-important reflection upon the concepts of sentience and identity, was the fact that the additional scenes were retrieved from a VHS of a rough cut of the full episode gifted to Ms. Snodgrass before it aired and yet it still looked amazing in HD. The remastering was so effective that Joe and I were unable to find apparent video quality differences throughout the episode.

So, having now attended two of the Star Trek: The Next Generation BluRay release events I am more than certain that I shall continue this tradition. I look forward to the release of Season Three and hopefully what will be the theatrical showing of a remastered edition of "Best of Both Worlds Part One," a powerful episode for fans of this series. My thanks go again to the amazing restoration staff at CBS Digital. They know their stuff and they have skillfully maintained the heart of my favorite television series whilst beautifying it for modern audio/visual entertainment. I also wish to thank Michael and Denise Okuda who were kind enough to share my blog review of the previous event, and who tirelessly tend to the well being of the Star Trek universe in their way. They are the keepers of the flame and they deserve all the praise they can stand and then some.

Until Season Three, fellow Trek fans!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

America's Black Friday Monsters and A Holiday Diminished

Thanksgiving is typically a time for friends and family to come together and share in a feast. They express their thankfulness for the good in their lives and for each other. It's usually a positive and passive event. Unfortunately corporate greed has found a way to ruin this holiday by playing to the greediest, basest side of humanity.

The day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday" as it's known, and the weekend which follows up to "Cyber Monday," another consumer day of shame, have become more important to Americans than their holiday of gratefulness. No longer do the people of this country seem to have a respect for acknowledging the good in life. Instead they constantly play at grabbing each other's wallets through the guise of one-time sales and "Must have" items. The people abandon their families (or worse, they drag their children along) to run out into the cold night to wait in store lines, like religious zealots running to temple to light the offering pyres. This year they've gone shopping on the holiday itself. They disregard a time of reflection upon the finer points of existence with the people they care about the most to rush about assaulting their fellow citizens for the last item of tremendous pseudo-rarity. One might say that Americans have sullied the word "holiday" like they've sullied the word "patriotism."

What many of them don't seem to understand, or horrifically, what they understand but manage to ignore, is that they're surrendering themselves and forsaking what one would hope is truly important to them to bow to the whip crack of their corporate masters. Corporations prepare all year for their chance to convince the impressionable populace that they're offering them rare discounts on items they've hyped to the point that Americans believe those things will give their lives greater meaning or value. People are admitting their stupidity by flying out to the local (insert name here)-Mart to buy things they might never use just because the sale has been inflated in importance to seem irresistible.

This corporately advertised rarity is, of course, false. It's akin to the comic publishers of the 1990s who would release several versions of a book and spread the word that the limited print versions would one day be worth enough to pay college tuitions. Those promises didn't pan out, naturally, and the comic industry suffered greatly. Granted, their tactics happened within a small community where many were in a position to see the damaging nature of such fake value. Corporations who plaster the email inboxes and mailboxes of the people of America are no different than Marvel Comics and DC Comics in the 90s. Except their tactics are better veiled and employed in such a way, on products which have been hyped by playing on consumer insecurities, that people are for the most part incapable of detecting any foul play. When will a great attention be called to this? When will people wake up? When will the floor fall out from beneath these corrupt, money-hungry corporations?

If you're reading this and you don't completely agree, or outright disagree, then please try this. Watch a "Black Friday" commercial. Let's use the Best Buy commercial below. It completely employs the tactics I've mentioned above, and it goes as far as to insult the average person, assuming that person has considered the cons of "Black Friday," by pointing out their hypocrisy and impressionability. How can you not be insulted by this commercial? Why would you give this company your money? Why would you, if you have considered the horrible nature of such a period of corporate greed in the first place, not look at other companies and assume the same?

It's time to think, America. Don't act. Think. Why do you let this happen to yourselves?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Another Thanksgiving

Why not take the opportunity to think about being thankful for a change? Ranting and complaining does become tiring. Now for the positive.

I'm incredibly thankful for my beautiful and loving wife. Without her I wouldn't be able to pursue my dreams, and even more important, my life would lack the joy which fuels my ability to dream.

I'm also thankful for the home I share with my wife. It's comfortable and suits us almost perfectly. We just need a few robots, maybe.

Beyond those two things I'm kind of lukewarm as far as feelings go. Oh, well.

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans. Everyone else in the world, I hope you're having a terrific day. Feel free to take a few jabs at all the self-satisfied Americans.

Now for some imagery. I drew this quickly a few years ago. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Long Nighttime Road and Failed Good Deeds

A text came in this afternoon from an acquaintance who occupies the stained fringes of society. It was a request for a kindness. I was needed to transport him from a great distance outside of town into the belly of the shadiest region of the urban hellscape so that he might join with his friend in a decadent and depressing bastardization of Thanksgiving. I convinced myself that it was a good deed worth doing, bit the bullet, and drove North. There was a certain unmentionable incentive, so the weight of any personal opposition on my part was slightly lessened.

After a great while, making my way out into the middle of almost nowhere, I finally arrived at the fellow's door. He came down from his quarters lugging several overnight bags, cursing social networking and its inherent drama. Offering me a cigarette he launched into a drawn out explanation of his recent pastimes, occasionally taking an opportunity to curse this person or that. The return journey, thanks to his deluge of babble, was incredibly tiring.

A long while passed until we eventually crossed into the neighborhood in which his friend resided. Sodium lights stained what the night failed to hide and cast a jaundiced look upon the surrounding industrial wasteland. Passing through areas of dilapidated 1960s architecture, which had been plastered over with Spanish signage, and junkyard after junkyard we eventually found the correct street. Standing before the domicile, which my passenger announced as his destination, was a haggard-looking woman whose lifestyle, apparent from her face, attire and the appearance of her home, added at least a decade to her age. She approached the vehicle and made to enter through one of the rear passenger doors. I stepped out to assist her entry, attempting some decency there amongst the shambles, and saw her smile widely at me as she made to rub her breasts against my door-holding hand as she lowered herself into the vehicle. I shuddered in spite of myself and took to the wheel yet again.

The drive continued, this time to a grocer at which the pair hoped to purchase their holiday groceries. This was an addition to the initial arrangement which was sprung upon me after I had traveled a considerable distance towards my acquaintance's home. I found that the protective layer of ignorance in which I draped myself and the constant self-reminding of an investment in good deed-doing were failing. It lasted long enough to take us to the grocer and back, though.

I tagged along through the brightly lit grocery store at near midnight, trailing behind my acquaintance and his rudely behaved lady-friend. Many store attendants were given grief by the woman, and I began to feel, as I beheld her unrepressed disrespect for others, that my good deeds, if there were truly any, were being tremendously outweighed. Thankfully we eventually left the store and set the minds of the attendants, and one badly harassed cashier, at ease with our exit.

Walking back to the car I was questioned by my incredibly tasteless acquaintance about my thoughts on the bouncing ass of his female friend who flaunted herself before us during the return trek. I shrugged off the question and watched as she made eyes back towards the both of us. I dug deeper into the bliss of ignorance and kept reminding myself that it was all almost over. I helped load up the car, experienced another physical flirtation from the woman, and then drove off back to her home to deposit all the garbage of the night which I had allowed to cling to me. On the drive back to her house she made mention of sex acts with both my acquaintance and myself, this coming after her discussion about her children and the fact that she possesses ample amounts of government food stamps from her status as a "Single mother." I shuddered violently and applied myself more fiercely to the act of accelerating back to her residence.

Whilst returning home after ridding myself of the spoiled fruits of good deeds I encountered some hostility at a local gas station. I beheld a man, typified as a "Bro" by most in the modern know, dressed in the clothes of a sloven sports fanatic married with the garb of a hobby hunter. He was photographing his over-sized pickup truck with his cell phone while his friend sat behind the wheel. I shook my head in disgust at the sight and pumped gas into my vehicle. Before I was finished I looked up to see the pair drive by, the sporty hunter hanging out the window inquiring, "What are you looking at, bitch?" I responded with "Red neck, deer-fucker," and finished pumping my gas as they drove off.

Arriving back home I took an opportunity to reflect upon my active wade through the trash of the night. I had set out to aid a person who stood to remain in solitude during a holiday and ended the night with lessons learned and ripe, blistering fury. I'm calm now, here at home with my loving wife and my familiar things. I know now why I prefer the life of a shut-in. May it never become as horrific as what I involved myself in this evening. Now to plan a use for the incentive. I guess that I am not as entirely wholesome as I believe myself to be.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Intelligence and Delusion

I'm an intelligent guy. I can confess that truth after denying it out of shame for so long. For quite some time I felt like I had to doubt that fact and ask the pardon of others who might have called attention to it. No longer will I humble myself to the point of crippling my intellect.

As I revisit educational subjects of interest and refresh long-dormant knowledge I'm finding that my adult mind is adopting past perspectives and creating a solid wall of doubt which blocks me from any and all extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence. In other words, any belief that I might have once held about the possible existence of a deity or the invisible presence of the spirit world has been almost completely removed from me. In considering the void which remains I have found my denial process slowed, though.

To think that the universe is the result of reaction after reaction and the evolution of life in the chaos of the ever changing cosmos leaves little room for the fanciful notion that a considerably powerful, invisible being is flipping switches behind some unseen curtain. What else is there then for a sensitive, feeling human mind to consider? Where does one turn when they realize that life is nothing more than the product of chemical reactions and evolution doing their thing until whatever makes life possible ceases to be?

I wonder if I'm comfortable accepting that each human life is a one off event where energy is processed through a human organism until that organism ceases to function and is turned back over to the natural world to surrender the borrowed energy. Can I cope with death truly being the end without any hope of a persistence of my essence beyond? I'm struggling to answer that question.

Life for a human, I find, is a series of experiments randomly performed until inquisitiveness is snuffed out by the breakdown of the body and mind over time. We're conceived, we're born, we become aware, we develop, we learn, we apply our knowledge, we age, and then we die. There doesn't need to be an epilogue or a second volume to existence. The finality of the obvious end should be enough. It can enrich the time prior and drive one to do the best for as long as they can. It's tragic, in a way, that humanity has despaired at such a thought often enough to have generated several imagined ways out of the eventual end.

The concept of a god or an afterlife is a cushion for the fragile mind which struggles to consider the possibility of a bare universe in which one is no more significant than any other component of the grand cosmic machine. Such a bogus concept comes from weakness coupled with our long-developed ability to dream of possibilities beyond our base perceptions. God and the existence beyond life are a crutches for those who can't escape the safety of intense denial. Aren't they?

Again, I still struggle to accept obvious truths and deny what can only be hopeful delusions. My intelligence, I think, won't let me give up or give in. Thank goodness for that, at least.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

America, I'm Proud of Us

I wanted to write about my first trip to the polls. I wanted to comment on the feelings surrounding the experience of being an active citizen. I even, for a brief period of confusion and slight despair, thought that I'd have to post my anger and disappointment. That was until the later hours of Eastern Standard Time rolled around and an overwhelming relief followed.

Instead, my friends and fellow citizens, I'll just share one of the best acceptance speeches I've ever heard and encourage you to drink deep the spirit of hope which now surrounds us. The future is in front of us and we, in the tradition of those who brought us to this wondrous present, need to tap into our potentials and walk boldly forward. To the light we forward march and to its brilliance we do lend the flames of our individual magnificences. Towards a better tomorrow we now head.

Thank you, dear people. You make me proud.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and my personal intellectual renaissance

There's a potential future in which human beings in general, not just citizens clinging to outdated Nationalist ideals and their inherent bigotry, are not only scientifically literate and intentionally well-informed but also eager to expand their presence in the universe. Could we actually realize such a future? The optimist in me wants to say yes, we most certainly can and will. The pessimist in me wants to scoff at such a notion, writing it off as mere fancy, and rant about how we're being helplessly thrust into another long period of anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance.

We as a species are at an impressive point in our development, and the decisions of the majority will, as always, steer our course. Let's put aside the easy mindset of the pessimist and hope beyond hope that the movers in our world will drive us into an age of advancement in which everyone will be able to tap into their full potential and bring humanity into a tomorrow of promise and tremendous growth. Better yet, let's all grab the reins, become the movers, and take each other into that wondrous future world.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the internet radio series StarTalk, is one person who's inspired me and bolstered my inner-optimist. He's one of the voices in the titanic world of the media who has drawn us an outline to a brighter future and fiercely demanded a shift towards progressive intellectualism. He's the man who is responsible for my recent return to the foundations of my education.

Listening to Dr. Tyson and StarTalk has reinvigorated the inquisitive, logical mind I often anxiously employed. There was a long period in which I allowed self-doubt and apathy to bar me from realizing my intellectual potential. I didn't feel support in my efforts to flex my smart, and I felt like there was no visible path towards becoming a fuller more intelligent person. To put it plainly, I felt lost and gave up.

Hearing the wonderful messages from the good doctor and allowing myself to ponder the points made on his radio talk show have shaken me out of my mental slumber. I once again feel like I can tackle anything, and I feel like my mind can grow and deserves to do so. I'm opening myself up to learning anything and everything I possibly can. I'm challenging myself in ways in which I should have been challenging myself every day of my life from the beginning to the current. My efforts are now wholly focused on revisiting the foggy points of my education and committing to learning the things I once wrote off as too challenging or simply beyond me. I feel not only hope and confidence; I also feel that the world is ready to share in my revelations.

The people of the world, no matter where they are or where they fall in any of the various stagnant, close-minded systems, deserve to feel my hope and also be allowed to make an effort to better themselves as people and as intellects. I truly feel that if we revolutionize the minds of all, the coming days will be the best we've ever had.

Let's take inspiration from people like Dr. Tyson and work to improve ourselves and the world in which we live. Let's strive for the best in everything. Don't lose hope in yourself or in your fellow human beings. The future is counting on us.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

If I told you, friend, that I failed...

Thank god for the saints and saviors of my youth. They swept in to spite the restrictions and uncomfortable miscellanea of a smotheringly close-knit family and the oppressions of religion, along with its patented complex of guilt. If it weren't for them I would never have found the freedom to try at living; I would never have begun to understand the concept of friends. But where did I leave them?

I see people in the company of other people with massive, toothy grins. All appearances tell my eyes to notify my brain that they're experiencing the joy of social interaction. A part of me winces at that notion, for it realizes my shameful, self-imposed solitude. I know they don't quite get it, though, because they're on television - in some inane commercial - and they can't possibly guide me in the chore of sounding the depths of one of life's truest joys. There's a different sort of people capable of that, they're even in my native third-dimension, and I chose to forget about them to my intense regret.

Reality and life are gargantuan, and both seem to loom the most when I engage my incredibly perceptive hindsight. I have failed at other people. It's not my duty to give them everything they need, I've learned. My incorrect assumptions before that knowledge were damaging. Instead it is my duty, to those I am gifted with along the way, to try and ease their quest for happiness, support them when they require it, and love them in spite of the sap which pours off such a notion. Though, because I've failed I'm wallowing in the absence of real people. My way into an enjoyable reality, upon this realization, is beyond my grasp.

I've found love. I've given love. I still go looking for the various types of love apart from that which the central person of my life, my wife, has already gifted me. The darkness I climbed into once upon a time, when the world came crashing in, felt so very heavy. I've overcome that, though, and am now out, free, crying for the opportunities for love I neglected or foolishly tossed aside.

What's more, I let that dark idiocy mar my wife's ability to love others. My yawning void consumed her healthy flame. Panicked, passionate attempts at repairation, capable through the clarity of self-revelation, may never be sufficient enough to help in healing that slight.

In the end I'm left with questions. Weighty questions. I just need to let myself live with my hands out, grasping at what I hope are answers. Time continues and I am beginning to reach. Maybe they're still out there somewhere.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Science-Fiction and Fantasy Magazines

There is a magic which eminates from a shelf full of classic science-fiction and fantasy short fiction magazines. Maybe it's the aged pages or the smell of old print. Perhaps it's the wealth and weight of the significant fiction which resides within each volume. It could very well be several things, but no matter what those might be one can not deny the allure of those wondrous fiction periodicals.

I have of late been actively taking my collection off its shelf to page through the issues I'm fortunate enough to own. The mesmerizing artwork on each cover, the novel fonts, and the inspiring words of the dreams of wizardly men and women of decades past combine with terrific effect to nearly bring tears to my eyes as I let my somatic, olfactory, and visual senses anxiously explore the yellowed sheets of my sizeable grouping of these magical volumes. Few printed items are as cherished by me.

So, if you are ever in a second hand bookstore and are blessed with the opportunity to stumble upon the older issues of the various science-fiction and fantasy magazines do yourself the favour of purchasing them. Don't question it. Just act. Once you get them home and allow yourself to experience the format you will, if you be an individual who cherishes astounding tales presented in a charming manner, find yourself hopelessly enamored.

Bonus lectio!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Columbus Day and A Note on Self-Education - Two Pieces

Having myself read excerpts from Christopher Columbus' own letters, addressed to associates and the monarchs who funded his voyages to the New World, I feel that it is my duty to point out that he was a pathetic, self-serving, inhumane piece of shit. The man thought nothing for the natives, allowing them to suffer horrendous torture at the hands of his crew. All that he claimed during his voyages ...was claimed in hopes that he would be highly recognized and handsomely rewarded for his "contributions" (theft and slave-gathering) to his royal sponsors. He was so unbearable a person and leader that the men under his "command" often contended with him, going so far as to imprison him and send him back to Europe in chains.

In his letters he whined about his "suffering," fed Isabella and Ferdinand lines about how his accomplishments would only make them look good if they continued to fund and empower him, and he showed a complete disregard for other human life. I encourage everyone to read them. Learn your history and the truth behind the "heroes" who are wrongly praised for the existence of the modern world (though, if you consider the modern world...) and the corporate sales days during which horrible people of the current age attempt to swipe some of your capital.

Basically, to hell with Columbus Day.  


The most significant test regarding the furtherance of one's education in the modern world is the test of attendance. It is a test of intelligence, and any who would pay massive sums to attend an establishment of higher learning in this day, from which they will mostly earn unemployment and atrocious debt, have failed. Further your own knowledge, for the world lays itself open before you. You need only stir up the drive to explore it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Tick - A Wonderful, Often Abused Character

Growing up watching the once-exceptional programming available through Fox Kids, I was gifted with the immense pleasure of viewing an animated adaptation of Ben Edlund's "The Tick." I found it to be an intensely hilarious cartoon, one which kept me coming back every time it was scheduled to air. Then suddenly one day, like so many animated beauties of my youth, it disappeared from my little cartoon-loving world, removed from the lineup by the big heads of the Fox Network.

Driven by fanboy grief at the loss and anxious to once again view the attention-capturing series, I began to actively seek out anything I could find tied to "The Tick." Though my search was often hindered by a child's lack of income and indifferent parents, I was eventually able to locate and purchase a two episode VHS from the series. That find eased my eager mind for a while as I found myself watching and rewatching it as often as I could.

As I grew, my appreciation for the character continued to live on until I eventually, luckily, chanced upon copies of the original comic book series (the native medium of "The Tick," for those who don't know). Those marvelous black and white stories of The City's brown-then-blue hero introduced me to a different side of the character and his world, entertaining me just as much if not more than the animated series. I bought up what I could when I could, but the seed that was planted when I first viewed the animated series as a child still drove me to cry for more.

Eventually an incredible and unforeseen event occurred which proved to be as wonderful to my Tick-craving nerd brain as the discovery of the comic series. Fox proved that they were not quite finished with the character, and in 2001 the studio made the move to spring a warmly welcomed live action series on The Tick's fanbase, starring the perfectly cast Patrick Warburton as "Big Blue." Unfortunately, after a mere nine spectacular episodes they took that away from us, as well. Considering this tragedy and other noteable cancellations, it began to seem like the executives at Fox had it out for my beloved interests.

They say that good things come to those who wait, though, and when Buena Vista Home Entertainment deigned to gift Tick fans with their beloved cartoon on DVD I found great validity in that saying. Naturally I rushed out to buy the first season when it hit store shelves. Taking it home I dove into the episodes as soon as I could, but a horrible discovery served to cheapen the blessing of my sudden access to a whole lot of animated Tick. An asterisk on the DVD's episode listing, which marked an omitted episode, began an irritation which was exacerbated by a similar notation in the episode listing of the soon-after released Season Two DVD. For some unknown reason Buena Vista released the first two seasons of the show with each collection sporting the scar of an omitted episode.

To this day I have not found a sufficient explanation for this omission. I've searched message boards and comment sections on various websites. I've read statements from individuals responsible for the production of the animated series. No one who has written of this terrible slight seems to know why the fans were cheated. To make matters worse the distributor does not currently have plans to release any episodes from the third season on DVD. Till the time of this writing the wait continues. Buena Vista or anyone with the power to affect the production of a complete series DVD release of The Tick, if you're reading this, please, please release a complete series collection, unedited if possible. Please?!

Regardless, it's been a wonderful ride these many years. I've been fortunate to discover such an inspiring and hilarious world with its plethora of bizarre characters during a time when my creative mind was fertile and needed exposure to such things. Ben Edlund's work on The Tick has been something I've happily followed, and I'll continue to follow it for the rest of my life. Here's hoping we get some new Tick soon!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Stories and Such

Here are some stories I once foolishly committed to Facebook's Notes section. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments.


Just Another Night

Ivory-knuckled was the old man's vice grip on the fat handle of the diner's stoneware coffee mug. The black brew danced inside, playing the reflections of the establishment's yellowed lighting across its surface. This man took his coffee like he took most things in life, straight and without the unnecessaries. 

Gail bounced about the joint, her pink anachronistic diner outfit swaying as she made her rounds. She eyed the considerable figure who had refused a warm up about half a dozen times since he first received the mug over an hour before. Finally she crossed the counter and let her top weight drop onto her elbows as they hit the counter opposite the man. Her glimmering hazel eyes peered into the fellow's unfocused orb.

"You can't just sit here all night, fella!" Gail's gaze turned stern as she noticed the ineffectiveness of her words. "What else can I get you?" she spoke at him, her voice rising.

The man seemed to stare with his eye into the pattern of the diner counter's Formica top. "It's a night for cursing gods, Gail. I'm set with the joe. Give me a minute and I'll duck out."

"You can't stay here much longer, but you oughta be careful where you go when you get," Gail replied with a snicker. "You curse gods in this town and things get messy, ya know."

He raised his eye to peer at her. The wrinkles about it deepened as he scrunched up his face. "I'll god damn a god if it's all I've got left to do. They can hang me a million times out there and once again for good measure and I'll still hop down and be back here a'cursin' 'em!"

The sturdy, elderly chap slid off the stool he had perched on during this night's diner haunt. He let his left hand slip into his trouser pocket and allowed it to come back out again flipping a coin in Gail's direction. She caught it with both hands, trembling with an uncertainty towards her reflexes. "Yeah...thanks," she blurted, smirking at him whilst tapping the now firmly held coin on the counter top.

He gave himself a quick stretch and turned to make his exit. Before he shoved open the door he turned to face a pack of surly and equally elderly-looking men in the back corner of the establishment. "Hey, Yahweh! Go fuck yourself!"

A bearded member of the back corner group turned and gestured with his right hand's middle finger. "Back at you, Wod!"

The man, Wod, chortled softly and waved a passive response. The bell above the door dinged as he shoved it open. "Tomorrow, Gail. See you then."

Gail clicked her tongue through a beaming smile in response as he made his way through the portal. "Same as usual. Same as always. Night, night, All-Father!"


Here's what citizens are proudly saying about the Human Global Alliance (HGA)...

“If the Alliance hadn't formed after the Gulf Stream incident then we'd all be suffering. We'd be jobless, homeless, and probably fighting each other just for a bite of food. My goodness, we would all be dead! I'm thankful for the HGA and for all that we have accomplished through it. May the HGA prosper forever!
-Klaus Zimmerman, 29, European Solar Distributor Maintenance Technician

“My great grandfather always spoke of the hardships of the times he grew up in. Economic failure, gradual global climate deterioration, and rampant warmongering. He spoke of conflicts between the various world governments. Can you imagine that? No wonder there was so much struggle and failure. If only he could be alive today. We're incredibly fortunate. As for the HGA, well, it saved us all, didn't it?”
-Helen Lamberton, 24, Great Britain Physiological Research and Advancement Institute, Cardiff Facility

“My mommy says that everybody's in it together. I like that. People should be friends. I've got friends from all over the world, and I wouldn't if it wasn't for the Humanity...sorry, Human Global Alliance! Thank you!!”
-Amani Tawfeek, 8, North America, 2nd Grade student at Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson Science Academy

These citizens and many, many more are daily extolling the virtues of the greatest endeavor in human history. Together we as a species have united to heal the social and climatic wounds caused by our ancestors.

Never again will a human child die needlessly without food or warmth. Never again will one group of men direct weapons at another. Never again will humanity fall into the blackness of a past of ignorance, superstition, and greed.

Since the ecological crisis in 2022 in the current system known as the Gulf Stream humanity has worked to band together to combat the staggeringly monumental threat posed to the wellness of the entirety of our home, the Earth. As one species we rose to our greatest challenge, our most dire threat, and defeated it to the betterment of all.

We've eliminated systems built on the exchange of and dependence upon capital. We've banded together to strike out into that vastly and eternally rewarding frontier that is Outer Space. We've grabbed the reins of our own fate and struck out towards a future where every man, woman, multi-gendered, and child will prosper and grow without limit.

This is our present. Upon this glorious foundation we are erecting the upwards reaching tower that will be our future.

 We are the Human Global Alliance. Together we have never been as great.

Forever prosper, Alliance! 

Cliff Steward ceased his scribbling. The words upon the page stabbed at his eyes in which great, heaping tears welled up. He sighed and let his pen drop. His hand reached up to comb through his sparse hair. The crackling radio next to him gained clarity and began to blare the familiar Emergency Signal. This time, he thought, it wasn't a test.
He pushed himself up out of his chair and made his way to the glassless window to look out upon the horizon from his second story vista. A warm, stagnant breeze grated past him and caused his throat to tighten. It blew across the grassless field across the street and over through the equally barren yard in front of his shell of a home. Things, remnants of his neighborhood and its former life, creaked and groaned with the force of the wind.
The sun was apparently out, for it was dimly day time, but it remained unseen. Like a smothering blanket, black and red clouds swirled in the air above. Suddenly a flash of light, as bright as if a flash bulb was sparked, blipped in the distance. The breeze became more intense and a far roaring sound began to crescendo.
Cliff looked back at the paper upon the desk. The tears were still coming. He swung his head to face the horizon and back to the desk. He did this several times noticing with each turn that the distance grew darker, fouler. On the desk the pen rolled off the paper, failing then to keep it from rolling away in the now fierce gale.
Cliff Steward thought about that maybe world his fitful sleep had crafted for him through dream. It stung to realize that only dreams were left here in this dark and hopeless reality. If only he had given his dream world life by writing it out. If only things hadn't fallen to hell throughout the world. If only, Cliff thought. If only. 

-A Tomorrow Story-
Jonathan Sample

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

John Waters - A Night Out Amongst the Savagery of Art Prize and the Wisdom of "Smut"

There was a torrent of trendy folks clomping around the streets of Grand Rapids this evening. They blocked roads, took up all the free parking, and exacerbated my existing hatred for the citywide event known, to those unfortunate to be in the GR-Know, as Art Prize. Needless to say, tonight was almost like existing upon a level of hell, one drawn to Earth by the intense intellectual vacuum produced by the pseudo-art savvy, mostly empty minds of various Grand Rapidians and art snobs visiting from abroad. Enter the hero of the night...John Waters.

Having grown up with bits of John Waters' work here and there throughout my occasional filmic explorations I was overjoyed to see that he would be gracing the town in which I live with a brief visit. I was even more elated to learn of his expressed lack of appreciation for the inept and over-publicized "Artsy" Western Michigan event. We had something in common!

I dropped my wife off at the front of the Civic Theatre and began my search for a parking spot with about fifteen minutes left before the start of the show. After about the first two blocks I realized that I would either be walking a great distance to the theatre or I would be paying an  insane amount for an area in which to park my vehicle. I rounded many corners in my anxious search and after a while was convinced that the same slow-walking, vacant expression-wearing guy was at every crosswalk I happened upon. He wasn't the only deplorable, seemingly reoccurring character which stood in the way of my failing attempt to hastily park. There was a hoarde of shambling, culture-seekers, their faces blank yet sneering, crossing en masse at every red light, of which there were many. Sadly, it took more than the fifteen minutes to eventually find a lot where a mere (HA!) eight dollars rented me a space.

Hustling over a crosswalk myself, and feeling a deep subconscious shame while doing so, I made my way over a block's distance to the theatre. The woman at the front door kindly accepted my traffic excuse, informed me that John Waters had already taken the stage, and then directed me to the balcony. My eyes searched around for my wife who was nowhere to be found. So, assuming I was alone for the duration, I leapt up the three flights of stairs and entered into the semi-darkened auditorium, winded, and beheld a sea of distorted heads seated before of me. Past them, below, upon black cloth-draped stage stood the man himself. I took a seat and listened as he continued on about some woman he encountered in his early film career. Made it, I thought.

The talk went on for almost two hours. John was full of an admirable energy, pacing back and forth, barely taking a breath between anecdotes and strange reflections on the people and times he'd encountered and lived. The talk went from strange sex acts, to comments on the events surrounding the production of his films, to the peculiar varieties of subcultures within homosexuality. He spoke about the people he spent time with, the relationship types he preferred, and in a way he debunked the "John Waters Book Meme" proliferated around the internet. Overall it was a stupdendous time, and it ended nicely with the fellow patiently fielding a plethora of random, bizarre, and mostly pointless audience questions and comments. Unfortunately once that had ended there went the night. No photo opportunities. No chance to shake his hand and thank him for pushing the envelope and helping the creators of questionable material find a home for their work in the wider world. Just a simple gracious bow and an exit.

As we shoved our way clear of the theatre I found myself a little happier about things in general, a little more amused with the absurdities amongst which I lived, and almost positive that the people of my town weren't all that bad. Everyone who didn't pose an idiotic query during the question and answer portion seemed as happy as I if not more. There were folks meeting and greeting each other during the mass departure. It was quite pleasant. Then came the walk back to the car. I'll not delve into that and spoil the moment.

So, thanks to John Waters for coming to town. Even if it was just another meaningless paid obligation for him I'm glad I got a chance to see him. Hopefully he'll return to this crazy city one day and there will be a chance to talk to him face-to-face. Maybe someday.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dredd - Comic Film's Greatest Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Being the type of person who tends to enjoy grey characters, non-typical storytelling, and older printed material it's no surprise that I frequent the back corner boxes of my local comic book shops, and have for years. In those boxes I often find the books that the fans of Marvel and DC take for granted. Through those boxes I've found bits of colorful material from Slave Labor Graphics, old Darkhorse titles, Hernandez Brothers' work, stuff from Daniel Clowes, various other independent comic treasures, and the occasional copy of the British comic anthology 2000AD. It is in the latter that I find not just simple stories about this character or that series of events but a group of stories about varied characters each living in their own brilliant little world.

When I first encountered 2000AD the character who obviously jumped to the forefront was a fellow named Judge Dredd. Dredd is a dealer of supreme justice and a proficient badass, to put it plainly. In reading his stories I recognize that he is a character who, like many of the popular American comic book heroes, stands firm in his beliefs which clearly define him, and in so doing he becomes the paragon for those like him in his world, though his humanity inevitably stirs up questions and doubt at appropriate times to round him out in an exceptional way.

Judge Dredd mostly focuses on a specific duality in human nature which is the focus of the law of his land, good and bad, innocent and criminal. He operates in Mega City One, a metropolis of such tremendous breadth and population that no other name could possibly suffice. In that mega city Dredd patrols the streets with his peers, the Judges of the Hall of Justice, and locates crime so that he might deal judgment upon it. So, we have a mightily vast future city spanning the Washington DC area to New York, filled with hundreds of millions of people, and a law system functioning at a most extreme level. What a terrific setting for a dystopian tale of humanity in a future where society is barely holding itself together.

The character Dredd has been around for many years in the pages of 2000AD and the occasional crossover book. Hollywood produced a film adaptation in the mid-90s starring Sylvester Stallone as the Judge along with some doofy comic relief played by Rob Schneider. It was a tremendous flop, and to this day it remains happily forgotten by most self-respecting comic and movie fans. Then this year Lionsgate boldly released a new film adaptation of the old and beloved tough guy titled Dredd, which features Karl Urban in the titular role. A better product has rarely been made in the adaptation process from page to screen.

Dredd, available in 3D and certainly worthy of that format (more on that later), is a film set in a Mega City One which is very much like the metropolis found in the source material. The story of the film follows Judge Dredd on a seemingly regular day in the life of a Judge. During this particular day he is requested to run a nearly failed Judge-potential, named Anderson and played by the stunning Olivia Thirlby, through a test to determine if she is capable of taking up the position. What occurs during a routine crime check makes for a series of events beyond anything merely routine.

We're introduced to the world of this film version of Dredd in such a succinct way from the beginning that there is no question of where the events are taking place geographically and chronologically nor of the state of humanity. Basically the audience is given fair glimpses of character and world content as the story progresses without a mass of spell-it-all-out exposition cluttering up the beginning of the movie. One of the greatest strengths of this film is its story, mainly in how its structured and executed. Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later, was brought on to pen this fine adaptation. Throughout the film Garland wrote the events and characters in such a way that the action flows without any staggering and the audience is given brief views into the potential depth of the issues addressed and the characters at the helm of the thrill ride that is the plot. No one character is completely spelled out from the beginning, but they are instead unravelled as they act and react to the events with which they must contend.

The portrayals of the characters in this film were a joy to watch as they fell within a range from fairly basic, for most of the extras and background characters, to stunning, as were the leads. Karl Urban's portrayal of Dredd was spot on. He masterfully handled both the serious and grim sides of the character along with his merciful and sometimes humorous facets. Olivia Thirlby acted wonderfully as the mutant, possible Judge-to-be. As Anderson she played out the character's sensitive center whilst confidently handling her business side. Lena Headey thespianed the hell out of one of the most villainous ladies to feature in a film of any kind. Her Ma Ma was a cold, driven bitch, commanding in her savageness with a sort of disconnect from reality trailing throughout her. To say that the film was well cast is to make a ridiculous understatement.

Visually this film is sure to set precidents or at least be noted as inspirational to folks in the industry. Having seen several 3D films over the last year and a half I must say that thus far Dredd has most deserved the format and employed it to a magically awe-inspiring level. The violence of the film, which is heavy and graphic, is taken to an almost gorgeous height through the cinematography and use of the 3D effect. Nowhere else does the 3D element most shine than in the scenes where characters are subjecting themselves to the film's despised drug "Slo-Mo." Watching a character hit a vial and dive down 200 stories seems almost enviable when seen through the movie's dazzling 3D. Overall I feel that the look of the movie definitely pays homage to the dynamic wonder of the comic page.

If you're a fan, like me, of 2000AD and are looking for a film which honors your title of interest this is definitely it. If you're just a comic book fan looking for an adaptation which justifies this whole business of constant page-to-screen adapting then this is a film for you. It's many terrific elements assembled into a package of wondrous big screen joy.

Out of five I happily give this film five. Thank you for reading!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - A Review

Folklore and tradition are often tragically neglected in modern horror and fantasy films. Failure to touch back on such important sources for these genres displays a foolish confidence in the potential of a creator's "new" idea (though typically it's a mere rehash) or just a general ignorance, through which the work inevitably suffers. I'd liken this issue to crafting a Golem without the necessary symbols of life necessary to animate it or simply leaving the brain out of the homunculus. What you have is an ineffective, incomplete concept without the essential vital spark. The horror-fantasy film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark not only succeeds where others have failed by wonderfully honoring the classical elements, it also grounds the key aspects of the old stories in the modern times in such a masterful way.

We the audience are introduced to a manor house, its dark history, and the little girl through which we're granted sight into the magical world of the mostly unseen. In the depths of the Earth beneath the manor, in which the girl, her father, and his girlfriend reside, lives a hidden race of diminutive creatures which have plagued the grounds since the original owner stalked them in fear for his own sanity and life. Through the protagonist, young Sally Hurst, we're exposed to a form of the classical "little people" who turn out not to be the "fair folk" romanticized in Victorian literature but instead something closer to the foul and mischievous people of the mounds of the British Isles. The horror comes mostly from their savage practices and sinister needs.

Not only does the film perform magnificently as a tribute to the aged tales of faerie folk, it also offers something for fans of classic horror literature. If you appreciate the works of William Hope Hodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, and the like you'll be happy to know that there is not only mention of one of their peers but themes in the film's design which draw directly from weird fiction similar to their dark and otherworldly tales. Arthur Machen is specifically referenced in this film when Katie Holmes' character, Sally's father's girlfriend, goes to research the history of the original owner of the house, a Lord Blackwood. Guillermo Del Toro, the co-writer of the film, specifically chose Machen because of his idea of dark and misshapen faerie folk; a concept Del Toro not only found appealing but very much applicable to this tale.

There are occurrences here and there in the film which feel like stock moments or just bits of cliche, such as the gory faerie attack on the groundskeeper. I suppose a horror film needs to have a little gore these days to draw in a certain element. Just once though I'd love to see a film of the horror genre that relies solely on a deeper, more powerful fear without defaulting to savage blood-letting or a shocker scene to display obvious mortal danger. Creators should imply more without spilling so much red, not to say that Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a bloody romp through over-the-top violence. Not at all, actually.

Out of five I give this film a four. Don't pass up the opportunity to see it.

One of the dark-dwelling "faeries" of the film.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Joe Kubert - Another Legend Passes

The advert was in a copy of Wizard Magazine my mother bought for me at the grocery store. It popped off the page and declared to me the magical Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Suddenly a boy who had been given countless sketchbooks and nearly filled them all had a target, a goal point on the horizon. I aimed to attend that marvellous school.

Things change, sadly, naturally, and I forgot about the desire kindled in the me of my childhood to attend Kubert's school. I never forgot the raw energy of the illustrations accompanying that ad, though. They remain vibrant in my mind's eye.

I was saddened at the news I discovered when I opened my email this morning around 3:00am. It said that Joe Kubert had passed away. The words were there as bold and as powerful as the man's inking, which I've greatly admired ever since I first saw it in Wizard. Another great image-smith from the good old days of comics has left us and a massive void in the industry.

Joe Kubert will be missed and will continue to be admired many, many years from now. I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to behold the man's stunning and powerful artwork. I'm thankful to have seen that ad so long ago and, later in my life, to have beheld his short piece in the first volume of Batman: Black and White. I'll not forget his character Tor. I'll always remember and appreciate his texts on drawing and his desire to teach those who longed to better themselves as artists. He was without a doubt one of the greats, truly.

Thank you for everything, Mr. Kubert. Rest well.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The X-Files - I Believe - Part 1

The title from the opening credits of The X-Files.
It has been a little over a decade since the hit Fox television series The X-Files left the air. After nine seasons and two films, the latest being released in 2008, fans still shout out their desire for more. They, like the series' main character Fox Mulder, still want to believe.

The show hit in the early 1990s and forever changed television. Drawing from inspirational sources of paranormal TV wonder like Darren McGavin's Kolchak: The Nightstalker and David Lynch's Twin Peaks, The X-Files went where no show had gone before. It was a television series in which FBI procedures and crime scene investigations were conducted in a seemingly mundane foreground while sinister, or sometimes not so sinister, supernatural elements thrived in the surrounding shadows. It was atmospheric, engaging, and accommodating to those who embraced the popular trend of 1990s paranoia.

McGavin, depicted here, starred as the sometimes frantic, open-minded reporter Carl Kolchak. Alliteration again marks the hero, I suppose.
Over the next few days and weeks I intend to revisit and comment on the many aspects of this series. It is a show which has greatly entertained me since my childhood and has served to introduce me to ways of thinking which have allowed me to consider the universe in which we all live in exciting and vastly different from normal ways. Through these posts I'll address the production of the series, the cast and crew, the X-Files' affect on culture, and my favourite episodes and moments from the show's long and healthy run.

Stick with me as I travel back to the mid-90s and move forward to explore that marvellous television program that was The X-Files. Please feel free to leave your comments, questions, and any suggestions on the blog post's comment section. I look forward to sharing my X-Files-centric writings with you. 

Also, I no longer seek what Fox Mulder sought for through his adventures I found something meaningful. His tagline, the one which followed him throughout the run and made for an incredibly popular poster, was "I want to believe." After reflecting on The X-Files and making the decision to compose these posts I've decided that instead of wanting to believe or seeking belief I can confidently say, concerning The X-Files, that I believe.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's that point in the Ante Meridiem...

There's that moment when you're at the local grocer and find yourself wandering the aisles in search of something that may or may not contribute to the heightening of the quality of the evening. You find yourself in the wine section, the vintner's unofficial department of finery, trying on your fancy, your Fitzgerald, your monsieurs or madames, but then you say fuck it and submit to your basest self choosing the Hemingway, then sprinting through the checkout to your seemingly impatient automobile which points in a foreshadowing manner towards that seemingly blissful direction. 

It's at home where you fine the implement which has graced your life with the most splendour, the cork screw. After you employ it, attempting severe efficiency, you dive headlong into a hopefully endless, progressing series of blurred conscious moment after blurred conscious moment until you're there. The invisible door stands before you, your demanding hands find it and eagerly forces its portal. You're in. You're sotted. You're fucking drunk. Célébrer, ma soeur ou mon frère!

Now I write to your from the other side, from the soggy side, blurred out of hope of recovery until sleep carries me back to the bounds of reasonable safety. I've twisted the cork, turned the screw, and writ here a shameful admission of non-sobriety. To bed I turn in hopes now of ridding myself of the shame of the journey. Sober and rested may I be at the waking. Until then, away the spirit of spirits, the reek of winebibbery, and the drunken displacement of judgements.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation - BluRay...the New Frontier

It had been a few weeks since I first saw the local theatre's advertisement announcing the July 23, Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG from here on out) special event. When I saw the poster I first lost control of my lower jaw and then turned to my wife to share my combined shock and overly expressed joy. She accepted my weirdness and we went on with viewing some forgettable film. Then came today, Monday, July 23.

Logging in to the local theatre's website out of general curiosity I was reminded of the event I swore I would not miss. Lucky for me that I thought to look for otherwise I would have drastically let myself down. So I purchased the tickets online, knowing that I wasn't going to live with missing this, and then I prepared myself for the coming blessed event. This involved digging out my ST:TNG wearables, like my communicator badge, sans batteries for courtesy sake, and readying my mind for maximum information absorption so that I could come back and write this (ta-dah!).

The theatre itself was fairly full but not sold out. A few fans stood just outside holding a sign to attract members of their party, both of them wearing Classic Trek shirts. As I walked in I was marvellously assaulted by the booming of the Alexander Courage/Jerry Goldsmith theme and I beheld a massive screen full of Trek trivia. The questions were very well thought out (surely in some way their creation involved Michael and Denise Okuda). I was incredibly excited to see that there was even a multiple choice question which asked about the character Q but snuck in a reference to Trelane (a Q-like alien from Classic Trek, The Squire of Gothos) as one of the options. I found myself answering them with ease and excitement as the minutes counted down to start time. 

The fist thing we saw was a commercial of sorts for the July 24 release of ST:TNG on BluRay. This was the reason behind the event and something I grew more and more excited about as the evening went on (I don't own a BluRay player and am therefore not currently as interested as I would be if I did). Following this was a roughly ten minute look at CBS Digital's restoration of the series. The first episode, beginning with an introduction by the Okudas, was Where No One Has Gone Before, and then it was on to a ten to fifteen minute documentary about the origin of ST:TNG (titled Stardate Revisited: The Origin of ST:TNG). The night ended with the last episode (also introduced by the Okudas), Datalore, and then a preview of what we had to look forward to in the Season 2 BluRay set, including a cast reunion special feature that makes me want to run out and buy a BluRay player!

Regarding the restoration, the folks at CBS Digital skillfully took the well assembled filmed composites from back in the late 80s and brought them to a wondrous 1080p clarity. Everything that the original crew filmed was faithfully used and made to look more pristine than ever before. The special effects which weren't originally filmed but instead applied in post-production were reworked by teams who again remained true to the originals and enhanced them in such a way that would make George Lucas blush (more on this later). The two episodes screened were meant to show off some of these new and fabulous effects and CG updates. The effects of the Traveler's advanced Warp were stunning and yet completely familiar. The crystalline entity from Datalore was gorgeous and fully faithful to the original 3D model. As far as sound, they updated the audio from Lt/Rt to 7.1 surround sound. Basically, they took what was already impressive for its time and made it look and sound like, as Marina Sirtis put it, it was shot yesterday. Cheers to them and to whoever picks up the BluRay set. Those lucky nerds are in for a treat!

Now, to touch a little bit on my feelings towards the restoration and update as it compares to what George Lucas did to his Star Wars films. CBS Digital could have taught Lucas a thing or two when it came to fidelity and the true meaning of restoration. They didn't take away, replace, or add anything. They cleaned up the film, enhanced the details which were practically nonexistent thanks to Standard Definition, and they managed not to insert anything too distracting to detract from the enjoyment of the episodes. Now, we've seen what Mr. Lucas has done, and granted those are his movies, but what he claimed to do from the beginning versus what he actually did were two different things. Apparently the Star Trek people care more about the content and the fans than those who hold the leash for Star Wars. That's all I'm saying. 

It was a night to remember and I intend to remember it for the rest of my life, or at least until they find a new medium to which they can convert this loveable series and then create another wonderful event like this to promote it. This was also a night that reminded me of how much I love Star Trek, how much the cast and their creation means to me and has meant to me since I was a little boy, and how great the fans can be when they're all assembled to beam their love at the titanic wonder that is Star Trek. Being there amidst all the laughter and applause as I shared in a fan-love moment with my peers was almost overwhelming. Thanks to CBS and everyone else involved for the wonderful evening. Make sure to buy the BluRay, fellow nerds! You really, really won't regret it.