Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blog banner

As you can see I finally got around to making a banner image for the blog. I'll post it down below as well for posterity (in case I change it later).

Here's a different version I made using images from a page from the ol' Cowboy Monkey comic (I found the decorative accents through a Google image search):

This next image is the one, as of this post's publishing date, currently being used. This was made using drawings I did for our wedding invitations back in 2007:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

I had never even heard of the group until I read on a gaming site that their single was going to be released for download in Rock Band. I guess that's not too surprising, since I don't really read or follow music news. But I do try and follow news of the few bands I regularly seek out, so you'd think a band made up of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) would have appeared on my radar at some point since their first appearance in June 2009.

The line-up alone was enough to sell me, though I did seek out some of their songs on YouTube. I ordered it through Amazon on Tuesday and got it last night.

It's a great album. With vocals and guitar hooks provided by Homme, it's going to remind you a lot of QOTSA (which certainly isn't a bad thing), but it's unique enough to lay claim to a separate identity. I'm not good at the whole "song by song" thing, but for what it's worth, here you go:

The first song, "No One Loves Me and Neither Do I," has a very QOTSA feel to it. But the next one, "Mind Eraser, No Chaser," has a running rhythm that will evoke a Foo Fighters chorus. The single, "New Fang," is just a plain old catchy rock song. "Dead End Friends" begins with an eerie tune that I think best fits the album art. "Elephants" has a great hook and quickly ramps up into a fast-paced rocker, but then slows down into the trudging beat we know from other QOTSA songs. I wish it had maintained the initial energy throughout, though it does kick up at the end again. "Scumbag Blues" reminded me more of an easy going Led Zeppelin song. "Bandoliers" is good, and I can't really think of a good way to describe it. Towards the end an extended guitar and organ duet kicks in. "Reptiles" is Zeppelin right from the get-go. Jones' bass has an instant presence, and Homme's guitars say the same thing. Good one. "Interlude with Ludes" is what you'd expect, and it's not my favorite. Spacey drugged out song. "Warsaw..." is a bluesy, slower, grungy march. "Caligulove" features more organ and has a good skippy beat. "Gunman" has a dance-song feel that reminded me of Muse's "Supermassive Black Hole" at first, but the chorus is eerie QOTSA. "Spinning in Daffodils" reminded me of early QOTSA.

I think if you're a fan of at least 2 out of 3 of the original bands, you'll really dig this.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2009)

A few weeks ago I went to see Paranormal Activity with a good bunch of dudes (Doug, Ethan, Will, and Hugh). We'd all heard a bunch of buzz about this being a genuinely terrifying movie without gore, so we were all excited. We saw it with a good responsive crowd, so it was a fun time.

The promotion for this movie has been designed around the idea that the less you know about the film, the better the experience, so I'm letting you know now that I'll be discussing specific content in the review below. Fair warning, go ye n'further if ye want to see the movie unspoilt.

The movie is structured like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, in that it's documentary-style "found footage." The story concerns Katie and Micah (pronounced "Mee-kuh" because his parents hated him), a couple who live together in San Diego. Katie has been haunted by a spirit or presence for years, and it has returned again. Micah is a skeptic, and decides to set up a camera to try and capture the phenomena of the haunting. As it turns out, it's a demon that's been following her. And the demon wants her (for what, it's never clear). And it doesn't like being taunted, it doesn't like the camera, and it doesn't like Micah. By the end it has fully possessed Katie and killed Micah.

The movie is pretty good. I try not to give bad art a pass because it was made on a low budget, and fortunately these guys did a great job by using their limitations as strengths. The best parts of the film are the titular paranormal events, most often observed in the bedroom set-up. It begins very subtly, with a door moving and some audible foot-steps. By the end Katie is being dragged out of bed in one of the most terrifying scenes in the film. Other notable scenes include the appearance of three-toed demon footprints in baby powder that Micah has spread around, an Ouija board that moves by an unseen hand and then bursts into flame, and a shadow moving across a door. Each time the demon is present, the audio turns low and bassy, and it's a great effect for giving the sense of an evil oppressive presence.

The stuff I didn't like was all the relationship drama. I understand the need for it for the story structure, but it was mostly boring, and, at its worst, unbelievable. It's understandable that Micah would scoff at and taunt the demon in the beginning when he doubts its existence, but it's beyond stupid that he would say, "No one messes with my girl; I'll take care of it" when he believes it exists. And "I'll take care of it" seems to mean doing nothing other than more bro-posturing.

Which leads me to the biggest hole in the film. No one, at any point, decides to consult an exorcist. Or at least some religious figure. If you're convinced and terrified that there is an evil demon tormenting you, I don't care if you're Richard Dawkins, you're going to consult someone or something on the "good" side to try and protect yourself. As an American in 2009, you're aware of the pop-culture surrounding demon mythology. Everyone's heard of The Exorcist. Everyone knows the idea of God vs. the Devil, angels vs. demons, good vs. evil. So the fact that there's not one mention of God, Jesus, angels, whatever, is unbelievable. Not as a Christian, but as a movie-goer. It's odd, too, since the movie does a good job of addressing our other concerns (like why don't they just leave the house).

Last complaint: CG demon face at the end was stupid. When the rest of your movie is made up of practical, believable effects, don't suddenly end it the way a cookie-cutter horror movie would with a distractingly obvious demon face biting the screen black.

The movie is an impressive demonstration of making something genuinely affective without any money. While it didn't shake me to my core, it provided a few good scares and a good sense of atmosphere. Worth a rent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More bad Western art - Outlaw Territory

I've been meaning to write about this for a while now, but finding these images online (saving me the trouble of scanning them from the book) made it easier.

I bought Outlaw Territory, a Western comics anthology, earlier this year. The cover was pretty cool and I had hopes that there would be at least a few good stories or some sweet art to make the purchase worthwhile (I know anthologies like Flight, Gunned Down, and Marvel Westerns well enough to know that you're guaranteed some stinkers). Unfortunately, there were only 2-3 contributions that I can think of that were any good. Most of them were, at best, boring and uninspired, and at worst, full of terrible art.

The selection below (from First Car in Mexico, by Andy Macdonald and Daniel Heard) is by no means the worst. In fact, it's actually pretty good! Nice lay-out, colors, and drawings. Except for -- say it with me now -- the guns.


Those are the weirdest banana guns I've ever seen. And they're so detailed that you'd swear the guy wasn't making them up! He doesn't fudge the design behind weak renderings like Phil Noto. But trust me, he is pulling those out of his butt. There's never been a revolver with a grip like he's got going on there. As you'll recall, I don't mind invented guns if they look somewhat close to reality (i.e. the artist knows what the appropriate guns look like and bases his invention on logical principles). But those handles . . . ! The weird thing is, he apparently knew enough to draw a loading lever underneath the barrel in the top panel, which would be appropriate for a black powder revolver. Maybe he only had half a picture for reference? From mid-cylinder on? Because everything from that point back is wacky. And then in the second-to-last panel he doesn't keep his gun anatomy consistent at all. He's confident in his invention, hoping that they look like real guns to his audience. But I'll bet you he'd laugh out loud and smack his forehead if you showed him a real revolver (from any point in history, really).

Here's a different example (Gut Shot by David Miller and Philip Fuller). The rendering isn't bad in this one. Bland, but fine. But the coloring kills it. It looks like the colorist discovered the bloom effect and decided every single panel should have it. Honestly, look at it! Every panel. Someone hide the lens flare from these kids before things get worse.


This next one (Griswold's Song by Ming Doyle) is an odd duck in that the gun was obviously referenced. It has a weird added-on panel where the barrel meets the cylinder (should be one piece), but the rest of the anatomy is fine. But the way everything is rendered is so squirrelly and ugly as to ruin it. Also, check out his hand in the bottom panel. Aside from being ugly, it's position relative to the gun makes it appear as though the grip is, once again, extending straight down underneath the hammer. Bad, dude! How could you do that if you had reference of the real thing for the rest of it?


This page isn't the worst of this entry (The Bounty Killers by John Cboins and Shannon Eric Denton) , but it does at least show the illustrator's failed attempt at a Kent Williams-ish style. There are some really wonky faces in some of the other pages. It also tries to convince me that you only need to draw backgrounds in the establishing-shot panel. Sorry, pal, you can get away with that a bit when you're doing dialogue, but when it's an action scene, and you have a lot of negative space in the second panel, it's obvious and amateurish. Filling it with color doesn't fix it.


I constructed this post using only the examples from the blog. Eventually I'll scan some of the really bad stuff to show you. The worst one of all will astonish you with its badness. Like, bad for the internet, let alone a published book.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Recent movies - Bad Company, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Gunga Din

Bad Company (1972) - Odd little "Western" featuring a very young Jeff Bridges as Jake Rumsey. Rented based on Nate Bell's recommendation via Netflix. It's about a straight-laced and up-tight kid named Drew who is dodging the Civil War draft and ends up in the company of Jake and several other dodger kids. The gang wants to make its way west, and intends to fund the expedition by robbing anyone it can.

While peppered with humor, Bad Company is also memorable for its dark and violent moments. When they try to steal chickens from a farmhouse at one point, the youngest kid in their gang is shot and killed. The camera pauses for a solemn moment on his tiny lifeless body before returning to the escape. It is a hard scene to watch. There is an equally violent but less emotionally damaging scene later when Jake and Drew take on a inexperienced but cruel gang of older gunslingers -- and win! I found myself cheering for the kids because it's such an unexpected turn but it's actually believable. It's a great action scene; written, staged, and executed nicely. Below is a shot from the end of the fight. The guy is plugging up his neck wound with his finger! Gross, dude. It's not played for sympathy; he's soon dispatched and we're still riding the high of triumph that the kids have had over these guys.

David Huddleston stands out as a gunslinger named Big Joe who turns up in several scenes mentoring the aforementioned older gang. One of the funnier moments is the first meeting between the two gangs as he supervises the older robbing the younger with helpful coaching. The scene ends on a memorable moment as Jake attempts to draw on him and we see how fast Big Joe is. Later, when Joe is caught by a US Marshal, there's a great scene where Joe is allowed to demonstrate his gun handling prowess to the younger deputies. It's a somber scene, as the Marshal and Joe know that the long relationship between them will finally end in the morning with a hanging. (Ironically, Jake gets in trouble because he wants to be more like Big Joe -- 25 years later we saw Bridges trying the opposite in The Big Lebowski.)

Bad Company is a movie with an odd feel. The relationship between Drew and Jake is the thing that drives the movie. It works pretty well, but I found myself interested more often in the ancillary stuff (as you can see in my "review," where the relationship is hardly mentioned). Jake is a fascinating character to watch, but Drew annoyed me, so it was tough to root for him.

Quick note on the guns: the movie is set during the Civil War era, and the guns are entirely anachronistic.  As you can see on the cover below, both boys carry Colt Single Action Armys, which were first patented in 1873.  This is common in pre-1960 Westerns, but not for a movie as late as 1972, and I suspect the director just didn't care about that aspect, as his armorers would surely have warned him of the error.  Metallic cartridge firing pistols are easier to deal with on a set, and he probably thought most of his audience wouldn't notice the error.

One last thing: I love Bridges' look on the DVD cover. I want to steal the costuming and color for one of my characters. It's very simple, but it's such a cool look. It misleads you about the actual movie, but on its own it's awesome.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) - Hadn't seen this one since becoming a gun nob, so decided to check it out again. I remember not really caring one way or another about it when I first saw it, but upon revisiting it, it's moved up in my list. A big reason for that is Chief Dan George's portrayal of Lone Watie. He's such a great character. Watching the making-of doc, Eastwood notes how he wanted to feature Native American characters who weren't simply stoic sages or angry savages. Lone Watie is such a funny guy, and the relationship he has with Josey makes the movie for me. There is also plenty of help from a fine supporting cast.

Gun-wise, how could I not love a scarred hero who carries dual Colt Walkers? Everyone's seen the iconic image of Clint wielding those two massive pistols. (In fact, there are several different such images, each of them famous.) This capture demonstrates the scale:

Later in the movie, he carries four pistols on him at a time. Love that. The scene towards the end where he advances on the villian dry-firing all his pistols is brilliant stuff.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie (featuring the beautiful Geraldine Keams):

"Only an Indian can do that."

Another favorite moment that uses the whole movie to build to the punchline: Josey spits tobacco everywhere throughout the movie. Probably spits 15 times or more. Usually to show his contempt for something or someone. He spits on this poor dog three or four times. Towards the end, when he's in the old woman's house, he goes to spit, but catches the old woman's eye, so he swallows it.

Gunga Din (1939) - Fun adventure movie. A young Cary Grant is a bit over the top with his goofy shtick and not-quite-believable accent. When it starts it takes you in several. It goes from Indian assassins killing Brits to a slap-stick bar-room brawl to talk of a treasure to a man's special relationship with an elephant. Finally it decides to be about war buddies who don't want their friend to get married, so they hook him into a rescue attempt where they will fight a horde of Thuggee death cult members (yes, the same Thuggees found in Temple of Doom). Oh, and Gunga Din? He's the water bearer who tags along with dreams of being a British soldier. Yep.

The fights in this movie are something special. Unlike other fake looking fights from this era, these are convincing and impressively choreographed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Hurley Pro

A few years back brother Josh joined me at the San Diego Comic Con for a day. While he enjoyed himself, for him it was a glimpse into an alien world. I could identify most of the "celebrities" there; I geeked out if I saw Jeff Smith or Mike Mignola walking by.

Last Saturday I experienced the inverse when I accompanied Josh to the final day of the Hurley Pro being held at Trestles in San Clemente (right on the border of San Onofre -- check out the power plant in the background of the picture below for reference).

We got there at about 8:30, but had to park a few miles away and take a shuttle over. It's not the easiest beach to get to to begin with, but it was an absolute zoo because of the contest. We got there in time to see the tail end of Taylor Knox's heat against Roy Powers. Knox (pictured below) is an alum of Carlsbad High School, so naturally we were cheering for him. He won the heat, but the waves weren't very consistent in the morning, so it was a lot of waiting around. Josh geeked out frequently by identifying surfers and industry people walking around us. Apparently brother Ben (who missed it because he was -- wait for it -- surfing) is an even bigger surf nerd and would have been able to point out a lot more. They were also handing out free swag from time to time, another similarity to Comic Con.

We stayed for two more heats, first Dane Reynolds (pictured below) vs. Rob Machado (I actually know who they are!), then Kelly Slater vs. Kekoa Bacalso (heard of Slater, of course). Reynolds vs. Machado actually had to get restarted 10 minutes in because neither one caught a wave. It was really boring at the beginning. When waves finally did come through, it was pretty fun to watch. It was my first time seeing pro surfers do their thing live, and the waves weren't breaking that far out from the beach, so we had a pretty good view of the show.

After the Slater heat, we went surfing ourselves at "Uppers," north of the contest spot. I've only surfed Trestles twice before, it's a world-reknowned spot, and there was a pretty big line-up already out there, so I was nervous about going out. But it turns out there were more newbs than veterans out there, so I had nothing to worry about. I rode Ben's single-fin and had a great time.

Later we got out and went back down to the contest to see the quarter finals. I think we got to see Knox vs. Reynolds first. The waves had picked up, so it was an exciting match, very fun to watch. We stayed through Slater's next heat too, also good, and then took off, watching the rest live on the internet.

It was a fun day, and I loved being the lesser nerd for once.

(All the photos are from Hurley's website.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Name on the Bullet (1959)

This is a pretty good little Western that I'd love to see remade (or remake myself, in comic form). The title and premise are fantastic. Very simple, but ripe with promise. A known assassin-for-hire, John Gant (played by real life war hero Audie Murphy), arrives in town and checks into the hotel. Everyone has heard of him, but no one knows who he's there to kill. His method is also known: he provokes his target into a fight and then kills him in "self-defense," so he gets away with it legally. Gant plays it cool for several days, allowing the more tightly-wound members of the town to self-destruct under their own hidden guilt. He befriends the town doctor named Luke (Gant reflects on the Biblical reference to the apostle/physician) before Luke learns who he is.

The build-up is handled pretty well. The seedier residents immediately begin to panic and conspire against each other and Gant. None of them are particularly memorable characters, but they ratchet up the tension and provide a few great scenes when they each face Gant. The most memorable is when a tall, skinny, wife-stealing gambler gets drunk and confronts the seated assassin. Gant calmly prods him, even placing his palms flat on the table. "All right. If you think you can do it, go ahead and try. My hands are on the table. I couldn't possibly outdraw you. So go ahead and shoot."

Another stand-out scene features Gant facing down a large posse determined to kill him or drive him out of town. "There are many of you. Yes, you could kill me. If you're willing enough. But it's only fair to tell you that I'll kill you, Stricker. And you, Dutch Henry. The physician. His father. And there might even be time for you, storekeeper." The scene has been played out many times since then, most memorably for me in Tombstone, and while I don't know if No Name on the Bullet was the first to use this scene, it's certainly one of the most potent uses. (Warlock had a similar scene, and is also from 1959, by chance.)

Save for Murphy (and maybe Edgar Stehli as Judge Benson), the performances are mostly adequate. They do the job, they're certainly not bad, but they're nothing special, either. I'd like to see some stronger character actors filling the supporting roles in a remake, and a more interesting actor playing Luke. (The most interesting parts with Luke are always Gant's reaction to him rather than Luke himself.) Murphy as Gant captivated me, however. I don't think all of that was because of his talent, however. While he certainly plays his role well, with a Death-like calm and serenity, I had recently devoured his Wikipedia entry and was in awe knowing that this baby-faced actor was one of the most decorated soldiers in history*. It was hard to divorce the man from the part while watching him.

The dichotomy between the killer and the healer is perhaps a little too obvious, but it works here. Some of the dialogue from Luke is a little on-the-nose, and I longed for a more interestingly written character, but Gant's dialogue is pretty good. He has some really good lines and only a few clunkers. (Anytime he makes medical jokes to Luke, like "that's your prescription doc... fill it," I groaned.)

With a length of just 77 minutes, this is a decent Western with a few exceptional elements that are worth your time.

*Seriously, read it. It's fascinating. That guy kicked a lot of Nazi asses. They even made a movie about it; Audie played himself. That one is coming soon in the queue.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unflattering snap-shot

While perusing DVDBeaver's review of Monsters vs. Aliens today, I came across the screen capture below. I still haven't seen the movie (it's in the queue and I'm looking forward to it!), but even during the trailers, the design of the humans bothered me. I liked the creature designs quite a bit, but the people looked weird. The guys' faces were oddly lumpy, and the women looked too similar to each other and to other CG designs I've seen. This particular screenshot, though, is particularly unflattering. It looks as though a 3D model was made based on a 2D drawing that didn't quite translate into an appealing puppet when viewed at all angles.

I think the eyes are the worst part, but the mouths and jawlines are funky too. Look at the mouth of the woman on the far left. With the way that the teeth are visible it just looks incorrect. Like I drew it, not understanding bone structure and anatomy well enough to bluff it. I know they're stylized, but it seems like you'd want to make sure the stylization didn't hurt the aesthetic functionality of the model before you approved the design.

I've noticed this with other CG films, but this screenshot really brought the issue into focus. Anyhow, still looking forward to the movie. I've heard it's a hoot and a half.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Family Brag: Surfing

I may have mentioned here before that my brothers are great surfers, but I just discovered that, as of this weekend, there is finally a qualitative measurement that will prove it.

Josh participated in a fund-raising surf contest last Saturday and took 2nd! He got a giant trophy and everything. I think he said there were about 30 contestants. The guy that took 1st also got 1st last year, and his name was "Lance," which fits in perfectly with Josh's dream of being in North Shore (the bad guy in the movie, played by surfing legend Laird Hamilton, was also named Lance). The funds were raised for a Mormon scout troop, I believe, which doesn't fit in quite as well with the North Shore narrative.

Anyhow, thought that was cool.

Happy birthday, Baby-Cakes

My wonderful wife turns 29 today. Here she is in 2005 acting her age.

Love you, Sugar Gams!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This year's stupid trend

Every Fall I get to watch all the new students come back to Biola with all their new clothing trends and what-not. I'm now six years out of college, which is apparently long enough for me to notice and hate what all the kids are wearing.

Some of the trends from the last few years include: head-bands (guys and girls), leggings under skirts and shorts (girls), Castro hats (girls and guys -- only lasted for a brief season, though), vests (girls, some guys). Most of these are gay-tarded and I hate them. (Amy is now writing me an angry comment about "gay-tarded.")

The newest one, which isn't all that new, but has surged in popularity, is cut-off jeans. For dudes. And not baggy jeans, the tight hipster jeans. I tried finding a picture of a dude wearing this online, but Google Image Search still insists that mostly girls are wearing this, so that will have to do. Rest assured, though: the picture below is exactly what these shorts look like on these guys.

What's worse, some of these dudes cut them off just below the knees, making them effectively "man-pris" (credit goes to my friend Joel for coining that term). It used to be just one guy we saw a few years ago wearing shorts like this. Now every hipster dude at Biola is wearing them.

Youths! Youths and their clothes! *waives cane menacingly*

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Recent movies - District 9, The Hurt Locker

District 9 (2009) - Really enjoyed this one. My favorite thing about it is the casting and characterization of the lead, Wikus. He's such an unlikely hero, and not in the traditional predictable Hollywood way. This actor is a complete unknown, he looks and acts like a simple-minded but well-intentioned nerd. His superficial appearance, for one thing, is something you'd never see in another Hollywood action movie. He's small of stature, has a goofy mustache, and combs his hair the way I did for most of my life. Personality-wise, the movie establishes very early on that he probably only has his job because of his father-in-law, and he's not very forceful or confrontational, which makes you all the more nervous for him when he sets out to evict the violent and unpredictable residents of District 9. (A friend of mine said that as he was watching the movie he kept waiting for Wikus to get killed and the real protagonist to show up.) As you watch him progress through the movie, you begin to love him and really root for him, and it demonstrates great strength on the part of the actor and the director for bringing this about.

Beyond Wikus, the documentary style that moves to traditional story-telling works, the action is great (though gory - them's a lot of folks explodin'), and the characters of Christopher and his son work surprisingly well, given the limitations of the aliens' design. Oh, and the robotic suit? RAD. It also seems set up for a sequel (even the obvious sequel name of District 10 makes perfect sense given the events of the movie).

The Hurt Locker (2009) - Another one I was able to catch thanks to Shane. This is a hard one to nail, for me. As I was watching I could see all these potential paths the story could have gone down, but never did. There were lots of little details that turned out to be unused for the overall narrative. At one point we see the main character Sgt. James has been collecting signature pieces of the bombs he's defused. Later he discovers a child's body that has been used to create a "body bomb." Still further on in the movie he and his team decide that a particularly nasty carbomb wasn't a suicide bomb, and that the perpetrators must be nearby. We've also seen suspicious people at nearly every bomb site, people who are never addressed again. Each of these elements could have added up to a showdown between a villainous expert bomb-maker and Sgt. James, the reckless but talented and intuition-based bomb defuser, a la Blown Away or Speed. But they don't. These are just pieces of James' life. A picture of the last days of their groups deployment in Iraq. The film is structured more like a documentary than a standard narrative. The pieces don't add up to a plot, they add up to a character.

Even then, James is not an open book. I didn't quite get him, not even at the end when Shane reminded me of the movie's opening quotation: "War is a drug." We get a sense of him, and of the other characters, but they're not sharply defined by a descriptive piece of dialogue. The sense is that James enjoys being good at his work. He likes his teammates. And he relates and works best in that environment. When he gets home, he comes off as purposeless. We believe that he loves his wife and son, but in a distant way, and he doesn't quite know how to relate to them. Earlier, when we see him rather recklessly head off-base into an Iraqi city to find whoever is responsible for the body-bomb, we come to realize that the movie isn't painting him as some thousand-yard-stare, gung-ho warrior who loves combat for combat's sake. He's a man who cares about human life, even if he handles his own and the lives of his teammates a too loosely. He's an interesting and complex character, and the movie doesn't cheat to paint him that way.

The pacing of the movie is also unique. Again, in a conventional action movie, you could predict the beats as they come. There are several points in Hurt Locker where you think you know what's going to happen. But the scenes are cut in an unconventional manner. They are often edited so that the falling action and relief after each big tense moment are cut off. You are suddenly back on base. The feeling is like falling through the sky without a parachute, and when a parachute suddenly appears in front of you, you are teleported to the ground. You don't get to enjoy the relief, it's passed over.

By the way, the tension and action scenes are very entertaining, even if you are digging your nails into the armrest. Besides the many IED disarming segments, there's a great sniping scene when the team runs across some friendly bounty hunters in the middle of the desert. (An interesting aspect to the war that I haven't seen touched on anywhere else.)

I've been trying to figure out the message of the movie. I'm not sure if it has one. It seemed content to dwell on a few characters. The Iraq setting is almost incidental. It provides a really unique setting and vocation for the character, and it's about war (albeit a very different aspect of war from your typical war movie), but you wouldn't really call it a war movie. Or maybe you would, and we just haven't adjusted as movie-goers to the new reality that is modern warfare.

Ironic note: Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break, the source of many of the action cliches discussed in Hot Fuzz. She has now directed The Hurt Locker, an action movie that avoids all the ones I can think of. Rather than being full of meaningless fake (fireball) explosions, all the explosions are very consequential.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Public Enemies (2009)

I recently got to see this in the Dreamworks theater with my friends Shane and Frankie (thanks, Shane!). It was a movie Shane and I had been really looking forward to since they first announced it.

Unfortunately, it was a let-down. The easiest way to critique it is to call it a weak version of Heat (one of my favorites, by the way). Heat gave you a fascinating look at the lives of the two leads, making them real and sympathetic characters. Public Enemies was really lacking in that department. I didn't connect with Dillinger or Purvis, or anyone else. I don't think it's the fault of the actors. The script was either lacking from the beginning or hacked during production.

Despite the lack of emotional connection, there are a few good things to be said about the movie. For one, Mann once again did not disappoint in the action and sound-design department (see also Collateral and Heat; Miami Vice also qualifies, but it's a terrible movie). The shootouts are loud; they look, sound, and feel very realistic. Furthermore, despite some shaky-cam hand-held work (die, trend, die!) and the occasional obviously digital picture quality that made you miss film grain, there were some beautiful compositions. The opening in particular has a great location that makes for some cool looking minimalist framing. Costuming and locations, of course, were all good. It was funny seeing the British actor who played Tommy in Snatch as Baby Face Nelson. And Faramir as a nameless henchman who must have been offed at some point.

To sum up: disappointing. Worth it if you have a good sound system for the action scenes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kill! (1968)

This is another selection from Criterion's Rebel Samurai collection. Samurai Spy is the last one I still need to see.

What a fun film! I didn't realize until it was over that it was based on the same story that Kurosawa adapted for Sanjuro. As I was watching, some similarities did occur to me (scruffy-but-skilled protagonist with disdain for traditional samurai life; small group of samurai hiding out from corrupt official), but it is otherwise (and even in those similarities) a completely different story.

The basic plot concerns a group of samurai who assassinate a corrupt official and then go into hiding, awaiting the arrival of the good official from the north who will come set everything right. As they are waiting, another corrupt official is trying to hunt them down. The two main characters come into town looking for work and food, and become involved on opposite sides.

Tatsuya Nakadai plays the experienced and world weary Genta, and it's my favorite role of his yet. He's such an affable decent fellow, and his interactions with Hanjiro (Etsushi Takahashi) make up a large part of the charm of the movie. It's also very different from his role in Sanjuro, which is also very different from that in Yojimbo (that guy is in just about every samurai movie). Hanjiro is an aspiring samurai, a former farmer whose years of toil have made him very strong. He's not the brightest bulb, but he's enthusiastic and determined, despite Genta's constant warnings that samurai aren't all that great. The opening scene where the two of them meet in a desolate town, looking for food, is a perfect introduction that sets up the relationship and tone for the rest of the movie.

It's a very funny movie, but it's black comedy to be sure. One of the earliest gags involves the image of a townsperson who has hanged herself. It's played for a laugh, and it works, but that's pretty dark. Like Sanjuro, Kill! doesn't care for the samurai values and has a good time deconstructing them.

Kill! also has a great soundtrack. Most memorable is the spaghetti western styled guitar from the beginning of the film.

Like the better spaghetti westerns, the movie features some great compositions, cuts, and editing. And a great score featuring a Morricone-esque guitar number at the beginning. And some great action (Genta knows his sword-play).

If you're interested in a black and white samurai movie that isn't all stern-faces and yelling, check this one out. This is one I'd show friends who were not up for a "serious" samurai film.

Making Movies Better: Breaking Scenery

I was watching The Matrix: Reloaded last night, and was reminded of another annoying action-movie trope that should be corrected.

Throughout the movie (and the rest of the trilogy) there are a lot of kung-fu fights, and lots of statues are broken, walls caved in, and benches splintered. The effect is supposed to sell how powerful these guys are and how dangerous the fight is. But because everything is shattering so easily with little to no effect on the body that's shattering it, the effect is, instead, of a guy flying through a weak prop. When Neo gets slammed into a wall for the billionth time, I'm not thinking, "Wow, what a strong hit!" Rather, the thought is, "Boy, what weak walls!"

The only time a fall ever looked like it really hurt was in the first one when Neo falls on the floor of the subway station (near the tracks). The floor doesn't give at all, so you know he fell on real concrete. So much more effective than if the floor had cracked or buckled! In the same scene he's slammed into one of the walls, and he slams Smith into the ceiling. Neither of those looked like they hurt, because the walls gave way like it was 1/4" dry-wall over soft isulation.

The solution is to sell these hits better. If someone hits a prop, it should give far less than it usually does in these movie. If he punches a wall, maybe MAYBE show a little crack; don't let his hand pass right through 6" of concrete. Showing the prop stop the hand will be a lot more effective in selling the reality of the prop. If a guy gets thrown into a statue, don't have the statue completely give way and break into a million pieces. Everyone will think it's made out of styrofoam. Have him bounce off, or knock it over. Same for a tree: he should bounce off, not snap the tree in half. And, if you have to have the prop shatter (bench break, wall crumble, log snap), show the effect of it on the actor! Don't have the actor just fly through the bench like it's dust! Maybe only a leg of the table breaks, and you show the actor bounce off the rest, hurting his back. Something like that will tell me, "Dang! That was a real hit! It must have hurt!" It broke the table leg, but you could see that it was "real" by the way the actor's body interacted physically with it.

This is a companion to this post, Making Movies Better: The Reeling Fall.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Comic Con 2009

Amy and I had a great time at Comic Con this year. Here's the run-down:

Friday - (nerd-shirt worn: Catscratch by Doug TenNapel)
- drove down, intended to make copyright panel, but hit traffic, so we stopped at my parents' house and hung out for a bit.
- met up with Biola friends Tawney and Elizabeth for dinner in North Park (San Diego). Good Mexican food place. There were rainbow banners everywhere because it had just been Pride Week, I think. Honestly, every single storefront on that street had one. Pity the poor business that didn't order theirs in time.
- Elizabeth then drove us to Eisners (comic book award - like the Academy Award for comics). Eisners were next door to the Convention Center at the Hilton. Got there in plenty of time. Sat with forum friends Ethan (nominated for Best Humor Publication for his book Chumble Spuzz 2, the one I have a pin-up in!), Ethan's brother and co-writer Isaiah, Ruiz and his girlfriend Brenda, and some others. Doug and Sean McGowan found us.

Eisners were boring, slowly paced, but Patton Oswalt and Reno 911 guys (presenters) were funny. One award was accepted on the winner's behalf by a guy dressed in a silver cape and t-shirt that said, "Yes, I am a Gay Robot." He gave a really long and incredibly unfunny acceptance speech. Doug had us rolling with his comments about winners and presenters throughout the ceremony. Ruiz was laughing hysterically at bad presenters and long-winded acceptance speeches. This old Mad Magazine writer was given a lifetime achievement award and went on for 20 minutes. Ethan didn't win (bummer!). We all left after that.
- Eric Peterson, Isaiah Nicolle and I were going to go surfing Saturday morning (like last year), but I forgot my cell phone and wasn't able to arrange boards or coordinate a meeting time, so we decided to do it on Sunday instead.

Saturday - (nerd-shirt worn: Ninjas Everywhere by Scott C)
- wanted to go to Chuck panel, but got there at 9:45 and line was already closed off. Didn't know floor opened at 9, either. So, Amy and I started walking the floor, aisle by aisle. Saw John Kricfalusi and Kali in booth. Said hi to Kali and told her I admired her skill. She was flattered I recognized her. She was very nice.
- bought a shirt from Giant Robot booth (another Deth P. Sun shirt - the blue one)

- met Scott C, who saw my shirt, exclaimed. Asked him for a cowboy monkey sketch. He did a great one.

Amy bought one of his prints.

Very nice guy. We talked about Bodie.
- met up with Hethe for lunch. It was good catching up.
- went by Doug's booth. Doug wasn't there, said hi to Eric Branscum, a friend from the forum and Sockbaby 4. Browsed Doug's original art pages.

- found this awesome prop of a fictional gun from a comic called 13 Chambers.

- came across some cowboy dudes.

- went to Behemoth booth, got picture with Orange Princess (what a nice gal!), got Barbarian sketch from Dan Paladin.

- went to annual Hodown with TenNapel and forum buddies. Doug bought us all chimichangas. Met Dave Nielson, who happens to live in Carlsbad and happens to know Hethe! Nice guy, we gave him a ride home. Josh Kenfield attended his first ever, and we hung out with Frankie for a bit, too. Also chatted with Eric Brown. And several other good friends from the forum.

Sunday - (nerd-shirt worn: Gear by Doug)
- got up at 5:30am to meet up with Eric, Isaiah, and Eric's wife Shayla for surfing. Only got a hold of one extra longboard, so gave those to Eric and Shayla, while Isaiah and I took shortboards. The waves were huge that weekend, but we went to Teramar, which doesn't face the south, so the waves were medium to small. Didn't stay out for that long, but had a good time. Water was really warm. Isaiah and I took the longboards when Eric and Shayla were done and caught a few fun rides.
- got down to the Con early to help Doug work booth. Amy dropped me off and went to find parking. Got on the floor by 8:30am with Exhibitor badge and walked floor with Doug for a bit, admiring artwork. Went back to the booth at 9 when floor opened to everyone else.
- watched Doug interact with some atheist/agnostic fans. Very graciously done. Planted a good seed.
- Doug's wife Angie came by and we talked about her days of airplane piloting (!).

- met a guy who made an escrima movie because he was inspired by Sockbaby. Nice dude.
- met a girl who is a producer for Xbox in WA. Another friendly person. Amy was there and we all had a good time chatting. She and Amy shared a "Mid-West Girls" bond.
- sold a lot of Doug's limited Earthworm Jim prints. Sold out of Jim, still had a couple Evil the Cat at the end.

- at the end of the day, we helped Doug pack up and took off for home! Had a great carnitas meal with the folks and bros.

There are many more pictures from our Con experience on Amy's Facebook, too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jerk means "idiot" or "mean person"?

The terms "jerk" and "a--hole" have meant "mean person" to me as far back as I can remember. Those were the earliest playground definitions. But watching older movies (sometime in the 80s and earlier), I've noticed that they both used to mean "idiot." Steve Martin's The Jerk is an obvious example. I always thought that movie was about a guy who was, well, a jerk. A person who was unkind for selfish and douche-y reasons. It wasn't until I finally saw it that I realized it meant The Idiot.

Watching Spaceballs as a younger kid was similarly confusing. (I shouldn't have been watching it at that age in the first place, of course, but that's what friends' houses are for.) There's a whole bit when Dark Helmet discovers that a large portion of his crew is made up of cross-eyed morons, all of whom possess the surname "A--hole." I didn't get why these dumb guys were called that. They weren't mean, they were stupid!

I don't know when the transition from "idiot" to "mean person" took place, but I don't know anyone that still uses those terms in the earlier sense anymore, so it seems to have been a universal shift. Anyone else notice this? When did the change occur?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Minor brush with celebrity

I recently discovered that Zoë from the band Looner is the daughter of famous film score composer Basil Poledouris! I met her a few years ago.

Zoë and her husband Angel emailed me, said they really liked my art and asked if I'd be interested in doing some for an album cover. They had seen this image on Google Image Search:

It's titled "Bah-loon" on my website and I guess it came up when they searched for "looner" or "loon." I then went to one of their shows and met them and we seemed to hit it off. They were both very nice and enthusiastic about working together. We corresponded a bit via email as I worked on thumbnails for them. Then we picked one that we decided on as a final, which I finished and sent over.

I didn't hear anything back for a while, so I emailed them again, and got a really weird and short message back. Something about a friend or associate dying and them moving to another state. No, "hey, thanks for the work," no "sorry, we've decided to go in a different direction," nothing. Just a statement of fact and no further contact. They'd been using one of my images in their promo material for a while, and continued to do so after breaking off contact, but I waited a bit and they eventually removed it all.

It was a bummer because I liked the concept we worked out and we got along well. It was one of the more fun projects to work on, simple though it is. I still have a t-shirt and CD they gave me that night.

Poor cover art for "Western" from Accent UK

By gum, it's been a while since my last complaint.

And man have there been a lot of Western comics lately. Two new anthologies just popped on my radar (this one and Outlaw Territory), and I just saw that they're making a The Good, Bad, and the Ugly comic (the preview doesn't grab me, and I may write a post about the ridiculous break-top 1851 Navy seen in one of the panels).

The subject of today's post is the cover to Western, drawn by Kirk Manley.

My problems are only with the guns. First off, you have the shell ejectors (the tubes along the undersides of the barrels), which, on an actual SAA (the gun I'm assuming Manley is trying to depict), are actually located along the south-western side of the barrel (from this view). The picture below reveals this beautifully.

On later double-action revolvers, where the cylinders swung out, the ejector rod was moved to the position Manley depicted. But on SAAs, you can't push a shell out through the center of the cylinder, so the ejection takes place right there through the open loading gate (as show above). A lot of artists are guilty of substituting double-action revolver characteristics on their cowboy guns (as I've pointed out in the past). While the ejector housing location isn't a huge sin, it still demonstrates a lack of research and reference.

Other minor sins include the fact that the ejector rod looks hollow, like another barrel. The back of the trigger-guard also appears to connect with the grip, which is incorrect for any revolver. It looks like a revolver top welded to a 1911 grip (the pistol on the right is a clearer example). The pattern on the grip, too, was not common on revolvers back then.

But the biggest sin of Manley's should be obvious to the layman. Did you find it yet? Take a look at the grips. Look at where they enter the top of the fist and where they exit out the bottom. See it? It looks like this cowboy is squeezing those grips so hard they're coming out the bottom of his fists like a gooey piece of taffy. It's really obvious on the right side. Doesn't that look horrible? The grips are way too long. Even if they were structured correctly, you wouldn't see that much grip coming out of the bottom of his hand. The length combined with the way they bend forward towards the viewer makes for a really poorly referenced drawing that is glaringly bad once you're aware of it. Not only is the gun anatomically incorrect, but Manley didn't use reference of a hand holding a gun.

I also wonder if Matt will have something to say about the font used for the title. Isn't it that same over-used font that we saw in the Man with No Name comic?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Hit (1984)

After the long (and ongoing!) discussion on Nobody's blog about No Country For Old Men, I couldn't stop comparing that movie to Stephen Frear's 1984 film The Hit. Both movies feature cold hit men and both use their characters to explore how people approach death.

The basic plot is that a "supergrass" (epic stool pigeon, played by Terence Stamp) who squealed on his former boss in exchange for immunity has been captured 10 years later in Spain. The two hit men, wonderfully played by Tim Roth and John Hurt, are taking him to Paris for execution. It's a bit of a road trip movie, and a lot happens along the way. The most important event is when they pick up a young woman named Maggie (Laura del Sol) as a bit of insurance against a colleague ratting them out.

Hurt's character (Braddock) is a seemingly emotionless professional hit man who is getting on in years. He wears dark sunglasses indoors and out, and despite his cool demeanor and professionalism, makes several mistakes. Roth (Myron) is a new kid, taken along on his first hit as Braddock's protege, eager to prove he has what it takes, yet obviously wet behind the ears and easily manipulated. Stamp (Willie) walks through the entire movie with a calm acceptance and a bit of playful maliciousness towards his fate and captors. His demeanor mystifies both Braddock and Myron. He cites his 10 years of book reading as the foundation for his new outlook on life and death.

**spoilers begin with the comparison of Braddock to Chigurh below**

Myron thinks he's ready to see death, to deal it, but each time he is given the opportunity he avoids it. By the end he's not so sure he wants to be a hit man at all. And, of course, he has no idea when it's coming for him, and his last words as Braddock's bullet goes through his eye are, "What's this?"

Willie has read books about life and death for 10 years, and seems very confident in his understanding of them. He goes along willingly (after his initial struggle when he is captured) for the entire ride, and even refuses to escape when given the opportunity. He seems to enjoy being "above" everyone else and mischievously causing trouble with Braddock and Myron. His mischief isn't innocent, either, as he gets a man killed by suggesting to Braddock that a particular man will squeal. He knew exactly what Braddock would do, and that it wouldn't affect his own fate at all, but he still does it. Yet, at the very end, when Braddock decides to execute everyone before they've crossed the border, Willie breaks down. He insists that he was supposed to die in Paris, according to the plan, and runs off, getting shot in the back. Braddock's response to Willie's change of heart is an incredulous, "You mouth!" Willie thought he had learned to accept death, but when he finally came face to face with it, it undid him. We'll never know how he would have responded had he actually met it in Paris as expected.

Braddock is the only figure of the group that actually deals death. I don't think he represents death as cleanly as Chigurh does, but he is clearly its agent. He knows he can't escape it forever, so he seems to have resigned himself to being its tool. He probably thinks that as its agent he has more control over his own time and place. His puzzlement at Willie's acceptance makes him question his own beliefs about death. He thought he understood it, but here is a man who doesn't seem to fear it at all. This causes him to question himself throughout the movie, and make "mistakes" that he normally wouldn't have, like sparing Maggie several times. Even after Willie shows his true colors and shatters the illusion that had been building, Braddock still ultimately spares Maggie, perhaps because she saw it coming and refused to accept it; she even physically fights Braddock on several occasions. Braddock is perhaps hopeful to retain the tiniest sliver of his humanity by sparing Maggie. Or, maybe he just respected her will to live. Minutes later, as he lay dying because of letting Maggie go, he winks at her, and has no choice but to accept his fate.

**end spoilers**

There's more to it than I've laid out here (I haven't mentioned the stylish production -- location, music, etc.), but that was the most interesting aspect to me, and I'd be curious to hear anyone else's opinion (especially you, Nobody).

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pook stuff

Frankie complained last weekend that I don't post my own stuff very often, and he's right. I usually only post finished stuff, which I don't do all that often, though I sketch all the time. So here are some sketches concerning my Pook comic.

First up is Miner Tom. I don't know if he'll be in the final book or not, but I liked the little doodle (mostly because it had a background that looked ok and I don't do those very often). As you can see, I did it almost a year ago.
Next is one of the pooks. I like the proportions on this guy, and for some reason I don't always get them looking right when I'm actually putting them down in the comic. They're very simple, but there are certain aspects that have to be right for them to have the right appeal I'm going for. The size and shape of the body, the eye level, and the legs are the major ones (what else is there, actually?). This one also has a nice invented background. Very simple, but at least it looks like he's in an environment.

Last weekend in San Diego I tried to come up with some possible covers. I wanted something with a conceptual hook and decent composition.

This first one is ok, though with the title at the top I think it might function a bit better. Also, you can't see that the fuse is lit.
This next one is the same concept, but a different composition. It highlights the concept a lot better. Then I went for the "crowd scene." This image points directly to the nature of the pooks in the book, and I like the composition. For a final, I'd more clearly delineate the movement from dark to light coming from the end of the tunnel.
This last one isn't a very good cover or composition, but I included it just because there's are decent bar/hotel bits in the background.

I'll try and post more sketches soon.