Tuesday, June 27, 2006


My journey into the big box of , mostly science fiction paperbacks obtained at Half Price Books for $35 begins with Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, in which a handful of intrepid government agents fight off an invasion of alien slugs capable of taking over humans' bodies and bending it to their global dominating will. I chose it mostly because I'd never ready any Heinlein, believe it or not, and, hey, brain-sucking slugs: What could be better?

The book was published in 1951. Boy was it. Later to defend McCarthy, Heinlein uses the book as a not-too-thinly veiled metaphor for the eternal vigilance needed to keep the Communist menace in check. The slugs come in and corrupt good Americans in the name of a greater hive mind. And they don't bathe. It's set in a future after a limited nuclear war that's barely cramped anyone's style. And there are flying cars.

What can save America? Nudity. Yes, seriously, nudity. To keep the slug-possessed (or, in Heinlein's wonderful term, the "hagridden") straight from the normal folks, the American government orders "Schedule Bare Back," which requires everyone to walk around stripped to the waste. When the slugs get wise and find other parts of the anatomy to call home, it's supplanted by "Schedule Sun Tan." That Heinlein had spent some time as a nudist should come as no surprise. The emphasis here is less on sex than the normalcy of being nude.

Not that sex doesn't enter into it. The other conquest going on throughout the novel is the hero's transformation of a willful fellow agent into a submissive bride capable of saying little more than "Yes, dear." This is treated as a triumph parallel to defeating the slugs, and only a little less difficult. Did I mention it was published in 1951? I guess there was some anxiety about all those newly minted independent women from the Rosie the Riveter era.

I don't want to be glib about The Puppet Masters or Heinlein. The ideas here are strong and certainly influential. I don't know if it has any aliens-possessing-humans predecessors, but it's hard to imagine Invasion Of The Body Snatchers or Star Trek's Borg without it. It's also quite compellingly written, mixing tough guy prose with breathless pacing and vivid description. And as for the dated stuff, that's half the reason I'm excited about the project. Weird sex, despicable politics, and slugs: And that's just book one. This should be fun, although book two will have to wait until after I finish Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History Of The Hip-Hop Generation and, in all likelihood, something to review for The A.V. Club.

Last night we saw the new Superman movie, which I like. I guess what surprised me most was that I didn't feel more strongly about it, given that I carry a Superman keychain, work next to a Superman action figure, read the comics, and so on. But I did like it. If you've heard that it's doggedly faithful to the first two Superman movies, particularly Donner's Superman you mostly heard correctly. (Sometimes annoyingly: Parker Posey's fun, but did she have to play virtually the same character as Valerie Perrine?) But it also veers way off canon with some details, which I probably shouldn't get into for spoiler reasons, although if you've noticed the little boy following Lois Lane around in the ads, you can probably put two and two together.

It's a weirdly sluggish, but clearly heartfelt film, and that last bit helps the other bit go down better. Singer and his screenwriters throw in a pile of religious imagery, maybe laying it on a little too thick. A friend of mine called Peter Jackson's last film The Passion Of The Kong; call this The Passion Of The Kal. But it's strong imagery. When we see Superman hovering over the earth, watching, and waiting to help, it's the perfect fantasy of a benevolent god.

So why doesn't it move more, especially when Singer's X-Men films never stopped pushing forward? And why has so little care been given to some of the little details? Nevermind that Clark mysteriously appears at the same time as Superman and nobody notices. That I'll buy. But why is it that virtually nobody seems to have missed Clark and all? And shouldn't Clark be a little offended?

But it gets so much right. Metropolis is a dreamy mash-up of the '40s, the '00s and the decades in between. Brandon Routh doesn't just look the part. He's really good. Kate Bosworth doesn't look the part at all, but she's good anyway. And Kevin Spacey is funny scary. So in short, it's good. Sometimes its great. It's a movie about rediscovering lost faith in things like heroes and ideals and it takes those every bit as seriously as the outsized superhero action. But I'm not sure it's as good in execution as it is on the inside. But I'll see it again anyway.

This is a good summer to be a music fan in Chicago since three major festivals have made it their home. (Hooray for being centrally located!) Pitchfork's kickass-looking festival is still to come followed by the unstoppable behemoth of Lollapalooza (protest all you will, just out that lineup). The weekend kicked it all off with Intonation. Stevie covered it really well at her blog, so I won't double up. Suffice it to say that I'd like to back everything she said about Sparks and that while I really wish I'd stayed for Bloc Party, I was very, very sleepy. Also, here's a picture I took of Robert Pollard. (You can tell I took it since I'm tall enough not to get other concertgoers' heads in the frame.)

Oh, Pollard. I don't know if he makes me happy or sad these days. He's still chasing that rock and roll dream and he's got a really good band to make it come true. But if everyone else feels the way I do, so much of the personal connection to the music has drifted away over the years. It's all big riffs now and variations on the same songs. Nothing tender and unexpected like "Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory." I guess I'm mostly glad he's still out there, god bless him, striking perfect rock and roll poses while his entourage mouths the words to the new songs his audience hasn't bothered to learn.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


What's been happening here, broken down into pieces:

• In another very-married-weekend, much of Saturday was spent re-working our back room and putting up shelf after shelf from IKEA to accomodate our overflowing media. Looks good. Also, some crazy old woman called to say she'd found my cat. She hadn't.
• Stevie bought a new computer, coming over to the Mac side in the process. It's a new Macbook. Tiny but powerful. An apt accesory, in other words.
• Our cable/phone systems underwent a total shutdown (necessitating another frustrating conversation with our provider, who shall remain nameless) and then a miraculous recovery.
• The first of what should be an ongoing series of entries on books from the Big Cheap Box Of Paperbacks (see below) should be up soon. That acquisition dovetailed with an ongoing thought that, gee, I would really like to read some classic (or at least vintage) science fiction. I put all that away as frivolous too early, like toys and comics and all that good stuff. Now it's come back stong. The return of the repressed.
• Stevie's grandfather is quite ill. It's all a bit OT for this blog, but be sure to send her your best. It's not unexpected but that doesn't really help.
• Finally, there's no image that makes sense with this post, so here's a binturong:

Friday, June 16, 2006


Scene: A downtown coffee shop near the screening room. Elvis' "One Night" is playing.
Players: A woman in her mid-'60s, a barista who looks to be about 18-years-old (or maybe she was 12; she looked really young), me.

Woman: Who is this singing?
Barista: It's Elvis.
Woman: Oh, I didn't recognize him.
Barista: Yeah, this is when he was young.
Me: I think this is from around 1957.
Barista: Yeah, it's before he got good. His voice was all scratchy.
Me: Well...
Woman: The '50s. The '50s were wonderful to have lived through.
Barista: Yeah, I've always wanted to. You could do anything.
Woman: No, not really. Not then. Parents still kept an eye on their children. In the '60s...
Barista: Yeah, that's what I was thinking of. In the '60s you could do anything. That would have been great.

And... scene.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


One of the nice things about being an entertainment editor is the I'm deluged with e-mails at all times. Okay, that's not really such a nice thing. But it does mean that I get lots of updates about the doings of Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels courtesy of Webster PR. Yep, every right wing statement, every public appearance, every court date, I hear about it. I just got the e-mail below:

Below is the banner code to post a banner on your website about the upcoming Hank Williams Jr. album. We are asking all media friends to post this on their site to help in the promotion of the forthcoming album. Thanks for your support.

Hey, I think they meant The A.V. Club, but I do what I'm told.

Monday, June 12, 2006


In a very married weekend, Stevie, our friend Anne, and I went to IKEA, dropped a lot of money on shelving and glare-reducing curtains. Along the way we stopped at Half-Price Books where I scored a deal. Specifically this:

That's a box of 75 choice vintage paperbacks for $35. Included, all the Ian Fleming James Bond novels, a bunch of Heinlein, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Delaney, and others. Donovan's Brain, that's in there. It's all pretty exciting stuff and I hope to be blog about it as I work my way through it. There's a non-fiction Fleming book called Thrilling Cities that attracted the following critical notices upon release:

"A bonded tour of fourteen sin-infested cities... I suggest you sample them." --John Barkham, Saturday Review Syndicate

"It's almost as fun as 007 battling SMERSH for the safety of Fort Knox. Other travel tomes may list beaches and shopping centers but Fleming concentrates on more interesting matters: bawdy houses, GIRLS, gambling, GIRLS, whiskey, GIRLS, dirty entertainment--with and without GIRLS. He provides a sort of
Playboy guide to the cities where James Bond would go for recreation." --Denver Post

"Racing... hairy-chested... intoxicating." --Oakland Tribune

That might be first up. Also, we saw A Prairie Home Companion, which was terrific. It's not only very much an Altman film and true to the radio show. But it's also a feature-length tribute to Midwest stoicism that subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) stresses the importance of living with death. It's not the kind of film young people would make and, as much as I like the youth-friendly fare that's kind of refreshing too.

Let's look at some of those books again.

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R.I.P. Tim Hildebrandt

When I saw that Tim Hildebrandt died today I couldn't quite place the name. Then I saw that, with his brother Greg, he was responsible for this:

This is the image that, for me, erases all the special editions and lousy prequels, even restoring the veneer that time and age have stripped away, and takes me back to how I felt about this movie as a child. Just magic. The Hildebrandts were also responsible for this:

I knew it best as the cover to a Tolkien companion guide I bought at the height of Tolkien phase. No matter how good a job Peter Jackson did, this will always be what the Fellowship Of The Ring looks like. It was covered with copy for the book ("now with a complete guide to The Silmarillion!") and the image folded badly around the paperback spine. But still, it worked. So here's to the Hildebrandts and all the other semi-anonymous artists on packages and posters who probably never knew how many they reached, even if we don't always know their names.

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Friday, June 09, 2006


My entry in Coudal's 2006 edition of Field Tested Books, in which various people recall reading various books in various places, is live. It starts like this:

In the summer of 1992 I decide not to go home. I'd just finished my freshman year at Wittenberg University and, rather than move back into my parents' house, I opted for a part-time job in the admissions office and an empty room in a virtually abandoned dorm. Great plan except for one small problem: Campus life at Wittenberg-a small, Lutheran, liberal arts school-was hardly thrilling in the best of times; during the summer months it's the kind of place where you could die in your room and it would take days for someone to notice. (That's not a joke; it happened two floors down from me.)

You can read the rest here

I'm keeping good company, too. Nathan Rabin's there and so are a bunch of other good writers.

***UPDATE:: Link is fixed now.****

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Thursday, June 08, 2006


I will confess to Googling™ myself yesterday only so I can share this page from Criticker ("the best Movie Recommendation Engine and Community on the Internet!")

It's so sad when you lose track of yourself.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Actually, I don't have an easy answer for that. But I'll bullet-point it for maximum impact.

• On Friday we went out to dinner with a friend of ours who just got accepted into a pre-med master's program (which is good news and band rolled into one.)

•• Saturday morning we went to see an advance screening of Cars. It's good, but kind of shockingly for Pixar, not great. Maybe near-great's the right phrase. The first half-hour is fast without being all that sharp and unfortunately, for lack of a better term, attitudinal. (Think Dreamworks.) But once it reveals—or figures out, whichever—what it's all about it just keeps getting better. Just stay patient until you hit the Randy Newman song, which is heartbreaking even though it's sung by James Taylor. Also, if Paul Newman wasn't born to play a wise old race car, he's grown into the part. And kudos for using Richard Petty as the soon-to-retire champ.

•• Saturday night we went out to celebrate the (some would say long-overdue) engagement of some friends at a Chicago restaurant called Block 44, which continued the good-but-not great theme of the evening. The company was delightful and the food mostly good, but my pork chop was underdone in parts and overdone in others. How does that happen? I told Stevie that I wouldn't be in a hurry to go back there which she rightly pointed out has become a stock comment for me when we eat at an expensive restaurant. I think she thinks I'm being cheap, but I'm pretty sure it's because once I pass a certain price-point for my meal, I want something where the effort shows. That mostly means my taste runs to some of the more fusion-y places in town (the Indian-meets-LVermilionllion, the French-meets-Vietnamese of Yoshi). So maybe it's not that I'm cheap so much as that I'm kind of a hick.

• Sunday was shopping and the Sopranos finale with Scott and Ali. The episode's gotten mixed reaction, but I'd put it in with the show's best, if only for the sequence where Chris and Nurse Hathaway watch Vertigo. Alan Sepinwall points out the thematic connection to that movie, with Chris, however unconsciously, trying to turn his new girlfriend into Adrianna. That hoccurredccured to me (although it makes sense). But for me the scene was the way it played out in slow motion, juxtaposing a happy image of courtship over their drug use, refusing to prioritize one image over the other while Bernard Herrman music, with its circular sound and pre-existing associations, made it clear that they were both stuck in a place they wouldn't be leaving soon. Some people always end up crashing the same car. And the end was so brilliant, and pretty much set up from the first episode. It's a beautiful home but it's all a lie. And it's about to come down in the last eight episodes. At this point, who doesn't have a sword hanging above his or her head?

• Also, not weekend-related, but eMusic has officially become my source for those albums I've always meant to get around to buying but never did. Purchased today: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, and the second Swell Maps album.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Thanks to one of our web guys, I obtained a free piece of photo-editing software called Imagewell. (Available here.)

Here are Brigitte Bardot's eyes in isolation, haunting and make-up caked.

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Friday, June 02, 2006


It just makes sense, really.

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1. Jaleel "Urkel" White now blogs about basketball for NBA.com: Check it out.

2. Doing a Google image search for "Pikachu" yields some pretty strange results. For instance:

3. I've got to teach someone else how to do this part of the job.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

I know the idea behind this is to be viral as hell so by blogging about it I'm part of the problem (if you consider viral marketing a problem.) But there's a European company now taking an, um, innovative approach to their new catalog that deserves some comment. It's called Shai Wear and I read about it on the American Apparel blog. (Yes, they have a blog. I was there because I keep getting deluged with requests to write about their soon-to-launch Internet radio station, which they're treating as if were their own invention and the only Internet radio station out there. Ahem: WOXY.)

To counter charges that their advertising is essentially pornography, American Apparel refer readers here. Shai, which specializes in "human packing," has a new line called "Sex Packing" and they're rolling it out with an interactive catalog involving pornographic clips that allow users to freeze the action and look at catalog descriptions of the items being worn (or, in some cases, torn off.) Here's a PG-13 screenshot:

Curious about how much that top costs? Just roll over it. Or, let the action keep going. It's up to you.

And nobody needs to feel left out. Users have the option of watching clips labled "Men Men," "Women Men," and "Women Women." They're each artfully shot, cast with attractive and enthusiastic actors, and quite explcit. They also run about three minutes long and feature choppy editing, which has the final effect of making them more functional as advertising than pornography, whatever the quantity of bodily fluids on display.

Is this the future of advertising? It's sure to get them plenty of chatter. There's even a feature for bloggers to embed the clip in their sites, which I won't do, although it would surely increase my traffic into at least the double digits.

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