Thursday 19 December 2013

Snow Dog

You talkin' to me?

The Trilogy Meter

Apparently this has been tooling around the internets for awhile now, and there are oodles of variants. The original was by Dan Meth and can be seen here. I've included it below as well for reference:

Great stuff, but as you can see, some of the ratings are a bit off. So I've done up my own version below, 'correcting' the errors. Personal opinion: everyone has one, along with a butt hole.

My version is mostly sympatico with the original, only more so.

Easily readable charts of pop culture phenomena are a lot of fun. We've all seen the films. This is one meme that took off and can be found all over the internet. Some even expanded it to include entire series.

I'm with mainstream opinion on several of the franchises, particularly Die Hard (first the best), Superman (second the best), The Godfather (the third stinks), and The Matrix (first, natch). Some things are just obvious.

The original Star Wars trumps Empire though. New Hope has a great ending, one of the most climactic in cinema history. That's what sets it above Empire, which, while a great film, lacks a really satisfying conclusion. It's a middle chapter and suffers for it. Jedi, on the other hand, is generally overrated, even as a mediocrity. The film is a mess. Luke's 'plan' is nonsensical, the Ewoks are preposterous, and the Death Star Mark II repetitive. Only Ian's cackling Emperor stands out. It's fun, but not on the same level as the first two.

Raiders of the Lost Arc is the perfect adventure flick, the best ever, and miles ahead of the two sequels. Spielberg skirted the edge of believability with the first, and  felt he had to stage even more outrageous stunts in the sequels. This bursts the bubble of disbelief and the series descends into slapstick. Temple of Doom is bad that way, but the third is even worse. It's flat out parody. Sean Connery and Ford mug for the camera and do an imitation Abbott and Costello comedy routine. The whole thing is embarrassing.

The Matrix sequels I enjoyed; I may be the only one who did. There are a lot of ideas packed into these films, which make the overlong fight sequences bearable. The cinematography and staging are excellent. They're fascinating thematically and can be viewed on multiple levels, delving into philosophical issues that the mass audience found off putting. Understandably so, I suppose. The first, of course, is miles ahead of the two sequels (as is so often the case). It was a genre expanding experience that only happens once or twice a decade. 

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a slow paced, majestic bore. The fabulous Wrath of Khan more than makes up for it. I don't even remember the third.

The first two X-Men movies are remarkable. The second is the best; the underlying themes, exploring conformity and persecution, work even better here than in the first. It's one of my favourite superhero films, after The Incredibles.

Spiderman I've never been able to get excited about. Just doesn't interest me. Pretty much same for Blade, which I've left as is because I can't remember the series well.

All of the Lord of the Rings movies were enjoyable, but the first was particularly strong.

Jaws is the only one worth watching for my money, but it's a tremendous treat. Made me afraid to swim in the pond when I was little.

Back to the Future is a fun filled banana split sci-fi/comedy sundae. The sequel is the cherry on top. The third film, in which Michael J. Fox plays everyone in the past, is a spill on the floor.

Die Hard is the urban version of Raiders: the perfect action flick.

Beneath Planet of the Apes is underrated and widely derided, but I like it. The contrast of telepathic, pacifist mutants who worship an atom bomb with the aggressive, militaristic, primal ape society is a wonderful juxtaposition. Intellect vs. instinct, and neither comes out looking good. The sets of depicting the ruins of New York are great, at least to my nostalgic eye. After this film, however, they really had to stretch (for reasons that the ending makes obvious) to get a third entry, and that's when the series really fell flat. The continually diminishing budgets didn't help either.

The first two Terminator films are tremendous. I'd rate the first one higher than the second, in all honesty. It was so refreshing at the time.

Films you can't go wrong with: Star Wars, Empire, Raiders, Matrix, Khan, Superman II (granted it has not aged terribly well), X-Men 2, Fellowship, Road Warrior, Jaws, Back to the Future, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, Godfather I & II, Rocky, Terminator I & II.

The rest? Watch at your own risk.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Bitstrips expands

Bitstrips is an app that lets users create their own custom comics from some 30 million avatars. It  was bound to happen. They've just gotten more funding.
Who knows?

Maybe it will make comics more popular.

There are already a number of sites that allow you to make customized animations from pre-built parts, such as GoAnimate, Xtranormal, and Zimmer Twins.

And they keep getting better.


Saturday 7 December 2013

Death of Print?

The discussion continues over at Bloomberg, where Megan McArdle talks about Baumol's cost disease.

"New York magazine is very successful. Its editor is very well regarded, and it wins lots of awards. It gets scads of Web traffic. It publishes magazine features that win the admiration of fellow journalists and has also become practically ubiquitous on social media. And, apparently, it still can’t pay the bills as a weekly publication. Hearing that New York magazine can’t make it as a weekly is, for a professional journalist, rather like being told that your teddy bear has cancer. How is that possible?"


Tuesday 26 November 2013

Tricky Dicky's Realpolitick Playing Card Deck

I've always loved playing cards. They're derived from the Tarot deck, just without the Major Arcana. Fascinating history to them. I've done a Tarot deck, but at some point I'd like to tackle it again.

This deck is 60s themed. The Jokers are Woodward and Bernstein, the suits Atoms, Diamonds, Eyes, and Bombs.

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor Review (SPOILERS)

Fun. Enormously clever fun, worthy of an anniversary. Great lines for all the major players, including 'Rose'. The Zygon threat is a bit perfunctory, but that's a quibble. There's lots going on here, mostly about The Doctor and his choice to end the time war (which is echoed in the Zygon subplot).

It's all about choice, baby!

The episode starts with a scene of what passes for domestic bliss in the TARDIS between The Doc and Clara, planning a vacation romp together, but quickly segues to The National Gallery in London, complete with the a bit of Harold Lloyd style comedy schtick along the way, where trouble is brewing. It works, it fits, it's fun.

A freaky creepy otherworldly threat (this is Doctor Who) is presented in the form of devilish but unidentified creatures that have escaped from paintings, which were serving as stasis prisons. Clever idea, nicely realized, and tied in to the ultimate conclusion.

Moffat is laying his trail of breadcrumbs with aplomb here, and for once I think he's set just the right number. Not so many you feel buried in foreshadowing, but enough  that the ending makes perfect sense. At least as much sense as an episode about a man who travels in a police box, one that's bigger on the inside to boot, through time and space can make sense.

John Hurt is delightful as the missing doctor and he gets some great comebacks to throw at his bickering, older yet younger selves. The banter is bang on. Not vicious or mean spirited, but playful and witty. Just what is needed, and it flows naturally, like bullets. It's not stilted or forced, which can sometimes be the case with Moffat.

Tenant and Smith are roped in to John Hurt's apocalyptic mission by the sentient interface of the powerful doomsday weapon, which choses the visage of Rose Tyler to represent its conscience. I'd have gone with Donna, but it's a doomsday weapon, so what can you expect. In so doing, she/it actually allows the Doctor to transcend the moral hell he had cast himself into the first time around.

There's much fez tossing and running around throughout, mostly played for laughs, but not so broadly as to become completely farcical. There's still a hint of drama, and the pace is relentless. The episode never drags, the dialogue never grates. Tenant kissing a giant sucker covered fetus disguised as the Queen of England is another highlight.

When the Doctors figure out a way to escape from their dank prison in the Tower of London, it's not only a clever solution, but it too figures in the climax. It reminds me of City of Death, and that movie with Dennis Quaid about a radio that can talk to the past.

The comedy cherry on top here is that after coming up with this fabulous solution, Clara just walks in on them. The door wasn't even locked. Brilliant. Funny but not stupidly so, for Queen Elizabeth has plans for her dear Doctor and husband.

"Our future depends on one single moment of one impossible day, the day I've been running from all my life. The day of the Doctor."

The Daleks figure only peripherally. Nothing wrong with that. They orbit the narrative, beyond the edge of the screen, driving the Doctor to his seemingly inevitable, terrible decision.

The moral dilemma the show posits is put forward quite bluntly: is it just to sacrifice millions to save billions? Is it even a real choice? The humans are posed the same dilemma, albeit on a smaller scale, byt the Zygon invasion.

Rather than running or turning away in shame at the horror of it, all three Doctors join together, as one. Hurt does not have to face the burden of genocide alone. But wait! There's another switch and a sharp injection of hope: having decided to bring an end to their own people, Matt Smith has a spark of inspiration (helped along by 'Rose').

That's what The Doctor does. That's what we want him to do.

And so a new plan is born, one which creates a wonderful excuse to throw all the Doctors fleetingly together. Not just Matt Smith, Tenant and Hurt, but all the classic Doctors, plus Eccleston. They're only seen on monitors, blurred, briefly, but its yet another fun 50th nod. Having the lot prancing about the stage would have been a Herculean challenge to manage narratively. This is more than enough. But it gets better.

After the danger is passed and Gallifrey has been (possibly) saved, we have the final cherry on top: Tom Baker strides on stage to exchange a few words with his young ward. Baker is his usual irreverent self, and it's a pleasure to see him in the role once again. Always been my favourite.

The show ends with the Doctor set on a new mission, this time one of hope rather than despair and destruction, in search of his home planet, Gallifrey, now lost, rather than destroyed.

It's a fun switch, and well handled. Bringing Gallifrey back immediately would have been too easy. This will give the show narrative thrust for seasons to come, and a purpose to his new adventures.

Happy 50th Anniversary, Doctor Who.

May you have another fifty.

The review at The Guardian is entertaining.

And if you're looking for a ranking of the ten best classic episodes, here's my take. Just to be controversial, a ranking of doctors by ability. An overview of the show can be found here.

Friday 22 November 2013

Me and my buddy Samuel L. Jackson

He's so much less animated in person. Kinda got a waxy complexion too. Go figure.

Rebel Angels: The Infernal Comedy

Promotional poster for my new graphic novel (otherwise known as an overlong comic book), Rebel Angels, coming soon from SLG Publishing. Originally titled Hell Lost, it's a satire about a counter revolution in Hell. Action, adventure, and comedy all wrapped up in one rapturous package!

Dark, scheming, convoluted plots abound as Hell's Machiavellian intrigue breaks out into open civil war that will change the face of the cosmos forever!

Check out the first issue for free here from Comixology.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Cinecitta Studios

After visiting Pompeii and Rome itself, I got a real kick out of stopping by Cinecitta Studios outside the city, where the sets of HBO's Rome series still stand. They're made out of wood, of course, and if you knock on them they sound hollow.

But it's still fun to see what Pompeii's streets might have looked like back in the day.

Most of the city's cut off at chest height, or lower; only a few buildings still retain their original roof. The baths is one. It's quite well preserved, with murals and mosaics still evident.

Outside, there's graffiti on walls, penises at corners, and a incredibly well preserved (and restored) brothel.

But if your imagination needs an assist, Cinecitta does the job nicely. Like Disneyland, it's not entirely accurate. Archaeologists and the cognoscenti will be appalled, but fellow philistines will find the HBO sets like a walk into the past.

Best of all, unlike previous Sword and Sandal epics, the sets here are painted in more realistic colours.

Map of the Studio
There's an indoor display that plays footage from films shot at Cinecitta, as well as props and costumes.
Costumes that have graced the sets
To reach Rome you must first pass through the crumbling remains of the Gangs of New York sets.
Only facade deep
Poor state of repair

New York City on the Tiber
No Name Arch, with a passage to Ancient Egypt beyond
Abandoned giant head
Used Catapult, slight wear, best offer
Statue used in the film Gladiator
Fountain; very close to what currently exists in Pompeii

Me loitering in Ancient Rome
Labyrinthine streets
HBO's Rome, set of Rome, architecture of rome, roman architecture, sets at Cinecitta
Rostrum in foreground, with temple in background

The Rostrum, the public speaking platform, complete with ship prows.

Reminds me of the Tabularium at the Northern end of the Roman Forum
Set for The Borgias: A Venetian church
More Venice
Medieval village

Constructivist Inspiration

I've been a fan of the Constructivists since I first discovered them; they had a striking sense of composition and were doing design work far ahead of its time. Unfortunately, they were shut down for being too free thinking and replaced by Socialist Realism, boring pap featuring happy people gazing off into the utopian future. The communist equivalent of cigarette ads.

Took the pictures below at a show in London. Not the top ten parade, and my photos leave much to be desired, but they're pieces I'd not seen before.

The AGO in Toronto had a show of Constructivist work last year which was also quite good.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Rebel Angels #4 now available

Comixology has Rebel Angels #4, the satirical graphic novel by James Turner, available for purchase now, for just 99 cents. An amazing deal, I assure you. But that's what you expect from the good folks at Comixology.

The blurb: "Lightbringer Nolous whips the demon hordes into a frenzy and has Balthazar presented with a gift that sets battle into motion. Alecta Fury leads an aerial counter-charge against Balthazar, setting two mighty infernal armies on a deadly collision course from which only one can survive. In the chaos below, Ich's true identity is revealed."

Sound mind blowing? Like the excitement of Christmas on crack? Better than syrup slathered blueberry pancakes and maple smoked bacon accompanied by a hot steaming cup of fine java?

You bet it is.

Find out if Hell really is other people in this instant classic that isn't a Hellboy graphic novel, but does feature demons that might be related on the maternal side to everyone's favourite hornless hard ass.

One day next spring it will be available at your local comic book shop.

The wonderful cover (above) for issue four, depicting Balthazar and Alecta Fury going toe to toe, was done by the talented Paul Rivoche, who's worked for just about everyone who is anyone, including DC Comics, WB Animation, and Adhouse books.

Recently he's been doing Iron Man covers for DC.

Now I've snagged his genius for an issue of Rebel Angels. Hurrah!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Head of Destiny CD Cover

For a band. The roboporpoise of death!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Piranesi Updated Part IV

Piranesi  began his magnificent views (Verdute) of Rome series in 1748, and kept at it until his death. The prints were collected by his son, Francesco, who followed in his father's footsteps and became a skilled artist in his own right.

The Prisons (Carceri) series was begun in 1745, of which I have written before and will write again, as it is a source of endless inspiration. Having visited Rome, I have no doubt now that the series itself was sparked by the cyclopean Roman ruins he was spending so much time with. Just as The Prisons series has, in turn, inspired so many others.

I tried to follow in Piranesi's footsteps in Rome, and update his view. Many of the locations from which he drew are no longer accessible to the public, are underground (within the Via dei Fori Imperiali, for example), in thin air (some thirty feet worth of sediment and debris have been removed from the Roman Forum since his day), or are now blocked by trees. I was also far from scientific or rigorous in my approach. Nevertheless, it was a thrill to put his work in context.

The Temple of Antonius and Faustina has become a macabre hybrid of Roman Imperial and Renaissance architecture. Antonius was one of the wise emperors. He fought not a single war during his reign and didn't get within 500 miles of a legion. He and his wife founded charities to help orphaned children. Faustina spent her life assisting the poor. Not stuff that gets the press, as Nero and Caligula do so readily with depravity and hedonism.

The gentlemen below with their mule are walking along (or rather above) the old Clivus Capitolinus road, which ran up the Tarpeian Rock to the Capitolium and the Temple of Jupiter, Best and Greatest. The Temple of Jupiter existed up until the 15th century in reportedly good repair until this priceless monument was demolished to make way for a Renaissance era Walmart.

There are a pair of these so-called Horse Tamers, representing Castor and Pollux, which stand on Quirinal Hill in the Piazza San Pietro. Copied from Greek originals, they now flank an Egyptian obelisk.

The Theatre of Marcellus is the only remaining Imperial or Republican theatre in Rome, it was turned into a fortress and later private residences.


Trajan's Column now sports a saint atop, instead of it's namesake. The multistory Trajan's Forum, which surrounded it, allowed the upper sections to be viewed more easily in ancient times. Now, you need binoculars.

The Temple of Saturn once sat atop the Roman treasury. It was destroyed by fire multiple times and rebuilt.

Trajan's Column can be viewed from two angles, both including a church in the background. Piranesi rendered both.

The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore is built atop Roman ruins, some six meters below ground now, which can be explored through a series of tunnels. Some murals and mosaics are still visible.

Max was drowned at Milvian bridge after his army was defeated by Constantine. His Basilica was then completed by his opponent, but mostly destroyed later by earthquakes. Only one wing of this colossal building remains standing.

The image below is not a Piranesi, but it's a nevertheless fascinating rendering of what the northern end of the Roman Forum might have looked like at its height. On the upper left, you can see the Temple of Jupiter. The Tabularium runs along to the upper right. Below is the Temple of Concord (of which little remains today, it having been razed in the 15th century and turned into a lime-kiln), and in front of that is the Arch of Severus. The arch is still with us thanks to it being incorporated into a church.