Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Perhaps I need to say a few more words about my initial feelings on the Conan reboot movie.

I had a few catty words about the star, Jason Momoa. Honestly, I've got nothing against him per se. He's an actor and I'm sure he knows this is a much higher profile gig than his previous jobs on Baywatch and Stargate: Atlantis. I'm not going to blame the guy for ambition, or for winning the genetic lottery. I hear he got signed for the HBO Game of Thrones series, and that is a vote of confidence. HBO's cast is solid and the network seems committed to turning out a quality fantasy show.

I still think he's way too pretty to be Conan, but I'd give the guy a chance if everything else looked promising. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

Let's see the plot as outlined on that fount of InterTubes wisdom; Wikipedia:

"Khalar Singh, an old friend of Conan's father, Corin, arrives in Cimmeria seeking Corin's help in finding Ilira, the 'Lost Queen of Archeron.' When Corin refuses, Khalar and his mercenaries attack. Corin and the other Cimmerians are killed, but Conan escapes. Conan becomes a thief and eventually seeks revenge against Khalar for killing his father. In the meantime, Khalar has found and captured Ilira on his own, but her bodyguard Tamara escapes. Tamara meets Conan and the both travel to Khalar's city, Khor Khala."

This plot has next to nothing to do with Robert E. Howard. I could easily replace every reference to "Conan" with "The Beastmaster" and probably achieve the same resulting movie. It's generic Sword and Sorcery Plot #69. With the exception of "Conan" and "Cimmeria" none of these characters or places appear in the original stories. The plot is unrelated to anything that happens in the Howard stories.

Perhaps I'm ungenerous. After all, the Milius Conan film was at least as divergent. Well, call me a hypocrite because I'm giving that film a pass on two grounds. First, Milius and his writer (Oliver Stone) managed to capture the thematic tone of Howard's stories. Second, I grew up with the movie; it's as simple as that sometimes.

But we're now in the post-Lord of the Rings era. Would Tolkien fans have applauded a movie in which Frodo was a swashbuckling hero with a magic ring who, alongside his jovial sidekick, Gollum, worked to free Middle Earth from the Oppression of the Dark Riders? What if Hollywood insisted on matching Frodo with Arwen because all heroes need a love interest? Hmmm... Maybe Frodo is too short, hairy and his feet are too big. We should fix that. Maybe we can make Hobbits a bit taller, or elves a bit shorter. Certainly Hobbits should be a lot less hairy.

No. I don't think that would've worked well at all. Of course, Peter Jackson did make some adjustments to keep the running time down, but he remained faithful to the source material. Is there something wrong with Bob Howard's work that we can't do the same for Conan? The episodic nature of Conan's story is perfect for a movie series. I could easily see 3 - 5 Conan movies. Harry Potter has proven audiences will stick with a longer, but finite, series that move toward a conclusion.

Conan's story has many interesting aspects ripe for the screen. He's born on a battlefield, grows up in a warrior culture, and marches to war at the age of 15. His first battle is against an imperial invader challenging his way of life. Yet it sparks an intense curiosity in him, and he does something few others in Cimmeria dare do. He travels. At its core, Conan's story is about exploring the world. (BTW, this is great for providing exposition to the audience. Conan always needs to have things explained to him.) He builds a career and frequently changes jobs. He has a wonderful cast of supporting characters -- and many of them are strong female roles. He overcomes increasingly difficult challenges, and eventually achieves great fame.

There's no reason to discount Conan because he is a pulp character. If treated with respect and dignity, the source material could yield something every bit as rich and insightful as the Nolan Batman films.
So, it's not Jason Momoa I have a problem with. But I think his casting is symptomatic of the production. We're being given generic stuff under a Brand Name. I can't shake the feeling that casting Momoa was less a case of finding the right actor to portray Conan than it was a casting director thinking, "He looks fabulous with his shirt off!" Because that's all Conan is to the production: Branded, Grade-A Beefcake.

Our Star Blazers!

Squee!!! New Trailers from a live action Star Blazers (a.k.a. Space Battleship Yamato) being made in Japan. Premieres there on December 1, 2010. No word on when we might see it. Still I am giddy with geeky excitement!

Villainous Robin

Various reports have it that Robin Williams is interested in a role in the next Batman movie. This could sound like a recipe for disaster... unless you've seen Christopher Nolan's Insomnia. Williams plays an excellent malevolent psycho in this movie. Makes you think he might make an interesting addition to the third Batman movie.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Even Barbie falls for James Bond

Mattel has released a news Collectors series of Barbies for James Bond fans. It looks like there are three in the set: Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, and Jinx.

I wouldn't normally follow Barbie collecting, but these have some crossover appeal for genre fans. Also, these are interesting choices for the set. Finally, I love being able to say "Pussy Galore" with a straight face.

Come on, you want to say it too.

What Someone Else is Wearing Right Now...

Let me explain something to a few of you... This is a cool T-shirt if you're under 10, or it's Halloween.

If you're over 30, pot-bellied, balding, and wearing white socks with moccasins while you walk around the mall... This is not a cool T-Shirt. This is advertising to the world that you are the real-life sequel to The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Not that my taste is all that much better...

What I'm Wearing Right Now...

My wife hates my Bawidamann T-shirts. But I think they're pretty cool.

Beowulf & Grendel

For Father's Day, I received some cool books and new DVDs, including a copy of Beowulf & Grendel, starring Gerard Butler in a pre-Leonidas role.

I'm a big fan of the original Beowulf poem. Really. It goes back to my youth when my father read me tales out of used library book about knights and heroes. There's a simple pen& ink drawing seared into my memory of Beowulf holding Grendel's arm while the troll lopes off into the woods. In high school, my freshman West Civ teacher expressed his love for the poem, and it became a running joke among my classmates that he probably was Beowulf reincarnated.

I read it in college, and struggled with the Old English. It took awhile before I could appreciate the beauty of words I didn't really understand. It has to be read aloud for a few minutes before you begin to latch onto the rhythm and tone.

I read the Seamus Heaney translation and finally came to understand the poem as it was, not as watered down in children's versions, or a Cliff's Notes synopsis, or in the many variations on the story. I'm convinced that the original Predator movie is a direct literary descendant of Beowulf.

Of course, I saw the Zemeckis/Gaiman animated version of Beowulf (sexed up with Angelina Jolie). I admire it as an epic attempt. I especially like how they managed to make the dragon sequence more organic and less episodic. It doesn't fit the modern expectations of storytelling. But it ultimately doesn't work for me. Gaiman tinkered with the story too much.

Beowulf & Grendel suffers from one of the same flaws as the animated Beowulf, it insists on giving Grendel a motive. In this movie, it even insists on giving Grendel a sympathetic motive. There is no exposition in the epic poem about why Grendel does what he does, he is one more inexplicable force of nature. It is a random doom sent on the Danes by fate. This, BTW, is one of the reasons I think Predator is an excellent modern take on the poem. The Predator shares a shallow motivation with Grendel, and simply inserts himself into the situation for his own perverse ends.

B&G is also not an action movie, as might be expected from the source. It plods in places. But, it is a gorgeous movie, filled with Icelandic splendor. The costumes have an authentic feel, even if they aren't 100% historically accurate. (They are closer than the Zemeckis movie, however.) And, although it diverges from the epic in some significant ways, it manages to fit in most, of not all, of the key elements from the epic. Plus, it shows a skald composing Beowulf's epic as he travels with the hero.

Gerard Butler is perfectly cast as Beowulf. He is handsome and strong in a believable way, but big enough to grow in legend yet to come. He does not go through the movie screaming his dialogue. ("THIS. IS. HEOROT!!!!" sorry, I had to do it.) I also liked the way the situation makes Beowulf question his world. It would be easy to make the character a post-modern ironic figure who questions and rejects his civilization as brutal. Instead, Beowulf loses a bit on innocence about his culture.

The fights in the movie are okay, but nothing to write home about. There's the usual Hollywood silliness about fitting sword edge on sword edge and abandonment of shields. The monsters never seem all that troubled wading into a melee against a dozen armored warriors with plenty of edged weapons. Which would be fine in a magical setting, but this movie is more naturalistic, and the opening scene makes it clear it doesn't take enchanted weapons to bring down a troll.

I can recommend this movie for an alternate take on fantasy movies, or if you have a thing for the original epic, or Viking movies. I can't promise you'll love it, but you will find something to appreciate in it.

I'm going soft...

Sigh... Chalk me up as another male victim of Toy Story 3.

On Friday I received my latest issue of Entertainment Weekly and found a short article on men crying at Toy Story 3. I thought, "Jeez."

That night I went to my new stick fighting/edged weapon class (Paul Vunak's Progressive Fighting Systems kali) to work out and my friend (who's also the instructor) admitted he cried because it reminded him of his bear Fliff, who was lost in a move between his dad's Air Force assignments.

I took my daughter today, and I made it through most of the movie without a problem. And then I got to the end... and something about it really touched me. I could feel the lump in my throat and the tears welling. I don't need to spoil it for you, because I'm not sure what it was that got me. I think it was simply the joy of being able to lose oneself into a world of imagination that fades as adulthood creeps up. Once you begin to accept that the real world is not always nice -- that 9/11 can happen, or you can get mugged for the $5 in your wallet -- you can't go back. You can recognize it in children, and you can touch it when you're asked to be creative. But you can never get that innocence back.

I don't think I cried because I was sad about losing that innocence. I cried because it is a beautiful thing.

Conan Reboot?

Frazetta is probably rolling over in his grave...

I recently learned there is a Conan the Barbarian reboot movie in production. It stars the unknown, but beefy, Jason Momoa.

Apparently he's in some version of the Stargate franchise, and that's all I know.

I've seen two actors mentioned in the role of Conan's father, Mickey Rourke and Ron Perlman. I imagine either in that role. I saw Perlman's name mentioned more recently, however.

Rachel Nichols plays some young, female, and beautiful who can also fight burly men on equal terms. The description of her character reads, in part, "She is not intimidated by Conan's size (!) or grim demeanor and their alliance eventually blossoms into something that surprises them both." Somehow, I doubt I'll be all that surprised when Conan shtupps her. And what's with "blossoms"? Crom, what weak humored woman wrote this shite? The only thing that should blossom around Conan are spurts of blood from the wounds of his foemen.

Conan tracks Khalar Singh across the Hyborian world. Khalar who? I don't know either. It's another generic fantasy strawman for Conan to beat up on.

Apparently the reams of material left behind by Robert Howard can not be adapted into a movie. REH was just too brilliant. I'm sure the same goes for the rich, vivid artists who have successfully handled Conan: Frazetta, Gianni, Buscema. Nope, we'll just have to keep Conan mostly naked and plop him onto the most available Fantasyland backlot.

Why can't Hollywood just do a straight movie from the Conan material? It shouldn't be that hard. You open the reboot movie with him chasing the Frost Giant's daughter and getting nto a fight with her brothers. Then he heads south to become a thief. There are several excellent thief stories to carry the first portion of his career. As the movie ends, he escapes some jailer and heads for the coast to become a pirate. The second movie has him raiding Hyborian shipping, only to be pirated himself by Belit. There's a whole movie there with Conan and Belit in the jungle. When Belit dies, Conan heads east onto the steppes to work as a mercenary captain. On and on it goes until you finish a series with Conan being crowned King of Aquilonia. It's not hard!!!

BTW, I don't have a problem with casting an unknown. I could even see casting a wrestler or MMA fighter, in fact, that might work for the best because the problem I have with Jason Momoa is: Conan held a lot of jobs, but he was never a male model! Momoa is to pretty. He needs to be punched in the face a few times before he looks like Conan. (Not that I'm advocating punching Jason Momoa in the face.)

I'm probably too harsh. Arnold doesn't really look like Conan either, according to the descriptions. But he also looked like he lived a little, and wasn't primped and preened by professionals to get his hair "just right."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Even the Grim Grey God Deserves Some Bling

Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin in Marvel's upcoming Thor movie. Odin traded his eye for the knowledge of the Runes and the power to rule the Gods and the Cosmos. Traditionally, he is described as draping locks of his long, grey hair over the empty socket. Here we see the updated
Odin is sporting some kind of golden eye-patch fixed in place over the socket.

Should I hire the A-Team?

This seemed like a great idea. I mean... The A-Team. It's a perfect franchise to bring to the screen. The episode formula is can't miss. Plus, you get four quirky characters and they're matched to four interesting actors. It's well cast.

And it looks like a blast to film. Dang, I would've loved to be in a movie like this. Getting paid to shoot guns, knife fight, wear cool tactical clothing. Dream job. (Especially the risk free part...) No, I don't blame these guys for taking the job. I would've too, even if I'd read the script before hand...

You see... and technically these are SPOILERS, even though it's all available on released footage; The A-Team flys a tank. Yes. They fly a freaking tank. M1A2 Abrams main battle tank. They survive by landing in a lake. Yes. Free fall into a lake. I understand the concept of suspension of disbelief, but somethings just leap over the brink into obvious impossibility, both jumping the shark and nuking the fridge at the same time.
So I think I'll pass on this movie for the moment. Oh, I might watch it for free when it arrives on Spike TV (this is a movie tailor made for Spike). But I'm not going to contribute to the dumbing down of America by voting with my wallet for this ridiculousness.
Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is laughing all the way to the bank. He loves it when a plan comes together.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Speaking of Silent Interlude

See below...

The Newest Karate Kid (does Kung Fu?)

Okay, so I haven't seen this movie yet. So, I will refrain from making any comments on the movie. However, that didn't stop this man. Out of a possible 5 Cobras, he gives it one LaRusso.

The remake has inspired amateur film makers and editors to flood YouTube with some amusing takes on the original.

I'm debating whether or not to take my five year old daughter to see the remake this weekend. I have no qualms about showing her the original, but I don't have a copy in the house. I'm a little afraid that the remake (good or bad) may sour her on the original, which really is a great family movie.

Marvel Movie title cards revealed

Best info I have is that these are the official logos for the next two Avengers movies, Thor and Captain America.
Oh, and here's a spot from Entertainment Tonight in which Natalie ("He's got a big appetite.") Portman and Chris ("Over here!") Whatshisname dish on each other. After watching this... I can't believe Kenneth Brannagh is directing Thor.

Follow up on Red Ninja

Sideshow Collectibles posted the GI Joe Red Ninja figures for sale today. Two versions are available. The Exclusive and the Production versions.

The red uniform is very detailed, and appears to be significantly different from the white uniform that came with Storm Shadow. While calling it "authentic" is problematic on several levels, it certainly has an authentic feel to it. He looks like a highly detailed stereotypical ninja. It makes me wish for an equally authentic looking shinobi shozoku in full scale for those days (Halloween, April Fools, December 5th) when I have to LARP. It looks comparable to the Sonny Chiba Hattori Hanzo action figure I got imported from Japan. I hope it looks this good when it arrives.

The Exclusive variant comes with an interchangeable head featuring this black, armored mask in addition to the red mask you see in the other pictures. Very intimidating.

He comes with a ton of accessories. His weapons include a ninjato long sword, a ninjato short sword, a tanto, a yari, a set of shuriken, a kusarigama, and a pair of sai. This means that if I went hog wild and bought three of these things (roughly $390) I could exactly recreate the infamous "Silent Interlude" comic book (GI Joe #21). In which Snake Eyes fends off three red ninja armed with a katana, a kusarigama, and a pair of sai. Very slick, Sideshow, and I'm reasonable sure that was intentional.

Again, the announcement of this figure was something of a disappointment to fans of the line. But standing alone as a ninja figure, the prototypes are awesome and come with great accessories. I for one am excited and placed my order. (BTW, I only ordered the one.)

However, like everyone else, I'm waiting for the ladies in this line. I need a Scarlet to go with my Snake Eyes. I would probably buy a Baroness. And I would be interested in a Jinx. So get with it Sideshow!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"I'm going to need to see some ID, please..."

"Why, certainly, officer..."

Although it is temporarily out of stock at Entertainmentearth.com, you too can secure your very own official set of SHIELD credentials. They come in a handsome embossed leather wallet and include the metal badge and two ID cards: one for Nick Fury (the Sam Jackson version), and a blank one for you to complete!

Yes, you can be an Agent of Shield!

Unlike many Marvel prop replicas, this is a pretty reasonable $39.99, which isn't too extravagant. You want one, don't you?

Anyone remember Twin Peaks?

God, I sure do... I remember the first time Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper ordered his first cup of coffee in town.

I remember the sleazy brothel, One Eyed Jack's, that was just across the border. That show was great for atmosphere. I mean, I really, really wished I was there to experience it all first hand.

There was real mystery in that town. All those larger than life characters. I felt like I knew them, or wished I did. I hear the series is available as a free download on CBS.com. I'll have to check that out -- I really hope it's still available. I'm dying to see it again; aren't you?
Oh, I almost forgot to mention sultry Sherilynn Fenn... Silly me.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Tales from the Training Journal: Progress (?)

I was (very) informally practicing a fair amount of BJJ prior to my knee injury a couple of years ago. It involved some haphazard technique training and a lot of "learn as you go" rolling. I felt like a got pretty good at it. I could make most of my classmates tap -- sooner or later...

Was I really any good? That's hard to say. But I was in good shape fitness-wise, and I felt like I was successful.

Then I tore my ACL. I got surgery, and went right into rehab. I came back to martial arts and refocused on the Taijutsu. Mostly, this was because that was what was available. The school still sponsored the occasional BJJ session, but the opportunity was to train Taijutsu. It also took a long time for my knee to feel right. It's still not 100%. I've really pushed it the last week, and it's twinging a little.

In January, the dojo established a "real" BJJ program -- twice a week official classes that followed a curriculum, and the potential for belt ranking. I jumped and for the last six months, I've really been focusing on BJJ. I was a little disappointed at first because we had some completely new people in class, and the instructor wasn't ready to let us all roll.

He was probably right. Some of the new guys would've been destroyed and just gotten frustrated before leaving. But the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, we were finally allowed to roll.

Whoa. I really suck now.

Oh, I must've sucked before and just not known it. But I do feel like I've regressed. That Friday night, I rolled with four different folks. I tapped NONE of them, but I held my own against three of them. One of them is strong like a bull and just manhandled me like I was a UPS box shipped at Christmas. On the bright side, I was able to roll with four different people in three minute rounds (12 minutes total) and not gas out. So my fitness seems to be progressing well.

So, back to the studies. More conditioning, more drilling the movements, more rolling, and even more hitting the books. I want that blue belt.

Teaser Poster for Captain America?

Sadly, the word is no. This is a fan-made mock-up. But it's still pretty cool.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


D-Day. Looking back, the outcome seems inevitable; but at the time, it wasn't. Gen. Eisenhower had two messages prepared when the invasion began. The unused one was an apology for the failure.
Is there a person reading this who hasn't seen the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan? In a way, we've all been through D-Day. But no one would be foolish enough to say watching the movie comes close to the real thing. The film couldn't capture the briny smell of the ocean, mingling with the vomit in the bottoms of the landing craft. The sulfer smell of explosives and spent gunpowder. The coppery smell of blood. One can only imagine the stinging sea spray, or the concussive push of displaced air, or the bumps, bruises, scraps and cuts that came from the mad scramble off the beach.
How can one imagine the emotions of uncertainty, religious awe, profound loss, duty, survival instinct, raw anger? You can't, unless you've been there.

The National D-Day Memorial is not in Washington DC. It resides in Bedford, a small town in Virginia. This town has the sad disinction of suffering the highest per capita loss of life in the D-Day invasion. It sacrificed 19 men that day for the liberation of Europe, the defeat of Facisim, and -- yes -- our freedom. 19 men may not seem like a lot, but this small town essentially lost an entire generation of young men.
The young men all knew one another very well through their whole lives. They joined the 29th Division (Blue and Grey) of the National Guard. National Guard service was practically a rite of passage in the small town, and in more peaceful times, it was seen as a way to earn a little extra money, get together with the guys, and drink. Times change...
The 29th Division's swirled Blue and Grey emblem was reflective of the fact that soldiers in the Division came from states from both sides of the Civil War. The 29th Division was chosen to spearhead the Normandy invasion because the troops were green. They had never seen combat. This was deemed an advantage for the assault because they lacked the certain knowledge of how bad combat really is. The chance of them balking was somewhat lower. Of course, the command had to know the casualties would be massive, and using battle-hardened veterans in the first wave would be even more wasteful.

I know we just had Memorial Day, but pause again and consider the undertaking and sacrifice of D-Day, a true hinge moment in history. Gen. Patton once said, "It is wrong and foolish to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived." I thank God such men lived, and that so many of them were gathered together on that one awful day in June.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sideshow Red Ninja

Sideshow Collectibles recently announced the next 1/6 (12") figure in their GI Joe line will be a Cobra Red Ninja. Now, while this was bad news for the folks wanting more individual Joe characters to be released, and all of us waiting for the ladies (Baroness, Scarlet, Lady Jaye, Jinx...) to appear, I will be happy to place an order for one. I'm sure it won't be cheap. The other ninja figures in the line have hovered at $120. But my 12" action figure collecting has dwindled down to almost nothing, so I'm not dropping big bucks on toys like I used to do. And as a big ninja fan, I can justify getting this new addition to the display case. I really like how this figure is not simply a rehash of Storm Shadow done in red. It reuses some parts, but the costume is new and different.

Resolute: Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow to the finish

GI Joe: Resolute was an animated reboot that came out about the same time as the live action movie. It was written by Warren Ellis, who had no interest in the franchise prior to being asked to write it. He told the producers as much over the phone, but was intrigued when the answer came back, "That's why we want you."

This martial arts climax has more in common with Chinese Kung Fu movies than Japanese samurai/ninja movies or lore. Still, it's pretty good. I think it's more emotionally satisfying than the live action confrontation.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Norwegian Ninja

Um... wow. What can I possible say except... "Be one of us. Be a ninja."

The Avengers Costumes Revealed!

Avengers Assemble! This week, Hollywood released reliable pictures of the costumes for the next two major Marvel heroes to hit the silver screen: Thor and Captain America.
Here's a full length shot of Thor. Yes, the image is photoshopped. It's a visual mock-up showing all the elements in place. So it may not be the "final" version...

In fact, this larger image similar to one released earlier seems to show the "chainmail-like" armor serves as Thor's pants too. That's good. I always thought more pants should be armored. Please not the blurry background image of the Trickster Loki sporting his comic book accurate horns.
There's a lot of heat going around about how Thor doesn't look Viking enough. Meh. That's true. But we're talking about MARVEL CONTINUITY Thor. He never looked all that authentically Viking to begin with. Plus, in the myths, it's very clear Thor is red-headed -- not blond. Let's take a chill here, folks. I think he looks pretty good for a comic book Thor.
But... no helmet?

Here's the photo-shopped Captain America. I don't think it looks too shabby. You'll note they did away with Cap's buccaneer boots. There's been some rumor that this is Cap's fighting outfit, and that he has a USO appearance outfit too -- maybe that's more like the comic book?
Rumors are also getting printed that they've signed a number of actors for notable minor roles, including a Dum Dum Dugan and a Hawkeye. Nathan Fillion is being floated as Hank Pym, Giant Man. Hmmm. We'll see, we'll see...

Dr. Goldfoot & the Bikini Machine?

One of the local television stations has been frittering away weekend afternoons by running old Frankie and Annette movies. I've had them on in the background while working in the basement. No, these aren't Oscar-worthy classics, but they are harmless, weightless, and vaguely amusing. Plus: 60's girls in bikinis! (Duh?)

Anyway, the station must be reaching the end of their library. They've worked through the well-known beach party movies and recently showed Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, a sorta James Bond spoof in which Vincent Price plays a villain using fembots to seduce rich men in the name of world domination.

Bad? Oh, yes. Incredibly bad. But Vincent Price apparently brought the surplus sets from The Pit and the Pendulum with him -- and remember: 60's girls in bikinis!

Although Price was well-known for bringing camp to his horror roles, I'm always a little disappointed to see him in full-on comedy. I suppose it's good he didn't take himself too seriously. Supposedly, one of his favorite acting gigs was his Batman TV appearance as "Egghead." Sadly, I missed the station's airing of The Conqueror Worm which finds Price in one of his great dramatic roles as England's self-proclaimed Witchfinder-General.