Friday, August 31, 2007

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

(Movie Review)

I mentioned in the previous post I was on a bit of a Peter Lorre kick recently (the great Austrian-Hungarian character actor--see previous post) watching "The Maltese Falcon" and re-watching "Casablanca" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

And so, to round out my Lorre-athon, I found this in my local video store. This was Lorre's first big break in English speaking movies. As a European Jew, he had just escaped to England from Nazi Germany the year before, and barely spoke any English. According to wikipedia, he learned most of his lines phonetically for this movie.

If true, that represents quite an achievement because even working under that handicap Lorre still manages to steal every scene he's in. He plays the villain in the best tradition of spy movie villains. He is charming, polite, pleasant, and would cut your heart out in a minute.

This film is the only Hitchcock film to be later remade by Hitchcock himself, so it is not to be confused with the more famous 1956 Jimmy Stewart version. This is the 1934 version when Hitchcock was still making British films.

After recently watching several old classic films that don't feel like old classic films, this by contrast is a film that's showing its age a bit. The footage is grainy, the sound is staticky, and the cuts between shots are very abrupt. It might be tempting to explain all this away simply because of the movie's age, but then why do films like "Casablanca" "The Big Sleep" "The Maltese Falcon" or "Citizen Kane" retain such a smooth modern feel? With another film we could blame it on the director, but this film was made by Alfred Hitchcock himself.

Someone more versed in film history is going to have to explain this to me. Part of it is probably no doubt due to the fact that all of the British films Hitchcock made have now slipped into the Public Domain and so there is little profit motive for any would-be restorer of the work. That would explain at least the graininess and the static, but not so much the rough cuts. (Or I don't know, would it? How much stuff happens when you restore a film?) Maybe some of this is because Hitchcock didn't have as much money to play with when he was working for the British film industry. Or it could be because Hitchcock himself later considered his early work that of a talented amateur.

(Or, could it be that this movie was 1934, and all the other examples I cited above are from the 40s. Does that much change in 5 years? I'm going to have to re-watch a few1930s films for comparison).

...Anywho, despite all the production flaws on this film, one can see the Hitchcock genius popping up in a lot of the scenes. There's a few scenes were the tension is masterfully drawn out. And a big bang shoot 'em up finale at the end. Frankly I was surprised that a film this old would have such an intense shooting scene at the end. (Based apparently on the real life Siege of Sidney street, again according to wikipedia.)

More bonus youtube links: Here's Peter Lorre's famous scene opposite Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca". I know we've all seen this before, but go ahead and re-watch it. Look at how brilliant Lorre is as both pathetic and a little bit creepy, and yet sympathetic all at the same time.

and his capture scene here. Also brilliant, the look on his face when he first realizes what's happening.

Finally, whilst were wasting time on youtube, a couple different Peter Lorre tribute videos here and here.

Link of the Day
More news on Swagman Family blogging. It looks like my brother and his wife are going to be having another baby. Although this news is found on neither of their respective blogs (I guess new parents are busy people) but documented on my little sister's blog instead.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): Movie Review (Scripted)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Maltese Falcon

(movie review)

Another great movie! This movie was located just next to "The Big Sleep" in my video store. Since I enjoyed "The Big Sleep" so much, I thought I'd give this one a try while I was on a role.

On the surface, this movie seems almost identical to "The Big Sleep". Both are classic hard boiled private detective movies. Both star Humphrey Bogart. Both take place in California. And both movies even create a similar atmosphere.

Indeed the similarities between these movies do seem to outweigh the differences, but there are some differences. For example "The Maltese Falcon" is not about the adventures of Philip Marlow, but of Sam Spade, a different private detective from a different series of books. I've not read any of Sam Spade's books, but the general consensus among book reviewers seems to be that Raymond Chandler (the author of the Philip Marlow series) is much superior.

That, perhaps added to the fact that this film has no William Faulkner or Leigh Brackett credited on the screen play might account for the fact that the dialogue isn't as near as good as "The Big Sleep". But dialogue aside, I actually enjoyed the general story of "The Maltese Falcon" more.

The premise of "The Maltese Falcon" itself is based on a legend about the Knights Templars (just like another more recent popular novel/movie combination you may have heard of.) Several different people are interested in recovering the lost Templar treasure of the Maltese Falcon. There are several different characters with conflicting motives, and lots of betrayals and changing alliances. It requires a certain amount of close attention to keep track of everything, but if you watch closely, everything makes perfect sense in the end. Unlike "The Big Sleep", there are no big plot holes in this movie (or at least I didn't catch any. If someone out there has a quick eye, they're welcome to point some out to me).

And there are a couple great shockers at the end. One of the them I saw coming, the other one took me by surprise. But both of them make perfect sense once you think about it.

The lighting and cinematography are superior in this movie as well, although I'm almost hesitant to bring that up because it makes it sound like I'm discussing a classic movie. From my point of view this was a really fun movie that just happens to be a classic. Like "The Big Sleep", it can hold its own against any of Hollywood's modern thrillers today.

Finally, this movie is worth seeing if for no other reason than it has a great performance by Peter Lorre. Peter Lorre was the Austrian-Hungarian actor who was famous as a great character actor. You might be thinking you don't know who he is, but actually you probably do. He usually plays the creepy characters in old movies. He's been parodied a million times by a million different people.

I've actually been on a big Peter Lorre kick recently. With this movie I also rented "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Casablanca". Both of these are movies I've seen before as a kid, but I don't think I've seen either since about 7th grade.

"20,000 Leagues" was more or less how I remembered it, although I appreciate it a little more now knowing who all the famous actors are. And it is impressive they could pull off a movie of that scope way back in 1954.

"Casablanca" completely blew me away. The last time I saw that movie I must have been too young to appreciate it, but this time around I was struck by what a wonderfully movie it was, and how well it was scripted. If, like me, you haven't seen that movie for a while, it is definitely worth another viewing.

But all of this is really another subject for another post. One final note on "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon" before I wrap this up though: it is interesting that both movies share 3 of the same major actors: Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet. All 3 of whom do a great job in both movies. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "The Maltese Falcon" was Sydney Greenstreet's film debut.

Bonus wasting time on youtube link: here are Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet on a youtube video making some cameo together on some old film.

Link of the Day
New York Times Smears Peace Movement, Again: Newspaper invents Obama dig

The Maltese Falcon: Movie Review (Scripted)

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Big Sleep

(Movie Review)

Having just finished my first Raymond Chandler novel, I thought I would check out one of the classic movie adaptations of his detective stories.

"The Big Sleep", based on the detective novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler, is one of those old classic movies that everyone knows about but very few people seem to have actually sat down and watched. But take it from me, this movie is definitely worth the rental.

In addition to being based on Chandler's classic hard boiled novel, the movie stars film giants Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And the screen play was written by none other than William Faulkner himself (during his Hollywood writing phase).

Not having read the original novel, I'm not sure how much of the screenplay is Faulkner and how much is original Chandler, but the dialogue is crackling with wit. Brilliant one liners are flying around so fast it's difficult to keep track of them all. And Bogart does a great job delivering them as the wise cracking detective.

My only complaint about this movie is it seemed to go one a bit too long for my attention span. But maybe that's my failing instead of the movie's. Like a lot of detective stories, just when you think you have everything all wrapped up, a twist gets thrown in and it turns out the story is only half over.

Still, 60 years later this film can hold its own with any of today's Hollywood blockbusters. If you haven't seen this film yet, check it out. It's one of those classic films that doesn't feel at all like a stuffy classic film when you're watching it.

Link of the Day
According to his site, Tom Tomorrow just put up a couple of his old web cartoons on youtube. I remember watching some of these the summer before I left for Japan. Unlike Tom Tomorrow's biting satire in his weekly cartoons, these are kind of self-indulgent humor in the sense that they will only be funny or convincing to people already on board. I don't think these cartoons will win any converts, but for the Tom Tomorrow fan it's worth checking out.

Also while fooling around on Youtube I came across this video of Tom Tomorrow's presentation at the Yearly Kos 2006 convention, where he explains some of his cartoons. Not a lot of new information here, but interesting to watch.

The Big Sleep: Movie Review (Scripted)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Science Olympiad Photos: 8th Grade


Given how much I hated science, I'm still not sure how exactly I ended up on the science Olympiad team. Like a lot of things in my life it is something I sort of accidentally wandered into, and then decided it was too much trouble to try and get out of.

There was a brief time when I actually liked science: starting back around second grade when I thought science was just learning about the behavior of cute animals and watching movies like "The Living Desert". Added to my childhood obsession with wolves, and there was a time when I thought I'd actually grow up to be a zoologist.

But by 7th and 8th grade I had a few middle school level science classes under my belt and I was convinced science was not my friend.

Somehow I ended up on the team anyway. My 7th grade year was the first time our science teacher decided to try and field a team, and he was desperate to recruit. He promised all sorts of extra credit to anyone who would join the team. We got extra credit just for attending informational meetings about the team, so I dropped by a couple of them.

I specifically remember him saying in his recruitment speech: "the best part about science olympiad is that on the day itself the team gets to spend a whole Saturday doing fun science related activities."

I remember that because inside my head I was thinking, "That's the worst part of the whole thing. How out of touch is this guy? To sacrifice a whole Saturday to school science projects?"

But after I attended the first couple meetings, the science teacher, now aggressively trying to recruit enough people to field a team, kept asking me to join, and at a certain point I decided it was just easier to just go ahead and join the damn team rather than breaking it to him that I wasn't interested.

That, plus a Swagman family rule of my parents: once you make a commitment to a group, you stick to it. In practice this usually meant that showing up for one or two meetings meant you were condemned to not only join but stick through for all the following years.

And so the following year found me joining as well. The first year I really couldn't do anything right on my own, so I just helped other students out with their events. (Actually I tried out for the Mouse Trap Powered Car event, but because I didn't read the directions carefully my vehicle ended up disqualifying. The next year, to my great embarrassment, the science teacher used me as an example of why everyone should always read the directions carefully before beginning an event).

The following year I tried out for the paper airplane event. We were given three sheets of paper and some tape and scissors, and told to make an airplane that could stay in the air for the longest amount of time. Not having any creative ideas, I simply taped all three pieces of paper together and let it float down to the ground. Pathetic as that was, it ended up being the best paper airplane in my school, so I was selected to do that event at Science Olympiad that year.

I had a few months to practice and fine tune my device, but I figured why mess with the classics. So for the actual event I simply taped my papers together, held it up as high as I could, and let it float down. I'm not sure how I placed exactly, but I didn't walk home with any prizes.

The other pictures are from a projectile device event. This was a friend of mine who had built the device, and my only job was to help load it.

Link of the Day
The Real Iraq Progress Report

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Long Good-Bye by Raymond Chandler

(Book Review)

I picked this book up at Nagoya airport just before flying back to America a month ago. (I'm a slow reader).

Like most books picked up at airports, I picked this up because I needed something to read on the plane and the selection was limited. (Nagoya airport must specialize in classic pulp fiction. The last time I was in Nagoya airport I bought "The Postman Always Rings Twice").

However at the same time Raymond Chandler was always one of those authors I meant to get around to reading someday, and I was familiar with his reputation as the author who turned the hard boiled dectective novel into an art form.

The first thing to know about Raymond Chandler (at least based off of my experience with this one book) is he is no hurry to get where he is going. If his character is going to walk into a house to meet another character, you can bet there will be a detailed description of the front walk in and what the house smells like.

This caught me a little bit off guard because I expected a hard boiled dectective novel to be more action based, but once I made my peace with his slower narrative style I just relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

By way of a counter example: most of the stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon are only about 20 pages, which I think is just about the right length for a mystery. Decently long to let you wonder about it for a while, but short enough so that you can read the whole thing in one sitting and don't have to go to bed wondering who the murderer is.

"The Long Good-Bye" is close to 500 pages, and I read it over the course of about a month. And yet I never really lost too much sleep wondering who the murderer was. After a while the murder didn't even seem like the main point and the story went off in other directions. Needless to say, however, it all ties together at the end.

Mixed in with the story is a fair amount of social criticism, both at the corrupt justice system and also at corrupt government and business.

A good read if you have the patience for it.

Link of the Day
Smell of Death Permeates Ruined Iraqi Villages

The Long Good-Bye by Raymond Chandler: Book Review (Scripted)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

(Movie Review)

This movie just came out last week on DVD in Japan. I rented it because it looked like a fun light hearted comedy that I wouldn't require any thinking. And that's pretty much what I got.

Anyone who's seen the previews should be familiar with the premise. Luke Wilson plays an ordinary guy who, through accidents of circumstances, eventually finds himself dating a super hero. And then breaking up with her. And it turns out she doesn't handle break ups well.

Although us comic book geek guys know that romances and subsequent break-ups are frequent story fodder and standard fare for comic books (which are pretty much soap operas for men), the idea of playing it for comedy is an original one.

Unfortunately it's just a one note gag. Once you get the joke about the obsessive ex-girlfriend with super powers, the film doesn't have a lot else to offer.

To his credit, the director seemed to have realized this in advance, and kept the timing pretty good. In this day and age of epic films that go on to long, this movie is trimmed down to a very watchable 90 minutes. Just when you're beginning to get bored with it, the film is over.

There are a number of very funny people employed on this film (Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Rainn Wilson, Wanda Sykes) but none of them are given any good material to work with. (With the possible exception of Rainn Wilson, who does a pretty good job playing as the jerk best friend character).

I've been an Eddie Izzard fan every since college when a friend of mine came back from a semester abroad in England raving about this wonderful British comedian he discovered over there. Afterwards I looked up a lot of Eddie Izzard's stuff on the internet, and caught a few of his specials on cable, and generally enjoyed it. (And if you've never seen his stand up stuff, you should check some of it out. They have some posted off of TV links).

....I've since noticed Eddie Izzard has bit parts in a number of Hollywood movies, but he never really seems very funny in any of them. I guess no matter how good the comedian is, you're only really as funny as the material the writers give you.

Link of the Day
Canadian Police caught using Provocatuers at recent Quebec Demonstration

...Having attended a few of these big protests in my youth, I can attest that there is a certain amount of paranoia about under cover cops, so ordinarily I'm a bit wary of jumping to conclusions. But if you watch the video here, it looks pretty convincing. I can't think of any other explanation for these three anarchists willing wading into police lines to get themselves arrested.

After watching this video, I'm starting to see all the protests I went to before in a new light, and wondering how much of the anarchist violence I saw was actually police violence.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend: Movie Review (Scripted)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trip out to Ajimu

I know I complain every summer about the heat, but it has really been boiling out here recently. Record temperatures in Japan, people dying of heat stroke up in Gifu (where I used to live).

So, naturally the trips to the waterfalls have been continuing. Between my days off and the days I only work 4 hours in the evening, I've been continuing to make it out to the waterfall several times a week. Last week, just to change things up a little bit, I took Amy and Leann out to the Ajimu waterfalls instead (even though you can't slide down those like the Yabakei waterfall, it can still make a nice swimming hole on a hot day).

As with before, I'm stealing pictures from Amy's website. I'm picking and choosing a bit (mostly just taking out the pictures of me), but you can go to her photosite for the complete set. You can also read her written description of the outing here.

After having lived in Ajimu for 3 years this is, needless to say well, tread ground for me. And it should look famaliar to anyone who has been out here visiting me or been unfortunate enough to have been ambushed by me and my photo album back in the states. But I've never posted any pictures of Ajimu on this blog before, mostly due to a lack of a digital camera. The closest I got was when I linked to pictures in Chris's blog a couple years ago. And a few pictures of Brett and me in Ajimu during a retrospection post.

Here's me by the sign for Fukino Waterfall:

And by the actual Fukino Waterfall:

And going for a swim. The usually crystal clear water was mysteriously brown that day. I'm hoping it was just because of the thunderstorms the day before, and not because of a broken sewage pipe somewhere upstream.

Here's the same waterfall from the overlook point

These last photos don't have me in it, but I think Amy did a really good job of capturing some of the Ajimu countryside with this photo, so I'll put it in.

Here are photos from Higashishiya Waterfall (the other waterfall in Ajimu):

And don't forget there are several more gorgeous pictures of scenery on Amy's photo site

Link of the Day
The Japanese English version paper picked up a syndicated editorial yesterday which deserves to be read by everyone:
Evil as ordinary, and defensible
By Steven Greenhut
To qoute some of the more gripping parts:

I've always been fascinated by the concept of "administrative evil" -- a term that describes how ordinary and decent people can end up committing horrific acts and oftentimes think they are doing the right thing as they commit them....

In Haditha, U.S. Marines were accused of murdering 24 Iraqi civilians. The Marines' superiors are accused of covering up these crimes by not investigating or reporting them until the media did....

This is from an Associated Press report regarding Lance Corp. Stephen Tatum, who is now facing a hearing to determine whether he deserves a full court-martial: "A Marine charged with murdering two girls and killing several other Iraqis gave orders to shoot into a room full of children and young women before apparently doing the job himself, a squad member testified. ... 'I told (Tatum) there's just women and kids in the room,' (the squad member) said. 'He replied, "Well, shoot them.'" Tatum argues that the killings were unintentional. Murder charges have recently been dropped against two other Marines.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Marie Antoinette (2006)

(Movie Review)

In America there has always been an almost unhealthy fascination with Marie Antoinette.

I suspect this is mostly inherited from the British historians and their fascination with the royal family and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Not to mention the British historical fiction writers and the hundreds of trashy historical romances written about Marie Antoinette.

Every story deserves to be told, but often some stories are told at the expense of others. For example in America every Joe Shmoe knows who Marie Antoinette is, but only history geeks know who Robespierre, Marat, or Danton are. Is this a good sign for a democratic country? Not that Robespierre, Marat, or Danton were saints, but then that's really the whole point. Their lives could offer a valuable study of the possible problems inherit in democratic revolutions or republican societies. Wouldn't it be better to focus attention on these stories instead (as the French themselves do when they write novels about the revolution)?

But, I guess Hollywood decided just what the public needed was another sappy story about Marie Antoinette, and so we have this movie.

On the historical side, I thought it was pretty accurate. I know this movie has been slammed for its lack of historical accuracy, but as far as I can tell that's mostly just because of the rock music and anachronistic props.

Granted I'm no expert, but for example I remember reading about how Marie Antoinette used to loose her patience with the long dressing ceremonies in the morning when she would be shivering in the cold as her courtiers would debate proper protocol. And that is faithfully reproduced in this movie.

Being the historical geek I am, I always rush to the internet after watching a movie like this to check out how much of it is true. And as far as I could tell, it checked out pretty well. Some debatable court rumors and gossip were portrayed as fact, but that is always the prerogative of historical fiction.

So adding in the Internet time, I'd consider I got a pretty good history lesson out of this movie. I learned a bit about life at the French Royal court, and some of the rivalries and gossip of the time.

However since this film intentionally stays clear of politics and focuses only on court life, the big question is: how much do I really care about the gossip of Versailles? I'd say the director's assumption that I would stay interested for 2 hours is pushing it a little. The film ends just as Louis and Marie are forcibly escorted to Paris, but in fact they lived for several years afterwords and from a historians perspective, the film ends just as Marie's life is beginning to get interesting. (Or as Shoko exclaimed while we were watching this, "What is the point of making a film about Marie Antoinette and ending it right at the French Revolution?")

Of course Marie Antoinette's lavish spending was one of the causes of the Revolution, and this is hinted at in the movie, but only touched on briefly. I heard one historian say Marie Antoinette was the Imelda Marcos of her time, and I think there's a lot of truth in it, but in this particular film the distinction between Marie's spending and the people's misery could have come through a lot clearer.

What is left then? A portrait of a woman isolated and made miserable amidst all her privilege. It is impossible not to feel a little sorry for Marie Antoinette as an Austrian princess who was married off for political reasons and had to adjust to all the absurdity of Versailles. But on the scale of human suffering, it doesn't really stack up to a lot of the other stories.

Link of the Day
Letter from a GI in Falluja: “This wasn’t a war, it was a massacre”

Marie Antoinette: Movie Review (Scripted)

52: The Novel by Greg Cox

(Book Review)

Yet another return to my favorite guilty pleasure: novels based on comic books.

This time it's the novelization of "52", the year long series released by DC comics as a follow up to "Infinite Crisis".

And as with "Infinite Crisis" for a variety of reasons I've chosen to read the novelization instead of the actual comic....My commitment to try and read more novels, the fact that the novel is a lot cheaper and a lot more portable than the collected comics, et cetera. (Whilst back in America last month I did check out the first volume of the graphic novel from the library, so I was able to read at least a little of the original comic. For anyone curious the first 5 issues are also available online)

So, which to review, the story or the adaptation? I'll start with the adaptation.

Greg Cox, who was also the author of the novelization of "Infinite Crisis", has a resume that consists almost entirely of television, comic book, and movie adaptations. Arguably this fits the definition of "hack writer" but to give credit where credit is due, he is good at what he does. With both "Infinite Crisis" and "52" he has written novelizations of comic books that don't feel like novelizations of comic books. He stays faithful to the source material without giving the novel a stilted feel. It reads like it could have been an independent work in its own right.

My only complaint is his decision to severely abridge the original source material. I found an interview on line where Cox states:
when my editor first approached me about doing 52 as well, my first response was, “How is that even humanly possible?” We’re talking 52 scripts here. Do the math. That’s over seven times more plot than INFINITE CRISIS. To be honest, I only agreed to take on the project after DC assured me that I would have a pretty free hand when it came to abridging the story.
And, boy, was I merciless when it came to excising characters and subplots. I fully expect to get lynched in effigy when some fans find out that their favorite scenes or characters didn’t make it into the novel. But there was just so much good material, I had to cut some of it out. If you want to know which characters I concentrated on … well, there’s a reason that Booster Gold, Batwoman and The Question are on the cover.

Personally, I would have been more than happy to wade through the whole thing, even if it did approach the proportions of "War and Peace". Why not? There's plenty of other books, even in the fantasy genre (or perhaps especially in the fantasy genre) that top 1000 pages. Why worry so much about cutting this book down to 350? At the very least it could have easily been 600 pages. But I suppose that's just a fans quibble.

Onto the story

In the original comics, one issue was released every week, and the story was supposed to be continuing in real time, similar to the TV series "24". (Hmmm, perhaps a little bit too similar to the TV series "24". I hope everyone has their lawyers ready).

After the events of "Infinite Crisis" the big 3 of the DC Universe, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have all gone missing for a year. And most of the other A-string superheroes of the Justice League are also busy, leaving it to the minor super heroes to pick up the slack. (Minor here means in terms of popularity and name recognition, not powers. Captain Marvel, for example, is every bit just as powerful as Superman).
Of course as any fan knows, the DC universe is overpopulated with Superheros, so there is no lack of characters to feel the void left by the disappearance of the big 3. And in fact for the comic book geek it's kind of nice because it allows some of the overlooked superheros to get there chance in the spotlight.

For the comic book Geek, there is plenty here to chew on for example:
The prominence of Captain Marvel and the whole Marvel family--Captain Marvel was originally a Superman rip off by Fawcett comics, that became more popular than Superman himself until DC comics sued them and they had to stop publication. Years later DC bought out the rights to Captain Marvel, and ever since than he's been a supporting character in the DC universe, but never really since came into his own or regained his former popularity.
I've said before I tend to enjoy the anachronistic cheesy comic characters the most, and Captain Marvel is a good example of both. Needlessly redundant in a universe that already has Superman, a clean cut kid superhero in an age where comics are more and more aimed at teens/adults. And yet DC comics keeps trying to rework these old superheros and fit them into modern story lines. You got to love comics.In fact even more in this story (arguably the main character of the story) is Captain Marvel's traditional arch nemesis Black Adam, who has over the years been redesigned as more of an anti-hero than a villain.
Also from deep in the annals of comic book history comes Batwoman. Batwoman was originally created back in the 1950s as part of the Bat family (Bat Girl, Ace the Bat Hound, Bat Mite) partly to counter rumors that Batman and Robin were homosexuals. She and the rest of the Bat Family were faded out in the 1960s as an attempt was made to make Batman more serious. Eventually she was killed off.
But because DC comics has reset its continuity several times starting with the events of "Crisis on Infinite Earths", these old characters can be brought back and reinvented. In the case of Batwoman, they've brought her back and made her into a lesbian this time.
There was a bit of to do about this in the media about one year ago (for example NPR show here). This is not the first lesbian in comic books, but it is the first Batwoman lesbian, so I guess it caught people's attention.
I have yet to do a formal study of this, but in my own reading experiences as a fan I've certainly encountered a lot more lesbian characters in comic books than male gays. Particularly gorgeous scantily clad highly proportioned lesbians in compromising positions with other lesbians seems to be a popular theme. It is hardly any wonder given the target audience for comic books, and yet at times it seems to be only one step removed from the manga porn common in Japanese comics.
At any rate the comic book industry seems to have worked both angles of this very nicely. They increase their sales with graphic depictions of beautiful lesbians, then they try and make it look progressive by talking about their character diversity.
Last but not least is The Question, another old superhero from another company (Charlton) that DC comics eventually bought out and acquired the rights to. Like a lot of the characters from Charlton comics he's been underused the past 20 years since DC bought the rights, but he is gets a big chunk of the story here.
Final thoughts: This certainly isn't Shakespeare, but the story and characters are complex enough that I think this can legitimately be called adult entertainment. There are lots of surprises along the way, but they are all foreshadowed and seem to be plotted out in advance. (No Deus ex Machinas in other words). The characters motivations are often complex and layered.
As with any big comic series, to increase the excitement and boost the sales several heroes are killed, some are reborn, and some are recreated. The usual comic book fun in other words.
Entertainment Weekly compared it to a gripping TV show, and that's not a bad comparison. It is every bit as complex or engaging as shows like "Lost", "24" or "Heroes". And if you feel no guilt about enjoying those shows, why not indulge your inner geek and enjoy this novel?

Link of the Day
The Cost of the Iraq War for Michigan and the 3rd Congressional District
August 13, 2007: A new analysis by the National Priorities Project has placed the cost of the Iraq War for Michigan residents at $12.1 billion and $818 million for residents of Michigan's 3rd Congressional District. Despite this, Representative Vern Ehlers of the 3rd District has continued to support the war by voting to continue funding it.

52: The Novel by Greg Cox: Book Review (Scripted)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Karaoke and Waterfalls

So it's summer in Kyushu, which means it's time to hit the waterfalls again.

I've written a lot about waterfalls on this blog over the years, and with good reason. We spend a lot of time going to the waterfalls down here in Kyushu. Because of Japan's mountainous topography, and years of shifting plates, it is a country rich in waterfalls. And during the hot stickyness of Japanese summers, there is nothing I would rather do than spend the afternoon at the waterfall. Of course in Japan we are always close to the Ocean, but the ocean fronts in Northern Kyushu (like Usa and Nakatsu) are just one big concrete slab not designed for recreational access, so we go to the waterfalls in the mountains instead.

The pictures below are from the Yabakei waterfall, which I've mentioned on this blog several times before, and described in detail here and here. I stole them from my co-worker's web log. You can see more pictures of this waterfall on here photosite here, and read her description of the day's outing on her blog here

As the only one with a car, and as the only one who's been in the area long enough to know the swimming holes, I usually volunteer to play tour guide for these kind of outings. Because our company is open 7 days a week, it was impossible to find a day when everyone could go, so last week I made 3 seperate day trips out to the waterfall so everyone could get to see it. I didn't mind one bit. On these hot summer days, I wouldn't be anywhere else.

And then there's Karaoke, another thing that tends to pop up a lot in this blog. Well, it's Japan after all, right?

These pictures are also borrowed from Amy's photo site. They show me and Amy, a couple co-workers, and the always beautiful Shoko (who came along with us that night).

Fortunately for me Japanese karaoke is renting out a small room with a few friends instead of getting up infront of a crowded bar. It makes things a lot less intimidating, and allows you to just have fun with it.

I've mentioned before that I started using Karaoke as a way to practice the Japanese oldies I've been listening to, and I still do break some of these out. (I don't do a good job on them mind you, but again that's all part of the karaoke fun).

Link of the Day
There was a recent article from the Los Angeles Times
Errant Afghan civilian deaths surge
U.S. and NATO troops killed more noncombatants in the last six months than did Taliban insurgents, several tallies indicate.
(actually this article is dated July 6, but just appeared in the English newspaper here today).

This article, combined with this article on the Iraq War, should hopefully give people a clear picture about what kind of war we are fighting.