29 June 2006

Superman Returns: A review

I’ve spent almost 24 hours thinking about Superman Returns. Something has bothered me since I left the theater yesterday afternoon, and I think I know why: the writing is really bad. Don’t get me wrong, the cast was universally good, with Routh and Spacey doing great in their roles. Bosworth is fine, though no Margot Kidder. And the supporting cast, led by the always good Frank Langella, are good with what is given them (though Parker Posey and Kal Penn are wasted). The visual effects are great, with the spectacular plane sequence the best set piece of the film. John Ottman’s score is good -and he works in John Williams Superman theme to great effect. And Singer’s direction is flawless, as usual.

The two places -or maybe three - were things fall apart is the story; the editing and Tristan Lake Leabu. First off, I had issues with Lex Luthor’s motives; granted most had been set up long before he knew Superman had returned to Metropolis. But after five years in prison, Lex’s revenge was the same one for the first film, a land grab? Besides, as he grows the new land mass, he gleefully says billion will die. If he destroys most of the North America and kills so many people, who is going to be alive to buy the land?

Of course, once he knew that Kal-el was back, he modifies his plan by adding green Krytonite to the crystal’s he stole from the Fortress of Solitude thus making the new continent bad for Superman, but it still seemed less than a great idea for a $200 million plus film. And I was a wee bit disappointed that Superman and Lex’s meeting took two plus hours to happen.

The editing seemed choppy, with many cutting away from the Superman’s return and Lex’s plan seemed almost oddly misplaced and badly mistimed.

While Tristan Lake Leabu’s performance was okay, it was here the other part of the story went no where for me. So Jason is Clark Kent’s son. And it shows when he rescues his mother. But then a short time later, when they are locked in the pantry, Lois asks Jason for help and he says he can’t. Then when Richard, Lois and Jason are trapped on the sinking boat, and you think that Jason is going to save them all, he fails again. Then, towards the end of the film, Jason and Lois visit Superman in the hospital. You are given the impression that Jason is going to help the ailing super hero, but for the third time, nothing comes of it. That was frustrating.

I’m unsure at this point, what Singer and his writers, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, were trying to say. Was all this a set up for a sequel?

Anyway, I did feel the film was a bit long at a 2:37 minutes (and Singer claims he shed 20 minutes to get it down to that time), but I loved all the homages that Singer put into SR. Anyone who’s seen Richard Donner’s Superman as many times as I have, will pick up on most of them. And while Brandon Routh does good, and comes off a fair take on Christopher Reeve, he does make it his own. Kevin Spacey is just as good as Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, but a bit more ruthless and mean.

Overall, this is a better picture than say X Men III, if only because the performances were good, the direction and visual effects were spectacular. It should preform adequately, both here and overseas (once the World Cup is done), but it is not what I had hoped for.

Still, it makes a fine end piece to Superman and Superman II (and I’m looking forward this fall for Richard Donner’s true version of Superman II). Singer’s love for the first film, with archival footage of the late Marlon Brando, John William’s memorable score (with an “almost” same style opening credits -hip and new back in 1978, but something anyone can do now) and the many, and the many, many homages through out the film make it worth the time and money.

And while the Christ images are obvious, I was not bothered so much by them. That analogy, along with the gay one, has been part of the lore of Superman -and in many ways, all super heroes - since its beginning. You take what you want, I say.

My ratings: B+

27 June 2006

Rowling hints about deaths in the final Harry Potter book

"I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die," JK Rowling said this past Monday. "A price has to be paid. We are dealing with pure evil here. They don't target extras do they? They go for the main characters. Well, I do."

Rowling seems to be getting the pre-publicity machine going for the last volume of her bestselling Harry Potter series, and while there is still no release date -though a few months back I speculated next summer as the logical release date, but it could be delayed until 2008 due to the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix next July - she is dropping hints on what might be the fate of some characters in the popular series.

She claims she has known since 1990 how the series was going to end, but admits now at least 2 main characters will die and one, who apparently did die, will get reprieve.

The series, which has gotten darker and darker with each conservative book, has become so popular that many adults await each new release as much as their kids.

But the big question remains, will she kill off Harry Potter himself? She admitted that she has been tempted too, basically saying that as a popular character he is, if he’s killed off, no one can take up the mantel long after Rowling has shuttled off this mortal coil. But I don’t think she will, but of course those “deaths” depends on how you describe “key characters”.

I’m convinced that Dumbledore survived his attack in the last book, The Half-Blood Prince. I can’t explain why I feel this way, but I do.

But Hagrid seems logical to kill off, as he’ll become a hero that Dumbledore always though him to be. And it good chance that Severus will die also, as I’ve felt since the start of the series, he is not as evil as portrayed. Out of the three main characters, I think Harry will survive, but as a logical procession of the story, either Ron or Hermione could be killed off.

It would bother many fans have any of the three died, but from a story progression -which Rowling has kept true too -it is logical one will die.

Rowling admits that she’s not done with the book, but if she (and Scholastic) want the book out next summer, expect a December announcement. The only wrench in this, maybe the Order of the Phoenix. Will Warners want a book competing with their film version of book 5 and vice versus?

Scholastic will want a summer release for the last volume, as Half-Blood did so well in 2005. Kids are out of school and that will prevent said kids (and adults) from ditching things like school work and just every day work.

But the wait, no matter what is damn annoying...

22 June 2006

Futurama Returns

Three years or so ago, FOX pulled the plug on the animated series Futurama after 72 episodes. This smart, funny show came from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. But -as typical with FOX -it had no idea what to do with, mostly because the humor was satirical in nature, and American's have proven that most satire goes over their heads; witness the nomadic life of Arrested Development or killed after two airings: the brilliant Wonderfalls (among many others).

But like most demographically minded people, the executives at FOX were caught off guard when the show -like Family Guy before it - began to outsell all expectations on DVD. Units of the series -plus reruns on Comedy Central and Cartoon Network - made the show more popular than when it was airing on the network.

But why? The show is still full of satire and sly sci fi jokes. Maybe because Comedy Central's core audience, usually made up of more adult and educated people, seemed to understand and appreciate the adroit humor. Or maybe its just dumb luck. But, since the debut of CN's late-night animated block Adult Swim, the network has seen a huge rise in viewer ship who are generally older than the typical demographics that advertisers usually go after.

With that knowledge behind them, FOX pulled a reverse and revived Family Guy, but still was cautious about bringing back Futurama, which was more expensive to produce than FG.

Now, after rumors that started nearly a year ago, its been confirmed that Comedy Central will bring the show back with 13 new episodes. Expect the voice talent of Billy West, Katey Sagal and John DiMaggio to return.

This is the third FOX show, by the way, to be revived. Beyond Family Guy and Futurama. IFC has also ordered new episodes of Greg The Bunny (another great, clever comedy that went before its time).

New episodes of Futurama will air on Comedy Central in early 2008.

20 June 2006

Why does "official" Star Trek avoid gays?

After the recent press Hidden Frontier is getting about its gay characters, I decided to post something I wrote back in early 2003. I had spent a good few years collecting articles on Trek and this one was prompted when Star Trek: Enterprise was going to an AIDS allegory episode. I’ve updated it a bit.

Since it's beginning in 1966, series creator Gene Roddenberry sold the Star Trek universe as time were humans had long ago put away their prejudices and learned to live in peaceful harmony; a utopian life where in quadrants that were Federation based, everyone seemed to be well-adjusted, happy people. Even religion appeared to no longer exist (as well as television), as everyone looked as though to be a sort of secular humanist. Like Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, Roddenberry used allegory stories to inform the public about current issues, with racism and anti-war being the original series (TOS) bread and butter. But in later years, as times changed, one thing that Trek seemed to always stray away from was homosexuality and as early as 1987, AIDS.

Back in early 1986, after it had been announced that Trek was returning to TV in the fall of 1987, Roddenberry was asked by a fan at a convention in Boston if a gay character would be part of the show. After all, it could be reasoned, that after TOS inclusion of black and Asian characters in their ensemble cast, adding a gay character seemed logical, if you can excuse the pun. It was reported by writer David Gerrold, to Jonathan Kay in a Salon.com interview in 2001, that after the question was asked, Roddenberry acknowledged that it could be possible that TNG might explore those issues.

For most long-time fans of Trek, Gerrold’s name brings up memories of one TOS favorite episode, The Trouble with Tribbles. The writer was only 19 when he sold that story to the NBC series, and 40 years later is remains one of the most popular episodes of the series. As proof of its prevalence, when Star Trek celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 1996, the second spin-off show Deep Space Nine did an amazing tribute/sequel to it called Trails and Tribble-ations. It featured the crew of DS9 traveling back in time to revisit that episode. And it featured a brief cameo by the writer himself.

Gerrold had been hired to help pen stories for TNG and had written an allegory tale about AIDS called Blood and Fire, but as production on TNG began, the writer found his script was not going to be produced. The story had the Enterprise answer a call from a distressed medical research vessel. When the mission team beams over, it finds that the ship's crew is infected with "Regulan blood worms," an apparently incurable pathogen so deadly that Starfleet has orders to destroy any ship that is contaminated. Aside from its obvious reference to AIDS, the script also contained a casual nod to homosexuality, with a pair of male officers who had been a couple since their academy days.

"This was during one of the worst parts of the AIDS crisis," Gerrold told Kay of Salon.com "Before protease inhibitors, before AZT. AIDS was not a treatable condition; it was a fatal disease. And the fear of it was widespread, so much so that blood donorship had reached critically low levels." It was also a more personal issue for Gerrold, as Michael Minor, art director for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Merritt Butrick, who played Kirk's son in Trek II and III had succumbed to the disease in 1987 and 1989, respectively.

In Gerrold's script, curing the disease required a complete blood transfusion. To treat the infected, the Enterprise crew was asked to donate blood. "I felt this plot point would raise the consciousness of 20 million Star Trek fans overnight," says Gerrold. But after a series of arguments with Roddenberry's underlings, Gerrold quit the show, and the episode was permanently shelved. Gerrold told Kay , half-joking, that the script got caught up in "orifice politics."

Gerrold also told Kay that part of the issue was Roddenberry’s health. Even before his death in 1991, it had been reported and rumored that Roddenberry was nothing but a figurehead during the first few years of TNG. Writers on the first season came and went, many, like Herb Wright, where fired. Gerrold says. "He didn't have the physical strength he needed -- and he was experiencing mental lapses as well." Gerrold says that some of Roddenberry's collaborators stepped in and began to make decisions about the show. Roddenberry's lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, even went so far as to write story memos and rewrite scripts. And Maizlish was hardly sensitive to the gay issue. "The last time I saw [Maizlish] I was helping Herb Wright pack up his office," says Gerrold. "The lawyer came to make sure we weren't stealing anything. To my face, he called me 'an AIDS-infected cocksucker. A fucking faggot.'"

But Trek archivist Richard Arnold defended the reason why the story was put aside, in related story from the Trektoday website: "I knew Gerrold from 1972, and I'd read all his books up to that point. Blood and Fire was not his best work. I was almost offended by the stereotypes. The scene I remember particularly was when the gay couple was having a sort of lover's dispute. The one we could call the wife was expressing concern to the other about getting into dangerous situations. He was saying stuff like 'You know how much I worry about you when you're away.' I mean, come on. This was absolutely ridiculous - for Starfleet officers or for gay men."

In 2003, Enterprise aired an episode called Stigma, which had the Vulcan character of T'Pol acknowledge that she is suffering from an incurable degenerative blood disease, ala HIV/AIDS. T’Pol can not reveal she has this illness because that knowledge would forever stigmatize her among her people. According to Rick Berman, who wrote the episode with co-creator Brannon Braga, he told Gannett News Service that: "What we would most likely deal with is T'Pol's desire to educate the Vulcan people and destroy this sense of prejudice held against [mind melders who are the majority of who suffer from it]"

Sadly, the episode never achieved what many gay Trek fans had wanted. The story line would only pop up again once or twice during the rest of the series run because by then, as typical in Trek’s later series run, when their parable became too complex, they would abandoned it.

So, once again, Trek was able to skirt the whole gay issue.

But just once, though, it would be nice to hear that gay people exist in the Star Trek universe. I mean, even Babylon 5 indicated that homosexuality endured in their universe (in the episode, two male characters have to go undercover as a honeymooning couple to contact some local resistance group on Mars). And while it was essentially a throw away line and not important to the plot, it was really the first modern science fiction show to make it clear that it would be perfectly normal for a male couple to be honeymooning.

In an article from fandom.com in February 2000, former writer TNG and DS9 writer Ronald D. Moore confirmed that there is a conservative view against homosexuality in Trek and why there is no gay characters in the franchise. Moore said to them: "This is one of those uncomfortable questions I hate getting when I was working on the show, because there is no good answer for it. There is no answer for it other than people in charge don’t want gay characters in Star Trek, period." Later in the article, though, he appears to exonerate Paramount: "That’s one of the great things about Paramount. Paramount left us alone. They always left us alone. They let TNG do whatever it wanted. God knows it let Deep Space Nine do whatever we wanted. It lets Voyager do whatever it wants. The studio is not the problem here. The studio is going to let you go wherever you want to go, as long as they believe that this is quality, as long as they believe it’s good work. You’ve just got to come up with something good."

So you don't have to be a brain trust to realize that if what Moore says is true, that if Paramount leaves Trek alone to do what it wants, then Rick Berman -who was, and still is, in charge of the Star Trek franchise -is the sole reason there is a complete absence of any gay character in Star Trek. Further evidence of this, came in an August 2001 story on Enterprise, in which TV Guide writer Michael Logan confronted Rick Berman with that rumor that Enterprise would feature a gay character, only to get the usual denial. Reportedly, Berman said "That's totally untrue. Well I shouldn't say totally untrue. It has not been discussed. One of these characters may turn out to be gay. We've just decided not to make an issue of it for the time being (at the time, it was thought that Lt. Malcolm Reed, the ships chief of security, was going to be gay)."

And after years of seeing Trek do away with some of its sexist attitudes that haunted TOS, with Enterprise, Berman and Braga revived them. Since the first episode where we see Trip and Maryweather drooling like 18 year-old modern day adolescents over female (note, no male) dancers, we've seen T'Pol become the Seven of Nine replacement as the resident sex kitten. As proof of Trek's return to it's old ways when dealing with women and sex, Braga told Cinescape Online back in March of 2002 that: "Rick and I have been allowed to bring our own sensibilities to the show in a more natural way, which we haven't been allowed to do in some of the other shows."

If all of this true, then it would appear that Star Trek being written, produced and marketed solely for heterosexual males.

18 June 2006

The Dark Tower Family Tree

This July sees the final book, in paperback, of Stephen King's most popular series come to a conclusion. Here is a brief look at how most of King's books published over the last 25 plus years are somewhat connected to that universe.

The Dark Tower Family Tree

The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
Thus the reader is introduced to Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger from a dying world. His pursuit of the man in black is only the first step in the epic that is the journey to the Dark Tower, the axis upon which infinite worlds revolve.

The Stand/Eyes of the Dragon
(These books have a significant place in the narrative arc of the Tower series, providing background information, and early appearances of the major series antagonist's -Randall Flagg and the Crimson King.) In the final pages of The Gunslinger, Roland catches up with the man in black, and through their encounter it is revealed to Roland in a prophetic form that in order to fulfill his destiny he must do battle with a powerful wizard.

Insomnia/Black House/Hearts in Atlantis
From the pages of The Gunslinger, the prophecy regarding Flagg also states that Roland must get past The Beast, the keeper of the Tower. In Black House we learn that The Beast is a character we've met before, called the Crimson King (Hearts in Atlantis/Insomnia), and that his actions are ultimately what has put the Tower in danger and prompted Roland's quest. Ralph Roberts, the protagonist of Insomnia, and readers alike first encountered the Crimson King in that book's climax, where in a climatic battle, Ralph gouges out one of the King's eyes. Soon after, the book cuts to an image of Roland lying on the beach of his world, sleeping easier because for the moment, the King's plans have failed and the Tower is still safe.

Eyes of the Dragon/The Stand
The encounter with Flagg that will take place over the pages of these final three books (The Wolves of Calla, The Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower) is one that Stephen King readers have been wanting for since 1978. They were promised that this would be "another tale, for another day" in Eyes of the Dragon and reminded again with the revelation of Flagg's survival at the end of the updated The Stand. Flagg is at the center of that promise, and along with the Crimson King, the revelation of their back-stories in these other books is what has allowed the series as a whole to exist on such an epic level, without having to pause its narrative to develop and explore players outside of the ka-tet.

The Drawing of the Three

The Drawing of the Three

Roland's search for the Tower continues, as he gathers the fellowship that will accompany him along the way. Through mystical doors, Roland finds passage to different worlds with in the Tower's realm, each one opened into the mind of those destined to play a part in the fate of infinite worlds.

Eyes of the Dragon
In The Drawing of the Three, Roland has a brief encounter with Thomas, one of the protagonists from The Eyes of the Dragon, seen in pursuit of Flagg, the antagonist from both The Eyes of the Dragon and The Stand. Thomas's pursuit is a reference to the promise made at the end of Dragon that the final confrontation between the book's heroes and Flagg was still somewhere on the horizon.

The Waste Lands

The Waste Lands
Ka is fate, and a ka-tet is a group bound by destiny. Roland's ka-tet is now complete, and as they follow the path of the Beam, the path to the Tower, they must travel through the waste lands of a dying world. Those they meet on the way are less than friendly, and while a timeless evil (Flagg) makes his presence known, the Tower, its meaning and its fate, keep getting closer.

The Stand
In The Waste Lands, Stephen King lets Flagg cross over fully into The Dark Tower world and years later, in the final pages of Wizard and Glass, it is confirmed that Flagg and the wizard of prophecy are indeed one and the same.

Wizard and Glass

Wizard and Glass
This is the story of Roland's youth, his original ka-tet of gunslingers, and the continued path along the Beam. In the now, Roland's newest troupe must travel through the land of the Crimson King, a multi-world figure fated to destroy the Tower and rule the ruin, with his ally -an old friend if evil can count itself as such -Flagg. Flagg, the traveling dude with hands free of lines and penchant for worlds in ruin is but one of the many challenges anticipated for Roland and the last gunslingers.

The Stand
Roland and his ka-tet briefly visit a world ravaged by the same Captain Tripps super-flu virus that devastated the global population in The Stand. The final pages of the expanded edition of The Stand maintain the continuity of the series as a whole by revealing that Flagg survived the book's climax.

Insomnia/Hearts in Atlantis
The encounter at the end of Wizard and Glass between Flagg and Roland, along with his fellow gunslingers, occurs in the court of the Crimson King, a territory marked by the symbol of a one-eyed King (Insomnia).

Insomnia/Eyes of the Dragon
In his own words, from the afterword to Wizard and Glass, Stephen King came to the understanding that Mid-World (the world of The Dark Tower) contains all the other (worlds) of my making; there is a place in Mid-World for Randall Flagg and the wandering boys from Eyes of the Dragon and Ralph Roberts from Insomnia and they will meet up in the land of Thunderclap as the saga reaches its climax.

Minor Titles

Prominently features one of the 12 guardians of the Tower's universe, The Turtle. Tower lore reads that the death of the guardians would be the sign of the Towers weakened state. By the end of IT, The Turtle is dead.

Rose Madder
Features a porthole to Lud, one of the Mid-World cities.

Hearts in Atlantis
The novella, Low Men in Yellow Coats, outlines the role of physics (the Breakers) in the Crimson King's plan to destroy the Tower. Expect a revisit of the character Ted Brautigan before the series concludes.

Talisman/Black House
Fully outlines the Crimson King's plan and updates readers as to Roland's progress.

Everything's Eventual
Features a story of Roland set prior to the events of The Gunslinger. It also features a story (the title story) of a man with physic abilities (a Breaker). Stephen King has said that Dinky Earnshaw will have a role at Thunderclap.

Desperation/The Regulators
These books exist in worlds parallel to each other, an illustration of how the Dark Tower universe works. Also, the antagonist, Tak, has been referenced in the Tower books, but what role he plays remains to be seen.

Salem's Lot
The character of Father Callahan was reintroduced in Book V: The Wolves of Calla

16 June 2006

Where is Doctor Who's second season?

Back in January, when the Sci Fi Channel announced they had finally picked up the revived Doctor Who series, I pondered the question of whether the cable net would pick up series 2, that is currently airng in the UK.

While ratings for the show were not spetacular, the network did say that the series doubled the ratings in that timeslot from last year, but to be honest, they were airing reruns of their Stargate franchise, and reruns don't usually generate high ratings.

While I'm guessing programmer and all around nutcase Bonnie Hammer will take a wait and see attitude, but there are some who are speculating that the second series will begin airing on in October.

Now this is a purely hypothetical situation:

Beginning in July 14, the cable net will debut the next seasons of Staragte and Stargate: Atlantis. Each will run 10 episodes, putting the mid-season finale around September 15 -barring Sci Fi does not prempt them during the run.

Battlestar Galactica will return in October and its a good bet that IF the network will pick up the second series, that is where it coould air (most likely before BG).

For the most part, I wish the Sci Fi would say they will be airing the show now, which could help build a following. But then agian, they're airing wrestling and Law & Order - but they seem to have pulled Passions. NBC/Universal, which ownes the genre channel has little idea what to do with, evidenced by the adding of such programs.

And while I enjoy BG, I still cannot forgive them for pulling the plug on Farscape.

13 June 2006

Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures for sale

During the late 70s and 1980s, when I was reading almost every fantasy book that came out, I stumbled upon Robert Asprin. While I had always enjoyed the hardcore sword and sorcery work of Stephen R. Donaldson and, of course J.R.R.Tolkien, I also liked the lighter fantasy, such as David Eddings, Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin. And while I enjoyed Eddings, I never got into his later series of books, and Anthony just got too silly as I grew, his Xanth novels seemed to always be too juvenile, never "growing" up.

Between 1978 and 1994 he put out 10 volumes in trade paperback. While not all where brilliant, they kept me laughing. Eventually, after some personal problems in the later half of the 90s with the IRS, he would return to Myth books in 2003. I have yet to read them, cause while his name appears on the books, it looks like his "co-author" Jody Lynn Nyle actually wrote them.

Anyway the reason I bring this up is I’m selling all 10 volumes of this series. All are in good condition, all 1st editions. These versions are all out of print, by the way. If anyone wants them, I’m selling them for $10 a piece. Leave a message in the comment field.

11 June 2006

Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

I miss Douglas Adams

I was one of many fans who were shocked beyond belief when Adams was struck down by a heart attack at the age of 49 in California. What was also the surprise, he was health nut and had been working out when that said heart attack came.

The reason I post about this is that I’ve decided to sell on E Bay, the long out of print, first American edition hardcover of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Published in 1987, when his popularity with his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series was still in the minds of fans, it was a departure for him. It’s humor was more stylized and less as broad as the Hitchhiker series. More in line with the typical, dry British sense of humor.

The book is also, in some sort of way, a alternate universe version of the Doctor Who episode Shada. Adams spent a year working on the classic version of the series during the late 1970s and had written two previous episodes, The Pirate Planet and fan favorite City of Death. Shada was to be his last episode for the show (and last serial of that season). But as things happen at the BBC, a planned strike caused a disruption of production on shows then. After the strike was over, the BBC went and looked at what shows could be finished and what shows would be dumped. Sadly, Shada was one of those serials that got the shaft, even though it needed only three more days of studio filming to finish it. Years later, the BBC would release the unfinished show on video (as by now, it became legendary as perhaps the best Who episode in years) with Tom Baker returning to provide “links” between the finished and unfinished parts of the story.

The book is about a detective who goes on the simple search for a missing cat, but uncovers a bewildered ghost, a secret time-traveler, and the devastating secret that lies behind the whole human history and threatens to bring it to a premature end.

Sadly, the cat dies.

I miss him because of his humor, and I miss him because he was taken from this planet long before he should’ve.

But, still, I need the money.


The sequel to this book, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, I also have in its first edition hardcover which came out in 1988. Anyone want that?