27 May 2012


Books: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (1957)

Dandelion Wine is a semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, is set in the summer of 1928. Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy, is loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of Green Town (Bradbury’s real home town of Waukegan, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago) where the comings and goings of small-town America are divined by the simple joys of yesteryear.

One day, while out looking for wild grapes with his father and brother, Douglas wakens to the fact that he is alive. He confides his realizations to his brother, Tom, and records them in a yellow nickel pad as they accumulate through the summer. Life’s bounty presents new tennis shoes, stories of buffalo stampedes by old Colonel Freeleigh, and the affection of and for John Huff, a neighborhood buddy. Family rituals provide another part, especially the monthly gathering of dandelions for wine making. Douglas wishes wonderful summer would stay put. It will not. Beloved John Huff moves away. Tennis shoes wear. The storyteller dies. Another vision assails the boy: Douglas Spalding will die someday.

Less a novel than a collection of richly plotted vignettes (it began, originally as short story published in 1953) about the birth of a brilliant writer, and the remembrances of a childhood where summers lasted forever and mysteries and magic where on the lips of boys.

26 May 2012

Books: The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (1981)

Despite liking John Irving, this is only the fourth novel I’ve read of his (he’s got 14 novels, a short story collection and two non-fiction books). He is an extraordinary author, very literate, very dense, yet always readable.

The Hotel New Hampshire, Irving’s fifth book and the first one after The World According to Garp which made him a huge star, is narrated by John Berry, the third of five very eccentric siblings. As the chronicler of their lives, John begins with “Frank's queer, Franny's weird, Lily's small and Egg is Egg.” From that point on, we can assume nothing. The family's adventures begin in New Hampshire, then shifts to Vienna and eventually in Maine. In between we see the quirkiness that keeps this family going and while outsiders might consider then weird, to them, it’s all normal. The father is an often absent, obsessed with his motorcycle and his bear, State of Maine (aka Earl). The mother is perhaps the most normal, but she is a character none the less. Franny, the second oldest child, is a cheerleader and a tomboy, damaged by a brutal rape. John is a sentimental womanizer in love with his sister Franny. The oldest, Frank, is a surprisingly normal (relatively speaking) and sympathetic character, who is a homosexual, who loves to wear uniforms and performs taxidermy on their dead dog Sorrow. Lily is a writer consumed by her failure to grow. 

Like the three previous ones I’ve read –A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules, A Widow for One Year- his novels are character driven. And each character is created and realized in such wonderful ways. Plus, I think, Irving is one of the few authors who can get away with taboo subjects in mainstream fiction. All of his novels carry some of the same themes:  homosexuality, transsexualism, incestuous desires, older women, younger men relationships and bears. 

It’s funny, sad, outrageous, and a moving novel.

25 May 2012

Eccleston's 'conscience' clean on leaving 'Doctor Who' behind

I'm guessing eventually we'll learn why Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who after its first season, however, I don't think we'll see it until long after he's left this mortal plain.

What happened during his short tenure is up to speculation, and strangely in this day of social media and people selling their souls to make money, its surprising the truth (whether real or not) has ever materialized. A little over a year ago, he made some comments about it, but they're still fairly nebula's:
"I left Doctor Who because I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye with them. I didn't agree with the way things were being run. I didn't like the culture that had grown up around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle."
What exactly caused this riff has never been clearly explained. Some have speculated over the years it had to do with casting of the Doctor himself, that showrunner Russell T Davies wanted Eccleston while the BBC wanted David Tennant (it was well known that he was second choice to play the Doctor back then -and in some ways might explain why Tennant was so quickly signed before it was announced that Eccleston was leaving). Of course, that could be the opposite, but to me, looking back on season one as compared to season two, that first year was terribly dark in tone.

I can guess that the BBC heads thought they were going to get a Doctor Who similar in tone (but more modern take) to TOS. Only what they were getting, instead, was a broody, emo, more alien Doctor who is carrying a load of pain, loss and sadness around the galaxy. Heady stuff for children indeed. But as an actor, being able to explore those themes must've have been one of the reasons that attracted Eccelston in the first place. 

So maybe, in the early days of production, the BBC was concerned about the tone of the stories, concerned about the tone of Eccelston's performance and made his life and that of the production team difficult. He spoke at one time about some sort of "bullying" from people on the set, that included directors.
 [I]t’s easy to find a job when you’ve got no morals, you’ve got nothing to be compromised, you can go, ‘Yeah, yeah. That doesn’t matter. That director can bully that prop man and I won’t say anything about it’. But then when that director comes to you and says ‘I think you should play it like this’ you’ve surely got to go ‘How can I respect you, when you behave like that?’

And while I loved Tennant as the Doctor, I missed the darker tones of Eccleston's ninth Doctor. I miss the creepy, ominous stories of that era. To me, season one of the revived series matched the story telling of Tom Baker's middle years as the fourth Doctor, when those stories had a real sense of forbidding to them, a darkness that made you wonder if you were indeed watching a kids show, or an adult drama dressed for kids.

In someways, now under Steven Moffat, I think the show is trying to return to that first season style. Sure, Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor is crazy, funny "mad man with a box." But the stories have an undercurrent, a creepy darkness that elevates the show above the campiness that over took it when showrunner John Nathan Turner turned the later years of TOS into a funhouse of gloss and showmanship, but ultimately a tub of empty calories.

Anyways as the BBC begins preparing to celebrate Doctor Who's 50 anniversary in 2013, he's making it clear that he has no regrets about leaving:
"My conscience is completely clear. I've lived my life, particularly my working life, on the basis that I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror about the way I behave. It wasn't a bold move, it was an entirely natural one. I'm hugely grateful to the children who to this day come up and talk to me about the show."
Which is a not so subtle comment that he wants nothing to do with whatever is going to happen. 

For me, I guess, I can understand his desires. It's a shame, just the same. 

In the end, I guess someday we'll learn the full story. But until he sits down and writes about, we still have that wonderful first season of Eccleston as the ninth Doctor. Sure, not all the stories worked, but he shined in every episode, bringing such a totally different take on the Time Lord. I relish his time there, when the stories and the character returned to the more alien take that started the franchise.

19 May 2012

'Community' creator Dan Harmon reacts to being 'fired'

A few hours ago, I landed in Los Angeles, turned on my phone, and confirmed what you already know.  Sony Pictures Television is replacing me as showrunner on Community, with two seasoned fellows that I’m sure are quite nice - actually, I have it on good authority they’re quite nice, because they once created a show and cast my good friend Jeff Davis on it, so how bad can they be.
Why’d Sony want me gone?  I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have.  They literally haven’t called me since the season four pickup, so their reasons for replacing me are clearly none of my business.  Community is their property, I only own ten percent of it, and I kind of don’t want to hear what their complaints are because I’m sure it would hurt my feelings even more now that I’d be listening for free.
I do want to correct a couple points of spin, now that I’m free to do so:
The important one is this quote from Bob Greenblatt in which he says he’s sure I’m going to be involved somehow, something like that.  That’s a misquote.  I think he meant to say he’s sure cookies are yummy, because he’s never called me once in the entire duration of his employment at NBC.  He didn’t call me to say he was starting to work there, he didn’t call me to say I was no longer working there and he definitely didn’t call to ask if I was going to be involved.  I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to have bigger fish to fry, I’m just saying, NBC is not a credible source of All News Dan Harmon.
You may have read that I am technically “signed on,” by default, to be an executive consulting something or other - which is a relatively standard protective clause for a creator in my position.  Guys like me can’t actually just be shot and left in a ditch by Skynet, we’re still allowed to have a title on the things we create and “help out,” like, I guess sharpening pencils and stuff. 
However, if I actually chose to go to the office, I wouldn’t have any power there.  Nobody would have to do anything I said, ever.  I would be “offering” thoughts on other people’s scripts, not allowed to rewrite them, not allowed to ask anyone else to rewrite them, not allowed to say whether a single joke was funny or go near the edit bay, etc.  It’s….not really the way the previous episodes got done.  I was what you might call a….hands on producer.  Are my….periods giving this enough….pointedness?  I’m not saying you can’t make a good version of Community without me, but I am definitely saying that you can’t make my version of it unless I have the option of saying “it has to be like this or I quit” roughly 8 times a day.
The same contract also gives me the same salary and title if I spend all day masturbating and playing Prototype 2.  And before you ask yourself what you would do in my situation: buy Prototype 2.  It’s fucking great.
Because Prototype 2 is great, and because nobody called me, and then started hiring people to run the show, I had my assistant start packing up my office days ago.  I’m sorry.  I’m not saying seasons 1, 2 and 3 were my definition of perfect television, I’m just saying that whatever they’re going to do for season 4, they’re aiming to do without my help.  So do not believe anyone that tells you on Monday that I quit or diminished my role so I could spend more time with my loved ones, or that I negotiated and we couldn’t come to an agreement, etc.  It couldn’t be less true because, just to make this clear, literally nobody called me.  Also don’t believe anyone that says I have sex with animals.  And if there’s a photo of me doing it with an animal - I’m not saying one exists, I’m just saying, if one surfaces - it’s a fake.  Look at the shadow.  Why would it be in front of the giraffe if the sun is behind the jeep?
Where was I?  Oh yeah.  I’m not running Community for season 4.  They replaced me.
Them’s the facts.
When I was a kid, sometimes I’d run home to Mommy with a bloody nose and say, “Mom, my friends beat me up,” and my Mom would say “well then they’re not worth having as friends, are they?”  At the time, I figured she was just trying to put a postive spin on having birthed an unpopular pussy.  But this is, after all, the same lady that bought me my first typewriter.  Then later, a Commodore 64.  And later, a 300 baud modem for it.  Through which I met new friends that did like me much, much more.
I’m 39, now.  The friends my Mom warned me about are bigger now, and older, bloodying my nose with old world numbers, and old world tactics, like, oh, I don’t know, sending out press releases to TV Guide at 7pm on a Friday.
But my Commodore 64 is mobile now, like yours, and the modems are invisible, and the internet is the air all around us.  And the good friends, the real friends, are finding each other, and connecting with each other, and my Mom is turning out to be more right than ever.
Ah, shit, I still haven’t called my fucking Mom.  
          Mom, Happy Mother’s Day.  I got fired.
Yes, Mom.  AGAIN.

While it should be no huge surprise, since corporations discovered metrics, and found out how to value every aspect of job, to manage every portion so maximum profit can be gained, we get things like Harmon's firing from Community. Sony Pictures Television and NBC have not been happy with the series for a while, and have kept it going due, mainly, to the cult following it gained over the years. Plus, on last place NBC, even a moderately successful show can survive.

But while metrics is a device to gain the most profit, it is also a tool to end shows like Community. Or, as in this case, get rid of its creator and showrunner in favor of handling it over to others in hopes of expanding its viewership beyond the ones that already adore this show. While at times, this could be a good idea, it’s usually handled pretty badly.  Executives of large companies do not how to deal with staff members who buck the traditional system. Yes, they want creative people, but only if they stay within certain parameters. It’s like hiring someone radical to change your company, only you never give that person the tools they need to make effective change, because you generally run into the “we’ve never done it this way before.” Of course you haven’t that’s the point. Change sometimes means doing this completely different. 

NBC –and other broadcast networks- are facing huge losses of viewers. Some have fled to basic cable where stories and content are a little less restrictive. Some have gone to premium channels, again to get better stories, character driven ones as well. But a lot have just thrown in the towel. 

TV can be great, when it tries, and I do believe you can have show’s with social commentaries and still be commercial. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset that runs metrics. It’s a numbers game. But because they use mutated mathematics, and an archaic ratings system, who’s to say that Community’s ratings are accurate?

In the end, TV has failed to evolve, even though it does try to show that it does. Community was a show that tried to break out of the norm of stale sitcoms foisted upon a brain-dead audience who think Two and Half Men is funny. We all know it’s not, we all know it’s about as funny as Crone’s Disease. 

I will watch the 13 episodes that NBC has ordered for Community’s fourth season. But I sense that the show will not be as clever, as satirical, as creative as it was before because now it has to form fitted into a box called Mediocrity.

Because, that’s where metrics lives.

17 May 2012

Books: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

I'm jumping on the Hunger Games bandwagon. Part of the reason, I guess, is that I'm told the books are so much better than the movie -and to be honest, is that not always the truth? Another part is that while I generally do not read too much in the way of young adult fiction, I will admit some of its worth it. 

The novel reminded me a lot of the dystopian fiction written during the post-nuclear age by classic writers as Asimov and Clarke. And as I read, I often pondered in their better writing prose, how this novel could have been extraordinary. On the other hand, while the themes may have survived the times, the violence portrayed here would have never made it in that time period.

Still, Collins is a pretty good writer, the book flows very well, at times, even addictive. It's pedantic as well, with predictable outcomes and stilted dialogue. Katniss does come off as fully realized character, yet it seems she had some past adventure that comes in handy once the game begins, which at times makes the internal logic of the book unravel.

Realizing this is the first book in a trilogy, Collins does leave a lot of stuff unresolved. I'm hoping for more explanation of how Panem works, what brought the world to this time, as I felt not enough time was given to this part of the story. 

Maybe that was the point, set up this Universe in the first book and then see it come apart as the second and third book continue story. 

The movie version remains unseen. Perhaps I'll view it, but most likely I will either ignore it, or eventually see it on DVD.

14 May 2012

NBC fall preview of 'Go On'

Matthew Perry is good. He can play comedy and drama. When he did Mr. Sunshine on ABC, he was best thing about it. Despite the fact is was not funny and was poorly executed, he did his best with what he had.

Go On seems to have all his trademark elements, but the biggest hurtle the show might have is getting over the elephant in the room that was the death of his wife while texting. Important message, but since Glee handled semi-okay this season (and would have be more truthful and realistic kill off Quinn, but the show is fantasy) it will be interesting and challenging to see how this comedy series handles it.

Besides, it co-stars Tyler James Williams from the late WB's super underrated sitcom Everybody Hates Chris. He's a talented kid -his brother is star of Disney's Lab Rats- and I loved him as the young version of Chris Rock.

NBC's fall drama 'Chicago Fire'

For Chicagoians, there is a professional soccer team called The Chicago Fire. Hope no one gets confused.

That being said, this format has been done before, and has succeed poorly for various reasons. It looks like two broadcast network shows coming this fall will be filmed in my home town, this and FOX's Mob Doctor, which is cool. I sort of wish ABC's Happy Endings would film more location work there -or, obviously, film there completely- because the city gives great face. Showtimes Shameless films in the city as well, and uses great locations (some that don't always show up in movies and TV shows that film there).

I hope Chicago Fire can succeed. It's tried and true format, but for some reasons, it never lives up to the ambitions of its pilot -which, ironically, happens a lot as the shows go into weekly production. CBS' recently cancelled drama A Gifted Man is a perfect example of show that never was able to capitalize on its origins,

Books: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (2012)

The Wind Through the Keyhole, while set within Stephen King’s original 7 volume Dark Tower epic, has little to do with the series. Another words, it’s a small off ramp within the franchise that neither adds nor subtracts from the other volumes. King himself, in his forward, calls it book 4.5 (set between volumes four and five).

While some might hope to spend more time with Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy, they only become bookends to the novel as it takes a structure of a story within a story.  The Ka-tet hunkers down during a sudden storm and Roland tells them a story around the campfire. Their only purpose is to listen to the two stories and provide a context in which the stories take place.

The first story is from Roland's life as a young gunslinger, before he set out on the quest for the Dark Tower. It occurs immediately after he is tricked into murdering his mother, and a large part of the sub-text is Roland struggling to forgive himself for that act. (This is not a spoiler, by the way; King supplies this information in the introduction for readers who may not have read the Dark Tower novel that relates Roland's back story, Wizard and Glass). When he was teen, Roland’s father sends him and gunslinger, Jamie, top remote village to investigate the horrific killings of townsfolk by a “skin-changer” (King’s take on a shapeshifter). While investigating, Roland takes into custody the only witness, a young boy named Bill. While trying to keep the boy company, Roland tells him a fairy tale from his own childhood his mother used to tell. 

This story takes up the bulk of the novel.

It’s this section, with its mix of fantasy and science fiction that will remind many readers of how the Dark Tower universe works, as Roland tells the boy about the encounters with fairies, dragons, mutants, long-abandoned technology and even the wizard Maerlyn. 

He also runs into the Man in Black.

Like most of King’s novels, it’s enjoyable and very readable. It is a bit lite, coming on the heels of 11/22/63 and its richness, and it comes off more as two novellas, but I enjoy King and his Dark Tower series. I’m curious if he’ll continue with this format, because I can guess that he’s not really finished with this universe.

Next up for him, in January, will be his sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep.

09 May 2012

North Carolina screws themselves & God laughs

North Carolina can go screw themselves. Ooops, they already did. Because this backwards amendment will affect everyone, including unmarried, straight couples.

We as a race need to evolve, to move forward in a linear path. The past is an abstract notion, fed by illogical feelings and bad choices. The future, of course, remains undefined. Still, even if you take "past" ideals into consideration, you still see a world moving on, moving forward. We cannot remain in a vacuum, as nature abhors that. 

When I was growing up, I was told by my mother to look towards the future. The past can always be used as a barometer, but at the end of the day, the universe (no matter how we fight) will push us forward. 

We're at a tipping point with this idea that while all of us are created equal. It seems, for some, to be just words on a paper, meaning nothing because some dusty tome created by humans - who are flawed, ugly, killers and rapists- says it’s so, even though these people offer no proof of the existence of such a "higher being." It's faith, they say. 

But religion exists because we can't accept that we will one day no longer exist even though we didn't exist for billions of years and won't exist for eternity. We can't understand the beginning or end or vastness of the universe and the unknown aspects of our existence. Because those concepts are so scary, and the many can't accept them, they create fairy tales to take those fears away.

The tragic aspect is that these fairy tales have become popular and the more popular and they become, the more we think they might be real. You know, there's nothing wrong with having fairy tales. Just as long as you know they are fairy tales. 

There are lots of people who tend to forget this. And because their need to believe that their fairy tales are real, they'll do anything, at any cost, to hurt people who don't accept their views. We saw that with what happened in North Carolina yesterday. To the ones that voted, to the very human governmental machine that created this, the misery, suffering, and death that this will create for all, not just gay people, is somehow justified because their "faith" tells them there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for them. But we all know, deep down, there isn't one.

07 May 2012

Books: Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History by Christopher L. Bennett (2012)

The agents of the Department of Temporal Investigations are assigned to look into an anomaly that has appeared deep in Federation territory. It’s difficult to get clear readings, but a mysterious inactive vessel lies at the heart of the anomaly, one outfitted with some sort of temporal drive disrupting space-time and subspace. To the agents’ shock, the ship bears a striking resemblance to a Constitution-class starship, and its warp signature matches that of the original Federation starship Enterprise NCC-1701—the ship of James T. Kirk, that infamous bogeyman of temporal investigators, whose record of violations is held up by DTI agents as a cautionary tale for Starfleet recklessness toward history. But the vessel’s hull markings identify it as Timeship Two, belonging to none other than the DTI itself. At first, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur assume the ship is from some other timeline . . . but its quantum signature confirms that it came from their own past, despite the fact that the DTI never possessed such a timeship. While the anomaly is closely monitored, Lucsly and Dulmur must search for answers in the history of Kirk’s Enterprise and its many encounters with time travel—a series of events with direct ties to the origins of the DTI itself. . . .

Apparently, this sequel/prequel to last year’s Watching the Clock was to be part of the original Star Trek book line, but due to the success of the first book that carried the moniker of the Department of Temporal Investigations, this book becomes the second volume in the line –whether it continues, I’m unsure.

This one is a detailed history of how DTI came into existence, with the author explaining and writing out the Enterprises varying encounters with time travel in both the original series, and the animated one (which became the defacto last two seasons of series original five year mission). It also expands on plot threads left unanswered in TOS episode Miri. Then it jumps to about 18 months after V’ger incident presented in Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Like the first book, there is a lot of convoluted technobabble concerning time travel. Little of science is explained, and what is explained makes me wonder if only students of mathematics and quantum mechanics can truly understand it.  

For many hardcore Star Trek fans, the novels in various incarnations have a tendency to go from good to bad, with little in between that makes them okay. For me, as much as I like authors trying to expand Star Trek by creating new stories, on occasion, it is nice to see someone pick-up interesting plot threads from episodes that were left unanswered and create a whole new story. Also, I like that there are veiled references to Sulu entering the command structure and even a slight comment about the 2009 rebooted Star Trek movie, which I enjoyed.

06 May 2012

The Avengers and Joss Whedon

While movies, even tent pole films, are still not guarantee sure hits, it becomes clear with the success of The Avengers that given the right sort of circumstances, you can have a huge hit on your hands. A poster on Deadline.com summed it up perfectly: “Note to Hollywood: This is what happens when you let comic fans do comic book movies. Joss Whedon knocked it out of the park. The right mix of humor without camp, special effects without over usage, and action with good script. Having actors who like and/or know the characters doesn’t hurt either. “

While Joss Whedon has been around Hollywood forever –his dad and grandfather wrote for TV- he’s never been taken seriously, mostly because he thinks differently from the bean counters that run the machine that keeps Hollywood pumping one failed concept after another. While a script doctor paid his wages in his early years–he did uncredited work on Speed, Waterworld, Twister and X-Men, he also co-wrote Toy Story, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Titan A.E. Still his efforts as a sole writer, 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer move and 1997’s Alien Resurrection were two films that failed to rise him above cult status, even with the Oscar nomination he got as co-writer on Toy Story

But both Buffy and Resurrection are films that had more problems than just their scripts. Still, with the hugely successful TV version of Buffy and its spin-off Angel, along with the short-lived Firefly and Dollhouse, Whedon was able to build his credibility, yet because he could not and would not play the Hollywood game, he was admired, yet it appeared the studios were wary of giving him too much freedom. Universal gave him a chance with Firefly’s leap to the big screen with Serenity, but because that film was not a huge success beyond his fan base, no sequel was going to be made.

In the meantime, he co-wrote with Drew Goddard (who directed), Cabin in the Woods. The film was designed to comment on the horror genre that they had felt devolved into torture porn, “On another level it's a serious critique of what we love and what we don't about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don't like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.” But the film got delayed for one reason or another –first for 3D conversion and then MGM’s bankruptcy woes- before finally seeing the light of day in April, 3 years after it was made. It’s a clever movie, filled with all the right horror clichés, but presented on a scale that says “let’s have fun with it.”

Zack Penn –who wrote 2008’s Incredible Hulk- was given the duty of writing a screenplay for The Avengers.  As he wrote various drafts, director Jon Favreau –who helmed the hugely successful Iron Man and Iron Man 2- was concerned that bringing the supernatural aspect of Thor into The Avengers would harm the Iron Man franchise. "It's going to be hard,” he said. “Iron Man is very much a tech-based hero.” He added “(Mixing) the two of those works very well in the comic books, but it's going to take a lot of thoughtfulness to make that all work and not blow the reality that we've created.” However, producer Kevin Feige said that 2011’s Thor was going back to the “Jack Kirby/Stan Lee/Walt Simonson/J. Michael Straczynski Thor. And in the Thor of the Marvel Universe, there's a race called the Asgardians. It’s real science.” He added that “the Thor movie is about teaching people that.” 

In 2010, Marvel’s studio head Avi Arad and Stan Lee announced that Joss Whedon would write and direct The Avengers. Arad said "My personal opinion is that Joss will do a fantastic job. He loves these characters and is a fantastic writer. . . It's part of his life so you know he is going to protect it. . . I expect someone like him is going to make the script even better.” Whedon mentioned that he was a fan of the early Avengers comics while growing up. Whedon said what drew him to the movie is that he loves how "these people shouldn't be in the same room let alone on the same team—and that is the definition of family."

There is a lot of what Joss Whedon has done in his previous TV shows and movies within The Avengers, including his off-kilter humor, his feminism, the pop-culture references and even some touching moments that are generally not a part of these types of films. 

It’s a huge success for Marvel and Disney, who bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion. Paramount also gets some cash, as Disney bought out Paramount for distribution rights to The Avengers and next year’s Iron Man 3

In the end, what makes The Avengers work are the many things that Hollywood has left behind in the wake of micro-managing everything down to the last penny, and stripping every creative aspect out in hopes that their films appeal to a larger demographic –quality be damned. Ironically, the story, the dialogue, the actors and Whedon’s wonderful sense of timing as a director makes the film work. 

I’m guessing now, with a record breaking $200 million domestic gross, and $641 million world-wide take, no one will question (too much) of Whedon’s style of writing. 

But this is Hollywood. A lot of times, they don’t see the forest for the trees.

01 May 2012

Homophobia Strikes Gay Comic Book Convention

by  Paul Chitlik

Selling tickets to a comic book convention is the last place organizers expected to encounter anti-gay hate groups and their allies. That’s exactly, though, what Bent-Con, the gay pop culture festival that celebrates LGBTQ contributions to the science fiction, fantasy, horror, comic book and gaming genres, did. They did so in an obscure and arcane area of the internet most people aren’t familiar with: credit card payment processing gateways, lynchpins of internet transactions the world over.

“Honestly, it was something I wasn’t even expecting,” Bent-Con President Sean Holman said. “When you think about hate groups, you think of them with regards to anti-marriage efforts or against serving openly in the military. You don’t think about them in terms of internet payment systems. But there you go.”

Credit card payment gateways are the mechanism the internet uses to exchange information between websites and mobile phones and the banks. When the general public buys a pizza or orders tickets over the web, the gateway verifies all the information is correct, authorizes the transfer of funds — and takes a percentage for the effort in “fees.” These fees can add up to significant amounts of money, for both the seller and the gateway service. Getting the best deal possible is what ever seller requires.

“In setting up our ticket service, our ticketing agent signed us up with an established company that offers low rates to non-profits like us — Cornerstone Payment Systems — that’s when things got odd,” Holman said. Typical approval time is 48 hours. Several days of no word prompted Mr. Holman to inquire about the delay, first to the ticketing agency, then to Cornerstone itself. Two weeks later, a Cornerstone representative sent a cryptic email that said, “Unfortunately because the type of business we cannot get this account approved. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Puzzled, Mr. Holman inquired further with both Cornerstone and the ticketing agency about the rejection and the language. Apologizing, the ticketing agency indicated that Conerstone’s “underwriting criteria will be problematic” in regards to Bent-Con and quickly made arrangements with a different company, ACH Direct, to handle the processing. ACH approved Bent-Con and the website is now live and tacking ticket orders for the December 2012 event.

Mr. Holman admits to being frustrated by the delay, but once the new gateway came on-line, he was satisfied. Then he and Jody Wheeler, the vice-president of Bent-Con, did a little on-line research and were quite surprised by what they found.”Mostly, I was curious about what was ‘problematic’ about our organization. Turns out the problem wasn’t with us, but with the values of Cornerstone.”

According to their website, Cornerstone Payment Systems of Bristol, VA (www.cornerstonepaymentsystems.com) bills itself as a gateway that puts “Christ at the Cornerstone of our business…. we will not process credit card transactions for morally objectionable businesses.” They specifically reach out to churches and para church organizations, in addition to regular retail, food and related industries, in order to provide them services. It’s part of larger banking operation, Cornerstone Bancard, started by CEO and entrepreneur, Nick Logan.

One of Cornerstone’s main programs involves providing a revenue sharing service where, alongside Cornerstone, partners receive a percentage of the fee for all transactions processed and that all referred companies process. Titled the ”Processing with a Purpose” service, (www.processingwithapurpose.com), one notable partner is The American Family Association (http://www.cornerstone.cc/ afa/), which the Southern Poverty Law Center certified as a hate group last year (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/groups/american-family- association).

Cornerstone also provides these services to related organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Fund, American Family Association, Teen Pact, World Magazine and Florida Family Policy Counsel. Cornerstone advertises that they’ve processed several billion dollars and worked with 30,000 ministries. “No wonder they rejected us,” Mr. Holman said. “We’re the kind of people they hate!”

The most troubling aspect, though, is that Cornerstone, directly and through partnerships, has provided gateway services to unknowing groups who support equality and fairness in other ways. ”There are several charities — cancer prevention, poverty reduction, even Little League organizations — that use Cornerstone due to its low rates and inadvertently fund the anti-gay hate industry in the United States, ” Mr. Holman said.

“Had things broken in a slightly different way, we might have wound up providing money to what is, essentially, the ‘bag-man’ for internet funded hate groups. I wonder how many otherwise great organizations don’t realize they’re helping to fund such hate with their own internet sales, ” Mr. Holman added.

Bent-Con 2012 is happening November 30th, December 1st and 2nd in Los Angeles CA. With an estimated attendance of 3000 people, it is one of the largest conventions to promote, encourage, celebrate and appreciate LGBT and LGBT-friendly contributions to comic-book, gaming, scifi, fantasy and horror mediums from artists, writers, creators, publishers, directors, actors, and producers, that create works targeted directly to LGBT audiences or the larger realm of underground and mainstream pop-culture as a whole.