The Way of the Word

30. July 2011

Review: The Mis-Adventures of Adam West #1

Publisher: Bluewater Comics. Cover Price: $ 3.99. Written by Reed Lackey. Art by Russell Dauterman.

Actor Adam West has problems: his values and ideas are out of fashion, and because he refuses to compromise them he doesn’t get any more work. But then something amazing happens: a strange amulet that he gets in the mail not only makes him young again, it also transports him into a spy adventure — which he eventually recognizes as one of the scripts he had recently rejected.

Like most of my generation, I have a soft spot for Adam West. Which is why I broke my rule of not spending more than $3.00 on any one comic, and impulse-bought this one. I was rewarded with a charming little story of a man who feels his time has passed, and who (apparently) is about to get the chance to prove everyone wrong.

The writing is competent and rather nostalgic. It manages to evoke sentiment in the reader — if you’re like me, you’ll feel with Adam West because you agree with him; if not, you’ll probably scoff at his old-fashioned notions. But you will react in some way.

The bad thing about this comic is the art. Invoking the Shooter Test, it’s servicable. You can tell what happens in each panel even if there were no words. But it is no more than that. The art is a bit too simple, too bland to excite. And frankly — if your comic is officially licensed by Adam West, then you should draw him in a way that the readers will recognize him even if you don’t say, “This is supposed to be Adam West.”

All in all, The Mis-Adventures of Adam West is a charming comic, and the only reason I won’t get the next issue is the price tag. I’ll keep an eye out for the TPB, though.

Verdict: mildly recommended.

10. April 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

I originally had this idea sometime in the 1980s/early 1990s. I don’t remember exactly when. At the time, the idea would have worked. By now, that is no longer the case, the timeline makes it impossible.

Something that was established in the Roger Stern/John Byrne run of Captain America was that the US government had messed with Cap’s memories. I took that ball and ran with it.

One of the things that Cap had been made to forget was that he had been married, sometime after receiving the Super Soldier treatment. Therefore, he had no idea that he had a son, Steven Junior. The boy’s father had been told that her husband was missing, presumed dead – like so many others in wars all over the world throughout time. So she raised her son accordingly.

Steven Junior (from here on SJ, for convenience) fell in with the wrong people. With the extreme right. He had seen how his mother had worked herself to death, literally, in order to give her son a future, and that didn’t sit too well with him. His father had died for their country, and the country had abandoned them. The country owed him! The attitude didn’t change when SJ married and had a child, Brian. SJ managed to rise in the ranks of his right-wing group.

But the reader wouldn’t know all that when we start out.  The reader would encounter SJ when Captain America does, pretty much by accident. Cap notices just how much SJ resembles him, and the man’s name is Steven Rogers, so he has Nick Fury check the guy out and is stunned to discover that SJ is the son he never knew he had. And that he has a grandson, who is in college! Cap tries to connect with his son. For SJ, discovering that his father is Captain America is an opportunity. He stays at Cap’s side for a while, and when he has Cap’s trust — he traps him. He doesn’t kill him, he wants payback for being abandoned. So SJ becomes Captain America. And he wants his father to know what he does in his name.

Remember that I said that Cap married after becoming a super soldier? The treatment affected his genes, and the results carried over to SJ. SJ, now Captain America, turns against the US and establishes himself as a Neo-Nazi.

Enter Brian, who I’m sure you’ve already forgotten. Brian is shocked at what is going on. Especially once he discovers the true connection between his father and Captain America. So Brian Rogers does what every self-respecting grandchild of a superhero would do: he pretends to be his own granddad and takes on SJ. SJ flees the scene. Now, he decides, is the time to kill the real Captain America. Brian, who had expected something like this, follows his father. He prevents the murder of Captain America and frees Cap from the cage he’s locked into. Together, Cap and Brian defeat SJ. After which they take on SJ’s extremist group and kick their asses.

Afterwards, Captain America suggests that he could train Brian to be the next Bucky, so that he can eventually take over the shield himself. Brian refuses. He believes that he can accomplish more by finishing his education and putting that to use within the system, instead of as a masked adventurer. But he does stay on as an irregular supporting character.

29. November 2010

RIP Irvin Kershner

Irvin Kershner was born on April 29, 1923 and died on November 29, 2010, at the age of 87.

The second shock today, after the death of Leslie Nielsen.

Irvin Kershner had a background in music and art, and attended the Temple University – Tyler School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Then he went to New York and Princeton, to study under the famous paiting teacher Hans Hofmann, before he went to study photography at the LA Art Center of Design.

His film career began as a teacher of photography at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he also studied cinema. He went on to work as a photographer for the US State Department, which led to assignments as a director and cinematographer of documentaries about Iran, Turkey and Greece. After his return to the US, he did television work, developing and directing the TV series The Rebel, as well as several TV pilots. Then he turned his attention to feature films, and directed several that were both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, such as A Fine Madness, The Flim-Flam Man and The Eyes of Laura Mars.

I don’t think I need to do more than list the titles of his three best-known movies. If you read this, you probably know what I’m talking about just by the titles.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

James Bond: Never Say Never Again (1983, with Sean Connery as Bond)

RoboCop 2

Today is a black day to be a geek and a movie buff.

RIP Leslie Nielsen

Born February 11, 1926, in Saskatchewan (Canada); died November 28, 2010, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, of pneumonia, at the age of 84.

According to his family, he died peacefully in his sleep.

It’s nearly impossible to list all the movies and TV roles he played in the course of his life. According to his Wikipedia page, he played in 100 movies and 1,500 TV programs, portraying more than 220 characters.

Can you say “Wow?” Then say, “Wow.”

Let’s face it: Nielsen was part of a very cool family. His father was a Mountie. His brother Erik was Deputy Prime Minister of Canada in the 1980s. His uncle was Jean Hersholt, a very famous silent film and radio actor of his time.

Nielsen actually credits his uncle as the inspiration to become an actor. Which he set about for after WW2, during which he was trained as an aerial gunner, but the war ended before he saw any action. After the war, he worked as a DJ and enrolled in the Lorne Greene (yes, that Lorne Greene) Academy of Radio Arts. While there, he received a scholarship for the Neighborhood Playhouse acting academy in New York.

He made his first TV appearance on an episode of Studio One, alongside Charlton Heston. Two years later, he had about 50 TV appearances to his credit. His feature film debut was 1956, in The Vagabond King, where he caught the eye of Producer Nicholas Hayfack, who offered him a part in the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet. The movie was a big hit in the 1950s, and lived on to be a classic of the genre. It led to more work, and Nielsen got to play both dramatic and romantic roles.

After he left MGM, he was all over the place. The next couple of years saw him on TV shows like Rawhide, Hawaii 5-0, Big Valley, The Virginian, The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, M*A*S*H… As a rule of thumb, you can almost say that if it was on TV, Leslie Nielsen was there. He also did a lot of movies.

I don’t know how he felt about it, but with 20/20 hindsight… He had a strong start with Forbidden Planet, but after leaving MGM his career didn’t really follow as strongly. He was lucky for an actor, he always worked. But nothing really stood out, he didn’t became a star.

Not until 1980. Not until Airplane!. (In my opinion, the funniest movie ever made.) Again, he played a supporting role in this comedy movie, and delivered one of the most memorable movie quotes of all: “Surely, you can’t be serious.” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” When the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrams, the men behind Airplane!, decided to bring their type of humor to television, they cast Leslie Nielsen as the main character for their TV series, Police Squad.  It ran for only 6 episodes in 1982. Nielsen’s character was a spoof of all the straight-laced police detectives of that era’s TV shows, a detective named Frank Drebin.

Nielsen, who had not worked in comedy outside of his Airplane! appearance, continued to do horror, drama, mystery and everything else. In 1988, the Zuckers decided to make a feature film based on Police Squad, and they knew they couldn’t do it without Frank Drebin.

The movie came out in 1988: The Naked Gun. If I need to say more, then you aren’t worth talking to. Anyway, The Naked Gun spawned two sequels, in 1991 and 1994, and made Nielsen into a comedy star.

On the downside, it typecast him: the characters he played after The Naked Gun were mostly thinly disguised Frank Drebin copies in spoofy of genres and popular movies: Father Jebedaiah Mayii in Repossessed (a personal favorite), a parody of the Exorcist movies. Dracula: Dead and Loving it. Spy Hard. Wrongfully Accused. 2001: A Space Travesty.  He played Mr. Magoo in the live-action version of the cartoon. Most of these movies were both critical and box-office failures.

In 1993, he published The Naked Truth, a Naked Gun-style absurdist novel pretending to be his autobiography.

He remained an active actor throughout his life. His last credits were Stonerville (2010) and the upcoming The Waterman Movie. Always busy, always working.

Since the 1980s, Nielsen’s image had become that of a clown, and he played that image to the hilt in his public appearances. However, a German journalist who interviewed him once wrote that at the beginning of the interview, Nielsen had been his standard absurd and silly persona. But once he realized that the interviewer wasn’t really interested in that, he became a well-spoken, well-informed, intelligent and thoughtful conversationalist. The Leslie Nielsen the world saw was not the real one. It was an act.

I was very sorry to hear of his death this morning. But he was 84, he was very good and successful at what he did, which was to make people happy, and he died peacefully in his sleep. A man can’t really ask for more.

 

10. September 2010

The Road Not Taken

Filed under: Commentary,general,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 19:31
Tags: , , , , ,

Last week, I finally realized what I wanted to be when I grow up: a historian. I’ve always been interested in history, I find it exciting and fascinating.

I just wish I had realized it, oh, back in the early 1980s. When I got out of school and had to decide what to do with my life. At the time, I had considered studying psychology. But that was no option because of various restrictions (my grades weren’t good enough). I thought I might want to study archaeology, but I didn’t even have the patience to assemble a puzzle, so that was also not a realistic option. All I knew about what I liked to do and what I wanted to do was, I liked to write. So I was going to be a writer. I directed all my energies towards that goal.

Somewhere along the line, I drifted into advertising. Unfortunately, not the sexy, creative part of it. Instead, I ended up doing the number-crunching part of the business.

I always hated numbers. Basically, because I had no idea what I really wanted out of life when I had to decide on it, I ended up spending a decade doing something I hated, and working on what I liked in my spare time.

Last week, however, it finally occurred to me that I was actually interested in history. It wasn’t just fantasy, it wasn’t a passing fancy that was inspired by Indiana Jones movies. I could actually see myself burying myself in a library, reading historical documents and learning more and more about history. Back when I was young, I had mistaken an interest for history for an interest in archaeology, and had dismissed it as an Indiana Jones fantasy. History? History was something the teachers at school made seem incredibly dull.

Lesson learned: ignore the teachers. Teachers make everything boring. I don’t understand why. I would imagine that someone would study a subject, say, history, because they like it. And they would decide to become teachers because they want to share that interest, that excitement, with young people. Instead, every teacher I ever knew seems to have somehow lost their passion and fascination of whatever subject it was they used to love when they got around to teaching. Influenced by that… deadness, when it was time to choose what I wanted to do with my life… I made a mistake. I remember once telling my literature teacher that if I hadn’t already been a bookworm, his class would have made sure I’d never touch a book in my life. And true to form, my interest in classic literature didn’t develop until after my graduation.

And for similar reasons, because history class was so damn boring and uninteresting, and the teachers sucked, it steered me away from a career that, I now think, might have actually made me happy.

The question is, what now? I’m in my late forties now. That’s too late, I think, to just drop everything and start studying history. I don’t have much of a life now, I don’t have much of a career. But I’m too old to turn my life around a second time.

But, that’s my regret. The point of this is something else entirely. There are people who say that youth is wasted on the young. I don’t exactly see it that way. I know what they mean. The young have all that energy and power and lifetime ahead of them, but they don’t really know what to do with it. While we, the old(er), know what to do but we’re too worn out to do it. The problem, at least in my case, was that when I had to make the decisions for how to spend the rest of my life, I wasn’t ready for it. Influenced, in a bad way, by bad teachers, I couldn’t see what I really wanted and made the wrong decisions. I shudder to imagine just how many other young people are influenced that way and end up lives that are unfulfilled and unfulfilling, because the wrong people, people without passion and without vision, show them the wrong path.

If you have children, enable them to find their own way. Enable them to discover their passions, and help them nuture those passions. Don’t let anyone destroy these passions. If they can find their passion, and preserve it, they have a life worth living.



28. August 2010

Housecleaning

This morning, I cleaned out my paper archive. As in, I tossed out printouts and carbons (yes, it dates back that far) and redundant photocopies of my early work. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Most of these are either also saved digitally (the problem is that my computer has no 3.5″ floppy drive), or completely horrible. So I either still have a version (note to self: buy a USB floppy drive for computer), or it’s not worth saving. Yes, honestly. My first novel? The world is better off if the paper it’s typed on is just recycled.

I did find some interesting stuff among these, though. Luckily, I found the one screenplay I wrote. Earlier this century, I was hired to write a teleplay for a no-budget sci-fi movie that was hoped for (by the producer) to be the pilot for a series. I completed the screenplay, but I was never paid. The production apparently failed to raise any money, and the producer vanished.

I also found the script for a Batman audio drama that I wrote back in 1989. At the time, a German company had the rights to produce Batman audio dramas based on the first Burton movie. I had written the script just for trying out if I could handle the format. The story had been fun: the Joker has to deal with his even more evil twin, and Batman had to stop them both. I wrote it over the Christmas holidays in 1989. When I sent out some more short stories to publishers in January 1990, I also submitted the Batman script. Just because.

A couple of days later, the producer called me. He not only wanted to buy the script, he offered me a job as regular writer for the series. Sadly, he lost the license before the deal came together.

I found one of my first comic book scripts, which I wrote for Visual Assault Comics. That one had been bought and sold, and even drawn. The editor had sent me copies of the pencilled pages. I might scan them and post them on my blog one of these days. I know that violates the artist’s and publisher’s copyrighst, I hope they’ll consider it free promotion. My usual luck: the series was cancelled before my script was used. This time, though, I had at least gotten paid.

Among my earliest work is a short poem that I already posted on my blog.

The real gem, however, is a script I had completely forgotten I had ever written. (Which should be a lesson to us all: look through your archives every couple of years.) It’s a young adult fantasy novel that combined non-traditional mythologies for a fun story. The idea behind it had been, what if someone finds a wonder lamp who doesn’t know that they get three wishes? Basically, it’s Aladin’s lamp found by Tahitian children. Just looking at the title page reminded me how much fun it had been to write this story. I still have it on disc, but since I have a printout, I’ll probably use the printout as the basis to do another draft of this. I’d need to look through my other set of files, but I don’t think I ever actually even submitted it anywhere. The story is 15 years old, I think, and if I haven’t improved as a writer since then, all hope is lost anyway. I remember the story was fun to write, so giving it another pass will probably also be fun.

15. March 2010

RIP Peter Graves

The American actor Peter Graves (Born March 18, 1926) died on Sunday at the age of 83. His birth name was Peter Aurness. He was the brother of James Arness (Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke).

At the age of 16, he worked as an announcer at the radio station WMIN in Minneapolis.

Peter Graves started his acting career with a small uncredited role in the 1942 movie Winning Your Wings, then got serious about it in 1951, when he played Pete Dandrige in the movie Rogue River. He kept working throughout his life, but he’s probably best known and remembered for two of his roles. One being Jim Newton in the children’s adventure series Fury (1955 – 1960).

The other being the far more famous part of Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible (1967 – 1973 and again 1988 – 1990). In 1971, he was awarded an Emmy for Best Actor in a TV Series.

He refused to play Jim Phelps in the 1996 movie because he felt that making Phelps the villain violated the character.

For me, though, he will always be Captain Clarence Oveur from Airplane and Airplane 2.

10. March 2010

Tron’s Legacy

The second trailer for Tron: Legacy is out, and it has the internet split in two.

Those over 30 experience geekgasms. Those under 30 don’t understand what the big deal is.

Let me help you out with that. First, watch the trailer. If you don’t know the original movie, you won’t get a lot of what makes us old fogeys go “Whoa.” But that’s okay.

Done? Had fun? Now, indulge an old man and watch the trailer of the original Tron, from 1982. I promise that if you do, some of the stuff from the new trailer will make sense.

Done? Great. How did you like the second one? I know, not nearly as cool as the first one. The CGI look horrible and insanely dated, don’t they? The way Jeff Bridges stumbles on some pretty basic (almost primitive) computer-speak dialog is funny. The story is also a major case of “been there, done that,” right? I mean, some guy getting pulled into VR, what’s so hot about that?

What you need to remember is that the original Tron is from 1982. Nobody even knew what cyberspace was. Sure, the term was coined in 1982, but it didn’t enter the public awareness until William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer in 1984. CGI as we know it today didn’t exist. Sure, there had been some computer graphic effects in movies since 1971, but those had always been about someone looking at a computer screen. CGI, as we know it today, can really only be traced back as far as 1982. ILM used some CGI effects in Star Trek 2. Tron was the first movie to use extensive 3D CGI-sequences, and very simple facial animation. Extensive for the time means that 15 minutes of the movie were completely computer-generated.

That dumb shot of the huge virtual face? At the time, unique. First time ever. The first photorealistic CGI-character didn’t appear on the screen until 1985, and he only had 10 seconds of screen time.

Terminator 2? Jurassic Park? Babylon 5? Toy Story? Matrix? Avatar?

None of them would have been possible without Tron.

Regarding Tron’s story, you could say that it’s an old hat. Sure, there were some elements that were not really new. Basically, it’s a story about a god coming into a world of mortals to help fight a great evil. God being called a “user” and the mortals being “programs.” You could also say that it’s a superhero story. That works just as fine.

So what if the world is VR/cyberspace? Again, you’re looking at the wrong context. Remember what I said above, about how the word cyberspace did not even exist when Tron was made? Nobody had any concept of cyberspace. That there could be a world within the computers… at the time, it was a daring concept that boggled the mind. Matrix took it a step farther… 20 years after Tron, when it really was an old hat.

Maybe all of this will give you a certain sense of perspective. Maybe now you understand why Tron is such a big deal for those of us who are over 30.

Tron was in 1982 what Avatar is in 2010: it was the movie that redefined what movies could do. It was the big game changer. It created new possibilities and set a new standard, that everyone who followed had to try and outdo.

In 30 years, your children will ask you why Avatar, this dated movie with that dumb story, is such a big deal to you.  (Actually, considering how much more quickly technology progresses these days, it will probably be much sooner than 30 years.) Then you will explain to them, as I do here, just how different movies were before and after Avatar.

And that is why Tron is such a big deal for us who saw it when it was new. Are the effects dated? Of course. Is the story original? By now, no longer. Is the acting cheesy? Actually, I don’t think so. At least most of the time it’s pretty solid.

Do we, the over-30s, expect Tron: Legacy to be a game-changer, the way its daddy was? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t think so. It will, however, be a good showcase for the advance of CGI since 1982. It will also, I expect, be a great deal of fun, and it is the only movie coming out this year that I will actually make an effort to see in the 3D-version.

I really, really look forward to this one.

12. February 2010

Taking in the Trash

Recently, I got it into my head that I wanted the movie MegaForce on DVD. The movie hit the big screens when I was a teenager, and I remember liking it. I remember liking it in a similar way to the Mad Max movies and their Italian rip-offs.

Actually, I’m not sure the Mad Max movies belong in this category. Well, the third one does, but not the first two. Anyway.

Some research turned up a Dutch DVD of MegaForce. Armed with that knowledge, I went to my favorite DVD store here in Hamburg, Hard to Get DVD, and asked them to get me a copy.

“Did you already call me about this?” “No, why?” “Well, somebody did. That’s why I know it’s no longer available.”

The first question had given me the thrill to know that someone else shared my questionable tastes.  The second crished my hopes at revisiting this trash gem.

“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” the store owner suggested. He was right, of course. As I said, I was still a teenager when I saw it and liked it perhaps because it was so stupid. The fact that I remember it as stupid should tell you something. As should the fact that I also liked Buckaroo Banzai. And why I think I should be ashamed, let me point to two other movies that I used to like back in my teens: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and The Werewolf of Washington. I had seen each of these movies only once, KISS/Phantom at the cinema, Werwolf on late-night TV. In both of these cases, I eventually found VHS tapes as an adult. I bought them gleefully, popped them into my VCR…

“I used to like this? What was I on?”

That’s easily answered: I was on puberty and its aftereffects. Seeing those movies 15 – 20 years after I originally did, I no longer saw them with the eyes of a teenager, but rather through the (I would like to think) more refined tastes of an adult. An adult who knew much more about good storytelling. An adult who was far more demanding of his entertainment than the teenager was.

Although, to be fair, I have retained my love of trashy entertainment. I’m still working on completing my set of Gojira DVDs, for example. My all-time favorite movies still include Howard the Duck and Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins.

I have learned two things from this: one is that I think I have a better understanding and higher tolerance of teenagers who run into and love movies that I consider awful and horrible. I used to run into and love movies that I now consider horrible. So what if kids today love, say, Transformers, even if I (and everyone with anything resembling good taste) hates the movies? The franchise is not made for me. It’s made for the generation that, when I was a teenager, would have gone to see MegaForce or Kiss and the Phantoms. I need to remember to be tolerant. They will eventually outgrow that, as I did, and then it will be their turn to be shocked and appalled at the horribly braindead stuff their children will go to see.

The other thing that I have learned is that while I might have outgrown MegaForce, I still retain enough love for B-, C- and Z-grade trash movies that there is still a little bit of hope that I might still enjoy MegaForce if I got to see it again. Just like Buckaroo Banzai, or Fire And Ice. It seems there is still enough of that teenager left in me to truly enjoy such simple, trashy movies.

14. December 2009

The Old of Winter

Filed under: general — jensaltmann @ 13:57
Tags: , ,

When I got up this morning, I opened the curtain and looked outside at the first snow of this winter. My spontaneous reaction was “Oh, crap” at the thoughts of how this means I now have to shovel snow, and that it will make it more difficult to ride my bicycle, therefore I’ll have to take into account that trips will take longer.

Then I wondered when I had gotten old.

When I was a child, I loved snow. I believe that all children do. At least I haven’t met a single one yet that doesn’t.  Stomping through freshly fallen snow as the first to leave your footprints, building a snowman, having a snowball fight… Gods, winter used to be so much fun. White Chrismas was a promise of having fun outside while indoors, the adults were setting up Christmas.

Then, one morning, snow became a chore. I looked outside and didn’t see the potential for snowmen, or snowball fights, I no longer saw a pure flat surface that just begged to have footprints made into it. I saw something that needed to be removed from the sidewalk and the driveway. I saw something that meant I needed to check if my winter boots were still okay to wear another year.

Snow had turned from something wonderful into a number of chores that needed doing.

I guess that was when I became a grown-up, only I didn’t realize it at the time.

If you have children, you’re lucky. Because for children, snow brings that sense of wonder and excitement, that completely different world. If you have children, you watch them and you re-experience that excitement with them. They remind you of more innocent times, when you didn’t let chores distract you from having fun. At least not for long.

If you don’t have children, however, there is the danger that you will forget how it used to be. The fun disappears, becoming a distant memory. Perhaps it vanishes forever.

Until, one morning, you wake up, you look outside at the snow, and you wonder when you got old.

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