Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Things I Learned in San Diego

(Okay, maybe not "learned," exactly—because I knew a bunch of them already—but was struck by them all the same.)

1. Cell phones need to come with a stronger vibrate setting. There's no way to hear a cell phone ring on the convention floor, not with that throng, and the simple act of walking renders my phone's vibrate null and void. I want some kind of industrial-strength, porn-star setting on my next phone. I want to be able to remove fucking barnacles.

2. Bring talcum powder. As I get older and heavier, I find that walking 5 or 6 miles each day surrounded by, essentially, Calcutta in costume, can result in a sort of adult-onset diaper rash. Yeah, I know. The talc would've helped.

3. Jim Lee should take pictures of his house and give copies to every kid who wants to be a cartoonist/comics artist. So, when that kid's parents say "There's no money, no future to be had drawing these stoopid comics," he can just whip out pictures of Jim's San Diego spread and say, "Yeah, there is." Seriously, the nicest house I've ever been in, bar none. And he was a complete gent for inviting us over.

4. "I'm just sayin'" is the perfect capper to every statement. Doesn't matter how serious or slight, "I'm just sayin'" means no one can argue your point. "Pol Pot actually had a lovely eye for haberdashery. I'm just sayin.'" Try it...you'll be doing it all day.

5. Geek chicks are well-endowed. From a sociological point of view, its just interesting. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of sunlight one suffers spending all of adolescence writing in leather-bound journals or listening to Tori Amos or watching The Nightmare Before Christmas for the eleventy-first time. Or maybe its the fact that they were hiding under tent-like blouses at every thespian society gathering or emo outing. It's still unclear why but, even with the natural exceptions to prove the rule, there's enough evidence to support the statement that geek chicks are stacked.

6. Geek guys are stacked, too. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

7. Some parents should just be ashamed of themselves. Adam and I crashed the giant ballroom a little early for the Snakes on a Plane panel, and caught the tail end of the Lucasfilm presentation. Needless to say, the 6,000 seat Hall H was filled with every stripe of Star Wars character. We grabbed two seats on the aisle, and happened to be next to this knockout of a girl, dressed as slave-girl Princess Leia. I mean, really, really beautiful this girl was, and not wearing much of anything. Then, she started talking to the 40-something guy sitting next to her. Turns out he was her dad. And she was 14 years old. Now, as awkwardly revolting as it is to realize that you were, innocently and inadvertently, lusting for a minor, that's nothing compared to the fact that this girl's father not only allowed her out of the house dressed like an astro-whore, but took her to a place—first among many—where she'd be eyeball-schtupped by men 4 times her age who wouldn't think she was sad or silly for dressing like that, they'd feel entitled. And, as a father, you're not supposed to put your kid in situations like that. You're not supposed to chum the water with your own offspring.

8. Listening is an art. Adam and I had an impromptu pitch meeting with an editor—who shall remain nameless—out in the convention center's lobby. Another, already established writer walked past and exchanged pleasantries with the editor. While we were all looking at this writer/interruptor, the editor, thinking we didn't see him do this, mouthed the words "I have no idea who these guys are" to the writer. But we did. Now, as an editor myself, I get pitches all the time, some over the phone, some via email, and some—when I'm attending an event, like a film festival or a convention—in person. And even if I don't care, or if I know within the first 10 words, that it's something I'm not interested in, I pay attention...or pretend to. It's just a matter of mutual respect.

9. Joshua Hale Fialkov is a good man. A couple of years ago, I reviewed a comic called Elk's Run, written by the aforementioned Joshua Fialkov, being published by a tiny indie outfit called Hoarse & Buggy. It was very, very good, and I said so in EW. He dropped me a very nice note of thanks. I then met him at San Diego last year, and he had a big ol' poster-sized blow up of the review. He thanked me again and I told him what I tell everyone: When I was covering comics for EW, it was all about finding the stuff that was good and telling other people about it. I wanted EW to be an advocate of comics in general, and good comics in particular. We've since traded a bunch of emails and spoken on the phone here and there. Since then, Elk's Run was picked up by another publisher, which subsequently went bankrupt. Now, Random House has decided to collect Elk's Run and publish it as a hardcover. So, I tracked Josh down this year to congratulate him. Then, unbidden, he walked me and Adam over to the Simon and Schuster booth and introduced me to their publisher, telling him that we were writing comics, too. Now, he didn't have to do that...not by a long shot. But he did. Because he's a good man.

10. Avoid San Diego. That is, if you're a writer trying to get any real business done. There's no talking to anyone on that convention floor—it's too busy to keep a real thought in your own head, let alone expect anyone to concentrate on whatever pitch you've got. Hell, you're lucky if they remember your name. I might focus on some smaller cons next year. But San Diego itself is a nice little town, especially the Gaslamp and La Jolla. They've got some of the friendliest homeless people you'll ever see. One guy asked me for some change and I gave him the NYC-standard "Nah, buddy. Can't help you. Sorry." He fired back with a "You got nothing to apologize for, brother. God bless." In Manhattan, that same dude would've tried to crawl up my ass for that penny I swallowed when I was three.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Savant Magic

So I was in L.A. on Monday, making a little pit stop before San Diego. My plane got in at 5:15pm and my gracious host, my boy/writing partner Adam--who day-jobs as a TV producer--was on a shoot and invited me along. He was exec-producing a live concert that MySpace was throwing to promote Pharell Williams' new album.

I drive up to the top floor of a parking garage across from the Arclight Theater and see a massive stage erected, with cameras on cranes and lights on towers and scantily-clad would-be groupies. (And some would-be groupies that shouldn't have been as scantily-clad as they were.)

The show was about to start and so Adam and I went down to the control room truck...as an executive producer is wont to do. So I'm sitting there as the concert begins. There are 6 cameras recording the show and there's a director in the truck who's doing the show "live to tape," which means that for all intents and purposes, unless something goes horribly wrong, the show could pretty much air as is. He's telling the dude sitting at the control panel which camera to switch to and when: "Ready one, take one...ready four, four...dissolve two, two."

If you've never seen this before, you should find a way to get into a control room at some point. It's this very unique, insanely impressive dance. This director gets into a zone where he's feeling the music, anticipating when to cut, directing the cameramen what to focus on, and rattling out this hypnotic string of direction fo the technical dude and the switcher...who has to be in that same rhythm in order to keep up.

When it's done well, it's mesmerizing to watch, like some backbrain ninja at work.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Nerd Prom Bound

Clearing the decks so I can be free of my corporate shackles and make way with all due haste to the West Coast. Cobbling together some proposals for editors I'm meeting with at the big San Diego Comic Convention, polishing my I-know-what-I'm-doing speak, recharging the portable DVD player...you know, getting my game face on.

Sadly, won't have any of Monster Attack Network to show while I'm out there, but that's another story for, potentially, another time. But I will be signing (I know!) copies of Shatter, which I wrote the introduction for, on Saturday at Noon. So, come on by the AiT/Planetlar booth if you want to see someone sit idly behind a desk eager to sheepishly take credit for someone else's hard—and revolutionary—work. Or, if you just want to point and laugh, you'll know where to find me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

This just in...

First Dance Dance Revolution, now this:

"The Powerpuff Girls -- those adorable, roundheaded, big-eyed stars of the now-defunct Cartoon Network show -- have been resurrected and reinterpreted for Japanese TV audiences as Demashitaa! Powerpuff Girls Z. They're still cute, still powered by Chemical X and apparently still battling evil monkey nemesis Mojo Jojo. But now they're a little older and also carry weapons."


Because what was really missing from the Powerpuff Girls (and I'm not ashamed to admit that I liked it; really smart and contempo for a show targeted at little girls) was the capacity for upskirt shots.

Watch where you step...part of my soul just fell out.

Z Marks the Spot

I am a sucker for a good adventure. Ever since I can remember, that's been the kind of story that I respond to, the kind that pulls me and and won't let go. Perhaps it's the whole Star Wars-was-my-first-movie-experience thing. Or the Robert E. Howard's-Conan-novels-were-a-formative-influence business. (Really, they were. Never analyzed it all that much, but there are more than a few similarities between the Cimmerian's crude code of conduct—always keep your word, never put too much faith in gods, never hit a woman [unless she's actively trying to kill you, then all bets are off]—and the way I live my life.)

When I got older, I discovered Alexandre Dumas and The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Fell in with Jack London. Plumbed the depths of greek and norse mythology. Rode along with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Stumbled upon Ernest Shackleton's true tales of derring-do (and if you haven't read the Endurance saga, hie thee to a bookery). Hell, for a while there, I was even a Boy Scout...though adventure doesn't really come into play all that often, unless the adventure you're talking about is of the pyrotechnic/porn smuggling variety.

All of this is to say that one of my favorite movies of the last ten years is The Mask of Zorro. Honestly. It's a little lite, occasionally, but nevertheless, it completely holds together as both a romance and an adventure. And I credit the film's success entirely to Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Their script is a perfect tapestry of story points, character beats, and set pieces, all woven together in such a way that everything that happens on screen feels both surprising and inevitable. Yes, Antonio Banderas is all untamed swagger and Anthony Hopkins is gilded gravitas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, well, we all know what she is. But that movie works because the script is a finely-tooled dramatic machine.

And that's why I was so disappointed by Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Because the only thing that felt inevitable was the end...and it dragged on so long, that I even began to doubt that. And the leave-everything-unresolved cliffhanger didn't help: Movies should be done-in-one exercises or, if you need to serialize, do it in such a way that provides resolution but still leaves unanswered questions. (The paragon of this is The Empire Strikes Back. We know what happens to everyone by the end of the film. Sure, it's a downer, and that people still need rescuing, but Luke has faced Darth Vader and Han has faced his past demons. The promised confrontations happen.) But most filmmakers don't know how to serialize, don't know how to layer plot threads that can both sustain across the gulf of time and wrap up to offer the release you look for in an adventure.

Pirates 2 is an exercise is quantity: How much can we give you until you're satisfied? Doesn't matter if what we give you is any good, just tell us when you've had your fill. No wonder this is the land of competitive eating. The single most depressing thing about Pirates 2 is that it's gonna be the top-grossing film of the year, demonstrating to all in Hollywood that This Is How It Should Be Done. The second most depressing thing is that it was written by Elliott and Rossio, who've I've already declared my admiration for. I can only hope that they were Bruckheimered, forced to abandon that which they knew to be good and just in favor of the large and loud.

Pirates 1 was a happy accident, benefitting greatly from the energy that Johnny Depp put forth in stealing a movie out from under its stars as well as a well-told (but still a little indulgent) tale.

Pirates 2 is just an accident.

Friday, July 07, 2006

War of the Poses

I'm not a political cat. Never have been. I've got enough personal apocalypses to deal with that the larger, global ones—the ones that I've no real control over—get kicked to the curb. I don't read the paper. I don't watch the news. I don't troll the newsblogs. That's what The Daily Show is for: a 23-minute distillation of information and perspective from someone who's viewpoint I trust.

So you'll forgive me if this next bit is a little blunt; my chops at political discourse are dull at best, and nowhere near the ginsu-like sharpness of the Kung-Fu Monkey. But maybe by talking it through I can make some sense of it.

We know, with relative certainty, that North Korea has weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering it to both our allies overseas and across the Pacific to our West Coast. (And just because the first test failed doesn't mean they're not gonna, you know, fix it.) The country is run by a maniac. They've openly declared their hatred for the U.S. Taking all of those things into consideration, our government is aggressively pursuing a diplomatic solution...and sticking to those talk-guns despite N-K's escalation of the situation.

Diplomacy. Check.

Now, with Iraq. We abandoned diplomacy pretty early into the game and went, with non-talk-guns blazing, into a country that "had" weapons of mass destruction, controlled by a maniac who openly declared his hatred for the U.S. Of course, we were later told that the intelligence was wrong, and that there were no WMDs...but how were we to know that? Sometimes, intelligence is just wrong.

See, I don't think so. I think the intelligence was spot on in that it revealed that Iraq didn't have any WMDs, and led the powers that be to decide it was "safe" to invade. After all, that's the only real difference between the Iraqi situation and the North Korean one: One has nukes and the other doesn't.

Why invade then and not now, if the ultimate mission is still to protect the United States and its citizens from enemies at home and abroad? Because then, nothing could sink its nuclear teeth into our collective asses. And we knew that.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Over the Hump

Is it me, or are we just about done for summer movies? Can you honestly tell me that you're looking forward to anything that's coming out between now and September?

Me neither.

And that's sad. Summer used to be a three-month-long Christmas, full of new, spangly, gift-wrapped movies opening every weekend like, to steal Woody Allen's words, a magnificent vagina. Now, what have we really got to look forward to from now until Labor Day?

Lady in the Water: Someone really needs to lock M. Night Shyamalan away for a long while and when we let him out, force him to direct someone else's material. I mean, really? Narf-women at the bottom of pools? C'mon. Spike Lee used to be as big headed and ego-mad...then he made Malcolm X and Clockers and Inside Man and they were good. And written by someone else.

My Super-Ex Girlfriend: Someone really needs to lock Ivan Reitman away and just never let him out. At all. Just retire on the Ghostbusters money.

Miami Vice: I'd like to give Michael Mann the benefit of the doubt, since he's never made a bad movie—really, ever...kinda remarkable, isn't it?—but there's a stink coming off this worse than the week-old coffee grinds that Colin Farrell's assistant dug out from the whiskey puke that was covering it.

Talladega Nights: I just can't do it. The flop sweat is so evident from the trailer, I've no real desire to see the film itself. That's the problem with the insular world that Will Ferrell has created for himself: He's got enough power to make movies that he thinks are drop-dead funny and never has to run the material past anyone else. Who might tell him that it just...sits there.

World Trade Center: It might be terrific, it might be an abomination, who knows? But I'm not excited to see it either way. And not even pseudo-curious like I was with United 93.

Snakes on a Plane: I think this is gonna suck. Truly and for certain. Because they're trying too hard to embrace that which can only come through accidental genius. You can't plan to make a good-bad movie, it just has to happen organically. There's no design for a film like Commando...only random magic.

And that's the summer, skipping a few l'il flicks like Clerks II (you know what you're gonna get, by and large), Little Miss Sunshine (sappy Sundance fave that isn't actually very good but will be a sleeper hit), a handful of CG-kid-flicks (Barnyard, Ant Bully, Monster House) that feel a little average, and one genuine potential surprise: The Descent, which could pop like only a real gut-smart horror flick can.

I miss the summer.