Tagged: music


By Charles Beckman Jr.
Von Boeckman Fiction Factory Publications
ISBN # 9781479238736
265 pgs.
Several months ago I received an e-mail from a woman named Patti Boeckman. She told me her husband, Charles Boeckman, for most of his life had been a professional pulp writer working in the 40s and 50s under the name of Charles Beckmen.  Between 1945 through to 1975 his short crime stories had appeared in such pulp magazines as Dime Detective, All-Story Detective, Manhunt, Detective Tales to name just a few leading up to many sales in 60s and 70s to Alfred Hitchock’s Mystery Magazine.

A native of Texas, raised during the Great Depression, Charles had two loves; writing and music.  He became a success in both fields.  He taught himself to play saxophone and clarinet and during his travels throughout the south from Texas to Florida he often played with many reputable jazz bands until he formed his own.  In 1990, he earned a star in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame and his band to this day still plays in October Texas Jazz Festival.
What Charles and Patti were unaware of until recently was the resurgence in pulp fiction brought about via the internet which allowed life-long fans and newcomers to come together and begin creating forums to share their love of this escapist literary genre.  Patti, a former school teacher, discovered all this accidently while surfing the web and began to dig deeper into this wonderful phenomenon which invariable led her to the New Pulp Fiction movement.  A smart lady, she jotted down names and e-mail addresses and methodically reached out to many of these “new” pulp enthusiasts and that was how her letter of introduction popped up in my e-mail box.
At that time Patti and Charles were considering collecting many of his crime stories and self-publishing a book.  Hearing this, I, and many of my colleagues, encouraged them to pursue this plan.  The idea of a new collection of authentic pulp tales produced by the actual writer was too good a dream to let slip away.  Then after a few months, Patti wrote again.  This time with the news that they had gone and achieved their objective and the result was this book, “Supsense, Suspicions & Shockers,” by Charles Beckman Jr.  She asked if I would like a copy to review.  That had to be the easiest question I’ve ever answered in my life.
This book, which sports a truly gorgeous cover by amazing Laura Givens, is crammed with twenty-four stories; every single one of them a dazzling display of originality and deft story-telling technique.  Like the finest writers of the pulp era, Beckman had a keen, unerring grasp of human psychology and he employed it like a skillful surgeon carving up plot twists that turn on a time and more often than not, leave the reader both surprised and delighted.  No easy feat.  At the same time, because the book is so packed with stories, a true sense of the times emerges from the pages enveloping the reader taking them on a nostalgic journey back to an American landscape that can only be remembered in such pieces.  And throughout, Beckman’s background in music, especially the vibrancy of New Orleans jazz, is often the spiritual background to his cautionary yarns about desperate men and women struggling to survive in a bleak and desolate world.
Here is a sniveling coward bitten by a rattlesnake facing his own demise with joy, a walking dead man with a hole in his head, a musician being hunted by death itself, a cop after the punk who killed his wife and a husband who believes his devoted wife is about to murder him for absolutely no other reason than to simply do him in.  These are a small sampling of the unique characters that populate Charles Beckman’s fiction and once you’ve met them, I doubt seriously you will ever forget them.  There is a true humanity to these tales that seeks to uncover the good in even the worst of people and thus leaves the reader with a poignant optimistic hope for the future.  
“Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers,” is a genuine treasure trove of great pulp fiction by one of the best writers to ever tap his fingers over the keys of a mechanical typewriter.  There was magic in those fingers and it awaits you in this book.
PS – My copy arrived autographed.
TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Reviews of All Things Pulp by Tommy Hancock
By Charles Beckman Jr.
Von Boeckman Fiction Factory Publications
 Every time I sit down to read a story with the New Pulp label attached to it or one that I just categorize as New Pulp, there’s always a thought that runs through my head.  How will it measure up, I ask myself, to those who came before…those who left us the legacy of Pulp?  When I write, that judgment is even harsher?  Even though I’m not necessarily trying to emulate Dent, Gibson, and the others who made Pulp what it was to me as a young fan, I do, as I put words to paper, think about the Pulp masters who came before…
And now, there’s a new name that’ll be added to that list every time I do it.
Charles Boeckman.
SUSPENSE, SUSPICION, & SHOCKERS is a book published by Boeckman, with assistance from his wife Patti, containing stories ranging from 1945 to 1975, tales that saw printed life in Pulp magazines and digest mags like Alfred Hitchcock, one even being picked up by Screen Gems for a television show.   Billed often as Charles Beckman Jr., this now 91 year old author recently learned that there were still indeed readers and fans, not to mention creators, who collected, discussed, and found inspiration in the Pulp tales of the Past.   Tales just like the 24 he wrote that make up this collection.
Boeckman’s work appeared in a who’s who of classic magazines- Alfred Hitchcock, All- Story Detective, Pursuit, Detective Tales, Dime Detective, Manhunt, and more.  Just as varied as the titles carrying his tales are the stories themselves-ranging from horror to crime to straight mystery to music inspired mayhem.   Drawing on his background as a jazz musician as well as his love for traveling, the author carries his readers through the back alleys of Corpus Christi, down the blues filled streets of New Orleans, to the arid land of Texas, and all around the country, following gangsters, murderers, molls, and ne’er do wells on their way.
Boeckman writes with a starkness, a reality, that wasn’t present very much in the work of most of his contemporaries.  His characters are flawed, many addicted to something, be it marijuana or music, and they make mistakes.   Boeckman also, however, reflects the one wonderful aspect all humanity shares.   That even in the darkest hour, when all hope is lost, a blackened soul might just reach out for the light and do one good thing in an otherwise worthless life.  Simultaneously, Boeckman’s work is dark and moody while also being hopeful and even at times, when you look really hard in the shadows for it, light hearted. 
Another appealing aspect of Boeckman’s SUSPENSE, SUSPICION, & SHOCKERS is the characters themselves.   With all the reading I do of both new and classic stories, I find many I enjoy, but not so many that truly inspire, that make me want to read more of what doesn’t exist, to up my game in ways I can’t understand.   When you meet Boeckman’s Big Lip, Johnny Nickle, Michael OShean, and other citizens that populate this fantastic collection, you’ll know what I mean, especially if you’re an avid Pulp fan and/or creator. 
FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT- SUSPENSE, SUSPICION, & SHOCKERS by Charles Boeckman, often billed as Charles Beckman, Jr. and published by Boeckman and his wife is a must have for any true Pulp fan…or Crime Fan…or anyone who can read.  Definitely in the top three of books I’ve ever tipped my hat to.

REVIEW: Rock of Ages

The film version of Rock of Ages, has a whiff of cannabalism about it. First, it took a series of 1980s songs and turned them into what has been branded a jukebox musical, since originality no longer matters on Broadway. The success of the stage version – five Tony nominations indicates someone liked it – led to it being optioned for production as a feature film. Broadway used to feed Hollywood source material and the trend has been reversed as risk adverse producers look for sure things, which are not necessarily quality things.

Thus, the film version of the musical based on a disparate collection of rock tunes, which were popular as I advanced through my adult years and saw my tastes changing, means I bring a series of prejudices to watching the film on the just-released Blu-ray. First of all, I am a big fan of many performers in the cast and applaud Tom Cruise for lightening up with several of his recent performances. He’s also backed by Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman and Paul Giamatti. I also remain fond of Julianne Hough who is a far better dancer and country singer than rocker.

As happens, the movie adaptation was seriously reworked to accommodate the cast rather than cast around the script and soundtrack. Therefore, many numbers were cut, others mashed up, and several reassigned to different characters. This results in a movie largely unrecognizable from the stage version and a lesser effort at that. What made the show edgy and fun is replaced with watered down replicas.

The basic trio of story threads has would-be rock star Sherrie (Hough), arriving in Los Angeles and meeting Drew (Diego Boneta) so you have your love story. Then there’s the Bourbon Room, a doomed club in need of a miracle story that focuses on Dennis (Baldwin) and his fight against a mob led by Catherine Zeta Jones (still sexy), trying to shut it down. His last hope is a kick ass concert from Arsenal, fronted by Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), who is on the verge of going solo. Behind the scenes, his agent, (Giamatti) gums up the works.

Rock is meant to messy and fun and frenetic with high doses of energy. The voltage one expects from the music used, from Foreigner to Pat Benatar leans closer to a Smash rendition and the wattage is cut in half, robbing the movie of the verve the material deserves. It’s not all bad such as the pool table duet between Jaxx and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Akerman). But when you sing “I Love Rock n Roll”, you should be feeling ready to leap to your feet and dance, not check your watch.

Bad enough the core storylines are predictable as heck, but the movie telegraphs just about everything thanks to direction of Adam Shankman. None of the characters, save Jaxx, stands out, wasting plenty of potential from a stellar cast.

There are plenty of fun moments and Cruise is a revelation all over again. He rarely repeats himself and is excellent here, sabotaged by the lack of raw power around him.

You can watch the theatrical version or the extended version, with 13 more minutes of tedium. The highlight is the cut scene between Jaxx and Sherrie, as they sing “Rock You Like a Hurricane”  and nearly copulate, which smolders better than the rest of the film.

The Warner Home Video release comes as a combo pack with the Blu-ray, DVD, and of course ultraviolet digital. They do a fine job transferring the film and sound to disc so it rocks as best it can.

Poison’s Bret Michaels kicks off the extras with two featurettes: “Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip” (29:56) with real rockers Pat Benetar and Sebastian Bach, members of Styx, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Night Ranger, Def Leppard, Winger, Whitesnake, Dokken, Foreigner, Poison, Journey, Warrant, Faster Pussycat, Vixen, Extreme and W.A.S.P. reminiscing about the rock scene in their heyday. “The Stories We Sing” (12:53) brings back many of these rock stars to discuss their inspirations for the greatest hits such as “Sister Christian,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and the perennial “Don’t Stop Believin'”. This one is well worth a look.

There’s also the eight-part “Defining a Decade” (35:34), hosted by Hough and Boleta, that displays some embarrassing awkwardness between them but they manage to take us through the production of the film. You also get a look at the Broadway inspiration which deserved more screen time.

“Any Way You Like It” was re-edited into a full music video starring Mary J. Blige and Constantine Maroulis (who originated the Drew Bolley role on Broadway) but it can be skipped.

Marc Alan Fishman: To The Digital Age and… Beyond!

For as forward-thinking as I’d like to position myself as being, I am a comic book luddite. Where I was like the rest of my generation – adopting the the MP3 over CD, and taking to the cloud the second I had the opportunity – I have never been lured by the siren’s song of digital comic book reading. That is until I was gifted some not too long ago. And here I am to report on whether I’m slowly turning towards the horizon of sequential fiction.

First off, you should know what prey-tell I was gifted. DC’s Justice League Beyond, as pitched to me by Mike Gold, was “…perhaps the best straight-forward action team book being put out today.” Well, given Mike’s pedigree and tastes, I was willing to bite on that. And with no more pretense than that single line of praise, I tore through 12 digital issues. At the tail end of them, I’m happy to report Mike is very close to right with his kind words.

JLB is an extension of the animated Batman Beyond Universe, birthed by our lords and saviors Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and brought to us by the writing, penciling, and inking team of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. And much like Dini and Timm’s futuretoon, the digital book appears light as a feather in presentation, but its looks are truly deceiving.

Beneath the veneer of simplistic art and truly light prose, comes a world-shattering tale worthy of the Justice League. Backed by a few “secret origins” to break up the main story, a solid hour of reading gave way to lasting moments of truly memorable scenes and concepts. Case in point: Fridolfs and Nguyen are able to create a New Gods story that is near Kirby-level in its weight and presentation. If that isn’t cause enough to pause, well, I don’t know what else is.

From the visual standpoint, I’m less than thrilled. I get that the appeal of the book ties directly to its parent animation. But in the realm of comics, there’s far more to do than just replicate someone’s style and call it a day. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see them reach a bit further visually then what DC delivered. Without knowing anything beyond what I was reading, the books ‘looked’ just the teeniest bit phoned in. It could be the stylistic choice of editorial to match the show so closely.

The truest compliment I can lay out though comes in aforementioned origin issues. Meant as breathers between the main “War to end all wars” arc, here we get glimpses into the backstories of two characters that never struck me as more than filler bodies. Warhawk and Aquagirl are each given a backstory treatment that would shame the king of origins, Geoff Johns. Delivering real pathos, enhanced by a few Easter egg nods and winks to the comic historians amongst us. And for those (like me) that lived-ate-and-breathed the Dini/Timm-Verse? Well, this whole series is like a trip back to a better time. And better than that, they took the time in both cases to try a different visual approach. Loose and simple still, but with enough of a change to allow to enjoy the stories on a higher level.

But the crux of the matter to me was in the enjoyment. Did I have as good a time e-flipping through the pages as I do with normal comics? Sadly, no. To be fair, I tried reading the files both on my large iMac screen and my wife’s iPad – which is as close to the size of a single comic page as one can get digitally. The book itself is cut in odd places. It was hard to tell if it was built in “standard” format akin to be eventually printed, or if it was always intended only for digital consumption. Given what I saw, I believe it to be the latter. And that in and of itself isn’t a dig. For the longest time, I enjoyed DC’s Zuda line of web comics mostly due to its formatting being suited for the screens at the time. Here though, the digital books read just a bit wonky to me. Some pages are portrait, others are landscape. And although each issue is 20+ pages, in some issues there’s barely six or seven actual pages worth of content.

I am all for the idea that the comic companies shoot to create all digital publications; it’s the future whether or not I’m an adopter. But the key here needs to be the same as it in print. That is to say the final product need not short the reader with content, just because its home is on the backlit screen of a retina-display.

At the end of the day, I know that this initial pass into the non-inky realms was not enough to lure me over permanently. That being said, I would be more prone at this point to enjoy digital titles should they wholly separate entities built specifically for the medium. And if they are significantly less money than the printed counter part (akin to the music or TV episodes), then I’m even more likely to consider incorporating it into the fabric of my e-life.

Most important though is that the quality is no different on screen than it’d be on the page. When you have to make art that is only 72 DPI, it can be tempting to become chinsy with the deliverable (both in words on the page, and the stories delivered per issue, as I was noting in the over-before-they-got-started JLB issues). The comic brethren must remember that the digital music and movie media eventually made their way to HD.

With all of those pieces in place? I can rest happy that my son may end up collecting his longboxes on a hard drive instead of a basement. Assuredly though… this digital-aged bearded bloke will still be bagging and boarding his wares until they stop putting them in the stores.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


REVIEW: Marvel’s The Avengers

Many of the comment that follow are lifted directly from a blog post I wrote after seeing Marvel’s The Avengers opening weekend. I stand by these words and note that I have since then seen it in 2-D in a theater and on my home screen via the just-released Combo Pack. The movie is so well-crafted as to remain entertaining on repeated viewings.

Disney Home Entertainment has released this in a dizzying assortment of collections, some exclusive to certain retailers, such as the Walmart one that comes with a graphic novel by Peter David and an army of artists. The four-disc commercial set comes with the 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray discs, standard DVD, and digital copy. This one also has a link to download music inspired by the film. What I was sent for review is the slightly less spiffy two disc set (Blu-ray and DVD) but it is certainly sufficient.

The major success that was not being discussed during the May release is that for the first time, four franchises have been strategically designed and executed to culminate in the launch of a fourth franchise. There have been numerous all-star films where actors arrive and perform thinly veiled versions of their famous screen personas (and we had a trailer for the latest such examples, The Expendables 2) but this move is unprecedented. While there have been previous winks and nods to a larger universe in other films and television series based on comic books, this team film was carefully planned, laid out, and executed.

Starting four years ago with Iron Man, the Marvel Movie Universe has been carefully structured, taking the very core elements from the 1960s comics, filtered through the 2000 Ultimate Universe and distilled in an easily adaptable essence. Each film was not without its flaws and they didn’t all work with Hulk going 0 for 2 but still considered a key piece of the puzzle. But, when we first saw Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) waiting for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) after the first film’s credits and heard about “The Avengers Initiative” we knew what was coming.

The question was then: could Marvel Studios deliver on such high expectations The answer is a resounding yes but let’s look at why. First, Kevin Feige gets it. He understands the comics and the characters, but also understands film and how changes need to be made. As studio head, he made certain the egos and budgets were kept in check, focusing squarely on bringing the four-color characters to cinematic glory. That he’s remained in place has helped tremendously. So has Feige using the resources at his disposal and involving former EIC Joe Quesada from the outset, and setting up the writers committee that allowed the current architects of the print universe to help make the movies hew closely to the status quo and assure the storylines were strong.

Zak Penn also gets it. He’s clearly grown as a writer, going from things like Last Action Hero and Elektra to X2 and The Incredible Hulk. As a result, he was able to help set up the threads in the other franchises to dovetail in The Avengers. Then it was handed off to Joss Whedon, who clearly is comfortable with scope, scale, comics, and movies. He entered the Marvel orbits with Astonishing X-Men beginning a relationship that led his doing uncredited script work on Captain America which had him in mind when the current film came up. There was comfort between Feige and Whedon which led to entrusting him with a $215 million production, Marvel’s most expensive, despite Whedon only previously directing the commercially disappointing Serenity.

Fans got what they wanted: all their favorite film heroes together in one rousing story with the fate of the world counting on them. They also wanted to see the heroes bicker and battle one another, a Marvel staple dating back to the first Human Torch/Sub-Mariner squabble. They wanted tidbits connecting the film to the greater universe and got that in the form of the Chitauri (the Ultimate Universe version of the Skrulls). The general moviegoer got spectacle, humor, action, carnage, and adventure.

Given what got accomplished, the 2:23 running time is fairly tidy, especially considering how many alpha characters had to be juggled and spotlit. But that’s where Whedon excels; working with an ensemble of quirky people, each putting their foibles on display until it was time to demonstrate why should care about them. As cool as it was to watch Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, CGI, voiced by Lou Ferrigno) duke it out, the confrontation between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) was equally satisfying.

Each character was true to themselves, which was perhaps the trickiest aspect of bringing these franchises together, since their motivations varied and it required Fury to wheedle, cajole, and manipulate them into coming together to save the Earth. The parallel of Fury’s efforts with Loki’s need to keep them distracted and in-fighting was well handed, putting the emotions on display. Similarly, just as Loki cut a deal with the Chitauri to gain control of the limitless power contained within the Tesseract and the Chitauri answered to Thanos (as seen in the first of two wonderful end credit sequences), Fury answered to the international council (Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Arthur Darbinyan, Donald Li) and if the film had any false notes, it was the usual cluelessness displayed by his superiors.

Loki is fittingly the foe given his role in the team coming together in the 1963 comic book and his ability to elicit sympathy from the audience given his tortured past and wounded pride. His scenes one on one with Fury, Widow, and eventually Stark are terrific and most of the credit goes to Hiddleston.

It was also good to have moments directly connecting The Avengers to the other films such as the wonderful cameo of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), a reference to the whereabouts of Jane Foster, and the display of Hydra weaponry.

The change from Edward Norton to Ruffalo for Bruce Banner brought a level of sympathy to the scientist that was missing from the previous two film attempts. He was clearly channeling the late, great Bill Bixby and the CGI Hulk was a near-Neanderthal brute that finally looked and acted spot on. When he was ordered to smash and smiled before cutting loose, it was a clue we were in for some unbridled destruction. His confrontation with Loki may stand out as one of the single best film moments this year.

The entire second act is introspective, explosive, and fun to watch the actors put through their paces, but once the Tesseract is engaged to open the door to the Chitauri, the film puts things into fourth gear and never looks back. The final act is breathless, heroic, and tremendously exciting to watch.

This was war and with it come sacrifices. Despite all of Stark’s hubris and arrogance, when the time came, he was ready to give his life to save Earth and that changed how everyone around him looked at him. But there had to be some loss, something to make the victory bittersweet and the death that came was not unexpected but it was heroic and sad all at the same time. Clark Gregg was part of the glue that held the films together and his confident, somewhat geeky Agent Phil Coulson will be missed. We were introduced to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), clearly set up to be his replacement going forward, but if any character lacked Whedon’s dialogue flair, it was her and it’s shame because she looked ready to rock.

Apparently, that wasn’t always the case as is revealed in one of the many worthwhile extras included in the set. There is a nice assortment of Deleted and Extended Scenes (14:59) that includes alternate opening and closing scenes with Hill that actually gave her a more important role. I can sort of see why Whedon excised them and would have added yet another layer to the goings on. There’s also an extended vignette of the isolation Steve Rogers feels in the 21st Century but it would have dragged the film’s pacing so while it’s missed, it made sense. Similarly, there’s a nice exchange between Mark Ruffalo and Harry Dean Stanton that also was dropped since the pacing of the final act demanded speed.

New to the disc is the first of the Marvel One Shot original stories intended to explore the new cinematic universe. “Item 47″ (11:20) stars Jesse Bradford (Bring It On) and Lizzy Caplan (True Blood) as would-be bank robbers using a Chitauri weapon they managed to recover and make work. Agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) is sent after them while Agent Titus Welliver deals with the paperwork. It might be the merest hint of what’s to come with the proposed ABC SHIELD series for next season.

The gag reel (4:05) is the usual jolly stuff. There are just two featurettes: “A Visual Journey”, on the visuals coming from page to screen; and “Assembling the Ultimate Team” (14:37), which is the usual cast and crew saying nice things about one another. Whedon’s commentary, as it was on Cabin in the Woods, is dry, funny, and insightful.

Finally, there’s the Soundgarden Music Video “Live to Rise” (4:49). which I didn’t need since their music does nothing for me.

I couldn’t check out The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience since it only goes live tomorrow, release day.

20th Century Fox Introduces Digital HD

LOS ANGELES – Sept. 18, 2012– Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment today announced the launch of DIGITAL HD™ — a new initiative that allows consumers to download or stream their favorite Fox movies on a variety of connected devices. Customized for today’s digital lifestyles, more than 600 Fox films can now be enjoyed anywhere, anytime in amazing high-definition immediately in the U.S. from Amazon, CinemaNow, Google Play, iTunes, PlayStation, VUDU, Xbox Live and YouTube.

The epic sci-fi thriller PROMETHEUS is also available today on DIGITAL HD™ for less than $15, arriving three weeks before Blu-ray, DVD and video-on-demand (VOD).

Digital HD™ combines four key benefits into one offering with earlier access to new releases, attractive pricing, cloud storage and availability across multiple devices.  Whether the plan involves watching Fox movies on connected HDTVs in your living room, or on your tablet or smartphone on the run, Digital HD™ offers up versatility and convenience.

“With almost 800 million broadband connected devices globally, and millions of people accessing entertainment on those devices, we feel the medium’s time has come,’’ said Mike Dunn, President Worldwide, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. “DIGITAL HD™ redefines digital ownership in a way that presents consumers with a full range of benefits in a coherent way, and it allows them the chance to build digital movie collections that can literally be carried in the palms of their hands. ”

“Available in more than 50 countries, DIGITAL HD™ is a brand that will define the convenience and selection that digital ownership brings,” added Mary Daily, President of Worldwide Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. “Over time, DIGITAL HD™ will embody the benefits of HD quality and the ultimate all-access pass to the best in entertainment.”

Today’s launch will coincide with the most extensive all-digital media campaign to date for digital movies that will reach over 100 million active movie viewers across online retailer sites and through the No. 1 sports, music and gaming sites.

PROMETHEUS on DIGITAL HD™ is also Fox’s first UltraViolet-enabled title. Additional DIGITAL HD™ new releases this year include ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, THE WATCH and DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS.

Monday Mix-Up: Ben Folds Five and Fraggle Rock

Dance your cares away, worry’s for another day. Let the music play, “Do It Anyway”.

This is the Official Music Video (ooooooo…) for “Do It Anyway,” the first track from Ben Folds Five’s new album featuring the Fraggles from Jim Henson’s “Fraggle Rock”. The video also stars Rob Corddry, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Hardwick.


Now I know why Ben Folds Five is going to be at New York Comic-Con…

Martha Thomases Goes Gangnam Style

Martha Thomases Goes Gangnam Style

My Twitter feed informed me today that my current obsession, the music video to “Gangnam Style” by Korean pop singer Psy, has passed 100 million hits on YouTube. The cool kids love it. The masses love it.

Even Batman loves it.

So I was taken aback when a friend of mine went on a Facebook rant complaining about it. He’s Korean-American, and he not only hated the video, but everyone who liked it. If I’m understanding him correctly, he thought it was over-produced, hook-heavy, and reflected badly on the Korean music scene.

I felt as if I was being inadvertently racist. The things he slammed were the things I loved. Too many cuts? Impossible. Ridiculous imagery? That’s my favorite part. I have no idea what they’re saying, but I love the way they’re saying it.

Also, I love the guy in the yellow suit.

Is my affection for this video a sign of racism? In my experience, the easiest way to spot a racist is to listen for the phrase “I am not a racist.” I’m not going to fall into that trap. And I’ve had an interest in Asian culture at least since college, when a class in Chinese Literature in translation introduced me to a new way of thinking and a new way to see the world.

I’ve loved Japanese comics since before they were cool (or at least, the beginning of when they were cool). They displayed a depth and breadth of subject matter and passion that was missing from American comics at the time, whether focusing on politics, adventure or cats.

Still, I’m not very knowledgeable about Korea. And it’s certainly racist to lump together all Asian societies as if they are the same.

I’ve struggled with this conundrum before. In the 1990s, the film Bamboozled made me question whether my love of tap dancing was racist. I remember talking to Dwayne McDuffie about it, and he said, “I think Spike Lee likes tap dancing, too.”

Does that let me off the hook?

If you think I’m being too politically correct, consider how it must feel to be on the receiving end. I had that experience when I saw the fantastic French animated film, The Triplets of Belleville. There is a part of the film when the main characters get to the United States, and everyone here is incredibly obese. I wanted to raise my hand and say “We’re not all like that.”

I imagine that my friend feels the same way when he watches Psy. I wouldn’t enjoy it if all of American pop music was judged by Taylor Swift. And I don’t even hate Taylor Swift.

It would help if there was, generally, more diversity in our popular culture. If straight white male was not the default assumption, the exceptions to straight white male wouldn’t be startling. And the people who make these assumptions know they have a problem.

Those of us in comics are among the worst offenders. It’s still front-page news when a flagship character is African-American.

Let’s work together to fix this. But first, I have to work on my pony moves.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman Returns!


REVIEW: The Dictator

I have never warmed up to Sacha Baron Cohen’s style of satire. The concepts are great while I find the execution in Bruno, Borat and now The Dictator, to be crude and unfunny. In both cases, I found the clever marketing more interesting and enjoyable than the actual films. The Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy) from Paramount Home Video came with a nice letter from Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen with bribe bucks from Wadiya. If only the film itself was as funny.

Cohen does a fine job submerging himself into his character, in this case, Admiral General Aladeen, but he then does rude, crude, and preposterous things in the name of satire. Cohen should be made to study the Mel Brooke oeuvre to see how it should be done: character-based and smart humor.

Aladeen hails from the northern African country of Wadiya, a combination if Idi Amin and Muammar Gaddafi and the timing is such that in the wake of the Arab Spring, these sort of larger than life world leaders are a vanishing breed., There’s nothing funny to their antics and they are such caricatures that they are hard to top, making the challenge for the filmmakers all the more difficult.

Those personality and cultural differences are put on display when the dictator comes to New York to address the United Nations, denying once more his nuclear program is for weaponry designed to annihilate Israel (so much for satire). His absence prompts a coup back home, propelling the plot. Now a leader without a country, he has to fend for himself in the world’s biggest melting pot. To retain power, he comes to count on Zoey (Anna Faris) and a fellow Wadiyan, Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), the leader thought dead. We go to a voyage of self-discovery of the pleasures in life, from masturbation to falling in love, which makes little sense when Aladeen is the most powerful figure in his country. Why is he so out of touch in this global world? Cohen doesn’t pause to explain any of this preferring to make his character simply clueless. The film goes from satire to screwball romantic comedy to biting denouncement of our country and therefore doesn’t feel like much of anything but a few sketches without a strong point of view.

We have some fun cameos from Chris Parnell, Jessica St. Clair, Fred Armisen, Nasim Pedrad, John C. Reilly, Chris Elliot, Gary Shandling, Edward Norton and Horatio Sanz.

The disc comes with the theatrical release and the “Banned and Unrated” version, fifteen more minutes of this nonsense, mostly extended bits between Cohen and Mantzoukas. The hype is unwarranted because it makes the film more boring and unwatchable. We get more scatological and sexual jokes which really aren’t that funny.

Despite the extra material in the new cut, the extras include an additional 34 minutes of deleted or extended scenes which makes me admire the editor for showing some discretion. Lots of these bits are found in the longer version. Additional material includes “Your Money is On The Dresser” (1:35), a music video with the leader; and an unnecessary extended version of the Larry King interview (2:49).

I suppose if you love this sort of sophomoric humor, the movie and disc are perfect for you. On the other hand, given the film’s poor critical reception and lackluster box office performance, it could be that we’ve all grown tired of Cohen’s brand of humor and his time as a polarizing comedic figure has finally come to an end. We can hope for this right up there with our desire for world peace.

Reminder: 2012 Hugo Awards Voting Deadline Approaching Fast

70th World Science Fiction Convention

A press release from Chicon 7:

Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), would like to remind members that the voting deadline for the 2012 Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award is July 31, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. PDT (Wednesday, August 1, 2012, at 2:59 a.m. EDT). The same deadline applies for access to the 2012 Hugo Voter Packet, which can currently be downloaded via the Chicon 7 website.

Hugo Award voting, and access to the Hugo Voter Packet, is open to all Adult, Young Adult and Supporting members of Chicon 7. Convention memberships can be purchased online via the Chicon 7 website at www.chicon.org/membership.php. Full Adult Attending memberships currently cost $215 (rising to $230 from August 1), Young Adult Attending memberships cost $100, and Supporting memberships cost $50.

Members can submit their Hugo Award ballots online via the Chicon 7 website at www.chicon.org/hugo-awards.php, or by postal mail. Postal ballots must be received before the voting deadline. Members wishing to vote online will need their Chicon 7 membership number and unique Chicon 7 PIN. E-mail reminders of these details are currently being sent to all members who have provided their email addresses to the convention.

The Hugo Voter Packet is an electronic package of nominated works graciously made available to voters by nominees and their publishers. This year’s packet includes a wide range of fiction and non-fiction works along with art, music and webcast nominees.

Indiana Jones Blu-ray Details Unveiled

We got excited about this when the news first broke in March but here are the formal details to keep us interested until this can actually be purchased.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (June 26, 2012) – In June of 1981 director Steven Spielberg and executive producer George Lucas introduced  the world to Indiana Jones when the unforgettable Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted in theaters. Exploding to instant acclaim, the film has now been carefully restored, alongside remastered versions of the archaeologist’s other thrilling adventures—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Prepare for excitement, adventure and snakes—why did it have to be snakes?—all with pristine picture and sound when INDIANA JONES: The Complete Adventures debuts on Blu-ray September 18, 2012 from Lucasfilm Ltd. and Paramount Home Media Distribution.

Supervised by director Steven Spielberg and renowned sound designer Ben Burtt, Raiders of the Lost Ark has been meticulously restored with careful attention to preserving the original look, sound and feel of the iconic film.  The original negative was first scanned at 4K and then examined frame-by-frame so that any damage could be repaired.

The sound design was similarly preserved using Burtt’s original master mix, which had been archived and unused since 1981.  New stereo surrounds were created using the original music tracks and original effects recorded in stereo but used previously only in mono.  In addition, the sub bass was redone entirely up to modern specifications and care was taken to improve dialogue and correct small technical flaws to create the most complete and highest quality version of the sound possible while retaining the director’s vision.  The result is an impeccable digital restoration that celebrates the film and its place in cinematic history.

The installments in the franchise have won a combined seven Academy Awards®. Relive every heart-pounding thrill like never before as all four films arrive together, for the first time presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio accompanied by a collection of documentaries, interviews, featurettes and new bonus features.