Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spider-Man Down!

So they have shut down the previews of the musical "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark." Who didn't see this coming?

This was the latest "Most Expensive Musical in Broadway History." It's production was suspended before it even had its first preview. It was figured that it would have to have something like five years of sellouts to break even. Its out-of-town previews were plagued with accidents and technical nightmares.

Sure with such a confluence of talent, Bono, Julie Taymor, et al, you might expect to have something spectacular, but somehow it just never seemed to gel. Perhaps it was overambitious. It seems that everything today, especially when it's an adaptation of a comic book superhero, has to be bigger, grander, and groundbreaking in it's scope and interpretation of the source material. But that is a big risk.

Motion pictures made the same mistake. Each Batman movie got bigger and grander until the collapsed under their own weight. It was then up to the smaller pictures of the lesser-know n comics properties, like Blade, The Mask, and Barb Wire, to show how a comic book movie could be successful.

On Broadway a smaller-budget musical "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman" was a success in 1966. I was adapted into a TV movie in 1975...

But the risk there is that the small scale will inappropriately understate the material. Movies like "Captain America" and the Cathy Lee Gifford "Wonder Woman" showed us that...

But big budget or small, traditional or groundbreaking, whether on stage or screen, there must be a solid story and engaging characters. Through all the hype, sound, and fury surrounding "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark," nobody accused the show of having either.

New channels, old shows and movies

A few weeks ago I was told of new channels on the new HDTV system that has been in effect for the past couple of years. I figured, then, that it must be time to re-scan for tv channels that could be picked up by my digital converter box.

The new channel selection reminds me of cable TV from the 1970’s. There are kids’ channels Spanish channels, shopping channels, Christian channels, Spanish kids’ channels, Spanish shopping channels, Spanish Christian channels, Spanish kids’ Christian shopping channels, Chinese Channels, Korean channels, and a few channels that show old TV shows and movies.

This is a great opportunity to see what the medium of television was giving us before cable TV and changing technology and social mores gave us the diversity, excitement, and mature subject matters we see today. Shows like “Robin Hood,” “Life with Elizabeth,” “I Married Joan,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Peter Gunn,” "Daniel Boone," and “Bat Masterson” show us the attempts that were made to fill time on TV with quality, wholesome entertainment. We also occasionally get to see some well-known actors in their younger days. Acting, writing, and directing styles were very different back then. We even get to see views of cultures that don’t exist anymore, like dinner/dance nightclubs and beat poets.

But what is more personally interesting (and addictive) is This TV (HDTV 11-3 in New York City), a station that shows nothing but movies almost all day and night (with some children’s shows in the morning). But most of the movies are the second-tier, lower-budget sequels and knock-off movies with less-well known actors. Instead of “Bad News Bears” we get “Here Come the Tigers.” Instead of “The Magnificent 7” we get “Guns of the Magnificent 7” and “Magnificent 7” Ride. Instead of “The Guns of Navarone” we get “The Iron Coast.” Instead of “The Wild Angels” we get “The Glory Stompers.” Instead of “Oceans 11,” James Bond, or even Matt Helm, we get “Salt and Pepper” and “One More Time.” Instead of "True Grit" we get "Rooster Cogburn." Instead of "Billy Jack" we get "The Born Losers."

I find it nice to see that these lesser-known works of pop culture get an opportunity to be screened, especially on free TV. Cable TV, the growth of the VCR (followed by the DVD and Blu-Ray), and the commercial effectiveness of the infomercial have meant that free TV has been showing fewer and fewer movies over the past two decades. And even on cable and at the video store, older and lesser-known movies have been drowned out by the ongoing crush of major blockbusters, reality TV, and the forward march of time.

I fear that This TV will go the way of many other stations that have been movie-heavy or had a single programming concept (WPIX in the 1980’s, MTV, The Nashville Network, the Sci-Fi Channel, WBIS). It will find greater profits in original programming and diversity. Then these movies will go back to the dustbins of film-making history. But for now, let’s enjoy seeing what our parents and grandparents saw, and let that inform us on where they came from when we don’t understand them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor

Liz Taylor is dead.

She was an icon, a legend, a true queen/diva of celebrities, a multi-married beauty as famous for being herself, if not more so, than anything good she accomplished.

She was also a talented actress, hardworking businessperson, and caring philanthropist.

But I will let all the other biographers and obituary writers go into those details. I suppose I was “always” aware of Liz, she being the celebrity she was. I’ll bet nary a week went by in which her name was not in the paper, somewhere, several times, even when a movie she was in was not playing somewhere.

My first awareness of her as a “current” personality (as opposed to simply someone who was in a lot of old movies) was when the Weekly World News ran a photo of her walking down the street titled “Look Who’s Looking Good!” It seems she had recovered from a period of corpulence and dissolution and was now fit and happy. This must have been a rare example of WWN actually reporting a true story, for shortly thereafter, she starred in the TV movie “Malice in Wonderland.”

This film was heralded as a sort of “comeback” for here. My mom watched it, and commented with astonishment at how good she looked.

The glow of that moment stuck with me, and from then on, whenever her name came up, I always thought of that WWN article.

It was that article that I thought of just yesterday when I stumbled across an article in the National Enquirer in which it was reported that her latest ex-husband was having financial troubles, and how it was unlikely that Liz would be able to help, being that she was 79 and in the hospital. Of course they ran an unflattering picture of a gaunt, tired-looking Liz with an oxygen tube in her nose. I wondered how she had been doing since she was reported “looking good.” Now I know.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Some Thoughts About Super Bowl XLV, 2011

To those pop stars who feel the Nation Anthem deserves a personal interpretation: Just sing the damn song.

Cowboys & Aliens had better not suck.

There should be more movies like the Kia Optima commercial.

Three fantasy commercials in a row: Coke/Dragon, Thor, VW Passat/Kid Vader

Coke makes a good commercial with a nice message. If only world peace and co-operation were as simple as sharing a coke. At least it’s a start. Life must have sucked for lonely 19th-century Latin-American border guards.

Very interesting approach taken by that Detroit car company making a luxury car. They made an extra-long commercial about Detroit that seems designed to get people to sympathize with the American auto industry and the people of that city. Well, it was effective, but made me wonder why they are not advertising an affordable, efficient, quality car that every American can own.

The halftime score, 21-10, is exactly the same as the final score of Super Bowl XII, Cowboys-Broncos, the first one I ever watched.

The Black Eyes Peas halftime show should go down as one of the best ever. It ranked up there with the year that Stevie Wonder played. Kudos to them for actually singing and not lip-synching. The Tron-inspired costumes and production design was appropriately spectacular and over the top. Having Slash enter to play “Sweet Child of Mine” was a nice touch and actually gave me chills. I do wish they had followed up with getting Dick Dale to play “Miserlou” in their song that samples it.

The montage of clips from TV shows about the Big Game was very clever.

The game itself was very exciting, a fast-paced, high scoring affair with lost of turnovers, and exciting offensive plays. Green Bay pulled out ahead early, but Pittsburgh, playing like the underdog they never have been in Super Bowls past, came back and kept the game interesting.

"XLV" stands for "Xtra Large Victory."

I missed the intro to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the game, but Sam Elliot’s into to the Green Bay Packers perfectly set the stage for the victory and return to glory that would ensue. Heck, I would listen to Sam Elliot read the phone book. Or Darwin.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wizard Cancells Magazine; My Experiences and Thoughts Thereof

So word has gone out that Wizard is ceasing publication of their magazine immediately. This announcement was made the day after Wizard World announced that it was going public and publishing a web magazine. This makes Wizard a company that Though I have not been an active reader of the publication over all of its 19 years of publication, I do have some experience and opinions regarding it.

I first became aware of it when I started working at a comic book shop called Comic Mania located next door to the School of Visual Arts. I started work there the very day it opened, which was the day that my Freshman year at that school began. This was at the height of the comic book boom that was spearheaded by Image and Valiant. Wizard magazine seemed to be the greatest cheerleader for this boom, and for Image Comics in particular. Their “hot picks” repeatedly highlighted the latest works from Image, and their prices of back issue Image Comics seemed to escalate faster in their price list than any other. IT was often packaged in a plastic bag with collectible premiums like trading cards and comic previews. No doubt it was bought up as much for its collectible value in that bloated market of the day as for its content.

As the years passed, the comic book industry busted, and I drifted away from the scene a bit. Then I got involved in working for the Big Apple Convention. As my responsibilities in working for that convention increased, I became more aware of what was going on, and I noticed that Wizard was holding conventions. Image Comics had eveolved into a company that, frankly, had better comic than when they first started out, and Wizard Magazine gave more balanced coverage of the comic book industry, market, conventions, and related culture and media. In fact, the magazine became pretty much the pre-eminent publication of such matters.

At this time, the Big Apple Con was the only comic book convention in New York that managed to survive from the mid- 1990’s to the mid 2000’s. Then Reed Exhibitions came along and set up the New York Comic Con at the Javits Center. After a few years, Reed and Wizard started buying or starting conventions in different cities, and scheduling these events at times that sometimes made it difficult to attend them all. Wizard bought up Big Apple Con, re-naming it Big Apple Comic Con.

At the latest of these conventions, Wizard gave out free copies of their latest issue. It seemed thinner than I remembered the magazine used to be, and the content seemed light and sparse. Now the magazine is gone from the newsstands, and the content will only be available on line.

Se we can all add Wizard to our bookmarks, in the same file as Newsarama, Ain’t it Cool, and all the other sites that post up the latest announcements from the comic book, movie, TV, toy, and convention companies. WE can wonder if Wizard will or will not be interested in promoting those things that will be appearing at their conventions over those that will not, and we can wait and see if they will give insight into news items that will make their content as worth perusing, if not more so, than any of those other sites.