Archive for April, 2012

Yep, that’s the antidote for a foul-weather weekend. Since it’s still April, my baseball optimism remains high – at least for as long as the Dodgers keep on winning. Which they did last night, against the local Washington Nationals. Of course, I had to wait until 10 pm for the first pitch from Dodger Stadium (complete with Pat Sajak in the first row behind the plate). But it was worth it: Dodgers won. And today’s bonus game is the Cardinals-Brewers.

Got a chance to watch a very cool noir flick recently, The Woman in the Window. The entire noir genre can trace its roots back to a few movies like this one. And you can see why. It stars Edward G. Robinson and a willowy Joan Bennett, a good 20 years before she transformed into the stodgy Mrs. Stoddard on Dark Shadows.

Released in 1944, it’s – and I’m not exaggerating – a piece of art. The thing to remember about these noir movies is that, yes, they’re black and white – on purpose. Color films had been around for years by ’44, but these movies went for the black and white look, the textures, shadows and contrast. So, from a visual standpoint alone, it’s a thing of beauty. And, if you catch it, you’ll see a scene that is very reminiscent of a scene in Young Frankenstein, of all things (a movie that harkens back to the noir era).

The sets are simple – a dim street, a dark alley, a dame’s apartment, the police station. But even these standard set pieces are intricate and perfectly arranged. As are the actors. Robinson totally rocks the perfectly tailored three-piece, two-button suit like he’s on a GQ shoot. And I’m sure the blouse Bennett wore in the early part of the movie was scandalous in 1944 (see picture). She plays the femme fatale superbly and is a major reason why the tension works so well.

But noir films are also great storytelling. Director Fritz Lang had the pace and dialogue dead on the mark, and very subtly kept the tension ratched up for the entire 1 hour, 39 minutes. The story of how one mistake can completely derail an otherwise flawless life is compelling stuff. We’ve seen it since, and usually done well, but this take is worth the watch.

Ok, back to the so-called modern times. Also finally got a chance to see Super 8. That’s a snappy little film. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleased to enjoy it so much. If you’re a child of the ‘70s – and a fan of movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind – you owe yourself a trip down memory lane (luckily, with very little disco). Also, while waiting for the Dodgers game to start, I checked out Contagion (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet). It was … good. I enjoyed the focus on the lives of the people affected by a worldwide virus that decimates the planet’s population rather than the destruction of the virus itself, but at the end, my only reaction was, “Eh.”

That won’t be the case later today. Turner Classic Movies is running Streetcar Named Desire (which will be my entertainment before tonight’s Dodgers game). Stelllllla!

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I’m not really a “I knew him when” kind of person, but in this case, I am.

West Point, Miss., the northern point of East Mississippi’s “Golden Triangle,” claims blues legend Howlin’ Wolf as its favorite son, but the town’s man of the hour should be Art Shirley.

Earlier this week, Art, a fellow Ole Miss grad and artist, announced the debut of his graphic novel, Project Prometheus, a sci-fi action tale starring Deep Space Badass Jack Quasar. I grabbed a copy as soon as I could, but Art asked me to read it before I wrote about it (imagine that!). So I did.

I met Art in college, when we were both NROTC midshipmen in our very early 20s. Art’s dorm room prominently displayed much of his artwork, some of which was decidedly more R-rated than Prometheus (did I mention we were in our 20s in college?). Even then, though, his talent was obvious, especially to a compulsive doodler and wannabe cartoonist like me.

Our story centers on the conflict of three men: Adm. Clayton, Howard Leland and Dr. Chet Walters. The trio were part of the future privatization of the military — sound familiar? — during which time a strange alien device, later dubbed the Prometheus Device, was discovered on an asteroid. The device’s near-magical powers seemingly possessed Dr. Walters and enabled him to create several revolutionary inventions that led to the Neo Renaissance. But the Prometheus Device also had enormous destructive power and was thus hidden away by Adm. Clayton on Delta Station, a Leland Corp.-owned satellite. But when Delta Station sends a distress signal — via Dr. Walters’ son, Ray (following in Dad’s scientific footsteps) — Clayton summons our man Jack Quasar in to secure — or destroy, if necessary — the Prometheus Device.

It’s good stuff. Quasar is a swashbuckling combination of Han Solo, Indiana Jones and James Bond, and the ride is a hang-on-for-dear-life affair. Art throws you right in the middle of a story that clearly has a lot going on (I’m thinking prequel, maybe?); he hits the gas on page 1 and doesn’t let up til the end. And Art’s sense of humor comes out in clever ways — the “Heston” ammunition being an example. Be sure to check out the author’s end notes for more info on his pop culture influences and references.

It’s good to know that the art of the comic book is alive and well, thanks to torch bearers like Art. Check him — and Jack Quasar — out at Art’s Flying Pig Studios. I’m looking forward to more Jack Quasar. In the words of the great Stan Lee, “‘Nuff said!”

4 April 2012: Play ball!

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

It’s baseball season and the Dodgers haven’t lost a game yet. Is this heaven? No, but it’s about as close as I’m going to get. I still love the excitement of Opening Day, even if my team’s chances this year are the equivalent of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers – they’ll start good, but fade in the end.

Hard to be a Dodgers fan these days, but that’s what being a fan is all about. And I get asked a lot how a guy from Mississippi is a Dodgers fan. Pretty simple, really. I became one because of one pitch in 1978.

I grew up listening to the Cardinals on the radio in Mississippi. Back in those days, you got most of your baseball that way. The weekend and Monday night games – all three of them – were usually regional games, which for us meant the Atlanta Braves, who couldn’t suck enough back then (even with Hank Aaron). Or the Cardinals. To this day, they still hold a special place in my baseball heart. And don’t be bad-mouthing St. Louis around my daughter. She’ll take your head off.

But in the late ‘70s, two teams were the premier teams in the bigs: Yankees and Dodgers. The 1978 World Series was a rematch of the previous year (Yankees won). And the Yankees had a player I just could not stand. Reggie Jackson. And the ’78 Series became one of the more memorable ones because of him. But not in Game Two.

That game was played in L.A. The Dodgers had hammered the Yankees in Game One.  And were leading this one late in the game. So, top of the 9th, Dodgers are up by a run. Yankees are down to two outs and have two men on. And Reggie Jackson comes to the plate.

The Dodgers have a 21-year-old rookie on the mound, name of Bob Welch. Kid throws hard. He works the count to 3-2. And Jackson digs in , ready for the fast ball that he – and the rest of the universe – knows is coming. It does. He swings. And misses. Game over, Dodgers win the game (but, alas, not the Series). I became a Dodgers fan that instant. Have been ever since.

Let’s go, Dodgers.

Elmore Leonard speaks, on writing, Raylan and life in general. ‘Nuff said.