Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spanglish 101

I am amused today by the fact that I am taking Spanish 423 this summer (starting next week), and the title of the class is "Border Spanish"! I'm actually pretty excited for it.

And no, I won't be learning "how" to speak border Spanish, per se. If I'm not mistaken, it's more of a study of how border Spanish came to exist, how the English language has influenced Spanish over time. The class description suggests that the student take some sort of linguistics course before enrolling in this class. I took Spanish Phonetics & Pronunciation last semester, which I believe would qualify me.

I went and bought my books at the bookstore today, and was amused by the titles: "Cowboy Talk: A Dictionary of Spanish Terms from the American West" and "The Dictionary of Chicano Spanish." So one of them studies the Spanish influence on American language, while the other focuses on the English impact on Spanish speakers. I think that's sort of interesting, and I'm happy because they were both relatively cheap, and they are REFERENCE books, which hints that there may not be a lot of reading involved in this class!

I really am excited to take this class. Border Spanish cracks me up, and I think I will get a kick out of learning more about how "estacionar la camioneta" has turned into "parquear la troca."

Read More......

Friday, June 22, 2007

1960s Super Heroics at Their Best

My brother Scott and I went and saw "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" on Saturday.

But before I get started, let me just say that the first "Fantastic Four" movie wasn't nearly as bad as a lot of people seemed to think. I mean, it certainly wasn't a GREAT movie by any means, but it stayed true to the feel of the comic book. How would you propose adapting a story about a family of superheroes who all get their powers at the same time from a cosmic cloud of radiation? It's impossible to stay somewhat true to the source material AND not be somewhat corny. My main problem with the first film was the act of giving Dr. Doom powers, because he doesn't have them in the comics. He's more of an evil mastermind than the brawler-type (see the last ten minutes of "Unbreakable" for a good explanation of the differences between these binaries).

"Rise of the Silver Surfer" surpassed its predecessor, probably in that it moved along a little faster -- but not TOO quickly. In the film medium it is common for #2's in sets of movies to be less enjoyable than the first ("Batman Returns," "Temple of Doom," "Back to the Future," etc.) with notable exceptions ("Spider-Man 2," "Toy Story 2," "Empire Strikes Back," etc.). Thankfully, "Surfer" breaks the mold!

Perhaps there isn't a lot of depth in Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. And perhaps their romance isn't entirely acceptable by the viewer. But the story is written in a way that their shallowness doesn't bother me whatsoever. Honestly, I am fine with their romance. The film doesn't attempt to tell us something about love, it attempts to give us a fun time, and it does.

I mean... What else could you do with a film that develops a story from a comic book based on a family of superheroes in a sequel that revolves around a silver man riding a surf board through space? I think sometimes we get a little carried away with wanting everything to fit into a modern pop-culture context, forgetting that a lot of the characters we'd like to see adapted for screen (whether from comics or not) are based on pop culture from decades ago and really only remain popular for their nostalgic value. Altering them drastically would cause uproar from the fans who wanted to see them in the first place, therefore the only solution is to adapt them as truly as possible.

I liked the interaction between Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (the Thing). There is still tension in their relationship, but over the course of the movie you see the tension turn into more of a playful teasing as an underlying friendship is built. Johnny himself goes through some great character development as he learns to be less selfish and focus on teamwork, and his personal storyline culminates with the team's galaxy-sized dilemma in a pretty awesome brawl between him and Dr. Doom which had Scott and I cheering in the theater!

The Surfer himself is very well done. I am not an avid reader of the Fantastic Four by any means, and if I have read any comics with the Surfer actually in it, he has only had brief appearances. Thus I can make no substantial claim as to whether or not he was done "correctly," yet I was impressed and thought that his display of power and inner-dilemma was overall pretty good.

Galactus' representation in the movie was... well... actually, expected. Without giving TOO much away, I've got to defend the filmmakers in their decision. As corny as the Fantastic Four is, how much cornier would it have been to have a giant man looking to take a giant bite out of planet Earth? Has anyone here seen "Pirates 3" with the jumbo-Callipso? A super-sized Jamaican chick is bad enough. A man whose stature rivals that of the solar system would just look lame in a live action film (though I swear there are some brief moments when we catch glimpses of the shape of Galactus' helmet in the film, nods to the original material).

I do take issue with how quickly the threat was vanquished once Surfer became traitor to his master, and I do think the movie had its flaws, but this is the best summer movie I've seen so far this summer. Why? Because it doesn't try to be anything more than it is, and is still fun, with good action scenes, great CGI (with the exception of some Mr. Fantastic dance scenes at the beginning), and witty dialogue.

"Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates 3" were two films recently released that were disappointments in their efforts to tell so much story AND be entertaining/coherent. "Spider-Man" attempted to carry the same impact and characterization that the original two films did, and failed in spreading itself too thin and cramming too many major plotlines into 2.5 hours. Removing any one of the plot elements, while severely cutting down the soap opera between Peter and MJ, would have made the film so much better. "Pirates" was expectedly insane, and while it was better than #2, it certainly pales in comparison to its original, which was a contemporary take on a classic swashbuckling genre. These past two installments have been capitalist endeavors to milk the cow for all its worth, cramming in as much CGI and grand-scale stories as possible in order to draw in the masses.

Remind me later to discuss why I think a lot of pop culture films these days are reflective of the mentality of the rising generation. It's too big to become a tangent for a post.

Anyways, to make a long post summarized: go see "Rise of the Silver Surfer." It won't disappoint you, and it's much shorter than the other two movies I mentioned above!

Read More......

Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's Such a Good Feeling

Mr. Rogers has influenced us all, whether directly or indirectly. I used to watch his program as a kid, as I'm sure many of you did, and his impact on children's programming has been incredible.

With this in mind, I share two videos from YouTube that I found that made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.

This first one is actually from the end of his career. One of the things I love about Fred Rogers is his ability to show his sincerity through a camera. He isn't acting -- he really does love me and you just the way we are! You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.

This second video I first saw in one of my first film classes on the day of our final. Apparently it's an extra on one of the Mr. Rogers collection DVD's. I almost cried when I watched it, because it shows just how much Rogers loved the children he was trying to hard to reach out to. Below is a quote from Wikipedia, which sets up the video (I've cut out parts so as to allow the video to tell the story):

In 1969, Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to significant proposed cuts. ...

The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, was not previously familiar with Rogers' work, and was sometimes described as gruff and impatient...

Thanks, Mr. Rogers!!

Read More......

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cherokee People: The Downfall of Comics

I don't think the artist behind this image realized the
figurative meaning he unconsciously implied.
And no, it is not that Tupperware is good enough to
preserve even the heart of Green Lantern.
But really, who's to say that it isn't?

For those of you who don't know: I used to be a pretty big fan of comics. Don't get me wrong, I was never one of those guys who spent $300 a month at the local Dragon's Keep. At most I collected three titles on a regular basis, "The Flash" being the only consistent one over a period of 8 years or so.

I was a big enough fan that I made websites devoted to my favorite characters. My most prominent one, JLA Reborn, is still up, though dated and neglected. It focuses on DC Comics' powerhouse team of heroes, which, for a few years, also provided me with my favorite monthly title, "JLA." The coding of the site worked back when I made it 8 years ago, but now it looks ugly and definitely amateur. (As a sidenote, I even learned HTML and a bit of JavaScript in the process of making these -- something to put on the resume!)

When I spent two years away from comics (among many other things) in order to focus on doing missionary work among the Latinos of Dallas, I came back with a curiosity as to what had happened to my team in my absence. I saved up a bit of cash and eventually tracked down each issue I had missed (over 24 in total), and was admittedly excited to do some catching up. It all started off well and good enough, but in the end I was left somewhat stupified and disgusted with the writers who had so badly mistreated some of the most imaginative fictional characters of all time...

What ensues is my summary of the Justice League of America's downfall; my theory as to why it happened (hint: see the title of the post); and how this rude awakening has affected my spectatorship...

*Please note that neither the Shark, nor his calves, harbor any ill feelings toward Native Americans, nor does he really believe that their culture ruined the JLA.

JLA #1 (1997), shown above, was the start of a new era of glory. During the previous decade, the Justice League of America comics had become so diluted with mediocre characters and half-witted stories/challenges that they had created several satellite teams to contain them all, each with its own book to follow its exploits. Examples included Justice League Europe, Justice League International, and Extreme Justice. After this silliness continued for some time, DC Comics executives decided to take the comic back to its roots by recomposing the team of the DC label's powerhouse figures: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter. (Note: Martian Manhunter is not as widely recognized as the other heroes listed, but was mostly included because he has been a part, in some form and at one time or another, of every incarnation of the League in history. Refer to the bottom left of the image at right.)

Suddenly DC Comics found themselves with a best-selling title that fans couldn't keep their hands off of. I was lucky enough to buy issue #1 off the stands, but it literally took me years to track down #'s 2 and 3 to complete my run. The stories were on a grand scale and involved interesting interactions between amazing characters. One of my favorite involved the Flash (who has always been my favorite superhero) having a casual discussion in their headquarters with Superman (the Zeus to his Hermes) about their personal lives. I believe it's issue #5, though I could be wrong. Flash confides in Supes certain inadequacies he confronts in his daily heroics, and Superman expresses the high amount of respect and admiration he feels towards the scarlet speedster. A very personal insight, a rare glimpse into how the hearts of these supermen relate to each other.

Thus the series followed suit for a good four years or so. The first writer, Grant Morrison, left the series in the hands of Mark Waid, a wise decision. Waid had proven his hand in comics he'd
written the decade before, most notably the Flash ongoing series and Kingdom Come, a prestigious graphic novel focusing on a future Justice League that has been overrun by a younger, reckless generation of "heroes."

Waid continued Morrison's tradition of large-scale dilemmas, yet also entreated us with personal tales of sleuth and betrayal (e.g. Ra's al Ghul using Batman's secret failsafe plans of how to disable his teammates). It was during his run on the series that I left for my mission. During my two year sabbatical, Joe Kelly took over. Joe Kelly, a name I shall always remember as one that attempts to create, yet succeeds only in the destruction of the text he builds from.

One of Kelly's first tasks was to tackle a big issue: bringing Aquaman back from being temporally outcast, along with the rest of Atlantis, to 1,000 B.C. Yes, you read that right. The first in a long line of mistakes was the writers of a huge DC summer crossover event deciding to invoke a spell upon Atlantis that would cast it back in time if it were threatened beyond its ability to protect itself. The JLA learns of this lame plot device and decides to hurdle themselves backwards in time in hopes of correcting this enormous error in continuity.

Unfortunately, the horrors only increase. During their attempts to rescue Aquaman and his people, the League falls under attack by a group of prehistoric superheroes who see them as a threat. You'd think that millenia of evolution would give our heroes the upper hand (not to mention that by their shear might they have earned the right to laugh in the face of certain doom, intergalactic paradoxes, and even Noam Chomsky). You'd be wrong.

Within one issue taking place in their time travel exploits, The Flash, who not only moves faster than the speed of light but who also thinks at an equally-increased rate, gets his legs ripped off. Martian Manhunter is burned to death (fire is his weakness). Superman is killed by magic (which, next to Kryptonite, is his only Achilles Heel). One by one, each member of the League dies, except for Plastic Man (who had joined the team earlier, only to end up in this story as a disassembled mess of atoms floating somewhere in the ocean) and Green Lantern.

Discovering that Green Lantern still lives, one of the bad guys, Manitou Raven, makes a sudden change of colors and asks for GL's help in resurrecting his teammates -- but it involves Raven cutting out GL's heart. No, really it does. And it makes perfect sense. See, Manitou Raven is a weird, magical Indian guy who can turn himself into a flock of birds in order to get around. So he MUST know what he's talking about, right? Well, maybe he does. But I sure as heck don't, and I'm starting to get ticked that 1) everyone has died in a rather anticlimactic way and 2) magic is the problem and solution to everything.

Without going off on too much of a tangent, I should mention that magic is my bane. Even in an
impossible world of comics, there are rules that are defined in order for us to accept the possibility of what's happening. We know the limits of the world, even if they are more flexible than our own. MAGIC, however, is an excuse to break those limits at the expense of a creative plot. It's the ever-reliable deus-ex-machina for when the writer has written himself into a corner.

Next to Kryptonite and Doomsday,
THIS guy is the only thing that can kill Superman.
Can you really hold that against the Man of Steel?
(Bonus points if you can recognize this person.)

The League wakes up temporally restored and healthier than ever, excepting, perhaps, Plastic Man -- who has been FLOATING as an unrecognizable heap of disorganized atoms for over 3,000 YEARS in the middle of the ocean! Batman does him a favor and picks up the pieces from his Batwing. After cleaning out his glass of Plastic Man, the malleable oldest-man-alive walks away in the most bummed out mood, quitting the League in order to spend more time with his son and less time in the pages of an incoherent story.

Oh, and Aquaman made it back, too. It makes sense that he's unscathed, though. I mean, after all, isn't he the most powerful of the eight JLA members? Who would hurt a guy who lives to protect fishkind?

Thankfully, though, in response to the unexpected slam they've just taken, the League decides to take on a few new members and increase their ranks. And guess who one of the new kids is: you guessed it! Manitou Raven! AND... his wife! Having won our hearts with their magical ability to turn Green Lantern's heart into the resurrection of his teammates, they obviously fit right in among the pantheon of superheroic gods, and seem right at home in a headquarters that floats miles above the earth.

And that's where I left the JLA. I picked up a couple issues after that, but the subject matter got too preachy and boring. One issue compared the Justice League, in a dream sequence, to American soldiers in Iraq who, at the bidding of an evil superior, do not much better than cause an endless bloodbath. Another dealt with Martian Manhunter's desire to overcome his fear of flames.

Who comes up with this stuff? Don't stories get filtered through higher authorities before being printed in order to protect the readership from running away?

But in the end, this is the problem with all comics. The good runs (there's such a thing as "good runs"?) inevitably end. Ending on a high note is difficult to do, considering that the publisher is going to milk a title for all its worth, and fans are always going to demand more until they are disappointed. JLA's good runs (keep those mental images under control) lasted about 60 issues. Then, instead of continuing to keep up the hype with what they already head, DC execs decided to try something "new," as if the title needed it, and resulted in a flop title.

At the same time, what title can run forever without changing? It is sort of ludicrous that Batman has been around since the forties, yet in the comics he is still in his early thirties. But fans demand more of the same, yet it is this very weakness that prevents true character develpment, unless you are satisfied with development being a neverending cycle.

An example of this is Hal Jordan, Earth's original Green Lantern and the first in comics. DC writers made a daring decision by making him go insane as an indirect result of Superman's death/resurrection. Fans hated it. They hated it even more when he was replaced as GL and later died in one "final" attempt to be a hero. A few years further down the road he was given a chance at redemption by becoming the mortal soul of the Spectre, a being who seeks vengeance on evildoers in the name of God (a God of relentless justice rather than mercy). I stopped reading comics before I found out how this next event happened, but somewhere in there Hal returned to mortality and became reinstated as a Green Lantern, his replacement exiled to space to fight intergalactic crime.

Where is the development in that? We've come full circle! So much for lasting consequences! No wonder dead characters always end up coming back. The only dead superhero I know of who has stayed dead is Barry Allen (the original Flash), who better stay put, for heaven's sake. Is nothing sacred?

And this is why I no longer read comics regularly. I'm tired of reading the same old tales being told over and over again, always unsure of how big consequences really are because they can always be undone.

In conclusion, the JLA didn't fall because of a Native American. Indeed, the JLA fell because of what that character represented: uncreative change as a response to an inability to tell new stories with the same characters bound to a set of rules by time and space. DC Comics lost me when they decided to take a good thing and flush it down the proverbial toilet, when they took clever characters and replaced them with mystical beings with inexplicable loyalties. If comic books have become so capitalistic that such a lame character needs introduction to a series/story simply to keep the status quo, to ensure that the story can end, thus supposedly ensuring income over solid storytelling, then count me out.

I still love the idea of comics. I talk about them with whoever can keep a good discussion going on them. I rush to see worthwhile comic-based films, and they tend to be my favorite. I wear my superhero t-shirts from time to time, and I love my DVD's of "Batman: The Animated Series," "Superman: The Animated Series," and "Justice League." I've found relief in my comic book frustrations by escaping to the same characters in a different interpretation. Thank goodness the DC Animated 'verse is still there to keep me intrigued.

Wait. What's that?

And we didn't even get to see an animated Manitou Raven.

*Note to self: Write sequel to "The Downfall of Comics" entitled "The Downfall of DC Animated T.V. Shows: Why Ordering Half-Seasons of an Otherwise-Successful Show while Only Showing New Episodes Twice Every Three Months For a Year and Juggling its Time Slot Around Will Lead to its Inescapable Demise"

**Note to Cabeza: Thanks for being probably the only person alive to read this whole thing.

Read More......

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

From the Calves: Identity Theft

For clarity's sake: no, we aren't associated with THAT golden calf.

We get a lot of beef (no pun intended) because of that guy. But he's old news -- we're the real deal, and by far more valuable. At least, that's the idea we get when we're strutting down Times Square while onlookers collapse and gaze in awe.

Applications for love are currently being accepted.

*Please note that neither the Shark's calves, nor their owner, condone the worshiping of calves in any form, gold or flesh, animal or manimal.

Read More......

Bienvenidos a Mis Pantorillas de Oro

This blog is for all things of the mind of Shark. This obligatory, primary post exists merely as a formality and placeholder as I tweak the setup of the blog.

A few notes:

1. I considered doing a gimmick where my calves were the voice of the blog, but thought that might get tedious and old after a while.

2. I decided to create the blog on the Blogger hosting server(s) for various reasons:

  • In the case that my website hosting server is down, I can post emergency updates and announcements here.
  • My calves get to have their own domain name without having to pay for it.

3. is still up and will be updated regularly, and updates will be posted there on its own blog, as usual.

4. I have big calves.

Read More......