Saturday, June 11, 2016

Never Say Maybe If You Can Possibly Help It

Exactly why it’s taken me this long for me, an avowed fan of the series, to watch the rogue James Bond film Never Say Never Again is anyone’s guess. It’s just a fact. Let’s say it’s “because… reasons!” — and let it go at that.

What we have here is actually a creditable Bond movie, delivering on all the things that we’ve come to expect from the series — with some interesting caveats that ultimately drag it down. 

One of the biggest of these is the whole reason for the movie’s existence. Ian Fleming foolishly collaborated with another writer, Kevin McClory, on the plot of his novel, Thunderball; and then failed to properly cover the legal issues inherent in that collaboration, with the result that after many years of litigation, McClory ended up with separate movie rights to the story. And that’s the thing about Never Say Never Again: try valiantly as the filmmakers did, you can not escape the fact that it’s a remake of Thunderball. There are simply too many characters, scenes and plot elements that they have in common. One wonders why, having secured the right to make the movie, they didn’t just dump the plot and come up with something new. Instead, Irwin Kirshner & Co simply scrape fresh frosting over the old cake. Perhaps those unfamiliar with the recipe are fooled; the rest of us know that we’re getting leftovers. 

Beyond that — of course not being an “official” Bond picture, director Kirschner had no recourse to any of the usual Bond “schtick” — the gun-barrel openings, the visual trademarks, the striking musical montage credits sequences. What’s sad is that they didn’t even make an effort to come up with some kind of schtick of their own to take its place. It’s strange, but we miss this stuff… it gives the official films that extra little bit of sizzle.

Never Say Never Again just kind of sits there on the plate in that regard… and the music does not help. Michel Legrand is an admirable composer, but he would never make my short list to score a Bond movie; it’s just not his thing. To my ear, George Martin gave us one of the best Bond movie scores with Live and Let Die; here, Legrand gives us one of the worst… and don’t even get me started about the title song. Ick. Getting through that is the biggest obstacle to enjoying the picture.

There’s a loopy video game sequence that has not aged well at all, followed immediately by — egad — a dance number that stops the picture in its tracks, and not in a good way. This is where the pinking shears should have been put to good use. The picture is long enough without those two sequences, and would have been better off without them.

All of which makes it sound as if I hated it — I did not. There are many fine action setpieces, including a jaw-dropping sequence in which Bond is pursued through a shipwreck by a real (and very large) shark. And although Barbara Carrera never really wound my clock before, I found her to be really outstanding in this as Fatima Blush, the most interesting of several villains. She’s having a gas on this picture, and it shows. Klaus Maria Brandauer plays Largo against the conventions of Bond villains, to strong effect. The locations — always an important element in any Bond — are suitably exotic and visually striking. More than that, Kirschner is a strong technical director, and the picture holds together in ways that some of the official Bonds — I’m especially thinking Moonraker  and A View to a Kill — do not.

But I suppose they still wouldn’t have had a movie if they hadn’t been able to secure Sean Connery to reprise as Bond. I don’t like Connery, not as an actor nor as a man, but there’s no denying that his presence here says “JAMES BOND” in bold face type and capital letters. He is the reason for the movie’s title after all; and in the way of his brutish Bond, Connery is here not just for the money, but for the opportunity to kick sand into Cubby Broccoli’s face.

— Frede.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016



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Choose from two sizes and 6 alternate card backs at no extra charge.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Library of American Comics

Over the past few years, I've tried at least a time or two to extoll the virtues of The Library of American Comics (and have always had a link to their site in my sidebar). Dean Mullaney, my friend Bruce Canwell and their tiny crew of support people have been keeping the best classic newspaper comics alive for years now, and they keep on growing. If you like comics at all, walking into a room lined with shelves full of their books is like reaching Nirvana. If you've never heard of them, here's a very short new video to give you the barest sense of what they are about. Watch it -- and then head on over to their site: You won't regret it: and once you hold one of their tabloid-sized hardcovers in your hands, you won't believe how gorgeous they are. In fact, I'm behind on where I want to be with their books, and need to order up a few myself. 

Thanks to the blog largely written by Mr. Canwell, the site is a wealth of information and entertainment, too. Go there now!

-- Freder

Art as The Mean Kid At the End of The Block

If we judge Art by how it makes you feel, then there’s no question that some Art plays the same role as the big Bully on the block, kicking you around and hurting your feelings for its own amusement.

As the title suggests, La Vie En Rose is a biopic about the French singer Edith Piaf — The Little Sparrow, the tiny woman with the big, tremulous voice whose music made strong men weep. The film is well made, and successful at immersing the viewer in her Times and Places. But somewhere along the way, you begin to realize that the singer is not actually a very interesting person — certainly not nearly as interesting as the Times and Places that she was living in. She had her talent, which was undeniable; she had a certain fragility, which was attractive; she was loyal to so-called “friends” who deserved nothing in the way of loyalty; but she seems not to have been the brightest bulb in the socket, nor the most engaging of personalities, to put it mildly. La Vie En Rose is very much like meeting a person you once idolized, only to find that they were no different from the next-door neighbor that you dislike intensely.

It’s true that just because a person has an enormous talent for something doesn’t make them a successful person, and Piaf fits that bill with room to spare. For considerably more than two hours, we watch her abuse alcohol, abuse morphine, abuse cars, and abuse the people around her; and then we watch her die. 

Marion Cotillard, who really looks nothing like Piaf, takes a wild joyride in the part: if it didn’t feel so genuine, it would be miles over the top. She’s particularly successful in evoking the woman’s physical degeneration: Piaf died at age 47 from the effects of Too Much Life. 

The movie glosses over the years of World War II, so much so that we’re not even aware of the war having happened. This was an important time in Piaf’s career: she appears to have gotten along famously with the Nazis occupying France and was tried as a collaborator after the fact. None of this is touched upon. The movie is far more interested in her fragility, and it’s the fragility that it hammers home with relentless sledgehammer strokes. Even as The Sparrow, with enormous effort, pulls herself together for one final, triumphant appearance, the spectre of Death looms over her with all the subtlety of an approaching Sherman Tank. When all’s said and done, La Vie En Rose is a portrait of beauty that’s fleet, effort that futile, life that is empty and full of regret. It’s an exceedingly depressing venture that will stay with you for days.


In the world of computer and video games, Bioshock Infinite stands virtually alone as Genuine Art, as one of a sparse handful of works in this relatively young media-form that aspires to be Art, and in aspiring achieves the goal. Its nearest competition is its own progenitor, Bioshock, which I’ve already written about here on the blog. 

That game placed the genre of the first-person shooter within the context of a socio-political argument, wrapped in a dazzling 1930’s Art Deco atmosphere. It was virtually an essay on how Ayn Rand objectivism is almost literally designed to fail. As the title suggests, Bioshock Infinite aspires to take everything farther and higher, and to show us the dark side of the Great American Conceit. But if Edith Piaf had too much heart and very few brains, Bioshock Infinite has enough brain to pass as a Physics Symposium, and no heart at all. 

We find ourselves immersed in “Columbia” — an idealized American dream-city of the twenties, all Manifest Destiny and Righteous Good, literally an Edwardian-era Disneyland floating in the clouds; but as we investigate in the early parts of the game, we uncover the nasty truth that its vision of Equality and Justice applies only if one is White and Christian. However, Infinite doesn’t stop there. Over the course of many hours of gameplay, a resistance movement swells to take over the city and reverse its fortunes; and we learn painfully that violence begets violence, and that what replaces a despotic government may be just as bad as what it’s replacing. Wounds that are old and run deep will out in the end: and Bioshock Infinite offers no solutions or easy outs in the gigantic question of how to build a society that works for all of the people who live in it.

It’s a hefty dose of message for a computer game, and in the end Bioshock Infinite stumbles and falls under its own weight. It’s more than a little bit disingenuous to present the message that violence begets violence in the context of a first-person shooter, where by definition the only way for a player to advance through the story is to gun down everyone in sight. You get the sense that the game makers are congratulating themselves on their own cleverness; and it doesn’t stop there.

As the title implies, Bioshock Infinite is not content to tell one story: it unfolds, quite literally, across an infinite number of parallel universes, with a potentially infinite number of outcomes that all boil down to one thing: that the character you are playing needs to be taken back in time and drowned in a Baptismal pool in order to prevent the events in the game from happening.

To re-use a phrase I stole from my best friend and have used again and again, if it were a book you’d throw it across the room in frustration. I stopped caring what happened at the moment that we passed through the first “tear” in reality: because the story that I was invested in suddenly ceased to exist. You enter a different story at that point — and then another and another, and with each “shift” Bioshock Infinite loses weight. All the heart that it has invested into its two main characters goes straight out the window, and suddenly the game becomes an exercise in intellectual masturbation.

As a game, as a shooter, Bioshock Infinite is no less disheartening. There is something infinitely depressing about all of its stunning vintage Americana and the way that it’s been subverted to bludgeon you into a state of insensebility. The first time that you’re attacked by George Washington or Ben Franklin it’s an amusing bit with a touch of sour; the nine hundredth time that it happens, it’s just sad and exhausting. As a game, more than any other shooter that I’ve played, and despite the most beautiful art direction in the business, Bioshock is ultimately a dismal assault on the senses.

Unlike a hundred others of its type, Bioshock is Art. In a sense, it’s great art. But it’s Art of a savage sort, the art of Thuggery: eager to impress you, and just as eager to beat you up and laugh at your incomprehension and misery.

— Freder

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Poor Old George

He’s been gone for days at a time, many times before now; but this time it’s been longer and it feels different somehow. I am afraid that my last remaining outside feral cat, old Georgie, is gone for good.

He was not of the Old House or part of that history. Of the two remaining outdoorsy, feral cats that I somehow managed to successfully transplant here in town, only Tiger Whitestockings really took to it and settled in here at her new home. She even attracted a new boyfriend who hung around her most times: and that was George.

At first, George and I did not get on all that well. At least part of the reason that he hung around was for the good food I was giving to Tiger Whitestockings. I didn’t mind him eating it, but still and all I had to chase him away at mealtimes because I wanted Tiger Whitestockings to get her fill, and I knew that wouldn’t happen if he came up to the plate. George was a champion eater. He wouldn’t have left Tiger Whitestockings anything, which says something about males in their feral state.

So when Tiger Whitestockings disappeared after three years’ time, George and I were not exactly on chummy terms. I stopped putting out any kind of fresh food; still and all I had a lot of leftovers from my inside guys and I continued to put that stuff out. I knew George would Hoover it up, and he did. 

And I harbored no ill will towards him: the only reason I chased him had been for Tiger Whitestockings’ sake. With her gone, there was no reason why George and I could not be friends. 

It too some doing, some coaxing, and some patience, but in the end my superhero Mutant Power, which is the same thing as my Native American name, which is “Makes Friends With Animals,” won out. George and I became fast friends. It seemed to me that he started coming as much for the petting and the attention as for the food. Within reasonable limitations, he even let me pick him up and scratch his tummy. 

I really got to like George. He’d come in the morning for breakfast, then hang out and sun himself on my deck for the day, and then after dinner he’s wander off to whatever sheltering place he called home. I never learned where that was, except that it wasn’t anywhere on my property.

He was an Old Warrior who had seen better days. But he was too stupid to give up fighting, and over time the fights took bigger tolls on his condition. No more would he get healed up from one bad fight but then he’d show up on my doorstep dazed and blinking and covered in fresh, deep scratches. 

He stayed with me for two summers and at least two winters. During the summers he would lose a lot of weight, and then during the winter he’d bulk up to twice the size. Last year, before the snow began to fly, I tried to bring him inside. I used my entry hall / laundry room as a test stage. He would have had every comfort, but he couldn’t stand it — being indoors drove him buggy right away, and the truth is that he was such a grumbly, fighty guy that I worried how he would interact with my inside quats. 

It often happens that feral cats disappear in the Spring. My theory is they have had to struggle to survive through winter, then Spring comes and they start to feel strong again, they start to feel their oats again, and they want to look around and do some things that they haven’t been able to do all winter… and so they wander off and they never come back. 

The last I saw George was days and days ago. He was marching off in a direction that I had never seen him head before, down through the neighbor’s property towards the river. I thought this rather a bad idea for him at the time, as I am sure there are wild animals down there. But he was already too far away, and anyhow he was never the sort of quat to take advice from humans, he was his own Quat and there would be no stopping him from having his own way.

And I fear now that he picked one fight too many, and with the wrong sort of animal. It’s been more than a week, and that’s never happened before. George would definitely have wanted a good meal by now, and would have been back by now, if he could. 

This marks the first time in something like thirty years that I have not had any outside quats that relied on me to think about them. At one point, out at the Old House, we had in excess of thirty of them. Now all done. Another milestone going by. There’ve been too many milestones lately.

I’m still putting the food out every day. Sometimes the neighbor quats come and clean it up, sometimes not. When they don’t, I just chuck the remains out into the middle of my driveway. It’s always gone by morning. 

— Frede.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Don't Leave Home Without Them!

Do you ever get stuck in a conversation,
and not know what to say?

Fear not!

Just pull out your...
And now for something completely different:
a thoughtful and whimsical deck merging popular
and little-known quotations with fine design.

Thirty-four cards to make you think and make you smile.

Matching bag available!

Sample Cards

We won't show you all the designs here ... we want there to be some surprises!

Click on any of the images to enlarge.

WISE SAYINGS: A Deck Wisdom & Wit © and ™ Duck Soup Productions 2016

Friday, April 1, 2016

Something In The Air

The first day of Spring, the REAL first day of Spring — not the one that the calendars specify — is the one where you can finally open all the windows in your place and LEAVE them open for a few hours… the day when all the stale air of winter is flushed out of the system, the day when you can sit in your comfortable place, and close your eyes, and feel Spring herself wash over you.

That day was yesterday. As you get past fifty and the milestones become more and more painful to mark — for at a certain point they begin to mark off far more losses than beginnings — each “first day of Spring” seems more precious than the one before it, and the sense of overwhelming relief at having made it, once again, through the Dark Time, comes with an edge of unavoidable sadness.

So I was in a wistful mood already this morning when a distressing email came through from my Dad. “Things are not  going too well here. I am declining despite everyone's efforts.”

At least a part of why this is so frustrating is that I don’t know whether or not I can believe him, or how far I can believe him. My Dad has been “crying wolf” for some time now on the subject of his own Old Age, even to the point of an email sent more than a year ago in which he declared, flat-out, and I quote, “I am dying!”

Four months later, he visited me and was in great health. My house is full of stairs, and he not only handled them beautifully, but seemed to thrive on it. The actual traveling part was considerably easier for him than for his wife who is at least fifteen years his junior. He was fine; he was great. Old, yes. Not the man that he once was, but doing terrifically well for someone in his late eighties, and in no way on Death’s Doorstep.

So what am I to believe in what he tells me? When I talk to him on the phone, he sounds as strong as ever; but that could be as unreliable as his sense of Personal Melodrama (something I inherited from him).

All of this weighed me down this morning. Whether he exaggerates or not, the fact remains that every single one of us on this earth, no matter our age or health, is five minutes away from Death. Whether you’re eighteen or eighty, if you leave the house at the wrong time or even just start down the back stairs with your weight on the wrong foot, it could be all over for you in nothing flat.

Thinking about my Dad’s old age invariably leads to thinking about the dismal prospect of my own. With Dad gone, I will have only my two surviving pussyquats and a small handful of old friends who see each other on fewer and sadder occasions every year. As an aging Gomez, finding my Morticia at this time of my life seems increasingly unlikely. So I only have to outlive my beloved little Honey pussyquat. When she’s gone… well, first I will have to decide whether I am going to somehow survive that blow and move on, or simply drink myself to death in my current home, surrounded by memories.

I have thought: I could sell everything and move to Europe… live out my declining years in a little town in Scotland or Wales. I have also thought: I could sell the house and some of what’s in it, and move out to the Southwest, where I would never be troubled by Winter again. 

But then I start wandering the house, looking at the past laid out before me. I start to ask, what would I sell, what could I sell, to make a move like that practical. And I know what I have known all my life, that things are not just things as some people would have it. Things contain memories. Things contain your life. Things have power. To divest myself of my surroundings would be like hacking off aspects of myself, parts of my life, and tossing them in the dustbin.

Then I realized, or remembered, or something, this: my Dad and his wife have moved several times since they were my age. My grandparents on my mother’s side moved at least once in their sixties. Here’s the thing that I think made it possible: they all knew where they were going before they had to close out and make the final decisions on what they were leaving behind. 

This seems a very valuable bit of advice: know what’s ahead before you cut off what’s behind. 

Right now, all I’ve got is questions; and even the information I have about the present seems unreliable. What I know is this: Spring is here. The windows are open. The air in the house is fresh and clean and cool. Enjoy it: because it won’t last.

— Frede.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

An Open Letter to Zack Snyder

Dear Zack Snyder;

From the first one of your god-awful movies that I ever saw (which was Sucker Punch), I have known you to possess all the brains of a tapeworm and the talent to match. In fact, Sucker Punch left no doubt but that you're a pervert in the bargain. 

You've been given control of a very large playground, and instead of creating something that large numbers of people would want to play on, you filled it with bricks and broken glass and torn-up concrete and lead pipes and dope dealers.

You've taken some of America's most time-honored characters and turned them into the playground bullies to do your dirty work for you: the work of darkening our Pop Culture to a point where it's blacker than horror stories used to be. Your vision of popular culture is stained with blood and spit and semen. 

You, sir, are a wanker who has been given the opportunity of a lifetime, only to soil it with nighttime emissions. 

You claim to be a "comic book guy," but you're not. It's very evident that your knowledge of the medium doesn't go any further back than about 1990 -- which is when comics were getting so bad and so stupid that I had to stop reading them. 

Have you ever read a single word that Stan Lee wrote? I doubt it -- because comics in Lee's era required readers to have a few brain cells to rub together.

I only wish I could say these things to your employers in such a way that they would finally come to their senses and stop hiring you. I can only hope that the box-office take on your grotty little movie and on that of your next no-doubt equally egregious DC project falls through the floor. Perhaps then they will listen.

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