Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bits and Pieces: Belated Headlines

One unfortunate result of reducing my frequency of blog posts a few months ago was that my "evergreen" story ideas piled up, some of them becoming quite dated and proving not to be so evergreen after all.  Before they become outright ancient, here's a brief rundown of headlines I had in mind to write about at length, but now will salvage as nothing more than brief nuggets.

1.  Billy Joel Sells Out in a Good Way -- The "piano man" proved that Madison Square Garden struck gold by signing him to become the New York City arena's first music franchise.  Fans quickly bought all the tickets for his monthly concerts throughout the year. As of this writing, the earliest you could get tix is for the December show, and those are going fast. I've always enjoyed his music and it's great to see that I'm not alone in admiring his talent.

2. Oz on Stage and Screen -- Everybody seems to be hopping on L. Frank Baum's public domain bandwagon, making adaptations of the fantasy land where Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, the Wizard, and the Wicked Witch had their classic adventures.  In addition to all the projects I mentioned in my essay "Neverending Oz," we also saw ABC's Once Upon a Time take a turn over the rainbow, and on the big screen we have an animated movie coming up called Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.  On the stage, 59E59 Theaters had a wonderfully inventive version of the tale, The Woods Man, told through puppetry and song.

3.  Keeping Up with the Film Festivals -- So many film festivals, so little time.  I was going to write about the notable films that screened at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas (better known by its shorthand SXSW) -- like Jason Bateman's Bad Words, the crowd-funded Veronica Mars, Robert Duvall's A Night in Old Mexico, and Neighbors, starring Zac Efron and Seth Rogen. But SXSW came and went, and then the Tribeca Film Festival was upon us and I was going to share my thoughts on some of the movies screening here in my city's very own cinema fest -- movies like Match, starring Patrick Stewart; Miss Meadows, starring Katie Holmes; Third Person, starring Liam Neeson; Just Before I Go, Courteney Cox's directorial debut; Boulevard, starring Robin Williams; Champs, a documentary about Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins; Jon Favreau's Chef; and When the Garden Was Eden, a documentary about the New York Knicks glory days, directed by Michael Rapaport. Maybe there's time for me to do as roundup of movies at the Cannes Film Festival.

4.  100 Reasons to Like The 100 -- Okay, I'm kidding, that was never going to be a headline. Still, the CW's new science fiction show has some redeeming qualities and I'm actually enjoying it. It has its ridiculous moments, but some fun sci-fi concepts are buried in there too.

5.  Revisiting the Serial Killer Trend -- Finally, I wanted to discuss once again the over-use of gore in horror and the seemingly unending, over-the-top serial killer trend in popular fiction. Maybe I'm just the squeamish type, but shows like The Following freak me out.  I'm conflicted, at the same time enjoying the creative storytelling while also wondering if all this death and violence is therapeutic for our society or just damaging our psyches even further.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Science Fiction Predicted Bitcoin

All this talk about Bitcoin, the so-called "digital currency," has given me a sense of deja vu. It reminded me of a science fiction story I read years ago. I couldn't remember the title or the author, but I recalled that it appeared in the dearly missed publication Science Fiction Age.  Even though I have every issue, I didn't have the luxury of going to the garage and digging through all the magazines I have in storage to hunt it down. Luckily, I came across Jamie Todd Rubin's blog and an incredible chronicle of many of the issues of that masterful 'zine. I made my query, and in what seemed near the speed of light I received an answer from Jamie, who had reached out to the former editor himself Scott Edelman. The story was "Spondulix" and the writer was the excellent Paul Di Filippo.

Originally a novella in the pages of the September 1995 issue of Science Fiction Age, it was expanded into a novel. It was an exciting and mind-blowing tale of a guy who invents a new decentralized payment system on a whim that takes his little town of Hoboken by storm.

The word spondulix stems from the shells of ancient Greece that were used for barter. The speculative fiction story has some nice parallels to Bitcoin. Granted, it wasn't exactly like the open-source, peer-to-peer pseudo money we're seeing today, but the life cycle of the invented currency is all there, from its rapid rise to the drama caused by its popularity.

Bravo to Di Filippo for dreaming of the future of economics and writing about it! Who knew a fictional story could be so prophetic?


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Resurrection Trend

With Easter right around the corner, I don't know if it's good timing or just blasphemous for me to talk about the latest trend in fictional storytelling -- characters coming back from the dead.  Bestselling books are exploring the idea of an afterlife, with just two examples being Mitch Albom's First Phone Call from Heaven and Todd Burpo's Heaven Is For Real, which has been adapted into a feature film.

On television, I've seen the excellent French series The Returned (Les Revenants), which was based on a French film titled They Came Back. It's a marvelous series and I highly recommend hunting it down if you missed it on the Sundance Channel. A similar premise, about loved ones who died suddenly coming back as if nothing had happened, is the focus of ABC's Resurrection, based on the book The Returned by Jason Mott (try keeping those titles straight if you can).  The excellent cast and cinematography makes up for some of the schmaltzy writing.

Do not mistake this for a continuation of the zombie trend. These current stories are aimed at the spiritual versus the horror, but there are still scary and sometimes gruesome moments (especially in The Returned). It's not the first time nor the last that such subject matter will be used for entertainment. Some will see it as mere fantasy while others will try for deeper metaphors.  Whatever the case, the time seems right for these top of tales to strike a chord with audiences.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movies That Became TV Shows

Have you noticed how many television shows on the air right now are based on movies? First we have Fargo on the FX Network, inspired by one of my favorite Coen Brothers motion pictures. Apparently, this new show will be an anthology style format, like American Horror Story and True Detective.  Flip through the channels on your TV and you'll find other series that stem from films -- Bates Motel on A&E based on Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series on Robert Rodriguez's new network El Rey (and available internationally on Netflix), Teen Wolf on MTV, and Hannibal on NBC based on the Silence of the Lambs series of flicks (which were adapted themselves from the novels of Thomas Harris.)

Some movies have inspired cartoons (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Clerks, Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters, and Napoleon Dynamite). Others, like Hannibal, are based on pre-existing literary figures which had their first appearances on the big screen before landing on television -- Superman, Tarzan, and Conan the Barbarian. Some, like the Indiana Jones movies, launch prequel series like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.  Some classics like The Odd Couple were based on a stage play that then became a movie and then became a hit TV sitcom.

Here's a lengthy list of movies that spawned television series (I've bolded the ones that I considered especially noteworthy):

10 Things I Hate About You
About a Boy
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Anger Management
Animal House
Bad Teacher
Bagdad Cafe
Barbershop
BeastMaster
Blade
Blue Thunder
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Clueless
The Courtship of Eddie's Father
The Crow
Dirty Dancing
Fame
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Flipper
Friday Night Lights
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Harry and the Hendersons
Highlander
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
In the Heat of the Night
Le Femme Nikita
Look Who's Talking
The Magnificent Seven
M*A*S*H
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Nightmare on Elm Street
Nine to Five
The Outsiders
Outsourced
Paper Moon
Parenthood
Planet of the Apes
Police Academy
Private Benjamin
Shaft
Soul Food
Stargate
Starman
The Terminator
Timecop
Tremors
Uncle Buck
Weird Science
Working Girl

Have a left any out?  Which are your favorites?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Amazon Buys Comixology

By acquiring Comixology, Amazon.com is sending a clear message that the future of comics is digital.

Sometimes I might sound as if I'm a mouthpiece for Amazon, but I'm honestly not on the payroll of Jeff Bezos (except for the minuscule royalties I receive for Kindle subscriptions to my City of Kik blog). I feel I'm being honest when I praise the company's entrepreneurship. Amazon has plenty of critics, but I also see it as a terrific service that has opened up publishing and retail to the masses.

I've previously shared my thoughts on digital vs. print comics, and I've been leaning toward digital as the winner.  I hope this new investment by Amazon, instead of being perceived as another death knell for the traditional comic book industry or a monopolization of the burgeoning digitization of comics, will be recognized as a key point when the medium climbs into a new level of popular success.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Congratulations to Stephen Colbert

The news that Stephen Colbert will be the new host of The Late Show, replacing the retiring David Letterman, couldn't make me happier.  Colbert is one of my favorite comedians and he will be a great fit in this new gig in the late night battlefield.

My only regret is that this means the end of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. Unlike The Daily Show from which Colbert emerged, and which has had a host before Jon Stewart (i.e., Craig Kilborn) and a successful temporary replacement since (i.e., John Oliver), The Colbert Report is inseparable from its namesake, so its demise is inevitable now that Stephen is heading off to greener network pastures.

I also don't know what to expect from the "real" Stephen Colbert, who won't be donning the super-Conservative persona he has performed so well all these years. Maybe he still will.  One can only hope. As Colbert said to the New York Times: "I won't be doing the new show in character, so we'll all get to find out how much of him was me. I'm looking forward to it."  As are we all!

I've constantly marveled at the level of his comic brilliance, and his masterful connection to his audience.  I hope he can carry that over to CBS and I wish him unlimited good fortune in the decades to come.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Another Pro Wrestler Gone Too Soon

The news of the death of former professional wrestler James Hellwig, better known as the Ultimate Warrior, was devastating to hear. He was only 54 years old and had just been inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. Any of us who were fans of pro wrestling and remember the days when the Warrior beat Hulk Hogan for the heavyweight title are mourning his loss.

Many pro wrestlers live to be a ripe old age before passing (Captain Lou Albano, Killer Kowalski, Fabulous Moolah, Jay Strongbow, "Classy" Freddie Blassie, just to name some who lived past 70), but it seems that far too many pro wrestlers are doomed to die young.

Some of them die from natural causes, others from accidents, still others from substance abuse or an unhealthy lifestyle.  Here's a list of wrestlers who passed away before the age of 65.

Mike Von Erich - suicide, age 23

David Von Erich - acute enteritis, age 25

Kerry Von Erich - suicide, age 33

Adrian Adonis - car accident, age 33

Owen Hart - wrestling stunt accident, age 34

Eddie Guerrero - heart failure, age 38

Yokozuna - heart attack, age 38

"British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith - heart attack, age 39

Chris Benoit - suicide, age 40

Rick Rude - heart attack, age 41

Miss Elizabeth - drug overdose, age 42

The Big Bossman - heart attack, age 42

"Earthquake" John Tenta - cancer, age 42

"Mr. Perfect" Curt Henning - drug overdose, age 44

Dino Bravo - murdered, age 44

The Junkyard Dog - carr accident, age 45

Bam Bam Bigelow - drug overdose, age 45

Hercules Hernandez - heart disease, age 45

Andre the Giant - heart failure, age 46

Big John Studd - cancer, age 46

Road Warrior Hawk - heart attack, age 46

Gorgeous George - heart attack, age 48

Uncle Elmer - diabetes, age 54

The Grand Wizard - heart attack, age 54

Doink the Clown - drug overdose, age 55

"Macho Man" Randy Savage - heart attack, age 58

Paul Bearer - heart attack, age 58

Gorilla Monsoon - heart attack, age 62

S.D. Jones - stroke, age 63

The Ultimate Warrior was a character who seemed to be an action figure come to life. He came from an era when professional wrestling seemed to be live action superheroes vs. supervillains. Whatever the cause of his death, his passing is a tragedy. May he rest in peace.