Archive for April, 2003

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April 25, 2003

Whoa, Joe
Here’s a terrific little meditation on the classic G.I. Joe cartoon series from our youth by none other than my brother, Dan. Be sure to give us your comments by clicking on the link after this entry. Please do note that much of this message’s formatting stems from the demands of email, where this originated. Beware of capital letters in here, for your own safety, please.

I’ve reviewed the original two G.I.JOE animated mini-series, “A Real American Hero” and “Revenge of Cobra,” just out on DVD. Despite the absence of characters, or story logic, there’s a lot still to like. It’s not just nostalgia… both stories play out in giddy, STAR WARS-esque mayhem. And God help me, I’ve got a few of these episodes committed to memory, even to this day…

I have the following reportage and observations:
1. The plots for both series are identical. Duke gets captured, Cobra’s world-destroying gizmo breaks into three pieces, and the Joes and Cobra must undertake a daring-do world-wrapping series of missions to build competing versions of the same gizmo before the other one.
2.Only 22 minutes of music exists for G.I. Joe. The fact that it’s pretty snazzy music goes a long way to making the repetition of these cues over two five-episode stories tolerable.
3.Destro has the very best diction on the planet.
4.Every Joe can fly an F-16. Even the magic, three-seater, F-16s. Some Joes will wear helmets when taking off. Generally, they will abandon these helmets by the time they’re in combat. Who wouldn’t?
5.Cobra’s Arenas of Sport. Forgot all about ’em. They appear in both mini-series, in completely different configurations. The original is a coliseum for gladiator-style combat. Hundreds of Cobra operatives watch; that all of these members of Cobra have time in their busy schedules to watch is distressing. The second arena is TRON redux, providing room only for Destro, Cobra Commander, Zartan, and Scrap-Iron (?!?) to watch. What they watch is Duke & Snake-Eyes escaping twice.

But wait! There’s more!

A REAL AMERICAN HERO

Scarlet is the only prisoner in the history of Cobra not to be sent to the Arena of Sport immediately after capture. Instead, she gets thrown down three lights of stairs into a holding cell where the only other occupant is the one person who happens to know how to defeat Cobra’s mind-control headbands.

The standard Cobra method for subduing prisoners is to gang up and bludgeon said prisoner. And not just a little bit. This happens to Duke numerous times, this happens to Snake-Eyes, this happens to Roadblock. This does not happen to Scarlet. ‘Cause she’s a girl. Scarlet only gets beaten up by other girls. Still, that’s lotsa bludgeoning for a cartoon.

Baroness is the angriest Transylvanian women to ever appear in American animation.

Cobra has no compunction about beaming a dozen Cobra space troopers into deep space and leaving them there.

Cobra can build giant robots to put Optimus Prime to shame. These robots, however, are not used in combat. No, no. Only sport. The robots used in combat have no elbow articulation and are confused by targets running in circles.

Major Bludd employs no military strategy aside from “Attack!” It works, though; he’s the only Cobra operative with a perfect operational record over both series.

No Joe but Torpedo knows jack about deep-sea diving. Nobody. Stalker says so. Torpedo gets his very own submarine.

Following his spectacular escape from Cobra Headquarters, Duke forgets where Cobra Headquarters is. To regain his lost
memories, Doc places Duke in the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK bacta tank. Retracing his childhood up until college, then completely skipping his military training, Duke still cannot remember where Cobra Headquarters is. Duke will later remember he gave his slave-wife his college ring, which has a G.I.Joe homing beacon in it. Lucky, that.

Scarlett’s throwing stars, attached to her gloves, are for illustrative purposes only, as they are not confiscated when she’s captured. (Duke and Scarlett aren’t captured at the same time. Nevermind. Long story.)

Tripwire is shocked his mine-detector does not detect life-signs. It does, however, detect earthquakes!

Cobra’s hard-on for destroying New York City is, today, extra creepy. Their primary target is the Empire State Building, identified by name. Imagine if history has only unfolded a little differently… would we ever see this miniseries again? Methinks not.

His plan thwarted, Destro aims the MASS Device at the earth’s core — his explicit intention, to destroy the planet in seconds; his only apparent means of escape, however, is a Cobra F.A.N.G., a short-range one-person helicopter. Good luck with that, Destro.

Baroness, Major Bludd, and Cobra Commander — indeed, the entire Cobra organization, is arrested at the end of the first mini-series. (By the beginning of the second miniseries, they have all freed and rearmed. Cobra Commander’s capture all over again in the first act of “Revenge” begs the question why they didn’t just open with Cobra Commander already imprisoned…)

THE REVENGE OF COBRA

“Revenge” establishes the pattern used throughout G.I. JOE and THE TRANSFORMERS, where a story begins with established, first generation characters, only to have those characters replaced as protagonists by second generation characters before the end of the story.

The first episode of “Revenge” is not an embarrassment of animation. The final episode seems to have been animated on an Etch-a-Sketch.

At the beginning of “The Revenge of Cobra,” Cobra attacks a Joe convoy carrying a gigantic motherfucking G.I.Joe laser cannon. Cobra steals a tiny piece of this cannon. This giant motherfucking cannon is never mentioned again. Wasn’t it Chekov who said, never bring a gun onstage unless you intend to use it?

Stalker, the Joes’ commando, is seen operating a VAMP machine gun turret at the beginning of “Revenge.” Later, when legitimate commando skills are required, Stalker is nowhere to be seen. Breaker fills in.

Destro objects to Zartan’s involvement because Zartan “has no commitment to our cause!” What that cause is, and why Zartan is a mercenary while Destro is not, is left a mystery.

Seen in retrospect from G.I.JOE THE MOVIE, it seems odd Cobra Commander would be afraid of poison ivy…

Scrap Iron issues the disconcerting order, “Take them from behind!”

The only way down to the floor of the second Arena of Sport is via rope, Errol Flynn-style.

Snake-Eyes’ concealed communication device can only be used by banging it on a very long piece of metal.

Duke learns! By his second capture, he’s got a dictionary-sized homing device on him, the easier to remember. Where on his body he’s been keeping it, and that he only thinks to activate it in the final episode of “Revenge,” after being taken prisoner in the first, is troubling. When the Joes receive this transmission, the signal appears to be coming from South Africa; this also is troubling.

Wherever it is, Cobra Headquarters must have been near Joe Headquarters, because the Joes drive there. In both series. Assuming G.I. Joe Headquarters doesn’t pick up and move, maybe the Joes could spend a little more time securing their own perimeter.

Flint and Mutt meet Shipwreck in a cafe in the middle of the desert, not at all far from Cobra Headquarters. It’s unclear what, if any, military organization Shipwreck belongs to, but he is accepted with open arms into the G.I.Joe team.

When in the desert, bring Shipwreck. The jungle? Shipwreck, oh yeah. The Arctic? Shipwreck’s your man. The sea-bound campaign? Shipwreck’s not available because he’s in the jungle and the arctic.

Lady Jaye can drive with one foot while throwing explosive-tipped javelins. Lady Jaye is cool. Duke, meanwhile, can not conduct operations in daylight without getting captured by the enemy. Why exactly is Duke in charge?

Doc, in addition to being a skilled surgeon and psychiatrist, is also a genius engineer and theoretical physicist. He builds three demonstration models of energy mirrors that absorb and retransmit kinetic energy without any apparent help, in a matter of hours. Yo Joe!

Exactly what demographic was Zartan’s defunct “Bayou World Park” aimed at? At this park, it’s just as easy to raise an entire rollercoaster as it is to just raise the antenna on said rollercoaster.

When Flint is told Zartan’s transmission has been traced to “the swamps,” that’s enough. Flint knows where to go.

Storm Shadow is such a good ninja, he escapes detection merely by moving out of frame. Before that, he throws a single throwing star packed with enough sleeping gas to knock out two Joes and a dog.

You know what’s missing in action movies today? A fifty-story enemy temple that can rise and fall out of the desert. Let’s see Michael Bay put that in his inevitable Hitler biography.

Adrenaline pumping in the heat of battle, Rock ‘n Roll, Spirit, and Clutch keep up with the Joe mechanized forces on foot. That Clutch is on foot, rather than driving his designated VAMP, is, also, troubling.

Destro and Zartan make their final escape from Cobra Headquarters on a hang-glider. In the desert. The middle of the day. Luckily, no member of the Joe team was near a window, jeep, tank, or rival hang-glider. Destro and Zartan get away.

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April 23, 2003

Blognaked Ladies

Mike, especially, take note: Barenaked Ladies are back in the studio and they’re blogging about it. A steadily updated blog about interesting people who do interesting things and sport photos? What more could you want? Well, they don’t have my shiny comment feature, do they? Anyway.

African Vampires

I’ve just heard that the Big Book of African Vampires, Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom, has been spotted by the powers that be. I hear it’s gorgeous, and I expect to get my author’s copies before long. I’m so excited to see this big ol’ book, and I’ll be sure to share a bit with you all when I finally hear something about it. Word on the street is that the book goes on sale in May, so it won’t be long now, kids!

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April 23, 2003

Crunch
There’s something of a crunch going on at work this week. We’ve got a big book going out at the end of this week, and I’ve got my folks coming in this weekend (which has its own associated preparations). So, busy, busy. I also have a writing assignment due shortly, and three or four other projects in the air before that. Let’s say I’m using the blog here to generate energy which will go towards actual writing (for pay) later on. We’ll see how that works out.

I am estimating that I have a current readership (ugh, lousy word) of about four people. Gotta get that number up.

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April 22, 2003

Care to Comment?
I’m now testing out a new, free comment feature. This might just be temporary, we’ll see how it goes, I guess. If you’d like to comment, just click on the comment button below any post. To my knowledge, you don’t have to enter any more information than you’d like to when the comment box appears.

Also, you can purchase books that are worth your money even though they have my name on them by clicking on the links to the left. That won’t last though, because I feel uncomfortable leaving those pictures up. Also, keep your eyes on the picture at left, I swear it will be changed periodically.

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April 22, 2003

Damien Jurado has a new(ish) album out, as of March the 18th. I just found out about it this weekend when I stumbled upon it in a cozy little record shop with wonderful taste on Grand Ave. That’d be Eclipse Records, I believe. Anyway, the new album is very, very mellow but a really delightful little stretches of songs. Recommended.

Today, I found a nice used copy of Snatch on DVD, both discs, cheap. Wonderful, that. Now, however, I’m thinking in the rhythm of the British hoods from the aforementioned picture, which means I have an overwhelming desire to answer every question with a sarcastic reply question. I mean, it’s not as though I’m a bloody tea-drinking English mate, now is it? So, yes, I won’t be doing that anymore.

On Snatch‘s second disc, there’s a funny little easter egg that is among my favorite special features on DVD. On the main root menu of Disc 2, highlight the arrow on your screen, press “up” and then press “right,” I believe. An exclamation point in a diamond roadsign will appear. Press “select” or whatever your machine’s manufacturer has given you to press and enjoy the finest swearing and gunfire in contemporary British cinema (their words, not mine). It’s actually funnier, in my opinion, if you select “Yes” to the question they ask you, but only you can make these sorts of choices for yourself.

Noise: I thought I heard the new hamster running in her wheel a second ago.

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April 21, 2003

Phone Booth

Would that this film had been made back in the Hitchcock days, as it might have been. I’d had a slight interest in this movie back when it’s release was delayed by the Beltway Sniper, but my real motivation for seeing another Joel Schumacher picture in the theater was an article written by screenwriter Larry Cohen that appeared in a recent issue of Scr(i)pt magazine. These sorts of conceptual thrillers wherein somewhat ordinary folks get stuck in a phenomenal situation, and usually an associated location, are a candy I can’t get enough of. I think it’s the combination of a stage-like environment for the actors and the restrictions such environments place on a film director that attract me to these pictures; restrictions promote creativity, they say. Beyond that, the ordinary folks give us, the audience, and the actors terrific footholds on the thriller situation, which should be extraordinary and is very often ridiculous. Among my favorites in this category is David Fincher’s Panic Room, which is just a selection of interesting characters and locations placed together under pressure.

Phone Booth strays a bit from the simplicity of its situation, which is a mistake I’ll blame on Schumacher, because I’m still holding a grudge from the Batman movies, I guess. To be honest, Schumacher does wonderful things in this film, but his satellite bookends are overblown and self-important. The weight and meaning of a man trapped in a phone booth by a sniper is best left to the audience, I think. Besides the film’s opening and closing sentiments, I think there’s one other major problem: the voice of the sniper. Kiefer Sutherland’s voice is too recognizeable, though perhaps it wouldn’t have been if the film had come out before his hit television series 24 had taken off, and the outright villainy of his performance goes against the earthly frailty that the story emphasizes. Worse, Sutherland’s voice is given to us without telephonic static or variations in volume. Yes, it’s godlike, we get it. How fascinating would it have been if we’d been trying to learn something about this person on the other end of the phone, if we’d felt we missed some key word or sentence spoken while the phone was away from our ear? If the sniper had been more human, he’d have been more mysterious. Otherwise, we just conclude that he is a malicious psychopath. Unfortunately, we do and, unfortunately, he is.

What is good about Phone Booth is pretty darn entertaining, though. Forest Whitaker is terrific, as usual. Colin Farrell is good in the way that’s most necessary in this film, which is to say he’s easy and exciting to watch for the whole film. Radha Mitchell does great, convincing work in the role of the wife, which is thankfully not shrill, stupid or helpless. Special appreciation must be paid to the talents of the crew, including Schumacher, who turned a stretch of Los Angeles into New York. The tricks they play to convince us that we’re off Times Square work flawlessly, though I am from Chicago so what do I know about LA or New York?

Happily, Phone Booth is the movie it’s advertised as, so it’s pretty easy to recommend it; you know what you’re getting. It’s a fine 90 minutes of entertainment, but it’s not the heart-pumping, edge-of-your-seat nailbiter that I’d been hoping for. For that, I’ll put in my DVD of Panic Room.

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April 21, 2003

Better? Or Worse?
So, what do you think of the new blog? It only took me three (freakin’!) days. Special thanks to SaraQ, for spitballing with me. Happy Easter, SaraQ!

Now let’s see if I can’t manage to keep changing that picture on the left like I hope. Stay tuned, too, for a terrific analysis and remembrance of the G.I. Joe cartoon series, as written by my brother Dan, which will be appearing here during the week. It’s good, good stuff, I promise.