Friday, December 28, 2007

The Best of 2007

Maybe it’s a little early for this 2007 Top 10. After all, I still haven’t seen Tim Burton’s movie version of Sweeny Todd, one of my favorite musicals, and Dean Koontz’s latest novel, which I hear is boffo, is waiting to be read. But reviews of those may come later, and if they qualify for this list, so be it. Anyway, here are my ten favorite items (books, movies, DVDs, what have you) for the past 12 months so far, in ascending order:

10. My niece’s boyfriend got the Transformers movie DVD for Christmas, so the whole family watched it on Tuesday afternoon. I liked it as much the second time as I did last summer in the theater. Hell, who doesn’t like giant robots with a sense of humor? But it’s not Transformers that’s on my Top 10 list. That honor goes to a young actress named Megan Fox, who stole every scene in that film, gave me life-threatening heart palpitations, and prompted naughty thoughts through most of Christmas dinner. Another star is born.

9. This was an especially “retro” year for me, and you’ll notice that almost everything on this list (besides the scrumptious Megan Fox) represents a bit of yesteryear. Case in point: the British double-CD import Last Flight, a live full-concert recording of Jefferson Airplane closing out its very last tour in 1972 at Winterland in San Francisco. This was Airplane’s last hurrah. Marty Balin and Spencer Dryden had left, and the band was on life support, having peaked three years earlier. But amazingly, this CD is fantastic, an extraordinary postscript to the Jefferson Airplane story.

8. Grindhouse was the most outrageous movie of 2007, a 195-minute two-for-one valentine from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to those great cheesy exploitation “double-bills” of the 1970s. I loved the movie, and I wish they’d release the whole goddamn thing in one big DVD package. But for now, the two pieces that made up Grindhouse — Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof — are available as separate “extended cut” DVDs. Even without the goofy trailers, they’re worth a look.

7. I’ve talked here about my love for The Third Man so many times that you may be nauseous from it. But here I go again. This year, the Criterion Collection released an upgrade of its earlier DVD release, and it’s not to be missed, even if you own the first one. The two-disc set includes a new transfer of the film, all the bonus features from the first Criterion DVD, plus two feature-length audio commentaries, the 90-minute 2005 documentary Shadowing the Third Man, a 1999 Austrian documentary, a 1968 hour-long British TV program on novelist Graham Greene, and a booklet of essays. Fans of Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, post-war Vienna, and Sacher-Tortes shouldn’t miss this package.

6. I’m so used to Hollywood butchering books I love that Gone Baby Gone, based on a terrific Dennis Lehane novel, surprised the hell outta me. It was not only one of the best movies I saw in 2007, it may be the best film in the private eye genre I’ve seen since Chinatown, more than three decades ago. Director-screenwriter Ben Affleck and most of the cast, which includes Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, deserve Oscars for this. Too bad the movie tanked at the box office. Catch it on DVD when it becomes available.

5. The last time I saw Richard Lester’s 1965 classic Help!, starring John, Paul, George, and Ringo, I was watching a washed-out, choppy print at a revival movie house in Reseda, California. Now, for the very first time, Help! is on DVD. And this newly restored print is breathtaking. The colors pop. The clarity is startling. Help! looks like a brand new movie. And the songs — well, what can I say about the songs? It’s a great DVD. Bonuses include featurettes on the film’s painstaking restoration and interviews with Lester and surviving cast members (sadly, neither Ringo nor Paul). If you haven’t got this one yet, why not? It’s the friggin’ Beatles fer crissakes!

4. For many years, one of my regrets was misplacing my copy of a dusty little 1972 paperback titled A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State, one of the few genuine Left-Right collaborations that sprung from Murray Rothbard’s notorious flirtation with the Left in the late 1960s. This eye-opening book, edited by Rothbard and then-Leftist Ronald Radosh, featured essays by, of course, Rothbard and Radosh, plus libertarian Leonard Liggio, New Leftist William Appleman Williams, and others. This year, the Mises Institute made this important bit of Libertarian Left history available as an absolutely free PDF download. Radical Rothbardians, if you care at all about your roots, don’t miss this great book, courtesy of the indispensable Mises Institute.

3. Maybe because so many different versions have been released over the years, I never before owned a copy of one of my favorite films, Blade Runner. I guess I’ve been waiting for this Blade Runner Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition all along. After I dropped repeated hints about it for several months, Deb got me this monster for Christmas, and it’s fabulous. It’s got everything, including four versions of the Ridley Scott classic (the original theatrical release, the international release, the director’s cut, and Scott’s brand new “final cut”), plus the work print, a three and a half hour long documentary, 45 minutes of deleted scenes, three feature-length commentaries, umpteen mini-features, a miniature replica spinner car, an origami unicorn figurine, and TONS of other doodads and bells and whistles, all stuffed into a facsimile of Rick Deckard’s metal briefcase. I’ve been weeding through this thing since Wednesday morning, and I’ve barely made a dent. Very cool. This package may set the standard by which all future “special edition” DVDs are measured.

2. Steve Ditko is best known as the co-creator of Spider-Man. But my favorite non-Marvel Ditko creation, hands down, has always been his no-nonsense, blue-suited, faceless, Randian hero, The Question, which he produced for Charlton Comics in the late 1960s. Years later, Denny O’Neil would resurrect and unfortunately reinterpret the character for DC Comics. But the original, uniquely Ditko canon — five back-of-the-book short stories in Blue Beetle and a single full-length comic book adventure, just 62 pages in all — were tremendous fun and crammed with hardcore “A is A” values. My old copies of those comics were long gone, and I thought Ditko’s Question was lost forever — that is, until this year, when all of those precious tales were collected into a wonderful hardcover book titled The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2, part of DC’s Archive Editions series. There are some Blue Beetle and Captain Atom stories by Ditko in this book, too, and they’re all terrific. But it’s The (quintessential) Question that makes this book worthwhile, and my greatest discovery at Comic-Con last July.

1. What’s more exciting to a radical libertarian than a brand spankin’ new Murray Rothbard book, written in the mid-1970s and finally published 12 years after the great man’s death? Not a damn thing. The Betrayal of the American Right, available from the Mises Institute in hardcover and even as a free PDF download, is a first-rate blend of memoir and libertarian movement history. It is the Libertarian Left treasure of 2007. And it tops my list. Onward to 2008!

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Anarcho-Christmas!

Written by the late Samuel Edward Konkin III…

Joy to the World
(Tune of “Joy to the World”)

Joy to the world,
The State is dead,
Let earth receive no king.
Let every heart, be unrestrained,
At last we’ve broken free!
At last we’ve broken free!
At last, at last, we’ve broken free!

Joy to the earth,
No monarch reigns,
No politician’s left,
We come to burn…the ballot box,
Far as the vote is found,
Far as the vote is found,
Far as, far as, the vote is found.

No rule on earth!
Now truth and grace
Are everyone’s birthright.
The market is free, and anarchy
Is found throughout the land,
Is found throughout the land,
Is found, is found, throughout the land.

No more let tax
Or tariffs vex
The workers or the boss.
Inflation is gone,
Our money is sound,
And freedom is our right,
And freedom is our right,
And freedom, and freedom, is our right!

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Christmas at Ground Zero

Okay, okay. I’m better now. The master bedroom is still in total disarray, but who gives a flyin’ reindeer, right? Guests will be restricted to the living room, dining room, and guest rooms anyway. They don’t even have to see the frakin’ disaster that is the master bedroom.

I’ve got two satellite radio stations available to me in the house that play nothing but holiday music — one with “contemporary” Christmas favorites from the likes of Stevie Nicks and Sting and Tom Petty. That’s all fine, but I’ve opted for the “classic” station, which offers Bing and Frank and Peggy and Nat and Perry.

Still much to do before family arrives in three hours. See you all on the other side of Christmas Day.

Have a merry.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Beatles Christmas Message 1963

A couple of months before they first came to the U.S. Very cool.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Three days 'til Christmas

We’re sliding into Christmas, and my nerves are on edge. This year, it’s my family at our house (sister and her husband and kids, and one niece’s boyfriend) — plus a handful of assorted friends — and I feel like we’re nowhere near ready. Now that our six-month remodeling project is done, there are only a few pieces of furniture to still move back into place, some boxes to unpack, etc. But I feel like I’m out of control, never a good thing for me, and particularly not for my loved ones. (“Oh oh, I can hear him starting to snap apart! Everybody, out of the house!”)

But what I know for sure is that when all is said and done, everything will be fine, and we’ll all have a bang-up time. I’ve just got to get through this weekend.

One thing that’s not helping, though: the constant droning through my radio of Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” When oh when did that bit of drivel become an Xmas staple?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The road's clear for THE HOBBIT

I’m delighted to hear that Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema have not only settled their litigation related to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they will also produce not one but two movies based on Tolkien's The Hobbit. Both will be shot simultaneously, the first released in 2010 and the second in 2011. Due to other commitments, Jackson will unfortunately not direct but will serve as executive producer.

Actually, judging from this photo, I think Jackson could also play a terrific Bilbo in the films.


Monday, December 17, 2007

THE BLONDE: a second look

A year ago, I wrote this about Duane Swierczynski's genre-bending crime novel The Blonde:

“It turns the genre on its head. No, it actually pulls the genre apart, mixes it with a punk sensibility, then reassembles it into something new and unexpected. Think D.O.A., the old movie with Edmond O’Brien, stirred vigorously with Michael Crichton. Think The Fugitive on crystal meth.

“But none of those comparisons really work. The Blonde is something else entirely. It’s just hard to say what that something else is. A look at the book’s jacket would have you convinced that this is a typical hardboiled crime novel. But it crisscrosses genres faster than you can blink. And it literally ticks like a time bomb…”

If you haven’t read The Blonde yet, fer crissakes, do so. But make sure you pick up the new trade paper edition. It includes a brand new 46-page sequel titled “Redhead” that packs a bigger wallop than most full-length crime books. It’s filled with hellish state-sponsored prisons, interrogators, and sadistic government killers with nicknames like Ana Esthesia, The Surgeon, and Bonesaw. This novella alone is worth the price tag on this new edition.

And yes, The Blonde makes a terrific gift for the holiday.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Joker redux

My excitement for The Dark Knight movie continues to mount.

Monday morning update: You can watch and/or download the fantastic trailer right here.

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THE ULTIMATES: still not for the kids

I was surprised this week to find The Ultimates 3 #1 arrive in comic shops with such little fanfare. Jeph Loeb has taken over writing duties from Mark Millar (who penned the first two extraordinary volumes), and Joe Madureira provides the art. And I seem to be running contrary to most of the comment I’ve seen online — I love this first Loeb issue, and I’m loving the direction he’s taking the characters. The Ultimates (Marvel Comics’ alternative take on its own Avengers, for those unfamiliar with the series) was always a very ADULT book under Millar’s hand. Loeb makes it even more so, and I’m cautioning parents here: this issue is upsetting and may upset the kiddies in more ways than one. There are more “holy crap!” moments in this single comic book than I’ve seen anywhere in the past few months.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wash your car, go to jail?

Now being considered in San Luis Obispo County (CA), where I live: a law making it illegal to wash your own car. You might think the argument for this proposed legislation has something to do with our ongoing drought problems. Nope. Supervisors feel that too much dirty, soapy water may be washing down the storm drains and into the sewers. Of course, in my neighborhood, we have no sewers or storm drains. We're all on septic. Big friggin' deal. The law would still apply.

So my fellow county residents and I may soon be coerced into spending $7 to $20 to have our cars washed by "professionals," rather than do the washing ourselves.

Thanks, Daddy.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ike Turner RIP

He wasn't a nice man, but bless him, he did bring us this...

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Carson Napier strikes again!

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Venus series was his last, and it pales in comparison to almost all of the Mars, Tarzan, and Pellucidar novels (and a lot of ERB's standalones). But hey, it’s Burroughs! So a hearty thanks to Roderick T. Long for alerting me to an upcoming (low budget?) movie based on the first Venus book, Pirates of Venus. This could be neat.

Now, if only Pixar would hurry up with its John Carter of Mars adaptation.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book review: BLACK DOSSIER

The Sherlockians may have first introduced the game back in the early 20th century, when they began treating Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as a living, breathing, historical figure, which culminated in the early 1960s with the publication of William S. Baring-Gould’s definitive “biography” of the great detective, followed by a biography of Holmes’ bastard son Nero Wolfe. Science fiction author Philip José Farmer, a Sherlockian himself, added more than his two cents to this literary mythology in the early ’70s with pseudo-biographies of Lord Greystoke and Clark Savage, Jr. and his assertion that the landing of a radioactive meteor in Wold Newton, England, in 1795 had caused a genetic mutation responsible for most of the great “fictional” heroes and villains since then. At one time or another, Farmer has linked every character from Fu Manchu, to Professor Challenger, to Harry Flashman, to The Shadow, to Travis McGee into his Wold Newton family tree.

With a nod to Baring-Gould and particularly Farmer, Alan Moore launched his own literary mythos a few years ago with the graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the first two volumes of which detailed the late 19th century adventures of Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and the Invisible Man. The third chapter, released just last month, is Black Dossier. Like its predecessors, it’s illustrated by Kevin O’Neill. Unlike its predecessors, it did not first appear as a series of comic books. In fact, with Black Dossier, Moore and O’Neill have broken the barriers of conventional comics. The book is a heady print media mix that involves different paper stocks and sizes, like you’d find in a file folder, all bound in hardcover. The ingredients include government documents, a brand new Fanny Hill story, a hardboiled crime magazine, editorial cartoons, some newly discovered Shakespeare, and much more, all threaded together by a traditional comic book narrative that, by volume’s end, morphs into a surreal 3-D adventure (yes, the glasses are included).

Black Dossier’s storyline, if it can even be called that, is thin, merely a frame upon which the documents are hung. But it also brings Moore’s mythology from the late 19th into the mid-20th century (specifically, 1958). Along the way, the reader is peppered with more famous fictional figures than anyone can possibly keep track of, including (among my favorites) Emma Peel, James Bond, Bulldog Drummond, Harry Lime, and Mr. Waverly (yes, that Mr. Waverly, from The Man from UNCLE). And Moore’s alternative history is intriguing; in his 1958, the world is just recovering from a decade of post-war Big Brotherism (a la Orwell’s 1984).

Now, if you’re coming to Moore’s League series for the first time, please don’t start here. For one thing, none of this will make any sense at all to you. Now, if you just kinda liked the first or second volume, and thought the 2003 movie was only sorta neat, please skip this book. Black Dossier is for hardcore League fans only. It’s Alan Moore at his most eccentric. It’s Alan Moore unbound. The man’s thrown everything he possibly can into this book. I really enjoyed it, but it’s an expensive ($30) exercise in self-indulgence, and therefore strictly for rabid Moore fans and League completists.

Me, I’m now looking forward to the next full-blown League graphic novel.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Can the movie live up to its poster?


Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Don't sweat the small stuff"

Sure, I know that’s good advice. But when you’re thisfuknclose to the end of a six-month house remodel — and family is scheduled to spend the Christmas holiday at your place this year — it’s hard advice to follow. Mainly cuz there seems to be so much “small stuff” remaining to get done — one more toilet to install, one more sink to mount, a master bedroom to reassemble, two new electric outlets to put in, one closet door to hang. Little stuff, really, when I look at all that’s been accomplished since last June. But yeah, I’m on edge. I just wanna be done with this. I wanna be able to finally come home again and just sit, open a beer and a book, and remain still for awhile.

Maybe by the end of next week.

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It was 27 years ago today...

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Election 2008: We'll always have Paris

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Book review: EMPHYRIO

When some folks say “space opera,” they use the term scornfully. I don’t. My first brush with sci-fi as a kid was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, then E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen stuff and things by the great Leigh Brackett. My tastes grew more sophisticated as I grew older, but I still adore good space opera. (What, after all, is Babylon 5, or Battlestar Galactica, or Star Wars? And our beloved Firefly is an intriguing combination of space and horse opera, isn’t it?) So when I call Jack Vance’s 1969 novel Emphyrio “space opera,” I mean it as a good thing.

Remarkably, I haven’t read much Vance until recently, and then at the urging of one of this blog’s regular readers. I read one of Vance’s Demon Prince novels a few months ago, but TheSilentCritic recommended Emphyrio specifically, so when I found a copy at the local used book shoppe, I grabbed it. Very good stuff. Fun stuff. It’s filled with star-hopping, space pirates, and high adventure. And plenty of swash is buckled, so to speak.

But Emphyrio is also one heck of a good freedom novel. And it’s one I’ve never before heard discussed in libertarian geek circles.

The first half of the book details the “coming of age” of Ghyl Tarvoke on the planet Halma, which is “ruled” by elite, arrogant Lords and a mercantilist welfare system. Vance’s depiction of a “benevolent” state and its stifling class system is, I think, well done and convincing. In the book’s second half, the “pirate” Ghyl searches among the planets for the key to his homeworld’s despotic origins and to the secrets behind the legendary hero Emphyrio. The jacket copy on my edition of Emphyrio asks, “Was he the legendary liberator…or tomorrow’s space pirate?” The answer is, satisfyingly enough, both.

Now almost four decades old, Emphyrio ranks among the best freedom novels I’ve read. I’m glad to have finally caught up with it.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Frank Miller's Joker still rules

Speaking of the Joker, which I was, my favorite interpretation of the character has always been that of Frank Miller, who killed off the homicidal monster in the middle of his epic The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel 21 years ago [see illustration]. Well, Miller's Joker is right now making a memorable and terrifying appearance in DC Comics' All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #8. This (undeservedly) much-maligned comic book series, written by Miller and illustrated by Jim Lee, is a kind of prequel to DKR (and a sequel to Miller's Batman: Year One). This eighth issue, friends, includes five pages that are what nightmares are made of. It literally breaks the rules of most superhero comics and shook me to my core. Batmaniacs, do not miss this.

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The joke's on me

Like everyone else, I had my doubts about Heath Ledger portraying the Joker in next summer's Batman movie, The Dark Knight. But this guy's starting to really scare the crap outta me, just like the Joker was always meant to do.

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Laissez Faire Books is back!

Laissez Faire Books, which years ago was the only place you could consistently find freedom-oriented books, has just reopened its "doors" under the sponsorship of the International Society for Individual Liberty. A very big "Hooray!" is in order. I just finished browsing through their first online catalog, and there's a lot of great stuff there, including the indispensable Frank Chodorov collection Fugitive Essays and the seminal nonvoting manifesto None of the Above, by Sy Leon.

Now, if someone would just relaunch Loompanics!

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