Monday, August 31, 2009

Feminist Feature: The X-Women

Despite the superhero world sticking to the thin but curvy female form (understandable though for what they do), females are quickly becoming the most powerful superheroes, as opposed to 60 years ago, when they were objects of the males’ affection, as shown by Invisible Woman and Jean Grey. Their powers were mostly offensive and non-threatening. Then Jean became Phoenix and then Sue Storm honed the ability to create force fields bubbles inside the head or heart and instantly kill a person. Basically she became a telekinetic, maybe not up to Jean-Grey level but still incredibly powerful, and the most powerful of the Fantastic Four. It helped that Chris Claremont writes his women as having incredible strength. Frank Miller also writes his women as being super badasses, i.e. Gail and Miho from Sin City, Elektra, and Queen Gorgo from 300.

But now, it seems all the X-title writers are focusing more on the women of the mutant race. My current favorite comic writer Mike Carey writes a damn good Rogue, the new main character of the book X-Men Legacy. She plays mentor to the younger generation of mutants and key to many problems that arise with swift reaction and useful powers that she now has under control. She can only have that problem for so long before it gets too old and repetitive, right? Same with Wolverine. He can only hunt down his past for so long without ever finding anything. I’m glad he found his past. Anyway, Rogue is awesome. I expect more women of greatness out of this book. I hope he gets Husk in his book because I’m positive she’d be in good hands.

Craig Kyle and Chris Yost have always written a completely awesome X-23. And now in X-Force they're writing a great Wolfsbane and Domino. They’ve really focused on bringing X-23 to the forefront as a formidable foe to the X-Men’s adversaries and a complete animal, a stranger to feeling emotions, which she’s beginning to experience in protecting who she now calls friends. She doesn’t understand the emotions she feels toward Hellion, but she knows to protect him with her life. It’s like Wolverine all over again, but much more complex and real.

Matt Fraction, finally coming to a better grip on his huge ensemble of X-characters in Uncanny X-Men, is relying on the women to execute the most dangerous and important missions, such as depowered Dani Moonstar, Emma Frost, Psylocke, Domino, Pixie, and Dazzler. When Dazzler burned Kwannon-mind-Psylocke-body’s face off, it was the most badass moment of the X-books in a long time. It helps that Terry Dodson draws his women with meat on their bones, often voluptuous and beautiful, not emaciated models with watermelon breasts. Psylocke is about to get bigger and better. After enduring a lot of crap done to her by various writers and becoming overly powerful to the point that it’s impossible to progress her character or use her for much, Psylocke has been nearly retconned and taken back to her roots after the body switch. Emma Frost has been one of the top females in the Marvel Universe, if not THE top female, but her character is becoming more and more complex with her unorthodox, secretive, backstabbing methods of working for mutant rights and the X-Men, even keeping her plans from her man friend Cyclops.

Warren Ellis (who, of course, will write something awesome) has delivered the badass hand-to-hand combat Storm that once showed us she was capable of beating a powered Cyclops and to lead the X-Men. Mind you, Forge's home-made mutant was disgusting with eyes all over his body, it would be difficult to even look at or touch the creature. Whedon, now off Astonishing, made all his women outstanding, especially Kitty, who ended up saving everyone by trapping herself in a giant adamantium bullet. PS-I love Simone Bianchi. And I'm getting all his variant covers. Mmmm.

Then there’s Zeb Wells, current writer of the female-heavy New Mutants. And he’s writing Dani Moonstar as having quite the attitude and a vengeance for blood. She’s out to prove herself of worth now that she’s depowered. And Cyclops knows she is, as seen in Uncanny, but her friend and team leader, Cannonball doesn’t. Until she saved his life after he told her she was worthless. And then there’s the literal volcanic, too-hot-too-handle Magma, possessor Karma, and deceitful, limbo queen and demon killer Magik.

X-Factor's noirish writer Peter David has done wonders with a cast that has all women with the most personality: Monet St. Croix, an autistic rich bitch that has super strength, telepathy, and invulnerability; Siryn, the manic-depressive, ex-alcoholic, sassy daughter of Banshee; Wolfsbane, the werewolf mutant that is a devout Catholic and yet a killer by instinct; Layla Miller, a girl who knows things…a lot of them…ahead of time, but she’s no mutant (so what is she?); and there’s been Ruby Summers (the future daughter of Cyclops), who might pass as a professional wrestler with a dry sense of humor. Every single character, especially these diverse women, is utterly unique and larger-than-life. It’s what makes fantastic stories for characters to play off each other. They all would make completely different decisions if in charge, and often do make drastic decisions that have repercussions in the future. But the women of X-Factor are by far the most intriguing of all X-books.

The X-universe is better than it’s been in a long, long time. With so many books, I’m sure it’s hard to keep the quality up, and since Fraction, Carey, David, Kyle, Yost, Ellis, and Wells have all taken to the X-Men pen, the X-Men may never be able to reach this level of greatness again, unless perhaps Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, or Neil Gaiman take them up too. And the Avengers aren’t far behind in showcasing the women. The upcoming annual will feature all the New Avengers women on a hunt to find a missing Hawkeye, led by Mockingbird.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Geek Chic: Sexy Smart

I can't stress enough how much I love a gal with glasses! It drives me wild. It's like I've just hit puberty and have discovered something stirring down below. Every. Time. So, many celebs and business people are taking to geek chic to look professional and sexy at the same time. I've never been a fan of big glasses. I always made fun of my dad for having huge ones that cover about half of his face. But Chely Wright changed my mind.
Pictured is Chely from a youtube vlog. I respect her like crazy. She's awesome to her fans. I held up the line in meeting her because we got to talking about bluegrass, and her bodyguard was being a tool about it. She's all about education and supporting our troops, even if you don't support the war. She's probably experienced more than most journalists covering the wars in the Middle East. She's always been classy, even when she posed for FHM. But now she's taken to a more studious look, and it works. Thick-rimmed glasses, pulled back hair with some bangs, button-up shirt, and vest. Classic black and white always works. She can look good in anything, though.

Nerdy is so in. The Big Bang Theory is crazy popular right now. Everyone's adding Spock to their Rock, Paper, Scissors games, and superhero shirts are still popular. Why? Well, the superhero movies are maybe the biggest reason, but shows like Big Bang, Flight of the Conchords, and Britain's The IT Crowd and bands like The Decemberists keep geek chic on steroids (nice paradox, huh?). In college students used to think I was a professor. And I didn't mind. It was the geek chic looks, you guys. It works. People automatically think you're smart. Aside the glasses, corduroy jackets, bold button-ups, polos, sweaters, vests, sweater vests. Keeping it simple but layered. Straight-cut jeans of any color, corduroy pants, and plaid pants also are in for the lower half of the nerd body. Or like Bret McKenzie from Conchords, wear some animal sweatshirts. Ladies love it, and guys will chuckle. You'll be the life of the party. Or simply find something that's completely and uniquely you. Find out what works for you, and rock it. Rock it.

Discuss your own geek chic. We'll spotlight certain aspects of geek chic and current trends in it and where to find some good geek chicin' clothes!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mainstream Music Industry - Art or Business?

The Music Industry. Perhaps an alternative name might be the Business of Musical Art? Can there be such a thing? This is a thought I've been pondering recently - the co-existence of music and industry, of art and business. Business seems so cold, calculated, driven by the mighty dollar, and highly contrary to the romantic, emotive, philosophical, and liberating nature of art. Given these two seemingly polarized ideas, again I ask : Can they co-exist?

Staying alive in the mainstream music industry must be tough, particularly these days. Some artists seem to operate under an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality and continue to find success. It's like they've tapped into a formula that works and/or they've found their niche and grown an audience fanbase out of it. Country Artist Kenny Chesney is a perfect example of this in both respects. His songs do well, he sells albums, sells out arenas, and really everything he does stays within a certain formula and sound - proud country dude who enjoys relaxing on the beach, good drinking, good loving, and good living. Other artists that seem to fit this "niche" category would be Jack Johnson, Nickelback, and maybe even Beyonce. This seems to be more rare than common and usually these artists find their niche as a result of experience over time, proper timing, and trial & error. And even still many well-established artists still have to work to stay fresh. The majority of artists have to work to stay fresh and relevant through constantly re-inventing themselves and/or experimenting with their sound - is this perfecting their art or perfecting their product? So the question is - have these artist mastered the business or mastered the art? Are they good marketers or is their art speaking and connecting to people?

Can what the mainstream music industry produces really be considered art? Or is it all strategy and all for dollar signs and nothing more? I argue for both strategy AND art. It is an industry/business- there is strategy and marketing involved. But it is art - there is creative expression...or at least there should be, maybe not in all cases. At any rate, in mainstream music, I give props to both the smart strategic people and the artistic people. I feel both are deserving of props in their own right. Relatedly, I also think its important to clarify one's art. There are great writers versus musicians, performers versus vocalists, collaborators versus soloists, passionate artists versus strategic artists. This isn't always a black-or-white matter either...there are some who fit more than one for sure. Name a music artist and we can discuss where their bread-and-butter is. Some examples from my perception: Sheryl Crow is a writer, Michael Jackson is a performer, Leonna Lewis is a vocalist, Mary J. Blige and Coldplay are passionate artists, Madonna and Eminem are strategic artists, etc. [Another thought: those who have the complete package - are they more successful? are they more hall-of-fame worthy?]

The concept of Mainstream Art - art for the masses, that which comes from the artist and speaks both TO & FOR the audience. To be mainstream art is a challenge. You'd need to be business minded otherwise you wouldn't sell and be considered mainstream (However, your art cred would score high). On the other hand, too much business mindedness leaves you a puppet, a product, and/or a slave to the masses - and there is no art in that.

Thoughts? Reactions? Leanings? Feelings? Hopes, Dreams, Desires?

Crazy Cancellations: The Middleman

Now out on DVD, The Middleman debuted last summer on ABC Family. A brilliant show on a network no one watches, except to see that terrible show about a pregnant teenage slut. (Really, how long was she pregnant? Did she ever have that demon spawn?) Supposedly no other network would bite, so ABC Family did. I'm glad I got the chance to even see a season (cut short an episode due to lack of funds) of this brilliant show. Before it was given a chance on the silver screen, it was a comic, and before it was a comic, it was a dead script waiting for a chance to shine.

The Middleman takes care of "exotic problems": in other words, aliens and weird murders and whatnot that happen, essentially everything in comic books. Javier Grillo-marxuach and Les Mcclaine's comic that spawned the reality of the TV show was brilliantly simple in its black and white visual art, as opposed to the sharp color contrasts in the show. Its writing, in which the first two books are copied directly to screen, on screen and in text is witty, sharp, noirish writing blanketed in nerd pop culture references. The acting is superb, and I can't see anyone else playing any character. It's perfectly cast. From Wendy Watson's (Natalie Morales) smart-ass remarks, foul tongue, and zombie-loving adorableness as Middleman-in-training to the Middleman's (Matt Keeslar) immaculate tongue, milk drinking, and love of country music, The Middleman's characters are all quirky and lovable, even the grouchy and snappy robot intelligence Ida (who dresses like she walked out of a stained glass factory). Every episode has a villain that says his/her plan is "sheer elegance in its simplicity" before being thwarted by the Middlemen, and each episode has the Wilhelm scream at some point.

Guest stars include: Herculean Kevin Sorbo, Mary Lynn Rajskub; Brendan Hines; Elaine Hendrix; Eden Sher; Jim Piddock; Ashley Johnson; Mark Sheppard; and Kevin Sussman.

The Middleman is clever and fun to watch. It's out on DVD right now (hard to find in stores), and the comic can be collected in its three separate books or as The Middleman: The Collected Series Indispensability. Also limited in release is the "thirteenth episode" in graphic novel form in The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse. It should be a satisfying ending to a brilliant, short-lived show. You guys, buy it all so we can get more out of it!

Vampires Suck

They're everywhere: books, movies, t.v. shows, you name it. True, they're presence isn't a new phenomenon. Vampires have been fixtures in pop culture for years, but recently it seems that they are becoming over exposed. At least to me, anyway.

I'm not against vampires really. I'm a fan of Interview With a Vampire (The movie in this case. Haven't read the book, unfortunately.) I've also read all of the books in the Twilight series (at my friend's request). And, although I'm team Jacob, I still wouldn't throw Edward Cullen out of bed (or Robby Rob for that matter).

I've seen a couple episodes of True Blood and have resisted becoming invested in it only because, for me, vampires have lost their appeal. If they're everywhere they're no longer dangerous or alluring, just annoying.

There can be too much of a good thing and at this point vampires should stay in the dark for a while.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Movie of the Week: Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino does it again with his recent film Inglourious Basterds, and this may be my favorite yet. With two women who are key to the plot, Tarantino makes me fall in love with his films that ooze feminism with badass women. Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent are fantastic. I miss seeing them already. And Brad Pitt is actually tolerable as Lt. Aldo Raine. I've never been a fan, but he was brilliantly hilarious as the hillbilly Nazi killer. Amazing performances by everyone, and subtly funny. Brilliant dialogue, and the end makes me wish that it's actually how things went down. Somehow in Tarantino films I can laugh, cringe, and grasp my chair all at once. I could've done with less scalping, but I dealt. Seriously, guys, this may make my top ten movies list. See it. Enjoy it. Love it.

Celtic Corner: Naked With Friends

Maura O'Connell has long been a respected power vocalist in the Celtic-Americana community, infusing country and folk with traditional Irish music. Her recent release Naked with Friends showcases her vocals like no other album before. Why? It's all a capella, and it guest stars many of my favorite musical artists. Dolly Parton and Kate Rusby provide harmonies on the first track "The Bright Blue Rose," one of my favorites. My favorite track is unfortunately the shortest: "Mo Sheamuseen" is the Irish Gaelic tune with the low harmony of...get this...Jerry Douglas! What?! Who knew the Dobro player of the century was a damn good vocalist too? I didn't, but I'm hoping he'll guest vocal on upcoming albums. Other highlights include: the deceitful lover story in "The Blacksmith" with the fantastic Celtic-Americana artist Tim O'Brien; a sad tune of the deaths involved with the title subject "Shipbuilding" with Darrell Scott; "Anach Cuain" with my favorite male Irish folk artist Paul Brady--another Gaelic tune; "I Know My Love," a sassy little traditional tune with three guests Mairead Ni Mhaeonaigh (lead singer and fiddler of Altan), Moya Brennan (member of new age Irish group Clannad and sister to Enya); and the Spanish song "Hay Una Mujer Desapercida" with haunting harmonies by Aine Derrane (background vocalist on Maura's previous album) and Sarah Dugas of The Duhks. Other guests include Alison Krauss on a Janis Ian song "Some People's Lives" and Aoife O'Donovan of rising bluegrass band Crooked Still with Dugas on "Arrow." You guys, if you're a fan of a capella and folk tunes...heck, even is you're a fan of quality music, this if for you!

Totally Psyched!

A co-worker had told me I reminded her of the show Psych, and I wanted to know why, so I watched the episodes available on hulu. Turns out, I was addicted, as if I wasn’t addicted to enough TV already. It’s just started its fourth season, and it’s the best yet.

Season three introduced guest stars galore who are still on (hopefully I didn’t spoil anything for those who don’t watch or haven’t seen the fourth season): reoccurring characters of faux-psychic Shawn’s lady friend Abigail played by Rachel Leigh Cook, whom I now admire after seeing her on the show and in the recent indie movie Bob Funk, and Shawn’s mom Madeleine played by Cybill Shepherd. And side note: Maggie Lawson has never looked better on the show! Mmmm. The third season also gave us Chief Karen Vick’s sister Commander Barbara Dunlap played by JANE LYNCH! Hell yeah! As you all know by now, I love Jane, the busiest person in show business. I can’t wait to see who guest stars this season!

I think you can start watching with season 4, episode 1. Catch it while you can on hulu before it goes away! It’s not necessary to catch up with the earlier seasons; besides Shawn is incredibly annoying in the first season with over-the-top fake-psychic outbursts. Between the insanely hilarious dynamics of the psychic team of Shawn and his best friend Gus, the show provides us 80’s pop culture references out the wazoo and a pineapple Easter egg every episode in visual or audio form. It’s always fun anticipating when and where the prickly fruit will show up. If you know someone else who’s a fan, hide some pineapples where they go every day. I’m printing some pineapple pictures off so I can place them all over my co-workers room. It’ll be like an Easter egg hunt every day!

Psych airs Fridays, but it’s on break at the moment. Hold tight! It’s just getting good!

Worse Off Without Ted...Trust Me

You guys! I’m sure you missed it, just like everyone else…Better Off Ted, ABC’s quirky short summer show. I loved it. The main character Ted breaks the fourth wall: just like Malcolm in the Middle…or Deadpool. Most of the company’s inventions are so ridiculous that it’s hilarious and you don’t bother thinking that it’s not even possible, like in “Racial Sensitivity” with doors that open only when light is reflected and detected, so black people can’t open doors and are often trapped and have to sleep overnight in the company building. Even if they’re wearing white? It doesn’t matter. It was the funniest episode.

Let me inform you on the brilliant casting and characters: Ted, played by Jay Herrington, is suave and sophisticated—everybody loves him, even all the men; the brilliant Portia de Rossi plays Ted’s boss Veronica and the floor’s boss, and everyone is intimated and scared by her…it’s the power hair; Andrea Anders plays Linda the naïve, sweet, rational girl next door that tries too hard and does not fit in with the cut-throat, irrational, unsafe corporate world of Veridion Dynamics; the two scientists that develop and test new products Phil and Lem, played respectively by Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett, are goofy and socially awkward and have a slightly homosexual attraction to each other; and then there’s Rose, Ted’s daughter, and possibly the sanest and wisest person in the entire show.

The best part of the show may be the Verdian Dynamics commercials, always having to do with the episode’s theme or the company’s products. The show is non-stop laugh-out-loud funny. If you’re a fan of Arrested Development, you’d love this show. There is the complication of the main storyline being a love interest between two characters, but they keep dancing around it. When one comes to his or her senses, it’s too late. It worked with Pam and Jim on The Office, but anyone remember Good Morning, Miami? The boy and girl got together at the end of the first season. Then there was no reason to watch. They got together. Then what? Perhaps the creators knew that they wouldn’t be renewed and provided a happy ending for fans. The same thing is bound to happen to this brilliant show. No one can look past the entertainment of a struggling love triangle. Sad.

Site of the week 8-25 — 8-30

Each week we feature a website that we think is doing good things in the pop culture world.

The site is home to one of my favorite podcasts: Scene Unseen Movie Reviews. The show has two hosts, Chris and Jimmy. Each week one of them sees a recent film and the other doesn't.

The reviews are relevant and always entertaining. Check out the site for more movie fun and to subscribe to the podcast.

Feminist Feature: When Women Team-Up

You guys! I’m the resident Celtic, folk, and indie music lover; comic book freak; and sci-fi aficionado. Oh, yeah, and...feminist? Yes! I know, I know. I’m THAT awesome. For my first act, I’d like to provide discourse on the subject of all-female casts. It never works. Never (except in one case). I’m not a fan of it never working.

Just when I begin thinking that our society starts increasing its value on women, I’m proved wrong when I think more on it. The example that made me think of such things? Spring Breakdown. It’s absolutely hilarious. But it has a 5.0 rating on imdb, and apparently is not well received or liked. It’s essentially the 7.0-rated Old School with a female cast instead of a male cast. I found it funnier than Old School, yet which one was a hit? Why was Spring Breakdown a flop? It already aired on Lifetime and it was released straight-to-DVD just a few months ago.

Spring Breakdown is a star-studded cast with some of the funniest ladies in comedy: the somewhat insane Amy Poehler, the goofy Rachel Dratch, the amazing Jane Lynch, and the queen of dry comedy Parker Posey. It’s expected to be good. Add the astoundingly absurd Missy Pyle to the mix, and it’s even better. Even though I find the cast attractive, they’re not drop-dead gorgeous like other ladies of the film and television world (like Battlestar alum Tricia Helfer or Chuck sexy secret agent Yvonne Strahovski… mmmm). If a college or high school experience movie has an all-male cast with bombshell women to attain as sexualized objects, then it’s a hit. Even with girls. Come on, ladies. Start respecting yourselves! Support your fellow sex. Like Tina Fey says in Mean Girls: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” (One of the very select few with a nearly all-female cast that was a success but still underrated.) If you respect yourselves, then men will respect you, and then better parts for women in movies and television. As of right now, the only strong women are in sci-fi and nerdy shows where the cast splits awesomeness. Sci-fi has always been ahead in social criticism, especially in feminism. Start picking up the pace, rest of artistic world!

Maybe in twenty years, the movie might be a hit. It's definitely for nerds too! It's all about being comfortable with your nerdity and how that can be cool too. It's not just for the lady viewers.

Side note: Another unsuccessful and slightly underrated movie recently was The Women. No males in the entire movie are seen. It’s a stellar cast with hilarious and beautiful women. Failure, of course.

Calling All Nerds

Greetings reader!

This is the first post of many more to come on all things pop culture and nerdy. At this blog me and my fellow nerds will discuss news, events and the like having to do with music, movies, t.v., books and anything else we find interesting.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the show!