Blog reviews

black gold

Hot on the heels of the news of partner blogger McBone, Falling Rock National Blog is proud to be the bearer of similar cheer.  Esperanza Spalding, Falling Rock’s resident jazz musician and sometime pen pal, is about to release her first new album since the Grammy-winning Chamber Music Society.

Readers of the strip may remember Esperanza’s appearance in the park:

With the impending release of Radio Music Society, she may have to return to Falling Rock for an encore.  Still don’t believe this is going to be the best music release of 2012?  Check out the smoking hot single, Black Gold:

Blog reviews

contagion: a haiku

Paltrow dies right away
Cotillard lives to the end
my kind of movie

Blog comic reviews

best autograph ever

I have been fortunate enough to get a number of my favorite cartoonists’ autographs.  I am by no means an autograph hound, or autograph seeker, or autograph fanatic.  If I’m at a convention where, say, Craig Thompson is signing his latest book, for sure I’ll get his John Hancock.  But I’m not going to track him down on the streets of Portland and throw the hefty tome at his right hand in the hopes he will spontaneously sign it.


Cartoonists are, as a general rule, nice people.  This attribute, along with a few other circumstances, created a perfect storm of sorts to get me my favorite autograph.   James Kochalka, (who is now Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont!), was in Chicago signing a little book he co-wrote with Craig Thompson.  My friend Charlotte was kind enough to stop by the comics shop and get James to sign the book for me.  I hadn’t had the chance to meet James and he was (and still is) one of my favorite cartoonists.  Wondering why?  Go read American Elf, then report back to me.


Charlotte arrived at the shop late and the signing was winding down.  James and Craig were nice (there’s that word again) enough to sign the book despite their exhaustion and massive hand cramping.  James was so tired, in fact, that he signed the book to himself, from me.  It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on when I got this book in the mail:

Once I did figure it out, I loved it.  I have many autographs of other cartoonists, but so far I only have one autograph of myself written by another cartoonist.

Blog history reviews

steve jobs, 1955-2011

It is unlike me to mourn the loss of a CEO, but I find myself thinking about Steve Jobs tonight as I work on my iMac.

Perhaps it is because Steve was not some cutthroat billionaire, a rich man’s son who couldn’t see an original idea if it snuck its way onto his manicured garden.  He was a creative man as well as a technical-minded one.  He revolutionized the way we think of computers.  Heck, who would’ve thought it would be fun to use a computer?  Most people would say never.  But Steve Jobs reworked the way computers look and act, and forever changed the way we use them.

He also funded a start-up called Pixar.  Remember them?

Among machines, Steve Jobs was a human being.  Let his legacy be the relationship we have with our beloved (and sometimes hated) computers, be they the size of a wristwatch or the shape of a rocketship.  He made his statement on the human condition, on how we behave and what we want.  Really, what more can any of us hope to achieve?

autobiography Blog reviews

rapid eye something something

It was something of a shock to hear that R.E.M. officially disbanded today.  Mostly I felt the need to reach out to my friend and partner blah-gger at West Lawn Park, fearing the worst but hoping for the best.  True to form, Slider wrote a contented-sounding and loving tribute to his favorite band.


My favorite band disbanded nine years before I was born, so it always comes as a shock to me when current bands break up.  This is how it’s supposed to be, though.  Our idols grow and change as we do.  That is part of what makes art so compelling; it can only be made at a particular point in an artist’s life and at a particular point in history.  Art is the most human thing we can do.  (Saving children from a warehouse fire is the most humane thing we can do.)


I discovered R.E.M.’s album New Adventures in Hi-Fi at just the right time in my life.  My senior year of college was definitely a time of transition, and the restless energy of an album recorded while on tour clicked with me.  I played the heck out of that album through my last year as a student and during the month-long road trip I took with my friend Andy immediately afterward.  Even now it’s hard to pick out single songs to play.  I have to listen to it in one piece.  Okay, maybe with the exception of Electrolite, which is one of the most beautiful songs ever put to plastic.  Play that at night, on repeat, and dream.

autobiography Blog reviews

will i ever rewatch The Phantom Menace?

The internet has been aflame with news related to the recent re-release of all six Star Wars movies on Blu-Ray.  A lively (and often hilarious) series of “reviews” are on Amazon right now for your entertainment.  What do we talk about when we talk about Star Wars?  Is it really the movie (or three, or six)?  Or is it the memory of watching that story for the first time?  My bet is the latter.

My brother and I grew up watching Star Wars on a faded VHS recording of a TV broadcast.  A long, long time ago indeed.  I have a faint memory of seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater.  I slept under Ewok sheets.  My favorite scene was (and still is) the landspeeder chase through the forest.  Am I the biggest Star Wars nerd in the entire world?  Not by a long shot.  But I have always enjoyed watching the movies, even after George Lucas rereleased them in theaters with all the infamous CGI tweaks.  When it comes down to it, they’re fun movies to watch.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I know, stating that on the internet is liable to get me lynched, but that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

This latest re-re-re-release begs the question: will I watch The Phantom Menace ever again?

I was not alone in being excited by the prospect of a second Star Wars trilogy.  Like any good story, you don’t want it to end.  Add to that the fact that Darth Vader would be the main character of the series, and Lucas was assured of my attendance opening night.
Oh, the anticipation.  A group of us drove from the small town in Ohio where we were supposedly attending college to the regional mall and theater.  The moment the opening fanfare played, I was hooked all over again.  After The Phantom Menace ended, we wandered out into the night, happily dazed at the spectacle of light and sound we had just experienced.

Over the course of the next weeks and months, I was in denial that maybe, maybe that movie sucked.  What happened, exactly?  And why was Darth Vader such a little annoying brat?

Denial led to anger, then acceptance.  Mostly I felt duped.  I had spent far too much time anticipating this new chapter, only to discover it was a turd.  I watched the next two prequels and, as a result of my newly-lowered expectations, enjoyed them for what they were.  I had to separate the experience of watching Star Wars as a kid from the college-aged me watching these new movies.

The integrity of the original three movies, by the way, remains intact.  Yet the Phantom Menace looms over the whole series like a vomit-specked hobo.  Does George Lucas expect us to watch all six Star Wars movies in a fantastic nerd marathon, The Phantom Menace first?  It’s the worst one!  How is anyone supposed to suffer through this complete failure of storytelling and think it will get any better?

My advice, then: It gets better, kids.  It only gets better.

Blog fiction reviews

dear mr. spielberg

We haven’t met, but I have a big favor to ask.  I’m a lifelong fan of yours, since ET came out when I was 3.  Far be it from me to impose, but this is a matter I cannot entrust with any other director.  Please make Jurassic Park 4.  Make it for me, make it for the children, make it for selfish money reasons: I don’t care.  Just make that movie.

Let’s face it, neither of us is getting any younger.  Jurassic Park is fantastic, but how long has it been?  Almost twenty years?  Way too long.  Not to be rude, but The Lost World was kind of phoning it in, and JP3 wasn’t even directed by you.  The world needs another Jurassic Park movie, and we need it from you.

Jurassic Park is far and away the best dinosaur movie ever made.  I know because I’ve seen a lot of dinosaur movies.  They range from terrible to pretty bad to campy.  People think they can slap some dinosaurs into a movie and sell tickets.  They don’t care about dinosaurs like you and I do.

You took a great story (possibly Michael Crichton‘s best work) and used the most advanced technology available to bring those dinosaurs to life.   Not only that, you crammed that movie with dinosaur in-jokes and little homages to the people who spent their lives researching dinosaurs.  Jurassic Park has layers.  It does not, however, need to be your final word on the subject.  There is plenty more to explore.

I know you’re busy so I’ll end this letter with my humble suggestions and be off.  Get Tom Hanks and Cate Blanchett, hire a screenwriter who actually cares about dinosaurs, and get your pal George Lucas to make the visual effects.  You can shoot it quickly between Academy Award movies if you want, I don’t care.  Just make it so I can go out and see it, please.


love, kid shay

Blog reviews

wall street: money never sleeps

Wall_Street_Money_Never_SleepsI witnessed a filmic tragedy this past weekend.  Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the sequel to Wall Street (no colon).  Unlike the original, Money Never Sleeps has no apparent point of view and no guts.
It is a mess of ideas that never really resolve; I weep for the waste of it all.

There is often no artistic reason for a movie sequel.  Usually sequels are done for the sake of cold, hard cash.  Sometimes, however, a sequel is creatively justified.  I can’t think of a more apt example of this than Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

The original Wall Street was a hyperbolic and highly entertaining romp through the stock market and those swaggering fools who rode the wave throughout the 1980’s.  Michael Douglas had the signature role of Gordon Gekko, a man for whom greed is good.  Charlie Sheen, in a role that obviously taught him nothing about real life, played a stock market newcomer who grows a moral conscience after trying (and failing) to play by Gekko’s rules.

Wall Street is a sharp, incisive film that not only entertains, it has a strong opinion about money, markets, and the corrupt creatures who thrive in that world.  It is a darn shame that its sequel has none of those qualities.

When the markets crashed in 2008, those craven braggarts who nearly drove our country into financial seppuku should have all gone to jail.  They didn’t.  Instead, they got the government to bail them out just in time to receive their year-end bonuses.  It would be nice to see them tried and hanged on the movie screen, if not in real life.  Wall Street was due for a continuation.

Money Never Sleeps takes place around the time of the market crash.  Gekko has been released from jail and has now written a bestselling book.  His daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), claims to hate Gekko but 1) is dating a guy (Jake, Shia LaBeef) in the same field as her dad and 2) stands to inherit one hundred million of his ill-gotten dollars.

Oliver Stone obviously loves the environment, and he wants us (dear viewers) to know it.  Winnie, that trustafarian, works for a nonprofit blog and Jake dreams of using seawater to create a fusion power plant.  Did you know we’re exactly one hundred million dollars away from clean fusion power?  Oliver Stone does.

Money Never Sleeps doesn’t have a clear plot, although it does have a bad guy in the form of Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who gets lynched at the end of the movie.  No, wait. Bretton does get a stern talking-to. And LaBeef and Winnie get to see Gekko reformed, and LaBeef’s mom (Susan Sarandon) gets out of her crooked real estate business selling McMansions, and Frank Langella gets to appear as a ghost. Everybody gets something in Money Never Sleeps, which is what movies are all about.

Or are movies about opinions, and thought?  Money Never Sleeps is a mess of conflicted messages and never comes up with anything resembling a logical narrative or character arc.

And what did I get from Money Never Sleeps?  A waste of nearly two and a half hours, and this blog post.

Blog reviews

rickmania is here to stay

alan-rickman-alan-rickman-111662_500_573I joined the rest of the free world last night in finally seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  Although it was not the tour de force on par with Prisoner of Azkaban, it was certainly dynamic, funny, tense, and provided a good diversion from my miserable life for a couple hours.  (For a more thorough and well-written review, please see McBone.  To see how Harry Potter stands up to the Julianne Moore rating scale, see West Lawn Park.)

Harry’s latest magical mystery tour has him scouring the bucolic English countryside in search of Horcruxes.  If you don’t know what a Horcrux is, shame!  No, just kidding.  A Horcrux is an object in which a magical person can hide a piece of his or her soul.  Lord Voldemort, being the evil guy he is, split his soul a bunch of times and Harry has to find and destroy all the pieces before he can tango with Voldemort himself.

I’ve long liked the Potter series because it is a timeless story about a goofy redhead who falls in love with a bossy girl.  A tale which for some reason resonates with me.

A few notes to the filmmakers, which will undoubtedly be ignored because they’ve already finished Part 2.  More Alan Rickman, please!  This movie was sorely lacking in Rickman.  It barely registered on the Rickman scale.  Second, although I enjoyed the animated tale of the Deathly Hallows – it was my favorite part of the book as well – I found the animation a little too computer-y.  Too similar to all the other animated effects throughout the film.  I was hoping for something more old-fashioned, like stop-motion or, heck, regular old hand-drawn 2D.  But I’m picky about that kind of thing.

The cinematography, after the first two movies, has been exceptional, and for this film it became the identifying mark of the story.  Harry and Hermione’s road trip and the melancholy tone of the film all made cinematography hugely important.  It is a beautiful film to look at.

Even though we have to wait until next summer to see the titillating conclusion, we all know how this story ends: Harry, Ron, and Hermione play a concert on a roof.  Get back, Harry!Emma_Watson_in_Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows-_Part_I_Wallpaper_10_800

Blog reviews

women are quitters

Amelia Earhart Beside Her Plane, ca. 1930sIt has come to my attention that a lot of women are quitting lately.  What’s up, ladies?  Can’t take the pressure?

Women weren’t always so easily beaten.

Cathy Guisewite draws Cathy, the comic strip.  After 34 years of making fun of mothers, swimsuits, and chocolate, the Notorious C.A.T. is calling it quits.  There aren’t many female syndicated cartoonists.  Heck, there aren’t many syndicated cartoonists period anymore, and Guisewite was one of those few who gained phenomenal worldwide fame.  Even though it apparently only takes an hour a month to write a daily comic strip, Guisewite has decided that the burden of “Cathy” is too great for her to bear.

Oprah Winfrey is retiring from her daytime talk show (“The Cosby Show”) next year.  The Big O put the small Illinois suburb of Chicago on the map.  She pioneered the reading of secular literature, campaigned for President Obama, and has the unprecedented honor of appearing on every cover of O Magazine.  But all her achievements stem from her humble TV show.  The show is the heart of Oprah, and Oprah has decided to rip out her own heart.

You know who doesn’t quit?  MEN.  Men have a much better track record when it comes to “gittin’ ‘er done.”

In the movie Predator, Dutch (played by a young unknown named Arnold Schwarzenegger) goes toe-to-toe against an alien who hunts people for sport.  This alien can camoflauge itself by becoming invisible.  It has weapons mere mortals cannot dream of.  And yet, in the end, Dutch blows up the Predator with the equivalent of a nuclear bomb.  Dutch survives this catastrophe by hiding behind the fallen trunk of a tree.

Do you think Dutch wanted to call it quits?  When the Predator killed every other member of Dutch’s party, did Dutch throw his arms up in the air and admit defeat?  No.  Dutch finished the job.

In the comic strip The Family Circus, Billy wants to be an artist.  His problem is, he stinks.  The kid can’t draw.  Oh, Billy’s dad (“Dad”) occasionally lets the boy take over when he’s hung over.  But that’s only temporary.  You know why?  It’s Jeffy, Billy.  It’s always been Jeffy.  Look at the signature beside the circle.  Does it say “Billy and Bil Keane”?  No, it does not.  “JEFF and Bil Keane” is what it says.  Jeffy is already taking over The Family Circus, Billy.  Jeffy, your kid brother, has usurped you.

Billy knows he’s never going to get The Family Circus.  At best, he’ll be lighting Jeffy’s cigars and filling the tires of his Lexus.  But does Billy quit?  No.  He keeps submitting his hokey drawings to Dad, and as long as Dad is around, Billy will occasionally get his drawings into the daily paper.

Dear readers, I can hear your complaints already: “Kid Shay, both women you mention are real people who have achieved a level of success anybody would find admirable, whereas your male examples are fictional characters.”  Does this make my point moot?  Does it disqualify this entire post?  Am I practicing yellow journalism?

To my critics, I will respond with a question.  As my partner blogger so eloquently says: “Why do you hate America?”

Seacrest out.