Today, March 30th, 2008, is the 6 year anniversary of my movie-watching list. I didn't like the page that was hosting the old list and let it expire. I've updated the list and given it a new home. It can be found HERE. I have also fixed the link on the side navagation.
Driving around LA, I'm seeing billboards everywhere for the upcoming George Clooney flick, "Leatherheads." Below is the one-sheet poster, which is more vertical than the rectangle of the billboard.
The billboard is mostly just a cross section of the actors' faces and I really have to tip my hat to whomever worked on the design of this. The black eye works like a bullseye and almost forces the viewer to focus on the George Clooney's face, which is exactly what movie posters are supposed to do. Studios pay movie stars big money and exploiting their faces is what showbiz is often all about.
I have no opinion about the movie itself. I don't think I've even seen the trailer.
Today is my birthday. Good day. I went running this morning and had a good finish time. I ran some errands and found a good parking spot in a crowded area. There was a meter there that had 53 minutes left on it.
I like getting older. I'm thiry nine. Really. I'm not actually in my forties and lying. You'll know for sure next year when I admit to being forty. A lot of people don't like getting older but my take on it is each time I make it another year, my death becomes less tragic. If I'm struck down by a bolt of lightning tomorrow, that will be awful and I'm sure people would be upset, but it wouldn't cause as much misery as if I met my maker years ago. People could say "At least he had a good blog for years."
The author is not exaggerating. I can't recall a conference bracket this tough. The 1998 Big Ten field at 118 lbs. comes to mind where an Olympic silver medalist was seeded fifth, but this year's crop of 149 lb-ers are even more decorated. Moreover, fans have been waiting for a rubber match between Brent Metcalf and Dustin Schlatter for almost three years. It's going to be intense.
Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has died. While Dungeons & Dragons still thrives today - in fact it's bigger than ever - it's a different beast from when it started out in the 70s. It's difficult to convey how simultaneously mainstream and underground D & D felt when it first took off. Part of the problem is that one has to understand what it was like for fanboys in the pre-internet age. It was difficult to seek out like-minded folk - there were no message boards, there were no "massive multiplayer online" games. It was a big deal to organize a meeting with fellow geeks and bust out the percentile dice for this exciting new game. And it was worth it.
The first thing that impressed me about Dungeons & Dragons was how much depth there was to it. Unlike, say, Monopoly, where the board is always the same D & D was a game that was constantly changing. Yeah, there were popular pre-made dungeon "modules" but there were tons of them and it was easy to make your own.
I think the complexity also added to the appeal for no other reason that it made the game feel important, and thus you were important and being taken seriously as a participant. I was really the perfect age for the initial craze of Dungeons & Dragons, since I found out about just as I was entering junior high school. I have so many fond memories of Friday night sleepover parties, playing D & D and not being ridiculed by anyone since I wasn't out chasing girls.
There was a made-for-TV anti D & D movie called MAZES AND MONSTERS, with a young Tom Hanks. I remember being excited about it, not knowing that it was a slam on the game instead of a celebration of it. I'm not sure of the filmmakers succeeded in their goal, since I remember thinking the name of the monster "At-Ota" as being kind of cool.
The rules of D & D were always intricate and are constantly to be changing. For me, my greatest enjoyment playing the game came from some of the more straightforward adventures: the "Giants" modules. This was a three part adventure consisting of "The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief," "The Glacial Rift of the Fost Giant Jarl" and "The Hall of the Fire Giant King." They were written by Gygax himself, and while perhaps considered "hack and slash" by more refined D & D gamers, slugging it out with humongous, high hit-dice monsters is something that I find appealing. Maybe that's just the kind of guy I am.
You've done well, Gary Gygax! A million experience points for your work! Chief Nosnra, Jarl Grugnur and King Snurre Iron Belly thank ye!
I recently went over to a friend's place and in the middle of my visit, our conversation drifted to a movie that he wanted to show me. He then looked something up on his computer, went to stack of perfectly organized boxes, pulled one out and then removed a DVD-R with the film on it.
I was completely jealous. Not of the collection of his media library, which was impressive, but how organized it was. All his videotapes were converted to DVD-R and while they might not last forever, neither will videotape.
Media management has become a big problem for me. I have tons and tons of VHS, I'd like to put on DVD-R, DVD-Rs that I'd like to get up on Youtube, tons of movies on my Directv DV-R that I'd like to either watch or copy, photos on my digital camera that I'd like to put on my computer, photos on my computer that I'd like to upload to photobucket, photochemical pictures I'd like to scan in and have on my computer, home movies on mini-videotapes that I'd like on DVD-R, etc. etc. etc. Oh yeah, some day I'd like to get a ton of Betamax tapes from my mom's house and have them digitized as well...
I can't imagine having the time to get it all done. It's an overwhelming task. Many of the home movie videotapes aren't labeled well, so when I convert them to DVD-R, the age of my daughter changes drastically.
One thing I will say about my media collection - even though it's not organized well, it's very large. A strange thought that often pops into my head is that if a zombie holocaust occurs and I have to baracade my family in our house, we'll be set entertainment-wise. In fact, such an apocolypse would allow me the time to get all of this done. But I think if the undead don't attack, it ain't gettin' done.
I haven't blogged for a while since I've been very busy and am procrastinating fool.
One thing that kept me busy that usually never does is that I went to a big showbiz party almost two weeks ago. A friend was in town and mentioned something about a bash when calling me on his cell phone over lunch, but I didn't pay much attention. Little did I realize he was talking about CLIVE DAVIS'S PRE-GRAMMY PARTY. What was most interesting to me was just how many people were trying to get in. The technique they used I can only describe as "party hacking." These were mostly legitimate showbusiness people, pacing back and forth in the lobby of the Beverly HIlton and frantically texting away on their Blackberries to people on the other side of the wall. Although their success was obviously based on who they knew, their technique did resemble Hugh Jackman in SWORDFISH.
Lots of celebrities were there and when you're part of something so exclusive it's amazing to me how everyone assumes you're somebody important. The party featured the first US performance of Leona Lewis. I don't know if she's going to become big, but if she does, I'll predict that at some point she sings a song for a James Bond movie. Her voice just has that sound.
With all the people from the label industry present, I did give a silent wish that the party was successfully crashed by THE J & H GUY.
It was twenty years ago today that I did stand-up comedy for the first time. Here's a clip from that very first set. It takes much courage for comedians to show their first time on stage since you learn so much from experience - but I'm willing to just put this clip out there since it was so long ago.
This material did well in front of college-age crowds. It was a big learning experience for me to have the bit pretty much die when performing to older audiences who couldn't relate to the subject matter. Moreover, I did learn fairly quickly that taking jabs at commericals is at least kind of hacky. However, I still like the idea of being REALLY upset about something insignificant.
The above set was recorded at a student-run comedy show at the University of Michigan called "Laughtrack." There was also a serious comedy club just off campus called "The Mainstreet Comedy Showcase" (now "The Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase.") Part of the reason I chose to matriculate at U of M was due to the fact that I knew there was a comedy club right there. I only learned about Laughtrack after I arrived in Ann Arbor and figured it was a better place to start out since the crowds would have more students.
The environment of Laughtrack and (especially) the Mainstreet was a great place to learn and grow as a comedian. The Mainstreet had open mics every Tuesday and you could phone in every week. If you did well, Wednesday and Thursday nights had "jams," with 4-5 comics performing and a bigger name doing about 30 minutes to close the show. Lots of comics did both Laughtrack and the Mainstreet, but the Mainstreet is where they were really able to get better. Comedians who developed at Laughtrack and Mainstreet around that time included national headliner Peter Berman, screenwriter Eric Champnella, Mike Orenstein, sportscaster Rich Eisen, "Last Comic Standing" season two winner John Heffron and Onion staff writer, Letterman Staff writer and Emmy Award-winning Conan O'Brien staff writer Tim Harrod. At the time, while this scene was happening, it was clear to me that someone from this group was going to be huge. Although it was the midwest, someone simply had to break out to the big time. And I was right...but not in the way I thought I was.
One of the waitresses at the Mainstreet during this period of time was a girl named Lucy Lui. I had no idea at the time that she was an actress. I only remembered her when Heffon called me up and told me she was moving out to LA.
The experience, support and boundless stage time I gained from Laugh Track and The Mainstreet (as well as the numerous other clubs in the Detroit Area) gave me a decided advantage when the Certs US College Comedy competition came to U of M when I was a junior. I won the school leg of the contest and was then selected as one of three finalists flown to Daytona. We drew names out of a hat and I picked the third and final slot. After watching the first two comics, I liked my chances. It seemed to me like they didn't have the same level of experience I had been fortunate enough to gain. I kind of thought that I had it locked up, until Seinfeld introduced me...
Jerry really didn't get the notion of school rivalries. The Universtiy of Michigan was not on spring break that week, but Michigan State and Ohio State were. I had asked Jerry if he could omit what school I went to, but he obviously didn't. Nor do I think he really understood why I was asking. I take a small sense of pride in that I didn't let the boos get to me and managed to win over the crowd and the contest. But I only take so much pride since, again, my rivals weren't that experienced and I view comedy contests as a sort of necessary evil.
In the two decades since I started, I find the art of stand-up comedy no less exciting, mysterious or unpredictable. I don't feel at all Iike I've figured it all out and am still excited about trying to learn as much as I can about the craft. I still love getting up on stage, even in bad environments for comedy, and I still feel like I have things I want to say.
I also still enjoy watching the stand-up comedy of others. You would think that I'd be sick of every comedian but myself, but when I see someone I really like, I believe it's more meaningful than when a comic is enjoyed by someone who hasn't watched a stream of stand-ups for the past twenty years.
Comedians basically want two things: 1. To feel like you've hit your stride and 2. To feel like you are being taken seriously by the "industry." Most of the time, comedians feel neither.
A stand-up's act accumulates rust at an alarming rate. You have to get on stage all the time to keep it oiled and you have to get up on real stages with real crowds. It's important to get up on tough stages - venues where there isn't much of a crowd or the crowd is all comics - but these can't be the only types of stages where you perform or your act will pull from the wrong muscles.
The fight for stage time is the fiercest battle a comedian faces - not only for developing comics but even for established comics who've taken a break and are trying to get back into the swing of things. I think a lot of times how much a comedian develops is related to how willing he or she is to get up in front of sucky crowds.
It's easier to get to a place where you feel you've "hit your stride" in places that are not comedy meccas. There's less compeition and plenty of times the crowds are more appreciative and less cynical. But it's in these places that you're confronted with the other problem: that the laughs you're getting are kind of meaningless since they're not really advancing your career.
This obviously isn't an absolute, but I think plenty of comedians feel like they're either firing on all cylinders on the road but no one of importance is hearing the laughs OR they live in LA or NYC and feel like they can get showcases, but that their act isn't as polished as it should be.
I believe the main chore of comedians who have been doing it more than a few years is simply developing new material. While it's important to make things that you've said many times seem like they're just coming to you, it's also important to actually say things for the first time in front of a crowd. And that's tougher than it seems. The time to try things is when the crowd is already with you, and it's a lot more thrilling to hit home runs with your best stuff than it is to play hit-and-miss with new jokes you're not used to telling. But if comedians don't work on new material, they ultimately come off like Anthony Quinn at the end of "La Strada" where the act obviously is not fresh any more.
Part of the reason I'm still so excited about stand up is the internet. It's really a great place for comedians to show themselves at their best. Moreover, I think the internet is smart and often has an advanced understanding of stand-up comedy. A big frustration as a stand-up comedian is watching acts you like do poorly and acts you hate destroy. It's easy to sometimes feel that crowds don't "get it" and that the world of stand-up is artistically unjust. On the net, I'm constantly surprised by the number of websites about stand-up comedy where they do seem to be getting it right. They are not fooled by polished "hacks" and do care about the art of stand-up. And that makes me want to try even harder.
So thank you World Wide Web. I look forward to writing another blog entry like this after twenty more years!
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the career of NICK ADAMS, who I became familiar with through Japanese monster movies like "Monster Zero" and "Frankenstein Conquers the World." I'm stilly dying to see THE KILLING BOTTLE, the third film he did for Toho. "The Killing Bottle" is a sequel to the movie Woody Allen dubbed over for WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY? and one day I'd like to similarly dub over TKB, except leave Nick Adams dialogue intact. Anyway, one of the few times Adams was a leading man was in YOUNG DILLINGER and here's my favorite scene from it.
As bad as Adams is here, the girl is worse. Actually, Adams is probably a good actor, he just goes full tilt on everything. He was nominated for TWILIGHT OF HONOR a few years before and not winning the Oscar is probably what drove him to ultimately become so nuts.