Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No apology necessary for 'John Carter'

'John Carter' image from Walt Disney Pictures
BARSOOM — There’s a lot of press this month about “The Hunger Games” film and how it succeeded in adapting its source material to a different medium. The same could (and should) be said for “John Carter” (“of Mars”), which is far from a slavish adaptation but retains the spirit and wonder of the original tales.

The summer I was 12, my mother would take my sister and me to the library in the next town over so we could get books to keep us occupied. (We had only three channels on the TV, no video games or Internet or even VHS. Barbaric conditions.)

Frank Frazetta cover art.
One of the books I picked up was a paperback of the first John Carter novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, “A Princess of Mars.” My interest probably had more to do with the tantalizing Frank Frazetta front cover art (shown at left) than the text on the back, though the red planet was on everyone’s mind in the summer of 1976 because of the Viking probes landing and the first release of the infamous “Face on Mars” image taken by Viking 1.

(You can read the original FIRST EDITION of the book on the Library of Congress website for free. If you set it for 2-page view, the reader allows you to turn the pages of actual scanned pages of the edition.)

Burroughs’ Tarzan novels had caught my imagination in fifth grade, thanks to the abridged and illustrated versions put out by Whitman Publishing. Later, in middle school, the Mars stories of Ray Bradbury enthralled me.

These “Carter” books were like a combination of the two: A man from Earth somehow finds himself on the dying planet Mars, where lower gravity means his Earth-born muscles and bones make him a virtual superman, and where he fights for his freedom and the survival of his new friends.

Thirty-five summers later, “John Carter” (“of Mars”) is on the big screen and pronounced one of the biggest commercial flops in motion picture history. It may never recoup the cost of production and marketing, although whoever got paid for the marketing owes Disney their money back.

Airship landing in 'John Carter.'
I say that because “John Carter” is a good summer adventure flick, which I think the marketing failed to illustrate. (I saw it last week and want to see it again.) It isn’t going to win any of the actors an award, nor is it deep and meaningful — though there are plenty of lessons within and moments that will mean something to the longtime fans (i.e., “Leave to a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer.”) But it’s a good way to spend a couple of hours, and it makes for interesting conversation afterward.

Carter’s is a classic “hero’s journey,” and although the film might go to dark places, it is light-hearted and carries a positive message.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) of Mars
When we meet him, Carter is a broken man, bitter about the death of his wife and child while he was off fighting for a “cause.” He has no cause now but his own survival. Through the trials of his new existence on a distant planet, he begins to relate to people again — granted, some of them don’t look like “people” at all — and at long last, he regains his compassion and passion alike, willing to lay down his life to save others.

The sequence in which he makes this decision and stands alone against a barbarian horde is simultaneously beautiful and horrific; we see him killing desert warriors in a brutal fight while his mind’s eye replays the agony of finding his family dead and burying them in a driving rain.

The film has been criticized as “derivative,” but only if you would consider a film of “Le Morte d’Arthur” derivative of “Star Wars.” Carter rode flyers before a Skywalker ever jumped on a speeder bike; went native long before the hero of “Avatar” did so; leaped tall buildings at a single bound decades before Superman’s debut.

Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) Princess of Helium
And Carter’s true love, Dejah Thoris, courtesy of Frazetta and Marvel Comics adaptations, taught Princess Leia all she knows about metal bikinis.

(This is my 'Undercurrents' column for The News Herald this week. A couple of notes for the uninitiated: 1) "Barsoom" is the native word for the planet we call "Mars"; 2) "Kaor!" is the native word for "Hello" or "Welcome" and is used here in place of my usual sign-off as a punchline to the metal bikini remark. My feeble attempt at a joke. Thanks for reading.)

Been there. Done that. Bought the Comic Book.

Cover art, Chronos No.2, 1998
Screen capture, Doctor Who Series 7, 2012
Something old, something new, something borrowed?
Everything old is new again?
There are no new ideas?

Whatever. I liked the time-travel story of Chronos, which was cancelled too soon (11 regular issues and one special issue). It played with big ideas inside the continuity of the DC Comics "universe." When I saw the cyborg cowboy in the new "Doctor Who" trailer (embedded below), I immediately recalled the comic book series. Imma hafta reread it now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Panama City Giraffe sticks out its neck

PANAMA CITY — Sometimes a giraffe in the hand is better than a Patridge in a pear tree. Follow me, here.

It may be that I’ve just had a few too many encounters with prima donnas in recent weeks, the public figures who want to control their images to such an extent that they have handlers for their handlers. It’s one thing to protect yourself from paparazzi, but these folks feel the need to protect themselves from media representatives they invite to cover their public appearance. In two cases recently, I was told not to shoot images of the TV “stars” even though a few hundred spring breakers were doing so.

Does that make sense to you?

As I tried to explain it to one of the handlers: I was there, on private property, at their invitation. I would of course play by their rules — if I played their game. Which meant, in the end, choosing not to play.

Thank goodness all bigwigs don’t operate that way. Take, for instance, the latest local to gain some notoriety and a public following: “PCG” (for “Panama City Giraffe”). Let’s just say it is unafraid to stick out its neck in public, unlike the elusive and now legendary “Cove Pig.”

Created by a local artist who asked not to be named — and who noted she was learning to let go and let whatever happens happen — the translucent (and gender non-specific) PCG is made of 50-percent recycled materials and is not for sale.

It has been spotted all over the area, photographed mingling with the locals and participating in events. It even lists “having my photo taken” among its interests on its Facebook page. It plans to continue visiting local sites and making friends along the way.

“I am Mobile Public Art,” PCG said when reached via a Facebook message this week. “I live in a city that does not actively encourage or support public art, so I am quietly traveling the town and bringing the experience of art directly to the people. I will travel with anyone and only ask that they photograph me and my location.”

You may have seen PCG watching belly dancers at a CityArts Cooperative event or trying to sing karaoke at Boatyard. It has been photographed riding a tandem bicycle, playing basketball and getting kisses and pats on the head.

“My goal is to travel to every well known and obscure location with as many different people as I can,” PCG said. “I also hang out on the street — as Street Art — free to experience whatever happens to me.”

PCG recently visited WKGC 90.7 FM’s “Art Talk” show with Bay Arts Alliance’s Jennifer Jones, but was too nervous to talk on the air: “Although seemingly transparent, the giraffe refuses to comment,” Jones noted.

PCG also attended the opening of “The Nerd” at Kaleidoscope Theatre in Lynn Haven, where it was seen getting goodies at the concession stand (Mentos is its favorite) and visiting the actors in the dressing room. It tried on costume pieces and makeup. It sampled the wine, but needed someone to hold the glass for it (no hands, you see).

“It’s very cool,” said local author Michael Lister, who has taken PCG out for a night on the town. “People can take it on an adventure, take pics, and post on its very own Facebook page.”

Put simply, “Giraffes make people smile,” PCG said. Some people could learn a lot from a plastic giraffe.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Break's Beauty and the Beast

PANAMA CITY BEACH — One was young, fresh of face and light of locks. The other is eligible for AARP, darker, rougher, rounder in different places and — let’s be honest — raunchier.

One is just entering the prime of her life, recently voted the Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire readers. The other is on the far side of his prime and probably best known for all the on-camera sex he’s had.

Both were in town last week to promote products to the Spring Break crowd.

I spent a couple of minutes last Thursday in the company of Katrina Bowden, a 23-year-old who has appeared in movies (“American Reunion”) and TV shows (“30 Rock”). As the cover model for Maxim magazine’s February issue, she was on the beach to represent the magazine and promo the new Nintendo Wii game “Just Dance 3.”

Bowden judged dance-offs on a beachside stage in the afternoon sun behind Boardwalk Beach Resort and later at Hammerhead Fred’s foam party. She also spent time under a small cabana with a group of professional “Just Dance” dancers practicing the game’s moves. (See the full article here.)

Her handlers jealously guarded her time, allowing her to speak for only a few minutes and putting the kibosh on any video of the interview. (I tend to use the video function on my camera to record interviews these days; the handlers were nice enough to allow me to point the camera away from Bowden but hold it near enough that her voice was picked up.)

She seemed very sweet.

After the story appeared, I was asked to remove from the online version of the story a reference to the film “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” in which she played the female lead. I enjoyed that movie, and she said it was fun to make. But that wasn’t her reason for being here, apparently, and has been relegated to her entry.

>>Here is video from the day, despite her handlers' best efforts.<<

I spent a much longer time talking with former adult film star Ron Jeremy the next day under a tent in sprinkling rain. The 59-year-old was in town to promote a new rum label that bears his name and likeness, Ron de Jeremy rum. (He had no handlers and no stipulations about video, but after the run-in with Bowden’s folks, I went prepared with a notepad and pen.)

(See the full article here.)

Over a two-day stay, Jeremy spent hours in beach locations including Kwiker Liquor, Ms. Newby’s, Pineapple Willy’s and Coyote Ugly, signing bottles, posters, books, DVDs and body parts for fans. He took the time with each one to pose for photos, listen to their stories and share jokes. He played his harmonica (and that’s not a euphemism).

He seemed to enjoy meeting all these strangers, and he laughed a lot. Nothing was off-limits for the interview.

>>Here is video from the day.<<

Say what you like about beauty vs. the beast: Our Facebook post about Bowden got nine likes and one comment over the weekend; the one about Jeremy got 13 likes and 11 comments. Bowden’s story was picked up by newspapers and websites around the world, and the short video of her dancing received more than 13,600 plays in the first four days.

It’s a tale as old as time


This is my column, more or less, that appeared in today's paper and online at this link.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Spring is breaking out all over

That noise you hear is springtime breaking out all over as March arrives like a lion.

On Monday, I joined a reporter and photographer at Rock’It Lanes to interview Spring Break early risers who had walked from their condos and hotel rooms to get a free breakfast. Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers cooked pancakes while Christian college students with “Beach Reach” staffed the buffet line and worked the tables.

A “Macarena” video played on the projection screen in the background as we interviewed visitors and volunteers. A few gave us wary looks; after all, just who were these older guys walking through the venue with cameras? Creep much?
For the record, we did not eat pancakes — but only because the line was so long.

The dull roar of Monday morning built to a scream on Tuesday afternoon, when Panama City Beach hosted a Guinness Book of World Records official, gathered thousands of onlookers on the sand and registered 450 young women to walk a mile in their two-piece beachwear. They passed the time before the walk by dancing the “Dougie.”

I asked News Herald writer Pat Kelly, who covered the event, if being in that crowd had made him feel old or young. He said, basically, that either one is a state of mind and he never feels old unless he lets himself. I figured that’s an enlightened state of being, right there.
I wasn’t on the beach that day. Instead, as the parade moved from Harpoon Harry’s to the pier and back again, I was a few miles away at the Panama City Beach Library. A couple dozen men and women with a few more decades (and considerably more clothing) on them than the paraders were gathered to hear about changes to the newspaper industry since the beginning of the Internet Age.

Here, the sound of spring was shushed for library patrons. Even so, the session was not so much about swapping “back in my day” stories as you might think. “Right Here, Right Now” played on a video we watched, and the group questioned me about everything from delivery systems to filtering the massive amount of information we have to absorb today.

Having reviewed my entire career (mentally, if not aloud) during the course of that talk, I stopped by Zen Garden for a moment of peace. The chief sound effect was of a water fountain in the backyard pond and breeze through the trees.

Once again centered, I talked briefly to Tony Johnson at Mr. Surf’s about the upcoming Skim Jam, then spoke with a public relations woman about a former adult film star who is coming to the beach this week to use Spring Break crowds to spread the word about his new rum label.

These are strange days, indeed, and the question occurs to me — I wonder what ides sound like? Check back here on the 15th; maybe, a little older and wiser, we’ll have the answer.

(This is my column for March 8.)