Friday, February 7, 2014

Ouch! An appreciation of the Rutles

I am a huge Beatles fan, so the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' explosion on the U.S. scene on February 9, 1964 of course provides an opportune moment to reminisce about the Rutles, the enduring parody/tribute to the original Fab Four. Naturally, the Rutles were billed as the Pre-Fab Four, comprised of members Ron Nasty, Dirk McQuickly, Stig O'Hara, and Barry Wom. (I touched on the Rutles briefly as part of a previous blog appreciation of Monty Python.)

I had the privilege to see the Rutles perform live in concert in 1994, when they appeared at an iconic L.A. club, the Troubador, as part of a city-wide celebration of the 25th anniversary of Monty Python. Actually, it wasn't the full band that performed, but rather Neil Innes, a longtime Python musical collaborator who wrote the brilliant sng parodies and who co-starred in the original mockumentary, All You Need is Cash, playing the John Lennon knock-off of the band, Ron Nasty. At the concert, Innes was backed up by a Beatles tribute band called the Moptops and a small orchestra. Spotted in the audience that night were Ed Begeley, Jr., and Spinal Tap star/band member Harry Shearer. Spinal Tap and its accompanying film, This is Spinal Tap, of course, are obvious direct descendants of the Rutles and All You Need is Cash. It was fun to be surrounded by fellow Rutles fans that night. Innes and the Moptops billed themselves as "Ron Nasty and the New Rutles" and the concert was followed by a straight Beatles set by the Moptops.

Python member Eric Idle created the Rutles (with Innes) as a short film for his U.K. television series, Rutland Weekend Television. Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels saw the short, featured a clip on SNL, then asked Idle to expand it into a comedy mockumentary which was directed by SNL film director Gary Weis. In addition to cameos by SNL regulars like Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi and Bill Murray, Beatles friends like Mick Jagger and Paul Simon also appeared. Former Beatle George Harrison—a fan and friend of Idle and the Pythons—also cameo'd as an interviewer, putting his own blessing on the project.


While response and reviews at the time appeared to have been mixed—most likely because nothing like it had been seen before until This is Spinal Tap a few years later, the film has since gained cult status. What probably has given the project longevity is not the show itself, which was funny because of how much it hewed so closely satirically to real Beatles history, but the music—both melodically and lyrically, the Rutles' songs are nearly as catchy and memorable as the Beatles canon they parody, standing on their own surprisingly well, though of course knowledge of the originals increases the giggle factor. The songs particularly capture the early innocence of Beatlemania as well as the  simplicity of those early songs like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (parodied with "Hold My Hand") and "She Loves You" ("I Must Be in Love"), as well as their diverse styles, such as Lennon's Lewis Carroll-influenced poetry ("I am the Walrus" becomes "Piggy in the Middle.")

The songs follow the same trajectory of the Beatles' growth as songwriters: from the early period ("I Must be in Love," "Hold My Hand," and "Ouch!)"; to the Sgt. Pepper period ("Cheese and Onions" and "Doubleback Alley"); to Harrison's Indian-influenced songs ("Nevertheless"); and their later years ("Piggy in the Middle" and "Get Up and Go.") If anything, the parodies underscore the brilliance of the originals, demonstrating how quickly a song, particularly its lyrics, can go south in lesser hands.

George Harrison's involvement aside, the Beatles' reactions to the show was reportedly mixed at the time, though John Lennon apparently enjoyed it. While it's probably hard to be the target of parody and satire, it's clear the show was done with a lot of love and respect, poking fun more at the hysteria and hype that surrounded the band rather than the band itself.

BELOW: "Hold My Hand"


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Remembering Juanito R. Reynaldo


My father passed away at the age of 100 on January 21, 2014. Although his obituary has been posted, along with a video slideshow, I thought I would post that full remembrance here with some select photos. We were very fortunate that he could be with us for so long. He was an old-school, stoic guy's guy with a good sense of humor, who had some close-shave adventures in his youth and provided well for his wife and family.
 
Our devoted husband and father Juanito R. Reynaldo was born on June 13, 1913, in Banga, in the province of Aklan, in the Philippines. He was the sixth of 9 children – 3 girls and 6 boys. He left us peacefully in his sleep at home on January 21, 2014, in Gilroy, California, at the age of 100. His wife of nearly 53 years, Evelyn, was near his side at the time of his passing. He is survived by his wife, three adult children, and four grandchildren.

Though Juanito (or “Johnny” when he came to the U.S.) never talked much about or dwelled in the past, some of the stories we know about show that his early days were filled with what some might call adventure. His mother, Francisca, died when he was an adolescent and his father, Domingo, during his later teens. While some of his brothers and sisters went to college, Johnny went his own way, eventually making his way onto a cargo ship where he became part of the kitchen crew. Sometime during this period, he worked on a Norwegian cargo ship, which took him to places around the world, including Egypt. When he landed in San Francisco, he jumped ship, kicked around, and met fellow town mates from the Philippines, which led to jobs in places like Carmel, California, and Arizona. According to Johnny, when authorities eventually caught up to him and found he had no papers, with World War II now underway, he was told to join the Merchant Marine. He said he also tried to join the army but was rejected for health reasons and being underweight.

In the Merchant Marine, he served on ships that supplied ammunition to Europe: one ship he served on was torpedoed on the way to Belfast. He says he would have lost all his papers on that ship had he not gone back for them (despite the pleas of a friend who told him not to because the ship was sinking). He also recalled a London movie theater being bombed the day after he saw a film there, and he and friends bringing food from their ship to a hungry family they had met in Antwerp, Belgium. After the war, he visited the Philippines, where relatives, after years of suffering and hardship during the war, remember him returning looking like “a million bucks,” carrying wads of money. He eventually settled in New York City, where he worked on ships and tugboats as a kitchen steward and cook.

In 1957, he met Evelyn Rodrigo, who was 22 years his junior and from the same town in the Philippines. They were introduced by mutual friends and relatives. Evelyn came to the U.S. in 1955 to study nursing and was still attending nursing school in New Jersey. During this courtship, they only spent time together in the company of other friends. Evelyn remembers Johnny taking her and their friends to a swank Filipino dance at the Waldorf Astoria. She said that Johnny and his Filipino buddies were always “dressed to kill,” even when they were just going to work on their ships.

In 1959, around the time Evelyn finished nursing school, Johnny proposed and on February 4, 1961, they were married at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Brooklyn. Although Evelyn’s family originally were not happy with the match – due to Johnny’s freewheeling reputation – that all changed a year later with the birth of their first son, Randy, quickly followed by their second son, Rodney. With Evelyn’s influence and careful planning, Johnny settled down, becoming a good husband and father who provided well for his family.

In 1963, they settled in Staten Island, New York, where they raised their children in the family – friendly town of Huguenot, on a street surrounded by woods that the kids spent much of their summer and weekend days in, and only a short ferry ride away from the excitement of New York City. In 1972, they welcomed their third child, daughter Tiffany. Johnny’s work, now primarily on tugboats, required him to be home for a week then at sea for a week. The family took vacations every summer – to places like California, Montreal and Toronto, upstate New York, Washington, DC, and Boston. The Reynaldo children remember their Dad as someone who could be a strict disciplinarian and stubborn (a trait inherited by all the Reynaldo kids!), but also always ready with a laugh and a joke (another Reynaldo trait). He didn’t seem to watch much TV or films, though the children noticed that Abbott and Costello movies and the Green Acres television show really made him laugh.

In 1978, Johnny retired – now that he was 65, Evelyn didn’t want him spending another winter in New York shoveling snow, so the family moved to California, where many of Evelyn’s family now lived – and settled in Gilroy. Though there have been some detours, including a new house in Gilroy, a home in Elk Grove, California, and five years in Las Vegas, Johnny and Evelyn eventually returned to Gilroy to be closer to their four grandchildren. They did some traveling and helped watch their grandchildren.

In 2011, Johnny and Evelyn celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with their children and their families in Monterey, California. In 2013, Johnny celebrated his 100th birthday. In recognition of this milestone, he was mentioned on the Today show and received certificates and recognitions from President Obama and elected officials.



Until the very end, Johnny remained relatively healthy and physically mobile, requiring no major medication or hospital care. In his last years, he still liked to go outside and send time soaking in the sun.

Juanito was very old- school and stoic (no one in the family remembers him ever being sick!), not much for introspection or expressing his feelings. But all the kids remember moments when he demonstrated his love for them, and true tenderness and caring. Above all, he made it possible for his family to enjoy a comfortable life in nice houses, with plenty of food on the table, and enough money for school, vacation, music lessons, and college. We feel fortunate that he was able to spend so much time with us and see his grandchildren.

Dad, thank you for everything you have given us and for making a good life for us. We will always remember and honor you, and hope we made you happy and gave you a comfortable retirement.
















Thursday, January 16, 2014

REVIEWS: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


Anyone who knows me well is aware that I’ve been a Lord of the Rings (LoTR) fan since the 1970s when I first discovered the series while in junior high school. I still periodically read the Hobbit and the full trilogy every few years. So, as one can imagine, Peter Jackson’s film LoTR adaptations have been a dream come true.

I’ve never been a purist, so I understand the need for a work to change if it is going to be translated to another medium like film. Nevertheless, LoTR is an adaptation as faithful as one could expect to the spirit and themes of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s work.

While some raised eyebrows at Jackson’s decision to turn the Hobbit — which was written as a children’s book with a much different tone than LoTR—into another trilogy franchise, I’ve noted that Jackson was only able to do this because he had done LoTR first, which already established the tone and environment for Middle Earth in people’s minds; more importantly, by making this prequel after LoTR, Jackson was able to include events and scenes that, while not included in the original Hobbit novel, are nevertheless part of canon, as told in Tolkien’s LoTR appendices and his “bible” of Middle Earth, the Silmarillion. Had Jackson filmed the Hobbit first, these scenes would have made little sense, but having already filmed LoTR, he could now include in the Hobbit other parts of the history that served to enrich the later trilogy.

Of all Jackson’s films based on Tolkien’s work, this latest installment, the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smog, represents the most significant departure from the source material. Already well known is the addition of Tauriel, a warrior she-elf, but of particular surprise to me was the extended role of elf prince Legolas, a popular character in LoTR played by Orlando Bloom. Legolas does not appear in the Hobbit novel, but in the LoTR books, Tolkien explicitly identifies him as the son of the elf king Thranduil, who plays an important role in the story. So what I thought was perhaps only a cameo is actually a pretty full role, in which Legolas seems more active and engaged in brutal fighting than in the earlier trilogy.

Other scenes represent a major departure from the book, partly rooted in Jackson’s desire to create emotional resonance or a great action set piece for audiences. In Tolkien’s original novel, for instance, the characters of the Master and the Bard, both normal humans in Lake Town, are barely fleshed out and primarily plot devices. Here, Jackson has expanded their roles significantly. In a nice touch to humanize the story, Jackson also creates an emotional (romantic?) connection between Tauriel and one of the band of dwarves, Kili, echoing to some degree the great friendship that Legolas would later have with Gimli in LoTR. The barrel-ride escape from the book is turned from what is a somewhat humorous jaunt in the book into a major action/fight sequence in the film. Bilbo and the dwarves’ confrontation with Smaug is also significantly different than in the book; and, of course, the parallel story involving Gandalf and the Necromancer, which is probably mentioned in passing in only a few lines in the Hobbit (though told more fully elsewhere) fleshes out and foreshadows what will come in LoTR. On the flip side, as long as the movie is, I was surprised at how quickly it moved through the Beorn man-bear and Mirkwood Forest sequences—in fact, the Mirkwood Forest feels like it takes up a lot more space in the book. But, of course, Jackson is in a rush to get to the meat of the story, involving Smaug the dragon.

For the original LoTR trilogy, I’ve much preferred the extended editions over the theatrical release. I have to admit, however, that the theatrical versions of the Hobbit already feel like an extended version; by the end of the film, I felt fairly fatigued by all the action. It could have been my mood, but whereas the LoTR film trilogy was the adaptation of a lengthy, complex work, the Hobbit is the adaptation of a single, medium length novel with a very simple storyline. And, unlike the complex trilogy, which offered natural places for each film to break, this installment simply stops, with Smaug the dragon awakened and on his way to exact his revenge on Lake Town: To be continued….

Being familiar with the story, I look forward to seeing how Jackson wraps up this second trilogy this December.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Entertainment Roundup for 2013

ABOVE: The Google Chromecast
 
As I do each year, I start this year's blog with a rundown of the films, books, TV, comics, and other entertainments I took in this past year. While I try to keep a complete list, I suspect there are still a few items that get by, particularly among the comics and television.

Continuing a trend that accelerated this past year, most of the books and comics I read in 2013 were digital (via my Kindle Fire HD) and many films were watched through streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. So while the medium of storytelling hasn't changed much—whether it's film, television, books, or comics—what has changed significantly is the way such content is delivered. Netflix original content like Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black may not be series "television" in the traditional sense, since they are delivered through an online streaming service and often presented all at once in acknowledgment of the increased users who engage in "binge watching." In the same way, the Kindle re-kindled my interest in comics, particularly in titles like All New X-Men, Nick Fury Max: My War Gone By maxi-series, and Hawkeye. My recent acquisition of streaming-ready devices like the Google Chromecast and a DirecTV system and BluRay player with wifi connectivity reinforces the way entertainment is consumed. Like many people, I've even seriously considered cutting the umbilical to DirecTV/cable given the amount of content available online or on cheaper pay systems like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, but ultimately decided to hold the line on this since others in my household—particularly my children—still watch series television on their tween channels.

But what about the content? This year seemed to be a particularly strong year for movies and other entertainments. One of my favorite films was Populaire, which I saw on Netflix. Other highlights included Frances Ha, Man of Steel, the Lone Ranger, Thor: The Dark World, Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Saving Mr. Banks. Two animated films, Dispicable Me 2 and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, surprisingly, were on my list of disappointments.

A discovery this past year was IFC's "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret," which I caught on Netlix. Speaking of Netflix, though I still have to finish them, their original series, Orange is the New Black and the new season of Arrested Development, have been as good as anything you'll find on TV and the way they are presented on Netflix certainly has redefined what "series television" is all about and how it is delivered.

Anyway, without any further ado....

Films:

Nowhere Boy - DVD (1/12/13)Argo (1/19/13)
Iron Sky (1/28/13)
Remains of the Day - DVD (1/29/13)
Shanghai Calling (2/16/13)
Alfie (2/15/13)
Guys and Dolls (2/26/13)
The Third Man (2/27/13)
Little Voice - Netflix (2/27/13)
Blow Dry - Netflix (2/28/13)
Carnal Knowledge (2/28/13)
The Front (3/10/13)
Kramer vs. Kramer (3/16/13)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Netflix (3/25/13)
Atlantis: Return of Milo - Netflix (3/26/13)
Treasure Planet - Netflix (3/28/13)
Oz: The Great and Powerful 3D (4/1/13)
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (4/2/13)
Titan A.E. (4/3/13)
Independents ??
The Imposters (4/6/13)
Death at a Funeral (4/24/13)
The Day I Saw Your Heart - Netflix (French) (5/11/13)
Classic Albums: Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell - Neflix (5/11/13)
This is 40 - Amazon (5/11/13)
Price Check - Netflix (5/13/13)
Star Trek: Into Darkness (5/18/13)
Extract - Netflix (5/24/13)
Les Miserables - Amazon (5/26/13)
Homecoming - TCM (5/26/13)
Frances Ha (5/27/13)
The Dish and the Spoon - Netflix 5/20/13)
Absolute Beginners - TCM (6/1/13)
Hitchcock - Amazon (6/2/13)
Girl Model - Netflix streaming (6/4/13)
Damsels in Distress - DVD (6/7/13)
Dead Again - Netflix streaming (6/8/13)
Epic (6/9/13)
Friends with Kids - Netflix streaming (6/12/13)
Man of Steel (6/16/13)
Monster U. (6/30/13)
Dispicable Me 2 (7/3/13)
Man of Steel (7/5/13)
Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn - Netflix streaming (7/14/13)
Turbo (7/23/13)
The To Do List (7/27/13)
Dive Bomber - TCM (8/9/13)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (10/12/13)
Behind the Candelabra (HBO - 11/28/13)
Thor: The Dark World (11/29/13)
Frozen (12/8/13)Lovelace (Netflix - 12/9/13)
Populaire (Netflix - 12/11/13)
Lone Ranger (Amazon On Demand - 12/21/13)
Saving Mr. Banks (12/21/13)
Great Gatsby (DirecTV On Demand - 12/28/13)


 

Television:

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret - Netflix streaming (1/4/13)
Downton Abbey/Season 3 (PBS - 1/13)
Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee by Jerry Seinfeld
Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 8 (DVD - 12/7/13)
Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
Arrested Development, Season 8 (Netflix)

Theater:

Ragtime (3/16/13)
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (7/7/13)
It’s a Wonderful Life (11/19/13)

Books:

How I Slept My Way to the Middle by Kevin Pollack (1/10/13)
Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings (2/25/13)
The Complete Making of Indiana Jones
Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang (8/1/13)

Museum Exhibitions:

Kubrick Exhibition (LACMA) - (1/6/13)
Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archeology - Science Discovery Center (4/14/13)


Comics/Graphic Novels:

Amazing Spider-Man #700 (1/3/13)
All-New X-Men
Dominic Fortune (5/2013)
Hawkeye
Nick Fury Max: My War Gone By
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwart and art by Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker (12/30/13)

ABOVE: Cover art to the Fifth Beatle


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Holidays from WCG Comics




2013 was another banner year for WCG Comics and Rob Hanes Adventures! The year saw the release of issue 14 and I took my first steps into the digital comics format with the back issue release of Adventure Strip Digest #1 as a digital comic-book—still available for download. Mid-year, I made my 16th appearance as an exhibitor at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con (see my report and photo gallery).

Currently, I'm hard at work on the next issue of Rob Hanes Adventures, which takes Rob to China!


If all goes according to plan, major new announcements will be coming in the new year—so stay tuned for the usual updates via this newsletter, my website, blog, and Facebook! Please be assured, however, that you can still always count on Rob’s continuing adventures in traditional comic-book format!
 
In the meantime, I want to thank you for your continued support of Rob Hanes Adventures. I appreciate the genuine enthusiasm and patience that meets each issue on its release and have enjoyed meeting fans of the series at Comic-Con and other venues.
 
In this spirit, best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and an even better 2014!

 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spring Cleaning (Part II)

In a blog a few years ago, I began a spring cleaning of my comic-book collection. With some comics dating back to the 1970s, I hoped to organize and inventory a collection that until now had been stored in boxes haphazardly over the years. I must admit it has been slow-going, but it has been interesting going through the boxes periodically.



As one can imagine for a collection that goes this far back, there are a lot of items I don’t recall. I also had a surprising number of “orphan” first issues from both regular and limited series that I obviously did not continue buying or collecting. It's been gratifying to be able to consolidate issues of a series together from across several boxes, especially if they completed a limited series set.



Below is a rundown of a few of the interesting items in the collection—not so much for what they are worth, but more for their meaning to me personally:

  • I have full or nearly-full runs of the original Love and Rockets, the original Spirit magazines that were published by Warren Magazines and Kitchen Sink, and the first original runs of open-ended and limited comics series like American Flagg!, Bone, Micronauts, Longshot, the Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Camelot 3000, Lowlife, and Eightball; as well as industry magazines like the Comics Journal (I have nearly a complete set of the more than 300 issues have been published to date), Amazing Heroes, Comics Interview, etc. I also have a lot of Batman and Detective Comics from the ‘70s to the present.
  • Akira: Though a few volumes of this 38-volume set are still missing, I expect the rest will surface after I have had a chance to go through my remaining boxes. This series was brought to the U.S. by Marvel Comics beginning in 1988 and played an important role in bringing anime and manga into the American mainstream. Though the series has since been reprinted by other publishers in the U.S., Marvel’s was released in handsome full-color squarebound volumes. I believe this series is among the first ever in the U.S. to be colored digitally with a computer; it is beautifully colored and no doubt opened the eyes of many in the industry.
  • Our Army at War/Sgt. Rock: This is the first comic-book series I collected regularly—the very first comic-book I consciously remember purchasing is issue 267 (pictured at right), at a local mom-and-pop drugstore in my neighborhood, which soon became my primary source of comics. If you look at my collection, you’ll find earlier issues because I later picked up back issues from a friend. There are a lot of great gems in there because although Joe Kubert, the artist most associated with Sgt. Rock, was no longer the regular artist, the guest artists who worked on the series during this period include John Severin (who drew #267), Russ Heath, and George Evans, all legendary in the business. (Kubert continued doing covers.)
  • I’m finding a lot of early work by people like Mike Golden (in an issue of Batman Family), Frank Miller, and Chris Sprouse.
  • Other comics I haven’t come across yet but expect to find eventually include comics I followed fairly regularly while in junior high school and extending through my college years and after, such as John Byrne’s run on the Fantastic Four and his subsequent re-boot of Superman, the run of the X-Men when Paul Smith was the artist (the only time I was a regular reader of the series), and the original run of Watchmen. I also likely have all the souvenir programs from the San Diego Comic-Con dating back to the mid-1980s.
I have to admit, I've begun thinking of ways to unload the collection. There are some series I likely will hold on to for sentimental reasons (including the titles listed above, but the rest I have very little interest in holding on to!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Take a Trip in the Wayback Machine

A few years ago, I stumbled across this amazing resource called the Internet Archive Wayback Machine that appears to archive past versions of websites. As good as I think I’ve been in preserving the history of my comics work, the dynamic quality of the web makes it less easy to do this. So this has been a fun tool for looking back at how my website (and my web design and html/css skills) have evolved over the years.

If you visit the overview of the WCG Comics website here, you’ll find snapshots taken of the website on various dates throughout the year from the year 2000 to the present. I was particularly impressed to see that these are not simply screen images, but the full functional website, live links at all!

Below are some sample pages for the site that you can click through to explore. For an overview of all the available pages from past versions of the website, click here.

From Dec. 2000:
 

From Sept. 2002:

  
From Sept. 2002:

  

From June 2006:

http://web.archive.org/web/20060607122004/http://www.wcgcomics.com/
For more, visit the Internet Archive Wayback Machine!