Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Random Review: Vincere Sand Socks

First off, apologies for my improper, vernacular use of the word "random". My generation has bastardized and devolved the word into something it was never meant to convey - that of an improbable, unexpected, or completely unforeseen event.

Vincere Sand Socks may seem a little silly, but when you're playing beach volleyball in SoCal sun that heats up the sand to 100+ degrees, there's really no other option. A few friends of mine were the first to get them and I was just as skeptical at first. But when I saw a lot of the pro players at the Hermosa AVP wearing them - including Misty May and Kerri Walsh, I started letting go of my misgivings (for the record most of the AVP players didn't actually play in the socks - they hosed down the courts between games to cool it off).

The socks really kick butt. They get the job done - protecting your feet from the burning sand - and they don't get in your way. During a game you're not conscious of wearing them. What more could you ask for? The smooth Lycra (aka spandex) fabric of the sock adds to the comfort and fit. The fitted rubbery pads built into the sock are flexible enough to conform to your foot while absorbing all the heat.

The cuff is tight enough to keep sand from entering the sock at the ankle, but loose enough that it's still completely comfortable. The finest sand still sifts its way into the sock, but it's not a huge deal. It's more like dust than sand so it doesn't abraid your foot in the sock. About once per hour of playing I'll take the socks off to dump it out.

They seem reasonably durable and should last at least a solid summer or two of intense playing. And at $20 a pair you'll easily get your money's worth. Cleaning is easy - either just rinse off and let dry or rinse then throw in the washing machine. The dryer is probably not recommended for the rubbery insulation pad.

A rare perfect product at an excellent price.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Review of: Sin City, Book 1: The Hard Goodbye

Frank Miller's hard-nosed, stark, film noir-inspired world of Sin City started way back in 1991 with The Hard Goodbye. The story was kicked off in the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special which I bought and read fourteen years ago. It offered the first introduction to the Sin City world and began Marv's tale (which would then be collected here in The Hard Goodbye). This is one of the 3-4 stories that make up Robert Rodriguez' Sin City feature film.

The artwork is stark and stylized - but stark to the point of some critics calling Frank Miller lazy. It's a little of both. Highly dramatic, but also indifferent to the inane details. It's storytelling stripped down to only its essential elements. I can respect that. But all things considered, Miller is a lazy bastard. Luckily the style fits perfectly with this type of story.

That first installment from DHP's Fifth Anniversary was recreated panel-for-panel, shot-for-shot in Rodriguez' film in rather remarkable fashion. This wasn't an adaptation of Miller's work. It was literally using the graphic novel as the storyboards - as the bible - for the film. I can't say if the rest of the story followed in such a strict fashion, but I wouldn't be surprised.

The story itself is an interesting mix of exaggerrated film noir infused with comic book larger-than-life characters and action. It's damn ugly and nasty and makes no apologies. The writing is a bit unnecessarily on-the-nose. Nothing here is left to subtlety, leaving the whole thing rather simplistic.

It's grit and grist as artform. Blood and violence as poetry. It's a worthwhile experience, but it's no landmark in literature.

Two new small photo galleries

Two new small galleries posted after my brief work trip to San Francisco.

The first gallery is from my friend Christos' (aka DJ CeeKay) gig at a swank restaurant in SF called Ana Mandera. The evening included a fire dancer, fire breather, Japanese Taiko drummers, DJs, and a polo-wearing bongo player accompanying the DJs.

The second gallery consists of a handful of shots from the Thomas Fogarty Winery, which was the location of our annual company meeting. Located in Woodside, CA (about an hour south of San Francisco), the winery and surroundings were gorgeous. Provided a rather perfect location for our annual gathering. Their wine was also excellent. The 2001 Pinot Noir, Sangiovese (not sure of the year), and the Barbiolo (again not sure of the year) were all very good, in that order with the Barbiolo coming out on top.

This geek's Holy Grail

Maybe this is a sad thing to admit, but, like peanut butter & jelly, two of my favorite things have combined to create something excellent (better than pb&j, in fact, since I don't enjoy peanut butter without jelly and vice-versa).

The first half: X-Men

I was a big comic book fan in my youth and the X-Men were always my favorite. People outside of comicdom don't know who Chris Claremont is, but those in-the-know acknowledge him as the best and most significant writer The Uncanny X-Men has seen since its creation in the early '60s. I stopped following comics about the same time Chris Claremont left (after something like a 10- or 15-year run). By all accounts X-Men basically stunk for the next ten years.

Another big name in the comics world then stepped in - Grant Morrison. For three years he revitalized the X-Men (re-dubbed "New X-Men"). Having just read those collected works (in three gorgeous hardcover, glossy paper editions) I can safely say that he's definitely significant in his own way. But he never approaches the mastery of Claremont. He's a modestly successful hyper-intellectual storyteller vs Claremont's more visceral, gut instinct approach.

With Morrison's celebrated run ending, Marvel needed a new top-tier scribe to take up the reigns.

That brings me to the second half: Joss Whedon

Glorious Joss Whedon. Emmy-nominated writer/creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly (soon to be resurrected as "Serenity" in theaters in Sept), and Academy Award-nominated for co-writing Toy Story. My favorite writer. My writing hero. A man so multi-talented and, frankly, a bit weird, that he wrote a musical episode of Buffy (because it was a life-long dream of his to write a musical). His uncredited re-writes of Speed, the first X-Men, and a few others contain his trademark humor (e.g. Wolverine's "You're a dick" line in X-Men or Mr. Potato Head's "I'm a Picasso!" line in Toy Story).

He too was a comic book junkie and X-Men were among his favorites.

And now... drum roll.. Joss Whedon is writing X-Men!

(I told you this was going to be a little sad to admit, but seriously, I'm so excited I could wet myself)

Re-Re-dubbed as Astonishing X-Men (clearly they're running out of adjectives, and what was wrong with "Uncanny" in the first place?), Whedon completes his first (and only?) year at the helm this month with issue #12.

The first six issues are already collected into one volume and show a remarkable difference from Morrison's style. First off, and maybe I haven't stressed this enough, Joss is a very very good writer. He goes right at the characters' deepest, most conflicting emotions and finds ways to continually play them off against the other characters in ways that are fascinating and engrossing. He infuses real human qualities into the realm of super heroes.

This is no surprise to Joss fans. People scoffed at the idea of Buffy but the naysayers rarely actually watched the show. It too had an almost shocking depth of character and emotional conflict. Firefly's short-lived TV run is some of the best television I've ever seen. Joss can write. Wait, let me restate: Joss. Can. Write.

Morrison's almost cold, meticulous approach is replaced by Joss' heart, heartbreak, and excruciating personal conflicts. All while telling exciting, entertaining, and humorous stories. It's almost sacrilege to say it, but - and this is no surprise to me - Joss is better than Claremont.

And still being a bit of a collector at heart, I had to get my hands on the original Astonishing X-Men issues. So, thanks to the wonders of eBay, I am now the proud owner of near-mint, first-prints of issues #1-11 (#12 hits newsstands in a week or two). At an average cost of less than $4 an issue, I practically got them at original face value. It's not about investing in a possible collectible. It's about having tangible proof that sometimes the stars align and great things do happen (again, did I not say I was a geek?!).

So if you're curious and you've got some (a lot of) time to kill, do the following: Read a few of Claremont's classic Uncanny X-Men collections (the Dark Phoenix Saga being required reading), then hit Morrison's New X-Men (collected in three hardcover volumes or seven trade paperbacks), then gobble up Joss' Astonishing X-Men run (the Volume I collection is a steal at only $10).

Only then can you really appreciate Joss' storytelling brilliance.

And with his one year, 12-issue run reaching completion, Volume II will collect issues #7-12 and will be released in September.

Geek Holy Grail.

I just hope Joss finds the time to keep writing X-Men. With no Buffy, no Angel, and no Firefly on TV, I gotta find a way to get my regular Joss fix somehow.

ps - This isn't Joss' first foray into comics. Check out Fray, an excellent spinoff of the Buffy mythos that melds sci-fi future with Buffy old-school mysticism.

Not surprisingly it features strong characters, emotional depth above and beyond the norm, and solid, rock-star level storytelling.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My photo in print and on newsstands... hardly anywhere

The August issue of Volleyball Magazine features one of the photos from my shoot with a pro volleyball player.

Unfortunately I found it a bit difficult to find a copy of the magazine - my nearby newsstands and bookstores in Santa Monica didn't carry it. I was about to trek down to Manhattan Beach, just to hit the Barnes and Noble there (presumably they cater their selection to their surroundings). But I managed to find a copy (the last copy - the only copy?) at the Barnes and Noble near Westwood. Of course. Go further from the beach to find a magazine covering beach volleyball. Whatever.

The photo isn't very large, but it's there on the last page and the photo credit is actually correct (my previous print by-line in the Oregon State Daily Barometer was quite a disappointment).

So go run out and take a look. If you can find it.