The RROY REPORT Holiday Gift Guide 2016

Before we begin this year’s holiday gift guide, I need to clarify a few things.

For those who weren’t around in the old days, I started the holiday gift guide to give people, well, a guide for buying gifts for the holiday. It coincided with the RROY REPORT Holiday Gift Drive, in which I encouraged my readers to send gifts to, well, me.

It worked about as well as you’d expect. A few people did send me stuff for a few years, but that didn’t last long. But one loyal reader — we’ll call her My Favorite Fan — has continued to send me presents every year. The problem is occasionally she’ll send something off the list that I already have. So to avoid that problem from now on, and the hassles of gift exchange that come with it, if I already have the item in question, I will note it in RED ALL CAPS.

You’re welcome.

Collectables

imagesOnce something becomes a fixture of pop culture, usually through a TV or movie, there is no end to the amount of crap you can find in the likeness of that favorite character. Funko Pop is currently king of such tripe but there’s also Mopeez, Dorbz and many others. For the most part they’re ugly and not something I’d want sitting on my shelf.

The one exception is the Itty Bitty collection from Hallmark. They’re small, simple and adorable. They come in Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and DC varieties.If my Batman shrine wasn’t full I would probably grab some of the Batman characters, but my focus is now on The Avengers: Thor, Hulk, Captain America, IRON MAN, BLACK WIDOW and HAWKEYE.

Toys

hawkpotatoMr. Potato Head is one of toyland’s most enduring items. To survive this long, the spud has had to adapt and now you can find Mr. Potato Head represented as just about any character in pop culture. Still, I was surprised to discover that there is actually a Hawkeye version. Sure, I’ve seen Spider-Man Potato Head in stores, and even a Thor version, but never a Hawkeye. And now that I know he’s out there, I want him. In case you’re wondering, yes, they make a Black Widow version as well.

Clothes

listingimageUgly Christmas sweaters are all the rage this time of year. There are plenty of ugly Christmas sweaters with superhero designs (and some neat Star Wars ones) but this one is my favorite. It’s available in XXL – the only size that matters – on down to small.

Sister2 doesn’t think the bat is well defined but I say that’s because it’s old school Batman. Or the seamstress just isn’t that good at bats. I don’t think it’s an ugly sweater at all, actually. There are a lot of holiday sweatshirts out there with Marvel and DC designs if you want something more comfortable and easier to care for than a sweater.

Books

51hnyloescl-_ac_us160_Former Journal friend Susan Sagarra published her second book earlier this year. Bus Stop Angels marks the return of former reporter Meghan Murphy in another mystery, this one about missing children. Available on Amazon, along with Susan’s first book, Cracks in the Cobblestone, in case you weren’t paying attention when I was promoting it last year.

shoppingAdult coloring books have swept the nation and naturally the major comic book companies are getting in on it. Marvel and DC offer a variety of different coloring books now that are basically made up of artwork from comics and posters.

They are more expensive than the traditional coloring books you’ll find for kids, but the art is much sharper.

I normally take this segment to recommend some graphic novels that came out this year but I can’t think of any worth your time. Oh, that “Dr. Strange” trade I talked about a few weeks ago — The Way of the Weird —  was pretty good.

Music

vt-2007-cd_001__40826_zoomCollege buddy Chris Brashear has a new CD out as a member of the Piedmont Melody Makers. Wonderful World Outside is a collection of bluegrass and olde tyme tunes that I am confident is mighty fine.

Elsewhere in pop music, 2016 was not a great year. The only new CD I can remember buying was GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees. If you don’t have a copy already — and why not?, I told you about this months ago — it would make a great stocking stuffer.

Movies

batman-v-superman-ultimate-edition-blu-ray-coverI already have a copy of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and if you don’t, well,that’s why God invented Christmas. Also recommended are the horribly raunchy yet hilarious Deadpool; the not-as-bad-as-everyone-says-it-is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which you should have in your collection for historical purposes if not for quality (and if you’re springing for it, you might as well get the Ultimate Edition with 30 more minutes of film. Probably none of it has Wonder Woman, but we can hope); and the extended cut of Suicide Squad, which probably has more Joker because there was a lot of Joker that showed up in the trailers that never was seen in the movie. Sadly you will have to wait until next Christmas for Dr. Strange — or just take the family to see it Christmas Day, if you’re the strange type of person who goes to movies on Christmas.

Finally

Somebody somewhere decided to take old vinyl records and turn them into clocks. The end results are pretty cool and I want one for the RROY Cave. They come in a wide, wide variety of styles — pretty much anything out there in pop culture, from the Beatles to Star Trek,  has been made into a vinyl clock. Here are a couple of my favorites:

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Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!

Thanks

That for which I am thankful, 2016:

Our long national nightmare, the election of 2016, is OVER

Little Debbie Fruit Pies

People who post full albums on YouTube

Another good year for superhero movies (yes, even Batman v. Superman)

 Deplorables

Nasty Women

Bob Dylan: Nobel Laureate

Binge watching “Daredevil S.2,” “Luke Cage,” “Black Mirror” and — uh — “The Crown”

Nuts

People who post song lyrics online

Stevie moved back where she belongs

‘Civil War’ the movie was much better than ‘Civil War’ the comic book

Michael Nesmith’s ‘The Prison’

Mile High Comics

Hillary Clinton will never be president of the United States

Donald Trump will not be president of the United States forever

Not all of my music legends have died

and, as always

denverdance22

At The Movies: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

When the last Harry Potter movie came out I breathed a sigh of relief. “At last that’s over. We can move on to other things.”

It’s not that they were bad movies. It’s just that there were so many of them, and so many characters, and it just kept building and building on itself. And if you hadn’t read the books — and I hadn’t — then it was easy to get lost in the morass.

And now, here we go again.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the first in a new line of tales written by Potter scribe J.K. Rowling. They take place in the Potter universe, but some time before Harry makes the scene.

fantastic-beasts-sequel-03aug16The year is 1926 and all the witches and wizards have taken their magical skills underground so as to avoid war with the humans. Policing the magicians here in the U.S. is the very dapper Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).

The hero of this piece is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an unassuming sort who’s just arrived in New York off the boat from England.

Newt carries with him a magical suitcase. Inside it are a change of clothes, various toiletries and a number of fantastic beasts — the kind you won’t find in any zoo.

Shortly upon arrival, one of Newt’s charges escapes the suitcase and leads Newt on a merry chase. Caught up in the confusion is the non-magical everyman Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Jacob just wants a loan so he can open a bakery, but instead he gets dragged into Newt’s magical mystery tour.

Newt is arrested for using magic in public by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and hauled off to the Magical Congress of the USA (I only wish I were making this up). When it is discovered that he has an evil black blob of energy (a.k.a. an Obscurial) in his suitcase, Newt is sentenced to death.

There’s a lot more to the story, a whole lot more, but you get the idea. One thing this movie is not short on is plot. The film runs a bit over two hours and could’ve benefited from some editing. The ending is particularly dragged out.

If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series then you’ll probably enjoy this. The special effects, the costumes, the actors, the set designs — are all of the same high caliber as the earlier franchise. The characters aren’t as interesting as Harry and the Hogwarts crew but give them time.

 

 

 

 

 

On Stage: Fun Home

While I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a “fun” show, “Fun Home” is certainly a powerful and moving one.

“Fun Home,” based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel, was turned into a musical by Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music). It opened on Broadway in 2015 and went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

01FunHomeTour0967r.jpg

The National Tour Company of ‘Fun Home.’ Photo by Joan Marcus

Kate Shindle stars as Alison, a cartoonist looking back on her life with particular emphasis on her relationship with her father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Shindle serves as narrator as the story moves back and forth in time, from her days as a child (Alessandra Baldacchino) and as a college student (Abby Corrigan).

Young Alison lives with her siblings (Pierson Salvador and Lennon Nate Hammond) and mother Helen (Susan Moniz) in a house meticulously overseen by her father. Bruce is a handyman, a school teacher, and he runs the family business — a funeral home which the kids refer to as the “fun home.” The show’s most lighthearted moment comes when the children sing a song they’d written to promote the business in a home-made commercial.

It appears like a typical family in maybe an atypical home, but Bruce is hiding something — an interest in other men (all played by Robert Hager).

When Alison goes off to college she finds her own sexuality awakened thanks to an encounter with classmate Joan (Karen Eilbacher). Alison comes out to her parents in a letter but they are slow to respond. Eventually she and Joan go home to visit. Some things come out in the open while others are sadly left unsaid.

“Fun Home” is an intimate, touching musical that moves at a brisk pace and without an intermission (Thank you, Jesus). The set design is sparse for the most part with a small orchestra in a corner of the stage.

The music is fine but the songs aren’t that memorable. Highlights include the kids’ “Come to the Fun Home,” college Alison’s “Changing My Major” and the moving “Telephone Wire.”

The small cast delivers exceptional work in an emotionally draining show. “Fun Home” is a coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, and a coming-to-grips-with-the-past story. It’s a compelling show with engaging characters.

“Fun Home” runs through November 27. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

 

Gone: Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love

Maybe I’m still hurting
I can’t turn the other cheek
But you know that I still love you
It’s just that I can’t speak
I looked for you in everyone
And they called me on that too
I lived alone but I was only
Coming back to you

It’s coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

leonard-cohen-2002-the-essentialAh, the moon’s too bright
The chain’s too tight
The beast won’t go to sleep
I’ve been running through these promises to you
That I made and I could not keep
But a man never got a woman back,
Not by begging on his knees
Or I’d crawl to you baby
And I’d fall at your feet
And I’d howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I’d claw at your heart
And I’d tear at your sheet
I’d say please, please
I’m your man

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

Now Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river,
She is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters,
And the sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbour,
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers,
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning,
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever,
While Suzanne holds the mirror.

And you want to travel with her,
And you want to travel blind,
And you know that you can trust her,
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

And I’ll dance with you in Vienna
I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise
The hyacinth wild on my shoulder,
My mouth on the dew of your thighs
And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
With the photographs there, and the moss
And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty
My cheap violin and my cross
And you’ll carry me down on your dancing
To the pools that you lift on your wrist
O my love, o my love
Take this waltz, take this waltz
It’s yours now. It’s all that there is

There is a war between the rich and poor,
A war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
And the ones who say there isn’t.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, that’s right, get in it,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, it’s just beginning.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

Sincerely L Cohen

At The Movies: Arrival

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

No, I’m not talking about the election results. I’m talking about the near-unanimous acclaim being heaped upon the new science fiction thriller “Arrival.”

I mean, yeah, it’s a good movie — but it’s not that good. It’s slow and plodding with a soundtrack that thinks loud screeching noise is acceptable. It does have an interesting plot and an engaging cast, but like many hyped-up sci-fi films — “Interstellar” and “Contact” come to mind — it blows the landing.

arrival-1.jpgWhen multiple spaceships suddenly show up on Earth, the nations of the world set up work sites near the giant pods to deal with these mysterious visitors.

Here at home, U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) assembles the best and brightest to the cause. Chief among them are linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).

At certain times of day, humans are allowed to board the ship and try to communicate with the squid-like aliens (You would think a species intelligent enough to master interstellar travel would’ve worked out a way to communicate with the natives before arriving, but I guess not).

Louise has some breakthroughs in talking to the visitors but things are taking too long and some nations, particularly China, are losing patience. Will Louise and Ian be able to crack the squid-people’s language before someone starts lobbing bombs at their pods?

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” starts off in compelling fashion, as a frightened world comes to grips with aliens in the midst. Adams, Renner and Whitaker give strong performances. It’s interesting watching Louise explain how she’s trying to build a language with the aliens.

And then comes The Twist. I won’t go into it here, partly because I don’t want to ruin it for you and partly because I didn’t really understand it. Something to do with “non-linear time” and I’ll leave it at that.

Hey, a lot of people liked this movie so it’s probably just me. But then I just went to a spoiler site and found out that I was pretty much right in what I thought was going on. But I’m still not impressed.

At The Comic Book Shop: Occupy Avengers; Dr. Strange

It’s been a while since we’ve done a Hawkeye update, so let’s get caught up.

occupy_avengers_1_preview_3-1-1When last we checked in on Clint Barton he had finished a successful run by Matt Fraction and David Aja and was starting a new comic by Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez. Lemire’s run was as bad as Fraction’s was good. It ended after two six-issue volumes and I can’t say I was sorry to see it go.

Clint next surfaced in “New Avengers,” a misguided collection of misfit young characters led by a New Mutant who had never shown leadership skills before. Hawkeye was there to spy on the team for S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s not a bad comic but since I don’t care about any of the characters in it but Hawkeye (it had Squirrel Girl, for God’s sake), and since he rarely played a significant role in the book, I wasn’t sad when he was written out of it so I could quit reading it.

ce90ncpukaaqhwuHawkeye next had the unfortunate luck to appear in “Civil War II,” the sequel to the terrible “Civil War” comic that was good for nothing other than inspiring a decent Captain America movie. In the comic Hawkeye kills the HULK, using a special arrow designed by Bruce Banner, because Banner wanted Clint to kill him if he ever hulked out again. Banner starts to hulk out in front of a bunch of assembled heroes and Hawk shoots him in the face. (There’s more to it but I really don’t want to talk about “Civil War II” anymore than I have to).

Clint goes on trial for murder but is acquitted because the people of the Marvel Universe hate the HULK because all they’ve ever see him do is tear up stuff and attack the military and so they now see Hawkeye as a hero who got rid of a monster that the superhero community has been protecting for no good reason for years. The superhero community sees it differently, however, and most of them are pretty unhappy with Clint so Hawkeye is now a man alone.

Which brings us to “Occupy Avengers.”

occupy_avengers_1_cover-jpg-square-true_size-252The first issue came out this week and it’s basically the story of how Hawkeye has decided to travel the flyover states and do good by fighting for the regular guy against whatever PC bad guy writer David Walker can come up with. For the first issue he’s dealing with poisoned drinking water at an Indian reservation. It’s not Ultron, but some bad guys with guns do show up to caused trouble — along with Hydro Man, the man who turns into water. Seriously.

As the story progresses Hawkguy will be joined by a handful of similarly minded do-gooders so we can call it an Avengers book. In the first issue he’s joined by Red Wolf, a new Native American character who has the same name as an old Native American character who hung out for one story with the Avengers back in the ’70s. Marvel has chosen not to unveil who else will be on the team because, why give people valuable information they might help them decide whether or not to buy a new book?

As first issues go, this isn’t bad. I’m not familiar with Walker’s work but he has a good handle on Clint, so he’s definitely a step up from Lemire. The art is by the fabulous Carlos Pacheco. I was pleasantly surprised to see an artist of Pacheco’s talents working on a book like this — hopefully it will help sales. Then again, I have a feeling this is one of those situations where he will do three issues and then leave.

Anyway, it’s good to see Clint back fronting a comic, even if it doesn’t have his name on it. “Occupy Avengers” looks promising, despite the questionable title. Check it out.

Read More About It: Doctor Strange

I was never into “Doctor Strange” comics. I had a Pocket Book that collected a lot of the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stories but that was it. I don’t care for magic characters, their powers are too vague. Magicians should be able to beat any villain by “hocus pocus-ing” them to jail. Most of my Dr. Strange experience comes from reading “The Defenders.” I like the guy OK but not enough to buy a solo title.

Last year, to gear up for this week’s movie release, Marvel launched a new “Doctor Strange” comic. A few weeks back, during National Comic Book Day or somesuch fake holiday, Marvel gave away free digital copies of “DS” #1. Since I’ll read practically any comic that’s free, I downloaded it and to my surprise, enjoyed it enough that yesterday I downloaded the next 4 issues during Marvel/Comixology’s big “Doctor Strange” sale. I will probably download the next six issues before the sale ends in a few days.

61gpujfqlzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_“Doctor Strange Vol.1: The Way of the Weird” collects the first 5 issues of the new series. It’s written by Jason Aaron with art by Chris Bachalo. Aaron is probably the best writer working at Marvel these days, having turned in strong work on “Wolverine and the X-Men” and “Thor: God of Thunder.”

Bachalo has a wonderful, surreal style that’s perfect for “Dr. Strange.” Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to follow. The good news is, if you read comics on your tablet, with guided viewing, it takes a lot of the confusion out of his offbeat panel layouts. You can also enlarge the panels to make out the fine details.

The series offers a decent introduction to Strange, so new readers should only be confused by the art. The opening story is pretty similar to Aaron’s opening arc on “Thor.” There is some bad dude going throughout the multiverse killing Sorcerers Supreme and eradicating magic. He’s on his way to Earth. It’s up to Strange to stop him.

The first volume ends with Strange discovering this bad dude is coming. In other words, you’re not going to get a satisfactory conclusion by reading this first book. Which is why I will probably download Vol. 2 this afternoon.

Anyway, the art is pretty and the writing is sharp. You can get the whole thing really cheap right now at Comixology.com or Marvel.com.