Two weeks ago, my friend Andrew and I trekked to San Francisco to attend Wondercon: part of the Comic-Con family, and a chance for aspiring writers and artists like us to show all our dorkus peers we exist.
Our trip began on Friday night, but I spent that morning completing my ongoing mini-comic, which was to act as my business card for the convention. I spent the entire day writing, drawing, copying and printing out 100 of those suckers in preparation for the convention, while my girlfriend acted as moral support, editor and even disciplinarian throughout the entire process.
When I finished, I met Andrew in LA, and we started the long drive up north. We spent much of our trip discussing the absurdities of life while listening to radio alt-rock and ’60s classics. While Andrew drove, I sat in the backseat, folding and stapling my comics. We made a pit stop in Cambria for the night before we continued to San Francisco and Wondercon — a gathering of geeks in a city of hipsters.
To get a better idea of Wondercon, you need a base idea of Comic-Con. Over the years, Comic-Con has become one of the world’s most widely attended media events. It’s heaven for anyone who loves video games, movies, television shows and/or comics — everyone, these days. Wondercon, though, is catered to the collectors — the diehards who can’t let a culture go. Everything from toys to Lou Ferrigno to that dude who wore the Chewbacca outfit are put on parade.
After a quick stroll through the exhibition, we finally got to hustling — or, as Andrew would say, “doin’ work.” We walked among fellow artists, passing out comics and introducing ourselves as a creative team. This is harder than it sounds — not unlike approaching the popular kids in high school and asking them to watch “Star Wars” with you. But once we got into the swing of things, it got easier. Some artists even asked us if we had our own table set up, assuming we were one of them, which was flattering. After we made our rounds, we took one more pass at the exhibition floor and called it a day. The only downside to the trip was a flat tire on the way back home.
We did learn a few lessons, though. For one, the people our comic would cater to in the real world were not present at Wondercon. (We probably should have done the trip to the Alternative Press Expo.)
Secondly, we’re not the only ones on the hustle. Everyone and their mother is doing the same thing. If we want to be anybody in these parts, then we best be damn sure that we’re doing our work properly.
And third, success is a point of view. So many artists working on the same platform swing the pendulum between happy and miserable. I realized that if we are to be happy at all, we need to be happy with the fruits of our labor. If not, then we’ll never be happy no matter how much good comes out of our work. My day could have been ruined by the bad feedback I got for my comic, but instead, my day was made by the effort I put into it. In Andrew’s words: “That was such a good idea.”
With some DVD productions, viewers cannot help but be reminded of the reasons that DVDs have revolutionized the home entertainment market. Movies that splash onto the scene with pomp, circumstance and a glut of accompanying material -- the ""Star Wars"" and ""Godfathers"" of our time -- begged for the extra capacity of DVDs before the format was even available.
However, most films neither require nor merit such excess, and in these cases, it seems that the studios scramble to fulfill obligation -- to level off DVD releases with megabytes of superfluous material and uninspired presentation. Unfortunately, the DVD version of ""Bridget Jones's Diary"" is such a release.
The DVD package does not have anything great going for it except the film: a charming comedy based on the eponymous British bestseller of 1998. It traces the exploits of its socially inept heroine, played by Renee Zellweger with a passable British accent, on her quest to disengage herself from the patterns of alcoholic indulgence and codependence in which she has heretofore engaged. She embarks on a quest to clean up her health and her love life, all with the goals of bliss and commitment in mind.
The film's central focus is Bridget's uncertainty regarding two suitors in her life -- both ostensibly churls for their own reasons -- played by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. As Bridget ambulates between them, she struggles to gain self-confidence and an understanding of which of the two might be right for her.
Interestingly, what was touted by all as a book and film expressive of the late 1990s' ""independent woman"" shows Bridget to be anything but. Bridget's portrait of what a strong woman should be only betrays her assumption -- shared unwittingly by most ""assertive"" women -- that happiness necessarily entails partnership with an ambitious man. Therein lies the paradox of the modern adult female, and Bridget, as its spokeswoman, unconsciously lives it out like the lines of a play.
The film completely sidesteps its own paradoxical portrayal of independent womanhood, but there is no way that it can address it anyway if it hopes to remain a lighthearted romantic comedy.
Thus the film succeeds in its aims: We laugh at Bridget's ineptitude, hold our breath painfully when we see her being hurt when she dares to trust, and when at last she finds satisfaction with one of her targets, we smile and ignore the unanswered questions.
The reason the film does not make for a stellar DVD package is because there are precious few extra features that such a film can support. The standard pieces are there: audio commentary by director Sharon Maguire, a few deleted scenes and music videos of songs from the film's soundtrack.
For those interested in how the Bridget Jones phenomenon took off, Miramax has included clips of author Helen Fielding's newspaper columns from London's Independent -- the articles from which the book ""Bridget Jones's Diary"" was later culled.
The presentation and digital art for the menu screens is rather banal, and indeed it seems that Miramax was more interested in filling the DVD to capacity with music videos than with substance.
""Bridget Jones's Diary"" makes for great Saturday evening escapism. However, it does not make a stirring addition to any DVD junkie's collection, being rather devoid of salient content. Rent this one for a slumber party, but shell out your money for something such as ""Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.""
Bridget Jones's Diary
Starring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth
DVD available now
Before the 11th annual San Diego Music Awards got underway Tuesday night, nominees and guests schmoozed around Humphrey's by the Bay, drinks in hand. The seats were still largely empty as people clustered around the bar or local TV crews' cameras, and the stage was host only to the occasional engineer adjusting mics and cords.
But above the stage, two screens displayed a sequence of snippets of local music history: music videos from San Diego artists. Some of them were quaint and amateurish, VHS gems filmed in high school gymnasiums or montages of readily recognizable SD streetscapes. Wedged among these do-it-yourself classics were videos pulled straight from MTV, like Jewel's ""Who Will Save Your Soul?,"" Blink-182's ""All the Small Things"" and Sprung Monkey's ""Get 'Em Outta Here.""
These videos' polish and production and the fame of the artists they showcase were glitzy reminders of the essential conundrum of the San Diego scene. Namely, local acts always have their eyes on the prize of national recognition, but try to remain true to their SD vibe.
The award ceremony played up the latter aspect, but it was clear that every musician and industry member in the house was keenly aware of the distance from San Diego to Los Angeles. For some, it's a mere hop, skip and a jump. For others, those 200 might as well be 2,000.
There is no shortage of local bands with the talent and drive to make it big. Tuesday night was a smorgasbord of musicians on the cusp. It was also an excuse for a tight-knit community of cross-pollinating, props-giving groups to chat each other up, jam the night away and show the love.
Switchfoot opened the show with their bright, Christian-influenced pop. Their floating harmonies mixed with just enough of an electronic kick to launch the night into high gear.
One of those rare bands with success and humility, Switchfoot seemed dazzled by the crowd.
""It's good to be here,"" frontman Jon Foreman said bashfully. ""This is probably the only chance we'll get to play Humphrey's.""
His modesty was unjustified. Switchfoot have already had a TV movie appearance and their songs have been featured four times on ""Dawson's Creek."" That night, they were also honored with the Best Pop Album award for ""Learning to Breathe.""
""This goes out to every artist that's better than us that didn't win,"" Foreman said.
While the category is traditionally highly competitive as the San Diego pop scene is rich and active, Switchfoot was a cut above, avoiding the darling musical cliches that often plague contemporary pop music.
Artists throughout the night gave it up to the less fortunate nominees in their categories. Candye Kane, who is based both in L.A. and S.D. and whose national visibility relies upon her brassy personality and voice and her former work in the sex industry, was tearful in accepting the Best Blues award.
""There are so many other artists in this category who better represent San Diego music,"" she said.
The classiest move of the night came from Ghoulspoon. Taking the prize for Best Hard Rock or Metal (and also, perhaps, stupidest band name of the year), they invited all the other nominees onto the stage. Once the stage was crowded with dread-locked, tattooed, big-haired rockers with beer cups in hand, Ghoulspoon lead singer Zach Goode explained.
""This is what the San Diego music scene is all about,"" he said. ""It's about the bands supporting each other.""
Of course, the underlying tension of potential fame was omnipresent.
The Incredible Moses Leroy took the stage a little more than halfway through the ceremony. Suddenly, the few, sporadic bursts of photographers were replaced by a frenzy of flashbulbs and crowding cameras. Since their incessantly catchy single ""Fuzzy"" exploded into heavy rotation and lead singer Ron Fountenberry appeared in a GAP commercial, this band has been pegged The Next Big Thing. And of course, everyone knew it.
Fountenberry himself was honored with Artist of the Year. In his surprisingly childlike voice, he thanked ""all the people we stepped on to get here.""
But more overpowering than the shadow of those who are on the verge of greatness is San Diego's current claim to musical fame: Blink-182.
While it's hard to consider Blink local when 12-year-old girls in Minnesota gaze dreamily at life-sized posters every night after brushing their teeth, the punk heroes were nominated for a smattering of awards. They won for Best Punk Album (""Take Off Your Pants and Jacket"") and Group of the Year.
The crowd and presenters were surprised to see Blink's Tom DeLonge shifting down the aisle and onto the stage to accept the awards. His comments at the podium were genuine and graceful.
""Keep it big, keep playing, and give awards to somebody else, 'cause there's so many better bands than us,"" he advised the audience.
The penultimate performer was Convoy. Their classic brand of rock recalls Lenny Kravitz, the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, whoConvoy toured with recently. After bringing down the house, they were awarded Album of the Year for ""Black Licorice.""
The band was fresh from a prolonged and highly successful road trip. Lead singer Jason Hill was effusive about his love of San Diego. He told the crowd, ""It's always good to be home, and we're glad to be home.""
Complete list of winners:
Artist of the Year -- Ron Fountenberry of Incredible Moses Leroy
Group of the Year -- Blink-182
Song of the Year -- P.O.D., ""Alive""
Album of the Year -- Convoy, ""Black Licorice""
Lifetime Achievement Award -- Jack Costanzo
Best Adult Alternative Album -- Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, ""Walk Alone""
Best Alternative Album -- Blackheart Procession, ""Three""
Best Blues Album -- Buddy Blue, ""Pretend It's Okay""
Best Dance or Funk Album -- d*fRost, ""Digital Dustbowl""
Best Hard Rock or Metal Album -- Life Hates Me, ""Imperfections""
Best Jazz or Blues Album -- Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, ""Dance Lesson #2""
Best Local Recording -- Via Satellite, ""Wake Up Heavy""
Best Pop Album -- Switchfoot, ""Learning to Breathe""
Best Punk Album -- Blink-182, ""Take Off Your Pants and Jacket""
Best R&B, Hip-Hop, or Rap Album -- Icons, ""Capture the Flag""
Best Rock Album -- Convoy, ""Black Licorice""
Best Acoustic -- Steve Poltz
Best Adult Alternative -- Eve Selis
Best Alternative -- Jack's Broken Heart
Best Bar Band -- '80s All-Stars
Best Blues -- Candye Kane
Best Country -- Nickel Creek
Best Dance or Funk -- d*fRost
Best Dixieland or Big Band -- Big Time Operator
Best Electronic -- Square Circle
Best Hard Rock or Metal -- Ghoulspoon
Best Latin Jazz -- B-Side Players
Best Mainstream Jazz -- Gilbert Castellanos
Best Pop Jazz -- Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Best Pop -- Switchfoot
Best Punk -- Dogwood
Best R&B, Hip-Hop, or Rap -- Downlow
Best Rock -- Sprung Monkey
Best Roots, Rockabilly, or Swing -- Billy Midnight
Best World -- Common Sense
Best New Artist -- Rochelle, Rochelle
At this point, it’s impossible to talk about Nicki Minaj without mentioning her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster.” Rhyming “Sri Lanka” with “Tonka” and “Willy Wonka” in violently cartoonish form, Minaj eclipsed appearances by Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Kanye himself. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest things to happen to rap this year and almost singlehandedly cemented Minaj’s position among the legacy of sexually aggressive, socially conscious female rappers like Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot. But unfortunately, Minaj’s highly anticipated debut album, Pink Friday, fails to match the manic genius of “Monster,” which is disappointing, especially since she seems capable of so much more than this unremarkable album.
The album’s most significant flaw is that, although Minaj is a superb rapper, she is at best a mediocre singer. And much of the album consists of traditional R&B tracks like “Right Thru Me,” “Save Me” and “Your Love.” While they’re all decent songs, they pale in comparison to Minaj’s unhinged rap work. But that’s the best of them — some of the songs here cross the line into unlistenable territory. The will.i.am-produced “Check It Out,” based on a sample of “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles, is cringe-worthy in its cheesiness.
But when Minaj raps, she’s totally on top. Eminem collaboration “Roman’s Revenge” has hints of the insane genius that made Minaj’s early work so refreshing: seemingly random vocal and character changes, off-beat rhymes, an undeniable commitment to her sheer lunacy. “I’m startin’ to feel like a dungeon dragon/ Raah, raah, like a dungeon dragon,” she barks. Her raps are even good enough to upstage Eminem’s clumsy attempt at reprising his Slim Shady persona; Minaj just does crazy so much better.
The album’s best track “Did It On ‘Em” — which contains a booming, Bangladesh-produced beat — is equally absurd, with Minaj
gleefully asserting that, “If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ‘em.”
It’s these moments that prove Minaj still has a lot more in store for us. While Pink Friday certainly has its lows, it still proves that Minaj is one of the most promising rappers — male or female — around. (6/10)