Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tag- You're It!

Someone from Australia blog-tagged me, so I figured I’d get in on the fun. Basically, you tag five people and hope they continue the game. Also, you've got to list 5 facts about yourself.

First, I'll list my tagging method, then the tagged. After that, come the 5 facts.

I used a highly scientific method to do the tag- I have two friends on my blog list- Edward and Samantha, so I decided to use them to do a six degrees of separation thingy. Basically, I went to Edward’s site, clicked on of his friends links, then clicked on a friends link there, and so on until I was 6 blogs away. I did two with Edward, and two with Samantha. For the fifth one, I used that method with the guy who tagged me originally.

And who are the 5 blogs who got tagged?

Why, they’re

bomb diggities
Memoirs of an Evil Genius
A Yankee in Bermuda

5 Facts about me:

1. When I was 8, I won the Indian Guides Pinewood derby competition. Sadly, the trophy I got was the first and only sports-related trophy I ever received.
2. I'm the proud owner of a copy of "Amazing Fantasy" #15, featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man.
3. I met my wife when I was on vacation in Ecuador. She was working the front desk of the hotel I was staying at. I spent two weeks gawking at her before I worked up the nerve to ask her out. The rest is history.
4. My favorite cities- in the US, it's New Orleans. In the rest of the world, it's Tokyo.
5. At the present time, I am totally kicking butt on Guitar Hero II.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Convention Find #4- The Star Wars Holiday Special

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Australia. The hotel where I was staying had a pretty nice breakfast buffet. My first morning there I tried a traditional Australian food known as Vegemite. It was horrendous! I had never tasted anything so awful before, and I couldn’t believe that the fine folks at Kraft were trying to pass this off as food.

My second day there, I had some Vegemite again. Why? Simple. I thought to myself that it couldn’t have been as awful as I remembered, so I wanted to try it to make sure. It was as awful as I remembered.

Which brings us to my latest Convention Find- The Star Wars Holiday Special, the Vegemite of TV Specials. It’s so awful you have to watch it again just to assure yourself that you weren’t hallucinating its awfulness the first time you saw it.

In 1977, Star Wars (I refuse to call it “A New Hope” or “Episode Four”- we all called it “Star Wars” when it came out, and “Star Wars” it will remain) was released and was a huge financial success. It permeated the culture and helped revive the moribund science fiction genre in movies. It was inevitable that there would be a sequel (even if George Lucas hadn’t already planned out a 9 episode arc).

Skip ahead to 1978. The Empire Strikes Back is still some months away, and Kenner’s got a buttload of new “Star Wars” toys that it wants to sell at Christmas. How do you keep the franchise in the forefront of everyone’s minds? Why, a Christmas Special, of course. But since the series takes place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”, the show can’t actually refer to Christmas. So, the producers make up the Wookiee holiday “Life Day,” and center the story around Chewbacca’s family as they await Chewie’s return for the big holiday.

We start off with scenes pulled from the movie- the Millennium Falcon is trying to escape some Imperial Ships. Cut to inside, where Han and Chewy exposit a bit about how Han has never let Chewie down before when he needed to get home for Life Day. (Incidentally, despite the fact that this is an official Star Wars movie, and most of the major players from the movie appear in it, they do not use any of the actual sets. That explains why the interiors of the Millennium Falcon have a somewhat cardboardy look to them.)

Cut to the credits.

When we return, we meet the members of Chewie’s family: his wife, Mala; his father, Itchy; and his son, Lumpy. (Yes- Itchy, Lumpy and Chewie. Do all Wookiee men have adjectives for names?) They are having a typical Wookiee day- Mala’s doing housework, Itchy is sitting around, and morbidly obese Lumpy is trying to steal some cookiees, err... cookies. (Actually, later we’ll find out they’re actually called “Wookiee-Ookiees.” Gah.) They also talk to each other in that roaring Wookiee language. This goes on for 10 minutes (I timed it with my VCR), with nary a subtitle to help us out.

Finally, something happens- Lumpy walks over to one of those holographic chess tables from the first movie, and spends 5 minutes watching some proto-Cirque du Soleil shenanigans set to boring New Age music.

Mala walks over to a viewscreen and sees a message that there are no starships in the vicinity. She then opens a secret panel, which reveals another viewscreen. She uses this to call our next guest stars, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. This special must have been shot not too long after Hamill’s motorcycle accident, because the skin on his face (especially around is eyes) is oddly tight and plasticy, and he is made-up to almost Tammy Faye Bakker levels. Mala tells him she is worried about Chewie, and he reassures her that her husband will be home before too long. Their conversation is in what I like to call “Lassie-speak”, where Mala roars something in Wookiee, Luke repeats what she said in English (for the benefit of us who are non-proficient Wookiee speakers), and then answers her. You know, like this:

Mala: “Roar, Rooowwwer!”
Luke: “What’s that Mala? You’re worried about Chewbacca? Don’t worry, he’ll be home soon.”
Mala: “Growlllll... Growllll”
Luke: “Do I think he’s going to bring you lots of presents? Of course he is.”

And so on.

(You know, if I were having a conversation with someone and the first part of their reply was always a restatement of what I told them, I’d probably end up roaring and growling at them, too.)

Anyway, the rocket engine Luke is working on suddenly starts emitting copious amounts of smoke, so Luke signs off.

Next, Mala contacts Saun Dan, a trader. Saun Dan is played by Art Carney- a very overweight Art Carney who seems unable to button up his shirt. What follows is a brief sketch where an imperial Storm Trooper is looking to buy a personal groomer. I’m not sure if this sketch is supposed to be funny, or if it was even rehearsed beforehand- the pacing is very odd, with a lot of pauses, as if the two were just improvising the whole scene. After the trooper leaves, Saun Dan gives Mala the same type of assurances (in Lassie-speak) that Luke gave her.

Quick cut to one of the Imperial battleships, where Darth Vader is talking to one of his officers about the Millennium Falcon’s escape, and how they must search every house on the planet to find the two rebels. This scene was obviously taken from the movie and then overdubbed, as the officer’s mouth in no way matches the words that are coming out it.

Back at Casa de Bacca, we get what is intended to be a comedy sketch. Mala is preparing Bantha Rump for dinner, and she turns on a cooking show to see how it’s done. The show features Harvey Korman as Goormanda, a Julia Child-type cook with four arms. The four arms allow Goormanda to prepare the food much faster than Mala, who has trouble keeping up. Mala gets flustered and turns off the TV. Comedy gold!

Out in space, the Millennium Falcon is still trying to evade the Imperial forces. An announcement comes over the viewscreen that a blockade is now in place around the planet, and the Empire has declared martial law.

Saun Dan comes to visit the ‘Bacca house, and brings Life Day presents for the family. What follows is a truly disturbing scene- Itchy’s present is a memory chip, which Saun Dan describes as being very “Wow!” Itchy sits in a virtual reality chair, inserts the chip, and then puts a helmet on. Itchy smiles widely as Diahanne Carroll appears. She tells Itchy that she is his fantasy, and that he should enjoy and experience her fully. Then she sings a truly awful song. Itchy meanwhile grins lewdly and starts breathing heavily. At the end of the song, we see him lying back in the chair with a very satisfied look on his face. He probably needed a cigarette at that point.

Ignoring the her post-coital father-in-law (can you be post-coital if you’re by yourself?), Mala goes back to the viewscreen and calls Princess Leia and C-3PO. Judging by her glazed expression, and eyes that are all pupil, Leia is played by what looks to be a pre-rehab Carrie Fisher. Leia and 3PO give Mala the same assurances that Luke did, and sign off.

Back on the Falcon, Han and Chewie have broken through the Imperial blockade, and decide to land in a safe area in the north section of the planet. They’ll have to walk from there. (Apparently, the Wookiees live on a pretty small planet.)

Mala hears a knock on the door, and rushes over, assuming it’s her husband. Unfortunately, it’s two Imperial officers and two stormtroopers, who proceed to search the house. They nearly discover Mala’s hidden communicator, but Saun Dan distracts them by suggesting that Mala prepare food for everyone. He also gives one of the officers a video to watch. This one features Jefferson Starship doing a song that is almost as good as “We Built This City.”

After the video, the search continues, with the stormtroopers going upstairs to Lumpy’s room. To show how evil they are, the troopers rip the head off of Lumpy’s stuffed Bantha. While this is going on, Lumpy stays distracted by watching a cartoon of his father’s adventures:

The Millennium Falcon crashes on a water planet. Luke, Leia, R2 and 3PO go after them, and run into Boba Fett, who wants to help them. They all board the Falcon, where Han has been infected by a mysterious sleeping virus caused by an ancient talisman. Luke immediately contracts the virus as well. Fett tells Chewie that he can get a cure in a nearby, Imperial-occupied city. Once there, Fett instructs Chewie to stay behind while he gets the cure. After he’s away from Chewie, Fett contacts Darth Vader and informs him of the situation. He tells Vader he will deliver the rebels to him. On the Falcon, as C-3PO is caring for Han and Luke, he and R2-D2 intercept the message. Fett and Chewie return to the Falcon, and cure Han and Luke. After they recover, 3PO tells everyone about Fett’s plan. Fett ignites his jet pack and blasts away, promising that he will meet them all again. Everyone then returns to the rebel base on board the Falcon.

After the cartoon is over, and the stormtroopers have moved to another part of the house, Lumpy goes back to his room and opens the present that Saun Dan gave him. It’s a bunch of electronic parts and an instructional video. The video, our next bit of “comedy”, features Harvey Korman as a malfunctioning robot who acts out the assembly instructions for the kit. The hilarity consists of video and audio tomfoolery that make Korman look like a Max Headroom precursor.

Downstairs, the stormtroopers are still searching the house as the viewscreen comes on. A voice-over announces that the program, “Life On Tattoine”, is required viewing for everyone. We then cut to the Mos Eisley cantina, which is run by Bea Arthur. Harvey Korman shows up as his third character (the guy’s a veritable Peter Sellers)- an alien who drinks by pouring liquids into the hole on the top of his head. Stormtroopers enter the bar, declare martial law (again!), and order everyone to their homes. Arthur ushers everyone out by singing a song. And, yes, it was probably the awfulness of the song rather than the martial law that caused everyone to leave the bar.

All of a sudden, the troopers get a transmission telling them to return to base. All but one leave. The remaining trooper discovers that the return to base is not an official command, but is coming from the kit the Lumpy built. He destroys the kit, and then chases Lumpy downstairs and outside the house.

As soon as they’re outside, Chewie and Han show up. Chewie rescues Lumpy by casually strolling across the porch and standing between him and the trooper. Han, meanwhile, sneaks up behind the trooper and knocks a blaster out of his hands. The trooper then conveniently trips, falls over a railing and plummets to his death to the forest below. (Did I mention that Wookiees live in big treehouses, hundreds of feet in the air? Well, they do.)

With Chewie reunited with his family, they can have their Life Day celebration. This consists of dressing in red graduation robes, holding glowing spheres and walking through outer space with a bunch of other Wookiees. When they reach their destination, they are met by Han, Luke, Leia, C-3PO and R2D2. Leia sings a Life Day song (very off-key), set vaguely to John Williams’ “Star Wars Theme” as Chewie flashes back to all of his adventures from Star Wars.

The end.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I see my summary takes up nearly 4 pages in Word, which would imply that something happened during this show. Nothing could be further from the truth. For two hours (including commercials), we are forced to watch interminable scenes of Wookiee growls followed poorly paced and horribly unfunny “comedy” sketches. Or, for a change of pace, we get amazingly awful songs.

Everyone looks uncomfortable in this- most give off a “I’m only doing this because I’m contractually obligated” vibe. Carrie Fisher seems to have gotten through it only by being highly medicated.

I started off this review with the joke about Vegemite. At least, I intended it to be a joke until I watched this video again. It had been at least 5 years since the last time I watched the show, and I wanted to see it again so I could write with it fresh in my mind. But, my goodness, it truly was painful to watch. I was glad I had it on tape so I could fast forward through all the boring parts (which comprise about 95% of the show). In a complete turnabout from the way most people watch TV shows on video, I fast-forwarded through the show just so I could get to the commercials, which were infinitely more entertaining than the program which surrounded them.

I was at a loss to describe how terrible this production is, until I was hit by this thought: George Lucas has said there will never be an official, Lucas-approved version released on DVD. Ever. Lucas is proud of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith and has released them in deluxe DVD editions. But no Holiday Special DVD.

Heck- you can get Howard the Duck on DVD. But not The Star Wars Holiday Special. It’s that bad.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Convention Find #3- If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

In the late 1960s, Ron Ormond was nearly killed in a plane crash, and, as a result, became a born-again Christian. Prior to the crash, Ormond had directed and/or produced such exploitation fare as Mesa of Lost Women, Outlaw Women, The Monster and the Stripper, and so forth. With his new outlook on life, he decided to leave such sleazy entertainment behind and to produce movies that would help spread the Word. His first effort, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, shows that while you can take the man out of the exploitation world, you can’t take the exploitation world from the man.

To make this film, Ormond teamed up with Rev. Estus Pirkle to film one of the reverend’s sermons, and added some dramatizations to round out the film. The idea was to show this movie to congregations and warn them of the danger to the United States if our country falls away from God’s word. Since this was the 1970s, there was only one real danger to worry about- a Communist takeover!

We begin with the credits rolling over some uniformed men on horseback. An off-screen voice asks, “Reverend Pirkle, are the pictures we about to see true fact, or are they figments of your imagination?” Of course, we know Pirkle’s reply- “I can document every statement in this film. And all of the documented re-enactments are taken from actual events that have taken place in Russia, Korea, China, and Cuba, where the communists have already taken over. The only difference is that we’re using Americans to emphasize that the same thing can and will happen.... if they take over.” (And by Americans he means white, small-town Southerners.)

With the credits over, the movie can start. We see Judy being driven to church by some guy who we assume is her boyfriend. Judy, like all the women in this movie, is dressed in some very 70s clothes, and has an elaborately ugly hairdo. As they arrive in church, we realize Judy is a sinner- she says she is only showing up for the sake of appearances. Her boyfriend won’t go in because “[He’s] not a Christian, [he’s] a lover.”

Judy enters the church and takes a pew near the front. We see the church is full of very bored-looking parishioners, and then we see the source of their boredom. We cut to a very tight shot of Rev. Pirkle as he begins his sermon. Get used to seeing Pirkle’s face in close-up- I’d say at least 50-60% of the movie consists of this shot. (Another good portion of the film is footage of people getting gunned down, as we will see.)

Pirkle begins by asking if his parishioners are concerned about their country, about rising crime rates, riots on college campuses, if they think things are getting better. He tells them that there must be a revival in America within the next 24 months, otherwise God completely forsake America and go to another country at the Second Coming instead (He scares his parishioners by saying that maybe God will save Brazil or Indonesia instead of the US). In addition, America will be taken over by the Communists! He warns us that there are “footmen” around us, weakening our minds and wills, and eventually enabling the Communists to take us over.

What kind of footmen do we have to watch out for? Let’s see- there are the violent and sex-filled cartoons on TV. In fact, TV is bad in and of itself. According to Pirkle’s carefully researched facts, TV has increased crime by 1000%! And TV will turn people away from reading the Bible! To illustrate this, we get a POV shot from inside a television, showing a young boy watching what must be an exciting TV show (probably a sexy violent cartoon), because he is getting very wound up watching it. Sitting next to him is Dad, trying so hard to read his Bible, but getting increasingly distracted by Junior and his pornographic anime. Eventually, Dad puts the Bible away and joins in on the fun with his son.

What are some other footmen? How about drive-ins (“a spawning house for sex!”) or dancing (“Just as wrong as it’s always been! It’s the front door to adultery! The thing that started on the dance floor is expected to be finished in a parked car or a motel somewhere!”) This really gets to Judy, as she has an acid flashback to that time she put on make-up, danced with some guy, and drank some alcohol (presumably after watching TV).

And with all this moral weakening, the true horrors will come- America will fall under the boot of Communism. How? Well, Pirkle and Ormond skimp on the details- all we see is a clip of a TV anchorman telling his audience that the president, his chief advisors and the governors of several states have been killed. According to Pirkle, it will only take 15 minutes for all of this to happen.

And now comes the fun part, as Ormond reaches into his exploitation bag of tricks to show us what life in America will be like under the Communists.

Initially, the persecution of Christians will consist of gunning as many of them down as possible, as demonstrated by shots of bloody, bullet-riddled bodies.

Then, they will come to take Christian children from their families to put them into re-education camps. If you resist, you will be gunned down (as demonstrated by shots of the bloody, bullet-riddled bodies of one kid’s parents). “What does re-education consist of?” you ask. The lesson will be very cunning and subtle- we see a Communist teacher asks his students to pray for Jesus Christ for candy, with no result. Then the children pray to Fidel Castro (Castro? Castro?!?!, you mean we end up getting conquered by the Cubans?) and voila!, a soldier just happens to come in and dump a bag of candy in the classroom! (Actually, the candy doesn’t look all that good. That's what you get for praying to a small-timer like Castro. I bet Brezhnev or Mao would have provided Milky Ways.)

And the atrocities mount. The soldiers come upon a man teaching a sermon in the middle of an open field (which seems to be a pretty stupid place to hold it, considering all the gunning down of Christians that is going on.) To prevent the kids from ever again hearing the word of God, one child has bamboo shoved in one ear and out the other. Luckily, the skull contains no vital organs because the kid seems to be pretty much OK, other than the fact that he vomits profusely into the camera. (And I must give Ormond and the kid points for the truly effective vomit- it’s not quite Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but it still looks pretty cool.)

We see other forms of torture- people being forced to stare for hours at a wall 7” away from them, causing their vision to blur; a man is kept out in the hot sun with no water for days, and is then force-fed salt; people must sit on hard benches from 5AM to 10PM listening to Communist propaganda. (Side note: The dialog in this part of the film may be familiar to any Negativland fans out there. Pirkle’s lines “Christianity is stupid,” “Communism is good,” “17 hours a day!” and a few others were later sampled for the song “Christianity is Stupid.”)

The soldiers next show up at the end of a church sermon, and pull aside a young couple who have just received Christ. As a reward, they are taken around the back and gunned down (as demonstrated by shots of their bloody, bullet-riddled bodies). When the rest of the parishioners run over to see what has happened, they are gunned down (as demonstrated by shots of their bloody, bullet-riddled bodies).

The last Christian left standing is a young boy who runs out of the church, carrying a picture of Jesus. The head soldier stops him, and, in an accent that changes from Bela Lugosi to Boris Badenov to Mississippi drawl (sometimes within the space of a few syllables), tells the kid that his parents are dead, but if he steps on the picture of Jesus, he will be well-taken care of. The kid contemplates this for a second, then looks off into space and says “Jeee-zzzuuuss, Yee-eew dahd fer mee-eee. Nay-ow, Ah wee-yull daah fer Yee-eew.” Whereupon the solder proceeds to gun hi.... er, wait- the soldier gets creative and saws the kid’s head off with a knife.

So, what about out harlot friend Judy? During all of these stories, we get occasional shots of her flashing back to her sinful life- the alcohol, the dancing, the pre-marital kissing. We also see her ignoring her aged Mama’s pleas to accept Jesus into her life. Finally, Mama has a heart attack and collapses into Judy’s arms. She tells Judy the only way she can be at rest is if Judy accepts Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior, and then dies. (Wow! Way to lay a really heavy guilt trip on your daughter!)

This memory, coupled with the story of the beheaded child, is too much for Judy. She screams “Noooo!” and runs up Rev. Pirkle to be saved. The acid must really be kicking in, because she also hallucinates her Mom is lying in her casket in front of her. (Surprisingly, they seemed to have buried Mama in the housedress and hairnet she was wearing when she died). Judy accepts Jesus, is saved, and will now go to Heaven when she dies.

Will you?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hello Dollies!

We spent most of Thanksgiving week visiting my parents. While were there, my Mom received a copy of the Paradise Galleries catalog in the mail. For the large majority of you out there who haven’t heard of it, Paradise Galleries "offer[s] dolls by the world’s finest artists, painstakingly reproduced to their exacting standards at prices any collector can afford."

So, what do these dolls look like?

Brace yourself:

First up, have Thomas, an anatomically correct doll sculpted by Linda Spahic:

I hope Linda sculpted Thomas packing because that face ain't gonna get him a lot of women.

Anna Carter gives us this trio of cuteness:

You know- Morlocks are so adorable when they're young.

How about these kids from Kymberli Durden:

I think that "Kymberli Durden" is really Dr. Moreau in disguise.

Also from Kymberli Durden:

Mushmouth from the "Fat Albert Babies" Collection.

Another sweet treasure from Ms. Durden is anatomically correct Olivia:

I think Olivia's mom had a slight drinking problem while she was pregnant. In fact, Olivia looks like she was born with a hang-over.

By the way, this is Kymberli Durden:

If you see her on the street, do not make eye contact. Just keep walking.

Finally, from the "Hoochie Mama" collection, we have Margot:

According to the catalog, Margot "is a sultry vision in her lacy undergarments." She's crafted in Paradise Galleries "GentleTouch Vinyl." Aren't RealDolls also made of GentleTouch Vinyl?. (Although, I do think Margot's kind of hot. Am I going to Hell?)

Convention Find #2- Alternative 3

My previous review of Ghostwatch inspired me to start a series- “Convention Finds”- where I’ll review the various movies that I’ve picked up at conventions over the years. For this second part of the series, I’ve decided to keep with a theme established by Ghostwatch- the hoax film.

For a while the idea of extraterrestrial visitors was kind of in vogue among the public- there was Whitley Strieber’s Communion, Fox’s “Alien Autopsy”, “The X-Files” and the like all positing that there are aliens among us and the government is covering up this fact. (For the record, I believe that there is life on other planets, although I don’t think Earth has ever been visited by any alien life forms. To me, the evidence just isn’t there. However, I do like to read about unusual phenomena, so I briefly immersed myself in UFO lore.)

It was at this point that I first heard of Alternative 3- a documentary that had originally aired in Britain in 1977. Alternative 3 claimed that there was a vast conspiracy among the world’s governments which involved scientists that had gone missing, and secret space missions.

The show was part of an educational series called Science Report, and was hosted by Tim Brinton, a BBC announcer and future member of Parliament. It begins by investigating a “brain drain” going on in Britain, in which many of its top scientists, engineers, physicists, etc. were disappearing or dying under mysterious circumstances. One of the scientists- Dr. Ballantine- has left behind a mysterious videotape that is unplayable on standard equipment.

As the reporters delve farther into the mystery, evidence arises that points to the scientists having been involved in a secret American/Soviet plan in outer space. The evidence also suggests that space travel had been possible for much longer than was commonly accepted.

So what exactly was this secret plan? It seems scientists had determined that, due to massive pollution, the Earth's surface would be unable to support life for much longer. Three solutions to the problem were proposed: Alternative 1- detonating nuclear bombs in the stratosphere in order to allow the pollution to escape; Alternative 2- constructing an elaborate underground city; Alternative 3- populating Mars via a waystation on the Moon.

We see an interview with Apollo astronaut Bob Grodin who claims to have stumbled on a mysterious lunar base during his moonwalk. He tells the reporters that Ballantine’s videotape can only be played on machines equipped with a special decoding device. After the reporters secure such a device, we are treated to the smoking gun- the videotape depicts a landing on the Martian surface- in 1962! As Russian and American voices excitedly celebrate their achievement, something stirs beneath the Martian soil...

And then come the credits. You mean this was a work of fiction? (Yes- I realize this is how I ended my recap of Ghostwatch, but I believe in recycling.)

Yes- Alternative 3 is another BBC-sponsored prank (the show was originally to have aired on April 1. Due to some production snags, it didn’t premiere until June.) This one was both more and less effective than Ghostwatch. It was less effective because it didn’t cause the kinds of panicked reactions (and subsequent banning) of the latter show. But it was way more effective because this documentary really has legs- there are still people today who believe that what was shown in it was the truth.

I’m not qualified to give (nor am I very good at it when I try) any kind of psychological analysis of people who, for one reason or another, really need to believe in this kind of thing. As I said earlier, I believe in life on other planets, I just don’t think it’s made contact with us. I also believe that those in power cover up a lot of information, and tend to act in their own best interests over those of the people they’ve been chosen to govern. But there are many people who take this to the extreme and let it dominate their own critical facilities.

Looking at Alternative 3, it can feed paranoia- thirty years on, we are still worried about pollution, global warming, global cooling, and other environmental disasters, but our governments seem not be too concerned. Why, if environmental breakdown would also affect their lives, don’t they do something? Perhaps they do have a plan to help themselves at our expense.

Other UFOlogists have taken this and run with it. Milton William Cooper has stated that there was another alternative, which was elimination of vast segments of the population, possibly by biowarfare. AIDS was first seen only a few years this show. And what about Ebola, West Nile Virus and Bird Flu?

Well, surely the fact that there are acting and writing credits at the end of the show accounts for something? Nope- all part of clever disinformation process- disguise truth as fiction so that people will scoff at the truth-seekers.

Anyway- the DVD I have has a nice bonus feature- a videotape of a lecture at a UFO conference. The lecture starts off with the speaker showing the “Martian landing” segment. I didn’t describe this segment before, so let me do so now. It’s pretty cheesy- it starts off with aerial photography of a Mars lander flying over a desert-like landscape. The landscape fills most of the frame, although in the foreground we can see one of the legs of the lander. Every so often, the picture breaks into static. Whenever it comes back, we are a bit closer to Mars, and usually flying at a slightly different angle. (Hmm...) The picture goes out for an even longer time, and when it comes back the module has landed on the planet’s surface (Double Hmm...) Then comes the shocker- right by the lander’s leg, we see something is disturbing the soil. We don’t see whatever it is, we just see the soil being shifted as if something just under the surface is moving away. It looks kind of like those old cartoons where Bugs Bunny is traveling underground, and we see his path by the raised dirt.

There only audio is that off the audience watching this clip. There are a few muted “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” during the flight sequences, but I had to laugh at the reactions when the dirt started moving. The shocked “Oh my God”s are a wonder to hear. One gentleman just keeps muttering “Jesus, Jesus” over and over.

The lights come on and a large gentleman with a strange taste in clothes and an even stranger accent begins to speak about how this film was presented at a UFO conference and the experts point to this as proof beyond a reasonable doubt that there is life on Mars, and that it’s being covered up.

The rest of the lecture is pretty standard “X-Files” stuff, and not all that interesting to someone who isn’t fully into ET lore.

So, there you have it- my second Convention Find.

Another hoax.

Or is it? Maybe this review is part of the conspiracy, too.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Convention Find #1- Ghostwatch

Most Americans are familiar with Orson Welles’ broadcast of the War of the Worlds on some level. At the very least, they know that it fooled a lot of its listeners into thinking it was real, and caused a panic. What most of us on this side of the Atlantic don’t know is that Britain had its own Halloween panic- in 1992.

So- picture this. It’s Halloween eve, and you’re settling in to watch a program about “The Most Haunted House in Britain.” It’s being filmed live, with Michael Parkinson in the studio, Sarah Greene in the house, and Craig Charles outside interviewing neighbors and providing comic relief. (Parkinson is well-known in Britain as a talk show host and celebrity interviewer- think of a combination of Tom Brokaw and Phil Donahue. Sarah Greene worked in children’s programming, while Craig Charles is best known as Lister from Red Dwarf.) The documentary is called Ghostwatch and within a few hours it will become the first TV show ever to be cited in the British Medical Journal as having caused Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in children. It will also be banned from British TV for over 10 years.

So, what’s the fuss all about? In a nutshell, we learn of the Early family- divorced Mom Pam, and her two young daughters- teen Suzanne and 10-year-old Kim. They live in a row house in which they’ve been experiencing poltergeist phenomena, which they credit to “Pipes”, because the ghost first made himself known by banging on the plumbing. Through interviews with the Earlys and their neighbors, we learn of the legend of Mother Simmons- a 19th century nanny who lived in the area (perhaps right where the Earlys' house is now) and murdered several young children.

Pipes’ activities, at first, were pretty harmless- noises and such. As time went on, however, and things started getting more violent, Mrs. Early appealed to the Council to let them move to another house. The Council, finding no bylaws against poltergeists, refused, causing her to go the media with her complaint. This is how their story came to be used for the program.

We see some pretty interesting documentary materials from a psychiatrist’s examinations of the Early girls. Photos of scratches that appeared on Suzanne’s face, and a tape recording of the teen apparently possessed by the spirit of Pipes and speaking in an impossibly deep voice. There is also a videotape of the girls sleeping in their bedroom, culminating in an episode of things being hurled through the air and the children running out, screaming.

As the night goes on, we witness a few more paranormal events, although the most chilling one- involving strange knocks- seems to be a hoax by elder daughter Suzanne. In the studio, the hosts share ghost stories, interview skeptics and scientists, and take calls from the viewers. The viewers’ calls start getting stranger and stranger as they report paranormal events happening in their own houses, while at the Earlys’ house, the phenomena get stronger and more violent.

A social worker in the viewing audience calls in with some information about previous residents of the house. In the 60s, an elderly couple who lived there took in their mentally disturbed nephew, who had just been released from a psychiatric hospital where he had been confined for child abduction and molestation. The man claimed he was being possessed by the spirit of a woman, and had, in fact, started wearing dresses. One day, while his aunt and uncle were away on holiday, he killed himself by walking into the storeroom, where his tools were kept, tying one end of a length of wire around his throat, the other end around a lathe, and turning on the lathe. He wasn’t found for twelve days. During that time, his dozen or more cats, locked into the house with him, got hungry... and went to work on his face.

At the Earlys’, a strange wind is picking up, with the sounds of cats yowling mixed in. The attacks on the girls increase in violence, so the family and crew try to evacuate. We see Mrs. Early and the younger girl, Kimmy, make it out. In the house, Sarah and a camera man are looking for Suzanne- in a house now without lights, of course. She is heard calling from the store room. Sarah opens it, and despite the pleas of the camera man, reaches in to try and find her. She is jerked into the store room, the door slams shut...

In the studio, it's chaos. Lights are exploding, the winds are getting worse, floor supervisors are yelling for people to evacuate... and the screen goes black.

After a moment, one camera comes on, revealing a disoriented Parkinson wandering the set. He finds the one working camera, and notes that the teleprompter is operating, but only nonsense is showing. He reads it: “What big ears you have... what big eyes you have... fee fi fo fum, fee fi fo fum...” and as his reads, his voice deepens to the guttural tones of Pipes. Cut to black as cats yowl.

And then come the credits. You mean this was a work of fiction?

By this time, a lot of viewers in Britain were freaking out- the show seemed all too real. Michael Parkinson was a respected and well-liked talk show host, as was Sarah Greene for her work in Blue Peter. There were quite a few chilling moments in it, and there was something vaguely disturbing about those stories about Pipes.

I’d read about this show not to long after it aired, thanks to Fortean Times magazine- a British publication that covers strange phenomena. I really, really, really, wanted to see this show, but at the time it seemed hopeless. How was I going to see something that would never be aired in Britain again, let alone shown in America.

Time went by, and I forgot about the show until I visited a dealer’s table at a Chiller Convention. There it was- $20 for a DVD of the broadcast! Appropriately enough, I made this purchase right around Halloween 2002, the 10th anniversary of the broadcast. I got home from Chiller that night, to my condo where I lived alone, and popped the DVD in as daylight faded, and my living room got dark.

I started out watching the show with all the lights off, but I had to turn them on after about 30 minutes, and the lights stayed on all night. I knew the show was a work of fiction, but it still creeped me out- I can’t imagine how an unsuspecting audience would have reacted to it.

But what made it so scary?

First off, I think it starts off very believably, as most of what happens is low-key. Pipes’ voice is genuinely disturbing, and you get a few “Gotcha!” moments to make you jump. But there was something more...

It wasn’t until I started searching the internet that I found out what that something was- there are about 8-10 instances where Pipes is subliminally inserted into the picture. Most of the appearances are only 2 or 3 frames long, which mean it’s hard to get a good look at him even with a DVD’s ability to slow down and stop. In addition, rather than splice in a few frames of Pipes by himself, as was done with the demon faces that are spliced into The Exorcist, Pipes shows up in the background while the action is going on. He’s there too briefly to consciously register, but he does register. And I’m glad it’s only a subliminal shot- I saw a website that showed the actor playing Pipes in make-up, and all I can say is it’s a very disturbing make-up that he’s in (remember- the cats got to him before his body was found).

The show kind of goes off the rails towards the end as the studio starts going crazy- it’s an over-the-top ending for what the somewhat low-key and subtle scares of the first part. In a way, though, it’s good because the ridiculousness of the end lets you laugh a little and let off some of the tension the show generated.

It’s a shame the only official release of the show is a Region 2 DVD because I think there would be an audience for it in America, too. As it is, though, if you’re a geek you can probably find it pretty easily at comic or sci-fi conventions, or you can probably locate a copy on eBay. It’s definitely worth it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Geek Monthly #1- A Review

I can see the pitch meeting now (if magazines have pitch meetings)- a young entrepreneur has an idea for a new magazine. “Video games are more popular than ever. Every kid has a computer now. Movies and TV shows based on comic books top the charts. Everything that used to be considered geeky is now cool. We think the geek market is the next big thing, so we want to put out a magazine devoted to them.”

Magazine executives mull it over, and greenlight the project.

Some time later, young entrepreneur brings in the mock-up of the first issue and eagerly awaits comments.

When he gets his prototype back, it has comments like this attached to it: “You know- it’s a little too geeky. We don’t think the average teenager or college student would be interested in things like this. Perhaps you can ‘cool it up’ a little. Add some women, or articles on sports. Try to make it more like Maxim.”

Entrepreneur thinks about protesting, but then decides it’s better to publish a watered down version than no version at all. And Geek Monthly is born.

I order my comics through a service, and this magazine was a new offering from them, so I decided to give it a chance, and ordered the first issue. It took me all of an hour or two to read through it, and I was pretty much disappointed the whole time. Although it claims to be a magazine by geeks for geeks that celebrates geek culture. I’ve always considered myself a geek (I am an electrical engineer, I collect comics, I’ve memorized and can quote large chunks of Monty Python and The Simpsons, I make it a point of honor to complete every videogame I buy, and am something of a trivia master), so I figured I’m its prime demographic.

Yet this magazine did nothing for me- it broke no new ground, nor did its articles ever really convey the essence of geekdom. Here are some examples of articles in this issue: “Cool websites,” “Trek for Dummies- 10 Essential Episodes of the Original Series,” “A Defense of Woody Allen,” a fashion spread set in an arcade, and the obligatory comic book, movie and video game reviews. Are there any real geeks out there who have not heard about Or who need someone to tell them which episodes of Star Trek to watch?

The articles themselves are pretty shallow- one is a two-pager in which the author goes to the University of Florida and asks students what their definition of a geek is. Surprisingly, it seems most people consider geeks to be people with no social skills or fashion sense, and who like things that the cool kids don’t. Wow! Penetrating insights there.

Frankly, given the shallowness of the writing, and the subject matter, it seems as if the magazine is Maxim or Stuff without the women (although it does have a sidebar titled “The Top 5 sci-fi bellies,” featuring luminaries like Princess Leia in the slave suit.). (And the cover of issue 2 features Scarlett Johannsen and her cleavage, so it seems the mag’s probably going to be a lot more Stuff-like real soon.)

I’m not sure who this magazine is truly meant for- it seems to be aimed at people who want to be geeks, but need to ease themselves into it. (Sort of like how American Idol is for people who want to listen to rock, but are a little afraid of actually, you know, rocking out.) Are there people out there who are worried they’re not geeky enough?

Maybe in the pre-internet days, when there were small pockets of geekdom across the land that had no good ways to communicate with each other to create a geek nation this would have been helpful. It would have let the geeks know there were others like them with the same interests, and could helped them expand their own horizons. But anyone with internet access already knows Superman is a dick, or that there is a new Battlestar Galactica on TV, or “Spock’s Brain” was an incredibly lame episode of Trek, or that HP Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos.

My guess is this magazine won’t make it past issue 6. And I certainly won’t miss it when it’s gone.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Captain Marvel Junior

As superhero comics grew in popularity, and more comics started crowding the shelves, publishers needed to find new ways to attract readers, most of whom were kids. One bright man at National (later, DC) comics decided that although Batman was popular, kids couldn’t identify with him- they needed someone their own age in the book. Thus, Robin was born.

And, as they had done after Superman’s debut, rival publishers rushed to copy the formula. Captain America had Bucky, the Human Torch had Toro, Green Arrow had Speedy (which always confused me because I thought someone named “Speedy” would team up with the Flash), and, in a novel twist, the young hero Star Spangled Kid had a grown-up sidekick named Stripesy.

With the exception of Robin, these sidekicks never really achieved the same level of popularity and name recognition of their grown-up counterparts. And with the exception of none of them, they were all inferior versions of their guardians.

Well- there was one exception- Captain Marvel, Jr. And with the first volume of The Shazam Family Archives, DC has finally released a deluxe volume of his adventures. (Technically, the Shazam Family also included Mary Marvel, but her first appearance is the last story in the book, so I guess she’ll have a bigger presence in subsequent volumes). Anyway- back to Cap, Jr.

Freddy Freeman was out fishing with his grandfather one day when the rescued a man who appeared to be drowning. Little did they know this man was the evil Captain Nazi (hey- it was WWII, who else would he encounter?) who was just lost a fight with Captain Marvel. Captain Nazi quickly recovered, drowned the old man, crippled Freddy with a blow from an oar and made off with the boat. Luckily, Captain Marvel was nearby and, hoping to save the boy’s life, he took Freddy to the wizard Shazam. Shazam saved Freddy, and also bestowed upon him superpowers. All Freddy would have to do was say “Captain Marvel” and he would be transformed into Captain Marvel, Jr. (Which also meant that he could never say his own name without turning back into Freddy.)

Junior took up residence in Master Comics #23 (Feb. 1942), and got his own title the following November. At the beginning, he was drawn by Mac Raboy, one of the true greats of the era. He had a great style, with lots of fine linework. His use of photo-references enhanced the realism and grittiness of his art, which was a definite contrast with the much lighter style CC Beck employed on Captain Marvel’s titles.

And the tenor of the stories reflected the difference styles. Teenaged Billy Batson (Cap’s alter ego) worked for WHIZ radio and had a pretty nice house of his own. Crippled Freddy Freeman (Shazam gave him superpowers, but couldn’t fix his leg) was a paperboy who lived in a depressing attic in a rundown neighborhood. Cap’s arch-enemies were Dr. Sivana who tended to be more naughty than evil, and Mr. Mind, an intelligent worm. Junior had to deal with Captain Nazi (who definitely would kill the kid if he had the chance), Mr. Macabre (who apparently was Fawcett’s Joker wannabe), and lots of kidnappers. Freddy always seemed to be in a lot more real danger than Billy was.

What’s great about Junior is that he could hold his own against really scary villains. As I said earlier, you had the feeling that if Captain Nazi ever managed to get the drop on him, Junior was toast. But Junior always made it to the end of the story. I don’t think Batman would have ever let Robin even contemplate going up against the Joker by himself. And Junior’s powers were probably pretty close to Cap’s own levels. He might have been a kid, but he was a serious contender.

The only problem with this volume is that, at this early stage, Junior had a limited rogue’s gallery- there are 15 stories in the book. In these 15 stories, he fights Captain Nazi 5 times, and Mr. Macabre 3 times. Although he does go up against the Japanese air force in one story, he spends most of the rest of the stories fighting street hoods. For example, in “Case of the Cripple Crimes,” Freddy is taken in by Dr. Krool and Prof. Swype, two Fagin-types who teach orphans how to pick pockets. The artwork is very nice, the story dark, but these two criminals are definitely outclassed by Junior.

I like the fact that Freddy’s youth, poverty and physical limitations are used to good effect to get him involved in cases. More than once he is put into situations where he is in real danger. But once he turns into Captain Marvel Junior, he is way too powerful for most of his foes, and the dramatic tension goes away.

Still, to get back to my original point, Cap Junior made a great junior-league hero. While I have a hard time putting up with the Golden Age Robin even when Batman’s with him (and Robin was still more appealing than Bucky Barnes), I am enthralled by Junior’s adventures.

And I’m not the only one who felt that way. Apparently, a young boy from Tupelo, Mississippi was a huge fan, going so far as to style his hair in the same manner. And when he got a little older, and a little richer, he had clothes modeled on Junior’s- right down to the cape and a lightning bolt on his belt buckle.

That boy?*

*Think I'm kidding? Check this out-

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A touching story

Today, my 6-month-old daughter was sitting on the couch. I was sitting on the floor, face to face with her. All of a sudden, she smiled and leaned forward with her arms outstretched, like she wanted to hug me. Then she burped in my face, sat back and smiled some more.

It was so touching. Now I've got teach her how to play "Pull My Finger."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Chiller Theatre- October 2006

Well, it's the weekend before Halloween, which can only mean one thing- Chiller Theatre! I look forward to this event every year (actually every 6 months- they do a slightly smaller show in April)- I'm a geek, and I guess collecting autographs is my geeky hobby.

This year's show was a little chaotic. They had about twice as many guests as normal- most were to be in the hotel, the rest were set to be in a large tent outside. Unfortunately, torrential rains and 60mph winds made the tent a no-go, so everyone was crowded into the hotel. I spent the first half of the day just trying to get from room to room to see who was where. It wasn't until late in the afternoon that the crowds thinned out enough to give some breathing room. Hopefully, with subsequent shows, the weather will cooperate.

Anyway- here are my prizes from this year's show:

First up- Juliet Landau (Dru from Buffy the Vampire Slayer):

Next is Coleen Grey, who starred in one of my all-time favorite movies, Nightmare Alley. She also had the distinction of starring in two movies that were slammed on Mystery Science Theatre 3000- The Leech Woman and Phantom Planet.

And what would Chiller be without some Playboy Playmates?
First, DeDe Lind (Miss August, 1967)

Next- Tiffany Taylor (Miss November, 1998)

Not a Playmate, but could definitely have been one- Aria Giovanni:

Finally, the coolest reason to see the show this year- The Warriors came out to play!!

First up- Brian Tyler (Snow)

Next- David Harris (Cochise)

Terry Michos (Vermin)

Roger Hill (Cyrus- Can you dig it?)

Deborah Van Valkenberg (Mercy)

And, last but not least, Michael Beck, aka Swan:

The Warriors reunion was definitely cool, and caused me to part with a large part of my cash. The only disappointment was PeeWee Herman- he had a huge line that stretched outside. I stood in it for an hour without moving too far. The winds were horrendous, and you can see I was not dressed for cold weather. At 4, he came out and apologized to everyone, and said he was going to eat dinner. I decided to cut my losses and go back inside- I got a chance to see the man up close, even if I didn't get his autograph. Maybe if I wish real hard, he'll be at another show.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

First Years- of Terror

Thepicture above is one of my 6-month-old daughter's favorite toys- it's a star put out by First Years. Each arm has a different fun feature- the orange is corduroy and has a squeaky in it, the purple and yellow has some crinkly material in it, and the blue is rubber and perfect for teething.

It all seems pretty innocuous and fun, right? Maybe, until you notice that the blue leg is imprinted with many copies of the First Years' logo-

I don't know what you see, but it looks to me to be two big kids jumping up and down on a smaller kid, possibly after having administered a severe beat-down to him.

And they say videogames have violent imagery.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Dark Knight Departs

DC Comics is doing the world a great favor printing their Batman Chronicles books. These are inexpensive trade paperbacks that reprint the Batman's adventures in chronological order, starting with his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. Volume 1 covers Detective 27 - 38, and Batman #1.

Among the milestones in this volume are the first appearances of the Joker, the Cat (who later became Catwoman), and Robin. It's the latter's appearance that inspires this little column.

The mythology of Batman comics is that our hero was originally some hardcore loner, who moved in the shadows and dispensed his own unique brand of vigilante justice. However, some time in the 50s, he turned into this cheery guy who was seen in the daytime and palled around with Superman. It wasn't until the late 60s that he returned to his roots.

For an example of the vigilante, check out the last panel of "The Batman Meets Dr. Death" (Detective 29):

Yup- his third appearance, and he takes the villain's suicide in stride.

In part two of "Batman Vs. The Vampire" (Detective 32), he's a bit more pro-active in seeing his enemies off:

So, yeah, this is really the Dark Knight of mythology.

But how long did this dark period last? Not having access to the complete Batman library, it seemed that he was like this for quite a while and had built up quite a library of these moody stories. The myth was that the comics code of the early 50s ruined Batman, and that Neal Adams brought him back when started drawing the comics in the late 60s.

Having the Batman Chronicles was like a splash of cold water on my face- because Batman doesn't even make it to the end of the first volume before he becomes wussified. In Detective 38, Batman witnesses the murder of young Dick Grayson's parents, and becomes the boy's ward. Dick becomes better known as Robin, and Batman loses his dark aura. Here's the panel that signals the new, lighter, Batman:

Look at it- he's smiling, and calling Dick a "reckless young squirt." Not only that, but he's a bit of a nag, too:

So much for "Death to Dr. Death" Batman. Say hello to "Reckless Young Squirt" Batman. And how long did it take to make the transition? Less than a year- Batman debuted May, 1939 and Robin popped up April, 1940. A 12-month golden age.

It wasn't until 1968 that we saw this Batman again:

So- one year dark, 28 years light. Quite a ratio, eh?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Boys Will Be Boys

Wildstorm has released the newest title from writer Garth Ennis- The Boys, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

The basic premise is simple enough- The Boys are a team of normal humans who are tired of being pushed around by super-powered beings. Check out this opening sequence from the first issue in which we see "Wee" Hughie and his girlfriend come between a superhero and his prey. (Sorry if it's too small to read the text, but I haven't figured out how to do that "click on the picture to see a bigger version" thing. I think the pictures tell the story pretty well, though.)

Thanks to this little encounter, Hughie is recruited by Billy Butcher to join "The Boys", a CIA-sponsored group whose mission is to keep an eye on super-powered beings, and use whatever means necessary to "dissuade" them from using their powers.

The whole Hughie sequence came out of the blue- it was completely unexpected (in the book, the two pages weren't facing each other- you had to turn the page to see the bloody outcome, making it that much more startling and- dare I say it?- hilarious.) The book's first two issues are very darkly humorous, and have me waiting anxiously for the next one.

I really like the idea of a book from outside the POV of a superhero, where we can see how their actions affect the "little guy." I've always been able to suspend my disbelief for a lot of what goes on in comics- flying, time travel, super-strength, etc. One thing that has always bothered me, though, is the rampant destruction that goes on in most titles. In the Marvel Comics world, Manhattan seems to be under constant attack- the real estate surrounding Avengers Mansion alone must be pretty much uninsurable. Yet, we are supposed to believe that the average citizen takes it all in stride- that the major destruction that even a run of the mill battle between superbeings can lead to doesn't phase them. They rebuild the block, and move on.

Marvel addressed this issue in regard to The Hulk- that his city destroying rampages never killed or seriously harmed any civilians because they were always able to evacuate the city in plenty of time to get them out of harm's way. I call BS on that- it's just a convenient way to direct attention from the fact that in the real world having a superhero in your city would be more a curse than a blessing.

It would be nice if The Boys addresses this issue, but I have the feeling it won't get too deep into it- Ennis seems to be going for more a dark humor vibe than a think piece. Still, so far, two issues down, and I'm waiting for more.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

In the spirit of my previous post, I decided to open myself to a little more embarassment by presenting a few records that I bought during the 80s that make me wonder "Why?"

In Visible Silence by Art of Noise- It had that song featuring Max Headroom (how 80s!) and apparently they scored a major coup by getting Duane Eddy to play on "Peter Gunn." But, for the most part, this is just boring electronic/synth music tarted up a little to get the dance crowd interested.

Door to Door by The Cars- I'm not sure if it's cool to like the Cars again. Their debut album was one of the first records I ever bought, and made feel all cool and with it. I listened to it to death. Same with Candy-O. I saw them perform live at the Spectrum twice. I looovvved The Cars, despite the fact that each album after Candy-O was slightly worse than the one before it. And then came Door to Door, which was a lot worse than the one before it- in fact, it was so bad I turned it off about halfway through and never listened to it again. So, I'm not sure if I should list this or not, because I never liked it, but it was, for a while, part of the record collection.

Magic Touch by Stanley Jordan- I caught this guy on Carson one night and was blown away by his playing. He was playing two guitar parts at once with his tapping technique. I had to have this album! He was so cool, so innovative, so... bland. Yes, the technique was cool, but his song choice was so boring. "Eleanor Rigby," "The Lady in My Life," "A Child is Born." Next to him, Kenny G. was a swinging jazz hep-cat.

Flash by Jeff Beck- when I was in high school, I took guitar lessons, and my teacher introduced me to the music of Mr. Beck. I could never on my best day play anywhere near as well as him (Beck, not my teacher), but I became quite the fan. And then this came out- I had to buy it- it was Jeff's first album in years. And it sucked. It took a while for that fact to sink in, but sink it did.

The Golden Age of Wireless by Thomas Dolby- We all remember "She Blinded Me With Science." I still think it's an amusing single. But the rest of the album was somewhat disappointing (and by "somewhat" I mean "extremely", and by "disappointing" I mean "horrendous.") A couple of mushy songs, some studio tricks, and that was it. He tried to capture the magic later with "Hyperactive", but we all saw through his shtick by then. (And how sad is it that I know the name of his follow-up song?)

There are plenty more embarassing albums from my collection- Susan Vega, Tracy Chapman, Yello, J. Geils, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I Can't Believe I Used To Like You

I don't know why, but I recently got to thinking about all the crappy TV I used to watch in the 80s. It seems like there were a lot of shows that I really liked then, but seem so inane now, and they just leave me wondering "Why the heck did I look forward to them?" I focus on the 80s because I was in my late teens/early 20s, so I should have had enough sense to realize these shows were pretty poor, but somehow found myself glued to the TV when they were on.

Here then, are a bunch of shows that owe me huge chunks of my life back:

Family Ties- I guess it was originally supposed to be some sort of satirical "Generation Gap" comedy, but the kicker was, it was the kids who were the conservatives, and the parents were the liberals! Wow! The show ended up having little impact on society at large, other than launching Michael J. Fox's acting career, and Tina Yother's singing "career." Actually- it did introduce the sit-com concept of The Rapidly Aging Kid- in which the Keaton's had a baby. One season focussed on Elise's pregnancy, the next season focussed on the infant, and the next season the kid was 5 years old! I guess they couldn't wait to get on with the obligatory "Cute Kid" jokes.

Night Court- OK, starting with Season 2, we had Markie Post's cleavage, but was that enough to justify the show's existance? Actually, pretty much, yes.

Kate and Allie- Mix an ignorant slut and Mrs. MacMillan, throw in a couple of not-quite-cute kids, and you've got comedy gold. Well, comedy tin maybe. Still, I'm pretty sure I saw every episode. Good God, why?

Golden Girls- I swear I'm straight- with my fashion sense and hair, there's no way I could be gay. So why did I watch this show? For Sophia's biting with, or the Gracie Allenish comedy stylings of Betty White? I can't believe I was with this one from the beginning, but somehow missed out on the first few seasons of Newhart and Cheers.

Evening Shade/Designing Women- The less said about the horrid oeuvre of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the better. I just want to blank every episode out of my mind.

On the bright side, I can say that I've never voluntarily seen even part of an episode of Who's The Boss, Full House or that show with Urkel. But, still, the 80s were not a high point of my TV-watching career.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Oh Captain, my Captain

If you held a gun to my head and asked my to tell you my 5 favorite comic characters, I’d probably list the following in some order: Captain Marvel (the original), Plastic Man, The Spirit, Batman and the Joker. (Actually, first I’d probably make some remark about how putting the gun to my head was not, technically, making me give you the names- that I was doing it of my own free will.*)

Looking at the list, something interesting sticks out about the first three characters- they’re all classic Golden Agers that really don’t translate too well to modern day comics. All three are, for lack of a better word, innocent. They’re funny, they can be goofy, they tend to have odd rogues galleries- all characteristics that put them at odds with present-day comics.

Of those three, Captain Marvel is by far my favorite, and he is the one that has the biggest injustice being done to him. He started out around 1939/1940 in the wake of the success of Superman. His alter ego is a young boy- Billy Batson- who one day was taken to meet a mysterious wizard named Shazam. When Billy says the wizard’s name, he is transformed into Captain Marvel, a superstrong, invulnerable, flying hero.

Cap’s adventures were much lighter than Superman’s and (especially) Batman’s. Cap always smiled. Where Superman’s evil genius nemesis Lex Luthor was devising deadly schemes to kill him, Cap’s evil genius nemesis, Dr. Sivana, had schemes that resembled those of The Brain (from “Pinky and the Brain.”) Where Batman’s foes were the Joker and Two-Face, Cap had to battle Mr. Mind, a super-intelligent worm (!) (although, to me, he looked more like a caterpillar).

As time went on, the Marvel Family grew to include Billy’s sister, Mary Marvel, Freddy Freeman (who became Captain Marvel, Jr.), Uncle Dudley (who had no superpowers, but pretended he did, and everyone played along), the Lieutenant Marvels (Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy), Talky Tawny (a tiger who was given a serum to allow him to talk and walk upright, and was often seen around Fawcett City in his dapper suit and hat), all the way down to Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

You can easily see these people were not living in the same universe as the Punisher and Wolverine.

At their peak, Captain Marvel comics were the highest-selling comics in the country, with sales surpassing those of "The Big Three"- Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC comics (Superman’s publisher), started a lawsuit, claiming Cap was ripping off Superman. The suit dragged on into the 50s, with Fawcett (Cap’s publishers) eventually agreeing to stop publishing the adventures of the Marvel Family.

Ironically, some time later, when Fawcett went out of business, DC bought the rights to all of their characters and decided it was time to re-introduce Captain Marvel to the masses. In 1972, DC put out the comic “Shazam!”, featuring art by Cap’s original artist, CC Beck, and stories that attempted to recapture the spirit of the old books. By now, however, comic readers were older and used to more “realistic” characters like The Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man- characters with flaws and foibles. Despite also having a popular live-action Saturday morning TV show, Captain Marvel never really approached his old levels of popularity, and the comic was eventually cancelled.

Cap became a back-up character for a while- doing guest appearances in other books. In the late 80s, another attempt was made to bring back “The Big Red Cheese,” but this also never really caught on, and was cancelled after a couple years.

So where am I going with this?

Well, three words- Captain Marvel’s back! Or is he?

DC Comics recently had huge cross-over event called “Infinite Crisis”, which affected all of the characters DC publishes, and launched a mini-series called “The Trials of Shazam!”. One of the results is that magic doesn’t work like it used to, and the old wizard, Shazam, who gave Billy Batson his powers, is dead. Which means that Captain Marvel is the new Shazam. And he’s been driven crazy by the responsibility. In the beginning of issue #1, he seriously wounds a couple of bad guys, just because he can.

Why? Why in the comics world is it assumed that in order for a character to be “good” or “relevant”, he has to become The Dark Knight? It worked for Batman (to a point) because that was always part of his character, but this is should be a light-hearted book.

This is Captain Marvel:

This is not:

Would “All in the Family 2006” feature an Archie Bunker who’s a member of the KKK? Would a modern “My Favorite Martian” have Uncle Martin secretly trying to pave the way for a takeover of Earth? I shudder to think at what “Hogan’s Heroes” would be like if it were written as a modern comic.

If you have to change a character so much that he’s the antithesis of what he used to be, just give up. Let him fade away and write a new character. The fans will appreciate it more, I’m sure.

*Inside Joke

Monday, September 11, 2006

Exhaustion sets in

Whew! I've just spent the past two weeks catching up on 4 months of comics- about 160 in all. I had to put in some marathon days, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

Anyway, I read some great stories- All-Star Superman, Fables, Batman, 52, and a few stinkers too (Nextwave- I'm looking at you!).

Anyway, seeing as I haven't posted in a while I think I'm going to be gathering my thoughts over the next few days, and then posting my 2 cents on some of my favorites and least favorites.

Just thought I'd warn you.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Flash in the (bed)Pan

Haven't blogged for a while- been a little busy. I'm still too busy to organize my thoughts, but I wanted to leave this little tidbit.

As I've said before, I'm a geek, and one of my geekly loves has been comics, especially horror comics and superheroes, with DC heroes being, by far, my favorites.

Anyway, I recently read an excerpt of a book entitled The Physics of Superheroes, in which it examined how certain heroes could or could not exist in our world. One of the heroes, mentioned was the Flash- basically, it examined how many calories he would have to eat to run 60 mph across the country (which is pretty piddly for the Flash). Anyway, the author (a physics professor) calculated how many calories he would burn up, and therefore, how much food he would have to consume to do it. I forget the exact number, it was a heckuva lot. Millions of calories, I think. Said professor concluded that this is one reason the Flash could not exist in our world.

So, I got to thinking- maybe the Flash has a really efficient metabolism. Maybe his stomach is like a nuclear reactor, and can break apart the very molecules of food he eats so that he can harness all the energy of the atom directly. That would surely fuel his cross-country journey?

But, if he was so efficient, does that mean he would never have any waste to eliminate? Does the Flash ever use the bathroom? Also, would that mean that the "Fastest Man Alive" would never get a case of the runs?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Why I love Criterion

Take a look at the picture to the left. Ever heard of this movie? If you're like most people, you probably haven't. Yet Criterion has just released it on 2 DVDs- the theatrical release, 2 commentaries, interviews with the stars. Heck, it's even got an introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman himself!

Why am I so excited?

Let's go back in time, to a mythical land known as mid-1970s era Drexel Hill, PA. Way before cable, there were only 7 stations in my neck of the woods- the three major networks, PBS, and three local UHF stations. One Saturday afternoon, young Bill turns the dial to Creature Features and sees this a bunch of teenagers in the woods messing with a book of spells. Soon, they are being chased by a man named Mr. Asmodeus, and his stop-action demons. The film stock was grainy, the acting was poor, and the stop-action was cheesy as hell. Needless to say, I was hooked.

I'd always loved stop-motion in movies- the jerkiness of the monsters' movements only added to the atmosphere, and the monsters definitely looked cooler than men in makeup. Plus, even though I was a huge fan of the Universal monsters of the 30s and 40s, you knew that no matter what happened there was going to be a happy (and, usually, sappy) ending. Equinox was one of the first movies I remembered seeing that ended bleakly, and that stuck with me.

Over the next several years, I managed to catch it whenever I could- usually around midnight on Friday. And then, nothing. Local TV stations became extinct, and your chances of catching movies like this diminished. No one I knew had ever seen the movie, and it never really appeared in any books about horror movies.

Yet, now, here it is- at least 25 years since the last time I last saw it. And Criterion, of all companies, is releasing it. You'd normally expect to see a movie like this being sold on bootleg quality video at a flea market. But this one’s got two versions of the movie (who knew there was a director’s cut?), commentaries, outtakes, interviews, and more.

I’d spent about half an hour talking up this movie to my wife, basically telling her what I’ve written above, before she told me to be quiet and play the movie already. It was a moment I was kind of dreading- could this movie hold up after all this time? Could I become a 10-year-old boy again?

Well, the first thing I noticed was that one of the actors was Frank Bonner, who later went on to play Herb Tarlek in WKRP in Cincinnati. And then I got to thinking about how much I loved that show, and how I wished someone would straighten out the music rights so we could finally see it on DVD. And that made me a little sad because my mind would never have wandered during this movie when I was a kid. No matter how much I wished otherwise, my adult self could not lose itself into the movie like the kid could- I couldn’t fully get past the acting, or the effects, or the plot-holes.

But there were some good points- for something that was made with no budget in 1967 and is basically a glorified home movie, the effects are pretty good (in fact, Dennis Muran who did the effects ended up having an illustrious career with George Lucas’ ILM). Also, the monsters still looked pretty cool and Asmodeus was creepy. I was struck by how similar this movie was to the first two Evil Dead movies. I guess Sam Raimi haunted his local UHF stations at midnight, too.

So, while it didn’t bring back all of the feelings I once I had, I’d still recommend it to any of you who’ve read this far. I know I’ll hang onto the DVDs until my daughter’s 7, and we’ll spend a Saturday afternoon watching it.

Now, if Criterion will only look into releasing The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How I spent my weekend

You'll find this out soon enough, but I'm a bit of a geek. One thing that makes me very happy is the Chiller Theatre Convention. Where else can you meet some cool B-Movie stars and your favorite TV actors?

Here are a couple shots from the most recent Convention- how many people do
you recognize?


Somehow it's not as much fun when it's your blog.