The folks behind the @FakeAPStylebook Twitter feed (which next week will be arriving at stores nationwide in convenient book form) recently began another alleged humor project: a parody of “content farms” cleverly named The Content Farm. I’ve really enjoyed its articles on topics as diverse as “How to Know You’re Alive” (Step 1: Touch a puppy’s nose) and “How to Massage My Wife” (Step 11: If you need some oils, I have some on a silver tray right beside the bed).
I’ve submitted a few ideas, and one of them was today’s entry: “How to Urinate While Standing Upright.” Most of the jokes are mine, though I take no credit for the Batman reference.
Bonus: Here’s an article that didn’t make the cut.
How to Travel Through Time
You painted a cardboard box blue. You got a ticket for driving 88 mph in a school zone. You scoff when people say that there’s no time like the present.
- Clear the space around you. You won’t want other objects/pets to be caught up in the time distortion field.
- Stand with feet spread wide apart. Close your eyes.
- Open your eyes. Success! You’re in the future! Your flying car awaits!
- None, really. This procedure is nearly foolproof.
Now that you’re a master of the Chronosphere, here comes the challenging bit.
How to Travel Through Time (Backwards)
- Invent faster-than-light space travel. This may seem like a daunting first step, but keep at it.
- Make yourself a futuristic costume. Get your mom to help.
- Accelerate your vessel to a minimum speed of Warp 6.2 toward the nearest star. You may find the Sun to be convenient.
- Set aside your preconceived notions. You will be moving so fast that the star’s gravitational pull will have a negligible effect on your flight path. Ignore this and jam down the pedal.
- Break away. At the moment that the stellar mass fills your viewscreen, turn sharply to the right. The resultant slingshot trajectory will send you hurtling backwards in time. If you already haven’t synchronized your watch, do so now.
- Slow down. Selecting a precise reentry to normal space-time can be tricky. We’ve had good luck eyeballing it.
Success! You’re in the past! Watch out for Romans and/or dinosaurs!
- When designing your costume, avoid the unitard. You may think that it looks “spacey,” but you’ll require an additional crew member to handle the zipper.
- Fly past the star, not into it.
- Do not kill/have sex with your grandparents.
During the year that I lived in West Hollywood, I found myself in horrific company. My roommate Guy and his circle of friends were all monster mask mavens, their homes decorated with row upon row of bodiless heads. Our downstairs neighbors were David and Laura Lady, a couple that seemed not only made for each other but constructed in the same laboratory. David was (and is) a talented mask sculptor, and Laura was (and is) a whiz at hairwork and costuming.
I moved back to Indiana in ’87, and the Ladys returned to their ancestral Ohio a few years later. They set up haunted housekeeping in a converted hotel that served double-duty as a walk-through Halloween attraction. I visited Horror Hotel once in the ’90s, but didn’t see the Ladys again…until this past Saturday. I dropped in on the Horrorhound Weekend convention, where Dave and Laura were among the honored guests of “Mask-Fest.”
I’ve always enjoyed monster movies, but–Godzilla excepted–I’m not an out-and-out fanatic. While I’m fairly well-versed in the history of horror, I’ve missed quite a few of the classics. And the genre’s recent trend of “torture porn” repulses me.
So, while I can generally get by at an event like Horrorhound Weekend, it’s not quite my cup of arsenic. I was uncomfortable with the amount of misogynistic imagery and bare boobage on display, moreso as there were small children in attendance. And then there was the DVD dealer with copies of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will sitting amidst the slasher films.
Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. There were plenty of old-school monsters loping amidst the Jasons and Jigsaws, as well as some very impressive costumes. The eight-foot-tall Frankenstein was himself dwarfed by a 10-foot Grim Reaper with light-up eyes and articulated skeletal fingers.
There was an entire room devoted to TV horror hosts. Most of them seemed to be hobbyists taking advantage of the Internet and a large supply of “Clown White” makeup to reinvent themselves as wanna-be Svengoolies or Zacherleys, but at least a couple were making a serious run at it.
There were dozens of quasi-celebrities lining the walls, signing autographs for 20-to-30 bucks a pop. They ran the gamut from the relatively famous–Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects)–to the guy who wore the mutant mask in The Funhouse. I had a nice chat with Jeffrey Combs, with whom I had worked on a crappy, crappy* film called The Phantom Empire. (And, by “with whom I had worked,” I mean that he starred in it and I drove a shit-filled motor home as a production assistant.) I think he was amused when I showed up with a Phantom Empire DVD for him to sign.
Amongst the third Killer Klown from the left and a gaggle of cast members from Halloween III: Season of the Witch sat an honest-to-Cthulhu film legend: actress Barbara Steele. Her spike-scarred face from Black Sunday was one of the indelible images of ’60s horror.
It troubled me to see only a trickle of people paying their respects to Ms. Steele while at the next booth over Sid Haig (best known as “Captain Spaulding”** in House of 1,000 Corpses) always had about a dozen queued up. I have nothing against Haig, who has certainly paid his dues. He’s been in the industry long enough (including a star turn as the villain in the ’70s kids’ show Jason of Star Command) to have multiple generations of fans. But, come on…it’s Barbara frickin’ Steele. Attention must be paid.
Dave Lady, attired in seizure-inducing strobing goggles and gloves, gamely emceed the costume contest despite the distraction of a travelling geek show–complete with portable stripper pole–that simply refused to relinquish the stage. I was fond of the guy dressed as Robot Monster‘s Ro-Man of the Planet Ro-Man, but the contest was won by a duo who came as the bedroom scene from The Exorcist.
It was great to hang out with my friends again, and I hope to do it again next year!
Please enjoy a final few random images from Horrorhound Weekend.
**All weekend I had the Groucho Marx song “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” in my head.
Last Friday, the Interwebs were a-buzzing with the release of a publicity photo of Adrianne Palicki costumed as she’ll appear in David E. Kelley’s television revamp of Wonder Woman. I’m going to take it as read that most self-appointed fashion critics despised it.
Me? I don’t entirely hate it. I don’t entirely like it either, but I’ll come to that.
First, in case you somehow missed out:
The most common complaint I’ve seen is that it looks like a Halloween costume. I can’t argue with that. More specifically, it reminds me of a design by the likes of Leg Avenue, a company which makes “sultry” versions of everything from eskimos to ring masters.* It appears to be the sort of knock-off that would be marketed as “Wondrous Woman.”
Now, I’ll freely admit that Wonder Woman could use a redesign. As much as I love her classic costume–and I do, in that I am hardwired to like sexy things that are sexy–it makes even less sense now than it did when it was introduced in 1941.
It’s one of the many contradictions that challenge anyone trying to write a passable Wonder Woman story:
- She’s a warrior who preaches peace. (Modern stories paint her as downright bloodthirsty, entirely missing the point.)
- She’s an icon of feminine empowerment overtly designed to tickle a variety of fetishes. (Early WW stories featured wall-to-wall bondage scenes and a not-at-all-subtextual theme of “submission to loving authority.”)
- She hails from a culture based loosely on ancient Greek mythology, yet she dresses like a patriotic hooker. (The flag theme actually made a certain sense in the ’40s, as Wondy’s primary mission was ambassador to Man’s World–aka America–during the run-up to our involvement in World War II.)
So, yeah, Wonder Woman could stand a makeover.
I’ll restate that I don’t love the new costume, yet I think that it’s not all that far from being a decent update. I like that the eagle bodice–replaced in the ’80s by a stylized “WW” symbol–has returned. And I’ll concede that pants are a more practical choice for a crimefightress. (My preference would’ve been a Xena-like skirt.)
Here’s what I don’t like:
- It’s too shiny. That quality, more than anything, marks it as a Halloween costume.
- The red stars in the middle of the bodice and the girdle don’t work for me. I guess that they’re meant to echo the traditional one in the tiara, but I find them distracting. (It’s hard to see in the photo, but there’s also a line of stars running down the side of her trousers, evoking her old spangled panties.)
- The boots should be red. Besides being the sole break from what is otherwise WW’s traditional color scheme, they aren’t distinct enough from the pants.
- That belt/girdle is fugly. It’s big, clunky and spiky. Bleah.
With that in mind, I did a couple of passes on the design, employing my meager photo retouching skills:
I removed the red stars, simplified the belt, recolored the boots and toned down the shiny. It ain’t Lynda Carter, but if I do say so myself, it ain’t entirely bad.
Despite the early script reviews, I can’t say that I’m not intrigued by the prospect of a new live-action Wonder Woman. And the news that Elizabeth Hurley (whom I’ve greatly missed) has been cast as what may be a recurring villainess is enough to get me to take an initial look.
*Though Leg Avenue surely wouldn’t have replaced Wondy’s star panties.
“I am not a prude, but…”
Translation: I am a prude, as I’m about to demonstrate.
“Politically, I’m independent.”
Translation: Once about every ten years, my preferred party nominates someone so odious that even I can’t vote for him/her.
“I’ve never thought of you in that way.”
Translation: BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS
“Scientology is in no way a rapacious cult.”
Translation: I’ve received a letter from David Miscavige’s lawyers.
“I am a citizen journalist.”
Translation: I am a partisan hack.
“How about I tell them I’m a high priest Vatican assassin warlock.”
Translation: Even I can’t stand watching “Two and a Half Men.”
I love Netflix Watch Instantly. Love. It. Hundreds of recent and classic films streaming across my Wii and iPad? Yes, please.
I’ve been able to catch up on a bunch of movies I missed at the theater, the latest being the 2009 British sci-fi story Moon. Like the previously-reviewed Monsters, Moon was praised for being thoughtful rather than flash-bangy. Unlike Monsters, I think that acclaim was largely deserved.
Moon is highly reminiscent of late ’60s/early ’70s theatrical sci-fi. Many have brought up the obvious parallel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, notably the relationship between Sam Rockwell’s lone lunar miner and the one-eyed computer GERTY, whose flat-toned voice is provided by Kevin Spacey. I think it’s closer to Silent Running or Dark Star with their stir-crazy, working-class astronauts, plus a bit of hallucinatory weirdness courtesy of Solaris.
Nearing the end of a three-year tour of duty as the sole inhabitant of a mostly-automated Helium-3 mining facility on the dark side of the moon, Sam Rockwell’s character (also named Sam) is almost completely cut off from human contact thanks to a perpetually-malfunctioning satellite uplink. He’s unable to interact in real-time with his wife and infant daughter, depending instead on delayed messages relayed from Jupiter.
With only three weeks to go, Sam begins to have visions of a teenaged girl, and then of himself. After a moon buggy accident, he wakes up in the infirmary with a loss of memory. Convincing the evasive GERTY to allow him outside the mining base, he investigates the crippled buggy and finds a second Sam trapped inside. Is he crazy, or is he a clone?
Overall, I thought Moon succeeded, though even at 97 minutes it ran out of material in the final half hour. I began to anticipate a further twist (see the spoiler section below) that never happened. And the physical deterioration of the second Sam–or is he the first Sam?–began to make my skin crawl after a time.
Highlights include Rockwell’s pair of effectively odd performances, as well as the visual elements of the moon base. GERTY–a computer tethered to a ceiling-mounted arm–is a clever design, conveying emotion through a changing smiley-face graphic display. And as far as I can tell, the effects appear to be old-school miniatures rather than CGI, giving the locations that extra bit of realism.
SPOILERS FROM HERE OUT – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
The two Sams are indeed clones. After the real Sam’s initial tour of duty, his employer decided that rather than going through the expense of training and transporting new miners, it would be cheaper to create a bunch of copies installed with the original’s memories and kept on ice in a secret chamber beneath the base. There are dozens, if not hundreds of Sams stored away, which in itself seems like a waste of money. At three years (more or less, depending upon accidents) per Sam, how many clones can they go through before the remainder pass their sell-by date?
One of the Sams gets outside the jamming array which prevents real-time communication and contacts his now-teenaged daughter. In the background we can hear her father, presumably the still-living original Sam. It struck me that Sam Prime must have been a colossal tool to participate in a project that would result in hundreds of copies of himself living alone with their false memories and ultimately being tricked into disintegrating themselves.
As I hinted, the business with the clones was given up early enough that I was waiting for a further twist. When the Sams went out in their respective buggies searching for the jamming towers, I fully expected them to find more mining bases manned by further Sams.
Last year I heard a lot about the cheapie independent sci-fi road movie Monsters. Reputed to have been made for under a half-million dollars–with special effects created using off-the-shelf software–it was supposed to be a brave, understated take on the giant monster subgenre, a Cloverfield for the art-house crowd.
I didn’t manage to catch its brief theatrical run, but last night I sat down with it on Netflix Watch Instantly. I’d love to be able to proclaim that Monsters was all that and a bag of popcorn, but I found myself increasingly disappointed as the story unspooled, even moreso on further reflection.
Monsters is pitched as the movie that occurs once the invasion is over. Six years after a space probe crashed in the Mexican jungle, alien lifeforms have sprung up in a so-called “infected zone” bordering the American southwest. Titanic, bioluminescent creatures that appear to be the love children of octopi and giraffes roam by night, occasionally wandering into human-settled areas. The U.S. military conducts regular bombing runs against the beasts*, but for the most part people accept the new normal.
A photojournalist is tasked with escorting the daughter of his magazine’s publisher out of Mexico before the harbors close for good. But when their passports are stolen, they hitch a ride across the infected zone. Love blossoms. Sorta. It’s not so much passion as it is a mutual willingness to momentarily detach themselves from their own self-absorption.
Monsters wants to be the African Queen of kaiju films, but the uninvolving characters and improvised dialogue are an ocean away from Bogart and Hepburn’s romantic banter. It’s a movie that tells you what is happening, as when the photographer declares “the vibe just changed.” (People also ask a lot of questions of the “what’s that?” or “why are they carrying guns?” variety, as if they have forgotten about being surrounded by colossal calamari.)
This would be less damaging if there was more happening on the alien invader front, but the eponymous critters make only occasional, brief appearances. I’ll accept the premise that this was a conscious directorial choice rather than a budgetary mandate, but if so, writer/director Gareth Edwards should’ve spent more time making the humans worth caring about.
The roguish Andrew flirts with the boss’ daughter, but spends the night with a prostitute who steals most of his belongings. Oddly enough, Samantha doesn’t seem all that upset that her idiotic escort lost their passports. This may be because she’s not all that eager to get home to her fiancée, or it just may be that she’s bored. It’s hard to tell. We never find out why she went to Mexico in the first place, or why she spends the movie sporting a bandaged arm. Whatever her motivations, she’s far too willing to risk crossing an alien-overrun land rather than, say, sitting around the U.S. embassy until Daddy Warbucks charters a plane. Monsters or no monsters, are we really expected to believe that the world won’t help a rich, white girl?
Monsters comes with a heaping helping of metaphor. You see, it’s really about the U.S. response to illegal immigration, with glowing space squid filling in for undocumented domestics. And while I’m far from immune to the charms of sledgehammer allegory–I was a big fan of V, after all–this is the sort of movie in which people gaze out at a 100-meter-high concrete border wall and say “It’s different looking at America from the outside.” Point delivered. (Thwack!) And I’m not sure that I buy into the suggestion that the U.S. military are the true antagonists here when we’re shown the extent of the otherworldly infestation. It’s hard to root for an invasive species, especially when the Asian carp in question can topple buildings.
It’s not that I went into Monsters unprepared. I knew that the creatures stayed mostly in the background. I’m fine with menaces that are suggested rather than seen. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with improvised dialogue. I found The Blair Witch Project chilling (the first time, anyway) because its filmmakers suffused their story with a dread of the unknown. In Monsters, we start out with a fairly complete understanding of the aliens’ nature and motivations. Our protragonists knowingly and needlessly put themselves in harm’s way. And yet–aside from the final couple of minutes–there’s no sense of imminent threat. It’s not the lack of monsters that defuses Monsters, it’s the lack of tension.
Then there’s the non-ending. Okay, that’s not completely true: there is sort of a conclusion, if you know where to look for it. But, like M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, it seems less of an ambiguity than a case of the movie stopping just when the interesting part is about to happen.
I don’t want to come down too harshly on Monsters. I respect its do-it-yourself nature. The location shooting is beautiful. And I appreciate its attempt to take a more thoughtful approach to giant monster tropes. But I will say that I’m now kinda worried that Gareth Edwards has been given the keys to the forthcoming American Godzilla reboot. As a filmmaker’s calling card, Monsters achieves impressive results on a micro-budget, but as a romantic thriller, it falls flatter than Tokyo after a rampage.
*Bonus question: why are there so many crashed planes littering the zone? The aliens don’t appear to jump, fly or shoot death rays. Jet fighter vs. land squid would, at first glance, seem an unfair fight.
This morning I received an excited e-mail from Comixology, a distribution platform for digital comic books. It seems that they’re having one of their occasional 99-cent sales, this time for a run of Superman (and related) comics collectively known as the “New Krypton Saga.” What a deal! Only 99 cents an issue!
Did I mention that there are 86 issues? Collect ‘em all!
Seriously, here’s the list.
I don’t intend to get into another logorrheic rant about how comics aren’t as good as they used to be, except to point out that one of my favorite four-color epics, 1976′s “Who Took the Super Out of Superman?,” ran a mere four issues. And Alan Moore’s elegaic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” arguably the most moving Superman tale ever told, was a two-parter. So, yeah, I think 86 issues devoted to a single story arc is excessive.
I will now name a few things that I can buy for $85.14 or less.
- The Lego Star Wars AT-AT Walker ($83.99; Toys R Us)
- The board game Galaxy Trucker and its expansion ($84.44; Thoughthammer)
- The complete Rocky & Bullwinkle on DVD ($66.99; Amazon) plus the complete George of the Jungle ($9.99; Amazon)
- One large soda–with refills–each weekday during the months of April, May, June and July ($.99 each; McDonald’s)
In hindsight, I don’t know that I have much of a point here, except to say that a 99-cent discount price doesn’t seem much of an incentive when what you’re buying is 1/86th of a story.