Sunday, December 23, 2018

Holiday Chicken Special


            I work in an office.  My commitment to giving a dedicated 40-60% of my all to this job on a consistent basis has left me with little energy to write on this blog with any frequency.  Contrary to what you or others may believe, writing takes a lot of mental energy, it is mental exercise that is taxing.
            But while my job does sit on my brain like a big fat dog keeping me from getting up, occasionally it does give me something to talk about… Mostly stuff I can’t post because pointed criticisms of your work, no mater how many layers of anonymity, is not smart.
            Today I have one of the things I can write about, the office Christmas party.  Last year we did a traditional secret Santa format and I gave a picture frame with a picture of myself in it, and in the picture, I am holding up a sign that says, “The Frame is the Present”.  I am (of course) mugging in this picture.  One of my coworkers thought it was such a fun gift idea, she told her husband and the husband decided to do the same thing for all the people in his office.
            I am a trend setter.
            This year we had a Holiday Sock Party… Which is apparently a thing.  The idea being… It is secret Santa, but with Socks.  Alright.
            The organizing member of the office gathered names, favorite colors, candy, hobby/interests, and a preference on whether the person wanted “holiday socks” or just socks.  I listed myself as “ambivalent” on the sock question.
            My draw gave me a woman from the office I have interacted with dozens of times, but her name never stuck, I am kind of an inconsiderate workmate.  Her interest was listed as “Roosters/Country Theme”.  What an odd choice you might be thinking, I made the most of it.
            I went to a craft store, bought a rooster sculpture that was on sale, and made holiday cloths for it out of printer paper.  I also made it a tiny 3D beard out of layers of paper with trimmed edges and secured it with fish line.  I then made her a card, written in character as the “Holiday Chicken”.  That card is presented below along with the image of the titular fowl.
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Season’s Greetings from the Holiday Chicken,
I am obligated to preface all of this by telling you that I am not acting in any official capacity for the Holiday, I am merely passionate about it.
As such, much like Santa reps for Christmas I am attempting to set myself up as a holiday mascot for Christmas Socks.  I will freely admit, I am a poor choice for this job, as being a chicken, socks are… well, let’s just say I have lots of friends who have worn socks.
But!  I want to break into the holiday mascot industry and we all have to start somewhere.
So, socks it is.
Anyway, I have included the receipts, as I feel unqualified to make judgments about what socks people should receive and want them to be able to swap such things if they need to.
Happy Holidays from the Holiday Chicken.

P.S. if you know anyone who works in Santa’s workshop and could get me an interview do not hesitate to pass that information over.  I am not too chicken to ask for help in professional advancement.

(Resume and References available upon request)

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Goodbye Stan Lee


It was not so long ago that I wrote a blog about the death of Harold Ramis… Good lord that was almost 5 years ago… Okay, it has been a while since I last spoke on the topic of death especially as it relates to famous individuals who have had a real impact on me creatively and helped to shape who I am, even if they never met me.


This week Stan Lee, co-creator of many of Marvel Comics’ greatest heroes, and perhaps one of the greatest public icons for science fiction and fantasy ever, passed away.  He remained a living mascot and spokesman for the glory and wonder of imagination for decades.  He was, by all accounts I could find, a good person who legitimately hoped that he had made a difference in the lives of people by telling his silly stories.

He lived to be 95 years old, a revered almost canonized figure of secular values.  “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility” is such an important lesson that I don’t even think the profundity of it completely lands anymore.

I have been reading comics, watching cartoons, and reading books about his creations long before they took off and became the biggest entertainment business in the world.  Stan’s creations, along with those of Jack Kirby, Bill Finger, and the other legions of creators from that rare era where creativity first started exploding in the way it did, into an age of larger than life characters, those creations have impacted me greatly.

"I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing." – Stan Lee, The Washington Post

I owe Lee a tremendous debt.  I hope that I can be, directly or indirectly, as much of an impact on someone else, as he had on me.  There will never be another Stan Lee, the world is just not set out that way anymore.  But maybe the one we were lucky enough to get was enough.

There are other celebrities that have passed away that had an impact on me that I have not spoken on, and I don’t always want to.  That some creatives hit me in a way that I process on my own because I don’t really know what to say.  But I think that Stan Lee has to be one of the ones I comment on.  It felt okay to.

He lived a long life, and his stories will live longer still.  To quote comic author Neil Gaiman, “Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.


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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Some of the Genius of "The Planet of the Apes" (1968)


            The Original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” is a science fiction classic.  It is so influential as to seem pedestrian by modern standards, filled with story elements ranging from cliché to thin.  But much like all classics in any genre, the reason it feels predictable or unremarkable is simply because we grew up in a world that it helped create.  The final twist is one of the most iconic moments in movie history, endlessly parodied and creating a demand for clever twists in the genre from there out…. Kind of.

The Plot

            A group of astronauts crash land on a primitive world, after taking a quick assessment of the local humans and concluding they will be running the place in short order, they are then confronted with a brutal reality, a race of ape-men control the planet and use humans as little more than cattle.  The presence of the astronauts, humans who can speak and possessing scientific knowledge beyond what the apes thought humans capable of, throws the social order into a spin.

            Ultimately, it is revealed that the Apes have been covering up the truth, that a once great human civilization ruled earth before destroying itself.  The last astronaut explores the ruins and reveals that the lost civilization was the USA.  The “Alien Planet” was Earth the whole time.  The Astronauts had been in suspended animation and arrived in the far future after a cataclysmic war.


The Twist

By today’s standards the twist is an anti-twist.  Why would an alien planet have humans?  There is a dead giveaway.  BUT, it is important to understand the world this movie was released into.  I kind of give the twist a pass because at the time Science Fiction was still more allegorical to old time adventure and exploration stories about being at sea and finding islands with natives that resembled us but had a differing social order.

For instance, look at "Star Trek" which was still on the air when the movie was released.  Star Trek had so many human populated planets that the whole thing feels cheap in retrospect.  But, it is a consequence of the genre, Star Trek was asked to use props the studio had on hand so as to squeeze all the utility they could out of them.  “We’ve got a Gangster Planet, an Ancient Rome in Modern Times Planet, we have a planet with a Haunted Castle, and another with Greco Ruins!”

The audience for “Planet of the Apes” was primed to say, "Okay, so this is a planet much like ours that fell to apes."  More akin to a cheap out rendition of the Elder Thing/Shoggoth civilization in, "At the Mountains of Madness" by HP Lovecraft.  Altho, the sub textual message of that story WAS SUPER DIFFERENT than the message of “Apes”.  (I should talk about that sometime.)

Having the twist of “Planet of the Apes” be that it was explicitly Earth might have rocked some mental boats because the audience saw Earth in science fiction as being safe from those kinds of story.  Or at least you knew what you were getting into, like “The Last Man on Earth”.  There weren’t any other post-apocalyptic movies from this era that took place on Earth and that was the big reveal, people were just used to certain genre conventions pulling them toward not getting the twist.  Kind of.

The Context

            Let us briefly travel back in time to the era of 60’s science fiction and look at what I would consider the most influential science fiction works of the time and why that presents an important context for “Planet of the Apes”.  At the time there were four shows that have remained in the popular consciousness because of their deep penetration into pop culture.  “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who” which were more oriented toward exploration in the classic adventure story sense, and “The Twilight Zone” and the “Outer Limits” which were both genre-shows known for having twist endings.

            All four of these shows have an element of anthology storytelling to them.  “Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” explicitly, but “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek” often felt like standalone storytelling, continuity was not as strong an element as it is these days, the crew of the Enterprise or TaRDiS would show up at a place, be confronted with a science fiction story, and then solve the story and leave, you could watch a serial of “Doctor Who” or an episode of “Star Trek” and see it as a standalone story for the most part.

            Now, “Doctor Who” would travel to possible futures and show the world in various states of decay, or back in time to show the literal caves humans used to live in.  “Star Trek” would travel to human populated worlds and often times had embarrassing presentations of, “THIS COULD BE EARTH!” presentations with “The Omega Glory” one of the most obnoxious episodes of the series.  But neither of these shows was about seeing EARTH after the fall as a gotcha to the audience.

            “Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” on the other hand HAD LOTS OF THIS KIND OF THING!  Tho, the “Twilight Zone” takes the cake in this department, I think there were multiple stories of Adam and Eve making the best of things in the post apocalypse of a civilization that preceded ours or being all that was left of our current world.

But, even the “Twilight Zone” twists come in a bunch of different ways, “Third from the Sun” is about people fleeing the planet in an experimental spaceship as a nuclear war is about to break out, turns out the habitable world they are fleeing to… IS EARTH!


Conclusion

            We have this era of science fiction in which Astronauts like the crew of the Enterprise go to planets *like Earth* that have some twist, only looking like Earth to make a point.  We also have “The Twilight Zone” which has twists all about saying, “And it was Earth all along”.  I think the reason “Planet of the Apes” works is that those two micro-genres in Science Fiction, “we are somewhere else” and “it was Earth” really had not mixed as much at the time.

            When the movie starts we think we are watching “Star Trek” by the end we realize we are watching “The Twilight Zone”.  "Planet of the Apes" bridged that gap and changed people's understanding of the genre so that such a twist wouldn't really work these days without some kind of setup that would require a lot more explanation (for instance, “humans have been space faring for so long Earth has been forgotten and the space explorers went there not knowing what it was”).

            Or, you know, maybe I don’t know what I am talking about.  “Planet of the Apes” had a lot going on with animal rights and the idea of a social order that strips the humanity and history from a people to make them into cattle.  Creating a metaphor that some would call “mixed”, but I prefer to look at as complex.  Trying to do too direct a comparison to real life issues always feels cartoonish to me, I prefer to have a blending of issues so that the audience has to do some of the work and can reach their own conclusions about the touched-on topics.

            Or, you know, maybe I don’t know what I am talking about.

"Oh shit.  There goes the planet."
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Halloween Horror Nights 2018


I went to Halloween Horror Nights this year.  I managed to visit all of the houses, the Villains Academy dance show, and pass thru all the scare zones.  I also managed to go on “The Mummy” ride and the Rock-It Roller Coaster (which, while a good coaster, its theme feels like a parody of what “the youth” thinks is cool).
While I can say that the scare zones were fine, and the dance show was… Lame, I am sorry, there were cool things in it, but overall it did not come together… Everyone knows that the houses are what people are there to see.  So, I am going to review them, as I have done in the past.
I was going to put these in no particular order, then afterword I tried to shuffle them from lamest to best, here are my thoughts on each house.


10) Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces
Rednecks/Carnies hold up in the rusting ruin of an abandoned carnival, and they are all dressed to theme… because I guess they are auditioning to be minions for the Joker.
            This one suffered from multiple issues.  While in my mind, scary carnival is easy to pull off (I wrote a whole novelette with that premise) this one was kind of bland with the idea.  I mean killers in carnival garb is fine, could have a lot of visual variety… But it mostly just shook out to the word “trespassers” written in red paint next to a fake dead body with a pitchfork in it.
            The timing on this one was also off for me, I missed a good chunk of the scares.

9) Slaughter Sinema
Let’s take the idea of grindhouse drive in movies and make a series of different spoof films with horror themes.
The potential for visual variety in this one was high, and several of the areas were really cool… I wish that they had managed to scare me more.
            The timing of the scares was COSMICALLY off.  There was a whole area I walked thru with NOTHING moving.  At some points I was literally squinting into the darkness because I wanted to SEE the thing that was going to jump out at the next person in line.
            This could have been my favorite, but failure of execution kept it from delivering.

8) The Horrors of Blumhouse
A split house featuring scenes from “Happy Death Day” (which was a time loop movie with a masked killer) and “The First Purge” (latest in the surprisingly iconic franchise).
            What an odd pairing.  “Happy Death Day” is a comedy about… a masked killer which does not make for an interesting visual experience.  I have to admit, they do something clever with the house, repeating the same bedroom scene multiple times from different angles to simulate the movie… But it is not scary.
            “The Purge” side of things is better, because the killers all wear a range of diverse and badass masks… I will have to talk about “The Purge” franchise one of these days… But, the house doesn’t really work overall.  Two tastes that taste bland together.

7) Seeds of Extinction
Alien plant life is spreading out and unleashing humanoid plant monsters on the world.
            I like the concept and the setting was nice… I think I would have liked the monsters a lot more if I could freaking see them.  The thing was so poorly lit, it was harder to see in this house than the house where going blind is part of the gimmick.
            I feel this is a bit of a letdown, but not actually bad.

6) Stranger Things
Iconic scenes from one of the best shows in existence.
            It’s fine.  I like the show, as a show.  I get a mild mental *ping* from recognizing something from the show as a room in the house.  I can appreciate the cool monster suit.  This is not particularly scary.  My emotional response was quite mellow.


5) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Michael Myers is out and swinging his knife wildly at people yet again.
This was the last house we went to and we almost didn’t bother.  Previous years’ “Halloween” houses have been kind of ‘meh’.  This has more to do with my personal ambivalence toward the series (the first one is good in the sense of being a classic, but I actually like the strangeness of number 3 more).  A masked killer is just not that impressive to me from a visuals standpoint, and not conducive to an imaginative house.
That all being said, this one was pretty good.  The timing hit me multiple times and I think it was just laid out well so that I wasn’t constantly aware of where the scare was coming from.  A well-constructed house makes up for blah source material.

4) Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
World War I era zombie outbreak in France… and you are going blind.
This was a surprise highlight for the evening.  The use of lights coming up and fading out, odd flashes, mirrors, and holograms they were able to put a good spin on what could have just been a zombie house with a period setting.
Not everything about it worked, the speakers going in were too loud; one room was just flashing bulbs; but, it had one of the best singular rooms when the lights come on with a zombie, and then go out, only to then return without the zombie.  Cool effect see that is hard to explain the interesting aspects of in words.

3) Poltergeist
A family is haunted by a variety of strange occurrences.
“Poltergeist” is one of my favorite scary movies.  It is well paced, has numerous interesting set pieces and has a likable cast of characters doing their best.
This house was kind of great.  With several HUGE items showing off some of the scariest images in the movie.  I find the use of that clown toy to be a bit much, a consequence of that remake NO ONE SAW.  But, if you have to grab onto memorable things… the clown is memorable.  My biggest complaint is that the house starts at the end of the movie, with coffins and dead bodies erupting out of the ground, like… why?
This might be the best house.  Really the top 3 are all pretty even with one another.

2) Trick ‘r Treat
Based on a movie more people need to watch.  A series of different horror stories weave in and out of one another on Halloween night.
This was conducive to lots of visual variety, undead children, vampire, serial killer, werewolves, and Sam, the creepy sack boy mascot character.
Literally the only issue I had is that right in the front the path splits, I was unsure which direction to walk down, and ended up on a dead-end that should have had a staff member to point me in the right direction.  Aside from that there were plenty of cool images and my friends held it as one of the highlights of the whole visit.

Watch this movie.

1) Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
Evil interpretations of fairy tales. 
A series of fairy tales, with the wicked witch, humpty dumpty, the three pigs, goldilocks, Rapunzel, and others.  All of them done as horror monsters.  I loved it.  Only one of them did not make any sense to me and that was Humpty Dumpty, but I don’t know what they could have done… That’s not true I immediately have an idea just saying it out loud to myself.  But, that is fine.
Perhaps the most visually interesting of all the houses.  My personal favorite.

Conclusion
I liked Halloween Horror Nights this year more than last.  I got to take in everything, spend plenty of time with most of my friends from grad school, and really the spending time with friends was the core appeal here… the park was just an excuse to see people I used to either live with or live a 5-minute walk from.
I had intended to do this review in multiple parts, but I was busy mentally gearing up for a big test (probably write something about that later) and this just slipped down the priorities list as frivolity is wont to do.
As a side note, why don’t they bring back “Rocky Horror Picture Show”?  I liked it.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Poem, "Too Long a Summer"


Too Long a Summer

Time has tripped and taken to autumn, but born up by hot wind, away from the cold ground of winter.
Gliding and hanging on far too long to summer.

Confused and bitter at the indignity, flailing in their hopelessness, Time stays alive in every twist with wakes of spiraling steam and tide cast by every move.

Sweaty and fallow cheeked wishing for the shady places of cool long nights to bring.
Angry to feel the warmth and humid air hang to them.

Time is hanging on.  Still believing that the world can be cool again.  Eyes looking out as he slowly falls thru the hot wind, they see leafless trees, not from the approach of winter but of a summer that will never end.

Touching down, the ground is hard and dusty and hot.

Be still, be patient, they say, wiping sweat that falls hard to the ground.


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This was inspired by this poem: "May Morning" by James Wright

If you want to read more of my poems, click here.


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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Superhero Romantic Comedy

It was spoken about recently that the Gambit movie (that I am sure they are totally going to make and is in no way some strange shell game being played with investors) would have the tone of a romantic comedy.

Gambit has been a popular character with women for a while.  Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, not being a woman, I am not speaking from experience, I just recall Taylor Kitsch being mentioned as a positive of that god awful “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” film… and he barely did anything but look handsome and participate in a poorly executed fight.

Would this qualify as "smolder"?
What I am trying to say is, taking a character popular with women and marketing it as a genre popular with women seems like a smart move and a good way to again go outside the usual genre trappings that dominate superhero and science fiction media these days.

Honestly, I have kind of wanted something like this for a while.  I am going to explain what I mean and then I am going to share some sad movie news that relates.

Remember the dialogue in "Winter Soldier" with Black Widow trying to get Captain America to go on a date.  I kind of want that movie of Captain America going on a date.

Have Cap go out with someone he doesn't connect with because they are from different time periods.  A woman who grew up watching “She-Ra” and being able to participate in sports because of title 9 is going to be a lot to handle for a guy like Steve, who admittedly is exceptionally liberal for his time and whose 1 true love was an ace super spy.  They are not going to get the same pop culture references regardless of how much Marvin Gaye Captain America has been listening to.


After the date have him go on a short adventure as Captain America stopping a bank robbery by the Serpent Society, a group of snake themed villains who are colorful and have a simple gimmick, no need for a full on “Marvel Phase III” bad guy like Ego or Killmonger with complexity and shit.  Just goofy assholes who rob banks.

On the adventure have him meet Diamond Back, a villain he has had relationships with in the comics.  Have Cap connect with her via dialogue, witty repartee, film their fight scene like a sex scene (a trick Del Toro used for the bow staff fight scene in “Pacific Rim”), and ultimately have Cap let her get away because he was charmed by the adventure and attraction.

Insert scenes of Cap, Bucky, and Falcon eating Po boy sandwiches and talking about the confrontation.  Have the realization being that he can't connect to normal people anymore because the world he grew up in (his normal) doesn't exist, all of his relationships are going to be ones he has via being Captain America.  That is a cool revelation to make about you hero and his mental state.


This sort of story can work as a "Romancing the Stone" style fun adventure film and I WANT IT!
NOT EVERY MOVIE NEEDS THE PLANET EXPLODING!

I want movies about everyday lives of superheroes too.  And not just Spiderman and Antman, because most of there stuff amounts to, “The world is once again stomping on my neck.”

Sad News
Saw this on twitter, and I have a nagging suspicion that it means my idea for a movie is never going to happen.

Well, he had to leave the role at some point.  Chris Evens strikes me as a really great guy and from what he puts out on twitter… He might actually be one more injustice away from taking to the rooftops and fighting crime for real.

I hope he continues to be an entertaining presence in movies.
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Friday, September 28, 2018

"Free Market" a Short Story


The storm had passed.  With its passing homes and businesses, roads and fields, so much had been swept away.  A few people remained, their possessions gone, but clinging to hope that they would one day rebuild...

"It is called the free market," said the merchant flush with goods to the crowd of hungry people.  "You pay me my price, or you don't get any product."

"We are desperate," said the man at the front of the crowd.  "It is a time of crisis and you want to exploit our desperation."

"I am not a charity," said the Merchant.  "And I don't see anyone else around here who has anything to sell.  So, pay me what I want or fuck off."

The desperate man at the front of the crowd hit the merchant hard across the face.

"What?!" screamed the merchant, his teeth red with blood.  "What gives you the right to hit me?"

A stone thrown from the crowd of hungry people thumped into the merchants shoulder.

"Ah!" screamed the merchant in pain.  "You are all animals!"

Another strike from a third person.  Then a kick.  They were not individuals anymore.  They were a mob.

"Stop!" screamed the merchant between cries of pain.  "Please!"

The merchant was on the ground now, being stomped on as the crowd surrounded his goods and started handing them out among themselves.  Before long all that was left was an empty cart with the merchant curled up under it to keep out of the drizzle.

The now desperate man flinched when he heard the sound of footsteps but felt relief when he looked out and saw a man wearing a Caduceus carrying a bag of medicine and bandages.

"Please help me," said the desperate man.

"I would love to," said the healer.  "Tell me, how much is my help worth to you?"

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This story was inspired by this sociopathic article by John Stossel, a journalist I used to like and respect.  Now, I just think he is an unsympathetic dick.



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