Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jason X

Whoever thought of the idea of putting Jason into outer space deserves a bloody high-five; and to give credit where credit is due, that man would be Todd Farmer. The Friday the 13th movies had long since gone stale, and if they were going to do another one, a radical new approach would be needed. Jason X is an original idea only as far as the franchise goes. It’s a twist in the concept, moving from horror, to science-fiction/horror, a combination of two great genres. Borrowing heavily from Alien, yet sticking to the formula of a serial killer offing attractive young adults, it delivers suspense, campy fun, action, and even a scare or two. The bottom line is that this film is enjoyable, and you won’t end it feeling like you just wasted two hours of your life. Let me clarify, at least you wont regret wasting two hours of your life. This is a slasher film, after all. 
The movie is filled with sci-fi clich├ęs to be sure, such as the android character’s curiosity about humanity, and the attraction her maker has towards her. Her requesting to have nipples put onto her breasts is actually quite touching, as her reason is simply because the other women have them. Why this movie works better than the previous seven in the franchise is through scenes like that where we get to know some of the characters as human beings, even though this one involves an android. By getting to know a character, we start to care what happens to them, which is an essential part of building up suspense. If we don’t care about a character, then we won’t care if they live or die. This movie gives us some likable characters, but it also gives us a few too many who are introduced, than quickly killed off. If I could’ve given Mr. Farmer some advice, it would have been to lower the body count. I know that seems contradictory to what a slasher movie is all about, but I’ve never been a fan of the excess. The security team on board the ship was not necessary, as they would not have been needed for the groups intended mission, and was only introduced to up the kill ratio. I also didn’t appreciate the pilot character, as he could have been combined with the engineer, and with more screen time, would have produced a more meaningful killing.  
The character that works the least is the villain, Professor Lowe. I have to differentiate between he and Jason as to who the villain is. Jason is the antagonist, and in this universe, sometimes the purveyor of justice. The professor is a greedy, lecherous, manipulative man, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Unfortunately, I didn’t like disliking him. In fact, I didn’t even dislike this character; I simply found him annoying and repulsive and wanted him off the screen. Rooting for the killer is never a good thing. I’m rather uncomfortable with it, and when it happens, there’s been a blatant failure with humanizing a character. The actor who portrays him tries to approach the role with a sense of humor, but it only makes him more of a caricature than a villain. One of the common mistakes actors make is going over the top. It’s usually a problem with stage actors who haven’t learned to tone it down yet. I’ll put the blame on the director for this though, he should have recognized when things were getting stupid.
Two of the stars went on to work together again in the sci-fi series Andromeda, Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder. Here, Doig plays the heroine, while Ryder plays an android. In Andromeda those roles would be reversed. The same casting agency must have been involved with both projects, as the filming of this movie happened almost immediately prior to Andromeda. Usually, the acting abilities of the cast are secondary to other considerations in these types of movies, but this group does show a decent level of ability. Ten years later, nobody in the cast has become a Kevin Bacon, but Hollywood is a tough place. Most of them have appeared to have continued working as much as actors generally do, with a higher than normal concentration in the sci-fi field. The guy who played Jason, Kane Hodder may be working the most out of all of them, usually answering the casting call for “someone big.”

I know that the budget for this film was not high, but you wouldn’t know it from the special effects. They aren’t impressive, but they work, and that’s all they need to do. We get some CGI nanobots and holograms, combined with futuristic sets and costumes, with old fashioned fake blood and body parts littering the area. It’s all enough to bring Jason into the 25th century.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Green Arrow Begins

When rumors of a Green Arrow show began circulating a few years back, I was excited. I’m always excited when a superhero comes to television. Back then, the show would have been a spin-off of Smallville, and would have starred Justin Hartley. But like the myriad of other ideas that the producers of Smallville proposed, it was rejected by the CW Network’s president at the time, Dawn Ostroff. Ms. Ostroff was not keen on superhero shows. She wanted her network to be for girls. It had something to do with the type of advertisers she wanted to attract. So instead of Green Arrow, Aquaman, or Lois Lane (they were all proposed); they gave us remakes of 90210 and Melrose Place. Dawn Ostroff was really hated by Smallville fans, and I conjecture that she hated Smallville. The only reason she probably kept it on was because it maintained high ratings, even after she banished it to Friday nights. But the Wicked Witch of the CW is dead (fired), and the new guy in charge isn’t a sexist, so we finally get a new superhero show. Now, with four-million viewers on premier night, Arrow is a hit, and that Ostroff woman can suck on it over at Conde Nast Entertainment, whatever the heck that place is.

The difficulty with starting a new Green Arrow show from scratch now is that the story was already told very recently on Smallville. The origin story for Arrow pretty much follows the mythos, with Oliver Queen being a spoiled billionaire who is stranded on a deserted island for several years where he transforms into a superhero. Playing around with a familiar character’s mythos is generally frowned upon, so I concur that it’s best to just retell the story, while adding a few tweaks here and there. The tweaks, as revealed so far, is that he still has family alive, and residing with him in their mansion, which could also mean that he doesn’t have unfettered access to the family’s billions in order to fund his superheroics. I doubt if the writers have considered that, but it would be an interesting challenge if he had to operate on a budget.

Stephen Amell is a different Oliver than Justin Hartley was. Amell is more intense, as the Green Arrow should be. While I liked Hartley’s portrayal, it was more light hearted, giving the character more of a mischievous edge. Amell’s version gives the character a degree of danger, someone who could step over the edge at some point. This guy is willing to kill, and he does, though he only kills the killers once they know his secret. They’ve made the decision to have his arrows actually pierce bodies, choosing to have them “just miss” the vital organs most of the time, which is not a reflection of any lack of accuracy on his part. It’s a bold move for a superhero, but one that is necessary when his weapon of choice is defined by a pointy head. I noticed that the actor comes across as stiff, but I believe this may be a character choice, as someone who is guarded, so it works.

The supporting characters consist of one Laurel Lance, Dinah Laurel Lance that is, otherwise known as the Black Canary. She and Green Arrow have a long history together in the comic book. They have even gotten married, though it’s one of those on again, off again things. She should be showing some superheroic moves relatively soon, hopefully in costume. It will be interesting to see if they include her supersonic yell known as the “canary cry,” as that would classify the series as science fiction, instead of just action.  His sidekick, Speedy is also around, but not the familiar one, whose name was Roy. They’ve opted for the girl version, and made her his sister. I’m going to hold out hope that Roy will be incorporated into the show somehow. It just doesn’t seem right to ignore the original. That would be like Batman skipping over Dick Grayson for, what was her name, Stephanie? Yes, there was a girl Robin for awhile. Maybe she can be the new Speedy’s BFF here.

The action sequences are well choreographed, and Amell appears to have been trained well in martial arts. The villains so far are normal thugs and gangsters, but it appears that the Green Arrow’s substantial, though not well known rogues gallery is expected to make appearances. I believe that this is a must. A hero is defined by his enemies. Without them, there would be no need. At this point, it will be the cartel that controls Starling City. That’s fine, but I’ll be looking forward to Deathstroke and the Dark Archer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

There Goes Honey Boo Boo

TLC, like a lot of other cable channels, is throwing out a lot of reality shows these days, and one of them has become a summer hit. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is about a little girl beauty queen who comes from a southern redneck family. Between pageants, the little girl hangs out with her trashy family, in their trashy Georgia home, doing trashy things. So yea, the family is white trash, but that’s OK, because they seem like pretty nice people.

As much as the show is about Honey Boo Boo, it’s also about her “mama,” June. Mama June weighs 300 pounds and isn’t very refined. She must have something going for her though, since she has four children by four different men. Maybe it’s her cooking. Her family seems to like her spaghetti sauce a lot, which is ketchup mixed with equal part butter. Fortunately for her, she’s been able to nab her latest baby daddy, who appears to be a keeper, and he is willing to work at a chalk mine seven days a week to support her family. What’s a chalk mine, you wonder. Some Google research reveals that he mines Kaolin, which is not used for chalk, but is mainly used to give paper its shiny gloss and is the primary component of porcelain. Maybe the stuff looks like chalk in its raw form.

While watching the show, I laughed out loud a few times, mostly when somebody did something disgusting and uncouth, but it gets old after a few episodes. The very opening sequence features Mama June farting, which was funny the first time, but eye-roll inducing each time thereafter. Like most reality shows, I don’t see this lasting more than a few seasons. Hopefully, that will be enough time for the family to make enough money to send the kids to a good school, so they won’t be making the same mistakes their mama made, and start popping out kids at a young age. It’s already too late for the oldest daughter, who at age seventeen continued the family tradition during the course of the season by having a baby, of whose father is not spoken of.

The disappointment about this show is that it is airing on TLC. TLC once stood for The Learning Channel, and it used to show educational programs. I used to watch it frequently, but no more. A reality show is a reality show, and even a good one only gets so much traction.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Those Monster Cereals

I was in the cereal aisle at Walmart recently, when the shelf stocker asked if I needed help finding anything. I usually say, “No, thank you,” but this day, I had something in mind.
“Uhm, usually around Halloween, they stock Count Chocula.” I said, mildly embarrassed.
“Not yet, but people have been asking!” She replied.

People have been asking! I wonder how many people, and how old they are. I imagine they’re all Gen-Xers. Back in the day, which is the 1970’s for people my age, there was a large group of characters who chucked breakfast cereals at us between the Saturday morning cartoons we used to watch. The characters which were most appealing to me were monsters: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and a little ghost named Boo Berry. They vied for my attention in comical cartoon skits trying to one up each other, only to be scared away by something or other in the end. The characters no longer appear on television, having gone the way of the Saturday morning cartoon, and they only appear on grocery shelves around Halloween time. The company that produces the cereals, General Mills, claims that they are available to retailers year round though, and that the retailers are the ones who make the decision to only carry them as a holiday item.

For as long as I can remember, there were always at least three members of the franchise available to choose from, but occasionally a fourth was tried out, with limited success each time. Frakenberry and the Count appeared first in 1971, and were joined by Boo Berry a year later. Sometime later in the decade, a werewolf named Fruit Brute came along to scare them by howling “Fruuuuuuuuit!” every time he got excited. I remember buying Fruit Brute, and not being very impressed with it, as it was just another basic fruit flavored cereal. I think that’s why it failed, because of the lack of a focused flavor. A few years after they discontinued Fruit Brute, they retried the same basic recipe with a new mascot called the Fruity Yummy Mummy, complete with a Jamaican musical beat, and he lasted for even less time then the werewolf did.
As far as flavor goes, Count Chocula was always my favorite, not just because it was chocolate, but it was a very rich chocolate. Boo Berry was appealing to me more because it was blue, which is a unique color for a cereal, than for the flavor. I’m not even sure what blueberries taste like, so have no idea if Boo Berry comes close. All I can say is that it was tart. I’ll have to do a comparison some day by putting blueberries in my Boo Berry.
Fortunately, I missed out on the legendary pink “Frankenberry stool” syndrome which was the result of an indigestible red dye they initially used. They had corrected that problem by the time I started paying attention to things like that. For curiosity’s sake, I did a comparison of the nutritional information between sugar-laden Frankenberry and my current favorite cereal, Grape-nuts. I’m a little surprised that one cup of Grape-nuts has 270 more calories, half of a gram of fat, and 390 mg of sodium more than the “junk food” cereal. What’s up with that? On the other side, Grape-nuts does have significantly more fiber.

The box covers used to be hand drawn illustrations, but now they are computer generated. I’m not a fan. The characters work better with a more classical ambiance, evoking the old Hollywood movie characters they were meant to impersonate. Modernizing characters that are based on old horror movies subverts the campy spookiness which makes it fun. Nonetheless, I expect to see my favorite cereals return to the store shelves soon, and I can’t wait to help myself. Even though Saturday morning cartoons are gone, I’m hoping to catch an old monster movie some Saturday afternoon, while I chomp away on a couple of bowls of Monster Cereal. I’m prepared to even sit on the floor while doing it, just like I used to.

What is your favorite Monster Cereal? 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Using Realist Tactics for an Idealistic End

Realism is an ideology towards international relations. It is also called Power Politics, and is dependent on the possession of power. It takes for granted that the global community is anarchic, having no central authority. Though the exercise of Power Politics is Machiavellian by definition, it also relies on the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes formulated his philosophy on the idea of Natural Law. He felt there was a “war of all us all” in human relations when there is no government, when people live in a state of anarchy. Humans developed civilization and its corresponding governments to counter this natural state. Government is practical because people need the security it can provide. When humans live in an anarchic state, they are in a constant fear of death and their only means of survival is to obtain power. In this state of nature, the competition for power never ceases. Presently, and throughout history, global politics have been in a state of anarchy, with each state representing its own person trying to survive in a state of nature. The present movement towards globalization is analogous to Hobbes social contract in which individuals create a state in order to obtain peace. But there is presently not yet a world government, and as Hobbes advises individuals to seek peace, but if it does not work go back to war, so too should the states seek peace, but be ready for war against those who do not cooperate. Until all states are prepared to commit to a social contract, our own country must maintain a position of power in order to survive.

In an anarchic world, each state must obtain and maintain an appropriate level of power in order to continue existing. If the state does not possess enough power to defend itself against its enemies, it will be conquered. Other states will attempt to take away its power when the opportunity presents itself as a way of ensuring their own survival. So, each state will try to achieve hegemony so that it will be able to survive any threats to its security. This is what the United States faces. The challenge for the U.S. is to maintain its hegemonic position in order to ensure its own safety. This will be necessary until the global environment is no longer in a state of anarchy. Furthermore, the United States can use its power to force other states to become liberal democracies, which would be unlikely to threaten the U.S., a fellow liberal democracy. It is empirical that liberal democracies do not go to war with each other. Once all states become liberal democracies, the possession of power will not be a necessity, because we will no longer be in a state of anarchy. So, attempts to spread democracy are in the self interest of current democratic states. 

Though it is generally ascribed to him, Niccolo Machiavelli never said, “The end justifies the means." This is an accurate expression summing up his political philosophy though. Machiavelli advised a head of state not to be merciful. He advised this because he believed it is an effective quality of a successful ruler, in spite of its apparent demeaning association. The purpose of being a successful ruler is not to enrich oneself or oppress ones citizens; that would make a tyrant, something he expresses disdain for in his Discourses. The purpose of a successful rule is so that the citizens of the state may live in an environment of security, not amidst anarchy. Using any means necessary to overcome anarchy is not only necessary, it is noble. In a state of anarchy, people are not free, but are slaves to fear. In the anarchic global political situation, all nations are in a state of fear. The enemies of democracy are authoritarian states, particularly those with expansionistic aims. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein was one of those states. 
Saddam Hussein was a master Machiavellian. An example of this occurred shortly after he took power in Iraq when he assembled his parliament. The exits in the building were blocked and Hussein announced that there were traitors in their midst. He introduced an informant and asked the informant if an individual in the audience was a traitor. The informant said he was, and the accused was led out of the building, never to be seen again. Hussein asked the informant this question of each and every person assembled in the hall that day. The informant said the person was either a traitor or a loyalist to the Ba’ath Party. Those labeled traitors were all led out, on their way to certain execution. Those labeled loyalists were spared. No evidence was given to prove somebody’s guilt. Their survival was dependant on the informant saying that they were loyal to Saddam Hussein. Imagine how those men felt on that day, trapped in that chamber with no place to escape and waiting for their names to be read. The fear must have been horrifying. While Hussein sat in a chair, arrogantly smoking a cigar and reading from his list of names, his captured audience did all they could do at that point --they kowtowed. The shouts of “Hail Saddam” and “We love Saddam” were broken only by the desperate protests of the accused while they were led away. Nobody knows how many of the accused were actually guilty of conspiring against Hussein, nor does it matter. Hussein made it perfectly clear that any person even suspected of conspiring against him would be killed. His grip on power was now firmly established, and could only be broken by an outside force. 

Saddam Hussein could have been advised by Machiavelli himself on how to obtain and maintain power. But Hussein was a tyrant and had ambitions of expansion. So how should those outside forces who would oppose his expansionist ambitions have proceeded against him? The answer lies within the irony, you fight fire with fire. This is where Realism comes into play. The opposing nations were correct to use their power to defeat him. The United States found it necessary to oppose him because if he were to expand his power in the Middle East, he would gain control of the oil market and threaten the power of the U.S., which is highly dependent on affordable oil importation. The U.S. used Machiavellian rationale when it chased his forces out of Kuwait in 1991, but it didn’t play out the Machiavellian game when it did not overthrow him. Machiavelli would not have advised one to leave his enemy alive, let alone in power. This was a strategic mistake, because Hussein would have attempted revenge as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The second Bush Administration realized this. Despite the reasoning they spoke of publicly, the second U.S.-Iraq War was a continuation of the first. They were finishing the job and protecting the United States’ position of power. 

The opposition to Realism comes from the Idealists. The Idealists believe that states, like people, are basically good and want peace. This may be true if the state is controlled by the people through a liberal democracy, but not all states are democratic. Many are authoritarian like Iraq was under Saddam Hussein, and are not interested in cooperation, but in obtaining power at the expense of other states. Idealism depends on cooperation among all states. If all states would cooperate, an idealistic world could be realized. Until all states reach an advanced system of democracy though, the world will continue to be in a state of anarchy. Now, in order to make all states cooperate, some must be forced. A state, like a person cannot be forced to do something unless the enforcer has enough power to make it happen. Power is therefore essential in a pre-Idealistic world. Realism can be a means of achieving the Idealistic end. 

By defeating the regime of Saddam Hussein, the United States accomplished three tasks. One, it eliminated an enemy. Two, it made an example of that enemy, which will discourage other enemies from challenging it. Three, it may put Iraq on the path to liberal democracy, which will allow it to cooperate in a peaceful world. The first two are practical results which have immediate benefits. The last is a long term goal which the Idealists would want, but would probably be unable to achieve. Idealists would support less violent measures such as economic sanctions. However, economic sanctions had been in effect for a decade and the results were not effective. Realism, through war, accomplished what the Idealists could not. The means of defeating Hussein may have been violent, and innocent people died, but in the long term, Iraq will be more prosperous, the world will be less anarchic, and much fewer Iraqi’s will die than if Hussein had stayed in power. We should remember that throughout history, violence has often been a driving force for change, and often it is for the better.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Camel Guy

He was a tall, rugged looking man with a blond afro and a ridiculously thick moustache. He wasn’t particularly handsome, like the various Marlboro Men were, but he wasn’t meant to be. A pretty boy would be counterproductive to what they were trying to accomplish. The Camel Guy was meant to be a role model of sorts, to appeal to young men who were looking for a means of reinforcing their masculinity. His independent nature and competence in the wilderness were a way of reaching those who were on the edge of their peer group, insecure in their masculinity, and seeking validation of their pride in being different from the crowd.

During the 1980’s, RJ Reynolds used an advertising campaign utilizing this character.  He was an adventurer, who travelled the world doing something or other, the purpose of which was never obvious. He never gave any indication that he had a job, but according to tobacco company documents, he was intended to come across as a photographer, archaeologist, or geologist. Looking over the various photographs, it seems to me that he was just an adventurer, an independently wealthy man with too much time on his hands who climbed a mountain, not because it was there, but just so he could smoke a cigarette on top of it.

The company was targeting young urban men, ages 18 to 34, middle class with moderate to liberal social values. They particularly had their eyes set on what the industry called FUBYAS, which stood for First Usual Brand Younger Adult Smoker. These guys were 18-20, and the industry knew that if they could get them started, they would be loyal to the brand for a very long time. Using Camel Guy to lure these guys in might seem unusual, considering his age at the time. He was around 50 years old during the campaign. The company had it figured out though, by using an individual who was somewhat older then their target audience, the admiration and willingness to emulate would be stronger. The whole mentoring angle became more direct during the later years of the campaign, which showed Camel Guy leading an expedition of younger men through the rough terrain; while teaching them how to smoke, apparently.

Intending for him to compete directly with Marlboro, they portrayed him as independent and usually alone. The Marlboro Men were conformers, who submitted to the rules of the group. Camel Guy lived by his own rules. The irony of seeking nonconformity through emulation is not lost, but this is human nature we’re talking about, and the market research team had compiled their report acknowledging the gullibility of the young and less educated.

The company tried to avoid having too close of an association between the model and the character, wanting to preserve his mystique, but also preserving the option of easy replacement. For that reason, they did not allow him to make personal appearances. When market share dropped, he did indeed get replaced, by a now notorious cartoon character named Joe. One thing the Camel Guy was never able to overcome was the view that he was a knock-off of the more successful Marlboro Man.

The real Camel Guy was an actor named Bob Beck. The job enabled him to travel around the world and certainly gave him a degree of financial security. He started off as a Marlboro Man, so peddling cigarettes were pretty much his life’s work. In his later years, he expressed regret about doing the advertising campaigns, claiming he wasn’t aware of the dangers involved with smoking. I’m not sure if I believe that, as the health risks were widely known by the 1980’s, but we can only imagine how difficult it would be for somebody of modest means to turn down a lucrative offer of an international campaign like that.

After Beck was let go, he retired to a place called Idyllwild, California. There, he devoted his time to community theatre, which included some Shakespeare; and to environmental causes. He and his wife founded some kind of nature preserve, called The O’Beck Garden, which I’m sure he hoped to leave as his legacy. Of course, his stint as the Camel Guy was so widely recognized, it has made him a minor legend of a vintage era. Copies of his ads, simply ripped out from old magazines, are available for sale on e-bay, some of them at surprisingly high prices.

Bob Beck died in 2008 of cancer, though it’s not clear if it was lung cancer or not. A photo taken later in his life showed him with the same thick moustache and wild hair, which by then had turned silver. He’s sporting a wide smile in that picture, something he rarely did as the Camel Guy. It just didn’t fit that macho image. I think the actor who played him was a much happier person then Camel Guy was, equally comfortable with the civilized world as he was with the natural one. That smile can symbolize to us that the image of the super masculine Camel Guy was just an illusion, one that no person could or should truly be. The image was as fictional as the idea that smoking is compatible with rock climbing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Return to Dallas

After twenty years, Dallas is back, and it's almost as good as it used to be. Focusing on a younger generation, but still making time for the original characters, the show has cleverly designed an appeal to its old viewers, and is prepared to bring in lots of new ones. The story lines are pretty much more of the same, and that's okay. We're not expecting Shakespeare here. What we are expecting is intriguing stories, driven by intriguing characters.

 Of the new young actors, the best job is done by Jordana Brewster, who plays a geologist caught in a love triangle between the two Ewing boys. By focusing on the little moments, she can lend a sense of realism to her scenes that the other young actors lack. Also, being that she is Latina, her character helps represent Dallas' enormous Latin population. Second, is Josh Henderson as John Ross, whose screen presence alone makes up for any lack of depth. The actor has a lot going for him, but is untrained. That means the show will be his training ground and we'll have to give him a year to see if he can live up to expectations. He does seem tailor made for the role, so I'm confidant he will ultimately not disappoint as J.R. Junior. I'm not sure why they cast Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher. I have seen this actor in several television roles, and he has never showed a great deal of talent. Since several of the actors on the show have appeared on Desperate Housewives, I think it may be a matter of who he knows, rather than what he is capable of. Julie Gonzalo plays Rebecca, a reforming con-artist. She's not very convincing with her scenes of desperate repentance, and I think the actress may find that aspect of the story to be as preposterous as we do. A character's motivations have to be believable, and in this case, they aren't. Of the younger characters, John Ross and Christopher were born on the show during the early 1980's, so they should be around thirty years old. I believe that is consistent with the age of the actors.

The stronger acting is done, not surprisingly, by the veterans of the show. Of them, Patrick Duffy is given the most to do, and he is more or less the show's main character. I suspect that Linda Gray and Larry Hagman negotiated light work schedules, which limits their screen time, but that keeps us wanting more, which isn't a bad thing. Larry Hagman's performance is always engrossing because he has the ability to jump from one mood to another with ease. In one scene he can be jolly, then quickly turn around and be crotchety, then come back as tender. If you look at some of Hagman's early work, before I Dream of Jeannie, you'll find that he has always shown a strong capability for multi-dimensional acting.

What Dallas has always done best is to present the greed and ostentation that defines Texas. From it's grand introduction, to its scenery, and most importantly to the way the characters interact with their surroundings, it really comes down to how one saddles up a horse and how one pours a drink. These are people who know how to live big. They own it all. The Southfork Ranch is different than it used to be, and that is disappointing. Originally, much of the action took place in the parlor, where the family gathered before dinner. Now it tends to take place in the kitchen, and though the Ewings have a cook, they seem to be more or less involved in many of the household chores. This could be considered a character choice, being that Bobby is now the primary resident, and he was always the more homespun of the brothers. I'd like to see the old floor plan back, and this could be incorporated should the more lavish J.R. take control of the ranch. I give them credit for addressing the lack of continuity between the exterior and interior of the house in the original series, as the outside view was of a one story house, while the inside had two.

Oddly, the show almost takes on an element of science fiction, with Christopher's development of methane ice as a form of green energy. It isn't so far off from reality though, since methane hydrate does exist, and is being investigated. It does have mass energy potential, but is extremely dangerous, as this article explains: Maybe this television show can be a harbinger of the future by raising awareness of a potential new industry.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Olympic Hats

Much has been said this past week about the new Olympic uniforms. Mainly, it was criticism of them being made in China. Now that they have pledged to make the next batch state front, and two weeks worth of work for about thirty people has been planned for some time in the year 2015, we can move on to the secondary criticism which was aimed at the hats the athletes will be wearing. Ralph Lauren chose berets, which some patriotic Americans feel are a little too French. Sacre Bleu, I say!

Since the hats have already been made, and nobody involved wants to lose money by ditching them, I'd like to offer my suggestions for less controversial pieces next time around. Looking ahead to 2016, here's some ideas I have for head wear in the next Olympics which will avoid any homage to our international frenemy:

Since we aren't too fond of the French these days, maybe we could take our cues from our most loyal ally, the British. An American tweaked bowler cap would be quite distinctive. We could accent the outfit with a monocle to give it a sense of style that is not quite timeless, but would be timeful.

If we decide to stick to something more American, we could go with the simple baseball cap. Baseball is the all-American sport, after all. Everybody in America wears baseball caps; and we wear them all the time. We wear them to baseball games, to picnics, to school, and to restaurants. We wear them so much, I've gotten sick of them. They're way on the casual side, but Americans do pride themselves on their lack of deportment. These would go over without a hitch for everybody but me.

The cowboy hat is a quintessential part of American lore, even though nobody really wears them except to rodeos and country music concerts. They are pretty damn sexy, and we can all appreciate that, but I don't think they would really work without blue jeans and boots.

Beanies are still popular, (aren't they?) Our athletes could go for that "gangsta" look. The 2016 Games are scheduled to be held in Rio De Janeiro, where it's hot, so I'm thinking it's probably better to save these for the winter games.

My personal favorite is the fedora. Distinctive for both the American gangster (that's "gangSTER," not "gangSTA", thank you very much.) and the film noire detective. You can never go wrong with a fedora, no matter how uncool you are. It would nix the whole "made in America" theme they have planned though, because fedora's should only be made in Italy.

And as for those giant Ralph Lauren polo ponies emblazoned on this years jackets; it's tacky. I for one would not want to pay to be a walking advertisement. I'd rather wear a beret.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tera, Queen of the Succubi

This witch gave my short story a bad review!

Her name is Tera, and she is the self-proclaimed queen of the succubi. I'm being tongue-in-cheek when I call her a witch, and considering where her interests lie, I don't think she'd mind. "Queen of the Succubi" is kind of witchy sounding, after all. Also, I'm not upset that I received a bad review. I'm actually grateful that she took the time to read and review my story. She runs what could almost be an internet empire devoted to the subject of succubi and their brethren. It not only consists of her blog, where she reviews stories, movies, artwork and costumes; but also a succubi wiki, a forum, and a gallery.

The first thing I wonder about Tera, is if she has a job, since the webpage she runs is pretty extensive. I'm not sure if she's making any money off the enterprise, but I haven't seen any advertisements on her pages, so I'll assume that she doesn't. I think that's unfortunate, since she updates her pages every day, and obviously puts a lot of time into finding succubi related material and then writing about it. She obviously loves the subject, and has found a niche in the horror market that has not yet been exploited. If you like horror, particularly of the camp sort, you'll enjoy the blog. Her appreciation for succubi tends to focus on their sexual nature, and contrary to how I view them, she does not consider them to be evil. It is exclusively about succubi though, which can be a little overwhelming for general horror fans, but with all the options available on the internet, finding that niche is important.

Because of her hard work in maintaining the site, the extensiveness of the information, and its unique subject matter, I give it five pitchforks out of five.

You can read Tera's less than stellar review of my story at the following link:
A Succubi's Tale

While you're there, you can follow the links available to check out the rest of her network.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bristol Boring

I like train wrecks. They're fun, especially when I'm not involved. I'm speaking of reality shows here. The kind that spotlight a not-so-ready-for-an-off-network-series star with the word "star" in quotation marks. I tuned in to Bristol Palin's reality show to see such a train wreck, and was utterly disappointed. I didn't laugh with her, and I didn't laugh at her. So what's the point?

Some of the keys to a reality series train wreck is that the star must a) have a big ego, b) be able to laugh at themselves, and c) be totally non self-aware.

Bristol Palin does not have a big ego. I'd go so far as to say she lacks self-esteem, which is probably why she allowed herself to get pregnant by the likes of Levi Johnson to begin with. Her problem is that her identity is completely wrapped up in her mother's. She worships her mother. Her mother's opinions are her opinions. In the two episodes that I watched, she sings her mother praises throughout. She is no Sarah Palin though, and that bothers her. I'm sure it's natural for a girl to want to be like her mother, but at a certain age, it's time to take the parent off the pedestal. She takes after her father more in the personality department anyway.  The sooner she accepts that, the sooner she will find her own voice.

She has no sense of humor. When a Sarah Palin impersonator approaches her, she indicates that she finds that weird. When a man on the street converses with said impersonator, thinking she's the real thing, Bristol is perplexed as to why the impersonator plays along. The people she surrounds herself with are no less boring. It's mostly her younger sister Willow, who one might classify as the bitchy Palin, and her boyfriend Gino, who acts more like her puppy dog than a potential life partner. The series is trying hard to portray her new boyfriend as the anti-Levi. Most of us watching know better. We can see it in the way he plays with guns and other toys. He's a Levi clone, though with enough sense to know when he's got a good meal ticket in the works.

She does lack self-awareness though, having clearly bought into her mother's press about how right they are on everything, and how wrong everybody else is. She thinks the media picks on her and her mother. She claims thousands of people send them death threats. She judges protesters with the familiar jargon, "Why don't they get a job?"; which begs the question about whether Bristol herself could get a job if her last name wasn't Palin. Almost all of the press she has received lately revolves around her hypocritical opinions and her crybaby responses to criticism. If this were played up in the series, it would be entertaining. Instead it is downplayed, leading one to suspect that perhaps the Palins have a little too much control over the editing process.

Part of the premise that was advertised for the show was that Bristol is striking out on her own, trying to break away from her mother's shadow. From what I saw, she has no intention of doing so. Her life is comfortable in Alaska. She doesn't want to challenge what she thinks she knows about the world. This show isn't about personal growth, it's about validating a belief system that has been extremely profitable for her family. If they really want to make this thing exciting, they should force her to interact with a liberal on a regular basis. It would be staged of course, since she makes it clear that she doesn't associate with those kinds of people, but hey, she might actually grow from the experience.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Betty Gets Fat

That's what happens to the women who leave Don Draper. They get fat. What could be worse? Well, they could get cancer. Luckily for Betty, the cancer scare was just a false alarm. I actually thought her tumor would be malignant, and a quick death sentence during the 1960's. It would have been a convenient way to write the character out of the show, being that she hasn't much relevance since her and Don split. Also, with January Jones' movie career taking off after her eye catching role as the White Queen in X-men: First Class, her will to stick around might be waning. As far as her acting goes, I found myself questioning some of her line deliveries, such as "I AM hungry," instead of "I am HUNGRY" during the breakfast scene (Nobody had asked her.) The cancer scare was a metaphor. To a woman like Betty, her looks are as much a part of her identity as is being some body's wife. I cringed for her when the doctor referred to her as a middle aged woman. Putting on weight is the end of the blessed life she has known so far, where everybody wants to be her friend and she can land a rich husband, one who lives in a Richardsonian Romanesque style mansion, without really trying. I believe the character is actually well educated, but her early choices in life and constraints of the time limit her ability to make her own way. January Jones was eight months pregnant when this episode was filmed, and her weight gain is all natural. No use of prosthetics was required to help with the double chin. If the actress loses her pregnancy weight quickly, the diet pill storyline will be back, and if she doesn't, a much more interesting story about how a woman adjusts to the changes of life will be there. Hence, Betty finishing off her daughters ice cream in the overshadowing last scene. The ending song saying it all, "Baby your on the brink."

Peggy continues to show her frustration with not being taken seriously for not having a penis. "I'll work on that," is all she can say about it. What can she say? She gets even more frustrated with the new guy she interviews for a job. I hope the obviousness of the set up for these two getting it on later in the season is a red herring. I'm expecting my new favorite show to NOT be that predictable. I can't figure out if that guy was being patronizing or just obnoxious when he called her by her formal name, "Margaret."

The new guy lives in an old apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen. I'd seen that before on other shows, and it made me wonder, so I googled it. Turns out, bathtubs were put in the kitchens of "cold water flats" back in the old days so that the water could be boiled on the stove and immediately dumped into the tub. These can still be seen today in very old buildings which haven't been updated in a over a hundred years.

Now on to that devilishly ambitious young whippersnapper, Pete Campbell. He got another one over on the silver fox, Roger Sterling. This time I actually felt a little bit sorry for the old guy. He's trying as hard as he can to hold onto that ledge, but he knows that no matter what he does, the younger guy is going to push him off. It's a classic tale of the old guard being replaced.

The theme that I'm getting from this show is that it's about aging, magnified by being set in a trendy ad agency whose primary purpose is to reach the young and hip. Don and Glasses Guy Harry Crane are way out of place at a Rolling Stones concert, on a mission which they ultimately fail. Don is especially uncomfortable, and it must be hitting him that he's beyond that scene at this stage of his life. A further exemplification of this, especially for Don, is when his 26 year old wife corrects an older man's misquote with "Time is on MY side," to which the older guy responds "yes, it is dear."

Awards for the most memorable lines of the night go to:
  Most offensive: Roger Sterling, (referring to Jews) "Everyone has one now."
  Most tragic: Betty Francis, "It's nice to be put through the ringer, and find out I'm just fat."
  Best advice: Harry Crane, "Eat first. That's my recommendation to anyone getting married and having kids."
  Most prophetic: Henry Francis, "Because Romney's a clown, and I don't want him standing next to him." He was referring to the elder Romney, a senator from Michigan at the time.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad Men

Being new to the privileges of cable, I've finally gotten the opportunity to watch that show everybody's been talking about for the last few years. It was just in time for Don Draper's 40th birthday, so now we can have parallel mid-life crisis'. Although the real mid-life crisis seems to be happening to the British guy, who's in his 50's. Maybe I can put mine off for another decade. I'll wait and see what Don Draper does.

Ahh, the 60's, when children rode in the front seat without seat belts, and people actually smoked in elevators (how rude.) The furniture and decor was spot on. I grew up in the 70's, and our house was full of left over 60's stuff. My house was always a decade behind. That's how the rest of us live.

The comparisons to modern life are obvious. Young executives yelling out their window to protesters to "get a job." Uhh, if they could get a job, they wouldn't have any reason to protest. There is a Vietnam War accusation that war is for profit, and young men coming home in body bags is honorable and expected; a discussion that could easily be applied to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I have to say, these aren't very nice people. Roger Sterling is an immature jerk. Joan is snob. And the guy with the glasses, Harry Crane is trying a little too hard to be a misogynist, so much so that after noting how queer the party planner was, he ends up wearing a feather boa for the rest of the party. Race is a theme in this episode, and these people aren't blatantly prejudiced, it's much more subtle. They utilize a pattern of exclusion and degrading jokes which is much more widespread and effective at keeping those who are different comfortably beneath them. It's a tactic that is ultimately much more effectively oppressive than any lynch mob would be. Lynch mobs build sympathy for the victims, while exclusion is comfortably ignored.

According to the press I've been reading all these years, Peggy is supposed to be this feminist icon, but she's not. She's an ordinary girl who's plain and insecure. I wonder though if that is how heroes (or heroines) really are. Heroes don't necessarily plan out what they're doing, they just muddle along like the rest of us. In this episode, she seems to be having a hard time with her job. She gives a horrible presentation, and is shocked that her clients don't like it. Then she has the nerve to get snippy with Don for not backing her up on it. This character still has some growing to do, and that journey is what may be inspirational.

My favorite character last night was Pete Cambell, who's sense of entitlement over his talent emboldens him to take on the rich guy, whom I'm guessing, has had his job (and life) handed to him. Gotta love him getting one over on that brat. Loved the plaid blazer too. I've been predicting plaid would be making a comeback soon for a couple of years now; so much so that I bought a pair of plaid pants. They look great with a polo shirt. Pete gives the best line of the night when he says, "Stable is that step backwards, between successful and failing." I'm gonna have to remember that.

Megan's Zoobi zoobi zoo performance was stunning. I'm told she was actually singing "Zou bisou bisou," but whatever. That scene will go down in television history. She also know's how to throw a great party, and is a great hostess. From the look of her friends, she appears to be somewhat bohemian and welcoming of different types of people then are Don's friends. She's much too nice and liberal minded to ever fit into his world, and she's starting to realize it. One of her friends says she's a great actress, but "apparently, not good enough" according to Megan. Do I sense unfulfillment? As for cleaning the house in her underwear -- she sure taught Don a lesson. He taught her a better one though, "Just because you see a white carpet in a magazine doesn't mean it's practical." Remember that baby.

Now I'm going to sit back and relax like Don Draper does it. See below...everybody's doing it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dark Shadows 2012

I've been waiting impatiently for this trailer to be released, and let me say, it took them long enough. The movie Dark Shadows is scheduled to be released in early May, yet for some reason they decided to wait until March to release the trailer. But it's here now, and members of the Cult of Dark Shadows can start talking.

I'm not ready to dismiss the movie, but I'm not too happy about the direction Tim Burton seems to have gone in for this interpretation. If this trailer is any indication, the movie is a comedy. Now, the original Dark Shadows may have been funny, but they didn't mean it to be. The show took itself seriously, or at least it pretended to. Sometimes, it was even scary. Burton and Depp are playing a dangerous game here. If the fanbase doesn't go for it, the franchise ends before it's begun.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lost Girl

I just watched the first episode of Lost Girl on SyFy. I was interested because it's a show about a succubus. I'm not going to say that it's awful, but it's no Being Human. The show obviously has a low budget, and it shows, but that's not the killing point. I'm a firm believer that good writing, acting and directing can overcome the most shoestring of budgets. The main problem with this show is in the writing. It is, shall we say, cliche. The rogue who refuses to take sides in a turf war so she can fight for the defenseless leads to...I can say it already and the series has just started: the one destined to unite the two warring factions into a force of good in the universe. From the first episode, I have to conclude that the rules for supernatural beings aren't the result of magic, curses, or evil; but of evolution. That makes this show less supernatural and more science fiction.  Now, every writer has the right to create their own universe, and I don't begrudge these writers for doing so. The succubus in this case needs to feed off of others in order to survive, as opposed to the succubi legends which claim that she needs to feed off of a man's lifeforce in order to nourish her unborn child. That sort of tweak is probably necessary to keep a series going indefinitely, but it also puts the character in the realm of vampire rip-off. We have a lot of vampire shows out there right now, which means it's going to take that much more effort to be original, and thus something we'll look forward to every week. As it is, I could take or leave the show. Fortunately for it, it has Being Human as a lead in.

The lead actress gives a pretty wooden performance, as does much of the rest of the cast, and there's a very annoying side-kick. I'm hoping the lead learns how to act in time, and the side-kick is killed off. The only bright spot in the cast appears to be the male lead. That's him pictured on the left. I think he's some kind of werewolf. He's got a non-traditional look for a leading man, which makes him both relatable and interesting. His acting style is engaging, and quite frankly, he steals the show. I'm thinking it might behoove the writers to make this show more about a werewolf's involvement with a tortured succubus, rather than a succubus who kicks ass every week.