Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Here Comes the Spider-Man! And a Couple Dead Guys. And a Lady Time Lord


Welcome back! Sorry for the delay -- there have been a multitude of weird, inexplicable, possibly curse-related injuries and illnesses plaguing the staff lately -- but we hope to make it up to you today with a pretty good show.

In Part I, Scott and Jeff chat about a couple of fun geeky things, and a whole lot of death (alas, if we'd only had time to consult with Romero expert Doc Logan....). Then Jeff Holland, Man-Baby Hunter, paddles upstream against the tears of male Doctor Who fans who are squeamish because the incoming lady time lord might find a new, off-label use for the Sonic Screwdriver, and it could totally void the warranty! Don't you even care?

Then it's time for the Unknown Movie Challenge, where the whole New Movie Crew goes back to high school for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Please join us for this rockin' sock hop, and visit the refreshment table for Hi-C fruit punch, Razzles, Clearasil, and self-loathing.

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[Cross-posted to The Slumgullion]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Fourth of July

President Calvin Coolidge receives an arrangement from the Florist Telegraphers Association on his birthday, July 4, 1924.
"Not to boast, but I learned Morse Code as a boy in Vermont. Allow me to translate the Telegraphers' sentiment. It says...'Smile...You Droopy-lookin'...Motherfu--' HEY!"

Monday, July 3, 2017

Another Good Reason to Wear Your Glasses

By Hank Parmer 

A while back, a good friend asked: What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me?

This isn't one of those easy questions, like: “Have you ever shot an elephant?” Spending six decades on this planet is just bound to give anyone plenty of scope to make a complete fool of themselves. Plus I'm something of a klutz, and all too often blind to the most obvious hints. You can see, then, that it might be difficult to select just one example from so many.

So very, very many ... 

At least with this classy crowd, who demand something more than a cheap laugh, I can exclude any anecdotes which are of a more personal nature. (Although, for a small sum, I might make them available to a select clientele.) 

And to be honest, I couldn't vouch for what follows as the most embarrassing incident of my life. There's a good chance I've mercifully forgotten the best candidates for this dishonor. Let's just say that for one reason or another, this incident was marginally more memorable. Forgive me if it takes a bit of prosing to work around to it. 

I got my first pair of glasses when I was 12 years old, but I was understandably reluctant to wear them back in the days when “Four-Eyes” was a familiar taunt for my age group and “Geek Chic” wasn't trendy. It didn't help at all when the mother of my friend next door told me those clunky horn rims made me look distinguished. I know she was only trying to get me past feeling so dorky, but at twelve, the last thing I wanted was to look “distinguished” -- which my Adultspeak translator instantly rendered as “nerd”. So I resisted wearing the things, unless I absolutely had to.

The summer after ninth grade, my two older brothers and I took a road trip out west. We three boys planned to spend a month making a grand tour up through the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, then down to the desert Southwest and finally to Yosemite, where the highlight of our trip would be to spend a week back-packing.

Quite the itinerary, considering we had to wedge all our gear and food and three back-pack frames into my eldest brother's red 1968 VW Bug

Our trip got off to a less than promising start: My brothers were determined to drive as far north as they could that first day. Which meant spending almost an hour in a traffic jam, on a sultry evening in early June, downwind of the Chicago Stockyards. We eventually fetched up at a campground somewhere in lower Wisconsin around ten that night. Utterly exhausted, we just tossed our sleeping bags on the ground and immediately crashed.

It was a warm night; none of us got inside our bags. I was awakened maybe half an hour later, by the realization I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Meanwhile, my brothers were staging an impromptu slapstick routine as they got in each other's way while struggling to put up the pup tent. Pitching your tent for the first time, by flashlight, as you're harassed by a voracious swarm of tiny but extremely determined winged bloodsuckers, is not conducive to haste. It's a miracle no one hammered a stake through their foot.

But we got the tent, with its blessed mosquito netting, erected eventually, piled in and zipped up the fly. Isolating us with only a couple dozen or so of the pests, who continued to annoy us throughout that night. But at least it kept the blood loss down to only a pint or two. I'll pass over what it was like to share an old-style two man backpacking tent with my two older brothers that first night. We were all slender, wiry guys in those days, but still ... 

Being too young to have a driver's license, I was relegated to the rear seat, while my brothers spelled each other at the wheel. Sharing the back of that VW with a pile of camping paraphernalia, I spent a considerable amount of road time during that trip sitting with my knees bumping against the back of the driver's seat. Or I could lie down in a position somewhat similar to a Mercury astronaut in his space capsule -- with even less available leg room. Thankfully, I was still a few inches short of my adult height. And had brought along some paperbacks. 

You can imagine what a joy this was, traveling through the desert in an un-airconditioned Beetle. With the rear heater vent stuck open. At least it was a dry heat ... 

To make our money last, we car-camped and did our own cooking. My eldest brother, Cliff -- who had made a similar trip a couple of years previous -- was in charge of the menu. He had two basic meals: For breakfast, invariably, rice boiled with dried apricots, with a spoonful or two of molasses on top, and for dinner (far too frequently, in my opinion) Kraft Mac and Cheese, with a can of tuna fish mixed in. In fairness to the cook, the instant tuna mac casserole was more of a fallback supper while traveling, and not, like the rice and apricots, a daily affair. But we hadn't room for an ice chest, which naturally limits one's culinary choices a bit.

I remember one such sybaritic repast in particular, served up as night was falling after a long day's drive, at a lonely roadside campsite somewhere out on the plains. A chill wind gusting from the north sucked the heat out of this revolting mess within seconds after it was ladled onto our tin plates. Certainly before I could sit down and shovel a single fork-full into my mouth. Believe me, you haven't lived until you've dined on a plateful of gelid, congealed mac and cheese and canned tuna chunks, as a stiff breeze -- apparently unobstructed in its descent from the polar regions by anything loftier than a shrub or two -- freshens your complexion.

I was never a big fan of canned tuna even before we went on this trip; after all these years, the very thought of it still makes my gorge rise. But I was too hungry at the time to care all that much. None of us gained weight on this vacation.

Lest I leave the wrong impression here, despite my dwelling on some of the less enjoyable aspects of the trip, the truth is we all had a blast.

Still, looking back, I'm always astonished at what tough little bastards we were. But the real outdoorsman of the bunch was my older brother, Harlin, affectionately nicknamed “The Varmint” when he was but a young sprout. He was a throwback, born too late to be a long hunter or a mountain man, and a few decades too soon to host one of those survival-in-the-wild TV shows. While Cliff and I (grudgingly) shared the pup tent, Harlin preferred to sleep in the out-of-doors, with a canvas tarp for cover if the weather turned inclement. Like when we woke one morning in Yellowstone to find everything shrouded in six inches of wet snow.

That was the day we decided to pack up our gear and head for the desert.

Skipping ahead with my story, we arrived at Yosemite in the middle of the afternoon. Our route along the eastern Rockies and then down through the desert Southwest had been a revelation to a kid raised among the comparatively puny woods and hills and hollows of Middle Tennessee. But Yosemite was something else again: Half Dome; Angel Falls; Tuolumne Meadows brilliant with wildflowers; looking up from the floor of the valley and seeing the dizzying illusion that makes those those impossibly high, sheer walls of granite appear to be perpetually toppling toward you against a fixed background of clouds. Words are feeble things, though, when confronted with the scale and transcendent beauty of this place.

Our plan was to stay at a campground for a few days, hiking and sight-seeing around the park, then shoulder our packs and head off into the back country. But the first thing to do, as always, was to set up camp. My assignment was to collect the fuel for our campfire. So off I went into the woods behind the campsite and began gathering up sticks.

This seems the appropriate place to mention that from the time we hit Yellowstone, at every park the rangers had given us the lecture about not having food or empty wrappers or soft drink cans in the tent or around the campsite, and cautioned us to hang our food properly at night. This advice had been given added emphasis by the fact that two campers had been killed by grizzlies so far that spring, in two different parks. Needless to say, we followed those instructions to the letter. So you can see that that bears were very much on my mind.

I'd been scrounging firewood for a while, since the pickings were rather slim this close to the campground, when I heard a noise behind me. I spun around, and saw my first bear close up.

Well, okay, the bear -- a cinnamon bear, probably a juvenile, who was merely standing on top of a fallen pine tree, eyeing me curiously -- was maybe ten or fifteen yards away, so it wasn't that close. But being in the woods, alone, after all those warnings from the rangers and the gruesome stories of people being eaten alive, as far as I was concerned it was a ten foot tall, half-ton grizzly reared up on his hind legs, all set to give me the Benihana treatment.


I dropped the sticks and took off through a stand of saplings, no doubt leaving one rather perplexed bear wondering what the hell was my problem. The one small bit of solace I can take from this textbook example of panicked scarpering (besides not having to change my underwear afterward) is that at least I had it together enough to hope the close-grown saplings I was dodging around might slow down this rampaging terror I was sure was at my heels.

Of course the bear didn't follow me. When I dared to look back, it was nowhere to be seen. I gathered up the tattered remnants of my courage along with another armload of firewood, and headed back to our campsite.

But this was not my most embarrassing moment of that day.

Back at the campsite, I learned that shortly after I went off to find firewood, the bear had paid Cliff a visit while he was unpacking the car. He turned around to find the critter attempting to enter the VW by way of the passenger window, no doubt to get at our food. I don't know how he made it desist, but obviously this was neither a very fierce nor a very large animal.

It didn't so much as scratch the paint or put a rip in the upholstery. But it wasn't finished with us, yet.

Not to put too fine a point to it, after returning to the campsite, I found I needed to emulate that proverbial bear in the woods. I soon discovered the restroom for our section of the campground was closed for repairs. So I had to walk, at a somewhat brisker pace, over to the next campground.

Remember how I was reluctant to wear my glasses? I'm fairly certain I had them on when I was in the woods and met the bear. And I doubt that I would have let that stunning scenery pass by all out of focus. But vanity prompted me to take them off while I was walking through the campground. You know: in case I met a cute girl.

Having locating some functional facilities, I was on my way back to our campsite when I walked past a small crowd standing by the roadside. Some of them seemed to be looking at something across the road, but all I could see was the fuzzy outlines of trash bins, although one of the bins appeared overly full.

So I stepped on by, down the middle of the road. After I'd strolled past, an incredulous bystander demanded, “Didn't you see the bear?” 

And this, ladies and gentlebeings, was my memorably mortifying moment. That same damned cinnamon bear was there, dumpster diving, with only its furry hindquarters visible above the rim of the bin. And I had walked right past it.

Shortly thereafter, my brothers appeared on the scene; Harlin took the initiative and drove the bear away by shouting and pelting it with clods of dirt. Yes, this was one fearsome creature. 

However, it did achieve a certain measure of revenge. After we'd eaten supper and hung the food from a high branch on the big pine in the center of the campsite, we retired for the night -- Cliff and I to the tent, and Harlin to his sleeping bag and tarp, which he had placed beneath the tree, on the cushiony mat of shed needles.

I was drifting off to sleep, when there came an urgent whisper from outside: “Cliff! Henry! Wake up!”

Cliff mumbled, groggily, “What do you want?” 

“The bear's back.” After sleepily pondering this development for a few seconds, our eldest brother delivered this sage bit of advice: “Well, leave him alone.” 

We were such a caring family. 

Next morning, Harlin informed us the bear had snuffled around the campsite while Cliff and I were snoring away in the tent, then climbed the tree from which we'd suspended our food. That is, the very same tall pine he'd chosen to sleep under. (Which, in retrospect, may not have been the smartest thing to do.) 

Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Harlin did his best to imitate an inanimate object while our nocturnal visitor clawed its way up the pine. But we'd chosen our limb well, high enough up so the cache dangled well out of its reach, from above and below. So the bear eventually gave up. 

According to Harlin, he experienced some tense moments right then, during this frustrated thief's descent. All my brother could think of was how accurate he'd been a few hours previously, lobbing those hard, gravel-studded clods of dirt at it -- and wonder whether the beast might be cherishing a grudge. He could all too easily imagine it making vengeful promises to itself as it scrabbled back down the tree.

Fortunately for him, the bear merely wandered away in search of an easier meal, and that was our last encounter with the creature.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Post-Friday Beast Blogging: The Mutual of Omaha Edition

SHADOW: We should cull her.

MOONDOGGIE: We should what to who?

SHADOW: Look at her limping around like that! She's sick and injured! We should totally cull her from the herd.

MOONDOGGIE: What herd? There's only two of them.

SHADOW: And there's two of us! That makes it a fair fight...

MOONDOGGIE: I'm not culling anybody. I don't even know what "cull" means.

SHADOW: It means we're predators, and we do what predators do: we predate! Or maybe we postdate. I'm not sure...Anyway, it has something to do with writing a check.

MOONDOGGIE: I'm confused...

SHADOW: You're confused?! How do you think I feel? I was raised by you! (SIGH) Fine! Just roll over on the remote and change the channel. This episode of Wild Kingdom is making me depressed...

Friday, June 23, 2017

Jupiter Ascending Colon


Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Directed by The Wachowskis
Written by The Wachowskis

Let’s meet our heroine (and, if you live on the planet Earth, your new landlady), Jupiter Jones. Her mother was a Russian mathematician, her father was a British professor of astrophysics in St. Petersburg. They had a blissful marriage until Dad somehow got in bad with the Celestial Bratva, a group of Russian loan sharks who apparently work at the local planetarium and will only accept astronomical instruments as collateral. They break in, shoot Dad, and garnish his telescope, and Mom promptly sails for America. Their daughter, Jupiter, is born at sea - the same place I found myself when I tried to figure out this plot.

Jupiter Ascending was heavily promoted for its ooh-and-ahh visuals, and the film pays off with a bravura opening sequence in which Mila Kunis clean toilets in 3-D. (Not to nitpick, but where do you get off naming your lead character “Jupiter Jones” and not have her played by Pam Grier? That shit is just wrong.)

Meanwhile, on Planet Plotpoint in the constellation Exposition, a pair of aristocratic siblings stroll through an eerie, lifeless city. Shopping bags and baby dolls lay forlorn and abandoned, while the entire world appears covered in a light dusting of Blue Berry Blast Kool-Aid. The douchebag aristocrats tut-tut about "the harvest," then Eddie Redmayne suddenly appears, stepping out of an unimpressive special effect that acts like Star Trek's transporter but looks like that pixelation thing your satellite TV does in crappy weather.

The aristobags argue about who gets to inherit Earth from their dead mother, because it's the best planet in the universe, worth more than all others combined. True, the ozone layer is disappearing, the seas are dying, and the climate is changing catastrophically, but it is relatively free of massive powdered drink spills. Eddie suddenly disappears into the transporter again, or maybe it just started to rain, I don't know. Anyway, it’s pretty cool – traveling instantaneously anywhere in the universe – but the alien aristos instantly forget they have this technology, and spend the rest of the film puttering around in space ships, which is kind of like NASA forgetting about the Saturn V halfway through the Apollo program and trying to launch astronauts at the moon in Conestoga wagons.

Back on Earth, that jewel of the galaxy, Jupiter is still scrubbing toilets. We meet three new characters, who – like their counterparts in The Matrix -- challenge our ability to discern between perception and reality. You see, they claim they're badass bounty hunters from outer space, yet they look like cosplayers at the Kennywood Comicon in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania who are holding up the corn dog line, debating whether to get a medium soda because if they get the large they might have to pee during the Manimal symposium.

But they better hurry up and decide, because Channing Tatum suddenly struts on screen like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Channing is a genetically engineered hybrid between a wolf and a male exotic dancer – I think they call his species a “lycan-stripper” -- and he's reputed to be the Imperial Legion’s deadliest hunter-killer, although mostly he just zips around the sky on anti-gravity figure skates, so a good chunk of the movie feels like watching Eddie Munster in the Ice Capades.

Anyway, Channing has come to Earth to kick ass and sneak into Planned Parenthood to smell Jupiter's medical records. Meanwhile, Jupiter's friend is mistaken for her and attacked by a squad of alien Greys. Jupiter saves her, by which I mean she grabs her phone and snaps a picture of the interstellar molestation and then just stands around, because risking your life for a friend is good, but it doesn't feel as good as getting a ton of Likes on Instagram.

After watching her friend receive an unwanted medical exam from a team of nude Space Mengeles, Jupiter goes home, where her cousin talks her into selling her eggs to some shady enterprise that presumably wants to make really tiny omelets.

Channing rescues Jupiter from Planned Parenthood, proving that Operation Rescue would be a lot cooler if they spent less time screaming at women outside clinics, and more time perfecting anti-gravity werewolves. But as soon as they escape the Roswell Greys, they’re attacked by the bounty hunters, so Jupiter clings to Channing’s back like Yoda while he Triple Lutzes and Salchows all over the sky in a scene that temps you with visions of another, better movie, one in which Hans Brinker wins a pair of silver skates for discovering Flubber.

Channing takes Jupiter to see Sean Bean, who's a genetic splice of Boromir and the Honey Nut Cheerios Honey Bee, and like all bees and Beans, will soon be dead. In the meantime, Sean's bees declare Jupiter Queen of Outer Space, because "they've been genetically engineered to recognize royalty" (which explains their tendency to genuflect in the presence of Prince, Dairy Queen, and King Vitamin).

Sean celebrates Jupiter's coronation with some backstory. It turns out that modern humans are actually a billion years old, rather than a hundred thousand or so, and first evolved on a distant planet called Orbitz. But before we can use this information to book the first discount flight out of this movie, the cosplay bounty hunters capture Jupiter and take her to the planet Douchebaggia. There, royal servants drape her in finery fit for the Queen of the Universe, i.e., a dress that looks like it was made from Grandma's chenille bedspread. Eddie's Douchebag Sister explains that Jupiter is a "recurrence", or reincarnation of her mother, who was 91,000 years old, and was either murdered, or fell in the bath and couldn't reach her Life Alert.

Jupiter takes a space ship to planet Orbitz. She also hits on Channing, but he rebuffs her because she's royalty and he has "more in common with a dog than I do with you," meaning he can lick his own balls, which makes her kind of superfluous.

Speaking of the human-animal hybrids, they’re really coming out of the woodwork now, and veering into Island of Dr. Moreau territory (the Marlon Brando one). Eddie's henchmen are monitor lizards with eagle wings, which would be great if this were a video game and I could hit them with a flaming sword. The helmsman who flies the good guy’s star ship is a hybrid of Sulu and Dumbo, Douchebag Brother's Henchwoman seems like she’s on her way to a furry convention and didn’t spend a lot of time on her costume, and Eddie Redmayne, based on those huge rubbery lips, appears to be a genetic cross between a man and a grouper.

Also, may I just say a word about Redmayne’s performance?  Except for one or two shrieks that were so abrupt I thought he’d just stubbed his toe, his whispers his entire part – every damn line – so even when star ships are exploding and monitor lizards are wrestling Eddie Munsters, you get the sense this whole movie must be taking place at the library.

But enough of the Westminster Mutant Show. Time for a whole weird section sequence where Jupiter has to get her pink slip to Earth notarized, and the Wachowskis use the unmistakable visual vocabulary of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (and Terry Gilliam himself in a cameo role) to satirize a day at the DMV. Way to stick it to the Man, ladies!

On the way home, Jupiter tries to get Channing to bite her; but while they're first checking to see if Channing's had all his shots, they’re abducted by Sean, who bee-trays them (sorry, not sorry) and turns them over to Eddie’s Douchebag Brother. Like everyone who meets Jupiter, he immediately dresses her up in a fancy, yet stupid gown, making me suspect the Wachowskis added all the sci-if imagery and monsters and action movie tropes to placate the studio, when what they really wanted to make was Colorforms: The Motion Picture.

Anyway, Douchebag Brother finally reveals the shocking plot twist, which most viewers saw coming as they jockeyed for a parking space outside the Cineplex: It seems the aristobags are basically Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, but rather than bathe in the blood of virgins to preserve their youth, they plant human beings on various worlds (in what really should have been a mid-Fifties TV show, “Johnny Appleseed, Space Cadet!”), and then when we’re ripe, they harvest our skin for lubricating bath beads. So according to this movie, we basically evolved from trilobites to mammals to hominids to Oil of Olay.

Jupiter doesn’t take the news well, so Douchebag Brother decides this is the moment to whip out an engagement ring and ask his dead reincarnated mother to marry him.

While Jupiter mulls over her romantic options — bestiality or incest — D-Bag Bro secretly tosses Channing out an airlock. Fortunately, as we learned from those Mutual of Omaha specials, the only two species that can survive for any length of time in the vacuum of spare are wolves and male strippers.

Jupiter still yearns for Channing to sweep her off her feet and take her to Zootopia, if you know what I mean, but she decides to go with the incest, because even though it’s equally gross, she’s less likely to catch scabies. Meanwhile, Channing is saved by Space Cops (A Quinn Martin Production), and decides to make a suicide attack on D-Bag Bro’s ship to rescue Jupiter. Sean switches sides yet again to join him, because it’s like 90 minutes into the movie and he’s really overdue to die.

Back on Bro’s ship, Jupiter hoverboards into the Norte Dame Cathedral wearing a headdress made from Christmas ornaments and a dress that looks like a repurposed Tournament of Roses float. It’s beginning to feel as if she’s having a Joan Crawford/Bette Davis-style feud with Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala to see who can rule space while looking like the winner of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race.
  
Channing interrupts the wedding, just like in The Graduate, except the social satire and Simon and Garfunkel score is replaced by CGI explosions and lame furries. But Eddie, who hasn’t been in the movie much for the last hour — to what I suspect is our mutual relief — has his  hybrid hench-rabbit kidnap Jupiter’s annoying Russian family and issue an ultimatum: abdicate, or he’ll kill them and steal their telescopes.

Rather than accepting her abdication on the spot, Hench-Rabbit drags her to the planet Jupiter, where the factory that renders humans into hand lotion is located in the Great Red Spot, so Eddie can chew each piece of scenery 32 times.

Channing flies into the Red Spot to rescue Jupiter, but Sean remains on the ship because he notices he’s still alive and likes it that way, and apparently he cares nothing about protecting a streak. It’s just as well there’s no Simon and Garfunkel music, because Sean is clearly no Joe DiMaggio.

Jupiter abruptly decides not to abdicate, because if her family dies she’ll finally get her own room. But Channing ruins that by Dorothy Hamilling in and killing all the iguana-eagles. It’s a sad day in the Raptor/Reptile aisle at Hybrid Petco.

Also, the factory starts blowing up so characters can fall, shinny up pipes, fall again, and get singed by random gouts of flame and white hot plasma. And yet despite these multiple and serious workplace hazards, Donald Trump appoints a CEO from the Human Skin Cream industry to head the EPA.

Channing rescues Jupiter, who is now free to live in a palace and rule the Universe, but she decides to go back home and scrub commodes, because it’s a little late in the movie to start pretending she’s smart. On the bright side, her annoying family unexpectedly turns nice and gives her a telescope so she’ll get murdered by Russian gangsters, and Channing gets his wings, just like Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life, and promptly uses them to make out in mid-air with Jupiter, just like Clarence did with George Bailey. So everybody got what their heart's desire, I guess, except me. I wanted a thrilling yet thoughtful science fiction epic in the vein of The Matrix. What I got was the world’s longest commercial for the Chlorox Toilet Wand.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dear Spike And Cronenberg: We're Sorry

Welcome to Season 2, Episode 10: Sickies!

You may have thought Jeff and Scott were abducted by aliens but the truth is much worse. There is tragedy, there is pain, there is discussion that bounces all over the pop culture landscape, including thoughts on Wonder Woman, Marvel vs. DC, MST3K old and new, House of Cards, the Black Panther trailer and most importantly, their mutual love of the classic Universal monster films and Jeff's total hatred of The Mummy.

[Cross-posted to The Slumgullion]

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Whatever Happened to Spanking?

"I...am your father! But do I even get a lousy Hallmark card? No! And I left you one good hand to write with, so don't give me that crap..."

A very happy Fathers Day to all you Dark Side Daddies out there.