Friday, February 26, 2016

The Fourth Annual Skelly Awards!


 By Bill S.

Before I begin this column, here's a trivia challenge for all of you-see if you can identify the voice of the actor playing the Yellow M&M in this commercial. I have the answer at the end (no cheating by scrolling down)

Folks, the Academy Awards are airing this Sunday, and that means it's time for me to peruse the nominees in the four acting categories (Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress) and determine who among then deserves the SKELLY Award for most embarrassing prior role (or "skeleton in the closet"). According the rules I invented for this Award I invented, if one of the nominees already competed or won in a previous year, they are ineligible this year. That's good news for Jennifer Lawrence (who made the list in the first year for her role on "The Bill Engvall Show"), Christian Bale (who made the list in the second year for the ineffable Swing Kids), and Leonardo DiCaprio (who also made the list in the second year, for his role in Critters 3). I'm pretty sure the SKELLY is one award Leo definitely doesn't want to win. But before I reveal this year's lucky recipient, let's have a look at the runners-up.

6th Place: JENNIFER JASON LEIGH

She began her career as a child actress, working in television in the late '70's, and made her feature film debut in 1981. Back in the '80's, most juvenile actors broke into films one of two ways: a gross, stupid teen sexy comedy, or a gross, stupid slasher film. In her case, it was the latter, something called Eyes of A Stranger.

  "It's my party and I'll die if I want to."

The star of the movie was Lauren Tewes, AKA Julie McCoy on "The Love Boat"("Death! Exciting and new/climb aboard, we'll dismember you....") as a reporter who's being stalked by a serial killer. Leigh played her kid sister, who happens to be blind. The girl becomes one of the killer's targets. The results aren't exactly Wait Until Dark. It's more like, "I can't wait til this stupid thing is over."

5th Place: KATE WINSLET

After recurring roles on a pair of British TV series, Kate landed a starring role in her first film, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, an impressive film debut. Looking back, it's surprising she didn't receive an Oscar nomination right out of the gate for that. She'd have to wait another whole year to get one for Sense & Sensibility. Between that one and the blockbuster Titanic, she took an unfortunate detour into a forgettable Disney flick, A Kid In King Arthur's Court.

The titular character, a modern-day teen who's transported back in time to the days of King Arthur, was played by Thomas Ian Nicholas AKA "The guy in American Pie who wasn't Stifler, Finch, or Jim. No, not that guy, you're thinking of Chris Klein, I meant the other other guy." Kate was saddled with playing the only Disney princess no child has ever wanted to dress up as, and her love interest was played by a pre-Bond Daniel Craig, sporty a floppy hairdo more suited for swinging '60's London than the days of King Arthur.

4th Place: BRYAN CRANSTON

His part in Trumbo is his best film role to date, and if he wins for it, he'll be three-quarters of the way to being an EGOT, having already won a Tony and many, many Emmys. As well he should, since he's been a welcome presence in nearly every TV show, whether a guest star or lead. But there was one series even he couldn't save: "The Louie Show", which aired for one season back in 1996. It was intended as a vehicle for comedian Louie Anderson, who played a therapist. I have to confess that I'd never heard of this show until I was researching actors' credits for this column, and it's so obscure I had a hard time even finding clips of it online. But I did find a couple, and here's one. Bryan, who play's Louie's best friend, doesn't appear until the 3:48 mark, but you'll probably stop watching long before that, because the transitional music is so awful, it could be used to extract confessions from prisoners.

Anderson reportedly hated this show, and he wasn't alone -- it was canceled after just 6 episodes (one of which never aired). He and Cranston and the rest of the cast and crew moved on to better projects, by which I mean, anything they pulled a paycheck for immediately after.

3rd Place: RACHEL McADAMS

Before playing Mean Girl Regina George, and good girl Allie in The Notebook, Rachel played...

The Hot Chick.

In this 2002 Happy Madison production (red flag right there!), Rachel played Jessica, a pretty, popular teen who rules her school and pushes less popular kids around. She gets her comeuppance when a curse is placed on her, and she wakes up to find that she's been turned into ROB SCHNEIDER. Wait, is this supposed to be a comedy, or a horror film?

I guess that answers the question. This is the worst body swap movie since Like Father, Like Son. And fuel for our nightmares.

2nd place: CHARLOTTE RAMPLING

She's been acting for 50 years, which means she's had more than a few career ups and down. For example, she filmed scenes for Vanishing Point , but they were cut from the final print. I'd like to have been a fly on the wall when that decision was made:

"That British dame who looks like she could be Lauren Bacall's daughter -- lose her."

"What about the purse-clutching nelly queens who rob the hero? Should we cut that?"

"Nah, that's gold, and it won't date the movie at all!"

Having dodged that bullet, Rampling was free to star in one of the most insane fantasy films ever made: ZARDOZ

  "...and Beyond Ridiculous."

This futuristic tale of two tribes, the Eternals (who live in a land called the Vortex, where nobody dies and everything is "perfect"), and the Brutals, who live in the Outlands, where people are killed for a false god (Zardoz) and life is harsh, has a following. It's in volume 2 of Danny Peary's books on Cult Films. I imagine a large part of that cult consists of repeat viewers who just can't believe WTF they just saw. In just the first 10 minutes, we're treated to a man with a drawn-on pubescent beard explaining the film's premise, a giant floating head telling a crowd that "The gun is good, penises are evil", and Sean Connery in a red mankini stumbling on a bunch of naked people who've been shrink-wrapped (to lock in freshness?). Charlotte Rampling plays Consuela, one of the Eternals, whom Peary likened to a prudish PTA member -- an apt comparison. If she were wearing pearls, she'd be clutching them for half the film, until she suddenly, without explanation, falls in love with Connery, telling him, "In hunting you, I have become you" (Say what?)

I will say this: Zardoz is the most entertaining movie on this list. Entertaining mainly because every single frame of it, from the first to last, is so bugfuck insane it's unintentionally funny. Which gives it a slight edge over the movie that determined this year's winner of the Fourth Annual Skelly Award:

SYLVESTER STALLONE.

Sly's first speaking part was a bit role in Bananas, and his first full-fledged starring role was in The Lords of Flatbush. Despite a mediocre script and a horrible score (courtesy of Joe Brooks) I have a certain affection for it. He and co-stars Henry Winkler and Perry King have enough charm to keep it watchable, and it does contain one scene that actually made me laugh out loud, when Stallone's character caves in to pressure from his girlfriend to marry her ("I love you. BUY ME THAT RING!!!") That's one funny scene more than can be found in what's not only his worst movie, but the worst movie of the 90's. I'm talking of course, about STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT!

Or as I call it, Stop Watching, Or You'll Want To Shoot Yourself.

Full disclosure: I was actually going to write a column on this movie about three years ago. I rented it, watched it multiple times, and took down notes about it, and then, for reasons I don't recall now, just didn't get around to writing it. I considered doing it again when Creed hit theaters, but I did not want to watch it again.

But I doubt I could have done a better job making fun of it than the star of the film himself. Here now, are some quotes from Sylvester Stallone, on the film he acknowledges was the worst of his career:

"Maybe one of the worst films in the entire solar system, including alien productions we've never seen."

"In some countries -- China, I believe -- running [the movie] once a week on government television has lowered the birth rate to zero. If they ran it twice a week, I believe in twenty years China would be extinct."

"A flatworm could write a better script."

So could you, Sly. So could you!

And now, the answer to my opening trivia question:

The voice of Yellow is none other than last year's winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Whiplash star J.K. Simmons!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Head Cheesiness: The Brainiac a.k.a. El Baron del Terror (1962)


By Hank Parmer

Mexico City, 1661: When he least expected it, Baron Vitelius of Astara has been arrested by the Spanish Inquisition. Despite having been imprisoned in some filthy dungeon and tortured, except for the manacles and leg irons he looks tanned and rested, as if he's just back from an invigorating weekend at the spa -- a sure sign that Satanic forces must be at work!

(The Baron is played by Mexican actor Abel Salazar, who hogs most of the screen time, and, on a completely unrelated note, produced this crappy film. He also bears a striking resemblance to Sheldon Leonard, best known as Nick the bartender in It's a Wonderful Life.)

In a gloomy, ill-lit chamber, a hooded Inquisitor reads out the indictment. Besides the usual grab bag of accusations -- heresy, witchcraft, conjuration, causing infertility in his neighbor's phlox, whistling on a Tuesday -- the Baron is charged with dabbling in that darkest of sorcerous arts: necromancy! And he's seduced married women and maidens!

This last one sounds more like sour grapes, prompting an oily grin from the accused.

The Inquisition's mouthpiece continues: Baron Vitalis was warned he was to be subjected to the torment. Here the indictment inserts the sort of standard disclaimer which should sound familiar to anyone who's read the fine print on a rent-to-own contract or seen one of those "Ask your doctor about ..." drug ads:

"If, during said torment, he should be maimed in any way, or should die, or his blood should be drawn in carrying out the sentence, this would serve as proof of his guilt and show that he had not repented."

Well, what sort of a chance does that give you? Damn, but they've got some sharp lawyers.

He reads on: Spoilsport Vitalis, when told of the sentence, declared they could torment him all they wished. When tortured, he merely laughed at "these acts of justice" -- and look at him, sitting there now, cool as a cucumber. Can't he see he's ruining it for them!

In fact the Baron acts more like a star jock being lectured by the vice principal for giving wedgies to the AV squad; he squirms in his chair and hardly attempts to hide his frequent smirks. Adding insult to injury, not a hair is out of place on that patrician noggin, while they have to wear these hot, stuffy, extremely unflattering black hoods.

But wait ... some poor schmuck has actually volunteered to be a character witness for the Baron! He identifies himself as Marcos Miranda, a former resident of Portugal. He claims that the Baron Vitalis he knows is a really sweet guy, smart as a whip, and loved by everyone. But the Inquisitors aren't having any of this. As a consolation prize, Marcos is awarded two hundred lashes for being such a credulous dolt.

The hoodies hold a quick confab, then the sentence is pronounced: Baron Vitalis is to be stripped of his possessions, dressed in funny-looking clothes for a public shaming, and then burnt alive in an open field.

The Baron sneers: "If my body is to be burned, it will be without chains!" and he magics his shackles onto his two guards. (Top that, The Amazing Randi!) He turns and walks away, while the guards attempt to follow him and do simultaneous face-plants. [Cue Nelson Muntz "Ha-ha!"]

Cut to that open field. Just like they promised, the Inquisition has rigged Vitalis out in a cardboard mitre and a hospital gown, so everyone could point and laugh at his butt-crack and pale, hairy legs and knobby knees. He's tied to the stake. Marcos is one of the bystanders. He's astonishingly chipper, after having just received a couple hundred lashes.

The Head Hoodie gives the signal; the pyre is set alight. The flames rise all around the Baron. Suddenly, he's transfigured by a light from above -- which must have caused his persecutors an uneasy minute or two there, as they might have suspected they'd got the wrong heretic.

It's only an ultra-cheesy, out-of-focus (so maybe the cheesiness won't be quite so noticeable) visual effect of a comet. I've seen more realistic depictions created with glow-in-the-dark stickers. Vitalis looks at Marcos. Marcos looks at Vitalis. Vitalis looks at Marcos. They both look up at the comet.

Then Vitalis lays his curse on the four Inquisitors. Their costumes are no disguise, because their faces are superimposed on their hoods as he names them one by one.

With the cellophane crackling around him, Baron Vitalis informs them he's off on a getaway cruise of the Oort Cloud, but when the comet returns in 300 years, he promises he'll get his revenge then by killing all their descendants. Thereby cinching the "World's Foremost Procrastinator" award for the year 1661, possibly the entire Early Modern Era.

Vitalis is obscured by the out-of-scale blaze. Partially melted years emerge from the flames: 1661 ... 1761 ... 1861 ... 1961! Yup, it's three centuries later, alright. Time for the fun to begin.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Title That Dare Not Speak Its Name


Episode 2 of The Slumgullion is live, and I think we're starting to hit our stride. The first part is a fun, free-wheeling discussion, and while the title is spoken -- or perhaps, "discovered" is a better way to put it -- we can't post it here thanks to FCC regulations.

The second half is devoted to the debut of our regular feature, the Unknown Movie Challenge, in which one of us picks a film that either or neither of us has ever seen before, to watch and talk about. This time it's a Bollywood ghost story called Darr @ The Mall. I don't want to spoil it for you, but imagine if Paul Blart, Mall Cop was an Indian Army vet with PTSD, and the Orange Julius in the Food Court was staffed by an actual devil. There are also songs and dancing and sudden onset Catholicism.

Please give it a listen and let us know what you think:
The Slumgullion Episode 2 “It’s Not the Title”

Bonus Moondoggie portrait on black velvet, suitable for framing:



Creamsicle in Chiaroscuro

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Post-Friday Pod Plugging

Although the next episode of The Slumgullion isn't due until next week, Jeff and I were so moved by Deadpool that we recorded a special mini-sode in the middle of the night as soon as I got home from seeing it:
Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Face 
Starring Jeff Holland and Scott Clevenger 
In this special mini Slumgullion, Jeff and Scott discuss the awesomeness of Deadpool, with a little Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman thrown in for good measure. 
WARNING: HEAVY SPOILERS
Shadow was also deeply affected by Deadpool, particularly the X-Men crossover elements, and wanted to do a special Pre-Post-Friday Beast Blogging in its honor.

SHADOW: From now on, I'm changing my name to 'Shadowcat.' Why, you ask...

SHADOW:  Because I've got kitty pryde.

SHADOW:  What?

SHADOW:  Yeah, fine, whatever.

Wheels Within Wheels Within Big Wheels

Alex Jones is right! First Justice Antonin Scalia dies of so-called "natural causes" at the tender age of 79 and now Eighties pop purveyor Vanity has perished at the even tenderer age of 57, which is 79 if you reverse it and add 4, the number of Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Wake up, people! This can't be a coincidence, especially when you consider the underlying connections (Scalia also got his start as a lingerie-clad Prince discovery, with his debut album Vaffanculo resulting in four Top Ten singles in 1985 and an nomination to the Supreme Court in 1986). Vanity also had a big year in '86, turning down President Ronald Reagan's offer to appoint her Surgeon General because she figured he was drunk and probably wouldn't remember in the morning, but accepting the female lead in Never Too Young To Die, which was the Spy Kids of its day, just with more boobs and crossdressing.

Anyway, pretty much everything I know about Vanity I learned from this movie, so let's celebrate her life with this piece from Better Living Through Bad Movies.


Never Too Young To Die (1986)
Directed by Gil Bettman
Written by Anthony Foutz

John Stamos first achieved notoriety as “Blackie,” the sensitive, cycle-straddling delinquent on General Hospital, before ultimately rising to a flaming, Phoenix-like apotheosis of fame as “Uncle Jesse” on Full House. In between, he made a lame stab at snatching the action hero tiara from Kurt Thomas (of Gymkata fame) in a contest that resembled two frail old women struggling over a discounted bra at a Woolworth clearance sale.

But John had a couple of advantages over Kurt in their Battle of the Network Mullets. First, his character is called “Lance Stargrove,” a name so manly that every actor working in male porn films in the 1980s must have been kicking himself that he didn’t think of it first. Second, John’s dad is George Lazenby, who comes bearing impeccable spy film credentials, having thoroughly stunk up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and as the movie opens, George is trying to foil arch-criminal Gene Simmons (yes, the guy from KISS), who is playing an evil hermaphrodite with a super-powered middle finger.

George infiltrates Gene’s headquarters with a group of commandos who eventually get bored and frag him.  Eventually, Gene makes his dramatic entrance; a puffy fellow sporting six-inch stilleto boots, Mr. Spock’s eyebrows, and Roseanne Rosannadanna’s hair, Gene works himself into such a flamboyant, cackling tizzy that he makes Caesar Romero’s Joker look like the farmer in “American Gothic.” Then he shoots George too, probably for that recurring role he had on B.J. and the Bear.

At George’s funeral, Vanity shows up to make soulful goo-goo eyes at Lance through her veil. As a former Prince protégé, Vanity has quite a bit of experience in feigning attraction to slight, androgynous men with pouffy hair, and is therefore the perfect choice for Lance’s love interest.

Seeking a break from the film’s relentless pace, Lance retreats to his dad’s farm in Ojai. But Vanity is already there, prancing around the barn in jodhpurs and one of Prince’s lacy blouses, and shooting it out with two of Gene’s thugs. (They don’t introduce themselves, but they appear to be Duke Nukem and the Artful Dodger from Oliver!) Lance is utterly confused, and for the first time, we’re on his side.

Later, Vanity meets with her superior, CIA spymaster Carruthers, who’s played by Gene Simmons in a red wig and fake beard. (Shhh! We’re not supposed to know.) Gene orders Vanity to find Gene at a nightclub where he’s performing, and kill him. Lance dons the Miami Vice look—blue t-shirt, and a shiny sport coat with the sleeves hitched up—and follows her to the nightclub, which turns out to be a cross between Fellini’s Satyricon and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department impound lot.

Inside, a paunchy Gene sashays around in a sequined body stocking, batting his false eyelashes and shaking the long plumes of pink feathers that trail from his elaborate headdress as he shrieks out a song. It’s not the most entertaining musical number ever filmed, but remember, it’s an action movie, so they had to squeeze in at least one macho character.

Next on our tour of Southern California spots where you can shoot a movie without expensive filming permits, Lance hops on a motorcycle and follows Vanity into the desert. She tries to lose him, and thanks to the editing, there are several implied car stunts. Then, suddenly, John is attacked by some homeless guys on motorized carrousel horses, who use wicked-looking battle-axes to gently poke at him as though checking to see if a pot roast is tender.

Vanity and Lance get captured by the Mad Max cast, and Lance wakes with a start back in Ojai (which actually is kind of scary—take it from one who knows). In the best scene of the film, two of Gene’s henchmen torture Lance by banging his head around the insides of the kitchen sink like a bell clapper. They try to break his spirit by squashing a cherry tomato against his cheek, then they spank him until he cries, and throw him into the bookcase.

But Lance spots a broken picture of he and his dad amongst the wreckage, and it apparently has the same effect on him that spinach has on Popeye. He leaps to his feet and suddenly starts kicking ass Gymkata-style, while a Jan Hammer wannabe plays listless, yet vaguely triumphant music on a synthesizer.

Realizing that Vanity is in mortal danger, and no doubt being tortured at this very instant, Lance must race to her rescue! But not right now. First, he decides to change his shirt and wander around the house for awhile.

Meanwhile, Gene is now being aided in his evil master plan—whatever the hell it is—by Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street, who for some reason is dressed like one of the Archies.

Eventually, Lance goes off to infiltrate Gene’s secret headquarters, which is located in an abandoned foundry in Fontana because there’s no lock on the gate and the crew could film there for free. Our hero finds Vanity chained down and spread-eagled on a cement slab, with the camera pointed at her crotch. Surprisingly, her crotch gives a very nuanced performance, but all good things must come to an end, and Lance rescues her by...Well, pretty much by just showing up.

Safely back home, Vanity tries to kiss Lance. This makes our hero visibly uncomfortable, and he promptly retreats into the house to watch TV, having suddenly remembered that Christopher Lowell is doing a fabulous program on HGTV about marbleizing techniques.

Vanity refuses to take a hint, and strips down to her bikini. Lance wrings his hands and gazes anxiously skyward. Vanity doggedly rubs oil on her chest and thighs, licks her lips, doffs her top, and basically does everything possible to seduce Lance short of slipping him a roofie. Eventually, she’s stark naked and shivering under the spray from a garden hose, when Lance abruptly stumbles toward her. Perhaps he was suddenly overcome by passion, although my theory is that the director was crouching just off-camera, and jabbed him in the ass with a hatpin.

Mercifully for everyone involved, the sex scene is cut short by terrorists. Lance and Vanity are kidnapped and whisked aboard a helicopter, where Gene pulls off the beard and wig and reveals that Gene is actually...Gene! As surprises go, it’s not exactly The Crying Game.

Gene takes them to a Junior College amphitheater where they can shoot on weekends and nobody will know. Here we get the only actual sex in the film, as Gene flaps his prehensile tongue and shoves it down Vanity’s throat like a plumber’s snake. Lance challenges Duke Nukem to a one-on-one fight “with a real man!” Surprisingly, he means himself. Duke agrees, but it turns out that Lance’s definition of “a real man” is rather elastic, and includes a hysterical wuss who will snatch the Uzi from a slack-jawed spectator and gun down his unarmed opponent. Before he can embarrass himself further, however, the Green Berets arrive, having apparently secured transportation by renting the Long  Beach Harbor excursion helicopter for a few hours. Lance fires indiscriminately into the extras in an effort to clear the set, since time is money.

Gene climbs into a big rig truck and tries to flee by passing himself off as Large Marge. But Lance catches up to him, and in the climactic battle, they literally scratch and bite each other’s nipples, until Lance suddenly throws a CPR dummy over a dam and declares victory. The Director of the CIA offers Lance a job as a secret agent, but he’s too much of a wuss, and runs away. The End.

And what lessons does Never Too Young to Die teach us about being an ’80s action hero?

First, that if you’re big and beefy, you can get by with just one two-syllable name, such as Rambo, Rocky, Conan, or Roseanne. However, if you’re kinda delicate and boyish, you’ll need a strong, masculine moniker to give you gravitas: you know, something like “Lance Stargrove” or “Rod Parsley” or “Dick Cheney.”

And second, that while being an action hero may sound cool, it’s not all fun and games. You might have to withstand torture, such as water-boarding, electro-shock, or having to watch a dumpy, aging rock star perform in Victor/Victoria. And the job could entail indignities, like cherry tomato facials, or wearing Don Johnson’s hand-me-downs. But worst of all, naked starlets might follow you around, demanding that you make out with them, thus exposing you to biohazards such as cooties!

So, think the whole thing through before you sign up for that PCDI correspondence course in Criminal Justice and Action Hero Vocational Training. Admittedly, their spokesman makes it sound exciting. (“I’m Simon MacCorkindale. You might remember me as Jonathan Chase, the man who solved crimes by changing into animals in the TV series Manimal. And if you want a great career in the exciting fields of crime fighting, accounting, PC repair, or shape shifting, call now for our free information packet.”) But Simon doesn’t tell you about the embarrassing wardrobe requirements, the torture, and the icky, old girls!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Post-Friday Beast Blogging: The "Men Who Stare at Cats While Listening to Podcasts" Edition


MOONDOGGIE: Phew! Finally, a moment to catch my breath. She's been chasing me all over the house, and I was beginning to think I'd never get a--

MOONDOGGIE:  --way...She's behind me, isn't she?

SHADOW: Hey, look! Look! I can do Snoopy doing a vulture! See? You watching? Watch me!

MOONDOGGIE: Pastor Fred says in times of stress I should pray for strength to our dark lord Hello Kitty...

*Title supplied courtesy of Dr. Alice.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Slumgullion: Episode One: The Human Stew


I know I've been hitting you with a lot of aural product the past week and would like to apologize except it's totally Jeff's fault, since he's a font of creative energy and spontaneity, whereas I'm more of a sedimentary crustal layer who specializes in producing material on a geologic time scale. But with today's official launch of The Slumgullion, we'll be moving to our regular schedule, releasing a podcast every two weeks. (Not to say there won't be a mini-sode popping up here and there, depending on if/when Jeff overdoses on caffeine, and/or somebody we like dies...)

The Slumgullion Episode 1 “Shannon Tweed’s Lady Bits”

Starring Jeff Holland and Scott Clevenger 
From the carcass of The All Star Summer Jamboree comes basically the same thing with an equally weird name. In this episode, Jeff and Scott talk about Jessica Jones, Eyes Wide Shut, and soft core porn before settling down for an in depth discussion of the comedy classic Galaxy Quest.
In honor of the still dewy-eyed and youthful 2016, I also present a dramatic reading of the 1980 holiday special, New Years Evil.  You can check it out by clicking the title above (and if you happen to know anyone with a similarly suspect taste in pop culture, please pass on the link, like a game of "Telephone" or a case of bird flu).

And because you've all been so good lately...Cat pictures tomorrow!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Things Are Coming To a Boil!

Another surprise mini-sode (at least, it came as a surprise to me)!  Jeff and Mary have a grief counseling session over the Star Wars Holiday Special, while I play the part of the suicidal (or homicidal) caller to a late night radio talk show.
Wookies and Music and Porn Oh My 
Starring Jeff Holland and Scott and Mary Clevenger 
Another special lead up to Saturday’s premiere of The Slumgullion. Tangents are kept to a surprising minimum as Jeff and Mary deal with a shared childhood trauma known as The Star Wars Holiday Special. Scott has used much medication to remove those horrible memories from 1978, but Mary and Jeff have suffered greatly, and it is time for closure. 
NOTE: Scott may sound a little distant in this particular conversation, but he is speaking through a tin can attached to a string.
Click the link above and hear Mary and Jeff laugh, cry, and try to outgeek each other by naming all the toys and tie-in merchandise they collected. Justin Bieber passes himself off as Diahann Carroll by adding another "n" to the end of his name. Then Bea Arthur shows up and demands that you dream about her.

I dare you not to.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

From Primordial Soup to Nuts


The Slumgullion, episode 1 premieres this Saturday! What the hell is that, and why should you care? Well, as man's wisdom is finite, I'm afraid I can only answer one of those questions: The Slumgullion is the new podcast starring the very funny and very opinionated Jeff Holland, and the very me, Scott Clevenger.

In the meantime, we present a brief featurette in which we preview the new theme song, and explain how we survive things gone mad and girls gone wild, in a world we never made. Also, Jeff has an oddball little theory he'd like to discuss. If you've got a moment, please check it out by clicking here.

(I'll understand if you don't have a moment, because you're spending the day watching old Bob and Ray bits on YouTube.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Missing Box Office Receipts of Benghazi!

I was cleaning out the spam folder today when I came upon an email from my old friend, FedUp PAC, demanding to know if I'd done my patriotic duty and gone to see 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Now, I usually ignore FedUp PAC's communiques, partly because they insist my name is "Tommy S" for some reason, partly because their appeals are invariably composed of equal parts grift and spleen, but mostly because consorting with someone who addresses you by an assumed name and just wants to screw you out of money is exactly what I imagine it feels like to spend time in a shabby motel room with a hooker (note to self: call David Vitter to confirm).

But as it happens, I did see 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (at a pre-release screening), and wondered what F-Up thought of it; and since it bombed at the box office and is presently being pushed out of theaters by Kung Fu Panda 3, there's nobody else I can talk to about it.
The murder of four Americans that should have never happened
Well, sure, but I kind of feel like no murders should happen. Or all murders should not happen.
Tommy S, 
Can you hear me? Can you feel me near you?
As the new movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opened nationwide this past weekend, Hillary Clinton's enablers in the media attacked it relentlessly.
While moviegoers ignored it assiduously.
Who would you rather believe concerning the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four Americans - Hillary Clinton or the heroes on the scene that horrible night who prevented even greater loss of life?
Or to put it another way, would you rather believe the U.S. Secretary of State, or a bunch of mercenaries who were trying to gin up book sales and a movie deal by writing about what badasses they are? I'm gonna go with None of the Above, because Hillary is a politician and the mercs seem like the kind of guys who would have beaten me up in high school.

But wait! Don't choose yet! What if you had a choice between believing seven congressional investigations that found no wrongdoing on the part of the Administration, or FedUp PAC, a "political action committee" that has made no donations or expenditures, but still somehow run up debts of $282,853, probably by overpaying the guy who spams my email and calls me "Tommy." Now who would you rather believe?

But don't answer yet! Suppose the choice of who to believe is telling the truth about what really happened that night in Benghazi was between Thor and the Hulk, and whoever wins gets to punch Trey Gowdy?
Please go immediately to the National Opinion Survey on the Benghazi Attack to answer that question and others related to events during and after the strike.
Nobody told me there'd be a quiz today.
With the release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi as the backdrop, this is the perfect opportunity for you to sound out on responsibility for the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens - a story that Republicans in Congress have failed to reveal.
So we should elect Michael Bay to Congress? I gotta admit, he'd probably do less damage that way.  But it's interesting that FedUp PAC is frothing over the demise of Chris Stevens, because in the film the ambassador is portrayed as a smug, ineffectual Beta Male whose failure to defer to men who outrank him in the Greek alphabet practically invited his own death.
FedUp PAC will rush results of the National Opinion Survey on the Benghazi Attack to conservative websites within 48 hours.
Apparently that didn't go quite as planned, because when I googled "National Opinion Survey on the Benghazi Attack" I got one result -- the "National Opinion Survey on the Benghazi Attack" on FedUp PAC's website. So either F-Up forgot to mark the results "RUSH", or they did, and the conservative websites just tossed it, assuming it was a CD of Snakes and Arrows or Vapor Trails.
That way, Survey results will have a wide audience at the same time Americans are turning out to watch the Benghazi movie.
Excellent! Of course, if the Survey has the same wide audience as the Benghazi movie, the respondents will consist of me and an elderly gentleman in a Red Sox cap who fell asleep playing Texas Hold 'Em on his iPhone.
If Hillary Clinton had her way, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi would have never seen the light of day. 
As it was, the audience had their way, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi not only saw the light of day, it glimpsed its shadow, which means six more weeks of conspiracy theories.
After all, Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time of the Benghazi attack.

She was responsible for the security of Americans at U.S. embassies and consulates on foreign soil.
I never knew the position Secretary of State is basically just a glorified security guard, but now I realize Obama should have appointed Paul Blart, Mall Cop, because he works for $7.25 an hour, plus whatever day-old sticky buns he can scrounge from the Cinnabon.
But when Ambassador Stevens pleaded for better protection of the U.S. diplomatic compound at Benghazi, his urgent requests fell on deaf ears.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi shows what happened next.
But in order to show what happens next, the movie would have to show what you just said it shows first. And it doesn't. In fact, the film makes a point of Stevens rejecting the need for more security, because he wants to appear approachable to the locals. I'm beginning to think F'dUp didn't bother to actually watch 13H:TSSoB, and are just repeating the same old right wing taking points about Benghazi because they assume those mothballs are the plot.

Having sat through the entire 144 minute running time, I can tell you that what happened next is that everyone involved wrote a book blaming everyone else, then one of them won the lottery and it got made into a dull movie by a guy who previously filled the silver screen with giant robot testicles.
Seeing the compound engulfed in flames, the team got ready at once to go to the rescue.

All of a sudden, they got a different order.

It was the CIA base chief for the Benghazi area ordering the commandoes to "stand down."
According to the CIA base chief, he never said "stand down." According to the movie, he did, so who you gonna believe? (Before you answer, I should point out that all the mercenaries had full, manly beards, while the CIA chief could barely manage a weedy Van Dyke, so the movie's thesis appears to be that the bushier a man's facial hair, the more credible he is a witness to History [who would you rather trust -- Grizzly Adams or Snidely Whiplash?], and is also the origin of the phrase "bald-faced liar" I just decided. Remember, as the old saying goes, "Men may twiddle the twinks, but they marry the bears.")
What's more, Hillary Clinton quickly joined in blaming the attack on local Muslims angry about an anti-Muslim video posted to the Internet.
Are we still pretending to talk about what happens in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi?  Because Hillary Clinton is not in the movie.
That bald-faced lie was finally exposed when a private Hillary Clinton e-mail to her daughter Chelsea the very same night came to light admitting she knew that an Islamic terrorist group had carried out the Benghazi attack.
Hillary Clinton does have a bald face, or at most one of those sparse white Grandma Mustaches that you only really notice when she comes in close for a smooch on Thanksgiving.  
Now with the release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, public attention is refocused on the Benghazi cover up in a way that only big Hollywood movies can do.
Similarly, since the release of the docudrama Fantastic Four, not a single American has been recklessly exposed to cosmic rays and transformed into a hideous orange rock monster that talks like Max from Hart to Hart.

Anyway, this goes on for awhile, with every other paragraph pushing a link to the National Opinion Survey on the Benghazi Attack, so I finally broke down and took it. I only got a C+, but in my defense I hadn't studied and I was nude, so if anyone tells you that dream can't happen, they're bald-faced liars!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Your Ass is Dragon


Eragon is a painfully obvious feat of wish fulfillment, and yet I have to admit that it spoke to my inner teenage boy. Not the part about a young lad destined to fight orcs and woo maidens from the back of his pet dragon; I mean the part about a 15 year old kid who writes a mash-up of all his favorite fantasy books, gets it vanity published by his parents, and winds up selling 35 million copies. Because that was my fantasy when I was a teen. The other kids on my block wanted a light saber or a bat’leth or at least to see Jacqueline Bisset topless, but all I wanted was a royalty check and a lucrative subsidiary rights deal.

I never got around to reading Eragon, because it’s a YA book and I’m an adult, with adult responsibilities (like bitterness and jealousy), so I can’t speak to its quality. But I did see the motion picture, and while the plot and characters are derivative, I can forgive that because it’s based on a book written by a 15 year old boy, and that in itself is an amazing achievement. The movie, however, wasn't made by teenagers. It just seems like it

Eragon (2006)
Directed by Stefen Fangmeier
Written by Peter Buchman
Based on the novel by Christopher Paolini

We're soaring through the clouds as Jeremy Irons informs us that for thousands of years, the land of Allagash (known for its fine selection of Belgian-inspired ales and rich tradition of crappy ideas for movies) was "ruled by men astride mighty dragons" which is pretty impressive, even more so when you learn that some of them liked to do it reverse cowgirl style. "To protect and to serve was their mission," Jeremy tells us. So, a bit like the Los Angeles Police Department, if Adam-12 had featured Martin Milner and Kent McCord cruising Downtown L.A. on a pteranodon.

Unfortunately, one of the dragon cops was John Malkovich, and he went all Darth Vader one night and killed his fellow officers and their scaly rides and declared himself king, which is like if the pilot of the police helicopter suddenly declared himself Sky Marshal of the Universe and began shooting at the KTLA Traffic Copter.

Anyway, that's just the backstory. "Our story starts," Jeremy drones on, when Not-Liv Tyler, who's an ally of The Vardan (some kind of anti-government militia) steals the King’s stone.  Naturally, His Majesty Malkovich is enraged, because it wasn’t easy passing that stone, so it's got a lot of sentimental value.

Meanwhile, humble farm boy Eragon (who at this performance will play the part of the Chosen One), goes out hunting, while Robert Carlyle from The Full Monty tries to retrieve the stone for Malkovich by having a staring contest with the camera.  When that fails, he orders the Poor Man’s Uruk-hai (let’s call them the Urkels) to kill Not-Liv's militiamen, but she foils him by using the Enterprise transporters to beam the King's kidney stone directly to the Chosen One.

Even though it's warm and gross-looking, and came out of John Malkovich's urethra, Eragon falls in love with the stone, because he knows it's going to make him the beloved title character of a blockbuster franchise that will spawn multiple sequels and catapult him to the heights of stardom. So whatever else it is, the stone is obviously not a crystal ball.

Eragon goes home to his uncle's farm, where he and his lookalike cousin, Roran, engage in some horseplay, which, while homoerotic, is brief and unsatisfying, so I'll pause here for a moment to let the fan-fic writers take up the slack.

Anyway, Roran is a draft dodger and promptly leaves, which is a relief because he and Eragon were hard to tell apart, and while I'm tired of the Chosen One Narrative, it's even more irritating when your Chosen One is Multiple Choice.

Anyway, Eragon is bereft that his doppelgänger is departing, and to prove it he does the Sad Luke Skywalker Standing and Gazing at theTwin Suns of Tattoine pose, but with just one sun, and worse posture.

Then he goes inside to mope, just in time to see the royal gallstone. Eragon doesn't recognize the CGI creature that emerges as a dragon, and I can't really blame him, because it looks like a weasel molded from blue Play-Doh and dressed in a Batman costume. But when he touches it, a spark illuminates the screen so brightly that it wakes up all the guest stars and supporting players.  Eragon, however, is knocked out by the spark, and when he comes to his discovers that his right hand has been branded with a strange rune that resembles the Green Bay Packers logo, and the CGI weasel-bat is eating CGI rats, thus protecting the family's store of virtual wheat and ensuring that Eragon will totally dominate that Farmville game.

Full Monty tells Malkovich that the egg has hatched, and the dragon is in the hands of a blond farm boy, but fortunately not the one from The Princess Bride, because he was smart and hard to kill. But Malkovich is worried that his enemies -- "the elves, the dwarves" -- will hear that a Play-Doh weasel-bat has been born, and since they're from better-written franchises, they'll probably laugh at him.

Back at Farmville, the villagers are bitching about their lack of civil liberties, while Jeremy Irons waxes Obi-Wan about the old days, when Allagash was free thanks to the dragon riders, who were the defenders of peace and justice and tasty seasonal ales.

Eragon is thrilled to hear the era of the dragon riders will return, because the Play-Doh poultry-farming era has been kind of a letdown. He repeatedly throws the weasel-bat into the air, forcing the thing to fly; and when it does, it naturally flies away, which surprises Eragon and gives him a sad. But then his Green Bay Packers logo lights up, and the Play-Doh weasel-bat flies through some lightning and turbulence, and when it lands three seconds later it's a giant Play-Doh dragon that speaks fluently, if telepathically, and introduces itself as “Saphira,” which is cool, because that’s my wife’s favorite makeup store, so I’m hoping it can get us a discount.

"You," she says breathily, "Are my rider." It sounds rather sexy, coming, as it does, in the voice of Rachel Weisz, until you remember she's got a cloaca.

Eragon sneaks into Obi-Wan's -- I mean Jeremy's  -- oh hell, let's just call him Jeri-Wan -- home and just happens to stumble upon the ancient DMV Dragon Rider's Handbook. But knowing he's already on the verge of a cease-and-desist letter from Lucasfilms, Jeri-Wan throws him out.

Eragon overhears a peasant ratting him out to some Nazghul, so Saphira gives him a lift back to the Skywalker homestead, but it's too late; Uncle Owen has been killed by stormtroopers. Eragon throws a tantrum and decides to blame it on all on the dragon, sending her to the plot point penalty box. Then Jeri-Wan arrives, sees the Packers logo on Eragon's hand and scowls in confusion. "YOU?" he bellows, no more willing to believe this guy is our hero than we were. But we've had half an hour to get used to the idea, and promise to be his sponsor and help him work through it. I mean, we're not really doing anything else at the moment.

Our default heroes ride to the peak of Mount Exposition, where Jeri-Wan tells the boy that he's being hunted by the King's servant, Full Monty, who has dark mystical powers. He also reveals that Eragon is the rebels' only hope, whereas my only hope is that the kid who wrote this story was content with pilfering from A New Hope and we don't have to deal with a knock-off of Jar Jar Binks.

On their way to the militia compound, Jeri-Wan explains the rules of the game (dragons wait to hatch until their rider is born; if their rider dies, the dragon dies), teaches Eragon how to use a sword, does a little furtive mystical crap, and basically just chugs a pint of Alec Guinness.

At Mos Eisley, Jeri-Wan sends Eragon to buy bread, so the kid goes to a fortune teller, because apparently Eragon's not paying any more attention than we are. The palmist spreads the Chosen One stuff thick and extra chunky: Eragon’s coming has been awaited for thousands of years by hundreds of races, he has powers he hasn't acknowledged yet, there's a girl who calls to him in his dreams, etc. Jeri is upset that Eragon cheated on him by going to someone else for exposition; plus, he's got a low blood sugar headache, so he was really looking forward to that bread. They get attacked by Urkels and are about to die when Eragon decides he can makes his arrowheads turn blue and explosive, and he blows up his enemies like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo II because why not? Pile it on, kid! I’m hoping before this thing is over your hero also harnesses the powers of Captain Planet, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Inspector Gadget.

Eragon passes out and has a dream about Not-Liv, and then wakes up to a boner and more exposition. Jeri-Wan tells Eragon that he has magic, which comes from dragons, but before he casts a spell he must learn the ancient language of the Elves.  Of course he must. So we get a five minute lesson in Conversational Elvish, and while it didn't make me fluent, I'm pretty sure I can now order at the Rivendell Chili's without having to point at the menu.

Then we get a five minute flying lesson so Eragon can master the most important bit of Elvish magic, the one that allows the Rider to see through his Dragon's eyes. He shouts the spell ("Souvlaki Tent!", or something like that), and suddenly we're watching the world through Saphira's point of view. It turns out that dragons' eyes come equipped with zoom lenses and a variety of Instagram filters.

Jeri-Wan is attacked by Urkels, which results in a 90 second action sequence, and ten more minutes of exposition. We learn that Jeri is also a dragon rider, but his dragon was murdered. Or so he says. I think he probably just overfed it one night, found it floating belly-up the next morning, and then hastily flushed it down the toilet.

Later, Full Monty sticks his Lee Press-On nail into Not-Liv's sternum, which causes her to send an alluring Snapchat to Eragon.

He flies to Full Monty's lair, the dark fortress of Dar-Mach-Var-H’rus, which is Elvish for “My Agent is So Fired,” and uses the "Souvlaki Tent" spell to find Not-Liv thanks to his dragon's X-Ray vision.  Full Monty arrives for a magic duel, which mostly involves him throwing things at Eragon., so it’s like Harry Potter if the wizarding world’s sport wasn’t Quidditch but Dodgeball. Then Jeri-Wan suddenly jumps in front of Eragon and takes a spear to the chest. How he got there without a flying dragon is a mystery, but I'm sure the answer can be found in one of the many books or movies this thing rips off.

Jeri-Wan gets a big, meaty, Joseph Campbell-approved death scene, and gives Eragon his magic dragon-killing sword, Xerox.  Then they bury him in a big cubic zirconium so he won't rot.

Well, since we just lost a character, how about we introduce a new one? Meet Montauk, the young archer who would like to grow up to be Christian Slater for some reason, but instead turns into that guy who stunk up Tron: Legacy. Montauk’s family was slaughtered by King Malkovich, so he offers to lead Eragon to the militiamen, who are camped near a secret matte painting. And they better hurry, because Full Monty's Lee Press-On gave Not-Liv’s sternum a bad case of nail fungus.

They find the rebels, who are ruled by the guy from Amistad, and dress like the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Unfortunately, Eragon and his friends were followed, and the rebels are attacked by a whole army of Urkels.

Prepare for battle! (It involves pouring used motor oil into the koi pond). Saphira and Eragon both dress up in goofy armor, and she proves they're ready for combat by breathing fire for the first time. Mazel tov! Today you are a dragon.

The Urkels attack! Everyone kicks confusing, shaky-cam ass. Saphira napalms the crap out of the enemy like she’s working for Henry Kissinger, while Not-Liv throws batarangs for some reason.  Full Monty rides a giant bat and says to Eragon, "Come taste the blood of your dragon!" which is a terrible offer, and reminds me of those ladies in the grocery store who offer free samples of Hickory Farms Savory Meat Logs.

So it's CGI dragon versus CGI bat, and it's even more dull and pointless than you're imagining. Saphira is mortally wounded, but Eragon risks his life to save her with his healing magic that he somehow has for some reason.

The battle ends suddenly and inconclusively, because there's still three books to go. Not-Liv says, "The rebels already tell stories about you." They're not flattering, but still.

Eragon asks, "When will I see  you again?"  She replies, "Time movies quickly." Unlike this movie. Except for one part: I noticed that if you watch Eragon all the way to the end credits, at some point you will actually feel your will to live leave your body with the force, speed, and sound of explosive diarrhea.