Friday, June 29, 2012

Custom Lego ALIENS Power Loader

Special Guest Star Blog Appearance!

My thirteen year old nephew Aaron asked me to post this for him on my blog. Frankly I'm a little scared of him; you know how these kids are today. They'll cut you if you don't do what they want! So in the interest of my health, here's Special Guest Star Aaron and his blog post.

Aaron's big into Lego this month, and in addition to amassing hundreds of official sets, he recently began dabbling in making his own custom figures. Here he's made a genuine customized Ripley in Power Loader from the movie ALIENS.

Pretty impressive! And I'm not just saying that because he's forcing me to type it while sticking a shank in my side.

Here's a side view of the Power Loader, with a better view of Ripley. He constructed this from various spare Lego parts he had lying around the house.

Custom Ripley figure with happy "Petting Jones the cat" face.
In addition to the impressive Power Loader, he also cobbled together a custom Sigourney Weaver as Ripley figure.

The hair in particular is spot on. I have no idea where he found a hair piece like that.

Custom Ripley figure with "Get away from her you BITCH!" face.
Just like many official Lego figures, she comes with an extra face so she can properly express her emotions.

Again, pretty impressive. But now let's see you make a customized Alien Queen for Ripley to fight, Mr. Smarty Pants Teenager!

Portrait of the artist as a young nerd.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Annual Plea For The National Weather Service To Stop Giving Hurricanes Stupid Names

Once again, as I do every year, I am imploring the National Weather Service to do something about the less than impressive names it assigns to tropical storms and hurricanes.

As we speak, Tropical Storm Debbie is ravaging the Florida peninsula. Yeah, I said Debbie.

It's bad enough that people are losing their homes, property and even lives, but to lose them to Tropical Storm Debbie... It's embarrassing. These people have suffered enough, they don't need to be mortified on top of everything else.

Plus, think of the people in the storm's path who are being ordered to evacuate their homes. Nobody's going to evacuate because Debbie's heading their way. Who could blame them? "What's that you say, Mr. Civil Defense Worker? You want I should drop everything and leave my home because Tropical Storm Debbie's coming this way? Who's this Debbie anyway? How much trouble could she cause? I'll take my chances, thanks. Come back when Hurricane Death Scythe is bearing down on me, then maybe we'll talk."

Death Storm 2012. Now there's a name that'll get people's attention!

Sunny With A Chance Of Supernova

I saw this weather forecast when I got up this morning. Holy Crow! I'm hoping that the Thursday through Sunday temps are all some big typo or computer glitch. With my delicate constitution I'll have to take to my refrigerated bedchamber for the rest of the week.

I'm sure it's nothing to worry about. Global warming's a myth!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Atomic Age Witch

The year: 1952. The place: Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The subject: one Grimelda Spellington, a potion-making, broomstick-riding, cauldron-owning old school witch. Miss Spellington decides she's tired of being persecuted by the community and having everyone in the neighborhood refer to her home as "that haunted house on the end of the block that's dragging all the property values down."

So she did what everyone did in the Fifties-- she conformed. She ditched the pointed hat and black robes, bought a new wardrobe, got her hair permed and started wearing pearls around the house. 

Did it work? Let's just say the neighborhood Bridge Club was never the same after that year.


Here's the first sketch I did of Grimelda.


And here's the tighter final sketch. Note that at first I drew her wearing a neck scarf, bobby socks, Oxford shoes and a poodle skirt (except the skirt had a black cat on it instead of a dog. Com-O-Dee!) because that was an outfit in the 1950s.But then I realized that that's what teens wore, not adults. So I had to look up ladies' outfits from the 1950s until I found something suitably June Cleaver-ish.

For a while I toyed with the idea of having her hold a 1950s vacuum cleaner instead of a broom, but I just couldn't get it to work. Plus, since she was wearing fairly normal clothing I thought she needed to be holding onto some traditionally witchy items.

When I first drew the "atomic magic" on the end of her wand, it was an electric blue. It looked really jarring when I stepped back and looked at it, as there was no other blue anywhere in the drawing. So I changed it to a more color-coordinated yellow. Thanks, Photoshop!

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Three Years!

Today's the third anniversary of the day I ditched cable TV. You can read all about the initial ditching and why I decided to do it here, if you're so inclined. I'll warn you now, it's exciting and compelling reading!

It doesn't seem like it's been three years. Seems like only yesterday that I got tired of paying for hundreds of channels full of shows that I never watched and finally cut the cord.

"But Bob," I hear you saying, "think of all the hours of fine quality television you've missed over the past three years! Think of all the shocking cliffhangers and catch phrases you'll never know about!"

You're right about that. I have missed out on quite a lot since I got rid of cable. I've completely missed the boat on the whole Jersey Shore phenomenon that became one of the most important cultural milestones in our nation's history. In years to come the entire nation will remember exactly where they were when they heard the news that Snooki and J. Woww aren't really Italian. I, however, will be forever out of the loop, never understanding the full significance of the life-altering event.

Just think of all the rare and exciting moments of spectacular talent I never witnessed on Dancing With The Stars, America's Got Talent, The Voice, So You Think You Can DanceThe X Factor and American Idol.

Imagine all the untold treasures I never saw unearthed on Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, American Pickers, American Restoration, Auction Kings and Auction Hunters.

Weep openly at all the culinary delights I missed forever on Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Cupcake Wars, Amazing Wedding Cakes, DC Cupcakes and Last Cake Standing.

Now that I think about it, I've wasted the past three years of my life. Wasted it, I tell you! How dare I sit in front of my computer illustrating and improving my artistic skills when I could be watching one of the seven different shows about families of little people? How can I possibly justify going for a purposeless walk in the fresh air on the scenic trail that winds through my city when I could be watching meter maids hand out parking tickets on television? Where do I get the gall to sit and simply read a book instead of intently following the daily exploits of America's First Family, the Kardashians? Who the hell do I think I am?

My mind's made up! I'm calling the cable company and re-ordering cable pronto!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

DOING!!!


This is Home Depot's current slogan, the one that they've been using for the past few years.

It works fine when spoken in a commercial, but in print it's a whole different story. Whenever I see their slogan in an ad or circular, I don't read the last word as "do-ing." Instead I see it as "DOING!" You know, as in "humorous cartoon sound effect," or "rhymes with BOING!" Try as I might, I can't not see it that way.

Perhaps Home Depot ought to embrace this. They could hire Jerry Lewis or Eddie Deezen to be their new spokesperson. I can just hear either one of them screeching in a grating, nasally voice, "Come on down to Home Depot and tackle that weekend home improvement project. More saving. More DOING!"

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!

Unbelievably this summer marks the 30th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. 30 years! That's three whole decades! That just doesn't seem possible.

Anyway, in honor of the anniversary, here's my rendition of Khan himself.

Khan first appeared in Star Trek's first season episode Space Seed. According to the episode, in the far off futuristic year of 1996, Khan Noonien Singh was a genetically engineered superman who conquered and ruled one quarter of the world. He was overthrown during the Eugenics Wars (I must have been asleep that day; I seem to have missed the headlines in the papers). Rather than execute him on the spot as you'd expect would happen, he and 80 of his followers were placed in cryogenic suspension, loaded into an multi-million dollar spaceship and shot into outer space, where they'd never cause any trouble or be heard from again.

Flash forward forward to the 23rd century when Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise just happen to find Khan's ship. Naturally they can't leave well enough alone and thaw him out. He then proceeds to use his smoldering good looks and sexy accent to take over the ship and unfreeze his remaining followers. Luckily for NBC Kirk eventually gets the upper hand and defeats Khan. Once again, instead of just cutting off his damned head as logic would dictate, Kirk decides to exile Khan and his followers on an uncolonized planet, where he'll never cause any trouble or be heard from again.

In Wrath of Khan we learn that shortly after being marooned by Kirk on Ceti Alpha V, an environmental cataclysm occured, turning the planet into a harsh and violent hellscape. All but twenty of Khan's followers are killed, including his wife. Seeking revenge, he finds a way off the planet, commandeers a Starfleet vessel and goes gunning for Captain Kirk, the man he blames for destroying his life.

Ricardo Montalban portrayed Khan in the TV series and the movie, as you no doubt know by now, and turned in quite a powerful performance. Many have speculated that Khan's impressive pectorals were in fact a rubber prosthetic, but cast and crew alike swear that he was just in great shape and his chest was indeed the real thing.

It seems unbelievable, but at no time during Wrath of Khan do Kirk and Khan ever appear together. They communicate through view screens and communicators only.

Many fans have objected to the fact that Khan recognizes Mr. Chekov, telling him that he never forgets a face, even though Chekov didn't join the series until the second season. This used to bother me as well, but now...eh. I'm OK with it. Yeah, it's a mistake, but I'm willing to go along with it because it gave Chekov something to do besides sit behind a desk for the whole movie.

According to legend, the original title of the movie was actually Vengeance of Khan, but George Lucas reportedly objected because at the time he was developing Revenge of the Jedi and was afraid there'd be audience confusion, despite the fact that Jedi wasn't due to come out until the following year. So the Star Trek producers graciously changed the title to Wrath of Khan. Then someone over at Lucasfilm opened their desk drawer, took out a bottle, poured themselves a good stiff shot and pointed out to Lucas that Yoda himself said in the previous film that Jedi use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for revenge. So Lucas changed the title of his next opus to Return of the Jedi, making the whole name changing debacle moot.

To my knowledge this is the first time I've ever drawn Khan. I never realized what a complicated little outfit he wore. His little brown space cardigan is full of all kinds of fiddly little details. As I was looking for reference photos, I realized for the first time that Khan also carried a little man purse! Who knew? I guess even space despots need someplace to keep their keys and cell phone. I ended up having to leave out a few details and simplifying it a bit, or else I'd still be sitting here drawing him a month from now.

Director Nicholas Meyer told Montalban not to take the glove off his right hand throughout filming, to "add some mystery to the character," and no doubt inspire the King of Pop to do the same.

That's quite a magnificent mullet Khan is sporting too. According to the series timeline, only 15 years passed between Space Seed and Wrath of Khan. I guess it's possible for Khan to go from jet black hair to totally grey in 15 years, but it seems like a fancy superior lab-grown superman would have better genes. I guess life on Ceti Alpha V really was hell!

Although it's never stated onscreen, the creature he's holding is called a Ceti Eel.

Khan is a vector drawing, done all  in InDesign.
Here's the original sketch I did of Khan. At first I was just going to have him making a fist with his gloved hand and have the Eel crawling around his foot. Then I scrapped that plan and drew him holding the Eel by the tail.

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Doctor Who Seeds Of Doom Two Pack

I first started buying Doctor Who action figures around 2007. The original plan was to buy the Tenth Doctor and Rose and maybe a Dalek and that's it. You can probably guess how that turned out, five years and several hundred figures later. Sorry wallet. Sucks to be you!

These are my newest Doctor Who acquisitions: The Fourth Doctor and Krynoid figures from the Season 13 episode The Seeds Of Doom, which first aired in 1976.

The episode starts out somewhat like The Thing as an Antarctic expedition finds an extraterrestrial pod buried in the ice. The expedition's scientists apparently never saw any sci-fi or horror movies before, because they bring the pod back to their lab and start poking around at it. 

As sure as you can say "plagiarism lawsuit" the pod opens up, attaches itself to one of the scientists and begins absorbing his body, turning him into a plant based life form called a Krynoid.

The Krynoid then moves to the comparatively warmer climate of England where it grows to ridiculous proportions, becoming the size of the average office building before being dispatched by the Doctor.

In addition to the Fourth Doctor and Krynoid figure, the set comes with two Krynoid pods; one closed and the other sprouting a deadly tendril, so you can recreate the episode in the privacy of your own home while wearing your Doctor Who Underoos. Don't act like you weren't thinking about it!

In the Season 8 episode The Claws Of Axos the Third Doctor fought an alien invasion by a race called the Axons. The Axons were tall, pink, blobby unpleasant aliens who were represented by tall, pink, blobby unpleasant rubber suits, covered with strands of expanding insulation foam.

Because this is Doctor Who we're talking about, when it came time to film Seeds Of Doom five years later, the BBC, never ones to spend a pence they didn't need to, dug out one of the old Axon costumes, painted it green, added a few more tendrils and bits of moss, and voila! They had a brand new alien costume!

Life imitates art! Character Options (the company that makes the Doctor Who action figures) made a pink Axon figure two or three years ago. So naturally when it came time for them to make a Krynoid, everyone assumed they'd do the same thing the BBC did: take some leftover Axon figures, paint them green, say "There's your Krynoid!" and call it a day.

The promotional pics for the Krynoid Two Pack seemed to illustrate just that: a previously released Fourth Doctor figure (but with a sword accessory this time!) and a repainted Axon. I was underwhelmed to say the least, and decided not to bother ordering the set.

But then the actual figure came out and it turns out it wasn't just a simple repaint after all! They used the base figure of course, but as you can see here they added new and different tendrils to the torso, gave it new hands, and even molded a different pair of feet for it. It turned out to be an almost all new figure. In fact it was so different that I changed my mind and ended up ordering one after all.

So why wouldn't the Character Options marketing people say anything about that? Why rework a figure so extensively and not let their customers know? I'm sure many people felt the same way as I did and initially didn't want to spend money on a lame repaint. Who knows how many sales their incompetence cost their company? Someone needs a good firing, or at the very least to be forced to work as a grocery cashier for a month, so they'll appreciate their position when they come back.

It Came From The Cineplex: The Avengers, Hunger Games,The Raven, Dark Shadows

SPOILERS, I GUESS.
You've been warned.

The Avengers 
Ever since I was a kid and started reading Marvel comics I dreamed that someday, someone somewhere would make an Avengers movie. Happily, that day is finally here. I never thought I’d live to see it.

The Plot: 
Evil Asgardian Loki arrives on Earth and proceeds to... ah, it’s the Avengers! You know the plot. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye team up to save the world.

Thoughts:
That this film exists at all is nothing short of a miracle. Hollywood is normally all about making a quick buck, rushing movies through production whether they’re ready or not. They’re perfectly willing to spend $100 million on special effects but $9.98 on a screenwriter. Who cares if the script is ready, we start filming today!

But with a lot of patience and a well thought out plan, Marvel Studios carefully released five movies in the past few years that set up a whole little movie universe. It was a big gamble; if even one of these movies had bombed, the whole Avengers deal would have probably fallen apart. 

Characters regularly made guest appearances in each other’s movies, reinforcing the idea that this was all taking place in a single consistent universe, just like Marvel comics used to do (which was always one of my favorite things about them. It really is a modern day miracle.  

Somehow Marvel makes the whole shared universe thing look so effortless. Pepper Potts from the Iron Man movies saunters into Tony Stark’s apartment. Dr. Erik Selvig from the Thor film is there, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is back, gushing over getting to meet his idol Captain America. It all adds up to create a very cool unified world. Fortunately all that planning is paying them huge dividends. Maybe this will inspire other studios to follow their lead. I ain’t holding my breath though.


Captain America rides to the rescue in Marvel Studios' "The Avengers"
Seeing the various characters meet and interact is the whole reason for a movie like this, and The Avengers doesn’t disappoint. Writer and director Joss Whedon ably juggles multiple characters and story lines and somehow manages to give everyone a chance to shine. Heck, he even made Hawkeye-- a character with no powers other than good aim-- seem cool!

Everything you could ever want in an Avengers movie is there, and then some. Loki is the main villain whose presence causes the formation of the team, just like in the very first issue of the comic, way back in the early 1960s. They even included the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier! I have to say I never thought I’d see that in a movie. My favorite moment: the scene in which the camera spins around the six main characters as they strike their super heroic poses. I have to admit in all honesty that I squealed like a little girl when I saw that.


The Hulk and Thor spring into action in "The Avengers."
The Hulk was definitely the breakout character in the film. After three tries they finally got the Hulk right. He was absolutely hilarious in the movie, and probably my favorite thing about it. In the past the Hulk has been a totally CGI animation, but this was the first time that the actor who played Banner also played the Hulk (in full motion capture gear, of course). I believe that made all the difference.

I was a bit worried at first as to how some of the characters would interact. Iron Man and Captain America are fairly realistic characters; would it look silly for them to share the screen with a giant green monster and an other-dimensional alien god with a magic hammer? Thankfully I needn’t have worried. Everyone and everything fits together just fine.


Nick Fury brings the team together in "The Avengers."
I very much enjoyed The Avengers and I don’t begrudge the creators one penny of their box office take. That said, I really wish people would quit announcing how many records have been smashed by this movie. Yes, it made more in its first weekend than any other film to date. Yes, it reached a billion dollars faster than any previous movie. Of course it’s breaking records! Movie tickets are higher right now than they’ve ever been! It only makes sense that it’s raking in truckloads of cash. And it was in 3D to boot, so that adds even more to the already inflated total.

For the record, Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner marks the THIRD actor to take on the role this century. Ruffalo does an admirable job, despite his tendency to sound a little like Ray Romano when he speaks. Maybe he’ll finally break the Banner Curse and stick around for more than one film.


And you know what? Next year ticket prices will be even higher and some other movie will make even more money. The gross doesn’t mean anything (well, except to the bean counters I suppose). Butts in seats! That’s what counts if you’re keeping score. Count the NUMBER of tickets sold, not the COST of those tickets. THAT’S how you measure a movie’s popularity and success.


Now that Marvel Studios can seemingly do no wrong, I have to ask: WTF, DC Comics? You guys can’t seem to make a decent superhero movie unless it’s got Batman, Dark or Knight in the title. Barring the Christopher Nolan films, you haven’t made a decent superhero movie since Superman the Movie way back in 1978. Marvel seems quite capable of doing it, so why can’t you? Where’s our Justice League film?

One last thing: Be sure and sit through the credits (whadya mean you don’t have time, you gonna be late for your meeting with the President?) to get a glimpse of the Marvel villain who may be the big bad in the next Thor movie, or the inevitable Avengers sequel.

Pros:
• It’s an Avengers movie! What more do you want?

• The new and improved Hulk.

• Iron Man got his round ARC generator back. Like Joss Whedon, that triangle on his chest bugged me.

• Lots of nice touches for fans of the Marvel films, but newcomers shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out what’s going on.

Cons:
• I kind of wish a certain character hadn’t been killed off, but I understand the reasons why it had to happen. Other than that, I got nothing!

About as perfect a superhero movie as you could ever hope for. I give it an A!



The Hunger Games

I know, this movie came out months and months ago, but I wrote a review of it and by god I’m going to use it.

Lionsgate Studios tries and succeeds in setting up its own Twilight-esque movie franchise.

The Plot: 
It’s the future, although most of it looks like the past. North America is now called Panem, a nation divided into twelve Districts and ruled by the decadent Capitol. At some point in the past the Districts attempted a revolt that failed. To punish them for their arrogance, each year the Capitol demands each District offer up two of its children as Tributes to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death. Seems like it would have been easier to just levy some heavy taxes on them instead, but what do I know.

Katniss Everdeen, our heroine from District 12, volunteers for the Games after her younger sister is chosen. She and Peeta Malark (you can tell it’s the future because of the wacky names), a teen male from her District are whisked away to the Capitol where they spend a few weeks in training and being exploited by the media. Then it’s off the the Games, where Katniss must fight for her life against 23 other tributes. Last one alive is the winner!

Thoughts:
It’s a simple yet effective tale that takes a hard look at big government, war, the media in general and reality TV in particular. If you’re a curmudgeon who hates teenagers and would like nothing more than to watch them killing one another for two hours, this is the movie for you!

The movie is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the best selling book with few surprises. Most of the internet was going on and on about how the story was a ripoff of the Japanese shock film Battle Royale, with a dash of Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure. I never really got that impression from the film. If anything I thought something about it seemed a little Star Trek-ish; I can think of at least three episodes in which Kirk and Co. were forced to fight for the amusement of a crowd. There’s nothing new under the sun by this point in history anyway, so who cares if it’s reminiscent of something else?

I enjoyed the movie much more that I thought I would, and was surprised at how long it stuck with me. I was still thinking about it a week or two after I saw it, which is unusual. Whether it’s due to my advanced age or the fact that most movies today are disposable pablum, few films seem to stick with me anymore.

Star Jennifer Lawrence admirably carries the movie on her young shoulders. Woody Harrelson does a decent job of playing a drunken burnout. Elizabeth Banks is perfect and completely unrecognizable as Effie Trinket. Stanley Tucci is also a hoot as blue-haired TV emcee Caesar Flickerman.

No movie is perfect though, and there were a few points that seemed clear in the book but could have used some clarification onscreen. For example, when Katniss is preparing to leave for the Capitol she tells her nearly comatose mother that she has to step up and take care of her remaining daughter. The mom inexplicably acts like she’s lobotomized or something. In the book it’s explained that she acts this way because her husband (Katniss’ father) was killed in a mine explosion a few years earlier. Would it have killed them to have taken ten seconds to explain that small but very crucial detail?

In the book Effie Trinket was assigned specifically to District 12. Her job was to emcee the selection process, then accompany the Tributes to the Capitol where she would train them to be perfect ladies and gentlemen and hopefully garner audience sympathy. I did not get that impression in the movie. In the movie it seemed to me like she was collecting Tributes from ALL the Districts. Then later she’s just sort of there in the background; I don’t remember her ever once training anyone or giving them advice. And I don’t think the film ever once mentions her name. Her role definitely needed some clarification.

Also, maybe I’m just not the sharpest tool in the shed but it wasn’t immediately clear to me at first that the Games were being held under an enormous dome. I figured it out eventually (mainly when they flashed the faces of the dead Tributes on the “sky” every night), but would it have killed them to include a matte painting of the giant domed structure? They also didn’t make it very clear what was at stake: the winner of the Games is set for life, but in addition wins extra food for their entire District for a whole year.

Despite the fact that I liked it, I still don’t get all the obsession and hoopla over this movie. Kids were lining up days before the film opened just to see it. The movie premiere even made the front page of the local newspaper! Was the opening of a film really front page news? No wonder journalism is dying.

I wonder if this is the Millennial Generation’s Star Wars? If so, considering the subject matter of kids killing kids, we’re in trouble.

Before I move on I’d like to thank the couple who brought their 6 week old baby along with them to the theater and sat in my row during Hunger Games. I could tell by your child’s non-stop wailing that it enjoyed the film as much as I did. Maybe even more! The whole audience appreciated your precious snowflake’s antics during the quieter moments in the film. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get your name and phone number so I could punch you f*ckers in the throat find out when you’re next attending the cinema so I can make sure and tag along with you.


Pros:
• Straightforward adaptation that should please most fans of the book.

• Good performances by the cast.

Cons:
• A few key points could have been better clarified.

• Some dodgy effects, particularly the “Girl On Fire” dress that figures so prominently in the book.

A decent adaptation that sticks with you, and apparently the marvel of our age. I give it an A-.

The Raven 
Despite what the poster would have you believe, The Raven is not a movie about a Gothic superhero with wings made of blood red fire. That would have been a much better movie than what we got. Instead, The Raven tells the fictionalized story of Edgar Allen Poe’s last days. 

The Plot:
In 19th Century Baltimore, Detective Emmett Fields investigates a gruesome double murder. He quickly realizes that the crime scene closely resembles one described in one of Poe’s stories. When another Poe-themed murder occurs, Fields realizes there’s a serial killer on the loose who’s modeling his crimes after the author's stories. Fields then enlists the help of Poe himself to help track down the killer before he can kill again.

Thoughts:
I have to admit it’s a cool concept, but unfortunately the movie just didn’t live up to its potential. It’s slow moving, dark and dreary. Much like Poe and his work. In fact if you know anything at all about Poe’s life, you’ll know you’re not in for a happy ending.

I’ve always liked John Cusack well enough I suppose, but I have to admit he wouldn’t have been my first choice to play Poe (although he was a better choice than Michael Jackson, who allegedly at one time wanted to play the author in a biopic). He does the best he can with the script he’s given.

When I said that the movie was dark, I didn’t mean just in mood or tone; it’s literally dark. At times I was squinting at the screen trying to figure out what was going on. During some scenes it was more like a radio play than a movie. I can’t believe anyone would purposely make a movie like that; I have to assume this was some glitch on the part of my local theater; that they were trying to conserve the projector bulb or something.

Lastly, the screenplay was written by Ben Livingston and Hanna Shakespeare. Some unsolicited advice for Ms. Shakespeare-- you’d better be a damned good writer if you’re going to go around with a name like that. Even if that’s your honest to god given real name, I’d think about changing it. It’s only going to set you up to fail. You might as well be a basketball player named Chester Dunkenstein.

Pros:
• Interesting concept.

• If you’re bad at figuring out mysteries (as I am), this one shouldn’t be too tough.

Cons:
• Slow and plodding storyline and direction.

• Not a lot of fun, especially if you know any details of Poe’s life.

• Dark, nearly impenetrable cinematography.

A cool idea that unfortunately doesn’t live up to its poe-tential (see what I did there?). I give it a D.

Dark Shadows 
Sigh... once again Hollywood plunders TV’s past for more material. Has that trick ever worked? 

The Plot:
In 1776, Angelique Bouchard, who is a witch, is in love with Barnabas Collins. Unfortunately Barnabas only has eyes for Josette du Pres. Angelique uses her powers to cause Josette to leap to her death from a cliff, and turn Barnabas into an immortal vampire.

Cut to 1972, when everyone is either still alive or reincarnated and they do it all over again.

Thoughts:
Dark Shadows was a supernatural soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971 (strangely enough, the movie is set in 1972, the year after the series ended). It was extremely popular with younger viewers who watched it when they got home from school.

It was created by Dan Curtis, who also wrote the two very popular Night Stalker TV movies in the 1970s.

When the series first premiered it was just a standard gothic drama; there were no supernatural elements to be found. After a while they added some ghosts into the proceedings, with mixed results. The show struggled along for the first 209 episodes, and then they decided what the hell and went all in: in episode 210 they introduced Barnabas Collins, the tragic, 200 year old vampire. Overnight the ratings soared and the show began featuring werewolves, witches, and even time travel and parallel worlds.

The series was filmed on tape and due to the schedule they rarely if ever stopped to reshoot a scene. As a result the show is riddled with flubbed lines, faulty props and visible stagehands, which gave the series a certain rough charm.

The character of Barnabas Collins was originally intended to last just 13 weeks, but he proved so popular he was kept on and eventually became the star of the series.

I never watched the show much when I was a kid, mainly because I couldn’t. My backwater home town didn’t have an ABC station. Somehow though I was still familiar with the characters and the basic plot line. Maybe I saw it a couple of times at a friend’s house? Perhaps I absorbed it through osmosis from the vast amount of merchandise the show generated? It’s a mystery to me.

You may have noticed by now that I’m spending most of this review talking about the TV show and not the new movie. That’s because I have little or nothing good to say about the new film.

Tim Burton directed Dark Shadows, which stars his little repertory company of Johnny Depp and Helen Bonham Carter.

Visually the film looks great, but unfortunately the storyline (such as it is) is all over the place. How do you go about adapting a long running soap opera into a two hour movie? Well, if you’re the writers of Dark Shadows the answer is to try and cram ALL of it into one film. There’s way too much going on in this movie-- too many characters (none of whom are ever properly developed) and too many plot lines (many of which just trail off without any resolution). Even though I was familiar with most of the characters from the original series, it was a chore trying to figure out who everyone was in the film and how they were related to one another and what the hell they were all doing.

The filmmakers got the names of the characters and locations right, so they obviously did their homework. It’s just frustrating that they took that knowledge into such an appalling direction.

Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins of course. In interviews he gushed about how much he enjoyed watching the character as a kid and how he dreamed of someday portraying him. Well, be careful what you wish for, Johnny. The TV Barnabas, even though he was a vampire, was always the consummate gentleman; a man out of time who still practiced Old World manners. Depp's performance tones down the politeness, ramps up the “fish out of water” angle, and trowels on a healthy dose of horniness for good measure.

The TV Barnabas could easily pass for human most of the time. Only when he was in full vampire mode was it obvious he was something other than a normal person. Depp’s Barnabas is a pasty-faced weirdo with extra finger joints and pointy ears who constantly stands out wherever he goes. Subtlety, thy name is not Tim Burton.

The original Barnabas Collins, actor Jonathan Frid, makes a welcome cameo appearance in the film, along with fellow original costars David Selby (Quentin Collins), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Angelique) and Lara Parker (Joesette du Pres). Unfortunately it’s very literally a “blink and you’ll miss it” appearance, lasting around a second at most. Sadly, Jonathan Frid died the week before the film premiered, missing out on all the renewed interest in the series and his career that the film will no doubt generate.

Lastly the trailer for this film didn’t do it any favors. It made it look like a Beetlejuice type of slapstick comedy, when nothing could have been further from the truth. Not funny enough to be a comedy, too campy to be a drama, the movie’s tone is all over the place.

Pros:
• Like most Tim Burton movies, it all looks nice.

• Alice Cooper’s cameo appearance. The highlight of the film for me. I used to listen to his music in high school and I forgot how much I liked it. Excuse me while I go fire up Pandora and give him a listen.

Cons:
• Too many characters to try and keep track of.

• Way too much plot shoehorned into the running time.

• Lack of the theme song! The TV series had a very evocative and eerie theme. They didn’t use a note of it in this abomination. Not even a brief refrain when Barnabas appears. Way to honor your source material, Tim!

Another remake of a classic TV series that goes horribly wrong. I give it a D.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Things I Just Don't Get: Utilikilts

You know, I try to keep up with all the things the kids today like, such as pogs, Alf and the Rubik's Cube. But hip as I am, even I can't keep up with all the new trends. Sometimes I just don't understand what's going on. 

Some Things I Just Don't Get.

For example, the Utilikilt. And just what is a Utilikilt, you ask? It's an everyday utilitarian version of the Scottish kilt. Always festooned with lots of masculine cargo pockets and pouches. It tries its best to be a manly article of clothing, but when you boil it all down it's still nothing more than a skirt. And a pleated skirt at that.

Several times a year I have the misfortune of observing someone wearing a Utilikilt in public, harshly reminding me that they indeed still exist. Whenever I see one of these be-kilted specimens, I always get the vague impression that they think they're on the bleeding edge of a fashion revolution, that they're an early adopter, so to speak. Every day they trot out their little pleated skirts and think, "This is it. This is the year that Utilikilts finally catch on! And I was there to help make it a reality!"

I regret to inform them that this is never going to happen. Not in our lifetimes at least. Oh to be sure, the Utilikilt will always be found in certain fringe areas, such as RenFaires and comic book conventions. But the cold hard truth is that it's never going to be be embraced by mainstream America.

I am aware that kilts are still regularly worn by men in all walks of life in Scotland. That's fine. More power to the Scots, I say! But see, over there it's a part of their cultural heritage. A page torn from their history. We have no cultural heritage here in America. Scots guys in kilts are honoring their forefathers. American guys in kilts are weirdos in skirts.

In the interest of full disclosure, on most days you can find me walking around in a pair of cargo shorts. You may be asking yourself what's the difference? Why are my shorts OK while the Utilikilt is deserving of my scorn? Aren't both garments basically the same? Do both not expose the same about of calf flesh? 

The difference is small, but an important one. Cargo shorts are basically pants. Short pants to be sure, but pants nonetheless. When I wear my cargo shorts I can sit confidently with my legs spread if I so desire, knowing that nothing traditionally covered by a fig leaf is going to be exposed. With the Utilikilt, one wrong move and you can see all the way down Main Street to City Hall, if you get my drift. 

Plus, my cargo shorts are battened down if you will. The legs stay pretty much in place at all times. The Utilikilt though... at any given second it can snap upwards like a faulty Venetian blind, startling passersby and exposing your assets for all to see. When I wear cargo shorts there's no danger of me standing on a sidewalk grate and accidentally reenacting Marilyn's scene from The Seven Year Itch.

Fans of the Utilikilt, please give it up. No matter how many times you wear yours in public, NO other man is ever going to think, "Say, I like the way that guy looks in that kilt! He seems so free, so loosed from the physical and societal restraints of traditional legged garments. A man could get a lot done in a free wheeling, kicky little number like that." It just ain't gonna happen. And no matter how many pockets and pouches you sew onto it, no matter what camouflage pattern you use to construct it, there's no getting around the fact that you're just a dude in a skirt.

This Is Why Your MuuMuu Doesn't Fit: Burger King's Bacon Sundae

Just in time for swimsuit season, Burger King proudly announces their brand new Bacon Sundae!

You heard me, I said bacon sundae. It's vanilla ice cream in a cup, drizzled with chocolate syrup and impregnated with real bacon bits. And for good measure, it's got a crisp slice of bacon protruding jauntily from one side.

All I have to say it's about time! We landed on the moon in 1969! Why are we just now able to buy ice cream and bacon in the same cup? This is just the thing our country needs to perk us up in these times of economic uncertainty and woe. Sure, by some estimates a whopping 68% of Americans are considered overweight, but c'mon, one little cup of baconated ice cream isn't going to kill you.

The Bacon Sundae clocks in at a modest 510 calories, which is only a fourth of the recommended daily caloric intake for adult humans. No worries at all as long as you remember to skip breakfast and lunch and munch on a bowl of watercress for dinner.

Of course the Burger King Bacon Sundae isn't the fast food industry's first foray into the world of dairy and pork crossover desserts. Back in February rival chain Jack In The Box unveiled its Bacon Shake.

Unlike the Bacon Sundae though, the Bacon Shake doesn't actually contain any bacon. Instead it's made with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, a maraschino cherry and a special "bacon-flavored syrup." 

Despite the fact that there's no bacon to be found within its frothy depths, it weighs in at 773 calories for the 16 ounce size, and only 1,081 calories for the 24 ouncer. Again, that might sound excessive at first glance, but as long as you eschew any other food intake for the rest of the week, you should be just fine.

So hoist yourself up onto your Rascal™ scooter, make sure its got a full battery charge and zip on down to your local fast food establishment and try a fine dairy and pork dessert beverage today!
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