Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memeraker

Actually emailed to me, which is kind of neat.

1) WHAT BOOK ARE U READING?
I'm between books at the moment; I just finished Robert Mayer's wonderful novel Superfolks, easily an all time favorite (even though I've only just read it) and Tony Kushner's play A Bright Room Called Day. I got some books from the library today; I think the next will be Douglas McEwan's My Lush Life.

2) FAVOURITE BOARD GAME?
I used to love The Game of Life when I was a kid, but I feel like I've hit every permutation of it. I still enjoy a good game of the old Monopoly, although it can be frustrating to the point where, like Chief Wiggum, I wonder how those Parker Brothers sleep at night.

3) FAVOURITE SMELLS?
Strawberries. Bacon. But not together.

4) WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD?
Eating the last cookie and knowing there's none left.

5) WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN U WAKE?
"What day is it, again?"

6) FINISH THIS STATEMENT—’IF I HAD A LOT OF MONEY I’D...
Take a few days off and watch every season of Doctor Who straight through. And I'm talking from 1963 on.

7) DO U DRIVE FAST?
I've been known to, but I really try not to. Fantasma is a car that it's very easy to get lost with and suddenly realize you're heading towards 90.

8) STORMS–COOL OR SCARY?
Both!

9) WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
That would be Falcon, a silver 1985 Chevy Nova. When I first got it, it was so out of alignment that it would shimmy if you got it above 30.

10) FAVOURITE DRINK?
Coca-Cola.

11) FINISH THIS STATEMENT-IF I HAD THE TIME I WOULD…
Finally finish the four different novels I'm working on writing.

12) DO YOU EAT THE STEMS ON BROCCOLI?
People still eat broccoli? Nasty.

13) FAVOURITE SPORTS TO WATCH?
Soccer.

14) ONE NICE THING ABOUT THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?
She's very considerate. And dead sexy. Yes, you are.

15) WHATS UNDER YOUR BED?
Nothing. My box spring is on the floor.

16) MORNING PERSON OR NIGHT OWL?
I wouldn't call myself a morning person, but I do wake up between 5 and 6 about 95% of the time. Always have.

17) OVER EASY OR SUNNY SIDE UP?
Over easy with toast. But I usually eat them scrambled.

18) FAVOURITE PLACE TO RELAX?
The sofa. I know, I'm lazy. But open the patio window and give me a book and put on a CD... bliss.

19) FAVOURITE PIE?
She's asked me not to say, so I'll just say banana cream instead.

20) FAVOURITE ICE CREAM FLAVOUR?
Chocolate.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What a Week

Yes, cute animal pictures really do make it all better. We each deal in our own way.

There's no Throwdown this week. I just couldn't pay attention to the news because I've been working so hard this week, and I've been sick every day. This has been an odd week; so much planning, so much testing, no one's schedule is regular, things getting moved around. It's like Quantum Leap every day: I just have to hit the ground running and remember to be flexible.

Yesterday I asked one of the other assistants, "Is it just me or does this feel like it's been a ten-day week?" She laughed ruefully and nodded.

Wednesday was the apex. Once again, it involved my fifth-graders, Josie, Melody, Valerie, and Alan. I had to take them at a special time on Monday so they could take a social studies test, because some of them need the test read to them. Poor Josie, she tries so hard, she really does, and still she ends up with a 58 on the test. She's got a real academic block. I don't know how the rest of them did, but I know they tried. Well, except Melody. She just kind of tore through it, possibly at random. So, on Wednesday, I took them out of the room while the other kids in the class were testing. They were all three antsy and didn't want to pay attention and didn't want to do anything. I practically had to yell at them to get them to finally sit down and read quietly.

All except for Alan. He didn't want to read, because he has trouble reading, so he rebels. We were in someone's office--the only place for us to go--and he kept going through things. I told him to be respectful and not go through someone's things, but he couldn't understand what the big deal was. I told him that if he didn't want to read he could just sit quietly, but of course, he couldn't do that. He'll mumble about fairness and what he can and can't do and click his pen and knock on stuff and play with things. But he thinks he's being quiet, even when he isn't. And he really pissed me off when he said "I know you don't like any of us." That's the one time a kid really hurt my feelings since I've been subbing. I didn't show him any reaction, I just told him he was wrong, that I liked all of them--even Melody. But it made me mad.

Then an argument broke out about what everyone has to deal with, and Josie said something about her parents being divorced and her dad being engaged and how that makes her feel bad, and Alan said "Who cares?" The whole conversation just stopped. I know that Alan's parents are divorced and his dad's remarried, too. Divorce is so commonplace now that a question I hear among kids all the time is "Do you live with your mom or your dad?" I think there was a connection there that Alan didn't like, and his insensitive "Who cares?" really made Melody angry. I told Alan to apologize to Josie, and he wouldn't. Melody demanded he aplogize to Josie, and he said no. Valerie suddenly mentioned that her parents were married but fought a lot, and he said "They'll probably get divorced too." That visibly shook Val. Melody's parents are also still married, and Alan said "For now." Everyone was mad at him now, everyone had sore feelings, and I just couldn't take it anymore. I figured the test had to be done by now, and went out to tell the resource coordinator I was taking the four of them back to class.

When I got back into the office, Melody was running out to tell me that Alan had said Valerie's father was probably gay, which really upset Melody. I asked Alan if that was true and he gave me the "Yeah, so what?" routine. I told him to go down to his classroom's hallway and wait quietly. I told the girls that I would talk to RC about what had gone on and also their teacher. I was just angry by now. I asked Josie if she was okay, and Valerie too, and they said they were. So I took them down to their class and had them wait outside while I went in to talk to the teacher.

When I got out, Melody and Valerie are both saying that Alan threatened them because they told on him. I sent the girls in to class to get ready for study hall (I take them during study hall) while I talked to Alan. He refused to apologize to any of the girls or me. He was pissed. He said he was just going to drop out of school anyway and that it didn't matter. He said he could do whatever he wanted and he didn't think he had to apologize for it. So I told him he wasn't coming to study hall and he could stay in class. He said he didn't care. RC came down and talked to him privately for a good while and then made him apologize to me. I really think the whole divorce conversation hit him personally, because when RC asked him why he'd said "Who cares?" when Josie was talking about it, he answered, "I'm tired of her thinking she's so special."

It's been that kind of week. Everyone's so angry, so touchy, so ready to explode. They don't care about school anymore because they're on a countdown: 7 1/2 days to go. Time to go and forget everything they've learned about anything. They're too caught up in their idiot personal dramas to focus on actually learning anything.

The girls in the other fifth grade are still having their drama, too. Daisy Mayhem is still getting in trouble. Today she was serving time on the bus line as punishment for another fight she'd gotten into with the same two girls, who decided to come up and start talking to her about who was at fault. I had to yell at them to get them all to stop talking to each other. They were surprised, I think. "Stop talking to each other!" I yelled, and they all kind of jumped for a second. At the end of the day, as they were walking towards the bus and getting in each other's faces, I finally snapped and screamed at the top of my lungs: "STOP talking to each other! Don't even look at each other! Take it out of school and get it worked out! JUST SHUT UP AND GO HOME!!!"

I'm not proud of that, but looking back, it's hard to care. All I could think was "The children are the future, and the future is more of the same."

I still love working with kids, but this has been a tough week. Boy, all due respect to people who think that human beings aren't inherently bad, but you get some of them in a building together and they're pretty quick to gentrify, ostracize, and categorize. I understand why it seems like the end of the world to all of them--school pretty much is their entire world--but I wish there was a way you could get through to them and make them realize what's important before it's too late.

If only that were possible.

This week was a sheep-herding week. All I did was herd sheep.

TV Report: A Half-Series of Doctor Who

Yes, there are spoilers here related to the first six episodes of the fourth series of Doctor Who, so if you haven't seen all of the episodes yet, just skip this and don't go writing whiny posts on your blog about how I ruined your life.

So, half a season in to the new series of Doctor Who and I'm just having the best time with it. I am enjoying it so much more than I was enjoying the third series by the same point (and that's nothing against Freema Agyeman, it's just that the writers had a hard time finding their footing without Rose Tyler to work with). Last season was shaky, but I was riveted to the last six or so episodes. This time around, I've been having a hell of a lot of fun, which is really the great thing about Who. It should always be fun, even when it's being serious. There's a vast difference between being emotional believability and manufactured over-seriousness (which is a difference that I think a lot of modern SF shows never really figure out).

Going through the series, then.

Episode 1: Partners in Crime
A crackerjack opener. I like that Russell T. Davies introduces the new companions in the same way, with the sort of fast-motion, busy London streets. As I've said before, I'm pleased as hell to see Catherine Tate back as Donna Noble. I loved her in The Runaway Bride, and I'm glad to see a friendly companion who isn't harboring a secret crush on the Doctor and desperate for his approval (at least, if she is, the writers wisely haven't made it the major aspect of her character). That got old on the Martha season. David Tennant and Catherine Tate have such real chemistry; that thing with the two of them mouthing their words at each other through the windows was hysterical. And the adipose are the cutest Who monsters ever! And the return of Rose...

Episode 2: The Fires of Pompeii
One of the nicer aspects of this season is that Donna is one of those characters with lots of wardrobe changes, and she's quite a beautiful woman. Works for me. Reminds me of old stories like The Aztecs where the Doctor and Susan and Ian and Barbara would dress in period clothes. That was fun. Any throwbacks are fun for me. I expected this to be quite silly, and I wasn't disappointed. The humor on this episode was hilarious, but I liked the very dramatic ending and the stuff with the seers. What's on Donna's back, exactly, do you suppose?

Episode 3: Planet of the Ood
I didn't care overly much for the Ood when they appeared on the second season episodes The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, but they were really done justice here in an antislavery story. This is the story that bumped Donna up to Possibly Favorite Companion Ever. There's been a lot of doom around the Doctor since the series revival, which adds a lot of depth. But after losing Rose and saying goodbye to Martha and seeing Astrid die, the Doctor was on the verge of becoming cynical. Donna is so compassionate, so open to experience, so firmly ethical, that she always ends up restoring the Doctor and getting him back on track. When she hears the plaintive song of the Ood and cries, seeing them imprisoned... She's wonderful.

Episodes 4 and 5: The Sontaran Strategem and The Poison Sky
I'm always a little nervous as Who two-parters approach; sometimes the first part tends to be a little too tedious in its meticulous set-up (such as Daleks in Manhattan or The Impossible Planet), so I'm never sure. Besides which, the same writer penned last season's Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks, which contained some interesting ideas but didn't really get the balance of silly and dire down; throw in some irritating side characters and you get a two-parter that might have worked as a one-off. It's fairly disappointing (especially for a Dalek appearance). These episodes were just fantastic. I've never much liked the Sontarans, but this episode really did them justice, and Christopher Ryan was excellent as General Staal, one of the best Who villains I've seen yet. It takes a ridiculous villain, the space potatoes, and makes them a genuine threat. Just so, so good. And it's nice to see Martha again (although the cloning business was a bit of seen-that-before); I liked her on Torchwood (though the episodes were rubbish) and am glad they're giving her some chances to be interesting and useful after series 3 sort of wasted her.

Episode 6: The Doctor's Daughter
Well, they did sort of worm their way out of any interesting entanglements involving the Doctor's past with the sort of cloning-the-Doctor way of creating a daughter for him. And the plot was a little overly familiar from other science fiction novels. But I enjoyed most of it. I liked having Martha on it, I liked the fish guys (the Hath), I liked the twist about the war, and I loved, absolutely loved Jenny. Georgia Moffet is gorgeous, and she really threw herself into the character. I'm glad the Doctor accepted her as his in the end (again, prodded by Donna), and that ending, with her stealing the spaceship, off to save the universe... when does Jenny Who start filming? Seriously, I'd watch that show in a heartbeat. It's really a hallmark of how terrific Doctor Who is that it leaves you wanting more instead of overstaying its welcome, and that it creates characters you actually want to see again (off the top of my head, Captain Jack Harkness, Jenny, and Sally Sparrow are all welcome to return--I even liked that woman that ran Torchwood on Army of Ghosts in the second series; Torchwood was much more interesting then). And Rose again, trying to reach the Doctor...

Episode 7: The Unicorn and the Wasp
Fenella Woolgar was terrific fun as Agatha Christie in an episode full of terrific fun. I love that they did a spoof of Agatha Christie, and David Tennant and Catherine Tate were just utterly hilarious. They are so damn good together! That whole scene in the kitchen is one of the funniest I've seen on this show. "How is Harvey Wallbanger one word?!" Oh, this thing is fun.

So, how do you think the series is going to culminate this year? There's been a lot of talk of missing planets, of rebirth and death, especially of rebirth at the expense of life. I'm wondering if the Doctor is going to be able to undo the effects of the Time War and bring the Time Lords and Gallifrey back into existence (and what it's going to be at the expense of). After all, if Davros is really coming back at the end of the series and restoring the Daleks, that would seem to indicate that Gallifrey might come back too. The theme seems to be heading in that direction, at any rate. And I assume Earth will hang in the balance, par for the course.

I also think that Donna must be destined to die. Again, all the talk of death. That secretive conversation between her and her grandfather in The Poison Sky. The seer telling her "There is something on your back." I'm thinking that she's going to die and, given her sense of ethics and the fact that she values life, it's probably going to involve some sort of self-sacrifice. Rose didn't die; neither did Martha. I figure it's just bound to happen this time.

I'm so looking forward to the rest of the series, especially since Sarah Jane is supposed to put in an appearance. I enjoyed the hell out of The Sarah Jane Adventures, which also had its share of memorable characters. K-9 appearing in the finale was, once again, surprisingly satisfying. I really like that Alan is now in on the secret and seems kind of okay with it. I find myself wondering (and hoping) if Luke or K-9 will also appear on Doctor Who.

I also really liked the Andrea Yates character; she had some real life to her, and Jane Asher was beautiful and wonderful. I wish they could find a way to bring her back on. The Sarah Jane Adventures is so great that it makes me hate Torchwood more; isn't there something they can do with Captain Jack that isn't completely awful? Put Martha on it, while we're at it.

Also, some great news: after next year's specials, the 2010 season (series 5) is going to be under the guidance of Steven Moffat as executive producer and head writer. That's some great, great news. He wrote two of my favorite episodes, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink, and created and wrote Jekyll and Coupling, both of which I enjoyed. I hope David Tennant will still be playing the Doctor. And I wish Donna was still going to be around. But I don't quite think it's in the cards...

Random Words I Love the Sound Of

penumbra
Pangea
aeronaut
theorem
pterodactyl
archaeopteryx
Karyatid
Erechtheion
uintathere
baluchitherium
megaceros
canopic
phylum
syzygy

Memes of Love and Hate

More stuff found out there.

I love to eat: Apples and bananas, apples and bananas. Sorry, elementary school flashback there. Although children don't seem to sing that song anymore... And, frankly, anything sounds good after hearing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" fourteen times in a row... Anyway, I love to eat pasta. What's that pasta that isn't fattening? Oh... right...

I hate to eat: Kiwi made me puke once. I hate to eat any food that made me puke; upset my stomach to the point where it expels contents back up the entryway and I'll never eat it again. Kiwi, ridged potato chips, beef stew... yeah, they aren't getting reloaded.

I hate to go: Almost anywhere, really. I'm beyond a hermit most of the time.

I love to go: To work. What the hell is going on with me? I even did the unthinkable this week and continued to go to work even though I was sick. I've never done that before. I just kept on a medicine cycle, popped vitamin C tablets all day, and sucked it up. What the hell am I doing? Growing up or something? I've made it so far without having to...

I love it when: I get caught up in a really great song and it feels like the entire rest of the world doesn't exist. Or when I get so caught up reading a book that I don't notice the time pass. When there's not a care in the world and I can sneak in a little nap on the sofa.

I hate it when: I feel like my existence is of no use to anyone.

I love to see: Flowers in bloom. Really fantastic movies. Beautiful women. Beautiful art. Violent rainstorms. My rabbit sleeping. Unexpected glimpses of thong. A rough drawing that transcends its origin. Birds flying. Elephants tromping around.

I hate to see: People in pain. Especially when you know there's nothing you can do about it.

I love to hear: Music. I always try to add some to my day.

I hate to hear: Loud crowds. Drives me right mad.

So Much to Look Forward To

Joan Collins Is 75 Today

That's quite a milestone. I know there's always someone or other who seems weirdly horrified when I talk about women over the age of 50 (it's always someone different, too, weirdly enough), but I have to pay homage to Joan Collins. Because she's one of my sexual icons and, honestly, I still really want to do awesomely awful things with her. Always, always Joan Collins.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jordan 30

Still love you.

Happy Birthday, Katie!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

EVAN ALMIGHTY (2007)
Another comedy that takes talented comedians and completely wastes them in a sequel to a sort-of okay one-joke movie that no one ever really talks about anymore. Only not as fun as that sounds. Seriously, you know where this thing is going from minute one; if you don't find everything incredibly predictable and tired, I'm sorry that you chose such a loser to be the first movie you ever saw. Steve Carell is likeable, but never finds the character among the collection of homespun attitudes towards religion, and everyone else is completely unmemorable. Except, of course, for Morgan Freeman, playing God with the same sort of folksy Americana quality with which he's played pretty much every single role since The Shawshank Redemption (I loved it 14 years ago, now I'm just weary from seeing it repeatedly). I liked exactly one scene in this movie (Freeman's speech about "If a man prays for patience, does God give him patience or does he give him an opportunity to be patient?" was the one bit of real, profound thought about the nature of the so-called divine mysteries) and laughed exactly once. This is a movie that can't see any wonder because it wants to squash everything into the kind of conventional, feel-good plot that used to win over audiences (until they saw it ten thousand times). The fact that God spends all of this time on Evan in order to stop Congress from approving a land-use bill says a lot about how small and unmagnificent people's ideas about the glory and splendor of the universe really are. It took three people to write this? * star.

The Anticipation Will Never Die

TV Report: Some Wrap-Up for the Season

Nearly everything lost me this year.

I got sick of Heroes really fast, gave up on Lost a season ago, and finally shrugged off My Name Is Earl. Chuck got silly and boring, and I just sort of forgot about The Big Bang Theory, which was pleasant but hardly special. The Simpsons? Meh. I've had my fill and don't need anymore.

I understand that ratings are down quite a bit since the WGA strike, and the networks are crying over it (even though they could have avoided the strike altogether). If the strike proved anything, it's that people still like scripted shows a lot more than reality and game shows. I wonder how the networks plan to rebuild themselves from this. Hell, even American Idol is going down in the ratings, and that was supposed to be proof positive that some people will watch anything an unlimited number of times.

As for myself, there's not a whole hell of a lot that I plan on returning to next year. I'm just glad there are some shows I actually do enjoy.

Monday night, I began the season by watching Chuck (which just became unbearably lame) and Journeyman (which lasted for me about three weeks before becoming too boring). Now the TV doesn't come on. So, there's one night reclaimed.

Tuesdays, I was watching Beauty and the Geek and, of course, Hell's Kitchen. I like Gordon Ramsay, I do. His British shows are much, much better, but what the hell. I also came to really enjoy Reaper, even though the CW (whose ratings are worse than anyone's, even for them) seems to not care if anyone watches it. The CW has made a real mistake by attempting to hitch their hopes on teenage girls, a notoriously unreliable demographic. Reaper was a lot more fun for me than those shows usually are, and I was sorry to see that not only was last night's season finale pushed to 11:30 because of baseball (way to build a network there...), but the show's not even coming back until January, and then for only 13 weeks. So, they'll keep renewing One Tree Hill over and over, but... whatever.

For Wednesday, I found Lewis Black's Root of All Evil surprisingly funny. I wasn't sure at first, but there were enough hilarious comics on there to make it enjoyable. I also watched South Park, although I thought it was a little... pointless this season. I still get the satire (I hate people who don't get the satire on South Park), but I didn't see much purpose to it. If I watched anything else on Wednesday, I can't remember what it was.

Thursdays are the domain of my favorite shows on television: The Office, 30 Rock, and Ugly Betty. I'm so glad these shows are back... or were, with the seasons ending. Ugly Betty especially seems better since it came back, finally dealing with a lot of the things I was so annoyed with earlier this year. If Betty and Henry are going to break up, at least they've been making it feel inevitable in an organic sort of way. I'm even starting to like Gio, mostly because we've finally seen his sweet side and he's stopped being quite so much of an arrogant ass. If it's going to be Betty and Gio, I might be at peace with the idea. Maybe. Sorry, Henry. I was pulling for you, but you need to make the hard decisions. And, God help me, I'm looking forward to seeing Lindsay Lohan on tomorrow's season finale. I just hope she's funny. I want Freaky Friday/Mean Girls Lindsay back.

Fridays are The Sarah Jane Adventures and Doctor Who on SCI FI. I'm actually rewatching Who, since I've been catching them on the internet the night they air in the UK. I also went online to find the final episode of Sarah Jane, since SCI FI left it at a cliffhanger last week and aren't airing the second part until a week from Friday. I'm not going to be yanked around, guys. Remember, I used to work for you, I know some of what goes on. I adored The Sarah Jane Adventures, especially some of the twists at the end. This is what a Doctor Who spin-off should be, guys. Not sodding Torchwood. As for Who... Donna Noble may be my new favorite modern companion.

Other stuff I remember liking this season: last year's Wire in the Blood on BBC America seemed even better than usual (maybe I just really missed it); Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is still brilliant, even though it's aired sporadically; and I've said before that I thought John Adams on HBO was excellent.

And, finally, the hold of the Disney Channel is starting to break on me. I just can't take some of it anymore; I want to kill those Zack and Cody kids by now (no matter how brilliant Brenda Song is), Hannah Montana is starting to grate as Miley gets older (no matter how brilliant Emily Osment is), and Wizard of Waverly Place is merely cute instead of actually funny. The further away I get from the Lizzie McGuire/Even Stevens glory days, the less interested I am. A little piece of my soul, reclaimed from its majority owners.

Homogenized Dog

I know I've ranted about this before, but I saw some more Chris Sanders art for his defunct American Dog project for Disney and I just lament, once again, that his interesting, expressive concepts have been dulled and dumbed down into Disney's Bolt.

Why would they take something this expressive, this creative, this interesting and different, and turn it into this?

Were they just worried it didn't look enough like every other animated movie out there?

Man, it took almost no time for CGI movies to become unimaginitive crap. These designs are just pathetic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 23

Uninspired, weary, with a terrible cold.

Full-Figured

This is Whitney Thompson, the girl who's being touted as the first full-figured winner of America's Next Top Model.
Apparently, America is so screwed up that full-figured is actually a euphemism for average-sized. But that's what I love about Hollywood; after years of reinforcing the destructive standard of beauty it sets for itself, America's Next Top Model can be completely self-serving and still get people to believe it's making some kind of important point.

James Stewart Centennial

Born 100 years ago today.

Superfolks

Robert Mayer's 1977 novel Superfolks is the kind of novel I feel like I should have heard of before now, but just sort of discovered at random (on a display at my library, to be accurate). It's a satire of comic book traditions and tropes, and it's utterly brilliant.

The main character is David Brinkley; he was once a superhero (very much like Superman, though Brinkley's superhero name is never actually given in the novel) in a world of many, but eight years ago he retired, started a family, and moved to the suburbs. Now, caught in the grip of a midlife crisis and missing his old life, the world needs him once more as a New York devoid of police (they've all resigned) and overrun by crime cries out for help. So Brinkley, older and a little heavier and lot more tired, decides to head back into action.

If that sounds familiar, it's because many of the aspects of the story have become commonplace in the 31 years since it was published. In the 1980s, the comic book medium (and the superhero genre in particular) underwent a deconstructionist overhaul, culminating most brilliantly in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. The same deconstructionist brilliance made it into films as The Incredibles. But Robert Mayer did it pretty early on, back when the major comic book companies, with very few exceptions (such as Steve Gerber and Gene Colan's brilliantly satirical Howard the Duck), were reveling in superhero conventions and silliness that had been the norm since the 1940s, when Robin leapt into the pages of Batman and Superman started fighting alien clones and extradimensional imps.

For comic book fans, this book is especially fun, containing analogues of Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mayer also uses the names of other characters, something the major comic book companies probably wouldn't allow these days, mentioning the ultimate fates of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and even Snoopy. In passing, Mayer throws out other pop culture names--Charlie Brown as a Supreme Court Justice, for example, or Brinkley's next door neighbor Kojak, and a fully grown, flamboyantly gay, dope-smoking Peter Pan. Brinkley's childhood sweetheart even grows up to be Linda Lovelace. It's all thrown out seemingly at random, completely hilarious and totally goofy, spoofing pop culture and reveling in it at the same time.

This is a great novel. Much like its contemporary, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it takes a genre and deconstructs it, adding interesting characters and telling an entertaining story at the same time. It's completely brilliant, and even in its most offbeat moments it all comes off. I am so glad I found this book; I haven't read a book I enjoyed this much on this many levels in at least a year and, along with Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Enormous Crocodile, it's my favorite book I read for the Spring Reading Challenge. If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, find it. Find it now.

Originally posted at the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

STD: Story Transmission Device

I've been infected by Splotchy's Story Virus v2!

I had been shuffling around the house for a few hours and already felt tired. The doorbell rang. I opened the front door and saw a figure striding away from the house, quickly and purposefully. I looked down and saw a bulky envelope. I picked it up. The handwriting was smudged and cramped, and I could only make out a few words.
(Splotchy)

I looked up and down the street but didn’t see any delivery truck, or any car for that matter. No FedEx, no UPS , no creepy-looking porno'd-out conversion van with a half-assed delivery service sign taped to its side. Nothing. It's like delivery man just disappeared. I stepped back inside, re-set the deadbolts and took a closer look at the envelope.

Mentally I ran through the checklist of letter bomb warning signs. The handwriting on the envelope, smudged and cramped as it was, was laid out in a tiny, obsessively neat block lettering. It practically screamed recently-de-institutionalized loner with time on his hands. No ticking or whirring sounds, that’s good. No odd smells, no leaks or stains on the package. Check. Weight seemed evenly distributed, that’s good too. I decided to open it.

Inside I found a plane ticket to Pensacola, a business card for a lawyer in Niceville, five crisp $100 bills and a four page handwritten note. Well. This was different. I poured a cup of coffee, threw some meat to the dogs to stop em barking, and sat down to read.

(Bubs)

The handwriting of the letter was different than the envelope. It was more rushed, erratic. And it was all in Russian. I could speak a little Russian because of the company I used to keep, but couldn't read it to save my life. I knew some people that could translate for me, but I wasn't about to see them again. Or did one of them write the note? Was it Dimitri the Finger? Petrov? Ivankovich?

I looked at the lawyer's card -- "Tom Ely" -- how whitebread, how American. The address said Niceville, but the phone number's area code was New Jersey. I dialed and waited. My dogs fought over a leftover bone outside, growling.

"Hello, this is Tom Ely, I am sorry I have missed your call..."

I didn't recognize the voice. It had the barest trace of an accent. Most people wouldn't pick up on it. But I did.

The Russians. What was I in for? I hung up.

Was I just going to sit here, waiting? Or was I going to be a good little dog when some person unseen rang my bell?

The ticket was for today. I could make the flight if I left immediately. I packed a bag and caught a cab to the airport.

(Splotchy again)

And me:
The pressures of today's economy. Flight cancelled. Airline out-of-business. Three months ago. Something was out of sorts, here. Why would someone send me a ticket on a defunct airline? I was starting to feel exposed, out in the open, like prey in a valley.

First order of business was to hit the head. I needed to collect myself and not draw attention. I forced myself to walk, even with the hairs on the back of my neck bristling, uncertain if, even now, someone was following. Had I walked into some kind of trap?

The men's room door opened just a little too quickly, the screws loosened from constant use. That sticky smell hit me as that horrible men's room air shot into my nose.

Something was wrong.

I felt heavy and thick, and saw the world go askew. I was off balance before it even registered that something hard had been jabbed into the back of my neck. I put my hand against the wall to stop myself, but the back of my head exploded in pain, I saw a flash of light, and then nothing.
(SamuraiFrog)

I tag the following:
J.D.
Swinebread
Captain Incredible
MWB
Dane of War
Adam

Don't feel obligated to do it, but if you're interested.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Great Illustrators, Number Nineteen

Will Elder (1921-2008). Elder was born Wolf William Eisenberg in the Bronx, New York, changing his name to Will Elder after serving in World War II as a mapmaker. He attended Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, and was in the school's first graduating class (as was Henry Kurtzman). They would go on to form the Charles William Harvey Studio (along with Charles Stern) to work on comics for independent publishers. In 1952, Harvey Kurtzman went to EC Comics and to create the seminal Mad. He brought Elder with him; publisher Bill Gaines called Elder "unquestionably the nuttiest guy who ever walked in the doors here." Some of Elder's friends from high school got jobs at EC also, including Al Jaffee and John Severin.

Elder's work for Mad brought him immediate attention. His panels were filled to the brim with background gags, adding humorous detail upon humorous detail, was described by Elder in an interview as chicken fat: "the parts of the strip that gave it more flavor but did very little to advance the storyline. That's what Chicken Fat does...it advances the flavor of the soup and, as we all know now, too much chicken fat will kill you!" Elder set the tone for Mad with his busy panels, a style much imitated over the years.

Elder was, by all accounts, just that kind of a guy. The kind of guy who thought it was hilarious to use silhouettes to make the neighbors think someone was being stabbed to death, or who relished the panic when he put meat in kiddie clothes and spread them all over the tracks to make people think a kid had been hit by a train, or who giggled when he sent his wife a cow's heart for Valentine's Day. Of course, this sort of thing is funny, and that irreverence still resonates today in the work he did for Mad (much of which is still in print and worth running down). Elder's work for Mad (and Kurtzman's and Severin's and Jaffee's) was a tonic for children who wanted to laugh at things that weren't necessarily okay to laugh at.

Elder left Mad in 1957 and worked with Kurtzman at several magazines, including Trump, Humbug, and Help! At the latter, they created Goodman Beaver; one installment of the young man's adventures depicted the Archie characters as hedonists, resulting in a lawsuit from Archie Comics. Hugh Hefner, however, thought it was hilarious and commissioned Kurtzman and Elder to create the strip Little Annie Fanny for Playboy. This is the work of Elder's that I'll always appreciate the most; 107 stories, running from 1962 to 1988, featuring a naive, purehearted innocent who is forever losing her clothes. Somehow, the art manages to combine innocence and wicked satire without being too cutting or too soft. At the time, it was the most expensive comic to produce per page in history, lavishly painted.

In 2003, Will Elder was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame. Five days ago, he died from complications due to Parkinson's disease. He deserves to be remembered as a comics pioneer who spread his influence throught the form, especially in humor comics.

Toon Evolution



[Via]

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Song of the Week: "I Burn Today"

I adore this Frank Black song. Here he is performing it a couple of years ago on The Henry Rollins Show. It was a song on this week's Lyrics Master and I just thought, you know, why not? Put me right in the mood for a perfect spring song.

80s Revisited: Troll

An occasional series in which I end up watching some movie I saw as a kid and haven't seen since.

Troll (1986)
Directed by John Carl Buechler; written by Ed Naha, story by John Carl Buechler; produced by Andy Heyward & Albert Band.

Probably it's not the best thing in the world to start this series with a film from the Charles Band factory, but it was on cable a month or so ago and, out of curiosity, I ended up watching it again. When I was about eleven, my sister loved this movie and ended up recording it off of Showtime, so I saw it a few times. I thought it was pretty ridiculous watching grown men cower from what was so clearly a man in a lame troll costume, but my sister loved this movie. As I've found over the years, there's a certain kind of girl who just loves this movie. Turns out I live with one of them.

What the girls love about Troll is that it's not a horror movie, it's a movie about witches and magic and curses and spells. The movie tells the story of a family who moves into an apartment building in San Francisco or something, just as a troll manages to come through the cracks in dimensions and starts turning the residents into magical creatures one by one. Seeing it now, one of the weirder and more interesting things to me was just checking out the casting. The main characters, the Potter family, are played by a truly annoying Michael Moriarty (he seems to think he's playing Christopher Walken in some kind of drama), Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck (who I kinda sorta remember from V, which I barely remember at all), and Noah Hathaway, whom I mostly remember, of course, as Atreyu in The NeverEnding Story, still one of my favorite genre movies from the eighties. I also remember he played one of Jen's boyfriends on Family Ties, the one who played baseball. His character's name is Harry Potter, Jr.

The residents are rounded out by Sonny Bono as a ladies' man (yeah, right; he acts like he's auditioning for Three's Company), Gary Sandy as a health nut (with his beard I didn't recognize him as Travis from WKRP until embarrassingly late in the film), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (complete with Brad Hall as boyfriend), and June Lockhart as Eunice St. Clair, the witch who befriends Harry and enlists him to help her fight against the troll. Eunice is the part the girls really like; this rather regal old lady, occasionally witty, living comfortably with her old teacher (now enchanted as a sentient mushroom), painting, hanging swords on the wall. In one scene, she takes down her hair and is suddenly young again, and is even played by Anne Lockhart, June's daughter. That's pretty neat, I do admit.

The other resident of the apartment, and my personal favorite, is Phil Fondacaro. He's one of my all time favorite actors. See, early in the movie, the little Potter girl is possessed by the troll, and shows a special fascination with Fondacaro's character, Malcolm. Many children are sort of rudely fascinated with little people, and I like the way the film uses that to give the troll a sort of sensitivity. He/she thinks Malcolm may be an elf, and comes to love him so much that, when Malcolm's terminal illness is revealed, the troll turns him into one so that he can live on without sickness. Fondacaro, who also plays the troll, is the best part of this film, and he's really good. Any film where Phil Fondacaro gets to recite parts of The Fairie Queene is not all bad.

Surprisingly, considering it comes from Charles Band, Troll isn't a terrible movie. It's silly beyond reason, but as a guy raised on 80s fantasy films, it's kind of fun to go back to. I wouldn't dip into it again and again, but I'm not sorry I took the time to revisit it. It's got genre casting cred (the hero from NeverEnding Story, the mom from Lost in Space, Phil Fondacaro from Willow and Ghoulies II), it's got magic, and it has the decency not to take itself seriously at all.

It's also got a very young, very sexy Julia Louis-Dreyfus. All the other tenants get turned into pig creatures and the like, but she gets turned into a wood nymph (something like five of them, actually). So, there's that going for it, too. This movie is the reason I still today feel a need... well, you get where I'm going with that.

Next time: The Monster Squad.

Sunday Hottie 172

EVE WYRWAL