Saturday, October 25, 2014

Becca Is 38

Happy Birthday to my lovely wife. Sorry the pie I tried to make did not turn out well.

UPDATE: She liked the pie. I guess it tastes better than it looks.

HALLOWEEN: Tuck Me In

A 1-minute horror film by Ignacio F. Rodo.

Friday, October 24, 2014

HALLOWEEN: Peanuts, 1976

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #103

"The Enchantress and the Executioner!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone
(April 1964)

Here we go. Here we finally go. Here are some villains to add that missing Teutonic myth flair to the modern day Thor adventures. There's a lot of fantastic stuff in this issue.

This issue introduces a couple of Asgardians who will be great foils for Thor, and as usual, it happens because of Loki's scheming. Odin is still angry that Thor won't stop pining over Jane Foster, so Loki convinces him that the solution is to send the Enchantress, an Asgardian sorceress and love goddess, to tempt Thor away. This being Marvel Comics in 1964, this is our introduction to the woman:

I think it's a failure of imagination in the Marvel Universe that the women are always concerned with beauty and relationships, but the Enchantress at least will attempt to use that as a weapon, which is,,, kind of an idea?

When she gets to Earth, she immediately walks into a fancy department store where stylists are falling all over themselves to make her over.

She does manage to trick Don into kissing her in full view of Jane, which makes Jane run off, but what I find really interesting is that Don recognizes the Enchantress. When this series began, it often seemed like Thor and Don were really two separate beings sharing the same physical space; now Stan & Jack seem to really be going with the idea that Don and Thor are the same person, and Don is more or less just a physical disguise for the God of Thunder. It's been happening for some time, I just never really noticed it until this moment.

Don is able to break free of the Enchantress and head after Jane, apparently because even in this form, he still possesses Thor's strength of character.

This brings us to our next villain. The Enchantress is pretty offended that anyone would cast her off for another woman, so she decides Jane Foster has to die, and she returns to Asgard to order the Executioner to take care of this. The Executioner wields a gigantic, enchanted ax that can cut through time and space.

He sends Jane Foster into limbo, and then battles Thor. It's pretty epic stuff, just the sort of thing this book needs and should have more of. They battle to a standstill, but the Executioner agrees to return Jane if Thor will give him the hammer. Thor readily agrees, dropping the hammer immediately. Jane is returned to Earth, but Thor sends her running to safety, in case a minute passes and he transforms into Don Blake, a secret he's still forbidden by Odin to reveal.

Of course, the Executioner can't lift the hammer--he's not worthy of it. And before the minute is up, the Enchantress has appeared, excoriating the Executioner for betraying her and turning his limbs into tree branches. She tries to act on the hammer, also, but only Odin's magic can effect it. So Thor creates a whirlwind and blasts the two back to Asgard, before transforming into Don to meet up with Jane and try to patch things up.

Odin, meanwhile, rages that Thor will not give up this mortal woman, and decides only he can intercede in this matter...

Stray notes:

:: This issue gives its first couple of pages to Thor returning from the 23rd century, heading back to his office as Don Blake, and then falling asleep and dreaming about what happened last issue. It seems like a pointless interlude, as none of that really affects this story.

"Tales of Asgard: Thor's Mission to Mirmir!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone

This month's Tale of Asgard is epic and fantastical. Thor gets a magic boat from King Sindri of the Dwarfs, Thor uses it to cross the Dark Sea, then fights the dragon Skord and the boar-god Gullin to reach King Mirmir, who controls the Mystic Fountain which feeds all the oceans of the world. Producing a branch from Yggdrasill, the Tree of Life, Thor orders Mirmir to keep a promise.

Using the branch to stir the mystic waters, drops sprinkle on an alder tree and an ash tree planted long ago by Odin, who become the first human beings on Earth, Aske and Embla. And thus humankind is born.

At the end, Stan promises that next issue will begin biographical tales of Asgard focusing on the gods themselves.

All in all, probably my favorite issue of Journey Into Mystery so far. I want more of the mythology in here, and this story really delivered in dynamic fashion.

Next: another lame villain for the Human Torch, and Dr. Strange goes beyond the purple veil...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

O is for Ohreally

There aren't a lot of "O" Muppets, but I thought I could cheat a little here. Just a short post, but one of my favorite Muppet pieces.

This is a sketch called "Birds in the Trees" from The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, one of the pilots that aired when Jim Henson was unsuccessfully trying to sell ABC on The Muppet Show. This aired in 1975.



I love this one. It reminds me of the jazzy conceptual pieces that Jim Henson especially liked to do on Sam and Friends or his novelty record "Tick-Tock Sick." The idea of puppeteers in all black against a black background manipulating flying birds was something he came up with for his Lincoln Center show that was ultimately never produced.

The bird Muppets seem to still be around. They all appeared in one form or another on The Muppet Show, and in that amazing crowd shot in The Muppet Movie. Whaddayasay Bird was performed by Jerry Nelson, and even made it onto Muppets Tonight. Ohboy Bird was performed by Richard Hunt. Forcryingoutloud Bird was Frank Oz. Righton Bird was Dave Goelz.

As for the two females, both voices are Fran Brill, though she was only the voice for Youknow Bird. I don't know who did the physical performance. Jim? Jane Henson? There were three other Muppet performers besides Jane who worked on the show (John Lovelady, Caroly Wilcox and Rollin Krewson), so I'm not sure. The Youknow Bird was repurposed as a Snark on The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss. I don't know who performed her there.

The Ohreally Bird made it onto an episode of The Ghost of Faffner Hall, an HBO series that ran for 13 episodes in 1989 and which is probably Jim Henson's least-seen project (at least in my experience).

Sorry for the infodump there. The point is the video, which is wonderful. Hope you enjoyed it.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934)
John Barrymore is a maniacal stage director on a train trying to entice his star, Carole Lombard, to let him direct her again. There's chemistry between the two, but I found it a little too hammy and over the top. It's just not dated that well. ***

IN A WORLD... (2013)
Lake Bell stars, in a film she wrote and directed, as a dialect coach trying to break into the world of trailer voiceovers. I never really thought before about how women don't do voiceovers for big budget action flicks. It's an interesting film; it's comic, but it's timed like a drama and plays out like one. It's about feminism, about how complicated relations between fathers and their daughters are, and about sexism in the film industry, but it never loses sight of itself as a character piece, and in that way its ambition never exceeds its execution. A rewarding film I'd like to watch again and continue to absorb. ****

AFTERNOON DELIGHT (2013)
This is what they used to call a seriocomic movie, starring Kathryn Hahn (a revelation here) as a suburban woman who feels a disconnect with her life. The movie makes a very vital point about how the things designed to make our lives easier can give us angst and a sense of generalized guilt. She and her husband (Josh Radnor) are in a rut, and her best friend (Jessica St. Clair) convinces her to go to a strip club to loosen up her inhibitions. There, Hahn gets a lap dance from Juno Temple, and becomes obsessed with helping the poor girl to get away from sex work. Temple, however, is perfectly happy doing what she does, and the level of disconnect there is where much of the movie's energy comes from. It's comic, but it's played seriously, and in doing so, writer-director Jill Soloway makes some sharp points about modern suburban life and all of its well-meaning hypocrisy. The movie doesn't entirely work, but it has the courage to be unlikable and it's well-observed. ***

THE CANYONS (2013)
I didn't think I'd see a worse movie from 2013 than Sharknado or Movie 43, but here it is. Whatever Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader want to whine about, their stunt-casting of Lindsay Lohan in their love letter to misogyny is not what sinks this movie. (And as bad as Lohan is, porn actor James Deen can't really hold his dramatic weight, either.) It's like a porno that's too good to be a porno. Or a porno for people who get off on emotional violence. Either way, it's truly a piece of shit. No stars.

TOUCHY FEELY (2013)
Rosemarie DeWitt stars as a massage therapist who suddenly develops a revulsion of human contact, while her dentist brother (Josh Pais) suddenly becomes very successful. This was written and directed by Lynn Shelton (who made Your Sister's Sister, which I loved), and she has an eye for character, but this one kind of left me cold. I like DeWitt as an actress, and Ellen Page gives a sensitive performance as Pais' daughter, but I just wasn't absorbed by the film itself. **1/2

THE BRITTANY MURPHY STORY (2014)
Weird. Lifetime's TV movie about the life and tragic early death of Brittany Murphy isn't nearly as exploitative as I was expecting it to be, but in its insistence on rosiness followed by sudden tragedy, it feels... not exactly honest. It's like all of the drama is sort of taking place in the margins while it mainly focuses on Murphy's relationship with her mother. I can't explain how, but by attempting to overlook any possible issues besides her heart murmur, it somehow minimizes her life and makes it hard to care about the film's bloodless, not-quite-human version of Brittany Murphy. In the title role, Amanda Fuller more or less gets Brittany's voice and mannerisms right, but the performance is more impression than fully realized character (not that the script gives Fuller, who probably could have been quite good, the opportunity to do much more than just be pretty and then fragile and then oh-so-wounded). It's the sort of thing you'd rather see a documentary about someone trying to make. I can't even rate this, it's barely even a movie. I loved Brittany Murphy. I would see movies just because she was in them. All this did was make me miss her, and I'm kind of sorry anyone bothered to do this.

THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940)
Slight but hilarious movie with Bob Hope as a radio personality who thinks he may have murdered someone. He gloms onto Paulette Goddard (don't blame him), who has inherited a family castle in Cuba that might be haunted. Good stuff, and Hope and Goddard are snappy (this is my favorite period of Bob Hope movies), but I did squirm a little bit at some of the racial humor around Willie Best as Hope's valet. I mean, it wasn't necessarily racist--some of it went right up to what would be racist humor and then subverted it, so it didn't feel mean-spirited or racist. It was kind of fascinating. And Best was hilarious, with great comic timing. But there was enough stereotyping in there that I didn't always feel comfortable about it. But, I mean, I have to admit, I enjoyed the movie. ***1/2

ROMEO & JULIET (2013)
I see the critics really ripped this one apart. I quite liked it, actually, but this has never been one of my favorite plays. The film is mainly pretty boys and pretty girls getting passionately carried away in Verona (and it has to be said, the locale on display here is stunning; this is the most beautiful-looking version of Romeo and Juliet I've ever seen, including the Zeffirelli version), but it mirrors the easy passions and rages of being a teenager. Douglas Booth is a very pretty Romeo, and Hailee Steinfeld is luminous as can be as Juliet, but the film is completely stolen by Paul Giamatti's sensitive Friar Lawrence, who gives the film its weight as a drama. It's really Romeo and Juliet for the Twilight generation, but it did make me think about the play in a new way, which is all I ask for from Shakespeare adaptations. Damian Lewis is quite good as Capulet, and I realized I'd never really considered the play from the perspective of a parent before, and that really sort of got to me. I don't know, I enjoyed it. ***1/2

SUZANNE'S CAREER (1963)
Eric Rohmer film about a student, Bertrand, who has mixed feelings about Suzanne, a girl that his womanizing friend Guillaume is freeloading off of. Though he admits that his anger should be directed towards his friend, Bertrand instead obsesses over his dislike of Suzanne, whom he considers trashy, even as he admires her efficient manner and her total lack of self-consciousness. It's the second of Rohmer's Six Moral Tales cycle, and I did like the moral of this one, and the way Suzanne doesn't have to earn Bertrand's respect, but instead merely surpasses him. ***1/2

MR. MORGAN'S LAST LOVE (2013)
Michael Caine as a widowed philosophy professor who sees nothing in his future until he meets a young dance teacher (Clemence Poesy). It almost sounds whimsical, but it's quite a depressing movie about obligations, the way families can be easily broken, and how we deal with death. It's not always successful, but Caine and Poesy are likable and the movie often gets by on that. ***

THE ENGLISH TEACHER (2013)
Too cartoonish and predictable movie with Julianne Moore (trying to play a real person in a movie that's not interested in reality) as a dowdy English teacher who runs into one of her former students (Michael Angarano) and tries to mount a high school production of the play he's written. Nathan Lane is somewhat enjoyable as the drama teacher, but he can play this in his sleep and sometimes phones it in. It also carries the message that selling out is probably for the best. The kind of thing that thinks it's quirky and unconventional, but is just kind of pointless. **

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Health Report Update

So last week I started taking a new anti-anxiety and antidepressant. This is the third time now they've tried me on something; this time it's Venlafaxine (Efexor). I'm on the lowest possible dose for now, and I've been on it for nearly a week. It's too soon, probably, to expect any measurable changes, but Becca says she thinks I've been a little calmer.

It's not like I haven't had opportunities to be anxious, too. I haven't been sleeping so well again, and sometimes I just lie in bed in the morning and don't want to get up. My glasses broke (the frames broke) last week, and today I went to the optometrist for the first time since 2007. I hadn't been able to go with the insurance situation being what it was, but I was able to find a single place in DeKalb that accepted Medicaid. Medicaid covers one pair of glasses every two years. I was worried exactly how much the Medicaid would cover, but it turned out to be all of it. No co-pay, and the glasses are covered. That was a relief. And the eye doctor was a nice guy, too. I notice that I have a tendency to explain things to doctors apologetically, but he was just pleasant and even a little folksy, and I relaxed pretty quickly. Good guy. Also, my eyes haven't really gotten too much worse in the last seven years, so that's nice.

The only downside is that I've had to tape up my frames for now and the new glasses won't be ready because of a backlog for something like 4 to 8 weeks. But I'll have to be patient.

I handled all of this a lot better than I usually do when having to go new places, meet new doctors, etc. So maybe the medication is working.

I started with a new psychiatrist, too, at the behest of my therapist. My old psychiatrist has moved on elsewhere (getting used to this being a thing that happens at state-subsidized places), and I wasn't prepared for the new one. For some reason, I got switched to a different doctor than I had made my appointment with, and I didn't know she was someone that you see in the office on Skype, so I was a little lost. Plus, all the new places/new doctors/even leaving the house anxiety.

She and I talked about Lexapro and how it numbed me and I put on so much weight and the sexual side effects, and how I didn't want to do that again. We also talked about my brief times last year on Fluoxetine and Buspirone and the suicidal urges I'd had. I've become aware this year that I can't trust the reactions I had then. I used to make myself sick, to the point of vomiting and/or diarrhea, when my anxiety got out of control, so that I'd have a believable excuse to not go and do things other than "I'm too scared and I don't want to." That was the way I would self-sabotage. What I do now, I've realized, is get so worked up that my blood pressure gets too high.

My self-sabotage is so deeply ingrained that I can't trust my reactions sometimes, so my earlier reactions to those medications may have been me subconsciously throwing a wrench into the whole thing because, you know, I don't "deserve" to feel better. After the medication was prescribed for me, I couldn't pick it up for a couple of days, and those days were riddled with anxiety. I'm kind of glad that happened, so that I could see for myself that the anxiety was going to happen and that I wouldn't just write it off as some kind of instant side effect of the new pills.

So far, so good. I'm optimistic, but cautiously so. The side effects for this one aren't supposed to be like they were with Lexapro. Today feels good to me. That's all I can ask right now, I think.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gerry Parkes 1924-2014

Sad to hear tonight that Gerry Parkes has died. When I was a kid, bullied and harassed in school, one of my few respites was racing home to catch Fraggle Rock on HBO. That show meant a lot to me, and I always thought Doc was wonderful and funny. Parkes was 90, and I hope he had a full life. Thanks for being a part of the joy of those five years.

HALLOWEEN: Tumblr Finds III

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Song of the Week: "A Nightmare on My Street"

I remember the first time I heard this track was on Guam in 1988. When we first got there, I had terrible jet lag, and I would stay up late at night listening, very lightly, to the radio. The first time I heard this, I thought I was having some kind of weird dream. Perfectly appropriate. Apparently, the story behind this track--in which the Fresh Prince has an encounter with Freddy Krueger and which heavily samples Charles Bernstein's score from A Nightmare on Elm Street--was originally considered for inclusion on the soundtrack for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. When it was decided the tone didn't fit, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince went ahead and released it on their second album, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, and promptly were sued for copyright infringement. Both sides settled out of court, and this was the follow-up single to "Parents Just Don't Understand." I've always dug this, and I haven't heard it for years and years, so here's some late eighties Halloween silliness.

Marvels: Fantastic Four #25

"The Hulk vs. the Thing" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(April 1964)

This anniversary issue of Fantastic Four has some epic worldbuilding, tying the continuity of the Marvel Universe closer together and continuing the story of the Hulk. So far, this is the most interesting I've found the Hulk, perhaps because he doesn't have his own book and mostly exists as this sort of force that the Marvel characters have to take into account. Like Namor, he's not exactly a hero and not exactly a villain, but he does have a sense of tragedy to him.

This issue pits the Hulk and the Thing against one another for the second time (the first being the great Fantastic Four #12), but it also ties in heavily to what's going on in The Avengers. The last time we saw the Hulk was in Avengers #3, where he and Namor briefly teamed up to fight (and lose) against Earth's Mightiest Heroes. The Hulk turned back into Bruce Banner unexpectedly and fled. Namor's story continued into Avengers #4, in which he fought against a team that now included Captain America. It was also in that issue that Rick Jones and Captain America became friends, and Rick worried that the Hulk would feel betrayed by his disloyalty and come for him.

Well, turns out that's exactly how the Hulk feels. Wandering the desert after his defeat, the lonely Hulk makes his way back to his old underground lab. Wondering where Rick is, the Hulk lashes out in anger, destroying his lab, including that old machine he had where he could bathe himself in gamma radiation to turn himself into the Hulk at will. After discovering a newspaper that talks about the Avengers and Captain America, the Hulk vows revenge on Rick and the Avengers, and heads to New York City.

The Fantastic Four are immediately called into action, but to up the suspense, their leader has been sidelined by a potentially deadly virus. Most issues open with some kind of tense argument, and this one is no different: Reed is still trying to devise a chemical solution that will "cure" the Thing and turn him human again. Ben doesn't want to be human again, because Alicia loves him the way he is and, deep down, he's afraid she won't love him if he's not the Thing. He says, if anything, he'd rather be able to become the Thing at will, switching back and forth. Reed is actually pretty hurt and angry that Ben doesn't want a cure, but he continues to work at it, accidentally exposing himself to a virus that weakens him and puts his life in danger just as the Hulk comes rampaging through.

The Human Torch is no match for the inexhaustible Hulk. Neither is the Invisible Girl; she tries to create a force field, but Hulk stretches it to the limit with one of his mighty leaps. It's really up to the Thing to slow the Hulk down, and that makes up the bulk of the issue. I won't go into too many details here, but it's incredibly exciting and suspenseful, watching two of the strongest beings in the Marvel Universe fight. The Thing wisecracks his way through, but it soon becomes clear that the Hulk is much stronger and won't give up.

As their fight becomes more and more desperate, the Thing trying not to give in to exhaustion, Reed is falling in and out of consciousness as a doctor tries to revive him. Sue, who has been torn between her love for Reed and her attraction to Namor, confesses that she never realized until now just how deep her love for Reed really is.

The Thing finally collapses on the George Washington Bridge after a failed last ditch effort to capture the Hulk. With the Army deployed in New York City, the Hulk making his way towards Tony Stark's mansion, Johnny in the hospital and Reed at death's door, Benjamin J. Grimm decides that the only way he's going to stop fighting is if the Hulk kills him...

To be continued!

Stray observations:

:: Stan Lee accidentally calls Bruce Banner "Bob" once again. I assume this confusion is why his official name is Robert Bruce Banner.

:: "I feel sorry for ya now, Hulk... because you mad me mad! Me, who's never been known to lose his temper before!"

:: "Where are your wise-cracks now, Thing?? Your insulting remarks?? Where is the strength you always brag about?" "Maybe I left 'em in my other suit! Hey... leggo! That's the hand I eat pizza with!"

:: At one point, the Hulk throws the Thing onto the roof of a condemned building. The Hulk literally grabs the building and shakes it back and forth to dislodge the Thing.

:: Even the Yancy Street Gang tries to help the Thing by pulling the brake on a truck and sending it careening downhill into the Hulk.

:: This month's letters page teases the next Fantastic Four Annual, promising an appearance by Doctor Doom. Jimmy Edelstein of Stoughton, MA, wants fewer fights with commie agents in the Marvel Universe; Marc Bailey of Lomita, CA, is the first person I've seen call Iron Man "shell-head"; and only a few of the letters point out errors in the other books. Bill Dubay of San Francisco is given a no-prize for being the reader with the largest comic collection--11,221 issues!

I think this issue of Fantastic Four came along at exactly the right time. I've talked a little bit about how routine the book was becoming--still well-executed, but a little formulaic--and by addressing the larger Marvel Universe and amping up the drama, Stan & Jack made this issue a vital tour-de-force, a keystone issue of this world they've been constructing. The suspense of Reed's illness and the limits of Ben's strength (but not his resolve) elevate this issue from something done just for the sake of tying continuities together.

In the next issue, the Avengers become a part of this whole thing, too. They're still looking for the Hulk, and this is all going to come to a head...

But first, next time: the Executioner and the Enchantress!