Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, December 10, 2005
      ( 12/10/2005 12:33:00 PM ) Bill S.  

ANIMAL ATTACKS – This week's Showtime Masters of Horror entry, "Deer Woman," was definitely a John Landis piece: Brian Benben, full-frontal breast shots, reference to a "mutant wolf" running amuck in Piccadilly Square back in '81, a rushed and vaguely unsatisfying ending. Only thing missing was a "See you next Wednesday!"
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      ( 12/10/2005 07:15:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"G., WE ARE BAD ASS CHICKS FROM THE VALLEY." – Reading the first ish of Boom! Studio's newest addition to the burgeoning Zombie Tales franchise, Death Valley, I couldn't help thinking of the 1984 flick Night of the Comet. Like that PG-13 Apocalyptical romp, the comic mini-series centers around a firearms savvy Valley Girl (both heroines having been taught their way around a gun by their missing fathers) as she struggles to survive a star-sent catastrophe that's turned most of the world into flesh-eating zombies. Both works contain a mall shopping sequence and, more importantly, a certain sly teen-centric sense of humor about the End of the World As We Know It. If the movie edges out the comic simply by advantage of having Mary Woronov in it, well, them's just the breaks.

The story, by Andrew Cosby and Johanna Stokes (who seems to've handled all the scripting chores), concerns a cadre of high schoolers who accidentally get locked in the school fall-out shelter when some "strange solar activity" wipes across the world. Our group is composed of a fairly traditional h.s. cross-section (all the better for some hemmed-in tension) – perky coeds, jocks, a skateboarder named Shaggy and a bespectacled science nerd who sees something's comin' but he doesn't know what – while the zombies are all gray and blistery like they've been in the sun way too long. They're photo-sensitive, so they stay in the shadows and mainly come out at night.

The first of two 48-page issues introduces the characters (then kills a couple of 'em off) as they face their first day of a zombie-infested world. Best touch: a pet shop filled with ravenous zombie animals, but I also liked a scene when Ryan, realizing that he's alone in a world that's gone to hell, runs out of school to loudly freak-out. Artist Roald Marcellus has a lightly comic touch (check out those Hembeckian squiggles on our heroine's knees and elbows!) but he's not afraid to give us gore & entrails either. In one memorable moment, a zombie jumps through a window to attack one of our cast – and Marcellus sprays the whole bottom half of the book-width panel with a shower of blood. Rather reminded me of the Sam Peckinpah "version" of Salad Days, only without the white suits and boaters . . .

Good times for zombie fans, in other words: no pesky politics, just good clean unambiguous carnage. Much like Night of the Comet (which actually was set during the Xmas season, come to think of it), it's my idea of holiday entertainment . . .
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Friday, December 09, 2005
      ( 12/09/2005 03:33:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WHY, IT'S LIKE A PHOTO OF BIGFOOT! – Here's Cedar, captured today as she frolics in our snowy backyard:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

I've taken today as a Snow Day, incidentally, which is why this is the only posting you'll see here today (that and the fact that I've been spending much of my writing time trying to be, ahem, "creative.")
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Thursday, December 08, 2005
      ( 12/08/2005 07:31:00 AM ) Bill S.  

TAG, YOU'RE IT! – Having gifted me with a hefty variety of old movie comedy and kiddie matinee videotapes, I recently was able to return the favor to Aaron Neathery by sending him a copy of Cowboy Quarterback. So now Aaron has posted his impressions of what is inarguably Bert Wheeler's Worst Movie.
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      ( 12/08/2005 06:22:00 AM ) Bill S.  

DISPATCHES FROM THE [INSERT SCARE QUOTES HERE] WAR – The Daily Show had a primo segment last night on the O'Reilly crowd's so-called war against the so-called War on Xmas. Apparently, the Factor recently snarked against Jon Stewart and friends' "secular agenda," pulling up a mild clip featuring Samantha Bee and a joke about separation of church and state. Thing is, the clip was over a year old, a point that TDS hammered home by bringing on a very pregnant Bee, popping out of the same outfit that she'd worn in last year's segment. The Fox news mouth was working to put the godless heathens at "Secular Central" in the forefront of this escalating faux conflict, but time was not on Bill's side. Of course, now that Stewart has gone on the air to ridicule the Factor's inept attack on their Christ-less enemy, I expect we'll see footage from last night's show on the Factor. These people are clearly quite shameless.

Stewart made a point on the show that I've long also considered. With the holiday season starting earlier and earlier (hell, we were seeing Xmas shopping ads in October), even many American Christians think of the time 'tween the last Thursday in November and January first as a package deal: Thanksgiving leading into Christmas/Hanukkah leading into New Year's. From this perspective, simply saying, "Happy Holidays" is an efficient way to capture the entire spirit of seasonal celebration – and what's wrong with recognizing holidays that are meant to celebrate several varieties of human hope? The gifts of comradeship and recognition of our personal blessings, the promises of our own potential for improvement: these are the messages imbedded in our "secular holidays." If ya ask me, they're also worth celebrating . . .
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      ( 12/08/2005 06:22:00 AM ) Bill S.  

CBLDF – For the second year, David Carter at Yet Another Comics Blog is doing a fund drive for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: if ten people join the CBLDF at the $25.00 level or higher before December 24, Dave will donate an additional $250.00 to the organization. A worthwhile organization that's been fighting the good fight for some time now, so if you're feeling charitable this month, why not send a few bucks their way?
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Wednesday, December 07, 2005
      ( 12/07/2005 03:12:00 PM ) Bill S.  

BRUNO CRUCIFIED – The thirteen-part Argentinean mini-series Epitafios recently reached its grimly unhappy conclusion on Latin HBO/Video on Demand, and for the record, I found the completed series to be a really good, but not great, serial killer thriller that ventured a mite too closely into Se7en-upmanship in its final act to be completely satisfying. If the difficulties in maintaining a steady low-key feeling of dread over thirteen hour-long episodes weren't completely surmounted, the show succeeded more often than not. Still, recommended for those who thought the Tarantino episode of C.S.I. didn't quite go far enough . . .
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Tuesday, December 06, 2005
      ( 12/06/2005 10:56:00 AM ) Bill S.  

HARRY – Speakin' of old movie comedy (as we were with Monday's Harold Lloyd post), I'd be remiss if I didn't plug The Third Banana's lengthy blog examination of Harry Langdon's swan song movie comedies: poverty row pics that are generally treated in histories of the silent comedy greats with "and then he made a buncha crappy movies in the forties before he died." Though still a relatively new blog, Banana is quickly staking its turf with these loving, yet critical, considerations of lesser known comedies . . .
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      ( 12/06/2005 10:54:00 AM ) Bill S.  

ME BEING MILDLY INDIGNANT – Skimming 'round the poli-blogs the other day, I came upon a pair of postings about Joe Dante's Master of Horror entry: both were rabidly critical, yet neither one had actually seen the show. What they were responding to was a Village Voice article on its unveiling at an Italian film festival. These kinds of faux critical teevee/movie pieces never cease to peeve me. If you expect me to spend time reading your politico/critical screeds, then I expect you to do the work and watch the frigging thing first!

Make no mistake, I don't begrudge anyone their right to avoid something that they don't wanna see: life's too short to waste with entertainments you personally find unpleasant. But I'd also argue that if you are gonna put on the mantle of cultural or political critic, then your adoption of that role requires you to, y'know, actually look at the work you're criticizing. Throwing spit-wads at an unseen work is the act of an intellectual candy-ass.
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Monday, December 05, 2005
      ( 12/05/2005 02:49:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"BESIDES, I ALWAYS GET A JOB MONDAY!" – Recently took advantage of a Sunday night showing on TCM of a set of Harold Lloyd comedies, an event designed to connect with New Line's newly scrumptious DVD boxed set of Lloyd silent classics, to record three of the man's features. (Would've recorded more if I'd remembered the movies were on, but, thankfully, a trip to Jog's blog kept me from missing the whole set.) The offerings I snagged were The Freshman, Why Worry? and Speedy. I'd only seen the first once before – as part of a college film society program back in the early seventies, if memory serves – so I was curious to see 'em.

Watched Speedy (1927) over the weekend, and now I definitely want a copy of the boxed set. The last of Lloyd's silent features, the comedy concerns Harold "Speedy" Swift, a New York City sports fan who is in thrall to the Babe Ruth-led Yankees (the big man himself has an amusing cameo in the film.) (A comic precursor to Jimmy Fallon's character in Fever Pitch, perhaps?) Harold's in love with the comely granddaughter of Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff), who runs the last horse-drawn trolley in the city. But granddaughter Jane (Ann Christy) tells our hero that she can't get married until she's sure her granddad is well provided for. Since the trolley business is a losing proposition – and "Speedy" seems incapable of keeping a job longer than a week – we're not precisely sure how that is gonna happen.

As script contrivance would have it, the vice president of a railroad conglomerate, looking to a citywide contract, wants to buy Pop Dillon's line. When Harold convinces him to reject the railroad's low-ball offering, the greedy capitalist hires a group of thugs to stop the trolley from running. Per Pop Dillon's contract with the city, as long as the horse-drawn car runs once every 24 hours, he still has the city route. Our hero takes over the route and – with the aid of the neighborhood shopkeepers and an ass-biting mutt – he thwarts this dastardly plan by ensuring that the trolley keeps a-runnin'.

Like I say: a fairly contrived plot. Just 'cause our bespectacled hero is able to successfully get the trolley running once is no real reason for the railroad veep to give up trying to run Pop Dillon out of business, but, of course, he does. Too, several major plot points – Lloyd "just happening" to hear about the plot against the trolley when he ducks into a phone book at Yankee Stadium, for instance – stretch past even the loosest standards of movie comedy. But the funny stuff is so strong (a sequence where our hero has an unsuccessful stint as a NYC cabbie is particularly fine) and the inventive funny chase climax is so wonderfully filmed, that the story itself is largely irrelevant.

And to my eyes, the film's most charming section is unrelated to the main plot, anyway. In it, Harold and his best girl take an ultra-crowded subway to Coney Island (some funny seat-stealing scenes here), and, thanks to a lot of great location shooting, we get a fine sense of the ocean-side amusement park as it must've been in 1928. (The only disappointment: though we see Harold and Jane do a variety of rides and games, our young couple-in-love don't visit any of the side shows that were flourishing on the Isle of Coney.) The twosome's day together ends as they ride back into the city in the back of a moving van. While sitting among the furniture, they create a faux domestic scene that's sweet without being cloying. A tricky balancing act, actually, but it's something Lloyd pulled off with geeky aplomb . . .
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Sunday, December 04, 2005
      ( 12/04/2005 09:41:00 PM ) Bill S.  

TOO BAD BUDDY HACKETT'S DEAD – Is it me or does the idea (and execution) of a sentimental holiday episode of The Dead Zone(!) – complete with homeless orphans and a crazy old coot who thinks he's Santa Claus – feel like something Bill Murray's Frank Cross would concoct? I'm bettin' this puppy truly gave Stephen King the chills . . .
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