Tag Archives: entertainment

The Dark Side of Writing for the Dark Crystal

Dark Crystal, writing contests, skeksis, film, books

“I’ve got a great idea,” says the Skeksis. “Let’s rip off unsuspecting writers.” Copyright, The Jim Henson Company.

Here’s another one in the giant ripoff department. I blogged recently about Prada’s writing contest, which turned out not to be such a deal. Now, what’s even worse is that publisher Penguin Group is in cahoots with The Jim Henson Company to have a contest, which is actually a thin veneer for highway robbery. The contest is to write a story in the Dark Crystal world. The original concepts were by Brian Froud and Jim Henson brought it to life.

Entrants will be judged on different components from originality, characterization, storytelling, and overall writing ability. Five entrants will be chosen for the second round, which involves rewriting with input and editing from the judges. The winner will have a contract for a YA (young adult) novel in the Dark Crystal world. http://darkcrystal.com/authorquest/

Sounds good so far, right? It is, until you read the fine print. One, the contract is for $10,000. Twenty years ago, a first-time author could expect to get between $7,000 and $10,000 for a book. Not much increase in rate for twenty years, is it? None at all. A sad state of publishing and the way authors are treated. Charles Dickens could live on what he made as a writer. Most writers these days are making the same amount.

While that is a sad statement on the world of writing and making a living, it’s not the major issue with this “contest.” Guess what? By entering this contest, just entering your story, you lose the right to it, whether you win or not. That means you can’t ever try to sell it elsewhere. Now the fact is that Dark Crystal characters are copyrighted so you wouldn’t be able to take those characters but if you had a good story you could change the characters and world and still go with it. But you lose the story to the sponsors and they have the right to take your ideas and make a film or a book or anything else they want. Here’s the offensive passage:

gelfling, writing contests, Dark Crystal, Jim Henson

Mourn the gelflings, for they’re losing this war. Copyright, The Jim Henson Company

Each entry will be the sole property of the Sponsors. By competing in the Contest and/or accepting a prize, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to edit, adapt, publish, copy, display, reproduce and otherwise use their entry in connection with this Contest and in any other way, in any and all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the world, in perpetuity, including publication on http://www.darkcrystal.com. Further, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to use each entry and the winner’s name, likeness, and biographical information in advertising, trade and promotional materials, without notice, review or approval, or further compensation or permission, except as set forth herein, and except where prohibited by law. Sponsors are not obligated to use, publish, display or reproduce any entry.

Buyer beware and always always read the fine print before you sell your soul. Somehow I’d expect this of the Hollywood or Henson end (though I feel that Jim Henson might be turning in his grave over this thievery), but for a publisher to be part of this is even worse. It’s bad enough that writers usually get the short end of the monetary stick, but downright greed and blindsiding is reprehensible. Shame on you, Penguin Group and The Jim Henson Company.

For those who remember the Dark Crystal the bad guys were the Skeksis, always out to get the cute Gelflings. Well, guess what, the Skesis are winning. If I could I’d post on the contest a big DO NOT ENTER sign. You’ve been warned.

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Movie Review: Sinister

movies, horror, Sinister, thrillers, mysteries, supernatural films, Scott Derrickson

Sinister, directed by Scott Derrickson

Last night I got a chance to see a preview (for Canada at least) of Sinister. I hadn’t a clue what it was about but my friend said it was a horror and my first thought was, “Oh god, I hope it’s not gory.” I don’t like gratuitous gore and found Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs too graphic for me, while Silence of the Lambs, which should have been worse, didn’t linger on the truly horrific aspects.

So, what about Sinister? Is it like Saw, which I’ve never seen (but have been told is gory) or is it like a well-conducted symphony? I should mention that we had to sit right at the front of the theater so there was a weird distortion with the characters looking huge on our side and tiny on the other, and everything as if in a funhouse mirror due to the curvature of the screen (why do they put seats that close). Oh and there will be spoilers but I’ll announce when.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance, this grainy and dark film is directed by Scott Derrickson who seems fairly new to directing. He directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and definitely likes the horror/thriller genre. I’ve not seen any of his previous works so I have no preconceptions.

True crime writer Elison Oswalt hasn’t had a hit in a long time and needs one so his family can keep a roof over their heads. The movie starts with them moving into a neighborhood where a grisly murder took place, so that Elison can research close at hand. Of course, what he doesn’t reveal is that they’ve moved into the house where the family was murdered, except for the one little girl who disappeared. And would you believe, gosh, no one even bothered to remove the tree limb in the back yard that was cut and used as a counterweight to hang four people. Right away, even as they’re moving boxes into the house, creepy heavy music and sounds begin. Scrapes, thunks, crackles, pops and indiscernible whispers/voices pervade the soundtrack of this film so much that it is contrived and heavy-handed. Really? You need scary music just because someone walks into a room?

Ethan Hawke, Sinister, thrillers, horror films, movies, supernatural

Ethan Hawke ponders if his furrowed brow can keep the suspense going in Sinister.

After smashing a scorpion in the attic, Elison discovers an old projector and super 8 film reels that depict several mass murders of families since the 60s. Later on a snake appears under a lid in the attic, which Elison narrowly avoids yet he never bothers to kill it or have it removed. As he watches the horrific reels more terrible noises accompany them, but they don’t differ enough from all the atmospheric background of Sinister so I’m not sure if they’re part of the super 8 films. This annoyed me a great deal and while I don’t watch many of these movies perhaps it inured me for the cheap trick scares that were to come.

Not so everyone in the audience since there were some pretty good shrieks from some younger girls, but early on before the really creepy stuff begins. And here’s your warning; from hereon in I’m giving spoilers, though I have to say the poster for the film does that. Elison, with the aid of the terrible films, pieces together a serial murder that happens once per decade, where a family is killed but one child is always missing. It didn’t take me long at this point, especially when he starts to notice a creepy face in each film, that it is the children who are the perpetrators. The face introduces the supernatural element, taking this away from a regular crime. Thankfully, as the murders are revealed, the more bloody ones are usually cut or there is a pull away at the crucial instant. I give kudos to Derrickson for not wallowing in the gore and letting the suspense dwell more on the tale than the horrid imagery.

However, though the movie is filmed to be shadowy, every time there is a thunk or rustle or some other movement–in the house–at night, does Elison ever turn on a light? Noooo. That would be like, what, smart?Much better to crap your pants with creepy  shadows in every corner. The first time he goes hunting about after the power is cut he uses his cellphone because no one has ever heard of flashlights. Too many of these cheap tricks and obvious manipulations irked me so that the sudden reveals were never a surprise.

Eventually the audience is pulled in to see more than what Elison sees. Why the switch, but only halfway through the film? Because we need more thrills as we see these creepy dead or transformed children that killed their families. And we find out about some old Babylonian god who was the eater of children (either flesh or souls), yet when you see ole Bughuul he does not look that Babylonian, nor will you or I have ever heard of him. Though he’s obscure he’s managed to keep the ritual alive to eat souls every decade.

Elison finally freaks out, dumps the project and takes his family back to the old home, after burning the films and the projector. Oh, you think, if you’re naive, a film that lets the protagonist escape the dire ending. But this is horror and horror is about the fight of the little guy and the inevitable descent or succumbing to the forces of evil. The deputy (who was the comic relief for the relentless darkness of the film) keeps calling him but Elison ignores the calls, because, you know, it’s the call you ignore that could save your life. When Elison goes up into the attic of his home, guess what he discovers, the films and the projector, and a new little envelope says “extended cut edits.” You know he can’t resist watching them, late at night, in the dark, where all is revealed. Why yes, indeed, the little monsters killed their families. But it’s too late because his sweet little daughter has drugged the family (where she got these drugs, who knows) and then happily chops them up with a big axe. Not that a little girl would ever have problems wielding such a big axe, nor chopping through the human body, which thankfully, is only depicted in the pictures she adds to the macabre images on the projector box lid.

I don’t go to movies to have the crap scared out of me, but good suspense and tension can be handled deftly like a conductor with his wand rather than a woodcutter with an axe. Unfortunately, the axe was swung too far and wide, with Derrickson succumbing to the tried and tired tropes of the genre. The acting was competent, the story could have been creepier and the suspense was contrived. I give this 4.5 axe whacks out of 10.

 

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Movie Review: Immortals

Henry Cavill, Theseus, Immortals, film, movies, Greek gods, gods

Henry Cavill’s Theseus is competently acted but the plot lacks. Nice man muscles though.

I actually had no clue what this 2011 film was about when I got it. I thought Immortals might be about superheroes and in a way it is, the superheroes of old. It is a tale of Theseus; you know, the guy who battled the Minotaur and did other heroic deeds. In the ancient world of Greece you had your gods, your demi-gods and your heroes. As time, history and mythology progressed, some heroes became demi-gods. And when you have thousands of years of history and mythology the stories get a little muddied.

So I was willing to accept a lot of fantastic elements and let some of the costuming (of the gods) be historically inaccurate. But let’s look at the costuming because it’s often a bugaboo for me. Since this is placed in ancient Greece, it’s at least pseudo historical. How pseudo?  A lot.

Minotaur, Theseus, movies, film, Greek gods, Olympian, Immortals

I was okay with this interpretation of the Minotaur though the tale strays pretty far afield after this.

Theseus’s people live in a narrow cliffside area, but there are no trees, no grass, no chickens and what looks like no way down the very high, sheer cliffs to fish. So what do they do there? Is this the town center, missing any semblance of commerce, or a temple? Who knows but the people are dressed in weird baggy homespun robes of indiscriminate shape with odd woven cape things on some of them. Theseus himself doesn’t seem to be doing much but hacking ineffectually at a dead tree on a rocky shore. But at least he has a nice impression of leather armor/breastplate though if he’s not a warrior I’m not sure why he has one or how a man of his age doesn’t seem to be part of the army or working a little harder at surviving.

I can give the bundles of fabric to emulate peasantish clothing, I could even forgive that he has some leather armor but then we get to the sibyls in the sibylline monastery. First, monastery? Really? The Greeks had temples with priests and priestess. Monasteries came about with Christianity. And since we’re dealing with pseudo history, the “monastery” is some ugly rectangular edifice with no windows, and reminiscent of Mordor once the Heraklion forces move in.  But back to the sibyls who look like they’re wearing semi sheer red and black chitons or peplos (the rectangular garment we associate with Greece). Underneath, lo and behold, they’re wearing lovely red skirts with corset/bodice tops. Yep, that’s as far from ancient Greece as I am.

The worst case of crabs I’ve ever seen. The Immortals

The Heraklion forces are lead by the ruthless Hyperion (don’t get me started on the names), played by Mickey Rourke. I have to tell you it’s hard to take the really bad man seriously when he’s wearing a crab claw on his head. I kid you not. Of all the bad guy helms that could be made, I guess we can give this one points for originality but it is ludicrous beyond belief. The silly hats and headdresses don’t stop there. Enter the gods, dressed all in gold, plastic gold armor from what I can tell, and a nice gold corset top for Athena (no Aphrodite here; after all it’s about war). They’re all wearing bizarre headdresses that I can’t figure out until I hear Poseidon’s name and figure out he’s got shells on his ears in gold filigree. And the guy I took to be Apollo with giant rays of gold coming off of his hat (there’s too much air space for it to be a helmet) turns out to be Ares, god of war. The helmets that the Olympian gods don when they have to battle the Titans are nothing Greek at all and in fact pretty similar to the Titan helmets. Strangely the gods wear helmets but Theseus doesn’t in battle. Why why why do the dumb heroes and villains fight without their helmets unless they have no brains (or the directors don’t).

Immortals, Greek gods, Athena, Ares, movies

Ares looks back to measure Athena’s crown and see if it’s bigger than his. As a historical note, the ancient Greeks did not wear crowns.

Oh and the Titans, well they’re held in Mount Tartarus for all time, just chained up together in a box (it’s more cruel you know) so they can wait and wait. They’re shown as identical and when unleashed there are more of them than we saw. And let’s not forget that the Titans were 12 gods before the Olympians came along, and 6 of them were women. We see mindless cloned killing machines that Zeus ends up burying by pulling down gigantic statues, placed inside a mountain that nobody goes to. Why didn’t they do this first? And the gods, well they are so super fast that each of them can kill five Titans in the literal blink of an eye, but somehow the Titans still get the better of them and kill them all including some nondescript Olympian army dudes. No more Poseidon or Ares or Athena? Theseus doesn’t save the day except to kill Hyperion before he succumbs (but is saved to the heavens by Zeus).

The sets have their share of CGI, a bit too much and too obvious I think, but the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s a mishmash and doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you’re going to take one of the many varieties of a myth and do your own interpretation, that’s fine but this has the feel of someone with ADHD on too much caffeine, from the disjointed imagery and costumes to the storyline. I didn’t mind that the Minotaur is a very large man wearing a metal made bull helmet but when Theseus chops off his head in the mausoleum where he puts his dead mother,  he feels the need to carry it outside with him. The crypt suddenly becomes the labyrinth though he had no trouble walking into it and there is no Ariadne to give him a ball of twine but his own bloody or wet footprints. Once outside and seeing his friends about to be killed he tosses the head over the cliff and uses the Epirus bow.

Now we come to it, the item that Hyperion seeks and that Theseus finds. Okay, there is no mythological Epirus bow though there was a town of Epirus and Greeks like many cultures had archery. But the bow (very modern in looks) might have been tied to Apollo but they leave that out. And it’s a weak plot device and doesn’t add a lot. The sibyl Phaedra who has been trained as a prophetess gives up her virginity and pretty much the first sight of Theseus. At least in the myths they do have him married to Phaedra for a while.

The acting is competent with such names as Henry Cavill (Theseus, The Tudors), Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans (Zeus, Three Musketeers), Freida Pinto (Phaedra, Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Dorff (Stavros, Public Enemies) and John Hurt. But you can only do so much when the storyline dips and drops all over. When Poseidon causes a seismic wave of watery doom, the heroes get off the ship that is destroyed with their enemies, not to mention that we don’t see the rest of the decimation of a seaside coast for miles around. But hey, gods are capricious. Personally, I think I know why the gods meddled with Theseus even if Zeus threatened them with death if they interfered with the free will of humans. (Since when did Greek gods worry about morals?) They were probably so bored with the storyline that they had to spice it up with the action shots. After all, enough special effects will carry a story that should just sink to its watery doom. I’m afraid I can only give this a generous 5 Olympian statues out of 10. Originally I gave a 6 but that’s too generous by far. Addendum: I just saw Wrath of the Titans and it was even worse. I could only give it 2 crumbling statues. Directors, just don’t use existing myths/legends if you’re going to mangle them so badly.

Zeus, Greek gods, Immortals, film, movies

Hunky Zeus coddles Theseus but bans the other gods from doing so.

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Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Ralph Bakshi, animation, anime, movies, cartoons, rotoscope

Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings from the 1970s used rotoscope animation .

I like good animations, and Dreamworks as well as some of the Japanese anime can rank at the top. Recently I went through a binge of animation films. Shark Tale and the Monster House weren’t very good, the first being a bad excuse for a cliched plot and fish that acted and moved more like humans than fish. Monster House had some hackneyed stereotypes, iffy reactions and a bizarre plot that didn’t quite suspend my disbelief, even though it was a cartoon. On the other hand, Howl’s Moving Castle was a delight and a wonder.

Wallace and Gromit, claymation, animation, movies, film, humor

The British Wallace and Gromit claymations tend to be shorts, but Flushed Away, done by the same artists is a full length film.

When I was a kid animations were the flat and wooden two-dimensional characters, and at best the rotoscoped movements used in the earlier feature length films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With computerization and complex graphics, the world of animation opened up. That doesn’t mean every three-dimensional claymation such as Wallace and Gromit is great because it uses new and/or different techniques (though claymation isn’t that new either). What really makes any animated film is the story and the characterization. It’s one reason Wallace and Gromit were so funny; the characters look goofy and get into all sorts of madcap adventures based on their wacky inventions.

The 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It isn’t really a forerunner of new techniques but went on to be one of the most successful animes ever. It uses painted backdrops and the standard two dimensional style in characters, with shading. The style is classic Japanese with the cartoonish eyes and antics, to some degree. But the movements are far more fluid and the images are beautiful. On top of that, the imagination in Howl’s is fantastic. The moving castle is this weird house on legs, part alive, part machine, part home. It’s rambling, chaotic and magical and opens on different times and places.

Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki, anime, film entertainment

Howl’s Moving Castle was nominated for several Academy Awards.

Sophie is a shy young woman who accidentally runs into Howl and is saved but subsequently is cursed by the Witch of the Wastes. Turned into an old woman she leaves the life she knows and ends up at Howl’s castle, bringing discipline and order to the chaos. Howl, like many wizards, has a reputation of being scary and self-serving but he is also extremely vain and there is a reason for this. The castle slowly gathers a host of characters including an asthmatic dog, a devoted scarecrow, the Witch of the Wastes and the castle’s denizens, Calcifer the fire elemental who keeps the house alive,  and Markl the apprentice.

I can’t say much is predictable in this delightful film except for the inevitable romance. It is a tale of discovering one’s self, confidence, heroics, and fear. And it is a tale of war and peace, Miyazaki’s own pacifist twist on the wizard’s involvement. I loved this film so much that I’ll be watching it again next week. I would give this movie 9.5 out of 10 on the wizard scale and it’s worth watching for the beautiful scenery alone. If you like anime, it’s one of the best.

anime, heroes, cartoons, Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki

Howl’s castle moves so that his source of power cannot be discovered.

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Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

movies, entertainment, horror, Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

The Cabin in the Woods, a horror pastiche that maybe tops all such stories.

I had the opportunity the other night to see Drew Goddard‘s and Joss Whedon’s latest, The Cabin in the Woods. Whedon has a cult following as a screenwriter, from such TV shows as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series, as well as Firefly. While I never warmed to Firefly (though I liked the film Serenity well enough) I was re-introduced to TV watching with Buffy. I hadn’t watched TV in years, except for a show here or there. Mostly I thought it was banal at best and idiotic most of the time, catering to the lowest common denominator with tired and cliché dialogue. Married with Children epitomized the wretchedness of TV for me and I just stayed away.

The process of helping a client (who became a friend) lay out her novel involved watching an episode of Buffy afterwards. I was stunned. Here were characters that changed, dialogue that was unpredictable and a plot that was dark and delectable. I was hooked. Whedon’s fame was justifiable for original writing and well-fleshed characters. And while Buffy could have been staked and slain itself before that final denouement, half-baked season came along, even that didn’t detract from the fact it was one of the best storylines on TV I had ever seen. I have since met HBO and found other stories that show the bravado of today’s scriptwriting when writers are allowed to blossom.

cabin in the woods, horror, film, movies, Whedon, Goddard

Kristen Connolly fights back the zombies out to kill them.

Goddard has his own cult following for his writing of the Alias and Lost TV series. Likewise, Alias became far too convoluted with plots and intrigues within intrigues, and Lost got wackier to what I thought was an ending that didn’t really work. Still, they were compelling stories with complex characters both likable and detestable at times. Lost‘s way of going forward with the present story while revealing more and more past history of the characters gave it interesting layers.

With The Cabin in the Woods all I knew was that Joss Whedon wrote it and that it was based on those tried and true horror genre films; you know the ones. The creepy basements, the unknown in the wild, the strange occurrences, the glimpses out of the corner of the eye. In fact, I thought it was going to be a play off of that pseudo reality styled film, The Blair Witch Project, where you never see the horror. If you don’t want spoilers before you see this film, you might want to stop now, because horrors you see aplenty. I called this the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink film.

I think this is the ending Joss always wanted for Buffy or Angel but didn’t quite get. You couldn’t squish another monster into this film. Indeed, they all burst forth, for the weekend in the woods is not what these people bargained for but it’s even more bizarre than anyone could have feared, because there is a whole network of technicians and masterminds at work helping orchestrate these college students’ downfalls. But of course, it doesn’t go smoothly for anyone; you could say it doesn’t go well for the monsters either.

cabin in the woods, horror, movies, film, Whedon, Goddard, scary

Fran Kranz, Chris Helmsworth (of Thor fame) and Anna Hutchison enter the treasure trove beneath the cabin’s floors, the beginning of all their problems.

The main characters are manipulated right from the beginning, with interspersed images of these guys in a bunker watching them and initiating protocols so that you’re saying WTF? A slow reveal gives more and more information, until the last tidbit is unveiled. Overall, this isn’t built up with the total dark suspense music that leads to a shocking reveal of the bad guy. Every time it looks kind of intense, something alleviates the buildup. So when the creepy looking backwoods fella at the decrepit gas station (with lots of furs and dead skinned things) calls the guys in the bunker, he delivers an Armageddon brimstone and fire soliloquy. The bunker guys listen intently until creepy guy says, “Do you have me on speaker phone?” He continues with the prophecies of doom once assured it’s turned off while the other guys break down in hysterics.

Basically every horror movie cliché is turned on its ass or twisted into something new. Almost. With the plethora of creepy critters to choose from Whedon and Goddard’s immediate antagonists are…zombies. Yep. But maybe that’s the point. This movie, if nothing else, is a pastiche of and an homage to horror movies and every bizarro monster ever imagined that sucks, occupies, eats and terrorizes humans. A true horror story is one where the protagonist fights and tries to prevail against the odds and evil, but ultimately is overcome. This movie fills it to the max without hope of redemption, survival or a sequel. Throughout the film a dark vein of humor is threaded, sometimes lighter, but in the end, when everything ends you still have to laugh.

Is this because Whedon and Goddard were worried about it being too bleak or that they really are paying tribute to the genre of horror? To me, it seems the latter. The movie was worthy, with some very fun characters and unexpected outcomes. It had enough twists that there is literally no dull moment, and in this case overcoming evil isn’t such a good thing. I’d give it an 8 skulls out of 10 on the monster movie meter.

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Review: Hard Times Hit Parade

Hard Times Hit Parade

It’s too bad I didn’t see this show earlier, to give a review that would have been more timely. The Hard Times Hit Parade is performed by the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret and consists of 25-30 performers. Hard Times Hit Parade This extravaganza is set around a Depression era dance marathon and begins the moment you walk in. In fact there were signs outside the building that I thought were part of the Russian Community Hall’s edifice but turned out to be the theme of the show. Entering the auditorium, we saw bleachers set up with strands of pennons coming out from a large central chandelier. As well, there were signs of the era and advertising around the benches setting the atmosphere.

Behind the bleachers was a little bar with servers dressed in 1930s clothing. Many audience members came dressed, adding to the theme. The show begins with old B&W films and the narrator talking of the times and the dance marathon that has begun. The performers, couples coming out with numbers attached, do an opening swing number to a live band that had at least six people playing saxophone, violin, cello, banjo, etc.

There are different dance numbers, scenarios that go from the emcee and the referee, the anal rulemaker who adds comic moments, to the band and all around. There were even popcorn girls in the aisles selling popcorn, beer and wine. If someone dropped their plastic cup (reusable) under the bleachers, they would incorporate a scold or a scornful look into the show. The emcee or barker was appropriately over the top and the band was excellent, with the main singer/saxophone player also doing a number in drag.

The marathon dancers consisted of about six couples and as the show progresses, various people drop out after having hallucinations or or other events that make them quit. One hallucination is a cabaret style dance sequence. Another is a man being pressured to give his dance partner a ring. He then does a spinning acrobatic maneuver in a giant ring. There is a marionette sequence as well, and when the dancers go backstage for their rest break we see silhouettes on the screen which may include kissing, sleeping. changing, washing. These are accented with shapes on cellophane to represent tears or showering or birds. Another dance number is more the contestants dragging themselves about as the dance marathon moves into its fourth month; it involves a nurse checking the exhausted dancers and focusing a light on them. This projects a large silhouette on a screen that is accented with images such as hearts or lace or fields, representing the inner workings of these people.

It’s actually quite difficult to put into words the full scope of this multimedia performance. At $25 (at the door) and three hours the performance was well worth it. I laughed, I was mesmerized. There was so much to see. There is an intermission where the audience can mingle in a party atmosphere or get more drinks. And after the show, everyone can continue to dance. I loved the creativity, the depth and the energy of this show. It was so inspirational that I think I might see how I can help out at the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret. If you can get in (last day is March 18) go and see Hard Times Hit Parade. Advance tickets are sold out but some are available at the door. This was so fantastic that I’m going to try to stand in line and see it again. Five stars!

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The Problem With Supervillains

Earlier I talked about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Superhero Fashion, and touched on the bad guys as well. But I think they need their equal time. Just as I listed the general aspects of the costumed hero, it applies to the villain, but there are a few more points.

  1. They have perfect or godly physiques. Even if slim, or buxom, superheros are muscular and perfect. (There are exceptions like

    Galactus, Marvel Comics (and the Silver Surfer)

    the Blob.) Villains on average might look more weaselly, be of thin or obese proportions, or not as attractive as the good guys. A sinister slant to the eyebrow and angular lines define the alien or evil.

  2. They have powers or abilities beyond the normal human.
  3. They are superbly fit and agile, as well as being able to withstand physical abuse that would disfigure, cripple or kill most other people (they never lose teeth for instance).
  4. They’re arrogant or megalomaniacs. After all, if you’re running around stealing and destroying things wearing wild colors and skintight clothing you obviously like the attention, even if it will get you caught.
  5. They rarely get paid so they steal in fantastic ways. If they have money, then they’re power mad or crazy. If they’re from another planet they may have alien concepts and like to eat worlds, as with Galactus of Fantastic Four fame.
  6. If they’re not crazy, they’re stupid or have a compulsion to be caught. After all, would you flaunt your crime wave by donning really bright tights to rob a bank? Wouldn’t stealth be better? Maybe the guys that get the powers are like the bank robbers who rob with their names on their motorcycle helmets.

Marvel's Dr. Doom

Villains might have once been good guys in the superhero world. There are often ambiguous moral lines that they cross back and forth. Those characters are less likely to look evil or bad. The X-Men’s Havok has played both sides. His costume and demeanor do not indicate bad or evil. Dr. Doom is disfigured from an experiment and he’s mad, brilliant and rich so he’s a bit like a primitive Darth Vader. The villain might be misguided by an evil leader and therefore can be swayed.

The female villains, no matter how crazy, are usually still dressed sexy. They tend to straddle those

Mystique from Marvel's X-Men

moral lines a lot more. Poison Ivy is mad but protects plants. Catwoman only steals from the rich, Harley Quinn is humorous but mad, sort of like a softer version of the Joker who is scary looking while she is cute. Mystique who is probably more right out evil than some of the others is still made to look sexy. Her dark skin and skull at the hairline are symbols of her darkness. But no matter how nasty her sneer, she is still dressed in ways that indicate eroticism, the breasts outlined through the costume, the hips bared to the waist. Godlike in her evilness.

There isn’t a female villain who is ugly that I can think of. Of course, I’m not up to date on every comic but if there is an ugly female villain she is most likely a minor character. I do recall one thin female in Mystique’s gang who was elderly, Destiny. But from time to time she is neither super thin nor old. Villains and heroes tend to morph a lot.

DC's Catwoman (from the movie) Men would love her to steal from them.

Sometimes a villain might wear something armored as does Dr. Doom or as the hero Iron Man does. When that villain is a woman the armor is decorative as opposed to functional and often exposes the stomach and/or midriff, a really soft spot on the human body. Obviously the supervillains only sometimes dress for function. Catwoman’s catsuit is suited for scuttling about and it’s black so she blends into the night. But she often wears heels and most women know how hard it is to run, jump or do other martial arts in heels, but then they are superhuman. On the whole, the reason the supervillains lose more than the heroes is because they must be stupider and crazier, which tends to affect judgment and of course heroes have justice on their side.

Still I’d love to see some common sense in costuming that’s pretty hard to duplicate and in most cases, in real life, would probably look really goofy. I suppose using sex to stun one’s victims into a stupor of immovability is one way to win but I think one might just go farther on stealth.

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The Work Less Party Works Less

In BC, the Work Less Party was a group of slightly organized people who wanted to move the work week to 32 hours. They began in 2003 and actually had a few candidates in 2005, but after that the Party dwindled. Part of the party’s mandate was to have more fun. And like our Rhino party of yesteryear they were never taken that seriously, even by themselves. They were de-registered this summer and no longer exist as a political party, but the party goes on.

It is now a big party. If you check out the site with the lofty ideals, it hasn’t been updated since 2008. http://www.worklessparty.org/ And if you find the party site, it hasn’t been updated since March. Considering they just had a party this weekend you can see how working less doesn’t always work. http://www.worklessparty.org/party/party.htm I imagine there is a Facebook page, with most of the details but I try to avoid too much FB as being a great resource suck when it comes to parties.

I had gone to two parties before and they were definitely an excuse to dress in wild costumes or work on your Hallowe’en outfit before the big weekend. But what do you get? They take place in a giant auditorium–you know the style, from your school days–with a stage and a big empty hall. There are no chairs so don’t dream on sitting down. There are usually a few completely lame booths that nobody seems to attend. I’ve seen the hugging booth, the spanking booth, the chillout booth, etc. You must buy tickets to get your booze and then get in the lineup and hope there is any.

There is usually a costume and body painting contest, and  while this is on the stage, if you’re not six-feet tall you’ll probably only see the back of someone’s head or glimpse the outfits. What I have seen of the body painting is quite stunning and may involve dancing, skits or acrobatics. There is also an upstairs area that is smaller and more festive in look, with a DJ.

I found after two of these parties with 500 plus people that it was just a crush of incredibly rude and self-serving party-goers. There are  stairs to the other floor and people stop and chat or just get stuck in the jam. I said excuse me as I tried to squeeze past the people coming down. I mean, it’s what people do, right? Try to be polite? But no, I was dissed for doing so and someone said nasty things that I won’t repeat.

As for the alcohol, if you drink only beer, you’re okay. But last time they ran out of wine and cider by 11:00 pm. The lineups are long and everyone is out for themselves, suspiciously eying the person behind them who is pushing forward. Most of all you can expect a crush of costumed humanity at this party. After two of them I left feeling quite bored. I swore off of going to the giant cattle pen.

However, a friend was having a birthday and she really wanted to go with a group of people. There were probably about 15 of us and I finally buckled and went. I made the mistake of wearing a dress that had a train, and even though I had that pinned up it began to drag through the night. The floor was a morass of slimy mud from the rain. Slippery and treacherous, so one had to be careful moving through the crowds. And crowds. There is this narrow hallway that you must enter through and as we first arrived, we stood off to the side as many people do. But that did not stop people from bulldozing us down. I had to fix the pin on my dress and someone pushed me. I said hey, and the guy told me I was taking up too much space. Really, I can only take up the space that my body requires. Not even five minutes into the place and the attitudes began. I called him an asshole and pushed him out of the way telling him that he was too tall and taking up too much space.Yeah, I gave it back but I’d already been pushed five times.

That’s one reason I hate the Work Less party, because any thin excuse for manners goes out the door. To complicate matters, the disorganizers chose to put the ticket sales on one side of the entry door and the tables for getting your alcohol on the other, causing long lines that people must push through. When I got to the alcohol , I stood there for almost ten minutes with a whole bunch of people as every server was juggling getting drinks. Granted those poor folks are volunteers but some foreplanning would have helped, like a couple of people pouring and others serving. And when I asked what else there was besides beer there was only rum or vodka, with no mix, served in giant cups. Very mickey mouse.

The dancing was fun with pretty good DJ action, and we planted ourselves in one spot to help avoid the giant crush of people. But some doofus must have thought it funny to pull the fire alarm. Try to get over 500 drinking people out of a hall where at first we couldn’t hear the alarm. But we had to exit, with no place to put your drink. The bouncers said, you have to exit but you can’t take your drink so chug it. Pure rum or vodka? No thanks. Then the alarm went off and everyone went back in but the firemen had not been through, so then we got to exit again. Good fun, that.

I can’t say that the lack of adequate alcohol, the more and more disorganization, the giant crowd (and I hate crowds) and the uber rudeness encouraged me to ever go again. The Work Less party could do with a bit of working better.

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Things I’ve Learned From TV

I recently took a week off and, conserving my funds, made it a working vacation for writing. This means I wrote one story, finished another, submitted a bunch of poems and stories and started rewriting my novel…again. In between that, cleaning and doing the great purge on my place, I was also suffering from a case of Smallvillitis. What’s that? Well it’s where you start watching Smallville, on your laptop and watch an episode every day. Of course, this was season 9 so I’ve had the disease for a while. In fact, I watched season 1-9 this year.

That’s actually pretty bad for someone who professes to not watch TV. But I can blame that on Joss Whedon and Buffy who got me back into watching interesting and intelligent TV. Still, I try not to become a total couch potato. However, watching so many seasons at once really lets you see the character and story arcs of the show. What gimmicks or themes are big for them: for Smallville, the theme of power and what’s right and wrong are tantamount, laced with unrequited love, jealousy, faith, fear, alienability, etc. The other thing that becomes evident are the gimmicks or tricks that the directors and producers like for a show. Some of these are the clichés of Hollywood and some are clichés in the making.

Smallville survives because it has interesting enough plots, characters changing sometimes so subtly from good to evil and back and pretty good dialogue. But it falls captive to some of those TV realities, which do not affect our real world. Not just Smallville, but other shows and movies get caught up in the same trap. Below is a partial list of some of the things I’ve learned from TV and from Smallville.

  1. Creepy things in fields and graveyards (or meetings in such places) are always accompanied by mist. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Kansas or the Alps, there’s bound to be spooky mist.
  2. Cars, no matter how small the fire, will always explode. If this were true people would probably never drive them. Explosions are actually very rare. I once copyedited a Hulk novel (I think) where the truck transporting grape jam exploded and the fire was hot enough to melt glass and turn everything purple from the jam. Of course, that’s hot enough to melt a lot of stuff and anything organic would carbonize, not retain its color. I think they still left it in, no matter how inaccurate it was.
  3. Air ducts are always big enough for a full human to crawl though, and spic and span clean. I look up in the buildings I walk through and never notice ducts this big, nor do I think that they could support the weight of a human if I see one. And usually they’re half the size. Where are all the spiders and grungy dirt bits filtered out from the great outdoors?
  4. Elevators always have a hatch at the top, big enough and easy enough for someone to escape into. Everyone is of course a super athlete. In the one level elevator into the underground garage where my bank is, there is a grill and yes a hatch big enough to crawl through, should I be able to hoist myself up. But I don’t often see these in business buildings. And what do the escapees do anyways, crawl up the greasy cables to the next floor?
  5. Fires in houses, even primitive cottages will still cause and explosion. Yes, like cars and trucks watch out for the giganto fires. Toss a lamp down, and it will flame crazily and instantly, and yes the house will explode sooner or later.
  6. Every slum even in big cities, has guys burning fires in oil drums. Next time you’re out in your big city, think about or drive through that bad or down and out are of town. Vancouver has Canada’s poorest postal code with the Downtown Eastside, and you know what, even there with drug addicts and alcoholics and people who need care, there is not one oildrum with a fire burning in it. Dang where is that disenfranchised utopia?
  7. Glass tables; everyone has them because they can fall through them. Yep, you would not believe the number of times someone has tossed someone through a glass table on Smallville. They love it and it happens about every three episodes (I’m just guessing) because well, it looks so good and makes great crashing sounds (done afterwards in the foley studio but who the heck cares).

I’ve already talked about the brainiac glasses cliché where every egghead computer user sports them. But I’ m sure I’ll be able to add more to this list in the future.

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Movie Review: The Train Wreck of “I’m Still Here”

I got to see the preview of I’m Still Here last night, another in a long list of reality, documentary, “real life” stories on film. So it’s shot with a handheld video and is grainy and old looking, as well as bad to incomprehensible sound quality in parts. Just like Blair Witch Project and all those other made-to-be-real stories. But it’s a documentary, sort of. Joaquin Phoenix, the star, or anti-star, of this documentary was filmed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck. Now in a way it’s unfortunate that Affleck let the cat out of the bag so early that in fact this is a mockumentary and not really Phoenix’s plummet into eccentric weirdoness. We sincerely hope–though stars going crazy, or doing too many drugs or booze is an old story and Phoenix seems to have had his brush with this in the past.

Joaquin as crazed hip-hop wannabe (from x17online.com)

In some ways, this reminded me of the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which had grainy handheld images by a novice videographer, for part of it. But let’s look at I’m Still Here as if it were being filmed as a true documentary. First, if Casey Affleck was revealed as the director at the beginning we then have to wonder, why does an actor with money and names at his disposal decide to use the lowest level of technology available to make this film about his brother-in-law? Only because it will look more like reality, but already I’m suspicious because it’s not some no name Joe and at least the filming should be a little more even, and the framing and sound better. That’s my first raspberry to the film.

Let’s not forget that for Affleck’s directorial debut it does keep production values and costs pretty minimal, and producing a film can be very very expensive. Not to mention paying those high price actors of which Joaquin Phoenix is one. But hey, he’s in on it and he’s Affleck’s brother-in-law and we know the Affleck boys are talented. So let’s do this badass hoax.

Phoenix, as always, is such a consummate actor that he’s believable as the tripped out, pot-smoking, coke-snorting, beer-drinking crazoid who wants to give up acting and become a hip-hop artist. However…through this increasing train wreck of two years, Joaquin gets fuzzier with a big untrimmed beard, uncombed hair, massive sunglasses held together by duct tape, sometimes a torn toque or shirt on his head and generally a slovenly appearance that radiates negative sex appeal. I kept wondering if they put a fat suit on him but it looks too real as he gains weight. Now there are many actors who have put on weight, starved themselves or gotten buff to play a role and I don’t doubt that Phoenix would do this.

However, I find it unbelievable that anyone who actually cared for the man, including presumably his brother-in-law and a sister somewhere (or the brief cameo of his father) would let a man slide for so long without wanting to stage an intervention, and that Affleck would put that in the video. Phoenix is crazed,  he’s drugged, he mumbles, he rants and is basically so fucked up that he’s unappealing to anyone but the sycophants/aids/assistants who are paid to follow and help him. But no one, not publicist nor marketing people nor agents ever say, “What the hell? You need serious help.” They just let him ride and let him slide, and that to me is unbelievable and missing from this mockumentary, hence making it a noticeable fake documentary.

As for the film itself, well there are funny moments because Joaquin is so crazed and the way he dresses so bad (because we know he’s a famous star) that you just have to laugh. His home doesn’t look anything like what a star would live in and seems half unpacked with his assistants living in bare bedrooms with no pictures on the wall and only a single size bed (also unbelievable–no one can love him that much). So yeah we laugh at his crazy looniness and at the lame-ass attempts at hip-hop, which, because the sound is never mastered in any way is hard to hear at times.

But those amusing moments don’t warrant a nearly two-hour film. It’s slow and drags and whereas Exit Through the Gift Shop moved along, had tension, humor, drama and a good story on several levels, I’m Still Here falls flat. So flat in fact that I kept trying to see what time it was when I wasn’t closing my eyes. An hour would have been long enough to document this style of train wreck life, whether real or not. Some judicious cutting would have helped.

If Casey Affleck hadn’t revealed that it was a mockumentary so quickly I’m sure that the critics would debate its veracity for months, (and more people would see the film) but probably Joaquin Phoenix is truly worried that people will believe it and that his movie career will plummet. Plus, he’s gotta get back in shape now. But like the phoenix Joaquin is named after, I’m sure this star will rise higher and that the only truly good thing in this film was the caliber of his acting.  As for Casey Affleck’s directing, well, with the right money and people in the right place, I know I could do as well if not better. I’d only give this film four stars out of ten. Watching my cat groom itself is about on par for the excitement in this film.

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