Monday, December 22, 2008

What else has Ovaltine been up to?

Watched 1960's black and white Barsaat Ki Raat over the weekend. The hero, a renowned but underemployed poet (imagine that) takes a job working for a radio station in ... Hyderabad! Where, under the name "Aman Hyderabadi," he composes songs and has a regular radio spot performing them live on the air. His poem about accidentally meeting Madhubala on the rainy night of the title becomes a big hit, and people are singing it everywhere, even as he's rejected by her father as a suitor because, well, he's a penniless poet.

Since I, of course, am such a huge fan of the radio stations in Hyderabad, this was like one of those special shout-outs just for me. I will add, however, that if they were to broadcast live qawwali competitions, like they did in the movie, I'd like them even better.

Then yesterday I finished the book The Last Mughal (a harsh read; it sounds amazing that anything of Dehli was left standing), and came across an intriguing footnote about some ghazals that are attributed to Zafar, that last Mughal emperor. Mohd. Rafi actually sang them in a movie, Lal Qila, that I haven't been able to track down yet (but the morning is young). Anyway, the note continues that the songs were actually performed and popularized earlier, in the fifties, "on Radio Ceylon's talent show, Ovaltine Amateur Hour." (p. 437n)


Which I drank as a child, but mainly associate as the sponsor of the radio show in A Christmas Story.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's a Wonderful Bollywood Life

Bada Din (1998)

Surly rock-n-roller David Dawson (mysterious Marc Robinson, whose only other credit is an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) has alienated everyone in Calcutta with his angst and bad attitude. He's lost his girl, his job, and is on the verge of being kicked out by Lilian, his embittered, hard-drinking landlady (the lovely Shabana Azmi, rising way above the material). But then the mute street urchin who runs his errands witnesses a murder, and comes to David for help. Going to the police only brings on the wrath of the gangsters, but the pair are determined to protect the little boy, and eventually are brought together by the twin Christmas activities of frolicking around a tinsel tree and beating the stuffing out of threatening street thugs.

With its (relatively) gritty depiction of the poor living on the streets, and a protagonist mostly so anti-heroic that I cheered when Irfan Khan turned up briefly to punch him in the face, this is like an art film with commercial pretensions. There's a Jim Morrison on David's wall; a rock band that holds their instruments like an actual rock band (the drummer even has heavy metal hair); a musical number with artificial snow; and a moment when the most psycho of the petty criminals tries to lure the hero out by telling him "We're both Christians." It's not great by any means, but Christmas crime dramas, especially Hindi ones, are hard to come by, so I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it even if it were a lot worse.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yep, "Hulk Smash"

Thoughts on the new Hulk:

Architecturally speaking, I loved the early section filmed in a real Brazilian favela.

When his emotions become too overwhelming, Edward Norton turns into someone else who can act out his impulses, an embodiment of the id, and when he comes back to his regular restrained self, has no memory of what transpired. Did he form an anarchist army and bonk Helena Bonham Carter, or did he turn into a giant green monster and smash up tanks? Or both?

Bruce Banner calls himself Mr. Green in encrypted email correspondence with a cellular biologist whose alias is Mr. Blue. In a movie where one of the villains is played by Reservoir Dogs' Mr. Orange.

I have now seen two movies in which Tim Blake Nelson, the ultimate yokel simpleton in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, plays a scientific genius. (The other was Fido, by the way; highly recommended). Much more convincingly, too, than Liv Tyler can manage.

At a dramatic turning point in the story, the heavens suddenly open up into a drenching symbolic downpour. Just like a Hindi melodrama!

When Tim Roth turns into the bigger, meaner version of the Hulk, and the two are brawling through the streets of New York, I suddenly knew exactly what this movie is. It's a glossy big-budget remake of War of the Gargantuas! With a quick but entertaining cameo by Robert Downey, Jr. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Embalmed in honey

So I came across a book (don't ask) called Nativity: The Christmas Story, Which You Have Never Heard. My first thought was, how would that be possible? I've already read the only real source material that exists. Turns out this is one of those "real history" books, albeit "real" filtered through a particular theological agenda.

Possibly the finest tidbit on the back cover (and yes, this is "sic"):

"Herod amazing genius whose architecture excelled Rome, and kept his murdered wife in a jar of honey!"

Wow! I definitely don't remember hearing that one before! Unfortunately, the actual "fact" is described in the book this way: "It was rumored in ancient times that Herod secretly kept Mariamne's body embalmed in a huge jar of honey...but this was never verified." (p. 119)

The online does include this factoid as a "Talmudic legend." But I definitely appreciate the enthusiasm of the back cover blurbage.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kuch cooch

As I went about my day, pondering whether "jo koii" or "jo kuch" was the better way for me to be saying "whatever" in my head, it suddenly occurred to me that the word "kuch" is pronounced the same way as the word "cooch," familiar to us all from the cooch dancers in Carnivale. (The same word occurs in the phrase "hootchie cootchie").

Unfortunately, my Oxford English Dictionary is still in storage, and I'm not sure a low-brow word like "cooch" would even be in it, so I have no reliable means handy of tracking the origin. I suppose it's possible that there's something in the Indo-European Wayback, although coincidence is more likely. Nonetheless, it does occur to me that the Hindi "kuch kuch" would literally be "something something," and "a little somethin' somethin' " was a cooch dancer's business...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Victorian-Style Scholarship: Not Just for Rich Dead Guys Anymore

Random thoughts on a stack of books:

Sometimes I catch myself getting all angsty and existential. You know: who am I? What does it all mean? What is my purpose in life? Then I walk into a library or a bookstore and suddenly, it all becomes clear. I am the person who has read these books, who is going to read these books. Maybe most importantly, who wants to read these books. As I'm drawn to one volume instead of another, the picture of myself becomes clear.

Then that makes me wonder: to what end? I don't know why, all of a sudden, the idea of utility should occur to me. If I'd thought about the ends of means a long time ago, I'd be in a better position in life. I've basically done everything for its own sake. But now, I feel like I don't want all this knowledge to go to waste. I mean, why didn't I carry on and become a professor? (Well, because that would suck). Why didn't I discipline myself, and become a real expert in something, so I could write books about it that would contribute to the storehouse of human learning? (Because specialization would have cut off so many fascinating areas of interest, and I didn't want to do that).

That kind of thinking is exactly how I got to this confused point in the first place. I feel like a Ms. Causabon... For those of you who were never assigned Middlemarch, Mr. Causabon is an old Victorian scholar, who sits in his study reading and planning a book that he believes will integrate all the world's knowledge. I don't have a nice Victorian study -- my books are mainly piled up in my messy living room -- and I don't have any lofty scheme behind my course of study. But I do appreciate that Victorian gentleman-scholar attitude, from the time when members of the more leisured classes would study, say, archaeology, or folklore, just because they wanted to.

Of course, I'd rather do it without the imperialism and the class divisions and the superior attitudes toward women, etc. And that should be possible. With the technology at our disposal, the common folk (like me) now have access to more books than the wealthiest people of prior generations did, so there's no reason for academic snobbery. Almost anyone can practice impractical scholarship as a leisure activity, so long as they're inclined. We don't all have to be professionals, and we don't have to be specialists. God forbid, actually.

I feel like I'm on the verge of a thesis statement. But not quite.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Terrible news from Mumbai...

I hope everyone in my personal blogosphere is okay....

Monday, November 24, 2008

The widow's mite

Last week, I went in to my Place of Employment and found an envelope in my in-bin that was addressed to my colleague, SpyGirl. It was emblazoned with the message "The widow's mite represents the key to unlocking one of God's most powerful promises..." Some sort of new variation on the Prayer Hanky, I thought, and squealed with glee. (Which I then had to explain to the newish girl, who doesn't know me as well as SpyGirl does). I was especially delighted with the see-through part of the envelope, showing a little fake coin, a reproduction widow's mite.

The odd thing was the return address: Jewish Voice Ministries International. Of course, even the word "Ministries" rings a little false, but my first snap question was, since when do Jewish organizations resort to the sort of dubious mail-order fund-raising I'm used to from "Christian" churches who exist only as PO boxes? I can't prove they don't exist, but I've sure never gotten their mailings. For a second I thought, maybe some other religions are deciding to give up and start soliciting. Maybe thinking, why should those churches get all the money?

My next thought was: the widow's mite? Isn't that from the New Testament? (Answer: yes. See Mark 12: 41-44 and/or Luke 21:1-4).

When I opened the letter, it emphasizes that "every person who blesses the Jewish People will receive a blessing in return." Okay, I'm all for blessing the Jewish people. (And, well, everybody, for that matter. But I digress). The Jewish Voice Ministries, however, specifically thinks that the way to bless them is "to help them find their Messiah Yeshua!"

Yup, they're Christians, so the world hasn't gone all topsy-turvy. Calling themselves the "Jewish Voice" is a bit disengenuous (I imagine a group of mythical atheists who want to deprogram evangelicals, calling themselves the "Christian Voice"). But I was happy to add the mite to my collection of peculiar trinkets.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sexiest Men in Show Business, 2008

Wow, this is my third annual Sexiest Men in Show Biz blog, in which I show People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive issue how it's done. And let me tell you, thank god for Bollywood, where they're equal-opportunity objectifier. I had a hard time scaring up five new men last year, and now I'm back to a full complement of ten. Frankly, I could probably have done an all-Indian list, but I like to keep it a little more diverse than that. I've even got a record number of American actors this year!

People picked Hugh Jackman this year, so for once, I can actually respect their taste. Still, he hasn't bumped anyone off my list.

In the top slot:

1. Irfan Khan.
Oh, come on, if anybody in the world didn't see that coming, then you haven't been paying any attention at all, and I need to start running some pop quizzes or something. Oh, the Irfan! He can be a psychotic villain, he can be a nerdy businessman, he can throw extra letters into his name, and he's almost ... almost ... gotten me to see an earnest Angelina Jolie movie about contemporary political issues. Maybe once I've exhausted all his Hindi films. I've been saving The Warrior (one of his starring roles) for a rainy day, so for now I'll say that the best starting point is the Irfan/Tabu knockout double feature of Maqbool (steamy sexy) and The Namesake (realistic romantic). Maybe with a dollop of The Killer on the side. It's not the best movie, but Irfan looks great in a suave suit.

2. and 3. The men of Omkara: Saif Ali Khan and Ajay Devgan.
Director Vishal Bharadwaj has an interesting niche: adapting Shakespeare plays as gritty but literary Bollywood crime dramas. Starring some very handsome men. After Maqbool, there was Omkara. Okay, Saif Ali Khan is not handsome looking in Omkara itself. As the Iago character, he's filthy, obnoxious, and he has terrible teeth. Nonetheless, he is mesmerizing in his villainy, and you don't forget him; those are sexy qualities, only without the accompanying physical attractiveness. It was quite a shock to watch Omkara and then Kal Ho Naa Ho, where Khan plays the swoonily handsome, slightly metrosexual Rohit. Wowza!

As the title character, Ajay Devgan gets to brood and glower and smolder, which doesn't sound terribly promising, but I assure you, he does so while sporting a terrific moustache. I like that Devgan has such a distinctive nose, which sets him apart from the prettier boys. In addition to Omkara, I recommend Bhoot as a showcase for his manly but sensitive charms.

4. Robert Downey, Jr.
There are always guys I've seen around forever and never thought much of, and suddenly I fine myself forced to reevaluate them. This year it's Downey's turn. I've been seeing his movies for over twenty years, and that whole time, I've never thought he was cute, or really understood why he was so critically acclaimed. I had to admit he was pretty good in the recent Zodiac, so I developed some new respect for him as an actor. Then along came Iron Man. Not only didn't debauchery Chet Baker-ize him (the documentary Let's Get Lost is largely a study of how to destroy one's good looks with drug abuse), but age and (relative) maturity are really suiting him.

5. , 6., and 7. The men of Dexter: Michael C. Hall, Erik King, James Remar.
Here we have a television show with a serial killer for a protagonist: one who attempts to satisfy his bloodlust within a moral code. Since it's on cable, one might expect that it would be carnage candy. It doesn't sound like a natural forum for eye candy, does it? Ah, the importance of casting! In the lead, Michael C. Hall is hilarious as the narrator (always an attractive quality), and cleancut, boyish charm has never been so creepy and disturbing. If I didn't know I had compatriots in finding Dexter sexy, I'd worry a little about my psychological well being.

It's especially fun watching him square off against his nemesis, the hardcore, deadpan, smokin' hot Sgt. Doakes (Erik King). When they glare and plot against each other, and occasionally get to duke it out, it reminds me of the revelation I had during the Obi-Wan/Jango Fett throw-downs in Attack of the Clones: Ahh, this is why guys always like to see two chicks brawling. It's relatively rare that two male adversaries are both hot, but when they are, you get all the fun you'd get out of any fight scenes or tense thriller scheming, but, you know, with multiple hot guys!

As for James Remar: I know he had a lot of fans on that show, but he didn't thrill me on Sex and the City. The arrogant tycoon is 100% not my type, and SATC already had one of those. But when he showed up, a little craggier, as Dexter's flashback foster father, I was very happy to see him. It's good to know that the beautiful young Ajax (from The Warriors, one of the best films of all time) grew up into such a fine specimen of older manliness.

8. Gerard Butler.
Speaking of underwhelming, poor Butler seemed like a total loss to me in Dracula 2000. Most boring Dracula ever, I damned his performance, although it was probably the fault of a generally lackluster film, with Butler hampered by a bland accent. When I saw Reign of Fire, I was like, who's that yummy fellow with the great Scottish accent? I couldn't believe it was the same guy. More recently I've seen him in the action-movie leads of 300 and Beowulf and Grendel, and I can't remember off-hand what sort of accents he did for them. All I know is that he was plenty expressive in them, and I was, possibly, distracted by his fine (albeit computer-enhanced, at least in 300) physique.

9. Jeremy Northam.
Here's a guy whose career couldn't be more British. He's made a respectable number of Hollywood movies, mostly typecast as a guy who looks good in glasses (a la Mimic) or as part of a classy ensemble cast, without ever making much of a splash. Just plugging along, doing the sort of reliable, low-key sexy work that keeps the world turning. Recently, I was watching the 1987 British TV show Wish Me Luck, and thinking, "Who's that cute lanky youngster?" And lo, it was Jeremy. So I think it's time he got some props.

10. Idris Elba.
Even though he did three seasons of The Wire, I've only seen a handful of episodes (along with his supporting role in 28 Weeks Later) so for me, he's still an up-and-comer that I haven't seen enough of, and am keeping my eye out for. Annoyingly, he guested in that No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency TV movie with Sexiest Man in Show Biz alum David Oyelowo -- you know, the one that's never aired in the U.S. or been released yet on DVD.

So there you have it, the class of 2008! Feel free to weigh in with the men I've neglected, and, although my criteria are very strict (and very mysterious), they may make the cut next year...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Not to Pick Up Girls

So, you're a lonely single guy, and you see a group of two or three women sitting in a booth at the bar. You want to go over, buy them drinks, sit with them. What's your best means of approach?

Well, sorry to tell you this, but we women know that the only reason you're doing this is because we're women and you're a guy. There's really no reason for you to pretend otherwise. Try to be ... nice. A little bit flattery, a little bit of look of appreciation in your eye. Nothing gross, nothing over the top. Be pleasant. Just a "Hey, you're some very attractive women. I'd like to buy you a drink." Even, if you must, "I'd like to get to know you."

This will save untold time and annoyance on everyone's part. If you're reasonably good-looking, or having any selling points at all, it gives any women in the group who might be in the market a chance to send you "potentially interested" cues. And it cuts to the chase for the completely not interested. We can say, "Gee, that's sweet, but: boyfriend. Husband. Talking about stuff. Not a good time."

Sub-category tip: this won't help you if you're in town for one night and want to get laid, but if you can afford it, and you're coming back to this bar again, it never hurts to say something polite ("Those are lucky guys!") and offer to buy the drinks anyway, no strings attached. If you do this, you have to mean it: NO STRINGS ATTACHED. It does happen, that guys buy you the drinks, they bid you adieu, and disappear into the bar. This, friends, is an investment on building good will, and everybody needs goodwill. You don't want to be chatting up a girl months later and have someone in the bathroom tell her, "Yeah, that guy's not bad looking, but he's an asshole."

Similarly, your WORST strategy is to try to buy women drinks and sit with them, all the while disclaiming how you're not hitting on them and you're not trying to pick them up. You are, and you are, and it just makes you passive-aggressive. That's not highlighting your best quality. Guys with this approach seem to think that if they bully you into letting them sit in your booth, then they're in, which is, frankly, delusional. And far too often, they turn into jackasses when you don't flirt with them. We're not there to flirt with you, and if you'd followed my belated advice, that would have been clear from the start, freeing you to try your luck elsewhere.

Think logically, for a second, through the beer and the hormones: your whole approach was based on the fact that you weren't interested. The target audience is women who are cool with your not being interested in them, because they're not interested in you. These are the ground rules that were established in the beginning. Then you get mad because you're not getting anywhere.

I imagine this approach must have worked for some of these guys at some point, but it almost seems guaranteed to lead to encounters where somebody is going to be pissed off the next day.
At any rate, the guy who tried the losing strategy last night at the dive bar did make up for the annoyance in amusement value, because he told me I was "laid back" and reminded him of his sister. He went on to drunkenly tell me that she's a Lutheran Sunday school teacher with eight kids. Now, if that isn't me, I don't know what is!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A spoonful of sugar

I'll probably never watch any of those American dramas about September 11th, but now I don't need to, having watched Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota. Mainly because I saw a trailer, and it looked like Irfan got a sexy scene. And yes, he did; although it wasn't up to the Maqbool level (people just aren't exploiting his hotness enough for my taste), I was happy anyway. He also did some actual kissing. Woo!

This is one of the movies in which he's billed simply as "Irffan." I was saying last night, he seems to be sticking with this 2-F thing, so I suppose I should follow suit. It's just that sometimes it's one way and sometimes the other: I have the accuracy hang-up that I feel I should spell it however the film does, so I think I resist the inconsistency. I do, however, love it when he's billed by the single word, the one, the only, Irffan!

Konkona Sen Sharma also starred (when is she going to be discovered by Hollywood? She is, after all, Irfan's female counterpart. See, there I go again with the instinctive single-F). Lots of other good actors were in it (ensemble piece), and I was pleasantly surprised with Ayesha Takia. She seeemed so very lightweight in Sunday, young and cute, and -- that's it. Here she played young and cute and privileged, the rich girl of her circle, hanging out with her friends and having fun, but then she got to eventually show more depth, and it really worked. It probably helped that she didn't have to do any cute silly voices.

The movie follows four storylines involving people who are traveling to America. There's a medical student who's unsure whether leaving India is the right thing to do; a girl whose mother will sacrifice anything to get her the hell out; Irfan is a heart-broken stockbroker who has to flee the country after a business acquaintance gets murdered in his vicinity; and Konkona is a newlywed, waiting for her visa so she can join her husband in L.A., and being driven mad by her in-laws. (I liked the fact that the unstable mother was an American, and clearly relishing the thought of getting a traditional Indian daughter-in-law to push around).

As the stories went along, I kind of forgot about what was going to happen, and the way they converged, with different fates for different characters, was quite effective. Especially (SPOILER! O Spoiler!) for the person who misses the plane. The way it's set up, it seems clear that this is the person, in their situation, who would most feel that missing the plane is the worst possible thing that could happen. That's juxtaposed with the hoops other characters had to jump through to get their visas, to get the money, all they went through to get on this plane that's never going to land.

I know, usually I like my Bollywood fluffy, with the maximum in glitter. I prefer to leave my seriousness for the news. But I'm glad I watched this, so I decided to bump that Gandhi assassination movie to the top of my queue. Hey, it has Shahrukh in it! It's gotta be worth watching.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Late Night Hyderabad

The curious thing about listening to the radio live from Hyderabad: yesterday, I spent the afternoon working in the back office at my Place of Work. I tuned into Radio Hyderabad after lunch (sometime after one p.m.), and since other people kept coming and going, nobody else really settling in to work for a long time in the same room, I just left it on. (Usually, when there's more people there, I try to make sure we alternate our music, so I don't drive them all crazy). When I was shutting everything down at six, I realized that it was getton on six a.m. in India, so I'd pretty much listened to Radio City all through the night.

This seemed especially strange when I walked out the door to find the world black as midnight at six p.m. Time is one of those things that it would be so easy to take for granted: it's fall here, so it's fall everywhere. It's morning here, so it's morning everywhere. Not just us and what we do, but our whole context, the exernal structure of nature, seems so arbitrary. A fluke of fate, and everything would be different, even the things human beings don't control....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Alone in a Darkened Room

The Devil Bat (1940)

Of course I love Dracula and White Zombie -- I'm not crazy -- but personally, my favorite Bela Lugosi mode is the totally schizophrenic. Like, say, Bowery at Midnight, in which his character is a psychology professor. Who runs a charitable soup kitchen on the side. AND is secretly a heartless underworld gang leader. He could give profitable time management seminars for psychopaths.

The Devil Bat is another fine entry in this delightful category. Here, Lugosi plays a kindly small-town doctor and cosmetics developer who performs "weird and terrifying experiments" with electricity and, apparently, hypnosis, to turn normal bats into giant, flying killing machines.

Yes, I said "cosmetics." Both an "experimental shaving lotion" and a "greaseless cold cream" are important elements of the plot. The town of Heathville is dominated by the Heath family's cosmetics empire, and inventor Dr. Carruther (Lugosi) has been driven murderously mad by the fortune they've made off his work. Logically, his response is to send test samples of his new shaving lotion to his enemies -- the scent of which drives the unleashed Devil Bat to attack.

Interestingly, Dr. Carruthers' resentment is completely hidden from his victims. They all think well of him, appreciate his work, and obviously want it to continue. If he'd just gotten a decent contract lawyer, a lot of unconvincingly photographed bloodshed could have been avoided. That would have been much less entertaining, and besides, it highlights the madness of the mad scientist in a way that's oddly realistic. He's eaten up with a seething sense of having been wronged, but it all seems to be mostly in his mind.

Some favorite moments:

-- A Chicago newspaperman and his comic-relief photographer come to cover the murder investigation, and, wanting to punch up the story, stage a photo with the help of a modified taxidermy model. It's no wonder that they temporarily fool people with it, since it really looks no fakier than the "real" bat does.

-- When a bottle of the sinister shaving lotion is found in the third victim's bathroom, it's sent to the lab for analysis. It contains a mysterious compound that the scientists can't identify. Once they find out that compound is a secret ingredient used in Tibetan mystical rites, the policeman and the reporter immediately rule it out as suspicious. Oh, sure, that explains everything!

(The reporter, by the way, is played by Dave O'Brien, who appeared inthe infamous Reefer Madness, as well as Bowery at Midnight and Lugosi's team-up with the East Side Kids, Spooks Run Wild).

-- Lugosi's character lounges at home with a skull on the table next to his telephone. And his killer creation is portable! He carries it around in the trunk of his car, and when he opens it up, whoosh! Out it flies, in search of the smell of shaving lotion!

It's hard to talk about a movie like this without the exclamation points. As the plot steamrollers toward its climax, the dialogue grows purpler, which is one of the best parts of these older, more theatrical horror films. For example, feeling condescended to, Dr. Carruthers tells his boss that "your brain is too feeble to conceive what I have accomplished in the realm of science." (Lugosi pronounces "realm" like "real" with an "m" at the end, not to rhyme with "elm"). This lapse into candor leads the other man to suspect his old friend may be behind "the most diabolical plot that a madman ever concocted!"

There are many different DVD editions of The Devil Bat out there. I'd steer clear of the Alpha Video one, since I've seen some pretty bad public-domain transfers from them. I'd also avoid any versions that come in sets of 100 films on 5 DVDs. The promoted "Bela Lugosi Presents" edition (the same people who did a very high-quality release of Bowery at Midnight) seems to be completely unavailable, and I'm not sure it was ever made, although there is, frustratingly, still a cover image on Amazon that implies it actually exists. I finally settled for the Roan Group double feature with The Corpse Vanishes, and I have no complaint about the DVD. I'd say that's about as good as we're likely to get, for the time being anyway.

A Spidery Zeitgeist

Turns out that my meditation on the joys of The Devil Bat was my 66th post on the local newspaper's blog site. Only 600 to go!

My household has, of course, been enjoying the dank and gloomy autumn weather we've had lately, and gone for several walks after dark, checking out the Halloween decorations and the general seasonal ambience. A few things we've noticed:

A lot of the displays seemed lower-tech than in recent years. There were fewer purple fiber-optic shapes glowing in people's windows, or elaborate light displays. I assume that's a response to worries about the electric bill, but it still seems to suit the season better. Some years, we've seen displays with so many strings of lights that they've ended up with an inappropriately Christmasy feel.

As a corollary to that, there seemed to be more real pumpkins: actual vegetables, and not the carvable foam ones. (No judgment is implied: we have both on our porch, with more of the "Funkins" than the real ones, because they're just easier to deal with. I totally understand why people use them). Still, it's nice to see real, hand-carved jack-o-lanterns, especially on the yards where they've been paired with honest-to-God shocks of corn.

We also saw a lot of hands reaching up out of lawns (plus one soft arm hanging out of the trunk of a car -- excellent!) and old-fashioned hanging ghosts, many the classic Kleenex-n-lollipop-sized, some larger, swaying in the damp wind.

And spiders, spiders, spiders everywhere! Cobwebbing is, of course, a staple of Halloween decorating, but the spider theme seemed more dominant than usual. There were large spiders in windows, hovering over porches, planted in the middle of front yards. I'm not sure why people should suddenly think to themselves, "That's it, spiders!" But whatever the reason, it warms my heart.

Halloween Retrospective

As I gear up for the Return of the Halloween Program, I've been trying vaguely to remember what I did for all the previous ones. A few are oddly hazy in my memory.

The most recent one is easy: As the Hearse Goes By. My decor was going for a Victorian mad scientist/anatomist vibe (I'm still proud of the heart-in-a-jar), my costume meant to evoke Victorian undertaker, and the piece I did was a selection from Dylan Thomas' The Doctor and the Devils. That's a book I acquired via flea market or rummage sale in late elementary school or early junior high, and long a favorite.

After that, I start losing track. But I'll try:

Night of the Ghouls. I used the zombie protection kit we ordered from )("Caution, fresh graves" police tape, and various mock biohazard signs), and possibly those hands that reach up from the floor, with leaves scattered over them). It seems that might have been my unsuccessful "Schalken the Painter" year, because it would fit the theme...That's one of my favorite stories, but I was recovering from a bad cold, and my head was still stuffed enough that I couldn't hear myself properly, so I felt like I had no inflection. I'm sure, though, that's the year I wore all the drapy bones to the dive bar afterwards.

Dark Carnival. That's the year I tried a costume contest, which was way too much work. My look was Vampire Magician's Assistant, and my honey was an evil clown, and afterwards we went to the anniversary party for the local small press, still in makeup, which I fondly remember. We built a small, purposely rundown circus tent...and maybe that's when I used those hands? I think I used an opening and closing piece from Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Thesaurus of Horror. My best title! One of my best fliers, and I'm sure it was the year my costume was Blood-Spattered Bride. (I popped out into the library before the program and startled someone: I'd forgotten my shirt was covered in stage blood). The ambience was more overtly gothy; that's when I made the photocopies of old tombsones and backed them with cardboard, for a portable graveyard. But I don't remember reading anything, other than a few poems.

Spookerama. The decorations were fairly minimal (blow-up photocopies of B-movie posters), but a lot of other things were elaborate. We made a loop of vintage spook show radio ads that I played in the lobby beforehand; I made individual treat bags to give away; and I had an actual assistance. She handed out "Spookerama" tickets as people came in, and, in my best entrance ever, I was wheeled in on a steel table, covered with a sheet, from whence I rose from the dead. That was a big hit. I believe I read from something I'd written myself.

Phantasmagoria. The first year, the decorations were pretty simple, and I read Poe's "Berenice." At the end, I threw little "teeth" into the audience. Ahh, I remember that fondly.

I think I'm completely forgetting a year. Maybe the individual treat bags were another year, and the Spookerama was the year with the eyeball cupcakes? I thought I did a theme of "kids' Halloween for grown-ups," with lots of old-fashioned plastic pumpkins, black/orange festoons, vintage look black cats and skeletons. But what was it called? What did I read? The piece I wrote myself would fit that better, so maybe I read something else for the Spookerama? I can't tell if I'm conflating two memories into one, or separating one into two.

Maybe I should start keeping, I don't know, some kind of records.

At least all my Mummy Shroud stuff is really coming along.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Jai Dharmendra"

That's the last line of Guddi (and the guy who says it even folds his hands as if in prayer, very funny). And yes, he means Dharmendra, who stars as himself in this occasionally preachy but mostly adorable romance about a starstruck teenager.

The future little Jaya Bachchan plays Kusum (Guddi to her friends and family). She's mischievous, but good-hearted, and loves films more than pretty much anything. While her friends swoon over Jeetendra (understandable, despite his Elvis hairdos) and Rajesh Khanna, Guddi's crush is on Dharmendra, and it exacerbates when he comes to town to shoot a movie, giving her an autograph and admitting he used to skip school too.

When she turns down an eligible marriage proposal because she loves someone else, but can't marry him either because "he's already married," hindsight can't help MST3K'ing in one's ear that it didn't stop Hema. Especially when Guddi says she doesn't grudge Dharmenji's first wife, who she thinks of like a sister. Eee, Big Love!

Since this is a large chunk of the team that will bring us Chupke Chupke, it will probably not surprise anyone that Jaya's "uncle" tracks down Dharmenji and talks him into showing Guddi the real life behind the scenes (boredom, exploiting the poor, people getting hurt doing stunts) and helping to make her suitor look more heroic than the characters in the movie world.

Om Prakash ("Gosh!"), Ashok Kumar, and Rajesh Khanna also play themselves. The most delightful cameo is by Pran, who gives Dharmendra a nice watch, causing Guddi to say "he never does anything without an intent!" They reassure her that, despite playing villains, Pran is "always doing good."

The film-in-a-film heroine is played by Vimi, about whom all the IMDB has to say is "Her death is still considered a mystery today." Which is, in fact, quite mysterious.

An interesting aspect of the movie, besides all the filmi stuff, is that the "real-life" romance is between Guddi and her sister-in-law's brother. The two have a clear rapport from the beginning, and probably are at the point where they're starting to "like" each other. Without their family trying to fix them up, the suitor would probably have never said anything (he's unduly reticent throughout, and seems to be in the shy guy loop of not wanting to declare his feelings, since he doesn't know how she feels about him). But because their family is trying to fix them up, it brings an awkwardness to their previously warm relationship.

Overall, it's a pretty realistic picture of the uncomfortable point where friends are becoming something more, or might be, or one of them thinks they might be, or the people they know think they should be. Boy, if that doesn't sound like college!

Friday, October 17, 2008

I Know What You Did Last Decade

For a while there, screenwriter Kevin Williamson could do no wrong. He'd infused fresh blood into the languishing teen slasher genre, and inflicted Dawson's Creek upon the world. He wrote a bunch of movies, directed one, and eventually dwindled to "hey, whatever happened to that guy?" status. Recently, he wrote the screenplay for that Christina Ricci werewolf movie, and has done a few more television series that were cancelled quickly, but have cult followings. A lot of people do worse.

In an anniversary celebration ten years after the 90s horror heyday, hearkening back to our courtship, the Octoberzine family watched a double feature of Scream 2 (1997) and Halloween: 20 Years Later (1998). I don't feel compelled to say much about the plots of either, because, well, they're horror movie sequels. Crazy people in masks are trying to kill our protagonists. Let's move on. 

Scream 2 was, of course, the direct follow-up to 1996's enormously successful Scream, which had inspired a whole slew of slasher knockoffs, full of pretty teenagers and self-referential dialogue. Titles like The Faculty, Disturbing Behavior, and Urban Legend come to mind, but I don't remember much about the movies themselves, except that everyone had very nice hair. Unfortunately, Scream's own sequel pretty much fits that same mold, especially when Neve Campbell turns up with a chic new haircut and a glossier, more fashion-conscious look.

While I warmed to her right away in Scream, I never felt like Campbell really hits her stride in this movie until she starts kicking ass ("You got a Linda Hamilton thing going.") Until then, she's oddly passive, like she and the movie are just marking time until the Final Girl scene. So let's get there, people!

 Jamie Kennedy is the best thing about this movie, especially when mocking the killer for copycatting such losers as the villains of the previous movies ("rat-looking homo-repressed mama's boy"). Of course, one of the film's problems is that he's right. In avoiding the kind of off-hand disrespect with which horror sequels so often treat their source material, the Scream sequels spend way too much time on the relationships between the surviving characters, and continually referring back to the first movie. Scream was a relatively original horror thriller enlivened with witty dialogue, but it's not some kind of slasher epic. The teen characters certainly didn't have enough weight for us to remember all the details of their lives and their killing sprees.

It also doesn't help that Williamson's scripts for Scream 2 and the same year's I Know What You Did Last Summer both feature scenes with their heroines trapped in the back seat of a police car, which made me suspect early on that the wunderkind was already running out ideas.

In comparison, H20 (as we all know it) is compact and efficient (at only 86 minutes, versus a hundred and freakin' twenty), which I greatly appreciate. It takes some time in the beginning setting up the characters and Jamie Lee Curtis' fragile mental state, but once the killer appears on the scene, it's pretty much go-go-go.

On this film, Williamson was credited as a co-producer, and had done a script "treatment" that wasn't directly followed, but supposedly influenced the production a great deal. Also, of course, Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams is onhand, playing Josh Hartnett's girlfriend with real warmth and personality. I've always blamed this movie for inflicting Hartnett on us, in his "introducing" credit, but actually, he's not that bad here. Former child actor Adam Hann-Byrd and Prison Break's Jodi Lyn O'Keefe are also fairly vivid, especially given their roles as sidekicks/victims. Don't even bother comparing them to the teenagers in Halloweens 4-6, just to name a few.

I actually guiltily enjoy the Busta Rhymes Halloween: Resurrection (2002), as a no-frills slasher throwback, but it is disappointing in that H20 far and away provides the most satisfying climax to the franchise. When Curtis' traumatized Laurie Strode finally takes charge of her life by striding over to the fire ax, smashing the glass, and going after the Shape with it, it's the best scene in any of the Halloween sequels.

It is, of course, always great to see Nancy Stephens again (the nurse with the Rabbit in Red matchbook in the first movie, and also the manifesto-reading hijacker in Escape from New York. By the way, that latter role is credited as "Stewardess." I guess that's how she got on the plane, but it still seem incongruous).

Williamson's cache is probably what got H20 off the ground, and since it's the best of the sequels (faint praise, maybe, but true), that's definitely a positive. But while Scream was a worthy addition to the scary movie canon, the sequel immediately showed the signs of taking itself too seriously. Sequels in general are a brutal business...which reminds me, gotta check the status of those Phantasm follow-ups that weren't on DVD last time I looked...

(P.S. Phantasm IV: Oblivion did finally come out on DVD this summer, leaving Phantasm 2 as the lone hold-out, still unavailable in a Region I DVD).

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's a god-awful small affair the girl with the mousy hair...

Hey, that's me!

I watched the first episode of the American Life on Mars last night, and thought it was pretty good, for a television show. Aesthetically, I definitely prefer 1973 to 2008, although, yes, we've come a long way vis-a-vis feminism, etc. I was underwhelmed, though, with the actor who's the main character. He seemed a little too bland for my taste. I wanted someone in the role with more ... flair. Maybe like the guy who played the Master on Doctor Who?


Monday, October 6, 2008

In with the Out Crowd

I've been coming across various notes for various projects that have never been finished, including book I was going to write on teen movies (mostly horror, but not enirely). Here's some random fragments (and, ah, the mid-90s! I'd almost completely forgotten Courtney Love!):

"I Didn't Ask to Be Born: Initiation and Coming of Age films"

As in the old line about how recent converts are always the most fanatical, teenagers who are new to the lessons of socialization are often harsher on social transgressions than most adults. Adults have already internalized their places in society (dress codes, etc.), and can assume that these issues are all settled, except for their pet peeve nonconformities.

"I'm Sick of Waiting for the World to End: Punk Cinema"

What I had years ago that my teenage nephew doesn't have today was the luxury of believing myself to exist in a world that could be made separate from maintream culture. That's a big difference between punk and grunge. When I was young, MTV was a new phenomenon, mainly functioning to sell frothy, light-hearted pop music of the Cyndi Lauper/Duran Duran variety. It had not yet gotten into the business of promoting supposedly "underground" music and styles, and selling them in the same way.

Of course, my generation had been commodified long before MTV came along. We never knew a time without Saturday morning cereal commercials, just for one obvious example. I wasn't cognizant of being part of generational marketing until I crossed demographic categories, seeing ads aimed at people only a few years, but significant ones, younger than me. Today, however, the knowledge of one's self as part of a demographic category is almost inescapable.

...Whenever a square peg is forced into a round hole, it's going to be angry about it.

Recently, I saw a segment of the Jenny Jones talk show in which they did makeovers on punk kids and vampire dressers. I still find this offensive. It's not as if weirdos don't know how normal people dress, and aren't surrounded by the normal clothes and trappings of so-called normal life every time they leave the house. They could dress like normal people any time they want to.

"In with the Out Crowd"

It's the "In" crowd who rejects its chosen outcasts in the first place, not the "Out" crowd initially rejecting them. In time, as the groups solidify, the "Outs" may become as elitist and exclusionary to the "In" crowd as the "In" crowd was to them, becoming in effect a rival "In" crowd, with hipster points gained by their exclusion from more mainstream society.

Courtney Love's public personas and her stated admiration for The Breakfast Club illustrate the perennial question of why people take part in subcultures and act out artistic "individuality" only to conform later to the standards of the cult of mainstream culture. Is it because they'd be the Molly Ringwald character in the first place if they could be, but they think they're too ugly, too por, however disadvantaged, and so they become Ally Sheedys instead? A lot of people in the mainstream seem to think this is true, that all alternatives to a narrowly-defined normalcy are motivated by sour grapes, and that no one would "be themselves" if they didn't have to.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chicks Dig Giant Robots?

This morning MySpace was advertising for the latest Saw movie, with the tagline "You won't believe how it ends." I don't believe it will end. I am, after all, a veteran of the Friday the 13th ad campaigns. Even if they do conclude the franchise, there'll be a Saw: the TV Series on the horizon, or a "re-imagining" in ten years, if they think there's money to be made.

Last night I watched Transformers, and for a while there I thought it was the only Michael Bay shoot-em-up I've ever seen. Only when I fact-checked did I remember that The Island even existed. And that was with Ewan! Eye of the Beholder and Nightwatch were more memorable. Anyway, the two best parts of Transformers were: the subplot about how the communications were down, and they saved the day with (what else? It's Zeitgeist City around here!) a shortwave radio.

Then my clear favorite was when the Camaro revealed itself as the enormous battle robot it is, and fought the bad robot, and then Shia and the chick got back into the remorphed Camaro, which drove itself for a crazy car chase. The whole time, the girl was screaming my own automotive mantra: "We're gonna die! We're gonna die! We're gonna die!" LOL with a Z on top.

As it was wrapping up, my honey came home with the just-released 2-disc Iron Man DVD, just to put battle robot movies into perspective.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The rest of my day was tabby love

And dusting. That's the strangest thing I've ever said on this blog.

Watching Little Shop of Horrors at the community theater today, I realized that poor hapless Seymour is basically much like Dexter, justifying murder because the victims are villains. Only poor Seymour is tormented by his conscience; not much help if you're still going to kill people...

Also, this morning I watched Hema Malini's directorial debut (Dil Aashna Hai). Oh, how I wish I could say it was good, but alas, it is not. Even the dancing. However, in the climax, three of the heroines are kidnapped by hired thugs, and an incredible tag team made up of Dimple, Jeetendra, Shah Rukh, and Mithun show up to rescue them. That is how every action movie should end! Especially if anybody like Bruce Willis figured in the earlier sections.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unanswered questions in "Khiladi"

Apart from how this launched anything, much less Akshay Kumar's successful career, and about fifteen non-sequels with the word "Khiladi" in the title...

For its first hour, at least, 1992's Khiladi is a low-budget teen comedy about some goofy guys who play pranks, the kind for whom romance becomes a pretext for some Tootsie action. I began to lose hope that it was ever going to morph into some kind of thriller/action picture, but at least Akshay's Raj is pretty cute, and obviously athletic in his fight and dance scenes. Eventually, however, a friend is murdered in the course of one of their ploys, and it starts to lean a little in that direction, although it's far, far from seeming like an entry in "an Indian version of James Bond" series, as someone called it on the IMDB.

Many questions are raised, including these:

What's with all the Hitler mustaches in Indian films? Or are they actually supposed to be Charlie Chaplin mustaches?

Why does a song seem to have the same tune as "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"?

Why is there an enormous Samantha Fox poster on the wall in the girls' hostel?

What is third-act blackmailer Julie wearing? It looks like a leopard-print diaper over a leotard. Not what I'd pair with an elaborate feathered hat.

Why did Akshay's Raj check out Rosemary Rogers' Love Play, of all books, from the public library? (Here's the breathless blurb: "They have money, power and arrogance--and the world is theirs. Beautiful and unspoiled, Sara Coleville knows she can play their game. Now her fine-bred defiance and brazen masquerades have excited Marco Marcantoni--enflaming the hot-blooded duke's most shameles passions and wildest desires. He vows he will have her, in secrecy and seclusion--to use until all his needs are satisfied. But Sara's innocence is deceptive. And it is she who must ultimately prevail in this world where wealth makes love easy...and passion makes it dangerous.")

When Raj and his love interest are rolling on the floor, and a cobra inexplicably pops up in the foreground, is this a case of sometimes a snake is only a snake?

At least, finally, sidekick Boney's obsession with his nasal inhaler, which suddenly appeared about an hour in, became integral to throwing suspicion on him and Raj. That was starting to drive me crazy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


So, I finally broke down and bought an Urdu/Hindi/English dictionary, even though the idea of my learning any kind of Arabic script is utterly ridiculous. One nice side effect: the Devanagari looks much easier next to it, because I'm used to it. I mentioned that the Arabic letters were just so squiggly, I couldn't wrap my mind around. My honey looked at a Hindi word next to an Urdu one and said, "Ah, because that isn't squiggly at all."

"But the Urdu is squigglier," I said.

Apparently, I can rate the difficulty of a language on a spectrum of squiggliness.

Seriously, though (or semi- so), there are a few things this makes me think about languages. First of all, it's obvious that the Roman alphabet (as well as the rune alphabet) was designed to be carved into things, stone or wood. And some alphabets were made to be written with brushes. Were there flukes of materials-access that led the written languages to evolve in the different ways?

It would be easy to speculate that a more rigid alphabet leads to more rigid thinking. When you carve something out, it's like: that's it! That's the way it is! Because it wouldn't be easy to amend. See how easy it is to come up with theories? Kinda scary).

But I don't believe that language is destiny, because we can always choose to expand our thinking.

My other thought is how, growing up with a language like English, it seems almost self-evident that the language and the alphabet are interconnected. Then we learn that the same alphabet can be used for different languages, and different languages can have different alphabets. But still, the idea that a spoken language can be expressed in completely different alphabets (either of which would be the normal, natural one to its native users) really highlights the arbitrary nature of it all.

Of course, the fact that we can communicate at all is kind of mind-blowing. When going from one language to another, people are at least aware of the difficulty in communicating. When we all speak the same language, people often assume an understanding that may not actually be there, for many reasons. Now that one's a real theory, but not to any particular end...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Falling asleep during "Wolfen"

When I grogged to bed after the closing credits, I thought, "I'll bet I have weird dreams." And I did, but oddly, not about wolves or their ilk, but finally, an honest-to-god dream about a full-on zombie outbreak here in my Obscure Midwestern Town. It included a visit to Subway, fellow flee-ers and I needed sustenance, and it was open, although the people in line were slightly less picky than usual about their toppings.

Also, someone had hung a sheet in their window and written "Soylent Green" on it, which amused me even as we drove down the residential streets and saw zombies munching on the slow-moving elderly.

Anyway, Wolfen was a wee bit slow-moving in the beginning, but I don't think that's why I fell asleep. I fell asleep the other day during a disco movie I was enjoying immensely (although I'll tell ya, Kumar Gaurav is no Mithun). Certainly Wolfen's themes are still quite relevant, almost thirty years later: the government agency sees terrorism everywhere, because doing so justifies its existence and its budget; gentrification drives the poor out of the places they were driven into in the first to, and the rich are oblivious to the damage they're doing to others.

Whenever I see Albert Finney, I can't help thinking, there was once a time when he was young and good-looking. It just seems so unfathomable. Of course, in his case, the window was pretty small, so let that be a cautionary tale to all you youngsters about the hard living. I was pondering that when Edward James Olmos -- yes, Adama himself -- appeared, so young and skinny I hardly recognized him.

I doubt that any ancient wolf spirits could hide too long in our downtown; they're too big, and it's too small. But if any similar beings are going to stalk the construction site that's put a big barren hole next to my place of my work, I hope they leave my customers alone. Well, and me. I'd have left their old haunts standing. Being impractical is good for the soul.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The throes of romance (part 2?)

I'm midway through a movie called Blackmail. I got the tip from Memsaab, who said "it may be the most romantic Hindi movie ever." (

Whoa! Those are serious words! When I mentioned this testimonial to my cohort, SpyGirl, and told her the title, I went, "I know! I know!" Then I added, "It's about industrial espionage in the solar power industry. I know!"

I mean, who could make these subjects romantic? Well, Bollywood can. All I want is for Dharmendra and Rakhee to have their wedding night, and then spend the rest of the movie singing to each other, frolicking in the garden, and being generally cute. I am actually growing angry at the plot that is keeping them apart. With a couple this adorable, a storyline is actually optional...and I really, really can't believe I'm saying that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sect of the Week

Well, okay, I don't have the attention span to have a regular feature, but for today, let's pretend that I do, and give a warm welcome to the Yezidis!

If the Wikipedia knows what it's talking about, the opening of The Exorcist was filmed in Sinjar, a Yezidi village in Iraq. And who, we might ask, are the Yezidis? Of course, I was duty-bound to click on the link, and subsequently plunk some new books on my Wish List. They seem to use "Yezidi" and "Yazidi" interchangeably, but believe me, I understand the problems of going back and forth from non-Roman alphabets.

The whole section on "Religious Beliefs" is worth reading. First off, the fact that their primary supernatural connection is with a "Peacock Angel," when there's an embossed peacock on the puja plate I bought not long ago. Coincidence? (Well, probably).

"The Yazidi story regarding Tawuse Melek's (the Peacock guy's) rise to favor with God is almost identical to the story of the jinn Iblis in Islam, except that Yazidis revere Tawuse Melek for refusing to submit to Adam, while Muslims believe that Iblis' refusal to submit caused him to fall out of Grace with God, and to later become Satan himself."

Basically, their story goes that God had first ordered his angel not to submit to anyone. So later, when he ordered Tawuse Melek to bow to Adam, it was really a test. The point (besides acknowledging an arbitrariness in the Almighty that's certainly reminiscent of various Old Testament stories) seems to be that God gave him the will to choose, and it was correct for him to use it.

Because the Muslim version, Iblis, "fell" and became Shaytaan over the incident, they apparently think of the Yazidis as devil-worshipers. (Most of us know the name Iblis, of couse, because of the Patrick Macnee character on the old Battlestar Galactica).

Anyway, the "Yazidis believe that good and evil both exist in the mind and spirit of human beings. It depends on the humans, themselves, as to which they choose. In this process, their devotion to Tawuse Melek is essential, since it was he who was given the same choice between good and evil by God."

Good call on the good and evil, guys!

(PS, my friends at Sacred Texts have Isya Joseph's book on the Yezidiz online:

Friday, August 22, 2008

I punched a bloke in face once

...for saying Hawk the Slayer was rubbish."

-- Bilbo Bagshot, comic book store proprietor, Spaced

In my off-and-on quest to find the worst sword and sorcery film of all time, I'd somehow completely missed 1980's Hawk the Slayer until this random mention of "defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity." Headliner Jack Palance struts through the usual faux-medieval settings as the villain Voltan, who wears a Darth Vader-like helmet (I'm sure that's coincidental), kills his father in a scene that perversely reminded me of Gladiator, and howls his lines to the point that they're hard to understand.

As Hawk, neophyte actor John Terry (his only previous credit was a minor character on the sitcom Soap) plays a mostly expressionless and oddly passive hero. After all, his evil brother killed both Hawk's wife and their father, but Hawk doesn't take any action until a one-handed stranger enlists his help to rescue an abbess Voltan's holding captive in a big bird cage. Maybe having a magical "mind-sword" that flies into his hand just by thinking about it makes him less prone to exertion.

Today, Terry is probably best-known for playing Matthew Fox's shifty surgeon Dad in the flashbacks on Lost, so he's obviously improved with experience.

The cast's real draw, though, is William Morgan Sheppard in the role of Ranulf, the plot-driving one-handed man who seeks vengeance against Voltan for pillaging his village. We all know Sheppard for playing Blank Reg in the Max Headroom television series; the IMDB startled me by declaring that Reg and his partner, Dominique (who've been listed as two of my "heroes" almost as long as I've had a MySpace page), only appeared in five episodes. I'd have sworn it was more, since the characters and the Big Time TV station they operate out of a van on the fringes is such an integral part of the show.

Despite his inexplicable rapid-fire crossbow, Ranulf manages to be Hawk's most dignifed character. Oh, yeah, and they're not rescuing that abbess, exactly, but stealing some gold to pay her ransom, even though they think Voltan doesn't really intend to release her. This circuitous plot might seem a little illogical, but not to somebody who's watched Jack Hill's Sorceress in its entirety.

With the help of a whispery-voiced witch (played by Rocky Horror's Magenta) and a set of magic, glowing hula hoops, Hawk tracks down some old comrades-in-arms. There's a giant named Gort ("Klaatu -- barata -- nikto"); an elf named Crow (and nope, neither bird name seems to have any particular significance); and a dwarf named Baldin, who does have hair, and gets one of my favorite speeches, maybe of all time. Hawk finds him about to be executed by a group of priests, and Baldin explains his predicament thusly: "Too much wine, a friendly fight or two. You know how it goes. A crack on the skull from a salty wench, and I wake to find myself at the mercy of these chanting fools."

The actor says these lines with such flair -- especially the part about the salty wench -- he's got to be enjoying the absurdity. He also refers to a place called "the Pit of Gimli," in case anyone's wondering if this was all intended to evoke some sort of, oh, maybe Lord of the Rings ambience.

Since the movie was almost completely forgotten by the time the CD era dawned, the soundtrack is sadly out of print. Its style is sub-Mannheim Steamroller fake medieval disco , with some twittery "futuristic" sound effects. That, combined with the numerous glowing effects in the film, gives it a peculiarly roller-disco feel for a sword and sorcery film.

Besides the glowing mind-sword (which has a fist on the hilt, something I've actually never seen before) and the hula hoops, there's a climactic battle involving magical green glowing ping pong balls and a whole blizzard of fake snow. Plus a dark forest swathed in those green phosphorescent cobwebs that I never buy at Halloween, because they look so much more unrealistic than the white.

Without a doubt, this movie is rubbish. But I might buy the DVD anyway.


I had an eye exam yesterday; something I'm always very trepidatious about. You'd think wearing glasses for over thirty years would have hardened me to the reality, but no. Fortunately, the new eye office at the local medical megaplex made it pretty painless. (Except for that lingering vampiric sensitivity to light). I have a quarter degree worse astigmatism in one eye, and a quarter degree worse near-sightedness in the other. So the doctor doesn't think the new prescription will be the big shock it sometimes is when I've waited too long.
Also, I found some fun new frames.

For the interested, one of the saints associated with eye afflictions is St. Odile (or Odilia), who was born blind, and whose "attribute is a pair of eyes on a book," as the Wikipedia puts it. ( It doesn't say whether those eyes are two-dimensional or three, which makes a difference in the connotation. Either way, her feast day is the day after my birthday, so I've gotta think she's looking out for me.
Then there's St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind, whose eyes were gouged out as part of her martyrdom. Her feast day is the same as St. Odilia's, as if the medieval church declared some kind of official day for the visually handicapped. The painting is from 1521, by Domenico Beccatumi, and would be right at home in my Bohemian Gothic Tarot deck.
She's the same saint they celebrate with the sweet "Santa Lucia" song we sang as little girls, while wearing crowns of fake candles. Funny, nobody ever mentioned the eyes on the plate, which is obviously the most interesting part of the story...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

For the romantically impaired

One day SpyGirl and I were talking about Bollywood movies, as we tend to do, and we got to talking about my scorn for most Hollywood movies. Partly because I've embraced the big swoony Hindi romance with so much zeal, and partly, I suspect, because she knows I'm a big ball o' schmaltz in my real life, she asked for some insight into my traditional disdain of the romantic.

First I started thinking about the handful of romances I like: Down With Love (a romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies; unfortunately, many people like them, so it was kind of a flop); Earth Girls Are Easy; Strange Days. (That latter I find super-romantic, and I get teary-eyed at the end, which might require some explanation at some other point). Then yesterday I thought, well, I can't be against romance as such, having just purchased a VHS copy of the old Masterpiece Theatre show A Town Like Alice.

That's when it hit me. Problem number one with the average Hollywood romance: the guys. When I was watching unlimited free movies at the nearby cinema where my honey used to work, I saw more current romances than I had in, well, ever. Who were the guys in these movies? Tom Hanks. Harry Connick, Jr. Ben Affleck. Nicolas Cage. Richard Gere. (You can imagine my voice crescendo'ing in disbelief).

And in the movies I like? Hmm. Ewan MacGregor, Jeff Goldblum, Ralph Fiennes, Bryan Brown. (A crescendo of "that's more like it.") Fiennes' movie is more anomalous...sort of like Groundhog Day, also romantic and also one I like, in that the stories are about men finding love, not women. Both characters are also anti-heroes more than they are any kind of traditional romantic leads; Fiennes is too vulnerable, even pathetic, in the role to seem "hot," and Bill Murray plays an abrasive egotist. When "the real thing" comes along for them, that makes it all the more romantic.

Now, the other guys on my list are undeniably hot in their romantic roles, but are actors with real range (all having played their share of anti-heroes themselves). They're not just stuck in there because "hey, you're cute, the chicks will dig you." So they can convince me of the plausibility of their feelings, and I also care more, because they're interesting, and not just "shirt models."

Back to A Town Like Alice. Like Bollywood, it has another advantage over most Hollywood romances in its length (it was a five-hour miniseries, taking up three tapes on videocassette). If you've never seen this (and it's never been released on DVD in the US, grrrr, so if you did, it was probably long ago), the WWII romance between POWs Helen Morse and Bryan Brown is impossibly romantic. Epic, star-crossed, probably completely unbelievable, except as explained by the intensity of wartime. But it never annoys me in the ways romances so often do, and the length definitely helps.

Most films would have to severely truncate the book, and would have to shove the romantic element to the forefront much more quickly. I watched the first tape last night, so that was over two hours, and the romance took up about forty minutes. I know it's going to come back and become the main focus, but the larger canvas embeds the relationship in a larger context.

One of the side effects is that the characters (especially the woman) don't exist for the sake of the romance. By that I mean: she had a whole life before she met the one true love, and a whole life after that. Usually, the larki (the girl) appears, some exposition is set, the formula runs in its various ways, and concludes when she and the larka (the boy) run into each other's arms.

Often, we don't even really see them fall in love, but instead, the storyline just tells us so. (That's where the musical numbers in the Bollywood movies are so helpful, in expressing the characters' emotions). Also, too often the settings around the romances are two-dimensional, full of unrealistic jobs and sitcom supporting characters, all of which adds to that creepy feeling of "she didn't exist before she fell in love."

In five hours, though, that's not a problem. We have the time to get ourselves a fully fleshed-out heroine and well-developed situations. Then, when she finally meets the hero, we get to see them flirt and develop their rapport.

Even better, the available time allows the story to go past the "happily ever after." After they find each other again, and finally declare their love, and all's well, there's like, another hour and a half to go. We follow them as they try to reconcile those dramatic, star-crossed beginnings with their contemporary everyday lives, and the fact that they didn't know each other all that well. When the inevitable happy ending finally comes, it doesn't feel contrived or unearned.

As I've always said: nothing's more romantic than real life.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Luddites with blogs

I've been in quasi-futuristic mood (self-described as Videodomey), which I think was kicked off by the joint perusal of The Best of 2600, and my muttering to myself at my place of work, "Nothing's worked since we got rid of the dot matrix printer." The latter is a pretty sad commentary, but I feel it's accurate. Printing out sheets of things (in runs of 100-200+ pages every day) has been an ongoing hassle ever since switching to the purty laser printer.

The worst thing that used to happen was that the feeding sheets would get out of whack, and I'd have to climb under the desk to re-align them. That was annoying, but it was infrequent, and I could fix it myself. Now, we email the "tech guy" who comes in, looks at the error messages, and shrugs. And the same problems go on for days.

The Wikipedia entry ( at says one of the dot matrix advantages is that "they are good, reliable workhorses ideal for use in situations where printed content is more important than quality." I too am a good, reliable workhorse! And I'm generally more interested in content than in "quality," here definable as appearance and presentation.

I'd say something about my own obsolescence (and that's a weird-looking word), but on the other hand: I was BORN obsolete! Which implies that it's not change as such or the passing of time, as if there was a period when I was in vogue, and now I'm not. My values are just slightly askew of the culture, and always have been.

Anyway, the problem with the new printers is that they don't work as well as the old one. By work, I mean the basic job of transmitting a page of printed text. If it looks nicer in the end, but it takes a lot of anguish to make it to spit out at all, that's a bad trade-off. I'm not the one, after all, saying that time is money. We'd probably need to spend more than we can afford to get both pretty, shiny pages and still handle the amount of printing we have to do without inexplicable breakdowns in the system. Given that limitation, we're more or less stuck with what we have.

The interesting part of it all to me is that the idea of going back is completely unthinkable. You know, they still sell fairly inexpensive dot matrix printers just like we had, and all the accoutrements. Even the toner for non-color printing is noticeably cheaper. If I sat in a meeting and said with a straight face that we should go back to dot matrix, people would think me totally insane (in a whole new way).

Once upon a time, the sheets we printed basically existed to convey information. Once we decided it was important to convey information and look good doing it, well, we complicated the process. And when problems arise, we can't go back.

Multiply my brief, trivial musing at the printer yesterday by a million, and we have modern American life. No wonder so many people are so freaking crabby.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This blog post has not yet been rated

There was some brouhaha about the rating for The Dark Knight when it came out (PG-13) ... at least on Yahoo, if they're a reliable source. (I'm already calling today's story about an 8-year-old blues guitar prodigy as tomorrow's "oops, that was a hoax." I could be wrong, but I guessed that "shark spotted at Jaws beach" story was untrue, and by now, I'm pretty skeptical).

Then in yesterday's Entertainment Weekly, a letter to the editor described the rating as "shockingly benign."

Now, there's no question the movie isn't for little kids, but nobody is pretending it is. The trailers all made it pretty clear what people were in for, and here's the official MPAA rating: "Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace." That seems fairly accurate, and it's gotta be right on the poster.

Now, if it's so intense, why isn't it rated R? Because this is exactly the sort of grey area that the PG-13 rating was specifically created for! (Just as a side note, the movie has no sex, nudity, or profanity: things that the ratings system has always judged more harshly than it does violence). While I would agree the violence is "intense," it's not graphic, not in a way that I would say is R-rated. We're not talking about Dawn of the Dead or Reservoir Dogs here. Especially considering CSI and Bones and other cop shows with some fairly intense and disturbing stuff which they shown on prime-time TV, what's actually seen is not that bad. It's more a question of tone and context that make it intense, and that's a more in-your-mind than on-the-screen thing.

Another side note: I'd say the violence is comparable to that in Iron Man, and the whole more realistic world-at-war aspect of that movie was potentially disturbing in its own right, but nobody made any outcry about that. Also PG-13.

It seems to me, in this case, that the rating is doing what it's supposed to do. It informs parents that this movie is probably not appropriate for children under 13. It's in the name: PG-13. That means you probably shouldn't bring your 7-year-old, and if you do, whose fault is that? Short of requiring state ID cards for children at birth (which I'm sure someone is working on right now), I don't know how else theaters are supposed to protect kids via an arbitrary age limit, especially if their parents can't be bothered.

I saw The Dark Knight in a packed theater, and I didn't see any kids I'd judge under 13 who were unattended by adults. I saw a lot of little kids with parents who should have known better...just like I do when I see really violent R-rated films, especially the ones that are tagged "action" instead of, say, "horror."

The ratings must be like speed limits. People get used to them, so they ignore them. Apparently, we need a new rating, the "We Really Mean It PG-13."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gothic Reading List

Looking through some old notes of mine, I found the following suggestions for a Gothic book club. Of course, this is just the beginning...

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey (1817). The Scream of Gothic novels, in which the characters are aware of all the Gothic conventions even as the heroine lives out, well, something of a Gothic scenario. Light and fluffy, excellent to read after a few heavier works.

Lamb, Caroline. Glenarvon (1816). Often described as "unreadable," but I sped through it in a few days. Apparently, even the trashy novels of previous centuries were on the average better-written than the trashy novels of today.

Le Fanu, J. Sheridan. Uncle Silas (1865). I just can't recommend this book, which I've often described as "the Gone With the Wind of Gothic literature," highly enough. Go read it right now! Also, the Dover collection Green Tea and Other Stories contains most of his classic short stories, with the sad exception of "Schalken the Painter."

Poe, Edgar Allan. Not my fave: I tend to think that Poe's excesses are exactly what people mistakenly think Romanticism's all about. But I do have a soft spot for his "demon woman" stories, especially the one-of-a-kind "Berenice" (1835), which is available in most collections.

Radcliffe, Ann. The Italian. (1797) Even though The Mysteries of Udolpho is the most famous of her works, and the one you need to read to get the jokes in Northanger Abbey, I more highly recommend this novel as a starting point. If you enjoy it, then by all means, read Udolpho as well.

Richardson, Samuel. Clarissa (1748). Not, strictly speaking, a Gothic, but with its innocent heroine, seductive, Satanic anti-hero and intense claustrophobia, definitely a forerunner. If the Austen canon makes you flinch, you're unlikely to get through this books' 1000-some pages. If not, and you're willing to be swept away, it's one of the greats. However, don't try to read a condensed version. The much shorter version is also much more boring, one of literature's strange paradoxes.

Rymer, James Malcom. Varney the Vampire (1845). No one will ever mistake this for great literature, but heck, I've read Dean Koontz's best-selling Shadows, and if that book's clunky dialogue, unrealistic situations and inane digressions don't trouble modern readers, neither should Varney's. It's also interesting in that its core of character relationships--innocent young woman attacked in her bedroom, with a diverse group of men who vow to protect her and track down the monster--is a precursor to the similar dynamic in Dracula. Even more interesting, the familiar relationship of suave, well-dressed, aristocratic vampire in love with his prospective victim--later seen in Dark Shadows and the non-faithful adaptations of Dracula in the 1970s and the 1990s--seems to have started with this book.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula (1897). Of all the vampire books ever written, there's a reason why this is the big daddy. Its prosaic obsession with the latest technology grounds it in modern literary realism, and that contrast makes the breath-taking eroticism of the vampire attacks stand out all the more.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Be beautiful! and be sad!

Diva Dolorosa (directed by Peter Delpeut, 1999)

A Dutch documentary about Italian silent film stars doesn't necessarily sound terribly promising. But throw in the influence of fin de siecle "Black Romanticism" and suddenly it's a glittering doorway to another world.

Instead of any recitation of facts, this movie unreels as a feature-length montage of archival footage, featuring gorgeously-dressed women with haughty expressions and dark circles under their eyes, caught in "the double insanity of love and death." In various segments, the heroines taunt their lovers, act out the ways love can go tragically wrong (into various permutations of murder and suicide), and sometimes go fantastically mad. The scenes of hysteria add new meaning to "letting one's hair down," as a few of the actresses suddenly undo their 'dos, letting their incredible amounts of pre-Raphaelite Rapunzel hair free before really launching into the crazy.

Occasional intertitles (in Italian, with subtitles) are interspersed throughout, including such melodramatic gems as "Let me deliver you from evil. In the graveyard of the soul, love will blossom," and "the venom of love once more poured into her heart."

Sadly, the films these scenes were clipped from (with evocative names like La Donna Nuda and Tigre Reale) are otherwise unobtainable to the general audience, although at least they've been restored and still existence in film museums, so it could be a lot worse. That does make me wish there was a companion movie of a more traditionally "documentary" nature, or an optional info text, identifying all the clips as they appear.

I got a copy of this from Netflix, but the DVD is included as a set with Angela Dalle Vacche's recently published book Diva: Defiance and Passion in Early Italian Cinema, which I'm now really, really tempted to buy. Funny how yesterday I didn't know anything about early Italian cinema, and didn't even know there was a gap in my life.

Highly recommended, especially for a certain kind of dramatically-inclined young woman in search of style inspiration. Just please, focus on the poetry, not the daggers and the morphine. You'll be happier in the long run.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cry, Little Sister

"A lot of valuable information can be gained by reading comic books." -- Edgar Frog, played by Corey Feldman in Lost Boys: The Tribe

I'll admit, I didn't have high hopes for the long-brewing sequel to 1987's The Lost Boys (and wow! 1987?), but I was pleasantly surprised to find it a decent little B movie. Less ambitious, sure, but fairly true to the spirit of the original, and while nobody in the cast has the acting ability that the smoldering young Jason Patric did, nobody's as annoying as Jami Gertz, either, so it all evens out.

The new movie focuses on orphaned siblings Chris and Nicole (they have the same last name as the original's Michael and Sam, but their relationship is never explained outright). Fallen on hard times, they move to a small California town which seems to be overrun with well-known former professional surfers, like Chris is. Before long, jailbait Nicole has hooked up with her brother's former idol, and eventually, the same theme develops as in the original: it's all fun and games until you have to eat somebody.

In this case, the gang practices a brand of vampirism for the Jackass generation: they can indulge in extreme sports and interpersonal violence without inflicting permanent damage.

Kiefer's little brother Angus Sutherland plays the main vampire in a seductive, Byronic mode: he's soft-spoken and romantic, and honestly seems to believe he's doing people a favor by giving them eternal life. Until, of course, the chips are really down. Then, just as Luke Perry said in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, he proves that "This is not a caring nurturer here, this guy is a blood-sucking fiend from beyond the grave."

Speaking of casting: it might sound kind of sad to say that Edgar Frog, "surfboard shaper and vampire hunter," is the perfect role for Corey Feldman, like this is the best he can hope for? Nonetheless, it's a part that makes the most of his abilities, even if they're mainly expressed in gruff one-liners (along with the chance to reprise his famous "It's never pretty" speech). At this point, I'd totally watch further Edgar Frog, Vampire Hunter sequels if they came along.

You'll want to watch into the credits for a coda, and also the two alternate endings, which steer the film in a specific sequel direction it might not want to go in, which I assume is the reason they remain "alternate." Admitedly, I'll be bummed if that's the end of the crazy-looking heavy-metal cowboy (maybe a little Near Dark inspired?) in the vampire cameo by Jamison Newlander, the real lost boy of the Lost Boys. His Alan Frog, as important a character as Edgar, tended to be completely overlooked in the bygone days of Corey-mania. You've gotta wonder, though, if maybe life's been a little easier for him because of it.

This'll never replace the original movie in anybody's hearts, or be remembered so fondly in twenty years (okay, I don't know that for a fact, but I'd bet money). Still, for a sequel to a popular horror film, especially a direct-to-DVD one, it's pretty good. Pretty much every classic horror film ever made has suffered much worse indignities.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Big old bunch of girly

Two nights of high quality, emotionally wrought Shah Rukh Khan weepiness. And the madness continues...

Tuesday it was Mohabbatein (2000). A young teacher inspires his students to live and, especially, to love, in rebellion against their school's harsh headmaster. There are various obvious problems with the plot, but it has one of the best pre-intermission confrontations ever. Shah Rukh gets all in Amitabh's face, even pointing his finger at him, and giving an intense, dramatic speech of the "I swear, I will bring you DOWN" variety. Except what he's saying is that he's going to fill the school with so much love and sunshine that the old guy won't be able to stand it. It's like: I curse you with happiness! Take that!

Really, it's not the singing and dancing. It's the themes that seem so different from most American movies; and I like these themes. This struck me again at the end of Mohabbatein. Now, we've just watched three and a half hours of music and assorted romances. Then it turns out that the major concern of the movie, the absolute crux of the drama, is the reconciliation between the guy with the tragic lost love in his past and her father, the person who tore them apart. And the climax is when the two men embrace in forgiveness and respect.

I was getting all misty-eyed and thinking, WTF? I mean, there are American movies about literal father/son relationships, and how they grow from estrangement to understanding. But "find the person who wronged you most, and make their world a better place" would be a crazy premise for a major motion picture in these parts. (Unless there were something explicitly "inspirational," in the sense of religious or Hallmark Hall of Fame, about it, and that's a whole different genre).

Then it was Veer-Zaara (2004) on Wednesday. I actually had to stop watching a little bit after the intermission, because I was already getting so weepified that I needed a break. There was the scene when they poured Bebe's ashes into the river; when Preity inspired Amitabh to build a girls' school; when Rani stood up to the prison guard and pointed out that Shah Rukh's ID was Allah's most holy number, so he should be treated with respect...

If I was getting all choke-throated about that stuff, you can imagine how the lovers parting at the station ("There's a man across the border who would give his life for you") affected me. When my honey got home, I threw myself at him and announced how grateful I am that there are no larger forces in the world wrenching us apart.

Now I'm at the point where Preity is preparing to dutifully marry the other man, but she's haunted by the thought of Shah Rukh. I don't know how much more I can take. There'd better be a happy ending, or I'm going to be a wreck.

Fortunately, our set of Spaced DVDs came in the mail the other day, so I can divide up the drama with some nerd humor and hopefully get me back to normal.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Jim Gordon Show

The Octoberzine l family finally made it to the new Dark Knight movie yesterday, and yes, it's everything everyone says it is. It's dark; it's great; it's long (although it didn't feel too long, which is the main thing, and it's still short compared to a Bollywood movie); I wouldn't bring any little kids, etc. But I'm here to sing some more specific praises. 

Back when I was a combo sci fi nerd/punk rock kid, watching Sid and Nancy at the Fargo Theater, I wouldn't have dreamed that the same actor who seemed born to play a Sid Vicious as real as the real thing would years later seem born to play the ultimate, perfect Commissioner Gordon. That would seem to defy probability. And yet, there's Gary Oldman, frankly looking hotter as a fairly ordinary middle-aged cop than he did in a whole career of playing psychos...and Dracula! A role that's traditionally got "sexy" built in. 

Even more twistily, my husband commented that if they'd made a Dark Knight-style Batman movie twenty years ago, Oldman would have been perfect for the kind of Joker portrayed so well by Heath Ledger. Absolutely true. But I think I appreciate his talent more in the important part of the normal human being who can hold his own against both Batman and all the crazy masked villains. As in comics like The Killing Joke, Gordon is the character who sees the darkness and chaos of the world, and he resists despair. As he says in this movie, he does the best he can with what he has. Even though it doesn't always work out, that's my kind of hero. 

So now, my dream for the Batman universe is a police procedural TV show about the adventures of Oldman's Jim Gordon. He can go to departmental meetings, fill out paperwork, have lunch with his wife...even solve a murder occasionally. I'm not picky. 

And in your crazy factoid of the day: the EastEnders character Big Mo is played by Oldman's older sister. Sometimes the IMDB makes my head hurt!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I watches the Watchmen

I'd been resisting watching the new Watchmen trailer online, because I'd read in national magazines that the trailer was attached to The Dark Knight. It's not like me to resist temptation that way, and what do I get for going against my spoilery/eat dessert first impulses? Friends who saw the new Batman movie in the theater here have reported no Watchmen-age.

Fine! To YouTube I go, and, whoa. I've been trying not to get my hopes up, but this trailer is awesome: Then I did a little clicking around on the related videos, and found an earlier fan-made teasure trailer that features Rorschach and the doomsday clock, which made me go "Squeee!" even louder.

Watching that got me to thinking about the plot, how Watchmen in general, and the ending in particular, is so much darker than most Hollywood productions get to be in this day and age. (We're going to Dark Knight today, though, so I may have updated opinions). So I looked up a few things about the ending online, speculation about whether the ending would be changed, and to my surprise, I discovered there isn't a lot of consensus out there about how the graphic novel itself ends.

In all these years, it has honestly never occurred to me that anyone could read the ending as ambiguous. In my mind, it's always been very clear.

MAJOR SPOILERS!!: throughout the book, each chapter includes a full-page drawing of the doomsday clock, at so many minutes to midnight. In its alternative present, the Cold War is close to a boiling point, and much of the primary mystery involves an attempt to save the world from nuclear brinksmanship, and midnight represents the moment when...

In each issue, the clock is a minute closer to midnight. Eventually, the plot unravels; the major climax occurs; we follow the aftermath on the characters; and the storyline as such ends with the cranks at the conspiracy theory newspaper reaching for the journal, mailed to them by crazy Rorschach, which includes his part of the comic's narration.

This is described thusly in the Wikipedia, for one: "The ending of Watchmen is ambiguous about the long-term success of Veidt's plan to lead the world to utopia...The final line of the story is that of the editor's superior, indifferent as to which piece from the crank file is selected. He tells his subordinate - who has been established as not particularly bright - "I leave it entirely in your hands." (

I've read a lot of random people, some of whom seem very smart, who think the book ends with the apocalypse averted, albeit with a possibility that the truth will eventually come out and ruin the newfound peace.

But the last page show the clock striking midnight, with the clock face covered in blood, and that just doesn't strike me as terribly open-ended. After all, it's a comic, and the visual image too me is as important, maybe more so, than the end of the storyline per se. Or maybe I just have too much of an apocalyptic temperament...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My favorite typo

During a discussion of tantric magicians by Sohaila Kapur in Witchcraft in Western India: "Most of these self-styled gurus were freuds, bent upon exploiting the people's gullibility." (p. 55)

That one speaks for itself.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Be the Verse, not that

Took a break from computer upgrades at work (oy vey, in its literal meaning: "oh, the pain!") and flipped through the latest People magazine. I've already forgotten who was on the cover. Oh, yeah, the Joliespawn.

Anyway, there was a review of a new book called Requiem, Mass.: A Novel, and they chose to headline it in bold letters with "They Mess You Up, Your Mum and Dad." This is almost exactly the opening line from Philip Larkin's most famous poem, but, uh, "mess" isn't the verb.
Here's the poem, on the first online site I came up with:

Why do they even bother? As I told one of my long-suffering co-workers, I am offended by their sanitizing.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

They ask me "How far into Memphis, son, and where's the nearest beer?"

Went to see Steve Earle in concert last night (with my folks, odd as that is, but who had a great time). There are a few of his old classics that people went crazy when they heard the first notes, and when that happened at the opening of "Someday," I kind of chuckled. If ever there was a town where people are going to relate unduly to that song, I thought, it's a town like this. But then I realized, where can you go where they wouldn't? I'll bet New York and L.A. are just as full of people who identify; maybe even more.

For the uninitiated, this is the best song I've ever heard about small town life. It made me think of Steve at first as the anti-Mellenkamp, because I couldn't abide all that "I can breathe in a small town" BS. The crowd-pleasing chorus goes "Someday I'm finally gonna let go/Cause I know there's a better way/And I wanna know what's over that rainbow/I'm gonna get out of here someday."

When the narrator kid, working at a filling station, talks to people pulling off the highway and realizes "they don't even know that there's a town around here," it always reminds me of my first trip on the Greyhound. I'd lived all my defining years in one place. And when sleepy other passengers asked where they were, the answer didn't mean a thing to them.

The other part of the song that obviously resonates with people is one line. He did the concert thing where he stopped and turned to the audience to have them yell out the line because they're just going to: "I'm gonna put 'er on the interstate and never look back."

Now, that's a true American sentiment.

In retrospect, it's ironic that I only got as far this Obscure Midwestern Town, which seems to me the kind of place that the natives should feel all "Someday" about, almost as much as my town did. (Technically, I went further, but this is where I landed).

But what you learn when you get out is that getting out is a state of mind. You can get over "that" rainbow, a specific barrier, but not over "the" rainbow, to somewhere the skies are always blue. The same problems exist everywhere, just with different manifestations and proportions. Sometimes people escape the place where they didn't fit, where they felt trapped, and then didn't find anything better. Sometimes that can break their spirits, and the newspapers are full of their (at least seemingly) meaningless tragedies.

When I look at my life, though, I think I got out enough to have satisfied me, if I could have looked through time and seen how I'd end up. The particular limitations that I was kicking against, I've pretty much escaped. Getting out was about proving that I could choose who I was, how I was going to live, what I was going to value. I had to see for myself that there was more to life, and there was. There is. Luckily for me, my "more" hasn't been a Flashdance story where I needed to "make it big" to feel like I made it.

So I guess my parents did something right in letting my follow my own muse in life. Which is probably why they're Steve Earle fans.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Today's travesty: warning, rant within

When I sign out of my Hotmail, it throws me into the MSN home page, and sometimes I glance at the headlines, much the way one looks through magazines in a waiting room. You know, they're there.

Today's travesty is on "The Things That Make Us Happy." I'm always vaguely curious about what so-called experts think they know about me, so I succumbed to the temptation to wastmy time. The first clue was when they said basically that being good-looking makes people happy, but not in and of itself. And in some circumstances, money can make people happy, but not necessarily.

This is like "cold reading" fortune-telling, where the reader tells you there's someone important in your life: a man, or maybe it's a woman. And that you're a confident person, but sometimes you're insecure. Everything is hedged, but in a way that doesn't draw attention to itself, so they're basically saying nothing, but it makes people go, hey, yeah, that's me!

I guess that's to be expected, but then, they tackle education:

"In the 1950s, book learning brought happiness, but a college education no longer lifts well-being on its own. Education opens the door to a better career, but it also fosters higher expectations that may be disappointed." (

I'm no expert, not even a fake one on a web site (sorry if anybody out there thought otherwise - ha!) But the idea that education, book learning, is supposed to have some one-to-one correlation with financial success (which I guess is what they mean by "better career," although I've seen plenty of evidence that "good careers" don't make people happy) is the sort of modern-life idea that fosters unhappiness.

Here's an example of the mass media contributing to the idea that things only have value as far as they have a practical use, a dollar or status value attached. Instead of things being valuable for what they are, and having intrinsic worth, which a good education does. (By which I mean one that causes a person to learn, and think for themselves).

Actually, even the fact that people talk about education instead of knowledge... urgh. Having curiosity about the world, wanting to know about things beyond one's own little village existence (sorry, still under the influence of that Village Gods book), trying to understand things and develop one's logical reasoning, can only be good things. I don't give a shit what they do for my career.

Oops, I just inadvertently summed up my entire life.

But just to hammer home the message, later on they add: "Smarts have only a weak effect on happiness; being brainy may decrease satisfaction by raising your expectations and making you more aware of your shortcomings."

They couldn't be more open about this. "Don't learn! Don't read! Don't think! It'll only raise your expectations, and you'll be disappointed!"

WTF? And BTW, these were all the reasons trumpeted in the 17th century/18th century England for why women and the lower classes shouldn't be educated. They thought they were bettering themselves, but the upper classes (who already had those opportunities) just thought it would make the lower classes more frustrated with their supposedly inevitable lots in life.

And going back to check something, I see this article was actually brought to MSN (probably via corporate synergy) from Psychology Today. So educated people, who want you to read their magazines, are getting paid to tell us not to bother with education.

Maybe if people read or think, they'll realize the worthlessness of articles like this. Read, people! Get an education! Think! Put these condescending losers out of a job!