Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Heavenly Body of the Week: The Planet Mongo

"Flash! A-ah! Savior of the universe! Flash! A-ah! He'll save every one of us!" - Queen

The great planet Mongo is ruled with the proverbial iron fist by the rather appropriately named Ming the Merciless. Not exactly the kind of name one wants in a leader, but what's a Mongoite to do? Not to worry, for Flash (a-ah) will indeed save every one of us. well, except for those rebels who die in the inevitable ensuing battle for control of Mongo (there's bound to be collateral damage as many a Hawkman will perish, I am sure), but the rest of us...yeah, he will indeed save the rest of us. Even if he is wearing underwear when he does it. A-ah!!

"And Flash Gordon was there, in silver underwear." - Richard O'Brien

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Alphabet Game: Situation Comedy Edition

Hello, and welcome to The Alphabet Game, where I take a look at 26 different things in one common category. This edition is all about that TV phenom known as the situation comedy, or sitcom, if you will. Have fun...

A is for Amos & Andy - Why not start out with a bit of controversy? Yeah, many have called this show racist, and that kept it off the air for several decades, but really, this show is not as racist as many have claimed. Yes, the radio version, with two white guys who would talk in cheap dialect, and do public appearances, was a bit on the racist side, even for the time period, but the TV show, not as much. Granted, the two main characters were stereotypes. Andy was a not-so-bright layabout, and Kingfish was a conniving huckster, but the rest of the cast was not like this. Amos, who was actually a rather minor character (It should have been called the Kingfish & Andy Show), was a smart and savvy small business owner and happily married family man. The show also had many other respectable business people, including lawyers and doctors. But I can see the problem. Sure, there were stupid or lazy or conniving white characters on TV in the 1950's. You had Gleason on The Honeymooners or Bendix on Life of Riley, but for every one of them, you also had a Robert Young or an Ozzie Nelson. Meanwhile, Amos & Andy had Kingfish, but there were no other black characters to counterbalance him. But even past all this controversy, the question remains...was the show funny? I must say, yes. Yes indeed.

B is for Betty White - Whether she was the snarky young wife in the mostly forgotten 1950's sitcoms, Life With Elizabeth and Date with the Angels, or the bitchy Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or the dumb but sweet Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, or the acerbic Elka Ostrovsky in TV Land's Hot in Cleveland, or any one of her myriad of game show appearances throughout the years, this 5-time Emmy Award winner, is a goddamn hoot and a half.

C is for Central Perk - Yeah, it's one of those impossible New York spots. Sitting in one of the trendiest areas of Manhattan, this coffee shop seems to always be bustling, but yet the chairs and couch in the center of the place are never occupied by anyone but the six starring friends of the show. Really? No one else is allowed to sit there? Ever? Joey or Phoebe might get angry? Chandler or Monica might cry? Yeah, one of those impossible New York places. Gotta love 'em..well, unless you are someone other than Ross and Rachel and the gang. Hell, even Fun Bobby was allowed to sit there once, but never anyone outside our friendly little circle.

D is for Daniel Boom - Back in 1980, when I was just a thirteen year old TV addict, I had decided to create my own network. It was called NBS, or the National Broadcasting System. I created a whole slew of shows to fill out my 1980-81 Fall schedule. Somewhere along the line, I lost the notebooks in which I had all these shows listed. Only one show has lasted the test of time. It is a show called Daniel Boom. Set in an old west town, this wacky sitcom starred Richard Mulligan as the title character, the rather inept new sheriff of the town. A year later, ABC stole my idea, and refashioned it into Best of the West, a one season wonder in 1981. I have no actual proof I created my show first, but we all know how networks can get. Anyhoo, after thirty some years, I have decided to bring NBS back into the "real world," and have therefore created a whole new Fall schedule for the 2014-15 television season. There are a slew of brand new shows, but Daniel Boom is back among them, with a whole new cast. To check out the entire NBS Fall line-up, go to my official NBS page.

E is for Eddie Haskell - Gee Mrs. Cleaver, you look wonderful today. Let's face it, Eddie Haskell wasn't just being a suck-up, that boy wanted to get a piece of that hot Mrs. Cleaver. Yeah, that's right, baby. Eddie wanted to, well...uh...I'm sure there's some sort of beaver/cougar joke in there somewhere, but I don't feel like figuring it out, so go ahead and make your own joke. Now, let's move onto the F-word...

F is for Forgotten TV - Okay, technically the book I am writing on the so-called lost treasures (and sometimes trash) of television history, is not a fully formed situation comedy creature. There are action shows, dramas, variety shows, holiday specials, and sci-fi shows in there as well. But I didn't want to waste an opportunity to plug the damn thing, so... Hey, I'm writing a book. It's called "Forgotten TV: 101 TV Shows You Probably Don't Remember." It is a somewhat irreverent, but still thoroughly critical look at those one season wonders (or less) of TV history. Those shows that are probably better left forgotten, and those that were unfairly canceled all too soon. I hope to have it available in the Spring of 2015. Keep your eyes peeled. Now let's get on with the sitcom theme of today's episode.

G is for The Goldbergs - The first hit situation comedy on TV was a show called The Goldbergs. It was based on Molly Berg's already famous radio program, that ran from 1929 to 1946, and was about a lower middle class Jewish family in New York. It was also a play, a movie, and eventually a play in 1973. The TV version began in 1949, two years before a certain redhead came onto TV, and was quite groundbreaking in its day. Due to the political landscape of the time, the show went off the air for nearly a year, because Berg refused to fire Philip Loeb, the now blacklisted actor who played her husband. Eventually, after the Loeb decided to leave the show, so his friend Molly did not have to blow her own career by helping him, the show came back on the air, and would continue until 1956. Cut to the 2013-14 TV season, and a new sitcom, also called The Goldbergs, would debut. This show, having nothing to do with the 1950's series, was set in the 1980's, and was based on writer-producer Adam F. Goldberg's childhood. How's that for a sitcom bookending?

H is for Herman's Head - A show about a magazine researcher, and the four personalities roaming around in his head, all of which are played by actors fighting for control of good ole Herman's head. How can this not be pure gold!? Often mentioned when the topic of bad shows come up, but I remember this early 1990's Fox program quite fondly. In fact, to plug that book again, Herman's Head is one of those 101 aforementioned forgotten shows.

I is for It's About Time - Somewhere between the end of Gilligan's Island and the start of The Brady Bunch, show creator Sherwood Schwartz, gave us It's About Time, a show about two astronauts who accidentally travel back in time to the days of the caveman. Using many of the tossed aside Gilligan's Island sets, teh show was a total fiasco. Halfway through its one season, the premise was changed. Now the astronauts are back in modern times, but they have brought the cavemen back with them. This didn't work either, and the show was canceled. It did have a fun little theme song diddy, though. And yes, this one will be in my Forgotten TV book.

J is for Jumping the Shark - There is a term in TV history/criticism. It is called Jumping the Shark. I'm sure you've heard of such a thing. The term is used when a good show begins to overstay its welcome. Many shows have jumped the shark. Murphy Brown, All in the Family, Miami Vice, Three's Company. But the show that began it all, the show from which the term comes, both figuratively AND literally, is Happy Days. It was the beginning of the show's fifth season, when Fonzie and the gang headed out to Hollywood, and the Fonz actually jumped a shark on water skis. It was from this moment on, that the show began going down in quality. Or at least they said it did. Actually, I think the show began going downhill once Fonzie was made the star of the show (along with Richie) instead of staying the supporting character he should have been. Now, any show that begins to decline, is called out for jumping the shark. There is also a sub-genre, of sorts, in the whole jumping the shark shebang. It is called the Ted McGinley Conundrum. Some shows, instead of literally jumping the shark, just add poor hapless Ted McGinley to the cast, and it works just as well. Whether he is Ace, ship's photographer, on The Love Boat or Jefferson D'Arcy on Married... with Children, or even Roger on Happy Days itself, the show be doomed, maties. As a sidenote, Henry Wrinkler, as a nod to his Fonzie character, jumped over a dead shark on a 2003 episode of Arrested Development.

K is for Kevin Arnold - There are not many sitcom characters named Kevin, and even less with my unique spelling of the name, so when one comes along, I should probably savor it. So, back in 1988, The Wonder Years debuted on TV, and lo and behold, there was young Kevin Arnold, played by Fred Savage. Set in 1968, and running for six years, this was the story of boyhood. Granted, the show was on well after I was Kevin's age, and was set well before I was his age, but still, the show was rather universal, and his name was Kevin, after all. Too bad he couldn't spell it correctly.

L is for Lucy Lucy Lucy Lucy (and Lucy) - First there was I Love Lucy, from 1951 to 1957, then The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, from 1957 to 1960. After a year away from the tube, Lucy was back with The Lucy Show, from 1962 to 1968, followed by Here's Lucy (the one I grew up on in new episodes), from 1968 to 1974. This means, that Lucille Ball was on television from 1951 through 1974, almost non-stop, missing just one year. Actually, since I Love Lucy has never been off the air, becoming reruns immediately after leaving the air, and since somewhere in America, the show is playing nearly every single day in syndication, the grand red head has never really been off the air. Let's just leave her 1986 thirteen episode dud, Life With Lucy, out of the equation.

M is for Must See TV - Created by NBC back in 1993, this advertising slogan-cum-houshold term, was first used to get everyone watching the Peacock Network on Thursday nights. Granted, NBC had already been calling Thursday nights, the best night in TV, as far back as the 1983-84 season, with shows like Fame, Taxi, Cheers, and Hill Street Blues, but it became official in 1993, with Seinfeld, Mad About You, Wings, and Frasier. Eventually shows like Friends and ER would be included. NBC's Must See TV ended with the 2013-14 television season, as TV is not really watched on TV, on certain nights, as it was back in the day. It's a brave new world.

N is for Norman Lear - When one thinks back on the great sitcoms of the 1970's, one invariably thinks about shows that were created and produced by Norman Lear, the one-time master of TV. I mean really, with shows under your belt like All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, One Day at a Time, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and Who's the Boss, how could you not be the king of TV? There was also Square Pegs, but I might be the only one who liked that one. Granted, some of these later shows may be kind of silly, but Lear's early 1970's hits were truly groundbreaking television.

O is for Ork, and its Most Famous Resident, Mork - Alas, poor Robin Williams. We knew ye well. Mork began as a guest star on Happy Days (later on in their fifth shark jumping season), where he tried to steal the Fonz, and take him back to Ork for probing perhaps(?), before getting his own spin-off series, where he co-starred with the always lovely Pam Dawber, as Mindy. And yes, I did have a crush on Mindy. And yes, I did own, and sport, a pair of Mork's rainbow suspenders. And yes, I have always been a geek. So, let's all lift a glass to the late great Robin Williams. Na-Nu, Na-Nu.

P is for The Patty Duke Show Theme Song - As of the writing of this post, I am in the middle of a countdown over on Facebook, where I am counting down my 50 favourite TV theme songs. Coming in at #35 just the other day, The Patty Duke theme may not be my favourite (though only 34 shows, from the vastness of television history, are above it) but then, any song with the line, "A hot dog makes her lose control," is just alright with me.

Q is for Quark - It only ran for 8 episodes in the Winter and Spring of 1978, but this silly sci-fi sitcom, was quite hilarious. Well, at least I enjoyed the damn thing, even if no one else did. One of many shows to spawn from the success of Star Wars, Quark has gained a bit of a cult following (though only a bit of one) but is still mostly forgotten these days. And I think we all know what that means by now. Yup, this will be in my upcoming Forgotten TV book.

R is for Ralph Kramden - In my oh so humble opinion, Ralph Kramden is the most iconic figure in sitcom history...maybe even in all of television history. Jackie Gleason's antics as the Brooklyn bus driver with delusions of grandeur, but secretly (or not so secretly) with a heart as big as the Moon to which he so often threatened to send his wife, is my favourite sitcom character of all-time. Hey, now there's a fun list I could do. My 50 favourite TV characters. Oh, but I've already given away my number one. Or did I? Insert maniacal laughter here.

S is for Soap - Back in 1977, when Soap came on the air, I was just 10 years old. Apparently, according to my mother, this was a bit too young to watch the more adult-oriented satiric soap opera sitcom. So, me being me, I would sneak watching it. Granted, at ten, I really didn't get many of the jokes yet, but dammit, if I wasn't allowed to watch the show, I was definitely going to watch it! By season two, I no longer had to sneak around. I guess 11 is old enough to watch the show. Eventually, in syndication in the early 1980's, I finally got to watch all the episodes as a whole, and by then, I actually got all the jokes. 

T is for TV Land - Spawning from Nick at Night, TV Land debuted in 1996, and as Nick at Night started getting away from classic shows, and began showing more modern shows, TV Land became the new showcase for the classic sitcoms of our childhood. Eventually TV Land too, went the way of Nick at Nite, and began pandering to younger audiences, with the addition of shows from the 1990's. Hell, Nick at Nite is adding How I Met Your Mother to its line-up this Fall, a show that just went off the air in may. Meanwhile, over at TV Land, the network has started to make their own sitcoms. Some are good, some not so much. Original TV Land shows like Hot in Cleveland, The Exes, and Jennifer Falls are all good, if not great sitcoms.

U is for Up Your Nose, With a Rubber Hose - All the best situation comedies have a catchphrase or two. Some of them may even have dozens (um, Seinfeld!). But my favourite may very well be the rather bizarre "Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose," taunt from the Sweathogs over at James Buchanan High on Welcome Back Kotter. As a rather impressionable seven year old when the show came on the air, it was definitely my favourite. My mother...not so much.

V is for Vitameatavegamin - "Lucy Does A TV Commercial," is a classic I Love Lucy episode from the show's first season (originally airing on May 5, 1952). It happens to be one of the funniest Lucy episodes ever, as well as one of the funniest episodes of any sitcom, ever.Nothing more need be said here. You should just go and watch the episode. Now. Seriously, go watch it. I'll wait.

W is for Wilfred - Here's an idea for a sitcom. Take Elijah Wood, and make him best friends with a dog. Not so strange, until you realize that the dog is actually actor and series creator Jason Gann in a big fuzzy dog outfit. Meanwhile, everyone else sees Wilfred as an actual dog. The series, which ran for 4 seasons, was a sardonic, acerbic comedy. A brilliant comedy, that not near enough people have seen. Even though the show just went off the air a few weeks ago, this show may be included in my aforementioned Forgotten TV book. We'll see.

X is for the Intro to Scrubs - Yeah, so I'm kinda cheating here. Sure, it was easy to find an X topic when I was doing my Comic Book Edition of the Alphabet Game. A little too easy. But now, with the topic turned to sitcoms, the task becomes a bit more difficult. I'm sure there is a Xander hidden away in some 1990's forgotten sitcom, or maybe even a Mr. X in some equally forgotten sci-fi sitcom of the past, but otherwise... well, otherwise, I am forced to go with the x-ray machine that is at the finale of the theme song and intro to the sitcom, Scrubs. Yeah, it's kinda cheating. Get over it.

Y is for Yabba Dabba Doo - Granted, there were a handful of animated shows that aired in primetime in the late 1950's, but mostly these were just daytime cartoons, that were replayed in the evenings. The first real primetime animated show, the first one to actually be made specifically for primetime, and the first one to be an actual situation comedy, was The Flintstones. Debuting on ABC in the Fall of 1960, this Hanna-Barbera cartoon sitcom would be the most successful animated show on television for the next thirty years, until The Simpsons came along and changed everything. Yabba Dabba Doo!

Z is for Zorro and Son - There are a few more sitcommy choices for the letter Z than there were back at X, but I still decided to go with one that may very well fit into my Forgotten TV book. This westernesque sitcom ran for just five episodes back in 1983, and let me tell you, from someone who has seen these five episodes, this was probably five too many...maybe even six or seven too many. So, I figured I would close with, not a bang, but a whimper.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Review: Richard Linklater's Boyhood

Richard Linklater may very well be a genius, and Boyhood may very well be the director's magnum opus. Filmed a few weeks at a time, over a twelve year period, Linklater's latest tells the story of one boy, from first grade to his first day at college. But unlike other films, where a boy's ascension into manhood is covered by at least three different actors, at three specific ages, the titular boy is played by one actor, over the aforementioned twelve years. We watch as Mason Evans, Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane, goes from six to eighteen. Linklater stalwart, Ethan Hawke, who plays Mason's father, has compared the film to watching someone grow up through time-lapse photography, and has called it Tolsty-esque in scope. Who am I to argue with such a claim? Especially since, with its epic scope and familial trials and tribulations, it may very well be as Tolstoy-esque as the actor has claimed. Have I mentioned yet that Richard Linklater is a genius? Yup.

The story goes as thus. We first meet Mason as a six year old kid, overhearing his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, argue with her boyfriend about how she has no time because of her children. We also meet Mason's older sister, Samantha, who is played by Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei. As the story progresses, we meet Mason, Sr., a hapless but quite charming deadbeat dad, who may grow almost as much as his son does in the twelve years. Hawke, who seems to have been in every damn Linklater film ever made (actually he's been in eight), is magnificent here, but he is just one highlight out of many in this two-and-a-half hour epic coming-of-age tale. Watching Ellar Coltrane grow up on screen is pure fascination. We the audience, act as voyeurs, secretly watching these private moments, as they progress. This obvious voyeurism is made even more palpable than in other films, as we are actually watching someone grow up in front of us. Yes, the story may be fiction, but because of the way Linklater has created this work, the way the auteur has styled his opus, it seems all the more real. An experimental reality-esque film, with a quiet charm, reminiscent of the director's breakthrough second film, Slacker, as well as with obvious nods to the past of filmmakers such as Godard and Ackerman and Bresson.

The storyline stays simple and fluid the whole way through. Linklater never jars us with sudden breaks in the action to show us that Mason is now two years older or what have you. We are not led through this tale by a chain, like many filmmakers might do, but rather the story itself leads us through itself. One scene fades out and a new one takes its place. Linklater has a unique talent of never allowing his camera to become too obtrusive, while at the same time, always putting the viewer in the middle of whatever is happening up on the screen. Simple and fluid, Linklater's unobtrusive voyeuristic style, just ads to to the strange and unusual subject and/or mode of the film. We are never so much aware that the boy is growing up, so much as we find ourselves part of Mason's life. Perhaps cousins or family friends, growing up with Mason, and for that matter, to a lesser extent, with Samantha as well. Much like the director's Before series, Boyhood has a loose but powerful structure. With a script written by Linklater, but with constant collaboration from all four principals, there were times when the final script would not be finished until a few hours, maybe even minutes before filming began. This, almost improv-esque, style of moviemaking works perfectly in this all-too strange motion picture experience. Just like life, there really is no true script. Life sometimes imitates art, but so rarely does art imitate life as much as it does in this subtle yet cleverly masterful film.

Linklater has admitted that this was the most difficult time he ever had making a movie, and one can surely believe such a statement. Never able to put any of his child actors under contract for such a long period of time, Linklater had to hope that things would progress each time he came to town to film another few days or weeks of footage. Linklater's daughter, tired of this process, actually asked to be killed off at one point during the twelve years. But yet, Linklater was able to get his film made. Squeezing in a day of shooting here and a day of shooting there (Linklater has stated that his buddy Ethan Hawke was the most difficult to schedule, since the writer-actor seems to be working on some project 365 days a year), the auteur was able to create a brilliantly beautiful work of art. A very unique film experience, in the manner of Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series or Michael Apted's Up series, but brought to a whole other level of experimental filmmaking - a true one-of-a-kind entity, indeed. Now, after twelve years of waiting, Linklater's long-awaited magnum opus, meta-filmmaking project is finally here, and not only does it not disappoint, it goes far beyond anything for which we could have ever hoped. Best film of the year so far? Why yes, yes indeed. Again, have I mentioned that Richard Linklater is a genius? Yup.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Heavenly Body of the Week: Pern

The beautiful planet of Pern, where the Dragonriders of legend and lore, soar through the skies. In memory of Miss Anne McCaffrey, the most famous of all honorary Pernese citizenry.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hey Kids! I'm Gonna Be A Professinial Miniature Golfer!!

Excuse me for a few paragraphs, but I am temporarily putting away the pop cultural references that usually dot all the inner workings of my writings here at All Things Kevyn (many have called this blog a pop culture wasteland, afterall) and briefly talk about something else that has recently popped up in my life. Here goes...

So, just the other day, I was wandering around the so-called world wide web, as I am wont to do, and I came across something so great, so awe-inspiring, so so so surprising, that I had actually raised my arms over my head, waved them around wildly, and shouted egads!! Okay, I didn't really do any of that, bit I did find something quite intriguing. That quite intriguing thing was a place called the US Pro Mini-Golf Association. Who knew this even existed? Now I pride myself on knowing a lot of things, including obscure things like this, but damn if this didn't take me by surprise. There is a series of tournaments, a tour if you will, over the Summer months, throughout the Eastern half of the US, culminating in the Mini-Golf US Open, in Oceanport, NJ, just this past week, and then the Mini-Golf Masters, in Myrtle Beach, the self-proclaimed Mini-Golf Capital, in October. And I'm thinking to myself, I can do this!

Registration fees to join this group are a mere $25 a year, and anyone is allowed to sign up for any of the tournaments, as long as they pay their registration fees, which are also quite reasonable. Now granted, no one is going to become rich on the miniature golf tour, but there is prize money to be had...and trophies! So count me in, baby! Upon further research, I discovered a second mini-golf organization, this time called the Putters Association. They too have a tour, and theirs is even longer and full of more events, and more money (though you still aren't going get that Tiger Woods money, of course). And remember, this ain't your daddy's mini-golf. These tournaments are more serious than mere putt-putt of old. There be no windmills or dinosaurs here. Graded greens, and slants and slopes, and twists and turns are the thing in the sanctioned pro courses. Not that there is anything wrong with a good dinosaur-themed mini-golf outing. Or maybe a jungle adventure style course, where the giant giraffes seemed to have magical powers for my lovely wife, who kicked my proverbial ass one time in Myrtle Beach, hitting hole-in-one after hole-in-one. Crazy man, crazy. But yeah, there's a miniature golf circuit out there, so yeah, count me in, baby! There's just the one thing, though. I really don't play mini-golf all that often, and therefore am not up to the level of the pros I have been reading about on the interwebs. But hey kids, I have until march of 2015 to get better. I'm not about to jump right into the Masters in October, so I will practice practice practice over the Fall and Winter, until I can compete with these aforementioned pro miniature golfers.

So, in order to get my training underway, I ventured out to the closest mini-golf course I could find, which is a place called Water Golf, on City Island, in my homebase of Harrisburg, Pa. Along with Amy, my lovely wife, and Cate and Ed, a pair of visiting friends from Philadelphia, we took putters in hand and went eighteen mini-holes of golf. And, upon my first outing after deciding to become a professional miniature golfer, I scored a 51, which was two over par. Granted, this ended up as a second place finish (losing by one measly stroke to the aforementioned visiting Philadlphian, Eddie boy) but still, a two over par is not bad for someone who hadn't picked up a mini-golf putter since labor Day of the previous year, and hadn't played before that in well over a year. I think it might be all the different coloured balls. Of course, in order to compete with the big-wigs of the mini-golf world, that two over par needs to be whittled down to at least a ten or maybe even 15 below par, by Springtime of 2015, when the pro mini-golf circuit, supposedly involving over thirty possible tournaments within a reasonable distance, gets underway. So, of course, more practice in order. And yes, I believe I can compete when the time comes. Yeah, baby!!

And just what does this training include? well, for starters, it involves me getting ahold of some quality professional putters with which to practice. And yes, you can take your own putter to any mini-golf course. So, I did some more research, and found three quality putters online, and again, all for a very reasonable price.They should be here in September sometime. And that is pretty much it, kids. After that, and after the purchase of some sort of practice putting green, mini-golf style, it is just practice practice practice. There will also be the occasional trip to the many local, and semi-local, putt-putts and mini-golf courses around. My first official bit of training was the aforementioned Water Golf outing, overlooking the wild and wonderful Susquehanna River. Next up will most likely be a course about thirty minutes from my homebase. A place called Putt U. Great name. After that will be a late September voyage to just north of Philadelphia, and a rematch with ed, at a place called Monster mini-Golf, an indoor glow-in-the-dark course. There will be other mini-golf outings throughout the Fall, and weather permitting, winter months - many, I am sure, involving my so-called home course at Water Golf on City Island. Then, next year, some tournaments in and around Virginia (there are a bunch in the state for lovers) as well as some her in Pa, and over in New Jersey as well - all hopefully, culminating in a trip to Myrtle Beach in October, for the miniature Golf masters.

So, go ahead and wish me luck, and all that jazz. I will still, of course, be posting here on a regular basis, and back on my usual pop cultural bent. I will also still be writing my book, Forgotten TV, for hopeful publication in the Spring of 2015. hmmm, maybe some of the money made from that book, can go toward travel expenses on the road. After all, I do really believe that, by this time next year, I will be able to support myself and the lovely little missus, on royalties from my writings. Sure, it may not be a best seller (what TV-related book is?) but it should be able to find a big enough niche audience, to catch on. Here's hoping. Anyway, I digress. As I was saying, I will still be doing all that I do, writing-wise (both here, as well as Facebook and Twitter, the former of which will still be having my TV countdowns), but will still keep my faithful readers up-to-date on my budding mini-golf career. But for now, it's probably better to get back to the pop culture ramblings for which I am known. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, August 18, 2014

X-Men #98 and the Birth of a Comic Book Geek

It was sometime just after the holidays. Early January, 1976. I would have been eight years old at the time. Eight and a half to be a bit more exact. I was at the grocery store with my mom, and came across this comic book on the comic spinner rack, near the registers. Yeah, I said comic spinner rack. How retro is that? And this was back in the day when they still sold comic books in the grocery store. Anyhoo, this was a comic book that I wanted. Sure, I had read comics prior to this, but most of those involved Uncle Scrooge or Richie Rich or Hot Stuff, the little devil. I was eight and a half now, and it was time to move on to superheroes. So, I begged my mom to buy this comic book for me, and me being kind of a spoiled brat (and the fact that it only cost a quarter back then), she bought me the dang thing. What my mother probably did not know at the time, was that she was starting something of an obsession. Yup.

So, as I'm sure you have probably already figured out from reading the title of this post, the comic book in question, was a little thing called X-Men #98. This was before the series was re-titled as Uncanny X-Men (which happened on the cover with issue #114, but did not become official until #142) but was shortly after the title was revamped with mostly all-new, all-different characters (Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94). I knew nothing about these X-Men at the time. This was just as the title was becoming a sensation of sorts. Long before the the over-saturation of these mutant superheroes, and the days of six or eight or even ten different X-titles. This was at a time when the X-Men were just coming to be what they would become. As for my eight and a half year old self? I had no idea what these X-Men were. But I would soon find out. I started reading the comic on the way home in the car. I just couldn't wait. As I rushed through the pages, I became more fascinated. Curiouser and curiouser, indeed. It was a Christmas issue, and all these so-called X-Men were out at Rockefeller Center to celebrate the holidays. I wasn't sure who was who at first, but I knew I wanted to be there with them. There was a man who could change into metal, an Irishman who could literally scream your head off, a white-haired black woman who could control the wind. There was a blue-furred demon-like guy who at first hid his visage behind some sort of facial inhibitor thingee. A man who shot ruby beams out of his eyes, his hot flame-haired girlfriend (yeah, even then I could tell a hot girl when I saw one - I just didn't know just what to do with such information yet), and their bald-headed, wheel chair bound leader. Oh, and then there was the short angry guy with the great pointy hair and the claws. He was my favourite.

Of course that short hairy guy with the attitude and claws was none other than Wolverine. He would go on to become one of the most recognizable, and most over-saturated characters in Marvel history, but back in 1976, little was known about this guy. He had only joined the X-Men a few issues prior to this, and before that he only had a scant few appearances. He was a virtual unknown and a budding superstar-in-the-making. One of my favourite parts of this issue, is when Wolverine, Banshee,  and Jean Grey are imprisoned by the bad guy. Thinking them powerless, Wolverine unsheathes his claws and frees himself and his comrades. Apparently, this is the first time we are shown that Wolverine's claws are not part of a costume, but actually part of him. Wow! I was there at almost the beginning...and I was loving it. Shortly after this, Wolverine slices up Jean Grey's dress, so she can maneuver better. I figured out later on in life (and in reading X-Men) that there was another, much better reason for Wolverine's doing such a thing. Hey come on, I was only eight. I already said I had no idea what to do with those feelings. But yeah, this comic book had me at hello, bub! There is even a cameo by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in here. At the time I didn't get the reference, but of course, I did later on. And this would be the start of a brand new obsession with my eight year old self. An obsession that still rages on.

I would move onto other titles after this. The Defenders, Power Man & Iron Fist, Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Man-Thing, Howard the Duck. Yeah, I was definitely a Marvel Kid, growing up. I would pick up the Avengers the following year (and even talk my mom into getting me a subscription) and they would become my other favourite. And mind you, this was again before all the over-saturation that today's market gives us. Don't get me wrong, I still read and collect comic books, and X-Men (Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men) and Avengers (Avengers, Uncanny Avengers) are still on my regular pull list, and the four regular titles I get in those two franchises are still quite intriguing (Jonathon Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis, and especially Rick Remender, are three of my fave writers these days) but there are so many titles today, and not all of them are written by such talented guys, it's kinda hard for a boy to keep up. I remember the old days as I grew up with The Uncanny X-Men. The team of Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde - a teenage mutant superhero who was actually my own age. Seriously, she was. Yeah, comic book characters never age like we boring so-called real life people do, but when Kitty first appeared in the pages of Uncanny X-Men she was just thirteen. Guess how old I was when this debut took place? Yup...thirteen. So now I'm growing up with a girl my own age. I suppose you could call it love at first sight. I suppose you could also call it a rather one-sided love at first sight, but hey, what's a budding teenage boy to do? Of course, thanks to the aforementioned slowed aging in comic books, I'm now 47 while Kitty is only in her mid twenties. Great, now I feel like a dirty old man.

So there you go, kids. My first experience with comic books, and the budding formation of a geek for life. Over the years, I have faded in and out of comic book collecting, but even when I go away, I always return. Once I think I'm out...they puuuuull me back in! Over these same years, many things have changed. The collector's bubble burst in the early 1990's, as the market was overstuffed with about a billion X-titles, but even through these over-saturated years, my love of all things mutant, has kept true. Magneto was right! Cyclops was right! Mutant Freedom!! Any of my fellow comic book geeks will know what I mean. Still though, even with the good stories still being told in the two main X-titles (the other satellite X-books are definitely more miss than hit these days) my X-thoughts always wander back to the days of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and the Starjammers, and the Brood, and Dazzler and her disco ways, and Storm and Callisto battling for the Morlocks, and the formation of the New Mutants, and later with the supposed death of the X-Men, and the coming of Apocalypse, and Archangel, and Gambit and so on. But even before all that, even before my darling Kitty Pryde, my mind goes back to that original 25 cent comic book (now valued at several hundred, depending on condition) and that short angry guy with the pointy hair and even pointier claws, ripping up that red head's party dress. After all, there is always something to be said for nostalgia. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Journey Across the Cosmos Through Film: Le Voyage dans la lune or, When the Moon Gets Hit in the Eye, That's Amore

Considered the grandaddy of all science fiction films, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, for all those non-Francophiles amongst you), released in 1902 by French magician-turned-director Georges Méliès, was in many ways a truly groundbreaking work of early cinema, yet it is also a film mired down in the primitive understanding of narrative film technique that was the norm in the infancy of the medium. The following bit of an essay, is my humble contribution to the Journey Across the Cosmos Through Film Blogathon, currently being held over at Hitchcock's World, a film-centric blog. Enjoy.

Film historian Ken Dancyger says of Méliès' most famous work, "[The film is] no more than a series of amusing shots, each a scene unto itself. The shots tell a story, but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. It was not until the work of American Edwin S. Porter that editing became more purposeful."  And while this may very well be true, with Méliès' static camera (never moving, much like just filming a stage show in many ways) and his over-reliance on optical tricks over actual storytelling, it does not for one second, diminish the magical, somewhat surreal (in at least a basic surrealism 101 kind of way) quality of the early director's work.  

Perhaps it isn't up to the standard that Porter would establish just a year after this landmark film (with his own landmark film, The Great Train Robbery), and later such silent narrative artists as D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau or Charlie Chaplin, but the novice could weave a magic spell of sorts over an audience with his flash and flair and sometimes shocking images, or at least shocking for the primitive audiences of his time.  He was the first style-over-substance filmmaker, but he was damned good at it and he would hit his pinnacle, or reach for the moon one might say if one were so inclined, with Le Voyage dans la lune.  Weather his films be narratively structured, or rather merely primitive tricks to befuddle a paying crowd, Méliès could astonish many folks with his films - including this critic.

Loosely based on two popular books of the time (by two writers many consider the grandaddies of sci-fi themselves), "From the Earth to the Moon" by Jules Verne and "The First Men in the Moon" by H.G. Wells, Méliès tells the tale of a group of French astronomers who decide to travel to the moon and their going about building a rocket (shaped more like a bullet than the modern real world rockets of our own atomic, and post-atomic, age) and launching it from a cannon, with the help of a rather perplexing bevy of beautiful women dressed as sailors of some sort.

The next shot (the most famous of the movie and still an iconic shot a hundred plus years later) shows the rocketship landing in the eye of the "Man in the Moon". Following are images of celestial bodies personified, a moonscape snowfall, giant mushrooms, strange effervescent moon creatures and an improbable fall back to Earth, with an astronaut and an alien in tow via a rope. All of these images are stunning in their own right (Méliès has made unique images before this as well) but put together, they form a most fascinating motion picture experience - even at a mere sixteen minutes.

I remember, when one of those new Star Wars prequel travesties were being released (I can't believe it matters which one in particular!) and a local movie theater was showing Le Voyage dans la lune as an opening short with the blockbuster Lucas thingamajig. Asking to be able to go in to see just the Méliès film and not the so-called main attraction elicited quite a few looks that would make one assume one had a monkey growing out of one's neck.  Anyway, to see this film on as large of a screen as this added even more magic to the already quite magical little motion picture. It was also fun to see Martin Scorsese's re-imagining of the film, and in 3D no less, for his 2011 film, Hugo - and again, on the big screen.

Unfortunately for Méliès, the advent of a more sophisticated filmmaking style (the aforementioned Porter, Griffith et al) came into vogue and left the sleight-of-hand director out in the proverbial cold.  Eventually, Méliès went bankrupt (forced to sell his company in 1913 to Pathé Frères) and was reduced to making and selling toys in the Montparnasse train station in Paris. The filmmaker, after many years of toiling in obscurity, would be "found" once again and his place of honour in film history would be reestablished (a retrospective of the magic man's work would be shown publicly shortly before his death).  Unfortunately, the vast majority of his 500+ films are now lost to the world.

But still, the apex of his life's work, Le Voyage dans la lune, lives on (today amongst many Top 100 Movie Lists - my own included!) and is a fascinating look at the so-called primitive style of filmmaking from the turn-of-the-century.  Yes, perhaps primitive indeed, but awe-inspiring at the very same time.