Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Adventures with Misplaced Books

Tell me if this has ever happened to you...

You pick up the first book of some trilogy. You're cruisin' along and at least 150 pages deep when you suddenly lose it. Who knows? Maybe it fell into some blackhole or a magician whisked it away to an ethereal place between realities. Doesn't matter. It's gone and you can't find it anywhere. You know better than to go out and buy a new copy, because the moment you return from the bookstore it'll reemerge and be sitting in the middle of your dining room table smiling at you mockingly, as if to say, "Hi, I've been sitting here the whole time." And while you spend your spare time looking around for the blasted thing, you move onto other books, eventually forgetting about that lost novel. One day a memory of it is triggered though, and you realize it's been twenty years and nine home moves since you've thought about it. You decide to buy it and try again, only to learn it's been out of print for the past ten years. Aaarrggghh!

That's happened to you, right? Right? No?

Sadly, that's happened to me twice.

When the Changewinds Blow by Jack L. Chalker and The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen both fell victim to this bad luck, although it's been so long ago, I don't remember which one got lost first.

Hey, don't blame me! I'm not responsible for the actions of some rogue wizard or errant blackhole, I'm just your average scifi/fantasy junkie.

Now here comes the weird part:
At a local library-sponsored bookfair in the recent past, not only did I run across the complete Changewinds trilogy, I also found the entire Books of Swords trilogy and its sequel, Book of Lost Swords trilogy. But wait! It gets stranger... Both trilogies had two copies of the first book!


Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yep, even though I live over 100 miles away from where they went missing, I'd be willing to bet that those extra copies of the first books were my original copies, whisked there through some wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing eagerly awaiting my arrival to reclaim them as their rightful owner. So in the middle of this gigantic book fair I'm totally geeking out at this point, and quickly throw all eleven books into my bag (Yes, eleven. I bought both copies of the first books - I'm not taking any chances).

Since my "To Read" pile is a queue that is about two years long, I'm just now getting around to reading the first book of the Changewinds series, and maybe this summer I'll start the Swords trilogies. But either way, I'll let you know when I complete them, and if anything "sideways" happens, trust me, I'll let you know.

Until Next Time...
Wobbly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Year End Short Form Review

It's the end of the year, and I've surpassed by goal of 52 short stories for the year (one per week). So I thought I'd take a few moments to mention some of the stories and authors I found memorable and worthy of seeking out longer works by.
 
"The Traveling Salesmen Solution" - David Erik Nelson
"Testimony of Samuel Frobisher" - Ian Tregillis
"Five Tales of the Aqueduct" - Spencer Ellsworth
"We Are Not Insured Against Murder" - Jay Carey
"Sir Pagan's Gift" - Tom Underberg
"The Culvert" - Dale Bailey
"The Wild Ones" - Albert E. Cowdrey
"Embrace of the Planets" - Brenda Carre
"Our Little Secret" - Barbara Nadel
"The Fox in the Water" - Richard Adams
"The Hole in the Sky" - Richard Adams
"I'll Follow the Sun" - Paul Di Filippo
"The Bomb-Thing" - KJ Kabza

 
The best story I read this year was "Yeshua's Dog" by Tim Sullivan and initially published in the November/December 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
 
Next year, I hope to read more - of course, not the number that well-known editor Gardner Dozois reads in a year - but at least ten to twelve more.
 
Supporting short fiction by buying and reading short fiction works is good for the overall fiction publishing industry, especially the authors. So, set your own reading goals. It doesn't have to be as high as mine, but at least set one and honestly try to keep it. You'll be a better person because of it.
 
Until Next Time...
Shortly Yours,
Michael  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Who Wants Some Doritos?

Who can watch a late night B-movie without snacks? Doritos, Fritos, Ruffles with French Onion dip, or even the old stand-bys of pizza or popcorn. So with that in mind, I thought it would not be too far off theme to share a recent non-fiction book review about nutrition and modern food processing techniques that I've posted on Amazon, LibraryThing.com, and GoodReads:

"In The Dorito Effect Mark Schatzker details the cause of the health crisis today, including obesity and other preventable diseases, as being a direct result of what we as a society (and ultimately world economy) have done to our food. In simplest terms, the link between nutrition and true flavor, and how modern food is grown and processed may increase yield rates, but decreases a food's inherent flavor and nutritional value. In response, we have increased the use of artificial flavors disguised as "natural flavors" to satisfy our biological cravings for the real flavor and nutrition, therefore creating a cycle wherein we, as human beings, continue to eat these "faux" flavored foods in a futile attempt to satisfy our bodies' needs.

He explains that "natural flavors" aren't so natural, or on the off chance that these "natural flavors" really do come from natural sources, these flavors are used and placed within foods that they don't really belong, therefore fooling our tongues with manufactured deliciousness and creating "the snack equivalent of crystal meth." And not only is more manufactured flavor added to our food everyday, the number of availability of those foods is increasing simply due to cost reduction business decision where yield is more important than flavor because it is something that can actually be measured.

I was a little disappointed in the ending narrative when he details a dinner he planned based on a particular strain of tomatoes. It was cliched, not compelling, and predictable. Thankfully it only lasted about ten pages.

The Dorito Effect, quite simply, is what happens when food gets blander, flavor technology gets better, and its consequences to our health."


Note for my Cheesy Readers: The comment below does not appear on my posted review.

Despite all the informative and eye-opening information I read in this book, don't think for one minute that I'm going to stop eating these late night bags of goodness. In fact, I think I hear a bag or two calling to me from the local convenience store down the street.

Until Next Time...
Nutritionally Yours,
Michael

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thousands of Hercules

There have been thousands of television shows and movies devoted to Hercules. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but if it is, it's not much of one. A simple IMDB or Wikipedia search shows that Hercules has been the subject of the visual media since the early days of film, if not the protagonist at least an active character.

The other night I had the chance to watch two versions I hadn't seen since the 1980s. Lou Ferrigno starred as the demigod in these cheesy Italian-backed classics, Hercules (1983) and The Adventures of Hercules II (1985). All things considered, the special effects weren't too terribly bad considering the low budget and the tools were available at the time. If you get the chance, look those up and have a little fun. (Note: The next weekend, the same channel showed Hercules versus the Mongols (1964), which pitted Hercules versus Attila the Hun.)

Of course, as my highly educated Cheesy Readers know, the Ferrigno movies weren't the Italians' first foray in the annuls of Herculian lore. They pumped out a lot of myth-based films in the 1950s and 60s when they weren't busy filming Westerns, and many of these films are available super cheap in DVD box sets.

Pop quiz time: What was Arnold Schwarzenegger's first American film? Obviously, it was Hercules in New York (1969).

And who can forget the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring the skinniest of all Hercules Kevin Sorbo in the 1990s. It had such a large following that there was even two spin-offs, Xena: Warrior Princess, that ratings-wise did just as well as the Sorbo series, and Young Hercules.

Disney got in on the craze with their own movie and animated series, and in the most recent American version of the legend, Dwayne Johnson took a crack at the title role. Our half-man half-god is scheduled into the plotline of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, and has made multiple appearances in hundreds of cartoon, including Sailor Moon. He's been in outer space, in particular the planets Venus and Mars, and even spent time hanging with Superman. But of course, the most memorable of all Hercules appearances was when he starred with the three greatest comedians of all time in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.

So why so many films involving Hercules? It's quite simple. Hercules is a half-god, half-man with the strength of a god, but mankind's foibles. Other than his twelve labors and a few mentions in a handful of other stories, 80% of his life has plenty of elbow room to elaborate on and give writers plenty of wiggle room to weave their own stories. What tale-teller can resist using this made-to-order and easy to recognize character for their own purposes? Quite simply, the character of Hercules has become the Go-To Guy for hero stories throughout the ages. But not only that, an action star with great muscularity but questionable acting abilities can star in a high-action film in which he can show off his muscles, wield a sword in cool on screen fights, and have a nearly naked damsel cling to him for protection. Only Conan can offer the same kind of on screen flexibility.

Until Next Time...
Herculianly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's the Diff?

It's the age old question. Wise men throughout the years have debated this. Their long white beards, thick black spectacles, some even with pipes that they light with stick matches as the scent of cherry tobacco fills the air.

I even Googled it, searching among the mass knowledge available to modern researchers, hoping to stumble upon some collective knowledge of the matter. Answers came back from years ago. Posts that were dated as far back as 2005 and later (gasp).

The Answer: Nobody knows.

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you the question, Cheesy Readers.

"What is the difference between Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine?"

I've read many issues of both and I certainly can't tell the difference, nor do I have any real preference. I like the tradition and history of Ellery Queen, while at the same time, I grew up listening to "Alfred Hitchcock Ghost Stories for Young People" available on 33 1/3 rpm records from my local library. So for me it's always been a debate of Tradition versus Nostalgia.

Further clouding the debate is that both magazines are owned by the same publisher (Penny Press, a division of Dell Publishing). From what I can tell, they are two separate entities, although their webpages link to each other. Ellery Queen has a plug from Stephen King at the top of its page; Alfred Hitchcock has no plug from anyone on its site. Both magazines follow the same basic format, and their webpage layouts are nearly identical. They have two separate editorial staffs, and writers concur that a submission to one is not a submission to the other. It's not usual for a budding writer to be rejected by one magazine only to be accepted by the other. Even to writers they've published the distinction isn't clear.

The Collective Wisdom on message boards and forums seem to have no consensus on the differences. One person says the EQMM has been quality writing, another says the quality has fallen off enough that in ten years it'll be out of business (that was posted in 2005, and so far, I haven't heard a peep about either publication folding). Another keeps his subscription to EQMM because he used to love receiving it in the mail when he was young. Some say one will take "blue" language while the other doesn't, but everyone seems confused about which is which. More than a handful of readers subscribe to both simply because they love reading and love reading mysteries.

All of which brings me around to my original dilemma. What's the Diff? Yet another universal enigma that shall always remain unanswered.

Until Next Time...
Perplexedly Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How Times Flies When You Read a Lot of Books

Unpacking and reshelving books after a move revives the love of those books and also serves as a reminder as to why you kept them. Granted, some make you wonder why you bothered to keep and move them, but many make you look back at them with a sense of nostalgia.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I keep an Excel sheet of everything I've read since the late 1990s. It's helpful for many reasons, including the observation of trends in my reading habits, but it's especially helpful for two distinct reasons.

For instance, the Arthur C. Clarke short-story collection The Other Side of the Sky. At first I couldn't remember if I had read it or not. Reading the table of contents didn't help, and neither did reading the first few sentences of some randomly picked stories. So I pulled out the ol' Excel sheet, went back through the ages, and sure enough, I had read it. I scanned the notes I made and the stories came flooding back to my memory. I can even remember reading them on my lunch break at work, but when I saw the date when I read them, the shock nearly ruined my morning.

2007!

Holy Crap! Eight years ago! My memory of reading them is so vivid, it hardly seems like eight years ago. If I had had to guess, I wouldn't have guessed any more than five, and I would have considered that a stretch. When I scroll through all the stuff I've read since then, I can clearly see that the timeframe is accurate, just hard to swallow. Once I calmed down, I felt the urge to go back and reread those stories since I enjoyed them so much the first time. But Alas! The pile of books I haven't read yet awaits. And while I will reread these stories one day, they will just have to sit quietly on the shelf. Oh! The Lament of the Constant Reader: So Many Books, So Little Time.

Until Next Time...
Nostalgiacly Yours,
Michael


p.s. If you do get a hold of that Clarke book, or have access to some of his short works, I highly recommend "The Star", "The Nine Billion Names of God", "The Wall of Darkness", and "The Songs of Distance Earth" (which later evolved into a novel of the same name that I've read twice).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lovecraft Inspired by Melville? Maybe.

I haven't read Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville since an American Literature class I took at SIU-Carbondale about X-years ago. Many moons later, I set a goal to read every story written by H. P. Lovecraft. I know that Melville walked the edges of atheism, the man v. nature theme, and the definition of good and evil in this example of Romanticism from the American Renaissance. Then decades later Lovecraft (1890-1937) dealt with many of the same themes, focusing on man's relation and place in the vast, cold, uncaring universe through the avenues of horror and science fiction, but I never thought to include them in the same breath.

Until today...

I was sitting in hell the dentist's office reading Chapter 42 "The Whiteness of the Whale" from Moby Dick when the second paragraph so reminded me of Lovecraft that I actually stopped reading for a moment, reminded myself that I was in fact reading a book published nearly 40 years before Lovecraft was born. I reread that paragraph, and then continued to read the rest of the chapter as if I was reading Lovecraft. This gave me an entirely new perspective on the chapter, lending it a depth I had never appreciated before - serving yet as more proof that each of us should reread the classics and other books we love, because each time, we bring more life experience and wisdom to the pages, creating a new experience to cherish.

And while I usually don't like transcribing long passages in this blog, I'll make a exception this time because I think if you've ever read Lovecraft, you'll see what I saw:

"Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be for naught."

Throw in a few more adverbs, and I bet your average reader couldn't tell who wrote that paragraph. All the elements of Lovecraft are there: the nameless horror, despair at relating those feelings into words, but compelled his experiences to mankind. So while Melville may never have been sited as an influence of Lovecraft, we can probably assume that at some point Lovecraft read Melville along with the other writers of the American Renaissance (including Melville's contemporary and friend Nathaniel Hawthorne), we could possibly argue that in some way, the tone and theme's of Moby Dick subconsciously infused their way into Lovecraft's writing.

I may be totally wrong here, or just a guy who reads too much, but I can now read Melville and Lovecraft in a whole new light, and learn to appreciate their work from a much deeper point of view.

Until Next Time...
Hermanly Yours,
Michael

(While my Lovecraft epitome was a coincidence this year, last year it wasn't. If you want to read more about my Lovecraft habit, you can read last year's blog 'Tis the Season.)  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

UPDATES: I'm Back! and some other random stuff

In the spirit and vernacular of classic science fiction B-movies, I haven't kept the captain's log up to date lately because The Boss and I relocated Headquarters to a larger homebase that puts us in a better vantage point to carry out our future missions. (Translation: We moved into a  new house.) Our new Command Center is more spacious and allows for expansion into the realms of possibilities than the previous locale.


The immediate, short-term disadvantage though was that the first week or so we couldn't locate seasonally appropriate DVDs to watch; the box with all our fun Halloween movies was buried among a mountain of boxes. So the first night here, I found a copy of the cheesy 80s movie Elvira: Mistress of the Dark on a YouTube channel and, as appropriate, fell asleep late into the night.

We've found the movies now, and I plan to carry out my yearly traditional rewatching of both the Carpenter and Rob Zombie versions of Halloween, as well as a few other movies I reserve for this time of the year.

But all this really means though is that now that we are getting settled in our new Satellite of Love, I can once again devote time to bringing you my latest opinions, thoughts, and rants. So stay logged in.

*******

Since The Boss and I aren't as active outdoors now as we were this past spring and summer, my Twitter activity has declined as well. My followers know that I would occasionally post science stories if they seemed to lend themselves to something related to science fiction topics, or even something that had previously appeared in science fictions stories. I will continue to do this, but more frequently now and over a wider range of topics. At this time I don't envision myself having "Science Moments" blog postings like The Boss does, but I'm not ruling that out either. 

That should do it for now.

Until Next Time...
Orbittally Yours,
Michael

Friday, September 11, 2015

Shannara comes to MTV

A few moons ago I heard rumblings of the world of Shannara being brought to television. Unfortunately, I became so distracted by this recent rash of remakes, that not only did I lose track, I completely forgot this was in the works.

In July MTV released a three minute trailer with clips and interviews about the January 2016 premiere of the ten episodes that recently wrapped up shooting.

I had meant to reread the first few books of the series before its premiere, starting with The First King of Shannara, which chronologically in the first book of the entire series, but because of the high number of books still sitting on my "To Be Read" pile, I haven't quite gotten there yet. I've bumped it near the top though, so soon I'll be deep into the Four Lands again.

I didn't know where MTV was going to begin the story, but they those to start with the second book of the original series, The Elfstones of Shannara, the story of Wil Ohmsford who accompanies Amberle Elessedil on her quest to create a new Ellcrys, a magical tree that serves to banish all demons from the Four Lands. Oddly enough Elfstones was the first book I read of the series nearly twenty years ago. Unknowingly at the time, I read the first two books out of chronological order, but that is the great thing about the first few books of the Shannara series - they can be read independently and out of order, and the reader won't be lost or feel as if some backstory is missing.

Now as I watch the trailer, I'm excited to see this incarnation of a yet another fantasy series I grew up loving, so I thought I'd share the clip here for all my Cheesy Readers. Enjoy.

Until Next Time...
Magically Yours,
Michael

Monday, August 17, 2015

Classics and Cheese Slices I


A lot of ideas I have for posts are too short to devote a solo entry to, which gave me the idea to start compiling these tidbits, and every once in a while string 'em together for a full-length post. So without further ado, here's a few slices of absolutely useless handy knowledge.

******************************************
I'm sure many of my Cheesy Readers have seen the television show Charmed and know its iconic theme song "How Soon Is Now?" by Love Spit Love. The chronicles of the Halliwell sisters, a.k.a The Charmed Ones, went for eight seasons and became one of the most successful and highest-rated shows up to that point on the WB Network. The remake of the Smiths's original hit from the mid-80s was also used in the sleeper teen hit The Craft (1996) and was featured on its soundtrack along with a whole host of other inferior and less successful remakes.

When Charmed became available on Netflix streaming service, though, the theme song had changed. I did a little digging and the story shakes out that when Netflix negotiated for the rights to offer Charmed, the rights to the theme song weren't included and a substitute theme song had to be found. So if you own the DVDs, you get to continue to enjoy watching it with the original theme, but if you're relying on Netflix to relive the adventures of Prue, Phoebe, Piper, and Paige, you'll just have to adjust to subpar opening music.   


****************************************
I happened to catch an airing of Jacob's Ladder (1990, Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena) for the first time in over ten years, which inspired these two unrelated trivia questions:

What book is Tim Robbins reading in the subway scene at the beginning of the movie?

What does his live-in girlfriend (Elizabeth Peña) throw into the apartment building incenirator because it makes him cry? 


******************************************
And now for a Classics & Cheese favored quote.

Nero Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin:
"...Wolfe held it against Jane Austen for forcing him to concede that a woman could write a good novel."
 - Mother Hunt, Chapter 12, Rex Stout


******************************************
That's probably enough slices to hold you Cheesy Readers over until the next post.

Until Next Time...
Charmingly Yours,
Michael

Monday, August 10, 2015

Here Comes Another One

Cheesy Reader,

I've ranted about them enough for a hundred blogs, so let me keep it simple.

Westworld, reboot, HBO, series, 2016, may have a chance, we'll see.

Until Next Time...
Out of Controlly Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Is Citizen Kane Next?

Citizen Kane ( 1941) is considered among many film aficionados as one of the greatest movies of all time because of Orson Wells's ground breaking and visionary directing and writing for that period of time. The executives in Hollywood would be fools to attempt to remake it.

The same could be said of the silent film horror classic Nosferatu (1922). What it accomplished in mood and raw emotion as a silent film can never be matched. It would stand to reason that, like Citizen Kane, it was immune from remake.

But in 1979, Werner Herzog wrote and directed a remake that was highly hailed by critics and successfully captured the ambiance, spirit, and overall creepiness of the original. Herzog, though, was wise enough to cast some of the best German actors of the time, especially Klaus Kinski. I was fortunately enough to watch it in my college German class a number of years ago and haven't forgotten a single eerie shot. Simply a remake worthy of the original.

Unfortunately now, Hollywood has decided to take a crack at this. What I've read so far, the details are still being hammered out, including the director, cast, etc., but the executives in the studios are serious about funding a revamp - no doubt in Hollywood style, which may involve over-the-top special effects, probably a lot of "pretty people" in an effort to attract the young teen movie goers, and no doubt stray far clear of much of the previous two versions.

Couldn't help bringing this to your attention, Cheesy Reader, since I've thrown at you a bunch of other remake atrocities. Would it be a bad pun if I made a "blood suckers" comment at this point? Yeah, you're right, I'll resist.

Until Next Time...
Vampircally Yours,
Michael


Friday, July 31, 2015

RIP to a Cheesy Legend I will fondly remember

As I logged on this evening, full prepared to write a post, I spotted a headline of the passing of a cheesy legend. Okay, maybe not quite a cheesy staple, but a man who starred in one of the best cheesy movies of the 1980s and made famous the classic line, "I have come here to chew bubble gum, and kick ass.... and I'm all out of bubble gum."

Yes, Cheesy Readers, the great Rowdy Roddy Piper has passed away of a heart attack at the age of 61.

The lovable hero of They Live (1988) who discovers that secret aliens have invaded and infiltrated our society from the lowliest guy to the highest offices of the government and private corporations and sets out with another kick-ass hero, played by the wonderfully versatile Keith David (Men at Work, Armageddon, the voice of Goliath in the television series Gargoyles).

Piper acted and stared in numerous films that went straight to video or cable, and while his film output never matched his wrestling output, he still managed to make his mark as a reliable character actor who specialized in science fiction films as someone not to be messed with. We cheesy 80s science fiction movie fans know ol' Roddy well. He acted right up until his death, and there are number of films he's contributed to that have yet to be released. So while he may be gone, we still have a handful of works to look forward to.

Mankind's hope of fighting off an alien invasion is now one soldier weaker. May he rest in peace.

Until Next Time,
Rowdily Yours,
Michael

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Groovy (a.k.a. "This is my BOOMSTICK!")

First we had The Evil Dead, then we had Evil Dead 2, followed by Army of Darkness, all became cult classics, all were made without CGI. Those films served as launching points for the careers of writer/director/producer Sam Raimi and B-movie hero Bruce Campbell.

In 2013, The Evil Dead was remade with blessings from Raimi and Campbell. And beginning Oct. 31, 2015, via Starz, we will be given Ash vs. Evil Dead (The Series). Raimi directed and co-wrote the pilot along with Evil Dead veterans Ivan Raimi and Tom Spezialy. Original film series producer Rob Tapert is returning to co-produce along with Raimi and Campbell. Plus, Raimi and crew have brought in long-time friend and actress Lucy Lawless, who you may remember worked with Raimi and Tapert back in the Xena: Warrior Princess days. A regular family reunion --- it promises some great ghoulish fun and probably more than its fair share of gore and bizarreness.

The official series detail says: "Campbell reprises his role as Ash, the aging lothario and chainsaw-handed monster hunter who has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity, and the terrors of the Evil Dead. When a Deadite plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons – personal and literal." According to additional reports, actress Jill Marie Jones will play the role of Michigan State Trooper Amanda Fisher, while Lawless will star as Ruby, a mysterious woman who's on a quest to stop the evil outbreak of Deadites within our realm and believes that Ash is the cause of it. Mimi Rogers stars as Suzy Maxwell and Dana DeLorenzo plays Kelly Maxwell. Apparently this first season of ten 30-minute episodes have been shot and will air weekly. Makes me wish I had Starz, or at least hope they make it available for next day streaming on Hulu or something.

Until Next Time...
Groovily Yours,
Michael

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How Memories Change with Time

The other night, the original The Blob (1958) aired, staring a very young Steve McQueen with female co-star Aneta Corsaut, and it was a stark reminder of how memories can change over time and aren't always reliable. First I was surprised to see that it was filmed in color. My memories told me it was in black & white. Second, I realized I only remembered how it began and ended but not anything in between.

This was the first time I had seen The Blob in at least 30 years a number of years. The very first time I watched this film was with Mamma Cheese when I was a wee lad. We saw a commercial that it would air on a local television channel late on a Saturday night. She said it was one of those classic she had always meant to watch, and since up to that point in my life, Mama Cheese was my biggest influence in my tastes in horror films, if she said we needed to watch it, then by the gods I was going to watch it with her! This was pre-DVR and before we owned a VCR, so we had to stay up until past midnight. I remember the experience but only remember the final scenes. But as proof that human memories are fallible, I thought it was in black & white. Rewatching it the other night, I was quite surprised to see that it was filmed in color. I was also able to rewatch it with a more critical and experienced eye. One of the things that struck me earlier on in the film was that I didn't understand why early in the film more than ten minutes is spent in a drag racing scene between Steve McQueen and some other teens. The only thing I can figure it that drag racing would have been something of interest to the young crowd of the time, but other than that, it did nothing to propel the plot forward.

Mama Cheese and I went to bed at the movie's conclusion, and the rest of life was normal. A few weeks later though, we saw another commercial, and that exact same television station was going to show The Blob at noon that coming Sunday. She said a few choice four-letter words, I shook my head, and eventually we went to the theaters and watched one of Roger Corman's last films,  Battle Beyond the Stars.

Per my last two blog postings, The Blob was remade in 1988 and stared Kevin Dillon and young, emerging scream queen Shawnee Smith (from horror film Saw fame). From what I remember, it was a worthy remake, not nearly as bad as many I've seen. Although ironically, unlike the original in which I only remembered the beginning and the end, with this remake, I can only remember the middle portions. I do remember though that both Dillon and Smith were decent enough actors that they didn't embarrass themselves, and the special effects for this film were fairly decent.

But all this goes to show that we should rewatch the classics from time to time and refresh our memories of them. Plus, with the passage of years, we've changed as individuals and may discover new aspects about the film (or classic books) that we didn't notice the first time around. We'll approach it with a different level of expectations and relive those portions we loved the first time around. Finally, rewatches remind us of the people we shared the experience with, and maybe sometimes, for a few ethereal moments, that person is with us again.

Until Next Time...
Nostalgically Yours,
Michael 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Exception to the Rule

So, Cheesy Readers, I've given you time to absorb the full implications of the crime Dwayne Johnson is masterminding. So far, I've found no news to console you, but trust me when I say I'm digging. I've also been trolling the internet for a Chinese witch doctor who charges reasonable rates for casting curses. While I'm busy doing that though, I thought I'd give you more to think (and talk) about.

Last time, I boldly stated that remakes of cult classics nearly always fail, but I also said there were exceptions. Coincidentally enough, both exceptions I had in mind involve John Carpenter. The first is 1982's The Thing, which was actually inspired by the novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell. But upon it's release and for a while afterwards, people believed it was a remake of The Thing From Another World (1951), a movie about an isolated military base that uncovers a frozen ship from space and unintentionally unleashes its alien pilot which they then have to kill. The box office and media treated Carpenter's The Thing as if it was a remake of that black&white B-movie, as evidenced by poor ticket sales and a complete pan by the critics, but it was the video market where it earned its biggest financial reward and earned the status of a late night, pizza-eating, soda-drinking, cult classic. Coincidentally enough, the movie's protagonist R.J. MacReady was portrayed by none other than Kurt Russell. 

The second example I can recall again involves John Carpenter, and I initially approached this remake with the same attitude and complete disregard as I currently do for The Rock's upcoming mistake. When I first heard news of Rob Zombie's desire to remake Carpenter's slasher classic Halloween, I thought it was a mistake on two levels. First, it was a trail blazer that gave birth to the slasher films of the late 1970s and 80s, and second, because it was a slasher film, there was really no point in retelling the story, since it was pretty straight forward and had already inspired more sequels than I could recall.

Reluctantly I watched --- and quite simply, Cheesy Readers, it absolutely blew me away. In many ways, it surpassed the original, and earned its way into my list of Top Five Horror Movies of All Time. I was so excited by this remake, that I was able to talk The Boss (who hates horror films) into giving this one a shot since she had not seen me this excited about a movie in a long time. She loved it, and at the same time cursed me because the images, story, and overall creepiness of the film burned themselves into her psyche.

Zombie delved deeply into the mind and story of Michael Myers and how he grew to become the killing machine adult obsessed with violently murdering all his relatives. The acting was superb, especially by the child actor, Daeg Faerch, and Zombie did a wonderful job refilming the killing spree of the 10-year old Michael, giving it much more depth than the original. Zombie explored Michael's early life prior to the acts that led to him slaughtering his sister, as well as the years of his confinement in a mental institution and how his mother's personal demons, and subsequent suicide, haunted him as well. Basically, Zombie's remake of the slasher classic became an insightful psychological study of a mass murderer. If for some reason you've held off watching this film, then by god, make the time. It will move you in ways no horror film ever has. And don't forget, ever faithful Cheesy Readers, Zombie's version is a remake!

So there you have it, two exceptions to my "no remakes" rule. Both these films are well worth watching and adding to your personal film library.
 

Until Next Time...
Remakefully Yours,
Michael

p.s. Bit of trivia  -- scream queen Danielle Harris appears in both series of Halloween films. In the John Carpenter series, she portrays 10 year-old Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie Strode, in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5. In the Rob Zombie remake series she plays Annie Brackett, friend of Laurie Strode. For those who haven't seen either Halloween series, you may know her as Molly Tilden, Darlene's best friend/nemesis from the TV show Rosanne.

p.p.s. More trivia --- in the original film, Michael Myers's mask was nothing more than a mask of William Shatner (Captain Kirk) spray painted completely white.

p.p.p.s. Even more amazing trivia -- the budget for the original Halloween was so miniscule, that Jamie Lee Curtis was required to supply her own wardrobe for the film.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

You Know What Ol' Jack Burton Says...

In case you haven't heard by now, Fox Studios and Dwayne Johnson are in talks of remaking the cult classic (and my favorite movie of all time) Big Trouble in Little China. This serves as yet another example of Hollywood taking something perfectly good and then screwing it up.

It's common knowledge that Hollywood executives are hypersensitive to money-losing movies to the point where it could be described as a paralyzing fear. As such, they are notorious for sticking to stick to previously successful plots and gimmicks. It has earned them such tags as "movie by committee" for example.


Paradoxically enough they can be talked into backing movies that are guaranteed flops before the first minute of filming even begins. Some of those guaranteed flops are remakes of classic cult films. In the entire history of remakes of cult classics, I can only think of three that did as well as, or better than, the original --- Night of the Living Dead, Rob Vombie's Halloween, and John Carpenter's The Thing. (More on my opinion on two of these remakes, in an upcoming blog post.)

The reason the remakes of cult classics fail is usually because usually the original cult classic was turned down by Hollywood studios, and were personally financed by the writers and directors who believed passionately about their film. And because the films creators were also the ones who finance it, they remain faithful to their own vision.

As such is the story with Big Trouble in Little China. Since the moment he conceived the idea, John Carpenter loved this project so much that he poured his soul into it, not only financing it, but writing, directing, and even writing the theme song (a god awful song, but catchy and filled with all the usual sounds and clichés of a typical 80s theme). It failed in the theaters mainly because Fox didn't know how to categorize and therefore promote the film, but became a video cult classic and gained such a large cult following that nearly 30 years later, people still buy and proudly wear Jack Burton t-shirts and other related items (in fact, Quentin Tarantino loved the film so much, the original shirt Kurt Russell wore can been seen framed on the wall at the bar in the movie Death Proof).

Something that Mr. Johnson and the executives he has convinced to back this project have forgotten two basic facts of cult classic films:
1) they nearly always flop in the box office on initial release
2) their cult success is owed to the chemistry of the actors and their performance, and can rarely be reduced to a formula that can be reproduced.

So now, The Rock and various Hollywood executive committee members have dollar signs dancing before their eyes thinking that this particular remake will be one of those rare exceptions that do better upon initial release than its predecessor. But no one can deliver the one-liners the way Kurt Russell did, and no one can write into the script the kind of personality that Russell brought to the character. Carpenter, Russell, and Kim Cattrall captured lightening in a bottle (pardon the pun and the cliché), and I just don't see Johnson repeating that sort of magic.


To be fair, Dwayne Johnson has impressed me in other comedy roles, specifically Get Shorty and Get Smart, and to be totally fair, he could come within shouting-distance of the job that Russell did if he redefines the Burton character and is able to find a female lead whose chemistry works well with his. Plus, Johnson will have to take into account that the original was part homage and part spoof of Asian action films, two little facts that have been forgotten with time.

But let's be really honest here, Johnson will never be able to pull off lines like, "You know what ol' Jack Burton says at times like this..." or "It's all in the reflexes,  and of course, "...The check is in the mail." Sorry, but Russell did it best; Johnson, you're going to have to write your own one-liners, and that's not going to be an easy task.

More than everything else, though, this will present a personal issue for me. I'm frequently asked what my favorite movie is, and I always cite this film. But if that remake becomes a reality, I'll  be forced to answer "The original Big Trouble in Little China" with emphasis on the word original. This answer will no doubt illicit one of four responses from the person who asked me, and of the four potential replies, only one will be acceptable.

1.) "Oh yes, the original was the best. This remake sucks."
2.) "I don't know, this new version was pretty good too" --- this response will immediately cause me to throttle the person where they stand.
3.) "I've never seen the original" --- at which point I will duct tape them to a chair and make them watch the original over and over until they recant.
4.) "This was remake? I didn't know that? Who was in the original?" --- their fate shall be the same as Response #2.
 
As these next few months pass, I will be keeping my eye out for any news one way or the other, and because of my passion about this, you can be sure I'll keep you in the loop.
 
Until Next Time...
Original Yours,
Michael
 
p.s. Much to the chagrin and annoyance of those who know us, it's no secret that The Boss and I can quote Big Trouble in Little China word for word from the opening scene to the final credit. So for those who have seen the movie, I've included some of the more famous quotes below. And for you folks who have never seen, please take this time to stream or rent the movie and enlighten yourself.
 
 
Jack Burton: Like I told my last wife, I says, "Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it's all in the reflexes."
 
 
Jack Burton: When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."
 
 
Eddie: Well sure it was a war. And anybody that showed up was gonna join Lem Lee in the Hell of Being Cut to Pieces.
Jack Burton: Hell of being what?
Eddie: Chinese have a lot of Hells.
 
 
Gracie: I'd go with you but...
Jack Burton: Yeah, I know, there's a problem with your face.
 
 
Jack Burton: [tapping on the walls] Two, three feet thick, I'll bet. Probably welded shut from the outside, and covered with brick by now!
Wang Chi: Don't give up, Jack!
Jack Burton: Oh, okay, I won't, Wang! Let's just *chew* our way outta here.
 

Jack Burton: You know what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like this?
Thunder: Who?
Jack Burton: Jack Burton! Me!

 
Jack Burton: You can go off and rule the universe from beyond the grave.
Lo Pan: Indeed!
Jack Burton: Or check into a psycho ward, which ever comes first, huh?
 
 
Jack Burton: "Jack" what? I'm supposed to buy this shit? 2000 years, he can't find one broad to fit the bill? Come on, Dave, you must be doing something seriously wrong!
 
 
Jack Burton: Would you stop rubbing your body up against mine, because I can't concentrate when you do that.
 
 
Wang Chi: A brave man likes the feel of nature on his face, Jack.
Egg Shen: Yeah, and a wise man has enough sense to get in out of the rain! 


Jack Burton: Feel pretty good. I'm not, uh, I'm not scared at all. I just feel kind of... feel kind of invincible.
Wang Chi: Me, too. I got a very positive attitude about this.
Jack Burton: Good, me too.
Wang Chi: Yeah!
Jack Burton: Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?
  
 
Jack Burton: Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.
 
 
Jack Burton: Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."


 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

That Damn Eyre (Words of the Moment IX)

I made it through years of public school followed by years of college and university work without ever having been assigned or read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Not that this is any sort of anomaly, but apparently it is slightly unusual, especially considering my major and especially considering many of the classes I took, i.e., classics English literature, Victorian literature, Old and Middle English literature, etc.

But once I got older, questions and references would come up from time to time in which the speaker or author assumed I had read Charlotte's signature novel. In fact, it reached a point where I knew the novel so well that I didn't see a need to read it.

Then one day at lunch a few years ago, inspiration hit and I wrote a poem about being pursued by Jane Eyre and the ongoing efforts to avoid her. It contained a few cuss words, a few inappropriate references, but it was all done in fun. I read it at a few poetry readings where it was well received, I polished it a little, and eventually had it published. During that time I broke down, gave in, and actually tried to read the novel - twice. Both times I made it about halfway through, lost interest, and abandoned it.

So last week, I'm looking up other words in the dictionary and browsing through other pages when my eye caught the word eyre. Yes, eyre. It's an actual word. A noun, no less.
    • eyre - A journey in circuit of certain itinerant judges called justices in eyre (or in itinere).
The word is now obsolete, but...it was used primarily in England until the 20th century. Which makes me curious about where Bronte got the idea to name her title character. Is there some sort of symbolic joke here? Maybe a reference in the text I haven't encountered? Was it in common use at the time? Or had its eventual decline from the language begun at that point? If so, did the average reader still "get" it?

You know what that means, don't you? Yep, more homework, but more importantly, it'll soon be time for me to make a third attempt, maybe this time read a little more attentively.

Looks like Jane may win this battle yet.

Until Next Time...
Eyrely Yours,
Michael

Monday, May 4, 2015

Words of the Moment VIII

Cheesy Readers, you may remember my last "Words" post where I pointed out that George R.R. Martin had fallen inexplicately in love with the word "worth" and used it every few pages in the fifth book of his Song of Ice and Fire series when in the previous four books I couldn't recall a single use of it. Well, he's at it again, this time with the word nonce.

A brand new word to me, and one I know he didn't use until these last one hundred pages of A Dance of Dragons, because the first time I stumbled across it I thought it was a typo. Like the word "worth" he's used it multiple time now all within a few pages of each other like he's suddenly being paid per use. Its meaning was easy to derive from the context, but because I'm a word geek, I had to look it up anyway.
nonce - for the time being, for the immediate time
For the morbidly curious out there, it is derived from the Middle English phrase "for the nones" before it was shortened to "nonse," and then eventually becoming "nonce" in more modern forms. There are also references that it also derived from a similar phrase "then anes" and "to then anes for the one purpose." You might also find it used as nonce word, which means a word that is coined for a one time purpose or occasion.

Our second word for this post is moue. I'm not sure where I encountered, but it was pretty obvious from the second I ran across it, it was of French origin.
moue - pouting grimace
It's pronounced just like that universal cow vocalization "moo." The funny thing about this word is its plural, moues, which is pronounced the same was as the singular form "moo."

So there you go. Further proof that you can expand your vocabulary through popular genre fiction.

Until Next Time...
Moue Mouesly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why Stephen King?

I've added a new page to my website concerning why I put a lot of stock into Stephen King.

As I say on that page, just by mentioning his name, I'll turn a lot of people away --- I'm fine with that.

I don't read his books because I think he's "the best ever" or has any special talent other than the ability to tell a good tale.

But I do want to mention his non-fiction here, because he has spent of lot of time and written a lot of words that parallel many of the points I try to make with this blog and the sibling website.

Also, over the next few months, I will be rereading portions of Danse Macabre and the forewards and afterwards of many of his books, and then discussing them here. Some things I'll agree with, others I'll disagree with, but either way, it'll provide a jumping off point for discussion, and maybe even enlighten all of us.

So here's your homework assignment: If you get a chance, jump out to my website to the page "Why Stephen King?" and read that short little essay on it. Also, take the time to read Danse Macabre and any of the extra stuff that he frequently puts in the front or back of his books (he usually does that with short story collections), then you'll be all prepared for the discussions to come.

Until Next Time,
Kingly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Little Free Libraries

Maybe you've seen one of these in your community, or maybe you've only seen them on the internet, but Little Free Libraries are popping up everywhere and have become quite famous throughout this country and a country or two overseas.  They're little boxes mounted on a tree, set up in someone's front yard, or some other public place - a place where people can come up and either take any book they want or leave a few.

At a park near my home where The Boss and I can be found frequently has one such box, and I check it regularly. I've taken books, I've left books. The other day I took two paperbacks to donate, and inside discovered a little treasure. Before scrolling down to see the answer, look real hard at the pic and see if you can spot it.

Yep, my eagle eye zoomed in on it right away, and I snatched it out of there quicker than Gollum trying to steal back The Ring.

Sure, it's ten years old. But that someone thought to donate that instead of just throwing it away made me happy. It's in super good condition, especially considering its age, and it has a few authors featured whom I'm not familiar with. (Soapbox Rant to Follow - Feel free to skip: I also noticed that ten years ago, this pulp used to put the address label on the back of the magazine instead of dead center on the front like they do now. My Cheesy Readers have read my complaints about that before - how the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction covers up the cover art of their publication. But now we know this wasn't always the case. Ten years ago it was on the back. When my subscription started it was on the bottom of the front cover, and suddenly these past few issues it's moved to dead center on the cover. It just begs the "why" questions again: Why cover up the artwork? Why not move it back to the back where it used it be? End of Soapbox Rant)


The lesson here is if you do happen to stumble upon one of these mini-libraries take one brief moment to browse the titles, maybe take a book or two, return them when you're done, or if you decide you want to keep them, donate replacements. Tell you reader friends, encourage them to do the same. Keep the movement going. You'll never know who you'll make happy with a "new" book, but it is guaranteed that you will make someone happy, and that's all that matters.

Until Next Time...
Mini-ly Yours,
Michael

Monday, April 20, 2015

Comfort Reads Redux

My Cheesy Readers may remember my post a few months ago titled Comfort Reads in which I debated which genre book qualified as My Comfort Read --- that one book or series that I've read many times, where I turn to time and time again, where I can jump in the book anywhere and find myself caught up in its story again like returning to an old friend.

I mentioned that I had thought it was The Lord of The Rings series because I reread at least one book a year, but if I thought about random reading, I always turned to Dune. So I handed the honor to Frank Herbert's classic.

Remember that conversation? Of course you do.

Well, I was watching a documentary on the making of the sets of the LOTR movies and for the segment concerning Minas Morgul, they quoted text from the chapter "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol." Later I picked up The Two Towers and started reading the chapter they referenced. Next thing I realized, I was deep into the story of the climb with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, and had read way past the part they described in the documentary. Quite an unexpected turn of events. I had just done what I said I had only previously done with Herbert's Dune. And then instances of other times this had happened came back to my memory, like the time I picked it up and relieved the death of Boromir and the splitting of the Fellowship, or the time I found myself randomly reading the confrontation at the Black Gate at Mordor. Hmmm... Maybe my previous decision was a bit hasty. 

So with that in mind, I felt compelled to log back on here and modify my previous statement. I had awarded the honor to Dune, but now I have to rescind that again --- the score is still tied, which is really the way it should be. If I'm in the mood for the fantasy genre, it's LOTR, and if I'm in the mood for science fiction, then it's Dune.

Simple enough. Now if I recall, the last I left our hapless heroes, Sam has just realized that spider venom doesn't immediately kill its victims....

Until next time...
Tie-ingly Yours,
Michael