Saturday, June 24, 2017
When I was 10 my mother told me to look in the Sears Wish Book and circle some things I might like for Christmas. But I already knew what I wanted: the Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist's dummy. So I circled it twenty times, with exclamation points, and folded down the page, prominently. That Christmas, one present wrapped under the tree looked like exactly the right dimensions to be a box with a ventriloquist's dummy waiting for me inside. Late at night I spoke to the box, told it my darkest secrets. But when I opened it on Christmas morning, imagine my, shock, my horror, upon discovering not Charlie McCarthy inside, but goddam Mortimer Snerd! SHIT. All I got was Mortimer Snerd, the half-lidded hick with the one buck tooth. I HATED Mortimer Snerd. And I vowed that one day, one day, I would get my Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist's dummy and I would call him (since he has no top hat, monocle, or cane) by his true name...Boy-o!
Well, I got my Boy-o today. Didn't I, Boy-o, didn't I?
"Ha ha, you sure did, Bucko!"
And I did it...even though I can't afford you! I didn't want to buy you. But you made me do it. How I laughed and laughed when I realized the matter is entirely out of my hands. I have no voice in the matter at all. I take my orders from you now, don't I, Boy-o?
"And how, Bucko, AND HOW!"
Thursday, June 22, 2017
We've been together for twenty-five years in various ways. We met in college, and lived in sin for ten years more married than any married people I've ever seen. Plus we were married for ten years. Tack onto that another five years of being divorced together.
We met in an American Lit class. I was sitting in a chair with one leg bouncing, ready to roam and going like a piston in a manner that unintentionally shook the floor, so the young lady sitting next to me took it upon herself to--and this was deal familiar--place her hand upon my knee--uninvited physical contact, mind--and then had the gall to inform me I was shaking the floor. Mercy me! So I stopped. Then, after class, I asked her out.
A momentous occasion.
The above picture is from our first visit to Disneyland. At that time it was still the Swiss Family Tree House where we stood outside. Back when people knew their Johann Wyss.
Above: Aglow--O, positively aglow--at a place at the ocean called Trinidad Head. A few miles north, at another spot called Wedding Rock, we had our first date--and ten years later got married there. Waahh waahhhh.
I snapped shots with my camera of some framed pictures. Hence the distortion and additional effects. (Couple pics above most notably. I included my reflection specifically, and I think it makes an interesting shot.) The above is in Rockland, Maine. Really cool place.
In London at the old Ten Bells tavern on the Jack the Ripper tour. You can see it in the Johnny Depp flick From Hell. Romantic times, indeed.
Today, by the way, happens to be our fifteenth anniversary.
Happy Anniversary, babe!
Monday, June 19, 2017
It's one of the best movies ever made.
During the Vietnam War, an Army captain is sent on a secret mission into Cambodia to assassinate a Green Beret colonel acting on his own authority and living like a god among local tribes people.
Martin Sheen plays the captain, Willard, and Marlon Brando is the colonel, Kurtz. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now is the movie that splits the whole cinematic program and takes its orders from the jungle.
Like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ten years earlier, the 1979 instant classic is a high-water mark in film to which other movies regularly refer.
At times almost Expressionist in its striking use of shadow, the surreal, and twisted storylines, this loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short novel Heart of Darkness features unforgettable images and performances.
The horror of war and the madness of war are the film's central themes, and in scene after scene these themes are thoroughly explored.
For example, early in his journey upriver to find Kurtz, Willard meets Colonel Kilgore (Duvall). Like General Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Kilgore is a certifiable guy in a position of military authority. All Kilgore really wants to do is surf. Even under heavy fire. He gets a little misty-eyed when he thinks about the war one day ending. If his boys won't surf with him, he might just shoot them. And if the waves aren't good enough, he apologizes with deep contrition.
Insanity, Willard realizes, isn't the real complaint against Kurtz. The problem is independent action--especially when it achieves results.
Tales around the making of Apocalypse Now are as interesting as the film itself. Evidently Coppola had a hard time getting some of the actors to learn their lines--Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper--and yet the performances are legendary. As Coppola battled to make the movie, his wife Eleanor filmed him with her own camera. The result is an incredible 1991 documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
In 2001 Coppola released a re-edited version of his film, Apocalypse Now Redux. Containing an additional 49 minutes of footage not included in the original, Redux is worth seeing even though the additional material ultimately does not improve the film, but rather slows it down. In particular, a long scene on a French plantation was correctly cut from the 1979 release.
"Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, and pure" are the words which Kurtz uses to describe his realization regarding the enemy's strength. But he might just as well have been talking about the movie. And the real horror would be not to see it.
Starring Marlon Brando,
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius
Runtime 153 minutes
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Should have kept it under wraps.
The strength of a slick trailer and Tom Cruise's name can't overcome the many flaws of The Mummy.
When a forgotten Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Boutella), in league with powers of darkness and herself basically a deity, is discovered and returns to life, disaster befalls all those in her path as she seeks the implements which will secure her power.
The twist is that she isn't discovered in Egypt, but rather a thousand miles away in Iraq. And the one responsible for releasing her from centuries of imprisonment, a mercenary named Nick Morten (Cruise) who sells stolen museum antiquities on the black market, becomes in the eyes of the Mummy her partner bound with her in the afterlife.
Those eyes, by the way, split into double-pupils. Pointlessly. And she's a mummy with barely any bandages who controls things that have nothing to do with mummies but which allow for big special effects, surprise surprise, like a sandstorm with a giant face inside.
After Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922, it was a natural fit for Universal to capitalize on the interest in ancient Egypt in 1932 by essentially re-making the first one of their two successful new horror pictures from the prior year, Dracula, and by using the star of the other, Frankenstein. Boris Karloff's makeup as the Mummy was every bit as effective as that used in his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster--but for most of the movie he never wears it.
In 1959 Christopher Lee played a vigorous version of the title role in the excellent Hammer films version, made with all the old Universal monster classics in color for modern audiences. And then in 1999 Brendan Fraser starred in the first of several outings in a mummy franchise content to make essentially light romantic-comedy adventures.
Unfortunately this one leans that way, too.
One has to wonder: why, if she is to be imprisoned forever, does the mummy's sarcophagus have an elaborate system of chains on it, ready to easily haul it up at any moment? Why not just bury it? At which point one realizes the filmmakers don't care about little details like that in their rush to cash in on a new franchise re-imagining all the old Universal characters in new ways. Beginning with a lame start.
The film doesn't know what it wants to be. Ahmanet never looks like a mummy. Several of the characters are annoying. When Morten's dead partner Chris (Johnson) returns from the dead as a ghost whom only he can see, chiding Morten familiarly, we get the feeling that the filmmakers saw An American Werewolf in London (1981) and start thinking how nice it would be to watch that one instead.
Starring Tom Cruise,
Courtney B. Vance
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Runtime 110 minutes
THE LUNAR LANDER touches dust, and boots inside itch for ground, but protocols must be observed. This means the "Also Sprach Zarathustra" opening played by a band consisting of artificial life designed to closely resemble, for our benefit, beloved figures from 20th-century American culture. Naturally the lander's passengers cannot hear the reception committee performing on the surface of the moon just outside the window, but a recording played in the lander nearly in synchronization with the band provides an approximation in keeping with the moment, a moment which this reporter in her storied career never dreamed possible.
On the dark side of the moon, no light pollution dims the stars, a permanent night sky so prolifically abundant and pristine, the journey might well have been accomplished for this result alone, if the greatest star in the galaxy did not happen to reside in a mansion on the moon.
The guide that greets me at the disembarking station is a terrestrial hominid with green and purple skin from a distant planet with amazing stories of his own. When I ask him what it's like working for the King, he shows me a ring on his finger with the letters TCB.
"Taking Care of Business," I acknowledge.
My guide smiles, nods, and leads me into an immense auditorium entirely covered by a transparent dome revealing the star-thick sky. From a colorful array of artificial life I am reminded of the many faces of Elvis Presley. A Young Elvis android curls his lip and shakes his hips as he tells me of his early experiences, followed by a gold-suited version of himself a decade later with Android-Margaret dancing by his side. Lastly, Elvis ten years further advanced, bloated in a blue sequined cape. This one has nothing to say. He only points to the figure seated high on the throne in the center of the shadowy room.
Intergalactic General Elvis Aaron Presley, champion martial artist in three solar systems, descends in a glorious white jumpsuit sequined with otherworldly gems and asks if I'd like a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. He doesn't make the sandwich himself, I learn. That's done by the Marilyn Monrobot. But it tastes as close to the real thing back home as possible.
"Elvis Presley," I ask as we sit down, "is this really you?"
"I hope so. I think so. Yes, this is really me."
"But how? After all these years? The world thought you had died."
"Rock and roll can never die. Never forget that."
"But they held your funeral."
"They held a funeral."
"Why? Why the deception? And how is it that you don't seem to have aged a day, but in fact look younger than you did in 1977?"
"Hold on, hold on, hold on. Listen, the first thing you have to understand, I volunteered into the Space Program very soon after I hit it big."
"The Space Program?"
"At that time, the Army had access to certain non-terrestrial officers stationed in Germany at a top secret underground base. I was told one night that several of the non-terrestrial personnel had requested I entertain them with a private, first class performance."
"What happened that night?"
"I did the show."
"And I saw more than I wanted to know. Much more."
"What did you see?"
"I saw that we aren't alone. That there are other beings much older, much more advanced than our species."
"How did you react?"
"Honestly, it scared the heck out of me. I couldn't sleep at night, but I wasn't allowed to say why."
"Why is that?"
"Because I was under orders to not reveal what I had seen. I couldn't tell anyone. The pressure to stay silent was incredible."
"What did you do to cope?"
"I turned to pills."
"And they nearly killed you?"
"Yes. Fortunately for me I had friends in high places."
"Your non-terrestrial officer fans?"
"Yes. And others. They made all of this possible for me here."
"Is it true that you undergo advanced culture youth-promoting treatments?"
"Yes, ma'am, that is true."
When I ask Elvis if he can tell us anything about that, he responds in the negative as politely as possible and leads me on a tour of the sprawling estate...
Saturday, June 10, 2017
I used to listen to Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland" and see such visions. The Ballantine paperbacks cannot be overstated. The covers by Boris Vallejo in particular helped me see the world of Tarzan. In my story I imagined a figure, ostensibly me, in the future surviving a crash, but taking a blow to the head which leaves him believing he really is the lord of the jungle. And then he doesn't merely survive, yet thrives sufficiently to live among and interact with local populations of people and other primates and big animals like elephants and much more.
Additional conflict arises. Adventures ensue.
Eventually, years later, rescuers arrive by small plane. Bringing romance possibilities, undoubtedly. The hero's Quixotic aspects, once amazing achieved and displayed, subsequently depart. Senses returned, however, cannot sway the hero into leaving. For now the forest...is truly his home.
And then as the plane flies off, he races to the swaying tip of the furthest branch of the tallest tree and vents a soul-searing uncanny yell--just in time with Bruce Springsteen at the end of the song.
When my kid heard me tell her about all this she said, "Oh, awesome!"
So yeah, I don't know. Hm. Maybe there's something there after all. That would be a cool thing to bring to life after all these years.
In The Deerslayer, Hawk-eye is about 23; in The Last of the Mohicans he's about 36; in The Pathfinder he's about 38; but then in The Pioneers he's 71 or 72, and in The Prairie about 81 or 82. Strangely, what we have is a gap of thirty-plus years in Hawk-eye's life during his prime.
So, this feeling keeps growing in mind that these stories exist and want to be found.
I see Leather-Stocking, Tomahawk, and Nathaniel as working titles for three works focusing on events in the hero's life during his 40s, 50s, and 60s.
In order to take on the challenging task of writing this sort of fan fiction, I would want to create as much of the proper tone and feeling as possible for verisimilitude, but would not attempt to write stories intended to fool anyone into thinking that these were "lost works" of JFC. They'd be novellas, heavily influenced by Daniel Boone's experiences, not focusing on huge battles, but rather his time perhaps held hostage by a tribe.
I mention this here just because I know if I don't then there's no chance of anything.
A few days ago I went out to my pickup heading to work and saw someone had left a flag carefully wrapped around a five-foot staff. Wondering what in bloody blue blazes this damn thing was, I unfurled it, and lo, turns out it's a Marines flag.
I think it's a sign of respect. I think somebody sees me around here as the guy for this thing.
Hell yeah, that's an honor. And plus a real conundrum.
Had to make sure and spell that last word just right so as to avoid confusion.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Gal Gadot owns the role of the superhero who first appeared in All-Star Comics #8, 1941.
Diana (Gadot), princess of Paradise Island, daughter of Hippolyta, is an Amazon warrior whose hidden land is discovered by an American pilot (Pine) running from the Germans in WWI. When she learns of the conflict in the outside world, she accompanies the pilot with the intention of dispatching the cause of the trouble: Ares, God of War.
In keeping with the Dark Knight trilogy, we have another DC character not referred to by the regular old name. At no point in the film are the words "Wonder Woman" ever uttered. We may therefore take from this that the filmmakers want the positive value of the character name brand without any of the negative baggage.
This reinvention of a character largely associated with a cheesecake-heavy 1970's TV show faces the uphill battle of presenting a woman equally as rugged as she is good-looking. And without being Jennifer Lawrence.
Gal Gadot. Perfectly cast.
She's the Janis Joplin of superheroes. When she runs into a tank, it wobbles. She can smash rocks with her fists and jump about twenty feet in the air. These aren't things we expect to see and are therefore more visually appealing than the same old stuff.
For example: In Batman v Superman (the movie where Gadot's Wonder Woman first appears), by virtue of riches, Batman makes a super-suit that lets him go toe-to-toe with Superman. Causing us to wonder, well hey, if could do that, why did he ever be regular Batman? When actually, if he was to fight Diana barehanded, he'd flat-out lose. Batman's just a dude. If he runs into a tank, that hurts him, not the tank.
Kinda sorta, DC makes Ares their Loki. Marvel has Norse deities running around, and DC gets the Greeks. At some level one does feel the palpable desire on the part of DC to de-throne Marvel at the box-office. And at another level one also detects the intent to finally have a superhero movie starring for once a woman, and for that film to not only be successful, but successful for the right reasons.
Not because of a skimpy outfit. Not because of getting saved by somebody else. The right reasons.
Starring Gal Gadot,
Eugene Brave Rock,
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Based on the character created by William Moulton Maston
Runtime 141 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
Friday, June 2, 2017
THE BASEBALL BAT CINCHED tight in the vise takes a dozen staples from the gun when affixing five or six feet of razor wire. That much wire is right where you want it. Less is too little and more is too much on a baseball bat. The man favors a prime maple Louisville Slugger. She's sturdy, well-balanced, and gleams like a million bucks all decked out in steel finery. The fresh razor wire looks every inch like a tight sexy dress on his best gal, and it sure is nice when that dress is red.
Upon completing the task of constructing the tool, the product of the craftsmanship is beheld with swelling pride. See the pretty girl in all her glory, held aloft like a newborn babe, razor wire so sharp and shining.
The instrument is placed in a specially constructed truck bed-liner case, and the case is placed in the back of a pickup. Letting the engine warm allows a moment to retrieve directions to the destination written on a piece of paper folded up in a back pants pocket. Somewhere on Oak Street, not too sure about the number. In the cell phone's light the address is memorized, paper subsequently folded to original size and chucked among the old receipts and sundry debris building up behind the seat. On the passenger side awaits a black, close-fitting cold weather hood with a slit for the nose and the eyes.
At the end of the street rise a commanding series of stone steps toward the university. Gray and cracked and thick with moss, the old stairs and wrought iron-topped walls give a good feeling every time. The maples are beginning to turn. Crisp brush of the leaves in the breeze with the window down. On a night such as this, a man might walk home his gal and sit on the front porch swing together sipping lemonade, or maybe take a baseball bat wrapped with razor wire on over to Oak Street.
At an intersection looking like a corner in a town straight out of any number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, there she is getting into an SUV: the Golden Woman, the shockingly beautiful brunette with the inhumanly perfect features and otherworldly golden sheen to her bright bronze skin. Beneath the streetlight clearly seen. And once again, eye-contact. Unable to stop, unable to meet her, unable to talk with her at all. Merely another maddening glimpse. This is going to cost Oak Street. He can't wait to get there now.
At a stoplight he checks his phone for the time. "Good good good," he says aloud. The next time he sees the Golden Woman, he determines, he will stop no matter what and speak with her somehow.
"Elm Street," he says, passing it. There was an episode of The Twilight Zone with Elm Street in the title. Wasn't there? Or was it Maple?
Maple Street, he decides. But can't remember the rest of it. Elm Street is the one with Freddy Krueger.
Boy is she a beaut of a bat. True, there is much to appreciate in a kukuri, but he likes being a bat-man. "I'm a bat-man," he likes to hoarsely announce when alone.
Takes the turn, cruises on down a bit, finds the right address, continues on a block before turning. Pulls a U-turn, parks facing Oak with a view of the address. Turns off the lights and the motor, sits and waits appreciating old trees rising around, making fantastic silhouettes against the deep rich blue of the new night sky.
He checks his phone for the time. "Should be any minute now." Thoughts of the Golden Woman creep at the edges of his mind.
Lights coming down the street. Hand moves for ninja hood. The problem with the kukuri is that it's too clean. One good swing severs a leg mid-thigh. For sheer brutality though, ah, a razor wire-wrapped bat.
Sure enough, the car is the quarry. It turns into the correct address. Swiftly flying into action, the man becomes silence, he becomes shadow. He dons his mask, he grabs his case. He opens it just a crack, so that it stays closed only by his holding the handle. Crossing the street quickly, he approaches his prey from the blind-side of the vehicle. His prey has parked in a dark driveway shielded by twisted old trees. Appearing from behind he drops the case and grabs the bat.
It's him, all right. He has the right guy. He has done his homework. "Hey scumbag," he growls, aiming at the knees, "Harry says hello!"
The razor wire bat chops into the kneecap hard, comes back out roughly while the dumpy little guy screams, and goes into the other knee every bit as deep.
No point sticking around now. He tucks his best gal with her pretty red dress back into bed and gets a move on as the screams start to get loud.
He puts the case in the back of the truck, hops in, starts up, and drives off, removing the ninja hood only when safely around the corner. Then, carefully as he came in, he calmly heads out of town to the bridge over the river. There he parks and cleans his hands and the bat and the case in the current.
Only when he stops washing does he really hear the river, and listening to it he thinks of the Golden Woman. Every time they see each other, their eyes always lock.
The bat in the case gets stashed in a pre-scouted spot under a thick clump of brush in the boulders near the bridge.
Dumpy little punk. Never should have screwed around with Harry's wife, dumbass. Got what you deserved, stupid piece of shit. Ya got schooled, hard. Schooled by the a professional.
Schooled by the Vindicator...
NEXT UP: Chapter 2 - The Golden Woman
Saturday, May 27, 2017
The fifth entry in the franchise is one of the best.
Upshot: To escape the dead Capt. Salazar (Bardem) and his ghostly crew, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp) must find the Trident of Poseidon.
Meanwhile, a young woman named Corina Smyth (Scodelario), called a witch for her knowledge of astronomy, crosses paths with one Henry Turner (Thwaites), spawn of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, two of the main characters in the first three entries of the franchise.
The first one remains unsurpassed. The trick has always been to try to match its magic, and it's never worked. But, even so, even without reaching the quality of the first one because of having too many magical seafaring things all over the place and being too self-aware, all of the four sequels are still more entertaining than the average release.
Somehow the construct of a POTC movie requires, among other things, huge, strange machinery moving dangerously about with characters fighting each other in and around the apparatus. One of the films has a waterwheel rolling down the world's longest hill with guys trying to fight while having to run like hamsters. This one has that sort of thing, roughly. And it does feel self-aware, but then certain things always have to happen in a James Bond movie, and those always work.
Bardem, who's been a Bond villain, makes a great villain here. The special effects--no point giving anything away, just needs to be seen--are in keeping with the brand and bring a nice touch for being visually appealing and original. In life, Salazar chased down pirates. But a young Jack Sparrow tricked him and created a monster...
No, the story isn't as strong as one might hope. But Dead Men Tell No Tales does have laughs and lots of action with great characters and splashy production quality. Plus it ties up a lot of loose ends.
Great way to kick off the summer.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:
DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
Starring Johnny Depp,
Directed by Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Written by Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott,
Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Runtime 129 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
Friday, May 26, 2017
Sometimes there are variations in this schedule. At such times, I might find a fossil. See? See the fossil that I found? Neato.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Like George Miller with Mad Max, Ridley Scott isn't just mining his own franchise from nearly forty years ago, he's legitimately expanding it.
The 2012 film Prometheus sets the sci-fi stage for Covenant, which in turn does the same for Alien (1979).
Strong on character, visually compelling, and boasting an epic feel, Covenant gives us all of the gross-out "chest-bursting" moments we expect, while further exploring the disturbing implications and possibilities of artificial life.
When ship crew members awaken prematurely on a journey to a new planet for the 2,000 passengers aboard sleeping in hibernation pods to colonize, they find their captain has died, and their new captain is unsure of himself.
After receiving a mysterious transmission, the new captain deviates from the original mission and charts a course for a planet which looks like the natural world on Earth. The crew soon find a huge crescent-shaped vessel that crashed against a mountain, and are exposed to spores that use humans as fast-acting incubators for an extremely vicious, violent species.
The compelling result is polished sci-fi gold.
Fans of the 1979 original, a film resplendent with the dark art of H. R. Giger, will appreciate the visually consistent look and ominous appeal from the director of Blade Runner (1982). In keeping with that film, Covenant features artificial life. Michael Fassbender, in a dual role, plays a "synth" named David, and the newer, updated version, Walter.
Those new to the franchise won't be required to see the other films, but they'll want to.
Starring Michael Fassbender,
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett,
Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, Dante Harper
Runtime 122 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
Friday, May 19, 2017
Part of my writing process is sharing it here. Sometimes the stories finish fast, and sometimes they take awhile. I've found if I share at least an idea, I tend to come back to it and contribute more. To wit, the current ongoing story, KRAZY KARTOONZ, which began here as a post consisting of notes and impressions.
So what I'm seeing here so far is a story about some lone individual who, disguised, does daring deeds on behalf of worker's rights. He appears at night in a sort of quasi-costume consisting of overalls, boots, gloves, an N-Ferno hood, long-sleeved solid color shirt, and shades, sometimes with a tool belt, a big sledge-like hammer, a big sharp knife, an axe, a maul. Whether he named himself or not, I'm not sure, but he's known as El Obrero--the Worker.
Here's the pissed-off developer who wants to put up a giant wall.
His name: Wally.
Wally likes shot guns and hires goons. A belligerent man, Wally favors a bull horn and loves his larger-than -life tougher-than-nails persona in the media.
Because of this coverage, which quickly goes global, in Germany, sightings of Der Arbeiter arise. In Russia, Rabotnik. Other pro-worker's rights individuals around the world dedicate themselves to amazing moments of bravery, causing no violence to people, and rather only disabling machinery destructive to human dignity and rights. NOTE: Need a few more particulars there.
Not living in a perfect world, he might have to go ahead and teach lots of goons important lessons with hedge clippers, nail guns, a couple of picks and a Maddox.
And there might be an alien ninja.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Admittedly, the story is fairly scant. Though it amounts to yet another father quest, the style of the characters and sheer presentation suffice to enthrall.
Whereas the first one allows us to meet the disparate characters and see the formation of the unlikely group, this sequel focuses on Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, meeting his dad (excellently played by Kurt Russell).
Among the sub-plots, Gamora (Saldana) has a part-robot sister named Nebula (Gillan) who's ticked off that their dad, Thanos, had part of Nebula's flesh removed and replaced artificially every time she lost a contest to Gamora.
Whereas last time Rocket (voice of Cooper) rode on the shoulder of the big plant-man Groot, this time Baby Groot (voice of Diesel)--a tiny plant-guy who rocks out to Star-Lord's mix tapes with cuteness levels exceeding baskets of kittens--rides on the shoulder of the genetically-engineered weapons specialist raccoon...or monkey, or rat, or garbage panda. No one can quite tell.
Some of the movie's scenes are tainted by inclusion in the trailer for months. A better way to draw in viewers is to not spoil scenes, but rather create an entirely separate trailer product which provides a sense of the film and enhances excitement without giving anything away. Suffice to say, there's still romantic tension between Star-Lord and Gamora as noticed by Mantis (Klementieff), whose antennae detect people's emotions and allow her to innocently reveal deep secrets.
Meanwhile, we learn of the Sovereigns, gold-colored people of an advanced species who control human affairs from afar. Or at least try to, blissfully ignorant that their machinery produces noises sounding like Atari arcade games.
Like Deadpool, Guardians is a post-modern twist on the Marvel superhero movie. Laid-back and irreverent, the sequel revels in the same edgy humor and ethos of coolness that sets the franchise apart from the crowd.
Well worth settling back for more galactic action and the best easy listening soundtrack in the multiverse.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
Starring Chris Pratt,
Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Runtime 136 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
Friday, May 12, 2017
THE OLD MAN powered the BMW smoothly up the steep winding slope still effusive, still grateful.
"It was just a reflex, sir," the easygoing passenger repeated yet again, looking out the window at the town receding below. The rolling golden hills were dotted with trees that the young man thought looked like giant bunches of overcooked broccoli.
"Why, it was...just a reflex!" The old man gave another dead-on Randy Rabbit impression.
The passenger turned his attention from the relaxing vibe of the scenic charms and began to scrutinize the old man behind the wheel more closely. The old man didn't seem to notice he was being watched. The young man said nothing, and eventually turned his attention back outside to the hills rolling all around.
"D-don't quit now, Ch-Ch-Chief!" The words came from the old man driving, but it sounded exactly like Guzzy Goose. Finally, the young man realized.
"Hey, you're Lem Weiss, aren't you?"
"What's your name, son?" Graciously the old man shot out a hand for the shaking without taking his eyes off the road.
"Casey Evans. Man, I love Krazy Kartoonz!"
"And I love not getting hit by that damn car, Casey! You saved my life, kid. At least what's left of it. Tell me, how long have you been homeless?"
"I'm not homeless, I just travel around."
"About six years."
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-four." He almost added, while the old man shook his head disapprovingly, "How old are you?" but didn't want to be rude.
The BMW eased up a side road and a hundred yards up that swerved into a driveway barred by a large wrought iron gate. A remote was attached with a clip to the driver's side sun visor. Lem clearly enjoyed hitting the button that made the imposing gate roll to the side.
"I never knew you lived out here," Casey said.
"Not many people do. That's the way I want it, too. I moved up here, let's see, almost three years ago now, shortly after my wife passed away. For years and years we lived near Morro Bay. But I just can't be there anymore."
"How did your wife die?" Casey hoped that was a polite way to respond.
"Freak explosion," Lem said as he parked the car. "Come on inside. When was the last time you had a decent meal?"
Casey gave an absent-minded reply, vaguely trailing off as he got out and beheld Lem Weiss's home. "Wow, it looks like a castle! Whoa, you even have a moat!"
"I stock it with piranha," Lem said, smiling. "Tell me, young man, I'm frankly curious. What on earth possessed you to hitchhike out here?"
Casey detected a rebuke. Somehow this put him at ease. "I've been on the road for years traveling around the whole Pac Northwest. I work on fishing boats, I work construction."
"You work clipping pot?"
"Why, you got any?"
Lem laughed. He still kept that tiny mustache. Old school. Still dressed casual conservative, still loved his Scotch, just like he did in the 1940s and 50s when Krazy Kartoonz was at its height.
"Go ahead, kid, reach into the moat. Piranha love to be petted."
At the right angle, Casey could see the glitter of fish chilling in the murk. "Yeah, that moat doesn't look too clean."
"Oh, they clean what goes in it. Come on, let's get a m-m-meal in ya Ch-Ch-Chief!"
At the touch of a button, a drawbridge slowly lowered, behind which simultaneously a large wrought iron portcullis slowly rose.
Casey wandered in wide-eyed. A profusion of wisteria complemented stone walls and a flowery scent permeated the air. Lem led the way to a heavy door which opened to a dark hall. Though the day was warm, inside the house Casey felt cold.
At the end of the hall was a door to the kitchen, the biggest kitchen in a home that Casey had ever seen, with multiple stoves and refrigerators, and great big pots, butcher knives and meat cleavers. Lem selected a temperature on an oven, pulled a foil-wrapped tray from a fridge and asked Casey if he wanted two enchiladas or three.
"Enchiladas? Seriously? I can have three?"
"Of course! Let's just give these a few minutes in the oven. They're worth it that way. What can I get you to drink? Scotch?"
"Scotch? Kind of early, but, okay."
On the opposite side of the kitchen was the door to the dining room, which in turn opened to a family room beyond. Casey got the feeling that Lem didn't have much family around. He spotted the mini-bar as he perused the décor. In the time it took him to take in what seemed cursory glances at surroundings which evoked imagery from the classic cartoons, Lem had turned on some classical music--Casey recognized Mozart's Turkish Finale--poured a couple of drinks, and retrieved a handsome box from which he produced a rich man's stogie.
"Cigar?" said Lem, proffering the open box.
"Sure," Casey said, selecting one, "thanks!"
In a gentlemanly manner, Lem produced a light. Gratefully Casey inhaled. Lem put his lighter in his pocket and took a step back as he watched Casey take a couple drags.
The cigar exploded.
Casey's screams of pain were stifled by the splits at the corners of his mouth. All around his mouth, from the tip of his chin to his cheekbones, the skin was blackened by the small blast.
"I'm so sorry," Lem eventually said. "I don't know how that gag cigar wound up in the box! Here, take my handkerchief. You'll want to wipe off your face, kid."
Casey took the cloth, wincing as he wiped.
"I feel just terrible about that," Lem kept saying. Lem felt so badly about Casey's cuts, he offered him a rare gift by way of compensation: a pair of actual jet-shoes inspired by an old episode from Krazy Kartoonz.
Casey looked up. "No way," he said, "really?"
"Actual jet-shoes. Try 'em on, kid!"
The shoes were an amazing achievement. Even if they didn't work, they were cool to look at.
At Lem's friendly behest, Casey went ahead and put the jet-shoes on without a trace of self-awareness regarding the pungent stench released from his feet. And for a moment his mind was taken off the pain from the exploding cigar. Then Lem showed him the switches at the heels. Assuming the requisite crouch, Casey readied himself as the jet-shoes powered up. He could feel the shoes shaking as they emitted a sound that started out low and slowly increased its pitch to a high intimidating whine. Just as Casey turned his cigar-blackened face to Lem with the intention of saying, "I don't think I want to do this," flames burst from a small box at the back of each heel and Casey was propelled forward faster than he could maintain his crouch, so that his feet shot ahead and his back slammed against the stone flagging of the small courtyard. It nearly cracked his head open, but he managed to keep his chin tucked in.
Though the power of the shoes was spent in seconds, in that time Casey was dragged around like a chew toy in the mouth of an excited dog. To Casey it felt like the shoes had chains attached to a Hummer that tore off at top speed. Only when it was over did he realize the screams still ringing in his ears were his own.
The smell which lingered in the air reminded him of the 4th of July. He couldn't quite remember who he was, initially. Where he was or why. He was bleeding, he noticed. Hands, shoulder. His back stung terribly. Holding up his right elbow, Casey saw a thick flap of skin about as big as a credit card flop over and bob on a wet grimy hinge. Lem was there, looking. Leaning down, he saw.
The old man laughed as the wound gushed blood. He laughed in a crouch, incoherently recounting what he'd just seen with tears of laughter streaming down. Finally, he gained control of himself sufficiently to wander off--Casey knew not where, out of the courtyard, anyway.
In mere moments Lem returned with a first-aid kit. "It's not that bad," he said of Casey's wound having cleaned it. "Looks worse than it is." As he wrapped the elbow with gauze bandage--having already been sure to give the young man a strong does of painkiller--Lem revealed that he himself was raised by abusive grandparents on a farm.
"My grandfather was a sadist. He required me to laugh uproariously every time he beheaded a chicken. He'd chase one down, grab it by the neck, hold it over a stump, and decapitate it with a hatchet. 'Lemme hear ya laugh yer head off, boy!' he'd demand while the body ran around aimlessly flapping. So I learned to laugh. I knew if I didn't I'd get worse than this little scrape on your elbow here. And then of course I had to play the violin. No violin lessons meant lessons in violence from my grandmother. Now then, all out of bandage, and it looks to me, Ch-Ch-Chief, like your p-painkillers are workin' d-dandy!"
"You got that right, Guzzy!" Casey laughed. "I am definitely feeling no pain. Thanks, man."
"Why, it was...just a reflex!"
"Thanks anyway, Randy."
As Lem led Casey back to the kitchen for the enchiladas, Casey happened to notice through one of the windows that further off there dangled two stories over the sidewalk a large, precarious-looking grand piano. Just waiting to fall. The moat, the cigar, the shoes, the piano--everywhere you looked, there was something to reference Krazy Kartoonz. Casey mentioned this to Lem, and Lem responded that the cartoons made him such a fortune, it's his pleasure to honor them. Leading Casey into the kitchen as he spoke, Lem stopped when Casey stood in the doorway and asked if he remembered the name of the cartoon chicken with the lisp.
"Of course I remember," Casey said. "Ima Goner."
"You sure are!" said Lem, smiling with his hand on what looked like a light switch.
The big red boxing glove that exploded into the side of Casey's face on a long retractable arm nearly knocked him unconscious. Multiple Lems rang with peals of unabashed laughter.
"Wantout," Casey slobbered, staggering sidelong into a wall.
"What's that you say?"
"Oh, you want out. I see. Good luck with that."
"I wanna go home."
"Home? You don't have any home. You're a b-b-b-bum, beggar!"
Ordinarily, Casey would have had nothing to fear from the old man. But now his body didn't work right, and the old man was more lively than he looked. There were only two of him now, two Lems calmly perusing the wide array of meat-cutting blades displayed along the wall.
In a panic of terror, Casey crashed his way out of the room.
The somber hall was dimly lit. Casey saw a hallway bisecting the one he was in; determining mid-sprint to continue on down the hall, certain that must be the way out, Casey ran headlong into a solid wall.
A wall painted to look like the hallway.
At the entrance to the kitchen, Lem sprang out, meat cleaver in hand. Perceiving what happened, he stood rooted to the spot and helplessly guffawed. The stark fear in the young man's face scrambling to escape was by itself nearly sufficient to incapacitate the old man with belly laughs. Collecting himself, Lem tottered off with his meat cleaver.
Casey heard the old man's cartoon voices vaguely echoing as he tried to find a way out. Unable to tell where the old man was, Casey kept looking behind himself to see if he was being followed. Turning a corner doing this, he nearly fell into a trap: here the hallway had no proper floor at all, but was actually a huge pit. Fake doorways lined a fake hall. Hard reality was a bad fall--and worse. For as Casey looked down, incredulous and aghast, he saw movement below. From out of the shadows, perhaps only twenty feet down, the baleful glare of an unmistakable form regarded him.
It was a lion. A full-grown African lion. A lion in a pit in a trick hall.
From hidden speakers came Lem's voice.
I see you.
Casey looked around. He could see no sign of equipment.
Do you hear that? It's the sound of me eating breakfast cereal.
"What do you want?"
"Why are you doing this to me?"
I get to watch a funny show.
"Leave me alone!"
You better not do anything bad to Brutus. I saw you almost fall in. That was funny!
Casey paid no attention. He went through a bedroom, and a bathroom, then another hall. At the end of the hall stood a suit of armor. It held a long sort of battle-axe with one gauntlet at the head and the handle braced on the floor. The moment Casey came within range, frenetic classical music suddenly blared, and down came the heavy blade, barely missing him.
Lem's uncontained laughter blended with Khachaturian's Sabre Dance on hidden speakers positioned all around. Casey still paid no attention. His was riveted to the door leading outside. He ran over to it.
He shook the handle. He could see through windows in the door. He slammed his left, less-injured side into it.
Damage that door and I'll tan your worthless hide, boy!
Casey kicked it. Again. And again.
Finally the door burst open. Casey released an exhilarated cry as he rushed outside--then suddenly stopped, and following some instinct, took a step back.
In the next moment, the earsplitting sound of a grand piano crashing on the sidewalk from two stories up reverberated across the vast, rolling hillside.
There, straight ahead.
That wasn't where Lem parked. When could he have re-parked the car? If Lem had people working for him--as indeed he must--Casey never saw a one. In any case, the car was in front of him. There was nothing to do but run for it.
Every step of the way he expected another attack. Another trick, another trap. Another deadly joke referencing the old cartoons. Every window that he passed was an opportunity for a cannon to appear and blast. The sprinklers on the lawn--maybe battery acid inside? Gasoline? Don't get too close under the edge of the roof, could be anvils.
When he made it to the car, which was locked, the voice appeared behind him. "To be, or not to be. That is the question."
Lem held the shotgun in the crook of his arm like a country gentleman. "I never got to play Hamlet, you know. And I wanted to. Believe it. I would have made a great Hamlet. Maybe the best."
"Just let me go. I won't tell anyone. I promise. Who would believe me, anyway? Just let me go."
"O that this too too solid flesh would melt."
"It's 'sullied flesh,' not 'solid.' You got it wrong. You screwed up. And after all this time to prepare for your big role. I'm leaving now."
Casey headed toward the drawbridge.
Lem called out.
"Boy! Don't you turn your back on me!"
Lem called out to stand and face. The drawbridge was still down, the portcullis still up. Casey crossed the drawbridge over the moat and started on down the drive, then heard two distinct clicks.
He turned around. Lem had followed. He was standing at the extremity of the drawbridge studying his gun with a bewildered expression.
Sometimes guns misfire. Sometimes people forget to load them. Whatever reason the gun didn't work, Casey seized the moment.
"Try to shoot me in the back, huh?" The words shot out of Casey's mouth like flames from a dragon as he charged toward Lem. Casey came at the old man with everything he had. Ordinarily, no problem. In his travels hitching around he'd had lots of scraps. Ordinarily he could tear the old guy inside-out, wad him up nice and tight to get a good dribble, and then go shoot some hoops. But now, after all of his injuries, and disoriented by the painkillers, Casey rushed at Lem with everything, and without a thought for where the old man stood, because he hadn't yet known to take Lem seriously about stocking the moat.
Together they struggled. The old man had tried to swing the gun like a quarter-staff, but Casey's punches at Lem's face made him drop the gun and grab at Casey as they fell backward over the drawbridge chain together into the brackish water.
The plunge in felt instantly cold. Casey didn't want to let go of Lem, yet had no choice in order to reach the side of the moat and climb several feet up the rock wall. He kept trying to wipe the foul water from his face as he dogpaddled. Just before he reached the wall, he saw Lem struggling with the most intense expression of sheer fear stamped on his face that Casey could ever imagine. There was a flurry of motion in the water around Lem, followed swiftly by his screams.
For a moment Casey wondered who else was in the water with them, because he felt tugging at his legs. And then the water boiled as untold mouths of hand-size fish tore voraciously at flesh. The men's high-pitched screams lasted several moments, followed by the flurrying sounds of the feeding fish as Lem fed his pets one last time, and as the churning disturbance in the dark water subsided, perhaps having heard his master's cries, Brutus let loose with a rare roar.
CrowMag, my first band, has several excellent tunes. I include in my primo list what I think are our four top numbers:
We Went to Town (On a Bigfoot We Found)
Howlin' Stew and Muddy Ross have a couple songs that merit inclusion:
Mothers Without Masters
Mothers Without Masters is story title, a song title, and a band name (which by the way I want to return to with a new lineup). MWM at some point became Stew and the Sleazebags. A few months of jamming once or twice a week resulted in eight songs that I like best:
MWM - No Good Reason
MWM - One More Night
MWM - Dirty Energy
Stew and the Sleazebags - Overqualified
Stew and the Sleazebags - Hear About You
Stew and the Sleazebags - Lumber by the Train
Stew and the Sleazebags - Went to Town
Stew and the Sleazebags - Lotion in the Basket
Check out my profile on SoundCloud. When you're there, just scroll on down. Some tunes have multiple versions. I'll take down the lesser ones as new material demands.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
What started out as a joke in Benson's act actually happened. (Instead of a movie poster featuring the star's mouth stuffed with French fries, Benson's is jammed with joints.)
For a third to half of Super High Me we see Benson undergoing the first 30 days of the experiment pot- and alcohol-free. This is entertaining in and of itself. Laments Benson, "Everything reminds me of pot now that I can't have it."
We see Benson hanging out with other comics talking about the experiment being filmed, we see him interviewed by a medical practitioner and a psychologist, and we see him undergoing a battery of tests, including the SAT.
Packed with hilarity, science has never been so funny.
The filmmakers also touch base throughout with a North Hollywood dispensary, and a rogue cop who keeps shutting dispensaries down.
At one point Benson takes a trip to Canada to interview a pot guru. What he finds is that the guy blabs...and blabs...non-stop.
"Holy crap," Benson says leaving, "I feel like I went through some sort of marijuana gauntlet."
Once named by High Times the Number Two pot comic in the country, Benson's material often focuses on observations concerning exactly what you'd expect. Episodes of his show "Getting High with Doug", featuring celebrities getting high with Doug, abound on YouTube.
In the recent The Lego Batman Movie, Benson voices Batman baddie Bane, and he's appeared as himself in about a hundred productions, including the series "Trailer Park Boys".
Loaded with celebrity cameos, the film focuses on recreational users and medical patients avowing the benefits of use.
To find out how his physical and cognitive test results with and without pot compare, and have a darn good time watching one man's quest to determine the effects of pot on the body, avail access to the hilarious and informative 2007 documentary online.
SUPER HIGH ME
Starring Doug Benson,
Directed by Michael Blieden
Runtime 94 minutes
Sunday, April 23, 2017
How the dad, played by John Lithgow, managed to lift the stunned but not dead body off the road and pack it on top of the station wagon remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of cinema.
Perhaps because the special effects are state-of-the-art for 1987, too much emphasis went into the costume, and not enough into the story and the characters.
The subject matter fits the Pac Northwest like a giant hairy glove, but inexplicably the filmmakers target an audience of the very young.
To keep things light, the Bigfoot (Hall) whom the Hendersons hide at their house, is a primarily simpering, sheepish creature, not all that gigantic, and looking very much like a guy in a suit.
For major conflict we have a hardcore Bigfoot-hunter (Suchet). Lesser conflict appears in the form of a nosy neighbor (Kazan) who barges into the house and starts sniffing around, never realizing how close Harry stands by watching her the whole time.
The filmmakers repeat that bit with Don Ameche as a Bigfoot-denier at the Hendersons' dinner table, denying the possibility of Bigfeet and unaware of the one inches away.
Which would be impossible.
The overall presentation is fluffier than the subject matter's hide. Consequently, after the movie, there was the TV sitcom. Different actors in the roles, but every bit as fluffy, plus the same guy in the same costume.
Much of the movie relies on see-sawing displays of power. When Harry eats the teenage daughter's birthday corsage, she angrily tells the Bigfoot off...until he stops backing out the door and shows it's his turn to roar. All the while with generic cutesy-wutesy flute music.
It's interesting that the filmmakers chose to make their Bigfoot male, because the famous Big-footage from Bluff Creek in the '60s shows a striding female Gigantopithecus. The pendulous breasts on the creature in Roger Patterson's film are always removed in chainsaw carvings, commercials, movies. Common sense would therefore seem to tell us that Patterson, former rodeo rider, was no different from anyone else, that he didn't make a female Bigfoot suit, but that it's actually real.
HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS
Starring John Lithgow,
Kevin Peter Hall,
Directed by William Dear
Written by William Dear, Bill Martin, Ezra Rappaport
Runtime 110 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Starring Janis Joplin,
Directed by Bob Smeaton
You'll want Festival Express to go on.
Music lovers--especially fans of '60s rock, folk, and blues--will find much to hold interest in this excellent 2003 documentary of the 5-day trans-Canadian train trip in the summer of 1970 featuring performances by the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, the Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and more.
More concert than commentary, participants from the private train running east to west giving concerts on the way reflect on the "traveling circus" sometimes met by near-riot crowds angry at concerts requiring a nominal fee. As Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead notes, "These people were looking for trouble."
In spite of facing a financial loss, the producers never held back on anything for the artists.
What often looks like home movie footage proves a time capsule reflecting innumerable details of the age. Yet ultimately what we get are great concert performances. Highlights include renditions of "Cry Baby", "Lazy Day", and "The Weight" from Joplin, the Burrito Brothers, and the Band, respectively.
"It was a train full of insane people," says the Dead's Phil Lesh. Drummer Mickey Hart adds, "This train was not for sleeping."
"For any musician on this train," one band member recalls, "it was like heaven."
Passing places such as Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat, the "La Bohemian society" of big music acts partied across Canada and gave shows arguably better than Woodstock.
Though marred by the entitled stance taken by some audiences, the show rolls on never missing a beat, celebrating the '60s and kicking off the '70s just for the fun of it.
Freely available on YouTube.
Stewart Kirby writes for