The Worst

So here I am near the Texas coast, waiting to drown. Or at least that is what the media is telling me. So what better time to poke my head in, as I promised last time? Anyway, there’s something I’ve been working on over at Letterboxd, off and on, for a while now.

It’s a list called The Worst. If you’re not interested in clicking over, its basic reason for living has to do with people complaining that something relatively innocuous is “The worst movie ever made” which is usually followed by my “Eh, I’ve seen worse” which, in turn, is followed by “Then what is the worst movie you’ve ever seen?”

That is a more complicated question than you might think.

Y’see, I’ve been purposely watching “bad” movies for decades, and truthfully I almost always find something to enjoy in each one, even if it’s just grist for the sarcasm mill. But there are some movies that do not even offer that, and watching those is like a season in hell.

Again, if you’re interested in clicking over and seeing pretty pictures, here’s the list. There’s a lot of low-budget and even shot-on-video stuff, which may make some cry foul, those should not be held to such lofty expectations, but once more I say bullshit. At the risk of repeating myself, the covenant between myself and a movie, any movie, is that The Movie agrees to entertain me, and  agree to be entertained. I’m an easy mark, but even the big budget players on the list couldn’t manage it. The little blue titles mean you can buy them on Amazon, if you don’t believe me. Some you will just have to take my word.

  1. The Avengers – the 1998 version. On paper, a sure thing. An update of one of my favorite shows with Uma Thurman replacing my first crush, Diana Rigg, and Ralph Fiennes doing his best Patrick Macnee. On celluloid, sheer misery.
  2. Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever – How do you manage to take a movie with Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu and somehow make it terrible?
  3. Blackenstein – now we’re getting into the low-budget strata. I wrote about this back at the turn of the century, and some took it as a challenge.  They regretted that. And now its available on blu-ray.
  4. Doctor Gore – some of the low-budget exercises in gore are amusing if you’re a gorehound (yeah, guilty), but some are simply dreadful. Which brings us to:
  5. Blood Cult – shot on video, presumably the very first made-specifically-for-the-video-market horror movie, but not the last. Overlong even at 89 minutes and unengaging.
  6. Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?– No. There, I just saved you and hour and 47 minutes of vanity musical and odd celebrity cameos. I tried to warn you about this one, too. As Victor Spinetti says, “I blame Fellini for this.”
  7. Dondi – The Medveds tried to warn us about this.
  8. Escape from Galaxy 3 – bought all the special effects scenes from Starcrash and got marketed as Starcrash 2.
  9. Intercessor – Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is a fun waste of time with good music. Its sequel – 18 years after the original – is not.
  10. The Magic Christmas Tree – some low-budget kiddie fare is so demented in their cheapness that thy’re adorable. this one isn’t.
  11. Monster A-Go-Go – an unfinished movie finished by H.G. Lewis that, even in its theatrical form, is still unfinished. I think the MST3K guys considered it even worse than Manos.
  12. The Mummy – the Tom Cruise one. Don’t get me started because I’m probably doing this one for Hubrisween.
  13. Nukie – one of my war crimes is helping a visiting Chris Stomp Tokyo Holland find a copy of this at my favorite used movie store. For my sins, David Harlan dropped it on me at a Crapfest.
  14. The Ripper – another video-to-video thriller from the people who brought you Blood Cult, proving they learned nothing. Except how to blackmail Tom Savini into an extended cameo so they (of course) could give him top billing and move more units.
  15. The Roller Blade Seven – God, the wounds are still fresh from this one.
  16. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny – if you want to have fun, run a betting pool as to exactly when in the movie the Ice Cream Bunny shows up. There are also two versions of this, which is, in itself, another war crime.
  17. Science Crazed – the return of video, and Doug Tilley’s favorite movie. This is a dangerous individual.
  18. Sex Kittens Go to College – Albert Zugsmith strikes again! (he also directed Dondi) There is nothing worse than an unfunny comedy. This was the 2am soul crusher at the last B-Fest I attended, due to it being the more explicit version where strippers dance for a robot. How can this be bad, you might ask. Have you ever seen Orgy of the Dead?
  19. H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come – has nothing to do with Wells’ book and everything to do with a rush to cash in on that sweet sweet Star Wars money.
  20. Sorority House Vampires – see unfunny comedies, above, and add even more boobage.
  21. Spine – shot on video slasher flick made by people who I’m pretty sure made bondage porn previously.  Keep your murder cash-ins out of my kink, please.
  22. Star Odyssey – another Italian attempt to cash in on Star Wars with a cast of characters that should have led to better results.
  23. The Star Wars Holiday Special – oh, you knew this was coming.
  24. The Tuxedo – Hollywood seemed to have an absolute passion for wasting Jackie Chan’s talents, and this one is the worst.
  25. Wild Wild West – Hollywood also can’t make a decent steampunk movie. I saw it at a dollar cinema and still felt cheated.

There. Now I feel no need to answer that question for at least another year or so. See you after the disaster.

Some Sci-Fi Junk Food

Let’s see if I can ignore the Doomsday Clock for a few minutes and actually get something written.

In the odd evenings that I’ve managed to put aside for movie-watching, I’ve definitely gone the escapist route this year. So on a vacant Friday evening I decided to finally watch two of the biggest flops of the last year, just to go someplace else for a while, even if that place might not be worth the visit.

First up was Independence Day: Resurgence, which was one of many dull thuds in the Summer 2016 box office. It’s 20 years after the first movie (appropriately enough), and the aliens return for a rematch, except this time they’re serious. Stage center is largely occupied by the children of the main characters of the first movie, though Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica Fox and Bill Pullman all return.

And overall… I liked it. Hey, Mikey!

We are told that in the intervening 20 years, mankind is still united, and we’ve reverse-engineered alien tech to a degree that put me in mind of Macross. There’s a thriving military moonbase and, at the very least, an observation post near Saturn. Another alien race attempts to contact us, and given our last experience, we immediately shoot them out of the sky. Too bad they were offering to help, huh? When the new bad guy mothership arrives, it is over 3000 miles across, has its own gravity field, and parks across the Atlantic ocean. The whole ocean.

Guys, that is some cool mind-blowing science-fiction right there, and it’s only damaged a little by Roland Emmerich’s fetish for out-doing Irwin Allen in the disaster department. (“How will we get a speeding vehicle dodging stuff falling from the sky this time?” I wondered. “Ah! Here we go!”) People deride it for being basically the same movie as the first, just bigger – my question is: is this the first sequel you’ve ever seen?

My other question is why with all this alien tech at our disposal are people still driving cars that require gasoline, but let’s not get too far down that rabbit hole, or we’ll be wondering why it takes the aliens three-quarters of the movie to toast the communications satellite network aw crap.

I wanted big and stupid, I got big and fairly stupid. I enjoyed it, which surprised me, as I’m not a big fan of the first movie. I liked it alright, but I wanted to love it, and I didn’t.

So I might as well tarnish that experience by immediately following it up with Ghost in the Shell, which for some reason I felt compelled to watch. I guess there’s a nerd punch card somewhere I needed to fill?

Briefly: Scarlett Johannson is Major, a human brain in a robot body. Major has no memory of her former existence, though she is told her body may have died by drowning. She is employed as an intelligent tactical weapon by an elite peacekeeping force overseen by Takeshi Kitano. As she works to root out a rogue cyborg who is hacking into the data centers of other cyborgs, she begins to find out unpleasant truths about her own existence, not the least of which is her true identity and origin.

Ghost in the Shell is a competently made, if relatively (and ironically) soulless. When I found out this was made by Rupert Sanders, a whole lot of things suddenly made sense. Like Snow White and the Huntsman, this movie uses its technology fairly well, but an essential feeling of reality is missing. In Snow White‘s fantasy world, this wasn’t a big deal, but in cyberpunk, it is. The frequent loving vistas of a futuristic city overwhelmed by gigantic advertising holograms look like they came out of a Mind’s Eye laserdisc in the early 90s, not a big budget CGI extravaganza from 2017.

Sanders seems to rely almost solely upon the talents of his stars to give his movies life and energy; before it was Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, this time it’s Johannson and Takeshi, and the movie isn’t willing to meet them halfway in that effort. They’re a talented bunch, but they need a script that did more than read the definition of anomie in a word-a-day calendar. I’m going to be honest and admit I haven’t seen the original since it came out in the mid-90s, but golly it sure seems like Major is rendered helpless a lot for an unstoppable killing machine, just so exposition can be delivered. The most damning thing about Ghost in the Shell is that it’s a great comic book and a perfectly fine anime – why was it felt necessary to make a big budget live version? (Truthfully, I can think of more than one movie that needs to have that question asked, but we’re trying to be brief here)

So. Independence Day: Resurgence, thumbs up, Ghost in the Shell thumbs down.

Now I’m going to become scarce around here for a while. Yes, yes, I know, scarce-er. The October Hubrisween event is coming, and I need to get way more done on that than I have at this point. I’ll try to poke my head in, I really will.

(Ron Howard voice: “He didn’t poke his head in.”)

Buy Independence Day: Resurgence on Amazon

Buy Ghost in the Shell on Amazon

Better yet, buy the original Ghost in the Shell on Amazon

Crapfest: The Mutining

It’s a familiar story by now, so let’s skip it. Sudden loss of paying gig, instead embrace life by making each other suffer with a Crapfest. It just turns out that mission statement was a little too literal this time.

Prepping for the evening’s entertainment

In attendance: Myself, Host David, Rick, Paul, Alan and Erik. I also brought my son, Max, who as we know, is establishing his own bona fides in the world of Crap. The beginning of these things is always a fluid matter, as inevitably we wait for one person or another to show up. The filler for this period was episodes of Jason of Star Command, one of Filmation’s wholesomely boring Saturday morning sci-fi offerings after parent groups scoured the mornings of violently entertaining fare like The Herculoids and Space Ghost.

Jason occupies the sweet (?) spot between Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Spun off from the previous year’s Space Academy, it thriftily used that series’ models; the most salient features are Jimmy Doohan as the Commander, and Sid Haig as the cyborg villain Dragos. Jason dresses like a Walmart Han Solo, and has a windup toy robot which has a handy deus ex machina function. There is really not enough Sid Haig, but each episode, sans commercials, was only about 10 minutes, so we kept going on until everybody got there, about four episodes worth.

Before we started in earnest, Dave demanded the flash drives of myself and Erik so he could examine the contents for (harrumph) quality. Of the several flicks on Erik’s drive, he singled out one, and I held that I had never seen it, so that is what we started with. And it would set the sad, horrible tone for the rest of the evening.

Because that movie was The Roller Blade Seven.

There are, in all, five – count them, five – Roller Blade movies. Six, if you count a making-of. They are all (except for the making-of) directed by Donald C. Jackson, likely best known for The Demon Lover or Hell Comes to Frogtown. The first two Roller Blade movies (I am told) are generally fun, cheap, sleazy trash full of gratuitous nudity. With this third one, though, Jackson began a long partnership with Hollywood martial artist Scott Shaw. This was an instance of “zen filmmaking”, which translates into “we make it up as we go along”. Also, gratuitous nudity does not seem to be very zen. In effect, I was somehow tricked into watching the Public Access Cable offering of some early 80s wannabe electro pop band.

In a vaguely post-apocalyptic world, Shaw is Hawk, a guy who roller blades around with a sword. He’s supposed to rescue, um… let’s check the Quotes section in IMDb:

Hawk: You have sent for me, Father Donaldo?

Reverend Donaldo: Hawk, sister Sparrow has been adapted (sic) and taken into our worst nightmare.

Hawk: You mean my sister that has become your sister?

Reverend Donaldo: Yes, our sister sister. You must go now to rescue her!

“Hey, I got this cool armor I made in shop class” “And I got this mail-order camo ninja outfit” “You’re BOTH in the picture!”

Donaldo, incidentally, is played by Jackson himself. Hawk’s rescue mission will somehow involve Frank Stallone, Joe Estevez, William Smith, and Don Stroud, each of whom will get a credit just before their entrance, no matter how far into the story. That’s something I’ve previously only seen in some Hong Kong movies, and it’s not the only strange appropriation, either.

Karen Black shows up as a character named Tarot, who keeps stuffing mushrooms in Hawk’s mouth until he begins tripping balls, and I guarantee that Ms. Black was having some Easy Rider flashbacks of her own while shooting this stuff. There are portions of Roller Blade Seven that feel like Jackson and Shaw had really wished they had made Easy Rider, Performance, Circle of Iron  or any given Jodorowsky flick, and those sections actually approach a sort of brilliance. Then again, that is probably the sheer amount of painkillers I was taking to get through this experience talking.

So now the rollerblade is on the other foot, eh, Rhonda?

Another of the celebrities somehow rooked into appearing in this is Rhonda Shear, late of USA weekend movies. “Ha!” I said. “I have a VHS somewhere of Rhonda dissing Forever Evil.” “And look what you’re doing now,” said Dave behind me. He leaned closer, pointing at my phone. “Do it. Find Rhonda Shear on Twitter and tell her what you’re doing. Do it now.”

Alas, I was already too inebriated to pursue such a complex series of actions for the cold comfort of revenge, and in the sober light of day, I’m probably better off for it. But it was sorely tempting. (As a slight digression, I experimented with a keyboard case for my Kindle Fire to livetweet the Crapfest, but it was too dark in the Mancave to type on an unfamilar device. I returned to the phone, but toward the end it was taking me what felt like five minutes to tap out a coherent message and I gave up)

Supposedly there were over 24 hours of footage shot for this and its direct sequel, Return of the Roller Blade Seven, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating every action shot and every shot leading up to an action shot three or four times.

Why weren’t five movies made about THIS guy?

My favorite character was a bizarre Nash the Slash lookalike who rollerbladed around playing the banjo. Everybody else hated him, which only made it better. Of course, he gets killed by a Utility Ninja (who gets his own credit). Dave uses the VLC Media Player to project most of our stuff, and would jostle the mouse every now and then to display the progress bar at the bottom. The official running time is 96 minutes, but the first time he did that – when we were pretty sure we’d sat through about an hour – it was less than 30 minutes in. Many and varied were the amounts of invective hurled toward Erik by Dave, who felt that Erik should have warned him better, louder, and more colorfully.

If there was one good thing about this, it allowed me to find the next night’s Episode 12 of the new Twin Peaks, which pissed everybody else off, hilarious. The one bad thing was it gave Dave the excuse he needed to throw in something he had been saving for ages.

First he had to go to his computer to set the movie up. “This is open matte!” he proclaimed, and then pointed to me. “Explain to them what open matte means!” he said, and departed. The surprising thing is, as out of it as I was, I actually managed a concise and clear explanation. Then the thing started.

It was Showgirls. Well, I thought, I still haven’t seen it, I guess this is the time, though I was puzzled by the corner super about “Celebrating 25 years of great American cinema” and the network bug in the corner, which at least explained the open matte, 4×3 picture. Then the pure horror of what Dave had perpetrated became obvious.

This was the basic cable TV version with superimposed digital underwear.

The digital underwear is certainly something to see. It looks like those lobby cards from the more salacious flicks of the 70s that have really obvious underthings painted on, except here the outlines of the fake bras are subtly writhing as the actresses move. Alan, who, like me, had never seen Showgirls, left the room and refused to return, not willing to see a literally bowdlerized version. Paul kept us informed as to what was cut out, until he, too, joined the general exodus from the room a half hour in, and the only occupants were myself, my son, and Dave. I decided it was time to take one for the team.

“Okay, I’m calling it.”

“What?”

“You’ve made your point. Let’s end this and move on.”

“Does this mean I’ve won?”

“Sure. You’ve won.”

“Mark this day down!”

“Okay.”

“I want the full details of this in your write-up!”

“Fine, fine.”

“Omit NOTHING!

This was also the point I stopped live-tweeting, an event Dave later likened to radio contact being cut off from the reporter at Grover’s Mill.

Yet things did actually get worse from there, and it was my fault. An earlier discussion of late night televangelists caused me to realize that I had Werner Herzog’s God’s Angry Man, a marvelous short documentary about the deranged Reverend Gene Scott, on my flash drive. In my impaired state, this seemed like kismet, guidance from above. It turns out Herzog is not a good antidote for denied boobie fans, however, and there was another general exodus. Severe misjudgment on my part. I relented and put on a classic cartoon about everybody’s favorite serial killer, The Pincushion Man.

And then Dave proceeded to soothe a whole lot of hurt feelings with Au Pair Girls (1972).

In the name of laziness, I will simply place the IMDb’s summary here:

Four sexy young foreign girls come to England as au pairs and quickly become quite intimate with their employers, host families, and just about everyone else they encounter.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. That is the very loose framework employed to get four very pretty young women to take their clothes off as often as possible. One of them is Me Me Lai, and it is pretty refreshing to see her get naked and then not get eaten by cannibals. Another of them is Gabrielle Drake, which means if, like me, you only watched the TV series UFO for the Moonbase girls, this is the luckiest day of your life. All these nude misadventures find them jobless and back at their agency, but fortunately our young faux Scandinavian has caught the eye of a rich Sheikh and apparently they all go off to Araby for a happy life of sex slavery.

The most remarkable thing is that it’s directed by Val Guest, just one more stop in a long and varied career. Here, enjoy the theme music that would haunt us for the rest of the evening:

I finally hit a better stride with Bloody Parrot, a completely bizarre Shaw Brothers movie from 1981. The Bloody Parrot is some sort of supernatural thingie that, if you see it, will grant you three wishes. The first guy who sees it is looking for 13 treasures that were stolen from his lord, and his first wish is to find them – they mysteriously appear, but in some Monkey’s Paw shit, his son is killed. Of course, he wishes for his son back, the coffin starts shaking, everybody panics and starts stabbing each other, and the 13 treasures disappear.

This is the first five minutes of the movie.

For the rest of the running time, our hero Yeh Tin-feng (Jason Paio Pai, looking a lot like Kuan Tai Chen) is looking for the treasures because everybody seems to think he has them for some reason. He keeps running across the Bloody Parrot, though no wishes are offered – people just die mysteriously. He follows the most tenuous of clues to the Parrot Brothel, where he falls in with the remarkable courtesan Xue Nu (Jenny Liang), who’s the movie’s major selling point, I’m sure, as evidenced by the opening credits:

Ms. Liang is certainly fetching, and is introduced in a costume that renders her literally half-naked. That she does the following lengthy scene – including a strenuous bit where she is apparently possessed by the devil – in that outfit is pretty amazing and much appreciated by the male audience. The plot goes fourteen different directions at once, involving witches, vampires, cannibals, strange conspiracies, hunchbacks, acid (the burning kind) and then we get introduced to this lady:

Who likes to use the skin of her victims to make clothes. Her weapon is embroidery needles. She is also on the side of the good guys, which surprised some, since you aren’t usually introduced to good guys with somebody’s face in an embroidery hoop..

This was the third time I had seen Bloody Parrot, and this was the time I almost understood the plot. (Maybe I should try that with Roller Blade Seven, but then again naaaaaah, fuck that noise.) Finally Yeh and Xue are separated in the villains’ hall of mirrors, and Xue hits upon the strategy of marking her trail with the only thing on her, her clothing. Which is either the stupidest plan ever or the most phenomenal stroke of genius, depending on your gender.

Villains are finally revealed, and the explanation for what’s going on is so blazingly simple, you wonder why it was necessary to swim through such murky chaos to get to it, but then Liang shows up in that half-dress again, and everything’s okay.

Nothing short on the Internets, you can’t buy it on Amazon, so here:

Mind you, that was me being nice. Then it was time to be not-nice, as I broke out the last of my Andy Milligan blu-rays, Torture Dungeon. Milligan had not yet appeared at Crapfest, which, if not a miscarriage of justice, is at least a bit of a surprise. We are no strangers to Milligan here at Yes, I Know, so let me see if I can be as succinct and informative as I was about open matte abominations.

Milligan is credited with 29 motion pictures, but is probably most famous for ten horror movies made between 1969 and 1973 for the grindhouse market, infamous for their gore. The gore would be considered pretty tame these days, but these flicks are (for me) most notable for the fact that parsimonious producer William Mishkin would give him only $10,000 to make each movie, and they are almost all period piecesTorture Dungeon, in fact is a medieval movie, and attempting to do such a thing on that budget without a renaissance festival nearby is insane.

And check out that authentic period set dressing!

Milligan is self-taught, and his background is largely theatrical; this is always made particularly obvious by his love for lengthy monologues with no cuts. There are at least five of them in Torture Dungeon, but there is damn little of the title character. Two scenes, enough to justify the expense of dressing the basement and larding the makeup on a couple of guys.

There is some sort of plot here about a villainous Duke (Gerald Jacuzzo) plotting to kill all the heirs in line for the crown of England, and for some brain-damaged reason this involves marrying the pretty peasant Heather (Susan Cassidy) to his half-wit brother (after killing her equally-peasant lover), and then immediately murdering the half-wit. There is a surprising amount of nudity from Ms. Cassidy, which was at least a welcome distraction. In fact, she body doubles for another actress (Patricia Garvey, I believe) whose nude scene we were actively rooting for. As Dave pointed out, “It’s the freckles that give it away.” Well, that and the ham-fisted editing.

There is so much more. The Milligan Spin, after every blood scene. That the storytelling is so haphazard that we didn’t even know the Duke only had one arm until halfway through the picture. Milligan did his own costumes, so the “Upholstery or Tablecloth?” game.  The cheap library music that is obviously, jarringly from 60s industrial films, which simply cut off at the end of a scene. I used to say I could watch only one Andy Milligan movie a year, and now I can’t get enough of him. He’s like crap movie crack. True outsider art.

Thus bludgeoned by the evening, we packed up and left, sadder but no wiser. And on the way home, my son asked if I could track down a copy of Roller Blade Seven for him. The horror. The horror.

I don’t want to leave you on such a hopeless note. Here is a Charley Bowers short I screened earlier in the evening, in happier times. Though it is predictably racist in its portrayal of superstitious butlers, it is even more racist against Scotsmen.

Though We Cannot Possibly Recommend It:

Buy The Roller Blade Seven on Amazon

Buy The Un-Bowdlerized Showgirls on Amazon

Buy Au Pair Girls on Amazon

Buy Torture Dungeon on Amazon

A Critical Mishap

It’s possible that one of the contributing factors to my current paucity of critical writing is an incident that happened years ago (ain’t that always the Freudian way?). Lazy afternoon, the wife and I were watching something on Netflix that was a compilation of 50s-60s horror movie trailers with snarky commentary. The snark frequently bordered on the mean and hateful, and I said so. “They sound like your reviews,” she said. I answered that my reviews started from a basis of affection, but she was having none of it. “Nope. They sound just like you.”

That’s bothered me off and on in the intervening years. The instances of bother seem to coincide with periods of scarcity, like now. Am I contributing anything to the discussion? Or am I simply a low-rent MST3K substitute, available without subscription? And really, isn’t this kind of a pathetic existential crisis?

I suspect this will soon be rendered rear-view mirror material; I have a Crapfest coming up in a couple weeks, and such pearl-clutching will go out the window, where it belongs. I’ve been feeling a slight yearning to return to movie-watching, to that pledge to watch all of Tarkovsky’s movies this year. Some of this may be fueled by a bit of brightness, that the current efforts to take away my health insurance have failed; however, there is also the awareness that when the Death Star explodes, the Empire just builds another one.

So it goes.

So once more it is asked, what exactly are you doing with your evenings?

Guess.

Yes, I wrote about some a few weeks back. I’m still exploring the form. Greg Wilcox told me my price quote of $15.99 was due to a poor sampling (though some of the prices I’ve seen on YouTube have been that bad if not worse. I suspect those were from the heyday of the fad, and the market is cooling); I’ve since seen spinners in the wild recently for $5.99. I continue to get them on a slow boat from China for two to three bucks. The truly dangerous ones I ordered still haven’t arrived, but there is enough to confound and bore you with.

There are a number of Batman forms available, but I went for the more retro curved version, as opposed to the modern, angular and sharp versions. The design’s asymmetry works against it; I like to spin and move the device, enjoying the gyroscopic feel pushing against me. It reminds of that cool-ass toy gyroscope I had when I was a kid. This design, though, doesn’t engender the same smooth force – it creates a clunky, bumpy spin. If you’re poetically-minded, it does sort of recall the flapping of a bat’s wings.

(guitar solo)

I did have to also get in this combined copyright nightmare. This is essentially the former spinner with a rubber Captain America shield plopped in the center disc, no other changes. It did however allow me to post on Instagram:

WE’RE AN AMERICAN BAT
WE’RE COMIN’ TO YOUR TOWN
WE’LL HELP YOU PARTY DOWN
WE’RE AN AMERICAN BAT

With Marvel movies making serious coin in China, you can be sure that there are also spinners of his shield, and here I finally hit a cropper: I knew it would be a disc spinner, which I don’t really care for. It is pretty large and colorful, but, in a departure from most of these spinners (except my beloved Behemoth steampunk spinner), it is entirely plastic. Most spinners also have a version of a skateboard bearing at its center, and this one does not, so it has no spin stamina. Being a cheap bastard, I go for the “Free, Just Pay Shipping” versions where possible – it’s possible if I spent a few more bucks I could get a metal version, but again: I’m not going to use a disc spinner, so why bother?

Putting the lie to that almost immediately is this beast. I love dragons, especially the classical Asian type, so this baby was calling my name. A disc type, but the spines and horns give my middle finger enough purchase to spin it in my preferred style. Heavy and metal, it spins a looooong time, though. If it were a little larger, it would be ideal. Though even at its size, it feels inordinately heavy, so wishing it larger might be some monkey’s paw foolishness.

Also in our last installment, I introduced you to the fidget spinner full of ancient evil, and the spinner filled with ancient pseudoscience. In my increasingly deranged head canon, the ancient evil and astrology spinners teamed up, so I had to get a spinner filled with the power of SCIENCE. Besides the fact that it looks pretty cool (and reminds me of my favorite Silver Age Metamorpho villain, back in the Ramona Fradon days), that design is perfectly balanced (SCIENCE!) and its spin stamina is off the charts. Go, Science!

Now wait, you may say, you keep going on about dangerous spinners, but none of these has seemed particularly damaging, although we are worrying about your mental health in general. I KNOW. All my really lethal spinners have yet to arrive, and I am beginning to suspect customs may be confiscating them against the coming civil war. But I do have one that is proven dangerous:

Hahaaaaa, yes! Come here, you lovely little monster! If you read the article, it’s exactly two of these gizmos that have done the Johnny Storm bit, and it’s because of the same problem that gave us exploding Galaxy Notes: too much battery in too small a space. Well, we are very safety conscious here at Freex Labs, so while charging we placed the spinner in a metal container and did not leave it unattended. There were disappointingly few sparks, flames or explosions. The damn thing didn’t even get hot. It paired to my phone easily and produced quite the light show while streaming music from Pandora – my wife is extremely jealous and I have to lock it up at night.

What caused most of the adverse reactions to this was not so much the exploding part as “a bluetooth spinner?” I grant you, it is puzzling. The music sounds alright, but it would sound so much better from a bluetooth headset or dedicated speaker. Those damned kids! They’re just doing it to be annoying!

So, that’s it until Customs decides I’m not a terrorist looking to cause mass destruction with my questionable spinner purchases. But wait… what’s this?

 

I, um…. I’ll see you later.

IT WAS COMING RIGHT AT ME

Solitaire’s a Game for One

“So, if you’re not currently watching movies almost nightly, what are you doing with your evenings?”

I’m glad you asked, mysterious sock puppet. I’m reading, of course – Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and being driven mad by the faux photocopied documents, almost impossible to read on my Kindle. But by and large, I am indulging that infrequently employed category on this blog, Old Men Playing Videogames.

“DANG you, PwnzNoobz666!”

This is where the “Old Man” part becomes a bit more than ironic posturing. I haven’t owned a gaming console in more than a decade, maybe two – that is now the province of my son. You get right down to it, I was never very good at most of them, anyway. My methodology in fighting games was “Flail away in all directions”. The other gaming trend that took over the market for a couple of years was side-scrolling shooters, and I did alright at those, but I found them more frustrating than entertaining. Don’t even talk to me about platformers. My interests were more with the Role Playing Games; the first videogame I ever finished was Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. I remain one of the only people I know who finished Final Fantasy VII.

So most of my experience with the newer, shinier videogames has been watching my son play or when I visit Dave and he forces me to play whatever Mario is current so he can laugh at my clumsiness. No, I still play what are known as JRPGs, still finding them entertaining until almost inevitably I hit the ridiculously overpowered End Boss and I walk away. Past that, I have largely aged into what is sneeringly referred to as a Casual Gamer.

My game is Solitaire.

“Memmmmmories… light the corners of my miiiiiind…”

It was almost impossible to escape the classic game of Klondike in the early days of home computing – it, like Minesweeper, was there to get people accustomed to using the mouse. There were many games marketed over the years with fancier, even customizable cards, more variations on the game. One of the first shareware games I actually bought – outside DOOM – was Solsuite, which has resided on every hard drive I ever owned. It includes what seems to be every variation of the game ever, and beating German Patience was my quest for several months.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m an RPG fan, so I wanted something a little deeper. And game designers stepped up. We’ll take these in (sort of) order played. I’m not going to mention the ones I hated – and there are several. All of these are available on Steam, if you are so interested. All of them employ the basics rules of the Solitaire variation known as Golf, where cards are played one rank higher or lower than than the base card, with no regards to suit. The order loops, so Kings may be played on Aces, and vice versa.

I suppose my modern era of solitaire obsession began with Rainbow Games’ Chronicles of Emerland, which I originally played on an iPad, and was delighted to find on Steam.

Emerland eases the RPG fanatic into it’s world via a tutorial administered by an ancient wizard. In a format with which we will become very familiar, each level consists of ten hands, with an option to immediately replay any hand with less than a happy outcome, and you are going to want to get as much gold as possible from each hand to buy power-ups in the game store – more undo’s per hand, more cards to your deck. Wild cards occasionally show up, and you can hold up to five for when they are needed. Longer strings of cards removed from the board give you bigger bonuses. Between each level is a brief hidden object game to break things up.

When you finish your tutorial level, the Wizard’s old disciple, Seth, shows up and announces he’s going to take over the world, as one does. His plan is to waltz though the four kingdoms, destroy the Amulet each uses for magic protection, and then raise a Lava Golem to dominate them. You – and your cards – have to get through all the obstacles Seth throws in your way, repair the broken Amulets, and defeat the Golem. Along the way you pick up a companion from each of the Kingdoms – a Knight, Elf, Dwarf and Merman. Each has special attacks that prove very helpful in cleaning up the hands where you have an annoying card or two left over.

The artwork is very pretty in Emerland; the characters have some limited animation, and are fully (and pretty well) voiced. I enjoy that the card layouts actually change in form through the various kingdoms. I literally have no idea how many times I’ve played this through.

That obsession was kicked into high gear by Grey Alien Games’ Regency Solitaire, which I had read about on Boing Boing. It’s basically the Masterpiece Theater of solitaire games, as we meet young Bella, whose family fortunes have been squandered away by her foolish brother Edward. He’s been snookered by that awful Mr. Bleakley, the scheming neighbor who hopes, now that her family is practically penniless, that Bella will be forced to marry him. The game will take you though a pretty entertaining story, as Edward gets in deeper and Bella meets Lord Henry Worthington, who is as handsome and decent as Bleakley is odious and treacherous.

No hidden object games here, though each level has three increasingly difficult objectives that must be met or you have to play the level over again. Between each level you can purchase power-ups in the form of decor for Bella’s initially barren ballroom, two of which do stray card cleanup. Regency also allows you to hold up to ten wildcards, and those will be essential for some of the tougher objectives. I haven’t played it as many times as Emerland, but it’s close.

Subsoap’s Faerie Solitaire is the one I’ve currently played the least, but that’s not a comment on its quality – for some reason, on my desktop, the game refuses to be centered in fullscreen mode. It plays just fine on my laptop though. You’re a young man who seems to have a talent for freeing captured faeries (through playing solitaire, of course). Exactly why these poor creatures are being captured has not yet been revealed. The main character has voiceover narration, and my producer’s heart mutters “Couldn’t this just as easily been a girl? Save the cost of the voice work and make it gender neutral?”

The design seems geared toward younger players, with whimsical, simple card designs. The default sounds seem rather loud, clangs and crashes calculated to create youthful laughter (or maybe I’m just old). Though the game claims its version of wildcards are “Rare” I’m finding them pretty frequently. There is no option for immediately replaying less-than-perfect hands, that is apparently in another game mode that has to be (pretty easily) unlocked. Perfect hands allow you to gather eggs for fantasy animals that evolve through other magic items gathered and experience as you play. And who can resist hatching dragons? It’s been fun, though not terribly challenging.

Anawiki Games’ Avalon Legends Solitaire 2 was my sole reason for existing for several days. It begins with a war between King Arthur and an army of goblins, which I guess was the plot for the first game (spoiler: it was not). While Arthur and his knights are off to Goblinland, it’s up to you, a druid with a deck of magic cards, to rebuild war-ravaged Camelot. Clearing cards uncovers gold, food and material, all things you need to create buildings, and depending on which you build, they will create more.

Avalon places each hand as a separate location of a pretty large map. It had been a while since I’d played a game with a manufacturing chain, and I soon realized I was cheating myself by wailing on the replay button immediately after a bad hand. By returning to the main map each time, I collected more material for rebuilding. Playing the hand again doesn’t replace the food or materials, but it allows you to score more gold, and as we all know, gold can solve a lot of problems.

I took the responsibility of rebuilding Camelot very seriously. and spent most every waking hour doing so – it was that much fun. I seem to have completed that about three-quarters of the way through the map, which means now I can afford some of the pricier power-ups in Merlin’s Tower. Wild cards really are rare in this game – you generally have to buy them – but it seems you can replay ANY hand whenever you want.

Let’s wrap up with something completely different, Raging Hammer Games’ Solitairica. Once more you’re up against some megalomaniacal villain – this time it’s Emperor Stuck – using only the power of Golf. Well, not only, as there are some intriguing overlays. You’re still clearing cards largely with no consideration of suits, but this time the suits do matter, because they charge up one of four attributes – Attack, Defense, Agility and Willpower. These power spells that allow you to clear cards faster, make better decisions or, as it says, defend.

This is what I was playing when Avalon Legends 2 sucked me in. The hands each represent a different enemy, and they are not defeated until you clear all the cards from the field. Each enemy is different in both attacks and defense, requiring you to constantly reassess your play style. The first field is eighteen enemies deep, and I don’t know how the game is arranged after that, because I haven’t gotten any farther than that. Challenging game, but highly entertaining. When a defeated enemy calls me a “Hornswoggler!” I know I’m in for a good time.

There’s more I haven’t even started to play yet – including a Day of the Dead-themed one – buuuuuut I’m also pretty sure you stopped reading a couple of games ago. Fine. I’m going to see if I can finally defeat the Sturdy Coin Swarm Expanding Bureaucrat.

Also Available on Amazon:

Chronicles of Emerland

Regency Solitaire

Faerie Solitaire

Avalon Legends 2

 

The Block of the Writer

First off, I’ve had writer’s block before, and this really isn’t it. Writer’s Block is usually a perceptual crisis where nothing seems to fit right and no way forward can be seen, and thus paralysis sets in.

Okay, so maybe what I have is writer’s block. A form of it anyway.

The diet seems to consist mainly of despair these days, and if you don’t understand why this is, you are A) Lucky or B) Not paying attention, or both. Everything is burning or falling apart or getting shot and in an atmosphere like that, you start to wonder if something like watching movies and gassing about them for a thousand words or two actually matters in any way.

This is, I suppose, an existential crisis that all writers – and other artists – go through at some time. “Is there a point to what I am doing?”

Now, I’ve carved out a minor career in examining the pointless, absurd, and disposable – it’s inevitable that I’d eventually consider that career to be pointless, absurd and disposable – because it is. But it’s my piece of the turf. It’s what I do. I keep trying to return to it, but again: it’s currently a grind setting off sparks against a much bigger grind. I don’t expect this to be permanent – it hasn’t the other times it’s happened. But that could also just be the psychic equivalent of thinking that chest pain will go away, because it has every other time.

I do really miss yanking the page out and crumpling it while screaming “GARBAGE! IT’S ALL GARBAGE!”

I’ve had my experiences with depression and this is similar to a worrisome degree; the major difference is this time I’m medicated and able to function better (and in the Paying Attention category, you know there are forces at work trying to take that away from me). And that adds a new wrinkle into the current Block: do my meds dull my creative spark, or whatever the hell it is that drives me to link words together in a semi-coherent and hopefully entertaining manner?

There have been essays about all the great writers who were also addicts in one way or another and think yeaaaaah probably not. Did Hemingway need booze to write? If Coleridge’s doctor had not prescribed Laudanum for rheumatism, would we still have Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan? That one, at least is easy to refute – he wrote both before he became addicted. Writing is a complex, solitary chore – more people choose to not do it than do.

I hit a point recently where I ran out of my happy pills and couldn’t afford the refill (this period is now luckily past) and I found out that one of my other addictions filled in somewhat, and that is the fidget spinner.

Oh, so much digital ink has been spilled on these things! Teachers hate them! Boing Boing loves them! Allow me to fill up some space about them, and maybe bust through this writing blockade.

If you have not yet encountered the fidget spinner, welcome back from Mars, I look forward to seeing your slides. This picture is the most common style: usually three arms spinning around a central base with a bearing. Each arm usually has another bearing, so when you get tired of spinning around the center. there is another way to fiddle with them. There is apparently an entire subset of YouTube tutorials for tricks with them.

These were the big fad in schools last Spring. Teachers I know shared pictures of all the spinners they had confiscated at the end of the year. When I had first heard of them, they were being marketed as an aid to students with autism or ADHD. Whatever else you may call them, that does not cover most of the kids in public schools; so yeah, they’re a distraction in those settings. In my day (*cough cough*) the schoolhouse craze was a lot noisier and more dangerous:

Ladies and gentlemen, that shit could explode on you in a cloud of supposedly high-impact acrylic shrapnel. Spinners at least are quiet and non-explosive. You will recall the autism/ADHD claims; my wife runs a private school for children with learning disabilities (ADHD among them) and used some spinners during testing. The improvement was dramatic – then, this is the actual setting for their intended use.

So. given that the fad has created a famine of the things in local stores, and looking to get a supply for her school, she gets in a package of several from a website that seems to be the Walmart of Chinese vendors, and hands me one and I fall in love.

If you’ve interacted with me for any length of time in fleshspace, you know that I am a thumb-twiddler. It’s something I do while idle without realizing it. That’s one of the reasons I try to avoid clicky-pens – I can get really annoying with the dang things. I run audio for live broadcasts of City meetings, and there is one guy I want to take the pen from and hand him a spinner. Much quieter.

Oh, all right, the website is Wish dot com. It’s not like I get any referral fees or anything. Given that a recent trip to NYC revealed that spinners go for $15.99 or so, waiting a few weeks for a $1 spinner to make it over from China seems reasonable. Because I got really interested in the many forms of the device. Especially the ones that look kinda dangerous.

This is the first one I bought, and still my favorite.  I was wondering about how the gears would interact with the spinning, and the answer is, they don’t. But when you get bored of spinning – it happens – you can turn the gears manually, a variation on spinning from the arms rather than the center. It’s a little bigger and clunkier than most spinners, and feels more comfortable in my hand. Also, most of the spinners I’ve encountered are metallic, and this one is almost entirely plastic.

Now look at this sucker. Just look at it. This is one I simply could not avoid owning. I posted it on Instagram with the caption “My new spinner is here! Unfortunately, it also came with ancient, unrelenting evil.” This is the most dangerous one I own so far, and not just because it looks like a prop from a Full Moon movie. My fidgeting usually takes the form of holding it in my left hand, and my middle finger doing the spinning. Those flanges on the bat wings can hurt, especially since it’s metal and fairly heavy. Also slightly smaller than the steampunk one above, and not as comfortable in my hand.

Next to arrive is this beauty. Instagram caption: “To combat the spinner full of ancient evil, I got one filled with ancient pseudoscience.” My first disc spinner, and I find that form doesn’t jibe with me at all – my usual practice of spinning with the same hand’s middle finger doesn’t work well. It’s a two-handed spinner. But it’s also metal and beautiful. Maybe I can wear it as an oversized medallion or something. Doesn’t bode well for enthusiastic use of the Captain America’s shield spinner that’s on its way, but come on. That purchase was necessary.

And I still haven’t gotten into the really dangerous-looking ones, the ones that are obviously re-purposed shuriken or look like the little brother of the Glaive from Krull.

That was a thousand words on gewgaws that no one will remember existed in ten years. Guess I can still write, after all.

 

The Obligatory Twin Peaks Post

2017 has been a year of more changes than I am comfortable with. I won’t go into the really obvious ones – you’re getting more than enough of that from the news and social media – and will, instead, go into what blogs are supposed to be about – the personal. And one of the most bizarre changes for me is that I now spend so much of my dwindling free time watching television.

I guess it could be argued that the TV I am watching is an entirely different beast from what is usually conjured up when that word is spoken aloud. Any given evening, my wife is downstairs watching more typical fare, like The Bachelorette, Dancing With the Stars, NCIS. She loves those shows, and that’s fine. She works hard, she deserves to be entertained. I have my little space upstairs, where I watch darker, stranger things (though I still have not watched that one. Limited time, folks).

The current obsessions are The Expanse, though I am severely limiting my watching there, as I know season 3 is almost a year away; American Gods, and, of course, the return of Twin Peaks.

I’m not one of the people who re-watched the original series and Fire Walk With Me in preparation for the return. I’ve watched the original so many times – I have multiple copies on VHS, laserdisc, DVD and now blu-ray – it is an old and familiar friend. I do feel badly about not dipping into the deleted and expanded scenes for Fire included in that blu-ray set, but as I said – limited time.

Showtime took the remarkable step of releasing the first four episodes practically simultaneously, so finally – one evening, after far too long a period of scrupulously avoiding anything on the interwebs that even looked like it might be about the show – I turned everything off except the TV, put on my headphones (Lynch soundscapes are important) and sat back for four hours of Lynch.

And got transfixed all over again.

Last week I said I expected something weirder from this iteration than most people were probably expecting, and wow, was I right. Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is still trapped in the Black Lodge, and his evil doppelganger is out committing heinous crimes and generally carrying on the work of Killer Bob under the guise of “Mr. C”.  Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) is tasked – via typically cryptic pronouncements from the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson)’s Log (A Log) – with finding the real Cooper. And yet all this is merely background for what is unfolding. For something called Twin Peaks, there is remarkably little actually happening in Twin Peaks.

In these first four episodes, we’ve had appearances of varying length by characters from the original series where possible, and this is where the series is picking up more than the expected resonances with me. This is something that smacked me upside the head when I first saw The Force Awakens – the return of characters I had known a goodly portion of my life, and they, like me, had aged since I’d last seen them. It’s a phenomenon I’ve also experienced in holiday get-togethers with my college crowd. “Yeah, I’m here for a gathering…” “Well, there’s a bunch of people at that table in back.” “Nah, that’s a bunch of old peopl… oh fuck.”

So it’s actually kind of comforting, in that sad inevitable way, to see it happen to fictional characters that you thought you’d never see again.

The first two episodes bring me back to something I’ve been saying for years – if David Lynch ever decided to hunker down and do a serious horror movie, we would all be screwed. There are always moments of terror in Lynch movies – Blue Velvet is a waking nightmare,  moments in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire will give you the jibbilies – and there are segments in these eps, considered as a two-hour whole, that I will put up against any number of uninspired horror attempts of this decade (and easily ranking among the best). Lynch is one of the few directors who can employ the primal language of dreams correctly, to both good and horrifying effect. The man wrings existential dread out of Roy Orbison songs, for God’s sake.

The two eps also serve as notice that we are in Lynch’s world, bitches, when we meet the Evolution of the Arm, which feels like something Lynch thought was too weird to be put in Eraserhead. We find out that Cooper can’t escape the Red Room unless Mr. C comes back in, something the stars are almost in alignment for (but we will find out Mr. C has set up some sort of Cooperesque homunculus to stave that off). Then the evil doppelganger of the Evolution of the Arm shows up and ejects Cooper from the Red Room anyway.

The third episode involves Cooper’s arrival in the even weirder Purple Room, which is like the most terrifying MYST rip-off game ever. He will eventually work through the point-and-click puzzles – with the help of, oddly enough, what appears to be a grown-up backward-talking Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine). The switcheroo with the homunculus takes place, leaving both Cooper and Mr. C in this world.

(And let me tell you, for several minutes before we found out about C’s fail-safe plan with the homonculus, I thought Lynch had just Lost Highway-ed us again)

However, this causes Mr. C to vomit up all the garmanbozia he’s been gathering for the last 25 years, and he gets captured by the police, alerting Cooper’s old FBI cronies. Meanwhile, as we saw in Fire Walk With Me, a mere two years in the Red Room had rendered Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) incomprehensible; Cooper has been wiped clean by 25 years in there and is walking though life blanker than Chance the Gardener, trying to occupy the life the homunculus had built, which seems to have its own dangers.

This is where we stand now. That bit of largess on Showtime’s part puts us in the odd position of having a skip week and then grumbling, “What, only one episode this week?” But let’s not be facile about this. I was owned, body and soul, as those first few chords of Angelo Badalamenti’s theme played, and I will be back for more on Sunday.

Now, where’s my On The Air reboot?

No need to feel left out. Buy that Twin Peaks Box Set on Amazon