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The Wonderful Simplicity of Cheese And Why We Need It Now

The Wonderful Simplicity of Cheese

And Why We Need It Now

By Jessica Dwyer

This article isn’t about food.  The cheese I’m referencing isn’t the kind that you’d top a cracker with, but the kind that is a sometimes derogatory term for simple, moralistic storytelling.  The kind that we grew up with that you’d find throughout many a Disney flick or an after school special.   When cheese is done well it works wonders and can make us forget about the grey and dingy world we live in.

Of late we’re seeing a sort of resurgence in the types of stories, series, and films that revel in this type of tale.  It’s especially prevalent in television right now where Once Upon a Time is a major hit and has already spawned one spin off with the series Once Upon a Time: In Wonderland.   There are quite a few people who are saying that the new spinoff, which focuses on Alice and her search for the newly added character of Cyrus, the genie that she’s fallen in love with, is nothing but this type of story.  Nothing but fluffy fluff and that’s it.

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But I find I’ve noticed something interesting.  In this day and age of snark and dark, in the television wasteland of dreary police procedurals (remember when NBC used to be the Law & Order network and CBS could have just changed its name to CSI?) that we’ve reached a point where we have hit burn out.  If the evidence of numerous live action fairy tale retelling’s getting ready to hit you in the next year on the big screen isn’t enough, the fact that Once Upon a Time has already got one spin off while in its 3rd Season, with a few more ready to go once Wonderland is over, I don’t know what to say.

I think people are looking back to these stories from childhood, these basic tales of good vs. evil for a touchstone of something pure in a world that’s been so filled with bleak reality of late.   That goes for what’s been on TV too.  While I know the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad are great TV, the fact is the stories of a good man going bad and a world where basically everyone you love is going to be either eaten or die and try and eat you aren’t so happy.  And sometimes it can be a bit much when you’ve already seen some atrocious TRUE story on the news or had a horrible day, week, month, or even a year where you’re convinced that the universe hates your guts.  Sometimes you need something that reminds you what it was like to believe in something like magic or maybe just lose yourself to a good old fashioned love story that’s just simple and pure.

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I’m not talking about the Lifetime Movie Network versions where there’s usually a kidnapping involved or some bitter and jaded office girl finds love with a lumberjack.  I’m talking about the kind where you fight against forces greater than any you’ve ever imagined; dragons and witches and having to travel far and away from your safe little house to be with the one you love.  Destiny and redemption of a lost soul the sort of story that’s been around forever but we can always seem to stand seeing it one more time.

It’s interesting that these days we seem to be gravitating back to the classic stories, the tales that have, as I said, been around forever.  I think in our collective subconscious we’re burned out on all the rehashing of the modernized stories which have mutated into some weird mass of rehashed gunk with look-a-like actors.  We’ve done it to death or it’s something that’s just reminding us of what’s wrong in the world and I think we as an audience deserve a break.

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People make fun of me or say “of course you’re going to like that” when I talk about how much I enjoy watching Once Upon a Time and Wonderland.  They know I’m a sucker for that type of story because I grew up (when not reading Dracula or Phantom of the Opera) reading Beauty and the Beast.  And now guess what…everything old is new again.

We’ve collectively reached that point where the only way to get something new is to go back to the very old stuff.  It’s like finding a long lost friend who gives you a big hug and says “hey remember when…”  And you get that same feeling back as you watch.  You learn new things you didn’t realize too.  And while yes, the original stories themselves were quite dark as they evolved they taught us something about ourselves and gave us something to believe in.

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So yes, I’m a cheese connoisseur.  Yes I’m going to unashamedly watch Beauty fights for her Beast to become the man she knows he can be.  I’m going to hope that the Evil Queen learns to be the good person she used to be.  I’m going to watch as the real story of what leads one down a dark path like that of Maleficent can do to a soul.  And I’ll believe that if we believe in ourselves we can do impossible things because we can.

We’ve gotten so jaded and so disillusioned I think we can all use a little illusion, a little magic, especially the youngsters around us and our inner child too.  And so I’ll gleefully gorge on the platter of cheese set out in front of me.  It’s filling and satisfying and while it might be a guilty pleasure, I’m not feeling the least bit guilty for loving it.

 

 

Crossed (comic) 2008- present

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Crossed is a tale of depravity, murder, rape, cannibalism and infanticide.  It is without doubt the single most violent, brutal and unforgiving series of graphic novels ever smeared across the page.  It is disgusting, reprehensible and I love every red-stained page of it.

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It began in 2008, written by Garth Ennis, the genius behind Preacher and The Boys, and drawn by one of my favourite artists Jacen Burrows.  For 10 issues, the reader was drowned in blood, guts, gore, and other bodily fluids as this bleak, scarlet spattered tale was told.

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Crossed begins with the story of a small group of survivors making their way north to escape roving bands of The  Crossed.  Who are The Crossed?  They are you and me, your mother, your father, siblings, children, neighbours, but they have been exposed to an unknown disease which causes a cross-shaped rash on their face and makes them murderous rapists.  The disease makes them act out every sick desire they may have, but doesn’t render them mindless zombies.  This makes them highly dangerous, as they hunt humans for opportunities to indulge in their sadistic fantasies.  The Crossed contagion is passed through bodily fluids: blood, saliva, semen.  And they spray, spurt and slobber all over.

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The first volume concerns Stan who, along with others, witness the horror of the Crossed first hand.  On their way to Alaska, hoping that the Crossed will freeze to death the further north they travel, the group is stalked by a particular group of Crossed, led by a hulking former biker now known as Horsecock due to his weapon of choice.

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Among Horsecock’s band are Face, skeletally thin and wizened; and Stump, who has been divested of his arms and legs but who has unusually acute hearing.  These Crossed exhibit tenacity and a degree of sadistic planning, making them more dangerous than normal.  While trying to stay ahead of Horsecock’s group, Stan and his comrades have to make difficult moral choices, and discover what it means to try and hold onto your humanity in the hope of a happy ending.

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Volume 2- Family Values deals with the Pratt family, a ranching clan centred on religious patriarch Joe, and his rebellious daughter Addy.  The Pratt family had secrets before the Crossed attacked, but the blood-drenched devastation that sweep them from their ranch concentrates Joe Pratt’s religious mania and his incestuous desires for his daughters until it reaches critical mass.  Addy is forced to step up to lead the remains of the family to an uncertain future.  David Lapham takes over the writing duties for Family Values, and Javier Barreno is an artist with a very similar style to Burrows, which helps smooth the transition from Ennis to Lapham.

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Volume 3-Psychopath is a trip into human evil.  What happens when all that stands between you and the Crossed is a rapist murderer?  And he isn’t even Crossed.  Psychopath follows Harold Lorre as leads a group of survivors into increasing danger with lies, fantasies and murder.  His sick lusts show that you don’t need to be Crossed to be a danger to others.  Again, David Lapham continues writing the series, while Raulo Caceres is the artist.  Caceres has a dirtier, grittier style than either Burrows or Barreno, which although feels like a wrench away from the series style, it suits the tale very well.

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Volume 4- Badlands is a two story tale.  First, a group of survivors in the Scottish Highlands is tracked and killed one by one, while they continue to make mistake after mistake.  The second tale is that of three groups whose destinies will collide in the Florida Everglades.  We meet gun-toting sociopathic twins Ashley and Ashlynne; tough female ex-army torturer Stevie; Leon, a drug-dealer at a swamp-based white supremacist milita compound; and Greg, a slightly timid coward who latches onto Stevie as the only hope for survival.  Ennis and Burrows are back for the first story, and it feels a little as if Ennis is having a little trouble getting back into the groove with the story bumping along in episodes rather than as a whole.  However, Burrows is a clean and crisp as ever, although a few of the characters are too similar to easily distinguish them.  The second tale is the Crossed debut of writer Jamie Delano and artist Leandro Rizzo, and while the art is sound and consistent with Burrows, the writing is a lot weaker: the characters are, with the exception of Stevie, one-dimensional cyphers and the plot is fairly poor.  It’s a road-story, but the only thing that keeps road-stories buzzing are character studies.  That’s what’s lacking.

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Volume 5-is another two story tale.  In part 1, we meet cowardly kid nicknamed Yellowbelly, who is a narcoleptic with a streak of good luck a mile wide.  When his father and little brother take him to a circus it ends in blood and rape as the Crossed attack.  Hiding and sleeping through it, Yellowbelly survives to try and warn the next town, but to no avail.  He tries to seek sanctuary within a biker gang, but the situation quickly becomes fatal…  Lapham teams up with Burrows here, and it is an excellent match.  Lapham manages anti-heroes very well, and Yellowbelly is well fleshed out in this respect.

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The second story takes the form of a homage to Masque of the Red Death as an arrogant writer puts his entourage through increasingly degrading and depraved acts even before the Crossed make themselves known.  The writer here is David Hine, and this is the weakest Crossed story so far, and oddly, even Burrows seems to be dragged down by the baggage, especially in the action scenes.

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Crossed: Wish You Were Here.  This story follows Shaky, a former writer who faced the Crossed in London, and managed to make his way across the entire country to reach the tiny island of Cava in the Shetlands.  He, and others, scrape out an existence on the bleak island, keeping watch for Crossed who may venture into boats.  As the small community begins to implode, Shaky begins to formulate a plan for survival…Wish You Were Here started out as a web-comic, written by newcomer to the Crossed universe Simon Spurrier who delivers the most engaging plot and characters since Ennis’ original.  He is complemented by the excellent work of JavierBarreno, who again gives us clear and beautiful images of the bleak island of Cava, and the blood explosions of the Crossed and their victims.

 

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The other things to mention are the covers.  These are generally amazing, they are frequently drawn by Caceres, who brings a strange dark humour and almost cartoon style to the proceedings.  His style is what would happen is R.Crumb and Frank Miller had a baby, stamped it to death, them used its pulp as ink.

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The Crossed is simply brilliant.  While Ennis bowed out for a time after Volume 1, he was replaced by several other writers who have taken the shared world and used it to examine the darker recesses of human behaviour.  They teach us that the Crossed are just us, given licence to rape, kill and rend their way through the veneer of civilisation.  The “they are us” notion has been dealt with in the zombie movies of George Romero, but that always felt a little forced due to the dislocation between living and dead.  In Crossed these are not zombies: they are throbbingly, sickeningly alive, and they really are us.

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The genius of Crossed, though is to show that even as humans we are capable deep and terrible evil.  Almost every story presents us with a palpable human villain to hate: Joe Pratt, the incestuous father of Family Values; Harold Lorre the rapist murderer of Psychopath; and Gideon Welles, the “Prince Prospero” of the shock-lit crowd.  Even our protagonists tend to be anti-heroes: Ashley, Ashlynne and Stevie in Badlands are all sociopaths, and Yellowbelly is a coward.

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All of human behaviour in here in Crossed.  There are futile gestures, forlorn hopes, misplaced heroism, and dark desires.  There is blood, carnage, and bleak misanthropic angst.

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But most of all there is proof that, time after time, this is where the greatest stories lie: Lying in a pool of their own torn out intestines, laughing maniacally, and screaming obscenities…

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So what does the future hold for the Crossed?  I’m waiting on the delivery of Wish You Were Here 2 and the next Badlands anthology so they’ll be an update on them soon.  The most interesting rumour is, however, that a live-action web-series called Crossed: Dead Or Alive is to be filmed, directed by Ennis himself.  A web-comic will accompany the series.  After that?  A feature film is mooted, but it could only ever be a bastardised and watered-down shadow of its blood-spattered self.  Of course, if the full gory carnage and depravity could be rendered on film with the power of Ennis or Spurrier’s writing, this would no doubt be an unrated money-maker.  Gore hounds such as myself would snap it up quicker than Crossed teeth on flesh.

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Crossed isn’t for everyone.  And it is the benchmark for the clarion call that comics are not just for kids.  A benchmark dripping with human juices.

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COMICON IS COMING: HERE’S A BLAST FROM THE PAST

I wrote this back in 2009 after what I believe was my 3rd or 4th visit to the Geek Mecca known as Comicon while waiting to go home at the airport.  With SDCC coming up next week I felt this was a nice trip back down memory lane to share with you all.

Comicon, Con Depression, and Survival Tips…

By Jessica Dwyer

Comicon is now over.  It was 5 days of geek craze, movie love, and party.  This was quite possibly the biggest they’ve ever had and there was easily over 120 thousand people there on Thursday alone (half of them most likely Twilight fans.)

Comicon has the ability to daze you because its so surreal…for many reasons. And that’s sort of where I’m at right now as I wait for my flight to take me back to reality.  I feel like I’ve been hit on the head and I’m emerging from some bizzare alternate world.

The otherness of Comicon has many factors.  Firstly there’s just the size of the thing.  It’s massive..like it’s own little city within San Diego.  As you walk through not just the giant convention center but you go into the Gaslamp district and the con has now stretched out to areas in it.  There’s signs throughout as well as people promoting games and films all around you.  It’s not just contained to the convention area…it’s tentacles have slithered out into San Diego proper.  You can’t escape…you are on Planet Comicon.

Next there is the blitz of audio and visual stimuli.  It’s mind blowing.  From the minute you step inside you are seeing giant vistas of art, picutres, videos, music, games….EVERYWHERE.  Colors and sounds…people talking.  The roar of the crowd in the exhibition hall is a rumble that would make the Cloverfield monster shake.  Your mind has to catch up to what its seeing and over five days you’ll be so bombarded you’ll be hearing the roar for maybe a couple days after.

The other part of Planet Comicon that really causes you to feel like you’ve slipped into another dimension are the costumes.  It’s one of the few places in the world where cosplay is normal.  Fans and geeks show up in the guise of anime characters, comic book superheroes, and whomever they damn well please.  They are embraced by the fellowship of the fans.  There’s no judgement, merely enjoyment.  And the effect can be surreal when you see the Cullen clan smiling and shaking hands with Sailor Moon and Mario.  But that’s part of the appeal.  After nearly a week of this you can imagine your brain having trouble with the concept of reality.

The panels and presentations become an endurance challange.  It’s also one of the problems of the convention that will never have an easy answer.  The panels overlap with fans having to make hard choices on what they want to see the most.  The rooms also will typically get full up and you will not be allowed inside when that happens due to the fire code (sections of the exhibition hall have been closed down before due to vast number of people that were packed into the space.)  Hall H is the Valhalla of Comicon.  The hall holds over six thousand people and during the convention itself it will be full the entire time. 

Some panels are in the upstairs area and the downstairs…and you have to run like a T1000 to get from one to the other.  By the end of the convention you will know every inch of that damn convention center.  But the first few times through the exhibition hall, which is overwhelming as hell when you first see it, is disorienting.  You’ll need the map that’s in the convention guide for certain.

This year Hall H saw some of its biggest crowds ever clamoring to get in thanks to New Moon, the Twilight sequel.  Thanks to this film there were people camping out overnight for a whopping 30 minute panel.  Needless to say this caused some hard feelings to fans of the OTHER panels and films that were going to be shown during the convention.  James Cameron pulled rank and had the con move his panel for Avatar to AFTER New Moon because he knew that a lot of the crowd was going to leave after Edward and Bella made their appearance. 

But needless to say, the damage had been done.  Comicon attendees were walking around on Sunday holding signs that said “Scream if Twilight ruined Comicon.”  And there was a lot of screaming.  We’ll see what happens next year with Eclipse’s release if the convention gets smart and has the films panel first on Thursday or even better on a Sunday by itself.

Comicon as said is an endurance challenge.  One of the big problems is keeping hydrated and food.  Both of these necessities will cost you an arm and a leg if you don’t come prepared.  BRING PROTEIN BARS AND YOUR OWN SNACKS.  You will find yourself forgetting to eat and water is going to cost you 3 bucks a bottle if not more.  Bring your own and fill the bottle from the water fountains.  The people in the convention center don’t give a damn if you are about to pass out…they just want your money.  As an example…I was out of food and drink and had to purchase a 24 oz Coke Zero and a cookie from the Mrs. Fields stand.  The girls are very nice…the cookie and coke cost me seven dollars.   No it didn’t include getting felt up by Johnny Depp, but it should have for that price.

After five days of forgetting to eat and drink on a regular basis you start to feel it on the way back.  I think I lost six pounds.  You walk…a lot.  And the not eating and the walking will wear you out.  This is why I took off the three days after Comicon to give myself time to recover.  You don’t sleep.  You walk, you view, you listen…you walk some more.  And while you are walking you are usually carrying lots of free stuff that you’ve been given or things you have bought. Or if you are like me and working the event and covering press activities you’ll also be lugging around your laptop and a camera.  This also adds to the wearing out factor.  Your back and legs will feel like you went a couple of rounds with The Hulk.  

This brings me to another point, luggage.  If you are flying you are most likely going to need to check a bag that will cost you between 15 to 20 bucks one way.  You need to do this if you are planning on buying stuff.  Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, the freebies will overwhelm you.  Go ahead and check the bag, but bring one that is big enough and has room for goodies.  I bring a bag that I can fill half full with my clothes and have half the bag left for stuff. This trip I managed to stay 3 pounds under the 50 pound limit on the way back.   (Also be sure to plan for the con exclusive goodies sold by people like Mattel and Hasbro.  These things are GOLD and will go quickly.  This year they capped the lines for them and people lost out if they didn’t have four day passes)

As I sit here and reflect back on the convention it’s in a semi-daze.  Johnny Depp showed up, I was seven feet away from the dream man of many a geek girl (and guy for that matter).  I met Gary Oldman and Carrot Top was running around.  I saw the trailer for Nightmare on Elm Street’s remake.  There’s tons of other stuff…but the point is…where the hell else am I going to get to do this?   I hugged the Doctor…I HUGGED THE DOCTOR!!!  I mean, really…where do fans get to do this type of thing other than Comicon?  And that’s the point. Nowhere else is like Comicon.  Comicon is magic, and yes its gotten so big that it’s a massive entity that’s eating itself alive…but that doesn’t change the fact that its magic. 

It’s a place where geeks and the so called weirdos of the world can converge and be themselves.  We get to touch that which we never thought we could. Dreams happen there.  Dreams come true there (did I mention that I hugged The Doctor?) and to many its their idea of heaven.  Surrounded by their fellow fans and geeks, we all just get to love what we love and not be judged.  We are a part of this world, this other universe that isn’t tainted by reality.  We’re somewhere else if even for just five days. 

And so, con depression sets in as I sit here in the airport.  We all have to go back to our jobs and our normal everyday lives and we feel a bit of loss for the bizarre and beautiful world we’ve left behind.  After a week or so we’ll be back to “normal” but for those five days we were in a place that felt like home.  But the good news is that we only have to wait till next July to get transported back.  Until then though, you’ll have your memories and your pictures.  And some great stories to tell your friends and family. 

Viva Comicon.

God of Monsters: Ray Harryhausen


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Here is something I wrote when the late, great Ray Harryhausen passed.  It was to be included in the latest issue of HorrorHound but due to some space constraint we couldn’t get it to fit within the magazine.  So here is my tribute to the man who I consider the God of Monsters.

 

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God of Monsters:  Ray Harryhausen

By Jessica Dwyer

The word legend is used sometimes too often in the world these days.  In the land of film that is often the case.  But true legends are few and far between in these modern times we live in and we lost another of the truest when we lost Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was one of what I considered the Trinity of Sci-Fi.  He was the last to leave us of that trinity that included Forrest J Ackerman and Ray Bradbury.  One the follower, one the writer of the word, and Harryhausen the creator of life; but all three fans and lovers of the genres they helped to make better simply by being who they were and doing what they did so well.  The three would be great friends for the rest of their lives after meeting in the late 30’s and joining a fan club for lovers of science-fiction.

Ray was born June 29th 1920 in Los Angeles, CA.  When he was 13 years old he saw the film that would set his path in the world of film, King Kong.  The special effects work in the movie would inspire Harryhausen to start making his own stop motion projects.  He’d eventually become the protégée of the man responsible for Kong’s creation, Willis O’Brien.  The two would work together years later in the creation of Mighty Joe Young, another giant gorilla which would win O’Brien an Oscar the year it was released.

He would follow up this work with “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” a film that’s story came from Ray Bradbury and follows a prehistoric monster brought back to life from a nuclear bomb test in (then) modern times.  With its release in 1953, it was the first giant monster film to follow that storyline.  The giant monster movie genre would forever be inspired from the film, especially Godzilla.

20,000 Fathoms would be followed by “It Came From Beneath The Sea” and “Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers” and “20 Million Miles To Earth.”  Harryhausen’s  love of the science-fiction genre comes through in these films.  Detail was important to Harryhausen, so much so that he contacted “UFO experts” to make sure the saucers looked authentic.

1958 would see the release of the film that would truly set Ray as the god of monsters.  Eleven months of work would go into the creation of the stop motion “Dynamation” creatures that would come to life in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”   Harryhausen would not only do the special effects for the film, but was also a producer.   The film is considered one of the most popular showcases of his work and included his iconic Cyclops design.

Harryhausen continued working within the fantasy genre and in 1963 released what Tom Hanks would call “The greatest film ever made.”  Jason and the Argonauts was also Harryhausen’s favorite film that he worked on.  The creatures created for the film were some of the best that he would make, Talos specifically who would go on to terrify and delight children to this day.  The amount of work put into the effects was extraordinary with Ray spending 4 months alone on the iconic skeleton fight.

Ray continued to work within the genres he loved throughout the 60s and 70s, producing and giving life to iconic creatures that had never been seen before and that would inspire filmmakers today.  “One Million Years B.C.,” “The Valley of Gwangi,”are two of note that would go on to inspire Stan Winston and Steven Spielberg’s epic Jurassic Park.  There would also be two more trips to the worlds of Sinbad with “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.”

Children of the 80’s would be graced with the last of Harryhausen’s master works with the original Clash of the Titans in 1981.  The film, like all of Ray’s works, was magical and still charms and dazzles everyone who watches it.

Ray Harryhausen never won an Academy Award for his numerous works in the world of film.  But he was given the Gordon E Sawyer Award in 1992 by the Academy (after a campaign to have him honored was started).  This was presented by Tom Hanks who famously stated his love of Jason and the Argonauts at the event.

Hanks wasn’t the only person to be influenced by Ray and his creations.  The number of those who have cited Ray Harryhausen as one of the driving forces for their love of cinema and the genres he touched are too many to mention.   Next time you see Army of Darkness, take a look at those skulls scowling and you’ll see Ray’s touch.  When you watch Cloverfield again, be sure to keep an eye out for Ray’s monsters.  All the special effects gurus and greats of today like Greg Nicotero, Rick Baker and the directors like Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and John Landis…they all will tell you that the magic started when they saw the monsters come to life.

He truly was the God of the Monsters.  Ray Harryhausen’s legacy will live on for as long as there are kids who want to see the monsters move.

 

 

Maniac 2012 Film Review

After a long absence, one of our favorite Fanboys John Fountain is back with a review of the new remake of Maniac starring Elijah Wood.  And I have to say I agree with everything John says here.  The film was terrific and Elijah Wood sells this flick.  So enjoy John’s review and welcome him back to our little domain.

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A Review for Fangirl Magazine

By John Fountain.

Maniac (2012)

Meet Frank Zito (Elijah Wood).  He has mommy issues.  Unfortunately for the young, attractive women of the city, he deals with these problems with his own form of therapy: stalking them for their scalps, which he then staples onto mannequins and calls them his girlfriends.  Frank seems nice enough, apart from this minor personality defect, and scrapes out a living restoring antique mannequins in his shop, which has serial-killer lair written all over it.  Also written large on the shop, and Frank’s psyche, is his mother’s name and her memory.  Frank loves his mother, but he also hates her.

As the story progresses, we find out that Frank’s mom was a bit of a slut, taking two men on at once while the little boy version of Frank watched from a cupboard.  What makes this even more disturbing is that Frank’s mom knew her little boy was there the whole time.  Why this makes Frank hunt scalps is never quite explained, other than a general sense of the poor guy being loony-tunes.  Into this already quite crowded relationship Frank has with his fly-blown “girlfriends” comes Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a fine-art photographer with a passion for mannequins that while not exactly like Frank’s sparks the seeds of love in his little serial-killer heart.  And so we slip, gracefully, into the awkward love story of boy-stalks-girl, boy-kills-girl-for-her-scalp, boy-meets-another-girl-but-doesn’t-want-to-scalp-her-so-takes-her-to-feed-the-birds-then-a-movie-then-discovers-she-thinks-he’s-gay-so-kills-someone-close-to-her-so-he-can-comfort-her.

It’s a story we’ve all lived in our own lives, surely.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, this latest murder causes a whole raft of problems for poor Frank, whose attempts to explain it to Anna fall on unreasonable ears.  Needless to say, this love story probably isn’t going to end well.

Maniac is a remake of the William Lustig/Joe Spinell movie from the 1980s: y’now the one, Tom Savini did the effects then tried to distance himself from the final film.  As remakes go, this is pretty faithful to the original, at least in terms of plot.  However, most of the film is shot from the Point-Of-View of Frank: if we hadn’t been saturated with a decade of “found-footage” movies, this would have become tedious very quickly, but being filmed in this way means that when the POV shifts, no matter how subtly, we are wrenched away from Frank’s inner narrative and forced to reposition him as a character.

Frank is played by loveable, blue eyed Frodo Baggins, who becomes more and more like Gollum as the film progresses.  He even gets Gollum’s patented line in schizophrenic dialogue, albeit with the other side being played by a completely absent mother-figure.  But Frodo, sorry, Elijah Wood, manages to come across as shy, manipulative, pathetic, and psychotic to such a degree that not only do you like and pity this character, you don’t really question his actions too much.  There is the inevitable “No Frodo, don’t do it, you’ll find love someday!” feeling running through the movie, and yes, you really do want this nutty murderer to come through at the end, cleansed, loved and redeemed.

But deep down, you know that ain’t going to happen.  Not after the exchange between Frank and Anna after they watch The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at their local cinema.  From then on, things are going to start spiralling downwards for Frank, and you really feel for the pathetic killer.  This is a triumph of three things: a minimalist script, Wood’s voice acting, and the acting of Arnezeder, through whom you have to filter most of Wood’s action (because he’s just not there to look at).  The other triumph of the film is how it looks: it is both glossy and slightly sleazy (as opposed to the “just sleazy” feel of the original), and apart from a chase through the world’s most deserted major metropolitan subway station, allows the city to act as a shroud for Frank’s deeds.  He uses the city as his hunting ground, and at no point do you feel that he is not part of the dirty underbelly itself.

There is also a moment where fans of the original will love, where the DVD sleeve of the Blue Underground release is captured in a reflection.  The other selling point here is the gore: it is extremely well done, and you can barely tell the CGI knife blades aren’t real as their pierce nubile flesh.  Every gore scene is wonderfully rendered: a mix of practical and CGI that works incredibly well, even down to the laugh-a-minute final scenes where Frank’s psyche decides that Freud was right, and there really is a “return of the repressed”.

All in all, the film is a triumph, and certainly an improvement over the original, if only for production values.  As a final verdict, this is great movie, but probably not one for a first date.  Unless you have a penchant for scalps…

Doctor Who- The Thin Man in the Blue Box

With the upcoming anniversary of the Doctor’s 50th I wanted to share something with you that I wrote earlier this year.  It’s a piece about the world of Who and covers a few apsects that we fans have often noticed but some others new to the wonder that is the Doctor might not know of or not have picked up on yet.    

“The Thin Man (in the blue box)” speaks to the many influences and worlds that a show like Doctor Who can open up to fans.  The format and the mythos itself leaves it open to allow many different genres to be used to tell its stories.  The show itself is influenced many times by films, books, and television that came before it (sometimes during it.)  Religion, westerns, film noir, you name it the Doctor has probably either been there and done that or has…or will..or both at the same time. 

With this years passing of the stunning and amazing Mary Tamm I felt it only fitting this see the light of day and so I share it with you.   It’s focus is on the Key To Time season of Doctor Who, one that was especially epic in the series history and would introduce us to the not only beautiful but brilliant Romana played by Mary.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Thin Man (in the blue box)

Or The many facets of The Key to Time

By Jessica Dwyer

Our scene opens on an elegant and beautiful woman in a flowing gown. She has lovely arched eyebrows, an intelligent forehead, and a knowing look in her eyes as she smiles at her companion. He is at once a glaring contradiction to her, and yet the two are a perfect match.

Her companion is a tall man who seems to always have an amused expression on his face. His eyes twinkle with an inner child that has never needed to grow up. Yet despite his somewhat childish exterior, he possesses an uncanny ability when it comes to figuring things out and stopping those who are up to no good.

Finally, our two intrepid travelers are joined on their adventures by their faithful dog. The canine is smart, well trained and, like his master and mistress, has a nose for danger (and sometimes perhaps a dangerous nose).

Now dear reader I’ll pause and ask you a question: who did I just describe in those few paragraphs? The answer isn’t quite as easy as you’d expect.

That description could be applied to the brilliant detective duo of Nick and Nora Charles from the 1930’s film series The Thin Man. Or we could also apply it to the Doctor and his companions Romana and K9 of the SixteenthSeason of Doctor Who.

The Key to Time saga, which was the focus of Season Sixteen, marked a change in the series from what had come before. For the first time we had a storyline that stretched throughout the entire season. The centerpiece of the plot arc was the Doctor and Romana’s search for the key and all its segments.

But there is more to The Key to Time than just these bits of the Doctor’s history (or future depending on how whimey time is being). The Sixteenth  Season allowed the series’ writers to give us some of the most dynamic episodes of the show and to pay homage to some classic films and story-telling by using multiple genres, as well as historical and cultural references , to create a wonderfully varied season.

As I noted in the opening above, the relationship between Romana and the Doctor bears more than a passing resemblance to the sleuthing duo of Dashiell Hammett books. Romana’s naïve yet intelligent character and her stubborn determination to show the Doctor that she can keep up with him mirrors Nora Charles almost perfectly (as does some of her wardrobe…but perhaps not so much the drinking). Romana is also able to banter back and forth with the Doctor, being nearly as clever, and in some cases more clever, than he is.

Romana spent quite a bit of the season being saved by the Doctor, constantly falling into the snare of the story’s villain as they sought after another segment of the key. But she was learning from those mistakes as well as showing the Doctor the strength of her tenacity .

Romana grew more daring as their adventures went on taking the Doctor’s spirit to heart.  She would adventure out on her own, would fight against the evils they encountered, and would in the end agree with the Doctor’s decision on the fate of the key to time.

When the key is completed Romana becomes a completely new woman…quite literally in fact. Romana regenerates, changing her appearance and becomes a true equal to the Doctor (even borrowing his sense of style).

The Doctor for his part  emulates Nick Charles, the seemingly clueless yet sly-as-a-fox detective. He plays at being oblivious, but it is all an elaborate cover for a keen intellect and a tougher-than-nails fighter for what’s right.  He just happens to wear a really long scarf, even while sword fighting…but more about that later.

He also has a deep and abiding love for his dog, which as it happens, is not your average mutt. K9 is not only highly intelligent but also helps the Doctor solve many of his cases. He is incredibly valuable to have around in case a fight may break out.  The nose laser is always a plus in a dogfight, something that, sadly, Nick and Nora’s dog Asta lacked).

The Sixteenth Season wasn’t just filled with nods to the Charles’s.  In fact The Key to Time allowed The Doctor and his companions a trek through other classics of the silver screen as well other sources of inspiration.

The genres it covers are many, stretching from horror to science fiction, to mystery and comedy.  The late, great Douglas Adams, who was a master of combining those very genres in his later novels, contributes the first Doctor Who story he’d pen for the series.

The first segment, The Ribos Operation, mixes a fantasy element (there are lizard like monsters that guard a cache of crown jewels and creepy, face painted Seers) and a heavy dose of medieval action.   This story  owes much of its look and feel to the sword and fantasy films of the 70s and those that would come after its airing in the early 80s.  It has all the requirements: dark corridors and catacombs, a creature that was more muppet than monster, and an over the top villain out to kill our heroes and take over a kingdom.

Tom Baker was no stranger to these types of films having starred as a villain himself in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad a few years earlier.  Only a few years later we’d see the rise of numerous B-movie fantasies as the 80s let loose classics like Hawk The Slayer, Krull, and the Ator series.

 George Lucas’s epic Star Wars: A New Hope had hit movie screens a year earlier and was still making shock waves in the land of science fiction.   Douglas Adams’  segment, The Pirate Planet, was  a prime example of its influence on Doctor Who.  The similarities between their respective planet-sized world destroyers wasn’t the only thing shared by the Doctor and the Jedi.  There was the light and dark balance of the universe shown by the Guardians.  The Mentiads, the psychics who help the Doctor defeat The Captain, feel the deaths of each planet that is destroyed much like Obi-Wan Kenobi does upon the destruction of Alderaan.

The Pirate Planet  is a meshing of great sci-fi and black humor, some of the trademarks of Douglas Adams. Ithas strangely named characters, such as the Captain’s second-in-command, Mr. Fibuli.  It’s filled with outright craziness and a slight nod to Monty Python (the dead “Polyphase Avitron” was particularly brilliant).   You couldn’t really ask for more out of a Doctor Who story.

 The third segment of The Key to Time brings our intrepid trio back to Earth and shows the sinister side of the world of the Doctor. The Stones of Blood has elements of arcane ritual, a bit of Agatha Christie, and a very Hammer studios vibe. It deals with druidic sacrifice and may give us an answer as to how the rocks in Stonehenge were moved to form their circle (they moved themselves).

The Stones of Blood pays homage to the cult horror films of the 60s and 70s.  The worship of pagan gods (or outright satanic ritual) in modern times and human sacrifice is always good fodder for a creepy tale.  Films like The Wicker Man, The Sentinel, and Rosemary’s Baby are  filled with odd characters who are always just slightly off.  The outsiders who find themselves surrounded by these characters  speak to a fear we all have within us, of never knowing just who is living next door.

These first three segments of The Key to Time all share something quite dark at their core: the villains of the pieces each meet a very final and unkind fate. While we’re used to the Doctor being benevolent and actually giving a chance to most of his enemies (in Genesis of the Daleks he couldn’t bring himself to destroy the race before they began their quest for domination) in The Ribos Operation he knowingly places an explosive on the person of the Graff and in The Stones of Blood he puts Vivien Fay into the line of fire of the Megara’s execution blasts. He’s not pulling his punches here. The Doctor means business and this is a facet of his character we’ve not seen many instances of before.

The fourth segment of The Key to Time brings the TARDIS to the planet Tara, where medieval culture and science go hand in hand.  “Androids and Tiara’s” would be a good description of this part of the season.

Tara’s world is a mix of technology and the old world. Androids are commonplace and are kept in repair by the lower classes.  The aristocracy uses both androids and commoners in their ploys for power.  Subtlety is not the strong suit for the stories message.

This story, while not as deep in plot as some of the others (Romana actually finds the fourth segment in the first few minutes), is actually one of the most fun.  It’s a return to the Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks action films of old mixed, as always, with that underlying Whovian sci-fi.

Probably one of the most entertaining scenes to come out of The Key to Time is the Doctor sword fighting against the villainous Count. All while still wearing his infamous scarf, the Doctor crosses blades with the bad guy in a rather lengthy fight scene that shows the Doctor still has a few tricks up his long-coated sleeves. The Count manages to escape with his life and isone of the few villains who does so in the season.

The “androids in a castle” storyline was something that can  easily be compared to Westworld, a feature film released in the early 70s whose plot focusses on a theme park peopled by robots that turn rogue and start killing the guests.  The Park  includes a  medieval section along with an Old West area and a Roman World.

Both Westworld and The Androids of Tara have, at their core, a message of caution when it comes to abuses of power that can result when creating something in your image.  This same message would be pursued even more thoroughly in the film Bladerunner.

The fifth key segment was to be found in the marsh-covered moon of Delta Magna. K9 is unable to leave the TARDIS due to the wet climate (and the fact that John Leeson’s voice, as well as the rest of him, was required in front of the camera this time in the role of a kind-hearted company man). So Romana and the Doctor go in search of the segment without him.

Kroll has many elements taken from the lore of writer HP Lovecraft, the man who gave us The Elders and the god Cthulu.  The Swampies, the green skinned and green haired locals of Delta Magna, worship Kroll,  a massive tentacle covered creature who has lived for centuries.  Kroll’s appearance of a giant, single eyed squid monster could easily be a cousin to The Elders.

This segment was also notable for the subtext about racism and protecting the environment.    The villain isn’t the giant tentacle monster who’s eating everything in front of it, the real villain is the group of greedy corporation goons who have come to the planet to open a refinery and drill the life out of the ground.  There’s no real subtlety here either in terms of moral. While the messaege is an important one in regards to the evil’s of corporate greed vs. the effect on the world at large, the episode hits viewers over the head with it like a soggy tentacle.  It bogs down (no pun intended) some of the action.

The Swampies themselves are treated with disdain and no more regard than a nuisance to be rid of.  They are shot without a second thought.  The parallels between historical and contemporary atrocities are very clear: clear out the indigenous population and take the land.

The last key segment would be found in the story The Armageddon Factor. The TARDIS lands on Atrios, a world at war with the planet Zeos. The more-than-a-little insane Marshall of Atrios makes it clear he wants to attack Zeos in a final strike. However, the Doctor discovers  that Zeos is lifeless save for a computer called Mentalis that is controlling the attacks on Atrios.  Bring into the mix an evil being known as the Shadow and the Doctor has his work cut out for him.

The influence of what was, at the time, current sci-fi storytelling on both the big and small screen as well as classics of the genre is evident throughout the story.  Once again Star Wars could be seen as an inspiration.  The Shadow, a cloaked, rough voiced figure with a mystical ability, is threatening an empire andanswers to an even more powerful “dark side” figure.  A princess is at risk and needs to be rescued by a boy who’s not really a hero but will do whatever it takes to help her.

This segment also owes much of its look and style to the original Battlestar Galactica which was on air at the time.  The costumes and appearance (especially that of the Marshall) would have been at home in the feature film Flash Gordon which would hit movie screens the following year.  (In fact, nearly 30 years later when the Master is thought dead at the end of Last of the Time Lords and his ring falls to the ashes of his pyre, we see a hand pick it up and the sound of his laughter ringing out.  This is a direct remake of the ending scene of Flash Gordon)

The Key to Time ends with the key once more lost amongst the universe and the Doctor on the run once more after having tricked the Black Guardian out of his prize.  But the story doesn’t end there.  The Black Guardian, of course, will returnduring the fifth Doctors run, and try to use Turlough to destroy the Doctor.  The key will also  be revisited in later episodes of the Big Finish audio dramas with the fifth Doctor searching for the pieces after discovering  his actions during the original search has caused the key to become unstable and dangerous.

Doctor Who take elements from brilliant works and makes them their own,  borrowingfrom many sources to expand its own universe.  Fiction, film, even comic books are all open for the writers and creators to add to the Doctor’s world.  The Doctor can literally go anywhere and anytime and so anything is fair game. Andt’s not just fiction that is used.  Our own history  becomes a character in the series or a set piece for the Doctor’s stage.  With him we can be shown both the good and the bad that once was.  That image in the mirror may not always be a pretty one to look at  (such as in The Power of Kroll) but at other times we get to see heroes peering back at us.

Religion is also brought into the mix.  .  Discussions of just how Christ-like the Doctor is,  arriving to save humanity with his message of “harm no one even when that person would be willing to harm you” has been going on for some time.   He’s The Lonely God who can destroy an entire world with the flip of a switch or change someone’s future with only a few words.

In The Key to Time we see powers that are shaping the universe and our destinies.  The White and Black Guardians are very obviously the personifications of good and evil in the universe.   These sort of balancing forces are the core of many religions  with obvious parallels  to God and Satan and the Yin and Yang in Chinese culture.

Doctor Who may not be true science, but it’s true science-fiction. It uses that genre as well as others to weave a tale that not only entertains but teaches. We learn about what is right and wrong and that the brain is usually a better weapon than brute strength. The stories are modern parables and the Doctor is our guide and teacher through them. We want to be better because we want the Doctor to be proud of us,   We aspire to be like him.

The stories that make up The Key To Time do just that. We see the Doctor take on a task that he knows may cost him his life, but he knows it is right and it is what must be done. We see him save world after world during the journey and we see his influence change Romana. The Doctor opens her eyes to the wonder that is the universe and not just what  books and her teachers told her it should be.

And that comes back full circle (ah, an Adric reference) to that same similarity to Nick and Nora.  Nick may have helped save the day,  unwillingly sometimes (much like the Doctor) but he always came through in the end. He kept Nora safe and helped her family, even when they would have rather he disappeared into the bottom of a bottle (of ginger beer perhaps) and never came out again.

Nora and Romana both went against what society expected of them, choosing to remain with the man (or Time Lord) who showed them not only a great time, but a new view of the world.  Explore it and enjoy it, and help those that need to be helped.

That’s why the real Key to Time is the Doctor himself. He unlocks all the magic and all the potential that’s out there for us. That’s what the fans see and why we love it so much.

 

(For Troy, my own Nick Charles and for Mary Tamm who held her own with the Doctor)

 

 

First Trailer for “Oz the Great and Powerful”

Finally, we get a little taste!!!

 CLICK HERE FOR THE PRETTY

 

All the sudden, I’m WAY more excited about this flick.  It looks very like the best bits of Burton’s Alice, with some great nods to the Oz books.

JourneyQuest Season 2 Is Here!

Tonight debuted the first episode of the second season of JourneyQuest. 

My first exposure to Dead Gentleman Productions, and later Zombie Orpheus came with the original Gamers movie, a low budget production that spawned a fandom.  It’s now available to watch in it’s entirety via YouTube, and worth it for anyone who has ever played a tabletop RPG (or even WOW heads can appreciate).  The premise was simple: a bunch of guys are sitting around playing a tabletop role playing game, and you saw not only their real life conflicts as gamers, but also got a peek into the internal mind’s eye of gamers.  It was so funny and intelligent that the sequel, Dorkness Rising, boasted not only better production quality but also a cameo by D&D godfather Monty Cook.  (Also available to watch in it’s entirety at the link/on Youtube).

Then came JourneyQuest.  As I’m a bad nerd and don’t follow things, I didn’t realize it was out until it became available on Hulu’s streaming service.  Because of that my husband and I were able to watch the first season all in one go.  And then watch it again.  And then force everyone else to watch it.  Seriously, if you haven’t watched it go watch it right now.  I’ll wait.

Good! See what I mean?

For those of you too lazy to watch something awesome, the premise is basically the kind of story you’d find in a tabletop RPG, but minus the inference that there’s a “real world”.   This story follows a bard writing her first epic based on secretly observing a party of adventurers: a cowardly inept wizard, an elf ranger, a noble cleric, and a murderous glory hogging knight.  They are obviously a little less than legendary, with a wizard who doesn’t care about the quest, and a knight who just wants to kill orcs… even women and children orcs.

The first season left on a bit of a cliffhanger, but season 2 is well funded (YAY Kickstarter!) and does not pick up the storyline right away.  This first episode gives us some good backstory on our bard, with a pretty kickass opening sequence involving miniature puppets.  Seriously, you read that right.

To my delight, the new storyline has introduced two really great cast additions: Bob Sapp as Karn the barbarian king, and Fangirl Favorite Jen Page as his queen Starling.  (You can check out the interview with Jen on our Podcast page for the radio show… episode 27)

The hardest part is that this time I have to wait for the weekly show to come out, just like any other peasant… but it’s well worth it, and my delight in this first episode is unbounded.

If you like it, I strongly recommend making a one time donation to this fan-funded Creative Commons production company.  This is one of those rare cases where the success and continuation of this show are truly in the fan’s hands.  There’s no middle man,  and every little bit makes a difference.

 

 

 

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