M.C.F.A.T. Volume XXVII

Welcome my friends, to the TWENTY-SEVENTH edition of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test!

If you're just joining us, here’s how to play: just answer the questions below on your own blogs or in the comment section, and check back in a week or so when I link to your answers and post my own:

1) What did/do you want to be when you grew/grow up?

2) What’s the biggest thing you’ve remembered that you hadn’t realized you’d forgotten?

3) Is work performance directly proportionate to salary?

4) How far would you go to escape?

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: Which part of my body is disproportionate to its counterpart?

There's no right or wrong, and you can't fail if you answer. Good luck!



Revisiting It

I hadn't watched It since it first aired on television in 1990, back when I was still in high school. I remember the buzz surrounding the Stephen King adaptation, as well as the creepy photo on the cover of the week's TV listings, with Tim Curry in full makeup as Pennywise the carnivorous clown who lures children into the sewers where he promises they'll float just like his balloons. Of course he's more than just a clown, but honestly the clown manifestation alone was terrifying. I remember one of my college friends did a painting based off that same photo of Curry as Pennywise and it took on new life in oil.

Upon watching it again on DVD this week, these are my thoughts:

• 1990 feels like ten years ago to me, but of course it's closer to twenty. The quality of television movies has definitely improved, as well as how much can be shown on network television. There's quite a lot of blood, a little too fake looking, but probably a big deal in 1990. The majority of the killings and maimings happen off screen, handled in dialogue or by the reactions of other characters. By horror movie standards, especially in the age of gore-porn like Hostel, it all seems very tame.

• The lack of graphic violence doesn't hurt the miniseries. King's strength has always been his characters, people so fully developed that you're invested in each and every one's well being. This is what I've always admired in both his novels and their adaptations. The miniseries was broken in to two parts. In the first, we meet our protagonists as adults, and through flashbacks to their childhood learn how they became friends and first faced this monster clown 30 years prior. The child actors, which include the late Jonathan Brandis, Juno's Emily Perkins, and a gawky pre-Oz Seth Green, are the true strength of the film. The story of seven “losers” who find strength in their friendship to stand up to a trio of bullies, their own fears and inadequacies, and of course Pennywise, is on par with Stand By Me. I think King's characters are so good because he draws so much from his own life, that they're all amalgams of himself and people he's known. The childhood adventures ring true because, apart from the supernatural elements, they're probably similar to adventures he had growing up. The Brandis character grows up to be a novelist writing horror stories with titles such as “The Glowing”, and is pretty clearly based on King to some degree.

• Just as I remembered, the second half isn't as strong. Tim Reid plays a librarian, the only character to remain in their hometown of Derry after they supposedly defeat Pennywise and grow up. When murders and disappearances begin again and Reid's character finds a photo of Brandis' character's younger brother, a victim of Pennywise, he calls all of his old friends to return home. Life and time had made them all forget and block out the memories, and as they come together they begin remembering. I've become so used to good flashback techniques from shows like Lost, that it's pretty laughable how many visual anvils are used to connect the adult actors with their childhood counterparts. One guy grabs his ear, the camera blurs, and then there's a kid grabbing his ear in the same gesture. Things are spelled out that the audience probably would be smart enough to figure out. Early on in the film, with very little evidence to support the theory, one of the kids spells out just what the clown might really be. The adults often repeat things we've just seen in flashbacks, and in general it's scarier when children face off against clowns. Harry Anderson is very convincing as an adult version of Seth Green, and both Annette O'Toole and John Ritter give decent performances as well. Reid and those three were the strongest of the adult cast. At one point Ritter's character has a bit of dialogue about his childhood obesity, how one day a coach made him so mad that it sparked him to just start running, and eventually lose the weight and make the track team. It took on new meaning when he speaks about running until his heart felt like it was going to burst in his chest, eerie and sad given how the actor eventually perished.

• It doesn't have the cast and epic scope of The Stand, which is definitely the best television adaptation of any of King's novels. Pretty much every TV version of his stuff has gotten progressively worse since The Stand. Still, a few familiar faces pop up in It, from William B. Davis as a creepy principal, to veteran voice and character actor Garry Chalk as a gruff coach. I could swear I even saw Greg Kinnear as a gas station attendant, but that role appears to be credited to someone named Boyd Norman.

• I need to read the novel. I read the extended version of The Stand a few years after I saw the miniseries, and rented it again after reading the book. Spread over three nights, they managed to hit all the important points in the book and capture the essence of the story. There's a lot of great stuff they cut out for time, and a lot more development of the characters, but nothing that really detracts. With It, when Pennywise's true(?) form is revealed, it's slightly anticlimactic, especially given some of the anvil hints early on. There's some stop motion involved and for 1990, the effects weren't bad, but I have a feeling the book fills in a lot more gaps about how this thing came to be in Derry, why it rose up to feed every 30 years, and just what made these kids special enough to resist it. I got the sense that they had power in the bond of their friendship and that Pennywise was threatened, even a little afraid of what they could do if he didn't separate their group. I'm sure the novel delves even deeper into the origins of It's power and the nature of the power of the seven children.

• It needs to be remade, with a budget, possibly as a theatrical release. I found various rumors of another television miniseries, possibly on Cable, but I think to do it real justice it needs to be a full production. I can't imagine anyone playing the clown other than Curry any more than I could imagine someone other than Robert Englund playing Freddy Kreuger. My only concern would be the new film sacrificing some of the genuine emotion and sensibilities evoked by the original young cast, that that couldn't be recaptured. The television remake of The Shining may have followed the novel far more closely than the original, but the original is clearly the better movie, just solid acting and filmmaking that exceeds the source material through its edits.

• If I don't have nightmares about clowns with razor sharp teeth this week, it will be a miracle


A Movie Thing Seven.

I love movies. I love games. Put them together, and you've got our old friend, the Movie Keyword Meme:

1) Go to IMDB.com and look up 10 films.
2) Post five (5) official IMDB "Plot Keywords" for these 10 picks.
3) Have your friends guess the movie titles.

As always, to put an extra spin on this exercise, there will be some element that links the ten films in question. See if you can guess all ten, as well as what they have in common, and I'll reveal the answers in a few days:

1) Son, Boxing, Restaurant, Coming Out Of Retirement, Sequel

2) Premonition, Cheating Death, Field Trip, Dream, Airplane Accident

3) Secret Agent, Disguise, Exploding Car, Implant, Third Part

4) Ferret, Unfaithful Wife, Salsa, Basketball, Insurance Agent

5) Warp Speed, Teleportation, Time Travel, Space, Prequel

6) Dragon, Impersonation Of Soldier, Folklore, Loss Of Father, Character Name In Title

7) Fighter Pilot, Singing, Blockbuster, Ejection Seat, Death Of Friend

8) Advertising, Chauvinist, Chick Flick, Exfoliation, Mind Reading

9) Ant, Grasshopper, Circus, Computer Animation, Bloopers During Credits

10) Bedtime Story, Swimming Pool, Apartment Building, Nymph, Critically Bashed



PBW: M.U.S.C.L.E. Power

Anyone remember M.U.S.C.L.E.? They were these little single mold plastic wrestler superhero type toys, often sold in a little plastic garbage can. When I was in elementary school, kids would trade the things on the playground and there was an amazing variety of these characters, which were based on the adventures of the Japanese Kinnikuman character. One of my Japanese classmates told me the characters name, and in the days before the internet most of us just knew him as “Muscleman”.

I came across mine this week, and thought the little figures would make an interesting study for a Photo Blog Wednesday:



My Megatron Master Plan Five

I'm probably getting way too specific with my fives this week, in an effort to vary my topics beyond movies or music. This week I'm going to list the five best plans perpetrated by the bearers of the most notorious name in Transformers history. Over the years, various incarnations of the franchise have seen various versions of the character Megatron. I'm going with the ones I'm most familiar with, the original from 1984 and his namesake successor from Beast Wars and Beast Machines. In fact, it's actually Megatron II who gets the top spot in the list, and of course SPOILERS ensue for anyone who hasn't seen these:

1) Megatron II alters history by shooting Optimus Prime in the past. (The Agenda - Part III):
The premise of the original Transformers was that two warring factions of sentient robots, the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons were locked in a brutal civil war. During one conflict, the Decepticons board an Autobot vessel, The Ark, and in the ensuing battle the ship crashes into a volcano on Earth, four million years in our past. They remain dormant until the volcano, located in Oregon, erupts in 1984, jostling the ship and awakening the computer, which begins repairs by scanning local vehicles, giving the robots the ability to change their forms and blend in.

The Autobots eventually win that war, and in the far future their descendants, the Maximals, rule over the Predacons, who evolved from the Decepticons. In Beast Wars, a group of Predacons steal a mysterious disc and flee their homeworld, led by a new robot calling himself Megatron after the Decepticons' greatest leader. A Maximal ship pursues, and they end up shooting each other down over a prehistoric planet of unknown origin. They adapt to the local beast forms and a new war begins. In the 39th episode and second season finale, it is finally revealed that the rival vessels traveled across time as well as space, and were actually on Earth the whole time! The disc the Predacons stole contained information left behind by the original Megatron as a failsafe, with instructions should the Decepticons lose the original war. It contained the location of the Ark, and Megatron II uses the information to SHOOT THE DORMANT OPTIMUS PRIME IN THE HEAD, in an attempt to alter history. Did he succeed? Fans were left to agonize for months over the outcome of one of the greatest cliffhangers in animation history.

2) Megatron uses an Autobot shuttle to get his entire army past the formidable defenses of an Earth base, resulting in major casualties. (The Transformers: The Movie):
Within the first twenty minutes of the franchise's first cinematic outing, it was fairly obvious that the stakes were higher than on the after school cartoon. Set in the “future” of 2005(the film was released in 1986), the movie opens with the Decepticons in firm control of Cybertron, the Transformers' home planet. The Autobots have bases on Cybertron's moons, but their real foothold is on Earth, where they had expanded their headquarters, once merely the wreckage of the Ark, into Metroplex, the Autobot City. Megatron's spies bring him word of an Autobot shuttle making a supply run to Earth, and his forces ambush the ship, quickly killing off several major characters. The real world explanation of this development was that the show served to promote action figures, and since those toys were no longer being made their characters were expendable. I didn't know that when I was 10 years old, of course.

Megatron's ruse works, and he gets fairly close before one of the Autobots notices a hole in the side of the ship. A brutal battle ensues and the Decepticons nearly crush their enemy, when Optimus Prime arrives with reinforcements. Prime and Megatron engage in a duel to the death that leaves both with fatal injuries. In the aftermath, Prime dies surrounded by friends while Megatron, dumped in space by his traitorous lieutenant Starscream, is revived by the world-devourer Unicron and given a new, more powerful body as Galvatron. As master plans go, killing your enemy along with 90% of his original army and getting yourself an upgrade definitely qualifies as a success, no matter what happens later in the film or in the third season of the cartoon.

3) Megatron employs a device called the “Transfixatron” to trap the Autobots in their vehicular forms. (The Autobot Run):
It's such a simple plan, but remains one of my fondest episodes. While the Decepticons turned into things like guns or fighter jets, most of the Autobots just turned into cars initially. Megatron has his Constructicons build a device that traps his enemies in their car modes, so they can't transform or access their weapons. He then herds them up and prepares to demolish them in a giant crusher. If not for the intervention of a few missed Autobots and their human allies, his plan may well have succeeded.

4) Megatron convinces humanity that the Autobots are actually the evil ones, exiling them from Earth in a ship headed into the sun. (Megatron's Master Plan Part I and Part II):
No list of Megatron's Master Plans would be complete without an episode of the same name! In the ultimate publicity spin, Megatron frames the Autobots and with the help of a corrupt politician, reverses the public's view of the warring factions. The Decepticons are thrown parades while the Autobots are shuttled back to Cybertron, but Megatron secretly reprograms the ship to take his enemies into the sun instead.

5) Megatron II succeeds in conquering Cybertron, removing the sparks(souls) of all its inhabitants and recycling their bodies into mindless drones. (Beast Machines):
Beast Wars was popular enough to merit a spinoff. That series left off with the Maximals on their way back to their proper time and planet, with Megatron strapped to the roof of their shuttle. While in transwarp space the villain is torn free, and emerges from the timestream well before his enemies. When they arrive home, they find their future has indeed been changed, and Beast Machines finds our heroes as an outnumbered band of revolutionaries fighting a dictator and an entire world of mindless enemies, led by three generals whose sparks would eventually be revealed as familiar characters from the Beast Wars. While I liked the first series better in terms of plot and animation style, I have to acknowledge the fact that Megatron II succeeded at what they spent 52 episodes trying to prevent. More importantly, there was a moral ambiguity at the core of the show, with the Maximals almost behaving like terrorists in their campaign for the survival of the organic traits they incorporated on Earth while Megatron strove for a purely technological Cybertron. At times, you weren't always sure you were rooting for the right faction, and that was something new for a franchise that once clearly labeled groups with “heroic” and “evil”.



Phanasmic Links 2.23.09

I had an exceptionally productive Saturday morning. I went to the dentist(no new cavities!), renewed a CD at the bank(every rate under 5 years sucks!), and changed the oil in my car(see you in hell, Maintenance Light!). Then the weekend sort of dissolved into a blend of movies and naps. I'll be well rested and recharged for the new work week. Before I fall asleep again, here are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) The P22 Music Text Composition Generator turns your words into music, translating each character to a different note. Experiment and see what you can compose!
Hat Tip: Darrell.

(2) Just when you think your life is bad, F*** My Life shows you how much worse it is for others.
H.T.: B13.

(3) Scientists identify antibodies that combat flu. In your face, germs!

(4) A tattoo of Vader holding a severed Lucas head? I swear some fans take this stuff too personally.
H.T.: J-No.

(5) Children's dreams come alive in 150 illustrations.

(6) 4 Gregs: Spinoff'd!

(7) This interview with Ralph Bakshi is a few years old, but gives interesting insight into the classic animator.

(8) It's time for certain film awards to be announced. What, are there other awards being given out? Oh, yes: HEATH LEDGER WON AN OSCAR FOR HIS PORTRAYAL OF THE JOKER. Awesome.

(9) Are these the hottest comic book movie babes of 2009? I plan on seeing most of those movies this year, so I should be able to confirm the accuracy of the article.

(10) Mine asteroids and battle space pirates in the awesome Space Game.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



First Time for Some Things

25 questions test whether or not there really is a first time for everything:

1. Who was your FIRST prom date?
I didn't go. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, and while there was a girl I'd left behind in middle school that I had a crush on, I had no idea whether she would be single or even remember me if I called her out of the blue after four years. I didn't have the best of reputations in my old public school either, kind of an odd mix between the biggest nerd in town and the village idiot.

2. Do you still talk to your FIRST love?
I recently reconnected online with the girl I was going to “marry” when I was five years old, but I wouldn't say that was love or that I knew what love was at that age. I don't speak to any of the crushes I had growing up, many of which I barely spoke with when I had the opportunity. I guess my first real love would have been when I was in a relationship and the feeling was, for a few years, mutual. I haven't spoken to her in a very long time.

3. What was your FIRST alcoholic drink?
I had a few Heinekens at a college Halloween party, a few days shy of my 21st birthday. It resulted in some embarrassing, uninhibited dancing, so God help me if any of the kids had cameras that day.

4. What was your FIRST job?
When I was 10 years old my mom used to send me down to the end of our block with a little red wagon full of her plants to sell. In high school I started making money playing in various marching bands. My first official paycheck came a few years later in college working for a house painting company over one Summer. I also worked as a gas station attendant over another Summer. My first “real” job after college was at a small design book publisher that hired me after my internship there in my Senior year.

5. What was your FIRST car?
I'll never forget my dad's old ‘81 maroon Monte Carlo, which originally belonged to my music teacher. That thing was a TANK and got me back and forth to college for four years, and to various adventures around Long Island for another four before the girl I was seeing at the time moved to Massachusetts and I needed something newer with better gas mileage. I still miss that big guidomobile.

6. Who was the FIRST person to text you today?
No one. The majority of my incoming correspondence comes through e-mail and other forms of online communication. The only time I'll get a text is if someone is trying to reach me from a noisy place, like a bar, concert, or movie theater.

7. Who is the FIRST person you thought of this morning?
My cat Chirp, because he was sitting on my chest staring at me until I woke up from the difficulty breathing. Apparently it was time to get up and feed him. I'm just glad we don't own a mastiff.

8. Who was your FIRST grade teacher?
I want to say Mrs. Gibbons, but I think she was third grade. Maybe Mrs. Seid? I can remember my Kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Giardina. Those early years in school are somewhat of a blur now.

9. Where did you go on your FIRST ride on an airplane?
I traveled with my college pep band to play for our team at a basketball game in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

10. Who was your FIRST best friend & do you still talk?
I don't know that I ever really had a true best friend. There was one kid I called my best friend in 2nd grade but we lost touch over a years. The guy I called my best friend in middle school at one point took me aside and specifically asked me to stop telling people we were best friends because we weren't. For a time I considered my ex-girlfriend my best friend, but that feeling was clearly as unrequited as my love for her. Honestly, outside of a couple in a relationship, I don't believe there's such a thing as a “best” friend. I have people I consider very good friends, and certainly people I trust more than others and confide in, but I don't know that anyone has ever considered me a best friend. Like love, that kind of connection qualifies only when mutual.

11. Where was your FIRST sleep over?
The first time I stayed anywhere away from home overnight was when I went camping in Virginia with some of my friends in college.

12. Who was the FIRST person you talked to today?
My dad.

13. Whose wedding were you in the FIRST time?
I was an usher at Rey's wedding.

14. What was the FIRST thing you did this morning?
I flossed in an attempt to “cram” for my biannual dental exam and cleaning.

15. What was the FIRST concert you ever went to?
I saw various local bands at the old Roxy Music Hall in Huntington, and once saw Biohazard there, but the first big concert I went to was a Pearl Jam performance at Randall's Island.

16. FIRST tattoo?
The closest thing I have to a tattoo is the broken tip from a sharp #2 pencil that got buried in the palm of my left hand when I carelessly reached for it in my shirt pocket on the way to a final exam in high school.

17. FIRST piercing?
I once stapled two of my fingers together when I was a kid, just to see what would happen, but I removed it pretty quickly; does that count?

18. FIRST foreign country you've been to?
Does Hoboken count? I've never been out of the United States.

19. FIRST movie you remember seeing?
The Secret of NIMH.

20. When was your FIRST detention?
In elementary school, I'd often have to stay after class and write 100 times on a sheet of looseleaf whatever it was the teacher didn't want me doing anymore, like “MCF will not talk during class” or “MCF will not climb out on a window ledge”, stuff like that. In middle school I had to write an essay on “dumpster safety” after a teacher caught me playing on or around a dumpster during recess. I mellowed out considerably by high school, and avoided their dreaded system of color coded demerit slips of green or gray. I once got a pink colored slip for forgetting to do my French homework, but there were no demerits attached; I just had to stay a half hour after school to make up the assignment. I think that was the only time I ever had to stay after school for disciplinary reasons.

21. What was the FIRST state you lived in?
New York.

22. Who was your FIRST roommate?
I've never had a roommate, unless parents count but parents are the first people most of us live with first. I once stayed with Rey for a week after he had some mysterious seizures and wasn't allowed to drive for a few months.

23. If you had one wish. What would it be?
The joke answer would be Steve Martin's wish about the children singing, and the $30 million dollars, etc. The semiserious answer would of course be “infinite wishes”. The honest answer would be “to be better”.

24. What is something you would learn if you had the chance?
How to speak Italian, or how to use Dreamweaver.

25. Who do you think will be the next person to post this?
It will either be Kev Bayer on his blog or B13 in my comments section.


M.C.F.A.T. XXVI Answers

Last week I posted the TWENTY-SIXTH batch of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test questions. Here are the answers you came up with:


Kev Bayer.


Here are my answers:

1) Which pieces of (snail) mail do you typically open first or with the most urgency?
Nothing jumps out at me more than that bright red Netflix sleeve. It's often the first thing I grab when I come home before disappearing for a few hours. The rest of the mail can sit on the hallway table for weeks or even months, although it only took forgetting a credit card bill once to make me keep an eye out for that the first of every month. Most everything else is either junk or bank statements that I go through all at once when I have time. Ironically, two days after writing this question I discovered a notice that one of my CDs was maturing last Saturday. I'm still within the grace period this weekend to renew it for a better rate than the one they automatically kicked it into, so I have to make sure to take care of it. Honestly, every important envelope should be red and/or promotional; it would make my life a lot easier.

2) You're under attack from some thugs; which fictional character from one of Joss Whedon's shows is best suited to help you out?
Jayne Cobb comes to mind as a dumb, blunt instrument, but he couldn't be trusted. If he were more like Casey he'd be an effective protector, but honestly with Whedon it's all about the girl power. River would be formidable but unstable, and at the end of the day I'd have to be cliché and just go for the obvious choice of a slayer, either Faith or Buffy.(Note to self: consider Whedon characters for a possible future installment of the ”My Fives” feature).

3) What is one compulsive habit you wish you could quit?
Snacking. Last Friday in a fit of depression and craving I bought myself a family sized bag of Tostitos. I go to the gym regularly, and I make an effort to walk every day on my lunch break as weather and time permit, but then I undo all these healthy activities with cookies, chips, pudding, and more. Even when there aren't any snacks in the house, I rummage around late at night until I find something. I've been known to eat an entire bag of saltines around midnight. A lot of times I snack not out of hunger, but boredom. I'll fight it for a while, but eventually I fall back into the same habits. It's a cycle that really needs to stop for my physical and emotional well-being.

4) Of all the cartoons you may have watched as a child, which had the strongest lasting influence on your life?
Transformers. I played with the toys. I watched the cartoon religiously every day after school. I drew the characters. I collected the entire comic book series, which led to my eight year comic book collecting habit of countless other titles. And I can't wait for the latest live action movie. I don't know if it taught me anything, other than setting me on the path to being an artist, and other than one book jacket design, I haven't done any Transformers related work in my career. The biggest influence on me morally would have to be an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in which He-Man pulls his archenemy Skeletor up from the edge of a cliff, to the villain's surprise. The whole mentality of the hero being better and not sinking to the villain's level has stuck with me my whole life, and given me the patience to at least try to be the good guy in situations in which I'm tempted to drop someone off a metaphorical cliff.

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: What functional type of fashion accessory is most common among the heroes of the DC Universe?
Finally, I think the bonus question is going to be open for debate this week. I thought about the wording, and I think “functional” helps my argument, but I'm not sure. Kev said capes while Sean said exterior underwear, and B13 said boots. Underwear and boots fall under attire more than accessory, while cape could go either way. The answer I was looking for is rings.

First and most obviously there are the Green Lanterns, a galaxy wide corps of heroes armed with rings that channel energy based on their willpower. Sinestro is a rogue Green Lantern who turned on this Corps using a ring that wielded yellow energy, which the green rings were weak against. He eventually put together his own Corps, all armed with fear-powered yellow rings. Since then, writer Geoff Johns has created an entire spectrum of ring wielders: Red Lanterns(anger), Violet Lanterns(love), Blue Lanterns(hope), Orange Lanterns(hope), Indigo Lanterns, and Black Lanterns(Death).

If a galaxy full of characters with power rings isn't enough, there's the Legion of Superheroes, a team of superpowered teens from the future all armed with rings that bear their logo and allow them to fly and communicate with one another. The Barry Allen Flash kept his costume miniaturized inside his ring until he needed it. Even Batman had a Kryptonite ring in case Superman had to be put in his place The ring originally belonged to Lex Luthor until it gave him cancer, at which point Supes entrusted it to Bats as a sign that they were going steady. Or something. The point is, a lot of these characters have rings that do things.



Some Kind of Monkey

During my Freshman year of high school, I took a walk with some of the other kids down to a local exotic pet store. One of the guys was toying with the notion of buying a monkey, though he was certain his parents wouldn't allow it. I was a bit uneasy in that place, with squawking birds, rattling cages, and an unsettling melange of odors. My friend was particularly mesmerized by one monkey, who reached through his cage and tugged at his tie. I don't know if he ever did buy a monkey, but in the years I knew him he never did. I could see the fascination with a little, almost human creature, but I could also see the impracticality and the potential problems that a monkey owner might face, such as Ross on Friends.

In my early 20s, I took my girlfriend to The Bronx Zoo, which I hadn't visited for years. Various exhibits were of interest, particularly the dark confines in which bats and reptiles resided, but the gorilla enclosure at the center of the park kept drawing me in. That was the day I learned that certain primates will fling their own waste, though surprisingly not firsthand. Those were my lucky years, before my inevitable regression to type. “Hey, that one just threw something...what was that, a dirt bomb?” I asked naively, keeping a safe distance when I had my answer.

As with any animal, it was the young ones who were the cutest, chasing one another then hanging off the mother as she strolled nonchalantly, pausing to give a tired look around the yard every now and then. My girlfriend took notice of which animals interested me the most, and when I wasn't looking picked up a postcard which she surprised me with on my birthday a few weeks later, a portrait of a majestic gorilla that I have to this day.

As fun as they were to watch, I still couldn't see owning one as a pet. A friend and his wife own a huge mastiff whom I've gotten used to, because she's just a giant mush of wrinkles, despite the fact that she could literally bite my head off. “She's harmless,” assured my friend, once sticking his fist in her mouth as she just rolled her eyes up at him, not biting her master. It's kind of gross because with the jowls the thing is a drool factory, but she really wouldn't harm her owners or anyone who wasn't a threat to them. On the other hand, a 200-300 pound dog is great to have on your side if someone does threaten you. I was raised in a home that always had cats, and I was chased by dogs a few times as a kid, but I can understand why people would have them as pets. I even understand smaller, caged or tanked animals, from snakes to hamsters to fish. And of course, after those Suburban Auto Group Trunk Monkey ads that were popular a few years ago, I started thinking how cool it would be to have a chimp in your corner, even better than a dog. A loyal sidekick with opposable thumbs? Awesome.

This week, one story proved how owning a chimpanzee might be anything other than awesome. In Connecticut, a 200-pound chimp mauled his owner's friend and was subsequently shot and killed by police. It's a horrible story all around, and I've been hearing clips on the radio of the tearful 70-year-old woman who lost a creature she treated as her son. At one point during the attack she even stabbed him with a butcher knife to try to get him off her friend, but it wasn't enough. There's also an account of her trying to calm him down by slipping Xanax into his tea, so there is a question of common sense within this tragic tale. Possible causes being considered are anything from Lyme disease to a chemical imbalance to not recognizing the victim because she changed her hairstyle.

Now, the thing that made me take notice is when I heard the extent of the victim's injuries. Generally, when I hear the word maul, I think “very badly scratched”. The word I associate with “maul” is “tiger”. I don't think of a monkey as being a wild animal, something with teeth and claws. Most news reports don't go into detail, and on my morning commute on Thursday I heard Opie and Anthony discussing just what Travis the chimp did to this poor woman, one Charla Nash. Not only did he chew up her hands, but he literally ripped her face off. He pulled out her eyes, tore off her nose, and yanked off her lower jaw. Amazingly, and I'm still not sure if “miraculously” works as well, she survived and remains in critical condition. She's currently in a hospital in Cleveland where the nation's first face transplant took place. The fictional procedure in Face/Off is now something of a reality, as doctors took nerve endings and skin tissue from a dead woman to reconstruct the face of a live one. Nash will need to be stabilized before any kind of reconstructive procedure is considered.

200 pounds doesn't sound like a lot to me, only 15 more than what I weigh right now. But where my mass comes from Doritos, the chimp was mainly muscle, with teeth and fur. They look cute, they look like us, and they're potentially more deadly than we realize. It's not typical behavior to attack, but it's extremely sobering to learn just what kind of damage one of those things can do. It's horrid on all fronts, from the poor woman who, if she survives, will never be the same after simply trying to help her friend corral a rampant pet, to the owner, Sandra Herold, who lost her “child” and saw her friend ripped apart until unrecognizable all within a matter of minutes. I think back to that monkey playing with my friend's necktie, or those little gorillas hanging from their mother, and imagine the transformation of any animal from adorable young to killing machine. The scary thing is that this is true of any living creature, especially and including us. When the monster within the monkey is unleashed, watch out...


My Metallica Five

The latest batch of my fives are my five favorite Metallica songs. This is no easy task, narrowing down a body of work that dates back to 1981. While I remember my friend's older brother having a huge poster of the Master of Puppets album in their basement and thinking it looked cool, it was still a few years before I would discover the music, when a high school friend made me a copy of 1990's self-titled Metallica, better known as “The Black Album”. I loved every track, and went back and picked up their first four albums, finding more to love especially on album #3 Master of Puppets and album #4 ...And Justice For All. But it was the fifth album I listened to the most, wearing out that first cassette in my car driving back and forth to college. Subsequent albums paled in comparison to those first five, becoming more and more commercial and watered down. It wasn't until their 9th and most recent studio album, Death Magnetic, that I got excited about them again, and many of the tracks recaptured the style that first grabbed me on the Black Album.

Tastes are fluid with mood, and all I can say is that these are my five favorite Metallica songs right now, subject to change seconds within posting no doubt:

1) Welcome Home(Sanitarium):

2) Wherever I May Roam:

3) One:

4) Nothing Else Matters:

5) Cyanide:



PBW: NYComicCon 2K9 Part II

It's the NY Comic Con Photo Blog Wednesday sequel that perhaps no one wanted, but you're going to get anyway! Last week I posted 78 photos from Saturday, and today I have another 36 images from my return on Sunday:

When asked his favorite character to write for, the legendary Larry Hama replied without hesitation that it was Snake-Eyes, joking that it was because he could write an entire issue about the mute ninja without any dialogue(a reference to the classic Silent Interlude.)

Some of Hama's best characters were in attendance, including Snake-Eyes, Cobra Commander, Bazooka, and Scarlett. Some of these soldiers have kept in better shape than others over the years; I'll leave it for you to decide whom.

Michael Uslan moderated a “living legends” panel that featured such greats as Jerry Robinson, Joe Sinnott, Irwin Hasen and others.

Mattel had some amazing action figure displays.

My friend dubbed this girl “Butterface Black Cat” for some reason...

Click the above image for desktop sized stand-up superheroes.

Marvel Super Hero Squad may be targeting a much younger audience, but based on some of the cartoon clips I saw I think adult fans will find a few things to smile at as well.

On Saturday Mike Deodato was drawing a Daredevil, and on Sunday I saw the finished piece was part of a collaborative effort of various Marvel artists.

Claremont signing.

The demo of the new Ghostbusters game looked insane.

DC had some great sculptures. The horizontal photo is clickable for a desktop image.

Celebrity sightings: Culp and Katt, veterans of The Greatest American Hero.

Next year the ‘con moves to October, and will conflict with several of my band gigs. Hopefully I can work something out and get to the city for a little while to see more of my costumed friends and favorite creative people...

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The Next Last Dragon

It was a Friday night, and I was walking through my local Pathmark with two objectives: to pick up a Valentine's card for my folks, and to give in to a Tostito's craving that had been nagging at me for days. My travels through the aisles led me past a display of discount DVDs, most of which were either fullscreen or obscure titles I'd never heard of before. Scrooged was particularly tempting for only $9.99, and I might have caved were it widescreen. I've been trying to cut back on DVD purchases since the medium is almost obsolete, since physical media might be replaced entirely by digital downloads within the next few years. But another disc was practically glowing with soul, and after picking it up and putting it down a few times, I decided I couldn't pass up The Last Dragon, not for that price.

This ‘80s martial arts classic was an old weekend favorite in the days of “Channel 11 Movies”, wasted Saturday or Sunday afternoons watching movies on broadcast television. It starred Taimak, a martial artist turned actor, as Leroy Green, a.k.a. “Bruce Leroy”, a kung fu aficionado and Bruce Lee fan. Leroy studies with a master until he can swat arrows from the air, and has his own dojo of students. He seeks to attain the highest level of mastery, a point of mental and physical perfection at which a warrior will glow. Along the way he falls for a beautiful host of a music video show, played by Vanity, who was discovered by Prince. Most memorable was Leroy's archnemesis Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, played to blaxploitation perfect by Julius Carry. The juxtaposition of a shogun and his Kurosawan posse against the mean streets of Manhattan are big part of what made this cult classic so enjoyable. These characters walk around in the gear of feudal Japan amid characters dressed in ‘80s styles, amid rapping, breakdancing, and boomboxes, and no one blinks, as though it's normal. It was genius.

Watching the film for the first time in maybe 20 years, without commercial interruption and hundreds more films under my eyeballs, I was struck by how many familiar faces there were. The crime boss trying to take over Vanity's show who sends Sho'Nuff and others against Leroy is assisted by a former boxer played by Mike Starr, the hitman inadvertently outwitted by morons in Dumb & Dumber. Vanity's agent J.J. is played by a young William H. Macy, onscreen for all of five minutes near the beginning of the film. Now there's a bit of trivia to whip out at a party. Leroy's younger sister, who also only appears for about five minutes, is played by a pre-Cosby Keisha Knight Pulliam. When The Last Dragon was released theaters, the hit sitcom was in its first season. Chazz Palminteri has a very small role as “Hood #2”, and one of Leroy's little brother's young friends was played by Carl Anthony Payne II, who would go on to play Cole in Martin. Fight choreography was handled by Ernie Reyes Sr., and in the film's climactic group battle, his young son Ernie Reyes Jr. gets to show off his own fighting skills in his very first onscreen appearance.

The movie stands the test of time as a period piece, a caricature of everything ‘80s, from a Madonna/Cyndi Lauper wannabe to the inclusion of DeBarge's Rhythm of the Night video. There are also countless clips from Bruce Lee films, many of which foreshadow the path Leroy will take in his own quest to become the master. By today's standards, the rotoscoped glow effect used in his showdown with Sho'Nuff is a little cheesy, but it works with the music and atmosphere of an ‘80s film. A lot of characters are corny and over-the-top, particularly the aforementioned crime boss who lifts the worst aspects of Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor. Come to think of it, his Mike Starr henchman and Madonna-esque girlfriend might as well have been named “Otis” and “Miss Teschmacher”. Still, it's the booming bravado and unbreakable ego of Sho'Nuff that steals the show, the perfect contrast to Leroy's quiet reserve and reluctance to fight until absolutely necessary. It's the basic quiet guy rising up to put down a bully storyline that worked so well in films like The Karate Kid.

It'd be hard to imagine anyone else in these roles, so I was surprised to see that a remake was in the works for 2010. I wouldn't have minded a sequel with a lot of the original actors, maybe have Taimak as an older Leroy training a new young warrior. On the other hand, it might be silly to have a sequel with a successor to someone who was the “last” anything. I just think there are too many remakes out there. Do we really need a new version of Witch Mountain with Dwayne Johnson? I'm not saying the trailer doesn't look good, but why tell a story that's already been told? I guess the people my age and slightly older who grew up with these stories want the children of today to have that same experience we did, and can now take advantage of CGI and other modern film techniques to pretty much create anything the original filmmakers envisioned but were unable to portray. I imagine the next Last Dragon film will capture the glow as though an Iron Fist story was getting a live action treatment. And what of the cast? What of someone like Sho'Nuff, so distinct that you couldn't imagine anyone capturing his line delivery so perfectly? If anyone could do it, it's the one guy I was surprised wasn't in the original when I was recognizing all those other faces: Samuel L. Jackson. I'm already imagining his taunting “LEE-ROYYYY...” Maybe 20 years from now someone will be writing about finding a discount download of the remake. Is Samuel L. Jackson truly in everything? Sho'Nuff!


Phantasmic Links 2.16.09

I am so glad I caught a matinee of Friday the 13th with my friends on Sunday. I'm not glad that I saw the “remake”, which kind of condenses the events of the first three films while telling a brand new story about consistently stupid teenagers. I'm just glad I didn't spend more than matinee prices on it. Even by slasher film standards, it exacerbates the worst traits and dialogue of the genre and manages to be unintentionally hilarious in several scenes. Not even topless waterskiing or the expertise of Sam Winchester could save this one. Betsy Palmer would be turning in her grave, if she wasn't still alive and ripping the remake a new one in Newsday.

Maybe someday there will be one of these films in which the kids put up a real fight and don't wander into dark cabins, lurk barely concealed watching the big scary killer guy, and make sure he's really dead when they do get the upper hand. This one was only an hour and a half, so it would have been only fifteen minutes with smart, capable protagonists. I'm not sure you're supposed to root for the guy with the big knife and hockey mask. Instead, spend some time clicking this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS. You won't regret it...:

(1) Christian Bale puts that punk David in his place after a trip to the dentist. That may be the funniest mashup of audio and video ever. Warning: NSFW language.
Hat Tip: Lyndon & Darrell.

(2) The extinct ibex is back, thanks to cloning. Anyone want to take bets on how long before I'm the first guy to be chased by a resurrected velociraptor?
H.T.: B13.

(3) Klingon night school prepares those angry forehead guys in body and mind.
H.T.: Jerry.

(4) Is there anything creepier than a geek with a camera at a comic book convention? Uh-oh...

(5)That Rubik's Cube solving robot apparently has its own website now. Who doesn't?
H.T.: Darrell.

(6) This is one of the best 404 pages I've ever seen. And yes, you can go for a train ride.

(7) Save the Words; Save the...Words! I adopted RHODOLOGIST, which is someone who studies roses. Or Rhodester; it might be one of those words whose meaning changes over time...
H.T.: B13.

(8) Super Mafia Land combines classic gameplay with a different Italian profession...

(9) Speaking of Italians, remember Joe Pesci's rap video? He was a wiseguy...

(10) This giant ant colony is AMAZING! It's kind of a shame they had to pour cement into it to see it...poor ants....
H.T.: B13.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



The Glau-Dushku Convergence

Some might say a Friday night is a death sentence for a television program, a barren wasteland with no viewers, because everyone has a life, right? Many times in the past, the FOX network has rolled the dice in scheduling programs on Friday nights that might appeal to the geeky, dateless wonders just sad enough to be sitting in front of that glowing box instead of another human being. And yet, perhaps the science fiction demographic was still too great a minority to pull in the numbers the executives would have wanted for such now-canceled shows as Millennium, Harsh Realm, The Visitor, Sliders, and others. Sliders managed to gain a few extra seasons after FOX axed it, and found a new home on SciFi, a channel that went on to dominate the Friday night geek audience with the Stargate franchise as well as Battlestar Galactica.

FOX is at it again, as of this past Friday and, knowing their target audience, included a series of promos for their shows starring Summer Glau and Eliza Dushku. Both are beloved stars from past Joss Whedon shows, and that man knows how to cast his sexy young ladies. Fans of Nathan “Cap'n Tightpants” Fillion could probably argue that he does well casting males as well, but I'll leave that argument for someone else. Glau formerly starred with Fillion in Firefly, Whedon's foray into science fiction that gained a large cult following despite being canceled after one season of episodes that were aired out of order and not in their entirety. She now stars on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles playing a reprogrammed robot sent back in time to protect the future leader of the human resistance. In its second season, the show continues to impress me with its sheer character driven strength and themes of humanity. In this weeks episode, suffering from a bullet wound, Lena Heady's Sarah Connor hallucinates her son's father Kyle Reese, and he acts as a guide and motivator as she finds a doctor to help her while avoiding the authorities. It was a great bit of continuity that the show worked in some of the Kyle character's dialogue from the original Terminator film, and I hope the upcoming film sparks enough interest in the franchise to draw in more viewers. Moving from Mondays to Fridays as of this week, the show may risk a drop in the ratings.

Dushku meanwhile stars in a new Whedon show, Dollhouse, and the sophomore Terminator may have moved to give the new show a strong lead-in. Dushku first came to the attention of Whedon fans on Buffy The Vampire Slayer playing the slayer Faith, and would later reprise the role on several episodes of the spin-off Angel. Dushku is no stranger to FOX either, and after her supernatural Whedon appearances she went on to star in Tru Calling, playing a morgue worker who relives days until she prevents the death of whichever body asked for her help in a particular episode. It's one of the many FOX shows I wished could have been brought back to life. In Dollhouse, she plays Echo, an “Active”. Actives are blank slates, people who have been brought to some mysterious facility, the Dollhouse, to have their pasts erased. The people in the facility can imprint any active with any collected personality, or blend of personalities, with the skills needed for a particular task. In the pilot, Echo is imprinted with a hostage negotiator in order to retrieve a kidnapped girl. The catch is that personality imprints come from living beings, and she has the memories of someone who happened to have been kidnapped by one of the same people who took the little girl she's trying to save. She might also pick up any physical limitations along with skills, in this case nearsightedness and asthma. Battlestar Galactica's Tahmoh Penikett stars as an agent on the trail of the Dollhouse, tracking missing persons because the Actives may have been taken against their will. It's not quite clear whether they volunteered to have their memory wiped, and what the full motives of the Dollhouse staff actually are. They seem to be helping people, albeit for a fee, and through questionable means. Amy Acker, another Angel alum, also stars as one of the doctors in the facility.

The new show has potential, especially since Eliza will be assuming a different role each week, depending on what skills and personality are needed. And there's an early bit of dialogue in which her character alludes to the fact that when you wipe a slate, there are still smudges and imprints of what was written there before. Over time these characters are probably going to struggle with past memories, and it's no coincidence her character is named “Echo”. The show is running with the same limited commercial interruption format as Fringe, letting viewers know whether a break will be 60 or 90 seconds. These messages are set against shots of Dushku's curves, in case viewers missed the double team of Glau and Dushku appealing to their dateless male demographic. They even threw in a line for Acker on the show, telling Dushku's character it was time for her massage. So they're being pretty blatant in using the sex appeal of these actresses to hook their viewers. Both shows are good in their own right, and that's enough of a reason to watch without resorting to such obvious tactics.

Although it certainly didn't hurt...


M.C.F.A.T. Volume XXVI

What's this? The TWENTY-SIXTH edition of the M.C.F.A.T., or Mysterious Cloaked Figure's Astonishing Test? Time does fly in between my bouts of inquisitiveness.

If you're just joining us, this test practically explains itself. Just answer the questions below in the comment section or on your own blogs, and check back in a week or so when I link to your answers and post my own:

1) Which pieces of (snail) mail do you typically open first or with the most urgency?

2) You're under attack from some thugs; which fictional character from one of Joss Whedon's shows is best suited to help you out?

3) What is one compulsive habit you wish you could quit?

4) Of all the cartoons you may have watched as a child, which had the strongest lasting influence on your life?

SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: What functional type of fashion accessory is most common among the heroes of the DC Universe?

There's no right or wrong, and you can't fail if you answer. Good luck!



Well I Never!

How’s your life? Have you done anything interesting with it? Is there a lot left to do? The internet is filled with many such lists as the one below, and I can certainly put an “X” next to “did one of these checklists”. Let’s see what else I can mark as something I’ve done in my life:

(X) Gone on a blind date
( ) Skipped school
(X) Watched someone die
( ) Been to Canada
( ) Been to Mexico
( ) Been to Florida
( ) Been to Hawaii
(X) Been on a plane
( ) Been on a helicopter
(X) Been lost
(x) Gone to Washington, DC
(X) Swam in the ocean
(X) Cried yourself to sleep
(X) Played cops and robbers
( ) Recently colored with crayons
(X) Sang Karaoke
(X) Paid for a meal with coins only
( ) Been to the top of the St. Louis Arch
(X) Done something you told yourself you wouldn't
(X) Made prank phone calls
( ) Been down Bourbon Street in New Orleans
(X) Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose or elsewhere
(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
(X) Danced in the rain
( ) swam naked
(X) Written a letter to Santa Claus
( ) Been kissed under the mistletoe
(X) Watched the sunrise with someone
(X) Blown bubbles
(X) Gone ice-skating
(X) Gone to the movies
( ) Been deep sea fishing
( ) Driven across the United States
(X) Been in a hot air balloon (Inside the balloon portion of one, while it was on the ground.)
( ) Been sky diving
( ) Gone snowmobiling
( ) Lived in more than one country
(X) Lay down outside at night and admired the stars while listening to the crickets
(X) Seen a falling star and made a wish
( ) Enjoyed the beauty of Old Faithful Geyser
(X) Seen the Statue of Liberty ( “seen” yes; been up close to, no)
( ) Gone to the top of Seattle Space Needle
( ) Been on a cruise and loved it
(X) Traveled by train
( ) Traveled by motorcycle
( ) Ridden a motorcycle
(X) Been horse back riding
( ) Ridden on a San Francisco Cable Car
( ) Been to Disneyland and Disney World
(X) Truly believe in the power of prayer
( ) Been in a rain forest
( ) Seen whales in the ocean
( ) Been to Niagara Falls
(X) Ridden on an elephant
( ) Swam with dolphins
( ) Been to the Olympics
( ) Walked on the Great Wall of China
( ) Saw and heard a glacier calf
( ) Been spinnaker flying
( ) Been water-skiing
( ) Been snow-skiing
(X) been snow-sledding
(X) Been river rafting (I’m counting riding down a choppy river in an inner tube)
( ) Been to Westminster Abbey
( ) Been to the Louvre
( ) Swam in the Mediterranean
( ) Been to a Major League Baseball game
( ) Been to a National Football League game
( ) Raced a car

I can probably do better in the next 50 or 60 years...