Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Holy cow

I stumbled upon this during a recent google search. No, your eyes do not deceive you - there is actually someone roaming our planet with an Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce tattoo! I'm stunned. And, I must confess, more than a bit envious.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Connecticut yankee seeks outlet

Before preparing to repel the Visigoth hordes, it's always a good idea to cleanse thine inbox and set yon heretical magic device to vibrate.

Pic courtesy of Gizmodo.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I weep for the future coverage of upcoming films about the future

I just learned that the venerable "Starlog" magazine is ceasing publication as of it's latest issue, numbered 375. Like seemingly everything nowadays, it is becoming a web-only entity. Hang on for a few seconds as I shed some nostalgic tears and shake my fist at cruel and uncaring Crom, perched on his throne in the sky.

OK, I'm back. For those of you unfamiliar with Starlog magazine, it was quite an important publication back in the day - important that is, if you were concerned and/or obsessed with science fiction - fantasy films and TV shows. And who among us wasn't obsessed with those things? No man I'd care to drink with, that's for sure.

The magazine started in 1976, and quickly gained prominence among fans of the genre. You young 'uns weened on the teat of the web have to remember that it was pretty hard to find info on such topics back then, so a magazine with color photos of "Star Wars" and "Superman: The Movie" would actually sell a respectable amounts of copies. But Starlog didn't just have photos - it featured behind the scenes articles and interviews with the people responsible for current and forthcoming features. So a while before "Blade Runner" was released, you could pick up an issue of Starlog that had interviews with the screenwriters, kick-ass production designer Syd Mead and author Philip K. Dick to boot. And yes, this was indeed a big deal to me in 8th grade.

Just look at the cover of that issue - it's packed to the gills with cool shit. You have the "Blade Runner" coverage I mentioned, plus an article above the masthead titled "Should Spock Die?" (let it not be said that Starlog was afraid to tackle the tough questions), coverage of "John Carpenter's The Thing" and, as a bonus, John W. Campbell's classic short-story "Who Goes There," which is the what "The Thing" was based on, a free spaceship blueprint, and much, much more. Worth every nickel of the $2.50 cover price, I'm sure you'll agree.

They were the go-to source for advance word on classics like "Alien" and "Altered States" as well as dreck like "The Black Hole" and "Heartbeeps." They also launched a spin-off with "Fangoria" magazine, which was basically Starlog for the horror and gore crowd. The first issue of that had Godzilla on the cover and sizable article on George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," which made for a fine debut in my book.

Farewell, magazine-format Starlog. I will miss your ads for sci-fi movie soundtracks and spaceship and robot blueprints. But I still have some of my old copies to cling to, as well as the below additions from their fine "Starlog Photo Guidebook" series - "Robots" and "Special Effects":

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Young film snobbery of the third kind

In 1977 a science-fiction film was released that became an obsession of my 10 year-old self. That film was not "Star Wars." That film was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Don't get me wrong - I saw "Star Wars" at the theater 3 times during the summer of 1977 and was pretty enraptured of it. But then during Christmas vacation my parents took us to see "Close Encounters" and all bets were off. I felt then and still feel that "Close Encounters" is the superior film. I saw it 2 more times that winter, and also saw the "special edition" twice when it was released in 1980.

The movie grabbed me pretty quickly - possibly because it seemed much more real and plausible, even to my young eyes. At it's core, the movie is basically about an ordinary man (an electrician for Pete's sake) grappling with the unknown, as well as the question "are we alone?"

Brief digression: that last part reminds me of a quote from author Arthur C. Clarke that I've always found, for lack of a better phrase, rather mind-blowing: "Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying."

Well put, Mr. Clarke. Anyway, the movie contained an interesting mix of menace and wonder - kids were abducted, hard-to-define UFO's flew by casting off lens flares, the government was engaged in a cover-up, etc. Where "Stars Wars" was all adventure and spectacle, and quite obviously make-believe, "Close Encounters" was shot on locations and seemed maybe like it had, or could, actually occur. When we left the theater, I reflexively looked up at the night sky ("Hey, is that star moving?").

I watched the last hour or so of "Close Encounters" last night on some HD channel - it looked pretty darned good in hi-def, but also made me think about how well the movie has aged over the years. Certainly is has aged better than "Star Wars," and is without a doubt a more emotional and cerebral film. Collectively the acting is better, the effects are to my mind more impressive because of their real-world context, and it has a shot that imbedded itself into my brain and has never left - in my opinion one of the indelible moments of cinema. This one:

That abduction sequence was masterful as whole, but that shot - with the trees whipping around due to an otherwordly inferno being generated by God knows what kind of mechanism landing in someone's front yard - holy cow.

I was definitely in the minority at school when I attempted to convince others that "Close Encounters" was better. It had no toys or merchandising, and thus failed to whip youngsters into a frenzy like "Star Wars" did (I'll grant you that it was also much more fun to run around the neighborhood pretending to be Han Solo, pointing your imaginary blaster and going "Pew! Pew!" than it was pretending to be Roy Neary driving around in an electrical truck) . Then again, whenever mashed potatoes were served for dinner, you were presented with a golden opportunity to sculpt them into the shape of Devil's Mountain. So there.

"Close Encounters" was a huge financial success, and I think time has borne out my opinion of it's enduring quality. Certainly "Star Wars" has remained more in the public consciousness, but barring a few moments of aliens obviously played by little kids in costumes at the end (the mechanical alien puppet that does the sign language and smiles is awesome, though), "Close Encounters" isn't dated at all, and in fact seems like it could be made today.

But don't even try and draw me into an argument about whether "Close Encounters" is better than "The Empire Strikes Back." I'm not touching that one.

Hulk not understand bus schedule

Spotted the other day in the sleepy confines of Saint Anthony Village - a bus shelter rent asunder, victim of the awesome power of gamma radiation. Obviously Bruce Banner was waiting for the #4 in order to go to an interview for a dishwashing job at a downtown diner. The bus was running late, and the inevitable occurred.

Party in NE Mpls

As seen next to the parking lot of the Red Stag Supper Club. I recommend that you never kiss the cook who deigns it necessary to have a commode next to his grill. But maybe the guy is just a believer in the power of multi-tasking.