5.21.2017

The Bat, The Cat, and The Penguin : 25 Years of Summer Vacation

It's hard for me to acknowledge that Tim Burton was the author of my childhood - if for no other reason than he hasn't made a movie I've liked since Ed Wood. And doesn't that just make sense - everything he made prior to 1995 was in perfect alignment with where my interests were & where they we going. Either that or they were steering them. In any case, it seems unfair for one man to have such a monopoly on everything cool (or geeky). Kinda like J. J. Abrams now or, more broadly, Marvel Comics. Between the ages of 3 and 7 I was introduced to Pee Wee Herman, Beetlejuice, Batman (and the Joker) and Edward Scissorhands. That's a relentless cavalcade of colorful characters, especially on an impressionable young mind. There was no escape. Not for me.
The weeks leading up to June 19th, 1992 can only be described as a full-on cultural blitz aimed directly at my brain. All the gods were in cahoots: school was ending, weather getting nicer, and Batman "returning" all culminated into an orgy of voluptuous shock and awe. Like Dick Tracy before it, I was in love with Batman Returns before it ever hit the screen.

Firstly, this was a time when McDonald's was a cathedral of holy magic - to partner with them was like a blessing from the pope. And back then, a movie this monumental deserved promotional items for both the grown-up meals and the Happy Meals. The plastic toy cars were fine (they resembled nothing from the movie) but were pretty lame in comparison to the Supersize soda cups covered in beautiful wraparound murals, and I don't think ever before or since have McDonald's fries come in a solid black cardboard cup. That was fuckin' badass.

I was a card collector. Baseball, movies, TV shows, stickers, nudie cards, even the Gulf War had a set. Anything past or present with cultural relevance were wrapped into wax or foil packages, & I was there to rip 'em open. And they could be found everywhere: supermarkets, department stores, gas stations. I had a few dozen comics, but cards were really my comics. I'd amassed the entire set of series 1 from the first Batman. (There was a second series, but I think I'd moved onto Dick Tracy at that point). Returns had two simultaneous card series: the dull cardboard Topps series, and the glossy expensive Stadium Club Cards printed on "Kodak stock" and boasting a shiny Bat symbol in the corner of each card.

More than cards or stickers, T-shirts or action figures, lunch boxes or McD's cups, my big thing for
most of the 90s was posters. They were my first 'tattoos,' a visual way to display all my interests over a unified canvas. The only good promotional stuff to come out of the first movie - other than the cards - were the posters (which were just blown up publicity photos). To this day, the stylish, gothic character posters for part 2 are still some of the most striking images put out by a studio. (Modern day 'alternative posters' for this movie can't improve on the originals). After the '89 movie came out, the '60s TV series started to show up in syndication here and there, and that's how I became aware of and familiar with the other villains. So by the time these characters with the Burton-makeovers started showing up in magazines and on posters, I was able to have the same beside-myself-reactions as the rest of the world. And they covered my walls, my ceiling, my door, and even inside my closet.

At that age, I don't think I had any "concern regarding its potential to live up to the previous film." I was aware that it could maybe corrupt my monogamous love affair with the Joker. My experience with sequels at that point ranged from okay to pretty great (Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Star Wars), but as I've written here once before, I'd rarely been, before or since, that excited for a movie. It was possible that my mindset may have been a little bit along the lines of "the presence of the Joker makes any movie better." (I learned in August of 2016 that that's simply not true). What it eventually came down to was: I like Batman more than any other superhero or superhero empire, and I like Batman villains more than most characters of fiction.
I don't wanna 'review' the movie or anything - I'd find that boring & so would you. It certainly lived up to the hype that they were throwing at me & that I built up in my mind. Even now it's still pretty damn good. It's when Tim was still the man, and it's a tie with the '89 movie in terms of favorites (Rises is my #1, while Jess, coincidentally, has always said Returns).

Ironically, out of all this stuff, these posters and French fries and everything, the most notable thing about the movie, for me, was the comic book. DC released a 'companion comic' that pretty much
acted as a storyboarded script. The dialogue (minus some cursing) and scenes played out identical to the feature itself. This fascinated me because it was like owing a movie script. So fascinated, in fact, that I 'adapted' it myself, with my own artwork and some minor structuring and dialogue changes, into two issues. Ergo, Batman Returns was the first script I ever wrote.

Jess thinks of it as a Christmas movie (mostly because it is). That's tough for me, because it'll always be the movie that kicked off my summer vacation in 1992; the start of the "bonus days" as my father called them (the last several non-school days at the end of June). It was also exciting to be part of something - to like what everyone else likes, and to be way into something that's so popular that you're constantly ensconced in that very obsession. (I think the last time I felt that was Revenge of the Sith). Because of that, that summer & several others were like a Christmas morning that lasted for 2 months and change.

Today, everything's different. There's no action. But, do you really think I'm gonna be the cantankerous old movie geek again & complain about the current state of summer movies, superheroes, and pop culture in general? Of course! This is Bennett Media, asshole! Do you think McCafé is gonna have Wonder Woman salad this season? How about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bottles of water? If they did, would you care? Would kids care? I don't. Now when I order a happy meal they give me apple slices and yogurt. I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

- Paul

5.09.2017

SEARSTOWN

In the spring of 2011, Eileen Janowicz, a PhD in Forensic Psychology and Industrial Organizational Psychology, and her colleague, Keith Richard (not Richards), a PhD in Parapsychology, concluded after an eleven year experiment that spanned four continents, that ghosts, are in fact, real. However, their findings and what they determine as the definition of "ghosts" is pretty loose. But if that weren't enough, what they did discover and prove beyond a reasonable doubt is far more fascinating and shocking. Of course, what's more shocking than scientific proof of life after death?
"Everything we think we've known about ghosts up till this point has come from films and literature," says Janowicz. "I think the biggest misconception - which I shared up until very recently - is that they're deceased."
And with that miraculous claim, Janowicz and Richard are in full agreement that some ghosts... are alive?!
"Once you accept that, you can begin to understand how the rest of it falls into place," Richard says coyly. So, what is 'the rest of it?'
"This isn't just about ghosts," says Richard. "This also covers telepathy, astral projection, time travel, past lives, telekinesis, and maybe even the existence of a higher power." He confesses this with such casual abandon, it could either hurt his credibility as someone who's not taking it seriously, or, he believes in it with such certainty that it must be true.
Janowicz is quite the opposite - at least in demeanor. Her timidness is due, somewhat, to the fact that this amazing discovery received almost no notice from the press or public. The reason for this is strangely coincidental. "When we began the process of testing and gathering data and gaining some credibility and momentum, the attack on the World Trade Center happened," she says. "When we finally reached a conclusion, and wanted to share it with the world, the very next day, Osama bin Laden was killed." Once again, Public Enemy #1 had overshadowed the possibility of the world's potential for galactic enlightenment. "Something like that," laugh Janowicz. "I've reached a point where I'm just happy being aware of it, and I'm less concerned with spreading the word, as it were."
Well, perhaps just this once, they'll make another attempt to spread the word - at least to us. At the very least, how about an explanation into what any of this is. What is this amazing discovery?
"The bigger picture is what's important here," says Janowicz. "What we've determined is that, basically, every square inch of this planet is haunted." While 'haunted' conjures up a lot of gothic imagery to you and I, it ended up being the key word amongst Janowicz, Richard, and their team of nearly two dozen researchers. "In every home, school, office, shopping mall, or wide open space, there is some level of paranormal activity. There are some people in the [parapsychology] field who will agree with that. What we've determined is that we - you and me, who are still alive - can add to or even create this activity with our presence, and that it will linger once we've left that space."
This is what this scientific team refers to as The Metaphysical Footprint.
"Try and think of a place - a physical space or dwelling - where you had an intense emotional experience. Or perhaps several experiences. Maybe your childhood home. What we're stating, very plainly, is that the house you grew up in is currently haunted. By you."
If this statement by Janowicz doesn't perfectly illustrate the discovery, Richard has a similar, broader take.
"It's like The Shining," he says. "Everything leaves a trace of itself behind - whether you've left the Earth or left the room. Simply put, if you're feeling something, having an emotion, and you're standing in this spot, you're leaving a bruise on the ground. And anybody who passes over that spot after you can feel it, like a bruise."
A theory such as this sounds like it's more suited to geological surveyors than psychologists.
"Oh, we've covered that," Janowicz says with an almost laugh. "We left nothing to chance. We've thought of everything."
So, what of the ghosts we always thought were there, but weren't sure? Do we 'haunt' after we die?
"Technically, yes," says Richard. "But, it's part of your living self that's doing the haunting. Speaking in physical terms, if you leave dirty dishes in the sink, and then you died, the dishes are still in that sink. You leave behind more than you take with you."
Does this provide an explanation for every and any ghost sighting claim in history?
"The legitimate ones, yeah!" says Richard. "Most claims have been seeing people - faded images that - that float or move in nonspecific ways. Additionally, and notably, they're always clothed. If these are 'souls' that have passed on, why are they dressed? Did their wardrobe die with them? When someone is fortunate or perceptive enough to see a ghost, what they are seeing is... it's like, a home movie of someone's memory. They may be dead, or still alive somewhere. It may be a conscious memory or subconscious, but they are witnessing the past."
There have been claims - many claims, in fact - of people communicating with the dead, even interacting. If these are not souls that have passed on, but just moving memories, how exactly is this possible? Are we manipulating the past by 'contacting spirits?' Is there such a thing as an intelligent haunting? What about mediums and those who claim to speak with the dead?
"We never set out to prove the validity of any of that stuff," says Janowicz. "Based on what we've found, all of that seems highly improbable. But, if it is true, then it must somehow exist alongside what we now know to be absolutely true."
They are very, very certain of their claims. But in this short interview format, what we've been told raises more questions than answers.
Apart from the apparent 9/11 curse, there must be some larger reason as to why this kind of find isn't on the news every single day.
"It clashes with most religious beliefs," says Richard. "Like a lot of science, that's always gonna be a tough sell."
That makes sense. Janowicz has an even more realistic, sobering explanation.
"It's like climate change. If it doesn't present an immediate, tangible obstacle in people's lives, they either don't believe it or they don't care."
Ironically, that is very true, except when it comes to religion. Dean Keith Simonton, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UC Davis points out, "Most articles published in the sciences are never cited by anybody. Most compositions are not recorded. Most works of art aren't displayed."
Apart from maybe being too fantastic to believe, people may be disheartened to learn that, perhaps, the afterlife is just a recording for others to watch. "It's simply palpable nostalgia," says Richard. "People already dislike nostalgia - it stifles progress." Janowicz adds, "It illustrates the strength in the fabric of our existence - that we're all connected. We all want to be remembered after we're gone; to leave our mark. We're here to say that we all do!"
At the end of the day, after all of this, we're left with the two biggest questions: what were the methods used that led to this conclusion, and, what exactly is the proof?
Janowicz and Richard both remain vague on these two points specifically, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. It may perhaps be bitterness regarding the lack of attention their efforts have garnered. (Janowicz's book on the subject, Our Own Shadow, has yet to find a publisher). Of course, a more skeptical person could claim that there never were any answers. The latter seems unlikely, especially if one takes the time to do some digging.
In the timespan of the experiment (2000-2011) there are many recorded instances of experts and students alike in various scientific fields conducting seemingly bizarre or random tests all over the globe - all contributing a piece to The Metaphysical Footprint. Sandra Waters of Oxford University may or may not have been conducting experiments utilizing animal torture and the possibility of distress transference from subject to subject. Rex Jung, a neuroscientist from New Mexico, mapped our neural networks between previously unrelated parts of the brain. There was someone by the name of Shawn (could be first or last) who may or may not have been a geologist who visited Alcatraz, The Bermuda Triangle, Pompeii, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and lastly, Disney World. The purpose of these lists of what kind of data was gathered from these locations is not entirely clear. Most of the reports of these instances are just as nonspecific, or even more so. The bulk of the details are in the yet-to-be-published book, which Janowicz is wisely guarding as unsolicited property.
As for proof? Richard says, "Go down to your local shopping mall. That's all the proof you'll ever need."

4.29.2017

MST3K, THE RETURN :: I (almost) Like It Very Much!


It seems bold to me to 'reboot' sacred cult stuff (X-Files, Twin Peaks, It) for no other reason than cult members are fucking crazy & you don't mess with their God. Of course, even the most mainstream things (Star Wars, Alien, Ghostbusters) have their own 'cult following' (which is just lazy terminology for 'people who really enjoy something a lot'). Point is, everything is somebody's favorite something, and it can and will all be reworked and retold. Don't think they can't remake Catalina Caper or Final Sacrifice, because there is a market.
It's us.

And on that twisted note, let's turn our attention to the plain fact that "we" funded this new MST. (I myself contributed nothing). After watching the first 4 episodes, it seems that maybe they could've done with less money. That's one of a few nits I can pick in what otherwise seems to be a shaky frame on an already sturdy foundation.

  1. The 'Bots are now controlled by a puppetry 'team,' as opposed to voice actor=puppeteer. While that carried with it a bit of charm, it also created a loose flow in the physical performance. Now that they have working arms & Servo has a functioning hover skirt, they manage to look less real and more stiff & weird. 
  2. Speaking of stiff - the riffing itself. While the show has always been scripted, it has never felt more so than it does presently. My favorite years are the last few - the Mike, Kevin and Bill seasons before the end. If for no other reason - and there may not be any - it was the pace and temperament of the jokes. Casual disdain mixed with impatient hostility seemed to be the best formula - better for me than the chuckling sparseness of the early Joel stuff. Now, the riffing is rapid-fire, incessant, and shouted at us with exclamation points, as though each comic simply can't wait to get their line in. Though, what forgives this is that, yeah, they're excited to fill the theater seats of cultural icons, & that excitement can be infectious. Also, the jokes themselves are solid; topical, referential and esoteric as ever. The delivery needs work. Practice.
  3. Jonah Ray is the new host. Despite his hipster name and his hipster face, he certainly carries on the MST legacy of the "doughy white guy" in a jumpsuit, and he does it pretty ok. The 'Bots are troubling because, again, after the stilted delivery and movement, recasting puppets is like changing the voices of cartoon characters. We all know what Mel Blanc and Jim Henson sound like, & we know bullshit knockoffs when we hear 'em. That's the thing, though - these aren't knockoffs. Apart from Crow's Hampton Yount actually sounding a lot like Trace Beaulieu, it's startling when voices change but faces stay the same. The best (or worst) example is Gypsy. Her transition from folksy Midwestern gal to sassy back-talker who actually drops in on the movies to pop a joke (?) sorta personifies the new constitution of the show.
  4. The show now exists in a post-Seinfeld comedy-show-world. While it was always rooted in sarcasm, it also had an innocent charm. It was, after all, a puppet show on local Minnesota television. Today, the climate of comedy has become way more cynical, current, and winkingly self-referrencial -- just look at The Simpsons for Christ's sake. A bit of that sneaks onto the new MST. Of course, they also have twice as many writers as before - just like every other thing on the show - which also explains the volume of jokes. Jonah has described the original series as "comforting." That's not just nostalgia - that was the whole vibe of the show, mostly attributed to the fact that, when you're not watching a movie with these guys, they're talking into the 4th wall, at you. As long as they keep that up, we can combat the cynicism - which is likely, since I don't think the movie segments are going away.
  5. The movies themselves were, and continue to be, the best and most fascinating thing about the show. They could do 10,000 episodes and still only scratch the surface of 'these kinds' of films. But the ones they have done and are doing places them into a kind of "hall of fame." I was certainly never aware of most of the movies they've "showcased" until they made me aware. Coincidentally, that's always been a point of contention for the show's haters, who insist the show defiled classic cinema masterpieces. I don't know about that, but I do know that someone who can't find humor in everything is no friend of mine, and I don't want to know you.
Maybe that falls in line with that whole "comfort" thing - sharing the same sense of humor as others. That, and the movies. 
The sketches are pretty far down the list - even more so now. So much more so that I'm not entirely clear on the new setup: Are they on a new satellite? Are they underground? How did Tom & Crow get back into space?
Of course, I should just repeat to myself, "It's just a show..."

 - Paul

4.12.2017

Easter Movies : Aliens, Zombies, and How the Revolution Was Televised

Holidays are weird - all the big ones, anyway. They're all rooted in sex, violence & religion, & they're celebrated with money & food. I love 'em.
Easter is no exception; it may be the freakiest. It certainly has the best candy. But for all its weirdness, it's skimpy in the cinema department... Or are I?
There seems to be 3 kinds of holiday movies. The first kinds are the ones that are directly about the festivities & the day itself (Halloween, Scrooge). The second are where the holiday is just the setting of when the larger story takes place (Die Hard, Jaws). Then there's the third, which can either take dedication, or merely happens by accident. If you watch the same movie at the same time every year, they can become inseparable. I wrap Christmas presents to King of Kong. Jess watches Rushmore when she does our taxes. American Graffiti is a great way to celebrate the first day of summer. There are many. In fact, we've assigned just about every movie to a day or season.
Here, we have our votes for this particularly wacky time of year.


The Jess list

The Secret Garden
One year, for Easter, I got a VHS copy of this film in my Easter basket. More exciting to me than the movie was the sterling silver locket that came with it. I paraded around that day fancying myself as an early 20th century debutante. The film is permanently synonymous with Easter as a result.
Cute side note: after years of reminiscing about this locket I recently happened upon a sealed VHS copy at a flea market, complete with jewelry.

*Even cuter sidenote: While viewing this on DVD four years ago, I proposed to Paul, and he said yes.




Predator
For some reason, Paul and I watch Predator every year around Easter. Probably because we watched it one year and it became some kind of bizarre tradition. Like many films and traditions in the Proulx household.










The Last Temptation of Christ
This is one of my favorite films of all time. Top 100. And what a better time to watch a film about Jesus than on Easter.
Easter. Jesus. Easter. Jesus.










Critters 2
Paul and I are always hunting for holiday-themed horror. Even though Easter is one of your major holidays - Jesus and stuff - there aren't a lot to come by. C2 delivers on so many levels, complete with  Krite egg painting and a giant flesh eating critter ball finale. Great to watch while your painting your own eggs.









Night of the Leepus
Janet Leigh is being chased by giant bunny rabbits.












The Paul list

Black Moon
Talking animals, mythical creatures, a fictional war, psychosexual tension, decadent food. If you're into the creepier subtext of the holiday, this should make perfect sense.










April Morning
TV movie about the battle of Lexington and Concord, based on the novel by Howard Fast. Made for cheap with a few inaccuracies (green leaves in April?), it is, by definition, the perfect time of year for it. And as far as American Revolution movies go, it beats the shit out of The Patriot.









Magical Mystery Tour
Got it for Easter on VHS in '96 or '97, along with the album - cassette tape also. Like Black Moon, it comes with bizarre animal symbolism and lush European countryside.
Plus, the whole "egg man" thing.









Bad Lieutenant
The first time I saw it was in the spring, & I think I kept up with that for a year or two. The religious imagery is pretty thick, and it's not any harder to watch than The Passion, or even Jesus of Nazareth.

4.01.2017

Meet the New Blog (Same As the Old Blog)

Where were we? Ah, yes: popcorn, ham & cheese, women's lingerie and culture fart. That's what it was, and my heart will go on. Right? Just nod if you can hear me.
The tree has a few extra branches lately. There's Creature Double Feature, a low-key horror parade. Also, It's Your Birthday and Swamp Sex Robots serve as shelves for odds & ends. And, for the game, there's Bennett Place, a home for all our best(ish) videos. That doesn't mean this house is condemned. Any & all original creations will still filter though here - especially any kinda commentary (which there will be more of) and videos.
Videos. That can happen some more if there's an interest - from you and from us. In the meantime, here's a new Top 100 - not in video form. But it's still fun to look at & sorta fits in with the theme as of late.
The list. It's been about 5 years since the last one, and almost 10 years since the first published one. As time goes by, I'm seeing less new stuff get on the list and more old, old favorites bubbling back to the surface. This may be a result of aging, I dunno. After enough life, you can feel which movies are still in your blood and which were just one night stands. There are movies that I loved that I haven't revisited in 10 years, so, they get benched. They can stay on the DVD shelf forever, but they're not who I am right now. Like books & songs & paintings, they change as we do. So, the list will keep changing, recruiting old favorites or experiencing new classics (the latter much less likely). Stay tuned.

- Paul







































































































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