Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In the spirit(s)

Happy Halloween, ducklings! We have been getting in the spirit with some lively movies, including an old favorite of mine, "Pieces." "Pieces" is set in a college town where somehow the body parts of attractive coeds keep disappearing. The dean doesn't want a lot of fuss, so he gets a local policewoman to go undercover as a tennis instructor. Meanwhile, the killer continues his rampage, at one point boarding an elevator with a prospective victim while concealing a chainsaw behind his back in one hand. The kung fu professor is a red herring! The killer is a bastard! The final scene is a shocker! Art Boy seemed to like it.

Last night we watched "Lake Placid," which was definitely scripted by a TV genius, but was still pretty good. I would be interested in watching some more horror tonight but I fear Art Boy's patience is running thin with these. Instead of handing out candy this evening, we're going to head over to a nearby haunted house and see how professional the special-effects are.

Art Boy and I carved a jack-o'-lantern (note tricky punctuation):

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I don't know why anyone would lie to children

We had an excellent time at the Lemony Snicket reading the other night, as did hundreds of children. I was amazed how many actual kids were there, as opposed to slouching young adults such as ourselves. Mr. Snicket, unfortunately, did not show up in person, much to the bafflement of his Gothic Archies bandmates Stephin Merritt and Daniel Handler. They looked for him backstage and Mr. Handler placed an emergency phone call on a toy phone. Hanging up, he glowered at the audience and said, "I will spare you the ridiculous story I have just been told on this very convincing phone. I don't know why anyone would lie to children." Nonetheless the show went on, including the deft snatching of several books out of children's hands ("You see, it's easy to steal from children," Handler explained in his deadpan monotone), many warnings against Count Olaf and the books in general, and performances of "Shipwrecked," "Scream and Run Away," and "Smile! No One Cares How You Feel." Handler's dramatic reading from "The End" was accompanied by percussion from two audience volunteers, both girls around 8 years old. The auditorium was near a racetrack, and Handler stopped the girls before bringing them up onstage. "Do you know what normally happens in this room?" he asked them. "Horses are auctioned off. Creatures are led down this very aisle and sold from the stage." He paused thoughtfully, then added, "I wonder if that will happen tonight?" They loved it.

I bought a Gothic Archies CD, the liner notes of which Stephin Merritt was good enough to sign for me. The sweet-faced bookstore employees staffing the event didn't seem to know what to make of him. One gentleman with a megaphone was bouncing around the table telling everyone that Stephin was very grumpy - he seemed desperate to get a laugh or any kind of reaction, but Stephin just looked at him. Here is my awesome autograph:

We did not get a signature from Mr. Handler because our number was way too high - we stood a good chance of waiting until midnight and then being kicked out without a signature, particularly since we were not adorable moppets. But Art Boy took his picture with his cellphone. It's not very good, but here it is.

We were able to watch as he interacted with readers big and small. With the smaller ones, he would sign their book and then beg them not to take it back, offering a Post-it note instead. "This one is green," he implored a little girl. "Green like a leprechaun, in the grass, being eaten by a snake!" She took her book instead, and he screamed "WRONG CHOICE! I have FAILED AGAIN!" Another child's parents were forcing him to submit to too many photos. They took his picture as he approached the table and while he was having his book signed, then as he tried to leave they shoved him back in place for one last photo with Handler. Handler smiled sympathetically at him. "Are they always like this? Make your bed! Get me another bourbon! What a life, huh?"

Florence King once wrote, "Children are admirably gimlet-eyed before adults put them through the American make-over program," and the evening made me think she was right.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

In "The End"

This started out as a reply to Kelly's last comment two posts down, and then I realized it was too long, so now it is a post!

I was just discussing "The End" with Art Boy over breakfast and trying to explain my frustration with the series. Much as I love it, it often feels as though Mr. Snicket is writing a long joke more than writing a story, and long jokes can wear thin. Sometimes it's not quite cartoony enough. My favorite installment is still "The Wide Window," which I think just strikes the perfect balance between the dreary (cold cucumber soup) and the ridiculous (Captain Sham).

Anyway, "The End" is similar in tone to the last few books. It introduces a bunch of new complications that Mr. Snicket obviously finds funny, but that don't answer the questions you've had. There are a couple of answers and some surprising revelations, and a satisfactory moving-forward of things at the end (I thought), but on the whole it was bittersweet. So many series subplots are just allowed to drop. It's probably best to warn you that the entire book takes place on an island. I kept waiting for them to leave and go back to some of the other places in the books, but they don't. It's certainly worth reading, though, if you've come this far.

The series never really recaptured my heart after "The Austere Academy." "The Slippery Slope" came close, partly because of the development of Sunny. I think Mr. Wufflekins is right about her: she could ditch the others and be fine on her own.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dr. West, meet my Italian confidential secretary

We watched "Bride of Re-Animator" the other night, which we had been warned by a knowledgeable party not to do, but I thought it wasn't that bad. The highlight though was the very first scene, when the fetching female lead comes running into the tent. I whapped Art Boy ("ow!" he said) and yelled "It's Alotta Fagina!" So that was a thrill. (It looks like she's kept respectably busy ever since this movie. You go, Fabiana Udenio!) Once more, I could have done without the animals being horribly killed, but a talking severed head with bat wings covers a multitude of sins.

Meanwhile, here's a "Jericho" update from Art Boy:
Kansas has reverse 911 system! One woman can't wait for a latte! The internet was built by the military...it was meant to survive a nuclear war! (hmm. i doubt that)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Scream and run away

Today turned out to be my only day off this week; I am going to have some overtime money to spend on fripperies. My job is not particularly taxing but it's still uniquely exhausting to finish a seven-day stretch. Tonight Art Boy and I went to the beach to watch the sunset while eating excellent Belgian fries with garlic mayonnaise. It had been a couple weeks since we've been able to do that (and we'd never tried it with fries!), so it felt marvelous.

Earlier I drove to the rather fetching little community of San Dimas to visit Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop. The worthy Mrs. Nelson is sponsoring an appearance by Lemony Snicket next week and only gives away tickets with book purchases. So I picked up my copy of "The End," as well as really altogether too many other children's books considering I don't have children, and secured tickets for myself and a very sporting Art Boy. "The evening might run kind of late," warned the kindly cashier. "How old are your children?"

"Erm, they're for me and my partner," I said. "Am I allowed to go?"

"Why, of course you are!" she said. So that was a relief. Am very excited about the show, as we are also Stephin Merritt fans! I also scored a good-looking book for the niece and a Spanish-language edition of one of the nephew's favorite books, "David Gets In Trouble." He will be learning Spanish in kindergarten next year, the lucky little cabron.

Now Art Boy is watching the Mets/Cardinals game (it amazes me that I know who is playing and why it is significant; yes, grasshoppers, love really changes one) and I have been asked to choose a carryout service for dinner. I may instead have another Manhattan and get even sillier.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sometimes I feel so happy

OK, I promise not every post is going to be about Art Boy, but he did the sweetest thing last night. I saw on the Entertainment wire at work that the final CBGB concert, headlined by Patti Smith, was about to start and messaged him asking if he could find an audio stream of it anywhere. He never answered. I figured he was watching TV. When I got home, he greeted me at the door with 3 homemade CDs labeled "Patti Smith: CBGB's Last Show." He even apologized for having to use my computer to check his email because his computer was tied up with recording. Patti's famous onstage chattiness seems to have worn on him a bit: "The first CD is mostly sound check," he said, looking tired. Considering he's not a fan of hers and he pretty much had to listen to the whole thing, I thought it was just super sweet. I'm thinking of cooking him a roast.

Today's book: Bram Stoker's "Dracula," not to be confused with the Francie Coppola movie. Rereading the book for the first time in many years - possibly since middle school - I am getting more and more annoyed with that movie. Yeah, I knew it was ridiculous at the time; I even enjoyed how baroque and goofy it was. (Marvelous Nashville Scene film critic Jim Ridley wrote: "It's a shame the filmmakers didn't put an audible 'BOINGGG!' on the soundtrack for every time Keanu Reeves bugs out his eyes and drops his jaw.") But the movie completely inverts the characters of Lucy, Mina and Dracula. Isn't Lucy's seduction more interesting if she's a genuine innocent to start with? What is scarier: being chased by a monster or being chased by a lovelorn Gary Oldman? And I have never given Mina enough credit: she's a budding New Woman who's tremendously strong and takes care of everyone around her, but will her strength be enough to defeat the undead? The book's terrors are so subtle and so carefully built; I am just hugely impressed with its structure. (And the diary/travelogue elements were well honored in "The Historian.") Tom Waits will always be Renfield to me, though.

Today's film: The 1931 "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." It was on TV somewhere last night and I just got hooked. I've never read this book or seen any of the movies, figuring I knew the basic story so it wouldn't be interesting. Well, wow. Fredric March is fantastic and the directing is so witty. I loved the quick shots of the lab skeleton during the fatal shootout at the end, and the scene when Jekyll is listening to a bird and then a cat eats it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Art Boy + Bad TV = 4Eva!

Art Boy and I were kind of excited about the premiere of this new show "Jericho," starring Skeet Ulrich and concerning a small town isolated by a nuclear holocaust. AB is old enough to remember when "The Day After" aired and he hoped it would be kind of like that. I am just a fan of survivalist stories, hence my love of zombie films; heck, at some level I was probably thinking of the movie "Night of the Comet" where everyone gets killed by ... a comet passing overhead... and the valley girls have to survive and whatnot. Anyway, we both agreed the premiere of "Jericho" was a rotten disappointment and the show vanished off my mental radar. But it turns out Art Boy has been tuning in every week! Does he hope it will get better? Does he secretly like it? Is he enjoying it on an ironic, snarky level? (Not Art Boy!) Or is he just in love with the mean lady from Donnie Darko? Here is an email exchange from last night.

Art Boy: On Jericho they are speculating Cincinnati was nuked! How awesome that?
the people hanging out at the bar were upset when the generator went out and we learned radiation sickness is not contagious.

Me: I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ARE WATCHING MORE OF JERICHO. This is why I am concerned about staying in touch with you, because heaven knows what-all you get into. Next you might get into the tub with the stereo. Who knows? (That would certainly be more exciting than an episode of Jericho.)

Art Boy: dude! Its just now getting good. They are almost about to be concerned! And that Bud Cort- Ruth Gordon romance is heating up like a bologna sandwich in the microwave! I'll save it for you

(I have just learned that Steve Guttenberg was in "The Day After," which makes me seriously question Art Boy's standards ...)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Look at the darling bat!

That's what I'm saying to my extremely cute niece Martha, who is learning to appreciate the creatures of the night. The bat was fluttering around the yard as dusk fell, while my extremely cute nephew kicked a soccer ball with my sister. "Look at the bat swooping around catching bugs," I told Martha, who will be 2 next month. "See him swoop? Watch him swoop!" "Swoop!" she said. Soon she will be sucking blood just like her auntie!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Are you washed in the blood?

Goodness, it's nice to be back in the South. My plane landed yesterday and the woman behind me immediately started bawling into her cellphone "Ah'm fixing to get off the plane." Two young men in the aisle were talking about the Auburn score. It's always good to come home.

This morning my parents took us to a monthly pre-church service that's an hour of bluegrass singing, complete with seven-piece band. It was a lot of fun. We sang many old church favorites including Are You Washed in the Blood?, Keep On the Sunny Side, That Old-Time Religion, When the Saints Go Marching In and an old favorite of mine, A Beautiful Life (chorus: Life's evening sun is sinking low, A few more days and I must go, To meet the deeds that I have done, Where there will be no setting sun). Lovely, chilling and rousing all at once. We had a ball. My old music teacher was there and I told her about singing on An Even Scarier Solstice, and she told me that was nice.

Here the temperature is about like Santa Monica, ranging from the 70s to the mid-50s at night, but it's so crisp and clear. And I love seeing deciduous trees again - they are just starting to turn. Last night we sat around a fire on the patio, heard some coyotes and a barred owl, and watched the stars come out. (We had a perfect view of Sagittarius and most of Scorpio, before the moon rose.) Today there's a blue heron in the field out front. My extremely cute niece and nephew are coming over and are expected to romp picturesquely with the dogs.

Today's book: "The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror," by David J. Skal. I read Skal's completely awesome "Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween" a couple years ago (right after buying my first Nepenthes!) and just loved it. Last night I stayed up rather late finishing this one, which I started on the plane. It focuses on early Hollywood horror, identifying four monster-movie archetypes: Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, and the freaks of "Freaks." I don't at all agree that all forms of movie horror can be traced back to one of those four, but he has some great observations about scientific "reproduction" movies (Alien, The Brood) and their sociological implications. There are also some fascinating Hollywood anecdotes; I enjoyed learning about the friendship between Vampira and James Dean. (She sent him a photo of herself in an open grave, inscribed with "Wish you were here," shortly before he died.) I'd highly recommend "Death Makes a Holiday," but this one's pretty good too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Day off

This is my last day off at home for a while - I work the next three days, then I'm going home to Nashvegas for four days, and then I work a six-day week. Art Boy and I took our first trip to the fabulous Book Soup in West Hollywood. I goggled at the ceiling-high shelves and came out with an armful of books for my niece and nephew, including the marvelously creepy "Mommy?" by Maurice Sendak. (Neither of them has ever demonstrated interest in monsters; the boy likes trucks and the girl likes to put on hats. But I keep trying.)

Then we strolled up Sunset to a nicely decorated Halloween store, which turned out to be more of a big Spencer's type place but which still had some nice-looking false head decorations. Our route took us right by the Viper Room; it gave me quite a frisson to walk over the exact spot where River died. Then it was hot dogs at Pink's and back to the house.

We had a gorgeous sunset at the beach - I'm sure Art Boy will have photos up shortly - and are now back here preparing to watch some films. Tonight's roster includes "Dagon" and "Pumpkinhead", both of which arrived from Netflix today. I am rather curious about "Dagon," as it appears to feature an entirely Spanish cast, despite being set off the coast of Massachusetts ... oh well, Stuart Gordon wouldn't lead us astray. And "Pumpkinhead" was recommended to us as a good follow-up to Gordon's "Reanimator." It stars Lance Henriksen and is directed by special-effects pumpkin-pie Stan Winston, so it should at least be educational.

So it's been a dang good day. I'm going to top it off with some gin here in a little bit.

Addendum: Apparently "Dagon" is actually set off the coast of Galicia, which explains the Spaniards. I don't think Lovecraft would have liked Spain; the whole "mestizo" culture would have appalled him. Maybe that's the point of the movie? *optimism kicks up another notch*

Sunday, October 01, 2006

La Nepenthes et la souris

This is awesome. Apparently a greenhouse in Lyon, France, attracted by "une odeur nauseabonde," checked one of their N. truncata pitchers and discovered a partially digested mouse inside. Ewww! (DO NOT CLICK on that link if you have a weak stomach. There are pictures.) I am grateful to Chris, creator of Linky (and a wiki!) for alerting me to this news.

They think the mouse was trying to dig dead bugs out of the pitcher, fell in, was unable to climb out and fell victim to the plant's digestive enzymes. Someone over at Carnivorous Plants UK reports that, after photographing the mouse, the enterprising gardeners replaced it in the pitcher to see how much more digested it will get. To avoid disrupting the process, they will weigh the pitcher every day. My French is not good enough to watch the video and check this for myself. The greenhouse appears to be at a place called The Park of the Golden Head.

Why is this a big deal? Nobody has ever documented a carnivorous plant eating a mammal. There are stories of Nepenthes chowing on mice, rats and even monkeys, but no scientific proof. I hope this news will result in more carnivorous plants on film.