Monday, September 30, 2019

Dick Miller Tribute


Dick Miller Monsterpalooza Highlight Reel from Elijah Drenner on Vimeo.
I've long had a special fondness for character actor Dick Miller. He had a career spanning decades, usually in small supporting parts. He also appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation on the holodeck in "The Big Goodbye" and as a Sanctuary District guard in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Past Tense" two-parter. He died this year, age 90, but as you'll see in the tribute video, he has one last film coming out in 2020.

I've seen only 29 films with Miller, just a fraction of his output. I look forward to seeing many more. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Charge of the Mammoth

The last couple of times I went to the badlands, I don't remember seeing the life-size dinosaur (and mammoth) statues placed throughout, Dinosaur Provincial Park. At least I think that's where they were. But modern images of the region are bereft of dinosaur statues, and I can't even find any references to these statues ever existing. Were they real? The photos still exist in my album...I went there with other kids in grade six...it happened...didn't it?
Didn't it?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Nooooooo

I just finished an epic game of Civilization, in which I finally accomplished a feat I'd been pursuing for decades, but never had the patience, until now, to finish: build the Cape to Cairo railroad on a huge map. I did just that a couple of turns ago, but at the same time, far away in eastern Asia, my Giant Death Robots were mauling cities. I accidentally won a domination victory, and I was so stunned I forgot to take a screenshot of my lovely railroad (which actually encircled the entire continent!) and my almost fully-coloured-in African continent.

Sob. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Here She Comes


I first became aware of Bonnie Tyler's "Here She Comes" when I watched the Giorgio Moroder musical version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis on Superchannel in the Main Kelsey lounge of Lister Hall at the University of Alberta sometime in the late 1980s. At the time, the Moroder version was the best cut of the film available; since then, miraculously, virtually all of the film has been restored to something very close to its original form, and that newly restored version will probably stand as definitive for a long time to come, if not from now on. However, the Moroder version still has its charms, and "Here She Comes" is certainly one of the highlights. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Parallax View Forty-some Years On

Last night I watched The Parallax View, a 1974 conspiracy thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula, probably best known for All the President's Men. In one scene, Warren Beatty's character catches a 707 by running out onto the tarmac like the plane has paused at a bus stop. Then he simply climbs the stairs and grabs a seat.

A few minutes later, a waitress with a clipboard comes by and asks him for his name. "Is Denver your last stop?" she asks. "Yes," Beatty answers. "That'll be $68.75."

Beatty's character pays, right there in the aisle(!) with cash. And he's good to go.

I knew airport security used to be far looser than today, but I find it hard to believe it was ever this easy to take a plane. If it was ever this easy, how sad that we've lost that freedom...also, pretty amazing that a domestic cross-country flight cost as little as 70 bucks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Once in a Wonderful and Strange Lifetime


Huge kudos to YouTube creator Charterstone for editing this masterful mashup of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" with scenes from the masterpiece that is season three of Twin Peaks. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Devil in the Detail

Here is a photograph of Pete, Mike, and Jeff from my bachelor party back in 2007. Today, this photo scrolled up as one of my desktop wallpaper images, and for the first time I noticed something unusual about it. Here follows some text to create space between this mysterious image, and the strange thing I noticed about it:

The Second Last Coming
Burning and burning in the widening fire
The elite turn deaf ears on the proles;
Coalitions fall apart; the centre-left cannot hold
Mere xenophobia is loosed upon the world,
The froth-dimmed tide of invective is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of reconciliation is drowned;
The best have left Hope behind, while the deplorables
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Last Coming is at hand.
The Second Last Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of The Apprentice
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the static of the unreal
A shape in a business suit with the head of a toupee,
Finger extended to fire, pitiless as a persona
Is moving its slow guise, while all about it
Reel shadows of the chattering hangers-on.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That ten decades of stony sleep
Were vexed to waken by opportunities squandered,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be borne?

The Second Last Coming
Burning and burning in the widening fire
The elite turn deaf ears on the proles;
Coalitions fall apart; the centre-left cannot hold
Mere xenophobia is loosed upon the world,
The froth-dimmed tide of invective is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of reconciliation is drowned;
The best have left Hope behind, while the deplorables
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Last Coming is at hand.
The Second Last Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of The Apprentice
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the static of the unreal
A shape in a business suit with the head of a toupee,
Finger extended to fire, pitiless as a persona
Is moving its slow guise, while all about it
Reel shadows of the chattering hangers-on.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That ten decades of stony sleep
Were vexed to waken by opportunities squandered,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be borne?

The Second Last Coming
Burning and burning in the widening fire
The elite turn deaf ears on the proles;
Coalitions fall apart; the centre-left cannot hold
Mere xenophobia is loosed upon the world,
The froth-dimmed tide of invective is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of reconciliation is drowned;
The best have left Hope behind, while the deplorables
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Last Coming is at hand.
The Second Last Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of The Apprentice
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the static of the unreal
A shape in a business suit with the head of a toupee,
Finger extended to fire, pitiless as a persona
Is moving its slow guise, while all about it
Reel shadows of the chattering hangers-on.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That ten decades of stony sleep
Were vexed to waken by opportunities squandered,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be borne?

Observe Pete and the goateed, bespectacled, red-garbed race car driver on the television behind him...even their expressions are the same! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Eyes Pried Shut

Ah, the golden age of photography, when everyone shot on film and you wouldn't know for days or weeks if your photos turned out. Here I am at the Golden Gate Bridge in 1998, where a kind person stopped to take my picture, sensing somehow I was a tourist. Sadly, I closed my eyes and ruined what would otherwise have been a perfectly decent vacation snap.
Fortunately, the fellow had me pose for another, better image. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

X-Men Black

In the last few days, an interesting rumor has started to circulate: that Marvel Studios, in an effort to differentiate their forthcoming X-Men films from the recently ended Fox X-Men films, might recast key roles with an eye on diversity: for example, Professor X, portrayed in the comics and so far on film as a white man, might be black, or Asian, or, presumably, a woman.

This is an interesting idea on its own, but imagine if Marvel Studios went one subversive step further: imagine if there were no white mutants at all in the Marvel cinematic universe. What if, in this new iteration, the X-gene was only expressed in peoples of colour?

I think this could be a potentially fascinating exercise in subversive filmmaking if handled correctly - handled correctly both in the world of the film and in the real world of marketing and publicity.

Imagine if Marvel Studios announced the cast with their usual fanfare, but without remarking on the skin colour of any of the actors. Just a normal studio blitz where they roll out, say, Idris Elba as Professor X, Mike Colter as Colossus, Celina Jade as Storm, John Cho as Wolverine, Adam Beach as Cyclops, Aishwarya Rai as Jean Grey, Aisha Tyler as Psylocke, etc. No white actors at all, just solid men and women who happen not to be white.

Much as I hate to admit it, the first question at the press conference would probably be "Hey...I couldn't help but notice there are no white actors. What's up with that?"

If I were Marvel, I'd probably say "I knew we'd get that question, but you know what? We just picked the best fit for each role, and these are the people we came up with."

If pressed, they could explain that once upon a time in Hollywood, it was not only common, but standard practice to have films and television shows with all-white casts. We still have the occasional film that features strictly men, or maybe one or two women of significance. Statistically speaking, a major film with a cast of no white people was inevitable...right?

As for the world of the film, imagine if the first two or three or four Marvel movies with these new X-Men contained no references at all to the colour of the characters. In universe, no one would notice that there were no white mutants.

Until, let's say, the fifth or sixth Marvel X-Men film, in which it is revealed that the X-gene only ever expresses itself in people of colour. In the comics, X-Men are already vilified for being strange and different; across comics history, in fact, the X-Men have been metaphors for the black experience, the gay experience, the trans experience. What if the films made that metaphor explicit? Imagine if the white characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe hated mutants even more, out of a combination of fear and envy? What if white politicians put pressure on white superheroes like (most of) the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc., to enforce anti-mutant laws? How would non-mutant peoples of colour be impacted by a world where whites feared and hated non-whites even more?

On the one hand, I'm kind of horrified by my own idea, because the Marvel films are very powerful cultural touchstones, and such a storyline could deepen rifts that already exist. And the films themselves would be pretty darn serious fare, and probably quite disturbing and unpleasant. Not exactly the generally lighthearted Marvel fare audiences have become used to.

On the other hand, in the hands of a sensitive, intelligent team of writers and other creators, such a storyline could be used to show the horrible error of our ridiculous prejudices.

It's completely possible that this is the worst idea in the world. I'm a white guy, with all the blinders of privilege that entails. But the notion of seeing such a strategy play out is pretty interesting, no? "Interesting," perhaps, in the Chinese curse sense of the word...

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Looping Nightmare

I awoke at 3 am this morning with my heart pounding. I was enjoying a run-of-the-mill nightmare about fending off a horde of vampires when I realized I was re-entering a recurring death trap. 

Imagine a series of long hallways, dimly lit, each ending in a dead end that requires puzzle-solving to open a trap door to access the next hallway. In this particular iteration of the dream, Pete, Totty and I, along with Brad Pitt, my former colleague Lorinda from ATCO, and a young woman I've never met before, were gathered in hallway one. 

"Oh man, this again," I say to Pete. "Do you remember anything from last time?" 

As we speak, I realize that I, in fact, remember how to unlock the first two traps. Bond-like, I use some fishing line to release a catch on the first secret door, which slides aside to reveal a bookcase. I tug on one book on the second-highest shelf, and the bookshelf slides aside. We all cram, single file, down a narrow, pitch-black corridor, the bookshelf slamming shut behind us. I feel a metal pole jutting out of the wall, and I realize I don't remember how we bypassed this trap last time. 

"Does anyone remember how to do the pole..?" 

Mike steps up to handle it, everyone shuffling back and forth to make room, while Pete and I continue our conversation. 

"How many times have we done this?" I ask. 

"I'm not sure," Pete says. "You look around 50 now, and this all started back in university." 

"What's the farthest we've gotten?" 

"My memory isn't perfect, but I feel like Ticheler made it through nine or ten traps before he was dissolved in acid." 

I wince. "I'm sure he's looking forward to giving that one a try again." 

"Maybe we'll get that far this time," Pete shrugs. Mike has successfully managed the pole trick, and a door slides open to reveal a casual gaming lounge furnished with low couches and short tables, each with a board game on it - but no game matches any seen in the real world. 

The young woman I don't know approaches me. She's terrified. "I don't remember which games are harmless distractions and which can kill you if you make the wrong move." 

"I'm sorry...I don't remember either. At least none of these are mandatory." 

She nods, but she slides into one of the low couches anyway and starts playing a game that uses straws and coloured marbles. I suddenly remember that some of the marbles are coated in deadly contact poison, but my throat seizes up and I can't warn her. 

"This is the lowest-rated game on board game geek," Pete notes, and when I awaken I have a strong urge to look it up. 

She stays behind while Pete, Totty, and I join the large crowd gathering at the lounge's exit. As we push through the doors, we leave behind the near-blackness of the lounge and plunge into a brightly-lit series of institutional staircases. Hundreds of people are lined up, and we shuffle along. We know that once we make it down the staircases, we enter the deadliest part of the death maze. 

"Over and over again until we escape," I mutter. "It's the afterlife. Is it hell? Maybe Steve can tell us." 

"I don't think Steve's actually been through this yet," Mike says. 

"Lucky Steve." 

"Rob was compiling a video with all our clearest memories of how to get through the first few traps," Pete notes. 

"That's stuck in the real world, though," I reply. "Doesn't help us here." 

Mike takes a left turn down a staircase no one else is using, and Pete and I follow. We go down two flights, and to our surprise, we reach a large parking garage on the ground floor. The exit is open. 

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Mike says, arms outstretched. We dash into the open air. I pump my fists in delight. 

"YES! Has anything ever been this REAL?" I shout. "FUCK YOU, YOU BASTARDS!" I scream at the sky, jumping up and down. 

My joy is short-lived, though, because I wake up, and I realize the escape was not, in fact, real. It's 3 am and I wish I could just stay up. Because going back means another iteration, another opportunity to die horribly. I made it out this time, but it's the first time in hundreds of tries that doesn't end in blistering agony of one form or another. 

NOTE: I shared this dream with some friends, and Colin sent a chill down my spine by writing back: "The lowest-ranked game on board game geek is something called 'Passages and Purgatory.'" He really got me, then admitted he made it up. That prompted Mike to do the math...but that's Mike's story to tell. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The 3D Stooges

On Saturday night I screened The Mad Magician, a fun 1954 horror tragedy starring Vincent Price as a nice guy magician who gets wronged one too many times and, well, goes mad, turning to murder. The Blu-Ray is another fine disc with work from the 3D Archive; they do a really superb job of restoring vintage 3D films for current 3D television systems, and for my money the results on my home TV are more satisfying than the 3D theatre experience. (Sadly, though, 3D TVs aren't being manufactured anymore, or at least the number of models is disappearing fast, so I have to rush through my 3D collection before this TV goes bust.)

As a nice little bonus, the disc includes two remastered Three Stooges shorts, also in high definition 3D: "Spooks" and "Pardon My Backfire." Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've seen Moe, Larry, and Shemp do their patented eyeball-stooging right at YOUR EYES in 3D. And of course other implements of pain (along with some pies) get thrown at the audience throughout each short. I'm not sure what possessed the disc producers to include two Stooges shorts in this package, but bless them! 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Allan's Car

For some reason, I took this photo of Allan's car parked in front of his house on a summer day in 1999, the year before he moved to California. Maybe it was the rainbow. The car went to California with Allan. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday the 13th

What a powerful, hideous Moon waxes over Edmonton tonight, its eerie glow casting malevolent shadows.

Some of my favourite horror films, in no particular order:

Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931 and 1935)
Even after nearly a century, these Gothic tragedies remain as creepy and chilling as ever:

"For the love of God, for the love of God, now I know what it is to BE God!"

"We belong dead."

Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978)
Civilization dies, and its decaying corpse is a shopping mall offering false hope of luxuriant survival. If the living were more deserving, they might yet survive the dawn of the dead--but this is not that kind of world, and this is not that kind of film.

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
More than any other film, Freaks forces us to confront our own deep-seated prejudices against souls who inhabit forms that repulse. The horror comes when we realize that any of us could one day become..."One of us...one of us...one of us..."

Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
What if science could prove that the devil is real? We laugh at the raw panic induced in the frantic victims battling to survive, but does that laughter carry just a touch of hysteria..?

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011)
Brilliantly deconstructs the genre while still terrifying you, delivering some genuine laughs, and having the dramatic integrity to follow through on its premise in a way that promises nightmares for years to come.

Five Million Years to Earth (Roy Ward Baker, 1967)
AKA Quatermass and the Pit, it's horror in science fiction drag, with telekinetic Martians playing the role of our ancient devils. Skin-crawling in its deliberate, daylit horrors, insidious and cold; the film that sent me running from the theatre in Leaf Rapids, unable to bear the demonic conclusion. I didn't see the film in its entirety for another two decades.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

An Out of the Running Joke

We all know the definition of a running joke; it's a gag that becomes funnier through repetition, or at least one that people continue to enjoy over time.

But what would an "out of the running joke" be? Perhaps a joke or reference that's finally worn out its welcome, and is now despised? Or a gag that a person or persons tries to turn into a running joke, but audiences resisted, finding it forced?


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Primitive As Can Be

Last Friday, Mike, Pete, and I sat down for their first (my second) game of Robinson Crusoe, a cooperative game in which castaways struggle to survive on an island after a shipwreck. 

This game is incredibly challenging - it's a matter of choosing the right actions at the right time in the hopes of having enough food and shelter to survive - and it takes some investment of time to set up. But the theme is fantastic, and I really enjoy the dynamic gameplay. We survived eight of twelve rounds before succumbing to the weather, having focused too much on gathering wood for a woodpile and not enough time building a sturdy shelter to protect us from the weather, the main antagonist. 

Will play again. Smarter next time, I hope. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Strange Selfie

I sent this to Sylvia via text last week to show her I was working on the Stantec patio, and it turned out...weird. I wasn't playing with any of the editing functions of the phone, but maybe I hit one by accident without noticing? Or maybe the reflections just gave everything that strange sheen? 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Mom’s Flowers

We went to see Mom today, and I was amazed that the seeds she sowed in her raised bed have blossomed into this amazingly tall and lush flower garden. It's really something. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Youth Juice

There are a lot of caveats in this Nature article - as there should be - but apparently a recent experiment seems to suggest some degree of de-aging the human body, or at least the human body's genomes, may--just may--be possible. I want to believe..!

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Slow Death Overtime

Sean and I had a brief text conversation today about, of all things, hockey, or more specifically, the amount of points needed for a team to make the playoffs. I wondered, idly, the minimum possible number of points a team would need to get into the playoffs, assuming that many many teams had a terrible year so the threshold would be lower. I had thought that a lot of tie games might help lower the point threshold, but Sean informed me that there are never ties in NHL games now, no matter how long they have to play.

That put an exciting notion in my head: theoretically, assuming that the goalies play exceptionally well or the...puck-shooters play exceptionally poorly, a game could go on forever. You could end up with a situations where the players, after, say, two or three days of constant playing, drop from exhaustion, one by one. Ideally, the two goalies would be the last to drop, preferably at the same time, so that no victor could be counted. Would the NHL declare a tie in that case? Would they change the rules mid-play out of mercy for the players?

According to Sean, the longest game recorded went six extra periods, back in 1933. "People likely barfed," he remarks. 

Monday, September 02, 2019

The Mad Genius of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared


This is merely the first installment of an increasingly loopy vignettes about the bizarre existential torments suffered by three puppets, or perhaps two puppets and a man in a felt costume. Each segment is only a few minutes long, and the stories eventually start to twist back on themselves in a delightfully demented fashion. 

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Retirement Dream and the Waking Nightmare

Assuming I remain employed for the next 15 years and climate change hasn't quite destroyed civilization yet, I plan to retire at 65. Having now seen most of Canada, here's my short list of retirement possibilities:

Vancouver Island
Prince Edward Island
St. John's (or somewhere on the Avalon peninsula)
Some little hamlet in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia

All of these places offer natural beauty, lovely people, plentiful entertainment and relaxation opportunities, better weather than the Prairies, and proximity to larger cities should the desire for metropolitan experiences ever hit.

In all honesty, though, these feel like fantasies. For some time now I've felt a sense of impending economic doom on a personal level, perhaps because I feel like I've used up all the luck I have to get to where I am now. I've often told people how incredibly fortunate I feel to have enjoyed a comfortable living for the last couple of decades, but during that time I've survived several layoffs and I can't help but feel that eventually my number will come up. Sylvia and I have planned carefully enough that we should be able to avoid homelessness, but the pace of technological change, climate change impacts, and potentially catastrophic political upheaval over the next couple of decades make the future extremely uncertain.

I'm very aware that I live a life of incredible privilege compared to 95 percent of the world, and it feels incredibly selfish to worry about our personal destiny when the fate of billions is at stake.

I wish I had more of Sylvia's confidence that everything will be okay.  But I find it hard to be consistently optimistic.

On the other hand, there's always a chance that the forces of good will triumph over the sociopaths, or that the singularity will come and solve all our problems by means unimagined. Here's hoping...