Monday, July 13, 2020

Island of Mystery


In the late 1960s, Mom and Dad bought a movie projector in order to screen the home movies they shot on their Super 8 camera. The projector came with Island of Mystery, a short clip from Disney's Swiss Family Robinson (Ken Annakin, 1960). 
Here's what the film reel looked like. The original film featured sound and colour, but this reel is black and white, and because Mom and Dad bought a silent projector, it came with a silent version of the clip. 
And here's the back of the box. 

Long before streaming, long before Blu-Ray, DVDs, and even VHS and Beta, this is how people watched movies--a few minutes at a time, in truncated form. 

Far from a collector's item, Island of Mystery currently sells for somewhere between $10-15 USD. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Well of Lost Hopes

Robert N. Bradbury's dirt-cheap Western The Lawless Frontier includes a chase scene with John Wayne's generic cowboy of the month chasing the seedy villain Zanti. Unfortunately for the Duke, Zanti is on horseback while Wayne's cowboy is on foot. The chase appears hopeless for Wayne until Zanti needlessly and hilariously handicaps himself by smacking his head on a low-hanging branch while riding under a tree, knocking himself silly and losing his horse. Zanti, dazed, stumbles across the desert while John Wayne follows at a leisurely walking pace. Wayne catches up to Zanti just as the villain is trying to regain his strength and senses by drinking from a pool of water. 

The Duke: "Drink all you want. It's poison."

Camera cuts to a crude sign: "Do Not Drink. Poison." With a badly drawn skull.

Bad guy looks utterly stunned, then dies in the puddle of poison.

It was a beautiful moment in an otherwise forgettable film.  

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Celebrating Mom

The older I get, the more I appreciate life's simple pleasures, like visiting Mom the day after her birthday to BBQ some steaks and garlic bread with a side of cheesy asparagus in her beautiful, fastidiously-maintained back yard. This is the first time Sean, Sylvia, and I have visited Mom in person for more than a couple of minutes since quarantining ourselves due to COVID-19. Even then, we all maintained a distance of at least two metres apart and wore masks whenever we were in close proximity to the food or each other. Safety first! 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Painted Stones


Any decent terrain table needs rocks, right? I started by priming these plastic rocks in white, then covered them in Astrogranite, a technical paint that adds grainy texture. But I ran out of Astrogranite, so I had to figure out how to complete the unfinished stones. I solved the problem (I hope) by using metallic colours such as Leadbelcher and Balthazar Gold to the non-Astrogranite surfaces, hoping that these bits look like rich veins of ore. I experimented with non-metallic colours on some other stones, but I don't think these are quite as successful, so I might just cover them in Astrogranite when my replacement paints arrive. 


Thursday, July 09, 2020

Improved Toxic Pool


I refined the toxic pools a little by adding a hint of blue to the water running from the pipe, dabbing in some more foam for a more violent splash, and shading the entire piece with Nuln Oil. It looks more realistic to my eye, but I still feel out of my depth. 

I'm still also new to properly photographing these pieces, so every model photo I post won't look exactly as it does on the table. But I try to keep it as close as possible. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Toxic Pits

I felt ambitious today and painted three pools of toxic waste, attempting to add some hint of motion by using texture paint to create froth as the pipe discharges waste into the pool. At right, I used the same texture paint in an attempt to make it look as if one of the bubbles had just popped, spewing gross ichor. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Escape from Gilligan's Island: The Roleplaying Game, Part I: Background

It was perhaps the smartest dumb show on television at the time: Sherwood Schwartz' Gilligan's Island, a tale of seven castaways shipwrecked on an uncharted isle somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Though the show has long been critically panned, I've been fascinated by Gilligan's Island since watching its reruns in the 1970s and 1980s. There was something strangely compelling about the off-kilter mixture of location shooting versus scenes obviously shot on some studio backlot; the show's many bizarre dream sequences; the oddball assortment of visitors to the island from lost Japanese veterans to surfers to pop musicians, gangsters, cannibals, and mad scientists; the Professor's absurd inventions; the fact that some characters had exactly one set of clothes, while the others seemed to have access to full wardrobes; the treasures that sometimes washed ashore, from film equipment to land mines to rocket ships and missiles; the unspoken sexual tension among Gilligan, Mary Ann, Ginger, and the Professor, in various combinations; and, naturally, Gilligan's unfailing ability to mess up any rescue attempt at the eleventh hour.

Over the course of three seasons, 98 episodes, and three reunion TV movies, the show developed a strangely rich mythology, one that I feel would be ripe for roleplaying possibilities.

Here are some rough notes on how Escape from Gilligan's Island: The Roleplaying Game might open:

INTRODUCTION

Escape from Gilligan's Island: The Roleplaying Game is a roleplaying adventure setting meant for three to seven players, plus a gamemaster. Set in the world of Gilligan's Island during the time of the original series (1964-1967), players are shipwrecked on the title island and must find a way to deal with the island's hazards and obstacles, including the original seven inhabitants, while devising a means of escaping the island and returning to civilization. 

BACKGROUND

Gilligan's Island forms a rough oval shape with a set of pincer-like peninsulas on its southern coast framing a shallow lagoon. Even though the Castaways have circumnavigated the island and estimate that it's only a few dozen acres in size, the island is rich in geographic variety and biodiversity. 

Geographic Features

Beach: Situated along the island's western coastline, the Beach features beautiful white sand sheltered by a long line of coconut palms. This is the site of the shipwreck of the S.S. Minnow, which was subsequently completely destroyed during an effort to repair the ship, but, for reasons unknown, was later reconstructed to its post-shipwreck, pre-destruction state. 

Lagoon: The southwest side of the island features a shallow lagoon surrounded by jungle foliage and a small beach. 

Volcano: Located on the center-north side of the island, the imposing volcano is active and occasionally erupts. 

Foothills: Foothills divide the island roughly in half, starting at the base of the Volcano all the way to the south side of the island. 

Eastern Jungle: East of the Foothills, thick Jungle dominates most of the island's eastern half. 

Quicksand: A large Quicksand bog can be found on the island's southeast corner. 

Gold Mine: The island's Gold Mine is located in the Foothills, just north of the southern shore. 

Black Morning Spider Den: Castaways are advised to avoid this spot on the northeastern corner of the island. 

Western Jungle: Smaller than the Eastern Jungle, the Western Jungle is bordered by the Beach on to the west, the Lagoon to the south, the Foothills to the east, and extend to the northern shore. The Western Jungle is home to the original Castaway Huts, their Common Area, and the Supply Hut. 

Wildlife

Rich in flora and fauna, the island is home to a variety of species, including but not limited to: 

Coconut palms
Banana bushes
Pineapple shrubs
Many species of tropical trees and shrubs, many with edible fruit and flowers
Several primates, including at least one chimp, one gorilla, and one orangutang
At least one Black Morning Spider, six feet long and six hundred pounds
Several exotic plants found nowhere else in nature, including one that produces seeds that give the power of mind-reading when ingested

Infrastructure and Quality of Life Aids

In their years on the island the original Castaways have constructed several buildings and associated infrastructure. 

Huts: The Castaways constructed several Huts from leaves, grasses, and bamboo to serve as living quarters. The Howells live in one hut; Ginger and Mary Ann in another; the Skipper and Gilligan in a third; and the Professor lives in a Hut of his own. The Castaways also built a large Supply Hut, located a short distance north of the living quarters area. 

Common Area: Located in close proximity to the Huts, the Common Area features a long table and bench seating for communal meals. 

Washing Machine: A pedal-powered Washing Machine keeps the Castaways' clothing clean. 

Radio: One of the few pieces of equipment that survived the shipwreck, the Radio provides news and entertainment. 

Bamboo Island Taxi: A pedal-powered car used to transport Castaways around the island.

Record Player: The Professor used island materials to restore the Minnow's smashed record player. 

Observation Tower: The Castaways built a tall Observation Tower on the Beach. 

Putting Green: The Castaways landscaped a putting green to the west of the Lagoon. 












Monday, July 06, 2020

Unpainted Computer Station

Apologies for the terrible photo, I'm not sure what happened there. In any event, here we have three unpainted 28mm-scale retro computer props: a databank with those spinny reels, some kind of central workstation with three keyboards, and another larger workstation. Placed side-by-side like this, and you have a great little bit of scenery for a secret government agency, factory floor, or villain lair. 

These were shipped flat, so they required assembly, and none of them came with instructions! Figuring out how to put together the databank was pretty easy, and the workstation at far left was only slightly more challenging. But the central, three-part console really could have used instructions. It took a lot of time and patience and experimentation, but I figured it out. 

I'm not sure what to do about painting, however. These are made of wood, so I'm assuming they'll need to be primed, but if I prime them, I'll lose cool details like the keyboard keys and the readouts and dials. Maybe I need to prime with a brush rather than spray, and prime only the bits without detail? 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Careful How Much You Drink from The Fountainhead

In The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949), the film based on Ayn Rand's oddball novel, Vidor, through some incredible feat of eldritch magic, somehow transforms Rand's diabolical ideals into a truly remarkable, if surreal and uncanny, film. 

The story's hero, Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), is an architect with uncompromising vision, so the production design naturally showcases a wide range of (to my untrained eye) Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired designs for skyscrapers, factories, office buildings, houses, and farms. Even now, the buildings featured in the film feel retro-futuristic in the Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) mold, and a number of the interiors are just as impressive, including an expansive office with a luxurious chair set before an array of news stories under glass, like a proto-media wall. 

Cinematography and editing are also on-point, particularly the memorable scene in which Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal) first lays eyes on Roark, who at the time is using a drill to break up rock in a quarry (a job he's taken because no clients will accept his nonconformist designs). Francon is utterly captivated with Roark at first sight, captivated by the beefy architect's bulging, sweaty muscles and his unflappable self-confidence (one might say arrogance). Naturally, since this is a meet-cute moment, Francon is haughty in her seeming dismissal of Roark, but seconds later her true reaction is revealed in a hilarious montage in which she replays Roark's handsome image drilling into the rock. Francon herself carries around a riding crop. The sexual tension is not exactly subtle, and there's a reason their eventual mating is so controversial, perhaps in the novel more than the film.  

Throughout the film, characters fall into three camps: those who meet Rand's image of perfect Objectivist heroes (Roark, and, eventually, Francon), those who could rise to that level but fail through moral cowardice (Gail Wynand, played by Raymond Massey, who plays a newspaper publisher who at first opposes, then supports, and then betrays Roark), and the great unwashed masses, who are called out as too stupid to appreciate and kowtow to their Objectivist betters. Naturally all of the characters in the third group are complete strawmen in this film, ridiculous in their support for conformity and their inability to see the greatness of Roark's designs. Everyone else spends most of the movie justifying their own greatness through dialogue that's somehow hilarious and horrifying at the same time. 

In my view, to enjoy this film you have to imagine the reprehensible characters are as evil as Rand's worldview. I can't decide if the protagonists and supporting characters are aliens who've failed to infiltrate human society, demons intent on destroying it, or simply a collection of psychopaths admiring themselves for being so far above and beyond the proletariat. 

Without question, The Fountainhead is a work of precision and grace in service to grotesque ideals. This film might be cinema's greatest glimpse into the mind of a monster.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Farewell Old Friends

Today I gathered up dozens of old books and movies, some of which I've had for decades, and took them to Goodwill. It was hard, because I'm sentimental about such things, but I don't have infinite space, and I'm forced to admit to myself that there are many books I'll never read again, many movies I'll never see again; and so the time has come to pass those pleasure on to others. 

This reluctant culling will continue. But I take comfort in the many books I have yet to read, the many movies I have yet to see, still wrapped snugly around our walls. 

Friday, July 03, 2020

A Dose of Vitamin D

I need to do this sort of thing more often. 

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Apotheosis Foul

Artemis Fowl (Kenneth Branagh, 2020) is utterly insufferable, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Smug and self-important and clueless in a way that is uniquely Disney, a cancer on art that seems to have corrupted even the great Kenneth Branagh (and composer Peter Doyle, for that matter).

The screenplay is insipid, utterly overflowing with hoary old cliches that are meant to make characters sound cool or dangerous or funny, but wind up as simply infuriating. The performances are annoyingly twee or so pretentious and , again, smug, that audiences are left with no one to root for or empathize with. Even the sound effects are annoying, and the usually-brilliant Peter Doyle's score is the stuff of bad 1970s Saturday morning cartoons.

Story beats are utterly predictable, including the death and almost immediate resurrection of a supporting character that was clearly supposed to fill the role of "badass audience favourite." He dies, there are tears shed, then literally seconds later a force field lifts so a faerie can use her magic and boom, he's alive again. Seriously, it's worse than the Chewbacca fake-out in The Rise of Skywalker, and that was bad enough.

The incompetence on display here is truly remarkable. Or perhaps not incompetence, but a complete lack of desire to reach beyond mediocrity in any aspect of this production.

Foul indeed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The World of Null-Canada-Eh

Thanks to the rain and COVID-19, Sylvia and I did absolutely nothing for Canada Day. It was wholly unremarkable. Poor effort on our part, but some days you just don't have the energy to be creative...

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Friar’s Campsite

I feel like I crossed a threshold with this little scene. I'm not sure that the subtleties show up terribly well on camera, but I tried to add some depth and texture to the items by using different shades of the various greens and browns you see here, along with some dark washes to bring out details. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Letterboxd Collections


Not long ago, Letterboxd added a "Collections" feature to users' statistics pages. If you click to embiggen, you'll see which of those collections I've seen. For most people, the interesting thing won't be which collections I've completed, but which groups of films Letterboxd chooses to collect; some of these are far from obvious. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Artificial Idiocy

Oh, they may look dumb now, but they're learning...they're learning...

Monday, June 22, 2020

Men with Brooms, Man with Opinion

I'm probably giving this a half-star more than it deserves out of a fondness for Paul Gross' work in Due South and Leslie Nielsen's work in...well, everything I've seen him in, really, including a great guest turn on Due South.

As for Men with Brooms (Paul Gross, 2002), well, if you're not put off by the incredibly creepy CGI beavers that open the film, you might enjoy the performances (Molly Parker is particularly effective) and the and the few sitcom-level jokes that don't fall completely flat. Oh, and if you like curling, you might be amused by the scenes that take place on the rink. Finally, there are also a handful of love stories, two of which are kind of sweet if you're sentimental (as I tend to be). All told, however, most of the humour is stale, the drama flat, and the plot beats predictable. It's not that the film is terrible, but it does have an awful lot of wasted potential: a mildly interesting central idea, a strong cast, and a chance to explore one of the few aspects of Canadian culture someone outside the country might be able to name.

Someday someone will make the great Canadian curling movie. This isn't it, but writer-director-lead actor Gross deserves credit for taking his best shot - even if it misses the button by a couple of kilometres. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day 2020


Looks like dad and granddad are playing crib here. I hope they're enjoying a game together on Father's Day today. Or if not crib, maybe crokinole, or maybe they're out at a celestial ball game together. As long as they're happy. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Resting on the Rail of the Starboard Bow

All is still
The ocean flat as asphalt
Embers from his pipe
Glowing as they fall overboard
Reflected in the ink-black sea
Like falling stars
Reflected, too
A glimpse of the impossible
A ghost ship 
Riding on a cloud
Like WTF

Friday, June 19, 2020

Cloud Thoughts

Moonlight is best
Floating placidly o'er the ocean far below
Beyond sound, beyond touch
Intangible as mist
Except
For the ghost ship that
Scrapes away the soul
As it passes by with
Indifferent malevolence

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Ghost Ship

The ghost ship, aloft
Silently skims o'er a moon-white cloud
Sails rigid, ne'er billowing
Intangible as mist
Intangible as mist
Intangible as mist
And as deadly

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Review: Visiting Hours (1982)


I went into Jean-Claude Lord's Visiting Hours (1982) with low expectations, but as it turns out this is a pretty effective slasher film set apart from the big slasher names of the 80s--the Friday the 13ths, the Halloweens, and the like. There are two major differences: there's not a hint of the supernatural in this story, and both villain and victims act in (from their different perspectives) reasonable and realistic ways.

Michael Ironside plays Colt Hawker, an unhinged psychopath who hates women, particularly strong women who advocate for themselves. Gradually, through a series of flashbacks spread throughout the film, we discover that Colt's mother attacked and disfigured Colt's father after suffering years of abuse from her husband. Those same flashbacks also imply, in subtle yet truly nauseating fashion, that Colt's father may have been sexually abusing their son. While this disturbing background doesn't excuse Colt's actions, it helps explain his twisted motivations.

Colt's breaking point, it seems, comes when television journalist Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) advocates for an abused woman who was put on trial for defending herself from her husband. Station manager Gary Baylor (William Shatner) plays a supporting role as Deborah's rather ineffective boss and friend, and he's fascinating to watch, especially in contrast to his heroic turn in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the same year. Baylor is well-intentioned and advocates, somewhat weakly, for Deborah's right to speak out, but it's the women in this film who provide the strongest thematic and story opposition to Ironside's Colt.

First among them is Ballin, of course, who fights back gamely during Colt's initial attempted murder but winds up in the hospital, badly hurt and forced to endure an extended recovery before she'll be able to return to work - and to her advocacy for women's agency and rights. But interestingly, Ballin fades into the background for about the middle third of the picture, and in her place as protagonist steps nurse Sheila Munroe (Linda Purl). When Colt learns that Deborah Ballin is in hospital, he makes multiple attempts on her life in the hospital, killing other patients along the way, and he's foiled by Sheila, which puts her on his list of targets.

The focus shifts yet again as we follow Colt's grimy life outside murder, when he picks up a young woman named Lisa (Lenore Zann) and violently rapes and physically abuses her during what she thought was going to be a date. But Colt doesn't kill her, and she winds up in hospital under Shelia's care. We learn later on that Lisa took revenge offscreen by rounding up some of her friends to invade and trash Colt's apartment, an incident that occurs offscreen and is revealed only later in the film, but struck me as an interesting display of women's agency. (Perhaps even more fascinating, all three female leads are presented as single, either explicitly or via implication by absence.)

Lisa later becomes instrumental as her raid on Colt's apartment uncovers evidence of his crimes, which she hands off to Sheila. Unfortunately, Colt is one step ahead of everyone and sets a trap for her, gravely wounding the nurse and putting her, ironically, back in her own hospital. At this point, the focus shifts back to Deborah Ballin for the final confrontation. In the best traditions of the "final girl" trope, she of course dispatches Colt and sets the world right again....until the next slasher film comes out.

Many reviews of the era slammed Visiting Hours for its exploitative violence, and that's fair, particularly in Lisa's case; the scene where Colt assaults her is definitely exploitative and deeply discomfiting. On the other hand, most Lisa-like characters in this genre don't get to fight back and survive like Lisa does, which doesn't necessarily redeem the film, but I think speaks to its sincerity when it comes to the movie's central theme, that of female empowerment. I think it's very telling that none of the male characters, including alleged heroic lead Shatner (who's barely in the film, really) nor the scores of determined but hapless police officers, really contribute at all to the film's ultimate resolution. The collective bravery and actions of Deborah, Sheila, and Lisa lead directly to Colt's defeat. In effect, there are three "final girls" (and we really should be calling them "final women" if we're going to use the trope at all).

I wouldn't go so far as to call this a feminist movie (far from it!), but I think given the limits of the genre, it's more progressive than many similar films of that era. And it has other merits, of course--effective cinematography and production design, solid editing, and good performances all around, particularly from the women leads and Michael Ironside. It's no classic, but I think Visiting Hours deserves a better reputation than it has. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Mobilize (Video)


Here's a very cool film by Caroline Monnet in which Indigenous Peoples of Canada mobilize, to a very exciting soundtrack by Tanya Taqaq, for a journey from rural to urban landscapes. Though made in 2015, this short film appears to be assembled from stock footage going back to at least the 1960s. Great music and very cool visuals. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Gorgeous Enterprise-D Bridge Replica (Video)


British Star Trek fan Geoff Collard spent seven years building this incredibly detailed replica of the Enterprise-D bridge. Man, people are amazing. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Baffled by English Muffins

I was preparing an English muffin for Sylvia the other day, and I peeled the two halves apart before popping each half into the toaster. How, I wondered, do the English pre-slice the muffins in such a way as to keep the two halves "glued" together until you rip them in twain? Razorwire followed by...a second round of baking with extra yeast to stick them together? 

Baffling. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Past, Reconstructed

I'm fascinated by footage from the dawn of filmmaking, but much of what remains of those early 19th-century movies is either lost to time or badly degraded. But hard work and new technology has already transformed a handful of short films from visions through a glass darkly to glimpses as sharp as looking as a window to the past itself--or close to that, anyway.

I'm currently aware of two YouTube creators who are sharing their amazing work: Denis Shirayev and Restored Footage. Each has posted only a handful of clips (my favourite may be Restored Footage's reconstruction of the Hindenburg newsreel) but each is amazing in its own right, at least to my eyes. If you're a fan of history or technology, their channels are worth exploring.

(I'd post a video, but Google has willfully made it harder to embed them on Blogger.) 

Monday, June 08, 2020

Earl’s Forge

I painted a forge! I was a little worried about painting a thin enough sheen of red and yellow on the coals to allow the LED to shine through and glow, but it looks okay. You can't really see it in this photo, but I experimented with multiple coats for this model: a base stone grey, followed by two layers of black-ish washes in an effort to make the forge look old and well-used. 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Old West Street

A hardware store, a marshal's office, a bank, and a windmill; not a viable community yet, but the backwards beginning of one, perhaps. 

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Last Chance Finance

Steve generously donated a 3D-printed 28mm-scale Old West bank to me a couple of months ago, and this morning I painted it. This is the largest miniature I've yet painted, and the first building. I went with green and yellow for their association with dollar bills and gold coins. It looks pretty muddy to me, and I feel like should probably have painted the second-story columns yellow to match those below. Obviously I'm still having trouble colouring between the lines, as it were, but I feel like I'm slowly getting better at that particular task. Patience seems to be the best help, along with lots of light. 

Friday, June 05, 2020

LegalEagle Asks: George Floyd: 3rd or 2nd Degree Murder

The LegalEagle discusses the reasoning behind the 2nd degree murder charge laid against the officer who killed George Floyd, along with legal topics related to the aftermath of Floyd's death. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Decadence Quotient

At the risk of sounding like a corporate shill, I love the Peanut Buster Parfait from Dairy Queen. It's pure happiness in a plastic cup: ice milk, fudge, and peanuts. Terribly bad for you, naturally, but as a summer treat it's hard to beat. 

Not that anyone should do this, but I'll bet with sufficient funds and a lack of common sense you could make your own Peanut Buster Parfaits at home. You'd need 

1) An ice milk machine
2) A supply of whatever brand of liquid fudge DQ uses
3) Spanish peanuts (skins on) 
4) Tall plastic cups and long spoons

Assembly is simple. Place fudge and peanuts on the bottom level, then alternating layers of ice milk and fudge plus peanuts, finishing with a swirl of ice milk on top, topped with more fudge and peanuts. Yum!

The ice milk machine would be the most expensive part of the scheme. But how much could that cost? $10,000? $20,000? You could fold that into a mortgage. 

Hmmmm....

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

LegalEagle on Carnage at Lafayetted Square

I've been subscribed to LegalEagle for a while because I enjoy the host's sense of humour and the way he dissects legal drama in popular culture. LegalEagle also provides commentary on real-world cases, and today he offers a passionate, sincere reading of Trump's tear-gassing of protesters in Washington, DC. Western democracy is in terrible, terrible danger. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

A Dirge for Doomsday

They say two thousand twenty twenty going overboard all the time
So this year we're going to party like it's 1939

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Why I Hate DRM Part the Thousandth

I know this isn't the Criterion Channel's fault, but that of content providers who can't seem to come up with DRM software that doesn't prevent paying customers for accessing the content they, again, PAID FOR in good faith. I have no idea why I could watch films on the Criterion Channel for an entire year without getting this error message, yet now, with no change in my hardware, the DRM software assumes I'm trying to pirate content. 

THIS IS THE SORT OF THING THAT MAKES PEOPLE PIRATE. 

Thankfully the Criterion Channel still works on our big TV, so it's not like my subscription (prepaid) is now worthless. But I'm going to miss the convenience of watching on my PC too, when, for example, Sylvia is using the TV or I'm writing a review on one monitor while watching the film on another. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

First Bridge Crew Experience


Tonight Jeff and I tried out our first round of Star Trek Bridge Crew, which puts up to four people on the bridge of a virtual starship for online adventures. Once we figured out how to connect with each other, we cruised through the first mission a couple of times, with only a few hiccups (at one point, I drove us right into a gravitic mine, which bounced off the primary hull and then the main viewscreen before exploding spectacularly). It was a grand time, and I can't wait to try this with the maximum four players! 

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Surreal Ecstasy of Gold


The folly of lust for gold is a well-worn trope whatever the genre, but in no film is it explored quite so strangely as Mackenna's Gold (J. Lee Thompson), a 1969 western in which Gregory Peck (Mackenna) finds himself in a surreal, swiftly-moving landscape of shifting threats and alliances, with death, in the form of circles vultures and vast walls of stone standing in silent judgement, looming, waiting for its moment. 

It begins with two figures in the desert: Peck, as Marshall Mackenna, and an ancient Apache chief, Prairie Dog. Prairie Dog is clearly near death, and mistakes Mackenna for one of the bandits chasing him for a map to a legendary deposit of gold. He attempts to shoot Mackenna, but Mackenna defends himself, shooting the chief down. Mackenna attempts to save the old man, but the chief demurs, angrily accusing Mackenna of wanting the Apache gold. The Marshall, it seems, has a past as a gambler and prospector, but he's given up his sordid past and is trying to build a new life. 

The chief has a map to the gold, but Mackenna burns it, determined to get on with his new life. Unfortunately, men of ill will from Mackenna's past arrive, and with the map destroyed, they force Mackenna to use his memory of the map to lead them to the gold...

The plot is straightforward: Mackenna must lead the bandits through a gauntlet of hazards, including Apache hunting parties defending the gold, the US cavalry, and the desert itself. But the filmmakers' approach to the material makes this an atypical Western, one with the trappings of horror, fantasy, and high adventure films. There are point-of-view shots dragging the audience through dizzying chases on horseback. There's a rickety bridge crossing over an impossibly deep canyon, with the long shots accomplished with obvious miniatures. Julie Newmar is a beautiful, predatory shark-like creature who attempts nude underwater seduction and nude underwater murder. There are gorgeous vistas clearly shot on location juxtaposed with matte paintings. The small party of bandits Mackenna is leading grows to a horde, with so many major stars joining the proceedings - and shortly thereafter being killed off with almost comic speed. Occasionally, a narrator shows up to offer unnecessary commentary to the proceedings, but quits doing so at around the halfway point in the film. 

In the final act, in which the bedraggled survivors find the gold, is played out in a tone so ominous that the joy of the characters, their greedy delight captured in a sequence of still frames, serves only to heighten audience unease. And indeed it ends apocalyptically, with a disaster shot in such a way as to transform the film's heretofore dreamlike quality into that of a genuine runaway nightmare. 

There's a happy ending of a sort, but even that is laced with ambiguity; the backstories hinted at throughout the film are bookended by the promise of further adventure, as if this were the middle of a trilogy. 

Though played straight, the director's choices transform what should have been a straightforward western into something more akin to something Hitchcock and Bunuel might have created, had those two greats ever collaborated. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Colour Out of Time



The Vampire Bat (Frank R. Strayer, 1933) is an early mad scientist film disguised as a vampire movie, but other than that interesting conceit, there isn't much to distinguish this film from other horror efforts of the decade--other than a short sequence, captured above, where villagers chasing a monster (or so they think) are carrying torches that dance with vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and red. 

At first I thought I was watching some kind of strange experiment in restoration, a modern print of the film with some added CGI. But a little research revealed that the frames with colour were painstakingly hand-painted back when the film was originally produced. The effect is really quite beautiful and striking, and also adds thematic weight to the chase sequence, the hungry flames symbolizing the madness of the mob. 


Monday, May 11, 2020

Gummy Joe

Last night, I came up with an idea: gummy organs. Everyone loves gummy bears, gummy worms, and so forth; why not gummy organs?

As Sylvia tried to fall asleep through my babbling, I designed the snack and its presentation. The container would take the form of a 12-inch action figure, like the old GI Joe dolls, but with no articulation. Instead, the container would be split down the middle and hinged so that you could open him up like a refrigerator. Inside, you'd find the gummy organs, all in their anatomically correct positions, with perhaps the scales exaggerated in some cases for the smaller organs.

Let's go over the organs, colours, and flavours by body part:

Head and Neck
Gummy brain and spinal cord (cord gently housed in plastic vertebrae down the back of the container so it can be pulled out with the brain): light pink, strawberry
Gummy tongue: medium pink, watermelon
Gummy teeth (come out as an upper and lower set of 16 connected teeth each) : transparent, pineapple
Gummy eyes (visible through cutouts in the container): transparent and brown, cola
Gummy trachea: brown, root beer

Chest
Gummy heart: deep red, cherry
Gummy lungs: blue, blue raspberry
Gummy stomach: yellow, lemon
Gummy liver: peach, peach
Gummy large intestine: orange, orange
Gummy small intestine: purple, grape
Gummy kidneys: green, lime
Gummy pancreas: dark pink, bubblegum
Gummy spleen: light green, green apple

Arms and Legs
Gummy muscles: medium red, black cherry; wrapped around white candy bones made of the stuff they used to make lick 'em stix

If properly marketed, this snack would not only be tasty, but also fun and educational as kids explore the mysterious inner workings of the human form. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day 2020

Here's a shot of Mom back in 1967, back before she was "Mom" to Sean and me. For the first time, we weren't able to properly celebrate Mother's Day today thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions, but our gratitude for having Mom in our lives remains as strong as ever. Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and all you other Mom's out there! 

Friday, May 08, 2020

G&G IV.V Day One: Circvs Maximvs


Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, I`d be over at Mike`s place for Gaming & Guinness XV right now. Instead, we`re meeting virtually for G&G IV.V, racing chariots in Tabletop Simulator.