Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Deep Red (But Mostly Chartreuse, Taupe and Umber)

Back in October, in apparent preparation for Halloween, I posted a collection of stills from Suspiria, Dario Argento’s gorgeously colorful 1977 slasher movie. I wanted to prove that it’s beautiful, I suppose, but that’s no difficult task: Nearly every scene is a nicely composed, color-saturated work of art.

Today, in apparent preparation for… St. Patrick’s Day, I guess, I offer you a collection from Argento’s film immediately before Suspiria: Deep Red, also known as Profondo rosso. It’s more restrained, more noir, and its color palette skews more ’70s. You see less of the pure red, blue and green of Suspiria and more colors filtered with yellow — which is appropriate, considering it’s a giallo. Lack of Technicolor surrealism notwithstanding, Profondo rosso is still a beautiful film.

And here are a bunch of stills that prove this claim.

dario argento profondo rosso

dario argento deep red

profondo rosso film stills

deep red film stills

profondo rosso screencaps

deep red screencaps

profondo rosso screengrabs

deep red screengrabs




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Roger (Jolly and Otherwise)

Apart from being a proper name, roger can mean other things, I have recently learned. You could use it to mean “to have sex with,” as in, “We rogered in the bathroom before the movie started,” which is a sentence that I feel someone has probably said sometime, perhaps in a think British accent. The etymology might have something to do with the fact that the name literally means “famous with a spear,” and all the subsequent issues of poking and penetrating, which is probably smart of someone to have thought of.

But I’m not actually talking about the sexual kind of rogering, but a stranger definition offered by Wikipedia: “In nineteenth-century England, Roger was slang for the cloud of toxic green gas that swept through the chlorine bleach factories periodically.” No explanation is offered, and the footnote only identifies the term as being used in the 1897 Robert Sherard book The White Slaves of England. Even if this could be one of those things that Wikipedia gets less than factually correct, can we just take a moment to reflect on a situation where human beings are so accustomed to poisonous gas clouds drifting through their workplaces that they have affectionate nicknames for them? I can picture them now, this roomful of factory workers in their sullied rag-clothes, looking up from the workstations they’re shackled to and in unison saying “Roger!” with the warm familiarity of the barflies on Cheers saying “Norm!” And then they’d cough. Or maybe they’d be allowed to unshackle themselves for a quick run about the place as they dodged Toxic Roger. It would be like tag. Or maybe a Scooby-Doo-style “hallway full of doors” chase scene, just with the notable difference of being caught resulting in death by suffocation.

It also gives me reason to mention “Rabbits,” the weirdo David Lynch project that plays like a nightmare sitcom and in which its titular characters are plagued by periodic visits from an evil cloud monster.


It is perhaps easier to imagine this situation in silly pop cultural contexts than in terms of how awful it would have been.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wonder Woman in Media: The Star-Spangled Underoos of Ignominy

The long and the short of it: Though Wonder Woman’s life beyond the comic book page dates back a bit further than some fans would guess, these little-known movie and TV appearances all tend to suck. And that’s just how it is.

via atomic sam
Weeks after everyone else saw The Lego Movie and told me that I’d like it to the point that my head would shoot off like a rocket, Tex Avery wild take-style, I finally saw it. Everyone, you were right: It was, in fact, a movie that stirred my spirit and made me wish it had come out back when I was a kid. It also made me want to buy Legos, so I suppose it was doubly effective. However, a few different people have been lauding The Lego Movie for finally bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen. If that’s the case, it would still be a yay-boo — yay that she finally made it, sanctioned by DC and not sucking in any particular way, but boo that she gets about as much screen time as Lando Calrissian and William Shakespeare. She deserves better.

But there’s a decent argument that this is not the case, and that Wonder Woman’s first appearance in a major, nationally released theatrical effort came just a year prior: Movie 43.

via jeffrey k. lyles
Have we forgotten Movie 43 already? Good for us if so. I speak of that comedic anthology film released in 2013 that boasted some major stars doing some horrifically awful things, as Pajiba’s run-down of the film’s thirty most mind-scarring moments will remind you. (One of the most baffling, says me: “Halle Berry makes guacamole with her bare right breast.”) There’s a superhero speed dating sketch in which Leslie Bibb plays Wonder Woman.

Here, watch Wonder Woman, in her cinematic debut, call a Batman a pussy:


I mean, the costume looks terrible, and Leslie Bibb is technically credited as playing Fake Wonder Woman, in the same way that Jason Sudeikis and Justin Long are credited as Fake Batman and Fake Robin, that’s probably a result of the Movie 43 people not wanting to pay DC for official use of use of its characters (and them apparently having pulled this trick off more successfully than Dumb Starbucks did). But that’s Diana on screen, essentially. I looked around and failed to find the full segment, so I can’t tell you much about it. I’m fairly certain it sucked, though, just based on this clip. Pajiba’s summary at least offers us this tidbit: “Leslie Bibb plays Wonder Woman, who is upset because Batman didn't call her after they had sex, and she had to have an abortion alone.”

This is what he have to work with when talking about Wonder Woman on the big screen. At least the few seconds Wonder Woman got in The Lego Movie offered her a single joke about her invisible jet. And she was voiced by Cobie Smulders, which made good on Joss Whedon’s dream of having Smulders play Wonder Woman in a cinematic outing that has long since been cancelled.

Friday, February 21, 2014

So Now I Own a Tomy Hootbot

Years ago, I posted here a simple question: “Why Don’t I Already Have a Tomy Hootbot?” At the time, I’d just learned that these robot owl… things were produced in the ’80s by Tomy, the Japanese corporation best known for those dinky handheld video games but also Giga Pudding (apparently). And yeah, it seemed like I should own a robot owl. Why shouldn’t I? So when this Canadian guy tried to Google around about the Tomy Hootbot he found, he ended up on that very post and consequently emailed me asking if I’d like to buy his Tomy Hootbot. It still seemed like I should own a robot owl, I guess. Again, why shouldn’t I?

And now here it is, on my dining room table:


The owl does more than just sit there, in case you’re wondering. Thirty-some years later, he still turns on and operates properly. It’s just that “proper operations” for this particular toy include none of the things you might expect from owls, robots, robot owls or any other product with a clear purpose. Observe:


Does it hoot?

No, it whistles shrilly at random intervals.

Does it screech?

No. (See previous answer)

Does it fly about the room?

No, but it shakes its sideflaps, producing a plastic-on-plastic clicking sound.

Does its neck swivel in a humorous fashion?

No, it turns on par with how most humans can turn their necks.

Does it prey on mice and other rodents?

No, I have just as many mice now as I did before I got the Tomy Hootbot.

What else does it do?

It clicks its toes against its pedestal.

Is that… something owls do?

I really don’t know. But I don’t think so. It’s certainly not something they’ve become famous for.

But it’s a robot. Does it, like, fire lasers from its eyes?

Its eyes glow red, but alas — so far, no optic lasers.

I heard owls are often associated with wisdom. Does the Tomy Hootbot seem wise to you?

No.

Are you at least glad that it was the Tomy Hootbot that you ended up getting as a result of this blog and not the Otamatone?

Yes, I suppose that is the bright side here.

So how has the Tomy Hootbot changed your life?

Well, I’ve thought a lot about who invented the Tomy Hootbot and what their intentions were. I wonder if they consider the Tomy Hootbot a triumph or a failure. I wonder if they have a closet full of them that they turn on all at once and if maybe the whistling and clicking becomes so loud that people passing on the street stop and wonder what the hell is going on in there. I also wonder if maybe the product’s beautiful design — and it does look amazing, all these years later — was the result of one person and it was another person’s job to plan out what the Tomy Hootbot would actually do, and the first person did a really good job and then the second person was like “What if it just that there and whistled and clicked?” And so the first person was all, “Um, those are two things that owls don’t do. I feel like your end of this project isn’t really on par with mine.” And then the second person started crying and mentioned how he’d been having problems at home because it’s tough paying for little Ayumi’s special school. “But we love her so much!” And the first person was all “What a Monday!”

Why do you keep saying the full name, “Tomy Hootbot”?

Manners.

Anything else?

Well, now no one can tell me that I don’t own a robot owl. That’s something no one will ever take away from me — unless they specifically steal my Tomy Hootbot.

Stay tuned for my upcoming post: “Why Don’t I Have a Hoverboard?”


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What You Named the Happiest Dog in the World

One of the questions in my survey asked you all to choose the best possible name for the dog you see below.


You voted. Here are the results, in the best possible form — pie chart form. And can I just say right now that I am a little disappointed that so many of you picked names that I posted as obvious joke selections and not as legitimate, proper names for young dogs? Very disappointed.


Clearly, Waffles was the most popular choice, followed closely enough behind by the choice that I interpret as “Your options suck and I can do better.” The write in candidates, BTW, are as follows:
  • Cromagnetismo
  • Dogcat
  • Banjo
  • Professor Happy J. Zoom
  • Zuberancy
  • Ernie
  • Davey
  • Happy Dog
  • Maxwell
  • Stinkbutt
  • Hobart
  • Lady McPorkerton 
  • Sport, Tiger and Champ (in a single triple-entry that I shall accept as a single, three-barreled name). 
You’re all wrong, I have decided. I’m naming him Stingo, after everyone’s favorite character in Sophie’s Choice. No. No, wait. I’m just going to name him Peter MacNicol. There, everyone loses.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Athena by Way of Kelly Kapowski

Apologies if the rest of the video game-savvy world already jumped on this one decades ago, but I just learned there’s a new bit of relevance for Captain N: The Game Master. And I’m always happy to bring up Captain N.

A two-sentence primer, in case your childhood Saturday mornings played out differently than mine did: Captain N was a cartoon series that sought to blend the universes of various NES-era video games by uniting them though a “real world” protagonist: Kevin Keene, a San Fernando Valley teen who gets beamed into a video game universe where he gets to interact with characters from the Mega Man, Kid Icarus and Castlevania franchises. Kevin, however, was an original creation, as was the sole female character: Princess Lana, the regent of Videoland.

Here’s the intro sequence, in case you’re confused (and you probably should be):



It’s Princess Lana that I’m interested in. Even though I’ve loved the Kid Icarus series since I was wee, I only recently realized how much Lana looks like the Kid Icarus damsel in distress, a green-haired goddess called Palutena, her name apparently a corruption of Parthenos, one of the appellations for Athena. I mention all this just because it’s weird to think of the princess from a video game-themed Saturday morning cartoon show in the context of the virgin war goddess for whom the Parthenon was built.

Check them out, side by side: Lana, old school Palu and Palu as she looks in the recent, revamped Kid Icarus:


Depsite the premise, Captain N actually pulled from a narrow selection video game universe. Princess Zelda was appearing on the Zelda cartoon, and Princess Toadstool on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and neither Castlevania nor Mega Man had leading ladies at the time. That leaves Kid Icarus, the only game with an all-powerful, female monarch on the throne. I mean, look at them. Doesn’t Princess Lana look like a ’90s-tastic riff on this Greek goddess character? The gaming website Flying Omelette even goes as far to point out that “[Lana] looks more like Palutena than Mega Man looked like Mega Man or Simon Belmont looked like Simon Belmont.” Surely, they’re also close enough that one could be the inspiration for the other, right?

Right, it turns out.

I did some poking around and asked the people who designed the Captain N characters. The show originated with the Australian artist Fil Barlow. His fantastic concept art actually had the newspaper deliverer from Paperboy as the lead, among other differences. Subsequent characters, Barlow explained to me, were designed by other artists. He suggested I ask lead character designer Marcello Vignali about the Palutena-Lana connection. Vignali’s response to my email:
When we were working on Captain N, the Nintendo corporation gave us a bunch of 8-bit images of their characters. But, in some other cases they sent us some drawings or packaging art. I can't remember for sure if that was the case with Palutena, but from the look of her design that certainly was where her design came from. The similarity is too close to be a coincidence. Kudos to you!
Not quite a 100-percent sure confirmation, but I’ll take it. And I’m happy to learn that I’m not just seeing things. There’s more relevance for this right now than there might be otherwise, because there’s a chance that Palutena might be playable in the new Smash Bros. game. It’s an unfounded rumor, if a readily believable one, and I’d like to think that it, if true, means Princess Lana isn’t just trapped in memories of the messy pop culture of the early ’90s. Some form of her is still hovering about, acting all empowered. One more note from Mr. Vignali, about the Captain N version of Metroid big bad Mother Brain:
A funny story. When we were designing Mother Brain, the Nintendo corporation didn't give us any art for it. Instead, they gave us a video game. Unfortunately, none of us were good enough to get to the Mother Brain level -- and the DIC animation studio didn't want to pay us artists to sit around playing a video game. So, one of the secretaries brought in her son and he got us to the Mother Brain level. We grabbed some screen shots and were able to complete the design.
Ha. In the end, Mother Brain ended up a creature like none other on Saturday morning TV, even being voiced by Levi Stubbs, the lead singer for The Four Tops and also the voice of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. Mother Brain, by the way, was also announced as appearing in the new Smash Bros. game, and I feel unusually catered to — like someone is using my memories of back then to help determine what’s coming back now.

Cartoons, previously:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Camp Crystal Lake by Way of the Mushroom Kingdom

In case there’s ever any wonder if a Super Mario game ever made a reference to the Friday the 13th movies, I present a minor enemy from Super Mario Land 2: J Son, an ambulatory hockey mask with a dagger stabbed into it.

via spriter’s resource, ripped by aj nitro
“J Son.” Get it?

Because what are your Nintendo-produced, hop-and-bop video games without a riff on an undead serial killer with a nasty Oedipus complex?

Super Mario obscurity, previously:

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Is Like a Stove / Burns You When It’s Hot

I know I already squeaked in one Valentine’s post, just at the edge of midnight, but I want to clarify my stance on love. As my dumb little nostalgia-nerdy sex joke earlier today demonstrated, I don’t like Valentine’s Day. However, I’m not against love — the emotion this holiday strives for but can only produce the cheap, knock-off, CVS version of. And if today can be for anything, I think it should be for earnest representations of love.

Like me, many ’80s children probably know the song “Love Hurts,” as performed by the rock band Nazareth and as featured in an especially persistent Gatorade commercial. I’d honestly not thought of the song as much besides a Gatorade jingle, until yesterday, when Morning Becomes Eclectic interviewed Spike Jonez,  Karen O and Her production designer K.K. Barrett. The three were there to play “The Moon Song,” the Oscar-nominated song from Her, but while in the KCRW studio, they each named their favorite love song. Jonez picked Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” While O picked Kitty Lester’s “Love Letters,” noting its beautifully warm melancholy. Only Barrett picked a song I didn’t know, however: a prior version of “Love Hurts,” performed by Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons.

An analogy:

the way Valentine’s makes me feel : “real love” :: 
Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” : this version

It felt strange for a song that I’d heard so many times and found meaningless to be given a whole new spirit when sung in a quiet, wistful country style — sung like they understand what they’re saying. It moved me, and if you are like me and spending a quiet night in on this February 14, then perhaps it will move you too.


Until this version, I’ve never noticed how much of a Roy Orbison quality the song has. (And yes, he recorded a version as well.) I’ve also noticed one lyrical difference. Whereas Emmylou and Gram sing “Love is like a stove / Burns you when it’s hot,” Nazareth switches it to “Love is like a flame,” I’d guess to avoid having a rock bank singing about an object as quaint and ordinary as a stove. It’s an idiotic substitution, of course, because flames are always hot. That, I guess, is a good example of how the meaning can get drained out things.

Here’s to the back half of this month.

Link Submission

Fingers crossed, this will be the limit of my contribution to Valentine’s Day 2014.


Because butts, because the war of love, because cheerful appropriation of nostalgic childhood images, because this stupid holiday for idiots.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Ample Butt of Space Heroism

I changed my mind.

Just a few days ago, I posted here about how my search for examples of sexism in old-school video games just got too sad and sucky to bear. I mean, what did I expect? Now, however, I’m thinking there may be value in these offending images after all. Sure, there’s the awful quaintness in reacting with “Oh, how funny that anyone thought this was okay back in the day!” But there’s also the realization that no, the trends aren’t at all new, and the undercurrents of sexism were just as present back when we were big-eyed, unknowing little kids as they are now that we’re small-eyed, glaring adults.

Here is the first of the major offenders: the flyer for the 1991 Namco arcade shooter Burning Force. Based on this image alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the burning force in question was situated entirely within the heroine’s loins. Or her back-loins. Full of moxie and gumption, these hindquarters are.

via hardcore gaming 101
The artist's motivation, I suppose, being that most people would rather not play a futuristic shooting game in which the main character has a small but that is not prominently displayed. I mean, that is why I play shooting games. (A similar tactic has been applied for hunky male characters in barbarian-themed platformers.) Interestingly, the home console version of the game reduced the emphasis on the heroine’s tuckus. Buttocks are for seedy arcades and not the living room, after all.

Here, watch space cadet Hiromi Tengenji in considerably less sexualized action, killing indiscriminately, like God intended, instead of bearing her bottom like a jezebel.


Gender and video games, previously:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Your Best Guesses About a Haunted Giraffe

When I posted my survey a few days ago, I didn’t imagine anyone would care. However, nearly two hundred of you have taken it so far. (Thanks, BTW.) And if people were to take the survey at all, I imagined they would have skipped the essay question — the one that asked you to tell me why this giraffe seemed haunted.


But a lot of you did, and it’s been fascinating to read what you wrote and get little glimpses into the weirder regions of your imaginations.

Here are all the results so far.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Potential Back of the Cereal Box Spin-off Projects

Back of the Empirical Box
(the latest scientific findings from the Drew Mackie labs)

Back of the Venereal Box
(in which I reveal my inadequate working knowledge of human sexuality)

Back of the Muriel Box
(chicks named Muriel, I guess)

Back of the Serial Box
(soap operas and murderers, together at last)

Back of the Burial Box
(in which I help you plan your dream funeral)

Back of the Ethereal Box
(haikus about spiderwebs)

Back of the Boreal Box
(up-to-date ski condition info for the northlands)

Back of the Surreal Box
(mouthwash jukebox gasoline)

Back of the Immaterial Box
(you’re like “Oh, look at this blog,” and then it’s just GONE)

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The One Nintendo Heroine No One Talks About

No, Samus Aran wasn’t the first playable female character in a Nintendo game. She may not even be the second. In fact, there’s a game that came out nearly a year before Metroid that not only had an apparent female protagonist but which also made her gender a Metroid-style end-of-the-game surprise.

via vgmpf.com
First, one paragraph of background that’s skippable if you’re busy, but I swear the links are worth a click.

Last year, I wrote about Francesca, the hero an NES-era video game that shamelessly ripped of Mega Man, and I pointed out how the relative suckiness of this game, The Krion Conquest, was a shame, given how unusually boss Francesca looked on the box art. It was unusual to see a female character — playable or otherwise — looking neither cutesy or sexed-up, I posited, and I asked if anyone could think of examples of similar female characters. I got some good ones, and compiled them in a collection of old-school box art featuring women you wouldn’t want to fuck with (and also one so hilariously early ’90s that it threw me down a Full House rabbit hole). I thought it might be cool to do the opposite and make a collection of old-school NES-era box art that was sexist, but that quickly became depressing and lame. But if it weren’t for that search, I wouldn’t have found how why Samus Aran is only (arguably) number three in the succession of Nintendo leading ladies.

Whew.

So back in the early days, Nintendo had a hard time with clearly, obviously feminine protagonists. Technically the first was the Clu-Clu Land main character, a fish named Bubbles (Gloopy in the Japanese version). While any text you’ll find online today character uses feminine pronouns to discuss the character, someone just playing the game could scarcely tell that that Bubbles is a fish, much less a female one.

ripped by vile10, via spriter’s resource
And that’s fine. It’s actually even better that Nintendo didn’t make her pink and stick a bow on her. But if you had just rented the game from your local video loan depot, and it like so many game rentals lacked an instruction manual, you probably wouldn’t know that Bubbles was female.

You could say the same thing about Samus, really. Even if you had the Metroid instruction booklet, you wouldn’t know she was female because the text refers to Samus as being male, presumably to preserve the surprise of her true gender when you meet all the necessary requirements. That revelation, in case you’ve forgotten, involves Samus’ space armor coming off to reveal this:

via obsolete gamer
But a year before, Nintendo pulled an almost identical stunt with a character that’s largely been forgotten and whose gender seems to be remembered even less: Mach Rider, star of the 1985 title of the same name.

It looks like this, if you’re not familiar:


Friday, February 07, 2014

Return to the Land of the Giants

As much as I enjoy feeling like a smartypants, I’ll admit that feeling smart can’t compare to learning something new. And it’s on that note that I present to you the opening credits to the bygone ABC sci-fi series Land of the Giants, a Lost in Space-ish show that centered around a small band of travelers marooned on an Earth-like planet where “humans” are twelve times bigger. The series ran on ABC between 1968 and 1970, and I’d literally never heard of it before yesterday.

It’s dated, but in the best possible way. Watching this crisp version of the show’s opening credits, I almost feel like this is a contemporary thing made to look old. It’s exactly the right combo of hokey and earnest.


Obviously, I love it. If you’re interested, you can watch the whole first episode here. There’s also a very Saturday morning, very Filmation version of the opening credits here.

What is it about dated sci-fi that appeals to me so much? I suppose it’s the now old-timey versions of what might have back in the day suggested something futuristic. Compare, if you will, the opening credits to the early ’70s ITV series The Tomorrow People. (Yes, the one that’s currently being remade on The CW.)


I wish every show on now could begin with something that sets my mind on fire as much as this. Not having been alive when these shows were first on, I wonder why that is.

But really, I wonder why that is.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Forgetting Chinatown: Other Ethnic Enclaves

Li'l Tokyo

Vietnam Village

Koreansburg

Turkmenistan Town 

Egyptita

Pygmy Portugal

Petite Poland

Dinky Denmark

Mini-Malaysia

Newer Zealand

Panama Jr.

A Little Bit o' Burkina Faso

Brazilish

St. Kittens and Nevissy

The Pita Pocket

Haiti II: The Sequel

Even More Smallish Havana

Inconsequential Ireland

Chinatowntown

And, of course, Wee Britain

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Brutal Truths of Teen Favorites Magazine

I won’t claim to be an expert on the lesser teenybopper magazines of the ’70s, mostly because doing so would shine too bright a light on my personal life. But I will go out on a limb and claim that this headline has to be one of the most awkward ever to appear in such a publication, if not the most ominous.


And it feels all the more awful when you consider that the publish date is listed on the cover as March 1977. See, because Freddie Prinze died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 29, 1977, so this magazine either hit newsstands slightly before Prinze died — and yeah, that’s the best-case scenario — or after.

The full article, embiggenable:


Especially hard to read: “I’m happy. I know too many people who are popping pills all day, they are so depressed. That’s wrong, man.”

Other awkwardness:


Oh, and this, just because of that heinous monster we call time:


All images via scans found on this site, which is doubtlessly full of even more things that are awkward and disturbing as a result that same heinous monster.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Tempo & the Increasingly Troubled Clef

a piacere (“to your pleasure”)

brioso (“lively”)

agitato (“excitedly”)

gentilmente (“gently”)

intimo (“intimately”)

adagissimo (“very slowly and calmly”)

affrettando (“rushed and nervous”)

fuocoso (“fiery”)

irato (“angrily”)

furioso (“furiously”)

bruscamente (“bluntly and abruptly”)

martellato (“as if struck with a hammer”)

decrescendo (“gradually decreasing in volume”)

con dolore (“with pain”)

grave (“seriously”)

pesante (“heavy”)

lontano (“distantly”)

lacrimoso (“mournfully”)

lamentoso (“with lamentation”)

tremolo (“trembling”)

notturno (“like a nocturne, as if intended for night”)

al fine (“to the end”)

espirando (“dying away”)

pianississimo (“as softly as possible”)

senza espressione (“without expression”)

estinto (“extinguished”)

al niente (“to nothing”)