Friday, April 27, 2007

Samara's Revenge

More weirdness regarding SNL's digital shorts. Back in early February, I posed the short from the Drew Barrymore-hosted episode. "Body Fusion" was an intentionally low-grade, vaguely pornographic 80s-style workout video. It made me laugh.

Just recently, Spencer was re-watching it on YouTube, only the version he was looking at ended with weirdly familiar-sounding screaming.

You watch it!



Despite both versions — the above one and the one in the original post — being allegedly from NBC, this one has a scene from "The Ring" spliced in. It's kind of weird and it puts me out of the humor of the sketch. Apparently it's the original, "director's cut" of the short. Very, very strange, I say.

Also: Great, another way for people looking up information from "The Ring" to find my blog.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fording the River

Best comment ever on a YouTube clip of KrisDina and I braving a flooded roadway in Australia.

fording_river

And did I ever post that video here? Not so sure I did.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Shadows of Quick-Moving Animals

By sleeping less, I’ve been dreaming more. Don’t look for the logic in that. I haven’t.

I had a particularly notable dream last night that has prompted me to record it here. Not only did it seem to have benefited from a competent art director but the plot — which made markedly more sense than most of my dreams — actually involved a narrative frame.

The dream began with two people discussing what was a clearly story they knew well. The action quickly shifted to the characters being discussed in the story itself, though regrettably without starwipes or shimmery, blurry transitions I enjoy. The story described people who lived near the ocean. At the edge of the horizon was an island about which little was known, save that people standing on the coast could see shadowy shapes dancing there all day. Eventually, one of the people living near the coast decided to investigate the strange island for himself. Upon arriving there — presumably by boat, thought the dream glossed over this part — the man was greeted by one of the figures. Standing eight feet tall and being shaped basically like a human with rabbit ears, the creature explained that the island was inhabited by “the shadows of quick-moving animals” — foxes, mice, birds and apparently rabbits — because the animals who once owned them moved too quickly for the shadows to keep up. (How they ended up on the island and why they ended walking upright and growing so tall were, again, not explained.) The man asked to see the rest of the shadows, and the rabbit-shadow led him there. The shadows, however, were furious with the rabbit-shadow for letting an outsider in and demanded that both the man and the rabbit be punished. Because the shadows’ only joy in life was dancing around a large bonfire — hence why the people on the mainland could see the creatures’ bodies magnified by the firelight — the pair were ordered to travel to the dangerous, far side of the island from which the wind blew. Their task: to stop the wind from imperiling the bonfire that gave them so much joy. The man and the rabbit-shadow left and tried in vain to stop the wind. After a long time, they gave up and returned to the campfire to ask forgiveness. When they got there, they found that the bonfire had been extinguished and the rest of the shadows had crushed into black, glass-like fragments on the ground. The rabbit-shadow explained that a slow-moving bear-shadow must have killed them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

His Phallic Nose

I stumbled across this old bit of promotional art for Pac-Man, back when his Japanese called him "Puck Man." The "puck" — which apparently stemmed from the onomatopoetic paku paku paku noise he makes as he gobbles dots — was rightfully switched out in favor of "pac" for the American release, as us rowdy types would have no doubt had a field day with the name.


Looking at this art, however, I think I'm more disturbed by the coincidence of the name "Puck Man" and the penis-like protrusion sticking off his face. I'm guessing the shortening of the Pac-Man's nose was in furtherance of the effort to de-pornify him.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Turkey Baster and a Container of Dannon

My house recently had the pleasure to puppysit Little Penny, who hasn't had the joy of Drew in her life since she was certifiably extra adorable. Although the stint granted me the dog fix I so sorely needed, it also reminded me of why I'm still not grown up enough to own my own.

Anyway, adorable puppy photos:

penny the puppy 5

penny the puppy 4

penny the puppy 7

penny the puppy 3

penny the puppy 2

penny the puppy 1

And, of course, the compulsory video clips:





Mario's Lost Bytes

My online stumbling has led me to Unseen 64, a truly righteous site that compiles images from beta versions of famous video games. Sure, half the text is in Italian, but that shouldn't stop you from taking a look. After all, doesn't Mario speak Italian? Screenshots from not-ready-for-prime-time versions of various Mario games are always a trip, as any true gamer can't help marvel at what could have been.

First up, Super Mario 64. Not too much here, besides a slightly different looking Bowser and a primitive power meter.



Next: Mario Kart 64, or as it was known in pre-production, Mario Kart R. I'd nearly forgotten that the original line-up for the game included Kamek — or, possibly, a generic Magikoopa — at the expense of the Donkey Kong County-modeled D.K. In a sense, I suppose this character was an upgrade from the playable Koopa Troopa in the first Mario Kart. Also changed: the portraits of the top four spots are staring straight ahead instead of to the side.




Originally, the first sequel to Super Mario RPG was fittingly titled Mario RPG 2. Note that the Mario depicted in these early screenshots isn't the 2-D wonder we came to know and love in Paper Mario. He's cartoonier, with bigger eyes. Of note, the original game seemed more populated by characters from Yoshi's Island, including Poochy the dog and Nep-Enut, the big blue water monster. And see the "GF" watermark in the corner of these? I'm guessing that means they were initially property of the now-defunct Diehard Gamefan magazine, which was one of the better gaming publications ever put to print.





The differences between the beta version of Luigi's Mansion and the final version basically amount to a few cosmetic changes, the site notes. For example, check out the way cartoony take on dejected Luigi outside the mansion.


A canceled title for the Nintendo 64DD that was later pushed to the Gamecube before its second cacellation, Stage Debut used an superevolved version of the Game Boy Camera to put the player's face on in-game action. I'm not sure exactly what kind of action that would have been, but this article theorizes that some of the ideas that never came into fruition for Stage Debut may have been reconstituted for various Mii Channel functions. As you can see, Mario characters showed up alongside Nintendo executives and folks from Animal Crossing and Pikmin. And then they all danced together.




The below screenshot represents all that came of a proposed sequel to Donkey Kong '94, which itself was an update the original Donkey Kong gameplay. Apparently the game would have included a mode in which players could compose their own stages to send Mario through. Sound cool — though apparently not cool enough to get the game actually made.


I know very little about Balloon Trip, the working title for the game that eventually become Yoshi Touch & Go. But here are some screens all the same.



As The Mushroom Kingdom noted in one of their "Lost Bytes" specials, creators of Yoshi's Island initially envisioned three additional transformations for the title character: a propeller plane, a tree and a mushroom. The plane? That makes sense. The other two, though — I can't imagine how they would have worked in the game.



And finally, the biggest surprise of all: Super Mario World. The screenshots below must have been from a markedly early version of the game, as they little resemble the Super NES launch title we've all come to know and love.


The map screen seems to be more inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 than the final product was. Note the Toad Houses dotting the landscape. You won't see them in Super Mario World. It's simplified, and a lot smaller looking, if the brown-scale map shown in the title screen is any indication.


Another huge change would be the presence of the Raccoon Leaf and corresponding ears and tail. I'd guess the programmers eventually decided to switch out this Super Mario Bros. 3 power-up for the Super Cape, which allowed Mario better control in the air.


See the Koopa Troopa? If you'll remember, Super Mario World marked the first game in which these turtle baddies walked on their hind legs. I wonder what prompted the change.


Another Super Mario Bros. 3 remnant: the bouncy note blocks, seen in the below screen of The Big Boo.


Don't Be So Testaceous

I could have sword that Wordsmith.org's words-of-the-day seemed a bit... off. Looking up their archives I found that the entries for last week were, in fact, purposely risque-seeming, despite the words' rather benign meanings.

For your edification:
  • testaceous ("having a shell," or "having the reddish brown color of bricks or baked clay.")
  • titivate ("to make smarter; to spruce up; to decorate.")
  • vomitorium ("a passageway to the rows of seats in a theater.")
  • cockshut ("evening" or "twilight" — apparently from the notion of night being a time birds are placed in barns.)
  • turdiform ("like a thrush, or any of the songbirds of the family Turdidae.")
  • albedo (either "the fraction of light reflected from a body" or "the white, spongy inner lining of a citrus fruit rind.")
And I'd be remiss not to include a link back to an early Back of the Cereal Box post on a similar subject: "Words That Sound Dirty But Aren't," which ran in the Nexus and which got us snooty letters for including "The Grand Tetons."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Homoerotic Mario Ballet

To be honest, I'm not even sure these two are supposed to be Mario and Luigi, though I suppose it's not much stranger than any other twist the Mario series has suffered in the transition from video game to performance art.



Also odd: As the comments on the Go Nintendo post for this video note, the "princess" looks suspiciously like Lara Croft.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dangle

A letter I got today:
Hey Drew,

I was just doing a Google search to see if we had gotten any new press mentions and ran across your blog. So I just wanted to say thanks for downloading our song "Dangle" and for posting about it. Much appreciated. Unlike a lot of other bands that have appeared on the show, we're a totally DIY, self-promoted, indie-as-indie-can-be band, so it's gratifying to know that our stuff is reaching people whose arms we haven't personally twisted.

If you're on MySpace, shoot us a friend request: http://www.myspace.com/thedaylighttitans.

Peace,

Andy Smith
The Daylight Titans
Woo hoo!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Penguin Kun Wars

Along with every other retrogaming geek who follows blogs on the subject, I found out this week about Nintendo8.com, a site that bypasses the clumsiness of vintage console emulation and instead allows you to play old Nintendo Entertainment System ROMs in a Java application that opens up right in your browser window.

In short, I can play the beloved Nintendo games from my childhood anywhere that I have speedy internet access. And not just the big titles, but obscure, old stuff like Mickey Mousecapade or Little Nemo: The Dream Master, neither of which the majority of people reading this now will probably recognize but which, time provided, they might enjoy. What’s additionally great is that Nintendo8.com allows me access to a whole library of old Nintendo titles that I even my better-allowanced couldn’t. Two words: “Japanese games.”

I’ve had vague awareness of old games that for whatever reason — goofiness, large amounts of text needing to be translated, inappropriate content of a sexual nature, the presence of heathen religious icons, or just astounding shittiness — never crossed to American shores. That has all changes. As such, I will be profiling some of the more entertaining Japanese-only games here for as long as it takes for Nintendo to shut this website down

Today: Penguin Kun Wars, which makes about as much sense as the title would imply. In a nutshell:
  • You are a penguin.
  • You throw purple balls across a table at another woodland creature, the object of which being to get all the balls off your side of the table.
  • At the match’s midway point, a glowing boomerang will begin spin across the table for no apparent reason.
With that setup, I feel okay not paying to play this game. The screenshots really do the Penguin Kun Wars justice.

The title screen. Me: "Sure, I'll play this." I was three years old. Also, that's ASCII the video game company, with no formal relation to the character set.


What you, the apparent penguin, are up against: quite a few yellow bear- or mouse-looking creatures, about as many pandas, exactly three koalas and two of what I think might be a Japanese programmer's notion of what a beaver looks like.


Of course, within moments of the match beginning, the penguin is beaned by a ball and knocked unconcious. He screams in agony. The yellow bear-mouse is merciless.


No matter. This penguin can muster the strength to overcome the schemes of what is the game's easiest enemy.


And then, for no apparent reason, the bear-mouse follows the penguin for a bonus round. In space. Floating UFOs track the characters' movements, thus preventing both penguin and bear-mouse from catching or throwing balls.

No points were awarded in the bonus round.


And then Mr. Penguin moves up in the world. Curiously, each of the bear-mice seem to have lost in the first round, I'm guessing as a result of their having wasted energy pondering why and what they are.


Short but sweet. The match nature never intended — penguin vs. panda — ends in humilation for the former. And in front of such beautiful, symmetrical snowcapped mountains, too.


Not wanting to watch my penguin be reduced to tears again, the window is closed. Penguin Kun Wars will not be played again.

Go! Go, Mario!

A revelation: the original Super Mario Bros. theme, with lyrics.



The singer has a vocal range that rivals the sound quality of a Game Boy audio processor. I'm wondering if perhaps she's someone's niece or something.

UPDATE 4.15.2007: I've found lyrics, thanks to Blogbling.
Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
Go save Princess Peach! Go!
Today, full of energy, Mario runs
Today, full of energy, jumping!
Today, full of energy, searching for coins
Today, keep going, Mario!

Get a mushroom - it’s Super Mario!
Get a flower - it’s Fire Mario!

Goomba! Troopa! Buzzy Beetle! Beat them all!
Mario is always full of energy and strong!

[Spoken] The only one who can reverse the spell that has captured the Mushroom People is Princess Peach. But Princess Peach is hidden underground, in a far-off castle. Ah, the days of peace… if we could once more return to those days… to save Princess Peach and bring peace back to the Mushroom Kingdom, that is why Mario is on his journey today.

Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
Go and beat the Koopa tribe, go!
Today, full of energy, Mario runs
Today, full of energy, jumping!
Today, full of energy, searching for coins
Today, keep going, Mario!

Get a star - become invincible!
Quickly, go save Princess Peach!

Lakitu! Blooper! Cheep Cheep! Beat them all!
Mario is always full of energy and strong!

Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
He’s made it to the castle and gets fireworks!
Lightly sidestepping the Hammer Bros.
Show the last of your power, Mario!
It’s been a long journey but it’s nearly at an end
You’ve done it, you’ve done it! You’ve defeated Bowser!

Princess Peach says “Thank you”
Mario’s got a great big heart!

Mario’s adventure is over for now, but
Mario’s dream lives forever…

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

But I Didn't Say I Wasn't a Wolf

Not to harp on Grindhouse any more than I already have, but I would like to use the film as a springboard for a brief discussion about music and the odd intersection of my life and popular culture that, according to my Blogger “about me” mission statement, served as the impetus to start this pile of words to begin with.

Aside from providing me mental chewing gum to work over for a good week or so, the arrival of a new Quentin Tarantino film also grants access to a soundtrack that’s damn near guaranteed to assemble bygone hits, obscure gems and all manner of new-to-me musical goodness. The Kill Bill soundtrack, for example, gave me the hopping cover of “I’m Blue” by The 5.6.7.8’s, “Run Fay Run” by Isaac Hayes and more Ennio Morricone than I ever realized I needed in my life. The Death Proof soundtrack did not disappoint, with the three standouts being “Baby, It’s You,” “Chick Habit” and “Hold Tight.”

This particular version of “Baby, It’s You” — a Burt Bacharach-penned song that was apparently first popularized by the Shirelles — is by Smith, a 60s blues band not to be confused with 80s rock band The Smiths. Despite the spot-on vocals by Gayle McCormick, “Baby, It’s You” marks Smith’s only hit. I can best describe the song as sounding something an edgier version of The Fifth Dimension might have release, had The Fifth Dimension had the balls. That comparison may stem from the fact that I’ve heard “Wedding Bell Blues” playing on my mom’s radio and in grocery stores my whole life. Sure, it’s catchy ditty, as far as mellow gold goes, but with “Baby, It’s You” playing in my head all day, I can’t help but to feel a little resentful that “Wedding Bell Blues” has occupied a space in my memory all these years. A truly righteous number like this Death Proof-spawned song should have rightly held that spot. That’s how much I dig this.

Anyway, it doesn’t stand alone. “Chick Habit,” the campy throwback that plays over the film’s closing credits also rocks. A cover-and-translation of “Laisse Tomber Les Filles,” the song has a manic, cartoony sound that made it the one song I could immediately recall upon leaving the theater. The girl who sings it, April March, is a bit of a phenomenon herself. The Wikipedia article on her explains that she had formerly worked as an artist for Archie Comics and as an animator for Ren and Stimpy and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Now she’s a singer, perhaps most famous for releasing the album Paris in April — all Serge Gainsbourg covers — and marrying Warren Zanes, a man with the considerable honor of having the title “Vice President of Education for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” They sound like a fun pair.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Hold Tight.” In Jungle Julia’s final moments on screen, she calls her radio station and requests this song by the British band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich, which she credits with nearly stealing Pete Townsend away from The Who, perhaps to the betterment of the stealers. (Julia explains that had the shipped been jumped, the group would have effectively and logically been transformed into Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, Tich & Pete Townsend.) Then Julia and her friends die horrifically. But that hasn’t prevented me from liking the song.

“Hold Tight” was actually in my head this morning on the way to work when I saw something that provoked an unusual reaction for me: I whipped out my camera phone.


I have literally passed this vintage concert poster every day I’ve walked to work since I started my job in December. It sits in the window of a shop on Figueroa Street. For whatever reason, I noticed it today. All five of them — Messrs. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich and Tich — apparently played at the Santa Barbara Bowl back in the day.

And that, friends, is something that will forever delight me: the proof that no matter how new or strange or obscure bits of pop culture may be, they will undoubtedly enter my life, often in strange ways and often sooner than I expected.

And now bonuses. "Baby, It's You."



"Chick Habit" set to small, non-spoilery clips from Death Proof.



The original, French version of "Chick Habit."



"Hold Tight," in glorious monochrome.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Strange Case of Mr. Minkus

A small addendum to the post about vanished TV characters popped into my head this morning.

I remember watching an episode of Boy Meets World back in the day in which the character Minkus (Lee Norris) showed up after a lengthy, unexplained absence. Though Minkus had been a main character in the show’s first season and Norris in the opening credits, the show’s producers dropped him thereafter — apparently in an effort to re-focus the show as a soap opera revolving around Cory, Topanga and various characters’ long-lost brothers. In the episode that quickly re-introduced Minkus, however, main characters Cory and Shawn bump into him in the hallway and ask where he’s been all this time. Minkus points to the camera and says that he’s been on the other side of the hallway, on the other side of school — specifically behind the camera’s line of sight, on the unseen half of the sitcom set. Cory and Shawn accept this explanation and move on. To my knowledge, Minkus was never mentioned again.

Lee Norris was on my mind just a few weeks ago when I returned from seeing Zodiac. Though it was good, seeing it for me amounted to an extended game of “Who’s That Guy?” with all the familiar but unrecognizable actors playing roles in it. (“Hey! Is that Drew’s brother from The Drew Carey Show?” “And is that Paulie G from The Comeback?” “How did Anthony Edwards get so fat?”) The moment I got home, I jumped on Zodiac’s IMDb page a saw Lee Norris’s name as having played the Zodiac Killer’s first male victim.

So, you know, if you feel like watching a former child star who was sent to the cornfield be horrifically mutilated with gunshot wounds, Zodiac is the movie for you. Of course, having been attacked by the Zodiac Killer might be the best explanation yet for why a TV regular would suddenly stop appearing on their show.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Gruesome Friday

In inexcusable defiance of the Good Friday mandates, I spent one-eighth of it in a movie theater, staring at a film countless other sickos and disaffected weirdoes had no doubt been awaiting for months: Grindhouse. In my defense, I didn’t drink all day and while I was eating my hamburger I was secretly wishing that I had more French fries instead of a said meat patty.

That basically equals not eating meat, right?


Anyway, the point of the occasion was not just to catch the first legitimately good post-modern horror movie since Scream or even to watch two movies for the price of one. No, I went to see Tarantino’s latest. I saw Pulp Fiction on VHS, Jackie Brown on DVD and, finally, both volumes of Kill Bill in theaters — four times each, including once back-to-back at Campbell Hall. I think Tarantino’s movies are fun and eye-popping — yes, literally, ha ha — but also interesting commentaries on cinema itself and on the melting pot nature of California society. Simply put, I think Kill Bill was one of the most fascinating feminist films I have ever seen, even if it took a rather roundabout route to get to its message of maternal might.

To be fair, I was pleasantly surprised by Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to the double feature. The idea of an Aliens-style zombie flick in which the undead are inexplicably wearing camouflage and shooting machine guns should repulse me, but Rodriguez made the jokes work surprisingly well and found a kickass leading lady in the form of Rose McGowan. I’ve had a small crush on McGowan ever since my 14-year-old self saw her in Scream — which incidentally came out ten years ago and marked the last time McGowan landed a decent role. As good as McGowan was, I’d be remiss to skip mention of Wendy Peppercorn herself, Marley Shelton, whose partially paralyzed bisexual syringe nympho doctor made for some of the film’s funniest moments, as the typical partially paralyzed bisexual syringe nympho stock characters often do.

The real treat for me, however, was Death Proof, Tarantino’s contribution and a slasher in the loosest sense of the term. I’ve been perplexed by some reviews of Grindhouse which praise Planet Terror and deride Death Proof as dull, dialogue heavy and oddly paced. Granted, I’ve already blown by cover as a Tarantino fanboy by the preceding paragraphs, so my critical analysis of the film has already been rendered moot. Regardless, let me say that Death Proof expertly combined the slasher and car chase movies together to make a film that is uniquely American in its symbolism and perhaps a culmination of years of Freudian readings of previous lady-stalked-by-psycho-pervert movies.

I’ll go ahead anyway, if you’ll permit. (And please, if you have not seen the movie, please do so. It’s good. Also, what follows will spoil the film. You have been warned.)

Let me explain.

The film quickly introduces Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier, formerly of Veronica Mars), an Austin DJ who meets up with two friends — Shanna (Jordan Ladd), a local, and Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), a visitor — for drinks, food and more drinks. During the second round of drinking, Pam (Rose McGowan, playing the dumb blonde twin of her Planet Terror self) shows up and makes small talk with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russel), a seemingly pitiable creep who drives a muscle car. When everybody is done drinking, Pam hitches a ride with Stuntman Mike, who assures that his car is “death proof” — only he means for him specifically and not Pam. Stuntman Mike whips the car around in such a manner that Pam is crushed to death inside the passenger side of the cab. Mike promptly flips a U and chases after Julia, Arlene and Shanna — who are purportedly heading up to a lakeside cabin for a girls’ weekend, a stereotypical set-up for a slasher movie plot if there ever was one — passes the girls, flips another U and then slams head-on into their car in one of the most jarringly gruesome crash scenes I have ever seen in a movie. Tarantino replays the moment of impact over and over again from each girl’s perspective. You see Julia’s leg get severed, Shanna be ejected high into the sky and the tires of Mike’s car drag across Arlene’s face in the back seat. It’s devastating, especially since the film does a decent job of making these girls seem likeable.

Mike survives.

Sometime later, we see another foursome: stuntwoman Kim (Tracie Thoms, light years away from her characters in Wonderfalls, Rent or The Devil Wears Prada), stuntwoman Zoe (Zoe Bell, Uma’s stuntwoman from Kill Bill, playing a slightly off version of her badass New Zealand herself), make-up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and starlet Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The girls are taking a road trip in celebration of a short holiday from work on a new movie.

Zoe admits that she wanted to pass through a certain rural town in order to test ride a certain model of Dodge Challenger — specifically the one Kowalski drives in Vanishing Point — and play ship’s mast, a game involving a person spreading themselves on a speeding car’s hood by securing hands to sideview mirrors with belts. They do — minus Lee, the collateral for use of the car — and Stuntman Mike shows up, delighting in the chance to run the women off the road. The women fight back, however, and following a half-hour car chase through the rural roads of Tennessee — actually Buellton and Solvang cow country — they manage to flip Mike’s car, whereupon they beat him to death in scene reminiscent of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Short and sweet.

What's driving me nuts is trying to figure out why the first group of girls died and the second survived. Death Proof marks the second occasion in which Tarantino has put female characters on a mission to violently rectify a wrong committed by an older male character. Now, as much of a dick as Tarantino can be, I think he earnestly loves women — as a group, as individuals and sometimes two at a time. And while the occasional grindhouse-era film did feature women as masters of their own fate — Switchblade Sisters, Lady Snowblood and Black Mama, White Mama, to name a few — more often than not the women in these movies either amounted to pretty background set pieces or cannon fodder. Thus, I feel like Tarantino is now making films that give these women a chance to strike back and mistreat their male captors with the same malice that their forerunners suffered.

So why favor the stuntwomen but allow the DJ and her friends to die so horribly?

I may be way off, but I feel like Tarantino may have written the two sets of women specifically to explain his thinking on the "right" kind of female movie character. Essentially, Julia and her friends are party girls. We don't see them do anything but drink, dance, smoke cigarettes, smoke pot and then die. Aside from breaking the cardinal rules of how to survive a horror film, Julia and her friends also exhibit ways in which they embody the stereotype of "the weaker sex."

Julia, an otherwise confident and powerful woman, steps away from the group to send pathetic text messages to some moviemaker love of hers. When it's clear the man will not be meeting up with her, she drunkenly texts "UR A ASSHOLE!" to him and mopes. Shanna seems too dumb to realize that the boys at the bar who can't remember her name probably don't give a shit about her other than as a sex object. And Arlene lets Julia guilt trip her into giving Stuntman Mike a lap dance as a dare. (The act, arguably, could be what seals the girls' fate as Mike's next victims.) Even Pam, a relatively minor character, speaks in a catty manner about growing up in Austin with Julia and then foolishly gets into a stranger’s car. Bad move, Pam.

The four later women act more sensibly. First off, they have passions — jobs they genuinely seem to love. Also, both Kim and Zoe are masculinized by the fact that they are stuntwomen and also, as we learn, gearheads. They get why the primo Dodge Challenger is such a big deal. However, both are feminine in their behavior — Kim admits to growing up watching John Hughes movies, for example, and all four dish about guys. They key difference here, as I see it, is how the rest of the girls treat their lovelorn member. Whereas Julia's friends don’t discourage her from pining for her director boyfriend, Abernathy's crew tell her to get over herself when she explains her unrequited love for her own auteur lover. Essentially, the group demands that its members stand up for themselves.

This notion comes into play when Abernathy, previously passive in how she deals with people, requests that they chase after Stuntman Mike. I believe her words come out as something like “Let’s kill the fucker.” Given such encouragement from a previously non-active character — a make-up artist and a mother, as Zoe mentions — the three launch after Mike’s car and eventually relish in beating the crap out of him. (He did, after all, endanger their lives as a means of getting his kicks.)

In a way, one could liken to Death Proof’s two parts to those of Psycho — with Julia, Arlene and Shanna being the dingy, flighty Marion Cranes who seem like they would be the central characters but who suddenly and violently fall victim to the killer. Kim, Zoe and Abernathy would be the level-headed Lila Cranes, who appear in the second segment and manage to reason their way out of a dangerous situation and avenge the death of their “sisters.”

That’s what I have so far, at least as something that can explain a movie that seems to be eliciting a divided reaction among viewers.

Other weirdness about Death Proof that merits mentioning:
  • In both segments, it’s the visitor who makes the group the target of Stuntman Mike. Initially, Arlene — a New Yorker, judging by her accent — sees Mike revving his car outside a restaurant they’re entering. Then she later gives him a lap dance knowing that he had followed the group from one stop to the next throughout the night. In the second part of the film, Zoe says being in the United States for the first time has finally given her an opportunity to check out the mythical car from Vanishing Point. Shortly after they find it, Mike shows up.
  • In the second segment, Abernathy mentions that the man she’s pining for slept with someone else — specifically Daryl Hannah’s stand-in on the movie she’s working on. Lanna Frank — Julia’s dealer and a less-important member of the group that dies in the first half of the film — is played by Monica Staggs, who actually was Daryl Hannah’s stunt double in Kill Bill.
  • When McGraw theorizes that Stuntman Mike kills women with his car in order to achieve sexual pleasure, he sets a very odd tone for the scene in which the stuntwomen, having turned the tables on Mike, chase after him, ramming him from behind. In the car crash-as-sicko sex metaphor, they’re raping him.
  • Both segments of Death Proof feature conversations in which someone is corrected for mispeaking. In the first, Shanna corrects a male character for calling her "Shauna." Shanna explains that "Every girl named Shanna has one thing in common: They hate the name 'Shauna.'" In the second part, Lee is joking chided for assuming Zoe is Australian. Says Abernathy: "Never call a Kiwi and Aussie."
  • Quentin Tarantino has to be the only white guy I know of who can write a part for a tall, beautiful black woman, cast Sidney Poitier’s daughter in the role, and then name the character “Jungle Julia” — all without getting his ass kicked.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Flaming Globes of Zigmund

Word of the day, courtesy of Wordsmith.org: "zanjero," meaning "a person in charge of water distribution." As in, "Future water engineer William Mulholland got his start as a zanjero."

Word of the day, courtesy of the Java Jones on the corner of Figueroa and State: "limnovore," meaning "something that eats mud." Though, technically, the term applies to animals that feed on algae.

I have yet to decide which is better.

Long Live the Frog King

A curious thought: Thought the fat frog called “Wart” has only technically been the last boss of one Mario game, Super Mario Bros. 2, the process of remakes, reworkings and upgrades to the game's engine have quintupled Wart’s appearances.


In short:
  • Doki Doki Panic
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario USA (in Japan)
  • The Super Mario All-Stars version of Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Advance
And that’s not counting cameos in Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening or Animal Crossing. The former is odd because it features him as “Mamu,” which was the character’s name in the original Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, Doki Doki Panic. Presumably that version of the character should have been long forgotten by the time Nintendo cranked out Link’s Awakening six year’s later. The matter is made more mysterious by the fact that both Super Mario Bros. 2 and Link’s Awakening take place in a setting that is later revealed to be the product of a dream. Odd stuff.

Now that I think about it, it’s also strange that all the Super Mario media of my youth — the cartoons, the children’s books, etc. — featured Wart fairly prominently, as Super Mario Bros. 2 had just come out at the time and, from a marketing perspective, it probably seemed like a sure bet that the character would continue in Mario mythos on equal footing to that other big bad, Bowser. But Wart never again appeared in a “new” game and has been all but forgotten now.

A kid today looking at those some low-grade cartoons and books would probably be confused as to who the frog thing is.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Gabe Swarr Seal of Quality

A quick look on Gabe Swarr's blog yielded even more amazing Mario art — namely a series of palette swaps, so to speak, representing Mario's early years.

Original Donkey Kong Mario, with rougher background to simulate the comparatively primitive graphics


Super Mario Bros. Fiery Mario


Luigi's white-green overall combo from the original Super Mario Bros.


Super Mario Bros. 2 — blue overalls.


Grubby Wrecking Crew Mario


Black overalls — Super Mario Bros. 3


Creamed spinach-color Mario from Super Mario Land


Fiery Mario, circa New Super Mario Bros.