Sunday, March 30, 2014

Battle of the Ambiguously Sexual Signifiers, Anime-Style

Honestly, I don’t know enough about anime to proclaim any given scene the most homoerotic-ever.  However, I know an opportunity for over-reading when I see one, and the 80s action series Saint Seiya is fruitful, so to speak.

In the universe of Saint Seiya (or Knights of the Zodiac, depending on what translation you’re watching), saints are armor-clad superheroes who derive their powers from constellations, because no one on the Japanese side of this project knew a Catholic person.

This scene, which comes from the series’ sixth episode, the pits the Andromeda saint — pink armor with an especially busomy-looking breastplate, and don’t forget that the constellation is named for Greek mythology’s No. 1 damsel in distress — against the purple-clad Unicorn saint. The more passive of the two, Andromeda resists fighting, but he’s goaded by Unicorn, whose most outstanding wardrobe feature, it should be noted, is a single protruding horn. “It sounds like the ladies really love you, don’t they, pretty boy?” Unicorn taunts. Andromeda is unflustered. “I’m sad, and filled with emptiness,” he says, which is clunky entendre but which still gets the point across. The two engage. We get a pink-hued freeze frame of the two intertwined — Unicorn looking focused and aggressive, Andromeda looking serene, even pleased.

Andromeda, however, flips the script when he proves more powerful by virtue of his telekinetic control of a chain — a long, snaking instrument that acts like an extension of his body and which has a pointed tip at the end. (“That chain! It’s like a living thing!”) The scene inexplicably shifts to a celestial backdrop, where he’s superimposed on an image of the Andromeda constellation. It’s a mix of signifiers — phallic weapon combined with maiden imagery. Time literally stands still. Unicorn persists in attacking, and Andromeda calmly sends the chains after him, penetrating him repeatedly. (“Of all the parts of the Nebula Chain, the top is the strongest!” Really.) Based on the noises you hear from the crowd (and the reaction shot you see of the Lady Purple Hair), it’s all being done for the delight of female spectators. You don’t hear a single male voice cheering.

The lesson? Appearances are deceiving, and the dude with flowing ladyhair may be the strongest one in the room.

That’s pretty loaded, just from the standpoints of gender and sexuality. I realize there are always problems in a person from one culture using his terms to analyze something produced by a second culture. But no matter how a Japanese audience would have read the scene back in 1986, this guy over in America in 2014 has a hard time not seeing a whole lot of sexual cues.

Why am I watching Saint Seiya in 2014? I don’t really know. I was trying to look up one minor trivia point and ended up finding a cache of the episodes available online. It turns out I like the look of Japanese animation from back when I was a kid even if I wasn’t watching it at the time. I don’t know why. Regardless, the combo of awkward translations plus bizarre line-readings makes for a more entertaining experience than you might think. Case in point: “My cosmos is about to explode,” which is either bad grammar or bad innuendo or both.

The less said about Death Queen Island, the better.

EDIT: I have encountered another.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A More Detailed Analysis of the Step by Step Opening Than You Ever Wanted

From the Wikipedia page, of course:
The amusement park seen in the opening credits is depicted as being located along the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. (No amusement park exists that is located on the shores of this lake in Wisconsin.) The amusement park used is actually Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, located many miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The body of water depicted in the opening and closing credit sequences — located next to the roller coaster at the park, which is digitally inserted into that particular excerpt — is placed over what in actuality is the parking lot at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The body of water is seen to have large waves on a seemingly calm day, which are much too large for Lake Michigan in the absence of a storm.
And yep, here is that mysteriously stormy body of water in the Magic Mountain parking lot. Would it not be incredibly unsafe to build a roller coaster directly on the sand, just yards from the crashing waves? Those Lambert-Fosters are lucky to be alive.

It’s almost as mysterious as the way the show blinked Patrika Darbo and Peggy Rea into the cornfield after the first season.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Little Bit o’ Bamford

I got to sit down with Maria Bamford, one of my favorite comedians, for no other reason than to talk food. Really, I just got to give her jumping-off points and let her do her thing. You can read the piece here.

photo by robyn von swank
As with most interviews, the final product left a bit out. For example, I omitted the part where she asked me about my hometown, mostly because I knew that the majority of humans who would read this piece would not want to know about the reporter’s hometown. (It was nice that she asked, however. Most moderately famous interview subjects wouldn’t bother.) Still, if you ever wanted to know how Maria Bamford would react to a description of Hollister, California, here you go.
Maria: When I was a baby, I went to the old KCET studios, my mom told me, because they’d pledged, and so they got a free bean bag chair with a kangaroo print on it — 1970.

Drew: Wait, you were a baby in Southern California?

Maria: I was a baby in Southern California. My dad was in the navy, so they drove down from Ventura, down from Port Hueneme. It’s not that interesting of a story, now that I’ve started it.

Drew: No, it is interesting. I think most of your fans know you as being from Minnesota.

Maria: Yeah, I did. Where did you grow up?

Drew: Hollister — inland from Monterey, basically.

Maria: Oh, what was that like?

Drew: Agricultural.

Maria: Was it blissful? Could you feel the sea air?

Drew: No, it gets really hot.

Maria: Okay, I can see that. I’m picturing it now. It sounds wonderful, but it was hot. Was it, like, Grapes of Wrath territory?

Drew: It was very John Steinbecky. He actually lived in that area and wrote about it a lot, so we got to read stories about awful things happening in places we knew.
For the sake of brevity, I also had to leave out Maria’s description of her dogs, even though the act of omitting information about dogs runs against everything that I have come to hold dear. Here is that:
Drew: But you do go to the Wizard of Art in Los Feliz, right? How is that?

Maria: It’s great! The wizard, whose name is Paul, is on Hillhurst in Los Feliz. The wizard and his wife, Donna, they’re so enthusiastic. And you just feel so proud. There is theory taught. You learn to see shapes and colors and tones and tints, but you’re also allowed to draw whatever the hell you want. Like, I always draw my dog over and over again. “Do you want to draw a landscape?” “No, I do not.” “Do you want to draw a live nude?” “No, I do not. Is it my dog live and nude? YES.”

Drew: You have two dogs?

Maria: I do. I have a Pug-huahua. I named her Blueberry because she’s sweet and quiet just like blueberries are! Do you know how quiet they are?! And then Burt, who’s a blind pug, is twelve. Now he just gets in the wagon. Me and boyfriend just wheel him around in the wagon. My neighbors were like “We saw this couple, and we thought someone had moved in who had a kid and then we were like ‘Oh, it’s Bert.” Bert’s initial name was like… Chandler, or something. It was like “What? Do you live in Valencia or something?” Bert used to be a cop. He’s a retired cop. And Blueberry was a nurse, and that’s what she’s so codependent. She’s always cleaning things.
So that’s my gift to you — a little cutting room floor something. I’ll point you again to the full article, but I’ll also draw your attention to a tidbit toward the end that you’ll probably enjoy if you read my blog: Maria Bamford based the voice of the Adventure Time character Hot Dog Princess (and also that of her stand-up character, “Did you steal my key lime pie Yoplait?”) on a girl she went to high school with. And I thought that was kind of awesome. Hear her explain it and even do the Hot Dog Princess voice:

This pleases me. Hot Dog Princess in general pleases me.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Revisiting The Visitor: A Cliffs Notes of Suck

Back in November, I watched the 1979 movie The Vistor, which is a work of science fiction that is maybe also horror and it has birds in it and Shelley Winters plays a character who may or may not be intoxicated the whole time. That’s maybe the most accurate thing I can say about The Visitor. It’s a tough movie that goes from “Oh, wow, this is so bad!” to “Oh, wow, this is so bad,” and the scattered moments of what-the-fuckness don’t quite make up for a plot that so vehemently resists sensible direction. That said, the movie isn’t a complete waste of time, because those what-the-fuck moments really linger with you.

Thus, following the success of my Cliffs Notes version of the also terrible Invitation to Hell (a.k.a. “the worst line readings, the shittiest special effects and all of Susan Lucci’s outfits”), I decided to condense The Visitor down to the best-worst parts, so you can see them, appreciate them and then move on with your life. I’m happy to report that I cut down the original film’s running time of 101 minutes down to just 7:37.


And no, you’re honestly not missing out of that much. Any of the seemingly unexplained plot points go more or less equally unexplained in the real version. Only now you didn’t have to sit through a stuffy Cinefamily screening to see Lance Henriksen get murdered by a bird.

You may rightly be wondering how a film like this ever gets made. Per the Cinefamily screening (and per my original post), the director was fired and then threatened the producer at gunpoint not only to hire him back but allow him to continue seeing through this collection of weirdness and baffling line readings. And that, my friends, is how a movie like this gets made.

For those who dare, you can rent the full film on iTunes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Winter That Wasn't

I've given up on winter, our single rainstorm notwithstanding. I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon in a tank top, and even then that was just to endure the heat indoors. But if I can't experience winter in a meteorological sense, then I'll take in a symphonic sense. Please, take three minutes to listen to Georgy Sviridov's 1975 composition "Snowstorm." This is the final part, "Winter Road."

Granted, you're reading words written by a guy who lives in L.A. and rolled up his sleeves for the walk to lunch today and hasn't seen actual snow falling in maybe a decade, but ol' Sviridov has actually captured something here that gives the feeling of a snowstorm — starting light, building to fierce and then fading away. It's beautiful.

And yes, of course, it reminds me of a video game. I don't know which one. Perhaps you do.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Attack of the Muslim Storm!

Over the years, I've read more than one article about these certain dust storms that some people call haboobs but some other people refuse to call haboobs because the people in this second group are racists.

phoenix haboob image from flickr user squeaks2569, under a creative commons license
I could maybe understand someone protesting on grounds that haboob is simply a new coinage, at least to most Americans, and changing the term for these sorts of rolling dust monsters seems unnecessary. But this is usually not the case. Don Yonts, quoted in the 2011 New York Times article "'Haboob' Stirs Critics in Arizona," represented the more typical dissenting opinion when he opined, "I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob. … How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?" Simply put, it's not just that haboob is a new word, it's also that it's a word from "over there." These are the people this post is concerned with — the ones who feel that Arabic words are objectionable just by virtue of being Arabic words.

I spotted a new haboob outrage story on a Gawker bloglette this morning, and it motivated me to make a list of all the more common words that the anti-haboob crowd should be protesting if they indeed dislike words that come from Arabic. Even the non-racists among us may be surprised to learn how many commonplace things — even downright American things — get their names from Arabic. (That is, no, it's not just assassin, hare, hookah and hummus.)

Racists, say goodbye to the following words:

Also, not the point but still worth mentioning, haboob is a hilarious-sounding word in English, and we are richer for having it. Ha and boob in one word. Come on, people.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Goodbye, Mrs. Krabappel… But Hello, Lunchlady Doris?

Every time I write about The Simpsons, I feel I need to preface the post with the admission that "Yeah, I still like The Simpsons, I still watch The Simpsons, it's occasionally quite good, and I still care about what happens on the show." I've watched for twenty-five years, and it's made a more significant impact on me than most people I've actually met. So there.

It's for these reasons that I appreciated the show's farewell to Edna Krabappel. Following the real-life death of Marcia Wallace in October, it only seems right that the show should quietly retire the character that she'd voiced since the show's second episode.

Here is her brief but sweet final moment:


Ned Flanders's black armband interests me. If we're truly supposed to think that Edna has passed away, then that means he's been twice-widowed, which is a crueler fate than anyone might wish upon a guy who already has the misfortune of being Homer's next-door neighbor. That aside, I agree Mrs. Krabappel should go the way of Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz — gone for good, so random appearances in the background don't remind us of the decidedly un-funny death of the human behind the character.

It's for the same reasons, however, that the episode was an awkward one to have a Krabappel tribute tacked onto it. You see, it featured Lunchlady Doris in a speaking role. As I've mentioned before on this blog, Doris Grau provided the voice of Lunchlady Doris until her death in 1995. But though the Simpsons character was named for Grau, who also worked as a script supervisor on the show. And while The Simpsons seemingly retired Lunchlady Doris as a speaking character, she returned to the show in 2006, now voiced by Tress MacNeille. And that seems odd to me. 

"more testicles mean more iron!"
Of course, I didn't know Doris Grau, and I suppose it's possible that the people who made the decision to bring back Lunchlady Doris felt she'd be okay with her Simpsons counterpart continuing on without her. On my end, however, as a guy who's just been watching the show forever and ever, it's odd hearing her voice in new episodes, because I'm aware that original Doris died long ago. "Which is awkward. And not so funny," as I said last time. I still feel that way.

EDIT: As of the March 30, 2014, the showrunners seem to have kinda-sorta found a way around the awkwardness: the identical-looking Lunchlady Dora.

Either that or they just spelled her name wrong. Which would also be awkward.

Various Simpsons obscurities, previously:

Monday, March 10, 2014


(What follows is an imagined dialogue that I’m sure happened exactly as I state it.)

“Oh, why good day to you, Mrs. Florimello! I have come to you in dire need of assistance! Have you any blackberry jam which I could spread upon my morningbreads?”

“But goodness gracious, Mr. Puddingwood! I have none to speak of, for I enjoyed the very last of mine on my own morningbreads just one hour ago. I ate it all up, I did, with my velvety grey tongue!”

“Well, if anyone should enjoy the last of your jams, Mrs. Florimello, I’m glad it was a soul as agreeable as you! Then I shall don my woolen hat and be off to Jeremy Noofington’s cottage at once, in hopes that he has jam to spare!”

“I wish you luck, Mr. Puddingwood! And a joyous St. Waltrude’s Day as well!”


{ fin }

That One With the Naming Conventions From Popular TV Shows

In a spectacular fit of procrastination two years ago, I started a Google Doc on which I listed all the shows I could think of whose episodes are named according to a certain pattern or formula. It seemed important at the time — like, “Finally, if I just laid all this out, everything would go my way!” I’d intended to post it, but every now and then I’d come across another one, and the list never felt finished. However, I’m thinking now makes as good a time as any to post it and see what additions come my way. That’s what this blog is for, as near as I can tell: posting not-easily-solved questions and letting the answers come to me.

While the idea of naming TV episodes according to a certain convention probably existed before my time, I only noticed it in the age of Must See TV, starting with Seinfeld, which stuck to its rule with the exception of just one episode title.

the awkward and awkwardly-titled “male unbonding”
I think everyone thought it was cool because at the time NBC ruled television. And ha ha — to recall a time when NBC seemed untouchable is like MySpace Betamax pet rocks DuMont Network.

But that’s where we start.
  • Seinfeld: “The X,” as in “The Chinese Restaurant,” “The Parking Space” and “The Smelly Car,” even if the fourth episode is titled “Male Unbonding” because someone along the line apparently didn’t get the memo
  • Friends: “The One With X” or “The One Where X,” as in “The One Where Nana Dies Twice,” “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” and “The One With the Jellyfish”
  • Caroline in the City: “Caroline and the X,” as in “Caroline in the Gay Art Show”
  • 3rd Rock From the Sun: All the titles had the name “Dick” in them (ha), after John Lithgow’s character’s name, as in “Post-Nasal Dick,” “Assault With a Deadly Dick” and “Gobble, Gobble, Dick, Dick”
  • Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place: For the first two seasons, each episode is titled “Two Guys, a Girl and a X,” but this trend vanishes in seasons three and four (as did the titular pizza place), though it’s perhaps more notable to consider that this show lasted for four years
  • Scrubs: “My X,” as in “My First Day” and “My Finale,” though this changes during the final season when narration is shared by a new character and the episode title format is “Our X”
  • Wonderfalls: Each episode is named after the object that magically speaks to Jaye (“Wax Lion,” “Muffin Buffalo,” “Cocktail Bunny”), though in many cases that word combination is also a metaphorical description of a character in the episode
  • Monk: “Mr. Monk X,” with “X” being a description of the episode plot, as in “Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico”
  • Nip/Tuck: Every episode is named for a patient who undergoes surgery in that episode
  • Bones: With some exceptions, every episode title describes the corpse of the week, as in “The Man in the SUV,” “The Crank in the Shaft” and “The Nazi on the Honeymoon”
  • The Good Wife: In the first season, episodes titles consist of one word and in the second season, two; this continues up until the fifth season, when episode titles once again revert to having three words for no reason I can yet identify
  • Cougar Town: Every episode is named after a Top Petty song, as in “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Here Comes My Girl”
  • Community: With a few exceptions (“Repilot,” “A Fistful of Paintballs”), they’re all named in the stye of college class titles, as in “Aerodynamics of Gender,” “Basic Urine Lupology” and “Herstory of Dance”
  • The L Word: In a stroke of unmatched genius, the episode titles are all words that begin with the letter “L,” as in “Lobster,” which is the only episode of the show that I ever saw before I realized I had better things to do
  • Chuck: “Chuck vs. the X,” as in “Chuck vs. the Wookiee,” “Chuck vs. the First Date” and “Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger”
  • Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23: For no apparent reason that I can figure, each one ends in an ellipsis
  • Two Broke Girls: “And the X,” as in “And the Break-up Scene”
  • Hannibal: In the first season, all the episodes are titled after French food or food service (with the exception of “Ceuf,” which is problematic), while in the second season, they’re titled after Japanese food or food service
  • Looking: Every episode title begins with the word “Looking,” as in “Looking for Now,” “Looking for Uncut” and “Looking Glass”
So what did I miss? Surely I missed the most obvious ones.

Notes: For the purposes of this list, we’re ignoring the first episode, which is usually just called “Pilot” because no one’s thinking naming conventions at this point. And yes, I’m considering Caroline in the City a popular show. Hey, people watched it back in the day. I can’t explain why. I was twelve at the time. What’s your excuse, the rest of America?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Your Childhood Ambassador to Hell

Oh, the things you do while you’re waiting for files to download.

Modified by sprites found here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

National Grammar Day!

I know what you’re all saying: You can’t believe it’s already time for National Grammar Day again. Begin the festivities.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Invitation to a Terrible Movie

Tonight, Hollywood salutes the year’s best movies, but I say that’s garbage. Anyone can make an award-winning movie. Just walk into the cinema section of your library, and there are literally dozens of books advising you how to properly make a film. Much harder, I’d wager, is making a terrible movie that people will forget about, and in tribute to shitty cinema, I present to you Invitation to Hell.

A TV movie that aired on NBC in 1984, Invitation to Hell is notable today because it was directed by Wes Craven. “Oh, the Wes Craven of landmark horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream?” No! This is the Wes Craven from Vampire in Brookyln or Shocker or that movie where the old lady gets killed by a basketball. But while Invitation to Hell is pretty bad overall, it has enough good moments — wonderfully made-for-TV special effects, utterly baffling line readings and references to 1984 computer technology that sound hilarious today — that it merited a Cliffs Notes version. So here you go, movie nerds, horror fans, Craven completionists and people who just have nine minutes to spare: everything you need to see from Invitation to Hell, including all of Susan Lucci’s shitballs wackadoo outfits.

Things to note:
  • Yes, you are correct: The plot does play out like a supernatural blend of two Simpsons episodes: the one where the family moves to Cypress Creek so Homer can work for the villainous Globex Corporation and the one where Marge joins a ritzy country club and figuratively loses her soul. 
  • And yes, Joanna Cassidy in the role of Patricia looks a bit like Maureen Prescott.
  • The cast is a who’s-who of people who did better elsewhere. In addition to Susan Lucci, there’s Brenda’s mom from Six Feet Under, Punky Brewster as the daughter, Bastian from The Neverending Story as the son, Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown as the dad’s friend, Patty “The Bad Seed” McCormack as the friend’s snitty wife and even Anne Marie McEvoy (the one and only Kathy Santoni) as the neighbor girl.
  • Blame the dialogue on Richard Rothstein (Universal Soldier, the original Bates Motel), but you can’t say the movie doesn’t have a few nice shots, at least for a TV movie.
  • It wasn’t Craven’s only TV movie. He also directed Stranger in Our House in 1978. It starred Linda Blair, which makes her cameo in Scream make a little more sense.
  • Is the whole movie a parable about the dangers of moving your family to the San Fernando Valley? Sure, why not?
If my condensed version isn’t enough for you, the full version is currently posted on YouTube. I also found an on-air promo that triggered all kinds of TV nostalgia.

And in case you just don’t have nine minutes to spare — ahem, FANCY — here’s the opening scene and then nearly a minute of Robert Urich’s family kicking the shit out of him.

Pop culture that time forgot, previously: