Friday, October 31, 2014

eMail to a Demon ex-Lover


Subject: Hey, stranger!
I was on the 11C the other day, and smelled brimstone, and thought of you. Then I looked up and there you were, in the back, talking to some trashy blonde in a cheap Victoria’s Secret houndstooth. It was so weird! I wanted to say hi, but you were busy and I was too embarrassed, and then it was my stop.

I know, Gurlax, we had a wonderful night together in the woods of Lake Nokomis, and that I danced a pagan dance and promised my soul to you for all eternity and all, but I don’t know. Please don’t think me a tease. I was drunk and vulnerable, and going through a phase where I liked bad boys and naked worship of hell-mouth portal entities conjured from books best left unread. At first I was flattered: Gurlax the Defiler, known to all as Satan’s Consigliore! And Me! What are the odds? And you were sweet, really, with your tickly forked tongue and that trick you do with your tail. You were not at all the vicious creature of legend, and I defend you as much as I can whenever your name comes up.

But let’s be honest, Sweetie. I think you have issues with commitment. I think you are needier than you let on, and have a deep lonely void in your life that no amount of soul-devouring can ever fill. This endless need for conquest, and the inevitably petty unsolvable drama that ensues. I want you to know it was nothing you did, but only the by-product of who we are, residue of an outdated moral filter instilled in us by generations of religious inbreeding. Perhaps in another time or place…

And the truth is, I’m just not ready to commit to you, or to anyone, and may not be for a long long time. The prospect of giving myself completely to any one manifestation of a culture's mores re: sin and redemption, now or ever, terrifies me.

So: I’m sorry if I caused you any pain when I tricked you, using the souls of my roommate’s virginal teenage sisters as bait, into returning my soul to me under the ancient rules of the Codex Gigas. I still fondly recall your pitiful cries as I held you in the spell of the omnivus ring and held the iron of Flinx to your hooved feet until you relented, releasing my souls and the souls of my roommate’s sisters (Amanda’s in Bethel now, can you believe it?) back into our own custody – and yes, I believe you felt remorse in that moment, but only for that moment.

Such is life. So no, Gurlax, we can never be together. But, no hard feelings? I really wanted to catch up, but you looked busy, and I had Pilates, then dinner with Greg, my new guy, who’s in investment banking. I know, I know, investment bankers, demonic hellspawn, I sure do know how to pick ‘em, don’t I? (Ha ha) Okay. Hey, who was that girl you were talking to? She seems nice.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Casting the Plastic Man Movie

When DC/Warner announced their "road to 2020" superhero movie guide a few days ago, I noticed a glaring omission: Plastic Man. Why no Plastic Man?! Ant-man is getting a movie. And Guardians of the Galaxy made a star of a mutant raccoon. What is it about Plastic Man that the studio thinks America won't like? I for one think it's time.

As everyone knows, Plastic Man first appeared in Police Comics in 1941. He started life as petty criminal Eel O'Brian, who fell into a vat of acid that changed his body into a malleable, rubber-like substance. He was nursed back to health by a mystic order of monks, and pledged himself to a life of fighting crime.

For the first few issues, Plastic Man investigated crime rings from the inside as his original identity, Eel O'Brian, then foiled them as Plastic Man. He soon abandoned that ruse, and the plotlines went very very strange. One memorable issue saw Plas battling an undead brain placed in the body of a wheelchair-bound giant, who learned to walk on his hands and destroy villages.

Plas had no choice but to be swallowed, where he swelled up in the Giant's esophagus, thus strangling the monster, whose brain is still alive awaiting its chance to wreck vengeance on humanity. We are not kidding.

But the comic potential of a man who could shape himself into virtually anything eventually succumbed to the ridiculousness of that concept, and Plastic Man became more comic than heroic, as the covers show. Plas was something different, not quite superhero meta-commentary, but not wholly of the genre; he never fit in with the DC universe, much as they tried. He was perhaps, like Peanuts or Li'l Abner, too attuned to the sensibilities of his creator, Jack Cole, to be coherently integrated into other people's worlds.

Which is what makes him a tough sell. Plas is a niche guy in a mass market world. He saved women from phony curses and tracked down kidnapped atomic scientists. He never took himself so seriously as to save the whole damn world week after week; he was a lunch-bucket street-pounding beat cop superhero who happened to also be kind of batshit crazy.

Todays auteur directors of high-angst cookie-cutter mayhem wouldn't know what to do with an essentially self-mocking hero. Let's face it: there is no real imagination in popular culture these days. Today's Hollywood comic industry marches to a single drum: a grim pounding of grit and despair, of self-important sci-fi soap operatics and dimension saving, city crushing melees. Only the costumes change.

But that doesn't mean Plastic Man shouldn't be done. On the contrary, that means Plastic Man MUST be done. There has to be room for a jokey, impossible man on the silver screen. I think Plastic Man is the hero we need right now.

Okay, let's cast this sucker.

Plastic Man
Anarchic force of nature. Free-thinking crazy man whose heart stays on the side of justice. But he was once also the hard-boiled criminal Eel O'Brian, scourge of the underworld. Dark haired, with a strong chin and baffling white sunglasses, Plastic Man could be played by many people (and will require extensive CGI, of course). But I believe he requires a comedian at heart, and one with a deft touch and a surprising depth of humanity. Traditional leading men - Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Bradley Cooper - need not apply. We're going for fringe element cult status folks here. Let's burn through some obvious but past-their-prime choices first:

Bruce Campbell
It's a measure of how old I am that Army of Darkness era Bruce Campbell was the first name that came to mind. He's got the chin, he's got the hair, he's got the rogue-chaos personality. But Bruce isn't exactly a spring chicken. If this were a reboot of a Justice League going through a collective mid-life crisis, Bruce C might be our bet, but for a franchise starter, we need someone young and fresh.

Jim Carey
Twenty years ago this would have been a lock. (I am indeed very old.) But now we're in the Twitter era, and Jim Carey is dead to Hollywood. He'd have to be pried like gum from his reclusive mansion and cattle-prodded back to his Mask-era prime. This would be a direct-to-video disaster, twenty years too late.

Keanu Reeves 
Dark hair, pointy chin, clueless persona, check check check. K-Rev was even considered for the role when the Wachowski Brothers developed a script. Wait, that happened? Yes, yes it did. Wearing the sunglasses wouldn't harm Reeves acting range at all, and Keanu's surfer/Bill and Ted vibe might give a cute twist to the character, but let's face it, Reeves might as well be as in-demand as Bela Legosi for today's millenials.

Which brings us to some contenders. I've used my mad photoshop skills to give you an idea of what they look like in the the Plas-shades.

David Tennant
About a year ago, Tennant was rumored to be in talks to play Plastic Man in the Justice League movie. And I can totally see it. Tenant's has range and talent. But as big a Tennant fan as I am (His Doctor Who incarnation is far superior to Matt Smith's dead-eyed quip machine. (And yeah. I went there.)), I don't see him being a low-life gangster.

Plus, he's British, and I'm kind of against Brits playing Americans. They wouldn't let any Americans into Harry Potter, why should they get to poach Superman, Spider-Man AND Plastic Man? This is our Bunker Hill, people.

Lastly, the best thing about Tennant is his incredibly expressive eyes, and being forced to wear white goggles the entire time would cripple his range. Still, it's an intriguing choice.

Steve Carrell
I'd love to do screen tests of all these actors, then do a YouTube supercut of them saying Plastic Man's iconic first line: "Great Guns! I'm stretching like a rubber band!" I think Carrell could nail that line. I think he could bring his Maxwell Smart sense of adventure to Plastic Man. He'd also lend some charm to the romantic subplot. If there's anything he plays well, its the guy who isn't quite the asshole he thinks he his, and that might be just what Plastic Man needs.

Andy Samberg
Here's a dark horse choice - funny, relatable, laid-back and confident. A Plastic Man for Generation Now. The kids like him, and he's on a TV show, which is exactly what Chris Pratt rode to StarLord fame. And with the glasses covering the eyes, you need a good smirk to do your acting for you, and Samberg definitely has the smirk.

Bonus: With his SNL digital shorts resume, Samberg could turn Plastic Man into a viral sensation.

Woozy Winks, sartorial genius.
Woozy Winks
Woozy Winks is a lovable schlub, the man whom nature cannot harm. Originally introduced as a bumbling criminal, he turned into a bumbling sidekick with horrible taste in shirts. He's mostly comic relief but also charmingly heroic.

Let's look at the contenders:
Zach Galifianakis
Zach's a natural for this. He's a lovable doofus with a streak of evil. Cons: He'd have to shave the trademark beard. Also, he's recently lost weight, and it's hard to believe he'd either put it bock on or wear a fatsuit, so, unfortunately Zach is just a maybe.

Michael Cera
Is it just me, or is Hollywood in a golden age of cuddly bumblers? Galifinakis, Cera, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogan could all be on this list. But Cera is an intriguing choice - he's been a bit quiet lately and a high-profile sidekick gig could be his ticket back to the big time. He could use his stuttery, shy-boy charm to great effect as a sweetheart bumbler who falls in love with the movie's femme fatale, and every other woman who gets screen time.

Paul Giamatti
Yup, Hollywood is definetly schlub-heavy these days. I also thought about throwing William H. Macy into the mix. Because the thing is, Woozy Winks is older, and absent-minded, maybe a heavy drinker. He needs a more mature presence, a guy who's played the schlub to great effect in the past. Someone who can bring the appropriate gravitas when things get crazy. So, maybe Paulie G is the right schlub for the job.

Love interest/femme fatale
The original Jack Cole Plastic Man never had much in the way of love interests - he was too busy fighting crime. But all that's going to change in my noir-ish reboot. Who can steal Plastic Man's heart? I've got a couple of ideas - Anna Paquin, who probably is sick of playing supernatural parts. Also, Sofia Vergara, who is a smart bombshell with a sexy accent, perfect for femme fatale-ing.

But this is a bold project that requires bold casting, and so my femme fatale is none other than...

Lena Dunham
We're going for outside-the-box on this whole thing. And why wouldn't Lena Dunham want to shake off her comico-serious voice-of-a-generation shackles and just have some fun as Gazelle van Gonder, the accursed heiress? I mean, look at that picture - she can totally do bombshell chic and turn it on its head at the same time.

I'm not sure if she's going to be a love interest or a diabolical femme fatale or both - I'm still working on my treatment - but Lena's going to smash all barriers in this, her breakaway, Oscar-bait performance.

I'll return with casting notes for the FBI chief (I'm thinking Angela Bassett) and the lead villain (maybe Morgan Freeman - totally going against type - as Marcel Mannequin? Just spitballing here, folks.) in my next post. Maybe. We also need a director, someone with vision and drive. If you have any ideas, jot them in the comments section below.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Colchis is famous for the Golden Fleece

Jason and Medea

Excerpts from a new international version

Chorus: various fifth and sixth grade Korean public school students whose vocab consists mostly of phrases from their textbooks.

Jason: A greek warrior, prince of Iolcus
Medea: Sorceress and princess of Colchis
Creon: King of Corinth

Part 1, Colchis:

Hello, how are you? I’m from Colchis.
Colchis is beautiful and special.
Colchis is famous for the Golden Fleece.

[Enter Medea]
This is Medea. She is very pretty.
She can do magic too.
But, she is very sad. Let’s listen!

Oh, but that the world could know of my laments,
of the darkness in my soul. For it has
been said that tragedy should bite my heels
until time’s bitter end, that I should be
the ruin of great men through magicks and treason
most foul. But in truth I know not whether
my mind’s contents are fair or foul, for a life
of shelter tells me that should the test come,
I may not know it. Hark? What silver flash
upon the sea’s wine-stained horizon do I spy?

Look! It’s a boat! Such a big boat!
Who is it? Who is in the boat?
Medea does not know.
But, he is handsome.


That is Jason. He’s from Greece.
He’s very strong and kind. He wants to be King.
Let’s listen again!

Long I have journeyed and hard, to this land
to seek and claim the fleece of gold foretold
as birthright destiny. But unseeming
of kindness is this land, and people here
shall surely prove awesome strange indeed.
But lo, what shape is that of woman shone
on distant parapet? Let us move close,
that providence may to me her hand reveal.

Medea likes Jason. She will help him.
She gives him many things.
She helps him get the golden fleece.


Let me know in the comments if you want the rest.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Emma Straub: Other People we Married, a Review

Blah cover, good book.
Short stories, as I've said before, make for odd books. There's the problem of the stories having already appeared before, as is the case with popular writers like Alice Munro or George Saunders, whose stories show up in The New Yorker and Best American series several times before appearing under their own name.

Emma Straub present another problem of the Short Story collection: voice fatigue. Straub is a good writer, with a clever eye and a great wit. She writes about quirky people on the inner edges of sanity. People flirting with the idea of changing their lives forever by running away or getting a divorce. She writes about it very well, and writes about it a lot.

But, you know: Voice fatigue. The feeling that you just read this story. That you met some characters, found a theme, and reached a satisfying conclusion. And then, another story. Similar characters, similar themes, another satisfying conclusion. The law of diminishing returns sets in. Do you continue? In this case, I did, and I'm glad.

In the opening story, Some People Must Really Fall in Love, a young creative writing teacher develops a crush on a student. To compensate, she jumps into a relationship with a man she doesn't love, then is left wondering what could have been when she sees her student at the mall and stalks him. It's a dubious opener for my tastes: stories about creative writing teachers are among my least favorites, the crutch of embittered faculty writers stuck in a creative rut. Luckily, this is the only story that stays on campus.

The best of these stories is probably Abraham's Enchanted Forest, about a teenage girl who lives with her parents at a fairy tale village/roadside attraction. Her father, Abraham, is a large-personalitied man who impersonates Walt Whitman for the local high school. It's a witty story that encapsulates the best of Straub's fascination with the idea of change as an internal force that never manifests itself in reality. You get the characters longing to be somewhere else, to be different people; their sense of being permanent oddballs at the mercy of mainstream sensibilities, and their ultimate resignation to the fact that you can't ever run from your problems: you are the problem.

It's a theme that stays rich but whose shelf life doesn't quite fill the entire book. Puttanesca, about a mis-matched pair of widowed New Yorkers in Rome, mines territories of grief and healing. Orient Point is a poignant vignette about an accidental couple driving out to Long Island in a heat wave. Hot Springs Eternal is about a mis-matched gay couple on vacation, on the edge of breaking up. You get the pattern.

Luckily there are some great stories here. One other star of this collection, Fly-over State, is about a stay-at home faculty wife stuck in Wisconsin, who strikes up a dangerous friendship with the neighbor's 28-year old redneck kid. She thinks his name is Mud, and he doesn't bother to correct her. There's a strong undercurrent in this story about how depressing it is not to live in New York City, something bordering on condescension, even, that made me want to not like it - another snooty Brooklynite hating on places without authentic hipsters. But the NYC longing is really something else - the character's own deficiency at connecting with reality, her entrenched rootlessness, her inability to understand what is real about human connections and what is artifice. I get the feeling she'd have been just as lost back home.

There's not much you can do about voice fatigue in the end - you have to have enough material to fill a book, after all. And when the voice is Emma Straub's, and you're willing to pace yourself, you can enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Star Wars De-specialized

This is the Jabba you should never have seen.
A "despecialized edition" of the original Star Wars is now available for (quasi-legal) download.

I've been longing to see the original 1977 theatrical release ever since George Lucas slapped Part IV: A New Hope before the crawl for the 1981re-release. Part IV, what was that, we wondered around the junior high school lunch table. We felt a little cheated that four years earlier, we'd walked in on the middle of the story. We didn't know this was just the first of George Lucas's tinkerings. By the mid 2000's, he'd made edits so that Han doesn't shoot first, thrown in a bunch of new aliens, added digital Jabbas to unused footage, and re-shot battle sequences.

Countless touch-ups later, the movie is now more the lynchpin of Lucasfilm mind games and pawn of Lucas's megalomania than it is a piece of filmed entertainment. Consider that Lucas refuses to let the original releases of the trilogy be viewed or released. He recalls 35mm prints of the original whenever they come up, and says the originals are but 'drafts' of the movies now available and 'enhanced' through his digital re-editing. All well and good, except...

The original Star Wars is a monumental achievement. It's probably the most sophisticated piece of pre-digital special effects work ever put to film. With 1970's technology - basically plastic and rubber - Lucas created an entire world of spaceships and aliens, and with each sequel he upped the bar. I have no idea why Lucas is ashamed of these movies. You, sir, kicked ass. These are seminal works of American history.

But he refuses to let anyone see these movies - his best work - in their original, un-tampered versions. It's baffling. Lucas should be proud of these masterpieces. He should be hosting retrospectives and receiving awards, not hiding them away from some churlish sense of shame.

Enter the 'De-specialized' version, created by a team of dedicated graphic wizards around the world. These are some serious restorationists and digital ninjas themselves, cobbling together a 1977 'original' from what Disney/Lucasfilm has dumped on the world - a travesty of poor color correction and technical flaws - and those few original prints not yet under his control.

Here: this video gives a great sense of the amount of work involved, and the variety of source materials used:

Pretty cool? Pretty cool.

Okay, yeah, I know. The past is gone. The Har Mar Cinema, where I watched the original, was gutted in a renovation in the 90's, then turned into a Cub Foods fifteen years later. I no longer fit into my Superman underoos. You can't go back to Tatooine. The restoration will never be the original.

But I could indulge my inner ten-year old and watch a grey-market release of Lucas's masterpiece. If only it were legal, I'd do it... right... now...

For more information on the legacy of Lucas's tinkerings, visit

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sometimes a Fantasy: Billy Joel's forgotten masterpiece

I sometimes forget that back when I was a kid, Billy Joel was my favorite singer. Maybe I repress that memory, but that's another story. 52nd Street and The Stranger were my go-to albums for a quiet night at home, reading in the big green chair. Which is odd, because at the time, Glass Houses was his big album. He'd jut turned the corner from somewhat obscure, kinda respected singer/songwriter/balladeer to badass rock star and whipping boy for Springsteen's fanboys, and let's face it, he probably deserved it.

Because Billy Joel, for all the macho posturing of his megahit phase, was also always a schmuck at heart. Obsessive, depressive, angry, but always too willing to yield to his heart of schmalz. There's a certain machismo that can only be measured by when the guy who wrote "She's always a woman to me" later tries to pass off "You May be Right" or "Only the Good Die Young" as bad-boy rebel anthems. I always felt as though if he ever met up with a genuine tough guy, with a Bruce Springsteen or one of those bastards from a heavy metal band, he'd go down before the second punch.

Which only made his pathos that much more interesting. I'm just gonna say it: Billy Joel was every nerd's go-to macho surrogate. I didn't know this when I was a kid, but I sensed it.

Looking back on his hits now, I think Sometimes a Fantasy might just sum up his whole life. Because, man, this video, I just don't know.

It starts with a phone call, one of those ancient push-button things, and Billy calling some girl. He's in a run-down squatter's place, squirming on a bed, Vacant sign flashing outside his window, all bug-eyed with desperate love. He starts singing into the phone when the woman answers. She's all elegant, dressed in a white gown, striding indignantly about her posh all-white apartment. She clearly hates Joel but for some reason won't hang up. Probably she's got tons of money and can't stand that Billy's a poor artist whose lithium prescription ran out.

Here's Nervous Billy on the phone:

And here's his lady, having none of it:

Nervous Billy doesn't quit, though. She's on the phone, and that means there's hope. Nervous Billy didn't get a zillion platinum albums by hearing no and taking it. No, Nervous Billy, when he's desperate for action, he has a guiding spirit he can consult, a suave bastard who knows how to handle guff. So every once in a while Nervous Billy looks at this other Billy Joel who's apparently in the room with him. This is Cool Billy, with his hair slicked back and a big old sexy... beard? Cool Billy nods and smokes, and encourages Nervous Billy to just keep singing. But things don't go well, until Nervous Billy hands the phone over to Cool Billy. And all he does, see, is hold it up to his ear and raise an eyebrow. 


 And then she's all:

And, oh, yeah....

Suddenly the chick is all hot for Nervous Billy. And even though he's singing the same crap song, now it's all syrup and honey to that uptight rich ice queen. There's some more lyrics about phone sex, and they get all hot, and there's shots of feet clenching and loins quivering in quick cuts, and then a split-screen of them like they're in the same bed... and then it's all over, and the video cuts to a ringing phone that isn't answered at all. Sometimes a Fantasy, it turns out, was only a fantasy.

This is like the ultimate coked-up genius video. If there were MacArthur genius grants for things that seemed cool when you were totally cranked on coke, this video would have earned Joel a zillion bucks. It's also a glimpse into the nervous psyche of Joel himself, a man who despite selling all those albums, despite sold out shows and marrying Christy Brinkley, could never quite see himself as anything but a schlub from Long Island, screaming into a microphone for people who would never appreciate him for himself, but always fell for the suave bastard he wanted them to think he was.

I'm kind of over Billy Joel, and so is he, actually. He stopped writing songs after 1993 and got bored with singing his greatest hits over and over. He lately made a splash with a once-a-month stand at Madison Square gardens, but before that he'd seemingly resigned himself to living kind of a quiet life on Long Island with his fourth wife. But every once in a while, he can still make a splash, like he did in 2012 for the hurricane Sandy relief concert. If you want a better run-down of what he's up to, check out this Grantland piece, or this question and answer thing in the New York Times, which shows that he's settled down a bit, but probably isn't above riding his motorcycle in the rain, if that's what it takes.

You can watch the whole twitchy, wtf-y masterpiece of Sometimes a Fantasy here:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Field-goal kicking mules and stubborn authors

Time for a Round-up!
A semi-regular feature in which, having nothing important to say, I point out a few things that happened on the web, then make a few half-thought-out observations on them for your amusement.

Short Story: Calm by Clare Needham
I've been interested in smaller magazines, those in orbit to the Tin Houses and McSweeney's of the world, and found a little gem called Bodega. Here you can find smaller pieces with great impact like Clare Neeham's Calm, a story of a woman, a man, a road trip, and the kind of joy you can only achieve through denial. Enjoy!

Tournament of Books controversy:
The LA Times follows a (non) story about Scott McClanahan, author of Hill William, who allegedly tried to withdraw his book from The Morning News's Tournament of Books. There was no author reaction included, which I find strange. This didn't stop the article, or the commentariat of the tourney from typing furious comments on the matter: he was ripped for being ungrateful, a money grabber, and other sad things. All for a single Facebook post he never followed through on. It's a tempest in a teapot, of course, a single ill-advised post being exploited for clicks, though I'd love to hear Scott McClanahan's take on it. I kind of want to root for him now that he's been lynched in the comments section, but that would bust my bracket.  Sorry, Scott!

You can read the thread here, at the bottom of the play-in judging round.

Retro-movie due for a remake: Gus
Don Knotts and Gus.
Why the long face?

I had a few beers the other day and was reading a story about how the NFL is considering moving field goals to the 25 yard line because they're so easy. So I immediately thought of Gus, the field goal kicking mule from the 1976 Disney sports-sploitation movie. I even tracked it down and watched ten minutes of it, and realized that Gus sits at the nexus of so many movie genres it should be the subject of a much longer critical essay.

It's an animals do sports movie. It's got an all-star cast (Don Knotts, Ed Asner, Tim Conway) slumming for paychecks. Most intriguingly, it's among the last of the Disney studio's cash-strapped post-Walt pre-Eisner slump films (The Apple Dumpling Gang! The Love Bug!). Did I mention it's about a goddamn field-goal kicking mule?

And it sits in the heart of my childhood, released in that golden summer of 1976. Ah, childhood. Nothing else could make this movie sound good except that I watched when I was eight. So, seriously - is Gus any good? Nope, not really. Even Roger Ebert didn't like it. Here's his original review from 1976.

But seriously, NFL, why not consider mules?

Movie trailer of the week: 
And the award for best use of "Hooked on a Feeling" since the Ally McBeal dancing video baby craze of 1997 goes to: Guardians of the Galaxy: