Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee (1922 - 2018)

This is my enduring image of Stan, and from
the time when I was most enamored of him.

What the hell do you even say? Where do you even start? Ninety-five years. A long life—a charmed, stone-cold lucky, twice over, fairy tale roller coaster of a life—a living reward for a body of creative work that is worth billions today. He died knowing he was beloved, lionized, and canonized the world over. We should all be so lucky.

Stan Lee’s career spans the whole of the comic book industry from its modest origins to the mega-billion dollar Marvel franchise he helped to create. I can’t parse this. It feels like the end of something. Earlier this year when Steve Ditko passed, I knew that there was one shoe left to drop. It doesn’t seem fair to this Spider-Man fan to have to mourn both of his creators in the same year. But Stan Lee was not just Spider-Man’s creator, although if that were all he ever did, it would certainly be enough. Stan was an architect of Cool, the self-styled "Homor of the Comics," the kind of creator that contained multitudes. There's a lot to unpack. Please be patient with me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Health: Nobody Vomits Gracefully

Watch out for this guy. He'll kill ya.

Food poisoning is one of the great equalizers; everyone has at least one instance where they ate something and not long after, it sent their body into open revolt. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and I’d like to think that my recent experiences taught me a thing or two. One seldom expects to encounter life wisdom while poised over a toilet, and yet, beggars can’t be choosers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Those of you not from Texas probably know all about the storied tourist trap called the Big Texan; it’s been featured in many TV shows and stands as a living, throbbing testament to Texas Excess and all that comes with it. This is one of the many roadside attractions that memorialize the passing of Route 66, an intentional call-back to a bygone era. Their well-publicized signature dish is a 72-ounce sirloin steak and all of the trimmings. If you can finish the entire meal in an hour, it’s on the house.

Even if they didn’t have a steak the size of a hubcap for people to gleefully masticate, the place would still be on the map as the Official Cultural Graveyard of Texas. This is where tourism goes to die. Anything that can hold an image of the Texas flag or any of its composite or ancillary components (a single star, or the distinctive outline of the state, for example) is replicated on a bewildering array of merchandise which is then jacked up to three to five times the normal price, because, you see, everything is bigger in Texas, including con jobs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Witch Movies

Movies about witches and witchcraft are perennially popular, but that’s mostly because they are the same story, often played for laughs, as these women with magical powers help the men in their lives either thwart evil or perpetrate it, by degrees. It’s peculiar to me how many witchcraft movies are some iteration of that basic premise. Lots of things happen in schools, by the way. I’m sure there’s a message in there, somewhere.

When movies about witchcraft are scary, they are pretty terrifying. The alternative is something usually between Bewitched and the Witches of Eastwick. Fun movies, by the way, and certainly, witches usually come down on the Most Fun Classic Monster side of the aisle. However, I like my witches mysterious and weird and scary and Not Right. These are my top 5 favorite Witch movies in that specific vein.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Vincent Price Movies

Vincent Leonard Price Jr. (1911-1993) was an American actor who made over a hundred feature films in a variety of genres, including historical drama, mystery, film noir, and even comedy, but he is best known for his roles in horror films. A graduate of Yale with a degree in art history, he later studied abroad in London, where he kindled his love of theater and later performed onstage opposed Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. This led to a five-play contract with Orson Welles Mercury Theatre. Eventually he was put on contract at Universal as a character actor, playing romantic leads and scoundrels in equal measure. But he never abandoned the stage, returning to it every chance he got.

In fact, it was during his performance in the 1941 play Angel Street (the American version of Gaslight) playing the cruel Jack Manningham, pushing his wife Helen into madness, that he found his true calling playing villains. Speaking about that role, Price told one interviewer “…I came out for my curtain call and the audience just hissed. I knew I'd found my niche.” He secured a few more villain roles and turns in minor horror movies. Later, in the early 1950s, Price would become wildly successful in the genre, leading to some of his most memorable roles and performances for the next twenty-odd years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Cancer: A Setback

The girls, chillaxing, taken a few years ago.
There is that old expression, "God doesn't give us more than we can deal with." I saw the following on a T-Shirt, years ago, and I've never forgotten it. "Lord, I know you don't give me more than I can handle. I just wish you didn't have so much confidence in my abilities."

We hit a snag. Cathy didn't get chemo yesterday, because her white blood cell count was too low. Not a biggie, but while Cathy was at the clinic, she complained about her leg being swollen. They sent her to get an ultrasound, and the results were immediate and serious: she has a blood clot in her artery.

She's probably had it for some time, but it could very well have developed from the Skittles-like array of drugs and chemicals she has been swallowing for months, now. There is a drug she can take that will thin the clot down and dissolve it safely. That's good. The drug works over a three to six month period. See if you can guess where this is going.

Cathy's surgery has been postponed until her clot is gone. They can't risk that clot breaking free while they are operating on her. It would kill her. So, until such time as we can be sure the clot won't be a problem during surgery, she's going to take even more medicine and keep taking weekly chemo treatments.

We are disheartened, frustrated, and confused. That's putting it mildly. More than anything I'm frustrated for Cathy, because I know this treatment is working, but it's doing a number on her. We may not be able to go out of town for our anniversary. She's got to stay mobile on the leg while she's taking the meds. A six hour car ride isn't what she needs right now.

More on this later. I'm tired and irritated. I hate this. I just hate it.

Top 5 Favorite Long Form TV Series

This is a new category, brought on by the fact that we are certainly in the midst of a Television Renaissance as the medium has grown and expanded to now include shows that are longer than a mini-series but still have an ending, however nebulous it may be. These “Netflix” shows are really just the next phase of what cable networks like HBO and Showtime have been doing for twenty years now. The difference is that, instead of willingly placing oneself apart from the rest of the content providers (“It’s not TV…it’s HBO”) now everyone is on a level playing field thanks to a more egalitarian distribution system. This competition has been the best thing for show creators, the networks, and the fans, as amazing shows with oddball premises that wouldn’t have found a voice in 1998 are now among the most eagerly anticipated events of 2018. And a lot of these shows are horror and fantasy and science fiction and sometimes a mix of all that and more.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Cancer: Gearing Up for Phase 2

This is an old picture of Cathy's Wall of Strength. It's got
a lot more on it now. And she's still got more cards to add. 
On Tuesday Cathy will have her last chemo treatment before surgery. To say that we are both thrilled about that would be an understatement of gross proportions. Lots of you have been asking how it's been going, and I've been just a little bit too busy to update like I'd want to, and I'm sorry about that.

As Cathy's needs have intensified in the midst of her treatments, my own mental health took a dip and it took me a couple of weeks to recognize it. I'm making corrections and adjustments now, and as a result, I feel better and more alert, so here you go.

The change in the weather has helped, too. Autumn in October? In TEXAS? Pinch me, I'm dreaming. We haven't had actual Fall weather in the Fall for years. I'm so excited.

Yeah, that's right, that's
right, we bad. Uh huh.
Don't want no bullshit.
Cathy goes in for surgery at the beginning of November. On top of managing the day-to-day...challenges...of chemotherapy, such as spinning the Wheel of  Random Symptoms to see what we're going to be dealing with, personal energy drain that resembles those Samsung phones that were blowing up in people's pockets (she's fine, she's fine, she's fine, shesnotfine), the unpredictable daily mood swings, and now the "trying not to freak out about major surgery and failing at it miserably" planning that is happening in the Day-Finn Family Bunker has made things more tense than either of us would like.

We have our fifteenth anniversary coming up, and it's going to be a quick and dirty road trip. We agonized over what to do for our milestone day and ultimately decided it would be best if we both got out of the damn house for a couple of days. We're both going a little stir crazy. And before you ask, She's Richard Pryor, and I'm Gene Wilder. Duh.

After that, I've got a birthday coming up. I'll be, well, old as hell, but I have to tell you, I don't feel my age. Not the way our parents do. I still like all of the stuff I liked as a kid. I never had to give any of it up to "be a man" or "act like an adult." Well, I did have to do that, but it was always presented to me as a part to play, a dance to perform, rather than who I had to be.

Cathy's birthday is November 13th. She'll be out of the hospital and recovering at home by then. Once we're in Dallas, I'll post details on Facebook, so that those of you who know us can stay caught up. It's going to be stressful--it's going to be so stressful that it's going to make what we've been doing up until now look like Disney on Ice--but it's also the shortest part of the treatment process. We're just trying to take a few days off, to get out of our heads, before we have to tackle this next set of challenges.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In Defense of Bad Movies Part 2: FLAAAASSSHH!

Check out the muscles
on Blonde Conan!
In Part 1 of  In Defense of Bad Movies, I outlined the disconnect between film critics and the general public. If you want to read it, you can certainly do that. Now that I have made this particular bed, I’m going to lie in it by taking a pipe wrench to the skull of a film most beloved and personal to the Geek Nation. Let’s all watch some people’s heads explode. Fun!

Since I mentioned Flash Gordon (1980) in Part 1 as an example of a bad movie, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain why I think this is so. Before you start typing your hate mail, there's some objective criteria below that you ought to look at. I put pictures in the post, so you wouldn't have to just take my word for it. If you make it all the way to the end and still feel triggered, just follow this link over to my Facebook page and let fly with your invective. I'm bracing myself for impact. Okay, enough of that; let's go tip some sacred cows!

Friday, October 12, 2018

In Defense of Bad Movies Part 1: Somewhere Between High Art and Cult Classic

I’m writing a lot about old movies at the moment on both of my current blogs. Finn’s Top 5 is happening over at the Finn’s Wake blog, and my biased look back at the fantasy films of the 1980s that informed our Dungeons and Dragons games is happening over at Confessions of a Reformed RPGer. I like writing about film; I have been a professional reviewer and critic for many years now, and I’ve been named one of the top movie reviewers in Texas by the Associated Press Managing Editors several times. You may also know that I am co-owner of a movie theater in North Texas that plays first-run movies on two screens, which is kind of like a unicorn in today’s market.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Stephen King Movies

It really says a lot about a person when they are their own genre of storytelling. Think about that: Stephen King is one of those very rare—as in, maybe four or five authors, tops—who have such consistent draw that they are household names. Not just any household, either, but every household. Try this: next time you’re at your grandparents’ house and they are regaling you with the saga of the latest bunion on their foot, wait for them to finish and then say, “Jeez, Grams, that was more horrifying than a Stephen King story,” and see if they don’t immediately know what you mean by that.

King’s prodigious output also accounts for a list of movies nearly as long, and while the quality of the aforementioned movies and books varies greatly, both subjectively and objectively, there are a number of great Stephen King movies that have been accidentally made out of their literary counterparts. Granted, there are also some god-awful ones, too, but we’re not here to talk about Maximum Overdrive…or Firestarter…or The Tommyknockers…or…you get the idea. For the purposes of this list, we’ll focus on the ones that cleaved most closely to the books and were also scary or horrific in some way. That’s why you won’t see Stand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption on this list, as great as they are.