Archive for June, 2011


phantasm saga

Phantasm was released a year before Friday the 13th, predating the 80’s horror craze.  Unlike Friday the 13th and all its demented children,
Phantasm is not your typical slasher film.  Like Alien (also released in  1979), Phantasm took its cues from monster movies and added a modern
sci-fi twist.

The story of Phantasm belongs to two brothers whose parents died a few years ago.  The younger of the brothers, Mike, discovers weird happenings at the local cemetery – the tall man who runs the mortuary is able to lift a body-filled casket without the slightest effort.  Mike’s older brother, Jody, and Jody’s buddy Reggie (who operates an ice cream truck) don’t believe Mike at first but soon see for themselves that all is not right where the bodies are buried.

Or are the bodies buried?

Phantasm is a low-budget movie that really, truly benefits from the lack of polish.  If this had been shot on 70mm film stock with state of the art effects, we’d be forever reminded that we were watching A Movie.  Instead, Phantasm feels more like the modern faux documentary horror films Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity – two low-budget horror movies that scared the pee out of today’s audiences.

What effects there are come off pretty darn well.  The flying silver ball is scary even before we find out its purpose.  And when Mike gets a glimpse of what the Tall Man has been doing with all those bodies, the shock is genuine.  I never could have imagined the story would go where it did.

If Phantasm is like Alien, then its sequel has much in common with Aliens.  Phantasm is the low-budget, quiet, spooky introduction of the boogeyman.  Phantasm 2 (1988) is chummy, explosive, bigger.  It reduces the myth that the first movie built up so effectively.

Phantasm 2 uses a different actor for the part of Mike.  Was A. Michael Baldwin really that busy?  His IMDB credits say no.  He was fine in Phantasm, and fortunately he returns for parts 3 and 4.

There is more gore in 2, more exposition, more uses for those mysterious silver spheres.  Phantasm 2 kind of makes me wonder why a sequel was even made.  If taken as a stand-alone it makes Phantasm that much more original and scary.

I’m not totally down on Phantasm 2.  The Tall Man does not spout cheesy one-liners, there are more unexpected deaths, and the setting remains (as in part 1) in Oregon.  Also, Reggie and Mike get a sweet black HemiCuda to drive around in.  Did I mention this movie was a product of the 80’s?

This brings up a larger point about horror movies and endless sequels – I don’t think those franchises (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween) are even supposed to be frightening.  People see them for other reasons.  They begin rooting for the boogeyman instead of the hapless victims.  Does that negate the scariness of the originals?  I hope not.

In fact, I will find out.  I’m set to watch Phantasm 3 and 4 next (thank you Netflix Instant Watch!), so I’ll let you know.

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friday robots

I was trying to make two images tonight and ended up with one.  I wanted a new “face” for my email (you can see it on the right sidebar), and of course I needed some Friday Robots.  When I made these robots, it seemed only natural to insert my fat face right in the middle of them.

 

Here are your Friday Robots, complete with noted cartoonist.  Let’s hope these robots are the friendly kind or I’m in real trouble, because I’m totally surrounded.

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i do believe i can take you, michael jordan

Dear Mr. Jordan,

Hi.  My name is Josh.  I am a cartoonist and a blogger.  You have been retired from the NBA for, what, a decade now?  Pretty close I think.  My point is, I bet I could beat you in a little game of one-on-one.

I challenge you, Mr. Jordan, to a game of basketball, winner take all. You may have been “all that” back in “the day,” but today is a new day, and your ship has sailed.

Looking at promotional material for Hanes and Gatorade, it is clear you have let yourself go since you retired.  Your bloated wreck of a body would be no match for me as we squared off on the court.  Perhaps you are spending too much time selling underwear and not enough in the gym?

You might think that, as a blogger, I am nothing more than a skinny white kid with mediocre writing skills and a two-inch vert.  You’d be wrong!  I happen to be in prime physical shape.  I ride my bike to work, a grueling 40-minute trek that takes me through two of Portland’s four quadrants (northeast and southeast).  I have two silver medals from the Blogger Olympics.*  I am practically the Michael Jordan of blogging, which makes our potential match-up all the more enticing.

Better still, I’ve been practicing.  Through my connection to Esperanza Spalding, I have been able to get b-ball training from Prince.  And everybody knows what an awesome player Prince is.

I challenge you to a game of basketball, but not just any old game: the gentlemen’s game.  H-O-R-S-E, or (as it is known in the Midwest) Around the World.

So come on, Mr. Jordan.  You, the over-the-hill star versus me, the up-and-comer.  Put on your best pair of Nikes and show me your best.

Game on.

*Making Sh*t Up & Self Aggrandizement


the cat internet challenge

Isis and I invented an internet game.  She hypothesized that you could find a picture of a cat on the internet by searching any word in the English language.  It was a fascinating theory, and one that has held up so far.

Here are a few of our finds:

Remorse

Apology

Bob Dylan

Pirate

Relief
(this one is a bit iffy since it’s not a photo but a drawing)

My name!
(I have met this cat.)

Go ahead and try it!  Go to a search engine, type in a word and do Image Search.  It might take a few pages, but you will most likely find a picture of a cat among the results.  We like Flickr but Google works just as well.

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friday robots

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phantasm 3 & 4

This is the conclusion of my reviews of the Phantasm movies.  For Phantasm 1 and 2, see this post.

You know the franchise has bottomed out when the sequel introduces a little kid and a sassy black woman as main characters.  Phantasm 3: Lord of the Dead (1994) must have been a huge disappointment for fans of the first two movies, especially since Phantasm 3 took six years to make.  SIX YEARS.  If this had been a ten or twelve movie franchise, a la Friday the 13th, you could excuse one bad episode – after all, you’d only have to wait another year or two for the next sequel.  But to wait six years for this load of dung?  Inexcusable.

Phantasm 3, like Part 2, picks up right where its predecessor left off.  Reggie, the ex-ice cream vendor, has become the central character in these films.  He has the same goofy charisma as Bruce Campbell, which makes him an appealing, if unorthodox, leading man.

A. Michael Baldwin returns as the now-grown Mike, all for the better.  The camaraderie between Reggie and Mike feels earned, which makes the beginning of Phantasm 3 so promising.

It soon devolves into camp.  There will be people, I’m sure, who claim that the camp value of Phantasm 3 makes it worth the slog to watch.  I am not one of those people.  Yes, some movies are fun to watch simply because they are campy, but I will argue to my dying day that Phantasm is not the venue for such silliness.

Reggie and Mike continue to chase after the Tall Man, forever being thwarted by his otherworldly powers and those silver spheres (which, true to the Bible of Sequels, get more and more complex as the series progresses).

Like I said before, they join forces with a kid (not Macaulay Culkin) and a black lady who don’t take no guff from nobody.  The story stalls out in a church where big explosions and more of those undead midgets vex our heroes.

Phantasm 3 doesn’t do much to advance the storyline until the very end.  The Tall Man captures Mike and does something to give him that yellow bodily fluid only seen in the resurrected dead.  Does this mean Mike is now under the control of the Tall Man?

Audiences had to wait four years to find out.  Phantasm 4: OblIVion (1998) opens with Mike and Reggie separately trying to find the Tall Man.  Mike now has certain powers due to his Harry Potter/Voldemort connection to the Tall Man.  No lightning scar on his forehead, but he does have a silver sphere lodged in his skull.

Reggie has his now-required comedic scene when he picks up a beautiful stranger after she wrecks her car on the highway.  Reggie, let’s be honest, is no James McAvoy, but he deserves a little action every now and again.  Well, he does get action, but not the kind of action he’d probably like.

Phantasm 4 recaptures the feel of the original.  It moves the story forward and even fills in some details left out of the early films.  There is a heavy reliance on footage from Part 1, which at first seems annoying.  However, I soon realized that this was not footage actually used in Part 1 – the director has selectively picked outtakes and different angles, so what we are seeing is still new.

By far the best part of 4 is the Tall Man’s backstory.  We see who he was before he became the Tall Man (yeah, he was always tall).  I can’t in good conscience spoil this – you’ll have to watch for yourself.

My biggest complaint about Phantasm 4 is how well it sets up a sequel that, 13 years later, still hasn’t materialized.  The last shot of the movie is a beautifully eerie scene from Part 1, in which Reggie and Mike silently ride through the night.  What becomes of them, and of the Tall Man, is a mystery I’m suddenly very interested seeing resolved.
Will there be a Phantasm 5?  Wikipedia says there was a screenplay written, but that boring issues like money have prevented the filmmakers from following through.  Angus Scrimm is now 85 years old and not getting any younger.  Phantasm without the Tall Man would be a sad thing indeed.  Let’s hope this gets made, if only so I can get a little closure in my life.


monogamy: the movie

Is it possible to be happy with only one woman?  This is the totally legitimate question posed by Monogamy, a film adaptation of many a 20-year-old man’s life.

Theo (Chris Messina) is a wedding photographer who is engaged to Nat (Rashida Jones).  His side job is called Gumshoot – a pretty cool idea, actually.  He gets hired by people to take their portrait during their daily lives.  He’ll stalk them like a private detective, except the client is also the subject.

Well anyway, a fancy lady hires Theo and he becomes infatuated, then obsessed.  Meanwhile Nat, his guitar-playing fiancee, winds up in the hospital with to a staph infection.  Can their relationship survive?

Isis and I sat through this movie wondering if we were supposed to sympathize with a whiny, mopey hipster in Brooklyn who is sad because he has to marry Rashida Jones.  Seriously dude?  Does the fact that you only get to pick one woman – one foxy, talented, loving woman – really kill your buzz?

I would like to think the filmmakers made this as a joke on all the idiotic guys who can’t commit.  The tip-off is Rashida.  Maybe if the only woman Theo could get was ugly and criminally deranged, he’d have a case for keeping an eye out for someone better.  But to cast Rashida, and not make her a psychopath or a racist or something, means this guy doesn’t deserve to be happy.

More interesting and unique would have been the story from Nat’s perspective.  Women are generally depicted in movies as marriage-loving innocents.  What if she struggled with the idea of being faithful?  They’d also have to make Theo a better person, otherwise Nat’s choice would be too easy.

Although I can’t recommend Monogamy based on story, the cinematography is very pretty, and the two leads do the best they can with what they have been given.  One hopes both actors will find projects worthy of their talents.  In the meantime, look out for the Broadway production of Monogamy! The Musical.  With songs by Zombie Cole Porter and set design by Zombie Edward Gorey, Monogamy! The Musical will be a treat for anyone who has had trouble staying faithful to their spouse.

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friday robots

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father’s day

5 times I have seen my father cry:

1.  We were at the zoo.  I was six.  I said, “Look at the monkeys!” My dad burst into tears.

2.  It was the night before my last day as an eighth-grader.  I would be going to high school in the fall.  My dad wept like a child.

3.  My mom thought she won the lottery.  She was off by one number.  My dad locked himself in the bathroom and we had to turn the TV up real loud to drown out the high-pitched sobbing.

4.  My brother came back in the house after being in the backyard for a few minutes.  “It’s so hot outside,” he said.  It was summer and the temperature was probably 100.  My dad looked up from his book and emitted a soft groan.  He then jumped from his seat and ran into the bedroom, wailing the whole way.

5.  My dad was inspecting a construction site, and I went to visit him.  I asked him, jokingly, if anyone had died today.  He hugged me tightly and wept as he told me his best friend in the whole world had just been crushed to death by a cement mixer.

Happy Dad Day, Dad.  Hopefully reading this post will be your Number Six.

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here comes america

There are many unknowns when moving to a new neighborhood.  Will  you live next to an angry drummer?  Are you directly underneath the airport’s most popular landing approach?  Is your new house or apartment filled to the brim with ghosts?

 

Slightly lower on the list of worries is: what kind of shopping is in the immediate vicinity?  After a few weeks in the new homestead, that question was answered for me when I received this postcard in the mail:

Pouring over this little piece of America, I knew I was living in the right place.  Fireworks?!?  This was beyond my wildest dreams.  I was hoping for – at best – a head shop or a place to buy nonexpired milk at 11:45 Sunday night.  What I got was FIREWORKS.

 

From now on it will be easy to find my new place of residence.  Just tilt your head toward the sky, look for the lights, listen for the beautiful boom.  I’ll be there, setting off TONS and TONS of FIREWORKS all day and all night long.

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