Don’t Feed the Plants

Beth had bought some tickets for an Off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Westside Theatre, and we saw it last night. I don’t think I actually saw the musical movie with Rick Moranis until college. I remember a kid in my class at elementary school having an Audrey II bank that you could feed coins, which was cool, but I’m not sure at the time I even realized the movie was a comedy. I also recall seeing a few episodes of the 90s cartoon Little Shop that was loosely based on the same premise but toned down for kids the same way a lot of other stuff at the time was, with Seymour, Audrey, and the sadistic dentist becoming children, and the plant just TALKING about eating people instead of actually doing it. Apparently Roger Corman was a consultant on the show. For what it’s worth, I still haven’t seen the original non-musical Corman film, although I probably should. Beth had a thing for Moranis when she was young, so she was quite familiar with his version. As is usual with such adaptations, the movie cut a few songs that weren’t as relevant to the plot, and added a different one in (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”). They also famously changed the ending to a less nihilistic one…that lets Seymour get away with murder. As far as I can tell, this performance stuck to the original theatrical plot and songs, including one that Orin sang while asphyxiating on nitrous oxide. Seymour was played by Jeremy Jordan, who’s been in a lot of stuff. He didn’t remind me especially of Moranis in the role, although of course he was a similar type. Some of his inflections kind of reminded me of when Bruce McCulloch plays kids. Christian Borle was Orin Scrivello, but also played several incidental characters, mostly in a hammy way with a lot of pauses for comic effect. Aaron Arnell Harrington did the voice of Audrey II, who was represented with several quite impressive puppets for her different sizes. I guess the role is sort of a drag performance, the plant technically being genderless but with feminine features and voiced by a man. I wonder what people thought of the recent Simpsons joke about Audrey II identifying as a tree because they’re a “trans-plant.”

It’s probably also worth mentioning again that Levi Stubbs used pretty much the same voice he did with the plant for Mother Brain in Captain N. Anyway, the show was a good time. The theater had several alien plants as decorations.

Posted in Cartoons, Gender, Humor, Live Shows, Monsters, Music, Plays, Television, The Simpsons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyone’s Your Friend in Mushroom City

I watched a playthrough of part of Mario Party Advance for research purposes. It sounds silly saying that, even if it’s technically true; it’s not like I’m writing a scholarly study on Mario. But I was interested in what it added to the world, and there’s a weirdly significant amount of stuff there. The game is somewhat unusual as far as Mario Party goes. At the beginning, you learn that all the mini-games and relevant items have fallen out of Party World in the sky to Shroom City.

You then have to find them all by fulfilling quests in the city, which is an interesting place in and of itself. One of the locations in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is called Mushroom City, and it’s a place with mushroom-shaped towers.

Whether these two places are the same isn’t addressed, but I’ve seen attempts to map it as if it is. There’s also a Shroom City in Paper Mario: The Origami King, but this almost certainly isn’t the same place.

It’s located in the Scorching Sandpaper Desert and doesn’t have skyscrapers, instead featuring Middle Eastern style architecture. It was the home of the ancient King Shroomses, whose palace was later converted into a hotel. I like that sort of look at Mushroom Kingdom history, but I doubt there’s any real plan to it.

I thought it was interesting that the Nintendo Power guide to Super Mario Bros. 3 referred to the ruins of the Mushroom Pharaohs and the Great Pyramid of Mushroomkhamen in Desert Land, and the cartoon based on the game has a mummy called Queen Mushroomkhamen with a son who looks like Mario.

Neither of these are official sources, but there is also a ruined city in Dry Dry Desert in the first Paper Mario, so there’s definitely a tradition of Egyptian-style rulers in the land’s past.

And the Shroom City in the desert was settled by Snifits after the Toads disappeared, and they remained there afterwards, causing a change to the city’s name. One of the Toads suggests calling the place “Shnroomf City,” which kind of sounds like onomatopoeia from the Super Mario Adventures comic.

And obviously none of these are the same as the Shroom City in Eric Shanower and Glenn Ingersoll’s Trot of Oz. Of course, in the real world, plenty of places have the exact same name. It’s one of those cases where I want fantasy to make more sense than reality.

The MPA Shroom City is partially desert, but includes several other biomes as well, including jungle and snow areas. This part of the game is all single-player, although you can switch between Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi as your character. Some quests can only be accomplished by one of them. You ride around the map in a boot-shaped car, something that also appears in Origami King.

It has pretty cool theme music, too, appropriately bouncy.

There are a lot of different characters living in town, including a Koopa who works at the bank, a Mechakoopa who’s a mathematician, Mr. Blizzard who pitches for a baseball team, a Bullet Bill who’s a champion sprinter (guess he doesn’t need to be fired out of a cannon to move), a Paratroopa with an item shop, a lonely Thwomp, and some rapping Toadies.

Toad inhabitants are the police detective Shroomlock from Toadland Yard, his wife, the mystery-seeking Mr. E who’s generally afraid of what he finds, and the nerdy Mushbert, one of a few different characters who are fans of a show called Toad Force V. Even Bowser is shown to be a fan.

I’m not sure that’s accurate, Shroomlock.
And there are some weird romantic pairings, like a Flutter who has a crush on a Mr. I, who in turn has feelings for Peach, while a Petal Guy has unrequited love for Flutter.

What’s kind of annoying is how few of these characters have individual names; most are just called by whatever species they are. Even when this isn’t the case, there isn’t a lot of variety; Goombas are called Goombob and Goombetty, and Bob-omba is a Bob-omb. The main exception is that a Spear Guy (Spear Gal?) dance instructor is called Hulu. Do all Goomba names have to start with “Goo”? I checked a list, and I guess Professor Frankly and Gary from Super Paper Mario might be exceptions. But I do like the idea of all these types of beings just living their everyday lives.

The Koopa Kids, exclusive to the Mario Party games, are quite odd.

Sometimes called Baby Bowsers (but not the same as the actual Bowser as a baby) or Mini Bowsers, they’re henchmen to the Koopa King who also look a lot like him. Their exact relationship to him isn’t clear; apparently there is a game where they call him “Dad,” but more often they address him as “Mr. Bowser.” It doesn’t help that the Koopalings are also sometimes called Koopa Kids. The main Koopa Kid in MPA is an obnoxious sycophant, while others appear in minigames.

They’ve been phased out of the more recent games in the series.

For what it’s worth, I’ve long had the idea of a map of the Mushroom Kingdom that includes locations from non-game sources like the DiC cartoons. Other fans who have an interest in mapping the place tend to stick to the games, and it’s not like they’ve been entirely sorted out by any means. But I did see these two on the Marioverse Reddit, credited to Ven457 and Starwall, respectively.

I have some of my own ideas about the locations of those places, like grouping places from the Super Show where the inhabitants have British accents together, or how the Red Sauce Sea forming the border of Pyramid Land meaning it’s near Pasta Land, while Car Land probably isn’t near there because tomato sauce is a precious commodity there. And I don’t know of any map that includes Mount Morel, said in Leaping Lizards to be the tallest mountain in the Mushroom Kingdom. The Nintendo Adventure Books also say that the Koopa family’s summer home is Fort Koopa in the Koopahari Desert, and the Princess had relatives called Duchess Puffball, Count Morelli, and Queen Shiitake. I assume these books are out of print and not easily scanned, which is why they aren’t discussed as much as the cartoons or comics. I know I had all of them at one point, but I only know for sure that I still have two.

Posted in Cartoons, Comics, Maps, Mario, Monsters, Music, Names, Relationships, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Truth in Cinema

Wonder Woman 1984 – I know this movie didn’t do so well at the box office. That might be partially because of COVID, but it definitely had some problems. I’d heard some stuff about Gal Gadot being anti-Palestinian, which is problematic. I still think she’s excellent at playing the character, but she just didn’t have as much to do this time around. Really, that’s true for most of the actors. It’s a good-looking movie with good performances, but the plot doesn’t sustain them. After a flashback to Diana’s childhood on Themiscyra, we see her working as an archaeologist for the Smithsonian. Whether anyone knows she hasn’t aged in the past seventy or so years isn’t addressed. Come to think of it, if her whole deal is truth, isn’t having a secret identity in and of itself kind of against her standards? I suspect this has been addressed before; I don’t think I’m the first to notice a potential plothole in an eighty-year-old comic franchise. But anyway, she meets a new colleague, Barbara Minerva, played by Kristen Wiig, who’s awkward and jealous of Diana. She’s requested to examine a stone that’s rumored to grant wishes, and a few people wish on it without taking it seriously, only to have the wishes granted. Diana wishes for Steve Trevor to come back, and he does, in someone else’s body. Barbara, meanwhile, wishes to be more like Diana. Since the stone takes a price with every wish, however, Diana loses some of her powers, and Barbara starts to lose her humanity. Max Lord, a con-artist selling stock in an oil company with no actual oil, played by the Mandalorian, flirts with Barbara to steal the stone, and absorbs its power. Much of the rest of the film involves Max granting the wishes of everyone he meets, taking something from each of them to increase his own power and influence. So we have a two-and-a-half hour movie with the moral that foolish wishes can cause trouble, something we’ve already seen in a bunch of short fairy tales? Barbara is reluctant to give up the powers her wish has given her, so she insists on protecting Max, even when she knows the stone has ended civilizations, AND that Max took advantage of her to steal it. I found her character similar to Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns, a cute but awkward woman who becomes a supervillain. The character’s name is also that of the recurring Wonder Woman villain Cheetah, but she never takes on that alias in the movie. After Max’s recklessness causes a nuclear war and general chaos, Diana is finally able to talk him down by reminding him of his son. I mean, sure, people generally care more about the personal than the universal, but you’d think the country being on the verge of being blown up would have made it personal enough already. Diana does turn a plane invisible at one point, but later, after she realizes she has to give up on Steve’s resurrection and gains additional powers, she’s able to fly on her own. I believe this is accurate to more recent WW comics, but aren’t there already enough superheroes who can fly? I also wasn’t sure about the visit to a stereotypically violent Arab country, where Max bargains with the Emir in order to take their oil. The country is called Bialya, presumably a play on Libya, but also pretty close to an Ashkenazi Jewish baked good. I did like the cameo appearance by Lynda Carter as Asteria.

I watched the first few episodes of the 1970s WW recently, and it looks like she’s barely aged since then. I wondered about who the god of lies who created the Dreamstone was, as I couldn’t think of such a deity from the Greco-Roman pantheon. I looked it up, and there’s a WW villain called the Duke of Deception who works for Ares, and is associated with a minor Greek god called Dolos, son of two primordial gods, the mother either Gaia or Aether, and the father Erebus or Nyx.

In Search of Darkness – This is something we’d heard about from Becca. It’s a long look at the most prominent horror movies of the 1980s. one year at a time. I was never into horror as a kid, but Beth saw a lot of these back in the day, and we’ve both watched others more recently. There are several guest stars discussing the movies, including Alex Winter, Ken Sagoes, Joe Bob Briggs, Elvira, Doug Bradley, John Carpenter, Nick Castle, Kane Hodder, Keith David, Heather Langenkamp, and Tom Atkins. I knew Atkins as the protagonist of Halloween III, a doctor who acts more like a hard-boiled private detective; but I didn’t realize how much other stuff he’d been in, especially stuff Carpenter directed. There’s a generally positive vibe to the whole thing, admitting the flaws and flops but mostly concentrating on the good points and how each new film impacted the genre. There are actually three parts to this, but so far we’ve only seen the first.

XX – An anthology film made up of four different segments, the running theme being that they were all directed by women and star female leads. It starts with the one that I found the creepiest, The Box. A boy on the subway with his mother sees what an old man is keeping in a box, and after that he never wants to eat again. When he tells his sister and father about it, they don’t either. After they all die of starvation in a few months, the mother becomes obsessed with seeing that box. It’s directed by Sofia Carrillo and based on a short story by Jack Ketchum. While I’ve never read anything by him, I know he writes disturbing stuff. From what I’ve heard, it’s an accurate adaptation, except the mother and father switch roles, making the mom seem rather cold in a way viewers wouldn’t expect. There’s a dream sequence in it with the family cannibalizing the mom’s corpse, which is quite graphic. I guess it’s to highlight the theme of starvation, but it looks like, even when the son first starts not eating, they always have a lot of food on the table for a family of four. “The Birthday Party” is directed and co-written by Annie Clark, AKA musician St. Vincent. Her dark sense of humor is on display with a tragic situation played as a comedy of errors. A woman in an affluent neighborhood is preparing for her daughter’s seventh birthday party when she finds her husband dead in his home office. Presumably due to the stress, her immediate reaction is to try to hide the body, ultimately putting it inside a panda suit at the table. The third one, “Don’t Fall,” directed by Roxanne Benjamin, was the one I found the weakest of the bunch. Four friends are hiking in the desert, where they find an ancient petroglyph showing a monster, and one of them turns into that creature and kills her friends. Finally, “Her Only Living Son,” directed by Karyn Kusama, is about a woman and her son who have gone into hiding from her ex-husband, a Hollywood actor. As the son approaches eighteen, the mother learns that he’s a brutal bully to other kids, and that the school administrators and other people support him for some reason. She eventually finds out that the boy’s real father isn’t her ex, but rather the Devil, and he’s coming to claim his kid. I suspect the ex who sold out his wife being an actor is a reference to Rosemary’s Baby.

The Lighthouse – An artsy sort of film, it’s in black and white despite being made in 2019, and only has two characters of any significance, played by a largely unrecognizable Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. They play a lighthouse keeper and his new assistant on a remote island in New England. The assistant goes crazy during his time at the lighthouse, hallucinating mermaids and sea monsters, killing seagulls, and constantly fighting with his boss. Dafoe talks with an Irish sailor’s brogue, with the stereotypical “yar” talk that grizzled seamen and pirates have in movies and such.

Posted in Comics, Dreams, German, Humor, Monsters, Mythology, Roman, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caravan of Crossovers

I recently finished watching an entire playthrough of Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart. Beth said the guy playing sounded like Garfield. You know who no one ever said that about? Chris Pratt. But anyway, watching turn-based games can be a little tedious sometimes, and this doesn’t preclude my playing the game if it ever becomes available. I never got into emulation, and so far it’s for Japan only, the version I saw having a fan translation. It’s a rather strange game, as most of the DQ Monsters ones are similar to Pokémon, recruiting various monsters and having them fight. There’s some of that here, but not to the same extent. Each wagon in your caravan has a guardian monster, and they can grow stronger or change form based on hearts you find throughout the world. You also recruit human characters, who each have their own skills that can be used in and out of battle. The party is limited both by number and by weight, although you can occasionally get the wagons modified to hold a slightly heavier load. There’s also a food mechanic that people who play this game tend to hate. You have to buy rations, and if you use up all of them, your party loses hit points with every step until you get more. The hero of the story is Prince Kiefer from DQ7, continuing the tradition of supporting characters starring in spinoffs. Even more interesting is that he visits the world of the Erdrick Trilogy many years after the events of 2.

This is the main reason I was interested in seeing the game, to see how the places had changed. In Dirkandor, the hometown of the caravan leader Luin, someone mentions that they used to have a king, but he brought about disaster by fooling around, I guess like making people fight sabrecats for sport. Midenhall and Moonbrooke Castles have both fallen into ruin, and they, along with Hargon’s old castle in Rendarak, now house powerful beings called Illusions. Cannock still has a king, although his relation to the line of Erdrick isn’t clear. His son makes potions for a hobby, and can join the caravan. Beran is said to have been founded by a merchant and treasure hunter named Bella, who I suppose would be Bera if these translations were consistent. One place I’m pretty sure you can’t revisit is the fishing village of Zahan. Alefgard has somehow sunk under the ocean, but you can restore it, after which people start using the port in Galenholm.

You can explore the basement of Tantegel Castle, and the green dragon in the Swamp Cave is still wondering what happened to the Princess.

After finishing the main game, it’s possible to access Charlock Castle and fight a prematurely resurrected Dragonlord. Other bonus content takes place in Slimeland, a Slime-shaped island east of Rendarak.

Connections between most of the DQ games tend to be vague. The first three take place in the same world, and the next three presumably do as well but there isn’t as much focus on it. And 11 is a prequel to 3, but we don’t know whether it’s set in the same world. A few other connections appear as well, mostly just cameos. Rubiss, the guardian of Alefgard, shows up in 6, where she’s the goddess worshipped on Weaver’s Peak. She lives in an underwater shrine like she does in 2, and there was apparently supposed to be more about her in the game.

Yuji Horii said there were intended story elements that were never fully developed, largely because he was busy with Chrono Trigger at the time. What we know is that Rubiss created the ocarina that an old man gave Milly, and she used to summon the golden dragon to reach Murdaw’s Keep. Connected to this is that the dragon was originally supposed to be a transformed Ashlynn.

In 8, the godbird Empyrea mentions that she was known as Ramia in another world, presumably that of 3.

Ragnar and Torneko from 4 also show up in that game as team leaders in the monster fighting arena.

And in the Mystery Dungeon game Young Yangus, Torneko trains the title character.

I did learn not long ago that the DQ7 manga indicates that the Prince of Midenhall traveled in a balloon to the upper world from 3, which was based on our own Earth, and that a great cataclysm turned it into the world of 7.

The Prince then founded the Kingdom of Estard. I don’t think there’s any requirement that the games conform to the manga, but there is a suggestion in Caravan Heart that Kiefer is himself a descendant of Erdrick, which would fit with the Prince of Midenhall being his ancestor. The guy who pointed out this reference came up with a proposed timeline for the games including elements from a lot of material that hasn’t been translated into English, but I think he’s said he’s since changed his mind on some things.

Posted in Comics, Dragon Quest, Families, Food, Magic, Monsters, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for Terror

Here’s a rundown of all the movies we watched this October (well, except for Halloween Kills), all horror-adjacent, but not necessarily all horror films per se. A lot of them turned out to be horror comedies, which wasn’t really intentional.

Dolores Claiborne – The movie is based on a Stephen King book, but while it has some horror elements, it isn’t supernatural. It stars Kathy Bates, who was in another King film adaptation that wasn’t supernatural, although it was more over-the-top. Here she plays a caretaker for a wealthy woman who lives on an island in Maine (of course), and when she’s found standing above the woman’s body at the bottom of the stairs, she’s accused of murder. Complicating things is that she was also suspected of killing her husband, although she wasn’t found guilty of that. Her daughter, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, comes to visit her. Her character reminded me a little of Lois Lane, although I think that’s just because she’s a dark-haired journalist. Dolores eventually tells her daughter the whole story, that she was responsible for her husband’s death, but it was after he stole the money she’d been saving and molested the daughter. The daughter doesn’t believe her, but later has a recovered memory. Of course, there are a lot of problems with that sort of memory, but here it’s apparently accurate. If you’re into disturbing movies or Maine accents, you might want to watch this one.

Buttons and Rusty: Which Witch Is Which? – I don’t think I’d seen any of them before, but there were several holiday specials featuring these characters, and eventually an animated series as well. Beth had seen some of the specials before. The titular characters are a bear and fox cub who are curious about human ways, so they often wander over to the campground near their cave to see what’s going on. The park ranger is friendly to them and answers their questions, but also tries to keep them from scaring the people. Not that the children are all that concerned about them, but the woman who runs the shop is. Meanwhile, two thieves who live in a beat-up bus in the park dress up as a bear and a witch in order to rob the store while everyone is busy at the ranger’s Halloween party. This leads to some mix-ups, especially when the female thief wears a coat that makes her look a little like a fox. The ranger accompanies the cubs’ parents to try to find them, and somewhere in here is a song about witches with psychedelic visuals.

It has nothing to do with the rest of the show, and it’s the only part that relates to the title. There are mistaken identities and people dressed as witches, but they don’t intersect. By the way, Buttons and Rusty’s parents share a cave, the adult foxes are the same size as the adult bears, and Buttons’ dad is the only animal who wears clothes.

Also, the ranger talks to the animals, but I don’t know that any other humans do. Is he trying to disguise the fact that the animals speak English, or does he communicate with them in their own language? I can’t say that much for the plot, but it was pretty cute.

Cemetery Man – We watched this one because a YouTube reviewer Beth watches loved it, but neither of us got much out of it. It’s sort of a horror comedy, but it doesn’t particularly succeed at being either scary or funny. Rupert Everett plays a graveyard keeper in an Italian town, who’s assisted by a mute guy. The corpses keep coming back to life, but the keepers find it easier to just shoot them than to deal with the local politicians. A girl Everett’s character is attracted to keeps showing up in different forms, and the assistant tries to have a relationship with a dead girl’s reanimated head. In addition, neither of them have ever left the town, and nothing that happens really makes a difference. Overall, it seemed kind of amateurish, with some decent ideas but no real focus on anything.

The House by the Cemetery – Another Italian film with “cemetery” in the title, this one involves a family moving from New York City to a creepy old house in Boston that is, as per the title, by a cemetery. The dad is doing research on the house and its strange history, and it turns out there’s someone living in the basement who steals body parts to keep herself alive. The kid was pretty annoying, and I don’t know how much of that was due to bad dubbing, as the voice actor didn’t sound at all like a child.

Muppets Haunted Mansion – I guess Disney owning the Muppets means they can do a crossover with a ride in the Magic Kingdom. It wasn’t successful when they tried it with Eddie Murphy, so why not use Gonzo? The plot involves him agreeing to spend the night in a haunted house where a magician called the Great McGuffin had disappeared, seeing it as a stunt. Pepe the King Prawn comes with him because he thinks it’s a party. Someone on Facebook mentioned that she didn’t want to see this because she hated Pepe, and while I’m okay with him, I don’t know that his character is strong enough for him to work that well as a secondary protagonist. Gonzo takes the scary stuff in stride, eventually realizing that his main fear is that nobody will like him. Characters being insecure is pretty standard for the Muppets. Meanwhile, Pepe is charmed by a black widow played by Taraji P. Henson, seemingly unconcerned that her dead husbands are all still hanging around.

She’s based on an actual character from the ride, traditionally just called the Bride but given the name Constance Hatchaway in 2006. Plenty of other Muppets appear as well, the explanation being that the mansion reflects Gonzo’s thoughts. I have to say that Kermit’s voice sounds totally wrong now, which is weird considering how many better Kermit impressions I’ve heard. I guess I don’t know whether any of those people can do the puppetry, though. I didn’t love this as much as some of my friends did, but it was pretty funny. Beth has watched many Muppets movies and shows with me, and she’s annoyed by them due to the overuse of puns, which makes me wonder why she doesn’t just tell me to watch them without her. But being married to me is probably way worse for someone who hates puns than watching anything the Muppets have done.

Starry Eyes – An aspiring actress who’s working at a Hooters-style restaurant auditions for a part in a movie, but is suspicious of what she’s asked to do to get the part, including sexual favors and self-harm. She goes along with it anyway, as she’s so desperate to become a star, and finds out that the production company is a demon-worshipping cult. This one didn’t really grab me, and the main thing I got out of it is that the protagonist had the same name as someone I know from college.

TerrorVision – This is a weird, campy horror comedy from the eighties that I’d only recently heard of. It focuses on a quirky suburban family, where the parents are swingers, the grandfather a survivalist who eats lizard tails, the son paranoid, and the daughter a rocker with a heavy metal musician for a boyfriend. When the dad installs a new satellite dish, it picks up a transmission from an alien world, which is actually a ravenous monster being beamed across the universe. The creature starts eating everyone it finds, and is able to fool survivors by animating the heads of the dead people. There’s also a parody of Elvira who’s Medusa-themed. As I believe a review mentioned, the human characters are stranger than the monster, but I suspect that was done on purpose. Beth said early on that it reminded her of John Waters, and there was definitely a similarity there, both with the gross humor and the absurd satire of suburbia, although it was more explicitly cartoonish than his films generally are. This was not a well-received film, but I enjoyed it.

House II: The Second Story – The original House is about a writer who moves into a haunted house, loses his son, has Vietnam flashbacks, and makes friends with Norm from Cheers. This sequel is along the same lines as Halloween 3 or Troll 2 in that it has a few of the same themes (a creepy mansion with the doors acting as magic portals, a perceived betrayal in the past, a guest star from Cheers), but isn’t really a sequel at all; and because it doesn’t entirely seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. While it starts out setting up what seems like a horror scenario, it turns out to be more of a goofy fantasy adventure. The first House was kind of wacky, but this one doesn’t even try to be scary. Two yuppies move into a giant old house that’s in one of their families, and he uses a crystal skull to bring his great-great-grandfather back to life. Beth had seen this before and said that what she remembered was the rootin’ tootin’ cowboy ghost, and while he’s definitely a cowboy and both rootin’ and tootin’, I don’t think he technically counts as a ghost so much as a revitalized corpse.

The skull is stolen three times, by a caveman, some Aztec warriors, and the great-great-grandfather’s old partner, leading to chases through a prehistoric world, a temple, and the Old West, all accessible through the house, in order to get it back. For the temple, they’re accompanied by an electrician played by Jon Ratzenberger, who immediately goes along with the oddities the same way George Wendt did in the first film. The protagonists bring back a prehistoric bird, a cross between a dog and a caterpillar, and a woman who was going to be sacrificed. The animals are pretty cute, and remind me of the ones in The Neverending Story.

There’s also a subplot involving the one yuppie’s ex-girlfriend showing up for no particular reason and his current girlfriend leaving because of that, for which Bill Maher also shows up. I have to wonder if this would have been more popular if it had been advertised as a fantasy adventure instead of a follow-up to House, but it’s not like it was great either way.

Bride of Chucky – Seven years after Child’s Play 3, the series returned, ditching the original title in favor of a reference to Bride of Frankenstein (a little of which is shown in this movie), and removing Andy. After three films of nobody believing him, he deserved a rest. The focus is on Chucky and on dark comedy, with meta-humor and pop culture references. It starts with Tiffany, played by Jennifer Tilly, who had dated Charles Lee Ray before he died and had his consciousness transferred into a doll, finding and restoring the Chucky doll and bringing him back to life with a book called Voodoo for Dummies (a timely reference for the nineties). When she finds out he wasn’t interested in marrying her, she locks him up in a crib, but he escapes, electrocutes her, and puts her soul in another doll. They have a tumultuous relationship, teaming up to find creative ways to murder people and even having sex (apparently the dolls were anatomically correct, although I’m sure the original Good Guys doll wouldn’t have been), but also often turning on each other. Chucky wants to find the amulet that had been buried with his old body in Hackensack, even though he was gunned down in Chicago. He even has his own plot and tombstone. Who paid for all of that? Anyway, Tiffany pays her neighbor to take the two dolls to New Jersey. The neighbor is dating the police chief’s niece, and her uncle doesn’t approve of the relationship, so she goes with her boyfriend so they can elope on the way. It ends with Chucky being temporarily killed, and Tiffany giving birth to a creepy doll baby, setting up the next sequel.

Posted in Animals, Cartoons, Families, Humor, Magic, Monsters, Muppets, Names, Relationships, Television, Toys, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The World Is a Very Scarry Place

I’ll occasionally see references to Richard Scarry on Twitter or some other site, and I can definitely remember growing up with his books. I’m sure a lot of people can; they’re just the sort of thing people give to kids. His characters are mostly anthropomorphic animals who work human jobs, with Busytown being the home of many of them. I know there was a Busytown animated series, but I never watched it, although I think I remember getting a glance of it in a restaurant or something. That was in my adult years. There are a few of his books I distinctly remember, like Best Mother Goose Ever, Best Word Book Ever, Peasant Pig and the Terrible Dragon, and Storybook Dictionary. For the latter, I was fascinated by the pages showing all the characters. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go also seems familiar. I also remember being weirdly disturbed by a picture in the quite innocuous Best Counting Book Ever. On the last page, there’s an illustration of one hundred fireflies forming the number 100, but somehow I looked at it many times without noticing this, and when I finally did it was unsettling.

There’s a bit in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams’ later retconned attempt to give Arthur Dent a happy ending, Fenchurch talks about a picture in her bedroom that had an otter swimming in front of a raft full of animals, and she worried about the otter having to pull all that weight, only to finally realize years later that the raft has a sail. It was sort of like that, except the feeling I got from it was the opposite of relief, and I still don’t understand why. It makes no sense, but that kind of thing happened to me a lot as a kid.

So I certainly wouldn’t say Scarry is scary, but there are always going to be dark elements hiding in any bright and cheery fiction. I readthis article on cannibalism in Scarry’s books, particularly the implication that pigs eat pork products.

I remember my parents joking when we had pork chops that we were eating Mr. Frumble, but I’m not sure what book I read that had the accident-prone pig in it, as the first one where he’s in the title would have been published several years too late for this.

The article claims that there aren’t any chicken-people in this world, but I know there were some in Storybook Dictionary, and they crossed the line between person and chicken a bit, as we can see in this picture.

But then, I believe the copy I had was a reprint of a much earlier book, and I’m not sure Scarry had worked out everything yet at that point. Huckle is the name of a bear rather than a cat, and there’s a worm character who isn’t Lowly. While I haven’t done actual research into this, it seems likely that the Busytown books phased out the bird-people.

I know Storybook Dictionary had a crow with a World War I airplane, while later material has an Austrian fox with a similar plane.

They still have cats, bears, pigs, and rabbits who are all about the same size, which is pretty normal in such fictional worlds. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are all human-sized, as are Bugs, Daffy, and Porky, even though they’re supposed to be animals that aren’t at all similar in size. And the animals I mentioned are apparently some of the easiest to make cute and anthropomorphic. It is somewhat different when the size is what makes an animal distinct, so elephants and hippopotamuses are still noticeably bigger than the other people, albeit still much smaller than real ones.

And small animals, like mice and bugs, are pretty much the same size they are in our world, but are still sentient beings who participate in society. They also tend to drive cars that are just big enough for them, which seems like it would cause some traffic problems. And really, it does.

Traffic cops show up on occasion, but there don’t appear to be marked lanes or anything. Some of the more interesting vehicles include Lowly Worm’s apple (which was later established to turn into a helicopter), Mr. Frumble’s pickle, and Bananas Gorilla’s…well, banana.

The connections between the animals and the cars is generally pretty obvious (the pickle is probably a reference to Frumble constantly being in a figurative pickle), but do mice drive pencils and crayons just because they’re small? There’s even one character, Dingo Dog, whose main trait is that he’s a reckless driver. And Bananas was established to be a thief, always stealing his fruit of choice and throwing the peels at pursuing police officers.

But he’s also characterized as rather childish, like he doesn’t entirely realize that what he’s doing is wrong. The Three Beggars, who are a wolf, a baboon, and a hyena, have some of the same sort of naivete.

Lowly might be the most memorable character, but there’s a lot about him that’s confusing. Not only is he a worm who wears a boot, but he’s often the ONLY character shown to have footwear. He goes to elementary school with Huckle Cat, but drives a car and is sometimes shown doing jobs.

And he’s said to be a frequent guest of the Cat family, but I don’t know that we see HIS family or home. I’m not saying we definitely don’t, as there are a lot of books with him in them, but the contributors to this thread hadn’t found anything of the sort.

Posted in Animals, Art, Authors, Cartoons, Douglas Adams, Families, Food, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Summer Turns to Winter Overnight

Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream of Trains in New York – I bought this when I saw Robyn live in Montclair. Recorded at Symphony Space in 2008, the show includes most of the songs from I Often Dream of Trains, probably my favorite of Robyn’s albums. Of course, I first heard it as part of a box set, so the experience was somewhat different, and I didn’t necessarily know at first where the album proper ended and the bonus tracks began. The set does include a few other songs from the same time period, as well as some stuff that was new at the time of recording. What it doesn’t include is “Furry Green Atom Bowl,” which was on the original album release. I’m sure there’s a reason for that, but whenever someone plays every song on a record but one, it tends to call attention to that one. When I saw They Might Be Giants at concerts showcasing Lincoln and Apollo 18, they omitted “I’ve Got a Match” and “Hall of Heads,” respectively. Also, the audio recording includes “America” and the video “I’m Falling.” The film is mostly just the concert, but with footage of Robyn being interviewed on a train in between some songs, and a little bit of film contemporary with the original album. Robyn says he didn’t originally conceive of Trains as an introspective acoustic record, but it turned out that way nonetheless. There are a lot of themes of loss and decay throughout, and a good amount of autumn imagery. They show up many times in his other work as well, but the prevalence of them here is noticeable. Robyn plays guitar and piano, the backing band is made up of Terry Edwards on vocals, horns, and keyboards and Tim Keegan on vocals and guitar, plus Gaida Hinnawi on vocals on two songs and Amir El Saffar on trumpet. “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl” isn’t played live, but on a cassette as Robyn comes onstage. “Uncorrected Personality Traits” is a fun performance, with Robyn, Terry, and Tim doing three-part harmony and hamming it up a bit. I noticed an Amazon review complaining that an album that’s considered introspective includes novelty songs, but I can’t say that bothers me. “Traits” and “Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus,” probably the two most overtly comic numbers, were ones that drew me in when I was still new to Robyn’s music. I’m often drawn to funny lyrics and infectious melodies, but if I like an artist, I’ll also delve into their more…I don’t really want to say “serious,” as that’s a confusing term for me, but genuinely emotional work. Robyn certainly has both, sometimes in the same song. He introduces “That’s Fantastic, Mother Church” by saying that Catholicism is a form of insurance that was useful before therapy, which seems accurate.

At the same time I bought the record, I also purchased Robyn’s new book, Somewhere Apart: Selected Lyrics 1977-1997. As the description indicates, it’s a collection of song lyrics, some of them accompanied by his absurdly cartoonish illustrations. The foreword by Bill Flanagan mentions how lyrics don’t always work without the accompanying music, but they’re generally weird and poetic enough to stand on their own. I even noticed a few words I’d either missed or misheard before. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized the second verse of “Queen of Eyes” starts with “Mucky the Pig is out on a limb,” and now I can’t stop thinking of that line for whatever reason.

There’s something very English about the word “muck”; it probably wouldn’t work as well if it had been, say, “Filthy the Pig,” not that I really understand its significance anyway. One oddity I noticed is that the printed lyrics to “Balloon Man” are “And it rained like a slow divorce/And I wished I had eaten your course,” when that second line in the recorded song is “And I wish I could ride a horse,” which seems like even more of a non-sequitur. That’s one of several of his songs that are mostly totally absurd, but with a hint of sadness and loss sneaking in. Perhaps there are other such changes, but that’s the one that jumped out at me.

Posted in Albums, Art, Book Reviews, Catholicism, Christianity, Concerts, Humor, Music, Poetry, Religion, Robyn Hitchcock, They Might Be Giants, Video | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Magic

The word “magic,” with or without the K at the end that Aleister Crowley preferred, derives from “magus,” a term for a Zoroastrian priest. I’ve seen indications that it might have referred to a specific tribe or caste. When the word made its way into Greek, their opposition to the Persians caused them to give the term a negative connotation, that magic was either fraudulent or otherwise in opposition to Greek religion. This influenced Christianity, which is why even today it seems like Christians often take a dim view of magic, even though in its broadest sense of things that appear to break the natural laws, the Bible is full of magic performed in the service of God. What else is it that Jesus was doing?

I know the preferred term is “miracles,” which seems both more impressive and beneficial than magic. That is to say, magic can be anything from pulling a rabbit out of a hat to destroying cities with fire from your hands, but miracles have to be big and helpful. I’ve generally seen the word “magicians” used in English for the Pharaoh’s wonder workers, but I understand there are a few different terms used in Hebrew and Greek. They seem to be priests of Egyptian gods, and they’re definitely able to do some impressive things, as they imitate Moses and Aaron in turning rods into snakes, water into blood, and thin air into frogs.

Aaron’s staff snake eats theirs, however, and they can’t do any of the plagues after the second one. So it’s not like competing magic doesn’t work, just that it’s less effective. By the way, apocryphal sources claim that the two main magicians are named Jannes and Jambres, and they’re Balaam‘s sons. Moses himself is said to have disobeyed God by striking a stone with a stick instead of speaking to it to produce water, but it still worked.

And the account in the Bible says that a bronze snake statue Moses used to kill parasites was later worshipped as an idol and destroyed by the authorities, even though it was made at Yahweh’s command in the first place.

Even if the power derives from God, it isn’t necessarily just God working magic through a person; they have a certain amount of agency in how they employ it. The same sort of thing goes for Simon Magus, who in the Bible was mostly just a guy who wanted to buy Christlike healing powers for himself, but apocryphal sources made a magic-worker of no mean ability who is nevertheless defeated by Peter. The general idea is that it’s only magic (or sorcery) if it’s part of a competing religion or tradition. If it’s not from the god you worship, it must be from a competing god or being, Satan being a common choice these days.

Performers of supernatural rituals for good purposes are priests or prophets. When looking at words related to magic and religion, I’ve seen some argument on the actual meaning of the verse in Exodus famously rendered in the King James Version as “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” suggesting that the term used, mekhashepha, might mean a chanter, a herbalist, or a poisoner. Of course, witches were traditionally thought to do all of these things, but the exact distinctions aren’t entirely clear.

The English word “witch” is of obscure origins, popularly connected to terms for wisdom as “wizard” is, but I don’t know that there’s much evidence for that. It does appear to have originally been masculine, despite how it’s commonly connected with women. I remember being kind of surprised when learning about the Salem witch trials that some men were executed for witchcraft. Regardless of the specific word, though, there’s a common idea of a woman who practices low magic (essentially natural instead of scholarly) and is often blamed for harming people.

The Witch of Endor is referred to as a woman possessing a familiar spirit, or something similar to that. She is also successful in her magic, in this case summoning Samuel from beyond the grave, even though her magic is presumably ungodly as Saul outlawed it in his own territory. The words “magic”  and “witch” have been somewhat rehabilitated in our culture, if not so much among fundamentalist Christians. I doubt people who hire magicians for their kids’ birthday parties expect rival priests to show up. Many fantasy settings have magic users who use their powers for good, and don’t always get them from gods or demons. While extremists still act shocked at media with good witches and wizards, I think the intention is kind of the opposite, to separate magic from religion in order to produce secular material that isn’t offensive to specific belief systems.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Can’t Kill the Boogeyman

Halloween KillsSPOILERS for this and some other movies in the franchise! It’s not entirely fair to blame a day of the year for the people who die then, is it? Seriously, it’s a strange title, but that doesn’t have much bearing on anything. It picks up where the previous film left off, with Laurie Strode and her remaining family blowing up her house with Michael Myers inside. But he survives, because he’s gone through much worse. Except that’s not entirely true, as these sequels are only following the first movie, so his living through a hospital fire is no longer part of his back story. And it’s not like the films that were supposed to be in the same continuity really paid that much attention either. Both Michael and Dr. Loomis were originally supposed to die in the fire at the end of Halloween 2, but someone wanted to make another one, so they lived. The end of 4 suggests Jamie Lloyd is turning evil, but they backpedal on that in the next one. Laurie cuts off Michael’s head in H20, then they say that isn’t really him. It’s all pretty sloppy, is what I’m saying. Since they’re saying 2 never happened, they had to come up with a new explanation of what happened to Michael after the first one, and it’s basically that he killed some more people, went back to his old house, and was captured and brought back to the mental hospital, where he stayed for forty years without incident until his new psychiatrist decided it would be a fascinating experiment to let him go on another murderous rampage. He still got up after being shot six times, but it kind of seems like Laurie and some other characters realize Michael is some practically unstoppable force when there’s no indication of that. The audience knows because we’re aware of the sequels, but the people in the movie shouldn’t know what we know from alternate timelines. You could say that these films are more about atmosphere than story, but we didn’t really get too much of that here either. Michael is still sneaking up on people and murdering them, but it’s nowhere near as creepy or creative as in the 2018 movie. That’s partially because he isn’t really the focus, as we instead mostly follow an angry mob led by Tommy Doyle, one of the kids Laurie was babysitting in the first movie. I believe Tommy showed up in The Curse of Michael Myers as well, but that’s now an alternate continuity and I don’t remember it very well anyway. The mob chases a confused mental patient who escaped from the hospital the same time Michael did, forcing him to jump out a window to his death. They eventually find the real Michael and beat him to what would normally be a pulp, but he lives and starts killing everyone there. Laurie, who’s still in the hospital, comes to the realization that Michael is a symbol of fear who can’t be beaten by violence, although I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion. So the moral is that angry mobs are a bad idea and two wrongs don’t make a right? That’s pretty trite at this point, although an obvious lesson wouldn’t have ruined the movie if it had just been more interesting. Despite this, I’m still curious as to what they’re going to do with the next sequel. On the plus side, I did appreciate another reference to the Halloween 3 masks, and the gay couple who lived in the old Myers house were pretty charming.

Posted in Halloween, Holidays, Monsters, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All in How You Spell ‘Em

I saw something recently about the difference between the words “fairy” and “faerie.” Really, there’s no difference; the latter is just an archaic spelling. The word comes from the French for “fate,” and therefore “enchantment”; and was applied to many different magical beings from mythology and folklore, including Norse Elves and Greek Nymphs, but is perhaps most associated with the Celtic Sidhe.

The thing is, “fairy” came to be so closely associated with the cute, tiny, winged figure, so some people came to use the “faerie” spelling, or just “fae” (also “fey” or “fay”) to mean the more traditional beings who were morally ambiguous and often dangerous to deal with.

Some of these were still winged and/or of diminutive size, though.

I’ve also seen “Faerie” used to mean the place where fairies live, but I’m not sure how that started.

I’ve been trying to think of other occasions where such a thing was done. Aleister Crowley spelling “magic” with a K at the end to distinguish the study of the occult from stage tricks is one that comes to mind.

And it looks to be common in goth subcultures to spell “vampire” with a Y, as John William Polidori did back in 1819. Terry Pratchett commented on this with his modern vampires in Carpe Jugulum. There have been a lot of reinterpretations of vampires, with that book coming well before Twilight. Yet they’re still pretty much always upper-class snobs. J.R.R. Tolkien was known for popularizing the plural “dwarves” rather than “dwarfs,” and “elvish” or “elven” instead of “elfish” or “elfin.” Again, the intention seems to have been to make the words look more dignified rather than cutesy. In the introduction to The Hobbit, he admits that “dwarves” is technically incorrect in English, but he intends his alternative spelling to  “remove them a little, perhaps, from the sillier tales of these latter days.”  He also mentioned that the traditional English plural of the word was “dwarrows” or “dwerrows,” which he used in the name “Dwarrowdelf” for Moria. Largely replacing the term “goblin” from The Hobbit with “orc” in Lord of the Rings was probably along the same lines, although that wasn’t just a minor spelling change. As mentioned in an article in the latest Baum Bugle, he originally referred to the Noldor as Gnomes, only to change it because people tended to have a different association with that term. He apparently stopped using “Gnome” in the 1940s, which would have been after people started using the word for lawn ornaments. The same article addresses how L. Frank Baum eventually decided to spell the word “Nome,” allegedly to make it easier to pronounce, but that explanation kind of falls apart when you consider some of the other words he used.

Dennis Wilson Wise proposes that the alternate spelling could be related to the ancient Egyptian word “nome,” meaning a territorial division

I remember Lee Speth suggesting that the Nome King’s ornament rooms were based on Egyptian tombs, which Baum saw while visiting that country.

I don’t know that we actually see these rooms again, although it’s possible that they appear in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Hungry Tiger of Oz, where the underground castle is described as “[l]ighted with jeweled lanterns, spread with silken rugs, furnished with taste and even magnificence.” If so, there must have been some amount of remodeling, as in Ozma this place appeared to only be accessible through the throne room.

For what it’s worth, while Baum used the spelling “fairy,” his were human-sized, powerful, and beneficial, although some of his other Immortals were of the cute, tiny variety.

And Thompson reverted to the traditional spelling of “gnome.”

Posted in Authors, British, Celtic, Discworld, Etymology, Greek Mythology, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Mythology, Norse, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson, Terry Pratchett | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments