Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd

Let me start by saying that the stage play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of my all time favorites; dark, macabre, twisted, and filled with gallows humor -- my kind of play. Plus, the music is amazing. So it was with great anticipation and trepidation that I awaited the release of the motion picture version. On the encouraging side, Tim Burton is one of the few directors out there with a sensibility dark enough to capture the spirit of Sweeney; on the worrisome side, as much as I respect Johnny Depp as an actor, his lack of vocal training and relative youth made it difficult for me to picture him as the deep voiced, mature Sweeney epitomized by George Hearn. But at the same time, I knew that Stephen Sondheim, the mastermind behind the play itself, had signed off on all casting decisions, so I struggled to give the film the benefit of the doubt.

I was surprised to find that the movie would be playing at the Hickory Creek Rave, which is about 15 minutes outside of Denton, and quickly made plans with Li'L Random, my fellow dark and twisty movie lover, to go see it. We got to the theater a little early, and had to wait for the earlier showing to let out. I had joked to Li'l Random that we should eavesdrop on the people leaving to see what they thought of it, but I'm afraid such a plan would have been totally in vain, as almost every single person exiting the theater did so in a state of morose, shell-shocked silence; after the third or fourth couple passed by us with stoic faces of grim determination it was all Li'l Brother and I could do to stifle our laughter. By the time the theater had emptied out, we had not seen a single person bearing a smile, which was odd, and had not heard a single person remarking on the film in one way or another, which was even odder. I remarked that it was too bad we were going to the last showing of the night, otherwise we could agree that, regardless of how we felt towards the film, we could leave it jumping up and down, high-fiving, chanting "Sweeney rules! Sweeney rules!" or the like. Why oh why did we have to choose the 9:45 showing? *sigh*

The showing before us had been pretty sparesely populated, so I was expecting a pretty empty theater for us as well; this was not to be the case, as the theater filled up rather quickly. The guy who sat down right next to me was quite vocal during the trailers, making me wonder if I could use my bag of M&Ms as a gag if his oh-so-witty commentary of such high caliber remarks as "Dude, that looks gay" and the like continued once the film started. As the film itself started up, I leaned over to Li'l Random and said "Okay, start the stopwatch to see how long before someone yells out 'Wait, is this a musical'?" Sure enough, there had barely been a full verse of the introductory song sung before the vocal guy next to me proclaimed "Is the whole thing going to be like this?" I must admit, I enjoyed the tone of discomfort in his voice, even as I was silently mouthing along with the lyrics -- almost as much as I enjoyed his discomfort as he cried out in disgust and squirmed violently in his seat every time Sweeney dispatched someone, sending Kill Bill worthy torrents of fake blood cascading across the screen.

Let this be a lesson to one and all: do a bit of research before you go to the movies, folks, it can save you some mental anguish.

As I mentioned on Monday, both Li'l Random and I enjoyed the film quite a bit, he as a newcomer to the world of Sweeney and I as an old hand. And, as an old hand, it's hard for me to be objective on the film without drawing comparisons to its source material; no matter how many times people have defended the film by saying "it's a movie based on the play, not a movie of the play," the fact remains that any adaptation must be able to not only stand on its own two feet, but also withstand the expectations and comparisons that are sure to arise in regards to the original.

Luckily for me, I had read enough reviews by other Sweeney fans beforehand to know two very importants facts: first of all, that while the movie still incorporated enough music to maintain the feel of an operetta, the score had been made a bit more "pop" in its orchestrations; and, second of all, the play's ubiquitious Ballad of Sweeney Todd was excised. It was this second fact which bothered me the most; while the music of The Ballad was kept in as part of the score, every time it would swell up I couldn't help wishing that we got to hear the following at least once during the film

In the play, "The Ballad" serves as a bit of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action of the play periodically. I understand why it was cut from the film overall; meta-textual pieces like this generally work better on the stage than on the screen, and with the nearly claustrophobic, personal atmosphere Burton cultivated having other characters swing in to comment on the action instead of allowing the action to unfold naturally most likely would have proven distracting. In fact, I noticed that all of the instances in the play where the crowd joins in on the song have had the crowd's participation removed; it was quite strange to hear "God That's Good" done without the title ever being uttered.

As for the tinkering with the orchestrations, well, just take a listen to the difference between George Hearn's version of "Epiphany"

versus Depp's version in the film*

I have to admit it was hard at times for me to accept Depp's less, shall we say, robust vocal stylings; there were numerous times in the film where a certain lyric or phrase would lose some of its punch for me due to the more pop-friendly interpretation, but it's difficult to say how I would have reacted to it I hadn't listened to the Broadway version countless times since I first saw the show over 10 years ago.

A smattering of things missing from the film caught my notice, primarily the reduced role of the beggar woman (in particular the removal of all of her bawdy solicitation attempts) and the removal of "Kiss Me," a song which would have helped to flesh out the anemic Anthony/Johanna relationship.

Of course, there were some changes from the stage to screen that were, if not improvements over the original, then at least interesting variations that added to my enjoyment.

First there was the younger cast; by having a younger Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, it required a downward shift in the ages of other characters as well. The sailor Anthony, often portrayed as a strapping, dashing young man, is here instead portrayed as a willowy, long-haired youth who looks like he could still be waiting on puberty to hit, which has the interesting effect of having his sudden infatuation with Johanna and subsequent romantic idealism more understandable. Meanwhile Toby, usually played as a lame teenager who's a bit slow in the head, is here played as a precocious little kid, which adds a certain poignancy to his ballad "Not While I'm Around," as well as making his final fate in the film more chilling.

Although some songs suffered a bit in the transition -- most notably "A Little Priest," which had much of its vaudevillian charm and structure removed, hamstringing its humorous effects -- I must admit that one of my least favorite songs of the play became one of my favorite numbers in the film. "By the Sea," a bright, cheery number that highlights how deluded Mrs. Lovett really is, never really gelled for me in the play, but in the movie Burton is able to use the power of cinema to transport us into Lovett's mind, giving us a tour of the picaresque vignettes she has shoehorned Sweeney, Toby, and herself into, to great comedic effect. True, it's a bit odd to have "By the Sea" garner more laughs from the audience than "A Little Priest," but for me, making "By the Sea" something I enjoyed more than tolerated was worthy of admiration, and has actually given me a bit more appreciation for the number. Fancy that.

Despite the numerous changes mentioned above, I have to say that, on the whole, the movie is incredibly faithful to the play. Yes, many songs were removed, and most of the ones which remained had lines chopped from them, but the intent of the songs remained intact. And, while there was a bit of juggling of scenes here and there, I had very few qualms with them because they served to strengthen the flow of the story; by moving Sweeney's version of "Johanna" before "God That's Good," the film organically shows the rise of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett's new enterprise, a rise that happens off-stage during intermission in the play, a sweeping change that's easy to accept in a play but difficult to pull off in a film without clumsy "three months later" style captions. Some people might feel that the watering down of the Anthony/Johanna love story weakens the film, but to be honest, despite providing some memorable songs, their romance was always more of a distraction from the central idea of the show to me than anything else. And what is that central idea? An exploration of the dark road that a desire for revenge leads a man down; for me, all other themes (class struggle, abuse of power, hypocrisy, etc.) pale before that one.

*Yes, that's a Lego version of the number; sue me, it's the best I could find.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Movie Mon. - Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, Does Whatever a Spider-Pig Does

The Simpsons Movie: Feature length film version of the incredibly long-running TV show whose plot revolves around a mishap on Homer's part (surprise, surprise) causing the town of Springfield to be quarantined from the rest of the world. If you're a fan of the show, then you'll probably enjoy the movie although, to be honest, outside of slightly higher production values, slightly stronger language, and one brief flash of animated naughty bits, I don't know if there was really enough here to warrant a big-screen treatment. Fun fact: the choral version of the Spider-Pig theme that plays over the end credits actually made the pop charts in the U.K.

Day Watch:
This sequel to the highly enjoyable Russian film Night Watch* follows the characters from the first film as they deal with the consequences of their choices in the battle of good versus evil. Have to admit, this one was a bit of a disappointment to me, and not just because it lacked the animated subtitles; it felt overlong, the character relationships were forced, and the plot was all over the place. There were some saving graces; the gender switching sequence, while pointless plot wise, provided some entertaining sequences, and there are some spectacular special effects scenes. But, in the end, I greatly preferred the first film.

Fun fantasy film about a young lad whose vow to retrieve a fallen star to win the heart of beautiful girl leads him into a magical land where the fallen star has taken the form of a young woman (Claire Danes) who is being hunted by a trio of witches who wish to cut out the star's heart for its mystical powers. Enjoyed this one a lot; funny and engaging, I'd recommend this fairy tale to just about anyone.

Purposefully amusing horror tale about a group of tourists who find themselves stranded in a Louisiana swamp being hunted by a misshapen creature with an insatiable bloodlust. This one is not for the squeamish; lots o' gore here. But for horror fans, I'd definitely recommend this thanks to its sense of humor (my dad and I were dying laughing through most of the film at the one-liners) and entertaining cast, which include Mercedes Mcnabb doing what I would have sworn was impossible before: playing a character which makes her former role as Harmony on Buffy/Angel seem like a MENSA member.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
Musical (yes, that's right, it's a musical, I know the trailers weren't explicit about that) about a wrongfully imprisoned barber who escapes from the penal colony and returns to London to seek his (very bloody) revenge. I want to do a separate post about this that is spoiler-heavy and deals with the actual movie-going experience itself, as well as my feelings on the way they adapted one of my favorite stage plays. But since I promised a couple of people I'd post about it today, I'll just say that I, a huge fan of the play, enjoyed it quite a bit, as did Li'l Random, who had never seen the play before. Be warned; it is pretty bloody, but in an over-the-top, Kill Bill sort of way.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Meany Todd, The Demon Blogger Of B. Street

Yeah, the blog title has nothing to do with much of anything below; just feeling random today.

Woke up in a bit of a funk this morning, one of those days where all of my thoughts immediately leaned towards the negative end of the spectrum. And while I've perked up considerably since then -- especially since finding out that Sweeney Todd will be coming to a nearby theater tomorrow so I won't have to wait until after New Years to see it -- my mood is of the type which can only be described as "weird." Kind of restless, filled with a feeling that there's something that I want to do, but I have no clue what that thing is. Hate it when I get like this.

I have officially decided to unofficially adopt Li'l Random as my official unofficial Li'l Brother*. This means that I am overly protective of him while simultaneously tormenting him relentlessly. That's what big brothers are for, right?

Right now it's looking like I probably won't head back to Miamuh until Sunday, due to the forecast of much wintery weather in Oklahoma on Saturday; as much as I want to see the family, I don't really want to mess with crappy weather to do so if I can avoid it.

Speaking of crappy weather in Oklahoma, it apparently wasn't quite as crappy as originally thought, nor was there as much damage as originally feared, which means that Cap'n Shack-Fu's deployment will end tomorrow afternoon, which means that he will actually get to go be with his family on Christmas.

Earlier this week I re-read In a Cabin in the Woods for the first time in a looooooong time. Surprisingly enough, I'm still pretty happy with it overall. Oh, sure, I desperately need to flesh out the first two stories, and clarify some stuff in the last two, but all-in-all, I didn't have the overwhelming "what was I thinking?" feeling that I often get when reviewing my work. Am seriously considering doing some revisions now, but we'll see how long that feeling lasts before I get distracted again.

Blondie Blaarrrgghhh has sorta-kinda relented on her girly naming of Shack-Fu's vehicle, and has now bestowed a more masculine name and acronym: BART, the Bad-Ass Rescue Truck. Not surprisingly, Shack-Fu approves.

And finally, a quick congrats to Zinger for passing his Professional Engineers exam.

*I think of Shack-Fu and PigPen as brothers as well, but neither one really falls into the Li'l Brother mold; The Lovable PigPen, of course, is the pesky little brother that makes you almost wish you were an only child again.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weathering the Storms

Guess hanging out with Li'l Random on Saturday and Sunday has rubbed off on me, as I'm feeling a bit random myself today:

It's that time of year again, when my allergies decide to stage a full-blown attack, manifesting in rotating symptoms; it started with the sore throat phase and then moved into the horrible, hacking cough phase. Late last week, one of my coughing fits caused several co-workers to gather around to make sure I wasn't about to keel over; according to my boss, I sounded "quite deathlike." The coughing has died down quite a bit in both frequency and intensity, and now the symptoms have moved to stopping up my nose and ears, with a hint of itchiness around the eyes. Joy!

My warmest thoughts go out to all of the blog monkeys who have been made powerless and dispossessed by ice storms; so far I know Bubblegum Tate, Redneck Diva, and my parents were all affected, and I'm sure there are some others out there as well. Most of them have had power restored by now; here's hoping the next round of storms doesn't knock them out again.

As we should have come to expect, bad weather in OK means that my best bud Cap'n Shack-Fu is on the road again; apparently, the boy is too darn good at his job, and so now he gets asked for by name. We keep trying to tell him if he slacks off more he might get to stay home, but I guess it's just not in his nature. Some people, huh? Anyway, he had only been back from his last deployment for a little over a month, so we're all hoping that this will be a much shorter time away.

While we're on the bad weather topic -- a week ago I got a call from PigPen asking if I could come pick him and Squiggly's sis up. "Car problems?" I asked. "You could say that," he replied. Turns out that while traveling down to Dallas to cheer on Cap'n Peanut at the White Rock Half Marathon*, the heavy rain caused PigPen's Mountaineer to hydroplane, and despite his best efforts it crashed head first into the concrete guardrail, deploying the airbags and pretty much demolishing the front end of the vehicle. Both of them escaped with minimal injuries, thank the heavens, but that kind of put a dent in PigPen's plans to sell the thing.

Last Tuesday while having lunch with Cap'n Shack-Fu and Li'l Random I was lamenting the fact that with PigPen's new work schedule (2-11 PM) and Shack's deployment I'm effectively losing both of my regular sparring partners. "Oh, well," said I, "guess I'll just have to start beating up on Li'l Random as a substitute." Li'l Random declared dramatically, "You better be careful, because maybe the partner will suddenly become -- the spar! Why don't you chew on that for a while!" Hard to argue with logic like that . . .

*The good Cap'n finished the 13 mile run in 1 hour 40 minutes, averaging under 8 minutes a mile and finishing ahead of 93% of the runners; way to go, Peanut!


Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Mon. - Legend!

Driftwood: Low budget horror flick about a troubled teen shipped off to a rehabilitation camp where he finds himself haunted by the ghost of a former resident. Not a bad little film; a bit over the top at times, but the tone of the film overall is off-kilter enough that it rarely bothered me. The ghost makeup, however, left much to be desired, since it mainly made the dead kid look more like he was auditioning for a role in Dead Presidents than trying to haunt the joint. Pro Wrestler Diamond Dallas Page did a good job as the sadistic head of the camp.

The Invisible: Supernatural thriller about a teen undergoing an out of body experience after he's assaulted and left for dead in the woods. Not quite what I was expecting from the trailers, particularly the connection between the astral projecting boy and the one person who can sense him. I enjoyed the film overall, although I felt that it started to fall apart in its final act.

The Reaping: Horror movie about a formerly devout debunker of religious phenomenon who is called in to solve an outbreak of biblical plagues in a small Louisiana town -- plagues which the locals are blaming on God's wrath being visited a little girl who supposedly murdered her brother. Entertaining, if mildly predictable, film. Worth a rental.

I Am Legend: Loosely based on Richard Matheson's novel about the sole survivor of a plague that mimics vampirism. Although fans of the book might be off-put by the changes to the plot -- for example, the reason why he is legend in the movie is totally opposite why he is legend in the book -- taken by itself, the film is rather enjoyable. Will Smith does his thing and is able to carry the bulk of the movie by himself. The ending felt a bit rushed, and a tad anticlimactic, but overall, worth the money to see on the big screen.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past: Domo Arigato All You Robotos

One thing that would make a toy stand out to young Cap'n Neurotic more than anything else was this: versatility. A spaceship was cool, but a spaceship that could also turn into a host of other toys?


Yes, the Micronauts Battle Cruiser (click here for more detail) was yet another cherished toy from my childhood. LovedlovedLOVED this thing; think nine times out of ten I pretended it was the spaceship Phoenix from the cartoon Battle of the Planets, which was one of my favorite (although seldom viewed) cartoons as a youth. Although the only other official Micronaut toy I owned was the previously mentioned Hornetroid, I would later purchase the total Baron Karza knockoff Count Magno and steed, which also had the bonus of possessing interchangeable parts for customized playtime.

My other big interchangeable toys were the Starriors, which was another line of toys I had completely forgotten about until I started this stroll down memory lane. Which is strange, because I loved this things with their removable (and movable) limbs. I owned three of them:


and Sawtooth,
although in my mind Sawtooth was renamed "Purple Rain," which should give you a pretty good idea of about what year I first got these. The most commeon configuration was for me to mount their legs on their shoulder pegs like wings and put their arms on their leg pegs since they resembled bird legs with talons. The other cool thing about the Starriors line was that they came with mini-comic books; if I weren't already broke, I'd probably waste a ton of money trying to track them down. So, yay for having no money!

While Micronauts may have been my intro to interchangable toys, GoBots were my introduction to the whole transforming robots phenomenon. My very first one was the incredibly rudimentary Loco
followed by the slightly more complex Scooter

I would soon graduate to the much larger and intricate Transformers, but would pick up the occaisional cool looking GoBot from time to time. My two favorites: Water Walk

and Scorp

And then there were my few Transformer purchases, such as Trailbreaker

and Prowl

I find it worth noting that, a lot of the time, I modified the backstories of the figures so that they weren't really transforming robots, but actually super-high-tech action vehicles with multiple attack formations which could be derived by placing the figures in various states of transformation. Thus, the toys which most easily lent themselves to such reimaginings (Trailbreaker, Water Walk, Scorp) were the ones most played with.

And finally, we will wrap up our tour down memory lane's toy aisle with a look at some robotic toys that didn't really fulfill my need for versatility: RoboForce

And yet, they had suction cups on the bottom, and somehow that made them cool. Go figure.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past - Memory Lane

Going through the old Sears Wishbooks brought up lots o' memories for me, as seeing one toy pictured would remind me of two or three that weren't. So, let's take a quick rummage around the toy chest of my mind, shall we?

When I saw the Wishbook ad for the Fischer Price yacht, the first thing it made me think of was my other playset which often served as an expansion for the Fisher Price figures: the Sesame Street Clubhouse.

Loved that little playset, with its hand cranked conveyor belt that you can see is pushing Big Bird over to the red slide in the picture; and then there's that white rectangle next to Grover, which is actually a trap door -- I loved me some trap doors when I was a kid.

Couple of other early favorites were my Superman Big Wheel

and my Sit and Spin
which I covered in the Six Million Dollar Man stickers which didn't wind up plastered all over my bedroom wall.

As I may have mentioned before, my toy collection was pretty scattershot; I never picked one toy line to focus on above all others, but instead dabbled in a wide variety. Of course, my earliest action figures were those which any self-respecting child of the late 70s had: Star Wars. And while I mentioned a few of the figures I used to own in some of the Wishbook posts, there is one seminal piece of Star Wars paraphernalia which was not pictured: the Death Star Space Station playset.

Which, in addition to a neat cannon and elevator (not to mention a trap door) also had the nifty trash compactor toy complete with trash compactor monster which, I have learned while doing image Goolges, is technically known as a dianoga.

I had this funky looking thing for many years longer than the actual playset lasted. My other beloved Star Wars toy was my Tauntaun.

As mentioned previously, I had my fair share of Masters of the Universe toys. In addition to Orko, Buzz-off, and Ram-Man, I was also in possession of Teela

and the unfortunately named Fisto.

Seriously, Fisto? And someone got paid to come up with that? Sheesh.

I liked the concept of Webstor, with his grappling hook back pack which served as a zip line, but in practice the line was constantly getting tangled and it wasn't long before it was totally useless.

As for Teela, well, my biggest memory with her was taking her to school and having one of the older kids swipe her and scratch off paint around her chest to reveal the flesh colored paint underneath, making her suddenly, if not an R-rated toy, at least PG-13. And, sadly by that point I had already lost the snake-shaped helmet/breastplate which would have effectively covered her shame.

Although the following were definitely birthday presents* and not Christmas presents, I figure we may as well ride the nostalgia train for as long as we can.

I remember coming up with some scenario in which Pegasus was wounded, and I decided to use red crayon for the effect, not realizing that the red streaks would be pretty much permanent.

There are a few toys that I have fond memories off that have so far eluded my attempts to find photographic proof of online, such as the Spider-Baby doll or the strange looking drag racer figure whose car looked like it was more suited for underwater travel or outer-space use than land activities, and so that's precisely what he became. That was a common theme of my play time as a kid, creating new worlds, powers, and back-stories for my action figures; seldom if ever were my imagining straight-forward interpretations. This was true of my Star Wars figures, my Masters of the Universe figures, my G.I. Joe figures, and, of course, the vast array of robotic figures which I'll be discussing in my next post**.

*Have a very clear recollection of getting these at my McDonalds birthday party in 80 or 81, for some reason
**Hey, gotta milk this for all that it's worth!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1986

We now reach the end of our trip down Sears Wishbook memory lane with the joys of 1986, which was a veritable explosion of TV show related action figure goodness. Of course, by this point in time, while my interest in the toys was great, my drive to own them had waned, whether due to lack of funds or a decision that 6th grade was a good enough time to move away from toys as any. So, most of the following will be more "ooo, I always thought that was cool" rather than "oooo, I loved having that one!"

  • I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to any of my family members who spent any money on any of the items listed on this page; I was the stereotypical boy who cries "Wow, it would so cool to have a microscope/chemistry set/insert-science-based-hobby-here" only to briefly look at the kit a couple of times and then stick it away on the shelf to gather dust.
  • Ah yes; Photon is to Lazer Tag as Betamax was to VHS, I believe. Of course, I never had either of them.
  • I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I have never owned a video game system of my own; all of my video game experience comes courtesy of arcades, game consoles of friends and roomies, and the occasional bit of software that gets installed on my computer. Still, I look at this page and just have to wonder: how many people out there actually bought Item #3?
  • Two pages of Rambo inspired toys. Two. Pages. Meanwhile, the force of nature that is Chuck Norris only gets a quarter of a page. Wow, this is just mind bottling*.
  • This page gets included just for my current roomies, who were both fans of the show/toys; afraid it never aired on any of the stations we got.
  • Back down to just one page; Masters of the Universe were slipping, eh? Oh, and look, I actually own one of the figures pictured, Buzz-Off . . . not that it's actually offered for sale anywhere on the page, mind you.
  • Oh, look: Over the Top official arm wrestling toys! I bet those were a hit that Christmas huh? Can you imagine the joy and wonder the children felt as they opened up their gi . . . BWAH-HA-HA-HA! Sorry, tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't hold it in.
  • And in addition to all of the above, we also had pages for cartoon inspired toys like Thundercats, M.A.S.K., Inhumanoids, Transformers, Defenders of the Earth, etc. Got to play with some of the stuff thanks to Ol' Vick, who I was still friends with at the time, but seeing them all laid out like that makes me realize that by 1986, I had started to move away from action figures and onto . . . well, books. Lots and lots of books.

Well, that may wrap up Sears Wishbook posts, but it has really just opened up a cornucopia of nostalgia that's sure to result in a flood of related posts . . . and by "a flood," I of course mean "one or two, if I get around to it."

*You know; like your mind is trapped in a bottle.


Movie Mon. - Werewolves at War

I had such nice plans for getting all caught up on movie and TV watching this weekend but alas and alack they came to naught as I actually wound up hanging out with Cap'ns Peanut and Shack-Fu most of Saturday, and had some extenuating circumstances intrude on Sunday. So, here's my one movie review for the week.

Skinwalkers: So-so werewolf flick about two rival factions of werewolves fighting over a young human/werewolf half-breed who is prophesied to contain the power to destroy the curse of lycanthropy. The acting was pretty good, and the plot line was decent with a nice twist here and there -- I wish they would have done more with the Native American angle -- but I wasn't a big fan of the overall werewolf design, and some of the CGI was spotty. Held my interest and I wasn't sorry I saw it, but not one I'm going to rush out and recommend to all of my friends.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1985

Well, it looks like our faithful scanner of Sears Wishbooks has not been able to get the 1984 catalog scanned in, which is a shame, since that was the year that Transformers and GoBots and the like really took off; curious to see what might have caught my eye from then. But, for now, let's just take a look at 1985.

  • No, I never had any of these, but I always wanted one, especially the giant version of Maxx Steele from RoboForce.
  • Poor GoBots; never quite got the following of some other series of transforming robots. I had a few, but the only GoBot toy from the catalog was Item #13. Man, was that a funky looking playset or what?
  • And here are the winners of the transforming toy robot war: on this page you'll see my favorite Dinobot Swoop, which was, not coincidentally, the only Dinobot I owned.
  • I present this page not for the rest of the Transformers toys, but for item #24, which I had completely forgotten about until I saw it here; what a hassle to keep track of that was.
  • By this year, Masters of the Universe had graduated to a full 2-page spread, not to mention the She-Ra page later on. On the first page we get to see one of my favorite toys, Item #3, Orko, which would spin around like crazy when you pulled a ripcord; way too much fun with that one. There's also the Battle Armor He-Man which had a rotating plate on the chest that would record "damage," and the funky little Dragon Walker which looked oh so cool on the commercials, but was painfully slow and uninteresting in person. On the second page is another of my favorite toys, #24: Modulok. Or, as anyone who remember the toy commercial might hear in their head: Mod! U! Lok! Modulok, Modulok, Modulok!

    A better look at the joy which was Modulok can be found here., which includes the package art and instructions as well as a look at all of Modulok's modular parts. Had way too much fun playing combinatorics with this one.
  • Again we have entrants into the "toys I never had but always wanted" category: M.A.S.K.
  • And here we have something which you know could not help but catch young Cap'n Neurotic's comic geek eye: lucky Item #13, a random grab-bag of 30 Marvel comic books. This one became a Christmas staple for several years; yes, I always wound up with duplicates of books I already owned, but surprisingly very few. Probably the biggest benefit for me was that one of the random issues later inspired me to track down the full series of Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja, which was so far removed from what the title implies you would not believe it.


Friday, December 07, 2007

I Just Got Elfed!

Courtesy of Cap'n Cluck, clearly abusing her position as Foundations of Fellowship class photographer: Li'l Random, Cap'n Peanut, Squiggly and myself got elfed.

Right now I'm highly tempted to see what HyperTwin Elves would look like . . .


Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1983

The 1983 Sears Wishbook is a tad disappointing compared to the previous two I've discussed, since there are only two pages with anything that jumped out and caught my nostalgic eye. Makes me wonder if some of the stuff in the 1982 catalog didn't make it my way until 83, or if I got a large number of items from the Penny's catalog that year; sadly, nobody seems to have much in the way of Pennys catalogs online as of yet.

  • Masters of the Universe toys were obviously increasing in popularity since the previous year, with them now taking over half a page instead of just a third. Of course, out of the figures shown here, i only owned one: Ram-Man.
  • While I do have a soft-spot for several of the games shown here -- especially Hungry Hungry Hippos -- the one that jumped out at me was Bargain Hunter, which I remember because it had this "credit card machine" which would spin and tell you if your card was accepted or not; for some reason, running the fake card through the fake machine and listening to the little drum inside roll around was slightly hypnotic to me.


Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1979

Turns out that the 1982 Sears Christmas Wishbook is not the only volume to be scanned and provided online, so today we'll continue our trip down memory lane be going back a few years see what nostalgia comes welling up from 1979, when a 4-year old Cap'n Neurotic was enjoying his first few blissful years of consumerism.

  • Item #10 was one of my favorite toys as a kid; have no idea what happened to all of the firefighter figures, but that treehouse would work its way into many a imaginary scenario over the years; I think the collapsible top played into my youthful obsession with secret passages and hidden doorways and the like.
  • Wow, did the memories come back thanks to this page: the Fisher-Price Houseboat is familiar, but not as much as the Fisher-Price figures on it. I also have strong memories of parts of Item #4, particularly the helicopter and the black chains you can barely see on the front of the small blue boat; the designs of the chain made it look like a face with two dangly, hooked limbs hanging off, causing it to become some sort of creepy alien creature in my imagination. And then of course there's Item #6, the faux doctor equipment; again, parts of this would outlive others, and be put to uses other than what they were intended -- the thermometer, which had a little twist knob that turned it's center line from white to red, became some sort of laser pen or tricorder or whatever I wanted it to be at the time. Did I mention I spent a lot of time playing alone as a child?
  • More familiar items on this page: Items 8 and 10 are familiar, but may have belonged to our church's nursery rather than to me, but I know #13 was mine because I remember using the silo to transport other toys around with me. I also remember how the barn doors would make a mooing sound every time they were opened; bet my parents loved that.
  • Item #4: the Hornetroid. LovedlovedLOVED my Hornetroid. I mean, look at it; how could I not?
  • Star Wars! Had quite a few of these figures: Snaggletooth and Walrus Man, Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper*, a Jawa and a Sand Person, and the Patrol Dewback as well. Oh, and Boba Fett, but I don't think I got him until after Empire came out.
  • One of my other favorite toys: The Millenium Falcon. I also wanted the Tie Fighter and X-Wing, but the Falcon last me a good long while. Oh, and I once knew someone who had that Shogun Warrior figure which is crammed into the bottom corner.
  • Item #2: Skedoodle. Had totally forgotten about Skedoodle. Many hours of mindless entertainment with this obscure drawing toy.**
  • And finally, while I never owned anything from this page, I had to share because the kids' poses crack me up.
*Both of which wound up becoming part of my legless legion as I mentioned in my post about weird things about me as a kid.
**While it wasn't the exact same set as Item #3, my childhood best friend Ol' Vick had a similar mix-and-match super-hero creating toy which occupied many hours of my youth.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Wishbooks Past - 1982

Zinger forwarded a link to me earlier today, and suggested I do a quick blog post about it. I, being lazy and hard up for blogging topics at the moment, acquiesced. What was the link? A Flickr album of scanned pages from the 1982 Sears Wishbook Catalog. Dox knows how many countless hours I spent pouring over the Sears and JC Penny's catalogs as a kid around Christmas time. A few thoughts that came to mind while browsing the pages:

  • I had items #2, 7, 8, and 9. . . and had completely forgotten about all of them until I saw this page
  • It amuses me greatly that back in 82 "Masters of the Universe" Toys were smooshed into the bottom third of a page with a bunch of generic "themed" toys. Oh, and the Battle Ram Mobile Launcher (item #15) is another toy I used to have which had fallen into the mists of memory until this page brought it all back.
  • At a certain point in my life, I would have conceivably killed to have items #11 and 14
  • I didn't own any of these, but my uncle did
  • Another in a long list of things I always wanted as a kid: #14
  • Gotta love the hyperbolic advertising. "It's amazing! It's unbelievable! It's a product that will soon become obsolete because a competitor will become the industry standard!"
  • Don't know what's odder: that there was a point in time when there were 5 pages of catalog devoted exclusively to Smurf memorabilia, or that that even more pages were given over to Little Orphan Annie merchandise.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"What I Watched" Wednesday - Movie Time

Okay, not enough TV watching worth talking about right now, so I'll just do a quick three-movie-roundup.

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
: Entertaining kinda-sorta-documentary which follows prolific actor Stephen Tobolowsky (currently playing Bob on Heroes, although he will always be Groundhog Day's Ned Ryerson to me) on his birthday as he relates numerous stories about his life. Tobolowsky is an incredibly charismatic and engaging storyteller, and his energy and humor make this film fly by; there are times you might want to question how factual his stories might be, but in the end it's more about the hoy derived from hearing the stories than the truth of the stories themselves . If you do happen to rent this one and enjoy it, I would highly recommend watching the deleted scenes, which are, on the whole, equally as entertaining as any scene in the film itself. One odd note is that Tobolowsky's general storytelling style, right down to speech cadence and inflection, is spookily reminiscent of that of our church's associate pastor who is currently in charge of the Singles. Anyway, that's really neither here nor there; bottom line is, I liked this movie a lot.

Waitress: Quirky Indie film about a small town waitress (Keri Russell) whose plans to escape from her rotten husband (Jeremy Sisto) are derailed by an unexpected preganancy. I liked this one a lot; made me laugh out loud several times. Andy Griffith's turn as the cranky diner owner with a penchant for speaking his mind was a definite highlight, and it was interesting to see Nathan Fillion playing such a nervous character . Sadly, writer/director/co-star Adrienne Shelley, who showed so much promise as a filmmaker with this outing which she wrote while pregnant with her daughter Sophie (who plays Russell's daughter at the end of the film), was murdered shortly before the film's release.

No Country For Old Men: The latest outing from The Coen Brothers (Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, Big Lebowski to name a few) is a deliberately paced drama about a mule-headed Texan who stumbles upon a satchel of over $2 million of drug money, and then has to avoid the sociopathic killer tasked with recovering the loot. Before I go any further, let me just say this: after we saw this on Saturday, Cap'ns Shack-Fu and Peanut ranked the movie 2-3 out of ten, while Li'l Random and I ranked it 7-8 out of ten. So, yeah, a bit of a divide there; considering that Li'l Random and I are The Odd Squodd, then you can probably bet that most people's opinions might lean towards those of Shack and Peanut. So, there's your disclaimer so none of you blog monkeys can complain to me if you don't love it even though I said it was a great movie. Which is not to say that I left the theater totally satisfied; there were at least two instances in the film where the usual painstaking, methodical approach to storytelling was tossed asunder. leaving me vaguely nonplussed, discomfited and disappointed due to their abruptly anticlimactic nature. Both of these instances were cited by Shack and Peanut as reasons for their dislike of the film. I suspect that upon subsequent viewings I won't be as bothered by the items in question as I was on my initial viewing, especially upon reflection that these shifts were more than likely intended to generate such a feeling. The dangers of thwarting audience expectations, I suppose. Anyway, the movie made me laugh, made me cringe, and made me think; not bad for a couple hours worth of entertainment, in my opinion. One I would recommend few, and then only with the caveat that anyone expecting a typical Hollywood resolution is going to be disappointed.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Feast or Famine

I was on a bit of a blogging roll the last few weeks, but circumstances are conspiring to reduce my output, and by "circumstances" I mean "allergies, lack of sleep, over-booking of social life, and overall writer's block." I'll probably get my weekly movie/TV reviews up by tomorrow, and I hope to receive some sort of inspiration for additional blogging soon


Friday, November 30, 2007

Fragmented Friday - "Sometimes the Voices Come Together and Make a Funny"

My travel plans for Thanksgiving had been to head to Miamuh on Wednesday and head back to Denton on Sunday, but after the weather reports suggested bad weather was going to be hitting Saturday evening, I decided to head back a day early. Fortunately, this meant I managed to miss the worst of the weather; unfortunately, it also meant I got stuck in the middle of all of the traffic heading from Tulsa to Norman for the Bedlam game. The Bedlam traffic added a good hour onto my drive and caused much frustration; not as much frustration as actually watching the Bedlam game, mind you, but frustration nonetheless.

Because I hadn't planned on being back in time for church on Sunday, I had handed the teaching reigns over to The Lovable PigPen, with the understanding that even if I did come back early, he would still do the lesson; it was a little strange since, unlike my previous substitutes, PigPen was actually continuing the series on Revelation I had been teaching. PigPen will tell you that the borderline OCD part of me really struggled with letting go of my control of the lesson like that; it wouldn't have mattered if the substitute was PigPen, Papa Lightbulb, or our pastor himself, the thought of someone else covering the material that I had been preparing, eschewing my style and process for their own -- *shudder* I must admit, it was kind of nice being able to just sit back and let someone else lead the class, with me putting in my two cents upon occasion.

At one point during PigPen's lesson, Blondie Blaarrrgghhh started to ask a question, which prompted Maverick to make a smartass comment, which prompted Blondie to tell him to shut up. However, Maverick had made his comment so quietly, and Blondie didn't really turn towards him when she spoke, so all the rest of us witnessed was her saying "Could I ask if -- shut up!" Amused and intrigued, I asked "Are the voices in your head bothering you again?" This has led to many, many, many jokes about Blondie's multiple personalities, several of which have been made by Blondie herself. At lunch that day, after she cracked wise and made PigPen laugh, she exclaimed "See, sometimes the voices come together and make a funny!" A couple of days later I posted the following cartoon on her Facebook page, telling her it made me think of her for some reason:

Her reply:

Ha ha.
Hee hee.

All but one thought it was funny!
Tonight I shall be going to watch Cap'ns Disaster and Shack-Fu play dodgeball with some of their fellow FEMA coworkers; sadly, they couldn't convince Li'l Random to join in on the fun.

My good friend Shack-Fu confirmed last night while we were at the gym that my posting of the girly names Blondie gave his vehicle would indeed be tantamount to signing my death warrant, a confirmation that has only peaked the interest of Todd's Inner Death Wish, as the I.D.W. has started pondering if Shack-Fu's threats of launching rogue dodgeballs into the stands are valid, or if he will instead just decide one day to forgo his bike ride and instead let "roughing Todd up" serve as his cardio for the day . . .

Even without the girly names factor, the fact that Shack-Fu has not been able to test my battle readiness since I broke my finger on July 2nd, coupled with the fact that I am now sufficiently healed enough that such rough housing is now feasible for me again, has led to many occasions over the past month or so in which a Shack-Fu/Neurotic grappling match has almost broken out; it's only a matter of time before the siren call of "throwing Todd around like a rag doll" becomes too powerful for him to resist . . . and, of course, a part of me welcomes the approaching storm, if for no other reason than it will be a nice change to have someone other than The Lovable PigPen beat up on me.

Trouble has been giving me, well, trouble for not having her in the cast list even though she's one of the few remaining Singles from the early days; for once, someone's pestering has paid off, but don't expect it to work again.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Low-Key Singles Thanksgiving, or "Sadly, No Boot to the Head This Year"

The 2008 Foundations of Fellowship* Thanksgiving dinner was nowhere near as violent as last year's, unfortunately; well, I say unfortunately, but I'm sure Cap'n Shack-Fu is glad he didn't have to surrender his man card yet again.

The dinner was hosted yet again at Shack's Shack, which was nice, although problems arose when his oven and stovetop stopped working, forcing Cap'n Cluck to try preparing her turkey gravy in the microwave, with questionable results. One of the then-nickless Singles remarked that it need to coagulate, and then made some strange hand gestures and noises to demonstrate what she meant; the Shackmeister said "What was that again?" and proceeded to mockingly reproduce the strange gestures and sounds. This sound, in effect, became the HyperForce catchphrase of the night, pulled out anytime we wanted to get her goat. Later on, after a mental slip caused her to remark "I guess I really am a blonde, huh?" I proclaimed that as soon as I figured out how to phonetically represent the coagulating sound, she would be nicknamed Blondie Blaarrrgghhh. And so, it has come to pass.

At one point in the evening, Blondie decided that Cap'n Shack-Fu's truck needed a name, and proceeded to give him a couple of different options which he wasn't too fond of, due to their feminine qualities, but Blondie has been persistent in using her girly labels to inquire about the vehicle. What are the names, you ask? Well, there's a part of me that's really tempted to tell you, but, considering the threatening looks I was getting from Shack-Fu at lunch today when I was relating the names to Li'l Random, I think it's the same part of me that continues to instigate physical confrontations with PigPen despite the certain knowledge that I'm going to wind up bruised, battered, and possibly broken -- I like to call that part of me "Todd's Inner Death Wish**."

Probably my favorite moment of the evening came when Cap'n Peanut presented Cap'n Cluck with a special gift: a cupcake made especially for her. Well, to be more accurate, Cap'n Peanut made four cupcakes especially for the four Guilty Girls who had peppered his truck with rubber spiders the week before; each cupcake was in an individual tupperware container with its intended Guilty Girl recipient's name written on top. But, since Cap'n Cluck is the only Guilty Girl officially in our class***, she was the only one present to receive her cupcake. She asked him repeatedly what was wrong with it; he repeatedly assured her that there was nothing wrong with it at all, and acted offended that she could accuse him of such a thing. After dinner, Cluckity finally got the cupcake out of it container, scraped off all of the icing, spreading it out to make sure there was nothing lurking inside, and then eviscerated the cupcake itself, picking it apart until it was little more than a pile of crumbs, all while Cap'n Peanut exclaimed indignantly at the damage done to the baked goods he had made himself.

Good times, good times.

*Don't think I've mentioned before that that's the name our class come up with for ourselves
**This is the same part of me that, when Shack-Fu told Blondie he would only accept the girly name if it was a super-cool acronym, decided to chime in with an acronym that made the name even girlier, and almost led to me being the one getting the boot to the head this year.
***Mei-Mei and Angel (as well as the not-quite-as-Guilty-this-time-around Trouble) attend other classes in the Singles department, while Doc Jetson now attends Denton Bible on Sunday mornings, but when it comes to social events all are pretty much honorary members of Foundations of Fellowship


Rise of the Guilty Girls Pt.4 - Tempting Fate, or "Good Clean Fun, No Harm Done!"

A few weeks back we had a birthday party for Squiggly and Darth Spike* organized by Blondie Blaarrrgghhh** and held at Cap'n Bubbles' place. There was a pretty big turnout, including 4 out of 5 Guilty Girls*** and the sole un-pranked HyperForcer, Cap'n Peanut. When the Guilty Girls left early, claiming that they were all tired, it should have been a warning sign that things were afoot. A little while after their departure, we were playing Mafia, a game which requires participants to close their eyes and remain still at certain parts; during the course of the game, Peanut started to get text messages from the Guilty Girls designed to gig him about his aversion to spiders, things like "Have you ever seen Arachnaphobia?" The texting was causing some consternation amongst the Mafia players, as the Guilty Girls seemed to have an uncanny knack for setting off Peanut's text ringtone every time it was eye-closing time. Soon, they actually called him on some pretense, but the paranoid Peanut was wary of their wily ways. I'm unsure of what their pretense was, as I only heard Peanut's side of the conversation: "Uh-huh. Sure. Is that true? Because if it is, I'll come and help, but if it's not . . . Yeah, that's what I thought." He soon had to vacate the living room due to frustrated Mafia players, and so headed outside to finish up his call. A few minutes later, he burst back in, exclaimed "Oh, it's on now!" and tossed several rubber spiders on the floor. Turns out the guilty girls had placed a dozen rubber spiders all over Peanut's truck: on the headlights, on the windshield wipers, on the step outside the driver's side door . . . they had even tried to stuff several under the gas tank cover, so that when he went to get gas they'd come popping out, but unfortunately for their sneaky plan one of the spiders wound up dangling outside and so the gas tank bunch were some of the first he found. A good portion of the rest of the party was spent with all of the various party guests voicing their suggestions for pranks that Peanut could pull in retribution.

That Sunday in class, Cap'n Peanut made a special prayer request for "the guilty girls, because they're going to need it," and thus was a nickname born. Thanks, Peanut!

When we went to the main church service, I wound up sitting next to Mei-Mei, while Angel sat on the pew behind us. They told me that they had been parked across the street watching while Cap'n Peanut discovered their handiwork, which is when Angel said in her sweet little innocent voice "Peanut screamed like a little girl." A short while later, as the deacon bearing the tray with The Lord's Supper approached our pews, I felt a tap on my shoulder as Angel leaned over and whispered "I have to confess: Peanut didn't really scream like a little girl, I made that up." Yes, she had to confess her mischievous fib before she could take part of The Lord's Supper; that's Angel in a nutshell.

After church, the whole Singles department went out for a farewell luncheon for the department's intern, and Cap'n Peanut and I wound up sitting right next to the Guilty Girls. He told Angel and Mei-Mei that he had been so traumatized by the event that he had to get rid of the truck, which is when I realized that he had finally traded in his gas guzzler for the sporty little Mazda RX8 he'd been eyeballing for the better part of a week. In retrospect, I now wish that Peanut hadn't found the gas tank spiders, because the idea of one of the dealership worker's getting a surprise when they went to fill it up: priceless.

Throughout the day, Peanut keep making comments about how the Guilty Girls should be watching their backs; Mei-Mei assured him that after growing up with her brothers and all the tortures they inflicted upon her nothing he did could faze her, while Angel just cheerily chirped the same mantra over and over: "Good clean fun, no harm done!"

And thus we draw the saga of the Guilty Girls to a close for now, as we all anxiously await the next volley in the prank wars: will Cap'n Peanut live up to his threats? Will the Guilty Girls devote their energies towards others now, or simply revisit their favorite targets? Inquiring minds want to know!

*Nickname comes from his Darth Vader costume at Halloween last year, and his spiky hairdo
**More on her nickname(s) tomorrow
***Trouble was MIA on this one


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's Like It's Staring Right Into My Soul

Took a silly little personality quiz on Facebook which asks you to choose the picture which you feel most closely represents a concept. Here's what it came up with for me:

Nothing seems to bother you - you sail through life crisis free. It's not that your life doesn't have its ups and downs, it's just that you handle everything without unnecessary drama and antics. You approach each day fresh, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. You are confident that you can handle anything that comes your way and experience has shown that you are absolutely right about this.

Oh, yeah, that's one accurate test all right. . .


TV Tues - Mohinder Must GO!!!!!!!!!

Good news: talks have resumed in the writers' strike. Not quite so good news: things probably won't be resolved super-quickly.

Monday November 19

Chuck (NBC 7:00)
: Hate that Rachel Bilson's arc was so short, but was glad to see Bryce's return, if for no other reason than the chance for closure on the "why Chuck?" question.

Journeyman (NBC 8:00): I have such a love-hate relationship with this show it's not even funny.

Wednesday November 21

Pushing Daisies (ABC 7:00):
Looking forward to seeing the return of Paul Reubens as the odor fanatic; wonder just what it was he smelled on Chuck . . .

Thursday November 22

CSI (CBS 7:00):
No, I don't usually watch CSI, but since I was at my parents' place, I got to see the highly entertaining board game episode. Good stuff.

Monday, November 26

Heroes (NBC 8:00):
Today's Heroes commentary is pretty much spoiler free, and courtesy of an IM conversation between Zinger and myself:

Zinger: The Heroes formula seems to be "turn a different character into a moron each week. is this standard for comic books?
Me: Not really. I'm starting to wonder if The Haitian has given everyone around him brain damage. It would explain so much. Or maybe being around Ted and Peter-with-Ted's-power gave them all brain tumors
Zinger: good theory
Me: which wouldn't explain Maya, although I've suspected from her first, annoying appearance that she was functionally retarded, and I use the word "functionally" very loosely here
Zinger: ah yes, I forgot about her plunge into stupidity

And am I the only one hoping that the "two heroes will fall" teaser has a broad enough definition of "hero" to include Mohinder?


Monday, November 26, 2007

Movie Mon. - "Still Funny About the Sheep, Eh?"

Black Sheep: Amusing horror-comedy from New Zealand about genetic experiments gone awry, resulting in a herd of bloodthirsty, carnivorous sheep which can only be stopped by the efforts of a spacey environmental nut named Experience and a former farm boy afflicted with crippling ovinophobia (a.k.a. fear of sheep). Although most of the humor is mined from the absurdity of killer sheep and not so much witty dialog, I have admit that that was enough to keep me entertained -- watching the hapless victims get tackled by flying sheep never wore thin. And while the script might not have been filled with the great witty remarks that set apart the cream of the horror-comedy crop (Shaun of the Dead, Slither), neither was it devoid of non-physical humor. All in all, a solid little film that is well worth watching by fans of the genre.

Live Free or Die Hard: Latest installment of the adventures of John "King of Being in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time" McClane who this time gets wrapped up in a massive plot revolving around a coordinated attack on the transportation and telecommunications, financial, and utilities infrastructure. One of those nice, check-your-brain-at-the-door action films with fun action set-pieces and snappy banter. My suspension of disbelief was stretched to the breaking point only once, during the fighter jet sequence; the rest of the unbelievable stunts I was able to reconcile, but that one got to me. Still, a fun movie overall.

Rescue Dawn: Interesting look at the real life story of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a U.S. pilot shot down over Laos and taken prisoner during the Viet Nam War, and his eventual escape. Bale does a great job, as does Steve Zahn in an unusually dramatic role. A bit of dark humor throughout, as the ordeals of the P.O.W.s leads them into borderline insanity at times. Extremely well done film, as to be expected with a director the caliber of Werner Herzog at the helm; interestingly enough, Herzog also directed a documentary about Dengler, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, close to ten years ago -- yes, it is now in my queue.

Hairspray: Fun adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, which was itself based on John Water's 1988 semi-musical film of the same name. One of the things I like the most about the music in Hairspray is how well the songwriters were able to capture the style of the times -- where the songs in Dreamgirls felt like Broadway versions of Motown, most of the songs in Hairspray felt like pieces from the period. While I was sorry not all of the songs made it in to the film (really missed hearing a full version of It Takes Two), the songs which did make the cut were all handled very well; I think that the nature of the soundtrack will make this one of those musicals that's enjoyed by people who don't normally enjoy musicals, a la Grease. I was very impressed with James Marsden's performance as dance show host Corny Collins; had no idea the Oklahoma native could sing that well, let alone dance. As for John Travolta donning the fat suit and wig to play the overweight Edna Turnblad, well, while I was never quite sure what his accent was supposed to be, I have to admit, very seldom did the thought "that's John Travlota in drag" distract me from the film.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Rise of the Guilty Girls Pt.3 - You Know It's Your Baby!

A few weeks after Cap'n Shack-Fu's house was invaded by little plastic men, I get a call from Cap'n Cluck asking for some descriptive physical details to help the Guilty Girls narrow down their search for Li'l Random's house; I, not wanting Li'l Random d to feel left out of the joys of prankdom, did what I could -- hey, what else are best friends for? About an hour or so later, I got a call from the Random One himself which caused me to issue an exclamation of surprise, since best bud Li'l Random is as notorious about not returning phone callas as best bud Flunky is for not returning emails. My exclamation caught the attention of Squiggly's sis, who was over with PigPen; she signaled me that the Guilty Girls were in the process of trying to do something at his house. I then did what anyone would be expected to do in such a situation: I began to pump my good pal for information, and then parrot it back so that Squiggly's sis might text any pertinent information learned to the pranksters. "So, you're just now pulling into the house, huh? Oh, going out into the front yard to water the lawn, eh?" Don't think my oh-so-subtle ruse did anything other than make Li'l Random wonder what I had been smoking, but oh, well.

After we'd finished our conversation, Li'l Random settled in for the night, only to have his TV viewage interrupted by a ringing of the doorbell. He opened the door, glanced around, saw nothing, and went back inside. Soon the doorbell was ringing again, and this time when he opened up, he noticed what he had missed the first go-around: a basket filled with five baby-dolls along with a note explaining that they were his kids.

He was then assaulted by Guilty Girls bearing silly string.

A bit of background: ever since a game of Loaded Questions in which having to read the word "lovers" aloud made Li'l Random blush, the Guilty Girls have delighted in tormenting him with the word. Also, the Guilty Girls have a running joke wherein one of them will roll down their car window and yell out "You know it's your baby!" as they drive by random people. Hence, Li'l Random getting a batch of babies.

Each of the babies was labeled with their name: Lola, Rupert, Stella, Shanequa and Cletus*. According to the note, along with taking care of the babies for the weekend, he was also tasked with figuring out exactly which baby belonged to which baby's mama by Sunday morning.

The next day our class volunteered at a local children's home, and Li'l Random showed up sans children; he assured the indignant mothers that their children were safely being watched by a neighbor. He also left the kids in someone else's care when he came to Cluckity's cookout that evening, saying that he was scared the young ones might stumble into the fire. But the next morning he came into Sunday School with all five of his babies in hand, a sight that had to be interesting to all of the newer members and guests who had never had the privilege of seeing Li'l Random in action. Soon, the babies were reunited with their mamas, although Li'l Random would get some visitation time during our Halloween party.

At that point, only one HyperForce 3000 member had not been hit by the Guilty Girls: Cap'n Peanut. And at first it seemed like the Guilty Girls might leave him alone, since Peanut was determined to make sure they knew that his attitude towards pranks can be summed up in one word: escalation.

But the siren call of pranking would eventually overcame the fear of retribution . . .

*Poor Cletus had his name tattooed on his forehead, which should have been a sure sign that he came from a Troubled home . . .


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful Thursday 2008

This past year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for me. Joy over finally getting back into working out was dampened by multiple injuries; despair over the loss of the Blue Beast was tempered by the acquisition of my new car*; pleasure at finally getting a significant raise was strained by the fact that for several months I was the only one of my roommates getting a steady paycheck, and then I had car payments to worry about, and then medical bills on top of that . . . and then the bulk of the last four months I've been fighting to climb out of the downward spiral that my broken digit, subsequent surgery, and ongoing recovery have plunged me into. Yes, over the past year I've suffered through intense humiliation, rampant paranoia, and senseless depression the likes of which have not been seen since my college days; on at least one occasion I was so overcome with hurt and anger that I lost all capacity for speech and could only stand there, fighting back tears of rage. And yet, despite the pitfalls the befell me throughout the year, I am still thankful for many things, most especially my friends.

I am thankful for Cap'n Peanut who has become a really good friend to me over the last several months, and who is at the forefront of the "motivate Todd to get off his butt and get in shape" movement.

I am thankful for Redneck Diva, who went out of her way to make sure that my birthday spent away from the friends I had planned to be with was not a birthday spent without friends after all.

I am thankful for Zinger, and Poohbear, and Bubblegum Tate, and Kookamama, and Cedric the Destroyer, and all of those whose efforts to keep in touch help remind me that, depsite my paranoia, out of sight does not automatically mean out of mind.

I am thankful for new friends like Cap'n Bubbles and Mei-Mei and Doc Jetson and Blondie Blaarrrgghhh** and the other, still nicknameless ones whose presence has added new energy to the Singles group.

I am thankful for my not-so-new friends (too numerous to name lest I be accused of playing favorites) who have been a source of support through unstable times.

And, last but not least, I am thankful that, for the first time in over a decade***, I have added to the ranks of those I consider my Best Friends; it's hard for me to believe that at this time last year I was still just getting to know PigPen and Cap'n Shack-Fu, and barely knew Li'l Random at all and now they're like family to me. I am thankful for the countless times over the last year that they have suffered through one of my neurotic attacks, have patiently talked me through my black moods, have dragged me kicking and screaming out of the realm of negativity, have responded to my crazy ways with nothing but compassion, understanding, and the occasional metaphoric slap upside the head****. I am thankful that, on occasion, I have been able to offer them help and advice as well, although I can't help but feel they're getting the short end of the stick, here. I am thankful because this only child now has four people who are like brothers to him, and that's four more than he ever thought he'd have growing up.

Happy Thanksgiving, my blog monkeys; don't forget to tell those you care about how thankful you are for their presence in your lives.

*No, Li'l Random, I have not named it yet.
**Look, Blondie, I figure out how to spell it!
***Good grief, was college really that long ago?
****And the slightly less frequent physical slap, such as The Lovable PigPen delivered to me Tuesday night every time I'd apologize needlessly "Stop saying you're sorry!" [slap!] Happy Slapsgiving, indeed.