Musical Interlude 12: Childhood

For this Musical Interlude, we’ll go waaaay back in time—most if not all of these are from before I was born—or at least before I had the coordination to adjust a radio dial.

My grandfather used to sing this to me when I was a toddler—getting quite a few of the words out of place, I now realize.

It will amaze regular readers that my mom’s idea of a lullaby wasn’t murder ballads, but I’m not sure this is better:

(I’m still only slightly clear on what a porgy is, outside of opera.)

I’m pretty sure everyone who was a tiny thing in the ’70s has seen this at some point:

And speaking of things that were mandatory in the ’70s…

But if there were such a thing as an award for J.A.’s Most Enduring Favorite Song, it would be for this. 35+ years and counting!

Enjoy your weekend! (And good luck getting the chorus to “Copacabana” out of your head.)

The Quest For Monday! Part 39: Secrets And Lies

(Episode: “Double Danger”)

Synopsis: The Quests go to Thailand so Benton can develop drugs that facilitate long-distance space travel. They’re pursued by Zin, whose new plan involves a Race Bannon lookalike. Dr. Quest’s awesome project, some interesting animals and the presence of an honest-to-god adventuress brilliantly distract from one of my least favorite classic plots.

Kind of politically timely…

Tip 39: The art of confidentiality is important in many situations.

...Such as when you have a multivalent government job.
…Such as when you have a multivalent government job.

It can, however, go too far.

If it's need-to-know information, maybe THE BODYGUARD WHO PROTECTS YOU AND YOUR KIDS needs to know. Just a suggestion.
If it’s need-to-know information, maybe THE BODYGUARD WHO PROTECTS YOU AND YOUR KIDS needs to know. Just a suggestion.

All of which is to say that it looks like Dr. Zin has spies all over the US government, given what happens on this Thai jaunt.

 

Next time: A musical interlude practically from the womb.

Next time on TQfM!: Welcome to (yet another) jungle.

Finally(?)! Friday: Prince of Darkness

Why Finally? It’s been over a year since I reviewed anything from John Carpenter, who is right up there with Cronenberg for testing my commitment to watching a movie. (I’m not so squeamish that I faint at the sight of blood; in fact, that would probably be less irritating for anyone watching horror movies with me, given that unconscious people tend not to whimper and cover their eyes so much.)

The Premise: The Vatican has been keeping a secret for ages: there’s a big vat of glowing yuck in the basement of a California church, and it just may be the embodiment of Satan. A priest (Donald Pleasance) invites a physicist and his team of students to examine the vat and decipher the ancient book that goes along with it. He does this, as far as I can tell, either because he is a cockeyed optimist or because he really, really hates students, since the body count begins to mount almost at once and the evil liquid begins to possess its victims—literally, by squirting into their mouths like a malign Red Bull. Meanwhile, the entire group begins to have dreams of future evil.

I’ll skip straight to The Verdict this time and say right out that I liked Prince of Darkness (though I’m unsure how deeply), especially for a movie in which swarming bugs briefly animate a corpse.

After rewatching that scene, I find myself wondering if this is one of those movies that would collapse without its tense musical score.

I do enjoy stories that straddle the line between science and the supernatural (H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, the novels of Robert Holdstock), and this seems to be somewhat in that vein, with a passing resemblance to the technologically inclined ghosts of this century’s J-horror. That said, some of the mechanics of the…haunting?…aren’t quite clear: I loved Alice Cooper in his role as a homeless person, but were he and his cohorts zombified or “just” possessed or what? There also aren’t many moments that make us care about the characters, so that for all the (god)matter/anti(god)matter theorizing, Prince of Darkness is at its root a highfalutin slasher.

The real moral of the story: If Donald Pleasance can’t sort something out, for god’s heaven’s pete’s sake don’t go anywhere near it.

Might go well with: End of Days; as for food and drink, that all depends on how much you like bugs, I guess.

 

Next time: A (Benton) Quest for medicinal plants.

The Quest For Monday! Part 38: This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is Thailand

(Episode: “Double Danger”)

Synopsis: The Quests go to Thailand so Benton can develop drugs that facilitate long-distance space travel. They’re pursued by Zin, whose new plan involves a Race Bannon lookalike. Dr. Quest’s awesome project, some interesting animals and the presence of an honest-to-god adventuress brilliantly distract from one of my least favorite classic plots.

Tip 38: Animal spotting!

It’s been several episodes since we saw him hanging out with the Po-Hos in the Amazon, but the official Jonny Quest monkey is now here in Thailand!

And he's thrilled to be here!
And he’s thrilled to be here!
Also makes a cute window treatment.
Also makes a cute window treatment.

Next time: Even now, I am watching Prince of Darkness. If I don’t regret it too hard, that’ll be Friday.

Next time on TQfM!: The plot thickens, in that there is one.

Found-Again Friday (on Saturday): The Big Easy

Back to raiding my DVD collection!

Why Found-Again: Blame Netflix. I started watching Criminal Minds a few weeks ago— what can I say? I guess I’m not depressed enough and/or wish to develop new phobias about driving, going to the park or sleeping in my home. There’s a season 2 episode set in New Orleans, and I found myself comparing the actors’ accents with Dennis Quaid’s often-mocked performance in 1987’s The Big Easy.

The Premise: Remy McSwain (Quaid) is a happy-go-lucky cop and a crook with a heart of gold, so steeped in graft that he barely notices it. An apparent mob murder coincides with the arrival of an investigator from the district attorney (Ellen Barkin), and the case begins to look less like an incipient gang war and more like the police have turned to murder.

Remy (offscreen) tempting Ann Osborn with pizza.
Remy (offscreen) tempting Ann Osborn with pizza.

Dennis Quaid often seems to be the salvation and the damnation of The Big Easy at the same time. His character is enormously charming, even when doing awful stuff like taking bribes; if you can’t get past the accent he seems to have stolen from this 1986 potato-chip commercial, however, the movie can be rough going. Quaid’s performance also goes a long way toward selling the movie’s other stereotypes—the random references to Mardi Gras, the voodoo, the gator—and he even takes a turn singing Cajun music at one point.

The gator.
The gator.

The resemblance to other ’80s buddy-cop movies is obvious; less obvious is The Big Easy’s kinship to the horror-genre staple in which children begin to figure out that all is not right with their families, and here I think the movie shines brighter. Remy’s failure to be suspicious of his fellow officers isn’t because he’s particularly stupid or greedy; it’s because they’ve been literally the background of his existence. There is a level at which this is a fairy tale, with guns and heroin and crime lords as the monsters in the wood.

The Verdict: The Big Easy’s faults are real. There was a (perfectly understandable, says this étouffée and zydeco enthusiast) fad for all things Cajun in the ’80s, and this movie is one of the results. That said, the film has a splash of noir and a lot of heart that make it more watchable, and the cast (Quaid and Barkin are joined by John Goodman, Grace Zabriskie, and Ned Beatty, among others) does a lot to elevate the goofy parts. And though I didn’t mention it above, let’s face it; the movie has some of the most effective sex scenes ever.

BigEasyWow

Might go well with: You name the Cajun food, it’ll go well.

Next time: Jonny Quest goes someplace with animals again!

 

 

 

 

 

The Quest For Monday, Part 37: Wham, Bam, Thank You…Dr. Quest

(Episode: “The Robot Spy”)

Synopsis: A strange aircraft near Dr. Quest’s lab is not an X-File—just Dr. Zin’s latest scheme. The craft contains a spidery robot that can stun people, spy on them, and (Zin hopes) steal an invention intended to harmlessly disarm people. In my opinion, that’s the kind of thing you want supervillains to have, but hey, it’s not my story.

Tip 37: Destroying a robot spy? It takes a village.

BQBannonBlaster

BQTanksALot

BQFlameThrowerMostly it takes Benton Quest’s invention, though.

BQTheBigGun
It’s a giant pen-holder that shoots, right?

 

Next time: Still a mystery to me.

Next time on TQfM!: It’s (the female) sex, drugs, monkeys & doppelgangers in “Double Danger.”

Finally! Friday: She Walks In Shadows Anthology

SWiSbook

Why Finally? This one’s a finally! on two levels: one, of course, is that I said I was going to finish reading the book weeks ago—I think I even mentioned it here on the Omelet. The other is “Finally! Check out this anthology of Lovecraftian fiction, poetry and art all created by women.”

The Premise: See above.

H.P. Lovecraft is a hard author to like, given the man’s egregious racist and classist opinions and the way he spread adjectives around his stories like a thick layer of peanut butter. (It can be hard when reading Lovecraft not to reach a point in the prose where you think,”You know what? If it’s so darned indescribable, maybe stop trying to describe it.”)

My own liking for Lovecraft is partly personal: I can’t consider the author, a funny-looking bookish person with unstable parents and a sense that he arrived in this world when the good part was already over, without feeling that there but for the grace of Cthulhu go I. When your family dynamics start trending toward the Gothic, it’s easy to wonder if the monster is already lurking inside you, and that idea forms the basis of so much of Lovecraft’s work. (More prosaically, Lovecraft was at the center of my most memorable high-school slacking: I’m pretty sure everyone in my English class thought I was reading The Master Builder for our group project, but I stumbled onto “The Rats in the Walls” instead and faked my way through the Ibsen report. The story’s still kind of about architecture, I guess.)

She Walks in Shadows collects several current authors’ spins on stories and ideas in the Lovecraft mythos, punctuated by black-and-white artwork. Check out the page at Innsmouth Free Press for more information and a peek at the content.

The Verdict(s): The trouble with evaluating stories written “in the spirit of ____” is that you find yourself basing your opinion on both the quality of the stories and on how much they draw from the original material you like best. A riff on a story I love is going to seem better than a riff on a story I think is okay, so let me say first that I enjoyed the entire book. My special favorites, though:

  • “The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad,” Molly Tanzer’s take on “The Thing on the Doorstep” in which, as is so often the case, horror lives in high school;
  • “Lavinia’s Wood” by Angela Slatter, a sort of prequel to “The Dunwich Horror” with more Whately family dynamics;
  • Jilly Dreadful’s “De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae,” in which one of those ancient tomes that drive folks mad receives a proper cataloguing. (Stories about books are nearly always my favorites.)

For my taste, it could have used more Innsmouth, but I am obsessed with sea-people of all sorts.

The little jerk actually swatted my hand when I tried to take it away.
The little jerk actually swatted my hand when I tried to take it away.

Might go well with: An awful lot of things I’ve already written about. Also, Amazon Prime video has an updated adaptation of The Thing on the Doorstep that’s worth checking out. Not as good as the story mentioned above, I thought, but interesting.

 

Next time: Robot season!

 

The Quest For Monday! Part 36: All In One

Sadly, the timeline doesn’t allow me to line up the Fourth of July with a Jonny Quest explosion.

(Episode: “The Robot Spy”)

Synopsis: A strange aircraft lands near Dr. Quest’s lab, but it’s not an X-File—just Dr. Zin’s latest scheme. The craft contains a spidery robot sent to steal an invention intended to harmlessly disarm people. In my opinion, that’s the kind of thing you want supervillains to have, but hey, it’s not my story.

Tip 36: In praise of multitools.

This episode’s titular robot is wonderfully efficient, especially for the time period in which it was made. It moves about on its own, disarms enemies with a bonk to the head, sports a built-in webcam…

First 15 minutes free?
First 15 minutes free?

…diagnostic probes…

Spycraft or AI first date—you decide!
Spycraft or AI first date—you decide!

…and, best of all, an ability to hide from children and small dogs.

BQPeekABot

Happy holiday, everyone!

 

Next time: Say what you will about the Frankenstein monster, at least I knew what I’d be writing about on Fridays…

Next time on TQfM!: The inventor’s process.

 

Finally!(?) Friday: Scanners

Why Finally? Because I am squeamish as all get-out, and it’s a David Cronenberg film. I’ve been familiar with his reputation since 1986 and later (surprise!) from my ill-fated attempt to watch The Fly so I could see Jeff Goldblum with no shirt on.

When The Fly finally showed up on cable, I was 13 and very excited. My mother, who was more of a Commander USA’s Groovie Movies kind of person, sat down to watch it with me, but I folded right around the time Seth Brundle starts getting those giant back-hairs at the start of his flyification. Defeated by the yuck factor, I wandered off to my bedroom to read; occasionally Mom would yell out updates like “He just vomited acid!” or “His penis fell off and he put it in the medicine cabinet!” and I would yell back “THANKS FOR LETTING ME KNOW!” because that is how my family rolls.

Even though it would make one heck of a Found-Again Friday, I’ll probably never watch the entire Fly. But I made it through (and liked) Videodrome a few years ago, so when someone suggested 1981’s Scanners, I decided to go for it. After all, its classic head-exploding scene is pretty famous—so much so that the movie might be considered required viewing under my Deliverance Rule.”

And there was always a chance that would be the grossest part of the movie. Right?

Well…close.

The Premise: A generic government defense/intelligence agency hunts and captures Cameron Vale. Vale is a “scanner,” one of a small group of people who can telepathically mess with other people’s heads—at some pain to the scanner, and a whole lot of pain to us squishy-headed normals. After tutelage by mad scientist Dr. Ruth (Patrick McGoohan—if nothing else, the name proves at least Cronenberg can’t predict the future himself), Vale is sent out to track down a rogue scanner named Darryl Revok. It’s a name that is clearly up to no good, and the character is played by Michael Ironside, so Revok is basically doomed to be very, very evil.

What follows is a psionic version of spy vs. spy, with contacts and allies on both sides becoming casualties of Vale and Revok’s date with destiny.

The Verdict: What kept bugging me as I watched this unfold is something simple: why on earth can’t scanners seem to pick up when someone is after them with a gun? I’d almost bet there’s an explanation that I missed because I know very little about Cronenberg movies (see above re: squeamish as hell).

As a thriller and the story of a man’s search for his identity, Scanners is often excellent, with that bleak aesthetic shared by all 1.3 of the previous Cronenberg films I’ve seen. And while some of its scenes of scanners in action—the head-exploding scene, a sort of mind-melding ritual, Cameron almost killing a tweed-clad yogi—are outstanding, other times the telepathy feels underused or oddly used, and the movie has a bad case of that creeping cinema disease where things explode that really shouldn’t. Despite that (and some eyeball violence), it’s an absolutely worthwhile watch.

Might go well with: Videodrome; Firestarter.

Geez, even the trailer agrees this is a one-scene movie. It’s not!

The Quest For Monday! Part 35: Inartful Dodging

(Episode: “The Robot Spy”)

Synopsis: A strange aircraft that lands near Dr. Quest’s lab isn’t an X-File—just Dr. Zin’s latest scheme. The craft contains a spidery robot that can stun people, spy on them, and (Zin hopes) steal an invention intended to harmlessly disarm people. In my opinion, that’s the kind of thing you want supervillains to have, but hey, it’s not my story.

Today’s tip is something I routinely yell at my television screen because I watch a lot of action movies… and horror movies… and action-horror movies:

Tip 35: DUCK!

Of course, it's probably easier to duck when you know Dr. Quest has hauled the robot into a storeroom...
Of course, it’s probably easier to duck when you know Dr. Quest has hauled the mysterious robot into a storeroom…
The rest of the adventure suggests he's just stunned, but I remember watching this as a kid and thinking he was getting his brain sucked.
The rest of the adventure suggests this guy’s just stunned, but I remember watching this as a kid and thinking he was getting his brain sucked.

Ducking is one of the most valuable skills you can learn, whether you’re facing down a robot spy or a monster or an ennui-filled immortal guy with a sword. Trust me on this.

 

Next time: Possibly a horror movie. Yay!

Next time on TQfM!: It’s a multitool! And I’m not even referring to Dr. Quest!