Friday, November 25, 2016

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 5

The year that really needs to go away just keeps rolling along and devouring all my time. About all I’ve managed over the past couple of weeks is a review of Arrival for Aleteia and a few suggestions for those in need of some political horror over at SCENES. Still, there’s plenty of other reading out there if you need something to keep you occupied after the holiday.

First up, Catholic Skywalker offers up his take on Shin Godzilla, Japan’s recent resurrection of the BIg G. I have to admit I enjoyed it a bit more than Mr. Skywalker did, but I can’t fault his criticisms of stuff like the creature design. After all, the entire audience at my screening did burst out laughing the first time Godzilla showed up in his unevolved state. Best to watch the movie when it hits DVD to see what exactly that’s supposed to mean.

Speaking of evolution, First Thing’s Abigail Rine Favale looks back on the previous season of The Walking Dead and discovers that the show has slowly grown into an “unexpected herald of a culture of life.” Of course, Ms. Favale was speaking of Season 6. I wonder what she thinks of recent developments in Season 7.

You know, some shows never see a Season 7, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say as well. For proof, head on over to Speculative Faith where they have an interview with Kevin C. Neece, author of The Gospel According to Star Trek. There he discusses how he discovered a wealth of Christian insight in the beloved show despite Rodenberry’s own rejection of his Southern Baptist roots.

Really though, such mixtures of belief and skepticism are actually pretty common in genre fare. It’s no surprise then to find Patrick Malone writing at Catholic Stand about Faith, Doubt, and Analysis Paralysis in The Exorcist, where he notes “the world is not neatly divided into believers and doubters, but rather that doubt and faith are often intertwined.”

Maybe so, but not so much at The National Catholic Register where Matt Archbold has very little doubt he has seen 7 Insanely Bad TV Shows and Movies Featuring Popes. Not a bad list, though it may be missing a few. Do I smell a post coming up at some point? We’ll see if 2016 allows it.

Until then, you can enjoy T. Martin’s reminiscing on the “incoherent, relentlessly swinging, hit-or-miss” Weird Al classic, U.H.F.

And finally, just in case I don’t get to post anything else before Sunday (because 2016), here’s some random picture of a monkey opening an Advent calendar I found on the Internet. Everybody likes monkeys!

monkeycal

Saturday, November 05, 2016

THE B-LIST: QUESTIONABLE MUSICAL MOMENTS #22 – ANI: A PARODY

Yes, this is the entire two-hour long production of Ani: A Parody, which the fine folks at Starkid Productions were kind enough to put online for free. It’s well worth the watch if you have the time to take in the whole thing, especially if you have a familiarity with old 1980s movies full of training montages set to rock music. Not to worry though. For the purposes of this post, we’re only interested in the first four minutes and ten seconds, which just so happens to be the exact time it takes to get through Ani’s opening theme…

Ani, what a guy, right? You have to appreciate a fella who likes wordplay so much. Hey, you know who else enjoyed a little paronomasia? The writers of the Bible, that’s who. For instance, as an article at biblestudytools.com notes…

In Jonah 3:7, there is a pun: “By the decree (מטעם, mita‘am) of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste (יטעמו, yit‘amu) anything” (ESV). The word טעם (ta‘am) has two unrelated meanings: The first, more common, meaning is “to taste” (as a verb) or “flavor” (as a noun). For example, Jonathan tasted (ta‘am) a little honey with the tip of his staff (1 Samuel 14:43). This is the meaning used in the phrase “Let neither man nor beast … taste anything” (ESV). The second meaning is “decree,” which is borrowed from either Assyrian (which would make sense!) or Aramaic. This rarer meaning occurs only in Jonah 3:7 and in Daniel 3:10. The author of Jonah turns this into a witticism: What comes out of the king’s mouth (the decree, ta‘am) keeps the people from putting anything into theirs (tasting food, ta‘am).

Hilarious, right? You see what the author of Jonah did there? He used double meanings, a humorous play on words, and that’s… where the comedy… comes in…

Yeah, okay, let’s be honest. To appreciate a lot of the wordplay in the Bible pretty much requires you to either get a degree in ancient languages or read books by someone else who has. For casual Bible reading, though, maybe it’s best not to worry so much about catching the subtleties of a 3,000 year old pun and instead just enjoy the more obvious humor on display in a story like that of Jonah. After all, the image of a guy covered in whale vomit stumbling into a city and yelling, “Repent!”, well, that’s good for a laugh no matter what year the story was written.

And if you don’t like, you can always come up with your own jokes. For instance, here’s one I heard. Why is the story of Jonah so inspiring? Because it’s about a guy who’s down in the mouth, but comes out all right in the end.

See what I did there?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

THE B-LIST: 7 OF THE WEIRDEST EVIL OBJECTS IN MOVIES

Demonic dolls, malevolent mirrors, cursed cars; these things are a dime a dozen in horror movies. You can watch them pretty much whenever you want. But if you’re like me, sometimes you have a hankering for  something just a wee bit different than your everyday dastardly doohickey. Well, not to worry, The B-Movie Catechism has got you covered. Here are seven of the weirdest evil objects in movies for your viewing pleasure. Well, at least for your viewing anyway.

Amityville Dollhouse Republic Vhs Front

The Evil Dollhouse from Amityville Dollhouse (1996)

We’ll start with a no-brainer. I mean, if you’re going to buy your kid a toy that looks exactly like the most famous haunted house in the country, you’re just asking for trouble, right? Parents, let this be a lesson. Even when your kids relentlessly beg for something, it’s okay to say no sometimes.

Twinky, The

The Evil Television from The Twonky (1953)

You might also want to monitor how much time your kids spend in front of the television. Just how much TV is bad for you is debatable, but I’m pretty sure if your boob tube has grown legs, is walking around, and has taken complete control of your life, it’s time to pull the plug.

Mangler, The

The Evil Laundry Press from The Mangler (1995)

Speaking of moving machinery, the next time Stephen King complains about the quality of anything, just remember he’s the one who wrote the short story The Mangler is based on. The man’s books creeped me out a lot back in the day, but even then, this wicked wringer just didn’t do the trick.

Lift, The (2)

The Evil Elevator from The Lift (1983)

One of the best taglines ever. You would think this would be as silly an idea as The Mangler, but this obscure little Dutch horror has developed quite a cult following over the years. There’s not an actual psychological term for the fear of elevators, but whoever out there has it should probably avoid this one.

Death Bed

The Evil Bed from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)

And just like that, we’re right back to the ridiculous. Here’s an idea. If you run across a bed that has eaten a number of people, don’t lie down in it. How hard can it be? This bed can’t even move around like The Twonky or The Mangler. Just walk away.

Refrigerator, The

The Evil Refrigerator from The Refrigerator (1991)

Now this is a little easier to understand. At least in this scenario there’s no other way to get to your pizza rolls than to open up the fridge and stick your hand into it. Still, after the first few times the awful appliance gobbles someone up, you would think they might consider the possibility of switching to canned foods. Oh well, what do you expect in a movie about a killer refrigerator. It can’t get any sillier than that.

Rubber

The Evil Tire from Rubber (2010)

Suckers! It can always get sillier. This is the touching tale of a tire that develops Scanner like powers and leaves a trail of exploded heads across the desert while pursuing the girl of its dreams. It’s never explained, it just is. Much like the movie Rubber itself.

If these films are any indication, just about anything can turn evil. In real life, the Church doesn’t actually have a lot of official statements on the subject beyond a sentence in the Catechism which notes, “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object [emphasis mine] be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism.” So at the very least there appears to be some official recognition that an object can become the focus of outside evil forces just as a person can.

Now, that doesn’t mean your toaster is someday going to gain awareness and bite your hand off. It just means that, for whatever reason, the demonic can become fixated on a physical object. Really, such an idea should be no big shock if you accept the notion that there’s a spiritual dimension to reality, which as a Christian you should. So if you start getting bad vibes from some knickknack sitting around your house, play it safe and toss it, not because you’re worried it may come to life and eat the kids, but simply because on the off chance there is something malevolent lingering around the thingy, you don’t want it to start taking notice of you.

P.S. It is not nice to pretend you sense evil in one of your spouse’s ugly keepsakes just to force them to get rid of it.

Friday, October 07, 2016

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #016: THE HITCH HIKER

hitch01

S01E16 – The Hitch Hiker

“A young woman driving cross-country keeps seeing the same hitchhiker on the roadside and, unaware she has bigger worries, fears he wants to kill her.”

In a twist worthy of the series, while the Twilight Zone generally stuck to science fiction and fantasy, some of its more memorable episodes were actually the ones that cranked up the creep factor. Take The Hitch Hiker for example, which consistently ranks among the top ten episodes of all time in just about every poll you can pull up. Adapted from a radio play (the only episode to bear that distinction) originally starring Orson Wells, The Hitch Hiker is a terror tale perfectly suited for the Halloween season.

It seems almost a modern miracle in this age of CGI, but director Alvin Ganzer manages to squeeze every ounce of tension possible out of nothing more than a few well placed cameras. The titular hitch hiker, played mostly silent by dependable character actor Leonard Strong, is always sliding into frame, showing up over Nan’s shoulder or in the reflection of the car’s mirrors. He never makes a menacing move or utters a threatening word, but the fact that you never quite know where he is going to appear is enough to keep things on edge.

Ganzer’s clever camera placement almost led to disaster though, at least according to Marc Scott Ziree’s Twilight Zone Companion. For the scene in which Nan’s car stalls on the railroad tracks, the budget didn’t allow for the show to actually rent a train. Instead, they simply set up the shot and waited for one to come along, not realizing just how fast the local locomotives passed through this particular crossing. Go back and rewatch the episode and decide for yourself whether it looks like the car barely makes it off the tracks or not before the train comes barreling through. Ah well, nobody was hurt, and the scene definitely adds to the growing sense of peril for poor Nan as the episode progresses.

hitch02

Most of what I could say about The Hitch Hiker’s twist ending I have already discussed in my review of Carnival of Souls, a movie I adore, but one which blatantly rips off this episode for everything it can. One big difference in the stories denouements, however, is the way in which the two women confront their final fates. In Carnival of Souls, Mary goes down kicking and screaming, whereas in The Hitch Hiker, once Nan realizes what is happening, their is almost a sense of relief on her face. Nan is ready for death, while Mary is not.

Perhaps this is because in Carnival of Souls, Mary is shown to be something of a wild child at the beginning of the film, getting plastered with her girlfriends and engaging in dangerous drag races. Nan, on the other hand, is just a hard worker enjoying a well deserved vacation before her tire blows out. At the risk of over-simplifying, the narratives give us enough clues to suggest Nan is a good girl, while Mary, if not necessarily bad, is at least living in some grey areas. This is important because, as the old Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “spiritual writers are as one in declaring that ordinarily the only adequate preparation for death is a righteous life.”

Nobody in their right mind is in any rush to die, but a Christian with a clear conscience doesn’t shy away from the experience when they know the time is nigh. Heck, we even have a prayer ready for the occasion…

O Lord, my God, from this moment on I accept with a good will, as something coming from your hand, whatever kind of death you want to send me, with all its anguish, pain, and sorrow.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I sleep and take my rest in peace with you.

It’s a good prayer. May it be a long time before you ever have to use it.

Twilight Tidbits: When Nan goes to the gas station, the pumps are branded with the name of the Magnum Oil Company. This is the same name which appears on the gas truck in the biplane attack sequence in North by Northwest. While probably a coincidence (Magnum was a real company after all), one can’t help but wonder if this was a subtle dig at Alfred Hitchcock, who had been trying to buy the rights to The Hitch Hiker for his own show before Serling snapped them up.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: PULP CATHOLICISM #044

Pulp Catholicism 044

As today is the feast of St. Francis, it seemed like a good time to dust off this old cartoon about the patron Saint of all animals and spruce it up with a bit of color. As for the subject matter, well, if St. Columba could allegedly chase off Nessie, then certainly St. Francis could preach to her. And no doubt he would be happy to do so. Writing about St. Francis, G. K. Chesterton would say…

“He never forgot to take pleasure in a bird as it flashed past him, or a drop of water as it fell from his finger: he was, perhaps, the happiest of the sons of men.”

And how did Francis maintain such a happy disposition? In a later work, Chesterton would speculate…

“In a…cynical sense…men have said ‘Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.’ It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, ‘Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.’ It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero…that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them.”

Now, one Saint’s key to enjoying life might not sound like that big of a deal, but remember that the Catechism tells us how the desire for happiness is not only a natural one, but is of divine origin. “God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.” So if nothing else is working, don’t be afraid to try out a start-from-zero approach. It’s St. Francis approved.