Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Good News, Not So Good News

Although I strongly hesitate I note the following story because of the day, I finally decided to do so – here, regarding a $11M judgment awarded by a Maryland jury against Westboro Baptist Church (AKA: Fred Phelps and clan) for inflicting emotional distress on the father of a slain gay US Marine by cheering at his funeral.

That’s the good news; the bad news is I suspect Phelps will immediately appeal on grounds of free speech, and I give him a better than 50% chance of a win.

Still, there’s always hope the award decision will stand, and Phelps’ unique brand of hate-mongering will be financially harpooned.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Musical Terrors

As a child growing up in Lisle, Illinois, there were a handful of (classical) pieces that certifiably scared the hell out of me: one, from John Williams’ score for “Close Encounters” (“Barry’s Kidnapping”), is used beneath the scene of a boy snatched by aliens; another was Saint-Saens’ gothic waltz “Danse Macabre” which I enjoy today, with; the third (and worst) being Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and The Wolf.”

The version of “Peter” thrust on me by my mother (who maddeningly insisted I listen again and again despite protests that it bothered me) featured ominous narration by Leonard Bernstein, and followed Prokofiev’s musical children’s tale of a farmboy and his animal allies’ battle with a blood-thirsty wolf.

Cleverly, Prokofiev organizes the story with each character represented by a musical theme and/or instrument – a detail which my adult mind can now appreciate. Yet in the theatre of my wild boyhood imagination, “Peter” injected a parade of terrible images into my head – the worst (besides the wolf’s first appearance, skulking out of the woods like a nightmare) being the story’s little duck who bleats helplessly in the wolf’s gullet after being swallowed alive (in the animated Disney version of “Peter,” the duck—wearing a little fur hat—is okay in the end).

I know the duck isn’t real, but still, that is a fucking cold image for Prokofiev to end the story with.

Ten rubles says he hated kids.

Nevertheless, today I ran across the following on Amazon UK – a new stop-motion animated version of “Peter” by British filmmaker Suzie Templeton which has become available. It looks impressive as hell. In fact, I placed an order for the film (which runs just under 30 minutes) right away, and—in my mind—carries a feeling of anime-style drama.

I’ll post a review when the film arrives, but in the meantime, you can watch an excerpt from Templeton’s “Peter” below on the usual site for shared video.


Take This, Al Qaeda and Red Skull

Here’s a very special message from the Sentinel of Liberty…

Sunday, October 28, 2007

If It’s New To Me, That’s All That Matters

Following last night’s lackluster game in the city between the Chicago Blackhawks and Atlanta (the latter won 3-2), Mark and I drove back to his place where he insisted on showing me a few minutes of a new DVD set he’d picked up: ”Joe 90

For those, like me, who were completely unaware of the show’s existence, it premiered in 1968 as a kid sci-fi/action program with marionettes a la ”Thunderbirds” and “Captain Scarlet.” Although, as a kid, I was aware of such shows—they frequently ran on my favorite local UHF stations—I ignored them because the puppets creeped me out, as did “living mouth” cartoons from the same era like “Clutch Cargo.”

However, decades later (and following the appearance of “Team America,” hilariously inspired by marionette shows of the late ‘60s) my childhood puppet-phobias have subsided enough to for me to re-approach these shows – including “Joe 90” – which is curiously similar to the fiction of cyberpunk guru William Gibson, and a certain movie trilogy by the Wachowski Brothers.

Like that film in question, “Joe” features a tow-headed kid (named Joe – duh) who is used by his scientist father as his personal lab animal to test his newest invention – a super-computer called BIG RAT – which can download knowledge into Joe’s brain in a matter of seconds, enabling him to serve as a boy secret agent.

The detailing of the puppets in “Joe” is actually very good – so good, in fact, the more than once a few seemed almost human. But for me, the show’s greatest highlight is its Austin Powers-style soundtrack which is too good to miss. I wonder if there’s a “Joe” soundtrack somewhere out there on Ebay?

At any rate, click here for a sample of “Joe’s” opening sequence, and hold onto your hookas and transistors.

Dad? These secret experiments won't cause any permanent
brain damage, will they...? Um, Daddy?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Halloween Rant 2007: With Spoilers!

As my favorite holiday is fast approaching, I thought I’d babble/wax nostalgic about my all-time favorite Halloween tale: Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820).

In my lifetime, this story has had more impact on me than any other – both growing up, and throughout my studies in grad school. On one hand, I feel “Sleepy Hollow” is a gorgeously atmospheric take which captures the spirit of Halloween—the fun, the creeps, the action—better than any in American literature. Yet on the other set of digits, when (as I got older) I discovered that Irving intended his story as tongue-in-cheek, and his seminal scene of the Headless Horseman (AKA: Brom Bones) chasing hapless Ichabod Crane out of town was his idea of a romantic joke, I was crushed.

How the hell could Irving create such a great character (in the Horseman) only to discard it in the end with a coy wink – as if to say “Silly rabbit, there’s no such thing as ghosts!”

Yeah? Well, I’ve got news for you sir: a) I grew up in a haunted house, and believe me, there are such things as ghosts, because; b) I’ve both seen and heard them. At age 12, one even pinched my toe late one night as it stuck out from under my blankets.

Nevertheless, upon finding “Sleepy Hollow” was based on a gag, I felt as if Irving had snookered me. And truly, he had. Bully for him. In a way, the Fake Horseman ending Irving used to scare off Crane so his rival can marry the richest girl in town is brilliant.

But you know what? I don’t care.

The nine year-old kid in me is gonna cling to my original reading of “Sleepy Hollow” (e.g. the Horseman was “real”) no matter what.

Sure, this position is infantile – ignorant, even.

But I figure if Halloween owes me anything—other than loads of free candy—it can owe me this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Blatant Family Plug

Since being honorably discharged from the US Army in 1993, my brother Scott—to put it mildly—has drifted between a range of ambitions (most lofty, some not) which have done little to add stability to his adult life.

This lack of direction (at age 37) was becoming a real concern to my family as Scott grew older, and his goals continued to flame out. Sure, he wasn’t running drugs or shaking down seniors for their benefit checks – but 14 years of working crappy jobs in Chicago bars and restaurants seemed like a trend that wasn’t going to change.

However, this year has been different – after teaching himself the essentials of film and video production, Scott attended a local broadcasting school where nine months later--having graduated and named Most Outstanding Student by his classmates—he landed a part-time gig as a video editor at Comcast SportsNet in Chicago – the #3 broadcasting market in the nation.

Today, Scott called me on his way to the network to say he was signing off on his paperwork, and would begin his position soon – one that has potential to go full-time later on, and/or branch into all sorts of broadcasting corners (e.g. production, camera work, etc).

Outside of Scott’s combat service in the Gulf War (the first one), I could not be prouder of him now – and I know that somewhere our late father feels the same way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Subject of “The Exercise”

Over the past several months, the concept of 24-Hour Comics (which will furthermore be referred to here as “the exercise”) has been a popular—and oft debated—one among my compatriots at the Fine Arts Guild.

Some (like Brad) are passionate about “the exercise”--designed to shake up one’s creative centers and break new ground—and make a concerted effort to pull off one monthly, while others in the group see 24-Hour Comics as a sidebar to be enjoyed only occasionally.

As for me, I have never done a 24-Hour Comic and likely never will. I simply would not benefit from the experience. Versus concentrating all my efforts into a creative short burst, I would much rather go for the long haul – and establish something that is feature-length (hopefully, with a shot at publication).

Sure, “the exercise” can expand one’s creativity at a spate, but I personally feel it does little to home one’s artistic M.O. in the long run.

Or at least that’s my take on it…I could be wrong…

And There Was Much Rejoicing

I’m going to be blunt here, crude even, bear with me: I’m glad that former Chicago Blackhawks owner B ill Wirtz is dead.

In fact, I’m fucking delighted.


Because nothing but good things for the team and fans Wirtz abused over decades of mismanagement since he shuffled off the coil: the Hawks have enjoyed an upswing in performance, dead wood (e.g. Bob Pulford) has been cleared from the front office, and new owner Rocky Wirtz (son of Bill) is finally—finally—in negotiations to begin airing Hawks home games on local television – something the old man stubbornly resisted for ages under the justification that doing so would harm ticket sales.

Granted, some might say Rocky’s recent TV feelers are a no-brainer, business-wise. Yet for Hawks fans who suffered so long under his father’s dunderheaded reign as owner, the move is a great—and badly needed—step towards bringing fans (old and new) back to the team.

Last month, I wrote that I feared it would take Rocky Wirtz years to revive the Blackhawks organization after his father sent it to rest beside the Titanic. But at Rocky’s current rate of progress, the team is rising faster than I could have hoped – which leads to the obvious (and vulgar) question of why the hell Bill Wirtz couldn’t have died years ago?

All his death has done is make Hawk fans gleeful, and turn his ex-team’s future into something bright and hopeful.

To me, that outcome is nothing but positive.

Let’s toast the reaper…

PS: The Hawks’ first televised home game is slated for Nov 11 versus Detroit (and guess who has a ticket? To quote Chris Mathews: Ha!)

Sometimes Mr. Death is awfully good to have around

Monday, October 22, 2007

True Confessions

An excerpt of an undated conversation between my ex-girlfriend and I on the subject of pastries…

CHV: “I mean it – buttercream frosting is the nectar of the gods. I could jack it to my veins.”
Her: “If semen tasted like buttercream frosting would you turn gay?”
CHV (without the slightest hesitation): “Hell, yes!”

Mind you, I’m not gay in any way, shape, or form.

Even so, under the right circumstances (no pun intended) I believe that any position can be reconsidered.

"Oh, can glaze my bear claw any day..."
(I swear I'm not gay)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Random Acts of Responsibility – Or Not

This morning, Bruce and I played a round of golf in a cool, off-and-on rain down at Jericho Lake where, as usual, we picked up an armload (each) of beer bottles and cans discarded by other players too lazy to hold onto them until reaching a trash can. Otherwise, we had a good game, and even struck another blow for nature when Bruce discovered a baby, walnut-sized snapping turtle lying in the grass 100 yards from the creek that runs thru the course.

Since the little guy couldn’t have made the trek himself, we figured a bird had picked him up as an easy meal, and then dropped him.

So being the good Samaritans we are, Bruce and I walked the baby over to the creekside where I believe he has an underwater condo and free parking.

Speaking of nature, what a shock that the RNC’s media waterboys (Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, et al) could not have foamed more at the mouth over Al Gore sharing this past week’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s so pathetic that American media—particularly cable TV outlets—has become little more than an extension of The Jerry Springer Show, with partisans screeching to the extreme elements of their base, or (in the case of Fox “News”) interviewing liberal guests with a sharpened knife while tossing softballs at conservative ones.

In the meantime, I’m now considering a non-American outlet (like BBC America News) for my daily info fix.

"Thanks, Sean. I'm glad to be here. Pardon? Why yes, Sean. I do like kittens.
What? Interview over? Really? Wow, that was a scorcher!
You guys at Fox really ask the tough questions!"

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gee, That Didn't Take Long...

Read today—amidst an extremely busy first week at my new gig—that Cap is returning next January following his brief respite at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Rehab Center in Aruba where he hid out this year after faking his own death.

And look, now Cap’s packing heat! I’ll bet Michael Medved is pissing himself with glee! Go get those liberals, winghead!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Art Imitates Life, Then Art Again

Fans of “The Shield” (anyone got a clue when its due to air again?) may be interested in the following news of the Chicago Police Department disbanding its elite unit, SOS, due to allegations of corruption including false arrests, illegal searches, excessive force, and even one cop conspiring to kill another within the unit.

Did Vic Mackey move to town without my knowing about it?

For those unaware (I use that phrase a lot, don’t I?), the Strike Team of “The Shield” is loosely based on the LAPD’s CRASH Team, another “elite” special police group which was also broken up by its superiors due to similar allegations made against Chicago’s SOS.

Here's Vic's Boys at Clark & Division, seeking out two frosty pitchers
of Old Style, a large Gino's pizza, and (of course) a heap o' trouble

Monday, October 8, 2007

Days of Spooky Network TV Past

Last night, I was browsing at a local chain electronics store with an awful selection, brainless high school kids on staff, and a completely disorganized stock (cough, Circuit City in Geneva, IL, on Randall Road, cough) when I discovered the following in the DVD on TV section:

For those unaware (or too young to recall), this show—based on the kid mystery novels of Franklin W. Dixon--ran on ABC starting in 1977 with the premiere episode “The Mystery of The Haunted House,” and co-starring (then) teen heartthrob Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson as the crime-busting Hardy Boys.

As the days prior to the show’s airing ran down, ABC put a lot of money into promoting “The Mystery of The Haunted House,” airing spooky previews of the Hardy brothers (I had no interest in the Nancy Drew part of the show) creeping around the dark manor in question with a spooky title theme in the background.

But after some trepidation, and quickly learning that “The Hardy Boys Mysteries” was as terrifying as your average episode of Scooby-Doo, any heebies I might have had about the show quickly evaporated.

Even so, it’s fun to hear that old theme song again – in fact, I think it still creates a creepy resonance. If you disagree, trying going to sleep tonight with it playing in the background, as the nine year-old kid in you resurfaces in your mind, and your eyes flick over to the closet hoping that something scaly and patient isn’t camped in there, ticking away the minutes until you nod off.

Sorry, that's pretty dumb isn't it? I mean, it's just a TV show.

PS: Took a gander at the forementioned “Hardy Boys” pilot last night, my first viewing of the show in (ack) 30 years. The opening montage—involving a miniature maze intended to create an air of tension, I gather—depicts Nancy and the boys looking for clues as various HD/ND book covers are spliced into frame. Not bad.

But as memory served, the “Haunted House” story was witless. For one, the house in question (specifically, the old “Psycho” house on Universal’s back lot) is a spook-themed nightclub which Frank and Joe visit to investigate a curious business deal involving their Dad. Secondly, well…there really is no “secondly,” that’s pretty much it.

The bad guys are exposed, justice prevails, and Scooby Snacks are enjoyed by all…

Thank God, I was worried there for a sec…

Irony Strikes Twice

Before I go any further, let me say it was never my intent for this blog to take on a steady, sports-related theme. But when interesting games are a part of your life, it’s tough not to want to share them.

As such, I had a profound case of déjà vu over the weekend when during the Blackhawks Home Opener, the team beat Detroit in an overtime shoot-out at United Center – which is ironic as hell considering the last time I saw a Hawks game this spring (the season closer) the exact same thing happened.

But it was a terrific game, or at least it became so after I pried myself away from a TV lounge showing the Cubs playoff game (they got swept; more on this later). The evening (which began with a brief memorial to despised, late Hawks owner Bill Wirtz – guess how that was received?) was also attended by a goodly amount of Wings fans, who took a verbal drumming from their rivals via the age-old chant “De-troit sucks!” echoing through the UC’s halls after the Hawks’ victory.

But let’s not get too cocky, mates: it’s a long season, isn’t it?

And speaking of long seasons, to the obnoxious White Sox fans who cheered the Cubs’ post-season demise in the United Center’s TV lounge, tell me, geniuses: where did your team spend the majority of this past year?

Pardon? The basement, you say? Whereas the Cubs won a Division Championship, and never got lower than third place?

Okay, fair enough. Just wanted to clarify…


Friday, October 5, 2007

Pennies From Heaven and Other Last-Day-Of-Work Musings

Got a pleasant send-off from my now-former co-workers in Oak Brook, including a plate of Chicago Cubs-themed cupcakes (are you hearing this, SG?) and a lovely gift card for B&N.

So with the knowledge that free money is best spent impulsively, I transferred my "Secret Porn Downloads" file from my work hard drive onto CD, said my final goodbyes, and motored to a local B&N store where I secured a concert DVD for “Gorillaz: Demon Days Live,” “Haunted Heritage” by Michael Norman and Beth Scott, and the following…

Oh, come on. Like the very title doesn’t leap out at you?

To quote Chris Sims’: “Batman is a Motherfucking Hardass” so who better to swat down the Lord of The Undead? Yes, yes…I remember Red Rain. I found it dull. This version of Batsy delivering post-mortem comeuppance will be so much better. I mean, it has to be…right? The film can’t be anywhere near as boring as “Superman: Doomsday,” which I turned off 2/3s of the way into the story.

Oh hell, we’ll see…

Finally, will be heading into the city tomorrow night for the Blackhawks’ 2007 Home Opener versus Detroit, which is always a great match-up. Today, the team announced that Rocky Wirtz—whom, unlike his late father, many Chicago hockey fans respect—has been named Chairman of The Board.

I sincerely wish Rocky the best of luck in raising an organization his dad worked so diligently to send to the bottom of the ocean. Raising that ship, if it happens at all, will be a very long-term project. But considering what an awful state the Hawks are in, I dare say it cannot possibly get any worse for players and fans alike.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An Early Resolution

For Halloween 2008, I am so here…for this year, however, I'll have to be content to order an HHN t-shirt over the net, and pretend I made it to Orlando as I sadly O.D. on candy corn in my basement.

I have such a love-hate relationship with clowns....
on one hand they're so scary I hate them,
but I love to think about punching them, because, y'know,
who hasn't fantasized about punching a clown?

Little Demons

Am spending my last two days at my current job killing time, which has involved me popping around the web reading articles including the following 2004 interview with Jack and Meg White.

In it, they discuss how Detroit—the town they grew up in—has gone to hell in a handcart, to which Meg offers an interesting theory why:

JW: I read old books about Detroit from the '20s and '30s, and it was such a beautiful city, but it's been destroyed. You think how wonderful it could've been if it had just stayed that way.

MW: I discovered the other day what the problem is.

JW: What?

MW: It's in this book I was reading. Apparently, there's a little red demon that haunts the city, and before every major bad thing that's happened, it's appeared to somebody. Last time, he appeared in a Cadillac.


Baby demons in Caddys, you say? Awesome...

By the bye, I would like to share with the congregation my belief that Meg White is just too damn cute.

Furthermore, I wanted to add that my one and only trip to downtown Detroit in 2003 (during a day trip to Windsor where I discovered the glories of five-pin bowling) was nothing short of surreal. To those who've never seen it, amidst what would otherwise be a bustling hub of downtown activity a la restaurants, bars, and department stores a la Chicago, Detroit's version resembled a post-apocalyptic ghost town complete with empty sidewalks and old papers blowing in the wind.

Or at least it seemed that way at the US/Canada border crossing station. Like I said, I don't live in Detroit--so my take on the town in limited--but that's how it struck me.

Okay, babbling over...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Career Moves

In light of the drama surrounding my Dad’s passing last week, did I mention that I was negotiating for a new job at the same time?

In the process, my brain blew a diode or two, but it’s all but set now. I’ll be doing pretty much the same thing I am now (e.g. medical tech writing), but for more money and in what I hope will be a less frenetic environment.

The only downside to the job change involves my revised commute—the tollway between my home and the job site is literally torn to pieces for reconstruction—which is a treat to be relished. However, after I grow familiar with the gig I’ll be pushing to work from home, saving about $250 in gas and tolls per month.

My first day is next Tuesday.

I hope they have a Pepsi machine, because dammit, I am useless in the morning without my Pepsi on crushed ice.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

October Dreams - Part I

Now that my favorite month of the year has arrived, I have my eye on a hoodie which blends the greatest Halloween story of all time with what may be the coolest high school sports mascot of all time.

Just a side note: to anyone who adores me enough to score this item on my behalf, I wear 3XL – not because I weigh 400 pounds, but because I like my sweatshirts to wear like blankets: soft and roomy.

October Dreams - Part II

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants
us to be happy." -- Benjamin Franklin

Oh, there anything you didn't know?

Mind you, I don't drink myself (nor am I a Phillies fan--Go Cubs) but the above photo of the Phils' Ryan Howard being showered in suds to celebrate the team's 2007 division championship is just too happy to be ignored.

Plus, we can all share in the joy of the Mets' utter collapse.

Nice try, boys. Enjoy your off-season.