Saturday, September 23, 2017

Geek Love, a great premise, started the wave of Carny fiction

For a literature major, my book reading has taken a backseat recently due to all the magazines I'm currently subscribed to and, of course, all the time I spend tossing the football and baseball with Jackson and doing "play with me" time with Zoey.

That said, I recently made it through a relatively gargantuan modern fiction classic (from 1989) by Katherine Dunn, which took her many years to write while living in Portland.

Geek Love, a National Book Award finalist, was a trailblazer at the time and set the course for all kinds of freak-show entertainment that has followed, from Rob Zombie's filmography to the Jim Rose Circus to American Horror Story to Stephen King's It.

The premise is the best thing about the book: A man and woman (Al and Crystal Lil Binewski) run a circus that has fallen on hard times. In order to take them to the top, they agree that Lil will start taking drugs in order to deform a whole slate of babies they plan to produce. That way they'll have the best freak show (or call it "geek" show) in the land.

The plan works, and they have Arty the Aqua Boy, Siamese twins Elly and Iphy, telekinetic Chick, and the story's narrator Olympia, a hunchback albino dwarf. Arty is the leader and Oly assists him. She actually tells the story from two points in time, when they are all children and just getting started to bring in the crowds and much later in her life, when she reflects on all her family being gone and watches over her daughter Miranda, who has a tail and doesn't know who her mother is, and certainly doesn't know she is the product of incest.

The whole thing is fascinating, but it drags on far too long. There is way too much descriptive language and Geek Love is easily a quarter-too-long. But a great premise takes it far, and it luckily played a major role in starting a horrifying genre that is tough to get enough of, at least for me.

4 out of 5 stars

And check out this great feature from WIRED about the cult of Geek Love lovers.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: 10 nuggets from Rolling Stone's profile of the EPA's evil Scott Pruitt

There is a lot of incompetence in Donal Trumpland these days, but perhaps nobody should boil the blood of voters more than his EPA appointee.

Rolling Stone's Jeff Goodell profiled all his flat-out wicked deeds in Scott Pruitt's Crimes Against Nature, in its August 10 issue. It seems people wouldn't have to be classified as liberals or environmentalists to be terrified of this person's disregard for the EPA's core mission of "protecting human health and the environment," which has nothing to do with supposedly boosting the economy.

Here are 10 interesting nuggets from the article:

  1. Pruitt claimed the U.S. pulled out of the Paris global climate accord because it's a plot by European nations to stifle our economy. That doesn't account for the fact that you can count which nations of the world aren't a part of it on far fewer than the fingers on one hand.
  2. He claims that 50,000 coal-mining jobs have been created by the Trump Administration, even though only about 1,000 have been created in 2017, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coal is dying and renewables are the future, creating jobs 12 times faster than dirty coal, but oil executives give a lot of money to corrupt politicians. Why portions of the public can't see that or can't be bothered to care continues to boggle my mind.
  3. He hasn't met with any environment groups yet. Big oil executives are the only meetings he ever takes.
  4. Very few, almost none, of the high-level EPA staffers have ever spoken to Pruitt or even gotten an email from him.
  5. After taking $62,000 from the poultry industry in his run for Oklahoma attorney general, he won and dropped a lawsuit against several major chicken producers for dumping their waste into the Illinois River. His opponent took no money from the industry and lost badly. I sense a theme here: it's "go figure."
  6. We often hear about his lawsuits against the EPA as attorney general. It's true, he filed 14 of them, including attempts to promote mercury pollution because "it doesn't pose public-health hazards" and promote more air pollution in national parks. Fun guy! Now you can basically be assured he's taking these similar kinds of stealth campaigns to a national, completely terrifying, level.
  7. Pruitt views fossil fuels not as the remains of dead plants and animals  but as "God's gift to mankind. Let's use them to power the world."
  8. One thing he's focused on at the EPA is removing climate data and scientific information from its website.
  9. The good news is, as Jimmy Kimmel says, "Put simply, Scott Pruitt is a piece of shit," and his lack of loyalty from anyone within EPA extends outside of the agency, even to Republicans and major climate deniers who think he doesn't have the wits to get any of their priorities, good or bad, accomplished.
  10. And back to the bad news, Pruitt is hoping to dismantle enough of the Earth as quickly as possible before he likely jumps the EPA ship in time to run for governor of Oklahoma in 2018 or for climate-boogeyman Jim Inhofe's Senate seat in 2020. 
Note to self, don't move to Oklahoma. And also maybe consider moving to Canada, where climate change won't be as harsh and as soon as it's set to be here at home.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sharknado makes us ask if we're even still afraid of sharks

I recently spent a lazy rainy day at the Lake of Ozarks skipping out on a boat ride in exchange for a triple header of Shark Week movies on the Syfy Channel, the only one of which whose name I remember was Trailer Park Shark.



I guess it just goes to show that I, like many others, will watch anything that includes great whites. There's no telling whether that hillbilly jam was better or worse than the grand dame of the new breed of shark movies, 2013's Sharknado.

I finally got around to seeing that alleged classic last night and, despite an obvious decrease in brain cells reported in my head today, the movie is an indelible must-watch for fans of the 90s classic TV show Beverly Hills 90210. Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders in Bev 9er, finally found the one role he was always meant to play, as Fin, the surfer dude whose beach bar is destroyed by waves of sharks. He then goes about crossing Los Angeles to drop bombs on tornados and vanquish the flying sharks with his chainsaw.

Really, does any more need to be said?

3 out of 5 stars. Now I have, what, four more Sharknado movies to catch up on?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Moonlight was indeed important, but was it really worthy of so many awards?

Moonlight, which won the best-film Academy Award for 2016, has beautiful cinematography and tells the culturally important story of what it might be like growing up unsure of your sexuality in a neighborhood hardened by bullies and drugs.

It's the story of Little, who grows up in Miami for years before he realizes he's gay. He gets chased, gets beat up, and has rocks thrown at him. His mother is a pathetic and mean addict. He has no role models until a drug dealer and his girlfriend (played by Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae) take him in when he needs it most.

The performances are superior. Ali won best supporting actor. And the three actors who play Little as he gets older are also compelling. Part of his struggle to find himself includes three nicknames: Little as a kid, then Chiron when he's older, and finally Black.

Despite Ali's character being a drug dealer, he provides the father figure Little needs and, most importantly, the sage advice to find himself and to be ok with himself if he is truly gay.

We learn that Ali's character, named Juan, has died at some point and Little grows up to continue being unsure of how to be intimate with other people and specifically other men. He becomes a very masculine drug dealer in Atlanta before coming back, in the final scene, to visit his lifelong friend Kevin.

I really like this story. But even if Ali's character had served his point (and that point was probably served even harder by Little having to lose yet another one of the only positive models in his life), I would have liked Ali to get a little more screen time to truly deserve his best supporting actor nod. 

I also couldn't get over how slow the film often moved. Largely because of that, I'm a little unsure how it could have a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and been praised so heavily by Academy voters (other than 2016 perhaps being a bit of a down year for movies). 

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 21, 2017

How did they get the idea for Amazon's Red Oaks?

Throughout the first two seasons of Red Oaks, on Amazon Prime, I was sure that the only inspiration could've been the classic Caddyshack.

But as this interview with one of the show's co-creators makes clear, it was actually his time spent working at several New Jersey country clubs that proved the impetus.

It's a great show and Amazon has renewed it for a final third season. Bittersweet because it's nice to have it for a third season but not nice to only have it for one more season.

Craig Roberts plays the protagonist David, who is working for the summer as an assistant tennis pro at a country club. He is adorably likable and gives viewers reason to return each episode. He's also a British actor, which I didn't know until after watching all of the first two seasons.


Every story line is great and so are all the characters.

Jennifer Grey is a blast from her Patrick Swayze-matched 80s past along with Richard Kind as David's sympathetic and pretty sad parents.

Ennis Esmer hilariously plays the lead tennis pro Nash and is the older, arrested-development stud who hangs out with kids that we all seemed to know at one time.

Josh Meyers is similar as Barry, but is a painfully self-absorbed Miami Vice type.

Oliver Cooper's Wheeler and Alexandra Turshen's Misty have one of my favorite storylines as the odd couple.

Then there's the whole rich Getty family, not terribly likable but also fascinating as a way to see how the other half lives: Paul Reiser, Gina Gershon, and the Ally Sheedy-like Alexandra Socha.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars after season 1, but I'm upping that to 5 out of 5 stars after season 2.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How does The Babadook compare to my favorite horror movies of all time?

Many rankings of the best horror films have 2014's The Babadook, which I finally just saw, as one of the best ever. While I don't rank it anywhere near my personal top 10 within the genre, it does feel like there haven't been many scare-fests in recent years that match its levels of psychological thrill.

Its a tale of a woman who lost her husband in a car crash as he drove her to the hospital to have their baby. Seven years later, she takes care of "the boy" (which you don't want to call him) but secretly can't stand him. Lack of sleep, misbehavior at school and on the playground, and social pressures from girlfriends leads to a psychological and murderous mind bend for the mom. And all it takes is a strange child's book character to set off a terrifying, but only mildly bloody, chain of events.

The Babadook doesn't match the horror movies that made the list of my 90 favorite movies of all time, which included:
  • Psycho at #1
  • Jaws at #3
  • Halloween at #40
  • A Clockwork Orange at #43
  • Friday the 13th at #50
  • The Shining at #55
  • Silence of the Lambs at #76
  • No Country for Old Men at #78
  • The Amityville Horror at #84
  • Donnie Darko at #85
I think other ones not in my top 90 that might fall in ahead of The Babadook include:
  • Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
  • Suspiria
  • Phantasm II
  • 28 Days Later
  • The Blair Witch Project
  • Poltergeist
  • The Exorcist
  • "Hillbilly horror classics" Wrong Turn, Hills Have Eyes, and Wolf Creek, and
  • The ever-underrated Rob Zombie's terrifying House of 1,000 Corpses and its follow-up The Devil's Rejects.
For more ideas of what to watch, check out the great horror choices on this list.

And next I must see this year's Get Out, which Rotten Tomatoes jaw-droppingly rates as the top horror flick of all time.

Talking about the future of mobility on Tech Pulse TV

I was recently on this Tech Pulse TV show about "the future of mobility."

I believe it aired on Verizon and Comcast channels in Washington D.C. and Boston.

It's a good conversation with Darnell Grisby of the American Public Transportation Association, Russell Brooks of Transportation for America, and Barry Einsig of Cisco about topics such as:

  • Technology shaping transportation
  • The future of mobility
  • Transportation platforms
  • Bikesharing
  • Carsharing, and
  • The sharing economy.