Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Cicadas Are Coming... Again

No, not the 17-year variety that came and went a short time ago, but the giant, killer kind that spring from the minds of independent filmmakers Mat and Myron Smith, who last year treated us to Young Blood: Evil Intentions, made in Martinsville, VA. I had a teeny tiny role in that one — see "Young Blood — The Movie," March 9, 2012 — and I gotta tell you, since then, the movie offers have been rolling in; so many I can't keep up with them. But me, I'm choosy, so I've been holding out for just the right part, and I think it's finally come round. The Smith brothers' next project is Invasion of the Killer Cicadas, which is now under way in Martinsville, and, this coming Saturday, August 3, I'm slated to play a mad professor at a town meeting. There's room for extras, I'm told, so if you're in the area and are dying for a chance to appear in monstrously fun monster flick, this may be it. The shoot will take place at Jefferson Plaza in uptown Martinsville at 10:00 AM. Bring your funny bones.
On the set of Invasion of the Killer Cicadas — from left to right: Summer McAlexander, Sharon "Kay" Dodd,
Mat Smith, Myron Smith, Christine Edwards, Karen Colletti

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Siamese Cat's Weekend Guide... Getting Breakfast When Dad Doesn't Want to Get Out of Bed

  1. Sit on the pillow next to Dad's face and stare. Stare hard.
  2. Add an insistent purr to the stare.
  3. Gently boop Dad's nose with a paw. Repeat every thirty seconds or so.
  4. When Dad covers his head with the sheet, use paws and teeth to furiously tug the sheet back. Repeat as many times as necessary to keep the head from being permanently covered.
  5. Sing an aria about the repression of cats.
  6. Go back to staring and purring.
  7. Knock Dad's phone, glasses, and bottle of water off the nightstand.
  8. Urp up a hairball on the floor next to the bed.
  9. Stare and purr.
  10. Enlist the aid of other cats. Rile them by swatting them upside the head; Dad will find it impossible to ignore the resulting ruckus.
  11. Tear downstairs to the kitchen, resisting the temptation to trip Dad on the stairs.
  12. If Dad insists on making his coffee before feeding you, every time he takes a step, wriggle up under his feet. Take care to avoid the sloshing water. Add lots of yowling for effect.
  13. Enjoy your breakfast.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Scan in Progress

During my college days, I learned at least a wee bit about playing the guitar and for several years went at it pretty hard. Played the occasional talent show, open-mike night, a few actual gigs, etc. A few short years ago, Ms. B. and I got together and performed several times, and we've even thought about giving it another go sometime.

In the early to mid 80s, I wrote bucket loads of songs of my own, most of which were nothing special, though every now and then, I think I managed to nail one. Several weeks back, while looking through an old box for some completely unrelated stuff, I happened upon a couple of sheets of lyrics to some of my old songs. I've forgotten how to play most of them — for which some folks would probably thank me — but there was one in particular, titled Scan in Progress, that I thought was okay when I wrote it and it seemed to hold up. After a bit of struggling, I finally figured out how to play it again.

The song came about from working in the font compilation department at Alphatype Corporation, back in Chicago. To encode font characters on computer disc (those big 8" floppies), we had this big honking scanner with lights and wires all over it, and it made a noise like a gargantuan hydraulic press. Scared the crap out of me, this thing. So, I worked it into a song. Threw in some dark philosophy, a bit of almost Lovecraftian cosmic imagery, and there it was. Now that I think about it, I think I printed the lyrics in the first issue of Deathrealm back in the day.

Anyhoo, here's the lyrics to Scan in Progress. Pray you'll never have to hear the thing.

Upon the screen a light is speaking words in a voice that makes not a sound.
Human life, electric coils in a song that passes through the wire.
Charged by man, holding out his hand to touch the work of the scan.
Thunder rolls as the sky unfolds, electric language of the earth.

Ancient words in altar robes are bound — the failure of the mind of man.
Locked and shackled in a shuttered room, all systems fatal by the scan.
Clouds within blur the eyes again, circuit open, mind complete.
Contact broken, energy exploding, and the voice replies again.

Lightning is a knife that cuts like water flows like blood that runs like tears of mine.
Older than the earth, the eyes of heaven watch and hold on man the common bond of fear.
Enter scan with fear.

Mortal words in blood are written in the body of eternal man.
Systematic mind confusion leads the power of the waiting hand.

High above rests the word of love, striking out in lethal beams.
Breath of life, unending dark and light, wisdom knows no bonds of time.
Protection costs the life of man, the time is right to scan the eyes that lie above.
Living light that cuts the threads of life as on our knees we pray in fear.

Lightning is a knife that cuts like water flows like blood that runs like tears of mine.
Older than the earth, the eyes of heaven watch and hold on man the common bond of fear.
Enter scan with fear.

"Scan in Progress" ©1983, Stephen Mark Rainey

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Go Big or Go Extinct

In the early 80s, when I lived in Chicago, I became a regular Japanese animation geek. Initially, I was most drawn to Leiji Matsumoto's creations, such as Space Cruiser Yamato, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Queen Millennium, and so forth, but during that period, there was an explosion of anime involving robot mecha — Mobile Suit Gundam, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Fang of the Sun Dougram, Orguss, and scads of others. Some of these, particularly the TV series Macross (which, combined with the series Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, found its way to our shores under the title Robotech) and the movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? turned me into a regular robot mecha fan boy.

Over the years, my interest in such things dwindled, but when word of Pacific Rim surfaced a while back, and I saw the images of hardware designs that weren't just anime-influenced but were in every respect Japanese science-fiction mecha, I had to sit up and take notice all over again. Add giant monsters to the formula, and the old dude is all fired up about going to the movies.

Pacific Rim is a straightforward, uncomplicated story about a giant monster invasion and humanity's desperate efforts to fight the marauding kaiju. Rather than outer space, these creatures are springing from a dimensional breach in the Pacific Ocean and wreaking havoc over the surface of the earth. The only weapons capable of destroying them are giant mechanical monster hunters, known as Jaegers, operated by pairs of pilots connected to the mecha via neural links. These are not just big rock-'em sock-'em robots but actual mobile suits that respond to the pilots' mental and physical input.

Brothers Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy Becket (Diego Klattenhoff), piloting a Jaeger called Gypsy Danger, go into combat against a kaiju called Knifehead, which all but destroys the Jaeger and kills Yancy. Raleigh leaves the Jaeger force and for five years works on a construction team building a massive anti-kaiju wall along the coast. As one might expect, the wall proves ineffective, and Jaeger Force Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) calls Raleigh back for a last-ditch effort to destroy the dimensional breach itself. Raleigh is paired with a new pilot, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who, at first, has certain difficulty adapting to the mecha's neural link. In the meantime, the kaiju assaults increase in frequency — and the monsters themselves grow increasingly larger and more ferocious. Scientists Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Herman Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), each working on separate approaches to conquer the kaiju, come up with an extreme plan that offers hope... but involves potentially unpleasant commerce with a notorious black marketeer named Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), who has turned the kaiju attacks into a golden opportunity for himself.

Early in the film, I found myself absolutely not taken with the Becket brothers. They were the epitome of gung-ho naivete, spewing constant, trite attaboys to each other. It was inevitable that one of them wouldn't survive. However, as the film progresses, Raleigh's character becomes more appealing, particularly when he begins to interact with kaiju attack survivor Mako Mori. Mako shows herself to be a valiant fighter but a very vulnerable young woman. She and Becket develop a fair chemistry, both having unique strengths as well as frailties. There's an effective flashback chronicling the events that brought her to the present, the revelation about her relationship with Marshall Pentecost standing out as especially poignant. As Pentecost, no one could have been a better choice for the part than Idris Elba. He makes the perfect commanding officer: clinical, calculating, decisive, with just enough human warmth to make him sympathetic.

The scientists, Geiszler and Gottlieb, are a bit cartoony, played as much for laughs as to propel the story, but both prove ultimately engaging. Charlie Day as Geiszler brings to mind Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters, and his meeting with Hannibal Chau is both tense and funny — side-splittingly so in a couple of instances. Ron Perlman as Chau chews up the scenery, the script, the monsters, everything, especially when explaining how he chose his name (it came from "his favorite historical military commander and Chinese restaurant in the United States").

Now, as for the monsters and the mecha....

The Jaegers themselves are the stuff of pure, classic anime, made as realistic as such things can be made in a live-action film. The designs, if not necessarily "believable," are functional within the scope of the movie, and quite beautifully so. Each robot has its own name — such as Gypsy Danger, Crimson Typhoon, Kaiju Crusher, Coyote Tango — much like a combat aircraft or naval vessel, and each comes equipped with its own unique weaponry.

The kaiju designs clearly hearken back to such Japanese monster franchises as Ultraman and the Gamera series. Although the generally decent CGI brings them to vibrant life, they are, on the whole, less impressive and certainly less memorable than the monsters from the original Godzilla series. Unfortunately, spectacular, lingering views of the beasts — especially during the city attacks — are few and far between. I've always enjoyed seeing daikaiju in all their glory, the camera views positioned to emphasize their size, their demeanors, their grandeur. While the direction and blocking of the scenes do give the monsters a certain organic authenticity, it's rather difficult to glean true pictures of them in their entireties. Think about the best of the Toho Godzilla films, and how many beautiful, panoramic scenes exist of Godzilla set against a doomed cityscape, allowing you to admire those familiar contours, the intricate back plates, the glaring reptilian gaze. While there's no shortage of spectacle with the Jaegers, I was hoping for an equal sense of the awesome with Pacific Rim's kaiju. To me, it's a noticeable but hardly critical flaw in the film.

Recently, Ms. B. and I have been watching the TV series Prison Break on DVD, and I have quite admired composer Ramin Djawadi's scoring for the show. His work in Pacific Rim is effective, appropriately grand and often distinctive — which is too rarely the case with so much modern film music. There's lots of deep, pulsing bass, electronic techno rhythms, and blaring, martial brass. Having an extensive library of daikaiju soundtrack albums on CD, I absolutely do look forward to adding the Pacific Rim soundtrack to the collection.

There have been a few non-Japanese giant monster films in the past couple of decades, but only a handful of them have been even a cut above mediocre. Pacific Rim may not be perfect by any stretch, but it's a damned good movie — oftentimes impressive, consistently entertaining. While I am clearly a diehard daikaiju fan, I think Pacific Rim's excitement factor ought to be sufficient to engage muggles as well.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lamia

Back in the late 70s, I was a monster fan of the band Genesis, especially the early albums that featured Peter Gabriel. I actually discovered Genesis via the album And Then There Were Three, after both Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett had parted ways with Tony Banks, Phil Collins, and Mike Rutherford. It was a fine album in its own right, but once I started working my way backward, I discovered what an incredible progressive band they had been. One of their best works was the concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which chronicled a surreal journey into a mysterious netherworld by a New York City Latino youth named Rael. My favorite cut was... is... the song The Lamia, in which Rael enters one of the many chambers of the weird world into which he has stumbled and discovers its lovely yet horrifying inhabitants. Steve Hackett has released some exceptional work in his time, and on his tours, he and his band play many of his compositions from his Genesis days. I saw one of Steve's solo shows in Atlanta back in 1980 or 81, at the Agora Ballroom, where I got to lean up against the stage and watch him play from ten feet away. It was a staggering experience for me — in the best way possible. Here is a decent video of The Lamia from a relatively recent show, featuring Nad Sylvan on vocals. He captures Gabriel's style and range without merely aping it. I'm quite keen on the extended instrumental at the end with Rob Townsend on woodwinds.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Game Changers

That's the name of the story I'm currently writing. Here I will do the thing I hate most, just because. I will say that the tale is for one of those anthologies coming down the pike about which I can say nothing. Just to change up the game, I will say this, however: it involves Vietnam and Lovecraftian beasties.

And that, as they say, is that.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Brugger on a Bike, It's Hot!

Like I said.
Leaf me alone.

Finally today, the rain that's been falling so long I've started channeling Noah let up long enough to grab a couple of caches and do maintenance on several of mine around Martinsville. Brugger and I headed out from Greensboro last night, stopped in Reidsville for a fabulous dinner at The Celtic Fringe (she had superb polenta — yes, at a Celtic place — with vegetables, I had excellent fish and chips), downed a couple glasses of wine at Rania's in Martinsville, and then went round to see Mum, whom we've not visited in too long a while. Today, we met up with my friend Ed "Kuykenew" Kuykendall to find some caches, including a quite novel one ("The A:Maze:ing Micro," GC4F9D9), which was placed by a relatively new geocacher. With over 6,000 caches under my belt, I'd not seen one quite like it before; a commendable job! Afterward, it turned out Mr. Kuykenew had the same lunch destination we did — Garfield's, over in Koehler, which is good, southern home cooking — so we put up with each other for just a bit longer and swapped a caching tale or two... or several dozen. Garfield's fried chicken is the best dead bird around, no question.

Next, Brugger and I hit the Dick & Willie Trail (shut up), hopped on a couple of bikes, and put in about seven miles... which, on a fairly full stomach, in 100% humidity and 90+ degrees, was kind of tiring even for this sturdy old man. When we got back to Mum's, Ms. B. took a nap, and the blasted rain started up again. This is easily the longest spell of essentially nonstop precipitation I've ever lived through. Coming back to Greensboro on the back roads, we came upon road after road closed because of swollen creeks and washed out bridges. No doubt it's something to get used to as the planet gets hotter and uglier.

Perhaps I will sleep well tonight.

That is one big passel of water gushing out from under the old warehouse near the rail trail.
These are activities for which one should always wear a helmet.