9 Oct
2017

IT (2017)

SPOILERS!

I walked into work around 8:45 a.m.  I said out loud, to nobody in particular, "Hey! I saw the new IT!"  My coworkers gave me a strange look.  Adam, my manager, said, "Okay...how was it?"

"It was...good!"  There's a long pause after this.  My coworkers know me well enough to know that I'm not going to leave it at that.  Adam asks, "Is there any reason it wasn't great?"  And, in fact, there is a reason.  But the reason has less to do with the movie and more to do with the genre it occupies.

Let me get the short, fair review out of the way right now.  The 2017 movie is really good.  Bill Skarsgård delivers a much better rendition of Pennywise than Tim Curry.  The kids are hilarious and have great chemistry. The movie itself does a great job creating an incredibly tense and creepy atmosphere, and delivers plenty of jump-in-your-seat scares and gross-out scenes.  My experience was more than satisfactory.  There were a couple of moments where I was legitimately scared.  The scene with the film projector, in particular, had me grabbing my head with my mouth agape, letting out small whimpers.  Short answer: Go see this movie; you will not be disappointed.

I should probably get this out of the way, as well.  I'm not going to talk about the book.  The book is better than the swing-and-a-miss 1990 miniseries AND the new movie.  The general rule of film adaptations of iconic books still applies here.  If you are sitting in line at the DMV, or have a lengthy prison sentence coming up, I would recommend reading it (assuming the guards don't confiscate it.  The 1,000+ page novel is definitely big enough to be considered a weapon, even the soft cover).

This was the version my brother owned. I used to stare at it and wonder what it was about. Memories...

So I'm just going to compare the miniseries and the movie.  And, really, the deck is stacked against the miniseries.  IT (the monster) is a shape-shifting reality-bender who manifests itself as your greatest fears.  IT is a great antagonist.  But in 1990, the technology simply wasn't available to make IT look believable yet.  The miniseries relied heavily on practical effects, which is fine, but if you are going to have a character that can transform into your greatest fears, leaning heavily on digital effects isn't the worst idea.  The 2017 movie had decades of technological breakthroughs on its side, and used them to great effect.

The following clip puts scenes from each of the video versions side by side:

The creators of the movie also had the miniseries itself on their side.  A filmed adaptation of the novel acted as a guide for what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. The miniseries had the daunting task of turning a huge novel into a two-part television series without any visual aids other than storyboards and illustrations.

That's another thing to keep in mind.  2017's IT was given an R-rating and a theatrical release.  The miniseries was broadcast on ABC.  Looking at those facts alone as a consumer, which one would you like to see?

If there is one good thing to say about the miniseries, it's Tim Curry's performance.  A perfect blend of funny and disturbing, Tim Curry's rendition of Pennywise was almost universally praised by critics.  This can't be overstated. Any time he is on screen, it's hard to look away.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace said his job, basically, "was to give Tim the stage and not get in his way too much. He was like Robin Williams in the way he brought a spontaneous improvisation to the part."

So how does Bill Skarsgård's performance square up with the original?  Quite well, actually.  For one, he doesn't try to rip off Curry.  He interprets Pennywise in a much darker way. He's more menacing and less funny.  He's still goofy, but instead of relying on shtick and vaudeville comedy, he's more predatory.  And to be honest, I think it makes way more sense, considering that IT isn't a clown, but a timeless entity that poses as a clown in order to lure in its prey of choice, children.  Skarsgård's Pennywise just makes more sense, in general, even if he's a less-entertaining character than Curry.

The miniseries had one advantage, however, and I'd like to talk about it.  The miniseries didn't really feel like a horror movie.  The content was horrific, no doubt, but it caught you off guard.  The movie, on the other hand, felt like a standard horror film.  Even if you had no expectations walking into the theater, you knew within the first five minutes that frightening stuff was going to happen.  Everything indicates this.  The music, the lighting, the camera direction.  It all follows the conventions of modern-day horror movies.  The miniseries seemed more like an after-school special that was infected by some nefarious entity.  It may have been corny, but it had the element of surprise on its side.

I knew going in to the movie that it wasn't going to be a game changer.  It's a horror flick, and it has to answer to the people who funded it.  This means it's not going to be experimental.  It has to follow the conventions laid down by previous successful horror films so that it can make money.  If not, we may not get to see the sequel that the film sets up at the end.  Oh well, guess I'll keep waiting for the next Shining.

But even though it's pretty much a standard horror film, it does an exceptional job.  The horror content is visceral and plentiful.  Solid acting, good story, good pacing, really good camera direction.  Well worth the money.  I'll probably see it again.

 

6 Oct
2017

Gather Ye Round and I’ll Tell You a Tale

This weekend, October 6-8, is the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. According to the International Storytelling Center, where the festival is held, studies in more than a dozen fields have concluded that storytelling is integral to effective human communication.

"People crave, remember, and honor stories," they say.

Sharing our stories creates empathy for one another. Sharing stories makes us feel connected.

One of my favorite activities is sitting around a bonfire in crisp autumn air, sharing stories, be they stories of the day, tall tales and folk tales, long-winded jokes, or stories of horror and mayhem. I can't remember each story I've told or listened to, nor, often, who I was even with, but I remember the feeling of leaning back in a lawn chair or on a stump or on the desert floor and listening to the cadence of others tell their stories.

In honor of storytelling day, I've asked my co-workers to help me put together a story. Each line was written based solely on the previous sentence, except the last paragraph, which is my own wonderful storytelling. So buckle in, this is the story of Kards Unlimited, in an alternate universe, at least.

Once upon a time,

in a magical realm called Pittsburgh, lay the wondrous kingdom of Kards Unlimited.

The kingdom was ruled by a kind and generous queen, but it held a dark secret. The queen was not the rightful heir; the circumstances of her inheritance are dubious at best.

People claiming to be the rightful heir kept popping up like flowers in the spring, which made for unsettled times in the kingdom: things were reaching a boiling point.

It didn't help that a mysterious rash was making its way over the hearts of the children, manifesting in the shape of a many-ringed planet.

"It's a good thing I hate children," grumbled Bernice, as she slurped down a poached egg. In her mind were thoughts of a cookbook featuring recipes of little children.

Finding them would be easy, but getting them to produce high quality food would be another story.

The next town over had, somehow, convinced the cows to skip milk entirely and produce cheese fresh from the udder, but no one considered it 'high quality.' The town had to act fast, and slaughtered all the cows before PETA could find any evidence of genetic animal testing.

This left the townspeople with a different problem entirely--how to explain the absence of so many cows?

It turns out the cows got sick of being treated like second-class citizens and went on livestock strike.

Which was super weird 'cause all the cows were dead, but zombie cows are cool, too. Anyway, going on strike for zombie cows is actually going on a murderous rampage, so they killed all the townspeople, the fake heir to the throne, and also the REAL heir to the throne, who was actually Bernice the child-eater.

They did not live happily ever after. The end.

What's your Kards Unlimited story? Let us know in the comments!

1 Oct
2017

October Events!

 

What up, y'all? Now, you may think that Halloween is the only thing to get excited about this month, but that's where you'd be wrong! October is absolutely chock full of fun, exciting events and I'm about to tell you what they are!

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24 Sep
2017

Happy Birthday, Jim Henson

A totally not creepy painting of Jim with his two greatest creations, Ernesto and Kermesto

The guy who voiced Kermit the Frog was fired in October of 2016.  Steve Whitmire had taken over voicing the famous frog after Jim Henson died unexpectedly in 1990.  Many who worked with Whitmire on Muppets-related projects said this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and that the voice actor and puppeteer was difficult to work with.  The drama unfolding behind the scenes doesn't actually have anything to do with the public at large, but take a look at this. 5:05.  That's when Jim Henson's version of Kermit the Frog ended and Steve Whitmire's began.  And it's...odd:

Sure, the Muppets are much too great a franchise to let go of, and Kermit is not a character that belongs to Henson exclusively.  He's a public figure, and he belongs to his fans just as much as he belongs to his creator.  But there is something off about Whitmire's performance.  It's hard to put into words, but I'm not alone.

To be clear, Whitmire's version of Kermit wasn't terrible.  But it wasn't great either.  He did the best job that he could, but it's not unusual to wonder what the Muppets and other Henson productions could have been if Jim had lived longer.

Jim Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi.  He spent his early years in Leland, MS, before moving with his family to University Park, MD, when he was about 12.  When he was in high school, he was creating puppets for a Saturday morning children's show called The Junior Morning Show.  He took a puppetry class in college while attending University of Maryland, College Park, where he graduated with a BS in home economics in 1960.  While a freshman, he created the show Sam and Friends.  The puppets in the show were forerunners of the Muppets, and included a prototype of Kermit the Frog.  (Familiar territory)

Very familiar.

Henson also came up with techniques to allow for greater control and expression over his puppets. He made his puppets out of foam rubber instead of wood.  He used rods to control their arms.  He used an awareness of a camera's frame to allow performers to manipulate their puppets off-camera. In other words, Henson transformed the art of puppeteering.  He was an innovator.  Henson not only created the Muppets, but actually coined the term "muppet," a portmanteau of "marionette" and "puppet."

Jim Henson's accomplishments are too many to list, but here goes!  He and his wife at the time, Jane, created the Muppets and Sesame Street.  He helped work on the Star Wars franchise, masterminding the design and look of Jedi master Yoda (the Henson group subsequently helped create and puppeteer Jabba the Hutt and other incidental alien characters).  He co-directed and co-wrote the excellent fantasy films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, along with Frank Oz.  In fact, if you see a large budget movie that features puppets, chances are better than not that either Jim Henson or the Jim Henson Muppet Group had something to do with it.  This, along with countless Muppets and Sesame Street movies, television specials, and many other projects, has made Jim Henson a gargantuan cultural influence. Oddly enough, most people don't know what he looks like.

This is Jim Henson!

My first blog post for Kards Unlimited was for Kermit the Frog, which is interesting because in a way I was actually writing about Jim Henson.  The creation and rise of Kermit and the Muppets goes hand in hand with Jim Henson's success in the entertainment industry.  They don't just share an arc, they are pretty much the same entity.  Jim Henson has said that Kermit is just an extension of himself, one that could say the things he was too shy to say.

On May 16, 1990, Jim Henson died of pneumonia.  Many people blame his Christian Science upbringing for not going to the hospital, but according to my source (Wikipedia), he simply didn't want to bother anybody.

Oh, sure.  Of course.  I mean you're only Jim Henson, why would it be important for you to stay alive?  Ugh!  Oh well!  Hope Valhalla's nice!

Oh, and happy birthday, Jim!

14 Sep
2017

A Sexy Geek? Yes, Please.

September is Shameless Self-Promotion Month! This is perfect since we at Kards Unlimited LOVE to talk about ourselves. Like, a lot. We thought you might want to get to know the KU employees a bit, so here's JD's fantastically shameless promotion of himself. We love him. You should, too!

***

How many of you out there are single? You may have been struggling within the dating world lately and worrying where you're headed (or not headed). Let's face it, there never seems to be great options, do there? Or the fantastic options you do find are completely blocked due to them having ended a relationship. From the guys who don't talk enough, to the ones who never stop, and all the ones in-between, I'm the solution for you...buddy.

Ever think that "I'd love to find a man who was as caring as all of the guys I see in these romance flicks?" A man who would give you a massage, take your dog for a walk, or cook for you. Or remember all the things you love and don't? Just in order to make your life happy? How would you feel if a guy randomly got you a book by your favorite author? Done and Done...puppy.

About to cook with some homegrown jalapenos.

Do you ever think "I'd like it if I could meet a guy who I could participate in, as well as attend, sporting events with?" Would you like to have a gym buddy? If you're someone who plays in any leagues and you'd like a man in your life whom you can cheer on, and vice versa, look no further...bro.

With my kickball team, after our first win.

Have you ever thought "I'd like to have a date for all of the events I enjoy?" Are you interested in finding the perfect guy who's into the same intellectual pursuits as you? Do you need a date for the new gallery opening or the French Film Festival? Someone to attend the Tori Amos concert, go to a Neil Gaiman book signing, or try the new exotic restaurant with? Je suis l'art...mister.

One, in a line of, artistic shots I took for Instagram.

Have you been wondering "Where can I find the perfect companion to travel the world?", but come up short? Have you got a long list of travel destinations but somehow they'd all seem pointless without that special someone there beside you to awe at them with? Your wanderlust is shared...papi.

On a zoo trip with a good buddy.

If what you're thinking is "I want to go out...do something fun and simple,"  then that's easily accomplished. Do you want to grab burgers and drinks? Taco Tuesday? Do you want to put on jeans and a t-shirt and go dancing all night at a club with someone? See a drag show or do karaoke? I can make that all happen...kiddo.

At a costume party for Halloween.

Do you simply say to yourself "I want a guy who understands me?" Do you want a guy who knows who you are and wants you for that? Looking for a guy who would love to cuddle and watch a film, or listen to some amazing tunes with you any time of day or night of the week? Don't feel like going out even though you've already made plans with people? I gotchu...babe.

At home, being lazy.

Basically, if any of this is what you're looking for, I'd make a fantastic boyfriend for you. I'm cute, intelligent, kind, giving, thoughtful, understanding, and loving. *blushes* I can also be shy, quiet, and generally only talk myself up when pushed.  Regardless, I'm a sexy geek and I'm the guy for you!

Geeky fun at work.

9 Sep
2017

Wonderful Weirdos

Since I've started blogging for Kards Unlimited, I've written about plenty of weirdos, from Franz Kafka to Hunter S. Thompson to Steve Martin.  Indeed, probably the least weird public figure I've written about would be Kermit the Frog, an entertainment juggernaut made of green felt who carried on a romantic relationship with a pig (yup, carried.  Past tense.  They broke up).  It's fair to say that I am someone who admires weirdos.  And the weirder the public figure, the deeper my interest in them.

There are plenty of celebrities who would qualify as weirdos: Lady Gaga, Donald Glover, Tom Cruise, Gary Busey, Dennis Rodman (remember you guys?  HE WORE A WEDDING DRESS!!!! HIS HAIR WAS DYED GREEN!!!!! WHAAAAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?).  However, some wonderful weirdos stand out from the rest for their influence in society and extra dose of weirdness. So here's a few public figures who are important, influential, and most importantly, weird and wonderful.

There's probably another name in there that I'm missing

Prince, or, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, or, that weird androgynous symbol thing, or, Prince...again

Where to start? Well his music, as incredible as it is, is undoubtedly strange.  He made a point of mixing together of-the-moment pop sounds and catchy melodies with experimental textures that would make Lou Reed jealous.  He's also one of the few '80s pop icons that could seriously shred on guitar.  And then there's his enigmatic personality.  He changed his stage name four times.  His relationship with the internet when he was alive was tenuous at best and volatile at its worst, which might be why it was so hard to find any of his original songs or videos until recently.  Actually, if you want a good sense of Prince's quirky personality, Kevin Smith (another weirdo who I've written about on this site) has an excellent story about a documentary he was supposed to film about the music star.  (Here's the condensed version.  The editing is pretty stark, so if you can find the full version I would recommend watching that instead.)

I was actually supposed to write about Prince for one of my first blog posts for this site, but missed the deadline, so it's nice to kick off this list with a truly great, strange person.  At least I think he was a person.  Maybe an alien or some sort of trick of light and smoke.  A mass hallucination, perhaps.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe is a perfect fit for a weird and wonderful blog.  She's just...excellent.  At a very young age, O'Keeffe was an impressive painter.  In her twenties, she could easily replicate the styles of many famous artists.  Doing so, however, bored her (a good way to describe many weirdos could be "perpetually bored").  After spending a summer in New Mexico, she wasn't content to just replicate objects and scenic landscapes with her paintings.  Following the teachings of Arthur Dow, she instead painted natural scenes with an abstract edge.  A few of my favorites:

Yes.  The skull is my favorite.  Her early work with charcoal is also quite impressive:

It's hard enough to be strange in 2017.  So in 1910, it must've been close to impossible.  To quote O'Keefe herself: "I wonder if I'm a raving lunatic for trying to make these things."

Eh, maybe.  But thank god she made them.

David Lynch

Is Eraserhead from 1990?  No?  Late '80s?  Early '80s? No? Ok, so it's from 1977, but it has to be a foreign film, right?  It's American?  Ok, put a pin in that.

Ok, so who does the ear belong to?  What is that...laughing gas?  Why isn't he laughing?  What is he doing?  Oh my god...Put a pin in that, as well, I guess. (Also, Laura Dern!)

It's a murder mystery, right?  No?  Well, ok, so it explores the dark secrets of the residents of a small town.  What do you mean "not exactly?"  A doorknob?  Ugh...pin.

So, wait, it was all in her head?  And what were all those other scenes?  Ok, just...put a pin in that, too.

...what?

So yeah.  David "More Questions Than Answers" Lynch.  You'd be hard put to find an active director more original and bizarre.

Before I wrap this up, I want to quickly mention a lesser-known wonderful weirdo.

Yayoi Kusama

I'm not going to write Yayoi Kusama's biography.  Suffice it to say that she is a Japanese artist who has been active since moving to New York in 1957 (although she started making art at the age of 10).  Here are a few pictures of her work:

And my favorite for last:

If you would like to know more about her, I've heard that people use a website called Google to look up things that interest them.  If you live in the Pittsburgh area, you can see a few of her installations at The Mattress Factory in the North Side.

Now, let's wrap things up correctly:

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Heathen, Hero, Goblin King, Blackstar, David "What The Hell Man You're Never Allowed To Die We Need You Now More Than Ever ALMOST TWO YEARS LATER AND THIS STILL REALLY HURTS" Bowie

For a very different reason than with Yayoi Kusama, I'm not going to take a crack at summing up David Bowie's life in this post.  I'm not one to indulge people who were born and raised under rocks.  Again, Google is very popular.

What I will say is that David Bowie was a man who seemed to be a wonderful weirdo almost by default. He made being weird seem wonderful. And he wouldn't have had it any other way.  When he wasn't inventing genres whole-cloth he was taking established genres and making them incredibly strange and experimental.  He was, and continues to be, a gargantuan influence in the world of music and art.

Bowie only had two late career releases.  The Next Day was a very pretty outing with one song in particular, "Where Are We Now?", that I liked very much.

I heard Dave Grohl say in an interview after hearing the song something along the lines of "the song is so sad.  I remember thinking 'man...is he dying or something'."

Well, he was.

David Bowie blew our minds one last time by releasing an album detailing his own demise.  Blackstar is an out-of-this-world experimental jazz/rock/morbid-as-hell release that almost proves that Bowie was more than just a man or even an alien.  He was more a deity, shining a light through the darkness of status quo mediocrity and artistic compromise.  He told the truth.  Even as cancer was ravaging his body and death was months away from extinguishing his flame.

So I will leave you with a video that can only be described as...I dunno.  Strange and marvelous, I guess.