Monday, October 31, 2016

Home Horror Movies: A 10-Year Halloween Tradition

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 9:00 AM

10-year-old girls think this completely inappropriate title is hilarious.
  • 10-year-old girls think this completely inappropriate title is hilarious.
"Why must it always end in ketchup?"

It's a great line, and my weird family says it all the time. Well, we don't really say it so much as we overact it. It's the angst-ridden cry we unleash when things go wrong. Especially when things go wrong in ridiculous ways — "WHY MUST IT ALWAYS END IN KETCHUP?"  The phrase was coined by my effortlessly absurd daughter Josie, as she prepared to shoot a gore-spattered scene in our very first family zombie movie, Attack of the Bloody Hand, starring her and her fraternal twin, Lucy.

I'm an open book on social media, but, tend to keep family life out of my columns. Today I'm breaking that rule because it's Halloween, and, at the risk of seeming self-indulgent,  I want to share the family tradition that brought this beautifully bloody catchphrase into our lives.
Shot on location, when old Ozymandias was just around the corner.
  • Shot on location, when old Ozymandias was just around the corner.
I've been making homemade monster movies with my daughters for 10 years now. We've made Sci-Fi flicks too. And at least one swashbuckler. But it's mostly horror because we do it in October, usually the week before Halloween. We have rules too, to make sure things never get too expensive or serious. It's an imagination game, not about set-building. The shoot takes place in our house, but can spill out into the yard, and immediate neighborhood. We have a $20 budget, but can sometimes splurge on an item if it's just that cool, or we know we'll use more than once. Shooting has to be completed in one day, and the whole project has to be completed before Halloween.

I'm not a filmmaker, and don't pretend to be one. This isn't fancy stuff— It shouldn't be about that. Our 5 to 15-minute flickers are all lit with natural light and flashlights. They are costumed from closets, shot on Flips and iPhones, and edited in iMovie. Sometimes we make our own special effects and write our own soundtrack music, but we also truck in parody, mixing  in clips and sounds from horror classics. It's the sort of thing  anybody can do with tech they carry in their pocket, and as stupidly fun family traditions go, I can't recommend it enough.

Prepare yourself now for the macabre in miniature — Ten years of highly collaborative short movies made with 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14-year olds.  We're not Hammer, or Universal exactly. But on a good day we can at least compete with Eegah! 

1. The Robbers: It's about pirates, but the girls wanted to call it The Robbers. I don't think we really planned this, but just kind of fell into it while playing with toy swords at the park. Little did we realize this was the beginning of something completely ridiculous. This chase sequence is shot in a small format, and it's sometimes hard to hear. We get better.


2. Three Against the Sky: Costarring their friend Avery, this movie found three little girls saving the universe from a three-headed, lightning-breathing dragon, and flying saucers. Lots of pure joy in this one.


3. Attack of the Bloody Hand: We didn't know it at the time that Attack of the Bloody Hand would be part of a trilogy. Part three, in fact. Though shot out of order the three parts of The Bloody Hand Trilogy are The Ancient Evil Mummy, Ancient Evil From Before the Dawn of Time, and Attack of the Bloody Hand. Trivia: There's no bloody hand in chapter one, The Ancient Evil Mummy. The last one — which is also the first one —is a zombie flick with some familiar horror movie music.


4. The Wolfing: I have no idea what we were doing here. Werewolf movie? Bergman parody? Just hanging out on Saturday?


5. The Ancient Evil Mummy: What happens when you unlock the secrets of Cleopatra's closet? Part 1 in The Bloody Hand Trilogy. Also, a lot of fun. So glad we shot this while the Ramses II statue was still at the Pyramid.

6. Invaders From Uranus: This is an homage to a popular Twilight Zone episode starring Endora, and Earth vs the Flying Saucers. The twins, had just started playing musical instruments (and a band with featured friend Janie). So they wanted to try making some of their own soundtrack music. Who knew monsters could be destroyed by tween rock?

7. Ancient Evil From Before the Dawn of Time: In the past we'd written outlines and just made stuff up as we went along. Here Lucy emerges as a strong writing collaborator, with a real sense for Lovecraftian dread. The girls add a nifty original song to the soundtrack— "Shooting Star." This is part 2 in The Bloody Hand Trilogy.

8. The Devil Doll: Inspired by the scariest part of Trilogy of Terror. More Josie & Lucy songs too.

9. Bride of Boggy Creek: This one's inspired by the Bigfoot cheapie The Legend of Boggy Creek and also by The Blair Witch Project. It's the funniest of the bunch, and probably my favorite. The twins had just discovered Drunk History and borrowed some of that show's storytelling techniques. No, there wasn't any booze involved, but you wouldn't know from all the giggling. Featuring a ukulele remake of the original Boggy Creek theme song.

10. Three Against the Sky 2: This year's project is a cease and desist letter waiting to happen. It should have been a 10-year extravaganza, but became one of our least ambitious efforts due to a number of unforeseen obstacles cutting into our planning time. This is a sequel/remake and, at the very least, it's nice watching little heroes grow up. There are flashbacks, and a lot of pure joy in this one too.
 
Thanks for enduring that. I won't post anymore backyard movies of my kids until we've been doing this for 20-years. In the meantime, I'd love to see other people pick up this tradition. I'll happily publish homemade horror movies here at Fly on the Wall every Halloween. They don't have to be good, they just have to look like they were a lot of fun to make.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Really, Today Show? Graceland? In Nashville?

Posted By on Thu, Oct 27, 2016 at 12:27 PM

First, they came for our STAX logo. Then, this happened...
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Really, Austin?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 3:01 PM

Oh, SNAP! This is so wrong. And, apparently available in the airport. You know, that perfect last minute memory of Austin. 
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bob Corker Has Tiny Feet And It's Funny When He Stamps Them

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 1:05 PM

Sitting in a tree.
  • Sitting in a tree.

Last night Senator Bob Corker took to Twitter — like so many brave keyboard commandos — saying it was "imperative" for Trump to accept election results, even if the outcome is unfavorable. It was the yappy lap-dog definition of "all bark," since Corker's endorsement stands. Like so many Republicans this cycle Mr. Corker, a smallish man, and adorable in his junior-sized suits and cute little shoes,  has been rendered almost entirely ridiculous by a candidate he's clearly embarrassed by, but upholds as America's only hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Enough of that. I'm not here to bash Corker — silly as he is — or to criticize Trump either. If anything, I want to express some sympathy for a poor devil, so deep into his own narcissism he couldn't think beyond who was wronging him and who was crediting him long long enough to realize the debate moderator, Chris Wallace, was tossing him softballs made out of pure red meat. Guns? Abortion? Grand bargains— the ultimate Republican Viagra? A reasonably versed Conservative could have grabbed hold of all these opportunities and owned the night. But, unfortunately for both the GOP and America, that candidate didn't show up.

What happened last night wasn't a debate, it was an informercial for Hillary Clinton. When a candidate — in this case Trump — opens with "Nobody has more respect for women than me," then hisses, "Such a nasty woman,"  in the drama's falling action, this is what we in the storytelling business call a narrative arc. Over the course of that arc Clinton was able to talk about policy using clear, connecting language. She was able to make powerful statements directly to women, all of whom know what it's like to be dismissed and belittled by a man. And she was able to get away with a lot of stuff that needed challenge and critique. The new border technologies she was talking about? Probably drones, not forcefields. And can we have more particulars about "no fly zones" that bring us into close quarters with the Russian army? Instead of thoughtful comment pushing his opponent into deeper conversation, the best we got from Trump was, "wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong." Sniff. 
There's no real point in parsing the details of last night's debate — though I could go on for pages about Trump's inner city comments, with all the blacks, and the Latinos, where you can't walk to the store without getting shot. But at this point in the race particulars aren't all that relevant. Trump's trailing. Worse, his downward trend suggests he had to do more than just show improved discipline. He had high benchmarks to hit in terms of clarity and temperament. He never got close, undermining all improvement with his refusal to accept an unfavorable election outcome. That's the thing Corker took him to task for. On Twitter. In his little suit and shoes. While still endorsing the man. While still supporting the man. While, presumably, still voting for the man. 

"Imperative." Ha!

Maybe it's not fair using Corker as the stand in for a Republican party that's failed America by standing steadfastly behind a lazy-minded candidate who doesn't know the difference between a challenge and a threat. But somebody needs to tell him, and all the rest of these little boys using big boy words and playing big boy games, that fake tough is the weakest hand you can play.

I wish I could say America deserves better, but to borrow a line from the comparatively competent Romney campaign, we built this. So stamp away little Bobby. Stamp away. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

George Perez: Cool Things About Memphis Comic Expo Part II

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 5:14 PM

George Perez, Wonder Woman
  • George Perez, Wonder Woman
Man, when it comes to George Perez, where do you start? Avengers? New Teen Titans? JLA? Crisis on Infinite Earths? Wonder Woman? The Infinity Gauntlet? His entirely reasonable reasons for wanting to put the New 52 Superman in his rearview mirror?

(I suppose I could start with he's coming to the Memphis Comic Expo, but that's a little too easy)

As an artist and writer working in the majors, few individuals have done more to refine and redefine the two big superhero universes. He's been doing it for 40-years too, so, even when you think about his greatest hits, there's a lot to choose from. But for me, I think this is a story best told from the beginning. Or, the very near beginning when Perez became a regular artist working on Marvel's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu

I don't know how to rank all the various sub-elements in the SuperOmniVerse. Obviously heroes are on top of the food chain. Then comes magic and monsters, maybe. Then a mix of mainstays that fall in and out of fashion — martial arts, western, war, romance etc. None of it's pure anymore, it's all mixed up. But there have been periods when Marvel Kung Fu was more or less its own thing and some of the coolest pulp around. Hopefully Netflix Iron Fist — an often tertiary hero also getting some play in Marvel animated properties aimed at younger audiences — will show some love for a super comics tradition, diluted in the bigger universe of powers. This a long way of saying, I loved this stuff as a kid, and was a particular fan of a character called White Tiger. He's the first Puerto Rican superhero, with all sorts of crisis and conflict, and his story was forged in a white hot crucible of magic and martial arts. Perez co-created the Tiger with Bill Mantlo.

white-tiger-marvel-comics-hector-ayala-h2.jpg
The female White Tiger — the best part about the cloying Ultimate Spider-Man animated series (if it has a best part) — is the original Tiger's daughter. But now I'm way off track and far away from the point I originally wanted to make, which is this: The man can draw figures in action like few others. And, to the degree the comics reflected Kung Fu cinema, you can see its influence throughout Perez's work. Particularly in quick, intimate, funny moments in the midst of all out brawls. 
unnamed-1.jpg

I don't even know if I could recognize Perez if he wasn't wearing one of his trademark wife-made Hawaiian-style shirts covered in pictures of superheroes or robots or — it's always something. It's so evident that before anything else, he's a big, big geek (in the best way), and a big, big fan. And while I was just praising his smaller moments, he may be best known for arranging a lot of characters in a single frame. If you want the Avengers going toe to toe with the Squadron Supreme: Perez. If you want to write a series that includes every major and minor character in the DC Universe: Perez. 

It's probably worth mentioning his co-invention of the New Teen Titans with marvelous Marv Wolfman. If only because the series was able to do for DC what the X-Men were doing for Marvel. And because it's awesome. 

You can't blame a master for those who came after him. I can hardly bear the animated Teen Titans Go series that just won't go away. But I could probably watch Perez draw Cyborg all day.

All that and I haven't even gotten around to the writing. If you know you know. If you don't, he's well worth your Google search. 

Fun interview with Perez here. And just in case you can watch him draw Cyborg all day too, here you go... 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Love & Rockets: Cool Things at Memphis Comic Expo Part I

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 3:05 PM

Love. Rockets. Etc.
  • Love. Rockets. Etc.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now leaving Riverdale... 

You won't be seeing Betty or Veronica or Archie or Moose on any of the clean cut  white bread youngsters once so associated with comic books for readers more interested in ordinary (and not so ordinary) life than superheroes, high adventure, and daring do.

We're on our way to Southern California, and uncharted points beyond America's Southern border. 
Life in Riverdale
  • Life in Riverdale

It's hard to say that the seminal 80's/90's-era alt comic Love & Rockets is unprecedented. As suggested above, in some regards, it's not as big a leap from Archie comics as one might think — although it is a big one. And over time, as characters have come, gone, grown, and diminished, a more direct line might be drawn to one of America's longest running newspaper strips — Gasoline Alley. But with it's punk rock ethos,  a multiethnic, variously sexual, heavily Latino cast of characters, and an odd, sometimes unsettling mix of real life and science fiction, it's also fair to say that Love & Rockets is one of the most groundbreaking  and influential serialized comics in the history of the medium. 

It's only tangentially related, but probably worth mentioning, that the title was also lifted by former members of the pioneering goth band Bauhaus. Sure, they only had one hot 100 hit, but moving out of the punk/goth milieu, Love & Rockets pretty much set at least one of the goal posts for what would become "alt" or "college rock." That's a simplification, of course, but this is a quick hit blog post and I'm okay with that. 


One of the most interesting things about Love & Rockets is how it toys with reader bias and challenges ideas about race and gender. Characters drawn nearly in the style of hyper-sexualized superheroes (but in normal clothes) may elicit eye rolls — until you spend time with the characters' stories, and come to grips with the meaning of these exaggerations. It's complicated, nuanced storytelling that takes place in a fictional America (and not America) where the rules of reality are just a little off — and so right on. Great art, great characters, great storytelling. And the story of the comic is very nearly as compelling as the stories the comic tells. 

And guess what? Both brothers behind this fantastic Eisner-winning title will be at the Memphis Cook Convention Center this weekend for the Memphis Comic Expo: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.
Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
  • Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
"They have been producing their Love & Rockets comics since 1982 and they were way ahead of the curve," says Expo founder Don Juengling, in an emailed conversation abut the up and coming event. "Gilbert's stories featured a huge cast of characters set in the fictional village of Palomar. Jaime's tended to be set in Los Angeles. The stories featured a diversity of characters previously unseen in comics. These are stories that feature a large Latino cast and they even had gay characters. And often blend magical realism into their dramas. And remember this is an independent comic that started in the early 80's and has managed to survive to this day."

Not only has it stuck around (following some breaks here and there). Love & Rockets, which has mostly been published in the form of graphic novels and collections in recent years, is returning to its original comic book format this week. That's a cool thing if there ever was one. 

For a fantastic interview with both brothers, click here. 
hernandezbros3.jpg

Friday, October 7, 2016

WREG Reveals the Future of the Commercial Appeal

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 3:12 PM

via GIPHY

Do you want to hear a SCARY bedtime story? Do you want to know what the Commercial Appeal will read like in the near apocalyptic future when everything is outsourced and copy is translated into a variety of Chinese dialects (for editing and fact check purposes) then translated back into English for print?  Read this story courtesy of WREG.  A sample...

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In the case involving Elixabeth Blackwood were she was driving and left a motorcyclist on the road.

Her father Felix Blackwood has been arrested after Blackwood came clean to the investigators that her father was the one who did the hit and run.

Also too...
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Memphis Facing Severe Unpainted Rock Crisis

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 11:31 AM

Graffiti artist and all purpose vandal Ashlyn Brax pulls his hoodie up and looks both ways before exiting his dorm room. "Shit's not right," he mutters straddling a rickety cruiser and turning its front wheel towards a derelict industrial neighborhood. "The whole point of a rock is it's an anonymous message," he complains. "It's Fist-sized and perfect for knocking out windows in buildings that need to be fixed or knocked down. But it's so much easier to identify the thrower if the rocks have Yodas and shit painted all over them."

Brax's complaint doesn't yield much in the way of public sympathy. Most sources interviewed agreed that curtailing the destruction of property is a good thing, but his is only one of numerous problems Memphians face resulting from a recent mania for painting cute, colorful, family-friendly images on rocks and hiding them in plain sight like so many tooth-breaking easter eggs. The craze has resulted in what some experts are describing as a, "severe unpainted rock crisis."

It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning and 87-year-old Tony Lancilunghi would normally be roaming the city with his rolling shopping cart in search of the city's flattest, roundest stones. Lancilunghi is a competitive stone skipper, who hadn't missed a day's practice since he was seven years old. Until last week, anyway, when the old timer says he took up whittling. 

"I didn't know there was some rule about taking more than one," he spits defiantly. "I saw some of them were painted up to look like the California Raisins, but I don't give two hoots about any of that hippity-hop mess." So Lancilunghi, who's won several regional titles, and is ranked in the top 500 stone skippers worldwide took a bucket of painted stones to the lake at Shelby Farms where he swears they "skipped even better than an unpainted rock." Shortly thereafter the internet shaming campaign began.

"People shouldn't take more than one painted rock per person," one commenter said while someone else complained, "That old man drowned my babies," and another responded, "#rocklivesmatter."

A rock painter using the handle Thanksy is furious: "It's bad enough that artists are expected to practically give our work away for free as it is, now we put so much time and effort into making common gravel look like the live action cast of Scooby Doo and some jackass just comes along and dumps them in the river? Sad."

Noted regional geologist Bif Berman says he's all about civic pride, unity, and getting outside and looking at rocks, but he's not a fan of the latest fad. "To paint the rock suggests there was something wrong or incomplete about this beautiful piece of sculpture Mother Nature made without spending a dime at Hobby Lobby.

"Imagine the public outcry," Berman concludes, "If some group started painting Sponge Bob on stray dogs or shaving the local squirrel population. Rocks have dignity too. Only they express it over eons, in a language most Americans don't speak." 



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