New Satellite Show Episode 12: Clap for M.O.D.O.K.

modokAs the Show celebrates its one-year anniversary in the podcast universe, Louis offers some notes on “Man of Steel,” which inevitably leads to discussing Zack Snyder. We switch gears into Satellite Show: SVU territory when Dante and Rob learn about that very special episode of “Too Close for Comfort.” An attempt at a WonderCon preview turns into a discussion of how the exhibitors on the panel look at conventions differently from the others. Innocent bystanders may be crushed underfoot! Also, this month’s Yakmala film is Erik’s personal favorite, “Staying Alive.” He’s watched it many times! Oh, and yes, you will clap for M.O.D.O.K.. Host: Erik. Panel of Experts: Rob, Louis, Dante, Clint, Justin.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

Note: Finola Hughes is NOT Australian. She is from Jareth’s Goblin kingdom.

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Now Fear This: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Don’t underestimate the eye candy.

In theory, Netflix is amazing: any movie you could ever want to watch, just a click and a modest subscription fee away. In fact, what you get are a couple movies you really want to watch and then a whole bunch that you’ve never heard of, look terrible, and finally answer the question, “Oh, that’s where Josh Hartnett has been hiding.” For TV shows, it’s pretty awesome, even if they refuse to put The Shield on there. Anyway, one evening Mrs. Supermarket and I were looking for something to watch, and one of those terrible-looking films popped up on the menu (selected by Netflix’s fevered criteria; “because you watched Flight, you’ll like movies that give you the experience of cocaine”), and we looked at each other and went, “You know what? What the hell.” That movie was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Right away, we knew this wasn’t quite what we signed up for. We expected the usual long list of hired guns for the writer credit, and someone like McG or Brett Ratner slumming it for the director. Nope, the writer and director are the same guy: Tommy Wirkola, best known for the cult Nazi/zombie flick Dead Snow. If that weren’t enough, the producers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, a.k.a. the guys who made the two best comedies of the last ten years. This is all over a kinetic credit sequence of olde-timey newspaper headlines and simulated collage animation telling the story of the two most famous witch hunters in the world: the former victims Hansel and Gretel now all grown up and badass. This promises us the dumb fun of the poster, but hints that there might be a little more going on underneath the glitz.

And boy is there. The film places its tongue rather firmly in cheek with the opening narration, delivered by Jeremy Renner’s Hansel. For one thing, Renner doesn’t even attempt an accent; he keeps the San Joaquin drawl that’s served him well on his journey toward well-deserved stardom. As his sister, Gemma Arterton even attempts one of those “American” accents the Brits must teach their first year of acting school. The narration, subsequent dialogue, and line readings establish Hansel and Gretel as anachronistic American cowboys, witch hunters from a good old U.S. of A that might not even exist yet. The level of technology supports this: Hansel uses a retro-future pump action shotgun, while Gretel favors a crossbow with the rate of fire of an assault rifle. Miniguns and syringes (the latter treating one of the film’s cleverer flourishes: Hansel’s super-diabetes contracted after mainlining candy in the original myth) also make appearances, as does a gag based around putting a missing kid’s picture on a milk carton. The message is simple: don’t worry what time it is. Just watch this cool shit we’re about to do.

Hansel and Gretel are the western ideal of wandering badasses for hire, and they’ve been contracted by a small German hamlet to deal with the rash of witch activity and child abductions. The characters are reintroduced (the cold open of the film is a retelling of the famous bedtime story) rescuing a young woman accused of witchcraft. This woman, Mina, becomes Hansel’s love interest in the story. She’s also a redhead, and loyal readers will remember exactly what that means. (Also, yes, there is a significant redhead named Mina – total coincidence, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that.) Yes, Mina’s a witch, but she’s a good witch, which is something that our titular heroes didn’t even know existed.

WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCH!!!

The cause of all the problems are a coven of three witches — there are always three — led by grand witch Muriel (the eternally young Famke Janssen) who are in the midst of a doomsday plot. See, there’s one thing that reliably kills witches, and it’s the one thing Hansel and Gretel found out when they decided to go all Aesop Unchained on their tormentor: fire. Muriel’s big plan is to grant witches immunity, and so they’ll be free to steal kids wherever they go. Well, not free, since this won’t protect them against Hansel and Gretel’s arsenal of anachronistic death, but it’s the next best thing.

The film might have been as bad as it looked, as disposable and instantly forgettable as its poster implied, but for one simple fact: it’s rated R. I wanted to sing and dance during the first explosion of gore. I wanted to shake Wirkola’s hand at the gratuitous-yet-tasteful nudity. I wanted to fire my gun up in the air every time Hansel or Gretel said “fuck.” While it would be easy to dismiss the movie as wallowing in the baser aspects of our nature, in fact it’s the opposite. The hypocrisy of the MPAA is well-documented elsewhere, but suffice it to say, I infinitely would prefer that children see the consequences of violence (in the form of blood and injury), than to think that it’s good clean fun. Also, boobs never hurt anyone. As for cursing, I’m sorry: I don’t believe in magic words. The movie’s rating frees Hansel & Gretel to create the kind of delirious action romp that feels like the Shaw Brothers by way of John Carpenter.

The creature design reinforces the retro aesthetic. The grand finale features witches from all over the globe, and many of the performers appear to be recruited directly from the circus. When you have excellent makeup supported by a performance with the interesting physicality of a human prodigy, you turn a forgettable face in the crowd into a visually fascinating character. The FX team went all out in their character design, even for individuals who exist only to be blown away in a hail of magical gunfire. Edward the troll, a reluctant servant of Muriel’s, is similarly well-designed. Wirkola wisely switches the trick when filming him, alternating between a man in a suit, a puppet, and (for a few brief shots) a CG creature. Edward could probably have been done by digitally enlarging a human performer, but the old school creature creation gives him both weight and a pleasantly inhuman mien. It’s a case of a filmmaker going the extra mile when he didn’t have to, and it pays dividends.

“She said she was Team Jacob…”

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but then, it never wanted to. It merely wants to entertain, by any means at its disposal, and it does just that. In an age of bloated, bloodless blockbusters, sometimes all you need is something lean and mean with a little red on the bone.

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Stephen Colbert?

I admit I was surprised to hear that CBS chose Stephen Colbert to take over the Late Show after David Letterman’s retirement. Although very funny and an incredible interviewer, Colbert hasn’t appeared publicly out of character more than maybe a dozen times since the show premiered, which begs the question: what exactly will an hourlong network Colbert show be?

It is a bold choice for CBS and, if he’s able to bring a younger audience to late night, could prove to be a master stroke. I’ll be sorry to see the character of Stephen Colbert disappear from television, though it’s a credit to his abilities that he’s been able to last this long. It was only a few weeks ago that I wondered aloud to a friend how much longer he could keep it up.

My big question is whether or not the Late Show will maintain the tried, true, and very tired format of monologue, sketch, guest, “act 2 bit,” second guest, musical act/comedian that has been the format for decades. I hope not. It would be a waste of Colbert’s abilities as one of the greatest improv comics
of all time. I’d like to see the show maintain some of its political bent (a challenge in this environment) and use the hourlong opportunity for a single more in-depth interview and an emphasis on musical showcases, something which the Colbert Report excelled at in its later years.

Because the fact is, while I will follow Colbert to CBS and add the Late Show to my DVR queue, I won’t keep watching it unless it speaks to me in the same way that the Colbert Report has for years. I eventually had to stop watching Conan because, as much as I love him, the TBS show ended up being just more of the same.

Now the even bigger question: who will replace Colbert at 11:30 on Comedy Central? I hope they keep it a smart hour and don’t just slot in another Tosh-esque clip show or fratty sketch sitcom. I’d welcome a reincarnation of W. Kamau Bell’s Totally Biased or maybe Marc Maron can become the Charlie Rose of funny and bring WTF to late night television.

(The latter could be unlikely given Jon Stewart’s known antipathy toward Maron. Unless this could be a burying of the hatchet?)

Oh, and for those who would like to see more women or minorities in Late Night, why don’t you actually watch the ones that are on instead of letting shows like Totally Biased and Lopez Tonight fall into the cancellation heap? Also, Chelsea Handler pretty much owns E! right now. She might not be the feminist ideal for many of you, but she is absolutely crushing it. And don’t forget Arsenio Hall is back in late night too.

Given the fragmented nature of entertainment now, these syndicated and cable shows can have just as big a reach and a bigger impact than the network late night shows. Of course CBS already knows this, or else they wouldn’t have drafted Colbert. Let’s see what happens.

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The Wild World of Video for 4/9/14

It’s my birthday week, so I’m taking the day off. Rest assured: I’ll be back next week with a new episode of New Satellite Show. The following week depends on how WonderCon goes. Maybe I’ll have an outtake or something.

And speaking of outtakes, here’s one of my favorites. I love Orson Welles. Besides having fantastic cinematic skills, the man was an object lesson in hubris. His abilities and confidence brought him low to where he had to shill for Paul Masson. This outtake comes from one such commercial:

Maybe I’ll one day sell Bulleit Bourbon with the same Welles Excellence.

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Con Life

My past two weekends have been spent in big echoey rooms, sitting in cold spots that could only be caused by an extremely angry ghost, making small talk with total strangers, trying to convince them that in a shitty economy, they should drop some cash on an author they’ve never heard of. In other words, I was manning my booth at a pair of conventions. The first, ConDor, a science-fiction/fantasy convention in (normally) sunny San Diego, was over my birthday weekend; the second was Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle, the Bib Fortuna to San Diego Comic-Con’s bloated Jabba the Hutt. As you can see from my con schedule, I do a lot of these, so I thought I’d talk about them a bit. It might be my skewed perspective, but conventions seem to be taking outsized importance in the life of fans, and they can be a good place to promote your books/comics/webseries/interactive goat-fertilization vines.

I feel dirty.

I’ve been attending San Diego Comic-Con every year since 2002, and it’s one of the written-in-stone engagements on my social calendar. In early days it was as a guest, then I worked a friend’s booth for an exhibitor pass, and for the last seven or so years, I’ve been going as a professional. My time at Comic-Con coincidentally lines up almost exactly with its growth from merely large to something grotesque and unwieldy that even devotees hate at times. The first year I went, I showed up on Saturday afternoon, stood in line, and bought a pass for both remaining days. To anyone who has attempted the Thunderdome that is the online registration process, this sounds like the ravings of a madman, but I assure you, it happened. These days, there is no admission at the door. You roll the dice on the long shot you’ll get an attendee badge, or you get creative with labor commitments, resume, or qualifications. SDCC is such a madhouse that it barely makes sense for someone’s first con — it’s like making prospective trainers at Sea World go out and capture their own orca bare-handed. The growth of the con has altered it in ways that a lot of the old-timers (even “old-timers” who have only been going for a couple years) bemoan that it’s no longer even tangentially about comic books; Comic-Con has become a place for studios to test their ostensibly nerd-friendly movies and TV shows. Comics have remained a tiny and tenacious part of the con, but really for the last six years, I’ve been taking SDCC as an excuse to party with my friends in San Diego while I pick up the newest Rick Geary book.

My first convention flying solo as an exhibitor was the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con in November of 2012. My third (though I wrote it first) book had just been published in completed form, and I was ready to move some paper. Well, I thought I was ready. I was lucky enough to have Con Mentors in the form of Clint and Dawn Wolf of the fantastic Zombie Ranch so I had some idea of how this thing was done. As it turns out, I was basically Jon Snow when it comes to not knowing shit (sadly, not in terms of being super duper sexy). It’s been about a year and a half, and I just finished up my first back-to-back con appearances in two different cities, neither of which is my home base. I might finally have the hang of this thing. Maybe. A little bit.

It’s kind of astounding how much there is that you wouldn’t even think about. You need a tablecloth to cover whatever you’re setting up on, a banner behind you to catch the eye and give you some height, shelving to display what you’re selling and to provide texture, giveaways to draw people in, money in easily changeable denominations, something to let you accept credit cards, and a book. Oh god, how you will want a book about halfway through your first day sitting on your ass. Snacks too, and you’re best off with something cheap and healthy. And, because it’s me, a giant fucking bottle of iced tea.

Yeah, that’ll last an hour. Hour and a half tops.

Just as important, and the place I’m still lagging behind, is getting your patter down. There’s a weird line when it comes to people checking out the booth. It’s a good idea to greet anyone who stops by, but a bad idea to try to rope people in from afar. Mostly because at any sort of convention, introversion is the norm and introverts don’t like being shouted at like carnival elephants. I went too far in the other direction, and when I changed my approach (thanks to the advice of my loyal Gal Friday), I had the best day in sales in a long time. I greeted newcomers, then, if they made eye contact, engaged them with actual questions, and letting them come to the books organically. It helps to have a quick elevator pitch for prospective buyers. My problem is that I have seven published books in six genres (and that number is only growing), and I easily get flustered when the time comes to talk myself up. Actually talking with my visitors helped alleviate that, so when I asked what kinds of things they normally liked, I could steer them in the proper direction. Urban fantasy, but want something a little different than the sword-wielding warrior-women and sexy werewolves? Try Coldheart. Mysteries, but want a unique variation on a theme? Mr Blank and City of Devils will treat you right. Bone-crunching zombie death, but with a plot? Undead On Arrival is the way to go. Horror, but want something more disturbing than your average monster-menaces-normal-folks? Everyman.

I’ve got a couple weekends off before WonderCon! I’ll be launching the Get Blank kickstarter by then, complete with all new conspiracy cards. And at least that one is in my backyard.

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Food & Wine Thursdays: Must Natural Wine Be Austere?

I work with quite a few California wineries, many of which are from the Central Coast which, for those of you unfamiliar with the vinous geography of California, is the wine region which begins about two hours northwest of Los Angeles and ends about two hours south of San Francisco. Broadly speaking, it encompasses Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey Counties.

This being California and, more specifically, Coastal California, it is relatively warm, though rarely as warm as the hottest days in Napa. But, because many of these vineyards are within 30 miles of the Pacific coast, it is also very uncommon for the weather to get cold enough where frost comes a major concern as winter approaches. The result? A very long, very even growing season, producing fully ripe, full-bodied grape. Riper grapes have more sugar and, for those of you who didn’t fail chemistry, more sugar means more alcohol after fermentation.

Many of these wines I work with are also made about as naturally as you can make wine. They allow for a natural fermentation by local yeasts. They don’t inoculate with commercial strains. They don’t acidify. They don’t water down. They don’t use oak chips. The vineyards they utilize are all SIP-certified, which is a program that certifies vineyards for responsible farming and labor practices. They don’t filter or fine and they use a small amount of sulfur at bottling to stabilize, resulting in a mere 20-30ppm free sulfur.

(As a point of reference, the European threshold for organic wine is 100 ppm free sulfur. The USDA only allows for 10 ppm, which is virtually impossible to achieve even without adding any sulfur and is perhaps the single biggest barrier to big “O” Organic wine being more prevalent in the United States.)

But, these wines also are rich, full-bodied, and often eclipse 15% alcohol by volume. This is in stark contrast to “natural” wines that are favored by the aficionados which are lean, austere, and around 12% abv. I was speaking with a buyer who is a natural wine fan, who contended that “natural” wine must have a degree of austerity, which effectively means a paucity of rich fruit flavors and aromas in favor of the earthy, herbal, leathery, and funky.

My response to that is that it is impossible to naturally make a wine of that character in much of California, but that doesn’t mean high quality, low-manipulation, minimal interference wine can’t be made. The only way to make a 12% alcohol Pinot Noir from Santa Ynez is to pick the grapes underripe, which is unnatural. There’s a reason underripe fruit is hard to pull off the tree. Fruit is designed to become as ripe and delicious as possible until a passing ground sloth swats it down and shoves it into its maw, passing the seeds out through its shit some time later.

Mmmmmmm. Garganega….

So, my question for all of you is must “natural” wine be austere? If so, is that really the right term for it? If the goal of an authentic wine is for it to be as pure an expression of terroir as possible, what’s wrong with allowing grapes grown in a favorable climate without fear of frost to reach their natural levels of ripeness and the resultant levels of alcohol?

Fundamentally, is a 12% alcohol Pinot Noir from coastal Mendocino County inherently more “natural” than a 15.5% Petite Sirah from Paso Robles, provided all other aspects of farming and wine making are equal? And if you think yes, what’s your rationale?

Let’s start the conversation.

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The Dread Question at Q&As.

Let’s start with a visual aid from David Willis’ Shortpacked!:

2005-07-17-a

Last Friday, I covered the PaleyFest American Horror Story: Coven panel for Spinoff Online. The cast and creators were pretty entertaining, but I want to talk about the fan Q&A portion that wrapped up the evening. It was was serious outpouring of affection for Sarah Paulson, who proved to be pretty awesome in the face of at least 2,000 screaming, squeeing fans. One woman asked her to give her a call, a group from Mexico was so excited to see her in person, they could barely get through their story about how she responded to one of them on Twitter. Yet another group of women wanted to give her letters to read later.

I think someone thanked Whedon-vet Tim Minear for being awesome, too.

Then came the Dread Question. Since I’ve only covered one out-of-state comic convention in my life, I don’t know how prevalent the Dread Question is outside of the Hollywood environs. In fact, the Dread Question may actually be more appropriate 600 miles away from the company town, but at the Dolby Theater in the heart of Hollywood, it’s an invitation to be mocked by 2,000 people.

Possibly more.

To spare the woman who asked the Dread Question any more embarrassment, I’m redacting the name and one other piece of identifying information. But she did ask the question in a public forum where reporters were furiously typing into their MacBooks and I had my handy recorder to catch any and all shenanigans. I think it’s fair to examine the choices made in asking this most dread of queries.

So, let’s start with her intro: “My name’s [redacted]. My favorite color is red. I have a pet tortoise named [redacted food item]. I have a two-part question.”

Some of the audience were already groaning. She offered a lot of personal details, but it was presented in distinctly measured, non-squeeing way. Then there’s the preface of the “two-part question.” You, gentle reader, have been to conventions or books signings or beer introductions. You know what “two-part question” means.

She continues: “Please hear me out, I’ve been practicing it for months in traffic and on the elliptical machine at the gym.”

With this rather rehearsed appeal to be excused, I think she was fully cognizant of how her question was going to be received. If you’re at a small con in, say, West Virgina, the Dread Question could be an entirely honest wish to understand how to succeed because, dammit, shit’s hard in towns that aren’t Los Angeles and New York and creative endeavors are ridiculed across the globe unless they make money. Amy Williamsburg or Steve Missuloa need some reassurance from a professional they admire that it is worth it to try.

But a young(ish) adult in Los Angeles’s so-called Thirty Mile Zone knows better and should not ask the Dread Question. Here’s how our example phrased it:

“This is aimed and [Creator] Ryan [Murphy] and [producers] Dante [Di Loreto] and Brad [Falchuk]: What does somebody have to do to get an onset production job and/or writing credit?”

And thus, it is exposed for all to see. The Dread Question. I’ve written about it before, but I’ve never seen it so brazenly applied in the fan environment. Usually, the Dread Question is phrased in such a way that the fan/hopeful professional hears the story of how their idol creative got in and amassed enough power to get their own TV show. And while I was pretty militant in my appraisal of the Dread Question in my previous rant, I’m willing to accept that some people honestly want to hear the story as form of instruction or comfort.

But there are people, like today’s example, that are really asking “can you get me a job?” Now, generally, the person being asked the Dread Question has to be polite, because the person asking is, ostensibly, a fan. In this case, Murphy, Di Loreto, and Falchuk (you’ll note she didn’t address Tim Minear) didn’t have to take her on directly because the audience was already starting to boil over, withdrawing air from the room in preparation to shut her down.

Then, she said this: “I have a film degree. I’ve worked on stuff before.”

I’d like to think that in the second decade of the 21st Century, in the era of YouTube and inexpensive prosumer cameras, a film degree has been more or less discredited. In Los Angeles, it’s a snake-oil receipt. Upon hearing her credentials, the crowd erupted into the booing-fest it prepared for. Now, I’ll give our subject some credit. She pressed on. “I will do anything,” she said. “I will carry carry Sarah Paulson on my back through shards of glass with bees flying in my face.”

Knowing she would land in a viper pit by asking the Dread Question, she tried to get cute and charming. Then she went for flattery: “I want to learn from the best and you guys have the best cast, best crew, best writers on television.” This, naturally, got applause because to the assembled fans this part was at least true.

Now, I’ll give her some more credit for straight-up saying she wants a job with them, as opposed to the way the Dread Question is usually phrased. At the same time, she was completely aware she had no business asking it during a fan Q&A. In the midst of the booing, Falchuk tried to be gracious. Unfortunately, the roar was so loud, I couldn’t make out what he attempted to tell her. She then moved onto her second question and it was briefly answered by the same producer. A subsequent fan joked about how “girlfriend was taking up all the time” and made it harder for anyone to ask a question.

I think that’s the correct response in this situation. In Los Angeles, at Comic-Con, and even WonderCon Anaheim at this point; in the place where media savvy spreads out with the reach of pollen and even my grandparents discuss the weekend box office, the Dread Question is spectacularly self-centered. It isn’t praising someone for their talent, effort and tenacity, it’s saying “me too” and asking for a short-cut.

Which, oddly enough, is probably fine to ask in a more private setting outside of a fan gathering. If only she could find that opportunity. At one, the subject begged forgiveness because, “I don’t know when I’ll get to ask again.” If only she understood that this wasn’t the opportunity, either. Just as David Willis pointed out in his Shortpacked! strip, if you can’t get a hold of the creative professionals you want to work with in any other way, you aren’t qualified for the job.

Oh, the second part of her question? “Every character has their own version of a personal hell. I just experienced my own a little bit. What’s everybody else’s?”

 

Posted in Armchair Philosophy, I'm Just Sayin, Nerd Alert, Projected Pixels and Emulsion | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments