Friday, October 31, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Happy Halloween!

Since I had to celebrate Halloween in a corporate office today, I thought I would share this clip with all of you.

May you all have a safe, happy and festive night of trick or treating and Halloween fun!

P.S. Check back tomorrow for one more post-Halloween article. ;)

P.P.S. Leave me a comment and let me know how many Joker or Sarah Palin costumes you saw tonight. At my office we had two people dressed up as the Falling Stock Market. Funny...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Ghoulish Games

I love to play board games, but especially love the spooky board games. What better time to play them than on Halloween and/or at a Halloween party? Here are just a few of my favorites.

This is a storytelling card game. Sure, the objective is to win, but more importantly, it is to tell a good, entertaining story to go along with the cards you play. Here's a great description I found online - better than I could write - First, you assume control of the fate of an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes. The goal of the game is sad, but simple: you want your characters to suffer the greatest tragedies possible before passing on to the well-deserved respite of death. You'll play horrible mishaps like "Pursued by Poodles" or "Mocked by Midgets" on your own characters to lower their Self-Worth scores, while trying to cheer your opponents' characters with marriages and other happy occasions that pile on positive points. The player with the lowest total Family Value (i.e. kills off all your family members) wins. It's tragic and hilarious all at the same time. Not for those who don't appreciate dark humor.

This is a straightforward and easy board game. You're trapped in a town full of zombies and need to make it to the helicopter pad on the other side of town to escape. Cards that map out the town are laid down as you go along and you can pick up weapons and such along the way. The best part is the game comes with 100 miniature zombie figurines. There's nothing like a board game where you can chant "brrraaaiiins" and no one thinks you're weird. Not to be played with people who have never seen Night of the Living Dead (or any zombie movie for that matter). They just won't get the humor in it.

Speaking of brains, here's another card game that we love to play. You and your zombie co-workers work at Friedey's Fast Food Restaurant of the Damned. You have a lot of work to do, but only one brain to share amongst you. Play cards to try and get people to drop the brain, and use it to get all your work done and be the first one to finish your shift for the night. Almost every time we've played this game, we laugh all the way through at the funny cards.

WOLVES AT THE TABLE (Lupus in Tabula)
This card game is actually based on a very old German party game, which utilizes the art of bluffing and deduction (think "Clue"). The rules are so simple, it can be played without cards, although the card game adds more layers to the game. Players sit around a table and are secretly assigned a role (i.e. villager or werewolf). Every night villagers are killed by werewolves. It is your job to figure out which villagers become werewolves at night, and lynch them. Then you wait for the next full moon to see if you were right. Can you identify the werewolves before they murder everyone?

I don't know if they still sell this game or not. It is a board game controlled by a video tape (that tells you how old it is - pre-DVDs). It is a race against time and the game's host, The Gatekeeper. The aim of the game is to collect 6 of your character's keys and then race to the center of the board; The Nightmare Square. If the tape reaches 60 minutes The Gatekeeper Wins! The way the Gatekeeper's script is written, it's as if he's interacting with your guests. He overacts, and his dialog is groan-inducing cheesy, but for some reason, whenever I play this with my friends, we laugh our heads off.Please support your local board game shop. I think board games and card games are a fun entertainment media and I would hate to see it die out to electronic video games (which are, in some ways, impersonal and not nearly as social). Do you have a fun Halloween party game you'd like to share? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Terrifying Television

Oh well. So much for my plan to do a post-a-day, counting down to Halloween... I had no idea how over-committed I was to activities related to this holiday. I guess when it comes to Halloween, I have a problem with saying "no." So forgive me my lapses... I hope to make it up to you by posting several articles today, that I had originally planned to post over the last few days.

This post might actually be a little too late, but in case you're looking for something to watch on TV this Halloween, several cable channels will be running scary movie marathons.

The Chiller channel (DirecTv) is always running scary movies, so I'm sure they will have a good lineup. This past weekend I caught a documentary on the Chiller channel called Universal's Monsters which was really good. They interviewed people who were involved with the first Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy movies, and talked about why the cultural climate at the time helped make those films such a success, what went into the process of creating the films and the special effects, and more behind the scenes type tidbits. If you can catch it, I recommend it.

The AMC channel is airing a "Fear Fest X" which started on October 22nd and runs through until Halloween night. It is "the most comprehensive collection of Halloween horror ever aired on TV, showcasing more than 230 hours of non-stop movies for 10 days and 10 nights." For a schedule listing, you can go here.

The Food Network was running a special theme of "Sweets and Treats", airing shows that deal with candy making, along with other Halloween type recipes. I've gotten a few good ideas from these shows.

Of course, you can always watch re-runs of the Addams Family on Hulu or catch The Twilight Zone or Ghost Hunters on the SciFi channel. The SciFi channel will also be running scary movies on Halloween night. You can watch Most Haunted - Live! on the Travel channel or watch one of my all-time favorite movies, Shaun of the Dead on Comedy Central.

What makes me really sad though, is that it appears no one is airing It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, a Halloween classic! I guess I will have to watch it on DVD.

Friday, October 24, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Welcome, Foolish Mortals...

"When hinges creek in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls... whenever candlelights flicker, though the air is deathly still; that is the time when ghosts are present - practicing their terror with ghoulish delight... Welcome, foolish mortals... to the Haunted Mansion!"

With that introduction by your ghost host, you are invited into my all time favorite place at Disneyland, the home of 999 happy haunts - The Haunted Mansion!

First, a little history. Walt Disney first wanted the "walk-through ghost house" to be on main street, reminiscent of the old dilapidated house every small town seems to have, of which kids are inspired to make up stories that it is haunted. When it was decided that a better location for the house would be in New Orleans square, the theme of the ride took on a different bent and the house became a haunted antebellum mansion. Disney Imagineers struggled to find a balance between scary vs. silly with the ride. They wanted it to be spooky, and have a few things in it to make you jump, but at the same time they wanted to appeal to their wide audience, and ensure that everyone have a good time. I think they accomplished it!

Now for some trivia. There are 131 Doom Buggies (that's what they call the carts you ride in) and it takes 10 minutes to go through the whole ride (not including standing in the queue in the picture gallery hallway). There is an animatronic raven located in every room. Originally, the Disney Imagineers were going to have the raven narrate the ride. Now, the disembodied voice of the Ghost Host is the narrator. Typical of Disney and the Imagineers' attention to detail, every inch of the house is covered in special details and touches, such as carved gargoyles on door frames, spooky faces drawn into the pattern of the wallpaper, etc. It all adds to the ambiance of the ride. One example of this, that makes me smile is in a little nook, at the landing where you board the doom buggies. There is a decrepit desk with a candle and cobwebs. A book is open on the desk...and if you had the time to look, you would notice it was a dictionary, opened, of course, to the definition of the word "ghost".

Did you know that there is an actual ghost story that goes along with the house? Some of it was made up by the Imagineers, while the rest of the story has been elaborated on by the cast members who have worked the ride over the years. It all centers around the home's owner, Master Gracey, who is named after one of the lead Imagineers for the ride, Yale Gracey. I wish I could tell it all to you, but in telling it, I would give away parts of the ride. And in case you haven't ridden it yet... I definitely don't want to ruin it for you.

During the holidays (Halloween through Christmas, I believe) the house gets a make-over. Several of the animatronic figures get replaced with characters from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. The music is also changed, and decorations are put up outside. I'm a Disney fan, AND a Halloween fan (obviously) AND a Tim Burton fan, AND the Haunted Mansion is my favorite ride, yet I must confess that I have not been to Disneyland for this version of the attraction. So tragic... but true. Doesn't anyone out there have a free ticket for me? Please?

I'm sure you're wondering where I got all this information from. Well, I am not psychic like Madame Leota. I obtained these tidbits from a website called Doombuggies. I love, love, love this website and could spend hours there (and have). It is an online documentary on the creation of the attraction and includes sound clips, interviews, memorabilia, initial design sketches and more. Everything you ever wanted to know about the creation of the ride and then some. All I can say is, the Disney Imagineers are a bunch of extremely creative, extremely talented people, with a fun sense of humor.

As an aside, there is another website run by the same individual, chronicling the development of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, called dead men Tell No Tales.

Thanks for letting me indulge my odd love for this attraction, and write about it in my 13 days of Halloween. Are you a Disneyland fan? Leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite ride is. Or let me know of a different haunted house type attraction you've been through, where it is purported to be haunted. For example, have you visited Winchester Mansion, or the Birdcage Saloon in Tombstone? And for those of you who have a trip planned to Disneyland soon (you know who you are) try not to rub it in too much... I'm already jealous! And be sure to say hello to the hitchhiking ghosts for me while you're there... :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I bet most of you can look at the picture above and know exactly what part of the story they have come to: "...and hanging from the car's door handle was a...BLOODY HOOK!"

What is it about campfires and late night slumber parties that naturally provokes people to start telling ghost stories? Why do we enjoy scaring each other? This is something I wonder about, and ponder often, since "scary stories" is my favorite genre when it comes to books and movies. I also love to study about the art of storytelling through the ages; how it reflects and shapes a culture, how it communicates and binds people together. These are ideas that really intrigue me, and I have many more blog posts planned for the future, discussing some of the answers to these very questions.

For now, let's talk about ghost stories. We've all done it: sat around in a circle, either around a crackling campfire or huddled in sleeping bags in the middle of the living room floor with our friends, and passed a flashlight around, held it up to our chin menacingly as we told a grim, bone-chilling tale, each person trying to outdo the last person's story. A good storyteller would know how to build the story with spooky voices and sound effects, and would know just when to whisper... then pause... then yell out, causing everyone in the room to jump and shriek. Then we would all fall into giggles over how we'd just been had. I suppose we tell ghost stories for the same reason we ride roller coasters - for the thrill of it, to feel alive.

There was a series of books I discovered in elementary school, that have been a favorite ever since. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell and the two that followed, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones are a collection of folk tales, ghost stories, and folk songs that chronicle the storytelling traditions of ghost stories and folklore.

If you are looking for some good tales to tell on your next camping trip, or a way to freak o
ut your friends at the next slumber party, then I highly recommend these books. Also, if you are looking for a game or activity to play on Halloween, this book contains one of my favorite games, called "The Dead Man's Brains." Everyone sits in a circle in the dark and the host recites a poem describing "dearly departed John" and some of his decrepit body parts. For example, you describe his intestines, then pass around a bowl of cold spaghetti and dare everyone to touch it, or describe his ear and send around a dried apricot, or describe his eyes and pass around two peeled grapes. It is amazing how your imagination kicks into overdrive, with these sensory items being passed in the dark, and with the spooky poem to set your mind in motion. Good clean spooky fun! I just searched Amazon and it looks like you can buy all three books in a box set for a steal at $15.

Which campfire tale still sticks in your mind, or still gives you goosebumps when you think about it... was it "The Hook", or "Lover's Lane" or the "Ghost Girl on the Bridge"? I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Tomes of Terror

Here are 13 or so book recommendations for the Halloween season. Guaranteed you'll want to sleep with the lights on after reading these "tomes of terror". Some of them are well-known while others may not be. I just tried to think of books that really stuck with me, long after I'd read them. I know I'm forgetting some... so leave me a comment and let me know what I missed.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The original horror story, this play has witches, ghosts, murders - everything a good scary story needs. It even has a phantom spot of blood, that only one person can see... And it's set in the fog-covered moors and shadowy castles of Scottland.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Is the governess seeing ghosts or is she just crazy? This was one of the first pieces of literature to break away from the stereotypical ghosts that howl in the graveyard and make them all the more present and menacing.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
We have Stoker to thank for the huge vampire sub-genre in literature and films. This is the one that started it all (well... The Vampyre started it all, but Stoker is the one that made Dracula a household name). It's still creepy and intense, even after all these years.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It was a given that I needed to include this one on the list. This book alternates between a philosophical discussion about the creator of life, and a gothic horror story about a monster that has been sewn together from mix-and-match corpse pieces. Yet Shelley makes it all work beautifully.

Anything by Edgar Allen Poe
How do you pick just one short story of Poe's to read for Halloween? There's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat, two stories about a murderer who is haunted by his crime. Or, an appropriate Halloween story may be The Masque of the Red Death where people celebrate and have a masquerade party while outside people are dying from the plague. One story that still chills me is The Cask of Amontillado, where two friends go down into a wine cellar, under the pretense of sipping some excellent wine. If nothing else, read The Raven, which is spooky and sorrowful and beautiful in its own way. No one has ever written like Poe... or ever will.

Anything by H.P. Lovecraft
Like Poe, Lovecraft is one of the granddaddies of the horror genre. Lovecraft introduced the idea of a horror so terrifying, that experiencing it would drive people to insanity or turn their hair white, because they couldn't comprehend the reality of it. His work has spawned another sub-genre of horror, set in a surreal multi-dimensional Lovecraftian world. It has also inspired movies, TV shows, card games, RPGs and stuffed animals. Two of his most famous stories are The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King
I was hard to pick only one Stephen King book to put on this list. I know a lot of people like to pish-posh him as a hack and writing junk for the masses, but I suspect those people either 1.) don't like horror or 2.) have never actually read one of his books. Just because he's prolific and successful doesn't mean he's a hack. He deserves the title of the Modern Master of Horror. (I'll step down off my soap box now... sorry about that.) This book about vampires terrifying a small town, still scares me just to think about it. Two others worth mentioning, are The Shinning and Pet Semetary, which also kept me up at night.

The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon
It's so hard to recommend this book to people, because once I describe the plot synopsis for them, it sounds like a ridiculous B-movie plot and they are immediately turned off. A werewolf spy fights the Nazis during WWII. See, I told you it sounded ridiculous. Even the description on the back cover of the book makes me giggle - "He is Michael Gallatin: master spy, lover and...werewolf!" However, this book is an amazing breakthrough for the werewolf genre. I love his description of how they shapeshift, their packs, and I love the main character who is willing to use his powers for good. This isn't a horror/scary novel, per se, but an amazing adventure. I've yet to read another werewolf book like it.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Stephen King credits reading this novella as the inspiration for him to start writing horror. It takes the vampire genre and turns it on its head. It inspired three films: The Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and I Am Legend (released recently with Will Smith). None of the films even come close to doing the story justice. To this day, you could walk up to me and say, "Neeeeviiiile" and I will get goosebumps. Also, check out Hell House by Matheson - the ultimate haunted house story.

Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz
Koontz is another prolific modern day horror writer, whose work has been made into films and TV movies. I find his work to be hit and miss for me though. I recommend his earlier novels. My favorite one is Twilight Eyes, about a man who has a unique gift of being able to see through the disgusies of the evil undead who are feeding on human suffering.

Books of Blood by Clive Barker
This collection is a nice representation of the disturbing horror of Clive Barker. The modern classic horror film Hellraiser (with the evil Pinhead) was based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. His other books, such as The Damnation Game and Weaveworld are good as well. However, I find that his books make me feel unsettled and generally icky all over (although I suppose that is the point). I much rather prefer his Y.A. fiction such as Abarat and The Thief of Always.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
You will never look at buttons the same way ever again, after reading this book. Who knew buttons could be so... disturbing. This story is currently being made into a stop animation film, that I'm really anxious to see. A combination of Alice in Wonderland and a dark fairy tale, complete with ghosts of abducted children, and an alternate world, this book is chilly and scary. The good news is, it is Y.A. fiction, so it's low on the gore factor.

Again, I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite scary book is!

Let's get LOST! (Season 5 Trailer/Preview)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Halloween post to bring you this trailer/preview for Season 5 of LOST! How exciting to get a new piece of LOST to devour!!!

We now return you to your 13 Days of Halloween... another post to arrive shortly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Music to Die For

Each year around Halloween, you can find Halloween-themed CDs on every check-out aisle, and, in my humble opinion, everyone should have at least one spooky sound effects CD and one Halloween Party CD (complete with the requisite theme songs from Psycho, Halloween, and Ghostbusters and the classic Monster Mash). However, if you're looking for something a little more... shall we say... listenable... then I highly recommend anything by the Midnight Syndicate.

Midnight Syndicate is actually two composers, Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka (pictured above), who have been producing classic gothic nightmare soundtracks for eleven years. Their music is ambient, spooky and beautiful all at the same time. Any sound effects they may use, such as whistling wind or sighing ghosts are used tastefully and minimally, without distracting from the music but almost adding to it. Their soundtracks are symphonic and always tell a hauntingly beautiful story. I like to listen to them even when it's not Halloween (yeah... you don't have to leave me a comment... I already know I'm weird.)

If Midnight Syndicate isn't your thing, then maybe you'd like to make your own mix CD... If so, may I offer up some suggestions... per a Halloween mix CD I made a few years back for Raven (which was organized into monster categories)... I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know what songs I missed, or what Halloween CD you really enjoy.

#1 Crush by Garbage
Gonna Get Close to You by Queensryche
Maxwell's Silver Hammer by the Beatles
Jenny Was a Friend of Mine by the Killers
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra
Sing for Absolution by Muse

Little Ghost by the White Stripes
Ghost of You by My Chemical Romance
Long Black Veil by The Kingston Trio
Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man by Concrete Blonde
With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm by The Kingston Trio
Happy Phantom by Tori Amos

Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) by Concrete Blonde
London by Queensryche
Vampires Will Never Hurt You by My Chemical Romance
Cry Little Sister (Lost Boys Theme) by Gerald McMann
Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All) by Type O Negative

Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett
Zombie Jamboree by The Kingston Trio
Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley
Devil Inside by INXS
Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber

And last but not least, my newly discovered and current favorite Halloween song is "The Horror of Our Love" by Ludo.

Monday, October 20, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Sketching the Macabre

Since we're in the spooky frame of mind, I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of my favorite illustrators, whose artwork is appropriate for the Halloween season.
I love Edward Gorey! He wrote and illustrated several books, in a crosshatched pen and ink style. Most of them were set in an ominous Victorian or Edwardian gothic setting or sparse landscapes on lonely marshes. My favorite book is "The Gashlycrumb Tinies", a demented alphabet book (see picture above). If his artwork looks familiar to you, it's probably because you've seen the animated opening of PBS's "Mystery!" series. Gorey also won a Tony award for costume design for the ballet "Dracula" and was nominated for set design.

Charles Addams was an American cartoonist known for his dark humor and his macabre characters. He was Gary Larson before Gary Larson even picked up a pen! The cartoon collections I have are some of my most prized, and always make me laugh. (Inspect that illustration above. Notice anything unusual?) He worked in pen and ink as well as watercolors and was published regularly in "The New Yorker" magazine. Addams created a set of demented characters that later were brought to life in a little televsion program called... "The Addams Family".
While both Gorey and Addams were most prolific in the 1960s, Gris Grimley is carrying on their gloomy tradition for the new generation. He is a modern illustrator who writes and illustrates demented fairy tales, but also does dark illustrations like the one above.
I suppose Mark Ryden is more of a "fine artist" than an illustrator, but his subject matter is still dark and mysterious (and dare I say, disturbing?). I think there's much much more to his work than just little kids with big sorrowful eyes... What do you think?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

13 Days of Halloween - Things I've learned...

Hello, Faithful Readers! If you don't already know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays! To celebrate, I thought I would count down the 13 days of Halloween, and share my favorite Halloween memories, favorite scary movies and more. To kick off day one, I thought I'd share a helpful list of things I've learned from Halloweens past...


1. Temporary hair color isn't necessarily temporary.
I went as a banshee one year, and bought the colored hairspray to make my hair look like fire (red, orange, yellow). The bottle said it was temporary, and I figured hairspray washes out, right? Uh...yeah... I had weird patches of orange hair for the next two weeks. At least it blended with the fall colors, right?

2. If your costume comes with an explanation, you'll be better off finding another costume.
There is nothing more annoying than spending all Halloween night trying to explain "who you are supposed to be", and then, once you've given your dissertation, they still don't get it. I'm a geek; I'll admit it, and I like to take my costume ideas from the books and movies I like. However, unless you are going to a party filled with like-minded individuals, it's best to just stick with a basic witch costume, than deal with the frustration of no one knowing how cool your costume is. Case in point, I dressed up as Ophelia from"Hamlet" one year. Big flowing dress, flowers strewn in my hair and all over my dress, makeup to make me look palid and drowned. No one got it. (I know, I'm an English major geek. What was I thinking?)

3. Never ever go first into the haunted house.
Some friends and I went into one of those large haunted houses that go up every year in parking lots and old store fronts. In case you don't know, they send you through in groups, so that they can coordinate the triggers and live actors. In one particular haunted house, we had to go single-file and I was shoved to the front. Everyone else was screaming just as loud as me, but I got made fun of because I was the first to yell. Plus, I was the first one to be seen running screaming out the exit doors...

4. Wigs are itchy.
There's no getting around it. If you're going to wear a wig, be prepared to scratch your head all night.

5. If the candy looks like it was made in the 70s, it probably was.
I suspect there are some people who buy candy on the cheap the day after Halloween, store it for a year, then bust it out the next Halloween. Perhaps the stores also hold onto it. Either way, if it looks nasty or old, don't eat it.

6. No one has the patience (or appreciation) for black and white horror movies.
For one Halloween party I had when I was a teenager, I screened the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" for my guests. Classic horror film. I was enthralled with watching it again, excited to be sharing the experience with my friends, when I suddenly realized how quiet the darkened room had gotten, and turned around to see all my friends asleep or dying from boredom. Bottom line - don't screen these types of movies unless you're in a room full of other officianados. (See tip 2. Apparently I have weird tastes.)

7. Carving pumpkins isn't nearly as fun as it looks.
It's a messy and time-consuming project, for something that is only going to last one night. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy doing it, this is just a word of warning: allow yourself a couple of hours or more (especially if you've decided to follow one of those complicated templates that are so popular nowdays), have the right tools, and plenty of patience.

8. This tip is for all the kids... HIDE YOUR CANDY BAG!
Your parents will sneak into it once you've gone to bed and eat all the good candy! Horde it under your bed! Either that or barter them for 15 more minutes on the Wii for every piece they take! ;)

What are some of the lessons you've learned from Halloweens past? Leave me a comment and let me know! :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Are You On The Fringe?

Well, I'm still dealing with LOST withdrawals, but thankfully JJ Abrams has provided a temporary fix in his new show FRINGE. It's not as addictive as LOST, but I've been hooked since the first episode. (By the way, does JJ Abrams ever sleep? I swear the man is constantly developing either a movie or TV show. But I'm not complaining. I love his stuff.)

The FRINGE story centers around FBI Liaison Olivia Dunham who investigates strange cases for Homeland Security Special Agent Phillip Broyles. Dunham was brought onto Broyles elite special team when she discovered her former agent was a traitor. Also on the team is Dr. Walter Bishop, formerly sprung from the psych ward. Dr. Bishop worked extensively in "fringe science" in the 70's and his expertise comes in handy with the strange cases they investigate. The good doctor couldn't be released unless he was under the care of a family member, which leads us to Peter Bishop, habitual gambler, high-IQ, and witty. Each week, the threesome solves a strange case, usually caused by some type of fringe science (telekenesis, re-animation, mental transference, etc.)

Each episode stands on it's own, yet there is an overarching plotline, that deals with "the pattern". Broyles tells Olivia that these strange experiments or incidents are part of a much bigger "pattern" that they have been following and documenting for years. He says it's as if someone is using the whole world as one giant experiment. This is the bigger goal of the show - to uncover what is behind the pattern.

In short, it's like the X-Files meets LOST. Sounds fun, huh?

So, I haven't really done individual posts to discuss each show, and I'm not sure if I'll start doing that. I might just leave those types of posts for LOST. But I thought it might be fun to check in with everyone who is watching it, and have a little discussion. If you haven't watched the show, and plan to get caught up on it or watch it at some point, then you'd better stop reading here... just a little spoiler warning.

So, let's discuss. What do you think of the show? I don't mind the formula they are using, of solving one new case per each episode (instead of it being more of a continuing storyline) all the while alluding to the bigger mystery of the pattern and it all being connected. I do wish they'd let us in on more of that over-arching plot line, but I suspect they are laying a lot of groundwork first. If I know JJ Abrams, nothing is trivial, and some of this stuff that may seem inconsequential may all be pulled in later and reveal the massive spiderweb of his intricate plot development. So I'm willing to be patient. I have a feeling this show may kick us in the teeth when we aren't looking. That doesn't mean that I still don't wish he'd throw us a little tidbit more often than they have. Are they revealing enough to keep you interested?

What do you think of the whole idea of fringe science? Is the idea too hokey for you? Or maybe it's too gory for you? So far we've had a plane full of melted people, a transclucent body, the dead talking, a bus full of embalmed people, grotesque pregnancies, aliens (?), reanimated hearts, ghost networks and a dude who reminded me of Stephen King's Carrie, who couldn't control his own electric personality. (ha!) I dig this type of dark supernatural stuff, so it hasn't turned me off at all.

Bottom line, I'm really enjoying it, and I'm willing to stick around, to see what kind of ride JJ Abrams has in store for us. He hasn't let me down so far...

Here are some questions that are gnawing away at me about the show. What is your theory on them? Leave me a comment and let me know.

1. Who is The Observer? My vote is for alien. Whatever he is, I think he's a cool character and will look forward to him popping up from time to time.

2. What's up with Massive Dynamics and the Secret Board Meeting? I want to know more about this sinister corporation and why Nina Sharpe is so interested in hiring Olivia. Especially when it seems like Massive Dynamics is already controlling Olivia and her team through Broyles, when they revealed that brief scene of the secret board meeting. Who is on that board and what are they up to? Does the Hanso Foundation own Dharma AND Massive Dynamics? ha ha I find it interesting that back in the day, the villians used to be Nazis or Commies, and now our modern day villains are corporations... an interesting commentary on the world we live in. But I digress...

3. Can Broyles be trusted? I want to know more about Broyles. I liked the tension between him and Olivia in the pilot episode. It made their relationship interesting. I think they've lost some of that. And maybe LOST is just making me paranoid, but I don't think Broyles can be trusted. He's an Other! I hope they develop his character more, and let us know more about his past and what makes him tick, and what his relationship is to that secret board meeting.

4. What is up with Agent Scott? Is he dead or re-animated or psychicly linked to Olivia or what? His appearances are sufficiently freaky, and I can't really decide if it's in Olivia's head or if he's a ghost or what.

5. What is the Pattern? And what is up with all the fringe scientists they keep arresting? I have a feeling we won't know the answer to this until the final episode. Hopefully, FRINGE will have a nice multi-season run like LOST and we can take our time finding out.

For more information, check out Fringe-pedia.

Here's an interesting article from someone who isn't liking FRINGE as much as me, and has a few interesting suggestions.

And lastly, for episode re-caps of the first three shows, check out my dear husband's fun posts on Pop Critics. He did a great job with them.

Episode 1 - Pilot
Episode 2 - The Same Old Story
Episode 3 - Ghost Network

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dreaming in the Dark - The End of an Era?

I used to love going to the movies. It was an event. There was that excited anticipation of what was to come as you purchased your ticket; the smell of freshly popped popcorn loaded down with butter (or butter-like topping - ha!); picking out your favorite strategic seat location in the theater. Then the lights would go down and the theater would go silent, all attention focused on the screen before us, and the magic would begin. Then we would dream in the dark together. We would laugh together, cry together, cheer together - carried along on the shared experience of this art form. Then the lights would go up and the dream would be over. Sometimes we would clap. For my friends and I, we would always stay and read the credits, appreciative of all the little people who helped make the magic happen.

Oh... those were the days...

Has technology ruined this experience? Is that what is to blame? The screen and picture in some theaters can be sub-par, especially if the theater is operating with dimmed or bad projection bulbs. The picture is even worse compared to our flat-screen digital TV at home. Are filmmakers producing films that look good on home viewing equipment, or is it that the equipment in the theater hasn't caught up with the technology everywhere else? I have watched several movies at home (that I had first seen in the theater) and had no idea they looked that amazing. Combine the better picture with home surround sound systems, and your favorite recliner chair, and I wonder why anyone goes to the theater anymore, when you can have a better theater experience at home? (The popcorn costs less too!)

Regardless of the quality of the picture, there is something more upsetting, frustrating and depressing that is keeping me away from the theaters... the lack of common courtesy and decorum, simply being polite and respectful... it's the audiences.

I have seen people practically get into fist fights in theaters over "saved" seats. One time there was an older couple that came in right before a show was to start and the theater was mostly full. They were looking for two seats together and asked someone, with empty seats on either side of them, if they could move down, thus making two seats together. The guy replied, "Should have gotten here earlier if you wanted seats together." Nice. My husband and I scooted down and made room for them in our row, and you would have thought we had done some incredible thing. It's just common courtesy people.

I've been in a theater where a group of people were obviously there with the specific intent to ruin the movie for everyone else by heckling the movie and talking loudly, etc. When asked to stop or leave, they just got worse, started taunting other audience members, laughing louder at the accomplished goal of making everyone in the theater miserable. When the management was called, instead of kicking them out of the theater (i.e. holding them accountable for their actions) they were allowed to stay and the annoyed patrons were given vouchers to come back at another time. What kind of topsy-turvy world do we live in? I thought they would stop the film, kick them out, then offer to re-start the show for anyone who wanted to continue to watch and/or give them a voucher for next time. Silly me. I'm sure the punks relished in their victory of clearing a theater...

I've sat next to people who took business calls on their cell phone all throughout the movie. Dude, if you are that important, or if the business is having a crisis or whatever, then maybe you shouldn't be taking time for a movie. I've been constantly distracted by flashing blue lights out of the corner of my eye - people texting their friends during the movie. Seriously, you can't go for two hours without having a meaningless chat with your friends?

But above all this, there are two things that bother me the most. The first, is the unthinking parents that bring their very small child into the R-rated adult subject matter movie. I end up worrying about the poor kid's psyche through the whole movie, as I listen to the parent behind me constantly whispering "Just cover your eyes it will be over in a minute." as the kid wails in terror. No wonder our next generation of kids are so de-sensitized to violence and sex, etc. and have lost their innocence at such an early age. Is it really worth it, for two hours of entertainment? I sympathize with the parents; I really do. Babysitters are expensive (especially when you add on what you will already be spending at the theater). And it's hard to even find a babysitter you can trust anymore. However, the solution is not to take your kid to the theater, the solution is to sacrifice your theater-going. It's part of what you give up to be a parent.

But finally, the thing that bothers me the most, is the audiences' inappropriate reactions to what is going on in the movie, that depresses me and chill me to the bone. I have sat in a theater, where there was an obviously touching moment on screen, and my eyes were filling up with tears, and the audience would be laughing or mocking the event. I've seen films where there was a horrific murder, done to illustrate the absolute evil of the main villain, and heard theater goers laugh and say "cool!" Is it because they cannot handle the strong reactions this art form is creating in them, so the laugh to break the tension? (Like nervous laughter when you're in an intense situation.) Or is it something more sinister, in that people have forgotten how to connect, how to feel, how to generate empathy for the characters on the screen and the story being told? Or does it go back to the whole de-sensitized thing?

All I know is... it makes me sad. And it makes me wonder if we're watching the end of an era. There have been numerous articles online, talking about these very things, and how more people are staying home and watching movies at home because of them. Again... it just makes me sad.

I apologize for ranting. I try to stay away from posting personal rants on this blog, since that's not what I want it to be about, but since this is about one of my favorite art forms, I felt like it was applicable. So what about you? Have you experienced any of the things I mentioned? Want to share your theater-experience horror story? Have an idea for a solution to these problems? Drop me a comment and let me know.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

We are taking a break from the usually scheduled blog program, for a brief moment of absolutely mushy romantic sentimentality...

The first night I met my husband (long before I knew he was going to be my husband), we talked non-stop about music and our favorite bands (not much has changed) and I couldn't believe I'd met someone with such similar tastes. We went on to share a friendship and lots of hot chocolate and episodes of "Faulty Towers." He barely knew me, but found out it had been my birthday recently and he bought me the most perfect birthday gift. Needless to say, I was impressed.

Our first date was dinner in a Chinese restaurant about a year later, and the rest, as they say, is history. Two years later to the day, on October 6th, we were married in a historic Victorian rose garden. All these years later and he's still my best friend. He makes me laugh, he lets me sleep in late on Saturdays; he does the dishes for me; and buys me unexpected little gifts for no reason, like yummy peach rings (even though he thinks they are gross). He celebrates all the quirky interests I have (and shares most of them with me). He challenges me to step out of my comfort zone. He's patient with my faults. Did I mention he makes me laugh? :)

I married a former Army analyst, turned rock star, turned computer programmer, turned philosophy professor... who knows what the journey holds next! All I know is, he's still my best friend, and I love him to bits! Happy anniversary, sweetie!

Come grow old with me; the best is yet to be!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Shelf Life

Illustration by Edward Gorey.

“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus (1465-1536)

"A house without books is like a room without windows." ~ Horace Mann

I will admit it; I'm an addict. My drug of choice is books. I love to read and the only thing I like more than the actual act of reading, is the adventure of going out to acquire the next book. I get a thrilling rush whenever I walk through the doors of the bookstore, and smell the new pressed bindings, hear the rustle of turned pages, see the rows and rows of colorful bookshelves, showcasing all the characters I've yet to meet, promises of adventures to be had, triumphs and tragedies, heroes and villains, and new worlds to discover.

My addiction started at an early age, when my mom would take my brother and I to the library once a week. (Yeah, she was an enabler.) Oh, how I looked forward to that weekly excursion! I would take a bookshelf in the "kids" section and work my way through it, reading everything on it, then move on to the next bookshelf. Then I went to school and there were a whole new set of books to discover at that library. Our librarian (or my "dealer", as I affectionately think of her now) was terrific. She would give us time to turn in our books, pick out new ones, then in the last five or ten minutes of the class, we would all plop down on huge beanbags and she would read Shel Silverstein poems to us. What a great lady.

Like any drug, the first hit is free. Once you are hooked, then you have to start to pay. The school book fair is where the expense of my addiction first really took its hold. Rows of books that I could not only read but own; keep them tucked away on the shelf in my room, to be pulled down and read again at my pleasure. One of my all-time favorite books, a book that I have re-read often, even as an adult, was purchased at one such book fair: the fantasy novel "The Darkangel" by Meredith Ann Pierce.

Then there were those times when I got hooked on one specific type of drug, er... I mean... book. I would only read that type of book and nothing else. First it was the book series. I ran through all of the Nancy Drews, the Chronicles of Narnia and the Little House on the Prairie series. Then it was nothing but sci-fi/fantasy, then it was nothing but thrillers/horror (I was stuck in that genre for quite a while), then it was nothing but the classics. The variations on the drug are never ending.

When I couldn't get my fix from the library or book fair, there was always my dad's cedar chest. In my home, my mother deemed that bookcases were strictly for nicknacks and family photos. So my father's book collection was relegated to a cedar chest in his closet. If I needed something to read, he would open the cedar chest and pull out one of his latest finds. The phrase "I think you'll like this one," spoken by my dad, was the best and most trustworthy book review ever; I could always depend on it. He had a way of reading a story out loud too, that brought it to life... character voices and sound effects and all. My favorite one for him to read out loud was The Haunted House book from my Disney storybook collection.

Like most addictions, if you do not suffer from it yourself, it's hard for you to relate to those that do. Such was the case with my mother. It would aggravate her to no end that my father and I could just sit in the living room - my dad in his recliner, me on the sofa - motionless except for the turning of pages, for hours on end. "Why don't you get up and go play outside?" she would say. She didn't understand that not only was I already outside... I was a million miles away.

Now my collection has taken up seven bookcases and counting. I try to weed them out and take some to re-sell to the used bookstore (Thrifty Joe's is our local favorite.), but it's hard parting with them. They are like old friends... just waiting patiently to relieve the adventure with you. I guess I'm just sentimental about the journey, even if I never plan on taking it again, I want to keep the book as a reminder of the good time I had.

You would think after all these years I would have kicked the habit, but this addiction is here to stay. I've joined a support group (i.e. book club). My mother and brother have reluctantly resigned themselves to the fact this isn't going away, and even support my habit now. Although for every birthday that rolls around, when I am asked what I want for my birthday and I reply books, my mom continues to lament, "What do you need ANOTHER book for?" They've learned to just get me gift cards to feed my need, rather than trying to hunt down the latest release or obscure title that I'm jonzing for.

My addiction continues... having just had a birthday and received said gift cards, I just picked up the following: The Shack by William P. Young, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Blaze by Richard Bachman. My husband gave me the gift of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber, while my dear friend Raven found a rare collection called "The Darkangel Trilogy." Who knew that first book that got me hooked was actually the first in a series of three! What a find! So be watching for lots of book reviews soon! Apologies in advance to my "Lit & Latte" book club friends. I also picked up a copy of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert for our next read, but some of these other books are calling out to me... so many books... so little time...

I invite you to leave me a comment and let me know, are you an addict too? What was the first book you remember getting "hooked" on as a kid? What's your favorite book of all time?