Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Briefly noted with Poodle Bitch: Jennifer Aniston's agonizing decision; Bo Obama ends world hunger and violence with a puppy; loving Ben Gibbard

People magazine has a "People Pets" section, in which appears allegedly interesting articles about celebrities and their companion animals (here referred to as "pets"). On Monday, they carried a story about the famous human performer Jennifer Aniston and her new dog, Sophie. Specifically, the reason why Sophie got her name.

As Ms. Aniston tells it, the fabulously wealthy performer wanted to adopt three dogs, but could not, for some reason. She felt comfortable only taking one dog home. This was an excruciating decision for Ms. Aniston.
"We were [at the shelter] for three hours. I was almost walking out with three puppies," she told Jay Leno in a Friday appearance on The Tonight Show. "That's why we named her Sophie, because it was [like] Sophie's Choice. I was crying – it was so hard."

Excuse Poodle Bitch for a moment, while she wipes away a tear.

Ms. Aniston, one of the stars of the ampersanded film "Marley & Me," clearly knows about the genuine emotional attachments that can exist between humans and animals. So her anguish was no doubt as genuine as that which she expressed on screen, when she had to emote alongside several Labrador Retriever actors who were nearly her equal.

Yet, Poodle Bitch wonders about the sensitivity of comparing the adoption of a dog to the choice of an albeit fictional woman who had to decide which of her two small human children a Nazi doctor was going to take immediately to the gas chamber, and which would be allowed to live in a concentration camp. That is the terrible decision at the heart of the novel Sophie's Choice. After all, human women have special attachments to their human offspring -- they have carried them in their bellies for nine months, nursed them, raised them from babyhood to childhood, borne witness to their first steps, their first words, their first poo on the toilet.

Ms. Aniston is a fabulously wealthy actress on a lark.

Perhaps Poodle Bitch is being too hard on Ms. Aniston. Perhaps a "Sophie's Choice" has come to mean something else, something slightly less agonizing, in the intervening years since the publication of William Styron's novel. Here is urban dictionary:
From the novel and film of the same name, an impossibly difficult choice, especially when forced onto someone. The choice is between two unbearable options, and it's essentially a no-win situation.

It is NOT a difficult choice. It's a choice between two options that will results in the destruction of the option not chosen. A difficult choice is just called a difficult choice, IT HAS NO NAME because it doesn't deserve one for the dramatic effect.

Poodle Bitch cannot look inside Ms. Aniston's heart and see what kind of anguish she must have felt over having to choose between three different dogs to adopt. Perhaps what she felt is exactly the same as what she would have felt had she been forced to choose which of her human children to send to the gas chamber. Or, perhaps, this was simply the most unbearable choice she's ever had to face in her life.

But in that case, Poodle Bitch is perplexed by something else that Ms. Aniston said during her interview:
The adorable puppy made sure she stood out from the pack. "Sophie came right up to us," said Aniston. "That was sort of a big indicator – they choose you." She then shared photos of the tiny pooch, who seems to be loving her new life.

If in fact young Sophie "chose" Ms. Aniston, where was the agonizing decision? Where was the "Sophie's Choice"? Did Ms. Aniston not want Sophie, yet was forced into taking her? Poodle Bitch is starting to wonder whether Ms. Aniston deserves the benefit of the doubt. She is starting to wonder if perhaps the adoption of the puppy Sophie wasn't part of a larger promotional push for her latest film, a comedy that apparently makes fun of hippies.

Poodle Bitch wonders why it is that Jennifer Aniston tried so hard to resist this adorable face.

Regardless, Poodle Bitch wishes Sophie all the best in her new life, which is most certainly going to be better than the lives of either Jan or Eva Zawistowski.

Another famous dog with an enviable life is Bo Obama, the companion animal of the Obamas, current human residents of the White House. As the "First Dog," Bo could no doubt be using his elevated position to create awareness for, oh, something important like pet adoption. And perhaps that is the message at the heart of this video, although it is so scattershot and ineptly produced that Poodle Bitch isn't entirely sure of what is being said in it:

From what Poodle Bitch can tell, the human girl portrayed in this film lives in some unnamed country where poverty, crime, and violence run rampant. She dreams of having a dog, which will apparently alleviate some of the anxiety that she feels over her current living situation. So she writes to the famous Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who apparently has a dog, and to the famous American leader Barack Obama, who of course has Bo, requesting that they give her a dog of her very own.

Poodle Bitch notes that a dog would be better than a drone dropping bombs on her. But she digresses.

At that point, CGI versions of the dog companions of Misters Obama and Putin start rapping and dancing around, and are soon joined by CGI versions of the world leaders themselves. Poodle Bitch is scratching her head. Right behind her ear.

Even after reading the message posted underneath the YouTube video, Poodle Bitch is confused:
Supper Doggies are pursuing the dream to perform around the world, with the involvement of local communities, focusing on children. Concerned about their future, Super Doggies has focused its attention on the global issue of youth poverty. The Super Doggies are 'good citizens' who want to bring attention to the issue of poverty and work with local communities to highlight their plight. Super Doggies's citizenship principles are founded on the conviction that the arts, business and social initiatives can, together, contribute to making a better world.

That just sounds like a bunch of feel-good words strung together to Poodle Bitch's ear.

Perhaps the lyrics will provide Poodle Bitch with some kind of clue?
Listen to your heart
Now tell me how it sounds.
Now walk like a king with a crown
Everyone alive got a goal to achieve
Focus on your path when you’re following your dream
March like a solider
Never look back
The world is a beast that’s ready to attack
Life is a party and the music don’t change
So I will dance with the sun and the rain


Every day, every day is struggle.
Every day in some way we get stronger.
Every day, every day we should stand up!
Every day in some way we should rise up!

When you look up to the star,
All your dreams may seem too far.
You can turn your make-belief,
Into your reality.
It’s a long road you can win,
When you find the love within.

No, Poodle Bitch is no less confused. The world is going to attack you, so you should march like a soldier, and yet life is a party where you are stuck listening to the same music all the time. But you can still win if you find love within. Or something.

And then at the end, the girl gets her puppy. Poodle Bitch is a firm believer in the importance of the connection that exists between humans and canines, but she wonders if perhaps the little human girl depicted in this video might have been better off if, perhaps, something were done about the poverty and violence with which she lives on a daily basis?

While Poodle Bitch believes in the importance of the connection between humans and canines, she believes that there are some people who can take that connection too far. Animal hoarding, for instance. But Poodle Bitch admits that this story made her wince:
A husband, his wife and her lover have been charged with conspiracy to commit bestiality after using Craigslist to find a dog for the wife to have sex with.
The two men were to watch while [the human woman] had sex with the dog.

Poodle Bitch understands that dogs occasionally give mixed signals to humans. Or, that humans could misinterpret canine actions. For instance, Poodle Bitch would like to assure her human readers that when a dog is "humping" your leg, it is usually in an attempt to assert dominance.

It is not a come-on.

Poodle Bitch does not wish to speak for all dogs, but in her own case, unless you are Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard, she does not have any romantic interest in you.

Poodle Bitch would definitely respond to Ben Gibbard's Craigslist ad.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Hungry Game: A Spoof -- my "Hunger Games" parody ebook

There is a wildly popular series of books called The Hunger Games trilogy, about a dystopian world where innocent little children are sent to fight and die as part of a totalitarian government's reality show. The movie, which will be released in late March, is expected to be one of the biggest films of the year.

Will my own parody, The Hungry Game: A Spoof, available now for amazon's kindle (also available for B&N's Nook!), be as popular? Um.

In addition to poking fun at The Hunger Games, it also parodies other young adult novels and the conventions of that rather broad topic of fiction, The Food Network and it's "stars" like Guy Fieri, Sandra Lee, and Paula Deen, cooking competitions, the obesity epidemic, and things like that. Here is the information I posted about it on amazon.com:
Obesity and social unrest destroyed the country once known as Nor-America. From its ashes rose the mighty PainEm, the Capitol of which is home to the enlightened few who can eat processed foods and use money.

For everyone else, there's The Hungry Game.

The Hungry Game is an exciting yearly cooking event for tweens and teens, sponsored by the PainEm government and the PainEm Food Channel. Each of PainEm's 12 Areas sends one boy and one girl to cook in fabled Big Kitchen. The winners will have their recipes featured in obnoxious PainEm Food Channel host Guyman Ferry's new book, Guyman's Big Bite Battle Book. The losers will be executed by the Cookblockers.

The Hungry Game follows the adventures of Kantmiss Everclear and her maybe-boyfriend-but-maybe-not-it's-so-confusing-when-you're-a-teenager-in-a-dystopian-nightmare-world Pauladeen Mudlark as they cook it out against an all-star lineup of Young Adult novel contestants, including Parry Hotter, Fartemis Owl, Horseyboy, Edward Sallow and Blaivan der Dorfwood.

Who will win? What shocking twists await the participants? Are there any zombies in it? Why not read this spoof novel and find out?

"The Hungry Game" spoofs young adult novels, teenagers, cooking shows, cooking competitions, politics, the obesity epidemic, junk food, social order, and cats. If you have any interest at all in any of those things, you practically have a moral obligation to purchase this book.

And here is the first chapter:


When I wake, Brine is cuddling with our breakfast. Brine is my little sister – she was named after her favorite food (brine). Here in the Spam, the section of Area 12 in which I live, everyone’s favorite food is brine, because it’s the only food substance we’re legally allowed to have. We use it to make brine sandwiches, brine salads, brine cheeses, brine bread and, on special occasions, brine wine. Sometimes we use it to pickle things, but because pickling things is illegal (all types of food preservation are illegal in PainEm) nobody names their child Pickles.
Gently, I pull Brine’s arm away from the cat. It’s scrawny, almost as scrawny as I am. Its hair is matted and tangled and falling out from malnutrition – another way it resembles me – and in her bald spots I can see that her skin is the color of ash and brine. My stomach grumbles at the sight. Other than brine, ash is the most plentiful food in the Spam. It fills the air, spewed by the smokestacks from the ash factories where most of the adults in the Spam work. It’s not really food, actually, but we’re so poor in Area 12 that we take what we can get.
The cat moans softly as I pick her up. Her skin is covered in oozing sores that will impart extra savory flavors.
I stroke her head a few times. She’s so sickly that she can barely keep her eyes open. I think that’s kind of endearing as I gently snap her neck. The cat lets out a cute little whine, and then its bowels evacuate. I collect this precious bounty in a bucket – it will make a wonderful poo-ding dessert – and then I place the cat’s festering body in the pot of boiling water.
I suppose I’m not good for much, except I can cook. It’s something I learned from my dad, who died of a combination of diphtheria, malnutrition, hepatitis-14, and being pushed into a kettle of boiling brine. I was so distraught over his death that I was barely able to eat any of him.
As I was saying, I can cook. I can cook anything. Well, anyone can cook anything I guess, but I can cook anything and make it palatable and nourishing. I can turn diseased, scabies-covered cat into a heart-healthy stew that will feed my family for an entire week. That’s what I’m doing now, with the cat that Brine brought home for us. I remember when she brought the cat home last night, she said, “Look at this cat I found! Doesn’t she look delicious? I can’t wait to see what Kantmiss does with her!” Actually, she was so weak from hunger that she didn’t so much say that as whisper it hoarsely.
I can cook, just like my father. He used to say, “We’ll never go hungry. As long as one of us can move their bowels and draw a little blood, we’ll never go hungry.” His favorite dish to prepare was his famous Blood Poo-ding Soup.
I miss my father. Sometimes, when I burp, I think of him fondly.
Slowly, Brine awakens. As she rises, her stomach growls, and the sound it makes is like the sound of the shift bell ringing at the ash factory. “Where’s Pussy?” she asks, sleepily.
I point to the pot. Tempting odors have already started to rise from it. “Oh, we’re going to eat my Pussy?” she asks, excited.
“Yes,” I nod, equally excited by the prospect.
Our mother, Whatshername, walks in. Actually, because she’s so weak from hunger, she doesn’t so much walk in as crawl feebly. “I smell Pussy,” she says, dreamily. Actually, because she’s so weak from hunger, she doesn’t so much say this as mouth the words pathetically. She’s never been the same since dad died. She changed. She became different. It was like she was someone else. When they’d been together, she’d been one way. But now that he was dead, she was no longer that one way. She was another way.

I don’t know how to describe it. I’m a very good cook. I kind of stink as a writer.
“This must be our special meal, in honor of The Reaming,” she says, taking a big whiff of Cat Stew.
Yes. The Reaming. I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain how those of us in the various Areas get Reamed by the Capitol, in PainEm.
The Reaming is the process by which contestants are chosen for the Hungry Game. Basically, in each of the 12 Areas outside the Capitol, all residents between the ages of 12 and 19 are eligible to participate. Participation is on a voluntary basis, but everyone between those ages is forced to volunteer. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound very voluntary to me, but I’m so weak from hunger all the time I can’t think straight. All I ever think about is how hungry I am, and how my stomach hurts all the time, and how that emptiness in my stomach feels like an actual presence, like there’s actually something inside my stomach. In a way, it’s sort of like being full all the time, but in another way, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s more like being hungry all the time.
Um. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah – the Hungry Game: All the eligible boys and girls have their names written on lots, and those lots are selected at random, and one boy and one girl from each of the 12 Areas is selected to participate. It’s sort of like that short story from so long ago. It was a story about a lottery. It was written by Shirley Jackson. I can’t remember the name of the story.
And now I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain the Hungry Game.
A generation ago, or two generations ago, or maybe more (we’re so hungry here we easily lose track of time), PainEm used to be called Nor-America. There, food was so plentiful that people had access to it all the time. There were places called “fast food restaurants” where people could just walk in off the street and get food made from meaty creatures called “cows” in the blink of an eye. In their homes, people had devices called “refrigerators,” where they kept exotic-sounding things like “pizza rolls,” and “fish sticks,” and “Pupperoni.”
The people took advantage of their access to this extravagant, plentiful food. And as a result, they all came down with a disease called “obesity,” so the top government official at the time, who was called The First Lady, declared martial law, and took away the “fast food restaurants” and “refrigerators,” and banned the use of food processing and preservation techniques. These conveniences had made the population lazy, she claimed, so from that point on, only natural, local, organic foods were legal. That way, everyone would eat only foods they needed, not the foods they wanted, and they’d be healthier and start losing weight.
Then, there was the financial catastrophe.
At the same time everyone was catching obesity, there used to be something called “money,” which was basically just scraps of paper that were supposedly valuable. Those who had the most of those pieces of paper were considered to be the best. But, when they didn’t have enough of these slips of paper, they would borrow some. Everyone did this, from The First Lady all the way down to the lowliest freelance writer. Pretty soon there was so much “debt” that the only way to repay it all was to just create a lot more of it. But then there was so much of this “money” that nobody believed in its value anymore, so people started to riot and loot in the streets. The First Lady crushed the rebellion from the Capitol, and the country is now called PainEm, as I already said. And now every year, in celebration of our new, healthier, obesity-free world, we have this yearly cooking competition, which is what the Hungry Game is.
And, oh yeah, the losers all die.
“So, anyway, The Reaming,” Mother says, pulling me out of my reverie. “That’s today. Are you girls excited?”
Her question is ironic. Everyone in the Spam is so weak from hunger that we can’t get excited. The most we can muster is vague ambivalence, and that’s only if something amazing happens, like that one time when that one thing happened back then, I can’t remember because I’m so hungry all the time and it’s made me kind of forgetful.
Maybe it’ll come to me at some point.
“Sure,” I say. Actually, this day is more ambivalent than most, since it’s the first year that Brine’s been eligible to participate. Owing to the almost comically complicated procedure used to determine the number of chances each person has of being selected, Brine’s name will only appear once in the Reaming kettle, while my name will appear 635 times. It has to do with all the extra brine we’ve been getting – more brine for more lots.
The important thing is that little Brine’s only got one chance of being selected for the Game, while I have 635 chances to be selected. So, if either of us is picked, it will probably be her, because I’m so light-headed from hunger that I don’t understand basic statistics.
“I think I’ll go forage for something else for the Pussy Stew,” I say, leaving the house. Outside, I see children gnawing the plaster on the side of our house. I kick them and shout, “Stop eating our house!” and head out into the Spam.
I walk past rows of people standing around with their heads tilted back and mouths open, waiting for something, anything that might be edible to fall from the sky. Unfortunately, because of The Reaming, even the Ash Factory is closed today, so they won’t even get a taste of precious ash. Perhaps if they get lucky, a bird will fly by and poo in their mouths.
“Hello, Can’t-miss,” I hear from my left. I turn and see my friend Glea. As he walks toward me, he pulls a pimple off his cheek and pops it into his mouth, savoring the sweet, flavorful juice. I’m so dehydrated that not even this image can make my mouth water.
“I told you, my name is Kantmiss,” I say, smiling. Glea calls me “Can’t-miss Everdear.” He thinks this is so funny, although it makes no sense to me, because my name is Kantmiss Everclear, and it’s pronounced “Racha Elray.” Like many who live in the Spam, Glea is too hungry to have developed a decent sense of humor.
“Sure,” he says, falling in line beside me. Glea is two years older than me, and almost my equal as a cook, but I’m not sure how I feel about him. Part of this is obviously because I’m too hungry to think straight, and part of this is because I’m a 16 year-old girl whose body is going through a lot of hormonal and emotional changes. I’m often confused by my own feelings. For instance, when I first got my period I thought, “Oh, good, here’s something else I can use to flavor my soup.” Then I thought, “Oh, darn it, now I’m practically a grown up woman.”
Also, I’m not sure how Glea feels about me. Sometimes he gives me signals that he wants to kiss me on the cheek, and sometimes he slaps me. Actually, owing to his constant hunger, he’s too fatigued to slap me, so it’s more of a fluttering of his hands.
“Look at what I’ve got,” he says, proudly. He produces a small plastic container in which I can see tiny droplets of moisture.
“What is it?” I ask, questioningly.
“They’re my tears!” he says, triumphantly. “When I woke this morning, I was so miserable with hunger that I was actually crying. So I got this plastic container and I collected them.”
I lick my lips. His tears look delicious.
“I was thinking, after The Reaming, I could come over to your place and we could cook them up and eat them,” he says.
“That would be wonderful,” I say. “They’ll go so well with the cat stew I’m making.”
“Cat stew!” he gasps, then quickly puts his hands over his mouth. Eating anything other than brine is illegal in all Areas outside the Capitol, so if any of the Placators hear you talking about making cat stew, they’ll break into your house without a warrant, beat you, arrest you, ask you for a bribe, and beat you, in that order. Also, they’ll confiscate your stew. So we must be careful. Now, Glea’s voice is a whisper: “Cat stew!” he whispers, then kisses me on the cheek.
“What was that for?” I ask, blushing. I wonder if he’s in love with me.
“Sorry,” he says. “I was trying to slap you, but I’m so weak from hunger that I couldn’t lift my hands, so I tried to slap you with my lips.” And then he smiles.
“Oh,” I say. But that’s not how I feel.
When we see the mayor’s daughter, Smidge, Glea quickly puts the plastic container of tears under his coat. In the process, he disturbs a flea, which he quickly pops into his mouth.
“Yum,” Smidge says. “I wish I had a flea to eat. But my parents won’t let me go more than a day without bathing, so I never have enough filth on myself to grow them.”
It might sound like she’s bragging, but Smidge is actually okay. It’s not her fault she’s so wealthy that she can afford to wear clothes that aren’t made out of spare nutria hair, and can bathe more than once every two weeks.
“You look nice, Smidge,” I say. “Even if you’re not flea-ridden.”
“Thanks,” she says, sighing. “Are you two ready for the Reaming?”
“The what?” Glea asks.
Smidge says, “Oh, that’s funny that you’re pretending to forget that today is the day of The Reaming, which is the biggest day of the year.”
Dazedly, Glea says, “Actually, I’m so weak from hunger I really did forget what The Reaming was. What is it again?”
So I explain to him about The Reaming and the Hungry Game, and all the history of PainEm. But since I already explained what they were earlier, while I was boiling the cat, I won’t go into it again. Besides, explaining things is so exhausting.

Soon it is time for the Reaming. Everyone from Area 12 met in the town square. The Placators walked through the crowd, making sure that everyone had a smile on their face. Those who were too weak from hunger to actually smile were given tape to place on their faces, to hold up the corners of their mouths. Most people were pretending to be too weak to smile, and then eating the tape, and then pretending to not be able to smile so they could get more tape to eat. Occasionally, however, the mouth tape wasn’t enough, and people would try to eat the PainEm Food Channel cameras filming the entire proceeding.
The Reaming we were getting from the Capitol was supposed to be a cause for grateful celebration, and if we weren’t sufficiently happy about it we’d be severely punished. Like, our children would be forced to participate in a deadly cooking competition in the Capitol.
On the stage, the perky Sondra Leer, Area 12’s official escort, stood before the microphone. She was the host of Area 12’s only cooking show, “Semi-Edible with Sondra Leer.” She was also the girlfriend or wife or something of the mayor. She was annoying, and her show was crap. Every episode she made basically the same dish: Brine-with-something. Sometimes she makes brine and sticks. Sometimes she makes brine and twigs. Sometimes she makes brine and toe jam. She isn’t really a cook, but that’s mostly okay, since most people in Area 12 are too poor to afford even sticks and twigs.
The problem is that no one from Area 12 has won a Hungry Game in 40 years, and all her show ever teaches us to cook is brine and twigs. Last year’s Area 12 contestants were both eliminated during the first cooking challenge because they were emulating Sondra’s “making stuff by combining random elements without any rhyme or reason” formula, and the judges were a lot more sophisticated than that.
Anyway, she was wearing the heavy makeup, thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, short skirt, and peroxide blond hair she usually wore on her show. She had an invitingly bubbly personality, and a way of speaking that made you feel like she really thought you were amazing. “Happy Hungry Game!” she called out. “And may your flavors ever give you great odds!”
“I’ll give you flipping odd flavors!” a voice cries out. At that, Chef Gorton Reamsy, stumbles onto the stage. Because he’s the only person from Area 12 ever to actually win a Hungry Game, he’s well taken care of, and always has enough brine to eat. Also, he is given an allowance of some supposedly wonderfully delicious food called Alpo, so it’s not weakness from hunger that causes him to stumble. It’s just that he’s a punchy, loudmouthed jerk. Also, he drinks a lot of fermented brine.
He presses a glass of brine in Sondra’s hand and kisses her on the cheek. “Oh, aren’t you just the sweetest li’l thing in the whole wide world!” she says. Although her voice sounds perky, she has a look of contempt on her face. She composes herself and then says into the microphone, “Let’s get this started, shall we? Ladies first!”
In the pit of my stomach I feel intense hunger. Also, I feel nauseated. I’m so nervous I think I might throw up, which would be a good thing because then I’d have something to eat later. But I can’t throw up because I’m holding my breath – I and everyone else in the Spam. To myself I say, “I hope it’s not my name that gets drawn,” over and over again.
Sondra withdraws the name from the kettle, and then walks back over to the microphone. I’m still repeating “I hope it’s not my name that gets drawn,” and so is every other girl in Area 12. It’s sort of like a chant, kind of like, um, that one time when you hear that sound you hear sometimes, like a dull droning sound, I can’t remember what it is because I’m too hungry.
Sondra reads the name on the slip of paper. I’m so hungry I can’t hear whose name it is.

If you'd like to read more, why not drop 99¢ and pick it up here for the kindle, or here for the Nook?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The new Avengers film: Isn't making it "cinematic" the absolute least they could do?

I don't know if you've heard about this, but on May 4, 2012, an event that is so earth-shattering it will make the big bang look like only a very small bang will be killing our collective balls.

That's when some of the largest cinematic superhero all-stars, including The Hawkeye, who can shoot arrows really accurately, will join forces to become The Avengers, in a movie version that is to be called "The Avengers." In the Marvel comics, they are called "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." In the movies, they're going to be called "Earth's Cinematicest Heroes."

Or, actually, maybe they're not going to be called that. Because, according to Ain't It Cool News, there are grumblings that, while the film itself is good, the guy who is directing it doesn't have a very "cinematic" eye. Seriously:
Word 'round the campfire is Marvel considers The Avengers to be their best outing yet. I've talked to some cynics in the group who weren't sure it was going to come together and they're all doing their mea culpas now. They say it has the heart, the action, the humor and the suspense a movie like The Avengers should have. The only criticisms I've heard is that [director Joss] Whedon's eye isn't as cinematic as it should be, but that the rest of the movie is so good that you accept it.
First of all, saying that a film is Marvel Studios's "best outing yet" is like congratulating the tallest jockey. But then again, maybe I'm just being snarky. There's no need to impugn jockeys, who work hard at a very dangerous job for little money. What I mean is, this is the studio of "Iron Man," that loathsome neocon debauch, "The Incredible Hulk," which was a re-hash of a derivative tv show, "Iron Man 2," an illogical miasma, the best part of which was seeing former late-night talk show host Larry Sanders as a Senator, "Captain America," a listless celebration of the absolute worst of America, and "Thor," an earth-bound B-grade enervation.

Joss Whedon is a talented writer. He created "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly." He was one of the screenwriters of the original "Toy Story" film. He had a well-regarded run on the "Astonishing X-Men" comic book series. Again, here's your paper plate award, tallest jockey, but I don't doubt that his "Avengers" screenplay is the best screenplay Marvel Studios has yet produced. I'm sure it has heart, action, humor, and suspense, as Ain't It Cool's sources inside Marvel have said. Actually, it probably doesn't have all that much suspense -- is there any chance at all that one of the Avengers might die (superhero characters never die!), or that they might fail in their mission to save the world, or whatever it is that they're going to in this movie (I'm sure it's save the world)? Maybe the "suspense" comes from how long the Avengers will "antagonize" one another before finally putting aside their differences to finally start killing balls.

But the part of that quote above that I emphasized is devastating. This is an extremely expensive film. The budget is rumored to be over $260 million. Maybe $300 million. And yet -- this expensive blockbuster that's supposed to save the world and motivate people to spend $5.00 a gallon on gas, another $10.00 parking, an hour each way fighting traffic, $10.00 minimum on tickets (more if you wanna catch it in 3-D!), and then sit for a couple of hours in a crowded theater full of chattering fanboys -- this film's directed by someone that the people within the studio that's producing the film claim doesn't have an eye that's "as cinematic as it should be."

And that part about forgiving it because "the rest of the movie is so good" you just accept it -- I realize that the person being referenced is part of the corporation that's releasing the film and has a hug financial incentive to put a good face on this, but what a sad spin that is. It's a film, for crying out loud. A film should at the very least be "cinematic." If it's not "cinematic," then there's no "rest of the movie."

But what does that mean, really? Did the anonymous person think that previous Marvel Studios films were "cinematic"? Take a look at that list again. They're all films, and they all have the elements of films -- actors acting, edits, special effects, music, plots. Sure, they're "cinematic" in the broadest terms -- they fit the Merriam-Webster definition of the word. At least, they fit the second definition of the word, which reads,
filmed and presented as a motion picture
But what about M-W's first definition?
of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures
Do Marvel Studios's films feel peculiarly "cinematic"? Could the artistic statements made by these films only have been made in film? Or did they all just feel like they were cobbled together from 60 years' worth of comic book continuity, and given an illusory sheen of expensive special effects, elaborate stunts, and shiny costumes?

Beyond the special effects, and Robert Downey Jr's performances, did you feel particularly moved by those films, as "cinematic" works?

Looking back at my favorite films of the last few years -- "Attack the Block," "Dead Man's Shoes," "24 Hour Party People," "Minority Report," "Apocalypto," "The Incredibles," "Life During Wartime," "A Serious Man" -- it strikes me that these are all works of art that could not have been improved in any way by having been created in another medium. They had to be films, in order to work as well as they do.

They are "cinematic." They use the form of cinema to create fresh statements about how human beings live and interact.

I can think of plenty of films that I've seen recently that did not feel "cinematic" at all -- "Star Trek," "District 9," "The Hangover," "Bridesmaids," "X-Men: First Class," "Paranormal Activity," "Shutter Island," and "The Social Network," to pull a few examples from Box Office Mojo's lists of the top-grossing films of the last few years. There are things to admire about each of those films I suppose, but none of them said anything that hasn't been said, with more uniqueness and quality, on television. In fact some of them seemed to have been photographed to look like television shows.

Then again, maybe I'm not being fair to television shows. Off the top of my head I could think of at least ten recent television shows -- "The Wire," "The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad," "The Good Wife," "Californication," "South Park," "Battlestar Galactica," "Arrested Development," "Sons of Anarchy," "The Walking Dead," "The Venture Brothers," and "Deadwood" -- that displayed more creative ambition than almost any American films from the same period. Now, some of those shows that I mentioned in my list are distasteful to me; in particular "The Walking Dead" is calamitous. But all of them at least seem to be trying to make broader artistic statements, beyond just "We're doing this for the money."

And of course, Marvel Studios's films feel like comic books. I happen to like comic books, quite a bit. And there was a great deal of skill involved in filming those comic books. But one word I would not use to describe them is "cinematic." "Efficient," perhaps.

I understand why comic book fans get excited about seeing these characters in films. They are a popular validation of their hobby. Many comic book fans spent years being picked on and made fun of, or at the very least given funny looks, because of their devotion to the medium. I know I did, anyway. Today, that medium is being used to mine ideas for blockbuster films. The special effects have caught up with the stories created decades ago. There is a backlog of material from which to draw, all of which is tied up in the memories of the adults who grew up reading the stuff. On a purely visceral level, it's fun to see your favorite story arc from the long-ago past given life, of a sort, outside of the printed page, and your own imagination.

Here's how excited I am about the new Avengers film -- I drew all of my favorite Avengers characters joined together and ready for action!

But I wonder why anyone would go see a film that feels like something else -- something other than "cinematic." I mean, if you're not invested in the mythology of the source material, why would you sit through a film that feels like a comic book? For that matter, why would you visit a movie theater to watch a film that feels like a television program?

Maybe the fact that someone at Marvel thinks Mr. Whedon's eye isn't as "cinematic" as it should be is a positive sign for the film.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Using spam email subject lines as captions for gag cartoons

Below are some gag cartoons that I drew to illustrate funny subject lines for some curious spam emails I've been getting lately. I'm not sure how I got on whatever mailing list(s?) I'm currently on, but I didn't want the experience to go to waste.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Scooby Doo and Shaggy restraining The Demon from KISS, while Muppets fall out of his stomach

I am working on an autobiographical art/horror piece, one section of which contains the following image:

Shared because I haven't posted anything in awhile.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ode to the stuff that was dripping down Christina Aguilera's leg when she sang at the Etta James funeral

Ode to the stuff that was dripping down Christina Aguilera's leg when she sang at the Etta James funeral

By Ricky Sprague

I love a lady who's so unique
When her voice hits that dulcet shriek,
She springs a little leak,
And you know my knees get weak.

I don't mean to sound malicious,
But I bet that nectar is really delicious,
And I've got a feeling it's also nutritious.

O honeyed songstress, don't make me beg!
Gimme some of that stuff decorating your leg!
It teases its way down -- drip, drip, drip,
Share it with me love, give me a sip!

When I saw that broth I just had to say,
I know it would be such a sweet consommé,
Join with me now, let's make a flambé!

Is it brown? Is it red? I don't care!
I'm just glad it's escaped your underwear!
Golden throated Christina, I have to declare--
Splash some over here, I need you to share!

Photo from The Blemish, which has more of the story.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The literary event of 2012! Lost poem by Emily Dickinson, now found!

Over at the lovely Fickle Pants website, I have a new post detailing my discovery of a previously lost poem by the famous Emily Dickinson. Here is a small sample from my erudite introduction:
The cadence, the meter, the rhyme scheme, the themes, all pointed me in the direction of one of America's most beloved poets. My suspicions seemed confirmed by the editor's introduction to the poem, in which he stated how sorry he was that the "poetess" responsible for these lines had passed away just as the book was going to press (Emily Dickinson died in 1886). He also explained that readers familiar with her more famous work would see echoes of it here, but that the author had expressed a desire that this particular poem be published anonymously for it contained "brazen lines with a decidedly harder-edge than those to which [her] readers were then accustomed."
And here are the first few lines:
No one joined my celebration
It's enough to make me cry
I asked half the population,
But nobody stopped by.

Secluded, I contemplated
Because I just can't see:
Why am I so roundly hated,
And treated so rudely?

It's not as if I am inclined
To poo au hasard beds
The only ones I treat unkind
Are people with fat heads.
Read the entire thing here, if you will.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Concept art and story notes from the aborted 1973 European film adaptation of John Carter of Mars

Over at the new Fickle Pants website, there is an article about the aborted 1973 film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's "John Carter of Mars" character. Disney's version is set to open on March 9, but you can get a glimpse of what might have been if you click over there now. Below is a small sample:

In 1973, Peter Brown, who had been a member of the board of directors of Apple Records and General Manager of Beatles & Co, acquired the European film rights to the John Carter character. In an effort to entice potential investors, and to generate interest from studios, he hired the French playwright and short story author Roland Arrabal to create a script treatment and synopsis. Brown became a fan of Arrabal's after seeing a production of his play "Sept Péchés" at a small, 25 seat theater in basement of the Baron's Pub in Croydon.

Arrabal, known for his eccentric, iconoclastic style, went straight to work creating a treatment that bore only a passing resemblance to Edgar Rice Burroughs's character. Using the ideas of reincarnation and colonialism as his jumping-off point, Arrabal concocted a Mars of peaceful, large-breasted and wide-hipped feminine entities who are corrupted by the former Confederate soldier's influence. Arrabal's script would have featured copious amounts of blood and gore, and wild sex between Carter and the Princess, who was to have been at least twice, and perhaps three times, as big as him.

Also, here's one of the pieces of concept art:

And here is the first page of the script notes, as written by playwright Roland Arrabal:

You can read the rest of the piece here