Friday, October 31, 2008

The Web Planet, Starring Isabella Rossellini

Speaking of beautiful women in costumes, roommate Isabel gave me a big WTF?! moment this morning by sending me a link to Green Porno, a series of "birds and the bees" short films by Isabella Rossellini.Click the link to check it out. The bee is one of the more work-friendly ones (some have simulated nudity). Am I the only who thinks of Doctor Who and The Web Planet when I watch that?

This has been the SBG's 1500th post!

Halloween Costumes of the Day: Sexy!

I promised to lay on the sexy today, so I will. Though I've posted the first two before, I think it's worth doing so again. After all, hawt is hawt! So here it is: The best eye candy my Halloween parties ever produced.

Poison IvyCarolynn not only models a homemade 70s-80s Poison Ivy costume threaded with plastic leaves and accessorized with a wreath, but also the attitude that comes with it!

Death of the Endless
Straight from the Death Talks About Life freebie, Emili was born to be Death Incarnate. Just ask any of her boyfriends. (Ha, I kid!)

Mia Wallace
Emili's resemblance to Uma Thurman also allowed her to once come as Pulp Fiction's poster girl, Mia Wallace, the year the theme was movies. She later made a big scene out of overdosing like in film, and we laughed and laughed.

Jessica Rabbit
Still, the winner of "Sexiest costume" that year went to Elyse. That's not a wig, folks. She inched out Mia for the prize, and was leagues ahead of a terrible Leeloo costume I will not post here. Even I have standards.

Now, I know it's been all girls til now (my own personal bias), but I still want to cater to the Green Lantern's Butt-loving crowd with some male eye candy. Hard to do with my friends, but here's one who at least thinks he's sexy:

Felipe is second-generation Spanish, ostensibly from noble blood, with a gun fetish and an eye for the ladies. Enjoy the V-neck ladies. He doesn't read the blog, so feel free to be honest. Bwa-ha-ha!

And finally, one for you Goths out there, from Mel:

The girl from The Ring
If that's your thing, enjoy. And have a Happy Hallow's Eve!

Geek pics from this year's party some time next week!

Star Trek 693: Proving Ground

693. Proving Ground

FORMULA: The Expanse + Cease Fire + The Wrath of Khan

WHY WE LIKE IT: Back on track! And Andorians too!

WHY WE DON'T: The plain Andorian bridge. Too much of Talas.

REVIEW: After a number of high concept episodes, what the show really needs is a strong plot-driven piece of the Xindi arc, and that's what Proving Ground is. Enterprise has found the testing ground for the superweapon and the plan is to learn as much as possible and if possible, even steal the prototype. We also see Gralik's tainted batch of kemosite at work, bringing the test to a halt. Still, wow, I bet even a partial destruction of the Earth like the one seen here would do the trick. Does it have to be TOTAL annihilation?

Where the episode gets a little indulgent is in bringing in Shran and the Andorians into the picture. While I'm always happy to see Shran and his ambiguous relationship with Archer, it does seem a bit fortuitous that the Andorian ship could find Enterprise so easily. Between that and the easy way the ship maneuvers in the Expanse, it makes the Imperial Guard seem more advanced than even the Vulcans. Another disappointment is the look of the Andorian ship's bridge. Though I'll believe these guys have a spartan aesthetic, it still seems a little dull and studio-bound.

Still, the Andorians are here, however they managed it, so let's enjoy them. Shran is, as usual, at once hero and villain, here caught between his duty to the Imperial Guard (stealing the weapon) and his own moral compass (not seeing the sense in making enemies of the humans). The script plays with the idea of trust throughout. T'Pol is right about Andorians not being trustworthy, but then Archer is too in his trusting Shran specifically. And the crew of the Enterprise aren't suckers. Though Talas has been sabotaging the ship, Reed has been checking her work all the way through making it possible for the ship to reach the Andorians before they can leave with the weapon. It was obvious that Reed would be given an alien babe to work with, but we go back to that subplot too often for my tastes, especially if it's all going to be mutual appreciation society meetings. But the ending redeems it a great deal, presenting us with characters who were playing each other.

A number of scenes help elevate this episode beyond the machinations of its plot. Shran helps Trip out on the basis that they are "brothers in revenge". Shran puts on a character for the Xindi, one that is amusingly looking for "archerite". After the standoff and subsequent destruction of the weapon, Archer opens a channel and offers his help to the Andorians, bringing the episode full circle.

LESSON: If you can't share it, then no one gets to play with the toy.

REWATCHABILITY - High Medium: Though the Andorians' return stretches credibility just a little, the alternative is going without them entirely this season, and we, clearly, would be poorer for it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Comic of the Beast

MARVEL PREMIERE #12, Marvel Comics, October 1973
It was the early 70s and Marvel was going all Addams Family on our asses, mixing superheroes and horror in ways never really been attempted since the Hulk... and going much farther.

From the pages of Ghost Rider sprang the more extreme, comics-code-braving horror hero of them all: The Son of Satan! Look! It says Satan right there on the cover! It also says it's an origin issue, but it really isn't. Here's the extent of what we're told by Sonny himself:
So not unlike Jack Kirby's Demon from the previous year. But let that go, the similarities stop there. Son of Satan (am I getting weird Google hits each time I mention him?) comes out of nowhere on a mission to find and destroy his father for what he's done to his mum and sister. Out in the Arizona desert, he's looking for a girl who was recently possessed by the devil and he'll stop at nothing to find her (except maybe the sunlight). To me, my steeds!!!
So he's just like Thor with even more questionable parentage, is that it? Well, not quite. Wait a while yet...

So there are these bikers molesting Roxanne Simpson who, until recently, was hanging with Johnny "Ghost Rider" Blaze.
A lady in distress? Son of Satan is still a superHERO, right? To the rescue!
Now for the action you've been craving: Explosive demonic elbow jab - pitchfork combination!
Beelzebub's harrowing hands free piledriver!
And now we discover that Son of Satan isn't a monster. He's lover. Albeit a kind of creepy one.
Well... maybe he is a monster just a little.
That's enough information for him to figure where Johnny and the possessed girl are and he walks right into nearby Hell. Frees their souls. Fights some demons. Threatens to destroy the foundations of the Pit itself. Oh yeah, and before he leaves, calls his dad a right bitch.
Oooohhh. I don't know about you, but this sounds like a pretty standard father-son relationship.Ultra-violent Son of Satan by Gary Friedrich and Herb Trimpe.

Halloween Costumes of the Day: The Cat's

My big black cat was born for Halloween, really, with his own built-in costume, but that didn't stop me from dressing him up for the occasion. After all, since all of my Halloween parties had themes, he had to follow them! Here are some of his best efforts:

Edgar Alan Poe's Black CatFor a literature theme.

A glitch in the Matrix
For a movie theme.

James Kochalka's Peanut Butter
For a comics theme. Not the most flattering picture, I know. And this was his back-up after his make-up for Sailor Moon's Luna fell off. Didn't like to be in drag anyway.

Here are his alternate ideas for the comics theme:
Elongated Man
Bouncing Boy
Cats are amorphous things, aren't they? Who else costumes their pets for Halloween? Come on, fess up!

Star Trek 692: Chosen Realm

692. Chosen Realm

FORMULA: Basics + Cold Front + Let This Be Your Last Battlefield + The Catwalk

WHY WE LIKE IT: Archer's deception.

WHY WE DON'T: Frustrating setbacks. All too familiar.

REVIEW: Though it starts off interestingly with pilgrims that view the spheres as sacred sites and the anomalies as the "Makers' breath", Chosen Realm descends into yet another Enterprise hijack episode, something prevalent in the first two seasons. At least the crew never takes the ship back the same way, eh?

The Triannons are religious extremists, complete with suicide bombers, which is a topical and thus worthy subject. Unfortunately, their motives and actions are rather frustrating to the audience. Firstly, blind faith used for violent ends should be frustrating to any Trek fan. If the show is about exploring our world, people who ignore that world, destroy information, and refuse all arguments but their own are its anathema. More to the point, didn't we just go through a number of episodes to get the map of the spheres, lost again now?!? You want each episode to matter, not have its accomplishments reset (some of the database will be saved, but still). D'Jamat keeps saying he and Archer are more alike than we think, like it's some kind of mantra, but it's hard to see. Here is a man who calls everything that goes his way "ordained" and everything that doesn't "interfering". With self-aggrandizing delusions like this, how can I relate to him at all?

Worse still, the reason for D'Jamat's crusade is ridiculous, harking very clearly to Let This Be Your Last Battlefield: He believes the spheres were made in 10 days, the heretics think it took only 9. Where TOS was adept at these kinds of moral, ironic fables, Enterprise fails. It's just stupid in a more realistic show and calls attention to itself. They might have left it at that, but once we get to their homeworld, it's been destroyed like in Last Battlefield. I mean really, how about doing something new with it?

On a brighter note, I love Archer in this episode. Though his volunteering himself to be put to death in lieu of naming a crewman was expected, his use of the transporter as a merciful execution is just brilliant. A great way to get into the bowels of the ship and work to take it back. His MSN conversation with Phlox just made me smile. The doctor's role in the insurrection is good (sickbay always seems central to any retaking effort), with a nice cameo for his bat.

LESSON: Always have a screen saver ready when surfing porn.

REWATCHABILITY - Low Medium: We've seen a lot of it before, though the bits that are new are good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Costumes of the Day: FrenchFest

A couple years ago, our Halloween party had a comic book theme, but while many picked good ol' American comics icons (Clark Kent, Death of the Endless, Poison Ivy, Peanuts' Lucy, Mac from the Charles Atlas ads...), quite a few sprang for French bande dessinée characters. It comes with the territory, and the territory is French Canada. Some of these might mystify my Anglophone readers, but most can be found in translation or sometimes in animation. For example...

SpirouThat's a real early version of the character, but he had the squirrel in his hands, so... That's red-headed Sly from my improv group as the infamous bellhop adventurer, who spent the evening photographing his damn rodent in every nook and cranny of my house, and the night passed out on the kitchen floor.

Gos & Walthery's sexy sexy air hostess Natacha was here incarnated by Julie. A great idea from left field.

Maestro from Il était une fois... l'homme
From the French cartoon "Once Upon a Time...Man", an education series that used the same basic cast of stock characters to explore history, the human body and the space race (among others). Goupil here is Maestro, the old man from the series. Pretty obscure? Not to us!

Capitaine Haddock
Ah, here's one everybody should know! Tintin's alcholoic sidekick, Capitaine Haddock (AKA Pierre). If you don't know him yet, you soon will, unless a certain Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson project doesn't generate any publicity. (Hey, could happen.)

In a case of "before they were stars", Tanya here incarnates "Smurfette" before she got her extreme makeover from Papa Smurf. Yes, Peyo did a lot for the perception that blondes are prettier than brunettes.

No one came as a citizen of Asterix's village, or one of the 4 Aces, or as Lucky Luke or Achilles Talon or Gaston Lagaffe, or well, tons of other great ideas from the world of French (actually Belgian) B.D. Maybe next time we bandy the theme around. Any suggestions from the gallery?

Star Trek 691: Carpenter Street

691. Carpenter Street

FORMULA: Future's End + Time's Arrow

WHY WE LIKE IT: Some of the directorial tricks. A dark vision of the present.

WHY WE DON'T: Some of the directorial tricks. We've been in high concept mode too long.

REVIEW: Though we know that the Temporal Cold War is responsible for giving the Xindi the wrong idea about humanity, I wasn't exactly expecting too much TCW stuff in the season. But here's Daniels again, warning Archer about Xindi sent back into the past destroy humanity via a deadly toxin. All they need to do is collect every blood type on Earth (really?) and throw the stuff in a ventilation shaft somewhere (really?). It's a premise that stretches credibility (along with what Daniels knows and doesn't, and why he's sending Archer and T'Pol practically to zero hour instead of earlier), but if you don't think about all that, it's pretty good.

The action takes place mostly at night, giving the episode a dark, but slick look, more City on the Edge of Forever than Future's End. Actually, it's a lot like an episode of 24, with motivated cameras, cell phones, SUVs and terrorists about to poison a major American city (here, Detroit). Yes, there's fish out of water material, but Archer is better equipped than past captains because 2004 isn't THAT far from his home period. And yet, there's still fun to be had with driving, bank machines, cigarettes and fast food.

When I say that the camera is "motivated", I don't mean to suggest it's as documentarian as 24's, but it does have more style than it usually does. Sometimes for the better (POV shots, including one through a peep hole), sometimes not (some outrageous zooms during the interrogation scene and bad slow motion). The world of the twitchy Loomis is grimy and not at all Trek-like, which helps motivate these stylistic choices, hookers and all. Loomis is a reprehensible character, but there are a couple of humorous bits having to do with him. We're so used to seeing briefcases full of money, his measly 4 stacks are hilarious to me. And then there's the weird episode of Cops at the end. All that's missing is a camera crew.

It's a good action episode for Archer and T'Pol, who manage to stop the Xindi and bring them back to Enterprise a split second after they left. T'Pol gets to shoot Loomis at point blank range in the middle of a knife fight, and nerve pinch him at the end of a chase sequence. As for Archer, well, you gotta love his untying Loomis only to punch him out and retying him.

LESSON: Don't hit a man while he's tied up.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Though it seems odd that the Xindi are suddenly allowed to time travel, the episode isn't as indulgent as others with the fish out of water humor, and the action's pretty good. Keeps you watching.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Costumes of the Day: Lord of the Rings

At my prodding mostly, my girls Gwen and Emma once came to a Halloween party as the craziest Lord of the Rings references ever.Gwen, doing a very good impression of Gollum, actually dressed as Andy Sirkis doing Gollum's motion capture work.

And Emma came as Frodo's finger, toppling down into Mount Doom.

You girls are preciousssssssssss.

Top 10 Most Terrifying Doctor Who Monsters

Not an easy list to craft. One child's behind-the-sofa favorite is another's reason for rolling his eyes. But try, I will, based on those I find to be especially effective at ramping up the tension, creeping you out or just giving you nightmares. Feel free to submit your own if something else tripped your Fear Meter.

10. Mr. Sin (from The Talons of Weng-Chiang)Don't know about you, but I've always been a little edgy around killer puppets. Especially when they don't have facial expression. Though the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era was steeped in gothic horror, few of the monsters actually creeped me out. Hearing Mr. Sin, with his little pig brain, snort in pleasurable anticipation of a Ripper-like murder is one of the exceptions.

9. Early Cybermen (from Tomb of the Cybermen)
Before they were turned into space hoodlums, the Cybermen actually had a good turn as fearmongers. They were huge, faceless, had a hard-to-understand distorted voice, and were always accompanied by creepy music. "You will serve... uzzzzzz." And to make things even creepier, they died in an explosive and gory shaving cream emulsion. Gah!

8. New Who Daleks (from Dalek)
Face it, though the Daleks are the Doctor's number one foe, they've rarely been all that scary. Starting out rather effectively as literally tin-plated despots and Nazi stand-ins, they soon devolved into laughable pepperpots with screechy voices. When they made their comeback in the new Doctor Who, things had changed. The new bag of tricks retconned into the Daleks made a single Dalek able to effectively lay waste to the Earth, and both the writing and the performances sold it.

7. The Empty Child (from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances)
Little Jamie gets infected by nanogenes that turn him into a little zombie able to infect others, giving THEM his childlike mind, wounds and gas-mask face. "Are you my mummy?" became the new creep-me-out of 2005. Children and puppets, eh? When Steven Moffat is good, he's very good.

6. Eldrad's hand (from The Hand of Fear)
The other Hinchcliffe-Holmes featured monster, Eldrad gets progressively less scary as he first turns into a woman, then a man. But as a disembodied hand, brrrr. I may be biased because this was my very first Doctor Who (and then my second, years later), but that creepy crawly hand was very effective. Tupperware and all.

5. Weeping Angels (from Blink)
Writer Steven Moffat scores another one with these statues that only come to life when you're not looking at them. Oh, the monsters aren't that scary to look at (indeed it's when you're NOT looking at them that they get dangerous), but the creepy feeling their premise generates gives them a place in this list. I actually know people who are creeped out by statues now.

4. Quill possessed by seaweed creature (Fury from the Deep)
Fury from the Deep hasn't survived to this day, but one of the few remaining clips is of Quill here silently screaming (actually, emitting a toxic gas) at the behest of the story's real monster. They keep running it in most clip collections and it SCARES THE BEJEEZUS OUT OF ME!

3. Autons (from Terror of the Autons)
The animated Auton mannequins are effective enough, but the ones in Terror take the cake. In this story, everything made of plastic could kill you. Inflatable mod chairs, plastic flowers, and this fellow here, and stumpy, ugly doll... that KILLS! This is pretty much the one that started morality cop Mary Whitehouse's campaign to cancel Doctor Who. Only took her 18 years.

2. The creature inside Sky (from Midnight)
A recent entry from Series 4, but I had to include it. We never see any "creature", but you won't believe how creepy someone repeating your words is. Then speaking at the same time you are. Then speaking ahead of you. Throw this thing in a truly claustrophobic episode and it becomes pure nightmare fuel.

1. The Beast (from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit)
"Don't turn around. If you do, you will die." If any Doctor Who monster ever came close to being the actual Devil, this is it. The monster's true appearance, that of a giant demon, is forgettable, but as a possessor of people, he wins my vote for most terrifying. A lot of it has to do with Gabriel Woolf's voice, who was great as Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars, but never this creepy. Plus: zombie hordes at his beck and call, access to all your deepest, darkest secrets, and instant tattooing!

Which DW monsters sent YOU scurrying behind the sofa?

Star Trek 690: Similitude

690. Similitude

FORMULA: Tuvix + The Child + Second Chances + Up the Long Ladder

WHY WE LIKE IT: Has a lot of heart.

WHY WE DON'T: Magical science.

REVIEW: Let's get it out of the way first, because it's a major issue when dealing with this episode - the science that enables it makes no sense. In fact, it's really on par with some of Voyager's science fantasy humdingers. Similitude presents a jellyfish-like creature that, injected with any DNA, turns into a fast-growing, short-lived clone that - and this is the really stupid part - has the memories of its donor at whatever age it currently appears to have! And Phlox had that dubious creature right there on a shelf all along! It is a ridiculous conceit that undercuts the emotional drama because in a sense, you're continually distracted by the clone's improbability. And yet, without the duplicated memories, you have no emotional drama at all because the clone would not be able to even generate a personality in 7 days. (Give the symbiote a telepathic link or something at least!)

Now, that all said, the episode still has a heart. We get to know "Sim" and young Trip simultaneously, though the scenes where he is younger don't really stand out. The 8-year-old Sim is engaging enough (with a scene that harks back to Archer's childhood in the pilot), but teen Sim has the wrong accent and attitude. When Sim reaches adulthood, we get into the real meat of the subject. By then, he's a thinking, even existential, being and we feel for him (despite his improbability). Through him, we explore the human condition: What would you do if you had only a few days to live? (Blow every secret apparently, as this plants the real seed for a relationship between Trip and T'Pol.) Would the brevity of that life make it more or less precious?

Archer's attitude may seem controversial, though I think it hits just the right (albeit very dark) note. In a very real sense, this is Tuvix done right. Archer threatens to "murder" Sim, but we understand why (Sim is grasping as straws and endangering Trip's survival, on which indeed hinges the Xindi mission). And Sim, in the end, comes to his own senses, and acts very bravely despite almost making a run for it. Instead of unwarranted murder (as in the Janeway/Tuvix story), we have a story of noble sacrifice.

The B-story about Enterprise being trapped in a particulate cloud and Sim coming up with a way for shuttlepods to tow a very crusty starship into safer space is a fun bit with nice effects. It's only really noteworthy because of Sim's contribution and his struggle to take Trip's place. That, along with T'Pol's farewell, Porthos' role, and Sim and Phlox's last exchange, makes the funeral and the beginning and end poignant and relevant. The episode is structured so that either version of Trip could be in that casket, but a switch would have been a little more drastic than similar "replacement doubles" in Deadlock or Visionary. Still, if Trip had had to go, that would have been an impressive accident/stunt to have him go out on. Whoa Nelly.

LESSON: Don't drink the milk passed its expiration date.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Affecting and thought-provoking, with fine, sensitive performances from the regulars (a hallmark of Levar Burton's direction), but the premise leaves something to be desired.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween Costume of the Day: Gulliver

Counting down to Halloween, the SBG presents some of the best costumes to appear at one of my famous (well, maybe not THAT famous) Halloween parties. First up is Sniper Ninja Bears' Bass, whom you might have seen as Mr. Incredible a couple years back on this very blog (also at that link, Emili as Death of the Endless). Here he is at another party as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver:Bass always surprises and I can't wait to see what he's got cooked up this year.

RPGs That Time Forgot... Miskatonic U. Graduate Kit

Miskatonic U. Graduate Kit
Tag Line: Artifacts from the world's scariest university
Makers: Chaosium Inc. for Call of Cthulhu

What is it?
A Keeper's Kit packaged with faux documents from H.P. Lovecraft's Miskatonic University, mostly played for laughs. Among the serious pieces, you'll find a short adventure scenario, a squat GM screen and character sheets.

Neat Stuff
-For fans of Lovecraft who nonetheless have no interest in playing Call of Cthulhu, this Kit has a lot of neat stuff, most of it tongue in cheek: a library card, map of the campus, diploma (with cardboard frame), poster, notepads, parking sticker, book covers, bumper stickers and more!
-Less cheeky, but no less interesting to Lovecraftophiles, there's a class catalog with authentic-seeming course curricula, and notes on the faculty and both undergraduate and graduate programs.
-The Gahan Wilson cover. 'Nuff said!
-The Keeper's Screen is well produced and being so stumpy, has less chance of falling over. The small homage to Lovecraft in between its tables is a nice touch.

Bad Stuff
-Half the product has little to do with the game per se. And it's not packaged so that a Call of Cthulhu Keeper would recognize it as his "kit" from seeing it on a bookshelf. It's like the two kits (graduate's and Keeper's) were just shrink wrapped together at the last minute.
-A small point, but all documents have a 1986-87 date stamped on them, from the class catalog to the diploma (below - click to enlarge). It makes the product at once dated and NOT DATED ENOUGH. After all, most CoC games take place in the 1920s. It would have been nice to either keep up that illusion (to use the documents as props) or leave the dates blank (giving Keepers a choice).
243: Emergency Hurdling
2 credit hours
Correct applications to ensure rapid movement during close pursuit. Specially considered: flying, teleporting, and invisible entities. [MR. MUSTOLL]
- School of Medieval Metaphysics Class Catalog

How I've used it
I haven't. I could never get a real Call of Cthulhu campaign going, so even the screen has never been used. And since I'm a little anal about cutting up products I shelled out good money for, I haven't cut up the library cards or stuck the bumper stickers on anything either. I HAVE used a scan of the diploma to create other diplomas though. Does that count?

In conclusion
A fun dossier full of fun props for Lovecraft fans who don't take themselves too seriously (if you own a Cthulhu plushie, then I'm talking about you). Actual CoC players will also find something useful, though you might not like to have to get all the humorous stuff to get it. There are so many separate pieces in the Kit, that I wonder if there are many full sets left and available.