Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tick-Tock Sick

Dig that clock.

I've been listening to this a bit lately as sort of a reminder to take it slow when I need to. This was a 45 that Jim Henson put out in 1960. It may have been used on Sam and Friends, but even the guy who made this video admits there's no evidence of that, just a supposition based on the time period and the style of the music. Jim's crazy beatnik side comes out in a novelty song about the relentless passage of time, something that was also the theme of his great 1964 short film Time Piece. It's also just fun because of Jim's lyrics, especially in that fast-paced middle section.

Swing it, clock.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N Is for Nice

I first heard Kermit the Frog say that it's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice. That's something I haven't always taken to heart, but I'm trying.

It's been hard for me to be nice over the years, because I think sometimes people mistake being nice for being weak and have a go at you. And sometimes, I am weak. My self-esteem and my emotional health have been so worn down over the years, and recovery isn't as easy as I had hoped it would be.

One interesting thing about my anxiety--one that surprises me--is that over the years I've become very uncomfortable with accepting compliments. I'm trying to work on that one. I used to default to the self-deprecating bit where you shrug off compliments or just don't agree with them, but I started to realize that doing that makes people feel like maybe they just shouldn't have given you the compliment in the first place. You know what eventually happens? You stop getting compliments, and it just confirms your belief that people don't think you're any good at anything. You create that in order to confirm your own biases against yourself.

I've started, at the very least, to just say thank you, even if I don't feel I deserve a compliment. And, in doing so, I've found myself much more receptive to receiving them. It's changing my attitude about myself in small but profound ways. That's something I really need right now, because I just haven't liked myself in a very, very long time. When you don't like yourself, you don't take care of yourself. And, well... no one else is going to take care of you for you.

I have a new doctor now, and she's very supportive, which is something I've never gotten from a medical doctor before. I saw her last week, and we were talking about some of my skin problems and such things, and I felt really, really self-conscious and embarrassed about it. I have lied to doctors in the past because I didn't want to feel like I was gross or like I just couldn't do certain things for myself. That attitude of always having to be strong or people think less of you. It's not helpful to lie to doctors. So I'm trying to be honest. She's aware of my mental issues, and she's very understanding. I feel like we're working together, rather than being talked to.

Anyway, I was there and I wasn't looking her in the eye, because when I'm afraid of appearing weak and needy I'm too uncomfortable to look people in the eye. We've talked about that. But I was telling her about these skin problems and doing that thing that I always do where I was sort of apologizing for existing and being a bother by existing, and I mumbled, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so disgusting."

She stopped me and said "Don't say that. You're a person, and we're all people, and we all have a right to be comfortable inside ourselves."

I literally stopped talking. I couldn't speak for about 10 seconds because I was trying not to cry. She asked if I was alright. And I said "I just don't always think of myself as a person, and when someone treats me like I am, it scares me."

Because it's evidence against the assumptions I have about life. I operate from a deep-rooted belief that I'm no good and that no one could ever love me or respect me or be kind to me.

That's why I'm so dismissive of compliments. They sometimes make me feel uncomfortable because they challenge what I "know" to be "true" about myself.

I need to be more receptive to receiving, or at least acknowledging, compliments and kind words rather than shrugging them off or shrinking away from them, because it makes it easier for me to love myself and heal myself.

Kermit was right. It is important to be nice. But it's as important to be nice to yourself as it is to be nice to others.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Yet another movie that I'm kind of surprised it took me this long to see; I remember when it came out here and everyone was talking about it. It's a sensual movie about the youngest sister in a Mexican family on a border town in the early 1900s. In accordance with family tradition, she will never marry, but is meant to stay home and care for her mother. She can only express herself through her food, but her emotional state when cooking affect the emotional states of those who eat it. I always think magic realism is an interesting device, and it's used especially well here. There's a sort of romantic grandeur that the story takes on, perhaps because it's framed as an old family legend. Very pretty. ***1/2

A new film version of Horton Foote's play, this one starring Cicely Tyson as the elderly woman who just wants to make it back to her childhood home. Tyson is a wonderful actress, and this is one of her great performances; she's very sincere and gets the desperation of the character across. Blair Underwood plays the son who is just trying to get back on his feet, torn between his somewhat aggressive wife (Vanessa Williams) and his mother, who longs to go home so badly and feels so minimized that she has to sneak away. This is a story that's told through a series of observant conversations, and this film is blessed with an excellent cast that finds the right note. An excellent movie, and not just excellent for a movie that premiered on Lifetime. ****

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #45

"The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(September 1963)

Tales of Suspense gives Iron Man five extra pages this month, giving the creators an opportunity to expand Tony Stark's world a little. Up until now, we've mostly marveled at his technology as he's fought off rival scientists, aliens, communists, and wizards. But this is the first time we'll see him (outside of his tangle with the Hulk in Avengers #1) fight a menace with super powers. Which makes Jack Frost Iron Man's first real supervillain.

This issue also introduces us to members of Iron Man's supporting cast: Harry "Happy" Hogan and Tony's secretary Pepper Potts. Happy is a former and unsuccessful boxer who saves Tony after he's pinned while crashing his race car; Tony actually has a fatal heart attack but averts it when he's able to get to a hospital and plug his chest plate into the wall. This being a Marvel book in 1964, Pepper is mainly just in love with Tony from afar and kind of bitchy about it. Happy is enchanted by her, but she rebuffs him, and the two of them not get along and trading barbs is basically their dynamic. Sort of a Howard Hawks thing going on. I like it a lot more than watching the Wasp flirt with everyone, or Jane Foster pining over her weird Thor fantasies.

The story mostly just settles in and establishes a new dynamic, and it moves at a comfortable pace instead of whipping through the story. That said, the villain isn't much of a threat and the big face-off is actually the least interesting part of the whole thing.

Jack Frost is actually scientist Gregor Shapanka, who works at Stark Industries. Iron Man walks in on him trying to steal the formula for Stark's tiny transistors, so the police come and take him away. Tony drops the charges, though, because of the brilliant work Shapanka has done in the past. Shapanka then goes on to develop cryogenics, basically, although the story doesn't use that word. Shapanka knows he can freeze something and stop its aging process indefinitely, then just thaw it out later. Extrapolating from there, he creates himself a freeze suit than can turn him into what you see above, which will make him indestructible somehow, because things like bullets just freeze before they touch the suit. He does what most Marvel villains are doing; creating amazing technology with applications that would benefit humankind and would make you rich just through patents and licensing deals alone, and using it to rob banks.

Shapanka is defeated when he tries to get revenge on Tony Stark, but find himself fighting Iron Man. Iron Man uses some of the parts in his belt to turn his searchlight monobeam (that round circle on his chest) into a heat ray, which holds Jack Frost back until Iron Man can use more parts to whip up what's essentially a transistor-powered miniature furnace. It melts Shapanka's ice and allows the police to grab him.

Good thing Iron Man just happened to be here and all that stuff.

Stray notes:

:: This issue establishes that Stark Industries' main plant is next to "the new baseball stadium" and the site of the then-upcoming 1964 World's Fair. Next Tuesday will be the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World's Fair, an event that I find especially fascinating in recent American history and which you should read a bit about. There's also a great episode of Disneyland that you should track down if you can, called "Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair," which is all about the many great animatronic exhibits Disney and his Imagineers built for various sponsors, including "It's a Small World," the animatronic Abraham Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, and those wonderful dinosaurs that are my favorite part. PJ Lifestyle has an interesting five-part series about it.

Man, we should really still be participating in World's Fairs. The next one will be next year in Milan. They still have these expos, America just doesn't take part in them anymore; Congress stopped allocating funds for it and the Bureau of International Expositions withdrew our membership in 2001.

This all makes the "new baseball stadium" Shea Stadium, which would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its opening day on Thursday of this week, except it was demolished in 2008.

This puts Stark Industries in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York. I love all of this stuff together, the mention of the World's Fair being constructed, etc. Not only does it put the Marvel Universe in a specific time and place that relates the the real world of the reader, but now, fifty years later, it puts it in a historical era that is very exciting and relevant to me personally. The World's Fair was a symbol of innovation; it's absolutely fitting to have Iron Man be that close to it. It feels vital and appropriate. Not only does Iron Man celebrate (though fictionalized) human ingenuity and technology, but Marvel itself is innovating comic books.

:: Tony, seriously.

You just had a near-fatal heart attack this morning. Could you please at least wait a day or two to light up the pipe?

:: Pepper pines.

It would help if he learned your name, toots. The first time we see her, Tony calls her "Kitty" instead of Pepper. I'm sure it's a mistake, but I just like to take it as another indicator of Tony's casual arrogance. Or maybe he's too busy making up ridiculous alibis for why Iron Man is always hanging around.

:: The way Don Heck draws women reminds me a little of romance comics, but he never did really draw romance comics, did he? Did you know he designed model airplanes after he got laid off for a year and a half from Atlas in the late fifties? I just read that today.

:: I still think it's hilarious how Iron Man is always attaching pieces to himself and slamming components together like Legos while fighting villains at the same time. It's just awkward and kind of silly. I mean, I know this is sort of cutting edge and up-to-date science fiction, but I'm from a later time and watching this now it's just kind of funny to see the powerful Iron Man scrambling to put pieces from his utility belt together and stopping to recharge himself. He's like a less-efficient version of Batman.

This is also the first time he uses his jet-skates, as seen in the top picture.

This issue is the first indication that Iron Man would benefit from a larger page count. Next issue, we'll be back to 13 pages, but eventually we'll get there. I've not ever actually read much of Iron Man past the first 10 or so issues, so I'll be interested to see what that looks like.

Next Marvels: Ant-Man vs. jazz music.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Song of the Week: "Crazy Eyes"

Songs for Becca #9.

Some people are surprised to find out that I sort of love Hall & Oates. I know, I know, they're supposed to be cheesy and feathered hair and all that. But I love them. I get caught up in their whole rock 'n' soul style. If you ever want to make me instantaneously happy, just throw on "Kiss on My List." It thrills me all over. But, you know, I don't mention it much because people just kind of have that "What the fuck are you talking about?" reaction.

Anyway, I play these guys a bit, and Becca doesn't care for their sound at all. I don't want to make some blanket assumption that she's not into soul music, but she doesn't really love a lot of the soul or R&B music that I have a tendency to play (unless it's from the 60s, because she likes a lot of that Atlantic sound). So, one day I'm playing this song, and Becca just suddenly asks: "What is this song?"

Me: "Why, do you dig it?"

Becca: "Yeah, it's really good. Who's that singing?"

Me: "John Oates."

Becca: "... what?"

Me: "This is Hall & Oates, it's just John Oates singing the lead."

Becca: "Wait, so... I like Oates??!"

I cackled about that for a good 20 seconds.

So, Songs for Becca #9: "Crazy Eyes," with Oates singing the lead, from their 1976 album Bigger Than Both of Us. (It actually follows "Rich Girl.")

This Was My Dream Job When I Was a Kid

Has anyone else watched Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge on Syfy? It's three weeks in and I'm really digging this show. This is exactly the show I've been waiting for from Syfy since they got into the reality competition business.

I've always, always, always been enthusiastic about creatures, and the contestants on this program are doing what I dreamed of for a long time: creating and fabricating realistic creatures and making them live. They've all dreamed of working for Henson (what creature enthusiast hasn't?). They're passionate amateurs or people who have been working on smaller projects. The show works like this: they're told what kind of creature they have to design and fabricate, put onto random teams, given two days to do it, and then given rehearsal time with puppeteers and/or creature operators. The creature then gets a professional screen test, and the results are judged by Brian Henson, Kirk Thatcher, and Beth Hathaway, all of whom have had extensive (and, for me, formative) experience in creature effects. The prize is a job at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

For someone like me, who is passionate but never pursued this, it's an utterly fascinating show. They sketch and design a creature, give it a personality and a bit of story, and they all have various strengths in different areas. The best contestants are the ones who are open to learning from the other contestants; for example, one guy said he often used tinfoil as a base for creature faces because the shapes were so interesting. His partner that week found that... unconventional. Why would you use something so cheap on a professional creature? She said it would never occur to her to do so. But she wasn't bitchy or condescending about it; she trusted his method, and that week, their creature won the challenge. She learned something new. I dug that.

I also like that the designers are sitting and taking into consideration where the operators are going to go and how much room they'll have to move and breathe. The creature that lost the first challenge lost in part because it didn't have much room for the operator inside; his movements were stilted, and when he came out of it, he was feeling faint. If an operator's movements are stilted and he's not breathing well, it limits the dexterity and personality of the creature--besides just being damn uncomfortable!

The second week was a dream: the designers had to create their own Skeksis and the screen test was on an actual set from The Dark Crystal (including the Crystal itself). The Skeksis have fascinated me since I was 6 years old. They were nightmare figures for me until literally a few months ago. I used to not be able to watch The Dark Crystal at night because of my fear of those damn creatures. What changed? I got the movie on Blu-Ray, and the resolution was so good that I found myself mainly fascinated with the puppeteering and operation and performances and how they were done. Fear gone.

A little bonus for me: the series is hosted by Gigi Edgley, aka Chiana from Farscape, a Henson production and my all time favorite TV show. It's wonderful to see you again, Pip.

Anyway, great show, especially if you're a creature geek like me. I recommend it.

Sunday Hottie 480