So Many Monkeys: SyFy Original Series “Helix”

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Category : Candid Conversations, Entertain Me, Featured, Reviews, Television

No monkeys here. Too many monkeys here. Is that a monkey? Frozen monkey field. These are not the monkeys you’re looking for. Look, we’ve been at this over an hour and still no monkeys.

Helix, SyFy’s newest original series, is an experiment in extremes: viral containment, climate, human isolation and monkeys. Set in a cutting-edge research facility in the Arctic, Helix could easily be a next-generation, X-Files spin-off, picking up after any one of the Black Oil Mythology episodes, or even Scully and Mulder’s Alaskan exploits in “Ice” (S1e7).

It is safe to say, should you be an X-Phile, you will once again enjoy the glacial-blue light of Friday night, sci-fi-thriller TV. So, grab some snacks, zip up your Snuggy and leave a hand free; you’ll need it for your chocolate-covered frozen bananas and a handily-placed stun baton. It’s Helix time.

It makes sense. Steven Maeda (X-FilesLost) serves as Helix executive producer alongside Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: TNG ) and Lynda Obst (Contact, The Fisher King), as well as Jeffrey Reiner (Friday Night Lights, Trauma) and Brad Turner (24, Hawaii Five-O), both of whom direct episodes: “Pilot” (S1e1) and “Vector” (S1e2), respectively. “274″ (S1e3) is directed by Steven A. Adelson (Haven, Sanctuary).

Psychologists suggest the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Naturally, Helix is bound to exhibit influence from so many involved, experienced and august, above-the-line raconteurs; Maeda’s past simply shines through the brightest, at least thus far in the series. SyFy tenderfoot and Helix creator/writer/co-executive producer Cameron Porsandeh finds himself very fortunate in his professional company.

Like many a thriller, our secretive, U.S. government provides unwitting and reluctant heroes plucked from deep within federal cubicle farms. This time, it’s the CDC; to boot, the protags, de rigueur, have a bevy of personal and interpersonal issues compiling their newly assumed duties. All this makes working in a lockdown facility full of sharp, shiny, metal instruments, and possibly run amok with infected monkeys, situated on an merciless, frozen tundra, if one could escape, extra fun.

Shot on-location in Montréal, Québec, including on a sound stage dubbed “The Freezer”, Helix effectively presents viable, unsettling, virtual feelings of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Add what Maeda calls “an invisible villain”, and you’ve got fear and panic factory-sealed in an icy gift box.

“You can’t touch it. You can’t taste it. But it’s there,” Maeda added in a SyFy press call with Helix actress Kyra Zagorsky (Smallville, Soldiers of the Apocalypse) who plays the emotionally severe yet painfully professional Dr. Julia Walker.

Zagorsky concurred about the fictional virus:

  • This virus … it’s something that they’ve never seen and that, in itself, is quite frightening in a story because this is something that happens all the time, a real life epidemic scare, you know. I mean, I think there was just a couple reported cases this last week in Vancouver of some deaths of people passed away with H1N1. You know, it’s something that’s really out there for people.

At the Ilaria Corporation high-tech research facility, Arctic Biosystems, the true menace is neither simian nor even meteorological in form; although the agoraphobic nature of nothing but white death for leagues and leagues does present itself as its own, haranguing character.

Banking on mankind’s truest fears, like recurrences of the Black Death, Spanish Flu, Chernobyl and even the still-worrisome Fukushima Daiichi fallout, Helix writers, and actors, understand they are straddling a very fine line between fiction and reality. Audiences like to be scared by the likes of Paranormal Activity and Fire in the Sky because it feeds some primal need for adrenaline in our luxurious, SUV seat-heater, caramel double-latte, fingerless cashmere iPad-gloves, modern world. Audiences know ghosts and aliens won’t actually harm them, mostly. Yet, a mysterious illness, emerging out of nowhere, killing indiscriminately and painfully at a near 100% mortality rate whilst fueling its autonomous need to propagate? That’s not just terrifying, it’s possible.

Interviewing Helix actors Catherine Lemieux (Blue Violin, White House Down), who plays Dr. Doreen Boyle with a hard realism, and Mark Ghanimé (Soldiers of the Apocalypse, Emily Owens, M.D.), who brings a confident approachability to the role of Major Sergio Balleseros, I was afforded an opportunity to chat with them about the story devices of fear and hope, human nature and dealing with mankind’s paramount fear of the unknown.

  • Catherine Lemieux:   Wow. Wow. I think that that’s just a reflection of life really like life is a balance of those two things in a sense of fear and hope through that and of conquering the fears that we get. So I think that’s kind of like a true reflection, the show kind of reflects the balance of life that we all try to achieve. And we all have fears and we all have to face them in that sense. So it’s a very, very human experience in that. It also being a Sci-fi experience and having this disease be completely unknown and completely from out of this world maybe, who knows.
  • Mark Ghanimé:    Exactly what Catherine says, and also the fact that if you look at some of the characters as we develop the story in the season some of the infected – the people that get infected in the base there is – there is the fear and the hope that these people from the CDC can help them. And, I mean, that kind of – it’s a very important story line on the secondary and the guest star characters in the show. A lot of times you don’t see too too much of the fear and the hope on the surface of the hero characters. But, we have that support from the guest stars on our show. You really get to see what the true feelings are of these people in the space. And I think, yeah, it is exactly human nature.

Does Helix face a difficulty down the line, putting a fictive slant on such a sobering subject? Mark Ghanimé espoused the following:

  • We’ve echoed this a lot on our previous interviews. The fact that what we’re doing in this show is not fantastical, is not supernatural, is not beyond the reach of the real world I think that in itself lends a built-in fear in that it can happen. You look outside your door and those things can occur. And I think that itself is enough to put the fear of God into people. Yeah, for lack of a better term.

Catherine continued with the idea of character-identification, linking that sympathetic emotion of fear between actor and viewer.

  • The possibility, I think, of it – the possibility of any situation that’s on television or on film or what have you is definitely the link with the audience in that sense. If an audience member can identify and see themselves in this problem that these characters are having then you really do have a connection.

“The primary goal,” directs the CDC’s head of Special Pathogens, Dr. Alan Farragut, played sternly by Billy Campbell (The O.C., The 4400) “identify the pathogen.” Narvik is the mystery pathogen. Narvik is its name, killier black goo is its game. Whether you get strain-A or -B is when the game comes afoot and that is up to fate, and the writers: Cameron Porsandeh (Helix), Misha Green (Heroes, Sons of Anarchy), Keith Huff (House of Cards, Mad Men) and Ronald D. Moore (Caprica, Star Trek: First Contact). Moreover, climate conditions at Arctic Biosystems are so heinous they wreak havoc on helicopter mechanisms, making it futile to depend on, or even hope for, outside help, thus adding desperation and panic to fundamental fear and those oh-so-gelled, previous feelings of claustrophobia and agoraphobia everyone is experiencing, including the pathos-brimming rats and monkeys.

Fair warning to the squeamish and the animal-empathetic. Animal lovers might spend a good deal of each show watching through closed hands. Lab rats and monkeys make regular appearances in various stages of distress and infection. SFX, MUA, CGI and robotics they might be; still, the visuals are disturbing and one wonders how much animal suffering some viewers will stomach before switching over to a much-needed dose of happy and silly via Archer or Bob’s Burgers on Netflix? It would be funny if the animal testing was conducted at Springfield’s “Screaming Monkey Medical Research Facility”, as seen on The Simpsons episode “HOMR” (S12e9). Alas, it is not. Still, Catherine Lemieux assuaged the concern about the animals on-set, assuring viewers everyone is well-cared for, without a doubt.

  • I just wanted to point out that we also had a vet on set. And she was great. She’s somebody that I could use a total resource. Her name was (Ev) and I don’t know her last name. but I considered that such a gift from production to be able to speak to somebody who actually is a veterinarian and who deals with that on a day to day basis. So that was really, really a great help.

Do your contact make you wish you were dead?

At the end of the interview, I asked both Lemieux and Ghanimé about an ad for Ilaria’s Infinity contact lenses. How does it link to the untenable situation at Arctic Biosystems. The query was originally posited by, of all people, a Chair of Ophthalmology at U.C. Davis. The good doctor and I wondered if it could have something to do with the inhuman, silver eyes of Dr. Hatake (played astringently by Hiroyuki Sanada). The question was responded to with an immediate aaahhs and hmmms; one could almost hear them shifting in their seats as they pondered my question. All to no effect, though; Ghanimé’s answer was curt.

  • I have a huge answer. It’s a juicy one. Are you ready for this? No comment. We cannot talk about that … said with all humor of course.

New episodes of Helix air on SyFy, Fridays @10p/9c

Follow @JennyPopNet   #Helix

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Are Today’s Cartoons Loony and Cynical or Are We Just Square?

Category : Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out, Geek Rants, Television

Could you imagine being a kid and meeting SpongeBob, if he were real? My mother and father would most likely warn you to stay away from that “strange kid.”

What does that say about today’s cartoon television shows? What has changed over the past 30-some years? Could it just be that we, as adults, are just out of touch with today’s cartoons, or has our society — and cartoons — grown a little more cynical and off the beaten path?

loonycartoons

According to KidsHealth, young children, ages 6 and younger, spend an average of two hours in front of a television screen, watching either daily cartoons or movies. That time doubles among kids ages 8 to 18. Consider the number of children using mobile devices every day has more than doubled in the past two years, and it would be easy to ascertain the influence of cartoons is much greater than it was when we were young. Personally, I did not have any mobile devices as a kid, much because none existed.

Now, comparing the likes of Spongebob Squarepants, Chowder and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack to 1980s and ’90s cartoons like Garfield and Friends, Thundercats and Care Bears may not be as bad of an experience as grandma would have with a Daft Punk concert; however, the takeaway from each experience could arguably be the same — not much.

 

Cartoons of Yesteryear Had More of a Moral Compass

Cartoons have traditionally aimed to not only entertain children, but to try and teach them something, be it a moral lesson or to encourage them to be more creative and active.

The Care Bears cartoon (1985-1988), for example, focused on being good to others and being honest. It helped children learn how to resolve differences and express their feelings. There were no off-the-wall antics, no farting noises or loud, destructive scenes. These elements are common in cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants and Chowder, which actually has an episode called “Famous Farts.” It would stand to argue that parents would like their children to learn more than the art of flatulence when watching cartoons. It is safe to say the 1980s and ’90s cartoons were, for the most part, fart-free.

Action cartoons 30 years ago, like G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man and Thundercats, also had a definitive line between good and evil and applied several lessons of what is right and wrong, along with the importance of teamwork to overcome adversity. These cartoons contained the essence of what we have come to know as heroes.

There’s no comparing the visual effects of cartoons 30 years ago to today’s cartoons. The advancement in animation and graphics have revolutionized how the common household television functions today. Perhaps that’s where our old cartoons stayed true; they weren’t saturated with noisy, action-saturated graphics. It’s like comparing an orchestra to a garage band.

For example, Ben10 (aired 2005-2008) centered around a typical boy who came upon an alien device which transformed him into various unearthly creatures with otherworldly powers, as the cartoon’s selling point. It’s comparable to Pokemon–the Rubix Cube of cartoons for adults today–in that numerous characters and high action compete for a child’s attention.

With 1980s and ’90s cartoons, the stories themselves captivated the minds of children, not the graphics and action. They were like an orchestra with simple, constructive tunes rather than the “garage band” type of cartoons you see today, where the louder and more obnoxious they are, seemingly, the more popular they get.

 

Beacons of Hope

Technology used in family life, on the other hand, is only moving forward. It is not uncommon for a family household to be equipped with a bundled service of technology, similar to what www.bundle.tv provides: feeding cable and high-speed Internet to the household. This, of course, provides access to an infinite plethora of games, shows and movies to every television, computer and mobile device under one roof. Thanks to technology like this, monitoring what children watch is something our parents can do with ease, compared to the past. There are ways of steering our children, especially our younger ones, toward more quality educational entertainment.

Not all cartoon shows today are bad. There are beacons of hope out there in the cartoon world. Two examples of cartoons with a moral compass are Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and Disney’s Phineas and Ferb. Shows like Dora help younger children learn the basic knowledge of society, but go a step further, teaching viewers a new language (Spanish) while also entertaining them.

Paste Magazine considers Phineas and Ferb to be the best kids show on television, citing its relative plots to everyday life, its intrigue to viewers young and old, and its cleverness in humor. The show doesn’t oversell its characters; it keeps them honest and playful, yet mindful of each other and their parents. Its graphics are simple, yet colorful and never overbearing. It is because of shows like Dora the Explorer and Phineas and Ferb, there is a Care Bear still smiling somewhere.

 

About the Author

Ryan Harrison works for a pop culture magazine where he writes gossip about celebrities… shamelessly.

Jen in Pen … and Ink! Thank You, Mel Henze!

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Category : Candid Conversations, Comics, Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out

Honours come in many a form and fancy. Some strive for awards and trophies, some shoot for honorary mentions and notice. Mine, like many a dyed-in-the-wool geek is to be a cartoon character … and not via those cheesy, “Turn yourself into a superhero!” ads, the product being little more than a selfie morphed by mildly impressive Photoshopping.

No, a truly organic, artistic character is what I crave and not necessarily a Marvel-style superheroine (Although, I do envision a metal bustier, Manson boots and coal-black locks, tipped with poisonous scorpions, à la Blackbeard’s fuse-tipped curls, with which to sting villains, those being folks using “your” and “you’re” interchangeably, as well as those asking really dumb questions like, “I can never remember. Which was first? The Civil War or the Revolution?” Scorpions, dispatch with the obstuse! Away!”)

An honest to goodness Sunday funnies, cartoon character suits me raw-ther nicely. Well, my Fairy Godmother waved her wand and Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! Unexpected and a true honour, this drawing was a thank-you from syndicated cartoonist Mel Henze, of GoComics new comic strip, Gentle Creatures. Weirdly, he nailed me with surprising accuracy! The parasol, the red shoes, the hat, sunglasses and flower! (Not the boobs, so much; but I love The Far Side approach to anatomy!)

An honourable homage! Artwork: Mel Henze, image courtesy of J.S.Devore

An honourable homage! Artwork: Mel Henze, image courtesy of J.S.Devore

I oft describe myself as Ken Burns, minus the funding. When something strikes my fancy, I write about it: Disneyland, Nordstrom, The Simpsons, Comic-Con, Colonial Williamsburg, Orange County, etc. Gentle Creatures struck my fancy and I wanted to write about it, where I scribe so often on geek culture, comics and animation: GoodToBeAGeek.com

Fortunate enough to interview Mr. Henze, I learned a great deal about his process, the maze and diligence that can lead to U.S. and international syndication and something called “panel-heaviness”. I met a wonderful little doggy named Jingles, a curious stinkbug named Cecil, learned not all rabbits are cute and cuddly and The Muppets’ King Prawn Pepe is on possible standby … for what, I’m not sure. Check back very soon for my full interview with Mr. Henze and his Gentle Creatures!

Thank you, Mr. Henze! Thank you for the introduction, to boot, Mr. Gene Willis @GoComics!

Star Wars, Steampunk and Smattering: San Diego Mini Maker Faire

Category : Conventions, Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Rants, Travel

Kittens, if the chilly, San Diego rain wasn’t a prompt to play indoors this December, the siren of invention, engineering,  technology and design was enough to lure a capacity-crowd of the curious to the first San Diego Mini Maker Faire. Ringing its knell from the warm beauty of the Spanish Mission-styled Del Mar Fairgrounds, this newest stop for the San Diego geek train proved bustling, hectic and promising. Besides, it’s Del Mar, kids! Even a permanent guest at the Hotel del Coronado needs a change of scenery once in a bit and this girl needs only an eighth of a reason to pop over “Where the Surf Meets the Turf”!

"In cosmological terms, S.D. Maker Faire was what is known as a big bang event." Photo: Jeff Kubina

“In cosmological terms … S.D. Mini Maker Faire was what is known as a big bang event.” Photo: Jeff Kubina

Billed as The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth, Maker Faire is a congress of the imaginative and a place to share, and sell, ideas and wares. Known as the Maker Movement, this creative-following is gaining steam worldwide, with Faires staged from the Bay Area to New York, from Dublin to Rome, from Tokyo to Sydney. December 2K13 was San Diego’s initiation with its first ever, and hopefully annual, Mini Maker Faire. (Why Mini? Based on New York’s version, there is much room to grow.)

An all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors, Maker Faire worldwide is a cerebral wonderland for anyone with an imagination and the temerity to do something with it. Like a geeky cocktail party, minus the good booze (although some form of vile, domestic, beerwater was available at John Dillinger prices), the gathering is, as Maker Faire claims, a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness … part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new.

Waiting in a very long, very slow, very wet line to enter San Diego’s first Faire, a talkative and cheerful USD student spoke authoritatively about the Bay Area venue, claiming it to be, with just a dash of good-natured condescension, “much bigger, way better and lots of actual symposia and lectures”. Fretting about the $12 entrance fee, wishing she had purchased the cheaper, $10 ticket online, she hoped San Diego’s effort would be worth it. Sizing up the hall’s exterior from under her fur-trimmed parka-hood, she sneered a bit and said with a twisted smile, “Kinda doubt it.”

Whilst the entry fee, plus $15 parking was relatively steep (Consider the Grand Dame of geek fests, San Diego Comic-Con, runs $12-$42/day) and the line was agonizingly slow (only two ticket windows), the cerebral and visual stimuli inside Bing Crosby Hall assuaged the lighter wallet and damp boots. Awaiting the rain- and line-weary crowds was a bevy of crafting booths, science experiments and technological demos, including a proverbial explosion in the popularity of 3-D printing: Yoda heads, TARDIS and Millennium Falcons proving the most popular products of the 3-D craze. The most inspiring, fascinating and useful of the 3-D buzz? Robohands: building appendages for those with hand anomalies, in mere hours! Don’t have $80K for a prosthetic? No worries. A set of blueprints and a 3-D printer (approx. $2K to purchase; a pittance to rent; maybe even one exists in your office) and you’ve got a hand by day’s end.

If one’s avocation, vocation or profession tends toward technology, real science, science-fiction or even steampunk, one would be pleased in the tightly-packed confines of the Faire. To boot, Comic-Con and WonderCon regulars would note some friendly faces on the periphery: San Diego Star Wars Society and San Diego R2-D2 Builders Club, to name a couple.

San Diego Star Wars Society: ask for Thomas! Photo: JSDevore

San Diego Star Wars Society: ask for Herr Thomas! Photo: JSDevore

San Diego Star Wars Society and San Diego R2-D2 Builders Club shared a space and, as one would expect of them, brought a fan’s enthusiasm to the franchises. SDSWS is like AA, for Star Wars geeks. If they put out a calendar, Tina Fey-as-Liz Lemon-as-Princess Leia-as-hologram would be their centerfold. Meet-ups are a way for fellow San Diego Star Wars freaks to gather and geek out over any and all things SW. From movie marathons to cosplay-and-props workshops, from collecting and gaming to convention field trips and even charitable events (notably Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation: Fighting Childhood Cancer, One Cup at a Time), the simple goal of this SoCal space sodality is to have a good time with like-minded dorks.

If Thomas, a kindly Swiss San Diegan manning the booth, is any indication of the folk you’ll meet at SDSWS, this coterie of Chewbacca connoisseurs would indeed be a pleasant diversion from the leagues of snarky, snippy, Star-savants out there, of both Wars and Trek. Welcoming, informative and inclusive, Thomas was anathema to so many Star Wars experts blitzing about the planet, propelled by their own hot air.  Smiling and eager to chat, hopeful to bring anyone into the fold, even the wholly uninitiated, Thomas offered no snorts of derision or condescending blinks when fielding even the simplest questions from children and adults alike. Enthusiastically, and with the slightest Teutonic accent, he shared the simple mission of SDSWS: “Come and join us to talk about Star Wars and have a good time!”

If the future isn’t your gig, but futuristic is, Gears & Roebuck: Rusty Junk Emporium and The San Diego Steampunk Community (including the Adventures of Drake & McTrowell: Perils in a Postulated Past) were on-hand, in very wee numbers, it should be noted, to hawk a few antique wares, tell some tall tales and share the collective mission of steampunkers worldwide: “We fight with invention, we fight with ingenuity. Full steam ahead! All aboard!” Our own Dr. Lucy, naturally was in Heaven; the gears in her own noggin whirring and ticking as she flitted between the two booths, trying on air-conditioned pith helmets and mechanized corsets, and testing the efficacy of thermometer-regulated moon backpacks and giant, sterling silver spoons for feeding her pet octopus Onslow, back at our Hotel Del.

Capt. D.D. Cumulus and Lady Opal Nightstream, I presume? Photo: JSDevore

Capt. D.D. Cumulus and Lady Opal Nightstream, I presume? Photo: JSDevore

Generally a well-read, sartorially-intense and whimsical crew, the Victorian votaries are tinkerers extraordinaire, taking cues from the likes of  Jules Verne to Bill Gates. Steampunk inspiration reaches back to Sir Charles Wheatstone and his stereoscopic imaging (predecessor to today’s 3-D imaging) and forward to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If you’ve yet to explore the world of steampunk, do acquaint yourself. If you’re already in the know, and living in San Diego, the San Diego Steampunk Community just might have the perfect, Phileas Foggesque, space-age tool to scratch that ruddy itch.

Will the Maker Faire make it to San Diego again next year? The Maker Movement is gaining traction in metropoli everywhere.  Judging by the Mars-level heat generated in this sardine-packed venue, it seems plumb stupid to not capitalize again on the funky, inventive and creative nature of San Diego folk. However, like Kim Kardashian’s jeans, the Bing Crosby Exhibition Hall was packed to the seams and ready to burst if anyone took a deep breath. My recommendation, promoters? Bigger jeans and maybe some air-conditioned pith helmets.

Air-conditioned pith helmet: a necessary device for any con! Photo: JSDevore

An air-conditioned pith helmet with every ticket! Photo: JSDevore

Full steam ahead! Ahoy! Abyssinia and Merrie Christmas!

 

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

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Follow @JennyPopNet #MakerFaire #StarWars #Steampunk

Switchmas Brings Cheer To Stupid Christmastown

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Category : Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out, Holiday, Movies, Reviews

When is $750K a pittance? When it’s Hollywood-oriented and gets you a feature-length film, shot over sixty-days and employs no less than the formidable and jauntily avuncular Elliott Gould (M*A*S*H, Ocean’s Eleven, Friends). When do you say Mazel Tov? When that film blasts out of the holiday film gate like Seabiscuit on fire and ignites a dynamite line straight to Hanukkah and Christmas movie mainstays.

Switchmas (2012, Von Piglet Productions) is so ding-dang cheerful, so sweet, so good-natured, so family-friendly, so inclusive, so sprightly, so hopeful that one just might puke from its syrupy tinge, if it was not such a fun film. Switchmas is Disney-quality, without the Disney-dollars. Should you find your list of holiday flicks in need of an update, would it kill you to add Switchmas? It slots in beautifully with the other tent poles holding firm the genre: Elf, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Christmas Vacation et al.

Cheer up, Seth Cohen! It's an O.C. Christmukkah! Photo: TheChanel

Cheer up, Seth Cohen! It’s an O.C. Christmukkah! Photo: TheChanel

Mr. Gould, known lovingly to so many of us as Jack Geller, Ross & Monica’s dad, isn’t the only point-of-light in the Little Film That Could. David Deluise (Wizards of Waverly Place, Stargate-SG1) portrays Max Finkelstein, an optimistic auteur on the fringes of Hollywood and president of Finkelstein Films: “Making the World You Want To See”. Max believes he has everything but “a name” to catapult him to Woody Allenesque fame and respect. (If The Reindeer From Planet 9 can’t get him an Oscar, what can?) As Max tells a potential client (art imitates life here), “Believe me! You don’t need big money to make a movie with big heart!” When “a name” drops in his lap, Max gets the filmic opportunity of a lifetime. The name appears in the form of has-been, aging, bubble-gum starlet Jennifer Cameo, best-known for her role as Desperate Jane (played by Julianne Christie).

“I am Desperate Jane! I have fans and a blog and I am in control!”

The conflict? To optimize Ms. Cameo’s last gasp of stardom, Max must personally rip out and eat his own son’s heart.

“Its’ the Finkelstein Christmas tree!”

“Finkelsteins do not have Christmas trees.”

“Why not?”

“You know why! We’re Jewish!”

“Well do we have to be?”

“Ira!”

“I mean at Christmas?”

“You know what? Heritage, tradition, culture. Who needs it?”

Resistance is futile. Therein lies the rub. Little Ira J. Finkelstein wants nothing more than to celebrate Christmas. “He’s obsessed with The Christmas!” To assuage this desire, Max and Mama Rosie agree to take him to Aspen for Christmas, land of twinkle lights, snowy windowsills, hot cocoa and Louis Vuitton luggage. Then, Miss Cameo is attached to The Reindeer From Planet 9 and Aspen go bye-bye. “If this goes good, we can go to Aspen every year”. Instead, even after a heart-melting plea from Ira about promises and mishpucha, Mom and Dad ship him off, to where else? “Florida, for The Christmas”. Now, a holiday with the Flah-ri-dah grandparents includes a dream grampy: supportive, doting and effervescent Sam Finkelstein, played to freylech perfection by Elliott Gould.

In classic, Shakespearean-style though, during Ira’s layover at the airport, on his way to “stupid Florida”, he meets fellow holiday misanthrope Mikey Amato: a poor, Christian boy of newly-divorced parents who -wait for it- wants nothing more than to spend Christmas on a warm beach with some rich grandparents. Poor little shnook, he’s on his way to “stupid Christmastown” for a week of gift-giving, parade-going, snowman-building and cocoa-drinking with his gentle, gentile, WASPy cousins, who, fortunately, haven’t seen him in quite a while. Boom! A quick switch of some nerd glasses, an old parka, bangs brushed down and the convenient exposure that even Ira’s own grandparents haven’t seen him in quite a while either, and voilà! You’ve got The Switchmas. “That’s no Finkelstein! It’s a different kid! What, is he blind?!”

There’s even a pup. Any good holiday film has a dog. This little guy is Killer, a.k.a. Mistletoe: a big-headed, sweet-eyed pit bull who brings to mind The Little Rascals’ Petey.

To boot, if you happen to have a grandparent-Jonesing, Switchmas can assuage that, too. Mikey’s all too-foreign poolside, beachfront, grandparent-sojourn in The Sunshine State is a non-stop party of chocolate geld, fruity drinks, positive affirmations and socks-and-sandals. To this girl, it sounds equally perfect to my own Christmastown luxuries.

(Can we talk?) Raised in a beautifully festive Christmas household, as in Mom could teach Martha Stewart a thing or two, I was annually blessed with a pile of presents that would make Santa blush and enough hugs and kisses for a Strawberry Shortcake episode; it was a veritable embarrassment of riches that happily continues to this day. What did I lack, however? Grandparents. Always feeling I missed out on something grand in this respect, characters like Sam and Ruth Finkelstein bring a broad smile to my gentile pearlies. Moreover, my paternal great-grandparents and grandparents were Jewish, hailing from Vienna, Austria and, eventually, New York City (The Bronx and Long Island): Jakob & Irma Gerstl, and Rudi & Rosalyn Gerstle, respectively. Because I never got to know them, my noodle has compensated over the years with a special love for vintage handbags, antique jewelry, The Golden Girls, Agatha Christie novels and Queen Elizabeth II. (What is in Her Majesty’s purse, BTW? Did you notice she even has it next to her on the floor in the 4G Royal Portrait? Dying to know. I bet Werther’s Originals, a Waterman pen and a surplus of Irish-linen hankies.) As Angela philosophizes on The Office, “Some of us don’t have grandmothers. Some of us have to be our own grandmothers.”

Best of all, for those of us endlessly searching Netflix’ “Recently Added” queue for the unequaled, quintessentially ’90s TV-series Northern Exposure, the fair Cynthia Geary plays Libby Wilson, the beautifully-blonde auntie with the rosy, mountain-air glow who awaits her, fortunately, long-unseen nephew in Christmastown, WA. True, she is meant to look haggard and toiled, the overworked mom of three and neglected wife to an alcoholic, unemployed schmegegy of a dad; but the MUA failed here, folks. Despite the tousled locks and the persistent frown, Geary (Northern Exposure, Smoke Signals) looks as fresh-scrubbed and nature-girl beautiful as she did twenty-plus years ago as Shelly Tambo-Vincour in the wilds of Cicely, AK. (Apropos, Northern Exposure was shot on location in Roslyn, WA; Switchmas was shot in Leavenworth, WA and Seattle.)

As with any good film serving as part-morality play, there are a few direct lessons involved. Unaware of the notable, Jewish contributions to Christmas song and film? Pay close attention to Christmastown’s Santa Claus, Murray Lefkowitz. (This means you, Garrison Keillor.)

“A Jewish Santa?”

“Who else would work on Christmas?”

Fretting about the melding of Hanukkah and Christmas on the proverbial celluloid? Meh. Christmas is a mélange, a spiritual and pagan amalgam of millennia stewed in winter celebration, thanksgiving and festivity. The Christmas we know today was not celebrated until 4thC C.E., when Emperor Constantine defected from his pagan beliefs and essentially founded Christianity. He declared the 25th as the certifiable day of joy to coincide with the same time during which the ancient Babylonians, Romans, Celts and Norsemen had already been celebrating for eons, knowing full well he would not be able to stop them from said-jubilation and Bacchanalian endeavours.

In the end, I am a wordsmith; words mean something to me and are not to be tossed about hither and thither. Therefore, I refrain from the ignominy of such phrases as “government aid”, “literally starving” and, worst of all, “instant classic”. However, I am finding it sehr difficult to refrain from the latter. Switchmas might just be that, an instant classic. Only time will tell, and JennyPop’s annually-updated, recommended, Christmas-viewing list.

Abyssinia and Merry Christmas, Ira J. Finkelstein!

Because this stuff is important, especially if your name is listed:

Directed by

Sue Corcoran

Written by

Douglas Horn

Angie Louise

Sue Corcoran

Cast

David Deluise as Max Finkelstein

Elijah Nelson as Ira J. Finkelstein

Elliott Gould as Sam Finkelstein

Angela DiMarco as Rosie Finkelstein

Justin Howell as Mikey Amato

Cynthia Geary as Libby Wilson

Available via DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video

Follow @JennyPopNet #Christmasfilms #Switchmas

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

JennyPop.net  jenniferdevore.blogspot.com and amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore

A Geek’s Thanksgiving: Thankful for TV, Tofurkey and Snoopy

Category : Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out, Geek Rants, Holiday, Movies, Television

Kittens, I will admit this only once a year: San Diego is a bore, from Hallowe’en to New Year’s Day. Naturally, for we whom haunt the Hotel del Coronado, there is actually quite a bit to do here during the Holidays: ice skating by the sea, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps at Babcock & Story, Christmas tree gazing, unique gift shopping and Victorian, holiday decor throughout every nook and cranny of our glorious, 125-year old resort. Still, and some of you, especially you wheats in the Midwest, might prefer this, the weather is predictably mild: average low of 54, high of 69 and 75% chance of sunshine. Sounds great, but growing up a Beantown gal, I need some autumn leaves, heavy rain and a reason to wear some amazing, vintage wool coats. The fam, Dr. Harvey, Mother Hildy and Big Bro Hugh are still in Boston; funny enough, they’d rather be here! (Fortunately, our own Dr. Lucy and I will be headed to San Francisco this Christmas for the annual Dickens Christmas Fair! Plenty of  rain, wool coats and, for our Dr. Lucy, lots of steampunk! Check back in December for a full report and, natch, a slideshow!)

Let this ghostdame tell you nothing is more glorious than an autumn day so perfect it is of filmic proportions: like the art department hand-painted every leaf the perfect shade of red, sprinkled Victorian window panes with the just the right amount of raindrops and yellow gels were placed on all the interior lighting, making a seaside coffeehouse more like Grandmama’s Gingerbread Kitchen, alive with the scents of espresso, cinnamon and nutmeg. This is generally best experienced in Annapolis, Boston or Williamsburg, not Southern California. Of course, there are a few things which make the Holidays a little more festive in swingin’ SoCal, and in those I partake happily and heavily.

PSL, Pumpkin Spice Love Photo: JSDevore

PSL, Pumpkin Spice Love Photo: JSDevore

Now, worshiping at the foamy foot of Starbucks, I await the legendary Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) all year long; yet, it’s all so short-lived, hidden behind the day-after-Halloween red-cup brigade. Design a Thanksgiving cup, Sbux, if you please: tobacco background with golden-yellow and brick-red swirls steaming up the cup, all topped with a turkey silhouette. Ahh, yesss. I can see it now. Well done, me!

In fact, it is somewhat odd, this Thanksgiving penchant of mine, considering the fact that I am a vegetarian (since about the age of fifteen … let’s see, that’s about 1905) and a Native American: 1/8 Choctaw … so, I may make all the “Feather, not dot” and “Casino, not convenience store” jokes I want. Oh, don’t get your p.c. panties in a proverbial bunch. I’ll bet there was a joke around some dinner table in Bangalore during Diwali that had the potential to offend me, had I known of it. Let’s all have a sense of humour, shall we?

Apropos to annoying political correctness, similar to Wednesday Addams in Addams Family Values or Bobby Hill in King of the Hill‘s “Spin the Choice” I have certainly been a teenaged, Thanksgiving pain-in-the-ass. As a young punk I oft protested the massacre of Native Americans, the buffalo and the turkeys, all from the courageous seat of a warm and comfortable, upper-middle-class dining room, free of any consequence other than eye-rolls served up alongside King’s Hawaiian rolls. These mild, semi-public assertions were usually manifested via either wardrobe choices (Ralph Lauren southwestern-motif dress, turquoise jewelry, fringed Frye boots), pouting and/or preaching (the year I went veggie), or making my own, authentic succotash (vile disaster). Of course, as the turkey goes, nothing has chilled my tenacity there. I have not partaken in a Thanksgiving turkey or ham since my early teens. To that end, I also will not break a wishbone; the concept makes me shudder.

In the end, I have happily come to realize that other people’s habits are not my concern and it is awfully pompous of me to declare anything at a family holiday, however glossy my hair may be that day. I eat my Tofurkey (Thanks, Mom!!) as others eat their trusting birds and large, baby-pink, farm animals with the suspected I.Q. of a human six-year old and we all share copious amounts of wine, candied yams, coffee, laughs and familial love.

For us vegetarians, Snoopy’s traditional Thanksgiving feast is even better than Tofurkey!

This is where I cease the obligatory “I am thankful for … ” liturgy. I am most thankful for the fact that I neither need nor care to share my deepest and most emotional Thanksgiving musings with a bunch of strangers. My beloveds and I already know the score and it need not be spake thusly.

Oh, wait a minute, I am thankful for one thing I feel I must share. I am Thankful, with a capital “T”, for Television, with a capital “T”! Well, television and film. To wit, as I hope I helped a few lost souls find their way through the Hallowe’en television mist, I humbly offer a Tofurkey platter piled high with moist and steamy media goodness. Happy Tofurkey Day, America!!

Poor little Geek Girl; she never had a chance. Photo: JSDevore

“I don’t think watching TV was the pilgrims’ original intent on Thanksgiving.”

-Diane Chambers, Cheers, “Thanksgiving Orphans”

 

  • Fave Thanksgiving TV Episodes!

King of the Hill “Spin the Choice”

Bob’s Burgers “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”

The Big Bang Theory “The Thanksgiving Decoupling”

The Simpsons “Bart vs. Thanksgiving”

South Park “A History Channel Thanksgiving”

Frasier “A Lilith Thanksgiving”

Northern Exposure “Thanksgiving”

Little House on the Prairie “The Little House Years: Part I”

American Dad “There Will Be Bad Blood”

Outsourced “Temporary Monsanity”

Cheers “Thanksgiving Orphans”

Rugrats “The Turkey Who Came to Dinner”

Scrubs “My Day Off”

Seinfeld “The Mom and Pop Store”

The Bob Newhart Show “Over the River and Through the Woods”

WKRP in Cincinnati “Turkeys Away”

Friends Any Thanksgiving episode …

“The One With the Rumor”

“The One With All the Thanksgivings”

“The One With Chandler in a Box”

“The One With the Late Thanksgiving”

“The One With Rachel’s Other Sister”

“The One Where Ross Got High”

“The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs”

“The One Where Underdog Gets Away”

“The One With the List”

“The One With the Football”

 

  • Fave Thanksgiving Films!

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Garfield’s Thanksgiving

Hannah and Her Sisters

Home for the Holidays

Martha Stewart Holidays: Classic Thanksgiving

An Old-fashioned Thanksgiving

Addams Family Values (“The Turkey Song”)

 

Did I forget anything, cats? Send me a Tweet @JennyPopNet!

Abyssinia, kids! See you at San Francisco’s Cow Palace for the Great Dickens Christmas Fair!

 

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

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Batman Roundup: The Evolution of Villain Costuming

Category : Featured, Geek Out

There have been four “eras” of Batman in film. The first was the Adam West classic from the 1960′s TV show, directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Then came the quick succession of four films by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Most recently, we’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s gritty reboots. You can chart the progress of Batman movies in many ways, but my favorite is to look at how each director costumed the villains the Dark Knight faced. Here are four of our favorite Batman bad guys and the attire they created havoc in.

 

Bane

Photo Credit: Dave Mathis

Photo Credit: Dave Mathis

The most drastic difference in presentation has to go to Bane. Bane was presented in Batman & Robin as a muscle-bound lackey to Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze without any lines and with a serious luchador mask. He was seen again in The Dark Knight Rises as a pedantic mastermind, still muscly, but with only a small mask around his mouth and a sheepskin coat over military fatigues.

 

Photo Credit: Chrysler Group

Photo Credit: Chrysler Group

What’s interesting about Bane in these movies is that he’s actually represented quite well in both: his costume is spot-on in the first and his character is very close to correct in the second. Essentially, if you combine the cartoon-ish looks of Schumacher’s Bane and the devious intellect of Nolan’s, you should get something close to what Bane is like in the comics. He dresses like a wrestler and is an 8 foot tall monster, but he’s also an extraordinary genius.

 

 

Catwoman

Photo Credit: DC Nerd

Photo Credit: DC Nerd

While not technically a villain in most adaptations, Catwoman was certainly wicked in the 1966 movie. Lee Meriwether was cast to replace Julie Newmar, the first actress from the series, and donned the classic sparkly ensemble, complete with low belt, clawed gloves, and the iconic eared headband. Over thirty years later, the Catwoman of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is one of the best creepy/crazy/sexy villains in movie history. With her patchwork pleather body suit and starkly pale skin, she is Burton-esque to the max.

 

Photo Credit: Jordi Motlló

Photo Credit: Jordi Motlló

I wish I could skim right over Halle Barry’s version in the truly horrendous movie, Catwoman, but I cannot. Wait, you know what, yes, I can. I justify this with three reasons: 1) the character and story had nothing to do with DC comics; 2) her stripper-riffic costume is too much to bear; and 3) you can’t make me. Moving along to Nolan-verse…

 

 

Photo Credit: Horustr4n

Photo Credit: Horustr4n

When we heard that Disney darling Anne Hathaway had been cast in the newest Batman movie, some of us were a little worried. She’s just so smiley. I, myself, was rather pleased with her slick and approachable performance. Her monochromatic black jumpsuit is a little safe in terms of costuming, but it fit well with Nolan’s utilitarian approach to the Batman universe. With her high-tech thievin’ goggles that pivot into cat ears atop her head, she’s a stylish rendition of a favorite Batman anti-hero.

 

Two-Face

Graphic Credit: JD Hancock

Graphic Credit: JD Hancock

When making his Batman movies, Schumacher reportedly encouraged his actors to think of the movies as though they were cartoons. This is bizarrely evident in Batman Forever, wherein Jim Carrey’s Riddler prances about in a spandex jumpsuit and red hair. Where Burton embraced the Noir-like aspect of Gotham, Schumacher embraced the slap-stick of the cartoons.

 

The suit and makeup of Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face in Batman Forever is straight out of the cartoon, down to the split-personality fabrication change right down the middle. Ostentatious and wild and leopard print on one side and business on the other, you have to give them credit for going all-out.

Nolan chose to go another route, focusing on Dent before he became a madman. His Two-Face is half burned a fire and, as such, bears the scorched flesh and exposed muscle and bone of third degree burns. This is the most compelling re-vamp, in my opinion, because we see the event happen in the movie and his wounds remain symbolically open once he is transformed into a villain.

 

Joker

I definitely saved the kicker for last.

Cesar Romero played The Joker in the series and in the 1966 Batman. His kooky demeanor was matched by a truly kooky look: the clown makeup and bright colors were straight out of the comics. When Jack Nicholson played The Joker in the 1989 Batman, his costume was similar to Romero’s, except that his manic smile was a permanent scar instead of a facial expression. He also traded the green shirt beneath the purple suit for an orange and teal, eye-burning combo (and some of his kookiness for leering menace).

Flash forward forty years: Heath Ledger’s downplayed, shabby purple suit and green vest blended into the background as we were captivated by the terrifying magic happening on his face. Ledger’s expressions of insane glee were bolstered by the genius makeup that accompanied them. The scars, attributed to a botched surgical fix for acid burns in the 80′s movie, are left mysterious in their origin and accentuated by intentionally sloppy makeup, as though the Clown Prince of Crime had slapped it on in a fit.

 

In the progression of these beloved villains, their costumes communicate not only what decade they’re portrayed in, but also the ways that their characters have been reinterpreted. From the depictions of Catwoman’s slinkiness to Joker’s madness, the costumes tell a story that we can see (and cosplay).

 

Marie Sumner is a writer and general nerd. She loves cosplay, comics, cartoons, sci-fi, and a host of other fun stuff. She writes for Wholesale Halloween Costumes, resource for costume goodies from fake blood to Santa suits.

Halloween Time at Disneyland! Party in the 666!

Category : Featured, Geek Out, Holiday, Travel

Kids, as a ghostie girl, clearly, this is the time of year I come alive, as it were. The only thing better than a blustery, rainy day here at the Hotel Del is a blustery, rainy day up at Disneyland. I’ve been on a perpetual Disney mission since good ol’ Walt opened the green gates in 1955, so why not entreat anyone I can, ghost or otherwise, to experience the magnificent transformation of The Happiest Place on Earth into The Spookiest Place on Earth: Disneyland’s Halloween Time?! Poor Dr. Lucy. She’s already my de rigueur recipient of constant, obsessive, pro-Disney blatherings. The Holidays are certainly no easier for her.

Sleeping Beauty's Chilling Castle Photo: Loren Javier

Sleeping Beauty’s Chilling Castle Photo: Loren Javier

Now, I write specifically of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California; Walt Disney World, well, it’s not the original. Disney California gets a bedeviling, magical, spooky, pumpkin-bedecked makeover, as do all the parks. Nyquil trip-worthy, giant Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy Jack O’Lanterns greet you at the main gate and welcome you into a fall fantasy. ‘Tis best to go at night, as it is  still a tad warm here in sunny SoCal to achieve a true autumnal glow. October 1st temp this year? 100 degrees in Anaheim! Of course, maybe that’s why we Disneyland dorks love Halloween Time so very much. Disney is fantasy, after all, and weather fantasy is a beautiful thing.

From Main Street’s straw-adorned gas lampposts to Space Mountain’s surprisingly heart-stopping Ghost Galaxy (I’ve seen more than a few terrifying ghosts in my day and even I screamed with such true terror, without the ability to ever catch my breath in between banshee calls, I exited with a monster headache and a shredded, sore throat. Gnarly, awesome fun!), everything is infused with an orange-and-gold, haystacks-and-scarecrows, SpiderCider n’ pumpkin muffin kind of elan. Even the popcorn boxes are anew with Gothic imagery. You’ll find ghostly and spooky, seasonal offerings from Jack O’Lantern lollipop cakes at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café on Main Street, to Jack Skellington hoodies and Haunted Mansion home décor throughout New Orleans Square.

The Haunted Mansion, Skellington-style. Photo: Loren Javier

The Haunted Mansion, Skellington-style. Photo: Loren Javier

The Haunted Mansion, above all, receives a dressing up one simply must see in person. Whilst divine and inspiring on its most average day, the manse brings new awe to the darkly-humoured and sartorially gothic flutterbys whom tend to use the manor less as an amusement park ride and more as an interior design sketchbook. September through January, the Mansion looks like the aftermath of a Tim Burton Army’s coup d’etat. Using “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as its seasonal overlay, the neoclassical Victorian estate recounts the tale of pauvre Jack Skellington and his empirical quest to understand himself and his raison d’etre. ‘Tis a Samhain switch that would make even Kafka proud: creepy crawlies, existential confusion and brooding philosophes.

The chateau has been overtaken and rechristened Haunted Mansion Holiday here in Anna’s House (Anaheim) and Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare at Tokyo Disneyland for my Japanese, Ju-on horror pals, Yoshiko, Akiko and Aii. Konnichiwa, guys!

Jack and Sally, Zero, the mayor of Hallowe’en Town and his loyal citizens, evil Oogie Boogie and his miniature minions Lock, Shock and Barrel and, of course, Sandy Claws have made the palace their own. Doom Buggies carry Nightmare devotees whom will not only spy favourite replications and vignettes from the holiday mainstay film, but whom will search over and over, enduring sadistically long and serpentine lines to get inside, for details and surprises hidden nicely in plain sight for the more obsessive fans. Haven’t had a chance to get inside, yet? No worries. Allow Moi to offer a wee Holiday Haunted Mansion slideshow!

Apropos to those devilish lines, there are plenty of visual stimuli outside the Neoclassical Italianate dwelling to keep one’s creative centers electrified as you shuffle forward at an imperceptible speed: impaled Jack O’Lanterns on an ivy-laden hillside, scores of flickering candles, skull-festooned, black-ribboned Christmas wreaths and a plethora of tombstones, cemetery statuary and goofy epitaph puns. (Crave an archivist’s details about the original architectural impetus for the manse: the 1803 Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore? Voila … Disneyland Nomenclature.)

Should you be fortunate enough to live near Disneyland and even more fortunate to be an annual passholder, get thee to The Spookiest Place on Earth forthwith. Plan on long lines, especially at Space Mountain’s Ghost Galaxy and The Haunted Mansion, buy some popcorn to kill time and take some pictures whilst you wait. I do! Pirates of the Caribbean is usually a pretty mellow wait and though it’s not got a Hallowe’en rework, it’s still pirates. You have to do pirates for Hallowe’en!

Columbia Sailing Ship, staffed with undead, pirate monkeys? Photo" Loren Javier

Columbia Sailing Ship, staffed with undead, pirate monkeys? Photo” Loren Javier

If you’re not an annual passholder, expect a terrifying ticket price into the park. Of course, you can always put that admission toward said-pass and imbue yourself with the heady incense that is Disney all year long. They’ll apply the ticket-price to your new pass and for just a minor monthly stipend, Disney will own your ass forev … I mean, offer you endless entertainment for years to come, plus parking. (Fair warning: If you plan to have a pass for the long term, it is best to renew your pass every year, prior to the expiration date. You can upgrade easily, with a slightly higher, modified, monthly fee; but there are often renewal discounts. Also, you maintain your monthly debits, keeping cost management of the pass pretty regular, minus upgrade costs. If it expires, even by a day, you will be required to buy anew; that means a one-day ticket price/down payment of about $80.00.)

If you do have a pass, besides the useful 10% to 20% dining and merchandise discounts you’ll receive, depending on the pass, you’ll get a significant discount on advance-purchase tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party, excepting Oct. 30th & 31st. What? You don’t know of Mickey’s Halloween Party?! It’s a special, ticketed event ($57.00-$74.00) throughout the month of October. The park closes early to make way for a fab, private-ish party! You may dress up if you like (within guidelines) and experience a whole different Hallowe’en overlay throughout the place: a spooky, blue, ghostly Mark Twain and Pirate Ship Columbia drift atop the fog-laden Rivers of America; costumed Disney characters pose for pictures; safe and healthy trick-or-treating stations await your little ones; and Halloween Screams Fireworks explode over a multi-hued Sleeping Beauty’s Castle! Dates are plentiful, but tickets sell out fast! Learn more here: Mickey’s Halloween Party!

If you find you cannot get to the Park, you can at least treat yourself to a little bit of Disney dread décor at home. Still, as the spooky squatters of The Haunted Mansion say, ditto for Lucy and Moi here at The Del, “there’s always room for one more”. So, hurry back and don’t forget to bring your, death certificate.

Disney shopping not going to do it for you? My pally JennyPop’s got a great slideshow for you then!

No tricks, but loadds of treats await you this Halloween at Disneyland! Photo" Loren Javier

No tricks, but loads of treats await you this Halloween at Disneyland! Photo” Loren Javier

Abyssinia, spooky cats!

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

JennyPop.net  jenniferdevore.blogspot.com and amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore

Follow @JennyPopNet

5 80s Tech That Might Just Come In Handy Today

Category : Bytes, Featured, Geek Out, Tech

Graphic Credit: Alejandro Molina B

Technology sometimes feels like it’s moving at the speed of light because as soon as something is released there is a more advanced version in the works. We’ve made our way through a lot of technology over the years, but I thought it would be fun to look at some 80′s technology you might want if you collect things from the past and it could even come in handy today.

A videocassette recorder (VCR)

Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary

I don’t even know if you’ll remember what a VCR looks like anymore, but when they came out in the 80′s they brought a lot of joy to many people. Why would you still want to have one these days? Think about all those old movies and TV shows you’ll be able to find at random garage sales across the country. I’m sure most people would love to watch something again only it’s impossible to find on DVD. I doubt you’ll be able to use it to record TV shows unless you have a really ancient set-up.

Video Game Consoles

Photo Credit: Richard Rutter

If you look on websites like eBay you’ll find that old game consoles still fetch a good price. They look very cool and add a retro feel to your computer room, but you’ll also get to enjoy those games you were addicted to during your school years. Even though the games might be no match for the ones you can play on a PlayStation 3 or Xbox One, they will still let you have hours of fun. Space Raiders is still a cult classic and there are hundreds more where that came from.

 

A fax machine

Photo Credit: Collin Anderson

Most people who grew up in the 90′s have probably never seen a fax machine in their life. They blasted onto the scene in the 80′s and became very popular, especially with businesses that will probably still use them today if they’re a little outdated. Think of them as an old school way you send a text message. Even though there are easier ways to send messages these days some retro junkies are picking up old fax machines because they look attractive around the home.

A cordless phone

Photo Credit: Pat Pilon

Before mobile phones hit the shelves people were in love with cordless phones. It finally meant someone could walk around their home while speaking on their handset. Standing in the same spot for an hour during a long telephone call wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. These days you might not have a land-line because your smartphone can take care of everything, but if you do it might be a good idea to pick up an old cordless phone. Even though they look old they’re still very attractive, especially if you like to live in the past.

Apple Macintosh

Photo Credit: Moparx

Apple is one of the most powerful companies in the world, but I suppose we all need to start out somewhere. You might have an iPad, an iPod, an iPhone, or a Mac computer, but do you have a Macintosh computer from the 80′s? If you love Apple you might want to think about picking one up because it’s a great collector’s item. It will also help you realize how much computer technology has improved in the last few years.

 

An antique collection

As soon as new technology is released we fall in love, but a few years later we throw it away because it becomes old and impractical. It’s only many years later when we realize we should have kept everything after all. Retro technology is a big deal and we love anything with a few years under its belt. If you want to add a few cool things to your retro collection you should think about getting some of the technology we’ve spoken about today.

 

Author Bio: Today’s guest author, Jenny Wadlow, is a freelance blogger who often shares insight on topics related to technology and its changing trends. She writes for Cellphone Unlocker, a company providing phone unlock codes. She is a voracious reader and her other hobbies include gardening and swimming. You can follow her on Twitter @JennyWadlow.

5 Legendary Fighting Games that are a K.O.

Category : Featured, Game On, Geek Out, Reviews

Graphic Credit: Nemo

Fancy mastering a few kicks and a couple punches on someone? Well, doing so in the real world might land you into serious trouble. hey, that’s why you have got the virtual world to fall back on. What follows is a list of 5 awesome fighting video games of all time that deserve the attention of every gamer out there.

Dead or Alive 2

If you love fighting games, chances are that you’ve definitely played Dead or Alive at least once in the past. The game debuted in October 1999 and was released on February 2000 for Dreamcast and later for PS 2. Unlike the first Dead or Alive game, Dead or Alive 2 had better graphics and many more interactive levels. It was hardcore, had newly added costumes, stages, and voices to the mix, with the game having a rather smooth look and enhanced game play. Besides, the character models are what actually stood out – the hair, the costumes, the tassels and, of course, the rather well endowed female models, which was another reason behind its enormous following. With a fast and fun fighting system, cool graphics, and stunning models, Dead or Alive 2 definitely deserves a place on this list.

Street Fighter II

Graphic Credit: Gamerscore Blog

No doubt, we all enjoyed Street Fighter III: Third Strike as it was a much improved version of its predecessor and, of course, we also loved having a go in Super Street Fighter IV, but there’s no denying the fact that no Street Fighter game had more impact than Street Fighter II. One of the best selling games of all time, Street Fighter II advanced the genre of fighting games and literally paved the way for majority fighting games that we enjoy playing today. Street Fighter II opened the door to many new features such as combos, special moves, and so on. The game was so popular that developers Capcom delayed creating a full-fledged sequel. Instead, they revised the same game, adding new characters and revising the game’s mechanics. The updated versions included Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Super Street Fighter II and Hyper Street Fighter II.

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe

Graphic Credit: Paulo Henrique

If you enjoyed playing Mortal Kombat, wait until you have a go at Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, one of the best fighting games made to date. See your favorite Mortal Kombat stars like Scorpion, Sub-zero, and Shang Tsung battle the likes of superheroes from the DC Universe such as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and other such popular DC legends. The game enables players to choose their side and challenge their opponents with a new fighting system including Freefall Kombat and Klose Kombat modes. What’s more, each DC character possesses their unique signature attacks straight out of the comic books, to take down opponents. For all Mortal Kombat and DC fans out there, this terrific game is a sheer treat.

UFC Undisputed 3

Graphic Credit: THQ Insider

If you’re looking to play a fighting game you can relate to and want something more original than shooting fireballs and doing triple-flips in mid air, MMA games are more of your thing. If you love MMA, UFC Undisputed 3 is one of the best, richest and most graphically detailed fighting games you could lay your hands on. Players can pick from a roster of nearly 150 fighters across seven weight divisions in a realistic setting, mimicking the organization of real mixed martial arts. UFC Undisputed 3 offers a number of different modes, such as a streamlined career mode, online play, stamina simulation mode and competition mode, as well as price mode – which allows players to mash their opponent’s head into the ground and perform other moves legally impossible to perform in standard UFC. With its intense action, the brutal combat, stunning graphics, the impressive visuals and increased accessibility, UFC Undisputed 3 is definitely top league material.

Tekken 3

Graphic Credit: Henry9112

Released for Arcades in March 1997 and for PlayStation in March-September 1998, Tekken 3 is widely considered one of the greatest games of its genre. While maintaining the same core fighting system of its predecessors, Tekken 3 brought in many improvements as far as graphics, animations, modern music, and new characters were concerned. Compared to previous Tekken versions, this version was more reasonable and realistic. Air combat was made more controllable and players could now witness quick recoveries from knock-downs and had more options for escapes from tackles and stuns. The game also features two bonus characters – Gon and Doctor Bosconovitch.

Amanda Scott is a freelance blogger who enjoys sharing her ideas and experiences online. She writes for Quality MMA Gear, a company dealing in a range of martial arts training equipment. She is quite passionate about reading and her other hobbies include surfing and gardening.

Double-Helix Muppet Ballroom: Happy Birthday, Jim Henson!

Category : Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out, Movies, Television

As it is Jim Henson’s birthday, I hand the pen over for this post to my pally, author Jennifer Susannah Devore. If you know her work, you’ll know that alongside Walt Disney, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain and Woody Allen, Mr. Henson holds a very special place as one of the folks whom inspire her daily. Miss Jenny, take it away!

 

“All the French I know, I learned from my perfume bottles.”  -Miss Piggy

All I know about being a girl I learned from Miss Piggy. Sure, mix in some stuff I learned from Mom, Scarlett O’Hara, Jane Austen, Wonder Woman, Veronica and Sally Ride. Yet, Piggy passed on to me tenacious lessons of immovable, stalking-love, perfecting the hair-flip, sprinkling one’s conversations with French and always being ready for the camera. She also imbued the beauty of a well-timed karate chop. Hiiiiiya!

Though, it was not just Miss Piggy who helped me become the half-woman/half-TV character I am today; every loyal subject of Jim Henson and Muppetdom guided me through infancy, childhood and into a very cheerful and dorky adolescence, wherein my Muppet DNA ran so fiercely and powerfully through my cells that I was immune to the fear, peer pressure and derision experienced by mere, common teenagers. No fear on Sesame Street or The Muppet Show, no fear IRL. Right?) The Henson clan held my felt hand and steered me straight on course for a ridiculously happy, borderline reality-impaired, adulthood.

~insert Kermit’s The Muppet Show opening cheer, skinny green arms akimbo~

Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, clearly the brains behind the worldwide DNA infusion (Can you see it? A double-helix of Muppet DNA, all made of felt and spinning, laughing, dancing and dipping glamorously to ballroom music? Yeah, I can see it.), exposed the explosive dangers of the lab to me and, accordingly, I kept away from a hard science major in college. Ditto for the Swedish Chef; I fear the kitchen, and knives, to this day: not to mention human hands. Gonzo urged me to love even poultry; I have been a vegetarian for too many years to count now. Gonzo also enlightened the world that labels are unnecessary. Gonzo was, and still is, a creature of unknown lineage and he rocked it. Lew Zealand illustrated that fish don’t need water, just hugs and pets. Beauregard was sweet and chipper, though just a janitor, and with his plaid flannel shirt was Grunge way before Kurt Cobain was. Scooter knew how to focus on a task and how to manage a production with nothing more than a clipboard and a headset, all while sporting that dynamite lime-green satin jacket. Fozzie the Bear. Well, what can one say about Fozzie? Fozzie proved there is no line between comedy and irritation. If a joke doesn’t work, extrapolate another from that failed one and keep on trucking until the giant hook comes for you. (Damn, that thing is hard to dodge.)

Jim Henson & Kermit the Frog Statue at University of Maryland Photo: Shaun Farrelly

Jim Henson & Kermit the Frog Statue at University of Maryland Photo: Shaun Farrelly

Every Muppet was born with a quality worthy of academic study. There isn’t a bad apple in the barrel and Jim Henson knew that. Even Oscar the Grouch isn’t bad; he’s just crafted that way. Every creature is worthy, worthier sometimes, than humans of anthropomorphism. Rats love margaritas and moonlight buffets on Caribbean cruises just like everyone else. Cockroaches, shrimp, peas and cauliflower are people, too, and deserve respect. This is where the deepest and best lessons lie. Like any superhero, there is an everymanimal quality with which all mortals can identify. Like Charlie Brown, Spongebob, Bobby Hill, Winnie-the-Pooh or Anderson Cooper, there is a positive, optimistic charm that flows endlessly and makes us say, “Hey, man. No worries. It’s all good.” Pigs in Space and Veterinary Hospital exhibited humor and gravity, or lack thereof in the former, can go hand-in-hand. They also taught me to listen to bold, narrative voices coming from the skylights. (Was there ever a hotter pig than Link, btw?)

If Piggy, and Mom, taught me a girl can never have too much jewelry and a karate chop is okay if you’ve been offended, and Gonzo showed me love knows no species and chickens deserve pearls and not to be eaten, and Fozzie proved spirit, grit and determination can get you through even the toughest of crowds, Kermit was the real Sensei. What Kermit endowed in me cannot be spoken, written or shared. Like Yoda, Linus, Mulder, Serious Jerry or Daddy, Kermit imparted wisdom that just, is. Honor, truth, patience, kindness, tenacity and love.

Daddy loves to tell of the day Sesame Street first aired. I was two years old and he would become a child psychologist years later. He plopped me down in front of the television and watched with me as we learned a new letter and a new number with the help of a funny, furry, puppet-type thing that morning. He thought it was the greatest thing since pants. From that day onward, 123 Sesame St. was a daily destination and, like a good American child, I soon craved any and all merchandise associated with anything Jim Henson touched. I still have my Grover hand-Muppet and because of Super Grover, I would never be so afraid of the monster at the end of this book, that I would not continue to the end of the book. Wocka, wocka, wocka!

 

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

JennyPop.net  jenniferdevore.blogspot.com amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore

Revolution, Resurrection and Pumpkin Head Lattes: “Sleepy Hollow” Rises Again

Category : Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out, Literature, Television, Uncategorized

Like many a standard of American literature, Washington Irving’s 1819 short-story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, has seen more facelifts and resurrections than Hillary Clinton’s political career: varied adaptations on the usual theme, always entertaining and sketchy, nightmare fare for some. Irving’s Sleepy Hollow is uniquely American, but its roots reach far under the lightning-charred, tulip trees of time back to Germany’s Middle Ages and the wicked warnings of the folkloric Wild Huntsman, der Wilde Jäger: a headless ghoul who galloped through the forests of Northern Europe at preternatural speeds, seeking bad little children who failed to eat their wegetables, greedy men of ill-repute and stray women of low moral fiber. Be good or der Wilde Jäger vill get you, meinen Kinder!

Photo: Doug Tone

Photo: Doug Tone

Fox TV is the latest raconteur to tell the tale of Sleepy Hollow, the town “that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.” (This is the second Sleepy endeavor for FOX; the first being 1999′s Night of the Headless Horseman, a CGI animation.) The most flexible thus far in its use of artistic license, this latest narration of the ageless myth benefits from the cleverness and vision of  Fringe creators Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Fundamentally, they follow the basic, chilling spine of the tale and keep pivotal characters in play. Pleasingly, for one never knows what presumptions Hollywood will take, the powers that be kept Irving’s tale exactly where it was intended: Westchester County, New York, in a little hamlet along the Hudson River which “abounds with local tales, haunted spots and twilight superstitions”. Once known as North Tarrytown, the good townfolk of this wee burg finally voted in 1996 to have the town’s name officially changed to Sleepy Hollow.

Accordingly, Washington Irving himself is entombed in the south end of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. This is not to be confused, though oft is, with the adjacent Old Dutch Church and its colonial-era graveyard where Irving’s tale is actually set. With no marked boundaries bewtixt the two, they are generally thought of as one. Irving’s own grave sits on a small hill overlooking Old Dutch and its nightly goings-on. If Autumn, Halloween, New England graveyards and Pumpkin Spice Lattes bring you a toothy grin, the imagery of fluttering leaves, glowing porch lights, colonial burying grounds and Dutch colonial houses in the Hudson Valley will provide, at the very least, a much appreciated gallop through Hallowe’en Town, U.S.A..

Ichabod Crane, Irving’s everyman-antihero, has gone through many a change since his literary birth in 1819, though most iterations adhere to the tenets of what it means to be Ichabod Crane: nebbish, hand-wringing, superstitious, studious and shy. Based on a mesh of two men Irving met during his life, a Sackets Harbor army captain actually named Ichabod Crane and a Kinderhook, NY schoolteacher named Jesse Merwin, the fictional Ichabod Crane has himself become somewhat of an eponym in his neuroses. Animation or live-action, most versions of the fidgety, living scarecrow have been true to form: skittish schoolteacher or hystrionic headmaster. From Walt Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) to Wishbone’s Halloween Hound: The Legend of Creepy Collars (1998) to Jeff Goldblum’s pitch-perfect portrayal in NBC’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980) the good Mr. Crane has served his calling well, forever fearful of his own shadow, lanky and awkward in carriage, tongue-tied around the beauteous Katrina and gullible to the core.

Even Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), arguably one of the best resurrections yet, sees Ichabod as a very proper reincarnation, if not more mathematically attractive than those whom came before Johnny Depp. Though Burton and Depp massaged and molded Ichabod into an Industrial-era, New York City detective, trading in Cotton Mather’s dog-eared Witchcraft in New England for a doctor’s bag full of newfangled, scientific tools, the scaredy cat is still in there, clinging to the proverbial ceiling. The wild woods of Westchester Co. and haunting beauty, and wealth, of Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci) ruffle his fur justly and deliver unto us the flustered Ichabod we have all come to pity. Now, FOX is tweaking the mold again, and adding a bit more clay; this time he’s a beefier, meatier Ichabod Crane.

More Abercrombie & Fitch than Compugear, the newest Ichabod Crane is played adroitly and very well-sculpted by Englishman Tom Mison (Henry IV, Poirot, Lost in Austen). So obviously theatre-trained, Shakespearean- in fact, Mison brings a decidedly non-telly flip-of-the-cape to primetime viewing. His stage and film background emanates from him like an after-sex radiance, giving him the unchallenged spotlight. But for Mison, the rest of the cast would be good. In his presence, they are good enough. Mison’s Ichabod is neither scared nor hesitant; he is impatient and determined. The divergences from the traditional Ichabod are vast and numbered; a rugged, take-charge, 250-year old Ichabod with a Colin Farrellesque beard is the least of them.

As much a fish-out-of-water tale as it is a horror story, Sleepy Hollow the series addresses sudden time-travel with a healthy bit of tongue-in-cheek. ‘Tis no easy task keeping a 19thC. folktale about 18thC. history pertinent to 21stC. viewers, many of whom might have difficulty differentiating betwixt George Washington and Washington Irving. To remedy this, FOX has added the requisite components. Neither a pathetic, grade-school teacher nor a fussy science geek, Ichabod is redefined as a fetching, Revolutionary War soldier, the very one whom takes the head of a Redcoat amidst “some nameless battle”. (Although, Irving depicted that his head “had been carried away by a cannon-ball”) It is this Redcoat who will soon haunt Ichabod from far beyond the grave and time.

A point of detail, mostly of interest to history and literary sticklers, the Headless Horseman was not a British soldier, but in fact a Hessian jäger: a German-mercenary sharpshooter and horseman hired by the British Crown, like a land-roving, Teutonic pirate. Ichabod’s bio, so the new story goes, tells us he was once a professor of history at Oxford until involuntarily enlisted by His Majesty King George III to fight the American rabble in the Colonies. Once on American shores, he found he could no longer serve under or support tyranny: over to the American patriots he defected, serving bravely under Gen. George Washington. Nothing nebbish there. Certainly more Ralph Fiennes than Woody Allen.

Sleepy Hollow, NY, formerly North Tarrytown

Sleepy Hollow, NY: formerly, until 1996, North Tarrytown

To boot, because cop shows set in New York just will not go away, FOX had to add that facet to the series. Blessedly, instead of Manhattan, it is properly mis-en-scène along the Hudson River Valley. Although, if a visit to the lovely Sleepy Hollow you shall see each Monday night is in your tarot cards, keep in mind the series was filmed on location far below Yankee-tax territory in the right-to-work and healthy tax-incentive state of North Carolina, Wilmington to be precise.

Whilst Ichabod is not the cop this time around, he does play helpful investigator and expert witness to no-nonsense, African-American, female cop Abbie Mills, played affably by Nicole Beharie (42, Woman Thou Art Loosed, The Good Wife). Make way, folks, for numerous, and predictable, one-liners about emancipation, slavery, female lieutenants and ladies-in-trousers. Add Ichabod’s befuddlement about cell phones, electric car-windows, Starbucks, flashlights and asphalt; then sprinkle with Troopers vs. Horseman shootouts using semi-automatic shotguns and a magical axe, and the series can sometimes taste a bit like New York Cheddar: cheesy.

Occasional elements of Charmed and Highlander aside, Sleepy Hollow is a ripping good hour of entertaining television. To boot, the pilot is tight. Even the best of shows have a cringe factor and growing pains in early episodes. (Remember Seinfeld S1?) Sleepy Hollow‘s cast gels right from the start and the production values and writing are as quality as Ichabod’s bespoke frock coat. It’s a brilliant embarkation.

Mison’s Ichabod Crane is the giant spoon that stirs the cauldron, but the cauldron is a mighty fine melange of mystery, dark humour, American history (tweaked just a bit for dramatic effect, of course), 18thC. costuming (if you drool over such things) and the spooky, blue lighting that’s been missing from nighttime television since The X-Files went off the air. With Autumn approaching in mere days, FOX might have nailed this one right on the, well, noggin. If broadcast TV has a drama this season that requires a quiet house, flickering pumpkin candles and port wine in a colonial shrub glass to enhance viewing, Sleepy Hollow is it.

As the Headless Horseman rode off into the sunrise of the Sleepy Hollow premiere, for he must skedaddle back to the sanctuary of his Old Dutch Church grave by each morning’s light, he is seen in silhouette resting a Tommy gun over his broad, frock-coated, headless shoulder, having apparently traded in his magical, Hessian broad axe, for the moment anyway. At least until he regains his head and reconnoiters with his fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse later in the series to commence mankind’s final demise, thus proving George Washington’s hunch correct, as confided to Ichabod Crane on the battlefield in 1781: the Revolution is not about fighting for America’s freedom, but to save every man, woman and child on the planet.

Oh, wait. That’s not in the book. I’ll bet you a Pumpkin Head Latte Washington Irving never saw that angle coming.

City Hall, Sleepy Hollow, NY

City Hall, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Sleepy Hollow airs Mondays @9/8c on FOX

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

JennyPop.net  jenniferdevore.blogspot.com and for pre-Revolutionary, historical-fiction featuring another Herr Ichabod,

amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore


Were Games Better When You Were A Kid?

Category : Featured, Game On, Geek Out, Geek Rants

Photo Credit: C. Gomboli

 

Approaching the age of thirty, there is one question bugging me more and more often. I’m sure if you’re of a certain age it’s occurred to you too: Are children today having more fun than I did? Our generation pretty much grew up alongside video games. We were born around the time the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System were released. As we were starting school the Megadrive and Super NES hit the market and the graphics changed from what looked like they were made out of poorly constructed Lego models to looking like they were made out of really high quality Lego models. We watched as Starfox introduced 3D polygons and marveled at how realistic the graphics were in Donkey Kong Country and Mortal Combat. We pioneered the controls of the first person shooter. Now, we simply aren’t happy with a game unless it has a fully realized, photo-realistic environment with A-list voice actors, the books are comprehensive and available and there is a reasonably wide choice of TV channels.

But here’s the thing – as we’re getting older, games are continuing to get better. We live in a world where the fully immersive virtual reality sets we all fantasized about while watching Lawnmower Man are on their way to becoming a reality. We are facing every generation’s worst nightmare: our children may grow up having a better childhood than ours.

Fortunately, the gaming industry, like the comics industry, has long since abandoned trying to appeal to children. Instead, they seek out the far richer thirty-somethings. To appease us, the gaming industry has been taking measures which ensure gaming becomes a far worse experience than ever before, allowing us to wax lyrical about a “golden age of gaming” later down the line.

 

They’re doing this by:

Keeping You Online, All the Time

A long time ago, we were introduced to an exciting new concept called “The Internet.” You could take games you were playing on your computer, use the Internet to connect to other people with the same game and shoot them. It was a great system and fun was had by all, even though we all had dial-up connections and the games ran like really old, poorly-maintained clockwork.

Flash forward to today and Microsoft is currently in a public relations quagmire because they wanted to sell their new console, the Xbox One, so that it was online all the time. If you didn’t check into your Xbox at least once a day, it would shut down. They have now backtracked on this, but that doesn’t mean an end to it. In fact, the rot has already set in.

Try something for me. Go to your local outlet of Game, and buy the very latest new release. Buy it on release day if you possibly can, first thing in the morning. Then run back home as fast as you can, power up the Xbox, rip the cellophane wrapper off your game, put the disc in and… before it loads up, your Xbox informs you that you will need to download a patch.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s not getting into Kafkaesque DRM or games that insist on being connected to your social media account. Or of course:

 

Making You Pay For Your Fun

When we were kids the rules were simple. You saw a game you liked, you downloaded the demo or installed it off a disc on the front of a magazine. Then, you would play that demo to death until you could persuade your parents to buy you the full game. Once you had the full game, that was it. You might get the occasional add-on pack, but the rule was once you bought the game, you had access to everything in the game.

Oh how naive we were!

One of the earlier, subtler examples of this was the Catwoman storyline in Batman: Arkham City. It was a simple idea – if you buy the game new, you get a code that unlocks the Catwoman story. If you buy the game second-hand, you have to pay for it. It was simply a way to encourage cheapskates, like me, who get all their games from Cash Converters to actually put some money into the games industry.

As with any idea like this, it wasn’t long before someone looked at it and thought “How can I make this evil?” And so, Skylanders was born. The ingenuity of Skylanders is that your avatar in the game changes depending on which toy figurine you place on the “portal of power” that plugs into the game console. The best part is huge chunks of the game, from secret treasure to bonus levels, are blocked off unless you have the right figurine to give you the right powers to access them.

So, after you’ve pestered your parents into buying the game, you still can’t complete it until you’ve pestered your parents into buying all of the accompanying toys!

 

They’re Trying Too Hard to Be Movies

Let me tell you about the first level of the first real first person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D.  You start off in a prison cell, with a gun and a dead Nazi. Another Nazi opens the door and you shoot him too. Then, you walk out of the door and… and anything. There are multiple ways you can work your way through Castle Wolfenstein, killing Nazis and the odds are you’ll probably get lost doing so.

Now, watch the walk-through of the first level of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It starts off with a short intro film explaining the plot. Wow, it’s been five minutes already…six minutes. After six minutes of watching a movie, you appear to actually be in the game. Now, you have to help that guy. Oh no, he’s dead. Now, this guy is talking to you. Okay, maybe now you can go and explore. Oh wait, no. You’ve have to ride on this truck. You’ve been “playing” nearly ten minutes and ahh, here are some baddies to shoot. Well, I say baddies. I don’t really know why you’re shooting them.

The point is, there are nice, big, yellow letters marked “Target” telling you exactly where to go at all times and BOY does it look pretty and… oh, you’re back watching a film again. Of the first 15 minutes since pressing “START,” not counting load times, roughly 6 minutes have been spent playing an actual game, which is perhaps the biggest tragedy. The graphics of our games have become so good that developers are putting more energy into showing us the pretty pictures they made than giving us an actual game to play.

Of course, there are games that are going the other way. At first glance, Minecraft has graphics not much better than Wolfenstein 3D, but the gameplay options (on a map that is actually bigger than the planet) are limitless. Unless there’s a bigger demand for games that are supposed to be fun, rather than graphically amazing, online micro-transaction machines, the peak of gaming is probably going to remain around the time Half-Life came out.

 

Jason Falls is a freelance writer and avid gamer working with Butlers Bingo. He misses the old days of video games and also thinks those damn kids should get off his lawn.

The Circus Pulls Up Stakes: Dr. Lucy’s SDCC 2013 Slideshow

1

Category : Conventions, Entertain Me, Featured, Geek Out, San Diego Comic Con, Travel

Well, cats, as Porky Pig struggles to declare, “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”. San Diego Comic-Con 2013 is a wrap. The big burg with the filthy mayor and the small beachtown chill is back to it’s groovy, mellow, peaceful ways. (Save for trying to oust said-filthy mayor. What a loony, dangerous maroon!) The air around the Convention Center smells like salt air once again; the trademark smell of The Con hovering somewhere over Santa Fe by now. What is that smell, New Mexicans might wonder? It’s a simultaneously exhilarating, exciting and pathetic amalgam of anxiety, camping, body odour, latex, cheap polyester, sycophancy, Japanese perfume, cheap leather, desperation, domestic “beer” and nacho “cheese” sauce.

I seriously need a shower.

I seriously need a shower.

Seaport Village is back to hosting apple-shaped families from Minnesota and the humourless, tanned beach cops are re-focused on sunburned tourists frantically enjoying their last hurrahs of summer holiday. The “normal” clientele has returned to local strip clubs, replacing zombies, Zorg and Sheldon Cooper in the Champagne Room; alternately, barmaids about town have, thankfully, removed their faux nerd glasses and Hello Kitty “I Love Nerds” t-shirts. (Please, ladies. Leave hot nerding to the real hot nerds.)

The Gaslamp Quarter is still predictably lively with Happy Hours and summertime, bistro seating; but the dark-suited business folk of the downtown area are no longer treated to the  lunchtime spectacle and wonder, not to mention parking and traffic jumbles, of Comic-Con. No more Leeloos leaning over the bar at Lou & Mickey’s, no more Han Solos in line at Starbucks, no more Walking Dead at McCormick & Schmick’s and no more Transformers trying to work the fountain dispensers at 7-11. Like a birthday night in Vegas, we are left with sore feet, curious bruising, singed tendrils, oddly placed piles of sunflower seed shells, mysteriously depleted bank accounts, and a faint, pleasurable memory that it might be fun and/or nuts to do it all over again next year … but next time with an even better costume! (They’re called boobs, Ed!)

The Con will return, kids, no worries there. It has been speculated for years that it could move to Anaheim. Well, at least through 2016, Comic-Con shall remain in America’s Finest City; Hallowe’en in July is all San Diego’s. Until next year, enjoy a wee slideshow of this year’s scene, courtesy of our own Dr. Lucy and her EOS Canon Digital Rebel XT.

All slideshow photos by Twisted Pair Photography with the exception of the following:

Rotten Tomato by Rebecca Lane; The Two Daphnes: Classic & Post-apocalyptic, all Conv. Ctr. exteriors and Once Upon a Time murals by J.S. Devore

  • BTW, because I know you care, each con, I treat myself to a wee something: a Chewbacca tank by WeLoveFine, a Bettie Page parasol by Retro a-go-go, a Jetsons tee, etc. This year, it’s my Evil Coffee Hour messenger bag by BeKyoot.com. Get one! “Cause Evil Coffee Hour is a brilliant idea and Christy Sanderson is a total doll who designs all the gear herself! It’s what Japanese girls and I call supa kawaii! Cheers, Miss Christy, Tuxie Cat and Momocheet!
Danger + coffee + Time + ??? = Profit! Evil Coffee Hour! Photo: Twisted Pair

Danger + Coffee + Time + ??? = Profit! Evil Coffee Hour! Photo: Twisted Pair

Jeepers! What a Con! Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Jeepers! What a Con! Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

 

Miss Hannah Hart, ghostdame (a.k.a. authoress Jennifer Susannah Devore) contributes regularly to the official San Diego Comic-Con Souvenir Guide. Read her articles here: The Simpsons, Peanuts & Tarzan!

Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online? jenniferdevore.blogspot.com  JennyPop.net  amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore


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