Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yo Ho Ho, Fun at the Virginia Aquarium

Today was my parents-in-law's wedding anniversary, so to celebrate they took us (Frau Punkinstein and myself) to the Virginia Aquarium.  That's how we do things in this family.  We also had dinner at Bubba's our favorite local seafood dive on the waterfront, but that's neither here nor there.  Here is the Celtic Pumpkin and there is the Aquarium and that's what we are talking about.
This giant blue crab defends the Aquarium from all who would do it harm!
The Virginia Aquarium is divided into a Marsh Pavilion and a Sea building.  The Marsh pavilion has otters and an aviary.
I think this is a double crested cormorant
Ducks, nature's perfect killing machine
The blue bill lets you know that it is a venomous case you want to use this site as a resource for a school paper
The eye...THE, glowing...killing machine

My father-in-law really likes birds, so this was a cool place.   We spent time looking at the birds, saw the otters frolic.
A display in which you walk through a shoreline where everything is 10 TIMES the size of nature.
A fly
Catch this, boys and we eat like kings...
There is a cool bay exhibit as well.  It has separate tanks with puffer fish, crabs, seahorses, and the other animals common to the Chesapeake Bay area.

Then it was off through the nature trail to the big sea building.
Humpback Acne, the heartbreak of barnacles
That is a model humpback, but I thought it looked severe and street and hard and all, so we took a picture.  Of the big sea building there are precious few pictures, I am afraid.  All the really fun stuff, like the cuttlefish, the octopus, the baby chain dogfish and such are posted as NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY.  We did not get any pictures of the moon jellies.  I can't say why, but Frau Punkinstein did note that someone had farted in the jellyfish exhibit.  It was unpleasant.

So instead here is footage of SHARKS!

The aquarium currently houses two breeds of shark, the sand tiger shark (probably the most featured aquarium shark due to its generally docile personality, its ability to swallow a stomach full of air and float and its ragged-tooth grin, which makes it look fierce) and the sandbar shark.  Although blacktips are common to the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, they were not visible in the tanks.  There is a room where you can touch cownose rays and skates in a pool, which we did.  Then in a encounter pool where a young child was being super-annoying and noisy, a pair of horseshoe crabs were doing it.  The kid poked the male.  That's just not cricket.

All in all, it was a good time.
Keep your pumpkins lit, and please, don't molest the horseshoe crabs when they are getting it on.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Michaels Halloween Stuff

Stopped by my local Michaels craft store today.  One aisle of Halloween decorations, 3 end caps and two center aisle displays in the process of being filled.  The very helpful clerk told me the truck had arrived that morning and more would be going up soon.
So, YAY.
That's a little early Halloween goodness for everyone.

Now bring on the PUMPKIN DELIGHTS!

Til next know the drill.

It Ain't That Easy Being Green

Bullshit color symbolism.  That's what I'm on about today.
As a fan of pumpkins, I think we all know what green means, right?  It means NOT RIPE.
So a little research on the symbolism of colors returns the following information for the color green:
good luck

We know that green is a color of nature not yet decayed and a color of harmonious environmental balance.  It seems to me that there are cultural reasons for the symbolic nature of colors and variations within a culture.  The same English speaking world that says that green is a good, healthy, natural thing also equates it with being sick (green around the gills), jealously (green with envy), or money.  Green is also a color we associate with deadly reptiles that want to kill us, like gators and crocs and snakes and Godzilla.  So sickness, health, prosperity, jealousy, monsters, and so many other things polarize green into a color symbolic of both bad and good things.
So what's missing?
Ghosts and Atomic Power!  Obviously.
Green glow is a great sign of something spooky going on and we also know it is the color you turn when exposed to Gamma Radiation.
Soul Ranger, courtesy of Atmosfear the VHS board game

See?  Green glowing inside the empty eye sockets of that skeleton cowboy.  Clearly something supernatural is going on here.
This is what a gamma bomb does to you.  If you get your gamma radiation in a safer way, you just get buff and green hair (like Doc Samson)

Marvel Comics taught me that atomic power manifests greeness in people.  It's like Kermit says, "It's not that easy being green."  Clearly it is not.  So how is it that green can mean both the wellspring of Earth's eternal life (evergreens, for example) and the destructive power of ATOMIC EVIL SKELETONS?
Psychobilly Rumble, copyright R.W. Saxon

Or maybe a good guy whose SKELETON glows GREEN with his ATOMIC POWER!
Perhaps this is that "duality of man(kind)" thing at work.  You know what else is green?
Snot.  Snot is pictured as green in artwork.
I believe it is shades of green that really matter.  Dark green is meaningful, olive drab says "Army Man", glowing green says SUPERNATURAL or ATOMIC POWER!
It also says "corpse" if you consider that we usually depict Frankenstein's Monster as "greenish" or outright green in art.  I've seen corpses and green is not a color I would ascribe to them, but maybe I have brain damage or something.  Unless, of course, the corpse was full of ATOMIC POWER!  In which case I would expect it to glow green.
I think, ultimately, green is a very "photogenic" color for glowing power.  Blue is good for electricity and Red is for fire, so Green is pretty much POWER of NONSPECIFIC ORIGIN, so it works well for supernatural power.  Oh, and ATOMIC!
Skullfire from X-Men 2099...nonspecific energy is GREEN!

So those are my thoughts on the color green.  I'm university trained in looking for symbolism, but usually I think it's a load of bollocks.
So until next time, keep your pumpkins lit.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Halloween comes early this year apparently UPDATE

Today (15 July 2011) I obtained the Gummy Vampires for Frau Punkinstein and we have partaken of them.  Reference my original post Halloween Comes Early This Year Apparently for the pre-taste information.
In that brilliant post I said, "The Gummy Vampires come in 4 shapes and 4 flavors.  The described flavors are blood orange (described above), scary cherry melon, wicked watermelon lime, and bewitched berry.  I can't imagine what these flavors taste like, but the naming theme is still pretty Halloween oriented. "
As of today, I can, in fact, imagine what these flavors taste like.  I mean, I've tasted them.  So really I can describe them to you, which I will do now.
Blood Orange: same as the werewolf blood orange.  A little sweeter due to the gush of cherry juicy ooze.
Scary Cherry Melon: I like this one.  I don't detect the melon, but the cherry flavor is nice and when the cherry ooze in the center comes out, well in that case it is a sweeter flavor but basically the same.
Wicked Watermelon Lime:  I don't like this one.  The melon is a bit off to me and once the cherry ooze hit I was not happy.  It looked cool in the coffin shape as I could see the red center through the pale green gummy coffin.
Bewitched Berry: Frau Punkinstein's least favorite.  It looks like it should be grape, but it is not and the flavor is nothing outstanding.  Again the cherry ooze is a sweet addition to the berry.

So that's Gummy Vampires in their "4 Wicked Shapes".  Now that I have had them I can say I prefer the "3 Wild Shapes" of the Gummy WereWolves to the 4 Wicked Shapes of the Gummy Vampires.

Whichever you prefer they are both fun little pre-Halloween treats to keep you happy during the summer months.

Until the event, keep your pumpkins lit.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mr. Monster comics: Fun my way

I am a big geek.

Halloween comes early this year apparently

Dateline: 8 JULY 2011, 6:45 AM EDT
Location: Wawa, Hampton Blvd, Norfolk, VA
Item of interest: Gummy WereWolves
Pic courtesy of the Ferrera Pan company website...not the actual product but a the actual product the candy pieces are not so easily seen
This morning I entered the Wawa near the place where I work, something I do rarely, maybe once every 3 or 4 months, and as I made my way to the back to get a soda I passed the seasonal candy endcap.  A collection of mostly useless junk: some 'Mater teeth from Cars 2, Hello Kitty candy necklace, Gummy Bears, Gummy Worms, Gummy Vampires, Gummy Werewolves, Gummy Sharks...STOP...go back a bit.
Gummy Worms?
No, after that.
Gummy Sharks?
No.  Cool, but no.  Between those...
Gummy Vampires and Gummy Werewolves?  In July?
Obviously I could not resist purchasing these gummy treats.  I am not a huge gummy fan, but I do love me some werewolves.  The packaging caught my eye as it is very nice.  The two werewolves look good with the blood dripping off their fangs and claws.  The bloody "WereWolves" written on the package is nice too.
For shapes there are 3: a wolf paw, a werewolf head, and little werewolf hunched over.  There are 3 flavors as well: blood orange, gruesome grape and spooky strawberry.  Obviously the naming conventions for the grape and strawberry are meant to convey the monster nature of it.  Convenient that blood orange is a real fruit.
As for taste they are good.  Ferrera Pan's Black Forest brand gummies are quality products always and these are no exception.  The spooky strawberry is the sweetest with the gruesome grape have a strong scent and flavor.  The blood orange flavor is subtle and tart.
I did not try the "Juicy Oozers Gummy Vampires" as I don't dig on oozing candy, but I can offer the following information:
The Gummy Vampires come in 4 shapes and 4 flavors.  The described flavors are blood orange (described above), scary cherry melon, wicked watermelon lime, and bewitched berry.  I can't imagine what these flavors taste like, but the naming theme is still pretty Halloween oriented. 
Pic courtesy of Ferrera Pan website...if this pic is anything to go by the contents include screaming faces, coffins, rolling stones logos and bat medallions?
The packaging, which you can see above, is a little too 'sexy' for a candy, I think.  Rather than use a cartoon vampire (like in the Gummy WereWolves) Ferrera Pan has opted for a pale woman's mouth, befanged and dripping blood.  The castle in the background is a very nice touch though.  The label says "juicy cherry centers", which is suggestive of, and supposed to be blood, no doubt.  I probably won't try them, but I still appreciate the effort.

So Halloween comes a little early this year thanks to Ferrera Pan and my local Wawa.  I can't complain as I love the holiday and I enjoy theme and seasonal candies.  I am a little confused that an item so seasonal should come out in July, but maybe it has something to do with Twilight or somesuch.  Check 'em out if you like gummy candies and if you try the Gummy Vampires, please let me know how they are.

Until next time, and until they make gummy Jack O Lanterns, keep your pumpkins lit.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Haunted Mansion - Pirates of the Caribbean Connection (Parte the Firste)

Greetings candles, light your pumpkins and get ready for a convoluted trip through the psyche of a fan.
In a previous post I mentioned that the Haunted Mansion (HM) and the Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) are often related to one another by fans, despite having no actual connection in Disney scripting.  Many resources (again see the previous post for some of those resources) will point to possible scripts that were scrapped but left echos in the portraits or bits, bobs and props around the mansion.  I also talked about how the rides are spiritually linked in the minds of fans all over.  In this installment I'd like to provide an excellent example of how fans link these two rides.
Starting in autumn 2005 and continuing for many months into 2006, the publishing house Slave Labor Graphics (SLG) published a comic book anthology series entitled "Haunted Mansion".  Each issue featured a number of shorts "Inspired by the classic Disney attraction" written and illustrated by various talented artists in the comics field.  The series lasted for 7 issues before being cancelled, sadly.  A 6 part story (one installment per issue) formed the arc of the first 6 issues, with the 7th launching a new direction that, unfortunately, never materialized.  Dan Vado and an ever-changing guest artist produced the installment tale entitled "The Mystery of the Manse" in which Mr. Vado attempts to create a single, concise origin story for the HM, it's Ghost Host, various famous residents (such as Madame Leota and the Bride) and ties it all into the POTC via Lafitte's Landing (this is the New Orleans HM and POTC, I should point out).
Cover of Haunted Mansion #1 from SLG
A little peek into the interior
This scan of the first page of the first installment of the Mystery of the Manse introduces the Ghost Host, who will narrate the tale
The story starts by identifying the Ghost Host as the body hanging in the attic and confirming that this is Master Gracey himself.  Yes, we have proof that such is NOT the case per Disney WOG (Long Forgotten is a great resource for this info, so do please check it out), but this is about what the fans believe, not what a post Walt WED group wants us to believe.
The story starts with the Ghost Host identifying himself as Master William Gracey, first mate on the Pomona sailing under Captain Randall Pace.  The Pomona is caught in a storm, Gracey discovers that their cargo is actually firearms and that Captain Pace has become a gunrunner without bothering to tell the crew.  A mast breaks free and Pace is caught up in the rigging.  Gracey beheads him and stuffs his head into a convenient hatbox.  Gracey then assumes a new identity as Captain Blood and becomes a pirate.  In this first installment Dan Vado manages to bring in the POTC, Ghost Host-Gracey connection and the elusive Hatbox Ghost in just a few short pages.  This is not Disney canon and is not even one of the original abandoned scripts (although elements are there), so what would inspire Dan to go this route?
Without being able to speak to Mr. Vado personally, I must employ conjecture.  Mr. Vado, as the owner of SLG, really put his heart into that story, I can tell by reading it (and re-reading it).  He taps into what fans of the HM and POTC rides feel inside, that spiritual connection these two greatest of dark rides share.  For true fans of both not only are they connected in spirit, the SHOULD be connected in theme and story.  Where else would the pirates go to retire once they have shuffled off their mortal coils?  Why just over from Lafitte's Landing to the Gracey Manor, of course!
When we continue the story, in an upcoming post, you will see how Mr. Vado further plumbs the depths of both the POTC and HM lore, putting together a story FOR THE FANS...which is how it should be (WED monkeys take note).

Until next time, keep your pumpkins lit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Faith in the Devil: The Rite

It is impossible to watch a movie about exorcism, much less review one, without comparing it to the seminal work in the genre, 1973's Friedkin/Blatty masterpiece The Exorcist.  So I won't even try.
The Rite (2011) is a film about a young seminary student who is sent to exorcism classes in Rome as part of an attempt to help him find his faith.  Everything else, below, is pretty much "ahoy, there be spoilers ahead" territory.

The cast of The Rite does a fine job and the film is moody, atmospheric, but never really scary.  I recognize that it should be a horror film, but ultimately I feel that it fails to horrify.  Is this because of The Exorcist?  Not entirely, no.  While no exorcism film can exist in a vacuum due to the sheer media presence of The Exorcist, not to mention that The Exorcist came first and set all the standards for these films, creating for us a set of exorcism expectations, The Rite flows more as a drama/thriller than a horror movie, lacking significantly in shocks, jumps, surprises or gore.  It is still worth watching.
Since no exorcism film can be viewed without referring to The Exorcist let's go ahead and get that out of the way.
The plot of The Rite concerns a young man who has been raised to be a mortician, like his father, but chooses instead to go into the seminary where he can get a degree, noting that he can choose to leave the priesthood if it is not for him.  We fast forward 4 years to see our hero, Michael, ready to graduate from seminary and refuse to accept the cloth.  We find that he is tops in psychology and sciences, but did poorly in theology, almost as though he purposely took a dive on the exam.  (Exorcist similarity warning: Father Damien Karras is a priest who has a crisis of faith and tells Chris MacNeil that the Jesuits sent him to school when she inquired how a psychiatrist became a priest)  Michael suggests a lack of faith or calling, so his mentor warns him that his scholarship would likely be converted into a VERY EXPENSIVE student loan if he chose not to become a priest.  In order to avoid this unpleasantness Michael goes to Rome for a few weeks, on the Church dime, to attend exorcism classes.  While there the lead instructor, Father Xavier, sends Michael to meet a friend of his, practicing exorcist and Jesuit, Father Lucas (played by Anthony Hopkins).  (Exorcist similarity warning: Old Priest and a Young Priest)  Michael routinely challenges the authenticity of the exorcism process, the things he experiences, and the honesty of Father Lucas, especially after witnessing a bit of slight-of-hand and chicanery from the old Jesuit as he administers to a young boy who has nightmares.  Michael decides to leave the life of the cloth behind and after receiving word of his father's death back in the states, he begins to experience a number of strange phenomena, ultimately he finds himself back with Father Lucas, who has himself become possessed.  What follows is a struggle between Michael and his lack of faith as he attempts to save the old priest.
Notice how it stopped being like The Exorcist pretty quickly?
The filmmakers are keenly aware that the film will be measured by Friedkin's yardstick, even taking a respectful jab at the older film in a scene where Michael is seemingly unimpressed by the exorcism he has witnessed, prompting Father Lucas to ask if he (Michael) expected heads turning around and vomiting of pea soup.  The practice, or rites, of exorcism, and the investigations required of the priests are discussed in the film long before we see an exorcism being performed.  We learn that the key to expelling the possessing spirit is to know its name and the goal of the exorcist is to get the demon to provide that key bit of information.  In this way the film is working with some very old traditions concerning spirits and magic, benign and otherwise.  Compare this to The Exorcist and we see a very different film indeed. 
The Exorcist is a film that tells intertwining stories: a detective investigating a series of crimes, a mother's increasing powerlessness to help her daughter, the possession of that daughter by evil forces, a priest's crisis of faith and the ultimate battle of good and evil represented by the eponymous exorcist (played by Max Von Sydow) and his demonic foe.  It is a complex film taken from a complex novel and repeated viewings always provide more to discover.  Okay, that's a lie, but it is expected that I say that.  If you've seen it about 22 times (a which I have) you've pretty much seen it all.  By comparison The Rite is a very focused film.  All the action takes place around and through the main character, seminary student Michael Kovak.  The possessions (yes, plural) are vehicles for moving Michael's story along.  This is a film about a would-be priest's crisis of faith, not a film in which a priest has a crisis of faith.  That is a very important distinction, because while there are threads to this plot, it is all focused on Michael, whereas in Exorcist there are multiple tales weaving together.

Now to the really important part: the exorcisms.
Damn you, Billy Friedkin, you set the bar too high.
After watching the film, Frau Punkinstein said to me that The Exorcist was better.  I agree, but I would like to note that The Exorcist had the benefit of being first.  The Exorcist set the standard and the tropes for demon possession films for the next 38 years that followed it and on into the future.  What is very important to remember is that when The Exorcist was showing us levitating beds, freezing cold rooms, pea soup vomit, demonic transformation and spinning heads, it was all new.  This was the film that set those standards.  On top of that we must consider the running time of the film.  122 minutes in the theater (about 10 minutes longer in the re-release versions with added footage).  During that 122 minutes we are given a story that builds slowly.  Sitting here in 2011 reading a blog we all know that The Exorcist is a film about a little girl that becomes possessed by a demonic spirit, but the way the film was shot it could be something else for quite a bit.  Regan MacNeil could be faking it or she could be mentally disturbed.  When it becomes absolutely obvious that she is in the throws of a supernatural force is when we finally see something that cannot be refuted logically, but still we don't get that over-the-top head-spinning fun until the last reel when Max Von Sydow's Father Merrin arrives (remember him?  Yeah, we saw him during the first 8 minutes of the film, then he disappeared for an hour and a half) and the exorcism suggested by the bloody title finally begins.  Up to that point the film displays elements of mystery, suspense, and detective story.  The very fact that Father Karras is a psychiatrist and attempts to treat Regan using psychiatric methods keeps us unprepared (in the first viewing at least) for the very real and powerful manifestations of demonic power we are treated to in the climatic scenes of the film.  The Rite does use a similar slow burn, but then The Rite is not a film about "an" exorcism but is more a film that uses the concept of "exorcism" as ritual as part of its overall storytelling.  Again the similarities between Karras and Kovak are mostly superficial (two men, the former a psychiatrist, the latter acing his psych exams, but not an MD; both have a recent death to contend with, mother for Karras, father for Kovak; both having a crisis of faith), but problems are similar enough and the key to their resolution (God's existence proved by the Devil's existence) is close enough to make them literary twins.  They come to different ends ultimately, as do the two films. 
Exorcist sequels notwithstanding, the Friedkin film ends with the triumph of good over evil, albeit in a somewhat depressing fashion.  Merrin dies fighting his ancient enemy, Karras sacrifices himself to save Regan and the young girl remembers nothing of what happened.  Evil was defeated but we know it is still out there, somewhere, waiting...brrrr, is it cold in here?
The Rite ends with a very clear message that our hero, and thus all of us, need to be constantly on our guard because evil is with us, always.  However it is more upbeat in that both the Old Priest and the Young Priest survive.
But good wins.  Ultimately?  Who can say?
To me the thing that really sticks out about The Rite is that Michael Kovak really, truly seems to doubt the existence of God, the Devil, or anything supernatural, and it is ultimately his "confession" that he "believes in the Devil", a moment that seems like a person converting to EVIL that leads to his finding his faith in the crisis.  What follows is, to me at least, an impressive spiritual arse-kicking (as opposed to Damien Karras's physical arse-kicking of his foe).  In keeping with the low-key tone of The Rite we are presented with a less graphic, but still dramatic, exorcism that sticks to the film's "rules" as presented earlier.  I found it a satisfying ending sequence.
In a word, yes.  I will not say it is better than The Exorcist because I really don't see them as competing films.  Yes, Exorcist really set the standard for possession films and yes it is damn near impossible to view any film like it and not compare them (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, for example) but consider also how disappointing The Exorcist prequel is by comparison.  The Rite is a fine thriller about a young man's skepticism and the nature of proof with enough moody tension to keep one interested, if not scared.