Archive for August, 2016

Why we love Gene Wilder

August 30, 2016

Why we love Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder has reportedly died.

A brilliant actor, who was also a writer and director, Wilder was a study in contradictions, with eyes that were both twinkling and pools of sadness, optimistic and pessimistic, a believer in magic and doubter of the ordinary.

From One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on stage to two Oscar nominations (for acting in The Producers and screenwriting with long-time collaborator Mel Brooks for Young Frankenstein), there is no question that Gene Wilder was respected.

He was, though, also beloved, especially by geeks like me. We have a special place in our hearts for Gene Wilder.

Why is that?

Three of his best-known roles reveal a theme that helps explain it.

Willy Wonka, the Waco Kid, and Dr. Frederick Frankenstein have some significant similarities (although Wilder’s talent and skill clearly make them distinct characters).

In all three cases, they are superior individuals. Willy Wonka has created an unparalleled business, and appears to have almost magical powers. The Waco Kid may be the greatest gunslinger ever. Dr. Frankenstein literally brings the dead to life again.

They have also all rejected society. If they “played the game”, they could be the toast of the town, the top of their respective fields. Willy Wonka has actually withdrawn from the world. The Waco Kid has crawled into a bottle and  taken a nap there. Dr. Frankenstein has tried to fit in, but once at the castle, casts all that aside to continue his grandfather’s work.

None of that would make them especially endearing.

However, each of them also champions someone rejected by that same society which they have rejected. Willy Wonka does not minimize Charlie, who is poor and not the social equal of the other kids. The Waco Kid recognizes Sheriff Bart for his intrinsic value, unlike many others who at the least discount him out of prejudice. Dr. Frankenstein believes “The Monster” is as much a human being as anyone else.

That’s a clear appeal for geeks and for anyone who has considered themselves the underdog. The powerful person who doesn’t use that power to exclude, but to reach out to those on the fringes.

None of them are perfect. They can all be angry, and cynicism isn’t pretty. That helps, though…we see characters overcoming personality flaws (flaws which they know are there) to help someone who has been denied acceptance.

Again, that’s not to say that Gene Wilde replayed the same character. Those three each have distinct personalities…which wouldn’t have liked each other. In other performances, we don’t always see these three elements…and while the actor could be equally good in those roles, he wasn’t as beloved.

As Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder said, “We are the dreamers of dreams.” “We”…not “I”. There is a kinship offered. “I am like you, and we are not like most people.”

The dreams will live on.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Stupid pitch: Ozpocalypse (Ozquad #1)

August 19, 2016

Stupid pitch: Ozpocalypse (Ozquad #1)

This may be the first in a series of humor pieces where I propose what I really think are stupid ideas for movies, TV  shows,  and so on. The purpose is to shine a light on something serious with humor.

Studio executive: “Okay, whaddaya got?”

Moviemaker: “It’s got everything you like. It’s perfect for the summer!”

Studio executive: “Blah, blah. Why is it safe and how will it make me money?”

Moviemaker: “It’s a reboot of a well-known property with a built-in fanbase. Yet, it’s been modernized to swim with the blockbuster tentpoles.”

Studio executive: “Three minutes.”

Moviemaker:  “What’s the most beloved movie property of all time?”

Studio executive: “Porn?”

Moviemaker: “The Wizard of Oz. We–“

Studio executive: “We’re done here. Disney just did it. it wasn’t a big hit, and they claim infringement when somebody makes Mickey Mouse pancakes for their kid. Disappointing box office and Disney lawyers? I’m out.”

Moviemaker: “I can see where you are coming from, but the source material is public domain…nobody owns it. That also means no author to pay. Ours isn’t like theirs at all. It’s a mismatched group of heroes fighting a big CGI baddy who uses magic…The Avengers meets Harry Potter!”

Studio executive:  “I’m listening again. Two minutes and thirty five seconds.”

Moviemaker: “Dorothy Gale is a tween in Kansas. She’s using an augmented reality program like Pokémon Go, where she follows an avatar of a little black dog. It’s called TotoGo. She gets caught up in a weird virus thing called Twister, and finds that her social media history has been deleted. A mysterious figure says she should go for help to a government official, The Wizard.

Along the way, she connects with a legendary hacker who uses multiple identities and only appears wearing a mask, like Anonymous…called The Strawman. Despite that name, we want to cast a woman in the part…maybe Jenna Ushkowitz, Aubrey Plaza, or Michelle  Rodriguez.

The Strawman brings along an artificially intelligent war robot which failed to follow instructions, not going into dangerous situations when its existence was threatened. It’s a quadruped, and they call it the Neurologically Enhanced Remote Vehicle Experiment: NERVE. We’ll use Google’s Big Dog robot, and we’re thinking Kevin Hart for the voice.

They also connect with a former Special Forces soldier who favors an axe in battle. Code name: Heartless. His catchphrase: “I couldn’t do this if I cared.” We want Dwayne Johnson. Hart and Johnson already have a hit together.

When they get to The Wizard, he sends them on a suicide mission against the cyberterrorist believed to actually be behind Twister: the Wicked Wicked Witch…Triple Dub, like the World Wide Web.

Turns out Triple Dub is actually possessed by an ancient demon. There’s a huge battle…we’re thinking at least 45 minutes of CGI action. Triple Dub sends flying  monkeys against the four…lots of scenes of Heartless chopping monkeys out of the air. Strawman overcomes NERVE’s programming resistance temporarily, and the robot is fearless and also splashes the screen with monkey guts, which should look great in 3D.

During the battle, we destroy the Yellow Brick Road and knock down large parts of the Emerald City.

The monkeys dismember Strawman. Heartless rides on NERVE to fight a Big Bad Henchman…a flying gorilla, like King Kong size.

That lets Dorothy get to Triple Dub, and the Kansas Kid dumps a sulfuric acid tank on her…we see that death scene in detail.

Heartless, NERVE, and Dorothy are celebrating. Strawman is dying, but manages to croak out, “This is wrong. No computers…no Twister.”

Dorothy realizes that The Wizard must really be responsible:  why would a demon use software?

Dorothy, Heartless, and NERVE head back to expose The Wizard.”

Studio executive: “What about that mystery figure who sent her to The Wizard in the first place?”

Moviemaker: “Good ear! We get shots of her in a monitoring center following Dorothy’s adventures, but she only calls her the ‘asset’. She uses the Magic Picture and the Great Book of Records to track her.”

Studio executive: “Is that going to make the fanboys mad?”

Moviemaker: “That’s one of the best things…Glinda actually does just that in the original books. She has a magic picture which shows her anything she thinks about, and a book that records everything that happens in the world. She really is a magical NSA.”

Studio executive: “Twenty seconds.”

Moviemaker: “Totogo helps Dorothy find The Wizard. They reveal him as a fraud, and he gets kicked out of power and sent to prison. Glinda mysteriously helps Dorothy restore everything (“There’s no page like homepage”) and we set up future Ozquad movies. Oh, and Strawman survived and is now outfitted with prosthetic limbs.”

Studio executive: “Sequels? Prequels?”

Moviemaker: “Tons. We’ve got a major trans character, a feminist overthrow of a city…diversity and action.”

Studio executive: “Give me one trailer: trailers are key.

Moviemaker: “I’ll give you two. The ‘Carnage’ trailer uses the Tim Curry version of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” as a soundtrack, and shows quick cuts of Heartless fighting, and the melting, but we don’t show who that is. The ‘Conspiracy’ trailer plays up the mystery and the tech…maybe Domo Arregato, Mr. Roboto, but we include dialogue. Not too much, of course.”

Studio executive: “Done. You get $125 million, and I want it in theatres in May.”

Moviemaker: “2020?”

Studio executive: “2018. We have an opening.”

Moviemaker: “That’s…um…not enough time to do it right.”

Studio executive: “Who cares about right? Just make it make money.”

Moviemaker: “Are you sure that’s worth the risk? What about those sequels? I’m just thinking about your future profits.”

Studio executive: “Bull. You want to make art. It ain’t about art…there’s a reason it’s called show BUSINESS, not show art. Get down with that, or get out.”

Moviemaker: “You’ll get your movie.”

Studio executive: “You bet I will…and your little avatar, too.”

The Measured Circle thinks this is a bad idea for a movie…and of course, only good ideas are ever made into movies…

Note: thanks to reader davidleeingersoll who pointed out that the initial name I used for the “movie series”, “Oz Squad”, had previously been used for a comic book series (I was unaware of that). To avoid confusion, I’ve made a change…and I’ll explicitly say that this has no connection to the Oz Squad comics (outside of source material, most likely), and I regret the accidental overlap. I have not read the comics myself, but if you are interested, here is the annotated paperback version:

The Complete, Annotated Oz Squad Volume I by Steve Ahlquist (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Going to Loren Coleman’s International Cryptozoology Museum? See my Jenny Haniver

August 7, 2016

Going to Loren Coleman’s International Cryptozoology Museum? See my Jenny Haniver

image1 (1)

I was very pleased recently to donate something I bought in my travels from a street fair and have had for decades. It’s a “Jenny Haniver”, which is a ray or a skate (both are a type of flat fish) which has been altered to look like a humanoid. My understanding is that they are dried, carved, and coated in varnish.

For many years, I have had it sealed in a box with “DO NOT CRUSH” written boldly on the side.

Well, I wanted to support

Loren Coleman‘s

International Cryptozoology Museum

which is moving into a new location.

Not only have I been interested in cryptozoology since I was a kid and borrowed Gardner Soule’s The Maybe Monsters from my school library as I described here:

A book that changed my life: The Maybe Monsters

but Loren has been kind and generous in the few interactions we’ve had. We’ve never met, but we have had some correspondence. I started something called “Weird World” and it turned out Loren had previously used that name. He graciously said that I could use it (I wasn’t a known writer at the time), but I did change it to “Bufo’s Weird World” to avoid confusion.

It’s better that other people get to see the Jenny Haniver, and I trusted that the museum would take reasonable care of it.

So, after asking Loren if they wanted it and getting an affirmative, I took it down to my local UPS store to have it sent to the museum at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine.

They needed to see what they were shipping (not an unreasonable request), and I had quite a conversation with the clerk. I proudly described it as a “museum specimen”, and explained the origin and destination.

They packed it up securely and it arrived safely.

You can see it in the picture at the top of this post, which I presume was taken by Loren, and he granted me permission to share it with you.

The one which I donated is the upper Jenny, fully lit.

I was pleased with the “neighbors”: a Jackalope, a fur-bearing trout, and a poster for Albert Koch’s Hydrarchos. None of those are really cryptozoology, the way that I would use the term, but that’s an important mission of the museum: to educate the public. That’s not only about cryptozoology, but about the popular culture impact of it.

What is cryptozoology to me?

It requires that there first be reports (which includes local knowledge) of an animal apparently unknown to science, which is then investigated.

For me, the discovery of a previously unreported species (and there are many of those each year) is not cryptozoology…but it has a bearing on it by showing that there are undiscovered species (which you would think would be common sense, but…some people think we already know everything. As  far back as 1812, Baron Cuvier thought there were no large animals left to be discovered).

Similarly, “creative taxidermy” has a bearing (fur-bearing, in the case of the trout) 😉 on the topic.

Here’s an enlargement of the picture above:

Jenny Hanniver

As you can see, it looks like it has two legs, a tail, and wings. Even though the “face” is clear, the anatomical features are not what they appear to be. I’m impressed with the art of making it, even though I would not want to encourage the production of them.

If  you do get to the museum, say, “Hi!” to Jenny for me. 😉

You may not have a specimen to donate, but you may want to support the ICM in other ways. Information is available on their site, and you could set them as your non-profit (the museum is a recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit by the IRS, so donations are generally tax deductible, although you always want to confirm that for your specific situation) at https://smile.amazon.com/ (Amazon is making the donation in that case and gets the write-off). When you do that, Amazon donates half a percent of eligible purchases, at no cost to you.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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