Saturday, May 31, 2008

Where's that line from?

Thought I might play a game with my readers.

Where's that line from? For bonus points, who said it? Anyone that gets three or more correct will win a secret prize.

Answers coming next week!

1. "Oxygen...a strangely paramagnetic pale-blue ore."

2. "All that is fantastic will be leagued against you."

3. "In earth and sky and sea, strange things there be."

4. "Is it a jar of peanut butter? Or is it a jar of...MAN?"

5. "Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution yet."

6. "For success, it's essential you have Thunderball Fists."

7. "Rubbish! If I want a sugar-cookie man, I'll bake him myself!"

How to offend people nowadays?

In high school, a few like-minded friends of mine and I wrote a screenplay for a dark comedy exploring the potential hilarity to be found in "Stockholm Syndrome."

Fiction should challenge you, and if it does its job, you should feel vaguely uncomfortable after reading it. The best and most important aesthetic values are: antiheroism, open-endedness, abstraction, ambiguity, irony, and self-doubt.

So, it's important to surprise people. But how? People aren't shocked by sex anymore. It's sad but true: the evil Tipper Gores of the world are expiring. Heart disease is often the cause, but I don't believe it. I doubt any of them have a heart. A good rule of thumb: those that yell loud enough about their own morality are usually the evilest people of all.

It's still possible to offend, you just have to get clever, that's all.

Here's a shocking and offensive idea for you: certain types of women, in physically and emotionally abusive relationships, either because of lack of courage or an inability to see the situation as it really is, refuse to leave their abusive circumstances, and by sticking around an abusive marriage or relationship, they're partially responsible for the abuse continuing.

The abused person's own attitudes are extremely frustrating, and so self-destructive that it's very, very hard to be sympathetic towards them. In our culture we usually extend great sympathy to victims of abusive relationships, and rightly so. It's not hard to see why the idea would be truly offensive.

Hot on the heels of that other idea, it's also true that a great many sexually abused children, and also raped women, come to sympathize with their rapists and molesters, as well as identify with them. Some of them may even grow to "love" their molesters or rapists. Something like that, presented coldly, unjudgmentally and without a sense of disgust, has great potential to be shocking and disturbing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Happy Memorial Day!

It's times like this I remember all the members of my own family that have proudly served in the military: my Father and Uncle, both of whom served with the United States Army in Vietnam; my paternal Grandfather, who fought for the Communists in the Spanish Civil War (though after the loss, he moved to Cuba and became a dedicated anticommunist) and my Maternal Great-Uncle and Cousins, all of whom served in the Israeli Defense Force, including my second cousin Yakov, who served with distinction in the recent conflict in Lebanon.

Of course, if there's one thing that Memorial Day is all about, it's the cookouts! Yesterday was the first year I went back and "manned the grill." I'm pleased to say it went very well, lip-smacking good.

Try this recipe of mine for all-American Cheesy Deviled Egg Salad. This went like gangbusters yesterday:

12 Eggs
2/3 Cup Light Mayonnaise
5 tbsp. Sour Cream
3 tbsp. Romano or Parmesan Cheese
Pinch of Ginger
Pinch of Pepper

Should serve about four piled high cookout egg sandwiches.

Important Note: generally it is customary to add salt to egg salad, but don't for this one because the salt should be included in the Romano.

Sour Cream is a really useful cooking tool and every chef should have a little bit on hand at all times. For instance, if you're making any kind of tomato pasta sauce and you're concerned about it being excessively acidic (a big concern if using sun-dried tomatoes) give no more than a tablespoon or two of sour cream to eat up the sourness and smooth the sauce out.

I would never presume to tell the great American grillmasters how to prepare the All-American Burger and Dog. But here's one condiment that could really boost a burger:

Orange-Chipotle Mayo

1 Cup Mayo
3 tbsp. Orange Juice
1 tbsp minced Chipotle Chilly Peppers

For a memorable cookout, just be creative. This year for the Memorial Day cookout, I added some Argentinean blood sausage and churrasco skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. They went like gangbusters along with the usual BBQ chicken and hamburgers.

(In a future post, I have to go on about Argentinean cusine, with the parilla and beef and pastas and empanadas and wines. They're the boldest and best world cuisine around.)

Here's a good BBQ marinade I generally use: cover the meat with virgin olive oil (the coarser and more virgin the better), then drizzle it lightly with soy sauce. Then squeeze a fresh lemon in and grind in some pepper. Flip the meat, grind in more pepper. After this, let the meat sit overnight in the refrigerator.

If you like, you can glaze your burgers with Jamaican Jerk sauce for about half an hour before basting. These "jerkburgers" go fantastically with the orange-chipotle mayonnaise.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Julian Perez Goes to the Movies

Generally, when Julian Perez goes to the movies, I make it an occasion: I buy a matinee ticket after work on a weekday, then go see one movie after another, walking from one theater to another. It sounds like I'm asking for trouble, but really, I've theater-hopped since elementary school and the only time I was ever caught was when I was out especially late one night at age 11, and my Mother came running into each movie theater screaming my name.

Last Wednesday, for instance, I saw, in one day, SPEED RACER, PRINCE CASPIAN, and the midnight showing of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.


Let me tell you the one scene in PRINCE CASPIAN I found the most startling and dramatic: Prince Caspian, mad with wrath when he learned his uncle killed his Father, and with understandably low confidence in those four Brit Penvensie kids, loses heart and turns to a cruel Dwarf that wants to resurrect the White Witch. Deep underground in flame-lit caves, Caspian encounters a hooded growling werewolf dressed like a Pagan druid and a creepy parrot-woman that moves like a cross between a spider and a jerky silent film creature. Around a megalith-like stone table, one of them slices Caspian's hand and watches his blood trickle to the ground. Caspian, realizes, to his horror, that this is not what he wanted...

This was my favorite scene reading PRINCE CASPIAN as a kid, and I hoped it would make it to the final film. I was wildly pleased with the results, including the twist that it was Edmund that triumphantly smashed the Witch. Part of the reason that moment in the book made such an impression was the illustration: the werewolf, in contrast to the massive wolves in THE HOWLING, was creepily thin and elongated.

This to me, was the most interesting element of C.S. Lewis's books. The moments of Pagan darkness, blood sacrifice, menhirs, fairies and stonehenge. This only popped up on a few terrifying occasions, where Narnia was more like Robert E. Howard or Arthur Machen than WATERSHIP DOWN with cute fauns.

I went to see LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE for two scenes. The first was the Aslan sacrifice scene, which was disappointingly PG. The other was, I was curious about how they would play the scene where the White Witch tried to "seduce" Edmund. In the novel, this was done with food and flattery, but there was an undeniable sexual element.

As it turns out, in the movie, the scene was tame, with none of the Freudian stuff. I suspect this was because of the casting of Tilda Swinton. She was so sexless that it would have been impossible to play the scene that way.

Except for the one White Witch scene (where we remembered how much we missed Tilda Swinton, a much better enemy), the movie was mostly a generic, lifeless Hollywood fantasy epic, with the same burnout on the huge CGI battles, midgets, CGI creatures, and magic powers. I wonder if this must be how audiences felt about the Cecil B. de Mille style Biblical epic come 1964. It's all tired, it's all played out. Only with the horror, surprising in a "family" picture, was there a breath of fresh air.

The concepts Lewis introduced here weren't properly explored, so lots of people were confused. Instead of being called "New Narnians" and casting the battle between Telmarines and Old Narnians as a sort of "Civil War," with Prince Caspian as a uniting figure, the Telmarines came off as invaders. Prince Caspian's noble right to rule - so important for giving everyone on the side of good their motivation - was not even used.


Did the critics even see the exact same movie I did?

Alright, maybe the visual design was a little too over the top. It looked like a koala vomited a rainbow all over the picture. I had a massive migraine 45 minutes in. Still, the bright colors gave it all a distinct visual look. And that's why I liked SPEED RACER: It looked like the show, not a slick, "cool" update of the show. SPEED RACER may go down as the single most truthful film adaptation yet. Snake Oiler was there, still with his Elvis 'do, hurling snakes at his enemies. The side characters all had gimmicks, to the point where it looked like THE WARRIORS. It was a colorful adventure world where cars race in ice caves and can drive up mountains, and

The movie did what a movie like it should do: it brought the series to the screen, kept its spirit intact, and gave it psychology that made it all meaningful and complex. That in particular, was my favorite part. It's obvious the Wachowskis were inspired by James Caan's performance in ROLLERBALL.

In fact, the whole movie could be called ROLLERBALL IN RACING CARS. Like James Caan, Speed Racer was driven by subtler, quiet motives. The young actor that played him gave a subdued, thoughtful performance. The whole conflict acquired the grand dimensions of ROLLERBALL: it went from a story about a boy and his racing car surrounded by crazy characters, to the story of one person's quest for reality and personal authenticity, his desire to be himself in a system that wants to crush him and bring him down. Speed Racer was one part James Caan, another part Harrison Bergeron.

All the characters in the movie had humor and personality to burn. Matthew Fox deserves special props for his role as the supercool Racer X. He was mysterious, had a sense of justice, a controlled rage. He was the pinnacle of maturity and competence. He was ten times cooler than any Batman seen on screen thus far.

Spritel could have been an annoying kid. But instead, the Wachowskis gave him personality as a resourceful little bugger, who when discovered stowing away in the Mach 5, had the chutzpah to ask if they could go for ice cream.

Then you have Trixie. What I thought was interesting about her was, she and Speed are at a very, very late stage in their relationship, one where she is pretty much considered a part of the family Racer, and it's all less about passion and love and more about being there for each other. The moment when Speed vows to take her down the winner's circle and kiss her in front of all the flashbulbs...was a beautiful, sincere, romantic moment.

This movie also reminds me how much I'm in love with Susan Sarandon. She's a beautiful, beautiful actress of immense sensitivity. There's one scene where she pep-talks her boy Speed, and any other actress would have made it schmaltzy, but Susan Sarandon's depth of feeling made it important, significant. Why they didn't give her as much to do I'll never know.

The "world" of SPEED RACER is perfectly duplicated. It's a world of cross-country races in exotic foreign countries with onion domes and beautiful queens, improbable vehicles, guys with names like "Cannonball," organized crime, Ninjas, and stunts so mindblowing they could never be done in real life. The kids are gonna love it.

And don't forget the grownups, too. SPEED RACER has plenty of stuff to make you think. There is one big sign that SPEED RACER is done by the Matrix guys: it's very postmodern and explores the difference between reality and perception. Speed Racer has to come to grips with the fact the racing world is all faked, controlled by powerful business interests, and even the racer he admired most was a fake. In that sense, Speed's motivation to succeed is to give reality to a fake world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Novels are great, comics are dandy, but there is nothing, I mean nothing, like a movie.

Chapter Four Million in "stuff I always liked, but now everybody's paying attention to it because there's a movie in the works" kicked off with a bang when E.E. Smith fanboy/plagiarist J. Michael Straczynski revealed he was going to do a Lensman movie.

All I can say is...Klono's tungsten teeth and curved carbduralloy claws!

Well, finally: a science fiction movie I can take my Grandpa to see!

Read about it here.

I hope they do it sort of retro-style. That's the thing I liked best about the Lensman books was how this was a very retro-style universe with absurdly charming 1930s dialogue, where they say a ship has "more legs than a centipede." And when was the last time anybody ever did a flit? Not since World War II. The ships of the Galaxy Patrol are made with superadvanced micro-minature vaccuum tubes.

Weird creatures, ray guns, and the most hypercompetent space heroes this side of Lazarus Long. Each of the Lensman is a miniature Doc Savage with an unforgeable, invincible bracelet acting as universal translator, that's the extension of his mind itself.

There are unforgettable characters in this series: the weird Z-Lensman (a creature so weird he has to be seen to be believed), Nandreck, and Worsel, a giant dragon with eight eyes, that is a warrior-scientist with terrible mental power. I can't wait for the villains: the Wheelmen, space pirates led by a super-scientist, the sick Overlords of Delgon (like crocodiles with apish heads) that suck human life force.

Battles with planets crashing into each other, millions of rocketships...

Yep, I'm really stoked. Here's hoping Ronny Howard and JMS make it as good as it could be. Clear ether!

Monday, May 19, 2008

James Shmitz's Telzey Amberdon novels

For a good time, check out James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon science fiction novels. A brassy teen telepath remeniscent of Nancy Drew, Telzey is just one of those people that never stays out of trouble...especially when it comes to her college friend who is marked for murder (with clues inside the mind of the pet mastiff-like arena dog), and saving a whole earth colony from a telepathic race of intelligent space tigers.

There are also hints of a conspiracy in the Psychology Institute, the government ministry that supposedly regulate the commercial use of telepathy...but who, in reality, are a scary conspiracy out to become a thought police, who capture any rogue telepath that doesn't tow the line.

Naturally, Telzey is a person that pokes her nose into other people's business, and seems surrounded by conspiracies and murder plots. Being her friend must have a short life expectancy.

The gadgetry in the series is pure pulp and a lot of fun: flying aerocars, wristwatches. The most notable developments are the is, pretty much the Internet, a universal system of instantaneous commmunication (and this was written in the 1960s!). This may be one of the few science fiction novels that actually anticipate the internet, something that, like many other developments that changed our world, almost no science fiction novels saw coming.

Del Rey Publishes new "deluxe" Elric collection

Well, it's about freakin' time.

Del Rey, the guys responsible for those great, complete Robert E. Howard collections, are giving the same treatment to Mike Moorcock and his famous Elric stories. These tales are dynamite supernatural adventure, a place where "nightmare armies assemble for battle and statues scream."

This is Elric as he was originally published in the pages of SCIENCE FANTASY, the short stories that Moorcock eventually blew up to become his novels. If you've only read them in that form (I only read Elric in the White Wolf editions and the DAW reprints), this stuff is familiar but very shocking. The full-length novels explained things like, for instance, how Yyrkoon usurped Elric's throne, how Elric discovered Stormbringer.

This collection features the initial stories as well as the first Elric novel, STORMBRINGER. Some people have complained about Conan the Barbarian, a hero of his statue deserved a Gotterdammerung, a send-off. Moorcock does so in a big way. STORMBRINGER is a grim, Ragnarok end-of-the-world story. It gives Elric what Conan never got, a legendary death that suits him.
If you can only read one Elric story, read "The Dreaming City." It has everything that makes Elric "Elric" (well, except the part where Elric keeps on popping up as a guest-star in Moorcock's less profitable novels when those series need a shot in the arm): Elric's leading a human pirate army against his own people, his grim destiny, the hideous demon-god Arioch, and ultimately, the curse of Stormbringer, an evil vampiric sentient sword with a taste for the blood of Elric's friends and loved ones.

That one story, the first Elric story, details everything Elric is about. His hallucinogenic weirdness (Elric is what Tolkien would look like, if Tolkien took acid).

The specials are terrific: essays by Michael Moorcock where he goes on about his favorite topic, Michael Moorcock, as well as dozens of original covers, STORMBRINGER's first review, and even a story by Moorcock from his fanzine days (it's about as bad as you expect).
The illustrations by Joe Picaccio are gorgeous and really give a sense of fear and atmosphere...though all Joe usually does is paint Elric in an angsty emo pose holding his sword.

You know, I've noticed that illustrators never illustrate the things you'd like to see illustrated about a book. How many illustrators have shied away from doing the blind alien elephant monster from Howard's "Tower of the Elephant?" The single most dramatic scene in Burroughs's "Gods of Mars," where John Carter watches while the door slams shut, Phaidor is about to stab Dejah Thoris, while Thuvia races to the the best of my knowledge, I don't think has ever been illustrated.
C'mon, STORMBRINGER had a million different memorable scenes to illustrate: the battle between Elric and Arioch, the friggin' Vulture Lions, Elric vs. a giant intelligent squid god on the deck of a ship, and a cloud of thousands of floating black swords attacking a god like a school of pirahna. None of them were really drawn up.

One artist that bucks this trend is Frank Kelly Freas. I always loved his SHE cover, mostly because it didn't spoil the peak scene with Ayesha naked in the fire.