Friday, November 21, 2014

MST3K


In the not to distant future there is this guy named Joel. He's a regular guy, like you or me. Joel works at Gizmonic Institute as a janitor, just another guy in a red jumpsuit. He did a pretty good job cleaning up the place but his bosses didn't like him so... They shot him into space. They send him cheesy movies and monitor his mind while he watches and riff on them with his robot friends, Crow and Tom Servo. He has no control over when these movies begin of end because... Well, he used those parts to build his robot friends.
 

The recent announcement that PBS is trying to bring the cult favorite TV series, Mystery Science Theater 3000, back to television. Three episodes are being shopped around to public television stations nation wide to see if there is an interest. The potential for the series to be back on the air had brought back some good memories. My cousins and I would stop whatever we were doing on Saturday nights and gather around the TV at my grandmothers house to see what bad film was up next and what Joel and his robot pals Crow and Tom Servo would say about them. I unfortunately lost track of the show during high school and never got back to it before it's final cancellation. But those memories of Saturday nights still stay with me. Recently I have been rediscovering it with my wife thanks to the local library stacking up on some of the DVDs.


Mystery Science Theater 3000, also known as MST3K, started airing in Minneapolis, Minnesota on KTMA on November 24, 1988. It would be picked up by Comedy Central, get canceled in 1997, picked up by the SyFy network (which was still SciFi at the time), and again get canceled in 1999. In it's eleven years, 197 episode and one movie, it earned a Peabody Award, two Emmy nominations, and a CableACE Award nomination. Series creator Joel Hodgson would watch B-movies with Crow and Tom Servo and riff on them. Their silhouettes would be onscreen appearing like you would be watching them from behind in a movie theater. Another robot, Gypsy sometimes takes part in the live action skits of the show. Joel built her to run the Satellite of Love's higher functions. The SOL being the ship they are all stranded on.



Joel left the show in 1993 and head writer Mike Nelson took over hosting duties on the Satellite of Love. The series is very funny. Well most of the time. Sometimes the movies are so bad or boring it seems like they struggle to get the jokes going. And sometimes their references are pretty obscure, on occasion being true inside jokes. Over all though, it is comedic gold.


In a weird way, MST3K is sometimes somewhat educational. Some of the films and shorts that got selected might only be found in archives and would never otherwise see the light of day. The series also brought notoriety to some obscure films. Although some would label it more along the lines of infamy. And even though the theme some label the films as "cheesy" and "the worst we could find" some of the filmmakers who had their works ripped apart were appreciative of MST3K giving their films new life. Some actors who appeared in these films, Including Adam West, even hosted a "Turkey Day" marathon in 1994. And some didn't take to kindly to it either, notably the rights holders to the Japanese monsters Gamera and Godzilla. You won't find the Gamera episodes on DVD and the episodes with Godzilla can no longer be published.


Though the series has been off the air for some time now, it still has a loyal following. So loyal that Mike Nelson created RiffTrax, which allows fans to download riff audio tracks they can sync to both B-movies and well known, and even popular films. RiffTrax features some of the voices and crew of MST3K and has some special guests including "Weird Al" Yankovic and Neil Patrick Harris.


If enough public television station are interested, the block of three Mystery Science Theater 3000 films will be packages as a "Best of MST3K". If this proves to be successful, more "Best of" packages could be in the works opening this cult series to a wider audience than it ever had. Hopefully MST3K will be back in the not to distant future.

Friday, November 7, 2014

American Gods


Life is supposed to get better for Shadow. He is getting out of prison soon. He will return to his loving wife, Laura. His best friend even has a job waiting for him. For a guy getting out of prison, circumstances couldn't get any better. That is until one day when they let him out early. His wife and best friend just died in a car accident. Now the love of his life is gone and the prospect of employment is dead too. And if things couldn't get any worse, a mysterious, one eyed older gentleman won't leave Shadow alone on the flight home. The old man's name is Wednesday and he really wants Shadow to work for him.

The gods used to have it good. There were plenty of people to spread the worship and love around to keep them all strong. Well, maybe not always. As it tends to happen, people die and sometimes there is no one left to remember a god. Gods can die and fade away when there is no one left to remember them. When the New World was discovered, many of the old gods followed their people to new lands. But the new world was not a good place for old gods. New lives mean old things can be left behind. And now the old gods are scraping by like most of humanity.

The new gods have taken their place in the world. No, not the god of the Christians, Jews, Muslims, or what have you. That god was born in the old world. These new American Gods are Media, The Technical Boy (god of the internet and technology), etc. All a god needs to be born is belief and worship. And the New gods are powerful. They are also being let to destroy the old gods.

With little left to live for, Shadow agrees to work for Wednesday as a bodyguard/assistant. Wednesday is an old con many who is trying to recruit the old gods to go to war against the new gods. And their survival may just depend on Wednesday's success. Prolific writer Neil Gaiman brings us this world of gods living among us. A world where things are really not all they seem to be. It's a dark tale that weaves across the United States and every new scene leaves you with some answers and more questions. Some of the Gods are familiar and a few are strange. Well, they are all strange. And when the mystery of Wednesday's real identity is revealed, it does little to solve the mystery of the new god, Mr. World, and what is really being the on coming storm of war.

This is the first novel by Neil Gaiman I have read. I know, what is wrong with me? I've been more familiar with his comics and recently his writing for television. But this is a good book. It gets a little weird at times. Like when a goddess needs to... feed. Those who have read this book know what I am talking about. So I would definitely say this book is more meant for grown up crowd due to some mature themes. But it is great story. There is even a pilot in development for a possible TV series for the Starz network.

It's a heavy story, but it is still interesting and entertaining. Neil Gaiman is truly a great writer.

Fangirl



This is a story about a girl who falls in love with a boy. Well, it's about a girl who falls in love with a book series about a boy wizard and then writes her own fan fiction about the boy wizard falling in love with his nemesis. And then she falls in love with a boy.But a few more things happen before that. This is a love story. But it really comes down to a girl learning to love herself. Cather is living in the shadow of her sister, Wren. More so now that they have started college together. Well, it’s more like she thingks she is living in Wren’s shadow. Cath perceives Wren as being perfect and it is not until later that Cath realizes that Wren is as broken as she is. Wren just hides it better. Cather, who goes by Cath, and Wren are twins. They are identical in looks. But Wren is the outgoing one. Cath.... Writes a lot of fan fiction. Cath even got the awkward name in the let's name the twins deal. There was supposed to be one baby girl that was going to be named Catherine, but hey, twins. If you were ever the awkward one in life and wondered what it would be like if you were the "awesome" one, Cath has that.
Fangirl is Rainbow Rowell's third book. It's told from the perspective of Cath, who is trying to figure out out to live in a world where she is being forced to figure things out on her own. She can't depend on her sister who wants to live in a different dorm and be independent. Her dad has problems of his own. And her mom.... Well, lets just say she isn't in the picture. All she has is a roommate, Reagan, who adopts Cath as a new friend because Cath has no friends, Reagan's (friend, or boyfriend, or something or other that is complicated) Levi, who hangs out in their room a lot and can't seem to leave Cath alone. And she has Simon. The fictional boy wizard who Cath writes popular online fan fiction about, fanfic that has become very popular. In case you were curious, Simon Snow is an homage to Harry Potter.
 This not being a science fiction or fantasy novel, it's not typically something I would pick up and read. Not that I have a bias in literature, but I can barley keep up with the genres I have a habit of reading. Too many books and comics out there to keep track of. But Rowell is a favorite author of my wife, and she recommended reading one of Rainbow's books. And I'm glad she did. Rainbow is a fangirl and it shows in her writing. But that is not why I liked the book. It is a good story about someone going through that awkward phase of stepping out of childhood and feeling not very well equipped with dealing with the real world, let alone the other people living in the real world. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be hard. Especially if your comfort zone doesn't extend into social settings. It also explores the lure of wanting to live through a fictional world where tings are better. This is a story about how a young woman gets through her awkward phase by realizing we are all awkward in one way or another and that things just might get better when we let real people into are all to real lives.

And I realize I use "This is a story" a lot in this one.
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