February 2008

  • Non Sequitur: The Name Game


    “Kris Alan Johnson!”

    Rarely were those three words strung together unless I had committed some egregious offense. It is common practice, after all, for a parent to employ a child’s full name in the face of an infraction so dire as to warrant prison time (if only the little miscreant could be tried as an adult).

    Less severe offenses occasionally elicited a “Kris Alan!” from my mother, but the full name was reserved for truly despicable deeds.

    Had I been an entirely rotten child, I suppose it is quite possible that my mother would have grown tired of constantly evoking my full name and determined that simply calling me by my middle name would be sufficient to indicate that I was in deep trouble and to distinguish her summons from those (rare) occasions when she wasn’t ready to wring my scrawny little neck.

    But I was most certainly not a rotten child.

    Joseph Martin Johnson, on the other hand, must have been a thoroughly rotten child, for to this very day everyone calls him “Martin”.

    Except me, of course. I call him “Dad”.

  • Moviestuff: Crocs and Gators


    My love of monster movies is well established, but giant alligators and crocodiles occupy a special place in my—well, not heart, but certainly the reptilian center of my cinematic brain. Even more so than sharks, snakes and spiders (the latter of which creep me right the hell out, regardless of size) I enjoy movies that feature ridiculously huge crocodilians running rampant and treating the human race like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

    But, you might be thinking, how many such films can there possibly be?

    More than you might expect. The hastily-compiled list below contains a dozen of the finest man-eating reptile films from the past two and a half decades or so. I’ve seen nine of the twelve films and I hope to find and watch both Killer Crocodile, Killer Crocodile II and Krocodylus in the next couple of months. Yeah, I’m a bit of a completionist.

    • Alligator (1980). It’s not really fair to say that Alligator followed hot on the heels of the grandfather of all When Animals Attack movies, Jaws; in fact, this first true star of the sub-genre arrived between Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D. Where Jaws made viewers afraid to go into the water, Alligator (starring none other than Robert Forster) was a cautionary tale about flushing unwanted pets down the toilet. The beastie survives to become a crocodilian of unusual size by munching on hormonally-modified critters discarded by Science. As usual, when Science makes a mess, it’s up to the Robert Forsters of the world to play God’s janitor.
    • Killer Crocodile (1989). Alas, I’ve not seen Killer Crocodile, but it stars Richard Crenna’s son, Richard (Anthony) Crenna, so how bad could it be?
    • Killer Crocodile II (1990). The sequel, also starring Anthony Crenna, was shot back-to-back with the original, inspiring Peter Jackson to do the same when he shot the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
    • Alligator II: The Mutation (1991). Is eleven years too long to wait for a sequel? Maybe not if you’re an Indiana Jones fan; they’ve been waiting 19 years, but at least they get their leading man back. Not so for Alligator fans. Robert Forster does not reprise his gator-asploding role in The Mutation, instead it’s up to Joseph Bologna to kill the rampaging reptile. Is eleven years too long to wait for a sequel? When it’s as bad as Alligator II, absolutely.
    • Lake Placid (Amazon.com)Lake Placid (1999). Written by David E. Kelley (who created Ally McBeal and co-created Doogie Howser, M.D. with Steven Bochco) Lake Placid resurrected the giant crocodilian sub-genre, and just in time. Lake Placid is funny, 1Betty White (The Golden Girls) drops the f-bomb. That’s funny stuff, right there. Crass? Exploitative? Sure. But hilarious. scary, has several jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and doesn’t skimp on the special effects. Easily my favorite killer croc flick.
    • Krocodylus (2000). Also known as Blood Surf, this one apparently features double trouble: sharks and a giant saltwater crocodile. Sounds like Deep Blue Sea meets Lake Placid, but probably isn’t. Too bad.
    • Crocodile (2000). Okay, kids, I’m only going to say this once: do not steal the crocodile eggs. Got it? Good.
    • Crocodile 2: Death Roll (2002). When Martin Kove (Hard Time on Planet Earth, The Karate Kid) is the only person you recognize in a SciFi Saturday monsterfest, you’re not all that far from the bottom of the barrel. I don’t remember much about Crocodile 2, apart from a scene in which Kove and his bad guy buddies are eaten one by one at a pole shack in the middle of a swamp. Then again, what else do you really need to remember about a giant crocodile movie?
    • Dinocroc (2004). Science has yet to learn that messing around with prehistoric DNA and recreating giant, carnivorous critters is an inherently bad idea. The men and women in the white lab coats always seem surprised when their bloodthirsty creations are aggressive and hungry and strong (or clever) enough to escape. On the other hand, scientists are great appetizers. Alas, while Dinocroc borrowed the basic plot from Jurassic Park, the SciFi Channel appears to have been borrowed the special effects budget from The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends.
    • Supergator (2007). Science strikes again! This time, it’s Kelly McGillis in the lab coat and Brad Johnson (no relation) cleaning up the mess. Supergator is a sequel to Dinocroc in everything but name: same plot, same monster, same bad special effects.
    • Lake Placid 2 (2007). Brought to you by the SciFi Channel—the same folks who unleashed Mansquito and Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy on the world—the sequel lacks everything that made the original so entertaining. Standing in for the cantankerous, foul-mouthed Betty White is Frau Blücker herself, Cloris Leachman, who plays Betty’s crazy sister. Meanwhile, John Schneider (AKA Bo Duke, or Pa Kent for you young’uns) is the sheriff who must save his daughter and her friends (not all of them, mind you) from the giant crocs Cloris has been feeding in her backyard.
    • Primeval (Amazon.com)Primeval (2007). Inspired by actual events. That’s not the same thing as “based on a true story”, but it’s interesting to note that Gustave, the giant crocodile depicted in the film, really exists and is thought to be responsible for upwards of three hundred deaths on the banks of the Ruzizi River in Burundi, Africa. Primeval comes in a very close second on my list of top croc (and gator) movies. It’s not as funny as Lake Placid, but it’s beautifully shot, has some very nice special effects—Gustave is entirely computer-generated according to the “making of” feature on the DVD—and provides an interesting perspective on the origin of the beast. My major gripe: the girl goes back for the dog. Why do they always go back for the damn dog?

    1 Betty White (The Golden Girls) drops the f-bomb. That’s funny stuff, right there. Crass? Exploitative? Sure. But hilarious.
  • What I’m Reading (February 2008 Edition)


    Bloginatrix Lorelle van Fossen issued another of her blog challenges earlier this week: Blog about what you are reading, what you like to read, and why. I hesitated to take up the challenge because we’ve been talking about books and such a lot over at The Secret Lair, but then J.C. Hutchins took up the call and I thought I’d be a good little clone and follow suit.

    What I’m Reading
    Blood and Rust by S. A. SwiniarskiBlood and Rust by S.A. Swiniarski is actually two previously-published horror novels collected in one volume. Both stories are set in Cleveland, Ohio, but in different eras.

    Raven, set in the present, is the story of a man who wakes up in a storm drain with no memory of how he got there or who he is. His investigation into the events leading up to his awakening reveal the horrible truth: somehow, in the last few days, he has become a vampire.

    The Flesh, The Blood and The Fire is set in the late 1930s, after Safety Director Eliot Ness failed to capture the Cleveland Torso Murderer, a notorious serial killer who left more than a dozen decapitated, mutilated corpses in his wake. From the back cover text: …one Cleveland cop refused to give up the case. And his search led him down a bloody trail from the depths of the city’s shantytowns to the inner citadels of industrial power to the darkest parts of the human soul…

    Swiniarski, who publishes science fiction novels under the name S. Andrew Swann, is a local author and Chris Miller (persuasive fellow that he is) talked me into buying Forests of the Night, the first book in Swann’s Moreau series (which now has four volumes) last winter. Looking at Swann’s bibliography, I realized that I’d read another of his books, The Dragons of the Cuyahoga, several years ago; so after finishing Forests of the Night I grabbed the sequel to Dragons: The Dwarves of Whiskey Island. Both were fun reads; enough so that I thought it might be worth giving his horror a try.

    Spook Country by William GibsonSome people might consider this cheating, as I’m listening to Spook Country by William Gibson on CD, but I’m not going to argue the merits of listening to an unabridged audio production versus reading the actual text; I’m just going to enjoy the damn book.

    The first Gibson novel I ever “read” was Virtual Light way back in the days when books on CD were a novelty but books on cassette were abundant at the local library and I was still driving a hand-me-down ’77 Mercury Marquis (ride-engineered by Lincoln-Mercury). My 30-minute commute to and from work was the perfect time to catch up on my reading, and I would go to the library check out any of the Recorded Books audiobooks if Frank Muller was the narrator. Unfortunately, Frank Muller was severely injured in a motorcycle accident several years ago and is no longer able to narrate; Spook Country is narrated by Robertson Dean. I’ve only listened to about 10 minutes of the first disc, so I can’t render even a partial review at this time, except to say that Dean seems like a good narrator.

    Skein of Shadows by The Wandering MenSkein of Shadows by The Wandering Men is a book I’ve mentioned here before. At last year’s Con on the Cob I interviewed one of the authors, Brannon Hollingsworth, then pre-ordered a signed copy. The book arrived in the mail just before I went on The Great December Information Detoxification and I had every intention of reading it while on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As usual, I managed to get distracted by a host of other stuff and I find myself just over halfway through the book.

    Skein of Shadows is five short works, each by a different author, that tell a single story. I really enjoyed “Vendetta”, “Fiend Fighter” and “Seaborn Sentinel” (by Nathan Ellsworth, Davis Riddle and Brannon Hall, respectively), but “The Bonds That Bind Us” by Corey Blankenship feels disconnected and has really slowed me down, to the point where I don’t look forward to picking the book up and continuing where I left off. This is unfortunate, because I’m very curious about the final story in the book, Brannon Hollingsworth’s “Tenet’s Tale”.

    I Am America (And So Can You!)I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert is one of those rare books—along with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction—for which I’ll break my “no hardcovers” rule; the books just work better as hardcovers. Plus it was a Christmas gift.

    I Am America is one of those books that can easily be read in little bits over the course of a few months, which is exactly what I’ve been doing. The humor is an extension of what Colbert does Monday through Thursday on The Colbert Report, complete with margin notes that duplicate the ironic bullet points on “The Wørd”.

    What I Like To Read (and Why)

    • Science Fiction – No surprise there. As a child of Star Wars I tend to prefer the more fantastical sci-fi to the hard stuff. I’m in the definite majority minority of people who prefer Kevin J. Anderson’s Star Wars novels to those written by Timothy Zahn. Speaking of Anderson, I also like the Dune stuff he’s written with Brian Herbert, which is probably cause for the hardcore Frank Herbert fans to burn me as a heretic.
    • Fantasy – Again, this isn’t a big shocker. I think the first fantasy novel I read was Azure Bonds by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb, which I picked up thinking it would help me beat The Curse of the Azure Bonds game for my Apple //GS. No such luck. Not long after that I started reading the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series also falls into this category, as do the Harry Potter novels, which I loved to the last (more than I can say about Dark Tower, unfortunately).
    • Mystery/Thriller – It’s probably not fair to lump these two genres together into one, but when you’re writing your own list you should feel more than free to separate them. I read plenty of Agatha Christie (and before that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon) in my youth, but I don’t read much in the way of pure mystery anymore. Instead, I go for stuff like the Agent Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
    • Horror – I read plenty of Stephen King, Robin Cook and Dean Koontz in my post-adolescent years, and I do enjoy a good vampire novel now and again (though most of those probably fall into the Fantasy genre). I read most of a Lovecraft short story collection last year, but H.P. can be a difficult slog.
    • Non-Fiction – Every once in a while I pick up a random non-fiction tome, such as Holley Bishop’s Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey—The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World or Daniel Schorr’s Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism. Come to think of it, NPR seems to drive a lot of my non-fiction reading.
    • Chuck Palahniuk – I have no idea what genre this guy writes in, but I love it.

    You can always see what I’m reading (as well as what I plan to read and what I’ve recently read) over at GoodReads.com.

  • Non Sequitur: Badges, DVRs and More Badges


    The Secret Lair: KrisCheck out my official Overlord Badge for The Secret Lair! It’s another fantastic creation from Natalie Metzger, Secretary of Artistic Propaganda. There’s more (and not just from Natalie), but I don’t want to unveil it all at once. You may not be able to make out the details, but that writing implement in my shirt pocket is an official Dungeons & Dragons 30th Anniversary mechanical pencil. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

    In other news, my beloved DirecTiVo died over the weekend; one of the tuners decided that its alignment was Chaotic Good and channels above the 200 mark were made of Evil. When we attempted to watch one of these channels on Tuner 2, the response would be anything from a lost signal to a warm reboot.

    DirecTV gave me a couple of options: lease one of their branded DVRs or get another DirecTiVo receiver. The former required a two-year commitment to the DirecTV service and a $20 shipping charge, while the latter would cost me $350.00 out of pocket. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of giving up my TiVo service, but every man has his price and mine happens to be right around $350.00.

    When I got home from work today, the new receiver was waiting for me. One not-so-quick call to DirecTV customer service 1Seriously, you’d think these customer service reps would perform these activations so often they could do them with their eyes closed. Yeah, you’d think that. But you’d be wrong, … Continue reading and I was up and running. The new 2Okay, refurbished. DVR has about three times the capacity the old one did, but I’m already disappointed in the “universal” remote that came with it. Funny how we take little things like the ability to turn off both the television and the audio receiver with a single press of a button for granted.

    Now my young apprentice and I are watching Max and Ruby on Noggin and (in theory) Scrubs is recording on the other tuner. Ruby is trying to get yet another damn Bunny Scout merit badge while Dr. Dorian and the rest of the gang at Sacred Heart are undoubtedly involved in some wacky shenaniganery that is (again, in theory) being preserved in all its digital glory for my enjoyment at a later time. Max wants a popsicle, but Ruby is too busy putting splints on dolls to pay attention to her younger brother; I swear, if there’s a Bunny Scout merit badge for being a good elder sibling, Ruby doesn’t have it.

    1 Seriously, you’d think these customer service reps would perform these activations so often they could do them with their eyes closed. Yeah, you’d think that. But you’d be wrong, baby. So very, very wrong.
    2 Okay, refurbished.
  • More from The Secret Lair


    The Secret Lair

    Big things are happening over at The Secret Lair. Yeah, there’s another movie episode, but more impressive than a couple of geeks blathering on about Night Watch and Justice League: The New Frontier is the new masthead 1Call it a banner, if you prefer, or even a logo; your fancy words don’t detract from the sheer coolness of the thing. on the website. Designed by Natalie Metzger, the Lair’s official Secretary of Artistic Propaganda, the graphic features a skull-topped mountain looming large in front of the Cleveland, Ohio skyline at dusk, its stony eye sockets glowing malevolently as the masterminds and minions who call the craggy cranium their base of operations toil within the mysterious chambers hidden deep within.

    So visit the site. Download the newest episode. And if you know what’s good for you, tell Natalie how truly magnificent the new masthead is, or the next time you see those glowing eyes it will be in the company of one of our Retrieval Squads.

    1 Call it a banner, if you prefer, or even a logo; your fancy words don’t detract from the sheer coolness of the thing.