Thursday, August 28, 2008

Foxy Lady

Yesterday was Wednesday and, therfor, not Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day.

However, this week has been trying, as all weeks before and after major holidays are at my workplace--we get Labor Day off, but still wind up working just as many hours as we would have had we come in on Monday--so a co-worker and I called an emergency Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day, with me providing the figures (because, let's face it, I own more toys than damn near everyone else I know).

For my co-worker, I brought a gorilla figure that somehow managed to survive the Great Toy Purge of my youth, when Mom decided that I was too old to own so many action figures and "suggested" that I "donate" them to the family next door, which had less money than we did (though we were far from wealthy) and seven kids to our two. (To this day, Mom claims I agreed to this. My memory, fuzzy as it can be, begs to differ.) The gorilla is about eight inches tall and has a button on its back that used to make his arms move back and forth in anger; this button now barely moves the arms and is more likely to make them drop to his sides in weary resignation.

For my own desk, though, I brought the lovely lady above.

She's a Charlie's Angels doll--most specifically Jaclyn Smith, the only Angel to stay for the entire run of the series. I have no idea whether or not her rather Gypsy-like outfit is original or not. I bought her along with four other dolls on eBay from a seller whose grandmother, who had just passed away, was a doll collector (rather than a Charlie's Angels fan in particular) and liked to make little outfits for some of the dolls. So the outfit could have been homemade, filched from another doll or an authorized set of clothing.

Whatever--she looks good, and my co-workers agree. More than one sang a lyric or two of "Foxy Lady" upon seeing her on my desk.

She's still on my desk, keeping an eye (two, even) on things and making sure nobody messes with me. Would you want to piss off one of Charlie's Angels? Neither would I.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No More Eating Before Bed. EVER.

Last night, I had a sex dream involving Sarah Jessica Parker and...Ernest Borgnine. And yes, both were naked. My eyes may never recover.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Cheap Seats

I know I've written before about the Logan Theater, the last remaining second-run movie house in Chicago. (That is, unless you count the Brew & View at the Vic Theater, which shows second-run and revival movies part of the week, but it's usually used as a music venue these days--I saw Ladytron there with Melissa in June--so the Logan is still the only second-run theater in Chicago that shows only movies.) It opened in 1915, and like so many other older cinemas was split into four smaller screens back in the 1980s.

Unlike most of those other older cinemas, though, the Logan survives.

It doesn't have much in the way of modern amenities. It doesn't have stadium seating. There are no flavored toppings to sprinkle on your popcorn. The snack selection is limited. The men's bathroom has urinals that run all the way to the floor, the doors on the stalls don't close quite right and the ventilation fan is loud. The lobby and screen rooms are not exactly opulent. The huge neon sign pictured above (and, for that matter, below) hasn't been lit in years, and the seats have the magical ability to make my ass fall asleep within the first half hour, no matter what position I contort my body into.

However, the Logan has its pluses as well. It's clean--the lobby, screen rooms and bathroom all seem well maintained. The staff is friendly and polite. It's easy to get to by public transportation--the Blue Line subway has a stop half a block from the Logan, two bus lines run right by it and two more are a short walk away. And admission? Only three bucks. You could buy a medium popcorn and a bottle of Cherry Coke and still pay less than the ticket price alone at any of the downtown multiplexes.

Yesterday, I was in the mood for a long walk, so I started south from La Casa del Terror and made it to the Logan just before showtime--no previews here, kids, so your soon-to-be-aching ass better be in that seat as soon as the projector starts spinning. As it happened, the movie I was there to see, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (don't look at me like that--I liked the first one and hoped this would be an improvement over the second), was playing on the fourth screen, which isn't at an odd angle at all (unlike the third screen, where I saw 3:10 to Yuma last year, which tilts to the left) and is actually a nice little room to see a movie in. Add a clean print of the film (sometimes movies that have been out only a few weeks look scratched, torn and generally worn) and a reasonably decent crowd for a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I wound up with an enjoyable moviegoing experience.

The Mummy sequel wasn't bad, either. Not great, maybe--well paced, good special effects and Brendan Fraser's big-luggish charm go a long way toward covering up a poorly used Jet Li (appearing only fleetingly after the prologue), a miscast Maria Bello (taking over for Rachel Weitz, who has an actual English accent, as opposed to Bello's, which is pretty obviously fake), and the fact that Fraser's character has a son who looks nearly as old as Fraser is--but does every movie have to be great to be enjoyed? I don't think so. And when the pleasant, affordable cinematic surroundings put you at ease, even a mediocre sequel no one really asked for can seem more than passable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bring Your Zombie to Work Day

OK, not really, but for Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day, one of my esteemed co-workers did bring a mini-zombie punching bag (all the better for playing "Whack-A-Zombie") as well as Firefly from G.I. Joe.

Another co-worker added The Thing in his "I'm too damn ugly so I'll wear this disguise that brings even more attention to me" outfit, which makes him look rather like a seriously large flasher ("Hey, kid--ya like rock candy?"), as well as a really, really tiny die-cast Wolverine ("I'm the best at what I do--only smaller").

The two vintage Planet of the Apes figures, however, are all mine. Because you can never have enough monkeys. Especially in the workplace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Last Call

"The Red Lion is closing."

I couldn't believe the words that had just left my friend's mouth--she might as well have told me that the sun was now rising in the north and setting in the south--but I had no reason to doubt those words, either. She belongs to a group of writers who did monthly readings at the Red Lion Pub, and she was telling me that they had to move to another nearby establishment because the Red Lion was shutting down.

The Red lion had, for the overwhelming majority of its years in business, been the best English-style pub in the city, serving a lovely pint of cider and a tasty plate of bangers and mash. It was a great place to go with friends after seeing a movie at either the Biograph or the 3 Penny, two of the oldest surviving cinemas in Chicago. It was also the last venue in which I read my poetry, before the aforementioned writers' group in the upstairs room that was reputed to be haunted (and I firmly believe it was).

The 3 Penny closed a couple of years ago, though, and the Biograph was recently converted into a live theater space. Add the fact that most of my past drinking partners have either left town or ceased drinking socially, and it's not surprising that I hadn't made it to the Red Lion in a while. Still, you'd think that I'd have heard about this before now; after a bit of poking around on the Interwebs, I found that the closing had been public knowledge for about a year.

Like I said, I didn't doubt my friend at all--but I had to see for myself. I wanted her to be somehow mistaken.

She wasn't.

The building still stands on Lincoln Avenue, a relic well over 100 years old. That, as I understand it, is part of the problem--the bulding's tax situation makes it unprofitable to maintain only as a bar, so the original structure is to be razed and a new building with the Red Lion on the ground floor and apartments above. For now, though, the red lettering remains on the facade, but the lighted sign that dangled over the entrance is gone, the bar is dark, and a chalkboard sign explains that the bar will reopen in "the fall of 2008."

That would be heartening news...except that I'm writing these words in August of 2008, which means fall is just a few weeks away. And if the old building hasn't even been torn down yet, they can't reopen in the fall. Also, there's another chalkboard sign announcing that the restaurant equipment is for sale--you don't usually sell off your equipment if you plan to reopen.

Or maybe you do. Maybe you buy all-new equipment for your rebuilt pub. Maybe you don't reopen in the fall (since that doesn't seem possible), but maybe sometime in the front half of next year. I can hope.

I had a lot of great times in the Red Lion, like when an ex-girlfriend and I were having an early dinner there and a couple came in and sat right near the door--the woman was someone I used to be head-over-ass for, the man her on-again/off-again who'd been friends with my ex. Neither of us wanted to talk to either of them, and the owner kindly let us escape through the back door. Or the time I caught a friend who'd had one too many before he fell into the Red Lion's fireplace. Or the many quiet conversations I'd had about movies or writing or love (or, more frequently, the lack thereof) with many friends, most of whom are either gone from this city or gone from my life entirely.

Now the Red Lion itself is gone, and with it a little more of this city's individuality and personality. Maybe it'll be back when the new building goes up. Like I said--I can hope.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The "A" Is for "Action"!

The multicolored piece of cloth in my ten-year-old-or-so hand was unfamiliar to me.

I was in the basement of the family that lived across the alley from the apartment building my family lived in at the time. They were a pretty large family with a penchant for giving all their children, male or female, names that began with the letter D--Donnie, Desi, David and so on. All the kids in the neighborhood played games in the alley--from field hockey (I was an awesome goalie) to tag to "pinners," a modified version of baseball that substituted a solid (usually brick) wall for the batter. The alley was the common area, from which we'd migrate into each other's yards, garages or, in this instance, basement.

Their basement was a typical one for the neighborhood--long, narrow, dark, musty, cluttered. There were probably things in the shadows that would have scarred me for life; I was wise not to seek them out. Instead, I stayed on the more brightly lit end of the basement nearest the staircase leading up into the house.

That's where I was with a couple of the younger kids, rummaging through a box of childhood odds and ends, when I ran across the aforementioned piece of cloth. It appeared to be an outfit for an action figure--something the size of the original 12-inch G.I. Joes. It looked more like it belonged to a superhero, though: A unitard with black arms and trunk, and dark blue torso and leggings. There was also an emblem in the midle of the suit's chest: An inverted triangle with red, yellow and green sides, a black center and the letters "CA" in white.

The younger kids had no idea what character the outfit belonged to, so they asked me. I didn't know either, but like most kids, I tried to act like I had a clue--more of a clue than the other kids, anyway. I said that the suit belonged to somebody named Captain Action, and that the suit itself had powers, making its wearer super-strong, bulletproof, capable of flight, etc. I made up stories about the suit and the man inside it (assuming it was a man--could have been a superpowered Barbie for all I knew). He saved children from burning buildings. Held back flood waters with his mighty hands. Soared with eagles and swam with dolphins. You know--superhero stuff.

It was the first time I can recall being asked to tell stories. In that sense, that afternoon in the neighbors' basement was my first outing as a writer--and, given that the little ones seemed fascinated by the adventures and antics of the character who occupied the piece of cloth in my hand, it was more or less a success.

It wasn't until years later that I found out the suit really did belong to a character named Captain Action, only he wasn't a Superman knockoff (as my decade-old mind had envisioned him) as much as an outgrowth of the popularity of G.I. Joe. Instead of being a tradition military man, though, Captain Action was more of a cross between a superhero and a spy, who fought the good fight by disguising himself as various other characters from comic books (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man), comic strips (The Phantom, Flash Gordon) and TV (The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet). Ideal sold the figures dressed as Captain Action and the outfits for the other licensed characters separately. Thus, because most kids tore the suit off the figure and dressed him up like Sgt. Fury or Aquaman, the good Captain became something of an afterthought in the action figure line bearing his name.

Hence, the abandoned suit in the basement.

Even after I discovered the origin of the colorful piece of cloth, I didn't own a vintage captain Action figure until this week, when I received a package from an eBay seller. I had bought two Captain Action figures--one dressed as Captain America, the other as Buck Rogers--along with a ZipLock bag full of assorted accessories. Both outfits were in rough shape and the Buck Rogers was nowhere near complete, so I sorted the accessories in the bag to see how (or even if) I could spruce up my two new acquisitions. I found boots, a hat, a pistol, a pretty wicked looking sword/knife...and a very familiar colorful piece of cloth with an inverted triangle in the middle of the chest.

I had everything I needed to dress Captain Action as...Captain Action!

Today, he stands on my desk at work--this is Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day, after all. My co-workers are quite impressed with the good Captain. And so they should be.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oh, It's a "Disaster," all right...

There's nothing wrong with movies that make fun of other movies or that toss in visual cues with no other purpose than to get a laugh or at least a nod of recognition. It's a trick nearly as old as the medium itself (the very first movies obviously had nothing previous to reference), and some filmmakers have had fine careers as cinema satirists (Mel Brooks for one).

But what about a movie that consists of little but references to other movies, with only the thinnest excuse for a plot to string them together?

Writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have made a nice chunk of change doing exactly that--lifting ideas from other moviemakers, throwing them together without any discernable craft, wit, style or substance and calling them a movie. They've done this a few times, with titles like Date Movie, Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans.

Their latest "effort," Disaster Movie, opens later this month. This morning, one of my co-workers offered me a free pass to a preview for it. I declined, but couldn't help but stare in something approximating awe (without any of the positive connotations that word usually carries) at the poster art, which features references not only to hits from last year (like Juno, Enchanted and Alvin & the Chipmonks), but blockbusters from this summer like Kung Fu Panda, The Dark Knight, Wanted, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Sex & the City, Hancock, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Oh, and there's an Amy Winehouse lookalike on it, too.

The poster for Distaster Movie hints at a level of creative bankruptcy that borders on the pathological. Yet some people will look at this poster and smile, will pay top dollar to see it on the big screen, will laugh heartily at all the visual cues and buy the DVD when it comes out.

I have no desire to meet these people. None at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Chicago!

On this date 175 years ago, the township of Chicago was incorporated. (It would be incorporated as a city four years later.) At that time, there were about 300 people living here. There are a few more now.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's Too Damn Early

I love Halloween. It's my favorite holiday. I decorate La Casa del Terror for the season. I watch horror films. I do everything except Trick or Treat.

But did I think it was right to see Halloween decorations--candy bowls and votive holders and ornaments for Halloween trees--on prominent display in the Hallmark store I passed on the way to the job this morning?

No. I did not.