Sunday, February 07, 2016

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Sign

While most everyone will be glued to the Superbowl today, at least for a quarter or two, we know there’s some of you out there who might prefer spending time with something a bit more along the lines of what we usually offer here. If that’s the case for you, then here’s a few articles from around the Net that just might fit the bill.

While the Twilight Zone and our usual collection of questionable cartoons have taken up most of the space here at the ol’ B-Movie Catechism lately, over at Aleteia it’s been business as usual. In recent weeks I’ve had a few things to say about The Revenant and The Finest Hours, as well as taking a quick look at each of the Best Picture nominees for this year’s Oscars.

In other new movie news, Red Cardigan has finally gotten around to taking in The Force Awakens and now feels compelled to explain how Star Wars changed the universe of her imagination and ensured that she would never read solely realistic fiction again.

That’s probably music to the ears of Scott and Julie over at the A Good Story Is Hard To Find podcast as this time around they’re discussing Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The book that is, not Kenneth Branagh’s movie.

I wonder if Red’s expanded reading list extended beyond novels and into comic books? If so, she might have found even more food for thought. For instance, Father V., over at Adam’s Ale, wonders if the existence of Superman proves there is a God. And then there’s the Hulk. Have you ever thought of the jade giant as a messiah figure? Well, Speculative Faith’s Audie Thacker would like to convince that ol’ green skin is that very thing… sort of.

But enough of that. Let’s get back to our raison d’etre around here, B-movies, cult cinema, and Catholicism. Catholic Skywlaker has the B-movies (or B-TV as the case may be) covered as he adds The Wakling Dead to his list of all-time best television dramas. Meanwhile, on the cult cinema front, Crisis Magazine’s K. V. Turley takes that term literally and ponders whether or not James Bond really and truly is a cult in the classic sense. And as for Catholcism, Grayson Clary takes some time at The Atlantic to ask just why does sci-fi have so darn many Catholics?

Well, that should be plenty to keep you busy this evening, if not during the game, then at least during the commercials. Or vice versa depending on why you tune in. Still, if you just really need something to kill time, then here’s ten minutes of gameply from the old C64 title, Space Pope. Remember, gamers, cheating makes the baby Jesus cry.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #006: ESCAPE CLAUSE

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S01E06 - Escape Clause

"Forty-four-year-old Walter Bedecker (David Wayne) is a hypocondriac par excellence. So when the Devil in the form of fat, jolly Mr. Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez) appears and offers him immortality and indestructability in exchange for his soul, Bedecker jumps at the chance. He insists on an escape clause, however: if at any time he tires of life, all he need do is summon Cadwallader. Soon, Bedecker is delighted to find that nothing can harm him - steaming radiators can't burn him and throwing himself in front of speeding subway trains only rips his clothes. Insurance agents are lining up to pay off handsomely for all his little "accidents." And yet, something is missing… life lacks a certain zip. Bedacker has a nasty feeling Cadwallader has pulled a fast one. And, in his quest for bigger and better thrills, Bedecker is setting himself up for a nasty shock… courtesy of the Twilight Zone. "

To the bewilderment of many a secular sci-fi fan, it turns out the devil is quite real in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. He’s also inexplicably Welsh, or at least that’s what his given name of Cadwallader would lead us to believe anyway. Whatever his actual nationality may be, though, here in the first of his many appearances in the Twilight Zone, Old Scratch is up to his favorite pasttime of trading services for souls.

This Faustian tale marks the series’ first foray into comedic territory, though with a decidedly Twilight Zone spin. At breakneck speed, the narrative transitions from the sitcom setup of a hyper-hypochondriac Walter refusing to leave his bed, through the black comedy of his repeated “accidents,” and ultimately into the (literal) gallows humor of his life imprisonment. Depending on your taste, you’ll either find this episode to be a master class in compressed storytelling or a completely rushed mess. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.

Depsite its comedic overtones, however, there is still a darkness at the heart of the story, or to be more precise, in the heart of Walter Bedeker. As Seling points out in his opening narration, Walter has "one preoccupation, the life and well-being of Walter Bedeker. One abiding concern about society, that if Walter Bedeker should die how will it survive without him?" Waler is a self-absorbed to an infinite degree.

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It takes a special kind of narcissist to come face to face with the devil (Walter unhesitatingly accepts that’s who Cadwallader is with no requirement of proof) and do anything but immediately call out to God for help. After all, if Satan is real, then the whole kit and kaboodle, Heaven and Hell, must be real as well. And yet these Faust types inevitably trust themselves to be able to handle the devil on their own, always sure they can outwit the guy who wrote the book on tricking us poor humans. We’re taking about the entity John described in his gospel as “a murderer from the beginning and [who] does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” Yeah, that’s the guy people like Walter try to outsmart.

Even Popes don’t have such high opinions of themselves. Back in 1884, Pope Leo XIII had a vision of evil spirits trying to carry out Satan’s plan to destroy the Church within the next one-hundred years. Now, being the Pope and all, Leo could have just made some pronouncements and maybe wrote a homily or two. Instead, he called for help by writing a little prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and demanding it be said at every low mass throughout the world. Maybe you’ve heard it before…

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the Divine Power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Vatican II put the kibosh on the low mass, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say the St. Michael ourselves, or call on any of the other Saints for that matter. The main thing is not to be so full of ourselves that we don’t reach out for help in dealing with the forces alligned against us. Walter’s fate shows us what happens when we do that.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #005: WALKING DISTANCE

The Twilight Zone - s01e05 - Walking Distance1
S01E05 - Walking Distance
“Advertising executive Martin Sloan (Gig Young), age thirty-six, is exhausted by the hectic pace of life in New York City. One day, while in an especially disgruntled mood, Martin goes for a drive in the country and winds up not far from his old home town. He stops, leaves his car at a gas station and sets off on foot to the town. Mysteriously, he arrives to find things exactly as they were when he was a child. Then reality sets in. His short walk has taken him a long, long way...much farther than he thought...all the way to The Twilight Zone.”
YOLO, short for "you only live once", was a pretty ubiquitous phrase on the Internet for a while there. At it’s best, the motto meant one should live their life to the fullest even if there were risks involved. At it’s worst, it was used as an excuse to justify whatever reckless behavior a person might wish to engage in. Or as one guy on the Urban Dictionary put it, YOLO was basically “carpe diem” for stupid people. 

But perhaps there’s another way of looking at the sentiment of “you only live once,” and it’s to be found in Walking Distance. This is one of the more beloved episodes of the whole series, named by CBS itself as one of the top ten ever produced. It’s the wistful story of one Martin Sloan, who walks into his old home town only to find that he’s traveled not just miles, but years as well. And once he realizes what is going on, he attempts to do that thing we’ve all dreamed of at one time or another, which is to find his younger self and warn him about all the mistakes he’s going to make as he grows older so that he can avoid them. 

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But, this being the Twilight Zone, things don’t quite go the way Martin hoped. Even though his younger self is within arm’s reach, Martin finds there’s simply no way to impart his knowledge of the future so that he can avoid how things turned out in his adult life. And maybe that’s for the best. As Martin’s father tells his mysteriously older son, “Maybe when you go back, Martin, you'll find that there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven't been looking in the right place. You've been looking behind you, Martin. Try looking ahead.”

It would seem Martin’s father understands a few things about regret. You see, it’s okay to feel remorse for our past mistakes. As Father John Hardon wrote, “Sorrow for past mistakes answers to the gift of knowledge.” But we only live once, as the saying goes, so we shouldn’t simply dwell on those mistakes to the extent that our regret cripples our present, as Martin’s does in this episode. We should instead see those feelings as an opportunity to open ourselves up to the future as God would have us live it. We approach our regrets as a doorway to conversion, Hardon wrote, then consolation will surely follow.

Twilight Tidbits: Movie and television fans alike will surely recognize a four year old Ron Howard in one of his first-ever roles. Aparently he went on to do a few things later in life.





Saturday, January 30, 2016

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #004: THE SIXTEEN MILLIMETER SHRINE

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S01E04 - The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine
"Barbara Jean Trenton (Ida Lupino) is an actress past her prime, a once-brilliant star who sequesters herself in her private screening room where she can relive the flickering moments of a fleeting fame played out on the silver screen. Watching her old films drives her deeper into another world...a world beyond space and time...one step away from The Twilight Zone."
Back in September 2015, Forbes ran an article with the rather eye-catching headline, “At Age 32, Is Anne Hathaway Already Too Old To Be A Movie Star?” During the interview, the Academy Award winning actress lamented, “When I was in my early twenties, parts would be written for women in their fifties and I would get them. And now I’m in my early thirties and I’m like, ‘Why did that 24 year old get that part?’” Hathaway’s basic premise was that women in Hollywood have a relatively short shelf life and once they reach a certain age, it pretty much over. Apparently, it’s an old sentiment, going back at least to 1950 and the release of Sunset Boulevard, the classic tale of an aging silent film star who slowly goes mad while trying to stage a comeback.

There can be no doubt Rod Serling had Sunset Boulevard on his mind while scripting The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine as he went so far as to secure that film’s composer, Franz Waxman, to handle the music for the episode. And of course, there are the similarities in the main character of Barbara Jean Trenton, a retired actress who spends her days locked up in her mansion, drinking and watching her old films. This is The Twilight Zone, though, so the story begins to veer into the strange when Barabara actually receives an offer from her former studio to appear in a film. The catch is that hers would not be the role of the romantic lead, but rather the supporting one of the lead’s mother. Too vain to let go of her past glories, Barabara refuses to play the role and chooses instead to immerse herself (literally) inside her fantasy world. 

The Twilight Zone - s01e04 - The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine 02

I wonder if Russell Crowe ever saw The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, because it sure sounds like it in an interview he gave where he said, “I think you'll find that the woman who is saying that [the roles have dried up] is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can't understand why she's not being cast as the 21 year-old… Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that's bulls***, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be… If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you're still the young buck when you're my age, it just doesn't work.”

Alas, some folks just never look past the external, even those who should know better. Pope Francis noted this very thing in a 2014 homily when he said…
”How many Christians live for appearances? Their life seems like a soap bubble. The soap bubble is beautiful, with all its colours! But it lasts only a second, and then what? Even when we look at some funeral monuments, we feel it’s vanity, because the truth is returning to the bare earth, as the Servant of God Paul VI said. The bare earth awaits us, this is our final truth. In the meantime, do I boast or do I do something? Do I do good? Do I seek God? Do I pray? Substantial things. And vanity is a liar, a fantasist, it deceives itself, it deceives the vain, because in the beginning he pretends to be [something], but in the end he really believes himself to be that, he believes. He believes it. Poor thing!”
Hmm, I wonder if the Pope saw this episode as well?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

THE B-LIST: COMICS THAT WILL NEVER BE MADE INTO MOVIES #04: SPIDER-MAN: ONE MORE DAY (2008)

onemore day

After perusing the first three entries in this nearly forgotten list of comics that will never be made into movies, it dawned on me that it’s so far been comprised of nothing but DC Comics from the late 60s/early 70s. Well, there’s an easy way to rectify that situation. Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce to you one of the most reviled storylines in modern comics, nay, in all of comics… Spider-Man: One More Day.

First, a little back story. One More Day was published on the heels of Civil War, the company-wide crossover event that pitted all of Marvel’s superheroes against each other in a frre-for-all over whether or not they should be forced to reveal their secret identities and accept government oversite (Yes, this was the same story that inspired the soon to be released film, Captain America: Civil War). With every hero forced to pick a side, Spider-Man throws in with Iron Man’s pro-registration side and reveals to the world that he is Peter Parker. Seeing this as an opportunity to harm his old foe, the imprisoned Kingpin sends a hitman to kill Parker’s wife, Mary Jane. Spidey manages to pull MJ out of the way just in time, but his Aunt May, who was standing right behind her, isn’t so lucky.

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And that’s where One More Day begins, with poor old Aunt May dying in a hospital bed (again) and Peter desperate to find a way to save her (again). He first beats the crap out of Tony Stark in an effort to convince the Armored Avenger to help with the medical costs, but since Peter flipped sides in the Civil War after May was shot, Tony refuses to cough up any dough. Stark does eventually filter two million dollars to Peter through his butler Jarvis, but the doctors inform them it doesn’t matter because May is beyond the help of medicine anyway. Shaken but undeterred, Peter decides to call on some of his other super friends for a solution.

His first stop is at the sanctum santorum of Doctor Strange because, well, magic. Sadly, the Sorceror Supreme who has in the past altered the very fabric of reality and fought the living embodiment of the universe to a standstill, explains that even his talents have their limits. He can, however, use his magic to allow Peter to instantaneously consult with every genius on the planet, even Doctor Doom, in the hopes of finding a way to save Aunt May. Unfortunately, the answer is the same everywhere. No dice. Even when Peter activates a time travel spell while Strange is distracted, he finds he cannot alter history. May, it seems, is destined to die.

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On his way back to the hospital to be with May during her final hours, Peter experiences a succession of odd philosophical discussions, first with a little red headed girl who claims to have the solution to all his problems, and then with a series of strangely familiar middle-aged men who tell Peter how much they wish they could have been like him instead of going down the path they chose. Finally, a confused Spidey bumps into a mysterious woman in red who explains that the men were all alternate versions of Peter Parkers who never became Spider-Man. Then, before a befuddled Peter can figure out what’s going on, the woman reveals herself to be Mephisto, one of the multiple versions of the devil running around the Marvel universe.

Mephisto offers to both save Aunt May and make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but at a cost. However, the cost is not Spider-Man’s soul, as you might expect, but something else. What Mephisto wants is to erase Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, make it as if it never happened, something he can only do with their consent. “You will not consciously remember this bargain.” Mephisto tells the couple, “But there will be a very small part your soul that will remember, that will know what you lost. And my joy will be in listening to that part of your soul screaming throughout eternity.”

omd03

And so, here it comes. The moment that lierally made thousands of Spider-Man fans rise to their feet and scream “@#$% you, Marvel Comics!” After a whole issue of hand-wringing, Peter and Mary Jane make a deal with the devil because neither of them believes Peter is strong enough to continue on with the knowledge that his decision to reveal his identity led to his Aunt’s death. True to his word, Mephisto begins to weave his spell as the midnight hour arrives, but there’s a catch. Right as the change begins to take affect, Mephisto reveals to the couple that the little red headed girl Peter met earlier was the child who will never exist now that her parents were never married. It’s a really dick move, but hey, he is the devil.

As the final bell tolls, Peter and Mary Jane declare their eternal love and vow that one day, devil or no devil, they will find each other again. And then Peter wakes up, heads downstairs to where his Aunt May is making breakfast, and then rushes off to a welcome home party for his mysteriously alive pal Harry Osborne. There, he catches a glimpse of a bitter Mary Jane (we later learn it’s because she’s distraught over engagement falling apart) as she enters an elevator to exit his life. The End.

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Now, you might be wondering just who the heck thought the whole notion of a superhero making a deal with the devil was a good idea. That would be Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, who had always considered Pete and MJ’s marriage to be the worst thing to ever happen to the character. In his opinion, which he claimed was backed up by sales figures, it made Spider-Man completely unrelatable to the majority of comic readers. Now, I have no doubt that at least some portion of comic readers probably could relate better to a thirtysomething year old slacker living in his elderly aunt’s house, but Marvel was already publishing a comic for them with Ultimate Spider-Man, a title which told tales of an unwed teenaged Peter Parker. Really, it just came down to the fact that Quesada thought stories with married heroes were dull and assumed nobody else was interested in marriages either.

Except for the devil apparently. Quesada stated that he believed Mephisto was an appropriate choice for a deus ex machina because it would show a powerful villain taking advantage of a beloved hero at his weakest moment. Just about everybody else on the planet, on the other hand, thought the idea of Spidey bargaining with Satan was was the epitome of stupid. Series writer J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) even publicly threatened to take his name off the story despite the fact that he was an avowed atheist. Even a non-believer like Straczynski understood the concept that while a hero might occasionally have to do something he normally wouldn’t, as in killing an enemy to save millions of lives (yeah, I’m still defending Man of Steel), he wouldn’t make a deal with God’s main nemesis just to avoid feeling bad. @#$% you, Marvel Comics!

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So, yeah, the very idiocy of the premise and the damage it does to the moral character of Spider-Man is one of the main reasons this story will never find itself adapted to the big screen. But there’s also another, one that might not be so obvious at first. You see, as much as it pains me to admit it, Quesada was right about one thing. If you were going to choose to do a story in which a bad guy’s main goal was to wreck a marriage, Mephisto really was the perfect villain for it. And that’s because Satan does, in fact, hate the sacrament of marriage and would do whatever is in his power to destroy it.

As the Catechism reminds us, when a man and woman enters into a sacramental marriage, “their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man.” Of course the devil would hate such a thing. And Straczynski, whose work on Babylon 5 showed him to be no stranger to religion despite his own non-belief, understands this. So, when questioned by Peter and MJ about what he has to gain from the deal, Staczynski has Mephisto respond thusly…

“It is because yours is the rarest love of all. Pure, unconditional, and made holy in the eyes of he who I hate most. A love like yours comes about but once in a millenia and to take that away from him… to deny him… is a victory like none other imaginable.”

Ouch. Pretty much gets right to the point, doesn’t it? And that’s why, In a nation where the divorce rate is hovering at 50% and the government is doing its best to remove all traces of religion from the sacrament, there’s no way in hell a major studio is going to release a comic book movie that implies by wrecking marriage we’re doing the devil’s work for him.