Friday, October 28, 2005

Jeff's Last-Minute Halloween Costume Ideas

Get two tall, white garbage bags. Cut armholes (and headhole) in one, legholes in the other. Fill excess space with newspapers.

Voila! You are white trash.

Stuck with a headless gorilla costume? Don't fret -- just get an old-school diving helmet, and you can be Ro-Man, the titular villain from "Robot Monster."

I worked at a bookstore years ago and was stuck working on Halloween. I borrowed my brother's Darth Vader helmet and wore it with my regular shirt and tie (yes, and pants, too, sickos...). I even made myself a nametag that said "Darth."

You can never go wrong with a grass skirt, especially on Halloween. One year, my brother borrowed my grass skirt and one of my Hawaiian shirts and donned his George H.W. Bush mask. Tres popular.

I made a smiley-face mask (sewed it myself, even) and wore my brother's old Grim Reaper costume. If anyone asks what you are, tell them you're the Ghost of Wal-Mart Future.

"Watch out ... for falling prices..."

Put a paper grocery bag over your head (cut eyeholes in it first, of course). You can tell everyone you're the Unknown Comic. When they say "Who?", you can regale them with your extensive knowledge of the Unknown Comic's career.

If you're a fan of Katamari Damacy, wrap yourself up with double-stick tape and attach random items (even people, if you can manage). I bet someone has tried this, so let me see if I can find a picture on the Internet. Hang on a sec, okay?


Hmm. No luck so far. Well, you should look like the giant ball in the middle of this picture:

And if you hang around someone who has this costume, you'll have a ball.

Ball, get it?

Yok! Yok!

Okay, moving on...

Get a vampire cape and fangs, but make your hair look messy and wear the goofiest looking clothes you can find. Behold, Count Dorkula!

Close your eyes. You are now the Invisible Man. This works for my son, as far as he knows.

Remember, if you use these ideas, I expect a cut of your Halloween candy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gonna sit right down and write me a book

National Novel Writing Month approacheth.

This is a cool project in which the goal is to have finished a 50,000-word novel by midnight, Nov. 30.

This year, I am a participant. I like that the thrust of the project is completion. It doesn't have to be 50,000 of the best writing ever. You just have to finish. It can be 50,000 words of crap, really.

I've been writing on and off since I was about 8 or 9, but I didn't get serious about it until high school.

It wasn't uncommon for me to get home from school and knock out 15 pages. I didn't have anything like a car or a social life to slow me down.

In college, I took a few creative writing courses, just to make sure I kept up with the writing. While I was in one class, I got published in a small magazine with my very first submission. I only submitted it go get extra credit in the class. In another class, I met my wife.

So even if I never wrote after that, I think I got a good deal.

But when I worked at my first newspaper, I weaseled my way in to writing a weekly humor column, which was a lot of fun. And now I'm doing pretty much the same this with this blog for where I work now.

The thing that surprises me the most is that, despite what everyone says, humor writers are not the groupie magnets they're made out to be.

True story.

I'm hoping the NaNoWriMo project will help me motivate myself to not get bogged down with the pre-writing process. If I spent half as much time actually writing as I did getting ready to write, I'd be telling this to Oprah when she picks my book for her book club.

So wish me luck, and I'll let you know how it's going.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Camp Cucamonga ... oh yeah, oh yeah ...

You know, I should've been smart and just stuck to the plan. It's time for another installment of Bad Movies A to Z! Today's movie is sponsored by the letter C. Originally, I was going to review "Colossus: The Forbin Project." I put it in my Netflix queue and actually watched it.

Alas, it was a pretty good movie. Not a long of bang-pow-boot-to-the-head action, but a nice, thoughtful sci-fi flick. Kinda reminded me of "The Andromeda Strain" in tone.

Well, it's a lot harder to bust on a movie when it has more than one redeeming quality.

So I went to the Siftin' Movie Archive to find another suitable title. The Child? No. Challenge of the Superfriends? Too long.

And so today's movie is the 1990 TV-movie classic, "Camp Cucamonga."

God help us all.

Today's movie in a nutshell: Kids go to a summer camp and do things that kids do at summer camp when they are on TV.

The story: None.

Just kidding! "Col. Marv" Schecter (John Ratzenberger, who gets top billing in this movie) begins his first year as head of Camp Cucamonga. It's his dream to run a summer camp. In the off season, he's an accountant.

As the film begins, the campers are on their way to camp. I think I saw another bus, but it doesn't matter, because we're focusing on the one driven by a young Jennifer Aniston. While she's driving, we're introduced to our campers, who, in lieu of personalities, are given stereotypical personality traits.

It's like they took the characters from "Saved By the Bell," threw them in a blender and put the pieces back together. So while you have Max Plotkin ("The Wonder Years"' Josh Saviano), an Screech retread, the other semi-main character, Lindsey Scott (Danica McKellar, also of "The Wonder Years"), is a tough metalhead whose parents are getting divorced. No SBTB connection there, you're thinking.

Ah, but what about that weird half-season of their senior year when tough-chick Tori (she of the perpetual leather jacket) transferred to Bayside?

No, I didn't watch the show. I don't know what you're talking about.

Stop looking at me like that.

Anyhow, we're introduced to them in short order, and it really doesn't matter what they're like, because the whole novelty of the movie is that it is populated by your favorite TV stars.

They used to do this once a year or so -- just lump together a bunch of people from different shows on different networks and put them in an innocuous piece of fluff.

Sort of like "Love Boat."

They're actually more interesting to watch now, just for the "before they were famous" factor. When I saw "Friends" for the first time, I recognized Jennifer Aniston as "that cute chick from 'Camp Cucamonga' who wasn't Winnie Cooper."

Meanwhile, Camp Cucamonga's handyman (who also showed up as a teacher on "Saved By the Bell") and Col. Marv have a spat, and the handyman walks, even though there are plenty of repairs that need to be done.

You see, the camp is due to be inspected to earn its accreditation and stuff needs to be fixed before the inspector shows up.

I know you're not supposed to think with movies like this, but even when this was first on, I wondered why the repairs weren't already finished before camp started. And it gets worse later.

Col. Marv calls another handyman to make emergency repairs before the inspection, which will be very soon.

The campers get set up, and there's the "meet cute" between Roger (Brian Robbins, "Head of the Class"), a cocky counselor, and Ava (Jennifer Aniston, who was on NBC's "Ferris Bueller" show). I wasn't about to stop the tape and rewind it enough times to transcribe this perfectly, but you know how it goes:

Col. Marv greets the campers and looks like a doofus.

Roger: Who is this doofus?

Ava: My father.


In the cabins, Max is the outcast of his bunk, and Lindsey doesn't get along with her bunkmates, either. Perhaps it's the Motley Crue T-shirt she wears. The unspoken leader of the girls bunk, Amber (Candace Cameron, "Full House") is going out with Frankie (Chad Allen, "Our House"), the golden boy in Max's cabin. Jennifer (Tasha Scott, "Snoops") seems interested in Dennis (Jaleel White, Urkel himself).

Everybody else is there to take up space.

Max tries very hard to befriend Lindsey, but she wants to go back home ASAP. Her parents are getting a divorce, and she feels like she's being punished by being sent to camp.

Meanwhile in the B-plot, Col. Marv is awaiting both the inspector and the handyman. He's pissed that the handyman isn't there yet.

Up drives Herbert Himmel. He's wearing a suit because he just got back from a wedding. So when he finds Col. Marv, Col. Marv assumes that he's the inspector.

I don't know about you, but when I hire someone, I try to get their name. Failing that, I at least find out who they are. But not at Camp Cucamonga. Their dialogue is tailored so that neither will discover this case of mistaken identity.

Col. Marv proceeds with some butt-kissing, trying to delay the "inspector" from finding the stuff that needs repairs.

There are some dumb camp hi-jinks that at least get a few points for trying (sneaking a camera into the girls' shower, etc.), but they only take up as much time as the story demands.

Roger is trying to impress Ava, but she thinks he's a jerk.

To condense a little, the inspector shows up. But he looks a little scruffy because his car broke down. Col. Marv, thinking he's the tardy handyman, admonishes him and tells him to get to work without asking who he is. Col. Marv has to be this dumb; otherwise the plot wouldn't move forward and there'd be no false sense of drama.

My biggest problem with this movie at this point was that I was sitting with my leg folded underneath me, so when I got up to get something to drink, both my leg and half of my butt had fallen asleep.

But enough about me.

SOme of the guys sneak off with some girls to enjoy a private meal -- steaks stolen from Col. Marv's kitchen. Max insists on tagging along because he supposedly knows how to cook them. He gets Lindsey to go with him. He burns the steaks into oblivion and gets everyone lost to boot.

After a big search, they're found by Col. Marv. When they get back to camp, the inspector reveals his true identity, and the camp's future is in danger, as is the health of real handyman, who has been enjoying the treatment he's been getting.

The kids feel a little responsible and, at Roger's suggestion, decide to contact the head of the inspection agency. The letters are getting nowhere until Lindsey comes up with what is probably the best idea ever: a rap video.

No sooner said than done. Dennis and Jennifer handle the main chores of the Camp Cucamonga rap, which sounds ripped off of inspired by "Bust a Move" by Young MC.

I hope that someday Jennifer Aniston develops a cure for cancer or something equally important, because I want a clip from this video to accompany all the news stories.

She doesn't have to sing, but she's in there, busting a move.

Well, the inspector loves the video and decides to give the camp one more chance. Yay! Lindsey is getting more popular with Frankie, and that bothers Amber, who reveals to the girls in the cabin that Lindsey has been sending letters to herself to make it appear that she'd been getting mail from home.

Except when she reads the letter, it's really from Lindsey's mom. Her parents are really getting a divorce.


She bolts for the bus stop the day the two bunks are supposed to compete together in the last event of the Battle of the Bunks. If they win the baseball game, they win the whole battle. Decisions, decisions...

Leaving only a few people to play baseball, the main group goes after Lindsey. When Ava and Roger find out they're all gone, their plans are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Lindsey's mom, who arrives unannounced. They find her right before she gets on the bus and convince her to stay.

Our heroes return just in time for the very end of the game. Their team is down by quite a bit, but through hard work, determination and predictable writing, they win.


Max, who hit the winning run, is now Mr. Popular. He tells Lindsey that they can't go steady anymore (even though they weren't anyway), and she humors him. Amber and Frankie also go their separate ways.

I go to the pantry for a snack, but nothing looks good. By the time I get back, the credits are rolling. I hope I didn't miss anything. I doubt it.

Afterthoughts: I don't know that I would invite people over especially to watch this, but it's better than some stuff I've watched (or bought deliberately).

In particular, Jennifer Aniston does fairly well. Aside from appearing in the Camp Cucamonga rap video, she doesn't embarrass herself. Everyone else does okay, too. As best they could with what they had, I guess.

This has been released on DVD, but I watched it on the old-school VHS copy we scored back in the day at Wal-Mart for like $4.88 or something.

I'm a little curious to see another one of these all-star TV-movies. I can remember three off the top of my head: "High School USA," with Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon; "Murder Can Hurt You," a detective spoof with Gavin McLeod and Tony Danza (who doesn't play a guy named Tony for a change -- this time, it's Pony. No kidding.); and "Crash Course," with Alyssa Milano and Tina Yothers. I'm sure they're out there somewhere. Heck, I think I taped "High School USA."

I'll have to look for it in the archives.

Well, that's it for C. Join me again next time (hopefully this year) for Bad Movies A to Z.

But, I'm funny how? Funny like a clown? I amuse you?

Old clowns never die, they just leave greasepaint on your bumper.

-- Jeff Sparkman

Like some people, I do not like clowns.

Not because they wear strange clothes, and not because they are staggeringly unfunny. In fact, there are quite talented clowns out there who have a strong dedication to their craft.

Why do clowns bug me? Because they think they have the power to force you to smile or appear happy. If you don't laugh at a clown, this somehow makes you a humorless ogre.

Maybe I don't want to smile. Did that occur to you, Mr. Clown? I bear you no ill will. Just let me maintain my non-smiling demeanor until such time that merriment is appropriate.

What if the police used armies of clowns as behavior-modification forces?

"They're rioting down at City Hall!"

"You know what to do, Clancy. Send in the clowns."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Must-See TV (no, for real)

All right, cats and kittens, mark this down on your calendar. This Wednesday, AMC's MonsterFest offerings include a showing of "The Devil's Rain." It's at 6:45 a.m., but you could always record it and watch it later.

How could you not like a movie that has this kind of a tagline: "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!"

No, I'm not mistyping that. Look for yourself.My head just about exploded when I tried to figure out what they thought they were saying. I suppose you could think of it as a play on words that works when you say it out loud, but even that's being generous.

I presume they mean "Heaven help us all when the devils reign," but there's a real easy way to do that.

Spell it right.

Aw, but then it doesn't match the title of the movie.

How about "Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's The Devil's Rain!" or "Don't let your soul get dampened by The Devil's Rain!"

Or they could change the name of the movie.

But The Devil's Rain refers to a container in which people's souls are kept.

Well, now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ernest Borgnine is devil worshipper Jonathan Corbis. He wants a book that has names of people who sold their souls to the devil. The Preston family has been keeping that book safe for a kajillion or so years, which is why Corbis has it in for them.

This movie is interesting in a weird kind of way. It's not train-wreck bad, but it's not a really good flick, either. I think the thing that is most unsettling about it (and is probably its best quality) is its off-kilter feel.

During the whole movie, things just seemed like they were a little off. I really don't know why. It's a lot quieter than you'd expect it to be, and people don't always react the way you'd think.

For example, at the beginning, Mark Preston (my boy William Shatner) and his mother (Ida Lupino) are worried that Mark's father is missing. Right on cue, the elder Preston shows up, and right off the bat, you can see that something's not right.

For starters, he's a little melty. His skin looks like someone dumped a couple of Yoplaits on his head on a summer day. How he managed to get home, I don't know, as he sports empty-looking eye sockets. He warns his family about who did this to him, a man named Corbis, and he melts away, saying "What a world, what a world."

Or something like that.

Now, I don't know about you, but if one of my family members shows up and melts if front of me, I'd be a little upset.

But not Mark Preston. With Shatner playing this guy, you'd think there would be some kind of emotional reaction. Okay, maybe not him shaking in anger before bellowing "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" (Sound on that link, btw.), but a little something. Nope.

Another unsettling thing about this movie, and I think this works against it a little, is that there isn't a main protagonist to focus on. At first, you think Mark Preston is the main guy, but then we meet his brother, who the story follows as well. It seems a little distracted. This is exacerbated by the casting.

Don't get me wrong; it's an impressive cast. Besides Shatner and Lupino, there's also Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt and Ernest Borgnine. Oh, and John Travolta, but you'd never know it's him if you weren't looking.

Often in horror movies, the "name" actor is your main character, with lesser-known supporting players. Ideally, it's because the name actor is the best suited for the role, but failing that, it helps the viewer keep track of the action because they know who he is.

How many times have you seen a horror movie with a bunch of unknowns and you weren't always sure what was going on? Even when you're paying attention, it's not always easy -- characterization isn't always a big component in horror flicks.

But here, almost all of the main characters are familiar faces.

Oh, well, I guess that means you just have to pay more attention. The running time goes by pretty quickly if quietly. The ghost town setting helps with the creepy feel.

This movie is known for its big ending. They even hype it on the DVD cover.

They still didn't fix the grammar, but that's the way it goes, I guess.

There are two things about the ending that are notable, but the primary one is a mass melting in which a bunch of people melt into puddles of goo. Why this happens or what happens after that, I won't tell you, but it's an interesting looking effect.

It makes me wonder if that effect is what the movie was built around. The Incredible Melting Man seems to have been made around similar but even more disgusting melting flesh effects.

To make a long story short (too late), this is a pretty decent watch. Check it out, preferably in a dark room with a few friends and a bowl of popcorn.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

If there's a gazebo with a giant cheeseburger on it, I want my money back

Oh, dear.

I discovered this potentially horrifying event from the good folks at WFMU's Beware the Blog.

There's a movie in production called Across the Universe.

From the plot summary on (which, for all I know, could be completely bogus):
A romantic musical told mainly through numerous Beatles songs performed by the characters.

I may be overreacting, as I know next to nothing about this. But what else is the Internet for if not bemoaning the poor quality of as-yet-unfinished movies? It could be quite clever and make good use of the Beatles songs.

On the other hand, it could be another "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

A quick description: Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees are the titular musicians in this dialogue-free (except for narration from George Burns) musical. An evil real estate developer steals the magical instruments that keep Heartland happy, and it's up to our heroes to get them back while dealing with skyrocketing to fame.

This, I'm sure, will surprise no one: I like this movie. Have since I was about 5. Not because it's any good. It's astounding, really.

It has something never seen before or since in a movie. I will try to explain this as best I can. Keep in mind that this really happens.

Oh, and should you care about what meager plot development is in this flick, don't read ahead if you want the end spoiled.

Okay, we've got only a few minutes left in the movie, and things are looking pretty grim. The band reclaimed the instruments, but after a (ahem) spectacular battle between SPLHCB (man, if you think I'm typing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band again, you're crazy) and the Future Villain Band (essayed quite menacingly by Aerosmith; yes, Aerosmith was defeated by Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees), Strawberry Fields, girlfriend of lead singer Billy Shears (Frampton), pays the ultimate price.

But no expense is spared, and Strawberry is laid out in a glass coffin, to which Billy's bandmates sing "Carry That Weight," because, hey, they already used "She's So Heavy" earlier.

And yes, I know the real title is "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," but that would've ruined the joke, and we wouldn't want that, would we?

After the funeral, the bandmates are hanging out and mourning. Poor Billy is quite distraught. In fact, he can't bear to live without his love, so he decides to commit suicide --

-- by jumping from a second story window in his house.

Sure, if he does it right, he can easily die. People have died from lesser falls. But he leaps so that he would land on his back, so I don't know how badly he'd be hurt. But we're not supposed to be thinking about this, because it's very sad and dramatic.

Now as Billy is taking a flying leap, something strange is afoot at City Hall. Atop the building is a magic weather vane shaped like the town's beloved original Sgt. Pepper. It is said that it "would always point the way to happiness."

But there is no happiness in Heartland, so it spins and spins, looking for a direction in which happiness might be found. It spins around so fast that the weather vane is transformed into

Billy Preston in a gold lamé Sgt. Pepper uniform!


He begins to sing "Get Back" and uses his magical powers to first reverse Billy's trajectory.

After that, with a flick of a finger, he changes the major and minor villains' clothes to choirboy, nun, pope and saint (beats me...).

Then, faster than you can say deus ex weather vane, Strawberry is returned to the land of the living and they all live happily ever after.

How do you top that?

Well ...

The magical Pepper's last feat is to transport a gazillion musicians and celebrities to the steps of City Hall for a reprise of the title song.

All of this, I guess, is a really long way of saying that this new movie would have to try reeeeeeeeally hard to be the weirdest Beatle-related/based movie.

Don't forget, there's also the earlier "All This and World War II," in which covers of Beatles songs are paired with World War II news footage.


Sadly, this movie was released shortly after my second birthday, and I've never seen it on video, so I can't say authoritatively that it sucks like a Hoover with a hemi.

But I could probably hazard a guess...