Thursday, January 31, 2008

Movie Review: Cloverfield



Bring Dramamine.

Cloverfield, directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay by Drew Goddard. Starring Lizzy Caplan, Lily Ford, and T. J. Miller. Produced by J. J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. Bad Robot, 2008. Runtime 84 minutes. Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

Read other reviews here.

Cloverfield is a smart retread of an old idea--a monster comes out of nowhere and stomps a city while people run around screamng and the military creates further mayhem by ineffectively trying to blow the monster up. In the midst of the chaos, Cloverfield offers a small human drama: a man (Michael Stahl-David) goes back into the thick of danger in order to rescue the woman he loves (Odette Yustman), a small group of friends follow him, and they take along an indestructible video camera. The blockheaded "cameraman," Hud (T. J. Miller), offers a humorously deadpan commentary throughout and deals with his own unrequited affection for a woman (Lizzy Caplan).

Cloverfield's various elements, taken individually, are pedestrian. The monster is nameless and generic, the characters are unoriginal and flat, the plot is by-the-numbers monster movie fare, and the script contains not a single memorable line. However, when these elements are put together, captured on what looks like a camcorder, combined with the convincing acting of a mostly unknown cast, and competently directed by Matt Reeves, they take on a surprising immediacy. I cannot remember the last time I saw an sf or fantasy film that so completely suspended my disbelief.

The acting has none of the cheesiness typical of monster films. Each of the actors genuinely appears to be an average joe caught in a horrible circumstance. The special effects are perfect and never distract. None of the CGI creatures or explosions appear fake. Even the questionable cinematography works to the movie's benefit: though intentionally badly framed, the cameras always capture exactly what we need to see so that the tilted shots and blurred images have a curious power. Even the script, though leaden, has an ending symmetrical with its beginning, satisfyingly concluding a story that would seem to be impossible to conclude satisfyingly.

If we think about it too hard, it's obvious this could never be a real home video. This camera takes abuse no real camera could survive. Somehow, Hud keeps filming even when dragging a wounded comrade by both hands or when engaged in hand-to-hand combat with giant killer crab/spider thingies.

Probably the movie's greatest drawback is its slow opening. The movie begins with a going-away party where Hud is stalking around with a camera, interviewing twenty-something characters and gossiping about other people's love lives. This lasts a good eighteen minutes and will fail to interest anyone who isn't a fan of MTV's The Real World. Though over-long, this sequence has its clever moments, and fortunately for all of us, it ends with a big explosion and the now-famous image of the Statue of Liberty's head lying in the street. From then on, the movie is good.

The shaky camera work may disturb some viewers; though I enjoyed it, I won't be quick to see it again, and I think we need a moratorium on this style of fake-umentary. Though it's inevitable, I have no wish to see Cloverfield II: I'm not sure the Blair Witch-meets-Godzilla concept can work twice.

Perhaps the film's greatest asset--and the basis for its plot--is a depiction of heroism inspired by love. The central characters, though shallow and thick-headed, manage to be heroes when they find the people they love most are in danger. Ultimately, in spite of the widespread destruction, that makes this a positive movie about self-sacrifice and redemption. Listen closely to the dialogue at the end if you don't believe me.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Cloverfield::

Myth Level: Medium-High (classic plot and characters, heroics)

Quality: High (an almost seamless production with a cool gimmick and a good cast)

Ethics/Religion: Medium (some vulgarity under stress, an implied premarital sexual encounter, positive depiction of bravery and generally good themes, some gore and scary moments)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Video Game Bioshock Reviewed Elsewhere



I'm here to tell you about an excellent review of the video game BioShock. I'm not a gamer, and my system couldn't run a game like this, so I haven't played it, but this review made me want to run out and buy a copy even though I couldn't do anything with it once I had it. The review in question is by Thomas L. McDonald and is available at the group blog Catholic Media Review.

The game is, so I understand, about one person (you) who has to escape an underwater city overrun with narcissistic baddies who enhance their genetic codes with weird chemicals. To get away from them, you have to enhance yourself as well and risk losing your humanity in the process. Here's a quote from the review:

As you need more and more of these drugs to progress through the game, you’re forced to make moral choices. You see, roaming throughout Rapture are a chilling pair of creatures: Big Daddy and Little Sister. Big Daddies are huge genetic mutants in heavily armed diving suits. Little Sisters are innocent looking little girls with ponytails, cute little dresses … and giant needles they use to suck the ADAM out of mutants after the Big Daddies kill them.

The Little Sisters are the work a female holocaust survivor, Dr. Tennenbaum, who creates them to produce ADAM. She thought the girls could be used without consequence, but didn’t count on them retaining their childlike characteristics. They’re still little girls, who sing, and laugh, and play. As Tennenbaum says at one point: “I look at genes all day long, and never do I see the blueprint of sin. I could blame the Germans, but in truth, I did not find tormentors in the Prison Camp, but kindred spirits. These children I brutalized have awoken something inside that for most is beautiful and natural, but in me, is an abomination... my maternal instinct.” [more...]

I have long believed video games are a legitimate and unique storytelling medium. According to this review, BioShock manages some serious action in the midst of philosophical musing, excellent writing, and tough ethical choices. Especially, the player must decide whether or not he will kill children. This looks like good sci-fi, so if you have a computer system that can handle a case of BioShock, you should consider getting it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How Can an Archaeologist Resist This?

I just ran into an old post from American Papist that might make me a Traditionalist.

Comics Review: Chronicles of the Universe



Someone forgot to tell Espinosa that only Sigourney Weaver is allowed to fight aliens in her panties.

Chronicles Of The Universe, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2005. ISBN: 1-932453-87-3. $9.99.

Readers of this blog or Holy Heroes!! know I like to whine from time to time about how women are portrayed in comic books...and that I read comic books anyway. Readers of this blog also know I like to read and review most everything from Amerimanga writer/illustrator Rod Espinosa, who has a vast imagination, a good sense of fun, a sure hand with a pen, and female protagonists who are usually tough and likable, if virtually indistinguishable.

Previously, I reviewed Espinosa's Battle Girlz. Chronicles Of The Universe takes place in the same sprawling universe, a place called Jalto Shrept, where slimy aliens and traditional superheroes rub shoulders with magic-wielding elves and gun-toting vampires. Jalto Shrept is a canvas on which Espinosa can do what he does best, which is mix together a hodgepodge of sf and fantasy tropes into a massive stew that is always familiar yet always entertaining.

Chronicles of the Universe is a collection of short stories about a single family. It begins by introducing the thirteen Manowar brothers, the greatest heroes in the universe, who long ago defeated an evil overlord named Destructor. Now that Destructor is gone and only second-rate villains plague Jalto Shrept, the Manowars can settle down and raise families, only occasionally venturing out to topple a tyrant or rescue a distressed planet. The stories generally focus on the Manowars' children, who are following in their fathers' footsteps. The comic easily slides back and forth between battle sequences and scenes of domestic life, the juxtaposition of which lends the volume its greatest charm. Along with the good fun, Chronicles effectively conveys the sense that the Manowar Clan is degenerating and that the children lack the talent and character of their forebears. This lends the volume its greatest depth.

Some of the Manowar children, it's worth noting, grow up to be Battle Girlz, so Chronicles of the Universe gives us opportunity to see them at a younger age. The back of the book also contains some studies and sketches for an upcoming volume, Prince Of Heroes, slated for release this summer. This future book promises to follow a bastard son of one of the Manowars as he claims his birthright and gathers his declining family for a great battle. It also promises to bring back the Battle Girlz, and some of the images suggest Espinosa is planning to use them to make Prince of Heroes into a harem comic.

These three comics collections, Chronicles Of The Universe, Battle Girlz, and Prince Of Heroes, are an ambitious project; Espinosa is apparently chronicling a single powerful family over multiple generations as it grows increasing decadent, something like a superhero space opera Amerimanga version of Buddenbrooks. It will be interesting to see how this project turns out, or if Espinosa takes it beyond three volumes. The writing is uneven, and the panels are frequently cluttered, but the idea is good and the stories are always amusing if never exactly moving.

Now that I'm done with the review, it's time for the whining (I'll keep it short)! Honestly, does anyone think a miniskirt is a good outfit for battling an alien supertyrant? Why do the Manowar sons have an easier time keeping their clothes on than the Manowar daughters? Why are there full-page images in the back of girls in their underwear? And perhaps most importantly, do we really want to turn the rock-em sock-em Battle Girlz into a harem?


Why you shouldn't fight in a miniskirt.


The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Chronicles Of The Universe:

Myth Level: High (an interesting, sprawling universe, universal themes, battles, etc.)

Quality: Medium (uneven presentation, good times and good fun mixed with some flat storylines)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (action violence, generally family-friendly and good-natured with some fanservice [I'm getting sick of that word; Snuffles, can we find a synonym?])

Monday, January 28, 2008

House on Haunted Hill

As yet another excuse for putting up a fast blog post so I can run off and deal with some important and exciting projects, I refer you to The B-Movie Catechism, where EegahInc has given his thoughts on the film House on Haunted Hill for his monthly film club.

In discussing the failed marriage at the movie's center, EegahInc says something interesting:

Maybe the Lorens could have avoided all this heartache by popping over to YourFriendlyDivorce.com where they have 10 helpful hints to make sure your marriage ends nicely. They include insightful tips like #3 Seek common goals with your spouse, #4 Learn to see things from your spouse's perspective, and #5 Have a parenting plan. "Let's face it: divorce is painful." the website explains, "But with proper planning and a desire to reach agreement, you and your spouse can achieve harmony, fairness and mutual respect." (Look, if you can't make your own smart aleck remark here, you're just being lazy.) [more...]

Yeah, I can come up with one of those. How about this: Hey, if you can have harmony, fairness, and mutual respect in your divorce, couldn't you, um, have it in your marriage? I mean, really.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

United 300

Okay, I'm not sure this should be allowed, and I'm sure someone will be offended, and I actually meant to write a review tonight instead, but when I saw this...well, I laughed. Let's put it that way. Nice production values, too, for a piece on YouTube. How do people make this stuff?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Movie Review: Juno



Wait a minute. Someone told me this had space aliens.

Juno, directed by Jason Reitman. Screenplay by Diablo Cody. Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, and Jennifer Garner. Dancing Elk Productions: 2007. Runtime 97 minutes. Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

See other reviews here.

The rest of the Catholic blogosphere has already swooned over this movie and moved on to better things, but here at The Sci Fi Catholic, we're proud to be always one step behind the pack. Critics are virtually unanimous in praising this movie, so in order to maintain my reputation as a cynical curmudgeon, I'd like to point you to the comments by dissenting critic David Edelstein (hat tip to Jeffrey Overstreet).

In case you don't know, the reason we Catholics are swooning is because Juno, besides being sassy and jam-packed with quotable bon mots, has a pro-life theme.

Story revolves around sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), who discovers she's pregnant after a tryst with her passive wiener of a best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), who plays the effeminate counterpart to Juno's tomboy personality. The story follows Juno as she takes it all in stride and prepares to give the baby away to a seemingly perfect couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), who as it turns out have serious problems of their own.

It is, as you have heard, a witty screenplay. It isn't exactly deep; there isn't a lot of philosophical subtext under the characters' sarcastic barbs, and Diablo Cody is not the return of Oscar Wilde. However, it's undeniable that this is one smart and funny script, even if it achieves its quirks largely through obscure pop culture references. But we at The Sci Fi Catholic can't condemn anyone for obscure pop culture references, so we're obligated to give the film a thumb up. We may hope that Cody will produce more substantial fare in the future. This is one Hollywood screenwriter I'd actually like to get paid.

The message, too, is generally positive: divorce is bad, abortion is bad, people who use terms like "intercourse" and "sexually active" are losers, married men who feel unready to have children are losers, and it's weird to put condoms on bananas. All these are beliefs that I as a Catholic can heartily support.

The film's major weakness, easy to overlook, is that it is a combination of a teen pregnancy story and a love story. Because the teen pregnancy story stays center-stage, the love story gets short shrift, so the film's climax comes out of left field. Similarly, several matters are thrown at the viewer purely for humor, but receive no development: early on, Juno delivers a monologue on how jocks really prefer geeky girls, and a couple of funny scenes deal with a cheerleader (Olivia Thirlby) who has a crush on a frumpy science teacher. Then there's the funny romantic argument between a couple of chem lab partners (Stephen Christopher Parker and Candice Accola). All of these are hilarious, but they have no real point. Other elements of the narrative, however, are developed in a believable manner with a solid, steady pace. I don't want to give away any details, but Jason Bateman's performance is particularly good. He and Ellen Page really crackle when they're on screen together.

Speaking of the love story, I was surprised, and maybe a little disappointed, at the film's conclusion (spoiler alert). About halfway through, I figured I knew where it was going. I assumed Juno and Bleeker would fall in love and keep the baby, and I was half right. I'm not going to complain, however, because I should consider it a good thing when movies don't follow the numbers exactly the way I expect them to.

Some Christians might complain about these protagonists who, having already had a baby, don't get married at the film's end, but Juno, who has watched marriages crumble around her, is naturally suspicious of the institution of marriage and says as much in a conversation with her father (J. K. Simmons), one of the film's more moving scenes. This is a story of young people who have to find their way among the debris of institutions their elders have destroyed, so some distrust of institutions should be expected. Besides, it was written by a stripper, so what do you want?

Speaking of distrusting institutions, our friend Christine at Catholic Media Review has a statement on the movie that deserves address:

Before I get into it, I have to ask: Did anyone else spot the 'no religion' sticker inside Juno's locker door in a school scene pretty early on? It was a cross with a red-circle around it, and a red line through it. It only showed for a couple seconds, but I considered it a negative subliminal message.

I think we're getting too sensitive. Actually, Christine is mistaken. The sticker does not say "No Religion" but "Bad Religion." It's the name of a rock band, the sort of rock band a character like Juno would probably listen to. Furthermore, the message is not "subliminal"; it's right in front of you. If it were subliminal, you wouldn't be able to see it. You also wouldn't need to worry about it because according to my Psych 101 class, subliminal messages don't work.*

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Juno:

Myth Level: N/A

Quality: High (good production with great script and excellent performances)

Ethics/Religion: High (mature themes, sexual references, positive messages)


*At least that's what the aliens want us to think.


Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not Today

Sorry for the absence of posting these last couple of days; as for the review I mentioned yesterday, it's been delayed because it turns out we had to order some stuff, and might have to order more stuff. I'll try to give you a good post tomorrow, but I just spent the whole day editing something important, and so am in no shape for writing anything of substance now. I'll try to get you something worthwhile tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Tantalizing (?) Notice

No post today. Snuffles and I are preparing a joint review we hope you will find intriguing, if we can pull together the source material we need and make anything worthwhile out of it. Check in again tomorrow. HINT: It involves cities.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 3



This month's featured novel is Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet.

See the book's official website here.
See Jeffrey Overstreet's official blog here.

Well, yet another blog tour wraps up with The Sci Fi Catholic too lazy to post original content. Unless you've forgotten, the novel is Auralia's Colors, the author is Jeffrey Overstreet, and we've got nothing to say about it.

It looks like there's a ruckus on the blog tour, and the biggest surprise is, I didn't cause it. (I better review next month's book so I can get back my bad reputation.)

According to A Christian Worldview of Fiction, Overstreet has argued that Christians are suspicious of myth, fairy tales, and fantasy, and therefore will be unlikely to produce quality fantasy of their own in the near future. Rebecca Luella Miller, proprietor of Worldview, argues that Overstreet himself is evidence to the contrary and that Christians are comfortable with fantasy. Personally, I think both Miller and Overstreet are over-generalizing. If you look at the Harry Potter debate, I think you will find there is neither universal suspicion nor universal love of fantasy within Christianity, but rather a sharp divide between those who hate all of it unless it has Lewis's or Tolkien's name on it and those who love all of it regardless. Heck, that's why my blog is here, to argue with both sides, telling the one to chill out and the other to show more discernment.

Here's a nice quote from Dennis Okholm to contradict Miller's assertion that Christians are generally comfortable with myth: "By the time I got to seminary the list of prohibitions was complete: Christians should stay away from dance, drink, tobacco, and myth." You can find that on the back of Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara's From Homer to Harry Potter, a book I still strongly recommend in spite of its deficiencies.

Dance, drink, tobacco, and myth. Why, that's a list of the things I most enjoy.

Also creating some controversy is Back to the Mountains, a blog with a fine title graphic, where Steve is arguing that the character in Auralia's Colors known as the Keeper is supposed to represent God even though Overstreet himself says otherwise (P.S., read this link because it has a lengthy quote from Overstreet criticizing Christian sf and fantasy). Now again, I haven't read the book, but I've also learned that a determined Christian reviewer can make anything into God or Jesus if he tries hard enough.

Oh, the controversy!

If you blog it, they will tour:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 2



This month's featured novel is Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet.

See the book's official website here.
See Jeffrey Overstreet's official blog here.

Thanks to Snuffles for taking care of the blog tour for me yesterday. Snuffles, you're a lifesaver, but I'd appreciate it if you could stop with the casual insults.

Okay, so we're here to talk about Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet, a book I deeply regret not reading (though I didn't cry about it).

To see some good discussions and reviews, I particularly point you to the following places:

Quest Writer has a brief, jaunty review with a quotation. In particular, she points out the novel's elaborate descriptions. I like me some fiction with elaborate descriptions (Airborn, anyone?), so I'm warming up to this book already.

Inspirations Cafe says the novel is nostalgic and somewhat retro. He also has a cool-looking blog. Man, I seriously need to get me a new layout.

Grasping for the Wind has earned another link from us because of his interview with Jeffrey Overstreet. Is there anything his blog doesn't do? I've previously enjoyed Overstreet's good sense, thoughtfulness, and lack of reactionism when talking about movies. Check out this quote:

I grew up in a rather conservative community in which moviegoing was viewed as a suspicious, dangerous, “worldly” activity. But I also came to see that when we cut ourselves off from art for fear of “contamination,” we lose one of the greatest gifts humanity has to enjoy, something that helps us understand each other, something that humbles and inspires us.

If it weren't stealing, that would be The Sci Fi Catholic's new slogan.

In My Little World has a review with a lengthy quotations from the novel. She discusses the book's use of the third-person omniscient. I never knew that was such a controversial point of view to write from, but this is the second member of the Blog Tour I have seen mention it as a stumbling block. The only POV I loathe is the first person that switches narrators. That should be outlawed (you ruined your own book, Bram Stoker!), but I've never had a problem with third person.

One Man's Blog is Another Man's Tour:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Monday, January 21, 2008

January Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 1



This month's featured novel is Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet.

See the book's official website here.
See Jeffrey Overstreet's official blog here.

So anyway, the Deej is in the field doing his archaeological thing, or as Frederick the Unicorn puts it, "indulging in drunkeness, dissipation, and skulduggery." In other words, he's out having fun while the rest of us are cooped up in this apartment.

Deej said he really, really wanted to read this novel, but didn't. Whiner and sissy that he is, he even cried about it. But because he didn't read the book, he's off digging a hole somewhere, presumably so he can bury his head in shame. That means I get to talk about Auralia's Colors, though I haven't read it either. Maybe next month we'll actually review the featured novel, huh?
Here's what we know. It's first in a series called The Auralia Thread. It's fantasy, so I'm guessing the series will be a trilogy. The protagonist is found in the woods by thieves and grows up into a young woman who can weave beautifully colored cloth. Meanwhile, an evil king has outlawed all color except that which he personally distributes (I can't imagine how he could pull that off, but it's an interesting idea and reminds me vaguely of The Giver).

For a good review, I suggest you check the blog Grasping for the Wind. He says:

The novel focuses on the emotions and reactions of the characters not description of the events that occur. I felt that the narrative was thinly woven together and that I didn’t really know what was going on throughout the story. It made the narrative seem broken and disjointed, as most the action was seen only through a veil of thick emotion, making it harder to understand what was going on. [more...]

Well heck, I read shōjo manga; if there's one thing I can handle, it's a veil of thick emotion. Maybe I should give Overstreet's novel a try.

Don't neglect the other blog tour members:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Sunday, January 20, 2008

B-Movie Catechist's Monthly Film Club: House on Haunted Hill



Oh, so it is just Old Man Smithers in a ghost costume.

House on Haunted Hill, directed by William Castle. Screenplay by Robb White. Starring Vincent Price, Carolyn Craig, and Richard Long. William Castle Productions, 1958. Not Rated.

Read other reviews here.

Watch it on Google Video.

This homework is overdue. Apologies to all concerned. What if I claim my dragon ate it?

It really is entertaining...as long as you don't think too hard. This month, the B-Movie Catechist has let the Film Club off easy with a low-budget classic starring Vincent Price as the possibly psychopathic millionaire Frederick Loren, who offers to give ten thousand dollars to five strangers--if they can survive a night in the House on Haunted Hill.

The characters are familiar and underdeveloped but comfortable B-movie types. Vincent Price is cold and sinister as Loren, yet he humanizes the role with numerous shows of emotion. His mutually nasty dialogue with his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) nicely sets up the mood for the film and makes a fine example of tight scripting. Other characters include an alcoholic (Elisha Cook) convinced everyone will die at the hands of the house's ghosts, a gambling newspaper columnist (Julia Mitchum), and the obligatory attractive young woman (Carolyn Craig) and hunky young man (Richard Long). Rather than doing the obvious, sensible thing and sitting together in the living room, drinking and telling ghost stories, these various characters wander the house alone with loaded firearms and get themselves in trouble either through ineptitude or their own twisted, conniving plots, which backfire.

The movie makes a number of forgivable mistakes. Central to the film is an elaborate attempt to commit a "perfect murder," but this murderous scheme has so many holes in it, it would be remarkable if it did work. Additionally, the movie sets up certain things but doesn't follow through: for example, a character is "marked" for death by the ghosts early in the film, but this never amounts to anything. Furthermore, the film's ending is hokey in the extreme and entirely unbelievable, yet emotionally powerful nonetheless.

The movie's greatest sin, and the focus of this discussion, is a conceit of poorly written horror, one I've encountered numerous times: inexplicable events occur, yet at the end of the story, we are expected to believe that it was all just a trick and that the ghosts were fake, even though they could levitate, travel through locked doors, and make objects move on their own. Several inexplicable events occur in House on Haunted Hill, but we get only a weak naturalistic explanation at the movie's conclusion.

A good example of this sort of thing is Under the Ocean to the South Pole, Book 2 of the acclaimed Great Marvel series, a set of adventure books for boys considered classics and collectibles. In this novel, the indistinguishable Caucasian heroes Mark and Jack decide to travel to the south pole in a submarine with their Kindly Old Professor. During the course of the journey, Our Heroes encounter a ghost haunting the submarine. The ghost, we are told, is transparent and headless, but at the end of the novel, we learn the ghost was really just one of the crew members sleep-walking in his nightshirt. How many people do you know who sleep-walk transparent and headless?

Now, I grant that it's possible to do a lot of sneaky things with smoke and mirrors. Heck, David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear while simultaneously making himself appear charismatic and sexy. That's no mean feat. And let's not forget that freaky Bermuda Triangle special of his, which still gives me nightmares. But he's a special case; most people are not David Copperfield and can't pull of the things he pulls off. The brainless connivers in House on Haunted Hill certainly couldn't.

Like House on Haunted Hill, the world is full of strange happenings. Some of them certainly deserve naturalistic explanations: the last "true" ghost story I heard, for example, clearly involved a clanky furnace rather than a restless spirit. Other events are more difficult to explain: the 1995 phenomenon of Hindu statues drinking milk, for example, at first appears miraculous. This particular event has produced a small cottage industry of atheist debunking, and I admit that, though I was previously inclined to a supernatural explanation, the naturalistic ones make more sense the more I read about them.

Catholics are used to stories of miracles and visions and similar supernatural events. Some of these are folklore, some are medical phenomena with no known explanation, some are witnessed miracles, some are visions, and some are all in people's heads. The Church examines many claims of miracles and visions; when unable to determine they are hoaxes or doctrinally objectionable, she labels them "worthy of belief," which means the faithful can take them or leave them, but are not obligated to believe in them.

St. Louis de Montfort, in his The Secret of the Rosary, a collection of stories about the rosary, recommends that Christians approach pious legends with belief unless there's a good reason to do otherwise. Admittedly, my first approach to such stories is usually skepticism, especially when a tale is presented without names or dates. In the case of St. Louis de Montfort's book, I sometimes find the stories doctrinally questionable as well: in one of them, a bad king is allowed into Heaven because of his habit of wearing a rosary on his belt. To my mind, this should have won him the added charge of hypocrisy rather than a full pardon. Catholics should understand that medals, rosaries, and other sacramentals are useless unless the faithful strive to live up to what those trinkets represent: I have a Brown Scapular, a St. Benedict's Crucifix, a Miraculous Medal, and a blessed rosary on my person as I write this, but I understand these are worthless if I do not live the Gospel.

Similar thinking can be applied to those miracles and private revelations the Church considers worthy of belief. They are helpful to the faithful unless they become a hindrance or an obsession, at which point they can be safely discarded or minimized. I have at home a booklet (I'm not at home, so cannot make a proper citation) by a woman who claims to have had a private revelation from Jesus and the Virgin Mary while attending Mass. The content is essentially a commentary on the Mass describing the liturgy's supernatural benefits and inviting prayers and full participation from the faithful. Though I of course have no way of verifying the genuineness of the revelation, it is in tune with Catholic teaching, and I find it useful, so I give to it the form of natural (as opposed to supernatural), human faith appropriate for such things.

In addition to revelations with useful insights or inspiring messages, there are miracles which defy naturalistic explanation, including some Eucharistic and medical miracles. These too, unless satisfactorily debunked, deserve belief and can be helpful to the faithful. In many cases, miracle is a better explanation than Old Man Smithers in a ghost costume.

As an added note, sf writer John C. Wright, who converted to Christianity after a series of visions, once commented that his experiences are no help in times of doubt. It strikes me as likely that private revelations are ultimately of more use to the people who don't receive them than the people who do.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for House on Haunted Hill:

Myth Level: Medium-Low (just, you know, not really)

Quality: Medium (some uneven scripting but a lot of fun)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (little objectionable; some revenge depicted positively, depending on how you want to look at it)

A Catholic on Anime

I just discovered an interesting essay on anime by a Catholic, "Anime for Catholics" over at the blog Moment of Reflection.

Some of what he says is interesting, and potentially arguable.

It is at this point that I would like to speak to Catholic men about anime. Be careful guys, Japanese thought and culture has a very different perspective on nudity than we do in the west, and even more so than what the Church teaches. Purity and chastity is something that is not easily come by in this day and age, I struggled with it myself for a long time.

Five years ago I had a massive conversion that saw the start on the path towards those two ideals, four years ago I discovered a proven and reliable method which has kept me pure and chaste ever since. [more...]

I don't pretend to have a good overview of Japanese thought and culture under my belt, nor do I believe I could get one from watching anime. As for nudity and sex in Japanese comics and cartoons, it isn't any worse than what you can find in American novels and film, though I say that based mainly on secondary sources; the anime and manga I gravitate toward is generally pretty tame, and I usually avoid the ones with "mature content" advisories. Though I don't appreciate gratuitous or gross content, I have to admit, you can see more naked artwork on a pilgrimage to Rome than you can see in a lot of anime. The usual discretion is necessary.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Still in the Field


Guess my age in this picture!


Sorry, I'm still out here doing what I do. And it is cold. You'd think it was winter or something. We'll have some fresh content for you soon. In the meanwhile, I have learned I have the ability to alter my age at will. Or by changing the ambient light. Or something.

Snuffles, you are the laziest dragon on Mars! Why aren't you managing the blog while I'm out?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Totally Random Stuff that Has No Place on This Blog


I haven't mentioned it, but I'm actually in the field and will be until next Thursday. But that doesn't mean I have nothing to talk about. No way.

This may embarrass all of you, but I'm able to see what it is that brings readers to this site. Frequently, they get here from Google searches. Searches for "scificatholic," "sci-fi catholic," and "sci fi catholic" often bring readers here (um, hello, the blog is actually http://www.scificatholic.com/, so you don't really need to search, do you?). I have found people also arrive by doing image searches for Bone comic book covers, which I find bemusing, since I'm pretty sure I haven't displayed any (I like to be more casual and subtle when I violate copyrights). Naturally, people also get here by looking for reviews, especially Christian reviews, of certain books or movies. Al Capone Does My Shirts is popular, though the big essay on Bone remains the number one draw.

But once, just once, someone got to this blog by searching for "naked men pictures." Believe me, I'm as confused as you are (but not nearly as confused as that guy). Even if a search for "naked men pictures" brings up a link to The Sci Fi Catholic, which is weird enough, why would anyone click on it? I picture some dude on his computer, muttering to himself, "Man, I gotta see me some o' them naked men pictures! Oh hey look, Catholic book reviews...well, I guess I can do that instead." This may be the first time in the history of the human race that religion has distracted from sex rather than the other way around.

Though I don't know why any past searches for "naked men pictures" would bring up this blog, I am, as you can tell from this post, determined that any future searches for "naked men pictures" will bring up this blog. Naked men pictures. I mean seriously, naked men pictures.

P.S. You will notice that the image at the top of this post does not fall into the category of naked men pictures. The man in the image is fully clothed, so don't write in with complaints. There are no naked men pictures on this site, except maybe for the image adorning my discussion of Thomas Moore's "The Loves of the Angels," which is still my favorite poem, but that doesn't count because that's serious art, so it too fails to qualify for the "naked men pictures" category. Besides, those are clearly naked angels.

(And in case you're wondering, that's actually me, that's actually my bookcase, and that's actually my custom-made Indiana Jones jacket.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blog: Got Medieval

I've been much enjoying the blog Got Medieval over the last few days. Yesterday, I mentioned the review of Beowulf on that site, and I've since then been enjoying numerous other, similarly funny posts. Also related to the Beowulf are a snidely funny post making fun of Neil Gaiman and a post entitled "Breastowulf" that speaks for itself.

Also worth reading is the funny dismantling of Kingdom of Heaven, which takes apart the film's inept writing and inept history while repeatedly referring to Orlando Bloom's unusual hotness. Then there's the article making fun of the use of Latin in Harry Potter. More serious is an article on some debunked Joan of Arc relics. Also see his article on the art of "Wikigroaning," a term I hope to see in the dictionary within ten years.

But the best part of the site is the Medieval on-line dating ads listed in the sidebar to the left. My favorite is from st_wannabe: "Fill in the blanks: Converting to Christianity is sexy. Forcing my husband to convert so that we may enjoy holy celibacy is sexier."

Dang, that is kinda sexy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Beowulf the Movie (review Christian) ReCAPped

The last time I typed "movie review Beowulf Christian" into Google, the first thing that came up was the review of Beowulf and Grendel at Catholic News Service and the second thing that came up was the review of Beowulf at The Sci Fi Catholic (I don't know whether to be pleased or frightened). Further down the page was the review of Beowulf at CAP (Childcare Action Project) Movie Ministry. Since I'm on the Internet mainly to pick fights with this sort of people, and since a Google search with a very specific word order says I'm Better Than Them, I figure now is the time to strike.

First, I will reiterate that Beowulf is a film lacking in good taste and containing foolish criticisms of religion. Besides my own review, I recommend the hilarious dismantling of the movie at Got Medieval. For a more cool-headed explanation of why taking cheap shots at religion in a movie about Beowulf is a bad idea, check the review at Filmcritic.com.

But I'm not here to criticize Beowulf. I've already done that. Let's take a look instead at everything wrong with CAP's analysis.

First of all, we have the website's slogan, "Stay informed...OBJECTIVELY...on what Hollywood feeds your kids." Already several questions appear in our minds. What's with those ellipses? Why is objectively in capital letters? Why is feeds your kids in italics and bold? Besides that, we may ask how exactly Hollywood can feed your kids anything without your knowledge and consent. If you're kicking the kiddies out the door to see a movie without knowing what the movie is first, that's your fault.

But then we have to ask the question, why is objectively in the slogan in the first place? The answer is on CAP's site, and you can find it here. Essentially, their movie reviewers watch movies, jot down content they find objectionable, and then fill out a form, the contents of which are processed statistically (how or to what purpose, I have been unable to discover). Somehow, the filling out of a form is supposed to remove subjectivity from the moral evaluation of a movie's content, even though the form itself is an arbitrary human creation.

The fallacy of the CAP system is easily visible in the Beowulf review. Besides the (presumably subjective) review itself, the list of "objective" objectionable content appears in a sidebar on the right. The first problem with this list of "objective" criteria is that it is entirely negative. There is a listing for "Impudence/Hate (I)" and one for "Wanton Violence/Crime (W)," but no space for, say, "Positive Moral Messages (P)" or "Selfless Acts (S)" or "Loving Characters (L)." CAP is uninterested in finding anything positive in movies and is apparently proud of it.

CAP's system of rating movies is admittedly clever, but it leaves out one important thing, key to Christian morality, and that is intent. I can't imagine how CAP could possibly produce a form listing every conceivable potentially objectionable scene in a film, but even if it can, it cannot take into account how that content is used. I can sit here and condemn every man who has ever stuck a blade into another man, but if I do, I condemn surgeons as well as ax-murderers. In evaluating movies, this means taking into account not only the "objective" content, but the way it is presented and the reason it is presented, something we are ultimately unable to perfectly evaluate. The underlying message of a film is more important than its "objective" content.

Listed beside the review under "Offense to God (O)" is "exchanging soul for power and riches," something the character of Beowulf does indeed do in the film. Here we see CAP's great error, divorcing content from context: it fails to evaluate how this exchanging of the soul is used. Beowulf's selling of his soul is depicted negatively, and he pays the price for it. This is a positive message, but CAP, "objective" as it is, is unable to take this into account.

I sincerely wish the people who do this sort of thing would think first. Is any story containing the selling of a soul automatically negative? Then we must condemn Doctor Faustus, Tannhauser, and The Scarlet Letter as well as Beowulf. Are we really willing to take that step? Are we really willing to condemn all stories that say emphatically that there are more important things than power, riches, and earthly joys just because they inevitably depict characters who revel in power, riches, and earthly joys, and in many cases pay the final price for their foolish dissipation? If we are willing to take that step, how many stories in Scripture will survive our scalpels? Indeed, how many stories is it even possible to tell without moral offense if we rigorously abide by the ironclad rules of CAP's "objective" criteria? Probably none.

Beowulf contains much that is objectionable, but what is most certainly not objectionable from any sane, thoughtful, and subjective Christian standpoint is the basic story of a shallow braggart who seizes wealth instead of goodness and ultimately pays for it. This is the tale of Dives; Jesus spoke of him. The basic moral of Beowulf is good: only the trappings are obnoxious.

So intent and context are supremely important. Had Beowulf told the story of a man who sells his soul and receives redemption without repentance, as Goethe does, we might say the depiction of a man selling his soul is immoral, but that is not the story Beowulf tells. When watching a movie, put down the fill-in-the-blank form and use your head.

Finally, I should point out that CAP's actual review is frankly weird. Get a load of this:

I have read lots of poems but never have I seen nudity in a poem. Even the nudity in some Bibles was not there when the inspired pen was put to paper; man put nudity in the Bible, not God. That some church approved nakedness in the Bible does not make it acceptable to God.

I am a science fiction reader, but those are easily the strangest three sentences I have read for many months. Weird, man. Weird.

Monday, January 14, 2008

News from the Fish Bowl

MONA LISA IDENTIFIED

A newly discovered scribble in a manuscript positively identifies the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" as Lisa Gherardini, not Leonardo in drag, according to Reuters. Sorry, conspiracy theorists; you'll have to go back to talking about how the Great Pyramid is a nuclear reactor. That was more entertaining anyway.

SPIDER-MAN IS SINGLE AGAIN

Marvel Comics, for its own convenience, has found an excuse to revert Spider-Man to a single man. Could Doug Camilli report this without using the word "annulment," please?

MYTHIC CREATURES EXHIBIT AT CHICAGO FIELD MUSEUM

The Chicago Field Museum has kindly contacted us to announce its "Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids" exhibit, which will run from March 21 to September 1, 2008. The display will be about the origins of various mythical creatures and their development through time. If any of our readers are in the area, set aside some time to check it out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Discipline Update

Twelve and a half down, two and a half to go. You'll learn all about it soon.

And goodness gracious, I forgot to finish my post for the B-Movie Catechist's monthly film club. I better get it in gear on that one, too.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Simak on Sci-Fi and D. G. D. on Fantasy

The other day, I was in a used bookstore and picked up a copy of Sf the Other Side of Realism, a collection of critical essays on science fiction, edited by Thomas D. Clareson. Inside the front is an interesting quote from Clifford D. Simak.

It has always seemed to me that if there were such a thing as "mainstream," science fiction should belong, at least marginally, to it, for everyone who writes, whatever he may write, does so within the parameters of a literary tradition that has evolved, developed, and changed through the years. And the effort to disassociate fantasy (which is pretty much an undefinable term) and science fiction (which is perhaps as much so) arises from the intricate business of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I don't think that we should attempt to distinguish between the two, and that the writer, especially, should disregard any artificial line that exists between them. The best stories, it seems to me, are fantasies, whether they be based on solid scientific extrapolation, or on engineering concepts carried to an ultimate point, or on something else.

I have to say, "or on something else" is a bit weaselly, isn't it?

I agree with Simak, except maybe for the statement about the "best" stories being fantasies. I'm sure I've said something like that myself, but it's an opinion I've now abandoned. There are other people whose tastes don't run to fantasy, and those tastes are as legitimate as mine. I've decided I don't care for literary elitism, whether it comes from sf-fans or non-fans. Fantasy and science fiction, I am coming to believe, are merely forms of artistic expression, neither more nor less legitimate than other forms. They are useful for expressing certain things and less useful for expressing others, for which we have other art forms.

It is probably this relaxed opinion that leads me to be so opposed to the uptight attacks on fantasy often heard today from certain Christian circles, where fantasy is either opposed in its entirety or, more commonly, subjected to a rigorous set of arbitrary and self-contradictory rules purposely designed so that no authors may pass muster unless named Lewis or Tolkien.

To the people who make such rules, I say this. In this same volume, SF: The Other Side of Realism, is an essay by Lionel Stevenson, "Science Fiction as Romance." He makes mention of W. D. Howells, who insisted "that all fiction was immoral unless it was confined to the everyday behavior and language of ordinary people" (pp. 98-99). Howells's rule is strict, but it can be consistently followed. The rules of today's Christian fantasy fan, who wants to have his cake and eat it too, cannot be consistently followed. It is no good to approve Tolkien's elves and wizards in one breath and condemn Rowling's wizards and witches in the next. Either give up fantasy entirely like Howells or else accept all of fantasy's tropes. The real moral concern in a work of fantasy is the same as in any other story: it is the underpinning philosophy that the writer conveys, not the magic and other devices he uses to convey it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Anime Review: Escaflowne the Movie



Come again?

Escaflowne, directed by Kazuki Akane and Yoshiyuki Takei. Screenplay by Ryota Yamaguchi and Kazuki Akane. Voices by Maaya Sakamoto, Tomokazu Seki, and Joji Nakata. Produced by Masuo Ueda, Minoru Takanashi, Masahiko Minami, and Toyoyuki Yokohama. Executive producer Ken Iyadomi. Sunrise/Bandai Visual: 2000. Runtime 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Read other reviews here.

According to all my sources, school in Japan is tough, so tough it's unsurprising that a number of popular shōjo (girls') manga and anime series focus on Japanese schoolgirls who get sucked into alternate universes where they can learn magic, battle monsters, and maybe have a romance with a hunk instead of studying for their high school entrance exams. Magic Knight Rayearth and Fushigi Yûgi, as well as the shōnen series InuYasha, for example, all use this conceit.

And then there's mecha, in which pilots get inside robotic exoskeletons and fight really loud battles. There's Mobile Suit Gundam, Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost In The Shell (the manga, not the movie), and Neon Genesis Evangelion, for starters.

Well, why not put them together? Enter The Vision of Escaflowne, a 26-part TV series shown in Japan starting in 1996 and then shown in America, after censoring, on FoxKids. Aimed at both boys and girls, it features a sprawling fantasy world, magical mechs, and a schoolgirl who gets sucked into it all. A good formula, but if you want to experience it, head for the TV show and skip the movie adaptation.

The movie version, simply called Escaflowne, has the same basic problem every 96-minute film adaptation of a sprawling epic has. It has no time to develop anything, so the viewers are stuck watching characters they know nothing about doing things they don't understand. Escaflowne looks like a bare-bones outline of a much bigger story, undoubtedly because it is. We have Hitomi from Tokyo, who's depressed and lonely for no reason. She gets sucked into the magical world of Gaea and learns that she's supposed to be the Wing Goddess, capable of bringing to life a magical biomechanical armor suit called Escaflowne, which can maybe destroy the world or something. The evil Black Dragon Clan, led by the evil Lord Folken, wants to destroy the world for some reason. Some rebels, led by an angry youth named Van, with whom Hitomi has a perfunctory romance, want to stop Folken and save the world. Both sides want the Wing Goddess and the magic armor, and the movie ends with a big mech fight involving yet another magic exoskeleton that comes out of nowhere. You follow all that? Good, because I couldn't.

We don't know why Folken wants to destroy the world. We don't know why Hitomi's depressed. We don't know why Hitomi is attracted to Van. We don't know what the heck this magic mech thingy is. We don't know why everyone in the movie is doing whatever he's doing, we don't know who they are or what they want, and we don't know why we should care. Major problem with Escaflowne? Zero development. This movie is an almost perfect example of exactly how sword-and-sorcery can go bad: if we can't get to know the people and explore their world, we can't care about their struggles. The creators who made this should have known ahead of time they would have this problem. You just don't compress a big epic into an hour and a half, especially if you're going to spend a lot of that time displaying silent mood images. I never thought I'd say this, but I almost think a couple of infodumps might have improved this movie. They certainly couldn't have hurt.

That's not to say it has no good points. The music by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi is excellent. The animation, though variable, certainly has its moments. The atmospherics are great and the general look of the fantasy world is imaginative. Fun to look at and listen to, I suppose, but a most unsatisfying story. Fans of the TV series might want it to complete their collections, but nobody else should bother.

As an added note, make sure you watch this one with the subtitles. I did, but according to all sources I've seen, the English dubbing is lousy.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Escaflowne:

Myth Level: Medium (the formula appears to be there, but delivery is weak)

Quality: Low (poor script, no development, moderate animation, good music, nice mood lighting)

Ethics/Religion: High (nothing objectionable, a number of blood splatters)

Oh, the Agony...

Seven down and eight to go. *Sigh.* In case you haven't heard, Snuffles is, as he puts it, "punishing" me. That's not really accurate, but...well okay, it is. Man, I've really gone and done it this time; I've never seen him so angry. You'll learn all about it in a day or two.

Problem is, the whole family's on his side. Lucky won't even speak to me, Frederick's standing over me with a horsewhip, and Phenny can't stop sniggering. Let's see, at a little over an hour each, if I go all night, I can be finished in...*sigh*...nine or ten hours. Man, and I hardly slept the last couple of nights.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Brief Notice

In case you're wondering about the whereabouts of the young nitwit who usually posts to this blog, I am, shall we say, punishing him. You'll learn all about it in a couple of days. In the meanwhile, I will probably have a post for you late tomorrow to make up for the recent dearth, and one of my posts should be equal to a dozen of that idiot's.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I Have Been Through the Desert on a Meme with No Name

Father Erik Richtsteig of Orthometer, who probably just wants to pay me back for attending his Mass last weekend, has memed everyone who loves Jesus, so I guess I have to respond to it. Some priests really know how to guilt you into something, you know?

So here it is, the "No Name Meme."

1. Do you wear a name tag at work? Everyone already knows my name at work. I don't understand the question, even.

2. What kind of car do you drive? A 2000 Ford Ranger, cherry red.

3. What do you order when you go to Taco Bell? Usually a burrito of some sort, and I usually douse it in about twenty packets of fire sauce.

4. Have you ever had a garage sale? Personally, no, but I once ran a lemonade and crack-your-own-walnuts stand at one run by my parents.

5. What color is your iPod? I have no iPod. I believe iPods emit a 60-cycle hum designed by aliens to lower the human IQ, as depicted in the LucasArts video game classic, Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders.

6. What kind of dog do you have? I used to have a beagle named Bullet (after Roy Rogers's dog), but he has since passed away.

7. What's for dinner tonight? You caught me on a bad day. I'm eating whatever I can scrounge and whatever I would have eaten in the field this week if we hadn't been snowed out.

8. What is the last alcoholic beverage you had? Hot sake, drunk at an excellent sushi restaurant. Unfortunately, a little alcohol turns me into a world-class (to my mind) lecturer on the subject of science fiction, much to the amusement of my companions, who had to listen to me for two hours straight. Incidentally, caffeine turns me into a lecturer on religion, so if I drink Irish coffee, I'll be in good shape for writing this blog.

9. Stupidest thing you ever did with your cell phone? I have no cell phone. See question 5 above.

10. Last time you were sick? Shortly before Christmas, minor cold.

11. How long is your hair? See photograph to right.

12. Are you happy right now? No, but I'll be quite happy when I finish this. What is this, a college entrance exam?

13. What did you say last? It might have been, "Good night" (to a coworker), but I tend to talk to myself, so I'm not sure.

14. Who came over last? Probably my last girlfriend. Jeez, that was a while back....

15. Do you drink beer? Yes. But I prefer port wine when I can get it.

16. Have your brothers or sisters ever told you that you were adopted? Not that I remember.

17. What is your favorite key chain on your keys? It used to be my mini Swiss Army knife, but that's quite battered now. Then I was really into the mini-Maglite. Right now, I'm having a brief but nonetheless tumultuous love affair with the miniature hardhat with an LED on the front.

18. What did you get for graduation? Um...graduation...see question number 2 above.

19. Whats in your pocket? Right now, I'm in my gym shorts, but normally, keys, Chapstick, breath freshener, wallet, notebook, sunglasses, reading glasses, and a prayer book wth assorted holy cards (I have a lot of pockets). I used to have a Zippo lighter in there in case I needed to burn something or illuminate an insect-infested stone hallway or ignite a Nazi castle, but they keep disappearing so I'm not going to buy any more.

20. Who introduced you to Dane Cook? Who the heck is Dane Cook?

21. Has someone ever made you a Build-A-Bear? What the heck is a Build-A-Bear?

22. What DVD is in your DVD player? Right now, my DVD/CD player is preoccupied with Led Zeppelin's Mothership. The last DVD in there was Battle Beyond the Stars.

23. What's something fun you did today? Not today, sorry.

24. Who is/was the principal of your high school? Don't remember his name, honestly. It might have been Peacock.

25. Has your house ever been TP'd? No.

26.What do you think of when you hear the word "meow"? Creepy anime characters.

27. What are you listening to right now? How did you know? See question 22 above.

28. Drinking? Nothing.

29. What is your favorite aisle at Wal-Mart? Food.

30. When is your mom's birthday? Not your business.

31. When is your birthday? Ditto.

32. What's the area code for your cell phone? See question number 9 above.

33. Where did you buy the shirt you're wearing now? It was a gift.

34. Is there anything hanging from your rear view mirror? A car rosary.

35. How many states in the US have you been to? Don't know. Most, probably.

36. What kind of milk do you drink? Skim, usually. Whole when feeling naughty. Soy when in the field.

37. What are you going to do after this? Work on the script for a comic.

38. Who was the last person you went shopping with? Snuffles the Dragon.

39. What is your favorite fruit? Mango.

40. What about your favorite dessert? Uncertain. I'm more of an entree kind of guy.

41. What is something you need to go shopping for? Food.

42. Do you have the same name as one of your relatives? No, except for my middle name, which you will forever know only as "G." (As for the second D, I leave you to ponder the significance of that one.)

43. What kind of car does one of your siblings drive? I believe he drives...a Ford Ranger, come to think of it.

44. Do you like pickles? Yes.

45. How about olives? Yes, but Snuffles embarrasses me by seeing how many he can fit on his claws at family gatherings.

46. What is your favorite kind of gum? Oh, I guess maybe one of those hygienic teeth-whitening gums or something, but I hate gum, especially when it appears in the dryer or under banisters.

47. What is your favorite kind of juice? See question 39 above.

48. Do you have any tan lines? I think running cross-country in high school made certain tan lines permanent. See my photo again: I go from deep brown in summer to pasty white in winter, and what you have there is the transitional phase.

49. What hospital were you born in? As I've said before, I was left in a basket in the Fairy Forest. I doubt I was born in a hospital.

Sheesh. Forty-nine of those? What evil person did that? I'm not sure I should inflict that on anybody who doesn't want it.