Saturday, January 07, 2017

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #017: THE FEVER

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S01E16 – The Fever

“Tight fisted Franklin Gibbs is not pleased when his wife Flora wins a trip for two to Las Vegas. Franklin detests gambling, but his wife is excited about their vacation. Things change when Frank falls under the spell of a slot machine that calls his name.”

There’s an oft repeated adage that if ones scratches an atheist, they’ll find a fundamentalist. It’s some folk’s shorthand way of saying that many skeptics are just as rigid and dogmatic in their non-belief as the most fervent of fundamentalists are in their faith. Really, though, you could substitute just about any quasi-religious viewpoint into the formula with the same results. Scratch a vegan, scratch a social justice warrior, scratch a policy wonk… you get the idea. But have you ever wondered what happens if you flip the functions? What happens if you scratch a fundamentalist?

Apparently you get Frank Gibbs, at least if The Fever is any indication. Frank rolls into Vegas wearing an expression like William Bell Riley strolling through the evolution section at a library. You think the guy would at least appreciate all the free food and entertainment that comes with his wife’s prize. I mean, for crying out loud, the Rat Pack was headlining the “Summit at the Sands” the year The Fever aired, so you know the shows had to be good. But no, Frank has an aversion to gambling that makes the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution on the subject seem tame by comparison, so there’s no way he can enjoy even a single second on the Strip. That is, until that demonic slot machine scratches an itch Frank didn’t even know he had.

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And one scratch is all it seems to take to turn Frank from a hardliner to a high roller. Once that first coin drops in the slot, it’s all over. It isn’t long before Frank actually hears the machine talking to him. Actually, the talking one-armed bandit that menaces Frank is kind of silly when you get down to it, but Robert Florey’s stalwart directing and Everett Sloane’s performance as the haunted gambler manage to sell the whole scenario. It also helps that there’s a nugget of truth in the tale. As Rod Serling relates it, after CBS picked up The Twilight Zone as a series, he decided to celebrate the deal in Vegas. Unfortunately, he became obsessed with winning the jackpot from one particular slots, and spent most of his weekend pumping coins into the uncooperative machine. Like any good author, Serling immediately seized upon the episode as fodder for a story about the potential dangers of gambling.

Unlike some of the protestant denominations, the Catholic Church has always taught that “games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice.” However, “they become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” But as long as that’s not the case, and as long as the person participates freely, the earnings aren’t used for illicit means, and the games aren’t rigged, dropping a few bucks on gambling has always been held to be morally neutral. Well, as long as you know when to stop, that is. You see, the Catechism also warns that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement.” Once you surrender conscience to any activity, then you’re knee-deep in sin. And the last time I checked, the wages of sin were still death. Poor Frank learns that the hard way, right on the street in front of the casino. Some itches, it seems, are best left unscratched.

Twilight Tidbits: At the time of filming, slot machines were illegal in California. The show was able to obtain impounded slots from the police for the shoot, but only under the condition that officers were on hand at all times to ensure no one absconded with any of the devices.

Friday, November 25, 2016

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 5

The year that really needs to go away just keeps rolling along and devouring all my time. About all I’ve managed over the past couple of weeks is a review of Arrival for Aleteia and a few suggestions for those in need of some political horror over at SCENES. Still, there’s plenty of other reading out there if you need something to keep you occupied after the holiday.

First up, Catholic Skywalker offers up his take on Shin Godzilla, Japan’s recent resurrection of the BIg G. I have to admit I enjoyed it a bit more than Mr. Skywalker did, but I can’t fault his criticisms of stuff like the creature design. After all, the entire audience at my screening did burst out laughing the first time Godzilla showed up in his unevolved state. Best to watch the movie when it hits DVD to see what exactly that’s supposed to mean.

Speaking of evolution, First Thing’s Abigail Rine Favale looks back on the previous season of The Walking Dead and discovers that the show has slowly grown into an “unexpected herald of a culture of life.” Of course, Ms. Favale was speaking of Season 6. I wonder what she thinks of recent developments in Season 7.

You know, some shows never see a Season 7, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say as well. For proof, head on over to Speculative Faith where they have an interview with Kevin C. Neece, author of The Gospel According to Star Trek. There he discusses how he discovered a wealth of Christian insight in the beloved show despite Rodenberry’s own rejection of his Southern Baptist roots.

Really though, such mixtures of belief and skepticism are actually pretty common in genre fare. It’s no surprise then to find Patrick Malone writing at Catholic Stand about Faith, Doubt, and Analysis Paralysis in The Exorcist, where he notes “the world is not neatly divided into believers and doubters, but rather that doubt and faith are often intertwined.”

Maybe so, but not so much at The National Catholic Register where Matt Archbold has very little doubt he has seen 7 Insanely Bad TV Shows and Movies Featuring Popes. Not a bad list, though it may be missing a few. Do I smell a post coming up at some point? We’ll see if 2016 allows it.

Until then, you can enjoy T. Martin’s reminiscing on the “incoherent, relentlessly swinging, hit-or-miss” Weird Al classic, U.H.F.

And finally, just in case I don’t get to post anything else before Sunday (because 2016), here’s some random picture of a monkey opening an Advent calendar I found on the Internet. Everybody likes monkeys!

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Saturday, November 05, 2016

THE B-LIST: QUESTIONABLE MUSICAL MOMENTS #22 – ANI: A PARODY

Yes, this is the entire two-hour long production of Ani: A Parody, which the fine folks at Starkid Productions were kind enough to put online for free. It’s well worth the watch if you have the time to take in the whole thing, especially if you have a familiarity with old 1980s movies full of training montages set to rock music. Not to worry though. For the purposes of this post, we’re only interested in the first four minutes and ten seconds, which just so happens to be the exact time it takes to get through Ani’s opening theme…

Ani, what a guy, right? You have to appreciate a fella who likes wordplay so much. Hey, you know who else enjoyed a little paronomasia? The writers of the Bible, that’s who. For instance, as an article at biblestudytools.com notes…

In Jonah 3:7, there is a pun: “By the decree (מטעם, mita‘am) of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste (יטעמו, yit‘amu) anything” (ESV). The word טעם (ta‘am) has two unrelated meanings: The first, more common, meaning is “to taste” (as a verb) or “flavor” (as a noun). For example, Jonathan tasted (ta‘am) a little honey with the tip of his staff (1 Samuel 14:43). This is the meaning used in the phrase “Let neither man nor beast … taste anything” (ESV). The second meaning is “decree,” which is borrowed from either Assyrian (which would make sense!) or Aramaic. This rarer meaning occurs only in Jonah 3:7 and in Daniel 3:10. The author of Jonah turns this into a witticism: What comes out of the king’s mouth (the decree, ta‘am) keeps the people from putting anything into theirs (tasting food, ta‘am).

Hilarious, right? You see what the author of Jonah did there? He used double meanings, a humorous play on words, and that’s… where the comedy… comes in…

Yeah, okay, let’s be honest. To appreciate a lot of the wordplay in the Bible pretty much requires you to either get a degree in ancient languages or read books by someone else who has. For casual Bible reading, though, maybe it’s best not to worry so much about catching the subtleties of a 3,000 year old pun and instead just enjoy the more obvious humor on display in a story like that of Jonah. After all, the image of a guy covered in whale vomit stumbling into a city and yelling, “Repent!”, well, that’s good for a laugh no matter what year the story was written.

And if you don’t like, you can always come up with your own jokes. For instance, here’s one I heard. Why is the story of Jonah so inspiring? Because it’s about a guy who’s down in the mouth, but comes out all right in the end.

See what I did there?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

THE B-LIST: 7 OF THE WEIRDEST EVIL OBJECTS IN MOVIES

Demonic dolls, malevolent mirrors, cursed cars; these things are a dime a dozen in horror movies. You can watch them pretty much whenever you want. But if you’re like me, sometimes you have a hankering for  something just a wee bit different than your everyday dastardly doohickey. Well, not to worry, The B-Movie Catechism has got you covered. Here are seven of the weirdest evil objects in movies for your viewing pleasure. Well, at least for your viewing anyway.

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The Evil Dollhouse from Amityville Dollhouse (1996)

We’ll start with a no-brainer. I mean, if you’re going to buy your kid a toy that looks exactly like the most famous haunted house in the country, you’re just asking for trouble, right? Parents, let this be a lesson. Even when your kids relentlessly beg for something, it’s okay to say no sometimes.

Twinky, The

The Evil Television from The Twonky (1953)

You might also want to monitor how much time your kids spend in front of the television. Just how much TV is bad for you is debatable, but I’m pretty sure if your boob tube has grown legs, is walking around, and has taken complete control of your life, it’s time to pull the plug.

Mangler, The

The Evil Laundry Press from The Mangler (1995)

Speaking of moving machinery, the next time Stephen King complains about the quality of anything, just remember he’s the one who wrote the short story The Mangler is based on. The man’s books creeped me out a lot back in the day, but even then, this wicked wringer just didn’t do the trick.

Lift, The (2)

The Evil Elevator from The Lift (1983)

One of the best taglines ever. You would think this would be as silly an idea as The Mangler, but this obscure little Dutch horror has developed quite a cult following over the years. There’s not an actual psychological term for the fear of elevators, but whoever out there has it should probably avoid this one.

Death Bed

The Evil Bed from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)

And just like that, we’re right back to the ridiculous. Here’s an idea. If you run across a bed that has eaten a number of people, don’t lie down in it. How hard can it be? This bed can’t even move around like The Twonky or The Mangler. Just walk away.

Refrigerator, The

The Evil Refrigerator from The Refrigerator (1991)

Now this is a little easier to understand. At least in this scenario there’s no other way to get to your pizza rolls than to open up the fridge and stick your hand into it. Still, after the first few times the awful appliance gobbles someone up, you would think they might consider the possibility of switching to canned foods. Oh well, what do you expect in a movie about a killer refrigerator. It can’t get any sillier than that.

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The Evil Tire from Rubber (2010)

Suckers! It can always get sillier. This is the touching tale of a tire that develops Scanner like powers and leaves a trail of exploded heads across the desert while pursuing the girl of its dreams. It’s never explained, it just is. Much like the movie Rubber itself.

If these films are any indication, just about anything can turn evil. In real life, the Church doesn’t actually have a lot of official statements on the subject beyond a sentence in the Catechism which notes, “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object [emphasis mine] be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism.” So at the very least there appears to be some official recognition that an object can become the focus of outside evil forces just as a person can.

Now, that doesn’t mean your toaster is someday going to gain awareness and bite your hand off. It just means that, for whatever reason, the demonic can become fixated on a physical object. Really, such an idea should be no big shock if you accept the notion that there’s a spiritual dimension to reality, which as a Christian you should. So if you start getting bad vibes from some knickknack sitting around your house, play it safe and toss it, not because you’re worried it may come to life and eat the kids, but simply because on the off chance there is something malevolent lingering around the thingy, you don’t want it to start taking notice of you.

P.S. It is not nice to pretend you sense evil in one of your spouse’s ugly keepsakes just to force them to get rid of it.