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extraordinary tales

“I don’t want my work to be lost forever. My work is eternal. I want that eternity. I want to be sure my words will survive me, that they will never be lost in time.”

  • Five of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known stories are brought to vivid lifeĀ in this visually stunning, heart-pounding animated anthology featuring some of the most beloved figures in horror film history.

Edgar Allan Poe. Any aspiring fan of the dark and morbid tales of yore know the name. I’m pretty certain that a collection of his short stories and poems are issued to you the moment you show any interest in the Goth subculture. I know I was. I remember the first time I encountered the stories of E. A. Poe: it was 7th grade Lit.*, and my teacher Mr. Wilberding describing the story of “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Of course, these stories are golden oldies trotted out every Halloween season; I, however, think that–like Halloween itself–these should be celebrated and read year-round.

Which brings us to the anthology movie Extraordinary Tales. This is a movie that takes five well-known Edgar Allan Poe** stories and animates them, each of them with a different animation style, and narrated by a different actor who has ties to the horror community as well. As a long-time horror enthusiast, I felt obligated to give this thing a watch.

There’s a wrap-around story involving a raven (of course) that supposedly represents the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, having a bit of an existential discussion with a graveyard statue, worrying about whether his stories will live on long after he’s dead and gone. We then begin with “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which is narrated by the late, great Christopher Lee. The animation is flat, with CGI that looks like the finest a Playstation One game can provide. It’s not bad, just “eh”. The second story is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is narrated by none other than Bela Lugosi. How did this happen, you may ask? After all, as the song goes, Bela Lugosi’s dead. He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead. A long time ago, I might add. Well, this sounds like an old recording he did reading the story, and the old lo-fi scratchy sound of the recording actually enhances the animation style employed on this one. “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar” is a nice creepy and ghoulish tale that is narrated by Julian Sands, who was in the movies Warlock and Arachnophobia. This one’s animated style recalls the classic pulp comics, with the main character animated to look like Vincent Price. Neat. “The Pit And The Pendulum” is narrated by Guillermo del Toro, and if I have to explain who he is, you’re reading the wrong blog. The animation style is standard CGI, and to be forthright, this isn’t my favorite short story of his to begin with. I realize Edgar Allan Poe took liberties with historical accuracy with this story (who doesn’t, really), but the situations still make no sense to me no matter how many times I read this. The visuals here didn’t help things. And finally, we end with perhaps my favorite of all of Edgar Allan Poe stories, “The masque Of The Red Death”. Here, there’s no narration, but does feature the voice work of one Roger Corman as Prince Prospero, in the tale of the rich and prosperous locked inside a castle and partying while a nasty plague ravages the country. Given that I happen to be writing this at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic and all the panic that comes with it, this has the added bonus of being a bit close to home.

As adaptations go, they’re pretty standard. I should point out that the stories themselves were truncated, so you don’t really get the full stories. And neither do the adaptations have enough time to let the stories breath, like with Roger Corman’s famous adaptations from the 1960s. But, Extraordinary Tales works as a good perfunctory introduction to the works of one of the more legendary American authors of the Romantic Gothic period. And anything that works as a gateway drug to becoming a reading junkie gets my enthusiastic support.

[*kids, back then, that was short for “Liturature”, and not “exciting”, or “excellent”, although for nerds like myself, you might say Lit. class was actually “lit”]

[**you can’t just say “Poe”; you need to say his full name for full effect]

Movie Review: COOL WORLD

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cool worldParamount

“I’m a cartoonist. I drew all this. I have visions. I translate this.”

While growing up in rural Eastern Nebraska in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my family had a monthly tradition where we would drive to Sioux City, Iowa to the Southern Hills Mall (shout-out, there) after church, and spend the afternoon there. They would give my sister and me some monies, and we were off on that day’s adventure. Mostly, if there was any new movies of interest out at the time, I would use part of the $20 to see the flick at the theater inside that mall. And in the summer of 1992, one of those movies I watched in that theater complex was Cool World.

Keep in mind, I wasn’t as pop culture-savvy back when I was 18 as I am now, so I had no idea who Ralph Baskshi was, let alone his contribution to the world of animation. All I had to go on was that Cool World was a blend of live action and animation, so it had to be like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, right?

*sigh* No. No it wasn’t. Let’s get this over with, then…

Jack Deebs is a cartoonist who is due to be released from jail. His comic book Cool World describes a zany world populated by “doodles” (cartoon characters) and “noids” (humanoids). What Jack didn’t realize is that Cool World really does exist, and a “doodle” scientist has just perfected a machine which links Cool World with our world. Intrigued at seeing his creation come to life, Jack is nonetheless wary as he knows that not everything in Cool World is exactly friendly.

On my first watch of Cool World back then, I remember being beset by a combination of confusion and boredom. Having rewatched Cool World decades later just to give it a second chance in my old(er) age…yeah, this movie is still a very disjointed and confusing mess. Even after gaining a more informed appreciation of Ralph Baskshi and his cult films. The characters — both live action and animated — have no personality…and inexplicably, there’s a bunch of non sequitur bits of animation that just shows up and distracts from the story. And speaking of the story, that’s all over the place, not even adhering to their own established rules of their universe, and features a bat-guano climax ending that will make your head hurt before fading away into a memory that you eventually question you ever really experienced in the first place.

Overall, Cool World may have started off as ambitious and subversive, but ended up more a confusing mess. Watch if you’re morbidly curious, otherwise pass on this one.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 23: The Simpson’s Treehouse Of Horror

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halloween'ing 2017
simpsons halloween special
If you’re anything like me (in which case, you have my pity), the yearly Simpsons Halloween episode Treehouse Of Horror are something you look forward to every year, despite the drop in quality of the show overall, and sometimes having to wait until after Halloween to watch the episode. Being a Halloween geek isn’t easy sometimes.

The very first Treehouse Of Horror aired early in the show’s second season in 1990. It centers around Bart, Lisa and Maggie sitting in their treehouse, telling each other scary stories. Homer is outside eavesdropping, and imagines the tales in his head, which of course segue into the segments:

“Bad Dream House”, where the Simpsons move into an Addams Family style old house that happens to be possessed by a poltergeist that tries to scare them off. Marge is having none of it…

“Hungry Are The Damned”, as the Simpsons are enjoying an outdoor barbecue in their back yard, they’re abducted by aliens (Kang and Kodos in their first appearance ever) and find themselves in a possible “To Serve Man” situation…

And finally, “The Raven” has Homer imagining himself as the lead character in Edgar Alan Poe’s famous poem, Bart as the titular Raven, while the whole thing is narrated by the legendary James Earl Jones.

This episode is classic. It’s the first in what would become a long-running tradition of EC Comics style horror fun. If you haven’t seen this one yet, remedy this oversight.



HALLOWEEN’ING Day 20: Hotel Transylvania

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halloween'ing 2017
hotel transylvania banner
There’s been a lot of animated stuff I’ve been posting this year for the Halloween’ing months. Maybe I’m reverting back to my childhood, maybe I’m just a connoisseur of the art of animated story telling. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you about that.

I skipped watching Hotel Transylvania when it first hit the theaters, mainly because of Adam Sandler voicing the main character, who happened to be Dracula. Same reason I gave a pass to the sequel a couple of years later. But, recently, I recanted my personal ban on Adam Sandler movies, and gave Hotel Transylvania a watch.

If you’re looking for something that’s not that scary, and decent enough for the entire family to sit together and enjoy and get into that Halloween Spirit, Hotel Transylvania would be a good choice to go with. Here, Dracula is a good-hearted vampire that just wants to protect his daughter from the angry humans that hate him and other monsters unfairly. And so he builds a hotel as a safe haven for all those creatures that go bump in the night. But when a backpacking human shows up at the hotel and (gulp) falls in love with Dracula’s daughter, the wackiness does ensue.

So, yeah, Hotel Transylvania is decent, kind of like a mix of The Munsters and Monsters Inc. in tone. Worth a watch some night during this Halloween season, along with the sequel.

Rent or Buy on Amazon


HALLOWEEN’ING Day 16: Tiny Toon’s Night Ghoulery

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halloween'ing 2017
tiny toons night ghoulery
Back in the early 1990s, one of the greatest afternoon cartoons to have ever existed was the Tiny Toon Adventures. Nowadays, many may recall the show Animaniacs over Tiny Toon Adventures, and for good reason. But Tiny Toon Adventures was just as great, doing the subversive comedy disguised as a children’s cartoon show. There were a small handful of seasons, plus a few specials that aired. One of which was the Tiny Toons’ Night Ghoulery special.

I have to admit that I was completely unaware of this thing’s existence until recently. It was originally supposed to air in October of 1994, but for whatever reason it was delayed until it was finally aired in late May of 1995. Which, for a Halloween special, makes complete sense.

Sarcasm aside, Night Ghoulery is a one-hour special that parodies several movies, stories and other television shows with the kind of whimsically twisted aplomb you would expect from these Acme Academy students.

For whatever reason, this has not been released on DVD as of yet. And a VHS copy is rare, and has been going for upwards of three figures on Ebay and Amazon. The individual segments can be found on YouTube, but here’s hoping someone at Warner Bros. will remember this was a thing and give this and other Tiny Toon episodes a proper DVD release treatment.



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lego-batman-movieWarner Bros.

“Wait a minute. Bruce Wayne is Batman…’s roommate?”

There are big changes brewing in Gotham, but if Batman wants to save the city from the Joker’s hostile takeover, he may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up. Maybe his superhero sidekick Robin and loyal butler Alfred can show him a thing or two.

Admittedly, 2014’s The Lego Movie was probably one of the more unexpected hit movies based on a toy property to come out that didn’t have giant robots turning into vehicles or Michael Bay’s name attached to it. I still haven’t watched The Lego Movie as of this writing, mind you; that’s mostly due to my disdain of the nigh-ubiquitous “Everything Is Awesome” theme song that certain chipper types at work seem to utilize as their own personal theme music. I’m sure I’ll get over myself and get around to watching it eventually. Not as of yet, though.

Anyway, reportedly the most popular side character in that movie was Batman, which lead to the spinoff, The Lego Batman Movie. There was no doubt in my head that I was going to see this movie. I remember sitting in the theater a year prior, waiting for the exorcise in overstuffed mediocrity that was Batman V. Superman, and watching the teaser for The Lego Batman Movie, then leaning over to one of the Exalted Geeks in attendance and saying, “Why aren’t we watching this movie?” The Lego Batman Movie, even then, looked to be the superior Batman movie to, not only the one that we ended up watching that day, but to pretty much every other Batman movie that has come before.

Calm down, fanboys and fangirls. You know I’m right. Just hear me out. But first, the rundown (also, there may be spoilers ahead, so be ye warned):

The fun begins with Batman villain The Joker, along with pretty much all of Batman’s rogue gallery (and then some) attempting to hijack a plane carrying stupid amounts of explosives, when he’s once again foiled by The Batman…only to have his heart broken when Batman informs Joker that he doesn’t consider him his greatest nemesis. This prompts the Joker to begin planning his greatest revenge against the Dark Knight…by surrendering himself and the rest of the rogues to the newly appointed Commissioner Barbara Gordon, thereby rendering Batman’s crime fighting services superfluous. Bruce Wayne, while attending a charity event, inadvertently adopts Dick Grayson, then hatches a plan to sneak into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to steal the Phantom Zone projector with plans to put Joker in the most inescapable jail in existence. Of course, this is just playing into the Joker’s hands, as his master plan is to break out all of the ultimate baddies that were stuck in the Phantom Zone previously to take over Gotham. Can Batman get over his need to be on his own to fight the evil that has taken over Gotham? Will he allow himself to be part of a family again? Is it possible to reference every single aspect of Batman history without coming off as pandering and ham-fisted?

As many have already indicated, The Batman Lego Movie was a highly enjoyable animated action comedy that not only works well as a satire of the various bits of media that Batman has appeared in since Detective Comics No. Something-or-other, but somehow gets to the very heart of who the character of Batman is much better than the other movies ever did. And that is, deep down, Batman doesn’t want to suffer the pain of losing the people he loves, so he keeps everyone at a distance. Until he comes across a situation in which he has to drop those emotional shields of his and let others inside to work together. As a family, if you will.

Character deconstruction aside, The Lego Batman movie should be watched by everyone, not only the fans of the Batman movies, or the first Lego Movie, but everyone. The writing, the animated action, the imagination that went behind this, everything gels together so well that you almost have to take in a second showing just to get all the things you may have missed before. And believe me, if you want to go just to geek out on the Batman, this movie is jammed to the cowl with various references and Easter eggs to geek upon. Even I was impressed at how obscure some of the villains included were.

I need to reel myself in, lest I spend more time geeking out about this movie. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen The Lego Batman Movie by now, you need to go see it while it’s still out in the theaters.

Movie Review: The SIMPSONS MOVIE

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Movie Review: SIMPSONS MOVIE20th Century Fox

“He’s not Spider-Pig anymore, he’s Harry Plopper.”

The town of Springfield, USA has been deemed a toxic biohazard due to the misappropriation of hog waste of one Homer J. Simpson. Now sealed off from the rest of humanity, the town turns on the Simpsons. Managing to escape to the Great White North of Alaska, Homer is ready to put that past behind him…only Marge and his children want to go back and save the community from being wiped off the map by a power-mad government official. Here’s hoping Homer has a change of heart before time runs out on the citizens of Springfield…

It’s been eleven years since The Simpsons borrowed its way into the the living rooms of television viewers everywhere. Talk of a big-screen adaptation of America’s longest-running beloved animated family began years ago, usually with creator Matt Groening reassuring all of us that, when the series ends on television, then we’ll get to see The Simpsons on the big screen.

Um, yeah. Obviously there was a bit of a change of heart. Probably because the series never seemed to die. And I’m sure to some, the series itself may have “ended” several seasons ago, for whatever reason. Point is, I’ve seen other animated shows get their big screen treatment with far less years under their belt. It was time for The Simpsons to join the ranks.

I went into the movie, expecting mostly an episode of The Simpsons, stretched to about 90 minutes or so, with a bit more “oomph” to it…something special for the treatment. And with that, I wasn’t disappointed. The storyline was true to the show’s form, with sight gags and the snappy dialogue I’ve grown to love about the show. Mind you, there were some parts that seemed to drag a bit, and the CGI animation mixed in was a little too obvious, but that’s really a minor quip. Overall, I was well satisfied with this foray into cinematic wackiness. Mmmmm…wackiness… *drool, smack smack*

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