Saturday, May 1, 2021

King Kong, Godzilla, and the Immediate Move to Comedy


Scott D. Parker

A few weeks ago, my college-age son and I watched the brand-new Godzilla vs. Kong movie. I liked it pretty well as it delivered exactly what I wanted: giant monsters fighting each other and destroying a bunch of buildings (that were evacuated the writers of the film made a point to mention). For my son, it was his first kaiju film, surprising considering he loves Japanese anime. This 2021 film made him decide to watch all/most of the earlier kaiju films. I happily obliged and we started all the way back in 1933.

The original King Kong movie is still a marvel of filmmaking. Considering it came a mere five years after sound was first introduced to the process, the special effects frankly still hold up well. My son likened Kong's movements to that of the Rankin and Bass Christmas TV shows.

We followed that up with Son of Kong, an instant sequel to the first film that was produced and released in the same year. 

While King Kong was thrilling yet somber, Son of Kong was not. It was actually pretty basic until our hero humans landed back on Skull Island and found Kong's son. Then, it kind of kicked into a comedic vein. This being the first time I ever saw this movie, I was surprised by the funny turn. In the back of my mind were many of the Gozilla films of the 1960s and 1970s I remembered seeing as a kid, but I didn't think any of the Kong films had done that.

When it came time for Godzilla and with his love of anime, my son insisted we find the original 1954 movie in Japanese with sub-titles. He's a purist when it comes to subs vs. dubs. We found it and watched it. I'm sure I must have seen this movie--or the 1956 version with Raymond Burr edited into the movie--but I honestly can't remember it. 

The 1954 original is even more somber than the 1933 King Kong movie. Godzilla is an obvious analogy to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan to compel them to end the fighting in World War II. The characters tracked the monster's movements like we do hurricanes. Most telling, they realize they have no power to stop him.

The moody tone surprised me, again with color films of the Sixties in my mind. I wondered when the funnier tone would be introduced into the franchise.

It didn't take long. The second movie, Godzilla Raids Again (1955), the tone was markedly lighter. The monster itself, especially when fighting Anguirus, another kaiju, kind of looked like it was dancing or trying to do martial arts. Where you almost could squint your eyes when watching the original and not think there was a man in a rubber suit, the second movie is all in on the man-in-suit concept. In fact, some of the filmed sequences were sped up, an accident during the filming that the director decided to keep in the finish film. It gave some of those moments a Three Stooges vibe.

It really surprised me. With the third film, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), that humor continued. Ditto when it came to the giant ape. 

Which finally got me to my question: why? Why did the creators of Godzilla--and what he represented for the Japanese people--decide to make him funny? It's not too far into the franchise when Godzilla has a son (no mom?) so the giant lizard becomes a doting dad. 

Seriously? Look, I loved these movies as a kid and I'll probably still enjoy them this year as we watch as many as possible, but why the move to lighten up the franchise? Was that where the money was? In family entertainment?

What other franchises can you think of that went lighter and funnier? Star Wars: Return of the Jedi comes to mind. James Bond has lots of it during the Roger Moore era. Say what you want about the Tim Burton Batman films, but compared to Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, those Burton films were really dark.

Are there any book series characters that underwent a comedic turn? 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Blood and crossroads with Beau


This week, Beau takes a look at Crossroads, from Laurel Hightower.

When Chris's son dies in a tragic car crash, her world is devastated. The walls of grief close in on Chris's life until, one day, a small cut on her finger changes everything. 

A drop of blood falls from Chris's hand onto her son's roadside memorial and, later that night, Chris thinks she sees his ghost outside her window. Only, is it really her son's ghost, or is it something else—something evil?  

Soon Chris is playing a dangerous game with forces beyond her control in a bid to see her son, Trey, alive once again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Bike Theft Adventures, Part Two

About five years ago, in an angry frame of mind, I wrote a piece here about the theft of my bicycle.  It happened in May outside the Brooklyn Museum, and the main cause was my own inattention.  While on the phone, I took my eyes off my unlocked bike for a minute or two.  A still pretty new bike, an expensive one, and to make matters worse, it had been a gift given to me by my wife.  Now, wherever it was and whoever had it, the bike was alone and forlorn, as far as I was concerned, never to be ridden again by me.

As it so happened, one of the guests who had stayed in the Airbnb we run had left behind an old bike, a Spaulding, green, with thick road bike tires and three speeds, and though it looked a little scuffed in places, it worked perfectly well after a tune-up.  Instead of buying a new bike, which I didn't have the money for, I decided to use that one, and it served me well.  Once, the chain broke but I had that fixed, and overall I came to like this bicycle version of a jalopy, though the gnawing anger of having been inattentive enough to get my previous bike stolen stuck with me. 

The pandemic hit, and I decided I'd finally buy myself a new bike.  Last spring and summer, during the height of lockdown, bicycling provided a great source of relief and enjoyment.  Problem was my then 14-year-old son needed a new bike -- he'd outgrown his kid bike -- and the 24-year-old didn't have a bike and didn't have the money to buy his own bike, and then, how could I buy my younger son a bike and leave the older one without a bike?  He's an adult, but you know, kids are kids as far as their siblings go, and...I don't think I need to say any more about any of this. To make a long story short, I bought each of them brand new bikes, and after the cost of those beautiful things, I only had enough money to give my old Spaulding yet another tune-up. This was a thorough tune-up, I must say, and included switching out a tire, and the bike did run well, again, for the course of the spring, summer, and fall.

Finally, this year, with the money to do it, I bought a brand new bike, one with 14 speeds and thin tires, and after thanking the old Spaulding for its years of service, I left it out near the Brooklyn Academy of Music unlocked, hoping someone else, preferably a Brooklynite, would take it.  Not a theft, but a giveaway, and maybe right now somewhere in Brooklyn that bike is rolling along with somebody on it.

For a few weeks I rode my new bike without mishap, enjoying it thoroughly, and then one day after locking it to a bike post near the Apple Store in downtown Brooklyn, I came out to find that the Kryptonite lock I had on it would not open.  I put the key in, I twisted, I cursed, I exhorted the lock to open, I did everything I could, but the lock would not release.  Not an old lock either, maybe a year old at most, but once one of those things get jammed, you are truly screwed.

My luck with new bikes!  If it's not theft, it's the secure lock jamming and making it impossible for even me to take the bike.  I won't go over every detail of the 3 or so hours I spent that late afternoon into evening trying to free the bike - it involved taking an Uber to the bike shop where I bought the bike, taking an Uber to a Home Depot to get some WD-40 (as the You Tube videos recommend) to loosen the lock, and more and more dealing with the lock itself, and night came on and a chill settled in.  At last, in the dark, still there on the sidewalk as people walked and drove by, I had to give up and go home.  I live about 20 minutes from where the bike was locked and I went back to my house more in a mood of resignation than anger.  There's something about me and new bikes, my luck in this department...

I did figure that the bike was secure where it was.  You have to hand it to the Kryptonite company: they do make pretty secure locks.  Anyway, the next morning, I rose, showered, dressed and took yet another Uber (I wound up spending about $90 dollars in two days on Ubers jetting around because of these bike-freeing efforts) and returned to the bike to find it, yes, there, untouched.  It's actually a very public and pretty upscale area, so I wasn't worried too much about anyone tampering with the bike in full view of others, though this is New York and you never know.

All options exhausted, I had to do what the bike shop guy had told me would be the one way to release the lock if the WD-40 didn't work -- an edge saw to cut through the lock.  I don't have an edge saw so I called a locksmith and he came and went to work.  

Now here we were, broad daylight, lots of people around going to the Whole Foods right there and the Apple Store down the block and the subway stations nearby, and I stood there while the guy bent down and did his work with his edge saw on the lock, the saw cutting through the metal and sending sparks flying everywhere.  I asked him whether we should tell the cops (there were some nearby) what we're doing and that it was my bike. I could show them the key fit the lock if need be.  "Don't have to," he said, and continued sawing and the sparks kept flying, reminding me of the sparks that fly when James Caan's character cracks that safe in Thief.  Could we get a little Tangerine Dream music here please?  In the end, it took the guy about 10 minutes and the bike was free.  Nobody walking, cycling or driving by had paid us the slightest attention, which I found either comforting or disturbing.  Cost: 200 bucks.  But I had my bike back, having hired someone to "steal" it for me, a somewhat amusing, though pricey, capper to the theft of my other bike, in public, five years ago.

I bought a new Kryptonite lock and will make sure, as the bike guy advised me, to keep it well-lubricated. And I'm going to buy myself an edge saw, because if this ever happens again, I want to have the right tools.  Why pay a specialist?  Now that I see how easy it is to free a bike in public, I want to be the one, if it must be done, who "steals" my bike.

Monday, April 26, 2021



The stories I tell are very personal and often there is a wide-ranging, big picture sort of purpose behind the narrative. Maybe there is no specific or obvious statement, but there is a reason behind the tale.

It’s been my hope to write a book that helps people understand the reality of their fellow humans, create a story that lifts the curtain and spares a glimpse of some extraordinarily ordinary person. And in turn, I want anyone who reads me to feel they’ve been seen or heard. Maybe understood. I’d like to make people feel less alone, the way my favorite books or songs work for me. With my intentions and experience, I thought I had something to say that might help someone. Who knows?

If no one is reading what you write, should you keep writing? Truthfully, it depends on why you write in the first place. I love to write. It relieves me, energizes me, and excites me. Maybe putting everything down on paper helps make sense of all the parts that make up my life. I simply know, if I’m not working on a story, I feel mentally rudderless, with no direction or drive. Therefore, I believe, I will always write. Does it deserve my time? I guess.

Getting an idea for a good story is such a charge; creating the characters and scenes, connecting the dots together. And when I’m able to carve out time to write, it’s also a big rush. It’s an exciting and guilty pleasure. I actually get cranky if I don’t write on the regular. But it can also be tedious and mundane, with every word you put down on paper sounding useless, or worse, like lies. And in end, does it even matter? Maybe not.

I’ve been fortunate that good writers who love to read have read my work. I’m lucky in that talented editors have helped me break bad habits, learn my weaknesses and strengths, and grow as a storyteller. I’m glad I take criticism well, and I’m frankly disappointed if changes or edits aren’t plentiful, because that’s how I learn to become better at writing. And really, what I want is to become a good writer.

There is also the responsibility to my first job. I have to make sure my children don’t suffer because of my secondary obsession. They need my time and attention, every ounce of energy I have really needs to be directed to their benefit. I’m one of the few stable things in their life, and that is a terrifying thought. Should I think of what makes me happy? In measure.

Do I want my girls to see me give up? When I don’t get what I want or life doesn’t go the way I’d hoped, should they watch me simply tap out. No. That’s a horrible idea. Life is nothing but adjusting your perspective to the large serving of chaos you’ve been given and will continue to be given. Life is always testing you. I don’t want them to give up, so I can’t give up. I need to look at this other love of mine in a different way. With fresh eyes. And I need them to see me taking the punches and getting back up.

I come to the question I’ve been struggling to answer for several weeks. Do I keep writing? I guess, yes. Because I don’t have to be well-known or successful to write. I don’t need money or props. I just need my ideas and time. One element is renewable and the other is a resource that continues to tick away. If given time, grab it with both hands, write while everyone is sleeping, and never close my eyes to inspiration. Set an example for my girls.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Put LeVar Burton in Jeopardy!

By Claire Booth

Things I love:




Star Trek

What do all these things have in common?

LeVar Burton.

What else do those things have in common (well, except for Star Trek)?


And now—finally—the two shall meet. Burton has at last been chosen as a guest host of the iconic game show. He’s been lobbying for a slot for a while, and his supporters have been all-out campaigning for it since November. As of yesterday, the petition had just crossed the 250,000-signature mark. It asks that he also be made the permanent host. I completely agree.

Here are a few reasons why.

He spent 23 years helping children fall in love with books as host and executive producer of “Reading Rainbow” on PBS. This is not a gig you stick with because it’s lucrative. It’s because you’re making a difference. When it went off the air, he pivoted to app-based reading programs, and eventually the web-based Skybrary, which has ad-free educational books and videos for children.

He now helps adults fall in love with short fiction on his podcast “LeVar Burton Reads.”

He grew up in Sacramento (hometown shoutout).

And okay, the Star Trek connection doesn’t technically have a lot to do with hosting Jeopardy! but you have to admit, playing Cmdr. Geordi La Forge on “The Next Generation” puts his geek cred through the roof. (And that isn’t a dig, it’s a compliment; I’m a life-long Trek fan.)

Burton’s Jeopardy! episodes will air from July 26 through July 30, 2021. Mark your calendar and be sure to watch. Good ratings will put him one step closer to getting the job permanently. And if you want to make your voice heard before then, you can go the petition.

Vote LeVar!