July 30, 2016
July 27, 2016

Misspent Youth: The Centre at Glen Burnie, Part 1: The Octonauts and the Inside-Out Mall

Previously…

  1. They knocked down the Severna Park Mall and the Jumpers Mall.
  2. Marley Station is creepy.
  3. They knocked down the Harundale Mall.
Charmingly Optimistic.

Charmingly Optimistic.

It is April 1, 2016. In Mississippi, the final version of House Bill 1523 is passed by the House, granting broad protection against prosecution for open discrimination against LBGT individuals based on religious beliefs. The governor will sign it next Wednesday. The law, a pretty brazen end-run around Obgerfell v. Hodges, singles out the specific religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, that sex is only permissible within marriage, and that gender is fixed at birth. It is on the basis of the privileging of three specific religious beliefs to the exclusion of all others (For example, the law noticeably does not allow discrimination against divorced people, those with tattoos, or cotton-poly blends) that US District Judge Carlton Reeves would issue an injunction against the bill at the end of June. Hope Solo and four other US women’s Soccer players file a lawsuit against US Soccer for wage discrimination, on account of they’re paid way less than the men. Google releases, then quickly withdraws, a “Mic drop” feature in Gmail, after the April Fools’ Day joke enrages users by tricking them into mistakenly attaching clever GIFs to important emails.

There is jack-all on TV tonight. Syfy airs an original movie, Dead 7, an inexplicable Zombie Boy-Band Western. Written by Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys, it stars members of 98 Degrees, O-Town, ‘N Sync and All-4-One, and I can’t imagine I even have to tell you who produced it. Harold Cronk’s latest, God’s Not Dead 2, is released. Cheap Trick releases Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello, their first album since 2009’s Sgt. Pepper Live. Axl Rose performs live at the Troubadour with Slash and Duff McKagan for the first time in 23 years. There is an excessive amount of Justin Beiber on the Billboard Charts. Patty Duke died this past Tuesday.

But why are we here — or rather, now [Not where, Constable. When?]? These meanders of mine are all about nostalgia, and April of the current year is not the sort of time period one normally gets nostalgic about. See, it’s like this: we’d had a potluck lunch at work the day before. And we also had one today, so it’s got me thinking back. Not that this is really here nor there, but I remember it because half of the tray of chicken and swiss wraps I’d brought in were left over the next day, and I was taking them home with me to feed my family over the weekend.

Anyway, it was Friday and it was a slow day, and people I needed to coordinate with had already left for the weekend, so I decided to knock off right before lunch. And since I had a few hours where I wasn’t expected to be anywhere in particular, I decided to tick off something from my list of not-especially-important things I wanted to do eventually.

Which is how I found myself driving up Ritchie Highway early in the afternoon on a Friday in April. This is when I got the pictures of the Harundale Rock that accompanied my last article in this series. Also a couple of pictures from the Marley article, though most of those were from an earlier trip. But this was hardly enough to justify the trip, so I reckoned I ought to hit up the remains of the one last mall of my youth. So I pulled out of the parking lot at Harundale Plaza and headed north.

I don’t recognize much of this stretch of Ritchie Highway. My dad, as I previously mentioned, soured on the road during the years when it was his daily commute, and once I-97 opened in the late ’80s, we avoided it like the plague. I preferred the southern part of Ritchie Highway from Annapolis up through Pasadena for my occasional drives to and from school as an undergraduate around the turn of the century, and when I was commuting to grad school for the first couple of months before I moved to Hampden — seemed like a safer place to be in case my ancient Subaru with enough miles to make it most of the way back from the moon broke down — but I always hopped over to route 10 just south of Marley.

I’m not at all sure how much has changed and how much has stayed the same and I’ve just forgotten. There’s a handful of landmarks I kinda-sorta recognize. The bowling alley where I bowled for the first time. A building right around 6th Avenue which isn’t really all that big, but is so much taller than the surrounding buildings that it seemed like a skyscraper. Keep going, and about two and a half miles north of Harundale, not too far south from the MVA headquarters and the ramps to the Baltimore beltway, you come to a quadrangle that was basically the old Big-Box district, back before Big Box stores were really a thing. The Best I mentioned last time was around here somewhere. For about three years, there was a place called Leedmark.

leedmarkLeedmark was a French-owned “Hypermarket”, an enormous, sprawling store that sold food and furniture and clothes and consumer electronics, and everyone thought it was utterly ridiculous back in 1992, because hur-dur, do eggs go on top of VCRs or underneath, and who wants to go food shopping and clothes shopping in the same place at the same time? It’ll never catch on. Also, you had to stick a quarter in the shopping cart to un-dock it from the cart corral, something I have only ever seen one other time. Dad suggested that a kid could make a decent living wandering the lot and offering to return the carts of shoppers whose time was worth more than getting their deposit back. We only went there once or twice. It closed in 1993 and the site is a Wal-Mart Supercenter now, which sounds more like a punchline than reality.

But what we’re here for is a place called the Centre at Glen Burnie. Up until a few years ago, its parking lot housed the last Bennigans I’m aware of (It’s an Italian place now). It’s a medium-big strip center anchored by a Target and an Office Depot and capital-letter-eschewing-palindrone-aspirant hhgregg.

Only, it’s not, really. A strip mall, I mean. You wouldn’t know to look at it, but the Centre at Glen Burnie is not a strip mall.

Seriously adorable.

Seriously adorable.

My son is starting to drift away from it a bit, but for the longest time, one of his favorite shows was The Octonauts. It’s a slightly fanciful, visually distinctive computer-animated series based on a series of picture books by someone named Meomi, about an aquatic animal rescue team. “Animal rescue team” in that they rescue animals, and also are animals themselves. Cute, round-headed animals with distinctive accents, mostly from the British Isles, each with a handful of cute catchphrases. And they go around helping injured sea creatures or cleaning up environmental catastrophes, or corralling invasive species in their octopus-themed underwater base, often using small, specialized submersible vehicles called Gups.

The reason I bring this up is that there’s an episode (3×04 “The Octonauts and the Artificial Reef”) where there’s a coral reef that gets damaged in a hurricane or something, and they also wreck one of their Gups, so they decide to use the wrecked Gup as the foundation for an artificial reef for the displaced sea creatures. It’s a somewhat romanticized version of the real-world practice of sinking decommissioned ships to create a new habitat for sea life.

I'll have to check with Dylan, but I believe it is the only Gup capable of sporting a jaunty moustache.

I’ll have to check with Dylan, but I believe it is the only Gup capable of sporting a jaunty moustache.

The Centre at Glen Burnie is kind of like that. As we’ve already seen, in Severna Park and Harundale, they simply bulldozed the old malls and built anew. At Jumper’s, they didn’t go quite that far, but they remodeled and in-filled until the only evidence of the old mall is the excessive number of exterior doors around the back. Something different happened in Glen Burnie. Rather than demolishing the Glen Burnie Mall when its Montgomery Ward anchor closed in 2002, they put up a Target and let a collection of medium and small storefronts accrete around the nearly-dead husk of the old mall. But underneath the barnacles and coral and Quiznos and Boater’s World, the old mall still exists, intact but buried, a little slice out of history that’s been preserved and encysted, less by choice and more by accident of history.

Actually, the other maritime TV show equivalence that strikes me is this old episode of seaQuest DSV, where they find a sunken cruise ship from the early 20th century. Somehow, the last guy on board when the ship was going down managed to seal off a big section of the ship before it flooded and rigged up some kind of seawater electrolysis device to generate air and electricity and lived out his life at the bottom of the ocean inside the sunken ship. Which sounds scientifically dicey but would make a really neat video game.

The mall does not call attention to itself, which is probably for the best, since they’d surely close it down if anyone noticed it was there. There are four entrances. The three on the front have been updated to match the style of the strip mall, but you could easily mistake them for storefronts. Their signs read “The Centre at Glen Burnie” and “A Great Collection of Specialty Shops” — probably an overstatement — with a much smaller “Mall Entrance” sign below. One of the mall entrances used to bear the marquee of the Dick’s Sporting Goods which was on the opposite side of the mall.

The Glen Burnie Mall opened in 1963, just five years after Harundale, with 30 retail spaces, anchored by a Montgomery Ward that continued to exist until the company’s collapse in 2000. There was also an A&P grocery store, which lasted until 1983, and a G C Murphy’s.

wards

This is pretty much exactly how I remember it. Except in color.

I’ve mentioned G C Murphy’s before, and the one at the Glen Burnie Mall apparently managed to eke out an existence until the early ’90s. Murhpy’s was apparently a big chain in this area, but I’ll be damned if I can point to a single concrete memory of the place. The closest memories I have is of the Murphy’s Mart in Parole that I mentioned before. I remember half of a conversation with my parents explaining the difference between a G C Murphy and a Murphy’s Mart, only I think my young brain conflated “Murphy” with “Montgomery” and I got it in my head that the Murphy’s Mart was owned by Montgomery Ward. I assume that the fact that there were both at the Glen Burnie mall fed into this confusion, the result being that I was until recently convinced that the discount department store in Parole must have been a Jefferson Ward. It’s possible that my dad namechecked the two “Ward” franchises during the conversation as a “see also”. But by extension, this probably means that I have, in fact, been to a G C Murphy at some point and my brain just tangled it up with one of the other stores.

Picture via cinematreasures.org

Picture via cinematreasures.org

There was also a movie theater, which I dimly remember going to. Must have been something we really wanted to see, since it was kind of a haul. Until Marley Station opened, we were more likely to wait for movies to come to Jumper’s. The major movie theaters in Annapolis wouldn’t open until the ’90s. The one at Glen Burnie closed around ’84 or ’85, and I think that space is roughly where the Boater’s World is now.

In 1969, Interstate Department Stores opened a Topps Discount City at the opposite end of the mall. Interstate went bankrupt in 1974, and the store closed. Interstate, a holding company that owned Topps, White Front and a handful of other smaller chains, emerged from bankruptcy with only one surviving chain, Toys “R” Us. Half of the Topps space at Glen Burnie reopened as a Toys “R” Us, while the other half housed an Epsteins’, another one of those local department stores like Hutzlers and Hochschild-Kohn that went under at the end of the ’80s.

The Toys “R” Us is the main thing I remember. Generally, if we went as far as the Glen Burnie Mall, it was because we wanted something from either Montgomery Ward or Toys “R” Us, and it was something they didn’t stock at the Annapolis Wards or the Kiddie City at Jumpers.

A week before Halloween in 1981, a fire broke out at the Toys “R” Us end of the mall. The entire place was closed for months, except for the Montgomery Ward. That would probably be the last time the place was completely refurbished. Although the shopping center was extensively remodeled around 2004, much of the 1981 mall interior remains unchanged.

In 1991, Epsteins’ closed. A Best Buy replaced it a few years later, but they moved to a bigger location across the street in 2010. The space now belongs to the hhgregg and Office Depot. After the G C Murphy closed in the ’90s, their space was rebuilt as a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s closed in 2013. When I visited in April, the former Dick’s was occupied by a furniture discounter which was in the process of going out of business. The sort that always seems to be in the process of going out of business. Or maybe already had. The mall entrance was open, but there didn’t seem to be any staff and the lights were out. I’m fairly sure that if I were bolder and stronger, I probably coulda just strolled off with a sofa.

The south end of the mall was demolished after Montgomery Ward closed. The Ward space and the old A&P space were converted into a Target and a strip of 13 outward-facing stores. The Target is cater-corner to the mall and not attached to it.

The Glen Burnie Mall is, of all the malls we’ve considered in this meander, the only one I specifically remember as being “small”, which is weird on reflection because I don’t think it was actually any smaller than Jumper’s. I was disoriented when I parked at the south entrance to the mall on that April afternoon. My memories and the geography didn’t properly align: the handful of little flashbulb memories I had of my youth placed the mall to the left if you were facing the Toys “R” Us from the parking lot. In reality, the Toys “R” Us is at the north end and the mall extends to the right.

The south entrance is nestled between a Great Clips and a Lane Bryant. Both are attached to the mall but their entrances are on the outside. When you first enter, it looks pretty much like any modern mall. The main thing you might notice that hints something is up is the ceiling, which is corrugated metal painted black with a few small skylights, rather than the mostly-glass ceilings you see in normal malls. I’d never thought of it before, but as I looked up, the first of several powerful childhood memories struck me — not a memory of this mall, but of Marley Station. That first time there, decades ago, being awestruck by those huge skylights that took up so much of the ceiling. How much brighter the place was than I was used to in a mall.

ABANDON EVERY HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

ABANDON EVERY HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

The mall is clean and well-maintained, but the property management hasn’t gone the extra mile like Woodmont has at Marley to stop the place from feeling creepy and abandoned. There’s only a few shops inside the mall. Most of the retail bays are covered by panels optimistically promising great new stores someday, accompanied by stock photos of happy-looking shoppers from the 1990s. There’s a small performance stage at the corner where a hall branches off toward the Bonefish Grill. Nothing else is accessible from that hallway, and it’s creepily dark, enough that I was haunted by the fear that a mall cop was going to challenge me any minute. I did not actually see any mall cops during my visit.

The place gives off a weird vibe of accidentality. Like no one actually meant for there to be an arcade here, just, like, the movers left this stuff here when they went out for lunch and got lost on the way back

The place gives off a weird vibe of accidentality. Like no one actually meant for there to be an arcade here, just, like, the movers left this stuff here when they went out for lunch and got lost on the way back

Once you’re past that side hallway, things start to change a little. The hall widens, but the renovation doesn’t. While the center of the hallway features modern white and gray ceramic tile, a strip along either side is still tiled with 1980s terra cotta. I feel like I haven’t seen terra cotta floor tiles anywhere but Hardee’s in decades. There’s a women’s clothing store and a cell phone store. An unattended coin-op arcade. Since I was visiting at the beginning of April, there was one of those pop-up tax preparation places there, which I assume is gone now.

Near the middle of the mall, a narrow and very long hallway leads back to the security office and the public restrooms. Walking down the narrow hallway is like walking back in time as the floor tile changes from ceramic to terra cotta to linoleum and the ceilings change to drop-panels probably made of asbestos. Built-in ashtrays have been simply covered by painted plywood.

To Be Continued

July 23, 2016

Tales from /lost+found 68: You’ve activated my trap card!

British audiences were obviously scandalized that the Doctor and Winston Churchill were depicted in an antagonistic relationship in the 1999 two-parter “The Iron Legion”/”The Perfect Soldier“. But come on, look at the smack the man talked about Ghandi, or about women’s rights, or the fact that he was pretty much ambivalent about fascism (and outright said he preferred it to communism) until the fascists had the temerity to muscle in on his empire’s turf. Can you imagine someone like the Doctor being all buddy-buddy with a jerk like that?

Click to Embiggen

Click to Embiggen

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July 20, 2016

Antithesis: Path of Lies, Continued (War of the Worlds 2×14, Part 2)

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

I don't know much about grenade launchers, but shouldn't it not be so easy to miss with one?

I don’t know much about grenade launchers, but shouldn’t it not be so easy to miss with one?

Intrepid reporter Mark Traynor got Too Close to Something Big. But never mind that, because the show won’t. The Morthren are out to get him because… They were already out to get him, and then he took a picture of one of them dying, so now they’re double out to get him. Meanwhile, they’re also making arrangements to provide publishing magnate W. R. Samuels with a life-prolonging elixir in exchange for using his Rupert Murdoch-like control of the media to do favors for them.

The next day, the aliens make another attempt on Traynor, this time outside his house. Kincaid and Blackwood are somehow there to rescue him, and give him enough information to sway him to their side. His girlfriend, having seen the assassination attempt, confronts Rob Nunn. He feigns ignorance, but immediately runs to Bebe and resigns when she stonewalls him.

There’s a pattern in this episode that is abstractly interesting as a storytelling mechanic, but doesn’t gel well with the action-adventure format of the show. Namely, other than the aliens themselves, no one in this story is really “evil”, but everyone is antagonistic. Compare with “The Deadliest Disease”. That was a story chock full of villains — Brock, Tao, the other two gang leaders at the exchange, the double-crossing security guard, Brock’s clone, even the Colonel to a lesser extent. The Morthren manage to be the least villainous characters in the story, since they’re acting entirely on the defensive to preserve themselves in the face of a plague.

But here, Nunn wants to do the right thing, but he’s being held back by Bebe. Bebe wants to do the right thing, but she’s being held back by Samuels. And even Samuels is shown to be motivated purely by desperation to stay alive. It’s a cool and interesting idea that all these people who are at best just selfish are pushed to villainy by forces beyond their control due to the manipulation of the aliens, but it doesn’t really sit well with this show. The aliens aren’t Moriarty-like evil masterminds creating intricate webs of deception. They’re much more straightforward than that. In fact, the aliens themselves have only a tenuous hold on the situation, struggling to off one reporter. It’s not the kind of show this is. And especially in light of the way this episode feels like it’s trying to fit into the mold of those classic shows where a guy who “sees something he shouldn’t” has to become a fugitive wandering from town to town, writing wrongs along the way. That’s a concept that calls for small villainies: the racist small-town sheriff who covers up a murder or the corrupt paper mill executive who tosses a union organizer into the shredder.

Now that he's better, he looks like the narrator from the old animatronic Winnie-the-Pooh TV series.

Now that he’s better, he looks like the narrator from the old animatronic Winnie-the-Pooh TV series.

The next scene is the best one in the episode: Malzor and Samuels meet face-to-face. It’s a classic Nasty Party scene with Samuels and Malzor being cordial to each other while communicating mutual loathing. Samuels keeps trying to drive home how tenuous his influence actually is: it was hard for him to suppress Traynor’s story (Which Malzor claimed involved an experimental military cyborg — they’re really hammering on this cyborg thing). He tries to caution Malzor that he might not be able to keep up that sort of thing, and his influence over his government contacts is contingent on avoiding scandal. But Malzor hits back hard on the matter of Samuels’s dependence on their serum, and the old man caves instantly. Samuels is very subtly nervous through the whole scene.

Polite of her dead body to gently move its hand out of the way as he takes the envelope.

Polite of her dead body to gently move its hand out of the way as he takes the envelope.

Traynor realizes too-late that he’s endangered his girlfriend by giving her the negatives. She’s strangled to death by someone who isn’t shown past the forearm. I don’t know why they bother; it’s not like we’d recognize Random Non-Speaking Assassin. We’re all meant to assume he’s Morthren, but the next scene reveals that they still don’t have the negatives and Malzor and Mana bitch at each other about it. After finding her body, Traynor and the others go off to confront Rob Nunn.

They find him drunk and packing in his office. A little bit of roughing up gets him to explain that he’s been under growing pressure to bury stories critical of the government and major corporations. So much for that thing about it taxing Samuels’s influence to have a story suppressed. Traynor works out that the orders to kill the story must have come from Bebe, and he and Kincaid storm off to confront her, leaving Nunn to get his neck snapped by the unseen assassin.

Samuels discovers just how far in over his head he’s gotten when Jennings brings him prints of Traynor’s pictures. “Cyborgs don’t disintegrate,” he says, in the tone of a man who knows this first-hand. He realizes that Traynor is right and “Dr. Adelson and Mr. Malcolm” are aliens. He freaks out, worried about their ultimate motives and the possibility that the serum might be more sinister than it seems. Jennings tries to reassure him, but betraying humanity to help invading aliens is a bridge too far for the old man. See? Even Samuels ultimately wants to do the right thing when he can get past his own fears.

There’s no explicit reveal that Samuels has the negatives — and by implication, it was his assassin who killed Traynor’s girlfriend. I think this is a misstep. Remember, Jennings had already gotten copies of the prints from Bebe. So why didn’t Samuels look at those five scenes ago? And given his horrified reaction when he sees the photo of a decomposing Morthren, I find it hard to imagine Samuels is the sort of guy who’d jump straight to, “You want those negatives? Okay, I’ll send a hit man out to kill a reporter’s girlfriend.” Perhaps it’s meant to show how desperate Samuels becomes when Malzor makes the negatives a hard condition of their agreement? But he never acknowledges the assassinations either. We’re to presume that it’s the same assassin who kills Rob Nunn and Bebe Gardner (Yeah. Spoilers). You’d think he might mention the fact that he’s had three people murdered when he has his moment of horror at realizing Traynor was right about aliens. The only way the scene really works is if you assume that the murders were done on Jennings’s initiative, and Samuels hadn’t know the details of it. But for that to work, you’d want a scene where Samuels orders Jennings to get the negatives and says something like, “I don’t care how!” and to have a confrontation later where Jennings reveals what he’s done to a shocked Samuels. And in any case, you’d want them to make an explicit reveal that, yes, it’s Samuels and not the Morthren who got the negatives.

Every scene she's in, it's like she's visiting from a soap opera.

Every scene she’s in, it’s like she’s visiting from a soap opera.

Traynor and Kincaid confront Bebe, who makes it clear that she’s frightened for her life if she tells them who’s behind it all, but she agrees to help anyway just before being shot by the off-camera killer.

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July 16, 2016

Tales from /lost+found 67: I Hate Hyperbole With the Fury of a Million Exploding Suns

We return to the 7-CD FMV game, because I put a lot of work into it.  This game is most directly inspired by The X-Files Game, made by HyperBole studios. They also made the Quantum Gate series, which I remember mostly for the fact that I’m pretty sure its surreal plot was a cover for the fact that their engine couldn’t track state enough to implement cause-and-effect. They also made The Madness of Roland, which is the game that killed Spoony. Or maybe the Spoony Clone. I don’t remember.

Click to Embiggen

Click to Embiggen

Incidentally, if you look closely back at this image’s original appearance, you’ll notice that its caption says 6 CDs when 7 are clearly visible. Inspired by an actual eBay ad for a copy of Phantasmagoria.

July 13, 2016

Antithesis: Path of Lies (War of the Worlds 2×14)

Going to try something new this week. I’ve been told that these articles tend to run a little long, so from now on, I’m going to be splitting the essays in half if they run over 4000 words. Let me know if this gets to be a problem.

They make a big deal about the Herald being a respectable paper and "not a tabloid". The paper is literally a tabloid ("tabloid" is a paper size)

They make a big deal about the Herald being a respectable paper and “not a tabloid”. The paper is literally a tabloid (“tabloid” is a paper size)

It is February 19, 1990. A comparatively quiet news week. Science historian Otto Neugebauer dies in Princeton. In a commentary for US News and World Report, Czechoslovakian president Vaclav Havel writes, “For more than 40 years, there has been not one Europe, but at least two. One is the Europe of the West, the land of democracies and relative prosperity. The other is the Europe of the East, of totalitarianism until recently unchallenged, the Europe that has finally awakened.” Tomorrow, Leicester city centre will see three people injured by a bomb. The United Mine Workers reach an agreement to end the Pittston Coal strike.

Little change on the Billboard charts; Paula Abdul maintains the top slot. Michael Bolton and Skid Row fall out of the top ten, while entering it are The Cover Girls and Expose, the latter with “Tell Me Why”, a song I only know because I had their greatest hits album when I was young. Damn Yankees will release their self-titled debut album later this week.

Adobe Photoshop has its first release. Driving Miss Daisy returns to the number one spot in the US Box Office, having held it for three of the past four weeks. Among this week’s home video releases is Friday the 13th Part VIII. TV is new this week. There’s a miniseries about the Kennedys airing this week, as well as The Death of the Incredible Hulk, the final TV movie continuing the 1978 Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series. MacGyver is “Jenny’s Chance”, a “Sting” episode where Mac and his friends go under cover with ridiculous fake identities to expose the murderer of a friend’s dad. Star Trek the Next Generation presents Yesterday’s Enterprise, and if I had anything new or important to say about it, I wouldn’t be blogging about the most obscure shows I can think of. Denis Forrest gets a little extra exposure this week, as he’s making his last guest appearance on Friday the 13th The Series as the villain in, ahem, “My Wife as a Dog”. It’s the only episode of the series where the cursed antique — a cursed leash which does exactly the thing you think it’s gonna — gives its user exactly what he wants, and he gets to live to enjoy it. Indeed, even though he ends up in jail, Forrest’s character is comparatively satisfied with how everything worked out.

This week’s War of the Worlds is… I guess I can say, “bless their hearts for trying,” at least. It’s not aggressively bad the way that “Synthetic Love” was. It’s not bad at all, really. It’s just thin and insubstantial. What’s there is okay taken sort of abstractly, but it doesn’t really feel like part of the world they’ve been sketching out. The aliens are, once again, somewhat bracketed this week. They’re present, and play an active role in events, but the story feels like a tangent from their perspective: there’s a brief mention of a satellite they want access to, and you get the impression that’s what they’re really focusing on, with this episode’s events being a minor sub-plot to that. If anything, this episode feels almost like a backdoor pilot for a potential spin-off. Except that the spin-off it’d be promising is a pretty bog-standard Walking the Earth show in the vein of Kung Fu or The Fugitive or The Master or The Incredible Hulk. Only without martial arts, a one-armed man or purple stretch-pants. And, I mean, it’s a perfectly competent backdoor pilot, but there’s not much of a hook. Nothing to make me think, “Yes, it’s worth spending an hour out of my week to watch this series, as it will provide me with something I haven’t already seen a thousand times already.”

Much more of the focus is placed on the human characters and the world they inhabit. This ought to be great: I’ve been wanting more insight into the dystopian setting. But it doesn’t really pay off. As I’ve said so many times before, a lot of what goes wrong in this show is the product of it existing in the wrong time for what it’s doing. What we see of the dystopia this week seems strangely un-dystopic, but perhaps that’s just because this is the dystopianism of 1990.

To wit, this week’s episode is about journalism, at least as much as it’s about anything. This week, we’re going to see that one of the major aspects of this dystopia is that the newspapers are dying, and the few that remain are under the thumb of rich assholes who use them to manipulate both the public and the political discourse to support their personal agendas. Yeah. In 1990, that was the scary dystopic future. Now, it’s, well, Wednesday.

And we don’t even get a Matt Frewer in a rubber mask to make cynical jokes about the media. In fact, while it’s nice that the show unambiguously presents the state of the media as a bad thing, this particular angle on the horrifying near-future seems sort of… Quaint. Our evil media mogul suppresses news stories and has people whacked and bribes senators, but compared to, say, manipulating major nations into starting pointless wars, he seems like small potatoes. He’s not even all that evil. Venial, to be sure, but there’s nothing here on the level so much of J. Jonah Jameson, to say nothing of really properly supervillainous media moguls like Ned Grossberg, Elliot Carver, Charles Magnussen, The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe, or Rupert Murdoch. I could maybe buy this as an episode of Knight Rider, but this is a show about aliens in a dystopian future. Is it too much to ask that our corrupt media be a little over-the-top?

There was a second here when I thought this was James Doohan. Then I cleaned my glasses.

There was a second here when I thought this was James Doohan. Then I cleaned my glasses.

Our Rupert Murdoch expy this week is W. R. Samuels. He’s currently housebound, and when we meet him, he’s confined to bed and living in a plastic bubble, under blue lighting, having come down with a terminal case of Bad Makeup and Disheveled Hair. He’s visited by Ardix, under the cover name “Dr. Adelson”. They make a stab at playing this as a shocking reveal by not showing his face for the first minute he’s on screen, but I’d know that long head and alien body language anywhere.

Oh, yeah, I'm in complete suspense to find out who that guy who literally looks like Death is.

Oh, yeah, I’m in complete suspense to find out who that guy who literally looks like Death is.

Posing as, I guess, some kind of Generic SCIENCETM Company, the Morthren are offering Samuels a serum that will prolong his life in exchange for him using his influence to get them various things they want, starting with the use of a government satellite. The serum hasn’t worked yet, though, so Samuels isn’t prepared to pay up.

There’s a certain structural similarity between this episode and the previous one. They both follow the pattern of the Morthren offering the fruits of their technology to a human with power and influence in exchange for a MacGuffin. And like “The Deadliest Disease”, they both spend the middle part of the episode focused neither on the heroes nor the villains, but on the guest cast. Our guest cast this week starts with David Ferry as Mark Traynor. He’s an intrepid reporter for the Midtown Herald, the only remaining newspaper in Unnamed City I’m Still Guessing Is Near DC. He visits the same bar-slash-strip-club that Blackwood and Kincaid frequent, and as luck would have it, they’re seated at a back table tonight.

War of the Worlds

Wait, no, that’s not right. I mean, yes, it’s David Ferry, but what’s this picture from?

Traynor isn’t interested in them, though. I think he’s here for a story, though we never learn what in particular the story is about. A couple of obvious villains show up, pull out shotguns and start shooting. It’s not clear at first, but Traynor is their target, which in my opinion is bad pacing. You don’t start out with the bad guys trying to kill the reporter. You start out with the bad guys killing the reporter’s source, and then he witnesses it, and that‘s what gets him on their list. Kincaid and Blackwood return fire, drawing the attackers off, and chase them outside. Traynor follows, his camera at the ready.

Outside, the bad guys switch to I guess a grenade launcher, because they manage to explode a barrel that Kincaid uses for cover. He shoots one, revealing their attackers to be aliens. It’s strange to see the aliens using human weapons. In context, they’re presumably meant to be under cover, but I think this is the first time we’ve seen the aliens think of that since “Night Moves”. Nothing in the rest of the episode suggests that Kincaid and Blackwood came out to the bar tonight expecting to run into aliens, but they aren’t surprised to see them. Admittedly, the fact that you literally can’t pop down to the bar for a couple of beers without getting attacked by aliens isn’t really beyond the world the series has established, but one of the thinner parts of the plot is that the gang never shows even the slightest curiosity as to what it is the aliens are up to this week. They’re more concerned about Traynor, because he’s got photographs of a decomposing alien and of them.

Personally, I'm not all that clear how two or three stills of this could possibly be coherent enough to be evidence of anything.

Personally, I’m not all that clear how two or three stills of this could possibly be coherent enough to be evidence of anything.

They’re forced to flee when the cops show up, and back at base, they explain to Suzanne that if Traynor’s photos go public, there’s a danger of a mass panic, with an unprepared populace getting themselves killed while trying to hunt aliens. Blackwood and Kincaid suggest that the fact that most people are “tuned out” and that the government has been unwilling to involve itself has kept the Morthren from escalating into open warfare, which is an interesting point. They make plans to track down the reporter, and Suzanne buggers off for the rest of the episode. We won’t see her again until the coda (Okay, turns out she’s in a couple more scenes, but she has essentially no presence in them, so I forgot).

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July 9, 2016
July 6, 2016

Deep Ice: The complete overthrow of his intelligence (C. Thomas Howell’s War of the Worlds 2, Concluded)

Previously on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Why is there a fireball? Who the fuck cares?

Why is there a fireball? Who the fuck cares?

Three Months Later

I mean, yeah, canning is an important post-apocalypse skill, but does Pete strike you as the type?

I mean, yeah, canning is an important post-apocalypse skill, but does Pete strike you as the type?

Pete, the Major, Victoria and Alex enjoy a delicious picnic dinner outside of George’s house. Judging by the number of mason jars on the table, the entire meal seems to have consisted of pickles. Everyone’s in good spirits, except for Alex, who’s glum because he misses his dad. Oh noes, I guess this means that George didn’t make it due to that fatal illness he was dying of in the previous scene.

I mean, come on. Did they really expect anyone to believe that for a second? They’re at his house. If George had died, do you really think everyone would have driven the three hours to his house three months later to have a picnic? Honestly, the scene doesn’t make a whole lot of sense even with George alive. Why are they here and not at the base? George had been considering moving to the base before the invasion anyway so that Alex could have some company. With George out of the picture for three months, what, has Alex been living alone? Did Pete move in? Do they all stop by for a picnic once a week?

The reveal that we all knew was coming happens when Dave shows up with George, who’s still pretty fragile, but is recovering. See, it would almost make sense for them to all come out to George’s place if this was specifically a party to celebrate his homecoming after three months in the hospital. But it’s a surprise that George is ambulatory. Alex wasn’t expecting it, and it doesn’t seem like the others were either. With George still looking pretty fragile, it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that they’d drive him all the way out here, presumably with the intention of leaving him there in Alex’s care — he’s clearly not fit to take care of himself yet. This scene would make a lot more sense set at the base. And if you don’t know that this is George’s homecoming, isn’t it a little weird for this particular collection of people to be here for a random picnic three months later? The thing that unites these characters is that they’re the named characters in this movie. Major Kramer had a preexisting relationship with George and Alex, but Victoria only met George briefly for one scene, and she’d never met Alex. Pete doesn’t seem to know any of the others, and their banter over lunch suggests that they’re still only casual acquaintances. There’s nothing per se wrong with this group of people being here, but why them specifically? Why aren’t any of the other pilots there? Or any of the other scientists from the base? Or the other rescued survivors from the mothership? Why? Because the budget won’t cover it. This scene is a mess. It’s here for tone, not for plot.

wowa304

The gang celebrates George’s homecoming by turning on the radio (Does it seem weird to anyone else that there’s still regular radio service playing music after the apocalypse?). But everyone falls silent for a few moments and ends the film in quiet trepidation when the music gives way to the same distinctive pattern of interference that harbinged the second wave. We end the movie with a scene like so many others in this movie: watching people react to things the film can’t show us.

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July 4, 2016

Goonies never say “die”. Or “crap”. Or “dang”: Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Treasure

Oh my God, you guys. I never in a million years expected to be saying this, but you need to see this Harold Cronk film.

Christopher Lloyd is in exactly one scene, and it's a flashback

Christopher Lloyd is in exactly one scene, and it’s a flashback

You might know Harold Cronk for the gobsmackingly awful God’s Not Dead series. Turns out that he makes other kinds of movies as well (The only religious element to the film is that one of the leads crosses herself at two points. And even that seems like an awfully Catholic thing for the God’s Not Dead guy.). I’d kinda love to talk about this movie at length, but I’m still processing.

The long and short of it is: this movie is incredible.

Incredible doesn’t actually mean “good”. This movie is not good. But it is bad in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Let me give you a brief explanation of this movie:

The Adventures of Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Treasure (“The Adventures of” was added at the suggestion of Wal-Mart, who believed it would help sales if it were filed closer to the front alphabetically) is a family-friendly adventure movie about a couple of tweens who are sent on a quest to recover the three elements which power an ancient Egyptian alchemy machine and protect them from a group of Confederate revivalists who want to use it to fund the conquest of the modern United States by the Confederacy. In Michigan. And also this has something to do with bulldozing the hero’s hometown. Featuring cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Ernie Hudson.

You heard me. It’s basically Indiana Jones crossed with The Goonies crossed with National Treasure. Versus the Confederacy.

Also, no one’s allowed to say anything even close to a “naughty” word. So the tough, streetwise girl from the Big City uses “crackin'” as an expletive, and the redneck Fratelli Brothers stand-ins torture a black man without ever once giving any hint that race has anything to do with it. And despite the occasional pretense of someone being in actual danger, the worst violence we see is two old men boxing and a bit of shin-kicking (In scenes where a kick to the happysacks would really be more appropriate). And the Coast Guard drives in at the end to round up the bad guys.

If this doesn’t sound amazing to you, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Like I said, this is a bad movie. I mean, terrible. But that’s the weird thing. The dialogue is terrible. The acting is terrible. The cinematography is terrible, full of shots from weird angles with bad lighting and way too many close-ups. The whole thing looks like it was shot on a smartphone camera.

But, and I realize this is hard to explain, that’s all that’s wrong with the movie. The movie is perfectly fine on a conceptual level. The plot is mostly solid (There’s one or two weak spots, but nothing even on the level of, “Why the hell don’t they get the Eagles to take them to Mount Doom?”) with all its reveals well set-up ahead of time. The pacing is excellent. The story is just the right amount of outlandish fantasy for the sort of traditional Kid-Adventure movie I grew up on. The jokes fall flat, but the structural humor mostly works. There’s only one CGI effect, and, it’s not even that bad.

It’s like everything went just right with this movie’s creation up until the moment they actually started production. I’ve never seen anything like that. Most movies that are trainwrecks in practice are also flawed straight down to the concept, or have any semblance of coherence stripped away by eleventh-hour rewrites and desperate editing.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie go wrong in this way before: you could to a scene-for-scene remake of this movie and end up with a masterpiece. Or at least, the kind of movie a middle-aged man reminisces fondly about thirty years later.

So you know what, watch this space some time in 2046 to see what Dylan thinks of it.

July 2, 2016