Sunday, May 30, 2010

Caching Craig Creek


Click on pics to enlarge.

A beautiful Saturday, so I made a really excellent day trip up to Craig and Montgomery Counties, VA, to do some caching. My brother, Phred, used to live in the area, and for quite a few years, we regularly went camping along Craig Creek, about 15 miles out of Blacksburg. I have frequently used this area as the setting for my fiction, as it's picturesque and atmospheric, with lots of hidden corners where all kinds of mysterious things can happen. Happily, nowadays, you can find geocaches in a lot of these corners, and I racked up several on the trip today.

Most of my activities here ranged from the late 80s to mid 90s; it's been about seven or eight years since I've actually visited the area. Last time I camped up here, a flash flood took out our campsite and tent, and the little gravel road along the river we used to access the area is now blocked off — although you can still get back to the site on foot. It's a gorgeous place, with shale cliffs rising a hundred or more feet over the stream, and a forest full of oaks, pines, and hemlocks (most of which are dying due to a parasite, unfortunately). I used to enjoy waking up early in the morning, brewing some coffee, and going up to the top of the cliffs to watch the sun come up over the nearby ridge. Today, I went all around the area, including the little place where my brother used to live, not too far out of Blacksburg.

Couldn't have asked for a better day...particularly for some quality caching.




Thursday, May 27, 2010

ConCarolinas Schedule


ConCarolinas/DeepSouthCon is coming up in just over a week—June 4–6—at the Hilton University Place in Charlotte. Below is my schedule for panels; I'll also have a table for selling and signing books. Feel free to drop by and berate me to your heart's content.

Friday
07:00 PMCollaborations University (Ballroom A)

Saturday
12:00 PMThe Future of Publishing & Book Selling (University Ballroom A)

05:00 PMWhat Happened to My Magazine? (Keynes)

Sunday
11:00 AMCensorship (Keynes)

I will have copies of Blue Devil Island, The Lebo Coven, and Other Gods on hand, and possibly some rare back issues of Deathrealm.

Happily, there are a bunch of caches in Charlotte as well....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Star City Stashes


Team emvirginia and Mr. Rodan

Headed to Roanoke, VA, this morning to meet up with three of the world's least despicable souls — Ms. Beth Massie, Mr. Cortaid Skinner, and Mr. Ben My-Name-Is-Not-Linus-Rothman — to do some serious geocaching. If you're visiting here, you probably know that Ms. Massie and I have collaborated on a couple of novels, including Dark Shadows: Dream of the Dark, and nowadays, most gratifyingly, we can occasionally collaborate on some serious geocache hunts. It was a gray day, and we had to dodge some raindrops now and again — particularly later in the afternoon — but we managed to make a most enjoyable circuit of southwestern Roanoke, snagging lots of park-n-grabs as well as a few more terrain-intensive cache hides. One of the best, if the not the best, aspects of caching is visiting all kinds of places I'd never find if I weren't hunting a little container with a piece of paper to sign inside. We discovered some beautiful neighborhoods, a fabulous mom-and-pop pancake house, and a patch of woods where certain of our party absolutely refused to go pee, despite a pressing need. Only got moderately wet as the rain set in, and the excellent company made this a day to remember fondly.

I'll never see a Hamricks' sign the same way again, that much I can tell you....

Mr. Mountainview and Team emvirginia

An emergency chopper arrives at Roanoke's Carrillion Hospital

Under the bridge downtown is where he logged his find.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gam(M?)era, the Invincible!


Gamera: The Giant Monster (1966)

Released by Shout! Factory

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa

Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichir├┤ Yamashiko, Yoshiro Uchida, Michiko Sugata, Yoshiro Kitahara, Jun Hamamura

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Well, I reckon it's time to take on Gamera, Japan's most famous flame-spewing flying giant turtle. Till now, the original Japanese version has never been available domestically on DVD (though in 2001 Neptune Media released superb editions of both the original Japanese and U.S. versions on VHS; the U.S. version has had a few substandard DVD releases and is currently available at Hulu.com).

The Showa Gamera series has its charms, especially the first three (Giant Monster Gamera, Gamera vs. Baragon [War of the Monsters], and Gamera vs. Gaos [Return of the Giant Monsters]), but I just can't say I've ever been much enamored of the big turtle—at least until the Heisei Gamera series, which put a whole new spin on the critter. The original series' overt aim at young audiences put me off even as a very young member of said audience, and only as an adult delinquent have I managed to derive much enjoyment from the antics of the inkorrigible kame.

Gamera: The Giant Monster plays things considerably straighter than most of its successors, but there's no getting past the little kid, Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida), who just looooves turtles, continually popping up just when you think the filmmakers have come to their senses and forgotten about him. The story goes like this: A flight of Soviet jets on maneuvers over the Arctic Circle trespasses into U.S. airspace, and American fighters shoot down one of the bombers, resulting in a nuclear explosion, which frees Gamera from its eons-old icy prison. After sinking a ship and whooping up on the survivors, the beastie hurtles its way to Japan, where it attacks nuclear power plants to consume the energy they produce. Assaults with conventional weaponry have the usual effect on the kaiju—nada—so the brain trust devises a last-ditch plan aptly named Plan Z: lure Gamera to Oshima Island, where the critter is contained inside a mammoth rocket and then launched into outer space, thus ridding the world of another city-trampling menace (at least until the next movie, Gamera vs. Barugon, in which the rocket crashes into a meteor, releasing Gamera to return to Earth and commence a whole new path of destruction—and fight another big, bad lizard to boot).

As I mentioned, in the overall, the original Gamera is actually enjoyable, with a significant amount of monster vs. miniature action and a marginally palatable storyline. Though obviously patterned after Godzilla, the movie serves up no serious subtexts; the whole nuclear element is just a device to rationalize the monster's appearance, and Gamera itself is played more as a novelty than any sort of metaphor, even a lightweight one. Its rampage through Tokyo is pretty spectacular for its day, and there's no denying Gamera is a meanie; the filmic carnage is a little more graphic than in most of the Godzilla movies—which, despite the fact the Gamera films are aimed at a younger audience, is true throughout the Showa series. The monster's ironic rescue of young Toshio (the kid falls from a toppling lighthouse, into Gamera's waiting claw; rather than eat him, Gamera gently lowers him to the ground) seems more a result of the monster's curiosity about little people than a display of authentic compassion.

The Shout! Factory edition features the original Japanese version with subtitles. While it's certainly superior to the 1966 American release (titled Gammera, the Invincible — don't forget the extra "m"!), the scenes added by World Entertainment Corp./Jack Harris Associates, which feature Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, Dick O'Neill, and Alan Oppenheimer, for the U.S. release are agreeably whimsical. The scenes they replace—a bunch of military and scientific posturing by some very poor western actors—in the original Japanese version are far less engaging.

Shout! Factory plans to release the rest of the Showa Gamera series in order, continuing with Gamera vs. Baragon in July 2010. I'm actually going to be looking forward to these, since it's really high time that Gamera—or at least the celluloid on which it appears—was treated with a little more respect on this side of the water.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dragons Under the Stars


Or more like under the clouds. A big rainstorm last night kind of put the damper on the double feature, but regardless, sometimes there's just nothing more satisfying than the good ol' drive-in movie experience. Cruised up to Eden last night to catch How to Train Your Dragon and Iron Man II at the drive-in picture show, and we had just gotten through watching the dragons when the big storm started. We soldiered on for a while, but actually seeing the second feature was an exercise in futility, so we headed on home, figuring we'll have to make another attempt, probably at an indoor theater, to catch the Iron Man.

Growing up, watching movies at the drive-in was just a fun fact of life. We had several outdoor theaters in Martinsville, where I got to see so many of my all-time favorite movies for the first time — Godzilla, James Bond, Dark Shadows, and many more. My folks had to have the patience of saints to take me and several friends on these outings, but they usually did it without complaining (except in the case of Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, which came on a double-bill with Night of the Living Dead, and even thinking about seeing the latter in those days was right out for young Mark). Sadly, there are no more drive-in theaters in Martinsville, here in Greensboro, or anywhere nearby except for Eden, and I really hope it has a long lifespan. There had been two others in reasonable traveling distance — Mount Airy and Durham — but both of those have recently closed down, succumbing to the prohibitive cost of operating such niche enterprises. I occasionally hear things about a resurgence of drive-in theaters because so many people enjoy the experience and want to support them, but at least in this neck of the woods, unfortunately, they continue to diminish rather than proliferate.

Although I love the whole drive-in experience — particularly the part where we scarf down the world's most delicious cheeseburgers and fries while lounging in our camping chairs — nowadays, you're still getting the first-run movies, whereas back in the day, it was the premier venue for your classic horror and monster movie roadshows. That experience, I fear, has simply gone forever. Particularly in Martinsville, just to get to the drive-ins, you had take some creepy old roads to get out in the country a ways, and that was all part of the build-up to a good scary movie....

I tell you, if you've got a drive-in theater anywhere nearby, and you don't avail yourself to it, do so now. Please. The drive-in experience is cheap, fun, and unique, but I suspect it's going to die out before the current young generation even has a clue of what it's missing. Support the theaters — and take some friends with you.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Yongary's Got Seoul


Yongary, Monster From the Deep (Taekoesu Yonggary, 1967)

DVD Description:
Released by MGM; additional material: none

Directed by Ki-duk Kim

Starring Yeong-il Oh, Jeong-im Nam, Sun-jae Lee, Moon Kang, Kwang Ho Lee

Rating:

Unlike 1999's Yonggary (a.k.a. Reptilian), which was so awful as to be unwatchable, the original 1967 Yongary definitely falls into the so-awful-it's-fun category. It's a low-budget South Korean daikaiju film wannabe featuring a goofy dancing monster (whose open mouth frequently reveals a metal flame-shooting nozzle); cheap but occasionally compelling special effects; and several nondescript characters, most of whom are never named. The DVD cover shown here is of the inferior Alpha Video release, but I recommend the MGM DVD (double-billed with Konga), which offers a wide-screen, virtually flawless print of the film (though the sound is a bit tinny). The movie was released in the U.S. by A.I.P. Television—there was never a theatrical release—but apparently the original wide-screen presentation was preserved intact (reputedly, the original Korean negative was damaged so that it is no longer salvageable).

The film begins with the wedding of two of our occasionally seen but never-named characters, but the groom—an astronaut, and the only one who can "do it"—is called away to undertake a reconnaissance mission. He flies skyward to witness a nuclear bomb explode in the Middle East, which results in a "traveling" earthquake...which heads straight to Korea. Needless to say, the source of the quake is Mr. Yongary, who pops up near Seoul and begins tromping on the city, resulting in numerous shoe boxes, which are painted to look like bricks, falling on people's heads. Astronaut groom now goes off-screen for most of the rest of the movie, and a scientist named Ilu takes over, ably assisted by his nephew Icho, who is "oh, about eight years old." Ilu has invented a device that resembles a flashlight but whose beam makes people itch. No, I am not lying. As Yongary strolls about, smashing plenty of model buildings, Ilu runs to town "to help," though in what capacity we are never quite certain. Turns out, he's the one who ends up needing help because one of those falling, painted shoe boxes whacks him a good one. Meantime, as the monster trounces a chemical storage tank, Icho notices that the chemicals irritate the beast, causing it to dance—and prompting Icho to dance along with it. The chemicals knock Yongary senseless, but brilliant Icho steals Ilu's itchlight and shines it on the beast...who, quite riled, promptly gets up and tramples a bit more of downtown Seoul. After an aerial and missile assault that results in total failure, Ilu suggests hitting Yongary with a concentrated dose of chemicals, which finally brings the critter down once and for all. Our main characters laugh and clap, though Icho soberly reminds us that Yongary was actually a damn fine dancer and didn't really mean to hurt anyone.

While generally considered a Korean rip-off of Godzilla, Yongary actually follows more in the footsteps of Daiei's Gamera series. The parallels between Yongary and the original Giant Monster Gamera are many and unmistakable—from the nuclear blast that awakens it to its preference for ingesting flammable materials to its juvenile co-star who is menaced by the monster and yet still finds it all quite groovy. Probably coincidentally, Yongary's roar sounds a lot like Gyaos's, stepped down a couple of octaves.

While the people scenes are mostly tedious, the movie features more monster scenes than most of its Japanese counterparts, and though the miniatures are nothing to brag about—most are hollow and fall in on themselves without much effort on the monster's part—the atmospheric backdrops and variety of compositions make for an interesting visual fest. Yongary actually whomps on human folks from time to time, something that is rarely shown in Toho's daikaiju realm, though not that uncommon in the Gamera series.

Numerous scenes prove to be a screaming hoot, such as Yongary's nose beam (yes, I said nose beam) slicing a jeep in half, revealing a small supporting wheel under the front half, which couldn't be more obvious if there were cartoon arrow pointing to it. During the stampede of fleeing humans, most are carrying nonsensical items, the most notable being an empty picture frame and a large world globe. Funny the things that people are compelled to rescue from giant marauding monsters....

Yongary is absolutely silly enough to be a hootin' good time. I'm pleased to have such a good print on the MGM DVD, so I can give it a look about once every decade or so.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Another Barfday Come and Gone


Ranger Fox and Rodan (Damned) at Hidden Falls

How these blasted days keep coming around so fast boggles my hornswoggled mind, but there it is: 51 frakking years old, yesterday. True to the past two years — since I took up geocaching — it was a weekend dominated by hiking and caching, and I took today off from work to recuperate (which sometimes takes longer than it used to). Friday, headed to Mom's in Martinsville, had a great seafood dinner at the Dutch Inn, then took a nice long nighttime hike to snag a cache. Saturday morning, it was up at the crack of dawn, off on another hike at the Smith River Sports Complex to grab three more, and then hit the road to Hanging Rock, NC, for Sunday's 10-year geocaching anniversary event. Yes, went hiking and ran into Ranger Fox, so we trekked to several of the waterfalls in the park to get credit for a virtual and a couple of earth caches. Come evening, it was hot dogs (Nathan's) over the campfire and some brief socializing with other cachers who were also camping out for the weekend event.

Yesterday, more hiking to more waterfalls, and then the Geocaching 10-Year Anniversary Event at the Hanging Rock picnic grounds. Lots of faces familiar and some new to me, a bit of food, and a door prize: won a new NCGO geocoin, which made for a nice little birthday present. More caches on the way home, and then a fine Thai dinner. This morning, a brand new, terrain-challenging cache popped up at the nearby Reedy Fork trail, so I managed to snag a first-to-find (which required a special geotool that would have no doubt amused any passersby on the trail, though I didn't actually see any). All in all, a helluva nice barfday, and a relaxing day to rest and regroup.

At least for now, another day closer to death hasn't been too danged bad.

Yeah, it looks kind of like a smile. Go on, make something of it.