Monday, September 8, 2014

MST3K Books

Amazing Colossal Episode Guide 
     An absolute "Must Have" for every Mystery Science Theater fan. Written by the cast and crew, you get a very funny look at the plot of the films, a list of host segments and some reflections for each episode from season 1 to 6. There is also a quick look at the KTMA era, a listing of favorite lines from the movies and a few explanations on the more obscure riffs. Despite the flaws, and there are a few: Brain farts (For example- Hi-Keeba is wrongly attributed to Wendell Corey. A stinger is listed for Wild Rebels) and I wish there was more info on the reflections (but that's just me being selfish). It's proven to be such an enjoyable addition to my MST collection that my copy is worn from use -pages are falling out, spine is torn... I wish they'd update it through the Sci-Fi era, but you can always go to the Info Club web site to read the rest of the story. Grade: A 

Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese 
     Mr. Nelsons first and most hysterical book to date. Mike does what he's done for years in a theater, skewers the film & television industry with precision and exposes the silly soft underbelly that is often hidden behind the glitz and pretense. With a wealth of wit Mike points out the absurd by writing absurdly, as in his brilliant essay on the movie "What Dreams May Come". Nelson's work comes off glib, goofy, sardonic and wise all within the span of 288 pages. Is there a negative? At times, the vitriol goes overboard. His attacks on Jim Carrey for example, are a bit much. For the most part tho, this is a lot of fun and one of the funniest books I've ever read. Grade: A+ 

Mike Nelson's Mind Over Matters
     Mike Nelson's second book of humor essays isn't quite as humorous. Veering away from movies, Mike tackles the mundane, those everyday questions & experiences which haunt our existence. Like "Magacheese", there are some big laughs. But, there are also stories which didn't spark much more than a chuckle. Perhaps this was due to personal experience, it's likely that I just couldn't relate to "Tea, You should be Leaving Now" because, well, I enjoy a glass of tea now and again. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would attack this innocuous and rather unfunny beverage. Coffee and all it's brethren, now that's a funny drink (witness the skit in show #801 if you're in need of proof). MoM is a wonderful book, not as sharp as the first collection of essays, but it will have you laughing out loud none-the-less. Grade B+ 

Mike Nelson's Death Rat
     Mikes first novel and I must tell you, when I first heard the premise - An aging failed writer, hires a younger man to sell his newest book, which is about a giant rat. Problems ensue when the book is sold as a work of Non Fiction! - I wasn't that thrilled. It just didn't sound very interesting. But Mike quickly allayed my fears and hooked me right in. If I may pay Mr. Nelson a great compliment, this reminds me of the early humorous novels of the brilliant Evelyn Waugh. We are offered eccentrics, biting satire on society and sometimes tragic but always funny situations which spiral out of the characters control. Like Waugh, Nelson's pen cuts like a knife. You'll recognize some of Minnesota's finest, from Prince to the Wrestling Governor. And he makes Garrison Keilor look like a complete buffoon. Tho I don't find the characters or situations as engaging as those in Waughs world, Nelson shows he has the chops to put out a well written novel and the ability to fill it with folks who come to life in all their humorous glory. Grade: B+

Happy Kitty Bunny Pony: A Saccharine Mouthful of Super Cute 
     Mike adds his hysterical comments in this book which is full of cutsie pop images from the Charles S. Anderson Design Co. It's a little light -Mike's riffs are only a sentence long- but very funny.

     It reminds me a bit of the work by James Lileks (a guy who quips on past adds, comics, art etc) and if you haven't read any of Lileks very funny commentary, check out Click on "The Institute of Official Cheer" and read the section on "The Story of Bread", it's a riot! In the same way, "Happy Kitty Bunny Pony" provides lots of laughs and with lines that offer, "Looking for new wallpaper? How about a pattern featuring insane rabbits wearing bad wigs?" It's easy to give this an A grade.

Goth-Icky: A Macabre Menagerie of Morbid Monstrosities 
     Mike's follow ups to "Happy Kitty" are a little more twisted and just as funny! The first, Goth-Icky has very little to do with Goth and probably should have been titled "Halloweeners", as it covers the goblins, ghouls and monsters which populate that holiday.

     In Goth-Icky Mike offers up humorous slices of advice, such as... "If you ever see a gang of angry zombies coming at you, throw on a poncho and try to blend in with them. Growl, drool, and do your best to look dead. You might also have to eat someone". There's also a funny jab at puppets on page 44 that has added punch knowing Mike's most famous role on TV. Grade: B+ 

Love Sick" A Smoldering Look at Love, Lust and Marriage
     Love Sick is not for the kiddies. The images are mature, there is some nudity (albeit with the naught bits blacked out) and this can't help but effect Mike's work. He never gets flat out dirty but there are some jokes which are a bit more risque. For example, his hilarious personals section -  one page has an image of a pirate with the words... "One-eyed bandit with raised mast seeks a polly w/treasured chest and a big booty." That's suggestive but not overly raw.

     Both Goth and Sick are quick. light and enormously funny reads. Mike Nelson scores again!  Grade: A 

Fluffy Humpy Poopy Puppy: A Ruff, Dog-Eared Look At Man's Best Friend
     ”One of the greatest benefits of the many television shows about dogs is that they saved millions of children the drudgery of having to go outside and play with their own dogs”

     Mike's fourth Pop ink book goes to the dogs. It explores the many breeds, the history and personality quirks of our beloved mutts. From chewing up shoes to leaving “gifts” on the rug, a dog is a rich source of comedic material. Though not as full out funny as Fluffy Kitty and Love Sick, it falls slightly ahead of Goth-Icky in the laugh factor.

     Aside from the hilarious introduction, the success of Mike’s commentary derives from taking the pictures literally. That image of a girl striding a stuffed animal is skewed to represent a child riding an "real" dog to a state of unconsciousness. A pup is later shown pooping out an actual pair of shoes. Absurdity such as these is what makes the books a riot. Grade: B+

A Year At The Movies by Kevin Murphy 
         The gimmick: Kevin Murphy, MST's Servo and Bobo, went to see a film a day for a year. He tells us of his experiences in 57 chapters, covering each week of the year.

          On the one hand I was frustrated by the tone of this book. Murphy's a self described snob... and what's worse, he's a whiny snob. He hates Sundance and multiplexis and depressing movies and summer blockbuster's and previews and art film patrons and on and on and on he goes with this incessant moaning.  Also, he tends to generalize. Words like "pod people" and "mindless stock animals" are found within. As an individual, a human being, I'm not real fond of getting lumped (with other movie goers) in quick narrow categories.

          On the other hand: There are times when Murphy shows himself as one who has a deep love for the cinema. In those passages he is genuine, witty and charming. My favorite chapter is #31, the week he rode through Route 66 and toured the drive-in. There was a real warmth in the writing here, a softening of that sour-puss personality. I wish there were more of that, more of the celebration of film and the movie going experience.

          Unfortunately, the pouting persona returns when he visits Universal Studios and continues on through the week of the "Date Movie" and spoils it for me again. It doesn't have to be one or the other Kevin, a well rounded person can appreciate all types and styles of films and theaters. You should, well, really just relax! Grade: B- 

Here Come The Big People by Trace Beaulieu 
     After leaving MST, Event comics had Trace write a one shot sci-fi comedy titled, "Here Come The Big People". Big People tells the story of Austin Milcsop, millionaire genius inventor who has everything except what he really wants... the love and care of a mommy.

     This quickly told tale next shows one of Austins super computers, merging with some alien silly putty - and before you know it, suddenly there's an assembly line of giant pink mommies heading out to care for any and all. Of course, it's all too perfect and something has just gotta go wrong.

     Trace's story is a little rushed, there's no room for any real character development or serious exploration of motivation. It's comic book cotton candy. A fast, fun confection that doesn't reach Neil Gaiman levels of innovation, but still offers up more than a few sweet moments. The most cute and clever are scenes where businessmen hold a meeting in strollers; and a scientist in green lab coat shouting for someone named Frank?

     The art is by the talented couple Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti. Their work conveys the spirit of Traces story well, as it is bright, colorful and cartoony. Mr. Beaulieu was fortunate to have such a fine artist as Conner on board, as she always tells a story well. There are 3 covers. One by Conner, the other by Geof Darrow (look for a familiar figure in the crowd) and a third, a rare alternate by Joe Quesada. The first 2 are the ones that are easier to find and at this writing.  Grade: A- 

The Big Slam by Bill Corbett 
     I'd love to actually see and review a Bill Corbett play. But since there are no shows playing in my area (snicker) I have to make due with the script.

     Big Slam is a social satire. The main character, Orrin, is a less than assertive soul who allows himself to get caught up in his friend Russell's get rich quick, self help scheme. The other cog in the wheel is a ruthless lawyer named Stephanie. She's Russell's lover and someone Orrin moons over. lastly Gail. The sweet UPS driver who designs an ultra cute -Nummy Muffin Cocol Butter- type character that eventually leads to the downfall of everything.

     Corbett's characters, though interesting, seem to me to be more personality types than fully explored, real people. Russell -for example- is pretty one dimensional. He's handsome, silver tongued and self absorbed; there's no layers beyond this. That's okay, for these 'types' are colorful tools in Bill's acerbic poke at modern society, and how our search for spiritual, financial & sexual self empowerment - serves only to create the chaos, loss and self doubt we'd hoped to escape.

     It's a good story, full of humor and intelligence. Corbett's quite the wordsmith too, I really enjoyed the monologues, the clever structure of each sentence. And now more than ever, I wish I could hear and see these words brought to life on stage.   Grade: A    

I Lived With My Parents by Mary Jo Pehl
     Though CT, Mary Jo has proven to be a witty quipper with an infectious laugh. And she proves to be equally as sharp and funny on the printed page, where she writes with the confidence of someone born with a pen clutched in her hand.

     I Lived With My Parents excels when Pehl grounds her essays in reality. She slips up in a chapter about cheese (The Love That Could Never Be) -which mixes Mike Nelson randomness with Joel Hodgson surrealism- and comes off a bit like its trying too hard to be wild and wacky. But when she's real, when she telling us about her travels, her family and the many odd men she's dated (which often had me asking, "What were you thinking Mary Jo?" as I laughed during each paragraph), this is when the book shines.

     Mary also examines the big questions (Why are we here) and the small intimate ones (in a nice essay about mothers and daughters titled "Matryoshka Dolls"). She even explores those terrible days after 9/11. Keeping her humor intact tactfully (The stuff about Cows is hilarious), she is reflective but never maudlin. It's funny and painfully honest.

     Mary Jo is most definitely a talented and funny lady. And despite the book suffering from small-publisheritus (with typos and mistakes aplenty) it was an entertaining and enjoyable read.  Grade: A 

Employee of the Month and Other Big Deals by Mary Jo Pehl 
     “Employee of the Month” is – as Mary Jo explains in her introduction- a do-over of her ill fated "I Lived With My Parents". The memories of that typo riddled (and out of print) publication caused her much embarrassment, and Employee allows her a second chance to get it right.

     Despite its flaws, I liked the stories in "Parents", and knew I'd enjoy this version as well. Some of the old favorites make a return (retooled and given a fresh coat of paint), others are lost, replaced by new tales -- like the closing reflection on MST3K and its fans. And chapters centered on her husband (I especially enjoyed "I Thee Wed", with its creative use of a scanner gun).

     While I'll hold on to my copy of "Parents", in deference to Mary Jo I'll keep it secretly squirreled away. I will however proudly display "Employee" on my bookshelf. It's a treasure. Grade: A 

Mental Hygiene by Ken Smith 
     Do you love shorts? Sure, we all do. And even though this isn't an MST book, it's one many a MSTie will enjoy. Author Ken Smith takes an honest look at the classroom films from 1945 to 1970 and does so without tongue in cheek; which is a huge plus.

     Chapters detail the history of the people who made these movies and the subject matter they covered. All of which is fascinating on it own. But the real highlight, and what makes Smith's work such a joy to read, is the second half of the book- which offers a quick synopsis on the shorts themselves.

     Don't look for "Johnny at the Fair" or the ones made for businesses, these are classroom films exclusively and that's all right because their stories are a blast to explore. Sadly, so many of these short films are lost, gone forever. Thankfully, people like Smith and Rick Prelinger are keeping many of these treasures alive. Grade: A+