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End of the year Lists!

As 2014 draws to a close, you’re no doubt inundated with “Best of” and “Worst of” lists all over the place. Try as we might, we couldn’t resist the urge to try a couple of those ourselves to see what the fuss is about. So, we sat down with our good friends Eric Van Tassell and Ele Matelan (both of Specimen fame, among other things) to list our top genre movies and television shows of the year. We had a couple of great in-depth chats and the results are here in our two bonus year-end podcasts!

Best Genre TV shows of 2014 Podcast

Best Genre movies of 2014 Podcast

And of course, everyone’s got an opinion, so let us know yours! Send us a note at podcast@toxicbag.com or drop a note on our Facebook page!

podcast_square_EP212

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Our Legend of Sleepy Hollow

“I think people over here, they’re far too down on American history: ‘Oh, well, we have no history because we’re such a young country.’ But that’s not true at all. It’s such a rich history that you guys have. And now we’re utterly bastardizing it.” – Tom Mison, actor, Sleepy Hollow

In between the new season of Walking Dead and the amazing formerly-lost-forever Doctor Who episodes, I’ve been taking a look at some of the new TV shows that premiered this fall. One of them is Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. The show is pretty astounding, mainly in its ability to unabashedly borrow from so many iconic TV series and still attempt to be unique and new. It has the believer/skeptic dynamic of The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully front and center (with Orlando Jones standing in for Mitch Pileggi’s Walter Skinner). It has a Holmes/Watson vibe going on, complete with Tom Mison as a low-rent Benedict Cumberbatch clone. It trots out the same “Book of Revelations Is Actually Happening” storyline we saw in Season 5 of Supernatural. And so on. The storyline about Abbie and Jenny, two sisters who are traumatized at a young age by experiencing a supernatural event and wind up on completely different life paths as a result, and then come back together as adults to chase/face their demons, is in many ways a cooler setup for a show than the time-displaced Ichabod Crane, and I kinda wish I could watch that show instead. Wait, I already do, but it’s about two brothers named Winchester…

But none of those things are the thing that really bugs me about Sleepy Hollow.* Here’s the thing that really bugs me: Ichabod Crane.

Crane is, in this incarnation of the tale, a man who was born in England in the 18th century, educated at Oxford and part of George Washington’s Colonial army – specifically, the “fighting supernatural baddies” part of Washington’s army. And I understand why the show’s creators needed him to be something other than the slightly conceited, fraidy-cat small-town schoolteacher from Washington Irving’s short story, because that guy would never have been able to be the heroic center of a supernatural adventure show set in the 21st century. It’s that first bit that gives me pause: Born. In. England. In Irving’s story, Ichabod Crane was a native of Connecticut. Born after the Revolutionary War, so he’s American, whereas even if Tom Mison’s quarter-century-older Crane had been born in America he would’ve been a British citizen.

Why is this a big deal? I hear you cry.

It’s a big deal because of the place “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” holds in the history of the United States of America. Irving wrote his tale at a time when the USA was a very young country, which had yet to be taken entirely seriously by the superpowers of the time (whether we’re taken entirely seriously now is a discussion outside the scope of this post). In terms of art, music, and literature, countries like England, France and Spain were decades or centuries ahead of us. The U.S. had no literary canon, no folkloric tradition; in 1819 we hadn’t had much time to develop any. Washington Irving was the guy who gave Americans our first taste of having a national mythology and authors we could call our own. As such, it’s probably no accident that Ichabod Crane was an American by birth – he was, after all, one of the nation’s very first fictional protagonists. Why in the world would you make him French, or German, or – heaven forfend – English?

People argue about whether Batman should be played by a Welshman, or whether they should ever cast an American to play James Bond. This is different. This is like rewriting Bond as a CIA agent, born in Louisville, Kentucky, or better yet, making King Arthur a Saxon.

I don’t think that would go over so well.

Note: my complaint is concerned with literary tradition. It starts and ends there. It’s not about nationalism or politics. Please keep those aspects out of any comments you decide to post, and please do not attempt to ascribe any political motivations to me or my little essay. Thank you.

*Though the fact that we’re what, five episodes in and Ichabod is still wearing 18th century clothes kinda drives me up a wall. Abbie even told him to start wearing contemporary clothes. Come on!

4 out of 5 gamers surveyed…

Years ago, we took an afternoon off and shot some tongue-in-cheek commercials for our Game Masters and Battles products, as well as the DVD for the Bag Witch Project. We put ’em on a DVD and played them at the convention booths, and then kinda forgot about them.

Going through the office this week in search of something that might sound like an ejector seat, we stumbled on the master tape of those spots. Shameless goofs that we are, we put them up on our YouTube channel. No one’s seen these since GenCon 2001…enjoy!

More embarrassing old Toxic Bag vids at our YouTube channel.

Movie. Or not.

As we move into the next round of Toxic Bag projects, here’s some stuff I’m thinking about: This is a Good Time To Make Movies is a great look at where indie film is, by Noah Harlan. And Jane Kelly Kosek at All About Indie Filmmaking is considering four-walling a new film…
And then there’s Kevin Smith and Red State and his People’s Studio idea, which hopefully will not turn out like the Beatles’ Apple Corps experiment. (I have no idea if Mr. Smith is serious about this or not. It may just be part of the “what if?” theme of his blog post.)

We’re not sure what form our next project will take. Will it be a short, a feature, a web series? How will we shoot it, how will we fund it, how will we distribute it? We hope to have some answers soon. You’ll be the first to know.

As the year winds down…

Happy Thanksgiving! Me? I’m thankful that I’m not in tech with this flu.

Thoughts, based on recent events in Toxic Bag Land. Names have been changed or excluded to protect…well, me, really.

• Being sick during tech week sucks.

• A no-budget film shoot can be great fun, wrap early and yield fantastic results if the director is prepared and the actors have rehearsed and come in knowing their lines.

• When a director doesn’t listen to his/her designers, it can lead to a really hellish tech week, or an entire scene backed against a wall at the last minute, or an actor getting injured. You hire the specialists for a reason, folks.

• Dragging in “volunteer” voice talent to save money on hiring a pro, and then spending hours beating that volunteer up doing take after take does not actually save you any money, nor does it often result in a product you can be proud of.

• If you’re going to not pay attention when I show you how to set up the gear, don’t just immediately look at me blankly and ask what my “backup plan” is when you hook it up wrong and fry the computer on opening night. My “backup plan” was for you to not destroy the rig, dumbass.

• Sound designers and costume designers really need to work together where microphones are going to be involved. This applies to theater and to film. The collaboration worked out pretty well on one production this year, not so well on another.

• You can’t ADR live theater. See above point.

• Collaborating over the internet can work really well, but there’s nothing like sitting in a room with another human being and just cranking stuff out. Horace and Jasper of the experimental band Phil Who Just Adores Backgammon got most of an album done over a long weekend last month (I told you I’d changed the names).

• At some point, a project will be less about how good your stuff sounds, and more about how quickly you can crank out something that sounds good. Which is a great reason to learn those computer shortcuts and make sure your studio is set up in an efficient and ergonomic way.

Bell-Bottom Blu-Ray

“See this? Gonna make CDs obsolete. Guess this means I’ll have to buy the White Album again…”
–Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black

PC world asks: why doesn’t anyone want a Blu-Ray player?

Their conclusion, “Home theater buffs and early adopters may take to Blu-ray, but most consumers will likely bypass HD discs altogether and advance directly to movie streaming and download services”, is probably spot on, but for me, I dunno…

I bought a bunch of albums on LP.
Then I had to buy them again on CD.
I bought a bunch of movies on VHS.
Then I had to buy them again on DVD.

I’m really not looking forward to re-purchasing my whole collection again.


On a related note, why is it that consumer video technology is getting better by leaps and bounds, but in the music world we’ve gone from LP and CD down to mp3?

Go forward in your beliefs

‘One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye.’ –William Hartnell, as the Doctor, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”

We all, it seems, find the level at which we are comfortable expressing our enthusiasm for the things that bring us happiness. That’s a polite and politically constructed way of saying “fans of all stripes do some odd stuff.” Growing up when I did, I tend to be a little hesitant to be too public about my particular brand of geekiness; though I am wearing a Superman t-shirt as I type this, wearing one to junior high school was a pretty decent way to get your ass kicked. Thankfully, some people aren’t quite so hung up about letting their particular freak flag fly, and bless ‘em, I say.

As I’m a little reserved about Public Displays of Geek in my own life I have to admit to a certain fascination with people who frame the major events of their life in terms of their fandom.

On the “gamer/sci-fi/fantasy fan” side, I’ve known people who got married to the strains of the Star Wars theme, who had the Emperor’s March played as they left the church, people who had full medieval-dress weddings or gotten married at game conventions. On the “sports fan” side I know couples who have had baseball-themed weddings or gotten married on the field at Comiskey Park, Yankee Stadium and Fenway.

Aren't you a little short for a groomsman?

Aren't you a little short for a groomsman?

Fanboy weddings is one thing. I can get behind that, the harmless geekitude of it, the fun and celebration/recognition of what is (hopefully) one of the many things that the couple love, and love about each other.

Fanboy funerals is something I’m still getting my head around. There’s a whole industry cropping up the last few years geared towards sending sci-fi fans, NASCAR enthusiasts, sports geeks, and motorcycle riders to their eternal reward in a manner that reflects their greatest earthly passion.

There are caskets and urns for Star Trek fans, one of which looks like the photon torpedo casing that carried Spock’s body to the Genesis planet. Oddly, I like that one, as it’s almost as potent a plea for resurrection of the body as anything you’ll find in a Catholic service. A couple of years ago Major League Baseball announced they were licensing team logos for use on caskets. I’ve seen the Harley-Davidson caskets and the Harley hearse for taking that last ride. In 2001, Gene Simmons and company offered a line of KISS coffins (sadly, it was discontinued in 2006).

Gene Simmons with the KISS KAsket

Gene Simmons with the KISS Kasket

The KISS Kasket was one of the first fanboy coffins I heard about, and I suppose it should have gotten me started in getting used to the idea, but still, this story took me by surprise.

A David Tennant lookalike who died in a tragic accident had a time-travelling funeral – to go out just like his Dr Who hero.
Seb Neale, 26, had a coffin like a Tardis time machine complete with blue flashing light for his out-of-this world send-off.
His family replaced sombre funeral music with the Dr Who theme tune and mourners sang along and burst into applause…instead of readings from the scriptures, the service used original scripts from classic Dr Who episodes.

TARDIS coffin

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since the sixth grade, and while I’m pretty sure that a Fanboy funeral is not something I’d want for myself…I dunno. The TARDIS coffin? It’s kinda cool. Rest in Peace, Doc.

Ends and Odds

  • There’s a new car commercial on TV that features a song that I used in a design last year. I’m glad the timing worked out that way. When it works the other way, it’s a bad trip. One of the songs we recorded for The Diviners was a very cool old-timey version of the traditional folk song “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” I thought it was a fantastic performance by the band and fit the mood of the show pretty perfectly. Unfortunately, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is the melody used in a certain series of television and radio ads, and after two days of tech where all the actors and designers walked around saying “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” every time the cue played, we were forced to find another piece of music.
  • Promethean Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure,” sound design and music arrangements by yers truly, closes next weekend. So if you’ve wanted to see it but haven’t yet…the clock is ticking.
  • I’m now hard at work on another Shakespeare show, “As You Like It” at Moraine Valley Community College. “As You Like It” opens July 30.
  • As much as I took issue with the music choices in “Watchmen” I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the use of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” in Star Trek.
  • Update of my post about Star Trek vs. Wolverine:

    According to AdAge, Wolverine is on track to pull in twice as much money in its opening weekend as Paramount’s Star Trek reboot.

    As it turns out: Wolverine edged out Trek in its opening weekend (Wolverine pulled in about $85 million, Trek about $75 milion). But as of May 24, Trek’s gross in the USA was $191 million, and Wolverine had taken in $165 million. And Wolvie had been out a week longer.

    So there you go. I loved the new Trek film and am glad my dire predictions were off base.

  • Dose of Delia: Birthday edition

    I’m dead keen on limiting resources…You need to have discipline in order to be truly creative. If you’re just given total freedom to do anything you like… You’ve got to impose some discipline on either the form you’re going to use or the sounds you’re going to use.
    –Delia Derbyshire

    Today’s Dose of Delia is in honor of what would have been the composer’s 72nd birthday. As I’ve said in the past, Delia Derbyshire is best known to sci-fi fans for her electronic realization of Ron Grainer’s theme music for the BBC television series Doctor Who.

    Delia Derbyshire 1937-2001

    Delia Derbyshire 1937-2001

    It sounds like synthesizers, but Delia’s recording of Doctor Who was created with tape editing, electronic filters and tape loops. She’d record individual notes from oscillators and other electronic sources, one by one onto tape, cut them up with a razor and stick them back together in order. As someone who’s edited miles of tape, I can tell you: that’s a long and labor-intensive process. Delia assembled Doctor Who over the course of two weeks.

    From delia-derbyshire.org:

    Within a matter of months [after joining the BBC Radiophonic Workshop] she had created her recording of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme, one of the most famous and instantly recognisable TV themes ever… “Did I really write this?” [Grainer] asked. “Most of it,” replied Derbyshire.

    On the score he’d written “sweeps”, “swoops”… beautiful words… “wind cloud”, “wind bubble”… so I got to work and put it together and when Ron heard the results.. oh he was tickled pink!
    –Delia Derbyshire

    Have a jelly baby and enjoy Delia Derbyshire’s recording of the Doctor Who theme. Happy birthday, Delia!

    Bread and Circuses

    Watch it, Flavius, or we’ll do a special on you.

    Sadism: the derivation of pleasure as a result of inflicting pain or watching pain inflicted on others.

    I’ve always thought that the initial mass-elimination rounds of American Idol were a high point in institutionalized cruelty: let’s all point and laugh at people who are perhaps less talented than they think they are, and who are foolish enough to trot themselves out on national TV with their somehow-criminally average singing voices. How pathetic they are. Let’s laugh and feel superior.

    Fox has taken point-and-laugh-at-others’-misfortunes reality programming another step towards the completely excreble with its new show Somebody’s Gotta Go. Each week the program will drop in on a different small business that is facing the necessity of layoffs due to the bad economy. All of the employees of the company will be given access to their co-workers’ HR files (I can’t see how that’s legal) and the company books, and will vote each other out of a job, like Survivor contestants voting people off the island. Employees will “get a chance” –read be strongly encouraged by the producers— to tell their co-workers face-to-face what they really think of them. Well, gee, that oughta make the company stronger once the losing “contestants” are out the door.

    David Goldberg, the head of the production company responsible for this atrocity, says, “For a lot of people, it takes the pressure off them…As a boss myself, I don’t want to have to make those decisions.”

    Nobody does, David. But as “a boss yourself”…it falls to you. That’s part of being a boss. It’s one of the parts that sucks, sure, but one of the few perks of being a wage drone is that you don’t have to be the one to decide that Bob from Accounting –who has two young kids and whose wife was just diagnosed with ankle cancer—is gonna be out on the street tomorrow.

    I really wonder who is going to find this entertaining. Americans who are going through layoffs themselves? People who believe their job is completely secure? Does such a person exist? Does the success of shows like American Idol and Jerry Springer, and the hideous promise of Somebody’s Gotta Go reveal something dark and nasty about the American TV audience? The advantages of reality programming over scripted programming are well documented. Reality shows are cheaper to produce, have less union issues…and of course allow us to be as sadistic as we want to be in the privacy of our own living rooms.

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