Posts By Gary Phillips

Friday, June 22, 2012 / 5:26 pm

It’s Stake Time!

Can Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter be the coolest summer movie?

by Gary Phillips

Blade the bad, bad slayer

I didn’t read the book but I fully intend to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  As I’ve previously written here on FourStory, I’m fascinated with our presidents getting retconed as adventurers and superheroes in pop culture.  In that regard, I’m not dismayed that some of the reviews have been as Gina McIntyre and John Horn wrote in their review in the L.A. Times, “mixed to positive.”  Among the downright negative was my man Tim Cogshell on KPCC’s Film Week who called the flick ludicrously awful.  That perhaps if it wasn’t so bad it would be slightly offensive the way in which it reconceived the meat grinder that was the Civil War, fought, primarily, over the issue of slavery.

Apparently there’s a scene in the movie where the so-called President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis signs a pact with the head vampire to wage the War Between the States.  That the Confederate Army is a bunch of vampires and slaves are potential food for the vamps.  Too there’s a nod to Eric Brooks, aka Blade, Marvel’s vampire slayer created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon.  Blade’s mama was a prostitute who was having complications when she was giving birth to him.  But the doctor turned out to be a vampire named deacon Frost who feasted on mom as baby Blade was born.  This gave Blade vampire-like abilities of increased strength, reflexes and lifespan, but could go out in the daylight.

In the Abraham Lincoln flick a damn dirty vampire kills Abe’s mom when he’s a young man.  Like Blade, he vows to hunt down and destroy each and every one of the red-eyed, pointy toothed bloodsuckers – building, I’m betting, to a showdown with the ghoul who killed his mother.  What with him swinging a big ax and all, heads loped off in 3D coming at you.  Sweet.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is my kind of popcorn movie.  Though it doesn’t look like it’s going to burn up the box office, so this might be the first and last of the presidential mash-up genre becoming a trend.

Too bad as I was hoping to pitch Ulysses Grant, Secret Agent.  Set before the Civil War, Lieutenant Grant is sent to the border disguised as a cowpoke to look into a robbery of a shipment of rifles and Gatling guns.  What he uncovers is a plot by a madman to take over the Southwest with the aid of the stolen weapons and his army of reptile men who live underground.

Then there’s our first president, George Washington?  He was quite wealthy and what if he knew once the new country was founded there were still enemies who would do us harm operating in the shadows?  He uses his money to buy the right horses for stud to produce fast and string offspring.  He has his buddy Ben Franklin devise gadgets like a mini-flintlock that can shot smoke bombs, and an invisible ink set and special opera glasses than can see the ink.  He even travels to the Far East as he’s hear tales of a way of fighting with your hands and feet unheard of in the Americas.  He returns and becomes the masked Scarlet Patriot, doing battle with the dreaded King Redcoat.

Take that you critics.

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Friday, June 15, 2012 / 3:29 pm

You Say Vagina…

The ‘V’ Word is too much for the delicate ears of Michigan GOPers.

by Gary Phillips

All vigans, all the time.

“I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs, why are you asking me to adopt yours? And finally Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina but no means no,” said Representative Lisa Brown, a Dem from West Bloomfield in Michigan.

When fellow rep Barb Byrum of Onodaga tried to speak to her vasectomy amendment coming up for a vote during this session, she was told to hush up.  The following day thje two were banned from speaking today their by the Republican controlled state house for daring to speak up or use the anatomically correct term ‘vagina.’ 

Passed was a new set of harsher regulations regarding abortions.  Including doctors would have to make funeral arrangement for a fetus if the abortion was done after ten weeks. Further, the bill would increase insurance and regulations on abortion clinics, regulate the disposal of fetal remains, prohibit the use of teleconferences to prescribe abortion medication and make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion.  Another bill that would restrict abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, was not considered.

Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit called on woman across Michigan to boycott men until this foolishness stopped of men invading women’s bodies.  “We’re launching a war on women,” she said. “Stop having sex with us, gentlemen, and I ask women to boycott men until they stop moving this through the House.”  Interestingly she didn’t get banned.

As a public service then the next time such a debate comes up on one of these hideous anti-choice bills, I implore brave women legislators and hopefully a few men with backbone use one of the time-worn euphemisms for ladies’ nether regions such as hoo-ha, the Big V, quim, the nappy dugout, snapper, the pink canoe, Lady Jane,  ya-ya, yum-yum or the vadge.

I thank you. 

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012 / 1:17 pm

Fahrenheit Crazy

Tuesday night was a humdinger.

by Gary Phillips

The Birther Queen

Among the topics of conversation I was having with my learned friend Harry this morning, ranging from the second season finale of Game of Thrones to the son of a departed ex-Black Panther friend of ours completing law school, he and I got to chatting about Ray Bradbury’s passing on Tuesday night.  I mentioned that despite his success in portraying worlds beyond ours, he’d remained a pretty down-to-earth guy.  It wasn’t too long ago, after a stroke, the non-car driving sci-fi master getting around in a wheelchair, that he would still go over to the Rancho-Palms library on Overland, near his home in the Cheviot Hills, and give a talk.

I was happy that he’d signed a 50th anniversary copy of his classic tale of books and ideas Fahrenheit 451 to my daughter and my paperback Tomorrow Midnight, a collection of eight of the EC adaptations of his short stories in comics form from the ‘50s.  Wally Wood’s art on  “There Will Come Soft Rains,” in the book knocked me out then and still does now.  In the story an automated house continues putting on the stove, the climate control in various rooms and on and on after a nuclear strike; the family is just a shaped charred shadow on one of the walls.  

My buddy mentioned that while Bradbury, who not unlike fellow visionary writer Robert A. Heinlein was a conservative (I was mildly shocked years ago when Bradbury was on the first incarnation of Bill Mahr’s show on ABC that the writer who penned The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit film set in East L.A., and he railed about shutting down the borders to the undocumented), would be remembered for the aforementioned Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man or Something Wicked This Way Comes, for him it was his October County collection of short stories.  That “The Emissary” and “The Small Assassin,” wherein a new mother becomes convinced her baby is out to kill her, were, like the Rains one for me, were stories that had stayed with him all these years later.

About 15 years ago, Harry who is an industrial air conditioning technician, was entering a large mall on a service call.  He sees Bradbury coming out of some store in his shorts and stops him to say hello and tell him the stories in October County scared the shit out of him.  Bradbury smiled and thanked him.

As this past Tuesday marked Bradbury’s passing, and that’s a sad thing, this past Tuesday the low numbers of voters who turned out at the polls in California rejected the batshit crazy, paranoid, dentist-lawyer, Queen of the Birthers, Orly Taitz for senate.  And that’s a good thing.  Talking about something wicked, I didn’t realize Taitz had thrown her tin foil hat in the ring until I looked though my sample ballot to mark it up as few days ago. I guess she figured that among all the 23 others seeking to unseat incumbent senator Diane Feinstein, she had name recognition, for good and mostly ill to my way of thinking, and that might carry her to a runoff.

It didn’t and apparently she’d already posted how the corrupt California Republican party board members had been part of a sham endorsement process in favor of Elizabeth Emkin, who got the nod.  I almost voted for her just to have her on the stump going on about Obama’s birth certificate, taxes and the loss of our precious body fluids.

As Ray Bradbury said, apropos of the limited mind of Taitz, “There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them in not reading them.”

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Friday, June 1, 2012 / 9:00 am

Hooray, it’s National Donut Day

All is right with the world.

by Gary Phillips

The basic donut in all its glory.

Today June 1 is National Donut Day.  Praise the Lord.  Of course as yet another of my birthdays approaches, and indeed as you get older they sure seem to come closer together, I have been curtailing my donut intake. Still one must pause and give thanks to the food gods for the wondrous sweet ring of sugar and useless calories.  Though I did have a sound rationalization yesterday morning when I stopped at one of the donut shops I frequent to buy two for me and two for my aunt on my way to her house.  I’ve been hacking away with pickaxe and electric trimmer at a wide thatch of bamboo threatening to take over her yard. 

Turns out bamboo is a mutha of a plant to kill.  I have been reading up on the bamboo and found many posts devoted to how best eradicate this pest.  I’ve learned there running versus clumping bamboo, its tangled roots are called rhizomes and that if you use herbicide, you only kill the shoot, not the roots – which have crept over from a neighbor’s yard.   The best solutions short of excavation, according to the American Bamboo Society, seems to get the stuff down as low as possible, then overwater the area, and cut down the new shoots as soon as possible.  The absence of green leaves to photosynthesize eventually starves the roots.  The other plan is to spread fertilizer over the location.  After that stake plastic tarp in place to essentially overfeed and “burn” the roots.  As compared to renting a backhoe and digging down about 16 inches.

I needed those two donuts for the energy to hack away at the shoots and roots.  National Donut Day also recognizes the “Doughnut Lassies” the women of the Salvation Army led by Helen Purviance who served donuts and coffee to the doughboys in France during World War I.  The origin of the donut is properly vague and various legends exist as to how the donut came to be as we know it today.  A persistent story s that Captain Hanson Crockett Gregory loved him this fried cake sweet from Holland.  But holding onto the treat while piloting his ship was awkward so he took to impaling the cake on the spokes of the boat’s wheel and thus the donut hole was born.

This and more can be found in several books on the glorious food from The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg (granddaughter of the man who invented a donut making machine), Donuts by John T. Edge, Doughnuts by Lara Ferroni, Glazed America by Paul R. Mullins, and The Donut: A Canadian History by Steven Penfold.

Eat hardy.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012 / 7:09 am

Holy Gayness!

June is gay like a sonofagun in comics.

by Gary Phillips

Same sex love in comics

As June is Gay & Lesbian Pride month, DC Comics is looking to steal some thunder back from rival Marvel, what with the Avengers movie making an 18-wheeler load of mullah worldwide.  I got to see the flick at a screening and save for a couple of odd plot holes, the movies is rock ‘em, sock ‘em.  It delivers.  Anyway, co-publisher Dan DiDio teased at the Kapow comics convention this past weekend in London that this iconic character, long part of the DC Universe (DCU), would be soon batting for the other team as it were.  It was also made clear it was a character who so far hadn’t emerged since the New 52 began.  This was where DC revamped all its existing characters, in some cases jettisoning years of convoluted back stories and plotlines.

Too bad it’s not Wonder Woman, for she’s already appeared in her own title again post the reboot.  Among the trinity of her, Superman and Batman as the pillars of the DCU, she’s always been the weakest in terms of title strength.  Due in no small part to the male dominance of comics readers, while Supes and Batman have monthly multiple titles they star in – and if some other character’s book is flagging, Bats shows up to boost sales – WW only has the one book.  In the good old innocent days, Wonder Woman would often tie up a villainous and busty lass laying on the ground with her Golden Lasso to make her tell the truth (and even though she can fly like Superman she also had an invisible jet!?), as this was the rope’s powers to make you do so when in its grasp.  She’s already pretty butch, so making her a woman lovin’ crime fighter – Batwoman is already out as a lesbian – with a penchant for kinky dominatrix type confinement would certainly seem to be a formula to up sales among teen males and corrupting girls too I suppose.

Read more ...

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012 / 10:16 am

Banned From the Grove

Manny Pacquiao on the ropes over anti-gay comments.

by Gary Phillips

Pacquiao in the corner.

Dammit, Pac-Man, why you got to get all up in the same sex marriage tangle?  Couldn’t you have just kept your opinions to yourself leading up to your fight with Timothy Bradley?  Getting yourself banned from the Grove and what not – where he was supposed to tape a segment with the Extra TV show.  Damn you Manny Pacquiao.  Who else do I have to root for in boxing if it isn’t you while I’m sippin’ on that yak?    

I am relieved though that you didn’t quote Leviticus chapter 20, verse 13 that reads: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”  Apparently Granville Ampong in his online piece for the National Conservative Examiner for which you did the interview had the quote in it, and it got attributed to you.  Well, that’s half a bullet dodged.

But a friend of mine, Rick Jacobs, who is gay and is the founder and chair of the Courage Campaign told the LA Weekly online that “American sponsors are going to have to look very carefully about whether they can continue to pour money into his apparently rather empty soul. Not only does [Pacquiao] live in L.A., he makes a lot of money thanks the United States and sponsors here in particular.”

In the states, Pac-Man, who holds eight titles, more than any other boxer and a congressman in his native Philippines, stars in a commercial for Hennessy – yak being rapper slang for cognac – and one for an HP TouchPad, worth probably about a million each to him.  Given his paydays for his bouts, such a boycott wouldn’t hurt his in the bank account but clearly he needs to set the record straight as it were.  It’s not like he said “fag” as Kobe Bryant said during a Lakers-Spurs game last year; mad for getting a technical foul from a ref who he called that.

Offer to meet with gay groups and agree to disagree, touch gloves and go back your respective corners.  Come on, Manny, man up.

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Friday, May 11, 2012 / 3:20 pm

Tony DeZuñiga Draws No More

Another comics artist gets the short end in the end.

by Gary Phillips

Big bad Jonah Hex

Once again I remind you writing and drawing comics ain’t for kids.  Wonderful penciller and inker Tony DeZuñiga, 79, passed away this Friday, May 11 in the Philippines.  Not only being a masterful comics illustrator, DeZuñiga co-created the facially deformed ex-Confederate cold-blooded bounty hunter Jonah Hex with writer John Albano.  Hex first appeared in All-Star Western #10, February-March, 1972.  According to this entry on Wikipedia, DeZuñiga said this of his creation:

“When I went to my doctor, I saw this beautiful chart of the human anatomy. And I saw the anatomy of the figure was split in half, straight from head to toe. Half his skeleton was there, half his nerves and muscles. That’s where I got the idea it won’t be too bad if his distortion would be half.”

Read more ...

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Friday, May 4, 2012 / 2:48 pm

The East is Pressboard

A day in the life of pre-fab.

by Gary Phillips

The East is dancing

In another in the highly infrequent series of addressing where do I get my ideas for stories, comes this tidbit has surfaced via SVT, a Swedish television network.  They ran a report recently claiming after examining Stasi (the East German secret police) files, Ikea knowingly used political prisoners in the former German Democratic Republic to make their pre-fab furniture in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Too, last year German public television channel WDR leveled the same charges at Ikea.  The company denies that they had knowledge of this practice.

But it’s long been known that starting in the 1960s, the furniture giant cum housing developer (see 4/18 post on “Ikealand”) farmed out the manufacture of its cute cubby desks to several of the then communist East Bloc countries for the cheap labor aspect.  Added to that you have the fact that their fonder, Ingvar Kampard, was a member of the Swedish Nazi party in his halcyon youth, you got yourself some elements to work with story-wise.

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Friday, April 27, 2012 / 5:00 am

Chicken Pox and Napoleon

A hot time in the ole town tonight is recalled.

by Gary Phillips

L.A. '92

On this 20th anniversary of the ’92 riots, in the last two weeks I’ve done a panel, a radio  broadcast, as well as written a couple of other pieces recounting and reflecting on those events.  I take this not as a sign of any sagacity I’ve gained in the last couple of decades, but of age – that simply by being around long enough and having done certain things, you get asked to look back.

In fact, a decade before, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of those events, I’d done a piece for Geography of Rage, a collection of essays and reflections on the conflagration edited by Jervey Tervalon, published by the late, lamented local press, Really Great Books. 

There were several highpoints, if that’s the right word, for me during the riots.  Robin Cannon, a South Central community activist and a friend of my wife Gilda, was as shit jumped off at Normandie and Florence, sitting in Gilda’s Community Scholars class.  As going home that night seemed dicey, she stayed with us and during the lull the next day, Gilda took her home.  The Vons near our house in Mid-City on Pico and Fairfax got looted but the workers and some neighbors prevented it from being torched.  Me and a few other friends witnessed an old lady with a pistol in her apron pocket and her feisty girlfriends preventing some knuckleheads from torching the Texaco station at Ogden and Pico.

Read more ...

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 / 7:19 am


The home furnishing giant gets housing envy.

by Gary Phillips

Ikea's Levittown

The last time the wife and I went to Ikea, and this would have been the one in Burbank, was when our kids were in grade school – middle school at the latest.  So that’s more than a decade ago.  I seem to recall we needed desks for them for their homework and a bookshelf.  No doubt I had a meatball or two while we shopped.  We made our selections and brought the items home and assembled the laminated pressboard and plywood wonders per the instructions.  What with their pre-drilled holes for wood dowels and fittings tightened with the included allen wrench, there’s something to be said for this kind of assembly line engineering that, I suppose, would have made Buckminster Fuller, the creator of the Geodesic Dome, proud. 

It comes then as little surprise that the Swedish-based home furnishing giant has a real estate development division called LandProp Services  There’s looking to bring their thing for order and symmetry to housing.  In East London, near the area where the 2012 Olympics will be staged, Ikea plans to break ground on a hamlet, a post-modern (or is that post-ironic?) Levittown called Strand East.  The area would contain 1,200 houses and apartments for some 6,000 residents.  There would also be 480,000 square feet of business and infrastructure – which I take to mean shopping centers including groceries, fish and chips shops and a Cineplex or two.

“We are in keeping with the Ikea philosophy,” Harald Müller, head of LandProp said.  “We don’t want to produce for the rich or the super-rich, we want to produce for families, for the people.” 

Ikea is not the first global company to extend its world view in this way.  In 1994, Disney built a town called Celebration a few minutes drive from Walt Disney World in central Florida.  Disney these days no longer runs the town but its influences remain.  Its buildings reflect a mix they call neo-traditional.   Lara Marlowe on the July 22, 2011 ran this quote in her article about Celebration, “This is the hometown you’ve been searching for,” says the “Memory Book” that Carlson [a real estate agent] gives prospective buyers. “A place where kids still ride their bikes to school, and neighbours greet each other from wide sunny porches.”  Leaves made of tissue paper are distributed over well-kept lawns in the fall and Bing Crosby can be heard singing from hidden speakers.  As you, or Walt, might imagine, Celebration’s 10,000 or so residents are over-whelming white.

Jokes aside about Stand East being a ready-built enclave of thin outer walls put up with only an allen wrench and dowels, here’s hoping that Ikea’s effort lives up to Müller’s words. I take it as healthy symbolism the area for the town contains rusted machinery, hulks of empty buildings and dockyards.  That from this wasteland an urban planning experiment in mixed-income housing can bloom.  I’m sure there will be meatballs aplenty at the groundbreaking ceremony. 

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