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Hazy Skies

Because of the forest fires on OR and WA, the light outside at 1:03 PM on 9.5.17 has an unnerving golden tone to it. It’s not apparent from the photo, but seeing it with my eyes, it feels far more ominous and alien than the eclipse.

Hazy Skies
Hazy Skies

Beef Stew with a Bite

The key to Beef Stew with a Bite is good bone beef broth. You can use the cheap stuff, but either making it yourself or coughing up some money to your local artisan broth maker results in a rich and most excellent stew. Pepper wise, you can use whatever you want, but I prefer 1 habanero1. This stew does bite, but it won’t offend most people. Additionally, if you aren’t feeding 6 people and are planning on freezing meals, the heat and flavors mellow over time; time is a secret ingredient. Let your stew mellow, man. If you want to dial it up, add 2 habaneros for Beef Stew that Punches You in the Mouth.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3lbs. of beef chuck
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 rashers of bacon
  • 1 tablespoons of oil if needed
  • .25 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 large onion or 2 small chopped onions
  • 3 to 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 habanero diced (I leave the seeds in)
  • 1.5 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 2 to 3 cups beef bone broth
  • 1 to 2 cups of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • .5 teaspoon of dried thyme (about 1.5 teaspoons if fresh)
  • 1.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 4 large carrots cut into diagonal pieces
  • Rice or potatoes (to serve stew over)

Instructions

  1. Dice the bacon into .5 inch pieces, and on a medium heat, fry it in a large soup pot or dutch oven until crisp. If the bacon is particularly lean, use a tablespoon or so of oil. Though it is less healthy than olive oil, I prefer vegetable oil for stew. Once the bacon is crisp, remove it and set it aside.

  2. Cut the beef chuck into 1 inch cubes. To taste, add the salt and pepper to the cubes and massage in. In small batches brown the beef, remove, and set aside. When browning the beef, try not to let the individual pieces touch each other. This step takes a bit of time, but it is worth doing right.

  3. Add the garlic, balsamic vinegar, habanero, and onion to the leftover beef juices and bacon grease in the pot. While stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, cook the mix until the onions start to turn clear or for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute or 2 while stirring.

  4. Add the beef and sprinkle it with flour, stirring it until all the flour is absorbed.

  5. Add enough beef bone broth and water until the meat is covered. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and sugar.

  6. Cook for 2 to 3 hours on a low heat.

  7. Add carrots and cook for another hour.

  8. If you like your stew a bit more thick, make a slurry with corn starch or flour and add it to the stew.

  9. Serve over rice or potatoes.

And don’t forget, “Let it mellow, man.”


  1. While I like jalapeños and serranos, they result in a stew that is a shade greener in flavor. 

H.P. Thomcraft’s Game of Pawns

The other day I realized that I never officially posted H.P. Thomcraft’s Game of Pawns. I was always very happy with the way it turned out. I mean, it took freaking yearssss to finish, but it was worth it. The 16mm film looks good and I had a lot of fun doing the sound design.

You can view production stills from the shoot here, and here’s a description, followed by the movie itself.

H.P. Thomcraft sojourns to a cloudy living room in an undisclosed location of the nether-regions/places to weave three hazy tales of mystery and murk while playing a most deadly game of death. “H.P. Thomcraft’s Game of Pawns” is the sequel to the water-logged “H.P. Thomcraft’s Box of Tales.”

H.P. Thomcraft's Game of Pawns from Mike Gray on Vimeo.

Under the drill with Max Fleischer’s Gabby

The dentistry profession has come a long way since I last had work done. The new trend is to show movies to patients under the drill. Not unlike inflight entertainment, the viewing selections are all somewhere between populist and benign. Does it matter if I watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop two before one?

The anxiety of having my old fillings fixed aside, a different type of anesthetized panic set in when I was shown my viewing options. Was I going to have to watch Pixels (2015) or computer-generated Smurfs flit about the screen while my molars got filled with resin? Cringing at the prospects, I spotted an escape, a title called “TV Cartoon Classics.” “I’ll take that,” I told the dental tech.

The tech stared at the card for an uncertain second and shuffled off. When she returned, she explained that she was unaware that they even had it. “TV Cartoon Classics”, I figured, was no doubt a bunch of public domain cartoons like Herman the Mouse. Over two separate weeks, and two separate visits, I watched all Max Fleischer’s Gabby cartoons (and a couple Hermans).

Gabby character model
Gabby Model

First appearing as the town crier in the 1939 feature Gulliver’s Travels, between 1940 and 1941 Gabby was given to Fleischer by Paramount to direct1. The odd reference to the Lilliputians aside, the Gabby series has little to do with Swift’s satire, with each cartoon following Gabby, a wisearce with a taste for wise apples, who gets involved in various jobs and activities which he claims to be an expert and proceeds to bungle.

In Fire Cheese (1941), where Gabby becomes a firefighter, flames dance on buildings, blow blazes into each others’ mouths, and lick up the walls in hot ladders. Gabby, meanwhile, proves to be about as useful as Keith Flint giving pointers to Adele. Two for the Zoo (1941), my personal favorite, has Gabby claiming to be an authority on the fictional rubberneck kango, an animal that is a melange of kangaroo, giraffe, and elephant. By the cartoon’s conclusion, Gabby is locked in a cage as potential lion food.

Besides dentists’ offices, a complete Gabby cartoon can also be watched in the first-person shooter video game The Darkness released in 2007. I’m not familiar with the game, but I like to think that Gabby is a favorite of the figure featured on the game’s cover art, a standin for The Downdward Spiral-era Trent Reznor2. I’m guessing, however, Gabby’s occurrence in the game has more to do with irony, entropy, and that which is anachronistic.

The Darkness (2007)
“What have I become?”

In this light, it is probably no great shock that the Gabby animations are all but forgotten. The cartoon is perhaps too quaint and European in its sensibilities. Yet Gabby’s character is relatable and humorous enough; equally the cartoon’s sophisticated animation still shines through the faded public domain prints widely available today. Given the choice between it and the mediocrity of the Paul Blarts of the world, I’d still take Gabby. Hell, I’d take it over The Darkness, too.


  1. In 1955 Gabby was sold to U.M. & M. TV Corporation, which later became National Telefilm Associates, the logo of which appears at the front of many of the available versions of the cartoon today. Later the cartoon would ironically return to Paramount when it was sold to Viacom, the multinational media conglomerate, which today owns Paramount. While Gabby can be purchased on DVD, the cartoons are now in the public domain. 

  2. This is a missed opportunity: it should have been a Keith Flint double on the cover. 

The Capsules do Valerian

Kaneda and the Capsules arrive at a run down movie theatre hoping to score Valerian, only to discover that Valerian is a sci-fi flick. When they show up, it is debatable if one of them was aware of this and maybe wanted to actually see the movie. Heckling ensues, which quickly boils over into harassment of other theatre patrons and eventually edges into flatout violence and mayhem. This spectral visitant of Akria (1988) and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) keeps rattling in my head. It may well be heresy to fantasize about the anime classic and the hot mess of Valerian in this way, but it’s been hard to shake.

Besson’s Valerian stands as the most expensive French film ever made, costing around $150 million. Its premise follows a McLuhan-like global village that harbors an atrocity at its heart which must be atoned for. Sin and redemption along with some of the more interesting facets of the film, like Rihanna’s Bubble, get lost in the pastel shit-show. My wife likened the movie to an advertisement for a douche… in space, flowery, still a douche, and utterly pointless. Alien princesses pirouetting by vagina conch shells… a lot of the conversation surrounding Valerian has proceeded in these cheeky terms.

Cara Delevingne's Sergeant Laureline and Dane DeHaan's Major Valerian stare at the top of a web browser.
Cara Delevingne’s Sergeant Laureline and Dane DeHaan’s Major Valerian stare at the top of a web browser.

No doubt Valerian is destined to provide comic fodder for some time to come, but it is worth remarking on the connections between it and Akira. The films each find roots in comic books that are not of the superhero variety. Though I’ve yet to read Valerian, I imagine that like Akira, the comic is best considered as a separate text rather than an adaptation. Each also stands out in its contemporary big-budget cinematic landscape: Valerian for its euro-trash splash and Akira for its techno-phantasmagoria. Most of all, neither makes a whole lot of sense. In both the plot is obscured: for Valerian it’s all a high kamp kick with Cara Delevingne’s Sergeant Laureline never bothering to break runway strut, while for Akira it’s almost with a relish, a nod to the punk ethos of its Capsules, who in the face of conformity, conspiracy, and corporate-militarism continue to exert their identies and could really give two flying fucks about plot.

Continue reading The Capsules do Valerian

Shaving: Part 2 – How to Half-Shave

Ritual, art, membership to a cabal of manly-men-boxing-fools in a brew pub — these have never been associations I’ve had with shaving. As Tim has already indicated, our dad gave us a pretty abridged shaving tutorial. Along with scant demonstration, he may have mentioned, “Try not to kill yourself.” Whether he did or did not impart this final kernel of wisdom, there was no follow-up lesson or even a check-in to see if we had garroted ourselves.

As a result, for pretty much all of my shaving-life, I have half-shaved at best. My father’s lack of teaching surely contributed to this, but so did the milieu of the ’90s. In the social circles I traveled then, there was no stigma associated with whatever you decided to do with your facial hair. By the end of the ’90s and the early ’00s, I was shaving maybe once a week. Eventually I found a decent beard trimmer and with it, my shaving became more erratic. Sometimes I had a beard, sometimes I had a shadow, sometimes I was clean shaven, sometimes I had an experimental look, but most of the time I had some amount of hair on my face. This was largely because in those instances when I was clean shaven, I would never continue to do so beyond a couple days because I’d either forget to keep up with it or I got razor rash.

Still, I do razor shave on occasion, and when I do, for nearly two decades it has been with a Mach3. As Tim has also duly noted, the Mach3 is really the bane of shaving. After it materialized in 1998, the facial hair horizon was forever leveled. It is as if no other razor had ever existed since or after. With it, razor cartridges were to forever be things that existed behind locked glass, and the only thing better than three blades was more blades.

Razor, Stand, and Brush
Merkur 34C Heavy Duty Classic Double Edge Safety Razor, Stand, and Escali 100% Pure Badger Shaving Brush
About a year and a half ago, I decided to razor shave; accordingly I dug out my Mach3. Problematically, I had no idea which blades were old, new, or rusted. Because I don’t razor shave that often, this frequently happens to me, and when it does I inevitably just go out and buy all new blades. This time, however, out of spite for the Mach3, I decided to explore other options. This eventually led me to buying a safety razor. While this does potentially mark me as a hipster, after reading up on them, I decided that I shaved infrequently enough to invest in something as arcane as it was asinine.

Continue reading Shaving: Part 2 – How to Half-Shave

Colossal

Colossal (2016) stomps a Godzilla flick into a giant-radioactive-lizard-sized black comedy about addiction. The premise: when party-hard Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, gets tanked, she unwittingly summons a mega-monster that has a tendency to lay waste to the world-away city of Seoul, South Korea, around that sobering hangover-time of 8:05 AM. Through some inebriated sleuthing that involves genitalia-indicating dances, Gloria is eventually able to put this all together.

Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway, directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway, directed by Nacho Vigalondo

Nacho Vigalondo’s directorial proceedings teeter at the edge of the pop-baroque precipice, but Colossal never falls off. The movie offers enough twists and turns to remain entertaining and distract its audience from thinking too deeply about Gloria’s flight from New York City and her own cheap beer and boozey monsters to a picturesque small town that conveniently boasts an empty family mansion or… summer home. Sorting out details like these should matter, but in an era when most nights are nostalgic for mixtapes and wind up clinging to the cineplex-bar set by Gaurdians of the Galaxy 2, who the fuck is counting; Colossal’s hangovers are palatable.

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Sorcerer, StarSoldier, and More

My cousin was doing a little Spring cleaning, and in an effort to make some room, he sent these goodies my way. I’m hoping over the summer I get a chance to breathe again and am able to dig a little deeper into them; in the meantime, however, they sure are neat to look at. The map and pieces for Sorcerer: The Game of Magical Conflict alone are incredible. And let’s be honest, you can’t really go wrong with Death Race 2000 on Blu-ray.

Sorcerer, StarSoldier, comics, and more
Sorcerer, StarSoldier, comics, and more

Continue reading Sorcerer, StarSoldier, and More