Monday, June 29, 2009

MONSTERQUEST - Curse of the Mokey Man

History Channel -- Original Air Date: 6/10/09

MQ goes to India to search for the legendary monkey man.  Early animations make this seem like another bigfoot show.  (As you know by now, one out of three MQ shows seems to be about bigfoot.)  There are eyewitnesses of attacks by the creature, one of whom was beaten unconscious in an encounter in Delhi in 2001.  Another has scars from an attack.  Police have no explanation for the series of attacks aside from, perhaps, mass hysteria or mistaking a chimp or other ape for something larger.  The show moves from Delhi to northern India to investigate more attacks.  The show says that descriptions of the monster date back to Pliny in Roman times.  The team goes to the Garo Hills nature preserve, and we start to get the usual tales of huge footprints and broken branches high in trees (not elephants, they say), and perhaps beds ot trampled grass.  Naturally, we get the usual tromping around and setting of camera traps.  (And I feel compelled to ask, has a crypto creature ever been caught on one of these?)  They recover some hairs (whether from their own efforts or from a witness is unclear), and send them for anylsis.  One of the researchers interviews a woman who claims one of the creatures broke into her house.  It had bloody hands and mouth, and left traces on the hut, which the researchers gather for analysis.

Meanwhile, the hunt continues.  One spiritual man suggests that the monkey man may even be Hanuman, the Hindu helper of the gods.  Next, the team goes to a bone-seller market, where various bones are being sold for their (folk) medicinal values.  No monkey man there, though.  The spate of "attacks" seemed to have lasted 20 days, and an expert brought in to examine the wounds, didn't think they matched wounds/bites of a known animal -- but rather the incidents are the result of mass hysteria.  From the day the hysteria finding was published in the newspapers, the attacks stopped.  The hairs analyzed belong perhaps to a red panda, rare and not known in those parts.  The monkey man blood sample turns out human -- raising the question whether the blood was contaminited, or the attacker merely human.  The camera trap turns up animals and several mysterious blurs.  Since one of the cameras is attached to a solar transmitter, it will continue to transmit until the equipment fails.  That's a nice improvement.  One of the researchers suggests that the hysteria in Delhi may be caused by smaller monkeys driven to desperate acts by hunger.  In the wilds, though, he thinks there is still some chance of an unknown creature -- though perhaps the tales are of an animal now extinct.

While turning up no more evidence than the other MQ bigfoot shows, this show comes off better because of highly rational statements by some of the researchers.  A nice change of pace.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

MONSTERQUEST - Flying Monsters

History Channel - Original Air Date: 6/3/09

Near Australia, Papua New Guinea is remote, forbidding, and almost the size of Texas. People report sighting flying monsters with leathery wings and a wingspan of up to 30 feet -- the reports resemble a pterodactyl (and that's what the show's recreation depicts). After WWII, a man reports seeing a pterodactyl-like creature, and in the last 65 years, there are many similar reports. Garth Guessman is a researcher looking for these creatures on the largely unexplored island; Dr. Dave Martill also hopes to find an unknown animal. He thinks the "demon flyer" is likely a frigatebird or a new species of bat. Guessman says people aren't spotting the creatures because they're nocturnal, and claims to have seen the creature's lights (supposedly given off from its belly) himself. He will lead a MQ expedition to an area with recent sightings. A map from the 1600s depicts mosters as living on the island. One of the scientists lays out a quetzecoatalus diagram next to an SUV for scale -- the wingspan is more than twice as long as the truck. A cryptozoologist claims to have video of two bioluminescent creatures at night, which MQ looks at -- but the resolution is too low for standard analysis. So the show brings in a high-power analyst, who says the lights are not consistent with fires or known objects or species. Locals tell tales of night-flying, glowing scavengers and spirit creatures from the mountains. But perhaps they are only Flying Foxes -- bats with up to 6-foot wingspans. The team rousts some bats so they can see the fruit bats fly.

The trek into the jungle is long and treacherous. The team sets up their gear on a precipitous hillside. Despite their vigil, they turn up no new evidence -- just bugs and flying foxes. The lights they spot are merely campfires across the valley. They do catch a small bat in their bat net. The camera traps turn up only bugs and bats, as well. In the end, all the team has to for their efforts is witness stories.

This MQ show is filled with above-average use of animation to represent the flying creatures. Oddly, this show eschews calling the beast by it's common, cryptozoological name, "ropen" (mentioning it once ot twice) -- prefering to call it the "demon flyer." Whether they did this to avoid the controversy surrounding the ropen and creationist attempts to use it to disprove evolution, remains a mystery.

UFO HUNTERS: UFO Surveillance

History Channel - Original Air Date: 5/20/09

Are military and other facilities being watched by UFOs?  One man claims to have video showing strange lights over Long Island.  Because the man, Mark, has been diligent about recording his shooting times and locations, his films are good subjects for scientific analysis.  Sight-line analysis shows that 6 out of the 7 sightlines are consistent with local airports.  The one remaining film shows lights moving in ways the analyst says is not consisetent with conventional air traffic.  A woman reports a strange flash in the sky on the same night as a reported UFO craft near Brookhaven National Laboratory.  As usual, Bill and Pat seem ready to believe; Kevin seems skeptical.  The team goes to investigate the site (from 1992) which seems to be in the same sightline as the previous films.  MUFON claims that the fire department put out a fire from the crash, and the military took two days to haul the debris away. They have fuzzy video, purporting to be from the crash sight, but -- with all the mylar flashing around -- it looks like conventional air/space objects to me, if not an outright  hoax.  The team talks to local responders and a scientist at Brookhaven, but turn up no real clues; the scientist says he has seen no sign of UFOs, though he admits the accellerator's energy could be detected from space, if anyone had equipment to do so.  The Brookhaven Fire Chief says that his squad did not respond to a fire on the night in question.

The team takes a forensic archeologist back to the supposed crash site to look for evidence (17 years later).  There is some evidence of road clearing, and some evidence of damage to tree tops of the right age, but nothing more.  Did soemthing fall through the trees in Southaven?  With no solid evidence, the team turns their efforts to possible UFOs over Lawrence Livermore on the west coast.  There, they hear more stories from UFO researchers, and more speculations about what might be spotted from space.  Bill tries to tie together sightings in the sky and a nearby tire fire, which burns for two years.  Bill also asserts the Feds covered up at both scenes; as usual, lack of actual evidence doesn't slow him down.  They take some night-vision footage of a triangular light formation to an expert for analysis.  He says he thinks it's not one solid object -- but Pat hastily concludes the lights could be watching Livermore.  The team takes their own high-tech surveillance truck out to see if they can get footage of their own.  Even with this array of gear (including a FLIR IR rig), airplanes still look like discs.  When they don't see anything, Bill says that an advanced ET would know how to avoid being spotted.  Kevin notes that statistically, some sightings are bound to match up with strange occurances -- like tire fires -- on the ground.  Pat says the government could cover up evidence, but not accounts.  He thinks UFOs are watching us.  Bill says there is a conspiracy covering up ailen surveillance.

Rumor has it that this show may be cancelled.  And after what essentially amounts to a two-year snipe hunt, I'm not surprised.  (Though I did sign a petition to save it.)  If UFO Hunters gets another chance, I'd avise them to go for newer cases and more solid evidence.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Theater Undreground: A Quartet of Comedies - Review

Has it really been six weeks since my last trip to Theater Undreground in Richmond, IL? Hardly seems like it. Yet, TU’s ambitious spring/summer schedule has drawn me back to another theatrical treat.

The subtitle of this show is “A concoction of clowns, cacophony, conditions, and cows,” and you’ll find all of those things in this ambitious staging of shorts. The first half of the show (before intermission), featured not only three short plays, but also 2 skits plus some interlude music and improvisational introductions (by Theater co-founder Tim Mosbach.) The good news is that all the pieces of this show were fun — despite being staged by first-time directors. The not-so-good news is that I was an “audience volunteer” for an experiment that didn’t quite work in the first play — so, because I was moving between the stage and my seat (through a seemingly sound-proof backstage area), I can’t properly judge how the play turned out; I missed too much of it.

That play was “The Tragical Tale of Melissa McHiney McNormous McWhale,” and it involved a Las Vegas love story between a woman with an enormous butt and a clown with enormous feet, all told in Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. An interesting concept, but even before I was swept backstage, I’m not sure it was entirely working. Next came a sketch, “Coffee Tastes Like Mud,” which went a long way for a bad pun, but amused nonetheless.

“Family 2.0″ was better than the first play, though I got the feeling that the language had been cleaned up for Richmond. The cast performed well, and Dwayne Dethlefsen had me roaring as Husband 1.0 who turns into the family dog. The sketch “Parking Cars” about groomsmen-turned-parking-attendants also amused. The first half finished with “The Spotted Man,” about a very strange visit to a doctor’s office. The patient, Jeff Cook, brought a great combination of deadpan comedy and pathos to his role, and Katelin Stack — playing multiple medical-office parts — in turns amused, bemused, and titillated. Well played by all, though the end seemed abrupt and weak compared to the rest. Ian Hall’s musical interludes and song were funny and well performed.

The second half of the show was taken up entirely by “Hidden in this Picture,” by Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing and Studio 60 fame. The writing in this piece was clearly a cut above all the rest, featuring Sorkin’s usual love of words, quirky characters, and Hollywood. The staging was simple but effective, and the acting top-notch, especially by the two principals Chris Warren (The Director) and Christopher Troka (The Writer), whose characters are involved in shooting the final scene of The Director’s first film. The acting in this was so effective, that I found it hard to believe that I was not watching a Hollywood Director and Writer (as well as the two other Hollywood characters in the play). A great finish to an interesting suite of plays.

The only trouble is, I saw the show on the last weekend. So, now you’ll have to keep your eye on Theater Undreground’s announcements to catch their next show. They have a Facebook page, too. (But make sure you spell their name right; the RE’s in the second word, not the first.) Hope to see you in the theater!

(Cross-posted from my home page

Saturday, June 6, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: Killer Jellyfish

History Channel -- Original Air Date: 5/28/09

Of course, we all know that there are deadly jellyfish in various oceans around the world, but MQ is looking for ones the size of small cars that travel in packs called "blooms."  Are they taking over the seas?  Witnesses give scary stories about box jellyfish and other breeds.  Could pollution and ocean (global) warming be causing increases in jellyfish populations?  MQ sends diver teams to look for these deadly creatures in both darkness and daylight.  Some research suggests that box jellyfish may have some form of intelligence -- which would make them even more dangerous; they swim about as fast as people.  One of the MQ divers gets caught in jellyfish tentacles, but his gear protects him, and it wasn't a box jelly anyway.  The team sees some great sea life and they find some big jellies, but nothign like the monsters they're looking for.  Guess the jellies are not taking over the seas after all.

Friday, June 5, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: Isle of the Lost Tiger

History Channel -- Original Air Date: 5/14/09

Is the Tasmanian Tiger still alive on the island of Tasmania?  This episode of MQ goes looking for the supposedly extinct beast.  Eyewitnesses report seeing the wolf-like striped marsupial in recent years -- but is there any proof?  350 sightings since its supposed extinction, but one expert points out that witness memories and eyes are notoriously unreliable.  MQ sends a team out to the remote SW corner of the island to look for the creature; they're toting the usual gear and camera traps.  After the last tiger died in 1930, a naturalist launched an expedition in 1946; he thought he saw tracks, but found no animal.  In 2008, some of the samples from that expedition were found; hairs are sent to be analized.  A tiger-hunter says he has a recent picture of one (blurry), and pictures of sheep that have been attacked in the way the tiger killed.

Further, a couple claims to have distinctly seen a mother tiger and her child crossing the road one night.  A biologist also saw one late at night and studied it for 3 minutes, but it fled as he got out his camera.  Meanwhile, a scientist believes he can clone the tiger back into existence.  He hopes to use Tasmanian Devil DNA to fill in the gaps in the preserved aniimal's genes -- but they're not there yet.  The hair sample is not a match.  The MQ team gets an intriguing but unidentifiable photo and a footprint that looks like a tiger (thylocene).  This episode of MQ seems to get closer than most, but still no indisputable proof.