Shuttle Exits and With It America’s Dreams?

Interesting article on by Gene Seymour concerning the last flight, as it were, of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the back of a NASA jetliner as it makes its way to The National Air and Space Museum.  But the article, of course, isn’t just about the end of the Space Shuttle era.  It is a look back at the times that spawned the space race and the ideals of America.

The author wonders if America has, with the exit of the Space Shuttle and no apparent replacement in the wings, has to some extent lost its capacity to dream big, both in terms of space exploration and, possibly, the capacity to move forward in other ways as well:

The article, to some degree, reminds me of the famous concept of the pendulum effect.  There appear to be times in history when we go in one direction, only to retreat and move in another direction a few years later.  In politics, this could be moving from liberal agendas to conservative ones.  In terms of scientific discovery, we may have moved from a period of exciting discovery to -maybe- a period of introspection.  It can be argued that following the Civil War (and perhaps even during the Civil War) exciting advances in science were initiated.  The Industrial Era also created a new and exciting move forward.  By the early part of the 20th Century we were on the cusp of having electricity in all households, which meant we were moving towards having television, refrigeration, air conditioning, and, yes, eventually computers.

Air travel was in its infancy, but it would blossom quickly in the 20th Century, the technology becoming rapidly refined in part due to two World Wars and in part due to our desire to move both people and merchandise more and more quickly.

The space race was just that at the beginning.  We had a common foe in the dastardly communists, and a fear that they would beat us in a technological war.  Thanks to that impulse, we made it to the Moon.

And then we appeared to stop.

I suppose partly the fault lay in President Nixon, hardly one of John F. Kennedy’s biggest admirers.  One of President Kennedy’s most recognized speeches involved our objective of reaching the Moon.  Nixon, who had lost a very close race to Kennedy, slashed the budget of NASA following becoming President.  But to blame him for NASA’s woes isn’t entirely fair.  The fact is that President Kennedy set a goal and, once it was reached, the American public seemed to lose interest in the whole space exploration thing.  Sure, the Shuttle got us excited for a while, but the Shuttle was never meant to go all that far out into space.

So what to do?

Going beyond the Moon was -and remains!- a daunting challenger.  The rest of our Solar System if filled with hostile planets, and taking a manned mission beyond the Solar system is, at this point, simply impossible.  Reaching Mars alone, in theory, would require “six months there, six months back (read more about that here).  That’s a very, very long time to be outside the confines of planet Earth.  And what exactly would be accomplished?  We have robot probes looking at Mars and, frankly, they can do the exploration we need -at least at this point- without the risk of lost lives.

Sure, robot probes aren’t anywhere near as sexy as manned flights, but it appears to me that until we get better technology (ie, rockets that allow for much quicker travel) NASA may have to settle on the far safer use of these robot missions to explore our little corner of space.

Perhaps with overpopulation and dwindling resources on Earth, space exploration may experience a rebirth.  It was born, after all, in the harsh shadow of the Cold War and reached its greatest success due to that very real impulse.  Perhaps we need another spark to get things going once again.


The curious case of Madonna’s success/failure…

By now, the news of singer Madonna’s latest album, MDNA, is known to those who follow album sales. Briefly, the album debuted on Billboard at #1, suggesting she was still a force in the music business.

Then came week 2 of the sales, and a drop in sales so precipitous it was record-breaking…in a very dubious way:

Truth is, I feel for many “older” musical artists.  They are caught in a vicious cycle alluded to in the article:  Older fans of the artist(s) tend to want to hear their “best” or “classic” material and usually have little interest in the artist(s) “new” works.  On the other hand, young music followers may not really care about the older artist(s) and their works, new or “classic”.  If there’s one thing I’ve realized over time is that each subsequent generation embraces “their” music.  To many of them (though certainly not all), what came before is usually not as interesting as whatever “new” music is currently in fashion.  Thus, any “new” music from older artists may wind up being doubly unappealing.

I’ve noted, perhaps too often, my fondness for the music of David Bowie.  Yet I suspect, sadly, that as well known as he may be, I’m one of the few David Bowie fans that have followed -and greatly enjoyed- many of his post-Let’s Dance releases.  That album, which was released a lifetime ago in 1983, was a HUGE success.  In fact, and if memory serves, that album and Michael Jackson’s mega-hit Thriller were 1-2 on Billboard for weeks, with Mr. Bowie’s album at one point supplanting it for the top stop for a week or two.

However, following that album’s release, Mr. Bowie entered a, let’s be honest here, rough patch.  His following two albums, Tonight and especially Never Let Me Down, didn’t feel like grade A efforts on Mr. Bowie’s part, despite some good songs to be found in each album.  He would recover, in my mind, and subsequently release many great works, but I suspect he fell into the same problem that other older artists fell into and his age started to work against him.  Many of his fans, some even quite famous, openly opined that his best works were those that preceded Let’s Dance.  While I found several of his post-1983 albums pretty damn great (particularly his 1995 album 1. Outside), Mr. Bowie has not, to date, come close to replicating the success he had in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Similarly, I was pleasantly surprised by the last years release of Panic of Girls, the latest Blondie album.  I felt the album was on par with some of Blondie’s best works and have little doubt that if it had been released during the band’s “classic” years, it might have gone one to be considered a truly great work.  As it is, the album seems to have slipped away.

And thus we return to the plight of Madonna’s MDNA, an album that “sold” quite well during its first week , though given the second week sales figures and the gimmicky nature those first week sales were made this success appears to be more mirage than reality.  I was never a huge fan of Madonna, even during her golden years, but the story behind Madonna, and all “older” musicians, is an intriguing one.

At least to me.

The real Black Dahlia

Count me among the many who is fascinated with crime in the city of Angels, circa 1920-60.  Why that particular time frame?  I suppose much of the interest arises from the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  Then there’s the wonderful era of the film noir crime movies, many of which were set in the Hollywood area.

But in terms of “real  life” crime drama, none are as paradoxically repellent and fascinating as the case of Elizabeth Short, a 23 year old woman whose mutilated body was found in a park back in 1947.  The case, whom the papers dubbed “The Black Dahlia” murder, was never solved.

The article linked to below is from and focuses on Joan Renner.  She has an exhibit featuring historic crime in the L.A. area, including, of course, the notorious Black Dahlia case.  For those interested, its a good read:

Priest (2011) a (mildly) belated review

So I had a few minutes to spare and looked around some of the DVR recordings I made over the last month or two and found, among them, a recording of the 2011 film Priest.

Why was it there?  I admit, I was mildly curious about the film and was vaguely aware that it was based on a Korean Manga of some note.  Was also aware the film came and went pretty abruptly from theaters.

Wasn’t aware that the film featured Karl Urban in the bad guy role and (really surprising) veteran actor Christopher Plummer in a smaller role as a head priest.

The plot?  Post apocalyptic sideways world where vampire creatures and humans have battled for years.  The Priests are essentially the Church’s badasses, devout vampire killers who, as the story begins, are considered past their prime.  It is believed the vampire menace is over.

It isn’t.

For the first hour or so of the film, I enjoyed the film quite a bit.  The visuals were outstanding and the story presented was a decent “B” movie adventure.  After that first hour, I began wondering why this film was ranked so low on, where it earned an extremely low 17% approval from critics and an equally poor 36% from audiences (you can read the rankings here).  Could the critics and audiences have been wrong?  Was my taste in movies taking a serious nosedive?

Then came the movie’s second half and those poor ratings were explained away rather well.

For you see, if Priest were a novel, everything presented within the movie would have been a prologue to a (potentially) far more interesting story.  What story we have is, in the end, woefully undernourished, a tale of a one-time Priest turned vampire attempting to assault the “big city”.  His plan is to steal our protagonist’s daughter and force him to chase after him for no real reason at all.  Revenge I suppose, but really…

It all makes little sense in the end.  Karl Urban is wasted as the villain.  He’s by far the most interesting character in the film but when all is said and done is given so little time to do his villain thing that you wonder why they bothered.  Worst example of this?  The bad guy’s face off against three Priests, a sequence that should have been shown in its full glory (Priest is an action film, right?!) and is instead absurdly abbreviated.  I’m not exaggerating when I say this potentially explosive “action sequence” goes like this:  The three Priests meet up with Karl Urban’s bad guy.  One of them runs at him and is killed by  bad guy in literally one second.  We cut away from the fight and, a few minutes later, our protagonist arrives in the town where this fight occurred and sees the fight’s aftermath and the three dead Priests.  What happened to the other two Priests we have to fill in the blanks with our imagination.

Again, this is an action film, right?

Watching Priest, I had the feeling the director felt uncomfortable with showing too much action.

Anyway, by film’s end we are informed that there is some vampire queen out there and that the battle has “just begun”, ie, the real story is coming in the movie’s sequel.

Given the movie’s performance at the box office, you’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath waiting for that sequel to materialize.

Hellboy: The Storm And The Fury, a review

I’ve been a big fan of comic book artist/writer Mike Mignola for a very, very long time now.  I first became aware of his work in various Marvel books.  At that point, he didn’t quite have his distinctive style.  It was 1988’s Cosmic Odyssey, illustrated by Mr. Mignola and scripted by comic book veteran Jim Starlin, that first featured a heavy dose of Mr. Mignola’s great artwork and made me a huge fan.  Apparently, I was far from the only one.

Mr. Mignola parlayed his success by eventually devoting his full energies to Hellboy, a character he created.  While Hellboy shared elements present in the other works, most notably those of Jack Kirby (Hellboy might well be a close cousin of Kirby’s Demon and the various monster books Mr. Kirby did for Marvel), the series had its own unique -and delightful- storytelling universe.

I absolutely loved it.

The first full Hellboy serial, The Seed of Destruction, was released in 1994.  It was conceived and illustrated by Mr. Mignola and featured a script by another comic book veteran, John Byrne.  From there, Mr. Mignola would produce many more Hellboy serials, this time taking on the full writing and illustration chores.  The character proved a big success, and in time there were animated films, feature films, and comic book off-shoots (many written by Mr. Mignola but illustrated by others) that followed.

I picked them up almost religiously and pretty much loved everything to do with the character.  However, as his success increased and more and more material was released, Mr. Mignola moved from being the writer/illustrator of many of the works to being simply the writer.  Sadly, at that point my interest in the various books declined.  The fact is I was just as big a fan of Mr. Mignola’s artwork as his writing, and while many (if not most!) of the artists who he hired to draw his stories were damn good, they simply weren’t Mr. Mignola.

Thus, it totally escaped my attention when Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury was released between 2010 and 2011.  When I learned this storyline was Intended to be a “finale” to the Hellboy saga, I had to have it.  When I looked the book up on I was surprised to find the reviews for the book were, for the most part, negative (You can read those comments here).

Nonetheless, I ordered the book and, yesterday, it finally arrived.  Eagerly, I read it.

To begin, the story is written by Mr. Mignola and features artwork by Duncan Fegredo.  Let me state right off the bat that Mr. Fegredo is a damn good artist and one I was familiar with from previous Hellboy books.  His artwork style produces decidedly mixed feelings in me.  While other artists who were hired by Mr. Mignola to do Hellboy books had their own style, Mr. Fegredo’s style is obviously attempting to emulate Mr. Mignola’s.  And while he is indeed damn good at it, seeing someone “doing” Mike Mignola-like artwork makes me yearn to see “genuine” Mike Mignola artwork.

However, given Mr. Fegredo’s talents, the success or failure of this particular book ultimately fell to the story being told.

And in that case, sadly, I have to side with those who offered negative comments on Amazon.  The Storm and the Fury is, unfortunately, a pretty average Hellboy story.




Yes, the story presented in The Storm and the Fury is a very average Hellboy story with one major difference:  By story’s end, Hellboy is (BIG TIME SPOILER!!!!) dead.

Really dead.

Considering this is meant to be the finale to the Hellboy saga, at least on Earth (more on that later), its surprising how ordinary the whole thing felt.  Mr. Mignola had hinted from the very beginning that Hellboy’s end would be something equivalent to Ragnarok, with Hellboy in the role of Odin/Thor.  This element does indeed appear within the story, and various plot threads that were presented earlier on in other books do find their way here…

…but, again, the story itself is simply not anywhere near as “big” an event as one would have thought it should be.  Yes, Hellboy fights against monsters, but he’s always fought against monsters.  Again, the only big difference is that this time he dies.  However, the single most bewildering element of the book is the fact that the great cast Mr. Mignola created around Hellboy (a couple of whom appeared in the movies) don’t show up in this story except for a single “flashback” or “memory” panel.  That’s right, I said panel.  There is no tearful goodbye between Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. characters.  There is no emotional reunion before the end.

Bewildering, to say the least.

I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.  The Storm and the Fury feels like the work of a writer who was running out of gas and wanted the whole thing over and done with, rather than creating the grand finale many fans were expecting.

Perhaps Mr. Mignola was eager to move on to Hellboy’s next adventure.  Yes, that’s right:  Next adventure.

It turns out The Storm and the Fury is not really Hellboy’s grand last adventure.  It’s merely his last Earthly adventure.  If you read some of the bonus material after the main story, you discover that Mr. Mignola is writing and illustrating the next Hellboy story, wherein our hero goes to Hell.  So while his “Earthly” adventures are over with this volume, it appears Hellboy’s next stories will take place in the afterlife.

I hope those adventures prove better than the anti-climactic The Storm and the Fury.

U.S. Coast Guard sinks Japanese Ghost Ship

I posted an article a few days back concerning the Ryou-Un Maru, a Japanese “ghost ship” that traveled the Pacific since becoming dislodged by the tsunami that hit Japan a little over a year ago and was now approaching the Canadian shoreline.  (You can read that original article here)

The ship got close enough for the U.S. Coast Guard to sink it:

The full CNN article regarding the sinking of the Ryou-Un Maru can be found here:

James Cameron and Titanic

Interesting back and forth regarding the merits of the 1997 James Cameron directed mega-hit Titanic, which is being re-released in 3-D:

Apart from being incredibly successful, for years I’ve been intrigued with Mr. Cameron and his movies, even as I find myself less and less interested watching his most current works.

I was first exposed to Mr. Cameron, but not aware of his hand in, such films as Android (where is credited as doing work in the Art Department), Galaxy of Terror (Second Unit Director), Battle Beyond the Stars (Special Effects and Art Director), Escape From New York (Special Visual Effects and Matte Artist), and, finally, his first “full” directorial credit in Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (if memory serves, there is considerable irony in this credit as Mr. Cameron was fired from the director’s job before fully completing it).

So there he was, in front of me in these various films I saw as a youth.  I didn’t really like most of them all that much (the big exception being Escape From New York), but they were part of my early days and I nonetheless had nice memories of watching the films, either in theaters or on the then brand new cable channel HBO.

Fast forward to 1984, and my sister telling me that I just had to go see this film currently playing in theaters.  I heard about it, but for whatever reason hadn’t thought much of it.  Nonetheless, I followed her advice and, with little knowledge of what exactly I was in for, bought a ticket, found a seat somewhere in the middle of the theater, and sat down to watch The Terminator.

I was blow away.

The film wasn’t perfect, mind you.  I thought there were one too many “endings” at the film’s conclusion.  But, for crying out loud, this was one hell of an action film.  It was brutal at times, humorous at others (the film’s most humorous line was uttered by last person you’d expect to utter anything funny!), and so damn entertaining.

I had to know who was behind this incredible work of action/adventure/sci-fi.  The name was unfamiliar to me in those pre-internet days.  James Cameron.  I didn’t know who he was, but I resolved to keep an eye out for whatever works he does.

Two years later, most likely while reading through movie magazines, I found out what his next film would be:  Aliens.  To say the least, I was ecstatic.  I loved the original Alien film and the thought that Mr. Cameron, who did such a fantastic job with The Terminator would follow up that film with a sequel to one of my favorite sci-fi horror hybrids was more than I could bear.

On opening day, I was right there.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Terminator and Aliens were a potent one-two punch.  Both were action/adventure sci-fi and horror hybrids.  Both were the incredibly great.  With his success, the world at large got to know more about Mr. Cameron.  I realized for the first time around that point his work in the films I mentioned above, including the pretty terrible Piranha sequel.  What was next for him?

Why, another sci-fi film, this one set under the ocean.  !989’s The Abyss.  Like Aliens, I was there opening day, eager to see what wonders Mr. Cameron had in store for us.

I was disappointed.

The film wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty good…at least for the first couple of acts.  But somewhere along the way, especially towards the end, the film simply fell apart, and it dawned on me the film really had no ending.  As one movie critic put it brilliantly, watching The Abyss was like seeing a marathon runner have the race of his/her life, but tripping and falling on their face just feet away from the finish line.

Later, when the “special edition” of the film was released to video/laserdisc (eventually DVD), we were presented with a much longer ending to the film.  Some really liked this version and felt this was the way the film should have always been.  To me, it didn’t matter.  Even with the longer, more effects filled ending, the film still felt as if it wasn’t fully developed.  I had the suspicion Mr. Cameron had an idea -a very good idea- for a story but never really figured out where it was going and how it should end.

Despite this, I was still very interested in seeing what Mr. Cameron was up to.  His follow up to The Abyss sounded really exciting:  A sequel to The Terminator.  In 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released.  Again, I was there opening day, eager to see Mr. Cameron return to the property that effectively “made” him.

Again, I was disappointed.  Mind you, I was in a minority.  Most theater goers really, really liked the film.  I, however, found it a decent movie with some pretty eye-popping (for the time) effects…but the story simply wasn’t as breathtaking or action filled as the original.  As with The Abyss, it wasn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it just didn’t connect with me as well.

His next film, 1994’s True Lies, had me excited again.  Early word was that the film, which featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, was Mr. Cameron’s take on the whole James Bond/super-spy genre, with Mr. Schwarzenegger in the spy role.  Somehow I snagged tickets to an early showing of the film and headed to see it.  The theater was very crowded, the film began…

…and I was disappointed once again.

In fact, more so than with either The Abyss or Terminator 2True Lies, to me, was a herky-jerky film that would wow you with a great scene and follow it up with a terrible one.  The film tried to straddle comedy and action but in the end short changed on both.  There were moments I greatly enjoyed, but there were other moments I was cringing.

I came to the bitter realization, after the release of those three films, that I may never see the James Cameron that thrilled me with The Terminator and Aliens again.

In 1997, Mr. Cameron’s latest film, Titanic, was in the works.  The early word was quite bad.  Incredible cost overruns.  Too long run-time.  Unproven stars.  When the film neared release, there were those who predicted this was the end of Mr. Cameron’s career.

They were wrong.

Titanic, of course, was a not just a success, it was a HUGE success.

But I found myself uninterested in seeing it.  Not that I expected it to be bad, its just that the whole Titanic thing (with or without the romance) never did much for me.  For the first time since Mr. Cameron rose to prominence, I didn’t bother seeing one of his films.  To this day, I haven’t seen Titanic.  I may be one of only a handful of people who hasn’t

Years later, in 2009, word came that Mr. Cameron was at work on another film, this one a sci-fi action/adventure.  My interest perked.  However, the more I heard about the film and the story it was presenting, the less interested I was in seeing it.  It all boiled down to the story being told, which I found way too overly familiar:  “Noble savages” being exterminated so that “civilized” folk can take their land.  That type of story has been used over and over again, most often in westerns such as Dances With Wolves.

Avatar arrived in theaters that year and, like Titanic before it, was a HUGE success.

And like Titanic before it, I didn’t bother going to see it.  To this day, I may be one of only a handful of people who haven’t seen either of those two mega-hits.

So we reach the present.  Mr. Cameron is arguably one of the biggest, most well known directors in the entire world.  He has scores of fans eager to see what he’s up to next.  I may not be one of them, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious.

After all, he wowed me before.  And while it’s been many years since then, who’s to say he can’t do it again?

13 Unncessary Movie Sequels…

…at least according to Entertainment Weekly:,,20583478,00.html

Is there anything worse than a good film whose reputation may be sullied a bit (or a lot) by a sequel that is both unnecessary and/or awful?  The choices given in this list are interesting.  If I may, let me add a movie to that list, a film that was a sequel, yet not a sequel, to a very popular film…

The summer of 1988 was the only time I can remember seeing not one, but two absolutely gut-bustingly hilarious films one after the other.  That was the summer that The Naked Gun was released, and to this day I still remember a lady sitting in front of me in the theater absolutely losing it when the inept Sgt. Drebin got a little too carried away playing the umpire during a major league game.

The second film released that summer that had me in stitches was A Fish Called Wanda.  While a little more grounded in the “real world” than the lunacy of The Naked Gun, the movie nonetheless was inspired comedy, featuring Monty Python’s John Cleese and Michael Palin at their best, along with great work by both Jamie Lee Curtis and, in an absolutely maniacal turn, Kevin Kline as a dimwitted wanna-be crook.

Nearly ten years later, those four-some would return to the screen in 1997’s Fierce Creatures.  While the film was certainly not a direct sequel to A Fish Called Wanda (the characters the four actors played were different), the film was obviously intended to draw in people who enjoyed the interaction of those four A Fish Called Wanda actors into what was touted as another comedic foray.  Minus, alas, even a fraction of the laughs one found in that film.  I dimly recall reading about many problems during the making of Fierce Creatures.  There was talk of re-writes and re-filmed sequences and the studios having very little faith in the final result.  As it turned out, they were right.  Fierce Creatures, the sorta/kinda sequel to A Fish Called Wanda proved to be a bitter disappointment.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the trailer below.  You know your comedy film is in trouble when even the trailer doesn’t elicit so much as a smile.

The Skin I Live In (2011) a (very mildly) belated review

Way back in 1988 I was first exposed to director Pedro Almodovar via his breakout hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  That movie was funny, a bit trashy, absurd, and highly entertaining.  The movie also featured then unknown Antonio Banderas in a large role that no doubt helped him make the big jump to Hollywood.  Both Almodovar and Banderas, thus, would go on to very successful careers.  The Skin I Live In, released last year in 2011, represents the first time in many years the two worked together again.

When I first heard of The Skin I Live In, I was curious to see how Mr. Almodovar, whose most successful works to my mind are usually humorous or dramatic in nature, would handle a foray into the horror genre.  I approached the film with excitement, interest, and curiosity.  I also avoided spoilers, only reading cryptic hints as to the movie’s plot, which apparently involved a surgeon/skin researcher Robert Ledgard (Banderas) and a most unusual client, Vera Cruz (the stunning Elena Anaya) and their twisted relationship.  That, in the end, was the extent of my knowledge of the film.

When i finally sat down to watch it, I was immediately struck by the thematic similarities The Skin I Live In had to other (very) old-time horror works. Indeed, this film employs what is perhaps one of the oldest horror movie tropes: the mad scientist.

To give away more details of the movie’s plot would be a crime, for this film offers plenty of bizarre –very bizarre– surprises.  At a couple of points in the film I thought I had things worked out, but the eventual story reveals proved a whole lot stranger than anything I came up with.

Having said that, as good and as wicked as the story being told is, The Skin I Live In proved also to be a frustrating experience.  The very gutsy and potentially profound story is undermined by weak, almost soap-opera level characterization and melodrama.  The way the story unfolds, too, is frustrating, starting in the present and then, halfway through, abruptly shifting to the past.  Finally, as an audience member one has to accept too many unlikely things happening between the characters and often involving dumb actions on their part for the movie to actually work.

Without giving too much away, here are a few of the things that didn’t work for me:  We have to accept that a group of veteran surgeons would perform a very major operation on someone without looking into their patient’s background at all.  We have to accept that a character who appears quite grounded would allow a very dangerous individual into her home.  We have to accept that a character would take a disturbed relative to a party, her first foray (apparently) out of a mental institution…and then simply lose track of her whereabouts.

And these are the things I can mention without getting too heavily into spoilers.

Still, the film presented a very strong and mind-bending story.  Perhaps if the script had been worked on a little more, and perhaps if the film had been focused more on Vera Cruz’s point of view and her attempts to uncover the mystery around her, I think the film might have worked a lot better.  Nonetheless, if you’re interested in taking a journey into some genuinely bizarre story directions, The Skin I Live In might well be for you.  Note however, the film is rated “R” for good reason.