Perhaps a little too much free time on their hands…

Interesting article from Huffington Post regarding Pastor Keith Cressman and his lawsuit over…an image on the Oklahoma license plate?

So, basically, we have an image based on a famous sculpture which in turn was based on an Native American Indian Rain God and this, to the Pastor, infringes upon his sensibilities as it depicts a “Pagan” God.

In Florida, my home state, one can get a wide variety of vanity plates with images ranging from nature scenes, aquatic scenes, John Lennon (!), to, yes, religious statements (here’s a bunch of images).  It wouldn’t surprise me if one day people in this state are allowed to create their own license plate images, provided they aren’t deemed offensive, and slap them on their car…for a fee, of course.  Apparently, in Oklahoma like Florida there are other plates available, but like Florida these require an additional payment.

Still, the Pastor’s discomfort with the standard Oklahoma license plate smacks of frivolous and silly and one can’t help but feel the Pastor is a little too tightly wound up.  In the Oklahoma license plate I don’t see a promotion of “Pagan” religion (especially “Pagan” rain Gods) so much as a tribute to Native American Heritage.

The Pastor may want to take a few deep breaths.

Is Hollywood Broken?

In the past few days, I’ve stumbled upon a pair of interesting articles regarding the well being (or, more accurately, potential very bad being) of the movie industry.  The first dark warnings come from the views of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.  They talk about what they feel is an impending financial “implosion” that’s about to occur in the industry:

One person very snarkily pointed out that the thoughts of Mr. Spielberg and Lucas were not unlike a person who murders their parents and then pleads for leniency from the police/courts because s/he was now an orphan.

I wouldn’t go quite that far.  While much of the modern Hollywood blockbuster mentality does indeed derive -for better or worse- from the careers of Mr. Spielberg and Lucas, the ills plaguing the movie industry they describe are also technological in nature, including Netflix, Video on Demand (VOD), etc, all of which were hard to predict many years before.  Still, the “blockbuster” mentality, I would agree, is part of the problem.

This second article, by Lynda Obst and presented as an excerpt from her book, can be found on  In this exerpt, Ms. Obst notes how the decline of the DVD selling industry has been a very hard blow to the movie industry:

I find this a fascinating topic.  Again, Netfix and VOD are probably “guilty”, if that’s the right word, for at least part of the decline of the DVD/BluRay market.

But I think there’s more to it than that.

I’ve pointed out before how I jumped into the laserdisc market because it offered something the video market hadn’t until that point:  Movies in their proper aspect ratio and, often, extras that you couldn’t find elsewhere.  At first, you’d get simple things like trailers.  Soon, “cut” scenes were included as well as documentaries.  I bought a lot of laserdiscs, but for the most part that was in the early days, when I wanted to get my hands on certain films.  As the laserdisc industry was dying and the DVD market was starting to grow, my buying habits of laserdiscs had already dropped considerably.  Not because I was desperate to jump into the DVD market, but because I had most of the films I wanted.

At least those available on laserdisc.

When DVDs really started to become big, an avalanche of other films and -big time joy!- TV shows I desperately wanted but couldn’t find on laserdisc were suddenly available.  Thus, I only too happily transitioned to DVDs and, because they were so much cheaper to buy than laserdiscs, wound up not only bought the newly available films/TV shows but also replaced most of my laserdisc collection.

By the time the BluRay format came along, I was once again in the same situation as with the laserdiscs.  My buying habits had slowed considerably because, again, I had the films/TV shows I wanted.  Nonetheless, the HD draw was big.  There were certain films I had no problems at all re-buying in this format to get the clearest, most beautiful presentation of them.

But many of the TV shows and lesser films I had purchased were fine “as is” and I didn’t bother buying new versions of them.  Once again, I’m in the same situation I was in two times before:  I have most of the stuff I truly want.  There are very few films/TV shows out there I’m desperate to buy and keep in my personal collection.

Worse, I’m finding the newer films to be more spectacle than classically re-watchable.  Mind you, some new films are quite good and I enjoyed watching them, whether it be in the theater or via Netflix or VOD.  But seeing them once is sufficient.  Yes, I enjoyed Iron Man, The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and, most recently, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Yet as much as I enjoyed watching them, I have little interest in revisiting them.  On the other hand, I could pull out my copy of The Maltese Falcon or Bullitt or Duel or Jaws or Airplane! or Blade Runner or Metropolis or…you get the picture, and watch them over and over again.

These are the films I want to have in my collection but the fact is that there are only so many of them I strongly desire.  The rest may entertain me but I don’t need to have them.  And once I buy the best copy available of said films, whether it be some spectacular new BluRay special edition, there is little reason for me to buy them again.

Thus, I believe at least part of the reason there is a serious decline in DVD/BluRay sales is this.  For better or worse, the DVD/BluRay format is, like CDs before it, so permanent that there is little need to purchase a movie several times and there are only so many films out there you really, really need to have as a collector.

The bottom line, of course, is that this hurts the movie industry.  Whenever a big source of revenue dries up, it can’t help but to do that.

Ah the verbal gymnastics…

Though I loath to get too political in this blog, the following news item is just a little too much.

So a bunch of -for the most part- Republican Senators managed to kill a bill that allowed for background checks for gun purchases, a relatively minor and common sense (both in my opinion) proposed law that should have been enacted (again in my opinion) ages ago on the grounds that it was an invasion of personal privacy.

Yet these same people are now defending the NSA spying.  When asked about the inherent contradiction of voting against gun buyers’ background checks -because they supposedly invade personal privacy- and defending the NSA spying -which essentially does the same on a much, much larger scale even though it is in the fight against terrorism- they reply that the two issues are very different and comparing them is like comparing “apples and oranges”.


Read for yourself…

I’ve noted it before and I’ll note it again:  The internet and the digital revolution has created a vast new world, one where we’re only now beginning to see the potentially massive changes in how we and future generations will live our lives.  Already some of the changes are obvious, from the extinction (for all intents and purposes) of both the video and music store -and coming soon, the extinction of the book store- thanks to online shopping to the fact that companies -not just the government!- now have a wealth of personal information on just about everyone out there which, in turn, leads to programs such as the NSA.

Am I against the NSA program?

It’s tough to form an opinion when I know so little about it.  All I do know is that, again thanks to our new information age, it is suddenly much easier for an individual -any individual with access- to spill government secrets with the ease of clicking a button.  The scary thing is this:  In their zeal to expose what they believe is government overreach or possible corruption, could they be putting other people in danger?  If the NSA program has been successful in stopping potential terrorist activity, will the exposure of same -and the potential of terrorists to circumvent what they now know the U.S. government is doing- endanger us?  If, heaven forbid, a major terrorist strike occurs in the U.S. or in any friendly nation and scores of people are killed, and we find that the terrorists used the NSA leak to work their way around our security…then what?

But let’s look at the opposite side of the coin as well:  What if the massive information the NSA collects is used by individuals to enrich/enpower themselves?  If someone could look into the emails of big corporations and gain insight into their next moves, could they not use that information for themselves?  And we’re not even talking about potential blackmail material, such the possibility of discovering that a certain CEO likes to hop onto certain pornographic websites or has made incriminating statements in an email…

I’ll repeat it one last time:  The internet has changed things on a massive scale.  The information age is upon us and privacy isn’t what it used to be, for better or worse.

This Is The Last Time I Will Ever See You…

Fascinating -and sad- article by David Plotz for Slate Magazine concerning a phenomena I know only too well:  What happens to all those close friends you had at your side when you got married?  How many of them have subsequently faded from your life?

I’m most certainly in Mr. Plotz’s camp.  Should I take a look at my old wedding pictures, there most certainly will be a number of people there I see very, very infrequently.  Some are due to moving out of our area (indeed, the majority of those are due to this) while I’ve simply drifted apart from others.

Perhaps because marriage (and what follows, from your work to having children, etc.) represents such a big change in one’s previous, non-married life it should not be too surprising that people move away from each other.

Yet there is an undeniable sadness to that realization, to seeing as Mr. Plotz put it, “ghosts” of your past, people you once were great friends with but now are not.

More Screen Junkies…

Still hanging around the website and found this intriguing -and humorous- little article by Penn Collins regarding roles offered, but rejected, by Al Pacino:

I can sorta/kinda see him being considered, at the time, for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars.  I can also picture him in the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman.  (That’s not to take away the acting by the respective parties that did work in these films…the movies clearly owed a great deal of success to the acting of Mr. Harrison and Gere)

But John McClane in Die Hard?!?


That’s a tough one to wrap your head around.

I’ve mentioned it before and, given the topic, it bears repeating:  One of my favorite “what if” roles is that of Dirty Harry, the movie that arguably moved Clint Eastwood from rising star to MEGAstar.  The titular role was originally being groomed for…Frank Sinatra.  He passed and other actors, from Robert Mitchum to Paul Newman to Burt Lancaster were considered for the role before Mr. Eastwood took it.

What if, indeed.

Death on the set…

A rather ghoulish list, from Screen Junkies, concerning five movies in which cast or crew died while the project was being made:

I was aware of most of the mentioned works, particularly those whose lead actors died while making the film, Brandon Lee in The Crow and Vic Morrow in The Twilight Zone: The Movie.  Both deaths, indeed all the deaths mentioned here were tragedies yet it is interesting to note the hows and whys of each of them, some more grisly than the others.

If there is one positive aspect to all this is the fact that the most “recent” of the listed tragedies occurred back in 1994, nearly twenty years ago.  One hopes that those who work on film/TV projects have opted for better security.

Living on Mars…

Absolutely fascinating article by Michael Chorost for Slate magazine regarding the problems astronauts face if/when humans head to Mars for a long term -even a multi-generational- stay:

Clearly, there are considerable problems to overcome in simply leaving Earth’s atmosphere, much less deciding to inhabit a foreign object such as Mars, and this article goes reasonably deep into the crucial issue of the difficulties involved in feeding astronauts.  There are other difficulties to overcome, for sure, such as establishing a reliable source of breathable ai and countering the effects of weightlessness (or lower gravity).  Then there is the issue of your habitation and the elevated levels of radiation your target, in this case Mars, may have.

It would seem that whatever journey is taken to Mars at this stage -and for the near foreseeable future- would have to be something relatively brief, with the crew of a theoretical Earth spacecraft journeying to Mars, staying a short time (during which they use up their supplies) and then heading right back.

But a journey of 4-10 months one way is an awful long time and requires a great deal of nutrients/water and supplies.  The crew of this theoretical flight would have few options if any sort of difficulty/emergency, medical or otherwise, should arise.  They would effectively be on their own and would have to deal with whatever comes up on their own.

I’m convinced space travel will become, over time, a more routine and safe process, not unlike the journeys from the “old world” to the “new” one eventually became.  Perhaps the solution is not to aim for Mars but to train for that eventual journey by going to -and establishing a colony on- the Moon.  It is far closer to us and thus presents a potentially safer training ground, a place where we can carefully practice, refine, and hopefully perfect long term space journeys and the equipment necessary to make it so.

Still, fascinating, fascinating stuff.

You won’t finish this article…

…though you probably should.

A fascinating piece by Farhad Manjoo for Slate magazine regarding the reading patterns of people with regard to articles on the web.  His findings?  Not all that many people bother to read an article from the beginning all the way to the end…

I’m not at all surprised by his findings.  More and more I’m convinced we live in a world of hyper-stimulation.

Nowadays, you want to see an older TV show?  Download complete seasons or order the same via DVDs/BluRays.  Want to read something, from books to comics?  Almost everything is available via Amazon nowadays, just download it in seconds and you’re there.  Want to hear certain music?  Again, download it via Amazon or iTunes in seconds and you’ve got it.  Want news?  There are hundreds of websites available for any manner of news you may be looking for.

In the past, we didn’t have this near instantaneous (and, arguably, overwhelming) source of information that is the internet.  Back then, we had to hunt out older works to enjoy them, be they TV shows (I distinctly recall spending some Saturday and Sunday mornings searching through the few channels available on TV hoping to find re-runs of the original Star Trek or The Wild Wild West and being delighted when such episodes actually aired…never mind which particular episodes the stations deemed to show), movies (like TV shows, in the days before video tape, DVD, and now Blu-Ray, your only hope to catch older favorites was to, again, stumble upon them while channel surfing), books (you picked up whatever was available at the local bookstore, used bookstore, or library), and music (again limited to whatever your local record/music store carried).

Is it any wonder, as Mr. Manjoo points out…

Maybe this is just our cultural lot: We live in the age of skimming. I want to finish the whole thing, I really do. I wish you would, too. Really—stop quitting! But who am I kidding. I’m busy. You’re busy. There’s always something else to read, watch, play, or eat.

There’s always something else to read, watch, play, or eat.  Indeed there is.

The Last Stand (2013) a (mildly) belated review

“Like riding a bike.”

That old quote suggests something that once learned is difficult to forget.  Watching The Last Stand, and more specifically the acting of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first major motion picture starring role -excluding the various small and larger cameo appearances in a handful of films- since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in (gasp!) 2003, one is struck with the fact that acting, indeed, is decidedly not like riding a bike.

At least for Mr. Schwarzenegger.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger I most recall is the one that could be alternately terrifying, charismatic, and even outright humorous in his motion pictures…sometimes even in the context of a single film.  Sure, his acting skills are the type that will likely never merit any serious awards, but at his best he could be a very engaging movie presence, one that audiences flocked to in droves.

Then, of course, Mr. Schwarzenegger moved on to politics and, through a unique set of circumstances got himself elected Governor of California.  He spent years away from movies and, having finally finished his term, dipped his toe back into acting via small roles in both Expendables movies (the second of which featured a larger role than the blink and you’ll miss him appearance in the first film).

With 2013’s The Last Stand, Mr. Schwarzenegger took front and center in a motion picture and the results…well, they weren’t all that hot.  The Last Stand’s box office, given the film was a relatively cheaply budgeted work to begin with, wasn’t all that great, though based on Rotten Tomatoes it maybe/coulda done better (critics and audiences gave the film a near identical rating, 60 and 58% approved).

So, was The Last Stand a worthy re-entry point for Mr. Schwarzenegger?

As I mentioned above, I found the acting of Mr. Schwarzenegger in this film lacking.  He reads his lines (even the “funny” ones) in the same dull tone and appears to my eyes unengaged with the material.  Given how wildly ridiculous the premise of the film is, this becomes a BIG problem.

The plot of the movie goes as follows:  A nasty drug kingpin is boldly broken out of a “high security” Las Vegas prison transport, then heads out of the city in a souped up Corvette, his intention being to drive himself to Mexico and safety.  We find that on top of being a high level drug kingpin, he’s also a professional race car driver, so the Feds are quickly overwhelmed in trying to capture him.  Indeed, it becomes clear that all that stands in the kingpin’s way to freedom is the small town of Sommerton Junction and Schwarzenegger’s Sheriff Ray Owens and his few companions.

What could have been a tense (though silly) feature moves along as if it were a documentary on building a fence.  There is precious little tension, almost no humor, and certainly no feeling of dread.  Once the kingpin arrives in the town (after a big shoot out with his minions), our Sheriff pursues the villain in a Camaro for a bit before going mano-a-mano with him.  However, given how gifted our villain supposedly was with driving and how he was driving a super souped up Corvette, one wonders how the Sheriff, in a far less powerful car, could somehow catch up to the villain.

In the end, I have to side with the 40 or so percent of critics/audiences who didn’t like The Last Stand.  Given the slate of films Mr. Schwarzenneger has coming, one hopes he can get his mojo back.  I’d love to see Mr. Schwarzenneger figure out how to ride that bike once again.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) a (SPOILERY) review

Perhaps the movie I most anticipated for summer release was Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to director J. J. Abrams’ 2009 “reboot” of the original Star Trek franchise.  That film proved to be a big success at the box office and was enjoyed by many Star Trek fans new and old.

I, however, didn’t think all that much of the original film.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it.  It just felt like the film after a while devoted a little too much time making references or shout outs to the “old” Trek.  Further, the movie’s story had its share of trouble spots.  For example, I found it hard to swallow the way –waaaaaay– too convenient manner in which the young Kirk just happens to stumble upon the elderly Spock.  I also didn’t like the way Kirk, in the movie’s climax, has the Enterprise fire upon his enemy to kill him, even though at that point the villain is clearly incapable of fighting back.

Despite my somewhat lukewarm feelings for that original film, I was nonetheless cautiously optimistic regarding a sequel.  Like most everyone else with internet access, it was hard not to pick up on bits and pieces of the movie’s creation.  Early word was that Benecio Del Toro was in line for a part in the film, and that instantly created heavy rumors among fans regarding who he was going to play in this film.  Early rumors had it that Del Toro, a latin-American actor, might be playing the best known villain played originally by another famous latin American actor,  Ricardo Montalban‘s Khan.  This superhuman villain first appeared in Space Seed, an episode of the original Star Trek series and subsequently re-appeared as the same character to menace the Enterprise and her crew in what many (including myself) consider the best Star Trek film ever made, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The rumors regarding Mr. Del Toro’s role picked up steam but the studios vigorously nixed them.  By now, most savvy movie goers were only too aware of a similar stunt pulled by director Christopher Nolan with his third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, wherein the identity of Marion Cotillard’s character was kept hidden but the fan base figured out who she was playing well before the movie’s release.

Now, before I go on, even though I suspect most people are by now aware of who the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness is, I’ll nonetheless issue the following…


Still here?  All right, you’ve been warned.

Soon after the announcement of Mr. Del Toro being sought for a role in the new Star Trek film came word he dropped out of the project.  Replacing him, curiously enough, was rising British star Benedict Cumberbatch.  Despite this radical change in casting -at least from a standpoint of ethnicity- the rumors the role remained that of Khan persisted.  More denials were issued and some fans, thinking the studios were being sincere in their denials, looked elsewhere for clues as to who Mr. Cumberbatch was playing.  What was becoming clear is that he was playing some kind of superhuman character and two other possibilities immediately sprung to mind to the fans.

First, was it possible this new Trek film would be a remake of the original series’ second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before?  Could Mr. Cumberbatch be playing Gary Mitchell, a friend of Kirk’s who assumed God-like power and had to be dispatched before he threatened the universe itself?  In that episode, Kellerman played Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, a character that looked an awful lot like Alice Eve, also in the cast of Into Darkness.

Another possibility…was Mr. Cumberbatch playing Zefram Cochrane in a remake of Metamorphosis?

Eventually, Abrams’ and company issued a silly news “release” stating that Mr. Cumberbatch was playing a character called “Jim Harrison”.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew Mr. Abrams and company were indeed following The Dark Knight Rises playbook.

Finally, Star Trek Into Darkness was given a sneak preview in Australia several weeks before the general release in the United States and the rumors were finally confirmed.

And then came the problems.

Because Mr. Abrams’ and company chose to go so secretive with the identity of Mr. Cumberbatch’s character, a backlash inevitably grew.  After all, by using the character of Khan, they effectively were remaking the most beloved of the Star Trek films.

The reviews started coming in and, for the most part, they were positive.  Had Abrams’ and company delivered?

For the most part, I would say yes.

Star Trek Into Darkness is certainly not your old Star Trek movie.  I think those critical to the film as being more Star Wars than Star Trek are pretty much on the money here.  For Star Trek Into Darkness is an unapologetic action film filled with one big set piece after another.  There remain logic flaws in the story and there is at least one scene designed to do little more than offer audiences eye candy (I’m referring, of course, to the stunningly beautiful Alice Eve stripping scene, which Mr. Abrams himself has apparently come to realize was unnecessary).

If I had any major beefs with the film, it is in that despite all the well designed action and great effects, the movie’s script could have been so much more than it was.  For example, in the opening segment, wherein Kirk violates the prime directive, wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting (and fun!) if instead of on a planet filled with very primitive peoples, the crew were on one of the more interesting “alternative” worlds as presented in the original series?  How about the same basic premise (needing to do something to help a humanoid race not be extinguished) but instead have the crew deal with what look like 1920’s era gangsters?  Or a world that emulated Nazi Germany?  Or the Roman Empire?

Wouldn’t that have been far more interesting than the primitive people they encountered?

Ah well, it is what it is.

Star Trek Into Darkness, while an enjoyable action film, is nonetheless less creative and “heavy” than most of the good Star Trek features.  When Kirk and Spock confront each other at the tail end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, those scenes carry an emotional weight this new Trek simply cannot achieve…though they certainly try to copy.  Still, the movie remains an enjoyable feature, certainly to my mind better than the first Star Trek film from the same company.