8 Surprising Historical Facts…

…That Will Change Your Concept of Time Forever, at least according to Todd Van Luling for The Huffington Post:


I’m not going to spoil the whole relatively short list, but my favorite bit has to be number 3, that the Ottoman Empire still existed the last time the Chicago Cubs won a World Series!

No, I’m not a Chicago Cubs fan nor, for that matter, all that much more than a very casual baseball fan, but I am keenly aware of the struggles that long suffering club and her hometown has had.  The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series was way back in 1908, years before the beginning of World War I and, yes, before the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.


If that one intrigues you, you’ll enjoy the other 7.  My second favorite item is the first one listed and involves Betty White.

I’ll spoil things no more!

The Lone Ranger (2013) a (mildly) belated review/autopsy

History repeats itself in more ways than one.

Way back in 1981 a big budgeted “new/updated” version of The Lone Ranger, a classic western pulp adventure series which at that point was known mostly for the famous 1949 to 1957 TV series starring Clayton Moore, was set to be released.  Early word wasn’t all that encouraging, and when The Legend of the Lone Ranger finally arrived in theaters, the critics were incredibly harsh.

That film proceeded to flop.  Hard.  How hard?  Newcomer Klinton Spilsbury, the man who played the title role of the Lone Ranger, has not appeared in another movie or TV show since.  The Legend of the Lone Ranger remains his one, and only, movie credit.

In 2012 Walt Disney Studios were set to release another big budgeted would-be summer blockbuster.  Based on a popular early pulp novel series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter took on a life of its own -all negative- even before its release.  Leaked missives hinted at the studio’s displeasure with the product while extensive re-shoots were reportedly made.  By the time the film was finally released, audiences were poisoned against the product.  Sure, there were those who defended it along with the many who knocked it.  In the end, I fell somewhere in the middle and felt that while the film wasn’t as atrocious as others felt it was, it was at best a decent time killer but certainly not something worthy of its incredibly big budget (if you’re curious, my review of John Carter can be found here).

A year later, the very same Walt Disney Studios got director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, both of whom hit mega-pay-dirt with Pirates of the Caribbean and its sequels, to once again take on The Lone Ranger.  Released in the summer of 2013 this film, like its 1981 predecessor and last year’s John Carter, turned into another embarrassing big budget flop for that studio.

So…what happened?  Was this film also the victim of bad pre-release press?  Was the movie’s failure further proof that the western genre is dead?  Had there developed a backlash against Johnny Depp and his sometimes “out there” characterization/acting?  And perhaps the most important question of all: Was The Long Ranger really as bad as many said it was?

When I finally sat down to watch the film, I tried to keep my mind as neutral as possible.  There were far more people, it seemed to me anyway, that had a negative opinion about this film versus John Carter.  And yet, there were also many who staunchly defended it.

During the first few minutes of the film I was rewarded with something that…wasn’t all that bad at all.  In fact, I wound up enjoying the first thirty to forty five minutes of the film quite a bit.  I was certain I’d fall into the “I like it” camp.

And then…

…and then…

Let’s be brutally honest here: The Lone Ranger clocks in at a ridiculous 149 minutes long according to IMDB.

Two and a half hours?!


As good as the movie’s opening segments were, as the film reached its middle, I began to feel restless.  During the course of this mid section of the film we were introduced to strange/ferocious/mutant(?) rabbits, a prolonged and increasingly less amusing bit involving a child in 1933 being told the story we’re seeing by a very old Tonto who may or may not be an apparition in the kid’s head, an Indian tribe about to be massacred, and Helena Bonham Carter as a madam with a prosthetic ivory leg she hides a rifle in.


Most of what I mentioned above could have been eliminated from the film without seriously impacting it.  The Indian tribe massacre sequence was particularly egregious as we’re supposed to be horrified by it yet immediately afterward (we’re talking seconds after the two main characters realize this noble tribe has been wiped out!) we’re hit with a joke regarding a horse on a tree.  The ferocious/mutant rabbits really had me scratching my head.  I guess whatever the filmmakers were going for must have really worked on the page but was completely lost in the translation to film.  I found the rabbits neither interesting nor humorous nor worthy of being in the film at all.  What I came to realize is that the middle segment of the film featured a lot of ideas presented without any real focus.  I was now thinking I’d fall into the “didn’t like it” camp.

But then, like the Lone Ranger himself, the film heroically rises from that messy middle to deliver a genuinely thrilling ending.

In sum, we have a film with a pretty good start and end jammed between a mediocre and bloated middle.

So, back to the questions at hand:

Was the film a victim of its negative pre-release?  I suppose.  Like John Carter there was early word that the film wasn’t all that good and when the first images of Johnny Depp as Tonto were released, he looked rather ridiculous.  Still, I suspect people found what they saw and heard about The Lone Ranger confusing, and I’m sure that didn’t help to bring ’em to the theater.

Was Johnny Depp guilty of delivering another of his highly stylized characterizations and is it possible audiences had finally had their fill of this?  Absolutely.  The character of Tonto takes up quite a bit of space versus the Lone Ranger.  Having said that, if Mr. Depp’s Tonto wasn’t in the film and wasn’t as humorous and engaging as he was, the film would have been a far, far worse experience.

Is the movie’s failure a further sign that the Western is dead?  I suppose one could make that argument.  However, if there is one genre that was even deader than the western it was the pirate film, and that didn’t stop Pirates of the Caribbean from being a hell of a success.  If the makers of The Lone Ranger could have kept the middle section of the film as good as the beginning and end, I suspect things might have turned out very differently.

In conclusion, I can only give The Lone Ranger a mild recommendation and in this it shares the same impression John Carter gave me a year before.  The Lone Ranger is a decent enough film and, in my opinion, an overall better one than John Carter, but considering its bloated budget one expected something that was overall far, far better.  A shame.

What is wrong with these people…?

Article from Huffington Post regarding some rather…uh…strange statements made by General William Boykin to the conservative Wallbuilders Pro-Family Legislation Conference regarding his personal vision of the second coming of Christ and how this time, he’ll arrive armed with an…AR-15 assault rifle?!?


Taking away for the moment the fact that this speech was delivered to a supposedly “pro-family” group, one wonders what contaminants are in the good General’s tap water.

Which brings to mind one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films, the 1964 feature Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb.  In it, we have a procession of bizarre characters, not least of which are the two very twisted U.S. military higher ups played brilliantly by George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden.  Given that Dr. Strangelove was a comedy, one figured such characters didn’t -indeed, couldn’t– exist in real life, right?

After reading the section of General Boykin’s speech presented in the above link, one realizes Dr. Strangelove wasn’t all that far from reality…a very scary thought indeed.

Counting couplets…

Ben Blatt at Slate.com offers this fascinating article regarding the most common rhymes in the history of pop music:


Without giving too much away, the most common words used in songs to make a rhyme are “do/you”, which the author notes is a favorite from the Beatles to Prince to, yes, Justin Beiber.

The article goes in depth on other popular rhymes and their popularity over time, culminating in a fascinating interactive chart that allows you to see many popular artists and their most used rhymes.  If you’re curious, give the link a look.

11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Space Exploration…

…according to the folks at io9.com:


The very first item is…uh…interesting?  For those too lazy to click the link and read all the items (they’re worth reading!), I present that first item simply to whet your curiosity:

11 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Human Space Exploration

That’s a transcript of a conversation among the astronauts of Apollo 10.

You’re welcome.

Now go read the rest of the items already!

The Wolverine (2013) Extended Cut, a (mildly) belated review

Back in November of 2012 I wrote the following in the review for the then just released James Bond film Skyfall:

It is a credit to director Sam MendesDaniel Craig, and all those in front of and behind the cameras (that they) delivered a movie that moved as well as it did.  In fact…it wasn’t until after the movie was over that I realized the screenwriters delivered a truly underwhelming, ultimately silly story.  (you can read the entire review here)

I might as well have been speaking of last summer’s The Wolverine as well.

The summer of 2013 was awash with superhero inspired movies and The Wolverine was a late comer to the party.  Yet there were those who felt that of all the superhero related films released at that time, this was the one that merited better scrutiny and reward.

I can’t agree with that although there most certainly was a great deal of effort put into this film.

The Wolverine is essentially a “stand alone” story that takes place shortly after the last X-Men movie and, in its credits, hints at what’s to come in the next X-Men feature.  The always reliable Hugh Jackman returns for the fifth time in the role of Logan/Wolverine and, at the start of the film, we’re given a window into something he experienced during World War II and as a prisoner of war just outside of Nagasaki (yes, THE Nagasaki and, yes, just before -and after!- the bomb was dropped).

Logan saves a kind Japanese soldier from the devastation of the Atomic Bomb before we move, chronologically, to the present.  That Japanese soldier, it turns out, is named Yashida and after the war he became the head of a very powerful -and rich- company that is at the technological forefront of Japan and the world.  He’s also very old and dying.  He gets Logan to come to Japan to visit him for one last time.  During this visit, he tells Logan he can make him mortal and end what he perceives as the man’s Earthly torment.  This, Yashida states, is done by somehow transferring Logan’s immortality to the aged Yashida himself, effectively giving him the immortality Logan has.

Despite his torment, Logan refuses the deal and, in short order, all hell breaks loose.

Yashida dies, his son and apparent heir is up to no good, and his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is in mortal peril.  Logan jumps into action and saves Mariko but quickly realizes that during his visit to Yahida’s estate something has happened to him.  He no longer recovers as quickly from injuries as before.  On the run in Japan and with the forces of evil converging on the two, will Logan have enough gas in his tank to emerge victorious…or will the two fall?

As noted above, I’m reviewing the Extended Cut of The Wolverine.  If you’re interested in the differences between this version of the film and the Theatrical Cut, check out this website as it offers a terrific in depth comparison:


Now, moving on to the movie itself and as I noted before, this film experience proved similar to Skyfall.  I found the effort put into The Wolverine truly admirable.  The movie looks great and moves like lightning.  The characters presented are interesting and their motivations arouse your curiosity.  Yet it was also very obvious early on who the “big bad” was.  Just reading my fairly non-spoilery plot synopsis above should clue you into that.

The problem with The Wolverine lies in the fact that, like Skyfall, we have this huge/big/enormous set pieces that ultimately are revealed to be…nothing.  In Skyfall, the villain’s goal was so damn small and petty and all the running around proved to be just that: silly running around.

In The Wolverine, all the running around is also incredibly pointless as (I’m going to try to tiptoe around the story without getting to spoilery) the villain had his hands on his “prize” early in the film and there was absolutely no need for all that extra crap that followed.  Or, to put it another way: All the villain(s) had to do was knock their intended victim out with some kind of tranquilizer (which, by the way, they already did as the villains managed to implant something into their victim without their realizing it!), take what you need on that very first night, and -voila!- you’re done.

Silly, silly, silly.

And yet, like Skyfall, I can’t entirely dismiss The Wolverine despite its ultimately idiotic story line.  Again, there’s some really good stuff on display here and its just a shame that it gets torpedoed with such a silly script.  Perhaps it is a sign of these ADHD times that filmmakers are more focused on the thrills presented to their audiences rather than any logical explanation for why those thrills are occurring.

In the end, I can only offer a tepid recommendation for The Wolverine.  The film is worth seeing but, whatever you do, try not to think too hard about it afterwards.  You’ll only drive yourself crazy.

8 Movies Everyone Turned Against…

…On A Second Viewing:


Now this is an interesting list.  I’ve long been fascinated with the way people react to entertainment.

Like everyone else, I am susceptible to what appears new and interesting.  I’ve jumped onto things and felt they were really really good only to have second thoughts about them later.

For example, there was a time in the very late 1970’s and entering the early 1980’s that I enjoyed Billy Joel’s music.  When the 1980 release “Glass Houses” came out, I was impressed.  I listed to that album quite a bit but, a few months later, I suddenly found myself not liking his music at all.  To this day, hearing a couple of notes of any of his songs sends me racing to change the station.

And that’s music!

Going by this list, there are a few films listed that people “turned” on that I find fascinating.

Take for instance the very first film on this list, the 2012 mega-blockbuster The Avengers.  The culmination of several Marvel Comics related works, this film roared into theaters and appeared to take the country by storm yet, according to this article, there are those who now look back at the film in far less glowing fashion.

I don’t believe I wrote a formal review to the film, though I did see it in theaters way back when (and in 3D!).  Not to sound too forward thinking, but the film didn’t “blow my socks off.”  I enjoyed it well enough, but afterwards I felt the plot was a complete mess.  Mind you, at that very same time there were people making those very same complaints against The Dark Knight Rises, the third of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and a box office rival to The Avengers that summer.  I felt/feel that The Dark Knight Rises (by the way, it is another entry into this list) was far from a “perfect” work but at that at least there was an effort made to make something “big”, storywise, in it.  With The Avengers, however, the villains’ motivations and plan were always, at best, silly.  Why engage The Avengers at all?  The plan seemed to have been to confuse and bewilder them until the alien menace can make its way to Earth, but wouldn’t a more prudent plan be to stay in the shadows and bide your time until you have your alien forces already orbiting Earth (hidden, of course), and then attack without warning?

At the very least, their numbers would then be overwhelming enough to wipe out The Avengers, right?

Anyway, there’s the list.  Their #1 film is (SPOILERS!) the James Cameron mega-hit Avatar.  Funny thing about that film.  I was really eager to see it when I first heard about it.  Especially the idea of James Cameron returning to science fiction.

Then the film was released and everyone went crazy about it.  It made a zillion dollars and, I believe, remains the single highest grossing film of all time (perhaps not factoring in inflation…I keep hearing Gone With The Wind would be tops if that were the case).  As blown away as audiences were with it, the more I read about the movie’s story (this from before and after the release) the less interested I was in seeing it.

To this day I haven’t seen Avatar.  Perhaps one day I will.  Perhaps…

Still, a fun little list to consider.  Bear in mind, all the mentioned films are of fairly recent vintage.

Tiny nano-motors move inside cells!

If you’ve followed my Corrosive Knights books, you know that nano-technology is a big element within them (Note: I’m not claiming to be the only person to come up with the concept or use it in my stories!).

As they say, fiction is approaching reality as scientists have developed tiny nano-motors that can move inside cells, a first step toward targeting and destroying, possibly, cancer cells…among others:


The Spoils of Babylon (2014) a (very mildly) belated review

So actor/comedian Will Ferrell through his Funny or Die collective and along with creator/writers Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele, presents The Spoils of Babylon, a mini-series parody of…1970/80’s era mini-series.

And it is quite funny…if (a BIG if) you’re familiar with the format they’re parodying and are therefore clued in on the jokes.

I suspect there are going to be many people who are not at all familiar with those mini-series of the past and therefore likely shut this show off after giving it a only a few minutes of their time.  But, again, having experienced those old, sometimes turgid romantic/quasi-historical/soap-opera-esq mini-series in the past, this parody proved to me quite entertaining.

Having said that, I’ll also grant you aren’t going to have laugh out loud sessions with this like you would, say, the movie Airplane!  The Spoils of Babylon at times comes perilously close, especially with its plot, to outright emulating those mini-series from the past.  In fact, if it were played “seriously” and released back in the late 1970’s, I suspect it might well have been a hit!

The story involves the mighty Morehouse family and their rise from the 1930’s to their fall in the 1970’s.  Patriarch Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins) is a low down and very poor dirt farmer hoping to find oil on his property.  One day while driving along with his daughter, Cynthia (played as an adult by Kristen Wiig), they pick up the young Devon (played as an adult by Tobey Maguire).  The young Devon is walking about in the sun with no memory of who he is or if he has any family, so Jonas adopts him.  Because they are of roughly the same age, Cynthia and Devon develop feelings for each other.  When Father Jonas finds out, he forbids the “brother” and “sister” (though they have no genetic link) from being together.  It is Devon and Cynthia’s lustful temptation and forbidden love which fuels the “tragic” plot to follow.

In short order Jonas and Devon find oil on their property and the family becomes a powerhouse in the business world and hugely influential within the U.S. government.  But the coming War, generational changes, and Devon’s attempts to follow his adoptive father’s orders to not get involved with his sister lead to murders, drug abuse, a bastard child, and, ultimately, a Greek-like tragedy.

You know, your typical late 70’s early 80’s mini-series story!

Those who are in on the joke will find plenty of stuff to enjoy, from Kristen Wiig’s wonderful, expressive acting (she really looks to relish her role as the femme fatale/spurned lover/feminist/murderer/temptress Cynthia).  Tobey Maguire, while quite humorous in many sequences, has a more sedate/straight-man role.  Will Ferrell gets to show up as the Orson Welles-esq Eric Jonrush, “author” of the best-selling potboiler novel that was the basis of this mini-series and director of the same.  His introductory and concluding comments for each episode are alternately loopy, bizarre, and at times quite hilarious, as is his cameo within the feature itself.  Val Kilmer also shows up for a couple of scenes as part of the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex, and his dry readings are also very funny.  Haley Joel Osment delivers a loopy turn as the unhinged Winston Morehouse, the bastard child of Devon and Cynthia.

Again, I freely admit The Spoils of Babylon might not be for everyone, especially the young ‘uns who don’t have any idea of what this mini-series is parodying.  Those who do, however, should find plenty to enjoy.  The Spoils of Babylon may not always be a “laugh out loud” type experience, but there is plenty of dry humor and cheese to enjoy.


First recorded instance of the “F” word in English…?



If you click on the link, you’ll discover the word (in this case “fuckin”) was written by a monk in this particular book in 1548, though the context of the statement is in question.

For whatever reason, I find the above simply amazing.  It’s fascinating to look at how far back certain phrases/words go, and how the permutations in their meaning changed or, in the case above, apparently didn’t.