Grim readings…

A list of famous last words…

First up, Ironic Comments:

Perhaps the most chilling is Vic Morrow’s statement before filming the scene that so tragically took his life and the lives of two boys in The Twilight Zone Movie.

Next up, the last words of some famous authors:

Found Washington Irving’s final line most amusing, in a very dark way.

Finally, several Actor’s last words:

You know, it only makes sense that Groucho Marx would deliver one of the better final quotes.

Morbid stuff, I know, but interesting!

Spenser: For Hire (1985) a (very) belated TV show review

Waaaay back in 1985 I recall hearing about this new detective show starring the late Robert Urich and based on novels by the then -to me- unknown author Robert B. Parker.  It was called Spenser: For Hire.

Back then I watched the show on and off, liking it but not really loving it.  It was a rather standard detective series but it did feature one thing that, admittedly, made it stand out more than it likely would have: The presence of Avery Brooks as the enigmatic, scene stealing tough guy Hawk.

As with the novel version, Hawk was presented as a dangerous man you simply don’t mess with.  Avery Brooks took the role and ran with it, positively relishing his every scene and delivering dialogue that was filled with as much menace as, at times, mirth.  Robert Urich, for his part, played the “straight” man and to his credit, held his own when opposite the far more flamboyant Hawk.  The show lasted a mere three years before being cancelled (a surprise move, apparently).  Before it was done it spawned the A Man Called Hawk TV series which I never saw but heard changed the character to be a “softer” troubleshooter (Avery Brooks would go on to land the protagonist role in the Star Trek spinoff Deep Space 9).

After Spenser: For Hire’s cancellation, the studios released four TV movies featuring Mr. Urich and Brooks reprising their roles but featuring different actresses playing the role of Sarah Silverman, Spenser’s lover.  For the movies the Boston locale, central to the Spenser stories, was moved to the far more economical Toronto, though I don’t know if the show’s creators attempted to pass Toronto off as Boston (I think they did).

Anyway, long after the show and its sequel movies and spin offs were gone, I found Spenser: For Hire Season 1 on sale via Amazon for a reasonable price and decided to check the show out again.

What I found was interesting, in a time warp kind of way.

Now, I haven’t seen the entire first season yet, but I did watch the pilot and the first two episodes, all of which take up the first DVD disc.

The pilot, “Promised Land“, was an adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s fourth Spenser novel which featured the first appearance of the character of Hawk.  While I haven’t read the novel, it was a wise choice for a pilot episode as we are introduced to the three principle characters and, nicely, aren’t quite sure where Hawk’s loyalties lie.

However, of the three Spenser episodes I saw, this was the least of them as it featured some at times very torturous dialogue (What works on the novel page doesn’t always work when said out loud) and some curious 80’s style filmmaking.  It was the later that amused me.  I started to count the times a character said something “deep” and then the camera slooooowly zoomed into their face.

The mystery itself, involving a runaway wife who, Spenser later finds, is involved in a radical group of two (count ’em two) terrorist women doesn’t seem like such a big thing.  Further, I’m certain in the novel Hawk’s evolution was better presented.  In the pilot Spenser decides for no apparent reason (again, based on what’s in the pilot) to tip Hawk off on a bust, thus ensuring he will get away, and Hawk subsequently becomes his “partner”, of sorts, because of this.

No Room At The Inn“, the very first actual Spenser episode, winds up being a Bullitt homage (calling it a ripoff seems too cruel…and yet).  Spenser is hired to protect a witness against the mob and, in true Bullitt fashion, things aren’t quite what they seem.  Yes, the plot is lifted almost whole from Bullitt, yet the episode was breezy enough to enjoy…provided you weren’t too hung up on the overly familiar plot.

The next episode, “The Choice” features a psychopathic young duo who get their kicks killing random people, but who are drawn to Spenser’s world when they realize they need to up their game.  What’s most fascinating about that episode proves to be the first screen appearance of Patricia Clarkson, who would go on from here to have quite a career in film and TV.  She plays one half of the psychopathic young duo and isn’t all that bad in her role.  Interestingly, this episode also features early appearances by William H. Macy and Angela Bassett.

In sum, I enjoyed what I saw.  True, my opinion of the series didn’t entirely change.  I wound up liking what I saw but not really loving it.  On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I was wasting my time.  Speaking of which, if I should find the free time, I’ll give the other episodes a look-see.

Should be fun

Snowpiercer (2013) a (mildly) belated review

While science fiction movies/tv shows often present audiences with pure, unadulterated escapism, there have been plenty of examples of using this genre to reflect on, analyse, and/or critique society.

One of the earliest (and greatest, in my opinion) science fiction films, Metropolis (1927), was a story of how the haves and the have-nots function in a society…and where their breaking point -and ultimately peace between them- lies.  The original Star Trek series would frequently present episodes which were thinly veiled looks at the then present, and at times turbulent, mid to late 1960’s era.

Sometimes, however, well meaning creators present their futuristic works in silly, obvious, and/or ham-handed ways which makes the whole endeavor fall apart.  The highly anticipated 2013 film Elysium, for example, figuratively hit this particular viewer over the head with its tale of societal dysfunction.  The whole endeavor was so obvious, so hammy, that I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

Incredibly, many of the elements found in Elysium showed up in Snowpiercer.  Yet while the former failed to deliver (or delivered to heavily) on its concepts, the later does so in spades.

To put it bluntly, Snowpiercer totally blew me away.

The movie’s plot goes as follows: In the near future, humanity tried to stop global warming by spiking the atmosphere with some new, experimental chemical.  The result proved horrific: Instead of cooling the Earth down, it froze it, encasing all lands in snow and ice (this concept, by the way, is not entirely new.  It found its way in the for the most part forgotten –and with good reason– low budget film The Colony).  What’s left of humanity rides in a perpetually operating train that runs on tracks around the frozen globe.

The train is divided into sections and we follow the passengers crammed into the dreary rear as they plan a revolt against their oppressors, the ones who live in the sections beyond.

This is all you need to know about the film’s basic story, but be prepared for some very interesting questions regarding humanity, revolt, and true independence.  There’s a delightful added extra for those familiar with -and have a negative impression about- the works of Ayn Rand.  The movie appears to be almost like an anti-Atlas Shrugged, complete with a Ayn Rand lookalike (I’ll get into that later) and a railroad magnate.

Unlike Elysium’s off-putting sledgehammer approach, Snowpiercer offers a far more meaty plot that leads you into interesting, and at times almost avant-guard directions.  The protagonist of the story, rebellion leader Curtis (Chris Evans), proves to be far more than he at first appears and carries some very dark secrets.  His mentor, Gilliam (John Hurt), proves to carry is own secrets as well, and they may be darker yet.

Perhaps the most fascinating character is Mason (Tilda Swinton).  Ms. Swinton delivers a terrific, at times over the top turn as the medium between the “head and the heart” (take that, Metropolis fans!) in what I can only guess is a full on parody of Ayn Rand herself.

It’s rare that a movie has hit me like Snowpiercer has.  Walking into it I was cautiously optimistic.  Walking out, I couldn’t help but feel totally blown away.

Snowpiercer is the real deal.  Highly recommended.

What exactly are the odds?!

A little while ago, October 15 to be exact, I was summoned for Jury Duty.  A great inconvenience, but whatever.  About three or so months before, my daughter, who at the time quite literally just turned 18, was summoned to Jury Duty on her very first year -no, months!- of eligibility.

And yesterday, November the 6th, we received through the mail a summons for Jury Duty for my wife, to be performed in the first week of December.


All three people eligible for Jury Duty in this household were all summoned to do just that and in such a short period of time?

What are the odds of that?!

I wonder: Is my family among the only ones in this entire county eligible for Jury Duty?

Ain’t this the truth…

Jon Stewart pretty much nails it, as usual:

It is exasperating seeing the Democrats flounder so much with so much on the line.  It is incredible to think that at one time liberals were very much capable, willing, and able to go after conservative philosophies and succinctly point out their deficiencies.  Nowadays, they do what Mr. Stewart says.  They act like a bunch of chickens*#ts and, surprise surprise, they get wiped out.

Fast, cheap, and out of control, part deux

Yesterday I made reference to a wonderful article by Mark C. Taylor for regarding our current fascination with what’s “new and shiny” and the dangers lurking in this form of purchasing.

I noted a bad experience with the iPod touch, which I bought for my daughters years before, and how only a few months after doing so a new and much improved model was suddenly announced and released, which angered the hell out of me (Apple knew this item was coming out but kept quiet so they could sell their inventory of iPod touch machines for the Christmas season and then started the marketing campaign for their new version of the machine).

Mr. Taylor’s article so fascinated me that I couldn’t get it out of my head and I thought back even farther, to where (perhaps) the genesis of the whole disposable tech industry began: With the desktop PC.

Many, many years ago, I purchased an IBM desktop computer with an 8086 processor.  It looked something like this (no, that’s not me in the picture):


I absolutely loved the machine, but a year or so later a friend of mine purchased a new machine that had a 286 processor.  It looked very similar to the one I had, but the internal mechanisms made my machine look like it was a Model T compared to a state of the art Ferrari.

I didn’t buy the 286 as much as I wanted to.  Turned out I did the right thing as the mighty 386 models were released shortly afterwards.  If the 286 made the 8086 seem like it was from the stone age, the 386 made the 286 look like it came from the dawn of time!

I bought the 386 model and chucked my 8086 and was mighty happy…until the 486 model appeared.

I eventually purchased a 486 model computer but realized something curious: The difference between the 486 and 386 wasn’t as pronounced as the 8086 vs the 286 vs the 386.

Then came the various Pentiums..

…and I came to realize that the PC tech industry had reached something of a ceiling.  Yes, the newer machines were better and faster, but to my eyes not significantly so.  Unless you were a heavy duty gamer, the “older” Pentium machines were good enough to accomplish the things you needed to do (in my case, web browsing, writing, email, etc.).

At about this time I noticed there were articles about the “fall” of the PC market, and that desktop PCs would go the way of the dinosaurs.  A curious concept.  As much as I liked laptops, the bulk of my computing was still done on my desktop.

The only difference?

My current computer was so good that I didn’t need to swap it out for a new model after a year of usage.  In fact, the desktop computer I’m writing this very blog on I believe is at least five years old.  Maybe more.

It works perfectly fine and, apart from buying a new video card, a modem plug, and exterior hard drives to protect my files, I haven’t had the desire or need to go out and buy a completely new machine.

The point here is that perhaps, perhaps, Apple and company noticed the way people like myself were willing to shell out thousands of dollars back in the day to buy the latest, best available desktop computers as they grew from infancy.  What they might have missed, however, was the reason we were so willing to buy the next generation model: Because it was significantly better than the previous one.

Can the same be said of the latest iPhones or XBoxs or Playstations?  In my case, is the Samsung S5 really all that much better than the S3 that I’m currently using?  Is the iPhone 6 truly a major step up from the 5?

Or might we be reaching a point where buying the latest, newest thing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting something far, far better than what came before?

Fast, cheap, and out of control…

…an absolutely terrific article by Mark C. Taylor examines today’s “hyper-fast, hyper-modern” markets and the inherent problems with them:

Ladies and gentlemen, this could well be THE article regarding today’s markets and consumers, something I’ve personally found worrisome for a very long time.

There used to be a time we would buy a product, say a television, and if it went “bad” you would call a TV repairman to come over and check it out.  Not so today.  Today, we simply throw the old away and buy the cheap, new, “better” product, thus putting us in more debt and adding to a tremendous amount of waste products created annually by consumers.

I first noticed this trend of throwing the old away, even if it still works pretty well, with Apple and their i-products.  How many times have we had the Apple marketing folk unveil their newest, “greatest” product only to go through the same thing the very next year?

For me the realization came when my daughters were younger and the “must have it” item near Christmas time was the touchscreen iPod.  Commercials for the product were everywhere and it was one of the hottest items on sale during that Christmas season.  I bought them for my daughters and, not even two or three months later, was shocked when the company announced it would soon release its next itineration of the very same item, and this one had cameras which users could use to communicate via wi-fi and actually see each other as they talked!

I was furious with Apple because here they were, only three or so months earlier, promoting the hell out of their iPod and they knew damn well the next version would come out very soon and they would happily go through the process all over again and were hoping to force people like me to simply chuck the previous iPod and buy the next, better one.

Needless to say, I developed a great skepticism for Apple and their products from that moment on.  I may have, but others either haven’t or don’t care.

Apple has been following that same game plan for years, and so far there remain millions of customers drawn to their products.  The Apple iPhone 6 is but the latest example of something “new” that clever marketing makes desirable to its clients but which maybe we don’t quite need or isn’t quite as big a step forward as marketing would have us believe.

Not to pull out my fuddy-duddy card, but I use a Samsung S3 phone.  I bought it when it was first released sometime in 2012 and it still works fine for me.  Currently, the Samsung S5 is available and the S6 is expected to be released in early 2015.

Will I get the new phone?  Unless mine develops some serious problems, I don’t think so.  Yet companies such as Samsung and Apple live and die on the basis of “planned obsolescence”, something Mr. Taylor’s article points out and which I realized back when I bought those iPods.

We’re living in a time when it has become desirable to buy whatever is new and improved and toss aside whatever is “old” and which the magic of marketing makes us feel is suddenly useless.

I worry, as does Mr. Taylor, about the economic, social, and environmental impacts of this hyper-consumerism.

Read the article.  It’s pretty damn interesting.