Archive for January, 2013

Boyish charm isn’t enough to thrust ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ to greatness

January 31, 2013

In the late 1970s, there appeared a genius who made many exciting science fiction adventures. His initials were GL, and his name, of course, was — Glen Larson?!

Larson is hardly as famous or successful as filmmaker cum Disney sellout George Lucas, creator of the iconic Star Wars saga. But Larson had some high-flying space opera of his own. In a short span of time in the late nineteen-seventies, Larson produced both the cheesy second-tier Star Wars knockoff Battlestar Galactica (which was revived to critical and popular success a decade ago) as well as an incarnation of 1928 pulp scifi hero Buck Rogers.

The 90-minute pilot for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which also received a theatrical release, debuted in 1979. It kicked off a two-year, 37-episode run (per, yes, the Internet Movie Database) that lingered in reruns and memory for a while. Then Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987 and it, along with wholly new science fiction franchises such as Stargate and Independence Day, started to push BRit25thC — as no one, to the best of my knowledge, actually calls it — into obscurity.

Recently while browsing through videos at my favorite second-hand entertainment store, I discovered a pristine-seeming box set of the entire Buck Rogers series, priced at just $10. After some hemming and hawing, I carried it to the checkout counter with my selections.

I recently watched the extended pilot episode/theatrical movie, and… Well, I suppose it’s fitting that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century remains a distant memory for most.

From concept to execution, Buck Rogers is a thoroughly middlebrow operation. Some stuff is done well, but very little could be called great. (One exception would be the very cool design of the Terran starfighters flown by the good guys.) There are some jarringly bad notes, such as the embarrassing title sequence with a close-lidded Rogers languidly embracing scantily clad space babes and the hokey spaceman adventure song that accompanies. (Imagine a song in the style of the Muppets classic “The Rainbow Connection,” only about the original Battlestar Galactica and sung by a third-rate John Denver imitator, and you begin to get a sense of how bad the song is.)

Sadly, there’s never enough of the well-done stuff to make this adventure soar, alas. And there was never quite enough of the jarringly bad stuff to motivate any mildly friendly BR25C (as no one to my knowledge dubs it) to turn off the film and do something else — which isn’t to say that I didn’t contemplate doing so…  Read the rest of this entry »

Eastwood grapples with culture and violence in his moving ‘Gran Torino’

January 18, 2013

Two deaths bracket the 2008 movie Gran Torino, which stars and was directed by Clint Eastwood. Of the second, I shall say little to nothing other than that, like the first, it personally affects Eastwood’s character.

But the man at the beginning of the movie and the one at the end are, if you’ll forgive my pun, very different characters. As the film opens, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) stands in a Catholic church by the casket of his dead wife. The stone-faced retired automobile factory worker strains to hold back a contemptuous growl as his grandchildren — one clad in a Detroit Lions football jersey, another in a midriff-baring top — casually approach their pew and cross themselves with varying degrees of sincerity and mockery. When Father Janovich, a rosy-cheeked young priest, begins his homily, Kowalski scarcely chokes back a derisive snort.

A wake follows at Kowalski’s home. But while the house is packed with people, Kowalski hardly seems to notice the company. He callously dismisses Janovich’s attempt at conversation, his granddaughter’s offer to help him with a minor chore, and a neighbor’s request for jump cable.

The young neighbor Kowalski barks at is a gentle teenager of Hmong ethnicity named Thao. He lives with his older sister, Sue, and their mother and grandmother. (And perhaps one or two others — I may have missed something.)

This character, who barely speaks in most of his early scenes, is beloved by his immediate family but considered a non-entity. As extended family and neighbors gather for a ceremony to bless a newborn baby, an older male relative cuts in front of Thao without acknowledgment as the teenager scrubs a stack of dishes at the sink.

Kowalski seems inclined to avoid human contact with anyone other than his old war and work buddies. Thao isn’t quite as isolated, but there are people he’s eager to avoid. Specifically, he’d prefer not to be drawn into the gun-toting gang that his older cousin Spider has joined. He tries to resist but eventually agrees to an initiation that ends up going horribly wrong in a wonderfully right way.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: Nuclear weapons

January 18, 2013

This one wondrous sentence, part of a fascinating contrarian take on the historical role of the atomic bomb, explains the prescription one chemist and blogger has for addressing a global danger.

No number of technical remedies will cause nations to abandon them until we make these destructive instruments fundamentally unappealing and start seeing them at the very least as outdated dinosaurs whose technological usefulness is now completely obsolete, and at best as immoral and politically useless tools whose possession taints their owner and results in international censure and disapproval.

Source: Ashutosh Jogalekar, “On the uselessness of nuclear weapons,” Scientific American, date.

One Wondrous Sentence: Chuck Hagel and the right-leaning GOP

January 17, 2013

This one wondrous sentence, by left-wing novelist and political commentator Steve Erickson, indicates one subtle strategy that President Barack Obama is using to marginalize his Republican opponents.

The more that supposedly seasoned members of the GOP claim that Hagel is out of the mainstream for challenging the buildup in Iraq and potential war with Iran (skepticism with which the public agrees on both counts by large margins), then the more that Republicans lurch rightward in the eyes of the public at large and, in particular, two-fisted guys sitting in front of their televisions curling beer cans into furious fistfuls of metal every time Lindsey Graham opens his mouth.

Source: Steve Erickson, “Obama’s Genius Defense Pick,” The American Prospect, Jan. 14, 2013.

Schemes, suspense and psychosis are the order of the day on Lehane’s ‘Shutter Island’

January 17, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 17, 2013

Some men are born mad. Others have madness thrust upon them. The latter case is true of Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal dispatched in September 1954 to Shutter Island, the eponymous setting of Dennis Lehane’s fascinating 2003 psychological suspense novel.

Daniels is accompanied by a new partner, Chuck Aule. Their official mission on the remote Boston Harbor outpost, home to Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, is to investigate the disappearance of an escaped patient. Despite his apparent loyalty to his senior partner, Aule’s ulterior goals aren’t entirely clear to the grizzled Daniels, a war veteran and experienced killer.

And while we gradually learn more and more about why Daniels’ eye has been trained on Ashecliffe long before the murderous patient absconded, his purpose on the island also remains mysterious to the reader — and ultimately, perhaps, even to Daniels himself.

My last true weekday post of 2012 was this review of Lehane’s The Given Day, a sprawling 2008 historical novel about one family and two men — one a scion, the other a servant — set in the aftermath of World War I. (The bulk of the book took place in Boston, which seems to be Lehane’s home turf.) Shutter Island is entirely a different beast, however. At 369 pages, it’s much shorter than The Given Day.

The 2003 book is also much more tightly focused in time and scope. Aside from flashbacks, virtually all of Shutter Island takes place on or very close to the watery outpost, whereas The Given Day had scenes set in Ohio, Kansas, Washington, D.C., and New York. Shutter Island’s main action, again excepting flashbacks, spans four days, not several months, and its cast of characters is significantly smaller than The Given Day’s.

Read the rest of this entry »

One Wondrous Sentence: The expanded meaning of the Second Amendment

January 17, 2013

This one wondrous sentence shows just how far out of the mainstream the proposition that the Constitution guarantees private citizens the right to bear arms was once considered.

The NRA’s fabricated but escalating view of the Second Amendment was ridiculed by former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger — a conservative appointed by President Richard Nixon — in a PBS Newshour interview in 1991, where he called it “one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Source: Steven Rosenfeld, “The Suprising Unknown History of the NRA,” Alternet, Jan. 13, 2013. (Quote appears on the second of three pages.)

One Wondrous Sentence: The perils of climate change

January 16, 2013

This one wondrous sentence captures some of the dire news contained in a quadrennial federal report — suspended, incidentally, during the administration of President George W. Bush — about changing meteorological conditions.

The draft Third National Climate Assessment, issued every four years, delivers a bracing picture of environmental changes and natural disasters that mounting scientific evidence indicates is fostered by climate change: heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea level rise that has battered coastal communities; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox.

Source: Neela Banerjee, “Climate assessment delivers a grim overview,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 11, 2013.

One Wondrous Sentence: The Nazi gun control falsehood

January 16, 2013

This one wondrous sentence, quoting Brown University history professor, Third Reich expert and former Israeli combat soldier and officer Omer Bartov, tears down a prominent fallacious conservative argument against gun safety laws and regulations.

He continued: “Their assertion that they need these guns to protect themselves from the government — as supposedly the Jews would have done against the Hitler regime — means not only that they are innocent of any knowledge and understanding of the past, but also that they are consciously or not imbued with the type of fascist or Bolshevik thinking that they can turn against a democratically elected government, indeed turn their guns on it, just because they don’t like its policies, its ideology, or the color, race and origin of its leaders.”

Source: Alex Seitz-Wald, “The Hitler gun control lie,” Salon, Jan. 11, 2013.

One Wondrous Sentence: Mental health and murder

January 11, 2013

This one wondrous sentence lays the foundation for an argument that a well-intentioned policy has unintentionally and indirectly caused a great number of mass killings and other tragedies.

Since the passage of the Community Mental Health Act (1963) during the Kennedy administration, which mandated the closing of state mental institutions in favor of “community health centers” and outpatient care, and the massive and progressive “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill during the 1960s and ’70s, the residents of those old state hospitals have been transferred, almost totally, from the wards to the streets, and with predictable results.

Source: Philip Terzian, “In the Presence of Violent Psychotics,” The Weekly Standard, Dec. 18, 2012.

One Wondrous Sentence: Opposing gun safety vs. opposing slaughter

January 10, 2013

This one wondrous sentence, published on a website that bills itself as being “from the mind of Herman Cain, America’s favorite CEO,” neatly summarizes a key part of the conservative argument against additional gun safety measures.

President Obama’s speech in Newtown last night was mostly pretty good, but I did not like his suggestion that incidents like this keep happening because we as a nation have somehow decided to tolerate them — the clear implication being that not passing new gun control laws equals tolerating more mass killings.

Source: Dan Calabrese, “Don’t get rolled by the gun control juggernaut,” CainTV, Dec. 17, 2012.

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