Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy - Live Long and Prosper

After a short hospital stay last week, Leonard Nimoy died at his home in Los Angeles this morning. The cause was heart disease, brought on by a smoking habit he left behind three decades ago, but still too late. The man was many things in his eighty-three years, an actor, director, poet, musician, singer, writer, artist, photographer, and science fiction icon, but he was also a gigantic part of my life, my childhood, my education, and my love of the genre. And now he's gone.

I was asked earlier today to contribute to a memorial of the man at Biff Bam Pop!, and I had nothing. I was so stunned and silenced by his passing.

By the time I was aware of Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, and "Star Trek," the show had left the network airwaves and was then currently running in syndication where it was experiencing a renaissance. Out of production for years and more popular than ever, I first saw "Star Trek" on Philadelphia's channel 48, which butchered the show mercilessly to fit more commercials in. It would be more than a decade before I saw all the episodes in their entirety.

My big sister loved the show, and so I watched it too. While I dug William Shatner as the mainstream good guy hero of the piece, I was drawn more to Nimoy's Spock. I guess that the way that Spock is alien, had pseudo-super powers, and was an outsider, almost a superhero, I connected to him more. And I think still today, the character is the best, and central to the show.

The first real Trekkie, or more accurately Trekker, I ever met was the big brother of the girl who lived across the street when I was a kid. Denis knew everything about "Star Trek,' everything. His knowledge of the show and the mythos was extraordinary, the type of minutia I knew well as a comic book fanboy, but somehow "Trek" seemed more important. He had all the books, the models, the Star Fleet Technical Manual, he knew how many decks were on the Enterprise. Yeah, I really looked up to him. Sometimes he picked on me, but it was okay, because he was cool, because of "Star Trek."

Around this time that I remember sitting through a thoroughly boring half-hour on PBS where Nimoy read his poetry, but I did it because I wanted to know more about the man. He was also hosting and narrating "In Search Of…" and doing the voice of Spock in the "Star Trek" animated series. And then the Star Trek film series began. He was never not on TV in some form or another for my entire life. Leonard Nimoy was always in my life.

There were missteps of course, like his recording career, perhaps done to compete with William Shatner's equally dismal musical forays, but sometimes we can forgive. And really, the stuff wasn't that bad in an ironic humorous way. Either way, none of us will ever forget "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" once we’ve heard it. He did stage plays, voice work, movie serials, video games, audiobooks, almost every aspect of the business and left his mark in all. He was the man.

His portrayal of Spock bridged all versions of Star Trek, and influenced those who followed in his footsteps. Star Trek, the world, all of us… has lost a legend, an icon, a role model, a part of us all. Live long and prosper, my friend.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Disney's The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book ~ I had the pleasure of seeing this one again as an in-room movie while on the TCM Classic Cruise on board the Disney Magic. The 1967 animated Disney version of The Jungle Book is probably one of my favorite Disney features, and it was probably one of my first as well. Quite honestly I can't remember if I did see it in theaters at the time or not (I have been assured that I did), but I do know that my big sister bought me the soundtrack record that came with a storybook. I knew all the songs, I knew all the corresponding scenes as well, and I loved it.

This is one of those movies that when it comes on, I just have to stop and watch it. As I said, the music was ingrained in me at an early age, and even today with the original tunes, or with covers like "Bear Necessities" by Harry Connick Jr. or "I Wanna Be Like You" by the Jonas Brothers, I still love it. The flick has a great soundtrack, probably the last full soundtrack to be so cool as a whole until the late eighties.

It is notable that The Jungle Book was the last film that Walt Disney had a hand in personally, and it was also the beginning of a new era of animation for the company. I call it the Don Bluth era myself, even though Bluth wasn't involved in every facet of that era, but his style was prevalent. Many of his tricks are evident here, such as the fake out death of Baloo, and the look of some of the characters. Some of the scenes here are even repeated in 1973's Robin Hood.

The Jungle Book stands out among other Disney animated features for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its stunning voice cast. In a
day when voice actors weren't a big deal, it was here. There was Disney regular Sterling Holloway, Phil Harris, George Sanders, Sebastian Cabot, Louie Prima, Clint Howard, English rock and roll disc jockey Lord Tim Hudson, and Chad Stuart of Chad and Jeremy. And then there's also the matter of the multiple villains - Shere Khan, Kaa, King Louie - something rarely seen in Disney films of the time.

In many ways, despite my love for this film, I kinda dig the 1942 Sabu version more, but still this is one of my favorite Disney features, and an important piece of my childhood. Five stars all around.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Arrow S03 E14: "The Return"

We have a very interesting switch in the storytelling dynamic in this episode. As Oliver and Thea go to Lian Yu, which I've called Flashback Island for the last three years of reviews, Oliver and Maseo from Flashback Hong Kong, along with Amanda Waller, pay a secret visit to Starling City during the time it is believed Oliver is dead. Like I said, interesting.

Oliver had asked Malcolm to train him so he could beat R'as al Ghul, and apparently the island is his idea of training. As if we didn't already know Malcolm was a bit twisted, right? I loved the camera pan approach to Flashback Island, with the shipwrecked Amazo near the shore, nice touch.

How crazy is Merlyn? Very. He released Deathstroke on the island so that Oliver can get his killing edge back. But wait, wasn't Captain Boomerang also imprisoned on the island? Where was he? It was a bit of a cop out to say he was elsewhere in the prison.

In the past, Oliver and Maseo are still tracking China White and her bio-weapon. Being in Starling past gives us a chance to not only see cast members in a variety of bad "Undercover Boss" hairstyles but also see dead folks like Colin Donnell returning as Tommy Merlin. We also see the past addictions of Thea, Quentin, and Laurel in more revealing light.

What's fun about the past is watching Oliver sneak around in disguise dodging anyone who might recognize him. It reminded me of Marty dodging his past self, mom and dad, and Biff, when he returned to the 1950s in Back to the Future Part II. Quentin's possibly drunken outburst at Tommy's party echoed what I was thinking earlier in the episode - Oliver had destroyed everyone's life.

I loved when Oliver, trying to say he was good at hiding from his family and friends, said he pulled his hoodie down to cover his face - and Maseo countered with "that disguise wouldn't work even if you smeared grease paint over your face." Beautiful. It is also a testament to Stephen Amell's acting skills that he can pull off both naive and spoiled, and then brave and resourceful - in the same character years apart and make it believable. He's damn good.

Past, present, Deathstroke, Merlyn, Waller... but none of it matters more than the real boogeyman in this episode. The truth. Oliver tells Thea the truth, the real truth, that she killed Sara. It nearly pushes her over the edge. That said, watching Oliver and Thea, Green Arrow and Speedy, fight Slade, Deathstroke, could only have been better with costumes.

And then there's Deathstroke's line to Oliver about Thea, how she's been touched by darkness and that Merlyn must be an interesting man to do that to his own daughter. Although we've seen a character in the show called Ravager, in the comics Slade did do something very similar to his own daughter who then called herself Ravager. And let's not even discuss her brother, his son, who was the original Ravager.

There are other connections and separations made in this episode. Thea will cooperate but no longer have family ties with Malcolm. Quentin and Laurel are at odds, but for the first time the name 'Black Canary' is uttered. Again I worry for Quentin as this would be tragic if he was to die now, and because he's the TV version of Larry Lance, we know he's doomed sooner or later.

Colin Donnell isn't the only actor to return from the dead this time out. There's also Jamey Sheridan as Robert Queen as seen in a recording for Oliver, solving another minor mystery of the series. This is neat tie-up of a small but missing piece of Arrow's origins.

The final closer however is the appearance of General Matthew Shrieve as played by a rather worn and aged looking Marc Singer. This is a surprising addition to a TV series based on Green Arrow. In the comics, Shrieve is the human leader of Project M, better known as the Creature Commandos, sort of a war/horror hybrid comic. They are a squad of soldiers made up of classic monsters - a werewolf, a vampire, a gorgon, and Frankenstein monster-like creature. Who knows where this plot point will go...

Next: "Nanda Parbat!"

And if you'd like to discuss this episode and anything else in the Arrowverse, please join the Arrow discussion group on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Quiet Riot Movie

Quiet Riot: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back ~ At first glance one might think this is just another rock documentary, but it's not. This is a very personal story of friendship and loss, and heavy metal. Yes, it does serve well as a history of the band Quiet Riot and the heavy metal scene of the 1980s and beyond, but it's also about friendship of lead singer Kevin DuBrow and drummer Frankie Banali.

Some of us purists don't like to believe it, because they had such a huge, if momentary, pop success, but Quiet Riot opened the floodgates for metal in the 1980s. Without "Cum On Feel the Noize" and "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)" one might go so far as to say it might have been longer before the mainstream public heard bands like Motley Crue, Whitesnake, and Guns N' Roses. They opened the doors, like it or not, by having the first American metal album on the pop charts.

The documentary, a long time in coming, was produced and directed by Banali's fiancée, and not only tells the story of the band, its ups and downs, but also the drummer's journey after the loss of his best friend. This is much better than a Quiet Riot doc deserves to be, check it out.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bionic Nostalgia - The Six Million Dollar Man

Esquire TV (formerly the much missed G4 channel) has been showing old reruns of "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman," shows that while I haven't seen since the 1970s, were huge parts of my childhood, like Evel Knievel, Planet of the Apes, or SSP Racers.

Begun as three made for TV movies of the week, "The Six Million Dollar Man" was very loosely based on the book Cyborg by Martin Caidin. The book and its three sequels were much more serious, adult, and more science fiction-oriented. Much had been changed, but when I read the book sometime in the mid-seventies as a pre-teen I still enjoyed it. The telemovies were wildly successful leading almost immediately into the TV series, which ran for five years, with one spin-off, "The Bionic Woman," and at least three other attempted spin-offs. There were toys, lunchboxes, and all the other paraphernalia one might expect a phenomenon.

The premise was pretty simple. Lee Majors played Colonel Steve Austin, an astronaut and test pilot who was involved in a body crushing accident that left him without the use of an eye, an arm and both legs. Secret government organization OSI offered to rebuild him, "make him better than he was before," with bionics. Now, it's real and is something that happens (although sans super strength and telescopic vision), but then this kind of technology was pure science fiction. In exchange for saving his life, Steve agrees to go on missions for the ominous Office of Scientific Intelligence. It was average spy fare for the most part, and invariably you waited through the boring stuff to see Austin kick some butt at the end, just like "Kung Fu."

Looking back, I remember Kenneth Johnson's ("Incredible Hulk," "V," "Alien Nation") name on the series, but I had forgotten that Glen A. Larsen ("Battlestar Galactica") and Harve Bennett (responsible for the best of the "Star Trek" films Wrath of Khan) were involved as well. The show had a very small cast, usually only Majors, Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman, sometimes Dr. Rudy Wells (played by various actors), and dozens of nameless bad guys who Austin would throw around during fight scenes. Yep, keep it simple.

In hindsight, it is only just okay television, with only the big event episodes standing out. When Steve faced the Robot, played by John Saxon, made by the scientist who would later create the Fembots who pestered the Bionic Woman, was one big event. Or when it was discovered there was another bionic man, a Seven Million Dollar Man, who turned out to be not just a jerk, but later a criminal. Or, at the height of 1970s Bigfoot and Alien fever, the appearance of Sasquatch, played by wrestler Andre the Giant, and later Ted Cassidy. There was even a renegade Venus Probe that fought our hero more than once.

The Robot (weirdly called Maskatron), Sasquatch, and the Venus Probe from above all got action figures in the playsets, it should be noted. Both the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman had action figures from Kenner. There also had the Fembots, Oscar Goldman, vehicles, and lots of mission or fashion outfits. Like Evel Knievel, these were toys that kids of a certain age had to have. I never did though. Evel was my jam.

The episodes I've seen on Esquire are, as I said, only ordinary, but full of nostalgia. I remember "The Six Million Dollar Man" fondly though, despite the season Majors sported a bad mustache. It was the first thing I watched on my first TV, a tiny black and white set, and watching the show that Sunday night was just the best. Simple things are good. More to come.