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Monday, January 31, 2011

Superhero: Tune in Next Week

Just four years after the Batman debuted in comics and only three years after he was joined by Robin, the Dynamic Duo found their way on to celluloid in the Batman serial in 1943. Peppered with anti-Japanese WWII sentiment and a very racist portrayal of the Nipponese villain by a Caucasian actor in "yellowface," (J. Carroll Naish, who would later portray Charlie Chan as well) this serial still managed to be exciting and fun. CGI was non-existent in  those days, so it's all just camerawork and stuntwork that bring the comics to life on screen. Surprisingly gruesome for a movie chapter play aimed at kids, the Batman serial is an interesting slice of history as well as a novel diversion for comic buffs.

There was another serial made in 1949, Batman and Robin, with a different line-up of actors, but I think that the earlier series (racism aside) was better made.

Monday Motivator: Law of Attraction

I found this video of Randy Gage talking about the popular film The Secret, and I thought it was pretty interesting:

Theatre: Do Not Do Anything Merely

Modern audiences know her as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films, but Dame Maggie Smith has a much-lauded career that goes back many years in film, television, and stage. Here she is performing her Tony-winning role in Peter Shaffer's hilarious and brilliant Lettice and Lovage with Margaret Tyzack (who also won a Tony for her role):

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Save the World: Save the Children

January is Poverty Awareness Month, so I wanted to take this opportunity to once again highlight one of my favorite organizations helping children around the world (including America) living in poverty: Save the Children.

Superhero Sunday 2: Chew On This

Cookie Monster? Who's that?

So here's one for the "what were they thinking?" files of comic book lore. Meet Matter Eater Lad of the Legion of Superheroes. This prosaically-named superhero has the ability to eat any form of matter. I suppose they could have just called him "Eater Lad," but perhaps they wanted to alleviate any possible confusion.

The bravest guy in this picture is the one
behind the guy eating the tunnel.
Police Commissioner: Thank goodness you're here, Matter Eater Lad! We need someone to eat these electric energy bolts!
Matter Eater Lad: (shaking head) Dude . . .

The Legion of Super Heroes is a 30th (and 31st) Century Superhero team in the DC Comics Universe who regularly interact with Superboy/Superman via time travel. Matter Eater Lad's real name is Tenzil Kem and he hails from the planet Bismoll (yes, a pun on Pepto-Bismol) where all inhabitants of the planet can eat any form of matter.
While the power may seem a bit silly, I suppose it is useful to have someone on hand who can eat his way through walls, eat the enemies' weapons, finish off all of those extra fruitcakes, etc.
(Out of taste and decency, I won't speculate any further on Kem's digestive processes.)
Still, it's a little hard to be taken seriously among superheroes when your battle cry is "Nom, nom, nom. . ."
"Have some more chicken. Have some more pie. . ."

Superhero Sunday: Daughter of Darkness

Holy Bat-Cleavage!
During the 1960s, DC Comics created an alternate universe in which their Golden Age versions of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and others aged in - more or less - real time. Batman eventually married his nemesis/paramour Catwoman and the two had a daughter: Helena Wayne. Helena took up her father's mantle of crimefighting as the (mostly) costumed Huntress.
Villains cower when
faced with a bare mid-riff.
Eventually, the character's popularity led to the creation of a similar character - with no genetic connection to Batman - in the main DC universe. This time, Helena Bertinelli is born into a Mafia family centered in the fictional city of Gotham (Batman's city, for the uninitiated among you.) After a rather tragic upbringing, Helena turns vigilante, aiming to bring down the Mafia. Her more violent approach does, however, put her at odds with the Batman from time to time.
Eventually, she finds herself teamed with former Batgirl Barbara Gordon - now the wheelchair-bound Oracle - and the Black Canary as the Birds of Prey, a female crime-fighting trio.
The show designers stayed true to the
 important "cleavage" theme. (Yay!)
Looking to capitalize on the success of their Superman-themed series Smallville, the WB commissioned a Birds of Prey TV series in 2003 combining the origin of Helena Wayne with the persona of Helena Bertinelli. They also borrowed from Tim Burton's Batman Returns in which Catwoman has superhuman powers. These powers are passed on to her daughter before Mom is killed and Dad retires from crimefighting and disappears.
The show had potential in the three strong lead actresses, but suffered from some effects done on the cheap and some cheesy dialogue that worked much better in the small Kansas town of Smallville than in the big city of New Gotham. Birds of Prey was canceled after 11 episodes, but was mercifully permitted to wrap up the series in a two-episode finale. All thirteen episodes are available on DVD, and, despite the inexplicable altering of much of the series' music - including the opening theme song - it's worth a look.
Actually, I just changed my mind. This is the best series ever. Ev-er.
Whether as Helena Bertinelli or Helena Wayne, the Huntress is an intriguing superheroine: troubled, born into a world of violence, and tough as nails.
Also, her existence makes the cosplay at comic book conventions decidedly more interesting.
I really need to start going to these things.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Film Buff: Avast Ye!

I was talking pirate movies with someone the other day, and I mentioned this little gem:

More a loving tribute than a spoof of classic pirate films, Swashbuckler is just pure fun, and, really, if you're watching a pirate movie and complaining that it's not serious enough, you're kind of missing the point.

SWASHBUCKLER: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Beau Bridges, Geneviève Bujold

So, since we have to wait until May for the next installment in the Pirates of The Carribean series, you might see if you can track down this film to tide you over . . . so to speak. Come on, James Earl Jones and Robert Shaw as pirates? You've gotta love that.

Save the World Saturday: Clear and Present Danger

I was hanging out and chatting with my friend Erica the other day, and we came to the subject of one of our mutual favorite actors, Harrison Ford. Apart from being one of Hollywood's biggest box office stars (and Han Solo, let us not forget), we were both of the opinion that he's a very decent guy.
Here's proof: Mr. Ford serves as a vice-chair on the board of directors of Conservation International, an organization committed to preserving and protecting the environment. As you know, this is a cause very near and dear to me as well.
I'll let him tell you a little more about what Conservation International does:

Harrison Ford really feels for this cause. Don't believe me? Check out this video.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Hustled

You know those movies that just seem to come out of nowhere, have a plot that is unlike anything you've ever seen, and have actors playing unexpectedly against type?
Well, today's selection is not one of those movies.
Still, it's one of my favorites.

Now, I used to think that part of my affection for Diggstown was the fact that I got to see it with Lou Gossett Jr. sitting one row ahead of me. (Breckenridge Film Festival.) However, subsequent viewings have solidified this film for me as just great movie-making. Oscar-worthy? Maybe not, but that isn't the only measure of a good film. Gossett, James Woods, and Bruce Dern play the types of characters that made them famous and they play them extremely well. The movie takes us on enough twists, turns, and double-crosses that it's worth the ride, and in the end . . . well, you'll just have to see it for yourself.
This film is also known as Midnight Sting, an allusion to the Newman/Redford classic The Sting. I think this film is a fitting homage to that film and a strong contender for one of the better con-game movies out there.

Theatre: Tori Amos Musical

Here's some fun news:
Tori Amos has written the music and lyrics for an as-yet-untitled new musical based on "The Light Princess" a 19th century fairy tale by Scottish author George MacDonald. The show, about a princess cursed to be so light that she floats above the ground, is set to open at the National Theatre in London in Spring of 2012. No teasers on the music yet - even on Tori's website, but here's a bit of Ms. Amos to tide you over:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wildlife: Rare Baby

A black rhino baby was born at the St. Louis Zoo on January 14th. This is a big deal as the black rhino is on the critically endangered list due to loss of habitat and poaching for really, really stupid reasons. (In some cultures it is believed that the rhino horn has medicinal properties. There is no evidence to substantiate this belief.)
Anyway, this cutie is the first black rhino born to the St. Louis Zoo in twenty years.
Photo Credit: St. Louis Zoo
There are more pictures like the one above at
I haven't found any video of the baby yet, but here is a video of another black rhino newborn at the Chester Zoo a couple of years ago. This should give you a rough idea of the size and movement of the St. Louis baby.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Birthday Songs

There are four musical birthdays today. Firstly, the amazing Etta James:

Secondly, Disney icon and original star of the Sondheim musical, Company, Mr. Dean Jones:

Happy Birthday also to Alicia Keys:

And, of course, 252 years ago today was born famed Scottish poet (and my most famous ancestor) RObert Burns, whose works have been set to music for centuries, like this rendition of "Red, Red Rose" by Eva Cassady:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Motivator: Defining Success

I have missed a few blog entries over the last week or so (five by my count, and I know that I'm the only one counting.) I'd love to offer an excuse that involves my rescuing a sinking ship full of puppies, baby harp seals and Ukrainian bikini models, but, in truth, it is simply . . . just regular, mundane stuff. As a man who has never posted a picture of his meal on his Facebook page nor used his Twitter account to complain about not having my morning coffee, I also won't clutter my blog with my bad days.
I will make up for those missing five days. I know that it is not of great concern to you, but blogging is a conceited venture, and 31 entries in 31 days is my own conceit.
Today is Monday, so I wanted to share with you a speech from one of the greatest motivators of the last century: John Wooden, one of the NCAA's most successful basketball coaches. Wooden coached his players to excel, not necessarily to win. (Though they frequently did.)

Have a grand Monday, cherubs. I think I spy a sinking ship in the distance, so I must dash off . . . as soon as I finish my coffee.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WIldlife Wednesday: Hang in There, Baby!

Photo Credit: Richard Rokes/ Riverbanks Zoo
Baby koala Owen made his first appearance before the public at the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina. I dug up some raw video:

Of course, the folks over at have a lot of cute pictures, too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Tunisian Tune-age

Tunisia has been present in the news lately because of its recent political troubles, but I thought I'd look at another perspective of the country. . . its music.
First here's a video of beautiful Tunisian images set to traditional music put together by enterprising YouTuber cre8ivemind:

The following is a sample of malouf, a traditional type of music often played at weddings and other ceremonies:

Popular in Tunisian culture is the mixing of contemporary pop music remixed with traditional Tunisian instruments like this version of Michael Jackson's "History."

I hope I've been able to broaden your horizons a little today, and I hope that things settle down in Tunisia very soon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Motivator: Dream

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the ancestor of every action is a thought, and in the case of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that thought was a dream. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I would like to give you the Reverend's most famous speech:

Here, also, is a transcript of the speech:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Superhero Sunday: Doctor 3

While there are many enthusiastic Whovians (fans of the UK series Doctor Who) in the United States, I find that it is still far from a part of mainstream culture. I remember watching the original series rebroadcast on Public Television when I was a kid, but my Halloween costume of the Tom Baker Doctor (and it was a great costume, scarf and all) required explanation at every house I visited for Trick-or-Treating with comical results.
Me: Trick-or-Treat!
Candy giver: Well, hello, and who are you supposed to be?
Me: I'm the Doctor.
Candy giver: A doctor?
Me: No, the Doctor. Doctor Who.
Candy giver: Doctor what?
Third base.
Me: No, Doctor Who. It's a TV show.
Candy giver: What TV show?
Me: Doctor Who.
Candy giver: I don't know. St. Elsewhere?
Me: *sigh* Yes. I'm Howie Mandel.
Candy giver: Oh. great costume. You look just like him.
The recent revamp of the series has brought the series a little further into the mainstream, but I still don't know that I'd attempt another Doctor Who-themed costume at a party unless I had a really good idea of the kind of people who would be there. The Abbott-and-Costello bit can get old.
Anyway, here's the basic nuts-and-bolts of Doctor Who for those who are less familiar:
1. He's an alien. A Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.
2. He can travel through time using a special ship called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) that is disguised as a blue police box. It's bigger on the inside.
3. The Doctor is not immortal exactly, but he has managed to stay alive through a process called regeneration, in which he goes through a physical transformation - often accompanied by a personality change and other changes - but retains his memories. (This allows the BBC to periodically replace the lead actor of the series as needed.) We, the viewing public, are aware of eleven different (canonical) generations of the Doctor.
4. He's a good guy.

Today, I want to focus on the 2nd regeneration of the Doctor - referred to by fans as the Third Doctor - portrayed by actor Jon Pertwee from 1970-1974.
Much of the Pertwee tenure as the Doctor had him exiled on Earth by the Time Lords for essentially being a good guy. (The Time Lords have a rule about non-interference.) Oh, yeah, and he was driving a stolen TARDIS.
These episodes had the Doctor working with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, a military operation tasked with paranormal and extraterrestrial investigation, and were the first Doctor Who episodes shown in color. Eventually the exile was lifted and the Doctor set about traveling the universe again.
This was also the Doctor who introduced the now cult-favorite line "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." Something that made the Third Doctor different from his other incarnations was his knowledge and practice of the martial art Venusian Aikido (sometimes called Venusian Karate.) The Doctor is generally a non-violent pacifist, but Jon Pertwee's Doctor was not afraid to throw down, as shown in this compilation video by another Whovian.

Pertwee left the series in 1974, succeeded by Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. (The one with the scarf that no one in my neighborhood had ever heard of.)

Save the World Sat-er-Sunday:The Good Fight

(I know. I'm late with the Saturday blog. It doesn't seem to take much to get behind when you write a daily blog. I'll see if I can't get us caught up today.)

As many of us here in Denver cheer on much-beloved and beautiful local actress, singer, and dancer Kendra Jacobs in her battle with leukemia, I wanted to share a little bit of information with you about leukemia and other blood cancers.
Blood cancers make up about 9% of all diagnosed cancers every year.
Every four minutes another person is diagnosed with a blood cancer.
It is estimated that over 50,000 people in the U.S. died last year from blood cancers. That's roughly six people every hour - one person every ten minutes.
The good news is that those numbers are better than a decade ago, and the rate of survival is improving significantly, due in no small part to advances in cancer research.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is one organization funding that research. LLS also provides resources and support to people diagnosed with blood cancers.

As always, there are plenty of ways that you can help.
Keep fighting, Kendra. We've got your back.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Father Figure

Way back in July of last year, I posted a wonderfully cheesy song from the soundtrack of a lesser-known Al Pacino film of the 1980s, Author! Author! This film also happens to be one of my absolute favorite guilty pleasures. I watch it at least every couple of months or so. The film is written by Israel Horovitz and directed by Arthur Hiller and follows the the travails of Ivan Travalian (probably not a coincidence) a successful New York playwright through the casting and opening of his new play on Broadway.
But it's not really about the play.
Ivan lives with his wife, Gloria (Tuesday Weld), his son from a previous marriage, and Gloria's four children from three previous marriages. Then, Gloria leaves.
This film was pretty much trashed by the critics. They thought the kids were too precocious. They thought Al Pacino was too manic and rambling and that his line delivery was odd. They thought that some of the characters were a little too broad.
Okay. These are all things that I love about the film. The kids are smart and funny - they're written by Israel Horovitz, how could they not be? The cast of young actors deftly crosses the line from comedy to drama and back again. Included in the cast is a young Ari Meyers in her first major role. (Oh, such a crush I've had on her since Kate & Allie.) I think Pacino's performance is perfect, and I'm sorry that he doesn't do more comedy. One reviewer criticized his mumbling. I don't know. Clean your ears, dude. I understood every word.
Yes, the supporting characters are a little broad. Alan King as the larger-than-life wheeler-dealer producer chews scenery like nobody's business, and you love him for it. Dyan Cannon is adorable as a quirky L.A. actress in her first stage role. As the intrepid director who doesn't actually like the play, Bob Dishy is a stitch. Richard Belzer appears in a minor but memorable role as the gay stage manager.
One of my favorite characters in the movie, though, is the city of New York. My first trip to New York City was in 1986, and this movie is how I remember it.
Push aside the city, and the odd characters, and the cheesy theme song (all of which I love), and you find that this is still a movie with a heart and a message. Horovitz's story comments on an age when people move from marriage to marriage leaving heartache and sad children in their wake. He is quoted as saying, "The film had to be written in a comic mode, otherwise it's too painful to deal with."
I agree, and, in my opinion, John McClane could stop an alien invasion with a water pistol and a pair of needle-nose pliers, and he would still not be the hero that Ivan Travalian is in this movie.
Author! Author! is, at this writing, available for streaming on Netflix, or, if you ask me very nicely, I might let you borrow my copy on one condition: I get to watch it with you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Theatre Thursday: Hedonistic Hedda

On Tuesday, Iranian officials suspended a production of the 120-year-old Ibsen play, Hedda Gabler, in Tehran on the basis that it was "vulgar" and "hedonistic." A ban has been imposed on the play, the actors were called before the Iranian chief prosecutor, and a new office has been established to police the arts in a "crackdown" on cultural affairs in the country. (Kinda puts the Colorado smoking ban in perspective, huh?)
You can read more about the story here.
The show had been running for about a week before governmental officials closed it - in part for a scene in which a man almost kisses a woman who is not his wife. (Physical contact between men and women who are not related is banned in Iran.) The chief prosecutor also objected to the fact that the production was based on a western play full of "nihilistic" ideals.
I decided to write about this today, because I just wanted to remind theatre folk in this country just how free we are to produce new and bold works that challenge conformity and traditionalism. Audiences here will not be barred from entering a theater because the play inside does not fit within the ideals of the local church or the government. In this country we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and we can use that freedom to push against barriers of prejudice and conventionalism with controversial or thought-provoking drama.
Or Sound of Music. Whichever. The point is, we have a choice.
For those needing a quick refresher on Hedda Gabler, I found a quick adaptation in . . . Lego.
Um, spoilers?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: Deep and Wide

One hundred and three years ago yesterday, President Theodore Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon a national monument. Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep in places. It is home to 75 species of mammals, like the coyote:

Note: Do NOT feed the wildlife, cherubs. (Check out this article from Christian Espanol, writer for the Grand Canyon South Rim Examiner to learn why.)
The Grand Canyon is also home to 50 different species of reptiles and amphibians, including the Canyon Rattlesnake. Don't worry, I'm a mild ophidiophobe myself, so nothing's going to jump out at you in the following video.

My trepidation around snakes comes from a couple of scary experiences with rattlers when I was really young, but I have to admit that snakes are actually pretty cool. Rattlesnake bites in the Grand Canyon are rare and are usually the result of some person being a doofus. That rattle you hear means, "Dude, I don't want to have to bite you, so back off."
In the Colorado River, you will find 25 species of fish. You will. I won't find anything. I'd have to survive on cactus flowers and tree bark. I'm a terrible fisherman. I couldn't even find any good videos of Grand Canyon fish. All I found was fat guys drinking beer and yelling, "Keep your line taut, Steve!" (I do not understand modern flirting.)
I did find an example of one of the 300 different species of birds in the Grand Canyon, who, inarguably, have the best view of the park. Look at this video of a beautiful California Condor.

Cool, but also a make-sure-you-know-where-the-family-shih-tzu-is moment. What? You couldn't tell that was a California Condor? Didn't you see the screenplay in its talons? (I hear Nicolas Cage is interested.)
Anyway, I think we owe Teddy Roosevelt a big thanks for looking out for the Grand Canyon a century ago so that today we can enjoy this:
(Do yourself a favor and go "fullscreen" on this.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Sensing a Theme

There are some other people in the
movie, but, for the life of me, I can't
remember who right now.
I just watched the A-Team movie on DVD. It was fun: lots of implausible stunts, incredible explosions, snappy wisecracks, and Jessica Biel. I was happy. (Didn't even really need the wisecracks, explosions, or stunts.)
As the score played with variations on the old 80's TV theme tune, I thought back on one of my favorite things about TV in the 80s: Mike Post.
"Now, if I could only remember
where I hid the cookie jar . . ."
Post composed the theme songs for everything from CHiPs to the A-Team to Quantum Leap to Law & Order. He started out as the musical director on The Andy Williams Show but got his big break when he co-wrote (with Pete Carpenter) the theme from - come on, you knew I was going to play this one - The Rockford Files.

"This. Is the city.
I carry a dog."
Post would next receive high praise for the theme song to Hill Street Blues and continue to compose for many police/private eye shows like Riptide, Magnum P.I., The Commish, Hunter, and Wiseguy. For a while there in the 80s, it seemed like, if you were watching prime time TV, you were listening to Mike Post. These days, it seems that opening theme intros have been more or less abandoned. I miss them. Opening themes were like an overture, setting the tone for what you were about to see. One of my favorites was for the short-lived John Ritter police "dramedy" Hooperman:

"Power of . . . JAZZ HANDS!"
I would be remiss if I ended this entry without mentioning the Mike Post theme song that was a bigger hit than the show for which it was written (though I always liked it). The theme from The Greatest American Hero - "Believe It Or Not" (lyrics by Stephen Geyer)  - was one of the few TV theme songs to make the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately peaking at #2 via Joey Scarbury's golden vocals.

Now, I'm going to do something that you all aren't going to like, but, every once in a while I have to remind you of why I am the Big Bad Wolf.
I'm going to get one of Mike Post's more insipid little theme songs stuck in your head without even playing the song. Are you ready? One, two, three: THEME FROM BLOSSOM!
Gotcha. Good luck getting that one out of your brain now.
(For those too young to remember, here's a link. You've been warned.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Motivator: Illumination of Heart

Note: I was having technical issues on Sunday and into today, so that is why there was no Superhero Sunday entry yesterday. I have decided that I will instead double-up on next Sunday's entries.
For today, I thought I'd go back to the font of wisdom that is Dr. Wayne Dyer. However, instead of sharing another video of the good Doctor, I thought I'd instead treat you to some poetry by one of Dr. Dyer's favorite and oft-quoted poets, Rumi.

Soul receives from soul that knowledge, therefore not by book nor from tongue.
If knowledge of mysteries come after emptiness of mind, that is illumination of heart.
Rumi was a 13th century mystical Sufi poet, and the wisdom of his words is sometimes quickly revealed, but often the words need to be turned over in the mind for a while to glean the full meaning. (The word "ruminate" does not have any link to the great poet's name, but it makes for an interesting coincidence.)

    This World Which Is Made of Our Love for Emptiness 
    Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence: This place made from our love for that emptiness!  Yet somehow comes emptiness, this existence goes.  Praise to that happening, over and over! For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.  Then one swoop, one swing of the arm, that work is over.  Free of who I was, free of presence, free of dangerous fear, hope, free of mountainous wanting.  The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece of straw blown off into emptiness.  These words I'm saying so much begin to lose meaning: Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:  Words and what they try to say swept out the window, down the slant of the roof.

The meaning of the words may differ from person to person, so I won't attempt to tell you what the wisdom is in each of these poems. Mostly, I am still absorbing them myself.

    These spiritual window-shoppers, who idly ask, 'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking. They handle a hundred items and put them down, shadows with no capital.  What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping. But these walk into a shop, and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment, in that shop.  Where did you go? "Nowhere." What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."  Even if you don't know what you want, buy _something,_ to be part of the exchanging flow.  Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah.  It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.

They are beautiful, regardless of meaning, even though they were not originally written in English.

If thou wilt be observant and vigilant, thou wilt see at every moment the response to thy action. Be observant if thou wouldst have a pure heart, for something is born to thee in consequence of every action.

Happy Monday, cherubs.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Save the World Saturday: Sea of Garbage

In the northern part of the Pacific Ocean floats an unintentional man-made "sculpture" of plastic debris that is literally choking the flora and fauna of the region. It is referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its size has been described as being anywhere from the size of Texas to the size of the continental United States. The measurement I have heard most frequently is "twice the size of Texas." Whatever its size, that's a lot of garbage. Covering that area, there is more plastic than there is plankton, and, unfortunately, birds and fish that survive on plankton can't always tell the difference until it's too late.

It can be daunting to think about the size and impact of all of this garbage floating on the ocean, and I've heard that they've found a similar patch in the South Pacific as well.
So what do we do?
Well, we've all heard this one before: reduce, recycle, and reuse. It was wise the first time you heard it, and it's just as wise now - if not more so. I'm not really good at doing this myself, so here's a few tips for both of us:
Reduce the number of plastic bottles you go through for water by hooking up a water filter to your home faucet.
Recycle the items you use and look for easily-recyclable items when you shop. It's not easy to do at first, but it can eventually become a habit.
Reuse the items that you can't easily recyclable. Sometimes local artists will use items in their work or schools use them as art supplies in classes. Growing up, I remember opening up three or four margarine containers that were being used as left-over containers before actually finding the margarine. (Eventually, my mom got better at labeling stuff.) This was a habit that my mother had learned from her mother, who I'm sure, learned it from her mother.
In fact, here's an article that looks at some of the rationing practices that took place during World War II, and how some of those same practices can be applied to today's excesses of consumerism that have led to the excesses of pollution and waste.
The last thing I will leave you with today is a visual example of how plastic garbage and nature do not mix:
That plastic ring got stuck on the turtle when it was young,
and its exoskeleton grew around it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Sworn Brotherhood

The Mafia is a subject that has fascinated American movie culture for decades from the original Scarface to The Godfather films to Goodfellas, the strong family bonds, strict code of honor, and violent retributions are pretty much a guarantee of box office sales.
A similar crime organization that is far less well-known is the violent and highly traditional Yakuza of Japan, who adhere to a code of honor as strictly as the Samurai to Bushido. The Yakuza have appeared in some American films like Black Rain and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill franchise, but it is more prevalent in Japanese cinema, just as our Mafia films are here.
One of my favorite American-made films about the Yakuza is the aptly-titled The Yakuza (1974) directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura. The script was written by brothers Leonard and Paul Schrader and fetched the then-unheard-of price of $325,000. Since it wasn't my money, I'm not really in a position to say that it was worth it, but I will say it's pretty darn good.
The story follows Harry Kilmer's (Mitchum) return to Tokyo where he had been stationed as an MP in the Marines after World War 2. A friend's daughter has been kidnapped by a Yakuza gangster in retaliation for a business deal gone bad, and the friend (Brian Keith) wants Kilmer to use his connection with an old associate (Ken Takakura) to get the girl back.
I think that this is a fascinating look into the Yakuza underworld as well as a fine action film. There are some great fight sequences as well as stirring emotional drama. I think the film is very respectful of both the Japanese and Yakuza cultures, but I'm not an expert. If there are any experts out there who've seen this film, I'd be curious to hear your insights.
The Yakuza is not a film that immediately comes to mind when mentioning Robert Mitchum or Sydney Pollack films, but I really think it should. Ken Takakura is known as "the Clint Eastwood of Japan" and with good reason. His performance is simmering.
I had some difficulty finding a trailer for this film - like I said, it's not well known - but I did find that a fellow fan on YouTube had made his own trailer for the film, in the modern Hollywood-style. It's pretty cool:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Theatre Thursday: Revelations

Yesterday was dance legend Alvin Ailey's birthday. He would have been 80 years old. Though Ailey himself passed away in 1989, he is very much alive in the body of dance he created during his lifetime. I'm not going to write a lot of biographical information here or even attempt to describe his breathtaking style and enduring message through dance. You can go to Wikipedia or do a Google search for that. I thought it more appropriate to allow the legacy of Alvin Ailey to speak for itself, as it always has: through dance.

The above video is from, I believe, a 1982 performance of Ailey's groundbreaking Revelations. The uploader andithankyou2 has also put the other sections on their YouTube page along with many more examples of great dance performance.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: The Fast and the Furious

I really try to avoid hyperbole. I think it is greatly over-used on the internet and even in everyday conversation. One person I follow on Twitter (tentatively) describes every other link he posts as "Amazing!" I understand that there's a bit of salesmanship involved, but I really do think that superlative words and phrases should be reserved for those things that really deserve them. I rarely refer to something as "amazing" unless it amazed me or I think it will amaze you.
So, when I tell you to check out this amazing video of a cheetah defending her cubs from a lion, you can bet that I mean what I say.

I've had cheetahs on the brain for the last week or so. First, there's these very cute pictures on of the cheetah cubs recently born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and, second, my friend Randy Diamon, a local actor here in Denver, told me about his favorite charity organization, the Cheetah Conservation Fund, which I wrote about recently on my other blog.
Cheetahs are among the smaller of the big cats. They're built for speed rather than brawn, and they can hit speeds of up to 70 mph.

There are an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 in Africa and maybe about 200 living in small populations in Iran. Outside of captivity, that's it - bringing the cheetah population down about 88-90% from what it was a century ago.
Luckily there are organizations like the Cheetah Conservation Fund and Defenders of Wildlife working to preserve cheetah populations in their native habitat. You can visit their respective websites to see what they are doing and how you can help.
Here's one more cheetah video - a cute one this time. Cheetah cubs learn to hunt from their mothers, but how do you teach orphaned cheetah cubs to hunt?
Like this:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Shiny Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to singer, songwriter, film producer, and activist Michael Stipe, best known as the frontman of legendary alternative rock band R.E.M. Like most fans of Michael Stipe and R.E.M., I am often moved by Stipe's incredible vocal stylings and his surreal lyrics (when they can be understood, that is.)
 If we go way, way back to 1983, we can see Stipe and company making their television debut on Late Night with David Letterman, performing a song that - at the time - had no title apparently, but we now know and love as "South Central Rain (I'm Sorry.)"

As part of the fundraiser for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Stipe and Chris Martin of Coldplay recorded a cover of one of my favorite songs: Joseph Arthur's "In the Sun."

And, finally, today I wanted to share a fun video from Sesame Street where Michael Stipe changed the lyrics of R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" to the Muppet-ready "Furry Happy Monsters."

Happy Birthday, Michael.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday Motivator: Perfection

I am always very moved by the story that I like to call "Shaya at the Bat," and Wayne Dyer included it in his book, The Power of Intention. In this video, Dr. Dyer reads the story to a live audience.

Everyday in our lives, we strive toward some level of perfection: perfection in our jobs, perfection in our relationships, and perfection in what we create. Often, that perfection is an image we've seen in a movie somewhere (a fictional movie), and we're not even sure how satisfying it will be if we ever manage to get it. What's more, we find ourselves engaging in a lot of less-than-perfect behavior in our pursuit of those images.
In the story of Shaya, we are exposed to a different idea of perfection. Nine of those boys lost a game that they could have won. The perfection they sought when they put on their cleats that day was not the perfection that they got. They got something better.
What I get from Shaya's story is that perfection doesn't have to be some light at the end of the tunnel - some far-off goal that must be achieved. Perfection can be in the flowers and shiny pebbles along the way, and our own perfection can be in the way that we appreciate those things when we come upon them.
I'm not saying to you that you should give up on your dreams and goals, I'm just saying to find some perfection today, too. It's there if you look for it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Superhero Sunday: Alouette, Je Te Plumerai

That would be Peregrine, there, under
 the yellow speech bubble. Zut!
Not much is known about the French superhero Peregrine from Marvel Comics. He came into play during the 1982 Marvel Cross-over mini-series Contest of Champions in which heroes were collected from Earth to fight in a contest for . . . oh, I don't know, rare stamps or something. With a shortage of international heroes in the Marvel Universe, superheroes like Le Peregrine were created to show that this was a global happening. There was also a young lady from Ireland calling herself Shamrock whose super-power was . . . really, really good luck. (Not kidding.) Her superhero career ended some years later when she broke her leg and figured her luck had run out. (Blimey!) Also, I think those kids finally stole her marshmallow cereal.
At least he doesn't have a pencil-thin
mustache and a beret.
Spiffy costume, though, lassie.
When the contest was over, we didn't see much of Peregrine until he was asked to join Silver Sable's Wild Pack - a kind of super-powered INTERPOL. He is basically an incidental character in the Marvel universe. Writing French characters is not really Marvel's strong suit. They pronounce things like "zat" instead of "that," exclaim "sacrebleu!" a lot, and - though I can't confirm this - probably have an inexplicable fondness for Jerry Lewis. Also "peregrine" is not a French word, so the fact that he was called "Le Peregrine" in Marvel's version of France was inaccurate. (In French versions of the comics, he was called Le Faucon Pèlerin, meaning "Peregrine Falcon.") Peregrine Falcons are indigenous to many countries in the world, including France, so they did at least get that much right.
Peregrine's alter ego Alain Racine is a writer born in Moulins, France, but little else is known of his origin.
His suit allows him to fly through the use of an anti-gravity belt (really need to get me one of those) and jet turbines beneath his glider wings, so, no, he does not have to flap his arms continuously. He is an expert at the martial art of savate, also known as French kick-boxing, but possesses no actual super-powers . . . apart from body odor and rudeness, no doubt.