wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey

I will be at the Celebration tonight, so my DVR is set to record Peter Capaldi’s first real appearance (apart from the last 30 seconds of the Christmas special) as The Doctor on “Doctor Who,” one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

I’m one of those annoying people who boasts that I’ve been a fan of “Doctor Who” since the show’s first run. I started watching Tom Baker and Peter Davison episodes on public television when I was in college. Oklahoma public television ran individual cliffhanger episodes of the show every night at 10. Independently, my father and brothers were discovering the show back here in Tennessee, where the Nashville public TV station ran it on Saturday night, stitched together into entire stories.

When the BBC revived “Doctor Who” in 2005, it originally ran on SciFi (now SyFy) here in the U.S., and didn’t have much of a following. But BBC America eventually got the show, and did a much better job of marketing it. Now it’s built up quite a following here in the former colonies. But I can still smugly say I knew it way back when.

I’ve posted numerous times in the past trying to explain the show for those who weren’t familiar. I’ll try to do that again here, but a little more succinctly. It’s a science fiction program, which ran from 1963 to 1989 in the U.K. There was an attempt to bring the show back in 1996 as a joint British-American production, filmed in Canada, but that only produced one TV movie. Then the BBC brought the show back on its own in 2005.

Unlike some other long-running science fiction franchises, like “Star Trek” or “Battlestar Galactica,” “Doctor Who” has achieved its longevity without ever rebooting its continuity. It’s one long storyline, going back to 1963. The main character has been played by a dozen different actors, the latest of whom starts tonight. They differ quite a lot in age, appearance and even in personality. You could say the same thing about James Bond, of course – but the difference is that in “Doctor Who,” the change from one actor to another is written into the story. The Doctor is an alien, and one of his powers is that when he is subject to great physical trauma, he can “regenerate” – create a new body. The new body is still The Doctor, with all his memories, but may have differences in personality and outlook.

That’s what’s happening tonight. In the episode that aired on Christmas Day, the old Doctor, played by a quirky and relatively-young actor named Matt Smith, regenerated into Peter Capaldi, whose age is more in line with some of the doctors from the old 1963-89 version of the show. Here’s how that episode ended:

As much as I liked Matt Smith – and I did like Matt Smith – there have been hints that the show may now go in some directions more like those older episodes, and for us long-time viewers, that sounds like a treat.

The Doctor travels through time and space in a vehicle called a TARDIS. From the outside, it’s the size of a phone booth and has the appearance of a police call box, which was a common sight on the streets of London in 1963. But the real police call boxes went away and that box is now associated exclusively with “Doctor Who.” The TARDIS is huge on the inside, which is a constant source of amazement whenever the Doctor invites some earthling (or other alien) to travel along with him for a while.

If tonight’s episode is like past regeneration episodes, The Doctor won’t be quite himself for a bit (for example, in the clip above, he seems to have forgotten how to fly the TARDIS). He usually has a bit of a recovery process while he gets used to his new self.

I’ll be at the horse show tonight, preaching in the morning, then we have a family birthday celebration and I have a rehearsal. But hopefully, sometime late tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow night, I’ll get to see tonight’s introduction to the Peter Capaldi era. Until then, no spoilers!

I am Groot

Well, I went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” today. I’d been mildly curious about this movie since seeing the first publicity for it many months ago, but sadly, “mildly curious” doesn’t get me to the theater that often. (The last movie I saw in the theater was “The Monuments Men,” and you probably have to go back a year or two before that.)

But several friends, and several reviewers, were so effusive about it last weekend, stressing how much fun it was, that I decided to go see it. I had the time and the money the same weekend, and I even walked to the theater, getting in my daily exercise. I was warned by the box office that they were having air conditioning problems upstairs, but I took the chance anyway. It wasn’t that bad, and they had ceiling fans running. Once the movie got started, I never had a chance to think about the temperature.

“Fun” is exactly the right word for this movie – the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in ages. Equal parts wise-cracking humor, breakneck action and eye-popping production design, this is the very definition of a popcorn movie. And it has a heart, to boot.

Except for the pre-credits prologue, which documents how young Peter Quill was abducted by aliens after running away from his mother’s deathbed in (IIRC) 1987, the movie is set far, far away from Earth.

I’m echoing several reviewers when I say this has the fun and humor of the initial Star Wars movies, without the ponderous self-seriousness of the prequels.  It also has the fast pace of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” There are times when it’s hard to follow certain nuances of the story, but it hardly seems to matter.

The two CGI characters – Rocket the Raccoon and Groot, a tree-like creature with a one-phrase vocabulary – work surprisingly well and you find yourself surprisingly invested in their fate. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista are all terrific, as are all of the various supporting players. (Wish they’d given John C. Reilly more to do.)

One thing many reviewers have mentioned, and justifiably so, is the movie’s soundtrack – a soundtrack so wonderful, and so of my generation, that I immediately had to come home and buy it from Amazon. Young Peter Quill’s only possession when he’s abducted – his only link to home, and his mother – is a Sony Walkman with a mixtape his mother made for him. That becomes a plot point in the movie, and it includes some of my favorite songs. One reviewer referred to them as “80s songs,” I guess because the opening scene is supposed to be set in the mid 80s, but they’re mostly 70s songs – songs the mother would no doubt have listened to in the 1970s when she was an adolescent, songs she would have treasured and wanted to pass along.

Here’s the list from the soundtrack album, which should give you an idea:

1. Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Swede

2. Go All the Way, The Raspberries

3. Spirit in the Sky, Norman Greenbaum

4. Moonage Daydream, David Bowie

5. Fooled Around And Fell In Love, Elvin Bishop

6. I’m Not in Love, 10cc

7. I Want You Back, Jackson 5

8. Come and Get Your Love, Redbone

9. Cherry Bomb, The Runaways

10. Escape (The Piña Colada Song), Rupert Holmes

11. O-O-H Child, The Five Stairsteps

12. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Tammi Terrell

“Hooked on a Feeling” and “Fooled Around And Fell in Love” are among my all-time favorites, and I have great memories of most of the others as well. Yes, they’re sometimes used in a tongue-in-cheek manner within the movie, but they’re still great songs – and the movie knows it. No wonder Peter Quill is so protective of that Walkman!

This is a Marvel Studios movie, so be sure not to leave the theater just because the end credits are rolling. Stay until after the credits and you’ll be rewarded. (Remember that Marvel and Lucasfilm are now both owned by Disney, and think back to 1986. That’s all I’m saying.)

cinematic ramblings

The other day, when posting (as I often do) a Facebook update about some movie coming up on Turner Classic Movies. I made a passive-aggressive comment about not knowing if anyone paid attention to my classic movie recommendations. What I meant was that I can’t recall anyone ever posting “Hey, John, I watched ‘Miracle of Morgan’s Creek’ on your recommendation, and I never laughed so hard in my life.”

Several people were kind enough to comment on my post, saying that they enjoyed my movie recommendations.

I enjoy introducing people to great movies they’ve never seen before. The high point of my adult life was the 2 1/2 years at Famous Televangelist University when I was in charge of the campus movies, and got to introduce my fellow students – some of whom had grown up in Christian-media-only bubbles – to things like “Casablanca.”

Anyway, later that night, in the middle of the night, I woke up and got to thinking. I’ve been wanting to do some sort of podcast but didn’t think I had a marketable idea. (I also don’t have the infrastructure to do a really professional-sounding, properly-distributed podcast right now.) Maybe I could turn my blithering about movies into some sort of podcast – I would scan the TV listings, in advance, and then do a little five-minute audio, once a week, calling people’s attention to some sort of classic movie, either on TCM or some other station or streaming service.

For a five-minute podcast, I could start by just uploading it to Soundcloud for a few months. If it worked out, and if anyone listened to it, I could eventually figure out some way to turn it into a real, properly-produced, properly-hosted podcast.

I can’t start it right now – I’m going to be pretty busy for the next month or two, between the horse show and the play I’m in – but I’m going to keep giving it some thought.

Lives up to the name ‘essential’

Saturday night, at 8 p.m. Eastern / 7 p.m. Central, TCM will air “Metropolis” as this week’s episode of “The Essentials,” hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore. TCM shows the latest restoration of the movie, released in 2010, and made possible by footage found in 2008 in Argentina. My brother and sister-in-law gave me this as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

If you have never seen “Metropolis,” or if you’ve only seen the butchered print that existed before 2010, you really need to watch this, or set your VCR.

Even if you don’t like silent movies – and I have to admit, I rarely have the attention span to sit and watch a silent feature film here at home – this is the one to see. It laid the groundwork for so many other things, from “Star Trek” to “Blade Runner.”

The German expressionist classic, released in 1927, just a year or two before talkies became the norm, tells the story of a future civilization deeply divided between the haves and the have-nots. The ruling class lives in a beautiful city of art-deco skyscrapers and flying cars. (Many, many movie and TV art directors, for things like the Tim Burton-era “Batman” movies, have cited “Metropolis” as an influence on their futuristic urban landscapes.) The working class works underground.

Freder Fredersen is the privileged son of Joh Fredersen, the mayor of this futuristic city. Maria is one of the workers, and has become the leader of a non-violent resistance movement, hoping for a “mediator” who can bring together the city’s two classes. When she breaks into the city’s pleasure gardens, Freder sees her and is smitten. He ventures into the city’s subterranean world looking for her and is shocked at what  he finds there.

Joh Fredersen, disturbed by his son’s newfound interest in the workers and worried because some workers have been found in possession of suspicious maps, turns to his old friend and bitter enemy, a mad scientist named Rotwang, who has invented a lifelike android that can be used to disrupt the workers’ resistance movement. But Rotwang has his own priorities ….

Seriously, if you’ve enjoyed any modern science fiction movies or TV shows, you need to see this movie, which laid the groundwork for so many of them. These weren’t cliches in 1927 ….

for those of you with kids

I was neglectful, earlier in the summer, in giving my usual shout-out to “Essentials Jr.,” Turner Classic Movies’ wonderful – but horribly-named – summer showcase of family-friendly films, hosted again this year by Bill Hader, formerly of SNL.

Anyway, tonight, instead of showing one movie, they’re going to show short subjects from the legends of silent comedy – Chaplin, Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle, and so on. Depending on your kids’ ages and how open they are to new things, this might be a fun evening ….

daddy’s dyin’ … orville’s rehearsin’

The last play I was in was “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Show” over the holidays. But when I first saw a notice for auditions for “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” at the Fly Arts Center, I didn’t even think about auditioning.

You see, production dates were in late September – and I was planning on taking a mission trip in early September, right when some of the most intense rehearsals would no doubt be taking place. It would simply not be possible to prepare for, and do justice to, a play and a mission trip in the same short period.

Then, last Tuesday, the mission trip got put off until some undetermined time in 2015, due to the current Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Please continue to keep the people of West Africa in your prayers.

Then, I saw a notice for one last audition for the play, this past Sunday. It was already a busy weekend for me, what with judging two chili cookoffs and attending a church ice cream social. But I figured I might at least go and try auditioning for the play.

I have gotten the part of Orville.

The play, by Del Shores, is a family comedy set in Texas. Buford Turnover (who will be played by my Times-Gazette co-worker Martin Jones, with whom I’ve worked several times before) has suffered a stroke, and isn’t expected to live long. The various family members come together, and immediately start getting on each other’s nerves and (as the play’s title indicates) looking at the impending death through the lenses of self-interest. The humor is a little like the “Mama’s Family” segments on “The Carol Burnett Show” – back-and-forth insults and over-the-top portrayals.

The play was made into a 1990 movie featuring Beau Bridges as Orville. I have not seen this, and I do not want to see it until after our production.

This will be a new experience for me. Although I haven’t read the full play, and won’t get my book until some time tomorrow, the description of Orville at the publisher’s web site, and the scenes I read during the audition, make it clear that Orville is the least-likable character I’ve ever played. He’s a redneck garbage collector, kind of mean, mean to his wife and to the other family members gathered together at their father’s bedside. Now, I believe that all of the characters get at least a little redemption as they come together at the end of the play, but this will still be quite a different experience from any role I’ve played before. It’s a good challenge for an actor.

I have to find the humanity in Orville, and the playwright is clear about the fact that he considers these to be rounded characters, not stereotypes, so hopefully he’ll give me something to work with in that regard.

There is a little language in the play – the worst thing I heard in Sunday’s excerpts was a four-letter term for excrement.

As I said, T-G printing press operator Martin Jones plays the family patriarch, Buford. Since I had only Sunday’s auditions to go by, I thought I was competing with Martin for the part of Orville. But Martin wanted the part of Buford and had already read for it extensively at the earlier auditions. I told Martin today that since I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn,” it’s only fair that he should now take a turn playing my father.

Retired T-G editor Kay Rose is also in the play, in the part of feisty Mama Wheelis. Kay has been in a number of local theater productions but I’ve never been in a play with her before, so this will be fun as well.

Production dates are: September 19, 20, 26 & 27 at 7 p.m. and September 28 at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the Fly Arts Center, just off the square in Shelbyville. You can call 931-684-8359 or visit The Fly Arts Center Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. for tickets.

 

Analog

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of science fiction, went to a couple of conventions, and so on. I got away from the written science fiction at one point while I was in college, and I don’t really know why. I’ve certainly enjoyed various science fiction movies and tv shows since that time.

Anyway, I was a subscriber during that time to Analog, the granddaddy of all science fiction magazines. Analog goes all the way back to 1930, under the original title of Astounding Science Fiction, and many of the genre’s leading names were first published in its pages. Each issue included an article on some cutting-edge or speculative scientific topic (hence the subtitle “Science Fiction & Science Fact”).

I even tried sending them a story when I was a teenager, my first attempt at serious fiction. (It never went anywhere.) I was also a subscriber to another, similar magazine, Isaac Asimov’s – in fact, it was during the period when I was subscribing to both of them that the company which already owned Isaac Asimov’s bought Analog as well.

I happened to think about Analog a couple months back. I went online found that it’s still being published, as is Isaac Asimov’s. You can get them in print, or you can get them on your favorite e-reader, either in subscription or single-copy form. I decided I was going to buy a single copy of Analog at some point, on Kindle, just to see what it was like, but I never followed up.

My brother Michael was in from North Carolina over the weekend to pick up my nephew from Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. (He went to a robotics-themed camp and had a fantastic time.) When I talked to Mike on the phone Thursday night, he said he had something to give me. When I got to Dad’s house after work on Friday, I found out what it was. Mike and Kelly had been in a used bookstore in North Carolina and had found a treasure trove of back issues of Analog for just pennies an issue. Mike bought a huge box, kept some for himself, and gave several dozen to me. They range from the late 1960s up to about 1990. (Mike was under the impression the magazine had gone out of business.) Here are just a few of them:

WP_20140622_001

Some were even from the period during which I was a subscriber – in fact, one of them includes part of Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s “Stardance.” The original short story “Stardance” ran in Analog just before I started reading it, but it was followed a year or so later by a sequel, “Stardance II,” a novella which was serialized over several issues. Then, the short story and the novella were combined and published as a book. My first copy of that book got thrown out at some point, but I went back and re-purchased it later, and it’s still one of my favorites. One of the magazines in the assortment Mike gave me contains the first installment of the novella, and even though I have it in its final book form it’s still a neat souvenir for sentimental reasons.

I just got through reading “The Hornless Ones,” by Paul Ash, a short story from the August 1990 issue you can see at far left in the photo. It made me feel like I was 16 again, looking for the latest issue to show up in my mailbox.

hop to it

I admit it – I was the token heterosexual viewer of the Tony Awards on Sunday night, although I was busy with other things and wasn’t watching most of it all that closely. I did like the bit with Carole King and the woman who’s currently playing her on Broadway. But I was about five minutes late switching over to the show – which killed me, because I wanted to see how this “Duck Dynasty” cast member Hugh Jackman responded to Neil Patrick Harris’ hoop-jumping, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink opening number last year.

I went back and caught the opening later, online. Here it is.

This performance was a tribute to something. I knew what it was, even before Hugh hopped past that video screen on which it was playing. There was a scene from a classic MGM musical in which Bobby Van did a similar hopping number:

In this case, I had never seen the actual movie and could not have told you the name: “Small Town Girl.” I had seen this number as part of “That’s Entertainment,” a feature-length compilation and tribute to MGM’s Freed Unit musicals that ran in theaters, and then on TV, in the 1970s. (The YouTube clip above is taken from “That’s Entertainment,” which is why you hear a second or two of Gene Kelly’s voice introducing the routine.)

I remember Bobby Van and his wife, Elaine Joyce, mostly from game shows. (I was obsessed with game shows as a child, growing up as I did in the heyday of the daytime network game show.) They were each panelists on “Match Game” at one point or another, and they appeared as a couple on “Tattletales,” which was Goodson-Todman’s celebrity version of “The Newlywed Game.” Bobby Van even hosted a few short-lived game shows himself. It wasn’t until I saw “That’s Entertainment” that I realized his celebrity came from any place other than game shows.

Right about the time I tuned over last night, before I had seen the actual number, I laughed out loud at Tori Taff’s response to it on Facebook:

  • You know you’re of a certain age when u watch Hugh Jackman BOUNCE into#Tonys2014 & all u can think is “Yeah, knee replacements for sure.”

It seems like a strange choice to have the opening number of the Tonys be a tribute to a scene from a movie, but the song to which Bobby Van was hopping was called “Take Me To Broadway,” so maybe it wasn’t such a strange choice after all.

crossbones

It’s a bad sign that I hadn’t even heard of “Crossbones” until after the first episode had aired, and that NBC is showing it on Friday nights during the summer.

But I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Maybe since I know going in that it’s not long for this world, I won’t be too disappointed when the inevitable happens.

“Crossbones” is a pirate drama with John Malkovich as Edward “Blackbeard” Teatch. Malkovich is the star, but Richard Coyle as resourceful, well-educated British agent Tom Lowe is the central character. Lowe has orders to kill Blackbeard, but finds himself Blackbeard’s prisoner, in effect, on a secret Caribbean island.

The show is more entertainment than history – an anachronistic steampunk submarine has been hinted at – but there is one interesting historical connection. Earlier today, before watching the first episode, I noticed that the Amazon Kindle deal of the day was “Longitude” by Dava Sobel. This is a non-fiction book about the creation of the first accurate clock that could be taken to sea, enabling mariners for the first time to be able to calculate their longitude, and thus their exact position. The book sounded interesting.

Then, when I watched the first episode, that very clock turned out to be a critical plot point on the show – Blackbeard wants it, and Lowe must try to keep it out of his hands. (I ended up going back and buying the Kindle book out of curiosity, while it was still on sale for $1.99.0)

Malkovich and Coyle are both fantastic, as are several of the other players. (I’m sometimes annoyed by the Coyle character’s dim-bulb Jimmy Olsen sidekick, but that’s a quibble.)

I can’t understand why NBC isn’t giving this more of a chance; I think it’s wonderful escapist entertainment.

Here, if you’re interested, are the first two episodes:

lisa

I just watched a sensational movie I’d never seen or even heard of before: “Lisa,” with Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd. Dolores Hart – who is now a Benedictine nun – is co-hosting an evening of movies on Turner Classic Movies, and this apparently seldom-seen gem was one she requested they show.

Dolores Hart, before entering the convent, was best known for appearing in a couple of movies with Elvis (“Loving You” and “King Creole”) as well as “Where The Boys Are.” While they aren’t showing either of the Elvis movies tonight, Robert Osborne had to ask her about Elvis, and she remarked on what a gentleman he was to her, calling her “Miss Dolores” – the same thing she would later be called as a postulant!

Stephen Boyd is best known, to me, anyhow, as the bad guy in “Ben-Hur,” but he’s the good guy in “Lisa.”  He plays a Dutch policeman in 1946, guilt-ridden because he could not save his wife from the Nazis, who encounters an emotionally-scarred survivor of the concentration camps and Nazi expermentation. Lisa (Hart) wants to travel to Palestine (the movie is set two years before the state of Israel was created) and become a nurse. Seeking redemption, Boyd vows that he will help her get there. Her experiences have left her with trust issues, and she’s not sure how to take his offer.

A highlight of the film early on is an appearance by one of my favorites, Leo McKern (of “Rumpole of the Bailey” and “The Prisoner”) as a curmudgeonly barge captain who helps the pair get out of Amsterdam.

A terrific movie, with great performances by both of the stars.