Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Magnificent Seven Return of the Classic Western

The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 movie of the same title which was a remake of Seven Samurai  (1954). It is predictable. It has all the tropes from Westerns you can imagine. It has the long drawn out gunfight battle from Spaghetti Westerns. It has the slow pan up of the hero as he enters that saloon. It has the legendary gunfighter struggling with those he has killed.  It has the unlikely friendship between the Native American and the "Indian" hunter who is a kind and gentle giant. It has insurmountable odds. It has a story of vengeance from the past and a noble band of killers and misfits. It has a plot that pretty much lets you know who will die and who will live.  It has a bad guy who you just can't help but hate. It has the kindly preacher who lets us know that our fighters are more than just hired guns but avenging angels. In short, The Magnificent Seven is a wonderful old-fashioned western.

The acting is solid but given a cast that includes the likes of Denzel Washington and Vincent D'Onofrio and Ethan Hawke, one could expect little else.  Chris Pratt is his usual charming self. The cast is a good one and despite the predictable plot they turn in superb performances. There is little else I can say.

If you like the old classic Westerns, or just want to see an old fashioned good vs. evil, go see The Magnificent Seven. It is everything a Western should be.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Everyman Hero

The movie Sully is one that I am glad I saw. It is simply told, well written, and well acted. There are a few things that are a bit trite in the telling, but overall, it is a good and moving story of an unlikely hero whose simple and unassuming nature is the measure of the man.

For those of you who don't know the story, Flight 1549 of US Airways was struck by a flock of birds a few moments after take-off which disabled both engines on the plane on January 15, 2009. Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger made the decision that the plane could not make it to the two nearby airports and decided to water land the plane on the only smooth surface he could find in New York City, the Hudson River. It all happened in 108 seconds. More remarkable was that all 155 souls on the plane survived the landing. Sully walked up and down the plane to make sure no one was left behind. It was also remarkable in that not only did everyone survive in frigid winter weather but also people just generally do not survive water landings. The entire rescue was just 24 minutes long.

Sully is more than this story. It is the story of what happened after the landing.  It was not a crash, as Sullenberger pointed out but a water landing.  The movie tells us of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the press that surrounded Sullenberger, and the learning to deal with the hero worship in the media. If there is a singular problem with the movie, it is the decision to paint the NTSB as the villains in the movie. It is something about which NTSB investigators are less than pleased. Painting government investigators as bad guys is a long-running and trite Hollywood trope.

Still, there is yet another stellar performance by Tom Hanks as Sully Sullenberger.  Hanks has become a master at playing the unlikely, everyman hero. He inhabits the character in ways few actors can.  I believe in Hanks as Sullenberger.  I suppose that one of the reasons he has so few Oscars is simple. He is so good at playing these characters, it seems effortless.  To paraphrase Spencer Tracy, "Never let the audience catch you acting," is exactly Hanks' ability as an actor. His innate ability to look into and past a camera and let the audience see every thought constantly astonishes me.

The rest of the cast consist of primarily Aaron Eckhart as First Office Jeff Skiles also important to the safe landing and Laura Linney as Sully's wife Lorraine. Their performances as also solid and believable. If there are any other issues with the movie, is that Director Clint Eastwood really needs to hire someone that can write music other than the self-written jazz music that he writes for his movies. Sully 
is a solid movie that will leave you feeling good. It is worth the time. I think most folks will enjoy it. 

By the way:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Star Trek and Me: A 50 Year Journey (Part 3)

I did post on Facebook about this incredible gift a group of students gave to me.  If you missed it, here it is. 

A few weeks before the Star Trek 50 in Las Vegas, in late July a former student of mine sent me a message from a friend of hers that she needed to sell her ticket to the event for an incredible price. I explained that my money for August was budgeted, and while it would be cool to go, it just was not in the cards for me. By the end of the exchange, my former student had bought the ticket for me, had contacted several other former students and was in the midst of trying to arrange plane tickets and funding to help cover the cost of a Vegas hotel.  I am forever grateful to this small band of students for this incredible gift and what for me is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list event. It was not just the gift of the convention, but it was also the reminder of the gift that I had when I taught these amazing young people.  They gifted me with a memory of not just an incredible convention, but with why I taught for over 30 years.

So, on Tuesday, August 2nd, I flew to Vegas for Star Trek 50 at the Rio hotel and convention center. I had not attended a Star Trek convention since the 1990's. The Vegas convention would run from Wednesday, August 3rd through Sunday, August 7. It would be five days of immersion into Trek, but it was more.

There was the plethora of overpriced collectibles and a host of famous and not so famous celebrities selling their autographs, a practice that I think should stop. Yes, I did buy a few mementos including what my wife and I are calling the world's most expensive tee-shirt, but I am glad that I got it. But unlike the conventions that I quit going to, there was an appreciation - a feeling that I felt they had lost when I quit going. As I said in part two, Star Trek 50 renewed my passion. 

You see, when you put several thousand Trekkies/Trekkers in one place, you discover something: as a group, we are kind, friendly, incredibly diverse, and are still filled with hope for human-kind. It didn't matter whether what age, race, orientation, or handicap, everyone I saw was truly thrilled to be there. Celebs, famous and not so famous, were, it seemed, genuinely glad that they were there. Celebrities even were out walking through the halls and easily accessible if fans just wanted to talk without paying for a signature. I have been to conventions where the stars are surrounded by an entourage and security going from their hotel room to the panel hall.

At this convention, I got to talk to stars, saw cast members from Enterprise as we both dined at the bar of a hotel restaurant, talked to Robert Picardo about membership in the Planetary Society, told Andrew J. Robinson of Deep Space Nine how much I enjoyed his psychopath in the original Dirty Harry movie as he passed in the hall, thanked Garrett Wang for his hosting work at Denver Comic Con, and even accidentally captured a pic of Brent Spiner as he went past a cosplayer whose picture I was taking.  He was not the only celebrity that I saw roaming around the convention halls, either. Celebrities were at ease among these fans.  They were clever and charming and had fun at all the panels.  Even the often the self-described pessimist, Walter Koenig danced a little jig when he was introduced for his Q and A. I even got to know a fan from Australia, while we talked with John and Bjo Trimble. I told Bjo that I first saw Trek when I was nine and thanked her for saving if for me.  She told me that we should start an original series survivor's club. 

It was a joyous time. It was almost at times, seemingly magical. What is more, it reminded me of my passion for this series. When I came home, on Monday, August 8th, I had something that for me is an unusual event. I had dreams about being at the convention. In fact, for the next two weeks, I had wonderful dreams about that convention. My family will tell you for me to remember anything about the dreams is quite unusual.

Why Star Trek for these fifty years? The answer is really quite simple and hopefully after three full blogs you'll get why. Trek gives us Hope.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Star Trek and Me: A 50 Year Journey (Part 2)

William Shatner arrives.
So in this 50th Anniversary Year of Star Trek, I wanted to tell you what it was that recharged my passion for what may debatably be the most influential pop culture icon.  I know. I know there are others and some which are bigger and even a few, like Doctor Who, which is older, but from cultural impact, few have had the impact that Star Trek has, and the thing that reminded me of the love I have for this particular franchise was that I went to a Star Trek Convention. 

A cosplayer recreates
Captain Pike
It was not just any Star Trek convention.  I am not saying that I will start going to other Star Trek conventions, but that I was given the opportunity to go to a huge -a bucket list kind - Star Trek convention. I went to the Star Trek 50th Convention, Las Vegas. As a nerd, I go regularly to the comic con in Denver and also added to my bucket list when I went to the grand comic convention in San Diego. While I must admit I was thrilled and awed by San Diego Comic Con as I wandered through it in awestruck wonder, the Star Trek 50th in Las Vegas was very, very different. When I go to comic cons, I know some of the things going on and I also know very little or nothing about some of the other events and panels.  While I enjoy going to celebrity panels, I must admit there are some celebs that I have no idea as to how they are connected to the nerd community. It’s fun to find out, but there is plenty in the pop culture arena that I don't know about.

Star Trek Rat Pack
At Star Trek conventions, I know these people. They are my people. I get them. I've been there since the beginning. Now I admit that I am not as detailed obsessed as a few Star Trek nerds. I cannot discuss the show by episode number nor tell you who was the second camera man or the first red-shirt actor to die in Star Trek, but I get it. I get Star Trek.

To understand, let me tell you a little bit about the five days I spent at this wondrous convention.  People I did not know existed still were there, and it wasn't Q and A sessions with Star Trek actors and a cosplay contest and an auction, it was more. Yes, those things which are staples of the Star Trek conventions were also at Star Trek 50. 

Robert O'Reilly
While there were events like those above, there were also the entertainment events. It is, after all, Vegas and Vegas is about the show. Every night, there was an entertainment event. On the first night, there were the actors in full Klingon make-up. J.G. Hertzler (Martok), Robert O'Reilly (Gowron) and Gwynyth Walsh (B’Etor) were all original Klingons in Star Trek The Next Generation and Deep Space 9. Not only did they come out in full costume and make-up, but they also responded to the audience as if they were their original characters. It was funny and an astonishing exercise in improv theater as these three actors performed as if they were on an Earth-bound, Klingon talk show.

Max Grodenchik
They were not the only entertainment in full make-up and costume.  There was The FERENGIS! with Max Grodenchik (Rom) and Aron Eisenberg (Nog) from Deep Space 9. While they were a little more sedate than three Klingon's on stage, they were also moving as Aron Eisenberg talked about health problems he'd had and what make Max Grodenchik such an amazing human. 

At night, we could go to Quark's Bar. This room, which during the day was a place where attendees could buy lunch and snacks, was also the home to the Roddenberry stage which hosted each night a band called the Roddenberries and also had actress Chase Masterson from Deep Space singing old lounge songs. Yes, she can sing. Attendees could also buy real Star Trek-themed drinks in the bar each night. It was also the place where Rod Roddenberry, Gene Roddenberry's son, hosted a 50th birthday party supplying cake and champagne to every attendee in the room. 

Jonathan Frakes joins the audience.
In addition to this entertainment, there was also the night when the Nevada Pops Orchestra played music from Star Trek with one song being directed by award-winning composer Jay Chattaway. On another night there was the Star Trek Rat Pack with Max Grodenchik (lyricist and producer), Armin Shimerman, Vaughn Armstrong, Jeffrey Combs, Casey Biggs and Bill Burchell as the satiric forms of Frank Sinatra and the old Vegas gang. Add to these events like cakes decorations, or decorate your own cookie or coloring contest or learning to play Star Trek Ascendancy the board game, you get an idea of what the atmosphere was like.

Tribute banner to Anton Yelchin
To these entertainment events, we can add things like places for photo scenes and even a transporter which would make a video of the person being transported. There were astounding cosplayers. There was the art inspired by Star Trek traveling display. There were vendors and banners and even a large banner dedicated to the memory of Anton Yelchin, which attendees could sign. There were demonstrations like Oscar award winning Michael Westmore showing how a Borg is created. Last but not least, there were the panels.

Whoopi and Cosplayers
Almost any major player from every Star Trek series, with perhaps the exception of Patrick Stewart, was there. They were almost always grouped with other members of the same series. They did more than answer fan questions. They created moments for fans to remember. There was the arrival of John and Bjo Trimble who led the charge that kept Star Trek from being canceled. There was the moment that one of the actors from the original series apologized for having difficulty remembering because he was recovering from a stroke two weeks before. There was the moment when Jonathan Frakes kept roaming around the audience and hanging out with the fans. There was the introduction to the actors who had played iconic Star Trek monsters like the Gorn and the Salt Vampire. There were moments when Walter Koenig and in a later event George Takei both seemed to want to make peace with William Shatner. There was the moment that Scott Bakula came out and proved he really is deserving of his nice and genuine guy reputation. There was the moment that Whoopi Goldberg invited all the Guinan cosplayers to the stage and later came out and hugged Nichelle Nichols for her contribution to opening the door for women of color in the 1960's. There was the moment that Adam Nimoy paid tribute in film clips to his dad, Leonard "Spock" Nimoy and Rod Roddenberry's toast to his dad's creation. 

Whoopi and Nichelle
In short, the convention was not just about stuff and celebrities, but about the moments that were created for fans. Most of the questions were ones that every hardcore fan had read about, heard about, or had seen asked at other conventions. What it was that made this convention different was that fans received a gift of memories to take with them. And that is what the events of Star Trek 50 Las Vegas were like, and it is how I renewed my passion. 

So why? Star Trek and Me: A 50 Year Journey (Part 3) is coming next.