And here is the latest thing that makes me feel old.

What’s with all the people in music videos looking so damn young these days?  Did they change the child labor laws?

There was a time when I was daily viewer of MTV (the sedate stuff on VH-1 was for old people), and I rocked hard, people.  It seemed to me that whenever I watched a video, I saw people who were my own age.

Now these videos are inhabited only by people who look young enough to be my kids. And that makes sense, because … they kinda are young enough.  (Yes, I realize the video below for The Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” was made 18 years ago, but that’s beside the point.)  If the performers in a video today were in their very early 20’s, then they’d be about the right age, if I’d fathered kids when I was 26.

Furthermore, some astute commentators pointed out online Monday night that 2019 is the year in which the original “Blade Runner” (1982) was set.  The opening title card names “November, 2019” as the time when all things Fordesque turn angsty and existential and killer-androidy.  Am I … older than Harrison Ford’s character? I am six years older than Ford was when he made the film.

Now I just feel weird.  Why do I write these blog posts, anyway?

[Update: Today I am learning that “Akira” (1988) and “The Running Man” (1987) also set their stories in 2019?! That’s ironic, given that the future we’ve come closest to is that of 2006’s “Idiocracy.”

I wonder how people in our parents’ generation felt when 2001 arrived, if they’d happened to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” in theaters in 1968.]

 

In best Heywood Floyd voice: “DELIBERATELY BURIED …”

I don’t know if this is real or not. But if they made a monolith toy that hummed or vibrated when you touched it? That would be the frikkin’ GREATEST collectible ever and I SWEAR I would fork over so much cash for one.

Can you imagine having writer’s block, or trouble concentrating, and using this plus black coffee to get your game back?

If it doesn’t hum or vibrate, though, this would fall firmly into “pet rock” territory.

For now, any extra money I might have for fanboy squandering will be saved for a nice Green Lantern ring.  (They appear to be sold in abundance from multiple sources — whether or not with DC’s blessing remains unclear to me.)

 

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PLEASE sign to support continued medical care for 9/11 First Responders!

PLEASE sign this quick and easy online petition in support of extending the James Zadroga Act, which will continue to provide lifesaving medical care to 9/11 First Responders.  The act is named for NYPD Officer James Zadroga, who died in 2006 due to his exposure to toxic chemicals during his rescue efforts at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  He was the first police officer whose death was attributed to an illness resulting from the rescue efforts.

The link below will take you directly to a change.org petition to ask Congress to extend the act, and you can read a personal appeal by John Feal, a United States Army Veteran who was himself a First Responder.

I am reaching out in particular to all of my fellow New Yorkers. Signing this petition took me less than four seconds. If we all sign and then share this link, it will be the very least that we can do to help the bravest and best of New Yorkers, who now, in turn, need our help.

Please share this petition as well, and talk to your family and friends about this. Again, this really is the very least that we can do.

“Tell Congress We Will Never Forget 9/11 First Responders”

You can also learn more about the efforts of First Responders to seek the care that they deserve right here:

A review of “Deliver Us From Evil” (2014)

“Deliver Us From Evil” (2014) pleasantly surprised me by being a pretty decent horror movie; I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

I expected a predictable melodrama between its two primary protagonists — the hardened, intractably “close-minded” cop and the wise young priest.  This, I thought, would upstage a thin, generic, supernatural backstory.

Well … there was some of that expected character interaction, but I admit that it was done pretty well.  And the old fashioned scares served up here make this an above average horror movie.

I say “old fashioned” because this seemed to channel the demonic possession classics that defined this horror movie sub-genre, for me, anyway — “The Exorcist” (1973) and “The Exorcist III” (1990).  It has an expansive story that begins in a nicely surprising battle scene in Iraq, then shifts its focus to several chilling violent crimes in New York City.  Then it effectively blends a horror story with a police thriller.  And the story is detailed, with some thought put into the demon’s modus operandi and choice of victims, as well as the their investigation by streetwise New York City cops.  A straight horror-thriller like this is a nice contrast to recent well made supernatural horror films like last year’s “The Babadook” or “It Follows,” which were ambiguous and heavily thematic, personal stories with virtually no exposition.

Eric Bana and Edgar Ramirez were both terrific; even they might have been upstaged by Joel McHale in a supporting role as Bana’s foul mouthed but loyal anti-hero partner. I was rooting for him more than the thinly drawn hero scripted for Bana. (Can any NYC cops really wield a knife like that?  If so, that’s totally badass.)  McHale is damn good — I’ll be looking for him in his regular role in the upcoming revival of “The X Files.”  If you were an NYC cop, wouldn’t you want a partner like that?  Seriously … that dude is BADASS.

Regrettably, this movie’s thought and creativity do seem to lose steam toward the end.  Certain scares and images were done wonderfully.  The scenes inside the asylum were great, for example, especially one shot that made me think of the Batman mythos’ Arkham Asylum.  Others fell flat.  Our Big Bad, when finally revealed in full, is just a generic ugly dude in drab whiteface.  And a sequence involving a piano is shot with little visual flair.

The most frightening subplot of all involves a troubled girl in her bedroom; it’s cut short and rendered irrelevant in order to move the plot forward.  And the finale features an exorcism that recycles mostly old tropes from the sub-genre.

Hey … this was still a good movie, though.  It certainly was better than I thought it would be.  I’d cheerfully recommend it.

Oh!  One more thing — this is supposedly based on a true story.  Scott Derrickson’s interesting screenplay derives from the 2001 book, “Beware The Night,” by retired NYC police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana’s character).  I wonder what evidence anyone has gathered to either support or debunk the story here.

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“His wife and children will never welcome him home again …”

“If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them.”

— from Homer’s “The Odyssey” (Samuel Butler’s translation)

Today’s quote arrives to us today from my friend Francis James Franklin, who is not only an accomplished independent author but also a terrific classical scholar.  Thanks, Frank!!

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Throwback Thursday: the Commodore 64

[WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “TERMINATOR SALVATION” (2009).  (NO, SERIOUSLY.)]

Pictured below is the Commodore 64, which was the most popular brand of personal computer in the 1980’s.  My mother bought me one, and I still feel guilty about it.  Because it cost more than $600 and, frankly, I can’t remember successfully accomplishing any conceivable  purpose with it, ever.

Let me explain.  I think maybe a lot of people were in my position.  The advent of PC’s was a strange phenomenon among average American households.  Advertising promised us that computers represented “the future” or an opportunity to “discover new worlds.”

One of the greatest lessons life has taught me is that, when people employ only vague and abstract language when they speak, it usually means that they have no facts or concrete information to support their message.  And retrospect strongly suggests that at least some of those ads were simply false advertising.

Look at the one in the third picture below.  The ad ambitiously advises parents that if they want their “child” to “get into a good college,” the Commodore 64 could help them “rack up points on … the SAT test.”  And, for this actionable information, we could thank that trusted standby, “a recent study.”

Well, first of all, the copywriters for this ad sound pretty unfamiliar with “the SAT test,” because there was no “SAT test.”  It was simply the “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” or “SAT.”  If you called it “the SAT test,” that meant you were too stupid to recognize a simple redundancy, and that might actually prevent you from “getting into a good college.”

If you were wise, and did want to “rack up points” on “the SAT test,” you took the PSAT for practice.  Then you got a hold of that “Princeton Review” study guide.  Whether the “study guide” helped you to simply beat the test, or give you an unfair advantage, is a tangential issue that I won’t explore here.  I will tell you that it sure as hell boosted my score, and I was no goddam Copernicus, especially back in those days.  But never once did I hear about anyone using a home computer to boost their score.

So, in 1985 or so, this slightly befuddled junior high school student wasn’t too clear about what I was supposed to do with a computer.  I knew it was a status symbol in some circles, yet a social liability in others.  (“Nerd!”)  I knew that I should be thankful for being the recipient of such a pricey toy, and I was aware that its presence vaguely suggested that I would eventually be college bound, as my siblings had been.

Every kid back then wanted to know if computers could be used to change their grades remotely, as Matthew Broderick had done in 1983’s “War Games.”  Well, I certainly never approached the task, as we did not have a modem.  My far smarter friend on the next street, Keith Nagel, actually DID have a modem, but if he ever penetrated either the Longwood School District or the Defense Department, he never told me about it.  (Yes, kids, back then, modems, “monitors,” and “disk drives” were all things that were purchased separately — beyond that $600 you paid for the “computer,” which was housed in the bulky keyboard itself.)

I learned all of this in Mr. Anderson’s “Computer Literacy” class via the Longwood School District.  Forget website design or online marketing — when I was a kid, computers were so new that we endeavored merely to be “literate” about them.  The curriculum included helpful black and white illustrations of modems, monitors and disk drives, so that we knew the differences among them.  If you wanted to sound especially computer savvy, then you referred to a monitor as a “C.R.T.,” or “cathode ray tube.”  We were actually tested on such illustrations.

For some reason, the difference between ROM (Read Only Memory) and RAM (Random Access Memory) was considered crucial to “computer literacy.”  We also learned how to write a simple “loop” program in … Basic, I think.

True to form for teachers in the Longwood School District, Mr. Anderson was a terrific educator.  That didn’t stop various efforts by students to traumatize him and make him regret certain choices in life.

The “burnout kids” (metal-heads, in the more modern parlance) were a group I rarely mixed with, and they were a junior high subculture not known for academic excellence.  But when it came time to master the rudimentary 80’s-era text-to-speech program, they REALLY applied themselves.

Making a computer talk, and say whatever you wanted, was considered pretty cool back then. Turns out the burnouts were a hell of a lot smarter than anyone gave them credit for, because they mastered it quickly — far faster than I did.  Of course they programmed it to taunt the teacher.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, MR. ANDERSON?!”  I can still hear that electronic voice, and then the burnouts mimicking it ad infinitum.  Mr. Anderson got pissed and had to tell them to knock it off.  It was beautiful.  It is almost EXACTLY what the HAL 9000 said to Dave Bowman on the doomed Jupiter mission, even though I’m pretty sure nobody in that class (including me) had yet seen Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Maybe those burnout kids made fun of me once in a while, but the nascent subversive in me just had to admire that handiwork.

Wait … I … might have succeeded in running a really cool PC game called “Impossible Mission” on the Commodore once.  (See the second photo.)  That was until I got dust on the disk or something, and the game malfunctioned.  (All the tunnels and elevators disappeared, and my guy kept running around in this gray … space or purgatory or something.)

By the time I entered college, I had swapped out my Commodore for an “electronic typewriter.”  That, kids, was a sort of hybrid between a computer and a typewriter.  Think of the the “Terminator Salvation” character, Marcus Wright.  (Or … y’know, think about Bryce Dallas Howareyadarlin’ as Kate Connor, because that’s far more pleasant.  Just don’t think about the movie’s script.)

You could carry an electronic typewriter.  Also … it felt right.  By the time I reached 18, I already dreamed of being the next Stephen King.  And a traditional typewriter seemed somehow emblematic of that.

I even took that typewriter with me to Mary Washington College’s Bushnell Hall in the Fall of 1990.  I kinda never used it, though.  I was having far too fine a time as a first-semester college freshman to turn in any typewritten papers, if memory serves.  My class attendance rate was maybe … 80 percent?  Eighty-five percent?

I wound up on “academic probation.”  My typewriter wound up at the bottom of my closet.

Oh, well.  At least I had gotten “into a good college.”

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My slightly disappointed review of “The X Files” Season 1.

I am blogging my past TV reviews from Facebook; this was my surprisingly unenthusiastic reaction to “The X Files” Season 1.  Yes, this review is dated, as it makes no mention of the show’s impending return.  (Hooray.)

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I love ‘The X Files.” And I mean I REALLY love “The X Files.” It’s possibly my favorite television show of all time, running neck and neck with shows like “24,” Battlestar Galactica” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” So I was very surprised at my own disappointment when, via Netflix, I was able to watch Season 1 in its entirety for the first time. Taken together, I think its 24 episodes deserve a 5 out 0f 10. And bear in mind – that’s coming from a diehard fan.

I first fell in love with this show as its fourth or fifth season was currently airing. This was long before Netflix streaming, and I’m pretty sure it was before DVD’s were even a thing. (I’m old.) What few episodes I’d seen of Season 1 were from syndication and purchased VHS tapes. So I’ve been proclaiming my love for the show (which had a nine-year run) for years without ever having seen much of the early seasons.

Some great TV shows can get off to a rough start. “The Simpsons,” “MST3K” and even “Family Guy” were less than stellar when they first began. Shows like “24” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” were good, but got much better. “The X Files” was surprisingly average.

The first nine episodes were, frankly, poor. There was little of the suspense, mystery and characterization that would eventually make the show great, with Mulder and Scully being flat, and even annoying characters that were thinly scripted and awkwardly played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Duchovny, early on, was just bad. His wooden line delivery made him seem like a Fox Network intern who was standing in for a sick professional actor. Anderson was better, but could only do so much with the clunky and simplistic dialogue.

Episodes like “Ghost in the Machine” and “Ice” seem clearly like ripoffs of sci-fi classics (“2001: A Space Odyssey” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” respectively), though “Ice” still manages to be fun. One episode, “Space,” was so boring that it was painful to watch. “Squeeze,” which is a favorite for many longtime fans, was good, but even it hasn’t aged all that well. I’m surprised the show lasted.

As mysteries or police thrillers, these early episodes also failed. Eager witnesses cheerfully and conveniently present themselves early on to volunteer clues and exposition. The underlying reveals seemed like elements thrown together with little exposition. And Duchovny looks like he’d never held a gun in his life. (I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to wave it around like that.) I can’t remember the episode but, at one point, Mulder (a supposedly brilliant Oxford-trained criminal psychologist) actually confuses schizophrenia with MPD (multiple personality disorder). Sigh.

Then there was a shift in tone and quality. “Eve” is one of the all-time greats. (And it was here where the dark themes and complex overarching plotlines were truly established that would later define the show.) “Beyond The Sea” saw Anderson shine, along with the writers and directors. It was simply fantastic … even unforgettable (thanks in no small part to amazing guest actor Brad Dourif).

“Darkness Falls” and “Born Again” established their creators’ abilities to make great standalone, scary mysteries. Duchovny just seemed to … get better. He settled into the role, became more natural, and the writers seemed to begin giving Mulder the endearing quirks and idiosyncrasies that eventually grew him into an attractive, three-dimensional character that so many people would grow to love.

And the final episode, “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” clinched it. Here the show seemed to reach the greatness that I remember, with a great story with humor, pathos, creepiness, tension and seemingly plausible twists and mysteries. It was wonderful, and a great precursor of the greatness we would see in later seasons.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. And Season 1 was really more average than flat out bad. I’m just saying that the first season compares poorly with what longtime fans remember from the next eight years.

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