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Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss

This is the third and latest short film that I’ve either written or co-written with Juan Carlos Hernandez for his production company, Popcorn Sky Productions. It’s a comedy about a politically-divided family in New York City during the Trump era.

As Denise Longrie says in her review:

This amusing and enjoyable short depicts the fireworks that erupt when the Ronderos’ son Jerry (Anthony James Hernandez) comes home from college for a visit. Mom Veronica (“Ronnie”), played by Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez, lays down the law to her husband Guillermo (Juan Carlos Hernandez): no talking, not even whispering, about politics.

Although Juan was gracious enough to give me the sole writing credit for Ronnie, the truth is that much of the finished film was based on on-the-spot rewrites by the cast and crew in New York. I was asked to go to the Big Apple to be on hand, but I couldn’t afford the cost of an airline ticket plus a long extended stay at a hotel. So even though I was consulted, Juan, Adria, and Anthony had to rework the story and script to make Ronnie work well as a comedy with some serious commentary about the divisiveness in Trump-era America.

The film is 22 minutes long, but it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s both hilarious and relevant.

If you have not watched it yet, here it is, in all its YouTube glory.

Musings & Thoughts for Saturday, July 24, 2021, or: Music, Mom, and Memories

Mom and I enjoy the white sandy beaches of Marco Island, FL in 1964. Strangely enough, I live closer to this beach than I did in the summer of 2015. (Family photo)

 Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida on Saturday, July 24, 2021. The current temperature is 89˚F (31˚C). With humidity at 53% and a north-northeasterly breeze blowing at 7 MPH (12 KM/H), the heat index is 98˚F (37˚C). The forecast for today is basically a repeat of yesterday’s: we can expect light rain throughout the day, and the high will be 94˚F (34˚C). Tonight, light rain will continue, and the low will be 76˚F (24˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 42 or Good.

Right now I’m listening to my digital copy of Pops in Love, a recording by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the baton of John Williams. Originally released by Philips in 1987 – when I was still in college – and featuring light classical music composed by such luminaries as Gabriel Fauré, Tomaso Albinoni, Maurice Ravel, Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, and Claude Debussy, Pops in Love has been in my music collection since the 1990s and was one of the albums that I played for my mom while I was on “watch” till either my half-sister Vicky or a home health aide arrived to relieve me.

Art Design by Dennis Mukai and Peter Nomura (C) 1986 Philips Classics Productions

One of the nicest memories I have of that otherwise stressful and sad period between the spring of 2010 and my mother’s death six years ago is that almost to the last days of her life, my mom and I spent a lot of time watching movies or listening to music that we both loved. When the dementia/Sundown Syndrome was not as pronounced (circa 2010-late 2014), I would go to Mom’s room – which before 2010 had been our guest room – with a DVD, Blu-ray, or music CD and play it on a player (initially a DVD player, later a Blu-ray one) to keep us entertained while we waited for a health care professional (Vicky was then still working as a nurse, and the health aide from Nursing South showed up around 4 PM Monday through Friday) to get to the house.

This is not the Boston Pops Orchestra!

I often chose Pops in Love because its 11 selections were relatively short classical pieces – the longest track – Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile (from the String Quartet No. 1, Opus 11) runs for 7 minutes and 13 seconds – are not “big” symphonic works but rather calm and soothing compositions. Some, like Albinioni’s Adagio in G minor have a melancholic flavor to them, but Mom never protested or told me to turn them off. I think the music relaxed her, and – at least in the early years of her confinement to that small room – she remembered that we used to watch Evening at Pops on WPBT Channel 2, Miami’s PBS station.

I’m not sure why I chose to listen to Pops in Love today. It is – and will probably always be – an album that I enjoy purely on its aesthetic merits. On the other hand, I associate it now more with my mom than, say, I do with any of the women I have dated.[1] Maybe it is because the music is calming and at the same time reflects my mood.

Anyway, that’s it for this edition of A Certain Point of View, Too. I don’t have much in the way of news, and contrary to the Caregiver’s notion that I “overshare” too much, I only report on highlights of my days. And since my routine is somewhat dull and not as varied as it once was, I’m not going to bore you with such mundane details as what I had for breakfast or what color of socks I’m wearing.

So, Dear Reader, I’ll close for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.


[1] Millions of people know that the Boston Pops are fun. You can see that from the television shows, hear it on 50 years’ worth of recordings.

But you probably have to live in Boston to know what generations of Harvard men do – that the Boston Pops are a good date, that a Pops evening can be a romantic occasion. You don’t go to the Pops by yourself, and part of the warmth of thinking about concerts is thinking about the people, or the person, that you went with. At points in every concert the lights dim, the Pops play sweet music, and people start to hold hands. – Richard Dyer, in the liner notes for Pops in Love

Musings & Thoughts for Friday, July 23, 2021, or: How I Went to Movies So Bad I Had to Leave the Theater Before the End

Photo by Nathan Engel on Pexels.com

Greetings, Dear Reader. It is late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Friday, July 23, 2021. It is going to be another scorching summer day. The current temperature is 86˚F (30˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 53% and the wind blowing from the west-southwest at 4 MPH (6 KM/H), the heat index is 99˚F (37˚C). Today’s forecast calls for scattered rain showers and a high of 94˚F (34˚C). Tonight, scattered rain will continue, and the low will be 76˚F (25˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 34 or Good.

Have you ever gone to a movie in a theater (cinema in the UK) and walked out before it is over because it is so bad you can’t stand to watch it anymore? I usually don’t; even when I lived in Miami and  went to the movies more than I do in New Hometown, I went to trashy films along the lines of Hot Dog…The Movie and Message from Space and stayed at least until the end credits started to roll and the house lights went up. It didn’t matter if I went alone – which I sometimes did after AMC opened a theater at the old Midway Mall/Mall of the Americas in the late 1980s[1]̶  or in a group; once the tickets, popcorn, and sodas were bought and I was seated in a screening room, it was a total commitment.[2]

However, in all my years of going to a theater to watch a movie, I have walked out of two films that were so bad that I didn’t care about the misspent admission money: John Derek’s Bolero (1984) and Jeannot Szwarc’s Santa Claus: The Movie.

In both cases, I was with my “regular crowd” of friends, most of whom I knew all the way back to my days at Tropical Elementary School in the Westwood Lakes neighborhood of unincorporated Miami-Dade County. And on both occasions, we left well before the movie ended.

Per the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Bolero is a 1984 erotic comedy drama written and directed by John Derek. IMDb describes the plot thusly:

Set in the 1920s, a young woman sets out to lose her virginity. Her mission leads her to a Moroccan sheikh and a Spanish bullfighter.

I guess we picked this movie out of prurient curiosity, but the idea that Bo Derek could play a virgin barely out of her teens was ridiculous. Not even the copious displays of attractive naked women kept anyone’s interest past the 30-minute mark. It was almost comical how we rose from our seats and walked out – a master comedic director like Harold Ramis or Carl Reiner could not have come up with a funnier scene than that of a coed group of college-age moviegoers walking out of a softcore porn flick.

A bit over a year later, in November of 1985, one of the members of the group (who shall remain nameless cos I don’t want to embarrass him) insisted that we go see Santa Claus: The Movie.

This $50 million dud was the last film produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the Hungarian-born, Paris-based father-son team who made The Three Musketeers duology and the first three Christopher Reeve Superman films in the Seventies and early Eighties.

This is what IMDb says about Santa Claus: The Movie:

The legend of Santa Claus is put in jeopardy when an unscrupulous toy manufacturer attempts to take over Christmas.

 This time around, I don’t think we got past the 30-minute mark before most of us decided we’d had enough of Santa Claus: The Movie. Four of the five in the group – except the guy who really wanted to see it – got up and said, “Let’s do like the trees and leave.”[3]

This time around, the getting-up-and-leaving was more acrimonious, with the Dudley Moore fan protesting about leaving before the movie ended, but it was four-to-one against staying, so the holdout reluctantly (and angrily) said, “Okay, okay…let’s go.”

Trust me, the ride back home was less than pleasant, since Mr. “Let’s See Santa Claus!” was also the Designated Driver and sulked moodily for the rest of the night.

Since then, I’ve seen only one movie so bad that I wanted to leave even before it ended – Michael Bay’s 2001 Pearl Harbor – but I had been invited by one of my then-neighbors and I thought it would be impolite to even suggest we leave. So…I watched that sorry mess in its entirety.

How about you, Dear Reader? Have you gone to a movie that is so bad that you’ve left the theater before it ended? Let me know in the Comments section below and share your story!

Sources:

Bolero Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page

Santa Claus: The Movie IMDb page


[1] The AMC 14 at Mall of the Americas closed its doors in December of 2015 even though Star Wars: The Force Awakens had been scheduled to open there on the 18th. I only found out it was closing when a friend and I went to the theater and wanted to get tickets. “Sorry, we are closed,” said an employee. Luckily, my friend had a smartphone and checked to see what time the Dolphin Mall’s Cobb 19 theater was showing The Force Awakens; we made it to an 8 PM screening with about five minutes to spare before it started.

[2] Of course, when I run into a bad movie on TV, or even a good one that I don’t feel like watching, I can switch the channel and watch something else.

[3] Yes, This is an actual quote. I ought to know; I said it.

Musings & Thoughts for Thursday, July 22, 2021, or: Well, I DID Give it the ‘Old College Try’

This is me holding the Outstanding Contribution award from the Catalyst for my work during the 1985-86 academic year. Photo Credit: Bob Bailey, Miami-Dade Community College/Author’s Collection

Hey, there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Currently, the temperature is 86˚F (30˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 51% and the wind blowing at 1 MPH (2 KM/H) from the west-northwest, the heat index is 97˚F (36˚C). It’s going to be hot outside today: the forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a high of 94˚F (34˚C). Tonight, skies will be partly cloudy, and the low will be 77˚F (25˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 38 or Good.

Once upon a time, I studied journalism because I wanted to be a reporter at a big city newspaper such as the Miami Herald (my hometown paper) or the New York Times, the “Gray Lady” of traditional print media (and one of the American right-wing’s go-to targets for scorn and hate, along with The Washington Post and CNN). Not because I had any illusions of becoming an investigative reporter a la Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward – I preferred the Entertainment beat to “hard” news, even though I learned how to cover every beat in my college campus’ student newspaper, including Sports – but rather because it would be a good way to use the only talent I have in a way that helped society as a whole.

Oh, okay. I also saw journalism as a steppingstone to a career as a novelist or screenwriter. It would, I thought, pay the bills and allow me to see more of the real world before I became a teller of beautiful lies for a living.

The story of why that plan did not go the way I planned is long, drearily depressing, and would take a series of blog posts to explore in detail. The TL;DR version is: Although I am reasonably smart, well-read, and intellectually curious, I can’t grasp mathematics or any course that’s highly dependent on that subject. Even remedial math, which I’m told a monkey can pass with ease, is beyond my ken.

But until the day that I wearily, dejectedly, and reluctantly dropped out of college in December of 1989 after four years of studies and with most of my major’s required courses under my belt, I was a damn good journalist.[1]

Before I left college at the age of 26, I could write:

  • Localized news connected to national or world events
  • Editorials
  • Opinion columns
  • Features stories
  • Humor columns
  • Reviews
  • Entertainment news

Here, for instance, is the first article I wrote for Catalyst in September of 1985 as a staff writer.

New records come in threes

Alex Diaz-Granados

Staff Writer

(Published in the September 25, 1985, issue of Catalyst)

They’re making both turntables and heads spin in the music department.

That’s the excitement created by the first plunge by this college into the recording business.

Three albums, which were recorded at Criteria Studio, are on sale at the bookstore and offer a choice of jazz or gospel or Broadway-style popular music.

According to Forrest McGinley, music department head, this is the first year that the music organizations have been of “such caliber that we feel they should be able to cut a genuine, high quality phonograph recording for the general public.

“Not only is this going to be a profit-making enterprise,” said McGinley, “but it should also add to the ‘Name and Fame’ of the music department.”

EOE Catalyst Student Newspaper, South Campus . This was the typesetting computer in Room 8215 (the “production room”). Although this photo was taken when I was still in high school (in 1982), it shows a corner of a place where I spent four years working and (often) playing with my colleagues. (Miami-Dade College Archives)

He may be prejudiced because he leads the Caravan Singers, one of the three groups that made the recordings. But he says, “Each album is unique. The albums are excellent.” He added, “We’ve always had quality performers, but now we’ve reached a stage where we can put our musical organization on a series of LP albums and share our talent with the rest of the community.”

Each record was produced with the help of Harold Harms, who has worked all the way with the two-year-old sound recording program.

The album covers are by Media Services of North Campus, which also designed a new logo for the Caravan Singers. These will be used on T-shirts and promotional posters.

The Juba album contains gospel songs with piano accompaniment by their director, Alexandria Holloway. Other instruments include synthesizer, drums, and electric guitar.

The Caravan Singers, directed by McGinley, is a 16-voice group with a combo. Their record contains classical, pop and show tunes.

Jose Lima, music major and a member of the Caravan Singers, said, “The recording was a challenge for all of us.”

He added, “Working together as a group was extremely satisfying for me personally, and as a group it was a growing experience.”

The music on the Top Secret album, directed by John Georgini, can be attributed to several composers. Of a total of the seven cuts, two cuts are by music major Amilio Valencia. Other arrangements were written by Bob Mintzer, Rob McConnell and others.

Both the Caravan Singers and the Jazz Ensemble have won the respect and top ranking of the National Association for Jazz Artists.

According to McGinley, the albums are being marketed by Johnny Mac Allen and will be available at the Bookstop and at music stores such as Spec’s and Peaches within the next few weeks.

“I’m pleased that finally our performances will be out there for students and non-students to enjoy. This is going to be a major boost for us in the music department and for the College as a whole,” McGinley said.

Here I am, a few years after I wrote this article, goofing around with Robert Tamayo (on the floor with his foot up in the air) and Jennie Ahrens (seated), the editor of Catalyst during my first semester on the staff. (Photo Courtesy of: Rogers Perez, taken by Jim Linn)

[1] By the time I left Miami-Dade Community College at the end of the Fall 1989 semester, I had been editor of every section of the student paper except for News and Sports, served as foreign correspondent during my Semester in Spain study abroad gig, and was the Catalyst‘s Managing Editor at the time of my “retirement.”

Musings & Thoughts for Wednesday, July 21, 2021, or: Life in the Florida Doldrums

Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

Hi, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The present temperature is 85˚F (30˚C)  under partly sunny skies. With relative humidity at 51% and the wind blowing from the west-southwest at 6 MPH (9 KM/H), the heat index is 94˚F (35˚C). Today’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a high of 93˚F (34˚C). Tonight, skies will be partly cloudy, and the low will be 74˚F (23˚C). Today’s Air Quality Index (AQI) is 28 or Good.

Yesterday, I received my Blu-ray set of Star Trek: Discovery – Season Three from Amazon. I had it on pre-order since April, and although it was priced at $34.96 ($11.03 less than its retail price of $45.99), it turns out that I don’t owe a penny to my Visa card. As a cursory look at my invoice reminded me, I’d used a huge chunk of my Amazon Rewards points to pay for it. I had forgotten this, but I checked my Amazon account this morning because I wanted to send my payment today and found out that I owed nothing.

(C) 2021 CBS Studios and Paramount Home Media Distribution

I tried to watch some of the episodes last night, but I must have been exhausted by the time I put Disc 1 (it’s a four-disc set) in my 4K UHD Blu-ray player around 8:30 PM. I managed to see That Hope Is You, Part 1in its entirety, but I fell asleep halfway into Far from Home,the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. So I guess I’ll have to rewatch both episodes later today, because although I remember being wowed by the visuals, I’m a bit hazy about the story other than the fact that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the USS Discovery are now 1,000 years in the future of the Star Trek timeline in the aftermath of the events of Season Two.

Photo by NEOSiAM 2021 on Pexels.com

I think one of the reasons why I was so tired last night is that I spent a great deal of energy trying to keep my emotions on an even keel. Mid-July has been a difficult time of year since Mom died on July 19, 2015, and although I think that I do a good job at reining in my negative emotions (my dark side, if you will), it takes a lot of willpower to put on a pleasant façade for my housemates. This is hard to do under ideal circumstances; in less-than-ideal ones it’s like landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, armed with a BB gun instead of an M-1 Garand rifle.

And because I fell asleep well before 11 PM, I woke up super-early this morning. I had to, ahem, answer the call of nature at 4 AM, and even though I went back to bed immediately afterward, I had a tough time going back to sleep. I think I dozed off a bit a few times between 4 and 6 AM, but I was fully awake by 6:30 AM and had a light breakfast of café con leche and soda crackers around 7:15. I think I’ll be fine and functional today, but man, I sure would have loved to sleep soundly after visiting the loo.

I wish I had more interesting stuff to share with you today, but unfortunately I don’t lead much of an exciting life these days. As William Shakespeare writes in Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Musings & Thoughts for Tuesday, July 20, 2021, or: Coping with Yesterday

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It is midday here in New Hometown, Florida, on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The present temperature is 88˚F (31˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 54% and the wind blowing from the southeast at 4 MPH (6 KM/H), the heat index is 98˚F (36˚C). Today’s forecast calls for scattered rain showers and a high of 93˚F (34˚C). Tonight, we can expect scattered rain showers to continue. The low will be 74˚F (24˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 25 or Good.

If my mother had had her way, I would still be seeing this view – in person – at least once per day.

Well, I made it through yesterday without falling into a depressive state because it was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. Yes, I grieved her passing; I think I do so – consciously or not – every day, especially when I compare and contrast life here in New Hometown to my previous one in Miami. And, yes, I wrote another commemorative blog post about her death. Like it or not, July 19, 2015 was a defining, life-altering date for me, and it would have so even if:

  • My mom’s plan to for me keep our townhouse as my inheritance and permanent home had worked out
  • My half-sister and I were not at each other’s throats due to our different personalities and states of mental health
  • I had a steady source of income and financial security free of the limits imposed on me by the Social Security Administration

Basically, even if I were financially well-off, happy, and in my own house rather than in the home of someone who took it upon herself to take me in (and it was  her idea, not mine), my mother’s demise would have defined the remainder of my life. Her absence would still weigh heavily on my mind even if my wishes of being independent – or at least in a happy relationship – had come true.

Mom was still able to get out of bed and go for walks (with the aid of a walker) when one of our respite aid workers snapped this shot of us back in 2012.

I’m not going to write an entire post about this subject; suffice it to say that the bond between my mother and me was strong (certainly stronger than that between Mom and my half-sister[1]) and that any setback I experience here in this house triggers the “But life was so much better when Mom was around” thoughts. Every time that something good happens to me (which is a rarity these days), I wish I could share the news with her. I mean, now that I’m involuntarily single, who can I share good news to in person, right?

Apropos of good news, remember that I mentioned a while back that Kenneth Shapiro, the writer-director of Great Voices Sing John Denver wanted to add my review of the movie to the official Great Voices Sing John Denver website?

Well, it took the webmaster of the site some time to do so, and I thought that Shapiro probably forgot. After all, I am not a well-known film critic on the same exalted level of Robert Roeper, Peter Travis, or my personal inspiration, the late Roger Ebert. I’m just a boring middle-aged Star Wars fan and storyteller. But on Monday I went to the Great Voices website,  looked at the Awards and Laurels page, and saw this….

I thought that if Shapiro were serious about adding my review to the website, it would be tucked away off in a corner where it could be seen. Or maybe the site manager would have just pulled a quote and created a “blurb.” You know, something along the lines of:

“I recommend this award-winning film to anyone who enjoys great music…., it will appeal a great deal to either fans of John Denver or are familiar with the artists recruited by Milt and Rosemary Okun, Elisa Justice, and Lee Holdridge.”

But no. The folks at the Great Voices Film Company appreciated my review and gave it a prominent place on the Awards and Laurels page. And, of course, my very human reaction was, “Wow! They like me! They really like me!”[2]

So, yeah, I made it though yesterday without shedding a tear or being a grump. Seeing my review on the Great Voices Film Company site – and my name, while we are at it – made my day.

I still wish my mom had seen it, though.

(C) 2020, 2021 CBS Studios and Paramount Home Media Distribution

Well, other than to say that today I will be getting my Blu-ray set of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season – it is now on an Amazon Prime delivery van and Out for Delivery – and that I’m probably going to watch parts of it tonight, I don’t have much in the way of news. I hope that the rain showers don’t mutate into thunderstorms. I don’t mind rain by itself, but I’m not fond of lightning strikes.

So, Dear Reader, I’ll just stop here and say, “Ciao for now!” Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.


[1] A fact of life that I think is the principal source of Vicky’s antipathy toward me.

[2] I never saw the Oscar broadcast where Sally Field said this after she won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Places in the Heart. But I do know the quote.

TV Documentary/Blu-ray Box Set Review: ‘Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – The Definitive History of America’s Pastime, 1840s-2009’

You can also watch the restored version of Baseball on MLB Network if you have that channel in your cable TV package!

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – The Definitive History of America’s Pastime, 1840s-2009  (1994, 2010)

Written by: Geoffrey C. Ward (Episodes 1-9), Ken Burns (Episodes 1-11), David McMahon (Episodes 10-11), and Lynn Novick (Episodes 10 and 11).

Directed by: Ken Burns, Lynn Novick

Starring: John Chancellor (Narrator, 1994 Series), Keith David (Narrator, 2010 Series), Daniel Okrent, Billy Crystal, Doris Kearns Goodwin, George F. Will, George Plimpton, Bob Costas, Roger Angell, Mike Barnicle, Gregory Peck, Arthur Miller, Philip Bosco, John Turturro, Curt Flood, Ted Williams, Joe Torre, Mario Cuomo, Felipe  Alou, Marcos Breton, Keith Olbermann, Pedro Martinez, Amy Madigan, Anthony Hopkins, Paul Newman, Mickey Mantle, Ossie Davis

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
(C) 2021 PBS Distribution and Florentine Films/Baseball Film Project

Narrator: It is played everywhere. In parks and playgrounds and prison yards. In back alleys and farmers’ fields. By small children and old men. Raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed. The only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime, and ending with the hard facts of autumn. It is a haunted game, in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before. Most of all, it is about time and timelessness. Speed and grace. Failure and loss. Imperishable hope. And coming home. – from Inning One: Our Game (1840s-1900)

On Tuesday, June 8, PBS Distribution released Florentine Films’ Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – The Definitive History of America’s Pastime, 1840s-2009, an 11-disc Blu-ray box set with “fully-restored in high definition” editions of 1994’s Baseball and 2010’s Baseball: The 10th Inning, Burns’ immersive and exhaustive documentary miniseries about, naturally, America’s national pastime and its long, storied history.


An epic overflowing with heroes and hopefuls, scoundrels and screwballs. 



  • Babe Ruth
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Shoeless Joe Jackson
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Satchel Paige
  • Pete Rose
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Casey Stengel
  • Hank Aaron
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Ichiro Suzuki
  • Barry Bonds
  • Pedro Martinez

It is a saga spanning the quest for racial justice, the clash of labor and management, the immigrant experience, the transformation of popular culture, and the enduring appeal of the national pastime.–  from Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns. 

This wasn’t the first home media release of Baseball; back in the 1994s, when videotape was the dominant home media format, PBS Home Video released the original version of Ken Burns’ Emmy Award-winning miniseries in a 9-tape box set; in the fall of 2010 PBS Distribution released Baseball and its 2010 update, The Tenth Inning, in an 11-DVD box set.

The Series

On September 18, 1994, the 300 or so member stations of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired Our Game, the first episode (or “inning”) of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns. Co-written by Burns with historian (and frequent collaborator) Geoffrey C. Ward, the 112-minute long episode explores the beginning of America’s national pastime and explodes various myths, including the story that General Abner Doubleday, a Civil War hero, invented the game that eventually became America’s pastime.

The series’ original broadcast run ended 10 days later with Inning 9: Home (1970-1992), an examination of such topics as free agency, the designated hitter, multi-million-dollar salaries, and a gambling scandal that shook the sport to its very core. But as they do throughout the previous eight “innings,” Burns and Ward also reflect about the timelessness of baseball – the very quality that is at the heart of the sport’s lasting appeal.

Well — it’s our game; that’s the chief fact in connection with it; America’s game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions; fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.— Walt Whitman

The series aired – sadly – when much of the 1994 Major League Baseball season (and the World Series) were canceled on account of a players’ strike which lasted into 1995.   Perhaps because Baseball aired when no Major League Baseball games could be seen, the documentary earned good ratings (not as high as Burns’ The Civil War, but still better than average for a PBS series) and an Emmy Award for best documentary.

And even though it has been criticized for focusing too much on New York and Boston teams and perpetuating negative accounts of Ty Cobb’s life, Baseball performed well enough to not only merit re-airings on PBS and elsewhere, but a rare follow-up by Ken Burns in 2010’s Baseball: The Tenth Inning: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick.

Fast forward to October 5, 2010: 16 years after Baseball’s original broadcast run, PBS Distribution released Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (Includes the Tenth Inning), a 11-disc DVD box set that includes Burns’ original 1994 documentary and Baseball: The Tenth Inning: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, a two-part follow-up that consists of Top of the Tenth (1992-1999) and Bottom of the Tenth (1999-2009).   

The New (High) Definition Standards

Of course, all of the home media releases made prior to 2021 were in standard definition and shot/aired in the old aspect ratio of 1.33:1 that was used in the analog TV broadcast era. However, in the decade since The Tenth Inning originally aired, most people have widescreen digital TVs with either high definition (HD) or ultra-high definition (UHD) video, and streaming services now tend to favor the widescreen  1.78:1 aspect ratio.

To meet the expectations of modern viewers and to attract more “eyeballs” to PBS’ streaming app, Ken Burns and his team at Florentine Films to alter Baseball’s aspect ratio from 1.33:1 to 1.78:1 so that the image could fit the wider screens of modern HD and UHD screens and thus avoid the vertical letterboxing effect that would have resulted if Baseball had been restored and remastered in its original version.

The Episodes

(All summaries are from the Blu-ray packaging labels)

Disc One (Inning One):

  • Our Game (1840s-1900) (1:53:54): By 1856, the game of baseball is already being called “the national pastime.” But the nation is about to be torn apart. During the Civil War, there is one thing that Americans North and South have in common: baseball.

    Disc Two (Inning Two):
  • Something Like a War (1900-1910) (1:44:55): The 1900s are a decade of revolution. Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson takes over a struggling minor league and turns it into a financial success. In 1903, the first World Series is played between the Boston Pilgrims and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Disc Three (Inning Three):
  • The Faith of Fifty Million People (1910-1920) (1:58:34): A steady stream of immigrants land in America — and find playing and following the National Pastime a path to becoming American. Even as the country endures a world war, baseball is trying to endure a decade that includes the angriest player to ever step foot on the field.

  • Disc Four (Inning Four):
  • A National Heirloom (1920-1930) (1:55:00): The 1920s begin with America trying to recover from the war and baseball trying to recover from the scandal of the 1919 World Series. America finds relief in the Jazz Age. George Herman “Babe” Ruth is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

    Disc Five (Inning Five):

  • Shadow Ball (1930-1940) (2:04:01): In the midst of all the suffering of the Great Depression, baseball offers a welcome distraction — and heroes. But the heroes do not come only from the Major Leagues. The Negro Leagues bring baseball to towns the Major Leagues ignore.

    Disc Six (Inning Six):
  • The National Pastime (1940-1950) (2:26:16): At the beginning of the decade, Jackie Robinson’s debut is still years away. Joe DiMaggio sets a consecutive game-hitting streak that still stands. Ted Williams becomes the last man to hit .400. The Brookly Dodgers win their frist pennant.

    Disc Seven (Inning Seven):
  • The Capital of Baseball (1950-1960) (2:12:14): Year after year, the Yankees are on top of the American League. Year after year, the Giants and Dodgers fight for the National League crown. Starting in 1949, there is a New York team in the World Series for 10 straight years.

    Disc Eight (Inning Eight):
  • A Whole New Ballgame (1960-1970) (1:54:48): The 1960s are a turbulent decade for America. It is also a turbulent decade for baseball. It starts with Bill Mazeroski bringing down the Yankees with one dramatic home run, and in 1961, Roger Maris pursues Babe Ruth’s “untouchable” record.



Disc Nine (Inning Nine):

  • Home (1970-1980) (2:26:19): America and the world are seeing more changes than ever. And so is baseball. Free agency, multimillion-dollar salaries, the designated hitter, a shocking gambling scandal, a new home run champion, and a World Series victory for Canada.



Disc Ten (Inning Ten):

  • Top of the Tenth (1992-1999) (1:57:33): In the age of globalization and deregulation, a cataclysmic strike over money and power brings baseball to the brink. Cal Ripken becomes baseball’s new Iron Man, sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa smash records, and The Braves dominate the National League while the Yankees build a new dynasty. Meanwhile, players must make decisions about how far they are willing to go to succeed.



Disc Eleven (Inning Ten):

  • Bottom of the Tenth (1999-2009) (2:05:10): In the fall of 2001, when a badly frightened country yearns for normalcy, baseball helps provide it. In an epic battle with the Yankees, the benighted Boston Red Sox stage the greatest comeback in history. Baseball is more popular and profitable than ever, but suspicions and revelations about performance enhancing drugs keep surfacing, calling the integrity of the game itself into question.

The original nine innings are narrated by former NBC News anchor John Chancellor.

The 2010 update The Tenth Inning: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, which covers the years 1992-2009, was co-written by Burns, Novick, and David McMahon.  Because Baseball’s  original narrator died in 1996, actor Keith David, who had worked with Florentine Films on the seven part documentary The War (2007), was hired to take his place.

Baseball and The Tenth Inning rely on the visual techniques used by Ken Burns in all of his major documentaries, including slow pans over still art (photos and paintings) of the 19th Century and the use of black-and-white and color footage from newsreels and contemporary TV/film coverage of games and other public events that take place in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Adding to the visuals in Baseball and the fine writing by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Lynn Novick is the wide array of on-screen interviews with players, sportswriters, and baseball fans, as well as the galaxy of stars who provided voice acting talents to “perform” quotes from long-dead legends such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Gregory Peck, John Cusack, Philip Bosco, Amy Madigan, Michael Moriarty, Jason Robards, Anthony Hopkins, and Keith Carradine give voices to various historical characters in dramatized excerpts from letters, diaries, and other contemporary sources, such as newspaper articles of the periods covered.

Of course, Baseball also has interviews with baseball’s living legends – at least those who were around when the 1994 and 2010 installments were filmed, Ted Williams, Curt Flood, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, and Pedro Martinez give candid accounts about their careers to Burns and his crew, and prominent baseball fans, including columnists Mike Barnicle and George F. Will, historians Stephen Jay Gould and Doris Kearns Goodwin, and actor Billy Crystal weigh in on their love of the game and its role as America’s pastime.

Interestingly, Burns (in his executive producer gig) not only uses music from the specific eras covered in the 10 innings, but he also recycles cues that were used in other Florentine Films productions. In Our Game, for example, I heard songs and melodies that I had heard when I watched The Civil War and The West (which was produced concurrently with Baseball and was thus directed by Stephen Ives). It’s kind of a cheat, some people might think, but it makes sense, both aesthetically and financially. 

My Take

To be honest, I am not particularly enamored with the sport of baseball. I have no athletic aptitude, so I can’t play the sport. My dad, who loved the game, died before my second birthday. My mom was not a baseball fan, so I had nobody in my family from which I could catch baseball fever.

Oh, I’ve gone to a few games, including a New York Yankees spring training game at the now closed Bobby Maduro Stadium and a Florida Marlins game against Cincinnati during its first championship season in 1993. I am familiar with baseball, but not enough to know when a player steals a base, or a pitcher makes a save. 

By the same token, I wasn’t a Civil War buff before The Civil War aired in the fall of 1990, nor was I fascinated by the issue of Prohibition before I saw Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s eponymous three-part series back in 2011. But I love my country, the United States of America, and these two events, plus the other topics that Florentine Films’ crew has chronicled, are tiles in the mosaic that tells the history of us, as it were.

I already owned the standard definition version of Baseball on DVD – I bought it back in 2017 because I had not watched either the original 1994 nine-part series or The Tenth Inning. And as I said earlier, Ken Burns and his team can take topics that I am not well-versed in and make them incredibly riveting to watch.

Did I need the Fully Restored in High Definition Blu-ray set? Objectively, no. I did not need it, just as I probably don’t need multiple releases of Indiana Jones, Star Trek, or Star Wars films.[1]

Subjectively? That’s another ball game altogether.

I have to really love a TV show or feature film to try and own it in the best home media presentation available, and I obviously have an affinity for Baseball or almost any Ken Burns/Florentine Films documentary that I’ve seen. So, I pre-ordered Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns on Blu-ray well before the June 8 drop date, even though it was pricey and coincided with Paramount’s Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection 4K UHD set.

As was the case with the World at War Blu-ray set that I bought during my last years in Miami, I was disappointed that Ken Burns decided to cater to modern audiences’ desire to watch old content that was filmed for “square” analog era TVs (1.33:1 aspect ratio) in widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio). This involves painstaking and (yes) expensive editing methods that involve careful frame-by-frame manual rejiggering (usually cropping images) of the footage shot in one format so it will fill the screen of the more rectangular widescreens TV that are in use today.

I don’t mind watching shows and movies that have the black bars at the top or bottom of the image so that a widescreen image can fit in a square screen, or the vertical bars that are needed to make a 1.33:1 image fit naturally on a 16×9 screen. But millions of viewers do mind; they think they are somehow “missing” video data because the image does not fill their TV screens.

In many instances, you won’t notice too many distracting effects when you watch Baseball in its restored version, especially if this is your first time viewing it either on Blu-ray or streaming It on PBS.org on your computer or Internet-connected smart TV.

The problem of “cropped” images is acutely evident when you see the “modern day” interviews with “talking heads” such as Billy Crystal, Mario Cuomo, or George Plimpton.

As was the case with Fremantle Media’s revised version of the 1970s’ classic World at War, the cropping does not affect most of a person’s facial features, but it usually “lops off” the tops of heads and the tips of the interviewees’ chins, especially in close-up shots.

Burns and his restoration/remastering team did a good job overall as far as kicking up the clarity and sharpness of the images in Baseball, and luckily the aspect ratio change does not have such a detrimental effect that I don’t want to watch it. It is what it is, and once you start watching Baseball and lose yourself in the narrative of the miniseries, you probably won’t notice the cropping…too much, anyway.

PBS Distribution has given Baseball several audio tracks, including two English-language tracks (5.1 multi-channel mix for home theater systems and a 2.0 stereo mix for TV speakers. There’s also a Spanish audio track, but only in 2.0 stereo. Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also available in both languages.

Baseball  packs its 11 discs in three standard plastic Blu-ray cases: Discs One through Six in the first case, Discs Seven through Nine in the second, and Discs 10 and 11 in the third. The cases are ensconced in a non-embossed slip box; on the front cover, you see Jackie Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform circa 1947. On the back cover you see an action shot from the 2004 World Series. No DVD or digital copies are included, though.

This box set from PBS Distribution is worth getting, as is the series itself, even though some baseball fanatics have told me that Burns and his collaborators got some facts about Ty Cobb wrong. (To wit, the documentary tends to highlight Cobb’s alleged racism and anger issues, traits which some of the players’ early biographers attributed to him but are probably either exaggerated or totally bogus. I don’t know who is right, but I mention the discrepancy in the interests of fairness.)

Extra Features

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns does not have a plethora of extra features. There are no audio commentary tracks in any of the episodes or Innings, and none of the first nine discs come with any featurettes, outtakes, or behind-the-scenes stuff. What few extras are to be had are found in the discs devoted to The Tenth Inning, and they were originally made for the 2010 DVD. Here is what you’ll get in the 2021 Blu-ray set if you’re a die-hard extra features fan:

Disc Ten:

  • Back to the Ballpark: An Interview with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (2010) (1080i, 17:19).
  • Additional Scenes (1080i, 35:27 total runtime): Included are Full of Knowledge, Dodgertown, A Tour of Fenway, A Night at Fenway, and Central Park .
  • Interview Outtakes About the Era’s Stars (1080i, 30:39 total runtime): Included are Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Ichiro, David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Joe Torre.

Disc Eleven:

  • Interview Outtakes: About the Era’s Stars (1080i, 1:05:40 total runtime): Included are Hitting and Hitters, Pitching and Pitchers, Fielding, Red Sox and Yankees, Cubs, Giants, Affirmative Action Home Runs, Late 90s Power Surge, Home Run Chase of 1998, Asterisks and the Hall of Fame, Fame, The Flip, 9/11, Coming to America, Globalization, Ichiro on the WBC, Rotisserie, and Why We Love the Game.

Conclusion

It’s fair to say now that I have seen two different edits of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, I think that America’s best-known documentary filmmaker has hit another home run out of the ballpark. Whether you are a lifelong baseball fan or just a casual one, go ahead and get a set from Amazon or directly from the PBS Store. And don’t forget to get some peanuts and Cracker Jack! 

Technical Specifications

Video

  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Audio

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Spanish: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles

  • English, Spanish

Runtime

  • 22 hours 30 minutes

Discs

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Eleven-disc set (11 BD-50)

Packaging

  • Slipbox

Playback

  • 2K Blu-ray: Region A (locked)

[1] These franchises, as well as the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World series and a few selected films by Steven Spielberg and other directors, are ones that I own or will own in three disc formats: DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD Blu-ray.

Musings & Thoughts for Monday, July 19, 2021, or: The Burden of Grief, Regret, and Memory

The author and his mother in 2012. This picture was snapped by one of Mom’s Easter Seal’s respite aides who helped me take care of her by keeping her company so I could have some “Me Time” and attend to either the house or my personal needs for a couple of hours during the day. In 2012, Mom was still trying to keep mobile and she would assent to walking with the aid of a walker or going for rides around on a wheelchair provided by Medicaid.

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late mid-morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Monday, July 19, 2021. Currently, the temperature is 80˚F (27˚C ) under skies. With humidity at 57% and the wind blowing from the south-southeast at 6 MPH (9 KM/H), the feels-like factor is 79˚F (26˚C). Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to move through the area. The high will be 91˚F (33˚C).  Tonight, we can expect partly cloudy skies. The low will be 73˚F (23˚C) .The Air Quality Index is 17 or Good.

The author and his mom, circa 1963.

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” ― Washington Irving

Today is the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. She died of cardiac failure and complications from being confined to a hospital-style bed in what was once our townhouse’s guest bedroom n the early morning hours of July 19, 2015. I wasn’t there at the exact moment of her passing; I didn’t have the emotional strength to witness her final moments on Earth. I also was displeased that while my half-sister Vicky had her cousins Juan Manuel and Mauricio Pereira around for emotional support, I was being comforted by my friends online. I wasn’t too far away when the final curtain came down on Beatriz Diaz-Granados, but the growing antipathy between my older half-sister and me kept me at my improvised writing room in the dining room.

In any case, I had wandered in and out of Mom’s room throughout the night of July 18/19 to see if Mom had regained consciousness; she had drifted off to sleep sometime after I administered a dose of Tramadol (which her hospice doctor had prescribed for pain relief) around 1:30 PM.

I still remember – as though it was yesterday – how much effort it took my mom to swallow one tiny white pill that she had asked me to give her because her back was hurting.

It took three attempts because she was having a hard time swallowing that small dose of Tramadol; twice I asked her, gently, patiently, to stick her tongue out and the pill was still stuck to the surface. On the third attempt I asked Mom to take a bigger sip of water and to swallow a bit harder. She did, and when she gamely stuck out her tongue so I could see if the pill was there or not, it was – thankfully – gone.

“You did it, Mom,” I said in a husky voice that threatened to waver into a sob. I think I smiled reassuringly, even though I was blinking away the tears that welled in my eyes.

My mom’s last words to me were, “Gracias, mijito.”  She smiled at me with love and – I like to think – gratitude. She looked at me for what seemed to be an eternity and sighed with relief before drifting off into sleep. I then went to the bed across the room from hers and kept a watchful vigil until Vicky and the nurse from Catholic Services’ hospice care unit arrived 90 minutes later.

One of my favorite photos of my mother and me. This was taken – I believe – by my father sometime in 1964 at a beach, either at Marco Island or Sarasota, on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”Mitch Albom, For One More Day

To this day, I still wonder if I should have been in Mom’s death room all night despite the feelings of mutual rancor between Vicky and me. Part of me wishes that I had, but I have a feeling that my mom would have somehow sensed the negative energies caused by the suspicion, anger, and resentment that festered between her two adult children. And, to be honest, I didn’t want to cry or show any sign of vulnerability in front of Vicky, Juan Manuel, or Mauricio.

So, yes. I stayed away from my mother’s room at the time of her passing. I’m obviously not proud of that but considering that I had devoted five years of my life to helping Mom recuperate from her surgery and, eventually, to making her last years at least a bit more bearable, I think I can be forgiven one moment of weakness.

Today I plan to write another review for this blog, and if the weather holds up a bit, I’ll will try to work on other stuff to keep my mind from wandering to dark, sad places.

Until the next post, Dear Reader, have a good day, wherever you may be.

Musings & Thoughts for Sunday, July 18, 2021, or: When Past & Present Collide

Photo by Sunyu Kim on Pexels.com

Hello, Dear Reader. It’s late morning in New Hometown, Florida on Sunday, July 18, 2021. Currently the temperature is 85˚F (29˚C) under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 53% and the wind blowing from the east-southeast at 7 MPH (8 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 93˚F (34˚C). Today’s forecast is a repeat of yesterday’s – we are to watch for scattered rain showers, and the high will be 93˚F (34˚C). Tonight, light rain is expected, and the low will be 75˚F (24˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI is 58 or Moderate.

Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.Vicki Harrison

The author and his mom, circa 1963

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the end for my mom, as Saturday, July 18, 2015 was the last day when she woke up, had breakfast – her last meal, literally – and then slowly but surely faded until she passed away early on Sunday, July 19.

A mother’s love is always with her children. Losing a mother is one of the deepest sorrows a heart can know. But her goodness, her caring, and her wisdom live on-like a legacy of love that will always be with you. May that love surround you now and bring you peace. – Unknown

I was probably the last person she spoke to before she lapsed into a hard-to-describe state of semiconsciousness around 2 PM Eastern on that hot, muggy, and cloudy Saturday six years ago. And because I still get intensely sad when I dwell on my last moments with my mother, I’d rather not write a long and detailed account of it. Suffice it to say that I did my best to take care of Mom (or, as she preferred to be called, Mami) on her last day with us.

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

I don’t know what I’ll be doing today after I post this on WordPress beyond taking a shower and getting dressed. I will probably read one of the books on my To Be Read (TBR) pile; I have quite a few books that I’ve started and made some progress with but not quite finished, so I might seek a comfy reading spot and lose myself in a good history book or the novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

I could also pick up where I left off last night with Part 3 of 2017’s The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. I started watching it last night on my Blu-ray player, but I had already binge-watched a bunch of episodes of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, so I fell asleep watching The River Styx (January 1964-December 1965), which is about how North Vietnam and the U.S. escalated the conflict by sending combat troops to South Vietnam at a time when that country was experiencing political turmoil and instability.

As you can imagine, I don’t feel like doing much today, but by the same token I don’t want to dwell too much on what happened six years ago today. So I’ll just do my best to find something to distract me and not think too much about the past.

Well, Dear Reader, that’s it for this edition of A Certain Point of View, Too. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Musings & Thoughts for Saturday, July 17, 2021, or: The Persistence of (Dark) Memory….

The author and immediate family at their last visit to a South Florida restaurant together, circa Spring of 2013.

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s almost noon on Saturday, July 17, 2021, in New Hometown, Florida. It is a hot summer day: the temperature outside is 87˚F (30˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 50% and a southeasterly breeze blowing at 7 MPH (12 KM/H), the heat index is 96˚F (36˚C). Today’s forecast calls for scattered rain showers and a high of 93˚F (34˚C). Scattered rain showers will continue throughout the night. The low will be 74˚F (23˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 32, or Good.

This time of year – July 15-July 20 – is always hard on me. Six years ago, my mother was at home but in under hospice care provided by Catholic Services of Miami. She had been suffering from several ailments – including dementia, issues with her kidneys, a weary heart, and the effects of being confined to a hospital-style bed in what used to be our guest room in a three-bedroom, two-story townhouse – and had just been released from Kendall Regional Hospital after suffering a cardiac event.

Those five days in mid-July of 2015 are indelibly etched into my memory as the saddest, most difficult days of my life. I was simultaneously trying to run the house in my mother’s stead, squabbling with my half-sister Victoria over everything under the sun, and preparing myself for the inevitable death of my mother.

I took this photo with my Samsung smartphone in 2013 as I left our condo to walk the one-third of a mile to the nearby Winn-Dixie store to get groceries.

Of those three main concerns, running the house was perhaps the easiest one. All I had to do in those last days of being my mother’s principal caregiver was to make sure the bills were paid on time, go grocery shopping to keep both of us fed,[1] and cook at least one meal a day. The home health aide – whose name I’ve forgotten – helped keep the downstairs part of the house tidy, but I still vacuumed and washed dishes by hand…chores I had been doing in the two houses I shared with my mother since we moved back to Miami from Colombia back in 1972.

The other two big issues – Mom’s impending demise and my stormy relationship with my half-sister Vicky – were much harder to tackle. And if I am to be totally honest, the former was more a matter of accepting an ugly truth, while the latter was akin to holding a wolf by the ears – I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dare let go. Both were grievous blows in their own way, and I don’t think I’ve recovered from them.

The author and his mother, circa 1963. Family Photo

Paradoxically, even though I am the younger of my mother’s two children and the one who had the closest bond with her, I think I came to terms with my mom’s death even before she died on July 19,2015. I knew that I would miss her terribly once she was physically gone, but I mentally said my “goodbyes” to Mami (as she liked to be called) on Mother’s Day of 2015 rather than by her deathbed on the dreaded date of her passing.

Why do I say this, Dear Reader?

Well, you see, in late April of 2015 I bought the Blu-ray of Evita for Mom as what I strongly suspected would be her last Mother’s Day present. I chose Evita ­– a 1996 musical drama  based on the 1976 concept album of the same name produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, which also inspired a 1978 musical – for two reasons.

(C) 1996, 2012 Buena Vista Home Entertaiment

First, Mom and I had wanted to see Evita when it was in theaters in Miami in late 1996 and early 1997. We invited my Aunt Martha (Mom’s older sister), who was staying at our house for an extended vacation at the time. At first, my aunt seemed enthusiastic and we made arrangements to go with my half-sister, who also said she wanted to go. But on the day that we had set aside to go to the theater where Evita was running, my aunt got cold feet and said, “Que pereza![2]” Mom tried her best to sway her sister, but to no avail. My half-sister, who was already into her second vodka with tonic water, sided with Aunt Martha, so we did not go to see the movie.

The second reason for choosing Evita was that back in 1950, my mother was married to Vicky’s dad, a brilliant surgeon who, with excellent political connections, was appointed to be the chief medical staff member at the Colombian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both Mom and her husband had diplomatic status and, as a result, attended several functions where General Juan Peron and his wife Eva Duarte de Peron (aka “Evita”) were present.

Mom had met Evita at these functions – you know, just the usual reception line stuff where she respectfully said “hello” to Argentina’s First Lady, shook her hand, then moved on – and that’s why she had wanted to see the movie. She was not necessarily a fan of Madonna (who plays the title character) or Jonathan Pryce (who plays Peron), but she liked the music from Evita[3] and was keen on seeing the spectacle in Alan Parker’s movie.

I wish now that I had given Mom her copy of Evita well before her cognitive issues emerged after her fateful 2010 surgery to repair her spine. The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray was released in 2012, and I’d given her a Blu-ray player in 2011, so I could have bought it while Mom could still watch movies and follow their plots without any problems. I was pretty busy dealing with all of my new responsibilities and fending off Vicky’s efforts to take over the running of the house, so I didn’t have clarity of thought a lot of the time. Still…

Of course, by the time I attempted to screen Evita on Mom’s small 720p high-definition TV set in May of 2015, her ability to enjoy movies was gone. She kept saying, “But I’ve already seen this movie!” over and over – I think she was blending her own fractured memories of her time in Argentina and the images on her television – and asked me a few times to turn Evita off. And because Mom also suffered from Sundown Syndrome, I had to acquiesce.

That’s the moment when, in my mind at least, I mentally said Oh, Mom…I love you. I hate to see you go. I didn’t dare say it aloud, but that’s when I knew that Mom would not last all the way to Christmas of 2015 (which Vicky kept on insisting our mother would live to see). Fighting back tears, I stopped the movie at the halfway point, ejected the Blu-ray from the player, and put the disc back in its case.

Mom would linger on, painfully, another two months, but she was steadily fading, one ghastly day at a time.

The author and his mom in 2012.

Dealing with my older half-sister was, is, and probably will be more painful than Mom’s death. I’m in New Hometown in no small part to the conflict between Vicky and me. Our relationship was stormy when Mom was still around and able to play the role of peacemaker, but it became more toxic after Mom became ill and was no longer able to run the house in any way. Vicky got mad when Mom chose me to become the one responsible to pay the bills and do the grocery shopping; I think her mindset was, “Well, I’m the older child, so I should be the decisionmaker here,” but Mom needed someone who could make sure bills were paid in time and that groceries were purchased, laundry washed, and household chores done regularly – and properly. And for good or ill, I was that person.

Vicky helped with my mother’s caregiving, at least as far as the purely medical aspects are concerned. She was, after all, a registered nurse with a specialty in geriatric patients, so she was the one who went with Mom to most of her appointments and talked to the physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, and nurses at Mom’s HMO.[4]

But as far as helping me around the house? Nope. No siree. Her idea of “helping” was to lie down on the bed across from Mom’s and watch TV until it was time for Mom’s late night (10 PM) diaper change, one last blood pressure check, and the giving of a mild sedative to help Mom drift off to sleep.

Other than that, Vicky did not do much. Sometimes she would try to imperiously order me about or get the home health aides to change the layout of the room (which I then would order to be reversed) because she thought Mom would see the TV better from the north or “right side” of the room rather from the south.

I could go on and on with a score of other “why Vicky was more hindrance than help” anecdotes, but I just get angrier and more depressed than I feel already. Suffice it to say that she was passive-aggressive in her efforts to undermine my authority as Mom’s stand-in as head of the household and leave it at that.

As I said earlier, even though there were other reasons why I am here in New Hometown, living under someone else’s roof (financial insecurity being the main one, if truth be told), the estrangement between Vicky and me is the main one.

Well, it’s now well past noon, and the weather has changed (it’s hotter and cloudier) since I started this post, so I’ll just end this long and sorry tale here. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.


[1] It must be said that at this time Mom was not really eating much, even though my half-sister insisted that the home health aide cook meals for her from scratch, as if somehow “homemade” would keep Mom alive. Still, I went to the nearby Winn-Dixie to get the ingredients required for these meals, and of course I’d get food for me as well.

[2] Literally, “What laziness!” Roughly, it means “How boring!”

[3] I had bought her a cassette with the songs from Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s concept album back in the 1980s for either Mother’s Day, her birthday, or Christmas.

[4] The caveat is that because Vicky had not yet retired – Metropolitan Hospital of Miami would not close till April 30, 2014 – and was still working the 7 AM – 7 PM shift as a nurse, I was the one who had to call the HMO’s pharmacy and re-order Mom’s prescriptions every month. Moreover, I was the one who had to administer the various pills when Vicky was not on “Mom watch.”  By law, the home health aides could not do so. So I did that job, too.

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Jar Jar Binks 6-inch Scale Action Figure Review

Image Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A clumsy, well-meaning Gungan outcast on Naboo, Jar Jar Binks struggled to prove his worth throughout his life. – Character biographical blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Jar Jar Binks

On January 21, 2021, Hasbro released a new deluxe figure, Star Wars The Black Series Jar Jar Binks in the new-style packaging for the 6-inch scale action figures based on heroes, villains, and sidekicks from the Star Wars multimedia franchise. Based on the computer-generated animated character introduced in writer-director’s 1999 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (aka Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), Jar Jar Binks represents what is considered by many fans and critics of the Skywalker Saga to be one of the most divisive characters ever created for that story set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Promotional photo from the Hasbro Pulse website. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

The 6-inch-scale The Black Series Jar Jar Binks deluxe figure is carefully detailed to look like the character from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, featuring premium detail and multiple points of articulation. – Product description blurb, Hasbro Pulse website

Billed by the manufacturer as a “deluxe figure” along the lines of Chewbacca & C-3PO, this 2021 addition to the Star Wars The Black Series collection depicts the character performed and voiced by actor Achmed Best as he appears in the Battle of Naboo sequence in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

This was the only instance in the live-action Skywalker Saga films in which the hapless Gungan – a guileless, big-hearted, and goofy “accidental hero” with a penchant for getting himself in trouble – gets  to be a Star Wars action hero. Accordingly, the big-eared, stalky-eyed amphibian is equipped with a small arsenal of Gungan weapons.

Jar Jar Binks in his only live-action depiction as an action hero. Here, he stoically wields a cesta. Promotional photo by Hasbro. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

This Star Wars The Black Series deluxe action figure comes with 3 Jar Jar Binks-inspired accessories that make great additions to any Star Wars collection. – Product description blurb, Hasbro Pulse website

The weapons Jar Jar wields here are:

  • A Gungan cesta, which is a kind of spear that can either be used as a two-handed stabbing weapon or a hand-thrown missile
  • A personal hand-held energy shield based on the same tech used to create the larger fambaa-mounted energy shield used in the Battle of Naboo by the Gungan army
  • An “atlatl” throwing stick that hurls energy balls, Gungan weapons that are like sticky grenades designed to short out the delicate electronics of battle droids and Trade Federation tanks

Per David West Reynolds’ Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary:

General Jar Jar

Boss Nass misinterprets Jar Jar’s connections with the newly favored Naboo royalty as maturity and makes him a general in the Gungan Grand Army – much to the dismay of the troops he is to “command.” Jar Jar lives up to their expectations when he panics during combat, falls off his mount, and instantly surrenders when surrounded.  Fortunately, few soldiers pay the new general any attention and, since the Gungans win the battle anyway, Boss Nass is none the wiser.[1]

Though Jar Jar holds the rank of general – a posting that leads eventually to his appointment as Junior Representative from Naboo to the Galactic Congress on Coruscant – he does not wear a formal uniform. Instead, the lanky Gungan wears a kind of brass-colored breastplate over castoff clothes that include a brown sleeveless tank top and old traditional Gungan-style stretch pants. Jar Jar wears no shoes or boots; instead he walks around on his bare but tough stubby-toed feet.

Star Wars The Black Series

Kids and collectors alike can imagine the biggest battles and missions in the Star Wars saga with figures from Star Wars The Black Series! With exquisite features and decoration, this series embodies the quality and realism that Star Wars devotees love. Star Wars The Black Series includes figures, vehicles, and roleplay items from the 40-plus-year legacy of the Star Wars Galaxy, including comics, movies, and animated series. Imagine the excitement and adventure from a galaxy far, far away with figures from Star Wars The Black Series! (Additional products each sold separately. Subject to availability.) – Hasbro promotional blurb touting the Star Wars The Black Series collection

My Take

Image Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

As an outcast, Jar Jar spends much of his time in the Naboo swampland. It’s there that the hapless Gungan encounters a pair of Jedi as they elude enemy forces. – Manufacturer’s product blurb, Hasbro Pulse website

I received my Star Wars The Black Series Jar Jar Binks deluxe figure as part of the Caregiver’s assortment of presents for my 58th birthday in March. She bought me this character figure partly because she knew I did not have a 6-inch scale action figure of Jar Jar in my modest Star Wars The Black Series collection, but I suspect that the primary reason is that she loves Jar Jar Binks – he’s her favorite character from the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy.

I am not as enamored of Jar Jar as the Caregiver, but unlike many Star Wars fans who grew up with George Lucas’s Original Trilogy, I don’t hate the character, either. When I watched Star Wars: The Phantom Menace back in 1999, I knew that he was created as the film’s comedy relief character, just as Artoo Detoo and See Threepio were the Laurel and Hardy element of 1977’s Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Image Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2021 Hasbro and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Hasbro did a nice job with the sculpt and paint job (aka deco in action figure lingo) for Star Wars The Black Series Jar Jar Binks. The figure is a nice 6-inch scale rendition of the Gungan exile-turned-hero and replicates his gangly, comical features, including the eyestalks with nictitating membranes, the long hailu (earlobes), the orange-hued mottled skin that is suited for camouflage, and Jar Jar’s skinny body and limbs – he apparently does not eat well while in exile, you see – that made him a natural character ready-made as a CGI animated character.

 I have been collecting Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and their accessories for a long time. 43 years, to be exact. I was given my first two 3.75-inch action figures (Artoo Detoo and See Threepio) and the Landspeeder vehicle from the original Kenner Star Wars collection for my 15th birthday in 1978.

Star Wars fans and collectors can display this highly poseable, fully articulated figure, featuring premium deco, in their action figure and vehicle collection.  – Manufacturer’s product blurb, Hasbro Pulse website

Since then, especially in the 1990s and after Hasbro bought its archrival Kenner Parker from Tonka in 1991, Star Wars figures have benefitted from advances in toy manufacturing and design. With computer assisted design/computer assisted manufacturing (CAD/CAM) tools, Hasbro’s U.S.-based designers and China-based factories can now create action figures of various scales that are more “realistic” than their Kenner era ancestors.

Kenner’s first generation figures were nicely done by the standards of the late Seventies and early Eighties, but let’s be honest. The toymaking tools and techniques of the era could not produce small plastic – or in the case of a few droid action figures, vacuum-metal – replicas of humans, robots, or non-human characters seen in the Original Trilogy. Though Kenner got better at creating sculpts of human characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, or Luke Skywalker between 1978 and 1985, alien and “masked” characters such as Darth Vader and the various Imperial troop variants (Stormtrooper, Biker Scout, TIE Fighter Pilot, and AT-AT Driver) fared better than “barefaced” humans. So did some of the droids, although Kenner opted to do the body detailing of “astromechs” such as Artoo Detoo as wraparound decals instead of sculpting and painting each figure’s “body.”

Another limitation of early Kenner figures was the number of points of articulation (POAS) each character had. Most human and humanoid characters’ figures had five POAs, which are analogous to joints in the human anatomy and allow collectors and kids to pose their figures in action stances. A few figures – the original Chewbacca comes to mind – had only four POAs because Kenner did not add a swivel point at the neck so they could “turn” their heads, and there were a few figures that only had three!

Jar Jar Binks, like most of the figures in Hasbro’s eight-year-old Star Wars The Black Series reflects the company’s efforts to make action figures that are fun for kids to play with but also have authentic-looking detailing and movie-accurate “deco” that appeals to older collectors.

Following trends that began in the early 2000s with Hasbro’s various Star Wars lines of 3.75-inch scale figures (including ones for the original iteration of Star Wars The Black Series), this Jar Jar Binks 6-inch figure has more POAs –  (12) than Kenner’s original Star Wars figures.

Of course, the more POAs a figure is endowed with, the more “toy-like” it looks because the seams in the plastic are difficult to hide. That is true of this figure; those joints, especially the one in Jar Jar Binks’ neck, mars the otherwise life-like look of the character. It can’t be helped though; unless you want to get a totally lifelike but static figurine for display, this is as good as you get for a Star Wars deluxe figure as far as cinematic accuracy is concerned.

Perhaps because Hasbro chose to depict Jar Jar as he appears in the battle scenes from Act III of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars The Black Series Jar Jar Binks has a stoic look that is not as goofy-looking as his more comedic smiling countenance in earlier bits of Lucas’s 1999 film.

The packaging follows the conventions of the style introduced last year. The package’s front features a window through which you see Jar Jar Binks and his accessories – the cesta, the atlatl with its energy ball, and Jar Jar’s energy shield – in their accurately detailed glory.

On the reverse side, we see the usual Star Wars The Black Series “info panel” stuff, with the character description blurb (A clumsy, well-meaning Gungan outcast on Naboo, Jar Jar Binks struggled to prove his worth throughout his life) printed in English, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese along the left side, with a detail from the side panel illustration on the right. Below that, we see that this is figure 01 of this new line from Hasbro, plus copyright and product info in many languages, including Greek, Arabic, Polish, Italian, Greek, Romanian, Swedish, and Finnish.

Although Jar Jar Binks would not have been my first choice had I decided to buy a Star Wars The Black Series action figure from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on my own (I might have gone for a Darth Maul or Qui-Gon Jinn figure instead), this was a nice gift from the Caregiver for my 58th birthday.

And if truth be told, it’s a nicely done collectible action figure, even taking into consideration those distracting “seams” where the points of articulation are located.

Well, that about wraps it up for this review of a new Star Wars The Black Series collectible figure. I had fun writing it, and I hope you will find it both enjoyable and informative.

Until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and find joy in even the small things in life. (Including action figures!) And remember, the Force will be with you…always. 


[1] Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary, 2008 edition, pages 43-44

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