Musings & Thoughts for Saturday, April 3, 2021, or: Update on Popcorn Sky Productions’ New Film Project

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Hello, Dear Reader. It’s late afternoon on Saturday, April 3, 2021. Here in New Hometown, Florida the temperature is 73˚F (23˚C) under mostly cloudy skies. With the wind blowing from the east-northeast at 13 MPH (20 KM/H) and humidity at 39%, the feels-like temperature is 73˚F (23˚C). We are at the forecast high temperature, and the day has been breezy. Tonight, we can expect clear skies. The low will be 50˚F (10˚C).

This weekend we reached our first milestone – of many – in Popcorn Sky Production’s GoFundMe campaign, Popcorn Sky’s next film by Alex Diaz-GranadosAn anonymous donor chipped in $41 to round out our first $500. Last week, two of my friends from my Epinions days donated (between them) $140. So before our anonymous supporter made a donation on April 2, we had $459 in the GoFundMe.

So far, the folks who own Popcorn Sky Productions – my friend Juan Carlos Hernandez and his wife Adria – have been working on the budget, and they tell me that for the project we have in mind the budget is estimated at (and this is a lowball figure, mind you) $50,000. This includes, among other things:

  • Compensation for the director
  • Compensation for the screenwriter – basically, me
  • Compensation for the producers – of which I happen to be one
  • Compensation for the cast
  • Travel (including transportation and lodging) funds so we can film and work in New York and Florida
  • Budget to pay for music (we can’t, obviously, just use any music we can find on YouTube or our CD collections!)
  • Compensation for the crew

So far, Juan, Adria, their son Anthony, our other collaborators, and me have been making short films with piddling budgets and posting them on YouTube where anyone can watch them for free. And in many ways, it has worked out okay for everyone involved. I, especially, have been blessed with the opportunity to write and/or co-write four shorts, starting with A Simple Ad (2019), which was followed by Clown 345 (2019), Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss (2020), and El Grande de Corona (2020).

My first-ever produced screenplay
I contributed the middle segment.
My tip of the hat to All in the Family.
My contribution to this one was modest.

But, in all honesty, while it is fine and dandy to create art for art’s sake, it’s time to take the training wheels off, so to speak, and make what some folks might call “a real movie.” You know, a film with a running time of at least 90 minutes and with a bigger view of the world than a small New York City apartment or whatever sets Juan and Adria can find to shoot at without going broke.

And, as I noted above, making such a movie can’t be done at no cost to the makers.

Hence…the GoFundMe campaign.

Some of you reading this have already donated, and everyone on the team, including Juan, Adria, AJ, and me are eternally grateful. We couldn’t have reached the “first $500” mark without your help.

But, as I said before, the estimated budget is $50,000. So, yep…we’re at $500…$49,500 to go.

So, here’s the deal. If you haven’t donated yet to the campaign, please consider it. You don’t have to make a huge contribution that will screw up your monthly budget, especially at a time of a global pandemic and economic insecurity. It can be a $10 donation, if that’s what you can afford to give. And if you can’t afford to donate, please consider telling your film-loving fans who might be in a position to be part of the Popcorn Sky project that we’re all working on.

As Juan and Adria say in their pitch to future donors:


Popcorn Sky has produced films for the last 20 years, such as The Cave (short), Waking Up In Astoria, Statico, A Simple Ad (short), Clown 345, Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss, and most recently a short comedy program called El Grande de Corona.  We are happy that Alex will be joining us for the first time as Associate Producer.

We believe in this campaign.  We believe in Alex’s story because he writes with compassion, conviction, and with a wonderful sense of humor.
 
Thank you so much for your support!  In thanks, we will make sure everyone who donated gets a copy of the final project!

So, if you can spread the word or even chip in a few bucks, we would really appreciate it.

See you at the movies!

https://gofund.me/86634e1b

On Movies: My Favorite Movies From ‘Before My Time’

Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

All good things, the saying goes, must come to an end, including this through-the-decades look at my favorite movies in my Blu-ray collection.

According to the colorful pie chart in the Statistics page of My Collection in my Blu-ray.com account, I don’t have too many movies from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Of the 330 feature films I own on Blu-ray disc (BD), only 0.5% are from the 1930s[1], 1.9% from the 1940s, and 0.8% from the 1950s.

Because I was born in the early 1960s and don’t get to go to many theatrical re-releases[2], I’ve seen most of the films on this final entry of the On Movies: My Favorite Movies of the _____’s series either on commercial TV, cable channels such as Turner Classic Movies, or on home media. Some – like The Adventures of Robin Hood or The Caine Mutiny –  I liked from my days as a school-age kid when Miami’s then-indie TV station WCIX-TV aired them either as part of their weeknight “Eight PM Movie” programming or in their weekend afternoon movie bloc.

I sure could go for some real (not microwaved) popcorn right now! Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Others, such as William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) or Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) had to wait until I was mature enough to appreciate the nuances of their storytelling and serious themes.

Well, that’s enough commentary! Let’s get on with the list!

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • Fantasia (1940)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • The African Queen (1951)
  • The Caine Mutiny (1954)
  • South Pacific (1958)

[1] And even then this is a bit inaccurate, since I bought the 75th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of Gone with the Wind for my mother a few years before she died. I’m not a fan of GWTW, but I didn’t have anyone to give it to. My estranged half-sister did not own a Blu-ray player at the time that Mom died, and even if she had one before I moved out of Miami nearly five years ago, I wouldn’t have handed it to her out of principle. So, I include 1939’s Gone with the Wind in my collection just because it’s in my possession, even though I rarely watch it.

[2] I’ve gone to all of the theatrical re-issues of 1977’s Star Wars, including the ones in 1979, 1981 – which is when 20th Century Fox allowed Lucasfilm to redo the Main Title so the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope could be added – 1982, and 1997. The only film in my list that I saw in theaters as a re-issue is Fantasia (1940).

On Movies: My Favorite Movies from the 1960s

Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

I was born in 1963, eight months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I started going to the movies in 1969; the first movie I remember seeing theaters was John Sturges’ 1963 World War II/POW action-adventure film The Great Escape. I saw that in a now-closed Bogota movie theater, the Almirante, with my half-sister Vicky and one of her paternal first cousins. Because I was so young and going to the movies was a relatively rare treat during my family’s six-year-long stay in Colombia, I don’t think I saw more than three or four films in a theater between 1966 and the spring of 1972.

(C) 1963 The Mirisch Company and MGM-UA

As a result, I saw most of the films in this list for the first time in the 1970s when they aired either on the Big Three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) or on independent stations such as Miami’s WCIX-TV (now CBS affiliate WFOR). One, To Kill a Mockingbird, I saw at South Miami Senior High when many 10th grade English classes read Harper Lee’s eponymous book as part of the curriculum. Others I saw for the first time when I added them to my Blu-ray collection.

The pie chart I made on Word is based on the data in my Blu-ray.com account.

According to the colorful pie chart on my Blu-ray.com account’s My Collection Statistics page, movies (plus three seasons of the Star Trek television series) produced and released in the 1960s account for 7.1% of my Blu-ray collection, which now consists of 330 feature films (and 53 TV seasons).[1] Therefore, this list is shorter than the others in the On Movies: My Favorite Movies from the _____’s series.

(C) 1964 Columbia Pictures

And as Jackie Gleason used to say, “Away we go!”

  1. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
  2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  4. The Longest Day (1962)
  5. The Great Escape (1963)
  6. The Pink Panther (1963)
  7. From Russia with Love (1963)
  8. Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  9. Zulu (1964)
  10. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
  11. Thunderball (1965)
  12. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
  13. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
  14. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

[1] My DVD collection, which I started in 1998 and I still get a few titles for when there’s no Blu-ray or 4K UHD version available, is smaller: 166 theatrical films and 65 seasons’ worth of various TV series, including The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Ken Burns Presents: The West, and CNN’s late 1990s documentary series The Cold War.

On Movies: My Favorite Movies from the 2010s

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The 2010s account for 22.2% of all the titles in my Blu-ray collection. (These figures also include TV series, miniseries and documentaries.)

Except for 2020 and the first quarter of 2021  – the Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic – I have gone to the movies in theaters as often as my circumstances allow. Even when I lived in Bogota, Colombia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I went to the movies in theaters (closed as long ago as the early 1990s) whose names (Teatro San Carlos, Teatro Almirante) I can still remember even 50 years later.

From 1972 to sometime around 2011, I went to the movies in the Greater Miami area at least two or three times a year. The best decades of my movie watching life were the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, not just because that’s when most of the films that I love were released, but also because I had several groups of friends with whom I went to such theaters as the AMC-14 Mall of the Americas (which closed in 2015), Dadeland Triple, the Twin Gables, AMC Kendall Town & Country, and AMC CocoWalk.

A view of my home town of Miami. Photo by Elvis Vasquez on Pexels.com

Sometime in the late 2000s, my movie-watching habits changed. As I wrote in On Movies: My Favorite 2000s Movies, several factors were involved in the involuntary switch from watching most new theatrical releases in multiplexes to waiting till they were out either on DVD or (after 2009) Blu-ray.

These factors included:

  • Many of my friends, especially those in their upwardly mobile late 20s and early 30s, got married and started raising families of their own
  • Other members of my movie-going posse moved out of Miami to other states or even overseas
  • At least one of my best friends and constant movie buddies (Richard de la Pena), died in 2007
  • My mom’s health deteriorated, starting in 2005 with a diagnosis of a condition called “watermelon stomach,” followed by a bout of skin cancer, problems with her back that required surgery, and – eventually – the onset of dementia. The last movie she ever saw in theaters was 2005’s Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
  • The estrangement between my older half-sister Vicky and I was resurfacing after laying dormant for several years. As hard as I tried to get along with her then, even going to the movies with her was stressful. The last film we saw in theaters was 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The author and his mother at a neighbor’s Christmas party the year before she became seriously ill.
The author’s mother in 2012. Note the difference between the earlier photo (above) and this one.

In 2010, my mom underwent extensive surgery to repair a damaged spine. The operation – which was done at Miami’s Mercy Hospital and lasted eight hours – was successful. The recovery, though, was not, at least not in the long-term. This isn’t the time or place to get into that in detail; suffice it to say, though, that my mother’s decision to make me the primary caregiver and acting head of the household limited my ability to go out and socialize, much less go to the movies.[1]

Because I became mostly homebound between May 2010 and July 2015 (the month of Mom’s death), I ended up watching most new releases at home. Even now, a decade later, I have a hard time remembering which was the last movie I saw in a theater before mid-summer of 2015 (the last one that I’m sure of is Shutter Island, which I saw with Ivan and Danny back in 2010).  

After Mom passed away almost six years ago, I started going to the movies again. The first film I saw in a theater in 2015 was Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Later that year I also went to see Bridge of Spies and Star Wars: The Force Awakens with my now ex-girlfriend.

Still, I saw most of the movies on my Favorite Movies of the 2010s list on Blu-ray. And because we’re burnin’ daylight, we better get on with that list. So…away…we go!

(C) 2010 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
(C) 2019, 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
  1. Love and Other Drugs (2010)
  2. Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, Part I (2010)
  3. Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, Part II (2011)
  4. The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
  5. War Horse (2011)
  6. Prometheus (2012)
  7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  8. Lincoln (2012)
  9. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
  10. Skyfall (2012)
  11. Captain Phillips (2013)
  12. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
  13. Bridge of Spies (2015)
  14. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
  15. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  16. The Post (2017)
  17. Dunkirk (2017)
  18. It: Chapter One (2017)
  19. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
  20. Darkest Hour (2017)
  21. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
  22. Ready Player One (2018)
  23. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
  24. Apollo 11 (2019)
  25. 1917 (2019)
  26. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

[1] In the early years (2010-2012) of my mother’s final illness, I was fortunate to have been able to go out every so often and even date a gorgeous, divorced scientist who taught neurology at the University of Miami for almost a year. Plus my friends Ivan Kivitt and Danny Mason still lived nearby and took me to the movies every so often.

On Movies: My Favorite Movies from the 2000s

Photo by Pietro Jeng on Pexels.com

Well, Dear Reader, having covered my favorite movies from the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, we have reached “the turn of the century” and the 2000s, otherwise known as the “two thousands,” the “oh-ohs,” or the “double aughts.”

The chart on my Blu-ray.com account’s My Collection statistics page.
This is a pie chart I made on Word, using the data from Blu-ray.com.

Turning again to that most useful visual aid – the colorful pie chart on my Blu-ray.com account’s My Collection statistics page – we see that of all the decades from which I have movies on Blu-ray discs, the 2000s get the biggest “slice”: 24.1% of the titles in my Blu-ray collection were produced and released between 2000 and 2009.

The 2000s were the last decade in which I went to the movies at least three or four times a year; by the beginning of the 21st Century, many of my friends with whom I had gone to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or Working Girl in the ‘80s, and The Hunt for Red October and Apollo 13 in the ‘90s weren’t always available for a movie outing in the ‘00s. Some of my friends got married and were busy with their new families. Others left Miami to seek their fortunes in other states. And, sadly, some of them died. So even when I went to theaters to see, say, Black Hawk Down or We Were Soldiers, I often rode the bus to the now-closed AMC 14 Theater at the Mall of the Americas.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, one of the four films in this Blu-ray set, is one of the films I saw in theaters in the Oh-Ohs. Photo Credit and (C) 2012 Paramount Home Media Distribution and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As a result, I saw most of the movies from this time period exclusively on home media, reversing the pattern I established when I started buying VHS tapes in the 1980s and DVDs in the late 1990s. As I look at the list of 2000s films in my collection, I watched 17 of some 55 theatrically-released titles in theaters between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009.

Well, enough chit-chat – let’s get on with My Favorite Movies from the 2000s!

  1. Gladiator (2000)
  2. Thirteen Days (2000)
  3. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  4. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  5. Black Hawk Down (2001)
  6. The Sum of All Fears (2002)
  7. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
  8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  9. We Were Soldiers (2002)
  10. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
  11. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  12. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
  13. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)[1]
  14. Batman Begins (2005)
  15. War of the Worlds (2005)
  16. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
  17. United 93 (2006)
  18. The Holiday (2006)
  19. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)[2]
  20. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
  21. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  22. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
  23. The Dark Knight (2008
  24. Star Trek (2009)
  25. Up (2009)

[1] This was the last film that my mother and I saw together in a movie theater. By 2005, her health was in decline and she was suffering from various ailments. We only got to see Revenge of the Sith on Opening Day because two of our then-neighbors, Ivan Kivitt and Daniel Mason, invited us to go with them.

[2] Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima are two halves of Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima duology.

On Movies: My Favorite Movies from the 1990s

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hello, Dear Reader, and welcome to another installment of On Movies. Today we’ll continue our ongoing look at my favorite movies[1] across the past 50 years – this time around, we’ll be covering the 1990s.

I had a copy of this poster tacked to my bedroom door. (C) 1990 Paramount Pictures

According to the Statistics chart in My Collection page on Blu-ray.com, 14.9% of the 381 titles (328 theatrically released films, 53 TV seasons) in my stash of Blu-rays were produced/released between 1990 and 1999. This is the fourth largest “slice of the pie,” coming after the 2000s (23.7%), the 2010s (22.3%), and the 1980s (16.8%).

My 3D pie chart is based on the one in my Blu-ray.com account’s My Collection statistics page.

In the Nineties, which as I write this are now 30 years in the rear-view mirror of my life, I still went to the movies at least two or three times a year. Most of the time I did so with my friends from high school and college, and sometimes I went with either my mother or my older half-sister,[2] although I started going to the now-closed AMC-14 Theater at the nearby Mall of the Americas by myself if no one was available to go with me.

However, as is the case with the other My Favorite Movies from the (insert decade here)’s lists, there are a few titles that I only saw on home video because I missed them during their theatrical run. 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance is one of those, although I can’t recall if I skipped it on purpose or was so distracted with other things – such as taking on freelance writing assignments or training my yellow Labrador retriever, Mary Joe Cacao, when she was a puppy – that kept me away from the theaters.

Poster from 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. (C) 1998 Dreamworks SKG LLC and Paramount Pictures

In any case, the 1990s were still a great decade for my movie-watching, so, without further delay, let’s get to my list of favorites.

  1. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
  2. Back to the Future, Part III (1990)
  3. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
  4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  5. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  6. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
  7. Patriot Games (1992)
  8. Unforgiven (1992)
  9. Jurassic Park (1993)
  10. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
  11. Schindler’s List (1993)
  12. The Lion King (1994)
  13. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  14. Clear and Present Danger (1994)
  15. Apollo 13 (1995)
  16. Independence Day (1996)
  17. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  18. Courage Under Fire (1996)
  19. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Special Edition (1997)
  20. Air Force One (1997)
  21. L.A. Confidential (1997)
  22. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  23. Titanic (1997)
  24. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  25. The Green Mile (1999)
  26. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

[1] To be clear, this is not a comprehensive list of 1990s movies I saw or own. And it is not an objective “Best Movies of the 1990s” list; instead, it’s a highly subjective selection of films I love to watch, regardless of how many awards they earned or how great they are cinematically.

Granted, quite a few of the titles won Academy Awards or, in the case of No. 19, are re-issues of an Oscar-winning film. Others are definitely not in the “best movies of all time” category but are just “comfort watches” that I enjoy.  

[2] And sometimes with both as a “family unit,” although Mom and I avoided doing this, since my half-sister is a “chatty” moviegoer who comments – loudly – about the goings-on in the movie. I’m not like that; neither was my late mother.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut’ (2016)

(C) 2016 Paramount Home Media Distribution

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut  (2016)

Written by: Jack B. Sowards, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

Based Upon: Star Trek, Created by Gene Roddenberry

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

On June 7, 2016, Paramount Home Media Distribution released Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut, a “one-movie, two cuts” Blu-ray reissue of director Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 science fiction/adventure that continues the voyages of the original Star Trek crew as they face an old adversary from their historic five-year mission in space.

Actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, the three top-billed stars of Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) are joined by their cast mates Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and James Doohan in what amounts to a soft reboot to Paramount Pictures’ Star Trek feature film series after the fair-to-middlin’ performance of its very expensive ($45 million in 1978 dollars) Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).   

Although Star Trek: The Motion Picture did reasonably well at the box office and had some good things going for it – it was directed by Robert Wise, its score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and it had a strong first half which featured the reunion of Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner), his stalwart crew, and a redesigned, refit USS Enterprise – the studio execs were unhappy with the muted reaction from fans and critics alike, as well as how its budget ballooned due to the expensive special effects sequences and the haphazard way in which Gene Roddenberry produced the film.[1]

Chastened by this experience but not quite yet willing to pull the plug on Star Trek at a time when Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien proved that there was an audience for science-fiction films, Paramount decided to give the franchise a second bite at the apple – but without Gene Roddenberry in control, and through the supervision of the more fiscally frugal Paramount Television division.[2]

After giving Roddenberry a ceremonial “executive consultant” position, Paramount hired Harve Bennett, who was the head of its TV movie division. His assignment: to make a better “Star Trek” feature for less than $46 million.

Though Bennett disliked Star Trek: The Motion Picture due to its lack of a villain, glacially slow pacing and unexciting story, he accepted his new job. He schooled himself in Star Trek lore by watching the entire 79-episode TV series. After watching “Space Seed,” the first season episode which introduced Khan, he decided that Star Trek II would be a continuation of that story.

After Bennett and original screenwriters Jack B. Sowards, and Samuel A. Peeples failed to come up with a script the studio liked, Bennett listened to a recommendation by Paramount executive Karen Moore to hire Nicholas Meyer, a young writer and director (The Seven Per Cent Solution, Time After Time).

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” – Kirk, to Saavik

Meyer’s final script took elements from the screenplays by Bennett, Peeples, and Sowards (who got the on-screen writer’s credit). Meyer’s main contribution was to make Star Trek II about aging, friendship, and death.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is more than a typical adventure film set in outer space. It does have many of the tropes one expects from a Hollywood space opera – dueling spaceships exchanging phaser fire and photon torpedoes, a menacing villain with a deadly superweapon, and a resolute band of heroes intent on stopping him – but there’s more to its story than that.

It’s no spoiler to point out that Meyer’s choice of themes (growing old, friendship, vengeance, and sacrifice) all stemmed from the death of Spock.

This once-controversial plot point came about because the studio believed Star Trek II would be the final movie and wanted a story that would attract a large audience. It was also conceived to convince Leonard Nimoy to play the character and allow Spock to go out on a blaze of glory.

As writer-director Meyer intended, the movie had to deal not just with death as a major theme, but the related themes of aging (as reflected by Kirk’s wistful attitudes in Act I), vengeance (Khan’s obsession with getting payback for being exiled on Ceti Alpha V and the death of his wife), friendship (the bond between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy), and sacrifice.

The Vengeance of Khan

Years after the Starship Enterprise’s historic five-year mission, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is experiencing a midlife crisis. His former ship is now a training vessel under the command of Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Kirk is relegated to “sitting behind a computer console” as a Starfleet Academy faculty member in San Francisco. Along with Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), and communications officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Kirk’s job is to help train young Starfleet officers like Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley) to carry on the Fleet’s mission “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” The only times Kirk goes out into space are when he makes an occasional inspection tour or goes on a “little training cruise.”

On his 50th birthday, Kirk is in a deep funk. He believes his best days are behind him, something that Dr. McCoy strongly disagrees with. “Get back your command, Jim,” the good doctor counsels. “Get it back before you really grow old.”

Meanwhile, out in the Ceti Alpha sector, former Enterprise navigator Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) is on a top secret scientific mission aboard the Starship Reliant. Starfleet has loaned Captain Clark Terrell’s (Paul Winfield) ship to a team of scientists led by Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her son David (Merritt Butrick). A former flame of Kirk, Carol is the head of Project Genesis, an ambitious terraforming endeavor that, if successful, can turn lifeless planets and moons into worlds capable of sustaining life.

But when Chekov and Terrell beam down to the desert-like fifth planet in the Ceti Alpha system, they find more than they bargained for. To their shock, instead of discovering pre-animate matter they can transfer off-world, the Reliant officers find the survivors of the Botany Bay, the 20th Century sleeper ship which had carried 90 genetically engineered supermen led by Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban).

Captain Terrell meets Khan and his followers]


Khan:
 Uh, Captain! Captain. Save your strength, Captain. These people had sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born! Do you mean he[refers to Chekov] never told you the tale? To amuse your Captain, no? Never told you how the Enterprise picked up the Botany Bay, lost in space from the year 1996 with myself and the ship’s company in cryogenic freeze?


Capt. Terrell:
 I’ve never even met Admiral Kirk!


Khan:
 ‘Admiral?’ ‘Admiral!’ ‘Admiral’… Never told you how Admiral Kirk sent 70 of us into exile in this barren sandheap, with only the contents of these cargo bays to sustain us.


Chekov:
 [furious] You lie! On Ceti Alpha V there was life! A fair chance –


Khan:
 [shouts] THIS IS CETI ALPHA V!!! [walks back to Chekov and calms voice] Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet, and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress! It was only the fact of my genetically-engineered intellect that allowed us to survive. On Earth . . . (grins wistfully). . . two hundred years ago . . . (sighs nostalgically). . . I was a prince . . . with power over millions.


Chekov:
 [angrily] Captain Kirk was your host. You repaid his hospitality by trying to steal his ship and murder him!!

Khan and his crew, with the aid of mind-altering Ceti eels, gain control of Chekov and Terrell and take over the Reliant. Obsessed with his vendetta against James T. Kirk, Khan leaves Ceti Alpha V behind and sets off to find his old nemesis.

The Blu-Ray

Although Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut and the theatrical version are nearly identical, the slightly longer Director’s Cut includes footage that was edited from the 1982 film but was added for its network television release in 1985. The additional three minutes were small but revealing bits about the characters.

 In one scene, for instance, we learn that Midshipman 1st Class Peter Preston (Ike Eisenmann) is Montgomery Scott’s youngest nephew; this explains why Scotty is so distraught when the young man is killed during Khan’s first attack on the Starship Enterprise.

The 2016 Blu-ray of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Director’s Cut – which Paramount marketed as part of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary –  was remastered from a new 4K scan under Nicholas Meyer’s supervision. It presents both versions of “Star Trek II” in seamless branching: the viewer simply chooses which edition to watch on the Play Movie option in the menu and it’s off into the 23rd Century with Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise.

Paramount’s Blu-ray team attempted to give viewers – especially Star Trek fans –  a bigger bang for their buck. This is because Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the only film of the six Original Series features that received the full remastering treatment to 1080p high definition back in 2009. According to Memory Alpha, director Nicholas Meyer said that the movie’s negatives were “in terrible shape” and required a complete digital rehabilitative effort.

The big difference between the new version and the 2009 one (which was also a 4K scan but was made with first-generation 4K technology) is that the resolution is so good that viewers can see small details (such as the patterns of the starships’ hull plates) in the 2016 Blu-ray that can’t be seen in the 2009 one.

In addition to better video quality and a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD English audio track, comes with a starship’s cargo bay’s worth of extras.

All of the extra features from the 2002 Director’s Cut DVD and the 2009 BD editions are bundled together, including the behind-the-scenes documentary “Captain’s Log,” the shorter “Designing Khan” and “Original Interviews” featurettes, the original theatrical trailer from 1982, and various extras from the 2009 BD (the Library Computer interactive viewing mode is back, as is the audio commentary track by director Meyer with “Star Trek: Enterprise” producer Manny Coto.)

As was previously mentioned, the only new behind-the-scenes documentary is the (nearly) 30-minute long documentary “The Genesis Effect: Engineering The Wrath of Khan.” Written and directed by Roger Lay, Jr., it covers some of the same ground as 2002’s “Captain’s Log” but from a slightly different perspective.

Director Nicholas Meyer is back to explain why he made Star Trek II without paying much attention to fans’ wishes, the mythology or Gene Roddenberry’s vision – “I made the Star Trek movie I wanted to see on the assumption that if I liked it, other people would like it.”

Meyer also explains that not only was William Shatner reluctant to play Kirk as a middle aged admiral, but he didn’t want to play “Kirk depressed, Kirk defeated, Kirk not at the top of his game.” Shatner, it turns out, was not being vain or unprofessional, but rather protective of the Kirk persona.

What makes “The Genesis Effect” worth watching is the presence of new interviewees, including Robert Sallin, Mark Altman, Ralph Winter, Larry Nemecek, John and Bjo Trimble, Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam , Gene Roddenberry’s assistant Susan Sackett, film reviewer Scott Mantz, “Star Trek: Enterprise” writers David A. Goodman and Michael Sussman, Bobak Ferdowski, and TV producer Gabrielle Stanton (“The Flash”). Some of the contributions are, as Spock would say, fascinating. Others are not as riveting, but on the whole, the interviews are informative and also serve as a tribute to the late Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy.

Interestingly, although “The Genesis Effect” mentions that other writers were involved and that  the final revised script was done by Bennett and Meyer, no one mentions the late Jack B. Sowards. Sowards wrote the first draft in which Spock dies during the battle with Khan; the death scene in that script is what attracted Leonard Nimoy to sign up for Star Trek II. Considering that Sowards (who died in 2007 of Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is the sole credited screenwriter, this is an oversight that should have been avoided.


[1] In a behind-the-scenes interview on the Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut, actor Walter Koenig explains that the film got underway without a finished script. The producers and screenwriters literally were doing rewrites and handing in new pages to director Bob Wise every day. It’s a miracle that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was finished at all.

[2] A long-standing myth among fans was that the decision to produce Star Trek II via the studio’s TV-movie division meant that Star Trek II was originally filmed as a made-for-television movie but was bumped up to the glitzier feature film realm when Michael Eisner, who was then the big cheese at Paramount, saw how good the finished movie was. Not true. Star Trek II was always going to be a feature film; Eisner and his fellow “suits” believed that the TV side of the company simply was better at telling good stories but with smaller budgets.

Musings & Thoughts for Sunday, March 28, 2021, or: A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That Revisited

A view from the periscope of a U.S. Seawolf-class (SSN-21) boat. Note the burning ship on the left side of the ‘scope’s viewfinder. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Hi there. It’s just past noon on Sunday, March 28, 2021, and here in New Hometown, Florida it is a warm, sultry day. Currently, the temperature is 84˚F (29˚C) under mostly cloudy skies; with humidity at 66% and the wind blowing from the south-southwest at 14 MPH (22 KM/H), the heat index is 86˚F (30˚C). Today, the forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a high of 87˚F (31˚C). Tonight we can expect partly cloudy skies and a low of 70˚F (21˚C).

I planned on continuing my series of My Favorite Movies of the (X Decade) today, but last night the Caregiver’s middle son had friends over in his loft until 2:30 AM. I don’t know what the hell they were doing up there, nor do I care, but for several hours I heard loud noises from the upstairs part that is Middle Kid’s domain. They stomped around like a herd of wild elephants and even moved furniture around as if it were past noon rather than ‘round midnight.

 As a result, whatever drowsiness I felt when I went to bed last night vanished PDQ, and even though the gaggle of college-age kids left a bit after 2:30 AM, I was wide awake until sometime after 4 AM.

I had brunch – one fried egg, two croissants, and three cups of coffee – a little over an hour ago, so I’m at least able to cobble together at least one coherent blog post. However, because creating those My Favorite Movies of the (X Decade) posts take me – literally – over an hour, I will just do one of those “potpourri” posts instead.

After the Assault on the Capitol (U.S. Politics): She’s Baaaack!

A screenshot of a Dallas Observer article about “Insurrectionist Barbie” (AKA Jenna Ryan)

Remember Jennifer Leigh Ryan (AKA Jenna Ryan), the Dallas-area Realtor who flew to Washington, DC on a private plane to participate in the January 6 “Stop the Steal” protest by Donald Trump’s supporters that turned into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol?   She was arrested in Texas by the FBI and is currently facing four Federal charges as a result of her participation in the Capitol breach that left five people dead. Presently, Ryan is accused of:

  • Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building
  • Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building
  • Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building
  • Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building
A typical Ryanesque tweet from her Twitterstorm on Friday.

Ryan’s behavior over the past three months has been, shall we say, erratic. She has a pricey defense attorney (Guy Womack, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who specializes in both military law and federal criminal defense cases), but one wonders how the heck she’s going to afford it. She claims that she doesn’t need financial assistance, yet she has tried four different online donation campaigns on sites like PayPal, GoFundMe, and the right-wing friendly Christian GiveSendGo, all of which have closed her fundraisers down.[1] She claims that she’s doing well as a real estate broker and that business in her area has never been better.

The weird thing about Jenna, though, is that she activates and deactivates her Twitter account at random, sometimes leaving it “deactivated” for weeks at a time. Then, when we think Oh well, maybe Jenna’s going to finally shut the f—k up and stop incriminating herself, she comes back with a Trumpian Twitterstorm.

As you probably guessed by now, Insurrectionist Barbie is back on Twitter after one of those sulky silent breaks she takes from her social media account. And as always, she keeps digging a deeper hole for herself on Twitter.

Consider these latest of Jenna’s “Greatest Tweets”:

Jenna Ryan @dotjenna

·Mar 26

Trump is telling the truth!!! CNN is lying. The so-called rioters–myself included–were chatting with police officers, talking and taking selfies.

Jenna Ryan @dotjenna Mar 26

I should be supported by alt right media outlets, however, I am being left to the vultures of the Left. It’s pretty sad that Infowars or The Gateway Pundit has totally avoided my story, while every MSM outlet on the planet is asking for a statement. Quite obvious glass ceiling.

Jenna Ryan@dotjenna Mar 27

Well if this past election fiasco had to happen in order to be a catalyst for change in future election integrity, then I guess it was worth it. No more mail-in ballot & voter ID needs to become a reality and no more private funding of public elections. #voterintegrity

And even though Ryan has a few fans, most of the Twitter community is not having any of it.

 

Kevin Fry (blue check mark) @kevinmfry Mar 27 Replying to @dotjenna

I am confused. What happened to “I bought into a lie” and “I regret everything”? Were you just repeating something that your lawyer told you to say?

Richard Keaveney @rkwwilmington Mar 27 Replying to @dotjenna

Oh honey. We are bout ready to have federal election law to thwart the Jim Crow state election laws being passed. Even Manchin is aboard. Enjoy!

Richard Mitchell @Richard41889474 Mar 27 Replying to @dotjenna

Mail-in ballots were fine for years when Republicans pushed for it; no problems at all. However, it’s fraud now that people of color used the process, right? OMFG. Even faux attorney Powell is being honest about the lies told, now that she has to defend herself in court.

Mind you, this is just a sampling of the responses Ryan received on that last tweet I quote above.

How much would you care to wager that Jenna’s Twitter account will soon go dormant, at least for a few weeks?

Old Gamers Never Die: Trying Out Some of the Other Missions on ‘Cold Waters’

This is probably one of the coolest screengrabs I’ve gotten from a Cold Waters session.

As you know, I recently discovered – through watching YouTube playthroughs of Cold Waters – that my current favorite game has more than eight Single Missions, including some engagements that put you in command of either Soviet or Chinese attack subs in scenarios set either in North Atlantic 1984 or South China Sea 2000.

So far, I’ve tried out three – one that involves the use of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) against Chinese targets in the Paracel Islands, one that pits a US sub against a Typhoon-class ballistic missile boat (SSBN) and two fast attack sub escorts, and one that puts me in the control room of a Soviet Charlie class cruise missile sub (SSGN) against a NATO convoy.

Battle under the Arctic icepack. U.S. Navy 3, REDFLT 0.
A U.S. Navy LAMPS ASW helo searches for my (Soviet) boat.

I completed all three missions the first time I tried them out, although I don’t particularly enjoy playing Cold Waters on the “Red Team.” First, it just seems wrong to play Cold Waters as an adversary of the US, even though it’s only a game and I’m not killing any of my compatriots “for real.”  Second, Cold Waters only has a few U.S. ships and aircraft in its NATO-as-adversary missions, so even though it’s difficult to beat US warships in Cold Waters, it can be done.

Usually, I sink the Typhoon when she – or “he,” as Russians usually call ships by a male pronoun – is under the icepack, Here, the Typhoon was only damaged and was trying to make a run for it on the surface. Spoiler alert: I still bagged this Red bear with a second Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo.
A striking (get it?) view of a Chinese base after a missile attack in Strike from the Sea.

I prefer to play as the US, though, so I’ve been playing Stalking the Red Bear (just imagine The Hunt for Red October but with its skipper fully on the enemy side) and Strike from the Sea. Thus far, I’ve won all of my battles in the former scenario and lost only one in the latter one. I even got an awesome screenshot of a damaged Typhoon cruising on the surface near the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, near the Arctic Ocean late last night.

Well, as I said earlier, I’m tired from a rather long and sleepless night, so I’ll close for now. So until tomorrow, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.


[1] I’m not sure why GiveSendGo closed Ryan’s fundraiser, or if Ryan closed it herself. The last time that I saw it “live” online, the “Free Jenna” campaign had somehow raised $700. However, on Twitter we were told by someone with hacking skills that Ryan had donated $300 to her own campaign.

Sources: Jenna Ryan’s Twitter feed (when it’s not deactivated, anyway)

On Movies: My Favorite Films from the 1980s

Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

According to a pie chart in the Statistics page of my Blu-ray.com Blu-ray Collection, 17% of the movies I own were produced and released in the 1980s. That’s the third-largest percentage overall (eclipsed only by the 2000s [23.5%] and 2010s [22.4%] and the biggest wedge of movies made in the 20th Century.

My recreation of the pie chart in my Blu-ray.com account’s statistics page.

For me, the Eighties and Nineties were the Golden Age of my moviegoing; I started high school in late 1980 and ended my attempt to earn a college degree in December of 1989. And in that 10-year-period, several factors came into play that made going to the movies easier than in the previous decade.

  • I had friends who now were old enough to drive, had licenses, and could either borrow their parents’ cars or were first-time car owners
  • New theaters opened close to my Fountainbleau Park area neighborhood that were either within walking distance or a short bus ride away
  • I was self-employed – at least periodically – and had disposable cash to spend

Like any decade, the 1980s had their fair share of awful movies; the worst one I saw with a group of friends was John Derek’s Bolero (1984), a laughably bad erotic melodrama starring Derek’s statuesque but rather wooden wife Bo. How bad was Bolero? It was so bad that my friends and I ended up walking out well before the end of the movie.

Poster art by Richard Amsel. (C) 1981 Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd.

But the Eighties were the decade that gave us Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Carmen, Gremlins, Taps, Splash, Big, The Freshman, The Sure Thing, The Outsiders….In short, if you liked movies as a teen or young adult, the 1980s was the best time to go to the local multiplex and catch a new flick.

The 1980s also saw the emergence of home media releases of theatrical films as the videocassette recorder (a gadget invented as long ago as the late 1950s but not widely available to John and Jane Doe, average consumers, till the late 1970s and early 1980s.[1]Because studio-released VHS tapes were pricey (I paid $79.99 for my tapes of Raiders and The Empire Strikes Back, and $81 for a used rental copy of Star Wars), most people rented instead of owned until prices started coming down circa 1990. I normally bought VHS tapes (which almost always presented the films in pan-and-scan re-edits) of movies I’d watched in theaters, but every so often I bought tapes with films I had missed – Das Boot, Empire of the Sun, The Princess Bride, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit – for one reason or another.

In this edition of On Movies, I’ll feature my favorite films from the 1980s. With a few exceptions, I saw most of them in theaters, although I did have to resort to watching some of the titles below either on videotape or on cable TV. (These aren’t necessarily the best 1980s films, mind you. But they are my personal favorites.

So, without further delay, away…we…go!

  1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  2. The Shining (1980)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  5. Creepshow (1982)
  6. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)
  7. E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982)
  8. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
  9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
  10. Red Dawn (1984)
  11. The Terminator (1984)
  12. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  13. Back to the Future (1985)
  14. Witness (1985)
  15. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  16. Aliens (1986)
  17. Stand By Me (1986)
  18. Platoon (1986)
  19. Empire of the Sun (1987)
  20. The Princess Bride (1987)
  21. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  22. Die Hard (1988)
  23. Working Girl (1988)
  24. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
  25. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

[1] I bought my first VHS tapes late in 1983 – the year I graduated from high school – before I even had a VCR. My friend Betsy Matteis was one of the few people I knew who owned one, so I’d watch my movies (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark at her house every so often until I bought my own VCR – an American Home Video machine – for $400 in the summer of 1984.

On Movies: My Favorite Films from the 1970s

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On Movies: My Favorite Films from the 1970s

I was born in 1963, eight months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas and four months before MGM released John Sturges’ The Great Escape in theaters. And, as far as I can remember, I first went to a movie in a theater – in Bogota, Colombia – in 1969, when my older half-sister and one of her paternal cousins took me to see the aforementioned The Great Escape.[1]

I don’t remember going to a lot of movies when we lived in Bogota from 1966 to 1972. I remember going to see The Great Escape and Snow White, both of which were re-issues of older films, but I don’t think I was as frequent a moviegoer as I would later be when Mom and I (later followed by my reluctant half-sibling) moved back to Miami in the late spring of 1972. I dimly remember going to see a science fiction film called Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, but I don’t recall the particulars of that movie.

Once we were finally living in a house in Westchester, a Miami suburb, my mom took me to the movies more often than when we lived in South America. At first, because I was only nine or 10, she would go with me or have my half-sister take me so I wouldn’t be alone in a theater with strangers. But starting in 1975 or so, my mother would drive me to a theater – usually the Dadeland Twin or its Coral Gables counterpart, the Gables Twin Theater – and drop me off with enough cash for the ticket, snacks, and a quarter for the public pay phone so I could call home for a pick-up ride.

Oddly enough, I didn’t see many of the titles in this list favorite 1970s films in theaters. I was living in Colombia when Summer of ’42 was released in 1971, and I seriously doubt that my mother would have allowed me to see it because of its topic. She didn’t allow me to go to see Jaws during the Summer of the Shark, either[2], and the first time I attempted to see Apocalypse Now in 1979, I was stopped not by a reluctant parent but by a by-the-book box office employee who would not let me in because I was 16 and not accompanied by a parent or guardian. (My older half-sister was with me, but the ticket seller wasn’t having any of it.)

So, with the exception of Silent Movie, A Bridge Too Far, and Star Wars (which hit theaters around the same time in 1977), I saw most of the following titles either on broadcast television (both over-the-air and on cable) or on home video.   

Note:This list does not include every 1970s film I own in my home media collection; just my favorites.

Without further ado, away we go.

  1. Summer of ’42 (1971)
  2. The Godfather (1972)
  3. American Graffiti (1973)
  4. Blazing Saddles (1974)
  5. Jaws (1975)
  6. All the President’s Men (1976)
  7. Silent Movie (1976)
  8. Silver Streak (1976)
  9. Black Sunday (1977)
  10. Star Wars (1977)
  11. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
  12. Oh, God! (1977)[3]
  13. Superman (1978)
  14. Alien (1979)
  15. Apocalypse Now

[1] For a brief retelling of this event, please see the introduction of my book, Save Me the Aisle Seat: The Good, the Bad and the Really Bad Movies: Selected Reviews by an Online Film Reviewer

[2] See Movie Watcher Memories, or: Mom Nixes Shark Pic for this story.

[3] Apparently, 1977 was a good year for movies. (So was 1976!)