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!)

Blu-ray Review: ‘Superman: The Movie’ (2006 BD Release)

(C) 2006, 1978 Warner Bros. and DC Comics.

Reviewer’s Note: This is not a review of Richard Donner’s film, Superman. Its focus is the 2006 Blu-ray, which was the first release of the 1978 classic on the then-new high definition home media format.

On November 28, 2006, Warner Home Video released Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman,[1] the spectacular live-action adaptation of DC Comics’ most popular character, Kal-El, who is best known to his fellow citizens of Metropolis by his nom de voyage, Superman.

A box-office and Academy Award-winning triumph, this awesome adventure assembles a cast and creative contingent as only a big movie can. Its legacy soared higher when director Richard Donner revisited the film in 2000 and integrated eight minutes of footage. Experience more of the Krypton Council, a glimpse of stars of previous Superman incarnations, more of Jor-El underscoring his son’s purpose on Earth, and an extended sequence in Lex Luthor’s hideout. Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Luthor), and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) give indelible performances. Looks like a swell night for flying. – Promotional blurb on Superman: The Movie Blu-ray back cover.

Like Warner Home Video’s 2000 DVD, Superman presents the slightly extended cut of the 1978 blockbuster which added eight minutes of footage to Donner’s theatrically-released version. Most of the “new” material included a more complete version of Jor-El’s confrontation with the Krypton Council (a scene that always seemed choppy to me, even when I saw it in 1978 at a Miami-area movie theater) and another scene – which I find rather touching – that features a conversation between Jor-El and Superman after his first adventures as the Man of Steel in and around Metropolis.

Jor-El: [in the Fortress of Solitude] You… enjoyed it.

Superman: I don’t know what to say, Father. I’m afraid I just got carried away.

Jor-El: I anticipated this, my son. I…

Superman: [surprised] You couldn’t have! You couldn’t have imagined…

Jor-El: …How good it felt.

[Superman nods]

Jor-El: You are revealed to the world. Very well, so be it. But you must still keep your secret identity.

Superman: But why?

Jor-El: The reasons are two. First, you cannot serve humanity twenty-eight hours a day.

Superman: Twenty-four.

Jor-El: Or twenty-four, as it is in Earth time. Your help would be called for endlessly, even for those problems which human beings could solve themselves. It is their habit to abuse their resources in such a way.

Superman: And secondly?

Jor-El: Secondly, your enemies will discover their only way to hurt you: by hurting the people you care for.

Superman: Thank you, Father.

Jor-El: Lastly… Do not punish yourself for your feelings of vanity. Simply learn to control them. It is an affliction common to all, even on Krypton. Our destruction could have been avoided had it not been for the vanity of some who considered us indestructible. Were it not for vanity, why… at this very moment…

[sadly]

Jor-El: I could embrace you in my arms. My son.

[Kal-El reaches yearningly toward his father’s image; Jor-El fades, leaving Kal-El alone]

Other additions, such as the extended confrontation in Lex Luthor’s underground lair, were present in the Extended Edition that aired on TV several years before Superman was released on DVD and show how formidable Supes is – unless, of course, he’s exposed to kryptonite.

Overall, this version of Superman – which is eight minutes longer than the 143-minutes-long 1978 version seen in theaters – is the one that is prevalent in optical disc-based home media, and Warner has reissued it a few times since 2006, including the Triple Feature 3-disc set that includes Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.

Technical Specifications for Superman (2006 Blu-ray)

The Blu-ray from 2006 has the following specifications:

Video

  • Codec: VC-1
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.42:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Music: Dolby Digital 5.0

Subtitles

  • English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Discs

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Single disc (1 BD-50)

Playback

  • 2K Blu-ray: Region free

Extra Features

Warner Bros. was one of the many studios that became embroiled in the infamous 2006-2008 “high definition optical disc format war” between the Sony-led Blu-ray Association and the Toshiba-led HD-DVD Promotion Group to determine which format would supersede the highly successful DVD optical disc. From what I’ve read about the Superman Blu-ray’s development on Blu-ray.com, it seems that the studio tried to hedge its bets and released films from its catalogue in both formats.

This might explain, for instance, why Warner Home Video went for a Dolby Digital sound mix rather than a lossless PCM audio track in those early (2006-2008) Blu-rays, which sadly included Superman.

Warner Home Video also didn’t go out of its way to create new 1080p content for the Superman Blu-ray. Instead, it ported over most of the behind-the-scenes stuff from the 2000 DVD in its original analog TV NTSC form. As a result, the viewer will see the various documentaries and featurettes as if they were using an old-school cathode ray tube (CRT) TV set from the 1980s rather than a 21st Century high definition set.

Still, the extras included in the 2006 Blu-ray of Superman are not bad, provided that you don’t mind the run-of-the mill Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

The Extra Features in this presentation are:

  • Audio commentary track by director Richard Donner and the late Tom Mankiewicz, billed as “Creative Consultant “ and unofficial co-writer of the Superman screenplay
  • Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, which covers the long journey of Superman from 1975 – when Alexander and Ilya Salkind came up with the idea to make a feature film based on the DC Comics character – to the hiring of Richard Donner and the casting of Superman: The Movie
  • Making Superman: The Filming of a Legend, which picks up the story with the long and surprisingly contentious process of filming not one but two films simultaneously. Here, director Michael Thau (who also supervised the editing of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut) not only delves into the cast and crew’s experiences while filming Superman, but also reveals the rift between Donner and the Salkinds over the complexities of filming Superman and Superman II at the same time and the pressure everyone felt to get the first film ready for a Christmas 1978 release. If you’ve ever wondered why there are two versions of Superman II in existence, you’ll get part of the tale here.
  • Superman Screen Test
  • Music-Only audio track, featuring John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score
  • Theatrical trailers and TV spots

My Take

Superman: Easy, miss. I’ve got you.

Lois Lane: You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?

Superman – or as it was billed in posters, the soundtrack album cover, and the theatrical trailer, Superman: The Movie – is one of those “big event films” that kids growing up in the 1970s hold dear in their hearts. Yes, yes, I know. The costumes, the set designs, the special effects, and the hair styles scream “this film is stuck in the 1970s!” And yet, when you compare it to the modern DC Comics adaptations – especially Zach Snyder’s visually stunning but somewhat unengaging Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman films of more recent vintage – Richard Donner’s 43-year-old saga of Superman’s origins and first adventures on Earth stands out as the best superhero film ever made.

In some ways, this slightly expanded version is better than the 1978 theatrical release as noted above. My only quibble with the extended version of the confrontation between Lex Luthor (with Gene Hackman at his scene-stealing best) and Superman is that the clip of Supes getting shot with a machine gun, scorched with a flamethrower, and flash-frozen by a spray of freezing water vapor looks cheesier than the already dated effects seen in the theatrical release version. And, of course, that additional material looks added-on rather than being organic to the film’s narrative. This was true when I bought the DVD back in 2001; it’s truer now when you watch it on Blu-ray.

Those are small, even petty concerns, though. Overall, the new material adds depth to some of the scenes that were already in the original film, especially those bits between Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando. I enjoyed seeing that exchange in the Fortress of Solitude between Jor-El and Kal-El after his “revelation to humanity” in the “Superfeats” and “Super Rescues” sequences set in Metropolis (a not-too disguised New York City).

And if you know me – either from my online scribblings or in real life – you know that I’m a huge John Williams fan, so I not only enjoy the musical score – performed by the magnificent London Symphony Orchestra – either as part of the overall soundtrack but also in an isolated Music Only audio track. I’ve done the latter once, and it’s amazing. It’s like watching a 143-minutes-long silent masterpiece. (Just turn on the subtitles and you’ll see what I mean.)

One thing I don’t like about early Warner Bros. BDs is that they don’t start with a Top Menu screen when you start playback. If you want to select a different language track, set up subtitles, or just watch some of the extra features, you have to hit the Disc Menu or Pop Up Menu buttons to access the various options. Most of  Warner’s competitors didn’t do this, even in the early days of the format, so for me, this is an annoying trait. Thankfully, Warner’s later releases don’t do this…but most of their early catalogue releases most surely do.

Of course, there are some small things that went by the wayside when Warner Bros. first released Superman: The Movie on DVD, and they’re still absent in the first Blu-ray. One of those tiny – perhaps even obscure – details was the omission of the original 1978 film’s final credit, which read “Next Year: Superman II.”

I know. I know. Warner Bros. removed it in the 2000 DVD because, due to the problems Donner had with the shooting of Superman and the delay in the film’s release from Summer of 1978 to Christmas of that year, there wasn’t a Superman II in 1979. Donner was famously – or infamously – fired from Superman II, and the Salkinds replaced him with American ex-pat Richard Lester. This led to a schism within the cast and crew, and Lester – who wanted sole credit for directing the second film – ended up reshooting over 75% of the movie, changing Superman II’s tone from Donner’s “true-to-life” vibe to a more tongue-in-cheek, campier, more exaggerated comic book one per Lester’s tastes and style.

On the whole, the 2006 Blu-ray of Superman isn’t super, man, but it’s probably the best that Warner Bros. and Warner Home Video could produce in those early days of the Blu-ray format. It has, of course, been re-issued a few times, and the 1978 original film is now available on 4K UHD and 2K BD as well. But if you get this version, you’re still getting a decent version of what I think is the best superhero film ever made.


[1] Marketed as Superman: The Movie.

Documentary Miniseries Review: ‘Prohibition: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’

(C) 2011 PBS Distribution and Florentine Films

Prohibition: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick (2011)

Written by: Geoffrey C. Ward, based in part on Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent

Produced by: Ken Burns, Sarah Botstein, and Lynn Novick

Directed by: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Narrated by: Peter Coyote

Featuring (as on-screen commentators or voice actors): Tom Hanks, Amy Madigan, John Lithgow, Patricia Clarkson, Pete Hamill, Daniel Okrent, John Paul Stevens, Samuel L. Jackson, Noah Feldman, Philip Bosco, Campbell Scott, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Kevin Conway

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. – Section One, Amendment 18 to the Constitution of the United States

On October 2, 2011, over 300 member stations of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired A Nation of Drunkards, the first of three parts of Prohibition: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, a six-hour miniseries about how a coalition of women’s temperance movements, xenophobic anti-immigrant organizations, and well-meaning progressives tried to solve the social ills caused by alcohol abuse in the U.S. by getting the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution – Prohibition – ratified.  

Prohibition – also known as the Volstead Act, so-called because it was introduced by Representative Andrew Volstead (R-MN) as the National Prohibition Act of 1917 – was hailed by its ardent supporters as a “noble experiment” that, if it worked as advertised, would solve most of the nation’s domestic problems. Women – Prohibition’s principal backers, hoped that if the manufacture, distribution, and sale of intoxicating liquor were banned, chronic absenteeism from work, public intoxication, financial stresses, and spousal abuse would vanish.

Many teetotaling crusaders, mostly white Protestants who lived in the rural South and Midwest, also hoped that the 18th Amendment, the first and only alteration to the Constitution that restricted personal liberty – would serve as an incentive for immigrants – mostly beer-loving Germans and Austrians, Jews from Eastern Europe and Catholics from Ireland, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) and Italy – to stop following age-old traditions that included the consumption of wine and other spirits. To these adherents of the anti-saloon, anti-brewery movement, immigrants in the big (and corrupt) coastal cities were unraveling the fabric and traditions of what they thought was the ideal American civilization – Protestant, small town, and Anglo-Saxon America.

Indeed, A Nation of Drunkards, the first of Prohibition’s three parts, points out that had it not been for the clever manipulation by the Anti-Saloon League’s Wayne Wheeler of wartime hatred for all things German, passage of the Volstead Act would have taken longer and it might have even died without ever becoming part of the Constitution.  (It was, in fact, vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, but it had enough supporters in the House of Representatives and the veto was overturned.  The 18th Amendment became the law of the land after it was ratified in 1919 when Nebraska became the 36th state to ratify it.)

How did a nation founded on rights ever go so wrong? – 
tagline for Prohibition

However, as the episodes A Nation of Scofflaws and A Nation of Hypocrites remind us, the only amendment to the Constitution designed to restrict personal freedoms and impose morality on an entire nation failed miserably.  (It’s also, incidentally, the only amendment to have been repealed.)

Those of us who live in the 21st Century know that this is not what the Volstead Act accomplished. Sure, Prohibition had some positive results at the beginning; most Americans knew that alcohol abuse was a social problem that needed to be addressed.  Many individuals, even those who were drinkers, tried to obey the law as a matter of good citizenship.  As a result, alcohol-related car accidents were reduced, and public drunkenness arrests went down sharply within the first 12 months after Prohibition became the law of the land.

However, the law had too many loopholes and was not enforced seriously or even fairly.  The manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was forbidden, yet the consumption of it was not. You couldn’t be arrested for drinking booze; just for making and selling it.  And ome states which had ratified the Volstead Act  – including Michigan –  did not enforce it and even repealed prohibition laws within their own constitutions.

At the national level, the Federal government only fielded a handful of Prohibition agents to shut down illegal distilleries and speakeasies, arrest bootleggers and prosecute gangsters who built huge criminal empires made possible by America’s unquenchable thirst for forbidden beverages – beer, whiskey, gin and wine, for the most part.

My Take: In the tradition of other documentaries directed and produced by Ken Burns (The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, and The Vietnam War), Prohibition gives viewers both a Big Picture look at a period of American history and a more intimate and personal view at some of the individuals – both Dry and Wet – who were involved with (or affected by) the temperance movement and its ill-fated campaign to ban booze from America forever.

For A Nation of Drunkards, which covers the period between 1826 and 1919, and the other two parts, Burns and his collaborator Lynn Novick rely on the by-now familiar techniques of mixing dramatic use of cinematographer Buddy Squires’ lenswork on still pictures, archival documentary footage and “talking head” interviews with writers, historians and ordinary people who were young when Prohibition was part of the American scene.

In addition, Prohibition makes use of excellent voice acting by a cast of well-known actors, including Peter Coyote (the series’ narrator), Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Patricia Clarkson, Philip Bosco, Kevin Conway, Blythe Danner, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons. Some, like Giamatti, portray one of the series’ featured historical figures, while others lend their vocal talent to multiple parts.

The script by Geoffrey C. Ward, based mostly on author Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, probably isn’t flawless and might have factual errors sprinkled here and there (as history buffs and critical viewers of The War and The Civil War have previously noted) but overall Prohibition is a fascinating look at a pivotal period of American history.

It shows, in an entertaining and non-didactic style, how the Prohibition laws not only failed to eradicate alcohol from its long-established presence in America, but also instilled in many otherwise law-abiding citizens a sense of disdain for legal authority and – worse – helped the growth of organized crime and the incidental rise in crime, corruption and moral hypocrisy.

Although the digitally-mastered video and sound – especially on Blu-ray –  are top-notch and the musical selections by Florentine Films’ music editors are lively and evocative of the period, Paramount Home Entertainment and PBS Distribution should have taken some time to quality check the subtitles on the Blu-ray and DVD editions of Prohibition.

I don’t know how subtitles are created and added to video images. It’s probably not an easy undertaking, and I suspect that it is a time-consuming and boring task that can allow all kinds of mistakes to creep in and show up on people’s TVs.

Sometimes – and this is understandable – subtitles have to condense what a speaker is saying in the audio track in order to keep up with the film’s pacing.  Thus, truncating a line of overlong dialogue so that the subtitle doesn’t lag too much is okay.  It happens in lots of films and most people – especially the deaf and hard of hearing – won’t notice.

What is not understandable – unless Prohibition was rushed to home video so it would be available shortly after its initial air dates on PBS in October of 2011 – is the sloppiness of some of the subtitles present in the Blu-ray, especially those that appear when street addresses are mentioned in the narrative. (At least on three occasions while watching A Nation of Hypocrites, I noticed glaring errors in capitalization when specific locations are named.)

Old Gamers Never Die: ‘Discovery’ of New Missions in ‘Cold Waters’ Teaches Me that Reading (Manuals) is Fundamental

A Chinese airfield in the Paracel Islands under attack in Cold Waters’ Strike from the Sea mission. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

One of the things I miss about buying computer games with physical media (CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs in particular) is getting a printed manual in the same box as the game and – in some instances – keyboard overlays.

I used to have a stack of boxes like this – with manuals tucked inside – on a shelf in my closet at my former home in Miami. Photo Credit: Moby Games

For those of us who cut our gaming teeth in the 1980s and early 1990s, most computer games came with a manual. They varied in size and page-count depending on the game’s genre, complexity, and setting: some manuals were only a few pages long and focused on gameplay functions and playing tips, while others, such as the ones for Silent Service II (a World War II submarine simulator) and Red Storm Rising (a World War III submarine simulator based on Tom Clancy’s eponymous 1986 novel) were veritable books, with real-life tactical data, recognition images of enemy vessels, tips on strategy, and tips for first-time players.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd.

I usually perused manuals – or at least skimmed through them – either before I installed a game (instructions for installs were also in manuals) or before playing for the first time. Not always, of course, but most of the time, since most of the manuals usually included a step-by-step tutorial on how to play a game and learn its basic features.

Red Storm Rising is a fun game to play, but you should read the manual first. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd.

Since I moved to New Hometown in the spring of 2016 – almost half a decade ago as I write this – I have bought around 32 games on Steam, an online retailer that distributes games as downloads rather than as “physical media.” Some of those games are reissues of games I owned when my computers ran on MS-DOS (like Silent Service II and F-14: Fleet Defender), while still others, such as Strategic Command WWII: World at War and Cold Waters were “new-to-me” when I purchased them in 2018 and 2020 (respectively).

All of these Steam-purchased games come with PDF editions of manuals, so it’s not that game manufacturers don’t bother to write or publish those handy bits of documentation. But to this old gamer, digital manuals just add another dimension of difficulty when it comes to gameplay.

For instance, take Cold Waters.

Main Menu from Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

The game comes with a PDF manual. It’s in the same folder as the game files. I’ve even skimmed through it a few times in the eight months that I’ve owned and played Cold Waters to clarify a few points. But, like many gamers these days, I’ve never read the entire document.

Until a few days ago, I’ve played Cold Waters assuming that there are only eight missions in the Single Mission menu, starting with #1 The Duel and ending with #8 Junks on Parade.

Then, while I was watching a YouTube gamer (TortugaPower) this weekend, I was surprised when I saw him playing a Single Mission titled Stalking the Red Bear, a scenario set in Cold Waters’ North Atlantic 1984 timeline in which the player, commanding a Los Angeles-class sub, must find and sink a Typhoon-class ballistic missile boat (the same basic boat on which Tom Clancy’s Red October is based) and her fast-attack sub escorts under the Arctic icepack.

What? I thought as I watched TortugaPower’s YouTube video – in which he enthusiastically called the Typhoon the “Red October” throughout the playthrough.  I’ve never seen that Single Mission!

At first I thought TortugaPower was playing an early version of Cold Waters; some of the little details, such as the look of the Weapons Load tab, were subtly different from the version of the game that I own. Not radically different, mind you, but just enough that someone who plays Cold Waters often would notice. (Many game developers – especially those who are responsive to players’ comments on playability issues and “quality of life” details – tweak their products often, adding a new feature here or removing a clunky feature there.)

Then it dawned on me that maybe I had not bothered to read the manual or “scrolled” down on the Single Mission menu section. Duh, dude. That’s what manuals are for, I chided myself.

I didn’t go into my PC’s folders to check out the manual; however, I did boot up the game and, once it was running, I clicked on Single Mission, then, with my mouse, scrolled down.

That’s when I saw that Cold Waters doesn’t have eight Single Missions; it has 17!

See…this is why scrolling with a mouse is important! And if you scroll down even farther, you’ll see thee are 17 missions in all. (Here, you see Missions 6-13.)

The first 11 missions – eight of which I have played or, at the very least, attempted to play, put you in command of U.S. subs. Three, Junks on Parade, Strike from the Sea, and High Noon, are set in the same timeline and theater of operations as South China Sea 2000, while Stalking the Red Bear (as I noted earlier) is set in North Atlantic 1984.

The other six missions?

Strike from the Sea features the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), which I’d never used in Cold Waters till I “discovered” there were more missions past Junks on Parade.

These missions are set in the three different timelines as well but puts players in the control rooms of either Soviet or Chinese submarines against U.S. subs, surface ships, and aircraft.

Whoa.

And all this time I thought I had completed the entire slate of Single Missions in Cold Waters.

The biggest takeaway I got from this?

Read the manual, dude. Or at least use the scroll function in game menus!

© 2021 Alex Diaz-Granados

Musings & Thoughts for Tuesday, March 23, 2021, or: ‘The Day After’ Makes You Think About the Unthinkable

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. It’s cool here; right now the temperature is 65˚F (19˚C) under hazy conditions. With the wind blowing from the south-southeast at 3 MPH (5 KM/H) and humidity at 82%, the chill factor is 63˚F (17˚), Today will be partly sunny and the high will be 81˚F (27˚C). Tonight, skies will be partly cloudy, and the low will be 58˚F (15˚C).

The Blu-ray cover of The Day After. (C) 2018, 1983 ABC Motion Pictures and Kino Lorber.

My Blu-ray collection grew by one title – 1983’s The Day After, a drama written by Edward Hume and directed by Nicholas Meyer – to a grand total of 379 titles. In case you don’t know, The Day After was controversial when it aired in November of ’83, partly because it was the first serious attempt to depict a nuclear attack on the U.S. and its effects on a typical American community, but mostly because – typically, conservatives perceived it (or chose to portray it as such) as a liberal “attack” on America’s nuclear deterrent.

The truth, as I discovered from listening to director Nicholas Meyer’s recollections in one of the two featurettes that Kino Lorber included in the two-disc set, is far more nuanced than that. ABC Motion Pictures, ABC’s in-house TV movie division, wanted a major two-night “event” that focused on what a nuclear war might look like. The Cold War was then in one of its “peaks” of tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, mainly over the Reagan Administration’s arms buildup and NATO’s decision to deploy Pershing II intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in West Germany and Great Britain. And because controversy often attracts curious viewers, ABC wanted a two-part TV film on the subject that most of us go out of our way not to think about – nuclear war and its consequences to the human race.

Alternate cover art for the 2018 Blu-ray.

ABC’s choice to hire Edward Hume to write a teleplay and Nicholas Meyer to direct The Day After had nothing to do with liberal shenanigans to “undermine our nuclear deterrent.” On the contrary; anyone who understands why networks do what they do can tell you that ABC chose to air The Day After for the same reason it ditched most traditional scripted dramas and situation comedies in lieu of “reality shows” in the early 2000s – high ratings equal increases in ad revenue.

In his recollections, Meyer says that both the Department of Defense and some of the ABC executives wanted The Day After to depict the Soviets as the aggressors who start World War III. Meyer and Hume wanted to be more ambiguous, so Meyer – who had just saved Paramount’s Star Trek film franchise with his Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – had so many arguments with ABC’s Standards & Practices (the censors) that he walked away from the project for nearly four months. ABC tried to rewrite the script to appease the right wing backlash, but they needed Meyer back, so they relented on the revisions and let the director shoot the movie mostly per Hume’s original teleplay.

The Day After aired on November 20, 1983 as a one-part film (Meyer insisted on that format change). It was – and still remains – the most-watched TV movie in U.S. broadcast history: over 100 million people, in nearly 39 million households, watched it when it was originally shown on ABC.

I have not watched the featured presentation yet; just the interview with Nicholas Meyer. I’ll probably do that tonight. However, I can tell you that in this 35th Anniversary release, there are two cuts of The Day After: the ABC version that was aired domestically and in other countries, and a theatrical cut produced for the overseas – primarily European – market. The theatrical cut is five minutes longer and has a slightly different opening scene, but otherwise it’s identical to the ABC-TV cut.

On Movies: P.J. Cai’s Review of ‘Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss’

(C) 2020 Popcorn Sky Productions

As the team who created Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss prepares its next film project, it is timely (and appropriate) that P.J. Cai, blogger and a former reviewer at Epinions, wrote a review of the 2020 short film directed by actor/director/editor Juan Carlos Hernandez and written by Your Humble Correspondent over at IMDb.com.

In case you don’t often visit IMDb.com’s User Reviews section, here’s P.J.’s review in its entirety.

Politics and family can mix . . . maybe

22 March 2021

After this last horrendous election year many of us have had family ties severed due to the divisive politics of the last administration. However, this wonderful short explores one family’s political differences in a light but humorous fashion, and gives hope to those who have seen their family relationships crumble during these tumultuous times.

The music selection was perfect and fit the theme of “Ronnie . . . ” perfectly. My favorite performance was that of Ronnie played by Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez. (Those of you familiar with Seinfeld may see bits of Heidi Swedberg’s character Susan Ross in her.)

If your family gets into heated political discussions, you should definitely watch this. It’s only 20 minutes long and will cause you to think about your interactions and what’s really important in life . . . family!

(C) 2021 P.J. Cai

If you haven’t seen Ronnie yet and would like to watch it, here it is, in its full YouTube glory.

If you have a smart TV with Internet connectivity, watch it there! It really looks and sounds great on a big screen TV and a good home theater sound system.

In closing, if you are interested in joining the team of donors at Popcorn Sky’s GoFundMe campaign, Popcorn Sky’s next film by Alex Diaz-Granados, click Here.