Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Light Side



Art by Dave Cockrum

As we covered in the first post for today, 2016 sucked. And we could rehash all of that or you can just click on the link to the left.

No, this post is all about happy thoughts! 




Happy! Happy!
Joy! Joy!
Happy! Happy!
Joy! Joy! 
Happy! Happy! Happy!
      Joy! Joy! Joy!

So be happy, dammit! And let's get on with this, OK? What the hell was good about 2016?

Let's start with sports. 

The United States won strong and decisively in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Michael Phelps made a big splash as he swept up a whole bunch of swimming medals while Simone Biles somersaulted into our hearts while picking up a lot of Olympic gold in the process. All told, Americans won 121 medals with 46 of them gold. Yay, 'Merica! 

The Cleveland Cavaliers finally win their long denied NBA Finals championship with Lebron James at the helm.

Then Cleveland tried to make history a 2nd time with the Cleveland Indians going for long time gone World Series win. Sorry, Cleveland, you gotta spread the love and let the even longer suffering Chicago Cubs have their day.

Both baseball and basketball championship series came down to the wire in the 7th game of their respective series. So not only did the Cavaliers and the Cubs get their long denied rings but they did it in a fashion that reminded America what it loved about baseball and basketball in the first place.

Well, except me. I'm not a sports guy. Still, awesome wins for both teams in a narrative that could almost be lifted from a Hollywood movie.

And speaking of movies (don't try segue ways like this without a parent, kids!), there were some damn good ones!

Click the links to earlier posts for longer write ups on the individual movies. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Star Trek Beyond
Ghostbusters
The original and still best! Saw it at Geeksboro! Sweet
Ghostbusters---again! 
The new one with the girls! Not great, not bad. Hey, I was entertained.
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange 
Rogue One 
Finding Dory
The Jungle Book 
Zootopia 
Moana 

And Moana brings me to another good thing about 2016. This was the year I discovered...

THIS GUY!!!




Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda! I have to be careful how I go on about him or my daughter Randie will start try to "ship it" or something. (Something to do with FedEx, I think?) 

Lin was on my media radar as I kept hearing his name come up again and again in various pop culture information sites. Randie was going nuts for this guy. All I knew he was the creator and star of a fantastic show on Broadway about Alexander Hamilton. And most of the music is based on rap and hip hop. What the hell?  

I finally got to see Lin in action on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver where Lin performed a rap about Puerto Rico's financial crisis. Really! A rap...about Puerto Rico's financial crisis! And I was entertained... and informed! 

Then I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda in James Corden's Carpool Karaoke where they did some bits from Hamilton that just blew my mind. But what struck me was how completely affable he was with a geeky vibe. A good example of that was an appearance he made on the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. The week before, Lin had been parodied in sketch... and by a woman, Cecily Strong. And what was his reaction? "How cool is that?!?!"

I liked this guy! Hell, I even watched the Tony Awards because of this talented man and his amazing show. I never watch the Tonys! Well, this year, I did! And WOW! The performance of Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) made me want to see so much more of Hamilton and whatever else Lin was up to!

So I'm now Lin-Manuel Miranda's biggest fan in the over 50 straight white male demographic! I just glom on to all things Lin! 

Like this clip from the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance from In the Heights, Lin's previous Tony awarding winning musical. 

Or how about this clip from when Lin hosted Saturday Night Live where he was in sketch parodying Stranger Things.

And the joy of Lin-Manuel Miranda leads me to the wonder that is Stranger Things. 

Much like it was with Lin, I came to Stranger Things because I kept hearing about it as parodies and memes were everywhere and I didn't get it and I don't like not getting things. Argh! So the family got to together to watch Stranger Things. For more on what I thought about that...
In a word: weird! Also awesome! OK, two words: weird, awesome. And cool! Three words.... I'm just going to move on now. 

We got to see some live theater with a production of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum. Excellent show, a lot of bawdy humor put on by fun and talented cast of a local university. 

But my daughter got to see a couple of shows on the Great White Way itself! Yes, I am talking Broadway where she got to see Phantom Of the Opera and Finding Neverland while on a trip to New York City. She loves NYC and wants to go again some day. I've never been so since she's an experienced pro at handling the Big Apple, she can be my guide.  

 And speaking of trips, the whole family climbed in the car for a trip down to Orlando to lay down some moolah on Disney World. Except for a couple of illnesses near the end, the trip went well. For more on that, click the links in the side bar under Disney Daze.  

And there you go. And that's not everything that was good for me or my family or for the world in general. As I write this, I'm sure I'm missing some really big thing that happened in 2016 and I'm going to slap my forehead so hard when I think of it. 

But whether it's a lot of things or a few things, whether it's big things or little things or even only one thing, there is good to be found in this world and there was good in 2016. 

For good or ill, it's time to put 2016 to bed. 2017 will provide challenges anew and it will test our courage and faith. Whatever comes your way for the new year, remember you're stronger than you know and you're not alone. 

Be good to one another. 



2016: The Dark Side

Art by Dave Cockrum 

The above image is from a 1980's Nightcrawler mini-series written and drawn by the late, great Dave Cockrum. I'm been trying to think of a way to get that crazy dinosaur gunslinger character into a post somehow. So with a minor edit of one word balloon, here you go.

There seems to be a general concensus that 2016 sucked. And yes there was much suckitude in the last 366 days (of course it was a leap year so one extra day of sucking! Yay!). 

And I didn't have to look far beyond on my own life to find the year getting off to a lousy start. 

As I have documented in previous posts, my mother had move out of her home at the beginning of the year to go into assisted living as her Alzheimer's began to progress beyond our ability to provide for her care in her own home. Later her condition became much worse and she had to move to another facility better equipped to deal with Alzheimer's patients in the later stages of the disease. It's been hard to watch my mom decline in her physical and mental health. I take heart in knowing she is receing excellent care. But my heart is filled with dread for the future. As rough as 2016 was for my family, I fear that 2017 may hold greater challenges. 

And during my mom's first weeks in assisted living, I was brought low by a case of pneumonia that kept me out of work for several weeks. I guess I was fortunate that my misery kept me from fully experiencing the carnival of the early presidential primaries. Apparently Donald Trump, candidate for President, has actually won some votes. OK, no need to panic. There's no way he's going to win the Republican nomination. 

And there's no way the Carolina Panthers were going to lose the Super Bowl. Yeah, time to bring that trophy back to North Carolina and---oh look, the Denver Broncos lead by 87 year old Peyton Manning is kicking the shit out of them? What the hell, people? Oh my God, what an humiliation after such a strong and dominant season. Oh well, there's always next season. Except there wasn't as the Panthers failed to seal the deal on too many losses. It's not the worst season ever in Panthers football; there are at least half-dozen years that will contend for that ignominy.  But come on guys! Really! 

Perhaps our expectations for the Panthers were too high. Speaking of high expectations, I did not have any for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC Comics and Warner Bros.' full court press to conjure up a cinematic universe like Marvel's looked like a big old mess coming down the pike. Still, DC super heroes are part of my childhood and I held out hope that maybe, just maybe it wouldn't suck too badly. But Batman V Superman managed to live down to my diminished expectations. The only glimmer of mercy against its washed out palate was seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen. OK, Wonder Woman movie coming 2017, I'm counting on you to please, please, pretty please don't suck too badly. 

Also pleading "please, please, pretty please" were sensible minded people all over the world looking at Great Britain face a decision about leaving the European Union, an action dubiously dubbed "Brexit". On the plus side to staying, facts and figures. On the side of leaving, blatant appeals to hate and fear. Look, this is a country that has given us Doctor Who and Kate Middleton!  Surely the good people of the United Kingdom wouldn't be swayed to--Brexit WON?!? Oh shit! Which was the reaction of people who voted for it but didn't think it would count. Really? I'm sure the Doctor and Duchess Kate are very disappointed in you. 

Well, the good thing that came out of the Brexit vote was a strong lesson to America about taking voting seriously and not giving in the hate and fear. OK, it does look Donald Trump has won a lot of primaries...Yes, he's won most of them, fine, fine. Looks like he's going to be the Republican nominee for President. Don't panic, no need for panic! There is no way in hell he's winning the general election.  

Perhaps the prospect of a Trump Presidency (however unlikely, am I right? Am I right?) would be less scary if we lived in a less scary world. But it's hardly less with the continued threat of terrorism with attacks like we saw in France, Belgium, Turkey... well, nearly everywhere in the world it seems.

And in America, nothing made the world scarier around us than the escalation of deaths resulting from guns.  

2014 = 12,547 deaths
2015 = 13,473 deaths 
2016 = 14,829 deaths

Now, I'm no professional mathematician but them there numbers are going up. And that means more Americans going down in a pool of blood.   

A particularly glaring example of the crisis we face in America was back in June in Orlando FL where the nation was stunned by the death of one woman, a young up and coming singer, her life taken out by stalker. Barely a day later, 49 innocents lives are lost to a madman with a gun. The pendulum swung between mass slaughter and individual homicide, threats on either side of a peaceful society. Of course, whether its one life at a time or several at once, efforts to curb gun violence remain stifled by right wing politicians with an irrevocable allegiance to the 2nd amendment and a blazing hard on for NRA cash into their campaign coffers. 

OK, maybe I'm being a bit too cynical about the political process. Maybe things will get better when Hillary Clinton becomes--what? Donald Trump carries Ohio? OK, no big, we kind of expected that. 

And North Carolina. And Florida. And Michigan. What the fuck! Michigan? Michigan's gone Democrat forever! Wait, did Donald win Pennsylvania? Shit! He did! And....OK, I'm feeling dizzy. Must lie down. It's going to be OK, Donald Trump... is... going... to... be... our... next... Pres-

CLUNK! 

OK, I fell unconscious! Wow! I had a crazy dream that Donald Trump won the presidential election! 

Uh oh. Not a dream? 

So... there's that... then. 

Well, why not? I mean, come on! Maybe the world is just spiraling towards disaster and soon we will envy the dead. And if we are going to envy the dead, we've got a lot of them to be envious of. 

Let's take a moment to remember some of those we lost in 2016. Just be patient, this won't take long, I'm sure. 

  • David Bowie, English singer, songwriter and actor  
  • Alan Rickman, English actor and director
    • No, not Snape!    
  • Glenn Frey, American musician 
  • Abe Vigoda, American actor 
    • Abe had been around so long, there was an actual website keeping track to make sure he was still alive. Alas, they no longer have that mission.  
  • Paul Kantner, American singer and musician 
  • Joe Alaskey, American voice actor  
  • Maurice White, American singer-songwriter  
    • Earth, Wind and Fire, man! Great group!  
  • Antonin Scalia, American Supreme Court Justice
    • You bastard! You dropped dead, Mitch McConnell was a dick by refusing Obama's appointee and now look: Donald Trump is going name your replacement! Donald Fuckin' Trump!   
  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egyptian politician and diplomat, Secretary-General of the UN  
    • I'm including him because if I ever need to name a United Nations Secretary-General for some kind of trivia contest, this is my go-to guy! 
  • Harper Lee, American writer  
    • OK, this list has been going awhile. Surely we're almost done and...
    • Nope.  
  • George Kennedy, American actor
  • Nancy Reagan, American actress, First Lady of the United States  
  • George Martin, English record producer, composer, arranger and engineer  
  • Keith Emerson, British musician  
    • With the prog-rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer
  • Larry Drake, American actor  
  • Rob Ford, Canadian politician  
    • Ah, the fun we used to have with this guy on the blog. Before we had Donald Trump, Canada had Rob Ford
  • Ken Howard, American actor  
  • Garry Shandling, American actor and comedian  
  • Patty Duke, American actress  
  • Amber Rayne, American pornographic actress  
    • With a name like that, I'm damn sure I'm not interested in her porn specialty. 
  • Merle Haggard, American country singer  
  • Balls Mahoney, American professional wrestler 
    • I've never heard of this guy before but I had to put him on the list. I mean... BALLS!   
  • Doris Roberts, American actress  
  • Guy Hamilton, British film director 
  • Chyna, American professional wrestler  
  • Prince, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist 
  • Billy Paul, American singer  
    • OK, we have to be getting near the end of the list.
    • Hold on, let me see.
    • Oh, hell! This line is long! 
  • William Schallert, American actor  
  • Guy Clark, American singer-songwriter 
  • Alan Young, English-Canadian actor
    • He was in the sitcom with the talking horse.
    • Alan got 2nd billing.    
  • Muhammad Ali, American boxer  
  • Gordie Howe, Canadian ice hockey player 
    • I'm not shitting you, I have heard of Gordie Howe before. Really! I knew who he was! 
  • Christina Grimmie, American singer  
    • OK, this hurts. A lot. 
  • Anton Yelchin, Russian-born American actor  
    • Also hurts. A lot.  
  • Ralph Stanley, American bluegrass musician  
  • Scotty Moore, American guitarist 
    • Played guitar for Elvis Presley back in the early days of Elvis' career.   
  • Pat Summitt, American basketball coach  
  • Michael Cimino, American screenwriter and film director  
  • Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American Nobel writer and political activist   
  • Garry Marshall, American film director, television producer and actor  
  • Marni Nixon, American vocalist 
  • Jerry Doyle, American talk show host and actor
  • David Huddleston, American actor  
    • Character actor, most famous role was one of the Johnsons in Blazing Saddles. And also in... The Big Lebowski.  
  • Kenny Baker, British actor  
    • Our first Star Wars loss for the year. 
    • Kenny was R2D2.
  • Fyvush Finkel, American actor  
  • Arthur Hiller, Canadian film director  
  • Lou Pearlman, American music manager and record producer  
  • Steven Hill, American film and television actor  
  • Gene Wilder, American actor  
  • Jon Polito, American actor   
    • The one of those "It's that guy who was in that thing" actors. Tons of TV roles. And also in... The Big Lebowski.  
  • Hugh O'Brian, American actor 
    • Really, this list has got to be at an end.
    • Looking ahead and...
    • Damn! 
  • Phyllis Schlafly, American writer and political activist  
  • Edward Albee, American playwright  
  • Arnold Palmer, American golfer  
  • Herschell Gordon Lewis, American film director and screenwriter  
    • This man made some truly messed up horror shit back in the day. Do not watch his movies on a full stomach.
    • Or an empty stomach.
    • You know what, if you're going to watch a Herschell Gordon Lewis horror movie, just have your stomach removed in advance.
  • Shimon Peres, 9th President and 8th Prime Minister of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 
  • Neville Marriner, British conductor 
  • Bobby Vee, American pop singer
  • Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer, songwriter and poet 
  • Janet Reno, American lawyer
    • More than just a lawyer, Janet Reno was the first female Attorney General of the United States. 
  • Robert Vaughn, American actor 
  • Leon Russell, American musician 
  • Florence Henderson, American actress 
  • Fidel Castro, President of Cuba 
    • If the son of a bitch could've held on for another few months, he would have outlasted 10 US Presidents. 
  • Ron Glass, American actor
  • Greg Lake, British musician
    • Of the prog-rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
    • Yeah, ELP got named checked earlier in the post.
    • Now the band is known as "and Palmer".  
    • I know that's not funny. 
  • John Glenn, American aviator, astronaut and politician 
  • Joseph Mascolo, American actor
    • Played Stefano on Days of Our Lives
    • You can thank my wife Andrea for me knowing that little piece of trivia.  
  • Alan Thicke, Canadian actor and songwriter 
  • Bernard Fox, Welsh actor
  • Henry Heimlich, American physician 
    • Yes, he invented that maneuver to help people stop from choking.
    • The Henry. 
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hungarian-American actress and socialite 
  • George Michael, British singer 
  • Carrie Fisher, American actress and writer 
  • Debbie Reynolds, American actress 
And just to show that even Wikipedia can't keep up, here are a couple that haven't made the list yet:  
  • Barbara Tarbuck, actress on General Hospital 
  • Robert Leo Hulseman, inventor of the red Solo cup 
And... DAMN! 

And that is nowhere nearly a complete list. 

So yeah, 2016, you get out! You heard me, get the HELL out and please do let the screen door slam your ass on the way out! 

Yeah, good riddance, 2016! We didn't need you or (choke!) want you (sob!) or anything! Just (whimper!) go! 

...

No, don't go! Yeah, I know we've been through some rough stuff, baby but we had some good times too, right? 

C'mon, 2016, let's end on a high note. Let's talk about the good times. 

And that post will be going live at 5 PM Eastern Time in the United States.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.




Friday, December 30, 2016

The KKK Is Not OKKK

Over Christmas, my Twitter account did something it rarely does: it blowed up! 

Yes, I know the correct grammar is “It blew up” but come on! 

Anyway, my definition of Twitter blowing up is probably pretty tame. I’m not talking hundreds of hits or anything. But over the course of 24 hours, I got about 2 dozen likes and/or retweets on a few posts I had made on the subject of A&E’s documentary series about the Ku Klux Klan. Specifically on the topic of the show being cancelled before it even aired. 

Here are those Tweets.

Dave-El ‏@dave_el1938  Dec 24 So I see that  A&E's KKK series has been cancelled. And I was so looking forward to laundry tips on how to get my whites even whiter.

Dave-El ‏@dave_el1938  Dec 24 
Perhaps A&E's KKK series would've gone over better with a different title. I was thinking "Boyz Under the Hoodz".

Dave-El ‏@dave_el1938  Dec 25 
Maybe A&E's KKK series can find another channel. Add some comedic sound F/X & snarky pop up texts, BET might be interested.

Dave-El ‏@dave_el1938  Dec 25 
If A&E's KKK series has been cancelled, poor white racists have no platform to express themselves that isn't Fox News.

One of my ways to get a quick blog post with little effort is to just cut and paste some of my Tweets under the heading of Reheated Tweets. But this topic I thought warranted a bit more discussion. 

First of all, let me say this. It’s going to be controversial but I have to say what I gotta say: 

I don’t like the KKK.

There. I said it. 

I know, I know, it seems wrong to say it what with so much of our politics and culture dominated by fear and ignorance, not liking the KKK would seem like swimming against the tide.

But damn it, I still believe in hope and wisdom and that may put me in the minority these days. But I can’t bring me myself to say otherwise: I don’t like the KKK.

By the way, I would like admit I’m just being sarcastic and a bit snarky with the last few sentences. But I’m living in a country that voted for Donald Trump so who the hell knows anymore. 

But back to the KKK and the not liking thereof by me. The overt racism towards black people is bad enough but the KKK has it in for anyone who is not white (so lump in Hispanics, Asians, etc. Oh, let’s also factor in Native Americans… you know, the ones that were born here but still don’t look like white people so screw them.)

They also have it in for anyone is not Christian (so long, Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and so on and so on, possibly also including atheists). Even being Christian is not enough; you have to be the right kind of Christian (so there’s the door, Catholics and Episcopalians and probably most Methodists).

They’re not big fans of homosexuals.

Hell, they’re not even on board with women in authority, even if the woman are straight and white and in one of the acceptable religions.

The KKK represents the narrowest definition of what they view as acceptable: straight white people (with men in charge) who adhere to an evangelical Christian faith and an unfettered belief that they are made in God’s image and everyone else is a violation of that image. 

One might argue that is a  sweeping generalization and cannot be applied to everyone who is a member of the KKK. And maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe there’s a chapter of the KKK where a member keeps trying to pass a measure to swap out the white robes and bring in something with a vibrant color scheme. There could be a KKK meeting going on somewhere with a guy who keeps checking the time because he has tickets for a Kevin Hart concert and he doesn’t want to be late. And possibly there’s a KKK guy who keeps trying add “infidels” to the list of people the KKK hates.  

But not likely. 

The Klan has been of some increased note in the past year. Early on, the KKK and other racist organizations endorsed Donald Trump for President. And when Donald won, these guys took to streets to celebrate. Not just their guy won but it was a reaffirmation of their narrow point of view, of their inflated self-worth. 

The KKK and other similar groups have tried to make their message less about what they hate and more about what they love. Which is Spam. No, white people. (And Spam.) Instead of racists, they’re called white supremacists. Look how awesome white people are, y’all! It’s not that everybody else is so inferior; it’s just that white people are so superior! White dudes rule!  

But let’s get real. The message of the KKK is not rooted in strength, it’s based on fear. If they’re not afraid, why hide behind the hoods? 

The KKK represents a heightened sense of entitlement. Other people are coming to take what you have. White people were made in the image of God and deserve so much more out of life because of that. Everyone who is different is the enemy coming to take what is given by God to the white man.  This is the mind set of what happens when people are stuck in a state of fear and ignorance. Them against the world. And they are those who use that fear and ignorance as power. And because it is power, those who have it have no incentive to rectify it. Keep people afraid and stupid. So fear and ignorance spreads like a cancer until it is big enough to rule us all. 

In a way, I’m almost sorry that A&E cancelled that documentary series. No, such reprehensible people hardly deserve a platform for their despicable views. But ultimately, it would have exposed the KKK to the harsh light of truth. And if we need a weapon against fear and ignorance, that would be the truth.






Tomorrow is Saturday which is also New Year’s Eve. Right here on the blog, we wrap up the year with two (yes, TWO!) posts in one day.

As the sun comes up, I bring down the darkness with the bad stuff of 2016 (and there was a lot).

Then as the sun goes down, I turn the light on the good things from 2016 (and there was more than you might expect).

These respective posts will go live at 5AM and 5 PM (Eastern Time, United States). 

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hold On To Hope

So now Carrie Fisher is dead. 

If it seems like its been a rough year for our heroes and icons in pop culture, well, it has been a rough year, particularly so for musicians and comic actors*.

*More on that later in this post.

And yes, Carrie Fisher comes under that heading with funny roles in movies (Sleepless in Seattle) and TV (I just watched her guest turn on an episode of 30 Rock during my recent re-watch of that series). Hell, I would argue that her signature role as Princess Leia in Star Wars owed its success to her comic timing in her banter with Luke and Han.  

She was also a writer of books and screenplays as well as script doctor, making other people's screenplays better. She was an extraordinarily smart and witty woman who battled so much in her life with mental illness and substance abuse. She battled back from these demons but a heart attack takes her away at 60 year old. As I guy facing down 54 next year, 60 doesn't seem as old to me as it once did. And Carrie was still too vibrant, so filled with life to leave us so soon.  

When word got out last week that she suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital in intensive care, we all feared for the worst after the year we've had and the losses among those we admired for their talents. 

It's ironic that Carrie's last appearance on screen was connected to her career's beginning with Star Wars. Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen Rogue One yet but the film ends with the plans for the Death Star being delivered to the hands of Princess Leia. It's Carrie Fisher's face but from nearly 4 decades ago. Computers can do such wonders, can't they? When she's asked what she has been given, Leia replies, "Hope".  

In an uncertain world with an even more uncertain future, we need hope more than ever. Sadly Carrie Fisher is gone but if her life was too short, one can't say it wasn't lived. Not always lived well but she persevered over the bad and embraced the good. And one can work through the bad times and believe in the good times to come with a single word: Hope. 

In Carrie Fisher's memory and in honor of the life she lived, do not give up hope.**



**Sadly another tragic death has hit the news with the death of actress Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher's mother, just one day after her daughter's death. 

The message of this post is still to hold on to hope. But this latest news shows how hard it is to do that. But we must. 

Just to lift your spirits a bit, click this link of Debbie Reynolds singing and dancing with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor from Singin' In the Rain. 

__________________________

As I noted above, the year has been very hard on musicians. A few days ago, while we still held out hope that 2016's specter of death would not claim Carrie Fisher, word came down that George Michael was dead. 

I remember when Wham! first made it big on the music charts and George Michael with his perfectly coiffed hair adorned the walls of many a teenage girl back in the 1980s. (Sorry, girls; George was playing for the other team.)  I can't say I was a big fan of George's music but I can't deny the infectious beat of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, the intense ache of Careless Whisper and the bouncy rhythms of (I Don't Want Your) Freedom (not to be confused with Freedom 90 which is also good and the video is filled with hot fashion models but I digress.)  

George Michael was probably the first pop star with wide spread appeal to teenage girls who later came out as gay. He was not outed on his terms; he was arrested for soliciting sex in a men's bathroom. Yet the very sordid nature of seeking illicit sex underscored that gay people even as famous as George Michael were forced to live beneath and outside the mainstream; it was this realization that began the push for acceptance of homosexuals in the mainstream community.  

George definitely had a strong, dynamic gift as a singer and nowhere is that more apparent than his cover of Somebody To Love by Queen. If only Freddie Mercury could do justice to the music of Queen, George Michael made a serious challenge to that assumption with Somebody To Love. 




____________________________________

If it wasn't bad enough that we're getting reports on recent deaths like George Michael and Carrie Fisher, we're getting updates on people who died earlier this year. A few days ago we leaned what killed Garry Shandling back on March 24th. It was one of those blood clot things that just lurk around and sneak up to kill you like a masked slasher in a 1980s teen horror flick.  

I admired Garry's work as a stand up comedian as well as his groundbreaking work on television. The big one everyone likes to bring up is The Larry Sanders Show where Garry portrayed the neurotically obsessed host of a late night talk show. But my favorite series was It's Garry Shandling Show where Garry played a stand up comedian named Garry Shandling. If it sounds derivative of Seinfeld, I should point out that Garry's show came first. But the true magic of It's Garry Shandling Show was how it was told. Garry addressed the audience; scenes changed as Garry and the cast walked from one set to another. This was a show that didn't just break down the 4th wall; it grounded the 4th wall into little tiny bits and vacuumed up those bits.

For a very funny yet poignant look at Garry Shandling's work, click here for the link to Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. The title of this episode? "Isn't It Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive?" 

Looking over the list of those who died in 2016, I was struck by the names of those I knew from comedic roles. 


January 26 - Abe Vigoda, American actor (b. 1921)
Barney Miller 
February 28 – George Kennedy, American actor (b. 1925)
The Police Squad movies with Leslie Nielsen  
April 17 – Doris Roberts, American actress (b. 1925)

Everybody Loves Raymond and a bunch of other parts in TV and movies
August 29 – Gene Wilder, American actor (b. 1933)
Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein  
November 24 - Florence Henderson, American actress (b. 1934)
Brady Bunch for sure but Florence was always good for a giggle playing against type in several different shows. 

But the music world got hit really hard this year. Here are only 4 of the many musicians we lost this year.  

  • January 10 – David Bowie, English singer, songwriter and actor (b. 1947)

Bowie had just released Black Star, a new album of work that received a lot of good reviews at the time and is now on several best of lists for 2016. Back when I was sick with pneumonia, I listened to the title track a lot. Not sure what it was about my head space at the time but I kept coming back to this tune and scampering down the rabbit hole after it.

Another favorite tune is Absolute Beginners. Click the link for a live version of the song. 


  • January 28 - Paul Kantner, American singer and musician (b. 1941) 

Paul Kanter's vocals from Miracles by Jefferson Starship is engraved into the sides of my brain. I associate this song with the Hulk. OK, that's a topic starter. Why? When I was a kid, my school took a bus trip to the North Carolina State Fair. On the trip back, someone brought some comics including an issue of Marvel Super Heroes which was a title reprinting Hulk stories from the 1960s. Meanwhile, Miracles was playing on the radio. So every time I hear this song, I am reminded of Hulk comics, a crowded school activity bus and really needing to go to the bathroom. OK, too much info, I know.


  • March 8 - George Martin, English record producer, composer, arranger and engineer (b. 1926) 

The ultimate of merging classical music training with the burning heart of rock 'n' roll. What the Beatles had without George Martin was very good. What the Beatles had with George Martin defies description. Click here for my earlier post on Mr. Martin.


  • April 21 – Prince, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (b. 1958)

Click on the link for While My Guitar Gently Weeps which was from an all star tribute to George Harrison. Prince does not sing on this one but he flails away at the guitar like its on fire. 

I don't have a link for it but the full length album version of Let's Go Crazy should be the new national anthem. 

Sigh. 

So many dead this year. So much talent lost. Yet we should remember we are never guaranteed how long we have. We must make the most of it and strive so that what we leave behind lives on after us in the hearts and minds of others. 

And while we're still here, the best way to make the most of life is to hold on to hope. Even as death and despair fight to snatch it away from us...

...hold on to hope.  

And be good to one another. 


Art by Terry & Rachel Dodson
























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For another take on this topic, click here for a post written by Jen Chaney.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Doctor Who Is NEW: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Boy, there's been a lot of Doctor Who posts on the blog for December but what can I say? Since 2005 and Doctor Who's 1st Christmas special, the Doctor and December do have a pretty tight relationship. 

For Christmas 2016, Doctor Who served up another special which by the time this posts, I will have seen at least twice: once at our favorite regular gathering spot for fellow Whovians, Geeksboro Coffeehouse in Greensboro; and once at the Regal Grande Cinema, also in Greensboro. And that's not counting possibly catching it on the television here in the Fortress of Ineptitude courtesy of BBC America.  

It's been a year since our last all new Doctor Who, the 2015 Christmas special that featured the return of (farewell to) River Song. When we last left our wayfaring Time Lord and his time travelling archaeologist consort, they were together for history has taught us as their fateful last night on Darillium. But a night on Darillium last 24 years so... plenty of time for the Doctor and River to say goodbye and for the Doctor to make peace with River's final fate. Right? 

Let's find out, shall we? 

Be warned! Spoilers do follow, sweetie. 




OK, that's your warning. We got on with things in 5...

4...

3...

2...


The Return of Doctor Mysterio 

by Steven Moffat 





Our story begins in New York City on Christmas Eve as a comic book obsessed young boy named Grant is awakened by a very strange visitor from another world: the Doctor.  Seems the Doctor is setting up some timey-whimey thingamabob to address the temporal disturbances that are mucking up the Big Apple. (See The Angels Takes Manhattan for more about that.)  


Things have gone awry as the Doctor is caught in one of his own traps he set to protect the thingy. He extricates himself with some help from Grant (who gives him milk and cookies because a white haired man appearing at your window on Christmas Eve, hey, you make certain assumptions.) The Doctor and Grant go to the roof to check on his newly installed device only to find it won't work because Grant swallowed the alien power gem that was to provide energy to the device. 

Now before you think too little of Grant for swallowing stuff, it should be pointed out that: 

1) Grant is sick with a really bad nagging cough. 
2) The Doctor identifies himself as the Doctor.
3) The Doctor gives Grant a glass of water that the Doctor produces from his coat. (How does he do that? Just accept it, OK?) 
4) Then the Doctor gives Grant a gem stone that actually looks a lot like a medicinal gel cap. And the Doctor says, "Here! Take that."  

It seems the power gem has the side effect of giving Grant super powers. The Doctor warns Grant off from using these powers. It is a request that a young Grant would love to comply with. Puberty and uncontrollable X-Ray vision are particularly troublesome. 

Skip a head a few years. An intrepid reporter named Lucy is investigating a strange high tech company called Harmony Shoals. Lucy finds a secret area where Harmony Shoals is keeping... brains. (BRAINS!) Alien brains taking over human bodies! But she is not alone in her research as she is unexpectedly accompanied by a sushi eating Doctor. (Why is the Doctor eating sushi? Just accept it, OK?) Also, Nardole. Yep, that Nardole from last year's Christmas special. (How is Nardole's head once more attached to his body? Just accept it, OK?) 

Unfortunately all three are cornered by Harmony Shoals bad guy Dr. Sim (complete with German accent) who threatens to shoot them all dead. Then a dark figure in a mask and cape appears and incapacitates Dr. Sim. It is... the Ghost, a super powered super hero who swoops Lucy up in his arms and flies her away (the Doctor and Nardole are left to their own means of escaping) and deposits her in front of her apartment building. The Ghost flies off to answer an urgent call, specifically a baby monitor; we watch as the Ghost flies through a window and becomes grown up Grant who is the nanny for an infant. Also waiting for Grant is the Doctor and Nardole. (How did the Doctor and Nardole get to the apartment before Grant? Just accept it, OK?) 

Then the mother of the infant shows up and it's Lucy. Well, OK, then. And the Doctor is most incredulous that Lucy who just had a face to very close face encounter with the Ghost does not make the connection between Grant and the Ghost. 

The Doctor: "There are some situations that are just too stupid to be allowed to continue.”

Lucy puts on her reporter hat (OK, not a literal hat; it's just an expression) to quiz the Doctor about what he knows. On the subject of the alien brains, the Doctor is quite forthcoming. Lucy is quite smart, insightful and very persuasive. (With a little help from Mister Huffle!) 


When questioned about the Ghost, however, the Doctor is not as helpful to Lucy and on the subject of the Ghost, Lucy is still not connecting the dots on her own.

In another room, Grant calls Lucy as the Ghost and sets up a date...INTERVIEW, not a date, an interview with Lucy. Then Lucy asks Grant if he can babysit the baby while she goes on a date....INTERVIEW with the Ghost. 

Ooh boy! Complications! 

Speaking of complications, Harmony Shoals realizes that the Ghost would make a most excellent vehicle for one of their alien brains. 

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Nardole have tracked the alien shenanigans to an abandoned space in orbit over Earth. A spaceship that actually has very little to do with spaceshipnosisty and more to do with bombiness. It's a bomb!  A big honking bomb!

The Doctor puts the pieces together. The ship is aiming for New York City and would destroy everything... except for the HQ of Harmony Shoals which was established earlier as being able to withstand a force of 4 nuclear bombs. Leaders of the world scared to death of alien invasion would flock to the one place in the world proven secure against alien attack. While there, leaders of the world get their brains swapped out for alien brains! (BRAINS!)  




So the bad guys corner the Ghost during his rooftop date...INTERVIEW! NOT A DATE! (Sigh. OK, it's date) with Lucy. The bad guys threaten to kill Lucy if the Ghosts leaves. So the Ghosts leaves. Say what? 

Meanwhile the Doctor figures out the best way to keep Harmony Shoals from blowing up New York City with their spaceship bomb is... to blow up New York City with their spaceship bomb? (Just accept it, OK?) 

Then Grant comes back... as Grant, I should point out; I guess the thinking is Lucy is in danger because Harmony Shoals wants to put an alien brain inside the Ghost but maybe they're not so much interested in our mild mannered Grant. Really doesn't work out too well. Good thing there's a spaceship bomb heading their way. 

Speaking of which, back on the spaceship bomb, the Doctor aims it at a certain New York City rooftop where in a dramatic flourish Grant catches it with his left hand. (His right hand is still on the baby monitor.)  Grant figuring that Lucy might be a bit upset over his dual identity deception urges her not to slap. "I think I might be holding a giant bomb." But Lucy kisses him and up they go in the air, Grant and Lucy and spaceship bomb makes three. As for the baby, looks like the Doctor is on babysitting duty. 

We have a wrap up where it looks Grant and Lucy are a couple now and Grant is giving up the Ghost.... maybe I should rephrase that. Grant is giving up being the Ghost... unless the world is in really big super danger or something. 

But Grant and Lucy are not so caught up in their happiness to not see that the Doctor is not alright. The Doctor being the Doctor avoids the subject and leaves. But Nardole, before following the Doctor, stays back a bit and explains to the couple: the Doctor lost someone very important to him, River Song. And the Doctor is going to be sad for awhile but he will be OK. Nardole says he'll make sure of it.  

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Steven Moffat has stated his love of comic book super heroes from his youth and that is definitely on display in The Return of Doctor Mysterio. (Grant's suggestion of the Doctor's own super hero name.)  Steven creates a world that any comic book fan (such as yours truly) would recognize as a love letter to the world of super heroes. 

Is it possible that the world of Grant with his super powered alter ego is too lovingly realized? There's a magic in these super shenanigans that jostles for prominence with the Doctor himself. 

Make no mistake that nobody puts Peter Capaldi's Doctor in the background but from a story structure perspective, the stories of Grant and the Doctor do not mesh. We can determine that the Doctor has reached the end of his 24 year night on Darillium and is still struggling with the loss of River Song.  But there's no arc for the Doctor in coping with this loss. It's hinted at somewhere near the middle and Nardole helpfully spells it out for us at the end. 

But it's clear where Steven Moffat's true passion lies with this story.  This is his chance to write a Superman story and he wrote a good one with charm and wit. Then he had to figure out how to get the Doctor into it. Which he did but not without a few seams showing. 

We have a lot of fun with the conventions of comic book super heroes. For example this exchange between the Doctor and 8 year old Grant on the night they first met. 

Doctor: “Why do they call him Spider-Man? Don’t they like him?”
Grant: “He was bitten by a radioactive spider. And guess what happens?”
Doctor: “Radiation poisoning, I should think.”
Grant: “No, he got special powers.”
Doctor: “What? Hair loss, vomiting, and death. Fat lot of use.”

I really got a kick out of the tossed in reference to people named Siegel and Shuster (as in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the co-creators of Superman). There's even actual Superman comics with pages from John Byrne's run on the book, an appropriate choice for Doctor Who has Byrne was born in the United Kingdom.  




Let's talk about Grant and his masked alter ego, the Ghost; more specifically, let's give some kudos to Justin Chatwin who carries the day very well as the mild-mannered Grant (nebbishly cute but not in a klutzy off-putting way) and the overtly earnest Ghost. (Having saved people from a fire, the Ghost looks into a news camera to urge everyone to get smoke detectors.)  

Charity Wakefield is good in her role as Lois Lane stand-in Lucy. While her rooftop date (INTERVIEW! Oh, give it up!) with the Ghost provides her (and Justin) with wonderful moments, Lucy really shines while questioning the Doctor about what he knows about the alien brains and, maybe more importantly, the Ghost. Her interview aid of choice? A squeezable squeaky toy named Mister Huffle. It is a very effective tool in getting answers from the Doctor.  

And what about Nardole, the Doctor's new companion? Portrayed by Matt Lucas, Nardole is an odd contradiction of a man; easily distracted, he nonetheless can read the Doctor like a book. Nardole doesn't seem too smart but he's smart enough to pilot the TARDIS on his own. We do get a line of dialogue explaining how Nardole got his head reattached to his body. Otherwise, Nardole is just... there. Which is weird but appropriate for someone like Nardole.  



By the way, there is just one reference to Christmas when the Doctor first visits 8 year old Grant. Otherwise, there are no other references to the holiday. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because the Doctor Who special airs on Christmas Day, references to Christmas can sometimes be awkwardly shoehorned into the script but in the case of this special.  

Overall, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was an enjoyable episode. While light on the Christmas stuff, it was nonetheless a mostly perfect concoction for the time of year, bright, cheerful, fun and hopeful. While the super hero stuff and the Doctor stuff didn't always come together perfectly, it worked well enough for me to say I had a good time watching it...twice.

By the way, I very much liked what I saw of the Series 10 trailer and incoming new companion Bill. Let us begin once more the anxious tick-tocking of the clock to the debut of Series 10 in the spring.




Thanks for dropping by. Tomorrow's post, sorry, gotta bring the room down a bit as I address some of the hits our pop culture icons have been taking of late, especially the passing of Carrie Fisher. 

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.   

Completely Sensible Murder

So I heard on the radio recently a news item about how the police were investigating the senseless murder of a local man. "Senseless ...