Thursday, March 22, 2012

Here's Lookin' At You Kid

Comic fans LOVE the anti-hero. The world weary cynic who has no illusions that everything is going to come up sunshine and roses holds a special place in our imagination and our hearts. Batman, Wolverine, The Punisher, Namor…and on and on. Jack Bauer would just be NO fun if he didn’t have his dark side. These characters are all deeply flawed, some even manic depressive. But in the end, they do the right thing (if not always in the right way).

All great anti-heroes. But…

Bogie was the first (and still the greatest) of them all.
In a Hollywood era replete with square jawed heroes like Duke Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart was Jack Bauer, Batman, Dirty Harry and Rorsach all rolled into one. (the latter stole both Bogies trench coat and hat by the way!)

Bogie invented the anti-hero in film. Prior to Bogart the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad. No moral ambiguity. Of course this sort of character HAD existed in literature but Bogie gave it a face.
And what a face it was. Ugly in way that women loved. Craggy, weather beaten and sad. The face of Bogart was like no other.

The process that lead Bogart to creating his unique persona took place over more than a decade beginning with his turn as Duke Mantee (a Dillinger analog) in The Petrified Forest 1936, through the 1940, The Maltese Falcon (As Sam Spade) 1941, and culminating his role of Dix Steele in the classic “In A Lonely Place” 1950. But Bogart crystallized his anti-hero persona in 1942 with the release of Casablanca.

Casablanca turned 70 years old on March 21st. It remains in the minds of most film historians one of the top three greatest American sound films. The film was the culmination of several fortuitous events. An unforgettable cast lead by Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, supported by Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Paul Henried. A wonderful, if written on the fly script. And a moment in history. In short Casablanca could not have been released at a better time, just at the very beginning of WWII, this film was TIMELY.

Yet the romance was timeless. The drama of people caught up in the sweep of history and personal passion has kept Casablanca as fresh today as it was in 1942. I have personally seen this film over 75 times in every possible venue and it NEVER gets old or dull.
For the two or three of you who may never have seen the film, well I envy you because you will get to see it for the first time. And next Tuesday would be the PERFECT time because a new restoration on Bluray and DVD is about to be released. The film has been restored on a frame by frame basis and looks like what it is…a work of art.

If you like Anti-heroes. If you like Bogie. Or if you just want to see one of the greatest movies ever made, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. I have the film on VHS, DVD, HD and earlier BluRay. My best friend even has a 16mm film print! But I am going to run out to buy this new release.
So make up some popcorn, turn down the lights, watch and transport yourself to the drama, romance and passion of…Casablanca

That’s 30!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Greatest Trek

“A question. Since before your sun burned hot in space, and before your race was born, I have awaited…a question.” – The Guardian of Forever
“One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom... energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in... in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for.” – Edith Keeler
“Save her. Do what your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before” – Spock
One can make the case that not only was “The City On The Edge Of Forever” the finest Star Trek episode ever but that it is also one of the best episodes of any television show ever, period, exclamation point!
Star trek was largely through it’s first full season on April 6th, 1967 when “City” first aired. It was when I fell in love with the show and characters. More than any other episode, “City” defined the essential relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. A relationship that in turn would define Star Trek.
“The City On The Edge Of Forever” was penned by Sci-fi great Harlan Ellison and edited by Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana, and Gene Roddenberry among others. This re-writing lead to much controversy and carping on the part of Ellison, but even he would be hard pressed to say that this was not a classic screenplay. The plotline, largely Ellison’s was GREAT sci-fi and still one of the best treatments of time travel and the consequences involved in changing history. It was Roddenberry, Coon and Fontana who added the character touches that made it “Star Trek”.
For the one or two of you who have not actually SEEN “City”, here is a brief plot summary
The Enterprise is in the process of investigating temporal disturbances that take the form of destructive waves in space time centered on a nearby planet. Mr. Sulu is injured when a console explodes when the ship hits an unexpected temporal wave. McCoy is summoned to the bridge and injestc the helmsman with cordrazine. When another temporal wave causes the ship to shake violently McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of serum, causing him to become violently paranoid. He flees from the bridge and beams down to the planet. Kirk takes a landing party down to the planet to retrieve the Doctor.
Once on the planet, Spock finds that the source of the time distortions is an ancient stone structure When Kirk asks a question to no one in particular the structure comes to life, identifying itself as the "Guardian of Forever". It explains that it is a sentient time portal that can access any point in timespace, and displays periods of Earth's history in its portal opening. The team soon locates McCoy, but he runs away and leaps through the portal before anyone can stop him. Suddenly the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise. The Guardian informs the landing party that history has just been altered and that, as a result, the Enterprise no longer exists. McCoy has somehow altered the past.
Kirk asks the Guardian to loop the history images again and he and Spock to jump through to a time just before McCoy entered, in the hope that they can correct what he has changed. Kirk and Spock leap through at the correct moment and materialize in New York City during the 1930s Great Depression era. Their uniforms and Spock's ears shock a passerby, so Kirk steals some clothes he spots hanging on a fire escape and the two hide in the basement of a nearby building. There they meet a woman named Edith Keeler. She is a social worker who runs the 21st Street Mission. They apologize for trespassing and offer to work for her. Intrigued by the pair, she allows them to stay.
Spock begins to construct a crude interface for his Tricorder and uses it to find out what part of history McCoy has altered.
Touched by her world view, Kirk soon begins to fall in love with Edith.
McCoy materializes in an alley, still under the influence of the cordrazine, and, after an encounter with a homeless man, stumbles into the 21st Street Mission. Edith sees him and takes him to rest. Kirk and Spock are not aware of his arrival.
Meanwhile, Spock finally finishes the interface and he and Kirk analyze the data. It reveals that Edith was supposed to have died shortly after in a traffic accident but that, having been spared this fate on account of McCoy's actions, she instead went on to form a pacifist movement whose influence delayed the entry of the United States into World War II; this delay in turn gave Nazi Germany time finish their heavy water experiments and develop the Atomic Bomb before the United States. The world falls to the forces of Hitlerism and ultimately tears itself apart trying to throw off Nazi rule. Kirk must face the fact that if Edith does not die as she is supposed to, history will be altered forever. Starfleet, Spock, McCoy…everything that he knows will cease to exist.
Meanwhile, Edith nurses McCoy, who tells her who he is and where he is from. Edith does not believe his fantastic, but tells him that he would fit in nicely with her eccentric new boyfriend who will later be taking her to a Clark Gable movie. She is surprised to find that Bones has never heard of the star.
Later, as Kirk and Edith are walking to the movie house, Edith is surprised that Kirk also never heard of Clark Gable . She says "Doctor McCoy" said the same thing.
“McCoy? LEONARD McCoy??”
Alarmed, Kirk emphatically tells Edith to "Stay right here" before dashing across the street to get Spock. McCoy emerges from the mission right in front of them. Edith crosses the street to join them, does not see a truck which is approaching. Instinctively, Kirk moves to pull Edith out of the way but freezes when Spock yells out.
"No, Jim!". McCoy then tries to save Edith but is held fast by Kirk; the truck hits her and she is killed. A shocked McCoy yells.
"I could have saved you know what you just did?". Kirk pushes him away, speechless, and Spock says quietly,

"He knows, Doctor. He knows."

History reverts to its original timeline and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy return to the Guardian's planet to find the rest of the landing party where they had left them. The Guardian makes an offer.

"Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway."

Uhura indicates that the Enterprise is ready to beam them back up and the devastated Kirk responds.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

I get a lump in my throat just writing the summary! I have seen this episode dozens of times over the year and it never loses it’s power. It is as fresh today as it was over 40 years ago. “City” is still the benchmark for Star trek and “the origin” of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy relationship. Even the recent reboot acknowledges that these three, and particularly the relationship between Kirk and Spock are the HEART of Star Trek.
When Spock asks Edith where she thinks he and Kirk belong she actually defines their friendship in one simple statement:

“[to Spock] You? At his side. As if you've always been there and always will.

[to Kirk] And you... you belong... in another place. I don't know where or how... I'll figure it out eventually.”- Edith Keeler

Back at the beginning of the episode Kirk does not send someone else after McCoy. He and Spock , without hesitation, take that mission upon themselves. They don’t think twice about being lost in time if it gives them even the smallest chance of saving their friend.

In “city” we really get out first glimpse of Spock’s “human” side. And it is almost all in the form of empathy for Kirk’s dilemma.

“Save her. Do what your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before” – Spock

How do you tell your brother that he has to sacrifice that which he loves most? The “Vulcan” Spock might not be able to do it. The “Human” Spock might not be able to do it. But SPOCK, both human and Vulcan, found a way.
When he makes the statement to Jim that “Edith Keeler must die” we can see how much Spock feels for his friend. This was a defining moment in the development of Star Trek’s most beloved character.
It is a direct line from this episode to Star Trek II- The Wrath Of Khan when Kirk observes that:
“Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human”
We would not have had that moment in Star Trek II without “City”. The complete understanding between Kirk and Spock was born in this episode.
This is also a defining moment for Kirk as well. Perhaps it is THE defining moment in the development of the character.

We learn that Jim is not just the hell bent for leather, womanizing adventurer that he sometimes leads us to believe. Edith is in fact his one true love and he has the briefest of time with her. Now he has to face all the rest of his life without her. “City” shows us just how LONELY Kirk is.
We also learn that, as McCoy put it in the third season episode “The Tholian Web”, Jim Kirk is “ a hero in every sense of the word”. The ability to make the sacrifice he did in order to restore history took more courage than facing down a Gorn or a Klingon warship. Despite his personal anguish, when the moment came, he did not hesitate. Kirk made the impossible choice and went on with living with the consequences.

For those of you who have never seen “City”, go see it now. For those who have, give it another view. Because Star Trek REALLY began in…
“The City On The Edge Of Forever”

That’s 30!

(Oh and Live Long And Prosper!)


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shat Happens!

There are three absolutely unbreakable rules in this universe.

Nothing can exceed the speed of light.

A body in motion will continue in motion unless acted on by an outside force….


Shat Happens

For those of you who have spent the last 45 years in the negative Zone, Bill Shatner , sometimes Captain of the Enterprise, Priceline Spokesman and Emmy Award winning nut job lawyer Denny Crane recently had a limited run in a one man show on (music cue)


I had the opportunity to see “Shatner’s World (we just live in it)” last Thursday night at The Music Box Theater. Now I freely admit that I am not capable of being unbiased when it comes to Bill Shatner

(O Captain! My Captain!)

BUT the man should be declared a national treasure or landmark or preserved for all time in Carbonite!

What you got for your money was a little over an hour and a half with one of the best story tellers you will ever find. Shatner took us through a high energy tour of his life from his childhood in Canada, through his career highlights and the time he barely escaped becoming the boy toy of Koko The Gorilla.

Koko The Gorilla! I kid you not! You could look it up. She must have been a Trekkie.

The 80 something actor even pokes fun at DEATH more than once, with that Captain Kirk twinkle in his eyes.

Through the clever and conservative use of film clips and photos projected onto a large globe that dominates the back of the stage we get to see Shatner at various, funny, sad and often heartwarming points of his life.
For those of you who think of bill ONLY in relation to Star Trek, you might be surprised to know that he spends relatively little time on that part of his life. He does not blow by it by any stretch, but he keeps it in context.
Instead Shatner talks about the relationships in his life. From his friendship with Christopher Plummer and Patrick Stewart, his VERY odd relationship with George “Helllloooooooo” Takei, his dad, wives and children, a cross the border Rabbi transport…and animals.

Yes Animals. Some of the most honest moments of the evening come when Shatner talks about his horses, his dogs, and of course Koko!

It’s a great evening and Shatner is the recipient of genuine affection from the audience. He seems more like an old friend and less like a “Star”. Bill makes it look so easy.

And that is the rub. Because what Shatner does in this show is the MOST difficult challenge for any actor. Bill’s show is the ESSENCE of theater and the actor’s craft.




There are no fancy sets to distract. No other actors to watch (unless you count the rolling desk chair he uses as a foil throughout the piece). No fancy costumes, music, lighting….or even a plot.

It’s just Shatner, stories and you.

A one man show can so easily be a disaster because the actor cannot lose the audience for even a moment. Lose them for a second and you WON’T get them back.

That is why stand up comedy is so hard. You are NAKED out there with only your talent as a shield. In the hands of a lesser performer this could have been theater purgatory. With Shatner it is a CELEBRATION.

O Captain! My Captain! You’ve done it again!

It is indeed Shatner’s World. And I for one am happy to live in it.

That’s 30!