Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Little Something Different

I thought I’d try a little something different this week and direct you to our Blog Page where I have posted several videos that I have recently created. I hope you enjoy them!

Doctor Who


Star Trek

That's 30!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Importance of Billy Jack

There are many ways to look at the value of a motion picture.

Of course the most popular way is simply to regard a film by it’s artistic merits. In other words, was it “good” or “bad”. What is it’s “Fresh rating” ?… Was it an Academy Award winner, a box office hit, or a flop.

From time to time I like to examine the importance of a film. It is interesting to note that a film could very possibly be “bad” and be important. A film can have been seen by very few people and be important. It can lose money and be important.

So what makes a film “important”? A film is important if it…

1) Established a major star, director, writer, editor etc.
2) Changed artistically or technically how films were made going forward.
3) Changed the BUSINESS of film.
4) Established a new genre.
5) Became a “Classic” by establishing a place for itself in popular culture spanning several generations.
6) Was a flash point for political/societal debate or change.

Based on some or all these criteria both Rocky and Rambo were important films. The sequels were not.

While it is relatively easy to identify an “Important” film, classifying a motion picture “unimportant” is more a matter of one’s point of view.
For instance Star Wars was CLEARLY an important film. But was Empire Strikes Back? The latter is certainly a classic but does not meet any of the other criteria for an important film. Is being a Classic enough to establish a film as important? Star Wars met no less than five of the above criteria, Empire only one. It’s a matter of opinion and if a film is important to YOU then it is important to that extent.

Here we are discussing the importance of a film in the larger sense of the word. We are looking at the importance of a film as it applies to the art form as a whole. This is a vantage point that allows us to consider a film and it’s importance more dispassionately.
Which brings us to Billy Jack.

Billy Jack is an action/adventure film that was released in the spring of 1971. Billy Jack, a half breed Navajo Indian defends the Freedom School and students from townspeople who do not understand or like the “hippielike” students. Billy lives somewhere in the hills and always seems to “know” when the students need him.

Billy Jack was NOT an artistic or critical triumph. It was not initially a box office success. It was not even completed under the auspices of a single studio. Billy jack was filmed on a budget of $800,000.00, a modest sum even by the standards of the time.
Artistically it’s appeal is limited to the people it influenced at the time. I personally love Billy Jack and screen it on a fairly regular basis. But it’s appeal falls under the “you had to be there when it was new” category. It does not translate well to most people born AFTER the Vietnam War (yes it was a WAR).

However, Billy Jack is a very important film. This film changed forever the way in which movies are distributed. Billy Jack changed the BUSINESS of film.

Filming began on Billy Jack , in the fall of 1969, but the movie was not completed until 1971 because it was batted around among several Distribution Studios. First, American International withdrew from the project. The movie languished until 20th Century Fox got involved. Then 20th withdrew and was finally replaced by Warner Brothers.

However Warner was indifferent to the project and the film received very limited distribution.
Tom Laughlin, who wrote, directed and starred in Billy Jack took matters into his own hands and booked it in to theaters himself in 1971. The film died at the box office in its initial run, but eventually took in more than $40 million in its 1973 re-release, with distribution supervised by Laughlin.

Up until Laughlin independently booked Billy Jack into a large number theaters nationwide, movies were released GRADUALLY into a small number of large theaters in major cities and then spreading out as time and word of mouth passed by. It’s one of the reasons that movies could exist in first run for over a year. Under the old distribution model movies rarely had TV ads because most people would not be able to see the film at the time the ad was released.

Laughlin changed this when he cut a deal with Warner’s to distribute the film independently. He literally took the industry to school by booking the film in theaters all over the country and promoting it’s distribution through Television ads. Billy Jack became a box office HIT, grossing fifty times it’s initial investment.

The huge returns for this unconventional release strategy convinced Universal to put “Jaws” (1975) in more theaters simultaneously than any picture in Hollywood history. Laughlin’s wide-release strategy soon become standard industry practice.

On this basis alone Billy Jack is important.

However, Billy Jack was also instrumental in establishing a new genre of film that gave rise to such movies as Walking Tall (1973) and Death Wish (1974). Billy Jack established the “Lone Anti-Hero” who stands up to the forces of the “establishment” and pursues justice even when it is in conflict with the law. This archetype has been widely used in film (Rambo) and TV (Jack Bauer) to this day.
Billy Jack also makes political statements about war, established authority, racism that were very controversial at the time and influenced films like Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver.

Billy Jack may have whiskers on it today. It’s message of peace is incongruous with the amount of violence in the film. It moves slowly by today’s standards. BUT the film remains a compelling one upon viewing and it was certainly an important movie in many ways.

That’s 30!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tiger's Game

It’s Baseball…

It’s the crack of bat on ball….the pop of the catcher’s mitt.

It’s Baseball…

The long fly ball that the Center Fielder tracks down hundreds of feet from Home Plate, making it look so easy.

It’s a screaming line drive…a bloop single…a Ballantine Blast and a Baltimore chop.

It’s Baseball…

Willie…Mickey…and the Duke…Mr. Cub…Hammerin’ Hank…Doctor K…The Yankee Clipper…Donnie Baseball and “The Franchise”. It’s Charlie Hustle and Shoeless Joe, The Splendid Splinter and Big Papi.

It’s Baseball…

The Babe really did call his shot and …you could look it up.

It’s Casey and Yogi and 90% of the game is half mental and it’s never over ‘til it’s over…and you could look that up too!
It’s Baseball…

The shortstop making a diving stop, bouncing to his feet and nipping the guy at first by a step.

It’s Vin Scully and Red Barber…How about THAT? It’s Howie Rose and the Scooter…put THAT in your books.

It’s Baseball…

It’s the Little League and the Major League. The twenty year old rookie and the thirty year old “Grizzled Veteran”. I was not sure what “grizzled” was but when my second grade teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never hesitated and answered “grizzled”.
It’s Baseball…

The Bombers and the Amazin’s. The BoSox ,the Pale Hose, The Tribe and Dem Bums…
It’s Baseball…

It’s Jackie Robinson giving us one of our greatest days ever fawhile Moses Fleetwood Walker, Josh Gibson and Buck O’Neill smiled.
It’s Satchel Page…peas at the knees and don’t look back.

It’s Baseball…

The game my dad taught me and the game that I taught my daughter.

It’s Baseball…

It’s beautiful…and it’s back

For Tiger…

That’s 30!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Batman’s Pal, Bill Finger

Ask most Batfans who created the Caped Crusader in 1939 and you will get the answer….Bob Kane. And that is correct…to a point. Bob Kane was indeed ONE of the two creators of Batman.

The other, equally important father of the Dark Knight was a man named Bill Finger.

Charged by DC Comics to come up with a new character to ride the wave (make that Tsunami) created by Superman the year before, Kane did indeed come up with the basic concept for the Batman. His earliest drawings featured no cowl, and no cape.

Instead Bat-Man sported a domino mask and wings. His costume was reddish with no gloves. It was Finger who suggested the cowl and cape, gloves and the removal of the red highlights. The visual depiction that we see of Batman today owes as much to Finger as it does to Kane.

But Finger’s input into Batman’s look was not the most important contribution he made to the character’s genesis. Bill actually wrote the very first Batman story for Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) as well as his second appearance.

Bill’s contributions go even further as he played a major role in the creation of Robin The Boy Wonder and of Batman’s most important foe, The Joker. Finger also created The Riddler.

It is only in recent years that Finger has gotten the credit he so richly deserves. This is largely because Kane negotiated a contract with DC that signed away ownership of the character in exchange for, among other compensations, a mandatory solo credit on all Batman comics films, TV Shows etc. Kane was very happy being known as the Father of Batman and did nothing to change that perception although in 1989 being a “contributing force” in Batman’s creation. In 1994 he credited Finger with collaborating with himself and Jerry Robinson in the creation of the Joker.

Cold comfort to a man who died in 1974.

Bill’s influence on comics extends well beyond Batman though. He was the Co-creator of the original (Alan Scott) Green Lantern along with Martin Nodell. Their collaboration on the character lasted for seven years.

Bill was one of the driving forces in the Golden Age of Comics. After his death he was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame (1994), The Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame (1999), and in 2005 an Award was named for him, The Bill Finger Award For Excellence In Comic Book writing.

Oh and finally, during Batman’s 75th Anniversary Bill FINALLY got his cover credit for Detective #27!

That's 30!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Zombies...Not The Worst Thing!

Do you like movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, Omega Man, Escape From New York and Mad Max?

Did you get a boot out of the Batman Epic , “No Man’s Land”?

And who doesn’t just love Zombie Apocalypse’s (or is that Zombie Apocalypsi?)

Or to paraphrase Buffy , “When the apocalypse comes, beep me”

Yes, post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is all the rage these days and has been for a very long time. One of my personal favorites is Soylent Green (is people!)

And every so often we see documentaries that discuss real life possibilities like nuclear war, pandemics, or collisions with asteroids wiping us all out in a rather spectacular fashion. We are all reassured though that such events are about as likely to happen as me hitting a $ 350,000,000 lottery by picking the numbers by throwing darts. Which is to say not very likely.

BUT! Did you know that there WAS an event in 1859, that if it hit the planet today would literally plunge us back into the Dark Ages? Did you know that the odds of another event just like it happening within a century or less is a near certainty?

In September, 1859 amateur astronomer Richard Carrington observed a massive solar event through his telescope. He observed two patches of intense white light, solar eruptions that triggered coronal mass ejections (CME) towards the earth. Within three days a massive geomagnetic storm struck the earth, blowing out telegraph lines all over the world. Telegraph lines were seen to spark and operators received shocks. Scarlet auroras began to appear all over the planet so bright that night turned into day.

All the result of a solar flare with the power of 10 billion Hiroshima Bombs.

Fortunately the planet did not yet possess a worldwide electrical grid. Life went on with no long term consequence.

This has become known as a Carrington Event. They happen every so often. According to NASA there is a one in eight chance of such an event happening by 2020. And a near certainty within a century. We are not talking about 100,000 years here. It’s just around the corner cosmically speaking. The only question is “will we be in the way?”

So what happens if we DO get struck by a Solar Storm on the level of a Carrington event?
Let’s jump for a moment to July 2020…

A geomagnetic storm with the power of the 1859 event strikes the earth head on and lasts for several days effectively destroying the power grid of the entire planet with what is essentially a Solar EMP. When the electricity failed worldwide the following happened:

• Transportation systems failed
• Fresh water supplies became scarce
• Emergency services failed
• Police and military were compromised
• Government services became nonexistent
• Worldwide finance crumbled
• Communications and the Internet disintegrate
• Fuel oil and gasoline become unobtainable.

Within six months all the major governments collapse. The population is decimated by starvation, thirst, disease and exposure.

The fact is that a head on Carrington event would destroy our civilization. We would quite possibly never recover as a technological species.

Perhaps this is a common occurrence in the Cosmos and explains why starfaring cultures don’t seem to exist (at least not in these parts). Maybe their technology is wiped out by Carrington events.

So are we destined to go the way of the Dinosaurs?

Only if we are foolish. People are a lot smarter than Dinosaurs (with the possible exception of Red Sox fans!). We are entirely capable of shielding our essential technology from the effects of a Carrington storm. Most importantly we are capable of protecting the massive power transformers that are the very heart of our global power grid and are irreplaceable on any large scale.

We haven’t done that yet. Doing so would be EXPENSIVE!

But there have been a few events recently that one would hope is waking the decision makers up to the fact that some up front expense will save us all a ton of grief…if we are forward thinking enough to act.

We suffered a glancing hit in 1989 that caused power outtages in the US and Canada. In 2012 we had a near miss that, if it had hit us would have had an immediate economic impact of 2 trillion dollars and would have taken many years to recover from.

While there is no need to get one’s affairs in order quite yet, the lesson we can learn from this is two fold.

First, the Earth is a fragile, beautiful place. It is actually tiny on a cosmic scale and can easily be ravaged by solar events.

Second, we can protect this fragile, beautiful planet. We’re pretty smart that way….if we act.

A Carrington event is certainly not as sexy as a Zombie Apocalypse but it’s far more likely to happen…and sooner than later. Bear that in mind when Mockingjay II comes out.

That's 30!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Lonely Man - A Look Back At The Incredible Hulk

The Age of Comic Book TV has certainly arrived. With shows like Walking Dead, Arrow, Flash, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, (oh and Comic book Men) currently on the schedule and Supergirl and Daredevil set to make their debuts in the coming months, TV and comics have never been more closely linked.

Why just this week iZombie, the DC owned property has made a very promising debut. (It’ sort of Buffy meets Veronica Mars and worth a peek!)
Not only do we have a lot of comic related television, we have a lot of GOOD comic book related television. Dead, Flash and Arrow are all bonifide hits. And while Agents has had it’s fits and starts along the way, that show too is finding both it’s legs and it’s audience.
Even shows that were not directly tied to comics give the media more than a passing nod. The Big Bang Theory in particular nails the comic shop experience right on the head!

Yes, things have never been better for comics and TV. But of course that’s hardly a new thing. As far back as the 1950’s we had the classic Adventures of Superman. The 60’s through the 90’s saw shows like Wonder Woman, Batman, The Tick, Lois And Clark, Superboy and (ugh) Spiderman all hit the airwaves at one time or another. These shows had varying degrees of quality and success. But even the very best of them seem a bit dated by today’s standards…except for one;

The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk made it’s debut in 1978 under show runner Kenneth Johnson, known for shows like V, Alien Nation, and The Bionic Woman. It starred Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrrigno and Jack Colvin. The show ran in prime time for five seasons and spawned several made for TV movies. It has never been off the air in all the years since and is a mainstay on Netflix even now.

The Hulk would fit right in with the character driven “super” dramas of today. David (not Bruce) Banner as portrayed by Bixby is based more on Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables than on his comic book counterpart. The fact that he is relentlessly pursued by Jack McGee (Colvin) brings that parallel even closer. Johnson consciously based the reporter on the obsessed policeman Javert from the classic novel.

The relationship between Banner and the Hulk (Ferrigno) is explored in the manner of Jekyll and Hyde. Banner is not just a man who changes into a monster. He is a man who has the two sides of his nature constantly warring with each other. As portrayed by Ferrigno, the creature is more childlike and given to frustration than simply rage personified. The creature is also VERY MUCH David Banner in his compassion.

The Incredible Hulk is very much a tragedy along the lines of Les Miserables in that we know Banner is always and ultimately alone. From week to week, regardless of the circumstances, Banner moves on alone to his next stop along the road to redemption and the ever elusive cure.

In the wrong hands this show could have become maudlin and even silly. However the team of Bixby/Ferrigno, Colvin and Johnson was as talented as TV has ever had to offer. They played the material with respect and honesty. They felt for the characters and made us feel for them as well.

Perhaps the most remembered “character” in the Incredible Hulk is the music. Specifically “The Lonely Man Theme”. It is a forlorn four note motif played most often on solo piano. The piece takes the pain that Banner lives with day to day and gives it a voice that haunts everyone who hears it. It may be the single most memorable theme in Television History.

Comic Book fans have never had a better time than today for our beloved hobby and TV, but there has arguably never been a show that quite matched The Incredible Hulk.

That’s 30!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Fantastic...Challengers?!

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…

Four adventurers, scientists, daredevils, ace pilots all survive a crash that should have killed them and are forever changed by the experience. Banding together they confront the weird, the unexplained and evil forces that could destroy the world if not for them.
This intrepid group is a cross between superheroes and adventurers, often exploring the unexplained just for the sake of going where no one has (ahem) gone before.

AND they were created by the King of Comics, Jack Kirby

Who ARE these four amazing people???

Obviously I’ talking about The Fantastic Four right?


I'm actually talking about a quartet created by the great Kirby several years EARLIER…
The Challengers Of The Unknown!

Challengers made its debut in the Showcase # 6, cover dated January/February 1957. Due to the delay in getting circulation data back on the comics of the time DC comics decided to create a try out title that would allow them to give new concepts a chance to catch on in their own title. Characters such as The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom and The Spectre all helped to usher in the Superhero revival of the Silver Age. In fact Showcase was so successful that a DC sister title, The Brave And Bold also began trying out new titles, notably Justice League of America and Hawkman.

Challengers fell somewhere between the adventure comics of the 1950’s and the growing trend to Superhero comics. None of the Challengers , Rocky Davis, Professor Haley, Red Ryan or Ace Morgan possessed superpowers, but all were extraordinary men. Each was an Olympic level athlete. The team had a daredevil, a scientist, a fearless daredevil and master skin diver. In so many ways the Challengers reads as a proof of concept for the Fantastic Four which would be so instrumental in launching the Marvel Age of Comics.

Obviously there are differences between the books. Not the least of which is the presence of Susan Storm in the latter title and the “fantastic” powers possessed by Reed Richards’ team.

Still three are as many similarities which can’t be ignored due to the simple fact that Kirby was instrumental in the creation of both titles in less than five years. Both groups are more adventurer than superhero. Both groups are banded together by a near death experience that changes them forever. And both groups are more like family than a group of like minded associates.
Visually both Challengers and Fantastic Four bear the unmistakable Kirby style. Kirby’s art is always in motion, the characters not just talking heads, panels easily broken. Kirby dynamism is evident in both titles.

Although Challengers never reached the height that the FF did (largely because Kirby migrated from DC to Marvel) the former title was a mainstay at DC for over twenty years and still makes occasional appearances today. They make a notable appearance in the Darwin Cooke created DC The New Frontier in both the comics and animated feature.

The Challengers have a solid place in the pantheon of Silver Age titles that revived the industry. For two decades the went boldly and fearlessly into the Unknown. They were the template for one of the most popular ongoing titles in comics history which had no small part in launching the Marvel Age.

Not a bad legacy!

That’s 30!


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Thank You Leonard

It’s been a while. But then anyone who knows me, knew that I wouldn’t and couldn’t let the passing of Leonard Nimoy , the beloved Mr. Spock go without saying goodbye.

Leonard was Spock, and Spock was Leonard. If ever an actor and character were two sides of the same coin, it was this pair. Leonard did more than portray a character that became an icon. He gave that character a life of his own. To millions of people Mr. Spock is every bit as real and alive as anyone has ever been. The Vulcan legend was imbued with depth, and insight…and humanity by Leonard Nimoy.

Gene Roddenberry may have conceived Spock, but it was Leonard who birthed him. In birthing Mr. Spock, Mr. Nimoy gave us a character that said in a very clear voice “It’s ok to be different”. In a world that has always been so focused on conformity, Spock/Nimoy, with that raised eyebrow and bemused expression showed many of us that diversity was much cooler.

Spock was an inspiration to anyone (meaning all of us) that ever felt alienated, different, or alone. He was an alien in a human world who found his place by making peace with the two sides of his nature. It was not easy, and it was a journey. But at the end Spock was very much content being a creature of two worlds. He was very human that way.

As an adolescent going through those feelings of alienation, even from my own body, when everything is awkward and nothing seemed to work quite right, my Vulcan friend was an anchor for me. At that age emotions are raging all the time and never quite the same from day to day. Girls are a terrifying mystery and being part of the group seems far more important than it really is. I saw in Spock someone who used his intellect and reason to balance his own emotional war. And in as much as any 13 year old could, I tried to emulate that trait. At the time I thought it was Spock who gave me an example to follow. Later I realized it was just Leonard. Thanks Mr. Nimoy.

Leonard gave Spock that humanity. Had Spock simply been, as longtime nemesis and friend Dr. McCoy liked to point out, a computer with legs, the character would have faded from our consciousness in due course. It was the humanity that Nimoy imbued Spock with that made him whole and alive. Spock still lives. Thanks Mr. Nimoy.

When you live long enough you see that certain issues never go away entirely. They may fade for a while, but they always come back. One of those is intolerance. When Spock was born and I was just a kid, racial intolerance and the Civil Rights movement were an open national debate. There were riots and killings and lynchings all over the color of a person’s skin. Today we are a world divided over religious ideology and the idea that if you aren’t o a certain belief that it is perfectly alright to kill you.

Illogical…tragically illogical. But Nimoy/Spock had and have an answer to that ridiculous world view. It is an idea and way of looking at the world called IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. In the world of Star trek it was a plot device to explain Spock’s more spiritual side. It became the “mission statement” of Star Trek to not only tolerate the differences between us but to embrace them. IDIC was another gift that Spock gave to me because that idea resonated with the 13 year old me and never left. It has made me, for want of a better word, “color blind”. Thanks again Leonard.

In 1985 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to, briefly, join the world of Star Trek when I wrote “The Official Star trek Quiz Book”. Not my finest hour, but more fun than a basket full of Tribbles. My phone rang one morning and it was Leonard Nimoy. He took the time to call someone he had never met just to offer a few words of encouragement. It still amazes me thirty years later. While I never became the writer I had hoped to be, I have never forgotten that gesture. I have made it a point to encourage the people that I have known in business and in my personal life whenever I can though. Leonard showed me how valuable just a few words can be. Thanks Mr. Nimoy.

There are some lines from Julius Casear:
“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”
In the case of Leonard Nimoy the opposite is very much the case. The good he has done will live long and prosper. I’ll probably see Spock on the screen later today so I won’t miss him. But I’ll miss Leonard. And so will the millions of people he touched in his journey.

Thank you Leonard.