City on the Edge of Forever

If you are an original Star Trek fan, you will recognize “City on the Edge of Forever” as arguably the finest episode. This award winning episode was written by Harlan Ellison and co-starred a newcomer actress named Joan Collins, who would become a TV star and appear in several movies.

Per the vision of creator Gene Roddenberry, the original Star Trek was steeped in existential questions posed by some very good scriptwriters. Questions regarding prejudice, hatred, good vs. evil, the Roman, Greek and Egyptian gods who visited earth being aliens, doing no harm when visiting a civilization, etc. The “City on the Edge of Forever” dealt with someone altering a small event in time, that changed the world and future.

I will avoid spoiler alerts, but the gist of this episode is a very drugged Dr. McCoy, played by DeForest Kelly, goes back in time through a previously unknown portal. He winds up on earth in New York City right before World War II where he meets a pacifist advocate played by Collins. For some reason, McCoy alters the course of history and the Enterprise no longer exists., fortunately after Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) have beamed down to the location of the portal.

In essence, they go back in time to when McCoy did, to figure out what happened. While here Kirk meets Collins’ character and they become mutually smitten. Spock discovers the two paths forward, the one that McCoy altered vs. the one which occurred. The story boils down to should something you detest happening, be allowed to happen, so as not to impact millions of lives in not a good way. I will leave it at that.

Setting aside the science fiction aspect, the story is well crafted and well acted. Most of the stories were, although a few were kind of cheesy. The original series was short-lived, but its reruns built a huge audience.

One of the more powerful sidebars comes from Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, the communications officer. She met Martin Luther King at an event. King was a fan of the show, and when he learned Nichols was considering leaving it, he encouraged her to stay. King said seeing a Black woman on the show made a huge statement as to what the future might look like.

So, I feel I stand in good company if MLK liked the show. Check this episode out if you can. For those who have not seen it and plan to do so, you may want to avoid the comments.

More than James Bond – Sean Connery RIP

Of course, I am biased, but the best actor to play the character James Bond is the first – Sean Connery. I am sure others might argue more recent actors fit the bill, but he is my number one. We should celebrate the life of Connery with his passing this weekend at the age of 90.

Yet, he was far more than James Bond, both from a movie standpoint and everyday life standpoint. On the former, one of my favorite movies of all time is “The Man who would be King,” which Connery starred in with his friend and prolific actor Michael Caine. It is truly a spellbinding adventure of two friends who were British soldiers stationed in India.

Another favorite is also not a Bond movie, yet Connery won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, “The Untouchables” with Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro. Connery makes the movie, in my view, and apparently in the view of the Oscar voters. His character’s chance meeting Eliot Ness is a good example, when Ness asks why he believes that Ness is a Federal agent – Connery’s character said why would anyone confess to being that if he were not?

One of the best ensemble movies that Connery starred in was “The Hunt for Red October” based on the Tom Clancy novel. A stellar cast of Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Sam Neill among others made this great movie even better.

Another favorite movie is “The Presidio” with Mark Harmon and Meg Ryan. This one did not get the fanfare as the others, but it has a good plot and is well-acted. Connery character leads base security at the Presidio in San Francisco (as a retired soldier) and must solve a crime with Harmon’s police character, who is not a fan of the military, but is of Connery’s daughter played by Ryan.

Let me finish with another favorite called “Finding Forrester.” Connery plays a recluse writer who befriends a young teen played by Rob Brown who tries to rob his apartment in New York. Brown’s character keeps a journal that falls out of his pocket. Connery’s character sees promise in the journal, then corrects all the poor grammar and returns it to him. This movie also has one of the best covers of “Over the Rainbow” as it fades out. Below is a link to this version from the movie.

Connery made several other movies, including “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which endeared him to the younger crowd. Since that movie is mentioned often along with the Bond movies, I will only mention it here. He also was in a movie called “In the Name of the Rose,” about a murder at an abbey, which is entertaining, as well as being unusual. As for my favorite Bond movie with Connery, “Goldfinger” would likely be it as it has two of the best villains in the title character and his armed guard “Odd Job.”

As for his personal life, I was unaware of his advocacy for Scottish independence. He spoke in front of the Scottish parliament to elicit their support. He also was used by the Scottish tourism industry to sell his country as a destination. There could be none better. I read once, maybe from Caine’s biography, that Connery was a very prepared actor. When he arrived at the movie set he was ready to go.

Connery will be missed by his fans and Scottish citizens.

The Buffalo Soldier – a good read about relationships in tough times

The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”

The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.

Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.

The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.

Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.

Atlanta Rhythm Section – smooth but less known

The Atlanta Rhythm Section (ARS) is likely not a top of mind group. They formed as a session band in the early 1970’s emphasizing a rhythm guitar sound. Some of its members were in an earlier band, “The Classics IV,” while others came from “Candymen.” From Wikipedia:

“In the spring of 1970, three former members of the Candymen (Rodney Justo, Dean Daughtry and Robert Nix) and the Classics IV (Daughtry and James B. Cobb, Jr.) became the session band for the newly opened Studio One recording studio in Doraville, Georgia, near Atlanta.

After playing on other artists’ recordings, the Atlanta Rhythm Section was formed in 1971, with Rodney Justo (singer), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass), Dean Daughtry (keyboards), Robert Nix (drums) and James (J.R.) Cobb (guitar).”

ARS had a few hits “So into you,” “I’m not going to let it bother me tonight,” “Doraville,” “Imaginary Lover,” and a remake of a Classics IV hit “Spooky.” Another hit called “Champagne Jam” highlighted an Atlanta summer music festival by the same name.

The group is easy to listen to. One reason I highlight them is I used to live near Doraville when I was in university in Atlanta. If I had to recommend three songs – “So into you,” “Imaginary Lover” and “Spooky” have a universal appeal. I have provided a link to “Spooky” at the end. Let me know what you think.

Here are a few of the lyrics of each:

So into you

When you walked into the room
There was voodoo in the vibes
I was captured by your style
But I could not catch your eyes

Now I stand here, helplessly
Hoping you’ll get into me

I am so into you
I can’t think of nothing else
I am so into you
I can’t think of nothing else

Imaginary lover

Imaginary lovers
Never turn you down
When all the others turn you away
They’re around
It’s my private pleasure
Midnight fantasy
Someone to share my
Wildest dreams with me
Imaginary lover you’re mine anytime
Imaginary lovers, oh yeah

Spooky

In the cool of the evenin’ when ev’rything is gettin’ kind of groovy
I call you up and ask you if you’d like to go with me and see a movie
First you say “no”, you’ve got some plans for the night
And then you stop, and say, “all right”
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you

Each of these these songs will likely resonate with their interesting lyrics and subject matter. I love the phrase “I am so into you,” as it conveys a deeper feeling than love or lust. “Imaginary lover” is self-explanatory, while “Spooky” reminds us of the person who fascinated us, but we probably should have not gotten involved with.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=atlanta+rhythm+section+spooky&qpvt=atlanta+rhythm+section+spooky&FORM=VDRE

A famous actor whose scenes were cut entirely

The other day I was watching the last half of the movie “The Big Chill” which is a favorite movie of many as well as me. The movie also has one of the best sound tracks as it features several Motown hits.

The cast is amazingly deep in recognizable names now, but they were just starting out then. As I recall, Lawrence Kasdan, the director, got everyone to hang out together before the movie filming to bond as friends. Since the movie is about old friends reuniting, he wanted them to have a basis to start from.

One of the later famous names never made the cut – Kevin Costner. Costner played the friend who committed suicide that caused the sad reunion. But, all of his scenes were cut except for his body being zipped up in a body bag at the start of the movie. Costner would go on to star and direct a number of movies rivaling that of any of the uncut stars of the movie – Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, William Hurt, Meg Tilly, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams and Mary Kay Place.

That was the right call, as it added to the movie for his friends to remember him, celebrate his life and lament his passing. If we had seen him, some of that mystery would have been lost. We learned he turned down a great scholarship which gave him notoriety, but he lamented that decision later.

To me, William Hurt and Meg Tilly steal the movie. Tilly plays the younger girlfriend of Costner’s character. Her perspective adds to the movie as when she responds to a question if her boyfriend was happy and says “I don’t know that many happy people. How do they act?” Yet, each actor is allowed to shine and offer both comedy and drama.

Do you agree with the directors’ decisions to cut these scenes in the movie? What are some of your favorite parts of the movie? What other actors and actresses have been cut out of movies to your knowledge?

The Princess Bride – a fun movie for all

Start with a beautiful heroine, a cavalier pirate, and an evil prince. Add one giant of a man, an eleven fingered bad guy, a Spanish swordsman, a scheming genius and a host of other great characters. Finish up with a great story read by a grandfather to his sick grandson and you have the delightfully charmlng “The Princess Bride.” About five years ago I wrote a post on this movie, which I will repeat below. “The Princess Bride” is a movie the whole family can watch and enjoy during our sheltering-at-home time.

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.” Although this line is picking on people with speech impediments, in the context of the movie “The Princess Bride” it is quite comical, as it is uttered by the magnificently attired priest who is conducting a wedding service for the bride to her unloved groom. It is so unexpected it becomes farcical. And, that is one of the reasons why this Rob Reiner movie is so entertaining. It does so many unexpected things and all ages will enjoy the story, as narrated by a grandfather, Peter Falk, as he reads to his grandson played by “The Wonder Years” star Fred Savage.

The story fascinates as it begins with true love between a young girl played by Robin Wright in her first movie (before “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards”) and a farm hand played by Cary Elwes, who would go on to star in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” They get separated and she catches the eye of a hated prince played wonderfully by Chris Sarandon. The prince’s greed, though, overtakes his lust and he sends her off for a visit to another land where he asked three interesting hired assassins to kill her, so he can blame the other country and grow his realm.

Without giving away too much of the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the picture to save her and has to ward off the assassins, the prince’s henchman, and torture. The three assassins are played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn (now appearing on “Young Sheldon”), whose catchphrase is “inconceivable,” Andre the Giant (the former pro-wrestler) and Mandy Patinkin as a swashbuckling Spaniard out for revenge for his father’s death. Andre the Giant turns out to be quite the comedic actor in several scenes. Patinkin’s passion for vengeance is also room for comedy and heroics.

But, other actors play wonderful roles in large cameo parts and other scenes. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are quite funny playing Miracle Max and his wife. Christopher Guest plays the prince’s henchman quite well, especially as he is inquiring into the pain reactions of the Dread Pirate Roberts in his contrived torture chamber. Mel Smith has a fun cameo as the torturer and Peter Cook, is the magnificent lisping priest.

Yet, the idea to have Falk read the story to Savage makes the movie feel like a fairy tale. Especially when the dream scenes are read and Savage reacts rather annoyed to the story. The story includes perils such as the fire swamp with its ROES, Rodents of Enormous Size, as well as fighting off the talents of three assassins and even overcoming death. We learn the difference between “Mostly Dead” and “Totally Dead” from Miracle Max. Yes, it is silly especially when the future princess is booed by a character played by Margery Mason, which turns out to be one of the dreams that Savage does not care for.

Reiner’s directing and casting of this wonderful movie make it a treat for all ages. The screenplay and book were written by William Goldman. Reiner’s inclusion of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) in developing the soundtrack and writing the best song “Storybook Love,” which was sung by Willy DeVille, makes it even more special. I have tried to stay away from much of the plot for those who have not seen the movie. If you have not and you have children or grandchildren, download this movie, make some popcorn and turn the lights low. If you have seen it, still follow the above steps, as the kids and all in the family will get a treat.

Saturday songs for reflection

In an effort to offer a diversion, I thought it might be fun to take a peek at songs written about Saturday. Here are five that offer a little variety.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
This song is more rock and roll than other Elton/ Taupin songs giving a nice change of pace.

Here is the chorus:
“Oh, don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Oh, Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
‘Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright alright alright, ooh”

Saturday In The Park by Robert Lamm performed by Chicago
This is my favorite song about Saturday. Lamm captures the fun day at the park attitude. Here are the first two stanzas:

“Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday”

Saturday Night by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter performed by Bay City Rollers
This is a fun song, but my least favorite on this short list. I do remember the song punctuating “The Midnight Special” hosted by Wolfman Jack. Here are the first two stanzas:

“S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

Gonna keep on dancing
To the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin’ to the rhythm
In our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night.”

Another Saturday Night by Sam Cooke
A close second to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” is Sam Cooke’s classic. It has been covered by Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett and others, but Cooke’s version is like velvet. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Another Saturday night
And I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way
Let me tell you ’bout it, lookie here
I got in town a month ago
I seen a lotta girls since then
If I could meet ’em I could get ’em
But as yet I haven’t met ’em
That’s why I’m in the shape I’m in.”

Come Saturday Morning by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn performed by The Sandpipers
This is a nice little tune released in 1970. The Sandpipers give a harmonized 60’s feel to it, but it has been covered by Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli to name a few. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend

We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday’s gone.”

Let me know what you think. Did I miss one of your favorites? I toyed with adding Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” which starts out “It is a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, as the regular crowd shuffles in.” But, with Saturday not in the title, I left it out, except for this honorable mention.

Kenny lamented over Ruby and Lucille

The iconic singer Kenny Rogers passed away last week. Rogers had a brief career as a jazz musician, but is more famously known as a rock and roll, then country singer.

As I was thinking about his career, I focused on two powerful songs about imperfect men, who lament over their wives’ infidelity. The point is not to challenge why these women have done what they did. Rogers captures the anguish of these men.

The first is called “Ruby” and was released in 1969 as part of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The second is the country song “Lucille,” released in 1977. Here are the initial lyrics to each.

“You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadow on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town
It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore
And yes, it’s true that I’m not the man I used to be
Oh Ruby, I still need some company
It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants and needs of a woman your age, really, I realize
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

“In a bar in Toledo across from the depot
On a barstool, she took off her ring
I thought I’d get closer so I walked on over
I sat down and asked her name
When the drinks finally hit her she said ‘I’m no quitter
But I finally quit livin’ on dreams
I’m hungry for laughter and here ever after
I’m after whatever the other life brings’
In the mirror, I saw him and I closely watched him
I thought how he looked out of place
He came to the woman who sat there beside me
He had a strange look on his face
The big hands were calloused, he looked like a mountain
For a minute I thought I was dead
But he started shaking, his big heart was breaking
He turned to the woman and said
‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.”

I found these songs powerful for the anguish portrayed by a disabled Vietnam veteran who cannot satisfy his sexually starved wife, as well as the farmer who toils so hard, not realizing his wife has had enough of such a hard life.

Anguish is a heartfelt emotion. I am certain the women were anguished as well leading them to their choices. But, to me Rogers wanted to portray the anguish of these imperfect men. And, perhaps the anguish of the situations.

Call of the Wild – good even with CGI dog

Last week, I watched “The Call of the Wild” starring Harrison Ford and a computer generated dog. It should also be noted the other animals were likely CGI as well.

Even with that, the movie is entertaining. Ford’s character has his own demons that he is trying to drink away and avoid in the Yukon. He gradually reveals why he is there as he befriends this lovably awkward dog.

Per the book, Buck the dog is trying to find himself as well. The dog is taken from his home as sled dogs are a commodity with the Yukon gold rush. Yet, he has to be trained to be a sled dog. He is bought by a mail delivery couple that journeys across the Yukon to deliver bags of mail to outlying communities. The couple, played by Omar Sy and Cara Gee, offer the role of “sled parents” and mentors to Buck.

Dan Stevens plays a needed antagonist as a gold thirsty opportunist. He does not let his lack of humanity or lack of knowledge of sledding get in the way of his zeal. Key cameos are offered by Bradley Whitford and Michael Horse.

The movie is rated as OK, but that may be due to the CGI dog. Ford does a great job of playing the imperfect friend to Buck. They need each other on their journey together.

I liked the movie. Is it great, no, but it is entertaining. If you have seen it, let me know what you think.

A few Kirk Douglas favorites

An American icon died this week at the ripe old age of 103, actor Kirk Douglas. He was an imperfect man in an image making business. Yes, he had affairs, but he also gave a job to a blacklisted director who was caught up in the Senator Joe McCarthy communist witch hunt. And, his roles were not always the heroic ones. He played many gray characters and some who were the antagonist.

Here are four movies that are worth the effort, which provide a glimpse of Douglas. He made countless movies, some great, some good and some OK. But, he was a highly prolific actor.

The Vikings – Released in 1958, this movie has an excellent starring cast, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine. Douglas plays the antagonist to Curtis’ hero. It was my first exposure to Leigh, who I would bet many a boy had a crush on. The movie was directed by Richard Fletcher and written by Dale Wasserman and Calder Willingham.

Spartacus – Released in 1960, this movie stars Douglas as the hero Spartacus, whose men are so devoted to him, are willing to take his place at his crucifixion. “I’m Spartacus,” is the often imitated line. It stars Laurience Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Dalton Trumbo .

Last Train from Gun Hill – Released in 1959, this is a personal favorite because of the plot and cast. It stars Douglas as a Sheriff whose Native American wife is raped and killed as she tries to escape. Anthony Quinn plays an old friend whose son Earl Holloman is involved. And, any movie with the wistfully beautiful Carolyn Jones will be good. The movie was directed by John Sturges and written by James Poe and Les Crutchfield.

The Man from Snowy River – Released in 1982, this Australian movie stars Douglas in two roles (brothers) – the antagonist father and the supportive old man. It stars Tom Burlinson, as the protagonist, Sigrid Thornton as the his love interest and Jack Thompson who is excellent in any movie he does. The movie has a terrific score and was directed by George Miller and written by Banjo Peterson and Cal Cullerson.

These are only a few of his great roles. He played Ulysses, he played Vincent van Gogh, he played a boxer, and he played cowboys, war heroes and detectives. His son Michael had an excellent career as an actor and director. He did have a great line about his wife. He said if she ever left him, he was going with her. Douglas was an icon. And, he was a great actor.