Monday, April 30, 2007

Essential viewing

Turner Classic Movies will show the Kirk Douglas movie Lonely Are the Brave tomorrow (May 1) at 6:00 p.m. (ET), 3:00 p.m. (PT). Widescreen. No commercials. All 107 minutes of it. Fer chrissakes, set your VCRs or Tivos or DVRs or whatever.

Lonely Are the Brave, released in 1962 and inexplicably unavailable on DVD, is based on Edward Abbey’s great novel The Brave Cowboy. The movie was directed by David Miller and the screenplay is by Dalton Trumbo. The film’s spectacular. Douglas plays modern cowboy Jack Burns, riding horseback through New Mexico, still fighting the barbed wire and the system. The final scenes in the hills, Burns standing alone against government helicopters and Jeeps, are classic.

Lonely Are the Brave, also starring Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau, was Douglas’s all-time favorite from among his some 80 movies. The New Yorker, typically, called it a “shoddy and simple-minded song of hatred for twentieth-century American society.” Edward Abbey, impressed by how faithful the film was to his novel, responded to the review: “Exactly! Exactly what I meant the book to be. I am quite pleased by the reviewer’s observation.”

Don’t miss Lonely Are the Brave.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The greatest teen cannibalism song ever

Thanks, Bob Wallace, for reminding me of this classic.

A surveillance camera for every 14 people

More than 4 million surveillance cameras now dot Britain, one for every 14 people. In fact, a new report from Richard Thomas, the U.K.'s information commissioner, claims the nation is in danger of "committing slow social suicide" due to the "creeping encroachment" on civil liberties created by e-mail monitoring, the use of CCTV cameras, and other policies.

Is everyone feeling safe yet?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"He'll save every one of us!"

While we’re waiting for SciFi Channel to unveil its highly secretive version of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon later this year, Universal Home Video is finally releasing a “special edition” DVD of the 1980 Mike Hodges-directed movie on August 7. For the past few years, the original Region 1 (U.S.) Flash Gordon DVD has been out of print but available on eBay for a lot of money. Now, the movie seems to be getting some decent treatment, digitally remastered in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen, although the extras sound a little thin (a couple of featurettes and the first chapter of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial with Buster Crabbe).

Flash Gordon flopped big time in theaters in the ’80s, but word-of-mouth, kitschy retro-FX, surreal set and costume design, and the now-famous Queen score (used to great effect in the new comedy Blades of Glory) have made it a cult favorite. There’s great stuff in this film. Besides some terrific space babes, there’s a fantastically sinister performance by Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless (“Pathetic Earthlings...who can save you now?”). And Topol’s Dr. Zarkov, who seems to get Flash Gordon and Dale Arden to the planet Mongo without government assistance, is delightful.

I’ve owned the European Region 2 “Silver Anniversary Edition” DVD of Flash Gordon for a couple of years. It includes feature-length commentaries from director Hodges and actor Brian Blessed (who plays Vultan), an interview with Hodges, the original trailer, and the first episode of the 1940 Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe serial. Too bad the August U.S. release will be missing the commentaries, which are very good.

UPDATE: SciFi Channel has announced that its new Flash Gordon series, starring Eric Johnson (from the first couple of seasons of Smallville), premieres August 10.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I love the very early Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ve enjoyed them all, but the first six, including a collection of short stories detailing Lord Greystoke’s childhood, are key. After the initial ten (of well over 20), the books are largely formulaic and hit-and-miss.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Beasts of Tarzan, published in 1916, is the third in the series, wrapping up a story arc that really begins with the original Tarzan of the Apes. It’s one of my favorites, mainly because it so thoroughly shows both the “civilized” and savage sides of Tarzan. Project Gutenberg now offers Beasts as a free e-book download, joining the first two novels.

Beasts opens in London, where Greystoke and Jane live with their infant son, Jack (aka Korak the Killer, but that's another story). Then, after Jane and Jack are abducted by Tarzan’s two greatest enemies, Nikolas Rokoff and Alexis Paulvitch, the tale heads back into the jungles, where Greystoke strips off his urbane veneer to follow the kidnappers and wreak vengeance. Along the way, Tarzan meets and joins forces with Sheeta the panther, Akut the great ape, and Mugambi, chief of the Wagambi tribe. It’s all terrific. If you love old fashioned adventure stories and haven’t read The Beasts of Tarzan, do so. Better yet, start with Tarzan of the Apes, move into The Return of Tarzan (which closes with Tarzan’s marriage to Jane), then move on to Beasts. You can read the whole “trilogy” in a long weekend.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Now joining the Power Chick pantheon...

I thoroughly enjoyed Disney’s first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2003. But I was extremely disappointed by its dull sequel last summer, and really didn’t care about the third entry in the series until yesterday. That’s when I saw the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which opens late next month. It’s now on my “must see” list — and for one reason alone.

I’m a Keira Knightley fan anyway, all right? But judging from this new trailer, Knightley’s transformation from upper crust damsel-in-distress in the first Pirates to rough-and-tumble, badass buccaneer in this new movie is the best “armed and dangerous babe” makeover since Sarah Connor bulked up with free weights and power squats between the first two Terminator films. Sheesh. Add Keira to the list of awesome power chicks running through movies these last few years.

UPDATE: Within moments of posting this, I was reminded that Ms. Knightley had already joined the power chick pantheon with her portrayals of a tough Guinevere in 2004's King Arthur and the tragic Domino Harvey in 2005's Domino. I stand corrected. Long may Keira Knightley reign!

A crappy solution to global warming

“I have spent the better part of this tour,” writes singer Sheryl Crow on her website, “trying to come up with easy ways for us all to become a part of the solution to global warming.

“Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating.

“I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting.”

I’m no fan of conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham, but the title of her book about celebrities and politics seems to apply here, if Crow’s really serious (and I fear she is): Shut Up & Sing.

Return of the Heroes

And now we return to our regular broadcast... Heroes is back tonight at 9:00, as good a reason as any to post this nice photo of America’s Favorite Cheerleader. Anyway, here’s what I’ve heard:


The episode’s title is “.07%,” the percentage of Earth’s population that buys it when Manhattan goes nuke.

Mohinder is replaced by another character as narrator this week. (Ominous.)

Two characters we met in the first episode of the series die violently tonight — by Sylar’s hand. (Please, God...not Claire!)

There’s a lot of Linderman this week. In fact, a lot of his backstory fills in a whole bunch of thus far unanswered questions about the Heroes universe.


Now go forth and watch this show!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Strange, even by Wellsian standards"

Anyone who’s read much beyond The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds in the H.G. Wells canon knows that Wells was a utopian socialist, social planner, and advocate of a world state. But he was never delusional enough to believe that human nature would ever change enough on its own to make his ideal society possible. Wells’ visionary futures were generally top-down operations, with intellectual and scientific elites forcing change onto the often uncooperative masses.

Not so, though, with In the Days of the Comet (1906), one of Wells’ earliest and least-known utopian fictions. Here, a Change, as Wells calls the novel’s radical shift in human nature, comes spontaneously and unexpectedly. The first third or so of the book details a world filled with war, poverty, exploitation, and despair. Then Earth brushes through the gaseous tail of a comet. Everyone succumbs to the comet gases, and when they awaken, why, they’re as collectively enlightened as the novel’s arrogant narrator-protagonist! The world has magically transformed into one of socialist bliss. No need for top-down social management here.

In the Days of the Comet isn’t compelling. There’s no tension in the plot, since its “class struggle” is resolved by extraterrestrial magic. But it’s worth reading for fans of protest literature and those curious about the political leanings and century-old predictions of H.G. Wells. When I mentioned to Roderick Long a couple of weeks ago that I was reading In the Days of the Comet, he said, “Now there’s a strange book, even by Wellsian standards.” And as a lover of things really out of the ordinary, that’s probably why I enjoyed the novel as much as I did.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Casting call for Mr. Hopkins

We saw the new mystery-thriller Fracture last night. It's a dark, dark story with a delightful dash of humor, something I love. Everyone's terrific in this movie: Ryan Gosling, the great Anthony Hopkins, and (yummy) Rosamund Pike.

Anyway, as I watched the film, I thought, what an absolutely wonderful foil Hopkins would have made for Peter Falk's Columbo. Perfect. But alas... (Unless, that is, Falk decides to re-reprise the detective role sometime down the line.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It was 14 years ago today...

Of course we are all horrified by the Virginia Tech killings earlier this week. But as expected, mainline media seems to have ignored that on this very day just 14 years ago, 80 American civilians were murdered by government agents using tanks and toxic gas in Waco, Texas. On this anniversary of a U.S. tragedy, why not light a candle for those indiscriminately slaughtered men, women, and children?

Which side are YOU on?

From The Lawless State, by Karl Hess, one of a series of “minibooks” from Constitutional Alliance, February 1969:

“Government, gone wild in growth and its powers, has gone also above and beyond the law. Today it is widely accepted, as a matter of fact, that Government Is The Law. Just as a ‘divine’ king once could say, ‘I am the state,’ governments today everywhere say they are the law, even that they are the people.

“Each citizen can ask himself the most grave questions in this regard. Frank self-answers should be revealing.

“Do you feel that the state is more important than you are?

“Do you feel that the state should enjoy freedoms that you do not?

“Do you feel that the state should be able to rise above the law?

”Do you feel that you could not live unless the state protected you?

“Do you feel that you could not thrive unless the state nourished or subsidized you?

“Do you feel that service to the state is more desirable or more noble than service to your self, your family, your neighbors, or your own ideals?

“Do you feel that it actually is a privilege to pay taxes?

“Do you feel that since the government, the state is more important than any one man, that every single man should be prepared to give his all, even his life, to or for his government?

“Do you feel that the state is something with a life and identity of its own, beyond the men who might hold office in it?

”Do you feel that ‘the government’ and ‘the country’ are the same?

“Do you feel that, when all is said and done, that if big problems are to be solved in this world that government will have to do it?

“The crucial separation between men today is not anything more, or anything less than the separation between those who answer ‘yes’ to those questions and those who answer ‘no.’ The only important gradations in the thinking that separates men today will be found along a scale of how many ‘yes’ and how many ‘no’ answers are given.

“My own position is a resounding NO to every single one of the questions.”

The entire “minibook” is reprinted in Mostly on the Edge: Karl Hess, An Autobiography (Prometheus Books, 1999).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech: a Left Libertarian analysis

Right this minute, click here to read Brad Spangler's extraordinary analysis of this morning's atrocity at Virginia Tech. Do it right now. I'm not kidding.

Then print out copies and give them to your smug, corporate-liberal friends and neighbors.

My butt can sit for just so long

The box office failure of the 195-minute “double-bill” Grindhouse apparently has the movie industry in such an uproar that director David Yates has been ordered to cut the running time of this summer’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Grindhouse itself is being released overseas as two separate films and may be re-released as two distinct features — Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof — here in the U.S., as well. (I have to wonder how the DVD will be issued; as two movies plus a full Grindhouse “special edition”?)

I’ve been complaining about the long running time of recent movies for quite awhile now. Peter Jackson's King Kong was an hour too long. I thought last summer’s Superman Returns suffered from 45 minutes it really didn’t need. The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie was so long it bored me stiff. And all the Harry Potter films, in my opinion, have been waaaay too long for my taste; of course, I’m not a big fan of those movies, anyway.

On the other hand, I enjoyed what Rodriguez and Tarantino tried to do with Grindhouse. It warranted its extra length because it was a two-for-one exploitation extravaganza. Most moviegoers just didn’t seem to “get it.” Ah well...

I hear that my next “must see” flick — Spider-Man 3 — runs about two and a half hours. Does Spidey deserve a film of that length? I guess we’ll know on May 4.

Butler Shaffer tells it like it is

My dear friend and “cousin-in-law” Butler Shaffer recently talked to Antiwar Radio’s Scott Horton about why government never brings order, why electoral politics don’t work, why Don Imus tops today’s news, why he thinks Western Civilization “is collapsing in a healthy way,” and why we libertarians should be optimistic. And you can get your mitts on all 45 minutes of the conversation right here.

"Not with MY money!"

From Frank Capra’s 1938 Oscar-winning (Best Picture, Best Director) You Can’t Take It With You:

IRS Agent: “Our records show that you have never paid an income tax.”

Grandpa Vanderhoff (Lionel Barrymore): “That’s right.”

IRS Agent: “Why not?”

Grandpa Vanderhoff: “I don’t believe in it. ... What do I get for my money? ... I wouldn’t mind paying for something sensible.”

IRS Agent: “Something sensible. What about Congress and the Supreme Court and the President? We gotta pay them, don’t we?”

Grandpa Vanderhoff: “Not with my money.”

Friday, April 13, 2007

High marks for movie trash

Back in the ’70s, my roommates and I spent a lot of nights at an old movie theater in Culver City, where tickets were just 50¢, and you could see real good crap like Rolling Thunder, the revenge flick with William Devane, Black Belt Jones with Jim Kelly, and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, starring Peter Fonda and — oh, sweet muthauvgawd! — the irrepressible Susan George, who’d already slayed us sexually and made us useless to other women in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs just a few years before. At the time, we didn’t know that these on-the-cheap movies would pretty much disappear, then return as cult classics. We never even heard the term “grindhouse” until we heard Quentin Tarantino use it.

I saw the Rodriguez-Tarantino double-bill extravaganza Grindhouse with my brother-in-law earlier this week. Deb asked me to describe it later. I told her it was a genuine “chick flick.” Most of the guys in the picture are whiney and weak. It’s the girls who kick serious ass. So Grindhouse gets a high rating from me, falling as it does in a long line of recent “armed and dangerous babes” films, all of which I’ve enjoyed — Aeon Flux, Elektra, Ultraviolet, and the greatest of them all, Kill Bill. I can’t recommend Grindhouse without warning that it may disturb you. It may even piss you off. And I’d never suggest that you take your loved ones with you. But I got a kick out of it, and I’ve been talking about it for five days.

And Rose McGowan, who stars in Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” segment of Grindhouse... Well, she’s almost made me forget about Susan George. Almost.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

“A guard would go to the head of the stairs every so often to see what it was like outside, then he would come down and whisper to the other guards. There was a firestorm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn.

“It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.

“So it goes.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Friday, April 06, 2007

For your weekend entertainment

A couple of weeks ago, I made a half-assed commitment to review the Children of Men DVD once I’d had a chance to examine its extra features. The movie, as I reported in January, is brilliant. But the DVD extras are somewhat disappointing. There is no feature-length commentary of any kind, and that certainly would have been appropriate for this film. There are a few unremarkable deleted scenes. The short “making of” documentaries do a good job with what little they offer, but they mostly whet your appetite for more, which will likely be presented down the road on an inevitable “Special Edition” DVD. The hotly anticipated “The Possibility of Hope” featurette, directed by Children of Men director Alfonso Cuaron, is not much more than 30 minutes of social critics and philosophers blathering about why — well, shit — there really is no possibility of hope; ironically, the movie is a tad more optimistic than this documentary. All in all, though, I think Children of Men is worth repeat viewings, and for that reason, I recommend adding the DVD to your film library.

My best purchase of the past few days, though, is a British double-CD import called Last Flight. It’s a live full-concert recording of Jefferson Airplane’s final appearance at Winterland in San Francisco, September 1972. This is the Airplane on life-support, touring after two so-so albums and without founder-vocalist Marty Balin and drummer Spencer Dryden, just weeks before the band split up for good (that is, until a brief, lackluster reunion in 1989). The big surprise is that the band sounds great on this CD. The set list is, of course, dominated by songs from the final two lukewarm studio LPs, Bark (1971) and Long John Silver (1972). But these live versions have a sizzle missing from those albums. And the few classic Airplane standards — “Somebody to Love,” “Wooden Ships, “Crown of Creation” — are performed admirably; Balin even drops by to add his vocals to “Volunteers.” Very good stuff. I don’t understand why something like Last Flight wasn’t released in 1973 instead of RCA’s poorly cobbled-together “official” tour LP, Thirty Seconds Over Winterland. Ah well... Last Flight is a nice postscript to the Jefferson Airplane story. If you love the old 1960s band as much as I do, this CD is well worth hunting down.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Meet the real Karl Hess

This is a treasure! The seldom-seen 1980 Oscar-winning short documentary Karl Hess – Toward Liberty, by filmmakers Roland Halle and Peter W. Ladue, is now available to view online. Fer chrissakes, do not miss this! Libertarian Leftists, this is a part of your history! You’ll find the 30-minute documentary, broken into three parts, right here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

SERENITY is #1 in online sci-fi poll

I heard this news item on the “Mark & Brian” syndicated radio program this morning and was absolutely floored. Then I found it online, here and here.

Serenity, the libertarian-themed science fiction film sequel to Joss Whedon’s short-lived TV series Firefly, has been named best-ever sci-fi movie in an online poll of 3,000 science fiction fans. The poll was conducted by Britain’s SFX magazine. Serenity picked up 61% of the vote, beating out second-placed Star Wars, which grabbed 28%. Spots 3 through 10 belong to Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes (1968), The Matrix, Alien, Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator, and Back to the Future.

Wrote SFX editors: “It’s a remarkable performance from a movie that, less than two years since its original 2005 release, has already forced its way into the company of the all-time greats. Here at SFX Towers, we’re surprised but delighted — Whedon’s universe is one of the finest science fiction creations of the last decade, and it’s great to see that even five years after the original series was cancelled, Firefly lives on.”

Last year, Serenity won a Nebula award for best screenplay, plus a Hugo for best film and a special Prometheus award.