Sunday, April 24, 2011

Buck Rogers and Doctor Who--Contrasting Sci-Fi Heroes

Last Saturday two great sci-fi icons and figures from my past appeared on TV. Turner Classic Movies began running episodes from the 1938 Republic serial Buck Rogers. (They usually show movie serials on Sat. mornings, which is when they were shown in the movie theatres back when my father was a kid.) Most people now know Buck Rogers as a 1980s TV series, but the comic strip and serial were first. That night BBC America had the American premiere of the new series of Doctor Who.

These series both star time-travelling heroes, both vastly different in terms of their problem-solving techniques, and were big parts of my childhood and adoloscence. Buck Rogers was a comic strip started in the late 1920s about a daring pilot trapped in suspended animation for 500 years to emerge in the 25th century. He bravely fights against Killer Kane, a futuristic gangster who has taken over the world, a sort of combination of Hitler and Al Capone. Local Philadelphia station Channel 17 used to run episodes on weekday afternoons with a kiddie TV host named Wee Willie Webber. I remember my uncle Jim in Boston had a big book of the original strips that fascinated me and my parents later bought me a copy for Christmas.

I first encountered Doctor Who, the long-running British sci-fi series about a Time Lord and his companions roaming the universe in a time-space machine disguised as a police box, when Phila. public TV station Channel 12 showed episodes starring Tom Baker, the fourth actor to play the role. The trick of the series was that Time Lords can regenerate themselves into an entirely new body so a new actor would take over the role when the previous one was tired of it. That way the show continued for several decades. My relationship with the Doctor continued into my move to NYC when I left college and became an adult. I actually joined a Doctor Who fan club called UNYT--named after the military branch of the British government the Doctor was allied with.

I even attended a Doctor Who convention in Valley Forge, PA, and met Doctor Who number 3 Jon Pertwee and several Doctor Who companions. I remember they showed episodes all day long. There was a Doctor Who event in Brooklyn College when I lived near there and I got Tom Baker and Colin Baker (Doctor number 6)'s autograph. My ultimate Doctor Who experience was at Infinicon, a weird convention held in NYC at the Institute of Ethical Culture that UNYT pariticipated in. I served as guest escort for George Takei,Sulu of Star Trek, and met Patrick Troughton (Doctor number 2) and Peter Davison (Doctor number 5).

The main difference in these two is Buck Rogers uses his daring and muscle to get out of a situation and the Doctor uses his mind. Both are infinitely brave. The Doctor thinks nothing of facing Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, or other invincible foes as does Buck Rogers, but the Doctor doesn't even have a raygun like Rogers, just a sonic screwdriver.

The new Doctor Who with Matt Smith is really gripping. So far we've seen two episodes and there is a weird story arc involving the Doctor's death and a little girl inside an Apollo astronaut suit. Amy Pond may be pregnant and her husband Rory doesn't know if his wife loves him or the Doctor, plus maybe we'll finally discover who Dr. River Song is--I think she's Amy's baby grown up from the future. Buck Rogers is up to episode four at TCM and not quite as exciting. Buck is trapped in the open country between Killer Kane's city and the Hidden City where the forces of freedom are keeping themselves. He is protecting Prince Tallen, an emisary from Saturn.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Amazing Race 18--Episode 8--Freudian Sweeps

Perhaps it was a Freudian slip that made me record Undercover Boss instead of the Amazing Race this past week. But I would have to explain that to the Globetrotters who didn't even know what the significance of the Freudian couch they were carrying through the streets of Vienna. Even the cowboys got that much and Jet made a joke about laying on the couch and telling his brother all of his problems while he carried him on it.

Fortunately, the mistaken DVRing took place at at our upstate place and the backup recording did occur properly at home in Queens. I was able to watch the episode on the CBS website the next morning before we drove to New Jersey for Passover. This was a relavitely tame episode with not very difficult tasks. After flying from Vernasi to Vienna, all the teams had to do was choose between eating a big meal in 12 minutes or hauling those couches a few blocks--Jerry has been to Vienna and he said the Freud house is close to the university--then driving four or five hours to Salzberg and dropping a leaded weight down a chimney three times. Gary and Mallory had trouble figuring out they had to back up their car to get a clue to their next destination. They came in last and now they have a speed bump in the next leg. What tremendously difficult task will it be? Remember their birthdays? Eat a mint? Tie their shoelaces?

Justin and Zev have won three legs now and are neck and neck with the Globetrotters for the top position. The cowboys are continually starting in last place and really need to catch up, but I think they can. The Goths are close to self-descturction if Kent doesn't shape up and Vyxsyn doesn't get rid of that nose ring. OK, the nose ring probably has nothing to do with their position in the race. I just can't stand it.

With all the money the series is getting from product placement from Snapple and Ford Focus (this week) you'd think they could afford to go a little bit further than Lichtenstein next week.

Day 15--fly from Vernasi to Vienna
Day 16--Arrive Vienna, detour, then drive to Salzburg

Justin and Zev--three wins, trips to Cancun and Costa Rica, one Ford Focus each
Mallory and Gary--two wins, Express Pass (used), $1 million rupees, an Indian dinner and a bottle of Snapple
Jet and Cord--one win, $5,000 each
Luke and Margie--one win, trip to Aruba
Flight Time and Big Easy--one win, trip to Hawaii

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Annoying Sunday

Very annoyed with myself--through some slip I failed to DVR The Amazing Race on the TV in my upstate house and wound up DVRing Undercover Boss. Damn! Well, I am sure that the TV in my Queens place did get the show and I can always watch it on the CBS website. (Although I did try that once and it only got through the first 45 mins befoer the image broke up.) Tomorrow we are driving to NJ for Passover so I won't get to see it till tomorrow night at some point.

It's been a strange and busy week with lots of shows to cover as we wind down towards the end of the 2010-11 theatre season. Just got the disheartening news that the Intiman Theatre of Seattle must cancel the rest of its 2011 season due to lack of funds. After my weekend at Actors Theatre of Louisville it was so exciting to feel part of a regional theatre and then to get this bad news.

It's also the anniversary of both the start of the Civil War and the Lincoln Assasination. Fort Sumter was fired upon on April 12, 1861 and Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. I'm reading a book on the assassination and the subsequent trial. I also want to see this new movie, The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford. The book is called "They Have Killed Papa Dead," taken from a quote Tad Lincoln uttered when running into the White House after learning of the succesful attempt on his father's life. Earlier this week as I was reading the book on the subway, I was close to tears. The author was describing the moments after the shooting as Lincoln's body was carried across the street from Ford's Theatre to a private house. It was feared he would die immediately if they took him to the White House.

I supposed I got emotional imagining the reactions of the people in Ford's and in the nation's capital. After four hard years of bitter warfare, the hostilities had finally ceased and just as everyone was looking forward to peace, the man who led the country through its most difficult trial is brutally murdered by a fanatical madman. Lincoln tried to bring us together rather than divide us by appealing to a narrow base--like some politicians today. Speaking of which...

Donald Trump appears to be serious about running for president. That doesn't concern me too much since he is basically a joke. It would be amusing if he did run and when he fails to get the Republican nomination, even more amusing if he ran as an independent. That would almost guarantee a second term for Obama since a Trump candidacy would pull votes away from the mainstream Republican--probably Romney.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Amazing Race 18--Episode 6 and 7--Tea Time

The past two weeks have been jampacked with theatregoing since we are approaching the end of the Broadway season, plus I was in Louisville last weekend. So I have fallen behind in my Amazing Race evaluations, even though there was no episode last week due to the Country Music Awards. The main observation is the producers are really cutting costs. So far there have been seven episodes and we've only been in three countries: Australia, China, and India. There seemed to be less action in these past two episodes compared to the pair of double-part legs and the double U-turn. I did learn that Calcutta is no longer called that, but like Mumbai it is now known by a traditional Indian title--Kolkata.

In Kumning, the racers were given some tea and their next destination in India. In Kolkata, they had to identify the same tea they drank in China amid thousands of cups. All in the name of product placement because Snapple was sponsoring this episode and they were marketing a special limited edition Amazing Race tea. Luke supplied the big drama by breaking down and having a hissy fit when he couldn't find the right one. (Maybe I shouldn't criticize since I don't know how I would react if everyone had already left and that Omar Sharaf guy kept shaking his head at me that I got it wrong.) After the challenge of painting an elephant or delivering school books (difficult! Not! What happened to bungee jumping?) Gary and Mallory won. Mallory reacted way too excitedly over winning a bottle of Snapple, but she was justified when they threw in the $1 million rupees.

The only other big drama was Vyxsin's nose ring. Scary! She continued to wear it into episode seven where the teams stayed in India, but at least they flew to another city rather than taking yet another train. Once in Vernasi, one team member had to find six holy men and put together a message (copying the Devil and the deep blue sea challenge of episodes 1 and 2). The segment reminded me of when I was in Nepal and I took a picture of a holy man and give him a few rupees. He gave me a red dot on my forehead. I was also wearing my Nepali cap at the time and my dad whom I was travelling with said I had gone native.

This episode also reminded me of being in Delhi (This was part of the same trip with my dad). Just as the racers commented on the craziness of the streets of Varnasi, I remember the streets of Delhi full of animals, togas, rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrains, people hauling garbage, cars, etc.

Kent invoked bad karma by promising to lead Gary to the final holy man after they worked together, but he dumped the old guy like a hot rock. Kent paid for his treachery later by turning into Mister Crabby Goth. His backpack was suddenly too heavy and he made Wonder Woman Vyxsin carry it. Then the Goths got in the wrong boat and Vyxsin jumped in the dirty Gangas River! They finally found a cab and pushed the passenger out and screamed at the driver. I thought they were going to lose when it was between them and Ron and Christine, but the father-daughter team was unable to make up for lost time since Ron was the last one out of the holy-man search.

The Globetrotters won, coming back from last place and Justin and Zev were second. I'm glad they're still in it. The competition is really tight now with only really good players left. I think Kent and Vyxsin are the next to go. Coming attractions made it look like they are reaching the breaking point, just like they did they last time they were on.

Day 10--head to airport for flight to Kolkata
Day 11--Arrive in Kolkata, wait overnight until Town Hall opens in the morning
Day 12--Road Block with tea tasting and Detour with schoolbook or ganesha painting; Gary and Mallory have their product-placement dinner
Day 13--Leg 7 begins, head to airport, book flights to Vernasi via Delhi
Day 14--Arrive Vernasi at 10:45 AM, cowboys one hour behind, but catch up

Justin and Zev--two wins, trips to Cancun and Costa Rica
Mallory and Gary--two wins, Express Pass (used), $1 million rupees, an Indian dinner and a bottle of Snapple Jet and Cord--one win, $5,000 each
Luke and Margie--one win, trip to Aruba
Flight Time and Big Easy--one win, trip to Hawaii

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Third Time in Louisville

This is the third time I visited Louisville, Kentucky for the Humana Festival of New American Plays, and it’s the best one yet. Almost all of the plays are of high quality—I’ll be writing about them on the Back Stage website—and I reconnected with theatre professionals I’ve met before and made the acquaintance of new ones. Since I have been to the city twice before, I didn’t feel compelled to rush around and see everything. I did let my curiosity get the better of me and went out of my way once or twice. On the first night, guests were given a welcome reception at the home of one of the trustees. On the bus to the party, we went through Bardstown Road, one of those trendy little neighborhoods all cities seem to have. You know, the kind that have cute little shops selling used books and CDs and nowadays DVDs, etc. The first year I was here, I foolishly walked all the way from the downtown area to Bardstown which had to be at least five miles. (It looked much closer on the map.) Anyway, this time the bus is driving down Bardstown Road, and out of the corner of my eye, I see the Incredible Hulk and Wolverine adorning a storefront, with the sign outside reading “COMIC BOOKS ARE A GOOD SOURCE OF FIBER! HONEST!”

Immediately, I think I’ve got to come back here. I somehow missed this comic book store the last time I was here. In fact, Louisville did not rank high on the comic-book index (outside of NYC, I’d give Chicago and Philly high marks). Anyhoo, the only time I had to take the cab ride to the Bardstown area was the next morning—Friday. The rest of the time was eaten up with going to Humana plays. So I find a cab the next morning and located the store I had seen the night before. It was called Roll of the Die—since it also sold gaming stuff. Once again, cool title, so-so merchandise. Like too many comic places these days, they only had Bronze Age books and later. And that was overpriced. They did have a replica of the captain’s chair from Star Trek. I should have sat in it and asked for a picture—and here’s the reason for that:

In Roll of the Die, there were flyers advertising the Louisville Science Center’s hosting of the traveling Star Trek Exhibition, and it was just a few blocks from the theatre. How could I resist? (There was another place that sold comics in the area of Roll of the Die, but it was just too far away to walk and get back to the festival in time for my next curtain.)

The next available opening was Sat. after 6. Fortunately, the center was open till 9. So I went hoping to take some photos, but it turns out that was not allowed—copyrights of something. You could get your picture taken on the authentic captain’s chair and have it Photoshopped onto a replica of the bridge and also have yourself Photoshopped on the transporter platform, but they wanted $21 for a DVD of the photos and the same price for prints. It would have been fun to dress up this blog with the photo. But it ain’t worth a double sawbuck. So for the tens of you reading this, just look at my Facebook photo and imagine me sitting where William Shatner’s ass was. There were original props, costumes, histories of the Romulans, Vulcans, Klingons, etc., even a timeline for the entire history of the Star Trek future. But it was out of order! It went from left to right, going from the 24th century back to present, but the new Star Trek movie (2010) which take places right after the 20th century was at the beginning and should have been near the end. It was sorta fun and I’m glad I went. It reminded me of all the sci-fi conventions I used to go which were different from the comic conventions I go to now. I went to the sci-fi shows to meet the actors from Star Trek, Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven, etc. Now I just go for the comic books. If there are celebs at the current conventions, you are charged extra just for an autograph or taking their picture.

Then I returned to the theatre where they presented the Steinberg Award for the best new American play presented outside of NYC in the past year. The award is presented by the American Theatre Critics Association and I was on the committee of critics across the country to choose the winner and the two runners-up which receive each a citation. We read about 30 scripts and exchanged our views on them via email. The president of ATCA, Chris Rawson from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, introduced us from the audience, so that was gratifying. One of the winning playwrights, David Bar Katz, wrote a play about the creation of Superman called The History of Invulnerability, and we talked about comic books and my Jack Kirby collection. I also met people from Dayton, Ohio (a reporter who told me her son makes a living entering video contests on the Internet which he always wins—which is worth repeating), and Washington, DC (the theatre dept. head from the NEA), several playwrights, actors (Small World Dept.: it turns out one knew my college acting teacher), and directors. It’s always exciting to go to Humana because the audiences are all theatre people and you feel like you’re part of a big national community.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Amazing Race 18:Unfinished Business--Episode 5--Stuck in China

It's been a week since the last episode and I have been so busy reading comic books and watching DVDs that I haven't had a chance to blog about it. Here it is Sunday and the next segment will be on tonight. I may as well just blog about the two together, but I have been doing that too often lately. So I'll just give my impressions as best as I can recall. I could watch the episode again on, but I have better things to do like read some more comic books and watch DVDs. (I actually watched half of Twelve Monkeys on the train to upstate and the Blu Ray of Alice in Wonderland last night, the best thing about the latter is the employment it provided for so many British actors like Helena Bonham Carter, Frances de la Tour, Lindsay Duncan, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall.)

Episode 4 ended in the middle of a leg which is the second time they've pulled that trick this season. I think they are trying to save money by making the racers take trains rather than jets to the next destination. It also avoids multiple non-elimination rounds. Everyone had reached the midway point, thinking it was the finish line, except for Justin and Zev and Kent and Vyxsin (I probably misspelled her name, but what do expect if she gives it an eccentric twist with that y in there?)

The Goths had to go back to the gondola to get their missing fanny pack, then catch up with the others who were all on the same train back to Kunming, where they had just come from the previous night. Zev and Justin had checked in and got to the train station in time to watch the Globetrotters play basketball with the cowboys and the volleyball players.

The Goths were met with icy stares when they joined the others and lied about not being told by Phil they would receive a time penalty for missing the plane from Tokyo. This is another new wrinkle in the race, if you miss a flight--even if it is required--why should you get a time penalty? You've lost all the time, it's not as if they got another earlier flight which put them ahead of everyone. Anyway, they got back to Kunming in the middle of the night and the Goths wisely U-turned the redheads because they were right there! They explained that last time they stupidly u-turned a team that was ahead of them. This way they knew they weren't making the same mistake. It would up costing the redheads the race because they had to go back and play with the dolls and then they had a tough time assembling the dinosaur.

Zev and Justin turned into the Globetrotters by leeching onto another team--Ron and Christina--figuring they wouldn't get lost because they know Chinese. But the ploy backfired on them when the father and daughter's cabdriver took them to the wrong location. Despite the language advantage, Ron and Christine wound up near the bottom and Zev and Justin barely escaped elimination. Gary and Mallory, another victim of the Ron-Christina caravan fiasco, used up their express pass when they got the dinosaur park and saw how difficult the task was. The cowboys still beat them to the number one spot and the Globetrotters survived despited getting the second U-turn from the redheads.

In the previews for next week, now tonight, it looks like Luke will be crying to his mommy because he can't figure out the differences between some Indian tea. Hopefully, it will be a single leg with no cliffhangers. The flight to India will probably put everyone on an equal footing again and it's still anyone's race.

Day 8--Leg continues, teams take train from Lijiang back to Kunming
Day 9--Teams arrive in the middle of the night to perform roadblock,dawn is breaking as they hit Double U-turn, get to park, assemble dinosaur, finish leg

Justin and Zev--two wins, trips to Cancun and Costa Rica
Jet and Cord--one win, $5,000 each
Luke and Margie--one win, trip to Aruba
Mallory and Gary--one win, Express Pass (used)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Amazing Race 18: Unfinished Business--Episode 4: PMA or PMS?

Kent and Vyksyn lost their shit literally and figuratively this episode, losing a passport and a fanny pack as well as several hours going the wrong way from Kurihama to Tokyo. Vyksyn had several breakdowns along the way. Maybe she's using too much magenta hair dye. We were led to believe they would get eliminated for sure this time after they nearly got the axe two episodes ago in Australia when Vyksyn went nuts in the shark tank. But surprise--it's another two part leg and everyone is still racing though Team number one (Luke and Margie) won a trip to Aruba. I will admit I was totally taken by surprise when that happened, because we just had two-part leg in episodes one and two. I like this better than non-elimination legs so I'm not complaining.

At least this race is not predictable. I couldn't even tell if it was day five or day six when we started. I'm guessing it's the sixth day because by the time Jamie and Cara found the lucky frog and came in 10th on day five it was dark out. This leg began at 8:44 PM and teams had to drive several hours from Kurihama to the Tokyo airport. I'm guessing it was the night of the next day. There seems to be more work involved in the travelling and more days covered in the individual legs. They are really making the contestants work for the money this time, as opposed to the easy-peasy challenges of the past couple of seasons (bring some tea to an old guy, sit in a sauna, drink a shot, etc.) This leg they had drive all night, take a plane (evidently there were transfers according to Jamie and Cara in the extra footage in the CBS website), then a train, a shuttle bus, a gondola, then another bus.

Kent and Vyskn started out with PMA (possible mental attitude) which quickly turned to PMS when neither of the Goths could get their car door open. It went downhill from there, and they got lost, missed the flight to Kunming, and wound up in a death struggle with Justin and Zev for last place.

As the teams drove to the Tokyo airport, several reminisced about their last time in China. The Copperhead cheerleaders recalled how much they hate China because nobody speaks English there.

All the teams but the Goths made the flight to Kunming. Ron and Christina used their knowledge of the language to get a train ahead of everyone and arrive first in Lijiang. They even had time for Ron to stop and eat all the food in the country. We're into a whole other day (Day 8) by the time they get to Lijiang for an usually full day of challenges. First they had saddle and ride a yak, find twelve charms with the Chinese Zodiac and arrange them properly, figure out their Zodiac sign (this held up the Globetrotters who named every animal before randomly hitting on theirs--didn't they ever read those paper placemats in Chinese restaurants?), then pound candy or march through the streets while blowing a huge horn. Apart from the drama of Kent and Vyksyn, the high point was Ron and Christine falling off the wrong vehicle and throwing rocks at the right one to get it to stop. Wouldn't you know it, the Globetrotters saved Ron and Christine's bacon by getting the bus to stop. So, after mistakenly taken their fanny pack, they are now even with the father and daughter.

Some on the internet have complained about this episode for springing another double leg on us so soon, but I loved it. Lots of action and unexpected twists.

Day 6--Drive to Tokyo airport from Kurihama
Day 7--9:50 AM Flight from Tokyo to Kunming, China, train to Lijiang, Kent and Vyksyn leave Tokyo at 3:30 PM, arrive in Kunming in the middle of the night
Day 8--Arrive in Lijiang, Kent and Vyksyn catch up, leg doesn't stop

Zev and Justin--two wins, trips to Cancun and Costa Rico
Gary and Malllory--one win, Express Pass (still not used)
Luke and Margie-one win, Trip to Aruba