Wednesday, October 21, 2020

In Memorium—The Amazing James Randi

A little over a year ago, I wrote a letter to the Amazing James Randi. I knew from a friend who


was close to him that James wasn’t doing all that well, and was mostly secluded in his home.  I’d delayed writing to Randi for a number of reasons, mostly because I couldn’t believe that a man who seemed to SO have it together would deign to respond to me.

For reason that have nothing to do with personality, and everything to do with his failing health, I learned that he would never respond.

While I understood, I was also deeply saddened.  I also reflected back on what I had learned, not just from Randi but the community of people who had gathered around him to share in his common interest.  Randi was not just a wizard of a magician and a sorcerer of an escape artist; he was also a skeptic, who debunked those who would profit from the ignorance and the hope of others.

Unfortunately, The Amazing Randi passed away today. I was asked to write about Mr. Randi, against this very day. I decided I had already done so in that letter I wrote to him a year ago, and which I share with you now: 

Dear Mr. Randi –

 

I’ve been meaning to write this letter to you for some time. I admit, I only stumbled on you and your vibrant community of skeptics when I was doing research for an alternative-history novel. About ten years ago I found the James Randi Education Foundation forums and, for me at least, it was a truly a turning point in my life. I’d never engaged with so many intelligent, well-spoken, and thoughtful individuals, passionate about understanding the world, but unwilling to accept “easy” answers.

 

From there, it was simple to start to understand how important your role was in the world. While I’ve always loved magic, I’ve also always understood it was a learned skill, with presentation and showmanship being the key components. I was fascinated and impressed with the many, many videos of you debunking various claims of supernatural ability, and greatly enjoyed reading the updates regarding the Million Dollar Challenge and those individuals who attempted to win the prize. Attempted, but all failed.

 

After watching the documentary An Honest Liar, I was even more impressed with you and your life. I was especially intrigued when you taught journalist Barbara Walters to bend a spoon to match the one that Uri Geller had given her, showing how it was a skill/trick rather than a supernatural ability. That image, a spoon bent by a man who claimed no special powers except the ability to create a convincing illusion, epitomized for me the need and desire to understand the world. I mentioned this to my friend, Jeff Wagg, when discussing the movie, and how much I would love to have a spoon bent by you. He kindly provided me with your address so that I could make this request.



 

Mr. Randi, would you do me the extreme honor of bending the enclosed spoon with your “amazing” skills and returning it to me in the enclosed envelope? I intend to frame and display it for anyone who comes to my house and to proudly explain it’s very interesting, but also very natural, origins.

 

Thank you very much!

Sincerely,

RobRoy McCandless


While I will never get that spoon, that was only a material symbol of the turning point in my life and the role that Randi played in it. It would have been nice to have, but it wasn’t necessary. What Randi had already given me, without even knowing it, was much more valuable, and something that I will never lose.

Thank you Mr. Randi, for all you did, for me and countless others. You may have never known the impact you had on our lives, but we are all better just for having known you.

If you haven’t had the chance yet, I strongly recommend watching An Honest Liar which is an excellent, if too short look, into the life of James Randi. It’s available on many streaming services.

ETA: Yesterday, after perusing a series of James Randi talks and appearances, I discovered the exact Barbara Walter’s episode. Randi didn’t bend a spoon, but instead bent a key. I’m not sure how I got in my head that it was a spoon, except that Randi was revealing Uri Geller’s lack of psychic ability, and Geller was/is known for his spoon bending. I’m leaving the error as-is, since that’s how I originally wrote the letter.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Entertainment Round-Up—Comedy, Drama, Mystery and Music

DCs Legends of Tomorrow—Doesn’t suck. At one point, I said, without thinking, “This is SO

It's still Rock and/or Roll to me!

cartoony.” Then I remembered the source material and was ok with the rest. I’m not that much of a comics fan that I can say why some of the mistakes are made, but I’m sure there’s a reason. If you go in like this, there’s some fun super powers, like Doctor Who but with laser guns and stuff. (Netflix)

The Van Halen Story: The Early Years—Meh. When your documentary about the band barely contains the band at all, and nothing but lousy audio for some, ya gotta know you’ve gone the wrong way. Not all bad, as Diamond David Lee Roth is never shy with a camera around. (Amazon Prime)

Scoob!—Tolerable. My boys got a kick out of it, but I was only mildly entertained, and mostly by the call-outs and meta-moments. Most all the characters were reasonably on point with their older cartoon counterparts, but Scooby’s full sentences and lack of “dog” accent was a little off-putting. (BluRay)

New Girl—Still funny. Maybe more so as this is my second time through. I’m looking for the hints at certain relationships and the changes in characters. Winston is still the most misused of the bunch, devolving into a one-note joke like Joey Tribbiani from “Friends”. Except for the stellar performance by Lamorne Morris, that’s a shame. But still funny. Yeah, still funny. (Netflix)

The Lorax—Excellent. Like all of Dr. Suess’ work should be, this one feels pretty timeless to me. Doesn’t matter if the concern is trees or lives, the “Unless” quote definitely applies: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” (Netflix)

Friday, September 25, 2020

Entertainment Round-Up—Death, Darkness, and Elementary

Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous—Is mediocre. Decent enough watch with my boys, but

AND she shoots bow?

even they had issues with some of the silly/dumb choices the characters made. Camp counselors seem more concerned about who is in charge instead of watching out for the children who are more concerned about their various nonsense issues to worry about personal safety. (Netflix)

Anna Karenina (2012)—Is beautiful. It’s also very dark, but then it’s Russian. Two hours really isn’t enough to do justice to Tolstoy’s story, but Tom Stoppard’s adaptation and Joe Wright’s directing make an incredible effort, especially setting much of the story as if it were a play in a theater. If I had one complaint, it’s that Aaron Taylor-Johnson Count Vronsky is far, far too pretty to be likable. (Netflix)

Enola Holmes—Is so fun! Entirely in keeping with the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adding a teenage sister, Enola, to the Holmes family. Although Mycroft is slightly off, everything else is a reasonable facsimile, the acting is a delight, and the mystery is laid out for viewers to decipher on their own without any esoteric knowledge. (Netflix)

Tournament (2018)—Isn’t terrible. A lighter shade of “Clerks.” for the die-hard card-gamers. There’s some really good, witty dialogue, and then there’s some ham-fisted stuff. The camera work is passable, although sometimes wonky. I felt like the plot could have used one more rewrite to really knock out the third act. (AmazonPrime)

The Courier—Nope. I think they were going for a kind of Die Hard in a parking structure. All

I don't have a machine gun yet, but Imma get one!

the right elements are there, and I really wanted to like this. Olga Kurylenko does a worthwhile job with what she’s given, and Gary Oldman and Calli Taylor are respectably evil together. The plot and the bad guys are dumb when they should be smart, or at least smarter. (Hulu)

Quest of the Muscle Nerd—Doesn’t suck. It’s an interesting look into a sub-sub-genre of Dragon Con attendee—the cosplayer who also lifts an outrageous amount of the time. I wish there was a bit more focus on cosplay and the nerds who lift to cosplay, rather than just folks who lift and showed up for this particular event. Still, it was an interesting look. (AmazonPrime)

The Good Place (Season 4)—Rocks. It’s so much goodness I can hardly believe it. I know I’m late on this one, especially a series that I loved (mmmm, Kristen Bell!) but I kept waiting for it to show up on one of my streaming services. I finally had to get the disks, and DVD at that (yech!). I wish I hadn’t waited this long. If you haven’t started this series, do so. It’s hi-freaking-larious. (DVD—because I guess BETA wasn’t an option)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Entertainment Round-Up—Mystery, Mayhem, and Social Media

I forgot to post last week’s entertainment round-up, so here it is for you.  I’ll try to make sure I

What could possibly go wrong?

get this weeks up on Friday for your weekend enjoyment!

Knives Out—Is good. Very good. Rian Johnson returns to his genre of choice with a classic whodunnit framework but a plot turned on its head. Daniel Craig’s southern accent gets an impressive workout and never falters. Ana de Armas is the real standout, which is impressive given the supporting cast (Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer, etc.). Johnson’s script is excellent! (Amazon Prime)

The Boys (Season 2)—Isn’t awful. The story doesn’t even miss a beat from Season 1, picking right up and running. I did have to find a recap on YouTube, as some of the details were fuzzy, but after that it was full speed on the A-Train! (Amazon Prime)

The Social Dilemma—Is complicated. It’s also worth watching. 90-minutes isn’t enough time to do anything but paint with a very broad brush. Social networks do a thing, they do it well, and then they get paid. They’re not in it for us. Most of us know this. Like any big corporation, they’re also not all bad. But as a first step to connecting the dots—hopefully toward meaningful change/regulation—it’s 90-minutes well spent. (Netflix)

Dragon’s Dogma—Is tedious. I applaud any show willing to introduce and endear us to a main character and then off him/her in a sudden, realistic, or sudden-AND-realistic manner. I gave this series four episodes and quit. There are some fun fights, the CGI animation could cut sushi, but when they aren’t fighting, it’s a lot of blah-blah and the characters aren’t interesting outside of their tropes to be worthwhile. (Netflix)

Glow Up—Isn’t terrible. The first season of most reality contest shows always have some kinks to work out. This one is no different. With make-up and artists running around, some of the judging does feel arbitrary. Overall, though, this is a fun and enjoyable start to a “Face Off” like show. 

Did I get it right? Wrong? What would you like me to review next?

Tell me in the comments below!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Entertainment Round-Up—Survival, Laughter, and Yawns

Alone (Season 5)—Not bad. Mongolia is simply beautiful! This one was a bit more anti-

She's all business!

climactic. Also, I was VERY annoyed at the contestants who didn’t put a roof on their shelter. Maybe I’m just not that knowledgeable about survival and physics and whatnot. Still, seems like a solid, insulated roof would go some distance to keeping the warmth in your shelter. (Hulu)

Cobra Kai (Season 2)—Is good. A solid follow-up to Season 1 and a good lead in to Season 3. It’s pretty clear where the writers are taking us throughout, and at a few points it’s frustrating how slowly they’re taking us there. There are some REALLY smart moments but a few REALLY dumb ones. That’s people in the real world, too. (Netflix)

Star Trek: Lower Decks—Doesn’t suck. I wasn’t fully sold on this animated sideshow, but some/most of the story arcs would be cost prohibitive. There’s nothing overly serious about this one, which makes for some laugh-out-loud and some aww moments. (CBS All Access)

Away—Is a struggle. With Hilary Swank and Josh Charles along with the supporting cast, there’s some incredible acting going on. I just wish they had a better vehicle. A three-year round trip to Mars should be awesome. Most of the drama is conjured and forced into place with a hydraulic press. The writers ignore the practicalities/realities of pretty much any situational obstacles that come up, and break then shatter then stomp on the shards of willing suspension of disbelief. It makes it hard for me to enjoy something that otherwise checks all the boxes. (Netflix)

Mulan (2020 Live Action)—Doesn’t suck. It doesn’t rule either. As a Disney conversation to live action, this one diverges the most from its animated release, pulling a bit more from “The Ballad of Mulan”. That makes the movie better than a retelling of a Disney story which is a good thing. Really good wuxia, solid acting, and beautiful visuals. (Disney+)

Did I get it right? Wrong? What would you like me to review next?

Tell me in the comments below! 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Entertainment Round-Up—Nostalgia, Loss, and Hope

Alone (Season 4)—Not bad. Partners makes it a bit less “alone” but making one partner hike

It's like they KNOW us!

ten miles through the horrible, horrible scrub that is Vancouver Island was fascinatingly horrible to watch. Like the slowest slow-mo car crash ever. Season 5 is set in Mongolia so you KNOW I’m onboard with that! (Hulu)

Cobra Kai (Season 1)—Strikes first and strikes hard! It’s a nice where-are-they-now update of Daniel “The Karate Kid” LaRusso and Johnny “Sweep the Leg” Lawrence. There are some flashbacks to the movies, but they don’t overdo it. In this longer format we get to see more depth to both Daniel and Johnny, and there’s some real growth in almost all the characters (Netflix)

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe—Is a solid addition. It’s not as great as the 2011 movie, but they were in the middle of the series at that point. A few of the voices sound a bit different, but not enough to ruin the illusion. Candace has had more growth than she's portrayed at this point, but it serves to tell a good story. (Disney+)

Bill & Ted Face the Music—Is, to coin a phrase, EXCELLENT! It’s silly, stupid fun, but it’s a good cap to the series. I may have just been in the right mood for it, but I don’t mind telling you I got a bit misty as the action rose to the conclusion. (Vudu)

Black Panther—Great but mournful and sad. This weekend, we lost a wonderful and relatively young actor in Chadwick Boseman. His was a bright light even from the beginning. Phylicia Rashad mentored him, Denzel Washington helped pay his tuition. He is and will continue to be missed. (Disney+)

Did I get it right? Wrong? What would you like me to review next?
Tell me in the comments below!

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Loss of Chadwick Boseman

WAKANDA FOREVER! 

I could stand a bit more Okoye!

Hearing that still gives me chills.  This weekend we paid homage to Chadwick Boseman, by watching Black Panther.  It’s remains an excellent stand-alone film. Even the fight choreography is excellent.  More often than not, even in Marvel films, it’s a series of jerky-cam and confusion. 

It was also sad knowing that the relatively young Mr. Boseman, who is SO full of life and talent in the movie, is no longer with us. I was very much looking forward to seeing him in a follow up Black Panther in 2022. 

While his loss is unfortunate, I’ve seen a lot of “fans” calling for an end to Black Panther. That likely won’t happen for a number of reasons. The first, of course, is that Black Panther is a very marketable commodity. NBA franchises might retire a player’s jersey, but they don’t stop selling them to fans. 

More than just cold, hard cash though is the fact that King T’Challa is more, bigger than, just one actor. Just like the fictional Wakanda, the idea is greater than the sum of its parts. There are precious few characters that can only be embodied by one performance, and for that we should be very grateful. Successive versions of wonderful characters embodied by new actors can entertain and enlighten countless generations. There’s been no end of James Bond, Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, etc. 

That’s a good thing. 

That smile!

The sudden loss of Boseman probably has more to do with the call for Marvel to not re-cast T'Chall/Black Panther than anything else. It is VERY soon to public consider moving on. It almost feels like a betrayal of that bright light that we've just lost. We should absolutely mourn his passing. Boseman was an amazing talent, seen, mentored, and supported by some of the biggest names in the business.

He is now, and forever will be, truly missed.

That smile!

I’m sure there’s a solid case to be made for shelving the propertynot to mention Marvel turning their backs on all that green stuff they’ve been raking in over the last twelve years—but I don’t think that’s the “right thing” to do here. Boseman’s legacy is bigger than just one character and one movie. He played Jackie Robinson, Thoth, Thurgood Marshall, and James Brown. 

If the King of Wakanda can also be the Godfather of Soul, there are very good reasons why we should hear and see WAKANDA FOREVER! 

Do you think T’Challa should be recast?
Why or why not?