The Big Buck Rogers Re-Watch: “Planet of the Slave Girls” (Complete)

kaleel

Five performances daily, plus an extra matinee Sunday during the brunch buffet.

Editorial Note:  The first two episodes of the first season of the series are two-hour cliff-hangers that originally aired in their entirety before hitting syndication and re-runs as two-parters.  There is a lot of ground to cover here, folks, and I’ll be splitting it up as I did with “Awakening.”  Thanks for your feedback and support.

Editorial Note II: (One Week Later) Holy hell, there’s a lot of unpack here.  I hope I can make it to “Space Vampire” without losing my shit.

“Planet of the Slave Girls”

Directed by Michael Caffey
Written by Cory Applebaum & Steve Greenberg
Season 1, Episodes 3 & 4
Original Air Date: September 27, 1979 (Originally aired as a 2-hour movie, syndicated as a 2-part episode.)


Sizzle Reel


One of my problems with the opening previews of this time is that, while they show some exciting images, they spoil some of the cooler moments of the show.  They can’t really reuse the same stock space battle shots each week, so we’re treated to big character moments and dialogue that are vital to the twists and turns of the story.  

That said, the key images from this episode:

A pilot in trouble!  A daring rescue! A tense confrontation!  Computer murder!
An epidemic unchecked! Slavery?!  Roddy McDowell…in brownface??
Great Gazooks, is that Jack Palance about to explode on my TV?
Crashing into the desert! A slave girl in peril! A blaster-wielding leather lady!
A Sauna of DOOM!!  What the hell is happening?
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The Big Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Rewatch – “Awakening,” Part 2

Ardala

“Awakening,” Part 2 (aka “The Movie“)


Written by Glen A. Larson & Leslie Stevens
Directed by Daniel Haller
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2  (2 is covered here)

Original air date: September 20, 1979 (premiered as a single episode, split into two parts for syndication, modified from the theatrical release)

Theatrical release date: March 30th, 1979 (US)


Last time on…


USAF/NASA pilot Buck Rogers, frozen since a mishap during his space mission in 1987, awakens in 2491.  He is scooped up by a warship of the Draconian Empire which is on its way to Earth under a flag of truce.  All is not as it seems because Princess Ardala and “Killer” Kane are hatching a half-assed scheme to conquer Earth instead.  When Buck Rogers appears, they try to decide if this frozen man tumbling through space in “perfect cryo-freeze” is a spy sent by the Earth.  They bug his ship and send Buck back to Earth where he is examined, interviewed, and generally acts confused about all this.

The Earth is now a high-tech but fragile world reliant upon trade with other worlds for basic needs.  Pirates have disrupted their trade routes, leading them into a treaty with the Draconians, who promise to take care of the pirates.  Buck, who actually remembers things about Earth’s history, says that his time on the Draconian ship tells him they are up to no good.

Earth considers him a primitive.  Draconia thinks of him as a useful idiot. Dr. Theopolis, a sentient, blinking dinner plate, is in love with him. Everyone else seems clueless.

Buck, desperate to learn what happened to his world, rushes into the radioactive ruins of Old Chicago – now Anarkia – to work out what it all means.  He finds the tombstone of his family just before he, Theo, and their sassy robot drone Twiki are set upon by a mob of mutated denizens of the ruined city.

Just when you think ole Buck is done for and the mutants will do unspeakable thinks to Twiki, Colonel Wilma Deering arrives in an armored minivan to save the day.  When Buck decides to be an ass and resist returning to The Inner City, he is stunned and taken back anyway.

Episode Sizzle Reel


Every week, the show begins with a flashy preview of the adventure to come!  This week:

Fancy Dance Ball!  Ardala’s abs! A bland invitation to celebrate from Dr. Huer!  Awkward group dancing!  Awkward half-naked disco dancing!  Wilma’s in heat!
A shocking secret revealed! Buck in a silly hat! Explosions! Space battles!  Wilma looks worried! Oh noez, Buck’s in trouble, falls down, goes BOOM!

One More Unto the Breeches


Just when Colonel Deering decides Buck might be a lost space hunk after all, she’s shown evidence that Ranger 3 was bugged with a tracking device that betrayed the narrow access corridor through their defense shield.  Crushed by this betrayal, Deering agrees with Dr. Huer that Buck must be tried for espionage and treason. A guilty verdict on either count means death. Continue reading

The Big Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Rewatch – Introduction to the Series & Part One of “Awakening”

buckrogers2

“Awakening” Parts 1 & 2 (aka “The Movie“)


Written by Glen A. Larson & Leslie Stevens
Directed by Daniel Haller
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2

Original air date: September 20, 1979 (premiered as a single episode, split into two parts for syndication, modified from the theatrical release)

Theatrical release date: March 30th, 1979 (US)


Mission Briefing:


The year is 1979, and NBC is launching one of the last of it’s expensive Sci-Fi adventure series.  At the helm: Executive Producer Glen A. Larson. Veteran of the Exodus in Space epic Battlestar Galactica, Larson has brought Phillip Francis Nowlan’s 51-year-old space cowboy hero to a modern disco-dancing audience.  Up to 1979, Buck Rogers had appeared in a comic strip (1929 to 1967, and then sporadically in print until 1983), radio in 1932 (where it ran until 1947) movie serials, and a television series in 1950.  Buck also appeared in a high-larious short film commissioned for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Continue reading

Self-Policing in the “Time’s Up” Era

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“Tom?”

“Yes, Missy?”

“Frank Toccin is here for his nine o’clock.”

“Good.  Send him in.” He opens a folder on his desk and stands. “Frank!  Good to see you, man!”

“Mr. Sinclair.  Thanks for seeing me.”

“No worries, Frank.  Thanks for working with our schedule.  You gotta know things are just BLOWING UP around here these days, but I wanted to make sure we saw you ASAFP.  Please, have a seat.  Coffee?  We know how you like it.  No?  Okay.  Let’s get to it.  You seen eager to put everything behind you.”

“No kidding. That last news cycle was…”

“Okay.  So.  Here’s our record of your account.  Pre-revelation ‘Q-score’ was strong – strongest in four quarters, in fact.  No doubt that was because of the B.O. on last summer’s third biggest hit and the buzz for ‘Allen’s Gaunlet’ for the OSCARs this year. Your foundation had 82% of the Elite Artists Agency in attendance and you took in an impressive four humanitarian awards in 2017.  Well done.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sinclair, I like to think…”

“And so, you hit a wall with the allegations of this Murder Club of yours.  That’s a bit of a puzzler.”

“(sigh) Yeah.  It was a long…”

“Save it for your lawyers, Frankie-angel.  Let’s see here.  So as of this morning, your Q-Score dropped sixty-two percent, which isn’t bad for a director in a scandal.  No one gives a fuck about a director unless they’re picking up hardware or fucking a dog on live TV.  Gareth Powell did that and we handled that case, by the way.  So, chin up, Frankie.  New day and all that.  You had three humanitarian awards revoked and I would be perfectly ERECT to see the volume of news coverage parroting your name across the world.  You were the punch line of every late-night comedy host in the market.  TMZ has already hinted at four other claims of murder-death-kill by ex-participants and we know there’s money heading that way to secure video statements.  The police are cooperating in the usual fashion – that is, waiting for us to tell them what to do.”

“Pardon me, Mr. Sinclair…what are you gonna do?  I’m quite anxious to know.  Sir.”

“Frankie.  Let’s speak real to one another, okay?  Your global box office from 1993 to 1997 was the biggest we’d ever seen from an independent producer-director.  It was astonishing and opened up a whole new revenue stream for mainstream companies to pretend to be like you – reckless indies without a care for BO.  It put us in those little shitty festivals you’re now dominating.  Plus, it was the 1990s when people didn’t care – morally, I mean – about important people abusing positions of power.  Fuck, Bill Clinton’s little weed and BJ parties in the Oval Office should have been the biggest thing to blow up ever, but not even the Starr investigation would defy us when we told them to shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down.  You were on FIRE then, my brother.  $2.7 BILLION. BILL-yun in B.O. over that period.  You had skin in toys, laundry care, and dildos – THAT’S how broad a market you brought us in those days.  So when you decided to start your little sex camp in Indonesia, we covered it up for you.”

“And I still thank you for…”

“When you started dating that 14-year-old girl you called a ‘soul mate’ in Phuket, we helped you adjust your world view and come back to us.  We helped you, didn’t we, Frankie?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, Mr. Sinclair. You did.”

“Your personal worth is just shy of a billion dollars based on three golden hits, a summer film franchise, two holiday film franchises, thirteen industry awards, and you even stared earning honorary degrees!  Kudos, man…though for how long, we’ll see.  You still have respectable merchandising and buzz.  Cameras still follow you around.  We really turned you from another abusive, perverted white man of privilege into a good, yet cryptic man with an edge…a man of mystery and singular vision, but with a heart of gold.  That was the whole point of our 2001 PowerPoint presentation on your re-invention.  You cried at that meeting, I remember.”

“Yeah.  And I really hope you can help me again.”

“Frankie. It is one thing to pay off a bunch of poor Indonesian kids and women.  We disappeared everyone else we had to.  We put your childhood friend – wasshisname -…”

“Billy Peterson.”

“- Billy-fucking-Peterson in jail as the mastermind and practically made you the hero of that story.  We did good work.  And what did we get out of it?”

“I think you…”

Creative bullshit, Frankie.  I mean, you made some of the most memorable films of the ’90s and took home a few dozen more awards in the oughts, but none of their B.O. would crack a cold February Top 10 if Uwe Boll and Kevin Smith were the big releases.  I mean, you went Terry Malic to the extreme.”

“Not fair, Mr. Sinclair.  I kept on the major franchises.  My boxofficemojo cumulative gross is nearly $4 billion.”

“As a legacy producer.  You and Stan Lee can share war stories at ComiCon over that shit.  What did you build and produce new since ’97?  Nada.  You make kinky rom-coms that aren’t funny so you call them ‘art films.’ You get asked on ‘The View’ to talk about feelings to women who now want to cut off your dick and feed it to pigs.  You come to me, after going all Woody Allen with your bullshit knowing full well that being my $3 million-a-year critical darling does not cover the same kind of criminal bullshit that $3 billion box office bitch made almost a protection of one’s investment.”

“I, um, see.”

“(sigh) But you’re our boy, Frankie.  We got a history.  Tell me what you did.”

“Well. What the media is saying isn’t true…”

“The media reports what sells, and I don’t give a fuck what they say. I can change that.  Remember how we, like, own all the prime-time entertainment shows and most of the major “gotcha” web sites?  We let TMZ exist at our leisure.  So, shut the fuck up about the media and tell me the truth.  And remember, I probably know more than you do.”

“I started an actor’s forum for young men and women in Los Angeles. It was to focus on future action stars.”

“Frankie?”

“Y-yes.”

“Do another take and this time, don’t fucking bullshit me.  I’ve got a 14-year-old Disney child star-turned-serial-rapist waiting to talk to me.”

“o-Okay.  My ex-wife and I started a swinger’s club in the L.A. underground.  We started it in 2002 as a casual gathering – kind of a hedonist club.”

“A ‘hedonist club’?”

“Yeah.  There was staged BDSM events and open scenes, but it was all above board, I swear. We even had this awesome nightclub – you know it, you were there a few times!  About, um, 2010 or so, some of us broke off into this private concern where we just were a little more…rambunctious with our submissive members.  Eventually, though, you can’t find people willing to be THAT submissive, even in LA, so we started inviting people in and… paid them to bleed.  Eventually, we started a sort of street clean-up program designed to clear the homeless from the city.  We just thought we would, you know, give back.  One of our founding members owns a few scrap yards and a quarry so we were able to free the city of about…oh I don’t know…a hundred people each year?  We’d all get together, drink some wine and treat these people with the utmost respect.  I swear, they ate better that night than probably their whole lives.  We brought in hookers and got them feeling good, man, and, wow.  They felt like kings and queens.  Even when we started stringing them up and gutting them, some of them thanked us.  Some of us started bringing home personal tributes…”

“‘Tributes’?”

“That’s what they were.  It went both ways.  They thought it was tribute to them, but we knew they were, uhm, not.”

“How so, Frankie?”

“We both know these people out there.  They fuckin’ scream their heads off over people we work with, right?  We know those people. We’ve watched them eat sloppy joes in a cafeteria. We walk in after they take sloppy shits, right?  They’re just people but those fucking idiots think we’re the new modern GODS, right?  So, when we’ve spent a say cleaning up and treating these dumb fuckers to the best day of their lives, we let them think we’re there for them, not the other way-round.”

“I see where you’re going and know where you’re landing, Frankie.  Go on.”

“After a while, some of us created special basement rooms where we just bring home this weak-minded underpass trash and give their shitty lives meaning for an hour before we released them from their lives.”

“Did the larger group know about these private concerns?”

“In general, but after a while, the larger group was more a drag.  When you can bring home a fan or one of those hot little starlets with no self-esteem, you can just do whatever you want.  Sometimes, it isn’t even about killing them.  It can be about altering their minds so they go home to Buttfuck, Utah and join a church choir or some shit.”

“I see.”

“It’s just what we’ve been doing here, right?  I mean, they’re just people and we’re the god-damned business.  How many decades have we just fucked or fucked over whoever we want because the end of the process is a billion-dollar project?  Do you know how many business relationships I built from those Tribute events?  I brought in Travis Wurther to take over the Star Dust franchise.  I secured an international distribution network for films that usually go nowhere after South by Southwest.  I opened doors for this industry in those events, Mr. Sinclair.  They profited Hollywood.  The fucking Hollywood Press went nuts over all that stuff.  We brought ‘culture back to Hollywood’ they said.”

“Because that’s what we fucking told them to say, Frank.”

“What?”

“(sigh) I mean, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your dick inside a man while you’re crushing his skull, but I do know how I might spin that for the man I knew back in the 1990s.  You?  Frank, in Hollywood, you’re the drunk uncle sleeping on my couch.  You bring a little bit of light and laughter to the visit, but you’re asking more than you contribute to the industry.”

“What are you saying, Mr. Sinclair?”

“I’m saying, Frankie, that with every other scandal in mitigation right now, yours is not one we can make go away.  Not entirely.  You made deals with other quasi-powerful parties and we have to handle them, too.  They will fall just as you will.  How far THEY fall will be based on how much we need them.  You had two actors in your little club – the A-Listers who won their OSCARs their first year out for their screenplay – THEY have to live on because they are tied to multi-BILLION-dollar projects.  We’re gonna protect them, Frankie, just like we protected you in Indonesia.”

“And how are you gonna protect me?”

“Don’t worry. We’re not going to Billy Peterson you. We know you’re weak and have too many secrets.”

“But?”

Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E! News Now…the big ones, are going to run a story tomorrow night that will be the result of a six-month internal investigation. It’s really just a narrative I had three interns write up this morning at Starbucks.  Want to hear it?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  Once upon a time there was a murder cult in Los Angeles run by a German financier named Travis Wurther.  He may have had ties to the Russians, we don’t know.  Anyway…’award-winning director Franklin Toccin was implicated as a member of Wurther’s murder cult where a dozen Los Angelinos were abducted, drugged and murdered over 8 years in secret cult rituals.  Upon learning of this revelation, Toccin’s ex-wife, Dorothy, apparently committed suicide and Toccin, himself…remains at large.  Toccin, who was once implicated in a 1990s sex cult, is thought to be at-large in that region of the world.  Interpol has re-opened the investigation into the cult upon receiving new evidence that Toccin and Wurther were both in league to create that cult long before the L.A. murders took place.’

“What?”

Actors Shane DeMost and Bannon Arnsten, close associates of Toccin -and OSCAR winning writers of their smash debut film ‘Happy Bill Benton’ recorded their shock and disgust at the evidence.  Several witnesses and accomplices are coming forward and who knows what they will say.

“…”

“You sure got a tight grip on those chair arms, Frankie.  Look, this has never been about being moral or personal or just. This is about US…the business.  You thought you were invincible.  I get it.  But, it’s really about us.  You, my friend, are our tribute.  I’m giving you passage to Indonesia.  If you survive the trip, I suggest staying low.  I hear Wurther’s Q-Scores were a little higher and his meeting with me is about an hour from now.  Good day, sir.”

Harvey Weinstein & His Millions of Accomplices

I really hate entertainment news. When I was younger, it was the only place you could get those behind the scenes and sneak previews of movies and television shows. It was worth sitting through the story-within-the stories of personalities and celebrities, their mating habits and shopping agendas.

The job of the Hollywood “fixer” has changed much over the decades. Back in the golden age, each studio had a few people on hand to protect their image from entertainment reporters. Actors and executives would engage in “scandalous” behaviors of all types and the fixer would make the story go away somehow.

The idea was that the stars of Hollywood were just as much a fiction as the characters they played. Stars were marketed with a certain mystique and character designed to appeal to the masses. They were larger than life, glamorous, handsome, and articulate. They were sexy, brilliant, and ultimately either relate-able or to be worshiped.  If you love the actor, you’ll spend money on the movie or tune in to their new show. You’ll buy a magazine to read their story and follow their fairy tale wedding in the papers. So long as the studio protected that image from real life bleeding through in reports of drunken fights, rape allegations, or unpopular sympathies, the revenue stream will flow.

These days, publicists and managers work with entertainment media to control stories and make deals to protect the higher-level stakeholders by throwing them tasty stories about drunken debauchery, infidelity, or perversion among the lesser-ranks. The principle is the same, except we come to expect a level of “scandal” from our celebrities. Divorces are terrible, sad affairs (but still sell papers). We have celebrities who are famous because they are rich and beautiful, exhibiting the perfect blend of style and stupidity that makes them the subject of public debate. As moral and decent as we want to seem as a culture, we revel in their antics. We tune in for every “housewives” restaurant throw-down. We’ll forgive a star’s drunk driving record if her Q-Score sustains its entertainment value and profitability.

Even TMZ.com, a company that prides itself on showing celebrities as they “really are” with an emphasis on scandal and schadenfreude, knows its limits. It won’t risk its access to studios over a Harvey Weinstein, but will happily take out Weinstein’s trash when a celebrity runs afoul of him.

When these powerful players are “discovered” the Entertainment Media frames the story as new and shocking revelations. This is a lie. A story like Weinstein’s wasn’t just discovered. Someone shifted the power structure in the industry to make it less of a risk to take on Weinstein than continue hiding the truth in the interest of self-preservation.
For how many years was Bill Cosby an alleged sexual predator? So many he was still wearing those god-awful sweaters and sucking on pudding pops. But for many of those years, Cosby was a gate-keeper to success, especially for African-Americans. He was a profit machine and a powerful partner to have. Associating with one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful in Hollywood” was currency in the realm of entertainment. Quashing rumors and paying off victims was profitable. However, once the stories came out and the lawsuits were filed, all those loyal business partners began to “discover” the truth. Suddenly the machine that kept Cosby safe and his image clean began destroying him and anyone who dared support him or deny his behavior.
Cosby is an old man who will likely not outlive this shame. But other celebrities will. And have.

When the Entertainment News machine declares a celebrity dead, they’re usually just in celebrity rehab. If they are rich enough and retain just enough power or public support, they can make a comeback regardless of how horrible their sins may be. It all comes down to what’s profitable. If the public is willing to overlook terrible, criminal behavior, a monster can again become a hero.

Mel Gibson was “ruined’ years ago over a vile, racist and anti-Semitic outburst during a traffic stop. After a few years, he sits among the A-Listers in Hollywood and plays a supporting role in this Christmas’ feel-good comedy film.

Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist but also a wife abuser, and bit off a man’s ear on pay-per-view. He has a cartoon show and was a big part of the original “Hangover” film.

Actors continue to work with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Proudly.

Donald Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape was a proud endorsement of rape culture by a man who is now the leader of the free god-damned world.

The fact that there are those among you who will defend the people I mentioned is proof that there is no sin, no atrocity that cannot be excused if the public can be persuaded that being entertained or otherwise distracted is possible and profitable.

Here’s the part we don’t think about.
None of these monsters acted alone. The only way they could act with impunity is by having willing accomplices who are either working directly to quiet accusers or intimidate witnesses or those associates who know but choose to remain silent.

Do you really think that Harvey Weinstein’s closest friends and associates didn’t know? Why aren’t they sharing in this shame? Do they really get a pass when they tweet how “shocked” they are at the revelations? Perhaps they do because we can stomach destroying one monster but destroying the mechanism that kept it preying on people is too hard for us. Or perhaps it’s the Entertainment News machine’s choice to frame the story as a lone wolf predator so that other valuable stars and players can continue generating profits?

And then there is “entertainment journalism” with its legions of insiders and informants.  These are the people who clue the paparazzi on where to catch Kanye and Kim having dinner but also when the right celebrity punched a guy but didn’t pay enough to keep everybody quiet about it.

This is what makes me angry about Entertainment News. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a beast. So long as you’re a profitable beast and your professional success feeds enough others, your sins are not news. You are protected. The talking heads and the career journalists know who they are protecting right now and they will cover the charity functions and ask who the stars are wearing and what it means to them to support such amazing causes, all the while knowing that when the cameras stop rolling the predator’s hunt will resume.

Epix series “Get Shorty” doesn’t “get” Leonard, but that’s okay.

[SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 8]

I’ve been watching the Epix series “Get Shorty” which claims to be based on Elmore Leonard’s book and the Barry Sonnenfeld film adaptation.  While there’s enough overlap in the basic story about an underworld figure who wants to go legit in the film business, it capitalizes more on the title and the brand recognition than the flavor of the book or movie.

It is a compelling drama with just enough crossover with the original plot to make it seem derivative if the show didn’t cop to the title, but there is so much difference that it makes the connection to the source material distracting and prevents a great story from standing entirely on its own.

“Get Shorty” doesn’t feel like an Elmore Leonard book.  It does not look like a Barry Sonnenfeld film.   It is something new and fresh and worthy of its own identity as a well-crafted hardboiled crime series.

As a parody of Hollywood, it succeeds on some levels and is genuinely funny.  When Miles Daly literally fumbles his way into the business, his success can only be attributed to dumb luck and weak opposition.  While Miles comes from a sinister and dangerous underworld, I cannot believe that the film business is so virginal and clueless that its power players wouldn’t be prepared for the kind of threats and coercion he attempts.  Nothing Miles achieves is the result of being a shrewd manipulator and much of the conflict derives from the risk of his precarious construct of lies imploding at any moment.

Here is a scene that comes close to the Sonnenfeld style and it defines the hero’s struggle even though the man pitching it had no idea he’s actually talking about himself.

From here, the idealism and the fantasy make way for a different kind of show.

The film (which I distinguish from its sequel “Be Cool”) is a stylish, energetic, and funny mob story that flips a lot of noir and thriller tropes.  Travolta actually connects with this character and is entirely engaging as Chili Palmer.  The rest of the cast carries the story along with a skillful balance of serious conflict and almost cartoonish violence.

Example:

The book follows this pattern and style.

Very little of this visual style, musical foundation or storytelling is evident in the Epix version.  Chili Palmer is a smart, self-motivated enforcer for a Miami loan syndicate.  He is largely an independent operator, applying his own moral code to situations.  He doesn’t have a problem with violence, but he isn’t a killer.  He has a job to do and reconciles this with the fact that people have failed to uphold their contract with his employers and are aware of the consequences.  Nonetheless, he uses his skills to negotiate and collect on his accounts – he isn’t a killer.

Miles Daly is an Irish mob enforcer working for a drug lord.  He and his partner execute rivals, collect debts and payments, and “clean” crime scenes.  Daly is good at his job and loyal to his employer, Amara – the drug queenpin of Arizona.  He despises the people he works with, not because he questions the nature of their work or is in some existential crisis about being in his job, but because they are all assholes and he’s in a dead-end position.  There is no humanity glossing over the gritty and bloody reality of their work.  Despite a pleasant Irish brogue and an everyman charm, Miles is a career killer and unrepentant criminal.  He may well be a high-functioning sociopath.

Example:

The thing about Chili Palmer is that he sees that a lot of his skills lend themselves to success in the film industry.  Sure, he uses threats and intimidation, but more often sees a way to mutually beneficial outcomes.   He’s a deal-maker and someone who builds coalitions.  He protects secrets and has a very practical outlook on how to succeed, long term, in a greedy, power-driven industry.  We root for him to win and find a sort of redemption in a legitimate business.

A problem for this series and its protagonist is that Miles Daly commits horrible acts to achieve his goals.  He remains amoral and selfish in his goals.  He doesn’t realize that his one path out of crime brings the criminal world along with him and he stands aghast at how these worlds collide with complications at every turn.  None of this represents an arc toward redemption because his coercion of people is temporary.  Even if their shared goal of making “The Admiral’s Mistress” a blockbuster film is achieved, it doesn’t mean that the people he has harmed won’t turn on him to protect themselves in the future.

Chili Palmer uses charm and persuasion to win over enemies and build relationships.  Miles literally steals a script from a delinquent client he helps murder and dispose of before blackmailing a Hollywood producer into making his movie, physically assaulting and threatening a line producer to approve its budget, and beat the hell out of an acting teacher who dared tell his precious daughter she wasn’t Hollywood material.

Miles Daly is charming, no more so when dealing with his family. His estranged wife and daughter are improbably suburban and blissfully ignorant of Miles’ “work” for Amara’s crime family.  Given how battered and bloody Miles gets in the first few episodes, Miles would have had to tell his wife he’s an underground fighter to explain the occupational hazards of his line.  Miles’ entire motivation is to keep his family together.  This is supposed to be his struggle as he creates this new life for himself.  However, rather than seeing this as his real self struggling through a lifetime of doing bad things, his relationship with his family feels like a powerful illusion he has created for himself, a mirage of happiness and stability the he needs to make him feel superior to his contemporaries among Amara’s gang.

Miles brings his equally amoral partner, Louis, along to Hollywood as an accomplice.  Louis poses as the author of the screenplay that becomes the center of the action despite the fact that Louis can barely read much less write a period romance script.  Louis is quickly relegated to Miles’ enforcer, tying up the threads that inevitably unravel as a result of stealing the script.  Louis is an interesting character who professes a strict Mormon faith (no drinking, no premarital sex) but many of his scenes are shot looking up from the grave he is digging for one of his victims.  He has a clear life-work firewall that begins to fail as Louis meets an agent at church and begins to demand more for himself out of the con.  In an ideal structure, Louis would represent the life that Miles is trying to escape and perhaps the final obstacle to that freedom.  Here, Miles and Louis are indistinguishable and the latter enables Miles to achieve his goals by doing the dirty work Miles no longer wants to do (but would no doubt do to achieve his ends).

All this to say that – if you tune in expecting to hear a snappy soundtrack or crisp dialogue driving a story about a well-intentioned thug with a heart of gold – you’re in for a disappointment.  However, this is a great show.

This may seem like much ado about an author or a filmmaker, but that source material is essential to the both artist’s singular expression.  Sonnenfeld’s approach was certainly brighter and less cynical than Leonard’s original, but there is none of the wit or “cool” that made the material fun.  It is as if someone took a great loose bio-pic about John Wayne Gacey and decided to call it “Stephen King’s ‘IT’”.

This is a gritty, sometimes sad tale of flawed characters in a hardboiled noir style with an excellent cast and fantastic storytelling.  By itself, this is compelling television storytelling.  Even the minor characters are memorable but not because they come from Leonard’s imagination.

Like the director Rick Moreweather (a passing nod to original schlock director Harry Zimm from the book) the series lives in the shadow of its better-known progenitor and will struggle harder to establish its own voice as a result.  Moreweather’s story of finding success and its cost on him as a son and a father is fascinating.  The young actor Lyle who sells body as a way into the movie business is a pathetic, but still captivating story to follow as his fate seems linked to Louis and Miles.  Amara’s right-hand and nephew Yago presents a wild card of impulsive irresponsibility and a desperate need for his aunt’s affection and his mood swings could upset the entire plot at any moment.  Even the characters without developed stories light up scenes, making it shocking when you expect them to play important roles in the plot only to end up on the wrong side of Miles or Louis’ needs.

Amara and her cartel are depicted as complex characters who have a reason to be in the world they’ve built.  Amara’s romantic core is explored to some degree and we have to wonder what kind of life she might have lived if her parents hadn’t sold her to a husband for livestock.

In all, there are elements that recall Chandler, Lansdale, and even Tarantino’s writing.  Visually, there is a lack of flash or style that marks Sonnenfeld’s films.  Visually, it is relatively uninspired.  Compare some of the slick camera work in 1995’s film to the standard three-shot set-ups in any given episode, barring the occasional action shot and Dutch angle.  There’s little in the way of visual symbolism in the camera, though the locations and sets seem to put some effort into setting the tone of a scene.

I’m pleased to know there will be a second season to this show.  It needs time to find its own voice. Through the meta-drama of “The Admiral’s Mistress” I hope its success or failure help those characters – and the show – learn to stand on their own.

Health Care versus iPhone? Seriously?

That’s an over-simplification for simple-minded fools, credit-shackled middle class residents who think they are somehow superior to the poor because they can be in debt for houses and assets worth ten times their annual income or more.

This isn’t a sob story.  This is real life.  I own all of it and acknowledge that MY situation was better than a lot of other people struggling day to day and paycheck to paycheck.

In the 1990s, I worked a full time job that had shitty health insurance options. This was because it targeted employment to young, single people who cared more about money in pocket than their health. I know this because I was a manager and lost good, mature workers for that specific reason. They were mortified that they paid a large percentage of their wages on insurance and STILL had a high co-pay and limited options.

This is called “ACCESS” to health case. Technically, you have the ability to be covered but the company that controls those decisions has done such a cheap and poor job that major illnesses and injuries may as well not be covered.  It’s the kind of half-assed truth that Congress uses to claim that they’ve done something while the reality proves otherwise.  I can have “access” to a water fountain, but if I have to swipe a credit card to run the water for ten seconds,  how many people will go without?

Many years later, my stepson would have an accident that required the negotiation of FOUR insurance companies which battled over who would pay for what in a bill that ultimately crossed into seven figures.  Without insurance (or multiple coverage) the question asked of us wouldn’t be so simple as “health care or cell phone” but “how much is his life worth to you?  How much is his brain function? Ability to walk?”

Are those options available on the iPhone 8?

But back to my younger life:

I was content with my employment because I needed a paycheck more than great health insurance and because my son was covered by other plans. It was more important for me to make rent, day care, child support, utilities, student loan payments, car maintenance and insurance, and food which were real bills at the time. I didn’t choose between health care and an iPhone. I still had to juggle bills. I still had to make payment arrangements with utilities to avoid shut-offs. I STILL had to buy cheap, processed food instead of fresh. I couldn’t afford reliable transportation to get to work, much less a decent set of wheels.

Hell, at one point my co-pay was $50 and Amoxicillin set me back $25. Bronchitis also cost me three days work for a total of $350, give or take.

And if you think a work site accident and worker’s comp is just an ATM transaction to complete, you’re sadly mistaken.

When the only vehicle you can afford is ten years old, inspection time can be a financial nightmare.  A blown tire is bad enough.  But a simple fix to a problem “deep inside the engine” can cost more than the car’s value and put you on a bus schedule for an extended period.  That’s fine if you don’t need to get your kids to day care on one side of town before heading to work on the other.

While the rich and poor pay the same for a loaf of bread and a gallon of gas, the more expensive operating expenses of life cost more to the poor than the rich. Per square foot, it is more expensive to rent than own a home. It is more expensive to finance a car, maintain it, or manage a credit account.  Check out those small car dealers downtown.  Sometimes they don’t advertise the price of the car, they advertise that their 10 year-old Chevy is ONLY $2,500 DOWN on a $5,000 ride worth just south of $3,000.

I spent more on things because of bad credit. (A $600 couch retail is $1100 rent-to-own) I was denied access to better, cheaper housing because of my payment history. When I finally rebuild my credit to qualify for an unsecured card IN THIS CENTURY I paid loan shark interest rates just to prove myself worthy of having a credit life raft for future emergencies. For a long time I resented being punished for “harming” billion dollar corporations while trying to do the right thing for myself and my family — ALL WHILE BEING EMPLOYED FULL TIME.

Oh, the day I deposited a five-figure 401K payout (six years invested) I took to cover my unemployment was the only day I ever had a bank manager smile and welcome me to their institution. She was unaware that she already knew me as a very angry customer who – months earlier – practically begged her to restore $750 stolen from my checking account before rent and day care checks hit and not make me ask my family for loans to cover the week it would take them to restore the funds to my account.

A lot of people in this country are broke on the same day they’re paid, not because of their digital addictions, but because the system takes as much as it can based on what higher, two income families can afford. I fought my way out of it with the help of generous friends and family. But there were bad times in the past ten years that had nothing to do with making bad decisions between necessities and luxuries.

Take it from someone who stood on the outside of a young man’s battle with a catastrophic, yet all-too-common injury that cost more than a million dollars to treat. There is no “monthly payment arrangement” that works in such a situation. Where insurance doesn’t cover the weeks of surgery, ICU care, and rehabilitation, there is only debt. Where insurance stops, so too does the “cosmetic” and “elective” treatments designed to make a person whole again. Without insurance you’ll lose a metric shit-ton more than just a god damned cell phone. You can lose your life, the life of a loved one, and/or destroy your financial future.

Anyone who thinks the choice between a NEED and a WANT is why the poor are poor has a crippling lack of understanding about the realities of living in America where life is based on the acquisition of STUFF and feeding the all-powerful corporations that make it.

Available as an eBook February 28th!

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He didn’t think he could win his fight against cancer.  He did.

But the victory only returned him to a world of boredom, obligation, and betrayal; a suburban drone at another point in a connect-the-dots life having left behind his passions and dreams.  His oldest, dearest friend dead and his wife a distant echo of the woman he married, Winston Casey looks for some way to escape and make his second chance a meaningful one.

Unknown to Winston, his old friend set in motion a great adventure – not just a game, but a quest with real world consequences and real people in need of rescue from a dark power secluded in a dark realm of excess and greed — The Realm Aeternus.

Charged with this quest, Winston travels to Las Vegas and a role-playing resort for gamers in a MMORPG who have grown rich in the real world from their ventures and who enjoy pleasures that seem outside the jurisdiction of reality.  Aided by an enslaved barbarian queen, a troubled woman from his past, and a bad-ass detective, Winston embraces his charge – to avenge his friend’s death and complete his quest to expose and destroy the global conspiracy of billionaire entertainer Alan Horus.

With Russian gangsters, exotic locations, virtual worlds of peril and a real world of danger, The Resurrection Pact is the first installment of a trilogy pitting the gamer geek James Bond against the Stavro Blofeld of the gaming industry.

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