Saturday, March 30, 2024

Return to the Planet of the Apes: "Terror on Ice Mountain" (1975)

In the Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975) episode “Terror on Ice Mountain,” Cornelius unearths a dangerous book at his latest archaeological dig in the Forbidden Zone.  The book is so dangerous because it was created pre-catastrophe by intelligent humans, and titled A Day at the Zoo.  Inside the book, pictures depict intelligent humans looking at primitive apes in cages…

Zira and Cornelius realize that if Urko should find this book, he would possess just the evidence he needs to wipe out the planet’s humanoids.  

Even as Urko petitions the council to search the chimpanzees’ laboratory for signs they are collaborating with the humanoids, Zira and Cornelius reach out to Jeff and Bill for help disposing of the offending text.

Cornelius tells the human astronauts that he has also discovered the blueprints to a hot air balloon, and needs their help constructing and flying the device.  He plans to take the book A Day at the Zoo to the peak of Mount Gar, where it will be buried and thus hidden until such time as Ape City is wise enough to receive the truth about the planet's history.

Bill and Cornelius launch the hot air balloon, but run afoul of a deadly storm, and the great creature “Kigor,” “God of the Mountain Apes…

I’m not actually certain why, but “Terror on Ice Mountain” is the episode of Return to the Planet of the Apes that I most clearly remember from my own childhood.  I must have been five-years old when I saw it during its first broadcast, but elements of the episode still stand-out, particularly the hot-air balloon and the giant ape.  In fact, I suspect that the giant ape is what really caught my eye, since at that age I was a crazy King Kong fan, and obsessed with everything Kong-related.

Without the warm-glow of nostalgia shining upon it, however, “Terror on Ice Mountain” isn’t one of the more dynamic episodes of this animated series, at least so far.  The episode starts strong with the discovery of the dangerous book (and the idea that, in some societies, knowledge is dangerous.).  

But then, once the hot-air balloon takes off the audience is treated to endless minutes of the craft being buffeted in the storm.  It’s almost as if the episode ran short, and needed padding to round out the half-hour.  The blizzard seems to go on forever.

At episode’s end, Cornelius and Bill encounter not just a giant ape, but those who worship it...beings who are rather like the Tibetan Monks of the Planet of the Apes.  Thus, a second ape society is introduced to the series, and one less hostile to the idea of intelligent man (and the truth).  This aspect of "Terror on Ice Mountain" makes me wonder if there are other ape cities or cultures throughout this world, and if they are all as paranoid and hostile as the one where Zira and Cornelius dwell.

40 Years Ago: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

First things first. Director Hugh Hudson's cinematic follow-up to his Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire (1981), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) is not particularly faithful to the events depicted in his source material, Edgar Rice Burrough's 1914 novel, Tarzan of the Apes.

For instance, in this 27-million dollar movie adaptation, Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) does not meet Jane Porter (Andie MacDowell) in the jungle; nor return for her later in the United States; in Baltimore, and then Wisconsin, specifically.

The film also largely omits Tarzan's varied (sometimes playful) interactions with a local village/tribe in Africa, plus his attempts to learn to read English himself.

And the film's climax -- in which Tarzan returns to the jungle, leaving Jane behind (ostensibly forever...) -- is also not exactly canonical; though it can certainly be rationalized in movie terms, since everyone involved in the production was no doubt thinking/hoping "sequel."

Importantly, however, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, does, in very welcome fashion, get at the human "truth" of the popular, often-told Tarzan story. Specifically, the film offers a realistic and believable excavation of that which Burroughs first imagined: the story of an orphaned human boy raised by apes in the wild, and his interactions with so-called human civilization.

If the Richard Donner Superman: The Movie of 1978 was all about "you'll believe a man can fly," then this careful, painstaking iteration of Tarzan is, perhaps, "you'll believe a man can swing on a vine."

And actually, that's no small achievement.

Over the long decades, the silver screen Tarzan has been involved in the hunt for gold (Tarzan's Secret Treasure [1941]), battled Nazis (Tarzan Triumphs [1943]) and faced down evil cults (Tarzan and the Leopard Woman [1946]). 

By deliberate contrast, Greystoke is a back-to-basics approach, focusing on the man and his identity rather than the pulp-styled enemies or cliffhanger challenges the character so often faces.

Crafted with meticulous care -- with talented actors, gorgeous locations and Rick Baker's still-impressive ape make-up -- Greystoke was widely welcomed in theaters in 1984 as "one of the best movies" of the year. Joseph Gelmis wrote in Newsday (March 30, 1984, page 7) that it is a "serious movie, a thinking man's Tarzan. It is also ravishingly beautiful, provocative" and "profoundly moving."

Much of that "profoundly moving" part arises from the considerable efforts of Christopher Lambert, an actor who is, in many ways at his absolute finest here. I also admire Johnny Weissmuller, one of Lambert's more prominent predecessors in the role of Tarzan, but Weissmuller's interpretation was a product of a different, more artificial/theatrical age in movie history. Weissmuller was a sort of muscle-bound body-builder-type, which today seems wrong for Tarzan. He was also a bit too clean-shaven and civilized to seem a believable man of the jungle.

Greystoke knowingly adopts a more natural approach, and Lambert is absolutely believable as an animalistic figure, one almost constantly in motion. His Tarzan is a creature of instinct, curiosity, and barely-contained energy. Lambert doesn't look like a body builder, either. His Tarzan is a lean, strong man who has flourished in the wild, sustained by that which nature provides. 

And much of Lambert's focused performance -- the character's sense of cunning and intelligence -- arises in his penetrating eyes. Lamberts' eyes are like lasers here, targeting objects and, in an instant, assessing them as threats or non-threats. Lambert also carries all of the character's emotional pain in his eyes, and at times, this is a powerful choice. It's an accomplished performance.

Jack Kroll in Newsweek described Lambert's Tarzan well, (March 26, 1984, page 74), calling him "a supple, feral creature, not an over-muscled hulk, whose animal grace becomes a human virtue and whose eyes, piercing but gentle, shows a keenness and clarity that over-civilized senses have lost."

This description really nails the Tarzan persona of Greystoke. Tarzan is not a super-human "hero" in any way, though he boasts the survival skills of his adopted family, the apes. Instead, the movie finds the character's vulnerable, human core.

Much of what Greystoke dramatizes is, in effect, Tarzan's sense of powerlessness in the face of mortality. 

As a baby, he is unable to prevent the death of his biological parents, the noble Claytons. 

As a teen in the jungle, he loses his ape mother, Kala, and is again. powerless to prevent death. 

Finally, upon return to civilization, Tarzan loses his kindly grandfather (Ralph Richardson) and even his ape father, who has been shipped to London to be studied. 

Thus life for Tarzan, as depicted in this film, is but a series of terrible losses; grief experienced and re-experienced.

This viewpoint, I submit, helps to explain Tarzan's final choice to return to the jungle at the film's climax. When life is so short, when death lurks around every corner, we cling to "home," to the place that helps us remember those loved ones that we've lost. For Tarzan, that place of happier memories is the jungle.

Unlike many Tarzan adventures of the silver screen, Greystoke also focuses explicitly on the differences between man's "modern" world and the primitive ape world of the jungle. Howard Kissel, writing a review in Women's Wear Daily (March 28, 1984, page 27), noted that Burroughs' book was written "when Darwinism and its social implications were still a dominant intellectual force." 

He goes on to suggest that "the book was aware of man's dual nature - simultaneously primitive and civilized." 

Greystoke gets at this point ably. It spends a little over half its running time in the jungle, as Tarzan ascends to the leadership of a local ape tribe, and about an hour in staid England, where instinct is derided and manners are treated as a paramount consideration.

Here's the difference as I see it: In the ape world, nobody tried to control Tarzan. Or if they did...he confronted and dominated (or even killed) them. In England, Tarzan becomes a pawn of sorts, one who is supposed to "represent" something, perhaps, like the innate superiority of man over beast. "You must overturn what has happened to you," Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) suggests. at one point. But Tarzan isn't interested in being a case study. He doesn't need to be "greater than the accident of his childhood," or a triumph of the "Imperial Science."

On the contrary, Tarzan is "what the jungle has made him" and just wants to be free 

As much as Tarzan loves and admires his grandfather, he knows that the land is not his to "sell" or "keep." His wisdom is different from the conventional wisdom of Darwin's England, and this also makes him a perpetual outsider.

The duality of Tarzan 's nature -- part man/part ape -- is often expressed in Greystoke through shots involving a mirror (or a reflection). "Mirror" is one of the first English words Tarzan learns, for instance. 

Early in the film, while sitting lakeside with another ape, Tarzan also spies his own reflection in the water and can detect, for the first time, how different he is from those around him. Later, he discovers the hut where his parents died and -- again -- gazes into a mirror, expressing a half-remembered familiarity with the alien world of human civilization.

Finally, when Tarzan courts Jane, Hudson shoots almost the entire scene inside the frame of a mirror, in a reflection. 
he inference is that by accepting Jane, by loving her, Tarzan fully enters the world of civilization, perhaps. 

There's a subtle message about human relationships here, as well. Jane loves Tarzan because he is not like the mannered buttoned-down men of the aristocracy, the men who are all around her. And yet, still, she wants to change him. As much as she admires him for what he is, she knows that in this state he is not an acceptable husband. Eventually, in a scene showcasing the nobility of women, Jane chooses Tarzan's happiness over her own.

Greystoke is made with great care and love (from a script by Robert Towne, under a pseudonym). For example, I admire the beautiful book-end views of the jungle that open/close the film, a reminder that the life of Tarzan -- indeed all our lives -- is but a blip in the life of the Earth. 

The ape-suits by Rick Baker hold up remarkable well today, nearly thirty-years after the film's production. And the performances are particularly strong, with Lambert providing a strong, sympathetic anchor. Richardson and Holm also do great work, creating very sympathetic "father figures" for Tarzan.

But two aspects of the film may prove troubling to some. The first is a technical issue. Andie MacDowell (playing Jane) is dubbed throughout the entire film by Glenn Close. Every time the young character speaks, there's an emotional disconnect between MacDowell's youthful appearance and Close's line readings. You can just tell something is off, and this fact diminishes the relationship between Jane and Tarzan in some critical, under-the-surface fashion. American accent or no American accent, MacDowell's line readings should have stayed in the film. Americans Kevin Costner (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Keanu Reeves (Bram Stoker's Dracula) and Julia Roberts (Mary Reilly) have all played British characters and were not dubbed in their roles, and MacDowell deserves the same courtesy.

Secondly, Greystoke seems to go out of its way to not include or verbalize the name "Tarzan" in relation to Lambert's character. He is called Clayton, Jack, or simply Greystoke. I understand why this decision was made. It's another attempt to distance the character from his pulpy movie past and make this film a serious, believable interpretation of the legend. But Tarzan must be can't hide his name any more than you can hide the name "Superman" (like Man of Steel attempted...) or "Batman." This movie very much wants to be about who Greystoke is -- his very identity -- and yet the name Tarzan ("White Skin") is a crucial part of that identity. The movie should have taken the name back for Tarzan, not ignored it.

My feeling about Greystoke is that it is a great first movie in a franchise that, unfortunately, never arrived. 

The movie accomplishes the difficult task of taking Tarzan's world seriously; of making the character and his environs believable and authentic to a degree never before seen. I just wish there had been a second film in the franchise, one which captured a little more of the pulp; a little more of the adventurous spirit of the Tarzan stories we know from our pop culture. Rex Reed wrote In The New York Post (March 30, 1984, page 39) that Greystoke boasts "lavish detail," "opulent sets and splendid canvases of Scottish life on the heath" but "the second half resembles all too often a boring Masterpiece Theater production on Public Broadcasting."

I wouldn't go that far, perhaps. 

Greystoke is a lush and enchanting character piece that gazes at the beating heart of Tarzan. It succeeds on those grounds. But I too -- particularly as the movie rounded out its second hour -- wished for a little more excitement, a little more action

After all, what's the point of being the Lord of the Jungle if you can't rescue Jane from a few perils like quick sand, giant snakes, or rampaging elephant? Right?

Greystoke remains a gorgeous and powerful movie, featuring perhaps one of the greatest Tarzans in film history (thanks to Christopher Lambert's performance.)  Yet when its over, you do wish the movie had also let Greystoke be the Tarzan of our popular imagination, at least for a little while.

I also would have enjoyed, I guess I'm saying, seeing a sequel with Lambert's Tarzan...fighting Nazis, Ant-Men and unearthing golden cities.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

My Father's Journal, Epilogue: "My Cancer"

My friends, we have reached the final entry in my father’s journal of his battle with cancer.  


I want to thank all the readers who have commented and read his thoughts these last few weeks. 


I have shown my dad all your responses, and words, and they have meant the world to him. 


To know that his thoughts have meaning, and are valued by others, has been a real lift for him during this terrible fight.  


We both, humbly, thank you all. He wishes you all well!



My Cancer


By Ken Muir


I have long watched this train wend its way across the prairie. At times only the engine’s curling smoke is visible, as the train dives out of view into a valley or ravine. At other times the entire conveyance is visible above ground, working its way toward me as I stand on the platform of this small, lonely station.


Moments ago the locomotive rounded a final bend, its great yellow headlamp glaring. It surges into the station, dwarfing me with its bulk and noise. The engineer leans forward, pulls a lever, and vents steam all around with a hideous shriek.


Flinty-eyed, he looks down at me….”Your ride is here…”

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Return to the Planet of the Apes: "Lagoon of Peril" (1975)

In this week’s episode of the Saturday morning animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes, the Ape war machine (under Urko’s command), ramps-up for the “all-out” destruction of the humanoids.  

The ape media doesn’t help quell this strategy for genocide, and reports an invasion of the planet of the apes by intelligent “aliens” -- really the human astronauts, Bill and Jeff. A kind of mass panic spreads through the simian capital, and now Zaius must agree to go with Urko to the Forbidden Zone to discern the truth.  He’s not very happy about that. And yes, this aspect of the story very much mirrors events depicted in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).

The astronauts, meanwhile, return to the lagoon in the Forbidden Zone where their capsule originally went down. They attempt to dive to the bottom of the body of water, and salvage the equipment they need, including their laser drill. Unfortunately, their time is short. Urko’s army is on the march, and if his soldiers see the astronaut’s spaceship, the apes will commit genocide for certain. The astronauts must self-destruct their ship and let no sign remain, lest the apes learn the truth.

There’s a bit of narrative muddle in “Lagoon of Peril” that deserves mentioning.

The Ape City prepares to go to all-out war to eliminate any intelligent humanoids. Yet when the Ape army is confronted with the illusions of the Under Dwellers in the Forbidden Zone – including a floating skull that belches fire -- they dismiss these phantasms as being the work of the Under Dwellers.  So the apes accept the presence of Under Dwellers nearby, but not the possibility of intelligent humans?  They’ll settle for having illusion-creating mutants as neighbors, but not one or two normal humans?

I don’t really understand the thinking there, I confess.  It seems to me that the Under Dwellers provide the very proof the Apes seek of an intelligent (and hostile) “humanoid” country near their borders.  They should be Urko’s target.

Like last week’s show, there is an outbreak of out-and-out fantasy here, in “Lagoon of Peril,” as Bill and Jeff’s attempt to retrieve the laser drill is impeded by a giant, squawking sea dragon.  

Nova calls the beast “Ohoya,” but any way you slice it, the monster is a fanciful creation, and one that doesn’t seem entirely at home (like the giant sewer spider last week) in the hard science-fiction Apes saga.  Both the spider and the sea monster seem like flagrant instances of hedging bets on the part of the producer, to make certain that their series appeals to younger children.  Talking apes and discussions of morality are nice, but there’s nothing like squawking sea monster to hold the attention, right?

“Lagoon of Peril” ends with the apes convinced that their borders are safe, though again, how the apes came to this conclusion – especially after enduring the hostile visions of the Under Dwellers – is a bit of a mystery. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

50 Years Ago: Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)

Released briefly in the United States as Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster before changing its title to Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster after the rights-holders of the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman franchise complained, this film is more widely known by the title Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla.

Here, there’s a significant air of mystery as the kaiju action commences. Godzilla begins acting in uncharacteristically destructive, violent and evil fashion, even attacking a friend from Monster Island, the spiky Anguirus.

But it is soon revealed that evil aliens who appear human but are really simian in nature (think Planet of the Apes…) are behind the attack, using an impostor Godzilla -- the robotic MechaGodzilla -- and hoping to conquer the Earth.  

In this case, Godzilla requires the assistance of King Caesar -- a kind of glowing dog/bat kaiju who has slumbered for generations inside a mountain cave on Okinawa -- to defeat the aliens’ “ultimate weapon!”

Okinawan prophecy, re-counted by the descendants of the royal family of Azumi Castle, foretells of a day when a black mountain will appear, the sun shall rise in the west, and two monsters will rise to defeat a grave threat to humanity. 

The symbols of this prophecy begin to come true in the late 20th century when aliens “from the third planet of the black hole, outer space” land on Earth, and launch their cyborg, Mecha-Godzilla from their underground base.  

Godzilla rises from the sea to stop his merciless and malevolent duplicate, but fails on the first attempt.  

Now, Princess Nami (Lin) must sing a song from ancient Azumi history to wake the great King Caesar from his longer slumber, to join forces with Godzilla and save the world.

Although King Caesar looks a bit like a Muppet gone mad, Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster introduces one of the great villains of the Godzilla canon: the giant robot, Mecha-Godzilla.  This silver titan can shoot missiles from its finger tips, and fire beams of energy that ravage Godzilla.

Given the robot’s impressive arsenal, perhaps it is not surprising that this is an especially gory installment of the long-lived saga.  

For example, in one scene red blood veritably fountains out of Godzilla’s neck as Mecha-Godzilla attacks.  

In another scene, two aliens take bullets to the head, and greed fluid bursts out of their wounds.  In keeping with this more savage tone, the evil alien leader is absolutely merciless in nature, ordering his giant cyborg, at one point, to “beat Godzilla to death!” rather than merely destroy him. 

So the stakes are pretty high in the film, and again, one feels while watching it that -- again, it’s almost like a 1970s James Bond film. It comes replete with an evil-talking villain who loquaciously shares his plans, and reveals his secret subterranean headquarters.  There are also the requisite action sequences. In this case, Godzilla somehow transforms himself into a “magnetic pole” during battle, and attracts Mecha-Godzilla to his scales.  That’s a new one.  

Similarly, there’s an “imposter” Godzilla in the film’s opening, a reflection of certain Bond tropes seen in series entries such as From Russia with Love (1963) and The Man with The Golden Gun (1974).

Although this film is not as strong as Godzilla vs. Hedorah since it lacks the social context of that film and the 1954 original, it certainly features a great villain and a unique guest-star in King Caesar. It’s always nice to see Anguirus, as well.

One logical question does arise, however: how did the Azumi family know this threat from space would come?   What forces gave rise to the ancient prophecy? Just think of the “second sight” necessary, in ancient days, to imagine aliens from space, Godzilla, Anguirus, Mecha-Godzilla and aliens from space.  

Otherwise, Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster is good fun, if occasionally absurd.  The moment when the alien leader spits out his home address (“the third planet of the black hole, outer space,”) is one example of the latter.  And you just have to love the fact that the villain is such a trash-talker, always boasting about his robot and seeking to diminish Godzilla’s chances.

Finally, it is also never explained why the same supreme leader is always smoking a cigar and drinking liquor.  

Aren’t smoking and drinking human vices?  

And simple human vices don’t seem likely from an outer-space ape man who cackles his way through lines of dialogue like “Goodbye, Stupid Earthlings...

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

My Father's Journal: "Laurel Love"

Laurel Love


By Ken Muir


For more than fifteen years I avidly chased pieces in the Roseville “Laurel” line.  Some explanation is needed.


Laurel pots, the group of eleven pots which once sat on shelves in our house, originated in 1934 during the depths of the Great Depression.  Since money was scarce for most Americans, the line is a small one, comprising only thirteen pieces that first year.  It occurred to me at some point that I might eventually seek out the entire line.  But some pieces remained very hard to find and I eventually gave up that quest. At the end our collection came to represent about $6,000 in retail value during the height of the market years, around 2005.  Fortunately we did not have to invest that much.


This aesthetic passion of mine was kicked off by finding a six-inch vase at the Metrolina Antique Show being sold for $100 by an elderly dealer from South Carolina. This was in about 1998, and the quest for additional pieces soon began.


What drew me to this particular pattern?  Well, it just “checked all my boxes.” Ever since the 1980s, green pottery had held a special appeal for me, and Laurel’s earthy green tones called out.  Its other earth tones, brown and berry red, also appealed.  The pieces went well with the brown vintage furniture that we loved, and especially with oak, my personal favorite.  Also, its low-sheen glaze was eye-catching.


Historically, Laurel fits into an interesting niche in American aesthetics. Its leafy green over-all appearance, highlighted by brown twigs and red berries, recalled strongly the Arts and Crafts Movement earlier in the century. But its molded-in straight lines and “shouldered” handles were a strong connection to the Art Deco Movement, all the rage in America at the time of its manufacture. Thus, the line connected two of my favorite eras in American art history.


While we were lucky enough to find most pieces on eBay, a few had to be chased down across the Eastern Seaboard. My first large piece, the ten-inch vase at lower left of group, required a drive through the bowels of the York-Reading area of Pennsylvania to an antique store on Route 9 in the Jersey Shore region. The six-inch rounded vase, (right side, three shelves up) was found at the Hillsville, VA antique market. None were found at private estate sales, as Laurel has always been a relatively rare pattern. It is ranked in the upper mid-range of Roseville patterns by price, and comes in three color waves: green, yellow, and black, and dusty pink.  The green is by far the prettiest and the most sought after.


My “Laurel whopper story” is recalling an eBay auction, in 2005, of the largest piece in the line, the 14” vase that we have on the bottom row, center.  In frenzied bidding it went for $2700 that day. Ours, a Christmas present to myself a couple years after the “great recession,” cost less than half that amount.  It is identical to that one,  a perfect piece.


So, that’s my story of the “love of Laurel.” 


In the panoply of life’s sins, this lust of mine is not among the great evils.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

My Father's Journal: "Apologia"


By Ken Muir


I am a person of my age, of my time in history. 


Born into an America that was on the verge of winning the greatest war in history, I and my generation were to be the beneficiaries of that great victory.


The material fruits of that triumph were not evident to all Americans immediately, even though they were there from the outset.  After all, we had not been pounded into rubble, burnt to a cinder, like so many of our erstwhile enemies.  


But over a few decades those material advantages became increasingly apparent. Commodious housing, excellent transportation, abundant food,  ample heat for homes and workplaces and, increasingly, air-conditioned spaces-—these and many other advantages supporting a pleasant lifestyle came to be viewed as an American birthright.


Timber, steel, cement, coal, oil, aluminum, food grains, natural resources and durable goods of great value underlay this huge flowering of American middle-class life.


And the common element which drove them all forward, made their fabrication and exploitation possible, was the use of fossil fuels.


Today we realize that this profligate use of fossil fuels, going back to the 18th century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England and France, has placed us on the precipice of a world-shattering climate crisis. 


The evidence of this sweeping change has already made itself apparent, and volumes of insight much greater than mine flow at us very day.


Environmentalism is as close to a religion for me as anything is. My issuing a warning here can only be termed trite. But I can look back over my adult life and assess it, critique it, and, hopefully, see in it some positive steps to use as models.


Where did Ken Muir the “water miser” come from? 


He originated with studies published by the U S Department of the Interior in the late 1960s and available (cheaply) from the U S Superintendent of Documents.  Along with ballooning world population growth, the shrinking supplies of fresh water globally portended a troubled future.


We took our first small steps at water conservation while living in Glen Ridge. Using flow-restricter shower heads, re-using sink water to nourish our few plants and shrubs during times of sparse rainfall, avoiding the use of lawn sprinklers and industrial car washes—- these were our first small steps.


It was at the house in Charlotte NC that I really began to focus on water issues and energy use. While the house itself was a major “transgression,” given its size, none of that ever occurred to us in 1987 when we first committed to a spacious home.


However, once we were settled there and began to watch climate trends unfold, our attention became focused on minimizing our carbon footprint.  We saved trees wherever possible and extended the life of perhaps 150 trees by twenty-five years.  We culled the sick and dying but preserved almost all the healthy trees. On the two main lots most of those trees still survive now, thirty-six years after we became owners.


Our rain barrel operation was a major contribution.  We had at least a hundred and fifty shrubs on the property, and all were watered and sustained by roof run-off for our last eight years. Adding in our supplemental (twenty 7 gal. spackle buckets) storage we most always had 300 gallons of reserve for dry spells. This water was hand-carried to the plants all around the property throughout the warm weather seasons. After 2005, the year we put in the grassed “lower forty” area, we almost never used sprinklers down there. Our original 1997 irrigation system used trickle-feed distribution in large part.


Of course, automotive emissions are a major part of the global warming issue.  Starting in 1977 with our first Honda Civic (36 mpg) we focused on fuel efficient vehicles.  In 1978 we purchased our Ford Econoline van as a six-cylinder vehicle in order to save fuel.  Both of our later Honda CRVs are highly efficient vehicles when driven properly.  Both are capable of well over 30 mpg on trips.  Loretta’s Lexus hybrid routinely gets 32 mpg in our driving mix, and more on a trip.


The chief offenders are the two pick-up trucks we purchased.  While both were fuel efficient “in their class” they did consume more fuel than I would have liked.  I broke my own rules because we needed each to perform some serious carrying and towing chores.


A last category for consideration, and a very important one, is home heating/air conditioning usage  In addition to keeping the house(s) very near the “not comfortable” level in hot and cold seasons, we became early adopters of heat pump technology. The use of heat pumps and the maintenance of interior temperatures at “barely comfortable” levels seems to be the best we can do for now.


Solar panels, which we first explored as an option at Clinton Rd. in the ‘70s, were not affordable for us then and cannot be used here because of HOA codes.  Clearly they are the wave of the future.  At Clinton Rd. we took a first step in this direction by converting the home furnace from oil to gas in 1978, both a cheaper and more environmentally friendly solution.


The steps listed above along with vigorous recycling constitute the measures we have taken across fifty years to be good stewards of the earth’s gifts. 


I know that it is a mixed record.


Outside our personal life, school settings often gave me the chance to affirm these values.  As “Mr. Earth Day” at MLHS I spearheaded very ambitious April clean-ups on both high school grounds, nearby woods, and the town as a whole.  I also ran the HS paper recycling operation.  Paterson Connection gave us a great opportunity to clean the canals below the Great Falls in the historic Alexander Hamilton “Society for Useful Manufactures” district.  We worked hard and fruitfully.


My first Earth Day clean-up was in a patch of woods just below and east of Verona HS.  I had to overcome significant resistance from our new asshole principal, who required a lengthy curriculum-based rationale as to why I should be permitted to take a group of my world history students out to do this work for forty-five minutes.


And the school circle was completed when I convinced the administration at Garinger HS, in about 1998, to allow me and a couple of fellow teachers to take students into an enclosed courtyard at GHS to clean up and thin out the jungle-like growth there which had accumulated during decades of neglect.


That’s all that comes to mind as I reflect on this vital concern.  


It is not enough but it is something.  


I hope that it will serve as a directional sign as we move into the coming turbulent years of climate dislocation.


Saturday, March 09, 2024

Return to the Planet of the Apes: "Tunnel of Fear" (1975)

In “Tunnel of Fear,” this week’s episode of the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975), General Urko plans a new hunt that will eliminate the humanoid threat forever. 

Jeff (Austin Stoker), meanwhile, wants to move the jeopardized and primitive humanoids to a new location where they can be protected from this and all future ape aggression.

Accordingly, Jeff and Bill seek assistance from Cornelius and Zira in Ape City.  The astronauts from Earth’s past return to the city they recently escaped from and encounter a giant spider in the sewer system. 

After they reach the chimpanzee’s lab, the astronauts ask for help, and Cornelius, after grappling with his conscience, realizes he can help the astronauts get the humanoids to a new home. He knows just the place too. His archaeological dig in the Forbidden Zone runs near an underground river, and leads into a serene, hidden valley.  It would be the perfect home for the humanoids.

“Tunnel of Fear” opens with two gorilla sentries talking about General Urko and his plans for total ape domination of the planet, while they sip hot coffee by chilly moonlight.  This scene is one of the (many) reasons I appreciate this particular Saturday morning series.  It would have been just as easy to create a scene with Urko himself making his plans (before the council, or his troops, perhaps), but instead we get this boots-on-the-ground discussion of strategy between “grunts” and it seems more like a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry V than a moment on a 1970s cartoon.  Urko’s efforts, after all, impact the men -- er apes -- he leads into battle.

The episode also presents a nice moral dilemma for Cornelius and Zira.  Dr. Zaius trusts the pacifist chimps, and solicits their help in capturing Blue Eyes and the humanoids. 

Meanwhile, Bill and Jeff want the same individuals to help them get the humanoids to safety. 

Thus Cornelius and Zira need to determine the “higher” morality in this case, and must grapple with feelings that they are betraying Zaius, and therefore their own people.   The scene wherein Cornelius sort of “waffles” -- going back-and-forth from side-to-side -- is especially well-presented t and showcases both perspectives ably.  This scene is especially good for children to watch, as it involves decision-making, and ways to choose when both options might rightly cause harm to some party.  In this case, Cornelius realizes it is better to betray Zaius than to let the innocent humanoids die, and he speculates that someday Zaius and the Planet of the Apes might even be happy that he chose this way.

“Tunnel of Fear” features only one overtly juvenile moment. In the sewers, Bill and Jeff encounter the aforementioned giant spider and get trapped in its web, before breaking free.  This is the first outbreak of pulp childishness on a TV series that otherwise avoids such clichés.  The whole idea of a giant spider in the sewers is a silly one. If there were really spiders of this size in Ape City’s sewers, certainly it would be a public health crisis.  And besides, the encounter with the giant arachnid adds nothing to the overall story.  It’s just a “danger” for the kiddies to enjoy between scenes of dialogue.

Next week, Bill and Jeff go off in pursuit of the laser drill in “Lagoon of Peril.”

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Guest Post: Mean Girls (2024)


The Mean Girls Musical Can’t Find Its Note


By Jonas Schwartz-Owens


Remakes have enough trouble competing with the original, especially when it’s a classic. Mean Girls (2024) was not only blinded by the shadow of the treasured 2004 comedy with Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, but also the 2018 Broadway musical that adapted the story with clever songs and striking choreography by Casey Nicholow. This movie remake adda nothing of value to the first film and cannot convey the excitement and freshness of the Broadway show, leaving it redundant.


Following the original story to a tee, Mean Girls (2024) explores young, home-schooled Kady (Angourie Rice) as she leaves Kenya for the jungles of the modern American school system, with dangerous turns – of phrases from two-faced friends – and master predators, The Plastics, led by the alpha herself, Regina George (Reneé Rapp). Kady’s new outcast friends, Janis (Auliʻi Cravalho, the voice of Moana) and  Damien (Jaquel Spivey), convince Kady to snuggle up to the Plastics and bring them down from the inside. But as often happens, some of the contagion contaminates Kady, and her own plasticity begins to shine through as well.


There is consistency in that Tina Fey (30 Rock) wrote the screenplay for the original, the Broadway Musical, and this latest version.  In both movies, she plays the same role, Kady’s teacher, and brings the same everyman delivery that makes Fey ever-endearing. The script feels rushed in this version, with the shortlist songs (abbreviated from the Broadway score) limiting the audience’s understanding and connection to the characters.


Rice captures none of the endearing traits that made Lindsay Lohan so good in the role. She has a wispy singing voice, and never becomes the lead in her own movie. Spivey is very funny as the audience’s inlet Damien, peppering his performance with clever asides. Rapp, who played Regina on Broadway for a period, conveys that ethereal, bitchy allure that makes a prom queen so tantalizing.  Unfortunately, no one can make you forget the 2004 originals. Lohan, McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, Daniel Franzese and Lizzy Caplan are indelibly iconic. Although it was fun to see Tim Meadows repeating his role as the put-upon principal and Lohan as a mathlete judge. 


Relative newcomer directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. bring a lackadaisical approach to the visuals. Cell phone social media is used throughout to check in on characters, but even when not inside the phone, the movie looks like it was shot on a handheld. The camera overutilizes zooms, the tone is haphazard, and the whole project appears to be made with no understanding of movie musical mechanics. Most sequences were (perhaps intentionally) shot like TikTok videos.


The score, when on Broadway, was inventive and intoxicating. In a musical comedy, the songs should be infectious, people should want to join in. Here, the numbers are shot so statically that it distances the audience. All the songs are whispered like the characters are afraid to wake someone — the audience, perhaps?—up.


When I first saw the reviews coming out about the recent movie (whose advertising campaign wallpapered over the fact that it’s a musical), I assumed that critics may not have seen or appreciated the Broadway production. I saw the show in Los Angeles last year and it was a highlight. After catching Mean Girls (2024), it’s not the newness that catches people off guard, it’s the slipshoddiness. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

My Father's Journal: "The Future"

The Future

By Ken Muir


Always, when I was a younger man, “the future” was an amorphous notion for me, something I had, but could not get a firm grip on.  


It was assumed to be large, commodious, full of promise...but who really knew how large?  


It was a question mark, but it held comfort, nonetheless.


Today, “the future” is waking up and looking across into my wife’s eyes…….one more day together.  


It is walking into the kitchen and starting a pot of coffee.  


It is running over in my mind the (now rather short...) list of things we have planned for this day. 


It is putting in place the list of activities we will engage in, knowing that I am able accomplish them and that they will round out another day. 


It is near term —very near term—plans to see loved ones.


Each day is now a small bet on something more to come. 

Each awakening is a hopeful down payment toward a tightly circumscribed future.


I’m game.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Guest Post: The Iron Claw (2024)

The Iron Claw Comes At A Cost For One Family.


By Jonas Schwartz-Owen


The Iron Claw, Sean Durkin’s biography of legendary wrestling family The Von Erichs, is a refreshingly methodical film with many quiet moments, harkening back to the New Hollywood films of the 1970s. 


The Von Erich patriarch (Holt McCallany from Netflix’s Mindhunter) owns the World Class Championship Wrestling company. A former wrestler himself, where he utilized the Iron Claw move, he has passed his compulsion about wrestling onto his boys. The adult sons do not even have time to form their own passions before they dive headfirst into the ring. His most successful, Kevin (Zac Efron), takes on the family burdens and everything comes at a cost. The tragic tale of the family is part superstition, part the brutality of the sport. 


Efron is unrecognizable as the wrestler. Bulked up in both his body and his face, fashioned with a bowl cut, Efron leaves behind any teen idol pretentions for the role. He brings an earnestness and sweetness that hits the heartstrings successfully like Sylvester Stallone’s performance in the inaugural Rocky (1976). 


McCallany is intense as the wrestling world version of Gypsy‘s Mama Rose. Single-minded, he treats his boys as an extension of his legacy. They are his second, third, fourth, and fifth chance, and it’s almost a Greek tragedy how he pays (as an original story, it would seem contrived, but this was real life).


Huge fans of Jeremy Allen White (from his award winning The Bear) may be disappointed by his minor role in the film. Though he is not featured for much of the two-and-a-quarter hour running time, his determination and frustrations as brother Kerry are well done. 


Lily James (Cinderella) is given little to work with in the nominal wife role, but as the matriarch, Maura Tierney (Showtime’s The Affair) is heartbreaking, representing an overly supportive wife who quietly laments her constant loss.


Durkin, who made a splash with the contemplative Martha Marcy May Marlene creates a very ‘70s Americana feel: the deliberate, un-splashy pace, the washed-out hues, the deglamorization of a beloved American tradition, that are reminiscent of the films of Academy Award winner Hal Ashby (Bound for Glory)


Along with the exciting, well-choreographed wrestling scenes, Durkin has presented a poignant slice of life. The Iron Claw interprets the famed lives of people foreign to many audience members and captures the commonality of their struggles. 

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