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Monday, June 30, 2008

"The Stolen Earth": First part of DOCTOR WHO season finale one of television's most intense and cataclysmic episodes EVER!

Sometime this past year, the head accountant at the BBC's headquarters in London must have looked at Russell T. Davies' budget request for the episodes of this season's Doctor Who, especially the two-part finale beginning with "The Stolen Earth", then broke out in laughter before incredulously asking Davies "ARE YOU NUTS?!?"

This single episode was probably one-third of the entire season's funding. And there's still the conclusion next week.

But first, a look at "The Stolen Earth", beginning with the standard screencap and select quotes...

"Martha, look at the sky. Just look at the sky!"

"You get back inside Sylvia. They always want the women."

"Do you like my gun?"

"I'm receiving a communication from the Earth-bound ships. They have a message for the human race."

"There's nothing I can do. I'm sorry. We're dead."

"Soon the Crucible will be complete."

"Clom... Clom's gone?! Who’d want Clom?"

"He is coming... the three-fold man... THE DOCTOR IS COMING!"

"My vision is NOT impaired!"

"I came here when I was just a kid. Ninety years old."

"You never give up!"

"Captain Jack Harkness shame on you! Now stand to attention sir!"

"She won't let me. She said they're naughty."

"Mister Smith, make that call!"

"You know nothing of any human. And that will be your downfall."


"It's like an outer space Facebook!"

"Welcome to my new empire, Doctor."

"Why don't you ask her yourself?"

"It's starting..."

If you're waiting to see it when it airs here in the states on the Sci-Fi Channel in a few weeks, let me assure you that nothing that I could write about "The Stolen Earth" can prepare you for this episode. It starts out hot on the heels of last week's "Turn Left" (reviewed here). The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) arrive back on Earth on a Saturday, with nothing particularly amiss. But with barely a minute into the episode, the TARDIS is rattled and The Doctor is shocked to discover why: Earth - as in the entire planet beneath them - has vanished.

Cut back to Earth, wherever it is: Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) at Torchwood, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) in New York City and Sarah-Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) in England all try to summon The Doctor for help. But someone else has arrived: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), back from the parallel universe and toting the biggest personal firearm in the entire four decades-plus run of Doctor Who. Her return marks the first of many "money shots" for this episode: Rose looking up from the street and gazing with the rest of humanity at the twenty-six planets that now fill almost every point of the sky.

And then, things start to go bad.

Just about every good guy (and gal) from the pantheon of Davies's four-year term as Doctor Who's helmsman - including characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures - is thrown into the thick of a massive attack on Earth by the Daleks. This is the last story that Davies will do before Steven Moffatt takes over, and the man went for broke in every conceivable way and some you wouldn't possibly conceive. This is absolutely the most terrifying that the Daleks have ever been in the entire 45-year history of the show, from their repeated transmission of "EXTERMINATE!" to the humans, to their devastating attack on New York City: depicted with such horror that had this aired a few years earlier the BBC would have been slammed as being "insensitive".

And of course, there is the return of Davros, who has not been seen since 1988's "Remembrance of the Daleks".

This is the character considered by many to be the greatest villain in all of fiction. And it's hard to argue with that, considering that he is the creator of the Daleks, that his single useable hand is stained with the blood of trillions of innocent lives scattered throughout the universe, and that his goal is nothing less than to become God.

This time it's Julian Bleach in the chair, and his performance as Davros is nothing short of magnificent. Bleach's portrayal definitely hearkens back to Michael Wisher, who was the first to play Davros in "Genesis of the Daleks" in 1975, but there is also a bit of Terry Molloy's Davros here (which I've always liked). But after one episode, and I think that Bleach's take on Davros might be fast coming my all-time favorite. The scene where he shows The Doctor just how far he has gone to care for his "children" may go down as one of the all-time most iconic moments of Doctor Who: if that didn't send little kiddies scurrying behind the sofa, nothing would.

A lot of stuff that's been hinted at and mentioned during this past season (and a bit before) is addressed here, like the Shadow Proclamation and the mystery of the bees, and we finally get to see what the Medusa Cascade is. Dalek Caan, who was last seen in "Evolution of the Daleks", is also back... in body if not in mind. Wilfred and Sylvia also reappear, and I for one can not get enough of Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred! This guy is one of the most endearingly fun things about Doctor Who lately, and he and Jacqueline King's Sylvia have some great scenes... including one that is already a classic involving a Dalek. Harriet Jones (again played by Penelope Wilton) returns, and it might be a good idea to rewatch "The Christmas Invasion" if you can because refreshing yourself on the last time we saw Jones will certainly lend toward appreciation for her in "The Stolen Earth".

Yes, it is a lot to shoehorn into a single episode of any television series. But nothing in "The Stolen Earth" comes across as just "tacked-on" or mere cameo. Everyone has an important part to play in the story. This could have turned into a very clumsy story, and instead it's one of the most elegant dances that I've seen attempted on a story of this magnitude.

Then there is the ending.

The next few days might be the most maddening wait in the history of Doctor Who. "The Stolen Earth" ends on a cliffhanger of... heck forget Lost proportions, we're now talking territory rarely seen since The Empire Strikes Back. I actually screamed twice in those last few minutes of watching "The Stolen Earth"... and I'm not gonna dare spill the beans to anyone who hasn't watched it yet but if you have, you know what I'm talking about.

I swear, the past few months have given us better television than we possibly deserve. First there was the entire fourth season of Lost. Then there's all the amazing things I've been hearing about Battlestar Galactica. Now this. It's almost enough to make you believe that after sixty-some years, the medium has finally begun to grow up. Little wonder that The Wall Street Journal just sang the praises of Doctor Who and compared the show to its two American colleagues.

"The Stolen Earth" gets the full Five Sonic Screwdrivers!

Next week: if you thought that a lot transpired in 45 minutes with "The Stolen Earth", what could possibly happen with sixty-five full minutes of Doctor Who?! It's The Doctor and his faithful friends versus Davros and millions of Daleks for the fate of reality itself. "Journey's End" begins this Saturday on BBC One in Great Britain, on Sci-Fi Channel in the States in a few weeks, and anywhere you want it on the Internet in between! :-)

Don S. Davis has entered the White Lodge

Wondering how many people will get the reference. If you did, buy yourself a cherry pie...

Ain't It Cool News is passing along the sad word that Don S. Davis, who had a real-life military career before turning to acting and becoming one of the best-known character actors of the past twenty years, has passed away at the age of 65.

A lot of folks will remember Davis as Dana Scully's father on The X-Files. About the same time in the Nineties, Davis played Major General George Hammond on Stargate SG-1, a role he would have for the duration of the show. His repertoire included mostly "authority" types like principals and judges and doctors, although he could also be spotted in other roles... like the driver of the car that Pinball's body crashes onto in the movie Con Air.

I will most remember Davis, however, for the role that may have started it all in terms of his success: United States Air Force Major Garland Briggs on the ABC television series Twin Peaks. And had that show gone into a third season, I've no doubt that we would have really seen Davis shine. It was obvious throughout Season 2 that there was some very heavy stuff being set up for Briggs, and that this most kind and honorable man was being revealed as a Gandalf-type "elder soldier" in the spiritual warfare against the Black Lodge. That's kind of the direction I thought the show was going into, anyway. Too bad we'll never know for sure. But regardless of what happened to the show, Davis's moments on Twin Peaks were amazing. The scene with son Bobby in the first episode of Season 2, where he shares his dream... okay, 'nuff said. Even as a high school student, I thought that was an especially powerful scene.

Very sad to see him go. We don't seem blessed with many actors of his caliber anymore.

EDIT 2:10 p.m. July 2nd 2008: Here is Major Briggs's "vision speech" to son Bobby from Twin Peaks second season premiere...

"A vision, I had in my sleep last night. As distinguished from a dream, which is a mere sorting and cataloging of the days events by the subconscious; a vision fresh and clear as a mountain stream, the mind revealing itself to itself. In my vision I was on the veranda of vast estate, a palazzo of some fantastic proportion. There seemed to emanate from it, a light from within this gleaming, radiant marble. I had known this place. I had, in fact, been born and raised there and this was my first return, a reunion with the deepest well-springs of my being. As I wondered about I noticed happily that the house has been immaculately maintained and there had been added to it a number of additional rooms, but in a way that blended so seamlessly with its original construction that one would not detect any difference. Returning to the house's grand foyer, there came a knock on the door. I opened it, and my son was standing there. He was happy and carefree, clearly living a life of deep harmony and joy. We embraced, a warm and loving embrace, nothing withheld. We we're, in this moment, one. My vision ended, and I awoke with an overwhelming feeling of optimism and confidence in you, and your future. That was my vision Bobby, it was you."
That was one of the most powerfully delivered monologues in television history. I think even Dana Ashbrook, who played Bobby, was floored by it. And only Don S. Davis could have done it with such power and gentleness.

Here is the scene itself...

Very incredible stuff. And once again I am regretting that Twin Peaks never made it past its second season. But on the other hand it definitely paved the way for Lost and Battlestar Galactica. Those would never have had a chance at success had Twin Peaks not first shown the way.

Microsoft stops selling Windows XP today

Today is the final day of widespread sales of Windows XP. After today, it will no longer be possible to purchase a new computer from any major manufacturer with Windows XP installed on it.

The operating system first went on sale on October 25th, 2001. So it lasted with full support for nearly seven years: not bad for any software product but especially one from Microsoft, a company notorious for pushing updates on customers.

I was working at a Best Buy store when Windows XP was rolled out. Everyone associated with computers or media sales had to come in one Sunday morning prior to Windows XP's release for three hours of what I have since come to call "Microsoft religious indoctrination". We had to learn all about what Windows XP could do, what made it different from Windows Me and Windows 2000 Professional, all that jazz. I remember thinking at the time that this was so much ca-ca. That's not a knock on Best Buy at all: they're one of the best companies on the scene today. I just couldn't help but think that it was a little ridiculous to spend so much time being inculcated with the virtues of a bloody operating system...

(That I had to give up the weekend, which I could have spent driving down to Athens from Asheville to see Lisa, did not make me feel better about it either.)

And then sometime later, a few months before getting married, I wound up with Windows XP on my own system. And I promptly decided that the "indoctrination session" we'd been made to sit through was woefully unfair. That in fact, Windows XP was far better than Microsoft was making it out to be.

Windows XP was the most stable version of Windows that I've worked with since Windows 3.1 many moons ago. Not once did Windows XP crash on me or give me a reason to have to reboot. In fact, the only time that I lost any productivity with Windows XP came in January of 2003, and that was my own fault for failing to take precautions: a story that I was writing for the newspaper I was working at was lost because an ice storm knocked out the power and I hadn't saved it to disk. The next day I bought an un-interruptable power supply, and it hasn't happened again since.

And hey, it was Windows XP that I did my first forays into filmmaking. Now I'm working on Windows Vista and if it weren't for all the useless gimmicks like Aero being turned off, I wouldn't get any work done at all. Windows XP was not only stable, it was lean and mean. It respected its users enough to trust them with knowing whether or not something needed to be hogging precious resources. Let us hope that Microsoft has learned its lesson with Vista... but I cannot help but feel doubtful about that.

Anyway, let us raise a toast to Windows XP: the operating system that, whether it's widely appreciated or not, did most of the driving in this first decade of the new millennium.

The Godfather Trilogy coming to Blu-ray

It's an offer die-hard movie buffs cannot refuse: The Godfather Trilogy is coming to Blu-ray on September 23rd. As in, this September 23rd!

Francis Ford Coppola himself supervised a frame-by-frame digital restoration of the first two films, and The Godfather Part III received a full remastering treatment for the project. The set will cost $119 but will include gobs of extras.

Other than the Star Wars saga coming out in the format, this might be the only other thing that would make me finally break down and get a Blu-ray player. Will have to see what others say of it first but I would love to have the entire Godfather saga in lush, violent high definition.

CHILDREN OF EDEN: The final performance and out-of-control strike party!

This is the way the world begins: not with a whimper but with a bang!

Yesterday was the final performance of the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden. After the amazing reaction that the show got on Saturday night, could Sunday afternoon possibly be any better? Judging by the approval of the packed auditorium at Rockingham Community College - the biggest audience of the entire run - the answer to that is an emphatic "yes"!

The show went great! One funny thing that happened came during the scene where Father (Neil Shepherd) is banishing Adam (Stephen Hale) and Eve (Rose Cutuli Wray) from the Garden: when Father smites the Tree of Knowledge, the special effects crew had the tree rigged so that there was a very loud flash of light and smoke,as the tree splits in two. Well, they must have put some extra powder in the flashpot 'cuz it was a way loud "BANG!" yesterday. And while those of us who were Storytellers were looking wrathfully at Adam and Eve, we heard one guy in the audience say that "I thought that I'd been shot." I think everyone had to fight hard to not giggle when that happened :-)

Act I continued, and I took to the stage for the last time as Seth in the act's final scene, and this time... I don't know how it happened but I had a ton of tears streaming down my face as I approached the dying Eve when she gives Seth the Staff of Adam. Maybe I was holding back for this final show and I didn't realize it. People in the audience noticed it too.

Then Act II began, and "Generations" seems to have been a big hit. But then later on came "Ain't It Good", which really had the audience rockin'! I think that might have been the most enthused response for a single song during the entire six-show run.

Well, not long after came the show's final song "In The Beginning". We took our bows and fled up the aisles to meet the audience members as they were leaving. And then a very funny thing happened: it started to rain hard. You see, because of the weird way the auditorium is designed, during the show everyone in the cast has to walk around the auditorium to get from one place to the other, and for those on stage left this means exiting the building and running around outside. It has been a bigtime worry that during a show it might be raining and that the audience would wonder why our costumes were so wet. Lo and behold it didn't rain during a single performance... but immediately after the final one, the bottom fell out of the sky and this whole area got drenched. Was that God's way of saying He approved of our performance? That's what most of the cast said they liked to believe :-)

All the while it was raining we had to strike the set. My task was to help take down the risers and the "God perch" that Neil stood on most of the time during the show as Father looking down on the world. After all that was done (in less time than we'd originally anticipated) we were supposed to go to one of the crew members' house for a poolside strike party. But the rain and lightning kinda canceled that plan. So then Rose had the idea of having all the catered food delivered to the student center at Rockingham Community College, since we were all already there anyway.

So that's where we were from 7 last night on 'til almost 10:30, munching on hot dogs and hamburgers after being treated to the backstage crew premiering their new show "Children of Eating".

And then there was the karaoke...

I'm not going to post all the pictures of what happened last night 'cuz some among the cast and crew have threatened me with litigation if certain photos ever show up on this blog, but I can at least post the ones of myself acting crazy...

The first is what happened when I took the mike and belted out a rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody":

And then came the new group Mama, Papa and Seth (Roses Cutuli Wray, Stephen Hale and Chris Knight) singing "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" by Cher:

The "Bohemian Rhapsody" performance got a standing "O" and most of the audience even waved their opened cell phones. It was hilarious!

Then not long afterward the party had to draw to a close, and after being together for two months we had to say our goodbyes for now. But not goodbye forever, because just about everyone is now a Facebook or Myspace (or both) friend with each other, and we're already talking about doing more shows together in the future.

And right now, on the day after... I definitely feel like a better person for having done this. I tried out for Children of Eden almost on a lark, not expecting to land a role because frankly, I can't sing well. I even told the directing staff that I would have been happy to just help backstage if they needed it. I ended up not only in the show but also playing a fairly important character. This is a musical that I've wanted to be a part of for almost ten years, since first seeing it performed at Elon in 1998. Most people have no idea how big a dream that has been for me. Two months later and I get to say with a lot of pride that I not only got to live that dream, but I'm taking from it a lot of precious memories and very many people who I feel like are not just friends, but family. And it's going to be an experience that I am going to be forever thankful to God and a lot of good people for happening as it did.

(By the way, special thanks to Mike Jerrell for the amazing modification that he made to part of my Jedi Knight costume, that is going to make that a much better outfit for me to wear from now on!)

"For every moment of our life is the beginning..."

Now we begin. And I like to believe that the best days are yet to come.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE teaser is online

So this morning, after waking up following an awesome final performance of Children of Eden and the very crazy strike party last night (write-up and pics coming soon), I got an e-mail from Phillip Arthur. He's gone positively bonkers over the teaser for Quantum of Solace, the next James Bond movie (see it in high-definition on Moviefone). You can also find it all over YouTube. I watched Casino Royale (which also featured Daniel Craig as Bond) last summer and I was completely blown away by how great it was. And so far as this first glimpse at Quantum of Solace goes I have to agree with Phillip: "It looks frakkin' AWESOME!" Can't wait to see this new one in a real theater :-)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ron Price's "complete and factual account": ADMITS to stealing signs! Alleges conspiracy by Teamsters! Plus: Price's science crusade!

In case anyone believed that Yours Truly had some kind of obsession about "getting" Ron Price, bear in mind that it has now been well over six months since I've posted ANYTHING about him. And if I never did write about him again, I would have been happy. In fact, I've rather enjoyed not having anything new to write about the disgraced Rockingham County Board of Education member.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Here now is another chapter in the bizarre and twisted tale of...

Ron Price

The last time we peered into this sordid drama, Price had dropped his lawsuit against local publisher Richard Moore and his wife for trying to hold Price accountable for all the campaign signs that Price was caught stealing on the night before the 2006 election (which saw Price taking fifth place and getting the last of the new at-large seats on the board). Price said on live television on the night of the election that he had taken the signs, wrote about it on his blog and then that disappeared, before the following appeared on December 7th, 2006...

Well, it only took him about 19 months, but Ron Price has finally posted the "complete and factual account" of what happened on the night of November 6th, 2006, which caused what he called a "commotion". But instead of making it an entirely separate post, Price edited his original post where he promised to make available his "factual account" and published it THERE instead! The result signifies either very sloppy blogging skills... or perhaps a deliberate attempt to make sure that the account was buried and kept off the front page of his site.

In any case, someone found it. And guess what? Ron Price admits that he stole the signs! But not only that: Price makes it out to sound like everything that happened to him was the result of a conspiracy involving the Teamsters Union!

Price also claims that he was going to call the campaign that he was opposing, to let them know where they could find their signs (you know, the ones that he had hidden in the trunk of his car). And as if to add insult to injury, he closes out his "account" by stating a desire that the kind of shenanigans that he pulled during the last election don't happen during this election year, and kindly offers advice (including use of GPS systems) to stop this kind of behavior.

What the #%*$?!?!?

Here, read it yourself. I'm going to post it exactly as Price has it on his blog, in case he ever decides to send it down the ol' "memory hole". And remember: this account only appeared on his blog in the past week or so, in spite of the 2006 timestamp...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

As Paul Harvey would say- Now for ‘the rest of the story”

The last week in September 2006 the Business Agent of the Teamsters, Local 391, invited me along with other candidates for a screening. Because this was a scheduled school board meeting night I requested that the meeting be rescheduled which they did. The meeting was rescheduled until the following Monday, the first week of October. When I entered the union hall that evening the lobby was filled with hundreds of signs for the opponent of the candidate I was supporting. This remained in my mind as I answered the questions that were asked by the Business Agent and his colleagues. There were other candidates there that night that also saw the lobby full of these campaign signs.

November 6, 2006 while traveling home along RT 14 from Eden, I noticed that several signs for a candidate that I was supporting were missing and that signs for his opponent were now set up. As I proceeded along I observed that near the base of each sign lay a sign of the candidate I was supporting. As I backtracked several times to confirm the status of these signs I found there were dozens of signs taken down and they were lying at the foot of the newly erected signs of my candidate’s opponent. Based on the number of signs taken down and their proximity to the newly erected signs I felt it was an orchestrated act and blatant evidence of the attitude of the perpetrator(s).

As I restored my candidate’s signs to an upright position I placed the opponent’s signs in the trunk with the plan to take them to the DOT location in Wentworth and let the opponent’s campaign know that they were there. This would accomplish two things: it would delay whoever was taking down my candidates signs and putting up the opponents signs because they would have to get additional signs or go to Wentworth to retrieve the signs that had been moved. As I was getting into my car the Teamster’s Business Agent pulled up beside me yelling threats at me from his car. Because of the hostile manner I did not answer but drove on down the road. I was not going to get into a confrontation with this very hostile individual.

Deductive reasoning begs the question was the Business Agent there by coincidence? Since there was a plethora of my candidate's opponent’s signs at his facility was there some connection? Was the person who started following me, when the Business Agent turned off in communication about a handoff? If so why were they working together?

A number of people called me about similar problems they had with their signs. Relating the same type of orchestrated events. I finish this account now because we are now approaching a new election, which could be hotly contended if the same type of events surround this election as they have in the past before my arrival in Rockingham County? If there are signs pulled down or destroyed it will be an assault on good politics. They will undoubtedly be taken down during the late hours of the night in lightly traveled unlighted areas. Obviously signs are important but cannot be the highest priority for law enforcement as they are there to protect life first. If you see evidence of sign tampering and have access to a cell phone call 911 from the location, the call will be automatically routed to the respective law enforcement department. If you must wait and call from a landline, do so, however, in both cases give as much information as possible such as: the GPS location, location markers and if possible return or wait for law enforcement to arrive.

If we all keep a watchful eye and keep on the alert for any shenanigans it could make this year’s politics better in Rockingham County.

Words fail.

Also on his blog, posted in the past few days is a very strange, rambling screed against evolution being taught in schools to the detriment of creationism. If you read The Knight Shift on a regular basis you know where I stand on this issue: that neither the people behind evolution or the people behind creationism give a damn at all about children. I've no doubt that both camps are after political affluence and that's it and unfortunately as happens all too often, it's the children that are being used as weapons by both sides against each other. Personally, I do believe that God created the universe. I have a lot of problems... scientific problems, mind you... with evolution. And if it stopped right there, Price and I would be on the same page. But when he signs on to a political agenda, ignoring the fact that this is the kind of thing best left to families, religious institutions and personal inquiry, then I do feel a moral obligation to call him out on that too.

I honestly don't know what else to say. In fact, I don't know what else could possibly be said as additional commentary for this foolishness. A school board member admits to illegally removing (some would call that "theft") campaign signs and then hints that the Teamsters made him do it, then has the gall to tell the rest of us to "do as I say and not as I do" for this coming election.

And some people wonder why I've lost hope in America...

Damn good dog: Uga VI has passed away

The first time I saw Uga VI was a bit of a shock. It came during me and Lisa's first year of dating (she was a grad student at University of Georgia) and after months of seeing the graven image of this stalwart bulldog idolized all over Athens, I thought Uga VI would be... bigger! But if there was any letdown it quickly passed after I saw Uga VI in person: this lovable mascot, along with owner Sonny Seiler (yup the one made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil if he wasn't famous enough already) heading up the University of Georgia homecoming parade in the fall of 2001. You'da thought he had just won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club, with all the adulation he was getting.

That's when I realized something: that in a world gone mad, just a few weeks after 9/11, Uga - whichever dog is the one that holds the honor - was one of the few tangible symbols of something good and pure still left from what we like to think is the America that once was, and could still be again.

Uga VI had come to the throne after the retirement of his daddy Uga V in 1999. Seiler had hoped that Uga VI would be the mascot for one more season, before enjoying retiring after the tenure with the most wins for Georgia.

Uga VI died of heart failure on Friday night at the home of Sonny Seiler. He was just one month shy of his tenth birthday.

Per tradition, Uga VI will be buried next week in the southwest corner of Sanford Stadium, in the marble mausoleum devoted to all the bulldogs that have borne the Uga title. A successor will be named at a later date but there's little doubt that he will be one that Uga VI sired himself.

Farewell Uga VI. Like those before him, a damn good dog.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

CHILDREN OF EDEN: Performance #5!

Tonight... we brought down the house!!!

Our best performance yet, playing to the most packed audience so far.

Okay, off to celebrate now :-)

CHILDREN OF EDEN: Performance #4 and wild cast party!

Last night we had our fourth performance of Children of Eden. Widespread consensus is that this was the one thus far most plagued by mishaps. A keyboard went out, there were problems with the microphones early in Act I, at least one cast member fell ill (but bounced back and rejoined the show), Noah's Ark almost crashed, and I tried hard to hold back a sneeze immediately following "The Flood" and just when I was about to leave the stage, it happened anyway.

But all things considered, the audience seemed to have really enjoyed last night's show!

Following the performance, just about all the cast and crew met at Pizza Station in Reidsville for a party that stretched well on into the night and may have gotten a little too wild for anyone's good...

All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Names and identities have been withheld to protect reputations and careers.

Don't worry: nothing immoral or illegal or otherwise illicit happened last night. Good heavens, there were children present! About the worst thing that happened was me dancing to a Barry Manilow song...

Children of Eden has another performance tonight at 7:30 at the Rockingham Community College Advanced Technologies Building Auditorium, and then its final show tomorrow afternoon at 2:30.

Fifteen years since...

"Dear Lord, am I really doing this?!" A Few Good Men. Red eye over England. Bennie and her mom. Mayhem in the marketplace. The brothers. Lots of wine. The village countryside. The pissing statue. The dark hospital. The odd pizza. "Coke is better than beer!" The American compatriots. A prophecy fulfilled. The peculiar picnic. A strange place to celebrate the Fourth of July. The haunted ruins. The jibber-jabbering Belgian lady. Helping the three Russian students. A kiss on the hand for a real queen. "Le stupid American!" The Piano. Andre's crazy cop cousin. The towering fortress on the river. The blood of Jesus Christ. Real magic. Cows at 150 miles per hour. The Eiffel Tower. The Bosnian refugees. The dead body in the alley. The Maquisard. The hunt for the Hard Rock Cafe. The singing drunk Frenchman. The four Dutch lasses. The unicycling saxaphonist. The Canadian Richard Petty fan. The two Valley Girls. Alive with medical commentary by Bennie. The long walk straight up. Gazing toward Hamburg. "She's out there somewhere." The canal tour. The carnival. Going home. Business class. Discussing Napoleon with a fellow passenger. Home Alone 2. Seeing the World Trade Center towers for the first and last time. The missionary family. Touchdown at Raleigh-Durham. Back.

And there was more, much more, that I am still leaving out from what was my first big adventure in the great wide world, that started fifteen years ago today.

Just the first. There have been others since then. And there will no doubt be many more in the years to come.

Zavel, if by some chance you ever read this: I found Christy. It took me over ten years, but I found her and she was every bit as sweet and beautiful as you described her to be. And I passed along your message to her, too. I don't know if you will get to know that but when I think about how it was that I found her, anything is possible.

Shawn, if you ever read this, I still have the flag that you gave me, dude!

Amazing how something that happened fifteen years ago can still impact one's life.

Anyhoo, it was one of the greatest times of my entire life, and I thought it was worth making a note of here :-)

Friday, June 27, 2008

CHILDREN OF EDEN: Final weekend of performances begin tonight!

The Snake (left to right: Jessica Reed, Ashley Meeks, Marlo Nall, Brittany Thompson, Samantha Toney, and Tisha Owens) tempts Eve (Rose Cutuli Wray) with knowledge during "The Pursuit of Excellence" in the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of
Children of Eden

Tonight begins the final three performances of Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden. The hit musical takes to the stage tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 and then one last performance on Sunday afternoon at 2:30. All shows are in the auditorium at the Advanced Technologies Building at Rockingham Community College. So far the show has been a huge success, and many patrons are swearing that it's one of the best musicals that the Theatre Guild has ever done! Word is that the shows for the next few nights are selling fast so if you wanna go, get yer tickets now and get ready to enjoy Children of Eden. Or, don't see it, and perish in flame. It's your choice, but not really.

(Hey if nothing else will entice you to come, how about getting a chance to see Yours Truly dressed old-school biblical in tunic and sandals as Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve? :-P)

Wilkins Coffee ads: The dark side of Jim Henson

Yesterday this blog reported the passing of Kermit Love, longtime Muppet designer and operator. His work on commercials led me to look around YouTube for any other examples of Muppets used in advertising.

That's what led me to re-discover the spots that Jim Henson made in the late 1950s for Wilkins Coffee.

Over fifty years ago, Henson was hired by Wilkins Coffee to create some commercials for their product. The result was a series of clips starring Wilkins and Wontkins. These are not only some of the earliest examples of the Muppets on television, they are also the longest-running campaign to feature the Muppets and certainly the most violent! Poor Wontkins dies by cannon, by point-blank shot from a pistol, run over by a bandwagon, not to mention threatened with a guillotine! In one of the commercials he's also shown smoking a cigarette (try doing that nowadays!). Definitely an indication that Henson in his younger days had some 'tude.

Enjoy the mayhem! And remember: People who don't drink Wilkins Coffee have bad things happen to them, muthah! :-P

Wilkins Coffee Commercials #1

Wilkins Coffee Commercials #2

Wilkins Coffee commercials #3

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review of GET SMART

This evening a lot of the cast and crew of Children of Eden got together at the Carousel Grande in Greensboro to catch Get Smart, the new movie starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne ("The Rock") Johnson and Alan Arkin based on the classic 1960s television comedy.

I must say, Get Smart the movie was a very pleasant surprise! From the very beginning, we were laughing like crazy. Carell plays Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams in the television show), an analyst with the U.S. Government agency CONTROL. After an incident at CONTROL Headquarters, Smart is given his first field assignment alongside the beautiful and dangerous Agent 99 (Hathaway). The two are soon thrust into action in the heart of Moscow, where they must stop an agent of KAOS (played by Terrance Stamp) from unleashing nuclear terror on the unsuspecting world.

Plotwise it sounds like your standard Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy story. But Get Smart is also very faithful to the spirit of its television antecedent. Right from the getgo, all the classic Get Smart elements are introduced: the series of sliding doors, the phone booth, the Cone of Silence (look for the original as well as the updated version), the memorable theme music... and of course, the shoe phone (two of my fellow Children of Eden cast members said that I was laughing real hard when we got to see that). I thought that Carell was terrific as Maxwell Smart, and though he doesn't try to ape Don Adams' inimitable style, he certainly does channel Adams here while enhancing it with his own unique persona as an actor. Hathaway too is great as Agent 99. Alan Arkin as The Chief is a hoot, especially in one scene where he does something that he's wanted to do "since Nixon". Also look for cameos by Bill Murray and James Caan (as the President of the United States!).

So if you're in the mood for a good comedy, not to mention one of the better movies that I've seen lately to have been inspired by a television series, you should give Get Smart a try. Definitely one to catch while it's playing in theaters.

Why Johnny Can't Spell

In spite of not having actively posted about it for two weeks, this blog is still getting visits (and the occasional comment) from people who've been following what's been going on between Yours Truly and the local cult calling itself the "Church of Christ", especially its power-mad leader Johnny Robertson of the Martinsville Church of Christ.

Speaking of which, lately I'm hearing it asked quite a lot: Why won't these guys, with all their money, buy airtime on any other television station besides WGSR? Especially when there are other stations in the area with both better studio facilities and broadcast reach? The general consensus is that WGSR's management was the only one desperate enough to sell airtime to the cult, and that every reputable and "real" station in the market wouldn't touch The Three Stasi (that's my latest nickname for Robertson, James Oldfield and Norm Fields) of the so-called "Church of Christ" with a nine-foot cattle prod. I didn't originate that sentiment, folks. That's just what others have been telling me.

Maybe with good reason: I haven't caught most of his more recent broadcasts but the word I'm consistently hearing is that Robertson has appeared "rattled", that the other week he looked like "a deer in the headlights" and that he was practically begging people to call in and pay him attention. I happened to watch a few minutes of his show this past Sunday night and he was ranting about how church bake sales and car washes were tantamount to mortal sin because they weren't mentioned in the Bible. I watched for five minutes then tuned Robertson out and instead began playing BioShock on the Xbox 360. There's more profound wisdom to be found in that video game than there is in the live television broadcasts of three real people during several hours each week: sad, but true.

Meanwhile, y'all wouldn't believe the stuff that's come into this blog over the past few weeks that I can't print yet about 'em. Suffice it say, "Christopher Knight, investigative reporter" is back in the saddle again. More regarding this when I feel like it's time to publish it.

I still stand by what I said on TV a few weeks ago folks: I don't care what Robertson tries to do to me. But as one wise friend told me a few days later: The Lord may yet have some work for me to do so far as these loons are concerned. However, regarding Robertson's boast that he had turned "the community" against me...

We've had three performances of Children of Eden so far. When the cast was greeting the audience following our opening night show one gentleman told me that I was "a hero" for "taking on that nutcase Johnny Robertson". A few days later at our third performance another audience member said that my words during the live appearance had "the love of Christ" and was "what being a real Christian is all about". Not one person has told me that I was wrong for those thirteen minutes, but a lot of people have told me - both in person and via e-mail, and not comments posted to this blog - that Johnny Robertson and Charles Roark are, in so many words, "a disgrace to this area". Again: their sentiment, not mine. I'm just reportin' it, folks. Parse all this as you will.

(Heck, the comments that I'm still having to delete every now and then about WGSR general manager Charles Roark have been more than a little, shall we say, "colorful". And I never knew that Roark had been convicted recently of theft and had served time in jail, or that he was banned from all Wal-Mart stores, or that prior to that he already had FOUR larceny convictions, or that he lost a defamation lawsuit leveled against him... parse all that as you will.)

In the meantime, I couldn't help but get a chuckle out of something that I noticed on Johnny Robertson's website...

You may have to click on the image to read this heading from the What Does The Bible Say? site. It declares in bold red font that...

"The church of Christ is the intellectual center in this region. No one else will take on the issues."
Whoa! Big boast there! The "intellectual center" of this region? I had no idea that the Martinsville Church of Christ was a subsidiary of the RAND Corporation!

And "No one else will take on the issues"? What does that supposed to mean?! If you read this blog you know that I take on "the issues" all the time. So do a dozen or so other bloggers in the area, not to mention many other writers and clergy members of various perspectives. So to say that "No one else will take on the issues" is a bold-faced lie. Granted, few of us would claim that we agree 100% with what someone else might believe... but I don't know of anyone so brazen as to proclaim that they are the "intellectual center" of anything.

Heck, I'm a pretty smart guy, and not even I would say something like that.

But wait, it gets better. Also from Robertson's site...

It says "Polgamist May Come to the Tent".

How the heck does Johnny Robertson expect us to buy into the notion that he is the "intellectual center" of the region and that he is the sole inviolate authority of the Word of God... when he can't even SPELL his OWN words right?!?

He has had "polygamist" mis-spelled for over a year now on the front page of his website! Tell me again how this is supposed to be "intellectual"?

This is far from an isolated incident. If you've ever read Robertson's hysterical ravings on the Answering the Church of Christ blog, you know already that he has atrocious grammar and spelling. He also has the tendency of shooting from the mouth before he really thinks about what it is he's saying. Although I tend to believe that when Robertson boasted that "we are here to defeat destroy you" he was being more truthful than he possibly realized.

But I am not here to "defeat destroy" anyone. Instead I choose to take the course of action that the wise sage Mel Brooks has discovered is the best way to destroy Hitler, along with any other evil person in this world...

I choose to make people laugh at Johnny Robertson, James Oldfield, Norm Fields, and their twisted cult that never does anything but hurt others.

More soon. Some will be serious. And some will be different.

Muppet engineer Kermit Love has passed away

Ain't It Cool News is reporting the sad news today that Kermit Love, who designed Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus for Sesame Street in addition to many other Muppets after an already renowned costuming career, has passed away at the age of 91.

Love (who insisted that he was not the namesake inspiration for Kermit the Frog, yeah I checked) also did a lot of commercial work, including the creation of Snuggles Bear and the very strange La Choy Dragon:

I'm telling you, folks back then thought and imagined on a whole 'nother scale than we can do nowadays.

Thanks for all your years of wonder and dedication, Mr. Love. You helped bring joy to millions of children, of all ages. And we won't forget that.

Supreme Court rules that individuals have right to own guns

The decision was 5-4. Which is why I'm not happy about it. That's still too close. In a saner day and age, the decision would have been 9-0 in favor of gun ownership.

Being one vote away from tyranny is still tyranny, in my book.

And then there are those of us among the citizenry who hold to the notion that this ruling has no real meaning at all, because we already know that the individual has the right to defend himself or herself. I sure as hell wasn't waiting with baited breath as to what nine justices in some marble building in D.C. had to say about it.

Here's the text of the ruling (in Adobe Acrobat format) if you're inclined to check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Meet the heroes of this season's DOCTOR WHO finale

It's gonna be the craziest Doctor Who title sequence ever...

(Left to Right): Sarah Jane, Mickey, Jackie, Rose, The Doctor, Martha, Captain Jack, Donna

And the rumor is that this still isn't the full roster of the good guys! Over the past few months I've heard that K-9 might be making an appearance too, and maybe even a previous version of The Doctor himself (hmmmm... Paul McGann?). Heck, with that kind of a lineup it wouldn't surprise me if Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart himself was brought in to order "five rounds, rapid".

It promises to be the most epic clash in the entire 45-year history of Doctor Who, as The Doctor and his friends face the wrath of Davros and his new Dalek Empire. The two-part season finale begins with "The Stolen Earth" this Saturday on BBC One in Great Britain, on Sci-Fi Channel a few weeks after that in America and anywhere you want it to be right after it premieres courtesy of BitTorrent download! :-P

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rotating Skyscraper: I ain't goin' inside that thing!

This scheme has "Bad Idea" written all over it...

An Italian architect is planning what he calls the first "building in motion": an 80-story tall skyscraper where the floors rotate around a central axis independently of each other.

Got that?

Imagine a twelve-hundred foot tall licorice stick, that's held upright and twisted back and forth. That's the kind of effect that David Fisher is aiming for with his Dynamic Towers, which will be built in Dubai and Moscow. These are going to be apartment buildings. And as each floor spins 360 degrees, the entire building's shape will constantly shift and change.

Its designers claim that wind turbines built between the stories will power the entire building, letting it be completely energy self-sufficient. Powerful elevators will also allow residents to park their cars within their own apartments.

It's also being said that construction of each tower will only take twenty months, with six days time required to install each story. The stories for the building will be pre-fabricated in Italy, then shipped to the construction site. The final assembly will require eighty technicians, according to Fisher and his associates. Utilities like electricity and plumbing will connect to the central core via attachments similar to in-flight refueling used with military aircraft.

I'm not going to begin to write down all the bad scenarios that are possible with living inside such a thing. But if David Fischer can pull this off, it might be worth a trip to Dubai or Moscow to check it out. He's also planning a smaller one for New York City. Hey, at least a building like that would deter King Kong from climbing it, right?

Here's a video illustrating how this thing is supposed to work...

The "lost" tribe that wasn't

Just less than a month ago there was lots of excitement about a tribe of people living deep in the Brazilian jungle that had been photographed from the air. It was claimed at the time that these villagers were just now being discovered for the first time.

In the past few days it's been determined that this was a lie on the part of the photographer.

José Carlos Meirelles has admitted that authorities have known about the tribe since at least 1910! He took the photos and still claimed that these people had been completely undiscovered until his aerial reconnaissance. Why? Because he wanted it to seem like they were a truly lost tribe so that more attention would be given toward the issue of the impact of logging in the Amazon basin.

In other words: it was a lie driven by a political agenda.

I still harbor some admiration for the photos that Meirelles took, but now any appreciation for them will be forever tainted by how he chose to use them. If he had just come forward and said "hey, these are pictures of a tribe that we've known about for a long time but only now are able to get close enough to photograph them" that would have no doubt been a more respectable feat. He didn't play the part of the objective scientist at all. Instead he injected a personal bias into the matter and in the long run he probably did more harm than good to his cause.

That's a lesson that many other scientists would do well to be mindful of.

(And thanks to Nathan for passing along the news about this.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

CHILDREN OF EDEN: More photos!

Here are some more pics from the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden. Some of these were taken by my wife Lisa and others were taken by Dean Brown...

Father (Neil Shepherd) realizes his dream and creates the universe in "Let There Be", the opening song of Act I in Children of Eden

Eve (Rose Cutuli Wray) listens as Father tells her and Adam what they must do as they begin "The Naming"

Adam (Stephen Hale) and Eve (Rose Cutuli Wray) are cast out of the Garden as Father (Neil Shepherd) curses the Tree of Knowledge during "The Expulsion" in Act I

Young Abel (Jasper Thomas III, left) and Young Cain (Aaron Boles, right) join their father Adam (Stephen Hale) in asking Father to accept their sacrifice

Cain (Jay Smith) brings Abel (Winston Sims) and Eve (Rose Cutuli Wray) to a place that they have no business being in "Ring of Stones"

Noah (Jon Young) and his family thank Father for their blessings during "A Piece of Eight" in Act II

More coming soon! And remember: Children of Eden plays for three more performances this coming Friday through Sunday, June 27-29th at Rockingham Community College Auditorium. Visit the Theatre Guild's website for more info!

"Turn Left": Final stand-alone of Davies era among the best of new DOCTOR WHO

Russell T. Davies, if you're reading this, you have made me feel very sorry that I doubted you.

Yeah, there have been some low points during your reign as showrunner on Doctor Who (insert standard derogatory reference to "Love & Monsters" here). But you know what? If the two-part season finale that begins this coming Saturday is anything as good as "Turn Left" was this past weekend, then I will gladly declare that you learned from your mistakes and that you triumphed in every way so far as bringing Doctor Who back is concerned. This past season of Doctor Who might have been the best yet since the series's revival. And it looks to be going out with a bang...

"It's sort of complicated. I ended up in his spaceship on my wedding day."

"What if you turned right? What then?"

"There's something on your back!"

"We found a body, sir."

"I came so far."

"The Royal Air Force has declared an emergen..."

"Nobody lives in the bathroom."

"America is in crisis, with over sixty million reported dead."

"Why won't you tell me your name?"

"Something's coming, Donna. Something worse."

"'Labor camps'. That's what they called them last time."

"They're going out. Oh my God! Donna look! The stars are going out!"

"Nooooo way!"

"It's a time machine!"

"Tell him this. Two words."

"Turn Left", which Davies also wrote, is the last stand-alone story (more or less) of his tenure at the helm of the classic television series. Last week the Doctor went almost the entire episode without Donna, and now it's Donna's turn in the spotlight in this offbeat episode that also features, after a season of fleeting cameos, the full-blown return of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

While visiting a planet-wide Chinatown on a far-off world, a fortune teller offers to tell Donna's future. Donna takes her up, but instead of what is to come Donna is made to live out a different past: where instead of turning left at an intersection she chose to have a "safe" life by turning right toward a job that offered security. The most obvious result of this is that Donna never met the Doctor. Without her being there, the Doctor died during the events of "The Runaway Bride". And the result of that was that the world went straight to Hell.

If you've been faithfully watching Doctor Who since its 2005 return, there are rewards galore in "Turn Left": the Judoon's stealing the hospital, the space-borne Titanic, the Sontaran attack... all of these and more we get to see had the Doctor not been there to stop it all. This episode is very much Davies's love letter to his work over the past four years, and it succeeds admirably. My only complaint so far as that goes is that Davies jammed "Turn Left" with references to just about every other Doctor Who-related project he's worked on, including Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures and many viewers might be "lost in the fog" so far as those go. Indeed, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what this "Trickster's brigade" thing was about.

Catherine Tate does a superb job of carrying the weight of this episode without David Tennant's presence. I've become quite a fan of Bernard Cribbins as Donna's grandfather Wilfred, and it's a delight to see him given so much screen time in "Turn Left".

And then there is Billie Piper's long-hyped return as Rose Tyler. It's not quite a letdown, but it's not what I was expecting either. Under any other circumstance hers might have been a "special guest star" appearance.

But with two words which come crashing down on the Doctor in the episode's final frantic scene (perhaps the best cliffhanger of any Doctor Who episode in recent memory) there is no doubt for anyone that Rose's appearance is no gimmick. That in fact her being here means that something very bad is on its way.

What? What could possibly have made Rose Tyler flee an entire universe to warn the Doctor about?

Here's the teaser that the BBC is now running...

"Turn Left" gets 4 Sonic Screwdrivers out of 5.

Next time: the greatest showdown in the history of Doctor Who begins, as just about every hero in the show's current stable gets thrown into battle against the return of Davros. "The Stolen Earth" transmits on BBC One in five days and across the Internets immediately afterward!

George Carlin has passed away

George Carlin has died at 71, of congestive heart failure.

I didn't care too much for the vulgarity of his act. And I disagreed with him on a lot of things. But that still didn't stop me from appreciating that this was a man who was obviously very thoughtful and had a deep understanding of many matters that too many of us don't bother to contemplate. In that regard, Carlin was something like a conscience for this culture. Here's a clip demonstrating that (warning: harsh language):

In the end, I choose to remember Carlin as a man with a lot of intellect, who was talented at sharing that with others through many very different voices. This was a guy who did the "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" and was just as comfortable doing voice work for children's cartoons (not to mention his movie work, like playing Rufus in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure... and Dogma 'course).

Rest in peace, Mr. Carlin.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

CHILDREN OF EDEN: The Third Performance

Are we really halfway through our performance schedule already? Sure doesn't seem like it.

This afternoon was the third performance of Children of Eden, produced by the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County. It was the biggest audience yet! And the show went great again. Today's performance was especially important for me personally because I was finally able to do something that I've been working on all this past week: have some serious tears flowing when I played Seth at the end of Act I. It worked... but man, that was tough! Will try to do it again for the next three times we do this.

My parents got to come and see the show too. One neat moment happened when I got to introduce my real Mom to Rose Cutuli Wray, my "Mom" (she plays Eve) in Children of Eden. Also got to see a lot more friends who came today, and a few who are seeing it for a second time during this production!

(Yeah I'm talkin' 'bout you especially Nell ;-)

You know, this blog has chronicled a lot of... strange and unusual things from my life in the past few years. Everything from running for office to taking on a major corporation to fighting what many have said is evil incarnate, along with everything in between. Doing Children of Eden with the Theatre Guild has been, far and away, the greatest ongoing experience that I've written about here thus far. I have met so many new and wonderful people, have learned so much, and have rediscovered what may be a real passion that I might follow for the rest of my life in some form or another. God has used this experience to make me think about some things, and in ways that I haven't talked about here, He has used it to show me humility and how there are still some matters in my life that need addressing. Through Children of Eden, I have gained not just new friends, but some new family.

And, it's been a heckuva lot of fun!

I'm going to genuinely miss this time when it's over. But until then, we still have three more shows, so we ain't done just yet.

We have off 'til Friday night, although there may be a "brush-up" rehearsal before then. But for now, we've got the next few days to rest and reflect, and figure out how to make the second half of our schedule even better than the first!

Maybe some more pictures soon also. Stay tuned! :-)

The $400 Star Wars LEGO Death Star

Gizmodo has high-res photos of the upcoming Death Star from LEGO's Star Wars collection. With almost four thousand pieces and setting your wallet back $400, this station is now the ultimate power in the universe (or at least your living room floor, which is the only place big enough to build this technological terror)...It comes with a staggering 25 minifigs and droids, and re-creates 14 scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy.

And I must be a very good boy between now and Christmas, because if I tried to bring this thing into the house on my own Lisa would kill me.

EDIT 9:30 p.m. EST: Lisa took one look at that picture, and promptly said "No!"

I suppose she's right. We've got enough Star Wars LEGO models around the place anyway. At least I've got the Millennium Falcon and AT-AT Walker, not to mention Slave I: what more could a guy need? :-P

Saturday, June 21, 2008

CHILDREN OF EDEN: The Second Performance

Just got back from our second performance of the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden. Somewhat larger crowd tonight than our opener last night. Hopefully word of mouth will bring in bigger audiences tomorrow and next week.

Well, I honestly can't remember what much of the audience reaction was during the show itself last night 'cuz we were all so busy making sure we were in place for our cues and such, but tonight I was able to let myself see how the crowd was taking it. The reaction was incredible! There was lots of laughter and applause, but what really caught my attention was what happened as we were about to head down the aisles toward the stage for "Ain't It Good": people in the audience were bopping their heads and clapping and snapping their fingers right to the beat! And then in the next song "In The Beginning", the final one of the show: I counted at least four or five people in the audience who were crying. Which there's nothing wrong with that: I shed some tears too when I heard that song the first time I saw Children of Eden.

We put it on again tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 (same place, the Rockingham Community College Auditorium) and then we're off a few days before coming back for one more rehearsal, before doing it again next Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and then the last regular performance on Sunday, June 29th at 2:30 p.m.

I might post some more pics of the show soon, along with photos of some of the insanity that's been taking place behind the scenes :-P

"Doctorin' the Tardis": More insane music from The KLF

It might be a few days before I can watch "Turn Left", tonight's new episode of Doctor Who which the BBC just transmitted across the pond to our Brittish brethren (and after two years nobody has still gotten that little joke!). "Turn Left" marks the return of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler: the Doctor's first companion after the series was revived after a fifteen-year hiatus. Rose, her family and boyfriend Mickey became trapped in the alternate universe at the end of Season 2 (or 28 if we're counting the original series) and the Doctor said that there was no way to escape. If you've been watching this season's Doctor Who you know already that she wound up back somehow, beginning with her jaw-dropping silent cameo in the season premiere "Partners in Crime".

So to celebrate the imminent reunion of the Doctor and one of the most beloved of his companions, as well as the return of arch-villain Davros next week, here's something that I've wanted to post for awhile now. This blog has already seen the video for "Justified and Ancient" by The KLF. Here now is the group's #1 hit single from a few years earlier when they called themselves The Timelords. Putting a techno-spin on the classic Doctor Who theme by Ron Grainer, starring "Ford Timelord" and the crudest-built Daleks ever, enjoy the video for "Doctorin' the Tardis"!

iPod classic owners can finally get a new battery (WITHOUT hurting their iPod!)

Ever since this past holiday season I've been the proud owner of an 80 gigabyte iPod classic. It's gone with me just about everywhere: why just tell people about things like Forcery and my famous school board campaign commercial when I can show it to them, too! In addition to those and thousands of songs I've also put a ton of movies (the entire Star Wars saga, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Batman Begins, Sweeney Todd, Transformers, UHF just to name a few), not to mention every episode of Lost, along with several clips from Sesame Street and individual Garfield and Friends cartoons. And hundreds of photos, too.

So yeah, my iPod classic has become an indispensable part of my mobile persona. And I haven't had to face the problem yet, but the eventual lessening of my iPod's battery charge has been on my mind, 'cuz I'm the kind of guy who likes to be able to keep using the things he invests in for a long time. Unfortunately like every other iPod ever produced, Apple has not allowed individual users to easily replace the batteries. Steve Jobs thinks it would ruin the look of the iPod (yeah well what about all the millions of dollars that his company could make from selling spare batteries?!). So in the past few years a cottage industry has arisen of companies that provide spare batteries and tools for owners to open the iPod and swap the battery out. One that is widely considered among the most reputable is Milliamp LTD's ipodjuice.com, and I've written about them before. Although I've yet to use their services, I know lots of iPod owners who swear by them.

All well and good... except that when it came time to roll out the iPod classic, Apple made it much harder to remove the case and replace the battery without severely damaging the iPod! Previous iPods could be easily opened with ipodjuice.com's iOpener tool. But the iPod classic's harsh internal locks chew up and spit out the plastic iOpener when its use is attempted.

It took them several months, but ipodjuice.com now has a way to safely replace the iPod classic's battery.

You can't do it yourself like previous iPod models, but you can send your iPod classic to ipodjuice.com. They will replace the battery and usually be able to quickly ship it back to you on the same day. Some folks have told me that turnaround time to either side of the country from the company's location in San Antonio, Texas is less than a week.

Like I said, I haven't used ipodjuice.com yet, and I don't own any stake in the company (and the only time I've been to San Antonio was when I drove down from Austin during my trip this past December). But since this is something that a lot of iPod classic owners have been frustrated with, I thought I'd do my part and spread the word that there is now some help out there if they ever need it :-)

Governor Easley made taxpayers fund $170,000 "business" trip to Italy

I don't mind saying this: I've never liked or trusted Mike Easley, before or after he became Governor of North Carolina.

When I was a reporter in Asheville, I saw how Easley, who was then the state's Attorney General, practically stole land from a private owner. Easley's claim was that the land needed to be environmentally protected, as if it were pristine wilderness. Then an aerial photograph showed that there were already not only housing developments nearby but a chemical plant also. I saw the plans that the guy had for the land and there's no question in my mind that he was going to responsibly manage the land and make it into something that everyone could enjoy. He was certainly going to do a much better job at it than the state government ever would.

Easley had the state take it anyway.

So now Mike Easley is on his way out as governor, and it looks like he's feeling that the taxpayers "owe" him for the "service" he has given this state: Easley racked up a $170,000 bill during a "business" trip to Italy, which also included his wife, members of his staff and three North Carolina Highway Patrol officers to provide "security" for Easley. During the trip, which included overnight stays in Rome, Venice and Florence, Easley and his contingent stayed at some of the most expensive hotels in Venice and enjoyed dinner at what are considered to be among the finest restaurants in Europe. They also enjoyed the service of a luxury limo and driver at the rate of $3,600 a day.

All of this was billed to the taxpayers of North Carolina.

And strangely, WTVD in Raleigh is reporting that many of the expenditures were not reported, having been "redacted".

The trip is being lauded as a "success" by Easley's staff and supporters.

I've got three questions:

1. What kind of a return can we, the taxpayers of North Carolina, expect for the "investment" that we were forced to make for Easley and his buddies to party hardy down Rome and Venice way?

2. What kind of business interests are there in Italy that we in North Carolina should have a compelling interest in? So far, not Easley or anyone on his staff has been forthcoming with this. We're told that they promoted North Carolina as a tourist destination to the Italians... which is kinda like trying to sell a snow machine to an Inuit.

3. In this time of fiscal constraint, how does Easley and his staff justify such wanton spending when there were less expensive alternatives, if this trip was deemed to be an absolute necessity?

I'm not expecting answers from either Easley or his cronies on those questions. It's pretty obvious that the "business" aspect was a facade over what was for all intent and purpose a pleasure trip which this state can't adequately justify and funded by money that we don't really have.

One more example of what I've come to call the "rotted timbers", folks...

After-Action Report from CHILDREN OF EDEN's Opening Night!

Tonight, the shared sentiment among the cast and crew of Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden is TRIUMPHANT!

The show went beautifully! It was the first time that it had ever been performed in Rockingham County. And judging by the applause and the kind words that members of the audience gave us after the show, this was a huge hit! Lots of people said that they loved the uplifting and powerful message of the story and that the music was "wonderful!" Cast members also received a lot of praise for their acting.

We just got back from a very crazy opening night cast party at a Mexican restaurant in Reidsville (which included the strangest rendition of "In Pursuit of Excellence" that I've seen since this production began... and that's saying something). Everyone involved is ecstatic about what happened tonight. Some have said that this might be the best production done in the history of the Theatre Guild.

This was one of the greatest nights of my life! For ten years I've wanted to not just perform in Children of Eden, but especially take part in "Generations", the opening number of Act II and my favorite song of the show. Tonight I got to fulfill that huge goal. And it will happen five more times over the next week or so.

If you missed Children of Eden tonight, you can see it tomorrow night at 7:30 at Rockingham Community College Auditorium, and then again Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and then next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For ticket information visit the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's website.

Okay, I'm off for now. Time to recharge. "And the night was perfect..."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of CHILDREN OF EDEN opens TONIGHT!

Father (Neil Shepherd) teaches Adam (Stephen Hale) and Eve (Rose Cutuli Wray) how to care for their new charges during "Naming the Animals" as the Storytellers watch in a scene from Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of
Children of Eden

Here it is at last: Opening Night for Children of Eden, produced by the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County. The curtain opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Rockingham Community College Auditorium. The show runs each Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 and then Sunday afternoon at 2:30 between today and June 29th.

If you are coming, and you have never seen Children of Eden before, then prepare yourself for a treat.

Children of Eden, with music by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell and the music for the motion picture Prince of Egypt) based on a book by John Caird (the musical Les Misérables), is based on the first nine chapters of the Book of Genesis. Throughout the stories of the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden, the fall of mankind and then Noah and the Ark, Children of Eden explores the age-old issues of relationships between parents and children.

Something that we have joked about during the past several weeks: Children of Eden is a show that has three deaths in Act I, billions of deaths in Act II, violence and mildly suggestive lyrics and explosions and Satan himself... and yet it is one of the most family-friendly musicals in production today! It is also one of the most wildly popular. Shows sell out all over the place whenever it's put on.

And I'm in it! Ever since Elon's production of Children of Eden ten years ago, I've wanted to take part in it. It took a decade, but tonight God will answer my prayer as I step into the cloak and sandals of Seth: the third son of Adam and Eve.

There is a place in Eden for children of all ages. It's going to be quite a show no matter who you are. So y'all come if ya can! :-)


Hey y'all, don't have much time to spend on a full write-up here 'cuz today is packed in anticipation of tonight's opening of the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production of Children of Eden. But yesterday Lisa and I managed to squeeze in a showing of The Incredible Hulk, and we thought it was great! It's not a sequel to Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk movie but rather a "reboot" into the new cinematic "shared universe" that Marvel Studios is now putting together.

The Incredible Hulk has Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner: the gamma-altered scientist who must control his anger, lest he transform into the raging green goliath known as the Hulk. Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, the love of Banner's life. It's made all the more complicated by the fact that Betty's father General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) is trying to find the runaway Banner and weaponize whatever the heck it was that went wrong - or went right - with him. Aiding the general is Russian mercenary Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). Tim Blake Nelson also makes an appearance as Samuel Sterns: not the janitor of the classic Marvel comics, but here a university scientist.

If The Incredible Hulk has anything weighed against it, it's not within the movie itself or from box office competition (as if The Love Guru is going to be worth your eight bucks plus price of popcorn). Rather it will be lingering sentiment from Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk movie. I'm one of of the very few who will admit to liking Ang Lee's vision of the Hulk. In my mind there's not much wrong with Lee's Hulk movie. He tried to make a comic book come to life on the big screen - panels and all - and in that sense it worked beautifully. But it was a handicap toward commercial success. As Orson Scott Card noted a few years ago, movies based on comic books can either be (a) made for the fans of the comic book or (b) made for movie audiences in general. Ang Lee's approach from the former jarred many who were expecting an action spectacle. I must say this though: the scene toward the end of Hulk between Bruce and his father David as they meet - you know what I'm talking about if you've watched it - is my favorite single scene from any comic book movie of recent years. That scene alone is why Hulk still whirs happily in my DVD player every so often.

But there's no denying the obvious: Ang Lee's Hulk was on many fronts a disappointment. Five years later and people still remember that. And that's the biggest hurdle that 2008's The Incredible Hulk must overcome.

I hope it does, because The Incredible Hulk is a very good movie. And if you did enjoy 2003's Hulk, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at how much better The Incredible Hulk is. Director Louis Leterrier took the more wise approach and made this a movie that everyone can dig, whether die-hard fans of the comic or those who fondly remember Kenneth Johnson's television series, or just casual movie-goers. Indeed The Incredible Hulk, as my friend Phillip Arthur has observed, is something of a synthesis of the 1970s The Incredible Hulk television show and the recent incarnation of the character from Marvel Comics' Ultimate line. The film begins with one of the smarter origin sequences for a comics-inspired film: Bruce Banner conducts an experiment on himself involving gamma radiation, in a shot directly inspired by the now-famous image of Bill Bixby sitting in the gamma machine from the television show. Without a word of audible dialogue we see how something goes very wrong, and Banner transforms into the green Goliath for the first time. Banner escapes and goes on the run, trying to flee both from love for Betty and capture by the military.

If there's one thing that I miss from Hulk that is not in The Incredible Hulk, it's the subplot about Banner and his father, and how that was the source of Banner's pent-up rage. But on the other hand, The Incredible Hulk plays up more of the classic angle of Banner being a man who wants to be left alone and can't stop the constant harassment by those who would exploit or destroy him. As Phillip also previously wrote, it's like "Frankenstein meets The Fugitive".

The action sequences in The Incredible Hulk destroy lots of property, like military equipment and a university and much of downtown New York City... which for a property like Hulk, that's a good thing! I thought that Emil Blonsky/the Abomination was a much better physical foe than David Banner was in the 2003 Hulk movie (but why couldn't they give him the ears he has in the comic?). There are also many nods to the Seventies television series, including how they were able to include Bill Bixby (won't say how, but I couldn't help but have a wide-eyed grin at seeing him here). Lou Ferrigno has a much better cameo appearance than the one he had in Hulk. Craig Armstrong's score also includes "The Lonely Man" theme from the television show. And of course there is the ubiquitous crashing the party - as he does with every Marvel movie but we do enjoy looking for him - of Stan "The Man" Lee, in what is likely his strangest cameo yet.

And then there is that final scene in the bar, between General Ross and a certain character - played by the same actor - from this summer's OTHER Marvel Comics movie. In another era, it might have been a tacked-on thing. But between that and the other references in The Incredible Hulk - including what happens to Stearns and even to what Marvel geeks will recognize as the "Super Soldier" program that produced Captain America - there's a real sense of a new mythology being built on screen, in a way that I can't recall has ever been done this way before. If done right, this could be a very cool thing that Marvel Studios is working toward. It's almost enough to make me think that the X-Men and Spider-Man movies came along a decade too early.

Anyhoo, check out The Incredible Hulk. I think you'll find it a far better movie than anything you might have been expecting. Definitely one to add to the DVD library later this year, too.