Monthly Archives: March 2009

In Memoriam: Andy Hallett

Andy Hallett as Lorne

Even though I watched it faithfully, I was always somewhat frustrated by the TV series Angel. The show had some very cool ideas at the core of it — I especially liked the notion that Los Angeles is full of supernatural beings who go about their business right under the noses of we oblivious humans — but it never really seemed to find its footing, even after five seasons on the air. Sometimes it was like a detective series with monsters instead of criminals, sometimes a variant of Highlander in its focus on immortal angst, sometimes a dark, apocalyptic fantasy about the fast-approaching end of the world, and sometimes it was a satire of all of the above. While Angel‘s parent series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was also a mish-mash of different elements and story types, Buffy gelled into a coherent whole more often than not. By contrast, I never got a clear sense of what the spin-off was actually supposed to be. I kept tuning in, though, because I liked the characters, the thing that keeps me coming back to a lot of shows that really aren’t all that good (and keeps me away from some, arguably, that are; in the final analysis, a big reason why I never warmed to Ron Moore’s Galactica was the fact that I disliked his characters).

Anyhow, one of Angel‘s more memorable characters was a gent named Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan, a.k.a. Lorne, a gentle-souled, green-skinned, telepathic demon who owned a karaoke bar and could psychically “read” others when they sang. My understanding is that he was originally intended as a one-episode plot device, but, like so many other secondary characters who go on to steal a show, Lorne proved popular enough that he was brought back for an encore, then became a semi-regular and finally a full cast member with the actor’s name — Andy Hallett — in the opening credits. Andy would appear as Lorne in 76 of Angel‘s 110 episodes.

I was shocked and saddened this morning to learn that Andy Hallett died on Sunday at the far-too-young age of 33. According to a story on NPR, Hallett’s been suffering from congestive heart failure for five years, basically ever since Angel wrapped production. Hallett’s entry on IMDB indicates he appeared in only three other projects, the last of which was a voiceover job in 2005. What a damn shame… even my grandfather, who died young of heart failure and has always kind of been my personal benchmark for these things, made it to 37.

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The Thousand-Yard Stare

There was another round of layoffs at work today, a big one. Looking for the positive aspects, it did take out a couple of people who’ve been thorns in my side, but also a few more friends, which really sucks. As before, I remain reasonably confident that my own job isn’t going anywhere any time soon. However, watching the slow parade of the unfortunate march one by one into the HR office and then back to their cubes to collect their personal effects with a blank-eyed escort hovering nearby… well, I can think of grimmer sights but I prefer not to. The worst was seeing a sweet, soft-spoken man in his fifties struggle to control his tears as he took down his Ghosts calendar and laid it carefully into the top of a packed bankers box. I didn’t speak to him, didn’t say goodbye, and I wish I had. I was oddly embarrassed, as if I personally had done something to him merely by not getting my own phone call from HR. I think I can imagine what he was thinking, though. At his age — not quite old, but a long way from the eager-eyed hipsters fresh out of college who swarm through our industry like goldfish in a pet store — he was probably imagining how he’s going to look in a blue smock with “Welcome to WalMart” printed on the chest.

Not quite as iconic an image as that famous portrait Dorothea Lange captured 73 years ago, but it haunts me just the same…

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Ten Movies I Want on DVD

Since writing about the Warner Archive DVD-on-demand service the other day, I’ve been thinking about which currently MIA movies I’d most like to own in the form of a shiny silver disc. A few of them are pretty obscure, a couple are somewhat less so (i.e., I’m willing to bet my readers have at least heard of them), and four of them are beloved classics that simply have no good reason to be unavailable, aside from intransigence and the nonsense that so often just seems to happen in Hollywood.

In no particular order:

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Geek Life Meme

Yesterday over on Facebook, I was tagged by Kelly — better known in these parts as Jaquandor — to do a meme about my life as a geek. I of course complied immediately, because, well, it’s a meme. I’m reposting the results here, with some tweaks to the formatting and a few comments that I’ve reconsidered:

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There Are Those Who Believe

As you all know, I’m no fan of Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica series. I honestly did try to appreciate it on its own terms, but it just never hooked me and I gave up on it midway through the first season. Still, I have followed some of the online commentary about the show over the years, and I was curious today to see how things wrapped up in the series finale last Friday night.

Apparently, aspects of the conclusion left a lot of people scratching their heads. From what I gather, the show ended with the ragtag fugitive fleet arriving at Earth — our Earth — some 150,000 years ago, and discovering the place inhabited by spear-carrying hunter-gatherers. The weary colonials ultimately decide to abandon their ships and technology and blend in with the primitives on the planet below. Some of the comments I’m seeing out there question this, as well as Starbuck’s ultimate fate and the revelation of, for lack of a better word, “angels” who were overseeing, and perhaps guiding, everything. A recurring sentiment seems to be “what the hell was that all about?”

Well, this aging fan of the much-disparaged 1978 version of BSG is chuckling his head off right now, because these elements are all right out of the original series. Recall the opening prologue from the original: “There are those who believe that life here began out there… far across the universe with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Toltecs… or the Mayans… or the Egyptians…” By “going native,” Ron Moore’s colonials are simply living up to the “ancient astronaut” underpinnings of Glen Larson’s Galactica.

The angels and Starbuck turning out to be some kind of spirit-being who knows the way to Earth have their precedents in the original, as well. In the original-series episode, “The War of the Gods,” the Dirk Benedict version of Starbuck, along with Apollo and Sheba, encounter the Ship of Light and the highly advanced beings who dwell within it, angels, for lack of a better word, who declare that they are watching out for their “younger brothers and sisters.” They seem especially interested in Starbuck, and tell him that, “as you are, we once were; as we are, you may one day become.” When he and his companions return to the Galactica, they bring with them subliminal impressions of Earth’s location. Sounds to me like Ron Moore was perhaps a little more faithful to the original series than I — and the young fans of the new version who’ve always been so nasty about the old one — really understood.

Now, as I said, I didn’t watch the new BSG, so it’s possible I’m completely misinterpreting what I’ve been reading about the finale. But I gotta tell you, I’m feeling some degree of vindication right now. I think I’m going to celebrate by cracking open a bottle of fine ambrosia and seeing if I can rustle up some mushies…

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Sympathy for the Devil

I’ve been trying for over a week to find a suitable entry point into a touchy subject, to craft some kind of narrative or something, but everything I’ve tried has turned out sounding glib or melodramatic or was otherwise not the right approach. So I’m just going to get straight to the point.

You may have seen the recent item about two female junior-high-school teachers in Bountiful, Utah — that’s a sleepy bedroom community just north of SLC, for our out-of-state friends — who were arrested for allegedly having sex with one of their students, a 13-year-old boy. Stories like this are not uncommon these days and I usually just tune them out because they seem to me more like a topic for The Jerry Springer Show than legitimate news. But in this case, my ears pricked up because, as it happens, I know one of the accused.

Valynne Bowers is an old classmate of mine. Bingham High School, Class of ’87. I used to ride the bus with her, back when she was a teenage girl named Valynne Asay. I shared classes with her. I saw her only 18 months ago at our 20-year reunion. I consider her a friend. And because she is my friend, what I’m about to say will probably be dismissed as misguided loyalty. Take it that way if you wish. But the truth is Valynne’s situation brings together a lot of thoughts I’ve had over the past decade or so about America’s neurotic attitudes toward sex and young people.

Valynne has pleaded not guilty, and I choose to believe that until it’s proven otherwise in court. But even if there was no question that she did it, I could not bring myself to condemn her. And no, it’s not just because she’s an old friend. It’s because I believe people have reasons for doing what they do, even the things that society frowns upon, and especially when those things involve sex. Sex is complicated and irrational, tied up in equations of self-esteem and power that aren’t always as black and white as we like to pretend.

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The Warner Archive: DVDs Made to Order

For all the thousands of movies that are available on DVD, there are many more that languish in the studio vaults, mostly forgotten or “smaller” films that are deemed too obscure to justify mass production. In other words, the studios don’t want to take the chance of getting stuck with a bunch of unsold discs because there wasn’t enough demand for a particular title. That’s business, and it’s completely understandable.

Still, it seems that just about every movie ever made has somebody who loves it, and it’s a real drag when something you love has been consigned to the Memory Hole because of brute economics. Bootlegging is an option, and I’ll admit to having occasionally resorted to it myself in certain cases. But I’ve always been somewhat less than comfortable with bootlegs, for various reasons. I’d prefer to have the real deal, i.e., a legitimate, professionally made DVD, if only one were available.
I’ve just learned that at least one movie studio has finally come up with a workable solution for this problem. Jaime over at Something Old, Nothing New has pointed me to The Warner Archive, a new service that allows you to special-order catalog films which are then manufactured on demand. There are more details here, but the bottom line is that for only $19.95 each, you can get these obscurities on a genuine, professionally made DVD with a presentation quality equal to any other Warner Bros. title.

Jaime notes that:

Most of the titles they have at the moment can be described as minor films of major stars: lots of not-yet-on-DVD movies by popular stars with huge filmographies, like Cary Grant, Norma Shearer, Clark Gable. There are a bunch of films that were released on VHS but never made it to DVD, and some real curios…

In other words, stuff that’s not likely to appeal to the average consumer. However, browsing through the 137 titles currently available (I understand there are more coming), I see at least four movies that I might be interested in owning: Countdown, a space-race drama starring a young James Caan; The Rain People, which was Francis Ford Coppola’s first movie; Oxford Blues, an early-80s Rob Lowe vehicle that was filmed on location in Oxford, England, and helped fuel my own interest in traveling to England; and Wisdom, another ’80s trifle with Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore. None of these are great movies (well, I haven’t seen The Rain People, but I’m guessing there’s a reason why it more widely known), but they do have their pleasures, and I’m delighted that they’re finally going to be available for psycho collectors like myself. I hope the other studios launch their own versions of this service as well…

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All Hail Our New Currency

The way the economy’s been lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if these end up being worth more than good old-fashioned dollars:


Starbuck by `diablo2003 on deviantART

They’re certainly cooler looking than U.S. greenbacks. The design was apparently created for a Star Wars convention that was held a couple years ago, according to the artist’s notes. I don’t know if it was ever actually printed in faux-currency form or not; if it was, I wouldn’t mind having a couple for my collection, so if anyone knows where I can get some, give a shout, okay?

Via Boing Boing, of course…

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Today’s Random Thought

Courtesy of Lileks:

…neon is the most entrancing and civilized form of signage ever invented – and… the 30s and 40s style was adult and sophisticated in a way nothing has touched since. But for an adult culture, I suppose you need lots of – what’s the word? – adults.

Anyone care to discuss?

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Cool Ads for Lousy Movies

Here’s something fun for your St. Patty’s Day, a trio of ads for a New Zealand TV network’s upcoming airing of the execrable movie Alien vs. Predator (not to be confused with the excellent four-part comic-book miniseries Aliens versus Predator, which was published in the early ’90s). The movie stinks, but I love the clever ads, especially this one:

AvP_chess

As always, click to embiggenate.

Via the Bad Astronomer, who dubbed the campaign “beyond awesome.” Total agreement here.

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