The whole article is a long and excellent read — and I tend to agree with Mark Evanier in that there doesn’t seem to be much for me to individually add about my own personal connections to Sondheim’s work.
However, one thing that has become evident to me with the outpouring of articles and anecdotes this past weekend is how many people have such specific connections to Sondheim and his work… as if each and every one had their own personal relationship with him.
We can talk about a central goal of art being to touch people — and for great artists being able to touch a lot of people, but for an artist to make such a singular impact to so many individuals with such specificity?
That’s an artist who has given the world gifts on a scale that cannot be understated.
Sondheim lived a long and enormous life, died old and accomplished and loved at ninety-entire-one years of age. His death should feel neither cruel nor unexpected. But it does. I am still living in the world that he built, and cannot imagine it without him. What a hideous thing it is to live in a world without Stephen Sondheim. What an enormous piece of luck it was to have been alive at the same time as him.
Finally, I’ll link to this video of frequent Sondheim collaborator Bernadette Peters singing one of his best-known songs that, once you’re watching the show it’s in, you realize contains multitudes.
While I touch on the writing insofar as their episodes move at a rapid clip that puts many older TV shows to shame, one aspect I haven’t dwelt on was how the show deals with mental health in general and trauma in particular.
Enter James Hoare’s piece for The Companion. With an assist from Commander Crichton himself (Ben Browder), the article delves into the traumatic events that befall Crichton and how he deals –and is unable to deal– with them.
Frankly, most characters in adventure series experience trauma that would overwhelm those of us who don’t have a writers’ room to prop us up. And traditionally, in many an adventure series, the writers conveniently sidestep the consequences of said overwhelming trauma in the name of preserving the status quo. People being reflective and being affected by the events of one episode bleeding into subsequent episodes is not something one saw in the adventure tales of yore.
Thankfully, Farscape was part of a series of said adventure shows that began to push the envelope of serialization — something we take for granted in the era of streaming and “prestige TV.” And while I always appreciated the different voices and perspectives of the characters –many of Moya’s crew really didn’t get along with one another– reading the article made me realize how much the writers addressed mental health, asking for help, and helping. I suppose just as sci-fi and speculative fiction in general helps explore ideas more easily or safely in its fantastical wrappings, it helps when said sci-fi has been given the mandate to “be as weird as possible.”
But, in the end, how weird is it? After all, as Browder points out, all of us have a ‘Harvey.’
(Note: that last line and the article itself are chock full of spoilers for the series, so if you’re planning to dive into the show for the first time, maybe hold off.)
And here’s the thing, due to a distribution kerfuffle, people here in the United States almost missed an opportunity to see it until Netflix stepped up — and we’re all better for it.
Many people may not realized just how many different adaptations of The Little Prince that have been made. It’s a story that touches all of us (assuming we’re not too much of the wrong kind of grown-up). And while some people of my generation may remember Stanley Donen’s musical version from the 70s (aka the one with Bob Fosse as the funkiest yet disturbing snake you ever saw), the story of The Little Prince is not, to my mind, a feature film length tale. Much like Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, it’s better as a compact and moving half-hour special — though look how thoroughly Hollywood has ignored that assessment.
So what I love is that the 2015 film version tells the original story, but wraps it in another story of The Aviator passing the story along to a little girl. The girl herself is being raised by a single mother who, while loving, has clearly been buffeted by events offscreen in ways far too many of us can imagine. And so she wants her daughter to be serious and “essential” to better survive this crazy thing called life.
What I love, and why I would urge all of you to give it a rewatch on Netflix, is how many lovely little notes are adding into this as the story unfolds. There’s great truth and depth beyond the dialogue that hearkens to Terry Gilliam’s ‘Trilogy of Imagination’ (Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of the Baron Munchhausen). In this way, I find the film to be great family viewing, because adults can get references and moments understandable only by experience, but it doesn’t make the tale too scary or dull for kids.
And for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, you will be treated to great voice work by Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, and more (the French version is similarly impressive from what I’m told for you French speakers). The score from Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey is exhilarating, and the mixture of computer animation and stop-motion animation just feels right.
At the end, you’ll find you’ve seen a film that clearly tackles themes of imagination and the human spirit, but softly meditates on how we face life and face death. And that’s no small feat to introduce to a child, or remember as a grown-up.
So I hope some of you make the time to watch it before it leaves Netflix and, yes, I am aware of DVD/Blu-Ray technology and already have my copy in preparation for its departure. But for those of you on the fence, you’re more likely to click over to Netflix than order a disc. So go ahead. Treat yourself to a little movie magic.
While it’s almost certain I first saw Kotto in Alien, the performance that will always stick with me was seeing him on stage as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences.
Through all the power, fragility, strength, and weakness in that character was a presence that just couldn’t be faked. As an actor and as a casting director, I obsess about actors “inhabiting” their characters to the right degree — and Kotto always did so. Amazingly so.
And I should point out he could inhabit all sorts of characters in a variety of genres. For Midnight Run, his turn as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a perfectly realized straight man in an action-comedy whose plot was anything but straightforward. His gravitas weathers all the shenanigans and manages to ground the film in the stakes, especially at the end.
Although he turned down an opportunity to be Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, evidently in part to avoid being typed in “space” films, he did come awfully close to being in another venerable sci-fi franchise.
Yes, apparently he was close to being Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That would have been a very different Picard, but man would I like to see the stories from that timeline.
Time and again, the appearance of Yaphet Kotto has meant you’re getting a damn fine performance. I’m overdue to revisit his turn as Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Street, a series I should check out again anyway.
You want to talk about the bonus situation? The bonus situation was whenever Yaphet Kotto showed up. May his memory be a blessing.
It’s an even year, although the nicest thing you can say about 2020 is that it was odd. But, in any case, even years mean it’s time for my Favorite Films sort, something I have done offline for about 30 years and have done online for the past eight years. You can see my previous entries here (including how I do the sort by pairwise comparison).
Just as with two years ago, there was some major shakeup in the top 10, along with 15 additions to the top 50 that were either new or sorted lower on a previous year. Some of the results are shocking. Why, Die Hard isn’t even my favorite Christmas film any more!
Hush, you. One Christmas movie delivered because it clearly had correct postage.
Anyway, here are the ground rules:
These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
TV mini-series are not included.
Regular TV series are right out.
These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)
Total Comedies: 7
Total Dramas: 30
Total Action-Adventure Films: 27
Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 23
Total Westerns: 1
Total War Movies: 13
Total Musicals: 4
Total Animated Films: 3
Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1992
Decade with the most favorites: 2000s (13 films), followed closely by the 1980s (12 films)
The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Sense & Sensibility (1995)
All right, here’s some other thoughts…
What a lot of war
Okay, I guess it’s not the majority of films, but 13 is “nontrivial.” You pair that with all the dramas, and it does seem heavier. I’ve also noted that, in general, though I inhale TV shows these days — thanks to the omnipresent streaming services — really none of them are sitcoms. Evidently I get my comedy in the ‘quippiness’ inherent to many an action-adventure (the majority of the films in the 50).
Perhaps I should revisit a few more comedies for next time.
Trek films 2, 4, 6, and 8 are all in the sort and “Wrath of Khan” has been in the Favorite 50 frequently. I guess the familiar is no longer the favorite.
Similarly, The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps always in my favorite list, has retired to a lower place behind young upstart Rogue One.
As with other longstanding films on the list, I guess the personal resonance only goes so far and I’m ready for new things, which may explain why…
Hamilton did have the votes
Because I maintained a strict personal blackout on the play, I didn’t know most of the details or any of the music about Hamilton (musicals not being my thing anyway, despite working on dozens of them in a former life). And then it came to Disney+ and blew us all away.
But Hamilton was a damn fine musical and if “concert films” like The Last Waltz and Woodstock are eligible for the sort (which they are), then Hamilton certainly was. And I watched it several more times after my wife and my initial watch just to be sure. I wasn’t going to throw away its shot.
Besides Hamilton and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being brand new entries to the sort that also got in the top 50, I also noticed the average age of the top 50 went from ‘1986’ in the 2018 sort to ‘1992’ now. I suspect that average will continue to rise in 2022.
As with the comedies, should I delve into the deeper trove of classic films? Maybe.
No Christmas in the Favorite 50
There’s always a few films that are undoubtedly favorites that, nevertheless, fail to break the top 50 — and that seems frequently the case with both spy-fi and holiday films.
While a Bond film actually broke into the top 50 this year (Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale), Die Hard, which supplanted the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street as my favorite Christmas film, was itself supplanted.
The interloper, Klaus, narrowly missed out by coming in at #54, so perhaps it’ll get in next time, as The Little Prince did this time. Die Hard is still in the overall 100 at #80. You really should check out Klaus though. It’s delightful.
So there you have it. Another sort in an altogether too long two year interval, this year being at least 14 years long. Here’s hoping there’s more joy in 2022, and if I’ve inspired anyone to check out some films, my job here is done.
The end of this week will feature the latest edition of my biennial Favorite Films list, so I suppose I have films on my mind.
Some of the earliest films I saw were short films, thanks to my dad and the Arlington County library which had them. And I do mean films! We had a projector at home, which was often used for birthday parties and other events. This inevitably meant those masters of movie comedy, Laurel and Hardy.
As long-time readers of this blog know (all seven or nine), I am a bit of a Star Trek fan, as may be deduced from my manic series Crisis of Infinite Star Treks alone.
Where that series delves into fannish hand-wringing and minutiae, it did remind my of how much I enjoy Star Trek in its seemingly infinite combinations. I wanted to do something special for its official 50th anniversary, but life has intervened (quantum filaments, holodeck mishaps, Borg incursions… the usual).
So what better way to express rampant fandom while looking back at the history of Star Trek than to rate each of its 700+ episodes? Think of it as a gift of the pandemic (well, for those of us in Sector 001).
Regardless, doing a retrospective of previous TV Trek seemed appropriate before now… and by the time I was fully invested in rewatching and ranking everything, new TV series started appearing (and may never abate). Yes, Lower Decks, the next seasons, of Discovery and Picard, and who knows how many other series will all find their way into the rankings ’cause I’m as foolish as Stamets wanting to do one more jump.
Oh what I wouldn’t give for a fortuitous temporal anomaly right now.
Anyway: to the links! (Not great links, perhaps, but links none-the-less)
The Methodology The short version? Every TV series (even the original animated one) is in. I had to make command decisions on how to judge two-parters and continuing storyline episodes, so I did. Movies are not included.
How to Rank ‘Em Yourself Even an honest Vulcan will tell you their logic is susceptible to mortal foibles as emotions and other intangibles creep into their calculations. It could be that ranking Star Trek episodes objectively is a no-win scenario, but tell me your Kobayashi Maru solution in the comments, whether it’s the top 10, the whole list, or anything in between (be civil, please).
What if you Object, Dislike, or Outright Hate My Rankings? No self-respecting Starfleet captain nor honorable Klingon commander would take such injustice lying down. Do something about it!
Re-watching (and in some cases, watching) all 700+ episodes of Star Trek took an inordinate amount of time over the past few years, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to comment on everything, including both spoilers… and a certain amount of irreverence. If you’re not ready for potential spoilers and snark, stick to the links marked “episode names only.”
(As alluded above, these lists will be updated as new episodes premiere. The lists below include all episodes for all series before July 2020)
As I mentioned the other week, we saw Hamilton along with a good many millions of people at the beginning of the month… and that’s led to listening to the soundtrack non-stop the following weekend, at least one rewatch so far, and delving into all sorts of reading and watching of supplemental material.
Just about none has topped my theater geeky glee quite like seeing Adam Savage looking at the props used in Hamilton.
As many of you know, I worked on both sides of the stage for quite some time, and although I was never the best props maker, I had my moments, I loved most every minute, and there was always a special level of delight in making a prop and seeing it used on stage.
If this isn’t enough to give you your fix, you can also check out Adam Savage exploring:
I know many people, and the articles, cite his turn as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings movies or his absolutely chilling performance as Ash in Alien, but for me, Ian Holm burst into my memory in 1981.
The first film, Chariots of Fire, is included in the montage below. He didn’t win an Oscar for supporting actor, but he did win a BAFTA and one from Cannes and the moment you see below is about a nice a quiet payoff moment as you can want as a character actor.
The second film, Time Bandits, was another family favorite and, perhaps being exposed to it in my formative years, Ian Holm’s portrayal of Napoleon remains one of my favorites (one of the three times he played Napoleon).
As the years went on, it was always a pleasure to see him pop up on screen. He had incredible presence in the moment, yet didn’t skew the scene or chew the scenery: a consummate character actor. Even where he plays a major role, he’s part of a team.
So let’s close with something that Ian Holm (as Napoleon) professed to like: little things hitting each other!