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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Scariest Thing I Remember From Childhood Television

You know, when I was a kid, there were a few things that I had a bit of a fear of.  In a lot of ways, I suppose that I was a lot like Chuckie Finster from the Nickelodeon cartoon "Rugrats" in that I loved to explore the world, but I didn't want to get hurt doing it.

I think that I was one of those rare kids who actually loved playing outside in the winter months moreso than the summer months.  Because in winter, all of the things that I didn't like in the summer months were either covered in mounds of snow, or stayed down south between the months of December and March.

In the summer, I was a little more cautious.  I almost drowned in a swimming pool when I was four, which lead to a fear of deep water which lasted for approximately seventeen years until I learned how to swim...and even then, I doubt that I'll be doing any scuba diving any time soon.  I used to be afraid of bees, wasps, and hornets after one stung me in between the toes when I was seven.  These days, I think bees are cool, and should be protected, given that they are dying off in record numbers.  However, I would not be too sad to see every wasp and hornet die off.  Those pests are evil.  And, don't even get me started on thistle bushes and all sharp pointy plants.  Unbeknownst to me, I found out the hard way that my backyard was overrun with them the one day I decide to walk through the yard in nothing but bare feet.

(Since that day, I always make sure I wear shoes outdoors.)

I mean, I understand that fear is subjective, and some of us have more rational fears than others.  I mean, more often than not, you have people who are afraid of snakes, spiders, heights, and dying young.  And, then you have me who still has a strong dislike of balloons popping that I have to actually have my iPod on full blast before I can pop one.

(And don't judge.  Please don't judge.  We all have our quirks.  That one happens to be mine.)

But, I should also note that I'm no longer fearful of most of the things that I was afraid of as a child.  Good thing too.  It would make for quite an isolating experience, wouldn't you agree?

I mean, there was one terrifying experience that I remember having when I was a child, and had I not outgrown that fear, I likely would have never watched television ever again!

You see, there was one particular thing that took place on television every month or so from the time I was born until the time that I was approximately sixteen.  And, by the time I was sixteen, I was completely over this scary sight on television.  But when I was a little kid and I saw this event take place on television, I would cower in fear.  Back in the days in which I was a toddler, televisions didn't come with mute buttons.

Or maybe they did on the remote control...thing is that my parents never owned a television with a remote control until the late 1980s, as I grew up with working class roots.  Not that it mattered.  At that age, I probably didn't know what the word "mute" even meant.

The point is that this particular television event used to scare me something fierce.  That sound was enough to make me want to throw all of my toys out of my toy box and just hide in there until it was all over.

Even though it only lasted thirty seconds at the most, it was easily the most terrifying thing that I have ever seen and heard.  It got to the point where whenever my mom would watch her soap operas ("The Young and the Restless", "As The World Turns", "Guiding Light", and "Capitol"), I would make it a mission not to be anywhere near the room because I always knew that the odds of seeing this terrifying spectacle was higher during the hours of daytime television.

So, what the heck could I see on television that would make me panic so much that I would avoid it at all costs?  Was it a scary cartoon character?  Was it a violent television series?  Was it the sound of the little yodeler dude plummeting off the cliff on "The Price Is Right" pricing game "Cliff Hangers"?

Actually, it was this.

The Emergency Broadcast System.  The warning system put in place for at least three decades.  The bane of my existence as a toddler.

Oh, I hated the EBS.  I hated it with the intensity of ten thousand halogen light bulbs.

I mean, that sound?  That sound was absolutely one of the scariest things that I have ever heard.  And the worst part about the test was that it did not occur at the same time every single time they did one of these tests.  It would air whenever the affiliate felt like it, and more often than not, I was surprised by it more times than I would have liked.

I couldn't quite comprehend why I hated that sound so much when I was a child at the time, and upon retrospect, I suppose that had I known the real reason behind the EBS and why it was implemented, I would have had more of a reason to fear it.

So, I suppose this is the time of the blog in which I explain what the Emergency Broadcast System was.  And, I will do that now.

Now, the Emergency Broadcast System was actually a replacement warning system for the CONELRAD system put in place during the height of the Cold War in 1951.

(CONELRAD standing for Control of Electromagnetic Radiation).

In August of 1963, CONELRAD became a more generic warning system, and was changed to the Emergency Broadcast System.  Initially when CONELRAD was founded, it was done with the purpose of warning citizens of any incoming attacks from the Soviet Union.  But by 1963, the focus slightly changed to include national crises that were taking place and severe weather warnings. 

That meant that if a hurricane was approaching, the EBS would sound loudly in the affected areas, as well as a vocal recording explaining the situation.  If an earthquake shook up a large city, you can bet that car radios would soon feature something like the warning below on both the AM and FM dials.

Yep.  That sound still kind of gives me goose bumps, even years later.  I mean, granted this was a mock-up that some random YouTuber made up, but still I suppose it would sound somewhat similar.

And, if, say...a series of riots broke out in the middle of a gigantic city like Los Angeles during the spring of 1992...well, the EBS had you covered.  Take a look at this broadcast from April 30, 1992 - right around the time of the Los Angeles racial riots.

Scary sights, no?  I remember being a ten year old boy watching the coverage of those riots and being completely horrified at some of the images that I was seeing on the television screen.  And yet, had I been a little bit younger, I would have been more freaked out by the high pitched noise from the EBS!  Funny how life works as a child, doesn't it?

Anyway, between 1963 and 1996, it is estimated that the EBS was activated at least twenty thousand times by network affiliates for mostly testing purposes, but occasionally they would be used for local weather happenings.  And it should be noted that in the EBS' thirty-four year history, the EBS was never activated nationally for a crisis affecting the United States.

Well...actually, it was...accidentally.

If you were around on February 20, 1971 at around 9:33am, you may have bore witness to an accidental broadcast of the EBS.  Apparently, a teletype operator by the name of W.S. Eberhardt accidentally played the wrong tape during a routine test of the EBS and what he inadvertedly did was broadcast the EBS signal coast to coast from California to Maine, indicating that a national emergency was taking place!  Fortunately, the whole hullabaloo lasted a grand total of 40 minutes before being cancelled, however it did serve some purpose.  It showed that there were still some bugs to work out in the system, as many stations never received the signal, and those that did mostly ignored it, believing that it was only a test.  Only about 20% of all television stations in the United States heeded the warning, which would actually be kind of pathetic - especially if it were a real live emergency.

But luckily, the EBS never had to be used for such a national disaster.  It was featured in fictional apocalyptic films such as "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Day After", but it was never used for a real emergency...which was good, as it would have made me fear it a lot more.

But all things come to an end, and an updated system known currently as the Emergency Alert System was put into place on January 1, 1997 - effectively broadening the coverage, making warnings appear quicker, and allowing the president of the United States to address the nation within ten minutes.

And the best part about the EAS?  The sound became a lot less annoying and scary.  At least, to me anyway.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Low-Budget Anti-Bullying Vid!

Okay, so I wanted to explain the purpose for this particular blog.  Firstly, I wanted to tell you something that you likely already know.  This blog has been (and continues to be) a non-profit venture.  While I eventually do want to make a career out of writing at some point, I think that by including ads and PayPal donation boxes in the blog kind of takes away a lot of the fun that the blog presents.  Maybe down the road, I could reconsider this, but for now, I think it's best that I keep this blog going the way that it is now.

So, what does this mean?  Well, it means operating the blog on a shoestring budget.

And, when I say shoestring budget, I mean no budget.

I mean, seriously.  I'm using a 16 GB iPad mini to film my videos.  It does the job, but it's hardly considered advanced high definition technology.  So, it's kind of hard for me to make really decent video projects.
Like, take this example of an anti-bullying video I made.  Sure, it could have gone a lot better...but I think it kind of works.  After all, I do make a pop culture reference to one of the longest running game shows of all time!

Have a look.  And please, be gentle.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trivial Pursuit

Hey, everybody!  I hope you're ready for another edition of the anything goes feature known as the Whatever Wednesday piece.  And, for today's entry, I'm letting you know ahead of time that this is going to be one of those "can I write an entire blog entry in just three hours" kind of deals.  I've done it before, and I'm sure I can do it again.  I just have to draw the right card in order to make it happen.

So, let's make it happen right now, shall we?

Hmm...well, it looks as though I have drawn the Mr. Green card for today.  This means that we'll be taking a look at some sort of game that kids (and some adults) like to play with.

But what sort of thing am I going to talk about today?  I need to find some sort of game that I can talk about in an interesting manner while keeping in mind that I only have a limited amount of time to talk about it.  Oh, what do I talk about?

You see, this is one of those moments where you're playing that trivia game where you go around a board looking to fill up your little wheel with colourful wedges in hopes of being crowned the king (or queen) of trivia and you need that one final wedge, and you don't know what the answer to the question is.  It's almost like trying to find a topic for today's blog piece.  Oh, what is that game called?

Ah, yes.  Thank you random YouTube video!  Trivial Pursuit.  Anyway, I need to find a topic for today so that I don't waste any time trying to brainstorm ideas and...

...WAIT A MINUTE!  That's it!  Why don't I just do a blog on Trivial Pursuit!  After all, everyone's played the game at least once in their lives, right?  And, it was the most popular board game of the 1980s, which some would call the height of the trivia game era.  

Yes, that settles it.  Trivial Pursuit it is!

Now, everybody knows what the game is all about.  The game is played with as little as two players, but as many as six, and each playing piece looks like this.

Kind of resembles a miniature pie, doesn't it?

Anyway, the goal of the game is to roll the die and move around the board so that you land on a coloured square.  Each colour represents a different subject (kind of similar to each Clue suspect card represents a different theme day on the Whatever Wednesday blog entries).  And, just to clarify, depending on the version of Trivial Pursuit you are playing, these subjects can change.  But if you're playing the original version, these are the six colours, as well as the subjects they represent.

BLUE - Geography
PINK - Entertainment
YELLOW - History
BROWN - Arts & Literature
GREEN - Science & Nature
ORANGE - Sports & Leisure

Okay, so ideally what you want to do is answer all six categories correctly in six consecutive turns and win the game in about as long as it takes to heat up a frozen pizza in the oven.  But the funny thing about Trivial Pursuit is that more often than not, you'll likely land on four consecutive green spaces and you will be forced to answer those questions before you land on the brown square that you absolutely need to win the game.

And, for those of us who are more knowledgeable in some topics than others, that could be one of the most frustrating aspects of the whole game.  I mean, just looking at that list of categories, I can definitely tell you that I would have no trouble earning pink or brown wedges.  I could even have success with blue and yellow, as geography and history were among my best subjects.  But green wedges were quite hard for me to get.  And, we won't discuss how difficult it was for me to get an orange wedge.  As someone who never watches sports, I was rendered completely useless if I was asked a sports related question.

And yet somehow, I would almost always land on orange and green squares.  Life just wasn't fair sometimes.

By the end of the game, your playing piece should look like this.

Sounds simple...but the questions certainly weren't.  I'll give you some examples of what I mean later on in this piece.

For now, let's talk a bit about how the game was invented, as well as some of the controversy that took place upon the game's arrival on store shelves.

Believe it or not, Trivial Pursuit was created by a couple of Canadians.  The concept was drawn up by Chris Haney and Scott Abbott in Montreal, Quebec on one frosty day in December 1979.  At the time, Haney worked for "The Gazette" as a photo editor and Abbott was a sports editor for "The Canadian Press".  The story goes that both men were trying to play a game of "Scrabble" together, but with half of the letter tiles missing, it made the game unusable.  So the pair decided to create their own game, and by 1982 the men felt comfortable enough to release it in stores.

It started off slowly with only a few units sold the first year that it was released.  However, a sudden demand for quiz like games saw Trivial Pursuit rise in popularity sharply.  By 1984, it was easily the biggest selling board game in the world, with some twenty million copies sold worldwide.  As of 2014, the game has been translated into seventeen different languages, and at last count was available for purchase in almost thirty different countries.

Of course, there was a little bit of controversy over Trivial Pursuit.  And, in both cases, the creators of the game were accused of stealing ideas from other people.

In October 1984 - which was right around the time that the game was at its most popular - a man by the name of Fred L. Worth claimed that the creators of the game had stolen questions and answers from his book "The Trivia Encyclopedia" to use in the game - even typing the questions with the same spelling errors as the ones made in the book!  In fact, one of the questions was about the television series "Columbo" asking what his real first name was, and it was incorrectly listed as Philip in the book - as well as the Trivial Pursuit game card!  The two men who created the game acknowledged that they did borrow facts from Worth's book, but also argued that trivia facts are not protected by copyright, therefore the claims of copyright infringement could not be proven.  A judge agreed, and threw out Worth's $300 million lawsuit against Haney and Abbott.

And then ten years later in 1994, a man from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia named David Wall launched a lawsuit of his own against the duo, claiming that he and a friend were hitchhiking around the Sydney, Nova Scotia area in the fall of 1979 - three months before Trivial Pursuit was created.  He claimed that Chris Haney picked them up and gave them a ride.  And along the way, it was Wall who had given Haney the idea for the creation of Trivial Pursuit, right down to the playing piece designs.

In short, Wall was claiming that Haney had stolen his idea and wanted compensation for it. 

Three problems though.

First, David Wall's mother claimed that Wall had drawings of the Trivial Pursuit board and playing pieces located in his room around the time that the game was being planned, but unfortunately the drawings had been thrown out long ago.  Secondly, the friend who was supposedly hitchhiking with Wall on the day that Haney allegedly gave both of them a ride chose not to testify in the lawsuit.  And lastly, Haney claimed that he had never seen Wall before in his life.

Eventually, the court ruled against Wall's claims due to lack of substantial evidence, though it was in the courts for a good dozen years!

Hey, wouldn't that make a good trivia question?

And speaking of trivia questions, I thought that I would try my hand at making my very own Trivial Pursuit card.  I have six questions, one of each category with the subjects based on the original trivia game.  And, I'll have the answers hidden within this blog.  You just may have to do a little bit of digging.

Ready?  Let's do this.

1.  What Canadian city can boast having Canada's largest shopping plaza?
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  The mall is the West Edmonton Mall.
2.  On which television soap opera did "Who's The Boss" star Judith Light play a hooker?
One Life To Live
3.  In a 1994 question and answer session on MTV, which United States President admitted that when given the choice between boxers and briefs, he usually wore briefs?
President Bill Clinton
4.  What is the name of the fictional language spoken in George Orwell's book "Nineteen Eighty-Four"?

5.  On May 18, 1980, what event took place in Skamania County, Washington?
The eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

6.  The last year that this city won both the World Series and the Stanley Cup was in 1993.  Name this city.
Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28, 1986

Welcome to this week's Tuesday Timeline...and while I will usually admit to choosing dates that are mostly linked with happy events, this date certainly is not the case.  The after effects of this events were so tragic and felt for years to come, and many people (myself included) bore witness to this horrible event.

This being said, why don't we take a look at some of the other moments that took place on this date throughout history.

On this date in...

1393 - King Charles VI is nearly killed during a masquerade ball after the costumes of several dancers caught on fire

1547 - Henry VIII passes away, leaving his nine-year-old son, Edward VI in charge

1624 - Sir Thomas Warner founds the first British colony in the Caribbean

1754 - The word "serendipity" is coined by Harold Walpole in a letter to Horace Mann

1813 - Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" is first published in the United Kingdom

1851 - Northwestern University becomes the first chartered university in Illinois

1855 - A locomotive on the Panama Canal Railway travels from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean - the first time a train has ever made that journey

1878 - The Yale Daily News becomes the first daily college newspaper to be printed in the United States

1887 - The world's largest snowflakes fall in a snowstorm in Montana, with flakes measuring fifteen inches wide and eight inches thick

1902 - The Carnegie Institution of Washington is founded

1915 - The United States Coast Guard is created by U.S. Congress

1917 - The first use of municipally-owned street cars in San Francisco, California takes place on this date

1932 - Japanese forces attack Shanghai

1935 - Iceland becomes the first country in the Western Hemisphere to legalize therapeutic abortion

1956 - Elvis Presley makes his very first television appearance

1958 - The design of the Lego building block is patented

1965 - The newly designed Canadian flag with the maple leaf design is chosen by an Act of Parliament

1977 - The first day of the Great Blizzard of 1977 begins with over ten feet of snow falling upon Upstate New York in one day

1979 - CBS Sunday Morning News debuts

1985 - "We Are The World" by USA for Africa is recorded

1996 - Superman creator Jerry Siegel (b. 1914) passes away at the age of 81

And, best birthday wishes go out to the following people; Philip Levine, Alan Alda, Cash McCall, Dick Taylor, Karen Lynn Gorney, Gregg Popovich, Barbi Benton, Chris Carter, Frank Skinner, Dave Sharp, Keith Hamilton Cobb, Sam Phillips, Dan Spitz, Lynda Boyd, Sarah McLachlan, Kathryn Morris, Mo Rocca, Anthony Hamilton, Terri Conn, Matt DeVries, Joey Fatone, Nick Carter, Elijah Wood, J. Cole, and Ariel Winter.

And now for today's date...a date that will forever be linked to great tragedy.

We're going back in time twenty-eight years to January 28, 1986.  And, most people who were around that day know just how sad a day it was.  In fact, January 28, 1986 is the date linked to one of the earliest memories that I can remember.  And, though the entire day remains fragmented (I was only four and a half, after all), and I can't remember everything that happened on that day specifically.  But I do remember one thing about it.

That was the day that I was supposed to watch my very first space shuttle launch on television.

Because I completely skipped junior kindergarten in my youth, I was home on the morning that the launch was to take place.  And I also seem to recall being really excited to watch the launch take place because at the time I really was into all things space.  I loved reading about planets and solar systems at the library, and probably could have told you the difference between Mercury and Mars even back then.  And I had missed all of the other significant space related events by several years (the moon landing for instance), and really wanted to watch something to do with space.

I don't know how I remember this little detail, but I remember that the space shuttle launch actually pre-empted "The Price is Right" on the East Coast because the launch was scheduled for just after 11:30 that morning.  And for a news event to pre-empt "The Price is Right", you knew that it was a big day.

Certainly I remember reading about how several schools brought in television sets and teachers had their students watching the launch in class.  It was certainly shaping up to be one of the biggest space launches of the 1980s.

And it was...for all the wrong reasons.

At 11:38am EST, the space shuttle launched, and I remember seeing it lifting up towards the sky, completely glued to the television screen in excitement and interest.

But then just seventy-three seconds later, this happened.

I can only speak for myself, and granted, I don't really remember what my actual reaction was on that day...but I just knew that something had gone wrong.  I couldn't comprehend the fact that there were actual people inside of that rocket and that all of the people aboard were now dead.  All I remember was seeing that gigantic explosion...and proceeding to tell everybody on the street all about it whenever I went out anywhere.  I imagine that had I known just how tragic a loss it was, I probably wouldn't have been so eager to keep talking about it.  But then again, I was only four and a half at the time.

On this date twenty-eight years ago, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, and seven astronauts lost their lives, causing the space exploration program in the United States to be postponed for nearly three years for safety purposes.

The seven astronauts who were aboard the Challenger are featured in this photo below, taken in November 1985 - just two months before the explosion.

In the front row are Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.  In the back row, Ellison S. Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik.

The deaths of all seven astronauts was tragic enough, but it should be noted that Christa McAuliffe's death was especially reported on.  Had the launch been successful, McAuliffe would have become the first teacher (and civilian) to go into outer space.  It also explains why so many school children watched the event live on television because of the excitement surrounding the launch.  McAuliffe herself was selected from a pool of over 11,000 applicants who applied for the launch, and was expected to conduct experiments and teach a couple of lessons while up in space.

She never got the chance.

When the disaster happened, it was estimated that within an hour of the explosion, some 85% of the American population had heard about it by watching it on television, hearing the news on the radio, or just simply from word of mouth.  When you stop and think about it, that's actually more impressive than you'd think, given that the Internet was not readily accessible in 1986.

But it took a lot of investigating before a cause could be found as to why the Challenger broke apart seventy-three seconds into its launch.  And these investigations revealed not only what caused the disintegration of the shuttle, but also revealed that some of the astronauts may have been still alive when the shuttle crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
You see, the Challenger wasn't exactly a brand new space shuttle.  The first voyage took place in 1983.  The mission that was being performed on January 28, 1986 was the tenth mission that featured the Challenger.  And, because the craft had been used in several missions before, it probably would have been a good idea to make sure that the craft was in perfect working order before launching it into space.

However, there were several things that didn't seem right.

The first thing that the investigation noted was that when the design of the solid rocket boosters within the space shuttle was flawed from the very beginning, since contractor Morton Thiokol brought forth his design some nine years before the disaster.  The design featured a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings...and that flaw was exposed as a result of extremely low temperatures in the air that morning.

Now, had the launch been held later on in the year, perhaps everything would have gone according to plan.  But then again, the launch was planned from Cape Canaveral on January 28, 1986 (after being postponed several times due to inclement weather), and because Cape Canaveral is in Florida, it was expected that the temperature would be high enough for the launch to take place.

The weather report for the early morning hours of January 28, 1986?  Cold.  I'm talking below freezing at twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (-2 Celsius).  It was so cold that day that ice was actually forming on the shuttle itself as well as the launch tower.  And, that made everybody very concerned.  Prior to that day, the coldest that the temperature was when a space shuttle was launched was fifty-three degrees Fahrenheit...some twenty-five degrees warmer than it was on that morning.  Certainly the engineers at Rockwell headquarters were absolutely horrified at the amount of ice that coated the launch site as they felt that the breaking ice could cause major damage to the craft upon launch.  Rockwell actually warned against launching the shuttle that day, but the launch was never cancelled.  It was actually postponed by one hour while crews worked on melting the ice so that the craft would pass inspection by the Ice Team.  By the time the shuttle was cleared for launch, the ice had melted enough to go ahead with the mission as planned.

However, the mission was doomed from the start regardless of the ice that was outside of the shuttle.  Because as it turned out, that fatal flaw involving the O-rings?  The flaw was temperature related.  According to several sources, the O-rings were never tested in temperatures that were below fifty degrees (of which the temperature that day was significantly lower).  And, it was also reported that there was also a flaw in how the rings were built.  When the space shuttle was in launch, the O-ring joints in the solid rocket boosters were to close tightly due to forces generated during ignition, but when pressurized water was used to simulate the effects of booster combustion, the metal parts actually bent away from each other, which allowed a gap to open up which could cause gases to leak through causing the air pressure to drop.  This caused the combustion gases to erode the O-rings, which could have feasibly caused a catastrophic disaster.

And, that's exactly how the Challenger plummeted out of the sky.  The erosion of the O-ring caused a breach in the solid rocket booster, sending pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside, causing structural failure and making the rocket break apart in mid-air.

Now, what made the situation even more tragic was the revelation that many of the shuttle's crew were still conscious when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean...but because it was hypothesized that they were unconscious when the shuttle hit the water, and because there were no emergency exits built inside the shuttle, the surviving astronauts ended up drowning inside the shuttle.

And so marked the end of the lives of seven astronauts who hoped to go into outer space...and so marked the end of the space exploration program until 1989.

And, thus the date of January 28, 1986 will forever live on in history.

This blog is dedicated in memory of the seven astronauts who died that day.

Gregory Bruce Jarvis (1944-1986)
Sharon Christa McAuliffe (1948-1986)
Ronald Ervin McNair (1951-1986)
Ellison Shoji Onizuka (1946-1986)
Judith Arlene Resnik (1949-1986)

Francis Richard Scobee (1939-1986)

Michael John Smith (1945-1986)

Monday, January 27, 2014

007 Feature #4 - Licence To Kill featuring Dalton...Timothy Dalton

Can you believe that we're already doing the fourth installment of the special 007 theme that we have going on in the Monday Matinee?  I tell you, time certainly does fly, doesn't it?

This is the fourth of a six part series of Bond themed entries that will take us right into mid-February.  In case you missed the previous three entries, here they are below.

And this week, we'll be taking a look at one of the two films featuring the fourth actor to play the role of James Bond.

Today we look at Dalton...Timothy Dalton.

Now I will say this before I go on.   For the longest time, I always had the opinion that Timothy Dalton's Bond was by far the Bond I liked the least.  But it's not for the reasons that you might think.  For instance, my opinion of Timothy Dalton's Bond has nothing to do with his acting ability.  In almost everything else I have seen Timothy Dalton act in, I've loved.  Believe me, his acting abilities have little to do with why I didn't prefer him as Bond.  In fact, I really did want to like him in the role.

So, why was I left a bit disappointed in Timothy's portrayal?  Well, I think it had less to do with how he acted in the films and more to do with how he was written in the two films he acted in.

Whereas all of the other movies had James Bond having a multi-dimensional personality where he portrayed a number of complex emotions...I always found that the writers of the scripts (whether intentionally or not) made Timothy Dalton's Bond a lot more serious, and a lot less fun.  And, certainly it made the movies themselves seem more darker in tone, and more serious.  And, that was fine if you really liked dark movies.  After all, 1989's "Batman" worked because it was so dark and gothic.

But to take the dark and gothic imagery and apply it to a James Bond film...I don't know.  I guess it just sort of left me feeling cold.  And, I don't think it's Timothy Dalton's fault either, because he was only acting the way the script called for - and did it well upon watching him in action once again.  It's just that I found the films a little too dark, and as a result, I kind of have Dalton's films towards the bottom of my list (though admittedly, his two films rank higher than Roger Moore's last two as Bond, as well as the non-Eon production that Sean Connery attached himself to).

Now, the casting of Timothy Dalton as Bond in the mid-1980s was an interesting story.  It was widely expected that with the dismal bomb that was 1985's "A View To A Kill" that a new Bond actor would be brought on for the next installment of the series.  After all, Roger Moore was pushing sixty and Albert R. Broccoli let Roger Moore go after seven films and twelve years of playing Bond - even though Roger Moore would have you believe that he left on his own terms.  Regardless of what story you believe, Moore's tenure as Bond ended in 1985 - the same year that Lois Maxwell left her role as Miss Moneypenny after playing her since the very first James Bond movie was released in 1962!

Auditions were held all over the world to find the next James Bond throughout 1986, and of the thousands who wanted the part, the top three actors up for consideration were Dalton, Sam Neill, and interestingly enough, Pierce Brosnan.

Now, had Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had their way, Bond would have been played by Sam Neill (a casting decision that I think might have been an awesome one as I have always loved Sam Neill's work).  But ultimately the final decision was Albert R. Broccoli's, and he didn't believe that Sam Neill had what it took to play James Bond.

With Sam Neill out of the running, the decision was between Dalton and Brosnan.  And, initially, the part was offered to Brosnan.  And Brosnan was well on his way to accepting.  After all, the series that he was starring in, NBC's "Remington Steele" was well on its way to being cancelled, and because of that fact alone, he was absolutely committed to playing Bond...

...or so he THOUGHT.

You see, with the word out that Pierce Brosnan was going to play Bond, NBC pulled what could be considered a nasty trick on Brosnan.  On the very last day of Brosnan's contract with "Remington Steele", NBC exercised a 60-day option onto Brosnan's contract, essentially contracting Brosnan to do one more season of the show - a move that NBC made when the saw how the show was experiencing a spike in the ratings right around the time that Brosnan was mulling over the option to play Bond.  That contract extension caused Albert R. Broccoli to take back the offer, as he did not want Bond to be associated with a television series on NBC, and even issued an edict that simply read "Remington Steele will NOT be James Bond".

Ouch!  And to add insult to injury, when the role was taken away from Brosnan, the ratings for "Remington Steele" took a nosedive and NBC cancelled the series after just five more episodes aired.  I wonder how Brosnan felt about that move.

But Brosnan's loss was Dalton's gain.  And, with urging from his wife, Dana, Albert R. Broccoli was persuaded to give Timothy Dalton the role of James Bond just in time to film 1987's "The Living Daylights".  Of course, Dalton accepting the role happened to be pure luck, as he was initially unavailable for filming because he was already committed to the film "Brenda Starr".  It took a lot of arm-twisting on Broccoli's part, but Dalton decided to take the part for the next two films of the series.

Now, as I have mentioned before, one was "The Living Daylights", released during the summer of 1987.  And the other one happens to be the film that we'll be looking at this week, originally released on June 13, 1989.

Today we take a look at the sixteenth film in the Eon Productions series.  The 1989 Bond film "Licence To Kill", which in addition to Dalton also starred Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, and Benicio del Toro.

Now, this film does have its stand out moments.  First things first, the theme song for this particular movie (sung by Gladys Knight) is probably one of my all-time favourite themes ever for a James Bond film (others I like include Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds are Forever", Tina Turner's "Goldeneye", and Adele's "Skyfall").  And secondly, this film does have a huge list of stars of the past as well as future stars making an appearance.  Benicio del Toro is arguably a huge A-list actor now, but "Licence To Kill" marks one of his very first appearances in a motion picture.  David Hedison - famous for his role in the television series "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" also makes an appearance as Bond's ally Felix Leiter.  Priscilla Barnes, who some may remember as Terri Alden from "Three's Company" plays Leiter's new bride in the film.  And even Wayne Newton appears in the film in the role of Professor Joe Butcher.

But at the same time, critical reception of the film is mixed, and despite being one of the more successful films of 1989, "Licence To Kill" is considered to be a financial flop in the American market, as when it was released it was the lowest-grossing Bond film.

Of course, the film did end up making $156 million on a $32 million budget, so I would still call it a success.

This film also marks a couple of notable events.  First, it would be the final film in which Albert R. Broccoli would serve as producer.  Health problems would sideline him on 1995's "Goldeneye" and he would pass away in June 1996.  And secondly, it was the first Bond film to not shoot any footage inside of the United Kingdom, with most of the filming taking place in Mexico and Key West, Florida.

NOTE:  Initially, the production was to take place in China, but after 1987's "The Last Emperor" debuted in theatres, it was decided that the film would be primarily set elsewhere.

Now, as far as the plot's probably one of the darkest Bond films that has ever been made, with lots of violent scenes.  In fact, I wasn't actually allowed to watch this Bond film until well into my teen years, as some of the scenes were quite scary for a little kid.  Looking at the film now, I can see why I was shielded from this movie as an eight year old.  The film actually received a rating in the UK that prevented anyone under the age of fifteen from seeing it in theatres!

So, anyway...the film opens at a wedding.  The wedding of Felix Leiter and Della Churchill in Key West.  But before Leiter and Della can exchange "I Do's", Leiter and jis friend James Bond are sidelined into a quest to apprehend drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) - which they are successful in doing.  They nab him in the air, and both Bond and Leiter parachute down towards the wedding ceremony where a happy Della is waiting to become Mrs. Felix Leiter.  All is happy.  The end.

Well, okay, that's just the first 5-10 minutes of the movie before the opening sequence.  You know that there's more to come.

Needless to say, thanks to a traitor within the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Sanchez managed to bust himself out of prison, and among his first orders are to get revenge.  He gets his henchmen to track down the location of Felix and Della and dispatch them both.  Ultimately, one half of the unluckiest newlyweds in the whole world end up losing their life as Della is raped, tortured, and murdered.  Leiter survives, but is badly wounded by a tiger shark in the process.  And when Bond discovers that his friend has been injured and his friend's new wife is now dead, the main thing on his mind is getting justice for both of them.

Unfortunately, since Sanchez is out of jurisdiction of the DEA, Bond has no choice but to go after him alone...and with assistance from Felix's friend, Sharkey (Frank McRae), he sets out to do exactly that.

Among some of the other highlights of the film's plot.

- The man who turned on the DEA gets karma delivered to him courtesy of Bond...and a fishy friend.
- Bond is offered an assignment in Istanbul, Turkey by 'M' (Robert Brown), but when he turns it down and resigns, 'M' suspends his 'licence to kill'.
- Bond becomes a free agent, but is still helped by MI6 armourer, 'Q' (Desmond Llewellyn)
- Two Bond girls enter the picture.  Pam Bouview (Lowell) and Lupe Lamora (Soto).  Two entirely different women who somehow find their way into Bond's heart...and one of them end up inside Bond's trousers at the end of the movie.  But of course, I won't reveal which one!
- Who knew that cocaine and petrol would make a rather expensive concoction?
- And, not to give anything away, but a lighter causes one of the most explosive death scenes ever broadcast in a Bond film.

And, that's all you get from me!  That's really all you need to know about the plot anyway.  It's a Monday Matinee, for crying out loud.  Why would I spoil the ending?

But what I can do is offer up some behind the scenes trivia about this film.  Are you ready?

01 - Benicio del Toro is the first Bond henchman to win an Academy Award (for 2000's "Traffic").

02 - Benicio del Toro is also the youngest person to ever play a Bond villain, being just 21 years of age.

03 - This was Robert Brown's last feature film role.

04 - It was also Caroline Bliss' last turn as Miss Moneypenny, assuming the role from Lois Maxwell beginning with 1987's "The Living Daylights".  She would be replaced by Samantha Bond in 1995's "Goldeneye".

05 - The first James Bond film in the Eon series to NOT take its title from an Ian Fleming novel or short story.

06 - There were two versions of Della's wedding dress made for the movie because the scene in which Della is attacked was filmed before the actual wedding scene.

07 - Della's wedding dress fabric reportedly cost $150 a meter!

08 - A postman named Doug Redenuis won a role as an extra in the movie.  Redenuis owned what was then the largest collection of James Bond memorabilia ever.

09 - Sandi Sentell, a gym teacher from Atlanta, Georgia, also won a part as an extra after winning a contest on VH1 to appear in the movie!

10 - The original title of the film was supposed to be "Licence Revoked".

11 - Maria Conchita Alonso was offered the role of Lupe, but turned it down.

12 - Carey Lowell had a difficult time in the scenes which required her character to shoot a gun.  She would always flinch and close her eyes as she pulled the trigger.

13 - The scene in which Bond hands over his resignation to 'M' was filmed at Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West.  Funnily enough, the last line Bond says at the end of the scene is "I guess this is a farewell to arms" - a casual reference to one of Hemingway's works.

14 - Benicio del Toro accidentally sliced Timothy Dalton's hand in a scene, which required Timothy to get stitches.

15 - When Talisa Soto arrived for her screen test, Timothy Dalton was unavailable, so Robert Davi filled in.

16 - Of all the Bond themes recorded, Gladys Knight's 'Licence to Kill' is by far the longest.  If you're interested in just how long the song is, the full video can be found below.

17 - But Gladys Knight almost didn't record the song because she objected to inserting the word "kill" in the song, given her Christian soul singer background.  But given that the film was called "Licence To Kill", I don't think she had much choice in the matter.

18 - This film had budget restraints due to overspending on a previous Bond film that the producers were still paying off at the time of the movie's release.  That film?  "Moonraker" from 1979!!!

19 - Robert Davi learned how to scuba dive solely for his role in "Licence To Kill".

20 - Because of the stiff competition from other blockbuster films during the summer of 1989, this film marked the last time that a film would be released in the summer months.  All subsequent Bond films were released after September in future years.

21 - The closing theme for the movie was "If You Asked Me To", which was performed by Patti LaBelle.  Three years after this film was released, in 1992, Celine Dion re-recorded the single, which became a huge worldwide hit.

22 - The last James Bond film to feature Bond wearing a Rolex watch.

23 - This movie wasn't the first time in which David Hedison would play the role of Felix Leiter.  He previously assumed the role in 1973's "Live and Let Die".

24 - The first Bond film to issue a tobacco warning in its closing credits.

25 - The first James Bond film to receive a PG-13 rating.

And that wraps up our look at "Licence To Kill"...a movie that is far from being my favourite, but certainly worth a spot in the Bond library.

So, Timothy Dalton's turn as Bond was a short one, only appearing in two Bond films.  But he was actually contracted to three.  By the time the third film was ready to be shot in 1994, Dalton stunned everyone by resigning as Bond. 

Thus set the stage for Bond #5...which was a man who would get a second chance to play the coveted role after losing it on a technicality.

Four films were made with Bond #5.  In next week's feature, we look at my favourite of the four.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bruno Mars - Blowing Up The Charts With A Grenade!

This is the Sunday Jukebox for Sunday, January 26, 2014.  But I wouldn't exactly call this any ordinary Sunday Jukebox entry.

Today just also happens to be the day in which the best musical recordings of the last twelve months are celebrated in the awards show known as The Grammy Awards.

And, as long as I've been alive, I remember always being excited about the Grammy Awards.  Even though I more or less have quit listening to the Top 40 charts, I still get excited about the Grammy Awards.  As someone who has always loved everything to do with music, I find myself tuning in year after year regardless of whether I enjoy the musical artists or not.

In fact, with the exception of one particular year, I've seen ever single Grammy Award ceremony since at least the mid-1980s.  I'll get to the one awards ceremony that I missed out on in a little while from now.  It's all part of the song choice that I've made for this week.

(As you know, I'm doing the Sunday Jukebox a little bit differently this year, as I'll be selecting only the songs that reached the top of the Billboard charts.)

Anyway, I've been watching the Grammy Awards for many years now, and some ceremonies have been better than others.  I seem to recall 2012 being the last year in which I was really engaged with the entire ceremony and was thrilled for all of the winners.  Though, I do admit that last year was all right as well.  I almost lost interest in the awards in the mid-2000s because that was right around the time that I found myself completely disgusted with the artists that I didn't care if any of them won, but I stuck with them, and I think that they might just be making a bit of a turnaround.

Certainly, 2014 is looking like one of those memorable years.  Just recently, I was stocking the compact disc section (yes, we still do sell CD's), and the 2014 Grammy Award compilation was one of those albums released.  Apparently, Katy Perry, Robin Thicke, P!nk, Lorde, Macklemore & Lewis, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Kacey Musgraves, and Ed Sheeran are just a few of the nominees that are hoping to take home the Grammy Award in their respected categories.  Some of the artists I love, some not so much, and a couple I haven't even heard of, but at the very least the list of nominees is quite eclectic and it looks as if the race could be quite close in a couple of instances.

Oh, and there's also one more nominee that we have to add.  And, you know what, this nominee is looking as if 2014 is going to be one banner year.  Not only has he been nominated for several awards at this year's Grammy Awards ceremony, but just one week from today, he'll be entertaining audiences as this year's halftime performer at the Super Bowl!  Believe me, that is one honour that only a select few ever get to experience.

But somehow, I think Bruno Mars is up to the challenge.  And, somehow, I think that he'll rock that show.  And besides, reportedly, The Red Hot Chili Peppers will be making an appearance as well.  Hmmm...if I didn't work on Super Bowl Sunday, I'd probably tune in to watch it, even though I despise football.

I just hope that somehow, Bruno Mars takes home at least one trophy tonight.  I have to admit that I do like his music, and many of his songs are of the "get up off of your feet and move around" type.  I'd rather listen to songs that make me happy and energetic, rather than depressing ballads that make you want to collapse in the middle of a cold shower in tears (though I imagine that Bruno Mars himself has released at least one or two of those kinds of songs too).  And, I have to admit that "Locked Out of Heaven" is one of those songs that I could listen to more than once or twice.

But you know what's funny?  Out of all of the many Grammy Award nominations that Bruno Mars has received over the course of the last four years (including a songwriting nomination for Cee-Lo Green's "F@#$ You"), he's only managed to win one.  Now, granted, one award is better than nothing, but I think that he should win at least one for his "Unorthodox Jukebox" album, because it's an album of hodge-podge that blends together into a modern day classic (well, in my humble opinion, anyway).

In fact, I chose today's song of discussion because it was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 2012, and lost all three to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" (which too was a fantastic song).  But it was also the #1 song during the one year in which I was forced to miss the Grammy Awards for unforeseen reasons.

You see, the song actually spent four weeks at the top of the charts, but it wasn't consecutive weeks.  It first topped the charts on January 8, 2011 before being knocked off one week later by Katy Perry's "Firework".  Then on January 22, it spent another week on the charts before once again being dethroned by Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me".  Then on February 5, the song once again made it to the top of the charts, and stayed there until February 19, when Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow" hit the #1 spot.

I'm sure you get where this is going.  February 2011 was the month in which I had that pesky infected gall bladder removed and I had to spend two weeks in the hospital.  And on that year, the Grammy Awards were held February 13, 2011...the day after my surgery.  And since I was looped up on painkillers and couldn't walk two steps without feeling weak and nauseous, I was in no condition to watch any sort of awards show.

And, considering that this song was at the top of the charts during February 2011, and given that Bruno Mars won his one and only Grammy Award on the day after my surgery...and given that the song in which he was nominated for a slew of Grammy Awards for 2012 and lost every single one for the song that was #1 during what was easily one of the hardest things I've ever gone could I not pick this song for today's subject.

Here's the song for today, which topped the charts on this date three years ago.

ARTIST:  Bruno Mars
SONG:  Grenade
ALBUM:  Doo-Wops and Hooligans
DATE RELEASED:  September 28, 2010

And, just on a side note, the pains that you get before you undergo gall bladder surgery...they feel exactly like someone is detonating a grenade right inside your body.  Take my word on that one.

Anyway, let's talk about "Grenade".  It was Bruno Mars' second ever single release behind the 2010 single "Just The Way You Are" (which also topped the charts later that year), and it is a song that is all about the subject of heartbreak.  And if you watched the video above, it is both beautiful and disturbing all at the same time.  And yet, it's something that I myself can relate to.

Well, aside from standing in the middle of a train track with a piano chained to me, hoping that the 10:48 express train from Toronto to Montreal smashes right into me.  While I have hit rock bottom before on an emotional level, I'm happy to report that I would never go to such extremes in my own personal life at this particular time.

Still, you gotta feel for the guy in the video played by Bruno Mars.  I'm sure that most of us out there have fallen hard for someone and have done everything in our power to get them to fall in love with you without coming across as an obsessed stalker type.  I seem to recall many of the feelings that I had for other girls who might have been in my class, or who I got to know over the years went either unnoticed or ignored...mainly because I lacked (and still lack) the courage to admit to someone how I really feel towards them.  I guess it could be considered a fear of rejection, or feelings of inadequacy on my part...or I could just be rambling in an effort to add more words to this blog piece, so how about I shut my yap and get to the point!

Anyway, as I was saying, we've all been there.  We've all fallen in love with someone who is unattainable, or we've fallen in love with someone who has fallen out of love with us and fallen into love with someone else.  It's a really horrible feeling to have, and I hope that for those of you who have found your true loves out there in this world that you didn't have to feel that pain of heartbreak too much in your path to happiness.  Well, that's the general idea behind the meaning of the song, "Grenade".  Bruno Mars himself has stated that "Grenade" represents the side of love that most people hope to never experience...the side of love in which the affection is clearly one-sided.

I suppose in one manner, the fact that Bruno is chained to a piano and dragging it down the streets through dangerous neighbourhoods is largely symbolic.  It demonstrates the challenges that someone might have to face when trying to keep a relationship going.  It also shows all of us just how much work Bruno was putting in the relationship and also what he would endure to make sure that he could prove his love for her.  He'd take a grenade for her, lay down his life for her, even stand in front of a train for her!  Not a lot of people I know would actually even make those promises, let alone DO them.

And certainly he goes through his struggles along the way, much like we all do when we're trying to impress those we love.  He encounters a pitbull, a homeless man, and a gang of thugs who all try to stop him from reaching his destination, but do you think any of that will stop him from pulling his piano to his woman's back door so he can serenade her with love, affection, and tenderness?  Why, the fact that he drops his photo of the woman he loves on the ground, and almost gets into the fight with the leader of the gang just proves that he literally will risk his life to be with the one he loves.

And then he arrives at the girl's place of residence, getting ready to sing his little heart out...only to find her getting frisky with someone else that is NOT Bruno.  And, from there, we see a dejected and rejected Bruno Mars decide that if he can't have the girl, then he will have nobody, and we are left with the rather open-ended conclusion of the video which has all of us wondering...did he survive?  Did he die?  Did he sacrifice the piano instead of himself?  Because of the deliberately ambiguous ending, we may never really know.

But the one thing that we do know is that it became what could be considered Bruno Mars' real breakthrough single.  Though, I suppose I do have one final thought.  I honestly don't know if the same actress who played Bruno's girlfriend in "Grenade" was the same one who played his girlfriend in "Just The Way You Are" (I don't believe it is, but I could be wrong), but if the two girls are one in the same...because "Just The Way You Are" was released before "Grenade", then I would think that Bruno would be better off leaving her and going after someone else who WOULD care about him and who would be proud that he would take a grenade for them.

And just one final note before we end this piece off.  Bruno Mars performed this song at the 2011 Grammy Awards (the only Grammy show I missed), and while it's not quite known if he will sing this song at the Super Bowl this year, I imagine that if he does, he might want to wear a hard hat.  Apparently, whenever Bruno sings this song, people in the audience have taken to throwing dummy grenades on stage as he sings it...which I would imagine would be painful if one ever hit him!

Let's hope that nobody throws things at Bruno on stage both at the Grammy Awards and the Super Bowl.

In conclusion, I thought I'd play another Bruno Mars song to get everyone in a dancing mood!  Here's "Treasure", a top 10 hit from 2013!