Podcast: StarTalk


Podcast:   StarTalk Radio

Hosted by:  Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson
Produced by:  Curved Light productions, with funding from the National Science Foundation

The new face of science literacy, Neil de Grasse Tyson (see: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey), serves as your personal astrophysicist on this radio show-turned-podcast.  Every week he invites a comedian to serve as his co-host–the likes of Eugene Mermen, Chuck Nice, Leighann Lord, and Lynne Koplitz (on the older shows).  Being quite a humorous man himself, StarTalk isn’t a dry, informational podcast, but is instead a thoroughly enjoyable hour during which you’ll probably learn a lot.

tysonThe face of the face of science literacy.

The episode topics aren’t always related to space, but are always in some way related to science.  Sometimes the show chooses a fun theme, like episodes “The Physics of Superheroes,” and “Science at the Movies”, or has funny guests like the Mythbutsers guys, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert.

A particular highlight are the Star Talk Live episodes.  These are taped at various New York City comedy clubs, and consist of Tyson and Merman hosting a panel of guests, usually comprised of comedians, experts on the evening’s chosen topic, and whomever else they can find.  Previous guests include Buzz Aldrin, Alan Alda, Kristin Schaal, Wil Wheaton, and Mike Massamino.  The live audience really get into it (perhaps with the aid of a cocktail that‘s been specially formulated for the show)–but it isn’t a case of “you had to be there”.  The laughs come over just as well on the podcast.

Also very entertaining are the “Cosmic Queries” episodes, or, as Tyson likes to call them, “StarTalk After Dark”.  These are Q & A episodes where the good doctor answers questions submitted by fans.

Make sure to listen to the episodes 24-25 featuring guest Nichelle Nichols.  Amongst the many interesting things she had to say was a story about when she met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which was so sweet (and so cool!) it had me misty-eyed and sniffling–but in a good way.


The Bottom Line:  Give this podcast a try, whether or not you think you like science.  Anyone from middle-schoolers on up would find this both accessible and entertaining.

Movies: I’m Going to Miss Peter O’Toole

For anyone who hasn’t heard by now, actor Peter O’Toole passed away recently, at age 81.  That’s pretty impressive, given the party-heavy lifestyle he led, alongside his contemporaries like Richard Burton and Oliver Reed (both of whom he outlived by a lot.)

He lived an interesting and full life and will be remembered for a long time (at least until the film archive in the Library of Congress is destroyed in whatever apocalypse inevitably befalls mankind, but I digress).


Lawrence of Arabia
Directed by: David Lean
Starring: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif

I decided to begin with this one because I still haven‘t quite made up my mind about it.  What I really need to do is sit down and watch it again, when I have the time to really watch it.

A lot has already been said about this movie, so I won’t re-tread that territory.  I will, however, address one of the big complaints, indeed one of the first things out of the mouths of a lot of people when Lawrence of Arabia is mentioned in conversation.  No, not that it’s too long–although that is a common one–but that it’s self-indulgent.

Over the years I’ve become more and more irritated with what I perceive to be self-indulgent films (I’m looking at you American Beauty…and you too Sukiyaki Western Django).  However, I’m not sure if Lawrence of Arabia is guilty of this crime against cinema–and if it is guilty, I’m not sure that I care.

One day a few years ago I was sitting in my living room working with the TV on in the background, tuned to some or other HD movie station.  Lawrence of Arabia came on and I looked up, figuring hey, I’ve been meaning to see this movie since forever, now is as a good a time as any.  When the movie began I sat down on the floor for a minute to stretch, looked up at the screen…and accidentally sat like that for the next 3 1/2 hours, completely mesmerized.

That, like, never happens to me.  Ever.

The TV I was watching it on was a widescreen HD TV, though not a particularly big one, so it didn’t do Lawrence quite the justice that I imagine the silver screen would.  And yet, when the end credits finished and the screen went to black, I looked around and realized that I hadn’t moved at all.  My neck started to hurt from the weird position I’d been watching it in.  I had meant to get up and make coffee at some point, but that had long been forgotten.

So whether or not you think Lawrence of Arabia is self-indulgent, all I know is that it is such a beautiful film and an engrossing story that I couldn’t look away.

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My Favorite Year
Directed by: Richard Benjamin
Starring: Mark Linn-Baker, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna

I’m enough of a geek that if you were to ask me, “Hey, so, what are your top 10 movies?”, I’d respond by going, “Oh gosh, well, uh, in which genre?  In what context?”  I’m not sure if I could ever narrow-down my all time favorites to only 10 (yup, total nerd), but if I did, this would definitely be one of them. That is how much I love My Favorite Year.

It’s set in New York City in 1954, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  The main character, Benji, works for The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade, and this week’s guest is famed swashbuckling actor Alan Swann.  Except that Alan Swann is a bit older than he was in his glory days of Captain From Tortuga and Defender of the Crown…and he’s plastered.  So, with a week until the taping of the show, poor Benji has to baby-sit the man who was his childhood hero to make sure he arrives at rehearsal sober.  Cue the hijinks!

I never get tired of this film.  It’s the right amount of funny, touching, cute, clever, and quirky.  This film has so many great scenes, so many great characters, so many great lines that can be quoted so often…I’ll stop gushing.

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The Lion in Winter
Directed by: Anthony Harvey
Starring: Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton

This film is about one week with King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, Richard (later “The Lionheart”), Geoffrey, and John (yes, that Prince John).  A young Timothy Dalton has an excellent turn as King Philip II of France.

Hepburn and O’Toole play off each other so well, hurling verbal daggers dipped in passive-aggressive poison back and forth, to the point where the castle walls are just caked with contempt, disdain, and double-dealing.  The Lion in Winter is what happens when you put a handful of great actors together, give them an excellent script, and then tell them to use said script to try to kill each other.

It’s magnificent.

It’s also a great example of that era’s acting style.  It might seem a bit over-the-top by today’s standards, but just go into the film with an open mind.

The Lion in Winter takes place over the Christmas holiday, such as it was in 1138, and all of this venom is slung because the family has gotten back together under one roof for the occasion (Eleanor had been forcibly estranged and imprisoned after trying to “secure“ the throne for Richard one too many times, and the two older sons had been off doing all manner of medieval things).

So if you felt frustrated or overwhelmed this past holiday season, just pour yourself some white wine, drink a toast to Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole*, and enjoy watching what a truly dysfunctional family does for Christmas.

*Peter O’Toole on The Daily Show reminiscing about Katherine Hepburn

Movies: 3 Ridiculously Awful Viking Movies

For some masochistic reason I thought that it would be an amusing diversion to watch some Viking-themed b-movies that I found on Netflix and the Syfy Channel.   I was wrong.

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Almighty Thor

Director:  Christopher Ray
Starring:  Richard Grieco, Patricia Velasquez, Cody Deal

Man, this movie blew.

Deal plays the perpetually clueless Thor,  Grieco plays Loki, Thor’s much older, goth-y brother, and they’re duking it out near a warehouse here on Earth.  Velasquez plays Jarnsaxa, a pretty unconvincing valkyrie, who, with her long black coat and semi-automatic arsenal, is more Matrix than Asgard.  Thor is given a black trench coat too, which is, I suppose, better than walking around in the brown bath mat pictured on the DVD cover (which makes him look more like a low-rent Hercules than anything else).

The action consists of Thor and Jarnsaxa jogging down back alleyways and sparse forests with Loki walking after them, trying his hardest to look menacing.  Try as he might though, Richard Grieco’s pouty-faced-goth-man is no Loki.

atnotlokiNo, sorry, you’re not Loki.

Eventually, Thor and Jarnsaxa defeat Loki and all is right with the world.  Snooze …

loki2This is Loki.

The Bottom Line:  Any relation to Norse mythology is purely coincidental (actually, it’s contrived to ride the moola coattails of Marvel Studios).  Don’t bother.

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Thor: Hammer of the Gods

Director: Topov Chapkanov
Starring:  Zachery Ty Bryan, Melissa Osborne, misc. other people

Blast-from-the-TV-past Zachery Ty Bryan plays a Viking named Thor–a doughy, whiny, hammer-less wimp who can’t fight.  He and his Viking pals sail to an island, fight werewolves, and the movie vaguely hints that they’re supposed to be the Norse pantheon, not just mortals with the same names.  Righto.

th-warriorsNone of you are Norse warriors, let alone gods.

Again, another “Thor movie” that is so far removed from the mythology that it’s a shame they can’t be sued for false advertising.  It would only take about a 5 second search on Wikipedia to access the info on the old Norse myths needed to write a passable story.

I could say more about this movie, but I was so bored and irritated by it that I ended up fast-forwarding through most of it, waiting to see if anything looked worth watching.  Didn’t find much.

th-warriors2Nope, none of you are warriors.  Especially you ladies, you need to have at least *some* muscle mass to actually use those spears you’re carrying around.

The Bottom Line:  All-in, I spent about 20 minutes watching this movie …I want those minutes back.

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Hammer of the Gods

Director: Farren Blackburn
Starring:  Charlie Bewley, Alexandra Dowling, James Cosmo

It’s the year 870 A.D. (or C.E. if you want to be pedantic, and occasionally I do) and the island of Britannia is in an uproar.  Some Vikings are fighting a battle against some Saxons.  The main character, Prince Steinar, and his merry band of foul-mouthed, morally bankrupt warriors are summoned by King Bagsecg (apparently pronounced “bag-sack”).  Steinar is tasked with finding his exiled brother, even though said brother was exiled for being insane, incestuous, and ego-maniacal …but hey, the king is dying so why not?


Why thank you movie.  So rarely do movies identify the characters like this for the audience…usually they don’t need too, because a script with coherent dialogue does that.  But hey, if you can’t write one of those, shiny labels ought to do the trick.

The warriors wander around for awhile, killing abused women and random soldiers as they go.  I think this was supposed to be a story about the prince’s personal journey from being a mere soldier to being a Viking king, but that gets lost in all the inanity.

Let me pause here for a moment, and give some advice to any aspiring actors out there:

Whether you are a famous actor or not, it generally isn’t good form to show-up your director.  But when you’re laying on your back in the mud shouting a line like, “I’m Prince Steinar, son of Bag-Sack!”, you really do need to question the script (and possibly your career).

hg-daviesThis guy really, really wishes he was John Rhys-Davies, but he’s just not.

Seriously, I imagine they’re on the set filming this scene, the actor shouts that line, and everyone bursts out laughing.  Unable to keep a straight face they try to continue, but the director relents and says, “Ok, ok, let’s cut that last part, or better yet let’s change the king’s name.”  I mean, how does something as unintentionally ridiculous as that make its way into the film?

But then, most of this movie’s dialogue should not have made it into the film.  I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for *cringe-inducingly vulgar*, however …

Please stop talking about sodomy, genitals, and bloody murder!  Just stop.  We get it.  You’re all horrible, disgusting, unappealing characters who we hope all die, painfully, right now, so that we can stop watching this grimy failure of a movie.  Wait, that wasn’t what the screenwriter was going for?

hg-lordOh Lord Commander, that it should have come to this.

The Bottom Line:  Don’t touch, even with a 10 ft. pole.  You’ll probably catch a nasty disease.

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Hmm, perhaps I’m being a bit cranky, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.  Oh well, I’m going to go watch the Christopher Lambert Beowulf, at least I can enjoy that kind of awful.