True Confessions – Star Wars & Peter Cushing

I went to see Star Wars for my thirteenth birthday

Star Wars


Obviously, I was enthralled and had seen nothing like it before. I already loved science fiction, having seen mostly the Heston ones on television (Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man). However, none of that is why I went to see Star Wars.

Growing up, my first real love wasn’t science fiction or fantasy but horror. I took every opportunity to watch horror movies at home. I loved the Universal classics but my favorite were the relatively new Hammer horror movies. Peter Cushing was my absolute favorite actor with Christopher Lee running a close second. My mom would often watch these with me on weekend afternoons.

One fantastic day, I saw that a new Peter Cushing had come to our local theater and it was rated PG. I had never seen a Peter Cushing movie at the theater before. I was thrilled and asked my mother if we could go see it. She told me no – which she rarely ever did. I can only think the title put her off. That movie was “From Beyond the Grave” and I did not get to see it until I was an adult.

Just before my thirteenth birthday, another new Peter Cushing movie opened at our local theater. That movie was Star Wars. My mom, sister, two of my best friends, and I had a wonderful time. The Empire Strikes Back was even better, even though the Miami Herald spoiled the important plot twist ON THE MORNING THE MOVIE OPENED.

When Phantom Menace was coming out, my wife and father-in-law waited in a line overnight to get tickets. Obviously, crushing disappointment followed that decision. I think that was the last time we ever waited in a serious line for movie tickets.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Still my fifty-year-old self is much the same as my fifteen-year-old self and I am eagerly awaiting Episode VII. Anyway, what reminded me of all of this was the cover of a book I saw in Barnes & Noble. To wit:



Yes, that is Peter Cushing’s likeness on a book jacket some twenty years after his passing. By the way, I was lucky enough to catch a few of his movies on the big screen besides Star Wars, though their quality was uneven. I have seen Sword of the Valiant, Top Secret, Arabian Adventure, Shock Waves, and The House of the Long Shadows (w/ Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and John Carradine) in the theater.

I also got to see Christopher Lee (92) in The Hobbit movies. Yay Me!

Attack of the Director’s Cut!

Things only last in their pure form for a short while after they have been named. So it is with the director’s cut. The director’s cut of a film took on significance when it was substantially different from the version released by Hollywood. It did not take Hollywood long to co-opt and market the term into insignificance.

Most director’s cuts are simply a matter of a scene or two inserted into a film that does very little to change a film. The only more useless term is ‘unrated’. Unrated is used constantly on horror movies that were watered down for an all ages PG-13 release then they add back the few seconds of violence that was trimmed when it is released on home video and no longer needs a PG-13 rating.


Still there are some director’s cuts worth noting. The director’s cut of Alien does not appreciably change the film, simply changing a few takes and adding a fan favorite scene that slows down the narrative at a crucial moment. The original cut is actually better and clearly Ridley Scott should not be allowed to tinker too much as there are now, I think, five versions of Blade Runner available.

Speaking of someone who should not be allowed to touch his completed films, George Lucas actually took his original Star Wars trilogy (you know, the good one) and made it worse by cramming special effects shot after special effects shot into an already classic series of films. Since he owned the rights at the time, they weren’t even called director’s cuts. Obviously there is some hope now that since Disney owns the rights, Han will shoot first in the future.


Getting back to Aliens, James Cameron’s directors cut of Aliens is almost half an hour longer than the U.S. cut. There are some great scenes reintroduced but the overall theme of motherhood is no longer subtle but seems rather sledgehammered home. I enjoy the director’s cut more but the U.S. cut is definitely tighter.

Aliens 3, one of David Fincher’s first films, is an incomprehensible mess. The longer cut, which restores much of his work, is not an actual director’s cut as Fincher has disavowed it. It does make the film much better than it has a right to be. The basic premise of Alien 3 was a huge middle finger to those that loved Aliens. It was also made at the dawn of CGI and the CGI is just awful in many scenes.

Kingdom of Heaven

In addition to Blade Runner and Alien, there is also a director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Ridley Scott filmed a fabulous epic of the Crusades that suffered from three faults. First, it starred Orlando Bloom who, while not bad, cannot carry the film. Second, it presents Muslim characters in a reasonable light and shows many Christian ones as fanatics. While that is historically accurate, this was too soon after 9/11 for audiences to embrace. The third fault was that the studio decided to cut it from well over three hours (epic length) to just under two and a half (summer blockbuster length). Gone were many subplots and much comprehensibility. The director’s cut restores the subplots making the film the near-classic it should have been.

Which brings us to tomorrow’s topic: the highly anticipated director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Poppa John, Pizza, and Star Wars

Art installation

My beloved father-in-law was actually an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist. He was a professor of astronomy at the University of Florida. He worked on the telescope at the South Pole, not once but several times. He trained students who went on to be astronauts and other NASA personnel. His list of accomplishments goes on and on, including an astronomical art installation in Ireland that he did the scientific work for (above).

Poppa & Dorothy

In spite of all that – to me and the rest of the family, he was Poppa. Every year at this time, our family gets depressed as we finally lost him to the cancer he had fought so hard. He stretched a three-year prognosis out to six but no amount of time with someone you love is enough. He got to be there for the birth and first birthday of his great-granddaughter Dorothy.


My granddaughter Dorothy has grown up calling me Papa. I’m proud of the title but spell it differently so as not to tread on hallowed ground. My loving wife has learned how to make Poppa’s pizza this year. We even bought a pizza paddle and a pizza stone.


My wife and eldest daughter are taking the day off work. Dorothy is going to miss a day of HeadStart. We are going to remember Poppa as we sit around eating his pizza and watching Star Wars all day. Tell your loved ones that you love them. Never miss an opportunity.

Wish you were here with us Maya – we love you!


Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Star Wars


Sorry to mislead you – I’m going to talk about Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Star Wars individually.


* Netflix intends to add a new plan for $12 that allows users to stream four shows at once (in addition to the current $8, two stream option). I can’t imagine streaming four different Netflix shows simultaneously in a single household but perhaps you have an extended family with diverse interests.

*Netflix updated their iOs app. The new interface isn’t revolutionary but is a bit slicker than the old one.

* As if it wasn’t obvious already, if Netflix were a cable network it would be the leading one. BTIG Research indicates that there are likely 28.1 million subscribers, each watching an average of 87 minutes of Netflix a day.

*Are you imagining Netflix for Google Glass? Now picture people driving with Google Glass and Netflix.

Tatooine Beach

* In just a few short months, we’ve gone from no more Star Wars movies ever to Disney’s current plan of a new Star Wars film EVERY summer starting in 2015. Between that and Star Wars land at the Disney parks, Disney got a lot of bang for their buck.

Amazon Prime* Amazon Prime users can now watch their 14 series pilots for FREE and help decide which should become a full series. There are eight comedies (including a Zombieland spinoff) and six children’s shows.