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Series that shouldn’t have stopped (plus). July 18, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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As we all wait…and wait…for “Game of Thrones” Season Five (and for “The Hobbit” and “Mockingjay” and… ), our friend Ben is picking up the theme from yesterday’s Silence Dogood post “Feel-good films.” There are some film series and TV series that Silence and I loved and feel simply shouldn’t have stopped, or should have swapped out leading actors. Here are a few that ended before their time, starred the wrong guy, or passed on the chance to star the right girl:

* The Conan movies. We love “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.” Rather than waiting until Ah-nold was too old for the role, then trying to revive the series with a younger man (Jason Momoa of Khal Drogo fame), they should have kept going while the going was good. (And kept Conan’s original sidekick rather than replacing him with that creepy little man.) Robert E. Howard wrote many Conan stories, so the filmmakers had plenty of material to work with. A missed opportunity for fun for all ages, more classic lines from Ah-nold, and campy entertainment for adults.

* The Tony Hillerman PBS “series.” Tony Hillerman wrote a shelf or two of Navajo murder mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, with a slew of great recurring characters, lots of Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni rituals and beliefs, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Four Corners as his setting. Robert Redford saw the books’ rich visual potential and filmed three PBS “specials” starring Wes Studi as Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Chee, and the marvelous Native American character actors Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than making a regular series, Redford made one episode a year, stopping after just three. He should have filmed all the books while the cast was together, rather than letting them drift and losing momentum.

* The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels that follow the adventures of the beloved Botswana detective, Precious Ramotswe, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, and a cast of gently humorous and unforgettable characters (shout out to you and your famous fruitcake, Mma Potokwane), calls out for a series. And it looked like it was finally getting one, with Anika Noni Rose giving a true star turn as Grace Makutsi, but it fizzled and died after just three episodes. No fault of the series or the actors—the director suddenly died. I’d have thought another director would have been brought in, but instead, the series ended just like the Tony Hillerman specials. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the Tony Hillerman novels both get a second chance.

* Master and Commander. Russell Crowe and the ensemble cast gave such a strong showing in the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic seafaring novel, showcasing everything from warfare at sea to natural history and Regency-era espionage, that it seemed a natural for followups based on O’Brian’s subsequent novels. Instead, no more were ever made. Silence and I are still waiting.

Moving on to casting:

* Sean Connery in “Shogun.” James Clavell wrote the lead character in his blockbuster novel Shogun with Sean Connery in mind, and Connery would have been perfect for the role. (He proved his range beyond Bond once and for all in “The Man Who Would Be King,” and gave his greatest performance, in our opinion, in “Rising Sun.”) Watching the series, if you picture Connery in Richard Chamberlain’s place, everything suddenly makes sense. What a wasted opportunity, since everyone else in the series was so good, and Sean Connery would have made it perfect. But in this case, it wasn’t the producers’, director’s, or casting team’s fault. Whoever played Pilot-Major Blackthorne would have had to commit to filming in Japan for two years, and Connery wasn’t willing to do that. Chamberlain was.

* George Lazenby as James Bond. Speaking of Sean Connery, there have been a lot of Bonds over the years, but none were so perfect in our opinion as Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who was chosen to succeed Connery. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby proved virile, resourceful, intelligent, educated, and—in the only instance known to Bond—capable of actually falling in love. (Well, it was Diana Rigg.) You could totally believe both his 007 and human sides. This is a depth of character missing from most Bond portrayals, and, as Silence is constantly pointing out, he was very easy on the eyes, too. Yet he just played Bond in the one film. Why? Because his agent told him that being typecast as Bond would hamper his career. No doubt that great advice is why we all know him as an A-list actor. (Sarcasm.) I hope that agent is now supporting himself as a Wal*Mart greeter. We think Sean Bean, who played villain Alec Trevelyan in another Bond film, “GoldenEye,” would have made a fantastic Bond, too, so much stronger than Pierce Brosnan.

* Liv Tyler as Arwen Evenstar. Peter Jackson brought back Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, but passed on the opportunity to bring the gorgeous Liv Tyler back to Middle Earth in his film trilogy “The Hobbit.” She was, in our opinion, the strongest character in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (sorry, Sean Bean and Andy Serkis, we loved you, too), and since they decided to simply stuff Orlando Bloom’s Legolas into “The Hobbit,” not to mention Galadriel, we don’t see why Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be there, too. We do applaud the choice of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, though.

Speaking of “The Hobbit,” which stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug, we are very concerned that the series “Sherlock,” starring Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as Watson, might go the way of the Tony Hillerman specials. As it is, you’re lucky to get three episodes of “Sherlock” every two years, and its stars, and even its co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series and now the Banker of Braavos on “Game of Thrones,” are becoming increasingly busy with other projects. They’re promising a “Sherlock Christmas special” in December 2015 and three more episodes in 2016, but gee, that’s a long way off, and a lot of inertia and dispersion can happen between now and then. Hey, guys, show some pity! We could be hit by a bus between now and then and miss the next installment… if there even is one.

In an ironic turn, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in all the Peter Jackson movies, is also playing Sherlock Holmes (at 93) in the upcoming movie “Mr. Holmes.” We look forward to seeing it!

Now it’s your turn: Tell us some we missed, or what you miss.

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Feel-good films. July 17, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were talking just last night about favorite films, and OFB pointed out that many of my favorites were films that made me feel good. I agreed; I love films that cheer me up, that make me feel good, that give me hope, that make me laugh. So OFB challenged me to come up with my “Top Ten Feel-Good Films” list. I accepted the challenge, even though I was sure that I’d forget some of my favorites, and that there were so many more than ten that the list would necessarily be incomplete. But given those limitations, here are the ones that sprang to mind:

Bride and Prejudice. The Bollywood version of “Pride and Prejudice.” I love many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Emma,” Ciaran Hinds’s magnificent performance in “Persuasion,” and Alicia Silverstone’s adorable “Clueless,” but the high energy, hijinks, and general color, lightheartedness, and mayhem of “Bride and Prejudice”—not to mention the gorgeous Naveen Andrews as Balraj (Mr. Bingley)—takes it over the top.

Young Sherlock Holmes. I love all things Sherlock, but for the ultimate feel-good Holmes film, I’ll take “Young Sherlock Holmes” any day. Alan Cox as Watson would be enough to make the film a classic, but the marvelous Anthony Higgins as Moriarty and the hysterical, campy Egyptian stuff really make it priceless. After seeing it, just thinking of the line “My name is Lester Cragwitch!” will make you roar with laughter.

Flashdance. This isn’t the most cheerful of films, but its ultimate message is so uplifting: Go for your dreams and never give up. The heroine, played sensitively by a very young Jennifer Beals, faces a lot of hardship and heartbreak on the way to reaching her dreams, but she succeeds (and her friends don’t) because her inherent optimism, kindness, generosity and drive attract allies that won’t let her down, no matter what. And there’s tons of energy in the music and dancing.

Blow Dry. Like “Flashdance,” “Blow Dry” takes us through the full range of emotions, especially since Natasha Richardson plays a woman dying before her time and we all know what happened to her. But this film is so full of humor as well as sorrow, so full of great actors (like Alan Rickman), so full of hysterical moments (Bill Nighy is priceless, as is his film partner, Louie, and the mayor of the small town in Yorkshire where the hair competition is held). Ultimately, it’s about the triumph of love, but it reaches its end with plenty of humor along the way. Best line: “He looks like bloody Sid Vicious!” Wait ’til you see who it is.

The Full Monty. This riotous film is also overflowing with humor, but the underlying message is uplifting, about the power that comes from sticking together. A bunch of very unlikely, unemployed men from the former booming steel town of Sheffield, England, decide to improve their fortunes—and love lives—by staging a Chippendales-style act of their own. After many misadventures, including being thrown into jail, losing their homes, losing a son through custody issues, a botched suicide attempt, grocery-store burglary, and so on, the guys get it together. And the attack of the garden gnomes during a job interview still makes me laugh so hard I cry.

Julie and Julia. Who doesn’t love Julia Child? Who doesn’t love Dan Aykroyd’s parody of Julia Child? Who wouldn’t love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci as Julia and Paul Child? Not me. Seeing any of the above onscreen makes me feel good, especially the onion scene. Seeing Julia’s modern-day follower, Julie Powell, trying to make lobster thermidore while her totally adorable husband dances around singing “Lobsta killah, lobsta killah” is the greatest thing ever.

Smoke Signals. Based on Sherman Alexie’s novels of life on the Rez, this film brims over with laugh-out-loud humor and dry wit. The ultimate coming-of-age story and road trip rolled into one, it’s filled with great characters like Lester Fallsapart and the great Gary Farmer as Arnold Joseph, father of one of the protagonists, who ironically really does fall apart. But the true hero of the movie is Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a happy-go-lucky visionary who helps Arnold’s son Victor reconcile his relationship with his father, and with life, over the course of the road trip. As the Rez’s DJ says, “It’s a good day to be Indigenous.”

The Commitments. This movie about some kids in Dublin who form a soul band, “The Commitments,” is hilarious. Many of the best lines are provided by the Elvis-worshipping father of the protagonist, played just brilliantly by Colm Meaney, who has a portrait of Elvis hanging just under his portrait of the Pope. The adorable (and bizarrely named) Outspan Foster, played by Irish musician Glen Hansard, will win your heart, and Maria Doyle (now Maria Doyle Kennedy of “The Tudors” fame) is marvelous. Not to mention that the music is great.

Princess Caraboo. The movie that presumably introduced Phoebe Cates to her husband, Kevin Kline, is simply marvelous all-round. Catesby plays a servant girl in Regency England (the Jane Austen era) who runs away and pretends to be an exotic princess, named Caraboo. She is taken up as a novelty by high society and eventually even meets the Prince Regent himself before being unmasked by an investigative reporter, Gutch. But the film has a happy ending, as Gutch has fallen in love with the girl and arranges for her to make a fresh start in America rather than being hanged, and then joins her. Kline as Frixos, the Greek butler of the house that takes her in, is simply priceless, and a strong supporting cast, including Jim Broadbent, John Lithgow, John Sessions as the Prince Regent, and the marvelous Stephen Rea as the reporter, make this a total feel-good hit. Wait for Kevin Kline’s “Unfortunately.”

Last Holiday. Queen Latifah at her finest, playing Georgia Bird, a gifted cook who worships Emeril and longs to open a restaurant but instead is working in the cookware department of a department store run by a greedy, horrific monster who embodies every moronic, “hot” management trend, much like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss. When Ms. Bird is misdiagnosed with a terminal illness and told she only has two weeks to live, she decides to chuck it in and spend those two weeks at a super-elite hotel and spa in Switzerland, enjoying the delicious dishes prepared by their outrageously eccentric chef, played marvelously by Gerard Depardieu. When her horrid uber-boss shows up at the same resort, hilarity follows on a grand scale, and Georgia eventually triumphs. Don’t ever forget Depardieu’s secret to happiness: butter. (But he forgot salt.)

Independence Day. What red-blooded Earthling wouldn’t love this movie, where, as star Will Smith says, we “whup ET’s ass”?! Jeff Goldblum is simply priceless as the nerdy genius who saves the day, but it’s his onscreen father, played to perfection by Judd Hirsch, who steals all the scenes. At Hawk’s Haven, we watch “Independence Day” every Fourth of July. But I could probably watch it every week.

Honorable mention:

Scrooge. The musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” starring Albert Finney, is hilarious, and the music is fantastic. David Collings as Bob Cratchit, Karen Scargill as his adorable daughter Kathy, and one of Scrooge’s debtors, Tom Jenkins (Anton Rogers), a soup seller, are so great, and we’re treated to guest appearances by Sir Alec Guinness as Marley’s Ghost, Dame Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Sir Kenneth More as the Ghost of Christmas Present. But it’s really David Collings who steals the show as Cratchit. My other fave is “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which also has really memorable music. The reason these fall in the “Honorable Mention” category is simply because they’re seasonal.

Conan the Barbarian. Ah, gotta love the two Conan movies, “Conan the Barbarian” and its sequel, “Conan the Destroyer.” These films introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world beyond weightlifting and made him a household name, mainly because they were filled with great Arnold one-liners that came to define his subsequent film roles, such as another favorite feel-good film, “The Running Man.” (“See you at the 25th prison reunion.”) It was “The Running Man” that first gave us Ah-nold’s deathless line, “I’ll be back.” But it was the Conan films that gave him the opening to inject humor and laughs into what could have been just another pair of tedious muscle/fantasy films that took themselves way too seriously.

Bend It Like Beckham. I suppose I’d appreciate any film that allowed an ordinary girl to triumph over the bizarre-looking, anorexic Keira Knightley. The parents of both the heroine and her best friend (played by Ms. Knightley) are marvelous. And like all Jane Austen romances—of which I think this was a modernization—there are plenty of twists and turns before the star-crossed lovers are finally united with a kiss.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A gentle, delightful film about a bunch of British seniors who are, for a variety of reasons, forced to retire to India to spend their “golden years” in an affordable hotel. Plunged into an exotic culture and less-than-ideal accommodations, they discover who they truly are and even find late-life love and new careers. Meanwhile, the adorable proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel faces romantic and financial crises of his own, but amid considerable hilarity, all turns out for the best. Super ensemble performances, with standout turns from Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Dev Patel (as the proprietor). Impossible not to feel good by the end of this!

Cinema Paradiso. Some sad things happen in this Italian tale of a small town cinema’s rise and fall, but there’s such delightful interplay between a little boy, the man who operates the film equipment, and the village priest that it more than compensates. Lots of laughs and smiles along the way. And, in the end, two delightful surprises for the boy, now grown to become a famous director. Beautifully acted, great music, and totally heartwarming.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. This hysterical film pits a timeless, gentle, primitive culture against modern society, all because a pilot tossed an empty Coke bottle out of his plane. The Kalahari people on whose land the bottle falls at first believe it to be a gift from the Gods, but realize when it stirs up envy and enmity among the people for the first time ever that it is “the evil thing.” One man volunteers to take it away, and in the process has many misadventures as he meets more “advanced” cultures. At the same time, a hapless ranger has ludicrous, hilarious disaster after disaster, especially after he meets the woman of his dreams. Fortunately, all turns out well for the tribesman and the star-crossed lovers.

Sister Act. Okay, okay, I know it’s hokey, but it still cheers me up. Whoopi Goldberg may not be convincing as a casino act, but she’s simply great as a pseudo-nun in the Witness Protection Program. Dame Maggie Smith does a great job as her Mother Superior, and Whoopi’s fellow nuns are priceless, as she turns a hopeless choir into an irresistible act. I dare you not to sing along!

Okay, enough from me for now. That’s 18 movies that make me happy. Which films make you happy?

‘Til nex,t time,

Silence

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. May 7, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, Uncategorized.
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Okay, we’ll admit it: Here at Hawk’s Haven, we’re huge Conan fans. We love “Conan the Barbarian,” and Silence Dogood also loves “Conan the Destroyer,” though our friend Ben is less enamoured of this second Conan movie. Not that we wouldn’t both love to see many, many more! Too bad Arnold Schwarzenegger had to go off and become Governor of California instead of making Conan sequels.

Springtime always reminds our friend Ben of Conan’s leitmotif, Friedrich Nietsche’s “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” because, while I have some doubts about its application to people, there’s not even a shred of doubt in my mind that it applies to weeds. Dandelions, garlic mustard, Norway maple seedlings, celandine poppies, poison ivy, oriental bittersweet, pigweed, dock, lamb’s-quarters, solanum, bindweed, multiflora rose, sumac, some horrific polygonum from Japan that floated down the stream one day and set up shop on our banks: Hawk’s Haven certainly has its share of invasives. And of course there are also those plants that have simply overstepped their bounds, fine in their place but a nightmare in our gardens: English ivy, pachysandra, lawn grass, lilies, jewelweed, trumpetvine, monarda, goldenrods, tansy, teasel, bamboo, rose-of-Sharon.

Ack!!! One hardly knows where to begin. And no sooner have you managed to weed out one invader and moved on to the next when, horror of horrors, the first one is making a comeback! We’re organic gardeners here, so herbicides are out of the question. We go out in the gardens and pull. And then we typically give the results of our efforts to our chickens or our compost piles, unless they spread by creeping stems, in which case they’re tossed onto the lawn to dry and die. But a lot of weeds seem to enjoy pulling back. (Thank God we don’t have thistles here, the absolute worst in this respect.) And in a tug of war with nature, nature usually wins. So we’ve settled for staying one step ahead and girding ourselves for next year’s battles, because we know that, like spring itself, those weeds are going to come back.

Mercifully, spring offers the gardener some consolation in the form of self-sown seedlings from desirable plants as well. Just yesterday, our friend Ben was delighted to see that new clumps of European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) and pulmonaria had appeared in the shaded side garden. Hellebore, hosta, and white-flowered bleeding heart seedlings had sprung up all over a small circle of highly unsatisfactory shaded lawn. (I’ve already posted about the old-fashioned bleeding heart seedlings, now handsome plants in their own right, that colonized the foundation borders in front of the house.) Even our peonies exhibit this tendency to volunteer and add to the Hawk’s Haven floral display.

So the cycle continues, the annual battle against the invaders, the annual rejoicing at the appearance of unexpected pleasures. Now that our friend Ben thinks about it, I guess that which does not kill us gardeners makes us stronger, after all.             

Ben Picks Ten: Fantasy March 29, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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[First, the disclaimer: If you’ve seen the title of this post and wandered over looking for anything more X-rated than The Lord of the Rings, it’s time to go on home now. Besides, I hear your mother calling… ]

Now that we’ve cleared that up, our friend Ben would like to continue handing out One-Ben Awards, this time in the rich and rewarding realm of fantasy fiction and film. (What are One-Ben Awards, you ask? Check out “Ben Picks Ten: Music” to find out all about ’em.) Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love fantasy and reading, so please feel free to chime in with your own favorites—I’m sure there are many I’m missing, besides the ones I’m snubbing.

But let’s get back to the awards. Without more ado:

1. All-Time Favorite Fantasy: JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Our friend Ben first encountered The Hobbit in sixth grade, and read it pretty much in one sitting. Lighter, brighter, and a lot more fun than the subsequent Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit remains the beloved favorite to this day. I hear a movie version’s in the works, and hope to God it does the story and characters more justice than the “first there was this battle, then there was that battle, guess what happened next—you’re right! another battle” films that turned LotR into a wizard-ridden version of “Braveheart.” At least they had the decency to cast Christopher Lee and Sean Bean, two of our friend Ben’s favorites, but they forgot about the “fantasy” and “complexity” parts in their excitement over the computer-generated special effects.

2. Best Pseudo-Historical Fantasy: Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne. Imagine that you’re in a parallel universe that looks a lot like mediaeval France. You’re in the sunny South, the land of the troubadours, but despite the cloudless skies, a storm of epic proportions is brewing that will pit force and intolerance against civilization and culture. Guy Gavriel Kay’s beautiful writing and sound historical background make A Song for Arbonne one of the greatest fantasy works of all time.

3. Best Anti-Hunting Fantasy Set on Another Planet: Sheri Tepper’s Grass. Tepper’s an excellent writer, but sometimes her pro-environment stance (a stance of which our friend Ben heartily approves) gets in the way of her stories. In Grass, it works with the plot to create a beautifully realized condemnation of upper-class rigidity and celebration of diversity and open-mindedness, both cultural and ecological. Plus, it’s a page-turning thriller—once the mystery starts, you can’t stop reading.

4. Best “Save the Whales” Fantasies Set on Another Planet: Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen. Here’s a different and perhaps even more fabulous take on the “let’s stop exploiting our planet in the name of greed/extinction is inexcusable and really, really stupid” theme. On a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away, two rival clans, the Summers and Winters, alternate as planetary rulers. The Summers are peaceful agrarians who distrust technology and close the planet to offworlders during their rule; the Winters are tech and luxury lovers who welcome the offworlders and their high-tech conveniences when it’s their turn in power. Offworlders make the long trek to the unprepossessing planet because they want what it has: the secret of eternal youth. As The Snow Queen opens, Winter’s reign is about to give way to Summer’s, but this time, the ruling Snow Queen has other ideas…

5. Best “Oh, Geez! Now I’m on Another Planet” Fantasies: Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed and Ancient Light. In these paired novels, Lynne DeLisle Christie is sent as Earth ambassador to the strange and hostile planet of Orthe, and not only has to figure out the elaborate, ancient, corrupt, and somehow menacing system of the court, but ends up having all kinds of interesting, terrifying, and revealing misadventures in the outback. It’s as though you and our friend Ben had found ourselves marooned in the courts of Pharaonic Egypt or Imperial China, with the uncomfortable feeling that no one was exactly pleased to see us. Beautifully realized, beautifully written.

6. Best Lizard King Fantasies: Steven Brust’s Jhereg series, featuring Vlad Taltos. What if humans weren’t the dominant species on Earth (or, well, a planet very much like Earth), but instead were under the thumbs of a ruling class of highly intelligent, ultra-strong, humanoid lizards with superpowers? Lizards who furthermore were living in a feudal society with all the trappings of chivalry and a rigid class structure where humans were the Untouchables? If you were an enterprising human with a lot of smarts, a cool witch for a grandpa, and an absolutely wicked sense of humor, could you break the mold and hold your own in the lizards’ world? This is the premise of Brust’s books, and I defy you to read them and not cheer their human hero, Vlad Taltos, on. Our friend Ben’s own sense of humor is unextinguishable (just ask Silence), and I really appreciate Brust’s strong infusion of wit into a genre that tends to take itself far too seriously.

7. Best Fantasies about King Arthur and All That: Mary Stewart’s quadrology about Merlin, beginning with The Crystal Cave and working its way through The Hollow Hills, The Wicked Day, and The Last Enchantment, remains for our friend Ben the best in the genre, and I’ve read most of ’em. Stewart’s wonderful writing skills serve her well in this series, and she had the good sense to realize that it was Merlin who was the truly romantic hero of the Camelot stories, not Arthur or Lancelot. I’ll never forgive her for tying Merlin’s powers to his virginity (Hey, Mary! Wizards just wanna have fun!), but apart from that, it’s still a great read. Somebody should be turning these books into a movie series!

8. Weird but Wonderful Fantasy Films. These post-apocalyptic fantasy films ironically star actors who would later make headlines by marrying, divorcing, and remarrying and divorcing: Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. Do not, repeat, do not watch “A Boy and His Dog” unless you have a cast-iron sense of humor (and irony, for that matter); but if you can appreciate “The Far Side,” you’ll love it. And don’t watch “Cherry 2000” if you’re a chauvinist at heart. Otherwise, you’ll enjoy this feel-good film where a flawed, real-life woman wins out over a perfect “Stepford Wives”-type techno-doll.    

9. Favorite Character in a Fantasy Movie: Darth Vader, who else? Thank you, James Earl Jones! (Also starring as the immortal Thulsa Doom in “Conan the Barbarian;” see One-Ben Award #10.) “The Empire Strikes Back” showcases Vader and is definitely worth owning. Our friend Ben also enjoyed Harrison Ford’s performance in the series, but generally speaking, the wimpy Luke Skywalker wrecked the series for me. (That’s the savior of the Universe?! I don’t think so.)

10. Best Movie Fantasies: “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer,” hands down (or thumbs up). Hugely entertaining, vividly realized, and generally a ton of fun, rising infinitely above both the generally ludicrous acting and the original books. Great music, too. Our friend Ben deeply regrets that John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger only made two of them. Watch them, and repeat after our friend Ben: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger!”

And the bonus:

11. Best Fantasy TV Series: “The Prisoner.” Our friend Ben really should watch this as an adult, since I never did figure out what it was about or what that weird beach-ball thingy was. But it was interesting and fun! For some reason, it brings to mind the novel Never Let Me Go, which was disturbing (and frustrating) in the same way. (Geez, why were they all so passive? Why didn’t they fight back?!!)