Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Star Trek: Wink of an Eye

Episode: "Wink of an Eye"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 11
Original Air Date: November 29, 1968
via Memory Alpha
Another pesky fake distress call!  You'd think they'd learn!

This time, the Enterprise is lured to the planet Scalos.  Unbeknownst to our heroes, the natives live in accelerated time and are able to roam the ship virtually undetected by the crew apart from an insect-like buzzing.  The Scalosians are also dying out and are intent on abducting members of the crew, including Captain Kirk, for breeding stock.

The deeper one gets into the third season, the more one sees ideas wearing thin.  The fake distress call, the abductions, the superior beings effectively winning control of the ship: these are all tried and somewhat true staples of the franchise by this point.  The time acceleration idea, however, is new - or it is to Trek, at any rate.  An early use of the concept is found in H.G. Wells's short story entitled "The New Accelerator."  On television, it had previously been explored on episodes of The Wild Wild West and The Lone Ranger animated series.

via Memory Alpha
Kathie Brown played the Scalosian Deela, Kirk's seductress of the week.  She was born September 19, 1930 in San Luis Obispo, California.  She had numerous television roles, including multiple appearances on Perry Mason, Bonanza and Hondo.  Among big screen gigs were Murder by Contract, Cinderfella and Brainstorm.  In 1969, she married fellow actor Darren McGavin, not to part until her death from natural causes in 2003.

Monday, November 17, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Twin Spica, Vol. 3

Title: Twin Spica, Volume 3
Writer and Artist: Kou Yaginuma
via Amazon
Twin Spica tells the story of Asumi, a student at Tokyo National Space School.  My posts about the first two volumes of this excellent manga series can be found here and here.  The two most interesting characters so far, aloof fellow student Marika and Mr. Sano, the physics teacher, both get significant development in this third installment.

As noted in my first post about the series, Twin Spica is classified as seinen, meaning the target audience is men, ages 17-40.  This is a little surprising - at least from a Western perspective - considering the highly sentimental aspects of the story.  American movies targeting men, by contrast, are generally not renowned for emotional depth.  Thinking back in my own experiences in Japan, the men I knew were, indeed, less shy about expressing certain emotions than their American counterparts.  This is not to imply that the macho image isn't a significant part of the culture because it certainly is.  It's just shaped a bit differently.  Wistful longing for elements of the past - school chums, mom's cooking and, especially, those passed on - is part of what it is to be a man.

So, a teenage girl weeping over her long-dead mother?  Chick-flick material in the States.  Totally fair game for seinen manga.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Family Movie Night: Big Hero 6

Title: Big Hero 6
Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Original Release: 2014
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Big Hero 6 opened in the United States just last weekend and debuted at the top of the box office rankings.   The film, inspired by the Marvel comic book superhero team of the same name, is Disney's 54th animated feature.  A sequel already seems inevitable.  Big Hero 7?  Hahahahaha...

Hiro Hamada is a 14-year-old robotics prodigy in the fictional San Fransokyo.  His world is turned upside-down when his older brother Tadashi is killed in a fire at an exhibition.  Tadashi, however, left behind an interesting legacy: Baymax, an inflatable personal health care robot who takes on Hiro's emotional well-being as his raison d'ĂȘtre.  Hiro organizes Tadashi's university pals into a posse to take down the evil entity Hiro believes killed his brother.

The movie is beautiful, even by Disney standards.  The highlight is the inside of the Stargate-esque inter-dimensional portal in the story's climactic scene.  Hiro's microbots are pretty impressive, too.  The end credits are a lot of fun - a welcome trend in the 21st century film industry.  The story is fairly predictable but it pushes all of the right emotional buttons for me.  The relationship between Hiro and Baymax is quite touching.  The scene when Hiro brings Baymax home while the robot's battery is running down has some nice ET parallels.  I'll admit, I didn't see the twist at the end coming.  I should have, but I didn't - most satisfying.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: December Blog List

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to present Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society.  Each month, on the second Friday, we shall host a bloghop devoted to a particular movie.  We invite others to watch the same film and post their own reviews.

Our society shall convene next on December 12th with Pulp Fiction.

via Wikipedia
We hope that you, too, will watch the movie and join in our discussion.  Please sign on to the list below:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: Space Battleship Yamato

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to welcome you to Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society.  Each month, on the second Friday, we shall host a bloghop devoted to a particular movie.  We invite others to watch the same film and post their own reviews.  This month's movie is...

Title: Space Battleship Yamato
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Original Release: 2010
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

via Wikipedia
A few times in my life, I have had the honor of joining someone on a personal pilgrimage.  In college, I went to an Arlo Guthrie concert with a friend who had been named after the singer.  I took a photo of the two of them together.  A few summers ago, I went to the Anne of Green Gables house with my sister who grew up loving that series of books.   With Mock, I went to see The Avengers for the midnight showing on opening night and more recently to Vermont ComicCon.

Such was the privilege for Mock and me when we got to watch Space Battleship Yamato with Drama Guy (DG).  We didn't have to go very far for this pilgrimage, just to DG's house.  DG grew up watching the Japanese anime series Star Blazers upon which the film is based.  When we asked him to choose our movie for the month, he jumped at the opportunity to share his first viewing of the live action movie with the two of us.  Our evening kicked off with the old cartoon, very helpful for a quick orientation to the story.

Earth is on the brink of environmental ruin.  A message arrives from the planet Iskandar with schematics for a warp drive and Iskandar's coordinates.  The crew of the Yamato sets course for this distant world in hopes of saving their own.  The movie has suffered some criticism from Westerners for parallels with Battlestar Galactica but it's worth noting this story predates BG.  The original Japanese TV show started in 1974 whereas the original BG didn't launch until 1978.

The visuals for the movie are wonderful.  The Yamato is a beautiful replication of a WWII vessel of the same name, sunk by the allied forces in 1945.  The ships of the enemy Gamilas are also impressive.  A battle scene on Iskandar is a bit video gamey but generally speaking, the action sequences have a satisfying pace, allowing the eye time to appreciate the spectacle - quite a welcome change from the hyper-kinetic energy of a comparable American science fiction movie.

The 2010 film was a smash hit in Japan, thanks in no small part to the star power of its leading man, Takuya Kimura.  Kimura first rose to fame in the boy band SMAP and has since become the king of Japanese television dramas.    Co-star Meisa Kuroki also came up through the J-pop ranks.  Both are, quite frankly, very attractive.  Neither is likely to win an Oscar anytime soon but they performed capably, as did the rest of the cast.

Space Battleship Yamato is a fun movie and it definitely piqued my interest in the TV series.  There was briefly a manga in the mid-'70s.  I might keep an eye open for that, too.

We hope that you, too, will watch Space Battleship Yamato and join in our discussion.  I'll post December's sign-up list tomorrow.  Our feature on Friday, December 12th shall be... Pulp Fiction.

via Wikipedia
In the meantime, for the Space Battleship Yamato discussion, please sign on to the list below.  Having trouble finding it?  Well, aren't you in luck?  The full movie (Japanese with English subtitles) is on YouTube:  (Not really for 18+.  This one's PG-13 at worst.):

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Star Trek: Plato's Stepchildren

Episode: "Plato's Stepchildren"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 10
Original Air Date: November 22, 1968
via Memory Alpha
The kiss.  This one's all about the kiss.

Star Trek broke significant cultural ground on the evening of November 22, 1968 when Captain James T. Kirk kissed Lieutenant Nyota Uhura.  For the first time in the history of American television, a kiss was scripted between a white man and a black woman.  In 1968, interracial marriage was still illegal in much of the United States so this was no small matter.  Network executives feared a boycott of the episode in the Deep South and demanded that two versions of the crucial scene be filmed, one with the kiss and one without.  The cast deliberately botched every single take of the no-kiss version so in the end, there was no choice.

For all the worry, the backlash was essentially non-existent.  The show got more fan mail for this episode than any other.  Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) tells the story of the one mildly negative letter from a Southern fan. He wrote "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it."  The episode was banned in Britain, not for the kiss as the BBC had already crossed that threshold but for the story's sadistic imagery.

Oh right, the story...

Drawn once again by a pesky fake distress call, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a planet which, according to their readings, does not support life.  There, they encounter a civilization that has patterned itself after ancient Greece, particularly the philosophy of Plato.  All possess telekinetic powers - all, that is, except for Alexander, the dwarf who first greets them.  Because of his deficiencies, Alexander is mistreated by the others on the planet.  As power dynamics shift, the episode engages in unusually insightful explorations of the relationship between the powerful and the powerless in a society, all of which feeds into the story's big moment.  Our heroes fall under the control of the natives, as do Uhura and Nurse Chapel, all of which leads eventually to the kiss.

The kiss really isn't much of one.  In fact, it's difficult to tell if lips ever actually touch.  Shatner has always claimed it was a mere stage kiss whereas Nichols insists it's the real thing.

Vital musical side note:  in our story, Spock sings a song called "Maiden Wine."  Leonard Nimoy wrote the song himself.  However, a double was hired for his flamenco dance, a Mr. Armando Gonzales.

via Wikipedia
Michael Dunn (Alexander) was born Gary Neil Miller on October 20, 1934 in Shattuck, Oklahoma.  Escaping Dust Bowl conditions, the family moved to Dearborn, Michigan when Gary was four years old.  His parents were pressured to send him to a school for disabled children but they insisted he go to the neighborhood public school.  He learned to read at the age of three and won the Detroit News Spelling Bee in 1947.  He entered the University of Michigan at 16, then transferred to the University of Miami partly for its more accessible campus.

Dunn's showbiz career began on the stage, then moved to film and television.  He was nominated for a Tony in 1964 for his performance in The Ballad of the Sad CafĂ© and for an Oscar for 1965's Ship of Fools.  On TV, he was best known for his multiple appearances on The Wild Wild West as Dr. Miguelito Loveless.

Dunn did a great deal of philanthropy work for children with dwarfism.  Sadly, his own spinal deformities led to health complications that shortened his life.  Dunn passed away in 1973 at age 38. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the Road: The Quest for Penguins

Our daughter is way into penguins.  What began as a childhood fascination is gradually evolving into a deeper interest including discussions of possible career paths.  From a book about Jane Goodall, she learned the word ethologist: one who studies animal behavior in the subject's natural environment.  It is now a life goal to see penguins in the wild.

Alas, there are no wild penguins in Vermont, though they're not as far away as I'd have thought before my daughter's interest emerged.  Nearly all penguins live in the southern hemisphere but there is one species that hangs out around the equator in the Galapagos Islands.  Still, that trip's way beyond the current family budget so it'll have to remain in the long-term plan for now.

Fortunately, there are penguins relatively nearby in captivity, including three different species at the New England Aquarium in Boston.  We've lived in New England for twelve years yet we've spent  little time in the region's largest city.  The penguins were as good an excuse as any!  Combining the penguin quest with a visit to see dear friends in Worcester made for a most enjoyable, eastern Massachusetts weekend.

The Boston excursion did not go quite as planned. We thought we were being clever by parking at the Alewife station then taking the subway into the city.  Alas, construction along the red line meant we had to first take a shuttle bus - free, thankfully - to Harvard before continuing our adventures by rail.  It was not exactly a banner day for Boston's ever-disastrous infrastructure.

That said, the aquarium was amazing.  The penguins dominate the ground floor display space: southern rockhoppers, African penguins and, the smallest species in the world, the little blue penguins.  Interestingly, none of the three is native to Antarctica.  The little blues are in pretty good shape ecologically but the rockhoppers are classified as vulnerable and the Africans are endangered.  All three are adorable and the girl was most impressed.  There's plenty more to see, including an enormous octopus, a sea turtle that's over 85 years old and California sea lions.  We were there for around three hours total, I think: plenty of time to see everything.  Great facility - I'd definitely go again.

Otherwise, I'd have to say Boston was a bit of a disappointment.  I'm not a big fan of cities in general - too many people, too much asphalt and concrete - and Boston is unusually confusing with its crazy street layout.  Even with our public transit fiasco, it was better than trying to drive.  I will concede, the average person you run into is pretty friendly, especially when compared to their counterparts in New York or Washington.  I'm sure I would learn my way around with time and patience and it's totally unfair to judge a city by such a short visit but we didn't leave keen to come back.  Montreal is more my speed - closer to us, too.

For the record, the aquarium was definitely worth the effort.  Plus, I got to sing the following on our way out of town.  My poor, suffering wife...

I can now relate to feeling trapped on the Boston transit system.