Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Star Trek: Patterns of Force

Episode: "Patterns of Force"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 21
Original Air Date: February 16, 1968
via Wikipedia
The Enterprise travels to planet Ekos in search of the missing John Gill, a Federation observer and a favorite professor of Kirk's at the Academy.  All is not well.  The Ekosians have adopted Nazi Germany as their cultural model with Gill as their figurehead.  Our hereoes, joined by the oppressed Zeonians (Zionists) infiltrate the ranks to get to Gill and topple the regime.  The image of two Jewish actors (Shatner and Nimoy) in Nazi garb is a poignant one.  As Star Trek costume dramas go, I thought this one worked better than "A Piece of the Action" (reflection here).

"Patterns of Force" was banned on German television for nearly 30 years due to the imagery and the expressed claim that the Nazis were the most efficient government ever devised.  That was actually a commonly held historical view in 1960s USA.  That assertion has since been debunked in academic circles, citing the large, incompetent, ill-defined bureaucracies that governed the regime.

via Wikipedia
David Brian (Gill) was born on August 5, 1914 in New York City.  A trained dancer, he worked as a doorman before joining the vaudeville circuit.  No less than Joan Crawford convinced him to give film acting a try. 

Television guest appearances kept him busy through the '50s and '60s.  His most prominent big screen role was as the defense attorney in 1949's Intruder in the Dust.  That performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

Brian died of heart disease and cancer in 1993.  He'd been married to Lorna Gray, his second wife, since 1949.

Monday, July 28, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Gene Luen Yang

Title: American Born Chinese
Writer and Artist: Gene Luen Yang
via Goodreads
Gene Luen Yang's highly acclaimed graphic novel American Born Chinese begins as three separate stories.  The first is based on the Chinese folk tale of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.  Sun Wukong strives to be accepted at the dinner parties of the other immortals.  In the second, Jin, a Chinese-American boy strives to be accepted at his California school.  The third is the strangest. Danny, an average, seemingly Caucasian kid, is embarrassed by his cousin Chin-Kee who embodies every cringe-inducing Chinese stereotype imaginable.  I'll admit that I didn't understand how the three threads interrelated until they were expertly woven together by the end.  That trick alone makes the book worth reading.

American Born Chinese reminded me quite a lot of Approved for Adoption, a movie we saw at the Green Mountain Film Festival in March (review here, fourth movie down).  The situations are different, of course.  Jin's background is Chinese, born to immigrant parents in the US.  Approved for Adoption's Jung was born in Korea, then adopted into a Belgian family.  There are similar themes, nonetheless.  Both Jin and Jung deliberately avoided friendships with other Asian kids, for instance.  American Born Chinese is a much lighter tale than Approved for Adoption and probably more accessible to children as a result.

Yang's book is a powerful reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve the pluralistic society we claim as an American ideal. 

On the Coffee Table: Rutu Modan

Title: Exit Wounds
Writer and Artist: Rutu Modan
via Amazon
Koby is a young taxi driver in Tel Aviv.  He shares the cab business with the aunt and uncle with whom he lives.  His life gets turned upside-down when a young woman he doesn't know tells him she believes his estranged father may have been killed in a suicide bombing.  The woman, Numi, was his father's lover and has not heard from him since the attack.  One victim is still unidentified so the two new friends (Koby, reluctantly) embark on a quest to link the body to the missing man.

While Israeli/Palestinian tensions are crucial to the plot, creator Modan avoids addressing the political issues directly.  In fact, the words Arab and Palestinian are never even used.  Instead, the story focuses on relationships including, eventually, the one developing between Koby and Numi as their mystery unravels.  Of the two, I found Numi to be the more appealing character.  It's the sort of romance where it's easier to understand in one direction than the other.  It's clear what he sees in her, not so much the other way around, except for Koby's resemblance to his father.

Modan's artwork is simple and uncluttered, her text also to the point.  The story is very sweet at times but pain is also clearly evident.  Exit Wounds is Modan's first full-length graphic novel and a potent debut, winning the 2008 Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Novel.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Far Arden

Title: Far Arden
Writer and Artist: Kevin Cannon
via Amazon
Kevin Cannon and I went to the same college, though not at the same time.  I know his business partner Zander Cannon (no relation) better as Zander was in my class.  However, I've gotten to know Kevin's work reasonably well over the past few years through the duo's collaboration on the online comic Double Barrel.  Kevin's primary story in that effort was Crater XV, actually a sequel to Far Arden

Also originally a web comic, Far Arden tells the story of Army Shanks, a pirate-ish guy who trolls the Canadian Arctic.  Far Arden is his quest: a mysterious tropical paradise hidden away somewhere in the frozen north.  He is joined by an old flame, an orphan in an arctic fox costume and two eager college students whose romantic involvement is not what it seems.  Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Arctic Navy (RCAN - is that really a thing?) is hot on his trail.

Kevin has developed a distinctive style.  His characters remind me of Don Martin of Mad Magazine fame but what sets Kevin's work apart is his use of sound bubbles.  Rather than the usual onomatopoeia - Pow! Wham! Kaboom! - he'll use more descriptive expressions: Listful Kick, Gesticulate, Hoodie String Pull, etc. 

I'll definitely be checking out more of Kevin's work and so should you - this is good stuff.  Far Arden is available in French, too.  The Cannons have done a fair amount of artwork for non-fiction graphic novels.  I think I'll try those next.

Family Movie Night: The Way We Were

Title: The Way We Were
Director: Sydney Pollack
Original Release: 1973
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia

The Purple Penguin asked before we watched if The Way We Were is a happy story. Bittersweet was the best word I could think of to describe it. "Does it have a happy ending?" she asked.  I honestly couldn't remember.

Katie Morsky (Barbara Streisand) and Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford) seem an unlikely couple.  She's a rock-the-boat student activist, he's a take-the-world-as-it-comes jock.  She's a Jewish girl on work-study.  He's a WASP boy on an athletic scholarship he doesn't even need.  And yet, they fall in love.  They get married.  Hubbell's writing talents take them to Hollywood where he pursues a screenwriting career, with only marginal success.  Meanwhile, the House Un-American Activities Committee is in full witch hunt mode, raising Katie's ire anew.

I still think bittersweet is the best description.  The love story is touching at times but ultimately very painful.  There was way too much kissing for our daughter's sensibilities. But long term, I think it's good for her to see that even if you land a mate who's smart, nice, funny and who looks like Robert Redford, it won't solve all of your problems.

A nice interview with Redford and Streisand about the film:


The writing and acting are both excellent.  The story is based on screenwriter Arthur Laurents's own experiences at Cornell and beyond.  The period elements are a lot of fun, especially the cars.  If I had more money than I'd ever need (I don't), I'd spend it on antique automobiles.  Late '40s convertibles would be the heart of my collection.  This was my second time watching the film, though I wouldn't say I ever need to watch it again.  Thus the 3 rating rather than a 4.

And, of course, there's the song, written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch.  If Barbara Streisand has a signature tune, this one's probably it:

On the Coffee Table: Shigeru Mizuki

Title: NonNonBa
Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
via Drawn and Quarterly
Manga artist Shigeru Mizuki is best known for his horror stories, particularly those involving yokai, haunting spirits from Japanese folklore.  He originally learned about yokai from Nonnonba, an older woman he knew while growing up in his home village Sakaiminato on the Japan Sea coast.  The book NonNonBa is a sort of fictionalized memoir of his own childhood.

I think it's fair to say that Mizuki had an unusual upbringing.  His father, the first man in his village to go to university in Tokyo, was a lot more interested in his more romantic pursuits like running a movie theatre than he was in fulfilling the basic expectations of a respectable job.  As such, the family was pretty much always on the brink of ruin.  On the bright side, his father eagerly encouraged his son's creative passions from a young age.

Nonnonba was not the only woman in his life.  In fact, while young Shigeru had memorable adventures with the boys in the neighborhood, the memories of most lasting impact all revolved around girls.  There was little Matsu who died of measles, TB-stricken Chigusa and, perhaps most heartbreaking of all, Miwa who was sold away to a geisha house.

The artwork is beautiful, of course, with caricature images of the people set against more realistic backgrounds, a typical manga device.  It helps to juxtapose the playfulness of childhood with the gravity of life.  I enjoyed the book a lot more than Mizuki's more famous GeGeGe no Kitaro stories.  There's more of his work in my TBR stacks so I'll be discussing him again before too long.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Ring Lardner

Title: You Know Me Al: A Busher's Letters
Author: Ring Lardner
via Goodreads
I picked up You Know Me Al on the recommendation of Laoch of Chicago who does his blogging over at Counterintuitivity.  The busher in question is Jack Keefe, a fictional baseball pitcher in the 1910s.  Al is his best friend back home to whom he writes his letters.  The language is earthy including the many misspellings of an uneducated man.

We get a very intimate view of Jack through his letters.  Frankly, he's an idiot.  Oh, he's very talented but constantly overestimates his own abilities and his value to his team, the Chicago White Sox.  He's also easily manipulated by those around him: women, teammates, coaches, team owners, etc.  He actually reminds me quite a lot of Forrest Gump - more the book character than the one played by Tom Hanks in the movie.

The book offers a view of a different America from today's and a baseball era long before utility infielders were millionaires.  No airplanes, all long-distance travel managed by train or boat.  The control of owners over players was total.  It doesn't help matters that, among many other flaws, Jack is terrible at managing his money.  Future Hall of Famers abound: Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Chief Bender, John McGraw, etc.

You Know Me Al is a charming, light read.  I don't know if it would hold much interest for one not a baseball fan but I enjoyed it.