Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Star Trek: Day of the Dove

Episode: "Day of the Dove"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 1, 1968
via Wikipedia
Distress calls bring both the Enterprise and a Klingon ship to Beta XII-A.  The malevolent superior entity that lured them plays puppeteer with both parties, fueling tensions.  The Klingons are brought aboard the ship.  Unwilling to be docile prisoners, they take over engineering.  All the while, the entity allows neither side to gain a permanent upper hand.  In time, our heroes deduce that this evil spirit feeds off of conflict and they can only defeat it by making peace with the Klingons.

Symbolism is heavy-handed indeed.  A memorable exchange during the initial Federation/Klingon confrontation:
Kirk: Go to the devil.
Klingon Commander Kang: We have no devil, Kirk.  But we understand the habits of yours.
Later, Kirk accuses the entity of having meddled in the affairs of others before, a perpetual force of evil in the universe.  Apparently the original script had the Klingons and Enterprise crew singing songs in a peace march.  Thankfully, sensibility prevailed and laughter was used to drive the entity away.

The heavy-handedness aside, "Day of the Dove" is a good episode for the development of the Klingons.  As with the Romulans in "The Enterprise Incident," we have glimpses of better cultural understanding amid the tensions:
Kirk (to Mara, Kang's wife, after Kirk threatens to kill her as a bluff to Kang): The Federation doesn't kill or mistreat its prisoners.  You've been listening to propoganda... fables.
Mara (later, to Kirk): We have always fought.  We must.  We are hunters, Captain, tracking and taking what we need. 
The end, while not hopeful exactly, does offer a possible path to long-term peace.

*****
via Memory Alpha
Michael Ansara (Kang) was born April 15, 1922 in Syria.  His family emigrated to the United States when he was two years old.  He took acting classes as a way to overcome shyness, then fell in love with it.

His long career ranged from Biblical epics to westerns to science fiction.  He played Judas in 1953's The Robe.  He had the lead roles in two 1950s TV series: Broken Arrow and Law of the Plainsman.  He played Kane in the Buck Rogers TV series.  He reprised the role of Kang in Deep Space Nine and Voyager episodes.  Hardly needing to add more to his geek cred, he was also the voice of Dr. Freeze for Batman: The Animated Series and its spinoffs.

While making Broken Arrow, the publicity department set Ansara up on a date with Barbara Eden, later of I Dream of Jeannie fame.  The two were married for 16 years, divorcing in 1974.  Their only son, Matthew, died of a heroin overdose in 2001.  Michael Ansara died in 2013 after a long illness.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Mark Kurlansky

Title: Salt: A World History
Author: Mark Kurlansky
via Amazon
I know salt is important for preserving food.  When I was young, I learned about the Romans using salt to pay their soldiers.  From this, we get the word salary.  I've also seen the movie Ghandi so I knew about his march to the sea to gather salt in defiance of the British Empire.  Before reading Salt, that was about the limit of my appreciation for the role salt has played in human history.  I had read Kurlansky before.  His book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World is outstanding and, if you should read it, will thoroughly convince you that the fishing industry has shaped the history of the North Atlantic for over 1,000 years.  I'd even given Salt a go before, about nine years ago.  Alas, that was a time when pleasure reading was not a big part of my life so I'd go months without picking up the book at all.  As a result, I didn't make it far.  With my new interest in food books, it seemed a good time to give it another try.

Salt is essential to life but it has not always been easily accessible so its trade has been a major part of economies from the beginning.  Salt covers a lot of ground.  Kurlansky's thorough account hits five continents over thousands of years.  He begins with the mining innovations of ancient China and finishes with the Morton Salt company.  In between, he spends most of the book in various corners of Europe but a few chapters are devoted to the impact on Asia and the New World, too.  Apart from food, salt has had numerous industrial applications over the centuries: making gunpowder, curing leather, mining silver, deicing roads, etc.  Salt use has diminished over the past century but remains essential today.

As with Cod, Salt leaves no doubt as to the importance of its subject matter.  Even so, the text is dense at times and some chapters were tougher to get through than others, slipping into that one-damn-thing-after-another feel that is the peril of any history text.  All I want is high intellectual stimulation with trashy-novel digestibility.  Is that really so much to ask?  I am glad to have finally finished the book.  I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Cod but it's certainly a worthwhile read.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Family Movie Night: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Title: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Director: Henry Selick
Original Release: 1993
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
At its heart, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a very simple concept: what would happen if Halloween took over Christmas?  From that premise, a rich, textured universe was created in which each of seven different holidays inhabit a world all their own.  Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, sung by Danny Elfman) is the superstar of Halloween Town.  Despite the worship-level appreciation he enjoys in his own realm, he longs for more.  He hatches a plan to kidnap Santa Claus and deliver Christmas presents in his place. 

This has long been one of our family favorites.  We own a DVD copy and there was a stretch a few years back when Purple Penguin was watching it daily.  As it was frequently on in the background, I know the sounds of the film better than I do the sights.  So there are a few details I had missed before this most recent viewing - particularly the door with the fire cracker!  There is a circle of trees in the woods, each with a door leading to a Holiday Town: a pumpkin for Halloween, a tree for Christmas, a heart for Valentine's Day, a shamrock for St. Patrick's Day, an egg for Easter and a turkey for Thanksgiving.  (Rather USA-centric, isn't it?)  I'd thought that was it.  Au contraire!  There's a door with a fire cracker for Independence Day.  Well, what do you know?

One has to appreciate the marketing genius of a movie suitable for both Halloween and Christmas, the two biggest consumer holidays on the calendar.  My favorite scene is at the very end of the trailer:



I can't help being curious about the other Holiday Towns but Tim Burton, the genius behind the whole concept, has always been very protective of this story and resistant to the idea of sequels.  If it ever does happen, I certainly hope Elfman will be brought along for the ride.  Danny Elfman, former front man for Oingo Boingo, has carved out quite a niche for himself in the worlds of film and television.  He has scored nearly all of Burton's films and has worked on many others as well.  He has been nominated for four Oscars.  For all of his success on the big screen, his strongest legacy may be The Simpsons theme song.

*****

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Star Trek: Spectre of the Gun

Episode: "Spectre of the Gun"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 25, 1968
via Memory Alpha
Most of the American television audience wasn't quite ready for Star Trek in the late 1960s.   Westerns, on the other hand, were huge.  Two of the great small screen leviathans of that or any era were Bonanza, weighing in at 14 seasons, and Gunsmoke at 20 plus 9 on radio.  Only The Simpsons has been on prime-time television longer than Gunsmoke.  Therefore, it is no surprise that Trek - never shy about cheesy costume dramas - devoted one of its third season episodes to the Old West.

The Enterprise and her crew are sent to make contact with the Melkotians.  When their prospective friends shoo them away, Kirk orders our heroes to push onward.  Miffed, the Melkotians grab the landing party and punish them by placing them in an O.K. Corral dreamscape as the ill-fated Clantons.  Toss in the Earps and Doc Holliday and the outlook is not great for our favorite galactic travelers.

While several of the Trek's principal actors had western appearances on their resumes, none had better credentials than Deforest Kelley (Dr. McCoy).  He had, in fact, already appeared in two other versions of the O.K. Corral story.  In 1955, he played Ike Clanton in an episode of You Are There.  He was Morgan Earp in the 1957 film, Gunfight at the OK Corral.

The Western set has a surrealist feel, using only the facades of buildings.  The choice, however, was driven by an effort to keep costs down rather than by artistic inspiration.  The vermilion red sky however, must have been a deliberate choice and I found it delightfully unsettling.

*****
via Memory Alpha
Charles Maxwell (Virgil Earp) was a veteran of television westerns.  He was born December 28, 1913 in Long Island, New York.  He made ten total appearances on Bonanza, four on Gunsmoke and four on Rawhide among many others.  His was also the (uncredited) radio announcer voice on Gilligan's Island.  Maxwell died in 1993.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Family Movie Night: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director: Ang Lee
Original Release: 2000
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, produced on a $17 million dollar budget, grossed $213 million worldwide in its theatrical release.  It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, won four and probably should have been Best Picture (Gladiator won instead).  The film inspired a wave of interest in Chinese film in the western world.  IMDb's synopsis: "Two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are led to an impetuous, physically skilled, adolescent nobleman's daughter, who is at a crossroads in her life."



The story is based on the fourth of a series of five novels known in China as the Crane Iron Pentalogy by Wang Dulu.  The books have never been translated to English but apparently the first book, Crane Frightens Kunlun, is currently in progress.  The narrative is strong but the magic of the film is in the visual presentation.  The film's scenery is stunning.  Peter Pau won an Oscar for Cinematography as did Timmy Yip for Art Direction.  Every fight scene is mesmerizing, often greatly enhanced by special effects.

It's a great Girl Power movie.  All of the women hold their own in both martial arts and fencing, especially Jen Yu, portrayed by Ziyi Zhang.  In one scene, she lays an entire restaurant to waste.  Her duel with Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) atop a bamboo forest is particularly memorable.



Composer Tan Dun won an Oscar, a Grammy and a BAFTA for the film's score.  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma features prominently as a soloist.  More recently, Dun composed music for the medal ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

*****

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: November 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 November 14th with Space Battleship Yamato.
via Wikipedia
To clarify, we're watching the 2010 live action movie, not the animated one.  Having trouble finding it?  Well, aren't you in luck?  The full movie (Japanese with English subtitles) is on YouTube: http://youtu.be/pWbm75wl_vw.  (Not really for 18+.  This one's PG-13 at worst.)  The movie is based on Star Blazers, the anime TV series from the 1970s.  The film is Drama Guy's choice and he has promised a screening of Star Blazers episodes on the same evening.

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


Friday, October 10, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: Unbreakable

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: Unbreakable
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Original Release: 2000
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Before this month, Mock and I had watched our Society movies separately, silly in light of the fact that we are good friends and see each other often.   This month, we decided to find an evening to watch together along with (as Mock calls him) our third musketeer: Drama Guy.  I was the only one of the three of us who hadn't seen Unbreakable before.  I admire The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan's breakthrough effort, tremendously - 5 stars, easy.  However, I'd never seen any of his other films, knowing all have been far less critically successful, a few considered downright terrible.  Nonetheless, I was curious.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) believes himself to be an ordinary Philadelphia security guard with a troubled marriage.  He has failed to realize a strange pattern in his life: he has never been ill and he has never been injured.  But Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book art collector and exhibitor, has been keeping an eye out for a man like David.  Elijah has a brittle bones condition and is therefore obsessed with the idea of an invincible man.  When David is the only survivor of a train accident, Elijah sets out to convince him of his superhuman powers.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of this movie: dark and, for the most part, surprisingly quiet.  As with Sixth Sense, there is a creepy, tingling around the edges but no ghosts.  The writing wasn't quite as good as in the earlier film but it does keep the story moving.  Just as with the earlier movie, I didn't see the twist at the end coming.  The twist is fun but I think the story would also have been fine without it.

I do have one gripe.  The movie ends with screen captions revealing the fallout from the big shocker ending.   I feel that works for a movie about real-life events - All the President's Men, for instance - but it's a strange choice for fiction.  If the end you filmed isn't really the end of the story, why did you film it that way?  Just seems sloppy.  In the final analysis, Unbreakable is a good movie but it's not as good as The Sixth Sense.

We hope that you, too, will watch Unbreakable and join in our discussion.  I'll post November's sign-up list tomorrow.  Our feature on Friday, November 14th shall be... something a little different: Space Battleship Yamato.
via Wikipedia
In the meantime, for the Unbreakable discussion, please sign on to the list below: