Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Star Trek: The Empath

Episode: "The Empath"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 12
Original Air Date: December 6, 1968
via Memory Alpha
Devotees know that the idea of an empathic being is an important one in the Star Trek franchise, most significantly in The Next Generation's Deeana Troi.  In this week's episode, our heroes meet Gem, a mute but empathic woman.  Gem is held captive by the Vians who, we learn in time, are using her to judge the worthiness of her entire race.

The Enterprise comes to Minara II to rescue a research team before the system's star goes supernova.  The landing team of Kirk, Spock and McCoy can't find the researchers and instead are abducted themselves into a mysterious underground lair.  First they meet the silent, yet captivating Gem (so named by the doctor), then the Vians.  The Vians know of the impending doom and also know they can only save one race in the system from extinction.  They are aware of Gem's psychic powers though they are unsure of her moral integrity.  Through a series of torturous abuses, they use our friends to test her willingness to sacrifice herself for the greater good.

The show is weakening.  My interest in the individual stories is waning.  But there were a few things I enjoyed about this episode.  I like Kathryn Hays (Gem) a lot.  She never says a word but she moves beautifully - significant dance experience, I imagine.  The close up shots of her expressing earnest concern are eye-roll inducing but that's the director's fault, not the actor's.  There is also a touching scene as Spock, once again, bends in concern over a dying Dr. McCoy.  "You've got a good bedside manner, Spock," says Bones.

via Memory Alpha
Gold Key's third Star Trek comic book issue was released in December 1968, entitled "Invasion of the City Builders."  As with the previous installments, one wonders if the writer (Dick Wood) or artist (Alberto Giolitti) had ever actually watched the show.  The ship's bridge for instance - a major set on TV - has no resemblance whatsoever to that seen on screen.  Also, the Enterprise dips inside a planet's atmosphere in order to scan it - not required on our regularly scheduled program.

That said, I enjoyed this story - a good old science fiction allegory, in this case against the ever increasing urbanization of society.  The natives of Planet Questionmark have lost control of the city building robots they'd created generations before.  The machines keep building far beyond the population's needs.  As a result, farm space is being squeezed out and the food supply with it.  Thankfully, the Enterprise showed up in time to defeat the robots and stave off extinction.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Kazuki Ebine

Title: Gandhi: A Manga Biography
Writer and Artist: Kazuki Ebine
via Amazon
Mahatma Gandhi was, without question, one of the most extraordinary people in world history.  Through nonviolent civil disobedience, he led his nation of India to independence from the mighty British Empire and inspired activists in similar causes around the globe.  His life is well documented in both print and film, certainly a worthy subject for a manga biography.

Unfortunately, I don't feel Ebine's book quite makes the grade.  The artwork is fine but the text falls short.  I was glad I knew a fair amount about Gandhi's life before reading the book otherwise I think I would have been confused often.  The translation from the author's Japanese is a bit awkward at times, too, which doesn't help.

Perhaps the medium is the problem.  There's a lot to cover in a person's life.  Sometimes a sequential art biography works: Louis Riel and Buddha are both excellent.  Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, on the other hand, felt too thin, much like Gandhi.  I wouldn't even say Gandhi offers enough to pique one's interest in learning more.  Maybe it's just biographies that are tricky, regardless of the means of delivery.  I'm confident there are better books out there for exploring Gandhi's life, even better ones for appealing to a younger audience.  These days, the 1982 film would probably be rated PG-13 for its violence but if you can get past that, it provides a terrific overview of the great man's story.

On the Coffee Table: Han Solo's Revenge

Title: Han Solo's Revenge
Author: Brian Daley
via Wikipedia
Han Solo's Revenge, first published in 1979, is the second of Brian Daley's The Han Solo Adventures trilogy.  My review of the first book, Han Solo at Star's End, can be found here. In this second installment, Han and Chewie mistakenly get caught up in a slave trade run.  After they free the slaves and slay their captors, they follow the money trail for revenge upon and a paycheck from those who duped them. 

Apart from Han Solo and Chewbacca, the two mainstay characters of The Han Solo Adventures are their droid companions: BLX-5 (aka Bollux) and Blue Max.  One can hardly have a Star Wars story without a goofy pair of droids on board.  The relationship between the two is a bit different from Artoo/Threepio, though.  Both are conversant with humanoids - none of the Jay and Silent Bob act here.  Also, Blue Max spends much of his time inside of Bollux's chest cavity.  The two met Han and Chewie when the droids were lent to our friends by Jaesa, an outlaw tech, in Star's End.  After helping to rescue Jaesa's father Doc, the droids were given their freedom and chose to stay on as crew for the Millenium Falcon.
via Wookieepedia
Bollux is a BLX labor droid.  In British editions of the books, he is called Zollux as Bollux sounds way too much like bollocks to be taken seriously in the UK.  Humanoid in form, Bollux had wandered the galaxy from job to job, continuously outmoded by newer machines but always volunteering for upgrades to keep himself useful. 
via Wookieepedia
Blue Max is a slicer droid, the first appearance of his kind in the Star Wars universe.  A slicer is used to hack computer systems.  Blue Max began as an Imperial droid but came to Doc by way of a bounty hunter.  Doc's techs made the modifications in Bollux so he could carry Blue Max in his chest.
via Wookieepedia
One enterprising fan, identified as Kambei, even created an action figure of the two:

Bollux and Blue Max photo Bollux03.jpg

As with the first book, Han Solo's Revenge is a lot of fun.  Chewbacca gets some nice development, too, particularly in an admittedly bizarre episode in which he constructs a glider out of a pterodactyl carcass.  Jedi Knights and the Force are mentioned only in passing, suggesting there's plenty of room in the Star Wars universe for an old-fashioned adventure tale. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Family Movie Night: Funny Girl

Title: Funny Girl
Director: William Wyler
Original Release: 1968
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
In 1968, all you really needed to have a hit movie was Barbra Streisand's voice and Omar Sharif's face.  Funny Girl was, in fact, Streisand's debut film though she was a giant in the music industry.  She'd already released ten studio albums, all of them certified Gold or Platinum.  She'd also won four Grammys.  The dazzlingly handsome Sharif, meanwhile, was an international superstar thanks to his performances in Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

That's not to say Funny Girl doesn't have other things going for it - quite the contrary.  It's the sort of movie that reminds us the medium could dazzle with set and costumes in an era well before CGI.  The acting is good - particularly Streisand, who won an Oscar - the music is fun and the story compelling.  The film was adapted from the stage musical of the same name, the original tale based loosely on the true-life story of entertainer Fanny Brice (Streisand) and her marriage with gambler Nicky Arnstein (Sharif).  Fanny, bursting with talent but painfully insecure, falls hard for the charming but unreliable Nicky - a love affair doomed from the beginning.  (Side note: in the film, Nicky plays Poker.  In real life, Sharif is an avid Bridge player.)

If "The Way We Were" isn't the prolific Streisand's signature song, "People" undoubtedly is.  It was written first for the musical and Streisand's single release in 1964 had been a huge hit.  Lyrics were added for the film performance.


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, 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.