Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Star Trek: Let That Be Your Last Battlefied

Episode: "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 10, 1969
via Memory Beta
As the series was winding down, NBC and Paramount executives wanted to use every available Trek script.   The story for "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" had originally been pitched and rejected for the show's first season but now it was exactly the sort of material required for the death spiral.  The episode is a heavy-handed racism fable, best-loved by the devoted for the guest appearance by Frank Gorshin who had played The Riddler on ten episodes of Batman.

While on a mission to decontaminate the planet Ariannus, the Enterprise encounters a stolen Federation shuttle craft.  The tractor beam brings the vessel into the hangar deck and Lokai, the injured pilot/thief within, is brought to sickbay.  Meanwhile, Bele (Gorshin), another being, has boarded the ship in his pursuit of Lokai.  Bele identifies himself as a police commissioner and has long sought Lokai as a political dissident.  Both men are white on one side of the face, black on the other.  Wouldn't you know it, they're exactly opposite.  Bele is black on the right side, Lokai is white on the right.  Thus all the trouble.

Eye roll inducing moments are definitely on the increase but there is still fun to be had.  During red alerts, the camera zooms in and out on the signal at a tilted angle.  This was allegedly done in tribute to The Riddler.

via Batman Wiki
Frank Gorshin was born April 5, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He got into show business as an impressionist, having mastered the mannerisms of film stars while ushering at a movie theater during high school.  He went to college at the school now known as Carnegie Mellon.  He was drafted into the army in 1953, serving a year and a half in Germany.

Gorshin's acting career took off after his army discharge.  Film gigs included Between Heaven and Hell, Hot Rod Girl and Invasion of the Saucer Men.  Apart from Trek and Batman, he made television appearances on Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels and Wonder Woman among many others.  He debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night The Beatles did. 

The impressions continued to the end.  In 2002, Gorshin played George Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie, a Tony-nominated one-man show.  A notorious chain smoker (five packs a day!), Gorshin died in 2005 from lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

On the Road: Essex Junction

It has been a rough week in Vermont.  Due to unusually wet and heavy snow, we have been without electricity at our house since Wednesday evening.  We are not alone.  Much of our town and others nearby are out, too.  For us, losing power is no small matter.  It means no heat and, worst of all, no water.  We're muddling through but it's been tough.  As I write this, we're sitting in the public library, checking the electric company's website periodically for updates.  They're promising most outages will be taken care of today - fingers crossed.

via The Essex
In desperation, we did take a quick vacation from our plight on Friday evening, checking into the Essex Resort & Spa for the night.  Actually, My Wife thought she was making the reservation for Saturday but got her dates mixed up.  Fortunately, we caught the mistake in time and set off to enjoy our evening.  We would have been crushed to arrive on Saturday only to find ourselves out of luck.

The inn is very nice.  We managed to get a decent deal given the late reservation but got a nice room nonetheless.  Most importantly, it had hot, running water.  Showers, bliss...  The room was clean, the food was decent and the service was adequate.  Truth be told, though, we all slept better in our own cold house on Saturday night.  Even so, the break was a good thing.

Just checked again.  Our earliest estimate for power is 6 pm tomorrow.  Sigh...

Have a good week, everyone.  Don't be shocked if I'm not ready for Trek on Wednesday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: January 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 January 9th with Better Off Dead.
via Wikipedia
Our dear friend Suze is co-hosting with us in January.   If you, dear cinephile, would be interesting in suggesting a film and co-hosting Mock Squid Soup one month, please let us know.  We hope that you, too, will watch the movie and join in our discussion.  Please sign on to the list below:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: Pulp Fiction

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: Pulp Fiction
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Original Release: 1994
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Pulp Fiction was released during my senior year of college.  For me, it was a gateway to indie films.  For all of its gratuitous and disturbing elements - the violence, the blood, the drug overdose - expert writing and masterful storytelling shone through.  It woke me up to the quality that existed in the medium beyond the big budget blockbusters.  It also introduced me to the concept of a MacGuffin (the briefcase), though I wouldn't learn the word for it until years later.

Pulp Fiction is actually three interweaving stories, told out of sequence.  In "Vincent Vega and Marsellus's Wife," LA hit man Vincent (John Travolta) entertains his boss's wife (Uma Thurman) for an enjoyable but ultimately catastrophic evening.  In "The Gold Watch," boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) cheats the aforementioned Marsellus (Ving Rhames) out of a gambling fix.  In "The Bonnie Situation," Vincent and his partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) must dispose of a dead body.

The film resurrected one acting career (Travolta), rejuvenated another (Willis) and catapulted two others to Hollywood's A-list (Thurman and Jackson).  The acting is outstanding almost across the board, though the writing sure makes it easy.  The one weakness is Tarantino's own appearance as Jimmie, the unfortunate friend who finds himself the unwilling accomplice in body disposal.  Yet another director is tripped up by his own narcissism...

My favorite part of the movie is the last scene.  It is the end of "The Bonnie Situation" but is not the end of the overall sequential narrative.  I wonder now if that was intentional or if the non-sequential narrative of the film evolved more organically.  Jules's final monologue provides a wonderful summation of the moral landscape of the entire film.  It might lose some impact without the benefit of the completion of all three stories.  Also, I'd think it would be difficult to follow the emotional intensity of that last scene with much of anything.

We hope that you, too, will watch Pulp Fiction and join in our discussion.  I'll post January's sign-up list tomorrow.  Our feature on Friday, January 9th shall be... Better Off Dead.
via Wikipedia
Our dear friend Suze is co-hosting with us in January.   If you, dear cinephile, would be interesting in suggesting a film and co-hosting Mock Squid Soup one month, please let us know.

In the meantime, for the Pulp Fiction discussion, please sign on to the list below.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Star Trek: Whom Gods Destroy

Episode: "Whom Gods Destroy"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 3, 1969
via Memory Alpha
Star Trek's first episode of 1969 brought the Enterprise to Elba II and its asylum for the criminally insane.  What begins as a mission to deliver medicine turns disastrous.  Inmate Garth of Izar, once a famed starship captain and hero to James T. Kirk, has taken over the asylum, largely through his shape-shifting ability.

In the episode's most interesting scene, Spock must tell the real Kirk apart from Garth's impersonation.  Somehow, he missed the obvious, logical choice of phaser stunning both of them and sorting afterward but he solved the riddle when the genuine article offered himself up for the good of his ship.  Apparently Leonard Nimoy, disgruntled for much of the third season, was furious about this scene, feeling it was out of character for Spock to have such a difficult time finding the true Kirk.

Ten more to go...

via Wikipedia
Keye Luke played the role of Governor Donald Cory, the asylum director.  Luke was born Luk Shek Lun in Guangzhou, China on June 18, 1904.  His family emigrated to Seattle when he was a child at which point they adopted the Americanized spelling of their name.

Luke first broke into show biz as an artist rather than an actor, painting murals and press materials for theaters and films.  He took his first acting turn in 1934's The Painted Veil but he made his big splash playing Number One Son in Charlie Chan in Paris.  On the strength of his performance, the character became a regular in the Charlie Chan series.  He also played Kato in the Green Hornet films.  By the time of his Trek appearance, Luke was one of the most prominent Asian actors in the United States. 

Among numerous television appearances, he was Master Po in Kung Fu.  He was originally slated to play the part of Noonien Soong, Data's creator, in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  When illness prevented him from doing so, Brent Spiner ultimately took over the role, spawning the idea of Soong creating Data in his own image.

Luke died of a stroke in 1991 at the age of 86.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

From the Queue: Shanghai Noon

Title: Shanghai Noon
Director: Tom Dey
Original Release: 2000
My Overall Rating: 2 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
My Wife and I do occasionally watch movies without the girl, though not nearly as often as we once did.  Our Family Movie Night choice this week is one I've already reviewed (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - see here) so I thought I might share my thoughts on our latest arrival from the Netflix queue.  Shanghai Noon is a comedy western starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.

Jackie Chan was guaranteed box office gold at the turn of the millennium.  This truly terrible movie raked in almost $100 million, even spawning a sequel entitled Shanghai Knights (I've promised My Wife I won't put that one on the queue).  The contrived story: Chon Wang (Chan) is a member of China's Imperial Guard in 1881.  One night, the princess (Lucy Liu) is kidnapped and taken to Nevada.  Chon is reluctantly included in the party sent after her.  En route to Carson City, their train is robbed by Roy O'Bannon (Owen) and his comically incompetent band of outlaws.  Through a further series of misadventures, Chon and Roy become pals.  They set off to rescue the princess and, in Roy's case, steal the ransom gold.

Seriously, it's awful.  Giving it a 1 was very tempting.  But this is a Jackie Chan movie.  It's supposed to be fluff.  If you're in the mood for fluff, this one does have a few things going for it.  The fight scenes are great, of course.  The scenery is absolutely stunning, filmed mostly in Alberta.  There are even a few sparkling moments of humor.  Roy first hears Chon's name as "John Wayne" and remarks that it's a terrible name for a cowboy.  The best scene sees Chon and Roy playing a Chinese drinking game in the bathtub.


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, December 3, 2014

Star Trek: Elaan of Troyius

Episode: "Elaan of Troyius"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 13
Original Air Date: December 20, 1968
via Memory Alpha
As I was firing up Star Trek this week, My Wife laughed and asked how many episodes I have left.  Now, with "Elaan of Troyius" behind me, I'm down to eleven.  That merit badge is so close I can smell it.

The episode's title is a play on Helen of Troy, the wife of Agamemnon whose abduction led to the Trojan War, aka "the face that launch'd a thousand ships."  Elaan is a princess on the planet Elas.  She has been promised in marriage to a member of the royal family on Troyius, with whom the Elasians are at war.  The Enterprise is providing the transportation for this diplomatic maneuver.  Elaan is a beautiful but strong-willed and demanding passenger.  She threatens to execute half the crew before Captain Kirk finds her softer side.

Meanwhile, there's a Klingon ship hanging around.  The star system lies on the border between Federation and Klingon space.  The Klingons seem inordinately interested in the proceedings for reasons our heroes don't initially understand.  Turns out, one of Elaan's guards is a saboteur and spy for the Klingons, too.

The clever answer to the Klingon question lies in a wedding present: a necklace of "common stones" given to Elaan by her betrothed.  Wouldn't you know, the stones are crude dilithium crystals, the fuel required for a warp drive.  Obviously, the Klingons would be very interested in any planet where such treasures are common.

via Smell the Coffee
France Nuyen (Elaan) was born France Nguyen Van Nga on July 31, 1939 in Marseille, France.  Her father was Vietnamese, her mother French of Roma ancestry.  At age 16, while working as a seamstress, she was discovered on the beach by a Life magazine photographer.  Three years later, she was on the cover.

Modeling catapulted her to an acting career.  She made her film debut in South Pacific in 1958.  The same year, she had the lead in a stage production, The World of Suzie Wong, opposite one William Shatner.  Other films included Satan Never Sleeps, A Girl Named Tamiko and, 31 years later, The Joy Luck Club.  In addition to Trek, she made television guest appearances on Kung Fu and Columbo and had a regular cast role on the last two seasons of St. Elsewhere.

Nuyen has done more important work in her second career.  In 1986, she earned a master's degree in clinical psychology.  She then worked as a psychological counselor for abused women and children.