Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Star Trek: The Enterprise Incident

Episode: "The Enterprise Incident"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 27, 1968
via Memory Alpha
Just like that, the series bounced back a bit.  A week after what is considered by many to be the Grand Turkey episode of Star Trek's original series (review here), our heroes found steadier ground in "The Enterprise Incident."  To the bafflement of his crew, Captain Kirk orders entry into the Neutral Zone, drawing the immediate attention of the Romulans.  In time (actually, a little too early for my tastes), it is revealed that Kirk and Spock both have orders from Starfleet to steal a Romulan cloaking device.  Along the way, the captain of the enemy ship, a woman, falls in love with Spock and attempts to convince him to come over to the dark side.

I like this story for a lot of reasons.  Furthering the broader Romulan narrative was certainly important to the franchise.  The brief romance - genuine or not - develops Spock's character and also broadens the concept of Romulan nature, revealing them to be more than the ruthless warriors the Enterprise crew expects.  Just as Mark Lenard (Sarek) and Jane Wyatt (Amanda) invented the Vulcan sign of affection for "Journey to Babel," Leonard Nimoy and Joanne Linville (Romulan commander) created their own intimate gestures to take the place of human kissing.

*****
via Memory Alpha
Beverly Joanne Linville was born January 15, 1928 in Bakersfield, California.  She had a long and varied acting career over a 50-year period.  Film appearances include The Goddess, Gable and Lombard and Scorpio.  In addition to Trek, she found television roles in The Guiding Light, One Step Beyond, Twilight Zone and Bus Stop among many others.  She co-starred with George Grizzard in Bus Stop's final episode, entitled "I Kiss Your Shadow."  Stephen King has identified the episode as one of his favorite television horror stories.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family Movie Night: Gentlemen Perfer Blondes

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Director: Howard Hawks
Original Release: 1953
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Based on the stage musical of the same name, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes tells the tale of two beautiful showgirls and their adventures in romantic conquest.  Dorothy Shaw, the snarky brunette played by Jane Russell, and Lorelei Lee, the deceptively ditzy blonde played by Marilyn Monroe, are on a boat bound for Europe.  Also aboard are rich old men practically begging to be poached and the US Olympic team.  Between the women in their dazzling wardrobes and the muscular athletes in their short, skin-tight swim trunks, there's no shortage of eye candy, no matter your preference.



Even before there was a stage play, there was a novel, written by Anita Loos and published in the Jazz Age, 1925.  The sexual politics aren't exactly progressive but Dorothy and Lorelei are no fools, either.  In fact, the women in the story run rings around the fellas from beginning to end.  The dialogue is frequently very funny indeed and Jane Russell sparkles.  For better or for worse, Marilyn is Marilyn.  Her acting never quite lives up to the writing but she doesn't ruin it either.  And my goodness, could that woman wear a dress!

The film had a budget of over $2 million, a lot of money in 1953.  Surely, at least half of it was spent on costumes.  How two struggling showgirls could afford so many high-fashion gowns is beyond me but the dresses are truly the highlight of the movie.  Kudos to designer Travilla.

The music's fun, too.  All of the songs from the Broadway show, including "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," were penned by Jule Styne and Leo Robin.  New songs were supplied by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson.  In yet another stage-to-screen controversy, many were upset that Carol Channing was not cast as Lorelei but I think history has afforded Ms. Channing her due.  I would bet that for many people, it's Monroe we see singing "Diamonds" in our mind's eye but more often, it is Channing we hear.  Thanks to YouTube, we can have both.  (Credit the omnipresent Marni Nixon with an assist on Marilyn's.  Her voice was dubbed in for the tricky spots.)

A twofer from Channing:



Monroe:


*****

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, September 13, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: October 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 October 10th with Unbreakable
via Wikipedia
We hope that you, too, will watch the movie and join in our discussion.  Please sign on to the list below:


Friday, September 12, 2014

Mock Squid Soup: Burn After Reading

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to introduce 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: Burn After Reading
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Original Release: 2008
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
The Coen brothers are brilliant, yet not all of their films work for me.  On the one hand, I love The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou and Ladykillers.  On the other, I am uninspired by Fargo and Raising Arizona.  Our movie this month, Burn After Reading, is somewhere in between.  One thing you can always count on from the Coen Bros, though, is memorable characters.  They work repeatedly with actors like John Turturro, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi for good reason.  Those guys waste no time at all digging into the material.  Even an A-lister like Brad Pitt - character actor in a leading man's body - jumps at the chance to work with the Coens, undoubtedly for far less than his usual paycheck, for the sake of quality material.

Burn After Reading has an all-star cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Richard Jenkins.  All are serious Hollywood heavyweights, all Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated.  All have the luxury of picking and choosing their projects.  Admittedly, the Brothers have an in with McDormand as she's married to Joel.

Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) has been demoted at the CIA due to his drinking so he quits.  His wife Katie (Swinton) takes it as an opportunity to file for divorce.  She, meanwhile, is having an affair with Harry Pfarrar (Clooney) who's also having affairs with just about everyone else, including gym employee Linda Litzke (McDormand).  One day, Katie's lawyer's secretary leaves a computer disk with Osbourne's financial records and also, accidentally, his memoir manuscript at Litzke's gym.  Her co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) finds the disk.  He and Linda take it to be something far more important than it is and start shopping it around for blackmail money to fund, among other things, plastic surgery for Linda.  Still with me?

Burn After Reading would be another Coen Bros also-ran for me if not for one fantastic minor character.  J.K. Simmons plays a CIA bureaucrat overseeing agents who are barely managing to keep up with all of this.  Simmons is in two scenes for all of about five minutes total.  He never even gets up from his chair and yet he manages to steal the entire movie.  This was my second time watching and I still laughed to the point of tears through both of his appearances. 

We hope that you, too, will watch Burn After Reading and join in our discussion.  I'll post September's sign-up list tomorrow.  Our feature on Friday, October 10th shall be... Unbreakable

via Wikipedia
In the meantime, for the Burn After Reading discussion, please sign on to the list below:


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Star Trek: Spock's Brain

Episode: "Spock's Brain"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 1
Original Air Date: September 20, 1968
via Memory Alpha
"Spock's Brain" is considered by many, including cast members, to be the worst episode of Star Trek's original series.  I knew this going in, a difficult preconception to overcome.  NBC had caved to pressure from the devotees and renewed Trek for a third season. But the network was still out to strangle the series through scheduling.  The show was moved to 10 p.m. on Friday nights.  The writing was on the wall.  The magic of the first year and the early days of the second was fading.  A franchise in desperate need of a win instead served up a terrible season premier.

For me, "Spock's Brain" is more boring than bad, though I suppose that amounts to the same in a genre dependent upon spectacle.  My mind drifted.  A female being beams directly on to the bridge of the Enterprise, knocks out the entire crew, then steals Spock's noodle right out of his noggin.  Why?  How?  Our crew doesn't know exactly but they sure better get it back.

I'm not going to pretend the episode is good.  Those who associate overacting with the series need look no further than this story for proof.  But there are a few redeeming qualities.  It's one of only a few of the originals that meaningfully incorporates all seven principal characters.  It's a good Scotty episode as he gets a rare turn on the away team, though James Doohan is also one of the prime offenders on the overacting.  To be fair, the far too many shots of him with astonished expressions are probably more the director's fault than the actor's.

I'm prepared for a bit of pain going into Season 3.  If "Spock's Brain" is truly the worst, I think I can handle it.  I'm holding out hope for a hidden gem or two along the way.

*****
via Memory Alpha
Marj Dusay played Kara, the brain thief.  She was born Marjorie Ellen Pivonka Mahoney on February 20, 1936 in Russell, Kansas.  She got her big break in an Elvis Presley movie, 1967's Clambake.

While Dusay scored numerous television guest appearances in prime time, she found her real niche in daytime soap operas.  Over a 26-year period beginning in 1983, she had recurring roles on Capitol, Santa Barbara, Days of Our Lives, All My Children and, most significantly, Guiding Light.  On the latter program, she played Alexandra Spaulding off and on for 16 years.  She won a Daytime Emmy in 1995.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Family Movie Night: The Muppets Take Manhattan

Title: The Muppets Take Manhattan
Director: Frank Oz
Original Release: 1984
Choice: Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia

I am in love with all things Muppet.  Therefore, while I am willing to admit this is the weakest of the three original Muppet movies, my devotion to the franchise guarantees a rating of at least a 4.  I don't think I'd seen the film since it was in theaters 30 years ago.



Kermit and his pals have just graduated from college.  Their play was a huge hit on campus and they're keen to take it to Broadway.  The early going is rough so the gang splits up for adventures around the country, not wanting Kermit to feel responsible for them.  Our favorite frog is disappointed but stays in New York, eternally hopeful of finding a producer for the show.  Along the way, we get the usual parade of celebrity cameos: Liza Minnelli, Gregory Hines, Dabney Coleman, Art Carney, Linda Lavin, Brooke Shields, Elliott Gould, Mayor Ed Koch and, particularly fitting this week, Joan Rivers.

This is definitely a movie for the faithful.  I doubt anyone would say this was what turned them on to the Muppets.  The writing is average and the human acting uninspired.  There are moments of magic here and there.  The Swedish Chef running a movie theater concession stand is the highlight for me.  One scene with the Muppet principals as babies spawned an animated series - The Muppet Babies - that ran on Saturday mornings for seven years afterward.  If you only know the felted gang from their most recent films and are eager to explore the vintage material, much better to start with 1979's The Muppet Movie or, even better, the old TV shows from the '70s.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth

Episode: "Assignment: Earth"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 26
Original Air Date: March 29, 1968
via Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
The Enterprise travels to 1968 Earth in order to conduct historical research.  They meet another time traveler from their own future, Gary Seven, who has come back to intervene with the launching of orbital nuclear missile launch pads.  The episode was a backdoor pilot for a spinoff series.

Wait a minute...

Our heroes can time travel at will now?   This is, in fact, the only story in the entire franchise where this happens.  As I've explained before, I don't like the way Trek handles time travel so I was predisposed to dislike this story.  But I have to admit the episode is not without its fun and also contains a few unfortunate historical coincidences.

The guest stars, intended to carry on in the proposed new series, are quite good.  Gary Seven is played by Robert Lansing, that guy who looks like Steve McQueen but isn't Steve McQueen.  His secretary is none other than Teri Garr (who apparently hated every minute of her Trek experience).  Gary Seven also has a black cat, Isis, who looks an awful lot like one of our own feline tenants.  The episode incorporates NASA stock footage, a fascinating juxtaposition with the space exploration depicted in the series.

The historical coincidences are not happy ones.  Before they go down to Earth, Spock says there was an important assassination on this day.  Six days after the episode aired, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.  There was also a botched NASA launch on the same day, not unlike the one depicted in the story.

*****

Thoughts on Season 2

General Impressions

Star Trek's second season starts off strong, picking up where the first left off.  However, as the year wears on, it's easier to see story ideas being recycled more frequently from week to week.  While the sophomore effort is weaker overall, there are a few gems: "Mirror, Mirror," "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "Journey to Babel" all rank among Trek's finest episodes.

Spock gets some nice character development in this second season.  We see his home planet and meet his family.  His relationship with Dr. McCoy gets a fair amount of attention, too.


Favorite Episode: "Journey to Babel"

It's a tough choice between this one and "Mirror, Mirror."  But "Journey to Babel" has more important implications for the franchise as a whole.  The original series takes a lot of criticism from Trekkies more devoted to The Next Generation for its relatively ill-defined principal characters.  While this is fair to a point, we learn quite a lot about Spock and his personal demons in "Journey to Babel."  His hand on the door after his mother leaves the room - wow!  That's easily my favorite moment of the entire series so far.

It is not lost on me that Mark Lenard guest starred in my favorite episodes from each of the first two seasons.


Least Favorite Episode: "The Omega Glory"

While the second season isn't as strong as the first, I had trouble picking a genuine clunker.  The featured episode in this post, "Assignment: Earth," was a tempting choice in light of my objection to the premise but I enjoyed it in spite of myself.  Teri Garr will do that to you.

I'm going to side with my old TV Production teacher and go with "The Omega Glory."  The formulaic plot, the heavy-handed symbolism and the bigger than usual demands on our suspension of disbelief are a losing combination.


Favorite Guest Star: Jane Wyatt

Jane Wyatt had a rock-solid TV resume by the time she appeared on Trek, having already won three Emmys for her role in Father Knows Best.  In "Journey to Babel," she is Amanda, mother of Spock.  She and Mark Lenard, who played Spock's father, had wonderful on-screen chemistry.  The two invented the Vulcan sign of affection on their own: the touching of two fingers.


Onward?

I can't give up now!  It's hard to believe given its long-term legacy, but Trek struggled mightily in the weekly ratings during its initial run.  Only the appeals of devoted fans kept the show from being cancelled after the second season.

1968 was a year of great consequence in American history.  Two days after "Assignment: Earth" aired, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he wouldn't be seeking re-election (bowing to the inevitable - he was not likely even to win his party's nomination).  Then King was killed on April 4th, sparking riots in cities across the country.  Over the summer, Bobby Kennedy would also be assassinated.  Meanwhile, the Vietnam War raged on and the tensions between the counter-culture and the establishment were building.  All came to a bitter, violent and nationally-televised climax at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with police beating protesters in the streets.  The United States was a different place when Trek came back in September.

Set a course, Mr. Sulu...