Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Star Trek: The Ambergris Element

My friends and I are embarking on a new journey to watch all 22 episodes of Star Trek's animated series.  We'll be posting on Wednesdays.  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of our adventure.

Episode: "The Ambergris Element"
Series: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: December 1, 1973
via Gutter Talk
In this week's story, our heroes visit the water world of Argo.  Kirk and Spock are captured by the native Aquans and subjected to genetic mutation, becoming water-breathers.  Ambergris refers to a substance derived from Earth's sperm whales, similar to one found in the Aquans' bloodstream.  Writer/producer D.C. Fontana has frequently cited this episode as Exhibit A for a story that could never have been produced for the live action show.

My sage friend Geo. often points out Trek's allusions to the inter-generational conflicts of its era and "The Ambergris Element" is an excellent example.  The older Aquans harbor deep-seeded prejudice against surface dwellers and would have been perfectly happy to let Kirk and Spock drown. Meanwhile, the younger generation strives for greater tolerance and understanding.

via Memory Alpha
Rila is a Junior Tribune on the Ruling Tribunal of the Aquans.  She is our friends' most important advocate, speaking on their behalf publicly and aiding them secretly when they are left on the surface to die.  She was voiced by Majel Barrett.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants.  Next week: "The Slaver Weapon."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Family Book Swap: Castle in the Air

Title: Castle in the Air
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
via Wikipedia
With summer approaching, we have resumed our Family Book Swap.  Castle in the Air was my daughter's book for me.  Diana Wynne Jones is her favorite author, her devotion reaching the point where her teacher had to encourage her to try other books for the sake of variety.  I read Howl's Moving Castle a couple of years ago and was curious about this companion story so I was delighted she chose it for me.

Abdullah is a carpet merchant.  One day, a man sells him a magic carpet, one that not only flies but has an uncanny knack for making Abdullah's daydreams come true.  He is whisked away to a beautiful garden where he meets Flower-in-the-Night, the Sultan's daughter (though he doesn't learn that bit until later).  The two fall in love.  The trouble begins when she is kidnapped by a djinn and Abdullah is compelled to run after her.

As it turns out, the djinn and his brother have nabbed a whole slew of princesses, though clearly without fully considering the implications of trying to control 30 willful women together in one room.  The Howl characters do turn up over time but it takes a while.  The energy of the story certainly picks up once they do, perhaps even drowning out the Abdullah adventure.  Even so, I did enjoy the book and am curious about the third volume of the Howl series, House of Many Ways.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Sisters

Title: Sisters
Author and Artist: Raina Telgemeier
via Goodreads
Raina Telgemeier wins again.  The author/artist of Smile and Drama is a superstar among the preteen set.  Not long ago, one of my students - a twelve-year-old girl - expressed surprise and snarky amusement that I knew these books.  Granted, as an adult male, I am not the target demographic.  But I do appreciate quality.  Telgemeier's work is top notch and always a big hit with my daughter, too.

Sisters is her latest release, an autobiographical account of a family road trip from her childhood. As the title implies, the story focuses on Raina's relationship with her younger sister, Amara. But of course, that dynamic exists within a broader family context and not all is well between mom and dad.

For me, the main selling point of Telgemeier's work is the believability of her characters. Few writers possess the skill to present children, particularly adolescents, as the nuanced entities they truly are.  Yes, we all know they can be moody, bratty, insecure, shallow and it's easy enough to write them that way. But the basic frustration of being in between and neither is more elusive. The kids in Telgemeier's books always feel like people I have known, or even people I have been.

The sibling relationship was central to my own adolescent experience. In the global sense we were peers but the difference between 13-year-old girl and 11-year-old boy was a yawning gap indeed. By the time my own pubescent journey began, hers was essentially over. And just as in the Raina/Amara tale, the differences were never more keenly felt than during a family vacation  - in our case, a trip to Europe.  Interestingly, in both their trip and ours, a teddy bear played a memorable role. 

If you don't know Telgemeier's work yet, you should really get on that, especially if you have preteens milling about your home or classroom. And don't get duped into thinking they're "girl books."  I don't think it matters which one you pick first. Smile is also autobiographical but the two stories are independent of one another.  I was less impressed by her adaptation of the Baby-Sitters Club series but my daughter enjoys them.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A New Project: The Clone Wars

via Toonami Wiki
Ladies and gentlemen, my friend Andrew Leon and I are embarking on a new adventure: an exploration of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  We'll begin on June 2nd with "Ambush."  As with my Star Trek TAS project, others are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.  The sign up list is below.

This requires a bit of housekeeping on my end.  In an effort to avoid blogger burnout, I try to limit my posts to a reasonable weekly number.  As such, I'm going to take a break from my family adventure posts on Sunday nights, beginning this coming week.  With Mock Squid Soup going well, I'll still have a hand in movie reviews - just on a monthly basis rather than weekly.

Please join us:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Star Trek: The Time Trap

My friends and I are embarking on a new journey to watch all 22 episodes of Star Trek's animated series.  We'll be posting on Wednesdays.  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of our adventure.

Episode: "The Time Trap"
Series: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 1, Episode 12
Original Air Date: November 24, 1973
via Memory Alpha
During a tumble with the Klingons, the Enterprise stumbles into Saragasso Sea, a cosmic Bermuda Triangle.   Over centuries, dozens of other ships have been drawn into this graveyard and the survivors' descendants have built their own idyllic, multi-species society, governed by the Elysian Council.  One of the Klingon ships fell into the vortex with them.  Our friends and their adversaries find they must work together in order to escape back to their own dimension.

Much of the fun of this story is in revisiting several of the alien races the Enterprise encountered in the original series.  The Elysian Council includes an Orion (first seen by viewers in "The Menagerie, Part II"), an Andorian ("Journey to Babel"), a Tellarite ("Journey to Babel") and a Gorn ("Arena") among others.  "The Time Trap" also sees the return of the Klingon Commander Kor ("Errand of Mercy"), voiced here by James Doohan. The reluctant cooperation between Federation and Klingons is well in keeping with the moral compass of the franchise.

via Memory Alpha
Commander Kuri heads one of the Klingon ships in the early tussle.  His image was reused footage - a common Filmation trick - of Koloth from the TAS episode "More Trouble, More Tribbles."  He was voiced by George Takei.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants.  Next week: "The Ambergris Element."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Family Movie Night: Paddington

Title: Paddington
Director: Paul King
Original Release: 2014
Choice: The Purple Penguin's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
I loved the Paddington books as a child.   How could one resist a polite, unassuming, marmalade loving bear who makes both friends and trouble with equal ease?  I got a boxed-set of five volumes for Christmas one year.  They were read aloud to me before I read them myself.  I have a particularly fond memory of my mother not being able to make it through the chapter about Paddington on a game show ("Paddington Hits the Jackpot") because she was laughing so hard.

Most of the basic elements of the movie are familiar to any fan of the books.  A bear from Darkest Peru finds himself at Paddington Station in London.  He is taken in by the Browns, a respectable family who live in Windsor Gardens.  They name him for the place where they found him. While it would have been perfectly acceptable to me for the film to reflect the episodic mishap adventures of the books, the filmmakers saw fit to add some padding.  The movie includes a more extensive back story for Paddington (unnecessary but acceptable) and a dark subplot of a museum taxidermist in pursuit of our furry friend (unnecessary and unacceptable).  But even with the extra material, the film achieves a touching sweetness as the Browns gradually come to accept Paddington as a member of the family.

The film's animation is wonderful.  An animated bear among live action humans is not exactly revolutionary in the post-Gollum world but there are other dazzling elements.  A tree painted on the wall of the Browns' staircase changes with the seasons, both narrative and meteorological.  A dollhouse in the attic opens to reveal the entire family home in miniature.  On a toy train in Mr. Gruber's antique shop, we are witness to a formative moment from the proprietor's childhood.  The music's great, too, much of it supplied by D Lime featuring Tobago Crusoe, a very well dressed Cuban street band.

I'm not a huge fan of the extra material but I enjoyed the movie anyway.  I'd probably be up for a sequel, too, even though I'd still be hoping against hope for a closer reflection of the original work. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Star Trek: The Terratin Incident

My friends and I are embarking on a new journey to watch all 22 episodes of Star Trek's animated series.  We'll be posting on Wednesdays.  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of our adventure. 

Episode: "The Terratin Incident"
Series: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 1, Episode 11
Original Air Date: November 17, 1973
via Wikipedia
"The Terratin Incident" is an homage to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.  While approaching an unknown planet, the Enterprise is attacked with an energy beam.  The beam damages the all-important dilithium crystals and, even stranger, causes the crew to shrink.  Thankfully, our friends discover in time that the transporter can help them revert to their original size.  When Kirk beams down to the planet, he encounters a colony of Terratins, Earth descendants who, due to radiation, only grow to a sixteenth of an inch in size.  Turns out, they were just trying to get the Enterprise's attention.

The shrinking is fun.  My favorite part of the episode, though, is when the entire Terratin city is beamed aboard the ship, then picked up with one human hand.

via Memory Alpha
Lieutenant Frank Gabler is one of Scotty's best engineers.  "The Terratin Incident" marks the third of his four appearances in The Animated Series.  Alan Dean Foster gave him his first name in a short story adaptation of "Once Upon a Planet."  Gabler is voiced by James Doohan.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants.  Next week: "The Time Trap."