Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Star Trek: The Doomsday Machine

Episode: "The Doomsday Machine"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 20, 1967
via Memory Alpha
In our story, the Enterprise crew encounter a weapon of mass destruction from another galaxy.  The object, which looks an awful lot like a tin foil windsock, demolishes entire solar systems, then gobbles up the debris for fuel.  In one of Trek's less subtle commentaries on Cold War diplomacy, Kirk and Spock compare the device to the "H-bombs" of the 20th century.

The windsock actually looks a lot less tin-foily than it did when I first watched this episode back in the '70s.  When the series was re-mastered digitally, "The Doomsday Machine" was given the most thorough make over of the whole lot.  The space effects in general are a lot more impressive than they used to be.

via Memory Alpha
William Windom played the role of Commodore Matt Decker, commander of the USS Constellation, a ship that fell victim to the windsock.  Windom was born September 28, 1923 in New York City.  His great-grandfather, of the same name, served as Secretary of the Treasury under Benjamin Harrison.  The younger Windom was a paratrooper during the Second World War.

Windom had a long career in television, covering nearly half a century.  He won a Best Actor Emmy for My World and Welcome to It in 1970.  He made his big screen debut in 1962 as the prosecuting attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird.  He died in 2012 of congestive heart failure.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Family Movie Night: Some Like It Hot

Title: Some Like It Hot
Director: Billy Wilder
Original Release: 1959
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
We needed a good comedy this week.  On Wednesday morning, we woke up to three inches of water in our basement, a condition which has ruled our lives since.  Taking time for our weekly movie ritual was vital therapy and Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot was just the ticket.

In desperate need of work - and even more desperate need to leave Chicago after witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) join an all-female band on its way to a gig in Florida.  Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the band's singer and ukelele player, draws predictable interest from both gentlemen, though their need to maintain their secret female identities prevents them from pursuing her directly.  As with all Wilder movies, the witty dialogue distracts one from whatever holes might exist in the plot, like how did the two gents manage to find women's clothing on short notice and no money?

In 2000, the American Film Institute named Some Like It Hot the greatest American comedy movie in history.  Interestingly, their #2 film on the list, Tootsie, is also about a struggling artist resorting to drag to get a job.

I am a child of the '80s.  So obviously, I've had this song going through my head all week in anticipation of the movie:

How many music videos feature a woman shaving her armpits?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Star Trek: The Apple

Episode: "The Apple"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 13, 1967
via Memory Alpha
Hold on to your hats, folks!  The Enterprise and her crew are out to spread the gospel of sex to the universe.

In "The Apple," our heroes visit Gamma Trianguli VI, an apparent paradise.  However, it turns out the native primitive civilization lives under the rule of a tyrannical computer, Vaal.  This story shares many similarities with the Season 1 episode, "The Return of the Archons" (reflection here) including the rationale for violating the Prime Directive. But rather than decked out in 19th century garb, GT6's inhabitants are scantily clad primitives, beautifully sculpted but with the innocence of children. 

There's a lot of sex talk in this story.  Or rather, there's a lot of meaningful eyebrow raising between characters as they allude to without ever actually saying anything about sex.  After the crew frees the natives from Vaal, the planet's mechanical overlord, they must educate them about sexual reproduction.  Apparently Vaal had managed to keep them perfectly preserved in their youthful state, negating the need for children.  Sex and physical affection of any kind had been entirely forbidden by Vaal.

This episode holds a special place in the hearts of the devoted as it marked the beginning of the Redshirt Trope.  Longtime followers of the franchise know that pretty much anyone in a red shirt who beams down with a landing party is doomed to a gruesome death.  All four of the men in red who beam down in "The Apple" are killed off very quickly by Vaal's tricks and traps.  Interestingly, they all had lines of dialogue before perishing.  That's another tip off in future episodes.  Red shirt?  No lines?  He's a goner.

via Memory Alpha
Keith Andes played the role of Akuta, leader of the Feeders of Vaal, as the planet's people call themselves.  Andes was born July 12, 1920 in Ocean City, New Jersey.  As with many I've featured in this space, his showbiz career began in radio.  He attended Oxford in England but graduated from Temple in Philadelphia.  He also studied voice at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music.  He launched his Broadway career while serving in the Air Force.  Andes made his big screen debut in 1944's Winged Victory

Andes was married twice and had two children, including Mark Andes who was a longtime bassist for Heart, among other bands.  After a long battle with bladder cancer, Keith Andes committed suicide by asphyxiation on November 11, 2005.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Family Movie Night: A Star Is Born

Title: A Star Is Born
Director: George Cukor
Original Release: 1954
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Imagine that instead of lighthearted and inspiring, Singin' in the Rain were dark and depressing - not to mention significantly longer.  You'd basically have A Star Is Born.  The movie, a remake of a 1937 film of the same name, was originally billed as Judy Garland's comeback picture.  Garland plays the role of singer Esther Blodgett who unexpectedly hits the career jackpot when she meets Norman Maine (James Mason), a Hollywood A-lister whose own fortunes are taking a nosedive due to his alcoholism.  As her star rises, his plummets, jeopardizing their marriage.  The part seems a strange choice for Garland as her career had already been severely compromised by her own well-known addictions.  Cary Grant apparently turned down the role of Norman because of her reputation for unreliability.

The movie was restored in 1983 to include footage from previously lost scenes.  Pan and scan of production stills are dubbed with preserved dialogue - a little strange but somehow, it matches the mood of the film nicely.  I wondered at first if it was done intentionally a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but apparently not.

Garland's singing carries the film.  Whatever other damage she had done to mind, body and spirit by that point in her life, the voice of gold was still intact.  Songs, mostly by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, are generally solid, though I could have done without the highly pejorative "Someone at Last."

The movie is definitely sad.  If you're seeking a light frolic, this isn't it.  But for a brutal glimpse of the darker side of Hollywood stardom, the film is frightfully honest.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror

Episode: "Mirror, Mirror"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 6, 1967
via Memory Alpha
Is high concept science fiction redundant?

"Mirror, Mirror" poses the question, what if the benevolent United Federation of Planets were an evil empire instead?  Through a transporter malfunction, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura find themselves in a parallel universe, upon an Enterprise where treacherous ambition is the basis of society.  This Mirror Universe has been revisited in spin-off Trek series and other licensed material in the years since, an important check on the moral compass that guides the franchise.  Besides, it's just plain fun to see Evil Kirk, Evil Sulu and, best of all, Evil Spock with the wicked goatee.

This was my favorite episode in a while, partly for the basic fun of the parallel universes but also for the fact that all seven principal characters have meaningful roles in the story.  So much of the original series focuses on the dynamic between Kirk, Spock and Bones - and for good reason.  Judgment balancing logic versus emotion is the heart and soul of Trek.  But the side characters are often greatly diminished at the expense of the big guns.  Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov all play vital parts in "Mirror, Mirror" and the story is better for them.

via Memory Alpha
Barbara Luna played the role of Lt. Marlena Moreau, a Lady Macbeth-type character who is Kirk's ambitious lover in the Mirror Universe.  She was born March 2, 1939 in New York City.  She started as a child actor on Broadway, performing as the daughter of Ezio Pinzo in the original stage production of South Pacific.  She made her film debut in 1958's The Tank Batallion.  She has over 500 television appearances to her credit, including multiple episodes of Zorro, Mission: Impossible and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century among others.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Family Movie Night: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Title: Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Director: Rob Minkoff
Original Release: 2014
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Our Girl is an old soul.  She is a devoted fan of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show so it's not surprising that the new computer animated film from DreamWorks caught her eye.  My Wife and I were a bit skeptical of the idea but it's the girl's week, so it's her choice.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is based on the Peabody's Improbable History vignettes from the late '50s and early '60s.  Peabody is a dog with a TARDIS... er... WABAC machine that travels through time and space.  Sherman is his boy, tagging along for broadening adventures.  The old shorts are about five minutes long each, at most.  So developing the idea for a 92-minute film obviously required some flushing out.  The writers added a love interest for Sherman named Penny - completely unnecessary, of course, but in this case, it drives the plot.

The animation is excellent, especially in 3-D.  I actually flinched when Robespierre thrust his sword toward the audience.  The voice cast was decent, too, though as much as I like Ty Burrell (watching Modern Family as I write this), I think Stephen Colbert would have been the better choice for Peabody.  Colbert was in the film but as Penny's father.  My Wife suggested John Hodgman for the part - even better.

There are plenty of satisfying elements for fans of the original.  Our heroes travel to revolutionary France, ancient Egypt, ancient Troy, Renaissance Italy and, very briefly, The Future.  Peabody is well-armed with his usual arsenal of bad puns.  "You can't have your cake and edict, too" was my personal favorite.  Purists will almost inevitably be disappointed by the changes but I think if the movie inspires new interest in the old show, a few alterations for a 21st century audience are worthwhile.

And yes, I know the WABAC machine came first...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: April Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, April 25th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

Also, this month will be the twelfth for the Coffeehouse, a full year of book loving under our belts.  It's a good time for reflection.  I'm quite happy about the way things have gone but I welcome thoughts on how I might improve upon the concept.  So please give forth in the comments section below.  Growth and evolution are good things.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us: