Friday, October 29, 2021

Squid Flicks: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Title: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Original Release: December 6, 1991
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Just a month and a half after the death of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, the franchise's sixth motion picture was released.  It was the last film to include the entire principal cast of the original series.  After the unmitigated disaster of film #5, The Final Frontier, and with the continuing success of The Next Generation, the old guard needed a win.  

Meanwhile, the broader world was facing seismic change.  The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.  The Cold War was over.  The geo-political landscape upon which Star Trek was built was no more.  Future stories would reflect newly prominent realities.  But first, one more tale to acknowledge the transition.

The Klingon Empire is in decline.  The destruction of the moon Praxis has brought matters to a crisis point.  War with the Federation is no longer sustainable so peace is sought.  The Enterprise runs to greet their new friends but a conspiracy is afoot.  Not everyone is so keen on peace.

The Undiscovered Country is solid Trek.  The regulars are at the top of their game and the supporting cast - including Kim Catrell, Christopher Plummer, Mark Lenard, Brock Peters, Michael Dorn and Christian Slater - is probably the strongest we've seen in a Star Trek movie so far.  It doesn't have the obvious broader appeal of #4, The Voyage Home, but it's not as goofy either.  

There is a knock against this movie and it's not easily dismissed.  The mistrust of the Klingons by many, including our dear Captain Kirk, is seen by some as having uncomfortable racist overtones.  Going all the way back to the first Klingon episode, "Errand of Mercy," the antagonism towards them has always been petty.  Even the Romulans always seem to engender grudging respect in the end.  But a lot of the rhetoric in The Undiscovered Country is downright hateful.  Chekov's "Guess who's coming to dinner" line - a reference to the 1967 Sidney Poitier film about two families confronting the prospect of interracial marriage - was supposed to be Uhura's but Nichelle Nichols refused to say it.

Are such attitudes realistic in light of real world parallels?  Of course.  But Trek is supposed to be better than reality when it comes to confronting the other.  As it turns out, even our heroes have their limits.

The script is riddled with Shakespeare quotes, including the title itself which derives from Hamlet.  Plummer's character Chang, in particular, is quite fond of The Bard.  But the movie's most intriguing literary allusion comes in a Spock line: "An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."  This is, of course, a famous Sherlock Holmes quip.  The speculation: is Spock claiming kinship with Holmes himself or with his author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?  For what it's worth, my money's on Doyle, though the idea of two fictional characters being related to each other is certainly fun to ponder.

The moment of truth, my rankings of the six original cast Star Trek films:
  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  4. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  6. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
I'm not offering an especially adventurous perspective here.  In fact, my rankings match the Rotten Tomatoes aggregates exactly.  I'll be interested to see how subsequent movies measure up.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Squid Mixes: Bloody Mary

I have written of my love for Bloody Marys several times in a variety of posts, most notably:

However, I have never devoted an entire post to the drink itself.  It's time to set that right.

I used the recipe in The New York Bartender's Guide, though I omitted the horseradish and black pepper.  That still left vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and salt.  It was not as hot as the Tequila Maria and I must concede that it may have been the horseradish I missed.  Mind you, I would not be opposed to adding more Tabasco to make up the difference.

My wife and I both preferred the tequila to vodka, though identical recipes (apart from the booze), side-by-side would be a more meaningful comparison.  I daresay I'm up for that experiment some day.

A colleague recently alerted me to a Bloody Mary tasting flight served at The Friendly Toast, a local restaurant.  I might have to check that out soon!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Marvel Unlimited: Infinity Gauntlet #4

Yeah, it was a busy week - not a lot of time to read.  The Infinity Gauntlet issues are long, too: 40+ pages each whereas most comics are in the low-to-mid 20s.  My gripe with the story is the same as it was last week:  too many characters, too much going on. 

My Recent Reads

Infinity Gauntlet #4
Originally released August 20, 1991
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artists: George Pérez and Ron Lim

via Amazon

Friday, October 22, 2021

Star Trek: A Matter of Time

Episode: "A Matter of Time"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 18, 1991

Professor Berlinghoff Rasmussen (Matt Frewer) arrives on the Enterprise, claiming to be a time traveler from the 26th century.  He claims he is there to witness an historic moment as Picard and company race to save a doomed planet after an asteroid strike.  Not all is quite as it seems.

Interestingly, the Rasmussen part was originally written for comic genius Robin Williams, a huge fan of the show.  Unfortunately, Williams bowed out as his wife was 8 1/2 months pregnant.

The episode is a mixed bag for me.  I find Frewer annoying.  However, it's a good Picard as badass story (aren't they all?) and certainly philosophically interesting as the professor and the captain debate the ethics of time travel.

Acting Notes
Matt Frewer was born January 4, 1958 in Washington, D.C. though he grew up in Canada.  He graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England.

via Tenor

Frewer played the titular character in the iconic television show Max Headroom.  The program only ran for 14 episodes but no single image exemplifies pop culture weirdness of the late '80s like Max's herky-jerky, computer generated head.

Fortunately, Frewer has gotten plenty of work beyond his brief, career-defining gig.  Films include Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen.  He's had several other principal cast runs on television: Doctor Doctor, Shaky Ground, Psi Factor, Eureka and Orphan Black.  Not surprisingly, he's had plenty of voice work, too, including Hercules, The Magic School Bus and The Pink Panther.

Frewer has been married to actress Amanda Hillwood since 1984.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Squid Cooks: Gazpacho

My wife does 99% of the cooking at our house and that's probably an underestimate.  She's really good at it and she finds it therapeutic at the end of the day.  I mostly stay out of her way.  All of our friends know this.  They've eaten her food, after all, so they appreciate her talents.

I do, however, know how to make a few things well.  A friend once asked me what I like to cook and I told her gazpacho.  She looked at me, puzzled.  "That's not the sort of thing a person makes if they don't do a lot of cooking."  Fair enough.  But I do it for a simple and admittedly selfish reason: if I don't make gazpacho, it's possible no one will.  And that would be horrible!

Making gazpacho isn't exactly difficult but it is labor-intensive - lots of vegetable chopping involved.  As you can see from the photo, I like mine chunky.  That's what my Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for and it's also my personal preference.  Food processors are a pain in the neck to clean and as a frequent dishwasher in the house (we do it all by hand), I'd prefer they be used as infrequently as possible.  The recipe is a really good one for anyone who like chunky gazpacho - explicit instructions on how to chop each ingredient effectively.  Besides, vegetables should crunch.  It's part of the appeal.

I think my favorite part about gazpacho is that with the quantity I make, there's always plenty for leftovers and gazpacho makes for excellent leftovers.  With all of the various acids intermingled, the soup keeps "cooking" over time so if anything, the flavors will be more richly blended and intensified the longer it lasts.  Mind you, it never lasts more than a couple days in my house.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Marvel Unlimited: Kraven's Last Hunt, Parts 4-6; Infinity Gauntlet #1-3

Alright so yes, Kraven's Last Hunt turned out to be very good indeed.  Frequent visitors may recall I had my doubts last week.  It's worth noting, it took the return of Peter Parker to the story to grab my interest.  The whole point of the arc, in fact, is Kraven exhibiting to Peter the separate aspects of his own being: what of Spidey is spider and what is man?  With Vermin as his pawn, Kraven reminds Peter that a spider for all of its extraordinary gifts is still a ruthless predator.  

Then again, that describes humans pretty well, too...

But that's not Kraven's point.  When Spidey acts with thoughtless disregard, he is the spider.  When he is driven by emotions, he is the man.  It's sort of Star Trekky, really.  But darker.

Anyway, I am now more curious about both Kraven and, to a lesser extent, Vermin.  I am always eager to learn more about Spidey.

As it turns out, I was reading the Thanos story in the right order after all.  Infinity Gauntlet comes next.  Thanos snaps his fingers and snuffs out half the population of the universe.  Sound familiar?

Starlin and Perez's story has a cast of thousands, never what I want in a comic book but all Avengers-driven stories are like this.  It's too bad because the build up stories are a lot more graceful.  Oh well.  The art's good.  Maybe I'll feel differently as I get deeper into the plot.

My Recent Reads

The Web of Spider-Man #32
Originally published November 1987
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mike Zeck

The Amazing Spider-Man #294
November 1987

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #132
November 1987

via Amazon

Infinity Gauntlet #1
May 21, 1991
Jim Starlin/George Pérez

Infinity Gauntlet #2
June 18, 1991

via Amazon

Infinity Gauntlet #3
July 16, 1991

via Amazon

Friday, October 15, 2021

Star Trek: Unification II

Episode: "Unification II"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 11, 1991

via Memory Alpha

Continued from last week...

Spock reveals why he is on Romulus: the movement to reunite Romulus and Vulcan, long a taboo subject, seems to be gaining political support and he wants to help.  Unfortunately, it's all a set up.  Sela (Denise Crosby) is back and she has plans to take advantage of Spock's presence to launch a Romunlan invasion of Vulcan.  

It's a decent episode, mostly for the meaningful one-on-one scences for Spock and Data and, later, Spock and Picard.  Seeing Sela is fun, though I would argue Crosby is a bit wooden in this appearance.  Worf sings Klingon opera for the first (and only?) time.  

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Stephen Root played the role of K'Vada, captain of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey that took Picard and Data to Romulus.  Root was born November 17, 1951 in Sarasota, Florida.  He studied acting at the University of Florida.  He made his Broadway debut in So Long on Lonely Street, then hit the big screen in 1988's Crocodile Dundee II.  

I believe Root is one of the finest character actors of his generation though in 1991, he was still a relative unknown.  He'd land the role of Jimmy James on NewsRadio in 1995.  His most memorable role came in 1999: Milton Waddams, he of the red stapler, in Office Space.  Overall, the credits are impressive.  On film: Dodgeball, Leatherheads and several Coen Brothers' films including O Brother, Where Art Thou?  On television, he made appearances on seemingly every quality show for years: Night Court, Seinfeld, Frasier, The West Wing, Pushing DaisiesBoardwalk Empire, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and on and on.  The voice over credits are considerable, too: King of the Hill, Ice Age and Finding Nemo among many others.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Squid Mixes: Cardamom Manhattan

As previously written, I've been looking to bring cardamom into my Manhattan game for a while now.  Bitters seemed an opportunity for a more subtle flavor injection than I got with ground cardamom.  Lapis in DC uses both cardamom and Angostura for their drink so I figured I could, too.  

For Trial #1, I used the two bitters in equal parts.  The result was good, though the cardamom wasn't enough.  So, for Trial #2, I went 2:1 in favor of the cardamom over the Angostura.  Bingo.  I suppose one could go all in on the cardamom but I like the interplay of the two together.

I don't feel comfortable calling my drink a Lapis Manhattan because the restaurant includes ingredients I didn't: orange peel and Scotch.  Plus, I imagine their bartenders have a clever way of infusing the cardamom flavor directly from the seeds that I haven't sorted out yet.  Maybe next time I go, I'll sit at the bar and watch them make it.

For now, mine is simply a Cardamom Manhattan.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Marvel Unlimited: Silver Surfer #36-38; Kraven's Last Hunt, Parts 1-3

The Thanos story ends and the Kraven story begins.

The Surfer triumphs over Thanos.  Sort of.  He believes so anyway.  I think I read The Thanos Quest and Rebirth of Thanos in reverse order but oh well.

As for Kraven's Last Hunt, it's great to get back to the Spidey-verse though I have yet to decide how I feel about this particular story.  For starters, the arc goes across titles, a modern comic book convention which I do not like - unnecessarily crass commercialism.  It also, at least to this point, hasn't involved Peter Parker a whole lot.  PP's world is the whole reason I care about Spidey.

Kraven the Hunter "kills" Peter Parker and takes on the Venom suit for himself, becoming in effect a more murderous Spider-Man.  Meanwhile, Vermin lurks in the sewers, kidnapping pedestrians off the city streets and eating them.  The paths of the two are on an inevitable intercept course.

Fortunately, there is some of Parker's world.  Mary Jane, Peter's new wife, is understandably worried about her missing husband.  When she encounters Spidey, she realizes instantly that it's not Peter inside the suit.

As always with Spider-Man, I am aware of how much I've missed since the last time I spent meaningful time with the character.  Might have to backtrack someday.

My Recent Reads

Silver Surfer #36
Originally published April 1990
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Ron Lim

Silver Surfer #37
May 1990

Silver Surfer #38
June 1990

via Amazon

Web of Spider-Man #31
October 1987
J.M. DeMatteis/Mike Zeck

via Amazon

Amazing Spider-Man #293
October 1987

Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man #131
October 1987

Friday, October 8, 2021

Star Trek: Unification I

Episode: "Unification I"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 4, 1991


Ambassador Spock has traveled to Romulus and no one has heard from him since.  Worried he has defected, Starfleet sends Picard and Data on a covert mission to find out.  Spock's appearance in the very last camera shot of the episode is one of the great character entrances of the franchise.

Leonard Nimoy's appearance was a cross-promotion and as such he was paid barely over scale.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was set to release in December 1991.  Nimoy had both acting and writing credits for the film.  In a complete coincidence, the episode was only the second to air after the death of Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator.  The episode is dedicated to Roddenberry.  Interestingly, Papa Gene himself was the strongest advocate for maintaining the distinctions between the original series and NextGen.  Nonetheless, it's only fitting that his send-off story should feature Spock, whose Trek tenure goes all the way back to the original pilot.

Roddenberry's passing prompts an obvious question: who was Star Trek's primary shepherd by late 1991?  The truth is, Roddenberry hadn't truly been "the boss" for a long time.  Though still officially executive producer of NextGen, he hadn't been the primary creative force of the franchise since the mess that was the process of creating the initial motion picture.  By the early '90s, the head honcho was Rick Berman.

Berman was born December 25, 1945 in New York City.  He graduated from the University of Wisconsin as an English and film double major.  Before Trek, he was the producer for PBS's children's show The Big Blue Marble.  He joined Paramount in 1984 as director of programming, overseeing Cheers and Family Ties among many others.  

In 1987, Roddenberry picked Berman and writer Maurice Hurley to help create The Next Generation.  By the third season, he was executive producer.  He lead Trek until 2005 when Enterprise was cancelled.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Bitters of the Month: Cardamom

I've had an eye out for cardamom bitters for a while, ever since my attempt to re-create the Lapis Manhattan.  Recently, my wife spotted this beauty from The Bitter Housewife, based in Portland, Oregon:

On its own (with gin), the bitters is strong, though not as strong as ground cardamom itself so I think there's hope for successful mixing.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Marvel Unlimited: The Thanos Quest #1-2, Silver Surfer #34-35

The Silver Surfer arc Rebirth of Thanos and the graphic novel series The Thanos Quest provide the basis for the Infinity War arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Both were written by Jim Starlin and drawn by Ron Lim.  Lim's artwork is the highlight, both lush and surreal in the Ditko/Starlin tradition.

Thanos, originally an Iron Man character and especially important to the Captain Marvel story, pairs well with the Silver Surfer.  They see the same problems with the world/universe but imagine vastly different remedies.

Unfortunately, I don't especially care for the character Thanos and I believe I've figured out why.  He doesn't struggle much.  There's a Tasks of Hercules quality to his quest for the Infinity Gems but no one stands a chance in resisting him.  Even the Surfer is more annoyance than challenge.  I suppose that's what makes him a meaningful adversary for the Avengers but as protagonist to his own story, I don't find him compelling.

That's not to say the story isn't interesting.  It is, but more for the idea of Thanos than the character himself.

My Recent Reads

The Thanos Quest #1
Originally published September 1990
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Ron Lim

The Thanos Quest #2
October 1990

Silver Surfer #34
February 1990

Silver Surfer #35
March 1990

via Amazon

Friday, October 1, 2021

Star Trek: The Game

Episode: "The Game"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 24, 1991

Wesley's back, on break from the Academy.  During his brief visit, he wins the affections of Ashley Judd - well, the character Robin Lefler, the debut screen role for the future Hollywood superstar.  Wil Wheaton has claimed bragging rights for Judd's first screen kiss ever since.  But actually, this isn't the main story.

While on shore leave on Risa, Riker discovers a video game - a powerfully addictive virtual reality-ish game.  He brings it back to the ship and everyone else gets addicted to it, too - everyone, that is, except Wes, Robin and, of course, Data.  The game, it turns out, is a mind-control device created by the Ktarians to take over the Enterprise and eventually, the galaxy.

Far-fetched?  Have you seen how many people wander the Earth staring at their phones all day?  And I'm not going to pretend I'm entirely immune.  And we all know the merchants who traffic in such media are fully aware of the addictive capacity, right?  We are willing accomplices.

We are sheep.

Anyway, it's an interesting story, and even more pertinent now than it was 30 years ago.  And, of course, Judd is a treat.

Food Notes

"The Game" has a couple of great food moments.  The first and best one is Troi's description of her meticulous method for eating a hot fudge sundae.  The scene is beautifully sensuous.

The second is Worf enthusiastically proclaiming the Tarvokian pound cake he made for Wesley's surprise party.

Acting Notes

Ashley Judd was born Ashley Tyler Ciminella on April 19, 1968 in Los Angeles.  She is the daughter of country singer Naomi Judd and half-sister of country singer Wynonna Judd.  The family moved around a lot but Ashley mostly grew up in Kentucky.  She attended the University of Kentucky (UK), majored in French and achieved Phi Beta Kappa, though she didn't graduate with her class.  These days, she is probably UK basketball's most famous fan.

After her two episodes on Trek, her acting career took off quickly.  Films have included Heat, A Time to Kill and Frida among many others.  In 2012 she was nominated for an Emmy for her lead role in the mini-series Missing.  Her star probably would have risen higher but unfortunately, she crossed paths with Harvey Weinstein.  When she spurned the sexual sociopath producer's advances, he set about trying to ruin her career by spreading lies about her.  In 2018, Judd sued Weinstein for defamation and sexual harassment.  A judge dismissed the harassment claim but Judd was allowed to carry the defamation suit forward.

Judd deserves massive credit for using the platform of fame for considerable good.  Her humanitarian work covers a broad range: gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and AIDS.  She is open and outspoken regarding her own experiences with sexual assault and rape, again leveraging her high profile to advocate for others.  

In 2011, she published a memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet.  She's politically active with the Democratic Party, even toying with the idea of challenging Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat.  She ultimately decided against.  Truly, she is a remarkable woman.