Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Polar Express Conductor

This past week we re-watched The Polar Express, as that's one of the movies/specials in our rotation, and I developed a theory about the conductor. As everyone who has seen the movie knows, Tom Hanks has a number of roles, including the Conductor and the Narrator. When he's playing the Hobo or Santa, Hanks changes his voice, but the Conductor and Narrator sound just like him. So does the Father, really, but that can also play into my theory.

While we were watching, I told Michelle & Kira to listen for how and when people mention the Conductor when he wasn't around. It turns out that this was pretty easy, as it's only twice. Both times the Know-It-All refers to the Conductor as "he" when talking to the Hero Boy. Those are the only two in the conversation when it happens, and no one else is listening in. The reason that we see and hear the Conductor as we do, is because we're privy to the Hero Boy's experiences and not someone else.

Now for my theory. It's my belief that the conductor appears to each child as themselves as an adult. That's why they tend to trust him and what he says. That would also explain why some kids, like the Know-It-All, are happy to receive praise from "him", when they normally wouldn't care. Of course, this raises more questions, like is this one of Scrooge's ghosts or something else? Regardless, I think that this adds a level to this movie that I'm not sure the producers intended when they made it.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Re-Evaluating Frank Burns

Let's give you a situation. The two most popular kids in school, the guys that have all the girls wanting to date them and all the guys want to hang out with them, have someone they don't like. This guy has different ideals from them, keeps to himself, hangs out with his few friends, and if he's paid attention to in a positive light at all gets extremely giddy. Now the popular guys go out of their way to torment this loner, making fun of his attachment to his mother and his fascination with a topic that they think is stupid. They play pranks on him, both physical and psychological, for their own amusement. Yes, the loner does some things to deserve the treatment, but not to the extent that he receives it, and if the two popular guys would just be a little bit friendly to him, he probably would come around (somewhat) to their way to looking at things.

The popular guys are Hawkeye and Trapper. The Loner is Frank Burns.

I grew up with MASH in syndication, both out of New York and Philadelphia (one of the benefits of growing up at the Jersey Shore), so I've seen a lot of the show. Since the advent of MASHcast, hosted by Rob Kelly, I have been watching it in order for the first time. This has led me to re-evaluate one of the staple characters, Frank Burns as played by Larry Linville.

Frank is not a nice person, being openly racist and judgmental of others as well as a serial adulterer, but there's more to him. When MASH was in full comedy mode, Frank fit in perfectly as the inept villain, always scheming to get Henry Blake thrown out and take over the 4077. As the show progressed into more drama, so did the characters. Well, everyone but Frank. Frank stayed cartoonish and that, along with what we find out about him, led me to a conclusion. Frank Burns is the product of bullying, has some kind of mental illness, and is quite possibly on the Autism Spectrum.

We've seen Frank lash out and pretty much anyone and everyone, but when someone other than Margret acts towards him with kindness, he becomes a playful puppy dog. It's revealed that his mother had to send out 30 party invitations just to get 4 kids to show up to his birthday. Frank grew up without any friends and that had an effect on him. He latches on to ANY affection he gets, the main source on the show being Margret, and without that he's completely lost. When Margret dumps him, he's completely lost in a situation where he has no friends at all, and he loses his mind.

Frank may have gotten through medical school, but his mentality, as shown on the show, has always been one of a child. Like I said, in the beginning this was fine but as the show around him got more and more realistic all I could see was a little boy, excited to play army, that was constantly being picked on by the popular kids and beaten down by the authority figures. It takes away from my enjoyment of the show, to be honest. That's why, if I'm not watching to keep up with a podcast, I usually skip the Frank episodes. I much prefer Winchester as a foil, since he can be just as abrasive as Frank, but has the capacity to defend himself.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Our Star Blazers!

Today marks the 41st anniversary of Star Blazers beginning to air in the United States. I cannot overstate the effect that this show has had on my life. This is one of those shows that I discovered very early on, probably before I even started school, and I remember it distinctly. It was on very early on Saturday mornings, before any of the "regular" cartoons, and it was so different! I'm not just talking about the animation style, but like Flash Gordon from Filmation, it was a CONTINUED story. That blew my young mind.

It had some real threat level to it as well. As much as the American version is cleaned up (no bee people being turned into Royal Jelly, for example) it still had a lot of death and destruction. The whole story of Wildstar's family being killed with their whole city was something you just didn't see in kid's programming. This resulted in my liking continued stories from an early age, and is probably why I'm such a continuity nut today.

The show also started me down the long and winding road of Anime fandom, to the point where my daughter is now obsessed with a multitude of cartoons from Japan. Much like comic books, anime is a medium and not a genre. There's all kinds of stuff there, from the Space Opera that started it all (for me) to general slice-of-life shows that are solidly based in reality. Without Star Blazers, and Battle of the Planets, I doubt I would have ever found something that has given me so much joy, and has made me so many friends.

So Happy Anniversary to the crew of the Argo!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Music Makes A Difference

Those that know me are aware that I am a Trekkie, having been exposed to Star Trek at an early age. My favorite movie is, in fact, Star Trek The Motion Picture, with its wonderful Jerry Goldsmith score. And that brings me to the point of this post, music in Star Trek movies.

It's no secret that my least favorite of the original cast movies (1 thru 6), is Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. As I am currently nearing the end of a project where I read the movie novelization and then watch the film, I have seen Star Treks 4 & 5 very recently, and I can tell you that music is a big part, and I mean a BIG part, of why I put 4 so far down the list, even below the often lambasted Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier.

You see, the music in a movie either sets or enhances the mood. That, more than anything else, tells you what you are supposed to be feeling while watching the action. What happens in ST4, however, is the music undercuts any feeling of tension and makes it a goofy comedy. Beyond the opening theme sounding like a Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie, there are several points where the viewer could be on the edge of their seat, worrying if something bad was going to happen. The music, however, might as well be Yakety Sax for all the drama it conveys.

The worst example that I can think of is when Chekov is being chased after escaping custody on the aircraft carrier, There are several twists and turns and he ends up severely injured after a huge fall. This should be full of drama, with the audience not knowing whether or not he'll get away and then being shocked when he's hurt. Instead, it feels like he should be running next to Benny Hill.

That's not to say I dislike Leonard Rosenman's work. The man did a great job on Fantastic Voyage, Beneath The Planet of the Apes, and even Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings. This time, though, I'm afraid that it was a dud.

On the other side of the coin, however, is Star Trek 5. Plagued by budget and special effects problems, I still much prefer to watch this movie than ST4, and there is one major reason for that: Jerry Goldsmith. That's right, the amazing composer from Star Trek The Motion Picture, who redefined what Star Trek music was supposed to sound like, came back for this movie. His use of music does everything it's supposed to, amplifying the mood so that some of the rough edges are glossed over.

If James Horner had agreed to return, and finish the trilogy, or Leonard Nimoy had gotten Goldsmith one movie earlier, I probably wouldn't have as big of a problem with ST4. As it stands, though, it's my least favorite of the first 6, by a wide margin.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What If ... Wesley Crusher

Listening to Next Generation's First Generation, I hear about Wesley Crusher quite a bit, and that got me to thinking. In the show, Wesley is made an "Acting Ensign" until he can go to Starfleet Academy and earn the rank himself. This gives him duties and responsibilities on the Enterprise, while he's supposed to be learning.

What if, though, instead of being made an Acting Ensign (which is a made-up officer) he just enlisted? I'm sure that Picard would have enough pull with the Admiralty to make sure than an enlisted Wesley would be assigned to the Enterprise, if the issue is that he wants to stay on the ship rather than follow his mother. So he'd have to go to boot camp, but then he'd be an actual member of Starfleet rather than a cosplayer.

If he wanted to be an officer later on, he could always go to Officer Candidate School (aka OCS), but at the very least he would get the experience of working on the ship. First hand experience at the lowest level might have changed how his character arc went. He might have left Starfleet earlier, having figured out that it was not for him. Or, on the other hand, he might have worked through whatever issues that he had and become a model crewman/officer.

I think one of the main issues that people have with the character, beyond the "wunderkind" aspect, is that he was just handed a position and rank over nothing more than Picard's guilt at the death of Jack Crusher. If he had been shown as having to earn it, over the course of multiple seasons, then many people might have not had the adverse reaction to him. I know that it would have improved my opinion, but then I'm the guy that wants to see an ensemble cast that goes all through the hierarchy, a la Hill Street Blues. Watching the high end operations of the bridge being contrast with Wesley and Chief O'Brein dealing with maintenance issues would have made for more enjoyable viewing, at least where I'm concerned.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The MCU Killed Star Wars

Controversial opinion time: The Marvel Cinematic Universe killed Star Wars, at least the sequel movies.

I think that the major issue with the Sequel Trilogy (Episodes 7, 8, and 9) is the fact that they aren't cohesive. The Force Awakens set some stuff up, The Last Jedi took that set-up and twisted some things around, and then The Rise Of Skywalker threw out a good amount of what was done in TLJ. Love them, hate them, or have a more nuanced opinion on them, you have to admit that there's some major inconsistency there and it makes the movies poorer for it.

The reason for this, in my opinion as a complete outsider, is that Disney saw what was going well over at Marvel Studios and decided to be hands off with the production. The problem is that Kathleen Kennedy, while a great executive, was also being a bit too hands off as well, letting the directors run each film as they saw fit. Over at Marvel you have Kevin Feige who takes a more active hand in the movies. Directors can do pretty much what they want, but are given constraints to work within. Since there's a connected universe, MCU movies have to hit certain beats and set up things for down the road. If JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson we're told that they had to get the story from Point A to Point B, and that the character arcs had been, in a broad sense, worked out ahead of time then I think people would have a much better opinion of the Sequel Trilogy.

Another thing that, at least for me, really brought down the new movies was over saturation, which I also blame the MCU for. You see, the Marvel movies, while all set in the same universe, are all over the place as far as genre goes. Iron Man is an action/adventure with a good dose of comedy, The First Avenger is a period piece, Ant Man is a heist movie, etc. Star Wars is space fantasy, maybe with a few things bolted on, but that's basically it. Multiple MCU movies coming out in a year works, because all of them have a different flavor. A new Star Wars movie coming out every year, and sometimes after only 6 months, is the same thing over and over. That really can wear people out.

Maybe I'm in "get off my lawn mode", but I remember when a new Star Wars movie was special, an event to be looked forward to. Even the Prequels, which I still like less than the Disney movies, only came out once every 3 years. That was long enough to digest what had come before and make up theories about what was coming out. Of course, I still haven't seen Captain Marvel, Endgame, or Far From Home, so it's not just Star Wars that I have the issue with. While I understand the business need for Disney to get back it's investment (which, as a stockholder, I'm thankful for), there's something to be said for holding off and letting the audience breath a bit. I think the declining box office has as much to do with the audience saying, "What, ANOTHER Star Wars movie?" as the "no one steering the ship" story issues.

Your mileage may vary, but that's how I see it. A bit of a firmer hand at Lucasfilm and more downtime between films can only help Star Wars. And that's not to say that you can't have new content. The Mandalorian, Resistance, and the last season of Clone Wars has shown that people will still watch new Star Wars, let's just give the movies a chance to be special again.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book Recommendation - I Am C-3PO

Last night I finished reading I Am C-3PO by, you guessed it, Anthony Daniels. If, like me, you are a member of Generation Star Wars, then I would highly recommend this book. It's a series of stories that goes, mostly, in chronological order about Mr. Daniels experiences in being a part of the Star Wars Saga. One of the more eye-opening things is just how hard it was to be in the original Threepio suit, as it was made of fiberglass and not just heavy, but painful, to wear.

There's a good deal of behind the scenes in how movies were and are made. Going from fully realized sets to 90% green screen and back seems like a very interesting journey, with good and bad points to each. That's the kind of stuff that I'm really interested in, but then I'm the guy that has watched all of the extra materials on all of the Lord of the Rings DVD's (much to my wife's consternation).

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Space Battleship Yamato: The Classic Collection

I recently finished reading Space Battleship Yamato: The Classic Collection, which is the comic book version of the original Star Blazers. As a HUGE fan of the anime, I really wanted to read this and, on one level I'm glad I did. On another, not so much.

You see, the manga was being developed in parallel with the anime, and it shows. If you read this without having seen the original show, then you'd have quite a few moments where you'd say, "Wait, where did THAT come from?" One of the most jarring is that, at the end of the first part, two ships leave Iscandar after the Yamato does. The first is Captain Harlock (who is a cyborg space pirate always covered in a shroud) and the second is believed to contain Starsha and Mamoru Kodai (aka Alex Wildstar for us Americans). The odd part there is that the last time we saw Mamoru was in the battle of Pluto where his ship was destroyed. There's no trip to Titan in the manga, where the crew find's Mamoru's ship in the anime, and there's pretty much nothing shown on Iscandar. So this revelation really comes out of nowhere.

I'm sorry to say it, but this collection is more "tell but don't show". Many of the iconic scenes from the anime are either missing all together, or are mentioned as "We'll tell you about that when we get back" and then never mentioned again. The story also isn't complete. Yes, the Earth is saved, but then the second arc featuring the Comet Empire is severely abridged and doesn't even have a conclusion.

I'm sorry to say that I can only recommend this to people who are already Star Blazers fans, and then only as a curiosity. Personally, I think it's telling that it only took me 3 nights of reading before bed to finish a 644 page manga.

Now, to finish on a high note, here's the opening theme to Star Blazers 2199:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Must Watch Movies

There are a few movies that I simply HAVE to re-watch every so often. It isn't an every year thing, but more like if I haven't seen them for awhile my brain starts to drop hints that I need to pull out the disk soon.

The first of these should be no surprise to anyone that knows me (or has read this blog, or listened to my podcasts), and that is "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."

This is not only my favorite Star Trek movie, it's one of my favorite movies of all time. I've said it before, but this is the only true science fiction story out of all of the movies, and the further we get away from 1979, the less and less Star Trek movies seem to be concerned with being sci-fi. The more recent entries on the series want to be action movies more than deal with any thinking (unless they're just poorly rehashing Star Trek 2).

The next movie that I just the itch to re-watch quite often is "Star Wars". Much like with Star Trek, this is the first movie to come out and it is also my favorite. Not only is is a good adventure story (which is what Star Wars should be), but it is also self contained. You don't need to have seen anything else to get a full, satisfying story out of this one. Unfortunately, that can't be said about the rest of the entries in the franchise.

Oh, and as long as we're on the subject, my preferred version is the original, which you can find in very high quality if you do a search for "Team Negative 1". It's a BIG file, but worth it IMHO.

As you might guess, the last movie that I'm going to talk about today is also science fiction and comes from the late 1970's, and that would be "The Black Hole". (And just typing the title has the John Barry score starting in my head.) This is much more of a "hard sci-fi" story, than Star Trek, but it still has it's fantastic elements (like being able to sit and watch a black hole). The major thing about the story is the ambiguous ending, which leads to more questions than answers and makes you think (there's that word again).

You can read more about my thoughts on this movie from my rediscovery of it 5 years ago.

There are a few more movies that I like to re-watch more often than others, like "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "A Night to Remember", but I don't feel the NEED to watch them like I do these three. I think it's telling that I have watched all three of these movies at least once since we moved to Florida in July.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Watching Anime As A Parent

Dressing like an anime character? Yup, she's obsessed.
It's interesting watching anime with my 11 year-old daughter. There are some times when I have to explain references or point out things that she wouldn't know (like what the heck was going on in an episode of Maid-Sama that we watched where they told the story (kind of) of Momotaro). The more fascinating bits are just how INTO the shows she gets. He most recent obsession is My Hero Academia, to the point that she spent some of her own money at Hot Topic to buy some accessories from the show.

She also spends a good amount of time that she's allowed to be on the computer watching various videos about her favorite shows. She wants to learn as much about them as possible, but I'm still trying to encourage her not to look up spoilers, as it might "spoil" the upcoming episodes (hence the name). Still, I'm happy that she has something that she can geek-out on and she also has several friends at school that share her interests, so it's great for her.

I still have to watch some of the shows before she does, though. Anime has a tendency to get into some areas that someone her age shouldn't watch. (I told her, for example, that there exists another anime about Momotaro, but there's no way I'm letting her watch Momo Kyun Sword just yet.) I'm looking forward to how her watching habits may or may not change as she approaches high school. As someone who seems to have inherited my "I don't give a damn about what others think" personality trait, she might just go more otaku on me, and I think I'm alright with that.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Racism In Star Trek

Star Trek has long been known to tackle societal issues, and racism is one that has come up a few times. Usually, as in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", it's fairly on the nose and shows the how ridiculous the very concept is. Here's an exchange from that episode:

While the above example is from an alien species, we have also seen these kinds of thoughts in humans, like in "Balance of Terror".

Usually this is completely shut down, as Kirk does with Lt. Stiles. One would think that humanity would have grown beyond that by the 23rd century, and I'm willing to say that, as a rule, we will have. What we see with Stiles above and Kirk himself in Star Trek 6 are more of a resentment that have grown out of experiences.

Stiles is carrying a grudge that members of his family were killed in the Earth-Romulan War (which occurred BEFORE the advent of visual ship-to-ship communication, not that you'd know it by watching Enterprise). Kirk has grown to resent Klingons due to all of his experiences with them, topped off my the death of his son. My own character in "Tales of the Seventh Fleet" was also bigoted in this way, due to his having grown up on Sherman's Planet.

So, what does all this tell us? From the evidence that we have of humans and their prejudices in the 23rd century I think that we can conclude that there is no longer ingrained or learned racism, but rather situational bigotry. In other words, certain individuals are shown to have a prejudiced way of thinking due to events in their, or their family's, lives. Does that make it right? Not at all, but it does seem to show that their bigotry, however wrongly, is predicated on experience and not just "X kind of people are bad" being handed down.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Remote Gaming

Since I moved to Florida (which has been great, thanks for asking) I have been lucky enough to still play in the monthly Pathfinder game that my friend Adam runs. I have been asked (and I'm sorry, but I don't remember by who) what I use to participate. There are two things, really.

The first is Skype, so that everyone can talk to each other. We use the video call function and Adam places a camera at the table (slightly elevated) so that myself and the two other remote players can see who's at the table. It's not exactly like being there, but it's close enough.

Secondly, for pretty much everything else, we use Roll20. Initially we just used it for the map function, but that has evolved to having us do as many rolls as possible using the built in character sheets. Yes, it's more work to get all of the data into the system after updating the physical sheet, but I think it's worth it. Using that system, a player can roll skills, saves, and attacks with all of the bonuses already built in.

A screenshot of Roll20 at the end of our last session. Yes, my character token is Cap-Wolf.
Here's an example of an attack roll for my character:

I'm a Monk and have a special weapon called the Satan's Claw, which adds a bonus electrical attack to each successful hit. As you can see, my attack roll with it was a 21 and, if that hits, then the damage would be 22 (Blunt Weapon) and 6 (Electrical). The green color indicates that at least one of the damage dice was a maximum roll. If the attack crits, that color is also green and the system automatically rolls to confirm it.

I also use this system when running our Marvel game (as heard on Class 1000) and from a GM perspective, it's great. I spent a couple of weekends getting every map that we would need set-up, including all of the NPC's. That makes running the game a lot smoother, sicne I don't have to stop and lay everything out while the players wait.

I know that some people use other systems, like Google Hangouts, but this is what I have experience with. If you've used some other way to play a tabletop game online, I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Anime Recommendation: Astra Lost In Space

Lately my viewing habits have been a bit all over the place. We typical watch Live PD and Live Rescue every week, along with their spin-offs. There are some shows on Food Network that we work in, and try to catch up on various series that we missed (like Dark Shadows), but once in awhile we try something a little different. After reading a review in Otaku USA Magazine, Michelle and I tried out Astra Lost In Space (which is available as a Sub or a Dub on Hulu).

The basic premise is that a group of high school kids (it's an anime, so that's a default) are going to a space survival camp on another planet and end up marooned somewhere else. They all have different skills that enable them, if they can work together, to get back home on a ship that they found, which they name Astra.

Here's the opening credits:

The group not only figure out how to get home but they also have to figure out how they got lost in the first place. The characters, their backstories, and the mysteries they have to solve make for this a great series. It's not bad for kids, although there are some scenes/topics that might not be appropriate for younger viewers. Kira hasn't seen it yet, because we wanted to finish it before making that decision. I would have no problem with her watching it, though.

If you like sci-fi and mystery, then I would highly recommend this one.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Definitive Sherlock Holmes

I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I have read a good number of the original stories, thanks to my parents having a collected edition, and I have seen many on screen iterations. Some I like. Some I'm so-so on. One actor, though, stands head and deer-stalker above the rest, and that is the late, great Jeremy Brett.

For 10 years (1984-1994) Brett played Holmes on the Granada television series developed by John Hawkesworth, but I first saw him on PBS. One of our family activities each week was to watch Mystery!, introduced by Vincent Price. We saw many detectives on this series but the two that stand out in my mind are Brett as Holmes and David Suchet as Poirot.

Holmes is, as Price says, the consummate Victorian gentleman. Brett embodies this in every single way, from his joy at having a mystery to solve to his annoyance at those around him who can't see what he thinks is obvious. Brett is as close to the Conan Doyle Holmes as I think we will ever see on screen. If you have only known Holmes through Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey, Jr., or Basil Rathbone, you owe it to yourself to check out Brett's. I promise that you won't be disappointed.

And if you do watch an episode or two, please let me know what you think of it. I'd really like to know other's thoughts on the matter.