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November 30, 2009

"You don't seem to be evil, you seem to be more of a grouch."

So, we're past Thanksgiving and the insane retail crush of deals. I bought one cheap BD at Target (Dark City) and that was about it. On a sad note: one of our cats, Beaker, died over the weekend. He had a struggle with cancer and passed away at home. We're all sad over the loss of this very sweet cat. I have to say, he was one of the nicest, most outgoing cats I've ever known. He is already missed and I will probably continue to be reminded of him whenever we have popcorn while watching movies; he loved popcorn.

So, let's see where we're at for this week's new stuff:

Ben Ten: Alien Swarm (2009) Also on BD.

A Christmas Tale (2008) Also on BD.

Deadline (2009) Also on BD.

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) Also on BD.

Paper Heart (2009) Also on BD.

Saturday Night Live: Season 5

Terminator Salvation Also on BD.

November 23, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Barnes

I don't normally use this blog for personal stuff, but I wanted to note the passing of my Uncle Don Barnes, who died early this morning at the age of 94.

Don had suffered from Alzheimer's for the last 5 years so in a sense, he's been gone for a while. Nonetheless, I wanted to make a short note about this person who had a real influence on me.

Uncle Don, who along with my late Aunt Faith lived in the Rapid City area the entire time I was growing up; the Barnes' were a regular part of our lives during those years. We visited their house a lot when I was younger and if you could see what the place looked like, you'd understand the influence. Don was a retired electrical engineer (he worked for the FAA for some of his career IIRC) and a real pack rat. His garage and basement were stuffed full of all sorts of fascinating old electronics junk. I spent a lot of time in that basement (it was a fun place to play for us kids) and have vivid memories of the place. Don was one of the reasons I'm as into technology as I am. He was pretty much always interested in new tech and we had fun talking about whatever the latest stuff was. I often brought over some piece of audio gear, often in non-working condition. He was always ready to dive in and either get his soldering iron warmed up to fix it or show me what had to be done with it. I learned a lot about how electronics work from him and also have my background knowledge of old tech thanks to him (and my Dad, of course).

Don was also extraordinarily generous, as anyone who knew him could tell you. While he collected a lot of old stuff, he didn't hesitate to provide it to anyone who needed it. When I was done with high school and didn't have a car to drive, he gave me his unused 1962 Mercury Meteor. This old car, which was black with a red interior (and often dubbed "The Batmobile") and had rear fins, got me through several years of regular use.

So Don will not be forgotten in my family. His struggle with Alzheimer's was not easy to watch but we're fortunate that we had so many years with him. RIP, Uncle Don: we all miss you.

I'm going to skip the summary this week, but you can get the list by clicking here.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 18, 2009

"I don't need a doctor, dammit, I AM a doctor!"

As a quick note, we do have another Trek podcast on the way, but it won't be until next week. As always, it'll be worth the wait! (hahaha)

So, what do we have cooking this week?

Bruno (2009) Also on BD.

Darwin's Darkest Hour (2009) Also on BD.

Elvis Costello: Spectacle: Season 1 Also on BD.

Fight Club (1999) The much-loved (but overrated IMHO) Fincher film comes to BD. I was amused by this quote from Roger Ebert's review: "Is Tyler Durden in fact a leader of men with a useful philosophy? 'It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything,' he says, sounding like a man who tripped over the Nietzsche display on his way to the coffee bar in Borders."

Galaxy Quest (1999) Another 1999 film new-to-BD. I do enjoy this one, but I'll wait it out until it drops in price.

Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Edition This reissue is apparently quite stunning with a ground-up restoration. As I've probably said before, this is a film I admire more than enjoy. It's good to see at least one of the studios continue to invest in classic film on HD.

Star Trek (2009) Also on BD. As I mentioned previously, I liked the new movie and really look forward to seeing what they do with the new cast. We had a fun discussion about the movie on the podcast. It can be found here.

Wagon Train: Season 1 This is of course appropriate since Gene Roddenberry once referred to Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the Stars."

November 10, 2009

Up on the hill, they think I'm okay. Or so they say.

Over the past weekend, as a really nice birthday present, we went and saw Steely Dan at Northrop Auditorium (complete with Fez!). I've been a fan of the 'Dan for a very long time and had seen them twice before (1996 and 2003). The previous concerts were at sports arenas, but I finally got to see them in a theater venue. Very cool.

On this tour, they feature one of two complete albums: The Royal Scam or Aja. On this show they did the latter. They actually played the album all the way through in order with pretty much the same arrangements and instrumentation. With the exception of "Josie," they did all the tunes in the same key as the originals; pretty impressive for Fagen after all these years. The rest of the show was mostly made up of the expected crowd favorites, though them doing "Show Biz Kids" was a nice surprise.

The band they tour with, as usual, is made up of top drawer jazz pros. The horns were great and the drummer, the same guy they've been using since their "rebirth" in the '90s, was fantastic as always. I thought the bass playing was very good (of course), though 'Dan songs were never vehicles for bass virtuosity like they were for the sax, piano, guitar, and drums. Then again, I couldn't always hear what they guy was doing since he was often buried in the sound mix. A friend who was there as well had a different impression of the sound so it obviously varied depending on where one sat.

In any case, the musicianship was incredible. One thing I like about their shows is the way that Becker and Fagen aren't afraid to let the other players strut their stuff. The guitarist did some great solo work and the piano player even got some time. An added bonus to these guys using many of the same players is how good the overall ensemble sounded. The group was really tight without sounding restrained or canned. So if you like these guys at all, do try and make one their concerts. At their age, it won't last forever.

OK, enough of that music crap, on to this week's new releases:

The Accidental Husband (2007)

Ballast (2008) Also on BD.

Echo (2008) Also on BD.

The General (1927) New to BD with an improved film transfer and multiple musical scores.

Logan's Run (1976) New to BD this week. This might be a good time to revisit this sci fi staple...Eric may want to do a podcast on it, so watch out!

Monsters, Inc. (2001) New to BD.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Season 2

Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days

The Ugly Truth (2009) Also on BD.

Up (2009) As usual, DVD buyers get a choice of movie-only or loaded SE while BD buyers have to go for the 4 disc megaset...at least Amazon sold it to me for $20.

November 3, 2009

"I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me."

We joined the modern console video game age last week with the purchase of a Playstation 3. Our old X-Box has been collecting dust for a while now. A big reason we wanted one was to be able to play the Rock Band (Beatles and otherwise) games, but I also saw it as a chance to simplify the media playback in my basement projection system. This game system, as you probably know can play Blu Ray discs (and of course conventional DVDs): nice, I get a second BD deck and can stop having to move my Panasonic BD-35 around the house. This by itself would probably make it worthwhile, but the PS3 can also play many other kinds of media files. About the only thing it won't play is protected video content purchased from iTunes. So, this machine can replace at least two boxes in the equipment rack and add more funtionality (Netflix streaming is coming soon to the PS3). But who am I kidding: it's another toy!

So far, the console works well. It loads BD movies faster than my old deck and has WiFi on board so it's easy to update the machine's software/firmware and do BD Live, should I ever see something on BD Live that's worth looking at. And, oh yeah, the games are fun...

All right, on to this week's list:

Aliens in the Attic (2009) Also on BD.

The Answer Man Also on BD.

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy

Doctor Who - The War Games

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) Also on BD.

Howards End Criterion issues the Merchant-Ivory film on BD. And yes, I know at least one of my readers really doesn't like this movie! Check out DVD Savant's review for a good take on the movie here.

Mission: Impossible: Season 7

North by Northwest 50th Anniversary Edition DVD and BD. A review of the BD is here. This will be a double-dip purchase for me...

Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro - The Complete First Season The second season is also available in the same series of DVDs.

Wings of Desire (1987) Criterion issues the Wim Wenders film on DVD and BD.

November 2, 2009

TOS Rewind #34: "Catspaw"

Happy Halloween! We happened to hit this episode, one that's actually Halloween-themed, this week. Funny...OK, so we're a little late. Boo!

So we have Catspaw (10/27/1967), the one original series holiday special, so to speak.

Eric and Rob joined me on the podcast, which can be downloaded/listened to here.

So here we have the single holiday-themed episode in Trek history (I think). Sure, it's no Star Wars Holiday Special, but it's pretty weak for a second season episode.

I think the big issue here is that the writers couldn't seem to figure out whether this was going to be a silly/campy "Jiffy Trek" or something with serious concepts. There's a bit of both here, really and the mix just doesn't work. There a number of jokey references which, while amusing by themselves, just add to the muddled nature of this episode. The ending, as Rob points out on the podcast, is a bit odd as well. The idea seems to borrow from other Trek material and the idea of aliens assuming human form and not being able to deal with the accompanying "sensations," (ahem!) gets used again in future episodes. Another problem is that we don't really get what the aliens actually want from Kirk and co.

The acting here ranges from just okay to quite mediocre. I didn't think the actor playing Korob was too bad, but the woman playing Sylvia was often laugh-inducing. Part of it was her lines and costumes. Speaking of costumes, who thought the fuzzy wig on Chekov was a good idea? It looks really bad. They had the good sense to ditch it later, thankfully. The worst performance/character had to be DeSalle, the guy who's left in command when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down (Scotty and Sulu were already missing). He comes off as this stuck-up, annoying throw-back to bad WW2 combat movies: "Maybe we can't break it, but I'll bet you credits to navy beans we can put a dent in it!" Uh, yeah. That'll show 'em! Another great quote: "I can squash you! And that would be an interesting sensation, yes." Tee hee. The scene where Sylvia is trying to get it on with Kirk made Stacie laugh a lot. Of course, right after that when she finds out he's just messing with her is pretty fun. There's also a sequence where Sylvia, in the form of a black cat, grows to giant size to threaten Kirk and the landing party. It looks so incredibly silly that I was instantly reminded of the scene in Team America: World Police where the puppets are attacked by a black house cat.

Growing up, I would watch this one and say the 1970s equivalent of "Meh." Now, it doesn't hold up so well. It happens. I watched the BD/remastered version and aside from a re-done view of the outside of the castle, there wasn't a whole lot to see.

Now let's see what Eric made of this one:

It recently occurred to me that my written reviews of late have been nothing more than recaps of our podcasts, so starting with this review, I'm going to attempt a literary analysis (or something bearing a vague resemblance to a literary analysis) of our chosen episode. And I'll ask your forgiveness in advance--it's been a loooong time since I've written anything like this.

To begin, I'm certain there are many who would argue strenuously that there is nothing literary about Star Trek worthy of analysis. I, of course, disagree. As I've mentioned before, almost all of the original Star Trek episodes had underlying themes that were interesting and sometimes even profound. They not uncommonly suffered from poor presentation and/or inadequate development, but they are still there. And with a little coaxing, they can be brought out and examined. So, here goes...

"Catspaw" is about the use and abuse of power and the attendant consequences. Throughout the episode, the experiences and fates of Korob, Sylvia, and Captain Kirk show that a person must have the courage to use power and the wisdom and strength not to abuse it.

Consider Korob. He is the alien who has control of the transmuter, and thereby wields extraordinary power, but he doesn't use it to stop Sylvia until it is almost too late. When he is talking to Captain Kirk, he alludes that Sylvia's instability is the reason their introduction to our galaxy wasn't peaceful. So early on, Korob knew, or at least suspected, that there was a problem and didn't have the courage to act preemptively to head off the impending disaster. Of course, it can be argued that such suspicions aren't adequate to warrant neutralizing one's partner, but Korob also harangues Sylvia for abandoning her duty to their superiors, which should've been sufficient reason for him to act. Again, he lacks to courage to do what must be done, so it isn't until Sylvia has killed, enslaved, and goes on a murderous rampage, threatening to wipe out all human life, that he finally takes action. This gives Kirk the opportunity to defeat Sylvia, but in the process, Korob is killed.

Conversely, Sylvia has no problem whatsoever with using power. In all fairness, her situation is much like that of a drug addict. In taking human form, she is suddenly exposed to a host of intoxicating sensations that overwhelm her. This is understandable, if tragic. She uses her power not so much for the sake of power itself, as is true of so many villains, but rather to get her "fix" of sensations. In any case, regardless of her motivations, Sylvia grossly abuses her power--she commits heinous crimes (murder and slavery) and threatens genocide (credibly, one must assume) against the human race. Her fate, much like Korob, is defeat and death. And along the way, she is manipulated by Kirk, just as she used members of the Enterprise crew.

So now we come to Kirk's role. He is also unafraid to use power, which he has shown numerous times. It could be said that he is irresponsible because he takes sexual advantage of Sylvia, who doesn't understand sexuality or sexual politics. But at this point the question becomes: Do Kirk's actions demonstrate a lack of responsibility and morality, or do they show the strength and courage Korob lacked? The answer lies in Kirk's motivation in manipulating Sylvia, which is to gain the information and influence necessary to save the Enterprise and its crew, and (somewhat melodramatically) all of humanity. As a Starfleet captain, he swore an oath to protect not only his crew but also the entire Federation, so his motivation is rooted in sworn duty, and, in a larger sense, the moral obligation any decent human being would feel when faced with a threat to the human race. Also, perhaps even more tellingly, Kirk does not manipulate Sylvia out of malice or for his own benefit or pleasure. He does what he must do. He has the strength to use his power (masculine wiles?), and although he may be ruthless, he uses that power responsibly. As a result, he survives and is successful.

So "Catspaw" shows us that it is wrong not only to abuse power, but also to allow fear to prevent one from using power when it is called for. The ideal is to be strong enough to use power when needed and to temper that usage with wisdom so that it does not become abuse.

Next time: "I Mudd"