Movie Review – Captain America: The First Avenger – It’s Always Been Right to Punch Nazis

Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby
Directed by Joe Johnston

There will never be anything like the Marvel Cinematic Universe again. Over the course of more than a decade, a series of films and television shows were created that told not only their own, individual stories, but also an overall story-arc that concluded in Avengers: Endgame. From there, we are seeing more stories being created to to continue the saga, but I think the first grouping of films and shows will always be the best.

Chronologically speaking, Captain America: The First Avenger is the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It opens in the “modern” day where soldiers uncovers a ship frozen in the ice. As they explore the interior, they uncover a familiar shield.

The film then jumps back about seventy years to World War II. During the Nazi reign of terror in Europe, Colonel Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) uncovers a mysterious artifact known as “the Tesseract” hidden in a castle. This is important not just to this story, but to many others down the line in the Marvel universe.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a man eager to enlist and help fight the Nazis. He’s been rejected by every draft board in New York City and then some. He’s more courageous and smart than his stature allows for and repeatedly gets beat up. His best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) comes to his rescue more than once.

And seriously? Jersey?

– James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes

Once again, he tries to enlist, and comes to the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Dr. Erskine asks him a few questions, and likes Steve’s answers. He approves Steve to be tried in a new experimental program he’s working on.

Steve us sent for “training” where he meets Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Colonel Phillips, especially, has his doubts about Steve. However, he exhibits some creative thinking that gets their attention. He is chosen as the subject of their “super soldier” experiment and brought to a hidden laboratory in Brooklyn where Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and Dr. Erskine use advanced technology and a special serum Dr. Erskine created in a Frankenstein moment that makes Steve, well, bigger.

Steve has such a moral compass that he will not misuse what he has gained. In a way, it’s a good thing that events take place that cause him to be the only super-soldier that’s ever created by this process. However, he’s soon marginalized and used as a cartoon character of sorts to sell war bonds.

Disgusted with that role, when he’s overseas it doesn’t take much for him to feel differently. After a heart to heart with Peggy, Steve goes off on his own initiative to rescue captured soldiers, including his friend Bucky. Along the way, he confronts Colonel Schmidt, who has morphed into Red Skull.

Steve recruits some of the men he saved to go back and take out a Hydra base. Before they leave, Peggy lets Steve know she is interested in him. However, the mission falters as Bucky is lost and Steve blames himself. When Colonel Schmidt retreats to the last Hydra base in the Alps, Steve is determined to take him out once and for all. He will even sacrifice himself so that other may live. Despite Peggy and Howard searching for him, he is lost to the ages.

The last scene takes the viewer back to the “present day” after the ship was uncovered in the ice. Captain America wasn’t as lost as everyone believed back then.

This is the beginning of “Hydra”. Here it is a Nazi science organization that puts loyalty among its members and use of science and technology to achieve its goals higher than anything else, including loyalty to Hitler. I’d say it’s a white supremacist organization based on these and future events. As much as we’re seeing a current political and societal climate that’s troubling, a Nazi science organization that survives in theory to the present day isn’t so far-fetched.

The effect of making Chris Evans look like a skinny, small, asthmatic, draft-board reject works better at some times than others. In the car sitting next to Peggy on the way to the laboratory, he looks like a ventriloquist dummy sitting next to her on the seat, they are so out of proportion. However, overall the effects in the film are damn good. They aren’t overused at all, either. Too many movies lately seem to be nothing more than an excuse to string together great effects. Captain America: The First Avenger actually has a great story to go along with good effects.

The attention to detail of the time period is good too. Hayley Atwell is gorgeous with her bright-red lipstick and pinup-style hair. The costuming is perfect. I loved seeing the familiar dresses that I saw in old family photos – my mother turned 18 in 1945 and my father served in the Navy. Much of this era is in my family photo albums.

Above all, though, is the acting. Chris Evans really beings Captain America to life. Steve Rogers is an innocent in the sense to which he approaches the world. He sees things as right and wrong and comes from a different time; a time when a sense of community and duty to watch out for your fellow man was lauded. Sometimes these types of characters can be boring, but Evans really creates someone multi-dimensional who struggles to stay true to his values. Hayley Atwell is more than his match with beauty, brains, and guts to go along with it. The two share chemistry on-screen and have the kind of cautious romance one had in the 1940’s. I found myself rooting for them, but of course that’s not the destiny for this super-hero.

The other characters serve the story well. They aren’t one-dimensional but we learn more about them beyond just their purpose in Steve’s path to Captain America. Tucci is marvelous as Dr. Erskine, knowing what is happening in Germany first-hand and doing what he can to fight evil. He’s as afraid of giving the power he’s uncovered to the wrong person as he is of the Nazis and what they represent. Sebastian Stan anchors Steve Rogers well, both when he’s the scrawny friend being picked on and when they are trying to stop Hydra. Tommy Lee Jones is great as an Army officer who thinks the whole thing is crazy, and thinks Steve Rogers is the wrong choice, but who comes around in the long run. Dominic Cooper is great as Howard Stark. At this point he is no more than a rich playboy, not so different than his son, and there’s a sexual tension between him and Peggy that’s believable.

The story uses these characters well and that it what stands out more than the fighting and effects. It’s easy to care about these people at this time in history. They seem to fit into the time period well and they are written like real people. The attention to detail really makes this film a winner. It’s got both style and substance that realizes the potential these films always had in the right hands.

Stan Lee sighting: an Army officer in the crowd as captain America is supposed to be receiving an award.

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Star Trek: Wink of an Eye – Get Me A Flyswatter

Written by Arthur Heinemann, Gene L. Coon, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Jud Taylor

I remember one time in a therapy session remarking to my therapist that when you look at our solar system and compare it to an atom with all of its orbiting electrons, I had to wonder if we weren’t just one of the electrons in an atom in some other creature and everything we are going through and agonizing for on this planet really amount to nothing. He suggested I study quantum physics for fun.

In Wink of an Eye, the Star Trek universe intersects with another universe operating at a different speed than our own universe. Sound complicated? It really isn’t, although this episode comes out somewhat disjointed.

The Enterprise receives a distress call from the planet Scalos. They beam a landing party down to the surface and locate no life remaining on the planet despite structures being intact. At the same time, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) can see the transmission on her screen from people claiming to be the last remaining Scalosians. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is annoyed by a buzzing sound he hears around him on the planet. A red shirt named Compton (Geoffrey Binney) hears it to , then disappears.

The remaining landing party beams back to the Enterprise. Once there, they find the ship’s systems being invaded by various alien technology. Who or what is responsible for it, isn’t apparent. At the same time, Kirk hears the same buzzing sound around him that he heard on the planet. After sipping on some coffee, he abruptly also disappears.

The crew on the bridge only know the Captain has disappeared. Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is once again in command. He has the Captain’s coffee tested.

From Captain Kirk’s point of view, he sees the crew slow down to the point that he cannot see them move. He then finds himself face to face with Deela (Kathie Browne), the Queen of the Scalosians. Deela informs Kirk they exist in a reality that moves at a different speed that the reality the Enterprise resides in. The buzzing he heard were the Scalosians interacting and moving around him. His coffee was doctored so now he moved in the same accelerated universe that they do. The purpose? All of the Scalosian males have become sterile and they need new breeding stock if the race is to survive. The machinery Kirk saw on the Enterprise is to freeze the crew for use with future breeding. Compton is all too happy to be there, that is until he is attacked by one of the other Scalosians and dies due to rapid aging once he has been injured.

There have been numerous episodes this season which puts the Captain out of the picture with commanding the Enterprise and leaved Spock and the rest of the crew to rescue him. This is another case where he is in deep peril and they must figure out what happened. Spock and McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) team up easily this time to solve the mystery of how to get the Captain back.

The concept itself is interesting. However, the episode has a few flaws such as Uhura using the intercoms to tell the Captain the intercoms have been one of the ship systems affected. Yeah. It’s slips like this that make for a few cringe-worthy moments. There’s a scene of Kirk shooting a phaser at Deela that she merely steps aside, yet the bridge crew in the “regular” universe shows no indication that they detected it nor was anything damaged. The same thing with the Enterprise doors opening and closing for them. Wouldn’t they be operating in the standard universe time so would just be opening for what seem like random things?

You’d think the Scalosians could have just asked for volunteers instead of resorting to kidnapping. I mean, I know a bunch of sexually repressed males who would jump at the chance to propagate the species with a beautiful alien woman. The plot makes no sense, which is a shame. The idea of a society being able to live side by side with another but in a different timeframe is fairly interesting.

I blame it on lazy writing that is at the point where they just think the audience won’t question it. That became a problem in later series as well with writers who put stories out there and when fans questioned things that didn’t make sense they were treated with contempt. It also treads out the “Captain is gone and we have to rescue him” plot for what seems like the millionth time this season.

Wink of an Eye is a mediocre episode filled with many plot-holes. It’s not horrible the way some episodes of this third season were, but it just had the ability to be done better and written better rather than just coming across lazy.

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Book Review: Coup d’Etat: The War That Came Early Book 4 by Harry Turtledove

Alternate history is one of my favorite genres. What if something had gone a little differently in history? How would the world be today is that had happened? Harry Turtledove is one of the premier authors of alternate history. Coup D’Etat: The War That Came Early is the fourth book in a six book series that ponders what would have happened had the British and French not tried to appease Hitler, but had instead challenged him earlier/

In Coup D’Etat: The War That Came Early, it is the winter of 1941. Faced with a rising threat from Russia, the leaders of France and England decided that fighting with the Germans against Russia was better than allowing Russia to conquer eastern Europe. Soldiers who were once enemies are now fighting on the same side.

However, not everyone is on board with this Especially in England, where Winston Churchill died under mysterious circumstances (thus eliminating one of the loudest anti-Nazi voices there), there are many people unhappy with fighting alongside the Nazis.

Harry Turtledove does here what he usually does in a novel. The stories are told from the viewpoints of various characters, all who are demonstrating a different angle of the war. Unfortunately, there are so many characters that it seems we read just a few pages about each one and then we are over to another character. Other than what’s happening in England, not much seems to advance here. Turtledove is terribly repetitive. Every time he switches to a character he writes about what is going on with them at the time, and it seems to be the same thing over and over again with little advancement.

I could see England possibly switching to the side of the Nazis, since it was known that some of the Royal Family had some pretty close ties to them, but France? That’s hard to swallow. That was really the most interesting part of the story, although I found that switching to one side and then back to the other somewhat hard to believe.

In the United States, the story mostly centers on trying to teach the populace about the Nazi threat. They are battling Japan, but not taking a side in Europe just yet. The book follows a socialite, who was trapped in Germany when the Nazis raided the European resort she was staying at, as she travels the country trying to drum up support for what the President wants to do.

If I wasn’t so invested in the series and wanted to see how it turns out, I’d probably quit reading here, to be honest. I’ve read many (most?) of Turtledove’s books, so I know what to expect, but it gets frustrating to read the same things over and over and feel like I’m getting nowhere. That’s the case at this point in the series. I get that war is hell and there’s a lot of time waiting around for things to happen, but this just drags so terribly that I’m frustrated with the entire series.

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Star Trek: Plato’s Stepchildren – That Kiss

Written by Meyer Dolinsky, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by David Alexander

Amid an episode that is pretty awful in many ways, we have moments of social justice that Star Trek became known for. Indeed, I don’t know how people can call themselves fans of the series now and align themselves on the side of right-wing politicians here in the U.S. They must have missed a lot when watching the series.

The Enterprise responds to a distress call on an unexplored planet. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) beam down. Unlike the previous episode, they have no space-suits and no drawn weapons. So much for a lesson learned.

They are greeted by Alexander (Michael Dunn) a dwarf of a man who says this society thinks of themselves as “Plato’s Children” and call themselves Platonians. He brings McCoy to treat a wounded man known as Parmen (Liam Sullivan), the leader of the Platonians. When Parmen is in pain, he exhibits psychokinetic power that tosses the Enterprise around as if in a storm. On the planet, objects are hurled through the air and the other people are attacked. He almost chokes Alexander to death psychokinetically.

These people traveled to Earth during the time of the Greek civilization. They admired it so much, they modeled their own society on it. His wife, Philana (Barbara Babcock) claims to be more than 2,000 years old.

Once Parmen recovers, it becomes apparent he has little interest in letting the Enterprise or any of the crew leave. In particular, they want Doctor McCoy to stay with them. McCoy refuses, at which point Parmen begins using his powers to toy with and torture Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.

The actors are convincing at being forced to do things against their will. Sure, William Shatner chews scenery, but here it’s perfectly appropriate. Leonard Nimoy gets to show emotion as it’s forced out of him. It’s all cheesy and over-acted and ridiculous. The Platonians are nothing bus sadists and fixate on torturing the Vulcan by having him perform against his character.

What’s important here isn’t much of what we’re seeing but what’s being said. At one point, Kirk sits down with Alexander, who is sort of the court-jester to the Platonians and the object of the most of Parmen’s abuse, and the two have a remarkable conversation. Kirk tells Alexander “where I come from, size, shape, or color makes no difference.” This was revolutionary for the 1960’s because this is what the Civil Rights movement was all about. This one sentence puts into words what the entire Star Trek series was about.

Then, of course, there’s the moment that Plato’s Stepchildren has become known for throughout television history. Parmen is using his psychokinetic powers to treat the Enterprise crew like puppets. At one point he forces Kirk and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to kiss. This is the first interracial kiss ever on U.S. television. Of course, the caveat is they were forced to do it against their will, and the cut does not show their lips touching, but it aired. At this time, there were states that were still doing battle to keep their anti-miscegenation laws on the books, although the Supreme Court was about to rule them unconstitutional. What seems like no big deal now, was a huge deal at the time.

While much of this episode is horrible, the series managed to slip by the censors some great moments that make it worth viewing. People born after this era won’t understand the significance of what they are watching amid all of the torture, but it’s really a tremendous piece of history. You can’t be against social justice and call yourself a fan of Star Trek.

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DVD Review: New York Episode 8 – The Center of the World 1946-2003

When Ric Burns set out to make a documentary of the city of New York, he had no idea of what world events were about to transpire. Just as the sixth episode was about to air on PBS at the end of September 2001, the city was attacked and the landscape was forever changed. Burns quickly deleted scenes from that episode which dealt with the plane which crashed into the Empire State Building.

Burns also realized that there was another entire chapter now to the city’s history. Not only had he glossed over the building of the World Trade Center in his initial documentary, but he had not really looked at New York’s place in the globalization which happened throughout the late 80’s and 90’s.

This eighth installment was added to the series after the events of September 11, 2001 as a “coda” to New York: The City and the County by Ric Burns. This two-hour long documentary features many of the same shots of New York seen earlier in the series, only now with a new poignancy as those two towers now represent something entirely different.

Burns approaches this chapter of New York’s history as an attempt to show how New York’s place in the world – at the heart of globalization – almost made it an inevitable target eventually for someone who wanted to strike at the county. He points out the innocence with which many Americans (both in and out of government) believed we could get involved in global conflicts and never receive retribution. (I’m not saying it’s right, only naïve to believe it wouldn’t happen eventually with all of the conflicts it ends up in the middle of.)

While this may be off-putting to some, it’s nice to see a frank discussion – without casting blame anywhere – that does help to understand just why it happened. It could have happened just as easily as a result of our involvement in Kosovo as it did with our involvement in the Middle East.

The documentary is also free from the political wrangling which seems to surround everything associated with September 11th since almost immediately after it happened. Where else could you see diametrically opposed politicians such as Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Mario Cuomo all commenting on the events before, during, and after that day?

The history of the towers actually dates back to the 1940’s immediately following World War II. It would take another decade before the idea really took hold, and even longer until it would actually begin construction. Much of the motivation became “saving” lower Manhattan which is surprising considering just how much character this portion of the city seems to have in my time.

The politics which took place surrounding the building of the World Trade Center is quite fascinating. It’s shown through still photographs and films from the time period, which have been restored enough to be clear and easy to view, but at the same time haven’t been enhanced so they lose the flavor of the time period. There are a lot of pictures of the construction of the towers.

Again narrated by David Ogden Stiers, this chapter has all that the rest of it had – the great music, the commentary by prominent historians, reporters, and politicians. Commentary is also here from many of the people who were involved in the design and construction of the towers that are still alive. This commentary provides incredible insight into the thought and testing process.

It was also nice to hear the emphasis on the diversity of the people who worked in the World Trade Center as well as in Manhattan itself as globalization became the reality following the end of the Cold War. Something lost in the “attack on America” was the detail of just how many immigrants from how many different countries also died on September 11th. This fact is brought home in a way that is not preachy or accusatory, but just as a fact we all should remember.

The images of the attack are here. Those images have surely left an indelible image on the minds of so many of us. The way he recreates the attack giving a perspective not thought of before. It stirred me as much as the documentary by the Naudet brothers, some of who’s images have been reused by Burns. I was finally able to view footage I had heard about – of my husband’s cousin’s fire battalion walking into the building which would eventually fall on them as they tried to save people trapped in the elevators.

I liked this chapter in Ric Burns’ series quite a bit and I’m glad he saw fit to add it to the series. Although it’s become the first thing many people think about in regard to New York City, when viewed in the context of the entire documentary it’s just another part of a rich and sometimes turbulent history of the Greatest City in the World.


SPECIAL FEATURES:

– Interview With Ric Burns
– Outtakes: Intimations of Mortality: Empire State Building Crash (this was also included on the boxed set of the first seven episodes of the documentary)
– Selected Interviews


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Book Review: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

The final novel adaptation of the prequel films in the Star Wars universe really hits a homerun when it comes to filling in the gaps that the movie left us with. It’s the longest of the three, probably due to the fact that there was so much needed to make the events of this film seem plausible. It also, unknowingly, sets up certain themes that are resurrected in the final three films of the Skywalker saga.

Revenge of the Sith picks up a few years after the end of Attack of the Clones. Anakin and Obi-Wan are the media darlings of the galaxy, being presented as heroes of preserving the Republic. Anakin and Padme have kept their union a secret, although as time goes on, Obi-Wan admits he has always had some idea and never brought it up.

Obi-Wan and Anakin have been dispatched to save the Chancellor from his captivity under Count Dooku and General Grievous. Anakin is tired at this point from all of the battles, but fights on. He has also been closer to the Chancellor than anyone else, seeing him as a sort of father figure. If there’s one theme that ran through these films it was Anakin latching onto different people as father figures; in the first it was Qui-Gon, the second Obi;Wan, and here his allegiance seems to have transferred from Obi-Wan to the Chancellor.

Unknown to the two Jedi, all of this has been a set-up. The Chancellor has been manipulating events so the Senate confers on him more and more power in the wake of the war against the Separatists. His captivity is less an abduction and more a political maneuvering, designed to create more sympathy for the Chancellor trying to hold the Republic together. It also allows the evil Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, to dispatch his current pupil, Count Dooku, in favor of a new one he has his eyes on.

Upon returning to Coruscant, Anakin begs off press coverage to find his wife, Padme. They have been apart for some time at this point. Padme tells Anakin she’s going to have a baby. Almost immediately, nightmares of losing her during childbirth enter his dreams. He becomes afraid to sleep and the dreams returning and begins to search out any way to save her from what he sees as her fate.

At the same time, the Chancellor is making his final moves to consolidate his power, and that involves casting the Jedi as the enemy so they will be unable to stop him….

I have to say the novelization of Revenge of the Sith does a great job filling in what is missing from the film. There didn’t seem to be a logic to Anakin’s journey to the dark side; it seemed like one minute he was a Jedi and the next he was slaughtering younglings. Here it fills in the toll that everything is taking on him, both mentally and physically. He is weakening in resolve, fearful of what’s going to happen to Padme and afraid to sleep for that’s when the visions come. There is pressure on him from all sides; from the Jedi Masters to locate the Sith they believe is in the Chancellor’s inner circle to the Chancellor himself who goads him along on a dark path without him even realizing it. By getting into Anakin’s head, we see why he ends up turning to the dark side.

The Chancellor’s political maneuvering against the Jedi is clearer here as well. Despite being rescued by them, almost from the moment he’s back on Coruscant, he’s casting them as the enemy rather than his saviors. We also see more of what sets up a divide between Anakin and Padme. It makes him lashing out at her on Mustafar all the clearer. It’s not just that Obi-Wan is hiding on her shuttle so he believes she’s brought him there, it’s also that she’s been hiding some of the back-alley politics she’s involved in.

What we also here are the regrets and the missteps. At the end, when Yoda is battling the Emperor in the Senate Chambers, he laments that the Jedi Order stagnated for so many years, never changing or adapting to the changes in the universe around them. The Sith, patiently lying in wait, adapted to the changes in the universe and this was why they were able to so successfully rise up and take over. This train of thought feeds into a lot of what we see happening in the final three films in the Rise of Skywalker saga. All that was and is Jedi must be lost so the new balance between good and evil can be achieved.

Star Wars fans owe it to themselves to read this book to get a better appreciation of the story in Revenge of the Sith. Books usually are considered to be better than the movie, but that’s usually said when a movie is based off of a book. Here, author Matthew Stover had created a novel from a movie that also is much better than the film. It greatly expands on events and gives details of what’s going on in the minds of the main characters that make the story we viewed on the screen all the better.

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Star Trek: The Tholian Web – Ghost in the Machine

Written by Judy Burns, Chet Richards, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

When I think back to when I used to watch Star Trek in nightly reruns at 6PM, The Tholian Web is one of those episodes that stands out. I have a clear memory of the effects in this episode, and they look just as good now after being remastered.

The Enterprise is investigating the disappearance of the ship the Defiant. It seems that space is folding in on itself here, creating a junction between two universes. The Defiant keeps phasing in and out of their reality.

The Captain (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor McCoy DeForrest Kelley), and Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam over to investigate the Defiant. However, because of the phasing Scotty (James Doohan) is having trouble beaming them back. He gets Chekov, Spock, and Doctor McCoy. Captain Kirk cannot be brought back from the Defiant and when it disappears from space he is with it.

To complicate matters, the Tholians arrive and claim the Enterprise is intruding in their space. Spock, now in command of the Enterprise, negotiates that they will leave once the Defiant phases back into this universe in about 3 hours so they can rescue the Captain. However, when the time arrives, their attempt to rescue the Captain fails. They do battle with the Tholians, which cripples the Enterprise. The Tholians then start creating an energy web to encase the Enterprise. At the same time, being in this area of space begins to create a madness that is spreading through the crew of the Enterprise. It’s a race against time to rescue the Captain on the next phase-in of the Defiant and repair the Enterprise enough to get them out of there.

This is one of those memorable episodes that almost makes up for all of the weak episodes this third season. There’s a good build-up of peril with a lot of great effects, from the energy web to the Tholian ships and the Tholians themselves. For the first time, we see the landing party beam over in spacesuits, which are somewhat comical. There are hints they are built on the astronaut suits of the 1960’s with brighter, metallic coloring and the crewman’s names emblazoned on the helmets.

The characters here are written very well and the actors really capture them perfectly. Particularly of not is the relationship between Spock and McCoy. Just like in For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, the deep friendship between them is on full display, despite the bickering they usually exhibit. McCoy is badgering Spock about his choices and actions throughout his command, until they watch what would be Captain Kirk’s last words to them. It’s a significant moment for the characters, and I have to say they seem to be getting the best development this season, especially when Captain Kirk is not around.

Walter Koenig gets to go crazy with Chekov again. It gives him a bit of a stretch. I’d say maybe he did such a good job in Day of the Dove that they let him do it again.

The Tholian Web is one of those near-flawless episodes of the series. It still stands up very well all these years later. There’s a good balance of peril with character development and special effects. I wish we saw more of the Tholians in future series (the only series that deals with it takes place before this one).

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DVD Review: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume 1 – 1935 to 1938

Sometimes it’s hard to believe there was once a time when Mickey Mouse was seen as more than just a character wandering around a theme park. With the release of Mickey Mouse in Living Color, we are once again shown of just why this character has grown to be one so beloved by so many people.

Leonard Maltin once again serves as narrator to this DVD collection of the first cartoons of Mickey Mouse to be released to theaters in technicolor. This also marks the transition of Mickey Mouse into more of a “team player” with characters like Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy sharing the screen with Mickey more and more often. In this setting, Mickey isn’t a clean-cut corporate icon, but more like a little boy filled with mischief and the desire to have some fun. As the shorts began, Donald Duck is Mickey’s rival and sometimes foil. This is a sharp contrast to the image I’ve seen more recently where Mickey is almost always the good guy and Donald is the one trying to get his goat. It’s a shame that Mickey lost the little boy charm and air of mischief as he became more and more Walt’s chief sidekick, but it’s also fun to watch the evolution of Donald Duck to fill that void.

The remastered, uncut, and unedited DVD is pretty good as far as quality. The print seems nearly flawless on each cartoon. The color level is good and not faded, nor have the colors been boosted to the point that they bleed into each other. It’s really something to watch these cartoons and appreciate hand-painted and drawn animation for what it was as opposed to the CGI animation currently being churned out. The sound is even better than the black and white cartoons were. I’m not sure if that’s due to better condition of the source material or more perfection in the remastering techniques as we go along. It comes in a numbered collector’s tin.

My kids enjoyed watching this set with me. In particular, it captivated my four year old, who has rarely experienced Mickey as anything more than a six-foot rat, to quote Robin Williams. He really liked watching the early cartoons of Mickey Mouse and actually asked me to pause the DVD when we stopped to eat dinner. It’s nice that this collection has the PLAY ALL feature on each of it’s two discs so that I am not brought back to the main menu after each cartoon and prompted to select the next one.

While there may be some scenes no longer considered to be “politically correct” in this day and age, they are basically harmless and something I didn’t feel my kids would pick up on unless it was pointed out to them. A cat singing in blackface is just a cat with a black face to them. Likewise, I don’t see what the big deal is about a cartoon character using chewing tobacco, smoking a stogie, or getting drunk. If it was made now, there might be more qualms about it, but from the perspective of watching cartoons made almost seventy years ago, it’s not a big deal to me. There is also the usual cartoon violence of characters brandishing weapons and trying to blow each other up.

This is definitely a collection worth getting your hands on, although they are getting harder and harder to find. Especially for anyone who’s a fan of early animation, it’s a big coup to have something like this in your collection, and I just bet you’ll be surprised at how much your kids enjoy watching it with you.

Titles on the discs:

The Band Concert – 1935
Mickey’s Garden – 1935
On Ice – 1935
Pluto’s Judgment Day – 1935
Mickey’s Fire Brigade – 1935
Pencil Tests – 1935
Thru the Mirror – 1936
Mickey’s Circus – 1936
Mickey’s Elephant – 1936
Mickey’s Grand Opera – 1936
Mickey’s Polo Team – 1936
Alpine Climbers – 1936
Moving Day – 1936
Mickey’s Rival – 1936
Orphan’s Picnic – 1936
Hawaiian Holiday – 1937
Moose Hunters – 1937
The Worm Turns – 1937
Magician Mickey – 1937
Mickey’s Amateurs – 1937
Clock Cleaners – 1937
Lonesome Ghosts – 1937
Mickey’s Parrot – 1938
Boat Builders – 1938
The Whalers – 1938
Mickey’s Trailer – 1938
Brave Little Tailor – 1938

Bonus Material

• Pencil Tests – a nice feature here in that you can toggle between the pencil test and full color.
• Parade of Award Nominees – features Mickey Mouse with the Academy Award nominees in 1932
• “Mickey in Living Color” featurette – a bit about the career of Walt Disney narrated by Leonard Maltin
• Gallery
• “Easter Egg” on disc #1 – toggle up to Mickey’s head in the main menu for Walt Disney talking about the history of Mickey
• “Easter Egg” on disc #2 – toggle up to Mickey’s head in the main menu for “Mickey’s Surprise Party”, a cartoon from the 1939 World’s Fair

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Book Review – Face It: A Memoir by Debbie Harry

A few weeks back while listening to Sirius XM in my car, one of the deejays talked about Debbie Harry’s memoir and how it detailed some of the hardships she faced being a woman in the male-dominated music industry. I could relate to that. I had every intention of working in the music industry until I saw how women in that industry were treated first-hand. I came home and bought Face It: A Memoir.

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, Debbie Harry was the lead singer of the band Blondie. They were regarded as a punk/new wave band, but reading the memoir gives great insight into the band and how they just wanted to do different things and not get pigeon-holed.

Face It: A Memoir gives the truth according to Debbie Harry and I must say it’s a pretty good read. The tone to me is rather cool and off-hand, as if she’s describing everything as an observer, not as an active participant. I would say that fits with the image she had for many years. Reading her words, though, I had the feeling she was much more emotional about things than she lets on.

I could relate some to Harry’s formative years, being an adoptee myself. There is a sense of not knowing your identity and searching for who you are. I was amazed at times that she was writing the exact things I felt for a long time.

Harry is pretty candid here and admits there are things she can’t remember for various reasons. One of them is drug addiction. She doesn’t make apologies or excuses for why things happened, which is refreshing. Too many autobiographies of musicians try to downplay various sides of the industry and its effects, but Harry is no holds barred.

I really enjoyed reading about the punk scene in New York. From Max’s Kansas City to CBGB’s and more, Harry has a lot of memories of those times that were just before I started hitting the clubs in the City. I can’t imagine what it was like to live in that casual decadence, but Harry brings it to life, as well as the musicians of that era.

The band Blondie grew out of that and had great success at a time when bands were able to make a few albums before hitting it “big.” Harry talks about the ups and downs of recording and touring, as well as what went into their music. This isn’t a song by song diary, so if you’re curious about the background of a favorite song, you won’t find that here.

As for the issues for a woman in the recording industry, Debbie Harry was one of the first women in the industry who wasn’t “managed.” That is to say, she wasn’t someone put on a stage and handed songs and told to sing. She was a songwriter and a strong advocate for herself. That didn’t mean she didn’t face challenges. What I was expecting was some moments where she detailed active discrimination or sexual harassment, but that wasn’t here.

One of the great things is the amount of pictures and fan art in the book. I would say she’s probably hung on to nearly everything people sent to her over the years and some of it is on display in Face It: A Memoir. Chris Stein, her partner in Blondie and lover and life-long friend is also a photographer who took many pictures over the years. There’s a number of photographs in the book that were never seen before.

I really enjoyed reading Face It: A Memoir. The writing flows nicely. Debbie Harry has had a fascinating life and I thank her for telling her story before others decided to tell it for her.

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Star Trek: For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky – Well-Worn Science Fiction Plot Device, Again

Written by Rik Vollaerts, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Tony Leader

By the time we are this far into the third season, the storylines are really starting to be recycled. There are some that still manage to be decent stories, but too many of them feel like something we’ve seen before. Case in point, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Sure, it has one of the longest titles in Star Trek history, but it also recycles a plot we saw just a few episodes ago in the much-maligned (and deservedly so) Spock’s Brain. It’s main redeeming feature is the character development for Doctor McCoy and the acting of DeForrest Kelley.

Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) learns that he has a terminal illness with just a year left to live. He tells Captain Kirk (William Shatner) that he can keep doing his job.

The Enterprise was just attacked by a series of sub-light missiles and is tracking their point of origin. They are surprised to find they came from an asteroid. It is under atomic power and not following any orbital course. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) intend to beam over and investigate. Doctor McCoy wants to accompany them and Kirk relents.

They are captured by the humanoid inhabitants of the asteroid/spaceship who call themselves the Yonada. They are brought into a temple of sorts where they meet the “Oracle of the People.” Guess what – it’s an artificial intelligence that the people have elevated to a God-like status. Big surprise.

Doctor McCoy falls for their leader, Natira (Kate Woodville). He tells her he only has a year to live and decides to spend it with her. This means he must have one of their obedience devices installed. This is how the Oracle punishes anyone who’s disobedient in their world. At the same time, the asteroid is on a path that will have it collide with an inhabited planet and the Enterprise must figure out how to shift its course or blow it up.

If you know anything about Star Trek after the original series ended in 1969, then you know McCoy doesn’t die and doesn’t stay with the Yonadans. Back then, there really was no sense of peril for the regular cast, despite the numerous tight situations they found themselves in. They all came back in the next episode like nothing had ever happened. Of course that happens here. Everything is fixed a little too neatly once again. And unlike in The Paradise Syndrome, where Captain Kirk finds love only to have his wife an unborn child die, it seems like as soon as he’s cured, McCoy abandons his wife and heads back out with the boys. I guess it would have been too much to kill her off too.

That’s not to say this is a bad episode. What saves it is the acting. DeForrest Kelley sinks his teeth into the role and gets to show he is much more than a one-dimensional crabby old man. From his diagnoses with the terminal disease and discussions with Kirk and Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) to the fast affection he develops for Natira, he is the man facing his mortality and looking for a little more meaning in it. McCoy has always been the one who argues the humanistic view of a situation, so it feels natural that he just wants to feel at peace in his last moments. However, that isn’t what would happen with the peril facing the Yonadans. He’s reaching for something that just isn’t there, and as soon as there’s a chance to go back to the life he knew as a starship surgeon, he takes it and abandons Natira. The ramifications of this are never discussed.

Leonard Nimoy also manages to convey compassion from Spock without breaking character. Initially, McCoy’s condition is kept hidden from Spock. Eventually, it is revealed and Spock is at his side, striving to do what he can for his friend. The devotion he shows to McCoy conveys that Spock cares deeply for his friend, despite all of the bickering that they normally do.

There’s not much action in this episode. An initial confrontation between the landing party and the Yondans is quickly resolved and after that there isn’t much else. The effect of the asteroid in space is decent, and we get a glimpse of the Enterprise next to it, but not much else in terms of special effects.

World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is just more of the same from the series. There’s nothing new to it, really. It’s not an episode I’d seek out, nor is it one I would shut off if it came on. There’s enough good about it to make it watchable, but not compelling.

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