Saturday, May 16, 2020

First Bridge Crew Experience


Tonight Jeff and I tried out our first round of Star Trek Bridge Crew, which puts up to four people on the bridge of a virtual starship for online adventures. Once we figured out how to connect with each other, we cruised through the first mission a couple of times, with only a few hiccups (at one point, I drove us right into a gravitic mine, which bounced off the primary hull and then the main viewscreen before exploding spectacularly). It was a grand time, and I can't wait to try this with the maximum four players! 

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Surreal Ecstasy of Gold


The folly of lust for gold is a well-worn trope whatever the genre, but in no film is it explored quite so strangely as Mackenna's Gold (J. Lee Thompson), a 1969 western in which Gregory Peck (Mackenna) finds himself in a surreal, swiftly-moving landscape of shifting threats and alliances, with death, in the form of circles vultures and vast walls of stone standing in silent judgement, looming, waiting for its moment. 

It begins with two figures in the desert: Peck, as Marshall Mackenna, and an ancient Apache chief, Prairie Dog. Prairie Dog is clearly near death, and mistakes Mackenna for one of the bandits chasing him for a map to a legendary deposit of gold. He attempts to shoot Mackenna, but Mackenna defends himself, shooting the chief down. Mackenna attempts to save the old man, but the chief demurs, angrily accusing Mackenna of wanting the Apache gold. The Marshall, it seems, has a past as a gambler and prospector, but he's given up his sordid past and is trying to build a new life. 

The chief has a map to the gold, but Mackenna burns it, determined to get on with his new life. Unfortunately, men of ill will from Mackenna's past arrive, and with the map destroyed, they force Mackenna to use his memory of the map to lead them to the gold...

The plot is straightforward: Mackenna must lead the bandits through a gauntlet of hazards, including Apache hunting parties defending the gold, the US cavalry, and the desert itself. But the filmmakers' approach to the material makes this an atypical Western, one with the trappings of horror, fantasy, and high adventure films. There are point-of-view shots dragging the audience through dizzying chases on horseback. There's a rickety bridge crossing over an impossibly deep canyon, with the long shots accomplished with obvious miniatures. Julie Newmar is a beautiful, predatory shark-like creature who attempts nude underwater seduction and nude underwater murder. There are gorgeous vistas clearly shot on location juxtaposed with matte paintings. The small party of bandits Mackenna is leading grows to a horde, with so many major stars joining the proceedings - and shortly thereafter being killed off with almost comic speed. Occasionally, a narrator shows up to offer unnecessary commentary to the proceedings, but quits doing so at around the halfway point in the film. 

In the final act, in which the bedraggled survivors find the gold, is played out in a tone so ominous that the joy of the characters, their greedy delight captured in a sequence of still frames, serves only to heighten audience unease. And indeed it ends apocalyptically, with a disaster shot in such a way as to transform the film's heretofore dreamlike quality into that of a genuine runaway nightmare. 

There's a happy ending of a sort, but even that is laced with ambiguity; the backstories hinted at throughout the film are bookended by the promise of further adventure, as if this were the middle of a trilogy. 

Though played straight, the director's choices transform what should have been a straightforward western into something more akin to something Hitchcock and Bunuel might have created, had those two greats ever collaborated. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Colour Out of Time



The Vampire Bat (Frank R. Strayer, 1933) is an early mad scientist film disguised as a vampire movie, but other than that interesting conceit, there isn't much to distinguish this film from other horror efforts of the decade--other than a short sequence, captured above, where villagers chasing a monster (or so they think) are carrying torches that dance with vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and red. 

At first I thought I was watching some kind of strange experiment in restoration, a modern print of the film with some added CGI. But a little research revealed that the frames with colour were painstakingly hand-painted back when the film was originally produced. The effect is really quite beautiful and striking, and also adds thematic weight to the chase sequence, the hungry flames symbolizing the madness of the mob. 


Monday, May 11, 2020

Gummy Joe

Last night, I came up with an idea: gummy organs. Everyone loves gummy bears, gummy worms, and so forth; why not gummy organs?

As Sylvia tried to fall asleep through my babbling, I designed the snack and its presentation. The container would take the form of a 12-inch action figure, like the old GI Joe dolls, but with no articulation. Instead, the container would be split down the middle and hinged so that you could open him up like a refrigerator. Inside, you'd find the gummy organs, all in their anatomically correct positions, with perhaps the scales exaggerated in some cases for the smaller organs.

Let's go over the organs, colours, and flavours by body part:

Head and Neck
Gummy brain and spinal cord (cord gently housed in plastic vertebrae down the back of the container so it can be pulled out with the brain): light pink, strawberry
Gummy tongue: medium pink, watermelon
Gummy teeth (come out as an upper and lower set of 16 connected teeth each) : transparent, pineapple
Gummy eyes (visible through cutouts in the container): transparent and brown, cola
Gummy trachea: brown, root beer

Chest
Gummy heart: deep red, cherry
Gummy lungs: blue, blue raspberry
Gummy stomach: yellow, lemon
Gummy liver: peach, peach
Gummy large intestine: orange, orange
Gummy small intestine: purple, grape
Gummy kidneys: green, lime
Gummy pancreas: dark pink, bubblegum
Gummy spleen: light green, green apple

Arms and Legs
Gummy muscles: medium red, black cherry; wrapped around white candy bones made of the stuff they used to make lick 'em stix

If properly marketed, this snack would not only be tasty, but also fun and educational as kids explore the mysterious inner workings of the human form. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day 2020

Here's a shot of Mom back in 1967, back before she was "Mom" to Sean and me. For the first time, we weren't able to properly celebrate Mother's Day today thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions, but our gratitude for having Mom in our lives remains as strong as ever. Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and all you other Mom's out there! 

Friday, May 08, 2020

G&G IV.V Day One: Circvs Maximvs


Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, I`d be over at Mike`s place for Gaming & Guinness XV right now. Instead, we`re meeting virtually for G&G IV.V, racing chariots in Tabletop Simulator. 

Monday, May 04, 2020

The Dark Heart of Krypton

Previously on Jedi/Superman...
Last Son of the Republic
Growing Up Under Twin Suns
Chariot of the Gods
The Emperor's New Genocide
The Quality of Mercy
A Job for Supermen
The Green, Green Glow of Homicide
A Dream of Droids
A Vision of Future Past


Defiance Cargo Bay
In a void black as Vader’s helmet—and heart—Clark Kenobi dreamed, his cells repaired but their solar energy exhausted.

Years ago. A conversation long forgotten. Luke and Leia and Ben, discussing an Imperial search for crystals of great power. A race back to the moisture farm to save Owen and Beru Lars. A second home abandoned, a life on the run, his powers growing, his eyes filling with growing sadness and determination as he explored a galaxy in chains. 

And then another place—a place both familiar and not. Neon rings whirling around translucent, shimmering human figures. A hologram? His father. “General Kenobi, the end comes. I fear we’ve been betrayed. Beware Zod, Obi-Wan.” Ben. The only hope. Promising Jor-El his son would never be alone. 

The rocket. His mother’s tears. G-forces crushing, then gone. His father. A whisper. “Not the only hope. There is another…” Jor-El’s hand, reaching for an array of multi-hued crystals, in the instant before annihilation. And in the fading light, the mocking laughter of a man he’d never known except in dreams now remembered: Zod…Zod…

Father…Clark screamed in his mind the darkness closed in.

The Death Star
Grand Moff Tarkin smirked as the Defiance was dragged into orbit around the Death Star. A Lambda-class shuttle glided out to dock with the captured frigate; it would ferry the prisoners over to the space station for interrogation and, eventually, execution. Darth Vader, too, was watching, the Emperor’s thug radiating hate. Tarkin sniffed, casting a wry glance the cyborg’s way.

“At last, the final dregs,” he remarked. “The Rebellion’s last, best leaders are on that ship. Mopping up the pathetic remains will be the work of weeks, perhaps days.”

Vader didn’t reply. Dirty little brush wars were of little consequence. What mattered was crushing hope. And hope’s greatest champion was not the Rebellion. It was that inexplicable youth, the boy who wielded immense power without drawing on the Force. He was, if anything, power without Force—an Anti-Force. The ideas he spread to every world he liberated were far more dangerous than the punches he threw or the heat that blasted from his damned eyes. Kryptonian heresy—heresy Vader thought had died with that forsaken planet.

Vader watched as the shuttle docked with the newly-liberated frigate.

“Well, I suppose that settles that,” said a new voice. Vader didn’t turn, but Tarkin did, bowing to professional courtesy if not respect for the mercenary alien who styled himself a general.

“Governor Zod,” Tarkin murmured, using the alien’s appropriate, Imperial-sanctioned title. “It’s about time you showed up.”

Defiance Bridge
“The Imperial shuttle will dock in five minutes,” said the Rebel officer stationed at helm.

Princess Leia nodded. “Our brave crew. Your sacrifice has bought our comrades precious time. They will regroup. They will persevere. Our fate—the remaining moments we have—will be hard. But we, too, will persevere. We will show the Emperor what it means to fight and die as free people…”

A few metres away, in a dark corner of the bridge, Luke Skywalker stumbled. His vision blurred and shifted. A voice reached out from light-years away…no, not light-years…from a distance that couldn’t be measured.

Luke. Listen to me. 

Yoda...? 

I knew Yoda. His wisdom—and his understanding of what you call the Force—saved me. Saved us. 

Who are you…? 

My name is Jor-El. Your brother—Clark Kenobi, Kal-El—is my son. 

But…Krypton was destroyed by the Death Star…

Son of Skywalker, listen. Time grows short. Krypton, the Death Star, the Force—they are all connected. Connections spiritual and scientific, connections physical and philosophical. Look to your weapon—your lightsabre. The crystal within is…a catalyst…a focus. Your brother, at this moment, is healed—but helpless. Give him the Kyber crystal. 

My son is not attuned to the Force as you are. I cannot reach him. I cannot help him directly. Even this connection with you is a strain, the joining of two incompatible ideas. Tell…tell Kal-El…a part of Krypton lives on—and can be reached, through the Dark Heart. But all of you—most importantly—beware Vader…and beware…Zod…! 

Luke gasped. Ben took his shoulder, concern etched into his aged face.

“Luke...?”

“Ben, where did you hide Clark?” Luke’s eyes blazed with urgency.

“I’ll take you.”

Defiance Cargo Bay
“Clark. Wake up…”

Clark blinked. “I was dreaming…dreaming of my father.”

Luke and Ben exchanged a glance, but there was no time for discussion. Luke disassembled his lightsabre and withdrew a glowing blue crystal, holding it up for Clark to see.

“Clark, your father reached out to me through the Force. I don’t know how, but…he said this will restore you.”

Luke dropped the crystal into Clark’s palm. Instinctively, Clark’s fist wrapped around it. Sapphire light bloomed between his fingers as he felt the crystal dissolve, flooding his bloodstream with light. Clark gasped as he felt his powers return, his muscles tightening, burning, his senses coming alive once more. He stood, tall and strong.

“Luke…thank you. But your lightsabre...”

Luke grinned. “I’ll find another Kyber crystal once this is all over.”

Ben shook his head, handing over his own lightsabre to Luke. “I’ll be the one finding another crystal. Take this. You’re a better swordsman than I now.”

“Ben, I can’t take this…”

“In these circumstances, you must.”

“Actually, I’ll take it for now,” Clark said, plucking Ben’s lightsabre from Luke’s grasp. “I have an idea…”

Defiance Shuttle Bay
The Defiance’s skeleton crew, some dozen souls, were all gathered in the frigate’s landing bay. The Imperial shuttle that was to ferry them to the Death Star landed smoothly. Luke, Clark, and Ben entered the bay just as the shuttle touched down. Clark had only a minute—but luckily, the man he wanted was right at the edge of the crowd.

“See Threepio,” Clark said.

“Oh!” the droid replied, hands jerking upward in surprise.

“Threepio…I’m going to ask you to something really dangerous. The lives of all these people could depend on it.”

“Oh dear,” Threepio said, flustered, watching as the Imperial shuttle’s gantry opened, Stormtroopers pouring out to march into the bay, followed by the officers, technicians, and flight crew who would take control of the Defiance. “I’m not much of an adventurer, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir. Threepio, with my x-ray vision I can see there’s a way to slide a small object through the wiring in your midsection and to hide it inside you without damaging you. It might be a little uncomfortable.” He nodded down, toward his hand, where he clutched Ben’s lightsabre.

“What if that thing lights inside me?” Threepio gasped.

“The safety’s on,” Ben said dryly.

Luke saw Leia glance back at them without betraying any reaction. He tried to send a look of reassurance her way.

“Threepio, if we can smuggle a weapon in with us, it’ll mean one of us will be able to fight back at the right moment. Two of us, counting me.”

Threepio’s golden eyes, forever motionless, held no expression. Nonetheless, Clark thought he sensed something there. Fear, yes. But also pride.

“Very well, if you must. How I get into these affairs is beyond me…”

Moments later, they were escorted onto the shuttle; Luke, Leia, Ben, Dodonna, and Clark were herded into the front row, a dubious privilege. Poor Threepio had to stand in the back.

The shuttle door swung closed with a hiss. Seconds later, they were among the stars. And close, far too close, the Death Star itself loomed.

The Death Star
Zod sneered at Tarkin. “I’m a busy man,” he replied.

Tarkin snorted in disbelief.

“What, governing that backwater on the outer rim? Those people are so primitive they’re locked in their own solar system by lightspeed limitations. I can hardly imagine why you even chose it as your reward for betraying your homeworld.”

Idiot, Zod thought. You think this whelp you fear so much has power? After over twenty years bathing in the yellow sun of Earth, Zod was power incarnate. Let the Rebellion and the Empire whittle each other to the bone in their long war of attrition. Now, at last, Zod was ready to take his place as rightful ruler of the galaxy—and the universe beyond. The only threat that remained was the infuriating presence of a second Kryptonian, another survivor. But by all accounts, the other was young, inexperienced, and no true warrior. Besides, he’d seen the devastating effect the Kryptonite-powered superlaser had had on his unknown rival. Even if the other had lived, he was clearly powerless now.

As if called into reality by his thoughts, a bridge officer reported that not only were Leia Organa, General Dodonna, Luke Skywalker, and Ben Kenobi in custody—so too was the so-called “Superman” who’d been stirring up so much trouble, now confirmed to have been drained to mere humanity by Kryptonite exposure—not that the Imperials understood this turn of events, nor was Zod inclined to enlighten them. A little knowledge was a powerful and dangerous thing.

Zod admitted to some curiosity about the survivor. He was clearly an idiotic idealist, like virtually all of his Kryptonian brethren, a disappointment considering his power. Like Zod, this other Kryptonian must have been exposed to a yellow sun for some time, perhaps his entire childhood. A rational man would have used that power to make himself a God.

As God—meaning Zod—intended, Zod joked to himself. Well, so the other man was a na├»ve fool, so be it. One less rival.

Perhaps, when the prisoner was brought before them, Zod would introduce himself. If only to make the second-last Kryptonian kneel.