Friday, January 31, 2020

Movie Review: Gamera the Giant Monster (1965)

Gamera the Giant Monster (1965) directed by Noriaki Yuasa

Cold War tensions over the Arctic are high. A U.S. aircraft shoots down some unidentified planes invading U.S. airspace. Since every military airplane in the 1960s carried atomic weapons, the crashing ship causes a large explosion that cracks the ice and sends radiation below. The blast revives Gamera, a saber-toothed, sixty meter tall turtle that can walk on its hind legs, breath (and eat) fire, and fly through the air. Gamera attacks Japan, which uses its military might and its scientific prowess to stop the monster. Both fail, forcing them to establish an international committee of scientists who craft an ultimate plan to foil the unstoppable terrapin, the mysterious Plan Z.

If that wasn't enough plot, this b-movie has a b-story. A small boy is fascinated with turtles and is forced by his family to free a pet turtle he named "Pee Wee." He happens to release Pee Wee on the same beach where Gamera shows up, convincing him that Gamera is Pee Wee all grown up and that Gamera will cause no harm. Gamera does save the boy later, endearing the giant turtle all the more to the young boy, who improbably keeps showing up throughout the story. This side story is clearly meant to draw in little kids and show a sympathetic side of Gamera.

The overall story is very obvious and the symbolism is extremely heavy-handed. The movie is like a treasure trove of kaiju cliches. Gamera is futilely attacked by the Japanese army. He crushes cities and countrysides like they are cheaply made miniatures. Science is the only thing that can really stop such a bully. And atomic energy is bad. The only cliche missing is a fight with other similar (but more villainous) kaiju. The film makers saved that for the sequels, according to the special features.

Even with its flaws, I enjoyed the movie, though that is mostly due to happy memories of watching it as a child and cheering for the monster who saves little boys. For others, it will most likely be a less endearing experience.

Mildly recommended, if you have a soft spot for turtles, heroic monsters, or happy memories of The 4:30 Movie showing stuff like this.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Book Review: Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow written by James Sturm and art by Rich Tommaso

Satchel Paige played baseball from the 1920s to the 1960s. His fame came from two skills: his amazing abilities as a pitcher and his theatrical style of playing the game. His career started before professional baseball was integrated. He played in the Negro leagues, though he often switched teams and played lots of exhibition games. Those exhibition games included playing against white teams. Paige even had his own all-star team that crisscrossed the country. He was immensely popular and made lots of money even before he started playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1948 (Jackie Robinson started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947). His pitching style was flamboyant and effective. The crowds loved him; the batters feared him. He lived a life that contributed to breaking down race barriers in America.

This book is a bit of bait-and-switch. The main character in the book is Emmet Wilson, an African American player who played in the Negro leagues and was injured in a game against Paige. His injury put him out of baseball permanently, which forced him to go back to the sharecropping life his family led before baseball. Even minor players in secondary leagues made a lot more money than someone working the fields in the agrarian South. His experience as a share-cropper was pretty horrible. His son was in and out of school because pay for the school teacher was on-again, off-again. The local government didn't see the value in educating those people. The specter of lynchings and other abuses haunted Emmet and his family. He never wanted to talk about baseball, even though Paige was the talk of the South. He found little consolation in anything, not even church. Then Satchel Paige's team came to town to play against the locals, including the landowners for whom Emmet worked. Emmet reluctantly went to the game because his son wanted to see his baseball idol so much. The game was close-fought, though Paige didn't show up until the eighth inning (probably other playing commitments). Even so, he wowed the crowd and inspired father and son to dream for and work towards a better future by being better men.

The story is unexpected with the focus on Emmet but that works to the storytellers' advantage. Seeing the extreme poverty and suffering through Emmet's eyes is revelatory and moving. The book still has plenty of baseball stories and gives a good idea of Paige's personality. The book includes notes at the end and a bibliography for further reading about Paige and the segregated South.

Highly recommended, though be warned it is not a biography of Satchel Paige.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Random Jacksonville, Florida, Playground

Riverside Park in Jacksonville, Florida, is just off of I-95 and made a great stopping point on our trip back home from Florida. It has a playground and a gas station nearby. All it needs to achieve perfection is a geocache!

Riverside Park Playground

Is this safe?!?

Unsafe jumping

Safer climbing down

The trees in the park have a lot of Spanish Moss.

More moss than leaves

A second playground has bigger equipment and was even more fun.

For older kids

Deciding on which way to go

Ninja Warrior practice

A big wall

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Random Florida Pics December 2019

We went south for Christmas this year, here are some pictures that didn't make their own post!

Here's a fun yard light display we saw.

Way to decorate an entrance

We took our daughter to the Stuart Ceramics Studio where we painted some pottery. It was a fun outing. We were so busy painting that we didn't take any shots of us painting. And the firing process took too long so we didn't pick our works up before we left to return home. The grandparents will bring it next time they visit.

Stuart Ceramics Shop

We saw a sign recruiting people for a model railroad group. We might have to recommend that to Grandpa.

Any takers?

I saw a crazy-big lizard on the house while I was helping cook the steaks on Christmas day.

Don't tell the kids, they won't want to stay here

We took our youngest out bowling. He had a great time. The alley had bumpers for him but not for his parents. He managed to squeak out a victory thanks to some skillful non-accuracy by his parents. We practiced for splits and spares even when we had full racks. Throwing the ball straight down a side of the lane is pretty hard.

Rolling the ball with all his might

Final scores--go team!

Frosty was at the bowling alley

The youngest child and our daughter teamed up to decorate a rice-crispy cake their granny made. She used a castle-mold which made a very fun shape.

Presenting their signature dessert

In all its glory

Sports were a fun activity at Granny and Grandpa's house. In addition to the ping pong table, our kids tried out some baseball and some swimming. Baseball we played by the garage with a wiffle bat and tennis balls.

This is where to pitch

A solid hit

Close up of the solid hit

 They have a pool in the back yard which our daughter wanted to swim in all the time. One time she fell in "by accident" with her clothes on! She didn't mind at all.

In deep water

Proving that she is in her street clothes

We did a lot of bicycle riding, though it is hard to take pictures in the act. My youngest started figuring out the scooter that seemed sized perfectly for him. 

About to crash into the photographer

Monday, January 27, 2020

Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center

The Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart is a fun indoor/outdoor science center devoted to sea creatures. The indoor part is much smaller than the outdoor part.

Fish suncatcher at the front door

Inside is a display of locally-caught fish mounted on the wall. Their species is listed below so visitors can try to match names to bodies. The fish were caught in the Atlantic and Caribbean by Frances Langford, a famous singer and entertainer from the 1930s to the 1950s. She donated the fish and the land for the center!

Guess the fish

Frances Langford (1913-2005)

A couple of tanks show different parts of the sea floor that we'd otherwise never get to see.

Oyster bed, good camouflage for oysters

Sea horse in another tank

The star attraction of the center is ray feeding pool. A couple of times each day, a volunteer gives a talk about rays, describing their biology, habitat, and diet. Our guide showed us some of the stingers rays use to defend themselves.

Ray tank

Spine with stingers

Seeing the rays/petting the rays

Swooping around underwater

After about ten minutes of talking, the volunteers brought out some bits of fish for visitors to feed to the rays. The instructions were simple: hold the fish in your hand with your hand flat against the shelf just below the waterline. The ray will swim up and suck the fish out of your hand much like a vacuum cleaner. The trick is to stay still or the ray won't come near you. We enjoyed feeding even though it was a little scary.

Cousin feeding

Trying to lure the ray

My daughter's success

My son's success

A second turn

My youngest needed my help to hold his hand still under the water. At age five, the situation was intimidating but fun when it actually worked.

The center also had a fun cut out for posing.

Did the ray eat my daughter?

One of the guide's recommendations was to shuffle your feet when you walk along the surf. That avoids stepping on rays accidentally. A stepped-on ray is a stinging ray!

Do the ray shuffle!

Another outdoor tank had hermit crabs and snails. This one snail had a long shell and it would occasionally bury itself in the sand to find tiny critters to eat.

On top of the sand

Buried in sand

Feeling other crabs

At the center's lagoon, they had a shark-feeding demonstration. Visitors were not allowed to hand-feed the sharks, as you might imagine. They would definitely bite the hand that feeds them!

Tossing food out for the sharks

Not the most photo-friendly fellows

Another display let my youngest make bird tracks in the sand with special stamps.


We walked around to the far side of the lagoon for a demonstration on sea turtles. On the way we saw them growing sea grass for use in the lagoon and other spots.

Underwater greenhouse

The turtle demonstration was a little boring because it was all talking. The lagoon turtles eventually swam near but hardly ever surfaced.

The back end sticking out

The front end sticking out

Display of local turtle types

We did enjoy the visit and I picked up a copy of Jonathan Dickinson's journal. He was traveling from Jamaica to Philadelphia and was shipwrecked in the area in 1696. The journal is about his travels north from there to Saint Augustine where locals helped them continue their trip. Dickinson has a major park named after him.