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Archive for March 4, 2010

How to dismember a recliner chair

My father got some new furniture for his new apartment recently, and he wanted to get rid of his old recliner.  As it happened, I had a far older recliner that was halfway fallen apart, and let him know that I’d happily take his chair so long as transportation could be arranged (his chair couldn’t fit in the car).  Today, he got some help cleaning up from the service that helped him move, and the woman in charge of said service agreed to bring the chair in her van and help me get it inside.  I was able to carry it most of the way myself and only needed her help getting it down the stairs.

However, getting rid of the old chair was a whole other matter, and she declined to risk injury by helping me.  The chair was a massive Barcalounger somewhere between 20 and 30 years old, and not only was it pretty heavy, but I was concerned it might break while being carried.  And alas, I don’t really know any of the neighbors here; it’s not a very social apartment complex, apparently.

So I figured that since it was falling apart anyway, I might as well help it along.  At first I couldn’t find any accessible screws to remove, so I just applied some muscle and broke off the right side panel that was halfway broken off anyway.  But the left side panel wouldn’t come loose.  The board underneath that the metal frame was attached to had lost a bolt on one side, but the bolt on the other side was solidly attached and rusted to its nut, and I didn’t have the tools to deal with it.  I made some futile efforts to break it apart, with no luck.

Then I started using my head.  I saw that breaking off the side panel had left some screws accessible.  So I unscrewed those in the hopes that something would come loose.  It did, but I still had to unhook a rusty old spring.  That still didn’t free the other side.  But more investigation revealed that the aforementioned board was still attached to the left side panel by a metal bracket with three screws, whereas those screws had come loose on the other side.  Unscrewing those let me break off the left panel and get access to more screws holding the seat on.

And so on.  Piece by piece, I unscrewed everything I could from the metal frame.  The trickiest part was reaching the screws inside the chair back and then getting the front half of the back piece  apart from the back half that raised up the headrest.  I had to cut through the connecting fabric piece and then break a narrow wooden slat to get them apart.  And before that, I had to get in an uncomfortable position to reach the screws.  And I hadn’t adequately warmed up or stretched, or I’m just out of shape, because I got a couple of rather painful cramps in my left calf and foot, though fortunately they were short-lived.

So finally I had the chair broken into about a half dozen pieces plus assorted detritus.  Let’s see: the metal frame with headrest and footrest attached; the chair back; the seat; the left and right side panels; the cushion; and a loose lower board (the other one was still attached by that persistent bolt).  Yep, half a dozen and detritus.  I took the metal frame, the heaviest part, out first, and made the mistake of carrying it upstairs and uphill to the dumpster out front of the building.  On my subsequent trips, I realized it made more sense to go downstairs and use the rear dumpster.  I was able to get the side panels together, so I only needed five trips in all, the last one being just the cushion, so it was easy.  I was tempted to keep the cushion, but the chair is so old and full of dust and dirt that I just wanted the whole thing gone.

So that was quite an ordeal just to get rid of a piece of furniture.  But I do have a better recliner now.  And I got a bonus: as I was taking the old chair apart, a dime fell out!

Now I’m exhausted.  I barely have enough strength left in my arms to type.  And I’m probably gonna have a sore back tomorrow.  So bye for now.

Categories: Uncategorized

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Shock”/”A Cube of Sugar”

“Shock”: Dan enters a closed pawn shop at night to get the recorded message, which strikes me as odd; to an observer, a strange man entering a closed shop would be more conspicuous and suspicious than a strange man entering an open shop during the day. Anyway, the message is on yet another unusual type of dictation machine, the third this season. This machine, IIRC, uses a loop of thin plastic tape about the width of a strip of modern cash-register receipt paper, which rotates in the machine kind of like a player-piano scroll but is read by a stylus sliding across its width, like an odd sort of cross between a phonograph and magnetic tape. They really must’ve been experimenting with all sorts of variant recording technologies back in the late ’60s.

Anyway, the mission: Carl Wilson (James Daly), an important US diplomat vital to the peace process with the anonymous country of the week, has been kidnapped by enemy agent Kiri (played by Boss Hogg himself, Sorrell Booke), and replaced with an impostor/assassin, Josef Gord (also Daly). He plans to use Gord to discredit Wilson and then dispose of the original. The mission is to find and rescue Wilson, whose whereabouts are unknown.

This is one hell of a convoluted episode, since the plan is to substitute an impostor for the impostor! Since Wilson/Gord’s bone structure is closer to Dan’s than Rollin’s, Dan goes in as the meta-impostor, letting them write Steven Hill out of most of the episode. They spend a lot of time showing Rollin applying the makeup to Dan in order to sell the concept that James Daly is actually Dan in disguise. In the scenes where Daly is playing Dan, his voice is processed to make it sound higher and more nasal, closer to Hill’s.

So basically we have James Daly pretending to be Steven Hill pretending to be Dan Briggs pretending to be Josef Gord pretending to be Carl Wilson. Got it? Good, neither have I. Let’s move on.

Once the team manages to switch out Gord for Dan under Boss Hogg’s nose, they take Gort to a phony mental institution they’ve set up in a warehouse. Here’s where the episode’s title comes into play, in more ways than one, since the things they do to Gord are rather shocking from an ethical standpoint. With the help of a neurologist played by Outer Limits Control Voice Vic Perrin, they subject Gord to electroshock treatment to wipe his recent memory and leave him disoriented and unstable. Then — this is the clever and less disturbing part — they try to convince him that he’s actually an accountant named Krol and the whole Josef Gord thing is a delusional fantasy he’s dreamed up. Rollin plays the kindly doctor trying to get him to talk through his delusion and tell them where the imaginary Gord is holding the imaginary Wilson. When he resists, they lock him in his cell and use recorded voices to make him think he’s hearing things. There’s some weird camera work in this sequence, distortion effects and a spinning room and all that, which was confusing; why would a simple audio playback do that to him? Was this an aftereffect of the shock therapy? Anyway, they don’t get lucky until they threaten him with another shock treatment. He decides he’d rather talk to the doctor.

So let’s get this clear: essentially, this is torture. They’re damaging the man’s brain and tormenting him psychologically, using the threat of agony and further brain damage to get him to cooperate. Shocking indeed.

Another ethically disturbing moment is a rather weird act break where a couple of local kids playing at the warehouse stumble upon the team, and the act ends with big, strong, musclebound Willy chasing after these two little boys. You have to wonder what he intends to do to them when he catches them. Of course, it turns out that he just does some vague “Please don’t tell on me, they’ll send me to jail” thing that for some reason works, but for a moment there, I had to wonder….

Ultimately it gets even more convoluted and even darker. Boss Hogg’s plan is for Gord-as-Wilson to denounce and kill a US State Department official at a reception, then retreat to the study where the real Wilson has been brought, then kill Wilson and escape, making it look like a murder-suicide. Of course, he’s telling this to Dan-as-Gord-as-Wilson. The team has learned the plan from Gord, and they manage to let the official know what’s going on and put a steel-lined book in his jacket to protect him from the gunshot. Meanwhile, they retrieve Wilson from the study and put the real Gord in his place. (Somehow, the unconscious Wilson spontaneously moves from the desk to the chair before Barney and Willy bring in Gord.) Dan-as-Gord-as-Wilson makes his denunciation of US policy and shoots the official (aiming for the book), then retreats into the study. And here’s where it gets really dark: our “hero” Dan Briggs murders the unconscious Gord in cold blood, shooting him in the head just as Gord intended to do with the real Wilson.  (!!!!)

Anyway, Boss Hogg and the guests come into the study to find “Wilson”‘s body, and Boss laments that “Wilson” just couldn’t live with the shame of America’s evil intentions. But then Dan (now out of makeup and played by Hill again) comes in and reveals that “Wilson” is an impostor — by pulling off his wig and makeup. That’s right — somehow Gord’s makeup survived all of his ordeals, including the electroshock therapy that was somehow applied right through the foam latex! Gee, and all this time I thought rubber was an insulator.

And why did Dan have to pull off the makeup at that moment? Surely an autopsy, or even a cursory police investigation, would’ve revealed the truth about the impostor.

Bottom line, this is one hell of a screwed-up episode. I wonder if, in their rush to concoct a story that let them minimize their use of Steven Hill while still having Dan Briggs involved in the mission, they got so caught up in the mechanics that they neglected to think about the ethics. Usually in this show, the heroes don’t kill anyone outright, though they often set people up to be killed by their co-conspirators or to kill themselves through their own actions. When we do see them shooting people, it’s usually in self-defense. But here we have the hero of the show not only assassinating someone, but doing it while he’s unconscious and helpless. And that’s after torturing him. Never have I felt so sorry for an assassin. And Doctor Vic Perrin apparently swore the Hypocritic Oath instead of the Hippocratic one. Early on, we hear him justify his participation in this ethical quagmire by saying “An assassin, eh? Well, maybe this will even do him some good.” Oh, sure, maybe the shock therapy would’ve “cured” his assassinosis and made him a better man — if Dan hadn’t murdered him in cold blood a few hours later!!!

The episode isn’t all bad, though. At the formal reception in the latter portion of the episode, Cinnamon shows up in a tight red dress, and she’s never looked sexier.

——

“A Cube of Sugar”: The tape’s in a wine shop, nothing special — except oddly Dan listens to the tape in the front of the shop. What if a customer comes in off the street?

Mission: A secret agent who’s also a jazz musician, Deane (Jacques Denbeaux), has been captured by bad guy Brobin (Francis Lederer), who’s drugging him to extract the location of a secret-containing microcircuit. Apparently Deane’s already infiltrated the local drug culture, since the circuit’s hidden in a psychedelic-laced sugar cube. The episode seems to be trying to say something about drugs, since it’s a running theme through the episode; I think it’s just a general “drugs are bad” message, combined with a garish and slightly grotesque portrayal of the ’60s culture of psychedelia and go-go dancers and such — an attempt to portray the counterculture from the perspective of someone on the outside who took a jaundiced view of it, I suppose. (Not that I disagree in the slightest with the idea of drugs being bad, but there was more to the counterculture than getting high.)

Dan is on the mission but in a reduced role as a diplomatic aide. The main heavy lifting is done by Rollin, who gets himself arrested and put in a padded cell next to Deane’s; through the magic of some offscreen doctor, he’s immune to narcotics for 7-10 days, and is thus unaffected by Brobin’s pharmacological interrogation methods. After demonstrating that his many skills extend to straitjacket escape (a trick which Landau does on camera seemingly for real, though maybe it was loosened for him), Rollin makes use of a handy-dandy escape kit which Dan slipped into his cell padding (Dan’s main function on the mission), which is kind of like a Swiss Army knife in its versatility. It has a blade for cutting the pads to expose the rear bars. It has a nifty unscrewy sort of tool for pushing the bars apart. It transforms into a slingshot and contains a pellet that eats a hole in the radiator to distract the guard. It contains a drug injector to fake Deane’s death, and another to be used later to knock out Brobin. It even has a Brobin mask hidden inside so Rollin can impersonate him for his final escape.

But meanwhile, Cinnamon has to find the microcircuit. Luckily, Brobin conveniently has Deane’s drug sugar stuff on his desk, so Cinnamon can use her handy magnetic ring to grab the circuit. As for Barney and Willy, they’re engaged in the longest break-in ever. They’re breaking into the cremation oven — which Brobin intends to use to cremate Deane’s “corpse” before it can be autopsied to reveal his interrogation drugs — and they spend most of the episode bypassing cables, cutting and bending pipes out of the way, digging through a thick wall, inserting a cutoff valve in the gas line, breaking through another wall, etc., just so Barney can hide in the oven and use a small torch to fake the flames while he sneaks Deane out through the back. Now, I know M:I’s trademark was its focus on the detailed execution of the capers, but this was a little tedious.

Also, why is it that the team always knows exactly what equipment they’ll need to pull off the caper? Here, Barney and Willy had to know in advance that they’d need to bypass those cables, cut through a wiring trunk, and install a manual cutoff valve on the gas line. The team had to know the design specifics of Brobin’s cells in order to provide Rollin with his escape kit (if they’d been conventional cells instead of freestanding barred cages with pads inside the bars, Rollie would’ve been out of luck). Cinnamon had to know that Brobin would have Deane’s sugar in his office at the time she was there. It’s all a bit too precognitive. This is often a problem, but it seems to be standing out more than usual here.

For the first time in quite a while, we have a partial new score, a somewhat discordant and surreal sax-heavy score to complement the disquieting drug imagery and psychedelia. The composer is Don Ellis, who would later score The French Connection. About half the score is stock, but emphasizing jazzy and sax-heavy cues from Walter Scharf’s and Gerald Fried’s earlier scores.

And a new Star Trek connection emerges here. For this and the remaining two episodes of the season, ST’s director of photography Jerry Finnerman takes over from Gert Anderson.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Action!”/”The Train”

“Action!”: This is the infamous episode wherein the producers’ difficulties with Steven Hill came to a head — he balked at performing a rather simple action scene, even though he’d been game for riskier stuff in earlier episodes, and actually locked himself in his dressing room. So the producers rewrote the episode without him, and we get the unique situation of Cinnamon receiving the opening briefing, in a setting where we’d never see Dan, a beauty parlor. The dossier sequence is just shots of the folders on a table, no people to be seen. The briefing is led by Rollin in his apartment. Dan’s absence is not explained or addressed in any way.

The premise of this episode is rather unfortunate in retrospect. The idea is that Eastern-bloc filmmaker Miklos Klaar (played by Marshal McCloud‘s boss, J. D. Cannon) plans to discredit America with a fake newsreel film showing American soldiers massacring innocent villagers in Vietnam. Because of course we know that Americans are the good guys and would never really commit atrocities in war, right? Except that just one year and twelve days after this episode aired, the My Lai Massacre occurred, and a year and eight months after that it became public knowledge. So in retrospect, this episode comes off as painfully naive.

So it’s hard to evaluate this as a typical episode. Through the usual array of tricks and impersonations, they arrange to destroy the print and the negatives of the fake newsreel. Perhaps the most interesting gadget is Cinnamon’s “specially tailored skirt” that lets her take strides of exactly 30 inches, making her a human measuring tape for telling Barney how far it is through the pipes to reach the sprinkler system in the film vault and set it off. Klaar’s only option once the film is destroyed is to reshoot it, and the team sneaks in a cameraman (Tom Troupe) to document the process from the rafters. Much of the episode is shot on what I assume to be the Desilu lot, giving us a rare “behind-the-scenes” glimpse.

The most effective part of the episode is the way the plan almost falls apart. After Barney develops the incriminating film, he gets captured before he can switch it with the real (fake) film. He tries to pass it to Rollin without success. Klaar is paranoid about enemies from rival studios sabotaging his work, so he takes precautions to ensure that no one interferes with the film before it’s shown to the world press. Rollin can only watch helplessly as his mission fails. But at the last minute, the team breaks into the projection room and rolls the footage from the rafters, revealing the fakery behind Klaar’s film. So once again the day is saved, and America’s noble reputation is preserved… at least until November 1969.

Come to think of it, maybe Steven Hill was lucky he missed out on this one.

——

“The Train”: Steven Hill’s presence is minimal here. The tape and dossier scenes are stock footage; Dan appears in the mission-prep scene, but doesn’t join the mission itself. The mission: a dying European leader, Prime Minister Larya (Rhys Williams), intends to hand power over to his second-in-command Pavel (William Windom), unwilling to believe charges that Pavel plans to institute tyranny and undo Larya’s democratic reforms. To convince Larya, the team uses the help of a doctor (William Schallert in kindly-doctor mode) to convince Larya and Pavel to take a train ride to Bern for a risky, last-ditch operation. The team arranges to separate their car from the train and move it into a warehouse where, with the help of an Oscar-winning Hollywood art director, they’ve set up an elaborate system to fake a train ride with rear projection screens, shaker pistons on the car, and a bunch of sound-effects tapes. They stage a train wreck and make Pavel believe Larya has died. Larya watches from behind a one-way mirror as Pavel gloats and gives orders for mass executions and other nasty stuff.

The ending is bittersweet, for the nice old prime minister is heartbroken to learn the truth about the man he thought of like his own son. Also, the team must confess to him that the hope of a cure for his heart condition was merely part of the scam. Still, he’s philosophical about that part, grateful to the team for giving him the gift of seeing beyond his death.

It’s a fun scheme, seeing all the lengths they go to in order to set up the illusion of the train ride. For the second week in a row, we get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the equipment and contrivances used in film production. But it’s ultimately not entirely credible that the passengers would find it convincing. From where Larya and Pavel were sitting by the train windows, they would’ve been looking at the projection screens from an angle and seen the foreshortening. Indeed, from Larya’s position, given what we were shown of the exterior view, he should’ve been able to see past the edge of the screen. Also, there’s an odd bit where the train car has gotten underway but actually goes backward to get into the warehouse, and yet even though the windows are open on the real scenery at this point, nobody inside notices that they’re going the wrong way.

Still, it’s nice that they established that the team needed the help of Hollywood professionals to set up an illusion this elaborate. This is the template for other “fake journey” episodes later in the series, and I think those later episodes at least sometimes show the team doing it all themselves without help. Of course, maybe they learned all the skills from their time working with this guy.

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