Monday, September 21, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 16 (The Gamesters of Triskelion)

I often look at old movies and wonder how they got away with such low standards.  I realize that times change.  I also realize that budgets were often limited.  Star Trek was no exception to this.  They had censors to worry about and a network that wasn’t too fond of spending money on the show.  This led to some rather unusual episodes, at least by today’s standards.

The Gamesters of Triskelion was one of the odder episodes, looking back.  To start, Kirk, Chekov and Uhura are kidnapped while beaming down to a planet.  They find themselves on a planet where similarly abducted people are forced to compete against each other while unseen masters bet on who will win.

Meanwhile, Spock is able to quickly deduce which planet the landing party was taken to.  He debates with McCoy as to the validity of his conclusions, but sure enough, Spock is correct.  Kirk bets the fate of his crew against his freedom in a battle and wins.  It’s a bold move, to be sure, but there are still a bunch of episodes left and they’re not going to be on Triskelion.

My big complaint is that it seems way too easy.  Yeah, there’s something about an ion trail and it makes sense that there might be a cloaked ship, but that could mean anything.  It also seems unlikely that a captain would risk his crew’s freedom like that or that he’d even be given the opportunity.

It’s also said that the remaining captives will be allowed to form their own society.  There’s no talk of maybe returning the people to their home planets.  Some, like Shahna, were apparently born and raised there.  I suppose some of the population wouldn’t know where they came from.  Even if they did, they might not have anyone that knows them.  However, there might be a few.  There was at least on Andorian.  It’s conceivable that there would be some Federation citizens on the planet.

My big question is why they would abduct three bridge officers?  If some lowly ensign went missing, no one would notice.  The series killed off enough security officers.  But to take three people that the Enterprise is certain to come after?  And to make sure that someone notices?  That seems very bold, indeed.  It seems like it would be wiser to wait until the landing party was on the planet’s surface.

This is one of those episodes where, as bad is it was, it might have been nice to see what becomes of them.  It might be nice to have an episode of Star Trek: Picard or Star Trek: Discovery where someone is from Triskelion.  Then again, I’d probably be just as happy forgetting about it.
 

IMDb page

 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 15 (The Trouble with Tribbles)

Klingons pose a danger to the Federation.  While there was no open declaration of war, Klingons were hostile towards Federation colonies and Starfleet ships.  Tribbles are more of a menace.  Yes, they’re dangerous, but they’re cute and fuzzy.  Menace doesn’t sound so bad, but tribbles do two things:  Eat and make more tribbles.  And boy, do they make more tribbles.

Both tribbles and Klingons come to a head on Space Station K7.  The Enterprise has been called to protect a grain bound for Sherman's Planet, which the Federation wants to colonize.  The Klingons would rather colonize the planet themselves.  That alone would be a problem, except that one Cyrano Jones has brought a few tribbles to K7, which leads to a lot more tribbles.

The tribbles pose two problems.  The first is that they like to eat and grain is a good food source for them.  The other is that tribbles don’t like Klingons.  Tribbles are like space cats.  They’re cute and they purr.  Klingons are a warrior race.  You can see where the two parties wouldn’t like each other.

Most of the episode is Kirk being annoyed at having to guard the grain.  Once again, he has to do the bidding of some Federation undersecretary of something.  He’s got better things to do.  I always wonder if an actual military ship would be called to do this and, if so, how argumentative the captain of the ship would be.  I suppose it would be in Kirk’s job description to help the government once in a while.

There is a certain cleverness to the episode, in that the tribbles are used to expose a pair of problems.  All of the major components play well off of each other.  Everyone seems to dislike everyone else to some degree.  Even the tribbles, which are friendly, do pose a problem.

It’s definitely one of the more memorable episodes.  It was used for the basis of Deep Space Nine’s The Trouble with Tribbles and for the short trek, The Trouble with Edward.  If I had to pick a few episodes to get you started, this would be one of them.  I don’t know if it would be on everyone’s favorite list, as it is a little goofy.  Despite the seriousness, Star Trek had a very heavy camp element to it.  However, tribbles have become a point of reference within the Trek universe. 

 


Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)

I was hoping to see Bill and Ted Face the Music in theaters.  I even went and rented Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.  Alas, theaters in my area are closed and I’m not paying $24.99 for on-demand, so I’m going to have to wait for the DVD release.  However, that’s no reason not to review Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

A few years have passed since the first installment and the Wyld Stallyns haven’t yet saved the world.  They are, however, entered into the San Dimas Battle of the Bands, which should start them on their way.  Enter Chuck De Nomolos, former gym teacher.  He doesn’t like the utopian future of 2691.  So, he steals the time machine from Rufus with the intent of killing Bill and Ted.  Just to rub it in, De Nomolos creates two robot doppelgangers to replace them.  The ghosts of Bill and Ted have to find a way to get back and still win the battle while repairing their relationships with their respective would-be-brides-to-be.

You might think that it would be difficult enough to win the Battle of the Bands, future or no future.  Coming back to life should be even harder.  They do end up escaping hell and besting  Death in several games.  (Traditionally, you only have to beat Death at one game to get your life back, but he’s kind of a sore loser.)

So, with Death’s help, Bill and Ted put together a team and win the battle.  In fact, De Nomolos’s intervention is exactly what they need to launch their careers and attain world fame.  So, we have a causal loop.  The future is saved and everyone has a most excellent life.

There are a lot of things about this movie that I’ve come to view differently over the years.  I had always assumed that Bill and Ted were really good at games.  They’re slackers, so they’d undoubtedly want to have as much fun as possible.  It never occurred to me that Death might have been bad at games.  Sure, he’s probably had to play those games before as part of a challenge, but it’s not his main function.

I also don’t recall noticing the causal loop.  There are a few jokes about time travel, like how the use of time machines tends to benefit the good guys.  They also use it to get more time to learn how to play since they’re still horrible musicians.

The one thing that got me was the name of the character Station.  It turns out that it was actually an artifact from a script revision.  There was a deleted scene from a police station that wasn’t properly deleted.  All that was left was the word Station, which became the two alien characters.  I spent the entire movie wondering if station was some sort of slang term from the 90s that I forgot about.  (Notice how no one uses bogus any more to refer to something unbelievable.)

It’s not a great movie.  For a sequel, it’s pretty good, though.  Like the first movie, there are parts that are there mostly to move the story along.  Bill and Ted can possess people because why not?  They get sent to Hell by a layperson condemning them because Hell is where they need to be to take things seriously.  They also get to deal with their own demons.

It’s not the same movie as the first, but I wouldn’t want it to be.  It does seem like a natural continuation of the first movie, which makes me want to see the third even more.  It’s not going to be for everyone, but I do find that this movie is a little better than the average movie from that era.  The pacing is full throttle and keeps your attention all the way through.  Here’s to hoping I can get the new movie on DVD quickly.

 

IMDb page

 



Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

It seemed like my computer was always just good enough to play the latest version of Grand Theft Auto.  When I got GTA: San Andreas, it would just barely run.  I didn’t mind so much until my computer crashed and I had to reformat.  I gave up until just recently when I got a new laptop.  With the onset of COVID-19, I decided to take it upon myself to delve into the fictionalized version of Southern California once again.

The story revolves around Carl “CJ” Johnson.  He’s returned from Liberty City for his mother’s funeral.  His siblings, Sean and Kendl, still live in Los Santos.  There is some animosity because Carl hasn’t been there.  The real problems come from the gangs and corrupt police.  Officers Tenpenny and Pulaski harass Carl.  Most gangs will attack Carl just because he’s a member of Grove Street Families.

As with previous entries into the GTA franchise, you assume the role of Carl.  There are about 100 missions for you to go through.  The first few missions deal with game play and game mechanics.  In one, you’re show how to spray over the tags of rival gangs.  Spraying over all the tags isn’t important for the main storyline, but doing all 100 tags does have its benefits.

Each set of missions comes from a character.  As you finish most of the missions, a new set will open up for you.  Each set has to be completed in order, but if you have several sets going at the same time you can alternate.  If you get frustrated with one, try another.  There’s no penalty for failing a mission unless you die or get arrested.  If that’s the case, you’ll lose your weapons and a small amount of money.

There are also side missions, such as the aforementioned tags.  There are 100 of them for you to find in Los Santos, as well as 50 pictures to take in San Fierro, 50 horseshoes in Las Venturas and 50 clams underwater scattered throughout the whole map.  Each one comes with a bonus if you complete all of them.  There are also fire trucks you can use to put out fires, police vehicles for vigilante missions and taxis for collecting fares.  Again, each has a benefit for completion.  (If you go through all twelve levels of putting out fires, you become fireproof.)

If that’s not enough, you can play pool or basketball.  There are also races for you to compete in.  And, if you like, you can even go to one of two casinos to gamble.  I have to admit that the gambling isn’t as fun as the real thing.  Not only can you not take it with you, but the rules are simplified.  There are certain bets you can’t make in the in-game roulette and a blackjack only pays as a normal win.

Most of the missions are pretty straightforward.  You may not get a lot of them on the first try, but you will learn how to do it pretty quickly.  The only exception to this is the Learning to Fly mission.  You may have come here hoping for some pointers on how to complete the third and fourth lessons, where you have to go through the coronas.  I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.

The best I can tell you is to adjust course a little bit at a time, but even that only helps a little.  If you miss a corona, it’s easier to crash and start over.  (As long as you don’t crash into the water, you just have to press space bar to restart the lesson.)  It took me months of playing on and off to finally complete them.

The good news is that Toreno will stop calling you after the third phone call.  This means that you can go and try something else.  I was able to complete all of the tags, all of the photographs and get the car dealership before completing the third lesson.  It’s going to be long and hard.  I thought of quitting several times, but I did finish them.  You just have to keep at it.

At least the play area at that point was vast.  I had the entire play area open to me, meaning I could explore everything.  There are a lot of little towns and forests you can go through.  There are a lot of weapons.  You can even get a dildo and a vibrator, although not at the same time.  (Weapons have slots and you can only have one of each type at a time.)  I do recommend getting the minigun.  That was a fun weapon.

Once I did get past the flying lessons, it was smooth sailing to the end of the game.  At that point, I was so invested that I was kind of sad that I wouldn’t be seeing the other characters again.  (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  I still have a few optional missions I can play.)  I don’t think I’ll ever look at a plane the same way.  I can fly them, but it’s generally easier for me to jump out and use the parachute than to land the plane unless I have to.

My stats show that I have 90 hours of game play, but that’s somewhat deceptive.  There were a few times I reloaded a game to save my weapons.  I don’t know if any time was lost.  Through dating of some girlfriends, you can keep your weapons after dying or being arrested.  Once this happens, reloading becomes more a matter of convenience.  Some mission sets are near enough to a save point that I usually just reloaded so that I didn’t have to go all the way back.

I should note that you’re given only a few save points.  You start out with the Johnson Family house, for instance.  You can buy other properties to use as a safe house, which will prove beneficial later in the game.  It gets tedious to have to travel back one of a few save points.  They do cost in-game money, but you should have plenty by the time it becomes necessary.  (If you need money, this is another reason to do the fire missions.  Those pay relatively well.)

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas ended up being a big improvement over Vice City.  Aside from the huge play area, it was a lot more complex.  You had to exercise and worry about your fitness.  You could get haircuts and tattoos.  Some of these could even be used to evade police.  At its core, it’s still Grand Theft Auto.  While the Learning to Fly mission did take its toll, I might look into Grand Theft Auto IV if I can get some extra money together.  I’d like to see what kind of progress they made with that.




Monday, July 27, 2020

The Old Guard (2020)

Immortality seems like kind of a lame superpower.  All it means is that you can’t die.  You can still feel pain.  And what happens if it doesn’t include the replacement of lost limbs?  You could have to spend the rest of your life as just a head or something?  This doesn’t even mention the loss of all your loved ones and having to keep up with society for an eternity.  Plus, what if you gain immortality when you’re 80?  There are a lot of quality-of-life issues you’d have to contend with.

Andromache has been dealing with that for approximately 6,000 years.  She leads a small band of other immortals who fight for good causes.  It’s not necessarily anything major, but they tend to help people who go on to do something important.  The latest addition to this group is Nile Freeman, a soldier serving in Afghanistan.  So, Andy has to not only find Nile and help her out, but she has to deal with a pharmaceutical CEO names Steven Merrick.

Merrick wants to find the immortals and study them.  If he could figure out where the immortality comes from, he could sell it and make a fortune, as if he weren’t rich enough.  It would sound pretty easy, as the immortals don’t have to fear death.  However, nothing lasts forever.  And it’s not really that simple.

It’s pretty obvious that Netflix is trying to set up a franchise here.  The movie doesn’t go into too much detail about where the immortals came from.  It’s not stated that the powers are genetic or divine.  It’s also implied that maybe six or so have it at any given time.  It comes across a lot like Highlander.  Granted, a lot of the major details are different.  These immortals only fight for good and aren’t compelled to battle each other.  (It’s not even clear what effect beheading would even have.)

The ending also leaves open the possibility of another movie or even a TV series.  It might be interesting to see what that looks like, but I’m hoping that any future projects would look better than this.  The writing is a little flat and it’s not particularly fast-paced.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it were setting something up.  Andy would be on her way out and Nile would be serving as the audience’s surrogate.

A TV show could make sense.  Each episode could deal with some moral issue while at the same time building the mythology.  I would hope that Merrick wouldn’t come back, though.  He was a one-dimensional villain.  He seemed like a stock Scooby-Doo villain in some regards.  There was no dying grandmother.  He didn’t seem concerned by bettering humanity.  He was purely motivated by profit.  But, hey…Who wants to live forever, anyway?




Saturday, July 25, 2020

Alien Warfare (2019)


Fast car chases and loud explosions are a common sight in modern movies.  You know it’s Hollywood and they’re going to make it loud and fast, but you go anyway.  Sometimes, you want to mix it up.  You go for something independent.  It’s not flashy or anything.  Sometimes it turns out to be decent.  (Not usually, but sometimes.)  At the very least, you come to realize why these things are done.  It’s cliché, but at least they keep your attention.

Alien Warfare is a pretty basic movie.  There’s nothing too extravagant about it.  A team of Navy SEALs is sent to a foreign research facility to retrieve an item.  They’re not told what it is.  They’ll know it when they see it, though.  All they know is that everyone in the building was killed at once.  So, off they go to the remote site, basically not knowing anything about the mission except that they have to find and retrieve something.

When they get there, they find Isabella.  She’s a scientist who was involved with the project.  She survived by being in a Faraday cage.  She’s able to grant the team access to the room where the item is stored.  The only distinguishing feature, aside from being black and angular, is that it projects some weird alien language.

That’s when the aliens show up.  I should warn you now that the name Alien Warfare is misleading.  We only get to see one alien for a few seconds at the end of the movie.  The other four aliens are in suits the entire time, and can also become invisible.  There’s also no real warfare.  Sure, the SEAL team shoots at them a few times, but I wouldn’t call it warfare.

Eventually, the SEALs figure out what the object is.  This allows them to figure out what the aliens want.  The SEALs allow the aliens to take the object away, allowing everyone to go home in peace.

The movie seems almost like a class project.  It’s not even TV pilot material.  It’s like someone was given access to two buildings and had to write the script around that.  We never really find out much about the aliens.  For instance, it seems like the scientists had access to the pot for a long time.  The only explanation as to why the aliens took so long to retrieve it is that there was electrical interference.  But, they do eventually figure out where their missing thing is.

The alien design is so minimal that it was easier to hide them inside suits.  They’re shaped a lot like we are, which the humans think is natural.  I mean, why would intelligent life develop any other way?  Right?  I mean, it’s not like other planets would have other conditions and whatnot.  I get that human actors are playing the aliens, but it’s not like we didn’t have CGI last year.  It’s more that the production had to work within its limits and it shows.

There’s very little in the way of character development, for that matter.  The old leader was replaced by his brother.  All we know is that the team botched a mission and it was the old leader’s fault.  The rest of the team keeps looking to the old leader for guidance.  The only other thing we know about any member of the team is that Jonesy is obsessed with smoothies.  He even wants to take a blender back with him.

It’s like that old joke where a guy eats a meal in a restaurant.  The waiter asks how the meal was, to which he replies that he only has two complaints:  Not only was the food horrible, but there wasn’t enough of it.


 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Dark (Season 3)

I remember when I was in high school; a normal season of American TV would consist of 20 to 30 episodes.  Now, it seems that a season might run 8 or ten episodes.  Granted, I have access to a lot of European series.  A run of 20 episodes would seem too much for one stretch.  However, I’ve noticed it with Star Trek: Picard and Stranger Things.  Dark’s entire three-season run of 26 episodes would be one season for a show like Star Trek: The Next Generation.

For those who haven’t seen the first or second seasons, Dark is a German series.  It centers on a small, fictional town named Winden.  There seems to be a bit of a temporal knot.  People can access points in the city’s history at 33-year intervals through a tunnel.  There’s also a machine that seems to allow for shorter jumps.

At the end of the second season, we find out that there’s an alternate dimension.  One of the key factors in the city’s history is a boy that not only goes missing, but becomes displaced in time.  There are a few differences that add up to big changes.

The season deals with going back and forth between the two universes and trying to undo the entire thing, which requires going to a third, main universe.  If you think this is confusing, you’re right.  It’s often difficult to keep track of who belongs in which universe.  This is even true in cases where there’s only one version of a character.  Sometimes, it seems like there should be three or four versions of a character.  This is because they’re bouncing around in time like ping pong balls, covering a span from 1888 to 2053.  (It’s hard enough keeping track of the family trees.  Now this?)

There is a religious/spiritual influence, with one character being named Noah.  The two characters believed to have started the two universes are Adam and Eva, each belonging to a different universe.  It’s also difficult to tell where everything begins.  (Beginnings are endings; endings are beginnings and all that.)

As with the first two seasons, lies factor in to the narrative.  This added to my confusion a little.  Characters realize that they have to be manipulated into maintaining the correct order of events.  Is there even really a way out?  Is there free will enough to end it all and prevent all this suffering or are the characters fated to go around and around for infinity?

This is not a bright and cheery series.  There’s a missing child, time travel, dimensional travel and plenty of secrets to go around.  There’s also the apocalypse hanging over everyone’s head and the knowledge that averting doomsday means that a good chunk of the population might get erased from existence.  Oh, and the fate of three universes hinges on a car accident.  Being erased from existence might be a blessing.

If this hasn’t dissuaded you from watching it, there is a satisfying ending at the all of it.  There is a nice, even pace to the series, even if it is a bit slow.  One good thing about our modern technology is that you could, and probably should, watch them all in one binge.  Don’t do it halfway and take a break.  Watch the entire thing over the course of a week or two, which will probably make it easier to keep track of.