Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 29 (Operation - Annihilate!)

Star Trek could be a little inconsistent at times.  This was most notable in The Original Series.  Most episodes were commentary on some sort of issue.  Many were about war.  Some were about power imbalance or racial intolerance.  A few were a little harder to figure out.  Take Operation - Annihilate!  (Yes, there’s really an exclamation point at the end of the title.)  A swarm of pancake-like aliens has attacked Deneva.  It’s not only a Federation colony, but it’s where Captain Kirk’s brother, Sam, lives.  (Sam happens to have a wife and child to add to the tension.)

By the time the Enterprise gets there, it’s too late.  The colonists are already infected.  However, one colonist is in the final stages of piloting a ship into the system’s sun.  His final words are that he’s free.  On the planet, a horde of colonists attack the landing party.  When Kirk checks in on his brother, Sam is already dead.  Kirk’s sister-in-law, Aurelian, is acting irrationally and her son, Peter, is comatose.

Aurelan is able to tell Kirk that the pancake-like creatures use humanoid hosts to build ships to get to the next system.  It’s implied that the Federation, or at least Starfleet, knew about the pattern of civilizations disappearing.  The ship is able to come up with a solution to cure the planet in time, as the next planet has over a million inhabitants.  (It’s implied that someone knew the pattern before the organisms attacked Deneva.  Even if no one knew the cause, why not show up in advance of the problem?)

The previous episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, was a great episode.  It’s a shame to have followed it up with this one.  My big problem is that the subplot of Kirk’s family seemed unnecessary.  One would think that it’s enough that the planet is facing the crisis.  You could have any child affected by the organisms.  There’s no need for it to be the captain’s nephew.

On that note, that angle is never followed up on.  I don’t recall any of the later series having a relative of Kirk on board.  You’d think at some point, someone would have been Kirk’s great-grandnephew or something.  Nope.

Another thing I noticed was that the aliens went in a straight line.  There was no mention of the aliens spreading out.  If they have a concept of space travel, you’d think they’d split into two or more groups to increase their odds of survival.  Reproduction of the organisms isn’t discussed.  For that matter, this is another angle of the episode that’s not followed up on.  (For all I know, they do split off.  If that were true, you’d think that there’d be some mention of it happening elsewhere.)

This was the final episode for the show’s first season.  I’m kind of wondering if they needed one more episode and found this script lying around.  It’s not terrible.  It’s just that it doesn’t really seem to have the impact that other episodes had.  It’s just a case where the Enterprise has to deal with an enemy.  There’s little talk of morals or ethics.  They have to find a way to protect the next planet if they can’t at least protect this one.  I just wish I knew what to make of it.

IMDb page

Monday, February 18, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 28 (The City on the Edge of Forever)

Star Trek was known for generally not revisiting things.  Useful technology would pop up only to never be used again.  An episode might deal with a very personal issue which, while not resolved by the end of the hour, isn’t dealt with again.  When this happens, it usually raises the question of why.  This was especially true of Voyager, which was looking for a way home.  When something useful came and went, we were left to wonder why it was never explored.

There were a few rare cases where it was obvious why the show wouldn’t want to revisit something.  Take City on the Edge of Forever.  The Enterprise discovers something that can allow people to travel to any point in any planet’s history.  One could understand why the subsequent live-action series would never visit the planet.  (Interestingly, this one time when something was revisited, in this case for The Animated Series.)

Imagine a large, misshapen torus that glows and can speak.  The Enterprise finds itself caught in its wake.  While the ship is shaking violently, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug that makes him crazy.  Before he can be caught, McCoy beams down to the planet where The Guardian of Forever happens to be.  Not only that, McCoy manages to put himself fairly close.

What is The Guardian?   It’s not machine nor living being, but it is sentient.  It’s its own beginning and its own end.  Kirk and Spock are told that they could go to any planet at any era in that planet’s history.  It doesn’t  allow for an exact moment, which makes things difficult when McCoy jumps through.  Not only does he change history, but there’s no way to send someone back to the exact time of place that McCoy landed.

Spock had been recording The Guardian‘s display, which makes things easier.  Still, when Kirk and Spock go through, they could find themselves a year before or after McCoy.  The best they can hope for is to get as close as they can, preferably a little early.  They have only The Guardian’s assurance that they’ll all be returned when history is set right.

Kirk and Spock come out in New York City in 1930.  They eventually find their way to the 21st Street Mission, where they meet Edith Keeler. This is fortunate for several reasons.  She not only sets them up with work and a place to stay, but she happens to be the focal point of whatever McCoy did.  Thus, it’s no surprise when McCoy happens upon the same 21st Street Mission, where he meets the same Edith Keeler.  All becomes clear and Kirk is able to put history back the way it was.

This was one of a handful of Original Series episodes that I remember liking throughout the years.  I’m also not alone in this assessment.  It tends to make a lot of lists of favorite episodes.  It’s funny because I’ve always had a few issues with the episode.

The big one that stood out for me was that someone in the past dies and there seems ot be no consequences.  The character’s name is Rodent, which I’m assuming is a nickname.  He had the unfortunate luck to pick up McCoy’s phaser and shoot himself.  Not only was it questionable that McCoy even hade a phaser, no one mentions it later on.

Not only that, but when McCoy, Spock and Kirk return to their present, the Guardian tells them that history has returned to its original shape.  Is this to say that Rodent was supposed to shoot himself?  The only theory I can come up with was that the Enterprise was supposed to stumble upon the Guardian’s planet and that McCoy was supposed to go into Earth’s past.

Sure, it’s possible that Rodent had no effect on history.  He was a homeless man that most people might have ignored.  It’s even possible that he was supposed to die around that time, anyway.  But why even include the scene?  This episode was said to have had a lot of rewrites.  It’s possible that this was a holdover from an earlier draft.  It’s also possible that it’s a way of saying that you can’t go back into the past without consequence.  However, McCoy is the only possible witness and he was under the influence of drugs.  And, as I said, The Guardian implies that there were no real consequences.

Speaking of The Guardian, what is it he’s supposed to be guarding?  Yes, he’s in the middle of a civilization’s ruins.  I would imagine that there was some sort of building and/or support staff that would have aided in guarding literally all of history.  But the structure is called The Guardian, meaning that there should be some sort of measure to prevent basically anyone from changing history.  The Guardian not only realizes that the landing party is mostly human, but identifies itself and offers up human history without being asked.  Starfleet and The Federation are temporarily wiped from existence as a result.

One could argue that whoever or whatever built The Guardian knew enough to trust that the universe wouldn’t be wiped from existence due to a civilization’s carelessness.  Granted, it did almost happen, but any race smart enough to make it to a distant planet should be smart enough to realize what’s at stake.  This is the one time I can forgive The Next Generation-era shows for not revisiting something from The Original Series.  (I would have like a nod, though.  Maybe have someone mention that The Guardian is too dangerous to use.)

One thing that gets me with the alternate timelines is whether or not the adventure still exists.  I’m assuming that the original timeline still exists after the movie reboot split off.  Still, Voyager and The Next Generation each have their own adventure that might not have happened.  It’s enough to give me a headache.  Maybe I should just stop here.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

I’m not sure what I really expected going into The Kid Who Would Be King.  I knew it was geared towards children, but I have A-List now and it’s not costing anything for the ticket.  So, why not?  (Also, the coming attractions showed Patrick Stewart.)

You could probably tell by the previews that the movie is about a child named Alex who finds Excalibur in a stone and becomes the next King Arthur.  At his side is his faithful friend, Bedders.  The two of them are often squaring off against the school bullies, Lance and Kaye.

Things get interesting when a new student shows up in Alex’s class.  It’s actually Merlin, who has come to train Alex.  Unfortunately, Merlin got the timing wrong.  He thought he had four years to train Alex.  Instead, he has four days.  No rush.  It’s just that Morgana is going to take over the planet when the upcoming eclipse occurs.

They say that the difference between a comedy and a drama is that in a comedy, no one dies.  The biggest thing that stands out for me was that Alex, Bedders, Lance and Kaye had four days to train.  They recruit the rest of the school, who gets a whole two hours of training.  The good guys suffer no casualties.  Sure, they wreck the teachers’ cars.  They also seem to make a mess of the school.  But not so much as a stubbed toe among what would appear to be several hundred students.

As an adult, I find it just this side of obvious what the message is.  It’s not about killing your enemy.  In one way, I suppose it is.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”  Alex does this with the two bullies.  On the other hand, it’s more about finding your place and some skills to go with it.  Alex and Bedders aren’t ones to be taken seriously.

The movie would seem to be aimed at those in middle school.  There are some battles with actual demons, which would be unnecessarily scary for younger audiences.  The problem for older audiences is that it may seem a little boring.  It’s not exactly as nuanced as one might expect.  I think most adults watching this with children might spend most of the movie looking at the clock.  Fortunately, the target audience seems to be about that age where you might reasonably be able to leave them at the theater by themselves.

IMDb page

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Miss Bala (2019)

I’d like to think that people go to movies for a thought-provoking narrative.  Certainly, some moviemakers would spin their product that way.  A person grows as they go on a harrowing journey where they make life-long friends and discover themselves.  The audience even learns a little bit about themselves or a different culture.

But who am I kidding?  Give us a trailer with some attractive women and an explosion or two, and we’ll buy tickets.  Take Gloria Fuentes, an American who grew up in Mexico.  She’s visiting her friend, Suzu, to help her win a beauty pageant.  Gloria is a makeup artist, which helps.  Suzu has to impress the local chief of police at the local night club.  (He would seems to be able to fix the pageant.)

Armed gunmen enter the nightclub, chaos ensues and Gloria barely makes it out alive.  Suzu isn’t anywhere to be found.  You’d think at this point, the movie would have Gloria go through some elaborate plot to find Suzu.  Maybe she even meets someone who can help her.  If you’ve seen any movie, you know not to go to the police.  You especially don’t go to the police when you know that the chief is the least bit corrupt.

When Gloria goes to a local police officer and explains everything, the police officer takes her straight to the same gunmen that shot up the night club.  They take her passport and ID and have Gloria drive a car to a building.  (This is the scene from the trailer, wherein she blows up the safe house.)

This draws the attention of the DEA, who would flip Gloria into helping them take down the gang.  Sure, they could help find Suzu.  It’s the same offer that the gang made.  What the DEA have as leverage is the ability to lock her up and/or leave her to the gang, who might very well kill her.  So, yeah.  Gloria has no options.

There’s a part of me that would like to have been around while the movie was being written.  I’d like to know the thought process.  I get that Gloria doesn’t know the area that well.  I would think that she would have had at least one other person to turn to, even if it was one of Suzu’s family members or friends.  Instead, she does the one thing that most people in her situation should have at least thought about avoiding.  (At least keep information to a minimum.  If your primary objective is finding your friend, don’t offer up the fact that you can identify the criminals.)

Another bothersome aspect is that there are basically three main groups of people:  Beautiful women, corrupt police and gang members.  I wouldn’t think this is something Mexico would want to be associated with.  Well, the first one is debatable.  No one likes being called ugly, but women should have more to offer than their appearance.  Either way, I don’t think I’d want my country associated with violence, drugs and kidnapping.

On the bright side, there are some really good action scenes.  We get a few gun fights and whatnot.   There’s also the explosion.  With all the death and destruction, though, there’s not much for the kids.  Oh, and the drug references.  Like I said, corrupt police and gang members make up a good portion of the movie.  Yeah.  I’d leave the young ones at home.  Even with teenagers, this is a movie you’re probably going to have to have a discussion on the way home.  It’s a watchable movie, but it doesn’t make for a very good message.

Monday, February 11, 2019

On the Basis of Sex (2018)

You wouldn’t think of a Supreme Court Justice as being popular.  Sure, they may get some news coverage during the confirmation hearings, but that’s generally it.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems to have gotten a lot of attention in the movies lately.  There was a documentary about her last year.  She got a mention in Deadpool 2.  She even had a cameo of sorts in The Lego Movie 2.

Before she was on the Supreme Court, she was a lawyer.  Before she was a lawyer, she was a law student in a class of almost all men.  She had to face the challenges one might expect.  The dean of Harvard Law, Erwin Griswold, thought she was wasting a space that could have gone to a man.  Once she graduated, she was offered all manner of excuses as to why she shouldn’t be hired.  So, she’s relegated to teaching about law rather than practicing it.

At least she has a supportive husband.  No, seriously.  Marty Ginsburg brings her a case wherein Charles Moritz was denied a $296 deduction related to caring for his elderly mother.  The reason?  He’s a man who has never been married.  Had he been a woman or a widower, he would have gotten the deduction, no problem.

Some might say that it’s not worth fighting.  Even Moritz needs a little convincing.  ($296 in the early 1970s would probably translate to about $1800-$2000 in today’s money.)  To Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s about the principle.  Moritz was denied a deduction on the basis of sex.  That’s not right.  Winning this case would set a precedent for other, similar cases.  No pressure.  Right?

Well, the other thing she has going for her is actual skill.  She doesn’t have the experience, but her husband is willing to help her.  She also has another lawyer helping her, which makes for a strong team.  We get the fumbles and setbacks and everything.  In the end, the good guys win and Mr. Moritz gets his deduction.

The movie does a good job of showcasing Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I think this has to do with balancing her with the supporting characters.  If you focus too much on the main character, it can become too intense.  If you try to work in too many additional characters, it can become a circus.  Instead, the movie focuses on the story and how Ginsburg had to work that much harder because she was a woman.  (She not only did her own coursework at Harvard, but helped with Marty’s when he was sick.)

I’ve often wondered if the sexism was really that bad.  In this case, I’m inclined to think so.  I know that lines are put in for the sake of storytelling, but there was a time when women weren’t welcome in law.  When Griswald has a dinner for women, he almost seems aware of the sexism.  He asks the women why they would want to take a man’s place.  It should come as no surprise that she eventually transferred to Columbia.

It’s hard to believe that something like this went on except that it still does.  (How can you graduate first in your class and still not be able to find a job in your field?)  I’d say that maybe husbands and boyfriends would be dragged to see the movie except that it does have a popular and powerful main character.

It also does a good job of illustrating the disparity.  When you’re the beneficiary of discrimination, it’s easy to justify it and put it out of mind.  It’s easy to say, “Oh, yeah.  The wives would be jealous,” when you’re saying it to someone who has no recourse.  There is a scene with a cat call, but the movie does do more than that.  I don’t think this is a movie you should feel like you were dragged to.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

First Man (2018)

There were 17 missions named Apollo.  In addition to these, there were 12 Gemini missions, all in low-Earth orbit, all as a way of testing what would be needed for the lunar missions.  There have been all sorts of movies made, like Apollo 13.  Other motion pictures, such as Hidden Figures, have brought the support staff to our attention.   This isn’t even getting into miniseries and books.

It occurred to me while watching First Man that it‘s impossible to capture all of it in one movie.  In fact, the movie left a lot of it out, focusing on Neil Armstrong.  It caught me off guard.  Then, I remembered what the name of the movie was.  A movie called First Man should focus on Neil Armstrong.

The movie starts in 1961 with Armstrong testing an X-15.  Upon attempting reentry, he bounces off the atmosphere, but is able to get everything under control and return safely to the ground.  Regardless, he finds himself grounded.  He’s distracted, and with good reason.  His 2-year-old daughter is being treated for a brain tumor.  No one can do anything and it’s weighing on him.

The movie moves forward to major events, starting with his applying for the Gemini project.  Throughout, there are major historical events, like the Soviets beating America to several milestones.  Several fellow astronauts die, which doesn’t sit well with his wife, Janet.  (It’s not easy to see her husband and father of their two children go into space, knowing how many unknowns there are.)

Being that this is based on historical events, I’m not going to worry about spoilers so much.  The movie doesn’t rely on any sort of shock value, nor does it play up any sense of tension.  Plus, Armstrong lived until 2012.  Saying that he makes it back to Earth isn’t ruining any part of the experience.

It’s somewhat difficult to get my head around the scope of it all.  The movie does convey that people didn’t make it home safely.  Apollo 1 didn’t launch due to an electrical fire, killing all three occupants of the craft.  Wives have to deal with the reality of their husbands not coming home.  Even when everything goes right, it’s not over until they walk through the door.

There is also a muted feel to the movie.  There are arguments, but it’s not uncomfortable.  There is excitement, but it’s not overdone.  There’s a very even pace and tone throughout.  I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not good, either.  It seemed like the movie was stripped down to just the facts.  I will say that there was a decent flow to the movie.  It seemed long, but it didn’t seem boring or jerky.

I’m not sure that any one project could do all the space missions justice.  Even to focus on one mission, like Apollo 11, would have to cover a lot of ground, including all the research that went into it and all of the people that were involved.  Even a miniseries would be hard pressed.

There is a value in watching it, though.  I could see people of high-school and college age watching it.  It would be interesting to see the opinion of those that lived though the 1960s and know more about it.  As I’ve indicated, I’m sure that there’s a lot that was left out.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man (2018)

Working at Wolf Camera, I came across a few famous names.  One customer was married to the grandson of Franz Kafka.  (She was surprised that I recognized the name.)  Another was an actress who had appeared in a lot of Spanish-language television. 

There was one story that sticks out most in my mind.  It was during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the store was really busy.  We had more customers than we had employees, which meant that people had to wait.  As I’m helping someone, I see who I think is Tony Soprano milling about.  I want to give my full attention to the person I’m helping, but I can’t help but glance over.  Unfortunately, we were so busy that he ended up leaving without being helped.  That was the time that I almost met James Gandolfini.

The experience of meeting a celebrity can vary.  Some are nice.  Some aren’t.  They tend to be regular people going about their business, which makes for a normal assortment.  Then, there are celebrities like Bill Murray.  He’s almost taken on an Elvis-like aura.  People have seen him at parties.  He’s done dishes.  The first one I heard had him taking a French fry and saying, “No one will ever believe you.”

Tommy Avallone got the idea to make a documentary.  This is how widespread the stories are.  It’s not an easy task, though.  Bill Murray has no agent.  He has a phone number with an answering service that he might occasionally listen to.  (It’s not clear if Avallone made the documentary with Murray’s consent, as the director is not shown having contacted the actor directly.)

You’d think one man making this sort of documentary wouldn’t be interesting, but it is.  It doesn’t have the glitz and polish of a big studio, but it does have a story to tell.  This is probably due in no small part to the fact that Bill Murray is a fairly recognizable name.  There are a few documented events shown and the majority of the people present knew who he was.  Despite this, everyone had a good time.  He even crashed someone’s wedding photos.

The documentary paints Murray in a fairly good light.  I’m sure there’s another side to him, but it’s also kind of nice to hear a good story.  Most stories I hear of celebrity encounters tend to be negative.  (Celebrities seem to have their fair share of bad people.) 

This would make for a good movie to watch when you need something a little different.  While there are interviews with a lot of people, it’s hard to believe that all the stories are true.  It does also appear that Avallone was sticking to the stories that had some sort of verifiable documentation.  The wedding photographer has the photos, for instance.  There are also cases with grainy video footage.

I hage to seem unenthusiastic about the movie, but I think this is going to be mostly for fans of Bill Murray.  It’s a good movie and I think most people might find it at least a little interesting.  However, I don’t see this being something of general interest.