Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Perchance to Dream)

Edward Hall knows that he’s a dead man.  He has a heart condition that allows for no excitement and little stress.  The episode takes place in the office of Dr. Eliot Rathmann, a psychiatrist.  Edward wants pills to stay awake.  He’s been having dreams of a woman that would have him go on a roller coaster, thus ensuring his demise sooner rather than later.  Edward knows that he’s going to have to fall asleep eventually, but he wants to put that off as long as possible.

Edward recounts recent events to Dr. Rathmann, telling of how he could make a picture of a boat look like it was moving.  He even tells of the woman, Maya, who’s very attractive, but won’t leave him alone.  Dr. Rathmann points out that it’s just a dream, but it doesn’t matter.  Edward asks if pain is any less painful if it’s imagined.

When Edward eventually realizes he’s not getting any help from the doctor, he leaves only to find Maya is the receptionist.  He turns around and jumps out the window.  We cut to Dr. Rathmann calling said receptionist into the room where Edward is lying on the couch, having laid down and screamed two second later.  Dr. Rathmann says that at least Edward went peacefully in his sleep.

This is one of those episodes that I didn’t quite get as a small child.  It seemed like just a basic story with the twist ending.  What I’ve come to realize in time is that we all are Edward.  We’re all trying to avoid the inevitable.  We all feel like we’re about to die.

The thing is that it never comes the way we expect.  We spend so much time worrying about the obvious things, like taking our vitamins and exercising, that we never see the bus we’re about to step in front of.  Granted, Edward does have a rather immediate threat.  He has a real dilemma in that both options will lead to an immediate demise.  Still, no one gets out of life alive.  The question is how you spend what time you have.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

A Christmas Carol has become so ubiquitous that it’s almost impossible to do a new take on it.  There seems to be no shortage of listings on IMDb, including the Muppet version and a Disney video game.  Everyone knows who Ebenezer Scrooge is.  Everyone could tell you why there are three ghosts.  So, how do you do something that’s new?  One way is to do the story behind the story.

The movie is based on  Les Standiford’s book detailing the months before the publication of the now-famous story.  Christmas wasn’t what it is now.  Dickens’s publisher is reluctant to publish a book about a minor holiday, especially considering that he’s had three flops since Oliver Twist.  Dickens is intent on writing this book, even if it means self-publishing.  The fact that he hasn’t written a word yet doesn’t seem to deter him; he kind of needs the money.

As you might expect, he has all sorts of distractions.  His house seems to be in a state of renovation, despite the lack of funds.  He has a wife, four children and several servants, all of whom require some degree of attention.  On top of that, his parents decide to drop by, despite the fact that Dickens doesn’t really want them there.  Not only does he have an entire book to write, he also has to get his book printed.  What’s an author to do?

Since the story became famous, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that the book does get published.  I don’t know that the rest of the movie is known by as many people.  It goes into Dickens’s childhood and why he doesn’t get along with his parents, particularly his father.

To an extent, we also get to see what went on as to the inspiration for the book.  I’m sure a bit of it is fictionalized.  I’ve seen that Dickens did ‘talk’ to his characters, as shown in the movie, but movies do occasionally take liberties with certain facts.  (For instance, to what extent did Dickens ’invent’ Christmas?)  Truth can sometimes be mundane.  I don’t necessarily mind.  It’s just one of those things I always wonder about.

This isn’t a movie I’d have seen on my own.  Having a Christmas-themed movie out for Christmas is just a little cliché.  Having a movie about a Christmas-themed book out just in time for Christmas and releasing it just before Christmas is a bit much.  I will say that it did entertain.  It’s probably not a movie for the kids.  There are scenes of mild violence and there are a few scenes that might be overly scary.  I think mostly, it will be the kind of movie that children would feel that they’ve been dragged to.  This is more a movie for the adults.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Time Enough at Last)

Henry is a man who likes to read.  That wouldn’t be a problem except that he’s surrounded himself with people who don’t like to read.  His wife crosses out all the words in a book of poetry.  His boss reprimands him for reading on the job.  He even has really thick glasses.  Henry Bemis just can’t catch a break.

Then, one day, he hides in the bank vault at work to read.  Suddenly, the ground shakes.  When Henry picks himself up and dusts himself off, he comes to realize that the bomb has been dropped -- and he seems to be the only survivor.  Henry starts to bemoan his bad luck until he stumbles upon the library.  That’s when it hits him:  He now has nothing to stop him from reading.  Alas, this is The Twilight Zone.  Is it ever that simple?

Time Enough at Last is one of the better-known episodes.  I remember the final scene being parodied in an episode of The Drew Carey Show.  Why is this episode so widely viewed?  I think that stems from simplicity and accessibility.  Henry is a man that wants one thing:  To read.

Even if you don’t like reading, you can relate to having something that you love doing, even if it’s not popular.  I’ve noticed that bombs tend to be popular for wiping out populations.  I’ve always found it odd when a small group survives.  No one else happened to find shelter?  Still, it’s what the story needs.  Henry finally has time for what he wants.

This is what makes the ending so cruel.  It’s as if there’s some conscious force that wants Henry to suffer.  Why else would he be surrounded by so many people that hate reading?  I can see taking a job at a bank as an act of necessity.  You would think a job at a library would better suit him, but you can’t always get the job you want.

As for his wife, you’d think Henry would find someone with a similar love of reading.  I get the impression that his love of reading isn’t anything new.  How did he end up with someone who would actually deface a book of poetry to spite her husband?

The only major concern for younger viewers would be the annihilation of the surrounding population.  No deaths are shown, nor are there any bodies shown.  The actual act is only implied, but Henry still has to deal with some of the aftermath.

There’s also the running theme of life not being fair, but I’d say that’s a minor point that most children can handle.  When I first saw the episode, it struck me that Henry was practically left with nothing at the end.  Henry Bemis just can’t catch a break.

IMDb page

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 7 (The Lonely)

Isolation is not an easy thing.  James A. Corry was convicted of murder and sent to live alone on an asteroid.  (At least, it’s called an asteroid.  Gravity seems normal enough.)  Sure, he claims it was self defense, but that doesn’t make him any less alone.  His only contact with other humans is Captain Allenby and his crew.  Allenby is a nice enough guy.  He was able to bring James a car, even if it was in several parts.  It’s not said where James gets gas or exactly where it is he has to go.  However, James is appreciative nonetheless.

The installment of The Twilight Zone begins with Allenby bringing James a special gift.  James is instructed not to open the box until the crew is out of sight, which James does.  What’s in the box?  It’s a woman.  Well, actually, it’s an android made to look like a woman.  James is desperate for any sort of companionship.  He begs Allenby for a game of chess, but orbital mechanics prevents Allenby from staying too long.  He has other stops to make and waiting too long will screw up his schedule.

James is a little resistant to his new companion, but he eventually warms up to her.  She even has a name: Alicia.  She’s programmed to be friendly, which is exactly what James needs.  He even forgets that she’s a robot.  When James eventually gets his pardon, he’s allowed only 15 pounds of personal possessions.  He insists on bringing Alicia, but it’s not meant to be.  Allenby has several other prisoners to pick up and there’s not that much space to go around.  It pains James to leave Alicia, but James is made to remember that she’s artificial.  He leaves with what few belongings he needs.

This isn’t one of the better episodes of The Twilight Zone.  It’s not one of the worst, but I don’t think it will be making my top-ten list.  The episode would seem to be a study in loneliness, but has a few flaws, at least one of which will become obvious as you watch the episode.  The first is how cruel it is to put prisoners on asteroids like that.  The episode doesn’t give many details about James’s crime.  I’d like to know who he murdered that the prison system saw fit to give him his very own asteroid.  The cost of sending him there and supplying him every three months or so can’t be cheap.

Then, there’s the inhumanity of a 50-year prison sentence.  It would be bad enough having a roommate.  Could you imagine being on an asteroid for 50 years?  You’d think he’d at least be allowed visitors.  Speaking of which, there’s no mention of guards.  Couldn’t a friend of Frank’s follow the supply ship and figure out which asteroid Frank is on?  That would have to be the easiest jailbreak ever.  You could probably make a business of putting a tracking device on the ships and offering to spring all the prisoners for a price.

This is another episode that might have benefited from the hour-long format.  A good portion of the episode is spent giving James the android and another good chunk is spent taking the android away from him.  This doesn’t leave much time for bonding.  It seemed kind of rushed.  I don’t know what else could have been added other than maybe some details on how James ended up on the asteroid.

As I said, it’s not a horrible episode.  (I don’t recall The Twilight Zone ever having an outright miss.)  This one usually makes the marathons.  Even given its flaws, it’s still an enjoyable episode.  The episode is generally safe for children.  There’s no sex.  The only possibly objectionable part is the android being shot with a gun and the wiring exposed.  If you’re watching on Netflix or catch it in a marathon, it’s worth watching.  I wouldn’t go out of your way to find it, though.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Escape Clause)

WARNING:  This review gives away major details including the ending.

There’s a saying that has several variations:  When the gods wish to punish us, they grant our wishes.  Such is almost the case for Walter Bedeker.  He’s a hypochondriac.  Escape Clause even begins with Walter’s doctor making a house call.  As the doctor leaves, he tells Walter that he’s in perfect health.  That doesn’t seem to satisfy the patient.  Walter remains in bed as the doctor leaves, as does his wife, Ethel.

Enter Mr. Cadwallader, a man with an offer that Walter can’t refuse: Immortality.  Walter is, of course, curious about the details.  Walter never get sick.  He’ll never have to worry about being hurt or injured.  Mr. Cadwallader even throws in a stipulation that Walter will never visibly age.  Walter eventually figures out who Mr. Cadwallader is.  He’s the devil.  All Walter has to give up as payment is his soul.  If, at any time, Walter should tire of his new gift, a painless death will be arranged.

Walter doesn’t mind much, as this is the perfect bargain.  He immediately goes out and throws himself under the bus.  Seriously.  And a train.  In fact, he stages over a dozen accidents for the thrill of it.  Of course, the insurance settlements don’t hurt.  However, it doesn’t quite bring the thrill that he expects.\

He goes to the roof of his apartment building and considers jumping.  That’s when an opportunity presents itself.  Ethel follows him up and accidentally falls off the roof.  Rather than tell the truth, Walter says that he killed her.  What better way to get a thrill than to take a ride in the electric chair?  Much to Walter’s dismay, his lawyer manages to secure a sentence of life in prison.   Knowing that he can never leave, Walter activates the escape clause.

Walter is not a man of forethought.  I remember watching this episode with my brother once.  He pointed out something that plenty of other people pointed out in that Walter could easily have outlived any building or government imprisoning him.  People have also pointed out that Walter should have expected prison.  He has no reason to believe that surviving the electric chair would spare him prison.

My question is why he gave up so easily.  He wanted a thrill?  How about the thrill of trying to escape prison?  He doesn’t have to worry about death.  Even if he was recaptured, he could try as many times as necessary.  (Actually, if he were looking to use death as an escape, he could have faked his death while escaping.)

It seems that all of Walter’s plans are short sighted.  He never considers hang gliding or bungee jumping.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t consider insurance fraud given this opportunity, but I think I would space it out with some more mundane ways of excitement.  There are plenty of things normal people do for thrills.  Maybe he could swim with sharks.  He’d probably be great at alligator wrestling.  Instead, he sticks to accidents.

The big problem here is that Rod Serling only had 30 minutes to work with.  There’s so much more that could have been done given enough time.  This probably would have been a better episode had it been done during the fourth season, when episodes were an hour each.  Like other Twilight Zone episodes, it’s a story of someone undone by their own desires.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Cube²: Hypercube (2002)

Some movies are great and are meant to be left as is.  Cube was just such a movie.  You had several prisoners in a large cube divided into smaller cube-shaped rooms.  Who captured them and why?  The characters could only guess.  Unfortunately, several more movies were made.  From what I can tell, there’s even a remake in the works.  Sigh.  Oh, well.

Enter Cube 2 or Cube Squared or Hypercube.  Eight characters find themselves in various well-lit rooms.  They come together to try to figure out what’s going on.  Again, they’re hiding secrets and numbers abound.  Is there a means of escape?  Possibly.  Oh, and everyone seems to have some connection to the same company.  Coincidence?  Probably not.

I’m not going to go too much into the plot mostly because there isn’t one.  This is a pale imitation of the first movie.  It’s worth noting that there’s absolutely no connection between the two movies.  None of the characters return.  I don’t think any of the people behind the cameras return.  The director is different.  I don’t think anyone involved in writing was the same.

Cube was an independent movie.  It had that low-budget, gritty feeling you’d expect.  This had a more Hollywood feel.  It was bright and slick and perfectly average.  It had a few science terms thrown in for cred.  The traps seem more tame, even if they’re trying to be more imaginative.  For instance, rooms can move at different rates of time.  There also appear to be timelines, meaning the same character can be killed a few dozen times.  One character has his eye stabbed out, only to live for many years.  This, despite the lack of obvious food.

While watching the movie, the word ‘insipid’ came to mind.  I had to look it up to make sure it was the right word.  I got two definitions:  “Lacking flavor” and “Lacking vigor or interest”.  For all its fancy science terms and bright lights, Cube 2 lacks any sort of reason to watch it.  The reason Cube worked was that it was simple.  Rather than go for flash, it went for substance and it did it well.

It’s almost like two people were given the basic plot for the story with various character sketches and plot twists and were told to write a movie.  You have rooms in a large cube, several people kidnapped, someone who was involved in making the trap and a potential for escaping, although most of the characters won’t.  Cube was the clear winner whereas Cube 2 was an honorable mention.  It should have been left alone.

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 5 (Walking Distance)

Martin Sloan is 36 and working way too hard.  While out for a drive, he pulls in to a gas station, where he gets some gas and an oil change.  It just so happens that his home town, called Homewood, is just over a mile up the road.  Since the car will take about an hour or so, Martin decides to walk the distance.

He finds the town exactly as he remembers it.  He’s even able to get the ice cream soda he remembers and for the same price of 10¢.  Walking around, he soon realizes that it really is 25 years ago.  He meets himself at 11 and is able to visit his parents at his old house.   Granted, they think that he’s some crazy person.

It gets dark and Martin has one message for his younger self:  Enjoy your youth while you can.  However, this causes the younger Martin to have an accident wherein he hurts his leg.  He’ll be ok, but the boy will have a limp.  Martin’s father has come to realize that the adult Martin is telling the truth.  The father asks if Martin doesn’t have many of the same things the 11-year-old Martin has.

Martin comes to realize that, although he’s been given the opportunity to go back, it’s not his place to stay.  He walks back to the ice-cream parlor to discover that he’s back in his present and has a limp.  He then makes the journey back to his car and presumably goes back to his life.

This episode, like most of The Twilight Zone episodes, was 30 minutes.  It was written perfectly for that length of time. Had this episode been done during the fourth season, when stories were 60 minutes, it probably would have dragged too much.  What could you have added?  Staying was never really an option for Martin and there’s only so much he can do in a small town before it seems forced.

This seems to be a favorite among viewers of The Twilight Zone and with good reason.  The message is simple and delivered subtly.  It doesn’t try to hit you over the head with it.  It’s actually kind of odd that a series would hit one out of the park so early in its first season.

The episode has changed a little for me over the years.  When I was in high school, I got the message.  However, there is more of a connection having had points in my life that I’d like to go back to.  That’s natural.  I would think most people Martin’s age would like to go back to a time when the summer meant not having to worry about anything.

I would say that this episode is the most relatable of the series.  Everyone reaches a point where they miss being younger.  If I had to pick a few episodes to sell someone on the series, this would be one of them.   They say you can’t go home again.  It looks like you can, although it’s kind of awkward and you can’t really stay as long as you’d like.  At least we’ll always have Homewood.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 4 (The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine)

Everyone has a period of their life that they’d like to go back to.  Maybe things were simpler when you were a small child.  Maybe you had a lot of fun in college.  It could even be that you were really good at something years ago and you long for the days when you got some respect.

Barbara Jean Trenton used to be a big movie star.  She was the leading lady and worked against several leading men.  All Barbara does now is sit in a dark room watching her old movies.  Danny Weiss worries about her.  He’s her agent and would like to see her get out more.  He even tries to set her up with a part, but she becomes offended when the part is age appropriate.  She pushes away anyone who tries to help her  Barbara is a woman obsessed with her own past.

The episode is relatable.  No one likes the idea of not being a young person any more.  There comes a point when we realize that we’re getting older.  And yes, I realize it’s not a pleasant thought.  We all want to live in denial of it.  Some people do get over it.  Not everyone does.

The episode is relatable in this sense.  Granted, not everyone is or was a movie star.  I think most people can look at Barbara and be glad that they can see the value in moving on.  It’s not normal to sit around in a dark room, even if they do want to live in the past.

Of the episodes that I remember, I think this was one of the weaker episodes.  It didn’t quite seem to pack the punch that I’ve seen in other episodes.  In some cases, the truth of the situation is revealed and it all makes sense.  In other cases, you have a twist ending that makes you think.  This just seems to be a regular short story, for the most part.

Barbara gets what she wants in an unusual way.  I don’t want to reveal the ending, as I don’t think it’s really necessary here.  The only reason I remember the ending is that I wondered about the implications of what happened to Barbara.  Although Danny and other of Barbara’s associates are shocked at the outcome, it seems that Danny is happy that Barbara finally got her wish.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 3 (Mr. Denton on Doomsday)

WARNING:  This review gives away the entire plot, including the ending.

Al Denton is not a sober man.  He used to be a pretty good gunslinger, but is now the town drunk.  He’ll let people bully and humiliate him if they at least buy him a drink afterwards.  What led to this kind of downfall?  Al killed a 16-year-old opponent.  He let his ability define him and it cost someone their life.  After a gun mysteriously appears beside Al, he accidentally makes two lucky, although not fatal, shots that earn him a measure of respect.  He gets a shave and starts refusing drinks.  It’s not long before a man named Pete Grant challenges Al.

This troubles Al, since he knows that most duels tend to end in death.  He doesn’t want a repeat of his last duel, but he can’t outright refuse.  Thus, he decides to skip town.  This is where Fate intervenes.  Specifically, Henry J. Fate.  Henry is a traveling salesman who happens to have just what Al needs.  This special potion would make Al the fastest draw for ten seconds.  Henry gives Al one to try now and another one for the duel, both at no cost.

When the time comes, Al notices that Pete has a similar vial.  Rather than lose the advantage, Al fires resulting in both Al and Pete shooting the other’s hand.  With both men unable to ever fire again, the duel is considered a draw.  Al tells Pete that this is actually a win for both, as they’ll never be able to kill in anger again.  Al learned this lesson late in life, but Pete is lucky to have the rest of his life ahead of him.

This was one of the Twilight Zone episodes where I felt that some of the historical context was lost on me.  I get that the moral of the story is that violence begets violence, but I felt like there was something about the story that I was missing.  This may have to do with the fact that westerns aren’t as popular as they once were, so the story seems strange me.

Then, there’s the title:  Mr. Denton on Doomsday.  Had I not seen the episode, I might have assumed it was a lecture.  However, part of the episode is about how he deals with his own personal doomsday.  It almost seems like an analogy to mutually assured destruction.  Neither man has an advantage, in that using the special potion leaves both sides unable to fight again.

It would be interesting to get some comments as to the history surrounding the episode.  If you have Netflix, it would make for an interesting watch, at least.  As you might imagine, it’s not an episode for small children.  There’s no blood, but there are a few gunfights shown.  I’d recommend some discretion for parents.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Wild Wild West (1999)

When I was in middle school, we got a new principal.  I think the first interaction I had with her was her coming up and hugging me.  It was is if she were treating us like third graders.  It didn’t make much sense until we found out that she had been teaching at an elementary school the year before.  It took her some time to overcome force of habit.

I thought of that when I saw Wild Wild West.  It’s as if the writers were used to writing movies for small children and this was their first attempt at writing for adults.  Many of the scenarios seem intended for more for adult audiences, but the overall sense of the movie seems to be geared towards a less-sophisticated audience.  (I wouldn’t say it’s geared towards teenagers, but it’s close.)

The movie starts out with James West and Artemus Gordon both looking for one General McGrath.  He’s wanted for murder.  Gordon is inside a brothel dressed as a woman.  West arrives later, having chased a carriage filled with nitroglycerin.  (West, of course, stops the nitroglycerin from going over a cliff at the last moment.)  Arresting McGrath doesn’t go so well.  He escapes and the nitroglycerin is pushed into the building, starting a fire with both West and Gordon still in the building.

The next scene has Gordon and West meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant, both apparently unscathed.  Apparently, McGrath is part of a larger plot.  All anyone knows at the moment is that several top scientists have been kidnapped.  They pursue a lead to New Orleans; Dr. Arliss Loveless is hosting a party there.  In the mansion where the party is being held, West and Gordon find Rita Escobar.  She claims her father is one of the kidnapped scientists.

It turns out that Loveless is the one behind everything.  His plan is to get President Grant to hand over all of America’s land.  He’ll give back certain territories various parties, such as giving back the former colonies to Britain.  He’ll keep the northwest area of the United States for himself to rule over.  The only catch is that Grant won’t surrender.  What follows is a sort of cat-and-mouse game, eventually resulting in Loveless‘s defeat.

I’m not sure exactly where the movie fails.  Will Smith and Kevin Kline play West and Gordon, respectively.  I can’t put it on the acting, though.  The same goes for the directing.  Barry Sonnenfeld also directed the Men in Black movies, which I liked.

I think it has more to do with the writing.   Salma Hayek is given very little to do Rita Escobar other than stand there and look pretty.  She’s not even a McGuffin.  Her character probably could have been written out with very minor changes to the plot.  There are also a few scenes where West and Loveless talk to each other.  Instead of anything useful, the two just insult each other.  West makes jokes about Loveless not having legs and Loveless makes crude remarks about West’s race.  It’s not entirely out of character, but it’s also not entirely necessary or funny.  (On that note, there’s also an Asian character, who’s last name is East, which sets up an obligatory East-meets-West joke.)

I don’t really feel guilty about giving away some of the jokes, as I’m going to have to recommend skipping this movie.  Rather than worry what would happen if you saw it anyway, I’d rather explain why it’s something you’d want to miss out on.  I kind of wish I had been given that warning, myself.  The movie is billed as a comedy, but wasn’t really funny about it.  It felt like a lot of the jokes tried too hard or missed the mark.  I kept watching the movie thinking Salma Hayek could have done better.  Then it occurred to me that this applied to everything about the movie.  There are so many better movies out there.  You shouldn’t have a problem finding one.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Field of Dreams (1989)

WARINING:  I’m going to give away details of the movie, including the ending.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to wait before reading the review.

I’ve had the urge to watch old movies again.  I saw Field of Dreams many years ago.  When it became available on Netflix, I wanted to see if the movie would change with perspective.  I remembered a lot of it, but I wondered if the context had changed.  Is there anything that I’d pick up on now that I wouldn’t as a teenager?  The short answer is no.

For those that haven’t seen it, Field of Dreams is a movie about Ray and Annie Kinsella.  They buy a farm and live there with their daughter, Karin.  One day, Ray hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.”  Ray has no idea what it is supposed to be.  He’s given a vision of a baseball diamond, which he builds.  Apparently, Ray and Annie are hovering around the break-even point with their farm.  They have to clear their cash crop for the diamond, which will most likely bankrupt them.

They do it anyway.  Months pass and nothing happens.  One day, Shoeless Joe Jackson shows up in the diamond and asks if he can play there.   Jackson even brings the other players involved in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.  Ray then gets another message from the voice:  Ease his pain.  Who’s pain?  Ray and Annie eventually come to the conclusion that the voice is referring to Terence Mann, an author who didn’t have an easy time with fame.  Mann also wanted to play baseball when he was younger.

Ray visits Terence in Boston.  The two eventually go to a baseball game, where Ray receives another message:  Go the distance.  He also sees stats for Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, who had played in just one game.  When Ray and Terence visit Minnesota to find Graham, they find that Graham had died years ago after becoming a doctor.

Ray is able to go into the past and meets Graham, who explains what the one game was all about.  Graham refuses Ray’s invitation to come back and play baseball.  Ray returns to the present and eventually goes back to Iowa with Terence.  On the drive back, they pick up a young hitchhiker names Archie Graham.  When they arrive on the farm, young Graham joins the players for a game.

The next morning, Annie’s brother, Mark, arrives to urge Ray to sell the farm, which he’s been refusing to do.  (Mark can’t see the baseball players.)  Ray knows that any subsequent owner will likely not maintain the baseball field.  An accident with Karin forces Graham to walk off the field, becoming the man that Ray saw in the past.  He helps Karin, then walks off into the corn field.  Mark is then able to see the players; he urges Ray not to sell the farm.

After seeing the movie again, I found that there wasn’t any special message hidden away.  It’s simply about a man who listens to a mysterious voice’s vague messages.  The one thing that had me wondering is how one baseball field would bankrupt the farm.  Granted, they were on the brink, but it looked like they Kinsellas had a pretty decent sized property.  I don’t know how selling corn works.  Are you able to get several crops during a season?

How would such a small part of their corn crop cause them to miss several mortgage payments?  I’m kind of wondering if this was done to give Ray something to worry about.  There’s no clear antagonist, so they had to have Mark try to get Ray to sell the farm.

I didn’t think the movie that great.  It’s not a story of conflict like you’d find in other movies.  The only real threat Ray has is the mortgage, which he deals with by ignoring.  Ray doesn’t seem to do much to earn additional revenue until the end of the movie, when it’s implied that he could charge admission.

Ironically, the actual diamond used in the movie still exists.  I’m not sure what kind of burden this placed on the actual farm, although the property has been sold at least once, according to Wikipedia.  There’s no fee for admission or parking, although there is a souvenir shop.

The movie is based on a book, although I’m not sure how true the movie is to the source material.  There do seem to be some differences, though.  In the book, Ray has a twin brother.  Terence Mann was actually J. D. Salinger.  (The name change was due to Salinger implying he’d sue if the character made his way to an adaptation.)

I’m not really sure what to make of the movie.  It’s enjoyable, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d watch over and over again.  It’s the kind of movie they might play in a waiting room.  It’s safe for most people.  It’s rated PG, mostly for some language in one scene.  (A woman accuses Terence Mann of masturbation and calls his work pornography.)  There’s also some cursing.  The only four-letter word is spelled out at PTA meeting.  Other than that, it’s mostly damn and hell.  It’s basically a great movie for streaming.  Unless you’re a baseball fan, I’m not sure if you’d want to buy it on DVD.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gôruden taimu/Golden Time (2014)

I don’t imagine it’s easy being abandoned.  A television set is dropped of rather unceremoniously in a junkyard and basically left to fend for itself.  Soon after its arrival, it meets several other abandoned items.  There’s a fan, a windup toy, a chair and a bucket.  Each has presumably been discarded just like the new arrival.

The television has its only useful part, the CRT, removed by a recycling company.  (The TV set appears to be from the 1960s, but what I’ve read indicates that the story takes place in the 1980s.)  The TV set is   lonely and does try to escape, but does eventually find a new purpose.

The animation is only 21 minutes.  While some of that time is taken up with trying to dig under a fence, the five characters do have some interaction.  Most of that interaction is between the TV set and the windup toy, which is ostensibly a cat.

There’s no dialogue  It’s a fairly simple animation showing the five characters in a junkyard..  There’s nothing that parents would find objectionable.  (Netflix has the rating listed as TV-Y.)  It is a little sad at first, as we’re aware that the TV wants to get out, but everything seems to end well for the TV set.

I’ve been hoping to find more short films like this.  I don’t always want the commitment of a feature-length film.  Sometimes, I want something to watch before going to work or just before going to bed.  It can be difficult to squeeze a two-hour movie in sometimes.

It’s a shame that this is the director’s only credit.  I’d like to see more animation from Takuya Inaba.  I’m hoping that more might be forthcoming.  The movie was released only a few years ago.  It looks like there’s a corresponding book.  Amazon has the book release date as April 11, 2014 whereas Netflix has the movie release date as June 15, 2014.  Since animation takes so long to make, it’s possible that they were intended to be released together.  Information on either is nearly impossible to find.  If you come across anything, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 1 (Where Is Everybody?)

Mike Ferris wanders into town one day.  It’s a fully functioning town, just like any town you’d expect to find in a TV show of the 1950s.  The problem is that he can’t find anyone.  The church has a bell that rings, but there‘s no pastor or congregation.  The diner has food for customers that aren’t there.  When Mike wanders into the police station, smoke suddenly starts rising from a cigar that no one placed there.  Is Mike going crazy?  Is this purgatory?  Either possibility is likely, as this is The Twilight Zone.

Specifically, this is the first episode of what would become an iconic TV show.  The Twilight Zone has become synonymous with strange or eerie, and with good reason.  The show often had a twist ending long before the movies of M. Night Shyamalan.  With this each episode, you know that there’s going to be a big twist at the end.  You’re just waiting for the main character to figure it out.

In this case, Mike stumbles upon it accidentally.  Being that he’s the only person there, he goes from building to building until his frayed mind has him pressing a button for what would seem like no reason.  Then, we find out what that reason is.

Part of the greatness of The Twilight Zone is that it takes a problem and puts it on display.  Here, we have one man.  We see his isolation.  It’s pretty much the only thing on display for most of the episode.  This episode, like many of the others, is G-rated.  There’s nothing objectionable for children in this episode, such as sex or violence.  I would say that it’s more questionable in that very young children might not understand the loneliness that Mike has to go through and the effects it has on him.

The show was an anthology; episodes were each self-contained stories with no relationship to other episodes, meaning you can view them out of order.  (For this reason, I’m not going to be as strict about grouping episode reviews by season.)  If you are watching the series on Netflix, this shouldn’t be as much of an issue.  Currently, they’re missing the fourth season.  If you’re renting the episodes on DVD, you don’t have to worry about the discs arriving out of order or one disc being checked out from the library.  You can skip that disc and come back to it.

Part of the significance of this being the first episode is that it seemed a little simpler than some of the other episodes.   There wasn’t as much of the supernatural or unexplained that I remember from other stories.  (Take Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, for instance.)  The show had yet to get established, although it did have a backdoor pilot of sorts with The Time Element.  It’s kind of difficult to think of an anthology having a pilot episode, but here it is.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 2 (One for the Angels)

Lou Bookman is just an ordinary guy.  He sells toys, ties and whatnot on the street.  He’s well liked, especially by the children.  Everyone knows who he is and he seems to know everyone in the area.  It’s odd, then, when an unfamiliar face shows up one day.  He’s well-dressed and polite…and he’s asking questions about Lou.  Who is this gentleman?  He’s Death.  Lou’s number has come up; he’s to die at midnight of natural causes.

Understandably, Lou tries to get out of this.  Alas, there are three exceptions that will give Lou a reprieve.  The first is having a family to support, which Lou doesn’t.  The second is an impending breakthrough, which Lou can’t claim, either.  The third is unfinished business, which doesn’t seem evident at first.  Lou points out that he has yet to make a major pitch.  One that the angles would take notice of and would cause the sky to open.  Death reluctantly grants this, but doesn’t provide a timeframe.

Lou instantly realizes that he has an out.  All he has to do is not make a pitch and he’ll never die, but this comes at a price.  One of the neighborhood children is struck by a car; if death can’t have Lou, the little girl will go in his place.  When Lou realizes what he’s done, he pleads with Death to no avail.  The girl is to go at midnight and there’s no negotiating this time.  The only thing left to do is make a pitch for the ages.  By delaying Death past midnight, Lou points out that he’s made his pitch, allowing Death to take Lou as originally planned.

The episode is fairly simple.  Lou tries to cheat Death only to find out that it comes with a price.  He has to basically cheat death again to put things right.  I did some reading and there are two ways of looking at the episode.  One is as presented:  Lou cheated Death twice.  Another is that Lou only thought he cheated Death, but that Death knew what Lou was doing and got the better of him.

When I first saw the episode, I was inclined to believe the first interpretation.  To an extent, I still am.  Death seems genuinely surprised when Lou delays him.   I thing Lou got the better of Death at least once.  However, Death has seemingly been at this a long time.  He’s not some new guy.  Death seems more like a social worker making a call, just like countless other calls.

There are undoubtedly rules and procedures for a reason.  Death’s taking another person is probably a way of ensuring that people don’t cheat.  One might say that there’s no way for the general population to know about this, thus making it ineffective, but Lou did eventually go with Death.  Also, had Lou not done this, Death would have eventually been one death over.

Then again, I’m probably reading too much into this.  Twilight Zone episodes tended to make a point in simple terms.  Lou doesn’t want to die.  It’s normal to want to prolong your own life.  The question is at what cost.  The story is pretty straightforward.  Lou got himself into a mess and has to get himself back out.

The episode is safe for children in the sense that there’s no violence or gore.  When the girl is hit by a car, we don’t see the accident, but it’s evident what happened.  Also, when Lou finally does go with Death, we don’t see anything special happen to Lou; they simply walk off together down the street.  The depiction of death might be a little confusing depending on how young the child is, though.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Aventura Mall Food Court Sign revisited

Last year, I had a post on the sign at the Aventura Mall food court.  In it, I had wondered if the included photo of the sign might be the lst one I took of it.  It looks like the old sign is no more.  It has been replaced with a new sign.  The food court has been replaced with a food hall, which appears to include none of the old restaurants.  (Five Guy's moved to the third floor by the movie theater; Sbarro's is still in the mall by virtue of the fact that it was never in the food court to begin with.)

Most of the new restaurants aren't open yet. I'd be interested to see what they offer.  It looks like they'll be more upscale.  I'm not sure what they'll offer or what the pricing will be.  Maybe I'll get a photo or two if I get the chance.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Yellow (2006)

It’s funny how you go looking for something and find something else accidentally.  I started looking up District 9 and found that the director, Neill Blomkamp, had also made several short films.  One of these films is called Yellow, although is also called Adicolor Yellow.  It was made in 2004 as part of a viral marketing campaign for Adidas.  Through the magic of Youtube, I was able to watch the four-minute film.

In the short film, we see an android being made.  There’s a narrator explaining that five different androids were programmed, all using the same base code.  Different things were added, like emotion and memory.  One, identified by the color yellow, was given the ability to think and learn.  It escaped from the location where it was created and lived among humans for 18 months.  Eventually, a team catches up with Yellow and a firefight ensues.  The final part of the narration suggests that maybe it’s no longer humanity’s game any more.

I can see where this would work as an advertisement.  To me, it actually comes across more as a trailer for a film than a complete story.  The only voice is that of the narrator.  You get the basic idea of what‘s going on, but there’s no real connection to the characters.  Yellow is seen as being emotionless and maybe a little distant.  He doesn’t seem to interact with people at all, but we’re seeing `18 months condensed into four minutes.

It’s kind of hard to tell if Yellow is supposed to be a sympathetic character.  The android survived for 18 months, but what went wrong other than the escape?  The android isn’t depicted as hurting anyone.  I was left wanting a little more.  If this was actually a trailer for a feature-length film, I’d probably go and see it.  It seems like there’s a good story in there.

I could see someone looking this up on their own if they’re a Blomkamp fan.  I’m not sure that most people not familiar with his work would be interested in it.  Even with most casual viewers, it might be hit and miss.  If you do like his movies, you’ll want to see this one, too.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

A few months ago, my mother found out about a program called Moviepass.  It allows you to watch movies, in a theater, for $9.95 per month.  It’s somewhat complicated and the details really aren’t important right now.  What’s important was that my parents and I all signed up last week.  Our first movie?  Murder on the Orient Express.  We needed something that we’d all agree on, which basically meant this or The Man Who Invented Christmas.

The movie is based on the Agatha Christie novel, as you might expect.  It starts with Hercule Poirot in Jerusalem solving a crime by proving it wasn’t any of the three main suspects.  He ends up on the Orient Express through a friend that works on the train.  It isn’t long before the train finds itself snowed in…and with a murder victim.

You’d think it would be easy.  The train is trapped between towns, making escape difficult.  It should just be a matter of figuring out who’s connected to the victim.  Well, it turns out that most of the other passengers had some connection to him.  You see, Edward Ratchett kidnapped a child who subsequently died.  If a suspect didn’t know the child, they at least knew someone who knew the child or the family.  What we get is a moderate procedural.  Poirot asks questions of the suspects and gathers clues.  At the end of the movie, he’s able to gather everyone together and work out the solution.

Having the movie on a train does make for cramped quarters.  Everyone has a room and a narrow hallway to pass each other.  This makes for the use of a few overhead shots.  There were also a few times where I noticed the use of a wide-angle lens.  (It tended to be evident as much with motion as it did with people sitting on the edge of the frame.)

The pacing seemed a little slow to me.  It’s not to say that it dragged at all, but there were times that I was wondering when the next bit of action was coming.  I don’t know that anything could have been cut.  It just seemed drawn out.  I think this has more to do with what I’m used to than anything else.  The accents tended to be more of a problem for me.  There were one or two scenes where subtitles might have helped, but it didn’t really stop me from following the movie.

I think this is one of those movies that most people will be able to judge for themselves whether or not they’ll like it.  Agatha Christie is well known, as are many of the actors.  There didn’t seem to be many surprises.  From what I’ve read, the movie follows the novel pretty closely with one or two exceptions.  I would say that if you do go to see the movie, it’s probably going to be either because you like Christie or you’re going to see it with a group, like I did.  Not being someone who’s read her work, I’d say that it’s middle of the road.  It’s enjoyable, but had it not been for Moviepass, I probably would have waited for this movie to become available on Netflix.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episodes 177 & 178 (All Good Things…)

Every show comes to an end.  Some, like the original Star Trek, get cancelled abruptly.  In other cases, the show ends on its own terms, having told the story it wants to tell.  Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end after seven seasons, despite being contracted for eight.  The final episode was a two-hour episode called “All Good Things…”.

The episode begins with Troi and Worf exiting a holodeck and walking back to her quarters.  Outside Troi’s door, Captain Picard approaches them and asks what the date is.  He claims that he was moving around in time, having been to both the past and the future.  The details are blurry, but he’s certain that he’s moving through time.  Dr. Crusher examines him; after our first on-screen glimpse of the time shifting, she examines him again to find that he has two days of new memories.  There’s something to it.

There are three distinct timeframes, including what we would call Picard’s present.  The other two take place seven years in the past and 25 year in the future.  Why seven years in the past?  That’s when Picard first took command of the Enterprise.  As for 25 years in the future, why not?

The past is exactly what you’d expect.  Tasha Yar is still chief of security.  Riker, La Forge and a few other crewmembers are still at the Farpoint station.  Data is still unbearably inquisitive.  Picard makes a few mistakes, like telling Worf to do Yar’s job, but he starts to get the hang of it.

The future is one where Picard is suffering from irumodic syndrome, a degenerative neurological disorder.  Picard is shown tending his vineyard when he’s approached by La Forge.  It appears that Picard has retired to his family estate.  However, his health is deteriorating.

In the past and present, an anomaly shows itself.  In both cases, the Enterprise is called to investigate.  It would appear that events in one timeline don’t affect events in the others, other than Picard remembering and acting on them.  He keeps the past crew in the dark, mostly because they’re still new.  However, he mentions it to the present and future crews.

There’s still no news in the future about the anomaly, which is strange.  Picard, La Forge and Data have to arrange passage to the system, which is in the Romulan Neutral Zone, as Picard can’t seem to persuade Admiral Riker to give them a cloaked ship.  Who do they turn to?  Captain Beverly Picard.

This still doesn’t answer the question of who’s behind all this, although we have seen clues.  Those that have been watching the entire series will recognize Q’s handiwork.  Q shows up, or rather pulls Picard back to the trial he and the bridge crew faced in “Encounter at Farpoint”.  This isn’t a new trial; the original one never really ended.  It’s now time for Q to pronounce his verdict:  Guilty.  Humanity will be destroyed and it will ultimately be done in by Picard’s hand.  Will Picard be able to save humanity once again?

I’ve often thought about the choice of time periods.  There were a lot of other things that the series could have done.  They could have gone back to Picard’s time on the Stargazer.  They could have gone back to just after Picard graduated from the academy, as per Tapestry.  Ultimately, that could have gotten too muddled.  Instead, we have a nice set of bookends.

The future does make for more humorous notes, like Data using a skunk for a toupee.  (Well, not really, but his housekeeper seems to think so.)  We also get to see one possible future where Riker and Worf aren’t talking to each other.  Most of the characters have aged, some better than others.

There are a few questions that I’ve had, such as the anomaly growing bigger in each timeframe, despite being bigger in the past.  I suppose this could be accounted for by the fact that each timeline is separate.  The big question people have asked is why there are three Enterprise-like beams in the anomaly when one of them should have been from the Pasteur.  While it’s true that Data never said they were all definitely from the Enterprise, we don’t actually see the Pasteur sending any energy beam into the anomaly.  When Picard and Co. make it to the Anomaly, it’s on the Enterprise.  I would think that it’s more probable that a beam would have emanated from that ship.

One thing I had to wonder is what the universe would have looked like had the anomaly run its course. Q stated that it was supposed to wipe out humanity, even going so far to show Picard early Earth and the goo that would have hosted the first proteins.  If humanity never existed, would the Federation or something like it still have formed?  (For that matter, the anomaly is pretty big way in the past.  How did it affect only Earth?)

You’d probably want to watch the rest of the series first.  (I mean, really.  Who watches the series finale first?)  This episode would probably be a little confusing without a good deal of knowledge.  Fans will probably pick up La Forge’s mention of Leah, a probable reference to Leah Brahms.  I have to wonder, though, as Leah Brahms was a little creeped out by Geordi’s behavior, and rightfully so.  Either she’s gotten over it or he has a thing for women named Leah.

I will say that of all the finales for the modern Star Trek series, this was probably my favorite.  I never really liked what they did with Deep Space Nine.  I felt that having everyone go in separate directions was somewhat forced.  Voyager was exactly what you’d expect.  They’d be some big push to get the ship home, which would just barely work.  It would only come down to details.  As for Star Trek: Enterprise, they never really got the finale they deserved.  (Also, can someone explain to me exactly what the heck happened?  Were they trying to imply that the entire series was Riker’s doing?  He must have been spending way too much time in the holodeck.)

IMDb page

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 176 (Preemptive Strike)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending to this episode.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to hold off reading this review.

Life was never easy for Ro Laren.  She was a Bajoran born during the Cardassian occupation of her home planet.  She was kicked out of Starfleet for not following orders, then brought back in for a mission of questionable morality.  When she disobeyed orders again, she was kept on the Enterprise.  Just when things were going well, Ro Laren, now a lieutenant, is given a mission to infiltrate a Maquis cell.

Who are the Maquis, you ask?  They came about after the Cardassians annexed the planets they were on as a result of a peace treaty.  Their goal is to fight back to the mistreatment they receive from the Cardassian government.  They are still Federation citizens, but choose to live in what is now Cardassian territory.  The Cardassians claim that the Federation is arming them, which the Federation denies.  (The Federation makes similar claims against the Cardassians, which the Cardassians deny.)

Being that Lt. Ro doesn’t like the Cardassians, it’s going to be a difficult mission for her.  She’ll be working against people who share her interests.  She claims she can do it; she wants nothing more than to prove herself to Captain Picard.  She soon realizes that it’s not so easy.  The leader of the cell is a man named Macias.   The more she deals with him, the more she comes to like and respect him.  He eventually becomes a father figure.

The longer Ro stays, the more conflicted she becomes.  Picard eventually has to threaten her with another court martial to get her to complete the mission.  It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Ro eventually defects to the Maquis, leaving Picard so mad that he can’t even talk to Riker in the final scene of the episode.

When I first saw the episode, I remember wondering why the writers would have a recurring character defect.  It kind of makes more sense now that I’ve had time to think about it.  We get the emotional impact of an established character leaving without having to sacrifice one of the main characters.

The writers would also have needed someone who is used to making tough choices.  On the one hand, the Maquis are getting more aggressive by this point.  So far, they’ve been taking defensive stances, warding off an aggressor.  Now, they’re looking to go on the offensive, possibly attacking the Cardassians.  On the other hand, it’s not so easy to be dispassionate about a group when you go to live with them.  It’s even harder when they agree with you from the onset.

Sure, any Bajoran could have been used.  However, useing a new character wouldn’t have had the same impact.  Her actual history keeps the lying to a minimum.  However, she owes Picard a lot.  This actually seems like the perfect story arc for Ro Laren.  If I had to write a way out for her myself, it probably would have looked something like this.

The Maquis was never really The Next Generation’s thing.  It was used more on Deep Space Nine, which dealt more with Bajorans and Cardassians.  The shame is that we never see Ro Laren again in any of the TV shows.  It would have been interesting to have heard from her on Deep Space Nine.  Instead, we’re left to assume.  Interestingly, the character of Ro Laren was supposed to be Deep Space Nine’s first officer.  When Michelle Forbes didn’t want to join the cast, the part was rewritten as Kira Nerys.

I do recommend watching the episode.  For those that are watching on Netflix or on the season sets, you’re going to want to wait to see this one.  There were so many things over the previous three seasons that led up to this.  You don’t necessarily have to have watched DS9 to understand the episode.  It’s fairly self-contained in that respect, but you probably should have some background with The Next Generation to fully understand what’s going on.

IMDb page

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 175 (Emergence)

It seems that there are two times when things go wrong on The Enterprise: during a routine mission and during some critical state of an important mission. In this episode, The Enterprise is on a routine mission. Picard and Data are in the holodeck when the nearly get run over by the orient express. That, alone, is troubling since the holodeck is supposed to have safety protocols to prevent injury and also Picard had called for the program to end several times. What’s puzzling, though, is that they’re running a Shakespearean program. They shut the holodecks down while repairs can be made.

Later, The Enterprise jumps to warp and comes out of warp a minute later. No one can offer an explanation except to say that had The Enterprise not jumped to warp, it might have been destroyed. Coincidence? It must have been. There isn’t anything about the ship that would make it do that on its own.

This leads to the discovery of several strange nodes throughout the ship. Also strange is the fact that the holodeck is still running. Data, Troi, and Worf enter and investigate to find the Orient Express still running. Onboard is a strange set of characters. There’s the conductor and engineer, who both belong, but there’s also a knight and a Chicago-style gangster. (If you look closely, many of the characters resemble characters from previous episodes. The knight and gangster may be references to the original series.)

The Orient Express is on its way to a place called Vertiform City. (It’s later realized that the ship needs a particle with a similar name.) There seems to be a direct relation between the holodeck program and the Enterprise. When the train stops, the ship stops. When the program experiences an earthquake, the ship also shakes.

Eventually, the crew realizes that the ship is trying to create a new life form. Should they try to stop it? Should they let it go on? They decide to let it develop. At the end of the episode, Data is worried about unleashing an unknown life form on the universe. Picard tells Data that the life form was created out of the ship’s programs, the crew’s logs and so on. How bad could such a life form be?

Parts of the episode seemed contrived. At the very least, the writers could have come up with a better name for Vertiform City. The concept of the Orient Express is explained, at least in part, by Dr. Crusher who notes that all sorts of people could meet there. There’s also a reference to Prospero, who could sense his career winding down and wanting to go out with a bang. (This is the third-to-last episode of the series.)

The episode starts to make sense when you look at many of the parts. I was going to bash the episode in this review, but I started to realize things as I was writing it. In a way, that’s the fun of a lot of the episodes. You could go back and watch this episode several times and start to pick things up. I’d definitely recommend that you buy this episode if you’re looking to buy them on tape. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 174 (Bloodlines)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

One of the problems with continuity is that it’s sometimes a stretch. In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we learned that Captain Picard had commanded a ship called the Stargazer long before taking command of the Enterprise and while commanding the Stargazer, Captain Picard ordered the destruction a Ferengi ship. Picard claims it was in self-defense, but the destroyed ship’s daimon (the Ferengi equivalent of a captain) had a father (also a daimon) who wanted revenge. After a failed attempt to get his revenge, he was stripped of his command own command and sent to prison.

That brings us to this episode. Apparently, Bok bought his way out of prison and is trying once again to get revenge. He’s using a holographic representation of himself to tell Picard that he knows about Picard’s son. Picard is somewhat mystified since he has no children. After some thinking, Picard realizes that the child that Bok referred to might be the result of a relationship he had with a woman about 28 years ago. She did have a child, Jason Vigo, who is about 27 now. Picard tracks him down and has him beamed aboard the Enterprise. Unfortunately, the mother died a few years ago and only told Jason that his father was in Starfleet.

Dr. Crusher performs a test, which reveals that the two really are father and son. Picard has to figure out how to protect someone that seems resistant to that help. Mostly, Jason is resistant to Picard. He grew up not knowing his father and seems to resent the intrusion now. He doesn’t want to be held on the Enterprise and doesn’t like having security guards follow him everywhere. Then, there’s the issue of how Bok is performing his tricks. He can seem to appear and disappear at will. Obviously, this presents a very big hole in security.

In the end, it turns out that Bok had actually manipulated Jason’s DNA to make it look like he was Picard’s son. It was all an attempt to make Picard feel the pain of losing a son. It’s obvious that Jason’s mother had another relationship. (Whether or not he was in Starfleet is up for debate.) I had to wonder if Picard was mistaken about the timeline or if Jason’s mother had two relationships within a few months of each other. The exact dates were never mentioned.

This was one of the better episodes. One of the major issues that comes up throughout the series is the balance between family and career. A lot of the episode deals with Picard getting to know a son he never knew he had. It’s not easy to meet your father and find out that someone’s out to kill you at the same time. I think what I like best is that it didn’t really rely too much on Bok. Another character could have just as easily been used. However, there are those that don’t give up.

I think that this episode was well placed near the end of the series. With the show nearing its end, I don’t think the writers could have a story that looked to the future. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 173 (Firstborn)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Worf is a Klingon and proud of it. Klingons are a warrior people with a long, proud tradition. Being a Klingon parent, Worf wants his son to grow up with said Klingon traditions. Unfortunately, Alexander doesn’t want to grow up as a Klingon. Alexander spent the first few years of his life with his mother, K'Ehleyr, who was half human. (Alexander is 3/4 Klingon and 1/4 Human.) She didn’t particularly embrace Klingon traditions and values and passed this sentiment on to her son.

It hasn’t been easy for Worf to instill Klingon values in Alexander. It comes to a head in this episode when Worf wants to have a talk with Alexander about the first Klingon Right of Ascension. The First Right of Ascension is a coming-of-age ceremony where a Klingon dedicates himself to the ways of the warrior. Alexander has the right to refuse to undergo this, but if he doesn’t do it before his thirteenth birthday, he can never do it.

Alexander finally becomes excited when he and Worf visit a Klingon outpost that the Enterprise happens to be near. There’s a festival underway, which would be a good way for Alexander to see part of what it means to be Klingon. Alexander does get excited about his Klingon heritage and has a chance to meet other Klingons his own age. However, when Alexander and Worf are heading home, several Klingons attack them. Another Klingon comes to the rescue. He identifies himself as K’Mtar, who Worf recognizes.

K’Mtar is a trusted member of Worf’s house. (Here, house is used in the sense of noble family.) Worf’s brother, Kern, sent K’Mtar to protect Worf and Alexander. The word is that the Duras sisters are out to assassinate someone in Worf’s house. (The Duras sisters are members of a rival house.) The Enterprise eventually tracks them down. When presented with the evidence, one of the sisters notices something strange. Eventually, the truth comes out. For the sake of not ruining it, I won’t give it away. However, Worf and Alexander seem to come away understanding each other a little better.

The latter part of the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation had a sort of lame-duck feel to it. The series got to end on its own terms, which meant that everyone knew that the end was coming. You can see it in a few other episodes. They all seem to be preparing for the final episode, which ties everything together.

Here, the acting was pretty good, as was the script and the sets. However, they weren’t great. When K'Ehleyr and worf were together, they served as great foils for each other. It took a while for Alexander to fill that role. In previous episodes, he always appeared a little out of place in the episode. Even in this episode, Alexander seemed a little awkward. The character was just about where he needed to be, but not quite. (Alexander appeared in a few episodes of Deep Space Nine, but was played by a different actor and had started to accept his role as a warrior.)

It’s a good episode, but not excellent. It’s somewhere between three and four episodes, not really average but not really above average. I’m more inclined to give it three stars.

IMDb page

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 172 (Journey's End)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Way back in the first few seasons of The Next Generation, it seemed like Wesley Crusher was always there to save the day. It earned him a bad reputation because it seemed like this teenage kid knew more about the ship than all of the engineering personnel on the flagship of the Federation. Eventually, it came time for Wesley to go of to Starfleet Academy. It seemed like the natural progression of the character. However, things may not have been what they seemed.

In “Journey’s End,” Wesley returns to the Enterprise as the ship is about to go to the newly formed demilitarized zone, or DMZ. In a treaty with the Cardassians, the Federation handed over several colonies. The residents of those colonies have to be relocated before the Cardassians can properly claim their new property and start surveying it. The trouble is that the residents of one of the planets don’t want to leave. Even though they’ve been there for only 20 years, they feel an attachment to the land.

The Enterprise has been sent there to mediate things and see if he can get the colonists to leave. Picard is to use whatever means he sees fit to remove them. Wesley sees what’s going on and feels that it’s wrong. He openly defies the captain and makes things worse. Picard calls Starfleet Academy and finds out that this isn’t unusual; Wesley has been acting up in class lately. Upon being questioned about it, Wesley admits that he’s dreading his graduation from the Academy. He doesn’t want to be in Starfleet.

A solution is worked out that isn’t exactly what Starfleet expected, but is acceptable to everyone. I don’t want to give away how the episode ends. What I will say is that you have to have seen the rest of the series prior to this episode to fully understand it. I don’t think someone could fully understand Wesley’s history by being told. There are several aspects of the series that come into play in this episode. Also, this episode sets up episodes of Deep Space Nine and hints at the series Star Trek: Voyager. This episode is not for the casual viewer.

The writing for this episode is great. Captain Picard is given a difficult problem. Like Wesley, he also knows that what he’s been ordered to do is morally wrong and the admiral giving him the orders argued against it. However, Picard has too much invested in his career to risk it over this. Even if he did, Starfleet could simply find another captain to command the Enterprise.

I’d give this episode four stars. As I said, it’s not for everyone, but someone collecting the episodes on VHS should buy this one. I’d say that it’s not really essential, but has a high replay value.

IMDb page

Friday, November 17, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 171 (Genesis)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Those that have watched Star Trek: The Next Generation are familiar with Lieutenant Reginald Barclay. He’s recurring character that’s a hypochondriac who usually assumes the worst. He reports to sickbay reporting symptoms of yet another deadly disease. Dr. Crusher gives him a shot to activate some sort of latent RNA. Meanwhile, Spot is expecting kittens and soon. (Spot is Data’s cat.) It turns out that Nurse Ogawa is also expecting.

On the bridge, the crew is testing out upgrades to the weapons systems. Captain Picard and Data have to take a shuttlecraft to retrieve an errant photon torpedo. When they return, they find that the ship has gone to the animals – literally. It seems that something about the shot that Dr. Crusher gave to Barclay did more than she expected. It spread to the entire crew, causing them to turn into less-evolved creatures. Even spot has turned into an iguana.

Data is immune to it, but Picard soon realizes that the same fate will eventually befall him. When Data notices that Spot’s kittens have not been affected, he realizes that Nurse Ogawa might provide a solution for the rest of the crew. Unfortunately, they have to deal with a de-evolved Worf, who’s hot for Counselor Troi and is willing and able to pound his way through anything that stands between them. Fortunately, Data saves the day, finding a cure that can be spread through the air. Everyone returns to normal and Barclay even gets a disease named after him.

There are a few minor problems. First, it looked like Spot’s kittens, while unharmed, hadn’t been fed for a while. It would have been nice, at the end of the episode, to see Data holding a litter of kittens saying how everything worked out. I realize that it’s a minor point, but a lot of people seem to bring this up. However, Spot’s gender is firmly established. In previous episodes, Data had referred to her as either her or him.

Also, how is it that Spot turned into an iguana? Supposedly, the disease affected parts of human (and non-human) DNA that held the genetic codes that we had accumulated over eons of evolution. Even if cats and iguanas do have a common ancestry at some point, I don’t think that Spot would have access to the genetic code for iguanas. Theoretically, Spot should have turned into a less-evolved feline. (On that note, Troi should have had access to two sets of species to de-evolve into since she’s half Betzoid.)

One thing that caught my attention was that Nurse Ogawa was pregnant. Granted, it was necessary to give Data something to work with, but how is it that she goes from being uncertain about her boyfriend a few episodes ago to having his child? There are over a thousand crewmembers, presumably half of which are female. Out of 500 women, Nurse Ogawa is the only one that’s pregnant?

It’s a great episode that’s hampered by a few too many mistakes. If you can get past these things, it’s an enjoyable episode. I’d say that regular viewer and new viewer alike could watch this episode. As much as I liked it, though, I can’t give it more than three stars. There are just too many gaps in the story.

IMDb page

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 170 (Eye of the Beholder)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending of the episode.  If you haven’t watched it, please take note.

Lt. Daniel Kwan seemed like such a normal person.  Then, he jumped into a plasma stream.  His last words were, “I know what I have to do.”  This leads Worf, chief of security, and Troi, ship’s counselor and resident empath, to investigate.  There seems to be no reason why Kwan did what he did.  He was happy.  He had a girlfriends.   He even had a hot date with her to look forward to.  Why did he have to do what he did?

Troi comes to have an empathic vision of a couple kissing, then subsequently laughing at her, or whoever she’s standing in for.  The only other person she sees is a man in a Starfleet uniform.  She follows the clues and finds that the man, named Lt. Walter Pierce, worked at Utopia Planitia, which is where the Enterprise was built, as did Kwan.  Coincidence?  Probably.  Kwan arrived a few months after Pierce left.

It turns out that the entire thing was a hallucination.  Well, most of it.  I’m not exactly sure, but Pierce murdered the couple that Troi saw, then committed suicide, himself.  All three of them went missing.  Pierce was part Betaziod and left some sort of cellular residue that both Kwan and Troi picked up on.  Much of the episode passed in a few seconds.

There are a few things that bother me about the episode.  First, it’s very subdued.  Since the episode starts with suicide, there could probably be more dealing with the motivations of why someone would do this.  Instead, it’s mostly the obligatory, “but he was so happy.”  Why does everyone always say this?  Because Kwan had a lot going for him, does that mean that he can’t be unhappy?  There was no mention of possible mental illness.

If someone is a miserable loser, does it follow that they must commit suicide?  You never see anyone asking why someone hasn’t jumped yet.  The natures of depression and suicide are far more complicated than that.  No one mentions this.  I’m not a psychologist nor have I ever had such impulses.  It would have been nice to get some understanding about it.  Instead, the episode treats suicide as nothing more than a plot point.

Also, the ending was a little confusing.  I’ve seen the episode several times and I’ve never been certain how much of the episode was in Troi’s head.  Was it from the first visit?  Was it from the second?  How much of the episode was for our benefit?

This was near the end of the final season for The Next Generation.  I’m not sure if the writers were trying to stretch out the season or if they had senioritis.  The writing here could have been a lot better.  This episode had so much potential.  The whole dream thing is kind of cliché at this point.  If you’re going to do it, at least do it well.  This episode could easily be skipped without much loss.