Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Secrets of Underground London (2014)

I’ve always had a fascination with forgotten and abandoned structures.  It’s interesting to see something that was once used now sit empty.  It’s a piece of history preserved.  I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in an abandoned rail station.  Secrets of Underground London looks at a few places, mostly abandoned and forgotten, beneath Brittan’s capitol city.

The entire documentary is part of a series called The Secrets of Britain.  The episode is just under an hour, as you might expect.  Each segment deals with something different.  One is about underground rivers. Another is about Churchill’s underground bunkers.  We even get to see a Roman amphitheater buried beneath London.  The episode is almost a travel guide of places you’ll probably never be able to see.

There are a few places that aren’t off limits, like the London Silver Vaults.  It apparently started as a secure vault that started letting people in.  there’s also a segment on the London Underground, mentioning the system’s map.  The episode ends with the expansion of the British Museum.  They’re having to carefully excavate around the area so that they can build downward.  (Since the episode aired several years ago, the work might be done already.)

The episode is pretty generic and is perfect for short attention spans.  It’s the kind of thing a teacher might play for a class when they need to waste an hour.  The only thing that might be scary is the story of a ‘haunted’ cave.  The segment doesn’t go into much detail except to say that someone was supposed to have died there.  Two men spent the night there as part of a challenge.  One was so scared that he blocked the memory of what happened.

This is the kind of thing that’s more of an overview.  Each segment could probably be developed into its own documentary.  I would imagine that there’s no shortage of stuff on Churchill, alone.  I could also see finding something on the London Underground.  This is exactly the kind of thing that PBS would run during a membership drive.  I could even see them giving out a copy of the six-episode series.

If you’re interested, I’d recommend looking into getting it streaming.  I was able to get it through Netflix.  I’m sure places like Amazon would have it, as well.  I don’t know that this would have a lot of replay value.  If you’re thinking of giving it as a gift, maybe a Secret Santa sort of thing.  It’s not the kind of thing that you’re going to watch again and realize you missed something.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

I remember having an image, fairly or not, of the 1960s being a time of nuclear families.  You had a mother and a father.  They had two or three kids together and the father was usually in charge.  Things had changed by the time I was growing up in the 1980s.  In elementary school, I remember a kid once asking me which parent I lived with.  When I said both, he assumed I meant they had joint custody.  It wasn’t uncommon for parents to be divorced or even remarried.  The definition of family was different from what I had seen in older shows.

Nani and Lilo lost their parents in a car accident.  Nani, being the older sister, took it upon herself to raise Lilo, but it‘s not easy.  Nani has to be the responsible one when all Lilo wants is her sister back.  Lilo seems aggressive towards her friends, fighting with at least one of them.  Nani decides that it might be a good idea for Lilo to get a dog.

It’s about that time that Experiment 626 lands on Earth.  He was designed to attack major cities, causing all sorts of havoc.  His main drawback is that he’s too dense to swim.  It’s ironic, then, that he should land on an island with no major cities.  It is, however, the island that Nani and Lilo live on.  After being run over by a truck, Experiment 626 is presumed dead or near death, but is taken to the local dog shelter, anyway.  This is where Lilo decides to adopt 626 and name him Stitch.

Stitch was created in a lab by Jumba.  As such, Stitch doesn’t have a family.  Lilo at least has memories to fall back on.  Stitch just has an irrepressible urge to destroy stuff.  He even makes Lilo’s room to look like San Francisco just so he has something to knock down.  Lilo takes it upon herself to teach Stitch better.

The movie is somewhat predictable.  Stitch can’t help but cause trouble for Lilo and Nani.  Many of his actions might be amusing if it weren’t for the presence of Mr. Cobra Bubbles, a tough social worker that’s checking up on Nani and Lilo.  The pressure’s on to look perfect.  If not, Mr. Bubbles will take Lilo away.  This is why it’s a big deal that Stitch leads to Nani getting fired.

The presence of Jumba doesn’t make things easier.  Jumba is sent to earth to get his experiment back.  He’s told not to harm humans, but that doesn’t stop him from making a scene or two.  It also doesn’t stop him from leaving a mess that makes Nani look bad.  It would seem that Lilo has found a kindred spirit in Stitch, but Stitch is proving to be more trouble than he’s worth.  Even Lilo has to recognize that.

It isn’t until Captain Gantu arrives that things come to a head.  Gantu was the one originally tasked with transporting Stitch to be exiled on an asteroid.  Gantu manages to capture Stitch.  In the process, Lilo is imprisoned in the same container.  Stitch escapes, leaving Lilo to be taken away by Gantu.  Stitch takes it upon himself to get Lilo back.

As you might imagine, the movie is geared towards younger audiences.  The big thing to watch for is cartoon violence.  There’s one big gun fight between Jumba and Stitch, which is the worst of it.  There are a few scenes where Stitch talks in his native language, only to have other characters gasp.  We can’t understand what Stitch is saying, so nothing falls on small ears.  Even the death of the sisters’ parents is handled well.  All that’s said is that they went out for a drive one night while it was raining.

Both of the titular characters are ugly ducklings of sorts.  Neither seems to be wanted, but both seem to take to each other.  (In Stitch’s case, maybe it takes a little longer.)  It’s a fun movie.  Many adults will probably see things coming.  Mr. Bubbles is there mainly to create tension, so it’s expected that Stitch will do things to jeopardize Nani’s status as guardian.  Nani tries, but Stitch is not meant to be helpful.  He’s meant to be destructive.

I hope I haven’t turned anyone off from the movie.  It is fun.  Despite being geared towards children, it can be fun for adults, too.  I know there are those out there that will be sold on it simply because it’s Disney.  The movie has the watercolor look of the older films, which is good.    I’ve seen the movie several times over the years and it holds up well.  I wish I could get more movies like this.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tesla: Master of Lightning (2000)

Those that get credit aren’t always those that did most of the work.  Thomas Edison is a name synonymous with electricity.  Marconi is associated with radio.  Both of these men owe their fortunes to Nikola Tesla.  Tesla was able to invent a working alternating-current motor.  It was Tesla who first patented a viable radio system.  (Edison did, however, invent the electric meter used for billing.)

If you associate the name Tesla with electric cars only, there’s a reason for that.  As they say, the business of business is business.  Edison was, first and foremost, a businessman.  Tesla was a great inventor, but he seemed to lack the social and business skills to achieve fame and fortune.  He did well for himself, at least for a little while.  He sold patents to Westinghouse and received royalties that could have bankrupted the company.  In the end, he died bankrupt.

I found a documentary on Netflix about Tesla.  I was interested to know more about him; when I saw the 87-minute running time, I thought I had something.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  The documentary seems to be made for a general audience, which is typical for PBS.  It comes off as boring and long-winded.  This isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable.  It’s just that I found myself bored about halfway through.  It’s one of those documentaries that you keep expecting to end every five minutes.

This isn’t necessarily to sleight PBS.  There does seem to be an audience for this.  The problem was that I was looking for something interesting on someone that I didn’t know much about.  This wasn’t really what I was looking for.  The documentary doesn’t really do justice to Tesla.  Here was a man that was able to come up with great inventions.  The narration was flat and was used to tie together some still and video shots.

There were only two notable scenes, and I’m bringing them up mainly if you’re thinking of letting children watch this.  First, there was an electrocution of an elephant shown.  They do actually show the elephant being electrocuted and subsequently falling over.  They also mention electricity’s use in the death penalty.  This isn’t as graphic, but is still shown.

The documentary does seem to hype Tesla.  He was a great inventor and I’ve heard that his hatred of Edison may have been well earned.  However, it seems like several other people involved were downplayed.  Westinghouse did have a contract with Tesla and it was Tesla’s decision to tear up the contract rather than let Westinghouse go bankrupt.

I feel like a documentary about Tesla could have been done better.  This is one of those situations where reading a book would probably be a better idea, as it can go more in depth with the various aspects of Tesla’s life.  There seems to be so much going on that I wouldn’t be surprised if most of it was being left out.  If I’m going to recommend a documentary to inform people of Tesla, this probably isn’t going to be it.

Netflix seems to have a mixed bag of documentaries.  There are some good ones on the streaming site and some bad ones.  This was one of the ones I wish I had avoided.  I do recommend finding out more about Tesla.  I just don’t recommend renting this documentary.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Stereo (2014)

Erik is your normal, everyday kind of guy.  He runs a repair shop.  His head is clean-shaven.  He has tattoos on his arm.  He’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to date.  In fact, he unknowingly meets his girlfriend’s father when he gets pulled over for speeding on his way to said girlfriend’s house.  Julia, the girlfriend, lives with Linda, her daughter.  (There’s no mention of who Linda’s father is, but Erik seems to be filling the role nicely.)

One day, a guy with a hood starts watching Erik from afar.  Eventually, the hooded figure gets close enough to introduce himself as Henry.  Shortly thereafter, another guy shows up claiming that he knows who Erik really is and that Erik had better do what the mystery man says, or else he’ll call Keitel and give Erik up.  The problem is that Eric has no idea who either of these two men are, although he later admits that Henry seems familiar.  Henry would rather have nothing to do with either of them.  All he wants is to be left alone with Julia and Linda.  That’s not possible now.  Erik comes to realize that he has a past that’s about to catch up with him, whether he remembers it or not.

I have to admit that the movie wasn‘t what I expected.  I had added the movie to my list of movies to watch on Netflix, although I’m not sure why.  The description doesn’t give away much and with good reason.  You wonder if the good guy is really bad and you come to find out that the bad guys are even worse.

Keitel one guy you don’t want to mess with.  He walks with a limp due that he blames on Erik.  He has naked women all around him, many of them partially or fully naked.  He has henchmen that have no problem kidnapping Julia, her father and her daughter to use as leverage.  Keitel even shoots one of them.  The fist part of the movie is at least of questionable appropriateness for children.  The second part is about as close to no one under 18 as you’ll streaming on Netflix.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what I expected.  Netflix seems to have a few different descriptions, so it’s possible that I saw one that accurately described the movie.  Be prepared to ask questions.  (You will get many of them answered, although not necessarily here.)  Like Erik, we’re wondering what’s real and what’s a vivid hallucination.  Julia’s father points out that Erik doesn’t seem to have a past beyond a few years ago.  (No run-ins with the law for most of his life, then Erik gets 16 speeding tickets in a few years?)

It’s hard to go into a lot of detail without giving away the movie.  Most of the fun is figuring out what’s going on, just as Erik is.  You kind of know what’s going on.  Like Planet of the Apes, the cover gives away a hint.  I actually debated over whether or not to finish the movie.  I’m glad I finished it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

World of Tomorrow (2015)

I remember an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show, The House of Next Tuesday.  I don’t remember much about the episode itself, as I saw it almost 30 years ago, except that it was a play on the tendency to make something sound futuristic by calling it The Thing of Tomorrow.  I’m not sure how Tomorrow became the standard.  I guess it sounds like it’s coming soon.  The Thing of the Future sounds like it’s postponed indefinitely.  The Thing of Tomorrow sounds like you could get one right away.

I had been putting off watching The World of Tomorrow indefinitely.  The premise seemed interesting, even if it was cliché.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit much time to watching something last night.  Then, I noticed that it was only 16 minutes.

The movie starts with a young girl, Emily, receiving a phone call from an older version of herself.  Actually, the older Emily is a clone of a clone of the young Emily.  (The clone refers to her younger self as Emily Prime.)  You see, in the future, people can have a perfect clone made of themselves.  Emily was impregnated with her perfect clone.  When the time came, her memories were transferred to the clone and thus extend her life.

Emily the Clone transports Emily Prime into the future to show her around.  It’s basically Clone Emily telling Emily Prime about their life.  Clone Emily, for instance, worked on the moon managing work robots who needed to stay in the light to survive.  She fell in love with a rock and was sad when she had to leave.  Not everyone gets clones made of themselves.  Poorer people, like their grandfather, have their memories transferred to little boxes.

While Emily Prime is full of life, as you might expect from a little girl, Clone Emily tends to be less emotional.  This leads to a lot of deadpan humor.  Clone Emily tells Emily Prime how time travel is sill unpredictable and dangerous right before transporting herself to the future.  The movie also goes through some of the clichés of time travel, like having to worry about the position of the Earth.

While Emily Prime’s present is simple, the future tends to look kind of trippy.  It didn’t vary much from what I saw on the cover.  The animation wasn’t distracting, though.  It was effective in helping to tell the story.  You get a look at what you come to realize is the decline of humanity.  You’d think that the world of tomorrow is a happy place.  Not necessarily.

I wouldn’t say that the movie is depressing, but I don’t think it’s going to be for everyone.  It seems to be geared towards people who are at least familiar with science-fiction plots.  I don’t know that it’s exactly satire, but it does play on a few aspects of time travel.  I’m sure certain aspects of the story will be lost on some people.

As a short film, I don’t expect to see it on DVD, at least not by itself.  It would be interesting to get a DVD with several shorts on it.  Those seem hard to find, though.  Netflix doesn’t have a category for it.  I have been able to find shorts there, which is where I found this one, but you have to do it by a more mainstream category like drama or animation.  Perhaps one of these days, I’ll do a ten-best list or something.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Freakonomics (2010)

We tend to assume causation where there is none.  There may very well be correlation, but it’s possible that both things have a common cause.  It’s also possible that both things are totally unrelated.  There’s an entire Web site dedicate to this premise.  Freakonomics is a documentary that shows a few examples of this.  There was a case where polio was believed to be linked to ice cream, as both tended to spike during the summer.

The first segment deals with the effect that a child’s name may have on their future.  In one case, a child lived up to an unfortunate name.  In another example, brothers Winner and Loser proved to be the opposite of their names.  The truth is that names tend to be a reflection of your parents and your surroundings.  True, ethnic-sounding names do put you at a disadvantage for jobs and housing.  However, if you have the kind of parent that puts effort into your name, you have the kind of parent who will put effort into other things.

The second segment deals with corruption in sumo wrestling.  The sport is supposed to be pure, but there are incentives to throw a match if it’s believed that there’s some benefit.  Wrestlers get paid extra if they have a certain record.  If two wrestlers go up against each other and one needs the win whereas the other doesn’t, the wrestler needing the win tends to win the match they need more often than they should.  Statistically, it looks like players are throwing matches.   (It turns out that this is, indeed, the case, as several former players have come forward stating as much.)

The third segment shows a correlation between abortions and crime rates.  In a country where women were required to have unwanted children, the crime rate went up 15-20 years later.  Similarly, 15-20 years after Roe v. Wade, the United States had a corresponding decrease in crime.  While this hasn’t been proven conclusively, the theory is that unwanted children tend towards crime more than wanted children.  The authors of the book point out that this isn’t an endorsement of abortion.  They’re simply pointing out that if a woman can wait until she’s ready to be a mother, it helps the children later in life.

The final segment is on attempting to bribe ninth-grade students to do better in school.  The segment is set up with a story about one of the authors rewarding his daughter only to have her game the system.  Two students in particular are followed; the experiment works with only one of the two students.  The results for this one are inconclusive.  (If a student is doing so poorly that they’re already talking about a GED, is $50 per month really going to motivate them?)  The point here seems to be that an economic incentive isn’t always the best thing, especially later in life.  Is it better to motivate them earlier?  Is it better to use other means?  If offered the money, I’m not sure I would have done much better in school.  Most kids tend to live for the here and now.

The movie is interesting.  I watched it having read the book already.  I didn’t really expect anything new.   In some regards, you may be better off reading the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  There are more chapters and each goes into more detail.  If you have already read the book, you’re probably not going to find many surprised here.  The segments are based on chapters of the book.

However, if you have the ability to rent or stream the movie, it is interesting.  It gives a basic look at some areas that you might not otherwise think about.  The movie is geared towards an adult audience, but most teenagers should be able to grasp the basic contents.

The PG-13 rating comes from some of the language and a few violent scenes.  If I recall, most of the violence depicted was in the third section, which dealt more with violent crimes.  There was also a scene of a strip club with strippers’ names covering their otherwise bare breasts.  That’s the only scene I’d be embarrassed to watch with my parents.  Much of it is stuff would make for good discussion with your children.  I could almost see this being optional viewing for a college course.  Some of the material is controversial, but I don’t think it would cause anyone’s head to explode.

I was able to get this streaming on Netflix.  I’m not sure that I would necessarily expect or want special features.  As I said, you can get the book for more detail.  There’s also the Web site for Freakonomics, which seems to be for all of the various related media.  It’s definitely worth a watch.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Le cinquième élément/The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element starts in Egypt in 1914.  A professor is on the verge of decoding some ancient text when a priest pays him a visit.  It seems that the professor is on the verge of unlocking one of the universe’s great secrets.  Before the priest can do anything about it, an alien ship lands.  The aliens are the Mondoshawans and they’re there to collect four stones and a sarcophagus.  The items are not safe on Earth any more.  When the time comes, the Mondoshawans will return the items to the pyramid.  The priest is to pass down his knowledge to the next priest as it was passed down to him so that Earth will be ready.

It’s never easy being tasked with saving all life in the universe.  It’s strange, then, that it should fall on Korben Dallas.  He’s just a simple taxi driver in South Brooklyn in 2263.  Yes, several hundred years have passed and it’s about time for the Mondoshawans to return with the stones and the sarcophagus.  The only hitch is that their ship is destroyed, but not all is lost.  Scientists are able to clone one of the occupants, a beautiful woman who promptly escapes and lands in Korben’s taxi.

Amazingly, the woman has some sort of genetic memory that allows her to know an ancient language that Korben can’t understand.  At least he recognizes a name and that name happens to belong to a priest similar to the one in 1914.  Korben brings the woman, who eventually identifies herself as Leeloo, to him.  The priest understands enough of the language to learn from Leeloo that the stones are safe and that they’re to meet a courier to get the stones and save Earth.

What does the Earth need saving from?  A large mass is forming in interstellar space.  It’s not moving, but it is getting larger.  The military can’t seem to do anything about it.  The current priest, Vito Cornelius, tells President Lindberg that the sphere is pure evil.  Trying to fight it in any conventional sense will only make it stronger.  Our only hope is to bring the four stones together with the Fifth Element.  If she stands in the center of the other elements, all life will be reaffirmed.

If True Evil, who goes by Mr. Shadow, stands at the center, all life will be destroyed.  Fortunately, Good has several people in their corner.  All Mr. Shadow has is Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, who happens to employ Korben.  (Well, at least for the first part of the movie.)  Zorg has hired Mangalores, an alien race that seems to all be mercenaries.  They seem to be good at blowing things up, but not retrieving them.  (They get the case that’s supposed to contain the stones, but don’t bother to check the contents.  This is the same mistake that Zorg, himself, makes later in the movie.)

The only thing I found cliché about the movie is that evil is never allowed to hire good help.  Good is always on the ball.  Korben is former military and was apparently the best at what he did.  Leeloo is perfect to the point of being divine, or at least that’s what everyone keeps saying.  When they clone her from the smallest lump of cells, she’s reformed with what I would assume is her former knowledge. That’s pretty impressive, to say the least.

We even have Ruby Rhod, a talk-show host that finds himself along for the ride.  He provides a way for the president and the military to listen in on part of the mission.  Ruby seems to have luck on his side, both in attracting the affection of ladies and avoiding the destructiveness of the Mangalores.  When I first saw The Fifth Element, I thought he was more annoying than useful, but Ruby Rhod does seem to grow on you.  He does provide a comedic element that’s not so annoying now that I’ve seen the movie several times.  (It’s still understandable why Korben would prefer to minimize his contact with Ruby.)

Considering the nature of what’s at stake, it’s amazing that the movie comes across as not being overly serious.  Granted, the characters all have a sense of what’s at stake.  Cornelius has made it his life’s work to ensure everything goes right.  Leeloo exists to save all life.  I mean, no pressure.  Right?  Fortunately, Korben seems to be the one guy best suited to handle that kind of situation.

The movie does hold up for me.  I’m just as entertained by it today as I was when I saw it years ago.  I’d definitely recommend watching it.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Alien movies tend to go in two directions.  You have movies where aliens invade Earth, either forcefully or subtly.  Then, there are movies like Alien Nation, with the aliens generally being peaceful.  (Don’t even get me started on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.)  A few, like Contact, deal strictly with first contact.  We don’t get to see much of the aliens, if anything at all.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is closest to Contact.   What we see of the aliens is mostly their ships.  One of them seems to take notice of Roy Neary’s truck before moving on.  After that encounter, Roy becomes increasingly obsessed with something.  He doesn’t know exactly what, but the vision is getting clearer.  It gets to the point where his wife takes the kids to her sister’s house.

Roy eventually gets a clear picture of what he learns is Devils Tower in Wyoming.  Along the way, he catches up with Jillian Guiler, who is also headed to Devils Tower.  Her son was abducted by the aliens and, in the process, she apparently got the same message as Roy.

It’s not going to be easy for them.  The government has also received coordinates for Devil’s Tower and subsequently quarantined the surrounding area.  Roy, Jillian and a few others do manage to make it most of the way, but are stopped by the government.  Claude Lacombe, who’s running the show for the government, realizes that they were invited by the aliens, but that doesn’t make things easier for those who were invited.

The thing that I’ve always wondered, and I know I’m not the first to do so, is why we tend towards the extremes.  If we’re to assume that aliens invade, we would have to ask why.  What does this planet have that’s so valuable that it would be worth going through all the effort of wiping us out.  You‘d think they‘d be able to get it by some other means.  On the other hand, would a peaceful race even want anything to do with us?  I’ve often thought that any civilization capable of crossing vast interstellar distances would probably have a look at us and be scared.  Look at what we do to our own species.  Do you think we’d treat them any better?

What would first contact actually look like?  I mean, what would actually happen if aliens came down and asked to meet our leaders?  Would it be a simple message like The Day the Earth Stood Still?  Would it be obvious like all of the invasion movies or would it be more subtle like They Live?

The close encounters for Roy and Jillian are a bit bumpy.  When the aliens visit Jillian’s house, all of her electronics seem to turn on.  Radios start blaring.  Toys start moving around.  Roy’s experience is similar.  Nearby signs and mailboxes start rattling.  Is it the aliens intent to scare them?  It could just be a byproduct of their technology.

There is an assumption that aliens would look like us.  It’s easier to have a human actor play the alien, hence the proliferation of humanoid aliens on TV and in movies.  However, there’s no reason to think that we’d have a common form or language for that matter.  The use of music in Close Encounters of the Third Kind makes sense, at least, as would the use of hand gestures.  It stands to reason that if they’ve studied us, they would be able to find some way to at least attempt communication.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is relatively well known.  I remember watching Jeopardy! once.  The final clue referenced the five-note tune repeated throughout the movie.  I remember not only getting it instantly, but wondering why my parents didn’t.  It was one of those clues that if you had seen the movie, the response was obvious.  There are definitely worse ways to spend a few hours of your life.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)

George Carlin once asked, “If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?”  Such is the question with Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie.  The movie was released right after Donald Trump won the Republican primary.  The movie is presented as something that is done almost entirely by Trump.  The opening and closing credits have Trump listed as writer, director, producer and almost everything else.  The theme is performed by Kenny Loggins, although the credits posit that Trump could have performed it better.

The movie is satirical.  The opening scene has Ron Howard telling the audience that Trump made the TV movie based on the book, but that it was preempted by a football game that went into overtime.  Trump vowed never to let his masterpiece be seen again, but Howard managed to find a VHS copy of the movie at a yard sale.

The actual movie starts with a kid stealing a copy of the book upon which the movie is based.  He runs into an office only to find that it belongs to his all-time greatest hero, Donald Trump.  Trump allows the kid to remain.  This allows the kid to serve as an adoring audience for Trump while he explains The Art of the Deal.  He goes through several segments, which I understand correspond mostly to chapters in the book.

The thing is that it comes off exactly like you’d expect a Trump-made movie to come off.   The movie is made to have Trump look big.  He always hogs the scenes and tells about how great he is and how mediocre everyone else is.  In the scene with Ivana Trump, he constantly interrupts her.  The movie succeeded at looking like it was made by an amateur.

The joke plays out kind of quickly, leading to some repetition.  Trump explains seeing a picture of a boy looking at the Taj Mahal, which inspired him to buy the casino from Merv Griffin.  This becomes a running gag, wherein Trump repeatedly calls Griffin to make a deal.  There are also a few scenes where people tell Trump that he’ll never get the casino.

I’m not even sure I picked up on all of the humor.  Trump and others repeatedly claim how great Trump is with minority tenants.  The movie was supposed to be released in 1988, which would have made me 12.  I’m assuming that there was some lawsuit with Trump and his tenants around that time.   Some of the jokes are dated, such as an appearance by ALF of sitcom fame.  We also get an appearance by Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown, coming back to warn everyone that Trump will be made president.  Most people with get the Back to the Future reference, but I’m not sure how well known ALF is now.

There were several scenes that were vulgar, like Trump giving two middle fingers.  This isn’t really something for children.  Speaking of which, I don’t think most children will find this funny in a few generations.  As I said, some of the references are dated.  Also, I don’t know how much people will know of the personal lives of Trump in 50 years.  If you look back at presidents from around 50 years before you were born, how much do you know about them?  How many references would you get if Calvin Coolidge was the main character?  I think a lot of it is meant for today’s audience.

In case you’re wondering, I had to look up Der Scutt.  I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be some ironic name, but Donald Clark "Der" Scutt is the actual architect of Trump Tower.  I’m not really sure where the Der comes from, though.

It was 50 minutes total, which was about 25 minutes too long for me.  It was exactly what I expected it to be, given that it was presented as a VHS copy of a 1988 production by Donald Trump.  It’s just that the joke got kind of old quickly.  It was actually made by Funny or Die, which is known for much shorter skits.  If you stay past the closing credits, you’ll see an end scene of Ron Howard deciding that the tape isn’t worth saving.  He made the right choice burning it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Blade Runner (1982)

The first time I saw Blade Runner was many years ago and it had narration.  The narration was from the theatrical cut and has been removed from all subsequent cuts.  I remember liking the narration and that others didn’t.  Not liking the narration seems to have the overwhelming majority when it comes to opinion, which is what makes the theatrical version somewhat difficult to come by.

Either way, the basic story is the same.  Rick Deckard is brought out of retirement to hunt down four individuals.  Why are any the four individuals so important?  They’re replicants, or artificial people made for off-world labor.  They’re not allowed back on Earth.  Deckard is what’s called a blade runner.  He hunts down and ‘retires’ replicants.  The four replicants are the top of the line, so they need the best blade runner out there.

The movie has gained cult status in the years following its release.  It’s known for being very dark and with good reason.  Aside from the violence, which I’ll get to, I don’t think there were many scenes with daylight.  Everything seems to be at night, which makes the illuminated billboards (and product placement) stand out a little more.  As if that weren’t enough, it seems that it’s almost always raining in the Los Angeles of the future.

As for the violence, replicants aren’t very well liked.  They’re given a four-year life span so as not to develop pesky emotions or personalities.  Deckard is allowed to kill with extreme prejudice, which he does in two cases.  A third is killed by Rachael, who is most likely a replicant, herself.

This is where it the lines get blurry.  It seems that normally, replicants are given the skills they need to do their jobs.  With such a short amount of life, one would assume that there’s no time to waste with training.  It’s possible, as with Rachael, to implant a real person’s actual memories.  Does that make Rachael any less of a person than the person she’s based on?

When I first watched Blade Runner, I saw it mostly as an action movie.  You have a police officer hunting down four criminals with the express purpose of killing them.  It wasn’t until I got older that I began to see some of the finer details.  You don’t actually call killing a replicant what it is.  Instead, you say you’re retiring them, as they’re nothing more than a product of the Tyrell Corporation.  Their entire existence is to go into situations too hazardous for humans.  They’re disposable.

If that’s true, what do you call a replicant that thinks she’s a real person?  Is she any less disposable because she seems real?  Is she any more deserving of life because she’s pretty?  Then, there’s Deckard himself.  It’s implied that he may be a replicant, too.

One thing that confused me, though, is that the movie seems to go back and forth between calling them robots and people.  At least one of the makers are referred to as a genetic engineer.  They seem to be made from organically grown parts.  I’m not sure if the brains are organic, though.  It is entirely possible that the brains are mechanical.  It‘s ambiguous, as they’re not really clones and not exactly robots.

The version I got was The Final Cut, which was the last version released.  There is an Ultimate Edition, which contains several version.  I’m not sure how many of the seven different cuts are available, but it seems that if I want the narration, this will have to be the version I have to buy.  I would like to see the theatrical cut to see how well it holds up.  I’m not sure I’d get it any time soon, as it can be a bit tedious for me to watch the same movie twice in such a short time span.  I may wait to see if it becomes available streaming or at the library.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fargo (1996)

Sometimes, you dig a hole so deep, your only choice is to keep digging.  Jerry Lundegaard has found himself in just such a hole.  He’s in deep enough that he’s decided to contract Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud to kidnap his wife.  They’re not the brightest, but they know enough to ask why Jerry wants half the ransom money back.  They also want to know why they aren’t getting cash up front.  You see, it’s Jerry’s father-in-law, Wade Gustafson, that has the money.  Jerry can provide the two with a car, as Jerry manages a car lot.  If they want the money, they have to get it from Wade with Jerry acting as the intermediary.

As you might expect, things don’t go according to plan.  Gaear shoots three people while transporting the wife, getting the police involved.  Wade also wants to deliver the money, which would cut Jerry out of his half, not that Carl would mind.  Carl wants to keep the whole thing for himself.  This could complicate things, as Jerry has upped the ransom to a million dollars.  Oh, and the police chief is investigating and she’s very good at her job.  (She has an uncanny ability to piece things together.)

Oh, and if that’s not enough, Jerry has GMAC on his back.  He somehow wrote up $320,000 in loans for cars that don’t exist.  It amazes me that he was even able to get away with this, considering we‘re talking 1987 dollars.  That would be close to $900,000 in modern money.  For that matter, I’m not sure why Jerry had such a lowball ransom amount.  Why not go for a million in the first place?  That would have been more than enough to pay back GMAC, unless the plan was to delay indefinitely or to skip town later.  (GMAC keeps demanding serial numbers, which Jerry is unable to provide.)

It seemed like it was a prefect crime.  All the kidnappers had to do was sit on the wife until the ransom came through.  This is, however, a movie about three screwups.  We don’t even learn why Jerry had to have that kind of money.  I’m assuming that he didn’t take it all at once, but still, where did it all go?  He also had to know someone would eventually ask about it.  You’d think the head salesman at a car dealership would either know better or be able to falsify the paperwork a little better.

As for the kidnappers, they tend to be an odd couple.  One is talkative while the other is quiet.  One tries bribery and quick talking while the other would seem to prefer a scorched-earth approach.  Neither one is that bright about it.  I know that Jerry probably can’t afford much on the $40,000 he’s paying, but you’d think he’d try for a little better.  There’s one scene where Carl is burying something in the snow.  He looks around and realizes that there’s no way to really identify the location later.  This scene for me typifies the movie.  No one really seems to think too far ahead.

I’m not a big fan of downward spirals, mostly because movies that use this theme tend to overdo it.  Here, it’s more subtle.  Jerry does come off as somewhat sympathetic in that any of us could find ourselves in a similar situation.  Maybe not that exact situation, but we can empathize with Jerry’s desperation.  We can see his frustration in thinking that he’s losing control that he never really had.

Some of the things were too subtle even for me.  As I said, I’m not sure what was going on in Jerry’s life that got him to that point.  (I’m sure someone will leave a comment with a good explanation.)  Jerry had proposed a land deal to Wade.  I’m not sure if was a real land deal or a way of getting money from his rich father-in-law.  I’m also not sure how Wade hadn’t found out about the GMAC scam.  You’d think someone would have contacted the owner of the dealership at some point.

It does present itself as a solid story, though.  None of the characters are so over the top that they were distracting or unbelievable.  There is violence, and it‘s not entirely subtle.  (One person was shot in the back at a distance.)  There is sex and nudity, but not a lot.  This isn’t a movie meant for small children.  It’s a dark comedy.  There are also things that I think would be too subtle for children, just as there are things about the movie that would be too much.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 126 (Time's Arrow: Part 1)

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

The Enterprise is called back to Earth. Captain Picard and Data are called down to an archaeological site, where they're shown several artifacts, including a watch. Picard knows that these things can't possible warrant calling Starfleet's flagship all the way back to Earth. That's when they're shown something utterly amazing: Data's head. It had apparently been sitting there for 500 years, despite the fact that it's still attached to the rest of Data. At some point, presumably in the near future, Data will go back in time and be 'killed' in such a way that his head is left below San Francisco in the 1890s. From this point on, everyone is conscious of Data's presence, abruptly ending conversations when he appears.

Chief Engineer La Forge is able to find a microbe that can be traced back to a planet called Devidia II. The ship goes there to find a cave; upon beaming down, Counselor Troi, an empath, senses a great many people and they're all afraid. There also seem to be aliens who are out of phase with normal time, meaning that they can't be seen, even if the phase shift is only by a few seconds. Captain Picard is reluctant to send Data down for fear that this will be what sends him back in time, but Data's presence is necessary to be able to see the aliens. He's able to phase himself so that he's in sync with the aliens. Using a delay mechanism, Data is able to communicate with the ship and the rest of the landing party, but loses contact after a minute or two. Data finds himself on the streets of San Francisco and the landing party is left to assume what happened.

Data manages to find his way to a hotel, but doesn't have the money to pay rent. Data gets lucky when he finds out that there's a poker game going on. He sells his badge, which has gold in it, for three dollars and cleans out the rest of the players. (If one of the other players sounds familiar, imagine him as a Cardassian. The one doing most of the talking is Gul Dukat.) Data is able to set himself up in one of the rooms so that he can try to figure out how to get back.

Back on the Enterprise, Guinan seems to know what's going on. She had overheard Data before the accident and seemed to know what was going to happen. (Her connection is revealed when Data sees Guinan's picture in a newspaper.) Guinan tells Picard that he has to join the away team; history depends on it. Picard joins the away team. The episode ends with Picard, Dr. Crusher, Commander Riker, La Forge and Troi entering a temporal rift to go after Data.

It was a great episode overall. There were only two problems that I had with it. First, no one seems to notice Data just appearing on the street. The street was somewhat crowded and while not certain, I'd say that it's probable that someone would see him materialize. The second point is that Data has to lie several times during the episode. First, he tells someone that he's a Frenchman. He later tells someone that he's an inventor. Granted, he can't tell someone what he really is or why he's there, but I thought Data wasn't supposed to be able lie. It looks like the writers had to conveniently forget about this for the episode.

Overall, it's a four-star episode. The acting was good and we got to see Jerry Hardin return to the series, this time as Samuel Clemens. (He had appeared in the first-season episode, "When The Bough Breaks".) It's also interesting to see Guinan in the 19th-century setting. Her relationship with Picard has always been a little mysterious, although the two characters won't interact with each other in the 19th century until the next episode.

The only trouble is that you'll have to buy a separate DVD set to watch the conclusion if you're not using streaming.  This will be the last episode of the fifth season with the next episode being the first one of the sixth-season set. I'd recommend the episode, but I though it fair to include this information in the review.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 125 (The Inner Light)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details, including the ending.  If you’re not into spoilers, no would be the time to stop reading.

Many series are able to produce good episodes for several seasons.  Shows like Doctor Who and Law & Order have managed to last over 20 seasons.  Occasionally, you’ll find an episode that really connects with you on some level.  Even for a great show, that episode really hits it out of the park.  For Star Trek: The Next Generation, this seems to be that episode.

It starts out like any episode for the crew of the Enterprise.  They come across what appears to be an ordinary probe.  It starts emitting a beam which coincides with Captain Picard fainting.  He awakens to find himself in a strange room with an unfamiliar woman on a planet that he doesn’t seem to know, and she‘s calling him Kamin.  His first impression is that he’s imagining the whole thing.  He eventually comes to terms with the fact that the illusion is going to continue for a while, so he explores his new surroundings.  He eventually comes back to the home, where the woman, who claims to be his wife, was waiting for him.  He asks her a few questions before going to bed.

The episode cuts between Picard’s new life and the Enterprise.  Time is passing much more quickly for Picard.  The second time we see him, five years have passed while only a few minutes have passed on the Enterprise.  (Yes, he is still collapsed on the bridge of the Enterprise.)  A medical team is attending to the captain, but they have no idea how to safely bring him out of it without hurting him.

Still more years pass for Picard.  He is aware that the planet he’s on, Kataan, isn’t doing well. There’s a drought that’s not going to get better.  He has children and eventually a grandchild, but he feels sadness knowing that his grandson probably won’t get to grow up.  Eventually, his children and grandchild go to see the launch of a missile that’s bearing some familiar cargo.  His wife and his friend, both of whom passed away several years prior, come back to tell Picard that onboard is the probe that Picard encountered all those decades ago.  The purpose of the probe is to let one person experience the final decades of a dying planet.

When Picard awakens, he finds that less than 30 minutes have passed.  It takes him a minute to get his bearings, but Dr. Crusher is eventually able to escort him to sickbay.  Later, Commander Riker stops by to tell Picard that they’ve dismantled the probe to study and found a box inside the probe.  Inside the box is the flute that Picard learned to play.  He begins playing it again.

The episode doesn’t really focus on why the planet was dying.  (It’s sun went nova.)  Yes, attempts were made to save the civilization, but they were pre-warp.  There’s no way that they could have gotten a significant number of people to a nearby star. It’s actually quite impressive that they managed to build a probe that could impart memories to someone.  (It’s not clear if there was an actual Kamin or if it’s a composite of several people.)  Not only that, but the probe managed to make it about a light year and still work after a thousand years.

It’s not clear if there was just the one probe of if the people of Kataan made several.  It would seem that they were also a people of limited resources, although another city may have had a similar idea.  I also wonder why they didn’t include more stuff in the probe, or at least not have it self-terminate after one use.  The idea was for someone to be able to tell others of Kataan.  You’d probably want to get as much use out of it as possible.

Then again, the probe wasn’t that far from the planet.  The Enterprise did launch a probe of their own.  It’s possible that something was left on the planet for future archaeologists to find and that the probe was a way of giving context.  It’s one thing to find ruins.  It’s another to have an emotional connection to them.  There was little follow up to the episode in that regard.  This surprised me, as Picard is an amateur archaeologist.  You’d think he’d at least mention reading reports in a later episode.  (We do see him use the flute, but that’s about it.)

The thing that strikes me is that it was kind of a big risk.  Space is a big place and is mostly empty.  The probe lasting a thousand years probably wasn’t an accident.  The builders probably knew that it would be a while before someone found it.  How would they know that the species would be compatible with the technology?   What if the Borg were the first to find it?  You could have had an aggressive species like the Klingons or Cardassians find it first, only to destroy it for attacking one of their crew.  (This was Worf’s first instinct.)  For that matter, did they test it on someone?

I hate to sound like I’m bashing the episode.  I’m not.   It was an awesome episode that always stuck with me.  This is one that always makes it to the top ten lists among fans and with good reason.  It just makes me wonder about what it was like on Kataan and how sad it is that they’re not still around.  If you’re curious about the episode and are able to get it streaming, it’s not dependant on earlier episodes.  You could watch it without really missing any context.  I’d recommend watching it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 124 (The Next Phase)

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

If you’ve been reading some of my other reviews of Star Trek episodes, you know that I sometimes pick apart episodes that have mistakes. This is going to be another such episode and I’m not going to be the first person to do so.

The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Romulan ship. Apparently, it has sustained a lot of damage and is in need of a lot of repair. Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge discovers a component that needs replacing; he and Ensign Ro Laren beam back with the damaged component to see if they can replace it. During transport, something happens and the two people end up on neither ship. Since it’s not understood what happened, the ship has to take all of the transporters offline leaving everyone to use shuttles. Ro wakes up near sickbay and quickly realizes that no one can see her. Also, she can seem to pass through solid objects like walls. She finds La Forge in Engineering and the two realize that they must have somehow been phased, which basically means that they’re out of sync with the normal matter. They can see each other and everyone else, but no one else can see them.

To make matters more urgent, Ro and La Forge overhear a conversation between two Romulans. The Romulans have a secret and are willing to destroy the Enterprise to keep it. The Romulans mention how they plan to destroy the ship, but La Forge and Ro are in no position to tell anyone. La Forge eventually figures out that when he passes through normal matter, he leaves some sort of residue, which the ship is able to get rid of. When La Forge is exposed to some of the radiation, it becomes harder for him to pass through normal matter. He figures out that if he can get himself exposed to enough of this, he will return to normal. He does this by causing a phased Romulan disruptor to overload, flooding the entire room with the residue. He and Ro return to normal in time to warn everyone about what the Romulans did.

Ok. The big, glaring error that everyone points out is that if Ro and La Forge can pass through walls, they should be able to pass through the floor. Throughout the episode, you’ll hear the shuffle of their feet on the floor, which means that they are able to interact with it. Ro is also able to touch a control panel and a phased Romulan is actually sitting down. They shouldn’t be able to breathe since Oxygen is still normal matter. For that matter, should they even be able to talk? Sound is essentially vibrations transmitted by matter. What we hear is sound transmitted through the air, so if Ro and La Forge can talk to each other, then others should be able to hear them. There are all sorts of implications dealing with phased matter, including the fact that Ro and La Forge reflect in the windows.

I also noticed that if La Forge and Ro wanted to get someone’s attention, they could have used the phaser to ‘write’ their names on a wall or something. It’s possible that the sensors wouldn’t have been able to discern exact shapes or that no one would have been looking for letters, but it was worth a shot.

I’m going to have to give this episode three stars. This is another last-minute-save episode. The Enterprise can’t go to warp, so of course there are several points in the episode where the captain wants to, but is stopped at the last minute. I’m sure that you’ve seen this in a few movies or TV shows over the years. There’s also the quasi-religious aspect surrounding the apparent death of Ro and La Forge. Ro, having seen Dr. Crusher fill out a death certificate, is ready to accept that she is a ghost or spirit. La Forge isn’t and at least gets Ro to play along for the sake of not giving up. It was an interesting aspect to the episode. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 123 (I, Borg)

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

Think of the one person in this world that you hate the most. Think of the person that you despise beyond any other person on the planet. What would you do if you were driving down the street one day and you saw them just laying there dying? Would you take them to the hospital or would you just leave them there?

When scouting for planets to colonize, the Enterprise comes across a Borg drone. The Borg are a ‘race’ of cybernetic beings that assimilate entire cultures. Guinan, the ship’s bartender, lost most of her people to the Borg. Those that remain are scattered among the galaxy. Captain Picard was himself assimilated and used to fight against the Federation. Both of these people have very strong objections to taking the drone aboard. Picard would just as well leave the drone to die. However, Dr. Crusher can’t bring herself to just run off without doing something.

Against his better judgment, Picard allows the drone to be brought to a holding cell for treatment. Guinan isn’t too happy about it when she finds out. It’s a very dangerous call. Both Picard and Guinan know full well what he’s capable of. The one drone could very easily assimilate (or at least cause the assimilation of) everyone on the ship. However, Picard is a man with a plan. He realizes that once brought back to the collective, the drone could be used as a Trojan horse that would introduce a virus that would spread throughout the Borg’s collective consciousness and cause their ultimate destruction.

The problem comes down to being able to see the forest for the trees in a very literal sense. The Borg don’t see individuals. One drone is the same as any other; any drone is simply part of the collective mind. To use a drone to introduce a virus is like taking a cell out of your body to study and then introduce some disease into your body. However, the drone starts to become self-aware. He goes from having the designation (Third of Five) to having a name (Hugh). Eventually, people start to see Hugh as a person. Even Guinan and Picard are swayed. The drone even goes from referring himself as ‘we’ to referring to himself as ‘I’ in Picard’s presence. Picard allows Hugh the choice of remaining on the Enterprise, but Hugh realizes that the Borg will know that he’s missing. The Enterprise will never be safe as long as Hugh is there. He must return to the Collective.

Choice is a tricky thing. This is the first attempt in the Star Trek universe to actively try to wipe out the Borg in one swoop, although it won’t be the last. Picard is set to destroy the Borg because the Borg are so set on destroying entire civilizations. However, Picard is forced to deal with the ethics when only when he is able to look at Hugh as a person rather than in instrument of the Borg. By trying to wipe out the Borg, we are no worse than they are. Normally, I would have found Dr. Crusher annoying in this episode, but she came across more as someone who was determined to see the drone as a patient. Despite what she may feel about them, Hugh was still a potential patient.

Someone that hasn’t seen the series up to this point won’t really understand much of what’s happened to Picard and Guinan. Not much has been said about Guinan’s race up to this point. We know that she despises the Borg. (The only other race that she holds any ill will towards is the Q, but that’s another set of episodes entirely.) Picard’s assimilation was the subject of the cliffhanger that ended the third season and began the fourth. It was a horrible experience for Picard, who almost didn’t make it back. At the very least, you should watch those two episodes before watching this one.

This won’t be the last time we hear from Hugh. The consequences of the events in this episode will come up again in a later episode titled “Descent”. I had heard that there was supposed to be another episode after that, but that never came to be.

This episode gets four stars. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 122 (Imaginary Friend)

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

It’s amazing how often the Enterprise finds trouble. Occasionally, trouble finds the Enterprise, but the Enterprise is usually putting itself in harm’s way. In this case, the Enterprise is exploring a strange part of the galaxy. Some mysterious energy-based life form comes on board and starts scanning equipment and crew members. It comes across Clara, a child who’s working in the ship’s arboretum. The life form scans her and finds Isabella, Clara’s imaginary friend. (Clara’s developed an imaginary friend as a result of her father, an ensign in Starfleet, moving around a lot.) The life form takes on the appearance of Isabella to interact with Clara. She seems surprised to actually see Isabella at first, but eventually accepts it.

Isabella prods Clara to do things that she shouldn’t do in hopes of finding out more about the ship. Isabella makes a habit of disappearing when adults are around, the only exception being Worf. (The two literally run into him in one of the ship’s corridors.) Clara finds a lot of resistance from adults, the only exception being Guinan. (Guinan runs Ten-Forward.) When Clara enters, Guinan welcomes her and Isabella.

The ship is experiencing drag, which they can’t explain. Eventually, Chief Science Officer Data and Chief Engineer La Forge find a web that’s normally invisible, but that seems to be reacting to the shields and keeping the ship from moving at the speed that it should be.

It isn’t long before the two stories come together. It turns out that the life form impersonating Isabella is trying to decide if the crew of the Enterprise should live or die. The net is an attempt by others of her species to drain energy from the ship. Eventually, Captain Picard talks to Isabella and the two come to an understanding. Isabella realizes that there’s more to the Federation than what a child sees and Picard decides to release some energy for the life forms to feed on.

The episode primarily seems to deal with life as a military brat. It’s not easy having a parent that moves around every couple of years. Clara’s father even talks to La Forge about it. (Both of La Forge’s parents served in Starfleet.) Troi tells Clara’s father that Isabella will ‘go away’ when Clara makes friends. (Troi and everyone else keep dealing with Isabella as imaginary until Isabella eventually attacks Troi.) Isabella, played by Shay Astar, comes across as very creepy. Isabella had very little apparent emotion, even Clara pointed out that she never smiled. It was a great acting job.

Overall, the episode was good until the end, when it came off as being a little too preachy. It seems like I’ve been using that word about too many episodes, and in such a short period of time, but Picard basically lectures Isabella on why a child’s perspective is skewed and how it isn’t fair to judge the ship’s crew based solely on that.

I have to go with three stars on this one. Had it not been for the ending, I would have gone with four. I think that the writers could have done a little better with it. 


Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 121 (The Perfect Mate)

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

The Enterprise is transporting an ambassador from Krios and his cargo to a designated point in space. The ambassador won’t say what the cargo is. All he’ll say is that it’s very fragile, irreplaceable and is supposed to end a centuries-long war between two worlds. En route to the worlds’ midway point, the Enterprise gets a distress call; two Ferengi are in a ship that’s about to explode. The Enterprise gets them out just in time. With that, the ship is back on its original course, agreeing to drop the Ferengi off after their current mission is over.

The trouble with Ferengi is that they always seem to be up to something. They’re very greedy and will do anything for the right price. They’ve orchestrated the distress call to get onboard the Enterprise. Don’t ask me how they knew that what they wanted would be on the Enterprise or how they properly timed the fake distress call; where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It’s obvious that they want what the ambassador has. One of them tries to buddy up to the ambassador while the other breaks into the cargo bay to scan the ambassador’s cargo. Before the second Ferengi can complete his scans, security walks in on him. Having been startled, the Ferengi loses his balance and causes the cargo to fall to the ground. The cargo turns out to be a woman, who comes out of stasis; the empath, named Kamala, is supposed to marry the leader of the other planet. What makes her so special? She’s an empath capable of molding her personality to whatever a potential mate could want. (Thus making her The Perfect Mate.) Male empaths are common among her people, but female ones occur only once every seven generations.

At first, Captain Picard voices strong objections to a sentient person being used as a gift. However, he comes to accept that there’s nothing he can do about it. However, when the Ferengi injure the Krois Ambassador, Picard has to take over for him. In spending so much time with Picard, Kamala eventually imprints Picard’s desires onto herself. Picard is a perfect gentleman, even after she imprints herself, pointing out that Kamala is supposed to marry someone else, even if he doesn’t agree with the nature of that marriage. Eventually, the Enterprise reaches its destination and the wedding happens. Kamala can still sense her husband’s desires, although she’ll always be Picard’s perfect mate.

This is one of the more complex story lines. At first, it’s about Kamala being used as a gift. It’s not nice, but Picard has no right to dictate policy or law to a foreign culture. Kamala is more than just a pretty, affable woman. She’s intelligent and strong. To have her used is something that not everyone can just accept.

There’s also the Ferengi’s desire to kidnap her, but the Ferengi are really nothing more than a joke. For years to follow, this episode (one line, really) became a joke among my friends and family. The Ferengi were originally intended to be an adversary to the Federation, but never quite came across as a serious threat. Normally, it would have been amazing that someone could have broken into the cargo bay that easily, especially considering the ambassador’s insistence on extra care. However, Ferengi eventually became known as a race that stops at nothing to get what they want.

The main storyline has to do with Picard being put in a difficult situation. Not only does he not agree with how Kamala is being used, but he also knows what Kamala is and what it would mean to spend so much time with her. He has to do something that he feels to be wrong to help end a war.

It’s a good episode that can be enjoyed by anyone. I’d say four stars. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 120 (Cost of Living)

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

The start of this episode is somewhat confusing. All we see is the Enterprise destroying an asteroid just in time to save a planet. That’s it. After the theme, Worf and Alexander are in Counselor Deanna Troi’s office. The Klingon father and son are still arguing. Alexander is finally following Worf’s instructions, but is trying to get around them by arguing the letter of the instructions. Troi advises them to come up with a contract about what is expected by each from the other.

This scene is a set-up for the arrival of Deanna Troi’s mother, Lwaxana Troi. Lwaxana Troi, an ambassador from Betazed, tends to be the opposite of her daughter. She’s very free where Deanna tends to be disciplined. In other words Lwaxana and Alexander become fast friends leaving Deanna and Worf to try and rein them in. It turns out that the Enterprise is escorting Lwaxana to marry her future husband, who she has never even met and knows nothing about outside of a personality profile.

Soon, the Enterprise starts experiencing trouble. First, it’s the replicators. (When Lwaxana Troi asks for tea, she gets a cup filled with sausage.) Then, other systems start to fail. The crew traces the problems back to a parasite that apparently came from the asteroid that they destroyed. The parasite is feeding on a metal that is common to many of the ship’s components.

That basically sums up the three story lines that are present in the show: the conflict between Worf and Alexander, Lwaxana’s marriage and the problem with the parasites. The parasites are given a new home in an asteroid belt that has more than enough of the compound that they like. Lwaxana ends up not marrying the man that she had intended to, mostly due to personality differences that weren’t captured in the profile. As for Worf and Alexander, they go on to have other differences of opinion. However, the Enterprise is safe from trouble.

This is another one of those episodes where you have to have watched the show to fully understand. For instance, Lwaxana Troi is a force to be reckoned with. She usually knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say so or simply go after it. Also, it seems that Worf and Alexander are always arguing. It isn’t until much later (after Worf transfers to Deep Space Nine) that they start to agree on anything. You’d really have to have seen a lot of the series to understand the entire history between Worf and Alexander and between Deanna and Lwaxana.

There are two things that I found odd about the episode. First, there’s a scene where Data opens the turbolift doors. The turbolift is the Enterprise’s elevator system. Most elevators have two sets of doors. One is the interior set, which is attached to the elevator carriage. The other set is the exterior set, which is attached to the walls that border the shaft and the hallway or room where the elevator exits. Data really should have had to open two sets of doors, but it looks like he only opens one.

The other odd thing had to do with the parasites. Why is it that getting rid of the parasites seemed to return all systems to normal? Granted, it was stated that repairs had to be made, but the lights shouldn’t have gone from flickering to full power. Maybe it’s just me.

Both of these points are minor and easy to overlook. I wouldn’t recommend this episode to someone who’s new to the series, but it’s definitely something to look forward to if you intend on watching the entire series. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 119 (The First Duty)

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

Wesley Crusher started out as a regular character during the first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He seemed to annoy most regular viewers mostly because he as this gifted kid that always did something really smart and saved the day, usually showing up several people that had professional training, such as the chief engineer. Eventually, he left the Enterprise to study at Starfleet Academy.

Here he is, a year or two later, part of the Academy’s flight squad. The Enterprise is arriving for the commencement ceremonies where the flight squad will be performing and Captain Picard will be giving the commencement speech. Before the Enterprise arrives, though, the flight squad is in an accident. Wesley and three others make it with only minor injuries, but one member of the five-person squad dies. The Enterprise arrives in time for the inquiry, which is led by the admiral in charge of the Academy a Vulcan captain.

It turns out that the leader of the flight squad is pushing the rest of the survivors to cover up the truth. They were actually going to perform a stunt that was prohibited by the Academy because it is so dangerous. (The last time it was attempted, no one survived.) Eventually, it comes to light what happened and Picard puts it together. He gives Wesley two choices: Either Wesley can tell the Admiral what happened or Picard will tell the Admiral what happened. Eventually, Wesley chooses to admit what happened. The leader of the squad takes most of the blame for what happened and is expelled; the other three members have the previous year’s credits revoked.

This was the first indication that Wesley Crusher is capable of making a big mistake. It can be hard to live up to the potential that Wesley has. A lot of responsibility and trust is placed on him, not only by the Academy, but also by Picard and the entire crew of the Enterprise. To boot, every person that age wants to fit in. The trouble is that he’s a little too eager to please the leader of the flight squad and is willing to cover up what happened rather than tell the truth and face the consequences. Had Picard not found out and called Wesley on it, the flight squad would have gotten away with it. (I have to wonder how they would have explained it had they gone through with it. Someone might have said something and brought charges against them anyway.)

Someone who hasn’t watched Star Trek: The Next Generation a lot before this episode probably won’t get all of the references. For instance, when Wesley was getting ready to leave for the Academy, he mentioned Boothy, the groundskeeper, who appears in this episode. (He reprises the role in Star Trek: Voyager, where Robert Duncan McNeill stared as Tom Paris, although I don’t recall if they had any scenes together.) It’s still possible to enjoy the episode, but I’d recommend starting at the beginning of the series if you’re planning on watching the entire thing. This is one of those episodes that you really shouldn’t watch out of order.

I give the episode four stars. If I was buying the series on VHS, I’d buy this one. However, if I do buy the series, I’ll probably buy it on DVD.

IMDb page

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 118 (Cause and Effect)

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

“Cause and Effect” starts with a severely damaged Enterprise colliding with another ship and subsequently exploding. Then, it goes to the main theme. The next scene in the episode has Commander Riker, Lieutenant Commander Data, Dr. Crusher and Chief of Security Worf playing poker. Riker bluffs, but Crusher calls it. Before it can go any further, the doctor is called to sickbay; Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge is having problems with his VISOR, a device that allows him to see. Dr. Crusher is sure that she’s treated him for the same problem before, but his medical records indicate otherwise. Eventually, the Enterprise encounters the situation seen in the beginning of the episode and, as the original scene would indicate, the ship explodes.

Then, we go to what had originally been a commercial break. Watching the episode on VHS (or DVD) allows us the benefit of seeing the same scene we saw after the opening credits. The Enterprise is entering the same area of space and Riker, Data, Crusher and Worf are playing the same game. Similar events unfold, but the crew has a higher awareness of it and a feeling of deja vu. However, the ship explodes again and everyone is back to where they started. Finally, La Forge gets the idea to have Data send a message to himself in the next loop.

The message works; Data causes the number three to appear all over the ship. (For instance, when dealing cards in the poker game, he deals everyone a three then three of a kind. I’d imagine that it was important to have four people at the game for this reason.) Data eventually realizes what the message was supposed to mean and takes the appropriate action to save the day. The other ship is the U.S.S. Bozeman who set out around 80 years prior; to them, it only seems like three weeks prior. The anomaly sent them ahead eight decades.

It’s an interesting, if unoriginal, idea. Those that have seen “Groundhog Day” will recognize the concept of repeating days. (In this episode, they’re called causality loops.) The trouble with causality loops is that they call for a lot of precision. For instance, during the poker game, Data says that the cards are “sufficiently randomized.” How is it that with the exception of the final hand, Data says deals identical hands? If Data is correct, he should have dealt a different hand each time. (Also, it seems that La Forge enters sickbay at different times. I guess I can’t have it both ways.)

Speaking of Data, he correctly uses the expression, “Too rich for my blood.” Normally, I’d complain that he’s not supposed to be able to do this correctly. (At least, it’s always been one of the running gags in the show.) I can see it in this case, seeing that Data regularly plays poker. However, in the final loop, he states that the number three appears “an inordinate number of times.” (That’s the sort of error he normally makes when trying to use an expression.) He goes on to say that they’ve appeared 2085 times. (Coincidentally, 2085 is divisible by three, but the odds of that happening are only 2-1 against.)

When I first saw this episode advertised in the coming attractions, I expected a bigger role for Kelsey Grammer, who played the captain of the Bozeman. However, he has a very small role, appearing only at the end. (I’ll admit that I’m not the only one to say this.) If you are watching this episode just to see his performance, you can skip most of the episode.

This is a three-star episode. The acting is good and the story is well executed. However, the story is difficult to do. The constraints of having to work in a 48-minute timeframe limits the number of loops you can do and still have time left to tell some sort of story. Trying to pace it with the commercial breaks makes it even more difficult. Even with this in mind, I don’t feel that they did a terrific job with it. It wasn’t horrible, either. It’s worth watching if you can catch it on TV or if you get the DVD set, but I can’t say that I recommend buying the tape.